has, or of gratifying some taste in him, that I there listen to his word, say prayers to him, and sing his praises? Shall I be such a dull mule in the presence of the living Truth? Or, to use a homely simile, shall I be as the good boy of the nursery rhyme, who, seated in his corner of selfish complacency, regards the eating of his pie as a virtuous action, enjoys the contemplation of it, and thinks what a pleasant object he thus makes of himself to his parents? Shall I, to take a step farther, degrade the sanctity of the closet, hallowed in the words of Jesus, by shutting its door in the vain fancy of there doing something that God requires of me as a sacred OBSERVANCE? Shall I foolishly imagine that to put in exercise the highest and loveliest, the most entrancing privilege of existence, that of pouring forth my whole heart into the heart of him who is ACCOUNTABLE FOR me, who hath glorified me with his own image–in my soul, gentlemen, sadly disfigured as it is in my body!–shall I say that THAT is to do anything for God? Was I serving my father when I ate the dinner he provided for me? Am I serving my God when I eat his bread and drink his wine?”
“But,” said Drew, “is not God pleased that a man should pour out his soul to him?”
“Yes, doubtless; but what would you think of a child who said, ‘I am very useful to my father, for when I ask him for anything, or tell him I love him, it gives him–oh, such pleasure!’?”
“I should say he was an unendurable prig. Better he had to be whipped for stealing!” said the curate.
“There would be more hope of his future,” returned Polwarth. “–Is the child,” he continued, “who sits by his father’s knee and looks up into his father’s face, SERVING that father, because the heart of the father delights to look down upon his child? And shall the moment of my deepest repose and bliss, the moment when I serve myself with the very life of the universe, be called a serving of my God? It is communion with God; he holds it with me, else never could I hold it with him. I am as the foam-froth upon his infinite ocean, but of the water of the ocean is the bubble on its waves.”
Not the eyes only, but the whole face of the man, which had grown of a pure, semi-transparent whiteness, appeared to Wingfold to emit light.
“When my child would serve me,” he went on,” he spies out some need I have, springs from his seat at my knee, finds that which will meet my necessity, and is my eager, happy servant, of consequence in his own eyes inasmuch as he has done something for his father. His seat by my knee is love, delight, well-being, peace–not service, however pleasing in my eyes.–‘Why do you seat yourself at my knee, my son?’ ‘To please you, father.’ ‘Nay then, my son! go from me, and come again when it shall be to please thyself.’–‘Why do you cling to my chair, my daughter? ‘Because I want to be near you, father. It makes me so happy!’ ‘Come nearer still–come to my bosom, my child, and be yet happier.’–Talk not of public worship as divine service; it is a mockery. Search the prophets and you will find the observances, fasts and sacrifices and solemn feasts, of the temple by them regarded with loathing and scorn, just because by the people they were regarded as DIVINE SERVICE.”
“But,” said Mr. Drew, while Wingfold turned towards him with some anxiety lest he should break the mood of the little prophet, “I can’t help thinking I have you! for how are poor creatures like us–weak, blundering creatures, sometimes most awkward when best-intentioned–how are we to minister to a perfect God–perfect in wisdom, strength, and everything–of whom Paul says that he is not worshipped with men’s hands as though he needed anything? I cannot help thinking that you are fighting merely with a word. Certainly, if the phrase ever was used in that sense, there is no meaning of the kind attached to it now: it stands merely for the forms of public worship.”
“Were there no such thing as Divine Service in the true sense of the word, then, indeed it would scarcely be worth while to quarrel with its misapplication. But I assert that true and genuine service may be rendered to the living God; and, for the development of the divine nature in man, it is necessary that he should do something for God. Nor is it hard to discover how; for God is in every creature that he has made, and in their needs he is needy, and in all their afflictions he is afflicted. Therefore Jesus says that whatever is done to one of his little ones is done to him. And if the soul of a man be the temple of the Spirit, then is the place of that man’s labour, his shop, his counting-house, his laboratory, the temple of Jesus Christ, where the spirit of the man is incarnate in work.–Mr. Drew!”–Here the gate-keeper stood up, and held out both his hands, palms upward, towards the draper on the other side of the table.–“Mr. Drew! your shop is the temple of your service where the Lord Christ, the only image of the Father is, or ought to be throned; your counter is, or ought to be his altar; and everything thereon laid, with intent of doing as well as you can for your neighbour, in the name of THE man Christ Jesus, is a true sacrifice offered to Him, a service done to the eternal creating Love of the universe.”
The little prophet’s head as he stood, did not reach the level of the draper’s as he sat, but at this Drew dropped his head on his hands upon the table, as if bowed down by a weight of thought and feeling and worship.
“I say not,” Polwarth went on, “that so doing you will grow a rich man, but I say that so doing you will be saved from growing too rich, and that you will be a fellow-worker with God for the salvation of his world.”
“I must live; I cannot give my goods away!” murmured Mr. Drew, thinkingly, as one that sought enlightenment.
“That would be to go direct against the order of his world, “said Polwarth.” No; a harder task is yours, Mr. Drew–to make your business a gain to you, and at the same time to be not only what is commonly counted just, but interested in, and careful of, and caring for your neighbour, as a servant of the God of bounty who giveth to all men liberally. Your calling is to do the best for your neighbour that you reasonably can.”
“But who is to fix what is reasonable?” asked Drew.
“The man himself, thinking in the presence of Jesus Christ. There is a holy moderation which is of God.”
“There won’t be many fortunes–great fortunes–made after that rule, Mr. Polwarth.”
“Then do you say that no great fortunes have been righteously made?”
“If RIGHTEOUSLY means AFTER THE FASHION OF JESUS CHRIST.–But I will not judge: that is for the God-enlightened conscience of the man himself to do–not for his neighbour’s. Why should I be judged by another man’s conscience?–But you see, Mr. Drew,–and this is what I was driving at–that you have it in your power to SERVE God, through the needs of his children, all the working day, from morning to night, so long as there is a customer in your shop.”
“I do think you are right, sir,” said the linen-draper. “I had a glimpse of the same thing the other night myself. And yet it seems as if you spoke of a purely ideal state–one that could not be realised in this world.”
“Purely ideal or not, one thing is certain: it will never be reached by one who is so indifferent to it as to believe it impossible. Whether it may be reached in this world or not, that is a question of NO consequence; whether a man has begun to REACH AFTER it, is of the utmost awfulness of import. And should it be ideal, which I doubt, what else than the ideal have the followers of the ideal man to do with?”
“Can a man reach anything ideal before he has God dwelling in him–filling every cranny of his soul?” asked the curate with shining eyes.
“Nothing, I do most solemnly believe,” answered Polwarth. “It weighs on me heavily sometimes,” he resumed, after a pause, “to think how far all but a few are from being able even to entertain the idea of the indwelling in them of the original power of their life. True, God is in every man, else how could he live the life he does live? but that life God keeps alive for the hour when he shall inform the will, the aspiration, the imagination of the man. When the man throws wide his door to the Father of his spirit, when his individual being is thus supplemented–to use a poor miserable word–with the individuality that originated it, then is the man a whole, healthy, complete existence. Then indeed, and then only, will he do no wrong, think no wrong, love perfectly, and be right merry. Then will he scarce think of praying, because God is in every thought and enters anew with every sensation. Then will he forgive, and endure, and pour out his soul for the beloved who yet grope their way in doubt and passion. Then every man will be dear and precious to him, even the worst, for in him also lies an unknown yearning after the same peace wherein he rests and loves.”
He sat down suddenly, and a deep silence filled the room.
A SHOP IN HEAVEN.
“Uncle,” said Rachel, “may I read your visions of the shops in heaven?”
“Oh no, Rachel. You are not able to read to-night,” said her uncle deprecatingly.
“I think I am, uncle. I should like to try. It will let the gentlemen see what you WOULD think an ideal state of things.–It is something, Mr. Wingfold, my uncle once dictated to me, and I wrote down just as he said it. He can always do better dictating than writing, but this time he was so ill with asthma that he could not talk much faster than I could write; and yet to be so ill I never saw him show so little suffering; his thinking seemed to make him forget it.–Mayn’t I read it, uncle? I know the gentlemen would like to hear it.”
“That we should,” said both men at once.
“I will fetch it you then,” said Polwarth, “if you will tell me where to find it.”
Rachel gave him the needful directions, and presently he brought a few sheets of paper, and handed them to her.
“This is no dream, Mr. Wingfold,” he said. “It is something I thought fairly out before I began to dictate it. But the only fit form I could find for it was that of a vision–like the Vision of Mirza, you know.–Now read, Rachel, and I will hold my tongue.”
After a little arranging of the sheets, Rachel began. She read not without difficulty, but her pleasure in what she read helped her through.
“‘And now, said my guide to me, I will bring thee to a city of the righteous, and show thee how they buy and sell in this the kingdom of heaven. So we journeyed a day and another day and half a day, and I was weary ere we arrived thither. But when I saw the loveliness of the place, and drew in the healing air thereof, my weariness vanished as a dream of the night, and I said, IT IS WELL.–I may not now speak of the houses and the dress and the customs of the dwellers therein, save what may belong to the buying and selling of which I have spoken. Gladly would I tell of the streams that went, some noiselessly gliding, others gurgling, some sweeping, some rushing and roaring, through every street, all issuing from one right plenteous fountain in the middle of the city, so that the ear was for ever filled with the sound of many waters all the day, ceasing when the night came, that silence might have its perfect work upon the soul. Gladly too would I tell of the trees and flowers and grass that grew in every street along the banks of the rivers. But I must withhold.
“‘After I had, I know not for how long, refreshed my soul with what it was thus given, me to enjoy,–for in all that country there is no such thing as haste, no darting from one thing to another, but a calm eternal progress in which unto the day the good thereof is sufficient–one great noon-day, my conductor led me into a large place, such as we would call a shop here, although the arrangements were different, and an air of stateliness dwelt in and around the house. It was filled with the loveliest silken and woollen stuffs, of all kinds and colours, a thousand delights to the eye–and to the thought also, for here was endless harmony, and no discord.
