"Vol. II." by Geraldine Jewsbury (1812-1880)
When Everhard returned to Rome, which was a few days after the occurrence related in the last chapter, the first thing he did was to send and request an audience with the superior. He determined to explain the change which had taken place in his views, and to submit to his decision the course he ought to pursue. A blind instinct of integrity alone remained to guide him: he saw his future course no further than this one step, this interview with the superior: as to how or where it would lead him, he was unable even to form a wish. The superior was in the apartment where Everhard had been received on his entrance in the college, and in which, with a beating heart, he had undergone his examination. The portraits of former pupils who had become distinguished men, still hung on the walls around, and Everhard's own portrait, in his professor's robes, had recently been added to their number, by the command of his Holiness himself.
The superior received Everhard with great courtesy, and expressed sincere pleasure at his restored health. Afterwards he began a light conversation on the topics of the day, made many inquiries after the Prince de B----, and showed much curiosity about the distinguished guests who had been of the party; but Everhard was constrained and absent, showing by his replies how little he had understood of the questions. He was thinking how he should introduce the object he came about, amidst the trivial discourse that jarred upon him like the sound of a revel on the ears of a sick man. At length, with a sort of half smile, he said, "You must think my illness has left me strangely imbecile; but the fact is, I am come to speak to you on other matters than these. I came to speak to you about myself; to submit myself to your authority."
The bland, gossiping manner of the superior became instantly changed for a mechanical, business-like austerity, and, inclining his head slightly, he intimated that he was prepared to listen.
Everhard paused for one moment, and then, making an effort, he gave a distinct account of the change his opinions had undergone: not the process through which he had reached his present condition; for he instinctively felt that his auditor could comprehend nothing of it: but he spoke as to his superior in the Church, who had the power to decide on his future connexion with that body. "Now, Father," he concluded, "you will take what steps you see fit to dismiss me from among you. I submit myself unreservedly to you; for the solemn vow of obedience which I have taken, cannot be cancelled by any personal change of sentiment."
"My dear friend," replied the superior, in some dismay, "you must surely be labouring under the effects of your fever! What has come over you? You, our most able champion! you must not give way to these fancies. They are, no doubt, temptations from the Evil One, with whom you have so manfully fought, and he has prevailed to wound you. Do not give ear to them. We are all liable to such delusions; I myself, if I dared to give way, should soon be in your state; but I do not suffer my mind to dwell on those matters. Keep yourself quiet for a few days, and just make an 'Act of Faith', and you can pray to Our Blessed Lady to dissipate these shadows; but that, no doubt, you have done; and a - struggle against unbelieving thoughts, and - a - you will be restored to your right mind in a little while. We will not let you throw yourself out of the reach of succour. You must not depart out of the pale of the Holy Church for fancies like these. There is much work for you yet to do: the people must have a form of doctrines; a worship that will gather them together; and you can have no call to instruct them in subtle doubts, that lead to no result. Even if you did, you have nothing to give them instead of the religion they have been brought up in. Our Holy Church is a fold for the people, and they must be gathered together into it, or perish among the wolves in the wilderness. You are in an excited state of mind. Keep yourself quiet, and make an 'Act of Faith', as I said; you will find comfort from it no doubt. And now I have urgent business, and must pray you to excuse me." He accompanied Everhard a few steps towards the door. The interview was over, and in a few moments Everhard was in his room alone.
It is to be questioned, whether there is a matter of any real importance under the sun. We see what costs us days of anxiety and nights of sleeplessness, treated as a thing of no moment by people who are just as well able to judge of it as we ourselves. If one could only realise this, it would go far towards making us take every thing much more quietly than we do. Everhard felt that what had shook his inmost soul to the centre, was of no consequence to any one but himself. Two days afterwards he received a message requesting him again to go to the superior's apartments, who, after a few words of inquiry about his health and state of mind since their last interview, proceeded to inform him, that he had been appointed by his Holiness himself on a special and confidential mission to Paris, in which dexterity and despatch were both required: there were only a few hours to prepare for the journey. Everhard received his instructions, and in less than two hours he had quitted Rome, not sorry to have his thoughts diverted to other objects. During his absence a communication came from Gifford, stating that his college was now built, and entreating that some able and zealous man might be appointed head of it. Much was said of the opening afforded for a mission in that part of England.
"Everhard Burrows, the young professor in the English College, will be the very person to fill this position," said Cardinal Morosini, the friend and favourite of his Holiness, whom he had consulted on the subject of Gifford's request.
"I don't know," replied the Pope, doubtfully; "they tell me that all these controversies have shaken his faith. It is not wise to send uncertain men to fill places of trust, and if this Everhard takes it into his head to turn round upon us, we shall have our hands full, for no one could make head against him; and, besides, his defection would make less éclat where he is now, than if we elevated him to a conspicuous station; where it would not say much for our gift of discerning of spirits."
"There is a flaw in Everhard's faith, as regards religion, certainly," replied the cardinal, returning to the charge; "but not as regards the Church. He is not prepared to leave that; at least not at this present time, and it would be highly unwise to suffer him to depart from it; secure his allegiance by giving him a place of trust; his liberalism in matters of religion will recommend him to the people he is to go amongst; it would not do to send a bigot, as matters stand at present. This Everhard is an Englishman, to begin with; he will be able to conciliate and disarm suspicion and distrust, and establish the Catholic faith on a footing that can be made the most of hereafter. His works are in great repute in England, even amongst the most ultra Protestants; they look upon him less as a Catholic priest than as the champion of Christianity."
"Well," replied the Pope, "if we could but feel sure that he would keep his doubts to himself; but he has a strange mania for being sincere, which with him, as with every body else who takes it up, means saying the most inconvenient truths, at the most inconvenient times, to other people; and he has a disregard for consequences that is quite appalling. Truth is not a virtue intended to grow wild in the highways of the world; it ought not to be administered without due authority; otherwise it may act as a deadly poison; you know what Solomon said, 'I, Wisdom, dwell with Prudence.'"
"Everhard is an enthusiast in his own way, your Holiness," rejoined the cardinal, "and we want men of that stamp among us."
"There again," replied the Pope, "enthusiasm is too mighty a power to be trifled with, according to the caprice or judgment of one man; there is no directing it, or calculating on its effects. When great masses have to be moved, and the progress of events is on a large scale, enthusiasm is necessary. In early ages, when the machinery of society is coarse and simple, halting and hitching at every turn, it needs the outbreak of a wild enthusiasm to overcome the friction, and get the machine to move onwards at all. But, in the present day, where the affairs of the world are complicated by innumerable individual interests, where every thing is fine drawn and elaborated by a thousand different influences, where no single action is impelled by a simple motive, and the whole mechanism of life is so complicated, a burst of enthusiasm, no matter about what, would break up the existing order of things, and destroy in an instant the elaborate policy of years. In these days of ours enthusiasm is not safe. There is neither strength, nor knowledge, nor device left in the world to direct its course, to shape its ends; we are not strong enough to stand against its first outbreak; it would sweep every thing before it up from the foundations. Nevertheless," continued he, after a pause, "perhaps the best thing we can do with this Everhard will be to make him superior of this college."
So the appointment was made, and on Everhard's return to Rome he found all prepared for his departure, and his professorship filled up. After a most gracious audience of leave taking, he departed for England.
Everhard would have preferred paying a visit to his brother, before going to see his new college, but his orders were to proceed at once to Gifford Castle, as soon as he landed.
It was a bright autumnal evening when he drew to the last stage of his journey; he left his luggage to follow him, and getting out of the chaise, proceeded on foot towards the village of Culbone, in the neighbourhood of which Gifford Castle was situated.
The mountains were tinged with the hues of sunset, and the corn-fields were vying with each other in their golden beauty. The first thing that strikes an eye long accustomed to foreign scenery, on returning to England, is the peculiar freshness and richness of the green foliage; the green fields and trees of England are as peculiar to it, and as unapproached in beauty, as the sky of Italy.
It was a village holiday, nothing less than the Wakes; all the lower orders were abroad in their best and gayest dresses; the red cloaks of the elder women, and the many-coloured dresses of the young girls sitting in carts driven by their brothers and sweethearts, looking like gaudy beds of tulips, or walking along the road and seen glancing through the trees and tall hedgerows; the sounds of their laughing and talking resounded far and wide on the still air: now and then snatches of a song, shouted on the top of a rough, strong, but merry voice: the poetical-looking cottages with which that district of England abounds - all contributed to make Everhard feel, on returning to the land of his birth, that it indeed merited the epithet of "happy England". The sweet odours, that were borne to him on all sides by the breeze, intoxicated his senses. The face of nature again looked to him as he had seen it in his boyhood, she was again "a glory and a joy", and he felt that "light is indeed good, and a pleasant thing it is for a man to behold the sun."
It was not till night appeared in all her shades, turning to blackness what the sunset had left gold and purple, that Everhard fully awoke to the reality of his situation, and recollected that he must make the best of his way, or else his chaise and luggage would arrive without him at the castle. He quickened his steps and beckoned to a young man who was lounging near, to show him the nearest way.
In the castle, meanwhile, all had been hurry and business since the arrival of Zoe and the family. The great room, wainscotted with richly carved oak, was henceforth to be the drawing-room; an odd room for that purpose, certainly, with its four little corner rooms like cloisters peeping through fretted oak arches and balustrades; but still it was much more picturesque than the one that had hitherto figured as drawing-room, and which Zoe now took for the library. In a little time there was a most novel air of luxury and comfort which astonished the old domestics, and made them bode speedy ruin to their master from the extravagance of their mistress; though to do Zoe justice, the changed aspect of the whole place was much more owing to her own taste and personal exertions, than to any lavish expenditure. Sofas, couches, stands for flowers and shrubs, were all indebted to her hands for their graceful arrangements, which gave an air of recherche not always achieved by costly materials.
The children, assisted by Clotilde, planted flower-roots in the fancifully-shaped flowerbeds, and then they had their own little gardens where they might dig and plant to their hearts' content, undisturbed by any remonstrance from the gardener.
It was evening, and they were still working away at a fish-pond which was to match with a pyramid on the opposite side, when the elder boy, looking up, met the eyes of a tall, grave stranger fixed upon him with a mild yet somewhat absent look. He was leaning against a large tree, and had been silently watching them for some time with his thoughts far back in the past; - it was Everhard - and the present seemed like a revived scene of his own childhood.
The boy called the attention of the rest to the stranger, and Clotilde, who saw directly that he was a priest, invited him with great reverence to go with her to the castle. As they proceeded, Everhard tried to make friends with the children, but the boys looked shyly at him and lagged behind, peeping curiously at him when they were not seen, and looking in great confusion on the ground when he turned his head.
Clotilde regarded all priests with too much reverence to enter into any conversation with them, so they performed the short walk in silence. At the door they met Gifford, who, saluting Everhard with great courtesy, informed him that his chaise had just then arrived; he then conducted him into the house, where he proceeded to look for Zoe. They had to pass the chapel, the door was open, and they caught sight of a female form high up on the ladder, over which the light streamed in from a small painted window, making the figure look scarcely like an inhabitant of earth, for the mechanical contrivance of the ladder on which she stood, was almost concealed in the gloom; a silver lamp stood on a table near, which was covered with pictures and frames, and balls of crimson cord. Zoe was, indeed, standing as we have described, contemplating a picture of St Francis in the Wilderness, which had just been hung under her directions. On hearing the voice of Gifford, she quickly descended; her long hair, which was bound round her small Greek- shaped head, had half escaped from its confinement, and hung in heavy masses over her neck. The flowing Parisian négligée in which she was attired, the embroidered slippers, the bracelets on the round white arms beneath the hanging sleeves, marking the little hands which grasped a hammer, made a graceful and singular picture.
She received Everhard with a gracious cordiality, and apologised blushingly for having meddled with the chapel with what he might consider sacrilegious hands. Everhard told her that on the contrary, he was glad she took interest in such matters; and after viewing the new pictures, and also two splendid candelabras for the altar, the whole party proceeded to the drawing-room, where they had much conversation.
Everhard retired at night surprised at the interest he felt in Zoe; her very worldliness and coquetry seemed to sit upon her like graces. "Certainly", said he to himself, "she is far too good for the life she has hitherto led - full of passions and capabilities, which have as yet found no outlet." It is what may be said of many persons, for very few in the world have their passions adequately occupied; almost everybody has it in them to be better than they are, but it is only when we see beings so largely endowed as Zoe, wearing themselves out with the trifles of life, that the discrepancy strikes us forcibly enough to lament about. But Everhard was too weary with his day's journey to moralise that night, even upon Zoe, - still, it seemed as if a new element had mingled with his life.
The next day there were too many things to be done to allow Everhard to bestow any thought upon Zoe, who would hardly have believed her senses could she have known how completely the new college and its arrangements occupied his mind. Zoe with all her beauty, coquetry, and studiously arranged comings and goings, and lookings and sayings, were quite lost upon him; but Zoe never suspected the possibility of this, and accordingly, though she desired beyond measure to take the third place in the carriage that was to drive them over to look at the college, she would not propose it herself, lest Everhard "should suspect something". She therefore ordered her riding horse, and declared her intention of going in a contrary direction to pay a morning call; Gifford only said, "Well, my dear, if you prefer it, go there, and if you will order dinner half an hour later, we need none of us be hurried."
Everhard looked perfectly indifferent, and was quite unconscious that the arrangement was any thing but a matter of course.
The two gentlemen set off on their expedition, and Zoe annoyed, she could hardly tell why, went to perform her visit in no very good humour.
Gifford's intention in erecting a college, had been to supply a place of education for the sons of the English Catholic gentry, so as to obviate the necessity of sending them abroad; he hoped this would prove a means of raising the Catholic body in England from its depressed and broken condition. Trifling as the undertaking may seem in these days, it was at that time a singularly bold step. To keep silent evil tongues, and to avoid publicity as much as possible, he allowed it to assume merely the appearance of a school for Catholic boys, but it was regarded in head quarters (or they would hardly have sent over so distinguished a man as Everhard to be at its head) as the nucleus of a clerical seminary, where a class of priests could be trained and adapted to the genius and temper of an English mission.
Gifford had given the ground on which the building was erected, and had invested ten thousand pounds as a permanent endowment; he had also given the use of one of his valuable quarries for as much stone as was required. Contributions from other Catholic families completed all that remained to be done, and Everhard was agreeably surprised at the tasteful but unostentatious edifice which had been erected. There were accommodations for about thirty inmates, besides the president and four resident professors, who were to be appointed by Everhard. The grounds attached to the college were extensive and well laid out. Everhard warmly expressed his admiration, and congratulated Gifford on his success.
"It must", said Gifford, "seem strange in the eyes of the world, (if the world takes the trouble of thinking on the subject) to see one so distinguished as yourself, the master of a boys' school, but we do not judge things according to their outward appearance; if by your instrumentality this place is honoured to become a home where a race of priests may be trained in wisdom and prudence, to overcome the enmity with which Catholics in this country are regarded, it will be as noble a work as any that would sound your name from one end of the world to the other; and I feel convinced that our holy religion will yet raise her head even in this apostate land."
"I think so too," replied Everhard, "but it will be a work of time, the Catholics must live down the prejudices against them; modified views must be presented of their tenets, for Catholicism, as it exists in Italy, will never obtain a footing in England; it must adapt itself to the genius of the people.
"Protestantism in all its phases, is a system of negations; it has more affinity with scepticism than belief. No form of Protestantism can, for any length of time, satisfy the devotional feelings and aspirations of a nation. For the multitude, you must not refine doctrines too much, you must give them something tangible to believe, something that can take a quick and stringent hold upon their heart and conduct. The multitude, in all ages, require to have high truths dramatised in forms, creeds, and symbols, before they can be made to apprehend them.
"The Catholic Church alone, has taught the truths of Christianity, on a large scale, with any thing like success. As to the small number of men who strive to pierce into the heart of things, it is no matter what form of doctrine prevails, they must, and always will, believe in a different spirit to that of the mass. Their grand mistake has been in uttering their subtilised doctrines, to the gross, dull ears of the multitude, who can see, hear, and understand nothing, except through the medium of their coarse passions and sensual appetites; hence arises the herd of infidels, who make a mock at all religion; as if to disprove a tradition, or raise an objection to a creed, were an emancipation from the law of wisdom to which that creed or tradition endeavoured to give utterance. For myself, I consider that in coming here, I have undertaken the most awfully responsible office that can be laid upon a man, that of educating a body of youths, who may hereafter be called upon to instruct their fellow-men in religious matters."
Everhard ceased, and there was a pause for some moments; had the speaker been one with a less established reputation than Everhard, it is certain that Gifford would have found matter of scandal and cavil in what had just been said; but coming, as it did, from one who had so well fought the battles of the Church, he was fain to believe that it must be more orthodox than it sounded.
From the college Gifford took Everhard to see some improvements he had been making in that neighbourhood, particularly a hamlet of singularly neat and well-built cottages, inhabited altogether by Catholic peasants and their families.
"I have", said he, "drafted as many as possible of my poor Catholic tenants to my own immediate neighbourhood. I wish to have no party spirit, and the less intercourse there is between them and my Protestant tenants the more peace there will be. Neither side is as yet sufficiently well instructed to understand the beauty of mutual toleration. I expect much good from your labours amongst them."
As they rode home they passed a row of almshouses that Gifford had built and endowed for the widows of small Catholic tradesmen who had been left in destitute circumstances.
"You are in a fortunate position, Mr Gifford," said Everhard, with a smile, "and you are able to feel interest in all the objects that surround you, which is a blessing much more rare than actual prosperity. Many men have the materials of happiness placed within their reach; but not one in ten knows how to manufacture any thing out of them except ennui."
"Father Everhard," said Gifford after a pause, "I often think of the punishment of unthankful souls in Dante's 'Inferno', where they who perversely encouraged a gloomy disposition, are punished by being kept from the pleasant light of day, and condemned to plunge about in darkness and the bottomless Slough of Despond. When I first read that, I was much impressed by it, and I resolved in my heart never to give way to a spirit of repining or indifference to the blessings of my lot. I prayed earnestly that I might be kept from that sin, and I think it has, at least, been kept in subjection; otherwise - but listen: From my childhood I have loved every one more than any ever loved me in return. If one showed me but common kindness, I repaid it with affection. I could not exist without the sympathy of those around me; without loving them. For a long time I had a sort of faith that my love must of necessity cause me to be beloved again; the more insensibility I met with, the more I poured out my whole heart to melt and overcome it. There were some whom I called friends, and whom I loved too earnestly to be able to stop and examine what they gave me in return; but they had always a sort of half smile at my headlong devotion; and I overheard them laughingly boast of it to others, as a singularity, of which they hardly seemed to know whether to feel vain, or ashamed. I had a vague sense of outrage at this; but I could hardly make my feelings tangible even to myself. In a little while I grew older, and able better to understand the meaning of what passed around me, and I discovered that I was of no use, or value, or pleasure to those on whom I had bestowed affection that was without alloy. They did not know what to make of me; they considered me as eccentric, and their good will was dashed with contempt.
"When I first discovered this I was very miserable; more miserable than I have ever been, either before or since. It is such a sense of helplessness that takes possession of us when we have loved with all our energy, and it has obtained no affection for us in return. After we have given our love to a friend, there remains nothing more that we can do for him: we have bestowed our most precious gift, and found it valueless. Do not mistake me; I did not indulge in any sentimental passion; the heart love I gave was to the companions of my own sex, to the members of my own family. I never fell in love, as it is called, but ONCE in all my life. At first, after my eyes had been opened as I have described, I am sure I must have become very disagreeable, for the worst feelings of my nature were roused; I became exigeant and distrustful. I tried to look upon myself as a kind of martyr; and yet, martyr is not the exact word; for I had a strange kind of admiration for the coldness and worldliness by which I was suffering. There seemed to be something clever about it; and I thought there was something very fine in being able to think one thing, and make people believe another. I was sincere and single-hearted literally because I could not help it, and not because I reverenced that 'beauty of holiness'. In this miserable plunging state I continued for some time, without enough sternness of nature to hate, and without sufficient faith in my natural impulses to live on in a spirit of love, when I met with such poor encouragement."
"Well," said Everhard, "and did you work your way out of this?"
"Yes," replied Gifford, "after a while I did; but from no thanks to myself. One day I was walking very disconsolately by myself, in a retired part of the park, when it suddenly flashed upon me, like lightning, that after all, there was really nothing in me to excite the love and admiration of men; that if I had been worth it, I should have had their love spontaneously, and without any striving on my part. You will think this sudden conviction an odd source of comfort; yet so it was. The instant I felt convinced that I was nothing, all the unreasonableness and anomaly of my situation ceased. I felt content to be as I was; all bitterness of spirit was effaced; I felt to lie still, if you can understand that. I now saw, for the first time, that to be beloved is not the highest motive from which a man can act. 'Do good, looking for nothing again,' rushed into my mind, and I saw how poorly and childishly I had felt. I had been tormented by a vague idea, that it was poor-spirited to do other than resent the slights which I had received, and that I ought not to do such a thing as love those who did not care about me; but now I seemed suddenly set at liberty from thraldom. I was relieved from all obligations to care about myself or my own dignity, and you cannot imagine the relief it was to me. I had no further concern with what people thought about me; I saw myself as I must appear to them, heavy in conversation, shy and awkward in manner, and wearisome to those I most wished to please. I perceived, in fact, that I was what people call a bore; and I felt that I was bound to have some consideration, and not inflict myself too much upon those who happened to be more amusing than myself. Since that time, it is wonderful how much better I have got on: there are some people who really care for me, and seem to set store by my friendship."
"Many more perhaps than you imagine," said Everhard, smiling. "Yes, Mr Gifford, the gift of humility is far more to be desired than either love or gold."
"Indeed you are right," said Gifford, with great naïveté, "but what I have been telling you is a mere matter of fact."
Everhard did not reply, for he had no wish to awaken the burden of consciousness in the worthy man. After another pause, during which they turned homewards, Gifford spoke again.
"Father Everhard," said he, "there is one thing that makes me very uneasy; it is about my wife. Mrs Gifford is a singular character, and I do not think that I have been quite wise in my conduct to her. I cannot understand her, and I fear I have not made her happy; she has many fine qualities, but she turns them to no good purpose; I have not the gift of drawing them out and directing them. I wish you would consent to spend as much of your time as you can with us; she worships intellect in all its shapes, and though she has very little sense of religion or belief of any sort, yet she has romantic notions about the Catholic religion, and would, I think, listen to a priest, when she would hear nobody else. She has, I know, long known and reverenced you, and is familiar with all your works; if any one can obtain a salutary influence over her it is yourself; you must be sensible that I cannot help being very anxious that she should not continue the infidel she is."
"Does she read much?" asked Everhard.
"A vast deal more than ever did a woman good yet," replied Gifford. "Women have no imperative and engrossing employments to work off what they read, or to correct their notions by practical experience; therefore they grow positive and extravagant, and their mind has no balance; it is a thousand pities she was not a man. It often frightens me to see a woman holding the views she does."
The conversation that followed was desultory; Gifford gave Everhard many particulars about Zoe, with which the reader is already acquainted, and this lasted till they reached home. Everhard knew nothing of women, and certainly he could not have commenced his acquaintance with a more puzzling specimen of the sex. On reaching the castle they found dinner waiting for them, and also two letters, one for Everhard from his brother, who was on a tour in Scotland with Marian, and the other from Marian herself to Zoe, full of wife-like admiration for the "angel of a husband" who had fallen to her lot, and expressive of her conviction that he must be quite as learned and clever as his celebrated brother, "though he was too modest to show it". Certainly there must be many virtues hidden under the matrimonial bushel, which the graceless and unbelieving world can neither see nor feel. The letter contained an earnest petition that Clotilde might be allowed to go and pay her a long visit as soon as she should be settled at home again; a postscript added by Louis himself seconded his wife's request; and poor little Clotilde, who had never been twenty miles from home in her life, did not know whether to hope or fear that the invitation would be accepted; all discussion was, however, by common consent postponed till after dinner.
Zoe had recovered from her temporary ill-humour, and was curious to know how Everhard and Gifford had spent the morning; she had a most amusing account to give of her own expedition; but the calm, grave manners of Everhard piqued her, for she felt that she made no impression upon him, or at least if she did, she could not discover what it was. She set herself to elicit some expression of admiration or surprise, some emotion, no matter what; she had not of late been accustomed to indifference, and she could not endure it. She uttered brilliant paradoxes, he listened with gentleness and did not contradict her; she talked sense, and he did not seem surprised; she had never before exerted herself so much to please, or produced so little apparent effect. This arose in part, undoubtedly, from the secluded manner in which Everhard had so long lived, and from his being so utterly unaccustomed to the society of women, which rendered his mode of addressing them both gauche and shy; he literally did not know how to keep up a conversation with them; Zoe, with all her beauty and brilliancy, positively bewildered him. It was not long before she perceived that this was the case, and it tended in some degree to pacify her; and it made her feel all the more interested, and all the more determined to conquer him.
As some time was still required to complete the arrangements for beginning the business of the college, Everhard remained an inmate of the castle for a fortnight longer, during which he made more progress with the nun-like Clotilde than with Zoe. Clotilde had still the appearance of being a child; her pale, sweet features and unconscious manner inspired Everhard with an interest he had never felt for any human being; her simple-hearted piety seemed to him like a reflection from the days of his own childhood, and to bring back the time when he wandered in the woods with Father Martin, listening to his legends. As to Clotilde, she soon invested Everhard with all the attributes of her most favourite saints; he went with her to visit her pensioners, and did not disdain to take an interest in the garden she had succeeded in coaxing at the top of a rock, and which she insisted was like the wilderness in which John the Baptist lived. Clotilde was the most complete contrast to her beautiful mother-in-law that can be conceived. She was more like a woman of the middle ages, than an educated young lady of the eighteenth century. She embroidered beautifully; was skilled in the mystery of compounding simples, cordials, and condiments of all sorts for the use of her poor sick people. She could certainly both read and write, but her acquaintance with books did not go beyond the "Garden of the Soul" and a few favourite books of devotion; - her ignorance, however, was graceful, and her sweet docile nature, made her heart far richer than her head. Full of all gentle and feminine instincts, she felt no desire for more extended knowledge, and Everhard could not help secretly hoping that Zoe would not spoil her by the endeavour to impart any of her fashionable accomplishments. Speaking of accomplishments, we forgot to state one that Clotilde really did possess; she danced beautifully; graceful she was by nature, and Miss Rodney, who retained enough of her aristocratic prejudices to think that an elegant carriage was the birthright and prerogative of a gentlewoman, had herself superintended the lessons of the master. Clotilde soon overcame her reserve, and trusted Everhard with all the little trials and scruples which could trouble so pure and gentle a heart.
One day as they were walking in the garden, she said to him, "I feel so glad that mamma is come back to live here, I like her so much better now than I did formerly; do you know, I fear it was very wicked, but she always frightened me, she seemed to be like one of those evil spirits who formerly used to assume the shape of beautiful women, and appear to the saints to tempt them; and yet she was always very kind to me; but now I love her very much, and don't feel afraid of her at all; perhaps I understand her better."
