One hot noon Wingfold lay beside him on the grass. Neither had spoken for some time: the curate more and more shrunk from speech to which his heart was not directly moved. As to what might be in season or out of season, he never would pretend to judge, he said, but even Balaam's ass knew when he had a call to speak. He plucked a pale red pimpernel and handed it up over his head to Leopold. The youth looked at it for a moment, and burst into tears. The curate rose hastily.
"It is so heartless of me." said Leopold, "to take pleasure in such a childish innocence as this!"
"It merely shows," said the curate, laying his hand gently on his shoulder, "that even in these lowly lovelinesses, there is a something that has its root deeper than your pain; that, all about us, in earth and air, wherever eye or ear can reach, there is a power ever breathing itself forth in signs, now in a daisy, now in a windwaft, a cloud, a sunset; a power that holds constant and sweetest relation with the dark and silent world within us; that the same God who is in us, and upon whose tree we are the buds, if not yet the flowers, also is all about us—inside, the Spirit; outside, the Word. And the two are ever trying to meet in us; and when they meet, then the sign without, and the longing within, become one in light, and the man no more walketh in darkness, but knoweth whither he goeth."
As he ended thus, the curate bent over and looked at Leopold. But the poor boy had not listened to a word he said. Something in his tone had soothed him, but the moment he ceased, the vein of his grief burst out bleeding afresh. He clasped his thin hands together, and looked up in an agony of hopeless appeal to the blue sky, now grown paler as in fear of the coming cold, though still the air was warm and sweet, and cried,
"Oh! if God would only be good and unmake me, and let darkness cover the place where once was me! That would be like a good God! All I should be sorry for then would be, that there was not enough of me left for a dim flitting Will-o'-the-wisp of praise, ever singing my thankfulness to him that I was no more.—Yet even then my deed would remain, for I dare not ask that she should die outright also—that would be to heap wrong upon wrong. What an awful thing being is! Not even my annihilation could make up for my crime, or rid it out of the universe."
"True, Leopold!" said the curate. "Nothing but the burning love of God can rid sin out of anywhere. But are you not forgetting him who surely knew what he undertook when he would save the world? No more than you could have set that sun flaming overhead, with its million-miled billows and its limitless tempests of fire, can you tell what the love of God is, or what it can do for you, if only by enlarging your love with the inrush of itself. Few have such a cry to raise to the Father as you, such a claim of sin and helplessness to heave up before him, such a joy even to offer to the great Shepherd who cannot rest while one sheep strays from his flock, one prodigal haunts the dens of evil and waste. Cry to him, Leopold, my dear boy. Cry to him again and yet again, for he himself said that men ought always to pray and not faint, for God did hear and would answer although he might seem long about it. I think we shall find one day that nobody, not the poet of widest sweep and most daring imagination, not the prophet who soars the highest in his ardour to justify the ways of God to men, not the child when he is most fully possessed of the angel that in heaven always beholds the face of the Father of Jesus, has come or could have come within sight of the majesty of his bestowing upon his children. For did he not, if the story be true, allow torture itself to invade the very soul's citadel of his best beloved, as he went to seek the poor ape of a prodigal, stupidly grinning amongst his harlots?"
Leopold did not answer, and the shadow lay deep on his face for a while; but at length it began to thin, and at last a feeble quivering smile broke through the cloud, and he wept soft tears of refreshing.
It was not that the youth had turned again from the hope of rest in the Son of Man; but that, as everyone knows who knows anything of the human spirit, there must be in its history days and seasons, mornings and nights, yea deepest midnights. It has its alternating summer and winter, its storm and shine, its soft dews and its tempests of lashing hail, its cold moons and prophetic stars, its pale twilights of saddest memory, and its golden gleams of brightest hope. All these mingled and displaced each other in Leopold's ruined world, where chaos had come again, but over whose waters a mightier breath was now moving.
And now after much thought, the curate saw that he could not hope to transplant into the bosom of the lad the flowers of truth that gladdened his own garden: he must sow the seed from which they had sprung, and that seed was the knowledge of the true Jesus. It was now the more possible to help him in this way, that the wild beast of his despair had taken its claws from his bosom, had withdrawn a pace or two, and couched watching. And Wingfold soon found that nothing calmed and brightened him like talk about Jesus. He had tried verse first—seeking out the best within his reach wherein loving souls have uttered their devotion to the man of men; but here also the flowers would not be transplanted. How it came about he hardly knew, but he had soon drifted into rather than chosen another way, which way proved a right one: he would begin thinking aloud on some part of the gospel story, generally that which was most in his mind at the time—talking with himself, as it were, all about it. He began this one morning as he lay on the grass beside him, and that was the position in which he found he could best thus soliloquize. Now and then but not often Leopold would interrupt him, and perhaps turn the monologue into dialogue, but even then Wingfold would hardly ever look at him: he would not disturb him with more of his presence than he could help, or allow the truth to be flavoured with more of his individuality than was unavoidable. For every individuality, he argued, has a peculiar flavour to every other, and only Jesus is the pure simple humanity that every one can love, out and out, at once. In these mental meanderings, he avoided nothing, took notice of every difficulty, whether able to discuss it fully or not, broke out in words of delight when his spirit was moved, nor hid his disappointment when he failed in getting at what might seem good enough to be the heart of the thing. It was like hatching a sermon in the sun instead of in the oven. Occasionally, when, having ceased, he looked up to know how his pupil fared, he found him fast asleep—sometimes with a smile, sometimes with a tear on his face. The sight would satisfy him well. Calm upon such a tormented sea must be the gift of God; and the curate would then sometimes fall asleep himself—to start awake at the first far-off sound of Helen's dress as it swept a running fire of fairy fog-signals from the half- opened buds of the daisies, and the long heads of the rib-grass, when he would rise and saunter a few paces aside, and she would bend over her brother, to see if he were warm and comfortable. By this time all the old tenderness of her ministration had returned, nor did she seem any longer jealous of Wingfold's.
One day she came behind them as they talked. The grass had been mown that morning, and also she happened to be dressed in her riding- habit and had gathered up the skirt over her arm, so that on this occasion she made no sound of sweet approach. Wingfold had been uttering one of his rambling monologues—in which was much without form, but nothing void.
"I don't know quite," he had been saying, "what to think about that story of the woman they brought to Jesus in the temple—I mean how it got into that nook of the gospel of St. John, where it has no right place.—They didn't bring her for healing or for the rebuke of her demon, but for condemnation, only they came to the wrong man for that. They dared not carry out the law of stoning, as they would have liked, I suppose, even if Jesus had condemned her, but perhaps they hoped rather to entrap him who was the friend of sinners into saying something against the law.—But what I want is, to know how it got there,—just there, I mean, betwixt the seventh and eighth chapters of St. John's Gospel. There is no doubt of its being an interpolation—that the twelfth verse, I think it is, ought to join on to the fifty-second. The Alexandrian manuscript is the only one of the three oldest that has it, and it is the latest of the three. I did think once, but hastily, that it was our Lord's text for saying I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, but it follows quite as well on his offer of living water. One can easily see how the place would appear a very suitable one to any presumptuous scribe who wished to settle the question of where it should stand.—I wonder if St. John told the lovely tale as something he had forgotten, after he had finished dictating all the rest. Or was it well known to all the evangelists, only no one of them was yet partaker enough of the spirit of him who was the friend of sinners, to dare put it on written record, thinking it hardly a safe story to expose to the quarrying of men's conclusions? But it doesn't matter much: the tale must be a true one. Only—to think of just this one story, of tenderest righteousness, floating about like a holy waif through the world of letters!—a sweet gray dove of promise that can find no rest for the sole of his foot! Just this one story of all stories a kind of outcast! and yet as a wanderer, oh, how welcome! Some manuscripts, I understand, have granted it a sort of outhouse-shelter at the end of the gospel of St. Luke. But it all matters nothing, so long as we can believe it; and true it must be, it is so like him all through. And if it does go wandering as a stray through the gospels, without place of its own, what matters it so long as it can find hearts enough to nestle in, and bring forth its young of comfort!—Perhaps the woman herself told it, and, as with the woman of Samaria, some would and some would not believe her.—Oh! the eyes that met upon her! The fiery hail of scorn from those of the Pharisees—the light of eternal sunshine from those of Jesus!—I was reading the other day, in one of the old Miracle Plays, how each that looked on while Jesus wrote with his finger on the ground, imagined he was writing down his individual sins, and was in terror lest his neighbour should come to know them.—And wasn't he gentle even with those to whom he was sharper than a two-edged sword! and oh how gentle to her he would cover from their rudeness and wrong! LET THE SINLESS THROW! And the sinners went out, and she followed—to sin no more. No reproaches, you see! No stirring up of the fiery snakes! Only don't do it again.—I don't think she did it again:—do you?"
It was just here that Helen came and stood behind Leopold's chair. The curate lay on the grass, and neither saw her.
HOW JESUS SPOKE TO WOMEN.
"But why wasn't he as gentle with good women?" said Leopold.
"Wasn't he?" said the curate in some surprise.
"He said What have I to do with thee to his own mother?"
"A Greek scholar should go to the Greek," said the curate. "Our English is not perfect. You see she wanted to make him show off, and he thought how little she knew what he came to the world for. Her thoughts were so unlike his that he said, What have we in common! It was a moan of the God-head over the distance of its creature. Perhaps he thought: How then will you stand the shock when at length it comes? But he looked at her as her own son ought to look at every blessed mother, and she read in his eyes no rebuke, for instantly, sure of her desire, she told them to do whatever he said."
"I hope that's the right way of it," said Leopold, "for I want to trust him out and out. But what do you make of the story of the poor woman that came about her daughter? Wasn't he rough to her? It always seemed to me such a cruel thing to talk of throwing the meat of the children to the dogs!"
