So would she say within herself, again and again, in different forms, not knowing how little of conviction there was in the conclusions she seemed to come to—how much of old habit and gratitude on the one hand, and pride and resentment upon the other.-And there still was that feeling! she could not drive it away. It was like trying to disperse a fog with a fan.
The outside weather, although she was far past heeding that, was in harmony with her soul's weather. A dull dark-grey fog hung from the sky, and without much obscuring the earth altogether hid the sun. The air was very cold. There was neither joy nor hope anywhere. The bushes were leafless and budless, the summer gone, the spring not worth hoping for, because it also would go: spring after spring came—for nothing but to go again! Things were so empty and wretched that pain and grief, almost fear itself, would have been welcome. The world around her, yes, all her life, all herself, was but the cold dead body of a summer-world. And Leopold was going to be buried with the summer. His smiles had all gone with the flowers. The weeds of his troubles were going also, for they would die with him. But he would not know it and be glad, any more than she, who was left caring for neither summer nor winter, joy nor sorrow, love nor hate, the past nor the future.
Many such thoughts wandered hazily through her mind as she now sat holding the hand of him who was fast sleeping away from her into death. Her eyes were fixed on the window through which he had entered that terrible night, but she saw nothing beyond it.
"He is gone" said Polwarth in a voice that sounded unknown to the ears of Helen, and as he spoke he kneeled.
She started up with a cry, and looked in her brother's face. She had never seen anyone die, and yet she saw that he was dead.
How the terrible time, terrible for its very dulness and insensibility, passed until it brought the funeral, Helen could not have told. It seemed to her, as she looked back upon it, a bare blank, yet was the blank full of a waste weariness of heart. The days were all one, outside and inside. Her heart was but a lonely narrow bay to the sea of cold immovable fog that filled the world. No one tried to help, no one indeed knew her trouble. Everyone took it for grief at the loss of her brother, while to herself it was the oppression of a life that had not even the interest of pain. The curate had of course called to inquire after her, but had not been invited to enter. George had been everywhere with help, but had no word to speak.
The day of the funeral came, in thin fog and dull cold. The few friends gathered. The body was borne to the Abbey. The curate received it at the gate in the name of the church—which takes our children in its arms, and our bodies into its garden—save indeed where her gardener is some foolish priest who knows not the heart of his mother, and will pick and choose among her dead;—the lovely words of the last-first of the apostles, were read; and earth was given back to earth, to mingle with the rest of the stuff the great workman works withal. Cold was Helen's heart, cold her body, cold her very being. The earth, the air, the mist, the very light was cold. The past was cold, the future yet colder. She would have grudged Leopold his lonely rest in the grave, but that she had not feeling enough even for that. Her life seemed withering away from her, like an autumn flower in the frosts of winter; and she, as if she had been but a flower, did not seem to care. What was life worth, when it had not strength to desire even its own continuance? Heartless she returned from the grave, careless of George's mute attentions, not even scornful of her aunt's shallow wail over the uncertainty of life and all things human,—so indifferent to the whole misery that she walked straight up to the room, hers once more, from which the body had just been carried, and which, for so many many weary weeks, had been the centre of loving pain, sometimes agony. Once more she was at peace—but what a peace!
She took off her cloak and bonnet, laid them on the bed, went to the window, sat down, and gazed, hardly seeing, out on the cold garden with its sodden earth, its leafless shrubs, and perennial trees of darkness and mourning. The meadow lay beyond, and there she did see the red cow busily feeding, and was half-angry with her. Beyond the meadow stood the trees, with the park behind them. And yet further behind lay the hollow with the awful house in its bosom, its dismal haunted lake and its ruined garden. But nothing moved her. She could have walked over every room in that house without a single quaver of the praecordia. Poldie was dead, but was it not well? Even if he had not been in trouble, what should his death matter? She would die soon herself and for ever: what did that or anything else matter? Might she but keep this dulness of spirit, and never more wake to weep foolish tears over an existence the whole upstanding broad-based fact of which was not worth one drop in the rivers of weeping that had been flowing ever since the joyless birth of this unconceived, ill-fated, unfathered world! To the hour of death belonged jubilation and not mourning; the hour of birth was the hour of sorrow. Back to the darkness! was the cry of a life whose very being was an injury, only there was no one to have done the injury.
Thus she sat until she was summoned to dinner—early for the sake of the friends whose home lay at a distance. She ate and drank and took her share in the talk as matter of course, believing all at the table would judge her a heartless creature, and careless of what they might think or say. But they judged her more kindly and more truly than she judged herself. They saw through her eyes the deeps whose upward ducts were choked with the frost of an unknown despair.
No sooner was she at liberty than again she sought her room, not consciously from love to her brother who had died there, but because the deadness of her heart chose a fitting loneliness: and again she seated herself at the window.
The dreary day was drawing to a close, and the night, drearier it could not be, was at hand. The gray had grown darker, and she sat like one waiting for the night like a monster coming to claim its own and swallow her up.
Something—was it an invasion of reviving light? caused her to lift her eyes. Away, sideways from her window, in the west, the mist had cleared a little—somewhere about the sun. Thinner and thinner it grew. No sun came forth: he was already down; but a canopy of faint amber grew visible, stretched above his tomb. It was the stuff of which sad smiles are made, not a thing that belonged to gladness. But only he who has lost his sorrow without regaining his joy, can tell how near sorrow lieth to joy. Who that has known the dull paths of listless no-feeling, would not have his sorrow back with all its attendant agonies?
The pale amber spread, dilute with light, and beneath it lay the gray of the fog, and above it the dark blue of cloud—not of sky. The soul of it was so still, so resigned, so sad, so forsaken, that she who had thought her heart gone from her, suddenly felt its wells were filling, and soon they overflowed. She wept. At what? A colour in the sky! Was there then a God that knew sadness—and was that a banner of grief he hung forth to comfort the sorrowful with sympathy? Or was it but a godless colour which the heart varnished with its own grief? Or if the human heart came from nothing and was sad, why might not the aspects of nature come from nothing and be sad too—wrought in harmony with the unutterable woe of humanity? Then either is man the constructive centre of the world, and its meanings are but his own face looking back upon him from the mirror of his own projected atmosphere, and comfort there is none; or he is not the centre of the world, which yet carries in its forms and colours the aspects of his mind; and then, horror of horrors! is man the one conscious point and object of a vast derision—insentient nature grinning at sentient man! rose or saffron, his sky but mocks and makes mows at him; while he himself is the worst mockery of all, being at once that which mocks and that which not only is mocked but writhes in agony under the mockery. Such as Bascombe reply that they find it not so. I answer—For the best of reasons, that it is not so.
