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Thomas Wingfold, Curate by George MacDonald

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By George MacDonald, LL.D.






A swift, gray November wind had taken every chimney of the house for
an organ-pipe, and was roaring in them all at once, quelling the
more distant and varied noises of the woods, which moaned and surged
like a sea. Helen Lingard had not been out all day. The morning,
indeed, had been fine, but she had been writing a long letter to her
brother Leopold at Cambridge, and had put off her walk in the
neighbouring park till after luncheon, and in the meantime the wind
had risen, and brought with it a haze that threatened rain. She was
in admirable health, had never had a day's illness in her life, was
hardly more afraid of getting wet than a young farmer, and enjoyed
wind, especially when she was on horseback. Yet as she stood looking
from her window, across a balcony where shivered more than one
autumnal plant that ought to have been removed a week ago, out upon
the old-fashioned garden and meadows beyond, where each lonely tree
bowed with drifting garments--I was going to say, like a suppliant,
but it was AWAY from its storming enemy--she did not feel inclined
to go out. That she was healthy was no reason why she should be
unimpressible, any more than that good temper should be a reason for
indifference to the behaviour of one's friend. She always felt
happier in a new dress, when it was made to her mind and fitted her
body; and when the sun shone she was lighter-hearted than when it
rained: I had written MERRIER, but Helen was seldom merry, and had
she been made aware of the fact, and questioned why, would have
answered--Because she so seldom saw reason.

She was what all her friends called a sensible girl; but, as I say,
that was no reason why she should be an insensible girl as well, and
be subject to none of the influences of the weather. She did feel
those influences, and therefore it was that she turned away from the
window with the sense, rather than the conviction, that the fireside
in her own room was rendered even, more attractive by the unfriendly
aspect of things outside and the roar in the chimney, which happily
was not accompanied by a change in the current of the smoke.

The hours between luncheon and tea are confessedly dull, but dulness
is not inimical to a certain kind of comfort, and Helen liked to be
that way comfortable. Nor had she ever yet been aware of self-rebuke
because of the liking. Let us see what kind and degree of comfort
she had in the course of an hour and a half attained. And in
discovering this I shall be able to present her to my reader with a
little more circumstance.

She sat before the fire in a rather masculine posture. I would not
willingly be rude, but the fact remains--a posture in which she
would not, I think, have sat for her photograph--leaning back in a
chintz-covered easy-chair, all the lines of direction about her
parallel with the lines of the chair, her arms lying on its arms,
and the fingers of each hand folded down over the end of each
arm--square, straight, right-angled,--gazing into the fire, with
something of the look of a sage, but one who has made no discovery.

She had just finished the novel of the day, and was suffering a mild
reaction--the milder, perhaps, that she was not altogether satisfied
with the consummation. For the heroine had, after much sorrow and
patient endurance, at length married a man whom she could not help
knowing to be not worth having. For the author even knew it, only
such was his reading of life, and such his theory of artistic duty,
that what it was a disappointment to Helen to peruse, it seemed to
have been a comfort to him to write. Indeed, her dissatisfaction
went so far that, although the fire kept burning away in perfect
content before her, enhanced by the bellowing complaint of the wind
in the chimney, she yet came nearer thinking than she had ever been
in her life. Now thinking, especially to one who tries it for the
first time, is seldom, or never, a quite comfortable operation, and
hence Helen was very near becoming actually uncomfortable. She was
even on the borders of making the unpleasant discovery that the
business of life--and that not only for North Pole expeditions,
African explorers, pyramid-inspectors, and such like, but for every
man and woman born into the blindness of the planet--is to discover;
after which discovery there is little more comfort to be had of the
sort with which Helen was chiefly conversant. But she escaped for
the time after a very simple and primitive fashion, although it was
indeed a narrow escape.

Let me not be misunderstood, however, and supposed to imply that
Helen was dull in faculty, or that she contributed nothing to the
bubbling of the intellectual pool in the social gatherings at
Glaston. Far from it. When I say that she came near thinking, I say
more for her than any but the few who know what thinking is will
understand, for that which chiefly distinguishes man from those he
calls the lower animals is the faculty he most rarely exercises.
True, Helen supposed she could think--like other people, because the
thoughts of other people had passed through her in tolerable plenty,
leaving many a phantom conclusion behind; but this was THEIR
thinking, not hers. She had thought no more than was necessary now
and then to the persuasion that she saw what a sentence meant, after
which, her acceptance or rejection of what was contained in it,
never more than lukewarm, depended solely upon its relation to what
she had somehow or other, she could seldom have told how, come to
regard as the proper style of opinion to hold upon things in

The social matrix which up to this time had ministered to her
development, had some relations with Mayfair, it is true, but scanty
ones indeed with the universe; so that her present condition was
like that of the common bees, every one of which Nature fits for a
queen, but its nurses, prevent from growing one by providing for it
a cell too narrow for the unrolling of royalty, and supplying it
with food not potent enough for the nurture of the ideal--with this
difference, however, that the cramped and stinted thing comes out,
if no queen, then a working bee, and Helen, who might be both, was
neither yet. If I were at liberty to mention the books on her table,
it would give a few of my readers no small help towards the settling
of her position in the "valued file" of the young women of her
generation; but there are reasons against it.

She was the daughter of an officer, who, her mother dying when she
was born, committed her to the care of a widowed aunt, and almost
immediately left for India, where he rose to high rank, and somehow
or other amassed a considerable fortune, partly through his marriage
with a Hindoo lady, by whom he had one child, a boy some three years
younger than Helen. When he died, he left his fortune equally
divided between the two children.

Helen was now three-and-twenty, and her own mistress. Her appearance
suggested Norwegian blood, for she was tall, blue-eyed, and
dark-haired--but fair-skinned, with regular features, and an over
still-some who did not like her said hard--expression of
countenance. No one had ever called her NELLY; yet she had long
remained a girl, lingering on the broken borderland after several of
her school companions had become young matrons. Her drawing-master,
a man of some observation and insight, used to say Miss Lingard
would wake up somewhere about forty.

The cause of her so nearly touching the borders of thought this
afternoon, was, that she became suddenly aware of feeling bored. Now
Helen was even seldomer bored than merry, and this time she saw no
reason for it, neither had any person to lay the blame upon. She
might have said it was the weather, but the weather had never done
it before. Nor could it be want of society, for George Bascombe was
to dine with them. So was the curate, but he did not count for much.
Neither was she weary of herself. That, indeed, might be only a
question of time, for the most complete egotist, Julius Caesar, or
Napoleon Bonaparte, must at length get weary of his paltry self; but
Helen, from the slow rate of her expansion, was not old enough yet.
Nor was she in any special sense wrapt up in herself: it was only
that she had never yet broken the shell which continues to shut in
so many human chickens, long after they imagine themselves citizens
of the real world.

Being somewhat bored then, and dimly aware that to be bored was out
of harmony with something or other, Helen was on the verge of
thinking, but, as I have said, escaped the snare in a very direct
and simple fashion: she went fast asleep, and never woke till her
maid brought her the cup of kitchen-tea from which the inmates of
some houses derive the strength to prepare for dinner.



The morning, whose afternoon was thus stormy, had been fine, and the
curate went out for a walk. Had it been just as stormy, however, he
would have gone all the same. Not that he was a great walker, or,
indeed, fond of exercise of any sort, and his walking, as an
Irishman might say, was half sitting--on stiles and stones and
fallen trees. He was not in bad health, he was not lazy, or given to
self-preservation, but he had little impulse to activity of any
sort. The springs in his well of life did not seem to flow quite
fast enough.

He strolled through Osterfield park, and down the deep descent to
the river, where, chilly as it was, he seated himself upon a large
stone on the bank, and knew that he was there, and that he had to
answer to Thomas Wingfold; but why he was there, and why he was not
called something else, he did not know. On each side of the stream
rose a steeply-sloping bank, on which grew many fern-bushes, now
half withered, and the sunlight upon them, this November morning,
seemed as cold as the wind that blew about their golden and green
fronds. Over a rocky bottom the stream went--talking rather than
singing--down the valley towards the town, where it seemed to linger
a moment to embrace the old abbey church, before it set out on its
leisurely slide through the low level to the sea. Its talk was
chilly, and its ripples, which came half from the obstructions in
its channel below, and half from the wind that ruffled it above,
were not smiles, but wrinkles rather--even in the sunshine. Thomas
felt cold himself, but the cold was of the sort that comes from the
look rather than the feel of things. He did not, however, much care
how he felt--not enough, certainly, to have made him put on a
great-coat: he was not deeply interested in himself. With his stick,
a very ordinary bit of oak, he kept knocking pebbles into the water,
and listlessly watching them splash. The wind blew, the sun shone,
the water ran, the ferns waved, the clouds went drifting over his
head, but he never looked up, or took any notice of the doings of
Mother Nature at her house-work: everything seemed to him to be
doing only what it had got to do, because it had got it to do, and
not because it cared about it, or had any end in doing it. For he,
like every other man, could read nature only by his own lamp, and
this was very much how he had hitherto responded to the demands made
upon him.

His life had not been a very interesting one, although early
passages in it had been painful. He had done fairly well at Oxford:
it had been expected of him, and he had answered expectation; he had
not distinguished himself, nor cared to do so. He had known from the
first that he was intended for the church, and had not objected, but
received it as his destiny--had even, in dim obedience, kept before
his mental vision the necessity of yielding to the heights and
hollows of the mould into which he was being thrust. But he had
taken no great interest in the matter.

The church was to him an ancient institution of such approved
respectability that it was able to communicate it, possessing
emoluments, and requiring observances. He had entered her service;
she was his mistress, and in return for the narrow shelter, humble
fare, and not quite too shabby garments she allotted him, he would
perform her hests--in the spirit of a servant who abideth not in the
house for ever. He was now six and twenty years of age, and had
never dreamed of marriage, or even been troubled with a thought of
its unattainable remoteness. He did not philosophize much upon life
or his position in it, taking everything with a cold, hopeless kind
of acceptance, and laying no claim to courage, devotion, or even
bare suffering. He had a certain dull prejudice in favour of
honesty, would not have told the shadow of a lie to be made
Archbishop of Canterbury, and yet was so uninstructed in the things
that constitute practical honesty that some of his opinions would
have considerably astonished St. Paul. He liked reading the prayers,
for the making of them vocal in the church was pleasant to him, and
he had a not unmusical voice. He visited the sick--with some
repugnance, it is true, but without delay, and spoke to them such
religious commonplaces as occurred to him, depending mainly on the
prayers belonging to their condition for the right performance of
his office. He never thought about being a gentleman, but always
behaved like one.

