"Helen!" he said again, and he spoke with a strange expression in his voice, for it seemed that of hope, "I have been thinking all day of what you told me on Sunday."
"What was that, Poldie?" asked Helen with a pang of fear.
"Why, those words of course—what else? You sang them to me afterwards, you know. Helen, I should like to see Mr. Wingfold. Don't you think he might be able to do something?"
"What sort of thing, Poldie?" she faltered, growing sick at heart.—Was this what came of praying! she thought bitterly.
"Something or other—I don't know what exactly," returned Leopold.—"Oh Helen!" he broke out with a cry, stifled by the caution that had grown habitual to both of them, "is there no help of any kind anywhere? Surely Mr. Wingfold could tell me something—comfort me somehow, if I were to tell him all about it! I could trust the man that said such things as those you told me. That I could!—Oh! I wish I hadn't run away, but had let them take me and hang me!"
Helen felt herself grow white. She turned away, and pretended to search for something she had dropped.
"I don't think he would be of the slightest use to you," she said, still stooping.
And she felt like a devil dragging the soul of her brother to hell. But that was a foolish fancy, and must be resisted!
"Not if I told him everything?" Leopold hissed from between his teeth in the struggle to keep down a shriek.
"No, not if you told him everything," she answered, and felt like a judge condemning him to death.
"What is he there for then?" said Leopold indignantly, and turned his face to the wall and moaned.
Helen had not yet thought of asking herself whether her love to her brother was all clear love, and nowise mingled with selfishness— whether in the fresh horror that day poured into the cup that had seemed already running over, it was of her brother only she thought, or whether threatened shame to herself had not a part in her misery. But, as far as she was aware, she was quite honest in saying that the curate could not comfort him—for what attempt even had he made to comfort her? What had he done but utter common-places and truisms about duty? And who could tell but—indeed was she not certain that such a man, bringing the artillery of his fanaticism to bear upon her poor boy's wild enthusiastic temperament, would speedily persuade him to make a reality of that terrible thing he had already thought of, that hideously impossible possibility which she dared not even allow to present itself before her imagination? So he lay and moaned, and she sat crushed and speechless with despairing misery.
All at once Leopold sat straight up, his eyes fixed and flaming, his face white: he looked like a corpse possessed by a spirit of fear and horror. Helen's heart swelled into her throat, the muscles of her face contracted with irresistible rigor, and she felt it grow exactly like his, while with wide eyes she stared at him, and he stared at something which lest she also should see, she dared not turn her head. Surely, she thought afterwards, she must have been that moment in the presence of something unearthly! Her physical being was wrenched from her control, and she must simply sit and wait until the power or influence, whichever it might be, should pass away. How long it was ere it relaxed its hold she could not tell; it could not have been long, she thought. Suddenly the light sank from Leopold's eyes, his muscles relaxed, he fell back motionless, apparently senseless, on the pillow, and she thought he was dead. The same moment she was free; the horror had departed from her own atmosphere too, and she made haste to restore him. But in all she did for him, she felt like the executioner who gives restoratives to the wretch that has fainted on the rack or the wheel. What right had SHE, she thought, to multiply to him his moments of torture? If the cruel power that had created him for such misery, whoever, whatever, wherever he might be, chose thus to torture him, was she, his only friend, out of the selfish affection he had planted in her, to lend herself his tool? Yet she hesitated not a single moment in her ministrations.
There is so much passes in us of which our consciousness takes no grasp,—or but with such a flitting touch as scarcely to hand it over to the memory—that I feel encouraged to doubt whether ever there was a man absolutely without hope. That there have been, alas, are many, who are aware of no ground of hope, nay even who feel no glimmer in them of anything they can call hope, I know; but I think in them all is an underlying unconscious hope. I think that not one in all the world has more than a shadowy notion of what hopelessness means. Perhaps utter hopelessness is the outer darkness.
At length Leopold opened his eyes, gave a terrified glance around, held out his arms to her, and drew her down upon his face.
"I saw her!" he said, in a voice that sounded as if it came from the grave, and she heard it in her heart.
"Nonsense, dear Poldie! it was all fancy—nothing more," she returned, in a voice almost as hollow as his; and the lightness of the words uttered in such a tone jarred dismayfully on her own ear.
"Fancy!" he repeated; "I know what fancy is as well as any man or woman born: THAT was no fancy. She stood there, by the wardrobe—in the same dress!—her face as white as her dress! And—listen!—I will tell YOU—I will soon satisfy you it COULD be no fancy."—Here he pushed her from him and looked straight in her eyes.—"I saw her back reflected in the mirror of the wardrobe-door, and"—here the fixed look of horror threatened to return upon his face, but he went on—"listen,—there was a worm crawling on it, over her lovely white shoulder! Ugh! I saw it in the mirror!"
His voice had risen to a strangled shriek, his face was distorted, and he shook like a child on the point of yelling aloud in an agony of fear. Helen clasped his face between her hands, and gathering courage from despair, if indeed that be a possible source of courage, and it is not gathered rather from the hidden hope of which I speak, and the love that will cleave and not forsake, she set her teeth, and said:
"Let her come then, Poldie! I am with you, and I defy her! She shall know that a sister's love is stronger than the hate of a jilt—even if you did kill her. Before God, Poldie, I would after all rather be you than she. Say what you will, she had herself to blame, and I don't doubt did twenty worse things than you did when you killed her."
But Leopold seemed not to hear a word she said, and lay with his face to the wall.
At length he turned his head suddenly, and said,
"Helen, if you don't let me see Mr. Wingfold, I shall go mad, and then everything will come out."
Helen flew to the dressing-room to hide her dismay, and there cast herself on the bed. The gray Fate above, or the awful Demo-gorgon beneath, would have its way! Whether it was a living Will or but the shadow of the events it seemed to order, it was too much for her. She had no choice but yield. She rose and returned to her brother.
"I am going to find Mr. Wingfold," she said in a hoarse voice, as she took her hat.
"Don't be long then, Helen," returned Leopold. "I can't bear you out of my sight. And don't let aunt come into the room. SHE might come again, you know, and then all would be out.—Bring him with you, Helen."
"I will," answered Helen, and went.
The curate might have returned: she would seek him first at his lodging. She cared nothing about appearances now.
It was a dull afternoon. Clouds had gathered, and the wind was chilly. It seemed to blow out of the church, which stood up cold and gray against the sky, filling the end of the street. What a wretched, horrible world it was! She approached the church, and entered the churchyard from which it rose like a rock from the Dead Sea—a type of the true church, around whose walls lie the dead bodies of the old selves left behind by those who enter. Helen would have envied the dead, who lay so still under its waves; but, alas! if Leopold was right, they but roamed elsewhere in their trouble, and were no better for dying.
She hurried across, and reached the house; but Mr. Wingfold had not yet returned, and she hurried back across it again, to tell Leopold that she must go farther to find him.
The poor youth was already more composed. What will not the vaguest hope sometimes do for a man! Helen told him she had seen the curate in the park, when she was out in the morning, and he might be there still, or she might meet him coming back. Leopold only begged her to make haste. She took the road to the lodge.
She did not meet him, and it was with intense repugnance that she approached the gate.
"Is Mr. Wingfold here?" she asked of Rachel, as if she had never spoken to her before; and Rachel, turning paler at the sight of her, answered that he was in the garden with her uncle, and went to call him.
The moment he appeared she said, in a tone rendered by conflicting emotions inexplicable, and sounding almost rude,
"Will you come to my brother? He is very ill, and wants to see you."
"Certainly," returned Wingfold; "I will go with you at once."
But in his heart he trembled at the thought of being looked to for consolation and counsel, and that apparently in a case of no ordinary kind. Most likely he would not know what to say, or how to behave himself! How different it would be if with all his heart he believed the grand lovely things recorded in the book of his profession! Then indeed he might enter the chambers of pain and fear and guilt with the innocent confidence of a winged angel of comfort and healing! But now the eyes of his understanding were blinded with the IFS and BUTS that flew swarming like black muscae wherever they turned. Still he would—nay, he must go and do his best.
They walked across the park to reach the house by the garden, and for some distance they walked in silence. At length Helen said:
"You must not encourage my brother to talk much, if you please; and you must not mind what he says; he has had brain-fever, and sometimes talks strangely. But on the other hand, if he fancy you don't believe him, it will drive him wild—so you must take care— please."
Her voice was like that of a soul trying to speak with unproved lips.
