'I fine you a supper,' said Lancelot, 'for that execrable attempt at a pun.'
'Agreed! Here, Sabina, send to Covent Garden for huge nosegays, and get out the best bottle of Burgundy. We will pass an evening worthy of Horace, and with garlands and libations honour the muse of painting.'
'Luxurious dog!' said Lancelot, 'with all your cant about poverty.'
As he spoke, the folding doors opened, and an exquisite little brunette danced in from the inner room, in which, by the bye, had been going on all the while a suspicious rustling, as of garments hastily arranged. She was dressed gracefully in a loose French morning-gown, down which Lancelot's eye glanced towards the little foot, which, however, was now hidden in a tiny velvet slipper. The artist's wife was a real beauty, though without a single perfect feature, except a most delicious little mouth, a skin like velvet, and clear brown eyes, from which beamed earnest simplicity and arch good humour. She darted forward to her husband's friend, while her rippling brown hair, fantastically arranged, fluttered about her neck, and seizing Lancelot's hands successively in both of hers, broke out in an accent prettily tinged with French,—
'Charming!—delightful! And so you are really going to turn painter! And I have longed so to be introduced to you! Claude has been raving about you these two years; you already seem to me the oldest friend in the world. You must not go to Rome. We shall keep you, Mr. Lancelot; positively you must come and live with us—we shall be the happiest trio in London. I will make you so comfortable: you must let me cater for you—cook for you.'
'And be my study sometimes?' said Lancelot, smiling.
'Ah,' she said, blushing, and shaking her pretty little fist at Claude, 'that madcap! how he has betrayed me! When he is at his easel, he is so in the seventh heaven, that he sees nothing, thinks of nothing, but his own dreams.'
At this moment a heavy step sounded on the stairs, the door opened, and there entered, to Lancelot's astonishment, the stranger who had just puzzled him so much at his uncle's.
Claude rose reverentially, and came forward, but Sabina was beforehand with him, and running up to her visitor, kissed his hand again and again, almost kneeling to him.
'The dear master!' she cried; 'what a delightful surprise! we have not seen you this fortnight past, and gave you up for lost.'
'Where do you come from, my dear master?' asked Claude.
'From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it,' answered he, smiling, and laying his finger on his lips, 'my dear pupils. And you are both well and happy?'
'Perfectly, and doubly delighted at your presence to-day, for your advice will come in a providential moment for my friend here.'
'Ah!' said the strange man, 'well met once more! So you are going to turn painter?'
He bent a severe and searching look on Lancelot.
'You have a painter's face, young man,' he said; 'go on and prosper. What branch of art do you intend to study?'
'The ancient Italian painters, as my first step.'
'Ancient? it is not four hundred years since Perugino died. But I should suppose you do not intend to ignore classic art?'
'You have divined rightly. I wish, in the study of the antique, to arrive at the primeval laws of unfallen human beauty.'
'Were Phidias and Praxiteles, then, so primeval? the world had lasted many a thousand years before their turn came. If you intend to begin at the beginning, why not go back at once to the garden of Eden, and there study the true antique?'
'If there were but any relics of it,' said Lancelot, puzzled, and laughing.
'You would find it very near you, young man, if you had but eyes to see it.'
Claude Mellot laughed significantly, and Sabina clapped her little hands.
'Yet till you take him with you, master, and show it to him, he must needs be content with the Royal Academy and the Elgin marbles.'
'But to what branch of painting, pray,' said the master to Lancelot, 'will you apply your knowledge of the antique? Will you, like this foolish fellow here' (with a kindly glance at Claude), 'fritter yourself away on Nymphs and Venuses, in which neither he nor any one else believes?'
'Historic art, as the highest,' answered Lancelot, 'is my ambition.'
'It is well to aim at the highest, but only when it is possible for us. And how can such a school exist in England now? You English must learn to understand your own history before you paint it. Rather follow in the steps of your Turners, and Landseers, and Standfields, and Creswicks, and add your contribution to the present noble school of naturalist painters. That is the niche in the temple which God has set you English to fill up just now. These men's patient, reverent faith in Nature as they see her, their knowledge that the ideal is neither to be invented nor abstracted, but found and left where God has put it, and where alone it can be represented, in actual and individual phenomena;—in these lies an honest development of the true idea of Protestantism, which is paving the way to the mesothetic art of the future.'
'Glorious!' said Sabina: 'not a single word that we poor creatures can understand!'
But our hero, who always took a virtuous delight in hearing what he could not comprehend, went on to question the orator.
'What, then, is the true idea of Protestantism?' said he.
'The universal symbolism and dignity of matter, whether in man or nature.'
'But the Puritans—?'
'Were inconsistent with themselves and with Protestantism, and therefore God would not allow them to proceed. Yet their repudiation of all art was better than the Judas-kiss which Romanism bestows on it, in the meagre eclecticism of the ancient religious schools, and of your modern Overbecks and Pugins. The only really wholesome designer of great power whom I have seen in Germany is Kaulbach; and perhaps every one would not agree with my reasons for admiring him, in this whitewashed age. But you, young sir, were meant for better things than art. Many young geniuses have an early hankering, as Goethe had, to turn painters. It seems the shortest and easiest method of embodying their conceptions in visible form; but they get wiser afterwards, when they find in themselves thoughts that cannot be laid upon the canvas. Come with me—I like striking while the iron is hot; walk with me towards my lodgings, and we will discuss this weighty matter.'
And with a gay farewell to the adoring little Sabina, he passed an iron arm through Lancelot's, and marched him down into the street.
Lancelot was surprised and almost nettled at the sudden influence which he found this quaint personage was exerting over him. But he had, of late, tasted the high delight of feeling himself under the guidance of a superior mind, and longed to enjoy it once more. Perhaps they were reminiscences of this kind which stirred in him the strange fancy of a connection, almost of a likeness, between his new acquaintance and Argemone. He asked, humbly enough, why Art was to be a forbidden path to him?
'Besides you are an Englishman, and a man of uncommon talent, unless your physiognomy belies you; and one, too, for whom God has strange things in store, or He would not have so suddenly and strangely overthrown you.'
Lancelot started. He remembered that Tregarva had said just the same thing to him that very morning, and the (to him) strange coincidence sank deep into his heart.
'You must be a politician,' the stranger went on. 'You are bound to it as your birthright. It has been England's privilege hitherto to solve all political questions as they arise for the rest of the world; it is her duty now. Here, or nowhere, must the solution be attempted of those social problems which are convulsing more and more all Christendom. She cannot afford to waste brains like yours, while in thousands of reeking alleys, such as that one opposite us, heathens and savages are demanding the rights of citizenship. Whether they be right or wrong, is what you, and such as you, have to find out at this day.'
Silent and thoughtful, Lancelot walked on by his side.
'What is become of your friend Tregarva? I met him this morning after he parted from you, and had some talk with him. I was sorely minded to enlist him. Perhaps I shall; in the meantime, I shall busy myself with you.'
'In what way,' asked Lancelot, 'most strange sir, of whose name, much less of whose occupation, I can gain no tidings.'
'My name for the time being is Barnakill. And as for business, as it is your English fashion to call new things obstinately by old names, careless whether they apply or not, you may consider me as a recruiting-sergeant; which trade, indeed, I follow, though I am no more like the popular red-coated ones than your present "glorious constitution" is like William the Third's, or Overbeck's high art like Fra Angelico's. Farewell! When I want you, which will be most likely when you want me, I shall find you again.'
The evening was passed, as Claude had promised, in a truly Horatian manner. Sabina was most piquante, and Claude interspersed his genial and enthusiastic eloquence with various wise saws of 'the prophet.'
'But why on earth,' quoth Lancelot, at last, 'do you call him a prophet?'
'Because he is one; it's his business, his calling. He gets his living thereby, as the showman did by his elephant.'
'But what does he foretell?'
'Oh, son of the earth! And you went to Cambridge—are reported to have gone in for the thing, or phantom, called the tripos, and taken a first class! . . . Did you ever look out the word "prophetes" in Liddell and Scott?'
'Why, what do you know about Liddell and Scott?'
'Nothing, thank goodness; I never had time to waste over the crooked letters. But I have heard say that prophetes means, not a foreteller, but an out-teller—one who declares the will of a deity, and interprets his oracles. Is it not so?'
'And that he became a foreteller among heathens at least—as I consider, among all peoples whatsoever—because knowing the real bearing of what had happened, and what was happening, he could discern the signs of the times, and so had what the world calls a shrewd guess—what I, like a Pantheist as I am denominated, should call a divine and inspired foresight—of what was going to happen.'
'A new notion, and a pleasant one, for it looks something like a law.'
'I am no scollard, as they would say in Whitford, you know; but it has often struck me, that if folks would but believe that the Apostles talked not such very bad Greek, and had some slight notion of the received meaning of the words they used, and of the absurdity of using the same term to express nineteen different things, the New Testament would be found to be a much simpler and more severely philosophic book than "Theologians" ("Anthropo-sophists" I call them) fancy.'
'Where on earth did you get all this wisdom, or foolishness?'
'From the prophet, a fortnight ago.'
'Who is this prophet? I will know.'
'Then you will know more than I do. Sabina—light my meerschaum, there's a darling; it will taste the sweeter after your lips.' And Claude laid his delicate woman-like limbs upon the sofa, and looked the very picture of luxurious nonchalance.
'What is he, you pitiless wretch?'
'Fairest Hebe, fill our Prometheus Vinctus another glass of Burgundy, and find your guitar, to silence him.'
'It was the ocean nymphs who came to comfort Prometheus—and unsandalled, too, if I recollect right,' said Lancelot, smiling at Sabina. 'Come, now, if he will not tell me, perhaps you will?'
Sabina only blushed, and laughed mysteriously.
'You surely are intimate with him, Claude? When and where did you meet him first?'