I suspect that at this time there lay somewhere in his mind, keeping
generally well out of sight however, that is, below the skin of his
consciousness, the unacknowledged feeling that he had been hardly
dealt with. But at no time, even when it rose plainest, would he
have dared to add--by Providence. Had the temptation come, he would
have banished it and the feeling together.

He did not read much, browsed over his newspaper at breakfast with a
polite curiosity, sufficient to season the loneliness of his slice
of fried bacon, and took more interest in some of the naval
intelligence than in anything else. Indeed it would have been
difficult for himself even to say in what he did take a large
interest. When leisure awoke a question as to how he should employ
it, he would generally take up his Horace and read aloud one of his
more mournful odes--with such attention to the rhythm, I must add,
as, although plentiful enough among scholars in respect of the dead
letter, is rarely found with them in respect of the living vocal

Nor had he now sat long upon his stone, heedless of the world's
preparations for winter, before he began repeating to himself the
poet's Æquam memento rebus in arduis, which he had been trying much,
but with small success, to reproduce in similar English cadences,
moved thereto in part by the success of Tennyson in his O
mighty-mouthed inventor of harmonies--a thing as yet alone in the
language, so far as I know. It was perhaps a little strange that the
curate should draw the strength of which he was most conscious from
the pages of a poet whose hereafter was chiefly servicable to him--
in virtue of its unsubstantiality and poverty, the dreamlike
thinness of its reality--in enhancing the pleasures of the world of
sun and air, cooling shade and songful streams, the world of wine
and jest, of forms that melted more slowly from encircling arms, and
eyes that did not so swiftly fade and vanish in the distance. Yet
when one reflects but for a moment on the poverty-stricken
expectations of Christians from their hereafter, I cease to wonder
at Wingfold; for human sympathy is lovely and pleasant, and if a
Christian priest and a pagan poet feel much in the same tone
concerning the affairs of a universe, why should they not comfort
each other by sitting down together in the dust?

"No hair it boots thee whether from Inachus
Ancient descended, or, of the poorest born,
Thy being drags, all bare and roofless--
Victim the same to the heartless Orcus.

All are on one road driven; for each of us
The urn is tossed, and, later or earlier,
The lot will drop and all be sentenced
Into the boat of eternal exile."

Having thus far succeeded with these two stanzas, Wingfold rose, a
little pleased with himself, and climbed the bank above him, wading
through mingled sun and wind and ferns--so careless of their
shivering beauty and their coming exile, that a watcher might have
said the prospect of one day leaving behind him the shows of this
upper world could have no part in the curate's sympathy with Horace.



Mrs. Ramshorn, Helen's aunt, was past the middle age of woman; had
been handsome and pleasing, had long ceased to be either; had but
sparingly recognised the fact, yet had recognised it, and felt
aggrieved. Hence in part it was that her mouth had gathered that
peevish and wronged expression which tends to produce a moral nausea
in the beholder. If she had but known how much uglier in the eyes of
her fellow-mortals her own discontent made her, than the severest
operation of the laws of mortal decay could have done, she might
have tried to think less of her wrongs and more of her privileges.
As it was, her own face wronged her own heart, which was still
womanly, and capable of much pity--seldom exercised. Her husband
had been dean of Halystone, a man of insufficient weight of
character to have the right influence in the formation of his
wife's. He had left her tolerably comfortable as to circumstances,
but childless. She loved Helen, whose even imperturbability had by
mere weight, as it might seem, gained such a power over her that she
was really mistress in the house without either of them knowing it.

Naturally desirous of keeping Helen's fortune in the family, and
having, as I say, no son of her own, she had yet not far to look to
find a cousin capable, as she might well imagine, of rendering
himself acceptable to the heiress. He was the son of her younger
sister, married, like herself, to a dignitary of the Church, a canon
of a northern cathedral. This youth, therefore, Greorge Bascombe by
name, whose visible calling at present was to eat his way to the
bar, she often invited to Glaston; and on this Friday afternoon he
was on his way from London to spend the Saturday and Sunday with the
two ladies. The cousins liked each other, had not had more of each
other's society than was favourable to their aunt's designs, who was
far too prudent to have made as yet any reference to them, and stood
altogether in as suitable a relative position for falling in love
with each other as Mrs. Ramshorn could well have desired. Her chief,
almost her only uneasiness, arose from the important and but too
evident fact, that Helen Lingard was not a girl of the sort to fall
readily in love. That, however, was of no consequence, provided it
did not come in the way of marrying her cousin, who, her aunt felt
confident, was better fitted to rouse her dormant affections than
any other youth she had ever seen, or was ever likely to see. Upon
this occasion she had asked Thomas Wingfold to meet him, partly with
the design that he should act as a foil to her nephew, partly in
order to do her duty by the church, to which she felt herself belong
not as a lay member, but in some undefined professional capacity, in
virtue of her departed dean. Wingfold had but lately come to the
parish, and, as he was merely curate, she had not been in haste to
invite him. On the other hand, he was the only clergyman officiating
in the abbey church, which was grand and old, with a miserable
living and a non-resident rector. He, to do him justice, paid nearly
the amount of the tithes in salary to his curate, and spent the rest
on the church material, of which, for certain reasons, he retained
the incumbency, the presentation to which belonged to his own

The curate presented himself at the dinner-hour in Mrs. Ramshorn's
drawing-room, looking like any other gentleman, satisfied with his
share in the administration of things, and affecting nothing of the
professional either in dress, manner, or tone. Helen saw him for the
first time in private life, and, as she had expected, saw nothing
remarkable--a man who looked about thirty, was a little over the
middle height, and well enough constructed as men go, had a good
forehead, a questionable nose, clear grey eyes, long, mobile,
sensitive mouth, large chin, pale complexion, and straight black
hair, and might have been a lawyer just as well as a clergyman. A
keener, that is, a more interested eye than hers, might have
discovered traces of suffering in the forms of the wrinkles which,
as he talked, would now and then flit like ripples over his
forehead; but Helen's eyes seldom did more than slip over the faces
presented to her; and had it been otherwise, who could be expected
to pay much regard to Thomas Wingfold when George Bascombe was
present? There, indeed, stood a man by the corner of the
mantelpiece!--tall and handsome as an Apollo, and strong as the
young Hercules, dressed in the top of the plainest fashion,
self-satisfied, but not offensively so, good-natured, ready to
smile, as clean in conscience, apparently, and as large in sympathy,
as his shirt-front. Everybody who knew him, counted George Bascombe
a genuine good fellow, and George himself knew little to the
contrary, while Helen knew nothing.

One who had only chanced to get a glimpse of her in her own room, as
in imagination my reader has done, would hardly have recognised her
again in the drawing-room. For in her own room she was but as she
appeared to herself in her mirror--dull, inanimate; but in the
drawing-room her reflection from living eyes and presences served to
stir up what waking life was in her. When she spoke, her face dawned
with a clear, although not warm light; and although it must be owned
that when it was at rest, the same over-stillness, amounting almost
to dulness, the same seeming immobility, ruled as before, yet, even
when she was not speaking, the rest was often broken by a smile--a
genuine one, for although there was much that was stiff, there was
nothing artificial about Helen. Neither was there much of the
artificial about her cousin; for his good-nature, and his smile, and
whatever else appeared upon him, were all genuine enough--the only
thing in this respect not quite satisfactory to the morally
fastidious man being his tone in speaking. Whether he had caught it
at the university, or amongst his father's clerical friends, or in
the professional society he now frequented, I cannot tell, but it
had been manufactured somewhere--after a large, scrolly kind of
pattern, sounding well-bred and dignified. I wonder how many speak
with the voices that really belong to them.

Plainly, to judge from the one Bascombe used, he was accustomed to
lay down the law, but in gentlemanly fashion, and not as if he cared
a bit about the thing in question himself. By the side of his easy
carriage, his broad chest, and towering Greek-shaped head, Thomas
Wingfold dwindled almost to vanishing--in a word, looked nobody. And
besides his inferiority in size and self-presentment, he had a
slight hesitation of manner, which seemed to anticipate, if not to
court, the subordinate position which most men, and most women too,
were ready to assign him. He said, "Don't you think?" far oftener
than "I think" and was always more ready to fix his attention upon
the strong points of an opponent's argument than to re-assert his
own in slightly altered phrase like most men, or even in fresh forms
like a few; hence--self-assertion, either modestly worn like a shirt
of fine chain-armour, or gaunt and obtrusive like plates of steel,
being the strength of the ordinary man--what could the curate appear
but defenceless, therefore weak, and therefore contemptible? The
truth is, he had less self-conceit than a mortal's usual share, and
was not yet possessed of any opinions interesting enough to himself
to seem worth defending with any approach to vivacity.

Bascombe and he bowed in response to their introduction with proper
indifference, after a moment's solemn pause exchanged a sentence or
two which resembled an exercise in the proper use of a foreign
language, and then gave what attention Englishmen are capable of
before dinner to the two ladies--the elder of whom, I may just
mention, was dressed in black velvet with heavy Venetian lace, and
the younger in black silk, with old Honiton. Neither of them did
much towards enlivening the conversation. Mrs. Ramshorn, whose
dinner had as yet gained in interest with her years, sat peevishly
longing for its arrival, but cast every now and then a look of mild
satisfaction upon her nephew, which, however, while it made her eyes
sweeter, did not much alter the expression of her mouth. Helen
improved, as she fancied, the arrangement of a few green-house
flowers in an ugly vase on the table.