"Miss Lingard," said Wingfold, slowly and quietly—and if his voice trembled, he only was aware of it, "I cannot see your face, therefore you must pardon me if I ask you—are you quite honest with me?"
Helen's first feeling was anger. She held her peace for a time. Then she said,
"So, Mr. Wingfold!—that is the way you help the helpless!"
"How can any man help without knowing what has to be helped?" returned the curate. "The very being of his help depends upon his knowing the truth. It is very plain you do not trust me, and equally impossible I should be of any service as long as the case is such."
Again Helen held her peace. Resentment and dislike towards himself combined with terror of his anticipated counsel to render her speechless.
Her silence lasted so long that Wingfold came to the resolution of making a venture that had occurred to him more than once that morning. Had he not been convinced that a soul was in dire misery, he would not have had recourse to the seeming cruelty.
"Would this help to satisfy you that, whatever my advice may be worth, at least my discretion may be trusted?" he said.
They were at the moment passing through a little thicket in the park, where nobody could see them, and as he spoke, he took the knife-sheath from his pocket, and held it out to her.
She started like a young horse at something dead: she had never seen it, but the shape had an association. She paled, retreated a step, with a drawing back of her head and neck and a spreading of her nostrils, stared for a moment, first at the sheath, then at the curate, gave a little moan, bit her under lip hard, held out her hand, but as if she were afraid to touch the thing, and said:
"What is it? Where did you find it?"
She would have taken it, but Wingfold held it fast.
"Give it me," she said imperatively. "It is mine. I lost it."
"There is something dark on the lining of it," said the curate, and looked straight into her eyes.
She let go her hold. But almost the same moment she snatched the sheath out of his hand and held it to her bosom, while her look of terror changed into one of defiance. Wingfold made no attempt to recover it. She put it in her pocket, and drew herself up.
"What do you mean?" she said, in a voice that was hard yet trembled.
She felt like one that sees the vultures gathering above him, and lifts a moveable finger in defence. Then with sudden haughtiness both of gesture and word:
"You have been acting the spy, sir!"
"No," returned the curate quietly. "The sheath was committed to my care by one whom certain facts that had come to his knowledge— certain words he had overheard—"
He paused. She shook visibly, but still would hold what ground might yet be left her.
"Why did you not give it me before?" she asked.
"In the public street, or in your aunt's presence?"
"You are cruel!" she panted. Her strength was going. "What do you know?"
"Nothing so well as that I want to serve you, and you may trust me."
"What do you mean to do?"
"My best to help you and your brother."
"But to what end?"
"To any end that is right."
"But how? What would you tell him to do?"
"You must help me to discover what he ought to do."
"Not—" she cried, clasping her hands and dropping on her knees before him, "—you WILL not tell him to give himself up? Promise me you will not, and I will tell you everything. He shall do anything you please but that! Anything but that!"
Wingfold's heart was sore at sight of her agony. He would have raised her with soothing words of sympathy and assurance, but still she cried, "Promise me you will not make him give himself up."
"I dare not promise anything." he said. "I MUST do what I may see to be right. Believe me, I have no wish to force myself into your confidence, but you have let me see that you are in great trouble and in need of help, and I should be unfaithful to my calling if I did not do my best to make you trust me."
A pause followed. Helen rose despairingly, and they resumed their walk. Just as they reached the door in the fence which would let them out upon the meadow in sight of the Manor-house, she turned to him and said,
"I will trust you, Mr. Wingfold. I mean, I will take you to my brother, and he shall do as he thinks proper."
They passed out and walked across the meadow in silence. In the passage under the fence, as she turned from closing the door behind them, she stood and pressed her hand to her side.
"Oh! Mr. Wingfold," she cried, "my heart will break! He has no one but me! No one but me to be mother and sister and all to him! He is NOT wicked—my poor darling!"
She caught the curate by the arm with a grasp which left its mark behind it, and gazed appealingly into his face: in the dim tomb-like light, her wide-strained eyes, white agonized countenance, and trembling roseless lips made her look like one called back from death "to speak of horrors."
"Save him from madness," she said, in forced and unnatural utterance. "Save him from the remorse gnawing at his heart. But do not, DO not counsel him to give himself up."
"Would it not be better you should tell me about it," said the curate, "and save him the pain and excitement?"
"I will do so, if he wishes it, not otherwise. Come; we must not stay longer. He can hardly bear me out of his sight. I will leave you for one moment in the library, and then come to you. If you should see my aunt, not a word of all this, please. All she knows is that he has had brain-fever, and is recovering only very slowly. I have never given her even a hint of anything worse. Indeed, honestly, Mr. Wingfold, I am not at all certain he did do what he will tell you. But there is his misery all the same. Do have pity on us, and don't be hard upon the poor boy. He is but a boy—only twenty."
"May God be to me as I am to him!" said Wingfold solemnly.
Helen withdrew her entreating eyes, and let go his arm. They went up into the garden and into the house.
Afterwards, Wingfold was astonished at his own calmness and decision in taking upon him—almost, as it were, dragging to him—this relation with Helen and her brother. But he had felt that not to do so would be to abandon Helen to her grief, and that for her sake he must not hesitate to encounter whatever might have to be encountered in doing so.
Helen left him in the library, as she had said, and there he waited her return in a kind of stupor, unable to think, and feeling as if he were lost in a strange and anxious dream.
"Come," said Helen, re-entering, and the curate rose and followed her.
The moment he turned the corner of the bed and saw the face on the pillow, he knew in his soul that Helen was right, and that that was no wicked youth who lay before him—one, however, who might well have been passion-driven. There was the dark complexion and the great soft yet wild eyes that came of tropical blood. Had not Helen so plainly spoken of her brother, however, he would have thought he saw before him a woman. The worn, troubled, appealing light that overflowed rather than shone from his eyes, went straight to the curate's heart.
Wingfold had had a brother, the only being in the world he had ever loved tenderly; he had died young, and a thin film of ice had since gathered over the well of his affections; but now suddenly this ice broke and vanished, and his heart yearned over the suffering youth. He had himself been crying to God, not seldom in sore trouble, and now, ere, as it seemed, he had himself been heard, here was a sad brother crying to him for help. Nor was this all; the reading of the gospel story had roused in his heart a strange yet most natural longing after the face of that man of whom he read such lovely things, and thence, unknown to himself, had come a reverence and a love for his kind, which now first sprang awake to his consciousness in the feeling that drew him towards Leopold.
Softly he approached the bed, his face full of tenderness and strong pity. The lad, weak with protracted illness and mental torture, gave one look in his face, and stretched out both his arms to him. How could the curate give him but a hand? He put his arms round him as if he had been a child.
"I knew you would come," sobbed Lingard.
"What else should I do but come?" returned Wingfold.
"I have seen you somewhere before," said Lingard—"in one of my dreams, I suppose."
Then, sinking his voice to a whisper, he added:
"Do you know you came in close behind HER? She looked round and saw you, and vanished!"
Wingfold did not even try to guess at his meaning.
"Hush, my dear fellow!" he said; "I must not let you talk wildly, or the doctor might forbid my seeing you."
"I am not talking a bit wildly," returned Leopold. "I am as quiet as a mountain-top. Ah! when I AM wild—if you saw me then, you might say so!"
Wingfold sat down on the side of the bed, and took the thin, hot hand next him in his own firm, cool one.
"Come now," he said, "tell me all about it. Or shall your sister tell me?—Come here, please, Miss Lingard."
"No, no!" cried Leopold hastily; "I will tell you myself. My poor sister could not bear to tell it you. It would kill her.—But how am I to know you will not get up and walk out the moment you have a glimpse of what is coming?"
"I would as soon leave a child burning in the fire, and go out and shut the door," said Wingfold.
"You can go now, Helen," said Lingard very quietly. "Why should you be tortured over again? You needn't mind leaving me. Mr. Wingfold will take care of me."
Helen left the room, with one anxious look at her brother as she went.
Without a moment's further delay, Leopold began, and in wonderfully direct and unbroken narrative, told the sad evil tale as he had formerly told it to his sister, only more consecutively and quietly. Possibly his anxiety as to how the listener would receive it, served, by dividing him between two emotions, to keep the reuttered tale from overpowering him with freshened vividness. All the time, he kept watching Wingfold's face, the expressions of which the curate felt those eyes were reading like a book.
He was so well prepared, however, that no expression of surprise, no reflex of its ghastfulness met Leopold's gaze, and he went on to the end without a pause even. When he had finished, both sat silent, looking in each other's eyes, Wingfold's beaming with compassion, and Lingard's glimmering with doubtful, anxious inquiry and appeal. At length Wingfold said:
"And what do you think I can do for you?"
