Part 3 out of 9
Faber had never made any effort to believe in a divine order of
things--indeed he had never made strenuous effort to believe in any
thing. It had never at all occurred to him that it might be a duty to
believe. He was a kindly and not a repellent man, but when he doubted
another, he doubted him; it never occurred to him that perhaps he ought
to believe in that man. There must be a lack of something, where a man's
sense of duty urges him mainly to denial. His existence is a positive
thing--his main utterance ought to be positive. I would not forget that
the nature of a denial may be such as to involve a strong positive.
To Faber it seemed the true and therefore right thing, to deny the
existence of any such being as men call God. I heartily admit that such
denial may argue a nobler condition than that of the man who will reason
for the existence of what he calls a Deity, but omits to order his way
after what he professes to believe His will. At the same time, his
conclusion that he was not bound to believe in any God, seemed to lift a
certain weight off the heart of the doctor--the weight, namely, that
gathers partly from the knowledge of having done wrong things, partly
from the consciousness of not _being_ altogether right. It would be very
unfair, however, to leave the impression that this was the origin of all
the relief the doctor derived from the conclusion. For thereby he got
rid, in a great measure at least, of the notion--horrible in proportion
to the degree in which it is actually present to the mind, although, I
suspect, it is not, in a true sense, credible to any mind--of a cruel,
careless, unjust Being at the head of affairs. That such a notion should
exist at all, is mainly the fault of the mass of so-called religious
people, for they seem to believe in, and certainly proclaim such a God.
In their excuse it may be urged they tell the tale as it was told to
them; but the fault lies in this, that, with the gospel in their hands,
they have yet lived in such disregard of its precepts, that they have
never discovered their representation of the God of Truth to be such,
that the more honest a man is, the less can he accept it. That the
honest man, however, should not thereupon set himself to see whether
there might not be a true God notwithstanding, whether such a God was
not conceivable consistently with things as they are, whether the
believers had not distorted the revelation they professed to follow;
especially that he should prefer to believe in some sort of _vitalic_
machine, equally void of beneficence and malevolence, existing because
it can not help it, and giving birth to all sorts of creatures, men and
women included, because it can not help it--must arise from a condition
of being, call it spiritual, moral, or mental--I can not be obliging
enough to add _cerebral,_ because so I should nullify my conclusion,
seeing there would be no substance left wherein it could be wrought
out--for which the man, I can not but think, will one day discover that
he was to blame--for which a living God sees that he is to blame, makes
all the excuse he can, and will give the needful punishment to the
There are some again, to whom the idea of a God perfect as they could
imagine Him in love and devotion and truth, seems, they say, too good to
be true: such have not yet perceived that no God any thing less than
absolutely glorious in loveliness would be worth believing in, or such
as the human soul could believe in. But Faber did not belong to this
class--still less to that portion of it whose inconsolable grief over
the lack of such a God may any day blossom into hope of finding Him. He
was in practice at one with that portion of it who, accepting things at
their worst, find alleviation for their sorrows in the strenuous effort
to make the best of them; but he sought to content himself with the
order of things which, blind and deaf and non-willing, he said had
existed for evermore, most likely--the thing was hardly worth
discussing; blind, for we can not see that it sees; deaf, for we can not
hear that it hears; and without will, for we see no strife, purpose, or
change in its going!
There was no God, then, and people would be more comfortable to know it.
In any case, as there was none, they ought to know it. As to his
certainty of there being none, Faber felt no desire to find one, had met
with no proof that there was one, and had reasons for supposing that
there was none. He had not searched very long or very wide, or with any
eager desire to discover Him, if indeed there should be a God that hid
Himself. His genial nature delighted in sympathy, and he sought it even
in that whose perfect operation, is the destruction of all sympathy. Who
does not know the pleasure of that moment of nascent communion, when
argument or expostulation has begun to tell, conviction begins to dawn,
and the first faint thrill of response is felt? But the joy may be
either of two very different kinds--delight in victory and the personal
success of persuasion, or the ecstasy of the shared vision of truth, in
which contact souls come nearer to each other than any closest
familiarity can effect. Such a nearness can be brought about by no
negation however genuine, or however evil may be the thing denied.
Sympathy, then, such as he desired, Faber was now bent on finding, or
bringing about in Juliet Meredith. He would fain get nearer to her.
Something pushed, something drew him toward the lovely phenomenon into
which had flowered invisible Nature's bud of shapeless protoplasm. He
would have her trust him, believe him, love him. If he succeeded, so
much the greater would be the value and the pleasure of the conquest,
that it had been gained in spite of all her prejudices of education and
conscience. And if in the process of finding truth a home in her bosom,
he should cause her pain even to agony, would not the tenderness born of
their lonely need for each other, be far more consoling than any mere
aspiration after a visionary comforter?
Juliet had been, so far as her father was concerned in her education,
religiously brought up. No doubt Captain Meredith was more fervid than
he was reasonable, but he was a true man, and in his regiment, on which
he brought all his influence to bear, had been regarded with respect,
even where not heartily loved. But her mother was one of those weakest
of women who can never forget the beauty they once possessed, or quite
believe they have lost it, remaining, even after the very traces of it
have vanished, as greedy as ever of admiration. Her maxims and
principles, if she could be said to have any of the latter, were not a
little opposed to her husband's; but she died when Juliet was only five
years old, and the child grew to be almost the companion of her father.
Hence it came that she heard much religious conversation, often
partaking not a little of the character of discussion and even of
dispute. She thus became familiar with the forms of a religious belief
as narrow as its partisans are numerous. Her heart did not remain
uninterested, but she was never in earnest sufficiently to discover what
a thing of beggarly elements the system was, and how incapable of
satisfying any childlike soul. She never questioned the truth of what
she heard, and became skilled in its idioms and arguments and forms of
thought. But the more familiar one becomes with any religious system,
while yet the conscience and will are unawakened and obedience has not
begun, the harder is it to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Such
familiarity is a soul-killing experience, and great will be the excuse
for some of those sons of religious parents who have gone further
toward hell than many born and bred thieves and sinners.
When Juliet came to understand clearly that her new friend did mean
thorough-going unbelief, the rejection of _all_ the doctrines she had
been taught by him whose memory she revered, she was altogether shocked,
and for a day and a night regarded him as a monster of wickedness. But
her horror was mainly the reflex of that with which her father would
have regarded him, and all that was needed to moderate horror to
disapproval, was familiarity with his doctrines in the light of his
agreeable presence and undeniable good qualities. Thoroughly acquainted
as she believed herself with "the plan of salvation," Jesus of Nazareth
was to her but the vague shadow of something that was more than a man,
yet no man at all. I had nearly said that what He came to reveal had
become to her yet more vague from her nebulous notion of Him who was its
revelation. Her religion was, as a matter of course, as dusky and
uncertain, as the object-center of it was obscure and unrealized. Since
her father's death and her comparative isolation, she had read and
thought a good deal; some of my readers may even think she had read and
thought to tolerable purposes judging from her answers to Faber in the
first serious conversation they had; but her religion had lain as before
in a state of dull quiescence, until her late experience, realizing to
her the idea of the special care of which she stood so much in need,
awoke in her a keen sense of delight, and if not a sense of gratitude as
well, yet a dull desire to be grateful.
The next day, as she sat pondering what had passed between them,
altogether unaware of her own weakness, she was suddenly seized with the
ambition--in its inward relations the same as his--of converting him to
her belief. The purpose justified an interest in him beyond what
gratitude obligated, and was in part the cause why she neither shrank
from his society, nor grew alarmed at the rapid growth of her intimacy.
But they only who love the truth simply and altogether, can really know
what they are about.
I do not care to follow the intellectual duel between them. Argument,
save that of a man with himself, when council is held between heart,
will, imagination, conscience, vision, and intellect, is of little avail
or worth. Nothing, however, could have suited Faber's desires better.
Under the shadow of such difficulties as the wise man ponders and the
fool flaunts, difficulties which have been difficulties from the dawn
of human thought, and will in new shapes keep returning so long as the
human understanding yearns to infold its origin, Faber brought up an
array of arguments utterly destructive of the wretched theories of forms
of religion which were all she had to bring into the field: so wretched
and false were they--feeblest she found them just where she had regarded
them as invincible--that in destroying them Faber did even a poor part
of the work of a soldier of God: Mephistopheles describes himself as
Ein Theil von jener Kraft,
Die stets das Boese will, und stets das Gute schafft,
. . . . . . . . .
. . . . der Geist der stets verneint.
For the nature of Juliet's argument I must be content to refer any
curious reader to the false defenses made, and lies spoken for God, in
many a pulpit and many a volume, by the worshipers of letter and system,
who for their sakes "accept His person," and plead unrighteously for
Him. Before the common sense of Faber, they went down like toys, and
Juliet, without consciously yielding at first, soon came to perceive
that they were worse than worthless--weapons whose handles were sharper
than their blades. She had no others, nor metal of which to make any;
and what with the persuasive influence of the man, and the pleasure in
the mere exercise of her understanding, became more and more interested
as she saw the drift of his argument, and apprehended the weight of what
truth lay upon his side. For even the falsest argument is sustained in
virtue of some show of truth, or perhaps some crumb of reality belonging
to it. The absolute lie, if such be frameable by lips of men, can look
only the blackness of darkness it is. The lie that can hurt, hurts in
the strength of the second lie in which it is folded--a likeness to the
truth. It would have mattered little that she was driven from line after
line of her defense, had she not, while she seemed to herself to be its
champion, actually lost sight of that for which she thought she was
It added much to Faber's influence on Juliet, that a tone of pathos and
an element of poetry generally pervaded the forms of his denial. The
tone was the more penetrating that it veiled the pride behind it all,
the pride namely of an unhealthy conscious individuality, the pride of
_self_ as self, which makes a man the center of his own universe, and a
mockery to all the demons of the real universe. That man only who rises
above the small yet mighty predilection, who sets the self of his own
consciousness behind his back, and cherishes only the self of the
Father's thought, the angel that beholds the eternal face, that man only
is a free and noble being, he only breathes the air of the infinite.
Another may well deny the existence of any such Father, any such
infinite, for he knows nothing of the nature of either, and his
testimony for it would be as worthless as that is which he gives against
The nature of Juliet Meredith was true and trusting--but in respect of
her mother she had been sown in weakness, and she was not yet raised in
strength. Because of his wife, Captain Meredith had more than once had
to exchange regiments. But from him Juliet had inherited a certain
strength of honest purpose, which had stood him in better stead than the
whole sum of his gifts and acquirements, which was by no means
Late one lovely evening in the early summer, they sat together in the
dusky parlor of the cottage, with the window to the garden open. The
sweetest of western airs came in, with a faint scent chiefly of damp
earth, moss, and primroses, in which, to the pensive imagination, the
faded yellow of the sunset seemed to bear a part.
"I am sorry to say we must shut the window, Miss Meredith," said the
doctor, rising. "You must always be jealous of the night air. It will
never be friendly to you."
"What enemies we have all about us!" she returned with a slight shiver,
which Faber attributed to the enemy in question, and feared his care had
not amounted to precaution. "It is strange," she went on, "that all
things should conspire, or at least rise, against 'the roof and crown of
things,' as Tennyson calls us. Are they jealous of us?"
