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Thursday, August 30, 2007
Chapter 6: The Pagans Are Coming!

An Unusual Visitor

The distraught president of the church's Ladies Auxiliary was seated in the Vicar's son's sitting room, where, until her arrival, the Prince of Vilka had been on the verge of taking his leave, after a pleasant evening of conversation and too much excellent food. Only the Prince and the Vicar were with her.

"Very well," she said, when the Vicar bade her continue. "Last evening, as my husband and I were about to sit down to eat . . . you know we live at the very edge of town . . . anyway, there came a gentle knock at our door. It was a stranger, curiously dressed, with skin of somewhat darker hue than we typically see here. He carried a small bundle and said he was a traveler . . . his speech was unusually accented . . . and wondered if he might have some water from our well. Oh, if I had only known!"

She collected herself briefly, then continued. "Well, what were we to do? We gladly invited him to dine with us, which he did. He seemed very hungry, though well mannered. He asked us about our city and praised the nearby countryside. We thought him kind and charming, if a bit strange. After dinner, as he was leaving, he asked if we knew anyone who might need a laborer for a day or two, for he was earning his way across the country. We recommended a family or two, and he thanked us.

An Unwelcome Blessing

"This very evening, well after dinner, my husband and I were in the yard, replanting some flowers, when he returned. My husband thought he might be hungry again, but he said he had already eaten, thank you, and really only wanted to have a quick word with us. That was a bit odd, I thought.

"He thanked us profusely for our kindness to him and said that the people of beautiful Vilka are uniformly kind and generous. He said he has decided to make his home here for a time."

"Well, then," said the Prince, quite pleased, "We shall welcome him!"

The woman's eyes suddenly were very wide. "Oh, no, Vicar, I am sure that we shall not! When I tell you what he did next, you will understand."

The Vicar and the Prince looked at each other in puzzlement.

She continued. "He said that he had nothing tangible to give us as a token of his gratitude. We said we expected nothing, and he was unusually gracious to return to thank us again. Then -- and my skin crawls to remember -- he said, 'All I can do is to leave upon your home the blessing of my God.' My husband nodded and removed his hat. Then the strange man faced our home, raised his hands, looked heavenward, and spoke in a strange tongue.

"Oh, Vicar, it was like no prayer I ever heard. When he finished, I asked him, 'Are you a Christian, sir?' He said no, he worships the god Crunchy or Mushy or Comma, or something like that, I don't remember exactly, and had blessed our home in that god's name. Then he thanked us again, bowed, and went his way. I went into the house and fainted on my sofa."

"Such a kind man," said the Vicar. "I should very much like to meet him. If you should see him again --"

"Vicar, no! No! Can you not see what a terrible thing this is?"

"Sister," he answered, "I confess that I cannot. Pray explain."

It seemed she must stand and shout. "There is a pagan living in Vilka! He left his pagan god's blessing on my home! I cannot sleep there tonight unless you come and remove that evil blessing and add a Christian one! And in your sermon Sunday you must tell everyone to shun him and resist his pagan ways. Oh, they must not even look at him, lest he exert some strange power over them! Vicar, I looked at him, and fed him, and looked at him again. I fear I am lost! And Prince, you must exercise the laws of this town and expel him!"

"Won't you please be seated?" said the Vicar of Vilka.

"Yes, thank you," she murmurred.

"If I may, Sister, I should like to ask the Prince a question or two, and then discuss briefly what we propose to do at this calamitous moment of our city's history." He turned to the Prince. "Prince, are there laws forbidding non-Christians from practicing their religion, or perhaps even living at all, in Vilka?"

"Quite the opposite," answered the Prince. "We have laws guaranteeing the free exercise of religion to all who live in or, may I say, pass through our city."

The good Sister's eyes grew even wider, and she seemed to want to speak, but somehow did not.

"And is it prohibited to leave a blessing upon a person or a home in the name of a god in which the person or the home's residents, as the case may be, do not believe?"

"No, indeed," intoned the Prince. "We have no such law."

An Unexpected Response

"Very well. Here is how we shall proceed. Sister, I will come and leave a blessing on your home, if you insist. I would prefer tomorrow, but will come tonight if it will give you peace. In any event, I will include in my personal devotions tonight a plea for your, your family's, and your home's welfare, which I always desire anyway."

"Thank you, Vicar." She looked expectant.

The Vicar continued. "Then I shall speak to the deacons tomorrow in our regular meeting. Do I understand, Sister, that the Board of our Ladies Auxiliary also meets tomorrow?"

"Yes, Vicar, at 6:00 p.m."

"Would you and the other ladies be unduly inconvenienced if I inserted myself at the beginning of your agenda for a few minutes?"

"Vicar, we should be very grateful."

"Thank you. I shall be there promptly at 6:00 p.m," the Vicar declared. "I shall tell the deacons, the ladies, and then on Sunday the parish generally, that we are to welcome this stranger among us, befriend him, and learn of him, his beliefs, and his manner of worship. Perhaps we shall even learn to pronounce the name of his God correctly."

The good Sister appeared ready to explode, but the Vicar pressed forward. "I will invite him to my home at the earliest opportunity, where I will welcome him among among us, engage his labors if he still requires employment, and discover whether he requires some sort of building or other facility for his proper worship. If he does, we shall bend every effort to help him obtain one. Prince, do you think the City might assist us, if necessary?"

"Yes, indeed."

"Thank you. We shall labor to provide him a more permanent situation, if we wishes to stay longer among us. Sister," he said, "will that be sufficient, do you think? Have I missed anything?"

For a moment it seemed as if the threatened explosion were already underway, but then she said softly, through clenched teeth, "Am I to understand that you welcome this pagan among us?"

The Vicar replied, "Quite right. And I must thank you, Sister, for reminding me of another item. We shall be sure to learn this man's name immediately, and learn to pronounce it correctly and confidently, so that we can avoid henceforth referring to him as 'that pagan'. Meanwhile, let us speak of him as 'our visitor' or 'our brother from afar'."

"If you wish it, Vicar," she said, achieving an even deeper hue. "And now would you excuse me, Vicar, Prince? I find I have nothing more to say. Truly, I have never met such a Vicar as you." Her tone suggested that she might not care ever to meet another.

"Indeed, Sister, but will you not allow me to send you in my carriage? It is very nearly dark, and you live across town, after all."

"Thank you, Vicar, but I shall walk. And I suppose," she said with ill-concealed derision, "we shall fare well enough without troubling you to come and bless our home. Thank you for your time. I can show myself out."

"Your servant, Sister," murmurred the Vicar.

"Good night," said the Prince.

After the front door closed rather more loudly than usual, the Vicar turned to his friend. "Will she tender her resignation before my brief remarks tomorrow evening, or after them, do you think?"

"I think it possible," said the Prince, "that she will attempt to effect your resignation -- if, that is, she does not incapacitate herself before tomorrow by some apopleptic event."

"No matter. I believe my position is secure. Even were it not, I should not try to secure it by being unchristian or consenting to the unchristian behavior of my flock. Now, Prince, I shall summon my carriage. Surely you do not require a long walk home in the dark to cool off."

"I thank you, my friend. It was a delightful meal and a fascinating and eventful evening."

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