(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The Reverend Michael Feversham regretted that he must deal harshly with Rose, the daughter of his clerk, Andrew Gibbard. Because the girl had sinned, and Andrew had lied about Rose and her now dead child, Michael sternly insisted upon a public confession before the whole congregation of Cleveheddon Church. Only in that way, he believed, could Andrew and his daughter be absolved of their sin and deceit. Later Michael sent the girl away to an Anglican religious house where she could start life anew.

Andrew owed everything he had in life to Michael, but he could not forgive him for exposing Rose to the scorn of the smug, self-righteous parishioners. He recognized, however, the moral fervor which had prompted Michael’s attitude and convictions.

Michael, having dedicated his life to his church and his people, felt that he was watched over by his dead mother, whose picture hung in his study. She was his guardian angel, he thought, knowing everything he said or did. He knew he must try always to be worthy of her guardianship.

When Audrie Lesden came to his parish, he was afraid he would be unworthy of his guardian angel’s love and care. Audrie was a wealthy woman, reported a widow, who had been attracted to Michael because of a book he had written. Although she subscribed large sums for Michael’s project of restoring the minster of Saint Decuman, an ancient Gothic church at Cleveheddon, she was a worldly woman, one torn in half by her emotions and desires. She wanted to be a good woman, to be worthy of Michael, but she wished also to enjoy the pleasures of the world. Sir Lyolf Feversham, Michael’s kinsman, warned the young clergyman against her. Michael, thinking her possessed of great possibilities for good or evil, fought against her influence and pleaded with her to use him only as her spiritual adviser. At the same time he found himself almost helpless against her charm.

Andrew Gibbard watched Michael’s struggle with an evil pleasure which he too fought against. He knew that the vicar had acted as he thought right in his daughter’s case, but he was human enough to enjoy seeing a saintly man learn what temptations of the flesh were like.

The ancient shrine on Saint Decuman’s Island in the Bristol Channel was a place to which Michael often went for study and meditation. One day Audrie took an excursion steamer to the island and remained behind after the boat had returned to the mainland. It was then impossible for her or Michael to return to Cleveheddon before the next day. She and Michael spent the night on the...

(The entire section is 1055 words.)