'Too true,' said Vieuxbois.
'Is not the cause,' asked Lancelot, 'just that the upper classes do write them?'
'The writings of working men, certainly,' said Lord Minchampstead, 'have an enormous sale among their own class.'
'Just because they express the feelings of that class, of which I am beginning to fear that we know very little. Look again, what a noble literature of people's songs and hymns Germany has. Some of Lord Vieuxbois's friends, I know, are busy translating many of them.'
'As many of them, that is to say,' said Vieuxbois, 'as are compatible with a real Church spirit.'
'Be it so; but who wrote them? Not the German aristocracy for the people, but the German people for themselves. There is the secret of their power. Why not educate the people up to such a standard that they should be able to write their own literature?'
'What,' said Mr. Chalklands, of Chalklands, who sat opposite, 'would you have working men turn ballad writers? There would be an end of work, then, I think.'
'I have not heard,' said Lancelot, 'that the young women—LADIES, I ought to say, if the word mean anything—who wrote the "Lowell Offering," spun less or worse cotton than their neighbours.'
'On the contrary," said Lord Minchampstead, 'we have the most noble accounts of heroic industry and self-sacrifice in girls whose education, to judge by its fruits, might shame that of most English young ladies.'
Mr. Chalklands expressed certain confused notions that, in America, factory girls carried green silk parasols, put the legs of pianos into trousers, and were too prudish to make a shirt, or to call it a shirt after it was made, he did not quite remember which.
'It is a great pity,' said Lord Minchampstead, 'that our factory girls are not in the same state of civilisation. But it is socially impossible. America is in an abnormal state. In a young country the laws of political economy do not make themselves fully felt. Here, where we have no uncleared world to drain the labour-market, we may pity and alleviate the condition of the working-classes, but we can do nothing more. All the modern schemes for the amelioration which ignore the laws of competition, must end either in pauperisation'—(with a glance at Lord Vieuxbois),—'or in the destruction of property.'
Lancelot said nothing, but thought the more. It did strike him at the moment that the few might, possibly, be made for the many, and not the many for the few; and that property was made for man, not man for property. But he contented himself with asking,—
'You think, then, my lord, that in the present state of society, no dead-lift can be given to the condition—in plain English, the wages—of working men, without the destruction of property?'
Lord Minchampstead smiled, and parried the question.
'There may be other dead-lift ameliorations, my young friend, besides a dead-lift of wages.'
So Lancelot thought, also; but Lord Minchampstead would have been a little startled could he have seen Lancelot's notion of a dead-lift. Lord Minchampstead was thinking of cheap bread and sugar. Do you think that I will tell you of what Lancelot was thinking?
But here Vieuxbois spurred in to break a last lance. He had been very much disgusted with the turn the conversation was taking, for he considered nothing more heterodox than the notion that the poor were to educate themselves. In his scheme, of course the clergy and the gentry were to educate the poor, who were to take down thankfully as much as it was thought proper to give them: and all beyond was 'self-will' and 'private judgment,' the fathers of Dissent and Chartism, Trades'-union strikes, and French Revolutions, et si qua alia.
'And pray, Mr. Smith, may I ask what limit you would put to education?'
'The capacities of each man,' said Lancelot. 'If man living in civilised society has one right which he can demand it is this, that the State which exists by his labour shall enable him to develop, or, at least, not hinder his developing, his whole faculties to their very utmost, however lofty that may be. While a man who might be an author remains a spade-drudge, or a journeyman while he has capacities for a master; while any man able to rise in life remains by social circumstances lower than he is willing to place himself, that man has a right to complain of the State's injustice and neglect.'
'Really, I do not see,' said Vieuxbois, 'why people should wish to rise in life. They had no such self-willed fancy in the good old times. The whole notion is a product of these modern days—'
He would have said more, but he luckily remembered at whose table he was sitting.
'I think, honestly,' said Lancelot, whose blood was up, 'that we gentlemen all run into the same fallacy. We fancy ourselves the fixed and necessary element in society, to which all others are to accommodate themselves. "Given the rights of the few rich, to find the condition of the many poor." It seems to me that other postulate is quite as fair: "Given the rights of the many poor, to find the condition of the few rich."'
Lord Minchampstead laughed.
'If you hit us so hard, Mr. Smith, I must really denounce you as a Communist. Lord Vieuxbois, shall we join the ladies?'
In the drawing-room, poor Lancelot, after rejecting overtures of fraternity from several young ladies, set himself steadily again against the wall to sulk and watch Argemone. But this time she spied in a few minutes his melancholy, moonstruck face, swam up to him, and said something kind and commonplace. She spoke in the simplicity of her heart, but he chose to think she was patronising him—she had not talked commonplaces to the vicar. He tried to say something smart and cutting,—stuttered, broke down, blushed, and shrank back again to the wall, fancying that every eye in the room was on him; and for one moment a flash of sheer hatred to Argemone swept through him.
Was Argemone patronising him? Of course she was. True, she was but three-and-twenty, and he was of the same age; but, spiritually and socially, the girl develops ten years earlier than the boy. She was flattered and worshipped by gray-headed men, and in her simplicity she thought it a noble self-sacrifice to stoop to notice the poor awkward youth. And yet if he could have seen the pure moonlight of sisterly pity which filled all her heart as she retreated, with something of a blush and something of a sigh, and her heart fluttered and fell, would he have been content? Not he. It was her love he wanted, and not her pity; it was to conquer her and possess her, and inform himself with her image, and her with his own; though as yet he did not know it; though the moment that she turned away he cursed himself for selfish vanity, and moroseness and conceit.
'Who am I to demand her all to myself? Her, the glorious, the saintly, the unfallen! Is not a look, a word, infinitely more than I deserve? And yet I pretend to admire tales of chivalry! Old knightly hearts would have fought and wandered for years to earn a tithe of the favours which have been bestowed on me unasked.'—
Peace! poor Lancelot! Thy egg is by no means addle; but the chick is breaking the shell in somewhat a cross-grained fashion.
CHAPTER VII: THE DRIVE HOME, AND WHAT CAME OF IT
Now it was not extraordinary that Squire Lavington had 'assimilated' a couple of bottles of Carbonel's best port; for however abstemious the new lord himself might be, he felt for the habits, and for the vote of an old-fashioned Whig squire. Nor was it extraordinary that he fell fast asleep the moment he got into the carriage; nor, again, that his wife and daughters were not solicitous about waking him; nor, on the other hand, that the coachman and footman, who were like all the squire's servants, of the good old sort, honest, faithful, boozing, extravagant, happy-go-lucky souls, who had 'been about the place these forty years,' were somewhat owlish and unsteady on the box. Nor was it extraordinary that there was a heavy storm of lightning, for that happened three times a-week in the chalk hills the summer through; nor, again, that under these circumstances the horses, who were of the squire's own breeding, and never thoroughly broke (nothing was done thoroughly at Whitford), went rather wildly home, and that the carriage swung alarmingly down the steep hills, and the boughs brushed the windows rather too often. But it was extraordinary that Mrs. Lavington had cast off her usual primness, and seemed to-night, for the first time in her life, in an exuberant good humour, which she evinced by snubbing her usual favourite Honoria, and lavishing caresses on Argemone, whose vagaries she usually regarded with a sort of puzzled terror, like a hen who has hatched a duckling.
'Honoria, take your feet off my dress. Argemone, my child, I hope you spent a pleasant evening?'
Argemone answered by some tossy commonplace.
A pause—and then Mrs. Lavington recommenced,—
'How very pleasing that poor young Lord Vieuxbois is, after all!'
'I thought you disliked him so much.'
'His opinions, my child; but we must hope for the best. He seems moral and well inclined, and really desirous of doing good in his way; and so successful in the House, too, I hear.'
'To me,' said Argemone, 'he seems to want life, originality, depth, everything that makes a great man. He knows nothing but what he has picked up ready-made from books. After all, his opinions are the one redeeming point in him.'
'Ah, my dear, when it pleases Heaven to open your eyes, you will see as I do!'
Poor Mrs. Lavington! Unconscious spokeswoman for the ninety-nine hundredths of the human race! What are we all doing from morning to night, but setting up our own fancies as the measure of all heaven and earth, and saying, each in his own dialect, Whig, Radical, or Tory, Papist or Protestant, 'When it pleases Heaven to open your eyes you will see as I do'?
'It is a great pity,' went on Mrs. Lavington, meditatively, 'to see a young man so benighted and thrown away. With his vast fortune, too—such a means of good! Really we ought to have seen a little more of him. I think Mr. O'Blareaway's conversation might be a blessing to him. I think of asking him over to stay a week at Whitford, to meet that sainted young man.'
Now Argemone did not think the Reverend Panurgus O'Blareaway, incumbent of Lower Whitford, at all a sainted young man, but, on the contrary, a very vulgar, slippery Irishman; and she had, somehow, tired of her late favourite, Lord Vieuxbois; so she answered tossily enough,—
'Really, mamma, a week of Lord Vieuxbois will be too much. We shall be bored to death with the Cambridge Camden Society, and ballads for the people.'
'I think, my dear,' said Mrs. Lavington (who had, half unconsciously to herself, more reasons than one for bringing the young lord to Whitford), 'I think, my dear, that his conversation, with all its faults, will be a very improving change for your father. I hope he's asleep.'
The squire's nose answered for itself.
'Really, what between Mr. Smith, and Colonel Bracebridge, and their very ineligible friend, Mr. Mellot, whom I should never have allowed to enter my house if I had suspected his religious views, the place has become a hotbed of false doctrine and heresy. I have been quite frightened when I have heard their conversation at dinner, lest the footmen should turn infidels!'
'Perhaps, mamma,' said Honoria, slyly, 'Lord Vieuxbois might convert them to something quite as bad. How shocking if old Giles, the butler, should turn Papist!'
'Honoria, you are very silly. Lord Vieuxbois, at least can be trusted. He has no liking for low companions. HE is above joking with grooms, and taking country walks with gamekeepers.'
It was lucky that it was dark, for Honoria and Argemone both blushed crimson.
'Your poor father's mind has been quite unsettled by all their ribaldry. They have kept him so continually amused, that all my efforts to bring him to a sense of his awful state have been more unavailing than ever.'
