Part 5 out of 9
Long ere he thus came to a close, Wingfold was blind to all and
every individuality before him--felt only the general suffering of
the human soul, and the new-born hope for it that lay in the story
of the ideal man, the human God. He did not see that Helen's head
was down on the book-board. She was sobbing convulsively. In some
way the word had touched her, and had unsealed the fountain of
tears, if not of faith. Neither did he see the curl on the lip of
Bascombe, or the glance of annoyance which, every now and then, he
cast upon the bent head beside him. "What on earth are you crying
about? It is all in the way of his business, you know," said
Bascombe's eyes, but Helen did not hear them. One or two more in the
congregation were weeping, and here and there shone a face in which
the light seemed to prevent the tears. Polwarth shone and Rachel
wept. For the rest, the congregation listened only with varying
degrees of attention and indifference. The larger portion looked as
if neither Wingfold nor any other body ever meant anything--at least
in the pulpit.
The moment Wingfold reached the vestry, he hurried off the garments
of his profession, sped from the Abbey, and all but ran across the
church-yard to his lodging. There he shut himself up in his chamber,
fearful lest he should have said more than he had yet a right to
say, and lest ebbing emotion should uncover the fact that he had
been but "fired by the running of his own wheels," and not inspired
by the guide of "the fiery-wheeled throne, the cherub Contemplation."
There, from the congregation, from the church, from the sermon, from
the past altogether, he turned aside his face and would forget them
What had he to do with the thing that was done,--done with, and
gone, either into the treasury or the lumber-room, of creation?
Towards the hills of help he turned his face--to the summits over
whose tops he looked for the dayspring from on high to break forth.
If only Christ would come to him!--Do what he might, however, his
thoughts WOULD wander back to the great gothic gulf into which he
had been pouring out his soul, and the greater human gulfs that
opened into the ancient pile, whose mouths were the faces that hid
the floor beneath them--until at length he was altogether vexed with
himself for being interested in what he had done, instead of
absorbed in what he had yet to do. He left therefore his chamber,
and placed himself at a side-table in his sitting-room, while his
landlady prepared the other for his dinner. She too had been at
church that morning, whence it came that she moved about and set the
things on the table with unusual softness, causing him no
interruption while he wrote down a line here and there of what
afterwards grew into the following verses--born in the effort to
forget the things that were behind, and reach forth after the things
that lay before him.
Yes, Master, when thou comest thou shalt find
A little faith on earth, if I am here!
Thou know'st how oft I turn to thee my mind,
How sad I wait until thy face appear!
Hast thou not ploughed my thorny ground full sore,
And from it gathered many stones and sherds?
Plough, plough and harrow till it needs no more--
Then sow thy mustard-seed, and send thy birds.
I love thee, Lord; and if I yield to fears,
Nor trust with triumph that pale doubt defies,
Remember, Lord, 'tis nigh two thousand years,
And I have never seen thee with mine eyes.
And when I lift them from the wondrous tale,
See, all about me has so strange a show!
Is that thy river running down the vale?
Is that thy wind that through the pines doth blow?
Couldst thou right verily appear again,
The same who walked the paths of Palestine,
And here in England teach thy trusting men,
In church and field and house, with word and sign?
Here are but lilies, sparrows, and the rest!--
My hands on some dear proof would light and stay!
But my heart sees John leaning on thy breast,
And sends them forth to do what thou dost say.
"Extraordinary young man!" exclaimed Mrs. Ramshorn as they left the
church, with a sigh that expressed despair. "Is he an infidel or a
fanatic? a Jesuit or a Socinian?"
"If he would pay a little more attention to his composition," said
Bascombe indifferently, "he might in time make of himself a good
speaker. I am not at all sure there are not the elements of an
orator in him, if he would only reflect a little on the fine
relations between speech and passion, and learn of the best models
how to play upon the feelings of a congregation. I declare I don't
know, but he might make a great man of himself. As long as he don't
finish his sentences however, jumbles his figures, and begins and
ends abruptly without either exordium or peroration, he needn't look
to make anything of a preacher--and that seems his object."
"If that be his object, he had better join the Methodists at once.
He would be a treasure to them," said Mrs. Ramshorn.
"That is not his object, George. How can you say so?" remarked Helen
quietly, but with some latent indignation.
George smiled a rather unpleasant smile and held his peace.
Little more was said on the way home. Helen went to take off her
bonnet, but did not re-appear until she was called to their early
Now George had counted upon a turn in the garden with her before
dinner, and was annoyed--more, it is true, because of the emotion
which he rightly judged the cause of her not joining him, than the
necessity laid on him of eating his dinner without having first
unburdened his mind; but the latter fact also had its share in
When she came into the drawing-room it was plain she had been
weeping; but, although they were alone, and would probably have to
wait yet a few minutes before their aunt joined them, he resolved in
his good nature to be considerate, and say nothing till after
dinner, lest he should spoil her appetite. When they rose from the
table, she would have again escaped, but when George left his wine
and followed her, she consented, at his urgent, almost expostulatory
request, to walk once round the garden with him.
As soon as they were out of sight of the windows, he began--in the
tone of one whose love it is that prompts rebuke.
"How COULD you, my dear Helen, have so little care of your health,
already so much shaken with nursing your brother, as to yield your
mind to the maundering of that silly ecclesiastic, and allow his
false eloquence to untune your nerves! Remember your health is the
first thing--positively the FIRST and foremost thing to be
considered, both for your own sake and that of your friends. Without
health, what is anything worth?"
Helen made no answer, but she thought with herself there were two or
three things for the sake of which she would willingly part with a
considerable portion of her health. Her cousin imagined her
conscience-stricken, and resumed with yet greater confidence.
"If you MUST go to church, you ought to prepare yourself beforehand
by firmly impressing on your mind the fact that the whole thing is
but part of a system--part of a false system; that the preacher has
been brought up to the trade of religion, that it is his business,
and that he must lay himself out to persuade people--himself first
of all if he can, but anyhow his congregation, of the truth of
everything contained in that farrago of priestly absurdities--
called the Bible, forsooth! as if there were no other book worthy to
be mentioned beside it. Think for a moment how soon, were it not for
their churches and prayers and music and their tomfoolery of
preaching, the whole precious edifice would topple about their ears,
and the livelihood, the means of contentment and influence, would be
gone from so many restless paltering spirits! So what is left them
but to play upon the hopes and fears and diseased consciences of men
as they best can! The idiot! To tell a man when he is hipped to COME
UNTO ME! Bah! Does the fool really expect any grown man or woman to
believe in his or her brain that the man who spoke those words, if
ever there was a man who spoke them, can at this moment anni
domini"--George liked to be correct--"1870, hear whatever silly
words the Rev. Mr. Wingfold, or any other human biped, may think
proper to address to him with his face buried in his blankets by his
bedside or in his surplice over the pulpit-bible?--not to mention
that they would have you believe, or be damned to all eternity, that
every thought vibrated in the convolutions of your brain is known to
him as well as to yourself! The thing is really too absurd! Ha! ha!
ha! The man died--the death of a malefactor, they say; and his body
was stolen from his grave by his followers, that they might impose
thousands of years of absurdity upon generations to come after them.
And now, when a fellow feels miserable, he is to cry to that dead
man, who said of himself that he was meek and lowly in heart, and
straightway the poor beggar shall find rest to his soul! All I can
say is that, if he find rest so, it will be the rest of an idiot!
Believe me, Helen, a good Havannah and a bottle of claret would be
considerably more to the purpose;--for ladies, perhaps rather a cup
of tea and a little Beethoven!" Here he laughed, for the rush of his
eloquence had swept away his bad humour. "But really," he went on,
"the whole is TOO absurd to talk about. To go whining after an old
Jew fable in these days of progress! Why, what do you think is the
last discovery about light?"
"You will allow this much in excuse for their being so misled,"
returned Helen, with some bitterness, "that the old fable pretends
at least to provide help for sore hearts; and except it be
"Do be serious, Helen," interrupted George. "I don't object to
joking, you know, but you are not joking in a right spirit. This
matter has to do with the well-being of the race; and we MUST think
of others, however your Jew-gospel, in the genuine spirit of the
Hebrew of all time, would set everybody to the saving of his own
wind-bubble of a soul. Believe me, to live for others is the true
way to lose sight of our own fancied sorrows."
Helen gave a deep sigh. Fancied sorrows!--Yes, gladly indeed would
she live for ONE other at least! Nay more--she would die for him.
But alas! what would that do for one whose very being was consumed
with grief ineffable!--She must speak, else he would read her heart.
"There are real sorrows," she said. "They are not all fancied."
"There are very few sorrows," returned George, "in which fancy does
not bear a stronger proportion than even a woman of sense, while the
fancy is upon her, will be prepared to admit. I can remember bursts
of grief when I was a boy, in which it seemed impossible anything
should ever console me; but in one minute all would be gone, and my
heart, or my spleen, or my diaphragm, as merry as ever. Believe that
all is well, and you will find all will be well--very tolerably
well, that is, considering."
"Considering that the well-being has to be divided and apportioned
and accommodated to the various parts of such a huge whole, and that
there is no God to look after the business!" said Helen, who,
according to the state of the tide in the sea of her trouble,
resented or accepted her cousin's teaching.