"Perhaps you do," replied Everhard, hardly able to repress a smile at Clotilde's simile, which had also occurred more than once to himself. During the whole time he remained at the castle, he kept aloof from Zoe with an instinct he could hardly account for; the consequence was that Zoe felt her pride engaged to subdue and punish such a defiance of her charms. She had no ill intentions; when she thus ventured on such slippery ground, it was in a spirit of mischief and curiosity, not of deliberate wickedness. Zoe was a proud, spoiled, petted beauty, and had led a prosperous life, which goes for a great deal in blunting the moral perceptions both of men and women. She had great talents and strong passions, and, alas! she had neither food for one nor employment for the other. A woman's wisdom always comes from love, and Zoe had never loved in the whole course of her life. Half the wickedness that gets committed in the world, arises more from the absence of some engrossing employment than from any special depravity.
In about a fortnight Everhard left the castle, and the business of the college began in earnest. Everhard was too much occupied in laying down rules for the management of the establishment, forming plans of study, and in giving to the whole undertaking a form and body, to be able to bestow a thought upon any thing else. Gifford often rode over to the college, but Everhard had no time to visit the castle. An accident occurred, however, that entirely changed the face of affairs.
One day, just before the commencement of the first vacation, Gifford was thrown from his horse at his own door, and his leg was severely fractured. On hearing of the accident, Everhard went over instantly. Gifford, who had a horror of the prospect of his long confinement, expressed such an earnest desire that he would spend the vacation at the castle, that Everhard could not find it in his heart to refuse; he had fixed to pay a visit to his mother and brother, and he felt great reluctance to give it up, but he consented at least to delay his visit to Sutton, and finally he came to the castle, from which, however, it would have been much better if he had stayed away.
There is a pleasure in being ill, or rather in the recovery from an illness, which none but the patient can tell. It is so soothing to one's self-importance to find our most unreasonable whims suddenly become laws to the whole household, - one's nightcap invested with all the virtues of a wishing-cap, as we listen to the reiterated entreaties from all around, to know "if there is any thing we could fancy". Then the pleasant little surprises of all kinds that we imagined; and the pleasant looks that greet us when we condescend to accept them; the patience that can translate our most unwarrantable "crossness", because there has been some trifling difficulty in obtaining the half of a star or the corner of a moon which it had pleased us to require, into "such a good sign of being really better"; and then our appetite (which the gods know is at that season singularly keen), how is it not tempted with unutterable dainties and friande morsels, all sorts of amateur cookery in our behalf, where Love himself has not disdained to turn the spit, and look into the stewpan! and all served up so gracefully on the small tray, covered with its delicate white damask cloth, arraying with more than mortal charms the moulds of crystal jelly and pure-looking blanc mange! Then there is the arrival of the doctor (the grand event in our day), who comes, - sits beside us - encourages us to complain, and listens. Oh, what can equal the blandness and sympathy of a listening doctor! We detail our minutest sensations with a modest pride at possessing so many indisputable claims on his attention; he is our doctor, we never realise the fact that he has other patients; - they only form the shadowy background of our doctor's reputation, skill, and immense practice; by a pleasant fiction we monopolise his sympathy, whole and undivided. Then there are the libraries ransacked for the new books to read to us, and the neighbourhood scoured for the newest of news! Ah, it is a reverse to come down from this to the ordinary accommodation of everyday mortals, - to hear the chilling words, "Oh, he is quite well now, and may do any thing"; which "any thing", by the way, is always bounded by an injunction to avoid evening parties, the night air, and to get up early in the morning. Till people have tried, they cannot know how affectionately one gets to feel towards the bed where we have lain so long!
This had been Gifford's experience of the last six weeks, and if the reader will look into Zoe's little library, which we have described as opening into the drawing-room, he will there see Gifford lying on a sofa, for he is well enough now to be removed there. Everhard sits on the other side of the sofa-table, arranging a chess-board - in the distance Zoe is extended on a couch, sometimes following the train of argument in a theological work of Everhard's, which she holds in her hand, and sometimes watching the calm Madonna-like figure of Clotilde, who sits in the window-seat under one of the tall Gothic windows, employed in embroidering a wreath of roses round the "sacred heart of Mary". Such a picture of purity and faith she looks, sitting there unconscious of any observation - now lifting her blue eyes from the golden sunset which seems to veil heaven and its hosts from her view, longing to pierce through them and mingle with those favourite saints and martyrs, with Christ and his mother, and all those wonderful and holy beings ever present to her imagination - Zoe longed to paint her. The book falling from her hands, startled Clotilde from her reverie. "What are you thinking about, Clotilde?" asked she. Clotilde blushed and hesitated, but on Zoe asking her with a smile, she answered, "I was wishing I had wings like the angels, to go and see them all, and poor Miss Rodney and mamma, who was so good, they say. I was thinking what a pity it is that we must die and be put in the dark earth, before we can have such great happiness; but so it always is, as our Church teaches - mortification first, and then -----." What the "then" was, Zoe did not get to hear, for the door was flung open, and the servant announced "Mr Burrows!" Everhard started up, overturning the chess-board, and sprang to meet him. "Louis!" "Everhard!" was all they could either of them utter, - they had not seen each other since they parted in the inn yard at Coventry - how many years before? Then followed cordial greetings, exclamations of surprise, and inquiries from Gifford and Zoe after Marian.
"Oh", said Louis, "I was so disappointed when Everhard did not come (though I had hardly the heart to wish it when I knew the reason that kept him here), that I determined to come to him myself, for I could not bear to be any longer without seeing him. Marian did not much like parting with me, but she could not accompany me, because", said he, with a sort of half bashful importance, "the medical man thought it would not be prudent in her condition to undertake such a long journey. I have promised to bring back Miss Clotilde with me, - Marian has quite set her heart on having her, and she must stay until Everhard can come and fetch her back. Oh, Everhard! - my mother is so anxious to see you, - you cannot think how proud she feels of you, - she does nothing but talk about you, and the blessing you are to the Church, and the credit to us all."
It was long before there was space for any thing like continued conversation; but when they were seated round the tea-table there were many inquiries to be made, and remembrances of people as they were twenty years before, to be compared with the actual state of things, and much new matter to be communicated, that never had been dreamed of under the old régime. "Old Sarah Matchet, who used to keep the gingerbread shop, must be dead by this time," said Everhard.
"No; only bed-ridden. She lives with her grand-daughter, that pretty girl whose father got transported for sheep-stealing. Oh, I forgot; that is since your time. He was to have been hanged, but we contrived to get it commuted to transportation. You remember his wife; she used to be the prettiest woman in the parish; but soon fell off in her looks after she married that great good-for-nothing scamp, who broke her heart. She died of shame and grief soon after his trial."
"Do you remember Jack Bolt, who used to help us to get birdnests, and make our fishing-tackle?"
"To be sure," said Everhard.
"Well, he has taken to poaching; he was brought up before me the other day for snaring hares: three pheasants were found in their feathers, lying behind his door. I was sorry to commit him, but there was no help. Poaching is no joke, and it is getting quite a common offence. Marian will take care of his family whilst he is in gaol."
"Let me intercede for him," said Everhard; "it seems to me such a hard thing to imprison a man for killing a wild animal belonging to nobody."
Louis looked up perfectly aghast at this heresy; but, recollecting that it was Everhard who spoke, he only said, "Ah, you are too tender-hearted, you don't understand these things. You remember old Stringer, the gardener," continued he; "well, he is dead - followed his own tree roses; but his son, to whom we have always been so kind, and considered him as belonging to the family; well, do you know, he has gone over to the other side!"
"What other side?" asked Everhard.
"Why the dirty dog has turned Protestant - no less! The new Irish rector, who came to the living on the death of the old man, is very zealous and evangelical as they call it now; he is very bitter against our religion, gives out tracts and Bibles; has a Sunday-school, and all that. He goes into all the houses to instruct the people, he says, and he got hold of Stringer, and, by some means, persuaded him to leave the religion of his forefathers, and to join their crew. I never was so mortified. Then the tea-drinkings at the Sunday-school, and the speechifyings there were about it, as if it at all signified what such curs as he believed! And because I turned him off, they made him think himself a martyr. He began to make speeches too, about the delusions of popery, and that O'Brian put it all into a tract, and got it printed, and distributed it about the parish, forgetting to say he was such a drunken dog nobody could depend upon him for a day's work, and that I had kept him on, out of respect to his father, till he disgraced himself by leaving his religion. So pitiful, too, when there are so few to stand by it in England!"
Zoe laughed outright at the indignant eloquence of Louis, and began to ask further particulars about the Reverend Horace O'Brian, who had been the means of seducing such an ornament into the Protestant community.
"Oh," said Louis, "he is an Irishman, and full of blarney. He is a gentleman, however, as far as family goes; but his father was a renegade, and got a post under government for changing his religion; his son has got this fine fat living, and wants to make himself popular. People come from far and near to hear him preach: he is very bitter against us Catholics, declares we are dangerous to the country, and that to tolerate us is a sin against God. Considering that we are the only Catholic family in his parish, I must say it is very personal and ungentlemanly; but we must none of us complain of suffering for our religion."
"Is he handsome as well as eloquent?" asked Zoe.
"Yes, the women all say so; but for my part, I cannot endure those great, tall, black-whiskered fellows, with their white hands and drawling voices, as if it were a sin to speak bluffly and honestly. However, they say that Miss Smith, of the Hollows, admires him. It will be a fine thing for him if he can marry her; and then, I suppose, he will live at his ease, as his predecessor did before him. There is a cotton factory, too, established since you left, and printworks; besides, Sutton is as large again as when you knew it, Everhard. When you come you shall try to convert some of the people, for I cannot bear that fellow to have it all his own way. I tried to argue with him one day, but he could talk better than I could. I made nothing of him; but it will be different when he has to deal with you."
"Thank you," said Everhard; "but I do not want to get into controversy."
Louis remained a week at the castle, during which time, though the brothers walked, and talked, and rode, as in former days - a sense of mutual strangeness and restraint was between them. This was not to be attributed to any actual want of attachment, nor even to their long separation. On the side of Louis there was an instinct that he could not talk to one whose name ranked along with those of the fathers in the Church, as he would to a neighbouring squire, and the attempt to keep up to what he considered the mark, made him feel sadly gêné; then, too, he had interests and pursuits that had arisen since they parted; the chain of mutual association which holds members of the same family together, in spite of difference and tastes and habits, was broken between Louis and Everhard. Everhard, with every possible wish to be affectionate, felt that somehow his brother was a sad interruption to the pleasant mode in which the time had hitherto glided on. Zoe felt it too, and had naturally much less patience with the author of it; so she occupied herself in preparing Clotilde's simple wardrobe, in order that when Louis brought his visit to a conclusion, there might be no sort of delay. Gifford was the only one of the party who found any satisfaction in his presence; they were both amateur farmers, and they had a wide field of sympathy in the different modes of manuring and cultivating land, mangel-wurzel, and Swedish turnips, to say nothing of an improved plough that Gifford had invented, to which Louis became so great a convert that he promised to bring it into use on one of his farms. No wonder Gifford thought him "a very superior, sensible young man, with no nonsense about him". Zoe grew every day more impatient for the departure of this "superior young man", for he had quite lost all that awe of her presence, and the diffidence which had made him tolerable before. The dignity of marriage had given him confidence to speak his mind on all he saw.
The evening before the day fixed for their journey, Clotilde brought the embroidery of her "Sacred Heart" to a conclusion. She had worked it for Everhard, as a chalice cover for the college chapel.
"Really, Clotilde," said Zoe, "this is beautifully done. I wish you would work something for my library; all you do goes to the chapel. How many sets of vestments and ornaments have you worked in your time?"
"Oh," said Louis, "you should see Marian's work; this is nothing to what she can do; she too, has worked a set of vestments. You never do any thing, Mrs Gifford, you fashionable ladies are all for ornament, like the cups on the mantel-shelf."
"Mrs Gifford", replied Everhard, hastily, "is capable of doing much better things than sewing with coloured silks."
"No doubt," said Louis, "when she gives her mind to it; it may be all very well for people of fashion, but I confess I like to see English wives employ themselves in a rational manner. I think nothing marks a superior woman so much as being constantly occupied. There is Marian for instance: she is always up by seven o'clock in the morning; she spends all the morning regularly in the housekeeper's room, looking after every thing in the house, and making all the jellies, and preserves, and potted meats, with her own hands; and then, though she is so economical, and such a good manager, she finds time for work. Catch her when you will, she is always busy; she has begun a large carpet of a most beautiful pattern, as she says it will be something for her grandchildren to remember her by; and now she is making all her baby clothes with her own hands. I tell her sometimes, I feel quite jealous of her needle, and often beg her to give herself a holiday; but she says when a woman is married she ought to set an example of practical usefulness."
"But", said Zoe, gravely, "could not the housekeeper or the cook make the jellies? and it seems almost a pity to take the trouble of working a carpet, when there are such pretty ones to be bought."
"That may be," said Louis, "but if women did not occupy themselves in those matters, what better things would they do? I do not wish my wife to be a fashionable, fine lady; it is all very well for women to lose their time in reading books, and playing music, before they are married, but after that they have things of more importance to attend to, in looking after their house and family, and seeing that they are not imposed upon; but of course you will only laugh at such notions."
"Indeed," replied Zoe gravely, "I am quite aware how liable we women are to be imposed on, and I quite agree with you, that if a woman is wise she cannot look too narrowly, or watch too strictly, in order to avoid it; and yet," said she, turning with a smile to Everhard, "it is not the delusion which gives us pain, but the discovery of it. I often think of the prayer of the poet, 'Long and deeply let me be beguiled.'"
"I think they must be very weak-minded, foolish people", said Louis, "who can prefer being deceived to finding it out, they then know what they have to guard against in future; now I will give you a case in point. Marian found that the butcher had made an overcharge of five pounds in his bill last Christmas. Now do you think it would have been better to go on being cheated, than to find it out?"
"We are imposed upon in many ways besides butchers' bills," said Zoe.
"Will you have a game of chess, Mr Gifford?" said Everhard, hastily.
"Why no, thank you, not to-night," said Gifford, "it is your brother's last night, and I want his opinion on this sample of wheat for seed, that I received this morning, when you have finished what you are talking about."
This broke up the conversation. Zoe went into the drawing-room, and began to practise some new music, which had arrived along with the "sample of wheat". Clotilde began to cut out some work for poor people, to take along with her; and Everhard seemed to fall into a reverie, as he stood leaning on the mantel-piece.
The next morning, at ten o'clock, the post-chaise came to the door, and Louis and Clotilde, having bade "good bye" for at least the twentieth time, got into it, and were driven off. Clotilde did not seem at all disturbed or agitated in going alone to visit one whom she had never seen. Ever since Louis came, she had seemed strangely anxious for the journey, and had shown an eagerness so different from her usual timidity, that Zoe was quite puzzled; but the child had formed a project, which had taken possession of her dear little heart; she had entrusted it in confidence to Everhard, and the reader shall know what it was all in good time.
After the departure of the travellers, things did not fall back into their old train; the spell was broken, Everhard was obliged to return to the college, and Gifford, who had grown very anxious to superintend some farming operations, got dreadfully impatient at being confined so long; interviews with his steward took the place of chess, he grew cross, and poor Zoe grew dreadfully dull, till she was almost tempted to emulate Marian, and work a carpet in sheer despair. There seemed nothing before her, but a long dreary six months of solitude; for she had grown too much accustomed to the society of one superior to herself, to be able to fall back into toleration for the second rate persons who formed the society of her neighbourhood. Complete solitude was far more endurable; so, shutting herself up in her boudoir, she began strenuously to rub up her knowledge of Greek, in order to read some of the Platonic philosophers, whose works Everhard had lent her at her own special request. She certainly found it rather dry work, but she persevered and read as hard as if she were going to be examined for her degree.
One fine morning, however, about three weeks after his departure, the door of her library opened, and "Father Everhard' entered. The thrill of pleasure which Zoe felt, was quite worth all her previous ennui; till he came back, she did not know how very much she had missed him. There was nothing extraordinary in his visit; he had come to inquire after Gifford, and pay his respects to the family; but, somehow, Zoe had not expected him. She had feared it would be as it was before, when he got back to his business at college; so the sight of him was gratifying in more ways than one. Gifford, who was now able to ride about in a low carriage, was just setting off; he looked in however for a moment, was delighted to see Everhard, and begged him to come very often; but he had an appointment with his steward just then, and could not delay any longer. Zoe and Everhard went to the hall-door with him, to see him start, and then returned to the library together.
Whether Everhard had less business than formerly to occupy his time, we do not know, but it is certain that his visits to the castle were much more frequent. Sometimes he came to examine into the progress the two boys were making under their tutor; but the tutor of Gifford's children was a dull plodding man, who disliked interference. Sometimes he came to see Gifford, but it soon grew to be a habit about which he ceased to give any reasons to himself.
When Gifford was at home and disengaged, they sat in the study, at other times they were in Zoe's little boudoir. Every day he felt himself more strongly attracted to the strange, beautiful being who had thus come across his path. He felt his mind grow, and his perceptions become clearer, under the quick and glancing impulses of her genius. She unveiled for him the resources of his own mind, - she gave a force, and meaning, and use to learning, which till now had lain crude and inert. He was startled by the intuitive perception she seemed to have of the state of his mind; her voice seemed the "voice of his own soul, heard in the calm of thought"; - his intercourse with her calmed down into mature thought, much that, experienced in solitude, and seen only from the fitful light of his own feelings, had become fantastic and exaggerated. A man is in an unhealthy disposition when he fancies that he has a monopoly of any peculiar feeling or opinion; if it be true, other people have known it also. When Zoe spoke, he found she looked from the same point of view as himself, and this is the secret of all sympathy. The crust of reserve which his isolated and anomalous position had caused, was broken up; he began to speak and feel more truthfully and naturally than he had done for years; a strain seemed taken off his life, and his mind put forth fresh growth. He was like a fertile soil, teeming with the seeds of life and vegetation, basking for the first time in an atmosphere able to draw them forth, and bring them to perfection.
Zoe on her side, with all her undisciplined and undirected powers, was gaining strength and knowledge by working in the mine of Everhard's attainments. He was the first person she had ever met with in the least qualified to obtain an influence over her. Women like her are only to be influenced by those they can recognise as their masters. Still there were other elements at work; there was too much of the priest and Jesuit about Everhard to permit his making her in so many words his confidante; much of what Zoe knew about him was tacitly assumed. She always felt that there was a point beyond which she could not go, and this, to a woman of her disposition, was the charm of his influence, for it must be remembered that Zoe was a coquette in grain.
The first annual examination of the scholars was about to take place, and the castle was expected to be full of company, as Gifford had made open house to the friends of the youths who were in the college.
Zoe, with a brilliant party from the castle, went to grace the occasion.
In addition to the usual phenomena, the boys had got up a Latin play, for which Zoe had invented and furnished the dresses. Then there were English recitations, and several essays on various subjects; amongst others, there was a theological thesis read by one of the boys, which obtained great applause.
Gifford had marquees erected in the grounds, and entertained the whole college. In short, it was a very splendid affair, and found its way into the county newspapers; but as there were no "reformation societies" in that neighbourhood, it only passed for a liberal and friendly entertainment, and not for a "Catholic demonstration".
When the bustle had subsided, and the students were dismissed to their different residences, Everhard found time to visit the castle, to which he had been a stranger for the last few weeks, owing to the accumulation of college business.
Zoe was alone when he entered the boudoir. "You see," said he, with a smile, "I dedicate to you the first fruits of my leisure."
"And, according to your brother Louis, you get nothing but the fruits of my idleness in return," she said. "After all, I begin to think his way of employing women is the best, and I don't know but what Marian does more good than I do."
"Since when have you thought so?"
"Oh, I am only beginning to wonder whether it may not be. It is very little use that can be made of what we any of us do. I don't know what we come into the world for, I am sure. It is that fine exhibition at your college the other day, that has set me thinking about it. Cobwebs to catch flies, seemed about the pitch of its utility; - that thesis on theology, which was the best thing, only set me wondering whether that youth, as a man, would ever be able to find his way out of the labyrinth of absurdity in which he had been walled up."
"Would you not have young men instructed in their religion?" asked Everhard.
"Creed, you mean," said Zoe. "With all the fine things that are said and sung about religion, as it is called, there is a want of frankness that disgusts me. The priests of all creeds never tell their own experience, or their own belief; they fight for the side they have taken vows upon, they pretend to argue, but it is all make-believe, - they are pledged to a foregone conclusion, and nothing beyond that can be got out of them; they are especial pleaders, retained for a cause about which they feel no personal interest. I have seen first-rate preachers descend from the pulpit, where they have just spoken like angels, to whom all the mysteries of the invisible world are laid bare; and then, like actors, come off the scene, speak in the dialect and with the feelings of men of this world. Do you think, if they were interpenetrated with the truth of those tremendous mysteries about which they discourse, if they realised the fact that the eternal welfare of those who listened to them probably depended on the faithfulness with which they should instruct them, that heaven or hell were the stakes. - Oh! if they really believed all they preach, how would any priest or preacher be able to sleep in his bed under the tremendous responsibility, and with the declaration ringing in his ears of, 'Surely the souls of these men will I require at thy hand!' But they do not believe what they talk about; they grow sleek and rich, and live to an untroubled 'old age'!"
"You are warm, lady," replied Everhard, somewhat disconcerted.
"I know I am," said Zoe. "I am out of patience when I think how insincerity has grown into the heart of the most sacred things; if people would only speak simply their own belief, and tell the feelings and principles which influence their own life, they would not infect each other with practical atheism in the way they now do."
"But", replied Everhard, "the people, the majority of those who live in the world, must have a form of doctrine, something definite by which they may shape their belief. They cannot see the force of moral truths, until they are promulgated from authority; made dogmatic, - enforced under a penalty, - 'thou shalt and thou shalt not.' 'Cursed shall he be who doeth this,' and 'blessed shall he be who doeth' so and so. If it were not for these stiff creeds and commandments, enforced by blessings and cursings, we should either get nothing done at all - the world would relapse into a state of anarchy - or else mere notions of expediency, of social convenience, would become the highest recognised motives of action. They who are enlightened, have in all ages seen more in those religious doctrines which so move your scorn, than the ignorant mass of people, those 'poor,' to whom the gospel was sent; they have always believed in the essence, and not in the form; but for the people we must beware of refining too much, lest they lose the active principle, along with the coarser elements.
"Those legends and miracles which form part of every religion that has ever been promulgated, are to the uninstructed, literal truths - mere matters of fact - whilst to the more intelligent, they are only types of truth. All religious forms are but the shell which covers the spiritual meaning, the body by which it is made manifest. Do not take away from the people that which they have, until you can give them power to discern something better. There are many who realise, as you call it, their belief, and who are far happier and safer under it than you in your scepticism."
"That may very possibly be, Father Everhard; but why are the people who do not believe, to go on pretending that they do? How can it be either wise or healthy to go on making believe, as St John says, 'neither entering into the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor suffering men to enter it?' For we are told by the same authority, 'that nothing which maketh or loveth a lie', shall find a place therein; and surely to profess a form of belief for the sake of looking respectable in the eyes of that part of the world where we happen to be thrown, is the most pitiful of all false pretences. Then your argument does not always hold good, for we have lately seen in France how delighted people are when it becomes the fashion to throw off all religious belief, because the generality imagine that with a religious creed they may also throw off those moral requirements that press upon their vices. They can disprove a legend or tradition, and then they imagine that a moral law is thereby rescinded. How much better to teach people that whatever it is really right to do, would have been equally right and equally imperative upon them, even though Moses never had delivered the ten commandments."
"Your plan", replied Everhard, "might do for Utopia, but it would never work here. Who shall begin the crusade against the doctrines of religion? Where, in the present state of society, would you find people who have not taken up some set of opinions or another; and though there are men who would be willing to ruin their prospects in life for the sake of religion, you would hardly find one man who would do so for the sake of that which was none.
"In the working out of your plan, if it were attempted, sad scandal would arise; men are not refined enough in their consciences to do right for its own sake alone; they are too blind and gross to feel the influence of an abstract idea, unsupported by some extraneous notice; they cannot see beyond the present moment, and will not act against their apparent interest, unless there be a penalty attached, or a future reward annexed. Your doctrine would be a cloak for every kind of ill deed, under the plea (for they are a perverse generation) that each man thought it right. The greatest seasons of anarchy have been those emphatically described, as when 'the people did each man what was right in his own eyes.' In fact, mankind have deceitful hearts and corrupt consciences; it is useless to try to argue with them on abstract grounds; the actual working of their wickedness must be provided for in the best way it can be done; and if you take away men's belief in religion, such as it is, what can you propose as a practical restraint instead?
"You see there is much to be considered, and the peace of Christendom ought not to be rashly disturbed; begin your labours by bestowing a pure heart and understanding upon the world, and after that you may begin your crusade against the creeds, as soon as you please, without the risk of doing much mischief."
"Well," said Zoe, "I must have the last word in right of my sex; I don't see how people, if left to themselves, could contrive to be much worse than they are now, under the government of a religion that not one in ten bestows a serious thought upon, and that not a great proportion amongst those who do think on the subject, believe in at all. Don't you think it would be possible to teach people, and to make them feel that to do right is to act wisely, even in a mere worldly sense? We cannot see the event of any action we undertake; we do not know the consequences of our most trivial act, - we are so much mixed up with the detail of affairs, that we cannot see the end to which they tend; our reason is not strong enough to grasp the plan of our life, our instinct is not pure enough to be depended upon; we are like those unlucky animals which are placed as the connected link between two species, without the full capacities of either. Our conscience seems to have been bestowed as a balance. If we would but simply do what is right, and dispense with the cumbrous machinery of policy and second motives - if we would but eschew the false wisdom of expediency, there would not be so many elaborate blunders committed; we should be wiser, and bid fair to become greater that we have ever yet been.
"I never heard of a system either of philosophy or religion, that could solve all the difficulties and perplexities of our position in this world; they all fall to pieces, and get themselves disproved in the common wear and tear of life; we have to fight for the creed or system we adopt; we are obliged to make laws for its furtherance and preservation; instead of finding it what it professes to be, a teacher and guide for ourselves; it is a regular King Log, without King Log's inoffensiveness. Oh! if every one of us would only act by what we honestly believe to be true; do, in simple truth and singleness of purpose, that which in our own soul we feel to be right; instead of trying to impose on those around us, by making them think us a little more of this, or a little less of the other, than we really are; oh! what a strain would be taken off life! We should respect ourselves, and love our neighbours, instead of despising them for looking so much like our secret selves!
"If men honestly believe any sort of creed, let them believe it in all peace; what I am complaining of is, that those who do not believe in it, make a pretence of following their example. It was by having a firm belief in the doctrines they preached, a faith in their internal convictions of what ought to be done, that your saints of old achieved their wonders. They did not act with an eye to men's approval; they saw work lying to be done, and they did it.
"'We are not careful to justify ourselves,' was their motto, and must be the watchword of whoever seeks to act up to the gift that is in them, if in their turn they would fulfil the work they were sent into life to do; and no man can work who 'holds a lie in his right hand'."
Zoe had risen from her seat, as she uttered these last words, her face glowed, and tears of passionate earnestness flashed in her eyes. Everhard did not feel at all disposed to dispute her claim to its being the "last word"; her words burnt into his heart like lightning; he remained for a moment gazing at her, after she had ceased to speak, and then hastily averted his looks. At that moment, Gifford entered, "Ah!" he said, "I am so glad to find you here, I was afraid you would be gone; farmer Ball, down in the hamlet, is dying, the doctor does not think he will live out the day, he is quite sensible at present, and very anxious to receive the last sacraments. They were sending off to the college when I got there, but I promised to send you, as I could be quicker than their messenger."
