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