At length the butler appeared, the curate took Mrs. Ramshorn, and
the cousins followed--making, in the judgment of the butler as he
stood in the hall, and the housekeeper as she peeped from the
baise-covered door that led to the still-room, as handsome a couple
as mortal eyes need wish to see. They looked nearly of an age, the
lady the more stately, the gentleman the more graceful, or, perhaps
rather, ELEGANT, of the two.



During dinner, Bascombe had the talk mostly to himself, and rattled
well, occasionally rebuked by his aunt for some remark which might
to a clergyman appear objectionable; nor as a partisan was she
altogether satisfied with the curate that he did not seem inclined
to take clerical exception. He ate his dinner, quietly responding to
Bascombe's sallies--which had usually more of vivacity than
keenness, more of good spirits than wit--with a curious flickering
smile, or a single word of agreement. It might have seemed that he
was humouring a younger man, but the truth was, the curate had not
yet seen cause for opposing him.

How any friend could have come to send Helen poetry I cannot
imagine, but that very morning she had received by post a small
volume of verse, which, although just out, and by an unknown author,
had already been talked of in what are called literary circles.
Wingfold had read some extracts from the book that same morning, and
was therefore not quite unprepared when Helen asked him if he had
seen it. He suggested that the poems, if the few lines he had seen
made a fair sample, were rather of the wailful order.

"If there is one thing I despise more than another," said Bascombe,
"it is to hear a man, a fellow with legs and arms, pour out his
griefs into the bosom of that most discreet of confidantes, Society,
bewailing his hard fate, and calling upon youths and maidens to fill
their watering-pots with tears, and with him water the sorrowful
pansies and undying rue of the race. I believe I am quoting."

"I think you must be, George," said Helen. "I never knew you venture
so near the edge of poetry before."

"Ah, that is all you know of me, Miss Lingard!" returned Bascombe.
"--And then," he resumed, turning again to Wingfold, "what is it
they complain of? That some girls preferred a better man perhaps, or
that a penny paper once told the truth of their poetry."

"Or it may be only that it is their humour to be sad," said
Wingfold. "But don't you think," he continued, "it is hardly worth
while to be indignant with them? Their verses are a relief to them,
and do nobody any harm."

"They do all the boys and girls harm that read them, and themselves
who write them more harm than anybody, confirming them in tearful
habits, and teaching eyes unused to weep. I quote again, I believe,
but from whom I am innocent. If I ever had a grief, I should have
along with it the decency to keep it to myself."

"I don't doubt you would, George," said his cousin, who seemed more
playfully inclined than usual. "But," she added, with a smile,
"would your silence be voluntary, or enforced?"

"What!" returned Bascombe, "you think I could not plain my woes to
the moon? Why not I as well as another? I could roar you as 'twere
any nightingale."

"You have had your sorrows, then, George?"

"Never anything worse yet than a tailor's bill, Helen, and I hope
you won't provide me with any. I am not in love with decay. I
remember a fellow at Trinity, the merriest of all our set at a
wine-party, who, alone with his ink-pot, was for ever enacting the
part of the unheeded poet, complaining of the hard hearts and
tuneless ears of his generation. I went into his room once, and
found him with the tears running down his face, a pot of stout half
empty on the table, and his den all but opaque with tobacco-smoke,
reciting, with sobs--I had repeated the lines so often before they
ceased to amuse me, that I can never forget them--

'Heard'st thou a quiver and clang?
In thy sleep did it make thee start?
'Twas a chord in twain that sprang--
But the lyre-shell was my heart.'

He took a pull at the stout, laid his head on the table, and sobbed
like a locomotive."

"But it's not very bad--not bad at all, so far as I see," said
Helen, who had a woman's weakness for the side attacked, in addition
to a human partiality for fair play.

"No, not bad at all--for absolute nonsense," said Bascombe.

"He had been reading Heine," said Wingfold.

"And burlesquing him," returned Bascombe. "Fancy hearing one of the
fellow's heart-strings crack, and taking it for a string of his
fiddle in the press! By the way, what are the heart-strings? Have
they any anatomical synonym? But I have no doubt it was good

"Do you think poetry and common sense necessarily opposed to each
other?" asked Wingfold.

"I confess a leaning to that opinion," replied Bascombe, with a
half-conscious smile.

"What do you say of Horace, now?" suggested Wingfold.

"Unfortunately for me, you have mentioned the one poet for whom I
have any respect. But what I like in him is just his common sense.
He never cries over spilt milk, even if the jug be broken to the
bargain. But common sense would be just as good in prose as in

"Possibly; but what we have of it in Horace would never have reached
us but for the forms into which he has cast it. How much more
enticing acorns in the cup are! I was watching two children picking
them up to-day."

"That may be; there have always been more children than grown men,"
returned Bascombe. "For my part, I would sweep away all illusions,
and get at the heart of the affair."

"But," said Wingfold, with the look of one who, as he tries to say
it, is seeing a thing for the first time, "does not the acorn-cup
belong to the acorn? May not some of what you call illusions, be the
finer, or at least more ethereal qualities of the thing itself? You
do not object to music in church, for instance?"

Bascombe was on the point of saying he objected to it nowhere except
in church, but for his aunt's sake, or rather for his own sake in
his aunt's eyes, he restrained himself, and uttered his feelings
only in a peculiar smile, of import so mingled, that its meaning was
illegible ere it had quivered along his lip and vanished.

"I am no metaphysician," he said, and Wingfold accepted the
dismissal of the subject.

Little passed between the two men over their wine; and as neither of
them cared to drink more than a couple of glasses, they soon
rejoined the ladies in the drawing-room.

Mrs. Ramshorn was taking her usual forty winks in her arm-chair, and
their entrance did not disturb her. Helen was turning over some

"I am looking for a song for you, George," she said. "I want Mr.
Wingfold to hear you sing, lest he should take you for a man of
stone and lime."

"Never mind looking," returned her cousin. "I will sing one you have
never heard."

And seating himself at the piano, he sang the following verses. They
were his own, a fact he would probably have allowed to creep out,
had they met with more sympathy. His voice was a full bass one, full
of tone.

"Each man has his lampful, his lampful of oil;
He may dull its glimmer with sorrow and toil;
He may leave it unlit, and let it dry,
Or wave it aloft, and hold it high:
For mine, it shall burn with a fearless flame
In the front of the darkness that has no name.

"Sunshine and Wind?--are ye there? Ho! ho!
Are ye comrades or lords, as ye shine and blow?
I care not, I! I will lift my head
Till ye shine and blow on my grassy bed.
See, brother Sun, I am shining too!
Wind, I am living as well as you!

"Though the sun go out like a vagrant spark,
And his daughter planets are left in the dark,
I care not, I! For why should I care?
I shall be hurtless, nor here nor there.
Sun and Wind, let us shine and shout,
For the day draws nigh when we all go out!"

"I don't like the song," said Helen, wrinkling her brows a little.
"It sounds--well, heathenish."

She would, I fear, have said nothing of the sort, being used to that
kind of sound from her cousin, had not a clergyman been present. Yet
she said it from no hypocrisy, but simple regard to his professional

"I sung it for Mr. Wingfold," returned Bascombe. "It would have been
a song after Horace's own heart."

"Don't you think," rejoined the curate, "the defiant tone of your
song would have been strange to him? I confess that what I find
chiefly attractive in Horace is his sad submission to the

"Sad?" echoed Bascombe.

"Don't you think so?"

"No. He makes the best of it, and as merrily as he can."

"AS HE CAN, I grant you," said Wingfold.

Here Mrs. Ramshorn woke, and the subject was dropped, leaving Mr.
Wingfold in some perplexity as to this young man and his talk, and
what the phenomenon signified. Was heathenism after all secretly
cherished, and about to become fashionable in English society? He
saw little of its phases, and for what he knew it might be so.

Helen sat down to the piano. Her time was perfect, and she never
blundered a note. She played well and woodenly, and had for her
reward a certain wooden satisfaction in her own performance. The
music she chose was good of its kind, but had more to do with the
instrument than the feelings, and was more dependent upon execution
than expression. Bascombe yawned behind his handkerchief, and
Wingfold gazed at the profile of the player, wondering how, with
such fine features and complexion, with such a fine-shaped and
well-set head? her face should be so far short of interesting. It
seemed a face that had no story.



It was time the curate should take his leave. Bascombe would go out
with him and have his last cigar. The wind had fallen, and the moon
was shining. A vague sense of contrast came over Wingfold, and as he
stepped on the pavement from the threshold of the high gates of
wrought iron, he turned involuntarily and looked back at the house.
It was of red brick, and flat-faced in the style of Queen Anne's
time, so that the light could do nothing with it in the way of
shadow, and dwelt only on the dignity of its unpretentiousness. But
aloft over its ridge the moon floated in the softest, loveliest
blue, with just a cloud here and there to show how blue it was, and
a sparkle where its blueness took fire in a star. It was autumn,
almost winter, below, and the creepers that clung to the house waved
in the now gentle wind like the straggling tresses of old age; but
above was a sky that might have overhung the last melting of spring
into summer. At the end of the street rose the great square tower of
the church, seeming larger than in the daylight. There was something
in it all that made the curate feel there ought to be more--as if
the night knew something he did not; and he yielded himself to its

His companion having carefully lighted his cigar all round its
extreme periphery, took it from his mouth, regarded its glowing end
with a smile of satisfaction, and burst into a laugh. It was not a
scornful laugh, neither was it a merry or a humorous laugh; it was
one of satisfaction and amusement.

"Let me have a share in the fun," said the curate.

"You have it," said his companion--rudely, indeed, but not quite
offensively, and put his cigar in his mouth again.

Wingfold was not one to take umbrage easily. He was not important
enough in his own eyes for that, but he did not choose to go

"That's a fine old church," he said, pointing to the dark mass
invading the blue--so solid, yet so clear in outline.

"I am glad the mason-work is to your mind," returned Bascombe,
almost compassionately. "It must be some satisfaction, perhaps
consolation to you."

Before he had thus concluded the sentence a little scorn had crept
into his tone.