"We cannot judge of the word until we know the spirit that gave birth to it. Let me ask you a question: What would you take for the greatest proof of downright friendship a man could show you?"
"That is too hard a question to answer all at once."
"Well, I may be wrong, but the deepest outcome of friendship seems to me, on the part of the superior at least, the permission, or better still, the call, to share in his sufferings. And in saying that hard word to the poor Gentile, our Lord honoured her thus mightily. He assumed for the moment the part of the Jew towards the Gentile, that he might, for the sake of all the world of Gentiles and Jews, lay bare to his Jewish followers the manner of spirit they were of, and let them see what a lovely humanity they despised in their pride of election. He took her to suffer with him for the salvation of the world. The cloud overshadowed them both, but what words immediately thereafter made a glory in her heart! He spoke to her as if her very faith had reached an arm into the heavens, and brought therefrom the thing she sought.—But I confess," the curate went on, "those two passages have both troubled me. So I presume will everything that is God's, until it becomes a strength and a light by revealing its true nature to the heart that has grown capable of understanding it. The first sign of the coming capacity and the coming joy, is the anxiety and the question.—There is another passage, which, although it does not trouble me so much, I cannot yet get a right perception of. When Mary Magdalene took the Master of Death for the gardener—the gardener of the garden of the tombs! no great mistake, was it?—it is a lovely thing, that mistaking of Jesus for the gardener!—how the holy and the lowly, yea the holy and the common meet on all sides! Just listen to their morning talk—the morning of the eternal open world to Jesus, while the shadows of this narrow life still clustered around Mary:—I can give it you exactly, for I was reading it this very day.
"'Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?'
"'Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.'
"'Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father and your Father; and to my God and your God.'
"Why did he say, DO NOT TOUCH ME? It could not be that there was any defilement to one in the new body of the resurrection, from contact with one still in the old garments of humanity. But could it be that there was danger to her in the contact? Was there something in the new house from Heaven hurtful to the old tabernacle? I can hardly believe it. Perhaps it might be. But we must look at the reason the Master gives—only of all words hard to understand, the little conjunctions are sometimes the hardest. What can that FOR mean? 'Touch me not, FOR I am not yet ascended to my Father.' Does it mean, 'I must first present myself to my Father; I must first have His hand laid on this body new-risen from the grave; I must go home first?' The child must kiss his mother first, then his sisters and brothers: was it so with Jesus? Was he so glad in his father, that he must carry even the human body he had rescued eternal from the grave, home to show him first? There are many difficulties about the interpretation, and even if true, it would still shock every heart whose devotion was less than absolutely child-like. Was not God WITH him, as close to him as even God could come to his eternal son—in him—ONE with him, all the time? How could he get nearer to him by going to Heaven? What head-quarters, what court of place and circumstance should the Eternal, Immortal, Invisible hold? And yet if from him flow time and space, although he cannot be subject to them; if his son could incarnate himself—cast the living, responsive, elastic, flowing, evanishing circumstance of a human garment around him; if, as Novalis says, God can become whatever he can create, then may there not be some central home of God, holding relation even to time and space and sense? But I am bewildered about it.—Jesus stood then in the meeting point of both worlds, or rather in the skirts of the great world that infolds the less. I am talking like a baby, for my words cannot compass or even represent my thoughts. This world looks to us the natural and simple one, and so it is—absolutely fitted to our need and education. But there is that in us which is not at home in this world, which I believe holds secret relations with every star, or perhaps rather, with that in the heart of God whence issued every star, diverse in kind and character as in colour and place and motion and light. To that in us, this world is so far strange and unnatural and unfitting, and we need a yet homelier home. Yea, no home at last will do, but the home of God's heart. Jesus, I say, was now looking, on one side, into the region of a deeper life, where his people, those that knew their own when they saw him, would one day find themselves tenfold at home; while, on the other hand, he was looking into the region of their present life, which custom and faithlessness make them afraid to leave. But we need not fear what the new conditions of life will bring, either for body or heart, for they will be nearer and sweeter to our deeper being, as Jesus is nearer and dearer than any man because he is more human than any. He is all that we can love or look for, and at the root of that very loving and looking.—'In my Father's house are many mansions,' he said. Matter, time, space, are all God's, and whatever may become of our philosophies, whatever he does with or in respect of time, place, and what we call matter, his doing must be true in philosophy as well as fact. But I am wandering."
The curate was wandering, but the liberty of wandering was essential to his talking with the kind of freedom and truth he wanted to mediate betwixt his pupil and the lovely things he saw.
"I wonder where the penitent thief was all the time," said Leopold.
"Yes, that also is a difficulty. There again come in the bothering time and space, bothering in their relation to heavenly things, I mean. On the Friday, the penitent thief, as you call him, was to be with Jesus in Paradise; and now it was Sunday, and Jesus said he had not yet been up to see his Father. Some would say, I am too literal, too curious; what can Friday and Sunday have to do with Paradise? But words MEAN in both worlds, for they are not two but one—surely at least when Jesus thinks and speaks of them; and there can be no wrong in feeling ever so blindly and dully after WHAT they mean. Such humble questioning can do no harm, even if, in face of the facts, the questions be as far off and SILLY—in the old sweet meaning of the word—as those of any infant concerning a world he has not proved.—But about Mary Magdalene: He must have said the word TOUCH ME NOT. That could not have crept in. It is too hard for an interpolation, I think; and if no interpolation, it must mean some deep-good thing we don't understand. One thing we can make sure of: it was nothing that should hurt her; for see what follows. But for that, when he said TOUCH ME NOT, FOR I AM NOT YET ASCENDED TO MY FATHER, she might have thought—'Ah! thou hast thy Father to go to, and thou wilt leave us for him.'—BUT, he went on, GO TO MY BRETHREN AND SAY UNTO THEM: I ASCEND UNTO MY FATHER, AND YOUR FATHER; AND MY GOD AND YOUR GOD. What more could she want? Think: the Father of Jesus, with whom, in all his knowledge and all his suffering, the grand heart was perfectly, exultingly satisfied,—that Father he calls our Father too. He shares with his brethren—of his best, his deepest, his heartiest, most secret delight, and makes it their and his most open joy: he shares his eternal Father with us, his perfect God with his brethren. And whatever his not having yet ascended to him may mean, we see, with marvel and joy, that what delayed him—even though, for some reason perfect in tenderness as in truth, he would not be touched—was love to Mary Magdalene and his mother and his brethren. He could not go to the Father without comforting them first. And certainly whatever she took the TOUCH ME NOT to mean or point at, it was nothing that hurt her.—It just strikes me—is it possible he said it in order to turn the overwhelming passion of her joy, which after such a restoration would have clung more than ever to the visible presence, and would be ready to suffer the pains of death yet again when he parted from her—might it be to turn that torrent into the wider and ever widening channel of joy in his everlasting presence to the innermost being, his communion, heart to heart, with every child of his Father? In our poor weakness and narrowness and self-love, even of Jesus the bodily may block out the spiritual nearness, which, however in most moods we may be unable to realise the fact, is and remains a thing unutterably lovelier and better and dearer—enhancing tenfold what vision of a bodily presence may at some time be granted us. But how any woman can help casting herself heart and soul at the feet of such a lowly grandeur, such a tender majesty, such a self-dissolving perfection—I cannot imagine. The truth must be that those who kneel not have not seen. You do not once read of a woman being against him—except indeed it was his own mother, when she thought he was going all astray and forgetting his high mission. The divine love in him towards his Father in heaven and his brethren of men, was ever melting down his conscious individuality in sweetest showers upon individual hearts; he came down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. No woman, no man surely ever saw him as he was and did not worship!"
Helen turned and glided back into the house, and neither knew she had been there.
All that could be done for Leopold by tenderest sisterly care under the supervision of Mr. Faber, who believed in medicine less than in good nursing, was well supplemented by the brotherly ministrations of Wingfold, who gave all the time he could honestly spare from his ordinary work to soothe and enlighten the suffering youth. But it became clearer every week that nothing would avail to entice the torn roots of his being to clasp again the soil of the world: he was withering away out of it. Ere long symptoms appeared which no one could well mistake, and Lingard himself knew that he was dying. Wingfold had dreaded that his discovery of the fact might reveal that he had imagined some atonement in the public confession he desired to make, and that, when he found it denied him, he would fall into despair. But he was with him at the moment, and his bearing left no ground for anxiety. A gleam of gladness from below the horizon of his spirit, shot up, like the aurora of a heavenly morning, over the sky of his countenance. He glanced at his friend, smiled, and said,
"It has killed me too, and that is a comfort."
The curate only looked his reply.
"They say," resumed Leopold, after a while, "that God takes the will for the deed:—do you think so?"
"Certainly, if it be a true, genuine will."
"I am sure I meant to give myself up," said Leopold. "I had not the slightest idea they were fooling me. I know it now, but what can I do? I am so weak, I should only die on the way."
He tried to rise, but fell back in the chair.
"Oh!" he sighed, "isn't it good of God to let me die! Who knows what he may do for me on the other side! Who can tell what the bounty of a God like Jesus may be!"
A vision arose before the mind's eye of the curate:—Emmeline kneeling for Leopold's forgiveness; but he wisely held his peace. The comforter of the sinner must come from the forgiveness of God, not from the favourable judgment of man mitigating the harshness of his judgment of himself. Wingfold's business was to start him well in the world whither he was going. He must fill his scrip with the only wealth that would not dissolve in the waters of the river—that was, the knowledge of Jesus.
It shot a terrible pang to the heart of Helen, herself, for all her suffering, so full of life, when she learned that her darling must die. Yet was there no small consolation mingled with the shock. Fear vanished, and love returned with grief in twofold strength. She flew to him, and she who had been so self-contained, so composed, so unsubmissive to any sway of feeling, broke into such a storm of passionate affection that the vexilla mortis answered from his bosom, flaunting themselves in crimson before her eyes. In vain, for Leopold's sake, the curate had sought to quiet her: she had resented his interference; but this result of her impetuosity speedily brought her to her senses, and set her to subdue herself.