Poor Mrs. Lavington! She had married, at eighteen, a man far her inferior in intellect; and had become—as often happens in such cases—a prude and a devotee. The squire, who really admired and respected her, confined his disgust to sly curses at the Methodists (under which name he used to include every species of religious earnestness, from Quakerism to that of Mr. Newman). Mrs. Lavington used at first to dignify these disagreeables by the name of persecution, and now she was trying to convert the old man by coldness, severity, and long curtain-lectures, utterly unintelligible to their victim, because couched in the peculiar conventional phraseology of a certain school. She forgot, poor earnest soul, that the same form of religion which had captivated a disappointed girl of twenty, might not be the most attractive one for a jovial old man of sixty.
Argemone, who a fortnight before would have chimed in with all her mother's lamentations, now felt a little nettled and jealous. She could not bear to hear Lancelot classed with the colonel.
'Indeed,' she said, 'if amusement is bad for my father, he is not likely to get much of it during Lord Vieuxbois's stay. But, of course, mamma, you will do as you please.'
'Of course I shall, my dear,' answered the good lady, in a tragedy- queen tone. 'I shall only take the liberty of adding, that it is very painful to me to find you adding to the anxiety which your unfortunate opinions give me, by throwing every possible obstacle in the way of my plans for your good.'
Argemone burst into proud tears (she often did so after a conversation with her mother). 'Plans for my good!'—And an unworthy suspicion about her mother crossed her mind, and was peremptorily expelled again. What turn the conversation would have taken next, I know not, but at that moment Honoria and her mother uttered a fearful shriek, as their side of the carriage jolted half- way up the bank, and stuck still in that pleasant position.
The squire awoke, and the ladies simultaneously clapped their hands to their ears, knowing what was coming. He thrust his head out of the window, and discharged a broadside of at least ten pounds' worth of oaths (Bow Street valuation) at the servants, who were examining the broken wheel, with a side volley or two at Mrs. Lavington for being frightened. He often treated her and Honoria to that style of oratory. At Argemone he had never sworn but once since she left the nursery, and was so frightened at the consequences, that he took care never to do it again.
But there they were fast, with a broken wheel, plunging horses, and a drunken coachman. Luckily for them, the colonel and Lancelot were following close behind, and came to their assistance.
The colonel, as usual, solved the problem.
'Your dog-cart will carry four, Smith?'
'Then let the ladies get in, and Mr. Lavington drive them home.'
'What?' said the squire, 'with both my hands red-hot with the gout? You must drive three of us, colonel, and one of us must walk.'
'I will walk,' said Argemone, in her determined way.
Mrs. Lavington began something about propriety, but was stopped with another pound's worth of oaths by the squire, who, however, had tolerably recovered his good humour, and hurried Mrs. Lavington and Honoria, laughingly, into the dog-cart, saying—
'Argemone's safe enough with Smith; the servants will lead the horses behind them. It's only three miles home, and I should like to see any one speak to her twice while Smith's fists are in the way.'
Lancelot thought so too.
'You can trust yourself to me, Miss Lavington?'
'By all means. I shall enjoy the walk after—:' and she stopped. In a moment the dog-cart had rattled off, with a parting curse from the squire to the servants, who were unharnessing the horses.
Argemone took Lancelot's arm; the soft touch thrilled through and through him; and Argemone felt, she knew not why, a new sensation run through her frame. She shuddered—not with pain.
'You are cold, Miss Lavington?'
'Oh, not in the least.' Cold! when every vein was boiling so strangely! A soft luscious melancholy crept over her. She had always had a terror of darkness; but now she felt quite safe in his strength. The thought of her own unprotected girlhood drew her heart closer to him. She remembered with pleasure the stories of his personal prowess, which had once made her think him coarse and brutal. For the first time in her life she knew the delight of dependence—the holy charm of weakness. And as they paced on silently together, through the black awful night, while the servants lingered, far out of sight, about the horses, she found out how utterly she trusted to him.
'Listen!' she said. A nightingale was close to them, pouring out his whole soul in song.
'Is it not very late in the year for a nightingale?'
'He is waiting for his mate. She is rearing a late brood, I suppose.'
'What do you think it is which can stir him up to such an ecstasy of joy, and transfigure his whole heart into melody?'
'What but love, the fulness of all joy, the evoker of all song?'
'All song?—The angels sing in heaven.'
'So they say: but the angels must love if they sing.'
'They love God!'
'And no one else?'
'Oh yes: but that is universal, spiritual love; not earthly love—a narrow passion for an individual.'
'How do we know that they do not learn to love all by first loving one?'
'Oh, the angelic life is single!'
'Who told you so, Miss Lavington?'
She quoted the stock text, of course:—'"In heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels."'
'"As the tree falls, so it lies." And God forbid that those who have been true lovers on earth should contract new marriages in the next world. Love is eternal. Death may part lovers, but not love. And how do we know that these angels, as they call them, if they be really persons, may not be united in pairs by some marriage bond, infinitely more perfect than any we can dream of on earth?'
'That is a very wild view, Mr. Smith, and not sanctioned by the Church,' said Argemone, severely. (Curious and significant it is, how severe ladies are apt to be whenever they talk of the Church.)
'In plain historic fact, the early fathers and the middle-age monks did not sanction it: and are not they the very last persons to whom one would go to be taught about marriage? Strange! that people should take their notions of love from the very men who prided themselves on being bound, by their own vows, to know nothing about it!'
'They were very holy men.'
'But still men, as I take it. And do you not see that Love is, like all spiritual things, only to be understood by experience—by loving?'
'But is love spiritual?'
'Pardon me, but what a question for one who believes that "God is love!"'
'But the divines tell us that the love of human beings is earthly.'
'How did they know? They had never tried. Oh, Miss Lavington! cannot you see that in those barbarous and profligate ages of the later empire, it was impossible for men to discern the spiritual beauty of marriage, degraded as it had been by heathen brutality? Do you not see that there must have been a continual tendency in the minds of a celibate clergy to look with contempt, almost with spite, on pleasures which were forbidden to them?'
'It must be very delicious,' said Argemone, thoughtfully, 'for any one who believes it, to think that marriage can last through eternity. But, then, what becomes of entire love to God? How can we part our hearts between him and his creatures?'
'It is a sin, then, to love your sister? or your friend? What a low, material view of love, to fancy that you can cut it up into so many pieces, like a cake, and give to one person one tit-bit, and another to another, as the Popish books would have you believe! Love is like flame—light as many fresh flames at it as you will, it grows, instead of diminishing, by the dispersion.'
'It is a beautiful imagination.'
'But, oh, how miserable and tantalising a thought, Miss Lavington, to those who know that a priceless spirit is near them, which might be one with theirs through all eternity, like twin stars in one common atmosphere, for ever giving and receiving wisdom and might, beauty and bliss, and yet are barred from their bliss by some invisible adamantine wall, against which they must beat themselves to death, like butterflies against the window-pane, gazing, and longing, and unable to guess why they are forbidden to enjoy!'
Why did Argemone withdraw her arm from his? He knew, and he felt that she was entrusted to him. He turned away from the subject.
'I wonder whether they are safe home by this time?'
'I hope my father will not catch cold. How sad, Mr. Smith, that he will swear so. I do not like to say it; and yet you must have heard him too often yourself.'
'It is hardly a sin with him now, I think. He has become so habituated to it, that he attaches no meaning or notion whatsoever to his own oaths. I have heard him do it with a smiling face to the very beggar to whom he was giving half-a-crown. We must not judge a man of his school by the standard of our own day.'
'Let us hope so,' said Argemone, sadly.
There was another pause. At a turn of the hill road the black masses of beech-wood opened, and showed the Priory lights twinkling right below. Strange that Argemone felt sorry to find herself so near home.
'We shall go to town next week,' said she; "and then—You are going to Norway this summer, are you not?'
'No. I have learnt that my duty lies nearer home.'
'What are you going to do?'
'I wish this summer, for the first time in my life, to try and do some good—to examine a little into the real condition of English working men.'
'I am afraid, Mr. Smith, that I did not teach you that duty.'
'Oh, you have taught me priceless things! You have taught me beauty is the sacrament of heaven, and love its gate; that that which is the most luscious is also the most pure.'
'But I never spoke a word to you on such subjects.'
'There are those, Miss Lavington, to whom a human face can speak truths too deep for books.'
Argemone was silent; but she understood him. Why did she not withdraw her arm a second time?
In a moment more the colonel hailed them from the dog-cart and behind him came the britschka with a relay of servants.
They parted with a long, lingering pressure of the hand, which haunted her young palm all night in dreams. Argemone got into the carriage, Lancelot jumped into the dog-cart, took the reins, and relieved his heart by galloping Sandy up the hill, and frightening the returning coachman down one bank and his led horses up the other.
'Vogue la Galere, Lancelot? I hope you have made good use of your time?'
But Lancelot spoke no word all the way home, and wandered till dawn in the woods around his cottage, kissing the hand which Argemone's palm had pressed.
CHAPTER VIII: WHITHER?
Some three months slipped away—right dreary months for Lancelot, for the Lavingtons went to Baden-Baden for the summer. 'The waters were necessary for their health.' . . . How wonderful it is, by the bye, that those German Brunnen are never necessary for poor people's health! . . . and they did not return till the end of August. So Lancelot buried himself up to the eyes in the Condition-of-the-Poor question—that is, in blue books, red books, sanitary reports, mine reports, factory reports; and came to the conclusion, which is now pretty generally entertained, that something was the matter—but what, no man knew, or, if they knew, thought proper to declare. Hopeless and bewildered, he left the books, and wandered day after day from farm to hamlet, and from field to tramper's tent, in hopes of finding out the secret for himself. What he saw, of course I must not say; for if I did the reviewers would declare, as usual, one and all, that I copied out of the Morning Chronicle; and the fact that these pages, ninety-nine hundredths of them at least, were written two years before the Morning Chronicle began its invaluable investigations, would be contemptuously put aside as at once impossible and arrogant. I shall therefore only say, that he saw what every one else has seen, at least heard of, and got tired of hearing—though alas! they have not got tired of seeing it; and so proceed with my story, only mentioning therein certain particulars which folks seem, to me, somewhat strangely, to have generally overlooked.