"Clearly, at all events, we are not at home amidst them--not genuinely
so," admitted the doctor.
"And yet you say we are sprung of them?" said Juliet.
"We have lifted ourselves above them," rejoined the doctor, "and must
conquer them next."
"And until we conquer them," suggested Juliet, "our lifting above them
is in vain?"
"For we return to them," assented Faber; and silence fell.--"Yes," he
resumed, "it is sad. The upper air is sweet, and the heart of man loves
"Then," interrupted Juliet, "why would you have me willing to go down
to the darkness?"
"I would not have you willing. I would have you love the light as you
do. We can not but love the light, for it is good; and the sorrow that
we must leave it, and that so soon, only makes it dearer. The sense of
coming loss is, or ought to be, the strongest of all bonds between the
creatures of a day. The sweetest, saddest, most entrancing songs that
love can sing, must be but variations on this one theme.--'The morning
is clear; the dew mounts heavenward; the odor spreads; the sun looks
over the hill; the world breaks into laughter: let us love one another!
The sun grows hot, the shadow lies deep; let us sit in it, and remember;
the sea lies flashing in green, dulled with purple; the peacock spreads
his glories, a living garden of flowers; all is mute but the rush of the
stream: let us love one another! The soft evening draws nigh; the dew is
coming down again; the air is cool, dusky, and thin; it is sweeter than
the morning; other words of death gleam out of the deepening sky; the
birds close their wings and hide their heads, for death is near: let us
love one another! The night is come, and there is no morrow; it is dark;
the end is nigh; it grows cold; in the darkness and the cold we tremble,
we sink; a moment and we are no more; ah! ah, beloved! let us love, let
us cleave to one another, for we die!'"
But it seems to me, that the pitifulness with which we ought to regard
each other in the horror of being the offspring of a love we do not
love, in the danger of wandering ever, the children of light, in the
midst of darkness, immeasurably surpasses the pitifulness demanded by
the fancy that we are the creatures of but a day.
Moved in his soul by the sound of his own words, but himself the harp
upon which the fingers of a mightier Nature than he knew were playing a
prelude to a grander phantasy than he could comprehend, Faber caught the
hand of Juliet where it gleamed white in the gathering gloom. But she
withdrew it, saying in a tone which through the darkness seemed to him
to come from afar, tinged with mockery.
"You ought to have been a poet--not a doctor, Mr. Faber!"
The jar of her apparent coolness brought him back with a shock to the
commonplace. He almost shuddered. It was like a gust of icy wind
piercing a summer night.
"I trust the doctor can rule the poet," he said, recovering his
self-possession with an effort, and rising.
"The doctor ought at least to keep the poet from falsehood. Is false
poetry any better than false religion?" returned Juliet.
"I do not quite see--"
"Your day is not a true picture of life such as you would make it.--Let
me see! I will give you one.--Sit down.--Give me time.--'The morning is
dark; the mist hangs and will not rise; the sodden leaves sink under the
foot; overhead the boughs are bare; the cold creeps into bone and
marrow; let us love one another! The sun is buried in miles of vapor;
the birds sit mute on the damp twigs; the gathered drizzle slowly drips
from the eaves; the wood will not burn in the grate; there is a crust in
the larder, no wine in the cellar: let us love one another!'"
"Yes!" cried Faber, again seizing her hand, "let us but love, and I am
Again she withdrew it.
"Nay, but hear my song out," she said, turning her face towards the
window.--In the fading light he saw a wild look of pain, which vanished
in a strange, bitter smile as she resumed.--"'The ashes of life's
volcano are falling; they bepowder my hair; its fires have withered the
rose of my lips; my forehead is wrinkled, my cheeks are furrowed, my
brows are sullen; I am weary, and discontented, and unlovely: ah, let us
love one another! The wheels of time grind on; my heart is sick, and
cares not for thee; I care not for myself, and thou art no longer lovely
to me; I can no more recall wherefore I desired thee once; I long only
for the endless sleep; death alone hath charms: to say, Let us love one
another, were now a mockery too bitter to be felt. Even sadness is
withered. No more can it make me sorrowful to brood over the days that
are gone, or to remember the song that once would have made my heart a
fountain of tears. Ah, hah! the folly to think we could love to the end!
But I care not; the fancy served its turn; and there is a grave for thee
and me--apart or together I care not, so I cease. Thou needst not love
me any more; I care not for thy love. I hardly care for the blessed
darkness itself. Give me no sweet oblivious antidote, no precious poison
such as I once prayed for when I feared the loss of love, that it might
open to me the gate of forgetfulness, take me softly in unseen arms, and
sink with me into the during dark. No; I will, not calmly, but in utter
indifference, await the end. I do not love thee; but I can eat, and I
enjoy my wine, and my rubber of whist--'"
She broke into a dreadful laugh. It was all horribly unnatural! She
rose, and in the deepening twilight seemed to draw herself up far beyond
her height, then turned, and looked out on the shadowy last of the
sunset. Faber rose also. He felt her shudder, though she was not within
two arm's-lengths of him. He sprang to her side.
"Miss Meredith--Juliet--you have suffered! The world has been too hard
for you! Let me do all I can to make up for it! I too know what
suffering is, and my heart is bleeding for you!"
"What! are you not part of the world? Are you not her last-born--the
perfection of her heartlessness?--and will _you_ act the farce of
consolation? Is it the last stroke of the eternal mockery?"
"Juliet," he said, and once more took her hand, "I love you."
"As a man may!" she rejoined with scorn, and pulled her hand from his
grasp. "No! such love as you can give, is too poor even for me. Love you
I _will_ not. If you speak to me so again, you will drive me away. Talk
to me as you will of your void idol. Tell me of the darkness of his
dwelling, and the sanctuary it affords to poor, tormented,
specter-hunted humanity; but do not talk to me of love also, for where
your idol is, love can not be."
Faber made a gentle apology, and withdrew--abashed and hurt--vexed with
himself, and annoyed with his failure.
The moment he was gone, she cast herself on the sofa with a choked
scream, and sobbed, and ground her teeth, but shed no tear. Life had
long been poor, arid, vague; now there was not left even the luxury of
grief! Where all was loss, no loss was worth a tear.
"It were good for me that I had never been born!" she cried.
But the doctor came again and again, and looked devotion, though he
never spoke of love. He avoided also for a time any further pressing of
his opinions--talked of poetry, of science, of nature--all he said
tinged with the same sad glow. Then by degrees direct denial came up
again, and Juliet scarcely attempted opposition. Gradually she got quite
used to his doctrine, and as she got used to it, it seemed less
dreadful, and rather less sad. What wickedness could there be in denying
a God whom the very works attributed to him declared not to exist! Mr.
Faber was a man of science, and knew it. She could see for herself that
it must draw closer the bonds between human beings, to learn that there
was no such power to hurt them or aid them, or to claim lordship over
them, and enslave them to his will. For Juliet had never had a glimpse
of the idea, that in oneness with the love-creating Will, alone lies
freedom for the love created. When Faber perceived that his words had
begun and continued to influence her, he, on his part, grew more kindly
disposed toward her superstitions.
Let me here remark that, until we see God as He is, and are changed into
His likeness, all our beliefs must partake more or less of superstition;
but if there be a God, the greatest superstition of all will be found to
have consisted in denying him.
"Do not think me incapable," he said one day, after they had at length
slid back into their former freedom with each other, "of seeing much
that is lovely and gracious in the orthodox fancies of religion. Much
depends, of course, upon the nature of the person who holds them. No
belief could be beautiful in a mind that is unlovely. A sonnet of
Shakespeare can be no better than a burned cinder in such a mind as Mrs.
Ramshorn's. But there is Mr. Wingfold, the curate of the abbey-church! a
true, honest man, who will give even an infidel like me fair play:
nothing that finds acceptance with him can be other than noble, whether
it be true or not. I fear he expects me to come over to him one day. I
am sorry he will be disappointed, for he is a fellow quite free from the
flummery of his profession. For my part, I do not see why two friends
should not consent to respect each other's opinions, letting the one do
his best without a God to hinder him, and the other his best with his
belief in one to aid him. Such a pair might be the most emulous of
rivals in good works."
Juliet returned no satisfactory response to this tentative remark; but
it was from no objection any longer in her mind to such a relation in
the abstract. She had not yet at all consented with herself to abandon
the faith of her father, but she did not see, and indeed it were hard
for any one in her condition to see, why a man and a woman, the one
denying after Faber's fashion, the other believing after hers, should
not live together, and love and help each other. Of all valueless
things, a merely speculative theology is one of the most valueless. To
her, God had never been much more than a name--a name, it is true, that
always occurred to her in any vivid moment of her life; but the Being
whose was that name, was vague to her as a storm of sand--hardly so much
her father as was the first forgotten ancestor of her line. And now it
was sad for her chat at such a time of peculiar emotion, when the heart
is ready to turn of itself toward its unseen origin, feeling after the
fountain of its love, the very occasion of the tide Godward should be an
influence destructive of the same. Under the growing fascination of the
handsome, noble-minded doctor, she was fast losing what little shadow of
faith she had possessed. The theology she had attempted to defend was so
faulty, so unfair to God, that Faber's atheism had an advantage over it
as easy as it was great. His unbelief was less selfish than Juliet's
faith; consequently her faith sank, as her conscience rose meeting what
was true in Faber's utterances. How could it be otherwise when she
opposed lies uttered for the truth, to truths uttered for the lie? the
truth itself she had never been true enough to look in the face. As her
arguments, yea the very things she argued for, went down before him, her
faith, which, to be faith, should have been in the living source of all
true argument, found no object, was swept away like the uprooted weed it
was, and whelmed in returning chaos.
"If such is your God," he said, "I do Him a favor in denying His
existence, for His very being would be a disgrace to Himself. At times,
as I go my rounds, and think of the horrors of misery and suffering
before me, I feel as if I were out on a campaign against an Evil
supreme, the Author of them all. But when I reflect that He must then
actually create from very joy in the infliction and sight of agony, I am
ashamed of my foolish and cruel, though but momentary imagination,
and--'There can be no such being!' I say. "I but labor in a region of
inexorable law, blind as Justice herself; law that works for good in the
main, and whose carelessness of individual suffering it is for me, and
all who know in any way how, to supplement with the individual care of
man for his fellow-men, who, either from Nature's own necessity, or by
neglect or violation of her laws, find themselves in a sea of troubles."
For Nature herself, to the man who will work in harmony with her,
affords the means of alleviation, of restoration even--who knows if not
of something better still?--the means, that is, of encountering the
ills that result from the breach of her own laws; and the best the man
who would help his fellows can do, is to search after and find such
other laws, whose applied operation will restore the general conduction,
and render life after all an endurable, if not a desirable thing."
"But you can do nothing with death," said Juliet.
"Is death a law, or a breach of law, then?" she asked.
"That is a question I can not answer."
"In any case, were it not better to let the race die out, instead of
laboriously piecing and patching at a too old garment, and so leave room
for a new race to come up, which the fruit of experience, both sweet and
bitter, left behind in books, might enable to avoid like ruin?"
