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All Roads Lead to Calvary By Jerome K. Jerome Characters: 17618

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:06


Her father met her at Waterloo. He had business in London, and they stayed on for a few days. Reading between the lines of his later letters, she had felt that all was not well with him. His old heart trouble had come back; and she noticed that he walked to meet her very slowly. It would be all right, now that she had returned, he explained: he had been worrying himself about her.

Mrs. Denton had died. She had left Joan her library, together with her wonderful collection of note books. She had brought them all up-to-date and indexed them. They would be invaluable to Francis when he started the new paper upon which they had determined. He was still in the hospital at Breganze, near to where his machine had been shot down. She had tried to get to him; but it would have meant endless delays; and she had been anxious about her father. The Italian surgeons were very proud of him, he wrote. They had had him X-rayed before and after; and beyond a slight lameness which gave him, he thought, a touch of distinction, there was no flaw that the most careful scrutiny would be likely to detect. Any day, now, he expected to be discharged. Mary had married an old sweetheart. She had grown restless in the country with nothing to do, and, at the suggestion of some friends, had gone to Bristol to help in a children's hospital; and there they had met once more.

Neil Singleton, after serving two years in a cholera hospital at Baghdad, had died of the flu in Dover twenty-fours hours after landing. Madge was in Palestine. She had been appointed secretary to a committee for the establishment of native schools. She expected to be there for some years, she wrote. The work was interesting, and appealed to her.

Flossie 'phoned her from Paddington Station, the second day, and by luck she happened to be in. Flossie had just come up from Devonshire. Sam had "got through," and she was on her way to meet him at Hull. She had heard of Joan's arrival in London from one of Carleton's illustrated dailies. She brought the paper with her. They had used the old photograph that once had adorned each week the Sunday Post. Joan hardly recognized herself in the serene, self-confident young woman who seemed to be looking down upon a world at her feet. The world was strong and cruel, she had discovered; and Joans but small and weak. One had to pretend that one was not afraid of it.

Flossie had joined every society she could hear of that was working for the League of Nations. Her hope was that it would get itself established before young Frank grew up.

"Not that I really believe it will," she confessed. "A draw might have disgusted us all with fighting. As it is, half the world is dancing at Victory balls, exhibiting captured guns on every village green, and hanging father's helmet above the mantelpiece; while the other half is nursing its revenge. Young Frank only cares for life because he is looking forward to one day driving a tank. I've made up my mind to burn Sam's uniform; but I expect it will end in my wrapping it up in lavender and hiding it away in a drawer. And then there will be all the books and plays. No self-respecting heroine, for the next ten years will dream of marrying anyone but a soldier."

Joan laughed. "Difficult to get anything else, just at present," she said. "It's the soldiers I'm looking to for help. I don't think the men who have been there will want their sons to go. It's the women I'm afraid of."

Flossie caught sight of the clock and jumped up. "Who was it said that woman would be the last thing man would civilize?" she asked.

"It sounds like Meredith," suggested Joan. "I am not quite sure."

"Well, he's wrong, anyhow," retorted Flossie. "It's no good our waiting for man. He is too much afraid of us to be of any real help to us. We shall have to do it ourselves." She gave Joan a hug and was gone.

Phillips was still abroad with the Army of Occupation. He had tried to get out of it, but had not succeeded. He held it to be gaoler's work; and the sight of the starving populace was stirring in him a fierce anger.

He would not put up again for Parliament. He was thinking of going back to his old work upon the Union. "Parliament is played out," he had written her. "Kings and Aristocracies have served their purpose and have gone, and now the Ruling Classes, as they call themselves, must be content to hear the bell toll for them also. Parliament was never anything more than an instrument in their hands, and never can be. What happens? Once in every five years you wake the people up: tell them the time has come for them to exercise their Heaven-ordained privilege of putting a cross against the names of some seven hundred gentlemen who have kindly expressed their willingness to rule over them. After that, you send the people back to sleep; and for the next five years these seven hundred gentlemen, consulting no one but themselves, rule over the country as absolutely as ever a Caesar ruled over Rome. What sort of Democracy is that? Even a Labour Government-supposing that in spite of the Press it did win through-what would be its fate? Separated from its base, imprisoned within those tradition-haunted walls, it would lose touch with the people, would become in its turn a mere oligarchy. If the people are ever to govern they must keep their hand firmly upon the machine; not remain content with pulling a lever and then being shown the door."

She had sent a note by messenger to Mary Stopperton to say she was coming. Mary had looked very fragile the last time she had seen her, just before leaving for France; and she had felt a fear. Mary had answered in her neat, thin, quavering writing, asking her to come early in the morning. Sometimes she was a little tired and had to lie down again. She had been waiting for Joan. She had a present for her.