Few women are willing to believe in death. Most of them love life,
and are faithful to hope; and I much doubt whether, if Helen had but
had a taste of trouble to rouse the woman within her before her
cousin conceived the wish of making her a proselyte, she would have
turned even a tolerably patient ear to his instructions. Yet it is
strange to see how even noble women, with the divine gift of
imagination, may be argued into unbelief in their best instincts by
some small man, as common-place as clever, who beside them is as
limestone to marble. The knowing craft comes creeping up into the
shadow of the rich galleon, and lo, with all her bountiful sails
gleaming in the sun, the ship of God glides off in the wake of the
felucca to the sweltering hollows betwixt the winds!
"You perplex me, my dear cousin," said Bascombe. "It is plain your
nursing has been too much for you. You see everything with a
"Thank you, Cousin George," said Helen. "You are even more courteous
She turned from him and went into the house. Bascombe walked to the
bottom of the garden and lighted his cigar, confessing to himself
that for once he could not understand Helen.--Was it then only that
he was ignorant of the awful fact that lay burrowing in her heart,
or was he not ignorant also of the nature of that heart in which
such a fact must so burrow? Was there anything in his system to wipe
off that burning, torturing red? "Such things must be: men who wrong
society must suffer for the sake of that society." But the red lay
burning on the conscience of Helen too, and she had not murdered!
And for him who had, he gave society never a thought, but shrieked
aloud in his dreams, and moaned and wept when he waked over the
memory of the woman who had wronged him, and whom he had, if
Bascombe was right, swept out of being like an aphis from a
A VANISHING GLIMMER.
Helen ran upstairs, dropped on her knees by her brother's bedside,
and fell into a fit of sobbing, which no tears came to relieve.
"Helen! Helen! if you give way I shall go mad," said a voice of
misery from the pillow.
She jumped up, wiping her dry eyes.
"What a wicked, selfish, bad sister, bad nurse, bad everything, I
am, Poldie!" she said, her tone ascending the steps of vocal
indignation as she spoke. "But shall I tell you"--here she looked
all about the chamber and into the dressing-room ere she
proceeded--"shall I tell you, Poldie, what it is that makes me so--
I don't know what?--It is all the fault of the sermon I heard this
morning. It is the first sermon I ever really listened to in my
life--certainly the first I ever thought about again after I was
out of the church. Somehow or other of late Mr. Wingfold has been
preaching so strangely! but this is the first time I have cared to
listen. Do you know he preaches as if he actually believed the
things he was saying, and not only that, but as if he expected to
persuade you of them too! I USED to think all clergymen believed
them, but I doubt it now more than ever, for Mr. Wingfold speaks so
differently and looks so different. I never saw any clergyman look
like that; and I never saw such a change on a man as there is on
him. There must be something to account for it. Could it be that he
has himself really gone to--as he says--and found rest--or something
he hadn't got before? But you won't know what I mean unless I tell
you first what he was preaching about. His text was: Come unto me
all ye that labour and are heavy laden;--a common enough text, you
know? Poldie! but somehow it seemed fresh to him, and he made it
look fresh to me, for I felt as if it hadn't been intended for
preaching about at all, but for going straight into people's hearts
its own self, without any sermon. I think the way he did it was
this: he first made us feel the sort of person that said the words,
and then made us feel that he did say them, and so made us want to
see what they could really mean. But of course what made them so
different to me, was"--here Helen did burst into tears, but she
fought with her sobs, and went on--"was--was--that my heart is
breaking for you, Poldie--for I shall never see you smile again, my
She buried her face on his pillow, and Leopold uttered "a great and
exceeding bitter cry." Her hand was on his mouth instantly, and her
sobs ceased, while the tears kept flowing down her white face.
"Just think, Poldie," she said, in a voice which she seemed to have
borrowed in her need from some one else, "--just think a moment!
What if there should be some help in the great wide universe--somewhere,
for as wide as it is--a heart that feels for us both, as my heart
feels for you, Poldie! Oh! oh! wouldn't it be grand? Wouldn't it be
lovely to be at peace again, Poldie? If there should be somebody
somewhere who could take this gnawing serpent from my heart!"--She
pulled wildly at her dress.--"'Come unto me,' he said, 'all ye that
labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' That's what
he said:--oh! if it could be true!"
"Surely it is--for you, best of sisters," cried Leopold; "but what
has it to do with me? Nothing. She is DEAD--I killed her. Even if
God were to raise her to life again, HE could not make it that I
didn't drive the knife into her heart! Give ME rest!--why there's
the hand that did it! O my God! my God!" cried the poor youth, and
stared at his thin wasted hand, through which the light shone red,
as at a conscious evil thing that had done the deed, and was still
stained with its signs.
"God CAN'T be very angry with you, Poldie," sobbed Helen, feeling
about blindly in the dark forest of her thoughts for some herb of
comfort, and offering any leaf upon which her hand fell first.
"Then he ain't fit to be God!" cried Leopold fiercely. "I wouldn't
have a word to say to a God that didn't cut a man in pieces for such
a deed! Oh Helen, she was so lovely!--and what is she now?"
"Surely if there were a God, he would do something to set it right
somehow! I know if I was God, Poldie, I should find some way of
setting you up again, my darling. You ain't half as bad as you make
"You had better tell that to the jury, Helen, and see how they will
take it," said Leopold contemptuously.
"The jury!" Helen almost screamed. "What do you mean, Poldie?"
"Well!" returned Leopold, in a tone of justification, but made no
further answer to her question. "All God can do to set it right," he
resumed, after a pause, "is to damn me for ever and ever, as one of
the blackest creatures in creation."
"THAT I don't believe, anyhow!" returned Helen with equal vehemence
And for the first time, George Bascombe's teachings were a comfort
to her. It was all nonsense about a God. As to her brother's misery,
it had no source but that to which Shakespeare attributed the misery
of Macbeth--and who should know better than Shakespeare?--the
fear, namely, of people doing the like to himself! But straightway
thereupon--horrible thought!--she found herself--yes! it was in
her--call it thought, or call it feeling, it was hers!--she found
herself despising her poor crushed brother! disgusted with him!
turning from him, not even in scorn of his weakness, but in anger at
what he had brought upon her! It was but a flash of the lightning of
hell: one glance of his great, troubled, appealing, yet hopeless
eyes, vague with the fogs that steamed up from the Phlegethon within
him, was enough to turn her anger at him into hate of herself who
had stabbed his angel in her heart. Then in herself she knew that
all murderers are not of Macbeth's order, and that all remorse is
not for oneself.
But where was the God to be found who could and MIGHT help in the
wretched case? How were they to approach him? Or what could he do
for them? Were such a being to assure Leopold that no hurt should
come to him--even that he thought little of the wrong that he had
done--would that make his crushed heart begin to swell again with
fresh life? would that bring back Emmeline from the dark grave and
the worms to the sunny earth and the speech of men? And whither, yet
farther, he might have sent her, she dared not think. And Leopold
was not merely at strife with himself, but condemned to dwell with a
self that was loathsome to him. She no longer saw any glimmer of
hope but such as lay in George's doctrine of death. If there was no
helper who could clean hearts and revive the light of life, then
welcome gaunt death! let the grim-mouthed skeleton be crowned at
LET US PRAY!
That was the sole chink in the prison where these two sat immured
alone from their kind--unless, indeed, the curate might know of
One thing Helen had ground for being certain of--that the curate
would tell them no more than he knew. Even George Bascombe, who did
not believe one thing he said, counted him an honest man! Might she
venture to consult him, putting the case as of a person who had done
very wrong--say stolen money or committed forgery or something?
Might she not thus gather a little honey of comfort and bring it
home to Leopold?
Thinking thus and thus she sat silent; and all the time the
suffering eyes were fixed upon her face, looking for no comfort, but
finding there all they ever had of rest.
"Are you thinking about the sermon, Helen?" he asked. "What was it
you were telling me about it just now? Who preached it?"
"Mr. Wingfold," she answered listlessly.
"Who is Mr. Wingfold?"
"Our curate at the Abbey."
"What sort of man is he?"
"Oh, a man somewhere about thirty--a straightforward, ordinary kind
"Ah!" said Leopld--then added after a moment--"I was hoping he
might be an old man, with a grey head, like the brahmin who used to
teach me Sanscrit.--I wish I had treated him better, poor old
fellow! and learned a little more."
"What does it matter about Sanscrit? Why should you make troubles of
trifles?" said Helen, whose trials had at last begun to undermine
"It was not of the Sanscrit, but the moonshee I was thinking,"
answered Leopold mildly.
"You darling!" cried Helen, already repentant. But with the
revulsion she felt that this state of things could not long
continue--she must either lose her senses, or turn into something
hateful to herself: the strain was more than she could bear. She
MUST speak to somebody, and she would try whether she could not
approach the subject with Mr. Wingfold.
But how was she to see him? It would be awkward to call upon him at
his lodgings, and she must see him absolutely alone to dare a
whisper of what was on her mind.