"How very sudden," said Everhard, "I saw him only two days ago, and he seemed quite well then."
"It is inflammation of the bowels," replied Gifford, "and they fear that mortification has already begun. I ordered a horse to be prepared for you, as I came in, and here it is at the door."
"Is there nothing that we can send?" asked Zoe.
"Oh no, he is past all that now; but you can go over to-morrow to see the family."
Everhard had departed whilst Gifford spoke, without even saying good bye; and Zoe was left alone to meditate upon the efficacy of the "Last Sacraments".
When Everhard arrived at the college, after closing the eyes of poor farmer Ball, he found a packet that had come during his absence; it contained a most flattering letter of thanks from the pope himself, for all his exertions at the college, and expressive of the high sense entertained of the value of his services in England; concluding with a personal request that Everhard would find time to edit a translation of the principal works of the Fathers of the first four centuries.
It seemed, as if all his honours had conspired to come at the same time, for during the evening of the same day, another parcel came containing a gold chain, which had been sent by the University of Göttingen for his work on Philology, with a diploma conferring on him the degree of doctor in their university. A very short time previously, Everhard would have been gratified by all this, but now thoughts had been aroused by the conversation of the morning, that none of these things could still. He sat gazing at the chain and letters for some time, and then, impatiently sweeping them into a drawer, he exclaimed bitterly, "Would that I had never been born!"
That same evening, Zoe, according to her usual habit, was reclining on the little blue satin sofa, thinking over her morning's conversation with Everhard, and speculating upon the peculiar and hasty manner in which he had averted his head when she finished speaking; but she could not make any theory about it that satisfied her. "I wish", thought she, "Gifford had not come in just then; I wonder when Father Everhard will be coming again, I shall be able to make it better out then."
Tea was now brought in, and with it, the post-bag. Zoe opened it with all the eagerness that such an event always causes in a country house. To her great delight, she drew out a highly-scented, and elegant looking letter, that bore the Parisian post-mark. It was from a certain Lady Clara Mandeville, who, in London, had been Zoe's bosom friend and confidante: a clever, witty, unscrupulous, good-hearted woman. Zoe was precisely in the humour to enjoy any thing coming from her. She read the letter over twice, and when the tea-things were removed, and Gifford had departed to play chess with the tutor, she sat down to answer it. Her letter, thanks to the great carelessness and indiscretion of Lady Clara, we are enabled to lay before our readers, who, of course, share that usual infirmity in human nature of delighting to hear matters which were intended to be specially kept from them. If Lady Clara had done as she ought to have done, she would have put this letter into the fire the moment she had read it. But Lady Clara did not understand the responsibility of confidential letters; she always either left her friends' letters on the chimney-piece, for the benefit of the footman, or else she made them into very broad spills, and when she wished to be very careful indeed, she put them into a desk which would not lock!
There are wonderfully few secrets in this world; "tôt ou tard, tout se sait," said Madame de Maintenon, whose prudence almost amounted to genius. At the same time, if people would only keep their own counsel, and not confess all their indiscretions on paper, their secrets would stand some chance of enduring till the day of judgment, when the lawful term of their existence expires. If Zoe had only abstained from letter-writing, she might have gone to her grave with the reputation of a second Egeria, and the respectability of Theresa Tidy and Mrs Chapone rolled into one! What our readers are going to think of her now, we dare not anticipate; we can only say, that our own sense of propriety received a severe shock when we read this letter; and let it be remembered that we are beforehand with them in the expression of our grave disapprobation. Zoe has been arraigned at the bar of our private judgment, and reprimanded accordingly. The letter which has caused us such a virtuous sensation, was as follows:
What would become of the world without the Devil?
Under all the different systems of religion that have guided or misguided the world for the last six thousand years, the Devil has been the grand scapegoat. He has had to bear the blame of every thing that has gone wrong. All the evil that gets committed is laid to his door, and he has, besides, the credit of hindering all the good that has never got done at all.
If mankind were not thus one and all victims to the Devil, what an irredeemable set of scoundrels they would be obliged to confess themselves!
But men, not content with laying the blame of all their wickedness upon the Devil, likewise charge him with all their own folly and blundering stupidity.
When we consider, above all, the long sermons, all the ponderous books that have been levelled against him for so many ages, without, so far as we can perceive, making the smallest impression upon him, we are forced to conclude one of two things, either that he is utterly destitute of all gentlemanly susceptibilities, or else, "that the Devil is not so black as he is painted": for which latter opinion there is the authority of the old proverb.
For our own part, we are inclined to adopt the policy of the Spanish nobleman, who, when he made his last confession, removed his cap, and reverendly styled him, "my good lord the Devil", every time he had occasion to name him. He was a prudent man as well as polite, for he considered that as there was some danger of eventually falling into his hands, civil words were best.
Our friend Everhard had however offered an insult to the said Devil, far worse than the most bitter revilings; - he had actually brought himself to disbelieve in his existence altogether; and the Devil, though much enduring, was piqued into playing him a shrewd turn which seemed likely to set the question effectually at rest. We shall watch the progress of the struggle between them with great interest, for it involves a very important principle.
It is hard to say on which side victory will incline. Everhard has a strong desire to do right, and an upright heart, which is goodly armour for the soul. The match is not so unequal, if he will only rouse himself and put forth honestly the strength that lies in him. But will he? Can he? Is it strength at all that he has, or only a mist arising from the untried depths of self-confidence? Can a man who has no religious belief, have any moral strength? Is a sense of moral duty sufficient to keep him firm in the day of temptation? Can he pass through the fire and not be burned? Can a man in short, who has neither hope nor fear of any thing after this life, be a law to himself, and strive earnestly to do right, simply because it is right?
This is an important question, and can only be answered by the result. Everhard must fight it out. There is no one to whisper danger in his ear; fair-play even for the Devil!
Some time had now elapsed since the violent crisis in Everhard's religious opinions. He had become accustomed to the change; the strange fear and dread with which he had at first been haunted, subsided; he had ceased to perplex himself by obstinate questionings, and had sunk down half in patience and half in apathy, to await the result. The reaction was in proportion to the violent agitation he had undergone. We are tied to a centre, from which we advance in one direction to rebound as far in the opposite one, but we can only go the length of our tether any way. We should go mad, could we constantly see the things around us in their true bearing. Our perceptions cannot remain long on the stretch; our indolence blunts our feelings and blinds our eyes. A most merciful provision! So we continue to stumble amongst the mysteries that surround us, without being aware of them; or else we become accustomed to them, and they cease to surprise us.
Poor Everhard! he had, as the reader may have learned from Zoe's letter, got wonderfully into the habit of visiting at the castle; and yet he never went except when there appeared to be an imperative necessity for going. It had grown to be the most natural thing in the world to spend long mornings there; it seemed as if he could not do otherwise.
The acts that have in the end the most important influence over our life, do not appear at the time they take place, of a different texture to all the other acts that fill up the rest of our days and years. We understand the full meaning of nothing that we do, until it is over; and when the husk which shrouds the present moment from us, is burst by the event, then, and not till then, we become conscious of what it is we have really done.
Time glided on quietly; nothing occurred to open Everhard's eyes to the danger of such constant intercourse with a most fascinating and gifted woman. There was no one to dispute with him the smiles and conversation of Zoe, so there was no possibility of his being brought to consciousness by a flash of jealousy. A constant steady pressure, will throw down a stone wall in time; but it will take longer, and be more quietly done, than by a series of battering-ram assaults.
Everhard was so comfortable, and so well satisfied with the footing he was on with Zoe, that it never occurred to him to inquire into the nature of his sentiments for her.
It was a few days after the conversation recorded in a foregoing chapter, that Everhard, taking an evening walk, had wandered to some distance in the intricate mazes of a wood, that lay between the castle and the college. A sudden turning in the path, brought him unexpectedly upon Zoe and the two boys. They had their hats full of nuts, and had adorned Zoe's hat with a garland of cowslips and wild roses.
The children both bounded forwards at the sight of him, and began to talk, both together, about the delightful afternoon they had been spending in the wood, and all the wonderful things they had done. Zoe, who just then came up, seemed singularly disconcerted; she blushed, and tried to think of something natural to say.
Everhard remarked that it was "a very fine, cool evening", as he took out his handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. Both of them were unaccountably embarrassed.
Luckily, Zoe had in her hand a new French work, which had just been sent down from London. She turned hastily over the leaves, wondering she could think of nothing to say. Somewhat ashamed of being silent, she began to read aloud a passage she had found at random. It was singularly mal à propos. The passage went to prove that people always take to religion when they have been unsuccessful in love, and that religion is the only thing that does not seem insipid after it.
"I wonder whether that is really the case," said Zoe.
"Yes," replied Everhard, smilingly, "there is one great point in which religion is far better than love (not that I profess, or, indeed, ought to know any thing of such matters). In religion we have no need to suppress or disguise our feelings; we may utter every thing without restraint."
"And why may we not do the same when we love?" asked Zoe.
"Because", said Everhard, "that would too often be followed by the loss of the beloved object. The Deity is the only being before whom we can be perfectly true; for He is the only being who can comprehend all our infirmities, and who will not misunderstand us."
"Should we not also", said Zoe, "love better those whom we love already, for knowing their weakness; knowing them as they really are; than when they keep themselves shrouded in motives of which we are ignorant. Should we not love them better for being quite sure that all we see and hear really is?"
"No," replied he, "we must be content to believe it so. Knowledge is not for this life, faith is our element here. There is no man living who is so far exalted above his fellows, as to make it safe to trust him with a human heart laid bare before him; even our own is hidden from us; the instinct of concealment lies at the very foundation of our nature, and we always suffer when we neglect its impulses. The moment we suspect the extent of our influence over another, a disposition to tyrannise and give pain is aroused; and that not so much from cruelty, as because none are strong enough to bear the burden of the entire and clinging love of a human heart, without staggering under it. God, who made us, is alone strong enough to bear with us. He alone can be loved with safety. He will not weary of us, nor throw us back upon ourselves when our affection is the most ardent."
"You are a true Jesuit," said Zoe, with a slight shrug of dissatisfaction. "You, at least, never told your secret thoughts, and never will."
They walked towards the castle in silence. When they arrived, Gifford was in the library reading the "London Gazette". He was delighted to see Everhard, and would not hear of his leaving that night. All his objections were over-ruled, and a servant was despatched on horseback to the college with a message, to say that he would not return.
Gifford, as soon as they were settled, proceeded to inflict the whole of the ponderous leading article upon Everhard aux petits coups d'épingles, along with his own comments upon the same.
Zoe, when she found she could no longer have all the conversation to herself, stretched herself on the sofa, where she appeared to be busily employed in cutting the leaves of her new book, but from time to time, she contrived to throw such glances upon poor Everhard as perfectly bewildered him, and contributed not a little to reduce him to that state of passiveness which is the perfection of a good listener; Gifford thought he had never met with such a good one before!
Was the Devil in the wood that night or not?
We must now for a short time follow the fortunes of Clotilde. A family visit to a dull country house seems, at first sight, a reasonably peaceable adventure, promising nothing beyond a great trial of patience, and threatening nothing worse than an attack of ennui; but in this world it is a rule absolute, that every thing must be judged comparatively; what are little matters to one, become things of importance to another, so that it is hard to say whether it is that every thing is trifling, or that nothing is trifling; people are apt to speak of things as they find them. Any way, this journey was a grand event to Clotilde, not only because it was the first she had ever made, but also because there was a design, that lay very near her dear little heart, and this journey was to be made the means of accomplishing it. What this design was she had imparted in solemn confidence to Father Everhard, and had begged his blessing upon it; and it was a delightful sensation to her, to know that every step taken by the four post-horses brought her nearer to the scene of her undertaking.
At length the carriage drove up to the entrance of the Manor House, about eight o'clock in the evening. Marian, who had been expecting them since noon, or rather looking out for them, as they could not in reason be expected before the time when they actually arrived, rushed into the courtyard to welcome them. Clotilde was half smothered with kisses, and dragged, without giving her time to get rid of any of her mufflings, into the parlour, where the fire was blazing brightly, and the table laid for supper. Dazzled by the sudden change from darkness, Clotilde did not at first perceive a stately old lady dressed in black silk, with a bonnet of the same upon her head, and a white shawl pinned over her shoulders, who occupied a large three-cornered arm-chair on one side of the fireplace. It was Madame Burrows, somewhat less active than when she was last presented to the reader, but still erect in her carriage, and her faculties as vigorous as ever. She rose from her chair to embrace her son, who presented Clotilde to her. The old lady looked at her with a keen, scrutinising glance, which might have been expected to disconcert her, but Clotilde had been used to Miss Rodney, so she only curtseyed very reverently, and cast her eyes to the ground.
"Ah! I like your manner," said Madame Burrows, abruptly; "you have been well brought up, and have none of the flippancy of the young girls now-a-days. How is your father and Mrs Gifford?" continued she. Questions and replies followed each other rapidly, Louis was the speaker by common consent, and he had much to tell. The old lady listened to his accounts of Everhard, with a dignified sort of satisfaction. He was also very warm in his praises of Gifford, declaring him to be far the most sensible fellow he had ever seen. Somehow, very little was said or asked about Zoe. Supper, however, now interrupted the torrent of conversation. Marian had herself superintended the cooking of the woodcocks, and the delicious spiced beef had been prepared with her own hands, expressly against her husband's return. Whatever people may say or write about the comforts of tea, on coming in from a journey, our own opinion is, that on such occasions a dainty, well-appointed supper-table is a far more satisfactory sight: and could our readers have looked in at the parlour where they were all assembled, it would have been a sure and certain mode of converting all who differ from us. Marian was a first-rate housekeeper, and had a thorough understanding of what is meant by comfort. One way in which she showed her love to her husband, was by studying his dinners and suppers; - a stronger hold upon men's tender sensibilities than they might be willing to acknowledge.
As soon as supper was over, Clotilde, being very tired with her day's journey, was conducted to a charming little bed-room, where a bright fire was burning in a grate surrounded by curious Dutch tiles. A large old-fashioned looking-glass stood opposite, on its embroidered white muslin toilet-cover. A crucifix with a cushion of Marian's own working before it, stood in a recess on one side of the fire-place, and a small carved ebony clothes-press occupied the other. There was a mixture of old-fashioned quaintness and homely comfort, that gave it an extremely attractive air. "Oh, how very comfortable it is!" cried Clotilde, as she looked around. "I never saw any thing so delightful!"
"I hope you will be comfortable, too," said Marian, kissing her, "and make yourself very happy with us. If you want any thing ring your bell - our room is close by, so do not be alarmed or feel lonely. I am so glad you are come, we shall be so happy together. I am sure we shall be great friends. If you should feel tired, do not get up in the morning, and I will bring you some breakfast." And with another kiss, Marian bade her "good night".
Clotilde first examined the room, and the old-fashioned portraits on the wall, representing Everhard and Louis at a very juvenile period of their career, and Madame Burrows as a little girl dressed in pink brocade and a lace cap, playing with a lamb in an elaborately curled white fleece. Having finished her examination, and satisfied her curiosity, she sat down for a long time in the large easy chair, gazing on the fire in a profound reverie; her musings were not unpleasant apparently, for her face brightened, her lips parted into a smile, and raising her eyes, which were full of soft tears, she prostrated herself before the crucifix, and remained long at her devotions, then, like the Lady Christabel,
"Her gentle limbs she did undress,
The next morning she did not require the promised breakfast, but was up and dressed when Marian entered the room. "Why, how early you are!" she exclaimed. "I hope you slept well; don't plague yourself about unpacking, which is a hateful job, only a degree better than packing. Faucit shall put all your things into the drawers - she is quite a treasure, she does every thing for me." Clotilde left her keys for the "treasure", and went down stairs with Marian.
After breakfast Louis went to see after his farm, promising to take the ladies a drive at noon; and Marian in the full pride of a married woman, took Clotilde to see her house, and all the wonders of her still-room and dairy. An air of the most shining cleanliness and comfort pervaded every thing. Louis was quite right when he boasted of Marian as an excellent wife. Then there was the garden to be explored, which Marian had brought into the most splendid order, for she delighted in gardening; but now, as she said it was a bad time to see it, there were so few flowers. Clotilde gave all the admiration that could possibly be claimed; but she was thinking how she should introduce her scheme to her cousin. "Your gardener turned Protestant and forsook his religion," said she, suddenly, in reply to a speech of Marian's, about a plantation of monthly roses.
"Yes," said Marian, "and he was quite the hero of the village for it; but I think he is a little bit repenting now; his wife, whom he married for her money, is a great deal older than himself, and a fierce evangelical; she leads him a terrible life, for a pious shrew is a formidable person to deal with."
"Where does he live? Do you ever see him?" asked Clotilde.
"No," replied Marian, "Mr O'Brian takes charge of him, and would be very sorry to see the face of either you or me in the house of any of his flock. The man has turned shoemaker since he left us, and as long as Mr O'Brian and his congregation are his customers, it is not likely he will ever come near us."
Poor Clotilde felt terribly disappointed, but she did not despair. "Do you know," said she, "I am sure we ought to try to reclaim him; it is terrible to allow a soul to fall away from the true faith without an effort to save him. I have thought of this poor man, and prayed for him night and day ever since I heard of his terrible falling away, and I feel convinced that if I could see him and speak to him he would hear me. I have had an assurance given me that it will be so; only last night," said she, in a solemn tone, and crossing herself as she spoke, "only last night after I went to bed I lay awake meditating on this affair, and I suppose I must have fallen asleep, for the blessed Virgin appeared to me in a dream, with stars under her feet and a crown of stars upon her head, and she looked sweetly, though with great majesty upon me. I did not hear the sound of her voice, but I felt it in my heart. 'My child,' she said, 'be constant and fear not, there is a crown laid up in heaven for you,' and then her garment seemed to touch my cheek as she rose up in the air, and vanished out of my sight; now you see, I must go to see this poor man, and try to convince him."
"But", said Marian, almost bewildered by Clotilde's earnestness, "what will you say to him? What excuse will you make for calling at his house?"
"Our Blessed Lady will put it into my heart what to say," replied Clotilde; "only tell me my way to the village, and where he lives."
Marian saw how fully impressed she was with the idea that had taken possession of her, and besides, she was too good a Catholic to throw obstacles in the way, even if it would have been of any use: so she contented herself with saying, "Well then, remember, if Mr O'Brian complains, and Louis scolds, you must look to it, and get me out of the scrape: so, that understood, you must go across the fields there, and over the bridge by the row of oak trees, which will bring you to the village, and the first house you come to is Andrew Stringer's; it is a little red cottage in a garden with palings before it, and he is a shoemaker, remember. You will have a better chance by yourself, than if I went with you, and besides, mamma will be dressed by this time, and want me to help her down stairs to the parlour, she does not like to have any one but me." As they had now reached the end of the park, they separated, Marian returning home, and Clotilde pursuing her way across the very field, where, in days long ago, Everhard had met with his memorable adventure in search of the mushrooms.
In spite of the assurance with which she had spoken, poor Clotilde felt sadly perplexed how she was to introduce herself and her errand, "Surely", cried she, "Our Blessed Lady, who inspired the idea, will not abandon me in my need!" Scarcely had she uttered this exclamation, than it seemed as if Our Lady really intended to vindicate the faith of her votary, for Clotilde heard sounds of sorrow, and on looking round, perceived a girl who might be about twelve years old, sitting upon the grass, apparently in great pain, and sobbing bitterly, whilst a baby that lay in her lap, was screaming an accompaniment.
"What is the matter, my good girl?" asked Clotilde, going up to her. The child wiped her eyes with her blue pinafore, and only sobbed the more, without speaking.
"If you will only tell me what is the matter, I will try to help you," said Clotilde again, at the same time taking up the baby, and trying to pacify it.
"What is your name, and where do you live?"
"Susan Brown," said the child, still crying, "and I live with the shoemaker's wife, to take care of the baby, and I was getting over that stile, and my foot slipped, and I can't walk on it at all, and missis will beat me when I get home - Oh!" here a fresh burst of tears drowned her voice.
"Let me look at your foot," said Clotilde, stooping down; it was terribly sprained and swollen, "My poor little girl," said she, "you must not try to walk, sit still here, and I will take the baby home, and send some one to carry you. Where does your mistress live?"
"At the red cottage, the first you come to in the village; but tell her I could not help it, and don't let her beat me." Clotilde did her best to comfort the poor girl, and then, scarcely able to contain her joy, she set off with the baby in her arms. Here was an introduction not only to the renegade shoemaker, but to the heart of his redoubtable wife also. Clotilde felt as if her way were indeed being made plain before her. On coming near the "red cottage", Clotilde saw Mrs Andrew Stringer standing at the garden-gate, looking up and down the road, with a look of mingled crossness and anxiety; "Only to think of the idle hussy," she muttered, "that poor baby will be famished to death, it has never tasted since morning, poor lamb! Ah! but I will give it her well!" On perceiving a strange lady carrying her baby, she looked very much surprised.
"Your little servant has met with an accident," said Clotilde, "she is not able to walk home. I have brought the baby, and promised to send some one to help her."
"I am sure your ladyship is main good," replied the woman, taking the child from her. "You must be tired to death, carrying such a load - will you condescend to come in and rest awhile?"
It is needless to say that Clotilde gladly consented. The neat little kitchen with its white floor sprinkled with red sand; the eight-day clock; the curiously carved oak settle with its pink gingham cushion; all bore witness that the owners of the house were well to do in the world. A row of thriving plants in bright red pots, stood in the well-cleaned window; and in the black-leaded recess of the chimney, were a dazzling array of shining pots and pans. A "no Popery" tract lay upon the dresser, and a broadside was fastened against the wall, having a flaming many-coloured print of a beast at the top, which would have defied Cuvier himself to classify: it seemed a complication of scales and claws; a serpent's tail; and more heads than could conveniently be counted, each furnished with an unlimited supply of horns. It appeared in a very lively condition, as it was represented in the act of executing a pas de bête peculiar to itself.
"Ah!" said the woman, complacently, when she perceived that Clotilde's attention was drawn to this wonderful production. "That is a representation of Popery; what a blessing it is, as dear Mr O'Brian says, that we live in a Protestant country, and are saved from its ravages!"
"I wish, wife, you would not talk such nonsense; that beast is no more like Popery than you are, and I ought to know something of it," cried a husky voice from within, and a man in a leathern apron and a red shiny face came into the kitchen.
"Aren't you ashamed to expose yourself before quality in that way?" said his wife, in an angry tone. "But you will bring us all to shame before we die."
The man seemed somewhat abashed, and was slinking off, when Clotilde hastily called him back, by inquiring whether he could make ladies' walking-shoes.
"Indeed can I," said the man, "since I left off being a gardener, I have had nothing better to do."
"Do you make for many families about here?" asked Clotilde, by way of beginning a conversation, as he knelt down to measure her.
"Yes, pretty well - but all the family at the Manor House go to Coventry for what they want, and it is a good twenty pound a year out of my way; but it's no use hoping," added he, with a sort of sigh.
"Why not?" asked Clotilde.
"Because, d'ye see, I used to be gardener there, but I turned Protestant, and ever since, none of them will speak to me. Mr O'Brian says it is because it is in the nature of Popery to be persecuting; God knows! It was a good berth whilst I had it, and this I will say, that a more liberal, open-handed gentleman never stept than the squire."
"Do you regret turning Protestant, then?" asked Clotilde.
"Why as to that d'ye see," replied he, looking round with rather a perplexed air, "there are many things beside religion that go to make one glad or sorry. I don't know - but, you see Mr O'Brian has such a power of strong words, one cannot think one is wrong when one listens to him - but I often think of the old place, too."
"You remember Father Everhard when he was a boy, do you not?"
"Ay, for sure do I; they say he is grown a grand man now, and much made of by the Pope himself: many is the bird's nest I've got for him and his brother, Mr Louis, and many is the fishing-rod I have made and mended for them; - but, may I be so bold as to ask if you know him?"
Before Clotilde could reply, they were interrupted by the entrance of his wife, who had been herself to see after her "little hussy of a servant", and who now returned, followed by a labourer who carried the poor child in his arms. Clotilde's experience amongst her pensioners at home, made her quite au fait at all required to be done. She made a fomentation, applied it with her own hands, and promised to come again in the afternoon with a proper lotion.
"It is some lady who is come to visit at the Manor House," said the wife, as soon as she was gone, "it is little they will let her bring from there."
"Well, what success?" cried Marian, as Clotilde, radiant with smiles and flushed with exertion, entered the breakfast-room.
"Oh, there seems quite a way opened for me," said Clotilde, and she began a detailed account of all that had happened.
"I fear it will only prove a way to my store-room," said Marian, laughingly; "however, you shall have the benefit of all I can do for you."
"I fear the promise of our custom for boots and shoes would do more to turn the heart both of Andrew and his wife, than all your missionary efforts; for his wife is a thrifty body, and has a dangerous taste for getting rich," said old Madame Burrows, from the corner where she was knitting a lamb's wool stocking: the ball of worsted rolled on the floor, and Clotilde hastened to pick it up. "You are a good child," said Madame Burrows, complacently; "but take care how you meddle with these people, it may have more consequences for you than you think."
Clotilde was too full of her schemes, to pay any attention to the good lady; indeed if warnings of any sort were ever heeded till too late, it would be contrary to the order of nature; wisdom has grown so used to calling aloud without attracting attention, that the good lady would be actually embarrassed if any mortal chanced to turn his head at her first summons.
Clotilde went in the afternoon, followed by a footman carrying a covered basket, such as the shoemaker well remembered in the days when he lived at the Manor.
Clotilde dismissed her attendant at the entrance of the village, and went alone to the cottage. Andrew and his wife were both very civil, the little girl was lying on the settle, in great pain, but her face brightened up when Clotilde entered. She charged the woman on no account to allow her to walk, and that she herself would pay some one to hold her baby for her. The woman curtseyed down to the ground, but seemed rather surprised at so much generosity, and, like all vulgar people, began to think there must be some motive at the bottom of it. When Clotilde turned to Andrew and gave him a beautiful clasp knife that Father Everhard had sent him as a remembrance, she pursed her lips, tossed her head, gave an uneasy cough, and finally said, "That certainly it was very good of the gentleman to recollect her husband so long, but that she must say" - what, has never transpired, for Andrew himself stopped her by fairly drowning her voice in the expression of his own satisfaction.
Clotilde soon after took her leave, promising to return again. As she went out at the gate she heard Andrew saying, in an angry voice, "I tell thee what, I never did beat thee, but if thou dost not hush directly I will."
The next morning it rained, and as it was impossible to go out of doors, Marian and Clotilde sat at their work in the breakfast-room. Marian was employed in making some marvellously small and dainty lace caps, whilst Clotilde was getting on with the carpet, which Marian had begun to have some fears of never being able to finish, so she hailed with rapture Clotilde's offer to undertake the remaining portion of it.
They had been industriously employed for some time, when Marian, looking out on the weather, said, "It has set in for the day, we shall have no visitors to interrupt us."
At this moment a ring came to the hail door, and the old butler putting his head into the room, said, with a look of great astonishment, "It is Mr O'Brian, ma'am, the rector himself, I saw him come along, and I just made bold to see you, if you would please to be at home to him."