“‘I stood in the midst, and my guide stood by me in silence; for all the time I was in the country, he seldom spoke to me save when first I asked of him, and yet he never showed any weariness, and often a half-smile would dwell for a moment upon his countenance.
“‘And first I watched the faces of them that sold; and I could read therein–for be it understood that, according to the degree of his own capacity, a man there could perfectly read the countenance of every neighbour, that is, unless it expressed something that was not in himself–and I could read in them nothing of eagerness, only the calm of a concentrated ministration. There was no seeking there, but a strength of giving, a business-like earnestness to supply lack, enlivened by no haste, and dulled by no weariness, brightened ever by the reflected content of those who found their wants supplied. As soon as one buyer was contented they turned graciously to another, and gave ear until they perfectly understood with what object he had come to seek their aid. Nor did their countenances change utterly as they turned away, for upon them lingered the satisfaction as of one who hath had a success, and by degrees melted into the supervening content.
“‘Then I turned to watch the countenances of them that bought.–And there in like manner I saw no cupidity and no meanness. They spake humbly, yet not because they sought a favour, but because they were humble, for with their humility was mingled the confidence of receiving that they sought. And truly it was a pleasure to see how everyone knew what his desire was, making his choice readily and with decision. I perceived also that everyone spoke not merely respectfully, but gratefully, to him who served him. And at meeting and parting such kindly though brief greetings passed as made me wonder whether every inhabitant of such a mighty city could know every other that dwelt therein. But I soon saw that it came not of individual knowledge, but of universal faith and all-embracing love.
“‘And as I stood and watched, suddenly it came into my mind that I had never yet seen the coin of the country, and thereupon I kept my eyes upon a certain woman who bought silk, that when she paid for the same I might see the money. But that which she had largely bought she took in her arms and carried away, and paid not. Therefore I turned to watch another, who bought for a long journey, but when he carried away that he bought, neither did he pay any money. And I said to myself, These are well-known persons, to whom it is more convenient to pay all at a certain season; and I turned to a third who bought much fine linen. But behold! he paid not. Then I began to observe again those that sold; whereupon I thought with myself, How good must be the air of this land for the remembrance of things! for these men write down nothing to keep on record the moneys men owe them on all sides. And I looked and looked again and yet again, and stood long watching–but so it was throughout the whole place, which thronged and buzzed and swarmed like the busiest of bee-hives–no man paid, and no man had a book wherein to write that which the other owed!
“‘Then I turned to my guide and said: How lovely is honesty! and truly from what a labour it absolveth men! for here I see every man keepeth in his mind his own debts, and not the debts of others, so that time is not spent in paying of small sums, neither in the keeping of account of such; but he that buyeth counteth up, and doubtless when the day of reckoning arrives, each cometh and casteth the money he oweth into the merchant’s coffer, and both are satisfied.
“‘Then my conductor smiled, and said, Watch yet a while.
“‘And I did as he said unto me, and stood and watched. But the same thing went on everywhere; and I said to myself, Lo, I see nothing new!–Suddenly, at my side, a man dropped upon his knees, and bowed his head to the ground. And those that stood nigh him dropped also upon their knees, and there arose a sound as of soft thunder; and lo! everyone in the place had dropped upon his knees, and spread his hands out before him. Every voice and every noise was hushed, every movement had ceased, and I and my guide alone were left standing.
“‘Then I whispered in his ear, It is the hour of prayer: shall we not kneel also? And my guide answered, No man in this city kneeleth because others do, and no man is judged if he kneeleth not. If thou hast any grief or pain upon thee, then kneel; if not, then love God in thy heart and be thankful, and kneel when thou goest into thy chamber. Then said I, I will not kneel, but will watch and see.–It is well, said my guide; and I stood.
“‘For certain moments all was utter stillness–every man and woman kneeling, with hands outstretched, save him who had first kneeled, and his hands hung by his sides and his head was still bowed to the earth. At length he rose up, and lo! his face was wet with tears; and all the people rose also, and with a noise throughout the place; and the man made a low obeisance to them that were nigh him, the which they returned with equal reverence, and then with downcast eyes he walked slowly from the shop. The moment he was gone, the business of the place, without a word of remark on any side concerning what had passed, began again and went on as before. People came and went, some more eager and outward, some more staid and inward, but all contented and cheerful. At length a bell somewhere rang sweet and shrill, and after that no one entered the place, and what was in progress began to be led to a decorous conclusion. In three or four minutes the floor was empty, and the people also of the shop had gone, each about his own affairs, without shutting door or window.
“‘I went out last with my guide, and we seated ourselves under a tree of the willow-kind on the bank of one of the quieter streams, and straightway I began to question him. Tell me, sir, I said, the purport of what I have seen, for not yet have I understood how these happy people do their business and pass from hand to hand not a single coin I And he answered, Where greed and ambition and self-love rule, money must be: where there is neither greed nor ambition nor self-love, money is needless. And I asked, Is it then by the same ancient mode of barter that they go about their affairs? Truly I saw no exchange of any sort.–Bethink thee, said my guide, if thou hadst gone into any other shop throughout the whole city, thou wouldst have seen the same thing. I see not how that should make the matter plainer to me, I answered.–Where neither greed nor ambition nor selfishness reigneth, said my guide, there need and desire have free scope, for they work no evil.–But even now I understand you not, sir, I said.–Hear me then, answered my guide, for I will speak to thee more plainly. Wherefore do men take money in their hands when they go where things are?–Because they may not have the things without giving the money.–And where they may have things without giving money, there they take no money in their hands?–Truly no, sir, if there be such a place.–Then such a place is this, and so is it here.–But how can men give of their goods and receive nought in return?–By receiving everything in return. Tell me, said my guide, why do men take money for their goods?–That they may have wherewithal to go and buy other things which they need for themselves.–But if they also may go to this place or that place where the things are the which they need, and receive of those things without money and without price, is there then good cause why they should take money in their hands?–Truly no, I answered; and I begin, methinks, to see how the affair goeth. Yet are there some things still whereupon I would gladly be resolved. And first of all, how cometh it that men are moved to provide these and those goods for the supply of the wants of their neighbours, when they are drawn thereto by no want in themselves, and no advantage to themselves?–Thou reasonest, said my guide, as one of thine own degree, who to the eyes of the full-born ever look like chrysalids, closed round in a web of their own weaving; and who shall blame thee until thou thyself shinest within thyself? Understand that it is never advantage to himself that moveth a man in this kingdom to undertake this or that. The thing that alone advantageth a man here is the thing which he doth without thought unto that advantage. To your world, this world goeth by contraries. The man here that doeth most service, that aideth others the most to the obtaining of their honest desires, is the man who standeth highest with the Lord of the place, and his reward and honour is, to be enabled to the spending of himself yet more for the good of his fellows. There goeth a rumour amongst us even now that one shall ere long be ripe for the carrying of a message from the King to the spirits that are in prison. Thinkest thou it is a less potent stirring up of thought and energy to desire and seek and find the things that will please the eye, and cheer the brain, and gladden the heart of the people of this great city, so that when one prayeth, ‘Give me, friend, of thy loaves,’ a man may answer, ‘Take of them, friend, as many as thou needest’–is that, I say, an incentive to diligence less potent than the desire to hoard or to excel? Is it not to share the bliss of God who hoardeth nothing, but ever giveth liberally? The joy of a man here is to enable another to lay hold upon that which is of his own kind and be glad and grow thereby–doctrine strange and unbelievable to the man in whom the well of life is yet sealed. Never have they been many at a time in the old world who could thus enter into the joy of their Lord. And yet, if thou bethink thee, thou wilt perceive that such bliss is not unknown amongst thy fellows. Knowest thou no musician who would find it joy enough for a night, to scale the tower of a hundred bells, and send the great meteors of music-light flying over the care-tortured city? Would everyone even of thy half-created race reason with himself and say: Truly it is in the night, and no one can see who it is that ministereth; the sounds alone will go forth nor bear my image; I shall reap no honour; I will not rise and go? Thou knowest, I say, some in thy world who would not speak thus in their hearts, but would willingly consent to be as nothing, so to give life to their fellows. In this city so is it with all–in shop or workshop, in study or theatre, all seek to spend and be spent for the lovely all. –And I said, One thing tell me, sir–how much a man may have for the asking.–What he will–that is, what he can well use.–Who then shall be the judge thereof?–Who but the man himself?–What if he should turn to greed, and begin to hoard and spare?–Sawest thou not the man this day because of whom all business ceased for a time?–to that man had come a thought of accumulation instead of growth, and he dropped upon his knees in shame and terror. And thou sawest how all business ceased, and straightway that of the shop was made what below they call a church; for everyone hastened to the poor man’s help, the air was filled with praying breath, and the atmosphere of God-loving souls was around him; the foul thought fled, and the man went forth glad and humble, and to-morrow he will return for that which he needeth. If thou shouldst be present then, thou wilt see him more tenderly ministered unto than all the rest.–And if such a man prayed not?–If such a man slept ere he repented, he would wake with hatred in his heart towards the city and everyone therein, and would straightway flee into the wilderness. And the angel of the Lord would go out after him, and smite him with a word, and he would vanish from amongst us, and his life would be the life of one of those least of living things that are in your world born of the water; and there must he grow up again, crawling through the channels of thousand-folded difference, from animal to animal, until at length a human brain be given him, and after generations he become once again capable of being born of the spirit into the kingdom of liberty. Then shall all his past life open upon him, and in shame and dismay will he repent a thousand-fold, and will sin no more. Such, at least, are thoughts of our wise men upon the matter; but truly we know not.–It is good, I said. But how are men guided as to what lies to them to provide for the general good?–Every man doeth what thing he can, and the more his labour is desired, the more he rejoices.–If a man should desire that he could no where find in the city?–Then would he straightway do his endeavour to provide that thing for all in the city who might after him desire the same.–Now, sir, methinks I know and understand, I answered. And we rose and went farther.'”