Helen's doubts did not stay her weeping, as doubt generally does; for the sky with its sweet sadness was before her, and deep in her heart a lake of tears, which, now that it had begun to flow, would not be stayed. She knew not why she wept, knew not that it was the sympathy of that pale amber of sad resignation which brought her relief: but she wept and wept, until her heart began to stir, and her tears came cooler and freer.
"Oh Poldie! my own Poldie!" she cried at length, and fell upon her knees—not-to worship the sky—not to pray to Poldie, or even for Poldie—not indeed to pray at all, so far as she knew; yet I doubt if it was merely and only from the impulse of the old childish habit of saying prayers.
But in a moment she grew restless. There was no Poldie! She rose and walked about the room. And he came back to her soul, her desolate brother, clothed, alas! in the rags and tatters of all the unkind and unjust thoughts she had ever had concerning him, and wearing on his face the reflection of her worse deeds. She had stood between him and the only poor remnant of peace, consolation, and hope that it was possible he should have; and it was through the friends whom she had treated with such distance and uncordiality that he did receive it. Then out rushed from the chamber of her memory the vision of the small dark nervous wild-looking Indian boy who gazed at her but for one questioning moment, then shot into her arms and nestled in her bosom. How had she justified that faith? She had received, and sheltered, and shielded him, doubtless, and would have done so with her life, yet, when it came to the test, she had loved herself better than him, and would have doomed him to agony rather than herself to disgrace. Oh Poldie! Poldie! But he could not hear! Never, for evermore, should she utter to him word of sorrow or repentance! never beg his forgiveness, or let him know that now she knew better, and had risen above such weakness and selfishness!
She stopped, and looked sadly from the window. The sky was cloudless overhead, and the amber pall was fainter and clearer over the tomb of the sun. She turned hastily to the bed where lay her cloak and bonnet, put them on with trembling hands, and went out by that same window into the garden. She could not help a shudder as she stood in the dark passage unlocking the door in the sunk fence, but the next minute she was crossing the meadow through the cold frosty twilight air, now clear of its fog, and seeming somehow to comfort, uplift, and strengthen her. The red cow was still feeding there. She stopped and talked to her a little. She seemed one of Poldie's friends, and Poldie had come back to her heart if he might never more to her arms, and she was now on her way to one of his best friends, whom, as more worthy, he had loved even better than her, and whom she had not honoured as they deserved or as he must have desired. To get near them, would be to get nearer to Poldie. At least she would be with those whom he had loved, and who, she did not doubt, still loved him, believing him still alive. She could not go to the curate, but she could go to the Polwarths; no one would blame her for that-except indeed George. But even George should not come between her and what mere show of communion with Poldie was left her! She would keep her freedom—would rather break with George than lose an atom of her liberty! She would be no clay for his hands to mould after his pleasure!
She opened the door in the fence and entered the park, seeming to recover strength with every step she took towards Poldie's friends.
It was almost dark when she stood at the lodge-door and knocked.
AN HONEST SPY.
No one answered Helen's knock. She repeated it, and still no answer came. Her heart might have failed her, but that she heard voices: what if they were talking about Leopold? At length, after knocking four or five times, she heard the step as of a child coming down a stair; but it passed the door. Clearly no one had heard her. She knocked yet again, and immediately it was opened by Rachel. The pleasured surprise that shone up in her face when she saw who it was that stood without, was lovely to see, and Helen, on whose miserable isolation it came like a sunrise of humanity, took no counsel with pride, but, in simple gratitude for the voiceless yet eloquent welcome, bent down and kissed her. The little arms were flung about her neck, and the kiss returned with such a gentle warmth and restrained sweetness as would have satisfied the most fastidious in the matter of salute—to which class, however, Helen did not belong, for she seldom kissed anyone. Then Rachel took her by the hand, and led her into the kitchen, placed a chair for her near the fire, and said,
"I AM sorry there is no fire in the parlour. The gentlemen are in my uncle's room. Oh, Miss Lingard, I do wish you could have heard how they have been talking!"
"Have they been saying anything about my brother?" asked Helen.
"It's all about him," she replied.
"May I ask who the gentlemen are?" said Helen doubtfully.
"Mr. Wingfold and Mr. Drew. They are often here."
"Is it—do you mean Mr. Drew, the draper?"
"Yes. He is one of Mr. Wingfold's best pupils. He brought him to my uncle, and he has come often ever since."
"I never heard that—Mr. Wingfold—took pupils.—I am afraid I do not quite understand you.
"I would have said DISCIPLES," returned Rachel smiling; "but that has grown to feel such a sacred word—as if it belonged only to the Master, that I didn't like to use it. It would say best what I mean though; for there are people in Glaston that are actually mending their ways because of Mr. Wingfold's teaching, and Mr. Drew was the first of them. It is long since such a thing was heard of in the Abbey. It never was in my time."
Helen sighed. She wished it had remained possible for her also to become one of Mr. Wingfold's pupils, but how could she now when she had learned that what he had to teach was at best but a lovely phantasm, sprung of the seething together of the conscience and imagination. George could give account of the whole matter: religion invariably excited the imagination and weakened the conscience;—witness the innumerable tales concerning Jesus invented in the first of the Christian centuries, and about this and that saint in those that followed! Helen's experience in Leopold's case had certainly been different, but the other fact remained. Alas, she could not be a pupil of Mr. Wingfold! She could no longer deceive herself with such comfort. And yet!—COME UNTO ME, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST.
"I do wish I could hear them," she said.
"And why not?" returned Rachel. "There is not one of them would not be glad to see you. I know that."
"I am afraid I should hinder their talk. Would they speak just as freely as if I were not there? Not that I know why they shouldn't," she added; "only the presence of any stranger—"
"You are no stranger to Mr. Wingfold or my uncle," said Rachel, "and I daresay you know Mr. Drew?"
"To tell you the truth, Miss Polwarth, I have not behaved as I should either to your uncle or Mr. Wingfold. I know it now that my brother is gone. They were so good to him! I feel now as if I had been possessed with an evil spirit. I could not bear them to be more to him than I was. Oh, how I should like to hear what they are saying! I feel as if I should get a glimpse of Leopold—almost, if I might. But I couldn't face them all together. I could not go into the room."
Rachel was silent for a moment, thinking. Then she said:
"I'll tell you what then: there's no occasion. Between my uncle's room and mine there's a little closet, where you shall sit and hear every word. Nothing will divide you from them but a few thin old boards."
"That would hardly be honourable though—would it?"
"I will answer for it. I shall tell my uncle afterwards. There may be cases where the motive makes the right or the wrong. It's not as if you were listening to find out secrets. I shall be in the room, and that will be a connecting link, you know: they never turn me out. Come now. We don't know what we may be losing."