But whatever Lancelot saw, or thought he saw, I cannot say that it brought him any nearer to a solution of the question; and he at last ended by a sulky acquiescence in Sam Weller's memorable dictum: 'Who it is I can't say; but all I can say is that SOMEBODY ought to be wopped for this!'
But one day, turning over, as hopelessly as he was beginning to turn over everything else, a new work of Mr. Carlyle's, he fell on some such words as these:—
'The beginning and the end of what is the matter with us in these days is—that WE HAVE FORGOTTEN GOD.'
Forgotten God? That was at least a defect of which blue books had taken no note. And it was one which, on the whole—granting, for the sake of argument, any real, living, or practical existence to That Being, might be a radical one—it brought him many hours of thought, that saying; and when they were over, he rose up and went to find—Tregarva.
'Yes, he is the man. He is the only man with whom I have ever met, of whom I could be sure, that independent of his own interest, without the allurements of respectability and decency, of habit and custom, he believes in God. And he too is a poor man; he has known the struggles, temptations, sorrows of the poor. I will go to him.'
But as Lancelot rose to find him, there was put into his hand a letter, which kept him at home a while longer—none other, in fact, than the long-expected answer from Luke.
'WELL, MY DEAR COUSIN—You may possibly have some logical ground from which to deny Popery, if you deny all other religions with it; but how those who hold any received form of Christianity whatsoever can fairly side with you against Rome, I cannot see. I am sure I have been sent to Rome by them, not drawn thither by Jesuits. Not merely by their defects and inconsistencies; not merely because they go on taunting us, and shrieking at us with the cry that we ought to go to Rome, till we at last, wearied out, take them at their word, and do at their bidding the thing we used to shrink from with terror—not this merely but the very doctrines we hold in common with them, have sent me to Rome. For would these men have known of them if Rome had not been? The Trinity—the Atonement—the Inspiration of Scripture.—A future state—that point on which the present generation, without a smattering of psychological science, without even the old belief in apparitions, dogmatises so narrowly and arrogantly—what would they have known of them but for Rome? And she says there are three realms in the future state . . . heaven, hell, and purgatory . . . What right have they to throw away the latter, and arbitrarily retain the two former? I am told that Scripture gives no warrant for a third state. She says that it does—that it teaches that implicitly, as it teaches other, the very highest doctrines; some hold, the Trinity itself. . . . It may be proved from Scripture; for it may be proved from the love and justice of God revealed in Scripture. The Protestants divide—in theory, that is—mankind into two classes, the righteous, who are destined to infinite bliss; the wicked, who are doomed to infinite torment; in which latter class, to make their arbitrary division exhaustive, they put of course nine hundred and ninety-nine out of the thousand, and doom to everlasting companionship with Borgias and Cagliostros, the gentle, frivolous girl, or the peevish boy, who would have shrunk, in life, with horror from the contact. . . . Well, at least, their hell is hellish enough . . . if it were but just. . . . But I, Lancelot, I cannot believe it! I will not believe it! I had a brother once—affectionate, simple, generous, full of noble aspirations—but without, alas! a thought of God; yielding in a hundred little points, and some great ones, to the infernal temptations of a public school. . . . He died at seventeen. Where is he now? Lancelot! where is he now? Never for a day has that thought left my mind for years. Not in heaven—for he has no right there; Protestants would say that as well as I. . . . Where, then?—Lancelot! not in that other place. I cannot, I will not believe it. For the sake of God's honour, as well as of my own sanity, I will not believe it! There must be some third place—some intermediate chance, some door of hope—some purifying and redeeming process beyond the grave. . . . Why not a purifying fire? Ages of that are surely punishment enough—and if there be a fire of hell, why not a fire of purgatory? . . . After all, the idea of purgatory as a fire is only an opinion, not a dogma of the Church. . . . But if the gross flesh which has sinned is to be punished by the matter which it has abused, why may it not be purified by it?'
'You may laugh, if you will, at both, and say again, as I have heard you say ere now, that the popular Christian paradise and hell are but a Pagan Olympus and Tartarus, as grossly material as Mahomet's, without the honest thorough-going sexuality, which you thought made his notion logical and consistent. . . . Well, you may say that, but Protestants cannot; for their idea of heaven and ours is the same—with this exception, that theirs will contain but a thin band of saved ones, while ours will fill and grow to all eternity. . . . I tell you, Lancelot, it is just the very doctrines for which England most curses Rome, and this very purgatory at the head of them, which constitute her strength and her allurement; which appeal to the reason, the conscience, the heart of men, like me, who have revolted from the novel superstition which looks pitilessly on at the fond memories of the brother, the prayers of the orphan, the doubled desolation of the widow, with its cold terrible assurance, "There is no hope for thy loved and lost ones—no hope, but hell for evermore!"
'I do not expect to convert you. You have your metempsychosis, and your theories of progressive incarnation, and your monads, and your spirits of the stars and flowers. I have not forgotten a certain talk of ours over Falk Von Muller's Recollections of Goethe, and how you materialists are often the most fantastic of theorists. . . . I do not expect, I say, to convert you. I only want to show you there is no use trying to show the self-satisfied Pharisees of the popular sect—why, in spite of all their curses, men still go back to Rome.'
Lancelot read this, and re-read it; and smiled, but sadly—and the more he read, the stronger its arguments seemed to him, and he rejoiced thereat. For there is a bad pleasure—happy he who has not felt it—in a pitiless reductio ad absurdum, which asks tauntingly, 'Why do you not follow out your own conclusions?'—instead of thanking God that people do not follow them out, and that their hearts are sounder than their heads. Was it with this feeling that the fancy took possession of him, to show the letter to Tregarva? I hope not—perhaps he did not altogether wish to lead him into temptation, any more than I wish to lead my readers, but only to make him, just as I wish to make them, face manfully a real awful question now racking the hearts of hundreds, and see how they will be able to answer the sophist fiend—for honestly, such he is—when their time comes, as come it will. At least he wanted to test at once Tregarva's knowledge and his logic. As for his 'faith,' alas! he had not so much reverence for it as to care what effect Luke's arguments might have there. 'The whole man,' quoth Lancelot to himself, 'is a novel phenomenon; and all phenomena, however magnificent, are surely fair subjects for experiment. Magendie may have gone too far, certainly, in dissecting a live dog—but what harm in my pulling the mane of a dead lion?'
So he showed the letter to Tregarva as they were fishing together one day—for Lancelot had been installed duly in the Whitford trout preserves'—Tregarva read it slowly; asked, shrewdly enough, the meaning of a word or two as he went on; at last folded it up deliberately, and returned it to its owner with a deep sigh. Lancelot said nothing for a few minutes; but the giant seemed so little inclined to open the conversation, that he was forced at last to ask him what he thought of it.
'It isn't a matter for thinking, sir, to my mind—There's a nice fish on the feed there, just over-right that alder.'
'Hang the fish! Why not a matter for thinking?'
'To my mind, sir, a man may think a deal too much about many matters that come in his way.'
'What should he do with them, then?'
'Mind his own business.'
'Pleasant for those whom they concern!—That's rather a cold-blooded speech for you, Tregarva!'
The Cornishman looked up at him earnestly. His eyes were glittering—was it with tears?
'Don't fancy I don't feel for the poor young gentleman—God help him!—I've been through it all—or not through it, that's to say. I had a brother once, as fine a young fellow as ever handled pick, as kind-hearted as a woman, and as honest as the sun in Heaven.—But he would drink, sir;—that one temptation, he never could stand it. And one day at the shaft's mouth, reaching after the kibble-chain— maybe he was in liquor, maybe not—the Lord knows; but—'
'I didn't know him again, sir, when we picked him up, any more than- -' and the strong man shuddered from head to foot, and beat impatiently on the ground with his heavy heel, as if to crush down the rising horror.
'Where is he, sir?'
A long pause.
'Do you think I didn't ask that, sir, for years and years after, of God, and my own soul, and heaven and earth, and the things under the earth, too? For many a night did I go down that mine out of my turn, and sat for hours in that level, watching and watching, if perhaps the spirit of him might haunt about, and tell his poor brother one word of news—one way or the other—anything would have been a comfort—but the doubt I couldn't bear. And yet at last I learnt to bear it—and what's more, I learnt not to care for it. It's a bold word—there's one who knows whether or not it is a true one.'
'Good Heavens!—and what then did you say to yourself?'
'I said this, sir—or rather, one came as I was on my knees, and said it to me—What's done you can't mend. What's left, you can. Whatever has happened is God's concern now, and none but His. Do you see that as far as you can no such thing ever happen again, on the face of His earth. And from that day, sir, I gave myself up to that one thing, and will until I die, to save the poor young fellows like myself, who are left now-a-days to the Devil, body and soul, just when they are in the prime of their power to work for God.'
'Ah!' said Lancelot—'if poor Luke's spirit were but as strong as yours!'
'I strong?' answered he, with a sad smile; 'and so you think, sir. But it's written, and it's true—"The heart knoweth its own bitterness."'
'Then you absolutely refuse to try to fancy your—his present state?'
'Yes, sir, because if I did fancy it, that would be a certain sign I didn't know it. If we can't conceive what God has prepared for those that we know loved Him, how much less can we for them of whom we don't know whether they loved Him or not?'
'Well,' thought Lancelot to himself, 'I did not do so very wrong in trusting your intellect to cut through a sophism.'
'But what do you believe, Tregarva?'
'I believe this, sir—and your cousin will believe the same, if he will only give up, as I am sore afraid he will need to some day, sticking to arguments and doctrines about the Lord, and love and trust the Lord himself. I believe, sir, that the judge of all the earth will do right—and what's right can't be wrong, nor cruel either, else it would not be like Him who loved us to the death, that's all I know; and that's enough for me. To whom little is given, of him is little required. He that didn't know his Master's will, will be beaten with few stripes, and he that did know it, as I do, will be beaten with many, if he neglects it—and that latter, not the former, is my concern.'