The same evening Leopold insisted on dictating to the curate his confession, which done, he signed it, making him and Helen attest the signature. This document Wingfold took charge of, promising to make the right use of it, whatever he should on reflection conclude that to be; after which Leopold's mind seemed at ease.
His sufferings from cough and weakness and fever now augmented with greater rapidity, but it was plain from the kind of light in his eye, and the far look which was not yet retrospective, that hope and expectation were high in him. He had his times of gloom, when the dragon of the past crept out of its cave, and tore him afresh; but the prospect of coming deliverance strengthened him.
"Do you really think," he said once to the curate, "that I shall ever see Emmeline again?"
"Truly I hope so," answered his friend, "and could argue upon the point. But I think the best way, when doubt comes as to anything you would like to be true, is just to hide yourself in God, as the child would hide from the dark in the folds of his mother's mantle."
"But aunt would say, if she knew, that, dying as she did, Emmeline could not be saved."
"Some people may have to be a good deal astonished as to what can and cannot be," returned the curate. "But never mind what people say: make your appeal to the saviour of men about whatever troubles you. Cry to the faithful creator, his Father. To be a faithful creator needs a might of truth and loving-kindness of which our narrow hearts can ill conceive. Ask much of God, my boy, and be very humble and very hoping."
After all such utterances, Leopold would look his thanks, and hold his peace.
"I wish it was over," he said once.
"So do I," returned the curate. "But be of good courage, I think nothing will be given you to bear that you will not be able to bear."
"I can bear a great deal more than I have had yet. I don't think I shall ever complain. That would be to take myself out of his hands, and I have no hope anywhere else.—Are you any surer about him, sir, than you used to be?"
"At least I hope in him far more," answered Wingfold.
"Is that enough?"
"No. I want more."
"I wish I could come back and tell you that I am alive and all is true."
"I would rather have the natural way of it, and get the good of not knowing first."
"But if I could tell you I had found God, then that would make you sure."
Wingfold could not help a smile:—as if any assurance from such a simple soul could reach the questions that tossed his troubled spirit!
"I think I shall find all I want in Jesus Christ," he said.
"But you can't see him, you know."
"Perhaps I can do better. And at all events I can wait," said the curate. "Even if he would let me, I would not see him one moment before he thought it best. I would not be out of a doubt or difficulty an hour sooner than he would take me."
Leopold gazed at him and said no more.
As the disease advanced, his desire for fresh air and freedom grew to a great longing. One hot day, whose ardours, too strong for the leaves whose springs had begun to dry up, were burning them "yellow and black and pale and hectic red," the fancy seized him to get out of the garden with its clipt box-trees and cypresses, into the meadow beyond. There a red cow was switching her tail as she gathered her milk from the world, and looking as if all were well. He liked the look of the cow, and the open meadow, and wanted to share it with her, he said. Helen, with the anxiety of a careful nurse, feared it might hurt him.
"What DOES it matter?" he returned. "Is life so sweet that every moment more of it is a precious boon? After I'm gone a few days, you won't know a week from an hour of me. What a weight it will be off you! I envy you all the relief of it. It will be to you just what it would be to me to get into that meadow."
Helen made haste to let him have his will. They prepared a sort of litter, and the curate and the coachman carried him. Hearing what they were about, Mrs. Ramshorn hurried into the garden to protest, but protested in vain, and joined the little procession, walking with Helen, like a second mourner, after the bier. They crossed the lawn, and through a double row of small cypresses went winding down to the underground passage, as if to the tomb itself. They had not thought of opening the door first, and the place was dark and sepulchral. Helen hastened to set it wide.
"Lay me down for a moment," said Leopold. "—Here I lie in my tomb! How soft and brown the light is! I should not mind lying here, half-asleep, half-awake, for centuries, if only I had the hope of a right good waking at last."
A flood of fair light flashed in sweet torrent into the place—and there, framed in the doorway, but far across the green field, stood the red cow, switching her tail.
"And here comes my resurrection!" cried Leopold. "I have not had long to wait for it—have I?"
He smiled a pained content as he spoke, and they bore him out into the sun and air. They set him down in the middle of the field in a low chair—not far from a small clump of trees, through which the footpath led to the stile whereon the curate was seated when he first saw the Polwarths. Mrs. Ramshorn found the fancy of the sick man pleasant for the hale, and sent for her knitting. Helen sat down empty-handed on the wool at her brother's feet, and Wingfold, taking a book from his pocket, withdrew to the trees.
He had not read long, sitting within sight and call of the group, when Helen came to him.
"He seems inclined to go to sleep," she said. "Perhaps if you would read something, it would send him off."
"I will with pleasure," he said, and returning with her, sat down on the grass.
"May I read you a few verses I came upon the other day, Leopold?" he asked.
"Please do," answered the invalid, rather sleepily.
I will not pledge myself that the verses belonged to the book Wingfold held before him, but here they are. He read them slowly, and as evenly and softly and rhythmically as he could.
They come to thee, the halt, the maimed, the blind, The devil-torn, the sick, the sore; Thy heart their well of life they find, Thine ear their open door.
Ah! who can tell the joy in Palestine— What smiles and tears of rescued throngs! Their lees of life were turned to wine, Their prayers to shouts and songs!
The story dear our wise men fable call, Give paltry facts the mighty range; To me it seems just what should fall, And nothing very strange.
But were I deaf and lame and blind and sore, I scarce would care for cure to ask; Another prayer should haunt thy door— Set thee a harder task.
If thou art Christ, see here this heart of mine, Torn, empty, moaning, and unblest! Had ever heart more need of thine, If thine indeed hath rest?
Thy word, thy hand right soon did scare the bane That in their bodies death did breed: If thou canst cure my deeper pain, Then thou art Lord indeed.
Leopold smiled sleepily as Wingfold read, and ere the reading was over, slept.
"What can the little object want here?" said Mrs. Ramshorn.
Wingfold looked up, and seeing who it was approaching them, said,
"Oh! that is Mr. Polwarth, who keeps the park gate."
"Nobody can well mistake him," returned Mrs. Ramshorn. "Everybody knows the creature."
"Few people know him really," said Wingfold.
"I HAVE heard that he is an oddity in mind as well as in body," said Mrs. Ramshorn.
"He is a friend of mine," rejoined the curate. "I will go and meet him. He wants to know how Leopold is."
"Pray keep your seat, Mr. Wingfold. I don't in the least mind him," said Mrs. Ramshorn. "Any FRIEND of yours, as you are kind enough to call him, will be welcome. Clergymen come to know—indeed it is their duty to be acquainted with all sorts of people. The late dean of Halystone would stop and speak to a pauper."
The curate did however go and meet Polwarth, and returning with him presented him to Mrs. Ramshorn, who received him with perfect condescension, and a most gracious bow. Helen bent her head also, very differently, but it would be hard to say how. The little man turned from them, and for a moment stood looking on the face of the sleeping youth: he had not seen him since Helen ordered him to leave the house. Even now she looked angry at his presumption in staring at her brother. But Polwarth did not see her look. A great tenderness came over his face, and his lips moved softly. "The Lord of thy life keep it for thee, my son!" he murmured, gazed a moment longer, then rejoined Wingfold.
They walked aside a few paces.
"Pray be seated," said Mrs. Ramshorn, without looking up from her knitting—the seat she offered being the wide meadow.
But they had already done so, and presently were deep in a gentle talk, of which at length certain words that had been foolhardy enough to wander within her range, attracted the notice of Mrs. Ramshorn, and she began to listen. But she could not hear distinctly.
"There should be one bishop at least," the little man was saying, "or I don't know but he ought to be the arch-arch-bishop,—a poor man, if possible,—one like the country parson Chaucer sets up in contrast with the regular clergy,—whose main business should be to travel about from university to university, from college to college, from school to school, warning off all young men who did not know within themselves that it was neither for position, nor income, nor study, nor influence, that they sought to minister in the temple, from entering the church. As from holy ground, he would warn them off."
Mrs. Ramshorn fancied, from certain obscure associations in her own mind, that he was speaking of dissenting ministers and persons of low origin, who might wish to enter the church for the sake of BETTERING THEMSELVES, and holding as she did, that no church preferment should be obtained except by persons of good family and position, qualified to keep up the dignity of the profession, she was not a little gratified to hear, as she supposed, the same sentiments from the mouth of such an illiterate person as, taking no note of his somewhat remarkable utterance, she imagined Polwarth to be. Therefore she proceeded to patronize him yet a little farther.
"I quite agree with you," she said graciously. "None but such as you describe should presume to set foot within the sacred precincts of the profession."
Polwarth did not much relish Mrs. Ramshorn's style, and was considerably surprised at receiving such a hearty approval of a proposed reformation in clerical things, reaching even to the archiepiscopal, which he had put half-humorously, and yet in thorough earnest, for the ear of Wingfold only. He was little enough desirous of pursuing the conversation with Mrs. Ramshorn: Charity herself does not require of a man to cast his precious things at the feet of my lady Disdain; but he must reply.
"Yes," he said, "the great evil in the church has always been the presence in it of persons unsuited for the work there required of them. One very simple sifting rule would be, that no one should be admitted to holy orders who had not first proved himself capable of making a better living in some other calling."
"I cannot go with you so far as that—so few careers are opened to gentlemen," rejoined Mrs. Ramshorn. "Besides—take the bar, for instance: the forensic style a man must there acquire would hardly become the pulpit. But it would not be a bad rule that everyone, for admission to holy orders, should be possessed of property sufficient at least to live upon. With that for a foundation, his living would begin at once to tell, and he would immediately occupy the superior position every clergyman ought to have."
