Tea à la Mode

Sunday afternoon came. It was the strangest party. Pauline, on being introduced to Mrs. Coleman, made a profound curtsey, which Mrs. Coleman returned by an inclination of her head, as if she consented to recognise Pauline, but to go no further. Tea was served early, as chapel began at half-past six. Mrs. Coleman, although it was Sunday, was very busy. She had made hot buttered toast, and she had bought some muffins, but had appeased her conscience by telling the boy that she would not pay for them till Monday. The milk was always obtained on the same terms. She also purchased some watercresses; but the watercress man demanded prompt cash settlement, and she was in a strait. At last the desire for the watercresses prevailed, and she said:

“How much?”


“Now, mind I give you twopence for yourself⁠—mind I give it you. I do not approve of buying and selling on Sunday. We will settle about the other ha’porth another time.”

“All right, ma’am; if you like it that way, it’s no odds to me;” and Mrs. Coleman went her way upstairs really believing that she had prevented the commission of a crime.

Let those of us cast the stone who can take oath that in their own morality there is no casuistry. Probably ours is worse than hers, because hers was traditional and ours is self-manufactured.

Everything being at last in order, Mrs. Coleman, looking rather warm, but still very neat and very charming, sat at the head of the table, with her back to the fireplace; the Major was on her right, Jean on her left, Pauline next to him, and opposite to her Zachariah. Zachariah and his wife believed in asking a blessing on their food; but, curiously enough, in 1814, even amongst the strictest sort, it had come to be the custom not to ask it at breakfast or tea, but only at dinner; although breakfast and tea in those days certainly needed a blessing as much as dinner, for they were substantial meals. An exception was made in favour of public tea-meetings. At a public tea-meeting a blessing was always asked and a hymn was always sung.

For some time nothing remarkable was said. The weather was very hot, and Mrs. Coleman complained. It had been necessary to keep up a fire for the sake of the kettle. The Major promptly responded to her confession of faintness by opening the window wider, by getting a shawl to put over the back of her chair; and these little attentions she rewarded by smiles and particular watchfulness over his plate and cup. At last he and Jean fell to talking about the jubilee which was to take place on the first of the next month to celebrate the centenary of the “accession of the illustrious family of Brunswick to the throne”⁠—so ran the public notice. There was to be a grand display in the parks, a sham naval action on the Serpentine, and a balloon ascent.

“Are you going, Caillaud?” said the Major. “It will be a holiday.”

“We,” cried Pauline⁠—“we! I should think not. We go to rejoice over your House of Brunswick; and it is to be the anniversary of your battle of the Nile too! We go! No, no.”

“What’s your objection to the House of Brunswick? And as for the battle of the Nile, you are no friend to Napoleon.” So replied the Major, who always took a pleasure in exciting Pauline.

“The House of Brunswick! Why should we thank God for them; thank God for the stupidest race that ever sat upon a throne; thank God for stupidity⁠—and in a king, Major? God, the Maker of the sun and stars⁠—to call upon the nation to bless Him for your Prince Regent. As for the Nile, I am, as you say, no friend to Napoleon, but I am French. It is horrible to me to think⁠—I saw him the other day⁠—that your Brunswick Prince is in London and Napoleon is in Elba.”

“God, after all,” said the Major, laughing, “is not so hostile to stupidity, then, as you suppose.”

“Ah! don’t plague me, Major; that’s what you are always trying to do. I’m not going to thank the Supreme for the Brunswicks. I don’t believe He wanted them here.”

Pauline’s religion was full of the most lamentable inconsistencies, which the Major was very fond of exposing, but without much effect, and her faith was restored after every assault with wonderful celerity. By way of excuse for her we may be permitted to say that a perfectly consistent, unassailable creed, in which conclusion follows from premise in unimpeachable order, is impossible. We cannot construct such a creed about any man or woman we know, and least of all about the universe. We acknowledge opposites which we have no power to bring together; and Pauline, although she knew nothing of philosophy, may not have been completely wrong with her Supreme who hated the Brunswicks and nevertheless sanctioned Carlton House.

Pauline surprised Mrs. Zachariah considerably. A woman, and more particularly a young woman, even supposing her to be quite orthodox, who behaved in that style amongst the members of Pike Street, would have been like a wild seagull in a farmyard of peaceful, clucking, brown-speckled fowls. All the chapel maidens and matrons, of course, were serious; but their seriousness was decent and in order. Mrs. Coleman was therefore scandalised, nervous, and dumb. Jean, as his manner was when his daughter expressed herself strongly, was also silent. His love for her was a consuming, hungry fire. It utterly extinguished all trace, not merely of selfishness, but of self, in him, and he was perfectly content, when Pauline spoke well, to remain quiet, and not allow a word of his to disturb the effect which he thought she ought to produce.

The Major, as a man of the world, thought the conversation was becoming a little too metaphysical, and asked Mrs. Coleman gaily if she would like to see the fête.

“Really, I hardly know what to say. I suppose”⁠—and this was said with a peculiar acidity⁠—“there is nothing wrong in it? Zachariah, my dear, would you like to go?”

Zachariah did not reply. His thoughts were elsewhere. But at last the spirit moved in him:

“Miss Pauline, your Supreme Being won’t help you very far. There is no light save in God’s Holy Word. God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all. As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of One shall many be made righteous. That is the explanation; that is the gospel. God allows all this wickedness that His own glory may be manifested thereby, and His own love in sending Jesus Christ to save us: that, as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. Do you ask me why does God wink at the crimes of kings and murderers? What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He had afore prepared unto glory, even us whom He had called? Miss Pauline, the mere light of human reason will never save you or give you peace. Unless you believe God’s Word you are lost; lost here and hereafter; lost here even, for until you believe it you wander in a fog of ever deepening confusion. All is dark and inexplicable.”

