PAUL FABER, SURGEON
BY GEORGE MACDONALD
I. THE LANE II. THE MINISTER'S DOOR III. THE MANOR HOUSE IV. THE RECTORY V. THE ROAD TO OWLKIRK VI. THE COTTAGE VII. THE PULPIT VIII. THE MANOR HOUSE DINING-ROOM IX. THE RECTORY DRAWING-ROOM X. MR. DRAKE'S ARBOR XI. THE CHAMBER AT THE COTTAGE XII. THE MINISTER'S GARDEN XIII. THE HEATH AT NESTLEY XIV. THE GARDEN AT OWLKIRK XV. THE PARLOR AT OWLKIRK XVI. THE BUTCHER'S SHOP XVII. THE PARLOR AGAIN XVIII. THE PARK AT NESTLEY XIX. THE RECTORY XX. AT THE PIANO XXI. THE PASTOR'S STUDY XXII. TWO MINDS XXIII. THE MINISTER'S BEDROOM XXIV. JULIET'S CHAMBER XXV. OSTERFIELD PARK XXVI. THE SURGERY DOOR XXVII. THE GROANS OF THE INARTICULATE XXVIII. COW-LANE CHAPEL XXIX. THE DOCTOR'S HOUSE XXX. THE PONY-CARRIAGE XXXI. A CONSCIENCE XXXII. THE OLD HOUSE AT GLASTON XXXIII. PAUL FABER'S DRESSING-ROOM XXXIV. THE BOTTOMLESS POOL XXXV. A HEART XXXVI. TWO MORE MINDS XXXVII. THE DOCTOR'S STUDY XXXVIII. THE MIND OF JULIET XXXIX. ANOTHER MIND XL. A DESOLATION XLI. THE OLD GARDEN XLII. THE POTTERY XLIII. THE GATE-LODGE XLIV. THE CORNER OF THE BUTCHER'S SHOP XLV. HERE AND THERE XLVI. THE MINISTER'S STUDY XLVII. THE BLOWING OF THE WIND XLVIII. THE BORDER-LAND XLIX. EMPTY HOUSES L. FALLOW FIELDS LI. THE NEW OLD HOUSE LII. THE LEVEL OF THE LYTHE LIII. MY LADY'S CHAMBER LIV. NOWHERE AND EVERYWHERE
Clear-windowed temple of the God of grace, From the loud wind to me a hiding-place! Thee gird broad lands with genial motions rife, But in thee dwells, high-throned, the Life of life Thy test no stagnant moat half-filled with mud, But living waters witnessing in flood! Thy priestess, beauty-clad, and gospel-shod, A fellow laborer in the earth with God! Good will art thou, and goodness all thy arts— Doves to their windows, and to thee fly hearts! Take of the corn in thy dear shelter grown, Which else the storm had all too rudely blown; When to a higher temple thou shalt mount, Thy earthly gifts in heavenly friends shall count; Let these first-fruits enter thy lofty door, And golden lie upon thy golden floor.
PORTO FINO, December, 1878.
The rector sat on the box of his carriage, driving his horses toward his church, the grand old abbey-church of Glaston. His wife was inside, and an old woman—he had stopped on the road to take her up—sat with her basket on the foot-board behind. His coachman sat beside him; he never took the reins when his master was there. Mr. Bevis drove like a gentleman, in an easy, informal, yet thoroughly business-like way. His horses were black—large, well-bred, and well-fed, but neither young nor showy, and the harness was just the least bit shabby. Indeed, the entire turnout, including his own hat and the coachman's, offered the beholder that aspect of indifference to show, which, by the suggestion of a nodding acquaintance with poverty, gave it the right clerical air of being not of this world. Mrs. Bevis had her basket on the seat before her, containing, beneath an upper stratum of flowers, some of the first rhubarb of the season and a pound or two of fresh butter for a poor relation in the town.
The rector was a man about sixty, with keen gray eyes, a good-humored mouth, a nose whose enlargement had not of late gone in the direction of its original design, and a face more than inclining to the rubicund, suggestive of good living as well as open air. Altogether he had the look of a man who knew what he was about, and was on tolerable terms with himself, and on still better with his neighbor. The heart under his ribs was larger even than indicated by the benevolence of his countenance and the humor hovering over his mouth. Upon the countenance of his wife rested a placidity sinking almost into fatuity. Its features were rather indications than completions, but there was a consciousness of comfort about the mouth, and the eyes were alive.
They were passing at a good speed through a varying country—now a thicket of hazel, now great patches of furze upon open common, and anon well-kept farm-hedges, and clumps of pine, the remnants of ancient forest, when, halfway through a lane so narrow that the rector felt every yard toward the other end a gain, his horses started, threw up their heads, and looked for a moment wild as youth. Just in front of them, in the air, over a high hedge, scarce touching the topmost twigs with his hoofs, appeared a great red horse. Down he came into the road, bringing with him a rather tall, certainly handsome, and even at first sight, attractive rider. A dark brown mustache upon a somewhat smooth sunburned face, and a stern settling of the strong yet delicately finished features gave him a military look; but the sparkle of his blue eyes contradicted his otherwise cold expression. He drew up close to the hedge to make room for the carriage, but as he neared him Mr. Bevis slackened his speed, and during the following talk they were moving gently along with just room for the rider to keep clear of the off fore wheel.
"Heigh, Faber," said the clergyman, "you'll break your neck some day! You should think of your patients, man. That wasn't a jump for any man in his senses to take."
"It is but fair to give my patients a chance now and then," returned the surgeon, who never met the rector but there was a merry passage between them.
"Upon my word," said Mr. Bevis, "when you came over the hedge there, I took you for Death in the Revelations, that had tired out his own and changed horses with t'other one."
As he spoke, he glanced back with a queer look, for he found himself guilty of a little irreverence, and his conscience sat behind him in the person of his wife. But that conscience was a very easy one, being almost as incapable of seeing a joke as of refusing a request.
"—How many have you bagged this week?" concluded the rector.
"I haven't counted up yet," answered the surgeon. "—You've got one behind, I see," he added, signing with his whip over his shoulder.
"Poor old thing!" said the rector, as if excusing himself, "she's got a heavy basket, and we all need a lift sometimes—eh, doctor?—into the world and out again, at all events."
There was more of the reflective in this utterance than the parson was in the habit of displaying; but he liked the doctor, and, although as well as every one else he knew him to be no friend to the church, or to Christianity, or even to religious belief of any sort, his liking, coupled with a vague sense of duty, had urged him to this most unassuming attempt to cast the friendly arm of faith around the unbeliever.
"I plead guilty to the former," answered Faber, "but somehow I have never practiced the euthanasia. The instincts of my profession, I suppose are against it. Besides, that ought to be your business."
"Not altogether," said the rector, with a kindly look from his box, which, however, only fell on the top of the doctor's hat.
Faber seemed to feel the influence of it notwithstanding, for he returned,
"If all clergymen were as liberal as you, Mr. Bevis, there would be more danger of some of us giving in."
The word liberal seemed to rouse the rector to the fact that his coachman sat on the box, yet another conscience, beside him. Sub divo one must not be too liberal. There was a freedom that came out better over a bottle of wine than over the backs of horses. With a word he quickened the pace of his cleric steeds, and the doctor was dropped parallel with the carriage window. There, catching sight of Mrs. Bevis, of whose possible presence he had not thought once, he paid his compliments, and made his apologies, then trotted his gaunt Ruber again beside the wheel, and resumed talk, but not the same talk, with the rector. For a few minutes it turned upon the state of this and that ailing parishioner; for, while the rector left all the duties of public service to his curate, he ministered to the ailing and poor upon and immediately around his own little property, which was in that corner of his parish furthest from the town; but ere long, as all talk was sure to do between the parson and any body who owned but a donkey, it veered round in a certain direction.
"You don't seem to feed that horse of yours upon beans, Faber," he said.
"I don't seem, I grant," returned the doctor; "but you should see him feed! He eats enough for two, but he can't make fat: all goes to muscle and pluck."
"Well, I must allow the less fat he has to carry the better, if you're in the way of heaving him over such hedges on to the hard road. In my best days I should never have faced a jump like that in cold blood," said the rector.
"I've got no little belongings of wife or child to make a prudent man of me, you see," returned the surgeon. "At worst it's but a knock on the head and a longish snooze."
The rector fancied he felt his wife's shudder shake the carriage, but the sensation was of his own producing. The careless defiant words wrought in him an unaccountable kind of terror: it seemed almost as if they had rushed of themselves from his own lips.
"Take care, my dear sir," he said solemnly. "There may be something to believe, though you don't believe it."
"I must take the chance," replied Faber. "I will do my best to make calamity of long life, by keeping the rheumatic and epileptic and phthisical alive, while I know how. Where nothing can be known, I prefer not to intrude."
A pause followed. At length said the rector,
"You are so good a fellow, Faber, I wish you were better. When will you come and dine with me?"
"Soon, I hope," answered the surgeon, "but I am too busy at present. For all her sweet ways and looks, the spring is not friendly to man, and my work is to wage war with nature."
A second pause followed. The rector would gladly have said something, but nothing would come.
"By the by," he said at length, "I thought I saw you pass the gate—let me see—on Monday: why did you not look in?"
"I hadn't a moment's time. I was sent for to a patient in the village."
"Yes, I know; I heard of that. I wish you would give me your impression of the lady. She is a stranger here.—John, that gate is swinging across the road. Get down and shut it.—Who and what is she?"
"That I should be glad to learn from you. All I know is that she is a lady. There can not be two opinions as to that."
"They tell me she is a beauty," said the parson.
The doctor nodded his head emphatically.
"Haven't you seen her?" he said.
"Scarcely—only her back. She walks well. Do you know nothing about her? Who has she with her?"
"Then Mrs. Bevis shall call upon her."
"I think at present she had better not. Mrs. Puckridge is a good old soul, and pays her every attention."
"What is the matter with her? Nothing infectious?"
