Part 7 out of 9
desolation, a remnant of the time when the world was without form
and void. And the snake said: "Why, then, did he not speak like that
to my Leopold? Why did he not comfort him with such a good hope,
well-becoming a priest of the gentle Jesus? Or, if he fancied he
must speak of confession, why did he not speak of it in plain honest
terms, instead of suggesting the idea of it so that the poor boy
imagined it came from his own spirit, and must therefore be obeyed
as the will of God?"
So said the snake, and by the time Helen had walked home with her
aunt, the glow had sunk from her soul, and a gray wintry mist had
settled down upon her spirit. And she said to herself that if this
last hope in George should fail her, she would not allow the matter
to trouble her any farther; she was a free woman, and as Leopold had
chosen other counsellors, had thus declared her unworthy of
confidence, and, after all that she had suffered and done for love
of him, had turned away from her, she would put money in her purse,
set out for France or Italy, and leave him to the fate, whatever it
might be, which his new advisers and his own obstinacy might bring
upon him. Was the innocent bound to share the shame of the guilty?
Had she not done enough? Would even her father require more of her
than she had already done and endured?
When, therefore, she went into Leopold's room, and his eyes sought
her from the couch, she took no notice that he had got up and
dressed while she was at church; and he knew that a cloud had come
between them, and that after all she had borne and done for him, he
and his sister were now farther apart, for the time at least, than
when oceans lay betwixt their birth and their meeting; and he found
himself looking back with vague longing even to the terrible old
house of Glaston, and the sharing of their agony therein. His eyes
followed her as she walked across to the dressing-room, and the
tears rose and filled them, but he said nothing. And the sister who,
all the time of the sermon, had been filled with wave upon wave of
wishing--that Poldie could hear this, could hear that, could have
such a thought to comfort him, such a lovely word to drive the
horror from his soul, now cast on him a chilly glance, and said
never a word of the things to which she had listened with such
heavings of the spirit-ocean; for she felt, with an instinct more
righteous than her will, that they would but strengthen him in his
determination to do whatever the teacher of them might approve. As
she repassed him to go to the drawing-room, she did indeed say a
word of kindness; but it was in a forced tone, and was only about
his dinner! His eyes over-flowed, but he shut his lips so tight that
his mouth grew grim with determination, and no more tears came.
To the friend who joined her at the church-door, and, in George
Bascombe's absence, walked with them along Pine Street, Mrs.
Ramshorn remarked that the curate was certainly a most dangerous
man--particularly for young people to hear--he so confounded all the
landmarks of right and wrong, representing the honest man as no
better than the thief, and the murderer as no worse than anybody
else--teaching people in fact that the best thing they could do was
to commit some terrible crime, in order thereby to attain to a
better innocence than without it could ever be theirs. How far she
mistook, or how far she knew or suspected that she spoke falsely, I
will not pretend to know. But although she spoke as she did, there
was something, either in the curate or in the sermon, that had
quieted her a little, and she was less contemptuous in her
condemnation of him than usual.
Happily both for himself and others, the curate was not one of those
who cripple the truth and blind their own souls by
some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event--
A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom,
And ever three parts coward;
and hence, in proportion as he roused the honest, he gave occasion
to the dishonest to cavil and condemn. Imagine St. Paul having a
prevision of how he would be misunderstood, AND HEEDING IT!--what
would then have become of all those his most magnificent outbursts?
And would any amount of apostolic carefulness have protected him? I
suspect it would only have given rise to more vulgar misunderstandings
and misrepresentations still. To explain to him who loves not, is
but to give him the more plentiful material for misinterpretation.
Let a man have truth in the inward parts, and out of the abundance
of his heart let his mouth speak. If then he should have ground to
fear honest misunderstanding, let him preach again to enforce the
truth for which he is jealous, and if it should seem to any that the
two utterances need reconciling, let those who would have them consistent
reconcile them for themselves.
The reason of George Bascombe's absence from church that morning
was, that, after an early breakfast, he had mounted Helen's mare,
and set out to call on Mr. Hooker before he should have gone to
church. Helen expected him back to dinner, and was anxiously looking
for him. So also was Leopold, but the hopes of the two were
At length the mare's hoofs echoed through all Sunday Glaston, and
presently George rode up. The groom took his horse in the street,
and he came into the drawing-room. Helen hastened to meet him.
"Well, George?" she said, anxiously.
"Oh, it's all right!--will be at least, I am sure. I will tell you
all about it in the garden after dinner.--Aunt has the good sense
never to interrupt us there," he added. "I'll just run and show
myself to Leopold: he must not suspect that I am of your party and
playing him false. Not that it is false, you know! for two negatives
make a positive, and to fool a mad-man is to give him fair play."
The words jarred sorely on Helen's ear.
Bascombe hurried to Leopold, and informed him that he had seen Mr.
Hooker, and that all was arranged for taking him over to his place
on Tuesday morning, if by that time he should be able for the
"Why not to-morrow?" said Leopold. "I am quite able."
"Oh! I told him you were not very strong. And he wanted a run after
the hounds to-morrow. So we judged it better put off till Tuesday."
Leopold gave a sigh, and said no more.
BASCOMBE AND THE MAGISTRATE.
After dinner, the cousins went to the summer-house, and there George
gave Helen his report, revealing his plan and hope for Leopold.
"Such fancies must be humoured, you know, Helen. There is nothing to
be gained by opposing them," he said.
Helen looked at him with keen eyes, and he returned the gaze. The
confidence betwixt them was not perfect: each was doubtful as to the
thought of the other, and neither asked what it was.
"A fine old cock is Mr. Hooker!" said Greorge; "a jolly,
good-natured, brick-faced squire; a tory of course, and a sound
church-man; as simple as a baby, and took everything I told him
without a hint of doubt or objection;--just the sort of man I
expected to find him! When I mentioned my name, &c., he found he had
known my father, and that gave me a good start. Then I lauded his
avenue, and apologized for troubling him so early and on Sunday too,
but said it was a pure work of mercy in which I begged his
assistance--as a magistrate, I added, lest he should fancy I had
come after a subscription. It was a very delicate case, I said, in
which were concerned the children of a man of whom he had, I
believed, at one time known something--General Lingard. 'To be
sure!' he cried; 'knew him very well; a fine fellow--but hasty,
sir--hasty in his temper!' I said I had never known him myself, but
one of his children was my cousin; the other was the child of his
second wife, a Hindoo lady unfortunately, and it was about him I
presumed to trouble him. Then I plunged into the matter at once,
telling him that Leopold had had violent brain-fever, brought on by
a horrible drug, the use of which, if use I dare call it, he had
learnt in India; and that, although he had recovered from the fever,
it was very doubtful if ever he would recover from the consequences
of it, for that he had become the prey of a fixed idea, the hard
deposit from a heated imagination. 'And pray what is the idea?'he
asked. 'Neither more nor less,' I answered, 'than that he is a
murderer!'--'God bless me!' he cried, somewhat to my alarm, for I
had been making all this preamble to prejudice the old gentleman in
the right direction, lest afterwards Leopold's plausibility might be
too much for him. So I echoed the spirit of his exclamation,
declaring it was one of the saddest things I had ever known, that a
fellow of such sweet and gentle nature, one utterly incapable of
unkindness, not to say violence, should be so possessed by misery
and remorse for a phantom-deed, no more his than if he had dreamed
it, a thing he not only did not do, but never could have done. I had
not yet however told him, I said, what was perhaps the saddest point
in the whole sad story--namely, that the attack had been brought on
by the news of the actual murder of a lady to whom he had been
passionately attached; the horror of it had unhinged his reason,
then turned and fastened upon his imagination; so that he was now
convinced beyond the reach of argument or even the clearest proof,
that it was his own hand that drove the knife to her heart. Then I
recalled to his memory the case as reported, adding that the fact of
the murderer's prolonged evasion of justice, appeared, by some
curious legerdemain of his excited fancy, if not to have suggested--
of that I was doubtful--yet to have ripened his conviction of guilt.
Now nothing would serve him but he must give himself up,
confess--no, that was not a true word in his case!--accuse himself
of the crime, and meet his fate on the gallows,--'in the hope,
observe, my dear sir,' I said, 'of finding her in the other world,
and there making it up with her!'--'God bless me!' he cried again,
in a tone of absolute horror. And every now and then, while I spoke,
he would ejaculate something; and still as he listened his eyes grew
more and more bloodshot with interest and compassion. 'Ah, I see!'
he said then; 'you want to send him to a madhouse?--Don't do it,' he
continued, in a tone of expostulation, almost entreaty. 'Poor boy!
He may get over it. Let his friends look to him. He has a sister,
you say?' I quickly reassured him, telling him such was no one's
desire, and saying I would come to the point in a moment, only there
was one thing more which had interested me greatly, as revealing how
a brain in such a condition will befool itself, all but generating
two individualities.--There I am afraid I put my foot in it, but he
was far too simple to see it was cloven--ha! ha! and I hastened to
remark that, as a magistrate, he must have numberless opportunities
of noting similar phenomena. He waved his hand in deprecation, and I
hastened to remark that, up to a certain point, whatever hint the
newspapers had given, Leopold had expanded and connected with every
other, but that at one part of the story I had found him entirely at
fault: he could not tell what he did, where he went, or how he had
felt, first after the deed was done. He confessed all after that was
a blank until he found himself in bed. But when I told him something
he had not seen--which his worship might remember--the testimony
namely of the coast-guardsmen--about the fishing-boat with the two
men in it--I had here to refresh his memory as to the whole of that
circumstance--and did so by handing him the newspaper containing
it--that was what I made you give me the paper for--I have lost the
thread of my sentence, but never mind. I told him then something I
have not told you yet, Helen, namely, that when I happened to allude
to that portion of the story, Leopold started up with flashing eyes,
and exclaimed, 'Now I remember! It all comes back to me as clear as
day. I remember running down the hill, and jumping into the boat
just as they shoved off. I was exhausted, and fell down in the
stern. When I came to myself, the two men were forward: I saw their
legs beneath the sails. I thought they would be sure to give me up,
and at once I slipped overboard. The water revived me, but when I
reached the shore, I fell down again, and lay there I don't know how
long. Indeed I don't remember anything more except very confusedly.'
