The Rector of St. Marks (Chapter 1, page 1 of 4)


 
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Chapter 1

The Sunday sermon was finished, and the young rector of St. Mark's
turned gladly from his study-table to the pleasant south window where
the June roses were peeping in, and abandoned himself for a few
moments to the feeling of relief he always experienced when his week's
work was done. To say that no secular thoughts had intruded themselves
upon the rector's mind, as he planned and wrote that sermon, would not
be true; for, though morbidly conscientious on many points and
earnestly striving to be a faithful shepherd of the souls committed to
his care, Arthur Leighton possessed the natural desire that those who
listened to him should not only think well of what he taught but also
of the form in which the teaching was presented. When he became a
clergyman he did not cease to be a man, with all a man's capacity to
love and to be loved, and so, though he fought and prayed against it,
he had seldom brought a sermon to the people of St. Mark's in which
there was not a thought of Anna Ruthven's soft, brown eyes, and the
way they would look at him across the heads of the congregation. Anna
led the village choir, and the rector was painfully conscious that far
too much of earth was mingled with his devotional feelings during the
moments when, the singing over, he walked from his armchair to the
pulpit and heard the rustle of the crimson curtain in the organ loft
as it was drawn back, disclosing to view the five heads of which
Anna's was the center. It was very wrong, he knew, and to-day he had
prayed earnestly for pardon, when, after choosing his text, "Simon,
Simon, lovest thou me?" instead of plunging at once into his subject,
he had, without a thought of what he was doing, idly written upon a
scrap of paper lying near, "Anna, Anna, lovest thou me, more than
these?" the these, referring to the wealthy Thornton Hastings, his old
classmate in college, who was going to Saratoga this very summer, for
the purpose of meeting Anna Ruthven and deciding if she would do to
become Mrs. Thornton Hastings, and mistress of the house on Madison
Square. With a bitter groan at the enormity of his sin, and a fervent
prayer for forgiveness, the rector had torn the slips of paper in
shreds and given himself so completely to his work that his sermon was
done a full hour earlier than usual, and he was free to indulge in
reveries of Anna for as long a time as he pleased.

"I wonder if Mrs. Meredith has come," he thought, as, with his feet
upon the window-sill, he sat looking across the meadow-land to where
the chimneys and gable roof of Captain Humphreys' house was visible,
for Captain Humphreys was Anna Ruthven's grandfather, and it was there
she had lived since she was three years old.

 
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