As she thus reflected, the thought of what people would say, were it
remarked that she contrived to meet the curate, brought a shadow of
scorn upon her face. Leopold saw the expression, and, sensitive as
an ailing woman, said,
"Helen, what HAVE I done to make you look like that?"
"How did I look, my Poldie?" she asked, turning on him eyes like
brimming wells of love and tenderness.
"Let me see," answered Leopold; and after a moment's thought
replied, "As Milton's Satan might have looked if Mammon had
counselled him to make off with the crown-jewels instead of
"Ah, Poldie!" cried Helen, delighted at the stray glance of
sunshine, and kissing him as she spoke, "you must really be better!
I'll tell you what!" she exclaimed joyfully, as a new thought struck
her: "As soon as you are able, we will set out for New York--to pay
Uncle Tom a visit of course! but we shall never be seen or heard of
again. At New York we will change our names, cross to San Francisco,
and from there sail for the Sandwich Islands. Perhaps we may be able
to find a little one to buy, just big enough for us two; and you
shall marry a nice native----"
Her forced gaiety gave way. She burst out weeping afresh, and
throwing her arms round him, sobbed--
"Poldie, Poldie! you can pray: cry to God to help us somehow or
other; and if there be no God to hear us, then let us die together.
There are easy ways of it, Poldie."
"Thank you! thank you, sister dear!" he answered, pressing her to
his bosom: "that is the first word of real comfort you have spoken
to me. I shall not be afraid if you go with me."
It was indeed a comfort to both of them to remember that there was
this alternative equally to the gallows and a long life of gnawing
fear and remorse. But it was only to be a last refuge of course.
Helen withdrew to the dressing-room, laid herself on her bed, and
began to compass how to meet and circumvent the curate, so as by an
innocent cunning to wile from him on false pretences what spiritual
balm she might so gain for the torn heart and conscience of her
brother. There was no doubt it would be genuine, and the best to be
had, seeing George Bascombe, who was honesty itself, judged the
curate an honest man. But how was it to be done? She could see only
one way. With some inconsistency, she resolved to cast herself on
his generosity, and yet would not trust him entirely.
She did not go downstairs again, but had her tea with her brother.
In the evening her aunt went out to visit some of her pensioners,
for it was one of Mrs. Ramshorn's clerical duties to be kind to the
poor--a good deal at their expense, I am afraid--and presently
George came to the door of the sick-room to beg her to go down and
sing to him. Of course, in the house of a dean's relict, no music
except sacred must be heard on a Sunday; but to have Helen sing it,
George would condescend even to a hymn tune; and there was Handel,
for whom he professed a great admiration! What mattered his
subjects? He could but compose the sort of thing the court wanted of
him, and in order to that, had to fuddle his brains first, poor
fellow! So said George at least.
That Leopold might not hear them talking outside his door, a thing
which no invalid likes, Helen went downstairs with her cousin; but
although she had often sung from Handel for his pleasure, content to
reproduce the bare sounds, and caring nothing about the feelings
both they and the words represented, she positively refused this
evening to gratify him. She must go back to Leopold. She would sing
from The Creation if he liked, but nothing out of The Messiah would
she or could she sing.
Perhaps she could herself hardly have told why, but George perceived
the lingering influence of the morning's sermon, and more vexed than
he had ever yet been with her, for he could not endure her to
cherish the least prejudice in favour of what he despised, he said
he would overtake his aunt, and left the house. The moment he was
gone, she went to the piano, and began to sing, "Comfort ye." When
she came to "Come unto me," she broke down. But with sudden
resolution she rose, and, having opened every door between it and
her brother, raised the top of the piano, and then sang, "Come unto
me," as she had never sung in her life. Nor did she stop there. At
the distance of six of the wide-standing houses, her aunt and cousin
heard her singing "Thou didst not leave," with the tone and
expression of a prophetess--of a Maenad, George said. She was still
singing when he opened the door, but when they reached the
drawing-room she was gone. She was kneeling beside her brother.
The next morning, as Wingfold ate his breakfast by an open window
looking across the churchyard, he received a letter by the local
post. It was as follows:--
"Dear Mr. Wingfold, I am about to take an unheard-of liberty, but my
reasons are such as make me bold. The day may come when I shall be
able to tell you them all. Meantime I hope you can help me. I want
very much to ask your counsel upon a certain matter, and I cannot
beg you to call, for my aunt knows nothing of it. Could you contrive
a suitable way of meeting? You may imagine my necessity is grievous
when I thus expose myself to the possible bitterness of my own after
judgment. But I must have confidence in the man who spoke as you did
yesterday morning. I am, dear Mr. Wingfold, sincerely yours, Helen
"P.S.--I shall be walking along Pine Street from our end, at eleven
The curate was not taken with a great surprise. But something like
fear overshadowed him at finding his sermons come back upon him
thus. Was he, an unbelieving labourer, to go reaping with his blunt
and broken sickle where the corn was ripest! But he had no time to
think about that now. It was nearly ten o'clock, and she would be
looking for her answer at eleven. He had not to think long, however,
before he saw what seemed a suitable plan to suggest; whereupon he
wrote as follows:
"Dear Miss Lingard, I need not say that I am entirely at your
service. But I am doubtful if the only way that occurs to me will
commend itself to you. I know what I am about to propose is safe,
but you may not have sufficient confidence in my judgment to accept
it as such.
"Doubtless you have seen the two deformed persons, an uncle and
niece, named Polwarth, who keep the gate of Osterfield Park. I know
them well, and, strange as it may seem, I must tell you, in order
that you may partake of my confidence, that whatever change you may
have observed in my public work is owing to the influence of those
two, who have more faith in God than I have ever met with before. It
may not be amiss to mention also that, although poor and distorted,
they are of gentle blood as well as noble nature. With this
preamble, I venture to propose that you should meet me at their
cottage. To them it would not appear at all strange that one of my
congregation should wish to see me alone, and I know you may trust
their discretion. But while I write thus, with all confidence in you
and in them, I must tell you that I have none in myself. I feel both
ashamed and perplexed that you should imagine any help in me. Of all
I know, I am the poorest creature to give counsel. All I can say for
myself is that I think I see a glimmer of light, and light is light,
through whatever cranny, and into whatever poverty-stricken chamber,
it may fall. Whatever I see I will say. If I can see nothing to help
you, I will be silent. And yet I may be able to direct you where to
find what I cannot give you. If you accept my plan, and will appoint
day and hour, I shall acquaint the Polwarths with the service we
desire of them. Should you object to it, I shall try to think of
another. I am, dear Miss Lingard, yours very truly, Thomas
He placed the letter between the pages of a pamphlet, took his hat
and stick, and was walking down Pine Street as the Abbey clock
struck eleven. Midway he met Helen, shook hands with her, and, after
an indifferent word or two, gave her the pamphlet, and bade her good
Helen hurried home. It had required all her self-command to look him
in the face, and her heart beat almost painfully as she opened the
She could not but be pleased--even more than pleased with it. If the
secret had been her own, she thought she could have trusted him
entirely; but she must not expose poor Leopold.
By the next post the curate received a grateful answer, appointing
the time, and expressing perfect readiness to trust those whom he
She was received at the cottage door by Rachel, who asked her to
walk into the garden, where Mr. Wingfold was expecting her. The
curate led her to a seat overgrown with honeysuckle.
ADVICE IN THE DARK.
It was some moments before either of them spoke, and it did not help
Wingfold that she sat clouded by a dark-coloured veil. At length he
"You must not fear to trust me because I doubt my ability to help
you. I can at least assure you of my sympathy. The trouble I have
myself had enables me to promise you that."
"Can you tell me," she said, from behind more veils than that of
lace, "how to get rid of a haunting idea?"
"That depends on the nature of the idea, I should imagine," answered
the curate. "Such things sometimes arise merely from the state of
the health, and there the doctor is the best help."
Helen shook her head, and smiled behind her veil a grievous smile.
The curate paused, but, receiving no assistance, ventured on again.
"If it be a thought of something past and gone, for which nothing
can be done, I think activity in one's daily work must be the best
aid to endurance."
"Oh dear! oh dear!" sighed Helen--"when one has no heart to endure,
and hates the very sunlight!--You wouldn't talk about work to a man
dying of hunger, would you?"
"I'm not sure about that."
"He wouldn't heed you."
"What would you do then?"
"Give him some food, and try him again, I think."
"Then give me some food--some hope, I mean, and try me again.
Without that, I don't care about duty or life or anything."
"Tell me, then, what is the matter; I MAY be able to hint at some
hope," said Wingfold, very gently. "Do you call yourself a
The question would to most people have sounded strange, abrupt,
inquisitorial; but to Helen it sounded not one of them all.
"No," she answered.
"Ah!" said the curate a little sadly, and went on. "Because then I
could have said, you know where to go for comfort.--Might it not be
well however to try if there is any to be had from him that said
'COME UNTO ME, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST?'"
"I can do nothing with that. I have tried and tried to pray, but it
is of no use. There is such a weight on my heart that no power of
mine can lift it up. I suppose it is because I cannot believe there
is anyone hearing a word I say. Yesterday, when I got alone in the
park, I prayed aloud: I thought that perhaps, even if he might not
be able to read what was in my heart, he might be able to hear my
voice. I was even foolish enough to wish I knew Greek, because
perhaps he would understand me better if I were to pray in Greek. My
brain seems turning. It is of no use! There is no help anywhere!"
