the wind of my own following of thee. Wherefore didst thou flee from me?–Nay! but wherefore didst thou follow me, maiden?–That I might tell thee my dream to the which thou didst desire to hearken. For, lo! as I slept I dreamed that a man came unto me and said, Behold, I am the unresting and undying one, and my burden is greater than I can bear, for Death who befriendeth all is my enemy, and will not look upon me in peace. And with that came the cry, and I awoke, and ran out to see whence came the cry, and found thee alone in the street. And as God liveth, such as was the man in my dream, such art thou in my waking sight.–Not the less must I ask thee again, I said, wherefore didst thou follow me?–That I may comfort thee, she answered.–And how thinkest thou to comfort one whom God hath forsaken?–That cannot be, she said, seeing that in a vision of the night he sent thee unto me, and so now hath sent me unto thee. Therefore will I go with thee, and minister unto thee.–Bethink thee well what thou doest, I said; and before thou art fully resolved, sit thee down by me in this cave, that I may tell thee my tale. And straightway she sat down, and I told her all. And ere I had finished the sun had risen.–Then art thou now alone, said the maiden, and hast no one to love thee?–No one, I answered, man, woman, or child.–Then will I go with thee, for I know neither father nor mother, and no one hath power over me, for I keep goats on the mountains for wages, and if thou wilt but give me bread to eat I will serve thee. And a great love arose in my heart to the maiden. And I left her in the cave, and went to the nearest city, and returned thence with garments and victuals. And I loved the maiden greatly. And although my age was then marvellous being over and above a thousand and seven hundred years, yet found she my person neither pitiful nor uncomely, for I was still in body even such as when the Lord Jesus spake the word of my doom. And the damsel loved me, and was mine. And she was as the apple of mine eye. And the world was no more unto me as a desert, but it blossomed as the rose of Sharon. And although I knew every city upon it, and every highway and navigable sea, yet did all become to me fresh and new because of the joy which the damsel had in beholding its kingdoms and the glories thereof.
“‘And it came to pass that my heart grew proud within me, and I said to myself that I was all-superior to other men, for Death could not touch me; that I was a marvel upon the face of the world; and in this yet more above all men that had ever lived, that at such an age as mine I could yet gain the love, yea, the absolute devotion, of such an one as my wife, who never wearied of my company and conversation. So I took to me even the free grace of love as my merit unto pride, and laid it not to the great gift of God and the tenderness of the heart of my beloved. Like Satan in Heaven I was uplifted in the strength and worthiness and honour of my demon-self, and my pride went not forth in thanks, for I gloried not in my God, but in Ahasuerus. Then the thought smote me like an arrow of lightning: She will die, and thou shalt live–live–live–and as he hath delayed, so will he yet delay his coming. And as Satan from the seventh heaven, I fell prone.
“‘Then my spirit began again to revive within me, and I said, Lo! I have yet many years of her love ere she dieth, and when she is gone, I shall yet have the memory of my beloved to be with me, and cheer me, and bear me up, for I may never again despise that which she hath loved as she hath loved me. And yet again a thought smote me, and it was as an arrow of the lightning, and its barb was the truth: But she will grow old, it said, and will wither before thy face, and be as the waning moon in the heavens. And my heart cried out in an agony. But my will sought to comfort my heart, and said, Cry not out, for, in spite of old age as in spite of death, I will love her still. Then something began to writhe within me, and to hiss out words that gathered themselves unto this purpose: But she will grow unlovely, and wrinkled, and dark of hue, and the shape of her body will vanish, and her form be unformed, and her eyes will grow small and dim, and creep back into her head, and her hair will fall from her, and she shall be as the unsightly figure of Death with a skin drawn over his unseemly bones; and the damsel of thy love, with the round limbs and the flying hair, and the clear eyes out of which looketh a soul clear as they, will be nowhere–nowhere, for evermore, for thou wilt not be able to believe that she it is who standeth before thee: how will it be with thee then? And what mercy is his who hath sent thee a growing loss in the company of this woman? Thereupon I rose in the strength of my agony and went forth. And I said nothing unto my wife, but strode to the foot of the great mountain, whose entrails were all aglow, and on whose sides grew the palm and the tree-bread and the nut of milk. And I climbed the mountain, nor once looked behind me, but climbed to the top. And there for one moment I stood in the stock-dullness of despair. And beneath me was the great fiery gulf, outstretched like a red lake skinned over with black ice, through the cracks wherein shone the blinding fire. Every moment here and there a great liquid bubbling would break through the crust, and make a wallowing heap upon the flat, then sink again, leaving an open red well-pool of fire whence the rays shot up like flame, although flame there was none. It lay like the back of some huge animal upheaved out of hell, which was wounded and bled fire.–Now, in the last year of my long sojourn, life had again, because of the woman that loved me, become precious unto me, and more than once had I laughed as I caught myself starting back from some danger in a crowded street, for the thing was new to me, so utterly had the care of my life fallen into disuse with me. But now again in my misery I thought no more of danger, but went stalking and sliding down the sindery slope of the huge fire-cup, and out upon the lake of molten earth–molten as when first it shot from the womb of the sun, of whose ardour, through all the millions of years, it had not yet cooled. And as once St. Peter on the stormy water to find the Lord of Life, so walked I on the still lake of fire, caring neither for life nor death. For my heart was withered to the roots by the thought of the decay of her whom I had loved; for would not then her very presence every hour be causing me to forget the beauty that had once made me glad?–I had walked some ten furlongs, and passed the middle of the lake, when suddenly I bethought me that she would marvel whither I had gone, and set out to seek me, and something might befall her, and I should lose my rose ere its leaves had begun to drop. And I turned and strode again in haste across the floor of black heat, broken and seamed with red light. And lo! as I neared the midst of the lake, a form came towards me, walking in the very footsteps I had left behind me, nor had I to look again to know the gracious motion of my beloved. And the black ice broke at her foot, and the fire shone up on her face, and it was lovely as an angel of God, and the glow of her love outshone the glow of the nether fire. And I called not to stay her foot, for I judged that the sooner she was with me, the sooner would she be in safety, for I knew how to walk thereon better than she. And my heart sang a song within me in praise of the love of woman, but I thought only of the love of my woman to me, whom the fires of hell could not hold back from him who was worthy of her love; and my heart sent the song up to my lips; but, as the first word arose, sure itself a red bubble from the pit of glowing hell, the black crust burst up between us, and a great hillock of seething, slow-spouting, slow-falling, mad red fire arose. For a moment or two the molten mound bubbled and wallowed, then sank–and I saw not my wife. Headlong I plunged into the fiery pool at my feet, and the clinging torture hurt me not, and I caught her in my arms, and rose to the surface, and crept forth, and shook the fire from mine eyes, and lo! I held to my bosom but as the fragment of a cinder of the furnace. And I laughed aloud in my madness, and the devils below heard me, and laughed yet again. O Age! O Decay! I cried, see how I triumph over thee: what canst thou do to this? And I flung the cinder from me into the pool, and plunged again into the grinning fire. But it cast me out seven times, and the seventh time I turned from it, and rushed out of the valley of burning, and threw myself on the mountain-side in the moonlight, and awoke mad.
“‘And what I had then said in despair, I said yet again in thankfulness. O Age! O Decay! I cried, what canst thou now do to destroy the image of her which I bear nested in my heart of hearts? That at least is safe, I thank God. And from that hour I never more believed that I should die when at length my body dropped from me. If the thought came, it came as a fear, and not as a thing concerning which a man may say I would or I would not. For a mighty hope had arisen within me that yet I should stand forgiven in the eyes of him that was crucified, and that in token of his forgiveness he would grant me to look again, but in peace, upon the face of her that had loved me. O mighty Love, who can tell to what heights of perfection thou mayest yet rise in the bosom of the meanest who followeth the Crucified!'”
Polwarth closed the manuscript, and for a time no one spoke.
“The man who wrote that book,” said Wingfold, “could not have been all out of his right mind.”
“I must confess to you,” returned Polwarth, “that I have chosen some of the more striking passages–only some of them however. One thing is pretty clear–that, granted the imagined conditions, within that circle the writer is sane enough–as sane at least as the Wandering Jew himself could well have been.”
“Could you trust me with the manuscript, Mr. Polwarth?” said the curate.
“Willingly,” said Polwarth, handing it to him.
“And I may carry it home with me?”
“I shall take right good care of it. Are there any further memorials of struggle with unbelief?”
“Yes, there are some; for mood and not conviction must, in such a mind, often rule the hour. Sometimes he can believe; sometimes he cannot: he is a great man indeed who can always rise above his own moods! There is one passage I specially remember in which after his own fashion he treats of the existence of a God. You will know the one I mean when you come to it.”
“It is indeed a treasure!” said the curate, taking the book and regarding it with prizing eyes. In his heart he was thinking of Leopold and Helen. And while he thus regarded the book, he was himself regarded of the gray luminous eyes of Rachel. What shone from those eyes may have been her delight at hearing him so speak of the book, for the hand that wrote it was that of her father; but there was a lingering in her gaze, not unmixed with questioning, and a certain indescribable liquidity in its light, reminding one of the stars as seen through a clear air from which the dew settles thick, that might have made a mother anxious. Alas for many a woman whose outward form is ungainly–she has a full round heart under the twisted ribs!
Why then should I say alas? Were it better that the heart were like the shape? or are such as Rachel forgotten before the God of the sparrows? No, surely; but he who most distinctly believes that from before the face of God every sorrow shall vanish, that they that sow in tears shall reap in joy, that death is but a mist that for a season swathes the spirit, and that, ever as the self-seeking vanishes from love, it groweth more full of delight–even he who with all his heart believes this, may be mournful over the aching of another heart while yet it lasts; and he who looks for his own death as his resurrection, may yet be sorrowful at every pale sunset that reminds him of the departure of the beloved before him.