'Seventeen years ago, on the barricades of the three days, in the charming little pandemonium called Paris, he picked me out of a gutter, a boy of fifteen, with a musket-ball through my body; mended me, and sent me to a painter's studio. . . . The next sejour I had with him began in sight of the Demawend. Sabina, perhaps you might like to relate to Mr. Smith that interview, and the circumstances under which you made your first sketch of that magnificent and little-known volcano?'
Sabina blushed again—this time scarlet; and, to Lancelot's astonishment, pulled off her slipper, and brandishing it daintily, uttered some unintelligible threat, in an Oriental language, at the laughing Claude.
'Why, you must have been in the East?'
'Why not! Do you think that figure and that walk were picked up in stay-ridden, toe-pinching England? . . . Ay, in the East; and why not elsewhere? Do you think I got my knowledge of the human figure from the live-model in the Royal Academy?'
'I certainly have always had my doubts of it. You are the only man I know who can paint muscle in motion.'
'Because I am almost the only man in England who has ever seen it. Artists should go to the Cannibal Islands for that. . . . J'ai fait le grand tour. I should not wonder if the prophet made you take it.'
'That would be very much as I chose.'
'What do you mean?'
'That if he wills you to go, I defy you to stay. Eh, Sabina!'
'Well, you are a very mysterious pair,—and a very charming one.'
'So we think ourselves—as to the charmingness. . . . and as for the mystery . . . "Omnia exeunt in mysterium," says somebody, somewhere- -or if he don't, ought to, seeing that it is so. You will be a mystery some day, and a myth, and a thousand years hence pious old ladies will be pulling caps as to whether you were a saint or a devil, and whether you did really work miracles or not, as corroborations of your ex-supra-lunar illumination on social questions. . . . Yes . . . you will have to submit, and see Bogy, and enter the Eleusinian mysteries. Eh, Sabina?'
'My dear Claude, what between the Burgundy and your usual foolishness, you seem very much inclined to divulge the Eleusinian mysteries.'
'I can't well do that, my beauty, seeing that, if you recollect, we were both turned back at the vestibule, for a pair of naughty children as we are.'
'Do be quiet! and let me enjoy, for once, my woman's right to the last word!'
And in this hopeful state of mystification, Lancelot went home, and dreamt of Argemone.
His uncle would, and, indeed, as it seemed, could, give him very little information on the question which had so excited his curiosity. He had met the man in India many years before, had received there from him most important kindnesses, and considered him, from experience, of oracular wisdom. He seemed to have an unlimited command of money, though most frugal in his private habits; visited England for a short time every few years, and always under a different appellation; but as for his real name, habitation, or business, here or at home, the good banker knew nothing, except that whenever questioned on them, he wandered off into Pantagruelist jokes, and ended in Cloud-land. So that Lancelot was fain to give up his questions and content himself with longing for the reappearance of this inexplicable sage.
CHAPTER XVI: ONCE IN A WAY
A few mornings afterwards, Lancelot, as he glanced his eye over the columns of The Times, stopped short at the beloved name of Whitford. To his disgust and disappointment, it only occurred in one of those miserable cases, now of weekly occurrence, of concealing the birth of a child. He was turning from it, when he saw Bracebridge's name. Another look sufficed to show him that he ought to go at once to the colonel, who had returned the day before from Norway.
A few minutes brought him to his friend's lodging, but The Times had arrived there before him. Bracebridge was sitting over his untasted breakfast, his face buried in his hands.
'Do not speak to me,' he said, without looking up. 'It was right of you to come—kind of you; but it is too late.'
He started, and looked wildly round him, as if listening for some sound which he expected, and then laid his head down on the table. Lancelot turned to go.
'No—do not leave me! Not alone, for God's sake, not alone!'
Lancelot sat down. There was a fearful alteration in Bracebridge. His old keen self-confident look had vanished. He was haggard, life-weary, shame-stricken, almost abject. His limbs looked quite shrunk and powerless, as he rested his head on the table before him, and murmured incoherently from time to time,—
'My own child! And I never shall have another! No second chance for those who—Oh Mary! Mary! you might have waited—you might have trusted me! And why should you?—ay, why, indeed? And such a pretty baby, too!—just like his father!'
Lancelot laid his hand kindly on his shoulder.
'My dearest Bracebridge, the evidence proves that the child was born dead.'
'They lie!' he said, fiercely, starting up. 'It cried twice after it was born!'
Lancelot stood horror-struck.
'I heard it last night, and the night before that, and the night before that again, under my pillow, shrieking—stifling—two little squeaks, like a caught hare; and I tore the pillows off it—I did; and once I saw it, and it had beautiful black eyes—just like its father—just like a little miniature that used to lie on my mother's table, when I knelt at her knee, before they sent me out "to see life," and Eton, and the army, and Crockford's, and Newmarket, and fine gentlemen, and fine ladies, and luxury, and flattery, brought me to this! Oh, father! father! was that the only way to make a gentleman of your son?—There it is again! Don't you hear it?— under the sofa cushions! Tear them off! Curse you! Save it!'
And, with a fearful oath, the wretched man sent Lancelot staggering across the room, and madly tore up the cushions.
A long postman's knock at the door.—He suddenly rose up quite collected.
'The letter! I knew it would come. She need not have written it: I know what is in it.'
The servant's step came up the stairs. Poor Bracebridge turned to Lancelot with something of his own stately determination.
'I must be alone when I receive this letter. Stay here.' And with compressed lips and fixed eyes he stalked out at the door, and shut it.
Lancelot heard him stop; then the servant's footsteps down the stairs; then the colonel's treading, slowly and heavily, went step by step up to the room above. He shut that door too. A dead silence followed. Lancelot stood in fearful suspense, and held his breath to listen. Perhaps he had fainted? No, for then he would have heard a fall. Perhaps he had fallen on the bed? He would go and see. No, he would wait a little longer. Perhaps he was praying? He had told Lancelot to pray once—he dared not interrupt him now. A slight stir—a noise as of an opening box. Thank God, he was, at least, alive! Nonsense! Why should he not be alive? What could happen to him? And yet he knew that something was going to happen. The silence was ominous—unbearable; the air of the room felt heavy and stifling, as if a thunderstorm were about to burst. He longed to hear the man raging and stamping. And yet he could not connect the thought of one so gay and full of gallant life, with the terrible dread that was creeping over him—with the terrible scene which he had just witnessed. It must be all a temporary excitement- -a mistake—a hideous dream, which the next post would sweep away. He would go and tell him so. No, he could not stir. His limbs seemed leaden, his feet felt rooted to the ground, as in long nightmare. And still the intolerable silence brooded overhead.
What broke it? A dull, stifled report, as of a pistol fired against the ground; a heavy fall; and again the silence of death.
He rushed upstairs. A corpse lay on its face upon the floor, and from among its hair, a crimson thread crept slowly across the carpet. It was all over. He bent over the head, but one look was sufficient. He did not try to lift it up.
On the table lay the fatal letter. Lancelot knew that he had a right to read it. It was scrawled, mis-spelt—but there were no tear-blots on the paper:—
'Sir—I am in prison—and where are you? Cruel man! Where were you all those miserable weeks, while I was coming nearer and nearer to my shame? Murdering dumb beasts in foreign lands. You have murdered more than them. How I loved you once! How I hate you now! But I have my revenge. YOUR BABY CRIED TWICE AFTER IT WAS BORN!'
Lancelot tore the letter into a hundred pieces, and swallowed them, for every foot in the house was on the stairs.
So there was terror, and confusion, and running in and out: but there were no wet eyes there except those of Bracebridge's groom, who threw himself on the body, and would not stir. And then there was a coroner's inquest; and it came out in the evidence how 'the deceased had been for several days very much depressed, and had talked of voices and apparitions;' whereat the jury—as twelve honest, good-natured Christians were bound to do—returned a verdict of temporary insanity; and in a week more the penny-a-liners grew tired; and the world, too, who never expects anything, not even French revolutions, grew tired also of repeating,—'Dear me! who would have expected it?' and having filled up the colonel's place, swaggered on as usual, arm-in-arm with the flesh and the devil.
Bracebridge's death had, of course, a great effect on Lancelot's spirit. Not in the way of warning, though—such events seldom act in that way, on the highest as well as on the lowest minds. After all, your 'Rakes' Progresses,' and 'Atheists' Deathbeds,' do no more good than noble George Cruikshank's 'Bottle' will, because every one knows that they are the exception, and not the rule; that the Atheist generally dies with a conscience as comfortably callous as a rhinocerous-hide; and the rake, when old age stops his power of sinning, becomes generally rather more respectable than his neighbours. The New Testament deals very little in appeals ad terrorem; and it would be well if some, who fancy that they follow it, would do the same, and by abstaining from making 'hell-fire' the chief incentive to virtue, cease from tempting many a poor fellow to enlist on the devil's side the only manly feeling he has left— personal courage.
But yet Lancelot was affected. And when, on the night of the colonel's funeral, he opened, at hazard, Argemone's Bible, and his eyes fell on the passage which tells how 'one shall be taken and another left,' great honest tears of gratitude dropped upon the page; and he fell on his knees, and in bitter self-reproach thanked the new found Upper Powers, who, as he began to hope, were leading him not in vain,—that he had yet a life before him wherein to play the man.
And now he felt that the last link was broken between him and all his late frivolous companions. All had deserted him in his ruin but this one—and he was silent in the grave. And now, from the world and all its toys and revelry, he was parted once and for ever; and he stood alone in the desert, like the last Arab of a plague- stricken tribe, looking over the wreck of ancient cities, across barren sands, where far rivers gleamed in the distance, that seemed to beckon him away into other climes, other hopes, other duties. Old things had passed away—when would all things become new?