'Well,' thought Lancelot to himself, 'this great heart has gone down to the root of the matter—the right and wrong of it. He, at least, has not forgotten God. Well, I would give up all the Teleologies and cosmogonies that I ever dreamt or read, just to believe what he believes—Heigho and well-a-day!—Paul! hist? I'll swear that was an otter!'
'I hope not, sir, I'm sure. I haven't seen the spraint of one here this two years.'
'There again—don't you see something move under that marl bank?'
Tregarva watched a moment, and then ran up to the spot, and throwing himself on his face on the edge, leant over, grappled something—and was instantly, to Lancelot's astonishment, grappled in his turn by a rough, lank, white dog, whose teeth, however, could not get through the velveteen sleeve.
'I'll give in, keeper! I'll give in. Doan't ye harm the dog! he's deaf as a post, you knows.'
'I won't harm him if you take him off, and come up quietly.'
This mysterious conversation was carried on with a human head, which peeped above the water, its arms supporting from beneath the growling cur—such a visage as only worn-out poachers, or trampling drovers, or London chiffonniers carry; pear-shaped and retreating to a narrow peak above, while below, the bleared cheeks, and drooping lips, and peering purblind eyes, perplexed, hopeless, defiant, and yet sneaking, bespeak THEIR share in the 'inheritance of the kingdom of heaven.'—Savages without the resources of a savage—slaves without the protection of a master—to whom the cart-whip and the rice-swamp would be a change for the better—for there, at least, is food and shelter.
Slowly and distrustfully a dripping scarecrow of rags and bones rose from his hiding-place in the water, and then stopped suddenly, and seemed inclined to dash through the river; but Tregarva held him fast.
'There's two on ye! That's a shame! I'll surrender to no man but you, Paul. Hold off, or I'll set the dog on ye!'
'It's a gentleman fishing. He won't tell—will you, sir?' And he turned to Lancelot. 'Have pity on the poor creature, sir, for God's sake—it isn't often he gets it.'
'I won't tell, my man. I've not seen you doing any harm. Come out like a man, and let's have a look at you.'
The creature crawled up the bank, and stood, abject and shivering, with the dog growling from between his legs.
'I was only looking for a kingfisher's nest: indeed now, I was, Paul Tregarva.'
'Don't lie, you were setting night-lines. I saw a minnow lie on the bank as I came up. Don't lie; I hate liars.'
'Well indeed, then—a man must live somehow.'
'You don't seem to live by this trade, my friend,' quoth Lancelot; 'I cannot say it seems a prosperous business, by the look of your coat and trousers.'
'That Tim Goddard stole all my clothes, and no good may they do him; last time as I went to gaol I gave them him to kep, and he went off for a navvy meantime; so there I am.'
'If you will play with the dogs,' quoth Tregarva, 'you know what you will be bit by. Haven't I warned you? Of course you won't prosper: as you make your bed, so you must lie in it. The Lord can't be expected to let those prosper that forget Him. What mercy would it be to you if He did let you prosper by setting snares all church- time, as you were last Sunday, instead of going to church?'
'I say, Paul Tregarva, I've told you my mind about that afore. If I don't do what I knows to be right and good already, there ain't no use in me a damning myself all the deeper by going to church to hear more.'
'God help you!' quoth poor Paul.
'Now, I say,' quoth Crawy, with the air of a man who took the whole thing as a matter of course, no more to be repined at than the rain and wind—'what be you a going to do with me this time? I do hope you won't have me up to bench. 'Tain't a month now as I'm out o' prizzum along o' they fir-toppings, and I should, you see—' with a look up and down and round at the gay hay-meadows, and the fleet water, and the soft gleaming clouds, which to Lancelot seemed most pathetic,—'I should like to ha' a spell o' fresh air, like, afore I goes in again.'
Tregarva stood over him and looked down at him, like some huge stately bloodhound on a trembling mangy cur. 'Good heavens!' thought Lancelot, as his eye wandered from the sad steadfast dignity of the one, to the dogged helpless misery of the other—'can those two be really fellow-citizens? fellow-Christians?—even animals of the same species? Hard to believe!'
True, Lancelot; but to quote you against yourself, Bacon, or rather the instinct which taught Bacon, teaches you to discern the invisible common law under the deceitful phenomena of sense.
'I must have those night-lines, Crawy,' quoth Tregarva, at length.
'Then I must starve. You might ever so well take away the dog. They're the life of me.'
'They're the death of you. Why don't you go and work, instead of idling about, stealing trout?'
'Be you a laughing at a poor fellow in his trouble? Who'd gie me a day's work, I'd like to know? It's twenty year too late for that!'
Lancelot stood listening. Yes, that wretch, too, was a man and a brother—at least so books used to say. Time was, when he had looked on a poacher as a Pariah 'hostem humani generis'—and only deplored that the law forbade him to shoot them down, like cats and otters; but he had begun to change his mind.
He had learnt, and learnt rightly, the self-indulgence, the danger, the cruelty, of indiscriminate alms. It looked well enough in theory, on paper. 'But—but—but,' thought Lancelot, 'in practice, one can't help feeling a little of that un-economic feeling called pity. No doubt the fellow has committed an unpardonable sin in daring to come into the world when there was no call for him; one used to think, certainly, that children's opinions were not consulted on such points before they were born, and that therefore it might be hard to visit the sins of the fathers on the children, even though the labour-market were a little overstocked—"mais nous avons change tout cela," like M. Jourdain's doctors. No doubt, too, the fellow might have got work if he had chosen—in Kamschatka or the Cannibal Islands; for the political economists have proved, beyond a doubt, that there is work somewhere or other for every one who chooses to work. But as, unfortunately, society has neglected to inform him of the state of the Cannibal Island labour-market, or to pay his passage thither when informed thereof, he has had to choose in the somewhat limited labour-field of the Whitford Priors' union, whose workhouse is already every winter filled with abler- bodied men than he, between starvation—and this—. Well, as for employing him, one would have thought that there was a little work waiting to be done in those five miles of heather and snipe-bog, which I used to tramp over last winter—but those, it seems, are still on the "margin of cultivation," and not a remunerative investment—that is, to capitalists. I wonder if any one had made Crawy a present of ten acres of them when he came of age, and commanded him to till that or be hanged, whether he would not have found it a profitable investment? But bygones are bygones, and there he is, and the moors, thanks to the rights of property—in this case the rights of the dog in the manger—belong to poor old Lavington—that is, the game and timber on them; and neither Crawy nor any one else can touch them. What can I do for him? Convert him? to what? For the next life, even Tregarva's talisman seems to fail. And for this life—perhaps if he had had a few more practical proofs of a divine justice and government—that "kingdom of heaven" of which Luke talks, in the sensible bodily matters which he does appreciate, he might not be so unwilling to trust to it for the invisible spiritual matters which he does not appreciate. At all events, one has but one chance of winning him, and that is, through those five senses which he has left. What if he does spend the money in gross animal enjoyment? What will the amount of it be, compared with the animal enjoyments which my station allows me daily without reproach! A little more bacon—a little more beer—a little more tobacco; at all events they will be more important to him than a pair of new boots or an extra box of cigars to me.'—And Lancelot put his hand in his pocket, and pulled out a sovereign. No doubt he was a great goose; but if you can answer his arguments, reader, I cannot.
'Look here—what are your night-lines worth?'
'A matter of seven shilling; ain't they now, Paul Tregarva?'
'I should suppose they are.'
'Then do you give me the lines, one and all, and there's a sovereign for you.—No, I can't trust you with it all at once. I'll give it to Tregarva, and he shall allow you four shillings a week as long as it lasts, if you'll promise to keep off Squire Lavington's river.'
It was pathetic, and yet disgusting, to see the abject joy of the poor creature. 'Well,' thought Lancelot, 'if he deserves to be wretched, so do I—why, therefore, if we are one as bad as the other, should I not make his wretchedness a little less for the time being?'
'I waint come a-near the water. You trust me—I minds them as is kind to me'—and a thought seemed suddenly to lighten up his dull intelligence.
'I say, Paul, hark you here. I see that Bantam into D * * * t'other day.'
'What! is he down already?'
'With a dog-cart; he and another of his pals; and I see 'em take out a silk flue, I did. So, says I, you maunt be trying that ere along o' the Whitford trout; they kepers is out o' nights so sure as the moon.'
'You didn't know that. Lying again!'
'No, but I sayed it in course. I didn't want they a-robbing here; so I think they worked mainly up Squire Vaurien's water.'
'I wish I'd caught them here,' quoth Tregarva, grimly enough; 'though I don't think they came, or I should have seen the track on the banks.'
'But he sayed like, as how he should be down here again about pheasant shooting.'
'Trust him for it. Let us know, now, if you see him.'
'And that I will, too. I wouldn't save a feather for that 'ere old rascal, Harry. If the devil don't have he, I don't see no use in keeping no devil. But I minds them as has mercy on me, though my name is Crawy. Ay,' he added, bitterly, ''tain't so many kind turns as I gets in this life, that I can afford to forget e'er a one.' And he sneaked off, with the deaf dog at his heels.
'How did that fellow get his name, Tregarva?'
'Oh, most of them have nicknames round here. Some of them hardly know their own real names, sir.' ('A sure sign of low civilisation,' thought Lancelot.) 'But he got his a foolish way; and yet it was the ruin of him. When he was a boy of fifteen, he got miching away in church-time, as boys will, and took off his clothes to get in somewhere here in this very river, groping in the banks after craw-fish; and as the devil—for I can think no less— would have it, a big one catches hold of him by the fingers with one claw, and a root with the other, and holds him there till Squire Lavington comes out to take his walk after church, and there he caught the boy, and gave him a thrashing there and then, naked as he stood. And the story got wind, and all the chaps round called him Crawy ever afterwards, and the poor fellow got quite reckless from that day, and never looked any one in the face again; and being ashamed of himself, you see, sir, was never ashamed of anything else—and there he is. That dog's his only friend, and gets a livelihood for them both. It's growing old now; and when it dies, he'll starve.'
'Well—the world has no right to blame him for not doing his duty, till it has done its own by him a little better.'
'But the world will, sir, because it hates its duty, and cries all day long, like Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?"'
'Do you think it knows its duty? I have found it easy enough to see that something is diseased, Tregarva; but to find the medicine first, and to administer it afterwards, is a very different matter.'