"Ages before they were able to read our books, they would have broken
the same laws, found the same evils, and be as far as we are now beyond
the help of foregone experiences: they would have the experience itself,
of whose essence it is, that it is still too late."
"Then would not the kindest thing be to poison the race--as men on the
prairies meet fire with fire--and so with death foil Death and have done
"It seems to me better to live on in the hope that someone may yet--in
some far-off age it may only be, but what a thing if it should
be!--discover the law of death, learn how to meet it, and, with its
fore-runners, disease and decay, banish it from the world. Would you
crush the dragonfly, the moth, or the bee, because its days are so few?
Rather would you not pitifully rescue them, that they might enjoy to
their natural end the wild intoxication of being?"
"Ah, but they are happy while they live!"
"So also are men--all men--for parts of their time. How many, do you
think, would thank me for the offered poison?"
Talk after talk of this kind, which the scope of my history forbids me
to follow, took place between them, until at length Juliet, generally
silenced, came to be silenced not unwillingly. All the time, their
common humanity, each perceiving that the other had suffered, was urging
to mutual consolation. And all the time, that mysterious force,
inscrutable as creation itself, which draws the individual man and woman
together, was mightily at work between them--a force which, terrible as
is the array of its attendant shadows, will at length appear to have
been one of the most powerful in the redemption of the world. But Juliet
did nothing, said nothing, to attract Faber. He would have cast himself
before her as a slave begging an owner, but for something in her
carriage which constantly prevented him. At one time he read it as an
unforgotten grief, at another as a cherished affection, and trembled at
the thought of the agonies that might be in store for him.
Weeks passed, and he had not made one inquiry after a situation for her.
It was not because he would gladly have, prolonged the present
arrangement of things, but that he found it almost impossible to bring
himself to talk about her. If she would but accept him, he thought--then
there would be no need! But he dared not urge her--mainly from fear of
failure, not at all from excess of modesty, seeing he soberly believed
such love and devotion as his, worth the acceptance of any woman--even
while-he believed also, that to be loved of a true woman was the one
only thing which could make up for the enormous swindle of life, in
which man must ever be a sorrow to himself, as ever lagging behind his
own child, his ideal. Even for this, the worm that must forever lie
gnawing in the heart of humanity, it would be consolation enough to
pluck together the roses of youth; they had it in their own power to die
while their odor was yet red. Why did she repel him? Doubtless, he
concluded over and over again, because, with her lofty ideal of love, a
love for this world only seemed to her a love not worth the stooping to
take. If he could but persuade her that the love offered in the agony of
the fire must be a nobler love than that whispered from a bed of roses,
then perhaps, dissolved in confluent sadness and sweetness, she would
hold out to him the chalice of her heart, and the one pearl of the world
would yet be his--a woman all his own--pure as a flower, sad as the
night, and deep as nature unfathomable.
He had a grand idea of woman. He had been built with a goddess-niche in
his soul, and thought how he would worship the woman that could fill it.
There was a time when she must, beyond question, be one whose radiant
mirror had never reflected form of man but his: now he would be content
if for him she would abjure and obliterate her past. To make the woman
who had loved forget utterly, was a greater victory, he said, than to
wake love in the heart of a girl, and would yield him a finer treasure,
a richer conquest. Only, pure as snow she must be--pure as the sun
himself! Paul Faber was absolutely tyrannous in his notions as to
feminine purity. Like the diamond shield of Prince Arthur, Knight of
Magnificence, must be the purity that would satisfy this lord of the
race who could live without a God! Was he then such a master of purity
himself? one so immaculate that in him such aspiration was no
presumption? Was what he knew himself to be, an idea to mate with his
unspotted ideal? The notion men have of their own worth, and of claims
founded thereon, is amazing; most amazing of all is what a man will set
up to himself as the standard of the woman he will marry. What the woman
may have a right to claim, never enters his thought. He never doubts the
right or righteousness of aspiring to wed a woman between whose nature
and his lies a gulf, wide as between an angel praising God, and a devil
taking refuge from him in a swine. Never a shadow of compunction crosses
the leprous soul, as he stretches forth his arms to infold the clean
woman! Ah, white dove! thou must lie for a while among the pots. If only
thy mother be not more to blame than the wretch that acts but after his
kind! He does hot die of self-loathing! how then could he imagine the
horror of disgust with which a glimpse of him such as he is would blast
the soul of the woman?' Yet has he--what is it?--the virtue? the pride?
or the cruel insolence?--to shrink with rudest abhorrence from one who
is, in nature and history and ruin, his fitting and proper mate! To see
only how a man will be content to be himself the thing which he scorns
another for being, might well be enough to send any one crying to the
God there may be, to come between him and himself. Lord! what a turning
of things upside down there will be one day! What a setting of lasts
first, and firsts last!
THE PARK AT NESTLEY.
Just inside the park, on a mossy knoll, a little way from the ancient
wrought-iron gate that opened almost upon the one street of Owlkirk, the
rector dug the foundation of his chapel--an oblong Gothic hall, of two
squares and a half, capable of seating all in the parish nearer to it
than to the abbey church. In his wife's eyes, Mr. Bevis was now an
absolute saint, for not only had he begun to build a chapel in his own
grounds, but to read prayers in his own church! She was not the only
one, however, who remarked how devoutly he read them, and his presence
was a great comfort to Wingfold. He often objected to what his curate
preached--but only to his face, and seldom when they were not alone.
There was policy in this restraint: he had come to see that in all
probability he would have to give in--that his curate would most likely
satisfy him that he was right. The relation between them was marvelous
and lovely. The rector's was a quiet awakening, a gentle second birth
almost in old age. But then he had been but a boy all the time, and a
very good sort of boy. He had acted in no small measure according to the
light he had, and time was of course given him to grow in. It is not the
world alone that requires the fullness of its time to come, ere it can
receive a revelation; the individual also has to pass through his
various stages of Pagan, Guebre, Moslem, Jew, Essene--God knows what
all--before he can begin to see and understand the living Christ. The
child has to pass through all the phases of lower animal life; when,
change is arrested, he is born a monster; and in many a Christian the
rudiments of former stages are far from extinct--not seldom revive, and
for the time seem to reabsorb the development, making indeed a monstrous
"For myself,"--I give a passage from Wingfold's note-book, written for
his wife's reading--"I feel sometimes as if I were yet a pagan,
struggling hard to break through where I see a glimmer of something
better, called Christianity. In any case what I have, can be but a
foretaste of what I have yet to _be_; and if so, then indeed is there a
glory laid up for them that will have God, the _I_ of their _I_, to
throne it in the temple he has built, to pervade the life he has _lifed_
out of himself. My soul is now as a chaos with a hungry heart of order
buried beneath its slime, that longs and longs for the moving of the
breath of God over its water and mud."
The foundation-stone of the chapel was to be laid with a short and
simple ceremony, at which no clergy but themselves were to be present.
The rector had not consented, and the curate had not urged, that it
should remain unconsecrated; it was therefore uncertain, so far at least
as Wingfold knew, whether it was to be chapel or lecture hall. In either
case it was for the use and benefit of the villagers, and they were all
invited to be present. A few of the neighbors who were friends of the
rector and his wife, were also invited, and among them was Miss
Mr. and Mrs. Bevis had long ere now called upon her, and found her, as
Mrs. Bevis said, fit for any society. She had lunched several times with
them, and, her health being now greatly restored, was the readier to
accept the present invitation, that she was growing again anxious about
Almost every one was taken with her sweet manner, shaded with sadness.
At one time self-dissatisfaction had made her too anxious to please: in
the mirror of other minds she sought a less unfavorable reflection of
herself. But trouble had greatly modified this tendency, and taken the
too-much out of her courtesy.
She and Mrs. Puckridge went together, and Faber, calling soon after,
found the door locked. He saw the gathering in the park, however, had
heard something about the ceremony, concluded they were assisting, and,
after a little questioning with himself, led his horse to the gate, made
fast the reins to it, went in, and approached the little assembly. Ere
he reached it, he saw them kneel, whereupon he made a circuit and got
behind a tree, for he would not willingly seem rude, and he dared not be
hypocritical. Thence he descried Juliet kneeling with the rest, and
could not help being rather annoyed. Neither could he help being a
little struck with the unusual kind of prayer the curate was making; for
he spoke as to the God of workmen, the God of invention and creation,
who made the hearts of his creatures so like his own that they must
build and make.
When the observance was over, and the people were scattering in groups,
till they should be summoned to the repast prepared for them, the rector
caught sight of the doctor, and went to him.
"Ha, Faber!" he cried, holding out his hand, "this _is_ kind of you! I
should hardly have expected you to be present on such an occasion!"
"I hoped my presence would not offend you," answered the doctor. "I did
not presume to come closer than just within earshot of your devotions.
Neither must you think me unfriendly for keeping aloof."
"Certainly not. I would not have you guilty of irreverence."
"That could hardly be, if I recognized no presence."
"There was at least," rejoined Mr. Bevis, "the presence of a good many
of your neighbors, to whom you never fail to recognize your duty, and
that is the second half of religion: would it not have showed want of
reverence toward them, to bring an unsympathetic presence into the midst
of their devotion?"
"That I grant," said the doctor.
"But it may be," said the curate, who had come up while they talked,
"that what you, perhaps justifiably, refuse to recognize as irreverence,
has its root in some fault of which you are not yet aware."
"Then I'm not to blame for it," said Faber quietly.
"But you might be terribly the loser by it."
"That is, you mean, if there should be One to whom reverence is due?"
"Would that be fair, then--in an All-wise, that is, toward an ignorant
"I think not. Therefore I look for something to reveal it to you. But,
although I dare not say you are to blame, because that would be to take
upon myself the office of a judge, which is God's alone, He only being
able to give fair play, I would yet have you search yourself, and see
whether you may not come upon something which keeps you from giving full
and honest attention to what some people, as honest as yourself, think
they see true. I am speaking only from my knowledge of myself, and the
conviction that we are all much alike. What if you should discover that
you do not really and absolutely disbelieve in a God?--that the human
nature is not capable of such a disbelief?--that your unbelief has been
only indifference and irreverence--and that to a Being grander and
nobler and fairer than human heart can conceive?"
"If it be so, let Him punish me," said the doctor gravely.
"If it be so, He will," said the curate solemnly, "--and you will thank
Him for it--after a while. The God of my belief is too good not to make
Himself known to a man who loves what is fair and honest, as you do."
The doctor was silent.
While they were talking thus, two ladies had left the others and now
approached them--Mrs. Wingfold and Miss Meredith. They had heard the
last few sentences, and seeing two clergymen against one infidel,
hastened with the generosity of women to render him what aid they might.
"I am sure Mr. Faber is honest," said Helen.
"That is much to say for any man," returned the curate.
"If any man is, then," adjected Juliet.
"That is a great _If_," rejoined Wingfold."--Are _you_ honest, Helen?"
he added, turning to his wife.
"No," she answered; "but I am honester than I was a year ago."
"So am I," said her husband; "and I hope to be honester yet before
another is over. It's a big thing to say, _I am honest_."