"You make some allusion which I do not quite apprehend," said the

"Now, I am going to be honest with you," said Bascombe abruptly, and
stopping, he turned towards his companion, and took the
full-flavoured Havannah from his lips. "I like you," he went on,
"for you seem reasonable; and besides, a man ought to speak out what
he thinks. So here goes!--Tell me honestly--do you believe one word
of all that!"

And he in his turn pointed in the direction of the great tower.

The curate was taken by surprise and made no answer: it was as if he
had received a sudden blow in the face. Recovering himself
presently, however, he sought room to pass the question without
direct encounter.

"How came the thing there?" he said, once more indicating the

"By faith, no doubt," answered Bascombe, laughing,--"but not your
faith; no, nor the faith of any of the last few generations."

"There are more churches built now, ten times over, than in any
former period of our history."

"True; but of what sort? All imitation--never an original amongst
them all!"

"If they had found out the right way, why change it?"

"Good! But it is rather ominous for the claim of a divine origin to
your religion that it should be the only one thing that in these
days takes the crab's move--backwards. You are indebted to your
forefathers for your would-be belief, as well as for their genuine
churches. You hardly know what your belief is. There is my aunt--as
good a specimen as I know of what you call a Christian!--so
accustomed is she to think and speak too after the forms of what you
heard my cousin call heathenism, that she would never have
discovered, had she been as wide awake as she was sound asleep, that
the song I sung was anything but a good Christian ballad."

"Pardon me; I think you are wrong there."

"What! did you never remark how these Christian people, who profess
to believe that their great man has conquered death, and all that
rubbish--did you never observe the way they look if the least
allusion is made to death, or the eternity they say they expect
beyond it? Do they not stare as if you had committed a breach of
manners? Religion itself is the same way: as much as you like about
the church, but don't mention Christ! At the same time, to do them
justice, it is only of death in the abstract they decline to hear;
they will listen to the news of the death of a great and good man,
without any such emotion. Look at the poetry of death--I mean the
way Christian poets write of it! A dreamless sleep they call it--the
bourne from whence, knows no waking. 'She is gone for ever!' cries
the mother over her daughter. And that is why such things are not to
be mentioned, because in their hearts they have no hope, and in
their minds no courage to face the facts of existence. We haven't
the pluck of the old fellows, who, that they might look death
himself in the face without dismay, accustomed themselves, even at
their banquets, to the sight of his most loathsome handiwork, his
most significant symbol--and enjoyed their wine the better for
it!--your friend Horace, for instance."

"But your aunt now would never consent to such an interpretation of
her opinions. Nor do I allow that it is fair."

"My dear sir, if there is one thing I pride myself upon, it is fair
play, and I grant you at once she would not. But I am speaking, not
of creeds, but of beliefs. And I assert that the forms of common
Christian speech regarding death come nearer those of Horace than
your saint, the old Jew, Saul of Tarsus."

It did not occur to Wingfold that people generally speak from the
surfaces, not the depths of their minds, even when those depths are
moved; nor yet that possibly Mrs. Ramshorn was not the best type of
a Christian, even in his soft-walking congregation! In fact, nothing
came into his mind with which to meet what Bascombe said--the real
force whereof he could not help feeling--and he answered nothing.
His companion followed his apparent yielding with fresh pressure.

"In truth," he said, "I do not believe that YOU believe more than an
atom here and there of what you profess. I am confident you have
more good sense by a great deal."

"I am sorry to find that you place good sense above good faith, Mr.
Bascombe; but I am obliged by your good opinion, which, as I read
it, amounts to this--that I am one of the greatest humbugs you have
the misfortune to be acquainted with."

"Ha! ha! ha!--No, no; I don't say that. I know so well how to make
allowance for the prejudices a man has inherited from foolish
ancestors, and which have been instilled into him, as well, with his
earliest nourishment, both bodily and mental. But--come now--I do
love open dealing--I am myself open as the day--did you not take to
the church as a profession, in which you might eat a piece of
bread--as somebody says in your own blessed Bible--dry enough bread
it may be, for the old lady is not over-generous to her younger
children--still a gentlemanly sort of livelihood?"

Wingfold held his peace. It was incontestably with such a view that
he had signed the articles and sought holy orders--and that without
a single question as to truth or reality in either act.

"Your silence is honesty, Mr. Wingfold, and I honour you for it,"
said Bascombe. "It is an easy thing for a man in another profession
to speak his mind, but silence such as yours, casting a shadow
backward over your past, require courage: I honour you, sir."

As he spoke, he laid his hand on Wingfold's shoulder with the grasp
of an athlete.

"Can the sherry have anything to do with it?" thought the curate.
The fellow was, or seemed to be, years younger than himself! It was
an assurance unimaginable--yet there it stood--six feet of it good!
He glanced at the church tower. It had not vanished in mist! It
still made its own strong, clear mark on the eternal blue!

"I must not allow you to mistake my silence, Mr. Bascombe," he
answered the same moment. "It is not easy to reply to such demands
all at once. It is not easy to say in times like these, and at a
moment's notice, what or how much a man believes. But whatever my
answer might be had I time to consider it, my silence must at least
not be interpreted to mean that I do NOT believe as my profession
indicates. That, at all events, would be untrue."

"Then I am to understand, Mr. Wingfold, that you neither believe nor
disbelieve the tenets of the church whose bread you eat?" said
Bascombe, with the air of a reprover of sin.

"I decline to place myself between the horns of any such dilemma,"
returned Wingfold, who was now more than a little annoyed at his
persistency in forcing his way within the precincts of another's

"It is but one more proof--more than was necessary--to convince me
that the old system is a lie--a lie of the worst sort, seeing it may
prevail even to the self-deception of a man otherwise remarkable for
honesty and directness. Good night, Mr. Wingfold."

With lifted hats, but no hand-shaking, the men parted.



Bascombe was chagrined to find that the persuasive eloquence with
which he hoped soon to play upon the convictions of jurymen at his
own sweet will, had not begotten even communicativenes, not to say
confidence, in the mind of a parson who knew himself fooled,--and
partly that it gave him cause to doubt how far it might be safe to
urge his attack in another and to him more important quarter. He had
a passion for convincing people, this Hercules of the new world. He
sauntered slowly back to his aunt's, husbanding his cigar a little,
and looking up at the moon now and then,--not to admire the marvel
of her shining, but to think yet again what a fit type of an effete
superstition she was, in that she retained her power of fascination
even in death.

Wingfold walked slowly away, with his eyes on the ground gliding
from under his footsteps. It was only eleven o'clock, but this the
oldest part of the town seemed already asleep. They had not met a
single person on their way, and hardly seen a lighted window. But he
felt unwilling to go home, which at first he was fain to attribute
to his having drunk a little more wine than was good for him, whence
this feverishness and restlessness so strange to his experience. In
the churchyard, on the other side of which his lodging lay, he
turned aside from the flagged path and sat down upon a gravestone,
where he was hardly seated ere he began to discover that it was
something else than the wine which had made him feel so
uncomfortable. What an objectionable young fellow that Bascombe was!
--presuming and arrogant to a degree rare, he hoped, even in a
profession for which insolence was a qualification. What rendered it
worse was that his good nature--and indeed every one of his gifts,
which were all of the popular order--was subservient to an
assumption not only self-satisfied but obtrusive!--And yet--and
yet--the objectionable character of his self-constituted judge being
clear as the moon to the mind of the curate, was there not something
in what he had said? This much remained undeniable at least, that
when the very existence of the church was denounced as a humbug in
the hearing of one who ate her bread, and was her pledged servant,
his very honesty had kept that man from speaking a word in her
behalf! Something must be wrong somewhere: was it in him or in the
church? In him assuredly, whether in her or not. For had he not been
unable to utter the simple assertion that he did believe the things
which, as the mouthpiece of the church, he had been speaking in the
name of the truth every Sunday--would again speak the day after
to-morrow? And now the point was--WHY could he not say he believed
them? He had never consciously questioned them; he did not question
them now; and yet, when a forward, overbearing young infidel of a
lawyer put it to him--plump--as if he were in the witness-box, or
rather indeed in the dock--did he believe a word of what the church
had set him to teach?--a strange something--was it honesty?--if so,
how dishonest had he not hitherto been?--was it diffidence?--if so,
how presumptuous his position in that church!--this nondescript
something seemed to raise a "viewless obstruction" in his throat,
and, having thus rendered him the first moment incapable of speaking
out like a man, had taught him the next--had it?--to quibble--"like
a priest" the lawyer-fellow would doubtless have said! He must go
home and study Paley--or perhaps Butler's Analogy--he owed the
church something, and ought to be able to strike a blow for her. Or
would not Leighton be better? Or a more modern writer--say Neander,
or Coleridge, or perhaps Dr. Liddon? There were thousands able to
fit him out for the silencing of such foolish men as this Bascombe
of the shirt-front!

Wingfold found himself filled with contempt, but the next moment
was not sure whether this Bascombe or one Wingfold were the more
legitimate object of it. One thing was undeniable--his friends HAD
put him into the priest's office, and he had yielded to go, that he
might eat a piece of bread. He had no love for it except by fits,
when the beauty of an anthem, or the composition of a collect, awoke
in him a faint consenting admiration, or a weak, responsive
sympathy. Did he not, indeed, sometimes despise himself, and that
pretty heartily, for earning his bread by work which any pious old
woman could do better than he? True, he attended to his duties; not
merely "did church," but his endeavour also that all things should
be done decently and in order. All the same it remained a fact that
if Barrister Bascombe were to stand up and assert in full
congregation--as no doubt he was perfectly prepared to do--that
there was no God anywhere in the universe, the Rev. Thomas Wingfold
could not, on the church's part, prove to anybody that there
was;--dared not, indeed, so certain would he be of discomfiture,
advance a single argument on his side of the question. Was it even
HIS side of the question? Could he say he believed there was a God?
Or was not this all he knew--that there was a church of England,
which paid him for reading public prayers to a God in whom the
congregation--and himself--were supposed by some to believe, by
others, Bascombe, for instance, not?

