"Lackey is what you was. Fighting wars you had no business fighting, against people who had done you no harm."
These words, which would formerly have roused the Colonel to action, sounded unusually reasonable just now. Plain facts, plainly told. He was, of course, vulnerable to suggestion. A man can put up with a great deal without being conscious of much more than "getting through". But the moment he is relieved of his burden, his resolve vanishes along with his cares. The heavy coat, the brotherly companionship being offered him now in the form of Egan's warming handclasp, revealed, by contrast, what a pariah he had become, how hellish these last few months had been, and what little promise the future held. He felt like weeping.
"I suppose so," the Colonel said simply. "Never thought about it really." He tried mustering up a defense of his involvement. "I like...a good parade."
"Well you are still in one," Egan said heartily, reaching into the pocket of his wild, paisley-patterned jacket and producing a silver flask. "Just joining a different regiment. Think of it that way. We believe in a violent redistribution of society's wealth. Can you grasp that?"
The thud of doors being slammed made all three men turn.
"Why, where are they?"
The entire space, makeshift home to at least a hundred, was now empty.
"Made short work of that lot," Mr. Rossetti opined moodily.
"Come," Egan said, seeing the Colonel's shocked expression. "Let us drink to your fellows, then. Where did you serve? India? To them that lie in the fields round Hyderbad. And the hills below Mysore. And here," he raised his flask, securely hidden, as the first of the coaches thundered by, "to them of Stepney pier!" he called, over the clatter of horses hooves on stone. The cattle car, so full it almost fell over, careened past them. There were no windows.
"Casualties," Egan concluded softly, tipping the flask as the din died. The Reverend Belcher dreamed he was being crucified. It was not unpleasant. He felt no pain. He did feel awkward, exposing himself so, while Nan, his parents, and Mrs. Hatchitt stood at the foot of the Cross. Then Jesus, who by all rights should have been in his place, came down from Heaven and asked: "What are you doing later tonight?"
"Later?" the Reverend echoed stupidly.
"Well are you going to spend your entire life up there?" the Savior went on, as if this were some pleasurable interlude, being nailed hand and foot, the Crown of Thorns sending a stream of blood that stung his eyes. "Have you considered a country living?"
"I fear I am not fitted for the Church," the Reverend sighed.
"It is a personal decision," Jesus shrugged, or rather His voice did, for there was no corporeal presence, just an intimacy.
The Reverend, still within his dream, complained to himself: Here I am, finally granted a Vision to prop my tottering faith, and there is no glory, no sounding of trumpets, not even a command to go forward. Jesus was as diffident as some fellow divinity student met at tea.
"I would say, though," He went on, "that your present position, just being up there, tortured, as it were, indicates you are following in Someone's footsteps."
"Ah, but whose?" the Reverend asked glumly.
When he woke, it was close to six, six in the evening. He was still propped on the sofa in his study. The sheaf of paper on which he meant to start tomorrow's sermon had slid, unmarked, to the floor.
"And I have that tiresome dinner party to attend," he grumbled, realizing he would have to repeat himself tomorrow, not that anyone in the congregation would notice or care.
He got up and yawned. It was nice, despite the inconclusive nature of their encounter, to have finally met Jesus, having heard so much about Him. The Son of God had seemed surprisingly...approachable. You never knew with famous people how they would act, grand or familiar. Well, he would find out tonight.
The Reverend had never received an invitation stamped with a ducal coronet before, much less one borne by a footman. Luckily, Mrs. Hatchitt had been there, so he had bathed in the full glory of the moment, having the liveried chap wait while he wrote out his reply. You could have driven a steam locomotive right into the housekeeper's mouth, which gaped wide and black as the Severn Tunnel.
"You know a Duchess?" Mrs. Hatchitt had asked, as he cleared aside some bric-a-brac to place the invitation on the mantle.
"No," he admitted. "But apparently she knows me. Or of me."