like the Father’s hand laid a little heavy on the heart to make it still. But her dreams were full of torture, and even when she had no definite dream, she was haunted by the vague presence of blood. It was considerably past her usual time for rising when at length she heard her maid in the room. She got up wearily, but beyond the heaviest of hearts and a general sense of misery, nothing ailed her. Nor even did her head ache.
But she had lived an age since she woke last; and the wonder was, not that she felt so different, but that she should be aware of being the same person as before notwithstanding all that had passed. Her business now was to keep herself from thinking until breakfast should be over. She must hold the “ebony box” of last night close shut even from her own eyes, lest the demons of which it was full should rush out and darken the world about her. She hurried to her bath for strength: the friendly water would rouse her to the present, make the past recede like a dream, and give her courage to face the future. Her very body seemed defiled by the knowledge that was within it. Alas! how must poor Leopold feel, then! But she must not think.
All the time she was dressing, her thoughts kept hovering round the awful thing like moths around a foul flame, from which she could not drive them away. Ever and again she said to herself that she must not, yet ever and again she found herself peeping through the chinks of the thought-chamber at the terrible thing inside–the form of which she could not see–saw only the colour–red,–red mingled with ghastly whiteness. In all the world, her best-loved, her brother, the child of her grandfather, was the only one who knew how that thing came there.
But while Helen’s being was in such tumult that she could never more be the cool, indifferent, self-contented person she had hitherto been, her old habits and forms of existence were now of endless help to the retaining of her composure and the covering of her secret. A dim gleam of gladness woke in her at the sight of the unfinished cap, than which she could not have a better excuse for her lateness, and when she showed it to her aunt with the wish of many happy returns of the day, no second glance from Mrs. Ramshorn added to her uneasiness.
But oh, how terribly the time crept in its going! for she dared not approach the deserted house while the daylight kept watching it like a dog; and what if Leopold should have destroyed himself in the madness of his despair before she could go to him! She had not a friend to help her. George Bascombe?–she shuddered at the thought of him. With his grand ideas of duty, he would be for giving up Leopold that very moment! Naturally the clergyman was the one to go to–and Mr. Wingfold had himself done wrong. But he had confessed it! No–he was a poor creature, and would not hold his tongue! She shook at every knock at the door, every ring at the bell, lest it should be the police. To be sure, he had been comparatively little there, and naturally they would seek him first at Goldswyre–but where next? At Glaston, of course. Every time a servant entered the room she turned away, lest her ears should make her countenance a traitor. The police might be watching the house, and might follow her when she went to him! With her opera-glass, she examined the meadow, then ran to the bottom of the garden, and lying down, peered over the sunk fence. But not a human being was in sight. Next she put on her bonnet, with the pretence of shopping, to see if there were any suspicious-looking persons in the street. But she did not meet a single person unknown to her between her aunt’s door and Mr. Drew the linendraper’s. There she bought a pair of gloves, and walked quietly back, passing the house, and going on to the Abbey, without meeting one person at whom she had to look twice.
All the time her consciousness was like a single intense point of light in the middle of a darkness it could do nothing to illuminate. She knew nothing but that her brother lay in that horrible empty house, and that, if his words were not the ravings of a maniac, the law, whether it yet suspected him or not, was certainly after him, and if it had not yet struck upon his trail, was every moment on the point of finding it, and must sooner or later come up with him. She MUST save him–all that was left of him to save! But poor Helen knew very little about saving.
One thing more she became suddenly aware of as she re-entered the house–the possession of a power of dissimulation, of hiding herself, hitherto strange to her, for hitherto she had had nothing, hardly even a passing dislike to conceal. The consciousness brought only exultation with it, for her nature was not yet delicate enough to feel the jar of the thought that neither words nor looks must any more be an index to what lay within her.
A DAYLIGHT VISIT.
But she could not rest. When would the weary day be over, and the longed-for rather than welcome night appear? Again she went into the garden, and down to the end of it, and looked out over the meadow. Not a creature was in sight, except a red and white cow, a child gathering buttercups, and a few rooks crossing from one field to another. It was a glorious day; the sun seemed the very centre of conscious peace. And now first, strange to say, Helen began to know the bliss of bare existence under a divine sky, in the midst of a divine air, the two making a divine summer, which throbbed with the presence of the creative spirit–but as something apart from her now, something she had had, but had lost, which could never more be hers. How could she ever be glad again, with such a frightful fact in her soul! Away there beyond those trees lay her unhappy brother, in the lonely house, now haunted indeed. Perhaps he lay there dead! The horrors of the morning, or his own hand, might have slain him. She must go to him. She would defy the very sun, and go in the face of the universe. Was he not her brother?–Was there no help anywhere? no mantle for this sense of soul-nakedness that had made her feel as if her awful secret might be read a mile away, lying crimson and livid in the bottom of her heart. She dared hardly think of it, lest the very act should betray the thing of darkness to the world of light around her. Nothing but the atmosphere of another innocent soul could shield hers, and she had no friend. What did people do when their brothers did awful deeds? She had heard of praying to God–had indeed herself told her brother to pray, but it was all folly–worse, priestcraft. As if such things AND a God could exist together! Yet, even with the thought of denial in her mind, she looked up, and gazed earnestly into the wide innocent mighty space, as if by searching she might find some one. Perhaps she OUGHT to pray. She could see no likelihood of a God, and yet something pushed her towards prayer. What if all this had come upon her and Poldie because she never prayed! If there were such horrible things in the world, although she had never dreamed of them–if they could come so near her, into her very soul, making her feel like a murderess, might there not be a God also, though she knew nothing of his whereabouts or how to reach him and gain a hearing? Certainly if things went with such hellish possibilities at the heart of them, and there was no hand at all to restrain or guide or restore, the world was a good deal worse place than either the Methodists or the Positivists made it out to be. In the form of feelings, not of words, hardly even of thoughts, things like these passed through her mind as she stood on the top of the sunk fence and gazed across the flat of sunny green before her. She could almost have slain herself to be rid of her knowledge and the awful consciousness that was its result. SHE would have found no difficulty in that line of Macbeth:–“To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself.”–But all this time there was her brother! She MUST go to him. “God hide me,” she cried within her. “But how can he hide me,” she thought, “when I am hiding a murderer?” “O God,” she cried again, and this time in an audible murmur, “I am his sister, thou knowest!” Then she turned, walked back to the house, and sought her aunt.
“I have got a little headache,” she said quite coolly, “and I want a long walk. Don’t wait luncheon for me. It is such a glorious day! I shall go by the Millpool road, and across the park. Good-bye till tea, or perhaps dinner-time even.”
“Hadn’t you better have a ride and be back to luncheon? I shan’t want Jones to-day,” said her aunt mournfully, who, although she had almost given up birthdays, thought her niece need not quite desert her on the disagreeable occasion.
“I’m not in tne humour for riding, aunt. Nothing will do me good but a walk. I shall put some luncheon in my bag.”
She went quietly out by the front door, walked slowly, softly, statelily along the street and out of the town, and entered the park by the lodge-gate. She saw Rachel at her work in the kitchen as she passed, and heard her singing in a low and weak but very sweet voice, which went to her heart like a sting, making the tall, handsome, rich lady envy the poor distorted atom who, through all the fogs of her winter, had yet something in her that sought such utterance. But, indeed, if all her misery had been swept away like a dream, Helen might yet have envied the dwarf ten times more than she did now, had she but known how they stood compared with each other. For the being of Helen to that of Rachel was as a single, untwined primary cell to a finished brain; as the peeping of a chicken to the song of a lark–I had almost said, to a sonata of Beethoven.
“Good day, Rachel,” she said, calling as she passed, in a kindly, even then rather condescending voice, through the open door, where a pail of water, just set down, stood rocking the sun on its heaving surface, and flashing it out again into the ocean of the light. It seemed to poor Helen a squalid abode, but it was a home-like palace, and fairly furnished, in comparison with the suburban villa and shop-upholstery which typified the house of her spirit–now haunted by a terrible secret walking through its rooms, and laying a bloody hand upon all their whitenesses.
There was no sound all the way as she went but the noise of the birds, and an occasional clank from the new building far away. At last, with beating heart and scared soul, she was within the high garden-wall, making her way through the rank growth of weeds and bushes to the dismal house. She entered trembling, and the air felt as if death had been before her. Hardly would her limbs carry her, but with slow step she reached the hidden room. He lay as she had left him. Was he asleep, or dead? She crept near and laid her hand on his forehead. He started to his feet in an agony of fright. She soothed and reassured him as best she was able. When the paroxysm relaxed–
“You didn’t whistle,” he said.
“No; I forgot,” answered Helen, shocked at her own carelessness. “But if I had, you would not have heard me: you were fast asleep.”
“A good thing I was! And yet no! I wish I had heard you, for then by this time I should have been beyond their reach.”
Impulsively he showed her the short dangerous looking weapon he carried. Helen stretched out her hand to take it, but he hurriedly replaced it in his pocket.
“I will find some water for you to wash with,” said Helen. “There used to be a well in the garden, I remember. I have brought you a shirt.”
With some difficulty she found the well, all but lost in matted weeds under an ivy-tod, and in the saucer of a flower-pot she carried him some water, and put the garment with the horrible spot in her bag, to take it away and destroy it. Then she made him eat and drink. He did whatever she told him, with a dull, yet doglike obedience. His condition was much changed; he had a stupefied look, and seemed only half awake to his terrible situation. Yet he answered what questions she put to him even too readily–with an indifferent matter-of-factness, indeed, more dreadful than any most passionate outburst. But at the root of the apparent apathy lay despair and remorse,–weary, like gorged and sleeping tigers far back in their dens. Only the dull torpedo of misery was awake, lying motionless on the bottom of the deepest pool of his spirit.
The mood was favourable to the drawing of his story from him, but there are more particulars in the narrative I am now going to give than Helen at that time learned.