"Mr O'Brian!" screamed Marian. "Surely, Maurice, you must be mistaken, what can he want here? Clotilde, this comes of your going after these people yesterday, what must we do?"
"Oh, let him come in!" said Clotilde. "It is not for us to shrink from seeing him; let us at least hear what he comes for."
"Ah! you are not a married woman," said Marian, "what will Louis say? Still, I can't help feeling rather curious to know what he comes for, and, as you say, one ought not to be rude; so, Maurice, we are at home; and pray make haste, for there is his second ring."
Marian and Clotilde sat looking towrds the door in silent expectation.
"I hope Louis will not come in till he is gone," said Marian; "perhaps I have done wrong, but it can't be helped now."
The door opened, and Maurice ushered in the "Reverend Horace O'Brian!" He placed a chair for him, looking on him all the while as if he had been some highly curious beast, for Maurice had never come so close to a Protestant clergyman in his life before; and could hardly persuade himself to leave the room; indeed, the footman declared that he saw Maurice with his ear to the key-hole a full quarter of an hour after he had shown the Reverend Horace O'Brian into the room. At this accusation, Maurice only "phawed", and, with all the dignity of a butler, ordered the footman to mind his own affairs.
The Reverend Horace O'Brian was left face to face before two ladies whom he had never spoken to, and between whom and himself there existed a sort of theoretical hatred. But the Reverend Horace O'Brian was a tall, graceful, singularly handsome man, with a magnificent pair of large black eyes, one glance of which, as he bowed with a deprecating air to the two ladies, considerably modified the stately reserve with which they had prepared to receive him.
"You, doubtless, are surprised at my intrusion," said he, in a bland, silvery tone of voice; "but the kindness of Mrs Burrows towards one of my parishioners yesterday, has given me confidence to request her assistance again. A family, consisting of the father and mother and two children, came into Sutton by the coach last night; the poor man is this morning too ill to proceed on his journey; I was sent for and saw them, their case is really most distressing. The man belongs to a respectable family in the west of England; but disobliged all his friends by marrying a young woman who was a Catholic. He was then in a good way of business, but losses and casualties which he could not foresee, reduced him to difficulties, and finally to bankruptcy. His friends would do nothing for him, and they were on their way to Preston, where she has friends who promised to assist them if they came there; it seems really as if every thing were against them, for first the children fell ill, then the wife, and now at last the husband, who has been ailing for some weeks, but who would not own it, has been taken so much worse that I fear he will not be able to continue his journey for some time, if, indeed, he ever recovers, for he seems quite broken down with sorrow and anxiety: he is a superior man, and has evidently been used to good society. I shall try to raise a little money for them, but I thought that if you or Mr Burrows would call to see them, a little comfort would cheer them even more than money, and besides," concluded he, with a slight emotion perceptible in his finely modulated voice, "you have most nobly stepped forward the first, to give the hand of fellowship to necessity without consideration of sect, and I am proud to follow such an example in well-doing."
Long before he came to this point, all prejudice against him had faded away from the minds of his hearers. Clotilde eagerly declared her intention of going down that very afternoon, whilst Marian, with more matronly prudence, assured him, "that she would speak to Mr Burrows, who, she had no doubt, would be most happy to do any thing that lay in his power."
The conversation then took a general turn; having learned from Andrew that the young lady came from Devonshire, he began adroitly to speak of the country about there: he had an intimate friend in the neighbourhood of Gifford Castle; on mentioning his name, it proved to be an acquaintance of Gifford's who had often dined there. Behold then, an acquaintance already struck up, and the blushing Clotilde talking at her ease, to one who was not only a perfect stranger, but a Protestant clergyman.
To Marian he spoke of his children, and the melancholy lonely life he led at the great Rectory; he asked her advice most deferentially about the management of his children, whether it were better to send them to a school, or to have a competent person to attend on them at home. He stated his perplexities about them; lamented in the most feeling terms, that there was no superior woman living near, amongst his congregation, to whom he might apply in the many emergencies where a man could not advise. He spoke of his sisters, and said how much disappointed he had been, that they both refused to be buried alive, as they called it, in Sutton; and, finally, remarking that he had trespassed terribly on their time, the Reverend Horace O'Brian rose, and, with a graceful bow, glided out of the room, having fascinated his auditors as completely as heart could wish.
"What a very superior man!" exclaimed Marian, the instant the door had closed upon him.
"Yes," said Clotilde; "and how uncharitably I have judged him," continued she, in a reproachful tone. "Dear Marian! let us go and see these poor people this very afternoon."
"With all my heart; and I will try and persuade Louis to return his call; it quite does one good to see such an intelligent person."
"And oh!" cried Clotilde, "if we could but convert him too! Who knows for what purpose he has been brought here?"
The Reverend Horace O'Brian went home, which he reached pretty nearly wet through. "Humph," said he to himself, as, enveloped in his dressing-gown, he threw himself in a luxurious fauteuil by his study fire; "I think I have made an impression in that quarter, and it shall not be my fault if I do not get a footing in their house. Clotilde is a nice little thing, and will be as well endowed as a queen dowager, Montague says - "
Here his musings were interrupted by Alice, his housekeeper, who bore in, with her own hands, a tray of dinner on which she had exhausted all her skill in cookery; for she had a sort of prescience, that on such a miserably wet day, a good dinner would be more than usually welcome.
"Thank you, Alice, this is delicious; and how are the children?"
"Oh, sir, they are well enough; - but are you sure you have changed every thing that was wet, and don't you think you have taken cold? You ought to consider what will become of the parish if any thing should happen to you; but you are just so venturesome."
Whilst the handsome rector eats his dinner, and pacifies the anxiety of his housekeeper, we will tell the reader a little of his history.
The Reverend Horace O'Brian was the nephew of an Irish earl, and the eldest son of a man who had changed his religion for a clerkship in the Treasury. He had been educated for the Church, because the reversion of the rectory of Sutton had been promised to his father for him; - he himself would much have preferred pushing his fortune in the army, but as it was the Church who opened her arms for him, he was obliged to take the good the gods provided, and be content. He had been very extravagant at college, and contracted many debts; his only hope of liquidating them was from the economies of his living, and this tended in some degree to reconcile him to his lot.
Till he was fairly installed in his new career, the idea of self-control or self-denial, had never occurred to him, not even in the lowest form, that of refusing a present gratification to obtain a greater after a while. He was rich in that species of genius, which is the result of a strong passionate temperament; he had a vivid susceptibility to external influences; a love of luxury, that seemed rather an innate and artist-like perception of the beautiful, than a vulgar love of gratification; he was rich in poetical and general impulses; his whole being was saturated with a sense of pleasure; and he shrunk from pain, either endured or inflicted, as an anomaly in nature. But there was no sternness of principle to keep all these gifts from running to waste.
There is a period in the life of such beings as these, when all the possible perfections of humanity seem invested in them; they have a richness and ripeness peculiar to themselves; but they "hold in perfection but a little moment", they have no principle of endurance within them, and they shrink from pain, which is the secret source of all the excellence that is manifested in the world. They are cowards at heart, and cowardice is the root from which all base and craven deeds spring.
To this class belonged Horace O'Brian. Forced into the Church from motives of expediency - examples of time-serving, and subserviency to the powers that be, constantly presented to him, disguised in the epithets of prudence and wisdom - no one lesson of honesty or honourableness ever taught him from his cradle upwards - nothing like conscience or duty ever recognised in his hearing; - but carefully taught that to "rise in life", was the first and last duty of every man who was not a fool - placed in an uncongenial profession with the injunction to become a bishop - buried in an obscure provincial town, in order that the income of the living might pay his debts, and the practice form his style for a higher sphere - the great wonder is, that the Reverend Horace O'Brian was not an irredeemable scoundrel. Hypocrisy seemed forced upon him by circumstances. We are bound to say that he was kind and attentive to his parishioners, who all idolised him.
His sermons were eloquent; he had a perfect voice, a graceful delivery, and a very flowing and flowery style, so of course he could not well help becoming a popular preacher. He was a zealous no popery man; not because he had any antipathy to Catholics or their doctrines, but "no popery", happened to be the government watchword just then: to say all in one word, the Reverend Horace O'Brian did not think the Church the profession for a high-spirited gentleman; he hated it from the bottom of his soul, and nothing but the hope of rising to distinction, kept him patient in the ranks.
It was the weariness of ennui, and the wish for something to break this monotony, that inspired the sudden whim of calling at the Manor House. He had a curiosity to see Clotilde, whom his friend Montague had mentioned as a little saint, who was to be the largest heiress in the county.
We had almost forgotten to say, that when a mere boy he had made a run-away match with a beautiful girl of low family, with whom he had fallen madly in love, and whom he could not obtain on other terms. His father was highly incensed, and only forgave him when she died (quite providentially, as he thought), the year after their marriage, in her first confinement, leaving him the young father of twin girls: the children of whom he spoke to Marian.
"Who do you think has been here?" exclaimed Marian, the instant Louis entered the room.
"Pshaw! how should I know?" replied he, pettishly (for he had just come in, hungry, and wet through besides); "I wish you would tell them to be quick with dinner, instead of chattering about your visitors; I suppose, as usual, it will be half an hour before we get it."
Whenever we are peculiarly exalted in our imaginations, we are sure to be within a moment of running our heads against some prosaical post that stands ready to mar our swimming progress; so it was with Marian and Clotilde, who were both thrown from their complacent frame of mind by the casualty of a husband coming home out of sorts, and wanting his dinner before it fell due. In an instant Mr O'Brian, his grace and his gentleness, were swept away like the properties of a wrong scene on the stage. Marian left the room to persuade the cook to do the impossible about dinner, and Clotilde shrank into a corner, feeling that her dreams for the comfort and conversion of various individuals were not couleur de rose, as they had been a few moments ago, but had decidedly assumed a very leaden-coloured hue. However, by the time Louis had divested himself of his comfortless attire, dinner was announced, and, still more luckily, he found the soup and game unusually excellent; so that when dessert was on the table, he had relapsed into his normal state of good humour.
"Well! who was it you were beginning to talk about just now? you women have no discretion, but begin to talk of just what runs in your head, when a man is tired to death, and thinking of his dinner; now I can listen, who was it?"
"You will never guess," said Marian; "and I am not sure when it comes to the point, that you will be very much pleased either; we have had Mr O'Brian, of all people!"
"A very great piece of impudence in him; and how came you to receive him?"
"Oh," replied Marian, "he made many apologies for intruding, but he wanted your advice and assistance in a very distressing case that has just occurred. A man, who has been quite a gentleman, and is of a good family, is lying ill at a little ale-house in the town, his wife and two children are with him, they are in the greatest distress; his friends have thrown him off, because he married a Catholic; he has met with the cruellest misfortunes, which have reduced him to absolute beggary, and they were on their way to some of her relations when he was taken ill. Mr O'Brian called first to thank us for our, or rather Clotilde's, kindness, yesterday; and, also to ask if you would do something for this poor man."
"Ay, ay, I suppose this poor man might starve, before he or any of his set would help him."
"Oh, no!" cried Clotilde, "on the contrary, he said he had already called on him, and intends to make his congregation help him."
"And," continued Marian, "he spoke very prettily about not wishing there to be such a line of demarcation between Catholics and Protestants; but both to unite in doing good; he spoke so respectfully about you, and was so gentlemanly and intelligent, that, though I was as stiff as possible at first, I could not help quite liking him before he went away."
"Well, and what did you say to him?"
"Oh, of course I said I could do nothing till I had asked you, but that I was sure you would do all that was right."
"Ah, Miss Clotilde," said Louis, half smiling, as he turned towards her, "this comes through you. You have quite a vocation to be a sister of charity, you bring work of that sort wherever you go. What is your opinion of this, madam?" said he, addressing his mother, who had not spoken.
"I did not see the gentleman," replied the old lady; "but though you have no right to turn aside from a work of charity, the less dealing you have with Mr O'Brian, the better. I think he wants to get a footing here; but go by all means, and see the poor man."
When they rose from the table, Clotilde was in great haste to get ready, and hurried Marian unmercifully, who, content with having obtained the requisite permission, would have delayed till the next morning, in the hope of a finer day; but Clotilde, like all quiet people, when they are set upon a plan, was very obstinate, so accordingly they set off.
They found the sick man and his family exactly as Mr O'Brian had represented; but they did not find Mr O'Brian himself; and Clotilde had a vague sort of feeling that she did not find so much interest as she expected. It is a bad thing to be impatient; she should have waited till the next morning, as Marian proposed.
The next day, Louis came home in high good-humour, saying, "Well, I have seen your Mr O'Brian, and I must say he is a very gentlemanly fellow; how one does get prejudices into one's head! I have asked him to dinner to-morrow, and then we can settle the best means of setting this poor man up again in the world; it is a hard case, and O'Brian spoke very sensibly and liberally about the matter."
The next day, the Reverend Horace O'Brian duly arrived to dinner. With his graceful and adaptive manners, he soon won the heart of his entertainers; even Madame Burrows, who had been inclined to distrust his advances, was charmed by his deference towards her, and pronounced him, in Marian's words, to be "a very superior young man, indeed", and was as cordial as the others in hoping to see him whenever he could find time.
During the whole visit, he scarcely spoke to Clotilde; - there was no need of it, for the looks he bestowed upon her from eyes that actually seemed to give light, took the full effect he intended they should upon the unsuspecting child. When he took his departure, she felt as if all his conversation had been directed to her alone, and expected that Marian would rally her upon the circumstance; she, therefore, made her escape as soon as she could; but Marian, to whom most of his words had been addressed, only remarked to her husband, when they were alone, "Is it not strange that Clotilde should attract so little notice? How different she is from Mrs Gifford, who attracts every body towards her."
"No, my dear," replied Louis, "not every body; but no doubt Clotilde and she agree all the better for not clashing. Clotilde is a sweet little creature, and to my mind, worth a hundred of her stepmother any day."
The O'Brian acquaintance thus auspiciously begun, went on prosperously, and a decided intimacy soon sprung up. The great interest felt both by Marian and Clotilde for the children cemented it.
At first, Mr O'Brian felt some scruples as to what his congregation might say, if he allowed his children to go to a Catholic house; but Marian met them one day, near the park gates, and beguiled them in, along with their nurse, to see a beautiful peacock she had recently added to her poultry yard. They were delighted, and gave their papa no peace till he promised to take them again to see the peacock and the pretty ladies.
Marian offered the park and gardens for their walks, and O'Brian, who was devotedly fond of his children, could not bear to disappoint or thwart them; so it soon grew to be a matter of course that they should go down every day to the Manor House.
They were lovely children, and it did not need their father's influence to make them darlings wherever they came; Clotilde was passionately fond of them, and could not rest with them out of her sight. Fortunately, Marian was propitiated by the respect Mr O'Brian showed for her judgment, and the half-confidential manner in which he talked to her about his affairs; nay, more, asking her advice on one or two occasions, and following it! Otherwise, it is possible she might have felt annoyed by her young companion being so completely engrossed by her convert's protégés and children, as to have very little time left for working at the carpet, or talking to her.
It was one morning, about six weeks after the eventful dinner, that Mr O'Brian walked into the oak-room, where the ladies usually sat. Marian was at work, and Clotilde, with the two children before her, was teaching them to dance; her back was to the door, so she did not perceive his entrance, but went on with her lesson; she stood with her dress raised above her instep, and her little flexible foot pointed before her; she was laughing with gentle merriment at some blunders of the children's, and was bidding them "try again", when the little ones bounding away, calling "papa! papa!" caused her to turn round in too much confusion to hear his well-turned compliment on the graceful sight he had so unexpectedly witnessed.
He did not distress her long by his observation, for he at once turned to Marian, saying, "I should hardly have ventured to intrude thus early, but I want Mrs Burrows to do a good action, and I know that can never come unseasonably to her. In my Sunday-school there is a young girl, very superior to the general run of Sunday scholars, whom I am anxious to train for a higher service than that of the farmers' families about, or the tradesmen in town; in short, my dear madam, if I could place her with you, my most sanguine wishes would be met; she would be thoroughly trained, and to have been under your care, would be of itself a recommendation; a servant of your training would be indeed a treasure."
Marian smiled, and asked what sort of situation he wished her to become qualified for.
"I am desirous she should obtain a reasonable proficiency in every household department; I must say my request sounds audacious, but in time she would become useful to you."
"Oh!" said Marian, "let her come by all means, I am quite glad to be made useful. Of course I need not say she shall attend both church and school regularly: I am sure Mr Burrows will feel gratified by the confidence you have in us."
The business was graciously concluded, and they proceeded to talk of other things, and finally adjourned to the garden; for the children had all along kept pulling at Clotilde's gown, to tell her that she had promised to show them where they might dig a garden, and build a castle for their great doll; so, to keep the peace they all went together to lay the foundation. Clotilde, who was very expert at this sort of architecture, was obliged to remain with the children, whilst Marian and O'Brian walked on, for standing spectator is cold work in a March wind. Marian was just as well pleased to have all the talk to herself. There was a comfortable complacency in the idea of having influence over Mr O'Brian, and to have him talking to her, as if she were his greatest friend; and as she did not much care to hear what all the world beside might listen to, she naturally preferred a tête-à-tête; - all women do. All this was without the smallest infringement on her sense of married woman propriety; she was too thoroughly ENGLISH in all her notions, to have an idea of the possibility of caring for any one except her own husband; hers was nothing more than the truly feminine love of being made much of. She often thought, if he were a Catholic gentleman instead of a Protestant clergyman, that Mr O'Brian would just suit Clotilde; but, as there seemed no prospect of this, she was content to enjoy the present good without entering into the metaphysics of it. And Clotilde? Clotilde was happier than she had ever been in her life before; she asked no questions, and we can give the reader no information beyond; it had never been put into her head to analyse her emotions; and her nature was too single to feel any interest in that sort of occupation. "Nothing but Frenchwomen", as a friend of ours once said, "can analyse their feelings at the time they are passing."
In the afternoon of the day when the visit above related took place, Clotilde said she would take the children home herself, and afterwards go and see Andrew the shoemaker, and call on the Catholic wife of Mr O'Brian's protégé. Marian was too much fatigued to accompany her, so she and the children set off together.
Her scheme of conversion seemed to be going on prosperously, though the method she pursued has not reached us; she had completely tamed the ultra Protestant wife; who always, when speaking of her, remarked that "She was a very gracious young lady, and 'had the root of the matter in her', though she was a Papist."
Possibly the patience with which Clotilde listened to her ardent accounts of Mr O'Brian's goodness and greatness, and learning, might have had their effect; indeed, Clotilde never seemed so well pleased as when he was the theme of her discourse; besides, Clotilde had plagued Marian into giving Andrew an order for sundry pairs of boots and shoes, so perhaps the favour she found was not quite miraculous.
From Andrew's cottage she went to call on Mr Woolgar, as the sick gentleman, Mr O'Brian's protégé, was named; he was much better, though still very weak; his mental anxiety had caused a relapse more than once, but to-day he was in good spirits; Mr O'Brian's representations had stimulated either the pride or the compassion of some of his rich relations, and they had contrived to procure him a situation in the excise, and had sent him money to prosecute his journey; so that now all he wanted was bodily strength, which he seemed in a fair way for gaining. There again Clotilde had to listen to all that could be uttered in the praise of mortal man, and that man, Mr O'Brian; she said very little herself, but she was a wonderfully patient auditor; every body knows how insipid it generally is to listen to the praises of other people.
During her stay with Marian, she had discovered many poor people standing in peculiar need of assistance, and it was to the cottage of one of these, that she bent her way on leaving the Woolgars. Her timidity with Mr O'Brian was so great, that she could never address him without blushing and stammering to a most painful degree; and yet he always contrived to discover her wishes with regard to her protégés, and all that it would please her to have done for them, in a way quite wonderful; and then the poor people had often to tell her, in the most artless way, all the beautiful things Mr O'Brian said of her.
This afternoon, as she left the last cottage, and turned her face homewards, she was met by Mr O'Brian himself; it was beginning to get dusk, so without making any question about the matter, he turned back to accompany her. He had never on any occasion been struck dumb in his intercourse with her; on the contrary, he had always, when he had an opportunity, poured forth his most eloquent and graceful conversation for her benefit: he had never paid her a single compliment, but every look, tone, and word that he addressed to her, was flattery itself.
On this occasion, however, his genius had deserted him; he walked by her side, slowly and in silence; at length he ventured a sigh, and exclaimed, "How happy you are in your religious feelings! What would I not give to be like you!" Then, in a confidential tone, which he had never assumed before, he began to tell her that he had gone through many struggles in his mind, and had felt great difficulties before he could bring himself to embrace his present profession. After a pause, he added, with hesitation and apparent difficulty, "Miss Gifford, how shall I tell you that every year of my life, I feel myself more and more drawn towards the religion of my fathers. I preach against Catholicity; I have spoken bitterly of its professors; but it has been in the hope to drown the secret voice of my own heart. I have never thoroughly examined the doctrines of the Church, because I fear to be convinced. My call at the Manor House, was from an impulse I could neither resist nor explain; I was restless and unhappy at heart. I did not foresee what the consequences would be to myself," added he, in a lower tone, and with a passionate glance at Clotilde.
Clotilde was, on many accounts, too troubled to speak; Mr O'Brian himself seemed agitated, and they walked on in silence; at length, with a sort of forced calmness he spoke: "Will you keep my strange confession a secret? You are the only being to whom I ever opened my heart; you are like one of the saints in heaven, you can pity and pardon my inconsistency!"
"I will pray for you," said Clotilde, in a broken voice; "God knows we all need His help."
They had by this time reached the inner park gates that led to the garden; they both stood for a moment, he took hold of her hand and pressed it gently, very gently; - she looked up for a second, and saw his burning eyes fixed upon her face with a look of passionate tenderness, enough to change a saint of snow or marble into a most yielding woman. "You have been sent for my guardian angel," said he, in a tone so low, that it might have escaped her ears, but it did not. "I cannot go in with you," added he, in an abrupt hurried tone; "I am too stunned to see any one." Then, once more pressing the hand he still retained, he struck into a bye path amongst the trees, which immediately concealed him from view.
Clotilde walked as in a dream to the house, and went straight up stairs to her own room; she did not take off her walking things, but sat down on a large chair.
When the tea bell had rung twice for her, she was found by Marian in a deep reverie. Marian succeeded in rousing her by numberless exclamations of extreme astonishment as to "Where she had been, and what she had been doing so long in the dark?" - Clotilde returned very distrait answers. When they emerged into the full lighted dining-room, Marian was quite startled to see the soft troubled dreaming look, which had taken the place of her usual sweet and composed expression of countenance. She scarcely spoke the whole evening, but remained plunged in a happy abstraction. Marian did not say to her husband, when Clotilde had retired, "I wonder whether Mr O'Brian has said any thing to her?" but she thought, "I will soon find it out if he has."
When the Rev. Horace O'Brian reached home, he saw a postchaise driving away from the gate.
"Mr Montague, sir, is come whilst you have been away," said old Alice, as she opened the door; "he is in your study. I asked him to have some dinner, but he said - "
Her master did not stay to hear the end of what she was saying, but strode on, - "Why, Montague, my dear fellow! where do you come from? Who ever expected to see you here?"
"Oh, I have a few days' holiday, and a little business in this neighbourhood, and I wanted to see you; so me voici; is it a supernatural appearance? I made love to Mrs Alice in your absence to find me a bed, which she has done; but she is so used to her master's sweet speeches, that mine sounded very tame, I fear, after them - "
"Has she given you any thing to eat?" interrupted Horace.
"She offered it, but I prefer waiting for one of her delicate petit soupers, to efface the memory of a villainous dinner and British brandy; - so now sit down in peace, I have a thousand things to say. Here, I have taken your own peculiar chair, and it is too comfortable to resign, so you must find yourself another."
The new comer was a tall dashing-looking man, with large red whiskers and a shrewd, good-humoured expression of face; he was a London barrister in good practice, and Horace O'Brian's most intimate friend. - They had not met for a long time; - consequently, for the next two hours they chattered like a couple of women. At length, after the supper which Mrs Alice served up punctually at nine o'clock, had been duly honoured, there was a pause, during which both gentlemen lighted a cigar; and Montague, setting his feet on each side the grate, said abruptly, "All this time you have not told me one word about Miss Gifford; what are you going to do with her?"
"Faith, I hardly know," replied O'Brian; "it is lucky you are come, or in another week I should have been in love with her beyond redemption. I am in love with her as it is, whilst I am with her."
"Oh! - have you said any thing to give her an idea how matters stand with you?"
"N - o, I don't think I have at all committed myself."
"I suppose you mean you have kept clear of an action for breach of promise; but I know it's not in your nature to see a girl day after day with impunity, for you never can resist an opportunity for love making. How far have you gone? She is a good little soul as ever lived."
"So she is," said Horace; "I don't know when I have been so much occupied as I have been the last six weeks; I think I fired the train this afternoon, and her sweet little innocent heart is ready to surrender at discretion."
"Have you summoned it?"
"No, I tell you; I have not committed myself at all."
"Then you still have an idea of Miss Smith, of the Hollows?"
"Yes, I suppose so, - as soon as I can get my courage up. I have had great difficulty to keep her pacified, for she did not like my getting intimate at the Manor, only I told her I thought they would, some of them, turn Protestant. I don't know how I shall keep up with them if I propose to Miss Smith; I should be very sorry to lose them, for they are the nicest people in the parish - Clotilde out of the question. I don't see, after all, why I should not marry Clotilde; I like her better than Miss Smith, and I am sure she is very fond of me. What is your idea? - why should I not?"
"Miss Gifford's fortune is as large as Miss Smith's," replied Montague, deliberately, "but Miss Gifford is a rigid Catholic, and Miss Smith is the favourite niece of the Bishop of L----; both ladies are willing to accept you, by your own account, but you like Miss Gifford rather the best; I dare say she is the nicest, for you have good taste; but so far, it has only been a love and idleness sort of affair, because you were ennuyé to death, and the girl was in your way; if you marry her, you will remain rector of Sutton all your days, with a faded popularity, and no possibility of regaining it; if you marry Miss Smith, you will have all her uncle's influence to push you on; and the Church must be a bore of a profession if you have not the hope of rising in it. I think I have stated the case pretty fairly; you must decide for yourself."
At this instant, so critical for the prospect of both ladies, old Alice came into the room with a note that a groom had brought on horseback from the Hollows, with orders to wait for an answer.
"At this time of the night! what can it be?" said Montague, whilst Horace broke the seal. The note was as follows:
"That's what I call having a friend!" said Montague, after he had read it, "that clinches the matter; send the man off, and go and see her to-morrow."
"But after all," said Horace, "it is only a chance whether she succeeds; I don't want to marry her for nothing; and then she is so horribly evangelical and dogmatic."
"Well, man, you cannot have every thing; in matters of such importance, you must not stand upon trifles, but strike the balance with regard to the whole. What are faults in Miss Smith will be virtues, or at least conveniences, in the wife of a dean. And now let us go to bed, for I am tired, and Mrs Alice will not thank us for keeping her up any longer. To-morrow, remember, we are to commence the campaign in due form."
The friends separated. "At any rate," said the Reverend Horace O'Brian to himself, "I may go to sleep now, and need not think of any thing till morning."
The next morning when he descended, he found Montague playing with the children, and they were telling him about Miss Gifford, and the beautiful house she was building for their doll; they sprang to their father as he entered, crying, "Papa, you must be very quick with breakfast, for Miss Gifford told us to come very early, and bring the great doll, to see how high the house must be made. Oh Alice! Alice! bring breakfast quick."
