« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
house's look of sulky insolence, he turned back again, much fluttered and disturbed. He had an interest in the matter, though the two in whose hands it now lay were the last whom he would have chosen as confidants; and to do him justice, he was thinking of Lucy only in his desire to hear what they decided upon. Something might happen to me," he said to himself; "and, even if all was well, she would be happier not to be wholly dependent upon her sister;" with which selfexculpatory reflection, Mr Proctor slowly followed the others into the drawing-room. Gerald and Frank, who were neither of them disposed for society, went away together. They had enough to think of, without much need of conversation, and they had walked half-way down Grange Lane before either spoke. Then it was Frank who broke the silence abruptly with a question which had nothing to do with the business in which they had been engaged.
"And what do you mean to do?" said Frank, suddenly. It was just as they came in sight of the graceful spire of St Roque's; and, perhaps, it was the sight of his own church which roused the Perpetual Curate to think of the henceforth aimless life of his brother. "I don't understand how you are to give up your work. To-night
"I did not forget myself," said Gerald; "every man who can distinguish good from evil has a right to advise his fellow-creature. I have not given up that common privilege-don't hope it, Frank," said the martyr, with a momentary smile.
"If I could but understand why it is that you make this terrible sacrifice!" said the Curate-“No, I don't want to argue-of course, you are convinced. I can understand the wish that our unfortunate division had never taken place; but I can't understand the sacrifice of a man's life and work. Nothing is perfect in this world; but at least
to do something in it-to be good for something-and with your faculties, Gerald!" cried the admiring and regretful brother. "Can abstract right in an institution, if that is what you aim at, be worth the sacrifice of your existence-your power of influencing your fellowcreatures ?" This Mr Wentworth said, being specially moved by the circumstances in which he found himself—for, under any other conditions, such sentiments would have produced the warmest opposition in his Anglican bosom. But he was so far sympathetic that he could be tolerant to his brother who had gone to Rome.
I know what you mean," said Gerald; "it is the prevailing theory in England that all human institutions are imperfect. My dear Frank, I want a Church which is not a human institution. In England it seems to be the rule of faith that every man may believe as he pleases. There is no authority either to decide or to punish. If you can foresee what that may lead us to, I cannot. I take refuge in the true Church, where alone there is certainty-where," said the convert, with a heightened colour and a long-drawn breath, "there is authority clear and decisive. In England you believe what you will, and the result will be one that I at least fear to contemplate; in Rome we believe what we must," said Gerald. He said the words slowly, bowing his head more than once with determined submission, as if bending under the yoke. "Frank, it is salvation!" said the new Catholic, with the emphasis of a despairing hope. And for the first time Frank Wentworth perceived what it was which had driven his brother to Rome.
"I understand you now," said the Perpetual Curate; "it is because there is no room for our conflicting doctrines and latitude of belief. Instead of a Church happily so far imperfect, that a man can put his life to the best account in it, without absolutely delivering up his in
tellect to a set of doctrines, you seek a perfect Church, in which, for a symmetrical system of doctrine, you lose the use of your existence!" Mr Wentworth uttered this opinion with all the more vehemence, that it was in direct opposition to his own habitual ideas; but even his veneration for his "Mother" yielded for the moment to his strong sense of his brother's mistake.
"It is a hard thing to say," said Gerald, "but it is true. If you but knew the consolation, after years of struggling among the problems of faith, to find one's self at last upon a rock of authority, of certainty-one holds in one's hand at last the interpretation of the enigma," said Gerald. He looked up to the sky as he spoke, and breathed into the serene air a wistful lingering sigh. If it was certainty that echoed in that breath of unsatisfied nature, the sound was sadly out of concord with the sentiment. His soul, notwithstanding that expression of serenity, was still as wistful as the night.
66 Have you the interpretation?" said his brother; and Frank, too, looked up into the pure sky above, with its stars which stretched over them serene and silent, arching over the town that lay behind, and of which nobody knew better than he the human mysteries and wonderful unanswerable questions. The heart of the Curate ached to think how many problems lay in the darkness, over which that sky stretched silent, making no sign. There were the sorrowful of the earth, enduring their afflictions, lifting up pitiful hands, demanding of God in their bereavements and in their miseries the reason why. There were all the inequalities of life, side by side, evermore echoing dumbly the same awful question; and over all shone the calm sky which gave no answer. "Have you the interpretation?" he said. "Perhaps you can reconcile freewill and predestination - the need of a universal atonement and the existence of individual virtue ? But these are not to me the most
difficult questions. Can your Church explain why one man is happy and another miserable?-why one has everything and abounds, and the other loses all that is most precious in life? My sister Mary, for example," said the Curate," she seems to bear the cross for our family. Her children die and yours live. Can you explain to her why? I have heard her cry out to God to know the reason, and He made no answer. Tell me, have you the interpretation?" cried the young man, on whom the hardness of his own position was pressing at the moment. They went on together in silence for a few minutes, without any attempt on Gerald's part to answer. "You accept the explanation of the Church in respect to doctrines," said the Curate, after that pause," and consent that her authority is sufficient, and that your perplexity is over
that is well enough, so far as it goes: but outside lies a world in which every event is an enigma, where nothing that comes offers any explanation of itself; where God does not show himself always kind, but by times awful, terrible-a God who smites and
does not spare. It is easy to make a harmonious balance of doctrine; but where is the interpretation of life?" The young priest looked back on his memory, and recalled, as if they had been in a book, the daily problems with which he was so well acquainted. As for Gerald, he bowed his head a little, with a kind of reverence, as if he had been bowing before the shrine of a saint.