"I don't know. I thought you could tell me something. I cannot live like this! If I had but thought before I did it, and killed myself instead of her! It would have done so much better! Of course I should be in hell now, but that would be all right, and this is all wrong. I have no right to be lying here and Emmeline in her grave. I know I deserve to be miserable for ever and ever, and I don't want not to be miserable—that is all right—but there is something in this wretchedness that I cannot bear. Tell me something to make me able to endure my misery. That is what you can do for me. I don't want to go mad. And what is worst of all, I have made my sister miserable, and I can't bear to see it. She is wasting away with it. And besides I fancy she loves George Bascombe—and who would marry the sister of a murderer? And now she has begun to come to me again—in the daytime—I mean Emmeline!—or I have begun to see her again—I don't know which;—perhaps she is always there, only I don't always see her—and it don't much matter which. Only if other people were to see her!—While she is there nothing could persuade me I do not see her, but afterwards I am not so sure that I did. And at night I keep dreaming the horrible thing over and over again; and the agony is to think I shall never get rid of it, and never never feel clean again. To be for ever and ever a murderer and people not know it, is more than I CAN bear."
THE CURATE'S COUNSEL.
Not seeing yet what he had to say, but knowing that scintillation the smallest is light, the curate let the talk take its natural course, and said the next thing that came to him.
"How do you feel when you think that you may yet be found out?" he asked.
"At first I was more afraid of that than of anything else. Then after that danger seemed past, I was afraid of the life to come. That fear left me next, and now it is the thing itself that is always haunting me. I often wish they would come and take me, and deliver me from myself. It would be a comfort to have it all known, and never need to start again. I think I could even bear to see her in the prison. If it would annihilate the deed, or bring Emmeline back, I cannot tell you how gladly I would be hanged. I would, indeed, Mr. Wingfold. I I hope you will believe me, though I don't deserve it."
"I do believe you," said the curate, and a silence followed.
"There is but one thing I can say with confidence at this moment," he resumed: "it is, that I am your friend, and will stand by you. But the first part of friendship sometimes is to confess poverty, and I want to tell you that, of the very things concerning which I ought to know most, I knew least. I have but lately begun to feel after God, and I dare not say that I have found him, but I think I know now where to find him. And I do think, if we could find him, then we should find help. All I can do for you now is only to be near you, and talk to you, and pray to God for you, that so together we may wait for what light may come.—Does anything ever look to you as if it would make you feel better?"
"I have no right to feel better or take comfort from anything."
"I am not sure about that.—Do you feel any better for having me come to see you?"
"Oh, yes, indeed I do!"
"Well, there is no wrong in that, is there?"
"I don't know. It seems a sneaking kind of thing: she has got none of it. My sister makes excuses for me, but the moment I begin to listen to them I only feel the more horrid."
"I have said nothing of that kind to you."
"And yet you like to have me here?"
"Yes, indeed, sir," he answered, earnestly.
"And it does not make you think less of your crime?"
"No. It makes me feel it worse than ever to see you sitting there, a clean, strong, innocent man, and think what I might have been."
"Then the comfort you get from me does you no harm, at least. If I were to find my company made you think with less hatred of your crime, I should go away that instant."
"Thank you, sir," said Leopold humbly. "Oh, sir!" he resumed after a little silence, "—to think that never more to all eternity shall I be able to think of myself as I used to think!"
"Perhaps you used to think too much of yourself," returned the curate. "For the greatest fool and rascal in creation there is yet a worse condition, and that is—not to know it, but think himself a respectable man. As the event proves, though you would doubtless have laughed at the idea, you were then capable of committing a murder. I have come to see—at least I think I have—that except a man has God dwelling in him, he may be, or may become, capable of any crime within the compass of human nature."
"I don't know anything about God," said Leopold. "I daresay I thought I did before this happened—before I did it, I mean," he added in correction,"—but I know now that I don't, and never did."
"Ah, Leopold!" said the curate, "think, if my coming to you comforts you, what would it be to have him who made you always with you!"
"Where would be the good? I daresay he might forgive me, if I were to do this and that, but where would be the good of it? It would not take the thing off me one bit."
"Ah! now," said Wingfold, "I fear you are thinking a little about your own disgrace and not only of the bad you have done. Why should you not be ashamed? Why would you have the shame taken off you? Nay; you must humbly consent to bear it. Perhaps your shame is the hand of love washing the defilement from off you. Let us keep our shame, and be made clean from the filth!"
"I don't know that I understand you, sir. What do you mean by the defilement? Is it not to have done the deed that is the defilement?"
"Is it not rather to have that in you, a part, or all but a part of your being, that makes you capable of doing it? If you had resisted and conquered, you would have been clean from it; and now, if you repent and God comes to you, you will yet be clean. Again I say, let us keep our shame and be made clean! Shame is not defilement, though a mean pride persuades men so. On the contrary, the man who is honestly ashamed has begun to be clean."
"But what good would that do to Emmeline? It cannot bring her up again to the bright world out of the dark grave."
"Emmeline is not in the dark grave."
"Where is she, then?" he said with a ghastly look.
"That I cannot tell. I only know that, if there be a God, she is in his hands," replied the curate.
The youth gazed on in his face and made no answer. Wingfold saw that he had been wrong in trying to comfort him with the thought of God dwelling in him. How was such a poor passionate creature to take that for a comfort? How was he to understand or prize the idea, who had his spiritual nature so all undeveloped? He would try another way.
"Shall I tell you what seems to me sometimes the only one thing I want to help me out of my difficulties?"
"Yes, please, sir," answered Leopold, as humbly as a child.
"I think sometimes, if I could but see Jesus for one moment—"
"Ah!" cried Leopold, and gave a great sigh.
'YOU would like to see him then, would you?"
"Oh, Mr. Wingfold!"
"What would you say to him if you saw him?"
"I don't know. I would fall down on my face and hold his feet lest he should go away from me."
"Do you think then he could help you?"
"Yes. He could make Emmeline alive again. He could destroy what I have done."
"But still, as you say, the crime would remain."
"But, as you say, he could pardon that, and make me that I would never never sin again."
"So you think the story about Jesus Christ is true?"
"Yes. Don't you?" said Leopold with an amazed, half-frightened look.
"Yes, indeed I do.—Then do you remember what he said to his disciples as he left them: 'I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS UNTO THE END OF THE WORLD'?—If that be true, then he can hear you just as well now as ever he could. And when he was in the world, he said, 'COME UNTO ME ALL YE THAT LABOUR AND ARE HEAVY-LADEN, AND I WILL GIVE YOU REST.' It is rest you want, my poor boy—not deliverance from danger or shame, but rest—such peace of mind as you had when you were a child. If he cannot give you that, I know not where or how it is to be had. Do not waste time in asking yourself how he can do it: that is for him to understand, not you—until it is done. Ask him to forgive you and make you clean and set things right for you. If he will not do it, then he is not the saviour of men, and was wrongly named Jesus."
The curate rose. Leopold had hid his face. When he looked again he was gone.
As Wingfold came out of the room, which was near the stair, Helen rose from the top of it, where she had been sitting all the time he had been with her brother. He closed the door gently behind him, and stepped softly along the landing. A human soul in guilt and agony is an awful presence, but there was more than that in the hush of the curate: he felt as if he had left the physician of souls behind him at the bedside; that a human being lay on the rack of the truth, but at his head stood one who watched his throes with the throbs of such a human heart as never beat in any bosom but his own, and the executioners were angels of light. No wonder if with such a feeling in his breast Wingfold walked softly, and his face glistened! He was not aware that the tears stood in his eyes, but Helen saw them.
"You know all!" she faltered.
"I do. Will you let me out by the garden again? I wish to be alone."
She led the way down the stair, and walked with him through the garden. Wingfold did not speak.
"You don't think very badly of my poor brother, do you, Mr. Wingfold?" said Helen, meekly.
"It is a terrible fate," he returned. "I think I never saw a lovelier disposition. I do hope his mind will soon be more composed. I think he knows where alone he can find rest. I am well aware how foolish that of which I speak seems to some minds, Miss Lingard; but when a man is once overwhelmed in his own deeds, when they have turned into spectres to mock at him, when he loathes himself and turns with sickness from past, present, and future, I know but one choice left, and that is between the death your friend Mr. Bascombe preaches, and the life preached by Jesus, the crucified Jew. Into the life I hope your brother will enter."