"But, my queens," said Horace, taking both on his knee, "don't you see it is raining?"
"Then we will be carried," said they both together, "and you will come and fetch us. Miss Gifford is always pleased when you come, her eyes get quite bright, and she always kisses us, though she won't come into the room till you have been there a long time!"
"Don't you wish, Susan," said the other little one, "that Miss Gifford lived here, and then we could have her all the day without going out in the rain?"
"So much for disinterested affection!" said Montague, laughing. "No, your papa and I are going to see Miss Smith to-day, and we will go and see Miss Gifford to-morrow; which do you like the best?"
"I don't like Miss Smith," said the little one, with a petted toss of the head; "she is so cross, and tells us not to make a noise. We won't go to see her, will we, Susan?"
"No, we will go to Miss Gifford, now directly; ring the bell, papa, and tell John to carry us."
"Poor things!" said Horace, "I know who they would like for a mamma!"
After the noisy little ones had been despatched, the horses were brought round, and despite the rain, the gentlemen set off to pay their devoirs to the niece of the bishop. - "Turning out such a morning as this, ought to mollify the heart of any woman," said Horace.
"No doubt it will take due effect on Miss Smith," said Montague; "it will not do to wait till the vacancy is filled up to pay your homage, - you must go, for once, in faith: to-morrow, no doubt, we shall hear something definite about the deanery."
"Well," said Horace, shrugging his shoulders, "what must be must; but what a farce to talk of men having a free choice in matters of matrimony!"
After a ride of about six miles, they arrived at the Hollows, a large old-fashioned English country house. An air of prim decorum reigned around: one felt the atmosphere of propriety before the green gate that led to the carriage sweep had closed. Their ring at the hall-door was answered by a demure-looking servant man, out of livery. They were shown across a hall paved with black and white marble, and with family portraits let into the walls; from this, they were ushered into a drawing-room, handsomely and heavily furnished. No expense had been spared, every article was the largest and handsomest that could be got for money; but not a particle of taste or fancy was to be discerned. A few religious books, expensively bound, lay on the table, mingled with Missionary Registers and Tracts; a large work-basket, filled with Dorcas clothing, stood beside the black horse-hair covered sofa; and in a corner of the said sofa, sat Miss Smith, herself - a tall, severe-looking woman of thirty, in a brown stuff gown, made high in the neck, a precisely plaited ruff round her throat, and a pair of black kid gloves, with the fingers cut half off completed her costume. She put down her work as the gentlemen entered, and received them with a formal curtsey, to which, as regarded Horace, she added a stiff shake of the hand.
"I don't wonder that Horace felt frightened," thought Montague to himself whilst he felt that his own dashing air was terribly out of keeping with all around him; indeed, the chaste eyes of Miss Smith did not seem to know where to turn for refuge, and she showed her embarrassment by becoming more cold and stiff than ever. But if the dashing Montague were struck dumb, the graceful Horace showed himself more than equal to the emergency; he addressed Miss Smith in a tone of confidential and almost brotherly esteem, nicely pitched between gallantry and respect; mentioned the audacious-looking Montague as "his oldest friend, who had unexpectedly arrived the evening before, and who was anxious to be presented to one who had so often been mentioned between them, as a lady to whom he was under great obligations, for her wise and Christian counsels".
Montague felt himself blush, but Horace did nothing of the kind.
The conversation then turned upon parish business, religious intelligence, and clerical matters of all kinds; the lady showed a great deal more shrewdness and good sense than Montague expected, but he was wonder-struck at the information and interest his friend Horace contrived to display; the fact was, that Horace O'Brian never could help trying to please the company he was in, after their own tastes. The lady then inquired with marked curiosity about his Catholic friends at the Manor, and especially whether the young lady from the south were still there. To all this Horace gave the most unembarrassed replies.
"I have my doubts", said Miss Smith, "whether a Christian be justified in holding social intercourse with any who are partakers in the soul destroying doctrines of the Church of Rome. You know St Paul is very strong upon the duty of keeping ourselves separate from all who do not hold fast 'sound doctrine'; and are you not afraid, too, that some of our weaker brethren may be offended and stumble, by reason of your intimacy in that quarter? The only fault your friend has, Mr Montague, is that he is too zealous; where there is good to be done he throws himself headlong, without considering the consequences."
Horace tried to say something in favour of the excellence of the family at the Manor House, but Miss Smith listened with impatience, saying, when he had concluded, "Well, my conscience will not permit me to have any intercourse with idolaters; we are distinctly warned against it in Scripture, so my duty at least is plain; I will pray for them, and if they require any sort of assistance, I hope, as a Christian, I should give it; but we shall never prosper as a nation till Catholics and Catholicism are rooted out of it. Our rulers have much to answer for, in treating them with so much indulgence as they do; when the fires of Smithfield are again kindled, and judgment falls on this lukewarm nation, they will learn wisdom, but too late. If we examine the history of our country, we shall find that in exact proportion as Catholicism has been put down, the nation has prospered, and every concession on grounds of expediency - "
Here the door opened, and the demure servant-man announced luncheon.
In the hospitable cares of the table, Miss Smith's anti-Catholic enthusiasm calmed itself down. On rising from the table the gentlemen prepared to take their leave. Leading Horace O'Brian a few steps towards the window recess, the lady, premising that he must consider what she was about to say as perfectly confidential, told him that the very last letter she had received from her uncle, made mention of him, saying that he might confidentially look for preferment the very first opening that occurred; and that Mr O'Brian might depend on having his influence, as the Church required more servants of zeal and ability like his. "I do not wish to rouse false hopes in you, Mr O'Brian, but I know you are not influenced by worldly motives in desiring a more extended sphere of usefulness, so that whether preferment came or not you would be contented; but I think I may speak confidently, when I say, that the vacant deanery will be yours, and I wish to be the first to offer you my congratulations. It cannot fall to one more worthy of it in every way!"
Horace O'Brian looked as if he were dreaming, and did not speak.
"You will not mention this till the appointment is officially announced; but I could not resist being the first to tell you good news."
The Reverend Horace O'Brian did not say much, but the looks that came from his magnificent eyes were unutterable, and Miss Smith was as well satisfied as if he had replied in the most orthodox fashion.
"What was the old girl saying in that cold window-place so long?" asked Montague, when they had cleared the green gates, and were safe from the possibility of a listener.
"An official secret," said Horace, smiling with a radiant complacency he could not suppress.
"That you are to be the new dean?" said Montague. "Well, I thought as much."
"So, she said," replied Horace, "but God knows whether it is not all woman's talk."
"Oh! no fear of that - there was a sort of bridling satisfaction, a mysterious importance peeping out at every pore, all through our visit. I set it down at first, to your fascinations, but the riddle is read now, - it was this secret, and indeed it was one worth telling. Aren't you glad now that we went this morning?"
"Yes," said Horace; "but I am thinking how I am to let poor Clotilde down gently, and get out of the Manor House connexion; it is clear the fair lady will not brook it."
"'Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof', as she would tell you. Let us now think only of getting out of this cursed rain."
When they reached home they found a letter written by the bishop himself confirming all that Miss Smith had said, and concluding with many compliments on his zeal, talent, and disinterestedness in never putting forward any claims to preferment.
"Well," said Horace, "this time yesterday I never expected this! Believe it or not as you will, for the last month I have actually forgotten there was ever such things as bishops and Church patronage: I did not even know, or had forgotten that the old dean was ill."
"Well, my dear Horace, I heartily congratulate you, but don't let Miss Smith get scandalised at me when she is Mrs Horace O'Brian, or I shall wish that your predecessor had lived to the age of Methuselah; now let us have a bottle of your prime claret, and we will make an unclerical night of it."
"Well, my darlings, and how did you enjoy yourselves yesterday?" asked Horace the next morning, at breakfast.
"Oh poor Miss Gifford," said Susan, shaking her head, "she was so sorry about your not coming to fetch us."
"Why, what did she say?"
"Oh, she said nothing, but she went quite pale and grave, and did not laugh again the whole day; and once she looked as if she were crying, and she told us the story of the 'Babes in the Wood'. Will you come and see her to-day, papa, and make her laugh and dance with us as she used to do?"
"Yes, my darlings, we will go, and you shall go with us."
"Oh! that's right," said both little ones together, clapping their hands, "and now, Susan, let us show papa the last step Miss Gifford taught us."
"Upon my honour," said Horace, "I don't half like facing her."
"Nonsense, my dear fellow, these sort of things happen to all of us; put the little creature out of her misery at once; there can be no difficulty now you have made up your mind."
Clotilde was sitting alone, working, when they entered. She did not dare to look at Horace; but she could neither control nor conceal the deep joy that the sight of him caused her.
Marian was called, Montague was introduced, and the conversation turned on general matters. Contrary to his custom, Horace spoke a good deal to Clotilde, but in a cheerful, indifferent tone; the unexpressed tenderness of a lover, had given place to the polite, kindly good will of a mere acquaintance. Kindness pains more than cruelty when it is given us instead of love.
The heart of Clotilde seemed turned to stone, but she could not have explained the cause of her pain. She raised her eyes with a grieved questioning look to his; he quailed under her glance, and abruptly proposed a walk to show his friend the grounds. He went first with Marian, and Montague tried to engage Clotilde in conversation; his family lived near Gifford Castle, and Clotilde had often seen his father; at another time she would have been delighted to hear of home; now, she could neither speak nor listen, and to prevent her trouble becoming too apparent, she feigned to busy herself with the children. Montague, who suspected the reason, left her in peace, and joined Marian and Horace, who was more confidential than ever, and fuller of his expressions of regard; he was detailing the stroke of good fortune he had met with. "Though", said he, with his sweetest smile, "I feel almost tempted to regret it, as it will, of necessity, remove me from my latest found, but most dearly valued, friends. I shall not continue to reside in Sutton. I must look out for a curate to take my duty here; and, perhaps, you will show him a little attention for my sake, that I may not seem to be altogether separated from you. Montague, my dear fellow," said he, turning abruptly to him, "ask Miss Gifford to show you the cedar walk, it is worth seeing."
After Montague, in obedience to a sign from his friend, had withdrawn, Horace began (with a little real embarrassment, it is true, but still that looked all the more natural) to hint to Marian that his preferment, which had so unexpectedly fallen to him, would enable him to realise a secret desire he had entertained for years. "You," continued he, "with your fine sensibilities, will enter into my feelings; so long as there was a possibility of being suspected of a worldly motive, I did not breathe a word of my attachment to the lady, for she was rich, and her connexions gave her great influence, whilst I had only the income of my rectory. You are the first of whom I have made a confidante. I determined not to speak until I had obtained so much that I could not be suspected of wanting more; now all difficulties are removed, and will not you wish me success?" he added, in a gentle tone. But Marian was in no humour to do any such thing; she was disappointed and annoyed. Though she had never allowed to herself that she expected Mr O'Brian to propose for Clotilde, the idea of his thinking of any one else offended her extremely, and none the less because it was unreasonably. So she answered in a constrained tone, that Mr O'Brian was not one likely to meet with a refusal. Horace went on, "I am obliged to leave here to-morrow to wait upon the bishop. After that I shall have to go to London for a few days on business, so that this is the last walk we can have in this happy garden for some time," and the Reverend Horace O'Brian sighed.
He could never bear to see people suffer pain, and he was really uncomfortable lest Clotilde should take matters seriously. The visit to London, and the business with the bishop, were just improvised on the spur of the moment to get out of the way of being obliged to witness - his own work.
The remainder of the visit passed without any thing occurring worthy of note, except that as they were all standing in the dining-room, where Horace had risen to take leave, Marian alluded to his approaching absence, and Clotilde's lips turned pale with the agony she endured; - he hastily shook hands with her, and looked another way. Proper messages were left for Louis and Madame Burrows; the children were to remain till after lunch, and at last Horace and his friend were fairly gone.
He drew a deep breath as if he were relieved from a painful burden, but did not speak until they reached the spot where he had parted with Clotilde two days before, and then he exclaimed, "Would to God, Montague, all this had come a week ago; - it would have saved me from feeling like a great scoundrel!"
It is curious to see the practical value that is put upon love in this world; it may be a very precious thing; but it is no matter what wealth of love is lavished on a man - unless it can do somewhat towards realising whatever object it may be that he desires in life, it is worthless and importunate in his eyes. If he desires money - love is good for nothing to him. If he be ambitious - the most devoted love seems insipid folly. No - if a woman wants the love of any man, let her bribe him; if she cannot give him that which his soul desires, her love will be very ineffectual.
"I cannot believe that Mr O'Brian really cares for the lady he is going to marry," said Marian, that same evening as she sat at work. "From his manner ever since we knew him, I should never have suspected him to be an engaged man, should you, Clotilde?"
Clotilde was standing before the fire; she felt herself go dreadfully faint at Marian's speech, and raised her eyes instinctively to the mirror above the chimney-piece, to see if her countenance betrayed the shock she had just received; but it bore no trace of the suffering within. She gained the sofa as soon as possible, and sat down, but she had no power to reply to Marian's question, who, however, went on without waiting for an answer.
"I am quite put out of the way about the matter. I know it must be that Miss Smith of the Hollows, - people talked about her for him a long time ago, but I thought it had all gone off: our acquaintance, which has been so pleasant, will just die away, for I know Miss Smith would as soon go to the stake as set foot in a Catholic house, or allow any belonging to her to enter one either. Oh, Louis!" exclaimed she, as her husband entered the room, "Where have you been all day? There is such news for you! Mr O'Brian is made a dean, and is going to be married! He came here this morning to tell me all about it; he is going away to-morrow to see the bishop, so it will be ever so long before we see him again."
"Indeed!" said Louis, "you do surprise me! I am sure I congratulate him very heartily; but are you quite sure he is going to be married - who is it to?"
"Oh, I am sure I don't know," said Marian pettishly; "he did not mention her name, but I fancy it must be to that Miss Smith; he told me it was to a lady to whom he had long been attached, and who had great Church influence. To my mind, there is something quite shocking in the idea of a clergyman marrying, even though he be only a Protestant. Mr O'Brian has had one wife already - I have no patience with him, I declare. His manner is quite changed already - he is not half so interesting as he used to be; and to think of those poor little darlings having such a step-mother set over them - an evangelical old maid, like Miss Smith!"
"But, my dear," said Louis, gently, when she had run herself out of breath, "how do you know it is Miss Smith? I heard that she admired him, but I never knew that he admired her."
"Oh, I am quite sure of it," said Marian, "by the way of speaking; he preached all those no Popery sermons to get favour with her and her uncle the bishop; besides, the dear children said that their papa and his friend went all in the rain to see her yesterday - it is of no use to persuade me out of my senses."
Here her eloquence was cut short by the entrance of tea, and Clotilde, terrified lest Marian should suspect what was passing in her heart, exerted herself to talk with an energy that quite surprised her hearers. After tea she offered to read aloud; but the efforts she made were too great to allow of their continuance, and she seized the first moment in which she might retire to her own room. But even when alone, she did not dare to relieve her dismayed heart by tears; she felt that if she once gave way, she must break down altogether, and the idea of allowing any one to suspect her feelings seemed shameful to her dear little innocent soul. She was bowed down with a strange weight of humiliation and disgrace, but it was all crushed down into a hard, confused sense of wretchedness; she did not dare to look into her own heart, for it required all her strength to keep every thing below the surface.
It was no self-love, or wounded pride that made her fancy she could never look any one in the face again, but a true womanly instinct of delicacy and shame. With all this there was not a particle of bitterness against the man who had deceived her with a vain show of gallantry and sentiment; no, she laid the blame in perfect good faith upon her own ignorance of the world, and her own presumption in having thought it possible that such a man as Mr O'Brian could care about her. It is always much easier to think ourselves wrong than one we love. It would have been no comfort to Clotilde could she have known that Mr O'Brian was a graceful good-for-nothing, who did not deserve one thought from her pure and loving soul. She knelt down before the crucifix, but could not utter a single prayer: she knelt, mute and motionless - feeling as if she were turned to stone. When she lay down in bed, she fell into a stupor that continued until daylight; she was roused to consciousness by a paroxysm of dry hysterical gaspings, which were succeeded by a violent shivering which lasted for some minutes, and left a sense of tightness across the throat which almost prevented her breathing; but no tears followed.
She appeared at breakfast, looking much as she always did, except that her eyes seemed larger and more opened than usual. She was surprised to find how easily she mingled in conversation. Her usual timidity had quite abandoned her. The fact was, she was hardly conscious of any thing that was passing around her, and once or twice she wondered how it was she could laugh so much more than she used to do.
During the day a message came from the Rectory, to say that the children had gone with their papa, and none of them would return for some weeks at least.
"Well," said Marian, in a vexed tone, "our intimacy with Mr O'Brian grew up like the 'Bean-stalk' in the child's tale, and it seems it will die away as rapidly - all gone off in this way at a minute's notice! One would think a dean never died in the Church before! You seem to take it all very quietly, Clotilde; but I am not such a saint, or perhaps I am too sensitive; but I own I feel hurt - I wonder whether preferment always turns things topsy-turvy in this manner? but it is all to curry favour with Miss Smith. Now that he has hopes of rising in the world, he is afraid of hurting his chance by allowing the poor children to come here. I have no patience with double dealing and time-serving."
Marian's indignant conclusions were not exactly logical, and had Mr O'Brian overheard her, he might have proved beyond controversy, that she had no grounds for what she said, and that he was an exceedingly ill-used man; still there is an instinct in the heart of sincere people which seldom leads them wrong, and Marian had blundered on the truth, though she could not have explained how; but Mr O'Brian's own conscience would have borne her out could she have obtained speech with it.
Near three weeks passed over, and then Marian's attention was roused to another subject.
"I am sure there is something wrong with Clotilde," said Madame Burrows one day when she and Marian were alone, "I have been watching her, she eats nothing, and I don't like her liveliness, it is not natural, and I can't understand her going so often into her own room. You should pay a little attention to her, my dear."
"I think, ma'am, you are mistaken," replied Marian, "she seems to have a little cold, but she does not complain; she feels lost without the children, I dare say."
"Without the children's papa, I am afraid," said Madame Burrows. "I wish he had never come into this house."
No more was said just then; but the change in Clotilde was too marked to be much longer overlooked. Her hysterical attacks had become more frequent - she always went to her own room when she felt them coming on, and the very day after Madame Burrows had spoken, Marian, passing along the passage, heard a singular noise in the room: she hastily entered, and saw Clotilde kneeling at the foot of her bed, her head buried in the clothes and convulsed with a nervous spasm that seemed to tear her delicate frame to pieces. Terribly alarmed, she was on the point of speaking, when Clotilde's head fell back, and the blood streamed from her ears and mouth. Marian had just time to catch her in her arms before she fell upon the floor. Assistance was speedily summoned, - a medical man was almost immediately on the spot, who pronounced that Clotilde had burst a blood-vessel, and that her only chance of life was in being kept perfectly still. It is possible that the poor child owed the continuance of her reason to this sudden prostration of bodily energy. A letter was immediately despatched to Gifford Castle, with information of what had occurred, and entreating both Zoe and Gifford to come with all speed.
At Gifford Castle, meanwhile, things had been going on in the usual course; Gifford improved his estate, and the college prospered under Everhard, who continued to come to the castle to profit by Zoe's conversation; and Zoe? she had begun more and more every day to feel, that for a woman there exists that which is far more precious than the admiration of the world. Her proud coquettish heart was touched at last, and she felt abashed before the pure womanly instincts that now, for the first time, gushed up in her heart. Nothing teaches humility like love. The more conscious she became of her influence over Everhard, the more earnest was the desire she felt to make herself worthy of him; her manners became soft and timid; an indescribable air of womanliness tinged every action, and made her attractions more irresistibly subduing than ever. Gifford could not account for the change, but he thought it very delightful; a true love for one, makes the person who feels it, loving towards all the world, and Gifford came in for his share.
"Ah!" exclaimed Zoe, one night when the post-bag was opened, "a letter from my uncle! I hope all is well. Has had a bad winter," said she, reading aloud - "wishes to see me and the children once more before he dies - hopes I will not delay long - in short, has set his heart on seeing us at Whitsuntide; that is a grand time at the Rectory, I know; Aunt Martha used to be in her glory then. Well, Mr Gifford, have you any objection? Poor old gentleman, I feel as if I had neglected him sadly."
"My dear Zoe, how can you say so; you write to him at least once a fortnight, and it is not a month since you sent your Aunt Martha that splendid shawl; you are always in extremes."
Zoe was only conscious that her thoughts had been occupied by neither her uncle's health nor Aunt Martha's shawl; and that, in fact, she had almost forgotten their existence; so her self-reproach was not so wonderful as Gifford seemed to think.
"Well," said Gifford again, after a pause, "Whitsuntide falls early this year, it will be the week after next; suppose we go next week, and stay a week there, Father Everhard will join us, and we will all go to Sutton, and bring back Clotilde; I am getting anxious about the child; she seldom writes, and never expresses the least wish to come home again, and for her that is not natural; I should like to know what she has been doing."
"Oh," said Zoe, "Marian is more of her own age than I am, it is no wonder she finds her a nice companion. I wonder how she is going on with her converts, she has not mentioned them lately."
"Well, I have felt strangely anxious about her lately," said Gifford.
Everhard had been long under a promise to go out to the castle and stay a few days; his arrival now put a stop to the conversation; Zoe forgot every thing else, and even Gifford's anxiety was suspended for a while.
"Why, Father Everhard, we expected you to dinner," cried Gifford, as Everhard entered the room. "How comes it that you are so late?"
Zoe said nothing, but looked exceedingly well content to see him at all. She knew very well that his college arrangements would not let him get off before: he had not told her so - but she had found it out by some means or another.
The scheme of their journey was talked over, and Everhard promised to join them.
As they were sitting at tea the next evening, Gifford received a letter that made him very silent for awhile.
"Any bad news?" asked Zoe.
"Exceedingly annoying," returned he; "I am summoned on a special jury case, and I fear I cannot get off, it will detain me a couple of days."
"What is it about?" asked Zoe.
"Oh, you won't understand it - it is a trial about some patent for a new plough, and I suppose they fancy I must know something of the subject because I once made an improvement. I little thought it would bring this plague on me. I am very sorry I have to leave you," he said, turning to Everhard, "I had quite looked forward to this visit; however, I will be back as soon as possible; you must promise to stay, and you must make up for what I lose of your company now, by giving us a few days more."
There was nothing for it but to submit; indeed, Everhard had no desire to refuse.
The next morning Gifford departed in great hopes that he would be able to return the day following.
Everhard and Zoe were left alone.
It was a mild, beautiful day in early spring; they were out the whole day rambling about the grounds, enjoying that delicious sense of strength and pleasure that the first days of spring bring back to every body, though they may have fancied themselves as dead to pleasurable emotions as the trees and fields in winter seem beyond the hope of fruit and blossoming. We once heard a lady say, "that in spring she always felt as if it were a sin to be without a lover!" which, however shocking to one's sense of decorum, was only a compendious way of expressing what every body has felt: the uselessness and waste there seems in that overflowing sense of animal life and happiness, when we have no object to whom to dedicate it.
Everhard and Zoe were excessively happy all that day; the boys had a whole holiday; even the tutor forgot his pedantry and dignity, and condescended to enjoy the sunshine with an awkward, grotesque sort of satisfaction.
After dinner they all rambled together in the woods till evening set in, and then, to crown the delights of the day, the boys remained up to have supper with their mamma and Father Everhard.
When the tutor and the children had retired, Everhard and Zoe left the somewhat chilly dining-room for her warm boudoir. There was no light except what came from the fire, and an antique bronze lamp at the far end of the room.
A sense of sadness fell upon Everhard, as if it were the rebound of all the delight he had known that day.
Zoe was in high spirits, talking even more brilliantly than usual, and this jarred upon his present mood; he sat with his elbows on a table at a little distance, watching her earnestly. It was very far from being the first time he had been alone with Zoe, and in that room too; but now he was conscious of a feeling he had never known in her presence before - strange fancies of what his life might have been had he never been a priest. The happiness of the day had left bitterness behind. He felt that he had been mocked with the appearance of intimacy, and of belonging to the being before him, whilst it was nothing more than an accident which must cease almost directly: he felt bitterly, that whilst to him she made up the sum of all worth calling life, he had no hold upon her; if he were to be separated from her on the morrow, she would not have a single day overclouded by his absence; he desired passionately to become something to her - to make a bond between them, that she could not deny, - which might endure for life; what was to be its nature, he did not contemplate. These, and a thousand other vague thoughts, made his answers to Zoe absent and abrupt; his evident preoccupation at last seemed to infect her, and her lively gaiety gave place to a conscious silence, during which, for want of something better to do, she moved from the sofa to a fauteuil, and placed her feet on a white footstool. The light from the lamp now fell exactly upon her face, and like all persons who do any thing in embarrassment, she felt directly how much better it would have been to sit still in her old place; but that passed away.
She sat with her eyes fixed on the fire, in a reverie; she was dreaming too; all her coquetry was subdued; the feeling and impulses which all her life had either been crushed down or unheeded, now made themselves intelligible. The memory of all her schemes for getting Everhard into her power, now seemed like sacrilege, and she despised herself; she fancied that he must see to the bottom of her vain, frivolous soul, and despise her too; she looked up for an instant as if to ask pardon. Their eyes met - and he saw those glorious eyes upon him, soft with tears, and the whole countenance full of timid love and gentleness. Joy, almost like fright, flashed across Everhard; he could not turn away, but remained gazing upon her; words were needless, and prudence was vain; the secret of their souls had transpired in that one look.
At this critical moment, both were startled back to reality by the clang of the castle clock.
"Dear, how late," stammered Zoe, hardly conscious of what she said. Everhard did not speak a word, but staggered to a side-table where the night-lamps were standing, took one, and with a husky "good night", left the room.
Zoe remained standing where she was, altogether stunned and bewildered; - she, too, had seen Everhard's look; but she was afraid to believe in its meaning; on the contrary, the abruptness with which he had quitted her made her fear she had displeased him. A sentiment of modesty, unknown till now, made her cheek burn with shame, at the consciousness that she must have betrayed herself to him. After a while she took her lamp and went to her own room where her maid was sitting half asleep over a novel, waiting to undress her. Zoe could not bear to see any one, so she pettishly told her to go to bed, since she could not keep her eyes open.
She did not expect to sleep, but emotion is of all things the most exhausting, and she had scarcely laid her head on the pillow before she fell into a deep heavy sleep.
Everhard, all this time, was sitting in his own room, bewildered, stupefied - suffocated by emotions which had broken their bounds in his soul for the first time.
That look, and the expression of Zoe's countenance, had torn the veil which had so long concealed from him the danger of his position. He could now deceive himself no longer, - he felt that she had penetrated his secret, - that they understood each other - and what was to be the end of it? There was but one course left for him to pursue, and no consideration was needed to discover it; - he must leave the castle, - leave the neighbourhood. He must see Zoe no more.
Many men in Everhard's position might have come to the conclusion of the necessity of this step, but there was this peculiarity in Everhard's case, that he was perfectly sincere in his determination to carry it out; for he was not one who ever trifled either with himself or others. But with all his determination to do right, he could not resist yielding himself for a while to the delicious consciousness that he loved and was beloved again; it was a feeling he could not just then even try to conquer.