"I have had a happy life," said the elder brother. I have not been driven to ask such questions for myself. To these the Church has but one advice to offer: Trust God."
"We say so in England," said Frank Wentworth; "it is the grand scope of our teaching. Trust God. He will not explain Himself, nor can we attempt it. When it is certain that I must be content with
this answer for all the sorrows of life, I am content to take my doctrines on the same terms," said the Perpetual Curate;—and by this time they had come to Miss Wentworth's door. After all, perhaps it was not Gerald, except so far as he was carried by a wonderful force of human sympathy and purity of soul, who was the predestined priest
of the family. As he went up to his own room, a momentary spasm of doubt came upon the new convert
whether, perhaps, he was making a sacrifice of his life for a mistake. He hushed the thought forcibly as it rose; such impulses were no longer to be listened to. The same authority which made faith certain decided every doubt to be sin.
Next morning the Curate got up with anticipations which were far from cheerful, and a weary sense of the monotony and dulness of life. He had won his little battle, it was true; but the very victory had removed that excitement which answered in the absence of happier stimulants to keep up his heart and courage. After a struggle like that in which he had been engaged, it was hard to come again into the peaceable routine without any particular hope to enliven or happiness to cheer it, which was all he had at present to look for in his life; and it was harder stillto feel the necessity of being silent, of standing apart from Lucy in her need, of shutting up in his own heart the longing he had towards her, and refraining himself from the desperate thought of uniting his genteel beggary to hers. That was the one thing which must not be thought of, and he subdued himself with an impatient sigh, and could not but wonder, as he went down-stairs, whether, if Gerald had been less smoothly guided through the perplexing paths of life, he would have found time for all the difficulties which had driven him to take refuge in Rome. It was with this sense of hopeless restraint and incapacity, which is perhaps of all sensations the most humbling, that he went down-stairs, and found lying on his breakfast-table, the first thing that met his eye, the note which Lucy Wodehouse had written to him on the previous night. As he read it, the earth somehow turned to the sun; the
dubious light brightened in the skies. Unawares, he had been wondering never to receive any token of sympathy, any word of encouragement from those for whom he had made so many exertions. When he had read Lucy's letter, the aspect of affairs changed considerably. To be sure nothing that she had said or could say made any difference in the facts of the case; but the Curate was young, and still liable to those changes of atmosphere which do more for an imaginative mind than real revolutions.
He read the letter several times over as he lingered through his breakfast, making on the whole an agreeable meal, and finding himself repossessed of his ordinary healthful appetite. He even canvassed the signature as much in reading as Lucy had done in writing it-balancing in his mind the maidenly "truly yours of that subscription with as many ingenious renderings of its possible meaning, as if Lucy's letter had been articles of faith. "Truly mine, he said to himself, with a smile; which indeed meant all a lover could require; and then paused, as if he had been Dr Lushington or Lord Westbury, to inquire into the real force of the phrase. For after all, it is not only when signing the Articles that the bond and pledge of subscription means more than is intended. When Mr Wentworth was able to tear himself from the agreeable casuistry of this self-discussion, he got up in much better spirits to go about his daily business. First
of all, he had to see his father, and ascertain what were the Squire's intentions, and how long he meant to stay in Carlingford; and then-It occurred to the Perpetual Curate that after that, politeness demanded that he should call on the Miss Wodehouses, who had, or at least one of them, expressed so frankly their confidence in him. He could not but call to thank her, to inquire into their plans, perhaps to back aunt Leonora's invitation, which he was aware had been gratefully declined. With these ideas in his mind he went down-stairs, after brushing his hat very carefully and casting one solicitous glance in the mirror as he passed-which presented to him a very creditable reflection, an eidolon in perfect clerical apparel, without any rusty suggestions of a Perpetual Curacy. Yet a Perpetual Curacy it was which was his sole benefice or hope in his present circumstances, for he knew very well that, were all other objections at an end, neither Skelmersdale nor Went worth could be kept open for him'; and that beyond these two he had not a hope of advancement—and at the same time he was pledged to remain in Carlingford. All this, however, though discouraging enough, did not succeed in discouraging Mr Wentworth after he had read Lucy's letter. He went down-stairs so lightly that Mrs Hadwin, who was waiting in the parlour in her best cap, to ask if he would pardon her for making such a mistake, did not hear him pass, and sat waiting for an hour, forgetting, or rather neglecting to give any response, when the butcher came for orders-which was an unprecedented accident. Mr Wentworth went cheerfully up Grange Lane, meeting, by a singular chance, ever so many people, who stopped to shake hands with him, or at least bowed their good wishes and friendly acknowledgments. He smiled in himself at these evidences of popular penitence, but was not the less pleased to find himself reinstated in his place in the affections and respect of Carlingford.