“I think that COULD be!” said the curate, breaking the silence that followed when Rachel ceased.
“Not in this world,” said the draper.
“To doubt that it COULD be,” said the gatekeeper, “would be to doubt whether the kingdom of heaven is a chimera or a divine idea.”
POLWARTH AND LINGARD.
The morning after Wingfold’s second visit, Lingard, much to his sister’s surprise, partly to her pleasure, and somewhat to her consternation, asked for his clothes: he wanted to get up. So little energy had he hitherto shown, so weak was he, and so frequent had been the symptoms of returning fever, that the doctor had not yet thought of advising more than an hour’s sitting while his bed was made comfortable. And Helen had felt that she had him, if not safe, yet safer in bed than he could be elsewhere.
His wish to rise was a sign that he was getting better. But could she wish him to get better, seeing every hour threatened to be an hour of torture? On the other hand, she could not but hope that, for the last day or so, his mind had been a little more at ease. Assuredly the light in his eye was less troubled: perhaps he saw prospect of such mental quiet as might render life endurable.
He declined assistance, and Helen, having got him everything he required, left the room to wait within hearing. It took him a long time to dress, but he had resolved to do it himself, and at length called Helen.
She found he looked worse in his clothes–fearfully worn and white! Ah, what a sad ghost he was of his former sunny self! Helen turned her eyes from him, that he might not see how changed she thought him, and there were the trees in the garden and the meadows and the park beyond, bathing in the strength of the sun, betwixt the blue sky and the green earth! “What a hideous world it is!” she said to herself. She was not yet persuaded, like her cousin, that it was the best possible world–only that, unfortunately, not much was possible in worlds.
“Will you get me something, Helen,” he said. “Mr. Wingfold will be here, and I want to be able to talk to him.”
It was the first time he had asked for food, though he had seldom refused to take what she brought him. She made him lie on the couch, and gave orders that, if Mr. Wingfold called, he should be shown up at once. Leopold’s face brightened; he actually looked pleased when his soup came. When Wingfold was announced, he grew for a moment radiant.
Helen received the curate respectfully, but not very cordially: SHE could not make Leopold’s face shine!
“Would your brother like to see Mr. Polwarth?” asked the curate rather abruptly.
“I will see anyone you would like me to see. Mr. Wingfold,” answered Liugard for himself, with a decision that clearly indicated returning strength.
“But, Leopold, you know it is hardly to be desired,” suggested Helen, “that more persons–“
“I don’t know that,” interrupted Leopold with strange expression.
“Perhaps I had better tell you, Miss Lingard,” said the curate, “that it was Mr. Polwarth who found the thing I gave you. After your visit, he could not fail to put things together, and had he been a common man, I should have judged it prudent to tell him for the sake of secrecy what I have told him for the sake of counsel. I repeat in your brother’s hearing what I have said to you, that he is the wisest and best man I have ever known.–I left him in the meadow at the foot of the garden. He is suffering to-day, and I wanted to save him the longer walk. If you will allow me, I will go and bring him in.”
“Do,” said Leopold. “Think, Helen!–If he is the wisest and best man Mr. Wingfold ever knew! Tell him where to find the key.”
“I will go myself,” she said–with a yielding to the inevitable.
When she opened the door, there was the little man seated a few yards off on the grass. He had plucked a cowslip and was looking into it so intently that he neither heard nor saw her.
“Mr. Polwarth!” said Helen.
He lifted his eyes, rose, and taking off his hat, said with a smile,
“I was looking in the cowslip for the spots which the fairy, in the Midsummer Night’s Dream, calls ‘rubies.’–How is your brother, Miss Lingard?”
Helen answered with cold politeness, and led the way up the garden with considerably more stateliness of demeanour than was necessary.
When he followed her into the room, “This is Mr. Polwarth, Leopold,” said the curate, rising respectfully. “You may speak to him as freely as to me, and he is far more able to give you counsel than I am.”
“Would you mind shaking hands with me, Mr. Polwarth?” said Leopold, holding out his shadowy hand.
Polwarth took it with the kindest of smiles, and held it a moment in his.
“You think me an odd-looking creature–don’t you?” he said; “but just because God made me so, I have been compelled to think about things I might otherwise have forgotten, and that is why Mr. Wingfold would have me come to see you.”
The curate placed a chair for him, and the gate-keeper sat down. Helen seated herself a little way off in the window, pretending, or hardly more, to hem a handkerchief. Leopold’s big eyes went wandering from one to the other of the two men.
“What a horrible world it is!” was the thought that kept humming on like an evil insect in Helen’s heart. “I am sorry to see you suffer so much,” said Leopold kindly, for he heard the laboured breath of the little man, and saw the heaving of his chest.
“It does not greatly trouble me,” returned Polwarth. “It is not my fault, you see,” he added with a smile; “at least I don’t think it is.”
“You are happy to suffer without fault,” said Leopold. “It is because it is just that my punishment seems greater than I can bear.”
“You need God’s forgiveness in your soul.”
“I don’t see how that should do anything for me.”
“I do not mean it would take away your suffering; but it would make you able to bear it. It would be fresh life in you.”
“I can’t see why it should. I can’t feel that I have wronged God. I have been trying to feel it, Mr. Wingfold, ever since you talked to me. But I don’t know God, and I only feel what I have done to Emmeline. If I said to God, ‘Pardon me,’ and he said to me, ‘I do pardon you,’ I should feel just the same. What could that do to set anything right that I have set wrong? I am what I am, and what I ever shall be, and the injury which came from me, cleaves fast to her, and is my wrong wherever she is.”
He hid his face in his hands.
“What use CAN it be to torture the poor boy so?” said Helen to herself.
The two men sat silent. Then Polwarth said:
“I doubt if there is any use in trying to feel. And no amount of trying could enable you to imagine what God’s forgiveness is like to those that have it in them. Tell me something more you do feel, Mr. Lingard.”
“I feel that I could kill myself to bring her back to life.”
“That is, you would gladly make amends for the wrong you have done her.”
“I would give my life, my soul, to do it.”
“And there is nothing you can do for it?”
Helen began to tremble.
“What is there that can be done?” answered Leopold. “It does seem hard that a man should be made capable of doing things that he is not made capable of undoing again.”
“It is indeed a terrible thought! And even the smallest wrong is, perhaps, too awful a thing for created being ever to set right again.”
“You mean it takes God to do that?”
“I don’t see how he ever could set some things right.”
“He would not be God if he could not or would not do for his creature what that creature cannot do for himself, and must have done for him or lose his life.”
“Then he isn’t God, for he can’t help me.”
“Because you don’t see what can be done, you say God can do nothing–which is as much as to say there cannot be more within his scope than there is within yours! One thing is clear, that, if he saw no more than what lies within your ken, he could not be God. The very impossibility you see in the thing points to the region wherein God works.”
“I don’t quite understand you. But it doesn’t matter. It’s all a horrible mess. I wish I was dead.”
“My dear sir, is it reasonable that because a being so capable of going wrong finds himself incapable of setting right, he should judge it useless to cry to that being who called him into being to come to his aid?–and that in the face of the story–if it were but an old legend, worn and disfigured–that he took upon himself our sins?”
Leopold hung his head.
“God needs no making up to him,” the gate-keeper went on–“so far from it that he takes our sins on himself, that he may clear them out of the universe. How could he say he took our sins upon him, if he could not make amends for them to those they had hurt?”
“Ah!” cried Leopold, with a profound sigh, “–if that could be!–if he could really do that!”
“Why, of course he can do that!” said Polwarth. “What sort of watchmaker were he who could not set right the watches and clocks himself made?”
“But the hearts of men and women!” “Which God does far more than make!” interposed Polwarth. “That a being able to make another self-conscious being distinct from himself, should be able also to set right whatever that being could set wrong, seems to me to follow of simple necessity. He might even, should that be fit, put the man himself in the way of making up for what he had done, or at least put it in his power to ask and receive a forgiveness that would set all right between him and the person wronged. One of the painful things in the dogma of the endless loss of the wicked is that it leaves no room for the righteous to make up to them for the wrongs they did them in this life. For the righteous do the wicked far more wrong than they think–the righteous being all the time, in reality, the wealthy, and the wicked the poor. But it is a blessed word that there are first that shall be last, and last that shall be first.”
Helen stared. This last sounded to her mere raving madness, and she thought how wrong she had been to allow such fanatics to gain power over her poor Leopold–who sat before them whiter than ever, and with what she took for a wilder gleam in his eye.
“Is there not the might of love, and all eternity for it to work in, to set things right?” ended Polwarth.
“O God!” cried Leopold, “if that might be true! That would be a gift indeed–the power to make up for the wrong I have done!”
He rose from the couch–slowly, sedately, I had almost said formally, like one with a settled object, and stood erect, swaying a little from weakness.
“Mr. Wingfold,” he said, “I want of you one more favour: will you take me to the nearest magistrate? I wish to give myself up.”
Helen started up and came forward, paler than the sick man.
“Mr. Wingfold! Mr. Polwarth!” she said, and turned from the one to the other, “the boy is not himself. You will never allow him to do such a mad thing!”
“It may be the right thing,” said the curate to Leopold, “but we must not act without consideration.”
“I have considered and considered it for days–for weeks,” returned Leopold; “but until this moment I never had the courage to resolve on the plainest of duties.–Helen, if I were to go up to the throne of God with the psalm in my mouth, and say to him, ‘Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,’ it would be false; for I have sinned against every man, woman, and child in England at least, and I will repudiate myself. To the throne of God I want to go, and there is no way thither for me but through the gate of the law.”