Not yet, Lancelot. Thou hast still one selfish hope, one dream of bliss, however impossible, yet still cherished. Thou art a changed man—but for whose sake? For Argemone's. Is she to be thy god, then? Art thou to live for her, or for the sake of One greater than she? All thine idols are broken—swiftly the desert sands are drifting over them, and covering them in.—All but one—must that, too, be taken from thee?
One morning a letter was put into Lancelot's hands, bearing the Whitford postmark. Tremblingly he tore it open. It contained a few passionate words from Honoria. Argemone was dying of typhus fever, and entreating to see him once again; and Honoria had, with some difficulty, as she hinted, obtained leave from her parents to send for him. His last bank note carried him down to Whitford; and, calm and determined, as one who feels that he has nothing more to lose on earth, and whose torment must henceforth become his element, he entered the Priory that evening.
He hardly spoke or looked at a soul; he felt that he was there on an errand which none understood; that he was moving towards Argemone through a spiritual world, in which he and she were alone; that, in his utter poverty and hopelessness, he stood above all the luxury, even above all the sorrow, around him; that she belonged to him, and to him alone; and the broken-hearted beggar followed the weeping Honoria towards his lady's chamber, with the step and bearing of a lord. He was wrong; there were pride and fierceness enough in his heart, mingled with that sense of nothingness of rank, money, chance and change, yea, death itself, of all but Love;—mingled even with that intense belief that his sorrows were but his just deserts, which now possessed all his soul. And in after years he knew that he was wrong; but so he felt at the time; and even then the strength was not all of earth which bore him manlike through that hour.
He entered the room; the darkness, the silence, the cool scent of vinegar, struck a shudder through him. The squire was sitting half idiotic and helpless, in his arm-chair. His face lighted up as Lancelot entered, and he tried to hold out his palsied hand. Lancelot did not see him. Mrs. Lavington moved proudly and primly back from the bed, with a face that seemed to say through its tears, 'I at least am responsible for nothing that occurs from this interview.' Lancelot did not see her either: he walked straight up towards the bed as if he were treading on his own ground. His heart was between his lips, and yet his whole soul felt as dry and hard as some burnt-out volcano-crater.
A faint voice—oh, how faint, how changed!—called him from within the closed curtains.
'He is there! I know it is he! Lancelot! my Lancelot!'
Silently still he drew aside the curtain; the light fell full upon her face. What a sight! Her beautiful hair cut close, a ghastly white handkerchief round her head, those bright eyes sunk and lustreless, those ripe lips baked, and black and drawn; her thin hand fingering uneasily the coverlid.—It was too much for him. He shuddered and turned his face away. Quick-sighted that love is, even to the last! slight as the gesture was, she saw it in an instant.
'You are not afraid of infection?' she said, faintly. 'I was not.'
Lancelot laughed aloud, as men will at strangest moments, sprung towards her with open arms, and threw himself on his knees beside the bed. With sudden strength she rose upright, and clasped him in her arms.
'Once more!' she sighed, in a whisper to herself, 'Once more on earth!' And the room, and the spectators, and disease itself faded from around them like vain dreams, as she nestled closer and closer to him, and gazed into his eyes, and passed her shrunken hand over his cheeks, and toyed with his hair, and seemed to drink in magnetic life from his embrace.
No one spoke or stirred. They felt that an awful and blessed spirit overshadowed the lovers, and were hushed, as if in the sanctuary of God.
Suddenly again she raised her head from his bosom, and in a tone, in which her old queenliness mingled strangely with the saddest tenderness,—
'All of you go away now; I must talk to my husband alone.'
They went, leading out the squire, who cast puzzled glances toward the pair, and murmured to himself that 'she was sure to get well now Smith was come: everything went right when he was in the way.'
So they were left alone.
'I do not look so very ugly, my darling, do I? Not so very ugly? though they have cut off all my poor hair, and I told them so often not! But I kept a lock for you;' and feebly she drew from under the pillow a long auburn tress, and tried to wreathe it round his neck, but could not, and sunk back.
Poor fellow! he could bear no more. He hid his face in his hands, and burst into a long low weeping.
'I am very thirsty, darling; reach me—No, I will drink no more, except from your dear lips.'
He lifted up his head, and breathed his whole soul upon her lips; his tears fell on her closed eyelids.
'Weeping? No.—You must not cry. See how comfortable I am. They are all so kind—soft bed, cool room, fresh air, sweet drinks, sweet scents. Oh, so different from THAT room!'
'What room?—my own!'
'Listen, and I will tell you. Sit down—put your arm under my head- -so. When I am on your bosom I feel so strong. God! let me last to tell him all. It was for that I sent for him.'
And then, in broken words, she told him how she had gone up to the fever patient at Ashy, on the fatal night on which Lancelot had last seen her. Shuddering, she hinted at the horrible filth and misery she had seen, at the foul scents which had sickened her. A madness of remorse, she said, had seized her. She had gone, in spite of her disgust, to several houses which she found open. There were worse cottages there than even her father's; some tradesmen in a neighbouring town had been allowed to run up a set of rack rent hovels.—Another shudder seized her when she spoke of them; and from that point in her story all was fitful, broken, like the images of a hideous dream. 'Every instant those foul memories were defiling her nostrils. A horrible loathing had taken possession of her, recurring from time to time, till it ended in delirium and fever. A scent-fiend was haunting her night and day,' she said. 'And now the curse of the Lavingtons had truly come upon her. To perish by the people whom they made. Their neglect, cupidity, oppression, are avenged on me! Why not? Have I not wantoned in down and perfumes, while they, by whose labour my luxuries were bought, were pining among scents and sounds,—one day of which would have driven me mad! And then they wonder why men turn Chartists! There are those horrible scents again! Save me from them! Lancelot—darling! Take me to the fresh air! I choke! I am festering away! The Nun-pool! Take all the water, every drop, and wash Ashy clean again! Make a great fountain in it—beautiful marble—to bubble and gurgle, and trickle and foam, for ever and ever, and wash away the sins of the Lavingtons, that the little rosy children may play round it, and the poor toil-bent woman may wash—and wash—and drink—Water! water! I am dying of thirst!'
He gave her water, and then she lay back and babbled about the Nun- pool sweeping 'all the houses of Ashy into one beautiful palace, among great flower-gardens, where the school children will sit and sing such merry hymns, and never struggle with great pails of water up the hill of Ashy any more.'
'You will do it! darling! Strong, wise, noble-hearted that you are! Why do you look at me? You will be rich some day. You will own land, for you are worthy to own it. Oh that I could give you Whitford! No! It was mine too long—therefore I die! because I— Lord Jesus! have I not repented of my sin?'
Then she grew calm once more. A soft smile crept over her face, as it grew sharper and paler every moment. Faintly she sank back on the pillows, and faintly whispered to him to kneel and pray. He obeyed her mechanically. . . . 'No—not for me, for them—for them, and for yourself—that you may save them whom I never dreamt that I was bound to save!'
And he knelt and prayed . . . what, he alone and those who heard his prayer, can tell. . . .
* * * * *
When he lifted up his head at last, he saw that Argemone lay motionless. For a moment he thought she was dead, and frantically sprang to the bell. The family rushed in with the physician. She gave some faint token of life, but none of consciousness. The doctor sighed, and said that her end was near. Lancelot had known that all along.
'I think, sir, you had better leave the room,' said Mrs. Lavington; and followed him into the passage.
What she was about to say remained unspoken; for Lancelot seized her hand in spite of her, with frantic thanks for having allowed him this one interview, and entreaties that he might see her again, if but for one moment.
Mrs. Lavington, somewhat more softly than usual, said,—'That the result of this visit had not been such as to make a second desirable—that she had no wish to disturb her daughter's mind at such a moment with earthly regrets.'
'Earthly regrets!' How little she knew what had passed there! But if she had known, would she have been one whit softened? For, indeed, Argemone's spirituality was not in her mother's language. And yet the good woman had prayed, and prayed, and wept bitter tears, by her daughter's bedside, day after day; but she had never heard her pronounce the talismanic formula of words, necessary in her eyes to ensure salvation; and so she was almost without hope for her. Oh, Bigotry! Devil, who turnest God's love into man's curse! are not human hearts hard and blind enough of themselves, without thy cursed help?
For one moment a storm of unutterable pride and rage convulsed Lancelot—the next instant love conquered; and the strong proud man threw himself on his knees at the feet of the woman he despised, and with wild sobs entreated for one moment more—one only!
At that instant a shriek from Honoria resounded from the sick chamber. Lancelot knew what it meant, and sprang up, as men do when shot through the heart.—In a moment he was himself again. A new life had begun for him—alone.
'You will not need to grant my prayer, madam,' he said, calmly: 'Argemone is dead.'