Juliet was silent, and Helen, who was much interested with her, turned
to see how she was taking it. Her lips were as white as her face. Helen
attributed the change to anger, and was silent also. The same moment the
rector moved toward the place where the luncheon-tables were, and they
all accompanied him, Helen still walking, in a little anxiety, by
Juliet's side. It was some minutes before the color came back to her
lips; but when Helen next addressed her, she answered as gently and
sweetly as if the silence had been nothing but an ordinary one.
"You will stay and lunch with us, Mr. Faber?" said the rector. "There
can be no hypocrisy in that--eh?"
"Thank you," returned the doctor heartily; "but my work is waiting me,
and we all agree that _must_ be done, whatever our opinions as to the
ground of the obligation."
"And no man can say you don't do it," rejoined the curate kindly.
"That's one thing we do agree in, as you say: let us hold by it, Faber,
and keep as good friends as we can, till we grow better ones."
Faber could not quite match the curate in plain speaking: the pupil was
not up with his master yet.
"Thank you, Wingfold," he returned, and his voice was not free of
emotion, though Juliet alone felt the tremble of the one vibrating
thread in it. "--Miss Meredith," he went on, turning to her, "I have
heard of something that perhaps may suit you: will you allow me to call
in the evening, and talk it over with you?"
"Please do," responded Juliet eagerly. "Come before post-time if you
can. It may be necessary to write."
"I will. Good morning."
He made a general bow to the company and walked away, cutting off the
heads of the dandelions with his whip as he went. All followed with
their eyes his firm, graceful figure, as he strode over the grass in his
riding-boots and spurs.
"He's a fine fellow that!" said the rector. "--But, bless me!" he added,
turning to his curate, "how things change! If you had told me a year
ago, the day would come when I should call an atheist a fine fellow, I
should almost have thought you must be one yourself! Yet here I am
saying it--and never in my life so much in earnest to be a Christian!
How is it, Wingfold, my boy?"
"He who has the spirit of his Master, will speak the truth even of his
Master's enemies," answered the curate. "To this he is driven if he does
not go willingly, for he knows his Master loves his enemies. If you see
Faber a fine fellow, you say so, just as the Lord would, and try the
more to save him. A man who loves and serves his neighbor, let him speak
ever so many words against the Son of Man, is not sinning against the
Holy Ghost. He is still open to the sacred influence--the virtue which
is ever going forth from God to heal. It is the man who in the name of
religion opposes that which he sees to be good, who is in danger of
"Come, come, Wingfold! whatever you do, don't mis-quote," said the
"I don't say it is the right reading," returned the curate, "but I can
hardly be convicted of misquoting, so long as it is that of the two
oldest manuscripts we have."
"You always have the better of me," answered the rector. "But tell
me--are not the atheists of the present day a better sort of fellows
than those we used to hear of when we were young?"
"I do think so. But, as one who believes with his whole soul, and
strives with his whole will, I attribute their betterness to the growing
influences of God upon the race through them that have believed. And I
am certain of this, that, whatever they are, it needs but time and
continued unbelief to bring them down to any level from whatever height.
They will either repent, or fall back into the worst things, believing
no more in their fellow-man and the duty they owe him--of which they now
rightly make so much, and yet not half enough--than they do in God and
His Christ. But I do not believe half the bad things Christians have
said and written of atheists. Indeed I do not believe the greater number
of those they have called such, were atheists at all. I suspect that
worse dishonesty, and greater injustice, are to be found among the
champions, lay and cleric, of religious Opinion, than in any other
class. If God were such a One as many of those who would fancy
themselves His apostles, the universe would be but a huge hell. Look at
certain of the so-called religious newspapers, for instance. Religious!
Their tongue is set on fire of hell. It may be said that they are mere
money-speculations; but what makes them pay? Who buys them? To please
whom do they write? Do not many buy them who are now and then themselves
disgusted with them? Why do they not refuse to touch the unclean things?
Instead of keeping the commandment, 'that he who loveth God love his
brother also,' these, the prime channels of Satanic influence in the
Church, powerfully teach, that He that loveth God must abuse his
brother--or he shall be himself abused."
"I fancy," said the rector, "they would withhold the name of brother
from those they abuse."
"No; not always."
"They would from an unbeliever."
"Yes. But let them then call him an enemy, and behave to him as
such--that is, love him, or at least try to give him the fair play to
which the most wicked of devils has the same right as the holiest of
saints. It is the vile falsehood and miserable unreality of Christians,
their faithlessness to their Master, their love of their own wretched
sects, their worldliness and unchristianity, their talking and not
doing, that has to answer, I suspect, for the greater part of our
"I have seen a good deal of Mr. Faber of late," Juliet said, with a
slight tremor in her voice, "and he seems to me incapable of falling
into those vile conditions I used to hear attributed to atheists."
"The atheism of some men," said the curate, "is a nobler thing than the
Christianity of some of the foremost of so-called and so-believed
Christians, and I may not doubt they will fare better at the last."
The rector looked a little blank at this, but said nothing. He had so
often found, upon reflection, that what seemed extravagance in his
curate was yet the spirit of Scripture, that he had learned to suspend
Miss Meredith's face glowed with the pleasure of hearing justice
rendered the man in whom she was so much interested, and she looked the
more beautiful. She went soon after luncheon was over, leaving a
favorable impression behind her. Some of the ladies said she was much
too fond of the doctor; but the gentlemen admired her spirit in standing
up for him. Some objected to her paleness; others said it was not
paleness, but fairness, for her eyes and hair were as dark as the night;
but all agreed, that whatever it was to be called, her complexion was
peculiar--some for that very reason judging it the more admirable, and
others the contrary. Some said she was too stately, and attributed her
carriage to a pride to which, in her position, she had no right, they
said. Others judged that she needed such a bearing the more for
self-defense, especially if she had come down in the world. Her dress,
it was generally allowed, was a little too severe--some thought, in its
defiance of the fashion, assuming. No one disputed that she had been
accustomed to good society, and none could say that she had made the
slightest intrusive movement toward their circle. Still, why was it that
nobody knew any thing about her?
The curate and his wife had a good deal of talk about Juliet as they
drove home from Nestley. Much pleased with herself, they heard from
their hostess what she had learned of her history, and were the more
interested. They must find her a situation, they agreed, where she would
feel at home; and in the meantime would let her understand that, if she
took up her abode in Glaston, and were so inclined, the town was large
enough to give a good hope of finding a few daily engagements.
Before they left Nestley, Helen had said to Mrs. Bevis that she would
like to ask Miss Meredith to visit them for a few days.
"No one knows much about her," remarked Mrs. Bevis, feeling responsible.
"She can't be poison," returned Helen. "And if she were, she couldn't
hurt us. That's the good of being husband and wife: so long as you are
of one mind, you can do almost any thing."
When Faber called upon Juliet in the evening, nothing passed between
them concerning the situation at which he had hinted. When he entered
she was seated as usual in the corner of the dingy little couch, under
the small window looking into the garden, in the shadow. She did not
rise, but held out her hand to him. He went hastily up to her, took the
hand she offered, sat down beside her, and at once broke into a full
declaration of his love--now voluble, now hesitating, now submissive,
now persuasive, but humblest when most passionate. Whatever the man's
conceit, or his estimate of the thing he would have her accept, it was
in all honesty and modesty that he offered her the surrender of the very
citadel of his being--alas, too "empty, swept, and garnished!" Juliet
kept her head turned from him; he felt the hand he held tremble, and
every now and then make a faint struggle to escape from his; but he
could not see that her emotion was such as hardly to be accounted for
either by pleasure at the hearing of welcome words, or sorrow that her
reply must cause pain. He ceased at length, and with eyes of longing
sought a glimpse of her face, and caught one. Its wild, waste expression
frightened him. It was pallid like an old sunset, and her breath came
and went stormily. Three times, in a growing agony of effort, her lips
failed of speech. She gave a sudden despairing cast of her head
sideways, her mouth opened a little as if with mere helplessness, she
threw a pitiful glance in his face, burst into a tumult of sobs, and
fell back on the couch. Not a tear came to her eyes, but such was her
trouble that she did not even care to lift her hand to her face to hide
the movements of its rebellious muscles. Faber, bewildered, but, from
the habits of his profession, master of himself, instantly prepared her
something, which she took obediently; and as soon as she was quieted a
little, mounted and rode away: two things were clear--one, that she
could not be indifferent to him; the other, that, whatever the cause of
her emotion, she would for the present be better without him. He was
both too kind and too proud to persist in presenting himself.
The next morning Helen drew up her ponies at Mrs. Puckridge's door, and
Wingfold got out and stood by their heads, while she went in to call on
Juliet had passed a sleepless night, and greatly dreaded the next
interview with Faber. Helen's invitation, therefore, to pay them a few
days' visit, came to her like a redemption: in their house she would
have protection both from Faber and from herself. Heartily, with tears
in her eyes, she accepted it; and her cordial and grateful readiness
placed her yet a step higher in the regard of her new friends. The
acceptance of a favor may be the conferring of a greater. Quickly,
hurriedly, she put up "her bag of needments," and with a sad, sweet
smile of gentle apology, took the curate's place beside his wife, while
he got into the seat behind.
Juliet, having been of late so much confined to the house, could not
keep back the tears called forth by the pleasure of the rapid motion
through the air, the constant change of scene, and that sense of human
story which haunts the mind in passing unknown houses and farms and
villages. An old thatched barn works as directly on the social feeling
as the ancient castle or venerable manor-seat; many a simple house will
move one's heart like a poem; many a cottage like a melody. When at last
she caught sight of the great church-tower, she clapped her hands with
delight. There was a place in which to wander and hide! she thought--in
which to find refuge and rest, and coolness and shadow! Even for Faber's
own sake she would not believe that faith a mere folly which had built
such a pile as that! Surely there was some way of meeting the terrible
things he said--if only she could find it!
"Are you fastidious, Miss Meredith, or willing to do any thing that is
honest?" the curate asked rather abruptly, leaning forward from the back
"If ever I was fastidious," she answered, "I think I am pretty nearly
cured. I should certainly like my work to be so far within my capacity
as to be pleasant to me."
"Then there is no fear," answered the curate. "The people who don't get
on, are those that pick and choose upon false principles. They
generally attempt what they are unfit for, and deserve their
failures.--Are you willing to teach little puds and little tongues?"
"Tell me what you are able to do?"
"I would rather not. You might think differently when you came to know
me. But you can ask me any questions you please. I shan't hide my
knowledge, and I can't hide my ignorance."
"Thank you," said the curate, and leaned back again in his seat.
After luncheon, Helen found to her delight that, although Juliet was
deficient enough in the mechanics belonging to both voice and
instrument, she could yet sing and play with expression and facility,
while her voice was one of the loveliest she had ever heard. When the
curate came home from his afternoon attentions to the ailing of his
flock, he was delighted to hear his wife's report of her gifts.
"Would you mind reading a page or two aloud?" he said to their visitor,
after they had had a cup of tea. "I often get my wife to read to me."