"What I was thinking of," said Polwarth, "was mainly the experience in life he would gather by having to make his own living; that, behind the counter or the plough, or in the workshop, he would come to know men and their struggles and their thoughts—"
"Good heavens!" exclaimed Mrs. Ramshorn. "But I must be under some misapprehension! It is not possible you can be speaking of the CHURCH—of the clerical PROFESSION. The moment that is brought within the reach of such people as you describe, that moment the church sinks to the level of the catholic priesthood."
"Say rather, to the level of Jeremy Taylor," returned Polwarth, "who was the son of a barber; or of Tillotson, who was the son of a clothier, or something of the sort, and certainly a fierce dissenter. His enemies said the archbishop himself was never baptized. By-the-way, he was not ordained till he was thirty—and that bears on what I was just saying to Mr. Wingfold, that I would have no one ordained till after forty, by which time he would know whether he had any real call or only a temptation to the church, from the base hope of an easy living."
By this time Mrs. Ramshorn had had more than enough of it. The man was a leveller, a chartist, a positivist—a despiser of dignities!
"Mr.—, Mr.—, I don't know your name—you will oblige me by uttering no more such vile slanders in my company. You are talking about what you don't in the least understand. The man who does not respect the religion of his native country is capable of—of—of ANYTHING.—I am astonished, Mr. Wingfold, at your allowing a member of your congregation to speak with so little regard for the feelings of the clergy.—You forget, sir, when you attribute what you call base motives to the cloth—you forget who said the labourer was worthy of his hire."
"I hope not, madam. I only venture to suggest that, though the labourer is worthy of his hire, not every man is worthy of the labour."
Wingfold was highly amused at the turn things had taken. Polwarth looked annoyed at having allowed himself to be beguiled into such an utterly useless beating of the air.
"My friend HAS some rather peculiar notions, Mrs. Ramshorn," said the curate;" but you must admit it was your approval that encouraged him to go on."
"It is quite as well to know what people think," answered Mrs. Ramshorn, pretending she had drawn him out from suspicion. "My husband used to say that very few of the clergy had any notion of the envy and opposition of the lower orders, both to them personally, and to the doctrines they taught. To low human nature the truth has always been unpalatable."
What precisely she meant by THE TRUTH it would be hard to say, but if the visual embodiment of it was not a departed dean, it was at least always associated in her mind with a cathedral choir, and a portly person in silk stockings.
Here happily Leopold woke, and his eyes fell upon the gate-keeper.
"Ah, Mr. Polwarth! I am so glad to see you!" he said." I am getting on, you see. It will be over soon."
"I see," replied Polwarth, going up to him, and taking his offered hand in both his. "I could almost envy you for having got so near the end of your troubles."
"Are you sure it will be the end of them, sir?"
"Of some of them at least, I hope, and those the worst. I cannot be sure of anything but that all things work together for good to them that love God."
"I don't know yet whether I do love God."
"Not the father of Jesus Christ?"
"If God is really just like him, I don't see how any man could help loving him. But, do you know? I am terrified sometimes at the thought of seeing MY father. He was such a severe man! I am afraid he will scorn me."
"Never—if he has got into heavenly ways. And you have your mother there too, have you not?"
"Oh! yes; I didn't think of that. I don't remember much of her."
"Anyhow, you have God there, and you must rest in him. He will not forget you, for that would be ceasing to be God. If God were to forget for one moment, the universe would grow black—vanish—rush out again from the realm of law and order into chaos and night."
"But I have been wicked."
"The more need you have, if possible, of your Father in heaven."
Here Mrs. Ramshorn beckoned the attendance of the curate where she sat a few yards off on the other side of Leopold. She was a little ashamed of having condescended to lose her temper, and when the curate went up to her, said, with an attempt at gaiety:
"Is your odd little friend, as you call him, all—?"
And she tapped her lace-cap carefully with her finger.
"Rather more so than most people," answered Wingfold. "He is a very remarkable man."
"He speaks as if he had seen better days—though where he can have gathered such detestable revolutionary notions, I can't think."
"He is a man of education, as you see," said the curate.
"You don't mean he has been to Oxford or Cambridge?"
"No. His education has been of a much higher sort than is generally found there. He knows ten times as much as most university men."
"Ah! yes; but that goes for nothing: he hasn't the standing. And if he had been to Oxford, he never could have imbibed such notions. Besides—his manners! To speak of the clergy as he did in the hearing of one whose whole history is bound up with the church!"
She meant herself, not Wingfold.
"But of course," she went on, "there must be something VERY wrong with him to know so much as you say, and occupy such a menial position! Nothing but a gate-keeper, and talk like that about bishops and what not! People that are crooked in body are always crooked in mind too. I dare say now he has quite a coterie of friends and followers amongst the lower orders in Glaston. He's just the sort of man to lead the working classes astray. No doubt he is a very interesting study for a young man like you, but you must take care; you may be misunderstood. A young clergyman CAN'T be too cautious—if he has any hope of rising in his profession.—A gate-keeper, indeed!"
"Wasn't it something like that David wanted to be?" said the curate.
"Mr. Wingfold, I never allow any such foolish jests in my hearing. It was a DOOR-keeper the Psalmist said—and to the house of God, not a nobleman's park."
"A verger, I suppose," thought Wingfold.—"Seriously, Mrs. Ramshorn, that poor little atom of a creature is the wisest man I know," he said.
"Likely enough, in YOUR judgment, Mr. Wingfold," said the dean's widow, and drew herself up.
The curate accepted his dismissal, and joined the little man by Leopold's chair.
"I wish you two could be with me when I am dying," said Leopold.
"If you will let your sister know your wish, you may easily have it," said the curate.
"It will be just like saying good-bye at the pier-head, and pushing off alone—you can't get more than one into the boat—out, out, alone, into the infinite ocean of—nobody knows what or where," said Leopold.
"Except those that are there already, and they will be waiting to receive you," said Polwarth. "You may well hope, if you have friends to see you off, you will have friends to welcome you too. But I think it's not so much like setting off from the pier-head, as getting down the side of the ocean-ship, to laud at the pier-head, where your friends are all standing looking out for you."
"Well! I don't know," said Leopold, with a sigh of weariness. "I'm thankful sometimes that I've grown stupid. I suppose it's with dying. I didn't use to feel so. Sometimes I seem not to know or care anything about anything. I only want to stop coughing and aching and go to sleep."
"Jesus was glad to give up his spirit into his Father's hands. He was very tired before he got away."
"Thank you. Thank you. I have him. He is somewhere. You can't mention his name but it brings me something to live and hope for. If he is there, all will be well. And if I do get too tired to care for anything, he won't mind; he will only let me go to sleep, and wake me up again by-and-by when I am rested."
He closed his eyes.
"I want to go to bed," he said.
They carried him into the house.
RACHEL AND LEOPOLD.
Every day after this, so long as the weather continued warm, it was Leopold's desire to be carried out to the meadow. Once at his earnest petition, instead of setting him down in the usual place, they went on with him into the park, but he soon wished to be taken back to the meadow. He did not like the trees to come between him and his bed: they made him feel like a rabbit that was too far from its hole, he said; and he was never tempted to try it again.
Regularly too every day, about one o'clock, the gnome-like form of the gate-keeper would issue from the little door in the park-fence, and come marching across the grass towards Leopold's chair, which was set near the small clump of trees already mentioned. The curate was almost always there, not talking much to the invalid, but letting him know every now and then by some little attention or word, or merely by showing himself, that he was near. Sometimes he would take refuge from the heat, which the Indian never felt too great, amongst the trees, and there would generally be thinking out what he wanted to say to his people the next Sunday.
One thing he found strange, and could not satisfy himself concerning, namely, that although his mind was so much occupied with Helen that he often seemed unable to think consecutively upon any subject, he could always foresee his sermon best when, seated behind one of the trees, he could by moving his head see her at work beside Leopold's chair. But the thing that did carry him through became plain enough to him afterwards: his faith in God was all the time growing—and that through what seemed at the time only a succession of interruptions. Nothing is so ruinous to progress in which effort is needful, as satisfaction with apparent achievement; that ever sounds a halt; but Wingfold's experience was that no sooner did he set his foot on the lowest hillock of self-congratulation than some fresh difficulty came that threw him prostrate; and he rose again only in the strength of the necessity for deepening and broadening his foundations that he might build yet higher, trust yet farther: that was the only way not to lose everything. He was gradually learning that his faith must be an absolute one, claiming from God everything the love of a perfect Father could give, or the needs he had created in his child could desire; that he must not look to himself first for help, or imagine that the divine was only the supplement to the weakness and failure of the human; that the highest effort of the human was to lay hold of the divine. He learned that he could keep no simplest law in its loveliness until he was possessed of the same spirit whence that law sprung; that he could not love Helen aright, simply, perfectly, unselfishly, except through the presence of the originating Love; that the one thing wherein he might imitate the free creative will of God was to will the presence and power of that will which gave birth to his. It was the vital growth of this faith, even when he was too much troubled to recognize the fact, that made him strong in the midst of weakness; when the son of man in him cried out, Let this cup pass, the son of God in him could yet cry, Let thy will be done. He could "inhabit trembling," and yet be brave.
Mrs. Ramshorn generally came to the meadow to see how the invalid was after he was settled, but she seldom staid: she was not fond of nursing, neither was there any need of her assistance; and as Helen never dreamed now of opposing the smallest wish of her brother, there was no longer any obstruction to the visits of Polwarth, which were eagerly looked for by Leopold.
One day the little man did not appear, but soon after his usual time the still more gnome-like form of his little niece came scrambling rather than walking over the meadow. Gently and modestly, almost shyly, she came up to Helen, made her a courtesy like a village school-girl, and said, while she glanced at Leopold now and then with an ocean of tenderness in her large, clear woman-eyes:
"My uncle is sorry, Miss Lingard, that he cannot come to see your brother to-day, but he is laid up with an attack of asthma. He wished Mr. Lingard to know that he was thinking of him:—shall I tell you just what he said?"
