Part 4 out of 9
therewith I awoke weeping, but with the lesson of my dream."
A deep silence fell on the little company. Then said Wingfold,
"I trust I have the lesson too."
He rose, shook hands with them, and, without another word, went
It often seems to those in earnest about the right as if all things
conspired to prevent their progress. This of course is but an
appearance, arising in part from this, that the pilgrim must be
headed back from the side paths into which he is constantly
wandering. To Wingfold, however, it seemed that all things fell in
to further his quest, which will not be so surprising if we remember
that his was no intermittent repentant seeking, but the struggle of
his whole energy. And there are those who, in their very first
seeking of it, are nearer to the kingdom of heaven than many who
have for years believed themselves of it.
In the former there is more of the mind of Jesus, and when he calls
them they recognize him at once and go after him; while the others
examine him from head to foot, and, finding him not sufficiently
like the Jesus of their conception, turn their backs, and go to
church, or chapel, or chamber, to kneel before a vague form mingled
of tradition and fancy. But the first shall be last, and the last
first; and there are from whom, be it penny or be it pound, what
they have must be taken away because with them it lies useless.
For Wingfold, he soon found that his nature was being stirred to
depths unsuspected before. Hitherto nothing had ever roused him to
genuine activity: his history not very happy; his life not very
interesting, his work not congenial, and paying itself in no
satisfaction, his pleasures of a cold and common intellectual
sort,--he had dragged along, sustained, without the sense of its
sustentation, by the germ within him of a slowly developing honesty.
But now that Conscience had got up into the guard's seat, and Will
had taken the reins, he found all his intellectual faculties in full
play, keeping well together, heads up and traces tight, while the
outrider Imagination, with his spotted dog Fancy, was always far
ahead, but never beyond the sound of the guard's horn; and ever as
they went, object after object hitherto beyond the radius of his
interest, rose on the horizon of question, and began to glimmer in
the dawn of human relation.
His first sermon is enough to show that he had begun to have
thoughts of his own--a very different thing from the entertaining of
the thoughts of others, however well we may feed and lodge
them--thoughts which came to him not as things which sought an
entrance, but as things that sought an exit--cried for forms of
embodiment that they might pass out of the infinite, and by
incarnation become communicable.
The news of that strange first sermon had of course spread through
the town, and the people came to church the next Sunday in crowds--
twice as many as the usual assembly--some who went seldom, some who
went nowhere, some who belonged to other congregations and
communities--mostly bent on witnessing whatever eccentricity the
very peculiar young man might be guilty of next, but having a few
among them who were sympathetically interested in seeing how far his
call, if call it was, would lead him.
His second sermon was to the same purport as the first. Preposing no
text, he spoke to the following effect, and indeed the following are
of the very words he uttered:
"The church wherein you now listen, my hearers, the pulpit wherein I
now speak, stand here from of old in the name of Christianity. What
is Christianity? I know but one definition, the analysis of which,
if the thing in question be a truth, must be the joyous labour of
every devout heart to all eternity. For Christianity does not mean
what you think or what I think concerning Christ, but what IS OF
Christ. My Christianity, if ever I come to have any, will be what of
Christ is in me; your Christianity now is what of Christ is in you.
Last Sunday I showed you our Lord's very words--that he, and no
other, was his disciple who did what he told him,--and said therefore
that I dared not call myself a disciple. I say the same thing in
saying now that I dare not call myself a Christian, lest I should
offend him with my 'Lord, Lord!' Still it is, and I cannot now help
it, in the name of Christianity that I here stand. I have, alas,
with blameful and appalling thoughtlessness I subscribed my name, as
a believer, to the Articles of the Church of England, with no better
reason than that I was unaware of any dissent therefrom, and have
been ordained one of her ministers. The relations into which this
has brought me I do not feel justified in severing at once, lest I
should therein seem to deny that which its own illumination may yet
show me to be true, and I desire therefore a little respite and room
for thought and resolve. But meantime it remains my business, as an
honest man in the employment of the church, to do my best towards
the setting forth of'the claims of him upon whom that church is
founded, and in whose name she exists. As one standing on the
outskirts of a listening Galilean crowd, a word comes now and then
to my hungry ears and hungrier heart: I turn and tell it again to
you--not that ye have not heard it also, but that I may stir you up
to ask yourselves: 'Do I then obey this word? Have I ever, have I
once sought to obey it? Am I a pupil of Jesus? Am I a Christian?'
Hear then of his words. For me, they fill my heart with doubt and
"The Lord says: Love your enemies. Sayest thou, It is impossible?
Then dost thou mock the word of him who said, I am the Truth, and
has no part in him. Sayest thou, Alas, I cannot? Thou sayest true, I
doubt not. But hast thou tried whether he who made will not increase
the strength put forth to obey him?
"The Lord says: Be ye perfect. Dost thou then aim after perfection,
or dost thou excuse thy wilful short-comings, and say, To err is
human--nor hopest that it may also be found human to grow divine?
Then ask thyself, for thou hast good cause, whether thou hast any
part in him.
"The Lord said, Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth. My
part is not now to preach against the love of money, but to ask you:
Are you laying up for yourselves treasures on earth? As to what the
command means, the honest heart and the dishonest must each settle
in his own way; but if your heart condemn you, what I have to say
is, Call not yourselves Christians, but consider whether you ought
not to become disciples indeed. No doubt you can instance this,
that, and the other man who does as you do, and of whom yet no man
dreams of questioning the Christianity: it matters not a hair; all
that goes but to say that you are pagans together. Do not mistake
me: I judge you not. I but ask you, as mouthpiece most unworthy of
that Christianity in the name of which this building stands and we
are met therein, to judge your own selves by the words of its
"The Lord said: Take no thought for your life. Take no thought for
the morrow. Explain it as you may or can--but ask yourselves--Do I
take no thought for my life? Do I take no thought for the morrow?
and answer to yourselves whether or no ye are Christians.
"The Lord says: Judge not. Didst thou judge thy neighbour yesterday?
Wilt thou judge him again to-morrow? Art thon judging him now in the
very heart that within thy bosom sits hearing the words Judge not?
Or wilt thou ask yet again--Who is my neighbour? How then canst thou
look to be of those that shall enter through the gates into the
city? I tell thee not, for I profess not yet to know anything, but
doth not thy own profession of Christianity counsel thee to fall
upon thy face, and cry to him whom thou mockest, 'I am a sinful man,
"The Lord said: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do
to you, do ye even so to them. Ye that buy and sell, do you obey
this law? Examine yourselves and see. Ye would that men should deal
fairly by you; do you deal fairly by them as ye would count fairness
in them to you?--If conscience makes you hang the head inwardly,
however you sit with it erect in the pew, dare you add to your crime
against the law and the prophets the insult to Christ of calling
yourselves his disciples?
"Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the
kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is
in heaven. He will none but those who with him do the will of the
I have of course given but the spine and ribs, as it were, of the
sermon. There is no place for more. It is enough however to show
that he came to the point--and what can be better in preaching?
Certainly he was making the best of the blunder that had led him up
into that pulpit! And on the other hand, whatever might be the
various judgments and opinions of his hearers in respect of the
sermon--a thing about which the less any preacher allows himself to
think the better--many of them did actually feel that he had been
preaching to them, which is saying much. Even Mrs. Ramshorn was more
silent than usual as they went home, and although--not having
acquainted herself, amongst others, with the sermons of Latimer--she
was profoundly convinced that such preaching was altogether contrary
to the tradition, usage, and tone of the English Church, of which
her departed dean remained to her the unimpeachable embodiment and
type, the sole remark she made was, that Mr. Wingfold took quite too
much pains to prove himself a pagan. Mr. Bascombe was in the same
mind as before.
"I like the fellow," he said. "He says what he means, fair and full,
and no shilly-shallying. It's all great rubbish, of course!"
And the widow of the dean of blessed memory had not a word to say in
defence of the sermon, but, for her, let it go as the great rubbish
he called it. Indeed, not knowing the real mind of her nephew, she
was nothing less than gratified to hear from him an opinion so
comfortably hostile to that of this most uncomfortable of curates,
whom you never could tell where to have, and whom never since he had
confessed to wrong in the reading of his uncle's sermons, and thus
unwittingly cast a reproach upon the memory of him who had departed
from the harassed company of deans militant to the blessed company
of deans triumphant, had she invited to share at her table of the
good things left behind.
"Why don't you ask him home to dinner, aunt?" said Bascombe, after a
pause unbroken by Mrs. Ramshorn.
"Why should I, George?" returned his aunt. "Has he not been abusing
us all at a most ignorant and furious rate?"
"Oh! I didn't know," said the nephew, and held his peace. Nor did
the aunt perceive the sarcasm for the sake of pointing which he was
silent. But it was not lost, and George was paid in full by the
flicker of a faint smile across Helen's face.
As for Helen, the sermon had indeed laid a sort of feebly electrical
hold upon her, the mere nervous influence of honesty and
earnestness. But she could not accuse herself of having ever made a
prominent profession of Christianity, confirmation and communion
notwithstanding; and besides, had she not now all but abjured the
whole thing in her heart? so that, if every word of what he said was
true, not a word of it could be applied to her! And what time had
she to think about such far-away things as had happened eighteen
centuries ago, when there was her one darling pining away with a
black weight on his heart!
For, although Leopold was gradually recovering, a supreme dejection,
for which his weakness was insufficient to account, prostrated his
spirit, and at length drove Mr. Faber to ask Helen whether she knew
of any disappointment or other source of mental suffering that could
explain it. She told him of the habit he had formed, and asked
whether his being deprived of the narcotic might not be the cause.
He accepted the suggestion, and set himself, not without some
success, to repair the injury the abuse had occasioned. Still,
although his physical condition plainly improved, the dejection
continued, and Mr. Faber was thrown back upon his former conjecture.
Learning nothing, however, and yet finding that, as he advanced
towards health, his dejection plainly deepened, he began at length
to fear softening of the brain, but could discover no other symptom
of such disease.
The earnestness of the doctor's quest after a cause for what anyone
might observe, added greatly to Helen's uneasiness; and besides, the
fact itself began to undermine the hope of his innocence which had
again sprung up and almost grown to assurance in the absence of any
fresh contradiction from without. Also, as his health returned, his
sleep became more troubled; he dreamed more, and showed by his
increased agitation in his dreams that they were more painful. In
this respect his condition was at the worst always between two and
three o'clock in the morning; and having perceived this fact, Helen
would never allow anyone except herself to sit up with him the first
part of the night.