"Oh, no! She has caught a chill. I was afraid of pneumonia yesterday."
"Then she is better?"
"I confess I am a little anxious about her. But I ought not to be dawdling like this, with half my patients to see. I must bid you good morning.—Good morning, Mrs. Bevis."
As he spoke, Faber drew rein, and let the carriage pass; then turned his horse's head to the other side of the way, scrambled up the steep bank to the field above, and galloped toward Glaston, whose great church rose high in sight. Over hedge and ditch he rode straight for its tower.
"The young fool!" said the rector, looking after him admiringly, and pulling up his horses that he might more conveniently see him ride.
"Jolly old fellow!" said the surgeon at his second jump. "I wonder how much he believes now of all the rot! Enough to humbug himself with—not a hair more. He has no passion for humbugging other people. There's that curate of his now believes every thing, and would humbug the whole world if he could! How any man can come to fool himself so thoroughly as that man does, is a mystery to me!—I wonder what the rector's driving into Glaston for on a Saturday."
Paul Faber was a man who had espoused the cause of science with all the energy of a suppressed poetic nature. He had such a horror of all kinds of intellectual deception or mistake, that he would rather run the risk of rejecting any number of truths than of accepting one error. In this spirit he had concluded that, as no immediate communication had ever reached his eye, or ear, or hand from any creator of men, he had no ground for believing in the existence of such a creator; while a thousand unfitnesses evident in the world, rendered the existence of one perfectly wise and good and powerful, absolutely impossible. If one said to him that he believed thousands of things he had never himself known, he answered he did so upon testimony. If one rejoined that here too we have testimony, he replied it was not credible testimony, but founded on such experiences as he was justified in considering imaginary, seeing they were like none he had ever had himself. When he was asked whether, while he yet believed there was such a being as his mother told him of, he had ever set himself to act upon that belief, he asserted himself fortunate in the omission of what might have riveted on him the fetters of a degrading faith. For years he had turned his face toward all speculation favoring the non-existence of a creating Will, his back toward all tending to show that such a one might be. Argument on the latter side he set down as born of prejudice, and appealing to weakness; on the other, as springing from courage, and appealing to honesty. He had never put it to himself which would be the worse deception—to believe there was a God when there was none; or to believe there was no God when there was one.
He had, however, a large share of the lower but equally indispensable half of religion—that, namely, which has respect to one's fellows. Not a man in Glaston was readier, by day or by night, to run to the help of another, and that not merely in his professional capacity, but as a neighbor, whatever the sort of help was needed.
Thomas Wingfold, the curate, had a great respect for him. Having himself passed through many phases of serious, and therefore painful doubt, he was not as much shocked by the surgeon's unbelief as some whose real faith was even less than Faber's; but he seldom laid himself out to answer his objections. He sought rather, but as yet apparently in vain, to cause the roots of those very objections to strike into, and thus disclose to the man himself, the deeper strata of his being. This might indeed at first only render him the more earnest in his denials, but at length it would probably rouse in him that spiritual nature to which alone such questions really belong, and which alone is capable of coping with them. The first notable result, however, of the surgeon's intercourse with the curate was, that, whereas he had till then kept his opinions to himself in the presence of those who did not sympathize with them, he now uttered his disbelief with such plainness as I have shown him using toward the rector. This did not come of aggravated antagonism, but of admiration of the curate's openness in the presentment of truths which must be unacceptable to the majority of his congregation.
There had arisen therefore betwixt the doctor and the curate a certain sort of intimacy, which had at length come to the rector's ears. He had, no doubt, before this heard many complaints against the latter, but he had laughed them aside. No theologian himself, he had found the questions hitherto raised in respect of Wingfold's teaching, altogether beyond the pale of his interest. He could not comprehend why people should not content themselves with being good Christians, minding their own affairs, going to church, and so feeling safe for the next world. What did opinion matter as long as they were good Christians? He did not exactly know what he believed himself, but he hoped he was none the less of a Christian for that! Was it not enough to hold fast whatever lay in the apostles', the Nicene, and the Athanasian creed, without splitting metaphysical hairs with your neighbor? But was it decent that his curate should be hand and glove with one who denied the existence of God? He did not for a moment doubt the faith of Wingfold; but a man must have some respect for appearances: appearances were facts as well as realities were facts. An honest man must not keep company with a thief, if he would escape the judgment of being of thievish kind. Something must be done; probably something said would be enough, and the rector was now on his way to say it.
THE MINISTER'S DOOR.
Every body knew Mr. Faber, whether he rode Ruber or Niger—Rubber and Nigger, his groom called them—and many were the greetings that met him as he passed along Pine Street, for, despite the brand of his atheism, he was popular. The few ladies out shopping bowed graciously, for both his manners and person were pleasing, and his professional attentions were unexceptionable. When he dropped into a quick walk, to let Ruber cool a little ere he reached his stall, he was several times accosted and detained. The last who addressed him was Mr. Drew, the principal draper of the town. He had been standing for some time in his shop-door, but as Faber was about to turn the corner, he stepped out on the pavement, and the doctor checked his horse in the gutter.
"I wish you would look in upon Mr. Drake, sir," he said. "I am quite uneasy about him. Indeed I am sure he must be in a bad way, though he won't allow it. He's not an easy man to do any thing for, but just you let me know what can be done for him—and we'll contrive. A nod, you know, doctor, etc."
"I don't well see how I can," returned Faber. "To call now without being sent for, when I never called before!—No, Mr. Drew, I don't think I could."
It was a lovely spring noon. The rain that had fallen heavily during the night lay in flashing pools that filled the street with suns. Here and there were little gardens before the houses, and the bushes in them were hung with bright drops, so bright that the rain seemed to have fallen from the sun himself, not from the clouds.
"Why, goodness gracious!" cried the draper, "here's your excuse come direct!"
Under the very nose of the doctor's great horse stood a little woman-child, staring straight up at the huge red head above her. Now Ruber was not quite gentle, and it was with some dismay that his master, although the animal showed no offense at the glowering little thing, pulled him back a step or two with the curb, the thought darting through him how easily with one pash of his mighty hoof the horse could annihilate a mirrored universe.
"Where from?" he asked, by what he would himself have called a half-conscious cerebration.
"From somewhere they say you don't believe in, doctor," answered the draper. "It's little Amanda, the minister's own darling—Naughty little dear!" he continued, his round good-humored face wrinkled all over with smiles, as he caught up the truant, "what ever do you mean by splashing through every gutter between home and here, making a little drab of yourself? Why your frock is as wet as a dish-clout!—and your shoes! My gracious!"
The little one answered only by patting his cheeks, which in shape much resembled her own, with her little fat puds, as if she had been beating a drum, while Faber looked down amused and interested.
"Here, doctor!" the draper went on, "you take the little mischief on the saddle before you, and carry her home: that will be your excuse."
As he spoke he held up the child to him. Faber took her, and sitting as far back in the saddle as he could, set her upon the pommel. She screwed up her eyes, and grinned with delight, spreading her mouth wide, and showing an incredible number of daintiest little teeth. When Ruber began to move she shrieked in her ecstasy.
Holding his horse to a walk, the doctor crossed the main street and went down a side one toward the river, whence again he entered a narrow lane. There with the handle of his whip he managed to ring the door-bell of a little old-fashioned house which rose immediately from the lane without even a footpath between. The door was opened by a lady-like young woman, with smooth soft brown hair, a white forehead, and serious, rather troubled eyes.
"Aunty! aunty!" cried the child, "Ducky 'iding!"
Miss Drake looked a little surprised. The doctor lifted his hat. She gravely returned his greeting and stretched up her arms to take the child. But she drew back, nestling against Faber.
"Amanda! come, dear," said Miss Drake. "How kind of Dr. Faber to bring you home! I'm afraid you've been a naughty child again—running out into the street."
"Such a g'eat 'ide!" cried Amanda, heedless of reproof. "A yeal 'ossy—big! big!"
She spread her arms wide, in indication of the vastness of the upbearing body whereon she sat. But still she leaned back against the doctor, and he awaited the result in amused silence. Again her aunt raised her hands to take her.
"Mo' 'yide!" cried the child, looking up backward, to find Faber's eyes.
But her aunt caught her by the feet, and amid struggling and laughter drew her down, and held her in her arms.
"I hope your father is pretty well, Miss Drake," said the doctor, wasting no time in needless explanation.
"Ducky," said the girl, setting down the child, "go and tell grandpapa how kind Dr. Faber has been to you. Tell him he is at the door." Then turning to Faber, "I am sorry to say he does not seem at all well," she answered him. "He has had a good deal of annoyance lately, and at his age that sort of thing tells."
As she spoke she looked up at the doctor, full in his face, but with a curious quaver in her eyes. Nor was it any wonder she should look at him strangely, for she felt toward him very strangely: to her he was as it were the apostle of a kakangel, the prophet of a doctrine that was evil, yet perhaps was a truth. Terrible doubts had for some time been assailing her—doubts which she could in part trace to him, and as he sat there on Ruber, he looked like a beautiful evil angel, who knew there was no God—an evil angel whom the curate, by his bold speech, had raised, and could not banish.
The surgeon had scarcely begun a reply, when the old minister made his appearance. He was a tall, well-built man, with strong features, rather handsome than otherwise; but his hat hung on his occiput, gave his head a look of weakness and oddity that by nature did not belong to it, while baggy, ill-made clothes and big shoes manifested a reaction from the over-trimness of earlier years. He greeted the doctor with a severe smile.
"I am much obliged to you, Mr. Faber," he said, "for bringing me home my little runaway. Where did you find her?"
"Under my horse's head, like the temple between the paws of the Sphinx," answered Faber, speaking a parable without knowing it.
"She is a fearless little damsel," said the minister, in a husky voice that had once rung clear as a bell over crowded congregations—"too fearless at times. But the very ignorance of danger seems the panoply of childhood. And indeed who knows in the midst of what evils we all walk that never touch us!"
"A Solon of platitudes!" said the doctor to himself.
