God's Good Man (Chapter 7, page 1 of 11)


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Chapter 7

Seldom in the placid course of years had St. Rest ever belied its name, or permitted itself to suffer loss of dignity by any undue display of excitement. The arrival of John Walden as minister of the parish,--the re-building of the church, and the discovery of the medieval sarcophagus, which old Josey Letherbarrow always called the Sarky Fagus, together with the consecration ceremony by Bishop Brent,--were the only episodes in ten years that had moved it slightly from its normal calm. For though rumours of wars and various other mishaps and tribulations, reached it through the medium of the newspapers in the ordinary course, it concerned itself not at all with these, such matters being removed and apart from its own way of life and conduct. It was a little world in itself, and had only the vaguest interest in any other world, save perhaps the world to come, which was indeed a very real prospect to most of the villagers, their inherited tendency being towards a quaint and simple piety that was as childlike as it was sincere.

The small congregation to which John Walden preached twice every Sunday was composed of as honest men and clean-minded women as could be found in all England,--men and women with straight notions of honour and duty, and warm, if plain, conceptions of love, truth and family tenderness. They had their little human failings and weaknesses, thanks to Mother Nature, whose children we all are, and who sets her various limitations for the best of us,--but, taken on the whole, they were peculiarly unspoilt by the iconoclastic march of progress; and 'advanced' notions of doubt as to a God, and scepticism as to a future state, had never clouded their quiet minds. Walden had taken them well in hand from the beginning of his ministry,--and being much of a poet and dreamer at heart, he had fostered noble ideals among them, which he taught in simple yet attractive language, with the happiest results. The moral and mental attitude of the villagers generally was a philosophic cheerfulness and obedience to the will of God,--but this did not include a tame submission to tyranny, or a passive acceptance of injury inflicted upon them by merely human oppressors.

Hence,--though any disturbance of the daily equanimity of their agricultural life and pursuits was quite an exceptional circumstance, the news of the 'layin' low of the Five Sisters' was sufficient cause, when once it became generally known, for visible signs of trouble. In its gravity and importance it almost overtopped the advent of the new mistress of the Manor; and when on Tuesday it was whispered that 'Passon Walden' had himself been to expostulate with Oliver Leach concerning the meditated murder of the famous trees, and that his expostulations had been all in vain, clouded brows and ominous looks were to be seen at every corner where the men halted on their way to the fields, or where the women gathered to gossip in the pauses of their domestic labour. Walden himself, pacing impatiently to and fro in his garden, was for once more disturbed in his mind than he cared to admit.

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