CHAPTER XVII: THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH
Let us pass over the period of dull, stupefied misery that followed, when Lancelot had returned to his lonely lodging, and the excitement of his feelings had died away. It is impossible to describe that which could not be separated into parts, in which there was no foreground, no distance, but only one dead, black, colourless present. After a time, however, he began to find that fancies, almost ridiculously trivial, arrested and absorbed his attention; even as when our eyes have become accustomed to darkness, every light-coloured mote shows luminous against the void blackness of night. So we are tempted to unseemly frivolity in churches, and at funerals, and all most solemn moments; and so Lancelot found his imagination fluttering back, half amused, to every smallest circumstance of the last few weeks, as objects of mere curiosity, and found with astonishment that they had lost their power of paining him. Just as victims on the rack have fallen, it is said, by length of torture, into insensibility, and even calm repose, his brain had been wrought until all feeling was benumbed. He began to think what an interesting autobiography his life might make; and the events of the last few years began to arrange themselves in a most attractive dramatic form. He began even to work out a scene or two, and where 'motives' seemed wanting, to invent them here and there. He sat thus for hours silent over his fire, playing with his old self, as though it were a thing which did not belong to him—a suit of clothes which he had put off, and which,
'For that it was too rich to hang by the wall, It must be ripped,'
and then pieced and dizened out afresh as a toy. And then again he started away from his own thoughts, at finding himself on the edge of that very gulf, which, as Mellot had lately told him, Barnakill denounced as the true hell of genius, where Art is regarded as an end and not a means, and objects are interesting, not in as far as they form our spirits, but in proportion as they can be shaped into effective parts of some beautiful whole. But whether it was a temptation or none, the desire recurred to him again and again. He even attempted to write, but sickened at the sight of the first words. He turned to his pencil, and tried to represent with it one scene at least; and with the horrible calmness of some self- torturing ascetic, he sat down to sketch a drawing of himself and Argemone on her dying day, with her head upon his bosom for the last time—and then tossed it angrily into the fire, partly because he felt just as he had in his attempts to write, that there was something more in all these events than he could utter by pen or pencil, than he could even understand; principally because he could not arrange the attitudes gracefully enough. And now, in front of the stern realities of sorrow and death, he began to see a meaning in another mysterious saying of Barnakill's, which Mellot was continually quoting, that 'Art was never Art till it was more than Art; that the Finite only existed as a body of the Infinite; and that the man of genius must first know the Infinite, unless he wished to become not a poet, but a maker of idols.' Still he felt in himself a capability, nay, an infinite longing to speak; though what he should utter, or how—whether as poet, social theorist, preacher, he could not yet decide. Barnakill had forbidden him painting, and though he hardly knew why, he dared not disobey him. But Argemone's dying words lay on him as a divine command to labour. All his doubts, his social observations, his dreams of the beautiful and the blissful, his intense perception of social evils, his new- born hope—faith it could not yet be called—in a ruler and deliverer of the world, all urged him on to labour: but at what? He felt as if he were the demon in the legend, condemned to twine endless ropes of sand. The world, outside which he now stood for good and evil, seemed to him like some frantic whirling waltz; some serried struggling crowd, which rushed past him in aimless confusion, without allowing him time or opening to take his place among their ranks: and as for wings to rise above, and to look down upon the uproar, where were they? His melancholy paralysed him more and more. He was too listless even to cater for his daily bread by writing his articles for the magazines. Why should he? He had nothing to say. Why should he pour out words and empty sound, and add one more futility to the herd of 'prophets that had become wind, and had no truth in them'? Those who could write without a conscience, without an object except that of seeing their own fine words, and filling their own pockets—let them do it: for his part he would have none of it. But his purse was empty, and so was his stomach; and as for asking assistance of his uncle, it was returning like the dog to his vomit. So one day he settled all bills with his last shilling, tied up his remaining clothes in a bundle, and stoutly stepped forth into the street to find a job—to hold a horse, if nothing better offered; when, behold! on the threshold he met Barnakill himself.
'Whither away?' said that strange personage. 'I was just going to call on you.'
'To earn my bread by the labour of my hands. So our fathers all began.'
'And so their sons must all end. Do you want work?'
'Yes, if you have any.'
'Follow me, and carry a trunk home from a shop to my lodgings.'
He strode off, with Lancelot after him; entered a mathematical instrument maker's shop in the neighbouring street, and pointed out a heavy corded case to Lancelot, who, with the assistance of the shopman, got it on his shoulders; and trudging forth through the streets after his employer, who walked before him silent and unregarding, felt himself for the first time in his life in the same situation as nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand of Adam's descendants, and discovered somewhat to his satisfaction that when he could once rid his mind of its old superstition that every one was looking at him, it mattered very little whether the burden carried were a deal trunk or a Downing Street despatch-box.
His employer's lodgings were in St. Paul's Churchyard. Lancelot set the trunk down inside the door.
'What do you charge?'
Barnakill looked him steadily in the face, gave him the sixpence, went in, and shut the door.
Lancelot wandered down the street, half amused at the simple test which had just been applied to him, and yet sickened with disappointment; for he had cherished a mysterious fancy that with this strange being all his hopes of future activity were bound up. Tregarva's month was nearly over, and yet no tidings of him had come. Mellot had left London on some mysterious errand of the prophet's, and for the first time in his life he seemed to stand utterly alone. He was at one pole, and the whole universe at the other. It was in vain to tell himself that his own act had placed him there; that he had friends to whom he might appeal. He would not, he dare not, accept outward help, even outward friendship, however hearty and sincere, at that crisis of his existence. It seemed a desecration of its awfulness to find comfort in anything but the highest and the deepest. And the glimpse of that which he had attained seemed to have passed away from him again,—seemed to be something which, as it had arisen with Argemone, was lost with her also,—one speck of the far blue sky which the rolling clouds had covered in again. As he passed under the shadow of the huge soot-blackened cathedral, and looked at its grim spiked railings and closed doors, it seemed to him a symbol of the spiritual world, clouded and barred from him. He stopped and looked up, and tried to think. The rays of the setting sun lighted up in clear radiance the huge cross on the summit. Was it an omen? Lancelot thought so; but at that instant he felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked round. It was that strange man again.
'So far well,' said he. 'You are making a better day's work than you fancy, and earning more wages. For instance, here is a packet for you.'
Lancelot seized it, trembling, and tore it open. It was directed in Honoria's handwriting.
'Whence had you this?' said he.
'Through Mellot, through whom I can return your answer, if one be needed.'
The letter was significant of Honoria's character. It busied itself entirely about facts, and showed the depth of her sorrow by making no allusion to it. 'Argemone, as Lancelot was probably aware, had bequeathed to him the whole of her own fortune at Mrs. Lavington's death, and had directed that various precious things of hers should be delivered over to him immediately. Her mother, however, kept her chamber under lock and key, and refused to allow an article to be removed from its accustomed place. It was natural in the first burst of her sorrow, and Lancelot would pardon.' All his drawings and letters had been, by Argemone's desire, placed with her in her coffin. Honoria had been only able to obey her in sending a favourite ring of hers, and with it the last stanzas which she had composed before her death:—
'Twin stars, aloft in ether clear, Around each other roll away, Within one common atmosphere Of their own mutual light and day.
'And myriad happy eyes are bent Upon their changeless love alway; As, strengthened by their one intent, They pour the flood of life and day,
'So we, through this world's waning night, Shall, hand in hand, pursue our way; Shed round us order, love, and light, And shine unto the perfect day.'
The precious relic, with all its shattered hopes, came at the right moment to soften his hard-worn heart. The sight, the touch of it, shot like an electric spark through the black stifling thunder-cloud of his soul, and dissolved it in refreshing showers of tears.
Barnakill led him gently within the area of the railings, where he might conceal his emotion, and it was but a few seconds before Lancelot had recovered his self-possession and followed him up the steps through the wicket door.
They entered. The afternoon service was proceeding. The organ droned sadly in its iron cage to a few musical amateurs. Some nursery maids and foreign sailors stared about within the spiked felon's dock which shut off the body of the cathedral, and tried in vain to hear what was going on inside the choir. As a wise author— a Protestant, too—has lately said, 'the scanty service rattled in the vast building, like a dried kernel too small for its shell.' The place breathed imbecility, and unreality, and sleepy life-in- death, while the whole nineteenth century went roaring on its way outside. And as Lancelot thought, though only as a dilettante, of old St. Paul's, the morning star and focal beacon of England through centuries and dynasties, from old Augustine and Mellitus, up to those Paul's Cross sermons whose thunders shook thrones, and to noble Wren's masterpiece of art, he asked, 'Whither all this? Coleridge's dictum, that a cathedral is a petrified religion, may be taken to bear more meanings than one. When will life return to this cathedral system?'
'When was it ever a living system?' answered the other. 'When was it ever anything but a transitionary makeshift since the dissolution of the monasteries?'
'Why, then, not away with it at once?'
'You English have not done with it yet. At all events, it is keeping your cathedrals rain-proof for you, till you can put them to some better use than now.'
'And in the meantime?'
'In the meantime there is life enough in them; life that will wake the dead some day. Do you hear what those choristers are chanting now?'
'Not I,' said Lancelot; 'nor any one round us, I should think.'
'That is our own fault, after all; for we were not good churchmen enough to come in time for vespers.'
'Are you a churchman then?'
'Yes, thank God. There may be other churches than those of Europe or Syria, and right Catholic ones, too. But, shall I tell you what they are singing? "He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He hath sent empty away." Is there no life, think you, in those words, spoken here every afternoon in the name of God?'
'By hirelings, who neither care nor understand—'
'Hush. Be not hasty with imputations of evil, within walls dedicated to and preserved by the All-good. Even should the speakers forget the meaning of their own words, to my sense, perhaps, that may just now leave the words more entirely God's. At all events, confess that whatever accidental husks may have clustered round it, here is a germ of Eternal Truth. No, I dare not despair of you English, as long as I hear your priesthood forced by Providence, even in spite of themselves, thus to speak God's words about an age in which the condition of the poor, and the rights and duties of man, are becoming the rallying-point for all thought and all organisation.'
'But does it not make the case more hopeless that such words have been spoken for centuries, and no man regards them?'
'You have to blame for that the people, rather than the priest. As they are, so will he be, in every age and country. He is but the index which the changes of their spiritual state move up and down the scale: and as they will become in England in the next half century, so will he become also.'
'And can these dry bones live?' asked Lancelot, scornfully.
'Who are you to ask? What were you three months ago? for I know well your story. But do you remember what the prophet saw in the Valley of Vision? How first that those same dry bones shook and clashed together, as if uneasy because they were disorganised; and how they then found flesh and stood upright: and yet there was no life in them, till at last the Spirit came down and entered into them? Surely there is shaking enough among the bones now! It is happening to the body of your England as it did to Adam's after he was made. It lay on earth, the rabbis say, forty days before the breath of life was put into it, and the devil came and kicked it; and it sounded hollow, as England is doing now; but that did not prevent the breath of life coming in good time, nor will it in England's case.'
