Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 10 out of 16
only have been interpreted in one way.
So he stayed, and perforce listened, but in complete silence. None
of Mr. Wendover's side-hits touched him. Only as the talk went on,
the Rector in the background got paler and paler; his eyes, as they
passed from the mobile face of the Catholic convert, already, for
those who knew, marked with the signs of death, to the bronzed
visage of the Squire, grew duller--more instinct with a slowly
Half an hour later he was once more on the road leading to the park
gate. He had a vague memory that at parting the Squire had shown
him the cordiality of one suddenly anxious to apologize by manner,
if not by word. Otherwise everything was forgotten. He was only
anxious, half dazed as he was, to make out wherein lay the vital
difference between his present self and the Elsmere who had passed
along that road an hour before.
He had heard a conversation on religious topics, wherein nothing
was new to him, nothing affected him intellectually at all. What
was there in that to break the spring of life like this? He stood
still, heavily trying to understand himself.
Then gradually it became clear to him. A month ago, every word of
that hectic young pleader for Christ and the Christian certainties
would have roused in him a leaping passionate sympathy,--the heart's
yearning assent, even when the intellect was most perplexed. Now
that inmost strand had given way. Suddenly, the disintegrating
force he had been so pitifully, so blindly, holding at bay, had
penetrated once for all into the sanctuary! What had happened to
him had been the first real failure of feeling, the first treachery
of the Heart. Wishart's hopes and hatreds, and sublime defiances
of man's petty faculties, had aroused in him no echo, no response.
His soul had been dead within him.
As he gained the shelter of the wooded lane beyond the gate, it
seemed to Robert that he was going through, once more, that old
fierce temptation of Bunyan's,--
'For after the Lord had in this manner thus graciously delivered
me, and had set me down so sweetly in the faith of His Holy Gospel,
and had given me such strong consolation and blessed evidence from
heaven, touching my interest in His love through Christ, the tempter
came upon me again, and that with a more grievous and dreadful
temptation than before. And that was, "To sell and part with this
most blessed Christ; to exchange Him for the things of life, for
anything!" The temptation lay upon me for the space of a year, and
did follow me so continually that I was not rid of it one day in a
month: no, not sometimes one hour in many days together, for it did
always, in almost whatever I thought, intermix itself therewith,
in such sort that I could neither eat my food, stoop for a pin,
chop a stick, or cast mine eyes to look on this or that, but still
the temptation would come: "Sell Christ for this, or sell Christ
for that, sell Him, sell Him!"'
Was this what lay before the minister of God now in this _selva
oscura_ of life? The selling of the Master, of 'the love so sweet,
the unction spiritual,' for an intellectual satisfaction, the
ravaging of all the fair places of the heart by an intellectual
And still through all the despair, all the revolt, all the pain,
which made the summer air a darkness, and closed every sense in him
to the evening beauty, he felt the irresistible march and pressure
of the new instincts, the new forces, which life and thought had
been calling into being. The words of St. Augustine which be had
read to Catherine taken in a strange new sense, came back to
him--'Commend to the keeping of the Truth whatever the Truth hath
given thee, and thou shalt lose nothing!'
Was it the summons of Truth which was rending the whole nature in
Robert stood still, and with his hands locked behind him, and his
face turned like the face of a blind man toward a world of which
it saw nothing, went through a desperate catechism of himself.
'_Do I believe in God?_ Surely, surely! "Though He slay me yet
will I trust in Him!" _Do I believe in Christ?_ Yes,--in the
teacher, the martyr, the symbol to us Westerns of all things heavenly
and abiding, the image and pledge of the invisible life of the
spirit--with all my soul and all my mind!'
'_But in the Man-God_, the Word from Eternity,--in a wonder-working
Christ, in a risen and ascended Jesus, in the living Intercessor
and Mediator for the lives of His doomed brethren?'
He waited, conscious that it was the crisis of his history, and
there rose in him, as though articulated one by one by an audible
voice, words of irrevocable meaning.
'Every human soul in which the voice of God makes itself felt,
enjoys, equally with Jesus of Nazareth, the divine sonship, and
"_miracles do not happen!_"'
It was done. He felt for the moment as Bunyan did after his lesser
'Now was the battle won, and down fell I as a bird that is shot
from the top of a tree into great guilt and fearful despair. Thus
getting out of my bed I went moping in the field; but God knows
with as heavy an heart as mortal man I think could bear, where for
the space of two hours I was like a man bereft of life.'
All these years of happy spiritual certainty, of rejoicing oneness
with Christ, to end in this wreck and loss! Was not this indeed
'_il gran rifiuto?_' the greatest of which human daring is capable?
The lane darkened round him. Not a soul was in sight. The only
sounds were the sounds of a gently breathing nature, sounds of birds
and swaying branches and intermittent gusts of air rustling through
the gorse and the drifts of last year's leaves in the wood beside
him. He moved mechanically onward, and presently, after the first
flutter of desolate terror had passed away, with a new inrushing
sense which seemed to him a sense of liberty--of infinite expansion.
Suddenly the trees before him thinned, the ground sloped away, and
there to the left on the westernmost edge of the hill lay the
square-stone rectory, its windows open to the evening coolness, a
white flutter of pigeons round the dovecote on the side lawn, the
gold of the August wheat in the great cornfield showing against the
heavy girdle of oak-wood.
Robert stood gazing at it,--the home consecrated by love, by effort,
by faith. The high alterations of intellectual and spiritual debate,
the strange emerging sense of deliverance, gave way to a most bitter
human pang of misery.
'Oh God! My wife--my work!'
. . . There was a sound of voice calling--Catherine's voice calling
for him. He leant against the gate of the wood-path, struggling
sternly with himself. This was no simple matter of his own
intellectual consistency or happiness. Another's whole life was
concerned. Any precipitate speech, or hasty action, would be a
crime. A man is bound above all things to protect those who depend
on him from his own immature or revocable impulses. Not a word
yet--till this sense of convulsion and upheaval had passed away,
and the mind was once more its own master.
He opened the gate and went toward her. She was strolling along
the path looking out for him, one delicate hand gathering up her
long evening dress--that very same black brocade she had worn in
the old days at Burwood--the other playing with their Dandie Dinmont
puppy who was leaping beside her. As she caught sight of him, there
was the flashing smile--the hurrying step. And he felt he could
but just drag himself to meet her.
'Robert, how long you have been! I thought you mast have stayed
to dinner after all! And how tired you seem!'
'I had a long walk,' he said, catching her hand, as it slipped
itself under his arm, and clinging to it as though to a support.
'And I am tired. There is no use whatever in denying it.'
His voice was light, but if it had not been so dark, she must have
been startled by his face. As they went on toward the house,
however, she scolding him for over-walking, he won his battle with
himself. He went through the evening so that even Catherine's
jealous eyes saw nothing but extra fatigue. In the most desperate
straits of life, love is still the fountain of all endurance, and
if ever a man loved it was Robert Elsmere.
But that night, as he lay sleepless in their quiet room, with the
window open to the stars and to the rising gusts of wind, which
blow the petals of the cluster-rose outside in drifts of 'fair
weather snow' on to the window-sill, he went through an agony which
no words can adequately describe.
He must, of course, give up his living and his Orders. His standards
and judgments had always been simple and plain in these respects.
In other men it might be right and possible that they should live
on in the ministry of the Church, doing the humane and charitable
work of the Church, while refusing assent to the intellectual and
dogmatic frame-work on which the Church system rests; but for himself
it would be neither right nor wrong, but simply impossible. He did
not argue or reason about it. There was a favorite axiom of Mr.
Grey's which had become part of his pupil's spiritual endowment,
and which was perpetually present to him at this crisis of his life,
in the spirit, if not in the letter--'Conviction is the Conscience
of the Mind.' And with this intellectual conscience he was no more
capable of trifling than with the moral conscience.
The night passed away. How the rare intermittent sounds impressed
themselves upon him!--the stir of the child's waking soon after
midnight in the room overhead; the cry of the owls in the oak-wood;
the purring of the night-jars on the common; the morning chatter
of the swallows round the eaves.
With the first invasion of the dawn Robert raised himself and looked
at Catherine. She was sleeping with that light sound sleep which
belongs to health of body and mind, one hand under her face, the
other stretched out in soft relaxation beside her. Her husband
hung over her in a bewilderment of feeling. Before him passed all
sorts of incoherent pictures of the future; the mind was caught by
all manner of incongruous details in that saddest uprooting which
lay before him. How her sleep, her ignorance, reproached him! He
thought of the wreck of all her pure ambitions--for him, for their
common work, for the people she had come to love; the ruin of her
life of charity and tender usefulness, the darkening of all her
hopes, the shaking of all her trust. Two years of devotion, of
exquisite self-surrender, had brought her to this! It was for this
he had lured her from the shelter of her hills, for this she had
opened to him all her sweet stores of faith, all the deepest springs
of her womanhood. Oh, how she must suffer! The thought of it and
his own helplessness wrung his heart.
Oh, could he keep her love through it all? There was an unspeakable
dread mingled with his grief--his remorse. It had been there for
months. In her eyes would not only pain but sin divide them? Could
he possibly prevent her whole relation to him from altering and
It was to be the problem of his remaining life. With a great cry
of the soul to that God it yearned and felt for through all the
darkness and ruin which encompassed it, he laid his hand on hers
with the timidest passing touch.
'Catherine, I will make amends! My wife, I will make amends!'
The next morning Catherine, finding that Robert still slept on,
after their usual waking time, and remembering his exhaustion of
the night before, left him softly, and kept the house quiet that
he might not be disturbed. She was in charge of the now toddling
Mary in the dinning-room, when the door opened and Robert appeared.
At sight of him she sprang up with a half-cry; the face seemed to
have lost all its fresh color, its look of sure and air: the eyes
were sunk; the lips and chin lined and drawn. It was like a face
from which the youth had suddenly been struck out.
'Robert!----' but her question died on her lips.
'A bad night, darling, and a bad headache,' he said, groping his
way, as it seemed to her, to the table, his hand leaning on her
arm. 'Give me some breakfast.'
She restrained herself at once, put him into an arm-chair by the
window, and cared for him in her tender, noiseless way. But she
had grown almost as pale as he, and her heart was like lead.
'Will you send me off for the day to Thurston ponds?' he said
presently, trying to smile with lips so stiff and nerveless that
the will had small control over them.
'Can you walk so far? You did overdo it yesterday, you know. You
have never got over Mile End, Robert.'