“Leopold!” pleaded Helen, as if for her own life with some hard judge, “what good can it do to send another life after the one that is gone? It cannot bring it back, or heal a single sorrow for its loss.”
“Except perhaps my own,” said Leopold, in a feeble voice, but not the less in a determined tone.
“Live till God send for you,” persisted Helen, heedless of his words. “You can give your life to make up for the wrong you have done in a thousand better ways: that would be but to throw it in the dirt. There is so much good waiting to be done!”
Leopold sank on the couch.
“I am sitting down again, Helen, only because I am not able to stand,” he said. “I WILL go. Don’t talk to me about doing good! Whatever I touched I should but smear with blood. I want the responsibility of my own life taken off me. I am like the horrible creature Frankenstein made–one that has no right to existence–and at the same time like the maker of it, who is accountable for that existence. I am a blot on God’s creation that must be wiped off. For this my strength is given back to me, and I am once more able to will and resolve. You will find I can act too. Helen, if you will indeed be my sister, you must NOT prevent me now. I know it is hard upon you, awfully hard. I know I am dragging your life down with mine, but I cannot help it. If I don’t do it, I shall but go out of one madness into another, ever a deeper, until the devils can’t hold me. Mr. Polwarth, is it not my duty to give myself up? Ought not the evil thing to be made manifest and swept out of the earth? Most people grant it a man’s first duty to take care of his life: that is the only thing I can do for mine. It is now a filthy pool with a corpse in it:–I would clean it out–have the thing buried at least, though never forgotten–never, never forgotten. Then I shall die and go to God and see what he can do for me.”
“Why should you put it off till then?” said Polwarth. “Why not go to him at once and tell him all?”
As if it had been Samuel at the command of Eli, Leopold rose and crept feebly across the floor to the dressing-room, entered it, and closed the door.
Then Helen turned upon Wingfold with a face white as linen, and eyes flashing with troubled wrath. The tigress-mother swelled in her heart, and she looked like a Maenad indeed.
“Is this then your religion?” she cried with quivering nostril. “Would he you dare to call your master have stolen into the house of a neighbour to play upon the weakness of a poor lad suffering from brain-fever? A fine trophy of your persuasive power and priestly craft you would make of him! What is it to you whether he confesses his sins or not? If he confesses them to him you say is your God, is not that enough? For shame, gentlemen!”
She ceased, and stood trembling and flashing–a human thunder-cloud. Neither of the men cared to assert innocence, because, although they had not advised the step, they entirely approved of it.
A moment more, and her anger suddenly went out. She burst into tears, and falling on her knees before the curate, begged and prayed like a child condemned to some frightful punishment. It was terrible to Wingfold to see a woman in such an agony of prayer–to one who would not grant it–and that one himself. In vain he sought to raise her.
“If you do not save Leopold, I will kill myself,” she cried, “and my blood will be on your head.”
“The only way to save your brother is to strengthen him to do his duty, whatever that may be.”
The hot fit of her mental fever returned. She sprang to her feet, and her face turned again almost like that of a corpse with pale wrath.
“Leave the house!” she said, turning sharply upon Polwarth, who stood solemn and calm at Wingfold’s side, a step behind. It was wonderful what an unconscious dignity radiated from him.
“If my friend goes, I go too,” said Wingfold. “But I must first tell your brother why.”
He made a step towards the dressing-room.
But now came a fresh change of mood upon Helen. She darted between him and the door, and stood there with such a look of humble entreaty as went to his very heart, and all but unmanned him. Ah, how lovely she looked in the silent prayer of tears! But not even her tears could turn Wingfold from what seemed his duty. They could only bring answering tears from the depth of a tender heart. She saw he would not flinch.
“Then may God do to you as you have done to me and mine!” she said.
“Amen!” returned Wingfold and Polwarth together.
The door of the dressing-room opened, and out came Leopold, his white face shining.
“God has heard me!” he cried.
“How do you know that?” said his sister, in the hoarse accents of unbelieving despair.
“Because he has made me strong to do my duty. He has reminded me that another man may be accused of my crime, and now to conceal myself were to double my baseness.”
“It will be time enough to think of that when there is a necessity for it. The thing you imagine may never happen,” said Helen, in the same unnatural voice.
“Leave it,” cried Leopold, “until an innocent man shall have suffered the torture and shame of a false accusation, that a guilty man may a little longer act the hypocrite! No, Helen, I have not fallen so low as that yet. Believe me, this is the only living hour I have had since I did the deed!”
But as he spoke, the light died out of his face, and ere they could reach him he had fallen heavily on the floor.
“You have killed him!” cried Helen, in a stifled shriek, for all the time she had never forgotten that her aunt might hear.
But the same moment she caught from his condition a lurid hope.
“Go, I beg of you,” she said–“by the window there, before my aunt comes. She must have heard the fall. There is the key of the door below.”
The men obeyed, and left the house in silence.
It was some time before Leopold returned to consciousness. He made no resistance to being again put to bed, where he lay in extreme exhaustion.
THE STRONG MAN.
The next day he was much too exhausted and weak to talk about anything. He took what his sister brought him, smiled his thanks, and once put up his hand and stroked her cheek. But her heart was not gladdened by these signs of comparative composure, for what gave him quiet but the same that filled her with unspeakable horror?
The day after that was Saturday, and George Bascombe came as usual. The sound of his step in the hall made her dying hope once more flutter its wings: having lost the poor stay of the parson, from whom she had never expected much, she turned in her fresh despair to the cousin from whom she had never looked for anything. But what was she to say to him?–Nothing yet, she resolved; but she would take him to see Leopold–for was he not sure to hear that the parson had been admitted? She did not feel at all certain that she was doing right, but she would do it; and if she left them together, possibly George might drop some good PRACTICAL advice, which, though spoken in ignorance, might yet tell. George was such a healthy nature and such a sound thinker! Was it not as ridiculous as horrible for any man to think he had a right to throw away his very existence, and bring disgrace upon his family as well, for a mere point of honour–no, not honour, mere fastidiousness!
Leopold was better, and willing enough to see George, saying only,
“I would rather it were Mr. Wingfold. But he can’t come to-day, I suppose, to-morrow being Sunday.”
George’s entrance brought with it a waft of breezy health, and a show of bodily vigour pleasant and refreshing to the heart of the invalid. Kindness shone in his eyes, and his large, handsome hand was out as usual while he was yet yards away. It swallowed up that of poor Leopold, and held it fast.
“Come, come, old fellow! What’s the meaning of this?” he said right cheerily. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself–lying in bed like this in such weather! Why ain’t you riding in the park with Helen, instead of moping in this dark room? You’ll be as blind as the fish in the cave of Kentucky if you don’t get out of this directly! We must see what we can do to get you up!”
He glanced round the room, saw that Helen had left it, and changed his tone to a lower and serious one:
“I say, my boy, you must have been playing old Harry with your constitution to bring yourself to such a pass! By Jove! this will never do! You must turn over a new leaf, you know. That sort of thing never pays. The game’s not worth the candle. Why, you’ve been at death’s door, and life’s not so long that you can afford to play ducks and drakes with it.”
Thus he talked, in expostulatory rattle, the very high-priest of social morality, for some, time before Leopold could get a word in. But when he did, it turned the current into quite another channel.
An hour passed, and George reappeared in the drawing-room, where Helen was waiting for him. He looked very grave.
“I fear matters are worse with poor Leopold than I had imagined,” he said.
Helen gave a sad nod of acquiescence.
“He’s quite off his head,” continued George, “–telling me such an awful cock-and-bull story with the greatest gravity! He WILL have it that he is a murderer–the murderer of that very girl I was telling you about, you remember,–“
“Yes, yes! I know,” said Helen, as a faint gleam of reviving hope shot up from below her horizon. George took the whole thing for a sick fancy, and who was likely to know better than he–a lawyer, and skilled in evidence? Not a word would she say to interfere with such an opinion!
“I hope you gave him a good talking-to,” she said.
“Of course I did,” he answered; “but it was of no use. I see exactly how it is. He gave me a full and circumstantial account of the affair, filling up all the gaps, it is true, but going only just as far as the newspapers supplied the skeleton. How he got away, for instance, he could not tell me. And now nothing will serve him but confess it! He don’t care who knows it! He’s as mad as a hatter!–I beg your pardon, Helen–on that one point, I mean. The moment I saw him I read madness in his eye!–What’s to be done now?”
“George, I look to you,” said Helen. “Poor aunt is of no use. Think what will become of her, if the unhappy boy should attempt to give himself up! We should be the talk of the county–of the whole country!”
“Why didn’t you tell me of this before, Helen? It must have been coming on for some time.”
“George, I didn’t know what to do. And I had heard you say such terrible things about the duty of punishing crime.”
“Good gracious, Helen! where is your logic? What has crime to do with it! Is down-right stark-staring madness a crime? Anyone with half an eye can see the boy is mad!”
Helen saw she had made a slip, and held her peace. George went on:–
“He ought to be shut up.”
“No! no! no!” Helen almost screamed, and covered her face with her hands.
“I’ve done my best to persuade him. But I will have another try. That a fellow is out of his mind is no reason why he should be unassailable by good logic–that is, if you take him on his own admissions.”
“I fear you will make nothing of him, George. He is set upon it, and I don’t know what IS to be done.”
George got up, went back to Leopold, and plied him with the very best of arguments. But they were of no avail. There was for him but one door out of hell, and that was the door of confession–let what might lie on the other side of it.
“Who knows,” he said, “but the law of a life for a life may have come of compassion for the murderer?”
“Nonsense!” said George. “It comes of the care of society over its own constituent parts.”
“Whatever it came from, I know this,” returned Leopold, “that, since I made up my mind to confess, I am a man again.”
