'Nothing, Charley—to any one else.'
'What would you say to yourself, then?'
'I don't know. I know what I should do.'
'Try to account for it, and find as many reasons as I could to justify you. That is, I would do just as you do for every one but yourself.'
He was silent—plainly from emotion, which I attributed to his pleasure at the assurance of the strength of my friendship.
'Suppose you could find none?' he said, recovering himself a little.
'I should still believe there were such. Tout comprendre c'est tout pardonner, you know.'
He brightened at this.
'You are a friend, Wilfrid! What a strange condition mine is!—for ever feeling I could do this and that difficult thing, were it to fall in my way, and yet constantly failing in the simplest duties—even to that of common politeness. I behaved like a brute to Home. He's a fine fellow, and only wants to see a thing to do it. I see it well enough, and don't do it. Wilfrid, I shall come to a bad end. When it comes, mind I told you so, and blame nobody but myself. I mean what I say.
'Nonsense, Charley! It's only that you haven't active work enough, and get morbid with brooding over the germs of things.'
'Oh, Wilfrid, how beautiful a life might be! Just look at that one in the New Testament! Why shouldn't I be like that? I don't know why. I feel as if I could. But I'm not, you see—and never shall be. I'm selfish, and ill-tempered, and—'
'Charley! Charley! There never was a less selfish or better-tempered fellow in the world.'
'Don't make me believe that, Wilfrid, or I shall hate the world as well as myself. It's all my hypocrisy makes you think so. Because I am ashamed of what I am, and manage to hide it pretty well, you think me a saint. That is heaping damnation on me.'
'Take a pipe, Charley, and shut up. That's rubbish!' I said. I doubt much if it was what I ought to have said, but I was alarmed for the consequences of such brooding. 'I wonder what the world would be like if every one considered himself acting up to his own ideal!'
'If he was acting so, then it would do the world no harm that he knew it.'
'But his ideal must then be a low one, and that would do himself and everybody the worst kind of harm. The greatest men have always thought the least of themselves.'
'Yes, but that was because they were the greatest. A man may think little of himself just for the reason that he is little, and can't help knowing it.'
'Then it's a mercy he does know it! for most small people think much of themselves.'
'But to know it—and to feel all the time you ought to be and could be something very different, and yet never get a step nearer it! That is to be miserable. Still it is a mercy to know it. There is always a last help.'
I mistook what he meant, and thought it well to say no more. After smoking a pipe or two, he was quieter, and left me with a merry remark. One lovely evening in Spring, I looked from my bed-room window, and saw the red sunset burning in the thin branches of the solitary poplar that graced the few feet of garden behind the house. It drew me out to the park, where the trees were all in young leaf, each with its shadow stretching away from its foot, like its longing to reach its kind across dividing space. The grass was like my own grass at home, and I went wandering over it in all the joy of the new Spring, which comes every year to our hearts as well as to their picture outside. The workmen were at that time busy about the unfinished botanical gardens, and I wandered thitherward, lingering about, and pondering and inventing, until the sun was long withdrawn, and the shades of night had grown very brown.
I was at length sauntering slowly home to put a few finishing touches to a paper I had been at work upon all day, when something about a young couple in front of me attracted my attention. They were walking arm in arm, talking eagerly, but so low that I heard only a murmur. I did not quicken my pace, yet was gradually gaining upon them, when suddenly the conviction started up in my mind that the gentleman was Charley. I could not mistake his back, or the stoop of his shoulders as he bent towards his companion. I was so certain of him that I turned at once from the road, and wandered away across the grass: if he did not choose to tell me about the lady, I had no right to know. But I confess to a strange trouble that he had left me out. I comforted myself, however, with the thought that perhaps when we next met he would explain, or at least break, the silence.
After about an hour, he entered, in an excited mood, merry but uncomfortable. I tried to behave as if I knew nothing, but could not help feeling much disappointed when he left me without a word of his having had a second reason for being in the neighbourhood.
What effect the occurrence might have had, whether the cobweb veil of which I was now aware between us would have thickened to opacity or not, I cannot tell. I dare not imagine that it might. I rather hope that by degrees my love would have got the victory, and melted it away. But now came a cloud which swallowed every other in my firmament. The next morning brought a letter from my aunt, telling me that my uncle had had a stroke, as she called it, and at that moment was lying insensible. I put my affairs in order at once, and Charley saw me away by the afternoon coach.
It was a dreary journey. I loved my uncle with perfect confidence and profound veneration, a result of the faithful and open simplicity with which he had always behaved towards me. If he were taken away, and already he might be gone, I should be lonely indeed, for on whom besides could I depend with anything like the trust which I reposed in him? For, conceitedly or not, I had always felt that Charley rather depended on me—that I had rather to take care of him than to look for counsel from him.
The weary miles rolled away. Early in the morning we reached Minstercombe. There I got a carriage, and at once continued my journey.
I met no one at the house-door, or in the kitchen, and walked straight up the stair to my uncle's room. The blinds were down, and the curtains were drawn, and I could but just see the figure of my aunt seated beside the bed. She rose, and, without a word of greeting, made way for me to approach the form which lay upon it stretched out straight and motionless. The conviction that I was in the presence of death seized me; but instead of the wretchedness of heart and soul which I had expected to follow the loss of my uncle, a something deeper than any will of my own asserted itself, and as it were took the matter from me. It was as if my soul avoided the sorrow of separation by breaking with the world of material things, asserting the shadowy nature of all the visible, and choosing its part with the something which had passed away. It was as if my deeper self said to my outer consciousness: 'I too am of the dead—one with them, whether they live or are no more. For a little while I am shut out from them, and surrounded with things that seem: let me gaze on the picture while it lasts; dream or no dream, let me live in it according to its laws, and await what will come next; if an awaking, it is well: if only a perfect because dreamless sleep, I shall not be able to lament the endless separation—but while I know myself, I will hope for something better.' Like this, at least, was the blossom into which, under my after-brooding, the bud of that feeling broke.
I laid my hand upon my uncle's forehead. It was icy cold, just like my grannie's when my aunt had made me touch it. And I knew that my uncle was gone, that the slow tide of the eternal ocean had risen while he lay motionless within the wash of its waves, and had floated him away from the shore of our world. I took the hand of my aunt, who stood like a statue behind me, and led her from the room.
'He is gone, aunt,' I said, as calmly as I could.
She made no reply, but gently withdrew her hand from mine, and returned into the chamber. I stood a few moments irresolute, but reverence for her sorrow prevailed, and I went down the stair and seated myself by the fire. There the servant told me that my uncle had never moved since they laid him in his bed. Soon after the doctor arrived, and went up-stairs; but returned in a few minutes, only to affirm the fact. I went again to the room, and found my aunt lying with her face on the bosom of the dead man. She allowed me to draw her away, but when I would have led her down, she turned aside and sought her own chamber, where she remained for the rest of the day.
I will not linger over that miserable time. Greatly as I revered my uncle, I was not prepared to find how much he had been respected, and was astonished at the number of faces I had never seen which followed to the churchyard. Amongst them were the Coninghams, father and son; but except by a friendly grasp of the hand, and a few words of condolence, neither interrupted the calm depression rather than grief in which I found myself. When I returned home, there was with my aunt a married sister, whom I had never seen before. Up to this time she had shown an arid despair, and been regardless of everything about her; but now she was in tears. I left them together, and wandered for hours up and down the lonely playground of my childhood, thinking of many things—most of all, how strange it was that, if there were a hereafter for us, we should know positively nothing concerning it; that not a whisper should cross the invisible line; that the something which had looked from its windows so lovingly should have in a moment withdrawn, by some back-way unknown either to itself or us, into a region of which all we can tell is that thence no prayers and no tears will entice it to lift for an instant again the fallen curtain, and look out once more. Why should not God, I thought, if a God there be, permit one single return to each, that so the friends left behind in the dark might be sure that death was not the end, and so live in the world as not of the world?
When I re-entered, I found my aunt looking a little cheerful. She was even having something to eat with her sister—an elderly country-looking woman, the wife of a farmer in a distant shire. Their talk had led them back to old times, to their parents and the friends of their childhood; and the memory of the long dead had comforted her a little over the recent loss; for all true hearts death is a uniting, not a dividing power.
'I suppose you will be going back to London, Wilfrid?' said my aunt, who had already been persuaded to pay her sister a visit.
'I think I had better,' I answered. 'When I have a chance of publishing a book, I should like to come and write it, or at least finish it, here, if you will let me.'
'The place is your own, Wilfrid. Of course I shall be very glad to have you here.'
'The place is yours as much as mine, aunt,' I replied. 'I can't bear to think that my uncle has no right over it still. I believe he has, and therefore it is yours just the same—not to mention my own wishes in the matter.'
She made no reply, and I saw that both she and her sister were shocked either at my mentioning the dead man, or at my supposing he had any earthly rights left. The next day they set out together, leaving in the house the wife of the head man at the farm, to attend to me until I should return to town. I had purposed to set out the following morning, but I found myself enjoying so much the undisturbed possession of the place, that I remained there for ten days; and when I went, it was with the intention of making it my home as soon as I might: I had grown enamoured of the solitude so congenial to labour. Before I left I arranged my uncle's papers, and in doing so found several early sketches which satisfied me that he might have distinguished himself in literature if his fate had led him thitherward.
Having given the house in charge to my aunt's deputy, Mrs Herbert, I at length returned to my lodging in Camden Town. There I found two letters waiting me, the one announcing the serious illness of my aunt, and the other her death. The latter was two days old. I wrote to express my sorrow, and excuse my apparent neglect, and having made a long journey to see her also laid in the earth, I returned to my old home, in order to make fresh arrangements.