But her voice had a note in it which in his weakness he could hardly
bear. He thirsted to be alone again, to be able to think over
quietly what was best for her--for them both. There must be a next
step, and in her neighborhood, he was too feeble, too tortured, to
decide upon it.
'No more, dear--no more,' he said, impatiently, as she tried to
feed him; then he added as he rose: 'Don't make arrangements for
our going next week, Catherine; it can't be so soon.'
Catherine looked at him with eyes of utter dismay. The sustaining
hope of all these difficult weeks, which had slipped with such
terrible unexpectedness into their happy life, was swept away from
'Robert, you _ought_ to go.'
'I have too many things to arrange,' he said, sharply, almost
irritably. Then his tone changed. 'Don't urge it, Catherine.'
His eyes in their weariness seemed to entreat her not to argue.
She stooped and kissed him, her lips trembling.
'When do you want to go to Thurston?'
'As soon as possible. Can you find me my fishing basket and get
me some sandwiches? I shall only lounge there and take it easy.'
She did everything for him that wifely hands could do. Then when
his fishing basket was strapped on, and his lunch was slipped into
the capacious pocket of the well-worn shooting coat, she threw her
arms round him.
'Robert, you will come away _soon_.'
He roused himself and kissed her.
'I will,' he said simply, withdrawing, however, from her grasp,
as though he could not bear those close, pleading eyes. 'Good-by!
I shall be back some time in the afternoon.
From her post beside the study window she watched him take the short
cut across the cornfield. She was miserable, and all at sea. A
week ago he had been so like himself again, and now--! Never had
she seen him in anything like this state of physical and mental
'Oh, Robert,' she cried under her breath, with an abandonment like
a child's, strong soul that she was, 'why won't you tell me, dear?
Why _won't_ you let me share? I might help you through--I might.'
She supposed he must be again in trouble of mind. A weaker woman
would have implored, tormented, till she knew all. Catherine's
very strength and delicacy of nature, and that respect which was
inbred in her for the _sacra_ of the inner life, stood in her way.
She could not catechise him, and force his confidence on this
subject of all others. It must be given freely. And oh! it was
so long in coming!
Surely, surely, it must be mainly physical, the result of
over-strain--expressing itself in characteristic mental worry, just
as daily life reproduces itself in dreams. The worldly man suffers
at such times through worldly things, the religious man through his
religion. Comforting herself a little with thoughts of this kind,
and with certain more or less vague preparations for departure,
Catherine got through the morning as best she might.
Meanwhile, Robert was trudging along to Thurston under a sky which,
after a few threatening showers, promised once more to be a sky of
intense heat. He had with him all the tackle necessary for spooning
pike, a sport the novelty and success of which had hugely commended
it the year before to, those Esau-like instincts Murewell had so
much developed in him.
And now, oh the weariness of the August warmth, and the long stretches
of sandy road! By the time he reached the ponds he was tired out;
but instead of stopping at the largest of the three, where a
picturesque group of old brier cottages brought a remainder of man
and his world into the prairie solitude of the common, he pushed
on to a smaller pool just beyond, now hidden in a green cloud of
birch-wood. Here, after pushing his way through the closely set
trees, he made some futile attempts at fishing, only to put up his
rod long before the morning was over, and lay it beside him on the
bank. And there he sat for hours, vaguely watching the reflection
of the clouds, the gambols and quarrel of the water-fowl, the ways
of the birds, the alternations of sun and shadow on the softly
moving trees--the real self of him passing all the while through
an interminable inward drama, starting from the past, stretching
to the future, steeped in passion, in pity, in regret.
He thought of the feelings with which he had taken Orders, of Oxford
scenes and Oxford persons, of the efforts, the pains, the successes
of his first year at Murewell. What a ghastly mistake it had all
been! He felt a kind of sore contempt for himself, for his own
lack of prescience, of self-knowledge. His life looked to him so
shallow and worthless. How does a man ever retrieve such a false
step? He groaned aloud as he thought of Catherine linked to one
born to defeat her hopes, and all that natural pride that a woman
feels in the strength and consistency of the man she loves. As he
sat there by the water he touched the depths of self-humiliation.
As to religious belief, everything was a chaos. What might be to
him the ultimate forms and condition of thought, the tired mind was
quite incapable of divining. To every stage in the process of
destruction it was feverishly alive. But its formative energy was
for the moment gone. The foundations were swept away, and everything
must be built up afresh. Only the _habit_ of faith held the close
instinctive clinging to a Power beyond sense--a Goodness, a Will,
not man's. The soul had been stripped of its old defences, but at
his worst there was never a moment when Elsmere felt himself _utterly_
But his people--his work! Every now and then into the fragmentary
debate still going on within him, there would flash little pictures
of Murewell. The green, with the sun on the house-fronts, the
awning over the village shop, the vane on the old 'Manor-house,'
the familiar figures at the doors; his church, with every figure
in the Sunday congregation as clear to him as though he were that
moment in the pulpit; the children he had taught, the sick he had
nursed, this or that weather-beaten or brutalized peasant whose
history he knew, whose tragic secrets he had learnt--all these
memories and images clung about him as though with ghostly hands,
asking--'Why will you desert us? You are ours--stay with us!'
Then his thoughts would run over the future, dwelling, with a tense,
realistic sharpness, on every detail which lay before him---the
arrangements with his _locum tenens_, the interview with the Bishop,
the parting with the rectory. It even occurred to him to wonder
what must be done with Martha and his mother's cottage.
His mother? As he thought of her a wave of unutterable longing
rose and broke. The difficult tears stood in his eyes. He had a
strange conviction that at this crisis of his life, she of all human
beings would have understood him best.
When would the Squire know? He pictured the interview with him,
divining, with the same abnormal clearness of inward vision Mr.
Wendover's start of mingled triumph and impatience--triumph in the
new recruit, impatience with the Quixotic folly which could lead a
man to look upon orthodox dogma as a thing real enough to be publicly
renounced, or clerical pledges as more than form of words. So
henceforth he was on the same side with the Squire, held by an
indiscriminating world as bound to the same negations, the same
hostilities! The thought roused in him a sudden fierceness of moral
repugnance. The Squire and Edward Langham--they were the only
sceptics of whom he had ever had close and personal experience.
And with all his old affection for Langham, all his frank sense of
pliancy in the Squire's hands,--yet in this strait of life how he
shrinks from them both!--souls at war with life and man, without
holiness, without perfume!
Is it the law of things? 'Once loosen a man's _religio_, once fling
away the old binding elements, the old traditional restraints which
have made him what he is, and moral deterioration is certain.' How
often he has heard it said! How often he has endorsed it! Is it
true? His heart grows cold within him. What good man can ever
contemplate with patience the loss--not of friends or happiness,
but of his best self? What shall it profit a man, indeed, if he
gain the whole world--the whole world of knowledge, and speculation,--and
_lose his own soul_?
And then, for his endless comfort, there rose on the inward eye the
vision of an Oxford lecture room, of a short, sturdy figure, of a
great brow over honest eyes, of words alive with moral passion, of
thought instinct with the beauty of holiness. Thank God for the
saint in Henry Grey! Thinking of it, Robert felt his own self-respect
Oh! to see Grey in the flesh, to get his advice, his approval!
Even though it was the depth of vacation, Grey was so closely
connected with the town, as distinguished from the university, life
of Oxford, it might be quite possible to find him at home. Elsmere
suddenly determined to find out at once if he could be seen.
And if so, he would go over to Oxford at once. _This_ should be the
next step, and he would say nothing to Catherine till afterward.
He felt himself so dull, so weary, so resourceless. Grey should
help and counsel him, should send him back with a clearer brain--a
quicker ingenuity of love, better furnished against her pain and
Then everything else was forgotten; and he thought of nothing but
that grisly moment of waiting in the empty room, when still believing
it night, he had put out his hand for his wife, and with a superstitious
pang had found himself alone. His heart torn with a hundred
inarticulate cries of memory and grief, he sat on beside the water,
unconscious of the passing of time, his gray eyes staring sightlessly
at the wood-pigeons as they flew past him, at the occasional flash
of a kingfisher, at the moving panorama of summer clouds above the
At last he was startled back to consciousness by the fall of a few
heavy drops of warm rain. He looked at his watch. It was nearly
four o'clock. He rose, stiff and cramped with sitting and at the
same instant he saw beyond the birchwood on the open stretch of
common, a boy's figure, which, after a start or two, he recognized
as Ned Irwin.
'You here, Ned?' he said, stopping, the pastoral temper in him
reasserting itself at once. 'Why aren't you harvesting?'
'Please, sir, I finished with the Hall medders yesterday, and Mr.
Carter's job don't begin till to-morrow. He's got a machine coming
from Witley, he hev, and they won't let him have it till Thursday,
so I've been out after things for the club.'
And opening the tin box strapped on his back, he showed the day's
capture of butterflies, and some belated birds' eggs, the plunder
of a bit of common where the turf for the winter's burning was just
Goatsucker, linnet, stonechat,' said the Rector, fingering them.
'Well done for August, Ned. If you haven't got anything better to
do with them, give them to that small boy of Mr. Carter's that's
been ill so long. He'd thank you for them, I know.'
The lad nodded with a guttural sound of assent. Then his new-born
scientific ardor seemed to struggle with his rustic costiveness of
'I've been just watching a queer creetur,' he said at last hurriedly;
'I b'leeve he's that un.'
And he pulled out a well-thumbed handbook, and pointed to a cut of
the grasshopper warbler.
'Whereabouts?' asked Robert, wondering the while at his own start
'In that bit of common t'other side the big pond,' said Ned pointing,
his brick-red countenance kindling into suppressed excitement.
'Come and show me!' said the Rector, and the two went off together.
And sure enough, after a little beating about, they heard the note
which had roused the lad's curiosity, the loud whirr of a creature
that should have been a grasshopper, and was not.
They stalked the bird a few yards, stooping and crouching, Robert's
eager hand on the boy's arm, whenever the clumsy rustic movements
made too much noise among the underwood. They watched it uttering
its jarring imitative note on bush after bush, just dropping to the
ground as they came near, and flitting a yard or two farther, but
otherwise showing no sign of alarm at their presence. Then suddenly
the impulse which had been leading him on died in the Rector. He
stood upright, with a long sigh.
'I must go home, Ned,' he said abruptly. 'Where are you off to?'
'Please, sir, there's my sister at the cottage, her as married Jim,
the under-keeper. I be going there for my tea.'
