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If Any Man Sin By H. A. Cody Characters: 12618

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

It was Sunday night and the great city was hushed in silence. A thick mist hung over streets and houses through which numerous lights endeavoured to force their rays. Few people were astir and all traffic had ceased. Presently the chimes from a hidden church tower pealed forth their sweet message to the world. A man standing alone within the shadow of the church started and turned his face upwards. The musical sounds seemed to fascinate him, and he listened as one entranced. He gave no heed to the men and women hurrying by phantom-like on their way to the evening service. Not until the last note had died upon the air did the man abandon his listening attitude. Then his head drooped, his tense body relaxed, and he stepped back a few paces as if fearful of being observed. Twice he started forward, moved by some inner impulse, but each time he shrank back deeper within the shadow. His strong form trembled convulsively, telling plainly of a mighty fire of emotion raging within.

The man at length left his place of concealment and paced rapidly up and down outside the church, with his head bent forward. This he did for some time. He at last paused, stood for a while in an undecided manner, and then with a stealthy step approached the door. His hand was raised to the large iron latch when strains of music fell upon his ears. Then he heard the sound of numerous voices lifted up in the closing hymn. His courage almost deserted him, and he half turned as if to leave the place. But some irresistible power seemed to stay his steps and force him to open the door and enter.

The church was warm, brightly lighted, and well filled with men and women. No one heeded the stranger as he slipped quietly into a back seat and looked around. The trained voices of the white-robed choir thrilled his soul. Every word of the hymn was familiar to him, for he had often sung it in days gone by. The congregation, too, was singing, and ere long he distinguished one voice from the rest. He had not heard it at first, but now it fell upon his ears with a startling intensity. It was a woman's voice, sweet, clear, and full of mingled tenderness and pathos. The man's firm white hands clutched hard the back of the seat in front of him, and his face underwent a marvellous transformation. His eyes shone with eagerness, and his bosom lifted and fell from the vehemence of his emotion. He leaned forward until he could see the singer and watched her intently. Then when the hymn was finished, and ere the congregation dispersed, the stranger, having cast one more longing look upon the woman with the sweet voice, slipped noiselessly out of the building.

Upon reaching the street he stepped aside and waited for the people to come forth. It was not long ere the big door was thrown wide open, and as the men and women passed by he scrutinised them as closely as possible. He was watching for one person alone, and presently he saw her walking by herself. When she had gone a short distance he followed after, and never once let her out of his sight until she came to a large house, the door of which she opened and entered.

For some time the man stood outside, keeping his eyes fixed upon the building. A policeman passing by noted the man, and, mistaking him for a vagrant, ordered him away. The stranger's pale face flushed, and his hands clenched as he obeyed the command. Slowly he walked along the street with his eyes fixed upon the pavement. At length he paused, retraced his steps, and stood once more before the house into which the woman had entered. Here he remained until the clock of a nearby church struck the hour of eleven. Then, drawing himself together, the man hurried away with rapid steps. Reaching a house on a side street, he opened a door with a latch-key, and passed within. Up three flights of stairs he moved till he came to a little room on the top floor. Groping around in the dark, he lighted an oil lamp fastened to the wall.

It was a humble and scantily furnished garret he had entered. In one corner was a narrow cot. At its foot stood a wash-stand, over which hung a small cracked mirror. A rough worn table occupied the centre of the room, upon which rested a well-kept violin lying by its open case. Opposite the door was an open fire-place, and as the night was chilly the man lighted a fire from several dry sticks, and threw on some soft coal. Soon a cheerful blaze was curling up the chimney, before which the man sat on the one rickety chair the room contained and warmed his numbed hands.

For over half an hour he remained thus, gazing down intently into the fire. But hotter than the coals before him seemed the eyes which burned in his head. At last he aroused from his reverie and, crossing the room, opened a small grip and brought forth a carefully-folded newspaper clipping. This he unwrapped, spread it out upon the table, and drawing up his chair sat down. He fixed his eyes upon an article with the big headline, "Deposed by His Bishop." A deep flush mantled his cheeks and brow as he read for more than the thousandth time that story of disgrace and degradation. He had really no need to read it over again, for every word was seared upon his soul as with a red-hot iron. But the printed words seemed to fascinate him. The tale was all there in black and white, and the newspaper had made the most of it.

But there were things which were not recorded in cold type, and ere long his eyes drifted from the printed page far off into space. He beheld again the white-haired bishop sitting in his library, and heard his voice tremble as he uttered the words which deposed him forever from the Ministry. Then he recalled his own hot invectives hurled against the Church, and the vow that he would banish it and its teaching entirely from his heart and mind, and free himself from its influence. He remembered his scornful laugh when the bishop told him that such a thing was impossible. "Martin Rutland," he had said in an impressive voice, "you know not what you are saying. Do you imagine that you can cut yourself off from the influence of the Church of your childhood? I tell you that you are mistaken, for such a thing is utterly impossible. The Church and her teaching will follow you to the grave, no matter to what part of the world you

go." He had laughed at the bishop's words then, thinking them to be only an old man's empty threat.