Mrs Herbert attended me during the forenoon, but left me after my early dinner. I made my tea for myself, and a tankard filled from a barrel of ale of my uncle's brewing, with a piece of bread and cheese, was my unvarying supper. The first night I felt very lonely, almost indeed what the Scotch call eerie. The place, although inseparably interwoven with my earliest recollections, drew back and stood apart from me—a thing to be thought about; and, in the ancient house, amidst the lonely field, I felt like a ghost condemned to return and live the vanished time over again. I had had a fire lighted in my own room; for, although the air was warm outside, the thick stone walls seemed to retain the chilly breath of the last Winter. The silent rooms that filled the house forced the sense of their presence upon me. I seemed to see the forsaken things in them staring at each other, hopeless and useless, across the dividing space, as if saying to themselves, 'We belong to the dead, are mouldering to the dust after them, and in the dust alone we meet.' From the vacant rooms my soul seemed to float out beyond, searching still—to find nothing but loneliness and emptiness betwixt me and the stars; and beyond the stars more loneliness and more emptiness still—no rest for the sole of the foot of the wandering Psyche—save—one mighty saving—an exception which, if true, must be the one all-absorbing rule. 'But,' I was saying to myself, 'love unknown is not even equal to love lost,' when my reverie was broken by the dull noise of a horse's hoofs upon the sward. I rose and went to the window. As I crossed the room, my brain rather than myself suddenly recalled the night when my pendulum drew from the churning trees the unwelcome genius of the storm. The moment I reached the window—there through the dim Summer twilight, once more from the trees, now as still as sleep, came the same figure.
Mr Coningham saw me at the fire-lighted window, and halted.
'May I be admitted?' he asked ceremoniously.
I made a sign to him to ride round to the door, for I could not speak aloud: it would have been rude to the memories that haunted the silent house.
'May I come in for a few minutes, Mr Cumbermede?' he asked again, already at the door by the time I had opened it.
'By all means, Mr Coningham,' I replied. 'Only you must tie your horse to this ring, for we—I—have no stable here.'
'I've done this before,' he answered, as he made the animal fast. 'I know the ways of the place well enough. But surely you're not here in absolute solitude?'
'Yes, I am. I prefer being alone at present.'
'Very unhealthy, I must say! You will grow hypochondriacal if you mope in this fashion,' he returned, following me up-stairs to my room.
'A day or two of solitude now and then would, I suspect, do most people more good than harm,' I answered. 'But you must not think I intend leading a hermit's life. Have you heard that my aunt—?'
'Yes, yes.—You are left alone in the world. But relations are not a man's only friends—and certainly not always his best friends.'
I made no reply, thinking of my uncle.
'I did not know you were down,' he resumed. 'I was calling at my father's, and seeing your light across the park, thought it possible you might be here, and rode over to see. May I take the liberty of asking what your plans are?' he added, seating himself by the fire.
'I have hardly had time to form new ones; but I mean to stick to my work, anyhow.'
'You mean your profession?'
'Yes, if you will allow me to call it such. I have had success enough already to justify me in going on.'
'I am more pleased than surprised to hear it,' he answered.
'But what will you do with the old nest?'
'Let the old nest wait for the old bird, Mr Coningham—keep it to die in.'
'I don't like to hear a young fellow talking that way,' he remonstrated. 'You've got a long life to live yet—at least I hope so. But if you leave the house untenanted till the period to which you allude, it will be quite unfit by that time even for the small service you propose to require of it. Why not let it—for a term of years? I could find you a tenant, I make no doubt.'
'I won't let it. I shall meet the world all the better if I have a place of my own to take refuge in.'
'Well, I can't say but there's good in that fancy. To have any spot of your own, however small—freehold, I mean—must be a comfort. At the same time, what's the world for, if you're to meet it in that half-hearted way? I don't mean that every young man—there are exceptions—must sow just so many bushels of avena fatua. There are plenty of enjoyments to be got without leading a wild life—which I should be the last to recommend to any young man of principle. Take my advice, and let the place. But pray don't do me the injustice to fancy I came to look after a job. I shall be most happy to serve you.'
'I am exceedingly obliged to you,' I answered. 'If you could let the farm for me for the rest of the lease, of which there are but a few years to run, that would be of great consequence to me. Herbert, my uncle's foreman, who has the management now, is a very good fellow, but I doubt if he will do more than make both ends meet without my aunt, and the accounts would bother me endlessly.'
'I shall find out whether Lord Inglewold would be inclined to resume the fag-end. In such case, as the lease has been a long one, and land has risen much, he would doubtless pay a part of the difference. Then there's the stock, worth a good deal, I should think. I'll see what can be done. And then there's the stray bit of park?'
'What do you mean by that?' I asked. 'We have been in the way of calling it the park, though why I never could tell. I confess it does look like a bit of Sir Giles's that had wandered beyond the gates.'
'There is some old story or other about it, I believe. The possessors of the Moldwarp estate have, from time immemorial, regarded it as properly theirs. I know that.'
'I am much obliged to them, certainly. I have been in the habit of thinking differently.'
'Of course, of course,' he rejoined, laughing. 'But there may have been some—mistake somewhere. I know Sir Giles would give five times its value for it.'
'He should not have it if he offered the Moldwarp estate in exchange,' I cried indignantly; and the thought flashed across me that this temptation was what my uncle had feared from the acquaintance of Mr Coningham.
'Your sincerity will not be put to so great a test as that,' he returned, laughing quite merrily. 'But I am glad you have such a respect for real property. At the same time—how many acres are there of it?'
'I don't know,' I answered, curtly and truly.
'It is of no consequence. Only if you don't want to be tempted, don't let Sir Giles or my father broach the subject. You needn't look at me. I am not Sir Giles's agent. Neither do my father and I run in double harness. He hinted, however, this very day, that he believed the old fool wouldn't stick at L500 an acre for this bit of grass—if he couldn't get it for less.'
'If that is what you have come about, Mr Coningham,' I rejoined, haughtily I dare say, for something I could not well define made me feel as if the dignity of a thousand ancestors were perilled in my own,' I beg you will not say another word on the subject, for sell this land I will not.'
He was looking at me strangely. His eye glittered with what, under other circumstances, I might have taken for satisfaction; but he turned his face away and rose, saying with a curiously altered tone, as he took up his hat,
'I'm very sorry to have offended you, Mr Cumbermede. I sincerely beg your pardon. I thought our old—friendship may I not call it?—would have justified me in merely reporting what I had heard. I see now that I was wrong. I ought to have shown more regard for your feelings at this trying time. But again I assure you I was only reporting, and had not the slightest intention of making myself a go-between in the matter. One word more: I have no doubt I could let the field for you —at good grazing rental. That I think you can hardly object to.'
'I should be much obliged to you,' I replied—'for a term of not more than seven years—but without the house, and with the stipulation expressly made that I have right of way in every direction through it.'
'Reasonable enough,' he answered.
'One thing more,' I said: 'all these affairs must be pure matters of business between us.'
'As you please,' he returned, with, I fancied, a shadow of disappointment, if not of displeasure, on his countenance. 'I should have been more gratified if you had accepted a friendly office; but I will do my best for you, notwithstanding.'
'I had no intention of being unfriendly, Mr Coningham,' I said. 'But when I think of it, I fear I may have been rude, for the bare proposal of selling this Naboth's vineyard of mine would go far to make me rude to any man alive. It sounds like an invitation to dishonour myself in the eyes of my ancestors.'
'Ah! you do care about your ancestors?' he said, half musingly, and looking into his hat.
'Of course I do. Who is there does not?'
'Only some ninety-nine hundredths of the English nation.'
'I cannot well forget,' I returned, 'what my ancestors have done for me.'
'Whereas most people only remember that their ancestors can do no more for them. I declare I am almost glad I offended you. It does one good to hear a young man speak like that in these degenerate days, when a buck would rather be the son of a rich brewer than a decayed gentleman. I will call again about the end of the week—that is if you will be here—and report progress.'
His manner, as he took his leave, was at once more friendly and more respectful than it had yet been—a change which I attributed to his having discovered in me more firmness than he had expected, in regard, if not of my rights, at least of my social position.
My custom at this time, and for long after I had finally settled down in the country, was to rise early in the morning—often, as I used when a child, before sunrise, in order to see the first burst of the sun upon the new-born world. I believed then, as I believe still, that, lovely as the sunset is, the sunrise is more full of mystery, poetry, and even, I had almost said, pathos. But often ere he was well up I had begun to imagine what the evening would be like, and with what softly mingled, all but imperceptible, gradations it would steal into night. Then, when the night came, I would wander about my little field, vainly endeavouring to picture the glory with which the next day's sun would rise upon me. Hence the morning and evening became well known to me; and yet I shrink from saying it, for each is endless in the variety of its change. And the longer I was alone, I became the more enamoured of solitude, with the labour to which, in my case, it was so helpful; and began, indeed, to be in some danger of losing sight of my relation to 'a world of men,' for with that world my imagination and my love for Charley were now my sole recognizable links.
In the fore-part of the day I read and wrote; and in the after-part found both employment and pleasure in arranging my uncle's books, amongst which I came upon a good many treasures, whereof I was now able in some measure to appreciate the value—thinking often, amidst their ancient dust and odours, with something like indignant pity, of the splendid collection, as I was sure it must be, mouldering away in utter neglect at the neighbouring Hall.
