THE PRODIGAL SON.
By Walter Higgins.
It was Sunday evening, about nine o’clock, in the year nineteen hundred and anything you like. The Vicar, his wife and family, together with Sir Jasper Claddon, their intimate and wealthy friend, bad just returned from church, and were about to settle down for supper.
“John,” said the Vicar’s wife in a high-pitched, toneless voice, generally known as “aristocratic,” “have I heard that sermon before ?”
“I don’t know, my dear; I have preached it fifteen times.”
“In your own church, John?”
“Don’t ask so many questions, my dear; you are really–”
“But it’s a splendid sermon for all that,” interrupted Sir Jasper. ” It’s one of those that cannot be repeated too often or too strongly. The more these ‘ reformers’ are shown up and denounced from our pulpits the better for good old England. I was immensely struck with your eloquent exposure of these fearful Socialists. In my opinion, Socialism is the anti-Christ mentioned in the Gospels.”
The Vicar’s wife shuddered. All were attentive, Socialism being to them an interesting though repulsive subject. Sir Jasper continued:
“I reckon the world’s going Socialist mad! Socialist mad!” he repeated. “Fancy preaching that all men are equal.” He turned to the butler who had just entered the room, “Why, Simpson, they’ll be saying next that we’re as good as each other.”
“Yes, sir,” said Simpson, softly; “the thing’s absurd on the face of it.”
“What do you mean?” snapped Sir Jasper, not quite sure of Simpson’s tone.
“Just what you said, sir.” And Simpson withdrew quietly.
“I cannot think what the world is coming to. Things didn’t happen like this at one time,” said the Vicar. “I remember the time when working men used to come to hear me preach.”
“Some few years ago that,” said the Vicar’s son, a bright, open-faced lad of some twenty summers.
“And the point about it all is,” continued the Vicar; “we’re powerless to move in the matter. Ever since they stopped plural voting, and abolished the House of Lords, and disestablished the Church, we’ve had no say. It’s absolute tyranny.”
“Why don’t you rebel?” suggested the son, with a laugh. “Band yourselves together, and form a Social Aristocratic Federation, or an Independent Leisure Party, and hold meetings in Hyde Park, and have processions, and go and storm the Labour Churches, and raid the House of Commons.”
“And be sent to prison like the suffragettes in the olden days,” said the Vicar’s eldest daughter, scornfully. “I really believe you sympathise with these awful people.”
“I do—with all my big heart.”
“What?” thundered the Vicar; “you sympathise with Socialists? I thought I’d educated you.”
“You have, father.”
“Do you mean to tell me –” began Sir Jasper, testily.
“I mean to tell you—that I am a Socialist.”
Sir Jasper gasped for breath, his face assuming a purple hue: words failed him for some moments. “And you think you’re going to marry my daughter?” Once more he paused involuntarily.
“This grieves me more than you can think,” said the Vicar. “I always thought you were going to be a missionary.”
All eyes regarded the boy.
“Don’t mistake me, father,” he said. “I am going to be a missionary. Never for one instant have I lost sight of that; never for one instant have I realised the need of that more than now. The heathen are in gross darkness. I will go among them and show them the Light of the World. And they shall follow that Light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. I will preach to them, will work. I will set before them the Truth, the Truth that shall make them free. And they shall be sanctified through Truth. I will reveal to them the Way, the only Living Way, the Way of Salvation, that leadeth unto Life.”
The Vicar sighed. “That’s better, my boy: I like to hear you talk like that.” A tear trickled down the mother’s cheek. Sir Jasper beamed.
“The one passionate desire of my life is to be a missionary. Oh, how they need someone—the poor, sunken, benighted, degraded pieces of humanity.”
“Too true!” The Vicar shook his head, dolefully.
“And I start to-morrow,” announced the boy, suddenly.
“What?” came the astonished chorus.
“You’re going abroad to-morrow?” cried the mother, terror-stricken.
“Abroad?” asked the son. “Who said anything about going abroad?”
“But the missionary work?”
“The heathens I begin to convert to-morrow are father’s congregation. The Way, the Truth, and the Life, that I shall teach them is Socialism.”
A period of profound and eloquent silence preceded the burst of the storm.