"She has been in the river once, and almost twice," Mr. Drake went on. "—I shall have to tie you with a string, pussie! Come away from the horse. What if he should take to stroking you? I am afraid you would find his hands both hard and heavy."
"How do you stand this trying spring weather, Mr. Drake? I don't hear the best accounts of you," said the surgeon, drawing Ruber a pace back from the door.
"I am as well as at my age I can perhaps expect to be," answered the minister. "I am getting old—and—and—we all have our troubles, and, I trust, our God also, to set them right for us," he added, with a suggesting look in the face of the doctor.
"By Jove!" said Faber to himself, "the spring weather has roused the worshiping instinct! The clergy are awake to-day! I had better look out, or it will soon be too hot for me."
"I can't look you in the face, doctor," resumed the old man after a pause, "and believe what people say of you. It can't be that you don't even believe there is a God?"
Faber would rather have said nothing; but his integrity he must keep fast hold of, or perish in his own esteem.
"If there be one," he replied, "I only state a fact when I say He has never given me ground sufficient to think so. You say yourselves He has favorites to whom He reveals Himself: I am not one of them, and must therefore of necessity be an unbeliever."
"But think, Mr. Faber—if there should be a God, what an insult it is to deny Him existence."
"I can't see it," returned the surgeon, suppressing a laugh. "If there be such a one, would He not have me speak the truth? Anyhow, what great matter can it be to Him that one should say he has never seen Him, and can't therefore believe He is to be seen? A god should be above that sort of pride."
The minister was too much shocked to find any answer beyond a sad reproving shake of the head. But he felt almost as if the hearing of such irreverence without withering retort, made him a party to the sin against the Holy Ghost. Was he not now conferring with one of the generals of the army of Antichrist? Ought he not to turn his back upon him, and walk into the house? But a surge of concern for the frank young fellow who sat so strong and alive upon the great horse, broke over his heart, and he looked up at him pitifully.
Faber mistook the cause and object of his evident emotion.
"Come now, Mr. Drake, be frank with me," he said. "You are out of health; let me know what is the matter. Though I'm not religious, I'm not a humbug, and only speak the truth when I say I should be glad to serve you. A man must be neighborly, or what is there left of him? Even you will allow that our duty to our neighbor is half the law, and there is some help in medicine, though I confess it is no science yet, and we are but dabblers."
"But," said Mr. Drake, "I don't choose to accept the help of one who looks upon all who think with me as a set of humbugs, and regards those who deny every thing as the only honest men."
"By Jove! sir, I take you for an honest man, or I should never trouble my head about you. What I say of such as you is, that, having inherited a lot of humbug, you don't know it for such, and do the best you can with it."
"If such is your opinion of me—and I have no right to complain of it in my own person—I should just like to ask you one question about another," said Mr. Drake: "Do you in your heart believe that Jesus Christ was an impostor?"
"I believe, if the story about him be true, that he was a well-meaning man, enormously self-deceived."
"Your judgment seems to me enormously illogical. That any ordinarily good man should so deceive himself, appears to my mind altogether impossible and incredible."
"Ah! but he was an extraordinarily good man."
"Therefore the more likely to think too much of himself?"
"Why not? I see the same thing in his followers all about me."
"Doubtless the servant shall be as his master," said the minister, and closed his mouth, resolved to speak no more. But his conscience woke, and goaded him with the truth that had come from the mouth of its enemy—the reproach his disciples brought upon their master, for, in the judgment of the world, the master is as his disciples.
"You Christians," the doctor went on, "seem to me to make yourselves, most unnecessarily, the slaves of a fancied ideal. I have no such ideal to contemplate; yet I am not aware that you do better by each other than I am ready to do for any man. I can't pretend to love every body, but I do my best for those I can help. Mr. Drake, I would gladly serve you."
The old man said nothing. His mood was stormy. Would he accept life itself from the hand of him who denied his Master?—seek to the powers of darkness for cure?—kneel to Antichrist for favor, as if he and not Jesus were lord of life and death? Would he pray a man to whom the Bible was no better than a book of ballads, to come betwixt him and the evils of growing age and disappointment, to lighten for him the grasshopper, and stay the mourners as they went about his streets! He had half turned, and was on the point of walking silent into the house, when he bethought himself of the impression it would make on the unbeliever, if he were thus to meet the offer of his kindness. Half turned, he stood hesitating.
"I have a passion for therapeutics," persisted the doctor; "and if I can do any thing to ease the yoke upon the shoulders of my fellows—"
Mr. Drake did not hear the end of the sentence: he heard instead, somewhere in his soul, a voice saying, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." He could not let Faber help him.
"Doctor, you have the great gift of a kind heart," he began, still half turned from him.
"My heart is like other people's," interrupted Faber. "If a man wants help, and I've got it, what more natural than that we should come together?"
There was in the doctor an opposition to every thing that had if it were but the odor of religion about it, which might well have suggested doubt of his own doubt, and weakness buttressing itself with assertion But the case was not so. What untruth there was in him was of another and more subtle kind. Neither must it be supposed that he was a propagandist, a proselytizer. Say nothing, and the doctor said nothing. Fire but a saloon pistol, however, and off went a great gun in answer—with no bravado, for the doctor was a gentleman.
"Mr. Faber," said the minister, now turning toward him, and looking him full in the face, "if you had a friend whom you loved with all your heart, would you be under obligation to a man who counted your friendship a folly?"
"The cases are not parallel. Say the man merely did not believe your friend was alive, and there could be no insult to either."
"If the denial of his being in life, opened the door to the greatest wrongs that could be done him—and if that denial seemed to me to have its source in some element of moral antagonism to him—could I accept—I put it to yourself, Mr. Faber—could I accept assistance from that man? Do not take it ill. You prize honesty; so do I: ten times rather would I cease to live than accept life at the hand of an enemy to my Lord and Master."
"I am very sorry, Mr. Drake," said the doctor; "but from your point of view I suppose you are right. Good morning."
He turned Ruber from the minister's door, went off quickly, and entered his own stable-yard just as the rector's carriage appeared at the further end of the street.
THE MANOR HOUSE.
Mr. Bevis drove up to the inn, threw the reins to his coachman, got down, and helped his wife out of the carriage. Then they parted, she to take her gift of flowers and butter to her poor relation, he to call upon Mrs. Ramshorn.
That lady, being, as every body knew, the widow of a dean, considered herself the chief ecclesiastical authority in Glaston. Her acknowledged friends would, if pressed, have found themselves compelled to admit that her theology was both scanty and confused, that her influence was not of the most elevating nature, and that those who doubted her personal piety might have something to say in excuse of their uncharitableness; but she spoke in the might of the matrimonial nimbus around her head, and her claims were undisputed in Glaston. There was a propriety, springing from quite another source, however, in the rector's turning his footsteps first toward the Manor House, where she resided. For his curate, whom his business in Glaston that Saturday concerned, had, some nine or ten months before, married Mrs. Ramshorn's niece, Helen Lingard by name, who for many years had lived with her aunt, adding, if not to the comforts of the housekeeping, for Mrs. Ramshorn was plentifully enough provided for the remnant of her abode in this world, yet considerably to the style of her menage. Therefore, when all of a sudden, as it seemed, the girl calmly insisted on marrying the curate, a man obnoxious to every fiber of her aunt's ecclesiastical nature, and transferring to him, with a most unrighteous scorn of marriage-settlements, the entire property inherited from her father and brother, the disappointment of Mrs. Ramshorn in her niece was equaled only by her disgust at the object of her choice.
With a firm, dignified step, as if he measured the distance, the rector paced the pavement between the inn and the Manor House. He knew of no cause for the veiling of an eyelash before human being. It was true he had closed his eyes to certain faults in the man of good estate and old name who had done him the honor of requesting the hand of his one child, and, leaving her to judge for herself, had not given her the knowledge which might have led her to another conclusion; it had satisfied him that the man's wild oats were sown: after the crop he made no inquiry. It was also true that he had not mentioned a certain vice in the last horse he sold; but then he hoped the severe measures taken had cured him. He was aware that at times he took a few glasses of port more than he would have judged it proper to carry to the pulpit or the communion table, for those he counted the presence of his Maker; but there was a time for every thing. He was conscious to himself, I repeat, of nothing to cause him shame, and in the tramp of his boots there was certainly no self-abasement. It was true he performed next to none of the duties of the rectorship—but then neither did he turn any of its income to his own uses; part he paid his curate, and the rest he laid out on the church, which might easily have consumed six times the amount in desirable, if not absolutely needful repairs. What further question could be made of the matter? the church had her work done, and one of her most precious buildings preserved from ruin to the bargain. How indignant he would have been at the suggestion that he was after all only an idolater, worshiping what he called The Church, instead of the Lord Christ, the heart-inhabiting, world-ruling king of heaven! But he was a very good sort of idolater, and some of the Christian graces had filtered through the roofs of the temple upon him—eminently those of hospitality and general humanity—even uprightness so far as his light extended; so that he did less to obstruct the religion he thought he furthered, than some men who preach it as on the house-tops.
It was from policy, not from confidence in Mrs. Ramshorn, that he went to her first. He liked his curate, and every one knew she hated him. If, of any thing he did, two interpretations were possible—one good, and one bad, there was no room for a doubt as to which she would adopt and publish. Not even to herself, however, did she allow that one chief cause of her hatred was, that, having all her life been used to a pair of horses, she had now to put up with only a brougham.
To the brass knocker on her door, the rector applied himself, and sent a confident announcement of his presence through the house. Almost instantly the long-faced butler, half undertaker, half parish-clerk, opened the door; and seeing the rector, drew it wide to the wall, inviting him to step into the library, as he had no doubt Mrs. Ramshorn would be at home to him. Nor was it long ere she appeared, in rather youthful morning dress, and gave him a hearty welcome; after which, by no very wide spirals of descent, the talk swooped presently upon the curate.