I was on my knees in the midst of a pile which I had drawn from a cupboard under the shelves, when Mrs Herbert showed Mr Coningham in. I was annoyed, for my uncle's room was sacred; but as I was about to take him to my own, I saw such a look of interest upon his face that it turned me aside, and I asked him to take a seat.
'If you do not mind the dust,' I said.
'Mind the dust!' he exclaimed, '—of old books! I count it almost sacred. I am glad you know how to value them.'
What right had he to be glad? How did he know I valued them? How could I but value them? I rebuked my offence, however, and after a little talk about them, in which he revealed much more knowledge than I should have expected, it vanished. He then informed me of an arrangement he and Lord Inglewold's factor had been talking over in respect of the farm; also of an offer he had had for my field. I considered both sufficiently advantageous in my circumstances, and the result was that I closed with both.
A few days after this arrangement I returned to London, intending to remain for some time. I had a warm welcome from Charley, but could not help fancying an unacknowledged something dividing us. He appeared, notwithstanding, less oppressed, and, in a word, more like other people. I proceeded at once to finish two or three papers and stories, which late events had interrupted. But within a week London had grown to me stifling and unendurable, and I longed unspeakably for the free air of my field and the loneliness of my small castle. If my reader regard me as already a hypochondriac, the sole disproof I have to offer is, that I was then diligently writing what some years afterwards obtained a hearty reception from the better class of the reading public. Whether my habits were healthy or not, whether my love of solitude was natural or not, I cannot but hope from this that my modes of thinking were. The end was that, after finishing the work I had on hand, I collected my few belongings, gave up my lodging, bade Charley good-bye, receiving from him a promise to visit me at my own house if possible, and took my farewell of London for a season, determined not to return until I had produced a work which my now more enlarged judgment might consider fit to see the light. I had laid out all my spare money upon books, with which, in a few heavy trunks, I now went back to my solitary dwelling. I had no care upon my mind, for my small fortune, along with the rent of my field, was more than sufficient for my maintenance in the almost anchoretic seclusion in which I intended to live, and hence I had every advantage for the more definite projection and prosecution of a work which had been gradually shaping itself in my mind for months past.
Before leaving for London, I had already spoken to a handy lad employed upon the farm, and he had kept himself free to enter my service when I should require him. He was the more necessary to me that I still had my mare Lilith, from which nothing but fate should ever part me. I had no difficulty in arranging with the new tenant for her continued accommodation at the farm; while, as Herbert still managed its affairs, the services of his wife were available as often as I required them. But my man soon made himself capable of doing everything for me, and proved himself perfectly trustworthy.
I must find a name for my place—for its own I will not write: let me call it The Moat: there were signs, plain enough to me after my return from Oxford, that there had once been a moat about it, of which the hollow I have mentioned as the spot where I used to lie and watch for the sun's first rays, had evidently been a part. But the remains of the moat lay at a considerable distance from the house, suggesting a large area of building at some former period, proof of which, however, had entirely vanished, the house bearing every sign of a narrow completeness.
The work I had undertaken required a constantly recurring reference to books of the sixteenth century; and although I had provided as many as I thought I should need, I soon found them insufficient. My uncle's library was very large for a man in his position, but it was not by any means equally developed; and my necessities made me think often of the old library at the Hall, which might contain somewhere in its ruins every book I wanted. Not only, however, would it have been useless to go searching in the formless mass for this or that volume, but, unable to grant Sir Giles the desire of his heart in respect of my poor field, I did not care to ask of him the comparatively small favour of being allowed to burrow in his dust-heap of literature.
I was sitting, one hot noon, almost in despair over a certain little point concerning which I could find no definite information, when Mr Coningham called. After some business matters had been discussed, I mentioned, merely for the sake of talk, the difficulty I was in—the sole disadvantage of a residence in the country as compared with London, where the British Museum was the unfailing resort of all who required such aid as I was in want of.
'But there is the library at Moldwarp Hall,' he said.
'Yes, there it is; but there is not here.'
'I have no doubt Sir Giles would make you welcome to borrow what books you wanted. He is a good-natured man, Sir Giles.'
I explained my reason for not troubling him.
'Besides,' I added, 'the library is in such absolute chaos, that I might with less loss of time run up to London, and find any volume I happened to want among the old-book-shops. You have no idea what a mess Sir Giles's books are in—scarcely two volumes of the same book to be found even in proximity. It is one of the most painful sights I ever saw.'
He said little more, but from what followed, I suspect either he or his father spoke to Sir Giles on the subject; for, one day, as I was walking past the park-gates, which I had seldom entered since my return, I saw him just within, talking to old Mr Coningham. I saluted him in passing, and he not only returned the salutation in a friendly manner, but made a step towards me as if he wished to speak to me. I turned and approached him. He came out and shook hands with me.
'I know who you are, Mr Cumbermede, although I have never had the pleasure of speaking to you before,' he said frankly.
'There you are mistaken, Sir Giles,' I returned; 'but you could hardly be expected to remember the little boy who, many years ago, having stolen one of your apples, came to you to comfort him.'
He laughed heartily.
'I remember the circumstance well,' he said. 'And you were that unhappy culprit? Ha! ha! ha! To tell the truth, I have thought of it many times. It was a remarkably fine thing to do.'
'What! steal the apple, Sir Giles?'
'Make the instant reparation you did.'
'There was no reparation in asking you to box my ears.'
'It was all you could do, though.'
'To ease my own conscience, it was. There is always a satisfaction, I suppose, in suffering for your sins. But I have thought a thousand times of your kindness in shaking hands with me instead. You treated me as the angels treat the repentant sinner, Sir Giles.'
'Well, I certainly never thought of it in that light,' he said; then, as if wishing to change the subject,—'Don't you find it lonely now your uncle is gone?' he said.
'I miss him more than I can tell.'
'A very worthy man he was—too good for this world, by all accounts.'
'He's not the worse off for that now, Sir Giles, I trust.' 'No; of course not,' he returned quickly, with the usual shrinking from the slightest allusion to what is called the other world.—'Is there anything I can do for you? You are a literary man, they tell me. There are a good many books of one sort and another lying at the Hall. Some of them might be of use to you. They are at your service. I am sure you are to be trusted even with mouldy books, which, from what I hear, must be a greater temptation to you now than red-cheeked apples,' he added with another merry laugh.
'I will tell you what,' Sir Giles, I answered. 'It has often grieved me to think of the state of your library. It would be scarcely possible for me to find a book in it now. But if you would trust me, I should be delighted, in my spare hours, of which I can command a good many, to put the whole in order for you.'
'I should be under the greatest obligation. I have always intended having some capable man down from London to arrange it. I am no great reader myself, but I have the highest respect for a good library. It ought never to have got into the condition in which I found it.'
'The books are fast going to ruin, I fear.'
'Are they indeed?' he exclaimed, with some consternation. 'I was not in the least aware of that. I thought so long as I let no one meddle with them, they were safe enough.'
'The law of the moth and rust holds with books as well as other unused things,' I answered.
'Then, pray, my dear sir, undertake the thing at once,' he said, in a tone to which the uneasiness of self-reproach gave a touch of imperiousness. 'But really,' he added, 'it seems trespassing on your goodness much too far. Your time is valuable. Would it be a long job?'
'It would doubtless take some months; but the pleasure of seeing order dawn from confusion would itself repay me. And I might come upon certain books of which I am greatly in want. You will have to allow me a carpenter though, for the shelves are not half sufficient to hold the books; and I have no doubt those there are stand in need of repair.'
'I have a carpenter amongst my people. Old houses want constant attention. I shall put him under your orders with pleasure. Come and dine with me to-morrow, and we'll talk it all over.'
'You are very kind,' I said. 'Is Mr Brotherton at home?'
'I am sorry to say he is not.'
'I heard the other day that he had sold his commission.'
'Yes—six months ago. His regiment was ordered to India, and—and—his mother——But he does not give us much of his company,' added the old man. 'I am sorry he is not at home, for he would have been glad to meet you.'
Instead of responding, I merely made haste to accept Sir Giles's invitation. I confess I did not altogether relish having anything to do with the future property of Geoffrey Brotherton; but the attraction of the books was great, and in any case I should be under no obligation to him; neither was the nature of the service I was about to render him such as would awaken any sense of obligation in a mind like his.
I could not help recalling the sarcastic criticisms of Clara when I entered the drawing-room of Moldwarp Hall—a long, low-ceiled room, with its walls and stools and chairs covered with tapestry, some of it the work of the needle, other some of the Gobelin loom; but although I found Lady Brotherton a common enough old lady, who showed little of the dignity of which she evidently thought much, and was more condescending to her yeoman neighbour than was agreeable, I did not at once discover ground for the severity of those remarks. Miss Brotherton, the eldest of the family, a long-necked lady, the flower of whose youth was beginning to curl at the edges, I found well-read, but whether in books or the reviews of them, I had to leave an open question as yet. Nor was I sufficiently taken with her not to feel considerably dismayed when she proffered me her assistance in arranging the library. I made no objection at the time, only hinting that the drawing up of a catalogue afterwards might be a fitter employment for her fair fingers; but I resolved to create such a fearful pother at the very beginning, that her first visit should be her last. And so I doubt not it would have fallen out, but for something else. The only other person who dined with us was a Miss Pease—at least so I will call her—who, although the law of her existence appeared to be fetching and carrying for Lady Brotherton, was yet, in virtue of a poor-relationship, allowed an uneasy seat at the table. Her obedience was mechanically perfect. One wondered how the mere nerves of volition could act so instantaneously upon the slightest hint. I saw her more than once or twice withdraw her fork when almost at her lips, and, almost before she had laid it down, rise from her seat to obey some half-whispered, half-nodded behest. But her look was one of injured meekness and self-humbled submission. Sir Giles now and then gave her a kind or merry word, but she would reply to it with almost abject humility. Her face was grey and pinched, her eyes were very cold, and she ate as if she did not know one thing from another.