Increased anxiety and continued watching soon told upon her health
yet more severely, and she lost appetite and complexion. Still she
slept well during the latter part of the morning, and it was in vain
that aunt and doctor and nurse all expostulated with her upon the
excess of her ministration: nothing should make her yield the post
until her brother was himself again. Nor was she without her reward,
and that a sufficing one--in the love and gratitude with which
Leopold clung to her.
During the day also she spent every moment, except such as she
passed in the open air, and at table with her aunt, by his bedside,
reading and talking to him; but as yet not a single allusion had
been made to the frightful secret.
At length he was so much better that there was no longer need for
anyone to sit up with him; but then Helen had her bed put in the
dressing-room, that at one o'clock she might be by his side, to sit
there until three should be well over and gone.
Thus she gave up her whole life to him, and doubtless thereby gained
much fresh interest in it for herself. But the weight of the secret,
and the dread of the law, were too much for her, and were gradually
undermining that strength of dissimulation in which she had trusted,
and which, in respect of cheerfulness, she had to exercise towards
her brother as well as her aunt. She struggled hard, for if those
weak despairing eyes of his were to encounter weakness and despair
in hers, madness itself would be at the door for both. She had come
nearly to the point of discovering that the soul is not capable of
generating its own requirements, that it needs to be supplied from a
well whose springs lie deeper than its own soil, in the infinite
All, namely, upon which that soil rests. Happy they who have found
that those springs have an outlet in their hearts--on the hill of
It was very difficult to lay her hands on reading that suited him.
Gifted with a glowing yet delicate eastern imagination, pampered and
all but ruined, he was impatient of narratives of common life, whose
current bore him to a reservoir and no sea; while, on the other
hand, some tales that seemed to Helen poverty-stricken flats of
nonsense, or jumbles of false invention, would in her brother wake
an interest she could not understand, appearing to afford him
outlooks into regions to her unknown. But from the moral element in
any story he shrunk visibly. She tried the German tales collected by
the brothers Grimm, so popular with children of all ages; but on the
very first attempt she blundered into an awful one of murder and
vengeance, in which, if the drawing was untrue, the colour was
strong, and had to blunder clumsily out of it again, with a hot face
and a cold heart. At length she betook herself to the Thousand and
One Nights, which she had never read, and found very dull, but which
with Leopold served for what book could do.
In the rest of the house things went on much the same. Old friends
and their daughters called on Mrs. Ramshorn, and inquired after the
invalid, and George Bascombe came almost every Saturday, and stayed
till Monday. But the moment the tide of her trouble began again to
rise, Helen found herself less desirous of meeting one from whom she
could hope neither help nor cheer. It might be that future
generations of the death-doomed might pass their poor life a little
more comfortably that she had not been a bad woman, and she might be
privileged to pass away from the world, as George taught her,
without earning the curses of those that came after her; but there
was her precious brother lying before her with a horrible worm
gnawing at his heart, and what to her were a thousand generations
unborn! Rather with Macbeth she might well "wish the estate o' the
world were now undone"--most of all when, in the silent watches of
the night, as she sat by the bedside of her beloved and he slept,
his voice would come murmuring out of a dream, sounding so far away
that it seemed as if his spirit only and not his lips had spoken the
words, "Oh Helen, darling, give me my knife. Why will you not let me
GLASTON AND THE CURATE.
Outside, the sun rose and set, never a crimson thread the less in
the garment of his glory that the spirit of one of the children of
the earth was stained with blood-guiltiness; the moon came up and
knew nothing of the matter; the stars minded their own business; and
the people of Glaston were talking about their curate's sermons.
Alas, it was about his sermons, and not the subject of them, that
men talked, their interest mainly roused by their PECULIARITY, and
what some called the oddity of the preacher.
What had come to him? He was not in the least like that for months
after his appointment, and the change came all at once! Yes--it
began with those extravagant notions about honesty in writing his
own sermons! It might have been a sunstroke, but it took him far too
early in the year for that! Softening of the brain it might be, poor
fellow! Was not excessive vanity sometimes a symptom?--Poor fellow!
So said some. But others said he was a clever fellow, and
long-headed enough to know that that sort of thing attracted
attention, and might open the way to a benefice, or at least an
engagement in London, where eloquence was of more account than in a
dead-and-alive country place like Glaston, from which the tide of
grace had ebbed, leaving that great ship of the church, the Abbey,
high and dry on the shore.
Others again judged him a fanatic--a dangerous man. Such did not all
venture to assert that he had erred from the way, but what man was
more dangerous than he who went too far? Possibly these forgot that
the narrow way can hardly be one to sit down in comfortably, or
indeed to be entered at all save by him who tries the gate with the
intent of going all the way--even should it lead up to the
perfection of the Father in heaven. "But," they would in effect have
argued, "is not a fanatic dangerous? and is not an enthusiast always
in peril of becoming a fanatic?--Be his enthusiasm for what it
may--for Jesus Christ, for God himself, such a man is dangerous--
most dangerous! There are so many things, comfortably settled like
Presumption's tubs upon their own bottoms, which such men would, if
they could, at once upset and empty!"
Others suspected a Romanizing drift in the whole affair. "Wait until
he gathers influence," they said, "and a handful of followers, and
then you'll see! They'll be all back to Rome together in a month!"
As the wind took by the tail St. Peter's cock on the church spire
and whirled it about, so did the wind of words in Glaston rudely
seize and flack hither and thither the spiritual reputation of
Thomas Wingfold, curate. And all the time, the young man was
wrestling, his life in his hand, with his own unbelief; while upon
his horizon ever and anon rose the glimmer of a great aurora, or the
glimpse of a boundless main--if only he could have been sure they
were no mirage of his own parched heart and hungry eye--that they
were thoughts in the mind of the Eternal, and THRERFORE had appeared
in his, even as the Word was said to have become flesh and dwelt
with men! The next moment he would be gasping in that malarious
exhalation from the marshes of his neglected heart--the
counter-fear, namely, that the word under whose potent radiance the
world seemed on the verge of budding forth and blossoming as the
rose, was TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.
"Yes, much too good, if there be no living, self-willing Good," said
Polwarth one evening, in answer to the phrase just dropped from his
lips. "But if there be such a God as alone could be God, can
anything be too good to be true?--too good for such a God as
contented Jesus Christ?"
At one moment he was ready to believe everything, even to that
strangest, yet to me right credible miracle of the fish and the
piece of money, and the next to doubt whether man had ever dared
utter the words, "I and the Father are one." Tossed he was and
tormented in spirit, calling even aloud sometimes to know if there
was a God anywhere hearing his prayer, sure only of this, that
whatever else any being might be, if he heard not prayer, he could
not be the God for whom his soul cried and fainted. Sometimes there
came to him, it is true, what he would gladly have taken for an
answer, but it was nothing more than the sudden descent of a kind of
calmness on his spirit, which, for aught he could tell, might be but
the calm of exhaustion. His knees were sore with kneeling, his face
white with thinking, his eyes dim with trouble; for when once a man
has set out to find God, he must find him or die. This was the
inside reality whose outcome set the public of Glaston babbling. It
was from this that George Bascombe magisterially pronounced him a
hypochondriac, worrying his brain about things that had no
existence--as George himself could with confidence testify, not once
having seen the sight of them, heard the sound of them, or imagined
in his heart that they ought to be, or even that they might possibly
be. He pronounced indeed their existence inconsistent with his own.
The thought had never rippled the grey mass of his self-satisfied
brain that perhaps there was more of himself than what he counted he
himself yet knew, and that possibly these matters had a consistent
relation with parts unknown. Poor, poverty-stricken Wingfold!
--actually craving for things beneath Bascombe's notice! actually
crying for something higher and brighter than the moon! How
independent was George compared with Thomas!--content to live what
he called his life, be a benefactor to men, chiefly in ridding their
fancies of the goblins of aspiration, then die his death, and have
done with the business; while poor misguided, weak-brained,
hypochondriacal Thomas could be contented with nothing less than the
fulfilment of the promise of a certain man who perhaps never
existed: "The Father and I will come to him and make our abode with
Yet Thomas too had his weakness for the testimony of the senses. If
he did not, like George, refuse to believe without it, he yet could
not help desiring signs and wonders that he might believe. Of this
the following poem was a result, and I give it the more willingly
because it will show how the intellectual nature of the man had
advanced, borne on the waves that burst from the fountains of the
great deep below it.
O Lord, if on the wind, at cool of day,
I heard one whispered word of mighty grace;
If through the darkness, as in bed I lay,
But once had come a hand upon my face;
If but one sign that might not be mistook,
Had ever been, since first thy face I sought,
I should not now be doubting o'er a book,
But serving thee with burning heart and thought.
So dreams that heart. But to my heart I say,
Turning my face to front the dark and wind:
Such signs had only barred anew His way
Into thee, longing heart, thee, wildered mind.
They asked the very Way, where lies the way;
The very Son, where is the Father's face;
How he could show himself, if not in clay,
Who was the lord of spirit, form, and space.
My being, Lord, will nevermore be whole
Until thou come behind mine ears and eyes,
Enter and fill the temple of my soul
With perfect contact--such a sweet surprise--
Such presence as, before it met the view,
The prophet-fancy could not once foresee,
Though every corner of the temple knew
By very emptiness its need of thee.
When I keep ALL thy words, no favoured some--
Heedless of worldly winds or judgment's tide,
Then, Jesus, thou wilt with thy Father come--
O ended prayers!--and in my soul abide.
Ah long delay!--ah cunning, creeping sin!
I shall but fail and cease at length to try:
O Jesus, though thou wilt not yet come in,
Knock at my window as thou passest by.
But there was yet another class amongst those who on that second day
heard the curate testify what honestly he might, and no more,
concerning Jesus of Nazareth. So far as he learned, however, that
class consisted of one individual.
On the following Tuesday morning he went into the shop of the chief
linen-draper of Glaston, for he was going to a funeral, and wanted a
new pair of gloves that he might decline those which would be
offered him. A young woman waited on him, but Mr. Drew, seeing him
from the other end of the shop, came and took her place. When he was
fitted, had paid for his purchase, and was turning to take his
leave, the draper, with what appeared a resolution suddenly forced
from hesitation, leaned over the counter and said:
"Would you mind walking up stairs for a few minutes, sir? I ask it
as a great favour. I want very much to speak to you."