Lancelot looked at him with a puzzled face.
'You must not speak in such deep parables to so young a learner.'
'Is my parable so hard, then? Look around you and see what is the characteristic of your country and of your generation at this moment. What a yearning, what an expectation, amid infinite falsehoods and confusions, of some nobler, more chivalrous, more godlike state! Your very costermonger trolls out his belief that "there's a good time coming," and the hearts of gamins, as well as millenarians, answer, "True!" Is not that a clashing among the dry bones? And as for flesh, what new materials are springing up among you every month, spiritual and physical, for a state such as "eye hath not seen nor ear heard?"—railroads, electric telegraphs, associate-lodging-houses, club-houses, sanitary reforms, experimental schools, chemical agriculture, a matchless school of inductive science, an equally matchless school of naturalist painters,—and all this in the very workshop of the world! Look, again, at the healthy craving after religious art and ceremonial,— the strong desire to preserve that which has stood the test of time; and on the other hand, at the manful resolution of your middle classes to stand or fall by the Bible alone,—to admit no innovations in worship which are empty of instinctive meaning. Look at the enormous amount of practical benevolence which now struggles in vain against evil, only because it is as yet private, desultory, divided. How dare you, young man, despair of your own nation, while its nobles can produce a Carlisle, an Ellesmere, an Ashley, a Robert Grosvenor,—while its middle classes can beget a Faraday, a Stephenson, a Brooke, an Elizabeth Fry? See, I say, what a chaos of noble materials is here,—all confused, it is true,—polarised, jarring, and chaotic,—here bigotry, there self-will, superstition, sheer Atheism often, but only waiting for the one inspiring Spirit to organise, and unite, and consecrate this chaos into the noblest polity the world ever saw realised! What a destiny may be that of your land, if you have but the faith to see your own honour! Were I not of my own country, I would be an Englishman this day.'
'And what is your country?' asked Lancelot. 'It should be a noble one which breeds such men as you.'
The stranger smiled.
'Will you go thither with me?'
'Why not? I long for travel, and truly I am sick of my own country. When the Spirit of which you speak,' he went on, bitterly, 'shall descend, I may return; till then England is no place for the penniless.'
'How know you that the Spirit is not even now poured out? Must your English Pharisees and Sadducees, too, have signs and wonders ere they believe? Will man never know that "the kingdom of God comes not by observation"? that now, as ever, His promise stands true,— "Lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world"? How many inspired hearts even now may be cherishing in secret the idea which shall reform the age, and fulfil at once the longings of every sect and rank?'
'Name it to me, then!'
'Who can name it? Who can even see it, but those who are like Him from whom it comes? Them a long and stern discipline awaits. Would you be of them, you must, like the Highest who ever trod this earth, go fasting into the wilderness, and, among the wild beasts, stand alone face to face with the powers of Nature.'
'I will go where you shall bid me. I will turn shepherd among the Scottish mountains—live as an anchorite in the solitudes of Dartmoor. But to what purpose? I have listened long to Nature's voice, but even the whispers of a spiritual presence which haunted my childhood have died away, and I hear nothing in her but the grinding of the iron wheels of mechanical necessity.'
'Which is the will of God. Henceforth you shall study, not Nature, but Him. Yet as for place—I do not like your English primitive formations, where earth, worn out with struggling, has fallen wearily asleep. No, you shall rather come to Asia, the oldest and yet the youngest continent,—to our volcanic mountain ranges, where her bosom still heaves with the creative energy of youth, around the primeval cradle of the most ancient race of men. Then, when you have learnt the wondrous harmony between man and his dwelling-place, I will lead you to a land where you shall see the highest spiritual cultivation in triumphant contact with the fiercest energies of matter; where men have learnt to tame and use alike the volcano and the human heart, where the body and the spirit, the beautiful and the useful, the human and the divine, are no longer separate, and men have embodied to themselves on earth an image of the "city not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."'
'Where is this land?' said Lancelot eagerly.
'Poor human nature must have its name for everything. You have heard of the country of Prester John, that mysterious Christian empire, rarely visited by European eye?'
'There are legends of two such,' said Lancelot, 'an Ethiopian and an Asiatic one; and the Ethiopian, if we are to believe Colonel Harris's Journey to Shoa, is a sufficiently miserable failure.'
'True; the day of the Chamitic race is past; you will not say the same of our Caucasian empire. To our race the present belongs,—to England, France, Germany, America,—to us. Will you see what we have done, and, perhaps, bring home, after long wanderings, a message for your country which may help to unravel the tangled web of this strange time?'
'I will,' said Lancelot, 'now, this moment. And yet, no. There is one with whom I have promised to share all future weal and woe. Without him I can take no step.'
'Yes—he. What made you guess that I spoke of him?'
'Mellot told me of him, and of you, too, six weeks ago. He is now gone to fetch him from Manchester. I cannot trust him here in England yet. The country made him sad; London has made him mad; Manchester may make him bad. It is too fearful a trial even for his faith. I must take him with us.'
'What interest in him—not to say what authority over him—have you?'
'The same which I have over you. You will come with me; so will he. It is my business, as my name signifies, to save the children alive whom European society leaves carelessly and ignorantly to die. And as for my power, I come,' said he, with a smile, 'from a country which sends no one on its errands without first thoroughly satisfying itself as to his power of fulfilling them.'
'If he goes, I go with you.'
'And he will go. And yet, think what you do. It is a fearful journey. They who travel it, even as they came naked out of their mother's womb—even as they return thither, and carry nothing with them of all which they have gotten in this life, so must those who travel to my land.'
'What? Tregarva? Is he, too, to give up all? I had thought that I saw in him a precious possession, one for which I would barter all my scholarship, my talents,—ay—my life itself.'
'A possession worth your life? What then?'
'Faith in an unseen God.'
'Ask him whether he would call that a possession—his own in any sense?'
'He would call it a revelation to him.'
'That is, a taking of the veil from something which was behind the veil already.'
'And which may therefore just as really be behind the veil in other cases without its presence being suspected.'
'In what sense, now, is that a possession? Do you possess the sun because you see it? Did Herschel create Uranus by discovering it; or even increase, by an atom, its attraction on one particle of his own body?"
'Whither is all this tending?'
'Hither. Tregarva does not possess his Father and his Lord; he is possessed by them.'
'But he would say—and I should believe him—that he has seen and known them, not with his bodily eyes, but with his soul, heart, imagination—call it what you will. All I know is, that between him and me there is a great gulf fixed.'
'What! seen and known them utterly? comprehended them? Are they not infinite, incomprehensible? Can the less comprehend the greater?'
'He knows, at least, enough of them to make him what I am not.'
'That is, he knows something of them. And may not you know something of them also?—enough to make you what he is not?'
Lancelot shook his head in silence.
'Suppose that you had met and spoken with your father, and loved him when you saw him, and yet were not aware of the relation in which you stood to him, still you would know him?'
'Not the most important thing of all—that he was my father.'
'Is that the most important thing? Is it not more important that he should know that you were his son? That he should support, guide, educate you, even though unseen? Do you not know that some one has been doing that?'
'That I have been supported, guided, educated, I know full well; but by whom I know not. And I know, too, that I have been punished. And therefore—therefore I cannot free the thought of a Him—of a Person—only of a Destiny, of Laws and Powers, which have no faces wherewith to frown awful wrath upon me! If it be a Person who has been leading me, I must go mad, or know that He has forgiven!'
'I conceive that it is He, and not punishment which you fear?'
Lancelot was silent a moment. . . . 'Yes. He, and not hell at all, is what I fear. He can inflict no punishment on me worse than the inner hell which I have felt already, many and many a time.'
'Bona verba! That is an awful thing to say: but better this extreme than the other. . . . And you would—what?'
'If He loves you, He has pardoned you already.'
'How do I know that He loves me?'
'How does Tregarva?'
'He is a righteous man, and I—'
'Am a sinner. He would, and rightly, call himself the same.'
'But he knows that God loves him—that he is God's child.'
'So, then, God did not love him till he caused God to love him, by knowing that He loved him? He was not God's child till he made himself one, by believing that he was one when as yet he was not? I appeal to common sense and logic . . . It was revealed to Tregarva that God had been loving him while he was yet a bad man. If He loved him, in spite of his sin, why should He not have loved you?'
'If He had loved me, would He have left me in ignorance of Himself? For if He be, to know Him is the highest good.'
'Had he left Tregarva in ignorance of Himself?'
'No. . . . Certainly, Tregarva spoke of his conversion as of a turning to one of whom he had known all along, and disregarded.'
'Then do you turn like him, to Him whom you have known all along, and disregarded.'
'Yes—you! If half I have heard and seen of you be true, He has been telling you more, and not less, of Himself than He does to most men. You, for aught I know, may know more of Him than Tregarva does. The gulf between you and him is this: he has obeyed what he knew—and you have not.' . . .
Lancelot paused a moment, then—
'No!—do not cheat me! You said once that you were a churchman.'
'So I am. A Catholic of the Catholics. What then?'
'Who is He to whom you ask me to turn? You talk to me of Him as my Father; but you talk of Him to men of your own creed as The Father. You have mysterious dogmas of a Three in One. I know them . . . I have admired them. In all their forms—in the Vedas, in the Neo- Platonists, in Jacob Boehmen, in your Catholic creeds, in Coleridge, and the Germans from whom he borrowed, I have looked at them, and found in them beautiful phantasms of philosophy, . . . all but scientific necessities; . . . but—'
'I do not want cold abstract necessities of logic: I want living practical facts. If those mysterious dogmas speak of real and necessary properties of His being, they must be necessarily interwoven in practice with His revelation of Himself?'