Over our wine Sir Giles introduced business. I professed myself ready, with a housemaid and carpenter at my orders when I should want them, to commence operations the following afternoon. He begged me to ask for whatever I might want, and after a little friendly chat, I took my leave, elated with the prospect of the work before me. About three o'clock the next afternoon I took my way to the Hall, to assume the temporary office of creative librarian.
It was a lovely afternoon, the air hot, and the shadows of the trees dark upon the green grass. The clear sun was shining sideways on the little oriel window of one of the rooms in which my labour awaited me. Never have I seen a picture of more stately repose than the huge pile of building presented, while the curious vane on the central square tower glittered like the outburning flame of its hidden life. The only objection I could find to it was that it stood isolated from its own park, although the portion next it was kept as trim as the smoothest lawn. There was not a door anywhere to be seen, except the two gateway entrances, and not a window upon the ground-floor. All the doors and low windows were either within the courts, or opened on the garden, which, with its terraced walks and avenues and one tiny lawn, surrounded the two further sides of the house, and was itself enclosed by walls.
I knew the readiest way to the library well enough: once admitted to the outer gate, I had no occasion to trouble the servants. The rooms containing the books were amongst the bed-rooms, and after crossing the great hall, I had to turn my back on the stair which led to the ball-room and drawing-room, and ascend another to the left, so that I could come and go with little chance of meeting any of the family.
The rooms, I have said, were six, none of them of any great size, and all ill-fitted for the purpose. In fact, there was such a sense of confinement about the whole arrangement as gave me the feeling that any difficult book read there would be unintelligible. Order, however, is only another kind of light, and would do much to destroy the impression. Having with practical intent surveyed the situation, I saw there was no space for action. I must have at least the temporary use of another room.
Observing that the last of the suite of book-rooms furthest from the armoury had still a door into the room beyond, I proceeded to try it, thinking to know at a glance whether it would suit me, and whether it was likely to be yielded for my purpose. It opened, and, to my dismay, there stood Clara Coningham, fastening her collar. She looked sharply round, and made a half-indignant step towards me. 'I beg your pardon a thousand times, Miss Coningham,' I exclaimed. 'Will you allow me to explain, or must I retreat unheard?'
I was vexed indeed, for, notwithstanding a certain flutter at the heart, I had no wish to renew my acquaintance with her.
'There must be some fatality about the place, Mr Cumbermede!' she said, almost with her old merry laugh. 'It frightens me.'
'Precisely my own feeling, Miss Coningham. I had no idea you were in the neighbourhood.'
'I cannot say so much as that, for I had heard you were at The Moat; but I had no expectation of seeing you—least of all in this house. I suppose you are on the scent of some musty old book or other,' she added, approaching the door, where I stood with the handle in my hand.
'My object is an invasion rather than a hunt,' I said, drawing back that she might enter.
'Just as it was the last time you and I were here!' she went on, with scarcely a pause, and as easily as if there had never been any misunderstanding between us. I had thought myself beyond any further influence from her fascinations, but when I looked in her beautiful face, and heard her allude to the past with so much friendliness, and such apparent unconsciousness of any reason for forgetting it, a tremor ran through me from head to foot. I mastered myself sufficiently to reply, however.
'It is the last time you will see it so,' I said; 'for here stands the Hercules of the stable—about to restore it to cleanliness, and what is of far more consequence in a library—to order.'
'You don't mean it!' she exclaimed with genuine surprise. 'I'm so glad I'm here!'
'Are you on a visit, then?'
'Indeed I am; though how it came about I don't know. I dare say my father does. Lady Brotherton has invited me, stiffly of course, to spend a few weeks during their stay. Sir Giles must be in it: I believe I am rather a favourite with the good old man. But I have another fancy: my grandfather is getting old; I suspect my father has been making himself useful, and this invitation is an acknowledgment. Men always buttress their ill-built dignities by keeping poor women in the dark; by which means you drive us to infinite conjecture. That is how we come to be so much cleverer than you at putting two and two together, and making five.'
'But,' I ventured to remark, 'under such circumstances, you will hardly enjoy your visit.'
'Oh! sha'n't I? I shall get fun enough out of it for that. They are—all but Sir Giles—they are great fun. Of course they don't treat me as an equal, but I take it out in amusement. You will find you have to do the same.'
'Not I. I have nothing to do with them. I am here as a skilled workman—one whose work is his sufficient reward. There is nothing degrading in that—is there? If I thought there was, of course I shouldn't come.'
'You never did anything you felt degrading?'
'Happy mortal!' she said, with a sigh—whether humorous or real, I could not tell.
'I have had no occasion,' I returned.
'And yet, as I hear, you have made your mark in literature?'
'Who says that? I should not.'
'Never mind,' she rejoined, with, as I fancied, the look of having said more than she ought. 'But,' she added, 'I wish you would tell me in what periodicals you write.'
'You must excuse me. I do not wish to be first known in connection with fugitive things. When first I publish a book, you may be assured my name will be on the title-page. Meantime, I must fulfil the conditions of my entree.'
'And I must go and pay my respects to Lady Brotherton. I have only just arrived.'
'Won't you find it dull? There's nobody of man-kind at home but Sir Giles.'
'You are unjust. If Mr Brotherton had been here, I shouldn't have come. I find him troublesome.'
I thought she blushed, notwithstanding the air of freedom with which she spoke.
'If he should come into the property to-morrow,' she went on, 'I fear you would have little chance of completing your work.'
'If he came into the property this day six months, I fear he would find it unfinished. Certainly what was to do should remain undone.'
'Don't be too sure of that. He might win you over. He can talk.'
'I should not be so readily pleased as another might.'
She bent towards me, and said in an almost hissing whisper—
'Wilfrid, I hate him!'
I started. She looked what she said. The blood shot to my heart, and again rushed to my face. But suddenly she retreated into her own room, and noiselessly closed the door. The same moment I heard that of a further room open, and presently Miss Brotherton peeped in.
'How do you do, Mr Cumbermede?' she said. 'You are already hard at work, I see.'
I was, in fact, doing nothing. I explained that I could not make a commencement without the use of another room.
'I will send the housekeeper, and you can arrange with her,' she said, and left me.
In a few minutes Mrs Wilson entered. Her manner was more stiff and formal than ever. We shook hands in a rather limp fashion.
'You've got your will at last, Mr Cumbermede,' she said, 'I suppose the thing's to be done!'
'It is, Mrs Wilson, I am happy to say. Sir Giles kindly offered me the use of the library, and I took the liberty of representing to him that there was no library until the books were arranged.'
'Why couldn't you take a book away with you and read it in comfort at home?'
'How could I take the book home if I couldn't find it?'
'You could find something worth reading, if that were all you wanted.'
'But that is not all. I have plenty of reading.'
'Then I don't see what's the good of it.'
'Books are very much like people, Mrs Wilson. There are not so many you want to know all about; but most could tell you things you don't know. I want certain books in order to question them about certain things.'
'Well, all I know is, it'll be more trouble than it's worth.'
'I am afraid it will—to you, Mrs Wilson; but though I am taking a thousand times your trouble, I expect to be well repaid for it.'
'I have no doubt of that. Sir Giles is a liberal gentleman.'
'You don't suppose he is going to pay me, Mrs Wilson?' 'Who else should?'
'Why, the books themselves, of course.'
Evidently she thought I was making game of her, for she was silent.
'Will you show me which room I can have?' I said. 'It must be as near this one as possible. Is the next particularly wanted?' I asked, pointing to the door which led into Clara's room.
She went to it quickly, and opened it far enough to put her hand in and take the key from the other side, which she then inserted on my side, turned in the lock, drew out, and put in her pocket.
'That room is otherwise engaged,' she said. 'You must be content with one across the corridor.'
'Very well—if it is not far. I should make slow work of it, if I had to carry the books a long way.'
'You can have one of the footmen to help you,' she said, apparently relenting.
'No, thank you,' I answered. 'I will have no one touch the books but myself.'
'I will show you one which I think will suit your purpose,' she said, leading the way.
It was nearly opposite—a bed-room, sparely furnished.
'Thank you. This will do—if you will order all the things to be piled in that corner.'
She stood silent for a few moments, evidently annoyed, then turned and left the room, saying,
'I will see to it, Mr Cumbermede.'
Returning to the books and pulling off my coat, I had soon compelled such a cloud of very ancient and smothering dust, that when Miss Brotherton again made her appearance, her figure showed dim through the thick air, as she stood—dismayed, I hoped—in the doorway. I pretended to be unaware of her presence, and went on beating and blowing, causing yet thicker volumes of solid vapour to clothe my presence. She withdrew without even an attempt at parley.
Having heaped several great piles near the door, each composed of books of nearly the same size, the first rudimentary approach to arrangement, I crossed to the other room to see what progress had been made. To my surprise and annoyance, I found nothing had been done. Determined not to have my work impeded by the remissness of the servants, and seeing I must place myself at once on a proper footing in the house, I went to the drawing-room to ascertain, if possible, where Sir Giles was. I had of course put on my coat, but having no means of ablution at hand, I must have presented a very unpresentable appearance when I entered. Lady Brotherton half rose, in evident surprise at my intrusion, but at once resumed her seat, saying, as she turned her chair half towards the window where the other two ladies sat,
'The housekeeper will attend to you, Mr Cumbermede—or the butler.'