The desire to hear Leopold's best friends talk about him was strong in Helen, but her heart misgave her: was it not unbecoming? She would be in terror of discovery all the time. In the middle of the stair, she drew Rachel back and whispered,
"I dare not do it."
"Come on," said Rachel. "Hear what I shall say to them first. After that you shall do as you please."
Evidently, so quick was her response, her thoughts had been going in the same direction as Helen's.
"Thank you for trusting me," she added, as Helen again followed her.
Arrived at the top, the one stood trembling, while the other went into the room.
"Uncle," said Rachel, "I have a friend in the house who is very anxious to hear you and our friends speak your minds to each other, but for reasons does not wish to appear: will you allow my friend to listen without being seen?"
"Is it your wish, Rachel, or are you only conveying the request of another?" asked her uncle.
"It is my wish," answered Rachel. "I really desire it—if you do not mind."
She looked from one to another as she spoke. The curate and the draper indicated a full acquiescence.
"Do you know quite what you are about, Rachel?" asked Polwarth.
"Perfectly, uncle," she answered. "There is no reason why you should not talk as freely as if you were talking only to me. I will put my friend in the closet, and you need never think that anyone is in the house but ourselves."
"Then I have no more to say," returned her uncle with a smile. "Your FRIEND, whoever he or she may be, is heartily welcome."
Rachel rejoined Helen, who had already drawn nearer to the door of the closet, and now seated herself right willingly in its shelter, amidst an atmosphere odorous of apples and herbs. Already the talk was going on just as before. At first each of the talkers did now and then remember there was a listener unseen but found, when the conversation came to a close, that he had for a long time forgotten it.
WHAT HELEN HEARD,
Although satisfied that, after what Rachel had said to the men, there could be no impropriety in her making use of the privilege granted her, Helen felt oddly uncomfortable at first. But soon the fancy came, that she was listening at the door of the other world to catch news of her Leopold, and that made her forget herself and put her at peace. For some time, however, the conversation was absolutely unintelligible to her. She understood the words and phrases, and even some of the sentences, but as she had no clue to their drift, the effort to understand was like attempting to realize the span of a rainbow from a foot or two of it appearing now and then in different parts and vanishing again at once. It was chiefly Polwarth, often Wingfold, and now and then Drew that spoke, Rachel contributing only an occasional word. At length broke something of a dawn over the seeming chaos. The words from which the light that first reached Helen flowed, were the draper's.
"I can't think, for all that," he said, "why, if there be life beyond the grave, and most sincerely I trust there is—I don't see why we should know so little about it. Confess now, Mr. Polwarth!—Mr. Wingfold!" he said appealingly, "—does it not seem strange that, if our dearest friends go on living somewhere else, they should, the moment they cease to breathe, pass away from us utterly—so utterly that from that moment neither hint nor trace nor sign of their existence ever reaches us? Nature, the Bible, God himself says nothing about how they exist or where they are, or why they are so silent—cruelly silent if it be in their power to speak,—therefore, they cannot; and here we are left not only with aching hearts but wavering faith, not knowing whither to turn to escape the stare of the awful blank, that seems in the very intensity of its silence to shout in our ears that we are but dust and return to the dust!"
The gate-keeper and curate interchanged a pleased look of surprise at the draper's eloquence, but Polwarth instantly took up his answer.
"I grant you it would be strange indeed if there were no good reason for it," he said.
"Then do you say," asked Wingfold. "that until we see, discover, or devise some good reason for the darkness that overhangs it, we are at liberty to remain in doubt as to whether there be any life within the cloud?"
"I would say so," answered Polwarth, "were it not that we have the story of Jesus, which, if we accept it, is surely enough to satisfy us both as to the thing itself, and as to the existence of a good reason, whether we have found one or not, for the mystery that overshadows it."
"Still I presume we are not forbidden to seek such a reason," said the curate.
The draper was glancing from the one to the other with evident anxiety.
"Certainly not," returned the gate-keeper. "For what else is our imagination given us but the discovery of good reasons that are, or the invention of good reasons that may perhaps be?"
"Can you then imagine any good reason," said Drew, "why we should be kept in such absolute ignorance of everything that befalls the parted spirit from the moment it quits its house with us?"
"I think I know one," answered Polwarth. "I have sometimes fancied it might be because no true idea of their condition could possibly be grasped by those who remain in the tabernacle of the body; that to know their state it is necessary that we also should be clothed in our new bodies, which are to the old as a house to a tent. I doubt if we have any words in which the new facts could be imparted to our knowledge, the facts themselves being beyond the reach of any senses whereof we are now in actual possession. I expect to find my new body provided with new, I mean OTHER senses beyond what I now possess: many more may be required to bring us into relation with all the facts in himself which God may have shadowed forth in properties, as we say, of what we call matter. The spaces all around us, even to those betwixt star and star, may be the home of the multitudes of the heavenly host, yet seemingly empty to all who have but our provision of senses. But I do not care to dwell upon that kind of speculation. It belongs to a lower region, upon which I grudge to expend interest while the far loftier one invites me, where, if I gather not the special barley of which I am in search, I am sure to come upon the finest of wheat.—Well, then, for my reason: There are a thousand individual events in the course of every man's life, by which God takes a hold of him—a thousand breaches by which he would and does enter, little as the man may know it; but there is one universal and unchanging grasp he keeps upon the race, yet not as the race, for the grasp is upon every solitary single individual that has a part in it: that grasp is—death in its mystery. To whom can the man who is about to die in absolute loneliness and go he cannot tell whither, flee for refuge from the doubts and fears that assail him, but to the Father of his being?"
"But," said Drew, "I cannot see what harm would come of letting us know a little—as much at least as might serve to assure us that there was more of SOMETHING on the other side."
"Just this," returned Polwarth, "that, their fears allayed, their hopes encouraged from any lower quarter, men would, as usual, turn away from the fountain to the cistern of life, from the ever fresh original creative Love to that drawn off and shut in. That there are thousands who would forget God if they could but be assured of such a tolerable state of things beyond the grave as even this wherein we now live, is plainly to be anticipated from the fact that the doubts of so many in respect of religion concentrate themselves now-a-days upon the question whether there is any life beyond the grave; a question which, although no doubt nearly associated with religion,—as what question worth asking is not?—does not immediately belong to religion at all. Satisfy such people, if you can, that they shall live, and what have they gained? A little comfort perhaps—but a comfort not from the highest source, and possibly gained too soon for their well-being. Does it bring them any nearer to God than they were before? Is he filling one cranny more of their hearts in consequence? Their assurance of immortality has not come from a knowledge of him, and without him it is worse than worthless. Little indeed has been gained, and that with the loss of much. The word applies here which our Lord in his parable puts into the mouth of Abraham: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead. He does not say they would not believe in a future state though one rose from the dead—although most likely they would soon persuade themselves that the apparition after all was only an illusion—[Footnote: See Lynch's admirable sermon on this subject.] but that they would not be persuaded to repent, though one rose from the dead; and without that, what great matter whether they believed in a future state or not? It would only be the worse for them if they did. No, Mr. Drew! I repeat, it is not a belief in immortality that will deliver a man from the woes of humanity, but faith in the God of life, the father of lights, the God of all consolation and comfort. Believing in him, a man can leave his friends, and their and his own immortality, with everything else—even his and their love and perfection, with utter confidence in his hands. Until we have the life in us, we shall never be at peace. The living God dwelling in the heart he has made, and glorifying it by inmost speech with himself—that is life, assurance, and safety. Nothing less is or can be such."