The morning promised to be fair, and she decided to walk by way of the Embankment. The great river with its deep, strong patience had always been a friend to her. It was Sunday and the city was still sleeping. The pale December sun rose above the mist as she reached the corner of Westminster Bridge, turning the river into silver and flooding the silent streets with a soft, white, tender light.

The tower of Chelsea Church brought back to her remembrance of the wheezy old clergyman who had preached there that Sunday evening, that now seemed so long ago, when her footsteps had first taken her that way by chance. Always she had intended making inquiries and discovering his name. Why had she never done so? It would surely have been easy. He was someone she had known as a child. She had become quite convinced of that. She could see his face close to hers as if he had lifted her up in his arms and was smiling at her. But pride and power had looked out of his eyes then.

It was earlier than the time she had fixed in her own mind and, pausing with her elbows resting on the granite parapet, she watched the ceaseless waters returning to the sea, bearing their burden of impurities.

"All roads lead to Calvary." It was curious how the words had dwelt with her, till gradually they had become a part of her creed. She remembered how at first they had seemed to her a threat chilling her with fear. They had grown to be a promise, a hope held out to all. The road to Calvary! It was the road to life. By the giving up of self we gained God.

And suddenly a great peace came to her. One was not alone in the fight, God was with us: the great Comrade. The evil and the cruelty all round her: she was no longer afraid of it. God was coming. Beyond the menace of the passing day, black with the war's foul aftermath of evil dreams and hatreds, she saw the breaking of the distant dawn. The devil should not always triumph. God was gathering His labourers.

God was conquering. Unceasing through the ages, God's voice had crept round man, seeking entry. Through the long darkness of that dim beginning, when man knew no law but self, unceasing God had striven: until at last one here and there, emerging from the brute, had heard-had listened to the voice of love and pity, and in that hour, unknowing, had built to God a temple in the wilderness.

Labourers together with God. The mighty host of those who through the ages had heard the voice of God and had made answer. The men and women in all lands who had made room in their hearts for God. Still nameless, scattered, unknown to one another: still powerless as yet against the world's foul law of hate, they should continue to increase and multiply, until one day they should speak with God's voice and should be heard. And a new world should be created.

God. The tireless Spirit of eternal creation, the Spirit of Love. What else was it that out of formlessness had shaped the sph

eres, had planned the orbits of the suns. The law of gravity we named it. What was it but another name for Love, the yearning of like for like, the calling to one another of the stars. What else but Love had made the worlds, had gathered together the waters, had fashioned the dry land. The cohesion of elements, so we explained it. The clinging of like to like. The brotherhood of the atoms.

God. The Eternal Creator. Out of matter, lifeless void, he had moulded His worlds, had ordered His endless firmament. It was finished. The greater task remained: the Universe of mind, of soul. Out of man it should be created. God in man and man in God: made in like image: fellow labourers together with one another: together they should build it. Out of the senseless strife and discord, above the chaos and the tumult should be heard the new command: "Let there be Love."

The striking of the old church clock recalled her to herself. But she had only a few minutes' walk before her. Mary had given up her Church work. It included the cleaning, and she had found it beyond her failing strength. But she still lived in the tiny cottage behind its long strip of garden. The door yielded to Joan's touch: it was seldom fast closed. And knowing Mary's ways, she entered without knocking and pushed it to behind her, leaving it still ajar.

And as she did so, it seemed to her that someone passing breathed upon her lips a little kiss: and for a while she did not move. Then, treading softly, she looked into the room.

It welcomed her, as always, with its smile of cosy neatness. The spotless curtains that were Mary's pride: the gay flowers in the window, to which she had given children's names: the few poor pieces of furniture, polished with much loving labour: the shining grate: the foolish china dogs and the little china house between them on the mantelpiece. The fire was burning brightly, and the kettle was singing on the hob.

Mary's work was finished. She sat upright in her straight-backed chair before the table, her eyes half closed. It seemed so odd to see those little work-worn hands idle upon her lap.

Joan's present lay on the table near to her, as if she had just folded it and placed it there: the little cap and the fine robe of lawn: as if for a king's child.

Joan had never thought that Death could be so beautiful. It was as if some friend had looked in at the door, and, seeing her so tired, had taken the work gently from her hands, and had folded them upon her lap. And she had yielded with a smile.

Joan heard a faint rustle and looked up. A woman had entered. It was the girl she had met there on a Christmas Day, a Miss Ensor. Joan had met her once or twice since then. She was still in the chorus. Neither of them spoke for a few minutes.

"I have been expecting every morning to find her gone," said the girl. "I think she only waited to finish this." She gently unfolded the fine lawn robe, and they saw the delicate insertion and the wonderful, embroidery.