While yet a mere boy, scarcely more than sixteen, Leopold had made acquaintance with the family of a certain manufacturer, who, having retired from business with a rapidly-gained fortune, had some years before purchased an estate a few miles from Goldswyre, his uncle’s place. Their settling in the neighbourhood was not welcome to the old-fashioned, long-rooted family of the Lingards; but although they had not called upon them, they could not help meeting them occasionally. Leopold’s association with them commenced just after he had left Eton, between which time and his going up to Cambridge he spent a year in reading with his cousins’ tutor. It was at a ball he first saw Emmeline, the eldest of the family. She had but lately returned from a school at which from the first she had had for her bedfellow a black ewe. It was not a place where any blackness under that of pitch was likely to attract notice, being one of those very ordinary and very common schools where everything is done that is done, first for manners, then for accomplishments, and lastly for information, leaving all the higher faculties and endowments of the human being as entirely unconsidered as if they had no existence. Taste, feeling, judgment, imagination, conscience, are in such places left to look after themselves, and the considerations presented to them, and duties required of them as religious, are only fitted to lower still farther such moral standard as they may possess. Schools of this kind send out, as their quota of the supply of mothers for the ages to come, young women who will consult a book of etiquette as to what is ladylike; who always think what is the mode, never what is beautiful; who read romances in which the wickedness is equalled only by the shallowness; who write questions to weekly papers concerning points of behaviour, and place their whole, or chief delight in making themselves attractive to men. Some such girls look lady-like and interesting, and many of them are skilled in the arts that meet their fullest development in a nature whose sense of existence is rounded by its own reflection in the mirror of self-consciousness falsified by vanity. Once understood, they are for a sadness or a loathing, after the nature that understands them; till then, they are to the beholder such as they desire to appear, while under the fair outside lies a nature whose vulgarity, if the most thorough of changes do not in the meantime supervene, will manifest itself hideously on the approach of middle age, that is, by the time when habituation shall have destroyed the restraints of diffidence. Receiving ever fresh and best assurance of their own consequence in the attention and admiration of men, such girls are seldom capable of any real attachment, and the marvel is that so few of them comparatively disgrace themselves after marriage.
Whether it was the swarthy side of his nature, early ripened under the hot Indian sun, that found itself irresistibly drawn to the widening of its humanity in the flaxen fairness of Emmeline, or the Saxon element in him seeking back to its family–it might indeed have been both, our nature admitting of such marvellous complexity in its unity,–he fell in love with her, if not in the noblest yet in a very genuine, though at the same time very passionate way; and as she had, to use a Scots proverb, a crop for all corn, his attentions were acceptable to her. Had she been true-hearted enough to know anything of that love whose name was for ever suffering profanation upon her lips, she would, being at least a year and a half older than he, have been too much of a woman to encourage his approaches–would have felt he was a boy and must not be allowed to fancy himself a man. But to be just, he did look to English eyes older than he was. And then he was very handsome, distinguished-looking, of a good family, which could in no sense be said of her,–and with high connections–at the same time a natural contrast to herself, and personally attractive to her. The first moment she saw his great black eyes blaze, she accepted the homage, laid it on the altar of her self-worship, and ever after sought to see them lighted up afresh in worship of her only divinity. To be feelingly aware of her power over him, to play upon him as on an instrument, to make his cheek pale or glow, his eyes flash or fill, as she pleased, was a game almost too delightful.
One of the most potent means for producing the humano-atmospheric play in which her soul thus rejoiced, and one whose operation was to none better known than to Emmeline, was jealousy, and for its generation she had all possible facilities–for there could not be a woman in regard of whom jealousy was more justifiable on any ground except that of being worth it. So far as it will reach, however, it must be remembered, in mitigation of judgment, that she had no gauge in herself equal to the representation of a tithe of the misery whose signs served to lift her to the very Paradise of falsehood: she knew not what she did, and possibly knowledge might have found in her some pity and abstinence. But when a woman, in her own nature cold, takes delight in rousing passion, she will, selfishly confident in her own safety, go to strange lengths in kindling and fanning the flame which is the death of the other.
It is far from my intention to follow the disagreeable topic across the pathless swamp through which an elaboration of its phases would necessarily drag me. Of morbid anatomy, save for the setting forth of cure, I am not fond, and here there is nothing to be said of cure. What concerns me as a narrator is, that Emmeline consoled and irritated and re-consoled Leopold, until she had him her very slave, and the more her slave that by that time he knew something of her character. The knowledge took from him what little repose she had left him; he did no more good at school, and went to Cambridge with the conviction that the woman to whom he had given his soul, would be doing things in his absence the sight of which would drive him mad. Yet somehow he continued to live, reassured now and then by the loving letters she wrote to him, and relieving his own heart while he fostered her falsehood by the passionate replies he made to them.
From a sad accident of his childhood, he had become acquainted with something of the influences of a certain baneful drug, to the use of which one of his attendants was addicted, and now at college, partly from curiosity, partly from a desire to undergo its effects, but chiefly in order to escape from ever-gnawing and passionate thought, he began to make EXPERIMENTS in its use. Experiment called for repetition–in order to verification, said the fiend,–and repetition led first to a longing after its effects, and next to a mad appetite for the thing itself; so that, by the time of which my narrative treats, he was on the verge of absolute slavery to its use, and in imminent peril of having to pass the rest of his life in alternations of ecstasy and agony, divided by dull spaces of misery, the ecstasies growing rarer and rarer, and the agonies more and more frequent, intense, and lasting; until at length the dethroned Apollo found himself chained to a pillar of his own ruined temple, which the sirocco was fast filling with desert sand.
LEOPOLD’S STORY CONCLUDED.
He knew from her letters that they were going to give a ball, at which as many as pleased should be welcome in fancy dresses, and masked if they chose. The night before it he had a dream, under the influence of his familiar no doubt, which made him so miserable and jealous that he longed to see her as a wounded man longs for water, and the thought arose of going down to the ball, not exactly in disguise, for he had no mind to act a part, but masked so that he should not be recognised as uninvited, and should have an opportunity of watching Emmeline, concerning whose engagement with a young cavalry officer there had lately been reports, which, however, before his dream, had caused him less uneasiness than many such preceding. The same moment the thought was a resolve.
I must mention that no one whatever knew the degree of his intimacy with Emmeline, or that he had any ground for considering her engaged to him. Secrecy added much to the zest of Emmeline’s pleasures. Everyone knew that he was a devoted admirer–but therein to be classed with a host.
For concealment, he contented himself with a large travelling-cloak, a tall felt hat, and a black silk mask.
He entered the grounds with an arrival of guests, and knowing the place perfectly, contrived to see something of her behaviour, while he watched for an opportunity of speaking to her alone,–a quest of unlikely success. Hour after hour he watched, and all the time never spoke or was spoken to.
Those who are acquainted with the mode of operation of the drug to which I have referred, are aware that a man may be fully under its influences without betraying to the ordinary observer that he is in a condition differing from that of other men. But, in the living dream wherein he walks, his feeling of time and of space is so enlarged, or perhaps, I rather think, so subdivided to the consciousness, that everything about him seems infinite both in duration and extent; the action of a second has in it a multitudinous gradation of progress, and a line of space is marked out into millionths, of every one of which the consciousness takes note. At the same time his senses are open to every impression from things around him, only they appear to him in a strangely exalted metamorphosis, the reflex of his own mental exaltation either in bliss or torture, while the fancies of a man mingle with the facts thus introduced and modify and are in turn modified by them; whereby out of the chaos arises the mountain of an Earthly Paradise, whose roots are in the depths of hell; and whether the man be with the divine air and the clear rivers and the thousand-hued flowers on the top, or down in the ice-lake with the tears frozen to hard lumps in the hollows of his eyes so that he can no more have even the poor consolation of weeping, is but the turning of a hair, so far at least as his will has to do with it. The least intrusion of anything painful, of any jar that cannot be wrought into the general harmony of the vision, will suddenly alter its character, and from the seventh heaven of speechless bliss the man may fall plumb down into gulfs of horrible and torturing, it may be loathsome imaginings.
Now Leopold had taken a dose of the drug on his journey, and it was later than usual, probably because of the motion, ere it began to take effect. He had indeed ceased to look for any result from it, when all at once, as he stood amongst the laburnums and lilacs of a rather late spring, something seemed to burst in his brain, and that moment he was Endymion waiting for Diana in her interlunar grove, while the music of the spheres made the blossoms of a stately yet flowering forest, tremble all with conscious delight.
Emboldened by his new condition, he drew nigh the house. They were then passing from the ball to the supper-room, and he found the tumult so distasteful to his mood of still ecstasy that he would not have entered had he not remembered that he had in his pocket a note ready if needful to slip into her hand, containing only the words, “Meet me for one long minute at the circle,”–a spot well known to both: he threw his cloak Spanish fashion over his left shoulder, slouched his hat, and entering stood in a shadowy spot she must pass in going to or from the supper-room. There he waited, with the note hid in his hand–a long time, yet not a weary one, such visions of loveliness passed before his entranced gaze. At length SHE also passed–lovely as the Diana whose dress she had copied–not quite so perfectly as she had abjured her manners. She leaned trustingly on the arm of some one, but Leopold never even looked at him. He slid the note into her hand, which hung ungloved as inviting confidences. With an instinct quickened and sharpened tenfold by much practice, her fingers instantly closed upon it, but, not a muscle belonging to any other part of her betrayed the intrusion of a foreign body: I do not believe her heart gave one beat the more to the next minute. She passed graceful on, her swan’s-neck shining; and Leopold hastened out to one of the windows of the ball-room, there to feast his eyes upon her loveliness. But when he caught sight of her whirling in the waltz with the officer of dragoons whose name he had heard coupled with hers, and saw her flash on him the light and power of eyes which were to him the windows of all the heaven he knew, as they swam together in the joy of the rhythm, of the motion, of the music, suddenly the whole frame of the dream wherein he wandered, trembled, shook, fell down into the dreary vaults that underlie all the airy castles that have other foundation than the will of the eternal Builder. With the suddenness of the dark that follows the lightning, the music changed to a dissonant clash of multitudinous cymbals, the resounding clang of brazen doors, and the hundred-toned screams of souls in torture. The same moment, from halls of infinite scope, where the very air was a soft tumult of veiled melodies ever and anon twisted into inextricable knots of harmony–under whose skyey domes he swept upborne by chords of sound throbbing up against great wings mighty as thought yet in their motions as easy and subtle, he found himself lying on the floor of a huge vault, whose black slabs were worn into many hollows by the bare feet of the damned as they went and came between the chambers of their torture opening off upon every side, whence issued all kinds of sickening cries, and mingled with the music to which, with whips of steel, hellish executioners urged the dance whose every motion was an agony. His soul fainted within him, and the vision changed. When he came to himself, he lay on the little plot of grass amongst the lilacs and laburnums where he had asked Emmeline to meet him. Fevered with jealousy and the horrible drug, his mouth was parched like an old purse, and he found himself chewing at the grass to ease its burning and drought. But presently the evil thing resumed its sway and fancies usurped over facts. He thought he was lying in an Indian jungle, close by the cave of a beautiful tigress, which crouched within, waiting the first sting of reviving hunger to devour him. He could hear her breathing as she slept, but he was fascinated, paralyzed, and could not escape, knowing that, even if with mighty effort he succeeded in moving a finger, the motion would suffice to wake her, and she would spring upon him and tear him to pieces. Years upon years passed thus, and he still lay on the grass in the jungle, and still the beautiful tigress slept. But however far apart the knots upon the string of time may lie, they must pass: an angel in white stood over him, his fears vanished, the waving of her wings cooled him, and she was the angel whom he had loved and loved from all eternity, in whom was his ever-and-only rest. She lifted him to his feet, gave him her hand, they walked away, and the tigress was asleep for ever. For miles and miles, as it seemed to his exaltation, they wandered away into the woods, to wander in them for ever, the same violet blue, flashing with roseate stars, for ever looking in through the tree-tops, and the great leafy branches hushing, ever hushing them, as with the voices of child-watching mothers, into peace, whose depth is bliss.