The curate rose and took his departure, but the light of the gaze that had rested upon him lingered yet on the countenance of Rachel, and a sad half-smile hung over the motions of the baby-like fingers that knitted so busily.
The draper followed the curate, and Polwarth went up to his own room: he never could keep off his knees for long together. And as soon as she was alone, Rachel’s hands dropped on her lap, her eyes closed, and her lips moved with solemn sweet motions. If there was a hearing ear open to that little house, oh surely those two were blessed! If not, then kind death was yet for a certainty drawing nigh–only, what if in deep hell there should be yet a deeper hell? And until slow Death arrive, what loving heart can bear the load that stupid Chance or still more stupid Fate has heaped upon it? Yet had I rather be crushed beneath the weight of mine, and die with my friends in the moaning of eternal farewells, than live like George Bascombe to carry lightly his little bag of content. A cursed confusion indeed is the universe, if it be no creation, but the helpless unhelpable thing such men would have us believe it–the hotbed mother of the children of an iron Necessity. Can any damnation be worse than this damning into an existence from which there is no refuge but a doubtful death?
Drew overtook Wingfold, and they walked together into Glaston.
“Wasn’t that splendid?” said the draper.
“Hath not God chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty?” returned the curate. “Even through the play of a mad-man’s imagination, the spirit of a sound mind may speak. Did you not find in it some stuff that would shape into answers to your questions?
“I ought to have done so, I dare say,” answered the draper, “but to tell the truth, I was so taken up with the wild story, and the style of the thing, and the little man’s way of reading it, that I never thought of what I was full of when I came.”
They parted at the shop, and the curate went on.
He stopped at the Manor House, for it was only beginning to be late, to inquire after Leopold. Helen received him with her usual coldness–a manner which was in part assumed for self-protection, for in his presence she always felt rebuked, and which had the effect of a veil between them to hide from her much of the curate’s character that might otherwise have been intelligible to her. Leopold, she said, was a little better, but Wingfold walked home thinking what a happy thing it would be if God were to take him away.
His interest in Helen deepened and deepened. He could not help admiring her strength of character even when he saw it spent for worse than nought; and her devotion to her brother was lovely, notwithstanding the stains of selfishness that spotted it. Her moral standard was indeed far from lofty, and as to her spiritual nature, that as yet appeared nowhere. And yet the growth in her was marvellous when he thought of what she had seemed before this trouble came. One evening as he left Leopold, he heard her singing, and stood on the stair to listen. And to listen was to marvel. For her voice, instead of being hard and dry, as when he heard it before, was, without any loss of elasticity, now liquid and mellifluous, and full of feeling. Its tones were borne along like the leaves on the wild west wind of Shelley’s sonnet. And the longing of the curate to help her from that moment took a fresh departure, and grew and grew. But as the hours and days and weeks passed, and the longing found no outlet, it turned to an almost hopeless brooding upon the face and the form, yea the heart and soul of the woman he so fain would help, until ere long he loved her with the passion of a man mingled with the compassion of a prophet. He saw that something had to be done IN her–perhaps that some saving shock in the guise of ruin had to visit her; that some door had to be burst open, some roof blown away, some rock blasted, that light and air might have free course through her soul’s house, without which that soul could never grow stately like the house it inhabited. Whatever might be destined to effect this, for the chance of rendering poorest and most servile aid, he would watch and did watch, in silence and self-restraint, lest he should be betrayed into any presumptuous word that might breathe frost instead of balm upon the buds of her delaying Spring. If he might but be allowed to minister when at length the sleeping soul should stir! If its waking glance–ah! if it might fall on him! As often as the thought intruded, his heart would give one delirious bound, then couch ashamed of its presumption. He would not, he dared not look in that direction. He accused himself of mingling earthly motives and feelings with the unselfish and true, and scorned himself because of it. And was not Bascombe already the favoured friend of her heart?
Yet how could it be of her heart? for what concern had hearts in a common unbelief? None; but there were the hearts–the man and the woman–notwithstanding, who might yet well be drawn together by the unknown divine which they also shared; and that Helen, whose foot seemed now to approach and now to shun the line betwixt the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven, should retire with such a guide into the deserts of denial and chosen godlessness, was to Wingfold a thought of torture almost unendurable. The thought of its possibility, nay, probability–for were not such unfitnesses continually becoming facts?–threatened sometimes to upset the whole fabric of his faith, although reared in spite of theology, adverse philosophy, and the most honest and bewildering doubt. That such a thing should be possible seemed at those times to bear more against the existence of a God than all the other grounds of question together. Then a shudder would go to the very deeps of his heart, and he would lay himself silent before the presence for a time; or make haste into the solitudes–not where the sun shone and the water ran, but where the light was dim and the wind low in the pine woods. There, where the sombre green vaults were upheld by a hundred slender columns, and the far-receding aisles seemed to lead to the ancestral home of shadows, there, his own soul a shadow of grief and fear among the shades of the gloomy temple, he bowed his heart before the Eternal, gathered together all the might of his being, and groaned forth in deepest effort of a will that struggled to be: “Thy will be done, and not mine.” Then would his spirit again walk erect, and carry its burden as a cross and not as a gravestone.
Sometimes he was sorely perplexed to think how the weakness, as he called it, had begun, and how it had grown upon him. He could not say it was his doing, and what had he ever been aware of in it against which he ought to have striven? Came not the whole thing of his nature, a nature that was not of his design, and was beyond him and his control–a nature that either sprung from a God, or grew out of an unconscious Fate? If from the latter, how was such as he to encounter and reduce to a constrained and self-rejecting reason a Self unreasonable, being an issue of the Unreasoning, which Self was yet greater than he, its vagaries the source of his intensest consciousness and brightest glimpses of the ideal and all-desirable. If on the other hand it was born of a God, then let that God look to it, for, sure, that which belonged to his nature could not be evil or of small account in the eyes of him who made him in his own image. But alas! that image had, no matter how, been so defaced, that the will of the man might even now be setting itself up against the will of the God! Did his love then spring from the God-will or the man-will? Must there not be some God-way of the thing, all right and nothing wrong?–But he could not compass it, and the marvel to himself was that all the time he was able to go on preaching, and that with some sense of honesty and joy in his work.
In this trouble more than ever Wingfold felt that if there was no God, his soul was but a thing of rags and patches out in the masterless pitiless storm and hail of a chaotic universe. Often would he rush into the dark, as it were, crying for God, and ever he would emerge therefrom with some tincture of the light, enough to keep him alive and send him to his work. And there, in her own seat, Sunday after Sunday, sat the woman whom he had seen ten times, and that for no hasty moments, during the week, by the bedside of her brother, yet to whom only now, in the open secrecy of the pulpit, did he dare utter the words of might he would so fain have poured direct into her suffering heart. And there, Sunday after Sunday, the face he loved bore witness to the trouble of the heart he loved yet more: that heart was not yet redeemed! oh, might it be granted him to set some little wind a blowing for its revival and hope! As often as he stood up to preach, his heart swelled with the message he bore–a message of no private interpretation, but for the healing of the nations, yet a message for her, and for the healing of every individual heart that would hear and take, and he spoke with the freedom and dignity of a prophet. But when he saw her afterwards, he scarcely dared let his eyes rest a moment on her face, would only pluck the flower of a glance flying, or steal it at such moments when he thought she would not see. She caught his glance however far oftener than he knew, and was sometimes aware of it without seeing it at all. And there was that in the curate’s behaviour, in his absolute avoidance of self-assertion, or the least possible intrusion upon her mental privacy–in the wrapping of his garments around him as it were, that his presence might offend as little as might be, while at the same time he was full of simple direct ministration to her brother, without one side-glance that sought approval of her, which the nobility of the woman could not fail to note, and seek to understand.
It was altogether a time of great struggle with Wingfold. He seemed to be assailed in every direction, and to feel the strong house of life giving way in every part, and yet he held on–lived, which he thought was all, and, without knowing it, grew. Perhaps it may be this period that the following verses which I found among his papers belong: he could not himself tell me.–
Out of my door I run to do the thing That calls upon me. Straight the wind of words Whoops from mine ears the sounds of them that sing About their work–My God! my Father-King.
I turn in haste to see thy blessed door, But lo! a cloud of flies and bats and birds, And stalking vapours, and vague monster herds, Have risen and lighted, rushed and swollen between.
Ah me! the house of peace is there no more. Was it a dream then? Walls, fireside, and floor, And sweet obedience, loving, calm, and free, Are vanished–gone as they had never been.
I labour groaning. Comes a sudden sheen!– And I am kneeling at my Father’s knee, Sighing with joy, and hoping utterly.
Leopold had begun to cough, and the fever continued. Every afternoon came the red flush to his cheek, and the hard glitter into his eye. His talk was then excited, and mostly about his coming trial. To Helen it was terribly painful, and she confessed to herself that but for Wingfold she must have given way. Leopold insisted on seeing Mr. Hooker every time he called, and every time expressed the hope that he would not allow pity for his weak state to prevent him from applying the severe remedy of the law to his moral condition. But in truth it began to look doubtful whether disease would not run a race with law for his life, even if the latter should at once proceed to justify a claim. From the first Faber doubted if he would ever recover from the consequences of that exposure in the churchyard, and it soon became evident that his lungs were more than affected. His cough increased, and he began to lose what little flesh he had.
One day Faber expressed his conviction to Wingfold that he was fighting the disease at the great disadvantage of having an unknown enemy to contend with.
“The fellow is unhappy,” he said, “and if that lasts another month, I shall throw up the sponge. He has a good deal of vitality, but it is yielding, and by that time he will be in a galloping consumption.”
“You must do your best for him,” said Wingfold, but in his heart he wished, with an honest affection, that he might not succeed.