"The fact is," at length said the memorial shadow of the dean deceased, "Mr. Wingfold is not a gentleman. It grieves me to say so of the husband of my niece, who has been to me as my own child, but the truth must be spoken. It may be difficult to keep such men out of holy orders, but if ever the benefices of the church come to be freely bestowed upon them, that moment the death-bell of religion is rung in England. My late husband said so. While such men keep to barns and conventicles we can despise them, but when they creep into the fold, then there is just cause for alarm. The longer I live, the better I see my poor husband was right."
"I should scarcely have thought such a man as you describe could have captivated Helen," said the rector with a smile.
"Depend upon it she perceives her mistake well enough by this time," returned Mrs. Ramshorn. "A lady born and bred must make the discovery before a week is over. But poor Helen always was headstrong! And in this out-of-the-world place she saw so little of gentlemen!"
The rector could not help thinking birth and breeding must go for little indeed, if nothing less than marriage could reveal to a lady that a man was not a gentleman.
"Nobody knows," continued Mrs. Ramshorn, "who or what his father—not to say his grandfather, was! But would you believe it! when I asked her who the man was, having a right to information concerning the person she was about to connect with the family, she told me she had never thought of inquiring. I pressed it upon her as a duty she owed to society; she told me she was content with the man himself, and was not going to ask him about his family. She would wait till they were married! Actually, on my word as a lady, she said so, Mr. Bevis! What could I do? She was of age, and independent fortune. And as to gratitude, I know the ways of the world too well to look for that."
"We old ones"—Mrs. Ramshorn bridled a little: she was only fifty-seven!—"have had our turn, and theirs is come," said the rector rather inconsequently.
"And a pretty mess they are like to make of it!—what with infidelity and blasphemy—I must say it—blasphemy!—Really you must do something, Mr. Bevis. Things have arrived at such a pass that, I give you my word, reflections not a few are made upon the rector for committing his flock to the care of such a wolf—a fox I call him."
"To-morrow I shall hear him preach," said the parson.
"Then I sincerely trust no one will give him warning of your intention: he is so clever, he would throw dust in any body's eyes."
The rector laughed. He had no overweening estimate of his own abilities, but he did pride himself a little on his common sense.
"But," the lady went on, "in a place like this, where every body talks, I fear the chance is small against his hearing of your arrival. Anyhow I would not have you trust to one sermon. He will say just the opposite the next. He contradicts himself incredibly. Even in the same sermon I have heard him say things diametrically opposite."
"He can not have gone so far as to advocate the real presence: a rumor of that has reached me," said the rector.
"There it is!" cried Mrs. Ramshorn. "If you had asked me, I should have said he insisted the holy eucharist meant neither more nor less than any other meal to which some said a grace. The man has not an atom of consistency in his nature. He will say and unsay as fast as one sentence can follow the other, and if you tax him with it, he will support both sides: at least, that is my experience with him. I speak as I find him."
"What then would you have me do?" said the rector. "The straightforward way would doubtless be to go to him."
"You would, I fear, gain nothing by that. He is so specious! The only safe way is to dismiss him without giving a reason. Otherwise, he will certainly prove you in the wrong. Don't take my word. Get the opinion of your church-wardens. Every body knows he has made an atheist of poor Faber. It is sadder than I have words to say. He was such a gentlemanly fellow!"
The rector took his departure, and made a series of calls upon those he judged the most influential of the congregation. He did not think to ask for what they were influential, or why he should go to them rather than the people of the alms-house. What he heard embarrassed him not a little. His friends spoke highly of Wingfold, his enemies otherwise: the character of his friends his judge did not attempt to weigh with that of his enemies, neither did he attempt to discover why these were his enemies and those his friends. No more did he make the observation, that, while his enemies differed in the things they said against him, his friends agreed in those they said for him; the fact being, that those who did as he roused their conscience to see they ought, more or less understood the man and his aims; while those who would not submit to the authority he brought to bear upon them, and yet tried to measure and explain him after the standards of their own being and endeavors, failed ludicrously. The church-wardens told him that, ever since he came, the curate had done nothing but set the congregation by the ears; and that he could not fail to receive as a weighty charge. But they told him also that some of the principal dissenters declared him to be a fountain of life in the place—and that seemed to him to involve the worst accusation of all. For, without going so far as to hold, or even say without meaning it, that dissenters ought to be burned, Mr. Bevis regarded it as one of the first of merits, that a man should be a good churchman.
The curate had been in the study all the morning. Three times had his wife softly turned the handle of his door, but finding it locked, had re-turned the handle yet more softly, and departed noiselessly. Next time she knocked—and he came to her pale-eyed, but his face almost luminous, and a smile hovering about his lips: she knew then that either a battle had been fought amongst the hills, and he had won, or a thought-storm had been raging, through which at length had descended the meek-eyed Peace. She looked in his face for a moment with silent reverence, then offered her lips, took him by the hand, and, without a word, led him down the stair to their mid-day meal. When that was over, she made him lie down, and taking a novel, read him asleep. She woke him to an early tea—not, however, after it, to return to his study: in the drawing-room, beside his wife, he always got the germ of his discourse—his germon, he called it—ready for its growth in the pulpit. Now he lay on the couch, now rose and stood, now walked about the room, now threw himself again on the couch; while, all the time his wife played softly on her piano, extemporizing and interweaving, with an invention, taste, and expression, of which before her marriage she had been quite incapable.
The text in his mind was, "Ye can not serve God and Mammon." But not once did he speak to his wife about it. He did not even tell her what his text was. Long ago he had given her to understand that he could not part with her as one of his congregation—could not therefore take her into his sermon before he met her in her hearing phase in church, with the rows of pews and faces betwixt him and her, making her once more one of his flock, the same into whose heart he had so often agonized to pour the words of rousing, of strength, of consolation.
On the Saturday, except his wife saw good reason, she would let no one trouble him, and almost the sole reason she counted good was trouble: if a person was troubled, then he might trouble. His friends knew this, and seldom came near him on a Saturday. But that evening, Mr. Drew, the draper, who, although a dissenter, was one of the curate's warmest friends, called late, when, he thought in his way of looking at sermons, that for the morrow must be now finished, and laid aside like a parcel for delivery the next morning. Helen went to him. He told her the rector was in the town, had called upon not a few of his parishioners, and doubtless was going to church in the morning.
"Thank you, Mr. Drew. I perfectly understand your kindness," said Mrs. Wingfold, "but I shall not tell my husband to-night."
"Excuse the liberty, ma'am, but—but—do you think it well for a wife to hide things from her husband?"
Helen laughed merrily.
"Assuredly not, as a rule," she replied. "But suppose I knew he would be vexed with me if I told him some particular thing? Suppose I know now that, when I do tell him on Monday, he will say to me, 'Thank you, wife. I am glad you kept that from me till I had done my work,'—what then?"
"All right then," answered the draper.
You see, Mr. Drew, we think married people should be so sure of each other that each should not only be content, but should prefer not to know what the other thinks it better not to tell. If my husband overheard any one calling me names, I don't think he would tell me. He knows, as well as I do, that I am not yet good enough to behave better to any one for knowing she hates and reviles me. It would be but to propagate the evil, and for my part too, I would rather not be told."
"I quite understand you, ma'am," answered the draper.
"I know you do," returned Helen, with emphasis.
Mr. Drew blushed to the top of his white forehead, while the lower part of his face, which in its forms was insignificant, blossomed into a smile as radiant as that of an infant. He knew Mrs. Wingfold was aware of the fact, known only to two or three beside in the town, that the lady, who for the last few months had been lodging in his house, was his own wife, who had forsaken him twenty years before. The man who during that time had passed for her husband, had been otherwise dishonest as well, and had fled the country; she and her daughter, brought to absolute want, were received into his house by her forsaken husband; there they occupied the same chamber, the mother ordered every thing, and the daughter did not know that she paid for nothing. If the ways of transgressors are hard, those of a righteous man are not always easy. When Mr. Drew would now and then stop suddenly in the street, take off his hat and wipe his forehead, little people thought the round smiling face had such a secret behind it. Had they surmised a skeleton in his house, they would as little have suspected it masked in the handsome, well-dressed woman of little over forty, who, with her pretty daughter so tossy and airy, occupied his first floor, and was supposed to pay him handsomely for it.
The curate slept soundly, and woke in the morning eager to utter what he had.
THE ROAD TO OWLKIRK.
Paul Faber fared otherwise. Hardly was he in bed before he was called out of it again. A messenger had come from Mrs. Puckridge to say that Miss Meredith was worse, and if the doctor did not start at once, she would be dead before he reached Owlkirk. He sent orders to his groom to saddle Niger and bring him round instantly, and hurried on his clothes, vexed that he had taken Ruber both in the morning and afternoon, and could not have him now. But Niger was a good horse also: if he was but two-thirds of Ruber's size, he was but one-third of his age, and saw better at night. On the other hand he was less easily seen, but the midnight there was so still and deserted, that that was of small consequence. In a few minutes they were out together in a lane as dark as pitch, compelled now to keep to the roads, for there was not light enough to see the pocket-compass by which the surgeon sometimes steered across country.
Could we learn what waking-dreams haunted the boyhood of a man, we should have a rare help toward understanding the character he has developed. Those of the young Faber were, almost exclusively, of playing the prince of help and deliverance among women and men. Like most boys that dream, he dreamed himself rich and powerful, but the wealth and power were for the good of his fellow-creatures. If it must be confessed that he lingered most over the thanks and admiration he set to haunt his dream-steps, and hover about his dream-person, it must be remembered that he was the only real person in the dreams, and that he regarded lovingly the mere shadows of his fellow-men. His dreams were not of strength and destruction, but of influence and life. Even his revenges never-reached further than the making of his enemies ashamed.