“Have you nothing to say now I am come?” said the angel.
“I have said all. I am at rest,” answered the mortal.
“I am going to be married to Captain Hodges,” said the angel.
And with the word, the forests of heaven vanished, and the halls of Eblis did not take their place:–a worse hell was there–the cold reality of an earth abjured, and a worthless maiden walking by his side. He stood and turned to her. The shock had mastered the drug. They were only in the little wooded hollow, a hundred yards from the house. The blood throbbed in his head as from the piston of an engine. A horrid sound of dance-music was in his ears. Emmeline, his own, stood in her white dress, looking up in his face, with the words just parted from her lips, “I am going to be married to Captain Hodges.” The next moment she threw her arms round his neck, pulled his face to hers, and kissed him, and clung to him.
“Poor Leopold!” she said, and looked in his face with her electric battery at full power; “does it make him miserable, then?–But you know it could not have gone on like this between you and me for ever! It was very dear while it lasted, but it must come to an end.”
Was there a glimmer of real pity and sadness in those wondrous eyes? She laughed–was it a laugh of despair or of exultation?–and hid her face on his bosom. And what was it that awoke in Leopold? Had the drug resumed its power over him? Was it rage at her mockery, or infinite compassion for her despair? Would he slay a demon, or ransom a spirit from hateful bonds? Would he save a woman from disgrace and misery to come? or punish her for the vilest falsehood? Who can tell? for Leopold himself never could. Whatever the feeling was, its own violence erased it from his memory, and left him with a knife in his hand, and Emmeline lying motionless at his feet. It was a knife the Scotch highlanders call a skean-dhu, sharp-pointed as a needle, sharp-edged as a razor, and with one blow of it he had cleft her heart, and she never cried or laughed any more in that body whose charms she had degraded to the vile servitude of her vanity. The next thing he remembered was standing on the edge of the shaft of a deserted coalpit, ready to cast himself down. Whence came the change of resolve, he could not tell, but he threw in his cloak and mask, and fled. The one thought in his miserable brain was his sister. Having murdered one woman, he was fleeing to another for refuge. Helen would save him.
How he had found his way to his haven, he had not an idea. Searching the newspapers, Helen heard that a week had elapsed between the “mysterious murder of a young lady in Yorkshire” and the night on which he came to her window.
“Well, Poldie, after all I would rather be you than she!” cried Helen indignantly, when she had learned the whole story.
It was far from the wisest thing to say, but she meant it, and clasped her brother to her bosom.
Straightway the poor fellow began to search for all that man could utter in excuse, nay in justification, not of himself, but of the woman he had murdered, appropriating all the blame. But Helen had recognised in Emmeline the selfishness which is the essential murderer, nor did it render her more lenient towards her that the same moment, with a start of horror, she caught a transient glimpse of the same in herself. But the discovery wrought in the other direction, and the tenderness she now lavished upon Leopold left all his hopes far behind. Her brother’s sin had broken wide the feebly-flowing springs of her conscience, and she saw that in idleness and ease and drowsiness of soul, she had been forgetting and neglecting even the being she loved best in the universe. In the rushing confluence of love, truth, and indignation, to atone for years of half-love, half-indifference, as the past now appeared to her, she would have spoiled him terribly, heaping on him caresses and assurances that he was far the less guilty and the more injured of the two; but Leopold’s strength was exhausted, and he fell back in a faint.
While she was occupied with his restoration many things passed through her mind. Amongst the rest she saw it would be impossible for her to look after him sufficiently where he was, that the difficulty of feeding him even would be great, that very likely he was on the borders of an illness, when he would require constant attention, that the danger of discovery was great–in short, that some better measures must be taken for his protection and the possibility of her ministrations. If she had but a friend to consult! Ever that thought returned. Alas! she had none on whose counsel or discretion either she could depend. When at length he opened his eyes, she told him she must leave him now, but when it was dark she would come again, and stay with him till dawn. Feebly he assented, seeming but half aware of what she said, and again closed his eyes. While he lay thus, she gained possession of his knife. It left its sheath behind it, and she put it naked in her pocket. As she went from the room, feeling like a mother abandoning her child in a wolf-haunted forest, his eyes followed her to the door with a longing, wild, hungry look, and she felt the look following her still through the wood and across the park and into her chamber, while the knife in her pocket felt like a spellbound demon waiting his chance to work them both a mischief. She locked her door and took it out, and as she put it carefully away, fearful lest any attempt to destroy it might lead to its discovery, she caught sight of her brother’s name engraved in full upon the silver mounting of the handle. “What if he had left it behind him!” she thought with a shudder.
But a reassuring strength had risen in her mind with Leopold’s disclosure. More than once on her way home she caught herself reasoning that the poor boy had not been to blame at all–that he could not help it–that she had deserved nothing less. Her conscience speedily told her that in consenting to such a thought, she herself would be a murderess. Love her brother she must; excuse him she might, for honest excuse is only justice; but to uphold the deed would be to take the part of hell against heaven. Still the murder did not, would not seem so frightful after she had heard the whole tale, and she found it now required far less effort to face her aunt. If she was not the protectress of the innocent, she was of the grievously wronged, and the worst wrong done him was the crime he had been driven to do. She lay down and slept until dinner time, woke refreshed, and sustained her part during the slow meal, neartened by the expectation of seeing her brother again and in circumstance of less anxiety when the friendly darkness had come, and all eyes but theirs were closed. She talked to her aunt and a lady who dined with them as if she had the freest heart in the world; the time passed; the converse waned; the hour arrived; adieus were said; drowsiness came. All the world of Glaston was asleep; the night on her nest was brooding upon the egg of to-morrow; the moon was in darkness; and the wind was blowing upon Helen’s hot forehead, as she slid like a thief across the park.
Her mind was in a tumult of mingled feelings, all gathered about the form of her precious brother. One moment she felt herself ministering to the father she had loved so dearly, in protecting his son; the next the thought of her father had vanished, and all was love for the boy whose memories filled the shadow of her childhood; about whom she had dreamed night after night as he crossed the great sea to come to her; who had crept into her arms timidly, and straightway turned into the daintiest merriest playmate; who had charmed her even in his hot-blooded rages, when he rushed at her with whatever was in his hand at the moment. Then she had laughed and dared him; now she shuddered to remember. Again, and this was the feeling that generally prevailed, she was a vessel overflowing with the mere woman-passion of protection: the wronged, abused, maddened, oppressed, hunted human thing was dependent upon her, and her alone, for any help or safety he was ever to find. Sometimes it was the love of a mother for her sick child; sometimes that of a tigress crouching over her wounded cub and licking its hurts. All was coloured with admiration of his beauty and grace, and mingled with boundless pity for their sad overclouding and defeature! Nor was the sense of wrong to herself in wrong to her own flesh and blood wanting. The sum of all was a passionate devotion of her being to the service of her brother.
I suspect that at root the loves of the noble wife, the great-souled mother, and the true sister, are one. Anyhow, they are all but glints on the ruffled waters of humanity of the one changeless enduring Light.
She had reached the little iron gate, which hung on one hinge only, and was lifting it from the ground to push it open, when sudden through the stillness came a frightful cry. Had they found him already? Was it a life-and-death struggle going on within? For one moment she stood rooted; the next she flew to the door. When she entered the hall, however, the place was silent as a crypt. Could it have been her imagination? Again, curdling her blood with horror, came the tearing cry, a sort of shout of agony. All in the dark, she flew up the stair, calling him by name, fell twice, rose as if on wings, and flew again until she reached the room. There all was silence and darkness. With trembling hands she found her match-box and struck a light, uttering all the time every soothing word she could think of, while her heart quavered in momentary terror of another shriek. It came just as the match flamed up in her fingers, and an answering shriek from her bosom tore its way through her clenched teeth, and she shuddered like one in an ague. There sat her brother on the edge of the bedstead staring before him with fixed eyes and terror-stricken countenance. He had not heard her enter, and saw neither the light nor her who held it. She made haste to light the candle, with mighty effort talking to him still, in gasps and chokings, but in vain; the ghastly face continued unchanged, and the wide-open eyes remained fixed. She seated herself beside him, and threw her arms around him. It was like embracing a marble statue, so moveless, so irresponsive was he. But presently he gave a kind of shudder, the tension of his frame relaxed, and the soul which had been absorbed in its own visions, came forward to its windows, cast from them a fleeting glance, then dropped the curtains.