'Come along then, we can go together.'
They trudged along in silence; presently Robert turned on his
'Ned, this natural history has been a fine thing for you, my lad;
mind you stick to it. That and good work will make a man of you.
When I go away----'
The boy started and stopped dead, his dumb animal eyes fixed on his
'You know I shall soon be going off on my holiday,' said Robert
smiling faintly; adding hurriedly as the boy's face resumed its
ordinary expression, 'but some day, Ned, I shall go for good. I
don't know whether you've been depending on me--you and some of the
others. I think perhaps you have. If so, don't depend on me, Ned,
any more! It must all come to an end--everything must--
_everything!_--except the struggle to be a man in the world, and not
a beast--to make one's heart clean and soft, and not hard and vile.
That is the one thing that matters, and lasts. Ah, never forget
that, Ned! Never forget it!'
He stood still, towering over the slouching thickset form beside
him, his pale intensity of look giving a rare dignity and beauty
to the face which owed so little of its attractiveness to comeliness
of feature. He had the makings of a true shepherd of men, and his
mind as he spoke was crossed by a hundred different currents of
feeling,--bitterness, pain, and yearning unspeakable. No man could
feel the wrench that lay before him more than he.
Ned Irwin said not a word. His heavy lids were dropped over his
deep-set eyes; he stood motionless, nervously fiddling with his
butterfly net--awkwardness, and, as it seemed, irresponsiveness,
in his whole attitude.
Robert gathered himself together.
'Well, good night, my lad,' he said with a change of tone. 'Good
luck to you; be off to your tea!'
And he turned away, striding swiftly over the short burnt August
grass, in the direction of the Murewell woods, which rose in a blue
haze of heat against the slumberous afternoon sky. He had not gone
a hundred yards, before he heard a clattering after him. He stopped
and Ned came up with him.
'They're heavy, them things,' said the boy, desperately blurting
it out, and pointing, with heaving chest and panting breath, to the
rod and basket. 'I am going that way, I can leave un at the rectory.'
Robert's eyes gleamed.
'They are no weight, Ned--'cause why? I've been lazy and caught
no fish! But there,'--after a moment's hesitation, he slipped off
the basket and rod, and put them into the begrimed hands held out
for them. 'Bring them when you like; I don't know when I shall
want them again. Thank you, and God bless you!'
The boy was off with his booty in a second.
'Perhaps he'll like to think he did it for me, by-and-by,' said
Robert sadly to himself, moving on, a little moisture in the clear
About three o'clock next day Robert was in Oxford. The night before,
he had telegraphed to ask if Grey was at home. The reply had
been--'Here for a week on way north; come by all means.' Oh! that
look of Catherine's when he had told her of his plan, trying in
vain to make it look merely casual and ordinary.
'It is more than a year since I have set eyes on Grey, Catherine.
And the day's change would be a boon. I could stay at night at
Morton, and get home early next day.'
But as he turned a pleading look to her, he had been startled by
the sudden rigidity of face and form. Her silence had in it an
intense, almost a haughty, reproach, which she was too keenly hurt
to put into words.
He caught her by the arm, and drew her forcibly to him. There he
made her look into the eyes which were full of nothing but the most
passionate, imploring affection.
'Have patience a little more, Catherine!' he just murmured. 'Oh,
how I have blessed you for silence! Only till I come back!'
'Till you come back,' she repeated slowly. 'I cannot bear it any
longer, Robert, that you should give others your confidence, and
He groaned and let her go. No--there should be but one day more
of silence, and that day was interposed for her sake. If Grey from
his calmer standpoint bade him wait and test himself, before taking
any irrevocable step, he would obey him. And if so, the worst pang
of all need not yet be inflicted on Catherine, though as to his
state of mind he would be perfectly open with her.
A few hours later his cab deposited him at the well-known door.
It seemed to him that he and the scorched plane-trees lining the
sides of the road were the only living things in the wide sun-beaten
Every house was shut up. Only the Greys' open windows, amid their
shuttered neighbors, had a friendly human air.
Yes; Mr. Grey was in, and expecting Mr. Elsmere. Robert climbed
the dim, familiar staircase, his heart beating fast.
'Elsmere--this _is_ a piece of good fortune!'
And the two men, after a grasp of the hand, stood fronting each
other: Mr. Grey, a light of pleasure on the rugged, dark-complexioned
face, looking up at his taller and paler visitor.
But Robert could find nothing to say in return; and in an instant
Mr. Grey's quick eye detected the strained, nervous emotion of the
man before him.
'Come and sit down, Elsmere--there, in the window, where we can
talk. One has to live on this east side of the house this weather.'
'In the first place,' said Mr. Grey, scrutinizing him, as he returned
to his own book-littered corner of the window-seat. 'In the first
place, my dear fellow, I can't congratulate you on your appearance.
I never saw a man look in worse condition--to be up and about.'
'That's nothing!' said Robert almost impatiently. 'I want a holiday,
I believe. Grey!' and he looked nervously out over garden and apple
trees, 'I have come very selfishly, to ask your advice; to throw a
trouble upon you, to claim all your friendship can give me.'
He stopped. Mr. Grey was silent--his expression changing instantly--the
bright eyes profoundly, anxiously attentive.
'I have just come to the conclusion,' said Robert, after a moment,
with quick abruptness, 'that I ought, now--at this moment--to leave
the Church, and give up my living, for reasons which I shall describe
to you. But before I act on the conclusion, I wanted the light of
your mind upon it, seeing that--that--other persons than myself are
'Give up your living!' echoed Mr. Grey in a low voice of astonishment.
He sat looking at the face and figure of the man before him with
a half-frowning expression. How often Robert had seen some rash
exuberant youth quelled by that momentary frown! Essentially
conservative as was the inmost nature of the man, for all his
radicalism, there were few things for which Henry Grey felt more
instinctive, distaste than for unsteadiness of will and purpose,
however glorified by fine names. Robert knew it, and, strangely
enough, felt for a moment in the presence of the heretical tutor
as a culprit before a judge.
'It is, of course, a matter of opinions,' he said, with an effort.
'Do you remember, before I took Orders, asking whether I had ever
had difficulties, and I told you that I had probably never gone
deep enough. It was profoundly true, though I didn't really mean
it. But this year--No, no, I have not been merely vain and hasty!
I may be a shallow creature, but it has been natural growth, not
And at last his eyes met Mr. Grey's firmly, almost with solemnity.
It was as if in the last few moments he had been instinctively
testing the quality of his own conduct and motives, by the touchstone
of the rare personality beside him, and they had stood the trial.
There was such pain, such sincerity, above all such freedom from
littleness of soul implied in words and look, that Mr. Grey quickly
held out his hand. Robert grasped it, and felt that the way was
clear before him.
'Will you give me an account of it?' said Mr. Grey, and his tone
was grave sympathy itself. 'Or would you rather confine yourself
to generalities and accomplished facts?'
'I will try and give you an account of it,' said Robert; and sitting
there with his elbows on his knees, his gaze fixed on the yellowing
afternoon sky, and the intricacies of the garden walls between them
and the new Museum, he went through the history of the last two
years. He described the beginnings of his historical work, the
gradual enlargement of the mind's horizons, and the intrusions
within them of question after question, and subject after subject.
Then he mentioned the Squire's name.
'Ah!' exclaimed Mr. Grey, 'I had forgotten you were that man's
neighbor. I wonder he didn't set you against the whole business,
inhuman old cynic!'
He spoke with the strong, dislike of the idealist, devoted in
practice to an every-day ministry to human need, for the intellectual
egotist. Robert caught and relished the old pugnacious flash in
the eye, the Midland strength of accent.
'Cynic he is, not altogether inhuman, I think. I fought him about
his drains and his cottages, however,'--and he smiled sadly--'before
I began to read his books. But the man's genius is incontestable,
his learning enormous. He found me in a susceptible state, and I
recognize that his influence immensely accelerated a process already
Mr. Grey was struck with the simplicity and fulness of the avowal.
A lesser man would hardly have made it in the same way. Rising
to pace up and down the room--the familiar action recalling vividly
to Robert the Sunday afternoons of bygone years--he began to put
questions with a clearness and decision that made them so many
guides to the man answering, through the tangle of his own
'I see,' said the tutor at last, his hands in the pockets of his
short gray coat, his brow bent and thoughtful. 'Well, the process
in you has been the typical process of the present day. Abstract
thought has had little or nothing to say to it. It has been all a
question of literary and historical evidence. _I_ am old-fashioned
enough'--and he smiled--'to stick to the _a priori_ impossibility
of miracles, but then I am a philosopher! You have come to see how
miracle is manufactured, to recognize in it merely a natural,
inevitable outgrowth of human testimony, in its pre-scientific
stages. It has been all experimental, inductive. I imagine'--he
looked up--'you didn't get much help out of the orthodox apologists?'
Robert shrugged his shoulders.
'It often seems to me,' he said drearily, 'I might have got through,
but for the men whose books I used to read and respect most in old
days. The point of view is generally so extraordinarily limited.
Westcott, for instance, who means so much nowadays to the English
religious world, first isolates Christianity from all the other
religious phenomena of the world, and then argues upon its details.
You might as well isolate English jurisprudence, and discuss its
details without any reference to Teutonic custom or Roman law! You
may be as logical or as learned as you like within the limits chosen,
but the whole result is false! You treat Christian witness and
Biblical literature as you would treat no other witness, and no
other literature in the world. And you cannot show cause enough.
For your reasons depend on the very witness under dispute. And so
you go on arguing in a circle, _ad infinitum_.'
But his voice dropped. The momentary eagerness died away as quickly
as it had risen, leaving nothing but depression behind it.
Mr. Grey meditated. At last he said, with a delicate change of
'And now--if I may ask it, Elsmere--how far has this destructive
'I can't tell you,' said Robert, turning away almost with a groan--'I
only know that the things I loved once I love still, and that--that--if
I had the heart to think at all, I should see more of God in the
world than I ever saw before!'
The tutor's eye flashed. Robert had gone back to the window, and
was miserably looking out. After all, he had told only half his
'And so you feel you must give up your living?'
'What else is there for me to do?' cried Robert, turning upon him,
startled by the slow, deliberate tone.
'Well, of course, you know that there are many men, men with whom
both you and I are acquainted, who hold very much what I imagine
your opinions now are, or will settle into, who are still in the
Church of England, doing admirable work there!'