Leopold, however, seemed to have no idea of his condition, and the curate wondered what he would think or do were he to learn that he was dying. Would he insist on completing his confession, and urging on a trial? He had himself told him all that had passed with the magistrate, and how things now were as he understood them, but it was plain that he had begun to be uneasy about the affair, and was doubtful at times whether all was as it seemed. The curate was not deceived. He had been present during a visit from Mr. Hooker, and nothing could be plainer than the impression out of which the good man spoke. Nor could he fail to suspect the cunning kindness of George Bascombe in the affair. But he did not judge that he had now the least call to interfere. The poor boy had done as much as lay either in or out of him in the direction of duty, and was daily becoming more and more unfit either to originate or carry out a further course of action. If he was in himself capable of anything more, he was, in his present state of weakness, utterly unable to cope with the will of those around him.
Faber would have had him leave the country for some southern climate, but he would not hear of it, and Helen, knowing to what extremities it might drive him, would not insist. Nor, indeed, was he now in a condition to be moved. Also the weather had grown colder, and he was sensitive to atmospheric changes as any creature of the elements.
But after a fortnight, when it was now the middle of the autumn, it grew quite warm again, and he revived and made such progress that he was able to be carried into the garden every day. There he sat in a chair on the lawn, with his feet on a sheepskin, and a fur cloak about him. And for all the pain at his heart, for all the misery in which no one could share, for all the pangs of a helpless jealousy, checked only by a gnawing remorse, both of which took refuge in the thought of following through the spheres until he found her, cast himself at her feet, spoke the truth, and became, if he might, her slave for ever, failing which he could but turn and go wandering through the spheres, seeking rest and finding none, save indeed there were some salvation even for him in the bosom of his God–I say that, somehow, with all this on the brain and in the heart of him, the sunshine was yet pleasant to his eyes, while it stung him to the soul; the soft breathing of the wind was pleasant to his cheek, while he cursed himself for the pleasure it gave him; the few flowers that were left looked up at him mournfully and he let them look, nor turned his eyes away, but let the tears gather and flow. The first agonies of the encounter of life and death were over, and life was slowly wasting away. Oh what might not a little joy do for him! But where was the joy to be found that could irradiate such a darkness even for one fair memorial moment?
One hot noon Wingfold lay beside him on the grass. Neither had spoken for some time: the curate more and more shrunk from speech to which his heart was not directly moved. As to what might be in season or out of season, he never would pretend to judge, he said, but even Balaam’s ass knew when he had a call to speak. He plucked a pale red pimpernel and handed it up over his head to Leopold. The youth looked at it for a moment, and burst into tears. The curate rose hastily.
“It is so heartless of me.” said Leopold, “to take pleasure in such a childish innocence as this!”
“It merely shows,” said the curate, laying his hand gently on his shoulder, “that even in these lowly lovelinesses, there is a something that has its root deeper than your pain; that, all about us, in earth and air, wherever eye or ear can reach, there is a power ever breathing itself forth in signs, now in a daisy, now in a windwaft, a cloud, a sunset; a power that holds constant and sweetest relation with the dark and silent world within us; that the same God who is in us, and upon whose tree we are the buds, if not yet the flowers, also is all about us–inside, the Spirit; outside, the Word. And the two are ever trying to meet in us; and when they meet, then the sign without, and the longing within, become one in light, and the man no more walketh in darkness, but knoweth whither he goeth.”
As he ended thus, the curate bent over and looked at Leopold. But the poor boy had not listened to a word he said. Something in his tone had soothed him, but the moment he ceased, the vein of his grief burst out bleeding afresh. He clasped his thin hands together, and looked up in an agony of hopeless appeal to the blue sky, now grown paler as in fear of the coming cold, though still the air was warm and sweet, and cried,
“Oh! if God would only be good and unmake me, and let darkness cover the place where once was me! That would be like a good God! All I should be sorry for then would be, that there was not enough of me left for a dim flitting Will-o’-the-wisp of praise, ever singing my thankfulness to him that I was no more.–Yet even then my deed would remain, for I dare not ask that she should die outright also–that would be to heap wrong upon wrong. What an awful thing being is! Not even my annihilation could make up for my crime, or rid it out of the universe.”
“True, Leopold!” said the curate. “Nothing but the burning love of God can rid sin out of anywhere. But are you not forgetting him who surely knew what he undertook when he would save the world? No more than you could have set that sun flaming overhead, with its million-miled billows and its limitless tempests of fire, can you tell what the love of God is, or what it can do for you, if only by enlarging your love with the inrush of itself. Few have such a cry to raise to the Father as you, such a claim of sin and helplessness to heave up before him, such a joy even to offer to the great Shepherd who cannot rest while one sheep strays from his flock, one prodigal haunts the dens of evil and waste. Cry to him, Leopold, my dear boy. Cry to him again and yet again, for he himself said that men ought always to pray and not faint, for God did hear and would answer although he might seem long about it. I think we shall find one day that nobody, not the poet of widest sweep and most daring imagination, not the prophet who soars the highest in his ardour to justify the ways of God to men, not the child when he is most fully possessed of the angel that in heaven always beholds the face of the Father of Jesus, has come or could have come within sight of the majesty of his bestowing upon his children. For did he not, if the story be true, allow torture itself to invade the very soul’s citadel of his best beloved, as he went to seek the poor ape of a prodigal, stupidly grinning amongst his harlots?”
Leopold did not answer, and the shadow lay deep on his face for a while; but at length it began to thin, and at last a feeble quivering smile broke through the cloud, and he wept soft tears of refreshing.
It was not that the youth had turned again from the hope of rest in the Son of Man; but that, as everyone knows who knows anything of the human spirit, there must be in its history days and seasons, mornings and nights, yea deepest midnights. It has its alternating summer and winter, its storm and shine, its soft dews and its tempests of lashing hail, its cold moons and prophetic stars, its pale twilights of saddest memory, and its golden gleams of brightest hope. All these mingled and displaced each other in Leopold’s ruined world, where chaos had come again, but over whose waters a mightier breath was now moving.
And now after much thought, the curate saw that he could not hope to transplant into the bosom of the lad the flowers of truth that gladdened his own garden: he must sow the seed from which they had sprung, and that seed was the knowledge of the true Jesus. It was now the more possible to help him in this way, that the wild beast of his despair had taken its claws from his bosom, had withdrawn a pace or two, and couched watching. And Wingfold soon found that nothing calmed and brightened him like talk about Jesus. He had tried verse first–seeking out the best within his reach wherein loving souls have uttered their devotion to the man of men; but here also the flowers would not be transplanted. How it came about he hardly knew, but he had soon drifted into rather than chosen another way, which way proved a right one: he would begin thinking aloud on some part of the gospel story, generally that which was most in his mind at the time–talking with himself, as it were, all about it. He began this one morning as he lay on the grass beside him, and that was the position in which he found he could best thus soliloquize. Now and then but not often Leopold would interrupt him, and perhaps turn the monologue into dialogue, but even then Wingfold would hardly ever look at him: he would not disturb him with more of his presence than he could help, or allow the truth to be flavoured with more of his individuality than was unavoidable. For every individuality, he argued, has a peculiar flavour to every other, and only Jesus is the pure simple humanity that every one can love, out and out, at once. In these mental meanderings, he avoided nothing, took notice of every difficulty, whether able to discuss it fully or not, broke out in words of delight when his spirit was moved, nor hid his disappointment when he failed in getting at what might seem good enough to be the heart of the thing. It was like hatching a sermon in the sun instead of in the oven. Occasionally, when, having ceased, he looked up to know how his pupil fared, he found him fast asleep–sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a tear on his face. The sight would satisfy him well. Calm upon such a tormented sea must be the gift of God; and the curate would then sometimes fall asleep himself–to start awake at the first far-off sound of Helen’s dress as it swept a running fire of fairy fog-signals from the half- opened buds of the daisies, and the long heads of the rib-grass, when he would rise and saunter a few paces aside, and she would bend over her brother, to see if he were warm and comfortable. By this time all the old tenderness of her ministration had returned, nor did she seem any longer jealous of Wingfold’s.
One day she came behind them as they talked. The grass had been mown that morning, and also she happened to be dressed in her riding- habit and had gathered up the skirt over her arm, so that on this occasion she made no sound of sweet approach. Wingfold had been uttering one of his rambling monologues–in which was much without form, but nothing void.
“I don’t know quite,” he had been saying, “what to think about that story of the woman they brought to Jesus in the temple–I mean how it got into that nook of the gospel of St. John, where it has no right place.–They didn’t bring her for healing or for the rebuke of her demon, but for condemnation, only they came to the wrong man for that. They dared not carry out the law of stoning, as they would have liked, I suppose, even if Jesus had condemned her, but perhaps they hoped rather to entrap him who was the friend of sinners into saying something against the law.–But what I want is, to know how it got there,–just there, I mean, betwixt the seventh and eighth chapters of St. John’s Gospel. There is no doubt of its being an interpolation–that the twelfth verse, I think it is, ought to join on to the fifty-second. The Alexandrian manuscript is the only one of the three oldest that has it, and it is the latest of the three. I did think once, but hastily, that it was our Lord’s text for saying I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, but it follows quite as well on his offer of living water. One can easily see how the place would appear a very suitable one to any presumptuous scribe who wished to settle the question of where it should stand.–I wonder if St. John told the lovely tale as something he had forgotten, after he had finished dictating all the rest. Or was it well known to all the evangelists, only no one of them was yet partaker enough of the spirit of him who was the friend of sinners, to dare put it on written record, thinking it hardly a safe story to expose to the quarrying of men’s conclusions? But it doesn’t matter much: the tale must be a true one. Only–to think of just this one story, of tenderest righteousness, floating about like a holy waif through the world of letters!–a sweet gray dove of promise that can find no rest for the sole of his foot! Just this one story of all stories a kind of outcast! and yet as a wanderer, oh, how welcome! Some manuscripts, I understand, have granted it a sort of outhouse-shelter at the end of the gospel of St. Luke. But it all matters nothing, so long as we can believe it; and true it must be, it is so like him all through. And if it does go wandering as a stray through the gospels, without place of its own, what matters it so long as it can find hearts enough to nestle in, and bring forth its young of comfort!–Perhaps the woman herself told it, and, as with the woman of Samaria, some would and some would not believe her.–Oh! the eyes that met upon her! The fiery hail of scorn from those of the Pharisees–the light of eternal sunshine from those of Jesus!–I was reading the other day, in one of the old Miracle Plays, how each that looked on while Jesus wrote with his finger on the ground, imagined he was writing down his individual sins, and was in terror lest his neighbour should come to know them.–And wasn’t he gentle even with those to whom he was sharper than a two-edged sword! and oh how gentle to her he would cover from their rudeness and wrong! LET THE SINLESS THROW! And the sinners went out, and she followed–to sin no more. No reproaches, you see! No stirring up of the fiery snakes! Only don’t do it again.–I don’t think she did it again:–do you?”
