The Day of Uniting/Chapter 11
Jimmy went back to the house. Delia's concern and sorrow, Delia's swift flight for hot water and cotton wool and iodine, and Delia's almost motherly treatment of a sore shin made Tom Elmers a respectable member of society and a daily encounter with him something to be looked forward to.
“It might have broken a bone,” said the girl in a hushed voice. “You ought to go straight to bed, Mr. Blake.”
Jimmy exchanged glances with Ferdie.
“I'm sorry I can't go to bed,” said Jimmy meekly, “I have an important board meeting to-night—not a board meeting—I mean a——”
“A little supper party,” suggested Ferdie helpfully.
She looked grave.
“Are you going on this—adventure?” she asked.
“It is not so much an adventure, Miss Sennett,” interrupted Ferdie. “It's a little look round. Don't you be worried about him. I'll bring him back safe and sound.”
“Miss Sennett isn't worried about me,” said Jim coldly. “She is no more interested in my coming back safe and sound than she is about you.”
Ferdie's young face went blank with astonishment.
“Ain't you engaged?” he asked in surprise, and that was his crowning indiscretion of the evening.
“But my dear old thing, you call her by her Christian name.” This in the privacy of the study five minutes later. “I thought she was a great friend of yours, and really the Florence Nightingale way she bandaged your hairy old leg——”
“You're an ass, Ferdie,” wailed Jimmy. “Don't you see how unfortunate your remark was? You've made her feel very uncomfortable.”
“Suppose I go and apologize to her?”
“Suppose you don't,” said Jimmy shortly.
The soreness to his shin remained, but by practice he found that it did not impede his power of locomotion, though it might conceivably affect him when he came to climbing. He was determined to make his attempt that night, and it seemed that the girl was equally determined that he should not. He dropped all pretense of having an engagement and went about the task of sitting her out. By half past twelve everybody was yawning except Delia, who was as cool and as fresh as though she had wakened from a long and dreamless sleep.
“It is late, I shall go to bed,” said Jimmy desperately at last, and made a significant sign to his fellow conspirator.
“I think that is a very excellent idea, Mr. Blake,” said Delia calmly. “You don't know how safe I feel here with you and Mr. Ponter in the house. I think if I woke up in the night and heard your car going off I should faint from sheer terror.”
“Oh, yes,” said Jimmy uncomfortably. “Then, you see, we've no intention of going out, have we, Ferdie?”
“None whatever,” said Mr. Ponter glibly.
When Jimmy woke up the next morning with his leg so stiff that he could hardly bear his weight upon it, he was grateful that the girl had had her way. He was not feeling at all easy about Tom Elmers. The man was in the neighborhood, and the knowledge of this fact had been a stronger argument for not leaving Delia alone than any she had offered. He did not for one moment imagine that she would fall into a panic if he left her alone in the house, for “alone” was a term which implied in this case the protection of two maidservants, a valet, and the butler.
He hobbled down to breakfast late. Ferdie, who had preceded him by only a few minutes, cast a reproachful glance in his direction.
“Jimmy, you're going to be late for church,” he said.
“For church?” said Jimmy in amazement. “Is it Sunday?”
“Of course it's Sunday.” Delia looked at him reprovingly as she filled his cup. “And Mr. Ponter has very kindly offered to take me to church.”
“How sweet of Mr. Ponter!” said Jimmy savagely. “Good Lord, Sunday!”
“Don't you ever go to church?” she asked severely.
“Well, you're coming this morning, of course?” she said. “The Bishop of Fleet is preaching at St. Gregory's.”
Jimmy looked at her. “The bishop of what?”
“The Bishop of Fleet.”
The name vividly recalled the luncheon party at Downing Street.
“He was one of the fellows at the prime minister's party,” explained Jimmy. “What the dickens is he doing so far out of his diocese? What is the matter, Ferdie?”
Mr. Ferdinand Ponter was frowning.
“The Bishop of Fleet? That's old Stillman! He was the head of my school. 'Squirrel' we called him. Good Lord, I can't go and hear him spout theology. The mere mention of his name makes a cold shiver go down my spine.”
“He was head, was he?” said Jimmy interested. “Was he strong on the classical side?”
Ferdie shook his head. “He was the most horribly modern person you could meet,” he said. “Specialized in bugs and isms; he was a terror to the sixth form—he took us in science.”
“That accounts for his acquaintance with Maggerson and the prime minister,” nodded Jimmy. “I'd like to hear this gentleman.”
“He'll terrify you,” warned Ferdie.
“Not he!” said Jimmy confidently, “There isn't an ex-head master in the world, bar one, that could put fear into my brave heart.”
“This is the one I bar,” said Ferdie, “but I'll go.”
He looked at Delia and nodded.
Jimmy was a public-school boy, which meant that he attended chapel regularly every day of his life for years and years, until he left the university, when he went to church no more, regarding religious observances as part of a very painful discipline. But he had never had the peculiarly sweet experience of sitting elbow to elbow with a neat, tailored figure, or of listening to her sweet voice singing the responses; nor had he felt the spiritual uplift which can only come to a man when he sees the woman He loves at prayers. He settled back in his pew as a heavy figure climbed slowly to the pulpit. It was the cleric he had seen at No. 10 Downing Street; less jovial; melancholy, rather; for with his face in repose the bishop's lips drooped.
He gave out a text in a voice so low that Jimmy could not hear it and consulted the girl in a whisper. She shook her head.
There was nothing in the sermon that was in any way striking. It was a carefully reasoned, beautifully phrased appeal for human charity and loving-kindness, and it was not until the end was approaching and when the congregation had braced its feet to rise for the benediction, that he leaned over the edge of the pulpit and spoke in a new and a tremulous voice.
What he was saying, Jimmy could not gather. It was a wild appeal for the unity of man with man, for charity in all dealings, for love in all relationships, for the casting out of all hate and prejudices, and as he progressed his words grew wilder, his sentences more involved. Once he stopped for a word, stammered and went on; his voice grew thinner and shriller until it was a wail. The congregation stirred uneasily; people were looking from the bishop to one another, then to the consternation of everybody this big, healthy man broke down utterly, and laying his head upon his arms, sobbed like a child.
Jimmy was on his feet. It was a note he had heard before, that thin tone of fear. Then his face went white. He was hardly conscious of the fact that the girl's hand was in his and that she was pulling at him.
“Sit down, sit down!”
He heard her faintly, and fell back heavily in the pew.
He felt dulled, numbed, incapable of receiving any further impression. He stirred as the churchwardens gathered about the pulpit in the deathly and painful silence broken only by the bishop's sobs, and then the organ thundered out the national anthem and the tension was broken. They joined the throng in the aisle, and Delia breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the open air.