'I know,' said Elsmere quickly; I know! I cannot conceive it, nor
could you. Imagine standing up Sunday after Sunday to say the
things you do _not_ believe,--using words as a convention which
those who hear you receive as literal truth,--and trusting the
maintenance of your position either to your neighbor's forbearance
or to your own powers of evasion! With the ideas at present in my
head, nothing would induce me to preach another Easter Day sermon
to a congregation that have both a moral and a legal right to demand
from me an implicit belief in the material miracle!'
'Yes,--said the other gravely--'Yes, I believe you are right. It
can't be said the Broad Church movement has helped us much! How
greatly it promised!--how little it has performed!--For the private
person, the worshipper, it is different--or I think so. No man
pries into our prayers; and to out ourselves off from common worship
is to lose that fellowship which is in itself a witness and vehicle
But his tone had grown hesitating, and touched with melancholy.
There was a moment's silence. Then Robert walked up to him again.
'At the same time,' he said falteringly, standing before the elder
man, as he might have stood as an undergraduate, 'let me not be
rash! If you think this change has been too rapid to last--if you,
knowing me better than at this moment I can know myself--if you bid
me wait awhile, before I take any overt step, I will wait--oh, God
knows I will wait!--my wife--' and his husky voice failed him
'Your wife!' cried Mr. Grey, startled. 'Mrs. Elsmere does not
'My wife knows nothing, or almost nothing--and it will break her
He moved hastily away again, and stood with his back to his friend,
his tall narrow form outlined against the window. Mr. Grey was
left in dismay, rapidly turning over the impressions of Catherine
left on him by his last year's sight of her. That pale distinguished
woman with her look of strength and character,--he remembered
Langham's analysis of her, and of the silent religious intensity
she had brought with her from her training among the northern hills.
Was there a bitterly human tragedy preparing under all this
thought-drama he had been listening to?
Deeply moved, he went up to Robert, and laid his rugged hand almost
timidly upon him.
'Elsmere, it won't break her heart! You are a good man. She is a
good woman.' What an infinity of meaning there was in the simple
words! 'Take courage. Tell her at once--tell her everything--and
let _her_ decide whether there shall be any waiting. I cannot help
you there; she can; she will probably understand you better than
you understand yourself.'
He tightened his grasp, and gently pushed his guest into a chair
beside him. Robert was deadly pale, his face quivering painfully.
The long physical strain of the past months had weakened for the
moment all the controlling forces of the will. Mr. Grey stood over
him--the whole man dilating, expanding, under a tyrannous stress
'It is hard, it is bitter,' he said slowly, with a wonderful manly
tenderness. 'I know it, I have gone through it. So has many and
many a poor soul that you and I have known! But there need be no
sting in the wound unless we ourselves envenom it. I know--oh! I
know very well--the man of the world scoffs, but to him who has
once been a Christian of the old sort, the parting with the Christian
mythology is the rending asunder of bones and marrow. It means
parting with half the confidence, half the joy, of life! But take
heart'--and the tone grew still more solemn, still more penetrating.
'It is the education of God! Do not imagine it will put you farther
from him! He is in criticism, in science, in doubt, so long as the
doubt is a pure and honest doubt, as yours is. He is in all life,--in
all thought. The thought of man, as it has shaped itself in
institutions, in philosophies, in science, in patient critical work,
or in the life of charity, is the one continuous revelation of God!
Look for him in it all; see how, little by little, the Divine
indwelling force, using as its tools,--but _merely_ as its tools!--man's
physical appetites and conditions, has built up conscience and the
moral life:--think how every faculty of the mind has been trained
in turn to take its part in the great work of faith upon the visible
world! Love and imagination built up religion,--shall reason destroy
it? No! reason is God's like the rest! Trust it,--trust Him. The
leading strings of the past are dropping from you; they are dropping
from the world, not wantonly, or by chance, but in the providence
of God. Learn the lesson of your own pain,--learn to seek God, not
in any single event of past history, but in your own soul,--in the
constant verifications of experience, in the life of Christian love.
Spiritually you have gone through the last wrench, I promise it
you! You being what you are, nothing can out this ground from under
your feet. Whatever may have been the forms of human belief--_faith_,
the faith which saves, has always been rooted here! All things
change,--creeds and philosophies and outward systems,--but God
"'Life, that in me has rest,
As I, undying Life, have power in Thee!'"
The lines dropped with low vibrating force from lips unaccustomed
indeed to such an outburst. The speaker stood a moment longer in
silence beside the figure in the chair, and it seemed to Robert,
gazing at him with fixed eyes, that the man's whole presence, at
once so homely and so majestic, was charged with benediction. It
was as though invisible hands of healing and consecration had been
laid upon him. The fiery soul beside him had kindled anew the
drooping life of his own. So the torch of God passes on its way,
hand reaching out to hand.
He bent forward, stammering incoherent words of assent and gratitude,
he knew not what. Mr. Grey, who had sunk into his chair, gave him
time to recover himself. The intensity of the tutor's own mood
relaxed; and presently he began to talk to his guest, in a wholly
different tone, of the practical detail of the step before him,
supposing it to be taken immediately, discussing the probable
attitude of Robert's bishop, the least conspicuous mode of withdrawing
from the living, and so on--all with gentleness and sympathy indeed,
but with an indefinable change of manner, which showed that he felt
it well both for himself and Elsmere to repress any further expression
of emotion. There was something, a vein of stoicism perhaps, in
Mr. Grey's temper of mind, which, while it gave a special force and
sacredness to his rare moments of fervent speech, was wont in general
to make men more self-controlled than usual in his presence. Robert
felt now the bracing force of it.
'Will you stay with us to dinner?' Mr. Grey asked when at last
Elsmere got up to go. 'There are one or two lone Fellows coming,
asked before your telegram came, of course. Do exactly as you
'I think not,' said Robert, after a pause. 'I longed to see you,
but I am--not fit for general society.'
Mr. Grey did not press him. He rose and went with his visitor to
'Good-by, good-by! Let me always know what I can do for you. And
your wife--poor thing, poor thing! Go and tell her, Elsmere: don't
lose a moment you can help. God help her and you!'
They grasped each other's hands. Mr. Grey followed him down the
stairs and along the narrow hall. He opened the hall door, and
smiled a last smile of encouragement and sympathy into the eyes
that expressed such a young moved gratitude. The door closed.
Little did Elsmere realize that never, in this life, would he see
that smile or hear that voice again!
In half an hour from the time Mr. Grey's door closed upon him,
Elsmere had caught a convenient cross-country train, and had left
the Oxford towers and spires, the shrunken summer Isis, and the
flat, hot, river meadows far behind him. He had meant to stay at
Merton, as we know, for the night. Now, his one thought was to get
back to Catherine. The urgency of Mr. Grey's words was upon him,
and love had a miserable pang that it should have needed to be
By eight o'clock he was again at Churton. There were no carriages
waiting at the little station, but the thought of the walk across
the darkening common through the August moonrise, had been a
refreshment to him in the heat and crowd of the train. He hurried
through the small town, where the streets were full of simmer idlers,
and the lamps were twinkling in the still balmy air, along a dusty
stretch of road, leaving man and his dwellings, farther and farther
to the rear of him, till at last he emerged on a boundless tract
of common, and struck to the right into a cart-track leading to
He was on the top of a high sandy ridge, looking west and north,
over a wide evening world of heather, and wood and hill. To the
right, far ahead, across the misty lower grounds into which he was
soon to plunge, rose the woods of Murewell, black and massive in
the twilight distance. To the left, but on a nearer plane, the
undulating common stretching downward from where he stood, rose
suddenly toward a height crowned with a group of gaunt and jagged
firs--land-marks for all the plain--of which every ghostly bough
and crest was now sharply outlined against a luminous sky. For the
wide heaven in front of him was still delicately glowing in all its
under parts with soft harmonies of dusky red or blue, while in its
higher zone the same tract of sky was closely covered with the
finest network of pearl-white cloud, suffused at the moment with a
silver radiance so intense, that a spectator might almost have
dreamed the moon had forgotten its familiar place of rising, and
was about to mount into a startled expectant west. Not a light in
all the wide expanse, and for a while not a sound of human life,
save the beat of Robert's step, or the occasional tap of his stick
against the pebbles of the road.
Presently he reached the edge of the ridge, whence the rough track
he was following sank sharply to the lower levels. Here was a
marvellous point of view, and the Rector stood a moment, beside a
bare weather-blasted fir, a ghostly shadow thrown behind him. All
around the gorse and heather seemed still radiating light, as though
the air had been so drenched in sunshine that even long after the
sun had vanished the invading darkness found itself still unable
to win firm possession of earth and sky. Every little stone in the
sandy road was still weirdly visible: the color of the heather, now
in lavish bloom, could be felt though hardly seen.
Before him melted line after line of woodland, broken by hollow
after hollow, filled with vaporous wreaths of mist. About him were
the sounds of a wild nature. The air was resonant with the purring
of the night-jars, and every now and then he caught the loud clap
of their wings as they swayed unsteadily through the furze and
bracken. Overhead a trio of wild ducks flew across, from pond to
pond, their hoarse cry descending through the darkness. The
partridges on the hill called to each other, and certain sharp
sounds betrayed to the solitary listener the presence of a flock
of swans on a neighboring pool.
The Rector felt himself alone on a wide earth. It was almost with
a sort of pleasure that he caught at last the barking of dogs on a
few distant farms, or the dim thunderous rush of a train through
the wide wooded landscape beyond the heath. Behind that frowning,
mass of wood lay the rectory. The lights must be lit in the little
drawing-room; Catherine must be sitting by the lamp, her fine head
bent over book or work, grieving for him perhaps, her anxious
expectant heart going out to him through the dark. He thinks of
the village lying wrapped in the peace of the August night, the
lamp rays from shop-front or casement streaming out on to the green;
he thinks of his child, of his dead mother feeling heavy and bitter
within him all the time the message of separation and exile.
But his mood was no longer one of mere dread, of helpless pain, of
miserable self-scorn. Contact with Henry Grey had brought him that
rekindling of the flame of conscience, that medicinal stirring of
the soul's waters, which is the most precious boon that man can
give to man. In that sense which attaches to every successive
resurrection of our best life from the shades of despair or
selfishness, he had that day, almost that hour, been born again.