She consented at once. He put a volume of Carlyle into her hand. She had
never even tasted a book of his before, yet presently caught the spirit
of the passage, and read charmingly.
In the course of a day or two they discovered that she was sadly
defective in spelling, a paltry poverty no doubt, yet awkward for one
who would teach children. In grammar and arithmetic also the curate
found her lacking. Going from place to place with her father, she had
never been much at school, she said, and no one had ever compelled her
to attend to the dry things. But nothing could be more satisfactory than
the way in which she now, with the help of the curate and his wife, set
herself to learn; and until she should have gained such proficiency as
would enable them to speak of her acquirements with confidence, they
persuaded her, with no great difficulty, to continue their guest.
Wingfold, who had been a tutor in his day, was well qualified to assist
her, and she learned with wonderful rapidity.
The point that most perplexed Wingfold with her was that, while very
capable of perceiving and admiring the good, she was yet capable of
admiring things of altogether inferior quality. What did it mean? Could
it arise from an excess of productive faculty, not yet sufficiently
differenced from the receptive? One could imagine such an excess ready
to seize the poorest molds, flow into them, and endow them for itself
with attributed life and power. He found also that she was familiar with
the modes of thought and expression peculiar to a certain school of
theology--embodiments from which, having done their good, and long
commenced doing their evil, Truth had begun to withdraw itself,
consuming as it withdrew. For the moment the fire ceases to be the life
of the bush in which it appears, the bush will begin to be consumed. At
the same time he could perfectly recognize the influence of Faber upon
her. For not unfrequently, the talk between the curate and his wife
would turn upon some point connected with the unbelief of the land, so
much more active, though but seemingly more extensive than heretofore;
when she would now make a remark, now ask a question, in which the
curate heard the doctor as plainly as if the words had come direct from
his lips: those who did not believe might answer so and so--might refuse
the evidence--might explain the thing differently. But she listened
well, and seemed to understand what they said. The best of her
undoubtedly appeared in her music, in which she was fundamentally far
superior to Helen, though by no means so well trained, taught or
practiced in it; whence Helen had the unspeakable delight, one which
only a humble, large and lofty mind can ever have, of consciously
ministering to the growth of another in the very thing wherein that
other is naturally the superior. The way to the blessedness that is in
music, as to all other blessednesses, lies through weary labors, and the
master must suffer with the disciple; Helen took Juliet like a child,
set her to scales and exercises, and made her practice hours a day.
AT THE PIANO.
When Faber called on Juliet, the morning after the last interview
recorded, and found where she was gone, he did not doubt she had taken
refuge with her new friends from his importunity, and was at once
confirmed in the idea he had cherished through the whole wakeful night,
that the cause of her agitation was nothing else than the conflict
between her heart and a false sense of duty, born of prejudice and
superstition. She was not willing to send him away, and yet she dared
not accept him. Her behavior had certainly revealed any thing but
indifference, and therefore must not make him miserable. At the same
time if it was her pleasure to avoid him, what chance had he of seeing
her alone at the rectory? The thought made him so savage that for a
moment he almost imagined his friend had been playing him false.
"I suppose he thinks every thing fair in religion, as well as in love
and war!" he said to himself. "It's a mighty stake, no doubt--a soul
He laughed scornfully. It was but a momentary yielding to the temptation
of injustice, however, for his conscience told him at once that the
curate was incapable of any thing either overbearing or underhand. He
would call on her as his patient, and satisfy himself at once how things
were between them. At best they had taken a bad turn.
He judged it better, however, to let a day or two pass. When he did
call, he was shown into the drawing-room, where he found Helen at the
piano, and Juliet having a singing-lesson from her. Till then he had
never heard Juliet's song voice. A few notes of it dimly reached him as
he approached the room, and perhaps prepared him for the impression he
was about to receive: when the door opened, like a wind on a more mobile
sea, it raised sudden tumult in his soul. Not once in his life had he
ever been agitated in such fashion; he knew himself as he had never
known himself. It was as if some potent element, undreamed of before,
came rushing into the ordered sphere of his world, and shouldered its
elements from the rhythm of their going. It was a full contralto, with
pathos in the very heart of it, and it seemed to wrap itself round his
heart like a serpent of saddest splendor, and press the blood from it up
into his eyes. The ladies were too much occupied to hear him announced,
or note his entrance, as he stood by the door, absorbed, entranced.
Presently he began to feel annoyed, and proceeded thereupon to take
precautions with himself. For Juliet was having a lesson of the severest
kind, in which she accepted every lightest hint with the most heedful
attention, and conformed thereto with the sweetest obedience; whence it
came that Faber, the next moment after fancying he had screwed his
temper to stoic pitch, found himself passing from displeasure to
indignation, and thence almost to fury, as again and again some
exquisite tone, that went thrilling through all his being, discovering
to him depths and recesses hitherto unimagined, was unceremoniously, or
with briefest apology, cut short for the sake of some suggestion from
Helen. Whether such suggestion was right or wrong, was to Faber not of
the smallest consequence: it was in itself a sacrilege, a breaking into
the house of life, a causing of that to cease whose very being was its
justification. Mrs. Wingfold! she was not fit to sing in the same chorus
with her! Juliet was altogether out of sight of her. He had heard Mrs.
Wingfold sing many a time, and she could no more bring out a note like
one of those she was daring to criticise, than a cat could emulate a
"Ah, Mr. Faber!--I did not know you were there," said Helen at length,
and rose. "We were so busy we never heard you."
If she had looked at Juliet, she would have said _I_ instead of _we_.
Her kind manner brought Faber to himself a little.
"Pray, do not apologize," he said. "I could have listened forever."
"I don't wonder. It is not often one hears notes like those. Were you
aware what a voice you had saved to the world?"
"Not in the least. Miss Meredith leaves her gifts to be discovered."
"All good things wait the seeker," said Helen, who had taken to
preaching since she married the curate, some of her half-friends said;
the fact being that life had grown to her so gracious, so happy, so
serious, that she would not unfrequently say a thing worth saying.
In the interstices of this little talk, Juliet and Faber had shaken
hands, and murmured a conventional word or two.
"I suppose this is a professional visit?" said Helen. "Shall I leave you
with your patient?"
As she put the question, however, she turned to Juliet.
"There is not the least occasion," Juliet replied, a little eagerly, and
with a rather wan smile. "I am quite well, and have dismissed my
Faber was in the mood to imagine more than met the ear, and the words
seemed to him of cruel significance. A flush of anger rose to his
forehead, and battled with the paleness of chagrin. He said nothing.
But Juliet saw and understood. Instantly she held out her hand to him
again, and supplemented the offending speech with the words,
"--but, I hope, retained my friend?"
The light rushed again into Faber's eyes, and Juliet repented afresh,
for the words had wrought too far in the other direction.
"That is," she amended, "if Mr. Faber will condescend to friendship,
after having played the tyrant so long."
"I can only aspire to it," said the doctor.
It sounded mere common compliment, the silliest thing between man and
woman, and Mrs. Wingfold divined nothing more: she was not quick in such
matters. Had she suspected, she might, not knowing the mind of the lady
have been a little perplexed. As it was, she did not leave the room, and
presently the curate entered, with a newspaper in his hand.
"They're still at it, Faber," he said, "with their heated liquids and
"I need not ask which side you take," said the doctor, not much inclined
to enter upon any discussion.
"I take neither," answered the curate. "Where is the use, or indeed
possibility, so long as the men of science themselves are disputing
about the facts of experiment? It will be time enough to try to
understand them, when they are agreed and we know what the facts really
are. Whatever they may turn out to be, it is but a truism to say they
must be consistent with all other truth, although they may entirely
upset some of our notions of it."
"To which side then do you lean, as to the weight of the evidence?"
asked Faber, rather listlessly.
He had been making some experiments of his own in the direction referred
to. They were not so complete as he would have liked, for he found a
large country practice unfriendly to investigation; but, such as they
were, they favored the conclusion that no form of life appeared where
protection from the air was thorough.
"I take the evidence," answered the curate, "to be in favor of what they
so absurdly call spontaneous generation."
"I am surprised to hear you say so," returned Faber. "The conclusions
necessary thereupon, are opposed to all your theology."
"Must I then, because I believe in a living Truth, be myself an unjust
judge?" said the curate. "But indeed the conclusions are opposed to no
theology I have any acquaintance with; and if they were, it would give
me no concern. Theology is not my origin, but God. Nor do I acknowledge
any theology but what Christ has taught, and has to teach me. When, and
under what circumstances, life comes first into human ken, can not
affect His lessons of trust and fairness. If I were to play tricks with
the truth, shirk an argument, refuse to look a fact in the face, I
should be ashamed to look Him in the face. What he requires of his
friends is pure, open-eyed truth."
"But how," said the doctor, "can you grant spontaneous generation, and
believe in a Creator?"
"I said the term was an absurd one," rejoined the curate.
"Never mind the term then: you admit the fact?" said Faber.
"What fact?" asked Wingfold.
"That in a certain liquid, where all life has been destroyed, and where
no contact with life is admitted, life of itself appears," defined the
"No, no; I admit nothing of the sort," cried Wingfold. "I only admit
that the evidence seems in favor of believing that in some liquids that
have been heated to a high point, and kept from the air, life has yet
appeared. How can I tell whether _all_ life already there was first
destroyed? whether a yet higher temperature would not have destroyed yet
more life? What if the heat, presumed to destroy all known germs of life
in them, should be the means of developing other germs, further removed?
Then as to _spontaneity_, as to life appearing of itself, that question
involves something beyond physics. Absolute life can exist only of and
by itself, else were it no perfect thing; but will you say that a mass
of protoplasm--that _proto_ by the way is a begged question--exists by
its own power, appears by its own will? Is it not rather there because
it can not help it?"
"It is there in virtue of the life that is in it," said Faber.
"Of course; that is a mere truism," returned Wingfold, "equivalent to,
It lives in virtue of life. There is nothing _spontaneous_ in that. Its
life must in some way spring from the true, the original, the
"There you are begging the whole question," objected the doctor.
"No; not the whole," persisted the curate; "for I fancy you will
yourself admit there is some blind driving law behind the phenomenon.
But now I will beg the whole question, if you like to say so, for the
sake of a bit of purely metaphysical argument: the law of life behind,
if it be spontaneously existent, can not be a blind, deaf, unconscious
law; if it be unconscious of itself, it can not be spontaneous; whatever
is of itself must be God, and the source of all non-spontaneous, that
is, all other existence."
"Then it has been only a dispute about a word?" said Faber.
"Yes, but a word involving a tremendous question," answered Wingfold.
"Which I give up altogether," said the doctor, "asserting that there is
_nothing_ spontaneous, in the sense you give the word--the original
sense I admit. From all eternity a blind, unconscious law has been at
"I say, an awful living Love and Truth and Right, creating children of
its own," said the curate--"and there is our difference."
"Yes," assented Faber.
"Anyhow, then," said Wingfold, "so far as regards the matter in hand,
all we can say is, that under such and such circumstances life
_appears--whence_, we believe differently; _how_, neither of us can
tell--perhaps will ever be able to tell. I can't talk in scientific
phrase like you, Faber, but truth is not tied to any form of words."