That is what Leopold said, and what I now told Mr. Hooker. Then at
last I opened my mind to him as to wherein I ventured to ask his
assistance; and my petition was, that he would allow me to bring
Leopold, and would let him go through the form of giving himself up
to justice. Especially I begged that he would listen to all he had
to say, and give no sign that he doubted his story. 'And then, sir,'
I concluded, 'I would leave it to you to do what we cannot--reconcile
him to going home instead of to prison.'
"He sat with his head on his hand for a while, as if pondering some
weighty question of law. Then he said suddenly: 'It is now almost
church-time. I will think the matter over. You may rely upon me.
Will you take a seat in my pew and dine with us after?' I excused
myself on the ground that I must return at once to poor Leopold, who
was anxiously looking for me. And you must forgive me, Helen, and
not fancy me misusing Fanny, if I did yield to the temptation of a
little longer ride. I have scarcely more than walked her, with a
canter now and then when we had the chance of a bit of turf."
Helen assured him with grateful eyes that she knew Fanny was as safe
with him as with herself; and she felt such a gush of gratitude
follow the revival of hope, that she was nearer being in love with
her cousin to ever before. Her gratitude inwardly delighted George,
and he thought the light in her blue eyes lovelier than ever; but
although strougly tempted, he judged it better to delay a formal
confession until circumstances should be more comfortable.
All that and the following day Leopold was in spirits for him
wonderful. On Monday night there came a considerable reaction; he
was dejected, worn, and weary. Twelve o'clock the next day was the
hour appointed for their visit to Mr. Hooker, and at eleven he was
dressed and ready--restless, agitated, and very pale, but not a whit
less determined than at first. A drive was the pretext for borrowing
Mrs. Ramshorn's carriage.
"Why is Mr. Wingfold not coming?" asked Lingard, anxiously, when it
began to move.
"I fancy we shall be quite as comfortable without him, Poldie," said
Helen. "Did you expect him?"
"He promised to go with me. But he hasn't called since the time was
fixed."--Here Helen looked out of the window.--"I can't think why it
is. I can do my duty without him though," continued Leopold, "and
perhaps it is just as well.--Do you know, George, since I made up my
mind, I have seen her but once, and that was last night, and only in
"A state of irresolution is one peculiarly open to unhealthy
impressions," said George, good-naturedly disposing of his long legs
so that they should be out of the way.
Leopold turned from him to his sister.
"The strange thing, Helen," he said, "was that I did not feel the
least afraid of her, or even abashed before her. 'I see you,' I
said. 'Be at peace. I am coming; and you shall do to me what you
will.' And then--what do you think?--O my God! she smiled one of her
own old smiles, only sad too, very sad, and vanished. I woke, and
she seemed only to have just left the room, for there was a stir in
the darkness.--Do you believe in ghosts, George?"
Leopold was not one of George's initiated, I need hardly say.
"No," answered Bascombe.
"I don't wonder. I can't blame you, for neither did I once. But just
wait till you have made one, George!"
"God forbid!" exclaimed Bascombe, a second time forgetting himself.
"Amen!" said Leopold: "for after that there's no help but be one
yourself, you know."
"If he would only talk like that to old Hooker!" thought George. "It
would go a long way to forestall any possible misconception of the
"I can't think why Mr. Wingfold did not come yesterday," resumed
Leopold. "I made sure he would."
"Now, Poldie, you mustn't talk," said Helen, "or you'll be exhausted
before we get to Mr. Hooker's."
"She did not wish the non-appearance of the curate on Monday to be
closely inquired into. His company at the magistrate's was by all
possible means to be avoided. George had easily persuaded Helen,
more easily than he expected, to wait their return in the carriage,
and the two men were shown into the library, where the magistrate
presently joined them. He would have shaken hands with Leopold as
well as George, but the conscious felon drew back.
"No, sir; excuse me," he said. "Hear what I have to tell you first;
and if after that you will shake hands with me, it will be a
kindness indeed. But you will not! you will not!"
Worthy Mr. Hooker was overwhelmed with pity at sight of the worn
sallow face with the great eyes, in which he found every appearance
confirmatory of the tale wherewith Bascombe had filled and
prejudiced every fibre of his judgment. He listened in the kindest
way while the poor boy forced the words of his confession from his
throat. But Leopold never dreamed of attributing his emotion to any
other cause than compassion for one who had been betrayed into such
a crime. It was against his will, for he seemed now bent, even to
unreason, on fighting every weakness, that he was prevailed upon to
take a little wine. Having ended, he sat silent, in the posture of
one whose wrists are already clasped by the double bracelet of
Now Mr. Hooker had thought the thing out in church on the Sunday;
and after a hard run at the tail of a strong fox over a rough
country on the Monday, and a good sleep well into the morning of the
Tuesday, could see no better way. His device was simple enough.
"My dear young gentleman," he said, "I am very sorry for you, but I
must do my duty."
"That, sir, is what I came to you for," answered Leopold, humbly.
"Then you must consider yourself my prisoner. The moment you, are
gone, I shall make notes of your deposition, and proceed to arrange
for the necessary formalities. As a mere matter of form, I shall
take your own bail in a thousand pounds to surrender when called
"But I am not of age, and haven't got a thousand pounds," said
"Perhaps Mr. Hooker will accept my recognizance in the amount?" said
"Certainly," answered Mr. Hooker, and wrote something, which
"You are very good, George," said Leopold. "But you know I can't run
away if I would," he added with a pitiful attempt at a smile.
"I hope you will soon be better," said the magistrate kindly.
"Why such a wish, sir?" returned Leopold, almost reproachfully, and
the good man stood abashed before him.
He thought of it afterwards, and was puzzled to know how it was.
"You must hold yourself in readiness," he said, recovering himself
with an effort, "to give yourself up at any moment. And, rememher, I
shall call upon you when I please, every week, perhaps, or oftener,
to see that you are safe. Your aunt is an old friend of mine, and
there will be no need of explanations. This turns out to be no
common case, and after hearing the whole, I do not hesitate to offer
you my hand."
Leopold was overcome by his kindness, and withdrew speechless, but
Several times during the course of his narrative, its apparent
truthfulness and its circumstantiality went nigh to stagger Mr.
Hooker; but a glance at Bascombe's face, with its half-amused smile,
instantly set him right again, and he thought with dismay how near
he had been to letting himself be fooled by a madman.
Again in the carriage, Leopold laid his head on Helen's shoulder,
and looked up in her face with such a smile as she had never seen on
his before. Certainly there was something in confession--if only
enthusiasts like Mr. Wingfold would not spoil all by pushing things
to extremes and turning good into bad!
Leopold was yet such a child, had so little occupied himself with
things about him, and had been so entirely taken up with his
passion, and the poetry of existence unlawfully forced, that if his
knowledge of the circumstances of Emmeline's murder had depended on
the newspapers, he would have remained in utter ignorance concerning
them. From the same causes he was so entirely unacquainted with the
modes of criminal procedure, that the conduct of the magistrate
never struck him as strange, not to say illegal. And so strongly did
he feel the good man's kindness and sympathy, that his comfort from
making a clean breast of it was even greater than he expected.
Before they reached home he was fast asleep. When laid on his couch,
he almost fell asleep again, and Helen saw him smile as he slept.
But although such was George Bascombe's judgment of Leopold, and
such his conduct of his affair, he could not prevent the recurrent
intrusion of the flickering doubt which had showed itself when first
he listened to the story. Amid all the wildness of the tale there
was yet a certain air, not merely of truthfulness in the
narrator--that was not to be questioned--but of verisimilitude in
the narration, which had its effect, although it gave rise to no
conscious exercise of discriminating or ponderating faculty.
Leopold's air of conviction also, although of course that might well
accompany the merest invention rooted in madness, yet had its force,
persistently as George pooh-poohed it--which he did the more
strenuously from the intense, even morbid abhorrence of his nature
to being taken in, and having to confess himself of unstable
intellectual equilibrium. Possibly this was not the only kind of
thing in which the sensitiveness of a vanity he would himself have
disowned, had rendered him unfit for perceiving the truth. Nor do I
know how much there may be to choose between the two shames--that of
accepting what is untrue, and that of refusing what is true.
The second time he listened to Leopold's continuous narrative, the
doubt returned with more clearness and less flicker: there was such
a thing as being over-wise: might he not be taking himself in with
his own incredulity? Ought he not to apply some test? And did
Leopold's story offer any means of doing so?--One thing, he then
found, had been dimly haunting his thoughts ever since he heard it:
Leopold affirmed that he had thrown his cloak and mask down an old
pit-shaft, close by the place of murder: if there was such a shaft,
could it be searched?--Recurring doubt at length so wrought upon his
mind, that he resolved to make his holiday excursion to that
neighbourhood, and there endeavour to gain what assurance of any
sort might be to be had. What end beyond his own possible
satisfaction the inquiry was to answer he did not ask himself. The
restless spirit of the detective, so often conjoined with
indifference to what is in its own nature true, was at work in
him--but that was not all: he must know the very facts, if possible,
of whatever concerned Helen. I shall not follow his proceedings
closely: it is with their reaction upon Leopold that I have to do.
The house where the terrible thing took place was not far from a
little moorland village. There Bascombe found a small inn, where he
took up his quarters, pretending to be a geologist out for a
holiday. He soon came upon the disused shaft.
The inn was a good deal frequented in the evenings by the colliers
of the district--a rough race, but not beyond the influences of such
an address, mingled of self-assertion and good fellowship, as
Bascombe brought to bear upon them, for he had soon perceived that
amongst them he might find the assistance he wanted. In the course
of conversation, therefore, he mentioned the shaft, on which he
pretended to have come in his rambles. Remarking on the danger of
such places, he learned that this one served for ventilation, and
was still accessible below from other workings. Thereafter he begged
permission to go down one of the pits, on pretext of examining the
coal-strata, and having secured for his guide one of the most
intelligent of those whose acquaintance he had made at the inn,
persuaded him, partly by expressions of incredulity because of the
distance between, to guide him to the bottom of the shaft whose
accessibility he maintained. That they were going in the right
direction, he had the testimony of the little compass he carried at
his watch-chain, and at length he saw a faint gleam before him. When
at last he raised his head, wearily bent beneath the low roofs of
the passages, and looked upwards, there was a star looking down at
him out of the sky of day! But George never wasted time in staring
at what was above his head, and so began instantly to search about
as if examining the indications of the strata. Was it possible?