Helen bent her neck: she did not feel much interest in the matter. But Leopold said,
"Every word of such a good man is precious: tell me, please."
Rachel turned to him with the flush of a white rose on her face.
"I asked him, sir—'Shall I tell him you are praying for him?' and he said, 'No. I am not exactly praying for him, but I am thinking of God and him together.'"
The tears rose in Leopold's eyes. Rachel lifted her baby-hand, and stroked the dusky, long-fingured one that lay upon the arm of the chair.
"Dear Mr. Lingard," she said,—Helen stopped in the middle of an embroidery stitch, and gave her a look as if she were about to ask for her testimonials—"I could well wish, if it pleased God, that I were as near home as you."
Leopold took her hand in his.
"Do you suffer then?" he said.
"Just look at me," she answered with a smile that was very pitiful, though she did not mean it for such, "—shut up all my life in this epitome of deformity! But I ain't grumbling: that would be a fine thing! My house is not so small but God can get into it. Only you can't think how tired I often am of it."
"Mr. Wingfold was telling me yesterday that some people fancy St. Paul was little and misshapen, and that that was his thorn in the flesh."
"I don't think that can be true, or he would never have compared his body to a tabernacle, for, oh dear! it won't stretch an inch to give a body room. I don't think either, if that had been the case, he would have said he didn't want it taken off, but another put over it. I do want mine taken off me, and a downright good new one put on instead—something not quite so far off your sister's there, Mr. Lingard. But I'm ashamed of talking like this. It came of wanting to tell you I can't be sorry you are going when I should so dearly like to go myself."
"And I would gladly stay a while, and that in a house no bigger than yours, if I had a conscience of the same sort in my back-parlour," said Leopold smiling. "But when I am gone the world will be the cleaner for it.—Do you know about God the same way your uncle does, Miss Polwarth?"
"I hope I do—a little. I doubt if anybody knows as much as he does," she returned, very seriously. "But God knows about us all the same, and he don't limit his goodness to us by our knowledge of him. It's so wonderful that he can be all to everybody! That is his Godness, you know. We can't be all to any one person. Do what we will, we can't let anybody see into us even. We are all in bits and spots. But I fancy it's a sign that we come of God that we don't like it. How gladly I would help you, Mr. Lingard, and I can do nothing for you.—I'm afraid your beautiful sister thinks me very forward. But she don't know what it is to lie awake all night sometimes, think-thinking about my beautiful brothers and sisters that I can't get near to do anything for."
"What an odd creature!" thought Helen, to whom her talk conveyed next to nothing. "—But I daresay they are both out of their minds. Poor things! they must have a hard time of it with one thing and another!"
"I beg your pardon again for talking so much," concluded Rachel, and, with a courtesy first to the one then to the other, walked away. Her gait was no square march like her uncle's, but a sort of sidelong propulsion, rendered more laborious by the thick grass of the meadow.
I need not follow the steps by which the inquiry-office became able so far to enlighten the mother of Emmeline concerning the person and habits of the visitor to the deserted shaft, that she had now come to Glaston in pursuit of yet farther discovery concerning him. She had no plan in her mind, and as yet merely intended going to church and everywhere else where people congregated, in the hope of something turning up to direct inquiry. Not a suspicion of Leopold had ever crossed her. She did not even know that he had a sister in Glaston, for Emmeline's friends had not all been intimate with her parents.
On the morning after her arrival, she went out early to take a walk, and brood over her cherished vengeance; and finding her way into the park, wandered about in it for some time. Leaving it at length by another gate, and inquiring the way to Glaston, she was directed to a footpath which would lead her thither across the fields. Following this, she came to a stile, and being rather weary with her long walk, sat down on it.
The day was a grand autumnal one. But nature had no charms for her. Indeed had she not been close shut in the gloomy chamber of her own thoughts, she would not thus have walked abroad alone; for nature was to her a dull, featureless void; while her past was scarcely of the sort to invite retrospection, and her future was clouded.
It so fell that just then Leopold was asleep in his chair,—every morning he slept a little soon after being carried out,—and that chair was in its usual place in the meadow, with the clump of trees between it and the stile. Wingfold was seated in the shade of the trees, but Helen, happening to want something for her work, went to him and committed her brother to his care until she should return, whereupon he took her place. Almost the same moment however, he spied Polwarth coming from the little door in the fence, and went to meet him. When he turned, he saw, to his surprise, a lady standing beside the sleeping youth, and gazing at him with a strange intentness. Polwarth had seen her come from the clump of trees, and supposed her a friend. The curate walked hastily back, fearing he might wake and be startled at sight of the stranger. So intent was the gazing lady that he was within a few yards of her before she heard him. She started, gave one glance at the curate, and hurried away towards the town. There was an agitation in her movements which Wingfold did not like; a suspicion crossed his mind, and he resolved to follow her. In his turn he made over his charge to Polwarth, and set off after the lady.
The moment the eyes of Emmeline's mother fell upon the countenance of Leopold, whom, notwithstanding the change that suffering had caused, she recognized at once, partly by the peculiarity of his complexion, the suspicion, almost conviction, awoke in her that here was the murderer of her daughter. That he looked so ill seemed only to confirm the likelihood. Her first idea was to wake him and see the effect of her sudden presence. Finding he was attended, however, she hurried away to inquire in the town and discover all she could about him.
A few moments after Polwarth had taken charge of him, and while he stood looking on him tenderly, the youth woke with a start.
"Where is Helen?" he said.
"I have not seen her. Ah, here she comes!"
"Did you find me alone then?"
"Mr. Wingfold was with you. He gave you up to me, because he had to go into the town."
He looked inquiringly at his sister as she came up, and she looked in the same way at Polwarth.
"I feel as if I had been lying all alone in this wide field," said Leopold, "and as if Emmeline had been by me, though I didn't see her."
Polwarth looked after the two retiring forms, which were now almost at the end of the meadow, and about to issue on the high road.
Helen followed his look with hers. A sense of danger seized her. She trembled, and kept behind Leopold's chair.
"Have you been coughing much to-day?" asked the gate-keeper.
"Yes, a good deal—before I came out. But it does not seem to do much good."
"What good would you have it do?"
"I mean, it doesn't do much to get it over. Oh, Mr. Polwarth, I am so tired!"
"Poor fellow! I suppose it looks to you as if it would never be over. But all the millions of the dead have got through it before you. I don't know that that makes much difference to the one who is going through it. And yet it is a sort of company. Only, the Lord of Life is with you, and that is real company, even in dying, when no one else can be with you."
"If I could only feel he was with me!"
"You may feel his presence without knowing what it is."
"I hope it isn't wrong to wish it over, Mr. Polwarth?"
"I don't think it is wrong to wish anything you can talk to him about and submit to his will. St. Paul says, 'In everything let your requests be made known unto God.'"
"I sometimes feel as if I would not ask him for anything, but just let him give me what he likes."
"We must not want to be better than is required of us, for that is at once to grow worse."
"I don't quite understand you."
"Not to ask may seem to you a more submissive way, but I don't think it is so childlike. It seems to me far better to say, 'O Lord, I should like this or that, but I would rather not have it if thou dost not like it also.' Such prayer brings us into conscious and immediate relations with God. Remember, our thoughts are then, passing to him, sent by our will into his mind. Our Lord taught us to pray always and not get tired of it. God, however poor creatures we may be, would have us talk to him, for then he can speak to us better than when we turn no face to him."
"I wonder what I shall do the first thing when I find myself out—out, I mean, in the air, you know."
"It does seem strange we should know so little of what is in some sense so near us! that such a thin veil should be so impenetrable! I fancy the first thing I should do would be to pray."
"Then you think we shall pray there—wherever it is?"
"It seems to me as if I should go up in prayer the moment I got out of this dungeon of a body. I am wrong to call it a dungeon, for it lies open to God's fair world, and the loveliness of the earth comes into me through eyes and ears just as well as into you. Still it is a pleasant thought that it will drop off me some day. But for prayer—I think all will pray there more than here—in their hearts and souls I mean."
"Then where would be the harm if you were to pray for me after I am gone?"
"Nowhere that I know. It were indeed a strange thing if I might pray for you up to the moment when you ceased to breathe, and therewith an iron gate close between us, and I could not even reach you through the ear of the Father of us both! It is a faithless doctrine, for it supposes either that those parted from us can do without prayer, the thing Jesus himself could not do without, seeing it was his highest joy, or that God has so parted those who are in him from these who are in him, that there is no longer any relation, even with God, common to them. The thing to me takes the form of an absurdity."
"Ah, then, pray for me when I am dying, and don't be careful to stop when you think I am gone, Mr. Polwarth."
"I will remember," said the little man.
And now Helen had recovered herself, and came and took her usual seat by her brother's side. She cast an anxious glance now and then into Polwarth's face, but dared not ask him anything.
THE BLOOD-HOUND TRAVERSED.
Emmeline's mother had not gone far before she became aware that she was followed. It was a turning of the tables which she did not relish. As would not have been unnatural, even had she been at peace with all the world, a certain feeling of undefined terror came upon her and threatened to overmaster her. It was the more oppressive that she did not choose to turn and face her pursuer, feeling that to do so would be to confess consciousness of cause. The fate of her daughter, seldom absent from her thoughts, now rose before her in association with herself, and was gradually swelling uneasiness into terror: who could tell but this man pressing on her heels in the solitary meadow, and not the poor youth who lay dying there in the chair, and who might indeed be only another of his victims, was the murderer of Emmeline! Unconsciously she accelerated her pace until it was almost a run, but did not thereby widen by a single yard the distance between her and the curate.