"I am so glad you don't hate him."
"Hate him! Who but a demon could hate him?"
Helen lifted a grateful look from eyes that swam in tears. The terror of his possible counsel for the moment vanished. He could never tell him to give himself up!
"But, as I told you, I am a poor scholar in these high matters," resumed the curate, "and I want to bring Mr. Polwarth to see him."
"The dwarf!" exclaimed Helen, shuddering at the remembrance of what she had gone through at the cottage.
"Yes. That man's soul is as grand and beautiful and patient as his body is insignificant and distorted and troubled. He is the wisest and best man I have ever known.
"I must ask Leopold," returned Helen, who, the better the man was represented, felt the more jealous and fearful of the advice he might give. Her love and her conscience were not yet at one with each other.
They parted at the door from the garden, and she returned to the sick-room.
She paused, hesitating to enter. All was still as the grave. She turned the handle softly and peeped in: could it be that Wingfold's bearing had communicated to her mind a shadow of the awe with which he had left the place where perhaps a soul was being born again? Leopold did not move. Terror laid hold of her heart. She stepped quickly in, and round the screen to the side of the bed. There, to her glad surprise, he lay fast asleep, with the tears not yet dried upon his face. Her heart swelled with some sense unknown before: was it rudimentary thankfulness to the Father of her spirit?
As she stood gazing with the look of a mother over her sick child, he lifted his eyelids, and smiled a sad smile.
"When did you come into the room?" he said.
"A minute ago," she answered.
"I did not hear you," he returned.
"No, you were asleep."
"Not I! Mr. Wingfold is only just gone."
"I have let him out on the meadow since."
Leopold stared, looked half alarmed, and then said,
"Did God make me sleep, Helen?"
She did not answer. The light of a new hope in his eye, as if the dawn had begun at last to break over the dark mountains, was already reflected from her heart.
"Oh! Helen," he said, "that IS a good fellow, SUCH a good fellow!"
A pang of jealousy, the first she had ever felt, shot to her heart: she had hitherto, since his trouble, been all in all to her Leopold! Had the curate been a man she liked, she would not perhaps have minded it so much.
"You will be able to do without me now," she said sadly. "I never could understand taking to people at first sight!"
"Some people are made so, I suppose, Helen. I know I took to you at first sight! I shall never forget the first time I saw you—when I came to this country a lonely little foreigner,—and you, a great beautiful lady, for such you seemed to me, though you have told me since you were only a great gawky girl—I know that could never have been—you ran to meet me, and took me in your arms, and kissed me. I was as if I had crossed the sea of death and found paradise in your bosom! I am not likely to forget you for Mr. Wingfold, good and kind and strong as he is! Even SHE could not make me forget you, Helen. But neither you nor I can do without Mr. Wingfold any more, I fancy. I wish you liked him better!—but you will in time. You see he's not one to pay young ladies compliments, as I have heard some parsons do; and he may be a little—no, not unpolished, not that—that's not what I mean—but unornamental in his manners! Only, you see,—"
"Only, you see, Poldie," interrupted Helen, with a smile, a rare thing between them, "you know all about him, though you never saw him before."
"That is true," returned Leopold; "but then he came to me with his door open, and let me walk in. It doesn't take long to know a man then. He hasn't got a secret like us, Helen," he added, sadly.
"What did he say to you?"
"Much what he said to you from the pulpit the other day, I should think."
Then she was right! For all his hardness and want of sympathy, the curate had yet had regard to her entreaties, and was not going to put any horrid notions about duty and self-sacrifice into the poor boy's head!
"He's coming again to-morrow," added Leopold, almost gleefully, "and then perhaps he will tell me more, and help me on a bit!"
"Did he tell you he wants to bring a friend with him?"
"I can't see the good of taking more people into our confidence."
"Why should he not do what he thinks best, Helen? You don't interfere with the doctor—why should you with him? When a man is going to the bottom as fast as he can, and another comes diving after him—it isn't for me to say how he is to take hold of me. No, Helen; when I trust, I trust out and out."
Helen sighed, thinking how ill that had worked with Emmeline.
Ever since George Bascombe had talked about the Polwarths that day they met him in the park, she had felt a sort of physical horror of them, as if they were some kind of unclean creature that ought not to be in existence at all. But when Leopold uttered himself thus, she felt that the current of events had seized her, and that she could only submit to be carried along.
The next day the curate called again on Leopold. But Helen happened to be otherwise engaged for a few minutes, and Mrs. Ramshorn to be in the sick-room when the servant brought his name. With her jealousy of Wingfold's teaching, she would not have admitted him, but Lingard made such loud protest when he heard her say "Not at home," insisting on seeing him, that she had to give way, and tell the maid to show him up. She HAD NO NOTION however of leaving him alone in the room with the invalid: who could tell what absurd and extravagant ideas he might not put into the boy's head! He might make him turn monk, or Socinian, or latter-day-saint, for what she knew! So she sat, blocking up the sole small window in the youth's dark dwelling that looked eastward, and damming back the tide of the dawn from his diseased and tormented soul. Little conversation was therefore possible. Still the face of his new friend was a comfort to Leopold, and ere he left him they had managed to fix an hour for next day, when they would not be thus foiled of their talk.
That same afternoon, Wingfold took the draper to see Polwarth.
Rachel was lying on the sofa in the parlour—a poor little heap, looking more like a grave disturbed by efforts at a resurrection, than a form informed with humanity. But she was cheerful and cordial, receiving Mr. Drew and accepted his sympathy most kindly.
"We'll see what God will do for me," she said in answer to a word from the curate. Her whole bearing, now as always, was that of one who perfectly trusted a supreme spirit under whose influences lay even the rugged material of her deformed dwelling.
Polwarth allowed Wingfold to help him in getting tea, and the conversation, as will be the case where all are in earnest, quickly found the right channel.
It is not often in real life that such conversations occur. Generally, in any talk worth calling conversation, every man has some point to maintain, and his object is to justify his own thesis and disprove his neighbour's. I will allow that he may primarily have adopted his thesis because of some sign of truth in it, but his mode of supporting it is generally such as to block up every cranny in his soul at which more truth might enter. In the present case, unusual as it is for so many as three truth-loving men to come thus together on the face of this planet, here were three simply set on uttering truth they had seen, and gaining sight of truth as yet veiled from them.
I shall attempt only a general impression of the result of their evening's intercourse, partly recording the utterances of Polwarth.
"I have been trying hard to follow you, Mr. Polwarth," said the draper, after his host had for a while had the talk to himself, "but I cannot get a hold of your remarks. One moment I think I have got the end of the clew, and the next find myself all abroad again. Would you tell me what you mean by divine service, for I think you must use the phrase in some different sense from what I have been accustomed to?"
"Ah! I ought to remember," said Polwarth, "that what has grown familiar to my mind from much solitary thinking, may not at once show itself to another, when presented in the forms of a foreign individuality. I ought to have premised that, when I use the phrase, DIVINE SERVICE, I mean nothing whatever belonging to the church, or its observances. I mean by it what it ought to mean—the serving of God—the doing of something for God. Shall I make of the church in my foolish imaginations a temple of idolatrous worship by supposing that it is for the sake of supplying some need that God has, or of gratifying some taste in him, that I there listen to his word, say prayers to him, and sing his praises? Shall I be such a dull mule in the presence of the living Truth? Or, to use a homely simile, shall I be as the good boy of the nursery rhyme, who, seated in his corner of selfish complacency, regards the eating of his pie as a virtuous action, enjoys the contemplation of it, and thinks what a pleasant object he thus makes of himself to his parents? Shall I, to take a step farther, degrade the sanctity of the closet, hallowed in the words of Jesus, by shutting its door in the vain fancy of there doing something that God requires of me as a sacred OBSERVANCE? Shall I foolishly imagine that to put in exercise the highest and loveliest, the most entrancing privilege of existence, that of pouring forth my whole heart into the heart of him who is ACCOUNTABLE FOR me, who hath glorified me with his own image—in my soul, gentlemen, sadly disfigured as it is in my body!—shall I say that THAT is to do anything for God? Was I serving my father when I ate the dinner he provided for me? Am I serving my God when I eat his bread and drink his wine?"
"But," said Drew, "is not God pleased that a man should pour out his soul to him?"
"Yes, doubtless; but what would you think of a child who said, 'I am very useful to my father, for when I ask him for anything, or tell him I love him, it gives him—oh, such pleasure!'?"
"I should say he was an unendurable prig. Better he had to be whipped for stealing!" said the curate.