It was the spirit of help, then, that had urged him into the profession he followed. He had found much dirt about the door of it, and had not been able to cross the threshold without some cleaving to his garments. He is a high-souled youth indeed, in whom the low regards and corrupt knowledge of his superiors will fail utterly of degrading influence; he must be one stronger than Faber who can listen to scoffing materialism from the lips of authority and experience, and not come to look upon humanity and life with a less reverent regard. What man can learn to look upon the dying as so much matter about to be rekneaded and remodeled into a fresh mass of feverous joys, futile aspirations, and stinging chagrins, without a self-contempt from which there is no shelter but the poor hope that we may be a little better than we appear to ourselves. But Faber escaped the worst. He did not learn to look on humanity without respect, or to meet the stare of appealing eyes from man or animal, without genuine response—without sympathy. He never joined in any jest over suffering, not to say betted on the chance of the man who lay panting under the terrors of an impending operation. Can one be capable of such things, and not have sunk deep indeed in the putrid pit of decomposing humanity? It is true that before he began to practice, Faber had come to regard man as a body and not an embodiment, the highest in him as dependent on his physical organization—as indeed but the aroma, as it were, of its blossom the brain, therefore subject to all the vicissitudes of the human plant from which it rises; but he had been touched to issues too fine to be absolutely interpenetrated and inslaved by the reaction of accepted theories. His poetic nature, like the indwelling fire of the world, was ever ready to play havoc with induration and constriction, and the same moment when degrading influences ceased to operate, the delicacy of his feeling began to revive. Even at its lowest, this delicacy preserved him from much into which vulgar natures plunge; it kept alive the memory of a lovely mother; and fed the flame of that wondering, worshiping reverence for women which is the saviour of men until the Truth Himself saves both. A few years of worthy labor in his profession had done much to develop him, and his character for uprightness, benevolence, and skill, with the people of Glaston and its neighborhood, where he had been ministering only about a year, was already of the highest. Even now, when, in a fever of honesty, he declared there could be no God in such an ill-ordered world, so full was his heart of the human half of religion, that he could not stand by the bedside of dying man or woman, without lamenting that there was no consolation—that stern truth would allow him to cast no feeblest glamour of hope upon the departing shadow. His was a nobler nature than theirs who, believing no more than he, are satisfied with the assurance that at the heart of the evils of the world lie laws unchangeable.
The main weak point in him was, that, while he was indeed tender-hearted, and did no kindnesses to be seen of men, he did them to be seen of himself: he saw him who did them all the time. The boy was in the man; doing his deeds he sought, not the approbation merely, but the admiration of his own consciousness. I am afraid to say this was wrong, but it was poor and childish, crippled his walk, and obstructed his higher development. He liked to know himself a benefactor. Such a man may well be of noble nature, but he is a mere dabbler in nobility. Faber delighted in the thought that, having repudiated all motives of personal interest involved in religious belief, all that regard for the future, with its rewards and punishments, which, in his ignorance, genuine or willful, of essential Christianity, he took for its main potence, he ministered to his neighbor, doing to him as he would have him do to himself, hopeless of any divine recognition, of any betterness beyond the grave, in a fashion at least as noble as that of the most devoted of Christians. It did not occur to him to ask if he loved him as well—if his care about him was equal to his satisfaction in himself. Neither did he reflect that the devotion he admired in himself had been brought to the birth in him through others, in whom it was first generated by a fast belief in an unselfish, loving, self-devoting God. Had he inquired he might have discovered that this belief had carried some men immeasurably further in the help of their fellows, than he had yet gone. Indeed he might, I think, have found instances of men of faith spending their lives for their fellows, whose defective theology or diseased humility would not allow them to hope their own salvation. Inquiry might have given him ground for fearing that with the love of the imagined God, the love of the indubitable man would decay and vanish. But such as Faber was, he was both loved and honored by all whom he had ever attended; and, with his fine tastes, his genial nature, his quiet conscience, his good health, his enjoyment of life, his knowledge and love of his profession, his activity, his tender heart—especially to women and children, his keen intellect, and his devising though not embodying imagination, if any man could get on without a God, Faber was that man. He was now trying it, and as yet the trial had cost him no effort: he seemed to himself to be doing very well indeed. And why should he not do as well as the thousands, who counting themselves religious people, get through the business of the hour, the day, the week, the year, without one reference in any thing they do or abstain from doing, to the will of God, or the words of Christ? If he was more helpful to his fellows than they, he fared better; for actions in themselves good, however imperfect the motives that give rise to them, react blissfully upon character and nature. It is better to be an atheist who does the will of God, than a so-called Christian who does not. The atheist will not be dismissed because he said Lord, Lord, and did not obey. The thing that God loves is the only lovely thing, and he who does it, does well, and is upon the way to discover that he does it very badly. When he comes to do it as the will of the perfect Good, then is he on the road to do it perfectly—that is, from love of its own inherent self-constituted goodness, born in the heart of the Perfect. The doing of things from duty is but a stage on the road to the kingdom of truth and love. Not the less must the stage be journeyed; every path diverging from it is "the flowery way that leads to the broad gate and the great fire."
It was with more than his usual zeal of helpfulness that Faber was now riding toward Owlkirk, to revisit his new patient. Could he have mistaken the symptoms of her attack?
Mrs. Puckridge was anxiously awaiting the doctor's arrival. She stood by the bedside of her lodger, miserable in her ignorance and consequent helplessness. The lady tossed and moaned, but for very pain could neither toss nor moan much, and breathed—panted, rather—very quick. Her color was white more than pale, and now and then she shivered from head to foot, but her eyes burned. Mrs. Puckridge kept bringing her hot flannels, and stood talking between the changes.
"I wish the doctor would come!—Them doctors!—I hope to goodness Dr. Faber wasn't out when the boy got to Glaston. Every body in this mortal universe always is out when he's wanted: that's my experience. You ain't so old as me, miss. And Dr. Faber, you see, miss, he be such a favorite as have to go out to his dinner not unfrequent. They may have to send miles to fetch him."
She talked in the vain hope of distracting the poor lady's attention from her suffering.
It was a little up stairs cottage-room, the corners betwixt the ceiling and the walls cut off by the slope of the roof. So dark was the night, that, when Mrs. Puckridge carried the candle out of the room, the unshaded dormer window did not show itself even by a bluish glimmer. But light and dark were alike to her who lay in the little tent-bed, in the midst of whose white curtains, white coverlid, and white pillows, her large eyes, black as human eyes could ever be, were like wells of darkness throwing out flashes of strange light. Her hair too was dark, brown-black, of great plenty, and so fine that it seemed to go off in a mist on the whiteness. It had been her custom to throw it over the back of her bed, but in this old-fashioned one that was impossible, and it lay, in loveliest confusion, scattered here and there over pillow and coverlid, as if the wind had been tossing it all a long night at his will. Some of it had strayed more than half way to the foot of the bed. Her face, distorted almost though it was with distress, showed yet a regularity of feature rarely to be seen in combination with such evident power of expression. Suffering had not yet flattened the delicate roundness of her cheek, or sharpened the angles of her chin. In her whiteness, and her constrained, pang-thwarted motions from side to side, she looked like a form of marble in the agonies of coming to life at the prayer of some Pygmalion. In throwing out her arms, she had flung back the bedclothes, and her daintily embroidered night-gown revealed a rather large, grand throat, of the same rare whiteness. Her hands were perfect—every finger and every nail—
Those fine nimble brethren small, Armed with pearl-shell helmets all.
[Footnote 1: Joshua Sylvester. I suspect the word ought to be five, not fine, as my copy (1613) has it.]
When Mrs. Puckridge came into the room, she always set her candle on the sill of the storm-window: it was there, happily, when the doctor drew near the village, and it guided him to the cottage-gate. He fastened Niger to the gate, crossed the little garden, gently lifted the door-latch, and ascended the stair. He found the door of the chamber open, signed to Mrs. Puckridge to be still, softly approached the bed, and stood gazing in silence on the sufferer, who lay at the moment apparently unconscious. But suddenly, as if she had become aware of a presence, she flashed wide her great eyes, and the pitiful entreaty that came into them when she saw him, went straight to his heart. Faber felt more for the sufferings of some of the lower animals than for certain of his patients; but children and women he would serve like a slave. The dumb appeal of her eyes almost unmanned him.
"I am sorry to see you so ill," he said, as he took her wrist. "You are in pain: where?"
Her other hand moved toward her side in reply. Every thing indicated pleurisy—such that there was no longer room for gentle measures. She must be relieved at once: he must open a vein. In the changed practice of later days, it had seldom fallen to the lot of Faber to perform the very simple operation of venesection, but that had little to do with the trembling of the hands which annoyed him with himself, when he proceeded to undo a sleeve of his patient's nightdress. Finding no button, he took a pair of scissors from his pocket, cut ruthlessly through linen and lace, and rolled back the sleeve. It disclosed an arm the sight of which would have made a sculptor rejoice as over some marbles of old Greece. I can not describe it, and if I could, for very love and reverence I would rather let it alone. Faber felt his heart rise in his throat at the necessity of breaking that exquisite surface with even such an insignificant breach and blemish as the shining steel betwixt his forefinger and thumb must occasion. But a slight tremble of the hand he held acknowledged the intruding sharpness, and then the red parabola rose from the golden bowl. He stroked the lovely arm to help its flow, and soon the girl once more opened her eyes and looked at him. Already her breathing was easier. But presently her eyes began to glaze with approaching faintness, and he put his thumb on the wound. She smiled and closed them. He bound up her arm, laid it gently by her side, gave her something to drink, and sat down. He sat until he saw her sunk in a quiet, gentle sleep: ease had dethroned pain, and order had begun to dawn out of threatened chaos.
"Thank God!" he said, involuntarily, and stood up: what all that meant, God only knows.
After various directions to Mrs. Puckridge, to which she seemed to attend, but which, being as simple as necessary, I fear she forgot the moment they were uttered, the doctor mounted, and rode away. The darkness was gone, for the moon was rising, but when the road compelled him to face her, she blinded him nearly as much. Slowly she rose through a sky freckled with wavelets of cloud, and as she crept up amongst them she brought them all out, in bluish, pearly, and opaline gray. Then, suddenly almost, as it seemed, she left them, and walked up aloft, drawing a thin veil around her as she ascended. All was so soft, so sleepy, so vague, it seemed to Paul as he rode slowly along, himself almost asleep, as if the Night had lost the blood he had caused to flow, and the sweet exhaustion that followed had from the lady's brain wandered out over Nature herself, as she sank, a lovelier Katadyomene, into the hushed sea of pain-won repose.