These reflections were not pleasant, especially with Sunday so near.
For what if there were hundreds, yes, thousands of books,
triumphantly settling every question which an over-seething and
ill-instructed brain might by any chance suggest,--what could it
boot?--how was a poor finite mortal, with much the ordinary faculty
and capacity, and but a very small stock already stored, to set
about reading, studying, understanding, mastering, appropriating the
contents of those thousands of volumes necessary to the arming of
him who, without pretending himself the mighty champion to seek the
dragon in his den, might yet hope not to let the loathly worm
swallow him, armour and all, at one gulp in the highway? Add to this
that--thought of all most dismayful!--he had himself to convince
first, the worst dragon of all to kill, for bare honesty's sake, in
his own field; while, all the time he was arming and fighting--like
the waves of the flowing tide in a sou'-wester, Sunday came in upon
Sunday, roaring on his flat, defenceless shore, Sunday behind Sunday
rose towering, in awful perspective, away to the verge of an
infinite horizon--Sunday after Sunday of dishonesty and sham--yes,
hypocrisy, far worse than any idolatry. To begin now, and in such
circumstances, to study the evidences of Christianity, were about as
reasonable as to send a man, whose children were crying for their
dinner, off to China to make his fortune!

He laughed the idea to scorn, discovered that a gravestone in a
November midnight was a cold chair for study, rose, stretched
himself disconsolately, almost despairingly, looked long at the
persistent solidity of the dark church and the waving line of its
age-slackened ridge, which, like a mountain-range, shot up suddenly
in the tower and ceased--then turning away left the houses of the
dead crowded all about the house of the resurrection. At the farther
gate he turned yet again, and gazed another moment on the tower.
Towards the sky it towered, and led his gaze upward. There still
soared, yet rested, the same quiet night with its delicate heaps of
transparent blue, its cool-glowing moon, its steely stars, and its
something he did not understand. He went home a little quieter of
heart, as if he had heard from afar something sweet and strange.



George Bascombe was a peculiar development of the present century,
almost of the present generation. In the last century, beyond a
doubt, the description of such a man would have been incredible. I
do not mean that he was the worse or the better for that. There are
types both of good and of evil which to the past would have been
incredible because unintelligible.

It is very hard sometimes for a tolerably honest man, as we have
just seen in the case of Wingfold, to say what he believes, and it
ought to be yet harder to say what another man does not believe;
therefore I shall presume no farther concerning Bascombe in this
respect than to say that the thing he SEEMED most to believe was
that he had a mission to destroy the beliefs of everybody else.
Whence he derived this mission he would not have thought a
reasonable question--would have answered that, if any man knew any
truth unknown to another, understood any truth better, or could
present it more clearly than another, the truth itself was his
commission of apostleship. And his stand was indubitably a firm one.
Only there was the question--whether his presumed commission was
verily truth or no. It must be allowed that a good deal turns upon

According to the judgment of some men who thought they knew him,
Bascombe was as yet--I will not say incapable of distinguishing,
but careless of the distinction between--not a fact and a law,
perhaps, but a law and a truth. They said also that he inveighed
against the beliefs of other people, without having ever seen more
than a distorted shadow of those beliefs--some of them he was not
capable of seeing, they said--only capable of denying. Now while he
would have been perfectly justified, they said, in asserting that he
saw no truth in the things he denied, was he justifiable in
concluding that his not seeing a thing was a proof of its
non-existence--anything more, in fact, than a presumption against
its existence? or in denouncing every man who said he believed this
or that which Bascombe did not believe, as either a knave or a fool,
if not both in one? He would, they said, judge anybody--a
Shakespeare, a Bacon, a Milton--without a moment's hesitation or a
quiver of reverence--judge men who, beside him, were as the living
ocean to a rose-diamond. If he was armed in honesty, the rivets were
of self-satisfaction. The suit, they allowed, was adamantine,

That region of a man's nature which has to do with the unknown was
in Bascombe shut off by a wall without chink or cranny; he was
unaware of its existence. He had come out of the darkness, and was
going back into the darkness; all that lay between, plain and clear,
he had to do with--nothing more. He could not present to himself the
idea of a man who found it impossible to live without some dealings
with the supernal. To him a man's imagination was of no higher
calling than to amuse him with its vagaries. He did not know,
apparently, that Imagination had been the guide to all the physical
discoveries which he worshipped, therefore could not reason that
perhaps she might be able to carry a glimmering light even into the
forest of the supersensible.

How far he was original in the views he propounded, will, to those
who understand the times of which I write, be plain enough. The
lively reception of another man's doctrine, especially if it comes
over water or across a few ages of semi-oblivion, and has to be
gathered with occasional help from a dictionary, raises many a man,
in his own esteem, to the same rank with its first propounder; after
which he will propound it so heartily himself as to forget the
difference, and love it as his own child.

It may seem strange that the son of a clergyman should take such a
part in the world's affairs, but one who observes will discover
that, at college at least, the behaviour of sons of clergymen
resembles in general as little as that of any, and less than that of
most, the behaviour enjoined by the doctrines their fathers have to
teach. The cause of this is matter of consideration for those
fathers. In Bascombe's case, it must be mentioned also that, instead
of taking freedom from prejudice as a portion of the natural
accomplishment of a gentleman, he prided himself upon it, and
THEREFORE would often go dead against the things presumed to be held
by THE CLOTH, long before he had begun to take his position as an

Lest I should, however, tire my reader with the delineations of a
character not of the most interesting, I shall, for the present,
only add that Bascombe had persuaded himself, and without much
difficulty, that he was one of the prophets of a new order of
things. At Cambridge he had been so regarded by a few who had lauded
him as a mighty foe to humbug--and in some true measure he deserved
the praise. Since then he had found a larger circle, and had even
radiated of his light, such, as it was, from the centres of London
editorial offices. But all I have to do with now is the fact that he
had grown desirous to add his cousin, Helen Lingard, to the number
of those who believed in him, and over whom, therefore, he exercised
a prophet's influence.

No doubt it added much to the attractiveness of the intellectual
game that the hunt was on the home grounds of such a proprietress as
Helen--a handsome, a gifted, and, above all, a ladylike young woman.
To do Bascombe justice, the fact that she was an heiress also had
very little weight in the matter. If he had ever had any thought of
marrying her, that thought was not consciously present to him when
first he became aware of his wish to convert her to his views of
life. But, although he was not in love with her, he admired her, and
believed he saw in her one that resembled himself.

As to Helen, although she was no more conscious of cause of
self-dissatisfaction than her cousin, she was not therefore
positively self-satisfied like him. For that her mind was not active

If it seem, as it may, to some of my readers, difficult to believe
that she should have come to her years without encountering any
questions, giving life to any aspirations, or even forming any
opinions that could rightly be called her own, I would remind them
that she had always had good health, and that her intellectual
faculties had been kept in full and healthy exercise, nor had once
afforded the suspicion of a tendency towards artistic utterance in
any direction. She was no mere dabbler in anything: in music, for
instance, she had studied thorough bass, and studied it well; yet
her playing was such as I have already described it. She understood
perspective, and could copy an etching, in pen and ink, to a
hair's-breadth, yet her drawing was hard and mechanical. She was
pretty much at home in Euclid, and thoroughly enjoyed a geometric
relation, but had never yet shown her English master the slightest
pleasure in an analogy, or the smallest sympathy with any poetry
higher than such as very properly delights schoolboys. Ten thousand
things she knew without wondering at one of them. Any attempt to
rouse her admiration, she invariably received with quiet
intelligence but no response. Yet her drawing-master was convinced
there lay a large soul asleep somewhere below the calm grey morning
of that wide-awake yet reposeful intelligence.

As far as she knew--only she had never thought anything about
it--she was in harmony with creation animate and inanimate, and for
what might or might not be above creation, or at the back, or the
heart, or the mere root of it, how could she think about a something
the idea of which had never yet been presented to her by love or
philosophy, or even curiosity? As for any influence from the public
offices of religion, a contented soul may glide through them all for
a long life, unstruck to the last, buoyant and evasive as a bee
amongst hailstones. And now her cousin, unsolicited, was about to
assume, if she should permit him, the unspiritual direction of her
being, so that she need never be troubled from the quarter of the

Mrs. Ramshorn's house had formerly been the manor-house, and,
although it now stood in an old street, with only a few yards of
ground between it and the road, it had a large and ancient garden
behind it. A large garden of any sort is valuable, but an ancient
garden is invaluable, and this one had retained a very antique
loveliness. The quaint memorials of its history lived on into the
new, changed, unsympathetic time, and stood there, aged, modest, and
unabashed. Yet not one of the family had ever cared for it on the
ground of its old-fashionedness; its preservation was owing merely
to the fact that their gardener was blessed with a wholesome
stupidity rendering him incapable of unlearning what his father, who
had been gardener there before him, had had marvellous difficulty in
teaching him. We do not half appreciate the benefits to the race
that spring from honest dulness. The CLEVER people are the ruin of

Into this garden, Bascombe walked the next morning, after breakfast,
and Helen, who, next to the smell of a fir-wood fire, honestly liked
the odour of a good cigar, spying him from her balcony, which was
the roof of the veranda, where she was trimming the few remaining
chrysanthemums that stood outside the window of her room, ran down
the little wooden stair that led from it to the garden, and joined
him. Nothing could just at present have been more to his mind.



"Take a cigar, Helen?" said George.

"No, thank you," answered Helen; "I like it diluted."

"I don't see why ladies should not have things strong as men."

"Not if they don't want them. You can't enjoy everything--I mean,
one can't have the strong and the delicate both at once. I don't
believe a smoker can have the same pleasure in smelling a rose that
I have."

"Isn't it a pity we never can compare sensations?"

"I don't think it matters much: everyone would have to keep to his
own after all."

"That's good, Helen! If ever man try to humbug you, he will find he
has lost his stirrups. If only there were enough like you left in
this miserable old hulk of a creation!"

It was an odd thing that when in the humour of finding fault,
Bascombe would not unfrequently speak of the cosmos as a creation.
He was himself unaware of the curious fact.

"You seem to have a standing quarrel with the creation, George! Yet
one might think you had as little ground as most people to complain
of your portion in it," said Helen.