Could it be? There was a piece of black something that was not coal,
and seemed textile! It was a half-mask, for there were the
eye-holes in it! He caught it up and hurried it into his bag--not so
quickly but that the haste set his guide speculating. And Bascombe
saw that the action was noted. The man afterwards offered to carry
his bag, but he would not allow him.
The next morning he left the place and returned to London, taking
Glaston, by a detour, on his way. A few questions to Leopold drew
from him a description of the mask he had worn, entirely
corresponding with the one George had found; and at length he was
satisfied that there was truth more than a little in Leopold's
confession. It was not his business, however, he now said to
himself, to set magistrates right. True, he had set Mr. Hooker wrong
in the first place, but he had done it in good faith, and how could
he turn traitor to Helen and her brother? Besides, he was sure the
magistrate himself would be anything but obliged to him for opening
his eyes! At the same time Leopold's fanatic eagerness after
confession might drive the matter further, and if so, it might
become awkward for him. He might be looked to for the defence, and
were he not certain that his guide had marked his concealment of
what he had picked up, he might have ventured to undertake it, for
certainly it would have been a rare chance for a display of the
forensic talent he believed himself to possess; but as it was, the
moment he was called to the bar--which would be within a
fortnight--he would go abroad, say to Paris, and there, for twelve
months or so, await events.
When he disclosed to Helen his evil success in the coalpit, it was
but the merest film of a hope it destroyed, for she KNEW that her
brother was guilty. George and she now felt that they were linked by
the possession of a common, secret.
But the cloak had been found a short time before, and was in the
possession of Emmeline's mother. That mother was a woman of strong
passions and determined character. The first shock of the
catastrophe over, her grief was almost supplanted by a rage for
vengeance, in the compassing of which no doubt she vaguely imagined
she would be doing something to right her daughter. Hence the
protracted concealment of the murderer was bitterness to her soul,
and she vowed herself to discovery and revenge as the one business
of her life. In this her husband, a good deal broken by the fearful
event, but still more by misfortunes of another kind which had begun
to threaten him, offered her no assistance, and indeed felt neither
her passion urge him, nor her perseverance hold him to the pursuit.
In the neighbourhood her mind was well known, and not a few found
their advantage in supplying her passion with the fuel of hope. Any
hint of evidence, however small, the remotest suggestion even
towards discovery, they would carry at once to her, for she was an
open-handed woman, and in such case would give with a profusion
that, but for the feeling concerned, would have been absurd, and did
expose her to the greed of every lying mendicant within reach of
her. Not unnaturally, therefore, it had occurred to a certain
collier to make his way to the bottom of the shaft, on the
chance--hardly of finding, but of being enabled to invent something
worth reporting; and there, to the very fooling of his barren
expectation, he had found the cloak.
The mother had been over to Holland, where she had instituted
unavailing inquiries in the villages along the coast and among the
islands, and had been home but a few days when the cloak was carried
to her. In her mind it immediately associated itself with the
costumes of the horrible ball, and at once she sought the list of
her guests thereat. It was before her at the very moment when the
man, who had been Bascombe's guide, sent in to request an interview,
the result of which was to turn her attention for the time in
another direction.--Who might the visitor to the mine have been?
Little was to be gathered in the neighbourhood beyond the facts that
the letters G. B. were on his carpet-bag, and that a scrap of torn
envelope bore what seemed the letters mple. She despatched the poor
indications to an inquiry-office in London.
The day after his confession to Mr. Hooker, a considerable re-action
took place in Lingard. He did not propose to leave his bed, and lay
exhausted. He said he had caught cold. He coughed a little; wondered
why Mr. Wingfold did not come to see him, dozed a good deal, and
often woke with a start. Mrs. Ramshorn thought Helen ought to make
him get up: nothing, she said, could be worse for him than lying in
bed; but Helen thought, even if her aunt were right, he must be
humoured. The following day Mr. Hooker called, inquired after him,
and went up to his room to see him. There he said all he could think
of to make him comfortable; repeated that certain preliminaries had
to be gone through before the commencement of the prosecution; said
that while these went on, it was better he should be in his sister's
care than in prison, where, if he went at once, he most probably
would die before the trial came on; that in the meantime he was
responsible for him; that, although he had done quite right in
giving himself up, he must not let what was done and could no more
be helped, prey too much upon his mind, lest it should render him
unable to give his evidence with proper clearness, and he should be
judged insane and sent to Broadmoor, which would be frightful. He
ended by saying that he had had great provocation, and that he was
certain the judge would consider it in passing sentence, only he
must satisfy the jury there had been no premeditation.
"I will not utter a word to excuse myself, Mr. Hooker," replied
The worthy magistrate smiled sadly, and went away, if possible, more
convinced of the poor lad's insanity.
The visit helped Leopold over that day, but when the next also
passed, and neither did Wingfold appear, nor any explanation of his
absence reach him, he made up his mind to act again for himself.
The cause of the curate's apparent neglect, though ill to find, was
not far to seek.
On the Monday, he had, upon some pretext or other, been turned away;
on the Tuesday, he had been told that Mr. Lingard had gone for a
drive; on the Wednesday, that he was much too tired to be seen; and
thereupon had at length judged it better to leave things to right
themselves. If Leopold did not want to see him, it would be of no
use by persistence to force his way to him; while on the other hand,
if he did want to see him, he felt convinced the poor fellow would
manage to have his own way somehow.
The next morning after he had thus resolved, Leopold declared
himself better, and got up and dressed. He then lay on the sofa and
waited as quietly as he could until Helen went out--Mr, Faber
insisting she should do so every day. It was no madness, but a
burning desire for life, coupled with an utter carelessness of that
which is commonly called life, that now ruled his behaviour. He tied
his slippers on his feet, put on his smoking-cap, crept unseen from
the house, and took the direction, of the Abbey. The influence of
the air--by his weakness rendered intoxicating, the strange look of
everything around him, the nervous excitement of every human
approach, kept him up until he reached the churchyard, across which
he was crawling, to find the curate's lodging, when suddenly his
brain seemed to go swimming away into regions beyond the senses. He
attempted to seat himself on a grave-stone, but lost consciousness,
and fell at full length between that and the next one.
When Helen returned, she was horrified to find that he had
gone--when, or whither nobody knew: no one had missed him. Her first
fear was the river, but her conscience enlightened her, and her
shame could not prevent her from seeking him at the curate's. In her
haste she passed him where he lay.
Shown into the curate's study, she gave a hurried glance around, and
her anxiety became terror again.
"Oh! Mr. Wingfold," she cried, "where is Leopold?"
"I have not seen him," replied the curate, turning pale.
"Then he has thrown himself in the river!" cried Helen, and sank on
The curate caught up his hat.
"You wait here," he said. "I will go and look for him."
But Helen rose, and, without another word, they set off together,
and again entered the churchyard. As they hurried across it, the
curate caught sight of something on the ground, and, springing
forward, found Leopold.
"He is dead!" cried Helen, in an agony, when she saw him stop and
He looked dead indeed; but what appalled her the most reassured
Wingfold a little: blood had flowed freely from a cut on his
The curate lifted him, no hard task, out of the damp shadow, and
laid him on the stone, which was warm in the sun, with his head on
Helen's lap, then ran to order the carriage, and hastened back with
brandy. They got a little into his mouth, but he could not swallow
it. Still it seemed to do him good, for presently he gave a deep
sigh; and just then they heard the carriage stop at the gate.
Wingfold took him up, carried him to it, got in with him in his
arms, and held him on his knees until he reached the manor house,
when he carried him upstairs and laid him on the sofa. When they had
brought him round a little, he undressed him and put him to bed.
"Do not leave me," murmured Leopold, just as Helen entered the room,
and she heard it.
Wingfold looked to her for the answer he was to make. Her bearing
was much altered: she was both ashamed and humbled.
"Yes, Leopold," she said, "Mr. Wingfold will, I am sure, stay with
you as long as he can."
"Indeed I will," assented the curate. "But I must run for Mr. Faber
"How did I come here?" asked Leopold, opening his eyes large upon
Helen after swallowing a spoonful of the broth she held to his lips.
But, before she could answer him, he turned sick, and by the time
the doctor came was very feverish. Faber gave the necessary
directions, and Wingfold walked back with him to get his
prescription made up.
THE CURATE AND THE DOCTOR.
"There is something strange about that young man's illness," said
Faber, as soon as they had left the house. "I fancy you know more
than you can tell, and if so, then I have committed no indiscretion
in saying as much."
"Perhaps it might be an indiscretion to acknowledge as much
however," said the curate with a smile.
"You are right. I have not been long in the place," returned Faber,
"and you had no opportunity of testing me. But I am indifferent
honest as well as you, though I don't go you in everything."
"People would have me believe you don't go with me in anything."
"They say as much--do they?" returned Faber with some annoyance. "I
thought I had been careful not to trespass on your preserves."
"As for preserves, I don't know of any," answered the curate. "There
is no true bird in the grounds that won't manage somehow to escape
the snare of the fowler."
"Well," said the doctor, "I know nothing about God and all that kind
of thing, but, though I don't think I'm a coward exactly either, I
know I should like to have your pluck."
"I haven't got any pluck," said the curate.
"Tell that to the marines," said Faber. "I daren't go and say what I
think or don't think, even in the bedroom of my least orthodox
patient--at least, if I do, I instantly repent it--while you go on
saying what you really believe Sunday after Sunday!--How you can
believe it, I don't know, and it's no business of mine."
"Oh yes, it is!" returned Wingfold. "But as to the pluck, it may be
a man's duty to say in the pulpit what he would be just as wrong to
say by a sick-bed."
"That has nothing to do with the pluck! That's all I care about."
"It has everything to do with what you take for pluck. My pluck is
only Don Worm."
"I don't know what you mean by that."
"It's Benedick's name, in Much Ado about Nothing, for the
conscience. MY pluck is nothing but my conscience."