Was he in love with her? I do not know. I could tell, if I knew what being in love is. I think no two loves were ever the same since the creation of the world. I know that something had passed from her eyes to his—but what? He may have been in love with her already; but ere long my reader may be more sure than I that he was not. The Maker of men alone understands His awful mystery between the man and the woman. But without it, frightful indeed as are some of its results, assuredly the world He has made would burst its binding rings and fly asunder in shards, leaving His spirit nothing to enter, no time to work His lovely will.
It must be to any man a terrible thing to find himself in wild pain, with no God of whom to entreat that his soul may not faint within him; but to a man who can think as well as feel, it were a more terrible thing still, to find himself afloat on the tide of a lovely passion, with no God to whom to cry, accountable to Himself for that which He has made. Will any man who has ever cast more than a glance into the mysteries of his being, dare think himself sufficient to the ruling of his nature? And if he rule it not, what shall he be but the sport of the demons that will ride its tempests, that will rouse and torment its ocean? What help then is there? What high-hearted man would consent to be possessed and sweetly ruled by the loveliest of angels? Truly it were but a daintier madness. Come thou, holy Love, father of my spirit, nearer to the unknown deeper me than my consciousness is to its known self, possess me utterly, for thou art more me than I am myself. Rule thou. Then first I rule. Shadow me from the too radiant splendors of thy own creative thought. Folded in thy calm, I shall love, and not die. And ye, women, be the daughters of Him from whose heart came your mothers; be the saviours of men, and neither their torment nor their prey!
Before morning it rained hard again; but it cleared at sunrise, and the first day of the week found the world new-washed. Glaston slept longer than usual, however, for all the shine, and in the mounting sun looked dead and deserted. There were no gay shop-windows to reflect his beams, or fill them with rainbow colors. There were no carriages or carts, and only, for a few moments, one rider. That was Paul Faber again, on Ruber now, aglow in the morning. There were no children playing yet about the streets or lanes; but the cries of some came at intervals from unseen chambers, as the Sunday soap stung their eyes, or the Sunday comb tore their matted locks.
As Faber rode out of his stable-yard, Wingfold took his hat from its peg, to walk through his churchyard. He lived almost in the churchyard, for, happily, since his marriage the rectory had lost its tenants, and Mr. Bevis had allowed him to occupy it, in lieu of part of his salary. It was not yet church-time by hours, but he had a custom of going every Sunday morning, in the fine weather, quite early, to sit for an hour or two alone in the pulpit, amidst the absolute solitude and silence of the great church. It was a door, he said, through which a man who could not go to Horeb, might enter and find the power that dwells on mountain-tops and in desert places.
He went slowly through the churchyard, breathing deep breaths of the delicious spring-morning air. Rain-drops were sparkling all over the grassy graves, and in the hollows of the stones they had gathered in pools. The eyes of the death-heads were full of water, as if weeping at the defeat of their master. Every now and then a soft little wind awoke, like a throb of the spirit of life, and shook together the scattered drops upon the trees, and then down came diamond showers on the grass and daisies of the mounds, and fed the green moss in the letters of the epitaphs. Over all the sun was shining, as if everywhere and forever spring was the order of things. And is it not so? Is not the idea of the creation an eternal spring ever trembling on the verge of summer? It seemed so to the curate, who was not given to sad, still less to sentimental moralizing over the graves. From such moods his heart recoiled. To him they were weak and mawkish, and in him they would have been treacherous. No grave was to him the place where a friend was lying; it was but a cenotaph—the place where the Lord had lain.
"Let those possessed with demons haunt the tombs," he said, as he sat down in the pulpit; "for me, I will turn my back upon them with the risen Christ. Yes, friend, I hear you! I know what you say! You have more affection than I? you can not forsake the last resting-place of the beloved? Well, you may have more feeling than I; there is no gauge by which I can tell, and if there were, it would be useless: we are as God made us.—No, I will not say that: I will say rather, I am as God is making me, and I shall one day be as He has made me. Meantime I know that He will have me love my enemy tenfold more than now I love my friend. Thou believest that the malefactor—ah, there was faith now! Of two men dying together in agony and shame, the one beseeches of the other the grace of a king! Thou believest, I say—at least thou professest to believe that the malefactor was that very day with Jesus in Paradise, and yet thou broodest over thy friend's grave, gathering thy thoughts about the pitiful garment he left behind him, and letting himself drift away into the unknown, forsaken of all but thy vaguest, most shapeless thinkings! Tell me not thou fearest to enter there whence has issued no revealing. It is God who gives thee thy mirror of imagination, and if thou keep it clean, it will give thee back no shadow but of the truth. Never a cry of love went forth from human heart but it found some heavenly chord to fold it in. Be sure thy friend inhabits a day not out of harmony with this morning of earthly spring, with this sunlight, those rain-drops, that sweet wind that flows so softly over his grave."
It was the first sprouting of a germon. He covered it up and left it: he had something else to talk to his people about this morning.
While he sat thus in the pulpit, his wife was praying for him ere she rose. She had not learned to love him in the vestibule of society, that court of the Gentiles, but in the chamber of torture and the clouded adytum of her own spiritual temple. For there a dark vapor had hid the deity enthroned, until the words of His servant melted the gloom. Then she saw that what she had taken for her own innermost chamber of awful void, was the dwelling-place of the most high, most lovely, only One, and through its windows she beheld a cosmos dawning out of chaos. Therefore the wife walked beside the husband in the strength of a common faith in absolute Good; and not seldom did the fire which the torch of his prophecy had kindled upon her altar, kindle again that torch, when some bitter wind of evil words, or mephitis of human perversity, or thunder-rain of foiled charity, had extinguished it. She loved every hair upon his head, but loved his well-being infinitely more than his mortal life. A wrinkle on his forehead would cause her a pang, yet would she a thousand times rather have seen him dead than known him guilty of one of many things done openly by not a few of his profession.
And now, as one sometimes wonders what he shall dream to-night, she sat wondering what new thing, or what old thing fresher and more alive than the new, would this day flow from his heart into hers. The following is the substance of what, a few hours after, she did hear from him. His rector, sitting between Mrs. Bevis and Mrs. Ramshorn, heard it also. The radiance of truth shone from Wingfold's face as he spoke, and those of the congregation who turned away from his words were those whose lives ran counter to the spirit of them. Whatever he uttered grew out of a whole world of thought, but it grew before them—that is, he always thought afresh in the presence of the people, and spoke extempore.
"'Ye can not serve God and mammon.'
"Who said this? The Lord by whose name ye are called, in whose name this house was built, and who will at last judge every one of us. And yet how many of you are, and have been for years, trying your very hardest to do the thing your Master tells you is impossible! Thou man! Thou woman! I appeal to thine own conscience whether thou art not striving to serve God and mammon.
"But stay! am I right?—It can not be. For surely if a man strove hard to serve God and mammon, he would presently discover the thing was impossible. It is not easy to serve God, and it is easy to serve mammon; if one strove to serve God, the hard thing, along with serving mammon, the easy thing, the incompatibility of the two endeavors must appear. The fact is there is no strife in you. With ease you serve mammon every day and hour of your lives, and for God, you do not even ask yourselves the question whether you are serving Him or no. Yet some of you are at this very moment indignant that I call you servers of mammon. Those of you who know that God knows you are His servants, know also that I do not mean you; therefore, those who are indignant at being called the servants of mammon, are so because they are indeed such. As I say these words I do not lift my eyes, not that I am afraid to look you in the face, as uttering an offensive thing, but that I would have your own souls your accusers.