"There would be more hope of his future," returned Polwarth. "—Is the child," he continued, "who sits by his father's knee and looks up into his father's face, SERVING that father, because the heart of the father delights to look down upon his child? And shall the moment of my deepest repose and bliss, the moment when I serve myself with the very life of the universe, be called a serving of my God? It is communion with God; he holds it with me, else never could I hold it with him. I am as the foam-froth upon his infinite ocean, but of the water of the ocean is the bubble on its waves."
Not the eyes only, but the whole face of the man, which had grown of a pure, semi-transparent whiteness, appeared to Wingfold to emit light.
"When my child would serve me," he went on," he spies out some need I have, springs from his seat at my knee, finds that which will meet my necessity, and is my eager, happy servant, of consequence in his own eyes inasmuch as he has done something for his father. His seat by my knee is love, delight, well-being, peace—not service, however pleasing in my eyes.—'Why do you seat yourself at my knee, my son?' 'To please you, father.' 'Nay then, my son! go from me, and come again when it shall be to please thyself.'—'Why do you cling to my chair, my daughter? 'Because I want to be near you, father. It makes me so happy!' 'Come nearer still—come to my bosom, my child, and be yet happier.'—Talk not of public worship as divine service; it is a mockery. Search the prophets and you will find the observances, fasts and sacrifices and solemn feasts, of the temple by them regarded with loathing and scorn, just because by the people they were regarded as DIVINE SERVICE."
"But," said Mr. Drew, while Wingfold turned towards him with some anxiety lest he should break the mood of the little prophet, "I can't help thinking I have you! for how are poor creatures like us—weak, blundering creatures, sometimes most awkward when best-intentioned—how are we to minister to a perfect God—perfect in wisdom, strength, and everything—of whom Paul says that he is not worshipped with men's hands as though he needed anything? I cannot help thinking that you are fighting merely with a word. Certainly, if the phrase ever was used in that sense, there is no meaning of the kind attached to it now: it stands merely for the forms of public worship."
"Were there no such thing as Divine Service in the true sense of the word, then, indeed it would scarcely be worth while to quarrel with its misapplication. But I assert that true and genuine service may be rendered to the living God; and, for the development of the divine nature in man, it is necessary that he should do something for God. Nor is it hard to discover how; for God is in every creature that he has made, and in their needs he is needy, and in all their afflictions he is afflicted. Therefore Jesus says that whatever is done to one of his little ones is done to him. And if the soul of a man be the temple of the Spirit, then is the place of that man's labour, his shop, his counting-house, his laboratory, the temple of Jesus Christ, where the spirit of the man is incarnate in work.—Mr. Drew!"—Here the gate-keeper stood up, and held out both his hands, palms upward, towards the draper on the other side of the table.—"Mr. Drew! your shop is the temple of your service where the Lord Christ, the only image of the Father is, or ought to be throned; your counter is, or ought to be his altar; and everything thereon laid, with intent of doing as well as you can for your neighbour, in the name of THE man Christ Jesus, is a true sacrifice offered to Him, a service done to the eternal creating Love of the universe."
The little prophet's head as he stood, did not reach the level of the draper's as he sat, but at this Drew dropped his head on his hands upon the table, as if bowed down by a weight of thought and feeling and worship.
"I say not," Polwarth went on, "that so doing you will grow a rich man, but I say that so doing you will be saved from growing too rich, and that you will be a fellow-worker with God for the salvation of his world."
"I must live; I cannot give my goods away!" murmured Mr. Drew, thinkingly, as one that sought enlightenment.
"That would be to go direct against the order of his world, "said Polwarth." No; a harder task is yours, Mr. Drew—to make your business a gain to you, and at the same time to be not only what is commonly counted just, but interested in, and careful of, and caring for your neighbour, as a servant of the God of bounty who giveth to all men liberally. Your calling is to do the best for your neighbour that you reasonably can."
"But who is to fix what is reasonable?" asked Drew.
"The man himself, thinking in the presence of Jesus Christ. There is a holy moderation which is of God."
"There won't be many fortunes—great fortunes—made after that rule, Mr. Polwarth."
"Then do you say that no great fortunes have been righteously made?"
"If RIGHTEOUSLY means AFTER THE FASHION OF JESUS CHRIST.—But I will not judge: that is for the God-enlightened conscience of the man himself to do—not for his neighbour's. Why should I be judged by another man's conscience?—But you see, Mr. Drew,—and this is what I was driving at—that you have it in your power to SERVE God, through the needs of his children, all the working day, from morning to night, so long as there is a customer in your shop."
"I do think you are right, sir," said the linen-draper. "I had a glimpse of the same thing the other night myself. And yet it seems as if you spoke of a purely ideal state—one that could not be realised in this world."
"Purely ideal or not, one thing is certain: it will never be reached by one who is so indifferent to it as to believe it impossible. Whether it may be reached in this world or not, that is a question of NO consequence; whether a man has begun to REACH AFTER it, is of the utmost awfulness of import. And should it be ideal, which I doubt, what else than the ideal have the followers of the ideal man to do with?"
"Can a man reach anything ideal before he has God dwelling in him—filling every cranny of his soul?" asked the curate with shining eyes.
"Nothing, I do most solemnly believe," answered Polwarth. "It weighs on me heavily sometimes," he resumed, after a pause, "to think how far all but a few are from being able even to entertain the idea of the indwelling in them of the original power of their life. True, God is in every man, else how could he live the life he does live? but that life God keeps alive for the hour when he shall inform the will, the aspiration, the imagination of the man. When the man throws wide his door to the Father of his spirit, when his individual being is thus supplemented—to use a poor miserable word—with the individuality that originated it, then is the man a whole, healthy, complete existence. Then indeed, and then only, will he do no wrong, think no wrong, love perfectly, and be right merry. Then will he scarce think of praying, because God is in every thought and enters anew with every sensation. Then will he forgive, and endure, and pour out his soul for the beloved who yet grope their way in doubt and passion. Then every man will be dear and precious to him, even the worst, for in him also lies an unknown yearning after the same peace wherein he rests and loves."
He sat down suddenly, and a deep silence filled the room.
A SHOP IN HEAVEN.
"Uncle," said Rachel, "may I read your visions of the shops in heaven?"
"Oh no, Rachel. You are not able to read to-night," said her uncle deprecatingly.
"I think I am, uncle. I should like to try. It will let the gentlemen see what you WOULD think an ideal state of things.—It is something, Mr. Wingfold, my uncle once dictated to me, and I wrote down just as he said it. He can always do better dictating than writing, but this time he was so ill with asthma that he could not talk much faster than I could write; and yet to be so ill I never saw him show so little suffering; his thinking seemed to make him forget it.—Mayn't I read it, uncle? I know the gentlemen would like to hear it."
"That we should," said both men at once.
"I will fetch it you then," said Polwarth, "if you will tell me where to find it."
Rachel gave him the needful directions, and presently he brought a few sheets of paper, and handed them to her.
"This is no dream, Mr. Wingfold," he said. "It is something I thought fairly out before I began to dictate it. But the only fit form I could find for it was that of a vision—like the Vision of Mirza, you know.—Now read, Rachel, and I will hold my tongue."
After a little arranging of the sheets, Rachel began. She read not without difficulty, but her pleasure in what she read helped her through.
"'And now, said my guide to me, I will bring thee to a city of the righteous, and show thee how they buy and sell in this the kingdom of heaven. So we journeyed a day and another day and half a day, and I was weary ere we arrived thither. But when I saw the loveliness of the place, and drew in the healing air thereof, my weariness vanished as a dream of the night, and I said, IT IS WELL.—I may not now speak of the houses and the dress and the customs of the dwellers therein, save what may belong to the buying and selling of which I have spoken. Gladly would I tell of the streams that went, some noiselessly gliding, others gurgling, some sweeping, some rushing and roaring, through every street, all issuing from one right plenteous fountain in the middle of the city, so that the ear was for ever filled with the sound of many waters all the day, ceasing when the night came, that silence might have its perfect work upon the soul. Gladly too would I tell of the trees and flowers and grass that grew in every street along the banks of the rivers. But I must withhold.
"'After I had, I know not for how long, refreshed my soul with what it was thus given, me to enjoy,—for in all that country there is no such thing as haste, no darting from one thing to another, but a calm eternal progress in which unto the day the good thereof is sufficient—one great noon-day, my conductor led me into a large place, such as we would call a shop here, although the arrangements were different, and an air of stateliness dwelt in and around the house. It was filled with the loveliest silken and woollen stuffs, of all kinds and colours, a thousand delights to the eye—and to the thought also, for here was endless harmony, and no discord.