WHAT HELEN HEARD MORE
"A word you dropped the other day," said the curate, "set me thinking of the note-worthy fact that belief in God and belief in immortality cease together. But I do not see the logic of it. If we are here without God, why may we not go on there without God? I marvel that I have heard of no one taking up and advocating the view. What a grand discovery it would be for some people—that not only was there no God to interfere with them, and insist on their becoming something worth being, but that they were immortal notwithstanding! that death was only the passage of another birth into a condition of enlarged capacity for such bliss as they enjoyed here, but more exalted in degree, perhaps in kind, and altogether preferable."
"I know one to whom the thought would not have been a new one," said Polwarth. "Have you not come upon a passage in my brother's manuscript involving the very idea?"
"Not yet. I read very slowly and pick up all the crumbs. I wish we had had the book here. I should have so much liked to hear you read from it again."
The gate-keeper rose and went to his cabinet.
"The wish is easily gratified," he said. "I made a copy of it,—partly for security, partly that I might thoroughly enter into my brother's thoughts."
"I wonder almost you lend the original then," said Wingfold.
"I certainly could not lend the copy to any man I could not trust with the original," answered Polwarth. "But I never lent either before."—He was turning over the leaves as he spoke.—"The passage," he went on, "besides for its own worth, is precious to me as showing how, through all his madness, his thoughts haunted the gates of wisdom.—Ah! here it is!
"'About this time I had another strange vision, whether in the body or out of the body, I cannot tell. I thought, as oftener than once before, that at length I was dying. And it seemed to me that I did die, and awake to the consciousness of a blessed freedom from the coarser and more ponderous outer dress I had hitherto worn, being now clad only in what had been up to this time an inner garment, and was a far more closely fitting one. The first delight of which I was aware was coolness—a coolness that hurt me not—the coolness as of a dewy summer eve, in which a soft friendly wind is blowing; and the coolness was that of perfect well-being, of the health that cometh after fever, when a sound sleep hath divided it away and built a rampart between; the coolness of undoubted truth, and of love that has surmounted passion and is tenfold love.'
"He goes on to give further and fuller account of his sensations,—ventures even on the anticipated futility of an attempt to convey a notion of one of his new senses. I leave all that for your own reading, Mr. Wingfold.
"'But where was I? That I could not tell. I am here was all I could say; but then what more could I ever have said?—Gradually my sight came to me, or the light of the country arose, I could not tell which, and behold, I was in the midst of a paradise, gorgeous yet gracious, to describe which I find no words in the halting tongues of earth, and I know something of them all, most of them well. If I say a purple sea was breaking in light on an emerald shore, the moment the words are written, I see them coarse and crude as a boy's first attempt at landscape; yet are there no better wherewith to tell what first filled my eyes with heavenly delight.
"'The inhabitants were many, but nowhere were they crowded. There was room in abundance, and wild places seemed to be held sacred for solitude.'
"I am only picking up a sentence here and there, as I hasten to the particular point," said Polwarth, looking down the page.
"'But the flowers! and the birds! and above all the beauty of the people! And they dwelt in harmony. Yet on their foreheads lay as it seemed a faint mist, or as it were the first of a cloud of coming disquiet.
"'And I prayed him, Tell me, sir, whither shall I go to find God and say unto him, Lo, here I am! And he answered and said to me, Sir, I but dimly know what thou meanest. Say further. And I stood for an hour, even as one astonied. Then said I, All my long life on the world whence I came, I did look to find God when death should take me. But lo, now—And with that my heart smote me, for in my former life I had oftentimes fallen into unbelief and denied God: was this now my punishment—that I should never find him? And my heart grew cold in my body, and the blood curdled therein. Then the man answered and said, It is true that in generations past, for so I read in our ancient books, men did believe in one above them and in them, who had wrought them to that they were, and was working them to better still; but whether it be that we have now gained that better, and there is nothing higher unto which we may look, therefore no need of the high one, I know not, but truly we have long ceased so to believe, and have learned that, as things are, so they have been, and so they shall be. Then fell as it were a cold stone into the core of my heart, and I questioned him no farther, for I bore death in my heart, even as a woman carrieth her unborn child. No God! I cried, and sped away into a solitude and shrieked aloud, No God! Nay, but ere I believe it, I will search through all creation, and cry aloud as I go. I will search until I find him, and if I find him not,—. With that my soul would have fainted in me, had I not spread forth my wings and rushed aloft to find him.
"'For the more lovely anything I saw, the more gracious in colour or form, or the more marvellous in the law of its working, ever a fresh pang shot to my heart: if that which I had heard should prove true, then was there no Love such as seemed to me to dwell therein, the soul of its beauty, and all the excellence thereof was but a delusion of my own heart, greedy after a phantom perfection. No God! no Love! no loveliness, save a ghastly semblance thereof! and the more ghastly that it was so like loveliness, and yet was not to be loved upon peril of prostitution of spirit. Then in truth was heaven a fable, and hell an all-embracing fact! for my very being knew in itself that if it would dwell in peace, the very atmosphere in which it lived and moved and breathed must be love, living love, a one divine presence, truth to itself, and love to me, and to all them that needed love, down to the poorest that can but need it, and knoweth it not when it cometh. I knew that if love was not all in all, in fact as well as in imagination, my life was but a dreary hollow made in the shape of a life, and therefore for ever hungry and never to be satisfied. And again I spread wings—no longer as it seemed of hope, but wings of despair, yet mighty, and flew. And I learned thereafter that despair is but the hidden side of hope.'
"Here follow pages of his wanderings in quest of God. He tells how and where he inquired and sought, searching into the near and minute as earnestly as into the far and vast, watching at the very pores of being, and sitting in the gates of the mighty halls of assembly—but all in vain. No God was to be found.
"'And it seemed to me,' he says at last, 'that, as I had been the wanderer of earth, so was I now doomed to be the wanderer of heaven. On earth I wandered to find death, and men called me the everlasting Jew; in heaven I wandered to find God, and what name would they give me now?