He was no longer filled mainly with the sense of personal failure,
with scorn for his own blundering, impetuous temper, so lacking in
prescience and in balance; or, in respect to his wife, with such
an anguished impotent remorse. He was nerved and braced; whatever
oscillations the mind might go through in its search for another
equilibrium, to-night there was a moment of calm. The earth to him
was once more full of God, existence full of value.
'The things I have always loved, I love still!' he had said to Mr.
Grey. And in this healing darkness it was as if the old loves, the
old familiar images of thought, returned to him new-clad, re-entering
the desolate heart in a white-winged procession of consolation.
On the heath beside him Christ stood once more, and as the disciple
felt the sacred presence, he could bear for the first time to let
the chafing, pent-up current of love flow into the new channels,
so painfully prepared for it by the toil of thought. '_Either God
or an impostor_.' What scorn the heart, the intellect, threw on
the alternative! Not in the dress of speculations which represent
the product of long past, long superseded looms of human thought,
but in the guise of common manhood, laden like his fellows with the
pathetic weight of human weakness and human ignorance, the Master
moves toward him--
'_Like you, my son, I struggled and I prayed. Like you, I had my
days of doubt and nights of wrestling. I had my dreams, my delusions,
with my fellows. I was weak; I suffered; I died. But God was in
me, and the courage, the patience, the love He gave to me; the
scenes of the poor human life He inspired; have become by His will
the world's eternal lesson--man's primer of Divine things, hung
high in the eyes of all, simple and wise, that all may see and all
may learn. Take it to your heart again--that life, that pain, of
mine! Use it to new ends; apprehend it in new ways; but knowledge
shall not take it from you; love, instead of weakening or forgetting,
if it be but faithful, shall find ever fresh power of realizing and
So said the vision; and carrying the passion of it deep in his heart
the Rector went his way, down the long stony hill, past the solitary
farm amid the trees at the foot of it, across the grassy common
beyond, with its sentinel clumps of beeches, past an ethereal string
of tiny lakes just touched by the moonrise, beside some of the first
cottages of Murewell, up the hill, with pulse beating and step
quickening, and round into the stretch of road leading to his own
As soon as he had passed the screen made by the shrubs on the lawn,
he saw it all as be had seen it in his waking dream on the common--the
lamp-light, the open windows, the white muslin curtains swaying a
little in the soft evening air, and Catherine's figure seen dimly
The noise of the gate, however--of the steps on the drive--had
startled her. He saw her rise quickly from her low chair, put some
work down beside her, and move in haste to the window.
'Robert!' she cried in amazement.
'Yes,' he answered, still some yards from her, his voice coming
strangely to her out of the moonlit darkness. 'I did my errand
early; I found I could get back; and here, I am.'
She flew to the door, opened it, and felt herself caught in his
'Robert, you are quite damp!' she said, fluttering and shrinking,
for all her sweet habitual gravity of manner--was it the passion
of that yearning embrace? 'Have you walked?'
'Yes. It is the dew on the common I suppose. The grass was
'Will you have some food? They can bring back the supper directly.'
'I don't want any food now,' he said banging up his hat; I got some
lunch in town, and a cup of soup at Reading coming back. Perhaps
you will give me some tea soon--not yet.'
He came up to her, pushing back the thick disordered locks of hair
from his eyes with one hand, the other held out to her. As he came
under the light of the hall lamp she was so startled by the gray
pallor of the face that she caught hold of his outstretched hand
with both hers. What she said he never knew--her look was enough.
He put his arm round her, and as he opened the drawing-room door
holding her pressed against him, she felt the desperate agitation
in him penetrating, beating against an almost iron self-control of
manner. He shut the door behind them.
'Robert! dear Robert,' she said, clinging to him--'there is bad
news,--tell me--there is something to tell me! Oh! what is it--what
It was almost like a child's wail. His brow contracted still more
'My darling,' he said; 'my darling--my dear, dear wife!' and he
bent his head down to her as she lay against his breast, kissing
her hair with a passion of pity, of remorse, of tenderness, which
seemed to rend his whole nature.
'Tell me--tell me--Robert!'
He guided her gently across the room, past the sofa over which her
work lay scattered, past the flower-table, now a many-colored mass
of roses, which was her especial pride, past the remains of a brick
castle which had delighted Mary's wondering eyes and mischievous
fingers an hour or two before, to a low chair by the open window
looking on the wide moonlit expanse of cornfield. He put her into
it, walked to the window on the other side of the room, shut it,
and drew down the blind. Then he went back to her, and sank down
beside her, kneeling, her hands in his--
'My dear wife--you have loved me--you do love me?'
She could not answer, she could only press his hands with her cold
fingers, with a look and gesture that implored him to speak.
'Catherine'--he said, still kneeling before her--'you remember that
night you came down to me in the study, the night I told you I was
in trouble and you could not help me. Did you guess from what I
said what the trouble was?'
'Yes,' she answered trembling, 'yes, I did, Robert; I thought you
were depressed--troubled--about religion.'
'And I know,'--he said with an outburst of feeling, kissing her
hands as they lay in his--'I know very well that you went up stairs
and prayed for me, my white-souled angel! But Catherine, the trouble
grew--it got blacker and blacker. You were there beside me, and
you could not help me. I dared not tell you about it; I could only
struggle on alone, so terribly alone, sometimes; and now I am beaten,
beaten. And I come to you to ask you to help me in the only thing
that remains to me. Help me, Catherine, to be an honest man--to
follow conscience--to say and do the truth!'
'Robert,' she said piteously, deadly pale; 'I don't understand.'
'Oh, my poor darling!' he cried, with a kind of moan of pity and
misery. Then still holding her, he said, with strong deliberate
emphasis, looking into the gray-blue eyes--the quivering face so
full of austerity and delicacy,--
'For six or seven months, Catherine--really for much longer, though
I never knew it--I have been fighting with _doubt_--doubt of orthodox
Christianity--doubt of what the Church teaches--of what I have to
say and preach every Sunday. First it crept on me I knew not how.
Then the weight grew heavier, and I began to struggle with it. I
felt I must struggle with it. Many men, I suppose, in my position
would have trampled on their doubts--would have regarded them as
sin in themselves, would have felt it their duty to ignore them as
much as possible, trusting to time and God's help. I _could_ not
ignore them. The thought of questioning the most sacred beliefs
that you and I--' and his voice faltered a moment--'held in common,
was misery to me. On the other hand, I knew myself. I knew that
I could no more go on living to any purpose, with a whole region
of the mind shut up, as it were, barred away from the rest of me,
than I could go on living with a secret between myself and You. I
could not hold my faith by a mere tenure of tyranny and fear. Faith
that is not free--that is not the faith of the whole creature, body,
soul, and intellect--seemed to me a faith worthless both to God and
Catherine looked at him stupefied. The world seemed to be turning
round her. Infinitely more terrible than his actual words was the
accent running through words and tone and gesture--the accent of
irreparableness, as of something dismally _done_ and _finished_.
What did it all mean? For what had he brought her there? She sat
stunned, realizing with awful force the feebleness, the inadequacy,
of her own fears.
He, meanwhile, had paused a moment, meeting her gaze with those
yearning, sunken eyes. Then he went on, his voice changing a little.
'But if I had wished it ever so much, I could not have helped myself.
The process, so to speak, had gone too far by the time I knew where
I was. I think the change must have begun before the Mile End time.
Looking back, I see the foundations were laid in--in--the work of
She shivered. He stooped and kissed her hands again passionately.
'Am I poisoning even the memory of our past for you?' he cried.
Then, restraining himself at once, be hurried on again--'After Mile
End you remember I began to see much of the Squire. Oh, my wife,
don't look at me so! It was not his doing in any true sense. I
am not such a weak shuttlecock as that! But being where I was
before our intimacy began, his influence hastened everything. I
don't wish to minimize it. I was not made to stand alone!'
And again that bitter, perplexed, half-scornful sense of his own
pliancy at the hands of circumstance as compared with the rigidity
of other men, descended upon him. Catherine made a faint movement
as though to draw her hands away.
'Was it well,' she said, in a voice which sounded like a harsh echo
of her own, 'was it right for a clergyman to discuss sacred
things--with such a man?'
He let her hands go, guided for the moment by a delicate imperious
instinct which bade him appeal to something else than love. Rising,
he sat down opposite to her on the low window seat, while she sank
back into her chair, her fingers clinging to the arm of it, the
lamp-light far behind deepening all the shadows of the face, the
hollows in the cheeks, the line of experience and will about the
mouth. The stupor in which she had just listened to him was beginning
to break up. Wild forces of condemnation and resistance were rising
in her; and he knew it. He knew, too, that as yet she only half
realized the situation, and that blow after blow still remained to
him to deal.
'Was it right that I should discuss religious matters with the
Squire?' he repeated, his face resting on his hands. 'What are
religious matters, Catherine, and what are not?'
Then still controlling himself rigidly, his eyes fixed on the shadowy
face of his wife, his ear catching her quick uneven breath, he went
once more through the dismal history of the last few months, dwelling
on his state of thought before the intimacy with Mr. Wendover began,
on his first attempts to escape the Squire's influence, on his
gradual pitiful surrender. Then he told the story of the last
memorable walk before the Squire's journey, of the moment in the
study afterward, and of the months of feverish reading and wrestling
which had followed. Half-way through it a new despair seized him.
What was the good of all he was saying? He was speaking a language
she did not really understand. What were all these critical and
literary considerations to her?
The rigidity of her silence showed him that her sympathy was not
with him, that in comparison with the vibrating protest of her own
passionate faith which must be now ringing through her, whatever
he could urge must seem to her the merest culpable trifling with
the soul's awful destinies. In an instant of tumultuous speech he
could not convey to her the temper and results of his own complex
training, and on that training, as he very well knew, depended the
piercing, convincing force of all that he was saying. There were
gulfs between them--gulfs which as it seemed to him in a miserable
insight, could never be bridged again. Oh! the frightful separateness
Still he struggled on. He brought the story down to the conversation
at the Hall, described--in broken words of fire and pain--the moment
of spiritual wreck which had come upon him in the August lane, his
night of struggle, his resolve to go to Mr. Grey. And all through
he was not so much narrating as pleading a cause, and that not his
own, but Love's. Love was at the bar, and it was for love that the
eloquent voice, the pale varying face, were really pleading, through
all the long story of intellectual change.
At the mention of Mr. Grey, Catherine grew restless, she sat up
suddenly, with a cry of bitterness.
'Robert, why did you go away from me? It was cruel. I should have
known first. He had no right--no right!'