I could see that Clara was making some inward merriment over my appearance and reception.
'Could you tell me, Lady Brotherton,' I said, 'where I should be likely to find Sir Giles?'
'I can give you no information on that point,' she answered, with consummate stiffness.
'I know where he is,' said Clara, rising. 'I will take you to him. He is in the study.'
She took no heed of the glance broadly thrown at her, but approached the door.
I opened it, and followed her out of the room. As soon as we were beyond hearing, she burst out laughing. 'How dared you show your workman's face in that drawing-room?' she said. 'I am afraid you have much offended her ladyship.'
'I hope it is for the last time. When I am properly attended to, I shall have no occasion to trouble her.'
She led me to Sir Giles's study. Except newspapers and reports of companies, there was in it nothing printed. He rose when we entered, and came towards us.
'Looking like your work already, Mr Cumbermede?' he said, holding out his hand.
'I must not shake hands with you this time, Sir Giles,' I returned. 'But I am compelled to trouble you. I can't get on for want of attendance. I must have a little help.'
I told him how things were. His rosy face grew rosier, and he rang the bell angrily. The butler answered it.
'Send Mrs Wilson here. And I beg, Hurst, you will see that Mr Cumbermede has every attention.'
Mrs Wilson presently made her appearance, and stood with a flushed face before her master.
'Let Mr Cumbermede's orders be attended to at once, Mrs Wilson.'
'Yes, Sir Giles,' she answered, and waited.
'I am greatly obliged to you for letting me know,' he added, turning to me. 'Pray insist upon proper attention.'
'Thank you, Sir Giles. I shall not scruple.'
'That will do, Mrs Wilson. You must not let Mr Cumbermede be hampered in his kind labours for my benefit by the idleness of my servants.'
The housekeeper left the room, and after a little chat with Sir Giles, I went back to the books. Clara had followed Mrs Wilson, partly, I suspect, for the sake of enjoying her confusion.
I returned to my solitary house as soon as the evening began to grow too dark for my work, which, from the lowness of the windows and the age of the glass, was early. All the way as I went, I was thinking of Clara. Not only had time somewhat obliterated the last impression she had made upon me, but I had, partly from the infection of Charley's manner, long ago stumbled upon various excuses for her conduct. Now I said to myself that she had certainly a look of greater sedateness than before. But her expression of dislike to Geoffrey Brotherton had more effect upon me than anything else, inasmuch as there Vanity found room for both the soles of her absurdly small feet; and that evening, when I went wandering, after my custom, with a volume of Dante in my hand, the book remained unopened, and from the form of Clara flowed influences mingling with and gathering fresh power from those of Nature, whose feminine front now brooded over me half-withdrawn in the dim, starry night. I remember that night so well! I can recall it now with a calmness equal to its own. Indeed in my memory it seems to belong to my mind as much as to the outer world; or rather the night filled both, forming the space in which my thoughts moved, as well as the space in which the brilliant thread of the sun-lighted crescent hung clasping the earth-lighted bulk of the moon. I wandered in the grass until midnight was long by, feeling as quietly and peacefully at home as if my head had been on the pillow and my soul out in a lovely dream of cool delight. We lose much even by the good habits we form. What tender and glorious changes pass over our sleeping heads unseen! What moons rise and set in rippled seas of cloud, or behind hills of stormy vapour, while we are blind! What storms roll thundering across the airy vault, with no eyes for their keen lightnings to dazzle, while we dream of the dead who will not speak to us! But ah! I little thought to what a dungeon of gloom this lovely night was the jasmine-grown porch!
The next morning I was glad to think that there was no wolf at my door, howling work—-work! Moldwarp Hall drew me with redoubled attraction; and instead of waiting for the afternoon, which alone I had intended to occupy with my new undertaking, I set out to cross the park the moment I had finished my late breakfast. Nor could I conceal from myself that it was quite as much for the chance of seeing Clara now and then as from pleasure in the prospect of an ordered library that I repaired thus early to the Hall. In the morning light, however, I began to suspect, as I walked, that, although Clara's frankness was flattering, it was rather a sign that she was heart-whole towards me than that she was careless of Brotherton. I began to doubt also whether, after our first meeting, which she had carried off so well—cool even to kindness—she would care to remember that I was in the house, or derive from it any satisfaction beyond what came of the increased chances of studying the Brothertons from a humorous point of view. Then, after all, why was she there?—and apparently on such familiar terms with a family socially so far superior to her own? The result of my cogitations was the resolution to take care of myself. But it had vanished utterly before the day was two hours older. A youth's wise talk to himself will not make him a wise man, any more than the experience of the father will serve the son's need.
I was hard at work in my shirt-sleeves, carrying an armful of books across the corridor, and thinking whether I had not better bring my servant with me in the afternoon, when Clara came out of her room.
'Here already, Wilfrid!' she exclaimed. 'Why don't you have some of the servants to help you? You're doing what any one might as well do for you.'
'If these were handsomely bound,' I answered, 'I should not so much mind; but being old and tattered, no one ought to touch them who does not love them.'
'Then, I suppose, you wouldn't trust me with them either, for I cannot pretend to anything beyond a second-hand respect for them.'
'What do you mean by a second-hand respect?' I asked.
'I mean such respect as comes from seeing that a scholar like you respects them.'
'Then I think I could accord you a second-hand sort of trust—under my own eye, that is,' I answered, laughing. 'But you can scarcely leave your hostess to help me.'
'I will ask Miss Brotherton to come too. She will pretend all the respect you desire.'
'I made three times the necessary dust in order to frighten her away yesterday.'
'Ah! that's a pity. But I shall manage to overrule her objections—that is, if you would really like two tolerably educated housemaids to help you.'
'I will gladly endure one of them for the sake of the other,' I replied.
'No compliments, please,' she returned, and left the room.
In about half an hour she re-appeared, accompanied by Miss Brotherton. They were in white wrappers, with their dresses shortened a little, and their hair tucked under mob caps. Miss Brotherton looked like a lady's-maid, Clara like a lady acting a lady's-maid. I assumed the command at once, pointing out to what heaps in the other room those I had grouped in this were to be added, and giving strict injunctions as to carrying only a few at once, and laying them down with care in regularly ordered piles. Clara obeyed with a mock submission, Miss Brotherton with a reserve which heightened the impression of her dress. I was instinctively careful how I spoke to Clara, fearing to compromise her, but she seemed all at once to change her role, and began to propose, object, and even insist upon her own way, drawing from me the threat of immediate dismission from my service, at which her companion laughed with an awkwardness showing she regarded the pleasantry as a presumption. Before one o'clock, the first room was almost empty. Then the great bell rang, and Clara, coming from the auxiliary chamber, put her head in at the door.
'Won't you come to luncheon?' she said, with a sly archness, looking none the less bewitching for a smudge or two on her lovely face, or the blackness of the delicate hands which she held up like two paws for my admiration.
'In the servants' hall? Workmen don't sit down with ladies and gentlemen. Did Miss Brotherton send you to ask me?'
She shook her head.
'Then you had better come and lunch with me.'
She shrugged her shoulders.
'I hope you will some day honour my little fragment of a house. It is a curious old place,' I said.
'I don't like musty old places,' she replied.
'But I have heard you speak with no little admiration of the Hall: some parts of it are older than my sentry-box.'
'I can't say I admire it at all as a place to live in,' she answered curtly.
'But I was not asking you to live in mine,' I said—foolishly arguing.
She looked annoyed, whether with herself or me I could not tell, but instantly answered,
'Some day—when I can without—But I must go and make myself tidy, or Miss Brotherton will be fancying I have been talking to you!'
'And what have you been doing, then?'
'Only asking you to come to lunch.'
'Will you tell her that?'
'Yes—if she says anything.'
'Then you had better make haste, and be asked no questions.'
She glided away. I threw on my coat, and re-crossed the park.
But I was so eager to see again the fair face in the mob cap, that, although not at all certain of its reappearance, I told my man to go at once and bring the mare. He made haste, and by the time I had finished my dinner she was at the door. I gave her the rein, and two or three minutes brought me back to the Hall, where, having stabled her, I was at my post again, I believe, before they had finished luncheon. I had a great heap of books ready in the second room to carry into the first, and had almost concluded they would not come, when I heard their voices—and presently they entered, but not in their mob caps.
'What an unmerciful master you are!' said Clara, looking at the heap. 'I thought you had gone home to lunch.'
'I went home to dinner,' I said. 'I get more out of the day by dining early.'
'How is that, Mr Cumbermede?' asked Miss Brotherton, with a nearer approach to cordiality than she had yet shown.
'I think the evening the best part of the day—too good to spend in eating and drinking.'
'But,' said Clara, quite gravely, 'are not those the chief ends of existence?' 'Your friend is satirical, Miss Brotherton,' I remarked.
'At least, you are not of her opinion, to judge by the time you have taken,' she returned.
'I have been back nearly an hour,' I said. 'Workmen don't take long over their meals.'
'Well, I suppose you don't want any more of us now,' said Clara. 'You will arrange the books you bring from the next room upon these empty shelves, I presume?'
'No, not yet. I must not begin that until I have cleared the very last, got it thoroughly cleaned, the shelves seen to, and others put up.'