“Is it you, Helen?” he said, shuddering, as he closed his eyes and laid his head on her shoulder. His breath was like that of a furnace. His skin seemed on fire. She felt his pulse: it was galloping. He was in a fever–brain-fever, probably, and what was she to do? A thought came to her. Yes, it was the only possible thing. She would take him home. There, with the help of the household, she might have a chance of concealing him–a poor one, certainly! but here, how was she even to keep him to the house in his raving fits?
“Poldie, dear!” she said, “you must come with me. I am going to take you to my own room, where I can nurse you properly, and need not leave you. Do you think you could walk as far?”
“Walk! Yes–quite well: why not?”
“I am afraid you are going to be ill, Poldie; but, however ill you may feel, you must promise me to try and make as little noise as you can, and never cry out if you can help it. When I do like this,” she went on, laying her finger on his lips, “you must be silent altogether.”
“I will do whatever you tell me, Helen, if you will only promise not to leave me, and, when they come for me, to give me poison.”
She promised, and made haste to obliterate every sign that the room had been occupied. She then took his arm and led him out. He was very quiet–too quiet and submissive, she thought–seemed sleepy, revived a little when they reached the open air, presently grew terrified, and kept starting and looking about him as they crossed the park, but never spoke a word. By the door in the sunk fence they reached the garden, and were soon in Helen’s chamber, where she left him to get into bed while she went to acquaint her aunt of his presence in the house. Hard and unreasonable, like most human beings, where her prejudices were concerned, she had, like all other women, sympathy with those kinds of suffering which by experience she understood. Mental distress was beyond her, but for the solace of another’s pain she would even have endured a portion herself. When therefore, she heard Helen’s story, how her brother had come to her window, that he was ill with brain-fever, as she thought, and talked wildly, she quite approved of her having put him to bed in her own room, and would have got up to help in nursing him. But Helen persuaded her to have her night’s rest, and begged her to join with her in warning the servants not to mention his presence in the house, on the ground that it might get abroad that he was out of his mind. They were all old and tolerably faithful, and Leopold had been from childhood such a favourite, that she hoped thus to secure their silence.
“But, child, he must have the doctor,” said her aunt.
“Yes, but I will manage him. What a good thing old Mr. Bird is gone! He was such a gossip! We must call in the new doctor, Mr. Faber. I shall see that he understands. He has his practice to make, and will mind what I say.”
“Why, child, you are as cunning as an old witch!” said her aunt. “It is very awkward,” she went on. “What miserable creatures men are–from first to last! Out of one scrape into another from babies to old men! Would you believe it, my dear?–your uncle, one of the best of men, and most exemplary of clergymen–why, I had to put on his stockings for him every day he got up! Not that my services stopped there either, I can tell you! Latterly I wrote more than half his sermons for him. He never would preach the same sermon twice, you see. He made that a point of honour; and the consequence was that at last he had to come to me. His sermons were nothing the losers, I trust, or our congregation either. I used the same commentaries he did, and you would hardly believe how much I enjoyed the work.–Poor dear boy! we must do what we can for him.”
“I will call you if I find it necessary, aunt. I must go to him now, for he cannot bear me out of his sight. Don’t please send for the doctor till I see you again.”
When she got back to her room, to her great relief she found Leopold asleep. The comfort of the bed after his terrible exhaustion and the hardships he had undergone, had combined with the drug under whose influences he had more or less been ever since first he appeared at Helen’s window, and he slept soundly.
But when he woke, he was in a high fever, and Mr. Faber was summoned. He found the state of his patient such that no amount of wild utterance could have surprised him. His brain was burning and his mind all abroad: he tossed from side to side and talked vehemently–but even to Helen unintelligibly.
Mr. Faber had not attended medical classes and walked the hospitals without undergoing the influences of the unbelief prevailing in those regions, where, on the strength of a little knowledge of the human frame, cartloads of puerile ignorance and anile vulgarity, not to mention obscenity, are uttered in the name of truth by men who know nothing whatever of the things that belong to the deeper nature believed in by the devout and simple, and professed also by many who are perhaps yet farther from a knowledge of its affairs than those who thus treat them with contempt. When therefore he came to practise in Glaston, he brought his quota of yeast into the old bottle of that ancient and slumberous town. But as he had to gain for himself a practice, he was prudent enough to make no display of the cherished emptiness of his swept and garnished rooms. I do not mean to blame him. He did not fancy himself the holder of any Mephistophelean commission for the general annihilation of belief like George Bascombe, only one from nature’s bureau of ways and means for the cure of the ailing body–which, indeed, to him, comprised all there was of humanity. He had a cold, hard, business-like manner, which, however admirable on some grounds, destroyed any hope Helen had cherished of finding in him one to whom she might disclose her situation.
He proved himself both wise and skilful, yet it was weeks before Leopold began to mend. By the time the fever left him, he was in such a prostrate condition, that it was very doubtful whether yet he could live, and Helen had had to draw largely even upon her fine stock of health.
Her ministration continued most exhausting. Yet now she thought of her life as she had never thought of it before, namely as a thing of worth. It had grown precious to her since it had become the stay of Leopold’s. Notwithstanding the terrible state of suspense and horror in which she now lived, seeming to herself at times an actual sharer in her brother’s guilt, she would yet occasionally find herself exulting in the thought of being the guardian angel he called her. Now that by his bedside hour plodded after hour in something of sameness and much of weariness, she yet looked back on her past as on the history of a slug.
During all the time she scarcely saw her cousin George, and indeed, she could hardly tell why, shrunk from him. In the cold, bright, shadowless, north-windy day of his presence, there was little consolation to be gathered, and for strength–to face him made a fresh demand upon the little she had. Her physical being had certainly lost. But the countenance which, after a long interval of absence, the curate at length one morning descried in the midst of the congregation, had, along with its pallor and look of hidden and suppressed trouble, gathered the expression of a higher order of existence. Not that she had drawn a single consoling draught from any one of the wells of religion, or now sought the church for the sake of any reminder of something found precious: the great quiet place drew her merely with the offer of its two hours’ restful stillness. The thing which had elevated her was simply the fact that, without any thought, not to say knowledge of him, she had yet been doing the will of the Heart of the world. True she had been but following her instinct, and ministering–not to humanity from an enlarged affection, but only to the one being she best loved in the world–a small merit surely!–yet was it the beginning of the way of God, the lovely way, and therefore the face of the maiden had begun to shine with a light which no splendour of physical health, no consciousness of beauty, however just, could have kindled there.
THE CURATE’S PROGRESS.
The visits of Wingfold to the little people at the gate not only became frequent, but more and more interesting to him, and as his office occasioned few demands on his attention, Polwarth had plenty of time to give to one who sought instruction in those things which were his very passion. He had never yet had any pupil but his niece, and to find another, and one whose soul was so eager after that of which he had such long-gathered store to dispense, was a keen, pure, and solemn delight. It was that for which he had so often prayed– an outlet for the living waters of his spirit into dry and thirsty lands. He had not much faculty for writing, although now and then he would relieve his heart in verse; and if he had a somewhat remarkable gift of discourse, to attempt public utterance would have been but a vain exposure of his person to vulgar mockery. In Wingfold he had found a man docile and obedient, both thirsting after, and recognizant of the truth, and if he might but aid him in unsealing the well of truth in his own soul, the healing waters might from him flow far and near. Not as the little Zacchæus who pieced his own shortness with the length of the sycamore tree, so to rise above his taller brethren and see Jesus, little Polwarth would lift tall Wingfold on his shoulders, first to see, and then cry aloud to his brethren who was at hand.
For two or three Sundays, the curate, largely assisted by his friend, fed his flock with his gleanings from other men’s harvests, and already, though it had not yet come to his knowledge, one consequence was, that complaints, running together, made a pool of discontent, and a semi-public meeting had been held, wherein was discussed, and not finally negatived, the propriety of communicating with the rector on the subject. Some however held that, as the incumbent paid so little attention to his flock, it would be better to appeal to the bishop, and acquaint him with the destitution of that portion of his oversight. But things presently took a new turn, at first surprising, soon alarming to some, and at length, to not a few, appalling.
Obedient to Polwarth’s instructions, Wingfold had taken to his New Testament. At first, as he read and sought to understand, ever and anon some small difficulty, notably, foremost of all, the discrepancy in the genealogies–I mention it merely to show the sort of difficulty I mean–would insect-like shoot out of the darkness, and sting him in the face. Some of these he pursued, encountered, crushed–and found he had gained next to nothing by the victory; and Polwarth soon persuaded him to let such, alone for the present, seeing they involved nothing concerning the man at a knowledge of whom it was his business to arrive. But when it came to the perplexity caused by some of the sayings of Jesus himself, it was another matter. He MUST understand these, he thought, or fail to understand the man. Here Polwarth told him that, if, after all, he seemed to fail, he must conclude that possibly the meaning of the words was beyond him, and that the understanding of them depended on a more advanced knowledge of Jesns himself; for, while words reveal the speaker, they must yet lie in the light of something already known of the speaker to be themselves intelligible. Between the mind and the understanding of certain hard utterances, therefore, there must of necessity lie a gradation of easier steps. And here Polwarth was tempted to give him a far more important, because more immediately practical hint, but refrained, from the dread of weakening, by PRESENTATION, the force of a truth which, in DISCOVERY, would have its full effect. For he was confident that the curate, in the temper which was now his, must ere long come immediately upon the truth towards which he was tempted to point him.
On one occasion when Wingfold had asked him whether he saw the meaning of a certain saying of our Lord, Polwarth answered thus:
“I think I do, but whether I could at present make you see it, I cannot tell. I suspect it is one of those concerning which I have already said that you have yet to understand Jesus better before you can understand them. Let me, just to make the nature of what I state clearer to you, ask you one question: tell me, if you can, what, primarily, did Jesus, from his own account of himself, come into the world to do?”
“To save it,” answered Wingfold.