She tried hard, but could not prevent a sob. And then came a burst
"Will you not tell me something about it?" said the curate, yet more
gently. Oh, how gladly would he relieve her heart if he might!
"Perhaps Jesus has begun to give you help, though you do not know it
yet," he said, "His help may be on the way to you, or even with you,
only you do not recognize it for what it is. I have known that kind
of thing. Tell me some fact or some feeling I can lay hold of.
Possibly there is something you ought to do and are not doing, and
that is why you cannot rest. I think Jesus would give no rest except
in the way of learning of him."
Helen's sobs ceased, but what appeared to the curate a long silence
followed. At length she said, with faltering voice:
"Suppose it were a great wrong that had been done, and that was the
unendurable thought? SUPPOSE, I say, that was what made me
"Then you must of course make all possible reparation," answered
Wingfold at once.
"But if none were possible--what then?"
Here the answer was not so plain, and the curate had to think.
"At least," he said at length, "you could confess the wrong, and ask
"But if that also were impossible," said Helen, shuddering inwardly
to find how near she drew to the edge of the awful fact.
Again the curate took time to reply.
"I am endeavouring to answer your questions as well as I can," he
said; "but it is hard to deal with generalities. You see how
useless, for that very reason, my answers have as yet been! Still I
have something more to say, and hesitate only because it may imply
more confidence than I dare profess, and of all things I dread
untruth. But I am honest in this much at least, that I desire with
true heart to find a God who will acknowledge me as his creature and
make me his child, and if there be any God I am nearly certain he
will do so; for surely there cannot be any other kind of God than
the Father of Jesus Christ! In the strength of this much of
conscious truth I venture to say--that no crime can be committed
against a creature without being committed also against the creator
of that creature; therefore surely the first step for anyone who has
committed such a crime must be to humble himself before God, confess
the sin, and ask forgiveness and cleansing. If there is anything in
religion at all it must rest upon an actual individual communication
between God and the creature he has made; and if God heard the man's
prayer and forgave him, then the man would certainly know it in his
heart and be consoled--perhaps by the gift of humility."
"Then you think confession to God is all that is required?"
"If there be no one else wronged to whom confession can be made. If
the case were mine--and sometimes I much fear that in taking holy
orders I have grievously sinned--I should then do just as I have
done with regard to that--cry to the living power which I think
originated me, to set the matter right for me."
"But if it could not be set right?"
"Then to forgive and console me."
"Alas! alas! that he will not hear of. He would rather be punished
than consoled. I fear for his brain. But indeed that might be well."
She had gone much farther than she had intended; but the more
doubtful help became, the more she was driven by the agony of a
perishing hope to search the heart of Wingfold.
Again the curate pondered.
"Are you sure," he said at length, "that the person of whom you
speak is not neglecting something he ought to do--something he knows
He had come back to the same with which he started.
Through her veil he saw her turn deadly white. Ever since Leopold
said the word JURY, a ghastly fear had haunted Helen. She pressed
her hand on her heart and made no answer.
"I speak from experience," the curate went on--"from what else could
I speak? I know that so long as we hang back from doing what
conscience urges, there is no peace for us. I will not say our
prayers are not heard, for Mr. Polwarth has taught me that the most
precious answer prayer can have, lies in the growing strength of the
impulse towards the dreaded duty, and in the ever sharper stings of
the conscience. I think I asked already whether there were no
relatives to whom reparation could be made?"
"Yes, yes," gasped Helen;" and I told you reparation was
Her voice had sunk almost to a groan.
"But at least confession--" said Wingfold---and started from his
A stifled cry had interrupted him. Helen was pressing her
handkerchief to her mouth. She rose and ran from him. Wingfold stood
alarmed and irresolute. She had not gone many steps, however, when
her pace slackened, her knees gave way, and she dropped senseless on
the grass. Wingfold ran to the house for water. Rachel hastened to
her assistance, and Polwarth followed. It was some time before they
succeeded in reviving her.
When at length the colour began to return a little to her cheek,
Polwarth dropped on his knees at her feet. Wingfold in his
ministrations was already kneeling on one side of her, and Rachel
now kneeled on the other. Then Polwarth said, in his low and husky,
yet not altogether unmelodious voice,
"Life eternal, this lady of thine hath a sore heart and we cannot
help her. Thou art Help, O mighty Love. They who know thee best
rejoice in thee most. As thy sun that shines over our heads, as thy
air that flows into our bodies, thou art above, around, and in us;
thou art in her heart: Oh speak to her there; let her know thy will,
and give her strength to do it, O Father of Jesus Christ! Amen."
When Helen opened her eyes, she saw only the dark leaves of an
arbutus over her, and knew nothing beyond a sense of utter misery
and weakness, with an impulse to rise and run. With an effort she
moved her head a little, and then she saw the three kneeling forms,
the clergyman with bowed head, and the two dwarfs with shining
upturned faces: she thought she was dead and they were kneeling
about her corpse. Her head dropped with a weary sigh of relief, she
lay passive, and heard the dwarf's prayer. Then she knew that she
was not dead, and the disappointment was bitter. But she thought of
Leopold, and was consoled. After a few minutes of quiet, they helped
her into the house, and laid her on a sofa in the parlour.
"Don't be frightened, dear lady," said the little woman; "nobody
shall come near you. We will watch you as if you were the queen. I
am going to get some tea for you."
But the moment she left the room, Helen got up. She could not endure
a moment longer in the place. There was a demon at her brother's
ear, whispering to him to confess, to rid himself of his torture by
the aid of the law: she must rush home and drive him away. She took
her hat in her hand, opened the door softly, and ere Rachel could
say a word, had flitted through the kitchen, and was amongst the
trees on the opposite side of the road. Rachel ran to the garden to
her uncle and Wingfold. They looked at each other for a moment in
"I will follow her," said Wingfold. "She may faint again. If she
does I shall whistle."
He followed, and kept her in sight until she was safe in her aunt's
"What IS to be done?" he said, returning in great trouble. "I do not
think I made any blunder, but there she is gone in tenfold misery! I
wish I could tell you what passed, but that of course I cannot."
"Of course not," returned Polwarth. "But the fact of her leaving yon
so is no sign that you said the wrong thing,--rather the contrary.
When people seek advice, it is too often in the hope of finding the
adviser side with their second familiar self, instead of their awful
first self, of which they know so little. Do not be anxious. You
have done your best. Wait for what will come next."
Helen tottered to a little summer-house in the garden, which had
been her best retreat since she had given her room to her brother,
and there seated herself to regain breath and composure ere she went
to him. She had sought the door of Paradise, and the door of hell
had been opened to her! If the frightful idea which, she did not
doubt, had already suggested itself to Leopold, should now be
encouraged, there was nothing but black madness before her! Her
Poldie on the scaffold! God in heaven! Infinitely rather would she
poison herself and him! Then she remembered how pleased and consoled
he had been when she said something about their dying together, and
that reassured her a little: no, she was certain Leopold would never
yield himself to public shame! But she must take care that foolish,
extravagant curate should not come near him. There was no knowing to
what he might persuade him! Poor Poldie was so easily led by any
show of nobility--anything that looked grand or self-sacrificing!
Helen's only knowledge of guilt came from the pale image of it
lifted above her horizon by the refraction of her sympathy. She did
not know, perhaps never would understand the ghastly horror of
conscious guilt, besides which there is no evil else. Agonies of
injury a man may endure, and, so far from being overwhelmed, rise
above them tenfold a man, who, were he to awake to the self-knowledge
of a crime, would sink into a heap of ruin. Then indeed, if there be
no God, or one that has not an infinite power of setting right that
which has gone wrong with his work, then indeed welcome the faith,
for faith it may then be called, of such as say there is no hereafter!
Helen did not know to what gulfs of personal shame, nay, to what
summits of public execration, a man may be glad to flee for refuge
from the fangs of home-born guilt--if so be there is any refuge to
be found in either. And some kind of refuge there does seem to be.
Strange it is and true that in publicity itself lies some relief
from the gnawing of the worm--as if even a cursing humanity were a
barrier of protection between the torn soul and its crime. It flees
to its kind for shelter from itself. Hence, I imagine, in part, may
the coolness of some criminals be accounted for. Their quietness is
the relief brought by confession--even confession but to their
fellows. Is it that the crime seems then lifted a little from their
shoulders, and its weight shared by the ace?
Helen had hoped that the man who had spoken in public so tenderly,
and at the same time so powerfully, of the saving heart of the
universe, that would have no divisions of pride, no scatterings of
hate, but of many would make one, would in private have spoken yet
sweeter words of hope and consolation, which she might have carried
home in gladness to her sick-souled brother, to comfort and
strengthen him--words of might to allay the burning of the poison
within him, and make him feel that after all there was yet a place
for him in the universe, and that he was no outcast of Gehenna. But
instead of such words of gentle might, like those of the man of whom
he was so fond of talking, he had only spoken drearily of duty,
hinting at a horror that would plunge the whole ancient family into
a hell of dishonour and contempt! It did indeed show what mere
heartless windbags of effete theology those priests were! Skeletons
they were, and no human beings at all!--Her father!--the thought of
him was distraction! Her mother! Oh, if Leopold had had her mother
for his too, instead of the dark-skinned woman with the flashing
eyes, he would never have brought this upon them! It was all his
mother's fault--the fault of her race--and of the horrible drug her
people had taught him to take! And was he to go and confess it, and
be tried for it, and be--? Great God!--And here was the priest
actually counselling what was worse than any suicide!