"After all, it was not an unnatural mistake," he said to himself, and smiled benignly upon the excellent people who had found out the error of their own ways. Carlingford, indeed, seemed altogether in a more cheerful state than usual, and Mr Wentworth could not but think that the community in general was glad to find that it had been deceived, and so went upon his way, pleasing himself with those maxims about the ultimate prevalence of justice and truth, which make it apparent that goodness is always victorious, and wickedness punished, in the end. Somehow even a popular fallacy has an aspect of truth when it suits one's own case. The Perpetual Curate went through his aunt's garden with a scious smile, feeling once master of himself and his concerns. There was, to tell the truth, even a slight shade of self-content and approbation upon his handsome countenance. In the present changed state of public opinion and private feeling, he began to take some pleasure in his sacrifice. To be sure, a Perpetual Curate could not marry; but perhaps Lucy-in short, there was no telling what might happen; and it was accordingly with that delicious sense of goodness which generally attends an act of self-sacrifice, mingled with an equally delicious feeling that the act, when accomplished, might turn out no such great sacrifice after all
which it is to be feared is the most usual way in which the sacrifices of youth are made-that the Curate walked into the hall, passing his aunt Dora's toy terrier without that violent inclination to give it a whack with his cane in passing, which was his usual state of feeling. To tell the truth, Lucy's letter had made him at peace with all the world.
When, however, he entered the dining-room, where the family were still at breakfast, Frank's serenity was unexpectedly disturbed. The first thing that met his eye was his aunt Leonora, towering over her
tea-urn at the upper end of the table, holding in her hand a letter which she had just opened. The envelope had fallen in the midst of the immaculate breakfast "things," and indeed lay, with its broad black edge on the top of the snow-white lumps, in Miss Leonora's own sugarbasin; and the news had been sufficiently interesting to suspend the operations of tea-making, and to bring the strong-minded woman to her feet. The first words which were audible to Frank revealed to him the nature of the intelligence which had produced such startling effects.
"He was always a contradictory man," said Miss Leonora; "since the first hour he was in Skelmersdale, he has made a practice of doing things at the wrong time. I don't mean to reproach the poor man now he's gone; but when he has been so long of going, what good could it do him to choose this particular moment, for no other reason that I can see, except that it was specially uncomfortable to us? What my brother has just been saying makes it all the worse," said Miss Leonora, with a look of annoyance. She had turned her head away from the door, which was at the side of the room, and had not perceived the entrance of the Curate. As long as we could imagine that Frank was to succeed to the Rectory the thing looked comparatively easy. I beg your pardon, Gerald. Of course, you know how grieved I -in short, that we all feel the deepest distress and vexation; but, to be sure, since you have given it up, somebody must succeed youthere can be no doubt of that."
who knows me could suppose for a minute that I would let my feelings stand in the way of my public duty. Still it is very awkward just at this moment, when Frank, on the whole, has been behaving very properly, and one can't help so far approving of him
"I am much obliged to you, aunt Leonora," said the Curate.
Oh, you are there, Frank," said his sensible aunt ; and strong-minded though she was, a slight shade of additional colour appeared for a moment on Miss Leonora's face. She paused a little, evidently diverted from the line of discourse which she had contemplated, and wavered like a vessel disturbed in its course. "The fact is, I have just had a letter announcing Mr Shirley's death," she continued, facing round towards her nephew, and setting off abruptly, in face of all consequences, on the new tack. "I am very sorry," said Frank Wentworth; though I have an old grudge at him on account of his long sermons; but as you have expected it for a year or two, I can't imagine your grief to be overwhelming," said the Curate, with a touch of natural impertinence to be expected under the circumstances. Skelmersdale had been so long thought interesting to him, that now, when it was not in the least interesting, he got impatient of the
"I quite agree with you, Frank,” said [Miss Wentworth. Aunt Cecilia had not been able for a long time to agree with anybody. She had been, on the contrary, shaking her head and shedding a few gentle tears over Gerald's silent submission and Louisa's noisy lamentations. Everything was somehow going wrong; and she who had no power to mend, at least could not assent, and broke through her old use and wont to shake her head, which was a thing very alarming to the family. The entire party was moved by a sensation of pleasure to hear Miss Cecilia say, "I quite agree with you, Frank.'