“I think you are wrong,” returned Polwarth. “Mind I said PRIMARILY. You will yourself come to the same conclusion by and by. Either our Lord was a phantom–a heresy of potent working in the minds of many who would be fierce in its repudiation–or he was a very man, uttering the heart of his life that it might become the life of his brethren; and if so, an honest man can never ultimately fail of getting at what he means. I have seen him described somewhere as a man dominated by the passion of humanity–or something like that. The description does not, to my mind, even shadow the truth. Another passion, if such I may dare to call it, was the light of his life, dominating even that which would yet have been enough to make him lay down his life.”
Wingfold went away pondering.
Though Polwarth read little concerning religion except the New Testament, he could yet have directed Wingfold to several books which might have lent him good aid in his quest after the real likeness of the man he sought; but he greatly desired that on the soul of his friend the dawn should break over the mountains of Judæa–the light, I mean, flow from the words themselves of the Son of Man. Sometimes he grew so excited about his pupil and his progress, and looked so anxiously for the news of light in his darkness, that he could not rest at home, but would be out all day in the park–praying, his niece believed, for the young parson. And little did Wingfold suspect that, now and again when his lamp was burning far into the night because he struggled with some hard saying, the little man was going round and round the house, like one muttering charms, only they were prayers for his friend: ill satisfied with his own feeble affection, he would supplement it with its origin, would lay hold upon the riches of the Godhead, crying for his friend to “the first stock-father of gentleness;”–folly all, and fair subject of laughter to such as George Bascombe, if there be no God; but as Polwarth, with his whole, healthy, holy soul believed there is a God–it was for him but simple common sense.
Still no daybreak–and now the miracles had grown troublesome! Could Mr. Polwarth honestly say that he found no difficulty in believing things so altogether out of the common order of events, and so buried in the darkness and dust of antiquity that investigation was impossible?
Mr. Polwarth could not say that he had found no such difficulty.
“Then why should the weight of the story,” said Wingfold, “the weight of its proof, I mean, to minds like ours, coming so long after, and by their education incapacitated for believing in such things, in a time when the law of everything is searched into—“
“And as yet very likely as far from understood as ever,” interposed but not interrupted Polwarth.
“Why should the weight of its proof, I ask, be laid upon such improbable things as miracles? That they are necessarily improbable, I presume you will admit.”
“Having premised that I believe every one recorded,” said Polwarth, “I heartily admit their improbability. But the WEIGHT of proof is not, and never was laid upon them. Our Lord did not make much of them, and did them far more for the individual concerned than for the sake of the beholders. I will not however talk to you about them now. I will merely say that it is not through the miracles you will find the Lord, though, having found him, you will find him there also. The question for you is not, Are the miracles true? but, Was Jesus true? Again I say, you must find him–the man himself. When you have found him, I may perhaps retort upon you the question–Can you believe such improbable things as the miracles, Mr. Wingfold?”
The little man showed pretty plainly by the set of his lips that he meant to say no more, and again Wingfold had, with considerable dissatisfaction and no answer, to go back to his New Testament.
THE CURATE MAKES A DISCOVERY.
At length, one day, as he was working with a harmony, comparing certain passages between themselves, and as variedly given in the gospels, he fell into a half-thinking, half-dreaming mood, in which his eyes, for some time unconsciously, rested on the verse, “Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life:” it mingled itself with his brooding, and by and by, though yet he was brooding rather than meditating, the form of Jesus had gathered, in the stillness of his mental quiescence, so much of reality that at length he found himself thinking of him as of a true-hearted man, mightily in earnest to help his fellows, who could not get them to mind what he told them.
“Ah!” said the curate to himself, “if I had but seen him, would not I have minded him!–would I not have haunted his steps, with question upon question, until I got at the truth!”
Again the more definite thought vanished in the seething chaos of reverie, which dured unbroken for a time,–until again suddenly rose from memory to consciousness and attention the words: “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”
“Good God!” he exclaimed, “here am I bothering over words, and questioning about this and that, as if I were testing his fitness for a post I had to offer him, and he all the time claiming my obedience! I cannot even, on the spur of the moment at least, tell one thing he wants me to do; and as to doing anything because he told me–not once did I ever! But then how am I to obey him until I am sure of his right to command? I just want to know whether I am to call him Lord or not. No, that won’t do either, for he says, Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? And do I not know–have I ever even doubted that what he said we ought to do was the right thing to do? Yet here have I, all these years, been calling myself a Christian, ministering, forsooth, in the temple of Christ, as if he were a heathen divinity, who cared for songs and prayers and sacrifices, and cannot honestly say I ever once in my life did a thing because he said so, although the record is full of his earnest, even pleading words! I have NOT been an honest man, and how should a dishonest man be a judge over that man who said he was the Christ of God? Would it be any wonder if the things he uttered should be too high and noble to be by such a man recognized as truth?”
With this, yet another saying dawned upon, him: IF ANY MAN WILL DO HIS WILL, HE SHALL KNOW OF THE DOCTRINE, WHETHER IT BE OF GOD, OR WHETHER I SPEAK OF MYSELF.
He went into his closet and shut to the door–came out again, and went straight to visit a certain grievous old woman.
The next open result was, that, on the following Sunday, a man went up into the pulpit who, for the first time in his life, believed he had something to say to his fellow-sinners. It was not now the sacred spoil of the best of gleaning or catering that he bore thither with him, but the message given him by a light in his own inward parts, discovering therein the darkness and the wrong.
He opened no sermon-case, nor read words from any book, save, with trembling voice, these:
“WHY CALL YE ME LORD, LORD, AND DO NOT THE THINGS WHICH I SAY?”
I pause for a moment in my narrative to request the sympathy of such readers as may be capable of affording it, for a man whose honesty makes him appear egotistic. When a man, finding himself in a false position, is yet anxious to do the duties of that position until such time as, if he should not in the meantime have verified it, and become able to fill it with honesty, he may honourably leave it, I think he may well be pardoned if, of inward necessity, he should refer to himself in a place where such reference may be either the greatest impiety, or the outcome of the truest devotion. In him it was neither: it was honesty–and absorption in the startled gaze of a love that believed it had caught a glimmer of the passing garment of the Truth. Thus strengthened–might I not say inspired? for what is the love of truth and the joy therein, if not a breathing into the soul of the breath of life from the God of truth?–he looked round upon his congregation as he had never dared until now–saw face after face, and knew it–saw amongst the rest that of Helen Lingard, so sadly yet not pitifully altered, with a doubt if it could be she; trembled a little with a new excitement, which one less modest or less wise might have taken–how foolishly!–instead of the truth perceived, for the inspiration of the spirit; and, sternly suppressing the emotion, said,
“My hearers, I come before you this morning to utter the first word of truth it has ever been given to ME to utter.”
His hearers stared both mentally and corporeally.
“Is he going to deny the Bible?” said some.
–“It will be the last,” said others, “if the rector hear in time how you have been disgracing yourself and profaning his pulpit.”
“And,” the curate went on, “it would be as a fire in my bones did I attempt to keep it back.
“In my room, three days ago, I was reading the strange story of the man who appeared in Palestine saying that he was the Son of God, and came upon those words of his which I have now read in your hearing. At their sound the accuser, Conscience, awoke in my bosom, and asked, ‘Doest thou the things he saith to thee?’ And I thought with myself,–‘Have I this day done anything he says to me?–when did I do anything I had heard of him? Did I ever’–to this it came at last–‘Did I ever, in all my life, do one thing because he said to me DO THIS?’ And the answer was NO, NEVER. Yet there I was, not only calling myself a Christian, but on the strength of my Christianity, it was to be presumed, living amongst you, and received by you, as your helper on the way to the heavenly kingdom–a living falsehood, walking and talking amongst you!”
“What a wretch!” said one man to himself, who made a large part of his living by the sale of under-garments whose every stitch was an untacking of the body from the soul of a seamstress. “Bah!” said some. “A hypocrite, by his own confession!” said others. “Exceedingly improper!” said Mrs. Ramshorn. “Unheard-of and most unclerical behaviour! And actually to confess such paganism!” For Helen, she waked up a little, began to listen, and wondered what he had been saying that a wind seemed to have blown rustling among the heads of the congregation.
“Having made this confession,” Wingfold proceeded, “you will understand that whatever I now say, I say to and of myself as much as to and of any other to whom it may apply.”
He then proceeded to show that faith and obedience are one and the same spirit, passing as it were from room to room in the same heart: what in the heart we call faith, in the will we call obedience. He showed that the Lord refused absolutely the faith that found its vent at the lips in the worshipping words, and not at the limbs in obedient action–which some present pronounced bad theology, while others said to themselves surely that at least was common sense. For Helen, what she heard might be interesting to clergymen, or people like her aunt who had to do with such matters, but to her it was less than nothing and vanity, whose brother lay at home “sick in heart and sick in head.”
But hard thoughts of him could not stay the fountain of Wingfold’s utterance, which filled as it flowed. Eager after a right presentation of what truth he saw, he dwelt on the mockery it would be of any man to call him the wisest, the best, the kindest, yea and the dearest of men, yet never heed either the smallest request or the most urgent entreaty he made.
“A Socinian!” said Mrs. Ramshorn.
“There’s stuff in the fellow!” said the rector’s churchwarden, who had been brought up a Wesleyan.
“He’d make a fellow fancy he did believe all his grandmother told him!” thought Bascombe.
As he went on, the awakened curate grew almost eloquent. His face shone with earnestness. Even Helen found her gaze fixed upon him, though she had not a notion what he was talking about. He closed at length with these words:
“After the confession I have now made to you, a confession which I have also entreated everyone to whom it belongs to make to himself and his God, it follows that I dare not call myself a Christian. How should such a one as I know anything about that which, if it be true at all, is the loftiest, the one all-absorbing truth in the universe? How should such a fellow as I”–he went on, growing scornful at himself in the presence of the truth–“judge of its sacred probabilities? or, having led such a life of simony, be heard when he declares that such a pretended message from God to men seems too good to be true? The things therein contained I declare good, yet went not and did them. Therefore am I altogether out of court, and must not be heard in the matter.
“No, my hearers, I call not myself a Christian, but I call everyone here who obeys the word of Jesus, who restrains anger, who declines judgment, who practises generosity, who loves his enemies, who prays for his slanderers, to witness my vow, that I will henceforth try to obey him, in the hope that he whom he called God and his Father, will reveal to him whom you call your Lord Jesus Christ, that into my darkness I may receive the light of the world!”