Suddenly, however, it occurred to her that the curate had had no
knowledge of the facts of the case, and had therefore been compelled
to talk at random. It was impossible he should suspect the crime of
which her brother had been guilty, and therefore could not know the
frightful consequences of such a confession as he had counselled.
Had she not better then tell him all, and so gather from him some
right and reasonable advice for the soothing of the agonies of her
poor broken-winged angel? But alas! what security had she that a man
capable of such priestly sevei'ity and heartlessness--her terrors
made her thus inconsequent--would not himself betray the all but
innocent sufferer to the vengeance of justice so called? No; she
would venture no farther. Sooner would she go to George
Bascombe--from whom she not only could look for no spiritual
comfort, but whose theories were so cruel against culprits of all
sorts! Alas, alas! she was alone! absolutely alone in the great
waste, death-eyed universe!--But for a man to talk so of the
tenderness of Jesus Christ, and then serve her as the curate had
done--it was indeed shameless! HE would never have treated a poor
wretched woman like that!--And as she said thus to herself, again
the words sounded in the ear of her heart: 'COME UNTO ME, ALL YE
THAT LABOUR AND ARE HEAVY LADEN, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST.' Whence
came the voice? From her memory, or from that inner chamber of the
spirit which the one spirit-bearing spirit keeps for his own in
every house that he builds--alas so long in most human houses shut
away from the rest of the rooms and forgotten, or recollected with
uneasiness as a lumber-closet in which lie too many things that had
better not be looked into? But what matter where the voice that had
said them, so long as the words were true, and she might believe
them!--Whatever is true CAN be believed of the true heart.
Ere she knew, Helen was on her knees, with her head on the chair,
yet once more crying to the hearer of cries--possible or impossible
being she knew not in the least, but words reported of him had given
birth to the cry--to help her in her dire need.
Instead of any word, or thought even, coming to her that might be
fancied an answer, she was scared from her knees by an approaching
step---that of the house-keeper come to look for her with the
message from her aunt that Leopold was more restless than usual, not
at all like himself, and she could do nothing with him.
A HAUNTED SOUL.
Helen rose and hastened to her brother, with a heart of lead in her
She started when she saw him: some change had passed on him since
the morning! Was that eager look in his eyes a fresh access of the
fever? That glimmer on his countenance, doubtful as the first of the
morning, when the traveller knows not whether the light be in the
sky or only in his brain, did look more like a dawn of his old
healthful radiance than any fresh fire of madness; but at the same
time he appeared more wasted and pinched and death-like than she had
yet seen him. Or was it only in her eyes--was she but reading in his
face the agony she had herself gone through that day?
"Helen, Helen!" he cried as she entered the room, "come here, close
She hastened to him, sat down on the bedside, took his hand, and
looked as cheerfully as she could, yet it was but the more woefully,
in his face.
"Helen!" he said again, and he spoke with a strange expression in
his voice, for it seemed that of hope, "I have been thinking all day
of what you told me on Sunday."
"What was that, Poldie?" asked Helen with a pang of fear.
"Why, those words of course--what else? You sang them to me
afterwards, you know. Helen, I should like to see Mr. Wingfold.
Don't you think he might be able to do something?"
"What sort of thing, Poldie?" she faltered, growing sick at
heart.--Was this what came of praying! she thought bitterly.
"Something or other--I don't know what exactly," returned
Leopold.--"Oh Helen!" he broke out with a cry, stifled by the
caution that had grown habitual to both of them, "is there no help
of any kind anywhere? Surely Mr. Wingfold could tell me
something--comfort me somehow, if I were to tell him all about it! I
could trust the man that said such things as those you told me. That
I could!--Oh! I wish I hadn't run away, but had let them take me and
Helen felt herself grow white. She turned away, and pretended to
search for something she had dropped.
"I don't think he would be of the slightest use to you," she said,
And she felt like a devil dragging the soul of her brother to hell.
But that was a foolish fancy, and must be resisted!
"Not if I told him everything?" Leopold hissed from between his
teeth in the struggle to keep down a shriek.
"No, not if you told him everything," she answered, and felt like a
judge condemning him to death.
"What is he there for then?" said Leopold indignantly, and turned
his face to the wall and moaned.
Helen had not yet thought of asking herself whether her love to her
brother was all clear love, and nowise mingled with selfishness--
whether in the fresh horror that day poured into the cup that had
seemed already running over, it was of her brother only she thought,
or whether threatened shame to herself had not a part in her misery.
But, as far as she was aware, she was quite honest in saying that
the curate could not comfort him--for what attempt even had he made
to comfort her? What had he done but utter common-places and truisms
about duty? And who could tell but--indeed was she not certain that
such a man, bringing the artillery of his fanaticism to bear upon
her poor boy's wild enthusiastic temperament, would speedily
persuade him to make a reality of that terrible thing he had already
thought of, that hideously impossible possibility which she dared
not even allow to present itself before her imagination? So he lay
and moaned, and she sat crushed and speechless with despairing
All at once Leopold sat straight up, his eyes fixed and flaming, his
face white: he looked like a corpse possessed by a spirit of fear
and horror. Helen's heart swelled into her throat, the muscles of
her face contracted with irresistible rigor, and she felt it grow
exactly like his, while with wide eyes she stared at him, and he
stared at something which lest she also should see, she dared not
turn her head. Surely, she thought afterwards, she must have been
that moment in the presence of something unearthly! Her physical
being was wrenched from her control, and she must simply sit and
wait until the power or influence, whichever it might be, should
pass away. How long it was ere it relaxed its hold she could not
tell; it could not have been long, she thought. Suddenly the light
sank from Leopold's eyes, his muscles relaxed, he fell back
motionless, apparently senseless, on the pillow, and she thought he
was dead. The same moment she was free; the horror had departed from
her own atmosphere too, and she made haste to restore him. But in
all she did for him, she felt like the executioner who gives
restoratives to the wretch that has fainted on the rack or the
wheel. What right had SHE, she thought, to multiply to him his
moments of torture? If the cruel power that had created him for such
misery, whoever, whatever, wherever he might be, chose thus to
torture him, was she, his only friend, out of the selfish affection
he had planted in her, to lend herself his tool? Yet she hesitated
not a single moment in her ministrations.
There is so much passes in us of which our consciousness takes no
grasp,--or but with such a flitting touch as scarcely to hand it
over to the memory--that I feel encouraged to doubt whether ever
there was a man absolutely without hope. That there have been, alas,
are many, who are aware of no ground of hope, nay even who feel no
glimmer in them of anything they can call hope, I know; but I think
in them all is an underlying unconscious hope. I think that not one
in all the world has more than a shadowy notion of what hopelessness
means. Perhaps utter hopelessness is the outer darkness.
At length Leopold opened his eyes, gave a terrified glance around,
held out his arms to her, and drew her down upon his face.
"I saw her!" he said, in a voice that sounded as if it came from the
grave, and she heard it in her heart.
"Nonsense, dear Poldie! it was all fancy--nothing more," she
returned, in a voice almost as hollow as his; and the lightness of
the words uttered in such a tone jarred dismayfully on her own ear.
"Fancy!" he repeated; "I know what fancy is as well as any man or
woman born: THAT was no fancy. She stood there, by the wardrobe--in
the same dress!--her face as white as her dress! And--listen!--I
will tell YOU--I will soon satisfy you it COULD be no fancy."--Here
he pushed her from him and looked straight in her eyes.--"I saw her
back reflected in the mirror of the wardrobe-door, and"--here the
fixed look of horror threatened to return upon his face, but he went
on--"listen,--there was a worm crawling on it, over her lovely white
shoulder! Ugh! I saw it in the mirror!"
His voice had risen to a strangled shriek, his face was distorted,
and he shook like a child on the point of yelling aloud in an agony
of fear. Helen clasped his face between her hands, and gathering
courage from despair, if indeed that be a possible source of
courage, and it is not gathered rather from the hidden hope of which
I speak, and the love that will cleave and not forsake, she set her
teeth, and said:
"Let her come then, Poldie! I am with you, and I defy her! She shall
know that a sister's love is stronger than the hate of a jilt--even
if you did kill her. Before God, Poldie, I would after all rather be
you than she. Say what you will, she had herself to blame, and I
don't doubt did twenty worse things than you did when you killed
But Leopold seemed not to hear a word she said, and lay with his
face to the wall.
At length he turned his head suddenly, and said,
"Helen, if you don't let me see Mr. Wingfold, I shall go mad, and
then everything will come out."
Helen flew to the dressing-room to hide her dismay, and there cast
herself on the bed. The gray Fate above, or the awful Demo-gorgon
beneath, would have its way! Whether it was a living Will or but the
shadow of the events it seemed to order, it was too much for her.