"It is well disputed," said the doctor, "and I am inclined to grant that
the question with which we started does not immediately concern the
great differences between us."
It was rather hard upon Faber to have to argue when out of condition and
with a lady beside to whom he was longing to pour out his soul--his
antagonist a man who never counted a sufficing victory gained, unless
his adversary had had light and wind both in his back. Trifling as was
the occasion of the present skirmish, he had taken his stand on the
lower ground. Faber imagined he read both triumph and pity in Juliet's
regard, and could scarcely endure his position a moment longer.
"Shall we have some music?" said Wingfold. "--I see the piano open. Or
are you one of those worshipers of work, who put music in the morning in
the same category with looking on the wine when it is red?"
"Theoretically, no; but practically, yes," answered Faber, "--at least
for to-day. I shouldn't like poor Widow Mullens to lie listening to the
sound of that old water-wheel, till it took up its parable against the
faithlessness of men in general, and the doctor in particular. I can't
do her much good, poor old soul, but I can at least make her fancy
herself of consequence enough not to be forgotten."
The curate frowned a little--thoughtfully--but said nothing, and
followed his visitor to the door. When he returned, he said,
"I wonder what it is in that man that won't let him believe!"
"Perhaps he will yet, some day," said Juliet, softly.
"He will; he must," answered the curate. "He always reminds me of the
young man who had kept the law, and whom our Lord loved. Surely he must
have been one of the first that came and laid his wealth at the
apostles' feet! May not even that half of the law which Faber tries to
keep, be school-master enough to lead him to Christ?--But come, Miss
Meredith; now for our mathematics!"
Every two or three days the doctor called to see his late patient. She
wanted looking after, he said. But not once did he see her alone. He
could not tell from their behavior whether she or her hostess was to
blame for his recurring disappointment; but the fact was, that his ring
at the door-bell was the signal to Juliet not to be alone.
THE PASTOR'S STUDY.
Happening at length to hear that visitors were expected, Juliet,
notwithstanding the assurances of her hostess that there was plenty of
room for her, insisted on finding lodgings, and taking more direct
measures for obtaining employment. But the curate had not been idle in
her affairs, and had already arranged for her with some of his own
people who had small children, only he had meant she should not begin
just yet. He wanted her both to be a little stronger, and to have got a
little further with one or two of her studies. And now, consulting with
Helen, he broached a new idea on the matter of her lodgment.
A day or two before Jones, the butcher, had been talking to him about
Mr. Drake--saying how badly his congregation had behaved to him, and in
what trouble he had come to him, because he could not pay his bill. The
good fellow had all this time never mentioned the matter; and it was
from growing concern about the minister that he now spoke of it to the
"We don't know all the circumstances, however, Mr. Jones," the curate
replied; "and perhaps Mr. Drake himself does not think so badly of it as
you do. He is a most worthy man. Mind you let him have whatever he
wants. I'll see to you. Don't mention it to a soul."
"Bless your heart and liver, sir!" exclaimed the butcher, "he's ten
times too much of a gentleman to do a kindness to. I couldn't take no
liberty with that man--no, not if he was 'most dead of hunger. He'd eat
the rats out of his own cellar, I do believe, before he'd accept what
you may call a charity; and for buying when he knows he can't pay, why
he'd beg outright before he'd do that. What he do live on now I can't
nohow make out--and that's what doos make me angry with him--as if a
honest tradesman didn't know how to behave to a gentleman! Why, they
tell me, sir, he did use to drive his carriage and pair in London! And
now he's a doin' of his best to live on nothink at all!--leastways, so
they tell me--seem' as how he'd have 'em believe he was turned a--what's
it they call it!--a--a--a wegetablarian!--that's what he do, sir! But I
know better. He may be eatin' grass like a ox, as did that same old king
o' Israel as growed the feathers and claws in consequence; and I don't
say he ain't; but one thing I'm sure of, and that is, that if he be,
it's by cause he can't help it. Why, sir, I put it to you--no gentleman
would--if he could help it.--Why don't he come to me for a bit o'
wholesome meat?" he went on in a sorely injured tone. "He knows I'm
ready for anythink in reason! Them peas an' beans an' cabbages an'
porridges an' carrots an' turmits--why, sir, they ain't nothink at all
but water an' wind. I don't say as they mayn't keep a body alive for a
year or two, but, bless you, there's nothink in them; and the man'll be
a skelinton long before he's dead an' buried; an' I shed jest like to
know where's the good o' life on sich terms as them!"
Thus Jones, the butcher--a man who never sold bad meat, never charged
for an ounce more than he delivered, and when he sold to the poor,
considered them. In buying and selling he had a weakness for giving the
fair play he demanded. He had a little spare money somewhere, but he did
not make a fortune out of hunger, retire early, and build churches. A
local preacher once asked him if he knew what was the plan of salvation.
He answered with the utmost innocence, cutting him off a great lump of
leg of beef for a family he had just told him was starving, that he
hadn't an idea, but no Christian could doubt it was all right.
The curate, then, pondering over what Mr. Jones had told him, had an
idea; and now he and his wife were speedily of one mind as to attempting
an arrangement for Juliet with Miss Drake. What she would be able to pay
would, they thought, ease them a little, while she would have the
advantage of a better protection than a lodging with more humble people
would afford her. Juliet was willing for any thing they thought best.
Wingfold therefore called on the minister, to make the proposal to him,
and was shown up to his study--a mere box, where there was just room for
a chair on each side of the little writing-table. The walls from top to
bottom were entirely hidden with books.
Mr. Drake received him with a touching mixture of sadness and
cordiality, and heard in silence what he had to say.
"It is very kind of you to think of us, Mr. Wingfold," he replied, after
a moment's pause. "But I fear the thing is impossible. Indeed, it is out
of the question. Circumstances are changed with us. Things are not as
they once were."
There had always been a certain negative virtue in Mr. Drake, which only
his friends were able to see, and only the wisest of them to set over
against his display--this, namely, that he never attempted to gain
credit for what he knew he had not. As he was not above show, I can not
say he was safely above false show, for he who is capable of the one is
still in danger of the other; but he was altogether above deception:
that he scorned. If, in his time of plenty he liked men to be aware of
his worldly facilities, he now, in the time of his poverty, preferred
that men should be aware of the bonds in which he lived. His nature was
simple, and loved to let in the daylight. Concealment was altogether
alien to him. From morning to night anxious, he could not bear to be
supposed of easy heart. Some men think poverty such a shame that they
would rather be judged absolutely mean than confess it. Mr. Drake's
openness may have sprung from too great a desire for sympathy; or from
a diseased honesty--I can not tell; I will freely allow that if his
faith had been as a grain of mustard seed, he would not have been so
haunted with a sense of his poverty, as to be morbidly anxious to
confess it. He would have known that his affairs were in high charge:
and that, in the full flow of the fountain of prosperity, as well as in
the scanty, gravelly driblets from the hard-wrought pump of poverty, the
supply came all the same from under the throne of God, and he would not
have _felt_ poor. A man ought never to feel rich for riches, nor poor
for poverty. The perfect man must always feel rich, because God is rich.
"The fact is," Mr. Drake went on, "we are very poor--absolutely poor,
Mr. Wingfold--so poor that I may not even refuse the trifling annuity my
late congregation will dole out to me."
"I am sorry to know it," said the curate.
"But I must take heed of injustice," the pastor resumed; "I do not think
they would have treated me so had they not imagined me possessed of
private means. The pity now is that the necessity which would make me
glad to fall in with your kind proposal itself renders the thing
impracticable. Even with what your friend would contribute to the
housekeeping we could not provide a table fit for her. But Dorothy ought
to have the pleasure of hearing your kind proposition: if you will allow
me I will call her."
Dorothy was in the kitchen, making pastry--for the rare treat of a
chicken pudding: they had had a present of a couple of chickens from
Mrs. Thomson--when she heard her father's voice calling her from the top
of the little stair. When Lisbeth opened the door to the curate she was
on her way out, and had not yet returned; so she did not know any one
was with him, and hurried up with her arms bare. She recoiled half a
step when she saw Mr. Wingfold, then went frankly forward to welcome
him, her hands in her white pinafore.
"It's only flour," she said, smiling.
"It is a rare pleasure now-a-days to catch a lady at work" said
Wingfold. "My wife always dusts my study for me. I told her I would not
have it done except she did it--just to have the pleasure of seeing her
at it. My conviction is, that only a lady can become a thorough
"Why don't you have lady-helps then?" said Dorothy.
"Because I don't know where to find them. Ladies are scarce; and any
thing almost would be better than a houseful of half-ladies."
"I think I understand," said Dorothy thoughtfully.
Her father now stated Mr. Wingfold's proposal--in the tone of one sorry
to be unable to entertain it.
"I see perfectly why you think we could not manage it, papa," said
Dorothy. "But why should not Miss Meredith lodge with us in the same way
as with Mrs. Puckridge? She could have the drawing-room and my bedroom,
and her meals by herself. Lisbeth is wretched for want of dinners to
"Miss Meredith would hardly relish the idea of turning you out of your
drawing-room," said Wingfold.
"Tell her it may save us from being turned out of the house. Tell her
she will be a great help to us," returned Dorothy eagerly.
"My child," said her father, the tears standing in his eyes, "your
reproach sinks into my very soul."
"My reproach, father!" repeated Dorothy aghast. "How you do mistake me!
I can't say with you that the will of God is every thing; but I can say
that far less than your will--your ability--will always be enough for
"My child," returned her father, "you go on to rebuke me! You are
immeasurably truer to me than I am to my God.--Mr. Wingfold, you love
the Lord, else I would not confess my sin to you: of late I have often
thought, or at least felt as if He was dealing hardly with me. Ah, my
dear sir! you are a young man: for the peace of your soul serve God so,
that, by the time you are my age, you may be sure of Him. I try hard to
put my trust in Him, but my faith is weak. It ought by this time to have
been strong. I always want to see the way He is leading me--to
understand something of what He is doing with me or teaching me, before
I can accept His will, or get my heart to consent not to complain. It
makes me very unhappy. I begin to fear that I have never known even the
beginning of confidence, and that faith has been with me but a thing of
the understanding and the lips."
He bowed his head on his hands. Dorothy went up to him and laid a hand
on his shoulder, looking unspeakably sad. A sudden impulse moved the
"Let us pray," he said, rising, and kneeled down.
It was a strange, unlikely thing to do; but he was an unlikely man, and
did it. The others made haste to kneel also.