“A professed infidel!” said Mrs. Ramshorn. “A clever one too! That was a fine trap he laid for us, to prove us all atheists as well as himself! As if any mere mortal COULD obey the instructions of the Saviour! He was divine; we are but human!”
She might have added, “And but poor creatures as such,” but did not go so far, believing herself more than an average specimen.
But there was one shining face which, like a rising sun of love and light and truth, “pillowed his chin,” not “on an orient wave,” but on the book-board of a free seat. The eyes of it were full of tears, and the heart behind it was giving that God and Father thanks, for this was more, far more than he had even hoped for, save in the indefinite future. The light was no longer present as warmth or vivification alone, but had begun to shine as light in the heart of his friend, to whom now, praised be God! the way lay open into all truth. And when the words came, in a voice that once more trembled with emotion–“Now to God the Father,”–he bent down his face, and the poor, stunted, distorted frame and great grey head were grievously shaken with the sobs of a mighty gladness. Truth in the inward parts looked out upon him from the face of one who stood before the people their self-denied teacher! How would they receive it? It mattered not. Those whom the Father had drawn, would hear.
Polwarth neither sought the curate in the vestry, waited for him at the church-door, nor followed him to his lodging. He was not of those who compliment a man on his fine sermon. How grandly careless are some men of the risk of ruin their praises are to their friends! “Let God praise him!” said Polwarth; “I will only dare to love him.” He would not toy with his friend’s waking Psyche.
It was the first Sunday Helen had gone to church since her brother came to her. On the previous Sunday he had passed some crisis and begun to improve, and by the end of the week was so quiet, that longing for a change of atmosphere, and believing he might be left with the housekeeper, she had gone to church. On her return she heard he was no worse, although he had “been a-frettin’ after her.” She hurried to him as if he had been her baby.
“What do you go to church for?” he asked, half-petulantly, like a spoilt child, with languid eyes whence the hard fire had vanished. “What’s the use of it?”
He looked at her, waiting an answer.
“Not much,” replied Helen. “I like the quiet and the music. That’s all.”
He seemed disappointed, and lay still for a few moments.
“In old times,” he said at last, “the churches used to be a refuge: I suppose that is why one can’t help feeling as if some safety were to be got from them yet.–Was your cousin George there this morning?”
“Yes, he went with us,” answered Helen.
“I should like to see him. I want somebody to talk to.”
Helen was silent. She was more occupied however in answering to herself the question why she shrank so decidedly from bringing Bascombe into the sick-room, than in thinking what she should say to Leopold. The truth was the truth, and why should she object to Leopold’s knowing, or at least being told as well as herself, that he need fear no punishment in the next world, whatever he might have to encounter in this; that there was no frightful God who hated wrong-doing to be terrified at; that even the badness of his own action need not distress him, for he and it would pass away as the blood he had shed had already vanished from the earth? Ought it not to encourage the poor fellow?–But to what? To live on and endure his misery, or to put an end to it and himself at once? Or perhaps to plunge into vice that he might escape the consciousness of guilt and the dread of the law?
I will not say that exactly such a train of thought as this passed through her mind, but of whatever sort it was, it brought her no nearer to a desire for the light of George Bascombe’s presence by the bedside of her guilty brother. At the same time her partiality for her cousin made her justify his exclusion thus: “George is so good himself, he is only fit for the company of good people. He would not in the least understand my poor Poldie, and would be too hard upon him.”
Since her brother’s appearance, in fact, she had seen very little of her cousin, and this not merely because her presence was so much required in the sick-chamber, but because she was herself unwilling to meet him. She had felt, almost without knowing it, that his character was unsympathetic, and that his loud, cold good-nature could never recognise or justify such love as she bore to her brother! Nor was this all; for, remembering how he had upon one occasion expressed himself with regard to criminals, she feared even to look in his face, lest his keen, questioning, unsparing eye should read in her soul that she was the sister of a murderer.
Before this time however a hint of light had appeared in the clouds that enwrapped her and Leopold: she had begun to doubt whether he had really committed the crime of which he accused himself. There had been no inquiry after him, except from his uncle, concerning his absence from Cambridge, for which his sudden attack of brain fever served as more than sufficient excuse. That there had been such a murder, the newspapers left her no room to question–but might not the relation in which he stood to the victim–the horror of her death, the insidious approaches of the fever, and the influences of that hateful drug, have combined to call up an hallucination of blood-guiltiness? And what at length all but satisfied her of the truth of her conjecture was that, when he began to recover, Leopold seemed himself in doubt at times whether his sense of guilt had not its origin in some one or other of the many dreams which had haunted him throughout his illness, knowing only too well that it was long since dreams had become to him more real than the greater part of what was going on around him. To this blurring and confusing of consciousness it probably contributed, that, in the first stages of the fever, he was under the influence of the same drug which had been working upon his brain up to the very moment when he committed the crime.
During the week the hope had almost settled into conviction; and one consequence was that, although she was not a whit more inclined to introduce George Bascombe to the sick-chamber, she found herself not only equal, but no longer averse to meeting him; and on the following Saturday, when he presented himself as usual, come to spend the Sunday, she listened to her aunt, and consented to go out with him for a ride–in the evening, however, when Mrs. Rainshorn herself, who had shown Leopold great and genuine kindness, would be able to sit with him. They therefore had dinner early, and Helen went again to her brother’s room, unwilling to leave him a moment until she gave up her charge to her aunt.
They had tea together, and Leopold was very quiet. It is wonderful with what success the mind will accommodate itself, in its effort after peace, to the presence of the most torturing thought. But Helen took this quietness for a sign of innocence, not knowing that the state of the feelings is neither test nor gauge of guilt. The nearer perfection a character is, the louder is the cry of conscience at the appearance of fault; and, on the other hand, the worst criminals have had the easiest minds.
Helen also was quiet, and fell into a dreamy mood, watching her brother, who every now and then turned on her a look of love and gratitude which moved her heart to its very depths. Not until she heard the horses coming round from the stable, did she rise to go and change her dress.
“I shall not be long away from you, Poldie,” she said.
“Do not forget me, Helen,” he returned. “If you forget me, an enemy will think of me.”
His love comforted her, and yet further strengthened her faith in his innocence; and it was with a kind of half-repose, timid, wavering, and glad, upon her countenance–how different from the old, dull, wooden quiescence!–that she joined her cousin in the hall. A moment, and he had lifted her to the saddle, and was mounted by her side.
A soft west wind, issuing as from the heart of a golden vase filled with roses, met them the instant they turned out of the street, walking their horses towards the park-gate.
Something–was it in the evening, or was it in his own soul?–had prevailed to the momentary silencing of George Bascombe:–it may have been but the influence of the cigar which Helen had begged him to finish. Helen too was silent: she felt as if the low red sun, straight into which they seemed to be riding, blotted out her being in the level torrent of his usurping radiance. Neither of them spoke a word until they had passed through the gate into the park.
It was a perfect English summer evening–warm, but not sultry. As they walked their horses up the carriage way, the sun went down, and as if he had fallen like a live coal into some celestial magazine of colour and glow, straightway blazed up a slow explosion of crimson and green in a golden triumph–pure fire, the smoke and fuel gone, and the radiance alone left. And now Helen received the second lesson of her initiation into the life of nature: she became aware that the whole evening was thinking around her, and as the dusk grew deeper and the night grew closer, the world seemed to have grown dark with its thinking. Of late Helen had been driven herself to think–if not deeply, yet intensely–and so knew what it was like, and felt at home with the twilight.
They turned from the drive on to the turf. Their horses tossed up their heads, and set off, unchecked, at a good pelting gallop, across the open park. On Helen’s cheek the wind blew cooling, strong, and kind. As if flowing from some fountain above, in an unseen unbanked river, down through the stiller ocean of the air, it seemed to bring to her a vague promise, almost a precognition, of peace–which, however, only set her longing after something–she knew not what–something of which she only knew that it would fill the longing the wind had brought her. The longing grew and extended–went stretching on and on into an infinite of rest. And as they still galloped, and the light-maddened colours sank into smoky peach, and yellow green, and blue gray, the something swelled and swelled in her soul, and pulled and pulled at her heart, until the tears were running down her face: for fear Bascombe should see them, she gave her horse the rein, and fled from him into the friendly dusk that seemed to grade time into eternity.
Suddenly she found herself close to a clump of trees, which overhung the deserted house. She had made a great circuit without knowing it. A pang shot to her heart, and her tears ceased to flow. The night, silent with thought, held THAT also in its bosom! She drew rein, turned, and waited for Bascombe.
“What a chase you’ve given me, Helen!” he cried, while yet pounding away some score of yards off.
“A wild-goose one you mean, cousin?”
“It would have been if I had thought to catch you on this ancient cocktail.”
“Don’t abuse the old horse, George: he has seen better days. I would gladly have mounted you more to your mind, but you know I could not–except indeed I had given you my Fanny, and taken the old horse myself. I have ridden him.”
“The lady ought always to be the better mounted,” returned George coolly. “For my part, I much prefer it, because then I need not be anxious about whether I am boring her or not: if I am, she can run away.”
“You cannot suppose I thought you a bore to-night. A more sweetly silent gentleman none could wish for squire.”
“Then it was my silence bored you.–Shall I tell you what I was thinking about?”
“If you like. I was thinking how pleasant it would be to ride on and on into eternity,” said Helen.
“That feeling of continuity,” returned George, “is a proof of the painlessness of departure. No one can ever know when he ceases to be, because then he is not; and that is how some men come to fancy they feel as if they were going to live for ever. But the worst of it is that they no sooner fancy it, than it seems to them a probable as well as delightful thing to go on and on and never cease. This comes of the man’s having no consciousness of ceasing, and when one is comfortable, it always seems good to go on. A child is never willing to turn from the dish of which he is eating to another. It is more he wants, not another.”
“That is if he likes it,” said Helen.
“Everybody likes it,” said George, “–more or less.”
“I am not so sure of EVERYbody,” replied Helen. “Do you imagine that twisted little dwarf-woman that opened the gate for us is content with her lot?”