She had no choice but yield. She rose and returned to her brother.
"I am going to find Mr. Wingfold," she said in a hoarse voice, as
she took her hat.
"Don't be long then, Helen," returned Leopold. "I can't bear you out
of my sight. And don't let aunt come into the room. SHE might come
again, you know, and then all would be out.--Bring him with you,
"I will," answered Helen, and went.
The curate might have returned: she would seek him first at his
lodging. She cared nothing about appearances now.
It was a dull afternoon. Clouds had gathered, and the wind was
chilly. It seemed to blow out of the church, which stood up cold and
gray against the sky, filling the end of the street. What a
wretched, horrible world it was! She approached the church, and
entered the churchyard from which it rose like a rock from the Dead
Sea--a type of the true church, around whose walls lie the dead
bodies of the old selves left behind by those who enter. Helen would
have envied the dead, who lay so still under its waves; but, alas!
if Leopold was right, they but roamed elsewhere in their trouble,
and were no better for dying.
She hurried across, and reached the house; but Mr. Wingfold had not
yet returned, and she hurried back across it again, to tell Leopold
that she must go farther to find him.
The poor youth was already more composed. What will not the vaguest
hope sometimes do for a man! Helen told him she had seen the curate
in the park, when she was out in the morning, and he might be there
still, or she might meet him coming back. Leopold only begged her to
make haste. She took the road to the lodge.
She did not meet him, and it was with intense repugnance that she
approached the gate.
"Is Mr. Wingfold here?" she asked of Rachel, as if she had never
spoken to her before; and Rachel, turning paler at the sight of her,
answered that he was in the garden with her uncle, and went to call
The moment he appeared she said, in a tone rendered by conflicting
emotions inexplicable, and sounding almost rude,
"Will you come to my brother? He is very ill, and wants to see you."
"Certainly," returned Wingfold; "I will go with you at once."
But in his heart he trembled at the thought of being looked to for
consolation and counsel, and that apparently in a case of no
ordinary kind. Most likely he would not know what to say, or how to
behave himself! How different it would be if with all his heart he
believed the grand lovely things recorded in the book of his
profession! Then indeed he might enter the chambers of pain and fear
and guilt with the innocent confidence of a winged angel of comfort
and healing! But now the eyes of his understanding were blinded with
the IFS and BUTS that flew swarming like black muscae wherever they
turned. Still he would--nay, he must go and do his best.
They walked across the park to reach the house by the garden, and
for some distance they walked in silence. At length Helen said:
"You must not encourage my brother to talk much, if you please; and
you must not mind what he says; he has had brain-fever, and
sometimes talks strangely. But on the other hand, if he fancy you
don't believe him, it will drive him wild--so you must take care--
Her voice was like that of a soul trying to speak with unproved
"Miss Lingard," said Wingfold, slowly and quietly--and if his voice
trembled, he only was aware of it, "I cannot see your face,
therefore you must pardon me if I ask you--are you quite honest with
Helen's first feeling was anger. She held her peace for a time. Then
"So, Mr. Wingfold!--that is the way you help the helpless!"
"How can any man help without knowing what has to be helped?"
returned the curate. "The very being of his help depends upon his
knowing the truth. It is very plain you do not trust me, and equally
impossible I should be of any service as long as the case is such."
Again Helen held her peace. Resentment and dislike towards himself
combined with terror of his anticipated counsel to render her
Her silence lasted so long that Wingfold came to the resolution of
making a venture that had occurred to him more than once that
morning. Had he not been convinced that a soul was in dire misery,
he would not have had recourse to the seeming cruelty.
"Would this help to satisfy you that, whatever my advice may be
worth, at least my discretion may be trusted?" he said.
They were at the moment passing through a little thicket in the
park, where nobody could see them, and as he spoke, he took the
knife-sheath from his pocket, and held it out to her.
She started like a young horse at something dead: she had never seen
it, but the shape had an association. She paled, retreated a step,
with a drawing back of her head and neck and a spreading of her
nostrils, stared for a moment, first at the sheath, then at the
curate, gave a little moan, bit her under lip hard, held out her
hand, but as if she were afraid to touch the thing, and said:
"What is it? Where did you find it?"
She would have taken it, but Wingfold held it fast.
"Give it me," she said imperatively. "It is mine. I lost it."
"There is something dark on the lining of it," said the curate, and
looked straight into her eyes.
She let go her hold. But almost the same moment she snatched the
sheath out of his hand and held it to her bosom, while her look of
terror changed into one of defiance. Wingfold made no attempt to
recover it. She put it in her pocket, and drew herself up.
"What do you mean?" she said, in a voice that was hard yet trembled.
She felt like one that sees the vultures gathering above him, and
lifts a moveable finger in defence. Then with sudden haughtiness
both of gesture and word:
"You have been acting the spy, sir!"
"No," returned the curate quietly. "The sheath was committed to my
care by one whom certain facts that had come to his knowledge--
certain words he had overheard--"
He paused. She shook visibly, but still would hold what ground might
yet be left her.
"Why did you not give it me before?" she asked.
"In the public street, or in your aunt's presence?"
"You are cruel!" she panted. Her strength was going. "What do you
"Nothing so well as that I want to serve you, and you may trust me."
"What do you mean to do?"
"My best to help you and your brother."
"But to what end?"
"To any end that is right."
"But how? What would you tell him to do?"
"You must help me to discover what he ought to do."
"Not--" she cried, clasping her hands and dropping on her knees
before him, "--you WILL not tell him to give himself up? Promise me
you will not, and I will tell you everything. He shall do anything
you please but that! Anything but that!"
Wingfold's heart was sore at sight of her agony. He would have
raised her with soothing words of sympathy and assurance, but still
she cried, "Promise me you will not make him give himself up."
"I dare not promise anything." he said. "I MUST do what I may see to
be right. Believe me, I have no wish to force myself into your
confidence, but you have let me see that you are in great trouble
and in need of help, and I should be unfaithful to my calling if I
did not do my best to make you trust me."
A pause followed. Helen rose despairingly, and they resumed their
walk. Just as they reached the door in the fence which would let
them out upon the meadow in sight of the Manor-house, she turned to
him and said,
"I will trust you, Mr. Wingfold. I mean, I will take you to my
brother, and he shall do as he thinks proper."
They passed out and walked across the meadow in silence. In the
passage under the fence, as she turned from closing the door behind
them, she stood and pressed her hand to her side.
"Oh! Mr. Wingfold," she cried, "my heart will break! He has no one
but me! No one but me to be mother and sister and all to him! He is
NOT wicked--my poor darling!"
She caught the curate by the arm with a grasp which left its mark
behind it, and gazed appealingly into his face: in the dim tomb-like
light, her wide-strained eyes, white agonized countenance, and
trembling roseless lips made her look like one called back from
death "to speak of horrors."
"Save him from madness," she said, in forced and unnatural
utterance. "Save him from the remorse gnawing at his heart. But do
not, DO not counsel him to give himself up."
"Would it not be better you should tell me about it," said the
curate, "and save him the pain and excitement?"
"I will do so, if he wishes it, not otherwise. Come; we must not
stay longer. He can hardly bear me out of his sight. I will leave
you for one moment in the library, and then come to you. If you
should see my aunt, not a word of all this, please. All she knows is
that he has had brain-fever, and is recovering only very slowly. I
have never given her even a hint of anything worse. Indeed,
honestly, Mr. Wingfold, I am not at all certain he did do what he
will tell you. But there is his misery all the same. Do have pity on
us, and don't be hard upon the poor boy. He is but a boy--only
"May God be to me as I am to him!" said Wingfold solemnly.
Helen withdrew her entreating eyes, and let go his arm. They went up
into the garden and into the house.
Afterwards, Wingfold was astonished at his own calmness and decision
in taking upon him--almost, as it were, dragging to him--this
relation with Helen and her brother. But he had felt that not to do
so would be to abandon Helen to her grief, and that for her sake he
must not hesitate to encounter whatever might have to be encountered
in doing so.
Helen left him in the library, as she had said, and there he waited
her return in a kind of stupor, unable to think, and feeling as if
he were lost in a strange and anxious dream.
"Come," said Helen, re-entering, and the curate rose and followed
The moment he turned the corner of the bed and saw the face on the
pillow, he knew in his soul that Helen was right, and that that was
no wicked youth who lay before him--one, however, who might well
have been passion-driven. There was the dark complexion and the
great soft yet wild eyes that came of tropical blood. Had not Helen
so plainly spoken of her brother, however, he would have thought he
saw before him a woman. The worn, troubled, appealing light that
overflowed rather than shone from his eyes, went straight to the
Wingfold had had a brother, the only being in the world he had ever
loved tenderly; he had died young, and a thin film of ice had since
gathered over the well of his affections; but now suddenly this ice
broke and vanished, and his heart yearned over the suffering youth.
He had himself been crying to God, not seldom in sore trouble, and
now, ere, as it seemed, he had himself been heard, here was a sad
brother crying to him for help. Nor was this all; the reading of the
gospel story had roused in his heart a strange yet most natural
longing after the face of that man of whom he read such lovely
things, and thence, unknown to himself, had come a reverence and a
love for his kind, which now first sprang awake to his consciousness
in the feeling that drew him towards Leopold.
