The Way of All Flesh
The hymn had engaged my attention; when it was over I had time to take stock of the
congregation. They were chiefly farmers--fat, very well-to-do folk, who had come some
of them with their wives and children from outlying farms two and three miles away;
haters of popery and of anything which any one might choose to say was popish; good,
sensible fellows who detested theory of any kind, whose ideal was the maintenance of the
status quo with perhaps a loving reminiscence of old war times, and a sense of wrong that
the weather was not more completely under their control, who desired higher prices and
cheaper wages, but otherwise were most contented when things were changing least;
tolerators, if not lovers, of all that was familiar, haters of all that was unfamiliar; they
would have been equally horrified at hearing the Christian religion doubted, and at seeing
"What can there be in common between Theobald and his parishioners?" said Christina to
me, in the course of the evening, when her husband was for a few moments absent. "Of
course one must not complain, but I assure you it grieves me to see a man of Theobald's
ability thrown away upon such a place as this. If we had only been at Gaysbury, where
there are the A's, the B's, the C's, and Lord D's place, as you know, quite close, I should
not then have felt that we were living in such a desert; but I suppose it is for the best," she
added more cheerfully; "and then of course the Bishop will come to us whenever he is in
the neighbourhood, and if we were at Gaysbury he might have gone to Lord D's."
Perhaps I have now said enough to indicate the kind of place in which Theobald's lines
were cast, and the sort of woman he had married. As for his own habits, I see him
trudging through muddy lanes and over long sweeps of plover-haunted pastures to visit a
dying cottager's wife. He takes her meat and wine from his own table, and that not a little
only but liberally. According to his lights also, he administers what he is pleased to call
"I am afraid I'm going to Hell, Sir," says the sick woman with a whine. "Oh, Sir, save me,
save me, don't let me go there. I couldn't stand it, Sir, I should die with fear, the very
thought of it drives me into a cold sweat all over."
"Mrs Thompson," says Theobald gravely, "you must have faith in the precious blood of
your Redeemer; it is He alone who can save you."
"But are you sure, Sir," says she, looking wistfully at him, "that He will forgive me--for
I've not been a very good woman, indeed I haven't--and if God would only say 'Yes'
outright with His mouth when I ask whether my sins are forgiven me--"
"But they ARE forgiven you, Mrs Thompson," says Theobald with some sternness, for
the same ground has been gone over a good many times already, and he has borne the
unhappy woman's misgivings now for a full quarter of an hour. Then he puts a stop to the