“No, that is impossible–while she sees you and remains what she is. But I said nothing of contentment. I was but thinking of the fools who, whether content or not, yet want to live for ever, and so, very conveniently, take their longing for immortality, which they call an idea innate in the human heart, for a proof that immortality is their rightful inheritance.”
“How then do you account for the existence and universality of the idea?” asked Helen, who had happened lately to come upon some arguments on the other side.
But while she spoke thus indifferently she felt in her heart like one who wakes from a delicious swim in the fairest of rivers, to find that the clothes have slipped from the bed to the floor:–that was all his river and all his swim!
“I account for its existence as I have just said; and for its universality by denying it. It is NOT universal, for _I_ haven’t it.”
“At least you will not deny that men, even when miserable, shrink from dying?”
“Anything, everything is unpleasant out of its due time. I will allow, for the sake of argument, that the thought of dying is always unpleasant. But wherefore so? Because, in the very act of thinking it, the idea must always be taken from the time that suits with it–namely, its own time, when it will at length, and ought at length to come–and placed in the midst of the lively present, with which assuredly it does not suit. To life, death must be always hateful. In the rush and turmoil of effort, how distasteful even the cave of the hermit–let ever such a splendid view spread abroad before its mouth! But when it comes it will be pleasant enough, for then its time will have come also–the man will be prepared for it by decay and cessation. If one were to tell me that he had that endless longing for immortality, of which hitherto I have only heard at second hand, I would explain it to him thus:–Your life, I would say, not being yet complete, still growing, feels in itself the onward impulse of growth, and, unable to think of itself as other than complete, interprets that onward impulse as belonging to the time around it instead of the nature within it. Or rather let me say, the man feels in himself the elements of more, and not being able to grasp the notion of his own completeness, which is so far from him, transposes the feeling of growth and sets it beyond himself, translating it at the same time into an instinct of duration, a longing after what he calls eternal life. But when the man is complete, then comes decay and brings its own contentment with it–as will also death, when it arrives in its own proper season of fulness and ripeness.”
Helen said nothing in reply. She thought her cousin very clever, but could not enjoy what he said–not in the face of that sky, and in the yet lingering reflection of the feelings it had waked in her. He might be right, but now at least she wanted no more of it. She even felt as if she would rather cherish a sweet deception for the comfort of the moment in which the weaver’s shuttle flew, than take to her bosom a cold killing fact.
Such were indeed an unworthy feeling to follow! Of all things let us have the truth–even of fact! But to deny what we cannot prove, not even casts into our ice-house a spadeful of snow. What if the warm hope denied should be the truth after all? What if it was the truth in it that drew the soul towards it by its indwelling reality, and its relations with her being, even while she took blame for suffering herself to be enticed by a sweet deception? Alas indeed for men if the life and the truth are not one, but fight against each other! Surely it says something for the divine nature of him that denies the divine, when he yet cleaves to what he thinks the truth, although it denies the life, and blots the way to the better from every chart!
“And what were you thinking of, George?” said Helen, willing to change the subject.
“I was thinking,” he answered, “let me see!–oh! yes–I was thinking of that very singular case of murder. You must have seen it in the newspapers. I have long had a doubt whether I were better fitted for a barrister or a detective. I can’t keep my mind off a puzzling case.–You must have heard of this one–the girl they found lying in her ball-dress in the middle of a wood–stabbed to the heart?”
“I do remember something of it,” answered Helen, gathering a little courage to put into her voice from the fact that her cousin could hardly see her face. “Then the murderer has not been discovered?”
“That is the point of interest. Not a trace of him! Not a soul suspected even!”
Helen drew a deep breath.
“Had it been in Rome, now,” George went on. “But in a quiet country place in England! The thing seems incredible! So artistically done!–no struggle!–just one blow right to the heart, and the assassin gone as if by magic!–no weapon dropped!–nothing to give a clue! The whole thing suggests a practised hand.–But why such a one for the victim? Had it been some false member of a secret society thus immolated, one could understand it. But a merry girl at a ball!–it IS strange! I SHOULD like to try the unravelling of it.”
“Has nothing then been done?” said Helen with a gasp, to hide which she moved in her saddle, as if readjusting her habit.
“Oh, everything–of course. There was instant pursuit on the discovery of the body, but they seem to have got on the track of the wrong man–or, indeed, for anything certain, of no man at all. A coast-guardsman says that, on the night or rather morning in question, he was approaching a little cove on the shore, not above a mile from the scene of the tragedy, with an eye upon what seemed to be two fishermen preparing to launch their boat, when he saw a third man come running down the steep slope from the pastures above, and jump into the stern of it. Ere he could reach the spot, they were off, and had hoisted two lugsails. The moon was in the first of her last quarter, and gave light enough for what he reported. But, when inquiries founded on this evidence were made, nothing whatever could be discovered concerning boat or men. The next morning no fishing-boat was lacking, and no fisherman would confess to having gone from that cove. The marks of the boat’s keel, and of the men’s feet, on the sand, if ever there were any, had been washed out by the tide. It was concluded that the thing had been pre-arranged and provided for, and that the murderer had escaped, probably to Holland. Thereupon telegrams were shot in all directions, but no news could be gathered of any suspicious landing on the opposite coast. There the matter rests, or at least has rested for many weeks. Neither parents, relatives, nor friends appear to have a suspicion of anyone.”
“Are there no conjectures as to motives?” asked Helen, feeling with joy her power of dissimulation gather strength.
“No end of them. She was a beautiful creature, they say, sweet-tempered as a dove, and of course fond of admiration–whence the conjectures all turn on jealousy. The most likely thing seems, that she had some squire of low degree, of whom neither parents nor friends knew anything. That they themselves suspect this, appears likely from their more than apathy with regard to the discovery of the villain. I am strongly inclined to take the matter in hand myself.”
“We must get him out of the country as soon as possible,” thought Helen.
“I should hardly have thought it worthy of your gifts, George,” she said, “to turn police-man. For my part, I should not relish hunting down any poor wretch.”
“The sacrifice of individual choice is a claim society has upon each of its members,” returned Bascombe. “Every murderer hanged, or better, imprisoned for life, is a gain to the community.”
Helen said no more, and presently turned homewards, on the plea that she must not be longer absent from her invalid.
END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
THOMAS WINGFOLD, CURATE.
RACHEL AND HER UNCLE.
It was nearly dark when they arrived again at the lodge. Rachel opened the gate for them. Without even a THANK YOU, they rode out. She stood for a moment gazing after them through the dusk, then turned with a sigh, and went into the kitchen, where her uncle sat by the fire with a book in his hand.
“How I should like to be as well made as Miss Lingard!” she said, seating herself by the lamp that stood on the deal-table. “It MUST be a fine thing to be strong and tall, and able to look this way and that without turning all your body along with your head, like the old man that gathers the leeches in Wordsworth’s poem. And what it must be to sit on a horse as she does! You should have seen her go flying like the very wind across the park! You would have thought she and her horse were cut out of the same piece. I’m dreadfully envious, uncle.”
“No, my child; I know you better than you do yourself. There is a great difference between _I_ WISH _I_ WAS and _I_ SHOULD LIKE TO BE–as much as between a grumble and a prayer. To be content is not to be satisfied. No one ought to be satisfied with the imperfect. It is God’s will that we should bear, and contentedly–because in hope, looking for the redemption of the body. And we know he has a ready servant who will one day set us free.”
“Yes, uncle; I understand. You know I enjoy life: how could I help it and you with me? But I don’t think I ever go through the churchyard without feeling a sort of triumph. ‘There’s for you!’ I say sometimes to the little crooked shadow that creeps along by my side across the graves. ‘You’ll soon be caught and put inside!’–But how am I to tell I mayn’t be crooked in the next world as well as this? That’s what troubles me at times. There might be some necessity for it, you know.”
“Then will there be patience to bear it there also; that you may be sure of. But I do not fear. It were more likely that those who have not thanked God, but prided themselves that they were beautiful in this world, should be crooked in the next. It would be like Dives and Lazarus, you know. But God does what is best for them as well as for us. We shall find one day that beauty and riches were the best thing for those to whom they were given, as deformity and poverty were the best for us.”
“I wonder what sort of person I should have been if I had had a straight spine!” said Rachel laughing.
“Hardly one so dear to your deformed uncle,” said her companion in ugliness.
“Then I’m glad I am as I am,” rejoined Rachel.
“This conscious individuality of ours,” said Polwarth, after a thoughtful silence, “is to me an awful thing–the one thing that seems in humanity like the onliness of God. Mine terrifies me sometimes–looking a stranger to me–a limiting of myself–a breaking in upon my existence–like a volcanic outburst into the blue Sicilian air. When it thus manifests itself, I find no refuge but the offering of it back to him who thought it worth making. I say to him: ‘Lord, it is thine, not mine;–see to it, Lord. Thou and thy eternity are mine, Father of Jesus Christ.'”
He covered his eyes with his hands, and his lips grew white, and trembled. Thought had turned into prayer, and both were silent for a space. Rachel was the first to speak.
“I think I understand, uncle,” she said. “I don’t mind being God’s dwarf. But I would rather be made after his own image; this can’t be it. I should like to be made over again.”
“And if the hope we are saved by be no mockery, if St. Paul was not the fool of his own radiant imaginings, you will be, my child.–But now let us forget our miserable bodies. Come up to my room, and I will read you a few lines that came to me this morning in the park.”
“Won’t you wait for Mr. Wingfold, uncle? He will be here yet, I think. It can’t be ten o’clock. He always looks in on Saturdays as he goes home from his walk. I should like you to read them to him too. They will do him good, I know.”
“I would, my dear, willingly, if I thought he would care for them. But I don’t think he would. They are not good enough verses. He has been brought up on Horace, and, I fear, counts the best poetry the neatest.”
“I think you must be mistaken there, uncle; I have heard him talk delightfully about poetry.”
“You must excuse me if I am shy of reading my poor work to any but yourself, Rachel. My heart was wo much in it, and the subject is so sacred–“
“I am sorry you should think your pearls too good to cast before Mr. Wingfold, uncle,” said Rachel, with a touch of disappointed temper.