She clasped her hands round her knees, her beautiful mouth set and
stern. The moon had been sailing westward all this time, and as
Catherine bent forward the yellow light caught her face, and brought
out the haggard change in it. He held out his hands to her with a
low groan, helpless against her reproach, her jealousy. He dared
not speak of what Mr. Grey had done for him, of the tenderness of
his counsel toward her specially. He felt that everything he could
say would but torture the wounded heart still more.
But she did not notice the outstretched hands. She covered her
face in silence a moment as though trying to see her way more clearly
through the maze of disaster; and he waited. At last she looked
'I cannot follow all you have been saying,' she said, almost harshly.
'I know so little of books, I cannot give them the place you do.
You say you have convinced yourself the Gospels are like other
books, full of mistakes, and credulous, like the people of the time;
and therefore you can't take what they say as you used to take it.
But what does it all quite mean? Oh, I am not clever--I cannot
see my way clear from thing to thing as you do. If there are
mistakes, does it matter so--so--terribly to you?' and she faltered.
'Do you think _nothing_ is true because something may be false?
Did not--did not--Jesus still live, and die, and rise again?--_can_
you doubt--_do_ you doubt--that He rose--that He is God--that He
is in heaven--that we shall see Him?'
She threw an intensity into every word, which made the short,
breathless questions thrill through him, through the nature saturated
and steeped as hers was in Christian association, with a bitter
accusing force. But he did not flinch from them.
'I can believe no longer in an incarnation and resurrection,' he
said slowly, but with a resolute plainness. 'Christ is risen in
our hearts, in the Christian life of charity. Miracle is a natural
product of human feeling and imagination and God was in
Jesus--pre-eminently, as He is in all great souls, but not
otherwise--not otherwise in kind than He is in me or you.'
His voice dropped to a whisper. She grow paler and paler.
'So to you,' she said presently in the same strange altered voice,
'my father--when I saw that light on his face before he died, when
I heard him cry, "Master, _I come!_" was dying--deceived--deluded.
Perhaps even,' and she trembled, 'you think it ends here--our
It was agony to him to see her driving herself through this piteous
catechism. The lantern of memory flashed a moment on to the immortal
picture of Faust and Margaret. Was it not only that winter they
had read the scene together?
Forcibly he possessed himself once more of those closely locked
hands, pressing their coldness on his own burning eyes and forehead
in hopeless silence.
'Do you, Robert?' she repeated insistently.
'I know nothing,' he said, his eyes still hidden. 'I know nothing!
But I trust God with all that is clearest to me, with our love,
with the soul that is His breath, His work in us!'
The pressure of her despair seemed to be wringing his own faith out
of him, forcing into definiteness things and thoughts that had been
lying in an accepted, even a welcomed, obscurity.
She tried again to draw her hands away, but he would not let them
go. 'And the end of it all, Robert?' she said--'the end of it?'
Never did he forget the note of that question, the desolation of
it, the indefinable change of accent. It drove him into a harsh
abruptness of reply--
'The end of it--so far--must be, if I remain an honest man, that I
must give up my living, that I must cease to be a minister of the
Church of England. What the course of our life after that shall
be, is in your hands--absolutely.'
She caught her breath painfully. His heart was breaking for her,
and yet there was something in her manner now which kept down
caresses and repressed all words.
Suddenly, however, as he sat there mutely watching her, he found
her at his knees, her dear arms around him, her face against his
'Robert, my husband, my darling, it _cannot_ be! It is a madness--a
delusion. God is trying you, and me! You cannot be planning so
to desert Him, so to deny Christ--you cannot, my husband. Come
away with me, away from books and work, into some quiet place where
He can make Himself heard. You are overdone, overdriven. Do nothing
now--say nothing--except to me. Be patient a little and He will
give you back himself! What can books and arguments matter to you
or me? Have we not _known_ and _felt_ Him as He is--have we not,
She Pushed herself backward, smiling at him with an exquisite
tenderness. The tears were streaming down her cheeks. They were
wet on his own. Another moment and Robert would have lost the only
clew which remained to him through the mists of this bewildering
world. He would have yielded again as he had many times yielded
before, for infinitely less reason, to the urgent pressure of
another's individuality, and having jeopardized love for truth, he
would now have murdered--or tried to murder--in himself, the sense
of truth, for love.
But he did neither.
Holding her close pressed against him, he said in breaks of intense
speech: 'If you wish, Catherine, I will wait--I will wait till you
bid me speak--but I warn you--there is something dead in me--something
gone and broken. It can never live again--except in forms which
now it would only pain you more to think of. It is not that I think
differently of this point or that point--but of life and religion
altogether.--I see God's purposes in quite other proportions as it
were.--Christianity seems to me something small and local.--Behind
it, around it--including it--I see the great drama of the world,
sweeping on--led by God--from change to change, from act to act.
It is not that Christianity is false, but that it is only an imperfect
human reflection of a part of truth. Truth has never been, can
never be, contained in any one creed or system!'
She heard, but through her exhaustion, through the bitter sinking
of hope, she only half understood. Only she realized that she and
he were alike helpless--both struggling in the grip of some force
outside of themselves, inexorable, ineluctable.
Robert felt her arms relaxing, felt the dead weight of her form
against him. He raised her to her feet, he half carried her to the
door, and on to the stairs. She was nearly fainting, but her will
held her at bay. He threw open the door of their room, led her in,
lifted her--unresisting--on to the bed. Then her head fell to one
side, and her lips grew ashen. In an instant or two he had done
for her all that his medical knowledge could suggest with rapid,
decided hands. She was not quite unconscious; she drew up round
her, as though with a strong vague sense of chill the shawl he laid
over her, and gradually the slightest shade of color came back to
her lips. But as soon as she opened her eyes and met those of
Robert fixed upon her, the heavy lids dropped again.
'Would you rather be alone?' he said to her, kneeling beside her.
She made a faint affirmative movement of the head and the cold hand
he had been chafing tried feebly to withdraw itself. He rose at
once, and stood a moment beside her, looking down at her. Then he
He shut the door softly, and went downstairs again. It was between
ten and eleven. The lights in the lower passage were just extinguished;
everyone else in the house had gone to bed. Mechanically he stooped
and put away the child's bricks, he pushed the chairs back into
their places, and then he paused awhile before the open window.
But there was not a tremor on the set face. He felt himself capable
of no more emotion. The fount of feeling, of pain, was for the
moment dried up. What he was mainly noticing was the effect of
some occasional gusts of night wind on the moonlit cornfield; the
silver ripples they sent through it; the shadows thrown by some
great trees in the western corners of the field; the glory of the
moon itself in the pale immensity of the sky.
Presently he turned away, leaving one lamp still burning in the
room, softly unlocked the hall door, took his hat and went out.
He walked up and down the wood-path or sat on the bench there for
some time, thinking indeed, but thinking with a certain stern
practical dryness. Whenever he felt the thrill of feeling stealing
over him again, he would make a sharp effort at repression.
Physically he could not bear much more, and he knew it. A part
remained for him to play, which must be played with tact, with
prudence, and with firmness. Strength and nerves had been sufficiently
weakened already. For his wife's sake, his people's sake, his
honorable reputation's sake, he must guard himself from a collapse
which might mean far more than physical failure.
So in the most patient, methodical way he began to plan out the
immediate future. As to waiting, the matter was still in Catherine's
hands; but he knew that finely tempered soul; he knew that when she
had mastered her poor woman's self, as she had always mastered it
from her childhood, she would not bid him wait. He hardly took the
possibility into consideration. The proposal had had some reality
in his eyes when he went to see Mr. Grey; now it had none, though
he could hardly have explained why.
He had already made arrangements with an old Oxford friend to take
his duty during his absence on the Continent. It had been originally
suggested that this Mr. Armitstead should come to Murewell on the
Monday following the Sunday they were now approaching, spend a few
days with them before their departure, and be left to his own devices
in the house and parish, about the Thursday or Friday. An intense
desire now seized Robert to get hold of the man at once, before the
next Sunday. It was strange how the interview with his wife seemed
to have crystallized, precipitated everything. How infinitely more
real the whole matter looked to him since the afternoon! It had
passed--at any rate for the time--out of the region of thought,
into the hurrying evolution of action, and as soon as action began
it was characteristic of Robert's rapid energetic nature to feel
this thirst to make it as prompt, as complete, as possible. The
fiery soul yearned for a fresh consistency, though it were a
consistency of loss and renunciation.
To-morrow he must write to the Bishop. The Bishop's residence was
only eight or ten miles from Murewell; he supposed his interview
with him would take place about Monday or Tuesday. He could see
the tall stooping figure of the kindly old man rising to meet him--he
knew exactly the sort of arguments that would be brought to bear
upon him. Oh, that it were done with--this wearisome dialectical
necessity! His life for months had been one long argument. If he
were but left free to feel and live again.
The practical matter which weighed most heavily upon him was the
function connected with the opening of the new Institute, which had
been fixed for the Saturday-the next day but one. How was he--but
much more how was Catherine--to get through it? His lips would be
sealed as to any possible withdrawal from the living, for he could
not by then have seen the Bishop. He looked forward to the gathering,
the crowds, the local enthusiasm, the signs of his own popularity,
with a sickening distaste. The one thing real to him through it
all would be Catherine's white face, and their bitter joint
And then he said to himself, sharply, that his own feelings counted
for nothing. Catherine should be tenderly shielded from all avoidable
pain, but for himself there must be no flinching, no self-indulgent
weakness. Did he not owe every last hour he had to give to the
people among whom he had planned to spend the best energies of life,
and from whom his own act was about to part him in this lame,
Midnight! The sounds rolled silverly out, effacing the soft murmurs
of the night. So the long interminable day was over, and a new
morning had begun. He rose, listening to the echoes of the bell,
and--as the tide of feeling surged back upon him--passionately
commending the new-born day to God.
Then he turned toward the house, put the light out in the drawing-room,
and went upstairs, stepping cautiously. He opened the door of
Catherine's room. The moonlight was streaming in through the white
blinds. Catherine, who had undressed, was lying now with her face
hidden in the pillow, and one white-sleeved arm flung across little
Mary's cot. The night was hot, and the child would evidently have
thrown off all its coverings had it not been for the mother's hand,
which lay lightly on the tiny shoulder, keeping one thin blanket
in its place.
'Catherine,' he whispered, standing beside her.