'Well—I suppose the world will never be mended till the day of judgment.'
'In plain English, not mended till it is destroyed. Hopeful for the poor world! I should fancy, if I believed that, that the devil in the old history—which you believe—had had the best of it with a vengeance, when he brought sin into the world, and ruined it. I dare not believe that. How dare you, who say that God sent His Son into the world to defeat the devil?'
Tregarva was silent a while.
'Learning and the Gospel together ought to do something, sir, towards mending it. One would think so. But the prophecies are against that.'
'As folks happen to read them just now. A hundred years hence they may be finding the very opposite meaning in them. Come, Tregarva,— Suppose I teach you a little of the learning, and you teach me a little of the Gospel—do you think we two could mend the world between us, or even mend Whitford Priors?'
'God knows, sir,' said Tregarva.
* * * * *
'Tregarva,' said Lancelot, as they were landing the next trout, 'where will that Crawy go, when he dies?'
'God knows, sir,' said Tregarva.
* * * * *
Lancelot went thoughtful home, and sat down—not to answer Luke's letter—for he knew no answer but Tregarva's, and that, alas! he could not give, for he did not believe it, but only longed to believe it. So he turned off the subject by a question—
'You speak of yourself as being already a member of the Romish communion. How is this? Have you given up your curacy? Have you told your father? I fancy that if you had done so I must have heard of it ere now. I entreat you to tell me the state of the case, for, heathen as I am, I am still an Englishman; and there are certain old superstitions still lingering among us—whencesoever we may have got them first—about truth and common honesty—you understand me.—
'Do not be angry. But there is a prejudice against the truthfulness of Romish priests and Romish converts.—It's no affair of mine. I see quite enough Protestant rogues and liars, to prevent my having any pleasure in proving Romanists, or any other persons, rogues and liars also. But I am—if not fond of you—at least sufficiently fond to be anxious for your good name. You used to be an open- hearted fellow enough. Do prove to the world that coelum, non animum mutant, qui trans mare currunt.'
CHAPTER IX: HARRY VERNEY HEARS HIS LAST SHOT FIRED
The day after the Lavingtons' return, when Lancelot walked up to the Priory with a fluttering heart to inquire after all parties, and see one, he found the squire in a great state of excitement.
A large gang of poachers, who had come down from London by rail, had been devastating all the covers round, to stock the London markets by the first of October, and intended, as Tregarva had discovered, to pay Mr. Lavington's preserves a visit that night. They didn't care for country justices, not they. Weren't all their fines paid by highly respectable game-dealers at the West end? They owned three dog-carts among them; a parcel by railway would bring them down bail to any amount; they tossed their money away at the public- houses, like gentlemen; thanks to the Game Laws, their profits ran high, and when they had swept the country pretty clean of game, why, they would just finish off the season by a stray highway robbery or two, and vanish into Babylon and their native night.
Such was Harry Verney's information as he strutted about the courtyard waiting for the squire's orders.
'But they've put their nose into a furze-bush, Muster Smith, they have. We've got our posse-commontaturs, fourteen men, sir, as'll play the whole vale to cricket, and whap them; and every one'll fight, for they're half poachers themselves, you see' (and Harry winked and chuckled); 'and they can't abide no interlopers to come down and take the sport out of their mouths.'
'But are you sure they'll come to-night?'
'That 'ere Paul says so. Wonder how he found out—some of his underhand, colloguing, Methodist ways, I'll warrant. I seed him preaching to that 'ere Crawy, three or four times when he ought to have hauled him up. He consorts with them poachers, sir, uncommon. I hope he ben't one himself, that's all.'
'Oh? Eh? Don't say old Harry don't know nothing, that's all. I've fixed his flint, anyhow.'
'Ah! Smith!' shouted the squire out of his study window, with a cheerful and appropriate oath. 'The very man I wanted to see! You must lead these keepers for me to-night. They always fight better with a gentleman among them. Breeding tells, you know—breeding tells.'
Lancelot felt a strong disgust at the occupation, but he was under too many obligations to the squire to refuse.
'Ay, I knew you were game,' said the old man. 'And you'll find it capital fun. I used to think it so, I know, when I was young. Many a shindy have I had here in my uncle's time, under the very windows, before the chase was disparked, when the fellows used to come down after the deer.'
Just then Lancelot turned and saw Argemone standing close to him. He almost sprang towards her—and retreated, for he saw that she had overheard the conversation between him and her father.
'What! Mr. Smith!' said she in a tone in which tenderness and contempt, pity and affected carelessness, were strangely mingled. 'So! you are going to turn gamekeeper to-night?'
Lancelot was blundering out something, when the squire interposed.
'Let her alone, Smith. Women will be tender-hearted, you know. Quite right—but they don't understand these things. They fight with their tongues, and we with our fists; and then they fancy their weapons don't hurt—Ha! ha! ha!'
'Mr. Smith,' said Argemone, in a low, determined voice, 'if you have promised my father to go on this horrid business—go. But promise me, too, that you will only look on, or I will never—'
Argemone had not time to finish her sentence before Lancelot had promised seven times over, and meant to keep his promise, as we all do.
About ten o'clock that evening Lancelot and Tregarva were walking stealthily up a ride in one of the home-covers, at the head of some fifteen fine young fellows, keepers, grooms, and not extempore 'watchers,' whom old Harry was marshalling and tutoring, with exhortations as many and as animated as if their ambition was 'Mourir pour la patrie.'
'How does this sort of work suit you, Tregarva, for I don't like it at all! The fighting's all very well, but it's a poor cause.'
'Oh, sir, I have no mercy on these Londoners. If it was these poor half-starved labourers, that snare the same hares that have been eating up their garden-stuff all the week, I can't touch them, sir, and that's truth; but these ruffians—And yet, sir, wouldn't it be better for the parsons to preach to them, than for the keepers to break their heads?'
'Oh?' said Lancelot, 'the parsons say all to them that they can.'
Tregarva shook his head.
'I doubt that, sir. But, no doubt, there's a great change for the better in the parsons. I remember the time, sir, that there wasn't an earnest clergyman in the vale; and now every other man you meet is trying to do his best. But those London parsons, sir, what's the matter with them? For all their societies and their schools, the devil seems to keep ahead of them sadly. I doubt they haven't found the right fly yet for publicans and sinners to rise at.'
A distant shot in the cover.
'There they are, sir. I thought that Crawy wouldn't lead me false when I let him off.'
'Well, fight away, then, and win. I have promised Miss Lavington not to lift a hand in the business.'
'Then you're a lucky man, sir. But the squire's game is his own, and we must do our duty by our master.'
There was a rustle in the bushes, and a tramp of feet on the turf.
'There they are, sir, sure enough. The Lord keep us from murder this night!' And Tregarva pulled off his neckcloth, and shook his huge limbs, as if to feel that they were all in their places, in a way that augured ill for the man who came across him.
They turned the corner of a ride, and, in an instant, found themselves face to face with five or six armed men, with blackened faces, who, without speaking a word, dashed at them, and the fight began; reinforcements came up on each side, and the engagement became general.
'The forest-laws were sharp and stern, The forest blood was keen, They lashed together for life and death Beneath the hollies green.
'The metal good and the walnut-wood Did soon in splinters flee; They tossed the orts to south and north, And grappled knee to knee.
'They wrestled up, they wrestled down, They wrestled still and sore; The herbage sweet beneath their feet Was stamped to mud and gore.'
And all the while the broad still moon stared down on them grim and cold, as if with a saturnine sneer at the whole humbug; and the silly birds about whom all this butchery went on, slept quietly over their heads, every one with his head under his wing. Oh! if pheasants had but understanding, how they would split their sides with chuckling and crowing at the follies which civilised Christian men perpetrate for their precious sake!
Had I the pen of Homer (though they say he never used one), or even that of the worthy who wasted precious years in writing a Homer Burlesqued, what heroic exploits might not I immortalise! In every stupid serf and cunning ruffian there, there was a heart as brave as Ajax's own; but then they fought with sticks instead of lances, and hammered away on fustian jackets instead of brazen shields; and, therefore, poor fellows, they were beneath 'the dignity of poetry,' whatever that may mean. If one of your squeamish 'dignity-of- poetry' critics had just had his head among the gun-stocks for five minutes that night, he would have found it grim tragic earnest enough; not without a touch of fun though, here and there.
Lancelot leant against a tree and watched the riot with folded arms, mindful of his promise to Argemone, and envied Tregarva as he hurled his assailants right and left with immense strength, and led the van of battle royally. Little would Argemone have valued the real proof of love which he was giving her as he looked on sulkily, while his fingers tingled with longing to be up and doing. Strange—that mere lust of fighting, common to man and animals, whose traces even the lamb and the civilised child evince in their mock-fights, the earliest and most natural form of play. Is it, after all, the one human propensity which is utterly evil, incapable of being turned to any righteous use? Gross and animal, no doubt it is, but not the less really pleasant, as every Irishman and many an Englishman knows well enough. A curious instance of this, by the bye, occurred in Paris during the February Revolution. A fat English coachman went out, from mere curiosity, to see the fighting. As he stood and watched, a new passion crept over him; he grew madder and madder as the bullets whistled past him; at last, when men began to drop by his side, he could stand it no longer, seized a musket, and rushed in, careless which side he took,—
'To drink delight of battle with his peers.'
He was not heard of for a day or two, and then they found him stiff and cold, lying on his face across a barricade, with a bullet through his heart. Sedentary persons may call him a sinful fool. Be it so. Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.
Lancelot, I verily believe, would have kept his promise, though he saw that the keepers gave ground, finding Cockney skill too much for their clumsy strength; but at last Harry Verney, who had been fighting as venomously as a wild cat, and had been once before saved from a broken skull by Tregarva, rolled over at his very feet with a couple of poachers on him.
'You won't see an old man murdered, Mr. Smith?' cried he, imploringly.