When she came out on the high road, she gave a glance in each direction, and, avoiding the country, made for the houses. A short lane led her into Pine street. There she felt safe, the more that it was market-day and a good many people about, and slackened her pace, feeling confident that her pursuer, whoever he was, would now turn aside. But she was disappointed, for, casting a glance over her shoulder, she saw that he still kept the same distance behind her. She saw also, in that single look, that he was well-known, for several were saluting him at once. What could it mean? It must be the G. B. of the Temple! Should she stop and challenge his pursuit? The obstacle to this was a certain sinking at the heart accounted for by an old memory. She must elude him instead. But she did not know a single person in the place, or one house where she could seek refuge. There was an hotel before her! But, unattended, heated, disordered, to all appearance disreputable, what account could she give of herself? That she had been followed by some one everybody knew, and to whom everybody would listen! Feebly debating thus with herself, she hurried along the pavement of Pine Street, with the Abbey church before her.
The footsteps behind her grew louder and quicker: the man had made up his mind and was coming up with her! He might be mad, or ready to run all risks! Probably he knew his life at stake through her perseverance and determination!
On came the footsteps, for the curate had indeed made up his mind to speak to her, and either remove or certify his apprehensions. Nearer yet and nearer they came. Her courage and strength were giving way together, and she should be at his mercy. She darted into a shop, sank on a chair by the counter, and begged for a glass of water. A young woman ran to fetch it, while Mr. Drew went upstairs for a glass of wine. Returning with it he came from behind the counter, and approached the lady where she sat leaning her head upon it.
Meantime the curate also had entered the shop, and placed himself where he might, unseen by her, await her departure, for he could not speak to her there. He had her full in sight when Mr. Drew went up to her.
"Do me the favour, madam," he said—but said no more. For at the sound of his voice, the lady gave a violent start, and raising her head looked at him. The wine-glass dropped from his hand. She gave a half-choked cry, and sped from the shop.
The curate was on the spring after her when he was arrested by the look of the draper: he stood fixed where she had left him, white and trembling as if he had seen a ghost. He went up to him, and said in a whisper:
"Who is she?"
"Mrs. Drew," answered the draper, and the curate was after her like a greyhound.
A little crowd of the shop-people gathered in consternation about their master.
"Pick up those pieces of glass, and call Jacob to wipe the floor," he said—then walked to the door, and stood staring after the curate as he all but ran to overtake the swiftly gliding figure.
The woman, ignorant that her pursuer was again upon her track, and hardly any longer knowing what she did, hurried blindly towards the churchyard. Presently the curate relaxed his speed, hoping she would enter it, when he would have her in a fit place for the interview upon which he was, if possible, more determined than ever, now that he had gained, so unexpectedly, such an absolute hold of her. "She must be Emmeline's mother," he said to himself, "—fit mother for such a daughter." The moment he caught sight of the visage lifted from its regard of the sleeping youth, he had suspected the fact. He had not had time to analyze its expression, but there was something dreadful in it. A bold question would determine the suspicion.
She entered the churchyard, saw the Abbey door open, and hastened to it. She was in a state of bewilderment and terror that would have crazed a weaker woman. In the porch she cast a glance behind her: there again was her pursuer! She sprang into the church. A woman was dusting a pew not far from the door.
"Who is that coming?" she asked, in a tone and with a mien that appalled Mrs. Jenkins. She had but to stretch her neck a little to see through the porch.
"Why, it be only the parson, ma'am!" she answered.
"Then I shall hide myself, over there, and you must tell him I went out by that other door. Here's a sovereign for you."
"I thank you, ma'am," said Mrs. Jenkins, looking wistfully at the sovereign, which was a great sum of money to a sexton's wife with children, then instantly going on with her dusting; "but it ain't no use tryin' of tricks with our parson. HE ain't one of your Mollies. A man as don't play no tricks with hisself, as I heerd a gentleman say, it ain't no use tryin' no tricks with HIM."
Almost while she spoke, the curate entered. The suppliant drew herself up, and endeavoured to look both dignified and injured.
"Would you oblige me by walking this way for a moment?" he said, coming straight to her.
Without a word she followed him, a long way up the church, to the stone screen which divided the chancel from the nave. There, in sight of Mrs. Jenkins, but so far off that she could not hear a word said, he asked her to take a seat on the steps that led up to the door in the centre of the screen. Again she obeyed, and Wingfold sat down near her.
"Are you Emmeline's mother?" he said.
The gasp, the expression of eye and cheek, the whole startled response of the woman, revealed that he had struck the truth. But she made no answer.
"You had better be open with me," he said, "for I mean to be very open with you."
She stared at him, but either could not, or would not speak. Probably it was caution: she must hear more.
The curate was already excited, and I fear now got a little angry, for the woman was not pleasant to his eyes.
"I want to tell you," he said, "that the poor youth whom your daughter's behaviour made a murderer of,—"
She gave a cry, and turned like ashes. The curate was ashamed of himself.
"It seems cruel," he said, "but it is the truth. I say he is now dying—will be gone after her in a few weeks. The same blow killed both, only one has taken longer to die. No end can be served by bringing him to justice. Indeed if he were arrested, he would but die on the way to prison. I have followed you to persuade you, if I can, to leave him to his fate and not urge it on. If ever man was sorry, or suffered for his crime,—"
"And pray what is that to me, sir?" cried the avenging mother, who, finding herself entreated, straightway became arrogant. "Will it give me back my child? The villain took her precious life without giving her a moment to prepare for eternity, and you ask me—her mother—to let him go free! I will not. I have vowed vengeance, and I will have it."
"Allow me to say that if you die in that spirit, you will be far worse prepared for eternity than I trust your poor daughter was."
"What is that to you? If I choose to run the risk, it is my business. I tell you it shall not be my fault if the wretch is not brought to the gallows."
"But he cannot live to reach it. The necessary preliminaries would waste all that is left of his life. I only ask of you to let him die in what peace is possible to him. We must forgive our enemies, you know. But indeed he is no enemy of yours."
"No enemy of mine! The man who murdered my child no enemy of mine! I am his enemy then, and that he shall find. If I cannot bring him to the gallows, I can at least make every man and woman in the country point the finger of scorn and hatred at him. I can bring him and all his to disgrace and ruin. Their pride indeed! They were far too grand to visit me, but not to send a murderer into my family. I am in my rights, and I will have justice. We shall see if they are too grand to have a nephew hung! My poor lovely innocent! I will have justice on the foul villain. Cringing shall not turn me."
Her lips were white, and her teeth set. She rose with the slow movement of one whose intent, if it had blossomed in passion, was yet rooted in determination, and turned to leave the church.
"It might hamper your proceedings a little," said Wingfold, "if in the meantime a charge of bigamy were brought against yourself, MRS. DREW!"
Her back was towards the curate, and for a moment she stood like another pillar of salt. Then she began to tremble, and laid hold of the carved top of a bench. But her strength failed her completely; she sank on her knees and fell on the floor with a deep moan.
The curate called Mrs. Jenkins and sent her for water. With some difficulty they brought her to herself.
She rose, shuddered, drew her shawl about her, and said to the woman,
"I am sorry to give so much trouble. When does the next train start for London?"
"Within an hour," answered the curate. "I will see you safe to it."
"Excuse me; I prefer going alone."
"That I cannot permit."
"I must go to my lodgings first."
"I will go with you."
She cast on him a look of questioning hate, yielded, and laid two fingers on his offered arm.
They walked out of the church together and to the cottage where, for privacy, she had lodged. There he left her for half an hour, and, yielding to her own necessities and not his entreaties, she took some refreshment. In the glowing sullenness of foiled revenge, the smoke of which was crossed every now and then by a flash of hate, she sat until he returned.
"Before I go with you to the train," said the curate, re-entering, "you must give me your word to leave young Lingard unmolested. I know my friend Mr. Drew has no desire to trouble you, but I am equally confident that he will do whatever I ask him. If you will not promise me, from the moment you get into the train you shall be watched.—Do you promise?"
She was silent, with cold gleaming eyes, for a time, then said,
"How am I to know that this is not a trick to save his life?"
"You saw him; you could see he is dying. I tell you I do not think he can live a month. His disease is making rapid progress. He must go with the first of the cold weather."
She could not help believing him.
"I promise," she said. "But you are cruel to compel a mother to forgive the villain that stabbed her daughter to the heart."
"If the poor lad were not dying, I should see that he gave himself up, as indeed he set out to do some weeks ago, but was frustrated by his friends. He is dying for love of her. I believe I say so with truth. Pity and love and remorse and horror of his deed have brought him to the state you saw him in. To be honest with you, he might have got better enough to be tortured for a while in a madhouse, for no jury would have brought him in anything but insane at the time, with the evidence that would have been adduced; but in his anxiety to see me one day—for his friends at that time did not favour my visits, because I encouraged him to surrender—he got out of the house alone to come to me, but fainted in the churchyard, and lay on the damp earth for the better part of an hour, I fancy, before we found him. Still, had it not been for the state of his mind, he might have got over that too.—As you hope to be forgiven, you must forgive him."
He held out his hand to her. She was a little softened, and gave him hers.
"Allow me one word more," said the curate, "and then we shall go: Our crimes are friends that will hunt us either to the bosom of God, or the pit of hell."
She looked down, but her look was still sullen and proud.
The curate rose, took up her bag, went with her to the station, got her ticket, and saw her off.
Then he hastened back to Drew, and told him the whole story.
"Poor woman!" said her husband. "—But God only knows how much I am to blame for all this. If I had behaved better to her she might never have left me, and your poor young friend would now be well and happy."
"Perhaps consuming his soul to a cinder with that odious drug," said Wingfold. "'Tis true, as Edgar in King Lear says:
The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices Make instruments to plague us;
but he takes our sins on himself, and while he drives them out of us with a whip of scorpions he will yet make them work his ends. He defeats our sins, makes them prisoners, forces them into the service of good, chains them like galley-slaves to the rowing-benches of the gospel-ship, or sets them like ugly gurgoyles or corbels or brackets in the walls of his temples.—No, that last figure I retract. I don't like it. It implies their continuance."