"God of justice," he said, "Thou knowest how hard it is for us, and Thou
wilt be fair to us. We have seen no visions; we have never heard the
voice of Thy Son, of whom those tales, so dear to us, have come down the
ages; we have to fight on in much darkness of spirit and of mind, both
from the ignorance we can not help, and from the fault we could have
helped; we inherit blindness from the error of our fathers; and when
fear, or the dread of shame, or the pains of death, come upon us, we are
ready to despair, and cry out that there is no God, or, if there be, He
has forgotten His children. There are times when the darkness closes
about us like a wall, and Thou appearest nowhere, either in our hearts,
or in the outer universe; we can not tell whether the things we seemed
to do in Thy name, were not mere hypocrisies, and our very life is but a
gulf of darkness. We cry aloud, and our despair is as a fire in our
bones to make us cry; but to all our crying and listening, there seems
neither hearing nor answer in the boundless waste. Thou who knowest
Thyself God, who knowest Thyself that for which we groan, Thou whom
Jesus called Father, we appeal to Thee, not as we imagine Thee, but as
Thou seest Thyself, as Jesus knows Thee, to Thy very self we cry--help
us, O Cause of us! O Thou from whom alone we are this weakness, through
whom alone we can become strength, help us--be our Father. We ask for
nothing beyond what Thy Son has told us to ask. We beg for no signs or
wonders, but for Thy breath upon our souls, Thy spirit in our hearts. We
pray for no cloven tongues of fire--for no mighty rousing of brain or
imagination; but we do, with all our power of prayer, pray for Thy
spirit; we do not even pray to know that it is given to us; let us, if
so it pleases Thee, remain in doubt of the gift for years to come--but
lead us thereby. Knowing ourselves only as poor and feeble, aware only
of ordinary and common movements of mind and soul, may we yet be
possessed by the spirit of God, led by His will in ours. For all things
in a man, even those that seem to him the commonest and least uplifted,
are the creation of Thy heart, and by the lowly doors of our wavering
judgment, dull imagination, luke-warm love, and palsied will, Thou canst
enter and glorify all. Give us patience because our hope is in Thee, not
in ourselves. Work Thy will in us, and our prayers are ended. Amen."
They rose. The curate said he would call again in the evening, bade
them good-by, and went. Mr. Drake turned to his daughter and said--
"Dorothy, that's not the way I have been used to pray or hear people
pray; nevertheless the young man seemed to speak very straight up to
God. It appears to me there was another spirit there with his. I will
humble myself before the Lord. Who knows but he may lift me up!"
"What can my father mean by saying that perhaps God will lift him up?"
said Dorothy to herself when she was alone. "It seems to me if I only
knew God was anywhere, I should want no other lifting up. I should then
be lifted up above every thing forever."
Had she said so to the curate, he would have told her that the only way
to be absolutely certain of God, is to see Him as He is, and for that we
must first become absolutely pure in heart. For this He is working in
us, and perfection and vision will flash together. Were conviction
possible without that purity and that vision, I imagine it would work
evil in us, fix in their imperfection our ideas, notions, feelings,
concerning God, give us for His glory the warped reflection of our
cracked and spotted and rippled glass, and so turn our worship into an
Dorothy was a rather little woman, with lightish auburn hair, a large
and somewhat heavy forehead, fine gray eyes, small well-fashioned
features, a fair complexion on a thin skin, and a mouth that would have
been better in shape if it had not so often been informed of trouble.
With this trouble their poverty had nothing to do; that did not weigh
upon her a straw. She was proud to share her father's lot, and could
have lived on as little as any laboring woman with seven children. She
was indeed a trifle happier since her father's displacement, and would
have been happier still had he found it within the barest possibility to
decline the annuity allotted him; for, as far back as she could
remember, she had been aware of a dislike to his position--partly from
pride it may be, but partly also from a sense of the imperfection of the
relation between him and his people--one in which love must be
altogether predominant, else is it hateful--and chiefly because of a
certain sordid element in the community--a vile way of looking at sacred
things through the spectacles of mammon, more evident--I only say more
evident--in dissenting than in Church of England communities, because of
the pressure of expenses upon them. Perhaps the impossibility of
regarding her father's church with reverence, laid her mind more open to
the cause of her trouble--such doubts, namely, as an active intellect,
nourished on some of the best books, and disgusted with the weak fervor
of others rated high in her hearing, had been suggesting for years
before any words of Faber's reached her. The more her devout nature
longed to worship, the more she found it impossible to worship that
which was presented for her love and adoration. See believed entirely in
her father, but she knew he could not meet her doubts, for many things
made it plain that he had never had such himself. An ordinary mind that
has had doubts, and has encountered and overcome them, or verified and
found them the porters of the gates of truth, may be profoundly useful
to any mind similarly assailed; but no knowledge of books, no amount of
logic, no degree of acquaintance with the wisest conclusions of others,
can enable a man who has not encountered skepticism in his own mind, to
afford any essential help to those caught in the net. For one thing,
such a man will be incapable of conceiving the possibility that the net
may be the net of The Fisher of Men.
Dorothy, therefore, was sorely oppressed. For a long time her life had
seemed withering from her, and now that her father was fainting on the
steep path, and she had no water to offer him, she was ready to cry
aloud in bitterness of spirit.
She had never heard the curate preach--had heard talk of his oddity on
all sides, from men and women no more capable of judging him than the
caterpillar of judging the butterfly--which yet it must become. The
draper, who understood him, naturally shrunk from praising to her the
teaching for which he not unfrequently deserted that of her father, and
she never looked in the direction of him with any hope. Yet now, the
very first time she had heard him speak out of the abundance of his
heart, he had left behind him a faint brown ray of hope in hers. It was
very peculiar of him to break out in prayer after such an abrupt
fashion--in the presence of an older minister than himself--and praying
for him too! But there was such an appearance of reality about the man!
such a simplicity in his look! such a directness in his petitions! such
an active fervor of hope in his tone--without an atom of what she had
heard called _unction_! His thought and speech appeared to arise from no
separated sacred mood that might be assumed and laid aside, but from
present faith and feeling, from the absolute point of life at that
moment being lived by him. It was an immediate appeal to a hearing, and
understanding, and caring God, whose breath was the very air His
creatures breathed, the element of their life; an utter acknowledgment
of His will as the bliss of His sons and daughters! Such was the shining
of the curate's light, and it awoke hope in Dorothy.
In the evening he came again as he had said, and brought Juliet. Each in
the other, Dorothy and she recognized suffering, and in a very few
moments every thing was arranged between them. Juliet was charmed with
the simplicity and intentness of Dorothy; in Juliet's manner and
carriage, Dorothy at once recognized a breeding superior to her own, and
at once laid hold of the excellence by acknowledging it. In a moment she
made Juliet understand how things were, and Juliet saw as quickly that
she must assent to the arrangement proposed. But she had not been with
them two days, when Dorothy found the drawing-room as open to her as
before she came, and far more pleasant.
While the girls were talking below, the two clergymen sat again in the
"I have taken the liberty," said the curate, "of bringing an old book I
should like you to look at, if you don't mind--chiefly for the sake of
some verses that pleased me much when I read them first, and now please
me more when I read them for the tenth time. If you will allow me, I
will read them to you."
Mr. Drake liked good poetry, but did not much relish being called upon
to admire, as he imagined he was now. He assented, of course, graciously
enough, and soon found his mistake.
This is the poem Wingfold read:
CONSIDER THE RAVENS.
Lord, according to Thy words,
I have considered Thy birds;
And I find their life good,
And better the better understood;
Sowing neither corn nor wheat,
They have all that they can eat;
Reaping no more than they sow.
They have all they can stow;
Having neither barn nor store,
Hungry again, they eat more.
Considering, I see too that they
Have a busy life, and plenty of play;
In the earth they dig their bills deep,
And work well though they do not heap;
Then to play in the air they are not loth,
And their nests between are better than both.
But this is when there blow no storms;
When berries are plenty in winter, and worms;
When their feathers are thick, and oil is enough
To keep the cold out and the rain off:
If there should come a long hard frost,
Then it looks as Thy birds were lost.
But I consider further, and find
A hungry bird has a free mind;
He is hungry to-day, not to-morrow;
Steals no comfort, no grief doth borrow;
This moment is his, Thy will hath said it,
The next is nothing till Thou hast made it.
The bird has pain, but has no fear,
Which is the worst of any gear;
When cold and hunger and harm betide him,
He gathers them not to stuff inside him;
Content with the day's ill he has got,
He waits just, nor haggles with his lot;
Neither jumbles God's will
With driblets from his own still.
But next I see, in my endeavor,
Thy birds here do not live forever;
That cold or hunger, sickness or age,
Finishes their earthly stage;
The rook drops without a stroke,
And never gives another croak;
Birds lie here, and birds lie there,
With little feathers all astare;
And in Thy own sermon, Thou
That the sparrow falls dost allow.
It shall not cause me any alarm,
For neither so comes the bird to harm,
Seeing our Father, Thou hast said,
Is by the sparrow's dying bed;
Therefore it is a blessed place,
And the sparrow in high grace.
It cometh therefore to this. Lord;
I have considered Thy word,
And henceforth will be Thy bird.
By the time Wingfold ceased, the tears were running down the old man's
face. When he saw that, the curate rose at once, laid the book on the
table, shook hands with him, and went away. The minister laid his head
on the table, and wept.
Juliet had soon almost as much teaching as she could manage. People
liked her, and children came to love her a little. A good report of her
spread. The work was hard, chiefly because it included more walking than
she had been accustomed to; but Dorothy generally walked with her, and
to the places furthest off, Helen frequently took her with her ponies,
and she got through the day's work pretty well. The fees were small, but
they sufficed, and made life a little easier to her host and his family.
Amanda got very fond of her, and, without pretending to teach her,
Juliet taught her a good deal. On Sundays she went to church; and
Dorothy, although it cost her a struggle to face the imputation of
resentment, by which the chapel-people would necessarily interpret the
change, went regularly with her, in the growing hope of receiving light
from the curate. Her father also not unfrequently accompanied her.
All this time poor Faber, to his offer of himself to Juliet, had
received no answer but a swoon--or something very near it. Every attempt
he made to see her alone at the rectory had been foiled; and he almost
came to the conclusion that the curate and his wife had set themselves
to prejudice against himself a mind already prejudiced against his
principles. It added to his uneasiness that, as he soon discovered, she
went regularly to church. He knew the power and persuasion of Wingfold,
and looked upon his influence as antagonistic to his hopes. Pride,
anger, and fear were all at work in him; but he went on calling, and did
his best to preserve an untroubled demeanor. Juliet imagined no change
in his feelings, and her behavior to him was not such as to prevent them
from deepening still.
Every time he went it was with a desperate resolution of laying his
hand on the veil in which she had wrapped herself, but every time he
found it impossible, for one reason or another, to make a single
movement toward withdrawing it. Again and again he tried to write to
her, but the haunting suspicion that she would lay his epistle before
her new friends, always made him throw down his pen in a smothering
indignation. He found himself compelled to wait what opportunity chance
or change might afford him.