"'At last my heart sank within me wholly, and I folded my wings, and through years I also sank and sank, and alighted at length upon the place appointed for my habitation—that namely wherein I found myself first after death. And alighting there, I fell down weary and slept.
"'And when I awoke I turned upon my side in the despair of a life that was neither in my own power nor in that of one who was the Father of me, which life therefore was an evil thing and a tyrant unto me. And lo! there by my side I beheld a lily of the field such as grew on the wayside in the old times betwixt Jerusalem and Bethany. Never since my death had I seen such, and my heart awoke within me, and I wept bitter tears that nothing should be true, nothing be that which it had seemed in the times of old. And as I wept I heard a sound as of the falling of many tears, and I looked, and lo a shower as from a watering-pot falling upon the lily! And I looked yet again, and I saw the watering-pot, and the hand that held it; and he whose hand held the pot stood by me and looked at me as he watered the lily. He was a man like the men of the world where such lilies grow, and was poorly dressed, and seemed like a gardener. And I looked up in his face, and lo—the eyes of the Lord Jesus! and my heart swelled until it filled my whole body and my head, and I gave a great cry, and for joy that turned into agony I could not rise, neither could I speak, but I crept on my hands and my knees to his feet, and there I fell down upon my face, and with my hands I lifted one of his feet and did place it upon my head, and then I found voice to cry, O master! and therewith the life departed from me. And when I came to myself the master sat under the tree, and I lay by his side, and he had lifted my head upon his knees. And behold, the world was jubilant around me, for Love was Love and Lord of all. The sea roared, and the fulness thereof was love; and the purple and the gold and the blue and the green came straight from the hidden red heart of the Lord Jesus. And I closed my eyes for very bliss; nor had I yet bethought me of the time when first those eyes looked upon me, for I seemed to have known them since first I began to be. But now when for very bliss I closed my eyes, my sin came back to me, and I remembered. And I rose up, and kneeled down before him, and said, O Lord, I am Ahasuerus the Jew, the man who would not let thee rest thy cross upon the stone before my workshop, but drave thee from it.—Say no more of that, answered my Lord, for truly I have myself rested in thy heart, cross and all, until the thing thou diddest in thy ignorance is better than forgotten, for it is remembered in love. Only see thou also make right excuse for my brethren who, like thee then, know not now what they do. Come and I will bring thee to the woman who died for thee in the burning fire. And I said, O Lord, leave me not, for although I would now in my turn right gladly die for her, yet would I not look upon that woman again if the love of her would make me love thee one hair the less— thou knowest. And the Lord smiled upon me and said, Fear not, Ahasuerus; my love infolds and is the nest of all love. I fear not; fear thou not either. And I arose and followed him. And every tree and flower, yea every stone and cloud, with the whole earth and sea and air, were full of God, even the living God—so that now I could have died of pure content. And I followed my Lord.'"
The gate-keeper was silent, and so were they all. At length Rachel rose softly, wiping the tears from her eyes, and left the room. But she found no one in the closet. Helen was already hastening across the park, weeping as she went.
THE CURATE'S RESOLVE.
The next day was Sunday.
Twelve months had not yet elapsed since the small events with which my narrative opened. The change which had passed, not merely upon the opinions, but in the heart and mind and very being of the curate, had not then begun to appear even to himself, although its roots were not only deep in him but deep beyond him, even in the source of him; and now he was in a state of mind, a state of being, rather, of whose nature at that time he had not, and could not have had, the faintest fore-feeling, the most shadowy conception. It had been a season of great trouble, but the gain had been infinitely greater; for now were the bonds of the finite broken, he had burst the shell of the mortal, and was of those over whom the second death hath no power. The agony of the second birth was past, and he was a child again—only a child, he knew, but a child of the kingdom; and the world, and all that God cared about in it, was his, as no miser's gold could ever belong to its hoarder, while the created universe, yea and the uncreated also whence it sprang, lay open to him in the boundless free-giving of the original Thought. "All things are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's:" he understood the words even as he who said them understood them, and as the wise of this world never will understand them until first they become fools that they may be wise.
At the same time a great sorrow threatened him from the no less mysterious region of his relations to humanity; but if that region and its most inexplicable cares were beyond the rule of the Life that dwelt in him, then was that Life no true God, and the whole thing was false; for he loved Helen with a love that was no invention or creation of his own, and if not his, then whose? Certainly not of one who, when it threatened to overwhelm him, was unable to uphold him under it! This thing also belonged to the God of his being. A poor God must he be for men or women who did not care about the awful things involved in the relation between them! Therefore even in his worst anxieties about Helen,—I do not mean in his worst seasons of despair at the thought of never gaining her love—he had never yet indeed consciously regarded the winning of her as a possibility—but at those times when he most plainly saw her the submissive disciple of George Bascombe, and the two seemed to his fancy to be straying away together "into a wide field, full of dark mountains;" when he saw her, so capable of the noblest, submitting her mind to the entrance of the poorest, meanest, shabbiest theories of life, and taking for her guide one who could lead her to no conscious well-being, or make provision for sustainment when the time of suffering and anxiety should come, or the time of health and strength be over when yet she must live on; when he saw her adopting a system of things whose influence would shrivel up instead of developing her faculties, crush her imagination with such a mountain-weight as was never piled above Titan, and dwarf the whole divine woman within her to the size and condition of an Aztec—even then was he able to reason with himself: "She belongs to God, not to me; and God loves her better than ever I could love her. If she should set out with her blind guide, it will be but a first day's journey she will go—through marshy places and dry sands, across the far breadth of which, lo! the blue mountains that shelter the high vales of sweetness and peace." And with this he not only tried to comfort himself, but succeeded—I do not say to contentment, but to quiet. Contentment, which, whatever its immediate shape, to be contentment at all, must be the will of God, lay beyond. Alas that men cannot believe there is such a thing as "that good and acceptable and perfect will of God!" To those that do believe it, it is the rejoicing of a conscious deliverance.
And now this Sunday, Wingfold entered the pulpit prepared at last to utter his resolve. Happily nothing had been done to introduce the confusing element of another will. The bishop had heard nothing of the matter, and if anything had reached the rector, he had not spoken. Not one of the congregation, not even Mrs. Ramshorn, had hinted to him that he ought to resign. It had been left altogether with himself. And now he would tell them the decision to which the thought he had taken had conducted him. I will give a portion of his sermon—enough to show us how he showed the congregation the state of his mind in reference to the grand question, and the position he took in relation to his hearers.