It was just here that Helen came and stood behind Leopold’s chair. The curate lay on the grass, and neither saw her.
HOW JESUS SPOKE TO WOMEN.
“But why wasn’t he as gentle with good women?” said Leopold.
“Wasn’t he?” said the curate in some surprise.
“He said What have I to do with thee to his own mother?”
“A Greek scholar should go to the Greek,” said the curate. “Our English is not perfect. You see she wanted to make him show off, and he thought how little she knew what he came to the world for. Her thoughts were so unlike his that he said, What have we in common! It was a moan of the God-head over the distance of its creature. Perhaps he thought: How then will you stand the shock when at length it comes? But he looked at her as her own son ought to look at every blessed mother, and she read in his eyes no rebuke, for instantly, sure of her desire, she told them to do whatever he said.”
“I hope that’s the right way of it,” said Leopold, “for I want to trust him out and out. But what do you make of the story of the poor woman that came about her daughter? Wasn’t he rough to her? It always seemed to me such a cruel thing to talk of throwing the meat of the children to the dogs!”
“We cannot judge of the word until we know the spirit that gave birth to it. Let me ask you a question: What would you take for the greatest proof of downright friendship a man could show you?”
“That is too hard a question to answer all at once.”
“Well, I may be wrong, but the deepest outcome of friendship seems to me, on the part of the superior at least, the permission, or better still, the call, to share in his sufferings. And in saying that hard word to the poor Gentile, our Lord honoured her thus mightily. He assumed for the moment the part of the Jew towards the Gentile, that he might, for the sake of all the world of Gentiles and Jews, lay bare to his Jewish followers the manner of spirit they were of, and let them see what a lovely humanity they despised in their pride of election. He took her to suffer with him for the salvation of the world. The cloud overshadowed them both, but what words immediately thereafter made a glory in her heart! He spoke to her as if her very faith had reached an arm into the heavens, and brought therefrom the thing she sought.–But I confess,” the curate went on, “those two passages have both troubled me. So I presume will everything that is God’s, until it becomes a strength and a light by revealing its true nature to the heart that has grown capable of understanding it. The first sign of the coming capacity and the coming joy, is the anxiety and the question.–There is another passage, which, although it does not trouble me so much, I cannot yet get a right perception of. When Mary Magdalene took the Master of Death for the gardener–the gardener of the garden of the tombs! no great mistake, was it?–it is a lovely thing, that mistaking of Jesus for the gardener!–how the holy and the lowly, yea the holy and the common meet on all sides! Just listen to their morning talk–the morning of the eternal open world to Jesus, while the shadows of this narrow life still clustered around Mary:–I can give it you exactly, for I was reading it this very day.
“‘Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?’
“‘Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.’
“‘Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God.’
“Why did he say, DO NOT TOUCH ME? It could not be that there was any defilement to one in the new body of the resurrection, from contact with one still in the old garments of humanity. But could it be that there was danger to her in the contact? Was there something in the new house from Heaven hurtful to the old tabernacle? I can hardly believe it. Perhaps it might be. But we must look at the reason the Master gives–only of all words hard to understand, the little conjunctions are sometimes the hardest. What can that FOR mean? ‘Touch me not, FOR I am not yet ascended to my Father.’ Does it mean, ‘I must first present myself to my Father; I must first have His hand laid on this body new-risen from the grave; I must go home first?’ The child must kiss his mother first, then his sisters and brothers: was it so with Jesus? Was he so glad in his father, that he must carry even the human body he had rescued eternal from the grave, home to show him first? There are many difficulties about the interpretation, and even if true, it would still shock every heart whose devotion was less than absolutely child-like. Was not God WITH him, as close to him as even God could come to his eternal son–in him–ONE with him, all the time? How could he get nearer to him by going to Heaven? What head-quarters, what court of place and circumstance should the Eternal, Immortal, Invisible hold? And yet if from him flow time and space, although he cannot be subject to them; if his son could incarnate himself–cast the living, responsive, elastic, flowing, evanishing circumstance of a human garment around him; if, as Novalis says, God can become whatever he can create, then may there not be some central home of God, holding relation even to time and space and sense? But I am bewildered about it.–Jesus stood then in the meeting point of both worlds, or rather in the skirts of the great world that infolds the less. I am talking like a baby, for my words cannot compass or even represent my thoughts. This world looks to us the natural and simple one, and so it is–absolutely fitted to our need and education. But there is that in us which is not at home in this world, which I believe holds secret relations with every star, or perhaps rather, with that in the heart of God whence issued every star, diverse in kind and character as in colour and place and motion and light. To that in us, this world is so far strange and unnatural and unfitting, and we need a yet homelier home. Yea, no home at last will do, but the home of God’s heart. Jesus, I say, was now looking, on one side, into the region of a deeper life, where his people, those that knew their own when they saw him, would one day find themselves tenfold at home; while, on the other hand, he was looking into the region of their present life, which custom and faithlessness make them afraid to leave. But we need not fear what the new conditions of life will bring, either for body or heart, for they will be nearer and sweeter to our deeper being, as Jesus is nearer and dearer than any man because he is more human than any. He is all that we can love or look for, and at the root of that very loving and looking.–‘In my Father’s house are many mansions,’ he said. Matter, time, space, are all God’s, and whatever may become of our philosophies, whatever he does with or in respect of time, place, and what we call matter, his doing must be true in philosophy as well as fact. But I am wandering.”
The curate was wandering, but the liberty of wandering was essential to his talking with the kind of freedom and truth he wanted to mediate betwixt his pupil and the lovely things he saw.
“I wonder where the penitent thief was all the time,” said Leopold.
“Yes, that also is a difficulty. There again come in the bothering time and space, bothering in their relation to heavenly things, I mean. On the Friday, the penitent thief, as you call him, was to be with Jesus in Paradise; and now it was Sunday, and Jesus said he had not yet been up to see his Father. Some would say, I am too literal, too curious; what can Friday and Sunday have to do with Paradise? But words MEAN in both worlds, for they are not two but one–surely at least when Jesus thinks and speaks of them; and there can be no wrong in feeling ever so blindly and dully after WHAT they mean. Such humble questioning can do no harm, even if, in face of the facts, the questions be as far off and SILLY–in the old sweet meaning of the word–as those of any infant concerning a world he has not proved.–But about Mary Magdalene: He must have said the word TOUCH ME NOT. That could not have crept in. It is too hard for an interpolation, I think; and if no interpolation, it must mean some deep-good thing we don’t understand. One thing we can make sure of: it was nothing that should hurt her; for see what follows. But for that, when he said TOUCH ME NOT, FOR I AM NOT YET ASCENDED TO MY FATHER, she might have thought–‘Ah! thou hast thy Father to go to, and thou wilt leave us for him.’–BUT, he went on, GO TO MY BRETHREN AND SAY UNTO THEM: I ASCEND UNTO MY FATHER, AND YOUR FATHER; AND MY GOD AND YOUR GOD. What more could she want? Think: the Father of Jesus, with whom, in all his knowledge and all his suffering, the grand heart was perfectly, exultingly satisfied,–that Father he calls our Father too. He shares with his brethren–of his best, his deepest, his heartiest, most secret delight, and makes it their and his most open joy: he shares his eternal Father with us, his perfect God with his brethren. And whatever his not having yet ascended to him may mean, we see, with marvel and joy, that what delayed him–even though, for some reason perfect in tenderness as in truth, he would not be touched–was love to Mary Magdalene and his mother and his brethren. He could not go to the Father without comforting them first. And certainly whatever she took the TOUCH ME NOT to mean or point at, it was nothing that hurt her.–It just strikes me–is it possible he said it in order to turn the overwhelming passion of her joy, which after such a restoration would have clung more than ever to the visible presence, and would be ready to suffer the pains of death yet again when he parted from her–might it be to turn that torrent into the wider and ever widening channel of joy in his everlasting presence to the innermost being, his communion, heart to heart, with every child of his Father? In our poor weakness and narrowness and self-love, even of Jesus the bodily may block out the spiritual nearness, which, however in most moods we may be unable to realise the fact, is and remains a thing unutterably lovelier and better and dearer–enhancing tenfold what vision of a bodily presence may at some time be granted us. But how any woman can help casting herself heart and soul at the feet of such a lowly grandeur, such a tender majesty, such a self-dissolving perfection–I cannot imagine. The truth must be that those who kneel not have not seen. You do not once read of a woman being against him–except indeed it was his own mother, when she thought he was going all astray and forgetting his high mission. The divine love in him towards his Father in heaven and his brethren of men, was ever melting down his conscious individuality in sweetest showers upon individual hearts; he came down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. No woman, no man surely ever saw him as he was and did not worship!”
Helen turned and glided back into the house, and neither knew she had been there.
