The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, September, 1922
With this telegram in his hand, Gilbert felt more sure than ever that his was to be no ordinary mission in life. For four years he had been squeezing college life dry of all that could contribute to his filling a niche adapted to his special sense of a high calling. Now his last exam, was behind him, and he held in his hand a telegram offering him a two years' travelling scholarship in America, to pursue post-graduate studies in languages, social sciences, or philosophy.
The times were out of joint; but there was P. D. Gilbert, Master of Arts and of his destiny, waiting to feel its pulse and diagnose its ills and prescribe for it. If it should put out its tongue at him, as it had to the prophets and sages of all time, why, so much the better for his diagnosis. His was to be no common vocation; no prosaic law, or teaching, or preaching. He must front "the world the flesh and the devil" with plain straight thinking, and a point of view that he was pleased to call peculiar. Being a philologue he used the word in its etymological sense.
His first week at sea brought him in contact with some nice people socially—the scholarship carried a first-class passage-and also with some nice problems sociologically. Behold him, then, offering a polite ear to .Mrs. Hamilton-Egerton in a secluded part of the ship.
"Now my dear Mr. Gilbert, I know what boys are," (Mr. Gilbert's 23 years made tumult in his silent breast.) "I have boys of my own, so I want you to think that what I say is meant with the most kindly interest in the world. You must know that everybody is talking about you. Everybody else dresses for dinner in the saloon. Of course I realise that you cannot provide a dinner-suit until you reach the next port, but my husband has another one that he would very gladly lend you. I would like to say that my daughter—ah—hopes that you will take a sensible view in this matter, as she—ah—has found you do in all other things."
"As you have been frank with me, I can do no less for you in return," answered Gilbert. "You must understand that this is not a matter of necessity, except in so far as a question of principle becomes one of necessity. My studies in economics have convinced me that half our industrial 'malaise' is due to misdirected production. Only when we cease demanding luxuries—sartorial luxuries like dinner suits—can we expect producers—tailors—to set about clothing the naked. The same holds good concerning the housing of the homeless and feeding the hungry. Half our convention and ostentation is fratricidal selfishness."
"Really Emmeline," said Mrs. Hamilton-Egerton to her daughter later in the day "I can't have you going, about so much with that Mr. Gilbert. He seems to be a student, and he has such peculiar ideas."
Next day trouble developed in the bowels of the ship. To be quite accurate, it Originated in those of a fireman, and was due his messmates averred to the fare served up to them by a soulless ship page 50 ping company. They were talking' pointedly about direct enforcement of their award if the shift went on one short and the food did not improve. To Gilbert in the frying-pan with the Hamilton-Egertons, the fire seemed a haven—if not heavenly, at least less tophet-like. Besides here was a new sociological problem. So he volunteered as trimmer, the stokehold staff was adjusted accordingly, and above decks and below, all hearts were at rest.
Gilbert enjoyed himself. He had to wheel coal in a barrow from the bunkers to the boilers, and the thought that he was for the first time taking a productive part in the world's work elated him beyond measure. There was still enough idle discontent among those fellow workers of his to make interesting studying. Fergus McManus, chief engineer, was interested in it from the special point of view of his steam-gauge. The ship's reputation and his own were at stake unless he could supply an adequate stimulus for his minions of the shovel. He bawled into the stoke-hole, feeling quite sure he had one.
Fergus was not used to find his word return unto him void, and never before in thirty-five years on the high seas had a fireman answered him back oath for oath."Here, you Gilbert, or whatever ye ca' yersel, ye heird what he said. Can ye testify tae Caaptin Doanal'son that ye heird thon felly sweir at me?"
"I certainly heard what he said, sir, but as for swearing, what was wrong with the word in question? It comes of perfectly good romance stock. It was in use before Caesar's day, and the 'a' between two palatals underwent the usual change in French. It has perfectly sound relatives in Roumanian and Spanish, and its German prototype is accepted in the best society."
"Hell and Tammas. what sort o' a loon is yon? They hae gi'en me yin o' thae dawmed stuidents. My Certes! A maist peeculiar buddy for tae trim coals. It's nae guid tae me…!"
Gilbert was not long making a special niche for himself when he disembarked. The Trinitarian Church conducted a Down Town Mission and he was able to revive a Boys' Club which claimed him in intervals of reading and laboratory work at the University. This sort of tiling had always appealed to him; how he revelled in the rough and tumble ball games, the scout camps under the stars, the talks round the embers of a camp fire. He was going to find his vocation among these boys. They were responsive to his point of view. At any rate they would get a live presentation of practical religion, the works that make the faith go round. Two months after he had been there he received a letter. Dear Mr. Gilbert—
It has been represented to my committee that you as a student of Regina University, may hold somewhat peculiar views as to religious instruction. In fact, it is on record that you told the boys that "a good honest doubt is worth all your creeds." While appreciating the motive that prompts you to render service of this kind, my committee feels it incumbent upon it to ask you, at your earliest convenience, for a statement of your beliefs, if any.
L. Sullivan.(Secretary Trinitarian Down Town Mission.)