God's Good Man (Chapter 1, page 2 of 14)


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Chapter 1

There was a certain 'man of worship' in the world at the particular time when this present record of life and love begins, who found himself very well-disposed to 'flourish his heart' in the Maloryan manner prescribed, when after many dark days of unseasonable cold and general atmospheric depression, May at last came in rejoicing. Seated under broad apple-boughs, which spread around him like a canopy studded with rosy bud-jewels that shone glossy bright against the rough dark-brown stems, he surveyed the smiling scenery of his own garden with an air of satisfaction that was almost boyish, though his years had run well past forty, and he was a parson to boot. A gravely sedate demeanour would have seemed the more fitting facial expression for his age and the generally accepted nature of his calling,--a kind of deprecatory toleration of the sunshine as part of the universal 'vanity' of mundane things,--or a condescending consciousness of the bursting apple-blossoms within his reach as a kind of inferior earthy circumstance which could neither be altered nor avoided.

The Reverend John Walden, however, was one of those rarely gifted individuals who cannot assume an aspect which is foreign to temperament. He was of a cheerful, even sanguine disposition, and his countenance faithfully reflected the ordinary bent of his humour. Seeing him at a distance, the casual observer would at once have judged him to be either an athlete or an ascetic. There was no superfluous flesh about him; he was tall and muscular, with well- knit limbs, broad shoulders, and a head altogether lacking in the humble or conciliatory 'droop' which all worldly-wise parsons cultivate for the benefit of their rich patrons. It was a distinctively proud head,--almost aggressive,--indicative of strong character and self-reliance, well-poised on a full throat, and set off by a considerable quantity of dark brown hair which was refractory in brushing, inclined to uncanonical curls, and plentifully dashed with grey.

A broad forehead, deeply-set, dark- blue eyes, a straight and very prominent nose, a strong jaw and obstinate chin,--a firmly moulded mouth, round which many a sweet and tender thought had drawn kindly little lines of gentle smiling that were scarcely hidden by the silver-brown moustache,--such, briefly, was the appearance of one, who though only a country clergyman, of whom the great world knew nothing, was the living representative of more powerful authority to his little 'cure of souls' than either the bishop of the diocese, or the King in all his majesty.

He was the sole owner of one of the smallest 'livings' in England,-- an obscure, deeply-hidden, but perfectly unspoilt and beautiful relic of mediaeval days, situated in one of the loveliest of woodland counties, and known as the village of St. Rest, sometimes called 'St. Est.' Until quite lately there had been considerable doubt as to the origin of this name, and the correct manner of its pronouncement. Some said it should be, 'St. East,' because, right across the purple moorland and beyond the line of blue hills where the sun rose, there stretched the sea, miles away and invisible, it is true, but nevertheless asserting its salty savour in every breath of wind that blew across the tufted pines. 'St. East,' therefore, said certain rural sages, was the real name of the village, because it faced the sea towards the east. Others, however, declared that the name was derived from the memory of some early Norman church on the banks of the peaceful river that wound its slow clear length in pellucid silver ribbons of light round and about the clover fields and high banks fringed with wild rose and snowy thorn, and that it should, therefore, be 'St. Rest,' or better still, 'The Saint's Rest.' This latter theory had recently received strong confirmation by an unexpected witness to the past,--as will presently be duly seen and attested.

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