"Well, you know, I don't complain for myself. I don't pretend to
think I am specially ill-used. But I am not everybody. And then
there's such a lot of born-fools in it!"

"If they are born-fools they can't help it."

"That may be; only it makes it none the pleasanter for other people;
but, unfortunately, they are not the only or the worst sort of
fools. For one born-fool there are a thousand wilful ones. For one
man that will honestly face an honest argument, there are ten
thousand that will dishonestly shirk it. There's that curate-fellow
now--Wingfold I think aunt called him--look at him now!"

"I can't see much in him to rouse indignation," said Helen. "He
seems a very inoffensive man."

"I don't call it inoffensive when a man sells himself to the keeping
up of a system that----"

Here Bascombe checked himself, remembering that a sudden attack upon
what was, at least, the more was the pity, a time-honoured system,
might rouse a woman's prejudices; and as Helen had already listened
to a large amount of undermining remark without perceiving the
direction of his tunnels, he resolved, before venturing an open
assault, to make sure that those prejudices stood, lightly borne,
over an abyss of seething objection. He had had his experiences as
the prophet-pioneer of glad tidings to the nations, and had before
now, although such weakness he could not anticipate in Helen, seen
one whom he considered a most promising pupil, turned suddenly away
in a storm of terror and disgust.

"What a folly is it now," he instantly resumed, leaving the general
and attacking a particular, "to think to make people good by
promises and threats--promises of a heaven that would bore the
dullest among them to death, and threats of a hell the very idea of
which, if only half conceived, would be enough to paralyse every
nerve of healthy action in the human system!"

"All nations have believed in a future state, either of reward or
punishment," objected Helen.

"Mere Brocken-spectres of their own approbation or disapprobation of
themselves. And whither has it brought the race?"

"What then would you substitute for it, George?"

"Why substitute anything? Ought not men be good to one another
because they are made up of ones and others? Do you or I need
threats and promises to make us kind? And what right have we to
judge others worse than ourselves? Mutual compassion," he went on,
blowing out a mouthful of smoke and then swelling his big chest with
a huge lungsful of air, "might be sufficient to teach poor
ephemerals kindness and consideration enough to last their time."

"But how would you bring such reflections to bear?" asked Helen,

"I would reason thus: You must consider that you are but a part of
the whole, and that whatever you do to hurt the whole, or injure any
of its parts, will return upon you who form one of those parts."

"How would that influence the man whose favourite amusement is to
beat his wife!"

"Not at all, I grant you. But that man is what he is from being born
and bred under a false and brutal system. Having deluged his
delicate brain with the poisonous fumes of adulterated liquor, and
so roused all the terrors of a phantom-haunted imagination, he sees
hostile powers above watching for his fall, and fiery ruin beneath
gaping to receive him, and in pure despair acts like the madman the
priests and the publicans have made him. Helen," continued Bascombe
with solemnity, regarding her fixedly, "to deliver the race from the
horrors of such falsehoods, which by no means operate only on the
vulgar and brutal, for to how many of the most refined and delicate of
human beings are not their lives rendered bitter by the evil suggestions
of lying systems--I care not what they are called--philosophy,
religion, society, I care not?--to deliver men, I say, from such
ghouls of the human brain, were indeed to have lived! and in the
consciousness of having spent his life in the slaying of such dragons,
a man may well go from the nameless past into the nameless future
rejoicing, careless even if his poor length of days be shortened by
his labours to leave blessing behind him, and, full of courage even
in the moment of final dissolution, cast her mockery back into the
face of mocking Life, and die her enemy, and the friend of Death!"

George's language was a little confused. Perhaps he mingled his
ideas a little for Helen's sake--or rather for obscurity's sake.
Anyhow, the mournful touch in it was not his own, but taken from the
poems of certain persons whose opinions resembled his, but floated
on the surface of mighty and sad hearts. Tall, stately, comfortable
Helen walked composedly by his side, softly shared his cigar, and
thought what a splendid pleader he would make. Perhaps to her it
sounded rather finer than it was, for its tone of unselfishness, the
aroma of self-devotion that floated about it, pleased and attracted
her. Was not here a youth in the prime of being and the dawn of
success, handsome, and smoking the oldest of Havannahs, who, so far
from being enamoured of his own existence, was anxious and careful
about that of less favoured mortals, for whose welfare indeed he was
willing to sacrifice his life?--nothing less could be what he meant.
And how fine he looked as he said it, with his head erect, and his
nostrils quivering like those of a horse! For his honesty, that was

Perhaps, had she been capable of looking into it, the self-evident
honesty might have resolved itself into this--that he thoroughly
believed in himself; that he meant what he said; and that he offered
her nothing he did not prize and cleave to as his own.

To one who had read Darwin, and had chanced to see them as they
walked in their steady, stately young life among the ancient cedars
and clipped yews of the garden, with the rags and tatters of the
ruined summer hanging over and around them, they must have looked as
fine an instance of natural selection as the world had to show. And
now in truth for the first time, with any shadow of purpose, that
is, did the thought of Helen as a wife occur to Bascombe. She
listened so well, was so ready to take what he presented to her, was
evidently so willing to become a pupil, that he began to say to
himself that here was the very woman made--no, not made, that
implied a maker--but for him, without the MADE; that is, if ever he
should bring himself by marriage to limit the freedom to which man,
the crown of the world, the blossom of nature, the cauliflower of
the spine, was predestined or doomed, without will in himself or
beyond himself, from an eternity of unthinking matter, ever
producing what was better than itself in the prolific darkness of



At the bottom of Mrs. Ramshorn's garden was a deep sunk fence, which
allowed a large meadow, a fragment of what had once been the
manor-park, to belong, so far as the eye was concerned, to the
garden. Nor was this all, for in the sunk fence was a door with a
little tunnel, by which they could pass at once from the garden to
the meadow. So, the day being wonderfully fine, Bascombe proposed to
his cousin a walk in the park, the close-paling of which, with a
small door in it, whereto Mrs. Ramshorn had the privilege of a key,
was visible on the other side of the meadow. The two keys had but to
be fetched from the house, and in a few minutes they were in the
park. The turf was dry, the air was still, and although the woods
were very silent, and looked mournfully bare, the grass drew nearer
to the roots of the trees, and the sunshine filled them with streaks
of gold, blending lovelily with the bright green of the moss that
patched the older stems. Neither horses nor dogs say to themselves,
I suppose, that the sunshine makes them glad, yet both are happier,
after the rules of equine and canine existence, on a bright day:
neither Helen nor George could have understood a poem of Keats--not
to say Wordsworth--(I do not mean they would not have fancied they
did)--and yet the soul of nature that dwelt in these common shows
did not altogether fail of influence upon them.

"I wonder what the birds do with themselves all the winter," said

"Eat berries, and make the best of it," answered George.

"I mean what becomes of them all. We see so few of them."

"About as many as you see in summer. Because you hear them you fancy
you see them."

"But there is so little to hide them in winter."

"Little is wanted to hide our dusky creatures."

"They must have a hard time of it in frost and snow."

"Oh! I don't know," returned George. "They enjoy life on the whole,
I believe. It ain't such a very bad sort of a world as some people
would have it. Nature is cruel enough in some of her arrangements,
it can't be denied. She don't scruple to carry out her plans. It is
nothing to her that for the life of one great monster of a
high-priest, millions upon millions of submissive little fishes
should be sacrificed; and then if anybody come within the teeth of
her machinery, don't she mangle him finely--with her fevers and her
agues and her convulsions and consumptions and what not? But still,
barring her own necessities, and the consequences of man's ignorance
and foolhardiness, she is on the whole rather a good-natured old
woman, and scatters a deal of tolerably fair enjoyment around her."

"One WOULD think the birds must be happy in summer, at least, to
hear them sing," corroborated Helen.

"Yes, or to see them stripping a hawthorn bush in winter--always
provided the cat or the hawk don't get hold of them. With that
nature does not trouble herself. Well, it's soon over--with all of
us, and that's a comfort. If men would only get rid of their cats
and hawks,--such as the fancy for instance, that all their
suffering comes of the will of a malignant power! That is the kind
of thing that makes the misery of the world!"

"I don't quite see----" began Helen.

"We were talking about the birds in winter," interrupted George,
careful not to swell too suddenly any of the air-bags with which he
would float Helen's belief. He knew wisely, and he knew how, to
leave a hint to work while it was yet not half understood. By the
time it was understood, it would have grown a little familiar: the
supposed pup when it turned out a cub, would not be so terrible as
if it had presented itself at once as leonate.

And so they wandered across the park, talking easily.

"They've got on a good way since I was here last," said George, as
they came in sight of the new house the new earl was building. "But
they don't seem much in a hurry with it either."

"Aunt says it is twenty years since the foundations were laid by the
uncle of the present earl," said Helen; "and then for some reason or
other the thing was dropped."

"Was there no house on the place before?"

"Oh! yes--not much of a house, though."

"And they pulled it down, I suppose."

"No; it stands there still."


"Down in the hollow there--over those trees--about the worst place
they could have built in. Surely you have seen it! Poldie and I used
to run all over it."

"No, I never saw it. Was it empty then?"

"Yes, or almost. I can remember some little attention paid to the
garden, but none to the house. It is just falling slowly to pieces.
Would you like to see it?"

"That I should," returned Bascombe, who was always ready for any new
impression on his sensorium, and away they went to look at the old
house of Glaston as it was called, after some greatly older and
probably fortified place.

In the hollow all the water of the park gathered to a lake before
finding its way to the river Lythe. This lake was at the bottom of
the old garden, and the house at the top of it. The garden was
walled on the two sides, and the walls ran right down to the lake.
There were wonderful legends current amongst the children of Glaston
concerning that lake, its depth, and the creatures in it; and one
terrible story, which had been made a ballad of, about a lady
drowned in a sack, whose ghost might still be seen when the moon was
old, haunting the gardens and the house. Hence it came that none of
them went near it, except those few whose appetites for adventure
now and then grew keen enough to prevent their imaginations from
rousing more fear than supplied the proper relish of danger. The
house itself even those few never dared to enter.