"It's a damned fine thing to have anyhow, whatever name you put upon
it!" said Faber.
"Excuse me if I find your epithet more amusing than apt," said
"You are quite right," said Faber. "I apologize."
"As to the pluck again," Wingfold resumed, "--if you think of this
one fact--that my whole desire is to believe in God, and that the
only thing I can be sure of sometimes is that, if there be a God,
none but an honest man will ever find him, you will not then say
there is much pluck in my speaking the truth?"
"I don't see that that makes it a hair easier, in the face of such a
set of gaping noodles as--"
"I beg your pardon:--there is more lack of conscience than of brains
in the Abbey of a Sunday, I fear."
"Well, all I have to say is, I can't for the life of me see what you
want to believe in a God for! It seems to me the world would go
rather better without any such fancy. Look here now: there is young
Spenser--out there at Harwood--a patient of mine. His wife died
yesterday--one of the loveliest young creatures you ever saw. The
poor fellow is as bad about it as fellow can be. Well, he's one of
your sort, and said to me the other day, just as you would have him,
'It's the will of God,' he said, 'and we must hold our peace.'--'Don't
talk to me about God,' I said, for I couldn't stand it. 'Do you mean
to tell me that, if there was a God, he would have taken such a lovely
creature as that away from her husband and her helpless infant, at the
age of two and twenty? I scorn to believe it.'"
"What did he say to that?"
"He turned as white as death, and said never a word."
"Ah, you forgot that you were taking from him his only hope of
seeing her again!"
"I certainly did not think of that," said Faber.
"Even then," resumed Wingfold, "I should not say you were wrong, if
you were prepared to add that you had searched every possible region
of existence, and had found no God; or that you had tried every
theory man had invented, or even that you were able to invent
yourself, and had found none of them consistent with the being of a
God. I do not say that then you would be right in your judgment, for
another man, of equal weight, might have had a different experience.
I only say, I would not then blame you. But you must allow it a very
serious thing to assert as a conviction, without such grounds as the
assertor has pretty fully satisfied himself concerning, what COULD
only drive the sting of death ten times deeper."
The doctor was silent.
"I doubt not you spoke in a burst of indignation; but it seems to me
the indignation of a man unaccustomed to ponder the things
concerning which he expresses such a positive conviction."
"You are wrong there," returned Faber; "for I was brought up in the
straitest sect of the Pharisees, and know what I am saying."
"The straitest sect of the Pharisees can hardly be the school in
which to gather any such idea of a God as one could wish to be a
"They profess to know."
"Is that any argument of weight, they and their opinions being what
they are?--If there be a God, do you imagine he would choose any
strait sect under the sun to be his interpreters?"
"But the question is not of the idea of a God, but of the existence
of any, seeing, if he exists, he must be such as the human heart
could never accept as God, inasmuch as he at least permits, if not
himself enacts cruelty. My argument to poor Spenser remains--however
unwise or indeed cruel it may have been."
"I grant it a certain amount of force--as much exactly as had gone
to satisfy the children whom I heard the other day agreeing that Dr.
Faber was a very cruel man, for he pulled out nurse's tooth, and
gave poor little baby such a nasty, nasty powder!"
"Is that a fair parallel? I must look at it."
"I think it is. What you do is often unpleasant, sometimes most
painful, but it does not follow that you are a cruel man, and a
hurter instead of a healer of men."
"I think there is a fault in the analogy," said Faber. "For here am
I nothing but a slave to laws already existing, and compelled to
work according to them. It is not my fault therefore that the
remedies I have to use are unpleasant. But if there be a God, he has
the matter in his own hands."
"There is weight and justice in your argument, which may well make
the analogy appear at first sight false. But is there no theory
possible that should make it perfect?"
"I do not see how there should be any. For, if you say God is under
any such compulsion as I am under, then surely the house is divided
against itself, and God is not God any more."
"For my part," said the curate, "I think I COULD believe in a God
who did but his imperfect best: in one all power, and not all
goodness, I could not believe. But suppose that the design of God
involved the perfecting of men as the CHILDREN OF GOD--'I said ye
are gods,'--that he would have them partakers of his own blessedness
in kind--be as himself;--suppose his grand idea could not be
contented with creatures perfect ONLY by his gift, so far as that
should reach, and having no willing causal share in the perfection,
that is, partaking not at all of God's individuality and free-will
and choice of good; then suppose that suffering were the only way
through which the individual could be set, in separate and
self-individuality, so far apart from God, that it might WILL, and
so become a partaker of his singleness and freedom;--and suppose
that this suffering must be and had been initiated by God's taking
his share, and that the infinitely greater share;--suppose next,
that God saw the germ of a pure affection, say in your friend and
his wife, but saw also that it was a germ so imperfect and weak that
it could not encounter the coming frosts and winds of the world
without loss and decay, while, if they were parted now for a few
years, it would grow and strengthen and expand, to the certainty of
an infinitely higher and deeper and keener love through the endless
ages to follow--so that by suffering should come, in place of
contented decline, abortion, and death, a troubled birth of joyous
result in health and immortality;--suppose all this, and what then?"
Faber was silent a moment, then answered,
"Your theory has but one fault: it is too good to be true."
"My theory leaves plenty of difficulty, but has no such fault as
that. Why, what sort of a God would content you, Mr. Faber? The one
idea is too bad, the other too good to be true. Must you expand and
pare until you get one exactly to the measure of yourself ere you
can accept it as thinkable or possible? Why, a less God than that
would not rest your soul a week. The only possibility of believing
in a God seems to me to lie in finding an idea of a God large
enough, grand enough, pure enough, lovely enough to be fit to
"And have you found such--may I ask?"
"I think I am finding such."
"In the man of the New Testament. I have thought a little more about
these things, I fancy, than you have, Mr. Faber. I may come to be
sure of something; I don't see how a man can ever be sure of
"Don't suppose me quite dumbfoundered, though I can't answer you off
hand," said Mr. Faber, as they reached his door.--"Come in with me,
and I will make up the medicine myself; it will save time. There are
a thousand difficulties," he resumed in the surgery, "some of them
springing from peculiar points that come before one of my
profession, which I doubt if you would be able to meet so readily.
But about this poor fellow, Lingard. You know Glaston gossip says he
is out of his mind."
"If I were you, Mr. Faber, I would not take pains to contradict it.
He is not out of his mind, but has such trouble in it as might well
drive him out.--Don't you even hint at that, though."
"I understand," said Faber.
"If doctor and minister did understand each other and work
together," said Wingfold, "I fancy a good deal more might be done."
"I don't doubt it.--What sort of fellow is that cousin of
theirs--Bascombe is his name, I believe?"
"A man to suit you, I should think," said the curate; "a man with a
most tremendous power of believing in nothing."
"Come, come!" returned the doctor, "you don't know half enough about
me to tell what sort of man I should like or dislike."
"Well, all I will say more of Bascombe is, that if he were not
conceited he would be honest; and if he were as honest as he
believes himself, he would not be so ready to judge every one
dishonest who does not agree with him."
"I hope we may have another talk soon," said the doctor, searching
for a cork. "Some day I will tell you a few things that may stagger
"Likely enough: I am only learning to walk yet," said Wingfold.
"But a man may stagger and not fall, and I am ready to hear anything
you choose to tell me."
Faber handed him the bottle, and he took his leave.
HELEN AND THE CURATE.
Before the morning Leopold lay wound in the net of a low fever,
almost as ill as ever, but with this difference, that his mind was
far less troubled, and that even his most restless dreams no longer
scared him awake to a still nearer assurance of misery. And yet,
many a time, as she watched by his side, it was excruciatingly plain
to Helen that the stuff of which his dreams were made was the last
process to the final execution of the law. She thought she could
follow it all in his movements and the expressions of his
countenance. At a certain point, the cold dew always appeared on his
forehead, after which invariably came a smile, and he would be quiet
until near morning, when the same signs again appeared. Sometimes he
would murmur prayers, and sometimes it seemed to Helen that he must
fancy himself talking face to face with Jesus, for the look of
blessed and trustful awe upon his countenance was amazing in its
For Helen herself, she was prey to a host of changeful emotions. At
one time she accused herself bitterly of having been the cause of
the return of his illness; the next a gush of gladness would swell
her heart at the thought that now she had him at least safer for a
while, and that he might die and so escape the whole crowd of
horrible possibilities. For George's manipulation of the magistrate
could but delay the disclosure of the truth; even should no
discovery be made, Leopold must at length suspect a trick, and that
would at once drive him to fresh action.
But amongst the rest, a feeling which had but lately begun to
indicate its far-off presence now threatened to bring with it a
deeper and more permanent sorrow: it became more and more plain to
her that she had taken the evil part against the one she loved best
in the world; that she had been as a Satan to him; had driven him
back, stood almost bodily in the way to turn him from the path of
peace. Whether the path he had sought to follow was the only one or
not, it was the only one he knew; and that it was at least A true
one, was proved by the fact that he had already found in it the
beginnings of the peace he sought; while she, for the avoidance of
shame and pity, for the sake of the family, as she had said to
herself, had pursued a course which if successful, would at best
have resulted in shutting him up, as in a madhouse, with his own
inborn horrors, with vain remorse, and equally vain longing. Her
conscience, now that her mind was quieter, from the greater distance
to which the threatening peril had again withdrawn, had taken the
opportunity of speaking louder. And she listened--but still with
one question ever presented: Why might he not appropriate the
consolations of the gospel without committing the suicide of
surrender? She could not see that confession was the very door of
refuge and safety, towards which he must press.
George's absence was now again a relief, and while she feared and
shrank from the severity of Wingfold, she could not help a certain
indiscribable sense of safety in his presence--at least so long as
Leopold was too ill to talk.