"I shall be most happy," answered Wingfold--conventionally, it must
be allowed, for in reality he anticipated expostulation, and having
in his public ministrations to do his duty against his own grain, he
had no fancy for encountering other people's grain as well in
private. Mr. Drew opened certain straits in the counter, and the
curate followed him through them, then through a door, up a stair,
and into a comfortable dining-room, which smelt strongly of tobacco.
There Mr. Drew placed for him a chair, and seated himself in front
The linen-draper was a middle-aged, middle-sized, stoutish man, with
plump rosy cheeks, keen black eyes, and features of the not uncommon
pug-type, ennobled and harmonized by a genuine expression of kindly
good-humour, and an excellent forehead. His dark hair was a little
streaked with gray. His manner, which, in the shop, had been of the
shop, that is, more deferential and would-be pleasing than Wingfold
liked, settled as he took his seat into one more resembling that of
a country gentleman. It was courteous and friendly, but clouded with
a little anxiety.
An uncomfortable pause following, Wingfold stumbled in with the
question, "I hope Mrs. Drew is well," without reflecting whether he
had really ever heard of a Mrs. Drew.
The draper's face flushed.
"It is twenty years since I lost her, sir," he returned. In his tone
and manner there was something peculiar.
"I beg your pardon," said Wingfold, with self-accusing sincerity.
"I will be open with you sir," continued his host: "she left
me--with another--nearly twenty years ago."
"I am ashamed of my inadvertence," rejoined Wingfold. "I have been
such a short time here, and--"
"Do not mention it, sir. How could you help it? Besides, it was not
here the thing took place, but a hundred miles away. I hope I should
before long have referred to the fact myself. But now I desire, if
you will allow me, to speak of something different."
"I am at your service," answered Wingfold.
"Thank you, sir.--I was in your church last Sunday," resumed the
draper after a pause. "I am not one of your regular hearers, sir;
but your sermon that day set me thinking, and instead of thinking
less when Monday came, I have been thinking more and more ever
since; and when I saw you in the shop, I could not resist the sudden
desire to speak to you. If you have time, sir, I hope you will allow
me to come to the point my own way?"
Wingfold assured him that his time was at his own disposal, and
could not be better occupied. Mr. Drew thanked him and went on.
"Your sermon, I must confess, sir, made me uncomfortable--no fault
of yours, sir--all my own--though how much the fault is, I hardly
know: use and custom are hard upon a man, sir, and you would have a
man go by other laws than those of the world he lives in. The earth
is the Lord's and the fulness thereof--you will doubtless say. That
is over the Royal Exchange in London, I think; but it is not the
laws of the Lord that are specially followed inside for all that.
However, it is not with other people we have to do, but with
ourselves--as you will say. Well then it is for myself I am
troubled now. Mr. Wingfold, sir, I am not altogether at ease in my
own mind as to the way I have made my money--what little money I
have--no great sum, but enough to retire upon when I please. I would
not have you think me worse than I am, but I am sincerely desirous
of knowing what you would have me do."
"My dear sir," returned Wingfold, "I am the very last to look to for
enlightenment. I am as ignorant of business as any child. I am not
aware that I ever bought anything except books and clothes, or ever
sold anything except a knife to a schoolfellow. I had bought it the
day before for half-a-crown, but there was a spot of rust on one of
the blades, and therefore I parted with it for twopence. The only
thing I can say is: if you have been in the way of doing anything
you are no longer satisfied with, don't do it any more."
"But just there comes my need of help. You must do something with
your business, and DON'T DO IT, don't tell me what to do. Mind I do
not confess to having done anything the trade would count
inadmissible, or which is not done in the largest establishments.
What I now make a question of I learned in one of the most
respectable of London houses."
"You imply that a man in your line who would not do certain things
the doing of which has contributed to the making of your fortune,
would by the ordinary dealer be regarded as Quixotic?"
"He would; but that there may be such men I am bound to allow, for
here am I wishing with all my heart that I had never done them.
Right gladly would I give up the money I have made by them to be rid
of them. I am unhappy about it. But I should never have dared to
confess it to you, sir, or, I believe, to anyone, but for the
confession you made in the pulpit some time ago. I was not there,
but I heard of it. I foolishly judged you unwise to accuse yourself
before an unsympathizing public--but here am I in consequence
accusing myself to you!"
"To no unsympathising hearer, though," said the curate.
"It made me want to go and hear you preach," pursued the draper;
"for no one could say but it was plucky--and we all like pluck,
sir," he added, with a laugh that puckered his face, showed the
whitest of teeth, and swept every sign of trouble from the
half-globe of his radiant countenance.
"Then you know sum and substance of what I can do for you, Mr. Drew:
I can sympathize with you;--not a whit more or less am I capable of.
I am the merest beginner and dabbler in doing right myself, and have
more need to ask you to teach me than to set up for teaching you."
"That's the beauty of you!--excuse me, sir," cried the draper
triumphantly. "You don't pretend to teach us anything, but you make
us so uncomfortable that we go about ever after asking ourselves
what we ought to do. Till last Sunday, I had always looked upon
myself as an honest man: let me see: it would be more correct to say
I looked on myself as a man QUITE HONEST ENOUGH. That I do not feel
so now, is your doing, sir. You said in your sermon last Sunday, and
specially to business men: 'Do you do to your neighbour as you would
have your neighbour do to you? If not, how can you suppose that the
lord of Christians will acknowledge you as a disciple of his, that
is, as a Christian?' Now I was even surer of being a Christian than
of being an honest man. You will hardly believe it, and what to
think of it myself I now hardly know, but I had satisfied myself,
more or less, that I had gone through all the necessary stages of
being born again, and it is now many years since I was received into
a Christian church--dissenting of course, I mean; for what I count
the most important difference after all between church and dissent
is that the one, right or wrong, requires for communion a personal
profession of faith, and credible proof of conversion--which I
believed I gave them, and have been for years, I shame to say it,
one of the deacons of that community. But it shall not be for long.
To return to my story, however: I was indignant at being called upon
from a church-pulpit to raise in myself the question whether or not
I was a Christian;--for had I not put my faith in the--? But I will
avoid theology, for I have paid more regard to that than has proved
good for me. Suffice it to say that I was now driven from the tests
of the theologians to try myself by the words of the Master: he must
be the best theologian after all, mustn't he, sir?--and so there and
then I tried the test of doing to your neighbour AS. But I could NOT
get it to work; I could not see how to use it, and while I was
trying how to make it apply, you were gone, and I lost all the rest
of the sermon.
"Now whether it was anything you had said coming back to me, I
cannot tell, but next day, that was yesterday, all at once, in the
shop here, as I was serving Mrs. Ramshorn, the thought came to me:
How would Jesus Christ have done if he had been a draper instead of
a carpenter? When she was gone, I went up to my room to think about
it. And there it seemed--that first I must know how he did as a
carpenter. But that we are told nothing about. I could get no light
upon that. And so my thoughts turned again to the original question.
--How would he have done had he been a draper? And, strange to say,
I seemed to know far more about that than the other, and to have
something to go upon. In fact I had a sharp and decisive answer
concerning several things of which I had dared to make a question."
"The vision of the ideal woke the ideal in yourself," said Wingfold
"I don't know that I quite understand that," returned Mr. Drew; "but
the more I thought the more dissatisfied I became. And, in a word,
it has come to this, that I must set things right, or give up
"That would be no victory," remarked the curate.
"I know it, and shall not yield without a struggle, I promise you.
That same afternoon, taking the opportunity of having overheard one
of them endeavouring to persuade an old farmer's wife to her
disadvantage, I called all my people, and told them that if ever I
heard one of them do such a thing, I would turn him or her away at
once. But when I came to look at it, I saw how difficult it would be
to convict of the breach of such a vague law; and unfortunately too
I had some time ago introduced the system of a small percentage to
the sellers, making it their interest to force sales. That however
is easily rectified, and I shall see to it at once. But I do wish I
had a more definite law to follow than that of doing AS!"
"Would not more light inside do as well as clearer law outside?"
"How can I tell till I have had a chance of trying?" returned the
draper with a smile, which speedily vanished as he went on: "Then
again, there's about profits! How much ought I to take? Am I to do
as others do, and always be ruled by the market? Am I bound to give
my customers the advantage of any special bargain I may have made?
And then again--for I do a large wholesale business with the little
country shops--if I learn that one of my customers is going down
hill, have I, or have I not, a right to pounce upon him, and make
him pay me, to the detriment of his other creditors? There's no end
of questions, you see, sir."
"I am the worst possible man to ask," returned Wingfold again. "I
might, from very ignorance, judge that wrong which is really right,
or that right which is really wrong. But one thing I begin to see,
that before a man can do right by his neighbour, he must love him as
himself. Only I am such a poor scholar in these high things that, as
you have just said, I cannot pretend to teach anybody. That sermon
was but an appeal to men's own consciences whether they kept the
words of the Lord by whose name they called themselves. Except in
your case, Mr. Drew, I am not aware that one of the congregation has
taken it to heart."
"I am not sure of that," returned the draper. "Some talk amongst my
own people has made me fancy that, perhaps, though talk be but
froth, the froth may rise from some hot work down below. Never man
could tell from the quiet way I am talking to you, how much I have
felt these few days past."
Wingfold looked him in the face: the earnestness of the man was
plain in his eyes, and his resolve stamped on every feature. The
curate thought of Zacchaeus; thought of Matthew at the receipt of
custom; thought with some shame of certain judgments concerning
trade, and shopkeepers especially, that seemed somehow to have bred
in him like creeping things--for whence they had come he could not
Now it was clear as day that--always provided the man Christ Jesus
can be and is with his disciples always to the end of the world--a
tradesman might just as soon have Jesus behind the counter with him,
teaching him to buy and sell IN HIS NAME, that is, as he would have
done it, as an earl riding over his lands might have him with him,
teaching him how to treat his farmers and cottagers--all depending
on how the one did his trading and the other his earling. A mere
truism, is it? Yes, it is, and more is the pity; for what is a
truism, as most men count truisms? What is it but a truth that ought
to have been buried long ago in the lives of men--to send up for
ever the corn of true deeds and the wine of loving kindness,--but
instead of being buried in friendly soil, is allowed to lie about,
kicked hither and thither in the dry and empty garret of their
brains, till they are sick of the sight and sound of it, and to be
rid of the thought of it, declare it to be no living truth but only
a lifeless truism! Yet in their brain that truism must rattle until
they shift it to its rightful quarters in their heart, where it will
rattle no longer but take root and be a strength and loveliness. Is
a truth to cease to be uttered because no better form than that of
some divine truism--say of St. John Boanerges--can be found for it?