"Let us consider for a moment the God you do not serve, and then for a moment the mammon you do serve. The God you do not serve is the Father of Lights, the Source of love, the Maker of man and woman, the Head of the great family, the Father of fatherhood and motherhood; the Life-giver who would die to preserve His children, but would rather slay them than they should live the servants of evil; the God who can neither think nor do nor endure any thing mean or unfair; the God of poetry and music and every marvel; the God of the mountain tops, and the rivers that run from the snows of death, to make the earth joyous with life; the God of the valley and the wheat-field, the God who has set love betwixt youth and maiden; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect; the God whom Christ knew, with whom Christ was satisfied, of whom He declared that to know Him was eternal life. The mammon you do serve is not a mere negation, but a positive Death. His temple is a darkness, a black hollow, ever hungry, in the heart of man, who tumbles into it every thing that should make life noble and lovely. To all who serve him he makes it seem that his alone is the reasonable service. His wages are death, but he calls them life, and they believe him. I will tell you some of the marks of his service—a few of the badges of his household—for he has no visible temple; no man bends the knee to him; it is only his soul, his manhood, that the worshiper casts in the dust before him. If a man talks of the main chance, meaning thereby that of making money, or of number one, meaning thereby self, except indeed he honestly jest, he is a servant of mammon. If, when thou makest a bargain, thou thinkest only of thyself and thy gain, though art a servant of mammon. The eager looks of those that would get money, the troubled looks of those who have lost it, worst of all the gloating looks of them that have it, these are sure signs of the service of mammon. If in the church thou sayest to the rich man, 'Sit here in a good place,' and to the poor man, 'Stand there,' thou art a mammon-server. If thou favorest the company of those whom men call well-to-do, when they are only well-to-eat, well-to-drink, or well-to-show, and declinest that of the simple and the meek, then in thy deepest consciousness know that thou servest mammon, not God. If thy hope of well-being in time to come, rests upon thy houses, or lands, or business, or money in store, and not upon the living God, be thou friendly and kind with the overflowings of thy possessions, or a churl whom no man loves, thou art equally a server of mammon. If the loss of thy goods would take from thee the joy of thy life; if it would tear thy heart that the men thou hadst feasted should hold forth to thee the two fingers instead of the whole hand; nay, if thy thought of to-morrow makes thee quail before the duty of to-day, if thou broodest over the evil that is not come, and turnest from the God who is with thee in the life of the hour, thou servest mammon; he holds thee in his chain; thou art his ape, whom he leads about the world for the mockery of his fellow-devils. If with thy word, yea, even with thy judgment, thou confessest that God is the only good, yet livest as if He had sent thee into the world to make thyself rich before thou die; if it will add one feeblest pang to the pains of thy death, to think that thou must leave thy fair house, thy ancestral trees, thy horses, thy shop, thy books, behind thee, then art thou a servant of mammon, and far truer to thy master than he will prove to thee. Ah, slave! the moment the breath is out of the body, lo, he has already deserted thee! and of all in which thou didst rejoice, all that gave thee such power over thy fellows, there is not left so much as a spike of thistle-down for the wind to waft from thy sight. For all thou hast had, there is nothing to show. Where is the friendship in which thou mightst have invested thy money, in place of burying it in the maw of mammon? Troops of the dead might now be coming to greet thee with love and service, hadst thou made thee friends with thy money; but, alas! to thee it was not money, but mammon, for thou didst love it—not for the righteousness and salvation thou by its means mightst work in the earth, but for the honor it brought thee among men, for the pleasures and immunities it purchased. Some of you are saying in your hearts, 'Preach to thyself, and practice thine own preaching;'—and you say well. And so I mean to do, lest having preached to others I should be myself a cast-away—drowned with some of you in the same pond of filth. God has put money in my power through the gift of one whom you know. I shall endeavor to be a faithful steward of that which God through her has committed to me in trust. Hear me, friends—to none of you am I the less a friend that I tell you truths you would hide from your own souls: money is not mammon; it is God's invention; it is good and the gift of God. But for money and the need of it, there would not be half the friendship in the world. It is powerful for good when divinely used. Give it plenty of air, and it is sweet as the hawthorn; shut it up, and it cankers and breeds worms. Like all the best gifts of God, like the air and the water, it must have motion and change and shakings asunder; like the earth itself, like the heart and mind of man, it must be broken and turned, not heaped together and neglected. It is an angel of mercy, whose wings are full of balm and dews and refreshings; but when you lay hold of him, pluck his pinions, pen him in a yard, and fall down and worship him—then, with the blessed vengeance of his master, he deals plague and confusion and terror, to stay the idolatry. If I misuse or waste or hoard the divine thing, I pray my Master to see to it—my God to punish me. Any fire rather than be given over to the mean idol! And now I will make an offer to my townsfolk in the face of this congregation—that, whoever will, at the end of three years, bring me his books, to him also will I lay open mine, that he will see how I have sought to make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. Of the mammon-server I expect to be judged according to the light that is in him, and that light I know to be darkness.
"Friend, be not a slave. Be wary. Look not on the gold when it is yellow in thy purse. Hoard not. In God's name, spend—spend on. Take heed how thou spendest, but take heed that thou spend. Be thou as the sun in heaven; let thy gold be thy rays, thy angels of love and life and deliverance. Be thou a candle of the Lord to spread His light through the world. If hitherto, in any fashion of faithlessness, thou hast radiated darkness into the universe, humble thyself, and arise and shine.
"But if thou art poor, then look not on thy purse when it is empty. He who desires more than God wills him to have, is also a servant of mammon, for he trusts in what God has made, and not in God Himself. He who laments what God has taken from him, he is a servant of mammon. He who for care can not pray, is a servant of mammon. There are men in this town who love and trust their horses more than the God that made them and their horses too. None the less confidently will they give judgment on the doctrine of God. But the opinion of no man who does not render back his soul to the living God and live in Him, is, in religion, worth the splinter of a straw. Friends, cast your idol into the furnace; melt your mammon down, coin him up, make God's money of him, and send him coursing. Make of him cups to carry the gift of God, the water of life, through the world—in lovely justice to the oppressed, in healthful labor to them whom no man hath hired, in rest to the weary who have borne the burden and heat of the day, in joy to the heavy-hearted, in laughter to the dull-spirited. Let them all be glad with reason, and merry without revel. Ah! what gifts in music, in drama, in the tale, in the picture, in the spectacle, in books and models, in flowers and friendly feasting, what true gifts might not the mammon of unrighteousness, changed back into the money of God, give to men and women, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh! How would you not spend your money for the Lord, if He needed it at your hand! He does need it; for he that spends it upon the least of his fellows, spends it upon his Lord. To hold fast upon God with one hand, and open wide the other to your neighbor—that is religion; that is the law and the prophets, and the true way to all better things that are yet to come.—Lord, defend us from Mammon. Hold Thy temple against his foul invasion. Purify our money with Thy air, and Thy sun, that it may be our slave, and Thou our Master. Amen."
The moment his sermon was ended, the curate always set himself to forget it. This for three reasons: first, he was so dissatisfied with it, that to think of it was painful—and the more, that many things he might have said, and many better ways of saying what he had said, would constantly present themselves. Second, it was useless to brood over what could not be bettered; and, third, it was hurtful, inasmuch as it prevented the growth of new, hopeful, invigorating thought, and took from his strength, and the quality of his following endeavor. A man's labors must pass like the sunrises and sunsets of the world. The next thing, not the last, must be his care. When he reached home, he would therefore use means to this end of diversion, and not unfrequently would write verses. Here are those he wrote that afternoon.
LET YOUR LIGHT SO SHINE.
Sometimes, O Lord, thou lightest in my head A lamp that well might Pharos all the lands; Anon the light will neither burn nor spread Shrouded in danger gray the beacon stands.
A Pharos? Oh, dull brain! Oh, poor quenched lamp, Under a bushel, with an earthy smell! Moldering it lies, in rust and eating damp, While the slow oil keeps oozing from its cell!
For me it were enough to be a flower Knowing its root in thee was somewhere hid— To blossom at the far appointed hour, And fold in sleep when thou, my Nature, bid.
But hear my brethren crying in the dark! Light up my lamp that it may shine abroad. Fain would I cry—See, brothers! sisters, mark! This is the shining of light's father, God.
THE MANOR HOUSE DINING-ROOM.
The rector never took his eyes off the preacher, but the preacher never saw him. The reason was that he dared not let his eyes wander in the direction of Mrs. Ramshorn; he was not yet so near perfection but that the sight of her supercilious, unbelieving face, was a reviving cordial to the old Adam, whom he was so anxious to poison with love and prayer. Church over, the rector walked in silence, between the two ladies, to the Manor House. He courted no greetings from the sheep of his neglected flock as he went, and returned those offered with a constrained solemnity. The moment they stood in the hall together, and before the servant who had opened the door to them had quite disappeared, Mrs. Ramshorn, to the indignant consternation of Mrs. Bevis, who was utterly forgotten by both in the colloquy that ensued, turned sharp on the rector, and said,
"There! what do you say to your curate now?"
"He is enough to set the whole parish by the ears," he answered.
"I told you so, Mr. Bevis!"
"Only it does not follow that therefore he is in the wrong. Our Lord Himself came not to send peace on earth but a sword."
"Irreverence ill becomes a beneficed clergyman, Mr. Bevis," said Mrs. Ramshorn—who very consistently regarded any practical reference to our Lord as irrelevant, thence naturally as irreverent.
"And, by Jove!" added the rector, heedless of her remark, and tumbling back into an old college-habit, "I fear he is in the right; and if he is, it will go hard with you and me at the last day, Mrs. Ramshorn."
"Do you mean to say you are going to let that man turn every thing topsy-turvy, and the congregation out of the church, John Bevis?"
"I never saw such a congregation in it before, Mrs. Ramshorn."
"It's little better than a low-bred conventicle now, and what it will come to, if things go on like this, God knows."
"That ought to be a comfort," said the rector. "But I hardly know yet where I am. The fellow has knocked the wind out of me with his personalities, and I haven't got my breath yet. Have you a bottle of sherry open?"
Mrs. Ramshorn led the way to the dining-room, where the early Sunday dinner was already laid, and the decanters stood on the sideboard. The rector poured himself out a large glass of sherry, and drank it off in three mouthfuls.
"Such buffoonery! such coarseness! such vulgarity! such indelicacy!" cried Mrs. Ramshorn, while the parson was still occupied with the sherry. "Not content with talking about himself in the pulpit, he must even talk about his wife! What's he or his wife in the house of God? When his gown is on, a clergyman is neither Mr. This nor Mr. That any longer, but a priest of the Church of England, as by law established. My poor Helen! She has thrown herself away upon a charlatan! And what will become of her money in the hands of a man with such leveling notions, I dread to think."
"He said something about buying friends with it," said the rector.
"Bribery and corruption must come natural to a fellow who could preach a sermon like that after marrying money!"
"Why, my good madam, would you have a man turn his back on a girl because she has a purse in her pocket?"
"But to pretend to despise it! And then, worst of all! I don't know whether the indelicacy or the profanity was the greater!—when I think of it now, I can scarcely believe I really heard it!—to offer to show his books to every inquisitive fool itching to know my niece's fortune! Well, she shan't see a penny of mine—that I'm determined on."
"You need not be uneasy about the books, Mrs. Ramshorn. You remember the condition annexed?"
"Stuff and hypocrisy! He's played his game well! But time will show."
Mr. Bevis checked his answer. He was beginning to get disgusted with the old cat, as he called her to himself.
He too had made a good speculation in the hymeneo-money-market, otherwise he could hardly have afforded to give up the exercise of his profession. Mrs. Bevis had brought him the nice little property at Owlkirk, where, if he worshiped mammon—and after his curate's sermon he was not at all sure he did not—he worshiped him in a very moderate and gentlemanly fashion. Every body liked the rector, and two or three loved him a little. If it would be a stretch of the truth to call a man a Christian who never yet in his life had consciously done a thing because it was commanded by Christ, he was not therefore a godless man; while, through the age-long process of spiritual infiltration, he had received and retained much that was Christian.