Being very much excited, he used largely the words of St. Paul, and not his own. How clear it all seemed to him, how indisputable! Childish association and years of unquestioning repetition gave an absolute certainty to what was almost unmeaning to other people.

Mrs. Zachariah, although she had expressed a strong desire for the Major’s conversion, and was the only other representative of the chapel present, was very fidgety and uncomfortable during this speech. She had an exquisite art, which she sometimes practised, of dropping her husband, or rather bringing him down. So, when there was a pause, everybody being moved at least by his earnestness, she said:

“My dear, will you take any more tea?”

He was looking on the tablecloth, with his head on his hands, and did not answer.

“Major Maitland, may I give you some more tea?”

“No, thank you.” The Major too was impressed⁠—more impressed than the lady who sat next to him, and she felt rebuffed and annoyed. To Pauline, Zachariah had spoken Hebrew; but his passion was human, and her heart leapt out to meet him, although she knew not what answer to make. Her father was in the same position; but the Major’s case was a little different. He had certainly at some time or other read the Epistle to the Romans, and some expressions were not entirely unfamiliar to him.

“ ‘Vessels of wrath fitted to destruction!’⁠—a strong and noble phrase. Who are your vessels of wrath, Coleman?”

Caillaud and Pauline saw a little light, but it was speedily eclipsed again.

“The unregenerate.”

“Who are they?”

“Those whom God has not called.”

“Castlereagh, Liverpool, Sidmouth, and the rest of the gang, for example?”

Zachariah felt that the moment had come.

“Yes, yes; but not only they. More than they. God help me if I deny the Cross of Christ⁠—all of us into whose hearts God’s grace has not been poured⁠—we, you, all of us, if we have not been born of the Spirit and redeemed by the sacrifice of His Son.”

Zachariah put in the “us” and the “we,” it will be observed. It was a concession to blunt the sharpness of that dreadful dividing-line.

“We? Not yourself, Caillaud, and Pauline?”

He could not face the question. Something within him said that he ought to have gone further; that he ought to have singled out the Major, Caillaud, and Pauline; held them fast, looked straight into their eyes, and told them each one there and then that they were in the bonds of iniquity, sold unto Satan, and in danger of hellfire. But, alas! he was at least a century and a half too late. He struggled, wrestled, self against self, and failed, not through want of courage, but because he wanted a deeper conviction. The system was still the same, even to its smallest details, but the application had become difficult. The application, indeed, was a good deal left to the sinner himself. That was the difference. Phrases had been invented or discovered which served to express modern hesitation to bring the accepted doctrine into actual, direct, weekday practice. It was in that way that it was gradually bled into impotence. One of these phrases came into his mind. It was from his favourite author:

“ ‘Who art thou that judgest?’ It is not for me, Major Maitland.”

Ah, but, Zachariah, do you not remember that Paul is not speaking of those who deny the Lord, but of the weak in faith; of differences in eating and drinking, and the observation of days? Whether he remembered it or not, he could say no more. Caillaud, the Major, Pauline, condemned to the everlasting consequences of the wrath of the Almighty! He could not pronounce such a sentence, and yet his conscience whispered that just for want of the last nail in a sure place what he had built would come tumbling to the ground. During the conversation the time had stolen away, and, to their horror, Zachariah and his wife discovered that it was a quarter-past six. He hastily informed his guests that he had hoped they would attend him to his chapel. Would they go? The Major consented. He had nothing particular on hand, but Caillaud and Pauline refused. Zachariah was particularly urgent that these two should accompany him, but they were steadfast, for all set religious performances were hateful to them.

“No, Coleman, no more; I know what it all means.”

“And I,” added Pauline, “cannot sit still with so many respectable people; I never could. I have been to church, and always felt impelled to do something peculiar in it which would have made them turn me out. I cannot, too, endure preaching. I cannot tolerate that man up in the pulpit looking down over all the people⁠—so wise and so self-satisfied. I want to pull him out and say. ‘Here, you, sir, come here and let me see if you can tell me two or three things I want to know.’ Then, Mr. Coleman, I am never well in a great building, especially in a church; I have such a weight upon my head as if the roof were resting on it.”

He looked mournfully at her, but there was no time to remonstrate. Mrs. Zachariah was ready, in her Sunday best of sober bluish cloud-colour. Although it was her Sunday best, there was not a single thread of finery on it, and there was not a single crease nor spot. She bade Caillaud and Pauline goodbye with much cheerfulness, and tripped downstairs. The Major had preceded her, but Zachariah lingered for a moment with the other two.

“Come, my dear, make haste, we shall be so late.”

“Go on with the Major; I shall catch you in a moment; I walk faster than you. I must close the window a trifle, and take two or three of the coals off the fire.”

Caillaud and Pauline lingered too. The three were infinitely nearer to one another than they knew. Zachariah thought he was so far, and yet he was so close. The man rose up behind the Calvinist, and reached out arms to touch and embrace his friends.

“Goodbye, Caillaud; goodbye, Pauline! May God in His mercy bless and save you. God bless you!”

Caillaud looked steadfastly at him for a moment, and then, in his half-forgotten French fashion, threw his arms round his neck, and the two remained for a moment locked together, Pauline standing by herself apart. She came forward, took Zachariah’s hand, when it was free, in both her own, held her head back a little, as if for clearness of survey, and said slowly, “God bless you, Mr. Coleman.” She then went downstairs. Her father followed her, and Zachariah went after his wife and the Major, whom, however, he did not overtake till he reached the chapel door, where they were both waiting for him.