To the critic the truism is a sea-worn, foot-trodden pebble; to the
obedient scholar, a radiant topaz, which, as he polishes it with the
dust of its use, may turn into a diamond.
"Jesus buying and selling!" said Wingfold to himself. "And why not?
Did Jesus make chairs and tables, or boats perhaps, which the people
of Nazareth wanted, without any admixture of trade in the matter?
Was there no transaction? No passing of money between hands? Did
they not pay his father for them? Was his Father's way of keeping
things going in the world, too vile for the hands of him whose being
was delight in the will of that Father? No; there must be a way of
handling money that is noble as the handling of the sword in the
hands of the patriot. Neither the mean man who loves it, nor the
faithless man who despises it, knows how to handle it. The former is
one who allows his dog to become a nuisance, the latter one who
kicks him from his sight. The noble man is he who so truly does the
work given him to do that the inherent nobility of that work is
manifest. And the trader who trades nobly is nobler surely than the
high-born who, if he carried the principles of his daily life into
trade, would be as pitiful a sneak as any he that bows and scrapes
falsely behind that altar of lies, his counter."--All flat truisms I
know, but no longer such to Wingfold to whom they now for the first
time showed themselves truths.
He had taken a kindly leave of the draper, promising to call again
soon, and had reached the room-door on his way out, when he turned
suddenly and said,
"Did you think to try praying, Mr. Drew? Men, whose minds, if I may
venture to judge, seem to me, from their writings, of the very
highest order, have really and positively believed that the loftiest
activity of a man's being lay in prayer to the unknown Father of
that being, and that light in the inward parts was the certain
consequence--that, in very truth, not only did the prayer of the man
find the ear of God, but the man himself found God Himself. I have
no right to an opinion, but I have a splendid hope that I shall one
day find it true. The Lord said a man must go on praying and not
With the words he walked out, and the deacon thought of his many
prayers at prayer-meetings and family-worships. The words of a young
man who seemed to have only just discovered that there was such a
thing as prayer, who could not pretend to be sure about it, but
hoped splendidly, made him ashamed of them all.
Wingfold went straight to his friend Polwarth, and asked him if he
would allow him to bring Mr. Drew some evening to tea.
"You mean the linen-draper?" asked Polwarth. "Certainly, if you wish
"Some troubles are catching," said the curate. "Drew has caught my
"I am delighted to hear it. It would be hard to catch a better, and
it's one a rich man, as they say he is, seldom does catch. But I
always liked his round, good-humoured, honest face. If I remember
rightly, he had a sore trial in his wife. It is generally understood
that she ran away with some fellow or other. But that was before he
came to live in Glaston.--Would you mind looking in upon Rachel for
a few minutes, sir? She is not so well to-day, and has not been out
of her own room."
"With all my heart," answered Wingfold. "I am sorry to hear she is
"She is always suffering more or less," said the little man. "But
she enjoys life notwithstanding, as you may clearly see. It is to
her only a mitigated good, and that, I trust, for the sake of an
unmitigated one.--Come this way, sir."
He led the curate to the room next his own. It was a humble little
garret, but dainty with whiteness. One who did not thoroughly know
her, might have said it was like her life, colourless, but bright
with innocence and peace. The walls were white; the boards of the
uncarpeted floor were as white as scrubbing could make old deal; the
curtains of windows and bed were whiteness itself; the coverlet was
white; so was the face that looked smiling over the top of it from
the one low white pillow. But although Wingfold knew that face so
well, he almost started at the sight of it now: in the patience of
its suffering it was positively lovely. All that was painful to see
was hidden; the crooked little body lay at rest in the grave of the
bed-clothes; the soul rose from it, and looked, gracious with
womanhood, in the eyes of the curate.
"I cannot give you my hand," she said smiling, as he went softly
towards her, feeling like Moses when he put off his shoes, "for I
have such a pain in my arm, I cannot well raise it."
The curate bowed reverentially, seated himself in a chair by her
bedside, and, like a true comforter, said nothing.
"Don't be sorry for me, Mr. Wingfold," said her sweet voice at
length. "The poor dwarfie, as the children call me, is not a
creature to be pitied. You don't know how happy I am as I lie here,
knowing my uncle is in the next room, and will come the moment I
call him--and that there is one nearer still," she added in a lower
voice, almost in a whisper, "whom I haven't even to call. I am his,
and he shall do with me just as he likes. I fancy sometimes, when I
have to lie still, that I am a little sheep, tied hands and feet--I
should have said all four feet, if I am a sheep"--and here she gave
a little merry laugh--"lying on an altar--the bed here--burning
away, in the flame of life, that consumes the deathful body--burning,
heart and soul and sense, up to the great Father.--Forgive me, Mr.
Wingfold, for talking about myself, but you looked so miserable!
and I knew it was your kind heart feeling for me. But I need not,
for that, have gone on at such a rate. I am ashamed of myself!"
"On the contrary, I am exceedingly obliged to you for honouring me
by talking so freely," said Wingfold. "It is a great satisfaction to
find that suffering is not necessarily unhappiness. I could be well
content to suffer also, Miss Polwarth, if with the suffering I might
have the same peace."
"Sometimes I am troubled," she answered; "but generally I am in
peace, and sometimes too happy to dare speak about it.--Would the
persons you and my uncle were talking about the other day--would
they say all my pleasant as well as my painful thoughts came from
the same cause--vibrations in my brain?"
"No doubt. They would say, I presume, that the pleasant thoughts
come from regular, and the unpleasant from irregular motions of its
particles. They must give the same origin to both. Would you be
willing to acknowledge that only your pleasant thoughts had a higher
origin, and that your painful ones came from physical sources?"
Because of a headache and depression of spirits, Wingfold had been
turning over similar questions in his own mind the night before.
"I see," said the dwarfie--"I see. No. There are sad thoughts
sometimes which in their season I would not lose, for I would have
their influences with me always. In their season they are better
than a host of happy ones, and there is joy at the root of all. But
if they did come from physical causes, would it follow that they did
not come from God? Is he not the God of the dying as well as the God
of the living?"
"If there be a God, Miss Polwarth," returned Wingfold eagerly, "then
is he God everywhere, and not a maggot can die any more than a
Shakespeare be born without him. He is either enough, that is, all
in all, or he is not at all."
"That is what I think--because it is best:--I can give no better
"If there be a God, there can be no better reason," said Wingfold.
This IF of Wingfold's was, I need hardly now say, an IF of bare
honesty, and came of no desire to shake an unthinking confidence.
Neither, had it been of the other sort, could it have shaken
Rachel's, for her confidence was full of thinking. As little could
it shock her, for she hardly missed a sentence that passed between
her uncle and his new friend. She made no reply, never imagining it
her business to combat the doubts of a man whom she knew to be eager
after the truth, and being guiltless of any tendency, because she
believed, to condemn doubt as wicked.
A short silence followed.
"How delightful it must be to feel well and strong!" said Rachel at
length. "I can't help often thinking of Miss Lingard. It's always
Miss Lingard comes up to me when I think of such things. Oh! ain't
she beautiful and strong, Mr. Wingfold?--and sits on her horse as
straight as a rush! It does one good to see her. Just fancy me on a
great tall horse! What a bag of potatoes I should look!"
She burst into a merry laugh, and then came a few tears, which were
not all of the merriment of which she let them pass as the
consequence, remarking, as she wiped them away,
"But no one can tell, Mr. Wingfold,--and I'm sure Miss Lingard would
be astonished to hear--what pleasure I have while lying unable to
move. I suppose I benefit by what people call the law of
compensation! How I hate the word! As if THAT was the way the Father
of Jesus Christ did, and not his very best to get his children,
elder brothers and prodigal sons, home to his heart! You heard what
my uncle said about dreams the other day?" she resumed after a
"Yes. I thought it very sensible," replied the curate.
"It all depends on the sort, don't it?" said Rachel. "Some of mine I
would not give for a library. They make me grow, telling me things I
should never learn otherwise. I don't mean any rubbish about future
events, and such like. Of all useless things a knowledge of the
future seems to me the most useless, for what are you to do with a
thing before it exists? Such a knowledge could only bewilder you as
to the right way to take--would make you see double instead of
single. That's not the sort I mean at all.--You won't laugh at me,
"I can scarcely imagine anything less likely."
"Then I don't mind opening my toy-box to you.--In my dreams, for
instance, I am sometimes visited by such a sense of freedom as fills
me with a pure bliss unknown to my waking thoughts except as a rosy
cloud on the horizon. As if they were some heavenly corporation, my
dreams present me, not with the freedom of some poor little city
like London, but with the freedom of all space."
The curate sat and listened with wonder--but with no sense of
unfitness; such speech and such thought suited well with the face
that looked up from the low pillow with its lovely eyes--for lovely
they were, with a light that had both flash and force.
"I don't believe," she went on, "that even Miss Lingard has more of
the blessed sense of freedom and strength and motion when she is on
horseback than I have when I am asleep. The very winds of my dreams
will make me so unspeakabably happy that I wake weeping. Do not tell
me it is gone then, for I continue so happy that I can hardly get to
sleep again to hunt for more joy. Don't say it is an unreality--for
where does freedom lie? In the body or in the mind? What does it
matter whether my body be lying still or moving from one spot of
space to another? What is the good of motion but to produce the
feeling of freedom? The feeling is everything, and if I have it,
that is all that I want. Bodily motion would indeed disturb it for
me--lay fetters on my spirit.--Sometimes, again, I dream of a new
flower--one never before beheld by mortal eye--with some strange,
wonderful quality in it, perhaps, that makes it a treasure, like
that flower of Milton's invention--haemony--in Comus, you know. But
one curious thing is that that strange quality will never be
recalled in waking hours; so that what it was I can never tell--as
if it belonged to other regions than the life of this world: I
retain only the vaguest memory of its power, and marvel, and
preciousness.--Sometimes it is a little poem or a song I dream of,
or some strange musical instrument, perhaps like one of those I have
seen angels with in a photograph from an old picture. And somehow
with the instrument always comes the knowledge of how to play upon
it. So you see, sir, as it has pleased God to send me into the world
as crooked as a crab, and nearly as lame as a seal, it has pleased
him also to give me the health and riches of the night to strengthen
me for the pains and poverties of the day.--You rejoice in a
beautiful thought when it comes to you, Mr. Wingfold--do you not?"