For the curate, he became more and more interested in the woman who
could love so strongly, and yet not entirely, who suffered and must
still suffer so much, and who a faith even no greater than his own
might render comparatively blessed. The desire to help her grew and
grew in him, but he could see no way of reaching her. And then he
began to discover one peculiar advantage belonging to the little
open chamber of the pulpit--open not only or specially to heaven
above, but to so many of the secret chambers of the souls of the
congregation. For what a man dares not, could not if he dared, and
dared not if he could, say to another, even at the time and in the
place fittest of all, he can say thence, open-faced before the whole
congregation; and the person in need thereof may hear it without
umbrage, or the choking husk of individual application, irritating
to the rejection of what truth may lie in it for him. Would that our
pulpits were all in the power of such men as by suffering know the
human, and by obedience the divine heart! Then would the office of
instruction be no more mainly occupied by the press, but the faces
of true men would everywhere be windows for the light of the Spirit
to enter other men's souls, and the voice of their words would
follow with the forms of what truth they saw, and the power of the
Lord would speed from heart to heart. Then would men soon understand
that not the form of even soundest words availeth anything, but a
When Wingfold was in the pulpit, then, he could speak as from the
secret to the secret; but elsewhere he felt, in regard to Helen,
like a transport-ship filled with troops, which must go sailing
around the shores of an invaded ally, in frustrate search for a
landing. Oh, to help that woman, that the light of life might go up
in her heart, and her cheek bloom again with the rose of peace! But
not a word could he speak in her presence, for he heard everything
be would have said as he thought it would sound to her, and
therefore he had no utterance. Is it an infirmity of certain kinds
of men, or a wise provision for their protection, that the brightest
forms the truth takes in their private cogitations seem to lose half
their lustre and all their grace when uttered in the presence of an
unreceptive nature, and they hear, as it were, their own voice
reflected in a poor, dull, inharmonious echo, and are disgusted?
But, on the other hand, ever in the pauses of the rushing, ever in
the watery gleams of life that broke through the clouds and drifts
of the fever, Leopold sought his friend, and, finding him, shone
into a brief radiance, or, missing him, gloomed back into the land
of visions. The tenderness of the curate's service, the heart that
showed itself in everything he did, even in the turn and expression
of the ministering hand, was a kind of revelation to Helen. For
while his intellect was hanging about the door, asking questions,
and uneasily shifting hither and thither in its unloved
perplexities, the spirit of the master had gone by it unseen, and
entered into the chamber of his heart.
After preaching the sermon last recorded, there came a reaction of
doubt and depression on the mind of the curate, greater than usual.
Had he not gone farther than his right? Had he not implied more
conviction than was his? Words could not go beyond his satisfaction
with what he found in the gospel, or the hopes for the range of his
conscious life springing therefrom; but was he not now making people
suppose him more certain of the FACT of these things than he was? He
was driven to console himself with the reflection that so long as he
had had no such intention, even if he had been so carried away by
the delight of his heart as to give such an impression, it mattered
little: what was it to other people what he believed or how he
believed? If he had not been untrue to himself, no harm would
follow. Was a man never to talk from the highest in him to the
forgetting of the lower? Was a man never to be carried beyond
himself and the regions of his knowledge? If so, then farewell
poetry and prophecy--yea, all grand discovery!--for things must be
foreseen ere they can be realized--apprehended ere they be
comprehended. This much he could say for himself, and no more, that
he was ready to lay down his life for the mere CHANCE, if he might
so use the word, of these things being true; nor did he argue any
devotion in that, seeing life without them would be to him a waste
of unreality. He could bear witness to no facts--but to the truth,
to the loveliness and harmony and righteousness and safety that he
saw in the idea of the Son of Man--as he read it in the story. He
dared not say what, in a time of persecution, torture might work
upon him, but he felt right hopeful that, even were he base enough
to deny him, any cock might crow him back to repentance. At the same
time he saw plain enough that even if he gave his body to be burned,
it were no sufficing assurance of his Christianity: nothing could
satisfy him of that less than the conscious presence of the perfect
charity. Without that he was still outside the kingdom, wandering in
a dream around its walls.
Difficulties went on presenting themselves; at times he would be
overwhelmed in the tossing waves of contradiction and impossibility;
but still his head would come up into the air and he would get a
breath before he went down again. And with every fresh conflict,
every fresh gleam of doubtful victory, the essential idea of the
master looked more and more lovely. And he began to see the working
of his doubts on the growth of his heart and soul--both widening
and realizing his faith, and preventing it from becoming faith in an
idea of God instead of in the living God--the God beyond as well as
in the heart that thought and willed and imagined.
He had much time for reflection as he sat silent by the bedside of
Leopold. Sometimes Helen would be sitting near, though generally
when he arrived she went out for her walk, but never anything came
to him he could utter to her. And she was one of those who learn
little from other people. A change must pass upon her ere she could
be rightly receptive. Some vapour or other that clouded her being
must be driven to the winds first.
Mrs. Ramshorn had become at least reconciled to the frequent
presence of the curate, partly from the testimony of Helen, partly
from the witness of her own eyes to the quality of his ministrations.
She was by no means one of the loveliest among women, yet she had a
heart, and could appreciate some kinds of goodness which the arrogance
of her relation to the church did not interfere to hide--for nothing
is so deadening to the divine as an habitual dealing with the outsides
of holy things--and she became half-friendly and quite courteous when
she met the curate on the stair, and would now and then, when she
thought of it, bring him a glass of wine as he sat by the bedside.
The acquaintance between the draper and the gate-keeper rapidly
ripened into friendship. Very generally, as soon as he had shut his
shop, Drew would walk to the park-gate to see Polwarth; and three
times a week at least, the curate made one of the party. Much was
then talked, more was thought, and I venture to say, more yet was
One evening the curate went earlier than usual, and had tea with the
"Do you remember," he asked of his host, "once putting to me the
question what our Lord came into this world for?"
"I do," answered Polwarth.
"And you remember I answered you wrong: I said it was to save the
"I do. But remember, I said _primarily_, for of course he did come
to save the world."
"Yes, just so you put it. Well, I think I can answer the question
correctly now, and in learning the true answer I have learned much.
Did he not come first of all to do the will of his Father? Was not
his Father first with him always and in everything--his fellow-men
next--for they were his Father's?"
"I need not say it--you know that you are right. Jesus is tenfold a
real person to you--is he not--since you discovered that truth?"
"I think so; I hope so. It does seem as if a grand simple reality
had begun to dawn upon me out of the fog--the form as of a man pure
and simple, _because_ the eternal son of the Father."
"And now, may I not ask--are you able to accept the miracles, things
in themselves so improbable?"
"If we suppose the question settled as to whether the man was what
he said, then all that remains is to ask whether the works reported
of him are consistent with what you can see of the character of the
"And to you they seem--?"
"Some consistent, others not. Concerning the latter I look for more
"Meantime let me ask you a question about them. What was the main
object of miracles?"
"One thing at least I have learned, Mr. Polwarth and that is, not to
answer any question of yours in a hurry," said Wingfold. "I will, if
you please, take this one home with me, and hold the light to it."
"Do," said Polwarth, "and you will find it return you the light
threefold.--One word more, ere Mr. Drew comes: do you still think of
giving up your curacy?"
"I have almost forgotten I ever thought of such a thing. Whatever
energies I may or may not have, I know one thing for certain, that I
could not devote them to anything else I should think entirely worth
doing. Indeed nothing else seems interesting enough--nothing to
repay the labour, but the telling of my fellow-men about the one man
who is the truth, and to know whom is the life. Even if there be no
hereafter, I would live my time believing in a grand thing that
ought to be true if it is not. No facts can take the place of
truths, and if these be not truths, then is the loftiest part of our
nature a waste. Let me hold by the better than the actual, and fall
into nothingness off the same precipice with Jesus and John and Paul
and a thousand more, who were lovely in their lives, and with their
death make even the nothingness into which they have passed like the
garden of the Lord. I will go further, Polwarth, and say, I would
rather die for evermore believing as Jesus believed, than live for
evermore believing as those that deny him. If there be no God, I
feel assured that existence is and could be but a chaos of
contradictions, whence can emerge nothing worthy to be called a
truth, nothing worth living for.--No, I will not give up my curacy.
I will teach that which IS good, even if there should be no God to
make a fact of it, and I will spend my life on it, in the growing
hope, which MAY become assurance, that there is indeed a perfect
God, worthy of being the Father of Jesus Christ, and that it was
BECAUSE they are true, that these things were lovely to me and to so
many men and women, of whom some have died for them, and some would
be yet ready to die."
"I thank my God to hear you say so. Nor will you stand still there,"
said Polwarth. "But here comes Mr. Drew!"
"How goes business?" said Polwarth, when the new-comer had seated
"That is hardly a question I look for from you, sir," returned the
draper, smiling all over his round face, which looked more than ever
like a moon of superior intelligence. "For me, I am glad to leave it
behind me in the shop."
"True business can never be left in any shop. It is a care, white or
black, that sits behind every horseman."
"That is fact; and with me it has just taken a new shape," said
Drew, "for I have come with quite a fresh difficulty. Since I saw
you last, Mr. Polwarth, a strange and very uncomfortable doubt has
rushed in upon me, and I find myself altogether unfit to tackle it.
I have no weapons--not a single argument of the least weight. I
wonder if it be a law of nature that no sooner shall a man get into
a muddle with one thing, than a thousand other muddles shall come
pouring in upon him, as if Muddle itself were going to swallow him
up! Here am I just beginning to get a little start in honester ways,
when up comes the ugly head of the said doubt, swelling itself more
and more to look like a fact--namely, that after this world there is
nothing for us--nothing at all to be had anyhow--that as we came so
we go--into life, out of life--that, having been nothing before, we
shall be nothing after! The flowers come back in the spring, and the
corn in the autumn, but they ain't the same flowers or the same
corn. They're just as different as the new generations of men."
"There's no pretence that we come back either. We only think we
don't go into the ground, but away somewhere else."
"You can't prove that."
"And you don't know anything about it!"
"Not much--but enough, I think."
"Why, even those that profess to believe it, scoff at the idea of an
"That's the fault of the ghosts, I suspect--or their reporters. I
don't care about them myself. I prefer the tale of one who, they
say, rose again, and brought his body with him."
"Yes; but he was only one!"
"Except two or three whom, they say, he brought to life."
"Still there are but three or four."
"To tell you the truth, I do not care much to argue the point with
you.--It is by no means a matter of the FIRST importance whether we
live for ever or not."
"Mr. Polwarth!" exclaimed the draper in such astonishment mingled
with horror, as proved he was not in immediate danger of becoming an
advocate of the doctrine of extinction.