"'I stood in the midst, and my guide stood by me in silence; for all the time I was in the country, he seldom spoke to me save when first I asked of him, and yet he never showed any weariness, and often a half-smile would dwell for a moment upon his countenance.
"'And first I watched the faces of them that sold; and I could read therein—for be it understood that, according to the degree of his own capacity, a man there could perfectly read the countenance of every neighbour, that is, unless it expressed something that was not in himself—and I could read in them nothing of eagerness, only the calm of a concentrated ministration. There was no seeking there, but a strength of giving, a business-like earnestness to supply lack, enlivened by no haste, and dulled by no weariness, brightened ever by the reflected content of those who found their wants supplied. As soon as one buyer was contented they turned graciously to another, and gave ear until they perfectly understood with what object he had come to seek their aid. Nor did their countenances change utterly as they turned away, for upon them lingered the satisfaction as of one who hath had a success, and by degrees melted into the supervening content.
"'Then I turned to watch the countenances of them that bought.—And there in like manner I saw no cupidity and no meanness. They spake humbly, yet not because they sought a favour, but because they were humble, for with their humility was mingled the confidence of receiving that they sought. And truly it was a pleasure to see how everyone knew what his desire was, making his choice readily and with decision. I perceived also that everyone spoke not merely respectfully, but gratefully, to him who served him. And at meeting and parting such kindly though brief greetings passed as made me wonder whether every inhabitant of such a mighty city could know every other that dwelt therein. But I soon saw that it came not of individual knowledge, but of universal faith and all-embracing love.
"'And as I stood and watched, suddenly it came into my mind that I had never yet seen the coin of the country, and thereupon I kept my eyes upon a certain woman who bought silk, that when she paid for the same I might see the money. But that which she had largely bought she took in her arms and carried away, and paid not. Therefore I turned to watch another, who bought for a long journey, but when he carried away that he bought, neither did he pay any money. And I said to myself, These are well-known persons, to whom it is more convenient to pay all at a certain season; and I turned to a third who bought much fine linen. But behold! he paid not. Then I began to observe again those that sold; whereupon I thought with myself, How good must be the air of this land for the remembrance of things! for these men write down nothing to keep on record the moneys men owe them on all sides. And I looked and looked again and yet again, and stood long watching—but so it was throughout the whole place, which thronged and buzzed and swarmed like the busiest of bee-hives—no man paid, and no man had a book wherein to write that which the other owed!
"'Then I turned to my guide and said: How lovely is honesty! and truly from what a labour it absolveth men! for here I see every man keepeth in his mind his own debts, and not the debts of others, so that time is not spent in paying of small sums, neither in the keeping of account of such; but he that buyeth counteth up, and doubtless when the day of reckoning arrives, each cometh and casteth the money he oweth into the merchant's coffer, and both are satisfied.
"'Then my conductor smiled, and said, Watch yet a while.
"'And I did as he said unto me, and stood and watched. But the same thing went on everywhere; and I said to myself, Lo, I see nothing new!—Suddenly, at my side, a man dropped upon his knees, and bowed his head to the ground. And those that stood nigh him dropped also upon their knees, and there arose a sound as of soft thunder; and lo! everyone in the place had dropped upon his knees, and spread his hands out before him. Every voice and every noise was hushed, every movement had ceased, and I and my guide alone were left standing.
"'Then I whispered in his ear, It is the hour of prayer: shall we not kneel also? And my guide answered, No man in this city kneeleth because others do, and no man is judged if he kneeleth not. If thou hast any grief or pain upon thee, then kneel; if not, then love God in thy heart and be thankful, and kneel when thou goest into thy chamber. Then said I, I will not kneel, but will watch and see.—It is well, said my guide; and I stood.
"'For certain moments all was utter stillness—every man and woman kneeling, with hands outstretched, save him who had first kneeled, and his hands hung by his sides and his head was still bowed to the earth. At length he rose up, and lo! his face was wet with tears; and all the people rose also, and with a noise throughout the place; and the man made a low obeisance to them that were nigh him, the which they returned with equal reverence, and then with downcast eyes he walked slowly from the shop. The moment he was gone, the business of the place, without a word of remark on any side concerning what had passed, began again and went on as before. People came and went, some more eager and outward, some more staid and inward, but all contented and cheerful. At length a bell somewhere rang sweet and shrill, and after that no one entered the place, and what was in progress began to be led to a decorous conclusion. In three or four minutes the floor was empty, and the people also of the shop had gone, each about his own affairs, without shutting door or window.
"'I went out last with my guide, and we seated ourselves under a tree of the willow-kind on the bank of one of the quieter streams, and straightway I began to question him. Tell me, sir, I said, the purport of what I have seen, for not yet have I understood how these happy people do their business and pass from hand to hand not a single coin I And he answered, Where greed and ambition and self-love rule, money must be: where there is neither greed nor ambition nor self-love, money is needless. And I asked, Is it then by the same ancient mode of barter that they go about their affairs? Truly I saw no exchange of any sort.—Bethink thee, said my guide, if thou hadst gone into any other shop throughout the whole city, thou wouldst have seen the same thing. I see not how that should make the matter plainer to me, I answered.—Where neither greed nor ambition nor selfishness reigneth, said my guide, there need and desire have free scope, for they work no evil.—But even now I understand you not, sir, I said.—Hear me then, answered my guide, for I will speak to thee more plainly. Wherefore do men take money in their hands when they go where things are?—Because they may not have the things without giving the money.—And where they may have things without giving money, there they take no money in their hands?—Truly no, sir, if there be such a place.—Then such a place is this, and so is it here.—But how can men give of their goods and receive nought in return?—By receiving everything in return. Tell me, said my guide, why do men take money for their goods?—That they may have wherewithal to go and buy other things which they need for themselves.—But if they also may go to this place or that place where the things are the which they need, and receive of those things without money and without price, is there then good cause why they should take money in their hands?—Truly no, I answered; and I begin, methinks, to see how the affair goeth. Yet are there some things still whereupon I would gladly be resolved. And first of all, how cometh it that men are moved to provide these and those goods for the supply of the wants of their neighbours, when they are drawn thereto by no want in themselves, and no advantage to themselves?—Thou reasonest, said my guide, as one of thine own degree, who to the eyes of the full-born ever look like chrysalids, closed round in a web of their own weaving; and who shall blame thee until thou thyself shinest within thyself? Understand that it is never advantage to himself that moveth a man in this kingdom to undertake this or that. The thing that alone advantageth a man here is the thing which he doth without thought unto that advantage. To your world, this world goeth by contraries. The man here that doeth most service, that aideth others the most to the obtaining of their honest desires, is the man who standeth highest with the Lord of the place, and his reward and honour is, to be enabled to the spending of himself yet more for the good of his fellows. There goeth a rumour amongst us even now that one shall ere long be ripe for the carrying of a message from the King to the spirits that are in prison. Thinkest thou it is a less potent stirring up of thought and energy to desire and seek and find the things that will please the eye, and cheer the brain, and gladden the heart of the people of this great city, so that when one prayeth, 'Give me, friend, of thy loaves,' a man may answer, 'Take of them, friend, as many as thou needest'—is that, I say, an incentive to diligence less potent than the desire to hoard or to excel? Is it not to share the bliss of God who hoardeth nothing, but ever giveth liberally? The joy of a man here is to enable another to lay hold upon that which is of his own kind and be glad and grow thereby—doctrine strange and unbelievable to the man in whom the well of life is yet sealed. Never have they been many at a time in the old world who could thus enter into the joy of their Lord. And yet, if thou bethink thee, thou wilt perceive that such bliss is not unknown amongst thy fellows. Knowest thou no musician who would find it joy enough for a night, to scale the tower of a hundred bells, and send the great meteors of music-light flying over the care-tortured city? Would everyone even of thy half-created race reason with himself and say: Truly it is in the night, and no one can see who it is that ministereth; the sounds alone will go forth nor bear my image; I shall reap no honour; I will not rise and go? Thou knowest, I say, some in thy world who would not speak thus in their hearts, but would willingly consent to be as nothing, so to give life to their fellows. In this city so is it with all—in shop or workshop, in study or theatre, all seek to spend and be spent for the lovely all. —And I said, One thing tell me, sir—how much a man may have for the asking.—What he will—that is, what he can well use.—Who then shall be the judge thereof?—Who but the man himself?—What if he should turn to greed, and begin to hoard and spare?—Sawest thou not the man this day because of whom all business ceased for a time?—to that man had come a thought of accumulation instead of growth, and he dropped upon his knees in shame and terror. And thou sawest how all business ceased, and straightway that of the shop was made what below they call a church; for everyone hastened to the poor man's help, the air was filled with praying breath, and the atmosphere of God-loving souls was around him; the foul thought fled, and the man went forth glad and humble, and to-morrow he will return for that which he needeth. If thou shouldst be present then, thou wilt see him more tenderly ministered unto than all the rest.—And if such a man prayed not?—If such a man slept ere he repented, he would wake with hatred in his heart towards the city and everyone therein, and would straightway flee into the wilderness. And the angel of the Lord would go out after him, and smite him with a word, and he would vanish from amongst us, and his life would be the life of one of those least of living things that are in your world born of the water; and there must he grow up again, crawling through the channels of thousand-folded difference, from animal to animal, until at length a human brain be given him, and after generations he become once again capable of being born of the spirit into the kingdom of liberty. Then shall all his past life open upon him, and in shame and dismay will he repent a thousand-fold, and will sin no more. Such, at least, are thoughts of our wise men upon the matter; but truly we know not.—It is good, I said. But how are men guided as to what lies to them to provide for the general good?—Every man doeth what thing he can, and the more his labour is desired, the more he rejoices.—If a man should desire that he could no where find in the city?—Then would he straightway do his endeavour to provide that thing for all in the city who might after him desire the same.—Now, sir, methinks I know and understand, I answered. And we rose and went farther.'"