Softly he approached the bed, his face full of tenderness and strong
pity. The lad, weak with protracted illness and mental torture, gave
one look in his face, and stretched out both his arms to him. How
could the curate give him but a hand? He put his arms round him as
if he had been a child.
"I knew you would come," sobbed Lingard.
"What else should I do but come?" returned Wingfold.
"I have seen you somewhere before," said Lingard--"in one of my
dreams, I suppose."
Then, sinking his voice to a whisper, he added:
"Do you know you came in close behind HER? She looked round and saw
you, and vanished!"
Wingfold did not even try to guess at his meaning.
"Hush, my dear fellow!" he said; "I must not let you talk wildly, or
the doctor might forbid my seeing you."
"I am not talking a bit wildly," returned Leopold. "I am as quiet as
a mountain-top. Ah! when I AM wild--if you saw me then, you might
Wingfold sat down on the side of the bed, and took the thin, hot
hand next him in his own firm, cool one.
"Come now," he said, "tell me all about it. Or shall your sister
tell me?--Come here, please, Miss Lingard."
"No, no!" cried Leopold hastily; "I will tell you myself. My poor
sister could not bear to tell it you. It would kill her.--But how am
I to know you will not get up and walk out the moment you have a
glimpse of what is coming?"
"I would as soon leave a child burning in the fire, and go out and
shut the door," said Wingfold.
"You can go now, Helen," said Lingard very quietly. "Why should you
be tortured over again? You needn't mind leaving me. Mr. Wingfold
will take care of me."
Helen left the room, with one anxious look at her brother as she
Without a moment's further delay, Leopold began, and in wonderfully
direct and unbroken narrative, told the sad evil tale as he had
formerly told it to his sister, only more consecutively and quietly.
Possibly his anxiety as to how the listener would receive it,
served, by dividing him between two emotions, to keep the reuttered
tale from overpowering him with freshened vividness. All the time,
he kept watching Wingfold's face, the expressions of which the
curate felt those eyes were reading like a book.
He was so well prepared, however, that no expression of surprise, no
reflex of its ghastfulness met Leopold's gaze, and he went on to the
end without a pause even. When he had finished, both sat silent,
looking in each other's eyes, Wingfold's beaming with compassion,
and Lingard's glimmering with doubtful, anxious inquiry and appeal.
At length Wingfold said:
"And what do you think I can do for you?"
"I don't know. I thought you could tell me something. I cannot live
like this! If I had but thought before I did it, and killed myself
instead of her! It would have done so much better! Of course I
should be in hell now, but that would be all right, and this is all
wrong. I have no right to be lying here and Emmeline in her grave. I
know I deserve to be miserable for ever and ever, and I don't want
not to be miserable--that is all right--but there is something in
this wretchedness that I cannot bear. Tell me something to make me
able to endure my misery. That is what you can do for me. I don't
want to go mad. And what is worst of all, I have made my sister
miserable, and I can't bear to see it. She is wasting away with it.
And besides I fancy she loves George Bascombe--and who would marry
the sister of a murderer? And now she has begun to come to me
again--in the daytime--I mean Emmeline!--or I have begun to see her
again--I don't know which;--perhaps she is always there, only I
don't always see her--and it don't much matter which. Only if other
people were to see her!--While she is there nothing could persuade
me I do not see her, but afterwards I am not so sure that I did. And
at night I keep dreaming the horrible thing over and over again; and
the agony is to think I shall never get rid of it, and never never
feel clean again. To be for ever and ever a murderer and people not
know it, is more than I CAN bear."
THE CURATE'S COUNSEL.
Not seeing yet what he had to say, but knowing that scintillation
the smallest is light, the curate let the talk take its natural
course, and said the next thing that came to him.
"How do you feel when you think that you may yet be found out?" he
"At first I was more afraid of that than of anything else. Then
after that danger seemed past, I was afraid of the life to come.
That fear left me next, and now it is the thing itself that is
always haunting me. I often wish they would come and take me, and
deliver me from myself. It would be a comfort to have it all known,
and never need to start again. I think I could even bear to see her
in the prison. If it would annihilate the deed, or bring Emmeline
back, I cannot tell you how gladly I would be hanged. I would,
indeed, Mr. Wingfold. I I hope you will believe me, though I don't
"I do believe you," said the curate, and a silence followed.
"There is but one thing I can say with confidence at this moment,"
he resumed: "it is, that I am your friend, and will stand by you.
But the first part of friendship sometimes is to confess poverty,
and I want to tell you that, of the very things concerning which I
ought to know most, I knew least. I have but lately begun to feel
after God, and I dare not say that I have found him, but I think I
know now where to find him. And I do think, if we could find him,
then we should find help. All I can do for you now is only to be
near you, and talk to you, and pray to God for you, that so together
we may wait for what light may come.--Does anything ever look to
you as if it would make you feel better?"
"I have no right to feel better or take comfort from anything."
"I am not sure about that.--Do you feel any better for having me
come to see you?"
"Oh, yes, indeed I do!"
"Well, there is no wrong in that, is there?"
"I don't know. It seems a sneaking kind of thing: she has got none
of it. My sister makes excuses for me, but the moment I begin to
listen to them I only feel the more horrid."
"I have said nothing of that kind to you."
"And yet you like to have me here?"
"Yes, indeed, sir," he answered, earnestly.
"And it does not make you think less of your crime?"
"No. It makes me feel it worse than ever to see you sitting there, a
clean, strong, innocent man, and think what I might have been."
"Then the comfort you get from me does you no harm, at least. If I
were to find my company made you think with less hatred of your
crime, I should go away that instant."
"Thank you, sir," said Leopold humbly. "Oh, sir!" he resumed after a
little silence, "--to think that never more to all eternity shall I
be able to think of myself as I used to think!"
"Perhaps you used to think too much of yourself," returned the
curate. "For the greatest fool and rascal in creation there is yet a
worse condition, and that is--not to know it, but think himself a
respectable man. As the event proves, though you would doubtless
have laughed at the idea, you were then capable of committing a
murder. I have come to see--at least I think I have--that except a
man has God dwelling in him, he may be, or may become, capable of
any crime within the compass of human nature."
"I don't know anything about God," said Leopold. "I daresay I
thought I did before this happened--before I did it, I mean," he
added in correction,"--but I know now that I don't, and never did."
"Ah, Leopold!" said the curate, "think, if my coming to you comforts
you, what would it be to have him who made you always with you!"
"Where would be the good? I daresay he might forgive me, if I were
to do this and that, but where would be the good of it? It would not
take the thing off me one bit."
"Ah! now," said Wingfold, "I fear you are thinking a little about
your own disgrace and not only of the bad you have done. Why should
you not be ashamed? Why would you have the shame taken off you? Nay;
you must humbly consent to bear it. Perhaps your shame is the hand
of love washing the defilement from off you. Let us keep our shame,
and be made clean from the filth!"
"I don't know that I understand you, sir. What do you mean by the
defilement? Is it not to have done the deed that is the defilement?"
"Is it not rather to have that in you, a part, or all but a part of
your being, that makes you capable of doing it? If you had resisted
and conquered, you would have been clean from it; and now, if you
repent and God comes to you, you will yet be clean. Again I say, let
us keep our shame and be made clean! Shame is not defilement, though
a mean pride persuades men so. On the contrary, the man who is
honestly ashamed has begun to be clean."
"But what good would that do to Emmeline? It cannot bring her up
again to the bright world out of the dark grave."
"Emmeline is not in the dark grave."
"Where is she, then?" he said with a ghastly look.
"That I cannot tell. I only know that, if there be a God, she is in
his hands," replied the curate.
The youth gazed on in his face and made no answer. Wingfold saw that
he had been wrong in trying to comfort him with the thought of God
dwelling in him. How was such a poor passionate creature to take
that for a comfort? How was he to understand or prize the idea, who
had his spiritual nature so all undeveloped? He would try another
"Shall I tell you what seems to me sometimes the only one thing I
want to help me out of my difficulties?"
"Yes, please, sir," answered Leopold, as humbly as a child.
"I think sometimes, if I could but see Jesus for one moment--"
"Ah!" cried Leopold, and gave a great sigh.
'YOU would like to see him then, would you?"
"Oh, Mr. Wingfold!"
"What would you say to him if you saw him?"
"I don't know. I would fall down on my face and hold his feet lest
he should go away from me."
"Do you think then he could help you?"
"Yes. He could make Emmeline alive again. He could destroy what I
"But still, as you say, the crime would remain."
"But, as you say, he could pardon that, and make me that I would
never never sin again."
"So you think the story about Jesus Christ is true?"
"Yes. Don't you?" said Leopold with an amazed, half-frightened look.
"Yes, indeed I do.--Then do you remember what he said to his
disciples as he left them: 'I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS UNTO THE END OF THE
WORLD'?--If that be true, then he can hear you just as well now as
ever he could. And when he was in the world, he said, 'COME UNTO ME
ALL YE THAT LABOUR AND ARE HEAVY-LADEN, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST.'