The gate-keeper smiled what, but for a peculiar expression of
undefinable good in it, might have been called a knowing smile.
"Suppose a thing were in itself not worth having," he said, "would
it be any great enhancement of it as a gift to add the assurance
that the possession of it was eternal! Most people think it a fine
thing to have a bit of land to call their own and leave to their
children; but suppose a stinking and undrainable swamp, full of foul
springs--what consolation would it be to the proprietor of that to
know, while the world lasted, not a human being would once dispute
its possession with any fortunate descendant holding it?"
The draper only stared, but his stare was a thorough one. The curate
sat waiting, with both amusement and interest, for what would
follow: he saw the direction in which the little man was driving.
"You astonish me!" said Mr. Drew, recovering his mental breath. "How
can you compare God's gift to such a horrible thing! Where should we
be without life?"
Rachel burst out laughing, and the curate could not help joining
"Mr. Drew," said Polwarth, half merrily, "are you going to help me
drag my chain out of its weary length, or are you too much shocked
at the doubtful condition of its links to touch them? I promise you
the last shall be of bright gold."
"I beg your pardon," said the draper; "I might have known you didn't
"On the contrary, I mean everything I say and that literally.
Perhaps I don't mean everything you fancy I mean.--Tell me then,
would life be worth having on any and every possible condition?"
"You know some, I dare say, who would be glad to be rid of life such
as it is, and such as they suppose it must continue?"
"I have already understood that everybody clung to life."
"Most people do; everybody certainly does not: Job, for instance."
"They say that is but a poem."
"BUT a poem! EVEN a poem--a representation true not of this or that
individual, but of the race! There ARE such persons as would gladly
be rid of life, and in their condition all would feel the same.
Somewhat similar is the state of those who profess unbelief in the
existence of God: none of them expect, and few of them seem to wish
to live for ever!--At least, so I am told."
"That is no wonder," said the draper; "--if they don't believe in
God, I mean."
"Then there I have you! There you allow life to be not worth having,
if on certain evil conditions."
"I admit it, then."
"And I repeat that to prove life endless is a matter of the FIRST
importance. And I will go a little farther.--Does it follow that
life is worth having because a man would like to have it for ever?"
"I should say so; who should be a better judge than the man
"Let us look at it a moment. Suppose--we will take a strong
case--suppose a man whose whole delight is in cruelty, and who has
such plentiful opportunity of indulging the passion that he finds it
well with him--such a man would of course desire such a life to
endure for ever: is such a life worth having? were it well that man
should be immortally cruel?"
"Not for others."
"Still less, I say, for himself."
"In the judgment of others, doubtless; but to himself he would be
"Call his horrible satisfaction happiness then, and leave aside the
fact that in its own nature it is a horror, and not a bliss: a time
must come, when, in the exercise of his delight, he shall have
destroyed all life besides, and made himself alone with himself in
an empty world: will he then find life worth having?"
"Then he ought to live for punishment."
"With that we have nothing to do now, but there you have given me an
answer to my question, whether a man's judgment that his life is
worth having, proves immortality a thing to be desired."
"I have. I understand now."
"It follows that there is something of prior importance to the
possession of immortality:--what is that something?"
"I suppose that the immortality itself should be worth possessing."
"Yes; that the life should be such that it were well it should be
endless.--And what then if it be not such?"
"The question then would be whether it could not be made such."
"You are right.--And wherein consists the essential inherent
worthiness of a life as life?--The only perfect idea of life is--a
unit, self-existent, and creative. That is God, the only one. But to
this idea, in its kind, must every life, to be complete as life,
correspond; and the human correspondence to self-existence is, that
the man should round and complete himself by taking into himself
that origin; by going back and in his own will adopting his origin,
rooting therein afresh in the exercise of his own freedom and in all
the energy of his own self-roused will; in other words--that the man
say "I will be after the will of the creating _I_;" that he see and
say with his whole being that to will the will of God in himself and
for himself and concerning himself, is the highest possible
condition of a man. Then has he completed his cycle by turning back
upon his history, laying hold of his cause, and willing his own
being in the will of the only I AM. This is the rounding,
re-creating, unifying of the man. This is religion, and all that
gathers not with this, scatters abroad."
"And then," said Drew, with some eagerness, "lawfully comes the
question, 'Shall I, or shall I not live for ever?'"
"Pardon me; I think not," returned the little prophet. "I think
rather we have done with it for ever. The man with life so in
himself, will not dream of asking whether he shall live. It is only
in the twilight of a half-life, holding in it at once much wherefore
it should desire its own continuance, and much that renders it
unworthy of continuance, that the doubtful desire of immortality can
arise.--Do you remember"--here Polwarth turned to Wingfold--"my
mentioning to you once a certain manuscript of strange interest--to
me at least and Rachel--which a brother of mine left behind him?"
"I remember it perfectly," answered the curate."
"It seems so to mingle with all I ever think on this question, that
I should much like, if you gentlemen would allow me, to read some
extracts from it."
Nothing could have been heartier than the assurance of both the men
that they could but be delighted to listen to anything he chose to
"I must first tell you, however," said Polwarth, "merely to protect
you from certain disturbing speculations, otherwise sure to present
themselves, that my poor brother was mad, and that what I now read
portions of seemed to him no play of the imagination, but a record
of absolute fact. Some parts are stranger and less intelligible than
others, but through it all there is abundance of intellectual
movement, and what seems to me a wonderful keenness to perceive the
movements and arrest the indications of an imagined consciousness."
As he spoke, the little man was opening a cabinet in which he kept
his precious things. He brought from it a good-sized quarto volume,
neatly bound in morocco, with gilt edges, which he seemed to handle
not merely with respect but with tenderness.
The heading of the next chapter is my own, and does not belong to
PASSAGES FROM THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THE WANDERING JEW.
"'I have at length been ill, very ill, once more, and for many
reasons foreign to the weightiest, which I had forgotten, I had
hoped that I was going to die. But therein I am as usual deceived
and disappointed. That I have been out of my mind I know, by having
returned to the real knowledge of what I am. The conscious present
has again fallen together and made a whole with the past, and that
whole is my personal identity.
"'How I broke loose from the bonds of a madness, which, after so
many and heavy years of uninterrupted sanity, had at length laid
hold upon me, I will now relate.
"'I had, as I have said, been very ill--with some sort of fever that
had found fit rooting in a brain overwearied, from not having been
originally constructed to last so long. Whether it came not of an
indwelling demon, or a legion of demons, I cannot tell--God knows.
Surely I was as one possessed. I was mad, whether for years, or but
for moments--who can tell? I cannot. Verily it seems for many years;
but, knowing well the truth concerning the relations of time in him
that dreameth and waketh from his dream, I place no confidence in
the testimony of the impressions left upon my seeming memory. I can
however trust it sufficiently as to the character of the illusions
that then possessed me. I imagined myself an Englishman called
Polwarth, of an ancient Cornish family. Indeed, I had in my
imagination, as Polwarth, gone through the history, every day of it,
with its sunrise and sunset, of more than half a lifetime. I had a
brother who was deformed and a dwarf, and a daughter who was like
him; and the only thing, throughout the madness, that approached a
consciousness of my real being and history, was the impression that
these things had come upon me because of a certain grievous wrong I
had at one time committed, which wrong, however, I had quite
forgotten--and could ill have imagined in its native hideousness.
"'But one morning, just as I woke, after a restless night filled
with dreams, I was aware of a half-embodied shadow in my mind--
whether thought or memory or imagination, I could not tell: and the
strange thing was, that it darkly radiated from it the conviction
that I must hold and identify it, or be for ever lost to myself.
Therefore, with all the might of my will to retain the shadow, and
all the energy of my recollection to recall that of which it was the
vague shadow, I concentrated the whole power of my spiritual man
upon the phantom thought, to fix and retain it.
"'Everyone knows what it is to hunt such a formless fact. Evanescent
as a rainbow, its whole appearance, from the first, is that of a
thing in the act of vanishing. It is a thing that was known, but,
from the moment consciousness turned its lantern upon it, began to
become invisible. For a time, during the close pursuit that follows,
it seems only to be turning corner after corner to evade the mind's
eye, but behind every corner it leaves a portion of itself; until at
length, although when finally cannot be told, it is gone so utterly
that the mind remains aghast in the perplexity of the doubt whether
ever there was a thought there at all.
"'Throughout my delusion of an English existence, I had been
tormented in my wakings with such thought-phantoms, and ever had I
followed them, as an idle man may follow a flitting marsh-fire.
Indeed, I had grown so much interested in the phenomenon and its
possible indications that I had invented various theories to account
for them, some of which seemed to myself original and ingenious,
while the common idea that they are vague reminiscences of a former
state of being, I had again and again examined, and as often
entirely rejected, as in no way tenable or verisimilar.
"'But upon the morning to which I have referred, I succeeded, for
the first time, in fixing, capturing, identifying the haunting,
fluttering thing. That moment the bonds of my madness were broken.
My past returned upon me. I had but to think in any direction, and
every occurrence, with time and place and all its circumstance, rose
again before me. The awful fact of my own being once more stood
bare--awful always--tenfold more awful after such a period of
blissful oblivion thereof: I was, I had been, I am now, as I write,
the man so mysterious in crime, so unlike all other men in his
punishment, known by various names in various lands--here in England
as the Wandering Jew. Ahasuerus was himself again, alas!--himself
and no other. Wife, daughter, brother vanished, and returned only in
dreams. I was and remain the wanderer, the undying, the repentant,
the unforgiven. O heart! O weary feet! O eyes that have seen and
never more shall see, until they see once and are blinded for ever!
Back upon my soul rushes the memory of my deed, like a storm of hail
mingled with fire, flashing through every old dry channel, that it
throbs and writhes anew, scorched at once and torn with the
THE WANDERING JEW.
"'It was a fair summer-morning in holy Jerusalem, and I sat and
wrought at my trade, for I sewed a pair of sandals for the feet of
the high priest Caiaphas. And I wrought diligently, for it behoved
me to cease an hour ere set of sun, for it was the day of
preparation for the eating of the Passover.