"It is time, my hearers," he said, "because it is now possible, to bring to a close that uncertainty with regard to the continuance of our relation to each other, which I was, in the spring-time of the year, compelled by mental circumstance to occasion. I then forced myself, for very dread of the honesty of an all-knowing God, to break through every convention of the church and the pulpit, and speak to you of my most private affairs. I told you that I was sure of not one of those things concerning which it is taken for granted that a clergyman must be satisfied; but that I would not at once yield my office, lest in that act I should seem to declare unbelief of many a thing which even then I desired to find true. In leaving me undisturbed either by complaint, expostulation, or proffered instruction, you, my hearers, have granted me the leisure of which I stood in need. Meantime I have endeavoured to show you the best I saw, while yet I dared not say I was sure of anything. I have thus kept you, those at least who cared to follow my path, acquainted with my mental history. And now I come to tell you the practical result at which I have arrived.
"But when I say that I will not forsake my curacy, still less my right and duty to teach whatever I seem to know, I must not therein convey the impression that I have attained that conviction and assurance the discovery of the absence of which was the cause of the whole uncertain proceeding. All I now say is, that in the story of Jesus I have beheld such grandeur—to me apparently altogether beyond the reach of human invention, such a radiation of divine loveliness and truth, such hope for man, soaring miles above every possible pitfall of Fate; and have at the same time, from the endeavour to obey the word recorded as his, experienced such a conscious enlargement of mental faculty, such a deepening of moral strength, such an enhancement of ideal, such an increase of faith, hope, and charity towards all men, that I now declare with the consent of my whole man—I cast in my lot with the servants of the Crucified; I am content even to share their delusion, if delusion it be, for it is the truth of the God of men to me; I will stand or fall with the story of my Lord; I will take my chance—I speak not in irreverence but in honesty—my chance of failure or success in regard to whatever may follow in this life or the life to come, if there be a life to come—on the words and will of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom if, impressed as I am with the truth of his nature, the absolute devotion of his life, and the essential might of his being, I yet obey not, I shall not only deserve to perish, but in that very refusal draw ruin upon my head. Before God I say it—I would rather be crucified with that man, so it might be as a disciple and not as a thief that creeps, intrudes, or climbs into the fold, than I would reign with him over such a kingdom of grandeur as would have satisfied the imagination and love-ambition of his mother. On such grounds as these I hope I am justified in declaring myself a disciple of the Son of Man, and in devoting my life and the renewed energy and enlarged, yea infinite hope which he has given me, to his brothers and sisters of my race, that if possible I may gain some to be partakers of the blessedness of my hope. Henceforth I am, not IN HOLY ORDERS, I reject the phrase, but UNDER holy orders, even the orders of Christ Jesus, which is the law of liberty, the law whose obedience alone can set a man free from in-burrowing slavery.
"And if any man yet say that, because of my lack of absolute assurance, I have no right to the sacred post,—Let him, I answer, who has been assailed by such doubts as mine, and from the citadel of his faith sees no more one lingering shadow of a foe—let him cast at me the first stone! Vain challenge! for such a one will never cast a stone at man or woman. But let not him whose belief is but the absence of doubt, who has never loved enough that which he thinks he believes to have felt a single fear lest it should not be true—let not that man, I say, cast at me pebble from the brook, or cloven rock from the mount of the law, for either will fall hurtless at my feet. Friends, I have for the last time spoken of myself in this place. Ye have borne with me in my trials, and I thank you. Those who have not only borne but suffered, and do now rejoice with me, I thank tenfold. I have done—
"Save for one word to the Christians of this congregation:
"The waves of infidelity are coming in with a strong wind and a flowing tide. Who is to blame? God it cannot be, and for unbelievers, they are as they were. It is the Christians who are to blame. I do not mean those who are called Christians, but those who call and count themselves Christians. I tell you, and I speak to each one of whom it is true, that you hold and present such a withered, starved, miserable, death's-head idea of Christianity; that you are yourselves such poverty-stricken believers, if believers you are at all; that the notion you present to the world as your ideal, is so commonplace, so false to the grand, gracious, mighty-hearted Jesus—that YOU are the cause why the truth hangs its head in patience, and rides not forth on the white horse, conquering and to conquer. You dull its lustre in the eyes of men; you deform its fair proportions; you represent not that which it is, but that which it is not, yet call yourselves by its name; you are not the salt of the earth, but a salt that has lost its savour, for ye seek all things else first, and to that seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness shall never be added. Until you repent and believe afresh, believe in a nobler Christ, namely the Christ revealed by himself, and not the muffled form of something vaguely human and certainly not all divine, which the false interpretations of men have substituted for him, you will be, as, I repeat, you are, the main reason why faith is so scanty in the earth, and the enemy comes in like a flood. For the sake of the progress of the truth, and that into nobler minds than yours, it were better you joined the ranks of the enemy, and declared what I fear with many of you is the fact, that you believe not at all. But whether in some sense you believe or not, the fact remains, that, while you are not of those Christians who obey the word of the master, DOING the things he says to them, you are of those Christians, if you WILL be called by the name, to whom he will say, I never knew you: go forth into the outer darkness. Then at least will the church be rid of you, and the honest doubter will have room to breathe the divine air of the presence of Jesus.
"But oh what unspeakable bliss of heart and soul and mind and sense remains for him who like St. Paul is crucified with Christ, who lives no more from his own self, but is inspired and informed and possessed with the same faith towards the Father in which Jesus lived and wrought the will of the Father! If the words attributed to Jesus are indeed the words of him whom Jesus declared himself, then truly is the fate of mankind a glorious one,—and that, first and last, because men have a God supremely grand, all-perfect in God-head; for that is, and that alone can be, the absolute bliss of the created."
That Sunday-dinner was a very quiet meal. An old friend of Mrs. Ramshorn, a lady-ecclesiastic like herself, dined with them; what the two may have said to each other in secret conclave, I cannot tell, but not a word of remark upon Mr. Wingfold or his sermon was heard at table.
As she was leaving the room, Bascombe whispered Helen to put on something and come to him in the garden. Helen glanced at the window as if doubtful. It was cold, but the sun was shining; the weather had nothing to do with it; she had but taken a moment to think. She pressed her lips together—and consented. George saw she would rather not go, but he set it down to a sisterly unwillingness to enjoy herself when her brother could no longer behold the sun, and such mere sentiment must not be encouraged.
When the cypresses and box-trees had come betwixt them and the house, he offered his arm, but Helen preferred being free. She did not refuse to go into the summer-house with him; but she took her place on the opposite side of the little table. George however spied no hint of approaching doom.
"I am sorry to have to alter my opinion of that curate," he said as he seated himself. "There was so much in him that I took to promise well. But old habit, the necessities of existence, and the fear of society have been too much for him—as they will always be for most men. He has succumbed at last, and I am sorry! I did think he was going to turn out an honest man!"
"And you have come to the certain conclusion that he is not an honest man, George?"