George was silent. He found himself in that rare condition for him–perplexity. It would be most awkward if the thing came to be talked of! Some would even be fools enough to believe the story! Entire proof of madness would only make such set it down as the consequence–or, if pity prevailed, then as the cause of the deed. They might be compelled to shut him up, to avoid no end of the most frightful annoyances. But Helen, he feared, would not consent to that. And then his story was so circumstantial–and therefore so far plausible–that there was no doubt most magistrates would be ready at once to commit him for trial–and then where would there be an end of the most offensive embarrassments!
Thus George reflected uneasily. But at length an idea struck him.
“Well,” he said lightly, “if you will, you will. We must try to make it as easy for you as we can. I will manage it, and go with you. I know all about such things, you know. But it won’t do just to-day. If you were to go before a magistrate, looking as you do now, he would not listen to a word you uttered. He would only fancy you in a fever and send you to bed. If you are quiet to-day–let me see– to-morrow is Sunday–and if you are in the same mind on Monday, I will take you to Mr. Hooker–he’s one of the county magistrates, and you shall make your statement to him.”
“Thank you.–I should like Mr. Wingfold to go too.”
“Soh!” said George to himself.
“By all means,” he answered. “We can take him with us.”
He went again to Helen.
“This is a most awkward business,” he said. “Poor girl! what you must have gone through with him! I had no idea! But I see my way out of it. Keep your mind easy, Helen. I do see what I can do. Only what’s the meaning of his wanting that fellow Wingfold to go with him? I shouldn’t a bit wonder now if it all came of some of his nonsense! At least, it may be that ass of a curate that has put confession in his head–to save his soul, of course! How did he come to see him?”
“The poor boy would see him.”
“What made him want to see him?”
Helen held her peace. She saw George suspected the truth.
“Well, no matter,” said George. “But one never knows what may come of things. We ought always to look well ahead.–You had better go and lie down awhile, Helen; you don’t seem quite yourself.”
“I am afraid to leave Leopold,” she answered. “He will be telling aunt and everybody now.”
“That I will take care he does not,” said George. “You go and lie down a while.”
Helen’s strength had been sorely tried: she had borne up bravely to the last; but now that she could do no more, and her brother had taken himself out of her hands, her strength had begun to give way, and, almost for the first time in her life, in daylight, she longed to go to bed. Let George, or Wingfold, or who would, see to the wilful boy! She had done what she could.
She gladly yielded to George’s suggestion, sought an unoccupied room, bolted the door, and threw herself upon the bed.
GEORGE AND LEOPOLD.
George went again to Leopold’s room, and sat down by him. The youth lay with his eyes half closed, and a smile–a faint sad one–flickered over his face. He was asleep: from infancy he had slept with his eyes open.
“Emmeline!” he murmured, in the tone of one who entreats forgiveness.
“Strange infatuation!” said George to himself: “even his dreams are mad! Good God! there can’t be anything in it–can there? I begin to feel as if I were not quite safe myself. Mad-doctors go mad themselves, they say. I wonder what sort of floating sporule carries the infection–reaching the brain by the nose, I fancy. Or perhaps there is latent madness in us all, requiring only the presence of another madness to set it free.”
Leopold was awake and looking at him.
“Is it a very bad way of dying?” he asked.
“What is, old boy!”
“Yes, very bad–choking, you know,” answered George, who wanted to make the worst of it.
“I thought the neck was broken and all was over,” returned Leopold, with a slight tremor in his voice.
“Yes, that’s how it ought to be; but it fails so often!”
“At least there’s no more hanging in public, and that’s a comfort,” said Leopold.
“What a queer thing,” said George to himself, “that a man should be ready to hang for an idea! Why should he not do his best to enjoy what is left of the sunlight, seeing, as their own prophet says, the night cometh when no man can work? A few more whiffs of his cigar before it goes out, would hurt no one. It is one thing to hang a murderer, and quite another to hang yourself if you happen to be the man. But he’s stark raving mad, and must be humoured. Dance upon nothing for an idea! Well, it’s not without plenty of parallels in history!–I wonder whether his one idea would give way now, if it were brought to the actual test of hanging! It is a pity it couldn’t be tried, just for experiment’s sake. But a strait-waistcoat would be better.”
Leopold’s acquaintance with George had been but small, and of his favourite theories he knew nothing. But he had always known that he was not merely his sister’s cousin, but the trusted friend both of her and of her aunt; and since he had come to know of his frequent visits, he had begun to believe him more to Helen than a friend. Hence the moment he had made up his mind to confess, he was ready to trust George entirely, and although he was disappointed to find him receive his communication in a spirit so different from that of Wingfold and his friend, he felt no motion of distrust on that account, seeing Helen, who had been to him true as steel, took the same view of his resolution.
“What would you do yourself then, George, if you had committed a crime like mine?” he asked, after lying silent for a while.
None of George’s theories had greatly taxed his imagination. He had not been in any habit of fancying himself in this or that situation–and when he did, it was always in some pleasant one of victory or recognition. Possible conditions of humanity other than pleasant, he had been content to regard from the outside, and come to logical conclusions concerning, without, as a German would say, thinking himself into them at all; and it would have been to do the very idea of George Bascombe a wrong to imagine him entangled in any such net of glowing wire as a crime against society! Therefore, although for most questions George had always an answer ready, for this he had none at hand, and required a moment, and but a moment, to think.
“I would say to myself,” he replied, “‘What is done, is done, and is beyond my power to alter or help.’ And so I would be a man and bear it–not a weakling, and let it crush me. No, by Jove! it shouldn’t crush ME!”
“Ah, but you haven’t tried the weight of it, George!” returned Leopold.
“God forbid!” said George.
“God forbid! indeed,” rejoined Leopold; “but there ’tis done for all his forbidding!”
“What’s done is done, God or devil, and must be borne, I say,” said Bascombe, stretching out his legs. He was aware it sounded heartless, but how could he help it? What else was there to be said?
“But if you can’t bear it? If it is driving you mad–mad–mad? If you must do something or kill yourself?” cried Leopold.
“You haven’t done your best at trying yet,” returned George. “But you are ill, and not very able to try, I daresay, and so we can’t help it. On Monday we shall go to Mr. Hooker, and see what he says to it.”
He rose and went to get a book from the library. On the stair he met the butler: Mr. Wingfold had called to see Mr. Lingard.
“He can’t see him to-day. He is too much exhausted,” said Bascombe; and the curate left the house thoughtful and sorry, feeling as if a vulture had settled by the side of the youth–a good-natured vulture, no doubt, but not the less one bent on picking out the eyes of his mind.
He walked away along the street towards the church with down-bent head, seeing no one. He entered the churchyard, not looking whither he went: a lovely soul was in pain and peril, and he could not get near to help it. They were giving it choke-damp to breathe, instead of mountain-air. They were washing its sores with anodynes instead of laying them open with the knife of honesty, that they might be cleansed and healed. He found himself stumbling among the level gravestones, and stopped and sat down.
He sat a while, seeming to think of nothing, his eyes resting on a little tuft of moss that shone like green gold in the sunlight on the shoulder of an awkward little cherub’s wing. Ere long he found himself thinking how not the soul of Leopold, but that of Helen, was in chief danger. Poor Leopold had the serpent of his crime to sting him alive, but Helen had the vampyre of an imperfect love to fan her asleep with the airs of a false devotion. It was Helen he had to be anxious about more than Leopold.
He rose and walked back to the house.
“Can I see Miss Lingard?” he asked.
It was a maid who opened the door this time. She showed him into the library, and went to inquire.
WINGFOLD AND HELEN.
When Helen lay down, she tried to sleep, but she could not even lie still. For all her preference of George and his counsel, and her hope in the view he took of Leopold’s case, the mere knowledge that in the next room her cousin sat by her brother, made her anxious and restless.
At first it was the bare feeling that they were together–the thing she had for so long taken such pains to prevent. Next came the fear lest Leopold should succeed in persuading George that he was really guilty–in which case, what would George, the righteous man, counsel? And last and chief of all, what hope of peace to Leopold could he in any of his counsel–except indeed he led him up to the door of death, and urged him into the nothingness behind it? Then what if George should be wrong, and there WAS something behind it? Whatever sort of a something it might be, could the teaching of George be in the smallest measure a preparation for it? Were it not better, so far as the POSSIBILITY which remained untouched by any of George’s arguments was concerned, that Leopold should die believing after Mr. Wingfold’s fashion, and not disbelieving after George’s? If then there were nothing behind, he would be nothing the worse; if there were, the curate might have in some sort prepared him for it.
And now first she began to feel that she was a little afraid of her cousin–that she had yielded to his influence, or rather allowed him to assume upon the possession of influence, until she was aware of something that somewhere galled. He was a very good fellow, but was he one fit to rule her life? Would her nature consent to look up to his always, if she were to marry him? But the thought only flitted like a cloud across the surface of her mind, for all her care was Leopold, and alas! with him she was now almost angry, and it grieved her sorely.
All these feelings together had combined to form her mood, when her maid came to the door with the message that Mr. Wingfold was in the library. She resolved at once to see him.
The curate’s heart trembled a little as he waited for her. He was not quite sure that it was his business to tell her her duty–yet something seemed to drive him to it: he could not bear the idea of her going on in the path of crookedness. It is no easy matter for one man to tell another his duty in the simplest relations of life; and here was a man, naturally shy and self-distrustful, daring to rebuke and instruct a woman, whose presence was mighty upon him, and whose influence was tenfold heightened by the suffering that softened her beauty!
She entered, troubled yet stately, doubtful, yet with a kind of half-trust in her demeanour, white, and blue-eyed, with pained mouth, and a droop of weariness and suffering in eyelids and neck–a creature to be worshipped if only for compassion of dignified distress.
