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- Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood - 50/86 -
"I would have paid the church-rate for the whole parish ten times over before such a thing should have happened. I feel so disgraced, I am ashamed to look Mr Templeton in the face. Carry that table into the house again, directly."
"It's my property, now," interposed the broker. "I've bought it of the churchwarden, and paid for it."
I turned to Mr Brownrigg.
"How much did he give you for it?" I asked.
"Twenty shillings," returned he, sulkily, "and it won't pay expenses."
"Twenty shillings!" I exclaimed; "for a table that cost three times as much at least!--What do you expect to sell it for?"
"That's my business," answered the broker.
I pulled out my purse, and threw a sovereign and a half on the table, saying--
"FIFTY PER CENT. will be, I think, profit enough even on such a transaction."
"I did not offer you the table," returned the broker. "I am not bound to sell except I please, and at my own price."
"Possibly. But I tell you the whole affair is illegal. And if you carry away that table, I shall see what the law will do for me. I assure you I will prosecute you myself. You take up that money, or I will. It will go to pay counsel, I give you my word, if you do not take it to quench strife."
I stretched out my hand. But the broker was before me. Without another word, he pocketed the money, jumped into his cart with his man, and drove off, leaving the churchwarden and the parson standing at the door of the dissenting minister with his mahogany table on the path between them.
"Now, Mr Brownrigg," I said, "lend me a hand to carry this table in again."
He yielded, not graciously,--that could not be expected,--but in silence.
"Oh! sir," interposed young Tom, who had stood by during the dispute, "let me take it. You're not able to lift it."
"Nonsense! Tom. Keep away," I said. "It is all the reparation I can make."
And so Mr Brownrigg and I blundered into the little parlour with our burden--not a great one, but I began to find myself failing.
Mr Templeton sat in a Windsor chair in the middle of the room. Evidently the table had been carried away from before him, leaving his position uncovered. The floor was strewed with the books which had lain upon it. He sat reading an old folio, as if nothing had happened. But when we entered he rose.
He was a man of middle size, about forty, with short black hair and overhanging bushy eyebrows. His mouth indicated great firmness, not unmingled with sweetness, and even with humour. He smiled as he rose, but looked embarrassed, glancing first at the table, then at me, and then at Mr Brownrigg, as if begging somebody to tell him what to say. But I did not leave him a moment in this perplexity.
"Mr Templeton," I said, quitting the table, and holding out my hand, "I beg your pardon for myself and my friend here, my churchwarden"--Mr Brownrigg gave a grunt--"that you should have been annoyed like this. I have--"
Mr Templeton interrupted me.
"I assure you it was a matter of conscience with me," he said. "On no other ground--"
"I know it, I know it," I said, interrupting him in my turn. "I beg your pardon; and I have done my best to make amends for it. Offences must come, you know, Mr Templeton; but I trust I have not incurred the woe that follows upon them by means of whom they come, for I knew nothing of it, and indeed was too ill--"
Here my strength left me altogether, and I sat down. The room began to whirl round me, and I remember nothing more till I knew that I was lying on a couch, with Mrs Templeton bathing my forehead, and Mr Templeton trying to get something into my mouth with a spoon.
Ashamed to find myself in such circumstances, I tried to rise; but Mr Templeton, laying his hand on mine, said--
"My dear sir, add to your kindness this day, by letting my wife and me minister to you."
Now, was not that a courteous speech? He went on--
"Mr Brownrigg has gone for Dr Duncan, and will be back in a few moments. I beg you will not exert yourself."
I yielded and lay still. Dr Duncan came. His carriage followed, and I was taken home. Before we started, I said to Mr Brownrigg--for I could not rest till I had said it--
"Mr Brownrigg, I spoke in heat when I came up to you, and I am sure I did you wrong. I am certain you had no improper motive in not making me acquainted with your proceedings. You meant no harm to me. But you did very wrong towards Mr Templeton. I will try to show you that when I am well again; but--"
"But you mustn't talk more now," said Dr Duncan.
So I shook hands with Mr Brownrigg, and we parted. I fear, from what I know of my churchwarden, that he went home with the conviction that he had done perfectly right; and that the parson had made an apology for interfering with a churchwarden who was doing his best to uphold the dignity of Church and State. But perhaps I may be doing him wrong again.
I went home to a week more of bed, and a lengthened process of recovery, during which many were the kind inquiries made after me by my friends, and amongst them by Mr Templeton.
And here I may as well sketch the result of that strange introduction to the dissenting minister.
After I was tolerably well again, I received a friendly letter from him one day, expostulating with me on the inconsistency of my remaining within the pale of the ESTABLISHED CHURCH. The gist of the letter lay in these words:--
"I confess it perplexes me to understand how to reconcile your Christian and friendly behaviour to one whom most of your brethren would consider as much beneath their notice as inferior to them in social position, with your remaining the minister of a Church in which such enormities as you employed your private influence to counteract in my case, are not only possible, but certainly lawful, and recognized by most of its members as likewise expedient."
To this I replied:--
"MY DEAR SIR,--I do not like writing letters, especially on subjects of importance. There are a thousand chances of misunderstanding. Whereas, in a personal interview, there is a possibility of controversy being hallowed by communion. Come and dine with me to-morrow, at any hour convenient to you, and make my apologies to Mrs Templeton for not inviting her with you, on the ground that we want to have a long talk with each other without the distracting influence which even her presence would unavoidably occasion.
"I am," &c. &c.
He accepted my invitation at once. During dinner we talked away, not upon indifferent, but upon the most interesting subjects--connected with the poor, and parish work, and the influence of the higher upon the lower classes of society. At length we sat down on opposite sides of the fire; and as soon as Mrs Pearson had shut the door, I said,--
"You ask me, Mr Templeton, in your very kind letter--" and here I put my hand in my pocket to find it.
"I asked you," interposed Mr Templeton, "how you could belong to a Church which authorizes things of which you yourself so heartily disapprove."
"And I answer you," I returned, "that just to such a Church our Lord belonged."
"I do not quite understand you."
"Our Lord belonged to the Jewish Church."
"But ours is His Church."
"Yes. But principles remain the same. I speak of Him as belonging to a Church. His conduct would be the same in the same circumstances, whatever Church He belonged to, because He would always do right. I want, if you will allow me, to show you the principle upon which He acted with regard to church-rates."
"Certainly. I beg your pardon for interrupting you."
"The Pharisees demanded a tribute, which, it is allowed, was for the support of the temple and its worship. Our Lord did not refuse to acknowledge their authority, notwithstanding the many ways in which they had degraded the religious observances of the Jewish Church. He acknowledged himself a child of the Church, but said that, as a child, He ought to have been left to contribute as He pleased to the support of its ordinances, and not to be compelled after such a fashion."
"There I have you," exclaimed Mr Templeton. "He said they were wrong to make the tribute, or church-rate, if it really was such, compulsory."
"I grant it: it is entirely wrong--a very unchristian proceeding.
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