'Most true. But how would you have Him unveil Himself?'
'By unveiling Himself.'
'What? To your simple intuition? That was Semele's ambition. . . . You recollect the end of that myth. You recollect, too, as you have read the Neo-Platonists, the result of their similar attempt.'
'Idolatry and magic.'
'True; and yet, such is the ambition of man, you who were just now envying Tregarva, are already longing to climb even higher than Saint Theresa.'
'I do not often indulge in such an ambition. But I have read in your Schoolmen tales of a Beatific Vision; how that the highest good for man was to see God.'
'And did you believe that?'
'One cannot believe the impossible—only regret its impossibility.'
'Impossibility? You can only see the Uncreate in the Create—the Infinite in the Finite—the absolute good in that which is like the good. Does Tregarva pretend to more? He sees God in His own thoughts and consciousnesses, and in the events of the world around him, imaged in the mirror of his own mind. Is your mirror, then, so much narrower than his?'
'I have none. I see but myself, and the world, and far above them, a dim awful Unity, which is but a notion.'
'Fool!—and slow of heart to believe! Where else would you see Him but in yourself and in the world? They are all things cognisable to you. Where else, but everywhere, would you see Him whom no man hath seen, or can see?'
'When He shows Himself to me in them, then I may see Him. But now— '
'You have seen Him; and because you do not know the name of what you see—or rather will not acknowledge it—you fancy that it is not there.'
'How in His name? What have I seen?'
'Ask yourself. Have you not seen, in your fancy, at least, an ideal of man, for which you spurned (for Mellot has told me all) the merely negative angelic—the merely receptive and indulgent feminine-ideals of humanity, and longed to be a man, like that ideal and perfect man?'
'And what was your misery all along? Was it not that you felt you ought to be a person with a one inner unity, a one practical will, purpose, and business given to you—not invented by yourself—in the great order and harmony of the universe,—and that you were not one?—That your self-willed fancies, and self-pleasing passions, had torn you in pieces, and left you inconsistent, dismembered, helpless, purposeless? That, in short, you were below your ideal, just in proportion as you were not a person?'
'God knows you speak truth!'
'Then must not that ideal of humanity be a person himself?—Else how can he be the ideal man? Where is your logic? An impersonal ideal of a personal species! . . . And what is the most special peculiarity of man? Is it not that he alone of creation is a son, with a Father to love and to obey? Then must not the ideal man be a son also? And last, but not least, is it not the very property of man that he is a spirit invested with flesh and blood? Then must not the ideal man have, once at least, taken on himself flesh and blood also? Else, how could he fulfil his own idea?'
'Yes . . . Yes . . . That thought, too, has glanced through my mind at moments, like a lightning-flash; till I have envied the old Greeks their faith in a human Zeus, son of Kronos—a human Phoibos, son of Zeus. But I could not rest in them. They are noble. But are they—are any—perfect ideals? The one thing I did, and do, and will believe, is the one which they do not fulfil—that man is meant to be the conqueror of the earth, matter, nature, decay, death itself, and to conquer them, as Bacon says, by obeying them.'
'Hold it fast;—but follow it out, and say boldly, the ideal of humanity must be one who has conquered nature—one who rules the universe—one who has vanquished death itself; and conquered them, as Bacon says, not by violating, but by submitting to them. Have you never heard of one who is said to have done this? How do you know that in this ideal which you have seen, you have not seen the Son—the perfect Man, who died and rose again, and sits for ever Healer, and Lord, and Ruler of the universe? . . . Stay—do not answer me. Have you not, besides, had dreams of an all-Father—from whom, in some mysterious way, all things and beings must derive their source, and that Son—if my theory be true—among the rest, and above all the rest?'
'Who has not? But what more dim or distant—more drearily, hopelessly notional, than that thought?'
'Only the thought that there is none. But the dreariness was only in your own inconsistency. If He be the Father of all, He must be the Father of persons—He Himself therefore a Person. He must be the Father of all in whom dwell personal qualities, power, wisdom, creative energy, love, justice, pity. Can He be their Father, unless all these very qualities are infinitely His? Does He now look so terrible to you?'
'I have had this dream, too; but I turned away from it in dread.'
'Doubtless you did. Some day you will know why. Does that former dream of a human Son relieve this dream of none of its awfulness? May not the type be beloved for the sake of its Antitype, even if the very name of All-Father is no guarantee for His paternal pity! . . . But you have had this dream. How know you, that in it you were not allowed a glimpse, however dim and distant, of Him whom the Catholics call the Father?'
'It may be; but—'
'Stay again. Had you never the sense of a Spirit in you—a will, an energy, an inspiration, deeper than the region of consciousness and reflection, which, like the wind, blew where it listed, and you heard the sound of it ringing through your whole consciousness, and yet knew not whence it came, or whither it went, or why it drove you on to dare and suffer, to love and hate; to be a fighter, a sportsman, an artist—'
'And a drunkard!' added Lancelot, sadly.
'And a drunkard. But did it never seem to you that this strange wayward spirit, if anything, was the very root and core of your own personality? And had you never a craving for the help of some higher, mightier spirit, to guide and strengthen yours; to regulate and civilise its savage and spasmodic self-will; to teach you your rightful place in the great order of the universe around; to fill you with a continuous purpose and with a continuous will to do it? Have you never had a dream of an Inspirer?—a spirit of all spirits?'
Lancelot turned away with a shudder.
'Talk of anything but that! Little you know—and yet you seem to know everything—the agony of craving with which I have longed for guidance; the rage and disgust which possessed me when I tried one pretended teacher after another, and found in myself depths which their spirits could not, or rather would not, touch. I have been irreverent to the false, from very longing to worship the true; I have been a rebel to sham leaders, for very desire to be loyal to a real one; I have envied my poor cousin his Jesuits; I have envied my own pointers their slavery to my whip and whistle; I have fled, as a last resource, to brandy and opium, for the inspiration which neither man nor demon would bestow. . . . Then I found . . . you know my story. . . . And when I looked to her to guide and inspire me, behold! I found myself, by the very laws of humanity, compelled to guide and inspire her;—blind, to lead the blind!—Thank God, for her sake, that she was taken from me!'
'Did you ever mistake these substitutes, even the noblest of them, for the reality? Did not your very dissatisfaction with them show you that the true inspirer ought to be, if he were to satisfy your cravings, a person, truly—else how could he inspire and teach you, a person yourself!—but an utterly infinite, omniscient, eternal person? How know you that in that dream He was not unveiling Himself to you—He, The Spirit, who is the Lord and Giver of Life; The Spirit, who teaches men their duty and relation to those above, around, beneath them; the Spirit of order, obedience, loyalty, brotherhood, mercy, condescension?'
'But I never could distinguish these dreams from each other; the moment that I essayed to separate them, I seemed to break up the thought of an absolute one ground of all things, without which the universe would have seemed a piecemeal chaos; and they receded to infinite distance, and became transparent, barren, notional shadows of my own brain, even as your words are now.'
'How know you that you were meant to distinguish them? How know you that that very impossibility was not the testimony of fact and experience to that old Catholic dogma, for the sake of which you just now shrank from my teaching? I say that this is so. How do you know that it is not?'
'But how do I know that it is? I want proof.'
'And you are the man who was, five minutes ago, crying out for practical facts, and disdaining cold abstract necessities of logic! Can you prove that your body exists?'
'Can you prove that your spirit exists?'
'And yet know that they both exist. And how?'
'Exactly. When you try to prove either of them without the other, you fail. You arrive, if at anything, at some barren polar notion. By action alone you prove the mesothetic fact which underlies and unites them.'
'Hither. I am not going to demonstrate the indemonstrable—to give you intellectual notions which, after all, will be but reflexes of my own peculiar brain, and so add the green of my spectacles to the orange of yours, and make night hideous by fresh monsters. I may help you to think yourself into a theoretical Tritheism, or a theoretical Sabellianism; I cannot make you think yourself into practical and living Catholicism. As you of anthropology, so I say of theology,—Solvitur ambulando. Don't believe Catholic doctrine unless you like; faith is free. But see if you can reclaim either society or yourself without it; see if He will let you reclaim them. Take Catholic doctrine for granted; act on it; and see if you will not reclaim them!'
'Take for granted? Am I to come, after all, to implicit faith?'
'Implicit fiddlesticks! Did you ever read the Novum Organum? Mellot told me that you were a geologist.'
'You took for granted what you read in geological books, and went to the mine and the quarry afterwards, to verify it in practice; and according as you found fact correspond to theory, you retained or rejected. Was that implicit faith, or common sense, common humility, and sound induction?'
'Sound induction, at least.'
'Then go now, and do likewise. Believe that the learned, wise, and good, for 1800 years, may possibly have found out somewhat, or have been taught somewhat, on this matter, and test their theory by practice. If a theory on such a point is worth anything at all, it is omnipotent and all-explaining. If it will not work, of course there is no use keeping it a moment. Perhaps it will work. I say it will.'
'But I shall not work it; I still dread my own spectacles. I dare not trust myself alone to verify a theory of Murchison's or Lyell's. How dare I trust myself in this?'
'Then do not trust yourself alone: come and see what others are doing. Come, and become a member of a body which is verifying, by united action, those universal and eternal truths, which are too great for the grasp of any one time-ridden individual. Not that we claim the gift of infallibility, any more than I do that of perfect utterance of the little which we do know.'
'Then what do you promise me in asking me to go with you?'
'Practical proof that these my words are true,—practical proof that they can make a nation all that England might be and is not,—the sight of what a people might become who, knowing thus far, do what they know. We believe no more than you, but we believe it. Come and see!—and yet you will not see; facts, and the reasons of them, will be as impalpable to you there as here, unless you can again obey your Novum Organum.'