"Poor woman!" said Mr. Drew again, who for once had been inattentive to the curate. "Well! she is sorely punished too."
"She will be worse punished yet," said the curate, "if I can read the signs of character. SHE is not repentant yet—though I did spy in her just once a touch of softening."
"It is an awful retribution," said the draper, "and I may yet have to bear my share—God help me!"
"I suspect it is the weight of her own crime that makes her so fierce to avenge her daughter. I doubt if anything makes one so unforgiving as guilt unrepented of."
"Well, I must try to find out where she is, and keep an eye upon her."
"That will be easy enough. But why?"
"Because, if, as you think, there is more evil in store for her, I may yet have it in my power to do her some service.—I wonder if Mr. Polwarth would call that DIVINE SERVICE," he added, with one of his sunny smiles.
"Indeed he would," answered the curate.
George Bascombe, when he went to Paris, had no thought of deserting Helen. But he had good ground for fearing that it might be ruinous both to Lingard and himself to undertake his defence. From Paris he wrote often to Helen, and she replied—not so often, yet often enough to satisfy him; and as soon as she was convinced that Leopold could not recover, she let him know, whereupon he instantly began his preparations for returning.
Before he came, the weather had changed once more. It was now cold, and the cold had begun at once to tell upon the invalid. There are some natures to which cold, moral, spiritual, or physical, is lethal, and Lingard's was of the class. When the dying leaves began to shiver in the breath of the coming winter, the very brightness of the sun to look gleamy, and nature to put on the unfriendly aspect of a world not made for living in but for shutting out—when all things took the turn of reminding man that his life lay not in them, Leopold began to shrink and withdraw. He could not face the ghastly persistence of the winter, which would come, let all the souls of the summer-nations shrink and protest as they might; let them creep shivering to Hades; he would have his day.
His sufferings were now considerable, but he never complained. Restless and fevered and sick at heart, it was yet more from the necessity of a lovely nature than from any virtue of will that he was so easy to nurse, accepting so readily all ministrations. Never exacting and never refusing, he was always gently grateful, giving a sort of impression that he could have been far more thankful had he not known the object of the kindnesses so unworthy. Next to Wingfold's and his sister's, the face he always welcomed most was that of the gate-keeper—indeed I ought hardly to say NEXT to theirs; for if the curate was to him as a brother, Polwarth was like a father in Christ. He came every day, and every day, almost till that of his departure, Leopold had something to ask him about or something to tell him.
"I am getting so stupid, Mr. Polwarth!" he said once. "It troubles me much. I don't seem to care for anything now. I don't want to hear the New Testament: I would rather hear a child's story—something that did not want thinking about. If I am not coughing, I am content. I could lie for hours and hours and never think more than what goes creeping through my mind no faster than a canal in Holland. When I am coughing,—I don't think about anything then either—only long for the fit to be over and let me back again into Sleepy Hollow. All my past life seems to be gone from me. I don't care about it. Even my crime looks like something done ages ago. I know it is mine, and I would rather it were not mine, but it is as if a great cloud had come and swept away the world in which it took place. I am afraid sometimes that I am beginning not to care even about that. I say to myself, I shall be sorry again by and by, but I can't think about it now. I feel as if I had handed it over to God to lay down where I should find it again when I was able to think and be sorry."
This was a long utterance for him to make, but he had spoken slowly, and with frequent pauses. Polwarth did not speak once, feeling that a dying man must be allowed to ease his mind after his own fashion, and take as much time to it as he pleased. Helen and Wingfold both would have told him he must not tire himself, but that Polwarth never did. The dying should not have their utterances checked, or the feeling of not having finished forced upon them. They will always have plenty of the feeling without that.
A fit of coughing compelled him to break off, and when it was over, he lay panting and weary, but with his large eyes questioning the face of Polwarth. Then the little man spoke.
"He must give us every sort of opportunity for trusting him," he said. "The one he now gives you, is this dulness that has come over you. Trust him through it, submitting to it and yet trusting against it, and you get the good of it. In your present state perhaps you cannot even try to bring about by force of will any better state of feeling or higher intellectual condition; but you can say to God something like this: "See, Lord, I am dull and stupid, and care for nothing: take thou care of everything for me, heart and mind and all. I leave all to thee. Wilt thou not at length draw me out of this my frozen wintery state? Let me not shrink from fresh life and thought and duty, or be unready to come out of the shell of my sickness when thou sendest for me. I wait thy will. I wait even the light that I feel now as if I dared not encounter for weariness of body and faintness of spirit."
"Ah!" cried Leopold, "there you have touched it! How can you know so well what I feel?"
"Because I have often had to fight hard to keep death to his own province, and not let him cross over into my spirit."
"Alas! I am not fighting at all; I am only letting things go."
"You are fighting more than you know, I suspect, for you are enduring, and that patiently. Suppose Jesus were to knock at the door now, and it was locked; suppose you knew it was he, and there was no one in the room to open it for him; suppose you were as weak as you are now, and seemed to care as little about him or anything else: what would you do?"
Leopold looked half amazed, as if wondering what his friend could be driving at with such a question.
"What else could I do but get up and open it?" he said.
"Would you not be tempted to lie still and wait till some one came."
"Would you not say in your heart, 'The Lord knows I am very weak, and I should catch cold, and the exertion would make me cough dreadfully, and he won't mind if I lie still?'"
"That I wouldn't! What should I care what came to me? What would it matter so long as I got one look at him! Besides, if he didn't want me to get up, he wouldn't knock."
"But suppose you knew that the moment you turned the key you would drop down, and when the Lord came in you would not see him."
"I can't think where you want to take me, Mr. Polwarth!" said the youth. "Even if I knew I should drop dead the moment I got out on the floor, what would it matter! I should get to him the sooner then, and tell him why I didn't open the door. Can you suppose for a moment I should let any care for this miserable body of mine come between my eyes and the face of my Lord?"
"You see then that you do care about him a little, though a minute ago you didn't think it! There are many feelings in us that are not able to get up stairs the moment we call them. Be as dull and stupid as it pleases God to let you be, and trouble neither yourself nor him about that, only ask him to be with you all the same."
The little man dropped on his knees by the bedside, and said,
"O Lord Jesus, be near when it seems to us, as it seemed to thee once, that our Father has forsaken us, and gathered back to himself all the gifts he once gave us. Even thou who wast mighty in death, didst need the presence of thy Father to make thee able to endure: forget not us the work of thy hands, yea, the labour of thy heart and spirit. O remember that we are his offspring, neither accountable for our own being, nor able to comfort or strengthen ourselves. If thou wert to leave us alone, we should cry out upon thee as on the mother who threw her babes to the wolves—and there are no wolves able to terrify thee. Ah Lord! we know thou leavest us not, only in our weakness we would comfort our hearts with the music of the words of faith. Thou canst not do other than care for us, Lord Christ, for whether we be glad or sorry, slow of heart or full of faith, all the same are we the children of thy Father. He sent us here, and never asked us if we would; therefore thou must be with us, and give us repentance and humility and love and faith, that we may indeed be the children of thy Father who is in heaven. Amen."
While Polwarth was yet praying, the door had opened gently behind him, and Helen, not knowing that he was there, had entered with Bascombe. He neither heard their entrance, nor saw the face of disgust that George made behind his back. What was in Bascombe's deepest soul who shall tell? Of that region he himself knew nothing. It was a silent, holy place into which he had never yet entered— therefore lonely and deserted as the top of Sinai after the cloud had departed. No—I will not say that: who knows what is where man cannot or will not look? If George had sought there, perhaps he might have found traces of a presence not yet altogether vanished. In what he called and imagined his deeepest soul, however, all he was now conscious of was a perfect loathing of the monstrous superstition so fitly embodied before him. The prayer of the kneeling absurdity was to him an audacious mockery of the infrangible laws of Nature: this hulk of misshapen pottery actually presuming to believe that an invisible individual heard what he said because he crooked his hinges to say it! It did not occur to George that the infrangible laws of Nature she had herself from the very first so agonizingly broken to the poor dwarf, she had been to him such a cruel step-mother, that he was in evil case indeed if he could find no father to give him fair play and a chance of the endurable. Was he so much to blame if he felt the annihilation offered by such theorists as George, not altogether a satisfactory counterpoise either to its existence or its loss? If, even, he were to fancy in his trouble that the old fable of an elder brother, something more humble than grand handsome George Bascombe and more ready to help his little brothers and sisters, might be true, seeing that an old story is not necessarily a false one, and were to try after the hints it gave, surely in his condition such folly, however absurd to a man of George Bascombe's endowments, might of the more gifted ephemeros be pardoned if not pitied. Nor will I assert that he was altogether unaware of any admixture of the sad with the ludicrous when he saw the amorphous agglomerate of human shreds and patches kneeling by the bedside of the dying murderer, to pray some comfort into his passing soul. But his "gorge rose at the nonsense and stuff of it," while through Helen ran a cold shudder of disgust at the familiarity and irreverence of the little spiritual prig.
How many of the judgments we are told not to judge and yet do judge, must make the angels of the judging and the judged turn and look at each other and smile a sad smile, ere they set themselves to forget that which so sorely needs to be forgotten.
Polwarth rose from his knees unaware of a hostile presence.
"Leopold," he said, taking his hand, "I would gladly, if I might, walk with you through the shadow. But the heart of all hearts will be with you. Rest in your tent a little while, which is indeed the hollow of the Father's hand turned over you, with your strong brother watching the door. Your imagination cannot go beyond the truth of him who is the Father of lights, or of him who is the Elder Brother of men."