She turned, and by the light of the candle he held shaded from her,
he saw the austere remoteness of her look, as of one who had been
going through deep waters of misery, alone with God. His heart
sank. For the first time that look seemed to exclude him from her
He sank down beside her, took the hand lying on the child, and laid
down his head upon it, mutely kissing it. But he said nothing.
Of what further avail could words be just then to either of them?
Only he felt through every fibre the coldness, the irresponsiveness
of those fingers lying in his.
'Would it prevent your sleeping,' he asked her presently, 'if I
came to read here, as I used to when you were ill? I could shade
the light from you, of course.'
She raised her head suddenly.
'But you--you ought to sleep.'
Her tone was anxious, but strangely quiet and aloof.
'Impossible!' he said, pressing his hand over his eyes as he rose.
'At any rate I will read first.'
His sleeplessness at any time of excitement or strain was so
inveterate, and so familiar to them both by now, that she could say
nothing. She turned away with a long sobbing breath which seemed
to go through her from head to foot. He stood a moment beside her,
fighting strong impulses of remorse and passion, and ultimately
maintaining silence and self-control.
In another minute or two he was sitting beside her feet, in a low
chair drawn to the edge of the bed, the light arranged so as to
reach his book without touching either mother or child. He had run
over the book-shelf in his own room, shrinking painfully from any
of his common religious favorites as one shrinks from touching a
still sore and throbbing nerve, and had at last carried off a volume
And so the night began to wear away. For the first hour or two,
every now and then, a stifled sob would make itself just faintly
heard. It was a sound to wring the heart for what it meant was
that not even Catherine Elsmere's extraordinary powers of
self-suppression could avail to chock the outward expression of an
inward torture. Each time it came and went, it seemed to Elsmere
that a fraction of his youth went with it.
At last exhaustion brought her a restless sleep. As soon as Elsmere
caught the light breathing which told him she was not conscious of
her grief, or of him, his book slipped on to his knee.
Open the temple gates unto my love,
Open them wide that she may enter in,
And all the posts adorn as doth behove,
And all the pillars deck with garlands trim,
For to receive this saint with honor due
That cometh in to you.
With trembling steps and humble reverence,
She cometh in before the Almighty's view.
The leaves fell over as the book dropped, and these lines, which
had been to him, as to other lovers, the utterance of his own bridal
joy, emerged. They brought about him a host of images--a little
gray church penetrated everywhere by the roar of a swollen river;
outside, a road filled with empty farmers' carts, and shouting
children carrying branches of mountain-ash--winding on and up into
the heart of wild hills dyed with reddening fern, the sun-gleams
stealing from crag to crag, and shoulder to shoulder; inside, row
after row of intent faces, all turned toward the central passage,
and, moving toward him, a figure 'clad all in white, that seems a
virgin best,' whose every step brings nearer to him the heaven of
his heart's desire. Everything is plain to him--Mrs. Thornburgh's
round checks and marvellous curls and jubilant airs,--Mrs. Leyburn's
mild and tearful pleasure, the Vicar's solid satisfaction. With
what confiding joy had those who loved her given her to him! And
he knows well that out of all griefs, the grief he has brought upon
her in two short years is the one which will seem to her hardest
to bear. Very few women of the present day could feel this particular
calamity as Catherine Elsmere must feel it.
'Was it a crime to love and win you, my darling?' he cited to her
in his heart. 'Ought I to have had more self-knowledge, could I
have guessed where I was taking you? Oh how could I know--how could
But it was impossible to him to sink himself wholly in the past.
Inevitably such a nature as Elsmere's turns very quickly from despair
to hope; from the sense of failure to the passionate planning of
new effort. In time will he not be able to comfort her, and, after
a miserable moment of transition, to repair her trust in him and
make their common life once more rich toward God and man? There
must be painful readjustment and friction no doubt. He tries to
see the facts as they truly are, fighting against his own optimist
tendencies, and realizing as best he can all the changes which his
great change must introduce into their most intimate relations.
But after all can love, and honesty, and a clear conscience do
nothing to bridge over, nay, to efface, such differences as theirs
Oh to bring her to understand him! At this moment he shrinks
painfully from the thought of touching her faith--his own sense of
loss is too heavy, too terrible. But if she will only be still
open with him--still give him her deepest heart, any lasting
difference between them will surely be impossible. Each will
complete the other, and love knit, up the ravelled strands again
into a stronger unity.
Gradually he lost himself in half-articulate prayer, in the solemn
girding of the will to this future task of a re-creating love. And
by the time the morning light had well established itself sleep had
fallen on him. When he became sensible of the longed-for drowsiness,
he merely stretched out a tired hand and drew over him a shawl
hanging at the foot of the bed. He was too utterly worn out to
think of moving.
When he woke the sun was streaming into the room, and behind him
sat the tiny Mary on the edge of the bed, the rounded apple cheeks
and wild-bird eyes aglow with mischief and delight. She had climbed
out of her cot, and, finding no check to her progress, had crept
on, till now she sat triumphantly, with one diminutive leg and rosy
foot doubled under her, and her father's thick hair at the mercy
of her invading fingers, which, however, were as yet touching him
half timidly, as though something in his sleep had awed the baby
But Catherine was gone.
He sprang up with a start. Mary was frightened by the abrupt
movement, perhaps disappointed by the escape of her prey, and raised
a sudden wail.
He carried her to her nurse, even forgetting to kiss the little wet
cheek, ascertained that Catherine was not in the house, and then
came back, miserable, with the bewilderment of sleep still upon
him. A sense of wrong rose high within him. How _could_ she have
left him thus without a word?
It had been her way sometimes, during the summer, to go out early
to one or other of the sick folk who were under her especial charge.
Possibly she had gone to a woman just confined, on the further
side of the village, who yesterday had been in danger.
But, whatever explanation he could make for himself, he was none
the less irrationally wretched. He bathed, dressed, and sat down
to his solitary meal in a state of tension and agitation indescribable.
All the exaltation, the courage of the night, was gone.
Nine o'clock, ten o'clock, and no sign of Catherine.
'Your mistress must have been detained somewhere,' he said as quietly
and carelessly as he could to Susan, the parlor-maid, who had been
with them since their marriage. 'Leave breakfast things for one.'
'Mistress took a cup of milk when she went out, cook says,' observed
the little maid with a consoling intention, wondering the while at
the Rector's haggard mien and restless movements.
'Nursing other people, indeed!' she observed severely downstairs,
glad, as we all are at times, to pick holes in excellence which is
inconveniently high. 'Missis had a deal better stay at home and
The day was excessively hot. Not a leaf moved in the garden; over
the cornfield the air danced in long vibrations of heat; the woods
and hills beyond were indistinct and colorless. Their dog Dandy,
lay sleeping in the sun, waking up every now and then to avenge
himself on the flies. On the far edge of the cornfield reaping was
beginning. Robert stood on the edge of the sunk fence, his blind
eyes resting on the line of men, his ear catching the shouts of the
farmer directing operations from his gray horse. He could do
nothing. The night before in the wood-path, he had clearly mapped
out the day's work. A mass of business was waiting, clamoring to
be done. He tried to begin on this or that, and gave up everything
with a groan, wandering out again to the gate on the wood-path to
sweep the distances of road or field with hungry, straining eyes.
The wildest fears had taken possession of him. Running in his head
was a passage from _The Confessions_, describing Monica's horror
of her son's heretical opinions. 'Shrinking from and detesting the
blasphemies of his error, she began to doubt whether it was right
in her to allow her son to live in her house and to eat at the same
table with her;' and the mother's heart, he remembered, could only
be convinced of the lawfulness of its own yearning by a prophetic
vision of the youth's conversion. He recalled, with a shiver, how,
in the Life of Madame Guyon, after describing the painful and
agonizing death of a kind but comparatively irreligious husband,
she quietly adds, 'As soon as I heard that my husband had just
expired, I said to Thee, O my God, Thou hast broken my bonds, and
I will offer to Thee a sacrifice of praise!' He thought of John
Henry Newman, disowning all the ties of kinship with his younger
brother because of divergent views on the question of baptismal
regeneration; of the long tragedy of Blanco White's life, caused
by the slow dropping-off of friend after friend, on the ground of
heretical belief. What right had he, or any one in such a strait
as his, to assume that the faith of the present is no longer capable
of the same stern self-destructive consistency as the faith of the
past? He knew that to such Christian purity, such Christian
inwardness as Catherine's, the ultimate sanction and legitimacy of
marriage rest, both in theory and practice, on a common acceptance
of the definite commands and promises of a miraculous revelation.
He had had a proof of it in Catherine's passionate repugnance to
the idea of Rose's marriage with Edward Langham.
Eleven o'clock striking from the distant tower. He walked desperately
along the wood-path, meaning to go through the copse at the end of
it toward the park, and look there. He had just passed into the
copse, a thick interwoven mass of young trees, when he heard the
sound of the gate which on the further side of it led on to the
road. He hurried on; the trees closed behind him; the grassy path
broadened; and there, under an arch of young oak and hazel, stood
Catherine, arrested by the sound of his step. He, too, stopped at
the sight of her; he could not go on. Husband and wife looked at
each other one long, quivering moment. Then Catherine sprang forward
with a sob and threw herself on his breast.
They clung to each other, she in a passion of tears--tears of such
self-abandonment as neither Robert nor any other living soul had
ever seen Catherine Elsmere shed before. As for him he was trembling
from head to foot, his arms scarcely strong enough to hold her, his
young worn face bent down over her.
'Oh, Robert!' she sobbed at last, putting up her hand and touching
his hair, 'you look so pale, so sad.'
'I have you again!' he said simply.
A thrill of remorse ran through her.
'I went away,' she murmured, her face still hidden--'I went away
because when I woke up it all seemed to me, suddenly, too ghastly
to be believed; I could not stay still and bear it. But, Robert,
Robert, I kissed you as I passed! I was so thankful you could sleep
a little and forget. I hardly know where I have been most of the
time--I think I have been sitting in a corner of the park, where
no one ever comes. I began to think of all you said to me last
night--to put it together--to try and understand it, and it seemed
to me more and more horrible! I thought of what it would be like
to have to hide my prayers from you--my faith in Christ--my hope
of heaven. I thought of bringing up the child--how all that was
vital to me would be a superstition to you, which you would bear
with for my sake. I thought of death,' and she shuddered--'your
death, or my death, and how this change in you would cleave a gulf
of misery between us. And then I thought of losing my own faith,
of, denying Christ. It was a nightmare--I saw myself on a long
road, escaping with Mary in my arms, escaping from you! Oh, Robert!
it wasn't only for myself,'--and she clung to him as though she
were a child, confessing, explaining away, some grievous fault,
hardly to be forgiven. 'I was agonized by the thought that I was
not my own--I and my child were _Christ's_. Could I risk what was
His? Other men and women had died, had given up all for His sake.
