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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8


page 143


The Sunday after my arrival in Sydney, I for the first, time since leaving England, went to church. It was so curious: just like being metamorphosed backwards into a previous state of existence. Everything was exactly what I had been accustomed to at home. The women in their smartest silks rustling into their little rectangular boxes of pews: the men in what a back-woodsman would call their "Sunday go-to-meeting trouserloons," putting their faces into the hats out of which they had just taken their heads; the flutter of leaves, the murmur of responses, the glib routine assent to incomprehensible dogmas, the rapid transition from the utterances of sorrow and contrition to those of joy and peace; the sitting, standing and kneeling, everything was so absurdly identical that I felt myself expanding into an all-pervading smile at the ludicrous accuracy of the imitation. Being one of the principal churches in Sydney, it was not unnatural to look for some degree of intelligence in the preaching department. It was thoughtless of me, I own, but until I heard that sermon I had failed to realise the vastness of the gulf that separates me from my former self. That simple utterance of woe, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me," the preacher—a pleasant, though delicate and sentimental-looking young fellow—told us incontrovertibly established the existence of a future life, and David's belief in it. It proved also that our faculty of recognising those whom we have loved and lost on earth would be greatly increased there. "For David evidently looked forward to seeing his child in heaven; but the changes that would be made in its appearance by its transition from the royal nursery to the society of glorified angels, would prevent his recognising it unless his faculties were greatly improved; especially as old men do not generally take notice of infants so as to know them apart." I assure you, upon my honour, that this is, as nearly as I can remember it, word for word what the preacher said. And when on coming out of the church I looked round among the congregation for expressions of indignation at his daring to talk such nonsense to grown up men and women, I actually saw people turn up their eyes and exclaim "What a lovely discourse." For myself, I shall not trust myself to go again. It irritates me.

In the pew with me was a young lady who, when the service had been going on for some time, perceived my lack of a prayer-book, and lent me one; but after several vain attempts to find the places I laid it down. The air of mingled wonderment and amusement with which she regarded me showed that she took me for a sort of white savage. But seeing, I suppose, that I did not look dangerous, she very good-naturedly found all the places for me. Her veil prevented me from seeing her face very distinctly, but the tall graceful figure, and the rich auburn hair, lying on the back of her neck, and, above all, the voice, when joining in the singing, a voice so rich and full of feeling, and, rarest of all qualities, so capable of making others feel, convinced me that she must be both beautiful and good. Her manner, when finding the places for me, was almost motherly, indicating no self-consciousness, but only anxiety to do a service. But, whether beautiful or not, I must own that her presence diffused a sort of charm around, which you will doubtless ascribe to the fact that I am an uncivilised gold-digger, and she a woman (though not necessarily the woman).

During the sermon I detected myself indignantly uttering the word "stuff'." I did not know I had done so audibly until I saw her start and look towards me, as if roused from a reverie. She then seemed to listen a few moments, when I am almost certain I heard her say to herself, "Why so it is."—The Pilgrim and the Shrine.