Leopold answered only with his eyes. Polwarth turned to go, and saw the on-lookers. They stood between him and the door, but parted and made room for him to pass. Neither spoke. He made a bow first to one and then to the other, looking up in the face of each, unabashed by smile or scorn or blush of annoyance, but George took no notice, walking straight to the bed the moment the way was clear. Helen's conscience, however, or heart, smote her, and, returning his bow, she opened the door for her brother's friend. He thanked her, and went his way.
"Poor dear fellow!" said George kindly, and stroked the thin hand laid in his: "can I do anything for you?"
"Nothing but be good to Helen when I am gone, and tell her now and then that I'm not dead, but living in the hope of seeing her again one day before long. She might forget sometimes—not me, but that, you know."
"Yes, yes, I'll see to it," answered George, in the evil tone of one who faithfully promises a child an impossibility. Of course there was no more harm in lying to a man who was just on the verge of being a man no more, and becoming only an unpleasant mass of chemicals, which a whole ant-heap of little laws would presently be carrying outside the gates of the organic, than there had been in lying to him when he supposed him a madman. Neither could anyone blame him for inconsistency; for had he not always said in the goodness of his heart, that he would never disturb the faith of old people drawing nigh their end, because such no more possessed the needful elasticity of brain to accommodate themselves to the subversion of previous modes of feeling and thought, unavoidable to the adoption of his precious revelation. Precious he did believe it, never having himself one of those visions of infinite hope, which, were his theory once proved as true as he imagined it, must then indeed vanish for ever.
"Do you suffer much?" asked George.
"Yes—a good deal."
"Not so much;—sometimes. The weakness is the worst. But it doesn't matter: God is with me."
"What good does that do you?" asked George, forgetting himself, half in contempt, half in a curiosity which he would have called, and which perhaps was, scientific.
But Leopold took it in good faith, and answered,
"It sets it all right, and makes me able to be patient."
George laid down the hand he held, and turned sadly to Helen, but said nothing.
The next moment Wingfold entered. Helen kissed the dying hand, and left the room with George.
Tenderly he led her into the garden, and down the walks now bare of bordering flowers. To Helen it looked like a graveyard; the dry bushes were the memorials of the buried flowers, and the cypress and box trees rose like the larger monuments of shapely stone. The day was a cold leaden one, that would have rained if it could, to get rid of the deadness at its heart, but no tears came. To the summer-house they went, under the cedar, and sat down. Neither spoke for some time.
"Poor Leopold!" said George at length, and took Helen's hand.
She burst into tears, and again for some time neither spoke.
"George, I can't bear it!" she said at length.
"It is very sad," answered George. "But he had a happy life, I don't doubt, up to—to—"
"What does that matter now? It is all a horrible farce.—To begin so fair and lovely, and end so stormy and cold and miserable!"
George did not like to say what he thought, namely, that it was Leopold's own doing. He did not see that therein lay the deepest depth of the misery—the thing that of all things needed help: all else might be borne; the less that COULD be borne the better.
"It IS horrible," he said. "But what can be done? What's done is done, and nobody can help it."
"There should be somebody to help it," said Helen.
"Ah! Should be!" said George. "—Well, it's a comfort it will soon be over!"
"Is it?" returned Helen almost sharply. "—But he's not your brother, and you don't know what it is to lose him! Oh, how desolate the world will be without my darling!"
And again her tears found way.
"All that I can do to make up for the loss, dearest Helen," said George,—
"Oh George!" she cried, starting to her feet, "is there NO hope? I don't mean of his getting better—that we do know the likelihoods of—but is there no hope of SOME TIME seeing him again? We know so little about all of it! MIGHT there not be some way?"
But George was too honest in himself, and too true to his principles, to pretend anything to Helen. Hers was an altogether different case from Leopold's. Here was a young woman full of health and life and hope, with all her joys before her! Many suns must set before her sun would go down, many pale moons look lovely in her eyes, ere came those that would mock her with withered memories—a whole hortus siccus of passion-flowers. Why should he lie to HER of a hope beyond the grave? Let the pleasures of the world be the dearer to her for the knowledge that they must so soon depart; let love be the sweeter for the mournful thought that it is a thing of the summer, and that when the winter comes it shall be no more! But perhaps George forgot one point. I will allow that the insects of a day, dying in a moment of delightful fruition, are blessed; but when the delicate Psyche, with her jewel-feathered wings, is beat about by a wind full of rain until she lies draggled in the dirt; when there are no more flowers, or if there be, the joy of her hovering is over, and yet death comes but slowly; when the mourners are going about the streets ere ever the silver cord is loosed; when the past looks a mockery and the future a blank;—then perhaps, even to the correlatives of the most triumphant natural selection, it may not merely seem as if something were wrong somewhere, but even as if there ought to be somebody to set wrong right. If Psyche should be so subdued to circumstance as to accept without question her supposed fate, then doubly woe for Psyche!
But if George could not lie, it was not necessary for him to speak the truth: silence was enough. A moment of it was all Helen could endure. She rose hastily, left the wintered summer-house, and walked back to the sick-chamber. George followed a few paces behind, so far quenched that he did not overtake her to walk by her side, feeling he had no aid to offer her. Doubtless he could have told her of help at hand, but it was help that must come, that could neither be given nor taken, would not come the sooner for any prayer, and indeed would not begin to exist until the worst should be over: the nearest George came to belief in a saving power, was to console himself with the thought that TIME would do everything for Helen.
As Leopold slowly departed, he seemed to his sister to draw along with him all that was precious in her life. She felt herself grow dull and indifferent. It was to no purpose that she upbraided herself with heartlessness; seemingly heartless her bosom remained. It was not that her mind was occupied with anything else than her brother, or drew comfort from another source; her feelings appeared to be dying with him who had drawn them forth more than any other. The battle was ending without even the poor pomp and circumstance of torn banners and wailful music.
Leopold said very little during the last few days. His fits, of coughing were more frequent, and in the pauses he had neither strength nor desire to speak. When Helen came to his bedside, he would put out his hand to her, and she would sit down by him and hold it warm in hers. The hand of his sister was the point of the planet from which, like his mount of ascension, the spirit of the youth took its departure;—when he let that go, he was gone. But he died asleep, as so many do; and fancied, I presume, that he was waking into his old life, when he woke into his new one.
Wingfold stood on the other side of the bed, with Polwarth by him, for so had the departing wished it, and although he made no sign, I cannot but think he reaped some content therefrom. While yet he lingered, one of Helen's listless, straying glances was arrested by the countenance of the gate-keeper. It was so still and so rapt that she thought he must be seeing within the veil, and regarding what things were awaiting her brother on the reverse of the two-sided wonder. But it was not so. Polwarth saw no more than she did: he was ONLY standing in the presence of him who is not the God of the dead but of the living. Whatever lay in that Will was the life of whatever came of that Will, that is, of every creature, and no to that Will, to the face of the Father, he lifted, in his prayerful thought, the heart and mind and body of the youth now passing through the birth of death. "I know not," he would have said, had he been questioned concerning his spiritual attitude, "how my prayer should for another work anything with the perfect Giver, but at least I will not leave my friend behind when I go into the presence of his Father and my Father. And I believe there is something in it I cannot yet see."
Wingfold's anxiety was all for Helen. He could do no more for Leopold, nor did he need more from man. As to many of the things that puzzled them most, he was on his way to know more; he would soon be in the heart of what seemed likely to remain a long secret to him. But there was his sister, about to be left behind him without his hopes; for her were dreary days at hand; and the curate prayed the God of comfort and consolation to visit her.
Mrs. Ramshorn would now and then look in at the noiseless door of the chamber of death, but she rightly felt her presence was not desired, and though ready to help, did not enter. Neither did George—not from heartlessness, but that he judged it better to leave the priests of falsehood undisturbed in the exercise of their miserable office. What did it matter how many comforting lies were told to a dying man? What COULD it matter? There was small danger of their foolish prayers and superstitious ceremonies evoking a deity from the well-ordered, self-evolved sphericity of interacting law, where not a pin-hole of failure afforded space out of which he might creep. No more could they deprive the poor lad of the bliss of returning into the absolute nothingness whence he had crept—to commit a horrible crime against immortal society, and creep back again, with a heart full of love and remorse and self-abhorrence, into the black abyss. Therefore, why should he not let them tell their lies and utter their silly incantations? Aloof and unharmed he stood, safe on the shore, all ready to reach the rescuing hand to Helen, the moment she should turn her eyes to him, for the help she knew he had to give her. Certainly, for her sake, he would rather she were not left unprotected to such subtle and insinuating influences; but with the power of his mind upon her good sense, he had no fear of the result. Not that he expected her to submit at once to the wholesome regimen and plain diet he must prescribe her: the soft hand of Time must first draw together the edges of her heart's wound.
But the deadness of Helen's feelings, the heartlessness because of which she cried out against herself, seemed, in a vague way, by herself unacknowledged yet felt, if not caused by, yet associated with some subtle radiation from the being of George Bascombe. That very morning when he came into the breakfast-room so quietly that she had not heard him, and, looking up, saw him unexpectedly, he seemed for a moment, she could not tell why, the dull fountain of all the miserable feeling—not of loss, but of no loss, which pressed her heart flat in her bosom. The next moment she accused herself of the grossest injustice, attributing it to the sickness of soul which the shadow of death had wrought in her; for was not George the only true friend she had ever had? If she lost him she must be lonely indeed!—The feeling lingered notwithstanding, and when she thought it dispelled, began to gather again immediately.
At the same time she shrunk from Wingfold as hard and unsympathetic. True he had been most kind, even tender, to her brother, but to him he had taken a fancy, having found in him one whom he could work upon and fashion to his own liking: poor Poldie had never been one of the strongest of men. But to her, whom he could not model after his own ideas, who required a reason for the thing anyone would have her believe—to her he had shown the rough side of his nature, going farther than any gentleman ought, even if he was a clergyman, in criticizing her conduct. He might well take example of her cousin George! What a different sort of artillery HE had brought to bear upon the outstanding fortress of her convictions!