"When it comes to me," answered Wingfold significantly--almost
petulantly. Could it be that he envied the dwarf-girl?
"Then is the thought any worse because it comes in a shape?--or is
the feeling less of a feeling that it is born in a dream?"
"I need no convincing, I admit all you say," returned Wingfold.
"Why are you so silent, then? You make me think you are objecting
inside to everything I am saying," rejoined Rachel with a smile.
"Partly because I fear you are exciting yourself too much and will
suffer in consequence," answered the curate, who had noted the rosy
flush on her face.
The same moment her uncle re-entered the room.
"I have been trying to convince Mr. Wingfold that there MAY be some
good in dreaming, uncle," she said.
"Successfully?" asked Polwarth.
"Unnecessarily," interjected Wingfold. "I required for conviction
only the facts. Why should I suppose that, if there be a God, he is
driven out of us by sleep?"
"It is an awful thing," said Polwarth, "to think--that this feeble
individuality of ours, the offspring of God's individuality, should
have some power, and even more will than power, to close its door
against him, and keep house without him!"
"But what sort of a house?" murmured Wingfold.
"Yes, uncle," said Rachel; "but think how he keeps about us,
haunting the doors and windows like the very wind, watching to get
in! And sometimes he makes of himself a tempest, that both doors and
windows fly open, and he enters in fear and dismay."
The prophetic in the uncle was the poetic in the niece.
"For you and me, uncle," she went on, "he made the doors and windows
so rickety that they COULD not keep him out."
"Ye are the temples of the Holy Ghost," said the curate, almost
"Some of us a little ruinous!" rejoined the girl.
So full was her soul of a lively devotion that she took the
liberties of a child of the house with sacred things.
"But, Mr. Wingfold," she continued. "I must tell you one more
curious thing about my dreams: I NEVER dream of being crooked and
dwarfish. I don't dream that I am straight either; I suppose I feel
all right, and therefore never think about it. That makes me fancy
my soul must be straight.--Don't you think so, sir?"
"Indeed I do," said Wingfold warmly.
"I'm afraid I shall be telling you some of my dreams some day."
"We are rather given to that weakness," said Polwarth,--"so much so
as to make me fear for our brains sometimes. But a crooked rose-tree
may yet bear a good rose."
"Ah! you are thinking of my poor father, uncle, I know," said
Rachel. "His was a straight stem and a fine rose, only overblown,
perhaps.--I don't think I need be much afraid of that, for if I were
to go out of my mind, I should not have strength to live--unless
indeed I knew God through all the madness. I think my father did in
"It was quite plain he did," answered her uncle, "and that in no
feeble way either.--Some day I must tell you,"--here he turned to
Wingfold--"about that brother of mine, Rachel's father. I should
even like to show you a manuscript he left behind him--surely one of
the strangest ever written! It would be well worth printing if that
would ensure its falling into the hands of those who could read
through the madness.--But we have talked quite long enough for your
head, child; I will take Mr. Wingfold into the next room."
As Wingfold walked home that afternoon, he thought much of what he
had heard and seen. "If there be a God," he said to himself, "then
all is well, for certainly he would not give being to such a woman,
and then throw her aside as a failure, and forget her. It is strange
to see, though, how he permits his work to be thwarted. To be the
perfect God notwithstanding, he must be able to turn the very
thwarting to higher furtherance. Don't we see something of the sort
in life--the vigorous nursed by the arduous? Is it presumptuous to
imagine God saying to Rachel: 'Trust me, and bear, and I will do
better for thee than thou canst think?' Certainly the one who most
needs the comfort of such a faith, in this case HAS it. I wish I
could be as sure of him as Rachel Polwarth!--But then," he added,
smiling to himself, "she has had her crooked spine to help her! It
seems as if nothing less than the spiritual beholding of the Eternal
will produce at least absolute belief. And till then what better or
indeed other proof can the less receive of the presence of the
greater than the expansion of its own being under the influences of
that greater? But my plague now is that the ideas of religion are so
grand, and the things all around it in life so common-place, that
they give the lie to each other from morning to night--in my mind, I
mean. Which is the true? a loving, caring father, or the grinding of
cruel poverty and the naked exposure to heedless chance? How is it
that, while the former seems the only right, reasonable, and
all-sufficing thing, it should yet come more naturally to believe in
the latter? And yet, when I think of it, I never did come closer to
believing in the latter than is indicated by terror of its possible
truth--so many things looked like it.--Then, what has nature in
common with the Bible and its metaphysics?--There I am wrong--she
has a thousand things. The very wind on my face seems to rouse me to
fresh effort after a pure healthy life! Then there is the sunrise!
There is the snowdrop in the snow! There is the butterfly! There is
the rain of summer, and the clearing of the sky after a storm! There
is the hen gathering her chickens under her wing!--I begin to doubt
whether there be the common-place anywhere except in our own
mistrusting nature, that will cast no care upon the Unseen. It is
with me, in regard to my better life, as it was with the disciples
in regard to their bodily life, when they were for the time rendered
incapable of understanding the words of our Lord by having forgotten
to take bread in the boat: they were so afraid of being hungry that
they could think of nothing but bread."
Such were some of the curate's thoughts as he walked home, and they
drove him to prayer, in which came more thoughts. When he reached
his room he sat down at his table, and wove and knotted and pieced
together the following verses, venturing that easy yet perilous
thing, a sonnet. I give here its final shape, not its first or
Methought I floated sightless, nor did know That I had ears until I
heard the cry As of a mighty man in agony: "How long, Lord, shall I
lie thus foul and slow? The arrows of thy lightning through me go,
And sting and torture me--yet here I lie A shapeless mass that
scarce can mould a sigh." The darkness thinned; I saw a thing below,
Like sheeted corpse, a knot at head and feet. Slow clomb the sun the
mountains of the dead, And looked upon the world: the silence broke!
A blinding struggle! then the thunderous beat Of great exulting
pinions stroke on stroke! And from that world a mighty angel fled.
But upon the heels of the sonnet came, as was natural, according to
the law of reaction, a fresh and more appalling, because more
self-assertive and verisimilous invasion of the commonplace. What a
foolish, unreal thing he had written! He caught up his hat and stick
and hurried out, thinking to combat the demon better in the open
It was evening, and the air was still warm. Pine Street was almost
empty, save of the red sun, which blinded him so that wherever he
looked he could only see great sunblots. All but a few of the shops
were closed, but amongst the few he was surprised to find that of
his friend the linendraper, who had always been a strong advocate of
early closing. The shutters were up, however, though the door stood
wide open. He peeped in. To his sun-blinded eyes the shop looked
very dark, but he thought he saw Mr. Drew talking to some one, and
entered. He was right; it was the draper himself, and a poor woman
with a child on one arm, and a print dress she had just bought on
the other. The curate leaned against the counter, and waited until
business should be over to address his friend.
"Is Mr. Drew an embryonic angel?" he half felt, half thought within
himself. "Is this shop the chrysalis of a great psyche? Will the
draper, with his round good-humoured face and puckering smile, ever
spread thunderous wings and cleave the air up to the throne of God?"
"I cannot tell you how it goes against me to take that woman's
money," said the voice of the draper.
The curate woke up in the presence of the unwinged, and saw that the
woman had left the shop.
"I did let her have the print at cost-price," Mr. Drew went on,
laughing merrily. "That was all I could venture on."
"Where was the danger?"
"Ah, you don't know so well as I do the good of having some
difficulty in getting what you need! To ease the struggles of the
poor, unless it be in sickness or absolute want, I have repeatedly
proved to be a cruel kindness."
"Then you don't sell to the poor women at cost-price always?"
"No--only to the soldiers' wives. They have a very hard life of it,
"That is your custom, then?"
"For the last ten years, but I don't let them know it."
"Is it for the soldiers' wives you keep your shop open so late? I
thought you were the great supporter of early closing in Glaston,"
said the curate.
"I will tell you how it happened to-night," answered the draper, and
as he spoke he turned round, not his long left ear upon the pivot of
his skull, but his whole person upon the pivot of the counter--to
misuse the word pivot with Wordsworth--and bolted the shop-door.
"After the young men had put up the shutters and were gone," he
said, returning to the counter, "leaving me as usual to bolt the
door, I fell a-thinking. Outside, the street was full of sunlight,
but only enough came in to show how gloomy the place was without
more of it, and the back of the shop was nearly dark. It was very
still too--so still that the silence seemed to have taken the shape
of gloom. Pardon me for talking in this unbusiness-like way: a man
can't be a draper always; he must be foolish sometimes. Thirty years
ago I used to read Tennyson. I believe I was amongst the earliest of
"Foolish!" echoed Wingfold, thoughtfully.
"You see," the draper went on, "there IS something solemn in the
quiet after business is over. Sometimes it's more so, sometimes
less; but this night it came upon me that the shop felt like a
chapel--had the very air of one somehow, and so I fell a thinking,
and forgot to shut the door. How it began I don't know, but my past
life came up to me, and I remembered how, when I was a young man, I
used to despise my father's business, to which he was bringing me
up, and feed my fancy with things belonging to higher walks in life.
Then I saw that must have been partly how I fell into the mistake of
marrying Mrs. Drew. She was the daughter of a doctor in our town, a
widower. He was in poor health, and unable to make much of his
practice, so that when he died she was left destitute, and for that
reason alone, I do believe, accepted me. What followed you know: she
went away with a man who used to travel for a large Manchester
house. I have never heard of her since.
"After she left me, a sort of something which I think I may call the
disease of self-preservation, laid hold upon me. I must acknowledge
that the loss of my wife was not altogether a misery. She despised
my trade, which drove me to defend it--and the more bitterly that I
also despised it. There was therefore a good deal of strife between
us. I did not make allowance enough for the descent she had made
from a professional father to a trade-husband. I forgot that, if she
was to blame for marrying me for bread, I was to blame for marrying
her to enlarge myself with her superiority. After she was gone, I
was aware of a not unwelcome calm in the house, and in the emptiness
of that calm came the demon of selfishness sevenfold into my heart,
and took up his abode with me. From that time I busied myself only
about two things--the safety of my soul, and a good provision for my
body. I joined the church I had occasion to mention to you before,
sir, grew a little harder in my business dealings, and began to lay
by money. And so, ever since, have I been going on till I heard your
sermon the other day, which I hope has waked me up to something
better.--All this long story is but to let you understand how I was
feeling when that woman came into the shop. I told you how, in the
dusk and the silence, it was as if I were in the chapel. I found
myself half-listening for the organ. Then the verse of a hymn came
into my mind--I can't tell where or when I had met with it, but it
had stuck to me:
Let me stand ever at the door,
And keep it from the entering sin,
That so thy temple, walls and floor,
Be pure for thee to enter in.