Is there no one now strong enough to suffer torment, to kill even
love itself rather than deny Him--rather than crucify Him afresh?'
She paused, struggling for breath. The terrible excitement of that
bygone moment had seized upon her again and communicated itself to
'And then--and then,' she said sobbing, 'I don't know how it was.
One moment I was sitting up looking straight before me, without a
tear, thinking of what was the least I must do, even--even--if you
and I stayed together--of all the hard compacts and conditions I
must make--judging you all the while from a long, long distance,
and feeling as though I had buried the old self--sacrificed the old
heart--for ever! And the next I was lying on the ground crying for
you, Robert, crying for you! Your face had come back to me as you
lay there in the early morning light. I thought how I had kissed
you--how pale and gray and thin you looked. Oh, how I loathed
myself! That I should think it could be God's will that I should
leave you, or torture you, my poor husband! I had not only been
wicked toward you--I had offended Christ. I could think of nothing
as I lay there--again and again'--but "_Little children, love one
another; Little children, love one another._" Oh, my beloved'--and
she looked up with the solemnest, tenderest smile, breaking on the
marred, tear-stained face--'I will never give up hope, I will pray
for you night and day. God will bring you back. You cannot lose
yourself so. No, no! His grace is stronger than our wills. But
I will not preach to you--I will not persecute you--I will only
live beside you--in your heart--and love you always. Oh how could
I--how could I have such thoughts!'
And again she broke off, weeping, as if to the tender, torn heart
the only crime that could not be forgiven was its own offence against
love. As for him he was beyond speech. If he had ever lost his
vision of God, his wife's love would that moment have given it back
'Robert,' she said presently, urged on by the sacred yearning to
heal, to atone, 'I will not complain--I will not ask you to wait.
I take your word for it that it is best not, that it would do no
good. The only hope is in time--and prayer. I must suffer, dear,
I must be weak sometimes; but oh, I am so sorry for you! Kiss me,
forgive me, Robert; I will be your faithful wife unto our lives'
He kissed her, and in that kiss, so sad, so pitiful, so clinging,
their new life was born.
But the problems of these two lives was not solved by a burst of
feeling. Without that determining impulse of love and pity in
Catherine's heart the salvation of an exquisite bond might indeed
have been impossible. But in spite of it the laws of character had
still to work themselves inexorably out on either side.
The whole gist of the matter for Elsmere lay really in this
question--Hidden in Catherine's nature, was there, or was there
not, the true stuff of fanaticism? Madame Guyon left her infant
children to the mercies of chance, while she followed the voice of
God to the holy war with heresy. Under similar conditions Catherine
Elsmere might have planned the same. Could she ever have carried
And yet the question is still ill-stated. For the influences of
our modern time on religious action are so blunting and dulling,
because in truth the religious motive itself is being constantly
modified, whether the religious person knows it or not. Is it
possible now for a good woman with a heart, in Catherine Elsmere's
position, to maintain herself against love, and all those subtle
forces to which such a change as Elsmere's opens the house doors,
without either hardening, or greatly yielding? Let Catherine's
further story give some sort of an answer.
Poor soul! As they sat together in the study, after he had brought
her home, Robert, with averted eyes, went through the plans he had
already thought into shape. Catherine listened, saying almost
nothing. But never, never had she loved this life of theirs so
well as now that she was called on, at barely a week's notice, to
give it up for ever! For Robert's scheme, in which her reason fully
acquiesced, was to keep to their plan of going to Switzerland, he
having first, of course, settled all things with the Bishop, and
having placed his living in the hands of Mowbray Elsmere. When
they left the rectory, in a week or ten days time, he proposed, in
fact, his voice almost inaudible as he did so, that Catherine should
leave it for good.
'Everybody, had better suppose,' he said choking, 'that we are
coming back. Of course we need say nothing. Armitstead will be
here for next week certainly. Then afterward I can come down and
manage everything. I shall get it over in a day if I can, and see
nobody. I cannot say good-by, nor can you.'
'And next Sunday, Robert?' she asked him, after a pause.
'I shall write to Armitstead this afternoon and ask him, if he
possibly can, to come to-morrow afternoon, instead of Monday, and
take the service.'
Catherine's hands clasped each other still more closely. So then
she had heard her husband's voice for the last time in the public
ministry of the Church, in prayer, in exhortation, in benediction!
One of the most sacred traditions of her life was struck from her
at a blow.
It was long before either of them spoke again. Then she ventured
'And have you any idea of what we shall do next, Robert--of--of our
'Shall we try London for a little?' he answered in a queer, strained
voice, leaning against the window, and looking out, that he might
not see her. 'I should find work among the poor--so would you--and
I could go on with my book. And your mother and sister will probably
be there part of the winter.'
She acquiesced silently. How mean and shrunken a future it seemed
to them both, beside the wide and honorable range of his clergyman's
life as he and she had developed it. But she did not dwell long
on that. Her thoughts were suddenly invaded by the memory of a
cottage tragedy in which she had recently taken a prominent part.
A girl, a child of fifteen, from one of the crowded Mile End hovels,
had gone at Christmas to a distant farm as servant, and come back
a month ago ruined, the victim of an outrage over which Elsmere had
ground his teeth in fierce and helpless anger. Catherine had found
her a shelter, and was to see her through her 'trouble;' the girl,
a frail, half-witted creature, who could find no words even to
bewail herself, clinging to her the while with the dumbest, pitifulest
How _could_ she leave that girl? It was as if all the fibres of
life were being violently wrenched from all their natural connections.
'Robert!' she cried at last with a start. 'Had you forgotten the
'No--no,' he said with the saddest smile. 'No, I had not forgotten
it. Don't go, Catherine--don't go. I must. But why should you
go through it?'
'But there are all those flags and wreaths,' she said, getting up
in pained bewilderment. 'I must go and look after them.'
He caught her in his arms.
'Oh my wife, my wife, forgive me!' It was a groan of misery. She
put up her hands and pressed his hair back from his temples.
'I love you, Robert,' she said simply, her face colorless but
Half an hour later, after he had worked through some letters, he
went into the workroom and found her surrounded with flags, and a
vast litter of paper roses and evergreens, which she and the new
agent's daughters who had come up to help her were putting together
for the decorations of the morrow. Mary was tottering from chair
to chair in high glee, a big pink rose stuck in the belt of her
pinafore. His pale wife, trying to smile and talk as usual, her
lap full of ever-greens, and her politeness exercised by the chatter
of the two Miss Batesons, seemed to Robert one of the most pitiful
spectacles he had ever seen. He fled from it out into the village,
driven by a restless longing for change and movement.
Here he found a large gathering round the new Institute. There
were carpenters at work on a triumphal arch in front, and close by,
an admiring circle of children and old men, huddling in the shade
of a great chestnut.
Elsmere spent an hour in the building, helping and superintending,
stabbed every now and then by the unsuspecting friendliness of those
about him, or worried by their blunt comments on his looks. He
could not bear more than a glance into the new rooms apportioned
to the Naturalists' Club. There against the wall stood the new
glass cases he had wrung out of the Squire, with various new
collections lying near, ready to be arranged and unpacked when time
allowed. The old collections stood out bravely in the added space
and light; the walls were hung here and there with a wonderful set
of geographical pictures he had carried off from a London exhibition,
and fed his boys on for weeks; the floors were freshly matted; the
new pine fittings gave out their pleasant cleanly scent; the white
paint of doors and windows shone in the August sun. The building
had been given by the Squire. The fittings and furniture had been
mainly of his providing. What uses he had planned for it all!--only
to see the fruits of two years' effort out of doors, and personal
frugality at home, handed over to some possibly unsympathetic
stranger. The heart beat painfully against the iron bars of fate,
rebelling against the power of a mental process so to affect a man's
whole practical and social life!
He went out at last by the back of the Institute, where a little
bit of garden, spoilt with building materials, led down to a lane.
At the end of the garden, beside the untidy gap in the hedge made
by the builders' carts, he saw a man standing, who turned away down
the lane, however, as soon as the Rector's figure emerged into view.
Robert had recognized the slouching gait and unwieldy form of
Henslowe. There were at this moment all kinds of gruesome stories
afloat in the village about the ex-agent. It was said that he was
breaking up fast; it was known that he was extensively in debt; and
the village shopkeepers had already held an agitated meeting or
two, to decide upon the best mode of getting their money out of
him, and upon a joint plan of cautious action toward his custom in
future. The man, indeed, was sinking deeper and deeper into a pit
of sordid misery, maintaining all the while a snarling, exasperating
front to the world, which was rapidly converting the careless
half-malicious pity wherewith the village had till now surveyed his
fall, into that more active species of baiting which the human
animal is never very loath to try upon the limping specimens of his
Henslowe stopped and turned as he heard the steps behind him. Six
months' self-murdering had left ghastly traces. He was many degrees
nearer the brute than he had been even when Robert made his ineffectual
visit. But at this actual moment Roberts practised eye--for every
English parish clergyman becomes dismally expert in the pathology
of drunkenness--saw that there was no fight in him. He was in one
of the drunkard's periods of collapse--shivering, flabby, starting
at every sound, a misery to himself and a spectacle to others.
'Mr. Henslowe!' cried Robert, still pursuing him, 'may I speak to
you a moment?'
The ex-agent turned, his prominent bloodshot eyes glowering at the
speaker. But he had to catch at his stick for support, or at the
nervous shock of Robert's summons his legs would have given way
Robert came up with him and stood a second, fronting the evil silence
of the other, his boyish face deeply flushed. Perhaps the grotesqueness
of that former scene was in his mind. Moreover the vestry meetings
had furnished Henslowe with periodical opportunities for venting
his gall on the Rector, and they had never been neglected. But he
plunged on boldly.
'I am going away next week, Mr. Henslowe; I shall be away some
considerable time. Before I go I should like to ask you whether
you do not think the feud between us had better cease. Why will
you persist in making an enemy of me? If I did you an injury it
was neither wittingly nor willingly. I know you have been ill, and
I gather that--that--you are in trouble. If I could stand between
you and further mischief I would--most gladly. If help--or--or
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