'By renouncing all your idols—the idols of the race and of the market, of the study and of the theatre. Every national prejudice, every vulgar superstition, every remnant of pedantic system, every sentimental like or dislike, must be left behind you, for the induction of the world problem. You must empty yourself before God will fill you.'
'Of what can I strip myself more? I know nothing; I can do nothing; I hope nothing; I fear nothing; I am nothing.'
'And you would gain something. But for what purpose?—for on that depends your whole success. To be famous, great, glorious, powerful, beneficent?'
'As I live, the height of my ambition, small though it be, is only to find my place, though it were but as a sweeper of chimneys. If I dare wish—if I dare choose, it would be only this—to regenerate one little parish in the whole world . . . To do that, and die, for aught I care, without ever being recognised as the author of my own deeds . . . to hear them, if need be, imputed to another, and myself accursed as a fool, if I can but atone for the sins of . . .
He paused; but his teacher understood him.
'It is enough,' he said. 'Come with me; Tregarva waits for us near. Again I warn you; you will hear nothing new; you shall only see what you, and all around you, have known and not done, known and done. We have no peculiar doctrines or systems; the old creeds are enough for us. But we have obeyed the teaching which we received in each and every age, and allowed ourselves to be built up, generation by generation—as the rest of Christendom might have done—into a living temple, on the foundation which is laid already, and other than which no man can lay.'
'And what is that?'
'Jesus Christ—THE MAN.'
He took Lancelot by the hand. A peaceful warmth diffused itself over his limbs; the droning of the organ sounded fainter and more faint; the marble monuments grew dim and distant; and, half unconsciously, he followed like a child through the cathedral door.
I can foresee many criticisms, and those not unreasonable ones, on this little book—let it be some excuse at least for me, that I have foreseen them. Readers will complain, I doubt not, of the very mythical and mysterious denouement of a story which began by things so gross and palpable as field-sports and pauperism. But is it not true that, sooner or later, 'omnia exeunt in mysterium'? Out of mystery we all came at our birth, fox-hunters and paupers, sages and saints; into mystery we shall all return . . . at all events, when we die; probably, as it seems to me, some of us will return thither before we die. For if the signs of the times mean anything, they portend, I humbly submit, a somewhat mysterious and mythical denouement to this very age, and to those struggles of it which I have herein attempted, clumsily enough, to sketch. We are entering fast, I both hope and fear, into the region of prodigy, true and false; and our great-grandchildren will look back on the latter half of this century, and ask, if it were possible that such things could happen in an organised planet? The Benthamites will receive this announcement, if it ever meets their eyes, with shouts of laughter. Be it so . . . nous verrons . . . In the year 1847, if they will recollect, they were congratulating themselves on the nations having grown too wise to go to war any more . . . and in 1848? So it has been from the beginning. What did philosophers expect in 1792? What did they see in 1793? Popery was to be eternal: but the Reformation came nevertheless. Rome was to be eternal: but Alaric came. Jerusalem was to be eternal: but Titus came. Gomorrha was to be eternal, I doubt not; but the fire-floods came. . . . 'As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating, drinking, marrying, and giving in marriage; and the flood came and swept them all away.' Of course they did not expect it. They went on saying, 'Where is the promise of his coming? For all things continue as they were from the beginning.' Most true; but what if they were from the beginning—over a volcano's mouth? What if the method whereon things have proceeded since the creation were, as geology as well as history proclaims, a cataclysmic method? What then? Why should not this age, as all others like it have done, end in a cataclysm, and a prodigy, and a mystery? And why should not my little book do likewise?
Again—Readers will probably complain of the fragmentary and unconnected form of the book. Let them first be sure that that is not an integral feature of the subject itself, and therefore the very form the book should take. Do not young men think, speak, act, just now, in this very incoherent, fragmentary way; without methodic education or habits of thought; with the various stereotyped systems which they have received by tradition, breaking up under them like ice in a thaw; with a thousand facts and notions, which they know not how to classify, pouring in on them like a flood?—a very Yeasty state of mind altogether, like a mountain burn in a spring rain, carrying down with it stones, sticks, peat-water, addle grouse-eggs and drowned kingfishers, fertilising salts and vegetable poisons— not, alas! without a large crust, here and there, of sheer froth. Yet no heterogeneous confused flood-deposit, no fertile meadows below. And no high water, no fishing. It is in the long black droughts, when the water is foul from lowness, and not from height, that Hydras and Desmidiae, and Rotifers, and all uncouth pseud- organisms, bred of putridity, begin to multiply, and the fish are sick for want of a fresh, and the cunningest artificial fly is of no avail, and the shrewdest angler will do nothing—except with a gross fleshly gilt-tailed worm, or the cannibal bait of roe, whereby parent fishes, like competitive barbarisms, devour each other's flesh and blood—perhaps their own. It is when the stream is clearing after a flood, that the fish will rise. . . . When will the flood clear, and the fish come on the feed again?
Next; I shall be blamed for having left untold the fate of those characters who have acted throughout as Lancelot's satellites. But indeed their only purpose consisted in their influence on his development, and that of Tregarva; I do not see that we have any need to follow them farther. The reader can surely conjecture their history for himself. . . . He may be pretty certain that they have gone the way of the world . . . abierunt ad plures . . . for this life or for the next. They have done—very much what he or I might have done in their place—nothing. Nature brings very few of her children to perfection, in these days or any other. . . . And for Grace, which does bring its children to perfection, the quantity and quality of the perfection must depend on the quantity and quality of the grace, and that again, to an awful extent—The Giver only knows to how great an extent—on the will of the recipients, and therefore in exact proportion to their lowness in the human scale, on the circumstances which environ them. So my characters are now—very much what the reader might expect them to be. I confess them to be unsatisfactory; so are most things: but how can I solve problems which fact has not yet solved for me? How am I to extricate my antitypal characters, when their living types have not yet extricated themselves? When the age moves on, my story shall move on with it. Let it be enough, that my puppets have retreated in good order, and that I am willing to give to those readers who have conceived something of human interest for them, the latest accounts of their doings.
With the exception, that is, of Mellot and Sabina. Them I confess to be an utterly mysterious, fragmentary little couple. Why not? Do you not meet with twenty such in the course of your life?— Charming people, who for aught you know may be opera folk from Paris, or emissaries from the Czar, or disguised Jesuits, or disguised Angels . . . who evidently 'have a history,' and a strange one, which you never expect or attempt to fathom; who interest you intensely for a while, and then are whirled away again in the great world-waltz, and lost in the crowd for ever? Why should you wish my story to be more complete than theirs is, or less romantic than theirs may be? There are more things in London, as well as in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in our philosophy. If you but knew the secret history of that dull gentleman opposite whom you sat at dinner yesterday!—the real thoughts of that chattering girl whom you took down!—'Omnia exeunt in mysterium,' I say again. Every human being is a romance, a miracle to himself now; and will appear as one to all the world in That Day.
But now for the rest; and Squire Lavington first. He is a very fair sample of the fate of the British public; for he is dead and buried: and readers would not have me extricate him out of that situation. If you ask news of the reason and manner of his end, I can only answer, that like many others, he went out—as candles do. I believe he expressed general repentance for all his sins—all, at least, of which he was aware. To confess and repent of the state of the Whitford Priors estate, and of the poor thereon, was of course more than any minister, of any denomination whatsoever, could be required to demand of him; seeing that would have involved a recognition of those duties of property, of which the good old gentleman was to the last a staunch denier; and which are as yet seldom supposed to be included in any Christian creed, Catholic or other. Two sermons were preached in Whitford on the day of his funeral; one by Mr. O'Blareaway, on the text from Job, provided for such occasions; 'When the ear heard him, then it blessed him,' etc. etc.: the other by the Baptist preacher, on two verses of the forty-ninth Psalm—
'They fancy that their houses shall endure for ever, and call the lands after their own names.
'Yet man being in honour hath no understanding, but is compared to the beasts that perish.'
Waiving the good taste, which was probably on a par in both cases, the reader is left to decide which of the two texts was most applicable.
Mrs. Lavington is Mrs. Lavington no longer. She has married, to the astonishment of the world in general, that 'excellent man,' Mr. O'Blareaway, who has been discovered not to be quite as young as he appeared, his graces being principally owing to a Brutus wig, which he has now wisely discarded. Mrs. Lavington now sits in state under her husband's ministry, as the leader of the religious world in the fashionable watering-place of Steamingbath, and derives her notions of the past, present, and future state of the universe principally from those two meek and unbiased periodicals, the Protestant Hue- and-Cry and the Christian Satirist, to both of which O'Blareaway is a constant contributor. She has taken such an aversion to Whitford since Argemone's death, that she has ceased to have any connection with that unhealthy locality, beyond the popular and easy one of rent-receiving. O'Blareaway has never entered the parish to his knowledge since Mr. Lavington's funeral; and was much pleased, the last time I rode with him, at my informing him that a certain picturesque moorland which he had been greatly admiring, was his own possession. . . . After all, he is 'an excellent man;' and when I met a large party at his house the other day, and beheld dory and surmullet, champagne and lachryma Christi, amid all the glory of the Whitford plate . . . (some of it said to have belonged to the altar of the Priory Church four hundred years ago), I was deeply moved by the impressive tone in which, at the end of a long grace, he prayed 'that the daily bread of our less favoured brethren might be mercifully vouchsafed to them.' . . . My dear readers, would you have me, even if I could, extricate him from such an Elysium by any denouement whatsoever?