It was two o'clock, and Everhard still sat in his arm-chair, looking into the dying embers of the fire, when he was startled from his meditation by cries of "Fire": the great bell of the castle was rung to summon the out-servants, and the noise and confusion reached even that distant part of the building.
Everhard started up: his first thought was of Zoe, but he recollected that the apartments of the boys and their tutor were above his room, and the whole was separated from the rest of the house by a long gallery, the door of which was locked. Zoe's apartments were on the other side of the castle; he knew she would not escape till the children were safe, - that her first thought would be for them. He rushed up-stairs, and found the boys, who had been awakened with the noise, crying bitterly. The tutor, who had lost with fright the little bit of sense he ever had, was helplessly trying to dress himself, without being able to put on a single article the right way.
Everhard dressed the children with his own hands, hurried them down the staircase, which was happily of stone, saw them out of the castle by a side door (which had been made for their convenience), and telling them to make the best of their way to the gardener's cottage, he returned to rescue Zoe. He went with all speed along the gallery, which was beginning to fill with smoke. A bright, flickering light, was visible under the door; he struggled for a few minutes without being able to open it; but the sound of a woman's voice screaming wildly for help, gave him renewed strength, and, throwing his whole weight against the door, it gave way, and Zoe, just woke out of her sleep, rushed into the gallery, and ran to where he stood. It was too dark for her to distinguish him, but she knew him by instinct.
"Oh, Everhard, the children?"
"They are safe - safe in the gardener's cottage."
"Thank God!" she gasped, and fell an insensible weight in his arms.
The surprise, the alarm, the possible danger, were forgotten, he only felt the warm, palpitating burden which lay upon his bosom; he was too much overpowered by his sensations to move - they stupefied him - the intense enjoyment amounted to pain. He, who in his whole life had never touched a woman, now had a whole life of passion melted into that moment.
He crushed her into his arms with ferocious love. He pressed burning kisses upon her face, her lips, and her bosom; but kisses were too weak to express the passion that was within him. It was madness like hatred, - beads of sweat stood thick on his forehead, and his breath came in gasps.
How long a time passed he knew not; but a thick volume of smoke, and the heat, which was becoming almost intolerable, recalled him to the danger that surrounded her. He hurried down the stone staircase, intending to get out by the same door through which the children had passed; but in the darkness he missed the turning, and went up and down different passages, not knowing whither he went. At length he reached a part of the building to which neither the smoke nor the alarm had spread: it was the chapel. A light burned before the altar, - he bore her to the steps, and sprinkled her face and hands with water from a vessel that stood near. Zoe opened her eyes, and saw Everhard bending over her. The colour rushed over her face and neck. Everhard made an effort to turn away, but, almost unconsciously, he fell on his knees beside her; and the next moment Zoe's burning arms were round his neck, and her long hair fell like a veil over him. Everhard's brain was in a whirl, and his veins ran fire, as he felt her warm breath upon him.
Zoe was the first to recover from the delirium of the moment; - she struggled to disengage herself from his arms, and seizing a large shawl which had fallen on the ground, attempted to cover herself with it, exclaiming,
"Oh, Everhard, what will you think of me? I have made you hate me - despise me. Forgive me for letting you betray yourself, it was the last thing you desired to do."
The sound of her voice in broken tones, recalled Everhard to his senses; the force of long years of the habit of self-control was not lost in this trying moment; with an effort almost superhuman he suffered Zoe to disengage herself, and retreated against a pillar at a little distance; he twisted his hands in each other, and stood crushing himself against the stone, whilst a spasm of sharp pain attested the energy of his efforts to master himself.
Zoe, meantime, lay crouched on the steps of the altar, she did not dare to raise her eyes towards Everhard. There was a long silence. At length Everhard said, in a hoarse, broken voice,
"Zoe, you know now the power you have over me. I love you as man never loved woman yet. It is you who have saved both of us this night; I must remain here no longer. God bless you."
"Oh, Everhard, before you go, tell me that you have not lost the esteem you had for me."
"Oh no, no," cried he, passionately, "you are more than mortal!" The sound of voices and the trampling of feet was now heard, and, for the first time since they entered the chapel, Zoe and Everhard recollected the danger from which they had fled.
A crowd of frightened maid-servants rushed into the chapel, and, with loud cries and great confusion precipitated themselves towards the altar to beseech all the saints in heaven to assist them. Everhard exerted himself to calm them, and committing Zoe to the charge of one who seemed the least distracted, he left the place to render assistance where it might be needed.
The fire had broken out in the room of Zoe's maid, who, as the reader will remember, had been dismissed to bed because she could not keep her eyes open; her candle had not been properly extinguished, and the bed-clothes had been set on fire in the course of an hour or two. She awoke frantic with terror, and rushed to her mistress's room, filling the place with her shrieks. Her room was opposite to the gallery door, and it was thence the flames and smoke were issuing that met Everhard when he burst upon the landing-place. Zoe, suddenly awakened out of her sleep, had only one idea - to save the children. She ran headlong through the thickest of the smoke to reach them by the nearest way, but must have been suffocated in a few moments had not Everhard so opportunely come to her aid.
When Everhard reached the scene of the conflagration, he found that the butler had taken the management of every thing, and shown great promptness and presence of mind. The fire-buckets belonging to the castle, and the stable buckets, had been obtained; the great cistern was luckily nearly full of water, and by passing supplies of water from hand to hand, the fire had at least been kept from spreading. Two rooms were completely destroyed; but, owing to the great thickness of the castle floors, the flames gradually died away, when there was nothing more in the rooms to feed them.
Everhard was very active in rendering assistance; the exertion required, and the danger, were at that moment congenial to his feelings. Soon after he arrived at the scene of action there was a cry that the flames from the window of one of the burning rooms had caught the window-frame of Zoe's dressing-room, which was on the opposite side of the court-yard.
"If that room catches, the missis's jewels and clothes and nicknacks must go, and what will she do then?" said the butler, in great dismay.
"And, if it once gets there, it will spread to the library and all the oak work, and then nothing can save the place, it will burn like a chip," cried another voice; "our buckets will be no better than thimbles."
On hearing this, hardly waiting to ascertain the nearest way to the dressing-room, Everhard rushed forwards; leaving the servants to their exclamations, he sprang on the burning window-frames, tore down the hangings, and prevented the flames spreading in the room.
Zoe's jewel-box lay on the toilet-table, and the ornaments she had worn that day were scattered about. Everhard collected them all together, and carried them to the boudoir, locked the door, and took away the key with him.
It may be noted here, that when Zoe had leisure and composure to look over her jewels, the only articles missing were a miniature of herself, set as a bracelet-clasp, and part of a small gold chain which she well remembered to have had round her neck on the evening she and Everhard were together. She recollected, too, that in her embarrassment she had snapped it in two. It was supposed that these articles had been lost in the confusion; but Zoe's heart told her where they were religiously treasured, and she placed the broken links that remained of her chain, in the most secret drawer of her cabinet; she prized them far beyond all her other possessions put together.
In due time some degree of order was restored. The maid-servants left the chapel, and hastened to see whether their "boxes" were safe, and whether they had lost any thing.
Zoe went straight to her bedroom, having been first assured by the gardener that the children and their tutor were safe in bed at his cottage, and that his dame had given the poor things something warm to drink, to keep them from taking cold. Set at ease on this point, she locked her door, and left all things in the castle to arrange themselves as they best could.
Everhard had burned himself seriously in his efforts to extinguish the flames in Zoe's dressing-room; but, regardless of every thing, he was indefatigable in endeavouring to restore some sort of order. He despatched a special message to Gifford with tidings of what had occurred, and made every possible arrangement for the comfort of Zoe and the household, in case Gifford should not be able to leave his special jury. At six o'clock in the morning he went to Zoe's maid (the girl whose carelessness had caused all the confusion) and gave her a sealed packet for her mistress, with strict injunctions to deliver it into her own hand.
It was late before Zoe's bell rang. She looked wildly round as she took the packet from the maid.
"Where is Father Everhard?" she asked, hastily.
"He left the castle, ma'am, hours ago. I saw him go down the way towards the wood directly after he had given me that parcel; he looked very pale and strange: no wonder, poor gentleman, after all he has gone through this blessed night."
"What did he say?" asked Zoe.
"Nothing at all, ma'am; only to be very particular you got the parcel as soon as you awoke."
"Very well; you may go. I shall not get up yet; I am tired." And Zoe locked her door against every one.
When Everhard had done all that was possible towards restoring order in the castle, he found his way back to the silence of his own room; he sunk into the chair he had left, stunned and stupefied. He was in the state of one who has taken opium, not altogether unconscious, but with senses too dull to be impressed by what passes either within or without.
If for a moment a flash of recollection aroused him, it died away into a crowd of voluptuous sensations, that held him like a sleeper on enchanted ground.
The cold light of morning at length broke the spell - he started up in search of writing materials, and wrote a few lines to Zoe, but without feeling fully alive to what he was doing.
He made up the note, and the key he had taken from the door of her boudoir, into a packet, and gave it to Zoe's maid, with strict orders to put it into her mistress's own hands, when she rang her bell. This done, he left the castle.
The deed, which it had cost him a few hours before so much emotion to contemplate, was now accomplished. He had left Zoe, and he had no idea of ever beholding her again. Now that it had come to the act, he felt nothing - he could not realise that it was done.
Every thing within him was confused in passion. Thought, feeling, emotion, all molten together, were glowing and heaving heavily below the surface.
The sun had risen when he left the castle, the morning air struck refreshingly upon him; he walked on at a rapid pace, without well knowing whither he went; he was only sensible of the relief afforded by quick motion, to the hot unrest within. Rain in a little while began to descend, and he was soon wet to the skin; still he went on; the need of violent exertion seemed to increase upon him. He had wandered from the direct road, and got among the mountains, he did not know when or how; but walked at random for many miles, insensible of hunger or fatigue.
At length, when it grew dark, he found himself in a wood he knew, about four miles from the college. Wearied out in body and mind, his clothes soiled and torn, he reached the gate. He went straight to his own apartment. The inmates of the college were at supper, so he escaped without seeing any one.
It seemed as if a whole lifetime had passed since he left, instead of three days.
If it were not that night, with its quiet shadow into which sorrow and joy are equally absorbed, stood between men and the need of any long continued thought - they must go mad - but there it is, an unfailing refuge, marking the end of every day, however long or weary.
Everhard flung himself on his bed with an intense feeling of thankfulness, that some hours of oblivion would blot out the consciousness of life.
But the hour of awakening cannot be escaped, and Everhard opened his eyes to feel that life and its requirements pressed heavily upon him.
A quantity of business had accumulated, even during the short time of his absence, and which, for a while, was something to shield him from himself.
But that also came to an end, and he was alone to meditate on what it behoved him to do. He was alone with Conscience, which, dull in its perceptions, and uncertain in its counsels, whilst the act is still to be done, is bitter, wise, and distinct, when all is finished.
Everhard's passion for Zoe, that for so long had blinded his eyes, and blunted every other sentiment, was for the moment suspended, or rather for the moment it was satisfied; and, in that lull of passion, the last three years of his life rose clear and undistorted before him. In a few moments his conscience had scanned the work of years - it had gone back through the whole period of his life - and what was its record? - What did all the costly array of genius, learning, labour, and patience, which had been at work for seven and thirty years, bring forth?
He had learned his religion - to find that he could not believe its creed; he had acquired honours and dignity in the eyes of the world - by a profession he had ceased to esteem; he had cared so much for ease and indolence - that he had allowed himself to be prevailed on, by second motives, to continue in a post where he was obliged to shut his eyes on his own consciousness. At that very moment he was in the act of supporting his life, by teaching what he believed to be false; he had taken charge of young minds, depending entirely upon him, for their direction, and he had neither been honest in teaching them to believe, nor sincere in telling them to doubt: and all this for what? Because, in the first instance, he had shrunk from encountering some vague inconvenience, - because, not seeing clearly what good he would do elsewhere, he had listened willingly to the smooth temporising of those who had never, like himself, had the responsibility of sincere and upright instincts laid upon them; he had wilfully shut his eyes, and been guided by sophistry, which, at the very time, he knew to be sophistry; and now the plating and varnish of expediency had melted off, and the mocking, miserable, worthlessness of that which he had permitted to beguile him of his integrity, lay exposed. There he stood, in the prime and vigour of his life, having acquired, and done nothing with his acquirements - having obtained a clear insight, and applied it to no purpose - having trifled with himself till he had frittered away his integrity - having tampered with his sense of right and wrong, until now, when he was tossed with passion, and needed all his energies to bear him through a temptation that few have escaped unscathed - he found himself left alone, with an enervated will, and bitter self-contempt in his heart.
Even the thought of John Paul Gregory brought shame to him: for he, at least, had used his abilities to the purpose he conceived best, and he was a strong, unscrupulous, worldly man - something at least; whilst Everhard felt bitterly conscious that he was nothing.
The cloud which had shrouded him so long from himself, cleared away, and the meaning of the last few years revealed itself to him.
The days, which as they passed along, had seemed merely vehicles to contain the routine of things which are essential to work the machinery of the world - the common employments which life was given men to transact - days which, as they passed along, seemed so quiet and dreary, now assumed to his eyes the look of reproving angels, whom he had allowed to escape, without constraining a blessing from them. The little motives which had governed him - the little difficulties which had clogged and impeded him, inducing rather than compelling him to go on up to the present day - all stood in array before him. He was like one who, from an eminence, overlooking a tangled and intricate path through which he has been travelling, sees at once all he has done, and all he might have done. He felt as if he were deteriorated to his very core.
The strength and reality of his love for Zoe, made him thus acutely sensible of the falseness and worthlessness of all that had so long influenced him.
One thing, after a while, evolved itself from this chaos, and became clear and plain to him; and that was the necessity of having done with his present mode of life; with as little delay as possible, to emancipate himself at once and for ever from the thraldom in which he was dwelling.
At this juncture a person came to see him on some business relative to the college, and he was called back to the actual working of the things around him. He felt puzzled to know how to begin to disentangle himself; so altogether unconscious that it was any other than what it ought to be; the machinery all worked on without hitch or flaw; all was gentle and well-ordered, offering a practical epigram on the tumult, and uncertainty of his own mind. All things in daily life work thus to a smooth surface. Even the most calamitous and startling events do not fall on us and crush us suddenly, but drop by moment's fall; and each moment has a natural connexion with the one that went before; and each as it comes finds its place beside us and around us, taking its shape gradually; it is not till all is over that we see the event moulded to its full proportion, standing out from the web of the day or year, though at first it looked no different from the common stuff of time. And this is the grand difficulty of life; we know not what we do, whilst it is being done, and therefore it behoves us in this dimness of uncertainty, to be sure of ourselves at least: to live each moment sincerely - so that, whatever the result may be, we at least can be at one with ourselves.
Everhard was again roused from his meditations by the physician of the college, who came to tell him that a sudden and alarming change had shown itself in one of the students, who had been unwell for a few days, with what at first seemed nothing more than a slight cold; he had expressed an earnest wish to see Everhard; and the physician added his own opinion that the symptoms had become so severe, that he feared the poor youth could not last many days.
Everhard was dreadfully shocked, and lost not a moment in repairing to the bedside of the sufferer, who was the most promising youth in the college: full of talent, of a singularly amiable disposition, and remarkable for his scrupulous attention to his religious duties. Everhard had, however, remarked an eager unrest about him, as if he earnestly sought, rather than found comfort in them; he had seen that the youth was not at ease in his mind, but he had shrunk from any attempt to dispel his reserve, from the consciousness that he should not well know how to counsel him.
When Everhard entered the room of the patient, he saw him half raised in bed, with a look of intense anxiety and fear upon his features; the mouth was open, and the lips swollen and discoloured. As Everhard approached, a gleam of joy shone from his troubled eyes, but it faded almost instantly. Everhard spoke a few kind words, but the youth did not appear to listen to him, but seizing Everhard's hand, said in a sharp, fierce whisper,
"I sent for you, to tell me how I must die," and he fixed his eyes on Everhard with a look of despairing earnestness, beneath which he quailed. "How", continued the sufferer, "is a living man to face death? Give me some belief, some word of strength, where my soul may take refuge in this extremity. I heard the doctor say, though he was a great way off, but I saw his lips move, that I could not live many hours, I feel I cannot."
And the poor wretch absolutely swelled with terror at the thought, and shuddered till the bed trembled beneath him.
"Oh, Father Everhard," he continued, "I have dreaded death ever since I can remember. I was a very little child when I was first told what death meant; I did not think much about it at the moment, but the next day when at play, I suddenly recollected what I had been told - that I must die - that it might happen to-day! I threw down my toys, screaming with terror - I did not tell any one what was the matter, for they could not help me, and I did not like to speak of it.
"I grew very anxious to hear about God and religion, but somehow it never went to my heart, I never felt comfort in it, as I heard other people talk of having, and the thought of death was never out of my mind; often have I awoke in the middle of the night, with the horror of death upon me, and have leaped out of bed in a frenzy. All my life long I have lived in the shadow of death; I never was gay or happy for an hour, but the thought of death, at whose mercy I was darkly lying, has sprung up in my heart to torture me. I wonder that every one who knows he is to die, does not go mad."
"But", said Everhard, trying to soothe him, "did you find no comfort in your religion?"
The sufferer cast on him a look of impatience and despair, then, as if the words rent his heart, said in a hard, dry voice,
"No. I have tried to believe it, I suppose I do believe it; but death is a greater reality than religion, and swallows it up. I have prayed, I have tried to live up to its minutest requirements, but it has done me no good - tell me," he exclaimed, with convulsive energy, "what comes after death? and then, perhaps, I shall not fear it so much!"
A spasm in the throat came on that almost choked him; it was terrible to see him struggling and wrestling for breath; when it passed, he lay panting and exhausted, the sweat standing in beads on his forehead. Everhard wiped it away, and held a cordial to his lips. The dying youth went on:
"Father Everhard, is there no deliverance? why do all the doctrines I have been taught seem to have no meaning? say something that I can feel. Those words are ringing in my ears all day - 'After death, the judgment' - say something to drown their sound. Oh! you know not what it is to be writhing and struggling for every breath you draw, though you know your life is wasting away with each one. You once said a word in one of your sermons that has clung to me like pitch; you said, 'We know not where we shall be, nor what we shall be: Death is the last fact of which we can be certain.' Oh, father! you cannot realise what it is to be swept out of life, to be 'driven into darkness', to be alone there, for none may enter into the kingdom of death with us - oh - ." And he groaned with anguish and horror.
Everhard had not spoken whilst all this was being uttered, for he felt what a miserable comforter he must be; at length, he gently said,
"The dead who have gone the way before you far outnumber the living; is there no thought to which you can cling? The Church never abandons her children - she does not cease to gaze after you even when you can be no more seen; every week, in the place where you have worshipped, will your name be borne in prayer before that Being in whose hands are the souls of men. You will be in your Maker's hands then, as now. Can you not trust Him?"
"I tell you," said the dying youth, impatiently, "the promises of the Church do not touch my heart, but I fear the threatenings; for I believe those, and they deal with the world after this, a 'land of darkness where no man dwelleth'! But it seems that neither can you do any thing for me to help me; I must bear my burden alone."
He turned impatiently and contemptuously away; a spasm came on more violent than the last, there was a fierceness of terror in his aspect, that made him look like a dying beast in agony; gradually the face assumed a fixed and stupid expression, the eyes grew set and heavy; he appeared to sleep.
The doctor and nurse had come up, the former shook his head, and said, "Poor fellow! he will not be conscious again, even if he should awake."
It proved to be so. Everhard remained by his bedside several hours; the youth never stirred. At last he opened his eyes wildly, and called, "Mother, mother!" in a hurried voice; there was a gurgling in his throat - and he was dead. What he had so much feared, had come upon him in very deed.
"Is it with such mysteries as these that I have paltered?" said Everhard to himself, as he gazed upon the body. "I am here, pretending to give these youths the strength to meet an hour like this!"
He felt like a sleep-walker suddenly awakened, wondering and trembling at the position in which he found himself.
That very evening Everhard sent off to Rome his resignation of the presidency of the college, resigning at the same time his priesthood, and connexion of every sort with the Church.
Everhard had no fixed plan of life marked out; now that he was uprooted from the spot where he had been placed by destiny, he lay like a loose weed on the surface of the world. Two ideas only were distinct through all the chaos of thoughts and feelings within him; one was, to put an end at once to his present mode of life, the practical lie he was enacting every day; and the other was, that he would go away, where there would be no possibility of meeting Zoe again.
Early the morning after, Gifford rode up on horseback to the college; he entered Everhard's apartment in great agitation.
"I could not go away, Father Everhard, without thanking you for all your exertions the night of the fire; it has come at an awkward time, but that has happened which puts every thing else out of my head. I am come to tell you myself, because I could not rest in the house whilst they got the things ready. Read that letter; it came last night from your brother. My poor child! my poor Clotilde! she is dying! I cannot make it out - there is more in it than any one suspects - I ought never to have let her leave me - I shall be off in an hour - Zoe goes with me. Till we get to Sutton and see her, we cannot know what had best be done. I see you feel for me, but you don't know what it is to have a child dying - you don't know all that Clotilde has been to me - how my life is bound up in hers."
Tears choked Gifford's utterance; Everhard just glanced over the letter, which conveyed the information already known to the reader of Clotilde's illness, and entreated that Gifford would come over directly, if he wished to see her alive.
Everhard was inexpressibly shocked, now that it seemed likely Clotilde was about to be removed for ever; not the "for ever" of a mortal arrangement, but by the irrevocable separation of death; he felt as if he had never known or valued the gentle child before; he could only press Gifford's hand in silence, there was no comfort to be spoken; he tried to speak of hope, but the words choked him.
"I must go now," said Gifford, controlling himself; "the carriage will be ready to start by the time I reach home. Now, good bye; you are a friend I may cling to a little while longer - you will not be taken from me yet. I shall find you again."
Everhard could not tell him that there was almost as little probability of his seeing him again as that he would find Clotilde. Once more pressing Gifford's hand, he only said, "Now and always, you are sure of my regard, as long as I continue in this world."
Gifford was mounting his horse, and seemed absent and unconscious: he turned, however, before he galloped off, to say, "I will write to you before I sleep to-night, to tell you how I find her."
It was late in the day before Zoe left her apartment; when she descended to the drawing-room, the children were there, and in meeting them every thing else was for the moment forgotten. They were enjoying, childlike, the excitement of the confusion that had been produced, and the holiday which was consequent upon it: - every one in the house had something to tell about Everhard's courage and activity. At first it was soothing to hear his name, but it soon became intolerably oppressive, and she once more retired to the solitude of her own apartment.
Early next morning Gifford returned. It was fortunate there were so many persons anxious to talk at once, and to give their own history of all that had happened, or Zoe's abstraction and silence might have called forth some question.
What had passed within the last few days, had removed her beyond the sphere of any thing that surrounded her; she hardly knew whether she was in the body, or out of the body, but remained plunged in a sort of stunned amaze. There was no desire to see Everhard again - that time had not come yet; for, after the first gush of mutual acknowledgment, there is a fullness of satisfaction which desires nothing - it is a lull before the storm of passion rises to toss the soul - a calm, that love never knows after. - At night, however, she was effectually roused from herself by the arrival of Marian's letter, giving an account of Clotilde's illness. When we love one person intensely and happily it warms our heart towards every body who crosses our path, we bestow on them a portion of the tenderness that overflows our heart. Never had Zoe felt such affection for Clotilde as possessed her at this moment; never had she appeared so gentle and lovely, as in her attempts to calm the grief of Gifford, and to suggest hope and comfort. She was as anxious to start for Sutton as he was; and it was quite as much with a view to save him from the torment of waiting inactively till the preparations for their journey could be completed, as with a desire to convey information of their movements to Everhard, that she prevailed on him to ride over to the college, promising to be ready to set off by the time he got back. She was as good as her word, and when Gifford, who had ridden full speed, returned from seeing Everhard, Zoe was standing on the hall steps, waiting for him to hand her into the carriage.
During the whole of the long journey she exerted herself to soothe Gifford, and to prevent his mind dwelling on the painful cause of their journey: perfect success was not to be expected, but she made a day pass over, which would otherwise have been utterly unsupportable.
It was evening when they arrived at the Manor House: Louis and Marian met them at the carriage door.
"Clotilde is better - out of danger," said they both at once, in reply to Gifford's look of speechless interrogation; "but she is settled for the night, and it will be better for her not to know of your arrival till the morning; we are obliged to guard against every thing like sudden motion."
Gifford, with Zoe, followed them to the dining-room, relieved from some portion of the anxiety that devoured him.
When Zoe retired, Marian followed her to her room, and evidently seemed to have something she wished to say. Zoe led the way by asking whether there was any secret cause for Clotilde's illness.
"These mysterious seizures are altogether so different from what I should expect from her, and she used to be so calm and composed that breaking a blood-vessel was the last accident to be apprehended for her."
Marian agreed that it was so, and then proceeded to give the history of the O'Brian acquaintance, and the change that had been visible in Clotilde ever since the last day he came to wish them good bye.
"What sort of a man was this Mr O'Brian?" asked Zoe.
"Why, we all of us were much deceived in him. At first, we were inclined to believe him rather a superior sort of person to what you might expect in a Protestant clergyman. I own I never felt so sure about him as Louis and Mrs Burrows seemed to be; but you know I have almost too much penetration, so in Christian charity, I am obliged sometimes to shut my eyes on my own suspicions; in this case, I regret very much that I did not trust my own judgment, for he has proved to be, as I always thought him, a very shallow man."
"Did he seem to pay much attention to Clotilde?" asked Zoe.
"No," said Marian, "I must say he always seemed to prefer a little intellectual conversation with me; he was not at all given to flirting with young girls, to do him justice; and I cannot help being surprised that Clotilde, with all her propriety of sentiment, should fall ill on account of a man who never professed to care any thing about her; and he a Protestant clergyman besides. I think the natural shame she must feel, disturbs her more than any thing else; but of course I have felt too much delicacy to let her see that I have any idea what is on her mind, for she is not yet in a state to be reasoned with, on the want of modesty of which she has been guilty."
Marian cordially detested Zoe, whom she had been taught by her husband to consider as a highly reprehensible female; so this rabid decorum is to be attributed rather to a desire to let Zoe feel that she had only herself to blame for the breach of feminine etiquette into which poor Clotilde had fallen, and also to prove the vast superiority of a respectable English wife over a flashy foreigner, as she had learned to think Zoe. She did herself great injustice - for, in spite of the disapprobation she now indulged herself in expressing, nothing could exceed the affectionate and gentle kindness she had lavished on Clotilde ever since her illness; but as she told Louis afterwards, she could not resist "speaking her mind rather severely to Mrs Gifford".
When Gifford came to his dressing-room, Zoe lost no time in telling him all she had heard from Marian. They talked it over together, and agreed that total change of scene was the only thing from which any benefit was to be hoped; and Gifford declared that as soon as Clotilde could bear the journey, they would all go on to the continent, and travel about for some months. "Do you, my dear," continued he, "try to comfort the poor child under any morbid notions of propriety Marian may have tormented her with; a pure and loving heart like hers is not to be judged by conventional notions."
"Conventional go-carts are only good for people who cannot walk alone," said Zoe.