"Because he goes on to teach what he confesses he is not sure about."
"He professes to be sure that it is better than anything he is sure about.—You teach me there is no God: are you absolutely certain there is not?"
"Yes; absolutely certain."
"On what grounds?"
"On grounds I have set forth to you twenty times, Helen, dear," answered George a little impatiently. "I am not inclined to talk about them now.—I can no more believe in a god than in a dragon."
"And yet a dragon was believable to the poets that made our old ballads; and now geology reveals that some-such creatures did at one time actually exist."
"Ah! you turn the tables on me there, Helen! I confess my parallel a false one."
"A truer one than you think, perhaps," said Helen. "That a thing should seem absurd to one man, or to a thousand men, will not make it absurd in its own nature; and men as good and as clever as you, George, have in all ages believed in a God. Only their notion of God may have been different from yours. Perhaps their notion was a believable one, while yours is not."
"By Jove, Helen! you've got on with your logic. I feel quite flattered! So far as I am aware you have had no tutor in that branch but myself! You'll soon be too much for your master, by Jove!"
Like the pied piper, Helen smiled a little smile. But she said seriously,
"Well, George, all I have to suggest is—What if, after all your inability to believe it, things should at last prove, even to your— satisfaction, shall I say?—that there IS a God?"
"Don't trouble yourself a bit about it, Helen," returned George, whose mind was full of something else, to introduce which he was anxiously, and heedlessly, clearing the way: "I am prepared to take my chance, and all I care about is whether you will take your chance with me. Helen, I love you with my whole soul."
"Oh! you have a soul, then, George? I thought you hadn't!"
"It IS a foolish form of speech, no doubt," returned Bascombe, a little disconcerted, as was natural. "—But to be serious, Helen, I do love you."
"How long will you love me if I tell you I don't love you?"
"Really, Helen, I don't see how to answer such a question. I don't understand you at all to-day! Have I offended you? I am very sorry if I have, but I am quite in the dark as to when or where or how."
"Tell me then," said Helen, heedless of his evident annoyance and discomfort, "how long will you love me if I love you in return?"
"For ever and ever."
"Another form of speech?"
"You know what I mean well enough. I shall love you as long as I live."
"George, I never could love a man who believed I was going to die for ever."
"But, Helen," pleaded Bascombe, "if it can't be helped, you know!"
"But you are content it should be so. You believe it willingly. You scoff at any hint of a possible immortality."
"Well, but, Helen, what difference can it make between you and me?" returned George, whom the danger of losing her had rendered for the moment indifferent even to his most cherished theory. "If there should be anything afterwards, of course I should go on loving you to the very extreme of the possible."
"While now you don't love me enough to wish I may live and not die! Leaving that out of view however, it makes all the difference to the love I should have to expect of you. It may be only a whim—I can prove nothing any more than you—but I have a—whim then—to be loved as an immortal woman, the child of a living God, and not as a helpless bastard of Nature!—I beg your pardon—I forget my manners."
That a lady should utter such a word!—and that lady, Helen!—George was shocked. Coming on the rest, it absolutely bewildered him. He sat silent perforce. Helen saw it, and yielded to a moment's annoyance with herself, but presently resumed:
"I have given you the advantage, George, and wronged myself. But I don't care MUCH. I shall only take the better courage to speak my mind.—You come asking me to love you, and my brother lying mouldering in the earth—all there is of him, you tell me! If you believed he was alive still, and I should find him again some day, there would be no reason why you should not speak of love even now; for where does anyone need love more than at the brink of the grave? But to come talking of love to me, with the same voice that has but just been teaching me that the grave is the end of all, and my brother gone down into it for ever—I tell you, cousin—I must say it—it seems to me hardly decent. For me at least—I will NOT be loved with the love that can calmly accept such a fate. And I will never love any man, believing that, if I outlive him, my love must thereafter be but a homeless torrent, falling ever into a bottomless abyss. Why should I make of my heart a roaring furnace of regrets and self-accusations? The memory of my brother is for me enough. Let me keep what freedom is possible to me; let me rather live the life of a cold-blooded animal, and die in the ice that gathers about me. But before I sit down to await such an end, I shall know whether I am indeed compelled to believe as you do that there is no God, that Death is my lord and master, that he will take me as he has taken my brother and yet I shall never see him more. No, cousin George, I need a God; and if there be none how did I come to need one? Yes, I know you think you can explain it all, but the way you account for it is just as miserable as what you would put in its place. I am not complete in myself like you. I am not able to live without a God. I will seek him until I find him, or drop into the abyss where all question and answer ceases. Then in the end I shall be no worse than you would have me at the beginning—no, it will be nothing so bad, for then I shall not know my misery as you would have me know it now. If we are creatures of nothing, in spite of all the outcry of our souls against that fate, what mighty matter is it if, thus utterly befooled of Nature, we should also a little fool ourselves, by believing in a lovely hope that looks like a promise, and seems as if it ought to be true? How can a devotion to the facts of her existence be required of one whose nature has been proved to her a lie?—You speak from the facts of your nature, George; I speak from the facts of mine."
Helen had come awake at last! It would have suited George better had she remained a half-quickened statue, responsive only to himself, her not over-potent Pygmalion. He sat speechless—with his eyes fixed on her.
"You need no God," she went on, "therefore you seek none. If you need none, you are right to seek none, I dare say. But I need a God—oh, I cannot tell how I need him, if he be to be found! and by the same reasoning I will give my life to the search for him. To the last I will go on seeking him, for if once I give in, and confess there is no God, I shall go mad—mad, and perhaps kill somebody like poor Poldie. George, I have said my say. I would not have come into the garden but to say it. Good-bye."
As she spoke she rose and held out her hand to him. But in the tumult of more emotions than I can well name—amongst the rest indignation, dismay, disappointment, pride, and chagrin, he lost himself while searching in vain for words, paid no heed to her movement, and lifted no hand to take that she offered.
With head erect she walked from the summer-house.
"The love of a lifetime!—a sweet invitation!" she said to herself, as with the slow step of restrained wrath she went up the garden.
George sat for some minutes as she had left him. Then he broke the silence in his own ears and said,
"Well, I'm damned!"
And so he was—for the time—and a very good thing too, for he required it.
THOU DIDST NOT LEAVE.
The next day the curate found himself so ill at ease, from the reaction after excitement of various kinds, that he determined to give himself a holiday. His notion of a holiday was a very simple one: a day in a deep wood, if such could be had, with a volume fit for alternate reading and pocketing as he might feel inclined. Of late no volume had been his companion in any wanderings but his New Testament.