Poor dear Luke, again, is said to be painting lean frescoes for the Something-or-other-Kirche at Munich; and the vicar, under the name of Father Stylites, of the order of St. Philumena, is preaching impassioned sermons to crowded congregations at St. George's, Bedlam. How can I extricate them from that? No one has come forth of it yet, to my knowledge, except by paths whereof I shall use Lessing's saying, 'I may have my whole hand full of truth, and yet find good to open only my little finger.' But who cares for their coming out? They are but two more added to the five hundred, at whose moral suicide, and dive into the Roman Avernus, a quasi- Protestant public looks on with a sort of savage satisfaction, crying only, 'Didn't we tell you so?'—and more than half hopes that they will not come back again, lest they should be discovered to have learnt anything while they were there. What are two among that five hundred? much more among the five thousand who seem destined shortly to follow them?
The banker, thanks to Barnakill's assistance, is rapidly getting rich again—who would wish to stop him? However, he is wiser, on some points at least, than he was of yore. He has taken up the flax movement violently of late—perhaps owing to some hint of Barnakill's—talks of nothing but Chevalier Claussen and Mr. Donellan, and is very anxious to advance capital to any landlord who will grow flax on Mr. Warnes's method, either in England or Ireland. . . . John Bull, however, has not yet awakened sufficiently to listen to his overtures, but sits up in bed, dolefully rubbing his eyes, and bemoaning the evanishment of his protectionist dream— altogether realising tolerably, he and his land, Dr. Watts' well- known moral song concerning the sluggard and his garden.
Lord Minchampstead again prospers. Either the nuns of Minchampstead have left no Nemesis behind them, like those of Whitford, or a certain wisdom and righteousness of his, however dim and imperfect, averts it for a time. So, as I said, he prospers, and is hated; especially by his farmers, to whom he has just offered long leases, and a sliding corn-rent. They would have hated him just the same if he had kept them at rack-rents; and he has not forgotten that; but they have. They looked shy at the leases, because they bind them to farm high, which they do not know how to do; and at the corn-rent, because they think that he expects wheat to rise again—which, being a sensible man, he very probably does. But for my story—I certainly do not see how to extricate him or any one else from farmers' stupidity, greed, and ill-will. . . . That question must have seven years' more free-trade to settle it, before I can say anything thereon. Still less can I foreshadow the fate of his eldest son, who has just been rusticated from Christ Church for riding one of Simmon's hacks through a china-shop window; especially as the youth is reported to be given to piquette and strong liquors, and, like many noblemen's eldest sons, is considered 'not to have the talent of his father.' As for the old lord himself, I have no wish to change or develop him in any way—except to cut slips off him, as you do off a willow, and plant two or three in every county in England. Let him alone to work out his own plot . . . we have not seen the end of it yet; but whatever it will be, England has need of him as a transition-stage between feudalism and * * * * ; for many a day to come. If he be not the ideal landlord, he is nearer it than any we are like yet to see. . . .
Except one; and that, after all, is Lord Vieuxbois. Let him go on, like a gallant gentleman as he is, and prosper. And he will prosper, for he fears God, and God is with him. He has much to learn; and a little to unlearn. He has to learn that God is a living God now, as well as in the middle ages; to learn to trust not in antique precedents, but in eternal laws: to learn that his tenants, just because they are children of God, are not to be kept children, but developed and educated into sons; to learn that God's grace, like His love, is free, and that His spirit bloweth where it listeth, and vindicates its own free-will against our narrow systems, by revealing, at times, even to nominal Heretics and Infidels, truths which the Catholic Church must humbly receive, as the message of Him who is wider, deeper, more tolerant, than even she can be. . . And he is in the way to learn all this. Let him go on. At what conclusions he will attain, he knows not, nor do I. But this I know, that he is on the path to great and true conclusions. . . . And he is just about to be married, too. That surely should teach him something. The papers inform me that his bride elect is Lord Minchampstead's youngest daughter. That should be a noble mixture; there should be stalwart offspring, spiritual as well as physical, born of that intermarriage of the old and the new. We will hope it: perhaps some of my readers, who enter into my inner meaning, may also pray for it.
Whom have I to account for besides? Crawy—though some of my readers may consider the mention of him superfluous. But to those who do not, I may impart the news, that last month, in the union workhouse—he died; and may, for aught we know, have ere this met Squire Lavington . . . He is supposed, or at least said, to have had a soul to be saved . . . as I think, a body to be saved also. But what is one more among so many? And in an over-peopled country like this, too. . . . One must learn to look at things—and paupers—in the mass.
The poor of Whitford also? My dear readers, I trust you will not ask me just now to draw the horoscope of the Whitford poor, or of any others. Really that depends principally on yourselves. . . . But for the present, the poor of Whitford, owing, as it seems to them and me, to quite other causes than an 'overstocked labour- market,' or too rapid 'multiplication of their species,' are growing more profligate, reckless, pauperised, year by year. O'Blareaway complained sadly to me the other day that the poor-rates were becoming 'heavier and heavier'—had nearly reached, indeed, what they were under the old law. . . .
But there is one who does not complain, but gives and gives, and stints herself to give, and weeps in silence and unseen over the evils which she has yearly less and less power to stem.
For in a darkened chamber of the fine house at Steamingbath, lies on a sofa Honoria Lavington—beautiful no more; the victim of some mysterious and agonising disease, about which the physicians agree on one point only—that it is hopeless. The 'curse of the Lavingtons' is on her; and she bears it. There she lies, and prays, and reads, and arranges her charities, and writes little books for children, full of the Beloved Name which is for ever on her lips. She suffers—none but herself knows how much, or how strangely—yet she is never heard to sigh. She weeps in secret—she has long ceased to plead—for others, not for herself; and prays for them too—perhaps some day her prayers will yet he answered. But she greets all visitors with a smile fresh from heaven; and all who enter that room leave it saddened, and yet happy, like those who have lingered a moment at the gates of paradise, and seen angels ascending and descending upon earth. There she lies—who could wish her otherwise? Even Doctor Autotheus Maresnest, the celebrated mesmeriser, who, though he laughs at the Resurrection of the Lord, is confidently reported to have raised more than one corpse to life himself, was heard to say, after having attended her professionally, that her waking bliss and peace, although unfortunately unattributable even to autocatalepsy, much less to somnambulist exaltation, was on the whole, however unscientific, almost as enviable.
There she lies—and will lie till she dies—the type of thousands more, 'the martyrs by the pang without the palm,' who find no mates in this life . . . and yet may find them in the life to come., . . Poor Paul Tregarva! Little he fancies how her days run by! . . .
At least, there has been no news since that last scene in St. Paul's Cathedral, either of him or Lancelot. How their strange teacher has fulfilled his promise of guiding their education; whether they have yet reached the country of Prester John; whether, indeed, that Caucasian Utopia has a local and bodily existence, or was only used by Barnakill to shadow out that Ideal which is, as he said of the Garden of Eden, always near us, underlying the Actual, as the spirit does its body, exhibiting itself step by step through all the falsehoods and confusions of history and society, giving life to all in it which is not falsehood and decay; on all these questions I can give my readers no sort of answer; perhaps I may as yet have no answer to give; perhaps I may be afraid of giving one; perhaps the times themselves are giving, at once cheerfully and sadly, in strange destructions and strange births, a better answer than I can give. I have set forth, as far as in me lay, the data of my problem: and surely, if the premises be given, wise men will not have to look far for the conclusion. In homely English I have given my readers Yeast; if they be what I take them for, they will be able to bake with it themselves.
And yet I have brought Lancelot, at least—perhaps Tregarva too—to a conclusion, and an all-important one, which whoso reads may find fairly printed in these pages. Henceforth his life must begin anew. Were I to carry on the thread of his story continuously he would still seem to have overleaped as vast a gulf as if I had re- introduced him as a gray-haired man. Strange! that the death of one of the lovers should seem no complete termination to their history, when their marriage would have been accepted by all as the legitimate denouement, beyond which no information was to be expected. As if the history of love always ended at the altar! Oftener it only begins there; and all before it is but a mere longing to love. Why should readers complain of being refused the future history of one life, when they are in most novels cut short by the marriage finale from the biography of two?
But if, over and above this, any reader should be wroth at my having left Lancelot's history unfinished on questions in his opinion more important than that of love, let me entreat him to set manfully about finishing his own history—a far more important one to him than Lancelot's. If he shall complain that doubts are raised for which no solution is given, that my hero is brought into contradictory beliefs without present means of bringing them to accord, into passive acquiescence in vast truths without seeing any possibility of practically applying them—let him consider well whether such be not his own case; let him, if he be as most are, thank God when he finds out that such is his case, when he knows at last that those are most blind who say they see, when he becomes at last conscious how little he believes, how little he acts up to that small belief. Let him try to right somewhat of the doubt, confusion, custom-worship, inconsistency, idolatry, within him—some of the greed, bigotry, recklessness, respectably superstitious atheism around him; and perhaps before his new task is finished, Lancelot and Tregarva may have returned with a message, if not for him—for that depends upon him having ears to hear it—yet possibly for strong Lord Minchampstead, probably for good Lord Vieuxbois, and surely for the sinners and the slaves of Whitford Priors. What it will be, I know not altogether; but this I know, that if my heroes go on as they have set forth, looking with single mind for some one ground of human light and love, some everlasting rock whereon to build, utterly careless what the building may be, howsoever contrary to precedent and prejudice, and the idols of the day, provided God, and nature, and the accumulated lessons of all the ages, help them in its construction—then they will find in time the thing they seek, and see how the will of God may at last be done on earth, even as it is done in heaven. But, alas! between them and it are waste raging waters, foul mud banks, thick with dragons and sirens; and many a bitter day and blinding night, in cold and hunger, spiritual and perhaps physical, await them. For it was a true vision which John Bunyan saw, and one which, as the visions of wise men are wont to do, meant far more than the seer fancied, when he beheld in his dream that there was indeed a land of Beulah, and Arcadian Shepherd Paradise, on whose mountain tops the everlasting sunshine lay; but that the way to it, as these last three years are preaching to us, went past the mouth of Hell, and through the valley of the Shadow of Death.