When he learned that she had gone to live with the Drakes, it was a
relief to him; for although he knew the minister was far more personal
in his hostility than Wingfold, he was confident his influence over her
would not be so great; and now he would have a better chance, he
thought, of seeing her alone. Meantime he took satisfaction in knowing
that he did not neglect a single patient, and that in no case had he
been less successful either as to diagnosis or treatment because of his
trouble. He pitied himself just a little as a martyr to the truth, a
martyr the more meritorious that the truth to which he sacrificed
himself gave him no hope for the future, and for the present no shadow
of compensation beyond the satisfaction of not being deceived. It
remains a question, however, which there was no one to put to
Faber--whether he had not some amends in relief from the notion, vaguely
it may be, yet unpleasantly haunting many minds--of a Supreme Being--a
Deity--putting forth claims to obedience--an uncomfortable sort of
phantom, however imaginary, for one to have brooding above him, and
continually coming between him and the freedom of an else empty
universe. To the human soul as I have learned to know it, an empty
universe would be as an exhausted receiver to the lungs that thirst for
air; but Faber liked the idea: how he would have liked the reality
remains another thing. I suspect that what we call damnation is
something as near it as it can be made; itself it can not be, for even
the damned must live by God's life. Was it, I repeat, no compensation
for his martyrdom to his precious truth, to know that to none had he to
render an account? Was he relieved from no misty sense of a moral
consciousness judging his, and ready to enforce its rebuke--a belief
which seems to me to involve the highest idea, the noblest pledge, the
richest promise of our nature? There may be men in whose turning from
implicit to explicit denial, no such element of relief is concerned--I
can not tell; but although the structure of Paul Faber's life had in it
material of noble sort, I doubt if he was one of such.
The summer at length reigned lordly in the land. The roses were in
bloom, from the black purple to the warm white. Ah, those roses! He must
indeed be a God who invented the roses. They sank into the red hearts of
men and women, caused old men to sigh, young men to long, and women to
weep with strange ecstatic sadness. But their scent made Faber lonely
and poor, for the rose-heart would not open its leaves to him.
The winds were soft and odor-laden. The wide meadows through which
flowed the river, seemed to smite the eye with their greenness; and the
black and red and white kine bent down their sleek necks among the
marsh-marigolds and the meadow-sweet and the hundred lovely things that
border the level water-courses, and fed on the blessed grass. Along the
banks, here with nets, there with rod and line, they caught the gleaming
salmon, and his silver armor flashed useless in the sun. The old pastor
sat much in his little summer-house, and paced his green walk on the
border of the Lythe; but in all the gold of the sunlight, in all the
glow and the plenty around him, his heart was oppressed with the sense
of his poverty. It was not that he could not do the thing he would, but
that he could not meet and rectify the thing he had done. He could
behave, he said to himself, neither as a gentleman nor a Christian, for
lack of money; and, worst of all, he could not get rid of a sense of
wrong--of rebellious heavings of heart, of resentments, of doubts that
came thick upon him--not of the existence of God, nor of His goodness
towards men in general, but of His kindness to himself. Logically, no
doubt, they were all bound in one, and the being that could be unfair to
a beetle could not be God, could not make a beetle; but our feelings,
especially where a wretched self is concerned, are notably illogical.
The morning of a glorious day came in with saffron, gold, and crimson.
The color sobered, but the glory grew. The fleeting dyes passed, but the
azure sky, the white clouds, and the yellow fire remained. The larks
dropped down to their breakfast. The kine had long been busy at theirs,
for they had slept their short night in the midst of their food. Every
thing that could move was in motion, and what could not move was
shining, and what could not shine was feeling warm. But the pastor was
tossing restless. He had a troubled night. The rent of his house fell
due with the miserable pittance allowed him by the church; but the hard
thing was not that he had to pay nearly the whole of the latter to meet
the former, but that he must first take it. The thought of that burned
in his veins like poison. But he had no choice. To refuse it would be
dishonest; it would be to spare or perhaps indulge his feelings at the
expense of the guiltless. He must not kill himself, he said, because he
had insured his life, and the act would leave his daughter nearly
destitute. Yet how was the insurance longer to be paid? It _was_ hard,
with all his faults, to be brought to this! It _was_ hard that he who
all his life had been urging people to have faith, should have his own
turned into a mockery.
Here heart and conscience together smote him. Well might his faith be
mocked, for what better was it than a mockery itself! Where was this
thing he called his faith? Was he not cherishing, talking flat
unbelief?--as much as telling God he did _not_ trust in Him? Where was
the faithlessness of which his faithlessness complained? A phantom of
its own! Yea, let God be true and every man a liar! Had the hour come,
and not the money? A fine faith it was that depended on the very
presence of the help!--that required for its existence that the supply
should come before the need!--a fine faith in truth, which still would
follow in the rear of sight!--But why then did God leave him thus
without faith? Why did not God make him able to trust? He had prayed
quite as much for faith as for money. His conscience replied, "That is
your part--the thing you will not do. If God put faith into your heart
without your stirring up your heart to believe, the faith would be God's
and not yours. It is true all is God's; he made this you call _me_, and
made it able to believe, and gave you Himself to believe in; and if
after that He were to make you believe without you doing your utmost
part, He would be making you down again into a sort of holy dog, not
making you grow a man like Christ Jesus His Son"--"But I have tried hard
to trust in Him," said the little self.--"Yes, and then fainted and
ceased," said the great self, the conscience.
Thus it went on in the poor man's soul. Ever and anon he said to
himself, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him," and ever and anon
his heart sickened afresh, and he said to himself, "I shall go down to
the grave with shame, and my memorial will be debts unpaid, for the
Lord hath forsaken me." All the night he had lain wrestling with fear
and doubt: fear was hard upon him, but doubt was much harder. "If I
could but trust," he said, "I could endure any thing."
In the splendor of the dawn, he fell into a troubled sleep, and a more
troubled dream, which woke him again to misery. Outside his chamber, the
world was rich in light, in song, in warmth, in odor, in growth, in
color, in space; inside, all was to him gloomy, groanful, cold, musty,
ungenial, dingy, confined; yet there was he more at ease, shrunk from
the light, and in the glorious morning that shone through the chinks of
his shutters, saw but an alien common day, not the coach of his Father,
come to carry him yet another stage toward his home. He was in want of
nothing at the moment. There were no holes in the well-polished shoes
that seemed to keep ghostly guard outside his chamber-door. The clothes
that lay by his bedside were indeed a little threadbare, but sound and
spotless. The hat that hung in the passage below might have been much
shabbier without necessarily indicating poverty. His walking-stick had a
gold knob like any earl's. If he did choose to smoke a church-warden, he
had a great silver-mounted meerschaum on his mantle-shelf. True, the
butcher's shop had for some time contributed nothing to his dinners, but
his vegetable diet agreed with him. He would himself have given any man
time, would as soon have taken his child by the throat as his debtor,
had worshiped God after a bettering fashion for forty years at least,
and yet would not give God time to do His best for him--the best that
perfect love, and power limited only by the lack of full consent in the
man himself, could do.
His daughter always came into his room the first thing in the morning.
It was plain to her that he had been more restless than usual, and at
sight of his glazy red-rimmed eyes and gray face, her heart sank within
her. For a moment she was half angry with him, thinking in herself that
if she believed as he did, she would never trouble her heart about any
thing: her head should do all the business. But with his faith, she
would have done just the same as he, It is one thing to be so used to
certain statements and modes of thought that you take all for true, and
quite another so to believe the heart of it all, that you are in
essential and imperturbable peace and gladness because of it. But oh,
how the poor girl sighed for the freedom of a God to trust in! She could
content herself with the husks the swine ate, if she only knew that a
Father sat at the home-heart of the universe, wanting to have her.
Faithful in her faithlessness, she did her best to comfort her
_believing_ father: beyond the love that offered it, she had but cold
comfort to give. He did not listen to a word she said, and she left him
at last with a sigh, and went to get him his breakfast. When she
returned, she brought him his letters with his tea and toast. He told
her to take them away: she might open them herself if she liked; they
could be nothing but bills! She might take the tray too; he did not want
any breakfast: what right had he to eat what he had no money to pay for!
There would be a long bill at the baker's next! What right had any one
to live on other people! Dorothy told him she paid for every loaf as it
came, and that there was no bill at the baker's, though indeed he had
done his best to begin one. He stretched out his arms, drew her down to
his bosom, said she was his only comfort, then pushed her away, turned
his face to the wall, and wept. She saw it would be better to leave him,
and, knowing in this mood he would eat nothing, she carried the tray
with her. A few moments after, she came rushing up the stair like a
wind, and entered his room swiftly, her face "white with the whiteness
of what is dead."
THE MINISTER'S BEDROOM.
The next day, in the afternoon, old Lisbeth appeared at the rectory,
with a hurried note, in which Dorothy begged Mr. Wingfold to come and
see her father. The curate rose at once and went. When he reached the
house, Dorothy, who had evidently been watching for his arrival, herself
opened the door.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Nothing alarming, I hope?"
"I hope not," she answered. There was a strange light on her face, like
that of a sunless sky on a deep, shadowed well. "But I am a little
alarmed about him. He has suffered much of late. Ah, Mr. Wingfold, you
don't know how good he is! Of course, being no friend to the church--"
"I don't wonder at that, the church is so little of a friend to
herself," interrupted the curate, relieved to find her so composed, for
as he came along he had dreaded something terrible.
"He wants very much to see you. He thinks perhaps you may be able to
help him. I am sure if you can't nobody can. But please don't heed much
what he says about himself. He is feverish and excited. There is such a
thing--is there not?--as a morbid humility? I don't mean a false
humility, but one that passes over into a kind of self disgust."
"I know what you mean," answered the curate, laying down his hat: he
never took his hat into a sick-room.
Dorothy led the way up the narrow creaking stairs.
It was a lowly little chamber in which the once popular preacher
lay--not so good as that he had occupied when a boy, two stories above
his father's shop. That shop had been a thorn in his spirit in the days
of his worldly success, but again and again this morning he had been
remembering it as a very haven of comfort and peace. He almost forgot
himself into a dream of it once; for one blessed moment, through the
upper half of the window he saw the snow falling in the street, while he
sat inside and half under the counter, reading Robinson Crusoe! Could
any thing short of heaven be so comfortable?
As the curate stepped in, a grizzled head turned toward him a haggard
face with dry, bloodshot eyes, and a long hand came from the bed to
"Ah, Mr. Wingfold!" cried the minister, "God has forsaken me. If He had
only forgotten me, I could have borne that, I think; for, as Job says,
the time would have come when He would have had a desire to the work of
His hands. But He has turned His back upon me, and taken His free Spirit
from me. He has ceased to take His own way, to do His will with me, and
has given me my way and my will. Sit down, Mr. Wingfold. You can not
comfort me, but you are a true servant of God, and I will tell you my
sorrow. I am no friend to the church, as you know, but--"
"So long as you are a friend of its Head, that goes for little with me,"
said the curate. "But if you will allow me, I should like to say just
one word on the matter."
He wished to try what a diversion of thought might do; not that he
foolishly desired to make him forget his trouble, but that he knew from
experience any gap might let in comfort.
"Say on, Mr. Wingfold. I am a worm and no man."
"It seems, then, to me a mistake for any community to spend precious
energy upon even a just finding of fault with another. The thing is, to
trim the lamp and clean the glass of our own, that it may be a light to
the world. It is just the same with communities as with individuals. The
community which casts if it be but the mote out of its own eye, does the
best thing it can for the beam in its neighbor's. For my part, I confess
that, so far as the clergy form and represent the Church of England, it
is and has for a long time been doing its best--not its worst, thank
God--to serve God and Mammon."
"Ah! that's my beam!" cried the minister. "I have been serving Mammon