'What a tremendous labour you have undertaken, Mr Cumbermede!' said Miss Brotherton. 'I am quite ashamed you should do so much for us.'
'I, on the contrary, am delighted to be of any service to Sir Giles.'
'But you don't expect us to slave all day as we did in the morning?' said Clara.
'Certainly not, Miss Coningham. I am too grateful to be exacting.'
'Thank you for that pretty speech. Come, then, Miss Brotherton, we must have a walk. We haven't been out-of-doors to-day.'
'Really, Miss Coningham, I think the least we can do is to help Mr Cumbermede to our small ability.'
'Nonsense!'—(Miss Brotherton positively started at the word.) 'Any two of the maids or men would serve his purpose better, if he did not affect fastidiousness. We sha'n't be allowed to come to-morrow if we overdo it to-day.'
Miss Brotherton was evidently on the point of saying something indignant, but yielded notwithstanding, and I was left alone once more. Again I laboured until the shadows grew thick around the gloomy walls. As I galloped home, I caught sight of my late companions coming across the park; and I trust I shall not be hardly judged if I confess that I did sit straighter in my saddle, and mind my seat better. Thus ended my second day's work at the library of Moldwarp Hall.
Neither of the ladies came to me the next morning. As far as my work was concerned, I was in considerably less need of their assistance, for it lay only between two rooms opening into each other. Nor did I feel any great disappointment, for so long as a man has something to do, expectation is pleasure enough, and will continue such for a long time. It is those who are unemployed to whom expectation becomes an agony. I went home to my solitary dinner almost resolved to return to my original plan of going only in the afternoons.
I was not thoroughly in love with Clara; but it was certainly the hope of seeing her, and not the pleasure of handling the dusty books, that drew me back to the library that afternoon. I had got rather tired of the whole affair in the morning. It was very hot, and the dust was choking, and of the volumes I opened as they passed through my hands, not one was of the slightest interest to me. But for the chance of seeing Clara I should have lain in the grass instead.
No one came. I grew weary, and for a change retreated into the armoury. Evidently, not the slightest heed was paid to the weapons now, and I was thinking with myself that, when I had got the books in order, I might give a few days to furbishing and oiling them, when the door from the gallery opened, and Clara entered.
'What! a truant?' she said.
'You take accusation at least by the forelock, Clara. Who is the real truant now—if I may suggest a mistake?'
'I never undertook anything. How many guesses have you made as to the cause of your desertion to-day?'
'Well, three or four.'
'Have you made one as to the cause of Miss Brotherton's graciousness to you yesterday?'
'At least I remarked the change.'
'I will tell you. There was a short notice of some of your writings in a certain magazine which I contrived should fall in her way.'
'Impossible!' I exclaimed. 'I have never put my name to anything.'
'But you have put the same name to all your contributions.'
'How should the reviewer know it meant me?'
'Your own name was never mentioned.'
I thought she looked a little confused as she said this.
'Then how should Miss Brotherton know it meant me?'
She hesitated a moment—then answered:
'Perhaps from internal evidence.—I suppose I must confess I told her.'
'Then how did you know?
'I have been one of your readers for a long time.'
'But how did you come to know my work?'
'That has oozed out.'
'Some one must have told you,' I said.
'That is my secret,' she replied, with the air of making it a mystery in order to tease me.
'It must be all a mistake,' I said. 'Show me the magazine.'
'As you won't take my word for it, I won't.'
'Well, I shall soon find out. There is but one could have done it. It is very kind of him, no doubt; but I don't like it. That kind of thing should come of itself—not through friends.'
'Who do you fancy has done it?'
'If you have a secret, so have I.'
My answer seemed to relieve her, though I could not tell what gave me the impression.
'You are welcome to yours, and I will keep mine,' she said. 'I only wanted to explain Miss Brotherton's condescension yesterday.'
'I thought you were going to explain why you didn't come to-day.'
'That is only a re-action. I have no doubt she thinks she went too far yesterday.'
'That is absurd. She was civil; that was all.'
'In reading your thermometer, you must know its zero first,' she replied sententiously. 'Is the sword you call yours there still?'
'Yes, and I call it mine still.'
'Why don't you take it, then? I should have carried it off long ago.'
'To steal my own would be to prejudice my right,' I returned. 'But I have often thought of telling Sir Giles about it.'
'Why don't you, then?'
'I hardly know. My head has been full of other things, and any time will do. But I should like to see it in its own place once more.'
I had taken it from the wall, and now handed it to her.
'Is this it?' she said carelessly.
'It is—just as it was carried off my bed that night.'
'What room were you in?' she asked, trying to draw it from the sheath.
'I can't tell. I've never been in it since.'
'You don't seem to me to have the curiosity natural to a—'
'To a woman—no,' I said.
'To a man of spirit,' she retorted, with an appearance of indignation. 'I don't believe you can tell even how it came into your possession!'
'Why shouldn't it have been in the family from time immemorial?'
'So!—And you don't care either to recover it, or to find out how you lost it!'
'How can I? Where is Mr Close?'
'Why, dead, years and years ago.'
'So I understood. I can't well apply to him, then, and I am certain no one else knows.'
'Don't be too sure of that. Perhaps Sir Giles—'
'I am positive Sir Giles knows nothing about it.'
'I have reason to think the story is not altogether unknown in the family.'
'Have you told it, then?'
'No, but I have heard it alluded to.'
'By Sir Giles?'
'By whom, then?'
'I will answer no more questions.'
'Geoffrey, I suppose?'
'You are not polite. Do you suppose I am bound to tell you all I know?'
'Not by any means. Only, you oughtn't to pique a curiosity you don't mean to satisfy.'
'But if I'm not at liberty to say more?—All I meant to say was that, if I were you, I would get back that sword.'
'You hint at a secret, and yet suppose I could carry off its object as I might a rusty nail, which any passer-by would be made welcome to!'
'You might take it first, and mention the thing to Sir Giles afterwards.'
'Why not mention it first?'
'Only on the supposition you had not the courage to claim it.'
'In that case I certainly shouldn't have the courage to avow the deed afterwards. I don't understand you, Clara.'
'That is always your way,' she said. 'You take everything so seriously! Why couldn't I make a proposition without being supposed to mean it?'
I was not satisfied. There was something short of uprightness in the whole tone of her attempted persuasion—which indeed I could hardly believe to have been so lightly intended as she now suggested. The effect of my feeling for her was that of a slight frost on the Spring blossoms.
She had been examining the hilt with a look of interest, and was now for the third time trying to draw the blade from the sheath.
'It's no use, Clara,' I said. 'It has been too many years glued to the scabbard.'
'Glued!' she echoed. 'What do you mean?'
I did not reply. An expression almost of horror shadowed her face, and at the same moment, to my astonishment, she drew it half-way.
'Why! You enchantress!' I exclaimed. 'I never saw so much of it before. It is wonderfully bright—when one thinks of the years it has been shut in darkness.'
She handed it to me as it was, saying,
'If that weapon was mine, I should never rest until I had found out everything concerning it.'
'That is easily said, Clara; but how can I? My uncle knew nothing about it. My grandmother did, no doubt, but almost all I can remember her saying was something about my great-grandfather and Sir Marmaduke.'
As I spoke, I tried to draw it entirely, but it would yield no further. I then sought to replace it, but it would not move. That it yielded to Clara's touch gave it a fresh interest and value.
'I was sure it had a history,' said Clara. 'Have you no family papers? Your house you say is nearly as old as this: are there no papers of any kind in it?'
'Yes, a few,' I answered—'the lease of the farm—and—'
'Oh! rubbish!' she said. 'Isn't the house your own?'
'And have you ever thoroughly searched it?'
'I haven't had time yet.'
'Not had time!' she repeated, in a tone of something so like the uttermost contempt that I was bewildered.
'I mean some day or other to have a rummage in the old lumber-room,' I said.
'Well, I do think that is the least you can do—if only out of respect to your ancestors. Depend on it, they don't like to be forgotten any more than other people.'
The intention I had just announced was, however, but just born of her words. I had never yet searched even my grandmother's bureau, and had but this very moment fancied there might be papers in some old chest in the lumber-room. That room had already begun to occupy my thoughts from another point of view, and hence, in part, no doubt the suggestion. I was anxious to have a visit from Charley. He might bring with him some of our London friends. There was absolutely no common room in the house except the hall-kitchen. The room we had always called the lumber-room was over it, and nearly as large. It had a tall stone chimney-piece, elaborately carved, and clearly had once been a room for entertainment. The idea of restoring it to its original dignity arose in my mind; and I hoped that, furnished after as antique a fashion as I could compass, it would prove a fine room. The windows were small, to be sure, and the pitch rather low, but the whitewashed walls were pannelled, and I had some hopes of the ceiling.
'Who knows,' I said to myself, as I walked home that evening, 'but I may come upon papers? I do remember something in the furthest corner that looks like a great chest.'
Little more had passed between us, but Clara left me with the old Dissatisfaction beginning to turn itself, as if about to awake once more. For the present I hung the half-naked blade upon the wall, for I dared not force it lest the scabbard should go to pieces.
When I reached home, I found a letter from Charley, to the effect that, if convenient, he would pay me a visit the following week. His mother and sister, he said, had been invited to Moldwarp Hall. His father was on the continent for his health. Without having consulted them on the matter, which might involve them in after-difficulty, he would come to me, and so have an opportunity of seeing them in the sunshine of his father's absence. I wrote at once that I should be delighted to receive him.