All that could be done for Leopold by tenderest sisterly care under the supervision of Mr. Faber, who believed in medicine less than in good nursing, was well supplemented by the brotherly ministrations of Wingfold, who gave all the time he could honestly spare from his ordinary work to soothe and enlighten the suffering youth. But it became clearer every week that nothing would avail to entice the torn roots of his being to clasp again the soil of the world: he was withering away out of it. Ere long symptoms appeared which no one could well mistake, and Lingard himself knew that he was dying. Wingfold had dreaded that his discovery of the fact might reveal that he had imagined some atonement in the public confession he desired to make, and that, when he found it denied him, he would fall into despair. But he was with him at the moment, and his bearing left no ground for anxiety. A gleam of gladness from below the horizon of his spirit, shot up, like the aurora of a heavenly morning, over the sky of his countenance. He glanced at his friend, smiled, and said,
“It has killed me too, and that is a comfort.”
The curate only looked his reply.
“They say,” resumed Leopold, after a while, “that God takes the will for the deed:–do you think so?”
“Certainly, if it be a true, genuine will.”
“I am sure I meant to give myself up,” said Leopold. “I had not the slightest idea they were fooling me. I know it now, but what can I do? I am so weak, I should only die on the way.”
He tried to rise, but fell back in the chair.
“Oh!” he sighed, “isn’t it good of God to let me die! Who knows what he may do for me on the other side! Who can tell what the bounty of a God like Jesus may be!”
A vision arose before the mind’s eye of the curate:–Emmeline kneeling for Leopold’s forgiveness; but he wisely held his peace. The comforter of the sinner must come from the forgiveness of God, not from the favourable judgment of man mitigating the harshness of his judgment of himself. Wingfold’s business was to start him well in the world whither he was going. He must fill his scrip with the only wealth that would not dissolve in the waters of the river–that was, the knowledge of Jesus.
It shot a terrible pang to the heart of Helen, herself, for all her suffering, so full of life, when she learned that her darling must die. Yet was there no small consolation mingled with the shock. Fear vanished, and love returned with grief in twofold strength. She flew to him, and she who had been so self-contained, so composed, so unsubmissive to any sway of feeling, broke into such a storm of passionate affection that the vexilla mortis answered from his bosom, flaunting themselves in crimson before her eyes. In vain, for Leopold’s sake, the curate had sought to quiet her: she had resented his interference; but this result of her impetuosity speedily brought her to her senses, and set her to subdue herself.
The same evening Leopold insisted on dictating to the curate his confession, which done, he signed it, making him and Helen attest the signature. This document Wingfold took charge of, promising to make the right use of it, whatever he should on reflection conclude that to be; after which Leopold’s mind seemed at ease.
His sufferings from cough and weakness and fever now augmented with greater rapidity, but it was plain from the kind of light in his eye, and the far look which was not yet retrospective, that hope and expectation were high in him. He had his times of gloom, when the dragon of the past crept out of its cave, and tore him afresh; but the prospect of coming deliverance strengthened him.
“Do you really think,” he said once to the curate, “that I shall ever see Emmeline again?”
“Truly I hope so,” answered his friend, “and could argue upon the point. But I think the best way, when doubt comes as to anything you would like to be true, is just to hide yourself in God, as the child would hide from the dark in the folds of his mother’s mantle.”
“But aunt would say, if she knew, that, dying as she did, Emmeline could not be saved.”
“Some people may have to be a good deal astonished as to what can and cannot be,” returned the curate. “But never mind what people say: make your appeal to the saviour of men about whatever troubles you. Cry to the faithful creator, his Father. To be a faithful creator needs a might of truth and loving-kindness of which our narrow hearts can ill conceive. Ask much of God, my boy, and be very humble and very hoping.”
After all such utterances, Leopold would look his thanks, and hold his peace.
“I wish it was over,” he said once.
“So do I,” returned the curate. “But be of good courage, I think nothing will be given you to bear that you will not be able to bear.”
“I can bear a great deal more than I have had yet. I don’t think I shall ever complain. That would be to take myself out of his hands, and I have no hope anywhere else.–Are you any surer about him, sir, than you used to be?”
“At least I hope in him far more,” answered Wingfold.
“Is that enough?”
“No. I want more.”
“I wish I could come back and tell you that I am alive and all is true.”
“I would rather have the natural way of it, and get the good of not knowing first.”
“But if I could tell you I had found God, then that would make you sure.”
Wingfold could not help a smile:–as if any assurance from such a simple soul could reach the questions that tossed his troubled spirit!
“I think I shall find all I want in Jesus Christ,” he said.
“But you can’t see him, you know.”
“Perhaps I can do better. And at all events I can wait,” said the curate. “Even if he would let me, I would not see him one moment before he thought it best. I would not be out of a doubt or difficulty an hour sooner than he would take me.”
Leopold gazed at him and said no more.
As the disease advanced, his desire for fresh air and freedom grew to a great longing. One hot day, whose ardours, too strong for the leaves whose springs had begun to dry up, were burning them “yellow and black and pale and hectic red,” the fancy seized him to get out of the garden with its clipt box-trees and cypresses, into the meadow beyond. There a red cow was switching her tail as she gathered her milk from the world, and looking as if all were well. He liked the look of the cow, and the open meadow, and wanted to share it with her, he said. Helen, with the anxiety of a careful nurse, feared it might hurt him.
“What DOES it matter?” he returned. “Is life so sweet that every moment more of it is a precious boon? After I’m gone a few days, you won’t know a week from an hour of me. What a weight it will be off you! I envy you all the relief of it. It will be to you just what it would be to me to get into that meadow.”
Helen made haste to let him have his will. They prepared a sort of litter, and the curate and the coachman carried him. Hearing what they were about, Mrs. Ramshorn hurried into the garden to protest, but protested in vain, and joined the little procession, walking with Helen, like a second mourner, after the bier. They crossed the lawn, and through a double row of small cypresses went winding down to the underground passage, as if to the tomb itself. They had not thought of opening the door first, and the place was dark and sepulchral. Helen hastened to set it wide.
“Lay me down for a moment,” said Leopold. “–Here I lie in my tomb! How soft and brown the light is! I should not mind lying here, half-asleep, half-awake, for centuries, if only I had the hope of a right good waking at last.”
A flood of fair light flashed in sweet torrent into the place–and there, framed in the doorway, but far across the green field, stood the red cow, switching her tail.
“And here comes my resurrection!” cried Leopold. “I have not had long to wait for it–have I?”
He smiled a pained content as he spoke, and they bore him out into the sun and air. They set him down in the middle of the field in a low chair–not far from a small clump of trees, through which the footpath led to the stile whereon the curate was seated when he first saw the Polwarths. Mrs. Ramshorn found the fancy of the sick man pleasant for the hale, and sent for her knitting. Helen sat down empty-handed on the wool at her brother’s feet, and Wingfold, taking a book from his pocket, withdrew to the trees.
He had not read long, sitting within sight and call of the group, when Helen came to him.
“He seems inclined to go to sleep,” she said. “Perhaps if you would read something, it would send him off.”
“I will with pleasure,” he said, and returning with her, sat down on the grass.
“May I read you a few verses I came upon the other day, Leopold?” he asked.
“Please do,” answered the invalid, rather sleepily.
I will not pledge myself that the verses belonged to the book Wingfold held before him, but here they are. He read them slowly, and as evenly and softly and rhythmically as he could.
They come to thee, the halt, the maimed, the blind, The devil-torn, the sick, the sore;
Thy heart their well of life they find, Thine ear their open door.
Ah! who can tell the joy in Palestine– What smiles and tears of rescued throngs! Their lees of life were turned to wine, Their prayers to shouts and songs!
The story dear our wise men fable call, Give paltry facts the mighty range;
To me it seems just what should fall, And nothing very strange.
But were I deaf and lame and blind and sore, I scarce would care for cure to ask; Another prayer should haunt thy door– Set thee a harder task.
If thou art Christ, see here this heart of mine, Torn, empty, moaning, and unblest!
Had ever heart more need of thine, If thine indeed hath rest?
Thy word, thy hand right soon did scare the bane That in their bodies death did breed: If thou canst cure my deeper pain,
Then thou art Lord indeed.
Leopold smiled sleepily as Wingfold read, and ere the reading was over, slept.
“What can the little object want here?” said Mrs. Ramshorn.
Wingfold looked up, and seeing who it was approaching them, said,
“Oh! that is Mr. Polwarth, who keeps the park gate.”
“Nobody can well mistake him,” returned Mrs. Ramshorn. “Everybody knows the creature.”
“Few people know him really,” said Wingfold.
“I HAVE heard that he is an oddity in mind as well as in body,” said Mrs. Ramshorn.
“He is a friend of mine,” rejoined the curate. “I will go and meet him. He wants to know how Leopold is.”
“Pray keep your seat, Mr. Wingfold. I don’t in the least mind him,” said Mrs. Ramshorn. “Any FRIEND of yours, as you are kind enough to call him, will be welcome. Clergymen come to know–indeed it is their duty to be acquainted with all sorts of people. The late dean of Halystone would stop and speak to a pauper.”
The curate did however go and meet Polwarth, and returning with him presented him to Mrs. Ramshorn, who received him with perfect condescension, and a most gracious bow. Helen bent her head also, very differently, but it would be hard to say how. The little man turned from them, and for a moment stood looking on the face of the sleeping youth: he had not seen him since Helen ordered him to leave the house. Even now she looked angry at his presumption in staring at her brother. But Polwarth did not see her look. A great tenderness came over his face, and his lips moved softly. “The Lord of thy life keep it for thee, my son!” he murmured, gazed a moment longer, then rejoined Wingfold.
They walked aside a few paces.
“Pray be seated,” said Mrs. Ramshorn, without looking up from her knitting–the seat she offered being the wide meadow.