“Nay, nay, child,” returned Polwarth, “that was not a good thing to say. What gives me concern is, that there is so much of the rough dirty shell sticking about them, that to show them would be to wrong the truth in them.”
Rachel seldom took long to repent. She came slowly to her uncle, where he stood with the lamp in his hand, looking in his face with a heavenly contrition, and saying nothing. When she reached him, she dropped on her knees, and kissed the hand that hung by his side. Her temper was poor Rachel’s one sore-felt trouble.
Polwarth stooped and kissed her on the forehead, raised her, and leading her to the stair, stood aside to let her go first. But when she had been naughty Rachel would never go before her uncle, and she drew back. With a smile of intelligence he yielded and led the way. But ere they had climbed to the top, Rachel heard Mr. Wingfold’s step, and went down again to receive him.
Invited to ascend, Wingfold followed Rachel to her uncle’s room, and there, whether guided by her or not, the conversation presently took such a turn that at length, of his own motion, Polwarth offered to read his verses. From the drawer of his table he took a scratched and scored halfsheet, and–not in the most melodious of voices, yet in one whose harshness and weakness could not cover a certain refinement of spiritual tenderness–read as follows:
Lord, hear my discontent: All blank I stand, A mirror polished by thy hand;
Thy sun’s beams flash and flame from me– I cannot help it: here I stand, there he; To one of them I cannot say–
Go, and on yonder water play.
Nor one poor ragged daisy can I fashion– I do not make the words of this my limping passion. If I should say: Now I will think a thought, Lo! I must wait, unknowing,
What thought in me is growing,
Until the thing to birth is brought; Nor know I then what next will come
From out the gulf of silence dumb. I am the door the thing did find
To pass into the general mind;
I cannot say I think–
I only stand upon the thought-well’s brink; From darkness to the sun the water bubbles up– I lift it in my cup.
Thou only thinkest–I am thought; Me and my thought thou thinkest. Nought Am I but as a fountain spout
From which thy water welleth out. Thou art the only One, the All in all. –Yet when my soul on thee doth call
And thou dost answer out of everywhere, I in thy allness have my perfect share.
While he read Rachel crept to his knee, knelt down, and laid her head upon it.
If we are but the creatures of a day, yet surely were the shadow-joys of this miserable pair not merely nobler in their essence, but finer to the soul’s palate than the shadow-joys of young Hercules Bascombe–Helen and horses and all! Poor Helen I cannot use for comparison, for she had no joy, save indeed the very divine, though at present unblossoming one of sisterly love. Still, and notwithstanding, if the facts of life are those of George Bascombe’s endorsing–AND HE CAN PROVE IT–let us by all means learn and accept them, be they the worst possible. Meantime there are truths that ought to be facts, and until he has proved that there is no God, some of us will go feeling after him if haply we may find him, and in him the truths we long to find true. Some of us perhaps think we have seen him from afar, but we only know the better that in the mood wherein such as Bascombe are, they will never find him–which would no doubt be to them a comfort were it not for a laughter. And if he be such as their idea of what we think him, they ARE better without him. If, on the contrary, he be what some of us really think him, their not seeking him will not perhaps prevent him from finding them.
From likeness of nature, community of feeling, constant intercourse, and perfect confidence, Rachel understood her uncle’s verses with sufficient ease to enjoy them at once in part, and, for the rest, to go on thinking in the direction in which they would carry her; but Wingfold, in whom honesty of disposition had blossomed at last into honesty of action, after fitting pause, during which no word was spoken, said:–
“Mr. Polwarth, where verse is concerned, I am simply stupid: when read I cannot follow it. I did not understand the half of that poem. I never have been a student of English verse, and indeed that part of my nature which has to do with poetry, has been a good deal neglected. Will you let me take those verses home with me?”
“I cannot do that, for they are not legible; but I will copy them out for you.”
“Will you give me them to-morrow? Shall you be at church?”
“That shall be just as you please: would you rather have me there or not?”
“A thousand times rather,” answered the curate. “To have one man there who knows what I mean better than I can say it, is to have a double soul and double courage.–But I came to-night mainly to tell you that I have been much puzzled this last week to know how I ought to regard the Bible–I mean as to its inspiration. What am I to say about it?”
“Those are two distinct things. Why think of saying about it, before you have anything to say? For yourself, however, let me ask if you have not already found in the book the highest means of spiritual education and development you have yet met with? If so, may not that suffice for the present? It is the man Christ Jesus we have to know, and the Bible we have to use to that end–not for theory or dogma.–I will tell you a strange dream I had once, not long ago.”
Rachel’s face brightened. She rose, got a little stool, and setting it down close by the chair on which her uncle was perched, seated herself at his feet, with her eyes on the ground, to listen.
“About two years ago,” said Polwarth, “a friend sent me Tauchnitz’s edition of the English New Testament, which has the different readings of the three oldest known manuscripts translated at the foot of the page. The edition was prepared chiefly for the sake of showing the results of the collation of the Sinaitic manuscript, the oldest of all, so named because it was found–a few years ago, by Tischendorf–in a monastery on Mount Sinai–nowhere else than there! I received it with such exultation as brought on an attack of asthma, and I could scarce open it for a week, but lay with it under my pillow. When I did come to look at it, my main wonder was to find the differences from the common version so few and small. Still there were some such as gave rise to a feeling far above mere interest–one in particular, the absence of a word that had troubled me, not seeming like a word of our Lord, or consonant with his teaching. I am unaware whether the passage has ever given rise to controversy.”
“May I ask what word it was?” interrupted Wingfold, eagerly.
“I will not say,” returned Polwarth. “Not having troubled you, you would probably only wonder why it should have troubled me. For my purpose in mentioning the matter, it is enough to say that I had turned with eagerness to the passage wherein it occurs, as given in two of the gospels in our version. Judge my delight in discovering that in the one gospel the whole passage was omitted by the two oldest manuscripts, and in the other just the one word that had troubled me, by the same two. I would not have you suppose me foolish enough to imagine that the oldest manuscript must be the most correct; but you will at once understand the sense of room and air which the discovery gave me notwithstanding, and I mention it because it goes both to account for the dream that followed and to enforce its truth. Pray do not however imagine me a believer in dreams more than in any other source of mental impressions. If a dream reveal a principle, that principle is a revelation, and the dream is neither more NOR LESS valuable than a waking thought that does the same. The truth conveyed is the revelation. I do not deny that facts have been learned in dreams, but I would never call the communication of a mere fact a revelation. Truth alone, beheld as such by the soul, is worthy of the name. Facts, however, may themselves be the instruments of such revelation.
“The dream I am now going to tell you was clearly enough led up to by my waking thoughts. For I had been saying to myself ere I fell asleep: ‘On the very Mount Sinai, that once burned with heavenly fire, and resounded with the thunder of a visible Presence, now old and cold, and swathed in the mists of legend and doubt, was discovered the most reverend, because most ancient record of the new dispensation which dethroned that mountain, and silenced the thunders of the pedagogue law! Is it not possible that yet, in some ancient convent, insignificant to the eye of the traveller as modern Nazareth would be but for its ancient story, some one of the original gospel-manuscripts may lie, truthful and unblotted from the hand of the very evangelist?–Oh lovely parchment!’ I thought–‘if eye of man might but see thee! if lips of man might kiss thee!’ and my heart swelled like the heart of a lover at the thought of such a boon.–Now, as you know, I live in a sort of live coffin here,” continued the little man, striking his pigeon-breast, “with a barrel-organ of discords in it, constantly out of order in one way or another; and hence it comes that my sleep is so imperfect, and my dreams run more than is usual, as I believe, on in the direction of my last waking thoughts. Well, that night, I dreamed thus: I was in a desert. It was neither day nor night to me. I saw neither sun, moon, nor stars. A heavy, yet half-luminous cloud hung over the visible earth. My heart was beating fast and high, for I was journeying towards a certain Armenian convent, where I had good ground for hoping I should find the original manuscript of the fourth gospel, the very handwriting of the apostle John. That the old man did not write it himself, I never thought of that in my dream.
“After I had walked on for a long, anything but weary time, I saw the level horizon line before me broken by a rock, as it seemed, rising from the plain of the desert. I knew it was the monastery. It was many miles away, and as I journeyed on it grew and grew, until it swelled huge as a hill against the sky. At length I came up to the door, iron-clamped, deep-set in a low thick wall. It stood wide open. I entered, crossed a court, reached the door of the monastery itself, and again entered. Every door to which I came stood open, but priest nor guide came to meet me, and I saw no man, and at length looked for none, but used my best judgment to get deeper and deeper into the building, for I scarce doubted that in its inmost penetralia I should find the treasure I sought. At last I stood before a door hung with a curtain of rich workmanship, torn in the middle from top to bottom. Through the rent I passed into a stone cell. In the cell stood a table. On the table was a closed book. Oh how my heart beat! Never but then have I known the feeling of utter preciousness in a thing possessed. What doubts and fears would not this one lovely, oh unutterably beloved volume, lay at rest for ever! How my eyes would dwell upon every stroke of every letter the hand of the dearest disciple had formed! Nearly eighteen hundred years–and there it lay!–and there WAS a man who DID hear the Master say the words, and did set them down! I stood motionless, and my soul seemed to wind itself among the leaves, while my body stood like a pillar of salt, lost in its own gaze. At last, with sudden daring, I made a step towards the table, and, bending with awe, stretched out my hand to lay it upon the book. But ere my hand reached it, another hand, from the opposite side of the table, appeared upon it–an old, blue-veined, but powerful hand. I looked up. There stood the beloved disciple! His countenance was as a mirror which shone back the face of the Master. Slowly he lifted the book, and turned away. Then first I saw behind him as it were an altar whereon a fire of wood was burning, and a pang of dismay shot to my heart, for I knew what he was about to do. He laid the book on the burning wood, and regarded it with a smile as it shrunk and shrivelled and smouldered to ashes. Then he turned to me and said, while a perfect heaven of peace shone in his eyes: ‘Son of man, the Word of God liveth and abideth for ever, not in the volume of the book, but in the heart of the man that in love obeyeth him. And