He lived over again his last visit to his aged parents. It was the day before Christmas, and they believed that he had to hurry away to attend the services in his parish the next morning. Never for a moment did they suspect him of a single wrong. How proudly they had looked upon him as he stood before them ere he left the house. He never saw them again, and now in the loneliness of his barren room, a wretched outcast, buffeted by the world, he bowed his head upon the table and gave vent to his feelings in a flood of passionate tears. The whole vision rose before him with stinging vividness: his little home and the happy days of youth; his bright prospects, and what he would make of life; his parents toiling and denying themselves to provide for his education. It all came back to him this night like a mighty rushing torrent. In the excitement of the years of aimless wandering, he had partly stifled the thoughts. But to-night it was impossible. The pent-up stream, which could no longer be curbed, had given way in one onward sweep, all the greater, and over-mastering because of the restraint of years.

He rose abruptly to his feet and paced rapidly up and down the room. He knew what had brought upon him this mood. Why had he been so weak as to enter that church? he asked himself. And what was she doing there? He could not separate the two. The Church and Beryl were always connected. He recalled the last time he had seen her in his old parish. It was the evening of the day he had said good-bye to his parents. He wished to see her, but upon approaching her home his courage had failed him. How could he look into her face with the great stain upon him? Her large lustrous eyes would have pierced his very soul. She believed him to be true, noble, and upright. But how little was she aware as she sat at the piano that night, practising the Christmas music, that Rutland, to whom she had given her heart and hand, was watching her longingly through the window. He had stood there until she ceased her playing. Then she had come to the window and looked out upon the world of snow and ice. He remembered how he had shrunk back fearful lest she should see him. For some time did she stand there, and Rutland knew that of him she was thinking. He had waited until the house was in darkness, and then crept back to his own lodging place.

How every incident of that night was burnt upon his brain! He had left the parish like a coward, and when several days later the startling news of his fall and deposition reached Glendale he was swallowed up in the great world of seething humanity. He knew nothing of the grief and agony of his parents, nor the overwhelming blow which for a time almost prostrated Beryl Heathcote. But he read the accounts of his degradation in the papers, and heard men by his side discuss the affair in a light careless manner. How he had recoiled as he listened to their rough remarks, and their apparent delight that another clergyman had gone astray. In a few weeks the story of wrong was forgotten, save by those whose hearts had been most sorely stricken.

Rutland had wandered far and wide, staying only long enough in any one place to earn enough money to supply his scanty needs. He would prove the bishop's words to be false. He would get away from the influence of the Church and all religious teaching. He attended no place of worship during the years of his wanderings, and though living in a country of churches and Church activities he believed that he had so steeled his heart and mind that never again could they exert any influence over him. He lived entirely for himself, and to the few people he occasionally met he was a mystery.

But Rutland had found that he could as easily walk through a flower-garden and not touch the flowers nor inhale their fragrance as he could pass through the world and not be affected by the influence of the Christian religion. He upbraided himself for his weakness in entering that church. That it should never happen again he was determined. He must get away far off into the wilderness. He would go where the influence of the Church was unknown, and where it was not even a name. He would penetrate regions never before trodden by the feet of white man, and there at last he would find the rest and peace he desired. To stay longer in this city so near to Beryl he could not. The thought of her, however, brought a degree of calmness to his troubled mind. He had ever associated her with peace. In days gone by her mere presence was refreshing. Now she was near, but he must not go to her, neither must she ever know how close he had been to her this night. When she thought of him, he mused, it must be with the deepest loathing. What a terrible change the years had brought about! There was a time when he could hasten to her side, and rejoice in her love. How she would listen to him as he played upon the violin, and often she would accompany him upon the piano. All that was changed now. They were sundered more widely than by the broadest ocean.

At length he paused before the table and picked up the violin, one of the few cherished things he had carried with him. It alone had been his comforting companion in his wretched wandering life. And so to-night as he seated himself upon the cranky chair, and drew the bow across the strings, the old mystic spell swept over his soul. He was a child once more, care-free and happy, playing around his home with the flowers, birds, bees, and butterflies as his companions. He passed into his first and only parish. He saw the faces of those to whom he ministered turned up to him, their chosen leader. But brightest and most-outstanding of all was the face of Beryl as she watched him from her seat by the little church organ.

When Rutland ceased the fire was out in the grate, and a clock in a nearby steeple was striking the hour of two. A shiver passed through his body as he rose and laid his violin tenderly upon the table. Hastily blowing out the light, he threw himself upon the narrow cot, and drew over him the two thin blankets. At length the outcast slept, and for a time the fierce agony of heart and mind troubled him no more.

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