“That is very generous of Bull,” remarked the Dean when he had left the room.
“Yes,” said another dignitary, “only I think that the undertaking must be looked upon as conditional. I understand, well, that the money belongs to Mrs. Bull.”
“Probably she will endorse the bond as she is a liberal little woman,” said the Dean, “and in any case our brother Bull, if I may be pardoned a vulgarism, will knock the stuffing out of that pestilent Menzi and his crowd.”
“Do you think so?” asked the other. “I am not so certain. I have met old Menzi, and he is a tough nut to crack. He may ‘knock the stuffing’ out of him. Bull, sound as he is, and splendid as he is in many ways, does not, it seems to me, quite understand natives, or that it is easier to lead them than to drive them.”
“Perhaps not,” said the Dean, “but in the case of these Sisas it is rather a matter of Hobson’s choice, isn’t it?”
So this affair was settled, and in due course Thomas received his letter of appointment as priest-in-charge of the Sisa station.
On his arrival home a few days later, where he was not expected till the following week, Thomas was so pre-occupied that he scarcely seemed to notice his wife’s affectionate greeting; even the fact that both she and Tabitha were arrayed in smart and unmissionary-like garments escaped him. Dorcas also looked pre-occupied, the truth being that she had asked a few young people, officers and maidens of the place (alas! as it chanced, among them were no clergy or their wives and daughters), to play tennis that afternoon and some of them to stop to supper. Now she was wondering how her austere spouse would take the news. He might be cross and lecture her; when he was both cross and lectured the combination was not agreeable.
A few formal enquiries as to health and a certain sick person were made and answered. Dorcas assured him that they were both quite well, Tabitha especially, and that she had visited the afflicted woman as directed.
“And how was she, dear?” he asked.
“I don’t know, dear,” she answered. “You see, when I got to the house I met Mrs. Tomley, the Rector’s wife, at the door, and she said, rather pointedly I thought, that she and her husband were looking after the case, and though grateful for the kind assistance you had rendered, felt that they need not trouble us any more, as the patient was a parishioner of theirs.”
“Did they?” said Thomas with a frown. “Considering all things–well, let it be.”
Dorcas was quite content to do so, for she was aware that her husband’s good-heartedness was apt to be interpreted as poaching by some who should have known better, and that in fact the ground was dangerous.
“I have something to tell you,” she began nervously, “about an arrangement I have made for this afternoon.”
Mr. Bull, who was drinking a tumbler of water–he was a teetotaller and non-smoker, and one of his grievances was that his wife found it desirable to take a little wine for the Pauline reason–set it down and said:
“Never mind your afternoon arrangements, my dear; they are generally of a sort that can be altered, for _I_ have something to tell _you_, something very important. My call has come.”
“Your call, dear. What call? I did not know that you expected anyone–and, by the way—-”
She got no further, for her husband interrupted.
“Do not be ridiculous, Dorcas. I said call–not caller, and I use the word in its higher sense.”
“Oh! I understand, forgive me for being so stupid. Have they made you a bishop?”
“I mean a dean, or an archdeacon, or something!” she went on confusedly.
“No, Dorcas, they have not. I could scarcely expect promotion as yet, though it is true that I thought–but never mind, others no doubt have better claims and longer service. I have, however, been honoured with a most responsible duty.”
“Indeed, dear. What duty?”
“I have been nominated priest-in-charge of the Sisa Station.”
“O-oh! and where is that? Is it anywhere near Durban, or perhaps Maritzburg?”
“I don’t exactly know at present, though I understand that it is about six days’ trek from Eshowe in Zululand, but over the border in Portuguese territory. Indeed, I am not sure that one can trek all the way, at least when the rivers are in flood. Then it is necessary to cross one of them in a basket slung upon a rope, or if the river is not too full, in a punt. At this season the basket is most used.”
“Great Heavens, Thomas! do you propose to put me and Tabbie in a basket, like St. Paul, and did you remember that we have just taken on this house for another year?”
“Of course I do. The families of missionaries must expect to face hardships, from which it is true circumstances have relieved you up to the present. It is therefore only right that they should begin now, when Tabitha has become as strong as any child of her age that I know. As for the house, I had forgotten all about it. It must be relet, or failing that we must bear the loss, which fortunately we can well afford.”