"I think that COULD be!" said the curate, breaking the silence that followed when Rachel ceased.
"Not in this world," said the draper.
"To doubt that it COULD be," said the gatekeeper, "would be to doubt whether the kingdom of heaven is a chimera or a divine idea."
POLWARTH AND LINGARD.
The morning after Wingfold's second visit, Lingard, much to his sister's surprise, partly to her pleasure, and somewhat to her consternation, asked for his clothes: he wanted to get up. So little energy had he hitherto shown, so weak was he, and so frequent had been the symptoms of returning fever, that the doctor had not yet thought of advising more than an hour's sitting while his bed was made comfortable. And Helen had felt that she had him, if not safe, yet safer in bed than he could be elsewhere.
His wish to rise was a sign that he was getting better. But could she wish him to get better, seeing every hour threatened to be an hour of torture? On the other hand, she could not but hope that, for the last day or so, his mind had been a little more at ease. Assuredly the light in his eye was less troubled: perhaps he saw prospect of such mental quiet as might render life endurable.
He declined assistance, and Helen, having got him everything he required, left the room to wait within hearing. It took him a long time to dress, but he had resolved to do it himself, and at length called Helen.
She found he looked worse in his clothes—fearfully worn and white! Ah, what a sad ghost he was of his former sunny self! Helen turned her eyes from him, that he might not see how changed she thought him, and there were the trees in the garden and the meadows and the park beyond, bathing in the strength of the sun, betwixt the blue sky and the green earth! "What a hideous world it is!" she said to herself. She was not yet persuaded, like her cousin, that it was the best possible world—only that, unfortunately, not much was possible in worlds.
"Will you get me something, Helen," he said. "Mr. Wingfold will be here, and I want to be able to talk to him."
It was the first time he had asked for food, though he had seldom refused to take what she brought him. She made him lie on the couch, and gave orders that, if Mr. Wingfold called, he should be shown up at once. Leopold's face brightened; he actually looked pleased when his soup came. When Wingfold was announced, he grew for a moment radiant.
Helen received the curate respectfully, but not very cordially: SHE could not make Leopold's face shine!
"Would your brother like to see Mr. Polwarth?" asked the curate rather abruptly.
"I will see anyone you would like me to see. Mr. Wingfold," answered Liugard for himself, with a decision that clearly indicated returning strength.
"But, Leopold, you know it is hardly to be desired," suggested Helen, "that more persons—"
"I don't know that," interrupted Leopold with strange expression.
"Perhaps I had better tell you, Miss Lingard," said the curate, "that it was Mr. Polwarth who found the thing I gave you. After your visit, he could not fail to put things together, and had he been a common man, I should have judged it prudent to tell him for the sake of secrecy what I have told him for the sake of counsel. I repeat in your brother's hearing what I have said to you, that he is the wisest and best man I have ever known.—I left him in the meadow at the foot of the garden. He is suffering to-day, and I wanted to save him the longer walk. If you will allow me, I will go and bring him in."
"Do," said Leopold. "Think, Helen!—If he is the wisest and best man Mr. Wingfold ever knew! Tell him where to find the key."
"I will go myself," she said—with a yielding to the inevitable.
When she opened the door, there was the little man seated a few yards off on the grass. He had plucked a cowslip and was looking into it so intently that he neither heard nor saw her.
"Mr. Polwarth!" said Helen.
He lifted his eyes, rose, and taking off his hat, said with a smile,
"I was looking in the cowslip for the spots which the fairy, in the Midsummer Night's Dream, calls 'rubies.'—How is your brother, Miss Lingard?"
Helen answered with cold politeness, and led the way up the garden with considerably more stateliness of demeanour than was necessary.
When he followed her into the room, "This is Mr. Polwarth, Leopold," said the curate, rising respectfully. "You may speak to him as freely as to me, and he is far more able to give you counsel than I am."
"Would you mind shaking hands with me, Mr. Polwarth?" said Leopold, holding out his shadowy hand.
Polwarth took it with the kindest of smiles, and held it a moment in his.
"You think me an odd-looking creature—don't you?" he said; "but just because God made me so, I have been compelled to think about things I might otherwise have forgotten, and that is why Mr. Wingfold would have me come to see you."
The curate placed a chair for him, and the gate-keeper sat down. Helen seated herself a little way off in the window, pretending, or hardly more, to hem a handkerchief. Leopold's big eyes went wandering from one to the other of the two men.
"What a horrible world it is!" was the thought that kept humming on like an evil insect in Helen's heart. "I am sorry to see you suffer so much," said Leopold kindly, for he heard the laboured breath of the little man, and saw the heaving of his chest.
"It does not greatly trouble me," returned Polwarth. "It is not my fault, you see," he added with a smile; "at least I don't think it is."
"You are happy to suffer without fault," said Leopold. "It is because it is just that my punishment seems greater than I can bear."
"You need God's forgiveness in your soul."
"I don't see how that should do anything for me."
"I do not mean it would take away your suffering; but it would make you able to bear it. It would be fresh life in you."
"I can't see why it should. I can't feel that I have wronged God. I have been trying to feel it, Mr. Wingfold, ever since you talked to me. But I don't know God, and I only feel what I have done to Emmeline. If I said to God, 'Pardon me,' and he said to me, 'I do pardon you,' I should feel just the same. What could that do to set anything right that I have set wrong? I am what I am, and what I ever shall be, and the injury which came from me, cleaves fast to her, and is my wrong wherever she is."
He hid his face in his hands.
"What use CAN it be to torture the poor boy so?" said Helen to herself.
The two men sat silent. Then Polwarth said:
"I doubt if there is any use in trying to feel. And no amount of trying could enable you to imagine what God's forgiveness is like to those that have it in them. Tell me something more you do feel, Mr. Lingard."
"I feel that I could kill myself to bring her back to life."
"That is, you would gladly make amends for the wrong you have done her."
"I would give my life, my soul, to do it."
"And there is nothing you can do for it?"
Helen began to tremble.
"What is there that can be done?" answered Leopold. "It does seem hard that a man should be made capable of doing things that he is not made capable of undoing again."
"It is indeed a terrible thought! And even the smallest wrong is, perhaps, too awful a thing for created being ever to set right again."
"You mean it takes God to do that?"
"I don't see how he ever could set some things right."
"He would not be God if he could not or would not do for his creature what that creature cannot do for himself, and must have done for him or lose his life."
"Then he isn't God, for he can't help me."
"Because you don't see what can be done, you say God can do nothing—which is as much as to say there cannot be more within his scope than there is within yours! One thing is clear, that, if he saw no more than what lies within your ken, he could not be God. The very impossibility you see in the thing points to the region wherein God works."
"I don't quite understand you. But it doesn't matter. It's all a horrible mess. I wish I was dead."