The next morning I spent with my man in the lumber-room; and before mid-day the rest of the house looked like an old curiosity shop—it was so littered with odds and ends of dust-bloomed antiquity. It was hard work, and in the afternoon I found myself disinclined for more exercise of a similar sort. I had Lilith out, and took a leisurely ride instead. The next day, and the next also, I remained at home. The following morning I went again to Moldwarp Hall. I had not been busy more than an hour or so when Clara, who, I presume, had in passing heard me at work, looked in.
'Who is a truant now?' she said. 'Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Here has Miss Brotherton been almost curious concerning your absence, and Sir Giles more than once on the point of sending to inquire after you!'
'Why didn't he, then?'
'Oh! I suppose he was afraid it might look like an assertion of—of—of baronial rights, or something of the sort. How could you behave in such an inconsiderate fashion!'
'You must allow me to have some business of my own.'
'Certainly. But with so many anxious friends, you ought to have given a hint of your intentions.'
'I had none, however.'
'Of which? Friends or intentions?'
'What! No friends? I verily surprised Miss Pease in the act of studying her "Cookery for Invalids"—in the hope of finding a patient in you, no doubt. She wanted to come and nurse you, but daren't propose it.'
'It was very kind of her.'
'No doubt. But then you see she's ready to commit suicide any day, poor old thing, but for lack of courage!'
'It must be dreary for her!'
'Dreary! I should poison the old dragon.'
'Well, perhaps I had better tell you, for Miss Pease's sake, who is evidently the only one that cares a straw about me in the matter, that possibly I shall be absent a good many days this week, and perhaps the next too.'
'Why, then—if I may ask—Mr Absolute?'
'Because a friend of mine is going to pay me a visit. You remember Charley Osborne, don't you? Of course you do. You remember the ice-cave, I am sure.'
'Yes, I do—quite well,' she answered.
I fancied I saw a shadow cross her face.
'When do you expect him?' she asked, turning away, and picking a book from the floor.
'In a week or so, I think. He tells me his mother and sister are coming here on a visit.'
'Yes—so I believe—to-morrow, I think. I wonder if I ought to be going. I don't think I will. I came to please them—at all events not to please myself; but as I find it pleasanter than I expected, I won't go without a hint and a half at least.'
'Why should you? There is plenty of room.'
'Yes; but don't you see?—so many inferiors in the house at once might be too much for Madame Dignity. She finds one quite enough, I suspect.'
'You do not mean that she regards the Osbornes as inferiors?'
'Not a doubt of it. Never mind. I can take care of myself. Have you any work for me to-day?'
'Plenty, if you are in a mood for it.'
'I will fetch Miss Brotherton.'
'I can do without her.'
She went, however, and did not return. As I walked home to dinner, she and Miss Brotherton passed me in the carriage, on their way, as I learned afterwards, to fetch the Osborne ladies from the rectory, some ten miles off. I did not return to Moldwarp Hall, but helped Styles in the lumber-room, which before night we had almost emptied.
The next morning I was favoured with a little desultory assistance from the two ladies, but saw nothing of the visitors. In the afternoon, and both the following days, I took my servant with me, who got through more work than the two together, and we advanced it so far that I was able to leave the room next the armoury in the hands of the carpenter and the housemaid, with sufficient directions, and did not return that week.
A TALK WITH CHARLEY.
The following Monday, in the evening, Charley arrived, in great spirits, more excited indeed than I liked to see him. There was a restlessness in his eye which made me especially anxious, for it raised a doubt whether the appearance of good spirits was not the result merely of resistance to some anxiety. But I hoped my companionship, with the air and exercise of the country, would help to quiet him again. In the late twilight we took a walk together up and down my field.
'I suppose you let your mother know you were coming, Charley?' I said.
'I did not,' he answered. 'My father must have nothing to lay to their charge in case he should hear of our meeting.'
'But he has not forbidden you to go home, has he?'
'No, certainly. But he as good as told me I was not to go home while he was away. He does not wish me to be there without his presence to counteract my evil influences. He seems to regard my mere proximity as dangerous. I sometimes wonder whether the severity of his religion may not have affected his mind. Almost all madness, you know, turns either upon love or religion.'
'So I have heard. I doubt it—with men. It may be with women.—But you won't surprise them? It might startle your mother too much. She is not strong, you say. Hadn't I better tell Clara Coningham? She can let them know you are here.'
'It would be better.'
'What do you say to going there with me to-morrow? I will send my man with a note in the morning.'
He looked a little puzzled and undetermined, but said at length,
'I dare say your plan is the best. How long has Miss Coningham been here?'
'About ten days, I think.'
He looked thoughtful and made no answer.
'I see, you are afraid of my falling in love with her again,' I said. 'I confess I like her much better than I did, but I am not quite sure about her yet. She is very bewitching anyhow, and a little more might make me lose my heart to her. The evident dislike she has to Brotherton would of itself recommend her to any friend of yours or mine.'
He turned his face away.
'Do not be anxious about me,' I went on. 'The first shadowy conviction of any untruthfulness in her, if not sufficient to change my feelings at once, would at once initiate a backward movement in them.'
He kept his face turned away, and I was perplexed. After a few moments of silence, he turned it towards me again, as if relieved by some resolution suddenly formed, and said with a smile under a still clouded brow,
'Well, old fellow, we'll see. It'll all come right, I dare say. Write your note early, and we'll follow it. How glad I shall be to have a glimpse of that blessed mother of mine without her attendant dragon!'
'For God's sake don't talk of your father so! Surely, after all, he is a good man!'
'Then I want a new reading of the word.'
'He loves God, at least.'
'I won't stop to inquire—' said Charley, plunging at once into argument—'what influence for good it might or might not have to love a non-existence: I will only ask—Is it a good God he loves or a bad one? If the latter, he can hardly be called good for loving him.'
'But if there be a God at all, he must be a good God.'
'Suppose the true God to be the good God, it does not follow that my father worships him. There is such a thing as worshipping a false God. At least the Bible recognizes it. For my part, I find myself compelled to say—either that the true God is not a good God, or that my father does not worship the true God. If you say he worships the God of the Bible, I either admit or dispute the assertion, but set it aside as altering nothing; for if I admit it, the argument lies thus: my father worships a bad God; my father worships the God of the Bible: therefore the God of the Bible is a bad God; and if I admit the authority of the Bible, then the true God is a bad God. If, however, I dispute the assertion that he worships the God of the Bible, I am left to show, if I can, that the God of the Bible is a good God, and, if I admit the authority of the Bible, to worship another than my father's God. If I do not admit the authority of the Bible, there may, for all that, be a good God, or, which is next best to a perfectly good God, there may be no God at all.'
'Put like a lawyer, Charley: and yet I would venture to join issue with your first assertion—on which the whole argument is founded—that your father worships a bad God.'
'Assuredly what he asserts concerning his God is bad.'
'Admitted; but does he assert only bad things of his God?'
'I daren't say that. But God is one. You will hardly dare the proposition that an infinite being may be partly good and partly bad.'
'No. I heartily hold that God must be one—a proposition far more essential than that there is one God—so far, at least, as my understanding can judge. It is only in the limited human nature that good and evil can co-exist. But there is just the point: we are not speaking of the absolute God, but of the idea of a man concerning that God. You could suppose yourself utterly convinced of a good God long before your ideas of goodness were so correct as to render you incapable of attributing anything wrong to that God. Supposing such to be the case, and that you came afterwards to find that you had been thinking something wrong about him, do you think you would therefore grant that you had been believing either in a wicked or in a false God?'
'Then you must give your father the same scope. He attributes what we are absolutely certain are bad things to his God—and yet he may believe in a good God, for the good in his idea of God is that alone in virtue of which he is able to believe in him. No mortal can believe in the bad.'
'He puts the evil foremost in his creed and exhortations.'
'That may be. Few people know their own deeper minds. The more potent a power in us, I suspect it is the more hidden from our scrutiny.'
'If there be a God, then, Wilfrid, he is very indifferent to what his creatures think of him.'
'Perhaps very patient and hopeful, Charley—who knows? Perhaps he will not force himself upon them, but help them to grow into the true knowledge of him. Your father may worship the true God, and yet have only a little of that knowledge.'
A silence followed. At length—'Thank you for my father,' said Charley.
'Thank my uncle,' I said.
'For not being like my father?—I do,' he returned.
It was the loveliest evening that brooded round us as we walked. The moon had emerged from a rippled sea of grey cloud, over which she cast her dull opaline halo. Great masses and banks of cloud lay about the rest of the heavens, and, in the dark rifts between, a star or two were visible, gazing from the awful distance.
'I wish I could let it into me, Wilfrid,' said Charley, after we had been walking in silence for some time along the grass.
'Let what into you, Charley?'
'The night and the blue and the stars.'
'Why don't you, then?'
'I hate being taken in. The more pleasant a self-deception, the less I choose to submit to it.'
'That is reasonable. But where lies the deception?'
'I don't say it's a deception. I only don't know that it isn't.'
'I mean what you call the beauty of the night.'
'Surely there can be little question of that?'
'Ever so little is enough. Suppose I asked you wherein its beauty consisted: would you be satisfied if I said—In the arrangement of the blue and the white, with the sparkles of yellow, and the colours about the scarce visible moon?'
'Certainly not. I should reply that it lay in the gracious peace of the whole—troubled only with the sense of some lovely secret behind, of which itself was but the half-modelled representation, and therefore the reluctant outcome.'
