XV A STUDENT, HIS COMRADES, AND HIS CHURCH
A STUDENT, HIS COMRADES, AND HIS CHURCH
IT is with many misgivings that "A Student in Arms" offers the present article to his readers. It is so horribly egotistical, being frankly a record of personal experiences and resultant personal beliefs, that it can only be written in the third person. He has no right to imagine that any one is interested in his personal opinions or history, and yet he has a feeling that a certain number of his readers are inclined to class him as a bit of a fraud, and that is a state of affairs which he does not want to continue. "Who is this fellow? Some of his articles aren't bad; but why this bitter and prejudiced attack on the Church, and this hasty and unjust condemnation of the clergy, when a few weeks ago he was pretending to be a Churchman himself? Probably he is one of these modern sentimentalists who are full of sloppy ideals, and empty of sound principles: whose beliefs are nebulous, and their ideals impracticable." That is the sort of judgment that he wants to appeal against.
In order to render what follows intelligible it is unfortunately necessary to go into a little bald personal history. The Student was in a Service battalion, and very early in the proceedings was made a sergeant. He remained a platoon sergeant for about nine months, with "the beloved Captain" as his subaltern. Then, for reasons which only concern himself, he descended with a bump to the rank of private, and was transferred to a different company. He is now a temporary second lieutenant on probation for his sins.
So much for that. Now one Sunday morning the Student, who is now transferred to the home establishment, went, as his custom is, to Holy Communion, where he took the Bread and Wine in the visible company of the sergeant-major's wife and daughter. But when he shut his eyes he saw a whole host of figures that he knew and loved kneeling, as he thought, at his side. Yet this was the perplexing part, that so far as he knew, a great many of them had never been to Communion in their lives, or even to Church, unless they were marched there. They were his old comrades. Then afterwards, when he ought to have been at Matins, he was wandering through the woods like any heathen, and the same throng accompanied him. In fact all that day he had only to shut his eyes, and there they were.
There was Fred, who had been his assistant sergeant in the old platoon. There he was, with his short, stodgy figure, his red cheeks and waxed mustaches, his black eyes and truculent voice. For eight long months they had slept and worked and amused themselves side by side, with never an angry word or a misunderstanding, never a note of jealousy or of pique. They had grown in mutual understanding and respect and affection without ever saying a word about it. Then, on the last night, when the Student told his chum that he was to be a private the following day, Fred the inarticulate spoke words that the Student will never forget: words which showed a sympathy, an understanding, and a generosity which a man is lucky to meet with once in a lifetime.
Then there were the boys of the old platoon. There was Wullie, the dour pessimist from Manchester way, who died in England. Wullie was, I doubt not, a good workman in civil life; but he was sadly awkward at his drills. The Student, who was his sergeant, was forever pointing out his deficiencies, as it was his business to do; but at last Wullie could bear it no longer, and losing his temper told the sergeant in the plain language of the North Country that he had him set, and did not give him a chance. And because the Student who was his sergeant kept his temper, and was able to recognize the genuine grievance of a real trier, and answered with soft, encouraging words, Wullie never forgot it, and was his staunch supporter till the end.
Then there was Tommy, the Londoner with the big nose and the lively temperament. Tommy was Wullie's chum, because both were straight, clean-living men, and faithful to their wives. And though their temperaments, aye, and their class, were so different, their principles were the same, and both had suffered for them in the rough life of the working world.
There was Dave, too. Dave was a pit lad from Lancashire. His speech was plain and homely, not to say pungent. His humor was quaint and pithy. His strength and will to work were without equal. He was a faithful and loving husband and father to the little woman and the kiddies in the far Lancashire village; and because the Student who was his sergeant was once able to help him a bit to go and see a child who was dying, Dave never forgot it. And when the sergeant fell from his high estate Dave said "nowt," but used to purloin his mess tin and make it shine like silver, for in that art he was mighty cunning; and the Student knew what he meant, and will not forget.
Then there was little Jim from Brum, ætat. sixteen. He had the awkward grace of a young colt, and the innocent, pathetic eyes of an antelope, mischief and secret mirth lurked in the corners of his mouth, and his heart was strong and undismayed like the heart of a young lion. Jim shall not be forgotten.
Besides these there were the lads of the company in which the Student found himself after his descent. There was Billy who, when the Student was feeling rather awkward and dazed after his rapid fall in rank, took possession of him., and constituted himself the most loyal and unselfish friend that ever man had; Billy, the most modest lump of efficiency that ever wore a stripe and shall wear a star.
There was D-----, the genial boon companion, generous friend, and faithful lover. There was Albert, the silent and reserved and observant, who did not quickly give his loyalty to any man, but who, when he did give it, gave without stint. There was Jack, the lion-hearted bomber, who was always most cheery when cheerfulness was at a premium.
These are but a few of the comrades with whom the Student held silent communion that Sunday morning; yet only one of them had ever knelt at his side in the flesh to receive the Bread and Wine of Life. They were the comrades of a year ago. Now they are scattered. Some are dead and some maimed, some are still fighting, and some promoted. Never again shall they meet in this world. Yet the Student prays that if ever he forgets them, or is ashamed of them, he may be cut off from the company of honest men. Of the Church in which he believes they are members, whether they know it or not. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in Whom he believes are their God too, whether they know it or not. For the Father is the Giver, and the Son is the Lord, and the Spirit is the Inspirer of all good life; and if these were not good---the Student is a blasphemer, and calls evil good, and good evil. The Student calls himself a Churchman. He believes in the Holy Catholic Church invisible, wherein is and shall be gathered up "all we have hoped and dreamed of good." He also calls himself an English Churchman. But he will never be satisfied or cry "All's well " till the Church of England is the Church of all good men and women in England, and until all the good thoughts and deeds in England are laid at the feet of the Lord of All Good Life, through the medium of His body the Church. Yet when he criticizes the Church of England he is not blaming any particular body of men such as the clergy. Organization, methods, clerisy, laity, all are lacking. Human nature is frail and sinful. These things must be so. Yet he accounts it damnable treachery, faithlessness, and blasphemy to sit down under it. To rest content with the inevitable is surely the negation of faith.