But they had already done so, and presently were deep in a gentle talk, of which at length certain words that had been foolhardy enough to wander within her range, attracted the notice of Mrs. Ramshorn, and she began to listen. But she could not hear distinctly.
“There should be one bishop at least,” the little man was saying, “or I don’t know but he ought to be the arch-arch-bishop,–a poor man, if possible,–one like the country parson Chaucer sets up in contrast with the regular clergy,–whose main business should be to travel about from university to university, from college to college, from school to school, warning off all young men who did not know within themselves that it was neither for position, nor income, nor study, nor influence, that they sought to minister in the temple, from entering the church. As from holy ground, he would warn them off.”
Mrs. Ramshorn fancied, from certain obscure associations in her own mind, that he was speaking of dissenting ministers and persons of low origin, who might wish to enter the church for the sake of BETTERING THEMSELVES, and holding as she did, that no church preferment should be obtained except by persons of good family and position, qualified to keep up the dignity of the profession, she was not a little gratified to hear, as she supposed, the same sentiments from the mouth of such an illiterate person as, taking no note of his somewhat remarkable utterance, she imagined Polwarth to be. Therefore she proceeded to patronize him yet a little farther.
“I quite agree with you,” she said graciously. “None but such as you describe should presume to set foot within the sacred precincts of the profession.”
Polwarth did not much relish Mrs. Ramshorn’s style, and was considerably surprised at receiving such a hearty approval of a proposed reformation in clerical things, reaching even to the archiepiscopal, which he had put half-humorously, and yet in thorough earnest, for the ear of Wingfold only. He was little enough desirous of pursuing the conversation with Mrs. Ramshorn: Charity herself does not require of a man to cast his precious things at the feet of my lady Disdain; but he must reply.
“Yes,” he said, “the great evil in the church has always been the presence in it of persons unsuited for the work there required of them. One very simple sifting rule would be, that no one should be admitted to holy orders who had not first proved himself capable of making a better living in some other calling.”
“I cannot go with you so far as that–so few careers are opened to gentlemen,” rejoined Mrs. Ramshorn. “Besides–take the bar, for instance: the forensic style a man must there acquire would hardly become the pulpit. But it would not be a bad rule that everyone, for admission to holy orders, should be possessed of property sufficient at least to live upon. With that for a foundation, his living would begin at once to tell, and he would immediately occupy the superior position every clergyman ought to have.”
“What I was thinking of,” said Polwarth, “was mainly the experience in life he would gather by having to make his own living; that, behind the counter or the plough, or in the workshop, he would come to know men and their struggles and their thoughts–“
“Good heavens!” exclaimed Mrs. Ramshorn. “But I must be under some misapprehension! It is not possible you can be speaking of the CHURCH–of the clerical PROFESSION. The moment that is brought within the reach of such people as you describe, that moment the church sinks to the level of the catholic priesthood.”
“Say rather, to the level of Jeremy Taylor,” returned Polwarth, “who was the son of a barber; or of Tillotson, who was the son of a clothier, or something of the sort, and certainly a fierce dissenter. His enemies said the archbishop himself was never baptized. By-the-way, he was not ordained till he was thirty–and that bears on what I was just saying to Mr. Wingfold, that I would have no one ordained till after forty, by which time he would know whether he had any real call or only a temptation to the church, from the base hope of an easy living.”
By this time Mrs. Ramshorn had had more than enough of it. The man was a leveller, a chartist, a positivist–a despiser of dignities!
“Mr.–, Mr.–, I don’t know your name–you will oblige me by uttering no more such vile slanders in my company. You are talking about what you don’t in the least understand. The man who does not respect the religion of his native country is capable of–of–of ANYTHING.–I am astonished, Mr. Wingfold, at your allowing a member of your congregation to speak with so little regard for the feelings of the clergy.–You forget, sir, when you attribute what you call base motives to the cloth–you forget who said the labourer was worthy of his hire.”
“I hope not, madam. I only venture to suggest that, though the labourer is worthy of his hire, not every man is worthy of the labour.”
Wingfold was highly amused at the turn things had taken. Polwarth looked annoyed at having allowed himself to be beguiled into such an utterly useless beating of the air.
“My friend HAS some rather peculiar notions, Mrs. Ramshorn,” said the curate;” but you must admit it was your approval that encouraged him to go on.”
“It is quite as well to know what people think,” answered Mrs. Ramshorn, pretending she had drawn him out from suspicion. “My husband used to say that very few of the clergy had any notion of the envy and opposition of the lower orders, both to them personally, and to the doctrines they taught. To low human nature the truth has always been unpalatable.”
What precisely she meant by THE TRUTH it would be hard to say, but if the visual embodiment of it was not a departed dean, it was at least always associated in her mind with a cathedral choir, and a portly person in silk stockings.
Here happily Leopold woke, and his eyes fell upon the gate-keeper.
“Ah, Mr. Polwarth! I am so glad to see you!” he said.” I am getting on, you see. It will be over soon.”
“I see,” replied Polwarth, going up to him, and taking his offered hand in both his. “I could almost envy you for having got so near the end of your troubles.”
“Are you sure it will be the end of them, sir?”
“Of some of them at least, I hope, and those the worst. I cannot be sure of anything but that all things work together for good to them that love God.”
“I don’t know yet whether I do love God.”
“Not the father of Jesus Christ?”
“If God is really just like him, I don’t see how any man could help loving him. But, do you know? I am terrified sometimes at the thought of seeing MY father. He was such a severe man! I am afraid he will scorn me.”
“Never–if he has got into heavenly ways. And you have your mother there too, have you not?”
“Oh! yes; I didn’t think of that. I don’t remember much of her.”
“Anyhow, you have God there, and you must rest in him. He will not forget you, for that would be ceasing to be God. If God were to forget for one moment, the universe would grow black–vanish–rush out again from the realm of law and order into chaos and night.”
“But I have been wicked.”
“The more need you have, if possible, of your Father in heaven.”
Here Mrs. Ramshorn beckoned the attendance of the curate where she sat a few yards off on the other side of Leopold. She was a little ashamed of having condescended to lose her temper, and when the curate went up to her, said, with an attempt at gaiety:
“Is your odd little friend, as you call him, all–?”
And she tapped her lace-cap carefully with her finger.
“Rather more so than most people,” answered Wingfold. “He is a very remarkable man.”
“He speaks as if he had seen better days–though where he can have gathered such detestable revolutionary notions, I can’t think.”
“He is a man of education, as you see,” said the curate.
“You don’t mean he has been to Oxford or Cambridge?”
“No. His education has been of a much higher sort than is generally found there. He knows ten times as much as most university men.”
“Ah! yes; but that goes for nothing: he hasn’t the standing. And if he had been to Oxford, he never could have imbibed such notions. Besides–his manners! To speak of the clergy as he did in the hearing of one whose whole history is bound up with the church!”
She meant herself, not Wingfold.
“But of course,” she went on, “there must be something VERY wrong with him to know so much as you say, and occupy such a menial position! Nothing but a gate-keeper, and talk like that about bishops and what not! People that are crooked in body are always crooked in mind too. I dare say now he has quite a coterie of friends and followers amongst the lower orders in Glaston. He’s just the sort of man to lead the working classes astray. No doubt he is a very interesting study for a young man like you, but you must take care; you may be misunderstood. A young clergyman CAN’T be too cautious–if he has any hope of rising in his profession.–A gate-keeper, indeed!”
“Wasn’t it something like that David wanted to be?” said the curate.
“Mr. Wingfold, I never allow any such foolish jests in my hearing. It was a DOOR-keeper the Psalmist said–and to the house of God, not a nobleman’s park.”
“A verger, I suppose,” thought Wingfold.–“Seriously, Mrs. Ramshorn, that poor little atom of a creature is the wisest man I know,” he said.
“Likely enough, in YOUR judgment, Mr. Wingfold,” said the dean’s widow, and drew herself up.
The curate accepted his dismissal, and joined the little man by Leopold’s chair.
“I wish you two could be with me when I am dying,” said Leopold.
“If you will let your sister know your wish, you may easily have it,” said the curate.
“It will be just like saying good-bye at the pier-head, and pushing off alone–you can’t get more than one into the boat–out, out, alone, into the infinite ocean of–nobody knows what or where,” said Leopold.
“Except those that are there already, and they will be waiting to receive you,” said Polwarth. “You may well hope, if you have friends to see you off, you will have friends to welcome you too. But I think it’s not so much like setting off from the pier-head, as getting down the side of the ocean-ship, to laud at the pier-head, where your friends are all standing looking out for you.”
“Well! I don’t know,” said Leopold, with a sigh of weariness. “I’m thankful sometimes that I’ve grown stupid. I suppose it’s with dying. I didn’t use to feel so. Sometimes I seem not to know or care anything about anything. I only want to stop coughing and aching and go to sleep.”
“Jesus was glad to give up his spirit into his Father’s hands. He was very tired before he got away.”
“Thank you. Thank you. I have him. He is somewhere. You can’t mention his name but it brings me something to live and hope for. If he is there, all will be well. And if I do get too tired to care for anything, he won’t mind; he will only let me go to sleep, and wake me up again by-and-by when I am rested.”
He closed his eyes.
“I want to go to bed,” he said.
They carried him into the house.
RACHEL AND LEOPOLD.
Every day after this, so long as the weather continued warm, it was Leopold’s desire to be carried out to the meadow. Once at his earnest petition, instead of setting him down in the usual place, they went on with him into the park, but he soon wished to be taken back to the meadow. He did not like the trees to come between him and his bed: they made him feel like a rabbit that was too far from its hole, he said; and he was never tempted to try it again.