"'Now all that night there had been a going to and fro in the city,
for the chief priests and their followers had at length laid hands
upon him that was called Jesus, whom some believed to be the
Messiah, and others, with my fool-self amongst them, an
arch-impostor and blasphemer. For I was of the house of Caiaphas,
and heartily did desire that the man my lord declared a deceiver of
the people, should meet with the just reward of his doings. Thus I
sat and worked, and thought and rejoiced; and the morning passed and
the noon came.
"'It was a day of sultry summer, and the street burned beneath the
sun, and I sat in the shadow and looked out upon the glare; and ever
I wrought at the sandals of my lord, with many fine stitches, in
cunning workmanship. All had been for some time very still, when
suddenly I thought I heard a far-off tumult. And soon came the idle
children, who ever run first that they be not swallowed up of the
crowd; and they ran and looked behind as they ran. And after them
came the crowd, crying and shouting, and swaying hither and thither;
and in the midst of it arose the one arm of a cross, beneath the
weight of which that same Jesus bent so low that I saw him not.
Truly, said I, he hath not seldom borne heavier burdens in the
workshop of his father the Galilean, but now his sins and his
idleness have found him, and taken from him his vigour; for he that
despiseth the law shall perish, while they that wait upon the Lord
shall renew their strength. For I was wroth with the man who taught
the people to despise the great ones that administered the law, and
give honour to the small ones who only kept it. Besides, he had
driven my father's brother from the court of the Gentiles with a
whip, which truly hurt him not outwardly, but stung him to the soul;
and yet that very temple which he pretended thus to honour, he had
threatened to destroy and build again in three days! Such were the
thoughts of my heart; and when I learned from the boys that it was
in truth Jesus of Nazareth who passed on his way to Calvary to be
crucified, my heart leaped within me at the thought that the law had
at length overtaken the malefactor. I laid down the sandal and my
awl, and rose and went forth and stood in the front of my shop. And
Jesus drew nigh, and as he passed, lo, the end of the cross dragged
upon the street. And one in the crowd came behind, and lifted it up
and pushed therewith, so that Jesus staggered and had nigh fallen.
Then would be fain have rested the arm of the cross on the stone by
which I was wont to go up into my shop from the street. But I cried
out, and drove him thence, saying scornfully, "Go on Jesus; go on.
Truly thou restest not on stone of mine!" Then turned he his eyes
upon me, and said, "I go indeed, but thou goest not;" and therewith
he rose again under the weight of the cross, and staggered on,
"'And I followed in the crowd to Calvary.'"
Here the reader paused and said,
"I can give you but a few passages now. You see it is a large
manuscript. I will therefore choose some of those that bear upon the
subject of which we have been talking. A detailed account of the
crucifixion follows here, which I could not bring myself to read
aloud. The eclipse is in it, and the earthquake, and the white faces
of the risen dead gleaming through the darkness about the cross. It
"'And all the time, I stood not far from the foot of the cross, nor
dared go nearer, for around it were his mother and they that were
with her, and my heart was sore for her also. And I would have
withdrawn my foot from the place where I stood, and gone home to
weep, but something, I know not what, held me there as it were
rooted to the ground. At length the end was drawing near. He opened
his mouth and spake to his mother and the disciple who stood by her,
but truly I know not what he said, for as his eyes turned from them,
they looked upon me, and my heart died within me. He said nought,
but his eyes had that in them that would have slain me with sorrow,
had not death, although I knew it not, already shrunk from my
presence, daring no more come nigh such a malefactor.--Oh Death, how
gladly would I build thee a temple, set thee in a lofty place, and
worship thee with the sacrifice of vultures on a fire of dead men's
bones, wouldst thou but hear my cry!--But I rave again in my folly!
God forgive me. All the days of my appointed time will I wait until
my change come.--With that look--a well of everlasting tears in my
throbbing brain--my feet were unrooted, and I fled.'"
Here the reader paused again, and turned over many leaves.
"'And ever as I passed at night through the lands, when I came to a
cross by the wayside, thereon would I climb, and, winding my arms
about its arms and my feet about its stem, would there hang in the
darkness or the moon, in rain or hail, in wind or snow or frost,
until my sinews gave way, and my body dropped, and I knew no more
until I found myself lying at its foot in the morning. For, ever in
such case, I lay without sense until again the sun shone upon me.
"'... And if ever the memory of that look passed from me, then,
straightway I began to long for death, and so longed until the
memory and the power of the look came again, and with the sorrow in
my soul came the patience to live. And truly, although I speak of
forgetting and remembering, such motions of my spirit in me were not
as those of another man; in me they are not measured by the scale of
men's lives; they are not of years, but of centuries; for the
seconds of my life are ticked by a clock whose pendulum swings
through an arc of motionless stars.
"'... Once I had a vision of Death. Methinks it must have been a
precursive vapour of the madness that afterwards infolded me, for I
know well that there is not one called Death, that he is but a word
needful to the weakness of human thought and the poverty of human
speech; that he is a no-being, and but a change from that which
is.--I had a vision of Death, I say. And it was on this wise:
"'I was walking over a wide plain of sand, like Egypt, so that ever
and anon I looked around me to see if nowhere, from the base of the
horizon, the pyramids cut their triangle out of the blue night of
heaven; but I saw none. The stars came down and sparkled on the dry
sands, and all was waste, and wide desolation. The air also was
still as the air of a walled-up tomb, where there are but dry bones,
and not even the wind of an evil vapour that rises from decay. And
through the dead air came ever the low moaning of a distant sea,
towards which my feet did bear me. I had been journeying thus for
years, and in their lapse it had grown but a little louder.--Suddenly
I was aware that I was not alone. A dim figure strode beside me,
vague, but certain of presence. And I feared him not, seeing that
which men fear the most was itself that which by me was the most
desired. So I stood and turned and would have spoken. But the shade
that seemed not a shadow, went on and regarded me not. Then I also
turned again towards the moaning of the sea and went on. And lo!
the shade which had gone before until it seemed but as a vapour
among the stars, was again by my side walking. And I said, and stood
not, but walked on: Thou shade that art not a shadow, seeing there
shineth no sun or moon, and the stars are many, and the one slayeth
the shadow of the other, what art thou, and wherefore goest thou by
my side? Think not to make me afraid, for I fear nothing in the
universe but that which I love the best.--I spake of the eyes of the
Lord Jesus.--Then the shade that seemed no shadow answered me and
spake and said: Little knowest thou what I am, seeing the very thing
thou sayest I am not, that I am, and nought else, and there is no
other but me. I am Shadow, the shadow, the only shadow--none such as
those from which the light hideth in terror, yet like them, for life
hideth from me and turneth away, yet if life were not, neither were
I, for I am nothing; and yet again, as soon as anything is, there am
I, and needed no maker, but came of myself, for I am Death.--Ha!
Death! I cried, and would have cast myself before him with outstretched
arms of worshipful entreaty; but lo, there was a shadow upon the belt
of Orion, and no shadow by my side! and I sighed, and walked on towards
the ever moaning sea. Then again the shadow was by my side. And again
I spake and said: Thou thing of flitting and return, I despise thee,
for thou wilt not abide the conflict. And I would have cast myself upon
him and wrestled with him there, for defeat and not for victory. But I
could not lay hold upon him. Thou art a powerless nothing, I cried; I
will not even defy thee.--Thou wouldst provoke me, said the shadow; but
it availeth not. I cannot be provoked. Truly, I am but a shadow, yet
know I my own worth, for I am the Shadow of the Almighty, and where
he is, there am I--Thou art nothing, I said.--Nay, nay, I am not
Nothing. Thou, nor any man--God only knoweth what that word
meaneth. I am but the shadow of Nothing, and when THOU sayest
NOTHING, thou meanest only me; but what God meaneth when he sayeth
NOTHING--the nothing without him, that nothing which is no shadow
but the very substance of Unbeing--no created soul can know.--Then
art thou not Death? I asked.--I am what thou thinkest of when thou
sayest Death, he answered, but I am not Death.--Alas, then! why
comest thou to me in the desert places, for I did think thou wast
Death indeed, and couldst take me unto thee so that I should be no
more.--That is what death cannot do for thee, said the shadow; none
but he that created thee can cause that thou shouldst be no more.
Thou art until he will that thou be not. I have heard it said
amongst the wise that, hard as it is to create, it is harder still
to uncreate. Truly I cannot tell. But wouldst thou be uncreated by
the hand of Death? Wouldst thou have thy no-being the gift of a
shadow?--Then I thought of the eyes of the Lord Jesus, and the look
he cast upon me, and I said, No: I would not be carried away of
Death. I would be fulfilled of Life, and stand before God for ever.
Then once again the belt of Orion grew dim, and I saw the shadow no
more. And yet did I long for Death, for I thought he might bring me
to those eyes, and the pardon that lay in them.
"'But again, as the years went on, and each brought less hope than
that before it, I forgot the look the Lord had cast upon me, and in
the weariness of the life that was mortal and yet would not cease,
in the longing after the natural end of that which against nature
endured, I began to long even for the end of being itself. And in a
city of the Germans, I found certain men of my own nation who said
unto me: Fear not, Ahasuerus; there is no life beyond the grave.
Live on until thy end come, and cease thy complaints. Who is there
among us who would not gladly take upon him thy judgment, and live
until he was weary of living?--Yea, but to live after thou art
weary? I said. But they heeded me not, answering me and saying:
Search thou the Scriptures, even the Book of the Law, and see if
thou find there one leaf of this gourd of a faith that hath sprung
up in a night. Verily, this immortality is but a flash in the brain
of men that would rise above their fate. Sayeth Moses, or sayeth
Job, or sayeth David or Daniel a word of the matter? And I listened
unto them, and became of their mind. But therewithal the longing
after death returned with tenfold force and I rose up and girt my
garment about me, and went forth once more to search for him whom I
now took for the porter of the gate of eternal silence and unfelt
repose. And I said unto myself as I walked: What in the old days was
sweeter when I was weary with my labour at making of shoes, than to
find myself dropping into the death of sleep! how much sweeter then
must it not be to sink into the sleepiest of sleeps, the
father-sleep, the mother-bosomed death of nothingness and unawaking
rest! Then shall all this endless whir of the wheels of thought and
desire be over; then welcome the night whose darkness doth not
seethe, and which no morning shall ever stir!