Not so had it been with Helen and Leopold. The latter had
imagination enough to receive everything offered, but Helen was the
leader, and she had next to none. In her childhood she had heard the
tales alluded to from her nurses, but she had been to school since,
and had learned not to believe them; and certainly she was not one
to be frightened at what she did not believe. So when Leopold came
in the holidays, the place was one of their favoured haunts, and
they knew every cubic yard in the house.

"Here," said Helen to her cousin, as she opened the door in a little
closet, and showed a dusky room which had no window but a small one
high up in the wall of a back staircase, "here is one room into
which I never could get Poldie without the greatest trouble. I gave
it up at last, he always trembled so till he got out again. I will
show you such a curious place at the other end of it."

She led the way to a closet similar to that by which they had
entered, and directed Bascombe how to raise a trap which filled all
the floor of it so that it did not show. Under the trap was a sort
of well, big enough to hold three upon emergency.

"If only they could contrive to breathe," said George. "It looks
ugly. If it had but a brain and a tongue it could tell tales."

"Come," said Helen. "I don't know how it is, but I don't like the
look of it myself now. Let us get into the open air again."

Ascending from the hollow, and passing through a deep belt of trees
that surrounded it, they came again to the open park, and by-and-by
reached the road that led from the lodge to the new building, upon
which they presently encountered a strange couple.



The moment they had passed them, George turned to his cousin with a
countenance which bore moral indignation mingled with disgust. The
healthy instincts of the elect of his race were offended by the
sight of such physical failures, such mockeries of humanity as

The woman was little if anything over four feet in height. She was
crooked, had a high shoulder, and walked like a crab, one leg being
shorter than the other. Her companion walked quite straight, with a
certain appearance of dignity which he neither assumed nor could
have avoided, and which gave his gait the air of a march. He was not
an inch taller than the woman, had broad, square shoulders,
pigeon-breast, and invisible neck. He was twice her age, and they
seemed father and daughter. They heard his breathing, loud with
asthma, as they went by.

"Poor things!" said Helen, with cold kindness.

"It is shameful!" said George, in a tone of righteous anger. "Such
creatures have no right to existence. The horrid manakin!"

"But, George!" said Helen, in expostulation, "the poor wretch can't
help his deformity."

"No; but what right had he to marry and perpetuate such odious

"You are too hasty: the young woman is his niece."

"She ought to have been strangled the moment she was born--for the
sake of humanity. Monsters ought not to live."

"Unfortunately they have all got mothers," said Helen; and something
in her face made him fear he had gone too far.

"Don't mistake me, dear Helen," he said. "I would neither starve nor
drown them after they had reached the faculty of resenting such
treatment--of the justice of which," he added, smiling, "I am afraid
it would be hard to convince them. But such people actually marry
--I have known cases,--and that ought to be provided against by
suitable enactments and penalties."

"And so," rejoined Helen, "because they are unhappy already, you
would heap unhappiness upon them?"

"Now, Helen, you must not be unfair to me any more than to your
hunchbacks. It is the good of the many I seek, and surely that is
better than the good of the few."

"What I object to is, that it should be at the expense of the
few--who are least able to bear it."

"The expense is trifling," said Bascombe. "Grant that it would be
better for society that no such--or rather put it this way: grant
that it would be well for each individual that goes to make up
society that he were neither deformed, sickly, nor idiotic, and you
mean the same that I do. A given space of territory under given
conditions will always maintain a certain number of human beings;
therefore such a law as I propose would not mean that the number
drawing the breath of heaven should, to take the instance before us
in illustration, be two less, but that a certain two of them should
not be such as he or she who passed now, creatures whose existence
is a burden to them, but such as you and I, Helen, who may say
without presumption that we are no disgrace to Nature's handicraft."

Helen was not sensitive. She neither blushed nor cast down her eyes.
But his tenets, thus expounded, had nothing very repulsive in them
so far as she saw, and she made no further objection to them.

As they walked up the garden again, through the many lingering signs
of a more stately if less luxurious existence than that of their
generation, she was calmly listening to a lecture on the ground of
law, namely, the resignation of certain personal rights for the
securing of other and more important ones: she understood, was
mildly interested, and entirely satisfied.

They seated themselves in the summer-house, a little wooden room
under the down-sloping boughs of a huge cedar, and pursued their
conversation--or rather Bascombe pursued his monologue. A lively
girl would in all probability have been bored to death by him, but
Helen was not a lively girl, and was not bored at all. Ere they went
into the house she had heard, amongst a hundred other things of
wisdom, his views concerning crime and punishment--with which, good
and bad, true and false, I shall not trouble my reader, except in
regard to one point--that of the obligation to punish. Upon this
point he was severe.

No person, he said, ought to allow any weakness of pity to prevent
him from bringing to punishment the person who broke the laws upon
which the well-being of the community depended. A man must remember
that the good of the whole, and not the fate of the individual, was
to be regarded.

It was altogether a notable sort of tête-à-tête between two such
perfect specimens of the race, and as at length they entered the
house, they professed to each other to have much enjoyed their walk.

Holding the opinions he did, Bascombe was in one thing inconsistent:
he went to "divine service" on the Sunday with his aunt and
cousin--not to humour Helen's prejudices, but those of Mrs.
Ramshorn, who, belonging, as I have said, to the profession, had
strong opinions as to the wickedness of not going to church. It was
of no use, he said to himself, trying to upset her ideas, for to
succeed would only be to make her miserable, and his design was to
make the race happy. In the grand old Abbey, therefore, they heard
together morning prayers, the Litany, and the Communion, all in one,
after a weariful and lazy modern custom not yet extinct, and then a
dull, sensible sermon, short, and tolerably well read, on the duty
of forgiveness of injuries.

I dare say it did most of the people present a little good,
undefinable as the faint influences of starlight, to sit under that
"high embowed roof," within that vast artistic isolation, through
whose mighty limiting the boundless is embodied, and we learn to
feel the awful infinitude of the parent space out of which it is
scooped. I dare also say that the tones of the mellow old organ
spoke to something in many of the listeners that lay deeper far than
the plummet of their self-knowledge had ever sounded. I think also
that the prayers, the reading of which, in respect of intelligence,
was admirable, were not only regarded as sacred utterances, but felt
to be soothing influences by not a few of those who made not the
slightest effort to follow them with their hearts; and I trust that
on the whole their church-going tended rather to make them better
than to harden them. But as to the main point, the stirring up of
the children of the Highest to lay hold of the skirts of their
Father's robe, the waking of the individual conscience to say I WILL
ARISE, and the strengthening of the captive Will to break its bonds
and stand free in the name of the eternal creating Freedom--for
nothing of that was there any special provision. This belonged, in
the nature of things, to the sermon, in which, if anywhere, the
voice of the indwelling Spirit might surely be heard--out of his
holy temple, if indeed that be the living soul of man, as St. Paul
believed; but there was no sign that the preacher regarded his
office as having any such end, although in his sermon lingered the
rudimentary tokens that such must have been the original intent of

On the way home, Bascombe made some objections to the discourse,
partly to show his aunt that he had been attending. He admitted that
one might forgive and forget what did not come within the scope of
the law, but, as he had said to Helen before, a man was bound, he
said, to punish the wrong which through him affected the community.

"George," said his aunt, "I differ from you there. Nobody ought to
go to the law to punish an injury. I would forgive ever so many
before I would run the risk of the law. But as to FORGETTING an
injury--some injuries at least--no, that I never would!--And I don't
believe, let the young man say what he will, that that is required
of anyone."

Helen said nothing. She had no enemies to forgive, no wrongs worth
remembering, and was not interested in the question. She thought it
a very good sermon indeed.

When Bascombe left for London in the morning, he carried with him
the lingering rustle of silk, the odour of lavender, and a certain
blueness, not of the sky, which seemed to have something behind it,
as never did the sky to him. He had never met woman so worthy of
being his mate, either as regarded the perfection of her form, or
the hidden development of her brain--evident in her capacity for the
reception of truth, as his own cousin, Helen Lingard. Might not the
relationship account for the fact?

Helen thought nothing to correspond. She considered George a fine
manly fellow. What bold and original ideas he had about everything!
Her brother was a baby to him! But then Leopold was such a love of a
boy! Such eyes and such a smile were not to be seen on this side the
world. Helen liked her cousin, was attached to her aunt, but loved
her brother Leopold, and loved nobody else. His Hindoo mother, high
of caste, had given him her lustrous eyes and pearly smile, which,
the first moment she saw him, won his sister's heart. He was then
but eight years old, and she but eleven. Since then, he had been
brought up by his father's elder brother, who had the family estate
in Yorkshire, but he had spent part of all his holidays with her,
and they often wrote to each other. Of late indeed his letters had
not been many, and a rumour had reached her that he was not doing
quite satisfactorily at Cambridge, but she explained it away to the
full contentment of her own heart, and went on building such castles
as her poor aerolithic skill could command, with Leopold ever and
always as the sharer of her self-expansion.



If we could arrive at the feelings of a fish of the northern ocean
around which the waters suddenly rose to tropical temperature, and
swarmed with strange forms of life, uncouth and threatening, we
should have a fair symbol of the mental condition in which Thomas
Wingfold now found himself. The spiritual fluid in which his being
floated had become all at once more potent, and he was in
consequence uncomfortable. A certain intermittent stinging, as if
from the flashes of some moral electricity, had begun to pass in
various directions through the crude and chaotic mass he called
himself, and he felt strangely restless. It never occurred to
him--as how should it?--that he might have commenced undergoing the
most marvellous of all changes,--one so marvellous, indeed, that for
a man to foreknow its result or understand what he was passing
through, would be more strange than that a caterpillar should
recognise in the rainbow-winged butterfly hovering over the flower
at whose leaf he was gnawing, the perfected idea of his own
potential self--I mean the change of being born again. Nor were the
symptoms such as would necessarily have suggested, even to a man
experienced in the natural history of the infinite, that the process
had commenced.