It is rest you want, my poor boy--not deliverance from danger or
shame, but rest--such peace of mind as you had when you were a
child. If he cannot give you that, I know not where or how it is to
be had. Do not waste time in asking yourself how he can do it: that
is for him to understand, not you--until it is done. Ask him to
forgive you and make you clean and set things right for you. If he
will not do it, then he is not the saviour of men, and was wrongly
The curate rose. Leopold had hid his face. When he looked again he
As Wingfold came out of the room, which was near the stair, Helen
rose from the top of it, where she had been sitting all the time he
had been with her brother. He closed the door gently behind him, and
stepped softly along the landing. A human soul in guilt and agony is
an awful presence, but there was more than that in the hush of the
curate: he felt as if he had left the physician of souls behind him
at the bedside; that a human being lay on the rack of the truth, but
at his head stood one who watched his throes with the throbs of such
a human heart as never beat in any bosom but his own, and the
executioners were angels of light. No wonder if with such a feeling
in his breast Wingfold walked softly, and his face glistened! He was
not aware that the tears stood in his eyes, but Helen saw them.
"You know all!" she faltered.
"I do. Will you let me out by the garden again? I wish to be alone."
She led the way down the stair, and walked with him through the
garden. Wingfold did not speak.
"You don't think very badly of my poor brother, do you, Mr.
Wingfold?" said Helen, meekly.
"It is a terrible fate," he returned. "I think I never saw a
lovelier disposition. I do hope his mind will soon be more composed.
I think he knows where alone he can find rest. I am well aware how
foolish that of which I speak seems to some minds, Miss Lingard; but
when a man is once overwhelmed in his own deeds, when they have
turned into spectres to mock at him, when he loathes himself and
turns with sickness from past, present, and future, I know but one
choice left, and that is between the death your friend Mr. Bascombe
preaches, and the life preached by Jesus, the crucified Jew. Into
the life I hope your brother will enter."
"I am so glad you don't hate him."
"Hate him! Who but a demon could hate him?"
Helen lifted a grateful look from eyes that swam in tears. The
terror of his possible counsel for the moment vanished. He could
never tell him to give himself up!
"But, as I told you, I am a poor scholar in these high matters,"
resumed the curate, "and I want to bring Mr. Polwarth to see him."
"The dwarf!" exclaimed Helen, shuddering at the remembrance of what
she had gone through at the cottage.
"Yes. That man's soul is as grand and beautiful and patient as his
body is insignificant and distorted and troubled. He is the wisest
and best man I have ever known.
"I must ask Leopold," returned Helen, who, the better the man was
represented, felt the more jealous and fearful of the advice he
might give. Her love and her conscience were not yet at one with
They parted at the door from the garden, and she returned to the
She paused, hesitating to enter. All was still as the grave. She
turned the handle softly and peeped in: could it be that Wingfold's
bearing had communicated to her mind a shadow of the awe with which
he had left the place where perhaps a soul was being born again?
Leopold did not move. Terror laid hold of her heart. She stepped
quickly in, and round the screen to the side of the bed. There, to
her glad surprise, he lay fast asleep, with the tears not yet dried
upon his face. Her heart swelled with some sense unknown before: was
it rudimentary thankfulness to the Father of her spirit?
As she stood gazing with the look of a mother over her sick child,
he lifted his eyelids, and smiled a sad smile.
"When did you come into the room?" he said.
"A minute ago," she answered.
"I did not hear you," he returned.
"No, you were asleep."
"Not I! Mr. Wingfold is only just gone."
"I have let him out on the meadow since."
Leopold stared, looked half alarmed, and then said,
"Did God make me sleep, Helen?"
She did not answer. The light of a new hope in his eye, as if the
dawn had begun at last to break over the dark mountains, was already
reflected from her heart.
"Oh! Helen," he said, "that IS a good fellow, SUCH a good fellow!"
A pang of jealousy, the first she had ever felt, shot to her heart:
she had hitherto, since his trouble, been all in all to her Leopold!
Had the curate been a man she liked, she would not perhaps have
minded it so much.
"You will be able to do without me now," she said sadly. "I never
could understand taking to people at first sight!"
"Some people are made so, I suppose, Helen. I know I took to you at
first sight! I shall never forget the first time I saw you--when I
came to this country a lonely little foreigner,--and you, a great
beautiful lady, for such you seemed to me, though you have told me
since you were only a great gawky girl--I know that could never have
been--you ran to meet me, and took me in your arms, and kissed me. I
was as if I had crossed the sea of death and found paradise in your
bosom! I am not likely to forget you for Mr. Wingfold, good and kind
and strong as he is! Even SHE could not make me forget you, Helen.
But neither you nor I can do without Mr. Wingfold any more, I fancy.
I wish you liked him better!--but you will in time. You see he's not
one to pay young ladies compliments, as I have heard some parsons
do; and he may be a little--no, not unpolished, not that--that's not
what I mean--but unornamental in his manners! Only, you see,--"
"Only, you see, Poldie," interrupted Helen, with a smile, a rare
thing between them, "you know all about him, though you never saw
"That is true," returned Leopold; "but then he came to me with his
door open, and let me walk in. It doesn't take long to know a man
then. He hasn't got a secret like us, Helen," he added, sadly.
"What did he say to you?"
"Much what he said to you from the pulpit the other day, I should
Then she was right! For all his hardness and want of sympathy, the
curate had yet had regard to her entreaties, and was not going to
put any horrid notions about duty and self-sacrifice into the poor
"He's coming again to-morrow," added Leopold, almost gleefully, "and
then perhaps he will tell me more, and help me on a bit!"
"Did he tell you he wants to bring a friend with him?"
"I can't see the good of taking more people into our confidence."
"Why should he not do what he thinks best, Helen? You don't
interfere with the doctor--why should you with him? When a man is
going to the bottom as fast as he can, and another comes diving
after him--it isn't for me to say how he is to take hold of me. No,
Helen; when I trust, I trust out and out."
Helen sighed, thinking how ill that had worked with Emmeline.
Ever since George Bascombe had talked about the Polwarths that day
they met him in the park, she had felt a sort of physical horror of
them, as if they were some kind of unclean creature that ought not
to be in existence at all. But when Leopold uttered himself thus,
she felt that the current of events had seized her, and that she
could only submit to be carried along.
The next day the curate called again on Leopold. But Helen happened
to be otherwise engaged for a few minutes, and Mrs. Ramshorn to be
in the sick-room when the servant brought his name. With her
jealousy of Wingfold's teaching, she would not have admitted him,
but Lingard made such loud protest when he heard her say "Not at
home," insisting on seeing him, that she had to give way, and tell
the maid to show him up. She HAD NO NOTION however of leaving him
alone in the room with the invalid: who could tell what absurd and
extravagant ideas he might not put into the boy's head! He might
make him turn monk, or Socinian, or latter-day-saint, for what she
knew! So she sat, blocking up the sole small window in the youth's
dark dwelling that looked eastward, and damming back the tide of the
dawn from his diseased and tormented soul. Little conversation was
therefore possible. Still the face of his new friend was a comfort
to Leopold, and ere he left him they had managed to fix an hour for
next day, when they would not be thus foiled of their talk.
That same afternoon, Wingfold took the draper to see Polwarth.
Rachel was lying on the sofa in the parlour--a poor little heap,
looking more like a grave disturbed by efforts at a resurrection,
than a form informed with humanity. But she was cheerful and
cordial, receiving Mr. Drew and accepted his sympathy most kindly.
"We'll see what God will do for me," she said in answer to a word
from the curate. Her whole bearing, now as always, was that of one
who perfectly trusted a supreme spirit under whose influences lay
even the rugged material of her deformed dwelling.
Polwarth allowed Wingfold to help him in getting tea, and the
conversation, as will be the case where all are in earnest, quickly
found the right channel.
It is not often in real life that such conversations occur.
Generally, in any talk worth calling conversation, every man has
some point to maintain, and his object is to justify his own thesis
and disprove his neighbour's. I will allow that he may primarily
have adopted his thesis because of some sign of truth in it, but his
mode of supporting it is generally such as to block up every cranny
in his soul at which more truth might enter. In the present case,
unusual as it is for so many as three truth-loving men to come thus
together on the face of this planet, here were three simply set on
uttering truth they had seen, and gaining sight of truth as yet
veiled from them.
I shall attempt only a general impression of the result of their
evening's intercourse, partly recording the utterances of Polwarth.
"I have been trying hard to follow you, Mr. Polwarth," said the
draper, after his host had for a while had the talk to himself, "but
I cannot get a hold of your remarks. One moment I think I have got
the end of the clew, and the next find myself all abroad again.
Would you tell me what you mean by divine service, for I think you
must use the phrase in some different sense from what I have been
"Ah! I ought to remember," said Polwarth, "that what has grown
familiar to my mind from much solitary thinking, may not at once
show itself to another, when presented in the forms of a foreign
individuality. I ought to have premised that, when I use the phrase,
DIVINE SERVICE, I mean nothing whatever belonging to the church,
or its observances. I mean by it what it ought to mean--the serving
of God--the doing of something for God. Shall I make of the church
in my foolish imaginations a temple of idolatrous worship by
supposing that it is for the sake of supplying some need that God