Lancelot tore the ruffians off the old man right and left. One of them struck him; he returned the blow; and, in an instant, promises and Argemone, philosophy and anti-game-law prejudices, were swept out of his head, and 'he went,' as the old romances say, 'hurling into the midst of the press,' as mere a wild animal for the moment as angry bull or boar. An instant afterwards, though, he burst out laughing, in spite of himself, as 'The Battersea Bantam,' who had been ineffectually dancing round Tregarva like a gamecock spurring at a bull, turned off with a voice of ineffable disgust,—
'That big cove's a yokel; ta'nt creditable to waste science on him. You're my man, if you please, sir,'—and the little wiry lump of courage and conceit, rascality and good humour, flew at Lancelot, who was twice his size, 'with a heroism worthy of a better cause,' as respectable papers, when they are not too frightened, say of the French.
* * * * *
'Do you want any more?' asked Lancelot.
'Quite a pleasure, sir, to meet a scientific gen'lman. Beg your pardon, sir; stay a moment while I wipes my face. Now, sir, time, if you please.'
Alas for the little man! in another moment he tumbled over and lay senseless—Lancelot thought he had killed him. The gang saw their champion fall, gave ground, and limped off, leaving three of their party groaning on the ground, beside as many Whitford men.
As it was in the beginning, so is it to be to the end, my foolish brothers! From the poacher to the prime minister—wearying yourselves for very vanity! The soldier is not the only man in England who is fool enough to be shot at for a shilling a day.
But while all the rest were busy picking up the wounded men and securing the prisoners, Harry Verney alone held on, and as the poachers retreated slowly up the ride, he followed them, peering into the gloom, as if in hopes of recognising some old enemy.
'Stand back, Harry Verney; we know you, and we'd be loth to harm an old man,' cried a voice out of the darkness.
'Eh? Do you think old Harry'd turn back when he was once on the track of ye? You soft-fisted, gin-drinking, counter-skipping Cockney rascals, that fancy you're to carry the county before you, because you get your fines paid by London-tradesmen! Eh? What do you take old Harry for?'
'Go back, you old fool!' and a volley of oaths followed. 'If you follow us, we'll fire at you, as sure as the moon's in heaven!'
'Fire away, then! I'll follow you to—!' and the old man paced stealthily but firmly up to them.
Tregarva saw his danger and sprang forward, but it was too late.
'What, you will have it, then?'
A sharp crack followed,—a bright flash in the darkness—every white birch-stem and jagged oak-leaf shone out for a moment as bright as day—and in front of the glare Lancelot saw the old man throw his arms wildly upward, fall forward, and disappear on the dark ground.
'You've done it! off with you!' And the rascals rushed off up the ride.
In a moment Tregarva was by the old man's side, and lifted him tenderly up.
'They've done for me, Paul. Old Harry's got his gruel. He's heard his last shot fired. I knowed it 'ud come to this, and I said it. Eh? Didn't I, now, Paul?' And as the old man spoke, the workings of his lungs pumped great jets of blood out over the still heather- flowers as they slept in the moonshine, and dabbled them with smoking gore.
'Here, men,' shouted the colonel, 'up with him at once, and home! Here, put a brace of your guns together, muzzle and lock. Help him to sit on them, Lancelot. There, Harry, put your arms round their necks. Tregarva, hold him up behind. Now then, men, left legs foremost—keep step—march!' And they moved off towards the Priory.
'You seem to know everything, colonel,' said Lancelot.
The colonel did not answer for a moment.
'Lancelot, I learnt this dodge from the only friend I ever had in the world, or ever shall have; and a week after I marched him home to his deathbed in this very way.'
'Paul—Paul Tregarva,' whispered old Harry, 'put your head down here: wipe my mouth, there's a man; it's wet, uncommon wet.' It was his own life-blood. 'I've been a beast to you, Paul. I've hated you, and envied you, and tried to ruin you. And now you've saved my life once this night; and here you be a-nursing of me as my own son might do, if he was here, poor fellow! I've ruined you, Paul; the Lord forgive me!'
'Pray! pray!' said Paul, 'and He will forgive you. He is all mercy. He pardoned the thief on the cross—'
'No, Paul, no thief,—not so bad as that, I hope, anyhow; never touched a feather of the squire's. But you dropped a song, Paul, a bit of writing.'
Paul turned pale.
'And—the Lord forgive me!—I put it in the squire's fly-book.'
'The Lord forgive you! Amen!' said Paul, solemnly.
Wearily and slowly they stepped on towards the old man's cottage. A messenger had gone on before, and in a few minutes the squire, Mrs. Lavington, and the girls, were round the bed of their old retainer.
They sent off right and left for the doctor and the vicar; the squire was in a frenzy of rage and grief.
'Don't take on, master, don't take on,' said old Harry, as he lay; while the colonel and Honoria in vain endeavoured to stanch the wound. 'I knowed it would be so, sooner or later; 'tis all in the way of business. They haven't carried off a bird, squire, not a bird; we was too many for 'em—eh, Paul, eh?'
'Where is that cursed doctor?' said the squire. 'Save him, colonel, save him; and I'll give you—'
Alas! the charge of shot at a few feet distance had entered like a bullet, tearing a great ragged hole.—There was no hope, and the colonel knew it; but he said nothing.
'The second keeper,' sighed Argemone, 'who has been killed here! Oh, Mr. Smith, must this be? Is God's blessing on all this?'
Lancelot said nothing. The old man lighted up at Argemone's voice.
'There's the beauty, there's the pride of Whitford. And sweet Miss Honor, too,—so kind to nurse a poor old man! But she never would let him teach her to catch perch, would she? She was always too tender-hearted. Ah, squire, when we're dead and gone,—dead and gone,—squire, they'll be the pride of Whitford still! And they'll keep up the old place—won't you, my darlings? And the old name, too! For, you know, there must always be a Lavington in Whitford Priors, till the Nun's pool runs up to Ashy Down.'
'And a curse upon the Lavingtons,' sighed Argemone to herself in an undertone.
Lancelot heard what she said.
The vicar entered, but he was too late. The old man's strength was failing, and his mind began to wander.
'Windy,' he murmured to himself, 'windy, dark and windy—birds won't lie—not old Harry's fault. How black it grows! We must be gone by nightfall, squire. Where's that young dog gone? Arter the larks, the brute.'
Old Squire Lavington sobbed like a child.
'You will soon be home, my man,' said the vicar. 'Remember that you have a Saviour in heaven. Cast yourself on His mercy.'
Harry shook his head.
'Very good words, very kind,—very heavy gamebag, though. Never get home, never any more at all. Where's my boy Tom to carry it? Send for my boy Tom. He was always a good boy till he got along with them poachers.'
'Listen,' he said, 'listen! There's bells a-ringing—ringing in my head. Come you here, Paul Tregarva.'
He pulled Tregarva's face down to his own, and whispered,—
'Them's the bells a-ringing for Miss Honor's wedding.'
Paul started and drew back. Harry chuckled and grinned for a moment in his old foxy, peering way, and then wandered off again.
'What's that thumping and roaring?' Alas! it was the failing pulsation of his own heart. 'It's the weir, the weir—a-washing me away—thundering over me.—Squire, I'm drowning,—drowning and choking! Oh, Lord, how deep! Now it's running quieter—now I can breathe again—swift and oily—running on, running on, down to the sea. See how the grayling sparkle! There's a pike! 'Tain't my fault, squire, so help me—Don't swear, now, squire; old men and dying maun't swear, squire. How steady the river runs down? Lower and slower—lower and slower: now it's quite still—still—still—'
His voice sank away—he was dead!
No! once more the light flashed up in the socket. He sprang upright in the bed, and held out his withered paw with a kind of wild majesty, as he shouted,—
'There ain't such a head of hares on any manor in the county. And them's the last words of Harry Verney!'
He fell back—shuddered—a rattle in his throat—another—and all was over.
CHAPTER X: 'MURDER WILL OUT,' AND LOVE TOO
Argemone need never have known of Lancelot's share in the poaching affray; but he dared not conceal anything from her. And so he boldly went up the next day to the Priory, not to beg pardon, but to justify himself, and succeeded. And, before long, he found himself fairly installed as her pupil, nominally in spiritual matters, but really in subjects of which she little dreamed.
Every day he came to read and talk with her, and whatever objections Mrs. Lavington expressed were silenced by Argemone. She would have it so, and her mother neither dared nor knew how to control her. The daughter had utterly out-read and out-thought her less educated parent, who was clinging in honest bigotry to the old forms, while Argemone was wandering forth over the chaos of the strange new age,- -a poor homeless Noah's dove, seeking rest for the sole of her foot and finding none. And now all motherly influence and sympathy had vanished, and Mrs. Lavington, in fear and wonder, let her daughter go her own way. She could not have done better, perhaps; for Providence had found for Argemone a better guide than her mother could have done, and her new pupil was rapidly becoming her teacher. She was matched, for the first time, with a man who was her own equal in intellect and knowledge; and she felt how real was that sexual difference which she had been accustomed to consider as an insolent calumny against woman. Proudly and indignantly she struggled against the conviction, but in vain. Again and again she argued with him, and was vanquished,—or, at least, what is far better, made to see how many different sides there are to every question. All appeals to authority he answered with a contemptuous smile. 'The best authorities?' he used to say. 'On what question do not the best authorities flatly contradict each other? And why? Because every man believes just what it suits him to believe. Don't fancy that men reason themselves into convictions; the prejudices and feelings of their hearts give them some idea or theory, and then they find facts at their leisure to prove their theory true. Every man sees facts through narrow spectacles, red, or green, or blue, as his nation or his temperament colours them: and he is quite right, only he must allow us the liberty of having our spectacles too. Authority is only good for proving facts. We must draw our own conclusions.' And Argemone began to suspect that he was right,—at least to see that her opinions were mere hearsays, picked up at her own will and fancy; while his were living, daily-growing ideas. Her mind was beside his as the vase of cut flowers by the side of the rugged tree, whose roots are feeding deep in the mother earth. In him she first learnt how one great truth received into the depths of the soul germinates there, and bears fruit a thousandfold; explaining, and connecting, and glorifying innumerable things, apparently the most unlike and insignificant; and daily she became a more reverent listener, and gave herself up, half against her will and conscience, to the guidance of a man whom she knew to be her inferior in morals and in orthodoxy. She had worshipped intellect, and now it had become her tyrant; and she was ready to give up every belief which she once had prized, to flutter like a moth round its fascinating brilliance.