"'And wherever armies were drawing nigh, each to the other, and the
day of battle was near, thither I flew in hot haste, that I might be
first upon the field, and ready to welcome hottest peril. I fought
not, for I would not slay those that counted it not the good thing
to be slain, as I counted it. But had the armies been of men that
loved death like me, how had I raged among them then, even as the
angel Azrael to give them their sore-desired rest! for I loved and
hated not my kind, and would diligently have mown them down out of
the stinging air of life into the soft balm of the sepulchre. But
what they sought not, and I therefore would not give, that searched
I after the more eagerly for myself. And my sight grew so keen that,
when yet no bigger than a mote in the sunbeam, I could always descry
the vulture-scout, hanging aloft over the field of destiny. Then
would I hasten on and on, until a swoop would have brought him
straight on my head.
"'And with that a troop of horsemen, horses and men mad with living
fear, came with a level rush towards the spot where I sat, faint
with woe. And I sprang up, and bounded to meet them, throwing my
arms aloft and shouting, as one who would turn a herd. And like a
wave of the rising tide before a swift wind, a wave that sweeps on
and breaks not, they came hard-buffeting over my head. Ah! that was
a torrent indeed!--a thunderous succession of solid billows, alive,
hurled along by the hurricane-fear in the heart of them! For one
moment only I felt and knew what I lay beneath, and then for a time
there was nothing.--I woke in silence, and thought I was dying, that
I had all but passed across the invisible line between, and in a
moment there would be for evermore nothing and nothing. Then
followed again an empty space as it seemed. And now I am dead and
gone, I said, and shall wander no more. And with that came the agony
of hell, for, lo, still _I_ THOUGHT! And I said to myself, Alas! O
God! for, notwithstanding I no more see or hear or taste or smell or
touch, and my body hath dropped from me, still am I Ahasuerus, the
Wanderer, and must go on and on and on, blind and deaf, through the
unutterable wastes that know not the senses of man--nevermore to
find rest! Alas! death is not death, seeing he slayeth but the
leathern bottle, and spilleth not the wine of life upon the earth.
Alas! alas! for I cannot die! And with that a finger twitched, and I
shouted aloud for joy: I was yet in the body! And I sprang to my
feet jubilant, and, lame and bruised and broken-armed, tottered away
after Death, who yet might hold the secret of eternal repose. I was
alive, but yet there was hope, for Death was yet before me! I was
alive, but I had not died, and who could tell but I might yet find
the lovely night that hath neither clouds nor stars! I had not
passed into the land of the dead and found myself yet living! The
wise men of my nation in the city of the Almains might yet be wise!
And for an hour I rejoiced, and was glad greatly.'"
THE WANDERING JEW.
"It was midnight, and sultry as hell. All day not a breath had
stirred. The country through which I passed was level as the sea
that had once flowed above it. My heart had almost ceased to beat,
and I was weary as the man who is too weary to sleep outright, and
labours in his dreams. I slumbered and yet walked on. My blood
flowed scarce faster than the sluggish water in the many canals I
crossed on my weary way. And ever I thought to meet the shadow that
was and was not death. But this was no dream. Just on the stroke of
midnight, I came to the gate of a large city, and the watchers let
me pass. Through many an ancient and lofty street I wandered, like a
ghost in a dream, knowing no one, and caring not for myself, and at
length reached an open space where stood a great church, the cross
upon whose spire seemed bejewelled with the stars upon which it
dwelt. And in my soul I said, O Lord Jesus! and went up to the base
of the tower, and found the door thereof open to my hand. Then with
my staff I ascended the winding stairs, until I reached the open
sky. And the stairs went still winding, on and on, up towards the
stars. And with my staff I ascended, and arose into the sky, until I
stood at the foot of the cross of stone.
"'Ay me! how the centuries without haste, without rest, had glided
along since I stood by the cross of dishonour and pain! And God had
not grown weary of his life yet, but I had grown so weary in my very
bones that weariness was my element, and I had ceased almost to note
it. And now, high-uplifted in honour and worship over every populous
city, stood the cross among the stars! I scrambled up the pinnacles,
and up on the carven stem of the cross, for my sinews were as steel,
and my muscles had dried and hardened until they were as those of
the tiger or the great serpent. So I climbed, and lifted up myself
until I reached the great arms of the cross, and over them I flung
my arms, as was my wont, and entwined the stem with my legs, and
there hung, three hundred feet above the roofs of the houses. And as
I hung the moon rose and cast the shadow of me Ahasuerus upon the
cross, up against the Pleiades. And as if dull Nature were offended
thereat, nor understood the offering of my poor sacrifice, the
clouds began to gather, like the vultures--no one could have told
whence. From all sides around they rose, and the moon was blotted
out, and they gathered and rose until they met right over the cross.
And when they closed, then the lightning brake forth, and the
thunder with it, and it flashed and thundered above and around and
beneath me, so that I could not tell which voice belonged to which
arrow, for all were mingled in one great confusion and uproar. And
the people in the houses below heard the sound of the thunder, and
they looked from their windows, and they saw the storm raving and
flashing about the spire, which stood the heart of the agony, and
they saw something hang there, even upon its cross, in the form of a
man, and they came from their houses, and the whole space beneath
was filled with people, who stood gazing up at the marvel. A
MIRACLE! A MIRACLE! they cried; and truly it was no miracle--it was
only me Ahasuerus, the wanderer taking thought concerning his crime
against the crucified. Then came a great light all about me, such
light for shining as I had never before beheld, and indeed I saw it
not all with my eyes, but the greater part with my soul, which
surely is the light of the eyes themselves. And I said to myself,
Doubtless the Lord is at hand, and he cometh to me as late to the
blessed Saul of Tarsus, who was NOT the chief of sinners, but
I--Ahasuerus, the accursed. And the thunder burst like the bursting
of a world in the furnace of the sun; and whether it was that the
lightning struck me, or that I dropped, as was my custom, outwearied
from the cross, I know not, but thereafter I lay at its foot among
the pinnacles, and when the people looked again, the miracle was
over, and they returned to their houses and slept. And the next day,
when I sought the comfort of the bath, I found upon my side the
figure of a cross, and the form of a man hanging thereupon as I had
hung, depainted in a dark colour as of lead plain upon the flesh of
my side over my heart. Here was a miracle indeed! but verily I knew
not whether therefrom to gather comfort or despair.
"'And it was night as I went into a village among the mountains,
through the desert places of which I had all that day been
wandering. And never before had my condition seemed to me so
hopeless. There was not one left upon the earth who had ever seen me
knowing me, and although there went a tale of such a man as I, yet
faith had so far vanished from the earth that for a thing to be
marvellous, however just, was sufficient reason wherefore no man, to
be counted wise, should believe the same. For the last fifty years I
had found not one that would receive my testimony. For when I told
them the truth concerning myself, saying as I now say, and knowing
the thing for true--that I was Ahasuerus whom the Word had banished
from his home in the regions governed of Death, shutting against him
the door of the tomb that he should not go in, every man said I was
mad, and would hold with me no manner of communication, more than if
I had been possessed with a legion of swine-loving demons. Therefore
was I cold at heart, and lonely to the very root of my being. And
thus it was with me that midnight as I entered the village among the
mountains.--Now all therein slept, so even that not a dog barked at
the sound of my footsteps. But suddenly, and my soul yet quivers
with dismay at the remembrance, a yell of horror tore its way from
the throat of every sleeper at once, and shot into every cranny of
the many-folded mountains, that my soul knocked shaking against the
sides of my body, and I also shrieked aloud with the keen terror of
the cry. For surely there was no sleeper there, man, woman, or
child, who yelled not aloud in an agony of fear. And I knew that it
could only be because of the unseen presence in their street of the
outcast, the homeless, the loveless, the wanderer for ever, who had
refused a stone to his maker whereon to rest his cross. Truly I know
not whence else could have come that cry. And I looked to see that
all the inhabitants of the village should rush out upon me, and go
for to slay the unslayable in their agony. But the cry passed, and
after the cry came again the stillness. And for very dread lest yet
another such cry should enter my ears, and turn my heart to a jelly,
I did hasten my steps to leave the dwellings of the children of the
world, and pass out upon the pathless hills again. But as I turned
and would have departed, the door of a house opened over against
where I stood; and as it opened, lo! a sharp gust of wind from the
mountains swept along the street, and out into the wind came running
a girl, clothed only in the garment of the night. And the wind blew
upon her, and by the light of the moon I saw that her hands and her
feet were rough and brown, as of one that knew labour and hardship,
but yet her body was dainty and fair, and moulded in loveliness. Her
hair blew around her like a rain cloud, so that it almost blinded
her, and truly she had much ado to clear it from her face, as a
half-drowned man would clear from his face the waters whence he
hath been lifted; and like two stars of light from amidst the cloud
gazed forth the eyes of the girl. And she looked upon me with the
courage of a child, and she said unto me, Stranger, knowest thou
wherefore was that cry? Was it thou who did so cry in our street in
the night? And I answered her and said, Verily not I, maiden, but I
too heard the cry, and it shook my soul within me.--What seemed it
unto thee like, she asked, for truly I slept, and know only the
terror thereof and not the sound? And I said, It seemed unto me that
every soul in the village cried out at once in some dream of
horror.--I cried not out, she said; for I slept and dreamed, and my
dream was such that I know verily I cried not out. And the maiden
was lovely in her innocence. And I said: And was thy dream such,
maiden, that thou wouldst not refuse but wouldst tell it to an old
man like me? And with that the wind came down from the mountain like
a torrent of wolves, and it laid hold upon me and swept me from the
village, and I fled before it, and could not stay my steps until I
got me into the covert of a hollow rock.
"'And scarce had I turned in thither when, lo! thither came the maiden
also, flying in my footsteps, and driven of the self-same mighty
wind. And I turned in pity and said, Fear not, my child. Here is but
an old man with a sore and withered heart, and he will not harm
thee.--I fear thee not, she answered, else would I not have
followed thee.--Thou didst not follow me of thine own inclining, I
said, but the wind that came from the mountains and swept me before
it, did bear thee after me.--Truly I know of no wind, she said, but