Thomas Wingfold’s nature was one more than usually bent towards helpfulness, but his early history, his lack of friends, of confidence, of convictions, of stand or aim in life, had hitherto prevented the outcome of that tendency. But now, like issuing water, which, having found way, gathers force momently, the pent-up ministration of his soul was asserting itself. Now that he understood more of the human heart, and recognised in this and that human countenance the bars of a cage through which peeped an imprisoned life, his own heart burned in him with the love of the helpless; and if there was mingled therein anything of the ambition of benefaction, anything of the love of power, anything of self-recommendation, pride of influence, or desire to be a centre of good, and rule in a small kingdom of the aided and aiding, these marshy growths had the fairest chance of dying an obscure death; for the one sun, potent on the wheat for life, and on the tares for death, is the face of Christ Jesus, and in that presence Wingfold lived more and more from day to day.
And now came Helen, who, more than anyone whose history he had yet learned–more perhaps than even her brother, needed such help as he confidently hoped he knew now where she might find! But when he saw her stand before him wounded and tearful and proud, regarding his behaviour in respect of her brother as cruel and heartless; when he felt in his very soul that she was jealous of his influence, that she disliked and even despised him; it was only with a strong effort he avoided assuming a manner correspondent to the idea of himself he saw reflected in her mind, and submitting himself, as it were, to be what she judged him.
When, however, by a pure effort of will, he rose above this weakness and looked her full and clear in the face, a new jealousy of himself arose: she stood there so lovely, so attractive, so tenfold womanly in her misery, that he found he must keep a stern watch upon himself, lest interest in her as a woman should trespass on the sphere of simple humanity, wherein with favouring distinction is recognized neither Jew nor Greek, prince nor peasant–not even man or woman, only the one human heart that can love and suffer. It aided him in this respect however, that his inherent modesty caused him to look up to Helen as to a suffering goddess, noble, grand, lovely, only ignorant of the one secret, of which he, haunting the steps of the Unbound Prometheus, had learned a few syllables, broken yet potent, which he would fain, could he find how, communicate in their potency to her. And besides, to help her now looking upon him from the distant height of conscious superiority, he must persuade her to what she regarded as an unendurable degradation! The circumstances assuredly protected him from any danger of offering her such expression of sympathy as might not have been welcome to her.
It is true that the best help a woman can get is from a right man–equally true with its converse; but let the man who ventures take heed. Unless he is able to counsel a woman to the hardest thing that bears the name of duty, let him not dare give advice even to her asking.
Helen however had not come to ask advice of Wingfold. She was in no such mood. She was indeed weary of a losing strife, and only for a glimmer of possible help from her cousin, saw ruin inevitable before her. But this revival of hope in George had roused afresh her indignation at the intrusion of Wingfold with what she chose to lay to his charge as unsought counsel. At the same time, through all the indignation, terror, and dismay, something within her murmured audibly enough that the curate and not her cousin was the guide who could lead her brother where grew the herb of what peace might yet be had. It was therefore with a sense of bewilderment, discord, and uncertainty, that she now entered the library.
Wingfold rose, made his obeisance, and advanced a step or two. He would not offer a hand that might be unwelcome, and Helen did not offer hers. She bent her neck graciously, and motioned him to be seated.
“I hope Mr. Lingard is not worse,” he said.
Helen started. Had anything happened while she had been away from him?
“No. Why should he be worse?” she answered. “Have they told you anything?”
“I have heard nothing; only as I was not allowed to see him,–“
“I left him with Mr. Bascombe half an hour ago,” she said, willing to escape the imputation of having refused him admittance.
Wingfold gave an involuntary sigh.
“You do not think that gentleman’s company desirable for my brother, I presume,” she said with a smile so lustreless that it seemed bitter.
“He won’t do him any harm–at least I do not think you need fear it.”
“Why not? No one in your profession can think his opinions harmless, and certainly he will not suppress them.”
“A man with such a weight on his soul as your brother carries, will not be ready to fancy it lightened by having lumps of lead thrown upon it. An easy mind may take a shroud on its shoulders for wings, but when trouble comes and it wants to fly, then it knows the difference. Leopold will not be misled by Mr. Bascombe.”
Helen grew paler. She would have him misled–so far as not to betray himself.
“I am far more afraid of your influence than of his,” added the curate.
“What bad influence do you suppose me likely to exercise?” asked Helen, with a cold smile.
“The bad influence of wishing him to act upon your conscience instead of his own.”
“Is my conscience then a worse one than Leopold’s?” she asked, but as if she felt no interest in the answer.
“It is not his, and that is enough. His own and no other can tell him what he ought to do.”
“Why not leave him to it, then?” she said bitterly.
“That is what I want of you, Miss Lingard. I would have you fear to touch the life of the poor youth.”
“Touch his life! I would give him mine to save it. YOU counsel him to throw it away.”
“Alas, what different meanings we put on the word! You call the few years he may have to live in this world his life; while I–“
“While you count it the millions of which yon know nothing,–somewhere whence no one has ever returned to bring any news!–a wretched life at best if it be such as you represent it.”
“Pardon me, that is merely what you suppose I mean by the word. I do not mean that; I mean something altogether different. When I spoke of his life, I thought nothing about here or there, now or then. You will see what I mean if you think how the light came back to his eye and the colour to his cheek the moment he had made up his mind to do what had long seemed his duty. When I saw him again that light was still in his eyes, and a feeble hope looked out of every feature. Existence, from a demon-haunted vapor, had begun to change to a morning of spring; life, the life of conscious well-being, of law and order and peace, had begun to dawn in obedience and self-renunciation; his resurrection was at hand. But you then, and now you and Mr. Bascombe, would stop this resurrection; you would seat yourselves upon his gravestone to keep him down!–And why?–Lest he, lest you, lest your family should be disgraced by letting him out of his grave to tell the truth.”
“Sir!” cried Helen, indignantly drawing herself to her full height and something more.
Wingfold took one step nearer to her.
“My calling is to speak the truth,” he said: “and I am bound to warn you that you will never be at peace in your own soul until you love your brother aright.”
“Love my brother!” Helen almost screamed. “I would die for him.”
“Then at least let your pride die for him,” said Wingfold, not without indignation.
Helen left the room, and Wingfold the house.
She had hardly shut the door, and fallen again upon the bed, when she began to know in her heart that the curate was right. But the more she knew it, the less would she confess it even to herself: it was unendurable.
The curate walked hurriedly home, and seated himself at his table, where yet lay his Greek Testament open at the passage he had been pondering for his sermon. Alas! all he had then been thinking with such fervour had vanished. He knew his inspiring text, but the rest was gone. Worst of all, feeling was gone with thought, and was, for the time at least, beyond recall. Righteous as his anger was, it had ruffled the mirror of his soul till it could no longer reflect heavenly things. He rose, caught up his New Testament, and went to the church-yard. It was a still place, and since the pains of a new birth had come upon him, he had often sought the shelter of its calm. A few yards from the wall of the rectory garden stood an old yew-tree, and a little nearer on one side was a small thicket of cypress; between these and the wall was an ancient stone upon which he generally seated himself. It had already begun to be called the curate’s chair. Most imagined him drawn thither by a clerical love of gloom, but in that case he could scarcely have had such delight in seeing the sky through the dark foliage of the yew: he thought the parts so seen looked more divinely blue than any of the rest. He would have admitted, however, that he found quiet, for the soul as well as the body, upon this edge of the world, this brink of the gulf that swallowed the ever-pouring ever-vanishing Niagara of human life. On the stone he now seated himself and fell a-musing.
What a change had come upon him–slow, indeed, yet how vast, since the night when he sat in the same churchyard indignant and uneasy with the words of Bascombe like hot coals in his heart! He had been made ashamed of himself who had never thought much of himself, but the more he had lost of worthiness in his own eyes the more he had gained in worth. And the more his poor satisfaction with himself had died out, the more the world had awaked around him. For it must be remembered that a little conceit is no more to be endured than a great one, but must be swept utterly away. Sky and wind and water and birds and trees said to him, “Forget thyself and we will think of thee. Sing no more to thyself thy foolish songs of decay, and we will all sing to thee of love and hope and faith and resurrection.” Earth and air had grown full of hints and sparkles and vital motions, as if between them and his soul an abiding community of fundamental existence had manifested itself. He had never in the old days that were so near and yet seemed so far behind him, consciously cared for the sunlight: now even the shadows were marvellous in his eyes, and the glitter the golden weather-cock on the tower was like a cry of the prophet Isaiah. High and alone in the clear blue air it swung, an endless warning to him that veers with the wind of the world, the words of men, the summer breezes of their praise, or the bitter blasts of their wintry blame; it was no longer to him a cock of the winds, but a cock of the truth–a Peter-cock, that crew aloud in golden shine its rebuke of cowardice and lying. Never before had he sought acquaintance with the flowers that came dreaming up out of the earth in the woods and the lanes like a mist of loveliness, but the spring-time came in his own soul, and then he knew the children of the spring. And as the joy of the reviving world found its way into the throats of the birds, so did the spring in his reviving soul find its way into the channels of thought and speech, and issue in utterance both rhythmic and melodious.–But not in any, neither in all of these things lay the chief sign and embodiment of the change he recognised in himself. It was this: that, whereas in former times the name Christ had been to him little more than a dull theological symbol, the thought of him and of his thoughts was now constantly with him; ever and anon some fresh light would break from the cloudy halo that enwrapped his grandeur; ever was he growing more the Son of Man to his loving heart, ever more the Son of God to his aspiring spirit. Testimony had merged almost in vision: he saw into, and partly understood the perfection it presented: he looked upon the face of God and lived. Oftener and oftener, as the days passed, did it seem as if the man were by his side, and at times, in the stillness of the summer-eve, when he walked alone, it seemed almost, as thoughts of revealing arose in his heart, that the Master himself was teaching him in spoken words. What need now to rack his soul in following the dim-seen, ever evanishing paths of metaphysics! he had but to obey the prophet of life, the man whose being and doing and teaching were blended in one three-fold harmony, or rather, were the three-fold analysis of one white essence–he had but to obey him, haunt his footsteps, and hearken after the sound of his spirit, and all truth would in healthy process be unfolded in himself. What philosophy could carry him where Jesus would carry his obedient friends–into his own peace, namely, far above all fear and all hate, where his soul should breathe such a high atmosphere of strength at once and repose, that he should love even his enemies, and that with no such love as condescendingly overlooks, but with the real, hearty, and self-involved affection that would die to give them the true life! Alas! how far was he from such perfection now–from such a martyrdom, lovely as endless, in the consuming fire of God! And at the thought, he fell from the heights of his contemplation–but was caught in the thicket of prayer.