The ladies went to take off their bonnets, and their departure was a relief to the rector. He helped himself to another glass of sherry, and seated himself in the great easy chair formerly approved of the dean, long promoted. But what are easy chairs to uneasy men? Dinner, however, was at hand, and that would make a diversion in favor of less disquieting thought.
Mrs. Ramshorn, also, was uncomfortable—too much so to be relieved by taking off her bonnet. She felt, with no little soreness, that the rector was not with her in her depreciation of Wingfold. She did her best to play the hostess, but the rector, while enjoying his dinner despite discomfort in the inward parts, was in a mood of silence altogether new both to himself and his companions. Mrs. Bevis, however, talked away in a soft, continuous murmur. She was a good-natured, gentle soul, without whose sort the world would be harder for many. She did not contribute much to its positive enjoyment, but for my part, I can not help being grateful even to a cat that will condescend to purr to me. But she had not much mollifying influence on her hostess, who snarled, and judged, and condemned, nor seemed to enjoy her dinner the less. When it was over, the ladies went to the drawing-room; and the rector, finding his company unpleasant, drank but a week-day's allowance of wine, and went to have a look at his horses.
They neighed a welcome the moment his boot struck the stones of the yard, for they loved their master with all the love their strong, timid, patient hearts were as yet capable of. Satisfied that they were comfortable, for he found them busy with a large feed of oats and chaff and Indian corn, he threw his arm over the back of his favorite, and stood, leaning against her for minutes, half dreaming, half thinking. As long as they were busy, their munching and grinding soothed him—held him at least in quiescent mood; the moment it ceased, he seemed to himself to wake up out of a dream. In that dream, however, he had been more awake than any hour for long years, and had heard and seen many things. He patted his mare lovingly, then, with a faint sense of rebuked injustice, went into the horse's stall, and patted and stroked him as he had never done before.
He went into the inn, and asked for a cup of tea. He would have had a sleep on Mrs. Pinks's sofa, as was his custom in his study—little study, alas, went on there!—but he had a call to make, and must rouse himself, and that was partly why he had sought the inn. For Mrs. Ramshorn's household was so well ordered that nothing was to be had out of the usual routine. It was like an American country inn, where, if you arrive after supper, you will most likely have to starve till next morning. Her servants, in fact, were her masters, and she dared not go into her own kitchen for a jug of hot water. Possibly it was her dethronement in her own house that made her, with a futile clutching after lost respect, so anxious to rule in the abbey church. As it was, although John Bevis and she had known each other long, and in some poor sense intimately, he would never in her house have dared ask for a cup of tea except it were on the table. But here was the ease of his inn, where the landlady herself was proud to get him what he wanted. She made the tea from her own caddy; and when he had drunk three cups of it, washed his red face, and re-tied his white neck-cloth, he set out to make his call.
THE RECTORY DRAWING-ROOM.
The call was upon his curate. It was years since he had entered the rectory. The people who last occupied it, he had scarcely known, and even during its preparation for Wingfold he had not gone near the place. Yet of that house had been his dream as he stood in his mare's stall, and it was with a strange feeling he now approached it. Friends generally took the pleasanter way to the garden door, opening on the churchyard, but Mr. Bevis went round by the lane to the more public entrance.
All his years with his first wife had been spent in that house. She was delicate when he married her, and soon grew sickly and suffering. One after another her children died as babies. At last came one who lived, and then the mother began to die. She was one of those lowly women who apply the severity born of their creed to themselves, and spend only the love born of the indwelling Spirit upon their neighbors. She was rather melancholy, but hoped as much as she could, and when she could not hope did not stand still, but walked on in the dark. I think when the sun rises upon them, some people will be astonished to find how far they have got in the dark.
Her husband, without verifying for himself one of the things it was his business to teach others, was yet held in some sort of communion with sacred things by his love for his suffering wife, and his admiration of her goodness and gentleness. He had looked up to her, though several years younger than himself, with something of the same reverence with which he had regarded his mother, a women with an element of greatness in her. It was not possible he should ever have adopted her views, or in any active manner allied himself with the school whose doctrines she accepted as the logical embodiment of the gospel, but there was in him all the time a vague something that was not far from the kingdom of heaven. Some of his wife's friends looked upon him as a wolf in the sheepfold; he was no wolf, he was only a hireling. Any neighborhood might have been the better for having such a man as he for the parson of the parish—only, for one commissioned to be in the world as he was in the world!—why he knew more about the will of God as to a horse's legs, than as to the heart of a man. As he drew near the house, the older and tenderer time came to meet him, and the spirit of his suffering, ministering wife seemed to overshadow him. Two tears grew half-way into his eyes:—they were a little bloodshot, but kind, true eyes. He was not sorry he had married again, for he and his wife were at peace with each other, but he had found that the same part of his mind would not serve to think of the two: they belonged to different zones of his unexplored world. For one thing, his present wife looked up to him with perfect admiration, and he, knowing his own poverty, rather looked down upon her in consequence, though in a loving, gentle, and gentlemanlike way.
He was shown into the same room, looking out on the churchyard, where in the first months of his married life, he sat and heard his wife sing her few songs, accompanying them on the little piano he had saved hard to buy for her, until she made him love them. It had lasted only through those few months; after her first baby died, she rarely sang. But all the colors and forms of the room were different, and that made it easier to check the lump rising in his throat. It was the faith of his curate that had thus set his wife before him, although the two would hardly have agreed in any confession narrower than the Apostles' creed.
When Wingfold entered the room, the rector rose, went halfway to meet him, and shook hands with him heartily. They seated themselves, and a short silence followed. But the rector knew it was his part to speak.
"I was in church this morning," he said, with a half-humorous glance right into the clear gray eyes of his curate.
"So my wife tells me," returned Wingfold with a smile.
"You didn't know it then?" rejoined the rector, with now an almost quizzical glance, in which hovered a little doubt. "I thought you were preaching at me all the time."
"God forbid!" said the curate; "I was not aware of your presence. I did not even know you were in the town yesterday."
"You must have had some one in your mind's eye. No man could speak as you did this morning, who addressed mere abstract humanity."
"I will not say that individuals did not come up before me; how can a man help it where he knows every body in his congregation more or less? But I give you my word, sir, I never thought of you."
"Then you might have done so with the greatest propriety," returned the rector. "My conscience sided with you all the time. You found me out. I've got a bit of the muscle they call a heart left in me yet, though it has got rather leathery.—But what do they mean when they say you are setting the parish by the ears?"
"I don't know, sir. I have heard of no quarreling. I have made some enemies, but they are not very dangerous, and I hope not very bitter ones; and I have made many more friends, I am sure."
"What they tell me is, that your congregation is divided—that they take sides for and against you, which is a most undesirable thing, surely!"
"It is indeed; and yet it may be a thing that, for a time, can not be helped. Was there ever a man with the cure of souls, concerning whom there has not been more or less of such division? But, if you will have patience with me, sir, I am bold to say, believing in the force and final victory of the truth, there will be more unity by and by."
"I don't doubt it. But come now!—you are a thoroughly good fellow—that, a blind horse could see in the dimmits—and I'm accountable for the parish—couldn't you draw it a little milder, you know? couldn't you make it just a little less peculiar—only the way of putting it, I mean—so that it should look a little more like what they have been used to? I'm only suggesting the thing, you know—dictating nothing, on my soul, Mr. Wingfold. I am sure that, whatever you do, you will act according to your own conscience, otherwise I should not venture to say a word, lest I should lead you wrong."
"If you will allow me," said the curate, "I will tell you my whole story; and then if you should wish it, I will resign my curacy, without saying a word more than that my rector thinks it better. Neither in private shall I make a single remark in a different spirit."
"Let me hear," said the rector.
"Then if you will please take this chair, that I may know that I am not wearying you bodily at least."
The rector did as he was requested, laid his head back, crossed his legs, and folded his hands over his worn waist-coat: he was not one of the neat order of parsons; he had a not unwholesome disregard of his outermost man, and did not know when he was shabby. Without an atom of pomposity or air rectorial, he settled himself to listen.
Condensing as much as he could, Wingfold told him how through great doubt, and dismal trouble of mind, he had come to hope in God, and to see that there was no choice for a man but to give himself, heart, and soul, and body, to the love, and will, and care of the Being who had made him. He could no longer, he said, regard his profession as any thing less than a call to use every means and energy at his command for the rousing of men and women from that spiritual sleep and moral carelessness in which he had himself been so lately sunk.
"I don't want to give up my curacy," he concluded. "Still less do I want to leave Glaston, for there are here some whom I teach and some who teach me. In all that has given ground for complaint, I have seemed to myself to be but following the dictates of common sense; if you think me wrong, I have no justification to offer. We both love God,——"
"How do you know that?" interrupted the rector. "I wish you could make me sure of that."
"I do, I know I do," said the curate earnestly. "I can say no more."
"My dear fellow, I haven't the merest shadow of a doubt of it," returned the rector, smiling. "What I wished was, that you could make me sure I do."
"Pardon me, my dear sir, but, judging from sore experience, if I could I would rather make you doubt it; the doubt, even if an utter mistake, would in the end be so much more profitable than any present conviction."
"You have your wish, then, Wingfold: I doubt it very much," replied the rector. "I must go home and think about it all. You shall hear from me in a day or two."
As he spoke Mr. Bevis rose, and stood for a moment like a man greatly urged to stretch his arms and legs. An air of uneasiness pervaded his whole appearance.
"Will you not stop and take tea with us?" said the curate. "My wife will be disappointed if you do not. You have been good to her for twenty years, she says."
"She makes an old man of me," returned the rector musingly. "I remember her such a tiny thing in a white frock and curls. Tell her what we have been talking about, and beg her to excuse me. I must go home."
He took his hat from the table, shook hands with Wingfold, and walked back to the inn. There he found his horses bedded, and the hostler away. His coachman was gone too, nobody knew whither.