'Suppose I rejected the latter half of what you say, admitting the former, but judging it only the fortuitous result of the half-necessary, half-fortuitous concurrences of nature. Suppose I said:—The air which is necessary to our life, happens to be blue; the stars can't help shining through it and making it look deep; and the clouds are just there because they must be somewhere till they fall again; all which is more agreeable to us than fog because we feel more comfortable in weather of the sort, whence, through complacency and habit, we have got to call it beautiful:—suppose I said this, would you accept it?'
'Such a theory would destroy my delight in nature altogether.'
'Well, isn't it the truth?'
'It would be easy to show that the sense of beauty does not spring from any amount of comfort; but I do not care to pursue the argument from that starting-point.—I confess when you have once waked the questioning spirit, and I look up at the clouds and the stars with what I may call sharpened eyes—eyes, that is, which assert their seeing, and so render themselves incapable for the time of submitting to impressions, I am as blind as any Sadducee could desire. I see blue, and white, and gold, and, in short, a tent-roof somewhat ornate. I dare say if I were in a miserable mood, having been deceived and disappointed like Hamlet, I should with him see there nothing but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. But I know that when I am passive to its powers, I am aware of a presence altogether different—of a something at once soothing and elevating, powerful to move shame—even contrition and the desire of amendment.'
'Yes, yes,' said Charley hastily. 'But let me suppose further—and, perhaps you will allow, better—that this blueness—I take a part for the whole—belongs essentially and of necessity to the atmosphere, itself so essential to our physical life; suppose also that this blue has essential relation to our spiritual nature—taking for the moment our spiritual nature for granted—suppose, in a word, all nature so related, not only to our physical but to our spiritual nature, that it and we form an organic whole full of action and reaction between the parts—would that satisfy you? Would it enable you to look on the sky this night with absolute pleasure? would you want nothing more?'
I thought for a little before I answered.
'No, Charley,' I said at last—'it would not satisfy me. For it would indicate that beauty might be, after all, but the projection of my own mind—the name I gave to a harmony between that around me and that within me. There would then be nothing absolute in beauty. There would be no such thing in itself. It would exist only as a phase of me when I was in a certain mood; and when I was earthly-minded, passionate, or troubled, it would be nowhere. But in my best moods I feel that in nature lies the form and fashion of a peace and grandeur so much beyond anything in me, that they rouse the sense of poverty and incompleteness and blame in the want of them.'
'Do you perceive whither you are leading yourself?'
'I would rather hear you say.'
'To this then—that the peace and grandeur of which you speak must be a mere accident, therefore an unreality and pure appearance, or the outcome and representation of a peace and grandeur which, not to be found in us, yet exist, and make use of this frame of things to set forth and manifest themselves in order that we may recognize and desire them.'
'In other words—you lead yourself inevitably to a God manifest in nature—not as a powerful being—that is a theme absolutely without interest to me—but as possessed in himself of the original pre-existent beauty, the counterpart of which in us we call art, and who has fashioned us so that we must fall down and worship the image of himself which he has set up.'
'That's good, Charley. I'm so glad you've worked that out!'
'It doesn't in the least follow that I believe it. I cannot even say I wish I did:—for what I know, that might be to wish to be deceived. Of all miseries—to believe in a lovely thing and find it not true—that must be the worst.'
'You might never find it out, though,' I said. 'You might be able to comfort yourself with it all your life.'
'I was wrong,' he cried fiercely. 'Never to find it out would be the hell of all hells. Wilfrid, I am ashamed of you!'
'So should I be, Charley, if I had meant it. I only wanted to make you speak. I agree with you entirely. But I do wish we could be quite sure of it; for I don't believe any man can ever be sure of a thing that is not true.'
'My father is sure that the love of nature is not only a delusion, but a snare. I should have no right to object, were he not equally sure of the existence of a God who created and rules it. By the way, if I believed in a God, I should say creates not created. I told him once, not long ago, when he fell out upon nature—he had laid hands on a copy of Endymion belonging to me—I don't know how the devil he got it—I asked him whether he thought the devil made the world. You should have seen the white wrath he went into at the question! I told him it was generally believed one or the other did make the world. He told me God made the world, but sin had unmade it. I asked him if it was sin that made it so beautiful. He said it was sin that made me think it so beautiful. I remarked how very ugly it must have looked when God had just finished it! He called me a blasphemer, and walked to the door. I stopped him for a moment by saying that I thought, after all, he must be right, for according to geologists the world must have been a horrible place, and full of the most hideous creatures, before sin came and made it lovely. When he saw my drift, he strode up to me like—well, very like his own God, I should think—and was going to strike me. I looked him in the eyes without moving, as if he had been a madman. He turned and left the room. I left the house, and went back to London the same night.'
'Oh! Charley, Charley, that was too bad!'
'I knew it, Wilfrid, and yet I did it! But if your father had made a downright coward of you, afraid to speak the truth, or show what you were thinking, you also might find that, when anger gave you a fictitious courage, you could not help breaking out. It's only another form of cowardice, I know; and I am as much ashamed of it as you could wish me to be.'
'Have you made it up with him since?'
'I've never seen him since.'
'Haven't you written, then?'
'No. Where's the use? He never would understand me. He knows no more of the condition of my mind than he does of the other side of the moon. If I offered such, he would put aside all apology for my behaviour to him—repudiating himself, and telling me it was the wrath of an offended God, not of an earthly parent, I had to deprecate. If I told him I had only spoken against his false God—how far would that go to mend the matter, do you think?'
'Not far, I must allow. But I am very sorry.'
'I wouldn't care if I could be sure of anything—or even sure that, if I were sure, I shouldn't be mistaken.'
'I'm afraid you're very morbid, Charley.'
'Perhaps. But you cannot deny that my father is sure of things that you believe utterly false.'
'I suspect, however, that, if we were able to get a bird's-eye view of his mind and all its workings, we should discover that what he called assurance was not the condition you would call such. You would find it was not the certainty you covet.'
'I have thought of that, and it is my only comfort. But I am sick of the whole subject. See that cloud! Isn't it like Death on the pale horse? What fun it must be for the cherubs, on such a night as this, to go blowing the clouds into fantastic shapes with their trumpet cheeks!'
Assurance was ever what Charley wanted, and unhappily the sense of intellectual insecurity weakened his moral action.
Once more I reveal a haunting uneasiness in the expression of a hope that the ordered character of the conversation I have just set down may not render it incredible to my reader. I record the result alone. The talk itself was far more desultory, and in consequence of questions, objections, and explanations, divaricated much from the comparatively direct line I have endeavoured to give it here. In the hope of making my reader understand both Charley and myself, I have sought to make the winding and rough path straight and smooth.
Having heard what I was about at the Hall, Charley expressed a desire to take a share in my labours, especially as thereby he would be able to see more of his mother and sister. I took him straight to the book-rooms, and we were hard at work when Clara entered.
'Here is your old friend Charley Osborne,' I said. 'You remember Miss Coningham, Charley, I know.'
He advanced in what seemed a strangely embarrassed—indeed, rather sheepish manner, altogether unlike his usual bearing. I attributed it to a doubt whether Clara would acknowledge their old acquaintance. On her part, she met him with some frankness, but I thought also a rather embarrassed look, which was the more surprising as I had let her know he was coming. But they shook hands, and in a little while we were all chatting comfortably.
'Shall I go and tell Mrs Osborne you are here?' she asked.
'Yes, if you please,' said Charley, and she went.
In a few minutes Mrs Osborne and Mary entered. The meeting was full of affection, but to my eye looked like a meeting of the living and the dead in a dream—there was such an evident sadness in it, as if each was dimly aware that they met but in appearance, and were in reality far asunder. I could not doubt that however much they loved him, and however little they sympathized with his father's treatment of him, his mother and sister yet regarded him as separated from them by a great gulf—that of culpable unbelief. But they seemed therefore only the more anxious to please and serve him—their anxiety revealing itself in an eagerness painfully like the service offered to one whom the doctors had given up, and who may now have any indulgence he happens to fancy.
'I say, mother,' said Charley, who seemed to strive after an airier manner even than usual—'couldn't you come and help us? It would be so jolly!'
'No, my dear; I mustn't leave Lady Brotherton. That would be rude, you know. But I dare say Mary might.'
'Oh, please, mamma! I should like it so much—especially if Clara would stop! But perhaps Mr Cumbermede—we ought to have asked him first.'
'Yes—to be sure—he's the foreman,' said Charley. 'But he's not a bad fellow, and won't be disobliging. Only you must do as he tells you, or it'll be the worse for us all. I know him.'
'I shall be delighted,' I said. 'I can give both the ladies plenty to do. Indeed I regard Miss Coningham as one of my hands already. Won't Miss Brotherton honour us to-day, Miss Coningham?'
'I will go and ask her,' said Clara.
They all withdrew. In a little while I had four assistants, and we got on famously. The carpenter had been hard at work, and the room next the armoury, the oak-panelling of which had shown considerable signs of decay, had been repaired, and the shelves, which were in tolerable condition, were now ready to receive their burden, and reflect the first rays of a dawning order.
Plenty of talk went on during the dusting and arranging of the books by their size, which was the first step towards a cosmos. There was a certain playful naivete about Charley's manner and speech, when he was happy, which gave him an instant advantage with women, and even made the impression of wit where there was only grace. Although he was perfectly capable, however, of engaging to any extent in the badinage which has ever been in place between young men and women since dawning humanity was first aware of a lovely difference, there was always a certain indescribable dignity about what he said which I now see could have come only from a believing heart. I use the word advisedly, but would rather my reader should find what I mean than require me to explain it fully. Belief, to my mind, lies chiefly in the practical recognition of the high and pure.