"Now that, you see, is said of the temple of the heart; but somehow
things went rather cross-cut that evening--they got muddled in my
head. It seemed as if I was the door-keeper of my shop, and at the
same time as if my shop, spreading out and dimly vanishing in the
sacred gloom, was the temple of the Holy Ghost, out of which I had
to keep the sin. And with the thought, a great awe fell upon me:
could it be--might it not be that God was actually in the
place?--that in the silence he was thinking--in the gloom he was
knowing? I laid myself over the counter, with my face in my hands,
and went on half thinking, half praying. All at once the desire
arose burning in my heart: Would to God my house were in truth a
holy place, haunted by his presence! 'And wherefore not?' rejoined
something within me--heart or brain or something deeper than either.
'Is thy work unholy? Are thy deeds base? Is thy buying or selling
dishonest? Is it all for thyself and nothing for thy fellows? Is it
not a lawful calling? Is it, or is it not, of God? If it be of God,
and yet he be not present, then surely thy lawful calling thou
followest unlawfully." So there I was--brought back to the old
story. And I said to myself, 'God knows I want to follow it
lawfully. Am I not even now seeking how to do so? But this, though
true, did not satisfy me. To follow it lawfully--even in his
sight--no longer seemed enough.--Was there then no possibility of
raising it to dignity? Did the business of Zacchaeus remain, after
the visit of Jesus, a contemptible one still? Could not mine be made
Christian? Was there no corner in the temple where a man might buy
and sell and not be driven out by the whip of small cords?--I heard
a step in the shop, and lifting my head, saw a poor woman with a
child in her arms. Annoyed at being found in that posture, like one
drunk or in despair; annoyed also with myself for not having shut
the door, with my usual first tendency to injustice a harsh word was
trembling on my very lips, when suddenly something made me look
round in a kind of maze on the dusky back shop. A moment more and I
understood: God was waiting to see what truth was in my words. That
is just how I felt it, and I hope I am not irreverent in saying so.
Then I saw that the poor woman looked frightened--I suppose at my
looks and gestures--perhaps she thought me out of my mind. I made
haste and received her, and listened to her errand as if she had
been a duchess--say rather an angel of God, for such I felt her in
my heart to be. She wanted a bit of dark print with a particular
kind of spot in it, which she had seen in the shop some months
before, but had not been able to buy. I turned over everything we
had, and was nearly in despair. At last, however, I found the very
piece which had ever since haunted her fancy--just enough of it
left for a dress! But all the time I sought it, I felt as if I were
doing God service--or at least doing something he wanted me to do.
It sounds almost ludicrous now, but--"
"God forbid!" said Wingfold.
"I'm glad you don't think so, sir. I was afraid you would."
"Had the thing been a trifle, I should still have said the same,"
returned the curate. "But who with any heart would call it--a trifle
to please the fancy of a poor woman, one who is probably far oftener
vexed than pleased? She had been brooding over this dress--you took
trouble to content her with her desire. Who knows what it may do for
the growth of the woman? I know what you've done for me by the story
"She did walk out pleased-like," said the draper, "--and left me
more pleased than she,--and so grateful to her for coming--you
"I begin to suspect," said the curate, after a pause, "that the
common transactions of life are the most sacred channels for the
spread of the heavenly leaven. There was ten times more of the
divine in selling her that gown as you did, in the name of God, than
in taking her into your pew and singing out of the same hymn-book
"I should be glad to do that next though, if I had the chance," said
Mr. Drew. "You must not think, because he has done me so little
good, that our minister is not a faithful preacher; and, owing you
more than heart can tell, sir, I like chapel better than church, and
consider it nearer the right way. I don't mean to be a turncoat, and
leave Drake for you, sir; I must give up my deaconship, but I won't
my pew or my subscription."
"Quite right, Mr. Drew," said Wingfold; "that could do nothing but
harm. I have just been reading what our Lord says about
proselytizing. Good night."
The curate had entered the draper's shop in the full blaze of
sunset, but the demon of unbelief sat on his shoulders; he could get
no nearer his heart, but that was enough to make of the "majestical
roof fretted with golden fire .... a foul and pestilent congregation
of vapours." When he left the shop, the sun was far below the
horizon, and the glory had faded out of the west; but the demon had
fled, and the brown feathers of the twilight were beautiful as the
wings of the silver dove, sprung heavenwards from among the pots.
And as he went he reasoned with himself--
"Either there is a God, and that God the perfect heart of truth and
loveliness, or all poetry and art is but an unsown, unplanted,
rootless flower, crowning a somewhat symmetrical heap of stones. The
man who sees no beauty in its petals, finds no perfume in its
breath, may well accord it the parentage of the stones; the man
whose heart swells beholding it will be ready to think it has roots
that reach below them."
The curate's search, it will be remarked, had already widened
greatly the sphere of his doubts; but, the larger the field, the
greater the chance of finding a marl-pit; and, if there be such a
thing as truth, every fresh doubt is yet another finger-post
pointing towards its dwelling.--So talked the curate to himself,
and, full in the face, rounding the corner of a street, met George
The young barrister held out his large hospitable hand at the full
length of his arm, and spread abroad his wide chest to greet him,
and they went through the ceremony of shaking hands,--which, even
in their case, I cannot judge so degrading and hypocritical as the
Latin nations seem to consider it. Then Wingfold had the first word.
"I have not yet had an opportunity of thanking you for the great
service you have done me," he said.
"I am glad to know I have such an honour; but--"
"I mean, in opening my eyes to my true position."
"Ah, my dear fellow! I was sure you only required to have your
attention turned in the right direction. When--?--ah!--I--I was on
the verge of committing the solecism of asking you when you thought
of resigning. Ha! ha!"
"Not yet," replied Wingfold to the question thus at once withdrawn
and put. "The more I look into the matter, the more reason I find
for hoping it may be possible for me to--to--keep the appointment."
"The further I inquire, the more am I convinced that, if not in a
certain portion of what the church teaches, then nowhere else, and
assuredly not in what you teach, shall I find anything by which life
can either account for or justify itself."
"But if what you find is not true!" cried George, with a burst of
"But if what I find should be true, even though you should never be
able to see it!" returned the curate. And as if disjected by an
explosion between them, the two men were ten paces asunder, each
hurrying his own way.
"If I can't prove there is a God," said Wingfold to himself, "as
little surely can he prove there is none."
But then came the thought--"The fellow will say that, there being no
sign of a God, the burden of proof lies with me." And therewith he
saw how useless it would be to discuss the question with any one
who, not seeing him, had no desire to see him.
"No," he said, "my business is not to prove to any other man that
there is a God, but to find him for myself. If I should find him,
then will be time enough to think of showing him." And with that his
thoughts turned from Bascombe, and went back to the draper.
When he reached home, he took out his sonnet, but, after working at
it for a little while, he found that he must ease his heart by
writing another. Here it is:
Methought that in a solemn church I stood.
Its marble acres, worn with knees and feet,
Lay spread from, door to door, from street to street.
Midway the form hung high upon the rood
Of him who gave his life to be our good;
Beyond, priests flitted, bowed, and murmured meet
Among the candles shining still and sweet.
Men came and went, and worshipped as they could,
And still their dust a woman with her broom,
Bowed to her work, kept sweeping to the door.
Then saw I, slow through all the pillared gloom,
Across the church a silent figure come;
"Daughter," it said, "thou sweepest well my floor!"
It is the Lord! I cried; and saw no more.
I suppose, if one could so stop the throat of the blossom-buried
nightingale, that, though he might breathe at will, he could no
longer sing, he would drop from his bough, and die of suppressed
song. Perhaps some men so die--I do not know; it were better than to
live, and to bore their friends with the insuppressible. But,
however this may be, the man who can utter himself to his own joy in
any of the forms of human expression--let him give thanks to God;
and, if he give not his verses to the printer, he will probably have
cause to give thanks again. To the man's self, the utterance is not
the less invaluable. And so Wingfold found it.
He went out again, and into the churchyard, where he sat down on a
"How strange," he said to himself, "that out of faith should have
sprung that stone church! A poor little poem now and then is all
that stands for mine--all that shows, that is! But my heart does
sometimes burn, within me. If only I could be sure they were HIS
words that set it burning!"
"Mr. Wingfold," said Polwarth one evening, the usual salutations
over, taking what he commonly left to his friend--the initiative,--"I
want to tell you something I don't wish even Rachel to hear."
He led the way to his room, and the curate followed. Seated there,
in the shadowy old attic, through the very walls of which the ivy
grew, and into which, by the open window in the gable, from the
infinite west, blew the evening air, carrying with it the precious
scent of honeysuckle, to mingle with that of old books, Polwarth
recounted and Wingfold listened to a strange adventure. The trees
hid the sky, and the little human nest was dark around them.
"I am going to make a confidant of you, Mr. Wingfold," said the
dwarf, with troubled face, and almost whispered word. "You will know
how much I have already learned to trust you when I say that what I
am about to confide to you plainly involves the secret of another."
His large face grew paler as he spoke, and something almost like
fear grew in his eyes, but they looked straight into those of the
curate, and his voice did not tremble.
"One night, some weeks ago--I can, if necessary, make myself certain
of the date,--I was--no uncommon thing with me--unable to sleep.
Sometimes, when such is my case, I lie as still and happy as any
bird under the wing of its mother; at other times I must get up and
go out, for I take longings for air almost as a drunkard for wine,
and that night nothing would serve my poor prisoned soul but more
air through the bars of its lungs. I rose, dressed, and went out.
"It was a still, warm night, no moon, but plenty of star-light, the
wind blowing as now, gentle and sweet and cool--just the wind my
lungs sighed for. I got into the open park, avoiding the trees, and
wandered on and on, without thinking where I was going. The turf was
soft under my feet, the dusk soft to my eyes, and the wind to my
soul; I had breath and room and leisure and silence and loneliness,
and everything to make me more than usually happy; and so I wandered
on and on, neither caring nor looking whither I went: so long as the
stars remained unclouded, I could find my way back when I pleased.