A restless night followed his reflections in the churchyard, and he
did not wake at all comfortable. Not that ever he had been in the
way of feeling comfortable. To him life had not been a land flowing
with milk and honey. He had had few smiles, and not many of those
grasps of the hand which let a man know another man is near him in
the battle--for had it not been something of a battle, how could he
have come to the age of six-and-twenty without being worse than he
was? He would not have said: "All these have I kept from my youth
up;" but I can say that for several of them he had shown fight,
although only One knew anything of it. This morning, then, it was
not merely that he did not feel comfortable: he was consciously
uncomfortable. Things were getting too hot for him. That infidel
fellow had poked several most awkward questions at him--yes, into
him, and a good many more had in him--self arisen to meet them.
Usually he lay a little while before he came to himself; but this
morning he came to himself at once, and not liking the interview,
jumped out of bed as if he had hoped to leave himself there behind

He had always scorned lying, until one day, when still a boy at
school, he suddenly found that he had told a lie, after which he
hated it--yet now, if he was to believe--ah! whom? did not the
positive fellow and his own conscience say the same thing?--his
profession, his very life was a lie! the very bread he ate grew on
the rank fields of falsehood!--No, no; it was absurd! it could not
be! What had he done to find himself damned to such a depth? Yet the
thing must be looked to. He batht himself without remorse and never
even shivered, though the water in his tub was bitterly cold,
dressed with more haste than precision, hurried over his breakfast,
neglected his newspaper, and took down a volume of early church
history. But he could not read: the thing was hopeless--utterly.
With the wolves of doubt and the jackals of shame howling at his
heels, how could he start for a thousand-mile race! For God's sake
give him a weapon to turn and face them with! Evidence! all of it
that was to be had, was but such as one man received, another man
refused; and the popular acceptance was worth no more in respect of
Christianity than of Mahometanism, for how many had given the
subject at all better consideration than himself? And there was
Sunday with its wolves and jackals, and but a hedge between! He did
not so much mind reading the prayers: he was not accountable for
what was in them, although it was bad enough to stand up and read
them. Happy thing he was not a dissenter, for then he would have had
to pretend to pray from his own soul, which would have been too
horrible! But there was the sermon! That at least was supposed to
contain, or to be presented as containing, his own sentiments. Now
what were his sentiments? For the life of him he could not tell. Had
he ANY sentiments, any opinions, any beliefs, any unbeliefs? He had
plenty of sermons--old, yellow, respectable sermons, not
lithographed, neither composed by mind nor copied out by hand
unknown, but in the neat writing of his old D.D. uncle, so legible
that he never felt it necessary to read them over beforehand--just
saw that he had the right one. A hundred and fifty-seven such
sermons, the odd one for the year that began on a Sunday, of
unquestionable orthodoxy, had his kind old uncle left him in his
will, with the feeling probably that he was not only setting him up
in sermons for life, but giving him a fair start as well in the race
of which a stall in some high cathedral was the goal. For his own
part he had never made a sermon, at least never one he had judged
worth preaching to a congregation. He had rather a high idea, he
thought, of preaching, and these sermons of his uncle he considered
really excellent. Some of them, however, were altogether doctrinal,
some very polemical: of such he must now beware. He would see of
what kind was the next in order; he would read it and make sure it
contained nothing he was not, in some degree at least, prepared to
hold his face to and defend--if he could not absolutely swear he
believed it purely true.

He did as resolved. The first he took up was in defence of the
Athanasian creed! That would not do. He tried another. That was upon
the Inspiration of the Scriptures. He glanced through it--found
Moses on a level with St. Paul, and Jonah with St. John, and doubted
greatly. There might be a sense--but--! No, he would not meddle with
it. He tried a third: that was on the Authority of the Church. It
would not do. He had read each of all these sermons, at least once,
to a congregation, with perfect composure and following
indifference, if not peace of mind, but now he could not come on one
with which he was even in sympathy--not to say one of which he was
certain that it was more true than false. At last he took up the odd
one--that which could come into use but once in a week of years--and
this was the sermon Bascombe heard and commented upon. Having read
it over, and found nothing to compromise him with his conscience,
which was like an irritable man trying to find his way in a windy
wood by means of a broken lantern, he laid all the rest aside and
felt a little relieved.

Wingfold had never neglected the private duty of a clergyman in
regard of morning and evening devotions, but was in the habit of
dressing and undressing his soul with the help of certain chosen
contents of the prayer-book--a somewhat circuitous mode of
communicating with Him who was so near him,--that is, if St. Paul
was right in saying that he lived, and moved, and was, IN Him; but
that Saturday he knelt by his bedside at noon, and began to pray or
try to pray as he had never prayed or tried to pray before. The
perplexed man cried out within the clergyman, and pressed for some
acknowledgment from God of the being he had made.

But--was it strange to tell? or if strange, was it not the most
natural result nevertheless?--almost the same moment he began to
pray in this truer fashion, the doubt rushed up in him like a
torrent-spring from the fountains of the great deep--Was
there--could there be a God at all? a real being who might actually
hear his prayer? In this crowd of houses and shops and churches,
amidst buying and selling, and ploughing and praising and
backbiting, this endless pursuit of ends and of means to ends, while
yet even the wind that blew where it listed blew under laws most
fixed, and the courses of the stars were known to a hair's-breadth,
--was there--could there be a silent invisible God working his own
will in it all? Was there a driver to that chariot whose
multitudinous horses seemed tearing away from the pole in all
directions? and was he indeed, although invisible and inaudible,
guiding that chariot, sure as the flight of a comet, straight to its
goal? Or was there a soul to that machine whose myriad wheels went
grinding on and on, grinding the stars into dust, matter into man,
and man into nothingness? Was there--could there be a living heart
to the universe that did positively hear him--poor, misplaced,
dishonest, ignorant Thomas Wingfold, who had presumed to undertake a
work he neither could perform nor had the courage to forsake, when
out of the misery of the grimy little cellar of his consciousness he
cried aloud for light and something to make a man of him? For now
that Thomas had begun to doubt like an honest being, every ugly
thing within him began to show itself to his awakened probity.

But honest and of good parentage as the doubts were, no sooner had
they shown themselves than the wings of the ascending prayers
fluttered feebly and failed. They sank slowly, fell, and lay as
dead, while all the wretchedness of his position rushed back upon
him with redoubled inroad. Here was a man who could not pray, and
yet must go and read prayers and preach in the old attesting church,
as if he too were of those who knew something of the secrets of the
Almighty, and could bring out from his treasury, if not things new
and surprising, then things old and precious! Ought he not to send
round the bell-man to cry aloud that there would be no service? But
what right had he to lay his troubles, the burden of his dishonesty,
upon the shoulders of them who faithfully believed, and who looked
to him to break to them their daily bread? And would not any attempt
at a statement of the reasons he had for such an outrageous breach
of all decorum be taken for a denial of those things concerning
which he only desired most earnestly to know that they were true.
For he had received from somewhere, he knew not how or whence, a
genuine prejudice in favour of Christianity, while of those
refractions and distorted reflexes of it which go by its name and
rightly disgust many, he had had few of the tenets thrust upon his

Thus into the dark pool of his dull submissive life, the bold words
of the unbeliever had fallen--a dead stone perhaps, but causing a
thousand motions in the living water. Question crowded upon
question, and doubt upon doubt, until he could bear it no longer,
and starting from the floor on which at last he had sunk prostrate,
he rushed in all but involuntary haste from the house, and scarcely
knew where he was until, in a sort, he came to himself some little
distance from the town, wandering hurriedly in field-paths.



It was a fair morning of All Hallows' summer. The trees were nearly
despoiled, but the grass was green, and there was a memory of spring
in the low sad sunshine: even the sunshine, the gladdest thing in
creation, is sad sometimes. There was no wind, nothing to fight
with, nothing to turn his mind from its own miserable perplexities.
How endlessly his position as a clergyman, he thought, added to his
miseries! Had he been a man unpledged, he could have taken his own
time to think out the truths of his relations; as it was, he felt
like a man in a coffin: out he must get, but had not room to make a
single vigorous effort for freedom! It did not occur to him yet
that, uupressed from without, his honesty unstung, he might have
taken more time to find out where he was than would have been either
honest or healthful.

He came to a stile where his path joined another that ran both ways,
and there seated himself, just as the same strange couple I have
already described as met by Miss Lingard and Mr. Bascombe approached
and went by. After they had gone a good way, he caught sight of
something lying in the path, and going to pick it up, found it was a
small manuscript volume.

With the pleasurable instinct of service, he hastened after them.
They heard him, and turning waited his approach. He took off his
hat, and presenting the book to the young woman, asked if she had
dropped it. Possibly, had they been ordinary people of the class to
which they seemed to belong, he would not have uncovered to them,
for he naturally shrunk from what might be looked upon as a display
of courtesy, but their deformity rendered it imperative. Her face
flushed so at sight of the book, that, in order to spare her
uneasiness, Wingfold could not help saying with a smile,

"Do not be alarmed: I have not read one word of it."

She returned his smile with much sweetness, and said--

"I see I need not have been afraid."

Her companion joined in thanks and apologies for having caused him
so much trouble. Wingfold assured them it had been but a pleasure.
It was far from a scrutinizing look with which he regarded them, but
the interview left him with the feeling that their faces were
refined and intelligent, and their speech was good. Again he lifted
his rather shabby hat, the man responded with equal politeness in
removing from a great grey head one rather better, and they turned
from each other and went their ways, the sight of their malformation
arousing in the curate no such questions as those with which it had
agitated the tongue, if not the heart, of George Bascombe, to widen
the scope of his perplexities. He had heard the loud breathing of
the man, and seen the projecting eyes of the woman, but he never
said to himself therefore that they were more hardly dealt with than
he. Had such a thought occurred to him, he would have comforted the
pain of his sympathy with the reflection that at least neither of
them was a curate of the church of England who knew positively
nothing of the foundation upon which that church professed to stand.

How he got through the Sunday he never could have told. What times a
man may get through--he knows not how! As soon as it was over, it
was all a mist--from which gleamed or gloomed large the face of
George Bascombe with its keen unbelieving eyes and scornful lips.
All the time he was reading the prayers and lessons, all the time he
was reading his uncle's sermon, he had not only been aware of those
eyes, but aware also of what lay behind them--seeing and reading

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