There was a remnant of real old-fashioned forest on the Lythe, some distance up: thither he went by the road, the shortest way, to return by the winding course of the stream. It was a beautiful day of St. Martin's summer. In the forest, if the leaves were gone, there was the more light, and sun and shadow played many a lovely game. But he saw them as though he saw them not, for fear and hope struggled in his heart, and for a long time prayer itself could not atone them. At length a calm fell, and he set out to return home, down the bank of the river.
Many-hued and many-shaped had been the thoughts, not that came to him from the forest, but that he had carried thither with him: through all and each of them, ever and again had come dawning the face of Helen, as he had seen it in church the day before, where she sat between her aunt and her cousin, so unlike either. For, to their annoyance, she had insisted on going to church, and to hers, they had refused to let her go alone. And in her face the curate had seen something he had never seen there until then,—a wistful look, as if now she would be glad to pick up any suitable crumb to carry home with her. In that dawn of coming childhood, though he dared not yet altogether believe it such, the hard contemptuous expression of Bascombe's countenance, and the severe disapproval in Mrs. Ramshorn's, were entirely lost upon him.
All the way down the river, the sweet change haunted him. When he got into the park, and reached that hollow betwixt the steep ferny slopes where he sat on the day with which my narrative opens, he seated himself again on the same stone, and reviewed the past twelve months. This was much such a day as that, only the hour was different: it was the setting sun that now shone upon the ferns, and cast shadows from them big enough for oaks. What a change had passed upon him! That day the New Testament had been the book of the church—this day it was a fountain of living waters to the man Thomas Wingfold. He had not opened his Horace for six months. Great trouble he had had; both that and its results were precious. Now a new trouble had come, but that also was a form of life: he would rather love and suffer and love still, a thousand times rather, than return to the poverty of not knowing Helen Lingard; yet a thousand times rather would he forget Helen Lingard than lose from his heart one word of the Master, whose love was the root and only pledge and security of love, the only power that could glorify it—could cleanse it from the mingled selfishness that wrought for its final decay and death.
The sun was down ere he left the park, and the twilight was rapidly following the sun as he drew near to the Abbey on his way home. Suddenly, more like an odour than a sound, he heard the organ, he thought. Never yet had he heard it on a week-day: the organist was not of those who haunt their instrument. Often of late had the curate gazed on that organ as upon a rock filled with sweet waters, before which he stood a Moses without his rod; sometimes the solemn instrument appeared to him a dumb Jeremiah that sat there from Sunday to Sunday, all the week long, with his head bowed upon his hands, and not a Jebusite to listen to him: if only his fingers had been taught the craft, he thought, how his soul would pour itself out through the song-tubes of that tabernacle of sweetness and prayer, and on the blast of its utterance ascend to the throne of the most high! Who could it be that was now peopling the silence of the vast church with melodious sounds, worshipping creatures of the elements? If the winds and the flames of fire are his augels, how much more the grandly consorting tones of the heavenly organ! He would go and see what power informed the vaporous music.
He entered the church by one of the towers, in which a stair led skyward, passing the neighbourhood of the organ, and having a door to its loft. As he ascended, came a pause in the music;—and then, like the breaking up of a summer cloud in the heavenliest of rain-showers, began the prelude to the solo in the Messiah, THOU DIDST NOT LEAVE HIS SOUL IN HELL. Up still the curate crept softly. All at once a rich full contralto voice—surely he had heard it before—came floating out on the torrent, every tone bearing a word of sorrowful triumph in its bosom.
He reached the door. Very gently he opened it, and peeped in. But the back of the organ was towards him, and he could see nothing. He stepped upon the tiles of the little apse. One stride cleared the end of the organ, and he saw the face of the singer: it WAS Helen Lingard!
She started. The music folded its wings and dropped—like a lark into its nest. But Helen recovered herself at once, rose from her ministration at the music-altar, and approached the curate.
"Have I taken too great a liberty?" she said, in a gentle, steady voice.
"No, surely," he answered. "I am sorry I startled you. I wish you would wake such sounds oftener."
"He didn't leave my brother's soul in hell, did he, Mr. Wingfold?" she said abruptly, and her eyes shone through the dusk.
"If ever a soul was taken out of hell, it was Leopold's," returned the curate. "And it lifts mine out of it too," he added, "to hear you say so."
"I behaved very badly to you. I confess my fault. Will you forgive me?" she said.
"I love you too much to be able to forgive you:" that was the word in the curate's heart, but a different found its way to his lips.
"My heart is open to you, Miss Lingard," he said: "take what forgiveness you think you need. For what I can tell, it may be my part to ask forgiveness, not to grant it. If I have been harder to you than there was need, I pray you to forgive me. Perhaps I did not enter enough into your difficulties."
"You never said one word more than was right, or harder than I deserved. Alas! I can no more—in this world at least—ask Leopold to forgive me, but I can ask you and Mr. Polwarth, who were as the angels of God to him, to pardon me for him and for yourselves too. I was obstinate and proud and selfish.—Oh, Mr. Wingfold, can you, do you really believe that Leopold is somewhere? Is he alive this moment? Shall I ever—ever—I don't mind if it's a thousand years first—but shall I EVER see him again?"
"I do think so. I think the story must be true that tells us Jesus took to himself again the body he left on the cross, and brought it with him out of its grave."
"Will you take me for a pupil—a disciple—and teach me to believe—or hope, if you like that word better—as you do?" said Helen humbly.
How the heart of the curate beat—like the drum of a praising orchestra!
"Dear Miss Lingard," he answered, very solemnly, "I can teach you nothing; I can but show you where I found what has changed my life from a bleak November to a sunny June—with its thunder-storms no doubt—but still June beside November. Perhaps I could help you a little if you were really set out to find Jesus, but you must yourself set out. It is you who must find him. Words of mine, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, may let you know that one is near who thinks he sees him, but it is you who must search, and you who must find. If you do search, you will find, with or without help of mine.—But it is getting dark.—You have the key of the north door, I suppose?"
"Then will you lock the door, and take the key to Mrs. Jenkins. I will stay here a while, and then follow you home, if you will allow we, where we can have a little talk together. Ah, what an anthem the silent organ will play for me!"
Helen turned and went down into the church, and thence home.
The curate remained with the organ. It was silent, and so were his lips, but his heart—the music was not latent there, for his praise and thanksgiving ascended, without voice or instrument, essential harmony, to the ear that hears thought, and the heart that vibrates to every chord of feeling in the hearts it has created. Ah! what is it we send up thither, where our thoughts are either a dissonance or a sweetness and a grace? Alone in the dusky church, the curate's ascended like a song of the angels, for his heart was all a thanksgiving—not for any perfected gift, but for many a lovely hope. He knelt down by the organ and worshipped the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ—that God and no other was the God of his expectation. When he rose from his knees, the church was dark, but through the windows of the clerestory many stars were shining.