"I had been out perhaps an hour, when through the soft air came a
cry, apparently from far off. There was something in the tone that
seemed to me unusually frightful. The bare sound made me shudder
before I had time to say to myself it was a cry. I turned my face in
the direction of it, so far as I could judge, and went on. I cannot
run, for, if I attempt it, I am in a moment unable even to
walk--from palpitation and choking.
"I had not gone very far before I found myself approaching the
hollow where stands the old house of Glaston, uninhabited for twenty
years. Was it possible, I thought, that the cry came from the house,
and had therefore sounded farther off than it was? I stood and
listened for a moment, but all seemed still as the grave. I must go
in, and see whether anyone was there in want of help. You may well
smile at the idea of my helping anyone, for what could I do if it
came to a struggle?"
"On the contrary," interrupted Wingfold, "I was smiling with
admiration of your pluck."
"At least," resumed Polwarth, "I have this advantage over some, that
I cannot be fooled with the fancy that this poor miserable body of
mine is worth thinking of beside the smallest suspicion of duty.
What is it but a cracked jug? So down the slope I went, got into the
garden, and made my way through the tangled bushes to the house. I
knew the place perfectly, for I had often wandered all over it,
sometimes spending hours there.
"Before I reached the door, however, I heard some one behind me in
the garden, and instantly stepped into a thicket of gooseberry and
currant bushes. It is sometimes an advantage to be little--the
moment I stepped aside I was hidden. That same moment the night
seemed rent in twain by a most hideous cry from the house. Ere I
could breathe again after it, the tall figure of a woman rushed past
me, tearing its way through the bushes towards the door. I followed
instantly, saw her run up the steps, and heard her open and shut the
door. I opened it as quietly as I could, but just as I stepped into
the dark hall, came a third fearful cry, through the echoes of which
in the empty house I heard the rush of hurried feet and trailing
garments on the stair. As I say I knew the house quite well, but my
perturbation had so muddled the idea of it in my brain, that for a
few seconds I had to consider how it lay. The moment I recalled its
plan, I made what haste I could, reached the top of the stair, and
was hesitating which way to turn, when once more came the fearful
cry, and set me trembling from head to foot. I cannot describe the
horror of it. It was as the cry of a soul in torture--unlike any
sound of the human voice I had ever before heard. I shudder now at
the recollection of it as it echoed through the house, clinging to
the walls and driven along. I was hurrying I knew not whither, for I
had again lost all notion of the house, when I caught a glimpse of a
light shining from under a door. I approached it softly, and finding
that door inside a small closet, knew at once where I was. As I was
in office on the ground, and it could hardly be any thing righteous
that led to such an outcry in the house, which, although deserted,
was still my master's, I felt justified in searching further into
the matter. Laying my ear therefore against the door, I heard what
was plainly a lady's voice. Right sweet and womanly it was, though
full of pain--even agony, I thought, but heroically suppressed. She
soothed, she expostulated, she condoled, she coaxed. Mingled with
hers was the voice of a youth, as it seemed. It was wild, yet so low
as sometimes to be all but inaudible, and not a word from either
could I distinguish. Hardly the less plain was it, however, that the
youth spoke either in delirium or with something terrible on his
mind, for his tones were those of one in despair. I stood for a time
bewildered, fascinated, terrified. At length I grew convinced
somehow that I had no right to be there. Doubtless the man was in
hiding, and where a man hides there must he reason, but was it any
business of mine? I crept out of the house, and up to the higher
ground. There I drew deep breaths of the sweet night air--so pure
that it seemed to be washing the world clean for another day's uses.
But I had no longer any pleasure in the world. I went straight home,
and to bed again--but had brought little repose with me: I must do
something--but what? The only result certain to follow, was more
trouble to the troubled already. Might there not be innocent reasons
for the questionable situation?--Might not the man have been taken
ill, and so suddenly that he could reach no other shelter? And the
lady might be his wife, who had gone as soon as she could leave him
to find help, but had failed. There MUST be some simple explanation
of the matter, however strange it showed! I might, in the morning,
be of service to them. And partly comforted by the temporary
conclusion, I got a little troubled sleep.
"As soon as I had had a cup of tea, I set out for the old house. I
heard the sounds of the workmen's hammers on the new one as I went.
All else was silence. The day looked so honest and so clear of
conscience that it was difficult to believe the night had shrouded
such an awful meeting. Yet, in the broad light of the forenoon, a
cold shudder seized me when first I looked down on the slack ridges
and broken roofs of the old house. When I got into the garden I
began to sing and knock the bushes about, then opened the door
noisily, and clattered about in the hall and the lower rooms before
going up the stair. Along every passage and into every room I went,
to give good warning ere I approached that in which I had heard the
voices. At length I stood at the door of it and knocked. There was
no answer. I knocked again. Still no answer. I opened it and peeped
in. There was no one there! An old bedstead was all I saw. I
searched every corner, but not one trace could I discover of human
being having been there, except this behind the bed--and it may have
lain there as long as the mattress, which I remember since the first
time I ever went into the house."
As he spoke Polwarth handed to the curate a small leather sheath,
which, from its shape, could not have belonged to a pair of
scissors, although neither of the men knew any sort of knife it
would have fitted.
"Would you mind taking care of it, Mr. Wingfold?" the gate-keeper
continued as the curate examined it; "I don't like having it. I
can't even bear to think of it even in the house, and yet I don't
quite care to destroy it."
"I don't in the least mind taking charge of it," answered Wingfold.
Why was it that, as he said so, the face of Helen Lingard rose
before his mind's eye as he had now seen it twice in the
congregation at the Abbey--pale with an inward trouble as it seemed,
large-eyed and worn--so changed, yet so ennobled? Even then he had
felt the deadening effect of its listlessness, and had had to turn
away lest it should compel him to feel that he was but talking to
the winds, or into a desert where dwelt no voice of human response.
Why should he think of her now? Was it that her troubled pallid face
had touched him--had set something near his heart a trembling,
whether with merely human sympathy or with the tenderness of man for
suffering woman? Certainly he had never till then thought of her
with the slightest interest, and why should she come up to him now?
Could it be that--? Good heavens! There was her brother ill! And had
not Faber said there seemed something unusual about the character of
his illness?--What could it mean?--It was impossible of course--but
"Do you think," he said, "we are in any way bound to inquire further
into the affair?"
"If I had thought so, I should not have left it unmentioned till
now," answered Polwarth. "But without being busybodies, we might be
prepared in case the thing should unfold itself, and put it in our
power to be useful. Meantime I have the relief of the confessional."
As Wingfold walked back to his lodgings, he found a new element
mingling with the varied matter of his previous inquiry. Human
suffering laid hold upon him--neither as his own nor as that of
humanity, but as that of men and women--known or unknown, it
mattered nothing: there were hearts in the world from whose agony
broke terrible cries, hearts of which sad faces like that of Miss
Lingard were the exponents. Such hearts might be groaning and
writhing in any of the houses he passed, and, even if he knew the
hearts, and what the vampire that sucked their blood, he could do
nothing for their relief.
Little indeed could he have imagined the life of such a
comfort-guarded lady as Miss Lingard, exposed to the intrusion of
any terror-waking monster, from the old ocean of chaos, into the
quiet flow of its meadow-banked river! And what multitudes must
there not be in the world--what multitudes in our island--how many
even in Glaston, whose hearts, lacerated by no remorse, overwhelmed
by no crushing sense of guilt, yet knew their own bitterness, and
had no friend radiant enough to make a sunshine in their shady
places! He fell into mournful mood over the troubles of his race.
Always a kind-hearted fellow, he had not been used to think about
such things; he had had troubles of his own, and had got through at
least some of them; people must have troubles, else would they grow
unendurable for pride and insolence. But now that he had begun to
hope he saw a glimmer somewhere afar at the end of the darksome cave
in which he had all at once discovered that he was buried alive, he
began also to feel how wretched those must be who were groping on
without even a hope in their dark eyes.
If he had never committed any crime, he had yet done wrong enough to
understand the misery of shame and dishonour, and should he not find
a loving human heart the heart of the world, would rejoice--with
what rejoicing might then be possible--to accept George Bascombe's
theory, and drop into the jaws of darkness and cease. How much more
miserable then must those be who had committed some terrible crime,
or dearly loved one who had! What relief, what hope, what lightening
for them! What a breeding nest of vermiculate cares and pains was
this human heart of ours! Oh, surely it needed some refuge! If no
saviour had yet come, the tortured world of human hearts cried aloud
for one with unutterable groaning! What would Bascombe do if he had
committed a murder? Or what could he do for one who had? If fable it
were, it was at least a need--invented one--that of a Saviour to
whom anyone might go, at any moment, without a journey, without
letters or commendations or credentials! And yet no: if it had been
invented, it could hardly be by any one in the need, for such even
now could hardly be brought to believe it. Ill bested were the world
indeed if there were no one beyond whose pardon crime could not go!
Ah! but where was the good of pardon if still the conscious crime
kept stinging? and who would wish one he loved to grow callous to
the crime he had committed? Could one rejoice that his guilty friend
had learned to laugh again, able at length to banish the memory of
the foul thing? Would reviving self-content render him pleasant to
the eyes, and his company precious in the wisdom that springs from
the knowledge of evil? Would not that be the moment when he who had
most assiduously sought to comfort him in his remorse, would first
be tempted to withdraw his foot from his threshold? But if there was
a God--such a God as, according to the Christian story, had sent his
own son into the world--had given him to appear among us, clothed in
the garb of humanity, the armour that can be pierced, to take all
the consequences of being the god of obedience amongst the children
of disobedience, engulfing their wrongs in his infinite forbearance,
and winning them back, by slow and unpromising and tedious renewal,
to the heart of his father, surely such a God would not have created
them, knowing that some of them would sin sins from the horror of
which in themselves all his devotion could not redeem them!--And as
he thought thus, the words arose in his mind--"COME UNTO ME ALL YE
THAT LABOUR AND ARE HEAVY LADEN, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST." His
heart filled. He pondered over them. When he got home he sought and
found them in the book.--Did a man ever really utter them? If a man
did, either he was the most presumptuous of mortals, or HE COULD DO
WHAT HE SAID. If he could, then to have seen and distrusted that
man, Wingfold felt, would have been to destroy in himself the
believing faculty and become incapable of trusting for ever after.
And such a man must, in virtue of his very innocence, know that the
worst weariness and the worst load is evil and crime, and must know
himself able, in full righteousness, with no jugglery of oblivion or
self-esteem, to take off the heavy load and give rest.