Regularly too every day, about one o’clock, the gnome-like form of the gate-keeper would issue from the little door in the park-fence, and come marching across the grass towards Leopold’s chair, which was set near the small clump of trees already mentioned. The curate was almost always there, not talking much to the invalid, but letting him know every now and then by some little attention or word, or merely by showing himself, that he was near. Sometimes he would take refuge from the heat, which the Indian never felt too great, amongst the trees, and there would generally be thinking out what he wanted to say to his people the next Sunday.
One thing he found strange, and could not satisfy himself concerning, namely, that although his mind was so much occupied with Helen that he often seemed unable to think consecutively upon any subject, he could always foresee his sermon best when, seated behind one of the trees, he could by moving his head see her at work beside Leopold’s chair. But the thing that did carry him through became plain enough to him afterwards: his faith in God was all the time growing–and that through what seemed at the time only a succession of interruptions. Nothing is so ruinous to progress in which effort is needful, as satisfaction with apparent achievement; that ever sounds a halt; but Wingfold’s experience was that no sooner did he set his foot on the lowest hillock of self-congratulation than some fresh difficulty came that threw him prostrate; and he rose again only in the strength of the necessity for deepening and broadening his foundations that he might build yet higher, trust yet farther: that was the only way not to lose everything. He was gradually learning that his faith must be an absolute one, claiming from God everything the love of a perfect Father could give, or the needs he had created in his child could desire; that he must not look to himself first for help, or imagine that the divine was only the supplement to the weakness and failure of the human; that the highest effort of the human was to lay hold of the divine. He learned that he could keep no simplest law in its loveliness until he was possessed of the same spirit whence that law sprung; that he could not love Helen aright, simply, perfectly, unselfishly, except through the presence of the originating Love; that the one thing wherein he might imitate the free creative will of God was to will the presence and power of that will which gave birth to his. It was the vital growth of this faith, even when he was too much troubled to recognize the fact, that made him strong in the midst of weakness; when the son of man in him cried out, Let this cup pass, the son of God in him could yet cry, Let thy will be done. He could “inhabit trembling,” and yet be brave.
Mrs. Ramshorn generally came to the meadow to see how the invalid was after he was settled, but she seldom staid: she was not fond of nursing, neither was there any need of her assistance; and as Helen never dreamed now of opposing the smallest wish of her brother, there was no longer any obstruction to the visits of Polwarth, which were eagerly looked for by Leopold.
One day the little man did not appear, but soon after his usual time the still more gnome-like form of his little niece came scrambling rather than walking over the meadow. Gently and modestly, almost shyly, she came up to Helen, made her a courtesy like a village school-girl, and said, while she glanced at Leopold now and then with an ocean of tenderness in her large, clear woman-eyes:
“My uncle is sorry, Miss Lingard, that he cannot come to see your brother to-day, but he is laid up with an attack of asthma. He wished Mr. Lingard to know that he was thinking of him:–shall I tell you just what he said?”
Helen bent her neck: she did not feel much interest in the matter. But Leopold said,
“Every word of such a good man is precious: tell me, please.”
Rachel turned to him with the flush of a white rose on her face.
“I asked him, sir–‘Shall I tell him you are praying for him?’ and he said, ‘No. I am not exactly praying for him, but I am thinking of God and him together.'”
The tears rose in Leopold’s eyes. Rachel lifted her baby-hand, and stroked the dusky, long-fingured one that lay upon the arm of the chair.
“Dear Mr. Lingard,” she said,–Helen stopped in the middle of an embroidery stitch, and gave her a look as if she were about to ask for her testimonials–“I could well wish, if it pleased God, that I were as near home as you.”
Leopold took her hand in his.
“Do you suffer then?” he said.
“Just look at me,” she answered with a smile that was very pitiful, though she did not mean it for such, “–shut up all my life in this epitome of deformity! But I ain’t grumbling: that would be a fine thing! My house is not so small but God can get into it. Only you can’t think how tired I often am of it.”
“Mr. Wingfold was telling me yesterday that some people fancy St. Paul was little and misshapen, and that that was his thorn in the flesh.”
“I don’t think that can be true, or he would never have compared his body to a tabernacle, for, oh dear! it won’t stretch an inch to give a body room. I don’t think either, if that had been the case, he would have said he didn’t want it taken off, but another put over it. I do want mine taken off me, and a downright good new one put on instead–something not quite so far off your sister’s there, Mr. Lingard. But I’m ashamed of talking like this. It came of wanting to tell you I can’t be sorry you are going when I should so dearly like to go myself.”
“And I would gladly stay a while, and that in a house no bigger than yours, if I had a conscience of the same sort in my back-parlour,” said Leopold smiling. “But when I am gone the world will be the cleaner for it.–Do you know about God the same way your uncle does, Miss Polwarth?”
“I hope I do–a little. I doubt if anybody knows as much as he does,” she returned, very seriously. “But God knows about us all the same, and he don’t limit his goodness to us by our knowledge of him. It’s so wonderful that he can be all to everybody! That is his Godness, you know. We can’t be all to any one person. Do what we will, we can’t let anybody see into us even. We are all in bits and spots. But I fancy it’s a sign that we come of God that we don’t like it. How gladly I would help you, Mr. Lingard, and I can do nothing for you.–I’m afraid your beautiful sister thinks me very forward. But she don’t know what it is to lie awake all night sometimes, think-thinking about my beautiful brothers and sisters that I can’t get near to do anything for.”
“What an odd creature!” thought Helen, to whom her talk conveyed next to nothing. “–But I daresay they are both out of their minds. Poor things! they must have a hard time of it with one thing and another!”
“I beg your pardon again for talking so much,” concluded Rachel, and, with a courtesy first to the one then to the other, walked away. Her gait was no square march like her uncle’s, but a sort of sidelong propulsion, rendered more laborious by the thick grass of the meadow.
I need not follow the steps by which the inquiry-office became able so far to enlighten the mother of Emmeline concerning the person and habits of the visitor to the deserted shaft, that she had now come to Glaston in pursuit of yet farther discovery concerning him. She had no plan in her mind, and as yet merely intended going to church and everywhere else where people congregated, in the hope of something turning up to direct inquiry. Not a suspicion of Leopold had ever crossed her. She did not even know that he had a sister in Glaston, for Emmeline’s friends had not all been intimate with her parents.
On the morning after her arrival, she went out early to take a walk, and brood over her cherished vengeance; and finding her way into the park, wandered about in it for some time. Leaving it at length by another gate, and inquiring the way to Glaston, she was directed to a footpath which would lead her thither across the fields. Following this, she came to a stile, and being rather weary with her long walk, sat down on it.
The day was a grand autumnal one. But nature had no charms for her. Indeed had she not been close shut in the gloomy chamber of her own thoughts, she would not thus have walked abroad alone; for nature was to her a dull, featureless void; while her past was scarcely of the sort to invite retrospection, and her future was clouded.
It so fell that just then Leopold was asleep in his chair,–every morning he slept a little soon after being carried out,–and that chair was in its usual place in the meadow, with the clump of trees between it and the stile. Wingfold was seated in the shade of the trees, but Helen, happening to want something for her work, went to him and committed her brother to his care until she should return, whereupon he took her place. Almost the same moment however, he spied Polwarth coming from the little door in the fence, and went to meet him. When he turned, he saw, to his surprise, a lady standing beside the sleeping youth, and gazing at him with a strange intentness. Polwarth had seen her come from the clump of trees, and supposed her a friend. The curate walked hastily back, fearing he might wake and be startled at sight of the stranger. So intent was the gazing lady that he was within a few yards of her before she heard him. She started, gave one glance at the curate, and hurried away towards the town. There was an agitation in her movements which Wingfold did not like; a suspicion crossed his mind, and he resolved to follow her. In his turn he made over his charge to Polwarth, and set off after the lady.
The moment the eyes of Emmeline’s mother fell upon the countenance of Leopold, whom, notwithstanding the change that suffering had caused, she recognized at once, partly by the peculiarity of his complexion, the suspicion, almost conviction, awoke in her that here was the murderer of her daughter. That he looked so ill seemed only to confirm the likelihood. Her first idea was to wake him and see the effect of her sudden presence. Finding he was attended, however, she hurried away to inquire in the town and discover all she could about him.
A few moments after Polwarth had taken charge of him, and while he stood looking on him tenderly, the youth woke with a start.
“Where is Helen?” he said.
“I have not seen her. Ah, here she comes!”
“Did you find me alone then?”
“Mr. Wingfold was with you. He gave you up to me, because he had to go into the town.”
He looked inquiringly at his sister as she came up, and she looked in the same way at Polwarth.
“I feel as if I had been lying all alone in this wide field,” said Leopold, “and as if Emmeline had been by me, though I didn’t see her.”
Polwarth looked after the two retiring forms, which were now almost at the end of the meadow, and about to issue on the high road.
Helen followed his look with hers. A sense of danger seized her. She trembled, and kept behind Leopold’s chair.
“Have you been coughing much to-day?” asked the gate-keeper.
“Yes, a good deal–before I came out. But it does not seem to do much good.”
“What good would you have it do?”
“I mean, it doesn’t do much to get it over. Oh, Mr. Polwarth, I am so tired!”
“Poor fellow! I suppose it looks to you as if it would never be over. But all the millions of the dead have got through it before you. I don’t know that that makes much difference to the one who is going through it. And yet it is a sort of company. Only, the Lord of Life is with you, and that is real company, even in dying, when no one else can be with you.”
“If I could only feel he was with me!”
“You may feel his presence without knowing what it is.”
“I hope it isn’t wrong to wish it over, Mr. Polwarth?”
“I don’t think it is wrong to wish anything you can talk to him about and submit to his will. St. Paul says, ‘In everything let your requests be made known unto God.'”
“I sometimes feel as if I would not ask him for anything, but just let him give me what he likes.”
“We must not want to be better than is required of us, for that is at once to grow worse.”
“I don’t quite understand you.”