"My dear sir, is it reasonable that because a being so capable of going wrong finds himself incapable of setting right, he should judge it useless to cry to that being who called him into being to come to his aid?—and that in the face of the story—if it were but an old legend, worn and disfigured—that he took upon himself our sins?"
Leopold hung his head.
"God needs no making up to him," the gate-keeper went on—"so far from it that he takes our sins on himself, that he may clear them out of the universe. How could he say he took our sins upon him, if he could not make amends for them to those they had hurt?"
"Ah!" cried Leopold, with a profound sigh, "—if that could be!—if he could really do that!"
"Why, of course he can do that!" said Polwarth. "What sort of watchmaker were he who could not set right the watches and clocks himself made?"
"But the hearts of men and women!" "Which God does far more than make!" interposed Polwarth. "That a being able to make another self-conscious being distinct from himself, should be able also to set right whatever that being could set wrong, seems to me to follow of simple necessity. He might even, should that be fit, put the man himself in the way of making up for what he had done, or at least put it in his power to ask and receive a forgiveness that would set all right between him and the person wronged. One of the painful things in the dogma of the endless loss of the wicked is that it leaves no room for the righteous to make up to them for the wrongs they did them in this life. For the righteous do the wicked far more wrong than they think—the righteous being all the time, in reality, the wealthy, and the wicked the poor. But it is a blessed word that there are first that shall be last, and last that shall be first."
Helen stared. This last sounded to her mere raving madness, and she thought how wrong she had been to allow such fanatics to gain power over her poor Leopold—who sat before them whiter than ever, and with what she took for a wilder gleam in his eye.
"Is there not the might of love, and all eternity for it to work in, to set things right?" ended Polwarth.
"O God!" cried Leopold, "if that might be true! That would be a gift indeed—the power to make up for the wrong I have done!"
He rose from the couch—slowly, sedately, I had almost said formally, like one with a settled object, and stood erect, swaying a little from weakness.
"Mr. Wingfold," he said, "I want of you one more favour: will you take me to the nearest magistrate? I wish to give myself up."
Helen started up and came forward, paler than the sick man.
"Mr. Wingfold! Mr. Polwarth!" she said, and turned from the one to the other, "the boy is not himself. You will never allow him to do such a mad thing!"
"It may be the right thing," said the curate to Leopold, "but we must not act without consideration."
"I have considered and considered it for days—for weeks," returned Leopold; "but until this moment I never had the courage to resolve on the plainest of duties.—Helen, if I were to go up to the throne of God with the psalm in my mouth, and say to him, 'Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,' it would be false; for I have sinned against every man, woman, and child in England at least, and I will repudiate myself. To the throne of God I want to go, and there is no way thither for me but through the gate of the law."
"Leopold!" pleaded Helen, as if for her own life with some hard judge, "what good can it do to send another life after the one that is gone? It cannot bring it back, or heal a single sorrow for its loss."
"Except perhaps my own," said Leopold, in a feeble voice, but not the less in a determined tone.
"Live till God send for you," persisted Helen, heedless of his words. "You can give your life to make up for the wrong you have done in a thousand better ways: that would be but to throw it in the dirt. There is so much good waiting to be done!"
Leopold sank on the couch.
"I am sitting down again, Helen, only because I am not able to stand," he said. "I WILL go. Don't talk to me about doing good! Whatever I touched I should but smear with blood. I want the responsibility of my own life taken off me. I am like the horrible creature Frankenstein made—one that has no right to existence—and at the same time like the maker of it, who is accountable for that existence. I am a blot on God's creation that must be wiped off. For this my strength is given back to me, and I am once more able to will and resolve. You will find I can act too. Helen, if you will indeed be my sister, you must NOT prevent me now. I know it is hard upon you, awfully hard. I know I am dragging your life down with mine, but I cannot help it. If I don't do it, I shall but go out of one madness into another, ever a deeper, until the devils can't hold me. Mr. Polwarth, is it not my duty to give myself up? Ought not the evil thing to be made manifest and swept out of the earth? Most people grant it a man's first duty to take care of his life: that is the only thing I can do for mine. It is now a filthy pool with a corpse in it:—I would clean it out—have the thing buried at least, though never forgotten—never, never forgotten. Then I shall die and go to God and see what he can do for me."
"Why should you put it off till then?" said Polwarth. "Why not go to him at once and tell him all?"
As if it had been Samuel at the command of Eli, Leopold rose and crept feebly across the floor to the dressing-room, entered it, and closed the door.
Then Helen turned upon Wingfold with a face white as linen, and eyes flashing with troubled wrath. The tigress-mother swelled in her heart, and she looked like a Maenad indeed.
"Is this then your religion?" she cried with quivering nostril. "Would he you dare to call your master have stolen into the house of a neighbour to play upon the weakness of a poor lad suffering from brain-fever? A fine trophy of your persuasive power and priestly craft you would make of him! What is it to you whether he confesses his sins or not? If he confesses them to him you say is your God, is not that enough? For shame, gentlemen!"
She ceased, and stood trembling and flashing—a human thunder-cloud. Neither of the men cared to assert innocence, because, although they had not advised the step, they entirely approved of it.
A moment more, and her anger suddenly went out. She burst into tears, and falling on her knees before the curate, begged and prayed like a child condemned to some frightful punishment. It was terrible to Wingfold to see a woman in such an agony of prayer—to one who would not grant it—and that one himself. In vain he sought to raise her.
"If you do not save Leopold, I will kill myself," she cried, "and my blood will be on your head."
"The only way to save your brother is to strengthen him to do his duty, whatever that may be."
The hot fit of her mental fever returned. She sprang to her feet, and her face turned again almost like that of a corpse with pale wrath.
"Leave the house!" she said, turning sharply upon Polwarth, who stood solemn and calm at Wingfold's side, a step behind. It was wonderful what an unconscious dignity radiated from him.
"If my friend goes, I go too," said Wingfold. "But I must first tell your brother why."
He made a step towards the dressing-room.
But now came a fresh change of mood upon Helen. She darted between him and the door, and stood there with such a look of humble entreaty as went to his very heart, and all but unmanned him. Ah, how lovely she looked in the silent prayer of tears! But not even her tears could turn Wingfold from what seemed his duty. They could only bring answering tears from the depth of a tender heart. She saw he would not flinch.
"Then may God do to you as you have done to me and mine!" she said.
"Amen!" returned Wingfold and Polwarth together.
The door of the dressing-room opened, and out came Leopold, his white face shining.
"God has heard me!" he cried.
"How do you know that?" said his sister, in the hoarse accents of unbelieving despair.
"Because he has made me strong to do my duty. He has reminded me that another man may be accused of my crime, and now to conceal myself were to double my baseness."
"It will be time enough to think of that when there is a necessity for it. The thing you imagine may never happen," said Helen, in the same unnatural voice.
"Leave it," cried Leopold, "until an innocent man shall have suffered the torture and shame of a false accusation, that a guilty man may a little longer act the hypocrite! No, Helen, I have not fallen so low as that yet. Believe me, this is the only living hour I have had since I did the deed!"
But as he spoke, the light died out of his face, and ere they could reach him he had fallen heavily on the floor.
"You have killed him!" cried Helen, in a stifled shriek, for all the time she had never forgotten that her aunt might hear.
But the same moment she caught from his condition a lurid hope.
"Go, I beg of you," she said—"by the window there, before my aunt comes. She must have heard the fall. There is the key of the door below."
The men obeyed, and left the house in silence.
It was some time before Leopold returned to consciousness. He made no resistance to being again put to bed, where he lay in extreme exhaustion.
THE STRONG MAN.
The next day he was much too exhausted and weak to talk about anything. He took what his sister brought him, smiled his thanks, and once put up his hand and stroked her cheek. But her heart was not gladdened by these signs of comparative composure, for what gave him quiet but the same that filled her with unspeakable horror?
The day after that was Saturday, and George Bascombe came as usual. The sound of his step in the hall made her dying hope once more flutter its wings: having lost the poor stay of the parson, from whom she had never expected much, she turned in her fresh despair to the cousin from whom she had never looked for anything. But what was she to say to him?—Nothing yet, she resolved; but she would take him to see Leopold—for was he not sure to hear that the parson had been admitted? She did not feel at all certain that she was doing right, but she would do it; and if she left them together, possibly George might drop some good PRACTICAL advice, which, though spoken in ignorance, might yet tell. George was such a healthy nature and such a sound thinker! Was it not as ridiculous as horrible for any man to think he had a right to throw away his very existence, and bring disgrace upon his family as well, for a mere point of honour—no, not honour, mere fastidiousness!