"That is not precisely an aphorism I would give by itself to young women," replied Gifford; "there is a value, and a beauty too, in a graceful allegiance to conventionalities that you never perceived; and I am far from wishing Clotilde to be as indifferent to them as you are yourself. Still the strictest conventionality is only the tithe of mint, anise, and cumin - there are many weightier matters of the law: but self-control, however shown, is advantageous to all - to women especially."
"But I am sure I love Clotilde all the better," cried Zoe, "now I know she has so much real feeling. I was afraid it had all hardened down into goodness, that was too transcendental to be used on any body. I quite respect the dear little thing for her struggles to keep every thing to herself; and that odious Marian had best not try to preach any of her maxims in my hearing. Clotilde shall be well and happy again under my auspices."
"God grant it!" said Gifford, sighing.
The meeting next morning with Clotilde was very affecting. She was more composed than could have been expected. She was much altered, and seemed shrunk to the size of a child of twelve years old; her face was as transparent as alabaster, but her eyes and whole countenance wore an expression of womanliness and sensibility they had never worn before.
She was not allowed to speak many words at a time; but she appeared happy that they were come. Home love is never so precious as to those who are bowed down under the burning load of ill-requited love; though there is a remorseful feeling for having preferred the selfish caprice of a stranger to the steady affection which has endured from childhood, which has been as natural and never failing as day and night, and depended on no gratification of vanity or self-indulgence to call it forth.
Zoe was a capital comforter; she understood, or rather practised (for she had no theory) the difficult act of making people really feel better for the hopeful, comforting things she found to say to them: her words did not fall on the ears as words without meaning; people in the most obstinate grief had found themselves believing what she told them. She gave Clotilde the benefit of all her genius that way; and Clotilde, who had nourished her hidden love, and let it consume her heart, found herself making a confidante of Zoe the first time they were alone, and pouring out all her trouble, and shame, and devoted affection.
It was as Marian had said, the idea that there was something undefinably shameful in bestowing an unsought love, together with the utter impossibility the poor little thing found in helping herself, which had been by far the most painful part of her sufferings; for she was too unfeignedly humble ever to have expected that such an incarnation of all that was grand and beautiful as Mr O'Brian, should ever have loved her as she worshipped him; but she feared that in their last interview, when he left her at the park gate, he had seen how very much she cared for him; and she had a morbid fancy, that disgust at her want of feminine modesty was the cause of this changed manner the next time they met. She told Zoe all this, though she had fancied it was a thing she could never mention, except in Confession; and she was much relieved and surprised to hear herself praised for the strict propriety and dignity with which she had behaved all through the affair.
It is said that people can always teach others what they thoroughly know themselves - but Zoe could not teach Clotilde her own ideas about the Rev. Horace O'Brian; and she was fain to leave it to time to bring her a right understanding on that point.
Clotilde got well enough to leave the room, and was allowed to walk about the garden; but as the expectoration of blood had not altogether ceased, the physicians would not consent to her being removed.
One morning, about a month after Zoe had been at the Manor, Marian knocked at her door before she was quite dressed, and having been called with the "come in", which is de rigueur before either polite people or evil spirits can enter through a closed door, Marian came in with a face of most perplexed importance.
"What is the matter?" asked Zoe.
"Oh, Mrs Gifford! the butcher is just come up from the village, and has brought the news that Mr O'Brian was married this morning to Miss Smith! I could not think what the bells were all ringing for. How shall we break it to poor Clotilde? She must know it some time, and I thought I would just come to ask you what we had best do."
"Thank Heaven! the fellow is fairly married out of hand!" cried Zoe. "I was afraid he would go dangling on and keep us all in suspense; I know Clotilde better than you do; she will perhaps feel a little nervous at first, but she will soon get over it - it is the very thing I would have prayed for."
"Then you will tell Clotilde, for I really don't like to face her, poor thing. I wonder whether Mr O'Brian will send us cake and gloves. I am sure I won't eat a morsel of it if he does. So he must have been at the Rectory: but he has never been near us - a sign of what he thinks of himself in his own conscience. I suppose we shall never see the children again, and I was very fond of them. The stepmother they have got will soon break their spirits, poor things."
Whilst Marian ran on in this way, Zoe made haste to finish dressing, and telling Marian not to wait breakfast for her, she went into Clotilde's room.
The first object that met Marian's eyes when she descended into the breakfast-room was a triangular parcel, done up in writing-paper, and tied with white satin ribbon. Upon the parcel lay a note, directed to her, in the hand-writing of the Rev. Horace O'Brian. She opened it with the intention of being more aggravated against him than ever; but she read it through every word, and at the end said, with something like complacency, "Well, I always maintained that Mr O'Brian was quite a gentleman, at any rate; really it is very polite of him, I must own. Here, my dear, read this - of course you have heard the news." Louis took the note and read as follows:
"A letter of straw!" said the straightforward Louis, throwing the perfumed note down with a grunt of dissatisfaction. "He has a palavering tongue, and will get on in the world; he may get to be a bishop, but he will never succeed in making himself an honest man, according to my notions of honesty. As to what he says about the Church, it is all fudge. I know what he has said to me about Catholicism times without number, but there's no knowing what such fellows mean by what they say. Put that cake out of sight, and don't let Clotilde see it, and let us have some breakfast."
Zoe was hardly prepared for the emotion Clotilde showed when she was informed that the marriage had actually taken place.
"I am very weak," cried she; "but you will see I shall be better soon. You are very good to have so much patience with me; now go down to breakfast, I had rather be alone for a little while."
This was quite natural, and Zoe indulged her; but she went up again after breakfast. She insisted on taking the note with her to show Clotilde, who read it quite through, and then gravely said, "I think, mamma, you are quite right after all in your opinion of Mr O'Brian - he is very specious, but he is false without telling lies. I am glad he is married, it sets every thing at rest."
"You are a good child," said Zoe, kissing her, "and now come and take a little turn in the garden, the fresh air will do you good."
After this day Clotilde scarcely ever mentioned Mr O'Brian to Zoe; she seemed to have determined on a resolute effort to efface him from her heart; and she succeeded quite as well as could reasonably be expected. They began to talk of their intended journey, and Clotilde began to take an interest in it.
At length the time for their return to Devonshire was fixed for the week following; they were only returning to make the needful preparations for their tour.
Zoe's heart beat with perplexed joy; she had not received a syllable of intelligence respecting Everhard. At the bottom of her heart she was convinced he would endeavour to avoid her - but would he keep his resolution? Should she not at least see him once more before they left England? These questionings were put an end to in a way she had not calculated upon.
Gifford received a letter in Everhard's hand-writing; he read it half through, and then retired in manifest perturbation. Zoe knew not what to think: at length he put his head into the breakfast-room where all were sitting, and requested Zoe to come to him.
Zoe, without being actually sensible either of fear or guilt, was troubled at the seriousness of her husband's demeanour.
"What is the matter?" she asked anxiously, when they reached his dressing-room.
"Read that letter, Zoe. I fear you have been in some degree the cause of his determination."
Zoe trembled violently in spite of herself, and she gazed on the writing for some moments, utterly unable to distinguish a single word.
"Let me take it to my own room," said she, "I cannot make out his hand well."
"No, no, there is no need, I will read it for you."
The letter contained only a statement of Everhard's determination to give up the control of the college, with a frank statement of the private opinions which made it impossible for him longer to remain a member of the Church of Rome, or of any church. It was written in a dry, suppressed tone of detail, as if he had feared to colour the actual facts by the smallest expression of emotion; but at the conclusion all his feelings broke forth.
"And now, my dear, kind friend, adieu. Judge me kindly, for, God knows, the fear of being misunderstood and condemned by you, is the most painful feeling that oppresses me. I cannot live without your esteem - I know your value. Your opinions and belief differ from mine; but, thinking as I do, can I take any other step than the one I am taking? Ought I not rather to fear your contempt for not taking it long since? But though late, I am now under the control of a stronger power than the desire or fear of any mortal thing. A hand is upon me; I must do that which my own soul tells me is right, otherwise my heart would break at this moment; - continue your friendship to me, if you can; I never have been, and never will be, unworthy of it, so help me God!"
There was no mention of Zoe in the whole letter, till within three lines of the end.
"Tell your noble wife that I shall venerate her memory to the last hour of my life. Two such women as she were never created in the world. Tell her to act up always to the mark of what she was intended to be. And now, farewell. Write to me, even if it be in anger - let me hear from you once more. If you can remain my friend after all I have told you, I shall feel that I have been called upon to sacrifice very little.
"Do not mention the contents of this letter to my mother or my brother; I cannot expect them to understand me, and I would rather they heard all from myself."
Zoe had sunk on a chair, her head buried in her hands, and was almost convulsed with the violence of her emotion.
"I fear, Zoe," said Gifford, gravely, "it is you who have encouraged him in this perilous course; you are a free thinker yourself, and you have undermined him."
"He is good and noble," sobbed Zoe, almost choked with emotion, "I am weak and erring; it is he who has strengthened me. What was I before I knew him? He has made me all that is worth any thing. No, no, I have not perverted him, he cannot be perverted."
Gifford had never seen Zoe so moved before, and he hardly knew what to make of it; but he was pleased to see any thing like a display of natural feeling in her. The secret meaning of her last words did not strike him. The idea of being jealous of either Zoe or Everhard never occurred to him; and, indeed, could he have known all that was in Everhard's heart, it would have increased rather than shaken the esteem in which he held him. A man who can stand firm in the moment of unsought and almost overpowering temptation, is not a man to be visited with the conventionalities of distrust and jealousy.
Gifford had once been tempted, like Everhard, and he had met the temptation as Everhard did; had it been necessary for Gifford to know all that had passed in the chapel, he would still have felt as sure of Everhard's loyalty as he did at this moment.
"Well, well, Zoe," said he, "do not distress yourself in this way. I did not mean to blame you, as you seem to imagine; and though I think Everhard misled in this matter, what am I that I should presume to judge another? He is not a man who will act from unworthy motives; thinking as he does, he cannot act otherwise than he is doing. I would not be the one to stay his hand. I shall write to him by this post."
"God bless you for that, Gifford," said Zoe, in a broken voice.
She went to her own room, and no one saw her again for the remainder of the day. Gifford brought the letter when he had written it to ask her opinion, and also to know if she would add a line.
"No," said she, "only say from me, 'that he knows all that is in my heart."
At the time appointed, the Giffords, with Clotilde, left Sutton Manor, but when they arrived at Gifford Castle, Everhard had left the college some days previously.
Everhard's preparations for leaving the college were soon completed.
The last day came of his communion with that Church, which, from boyhood, had been the one object round which his hopes grew, and which alone gave a meaning and value to his life; but the things that at a little distance look overpowering, and utterly beyond human strength to endure, come to us broken up into moments and seconds, and those not full fraught with consciousness of suffering, but divided by little details of indifferent occupation, accompanied by intervals of comparative freedom and forgetfulness. Sorrow is not continuous - it comes in bursts and paroxysms of passionate grief, but between whiles there is a lull of the pain, when we are much more comfortable than we would own, even to ourselves; indeed, it is to be questioned whether any ever had a season of affliction without at times accusing themselves of insensibility and want of feeling. Nature is a tender mother to us, and bestows a breathing space of ease in the midst of the sharpest pains.
Everhard was surprised to find that all things connected with his departure went on with business-like precision and quietness; and that the reality was much more tolerable than that vague dread of reproach and querulous remonstrance, which had haunted his imagination like a nightmare. But when all was ready, and nothing remained for him to do but to bid farewell to his pupils and the inmates of the college, he felt that as much suffering was laid upon him as he could bear.
On the evening fixed for his departure, he entered the chapel where all the inmates of the college were assembled for vespers, just as the benediction had been pronounced. In a few words - for he was almost suffocated with emotion - he announced that he was about to leave them. At first they were stunned with surprise, for no whisper of the approaching change had reached them; then an irrepressible sound of lamentation arose from all parts of the chapel; many of the neighbouring peasants were present, who had reason to remember his labours of love amongst them.
Everhard could not go on with his address; he concluded abruptly, and almost rushed from the chapel. The carriage in which he was to travel was at the private entrance gate; he entered it without venturing to look round him; as it rolled away, he buried his face in his hands, and did not again raise his head till he was many miles on his way.
He was then adrift in life, and alone.
He proceeded at once to London, and from there he sent his mother and brother the first intimation they had received of the step he had just taken.
By return of post, he received from Louis exactly the sort of letter likely to be written by a slow, commonplace, conscientious man, suddenly called upon to pass his judgment on a line of conduct amenable to none of his received notions of right and wrong. Louis had never had a doubt in the whole course of his life; his opinions were all packed and portable; to doubt, in matters of faith, he considered a mortal sin, the magnitude of which prevented him from clearly seeing any facts or modifications; he was too much horrified and terrified to use his judgment. Everhard was, in his eyes, transformed into a monster of blasphemy, with whom he could not soon enough disown all ties of brotherhood.
Marian, of course, held an exaggerated version of her husband's opinion - nay, she went so far as to indite a letter, entreating Everhard to return to the bosom of the Church he had quitted, and requesting a statement of his reasons for what he had done; the whole concluded with a luminous exposition of how very easily every body might believe if they only would - consequently, how exceedingly wicked it was to indulge any sort of doubt. "Infidel! being only another name for Satan!"
Everhard found sympathy where he had least expected it. His high-spirited mother, in spite of her strong Catholic feelings, was touched with the sincerity and boldness of her son; indeed, it may be questioned whether she did not love him more now in the day of his shame, than ever she had done in the season of his distinction. Her natural affection for him seemed suddenly aroused. She wrote to him for the first time in her life - not, indeed, approving of what he had done, but exhorting him not to mind what people said, and to be governed by his own conscience. In order, too, that he might not be absolutely starved into any sort of unworthy compliance, she settled an annuity of fifty pounds a year upon him, securing the continuance of it after her death, for she had not forgotten all her habits of business. She enjoyed this act of free will so much, that we fear it quite swallowed up all her orthodox horror at his heresy.
It would be very possible to fill a volume, were we so inclined, with a delineation of Everhard's feelings at this crisis - of his sentiments for Zoe - but those we are not anxious to dwell upon.
There is in all strong affection, a purity, an intense reality, that exalts the individual in whom it burns, to a point of excellence he could never have attained by any other path. Love, rightly conceived in its highest manifestations, ceases to be a mere passion; it becomes a worship, a religion; it regenerates the whole soul; till a man has found an object to love, his faculties are not developed; they lie curled round himself, crude and dwarfed; he may have the capability of becoming great and noble, but he is neither, until the divine fire is kindled within, burning up all worldliness, selfishness, and the dross of sensuality, that eat like cankerworms into the beauty of man. Kindling into newness of life all that lies dormant of good and beautiful - melting down all incongruities and littleness - destroying all unworthy aspirations - giving energy to walk through life with unwearied and unfaltering steps - "it makes the reptile equal to the God". The laws of mere conventional morality cannot be applied to a manifestation of the passion like that of which we speak. To love rightly, is the highest morality of which mankind is capable; no man can make an approach to true greatness till he can love - till he has loved.
True love and high morality are the same.
Everhard had lived near eight-and-thirty years; but now he was admitted into an inner world, and he found that all the doubts and struggles and spectres of despair amongst which he had so long buffeted, were only so many phantasms guarding the portals of this true world, wherein springs this fountain of new life. He did not give himself up to a crowd of intoxicating sensation: - it was too firm a reality for childish dreams. Strong passion has strength and sternness in it.
Everhard had not exercised the mastery over his passions all his life to let them at last degenerate into mere sensations and reveries. He had controlled himself in the hour of peril, and God knows that the victory he then carried over himself, had torn him as with wild horses. Rest was impossible for him; he was possessed by an energy like a devouring fire, - he panted for some obstacle against which to contend, to wrestle, to break himself; - he was transformed into another being. His former passive, contemplative habits were now incomprehensible: he felt a burning desire to be engaged in labour which had others, not himself, as the end. He looked round earnestly to find some actual thing to do - an occupation in which he might spend his life. He was full of the energy of self-sacrifice; but how was he to make it available?
Everhard had not been so many years a member of the Catholic Church without becoming imbued with a profound veneration for the practical; - he had pacified his conscience to remaining in communion with her so long after he had ceased to be a believer, because he did not see how he could reduce to practice his newly awakened thoughts and views. And now that he was at last set free - that the world was all before him, wherein to work out and realise the still somewhat vague principles for which he had forsaken a well beaten path - when, after removing the old landmarks, it was necessary that he should be able to "show a more excellent way", and feeling as he did the responsibility involved in setting up as a guide - standing face to face with the great Want; with the consciousness of his own weakness, his own shortsightedness, or rather utter blindness; and feeling that his own earnest desire to do right, his willingness to use up all his gifts of intellect, to spend and to be spent in the service of his fellow-men, was all he had to set against the almost illimitable task - no wonder he was ready to exclaim with him of old, "What am I, that thou shouldst send me!" He had no enthusiasm to hurry him along without feeling the ground under him - no specific panacea for the regeneration of mankind, which he might administer right and left, with full confidence in its infallible virtue. He had only a firm conviction that men might be made better than they are: that each one, even the wickedest and foolishest, has capabilities lying dormant which need only to be spoken to, to be roused: the persuasion that if they could be made to feel that there is the bond of brotherhood between each and all, and that they are not a mere assembly of individuals each set up on his own separate interest - that it is the birthright of each man to have his powers of mind and body developed, and to have the means given to him of becoming all that he has the capacity in him to become. This may seem a very trite conclusion to be dignified with the name of conviction - the only peculiarity was, that to him these things were not a formula, they were in his heart, and had force and energy to influence his life. No new doctrines are ever promulgated to the world. It is only that the world becoming accustomed to the droning of wise sentences, gets not to listen to them, but goes on its own way, not disbelieving - not contradicting - but never minding; till suddenly it strikes on the heart of some that these words have a meaning, and that it behoves to reform life by them; and this conviction sinking into their hearts, they strive to arouse the rest of the world; and these old truths come pouring forth in fiery words till the hearts of those who listen burn within them, and their minds and consciences become enlightened; - these old truths new cut and sharpened, take hold "like goads driven into the wall", and the world goes on with new vigour for a while.
All that Everhard felt had been said over and over again, in better or worse grammar, and in tongues not a few; but he felt the weight of their truth, and set himself thereby to work it out into practice, and to make others feel it as a moving principle. He was too old to have ardent visions of universal happiness, when the world should go on like well-oiled machinery; he did not draw pictures of the millennium he wished to bring about; he had no bright hopes, but rather a stern despair - a resolute knitting together of all his powers and energies - determined they should crack and break before he would desist from his labour, whether it were little or much that he was fated to accomplish.
Everhard was decidedly before his age, and the first step was to try to speak out loud and clear till
"The word be wrought
But in the beginning of every great mortal and practical movement the originators of it have to put their hands to the mechanical drudgery and detail, till more labourers come to the harvest. Everhard, therefore, did not busy himself in literary labours alone for the improvement of mankind.
In a tour he had once made through the mining districts of Wales he had been struck with the horribly ignorant and degraded state of the inhabitants; a set of white heathens, with more than heathen grossness and brutality.
He determined to fix himself at T---- , one of the wildest iron districts in South Wales, entirely inhabited by a working population. He chose that wild place because "no man cared for them": there was no place of worship, and if the people were nominally under the care of a clergyman he was many miles distant, and ignorant even of their language. The people knew nothing of religion, nor had any idea of a God except to swear by.
He went down there accordingly, and at first took up his abode at a little ale-house, the master of which spoke a few words of wretched English; he made him understand that he was come to live in the neighbourhood, and, with infinite difficulty, that he wanted to lodge in some cottage where he might have one room to himself. This at last he found in the house of a woman whose husband had been killed by an accident the week previously; she had only two children, who both worked in the coal mines. It was a miserable hovel, built of rough grey stone; the room allotted to Everhard had a sloping roof, the bare rafters were black with smoke; the roof in many places let in the rain; the walls were covered with rough plaster, which had fallen off in many places; there was, however, a tolerable fire-place, for all the work people were allowed what coals they pleased; and, by dint of patience and contrivance, the room was made habitable. The walls were whitewashed, the roof was mended, and so were the windows; the floor was cleaned, which was by far the most difficult matter to get achieved, for the woman could not be made to understand the need of it; and, finally, Everhard's modest luggage was transported from the ale-house. The furniture he had brought with him consisted merely of a bed, a table, and a few chairs; but notwithstanding, when they were arranged in the room, and a view of Gifford Castle (which Zoe had drawn for him soon after he came to the neighbourhood) hung against the wall, along with a few other pictures and prints - a bright fire in the grate - there was a look of home and comfort which spoke very highly for Everhard's powers of practical genius. He felt that he had achieved at least the first step of his journey forward. He drank his coffee that evening with peculiar zest, and something almost approaching to buoyancy of spirit.
It would doubtless have been much more agreeable for Everhard if he had settled in a cottage all to himself, but he felt that all attempts to labour amongst the people till he could address them in their own language would be in vain; and, besides, living with a family gave him a sort of influence; over few certainly, but still these few were constantly at hand, and he was brought at once into contact with the people he came to serve, and was one amongst them. It was not long before he could make himself understood in what at first sounded their horrible jargon, and in a little while longer he actually discovered beauties in it. He took his meals with the family, and endeavoured to catch the leading features and habits of the people - He kept no correspondence with the world he had quitted, but gave himself up wholly to the work he had undertaken; - very little he found to attract, and very much to repel. In attempting to ameliorate either the temporal or moral condition of those who cannot help themselves, and who, from the long continued and heavy pressure of their condition, are grown almost insensible to their misery - to endeavour to impart knowledge to those who are so imbruted by ignorance that the human features are almost obliterated by "the mark of the beast" - has in itself nothing attractive; nothing to realise the rose-coloured visions of dilettante benevolence, which must be seduced into deeds of charity by the cant of the "delights of an approving conscience", and the "glow of virtuous benevolence".
True "workers in well-doing" require to be made of sterner stuff. They who seek to raise men from the degradation we have described, must expect to feel as if they themselves were becoming polluted by the task; they must be prepared to dwell in an atmosphere of thickness and grossness - to be in contact with every thing that is "common and unclean"; they will have to create human sentiments and human feelings before they can appeal to them; they must look for no gratitude or appreciation of their labours to cheer them on, but instead, stupid indifference, or malignant misconceptions; - no "approving conscience", will carry a man through such things as these. Even the hope of thereby working out his own salvation, would hardly be sufficient; nothing but an overpowering sense of the ties of brotherhood with this debased manifestation of humanity - and even then, with the eye fixed on Heaven, and the hands and feet toiling on the earth amidst the loathsome details, nothing could keep a man on day after day, labouring at the practical minutiæ of a grand scheme, amidst all that is uncongenial, distasteful, and unutterably wearisome, with the sense of becoming as it were tainted with the surrounding environment; nothing, we say, could enable a man to go on, but the overpowering conviction of the necessity and urgency of the case, visible in its very loathsomeness. No afflatus of self-complacency can afford support to a man in a course like this.
We once remember to have seen in a gallery of pictures, a colossal head of Christ, by one of the Carracci, the embodiment of all that could be conceived of divine made manifest in man, with enough of mortal suffering and deep human feeling to make it visible and comprehensible to our sympathies. Close beside this there hung a gem of the Dutch schools - a painting of "Boors Carousing" - a scene of unutterable beastliness, minutely detailed. "And was it for the sake of such as these", we exclaimed, "that Glorious One lived and died!" We felt to realise, as if for the first time, the task that was laid upon Him. He could discern the cry of the outcasts "lying in wickedness", though audible only in their wretchedness, rising up to the great God of all, passionately appealing, "Doubtless thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not; thou art our father. Thy name is from everlasting." He heard that cry, so "He was their Saviour."
That cry is still rising from the earth, and woe to all who close their ears against it.
Everhard dwelt more than a year in that wild place; he soon found that all his hope must lie with the children; it was vain to try to move the parents, so he founded schools where both boys and girls might get humanised; he tried to infuse a spirit of love and fellow-feeling among that wild, selfish, and deceitful race; he went from house to house ministering to the wants of those who were sick, or who had met with any accident. He had to travel considerable distances on foot, for the surrounding district was thinly peopled, and the cottages lay apart from each other, or else in small and distant hamlets; but wherever he heard of want or sickness, there he went.
Gradually something like order and human feeling began to appear in this rude district; his labours among the children told on the parents; who, in their turn, touched by the unwearied kindness he had shown, became more accessible to his efforts to produce more civilised habits amongst them. But this progress was so slow and the improvement so gradual, that nothing but an eye constantly watching could have discerned it at all.
In the evenings Everhard was occupied with writing a work, by means of which he hoped to touch some answering chord, and call out from the midst of the world other workers holding their views.
A mighty engine was, however, even there at work, though he knew it not. The followers of Whitefield and Wesley had long been going about over all parts of England, causing a sensation that has not been known since the days of the first preaching of Christianity, and by far the greatest movement that ever originated in the bosom of Protestantism.
One Sunday morning a coarse, hard-featured collier appeared in the village where Everhard had taken up his abode, and in the open air he began with a loud voice to preach against the wickedness of men. Men, women, and children soon gathered round him. He showed in words of coarse, homely energy, the awful nature of their sins, and the terrible doom of the ungodly and the sinner.
It was a beautiful calm summer morning, yet there were no bright flowers, nor trees, nor any of the sights and sounds that make the glory of summer. But instead, the smoke and flame of the furnaces, the black, sooty atmosphere, the bare hills, and heaps of scoria and shale piled up around, till they nearly hid them in the distance. The wretched hovels of the village, the wild brutish looks of the people, the women with fierce shrill voices, their hair streaming over their shoulders, the men unwashed from their week's labour, enveloped in the smoke of their pipes, sturdy, brawny, and impassable.
The preacher went on, pouring forth his terrible denunciations, with all the minuteness and energy of intense conviction; a fear fell on the whole assembly, dogged men sobbed like beaten children, women screamed and fainted; the preacher still went on, taking no notice of the impression he produced, except to heighten the terrors of his discourse, by declaring that, if the mere tidings he brought were so terrible, the reality would be infinitely worse.
"Who", shrieked he, throwing his arms above his head, "who among you can meet the devouring fire, who can dwell in the everlasting burnings?" - he abruptly concluded his discourse, saying, "if any among you wish to escape this doom, let him come and hear me to-night, when I will point out the way 'to flee from the wrath to come'."
During this morning, Everhard had been absent in a distant district, visiting a man who had been seriously injured by a bucket full of melted ore falling over his legs; he had a great reputation as a doctor amongst the people, it was the only one of his qualities they at all appreciated.
When he returned home in the evening he found a crowd, still greater than that of the morning, gathered round the preacher. Curious to know what could have thus moved his usually stupid flock, Everhard joined the throng.
Though the "way of escape" was the theme, still the punishment of the wicked formed the chief staple of the discourse: - the shrieks of the women, and the groans of the men were redoubled. Everhard was both startled and shocked, he came forward and tried to restore them to composure; he might as well have spoken to the roaring of the sea. He had never witnessed popular emotion - the spectacle of a large assembly of people, moved by a common feeling, violently aroused - and there was something great and fearful in it.
Those men who have dwelled in well digested theories, and well balanced speculations logically arranged, cannot recognise their own principles, when translated out of their trim grammatical sentences, into the fierce energy and jar of action. They are astounded that what worked so cleanly in the theory, should make such tumult and confusion when it begins to take effect.