Who can blame her, poor girl? For Lancelot's humility was even more irresistible than his eloquence. He assumed no superiority. He demanded her assent to truths, not because they were his opinions, but simply for the truth's sake; and on all points which touched the heart he looked up to her as infallible and inspired. In questions of morality, of taste, of feeling, he listened not as a lover to his mistress, but rather as a baby to its mother; and thus, half unconsciously to himself, he taught her where her true kingdom lay,- -that the heart, and not the brain, enshrines the priceless pearl of womanhood, the oracular jewel, the 'Urim and Thummim,' before which gross man can only inquire and adore.
And, in the meantime, a change was passing upon Lancelot. His morbid vanity—that brawl-begotten child of struggling self-conceit and self-disgust—was vanishing away; and as Mr. Tennyson says in one of those priceless idyls of his, before which the shade of Theocritus must hide his diminished head,—
'He was altered, and began To move about the house with joy, And with the certain step of man.'
He had, at last, found one person who could appreciate him. And in deliberate confidence he set to work to conquer her, and make her his own. It was a traitorous return, but a very natural one. And she, sweet creature! walked straight into the pleasant snare, utterly blind, because she fancied that she saw clearly. In the pride of her mysticism, she had fancied herself above so commonplace a passion as love. It was a curious feature of lower humanity, which she might investigate and analyse harmlessly as a cold scientific spectator; and, in her mingled pride and purity, she used to indulge Lancelot in metaphysical disquisitions about love and beauty, like that first one in their walk home from Minchampstead, from which a less celestially innocent soul would have shrunk. She thought, forsooth, as the old proverb says, that she could deal in honey, without putting her hand to her mouth. But Lancelot knew better, and marked her for his own. And daily his self-confidence and sense of rightful power developed, and with them, paradoxical as it may seem, the bitterest self-abasement. The contact of her stainless innocence, the growing certainty that the destiny of that innocence was irrevocably bound up with his own, made him shrink from her whenever he remembered his own guilty career. To remember that there were passages in it which she must never know—that she would cast him from her with abhorrence if she once really understood their vileness? To think that, amid all the closest bonds of love, there must for ever be an awful, silent gulf in the past, of which they must never speak!—That she would bring to him what he could never, never bring to her!—The thought was unbearable. And as hideous recollections used to rise before him, devilish caricatures of his former self, mopping and mowing at him in his dreams, he would start from his lonely bed, and pace the room for hours, or saddle his horse, and ride all night long aimlessly through the awful woods, vainly trying to escape himself. How gladly, at those moments, he would have welcomed centuries of a material hell, to escape from the more awful spiritual hell within him,—to buy back that pearl of innocence which he had cast recklessly to be trampled under the feet of his own swinish passions! But, no; that which was done could never be undone,— never, to all eternity. And more than once, as he wandered restlessly from one room to another, the barrels of his pistols seemed to glitter with a cold, devilish smile, and call to him,—
'Come to us! and with one touch of your finger, send that bursting spirit which throbs against your brow to flit forth free, and nevermore to defile her purity by your presence!'
But no, again: a voice within seemed to command him to go on, and claim her, and win her, spite of his own vileness. And in after years, slowly, and in fear and trembling, he knew it for the voice of God, who had been leading him to become worthy of her through that bitter shame of his own unworthiness.
As One higher than them would have it, she took a fancy to read Homer in the original, and Lancelot could do no less than offer his services as translator. She would prepare for him portions of the Odyssey, and every day that he came up to the Priory he used to comment on it to her; and so for many a week, in the dark wainscoted library, and in the clipt yew-alleys of the old gardens, and under the brown autumn trees, they quarried together in that unexhausted mine, among the records of the rich Titan-youth of man. And step by step Lancelot opened to her the everlasting significance of the poem; the unconscious purity which lingers in it, like the last rays of the Paradise dawn; its sense of the dignity of man as man; the religious reverence with which it speaks of all human ties, human strength and beauty—ay, even of merely animal human appetites, as God-given and Godlike symbols. She could not but listen and admire, when he introduced her to the sheer paganism of Schiller's Gods of Greece; for on this subject he was more eloquent than on any. He had gradually, in fact, as we have seen, dropped all faith in anything but Nature; the slightest fact about a bone or a weed was more important to him than all the books of divinity which Argemone lent him—to be laid by unread.
'What DO you believe in?' she asked him one day, sadly.
'In THIS!' he said, stamping his foot on the ground. 'In the earth I stand on, and the things I see walking and growing on it. There may be something beside it—what you call a spiritual world. But if He who made me intended me to think of spirit first, He would have let me see it first. But as He has given me material senses, and put me in a material world, I take it as a fair hint that I am meant to use those senses first, whatever may come after. I may be intended to understand the unseen world, but if so, it must be, as I suspect, by understanding the visible one: and there are enough wonders there to occupy me for some time to come.'
'But the Bible?' (Argemone had given up long ago wasting words about the 'Church.')
'My only Bible as yet is Bacon. I know that he is right, whoever is wrong. If that Hebrew Bible is to be believed by me, it must agree with what I know already from science.'
What was to be done with so intractable a heretic? Call him an infidel and a Materialist, of course, and cast him off with horror. But Argemone was beginning to find out that, when people are really in earnest, it may be better sometimes to leave God's methods of educating them alone, instead of calling the poor honest seekers hard names, which the speakers themselves don't understand.
But words would fail sometimes, and in default of them Lancelot had recourse to drawings, and manifested in them a talent for thinking in visible forms which put the climax to all Argemone's wonder. A single profile, even a mere mathematical figure, would, in his hands, become the illustration of a spiritual truth. And, in time, every fresh lesson on the Odyssey was accompanied by its illustration,—some bold and simple outline drawing. In Argemone's eyes, the sketches were immaculate and inspired; for their chief, almost their only fault, was just those mere anatomical slips which a woman would hardly perceive, provided the forms were generally graceful and bold.
One day his fancy attempted a bolder flight. He brought a large pen-and-ink drawing, and laying it silently on the table before her, fixed his eyes intensely on her face. The sketch was labelled, the 'Triumph of Woman.' In the foreground, to the right and left, were scattered groups of men, in the dresses and insignia of every period and occupation. The distance showed, in a few bold outlines, a dreary desert, broken by alpine ridges, and furrowed here and there by a wandering watercourse. Long shadows pointed to the half-risen sun, whose disc was climbing above the waste horizon. And in front of the sun, down the path of the morning beams, came Woman, clothed only in the armour of her own loveliness. Her bearing was stately, and yet modest; in her face pensive tenderness seemed wedded with earnest joy. In her right hand lay a cross, the emblem of self- sacrifice. Her path across the desert was marked by the flowers which sprang up beneath her steps; the wild gazelle stept forward trustingly to lick her hand; a single wandering butterfly fluttered round her head. As the group, one by one, caught sight of her, a human tenderness and intelligence seemed to light up every face. The scholar dropt his book, the miser his gold, the savage his weapons; even in the visage of the half-slumbering sot some nobler recollection seemed wistfully to struggle into life. The artist caught up his pencil, the poet his lyre, with eyes that beamed forth sudden inspiration. The sage, whose broad brow rose above the group like some torrent furrowed Alp, scathed with all the temptations and all the sorrows of his race, watched with a thoughtful smile that preacher more mighty than himself. A youth, decked out in the most fantastic fopperies of the middle age, stood with clasped hands and brimming eyes, as remorse and pleasure struggled in his face; and as he looked, the fierce sensual features seemed to melt, and his flesh came again to him like the flesh of a little child. The slave forgot his fetters; little children clapped their hands; and the toil-worn, stunted, savage woman sprung forward to kneel at her feet, and see herself transfigured in that new and divine ideal of her sex.
Descriptions of drawings are clumsy things at best; the reader must fill up the sketch for himself by the eye of faith.
Entranced in wonder and pleasure, Argemone let her eyes wander over the drawing. And her feelings for Lancelot amounted almost to worship, as she apprehended the harmonious unity of the manifold conception,—the rugged boldness of the groups in front, the soft grandeur of the figure which was the lodestar of all their emotions- -the virginal purity of the whole. And when she fancied that she traced in those bland aquiline lineaments, and in the crisp ringlets which floated like a cloud down to the knees of the figure, some traces of her own likeness, a dream of a new destiny flitted before her,—she blushed to her very neck; and as she bent her face over the drawing and gazed, her whole soul seemed to rise into her eyes, and a single tear dropped upon the paper. She laid her hand over it, and then turned hastily away.
'You do not like it! I have been too bold,'—said Lancelot, fearfully.
'Oh, no! no! It is so beautiful—so full of deep wisdom! But—but- -You may leave it.'
Lancelot slipped silently out of the room, he hardly knew why; and when he was gone, Argemone caught up the drawing, pressed it to her bosom, covered it with kisses, and hid it, as too precious for any eyes but her own, in the farthest corner of her secretaire.
And yet she fancied that she was not in love!
The vicar saw the growth of this intimacy with a fast-lengthening face; for it was very evident that Argemone could not serve two masters so utterly contradictory as himself and Lancelot, and that either the lover or the father-confessor must speedily resign office. The vicar had had great disadvantages, by the bye, in fulfilling the latter function; for his visits at the Priory had been all but forbidden; and Argemone's 'spiritual state' had been directed by means of a secret correspondence,—a method which some clergymen, and some young ladies too, have discovered, in the last few years, to be quite consistent with moral delicacy and filial obedience. John Bull, like a stupid fellow as he is, has still his doubts upon the point; but he should remember that though St. Paul tells women when they want advice to ask their husbands at home, yet if the poor woman has no husband, or, as often happens, her husband's advice is unpleasant, to whom is she to go but to the next best substitute, her spiritual cicisbeo, or favourite clergyman? In sad earnest, neither husband nor parent deserves pity in the immense majority of such cases. Woman will have guidance. It is her delight and glory to be led; and if her husband or her parents will not meet the cravings of her intellect, she must go elsewhere to find a teacher, and run into the wildest extravagances of private judgment, in the very hope of getting rid of it, just as poor Argemone had been led to do.