"I asked her once," said the girl, "why she wasted so much work on them. They were mostly only for poor people. 'One never knows, dearie,' she answered, with that childish smile of hers. 'It may be for a little Christ.'"

They would not let less loving hands come near her.

* * * * *

Her father had completed his business, and both were glad to leave London. She had a sense of something sinister, foreboding, casting its shadow on the sordid, unclean streets, the neglected buildings falling into disrepair. A lurking savagery, a half-veiled enmity seemed to be stealing among the people. The town's mad lust for pleasure: its fierce, unjoyous laughter: its desire ever to be in crowds as if afraid of itself: its orgies of eating and drinking: its animal-like indifference to the misery and death that lay but a little way beyond its own horizon! She dared not remember history. Perhaps it would pass.

The long, slow journey tried her father's strength, and assuming an authority to which he yielded obedience tempered by grumbling, Joan sent him to bed, and would not let him come down till Christmas Day. The big, square house was on the outskirts of the town where it was quiet, and in the afternoon they walked in the garden sheltered behind its high brick wall.

He told her of what had been done at the works. Arthur's plan had succeeded. It might not be the last word, but at least it was on the road to the right end. The men had been brought into it and shared the management. And the disasters predicted had proved groundless.

"You won't be able to indulge in all your mad schemes," he laughed, "but there'll be enough to help on a few. And you will be among friends. Arthur told me he had explained it to you and that you had agreed."

"Yes," she answered. "It was the last time he came to see me in London. And I could not help feeling a bit jealous. He was doing things while I was writing and talking. But I was glad he was an Allway. It will be known as the Allway scheme. New ways will date from it."

She had thought it time for him to return indoors, but he pleaded for a visit to his beloved roses. He prided himself on being always able to pick roses on Christmas Day.

"This young man of yours," he asked, "what is he like?"

"Oh, just a Christian gentleman," she answered. "You will love him when you know him."

He laughed. "And this new journal of his?" he asked. "It's got to be published in London, hasn't it?"

She gave a slight start, for in their letters to one another they had been discussing this very point.

"No," she answered, "it could be circulated just as well from, say, Birmingham or Manchester."

He was choosing his roses. They held their petals wrapped tight round them, trying to keep the cold from their brave hearts. In the warmth they would open out and be gay, until the end.

"Not Liverpool?" he suggested.

"Or even Liverpool," she laughed.

They looked at one another, and then beyond the sheltering evergreens and the wide lawns to where the great square house seemed to be listening.

"It's an ugly old thing," he said.

"No, it isn't," she contradicted. "It's simple and big and kind. I always used to feel it disapproved of me. I believe it has come to love me, in its solemn old brick way."

"It was built by Kent in seventeen-forty for your great-great grandfather," he explained. He was regarding it more affectionately. "Solid respectability was the dream, then."

"I think that's why I love it," she said: "for it's dear, old-fashioned ways. We will teach it the new dreams, too. It will be so shocked, at first."

They dined in state in the great dining-room.

"I was going to buy you a present," he grumbled. "But you wouldn't let me get up."

"I want to give you something quite expensive, Dad," she said. "I've had my eye on it for years."

She slipped her hand in his. "I want you to give me that Dream of yours; that you built for my mother, and that all went wrong. They call it Allway's Folly; and it makes me so mad. I want to make it all come true. May I try?"

* * * * *

It was there that he came to her.

She stood beneath the withered trees, beside the shattered fountain. The sad-faced ghosts peeped out at her from the broken windows of the little silent houses.

She wondered later why she had not been surprised to see him. But at the time it seemed to be in the order of things that she should look up and find him there.

She went to him with outstretched arms.

"I'm so glad you've come," she said. "I was just wanting you."

They sat on the stone step of the fountain, where they were sheltered from the wind; and she buttoned his long coat about him.

"Do you think you will go on doing it?" he asked, with a laugh.

"I'm so afraid," she answered gravely. "That I shall come to love you too much: the home, the children and you. I shall have none left over."

"There is an old Hindoo proverb," he said: "That when a man and woman love they dig a fountain down to God."

"This poor, little choked-up thing," he said, "against which we are sitting; it's for want of men and women drawing water, of children dabbling their hands in it and making themselves all wet, that it has run dry."

She took his hands in hers to keep them warm. The nursing habit seemed to have taken root in her.

"I see your argument," she said. "The more I love you, the deeper will be the fountain. So that the more Love I want to come to me, the more I must love you."

"Don't you see it for yourself?" he demanded.

She broke into a little laugh.

"Perhaps you are right," she admitted. "Perhaps that is why He made us male and female: to teach us to love."

A robin broke into a song of triumph. He had seen the sad-faced ghosts steal silently away.

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