“Not to ask may seem to you a more submissive way, but I don’t think it is so childlike. It seems to me far better to say, ‘O Lord, I should like this or that, but I would rather not have it if thou dost not like it also.’ Such prayer brings us into conscious and immediate relations with God. Remember, our thoughts are then, passing to him, sent by our will into his mind. Our Lord taught us to pray always and not get tired of it. God, however poor creatures we may be, would have us talk to him, for then he can speak to us better than when we turn no face to him.”
“I wonder what I shall do the first thing when I find myself out–out, I mean, in the air, you know.”
“It does seem strange we should know so little of what is in some sense so near us! that such a thin veil should be so impenetrable! I fancy the first thing I should do would be to pray.”
“Then you think we shall pray there–wherever it is?”
“It seems to me as if I should go up in prayer the moment I got out of this dungeon of a body. I am wrong to call it a dungeon, for it lies open to God’s fair world, and the loveliness of the earth comes into me through eyes and ears just as well as into you. Still it is a pleasant thought that it will drop off me some day. But for prayer–I think all will pray there more than here–in their hearts and souls I mean.”
“Then where would be the harm if you were to pray for me after I am gone?”
“Nowhere that I know. It were indeed a strange thing if I might pray for you up to the moment when you ceased to breathe, and therewith an iron gate close between us, and I could not even reach you through the ear of the Father of us both! It is a faithless doctrine, for it supposes either that those parted from us can do without prayer, the thing Jesus himself could not do without, seeing it was his highest joy, or that God has so parted those who are in him from these who are in him, that there is no longer any relation, even with God, common to them. The thing to me takes the form of an absurdity.”
“Ah, then, pray for me when I am dying, and don’t be careful to stop when you think I am gone, Mr. Polwarth.”
“I will remember,” said the little man.
And now Helen had recovered herself, and came and took her usual seat by her brother’s side. She cast an anxious glance now and then into Polwarth’s face, but dared not ask him anything.
THE BLOOD-HOUND TRAVERSED.
Emmeline’s mother had not gone far before she became aware that she was followed. It was a turning of the tables which she did not relish. As would not have been unnatural, even had she been at peace with all the world, a certain feeling of undefined terror came upon her and threatened to overmaster her. It was the more oppressive that she did not choose to turn and face her pursuer, feeling that to do so would be to confess consciousness of cause. The fate of her daughter, seldom absent from her thoughts, now rose before her in association with herself, and was gradually swelling uneasiness into terror: who could tell but this man pressing on her heels in the solitary meadow, and not the poor youth who lay dying there in the chair, and who might indeed be only another of his victims, was the murderer of Emmeline! Unconsciously she accelerated her pace until it was almost a run, but did not thereby widen by a single yard the distance between her and the curate.
When she came out on the high road, she gave a glance in each direction, and, avoiding the country, made for the houses. A short lane led her into Pine street. There she felt safe, the more that it was market-day and a good many people about, and slackened her pace, feeling confident that her pursuer, whoever he was, would now turn aside. But she was disappointed, for, casting a glance over her shoulder, she saw that he still kept the same distance behind her. She saw also, in that single look, that he was well-known, for several were saluting him at once. What could it mean? It must be the G. B. of the Temple! Should she stop and challenge his pursuit? The obstacle to this was a certain sinking at the heart accounted for by an old memory. She must elude him instead. But she did not know a single person in the place, or one house where she could seek refuge. There was an hotel before her! But, unattended, heated, disordered, to all appearance disreputable, what account could she give of herself? That she had been followed by some one everybody knew, and to whom everybody would listen! Feebly debating thus with herself, she hurried along the pavement of Pine Street, with the Abbey church before her.
The footsteps behind her grew louder and quicker: the man had made up his mind and was coming up with her! He might be mad, or ready to run all risks! Probably he knew his life at stake through her perseverance and determination!
On came the footsteps, for the curate had indeed made up his mind to speak to her, and either remove or certify his apprehensions. Nearer yet and nearer they came. Her courage and strength were giving way together, and she should be at his mercy. She darted into a shop, sank on a chair by the counter, and begged for a glass of water. A young woman ran to fetch it, while Mr. Drew went upstairs for a glass of wine. Returning with it he came from behind the counter, and approached the lady where she sat leaning her head upon it.
Meantime the curate also had entered the shop, and placed himself where he might, unseen by her, await her departure, for he could not speak to her there. He had her full in sight when Mr. Drew went up to her.
“Do me the favour, madam,” he said–but said no more. For at the sound of his voice, the lady gave a violent start, and raising her head looked at him. The wine-glass dropped from his hand. She gave a half-choked cry, and sped from the shop.
The curate was on the spring after her when he was arrested by the look of the draper: he stood fixed where she had left him, white and trembling as if he had seen a ghost. He went up to him, and said in a whisper:
“Who is she?”
“Mrs. Drew,” answered the draper, and the curate was after her like a greyhound.
A little crowd of the shop-people gathered in consternation about their master.
“Pick up those pieces of glass, and call Jacob to wipe the floor,” he said–then walked to the door, and stood staring after the curate as he all but ran to overtake the swiftly gliding figure.
The woman, ignorant that her pursuer was again upon her track, and hardly any longer knowing what she did, hurried blindly towards the churchyard. Presently the curate relaxed his speed, hoping she would enter it, when he would have her in a fit place for the interview upon which he was, if possible, more determined than ever, now that he had gained, so unexpectedly, such an absolute hold of her. “She must be Emmeline’s mother,” he said to himself, “–fit mother for such a daughter.” The moment he caught sight of the visage lifted from its regard of the sleeping youth, he had suspected the fact. He had not had time to analyze its expression, but there was something dreadful in it. A bold question would determine the suspicion.
She entered the churchyard, saw the Abbey door open, and hastened to it. She was in a state of bewilderment and terror that would have crazed a weaker woman. In the porch she cast a glance behind her: there again was her pursuer! She sprang into the church. A woman was dusting a pew not far from the door.
“Who is that coming?” she asked, in a tone and with a mien that appalled Mrs. Jenkins. She had but to stretch her neck a little to see through the porch.
“Why, it be only the parson, ma’am!” she answered.
“Then I shall hide myself, over there, and you must tell him I went out by that other door. Here’s a sovereign for you.”
“I thank you, ma’am,” said Mrs. Jenkins, looking wistfully at the sovereign, which was a great sum of money to a sexton’s wife with children, then instantly going on with her dusting; “but it ain’t no use tryin’ of tricks with our parson. HE ain’t one of your Mollies. A man as don’t play no tricks with hisself, as I heerd a gentleman say, it ain’t no use tryin’ no tricks with HIM.”
Almost while she spoke, the curate entered. The suppliant drew herself up, and endeavoured to look both dignified and injured.
“Would you oblige me by walking this way for a moment?” he said, coming straight to her.
Without a word she followed him, a long way up the church, to the stone screen which divided the chancel from the nave. There, in sight of Mrs. Jenkins, but so far off that she could not hear a word said, he asked her to take a seat on the steps that led up to the door in the centre of the screen. Again she obeyed, and Wingfold sat down near her.
“Are you Emmeline’s mother?” he said.
The gasp, the expression of eye and cheek, the whole startled response of the woman, revealed that he had struck the truth. But she made no answer.
“You had better be open with me,” he said, “for I mean to be very open with you.”
She stared at him, but either could not, or would not speak. Probably it was caution: she must hear more.
The curate was already excited, and I fear now got a little angry, for the woman was not pleasant to his eyes.
“I want to tell you,” he said, “that the poor youth whom your daughter’s behaviour made a murderer of,–“
She gave a cry, and turned like ashes. The curate was ashamed of himself.
“It seems cruel,” he said, “but it is the truth. I say he is now dying–will be gone after her in a few weeks. The same blow killed both, only one has taken longer to die. No end can be served by bringing him to justice. Indeed if he were arrested, he would but die on the way to prison. I have followed you to persuade you, if I can, to leave him to his fate and not urge it on. If ever man was sorry, or suffered for his crime,–“
“And pray what is that to me, sir?” cried the avenging mother, who, finding herself entreated, straightway became arrogant. “Will it give me back my child? The villain took her precious life without giving her a moment to prepare for eternity, and you ask me–her mother–to let him go free! I will not. I have vowed vengeance, and I will have it.”
“Allow me to say that if you die in that spirit, you will be far worse prepared for eternity than I trust your poor daughter was.”
“What is that to you? If I choose to run the risk, it is my business. I tell you it shall not be my fault if the wretch is not brought to the gallows.”
“But he cannot live to reach it. The necessary preliminaries would waste all that is left of his life. I only ask of you to let him die in what peace is possible to him. We must forgive our enemies, you know. But indeed he is no enemy of yours.”
“No enemy of mine! The man who murdered my child no enemy of mine! I am his enemy then, and that he shall find. If I cannot bring him to the gallows, I can at least make every man and woman in the country point the finger of scorn and hatred at him. I can bring him and all his to disgrace and ruin. Their pride indeed! They were far too grand to visit me, but not to send a murderer into my family. I am in my rights, and I will have justice. We shall see if they are too grand to have a nephew hung! My poor lovely innocent! I will have justice on the foul villain. Cringing shall not turn me.”
Her lips were white, and her teeth set. She rose with the slow movement of one whose intent, if it had blossomed in passion, was yet rooted in determination, and turned to leave the church.
“It might hamper your proceedings a little,” said Wingfold, “if in the meantime a charge of bigamy were brought against yourself, MRS. DREW!”
Her back was towards the curate, and for a moment she stood like another pillar of salt. Then she began to tremble, and laid hold of the carved top of a bench. But her strength failed her completely; she sank on her knees and fell on the floor with a deep moan.
The curate called Mrs. Jenkins and sent her for water. With some difficulty they brought her to herself.
She rose, shuddered, drew her shawl about her, and said to the woman,
“I am sorry to give so much trouble. When does the next train start for London?”