"And yet," thought the curate, not without self-reproach, "for one
who will go to him to get the rest, a thousand will ask--HOW CAN HE
THEN DO IT?--As if they should be fit to know!"
A SERMON TO HELEN.
All the rest of the week his mind was full of thoughts like these,
amid which ever arose the suffering face of Helen Lingard, bringing
with it the still strengthening suspicion that behind it must lie
some oppressive, perhaps terrible secret. But he made no slightest
movement towards the discovery of it, put not a single question in
any direction for its confirmation or dissolution. He would not look
in at her windows, but what seeds of comfort he could find, he would
scatter wide, and hope that some of them might fall into her garden.
When he raised his head on the Sunday from kneeling, with heart
honest, devout, and neighbourly, in the pulpit before the sermon,
and cast his eyes round his congregation, they rested first, for one
moment and no more, upon the same pallid and troubled countenance
whose reflection had so often of late looked out from the magic
mirror of his memory; the next, they flitted across the satisfied,
healthy, handsome, clever face of her cousin, behind which plainly
sat a conscience well-to-do, in an easy chair; the third, they saw
and fled the peevish autumnal visage of Mrs. Ramshorn; the next,
they roved a little, then rested on the draper's good-humoured disc,
on the white forehead of which brooded a cloud of thoughtfulness.
Last of all they sought the free seats, and found the faces of both
the dwarfs. It was the first time he had seen Rachel's there, and it
struck him that it expressed greater suffering than he had read in
it before. She ought rather to be in bed than in church, he thought.
But the same seemed the case with her uncle's countenance also; and
with that came the conclusion that the pulpit was a wonderful
watch-tower whence to study human nature; that people lay bare more
of their real nature and condition to the man in the pulpit than
they know--even before the sermon. Their faces have fallen into the
shape of their minds, for the church has an isolating as well as
congregating power, and no passing emotion moulds them to an
evanescent show. When Polwarth spoke to a friend, the suffering
melted in issuing radiance; when he sat thus quiescent, patient
endurance was the first thing to be read on his countenance. This
flashed through the curate's mind in the moments ere he began to
speak, and with it came afresh the feeling--one that is, yet ought
not to be sad--that no one of all these hearts could give
summer-weather to another. The tears rose in his eyes as he gazed,
and his heart swelled towards his own flesh and blood, as if his
spirit would break forth in a torrent of ministering tenderness and
comfort. Then he made haste to speak lest he should become unable.
As usual his voice trembled at first, but rose into strength as his
earnestness found way. This is a good deal like what he said:
"The marvellous man who is reported to have appeared in Palestine,
teaching and preaching, seems to have suffered far more from
sympathy with the inward sorrows of his race than from pity for
their bodily pains. These last, could he not have swept from the
earth with a word? and yet it seems to have been mostly, if not
indeed always, only in answer to prayer that he healed them, and
that for the sake of some deeper, some spiritual healing that should
go with the bodily cure. It could not be for the dead man whom he
was about to call from the tomb, that his tears flowed. What source
could they have but compassion and pitiful sympathy for the sorrows
of the dead man's sisters and friends who had not the inward joy
that sustained himself, and the thought of all the pains and
heartaches of those that looked in the face of death--the meanings
of love--torn generations, the blackness of bereavement that had
stormed through the ever changing world of human hearts since first
man had been made in the image of his Father? Yet are there far more
terrible troubles than this death--which I trust can only part, not
keep apart. There is the weight of conscious wrong being and wrong
doing--that is the gravestone that needs to be rolled away ere a man
can rise to life. Call to mind how Jesus used to forgive men's sins,
thus lifting from their hearts the crushing load that paralyzed all
their efforts. Recall the tenderness with which he received those
from whom the religious of his day turned aside--the repentant women
who wept sore-hearted from very love, the publicans who knew they
were despised because they were despicable. With him they sought and
found shelter. He was their saviour from the storm of human judgment
and the biting frost of public opinion, even when that opinion and
that judgment were re-echoed by the justice of their own hearts. He
received them, and the life within them rose up, and the light
shone--the conscious light of light, despite even of shame and
self-reproach. If God be for us who can be against us? In his name
they rose from the hell of their own hearts' condemnation, and went
forth to do the truth in strength and hope. They heard and believed
and obeyed his words. And of all words that ever were spoken, were
ever words gentler, tenderer, humbler, lovelier--if true, or more
arrogant, man-degrading, God-defying--if false, than these,
concerning which, as his, I now desire to speak to you: 'Come unto
me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you
rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and
lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke
is easy, and my burden is light'?
"Surely these words, could they but be heartily believed, are such
as every human heart might gladly hear! What man is there who has
not had, has not now, or will not have to class himself amongst the
weary and heavy-laden? Ye who call yourselves Christians profess to
believe such rest is to be had, yet how many of you go bowed to the
very earth, and take no single step towards him who says Come, lift
not an eye to see whether a face of mercy may not be looking down
upon you! Is it that, after all, you do not believe there ever was
such a man as they call Jesus? That can hardly be. There are few so
ignorant, or so wilfully illogical as to be able to disbelieve in
the existence of the man, or that he spoke words to this effect. Is
it then that you are doubtful concerning the whole import of his
appearance? In that case, were it but as a doubtful medicine, would
it not be well to make some trial of the offer made? If the man said
the words, he must have at least believed that he could fulfil them.
Who that knows anything of him at all can for a moment hold that
this man spoke what he did not believe? The best of the Jews who yet
do not believe in him, say of him that he was a good though mistaken
man. Will a man lie for the privilege of being despised and rejected
of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? What but the
confidence of truth could have sustained him when he knew that even
those who loved him would have left him had they believed what he
told them of his coming fate?--But then: believing what he said,
might he not have been mistaken?--A man can hardly be mistaken as to
whether he is at peace or not--whether he has rest in his soul or
not. Neither I think can a man well be mistaken as to whence comes
the peace he possesses,--as to the well whence he draws his comfort.
The miser knows his comfort is his gold. Was Jesus likely to be
mistaken when he supposed himself to know that his comfort came from
his God? Anyhow he believed that his peace came from his
obedience--from his oneness with the will of his Father. Friends, if
I had such peace as was plainly his, should I not know well whence
it came?--But I think I hear some one say: 'Doubtless the good man
derived comfort from the thought of his Father, but might he not be
mistaken in supposing there was any Father?' Hear me, my friends: I
dare not say I know there is a Father. I dare not even say I think,
I can only say with my whole heart I hope we have indeed a Father in
heaven; but this man says HE KNOWS. Am I to say he does not know?
Can I, who know so much I would gladly have otherwise in myself,
imagine him less honest than I am? If he tells me he knows, I am
dumb and listen. One I KNOW: THERE IS--outweighs a whole creation of
voices crying each I KNOW NOT, THEREFORE THERE IS NOT. And observe
it is his own, his own best he wants to give them--no bribe to
obedience to his will, but the assurance of bliss if they will do as
he does. He wants them to have peace--HIS peace--peace from the same
source whence he has it. For what does he mean by TAKE MY YOKE UPON
YOU, AND LEARN OF ME? He does not mean WEAR THE YOKE I LAY UPON
YOU, AND OBEY MY WORDS. I do not say he might not have said so, or
that he does not say what comes to the same thing at other times,
but that is not what he says here--that is not the truth he would
convey in these words. He means TAKE UPON YOU THE YOKE I WEAR;
LEARN TO DO AS I DO, WHO SUBMIT EVERYTHING AND REFER EVERYTHING TO
THE WILL OF MY FATHER, YEA HAVE MY WILL ONLY IN THE CARRYING OUT OF
HIS: BE MEEK AND LOWLY IN HEART, AND YE SHALL FIND REST UNTO YOUR
SOULS. With all the grief of humanity in his heart, in the face of
the death that awaited him, he yet says, FOR MY YOKE, THE YOKE I
WEAR, IS EASY, THE BURDEN I BEAR IS LIGHT. What made that yoke
easy,--that burden light? That it was the will of the Father. If a
man answer: 'Any good man who believed in a God, might say as much,
and I do not see how it can help me;' my reply is, that this man
says, COME UNTO ME, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST--asserting the power
to give perfect help to him that comes.--Does all this look far
away, my friends, and very unlike the things about us? The things
about you do not give you peace; from something different you may
hope to gain it. And do not our souls themselves fall out with their
surroundings, and cry for a nobler, better, more beautiful life?
"But some one will perhaps say: 'It is well; but were I meek and
lowly in heart as he of whom you speak, it could not touch MY
trouble: that springs not from myself, but from one I love.' I
answer, if the peace be the peace of the Son of man, it must reach
to every cause of unrest. And if thou hadst it, would it not then be
next door to thy friend? How shall he whom thou lovest receive it
the most readily--but through thee who lovest him? What if thy
faith should be the next step to his? Anyhow, if this peace be not
an all-reaching as well as a heart-filling peace; if it be not a
righteous and a lovely peace, and that in despite of all surrounding
and opposing troubles, then it is not the peace of God, for that
passeth all understanding:--so at least say they who profess to
know, and I desire to take them at their word. If thy trouble be a
trouble thy God cannot set right, then either thy God is not the
true God, or there is no true God, and the man who professed to
reveal him led the one perfect life in virtue of his faith in a
falsehood. Alas for poor men and women and their aching hearts!--If
it offend any of you that I speak of Jesus as THE MAN who professed
to reveal God, I answer, that the man I see, and he draws me as with
the strength of the adorable Truth; but if in him I should certainly
find the God for the lack of whose peace I and my brethren and
sisters pine, then were heaven itself too narrow to hold my
exultation, for in God himself alone could my joy find room.
"Come then, sore heart, and see whether his heart cannot heal thine.
He knows what sighs and tears are, and if he knew no sin in himself,
the more pitiful must it have been to him to behold the sighs and
tears that guilt wrung from the tortured hearts of his brethren and
sisters. Brothers, sisters, we MUST get rid of this misery of ours.
It is slaying us. It is turning the fair earth into a hell, and our
hearts into its fuel. There stands the man, who says he knows: take
him at his word. Go to him who says in the might of his eternal
tenderness and his human pity--COME UNTO ME, ALL YE THAT LABOUR AND
ARE HEAVY-LADEN, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST. TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU, AND
LEARN OF ME; FOR I AM MEEK AND LOWLY IN HEART: AND YE SHALL FIND
REST UNTO YOUR SOULS. FOR MY YOKE IS EASY AND MY BURDEN IS LIGHT."
A SERMON TO HIMSELF.