Everhard had, ever since his arrival amongst this people, been striving to implant some principle of action higher than their brutal passions, and to wean them from their degrading vices. He had made scarcely any impression; here was his wish in the process of being realised before his eyes, and he saw in it nothing but confusion, and a horrible distraction, that he desired at all costs to put an end to: as if such rugged natures could be touched without a convulsion of nature, such as "when the melting fire burneth, and the mountains flow down, at its presence".
It was no passing excitement. The next day there was to be seen the spectacle of shaggy men, writhing under the fury of an awakened conscience; women, sitting in the houses, wringing their hands and weeping bitterly under a sense of wickedness they could not have explained. The eyes of all seemed suddenly opened to a consciousness of the unutterable loathsomeness of themselves and their ways. Many rushed frantically to Everhard for instruction and consolation; but he could do nothing for them: - his calm words seemed mockery to their excited feelings. Everhard could have spoken wisely and well to philosophers, but he did not know how to deal with these rugged ones, under the first tumultuous heavings of the imprisoned life within; he was terribly perplexed, and not a little relieved when towards afternoon, they one and all set off in a body to be present at a field preaching which was to be held at a village about five miles off.
The next Sunday another preacher came to T---- . He followed in the track of his predecessor, but he was a man of more refinement and education; he was a pale, placid, grey-haired man, with a peculiar collectedness and solemnity of bearing, as if he were ever pondering on the depths of an inscrutable and awful mystery; - earnestly, as from the depths of his own heart, he told them of his own experience from the days when he was a drunkard, an adulterer, and given over to sin. He spoke like one to whom all the secrets of the human soul were laid bare, and each of his hearers felt as if he were the individual addressed. The whole of the assembly flung themselves upon their knees, demanding with loud cries "what they must do".
The hitherto calm figure of the preacher was swayed to and fro as by the spirit within, the wind lifted up and blew about his grey locks, and his eyes burned like lamps: hitherto he had been almost overwhelmed with the sense of the importance of his mission, now he seemed to rise superior to the crushing responsibility, and not a word that he uttered was lost upon the multitude.
"Such", exclaimed Everhard, as he turned away, "ought the first teachers of rude men to be! It needs words of fire and thunder to rouse them, before they can become conscious of the 'still small voice'."
He did not attempt to meddle with the tide that had now set in. He felt that for the present, the work he had set himself to do, had been taken out of his hand. He therefore contented himself with remaining quietly, in readiness to step in when the discouragement of reaction and fatigue should come on. But he was not at all aware of the trial that was in store for him.
Preachings and prayer-meetings had become matters of regular course. Everhard and his schools and quiet instruction soon became objects of distrust to these fiery-hearted enthusiasts. First, the number of his scholars dropped off; then, the attendance ceased altogether. People under high excitement resent calmness in another, as an insult; and Everhard's conduct during the recent "Revival", as it was called, more than obliterated the memory of his goodness and labours. All the people in the village of T---- lent a willing ear to the counsel of the preachers that Everhard should be requested to depart from amongst them.
Accordingly, one night, after a prayer-meeting, which had been held in the house of the widow where Everhard lodged, the two preachers who had first come amongst them, proceeded upstairs to Everhard's room. At first, they looked a little embarrassed, as if they hardly knew how to speak their errand, when it came to the point. At length, as Everhard began to lead the conversation to indifferent subjects, the one who had preached the first Sunday, said resolutely to his companion, "Brother, we did not come here to hold vain conversation, we came to declare our message - to say to this man, that he is endangering the souls of this people, teaching them that they can do good works of themselves, and that they can cleanse their own souls from sin; - a device of Satan's to keep them in his chains! Therefore, we are come", said he, abruptly addressing Everhard, "to bid you depart from amongst us."
"Really," said Everhard, with some haughtiness, "I must be allowed to manage my own affairs, and I shall neither go, nor stay, at the bidding of any man. I have resided here many months, endeavouring to instruct these wretched people; you, apparently, are come with the same intention, and if we can co-operate in our plans, it will be better than opposing each other. Their welfare lies very near my heart."
"We dare not, we may not," exclaimed the other, vehemently, "we may not be unequally yoked with unbelievers; rather do you depart from amongst us, and trouble us no further."
"By what authority", said Everhard, indignantly, "do you interfere with me?"
"By the authority of our Master, who commands us to make our faces as flints, against the snares of the evil one. You are under the curse of Elymas the Sorcerer, when he withstood the preaching of Paul. You are blind to the truth, and wise in man's wisdom. Under the guise of helping their poor perishing bodies, you have sought to slay the souls and pervert the hearts of these sheep, who have been without a shepherd; but their eyes are now opened, and they are enabled to cast your gifts from them, and to bid you depart."
"Yes," cried his companion, taking up the word, "Satan will not willingly give up his prey, and he has placed you here as a hindrance to the great work that has begun; but the prey shall be taken from the mighty, and the lawful captive delivered. Wherefore I order you, in the name of our Master, to depart, and trouble us not."
"I certainly shall not depart at your bidding," said Everhard, calmly; "and as for troubling you, what have I done? and of what do you complain? You, who have drawn upon yourself the odium and ill-usage of the world, shall not follow the example of that world, and persecute others, the instant you obtain the power. And what is it but persecution, to denounce me in your sermons, and to attempt to drive me from my roof?"
"You judge with man's judgment, and we are not careful to justify ourselves. Depart, I say, at once, lest evil befall you!"
They both turned and left the room.
The next morning, when Everhard walked out, there were stern fanatic faces scowling at him round the door; but he passed on without staying to note them. He went to visit the man who had met with the accident; he was now nearly well. He was sitting beside the fire-place when Everhard entered, with his legs raised on a sort of wooden rest, that Everhard had contrived with his own hands. One of the visitors of the evening before was sitting with him; he had a small patch of dust on each of his knees, and he evidently had been working up the invalid to take some desperate resolution; for he scarcely returned Everhard's salutation, but sat like a man waiting the moment to fire a train, and disguised his embarrassment under a more surly manner than usual. Everhard took no notice of the preacher, nor did he show any surprise at the peculiar demeanour of the sick man. He only said cheerfully, "Well, Williams, you seem quite better; a few weeks and you will be able to walk about as well as ever, and go back to your work. I have brought a fine strengthening drink, that will make quite another man of you."
"I trust I am another man, Mr Everhard, and that I have been renewed in heart since you were here; this good gentleman has been telling me grand news - oh, but we are poor perishing sinners!"
"Yes," said Everhard, gently, "and I hope when you get about again, that you will refrain from drunkenness and debauchery, and not ill use your wife."
"There is something more important than all that required," ejaculated the preacher.
"Undoubtedly," replied Everhard; "but that, at least, will be a beginning."
"Well, sir," interrupted the man, glancing, however, to the preacher for support; "I have to thank you for all you have done for me. I can't say but what I should have been badly off without you. I might have died; but the soul must come before the body, and you can do no good to that, for you are yourself an unbeliever, and an enemy to salvation; and I beg you will never come here again. I dare not have aught to do with you, nor your gifts either: so, good day to you - here, wife, help me to the next room."
Everhard was positively confounded; he was a stranger to personal insult, and the language and insolent tone of the man brought the blood tingling to his cheeks; and then the feeling that the heart of the people, amongst whom he had laboured, was turned against him, till they looked upon him as an enemy, was more bitter than any thing he had ever experienced; the tears stood in his eyes, as he said -
"Why, Williams, what possesses you? - When have I ever tried to do you any thing but good?"
"Ah!" said the man, gruffly, "Mr Simpson here can tell you, that Satan knows how to bait his hook, with fair pretences - no, no, don't come here again, or ye may be apt to rue it."
Everhard attempted no further parley, but, first depositing on the dresser the basket he had brought with him, and which contained various things for the use of the invalid, he took up his hat and left the house. As he turned away, he caught a glimpse of the preacher, with his eyes and hands elevated, as if giving thanks for the discomfiture of the emissary of the Evil one.
Everhard walked rapidly away; but at a turning of the road, he was stopped by the wife of the man he had just quitted. She was a coarse, hard-featured woman, and one who had always seemed the most rough and abrupt of all his people. Now, she was evidently under strong emotion. She made a humble apology, though in homely words, for the insult he had received in their house. Everhard assured her of his hearty forgiveness; still she stopped, and hesitated, as if there were something more to be said. At length, twisting her apron, she began:
"If I might make so bold, I would say to you, sir; though it is a sin and a shame for our lips to speak the word, when ye have been more like an angel than a man amongst us; but something has come over the people, and they are not themselves, and I think ye had better just take them at their word, and go: for there is mischief intended against you, if you stay any longer. They talk of pulling down the place ye lodge in, which would be a sore loss to the widow, and a great shame for our people; so ye had better just go, and don't bear ill will to the poor ignorant creatures; we shall not all forget your goodness, and God will bless you for it, some time."
She spoke with great rapidity, looking round every moment, to see if she were observed, then dropped a curtsey, and disappeared round the hill.
Everhard pursued his way quite bewildered with the events of the morning.
When he reached his own dwelling, a group of men and women were standing at a little distance, talking loud and eagerly; they stopped when he came near, and looked at him malignantly. The instant he set his foot within the threshold, the widow, who had evidently been waiting for him, began in a shrill, whining tone to say, that he must go away directly, for that the preachers said he must not stay any longer, and that the people threatened to pull her house down, if she harboured him: and then she complained bitterly of the ill-will she had already got from her neighbours on his account, and that she hoped he would consider it, and pay her accordingly.
"Peace, woman," said Everhard, with dignity, "I will not stay to trouble you any longer. Is there any one who will carry my luggage to the nearest town?"
"Oh ay, there's Griffiths Williams has a horse and cart, if ye would make it worth his while: but the people will be none so fain to let ye have any thing of theirs; however, I'll go see." Everhard went up-stairs to the room he had so long occupied, and began to pack up the few articles he intended to carry away with him: the furniture he left for his landlady, "for, poor woman, how should she be wiser than the rest," thought he: - at this moment the old woman entered, with the news, "that neither man nor boy would touch or carry aught belonging to him, that as he came without their asking, he might go away without their help." There was a malicious grin on her face as she said this, for now she felt sure of falling heir to the table, and chairs, and bedstead.
"Be it so then," said Everhard, "I will carry what I want myself. This furniture I always intended to leave you at my departure, keep it now; there is the money I owe you, and now God bless you, and good bye." He took up the bundle of his things, and lifting it to his shoulder on a large stick, turned to go away.
"You are not going in anger I hope, sir," stammered the woman. "I hope you bear me no ill-will - I am sure - "
"No, no," interrupted Everhard, gently, "you know no better, why should I be angry?" He had to pass through the group of people who were waiting to see him depart. There was not one amongst them who had not cause of gratitude to him; a simultaneous shout of derision greeted him as he appeared, which was followed by a storm of hisses and groans; one bolder than the rest sent a handful of mud after him, and there is no saying how far matters might have proceeded, had not the shrill voice of a woman interfered, crying that they had turned him out, and that now it was a shame, not to let him depart peaceably. It came from the widow, whose heart had been softened by the gift of the furniture, and perhaps also a little, by Everhard's mildness. Her appearance turned the current, for every one was curious to hear all he had said and done, and they prepared for a gossip; but they were disappointed, for the widow went back to her house, and standing with the door in her hand, looked at the people and said, "Well, so you have driven him away, and now ye'll be satisfied, and we shall see if them as comes in his place will be better"; with that, she went in, and shut the door upon them.
Meanwhile, Everhard pursued his journey, in a state of mortification and bitterness of soul, not to be described; towards eight o'clock in the evening, he arrived foot-sore, and utterly exhausted both in body and mind, at an inn in the town of Cardigan.
When Everhard entered the inn yard he sat down on a little stone bench beside the wall, feeling more utterly miserable than he had ever been in his life before; he had eaten nothing since early in the morning, and the harassing scenes of that day, combined with the immense bodily fatigue he had undergone, were too much even for his athletic frame. He felt desire neither for food nor rest, and wished for nothing except to be left in peace; this, he was not destined to be, for the landlord was too true to his vocation; approaching the place where Everhard had been sitting for some time almost insensible to every thing that passed, he twisted his white apron round his waist, and putting his hands into their respective pockets, he stood for a minute considering how he should address him; then, without asking what he would have or whether he would come into the house, he only said, "You've just come in time for supper, and we can give you a good bed; you'll have come a good step seemingly."
As Everhard did not notice him, he took up the bundle which had fallen off the seat, shook him by the shoulder to rouse him, and told him to come into the house.
Everhard reluctantly obeyed, and the landlord seeing that every thing was left to his discretion, felt that it would be against his conscience if he were not to give his almost insensible guest, the supper that would figure the handsomest in the next morning's bill: which after all was the best thing that could possibly be done, and Everhard revived enough after it to ask for a bed, where he forgot every thing in deep sleep, which held him fast bound till it was too late on the following day to continue his journey.
Nature is very good to those who are dutiful children, and live according to her precepts; she can minister to a mind diseased and "erase a written trouble from the brain", or at least, do a great deal towards it. Everhard only awoke to a state of semi-consciousness, in which he ate and drank whatever his host put before him with a dreamy sense of satisfaction: he seemed wrapped round with poppy and mandragora, for no recollection of his recent annoyances crossed his mind till he arose the next morning, feeling strength and energy enough to encounter any thing and every thing.
Our philanthropy blushes whilst we write it; but the predominant feeling in his heart was gladness to be relieved from the need to live amongst barbarians, trying to love and civilise them. We fear the zealously self-denying reader will be shocked at this; the only plea in mitigation which can be urged, is, that the last crowning grace in doing good, is to allow the persons concerned to profit by it their own way; and if it really be their welfare that we are labouring at, we can bear to see it accomplished, even if our efforts are set on one side; a tolerably delicate test this, of our motives for activity. Everhard felt that the wild people he had laboured amongst were likely to get much more good from the ministrations of the field preachers, than from his, and he felt no sort of wounded vanity in seeing the labours of others more successful than his own: he only looked round to discern in what other sphere his services might be available. Nevertheless, there is no denying that he was very glad his duty seemed likely to lie amongst educated beings, with whom he might hope to feel some companionship.
He paid his bill and mounted on the top of the stage-coach that passed through the town to London.
Arrived there, his first care was to write to Gifford, giving an account of all that had befallen him; he knew that Zoe would see his letter, and that it would say to her all that was needed.
His next business was to find a publisher to give to the world the book he had written during his sojourn in the wilderness. This was no difficult matter, thanks to his widely extended reputation, and the report that had gone abroad that for secret reasons he had left the communion of the Church of Rome. Curiosity was on the qui vive to see the work that was now announced, the public making sure that it would thereby be enabled "to pluck out the heart of his mystery".
It was published at last, and with wonderfully few delays and vexations.
If Everhard had once longed to get among educated beings, he was now tempted to wish himself back amongst his "barbarous people". Words can hardly express the storm that burst upon his head.
The book was in the hands of every reading person almost as soon as it was published; and one simultaneous yell of horror and execration followed!
The periodical press was let loose against him; preachers of all denominations warned their hearers against his pestilential doctrines; he was indicted for blasphemy by the Society for the Suppression of Vice; he was threatened with a prosecution for treasonable and seditious tendencies; every lie that hate, rage, and calumny could invent was propagated in every direction. His name became on a sudden a byword and term for opprobrium. It was first insinuated, and then asserted, that he had been expelled from the Church of Rome, stripped of his gown, and degraded from his priestly office, for foul and monstrous crimes. The Romish clergy, indignant at his desertion, raised their voices to swell the outcry against him. Not in England only was the tumult raised. The name of Everhard had been known and reverenced all over the continent; and as wide as had been his reputation, so wide now spread the hatred and abuse that was lavished upon him.
In the heart of every man whether savage or civilised, there is a chained devil; but when any thing occurs to rouse its malice and fury, the civilised devil is the most terrible to deal with.
Everhard's bold heart almost quailed under the storm he had conjured. He was not prepared for it, he had not the least idea that he was uttering aught but the most natural truth. And he imagined that the words he spoke were so self-evident that they needed only to be said, for all men to give ear to them! The naïve and unconscious simplicity with which he delivered doctrines that made the hair of all who heard them stand on end, would have seemed comic to any one who had been cool enough to observe it. Poor Everhard had never once considered whether he were shocking prejudice or not. It had more than once struck him that he was uttering common-place truisms, and he had accordingly thought it right to make a grave apology for his want of originality. He was perfectly thunderstruck at the commotion he had raised, and was inclined to think all the world had suddenly gone mad.
It may seem incredible in these days that one book should ever have excited so much attention, but it must be remembered those were the palmy days of "Legitimacy" and "Divine Right"; consequently, when it was a point of religion to believe that whatever was, was right. Any one who then dared to lift up his voice against the existing order of things, became a marked man. There had been as yet no sympathy called forth for such daring; the people joined in the outcry, "deriding the tears of their prophets".
The first preachers of any great truth, they who first attempt to make it articulate and intelligible to the world, must expect to be martyrs for their pains. They who lead a "forlorn hope" must be prepared to fall in the breach, and with their bodies prepare a way for those who follow to pass over in safety. They who are amongst the first who listen to the preaching of a newly detached truth, are hated and persecuted as enemies to the human race. When that truth has made itself a place in the consciences of men, then, they who do not embrace it, are persecuted in their turn. The duty of mutual toleration is almost the only truth all parties are unanimous in refusing to recognise.
It cannot be denied that very good advice had been given by Everhard in his book, and that the public had much better have followed it, than employed themselves in abusing him for telling them what he intended for their good. However, it was a fine opportunity to try his own prescription upon himself, and he did not find that his philosophy at all hindered him from feeling very miserable under the ban of social reprobation to which he was consigned. None of us can live without the sympathy of our fellows.
The Giffords were all ready to leave England in a few weeks. Zoe hastened the preparations, for now that Everhard was really gone, all her energy of self-control seemed prostrate. The light that had brightened her life was taken away - and all was chill and desolate. It was well for her that the active exertions required to get all arrangements made for a prolonged absence from England, left her not a moment for musing. She went about with a weight indeed at her heart, but she could not stop to cherish or brood over it.
Their plan was to travel up the Rhine, through Switzerland, the Tyrol, and some parts of Austria, then to pass over into Italy. They were to take up their abode at any place that struck their fancy, and remain for weeks or months, as the case might be; in short, as Gifford said, for once they were to have no control except their own inclinations. The boys were to travel with them; but there was a scheme for placing them at some of the German schools, and coming back for them before they went into Italy.
Gifford furnished himself with excellent letters of introduction, in case they should feel disposed to enter into society; but at first, change of scene was all they wished for.
To those going abroad for the first time, the people who live in foreign countries are much less objects of interest, than the countries themselves. Nothing could be more delightful than the programme of the whole affair; but two hearts among the party were heavy with sorrow, and that was more than enough alloy to prove that schemes of enjoyment oftenest take their rise in suffering, and are intended for distraction rather than pleasure.
The party crossed to Ostend, and for several days travelled without remaining more than a night in one place; but the weather was lovely, and the scenery most beautiful. It is not in the heart of man to resist the healing witchery of nature. The sight of a beautiful country - the fresh pure air - can efface nearly all the ordinary sorrows to which mortality is liable, and even those that nature cannot banish, she makes fainter. There are times, certainly, when the brightness of all around seems a mockery, but that passes away; and even in the heaviest afflictions, there are moments when we are fain to confess, "that light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for man to behold the sun".
Zoe's heart turned again and again to the memory of Everhard. In the midst of the prodigal display of loveliness that surrounded her on every side, a sense of intolerable loneliness fell on her, and "she turned from all it brought to all it could not bring". Still, as she lived more and more with scenes of grandeur and beauty, with no object to come between herself and nature, strength and health arose within her. Her own egoism, her own sensations, were swallowed up: she stood before the unveiled face of nature, and the "awful loveliness" overshadowed her whole being. A humility born from the constant presence of greatness, sprung up, she no longer murmured at "wandering companionless" through life, she forgot herself; it was not in expressions of humility, lip-deep, for she was not conscious that she had become humble; but she ceased to think of what she was, or what she was not.
After this, came the time when the recollection of Everhard, of the noble love of which she was the object, became the life-spring of her soul; she did not wish her lot differently cast, she could rejoice in his love, without repining; it was her most precious heritage; she loved him nobly and greatly, and to make herself worthy of him, was the aim she placed before her. The more a love is purified from mere emotion, and does not depend on the intoxicating sensations of presence or absence, it becomes dignified into a religion; nothing poor or trivial can live along with it. All coquetry, vanity, desire of admiration, were burnt up out of Zoe's heart. Her beauty was more dazzling than ever; and it seemed as if her powers of mind had been increased a hundredfold. A massive simplicity, took the place of her former meretricious display; - a magnanimous transparency of character, made her appear surrounded as with a halo of moral beauty.
She was like one of Plutarch's women; - for she had much more of high pagan virtue about her, than any thing approaching to modern Unitarian morality.
She found companionship where she least looked for it. Gifford, with his honest and gentle affection, had a sympathy with her higher intellect, that she was far from expecting; but there is an elective affinity in all truths, they make the weakest akin to the strong.
Zoe did not love Gifford, but she lived more happily with him, than she had done since their marriage, and felt a real regard and respect for him. As to Clotilde, she took refuge in her religion; the same process which made her mother-in-law a contented strong-minded woman, only increased Clotilde's desire to leave the world, and enter on a religious life, in which she might be absorbed into her religious duties. Her gentle heart had received a wound, from which it would never recover to become strong and happy. Her only source of pleasure during the tour, was in going into all the churches and small way-side chapels they passed. The splendid music of the cathedrals, raised her soul to heaven; and the wild scenery in which chapels are often placed exalted her imagination, till her devotion seemed scarcely that of a being belonging to this world.
They remained for some weeks at Como; and Clotilde wandered about all day on the borders of the lake. A chapel was near the house they occupied; at night she would go and kneel before the altar, often remaining there till day broke.
There is a comfort in the Catholic religion, that soothes a wounded heart, as the unhappy themselves only know. All modes of human affection transfer themselves without difficulty to religion: they there find a haven and refuge for the frail beating heart that contains them. There is so much of human feeling in the Catholic religion, so much that makes itself tangible to human sympathy, that the mourners seem to be restored to the very objects of which they have been bereft.
The Giffords travelled through Italy, and reached Rome to be in time for the Services of the "Holy Week". All Clotilde saw during this solemn festival, the splendour, the music, wrought up her feelings to the highest pitch; every thing that was in the world seemed coarse and drossy. She looked back with something like remorse to her brief dream of passion; - nothing but the pure ecstasies of adoration and self-dedication seemed worthy of her aspiration. Even her tenderness for her father seemed deadened. She was weaned from all that was earthly; but such a sweet, unselfish deadness to all the world, was surely never seen: it was the indifference of an angel, or a seraph.
When she broke her purpose to her father he was in a sad strait, unwilling to oppose the decided vocation of his daughter for a religious life, and yet very grieved to resign her to what, so far as he was concerned, would be a living death. With infinite sweetness and patience she laboured to overcome his objections, she prevailed on Zoe to use her influence. Her confessor (a man who had also the spiritual direction of a convent) used all his eloquence, and at length a tearful consent was obtained from Gifford.
Clotilde entered the Convent of Santa -----, on her noviciate, and the family remained at Rome during the whole period.
At length the day of her Profession came. Gifford had clasped her in his arms for the last time, had felt her his child for the last time. His spirits had sunk dreadfully, ever since she first entered the convent, and he had suffered the more, as he fancied it was sinful to resist such a distinct call from Heaven. His health had given way in the struggle, though no one suspected how deeply it was affected.
On the day of her Profession, he had scarce strength to support himself to the church where the ceremony was to take place.
To indifferent spectators, the ceremony is almost overpowering, and to a tender father, struggling between a desire to retain his child, and a sense of the holiness of the vocation she is obeying, the suffering can only be conceived by parents in a like position. But when she lay on the ground covered with the black veil, and the chorus of the nuns rose in thrilling melody, realising dreams of the songs of Heaven, Gifford's fortitude was overpowered, and he was carried from the church in a deep swoon.
The ceremony ended, and the long procession of sisters passed into their convent; - the gate was closed, and the gentle, tender-hearted Clotilde, knew not that her father was even then dying.
When Zoe could leave the church, she hastened to the place where Gifford had been removed. She was shocked at the alteration apparent in his countenance. "It is all over, is it not?" said he, as she approached him.
"Yes," replied Zoe, sadly; "but she knows not of your illness; dear child, it will be a sad trial not to be able to come to you."
"No, no, Zoe; - it is all arranged by infinite goodness. I was unwilling to resign my child to the service of God, and now he is taking me away from her. I have not even had the merit of the sacrifice; - may he pardon the unbelief and the slow-heartedness of his servant, and accept me in my last hour, amen!"
The physician here appeared, and declared that there must be no speaking; taking Zoe aside, he informed her that the patient was reduced to such a deplorable state of weakness, that he feared he could not rally. Zoe could not account for this sudden manifestation of debility, but the physician told her that it was not uncommon in old people, and even in those of middle life, mental uneasiness, combined with health that was not strong, sometimes prostrated suddenly, where no definite disease existed.
Zoe, who had hitherto been incredulous of danger, was seized with horror; she reproached herself bitterly for her blindness, during so many months. Now that she seemed on the point of losing him, she found that Gifford was much dearer to her than she had ever imagined. Gifford was much affected by her tenderness and grief, but he had for some time felt a presentiment that he should not live much longer, and had silently arranged all his worldly affairs. He called Zoe to him the morning after Clotilde's Profession, and put a sealed parcel into her hands. "This is my will," said he; "I know that all I have requested will be complied with, and you will find I have not been insensible of your worth. Oh, Zoe! I have but one wish for you, which is that you would think of religion as you ought - you will need it in your last hour. Whilst you live a very little religion seems enough; but believe me, it requires a great deal when you come to die."
He was too weak to speak more, and soon after he fell into a sleep, with Zoe's hand in his. In the afternoon the priest came and he took the last sacraments; he lay afterwards for a long time apparently insensible to all that passed; at length opening his eyes, he fixed them on Zoe, and articulated with difficulty, "Tell Clotilde I desire her prayers, tell her that I send my blessing, and that I die happy." He seemed for a few moments in prayer, and then his lips ceased to move, and half-an-hour afterwards he departed without a struggle. He died so peacefully that those around him could not tell the exact moment when he ceased to breathe.
After the funeral, Zoe opened the paper he had given her. It was a condensed abstract of his will, made before he left England, and simply worded, in order that Zoe might have no difficulty in comprehending it.
The children were left with many testimonies of esteem to Zoe's sole management, executors and trustees were named for the property which was charged with an ample jointure for her, together with as much of the furniture of Gifford Castle as she chose to take, along with certain articles of valuable plate, which were specified. A certain sum was to be allowed to her out of the estate for the board and education of the children, and a singular request was introduced, carefully guarded from being in any way a command: it was, that if it could be arranged, his great desire was that his sons should reside under the same roof with their mother until they were married. Several touching marks of affection were scattered through the will, which affected Zoe deeply, and she bitterly reproached herself for having been so insensible to his value. She resolved, however, her future conduct should show her worthy of the trust he had reposed in her.
Affairs required her speedy presence in England. She took an affectionate farewell of Clotilde in the convent parlour, after which she and the boys left Rome, and proceeded on to England.
End of Volume II
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