And, indeed, she had, of late, wandered into very strange paths: would to God they were as uncommon as strange! Both she and the vicar had a great wish that she should lead a 'devoted life;' but then they both disdained to use common means for their object. The good old English plan of district visiting, by which ladies can have mercy on the bodies and souls of those below them, without casting off the holy discipline which a home, even the most ungenial, alone supplies, savoured too much of mere 'Protestantism.' It might be God's plan for christianising England just now, but that was no reason, alas! for its being their plan: they wanted something more 'Catholic,' more in accordance with Church principles (for, indeed, is it not the business of the Church to correct the errors of Providence!); and what they sought they found at once in a certain favourite establishment of the vicar's, a Church-of-England beguinage, or quasi-Protestant nunnery, which he fostered in a neighbouring city, and went thither on all high tides to confess the young ladies, who were in all things nuns, but bound by no vows, except, of course, such as they might choose to make for themselves in private.
Here they laboured among the lowest haunts of misery and sin, piously and self-denyingly enough, sweet souls! in hope of 'the peculiar crown,' and a higher place in heaven than the relations whom they had left behind them 'in the world,' and unshackled by the interference of parents, and other such merely fleshly relationships, which, as they cannot have been instituted by God merely to be trampled under foot on the path to holiness, and cannot well have instituted themselves (unless, after all, the Materialists are right, and this world does grind of itself, except when its Maker happens to interfere once every thousand years), must needs have been instituted by the devil. And so more than one girl in that nunnery, and out of it, too, believed in her inmost heart, though her 'Catholic principles,' by a happy inconsistency, forbade her to say so.
In a moment of excitement, fascinated by the romance of the notion, Argemone had proposed to her mother to allow her to enter this beguinage, and called in the vicar as advocate; which produced a correspondence between him and Mrs. Lavington, stormy on her side, provokingly calm on his: and when the poor lady, tired of raging, had descended to an affecting appeal to his human sympathies, entreating him to spare a mother's feelings, he had answered with the same impassive fanaticism, that 'he was surprised at her putting a mother's selfish feelings in competition with the sanctity of her child,' and that 'had his own daughter shown such a desire for a higher vocation, he should have esteemed it the very highest honour;' to which Mrs. Lavington answered, naively enough, that 'it depended very much on what his daughter was like.'—So he was all but forbidden the house. Nevertheless he contrived, by means of this same secret correspondence, to keep alive in Argemone's mind the longing to turn nun, and fancied honestly that he was doing God service, while he was pampering the poor girl's lust for singularity and self-glorification.
But, lately, Argemone's letters had become less frequent and less confiding; and the vicar, who well knew the reason, had resolved to bring the matter to a crisis.
So he wrote earnestly and peremptorily to his pupil, urging her, with all his subtle and refined eloquence, to make a final appeal to her mother, and if that failed, to act 'as her conscience should direct her;' and enclosed an answer from the superior of the convent, to a letter which Argemone had in a mad moment asked him to write. The superior's letter spoke of Argemone's joining her as a settled matter, and of her room as ready for her, while it lauded to the skies the peaceful activity and usefulness of the establishment. This letter troubled Argemone exceedingly. She had never before been compelled to face her own feelings, either about the nunnery or about Lancelot. She had taken up the fancy of becoming a Sister of Charity, not as Honoria might have done, from genuine love of the poor, but from 'a sense of duty.' Almsgiving and visiting the sick were one of the methods of earning heaven prescribed by her new creed. She was ashamed of her own laziness by the side of Honoria's simple benevolence; and, sad though it may be to have to say it, she longed to outdo her by some signal act of self-sacrifice. She had looked to this nunnery, too, as an escape, once and for all, from her own luxury, just as people who have not strength to be temperate take refuge in teetotalism; and the thought of menial services towards the poor, however distasteful to her, came in quite prettily to fill up the little ideal of a life of romantic asceticisms and mystic contemplation, which gave the true charm in her eyes to her wild project. But now—just as a field had opened to her cravings after poetry and art, wider and richer than she had ever imagined— just as those simple childlike views of man and nature, which she had learnt to despise, were assuming an awful holiness in her eyes— just as she had found a human soul to whose regeneration she could devote all her energies,—to be required to give all up, perhaps for ever (and she felt that if at all, it ought to be for ever);—it was too much for her little heart to bear; and she cried bitterly; and tried to pray, and could not; and longed for a strong and tender bosom on which to lay her head, and pour out all her doubts and struggles; and there was none. Her mother did not understand— hardly loved her. Honoria loved her; but understood her even less than her mother. Pride—the pride of intellect, the pride of self- will—had long since sealed her lips to her own family. . . .
And then, out of the darkness of her heart, Lancelot's image rose before her stronger than all, tenderer than all; and as she remembered his magical faculty of anticipating all her thoughts, embodying for her all her vague surmises, he seemed to beckon her towards him.—She shuddered and turned away. And now she first became conscious how he had haunted her thoughts in the last few months, not as a soul to be saved, but as a living man—his face, his figure, his voice, his every gesture and expression, rising clear before her, in spite of herself, by day and night.
And then she thought of his last drawing, and the looks which had accompanied it,—unmistakable looks of passionate and adoring love. There was no denying it—she had always known that he loved her, but she had never dared to confess it to herself. But now the earthquake was come, and all the secrets of her heart burst upward to the light, and she faced the thought in shame and terror. 'How unjust I have been to him! how cruel! thus to entice him on in hopeless love!'
She lifted up her eyes, and saw in the mirror opposite the reflection of her own exquisite beauty.
'I could have known what I was doing! I knew all the while! And yet it is so delicious to feel that any one loves me! Is it selfishness? It is selfishness, to pamper my vanity on an affection which I do not, will not return. I will not be thus in debt to him, even for his love. I do not love him—I do not; and even if I did, to give myself up to a man of whom I know so little, who is not even a Christian, much less a Churchman! Ay! and to give up my will to any man! to become the subject, the slave, of another human being! I, who have worshipped the belief in woman's independence, the hope of woman's enfranchisement, who have felt how glorious it is to live like the angels, single and self-sustained! What if I cut the Gordian knot, and here make, once for all, a vow of perpetual celibacy?'
She flung herself on her knees—she could not collect her thoughts.
'No,' she said, 'I am not prepared for this. It is too solemn to be undertaken in this miserable whirlwind of passion. I will fast, and meditate, and go up formally to the little chapel, and there devote myself to God; and, in the meantime, to write at once to the superior of the Beguines; to go to my mother, and tell her once for all—What? Must I lose him?—must I give him up? Not his love—I cannot give up that—would that I could! but no! he will love me for ever. I know it as well as if an angel told me. But to give up him! Never to see him! never to hear his voice! never to walk with him among the beech woods any more! Oh, Argemone! Argemone! miserable girl! and is it come to this?' And she threw herself on the sofa, and hid her face in her hands.
Yes, Argemone, it is come to this; and the best thing you can do, is just what you are doing—to lie there and cry yourself to sleep, while the angels are laughing kindly (if a solemn public, who settles everything for them, will permit them to laugh) at the rickety old windmill of sham-Popery which you have taken for a real giant.
At that same day and hour, as it chanced, Lancelot, little dreaming what the said windmill was grinding for him, was scribbling a hasty and angry answer to a letter of Luke's, which, perhaps, came that very morning in order to put him into a proper temper for the demolishing of windmills. It ran thus,—
'Ay, my good Cousin,—So I expected—
'Suave mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis E terra magnum alterius spectare laborem . . .
Pleasant and easy for you Protestants (for I will call you what you are, in spite of your own denials, a truly consistent and logical Protestant—and therefore a Materialist)—easy for you, I say, to sit on the shore, in cold, cruel self-satisfaction, and tell the poor wretch buffeting with the waves what he ought to do while he is choking and drowning. . . . Thank Heaven, the storm has stranded me upon the everlasting Rock of Peter;—but it has been a sore trouble to reach it. Protestants, who look at creeds as things to be changed like coats, whenever they seem not to fit them, little know what we Catholic-hearted ones suffer. . . . If they did, they would be more merciful and more chary in the requirements of us, just as we are in the very throe of a new-born existence. The excellent man, to whose care I have committed myself, has a wise and a tender heart . . . he saw no harm in my concealing from my father the spiritual reason of my giving up my curacy (for I have given it up), and only giving the outward, but equally true reason, that I found it on the whole an ineligible and distressing post. . . . I know you will apply to such an act that disgusting monosyllable of which Protestants are so fond. He felt with me and for me—for my horror of giving pain to my father, and for my wearied and excited state of mind; and strangely enough—to show how differently, according to the difference of the organs, the same object may appear to two people—he quoted in my favour that very verse which you wrest against me. He wished me to show my father that I had only changed my heaven, and not my character, by becoming an Ultramontane- Catholic . . . that, as far as his esteem and affection were founded on anything in me, the ground of it did not vanish with my conversion. If I had told him at once of my altered opinions, he would have henceforth viewed every word and action with a perjudiced eye. . . . Protestants are so bigoted . . . but if, after seeing me for a month or two the same Luke that he had ever known me, he were gradually informed that I had all the while held that creed which he had considered incompatible with such a life as I hope mine would be—you must see the effect which it ought to have. . . . I don't doubt that you will complain of all this. . . . All I can say is, that I cannot sympathise with that superstitious reverence for mere verbal truth, which is so common among Protestants. . . . It seems to me they throw away the spirit of truth, in their idolatry of its letter. For instance,—what is the use of informing a man of a true fact but to induce a true opinion in him? But if, by clinging to the exact letter of the fact, you create a false opinion in his mind, as I should do in my father's case, if by telling him at once of my change, I gave him an unjust horror of Catholicism,—you do not tell him the truth. . . . You may speak what is true to you,— but it becomes an error when received into his mind. . . . If his mind is a refracting and polarising medium—if the crystalline lens of his soul's eye has been changed into tourmaline or Labrador spar- -the only way to give him a true image of the fact, is to present it to him already properly altered in form, and adapted to suit the obliquity of his vision; in order that the very refractive power of his faculties may, instead of distorting it, correct it, and make it straight for him; and so a verbal wrong in fact may possess him with a right opinion. . . .