By the time he reached his lodging, the glow had vanished, but the mood remained. He sat down and wrote the first sketch of the following verses, then found that his sermon had again drawn nigh, and was within the reach of his spiritual tentacles.
Father, I cry to thee for bread,
With hungered longing, eager prayer; Thou hear’st, and givest me instead
More hunger and a half-despair.
O Lord, how long? My days decline;
My youth is lapped in memories old; I need not bread alone, but wine–
See, cup and hand to thee I hold.
And yet thou givest: thanks, O Lord, That still my heart with hunger faints! The day will come when at thy board
I sit forgetting all my plaints.
If rain must come and winds must blow, And I pore long o’er dim-seen chart, Yet, Lord, let not the hunger go,
And keep the faintness at my heart.
A SERMON TO LEOPOLD.
When the curate stood up to read, his eyes as of themselves sought Mrs. Ramshorn’s pew. There sat Helen, with a look that revealed, he thought, more of determination and less of suffering. Her aunt was by her side, cold and glaring, an ecclesiastical puss, ready to spring upon any small church-mouse that dared squeak in its own murine way. Bascombe was not visible, and that was a relief. For an unbelieving face, whether the dull dining countenance of a mayor, or the keen searching countenance of a barrister, is a sad bone in the throat of utterance, and has to be of set will passed over, and, if that may be, forgotten. Wingfold tried hard to forget Mrs. Ramshorn’s, and one or two besides, and by the time he came to the sermon, thought of nothing but human hearts, their agonies, and him who came to call them to him.
“I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
“Was it then of the sinners first our Lord thought ere he came from the bosom of the Father? Did the perfect will embrace in the all-atoning tenderness of the divine heart, the degraded, disfigured, defiled, distorted thing, whose angel is too blind ever to see the face of its Father? Through all the hideous filth of the charnel-house, which the passions had heaped upon her, did the Word recognise the bound, wing-lamed, feather-draggled Psyche, panting in horriblest torture? Did he have a desire to the work of his hands, the child of his father’s heart, and therefore, strong in compassion, speed to the painful rescue of hearts like his own? That purity arid defilement should thus meet across all the great dividing gulf of law and morals! The friend of publicans and sinners! Think: he was absolutely friendly with them! was not shocked at them! held up no hands of dismay! Only they must do so no more.
“If he were to come again, visibly, now, which do you think would come crowding around him in greater numbers–the respectable church-goers, or the people from the slums? I do not know. I dare not judge. But the fact that the church draws so few of those that are despised, of those whom Jesus drew and to whom most expressly he came, gives ground for question as to how far the church is like her Lord. Certainly many a one would find the way to the feet of the master, from whom the respectable church-goer, the pharisee of our time, and the priest who stands on his profession, would draw back with disgust. And doubtless it would be in the religious world that a man like Jesus, who, without a professional education, a craftsman by birth and early training, uttered scarce a phrase endorsed by clerical use, or a word of the religious cant of the day, but taught in simplest natural forms the eternal facts of faith and hope and love, would meet with the chief and perhaps the only BITTER opponents of his doctrine and life.
“But did our Lord not call the righteous? Did he not call honest men about him–James and John and Simon–sturdy fisher-folk, who faced the night and the storm, worked hard, fared roughly, lived honestly, and led good cleanly lives with father and mother, or with wife and children? I do not know that he said anything special to convince them that they were sinners before he called them. But it is to be remarked that one of the first effects of his company upon Simon Peter was, that the fisherman grew ashamed of himself, and while ashamed was yet possessed with an impulse of openness and honesty no less than passionate. The pure man should not be deceived as to what sort of company he was in! ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ I would I could clearly behold with my mind’s eye what he then saw in Jesus that drew from him that cry! fle knew him for the Messiah: what was the working of the carpenter upon the fisherman that satisfied him of the fact? Would the miracle have done it but for the previous talk from the boat to the people? I think not. Anyhow St. Peter judged himself among the sinners, and we may be sure that if these fishers had been self-satisfied men, they would not have left all and gone after him who called them. Still it would hardly seern that it was specially as sinners that he did so. Again, did not men such as the Lord himself regarded as righteous come to him–Nicodemus, Nathaniel, the young man who came running and kneeled to him, the scribe who was not far from the kingdom, the centurion, in whom he found more faith than in any Jew, he who had built a synagogue in Capernaum, and sculptured on its lintel the pot of manna? These came to him, and we know he was ready to receive them. But he knew such would always come drawn of the Father; they did not want much calling; they were not so much in his thoughts therefore; he was not troubled about them; they were as the ninety and nine, the elder son at home, the money in the purse. Doubtless they had much to learn, were not yet in the kingdom, but they were crowding about its door. If I set it forth aright, I know not, but thus it looks to me. And one thing I cannot forget–it meets me in the face–that some at least,–who knows if not all?–of the purest of men have counted themselves the greatest sinners! Neither can I forget that other saying of our Lord, a stumbling-block to many–our Lord was not so careful as perhaps some would have had him, lest men should stumble at the truth–The first shall be last and the last first. While our Lord spoke the words: The time cometh that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service, even then was Saul of Tarsus at the feet of Gamaliel, preparing to do God that service; but like one born out of due time, after all the rest he saw the Lord, and became the chief in labour and suffering. Thus the last became first. And I bethink me that the beloved disciple, who leaned on the bosom of the Lord, who was bolder to ask him than any–with the boldness of love, he whom the meek and lowly called a Son of Thunder, was the last of all to rejoin the master in the mansions of his Father. Last or first–if only we are with him! One thing is clear that in the order of the Lord’s business, first came sinners.
“Who that reflects can fail to see this at least, that a crime brings a man face to face with the reality of things? He who knows himself a sinner–I do not mean as one of the race–the most self-righteous man will allow that as a man he is a sinner–he to whom, in the words of the communion service, the remembrance of his sins is grievous, and the burden of them intolerable, knows in himself that he is a lost man. He can no more hold up his head among his kind; he cannot look a woman or a child in the face; he cannot be left alone with the chaos of his thoughts, and the monsters it momently breeds. The joys of his childhood, the delights of existence, are gone from him. There dwells within him an ever present judgment and fiery indignation. Such a man will start at the sound of pardon and peace, even as the camel of the desert at the scent of water. Therefore surely is such a man nearer to the gate of the kingdom than he against whom the world has never wagged a tongue, who never sinned against a social custom even, and has as easy a conscience as the day he was born; but who knows so little of himself that, while he thinks he is good enough, he carries within him the capacity and possibility of every cardinal sin, waiting only the special and fitting temptation which, like the match to the charged mine, shall set all in a roar! Of this danger he knows nothing, never dreams of praying against it, takes his seat in his pew Sunday after Sunday with his family, nor ever murmurs Lead us not into temptation with the least sense that temptation is a frightful thing, but repeats and responds and listens in perfect self-satisfaction, doubting never that a world made up of such as he must be a pleasant sight in the eyes of the Perfect. There are men who will never see what they are capable or in danger of until they have committed some fearful wrong. Nay there are some for whom even that is not enough; they must be found out by their fellow-men, and scorned in the eyes of the world, before they can or will admit or comprehend their own disgrace. And there are worse still than these.
“But a man may be oppressed by his sins, and hardly know what it is that oppresses him. There is more of sin in our burdens than we are ourselves aware. It needs not that we should have committed any grievous fault. Do we recognize in ourselves that which needs to be set right, that of which we ought to be ashamed, something which, were we lifted above all worldly anxieties, would yet keep us uneasy, dissatisfied, take the essential gladness out of the sunlight, make the fair face of the earth indifferent to us, a trustful glance a discomposing look, and death a darkness?–I say to the man who feels thus, whatever he may have done or left undone, he is not so far from the kingdom of heaven but that he may enter thereinto if he will.
“And if there be here any soul withered up with dismay, torn with horrible wonder that he should have done the deed which he yet hath done, to him I say–Flee from the self that hath sinned and hide thee with Christ in God. Or if the words sound to thee as the words of some unknown tongue, and I am to thee as one that beateth the air, I say instead–Call aloud in thy agony, that, if there be a God, he may hear the voice of his child, and put forth his hand and lay hold upon him, and rend from him the garment that clings and poisons and burns, squeeze the black drop from his heart, and set him weeping like a summer rain. O blessed, holy, lovely repentance to which the Son of Man, the very root and man of men, hath come to call us! Good it is, and I know it. Come and repent with me, O heart wounded by thine own injustice and wrong, and together we will seek the merciful. Think not about thy sin so as to make it either less or greater in thine own eyes. Bring it to Jesus, and let him show thee how vile a thing it is. And leave it to him to judge thee–sure that he will judge thee justly, extenuating nothing, for he hath to cleanse thee utterly, and yet forgetting no smallest excuse that may cover the amazement of thy guilt, or witness for thee that not with open eyes didst thou do the deed. At the last he cried, Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. For his enemies the truth should be spoken, his first words when they had nailed him to the cross. But again I say, let it be Christ that excuseth thee; he will do it to more purpose than thou, and will not wrong thy soul by excusing thee a hair too much, or thy heart by excusing thee a hair too little.
“I dreamed once that I had committed a terrible crime. Carried beyond myself by passion, I knew not at the moment HOW evil was the thing I did. But I knew it was evil. And suddenly I became aware, when it was too late, of the nature of that which I had done. The horror that came with the knowledge was of the things that belong only to the secret soul. I was the same man as before I did it, yet was I now a man of whom my former self could not have conceived the possibility as dwelling within it. The former self seemed now by contrast lovely in purity, yet out of that seeming purity this fearful, foul _I_ of the present had just been born! The face of my fellow-man was an avenging law, the face of a just enemy. Where, how, should the frightful face be hidden? The conscious earth must take it into its wounded bosom, and that before the all-seeing daylight should come. But it would come, and I should stand therein pointed at by every ray that shot through the sunny atmosphere! “The agony was of its own kind, and I have no word to tell what it was like. An evil odour and a sickening pain combined, might be a symbol of the torture. As is in the nature of dreams, possibly I lay but a little second on the rack, yet an age seemed shot through and through with the burning meshes of that crime, while, cowering and terror-stricken, I tossed about the loathsome fact in my mind. I had DONE it, and from the done there was no escape: it was for evermore a thing done.–Came a sudden change: I awoke. The sun stained with glory the curtains of my room, and the light of light darted keen as an arrow into my very soul. Glory to God! I was innocent! The stone was rolled from my sepulchre. With the darkness whence it had sprung, the cloud of my crime went heaving lurid away. I was a creature of the light and not of the dark. For me the sun shone and the wind blew; for me the sea roared and the flowers sent up their odours. For me the earth had nothing to hide. My guilt was wiped away; there was no red worm gnawing at my heart; I could look my neighbour in the face, and the child of my friend might lay his hand in mine and not be defiled! All day long the joy of that deliverance kept surging on in my soul.
“But something yet more precious, more lovely than such an awaking, will repentance be to the sinner; for after all it was but a dream of the night from which that set me free, and the spectre-deed that vanished had never had a place in the world of fact; while the horror from which repentance delivers, is no dream, but a stubborn abiding reality. Again, the vanishing vision leaves the man what he was before, still capable it may be of committing the crime from which he is not altogether clean to whom in his sleep it was possible: repentance makes of the man a new creature, one who has awaked from the sleep of sin to sleep that sleep no more. The change in the one case is not for greatness comparable with that in the other. The sun that awakes from the one sleep, is but the outward sun of our earthly life–a glorious indeed and lovely thing, which yet even now is gathering a crust of darkness, blotting itself out and vanishing: the sun that awakes a man from the sleep of death is the living Sun that casts from his thought out into being that other sun, with the space wherein it holds planetary court–the Father of lights, before whose shining in the inner world of truth eternal, even the deeds of vice become as spectral dreams, and, with the night of godlessness that engendered them, flee away.
“But a man may answer and say to me–‘Thou art but borne on the wings of thine imagination. The fact of the crime remains, let a man tear out his heart in repentance, and no awaking can restore an innocence which is indeed lost.’ I answer: The words thou speakest are in themselves true, yet thy ignorance makes them false, Thou knowest not the power of God, nor what resurrection from the dead means. What if, while it restored not thy former innocence, it brought thee a purity by the side of whose white splendour and inward preciousness, the innocence thou hadst lost was but a bauble, being but a thing that turned to dross in the first furnace of its temptation? Innocence is indeed priceless–that innocence which God counteth innocence, but thine was a flimsy show, a bit of polished and cherished glass–instead of which, if thou repentest, thou shalt in thy jewel-box find a diamond. Is thy purity, O fair Psyche of the social world, upon whose wings no spattering shower has yet cast an earthy stain, and who knowest not yet whether there be any such thing as repentance or need of the same!–is thy purity to compare with the purity of that heavenly Psyche, twice born, who even now in the twilight-slumbers of heaven, dreams that she washes with her tears the feet of her Lord, and wipes them with the hairs of her head? O bountiful God, who wilt give us back even our innocence tenfold! He can give an awaking that leaves the past of the soul ten times farther behind than ever waking from sleep left the dreams of the night.
“If the potency of that awaking lay in the inrush of a new billow of life, fresh from its original source, carrying with it an enlargement of the whole nature and its every part, a glorification of every faculty, every sense even, so that the man, forgetting nothing of his past or its shame, should yet cry out in the joy of his second birth: ‘Lo! I am a new man; I am no more he who did that awful and evil thing, for I am no more capable of doing it! God be praised, for all is well!’–would not such an awaking send the past afar into the dim distance of the first creation, and wrap the ill deed in the clean linen cloth of forgiveness, even as the dull creature of the sea rolls up the grain of intruding sand in the lovely garment of a pearl? Such an awaking means God himself in the soul, not disdaining closest vital company with the creature he foresaw and created. And the man knows in full content that he is healed of his plague. Nor would he willingly lose the scars which record its outbreak, for they tell him what he is without God, and set him ever looking to see that the door into the heavenly garden stands wide for God to enter the house when it pleases him. And who can tell whether, in the train of such an awaking, may not follow a thousand opportunities and means of making amends to those whom he has injured? “Nor must I fail to remind the man who has committed no grievous crime, that except he has repented of his evil self, and abjured all wrong, he is not safe from any, even the worst offence. There was a time when I could not understand that he who loved not his brother was a murderer: now I see it to be no figure of speech, but, in the realities of man’s moral and spiritual nature, an absolute simple fact. The murderer and the unloving sit on the same bench before the judge of eternal truth. The man who loves not his brother, I do not say is at this moment capable of killing him, but if the natural working of his unlove be not checked, he will assuredly become capable of killing him. Until we love our brother, yes, until we love our enemy, who is yet our brother, we contain within ourselves the undeveloped germ of murder. And so with every sin in the tables or out of the tables. There is not one in this congregation who has a right to cast a look of reproach at the worst felon who ever sat in the prisoners’ dock. I speak no hyperbole, but simple truth. We are very ready to draw in our minds a distinction between respectable sins–human imperfections we call them, perhaps–and disreputable vices, such as theft and murder; but there is no such distinction in fact. Many a thief is a better man than many a clergyman, and miles nearer to the gate of the kingdom. The heavenly order goes upon other principles than ours, and there are first that shall be last, and last that shall be first. Only, at the root of all human bliss lies repentance.
“Come then at the call of the Water, the Healer, the Giver of repentance and light, the Friend of publicans and sinners, all ye on whom lies the weight of a sin, or the gathered heap of a thousand crimes. He came to call such as you, that he might make you clear and clean. He cannot bear that you should live on in such misery, such badness, such blackness of darkness. He would give you again your life, the bliss of your being. He will not speak to you one word of reproach, except indeed you should aim at justifying yourselves by accusing your neighbour. He will leave it to those who cherish the same sins in their hearts to cast stones at you: he who has no sin casts no stone. Heartily he loves you, heartily he hates the evil in you–so heartily that he will even cast you into the fire to burn you clean. By making you clean he will give you rest. If he upbraid, it will not be for past sin, but for the present little faith, holding out to him an acorn-cup to fill. The rest of you keep aloof, if you will, until you shall have done some deed that compels you to cry out for deliverance; but you that know yourselves sinners, come to him that he may work in you his perfect work, for he came not to call the righteous, but sinners, us, you and me, to repentance.”
END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.
AFTER THE SERMON.
As the sermon drew to a close, and the mist of his emotion began to disperse, individual faces of his audience again dawned out on the preacher’s ken. Mr. Drew’s head was down. As I have always said, certain things he had been taught in his youth, and had practised in his manhood, certain mean ways counted honest enough in the trade, had become to him, regarded from the ideal point of the divine in merchandize–such a merchandize, namely, as the share the son of man might have taken in buying and selling, had his reputed father been a shop-keeper instead of a carpenter–absolutely hateful, and the memory of them intolerable. Nor did it relieve him much to remind himself of the fact, that he knew not to the full the nature of the advantages he took, for he knew that he had known them such as shrunk from the light, not coming thereto to be made manifest. He was now doing his best to banish them from his business, and yet they were a painful presence to his spirit–so grievous to be borne, that the prospect held out by the preacher of an absolute and final deliverance from them by the indwelling presence of the God of all living men and true merchants, was a blessedness unspeakable. Small was the suspicion in the Abbey Church of Olaston that morning, that the well-known successful man of business was weeping. Who could once have imagined another reason for the laying of that round, good-humoured, contented face down on the book-board, than pure drowsiness from lack of work-day interest! Yet there was a human soul crying out after its birthright. Oh, to be clean as a mountain-river! clean as the air above the clouds, or on the middle seas! as the throbbing aether that fills the gulf betwixt star and star!–nay, as the thought of the Son of Man himself, who, to make all things new and clean, stood up against the old battery of sin-sprung suffering, withstanding and enduring and stilling the recoil of the awful force wherewith his Father had launched the worlds, and given birth to human souls with wills that might become free as his own!
While Wingfold had been speaking in general terms, with the race in his mind’s, and the congregation in his body’s eye, he had yet thought more of one soul, with its one crime and its intolerable burden, than all the rest: Leopold was ever present to him, and while he strove to avoid absorption in a personal interest however justifiable, it was of necessity that the thought of the most burdened sinner he knew should colour the whole of his utterance. At times indeed he felt as if he were speaking to him immediately–and to him only; at others, although then he saw her no more than him, that he was comforting the sister individually, in holding out to her brother the mighty hope of a restored purity. And when once more his mind could receive the messages brought home by his eyes, he saw upon Helen’s face the red sunset of a rapt listening. True it was already fading away, but the eyes had wept, the glow yet hung about cheek and forehead, and the firm mouth had forgotten itself into a tremulous form, which the stillness of absorption had there for the moment fixed.
But even already, although he could not yet read it upon her countenance, a snake had begun to lift its head from the chaotic swamp which runs a creek at least into every soul, the rudimentary