Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 11 out of 16
money--' He paused. He shrewdly suspected, indeed, from the reports
that reached him, that Henslowe was on the brink of bankruptcy.
The Rector had spoken with the utmost diffidence and delicacy, but
Henslowe found energy in return for an outburst of quavering
animosity, from which, however, physical weakness had extracted all
'I'll thank you to make your canting offers to some one else, Mr.
Elsmere. When I want your advice I'll ask it. Good day to you.'
And he turned away with as much of an attempt at dignity as his
shaking limbs would allow of.
'Listen, Mr. Henslowe,' said Robert firmly, walking beside him:
'you know--I know--that if this goes on, in a year's time you will
be in your grave, and your poor wife and children struggling to
keep themselves from the workhouse. You may think that I have no
right to preach to you--that you are the older man--that it is an
intrusion. But what is the good of blinking facts that you must
know all the world knows? Come, now, Mr. Henslowe, let us behave
for a moment as though this were our last meeting. Who knows? the
chances of life are many. Lay down your grudge against me, and let
me speak to you as one struggling human being to another. The fact
that you have, as you say, become less prosperous, in some sort
through me, seems to give me a right--to make it a duty forms, if
you will--to help you if I can. Let me send a good doctor to see
you. Let me implore you as a last chance to put yourself into his
hands, and to obey him, and your wife; and let me--the Rector
hesitated--'let me make things pecuniarily easier for Mrs. Henslowe,
till you have pulled yourself out of the bole in which, by common
report at least, you are now.'
Henslowe stared at him, divided between anger caused by the sore
stirring of his old self-importance, and a tumultuous flood of
self-pity, roused irresistibly in him by Robert's piercing frankness
and aided by his own more or less maudlin condition. The latter
sensation quickly undermined the former; he turned his back on the
Rector and leant over the railings of the lane, shaken by something
it is hardly worth while to dignify by the name of emotion. Robert
stood by, a pale embodiment of mingled judgment and compassion.
He gave the man a few moments to recover himself, and then, as
Henslowe turned round again, he silently and appealingly held out
his hand--the hand of the good man, which it was an honor for such
as Henslowe to touch. Constrained by the moral force radiating
from his look, the other took it with a kind of helpless sullenness.
Then, seizing at once on the slight concession, with that complete
lack of inconvenient self-consciousness, or hindering indecision,
which was one of the chief causes of his effect on men and women,
Robert began to sound the broken repulsive creature as to his
affairs. Bit by bit, compelled by a will and nervous strength far
superior to his own, Henslowe was led into abrupt and blurted
confidences which surprised no one so much as himself. Robert's
quick sense possessed itself of point after point, seeing presently
ways of escape and relief which the besotted brain beside him had
been quite incapable of devising for itself. They walked on into
the open country, and what with the discipline of the Rector's
presence, the sobering effect wrought by the shock to pride and
habit, and the unwonted brain exercise of the conversation, the
demon in Henslowe had been for the moment most strangely tamed after
half an hour's talk. Actually some reminiscences of his old ways
of speech and thoughts the ways of the once prosperous and self-reliant
man of business had reappeared in him before the end of it, called
out by the subtle influence of a manner which always attracted to
the surface whatever decent element there might be left in a man,
and then instantly gave it a recognition which was more redeeming
than either counsel or denunciation.
By the time they parted Robert had arranged with his old enemy that
he should become his surety with a rich cousin in Churton, who,
always supposing there were no risk in the matter, and that benevolence
ran on all-fours with security of investment, was prepared to shield
the credit of the family by the advance of a sufficient sum of money
to rescue the ex-agent from his most pressing difficulties. He had
also wrung from him the promise to see a specialist in London--Robert
writing that evening to make the appointment.
How had it been done? Neither Robert nor Henslowe ever quite knew.
Henslowe walked home in a bewilderment which for once had nothing
to do with brandy, but was simply the result of a moral shook acting
on what was still human in the man's debased consciousness, just
as electricity acts on the bodily frame.
Robert, on the other hand, saw him depart with a singular lightening
of mood. What he seemed to have achieved might turn out to be the
merest moonshine. At any rate, the incident had appeased in him a
kind of spiritual hunger--the hunger to escape a while from that
incessant process of destructive analysis with which the mind was
still beset, into some use of energy, more positive, human, and
The following day was one long trial of endurance for Elsmere and
for Catherine. She pleaded to go, promising quietly to keep out
of his sight and they started together--a miserable pair.
Crowds, heat, decorations, the grandees on the platform, and
conspicuous among them the Squire's slouching frame and striking
head, side by side with a white and radiant Lady Helen--the outer
success, the inner revolt and pain--and the constant seeking of his
truant eyes for a face that hid itself as much as possible in dark
corners, but was in truth the one thing sharply present to him--these
were the sort of impressions that remained with Elsmere afterward
of this last meeting with his people.
He had made a speech, of which he never could remember a word. As
he sat down, there had been a slight flutter of surprise in the
sympathetic looks of those about him, as though the tone of it had
been somewhat unexpected and disproportionate to the occasion. Had
he betrayed himself in any way? He looked for Catherine, but she
was nowhere to be seen. Only in his search he caught the Squire's
ironical glance, and wondered with quick shame what sort of nonsense
he had been talking.
Then a neighboring clergyman, who had been his warm supporter and
admirer from the beginning, sprang up and made a rambling panegyric
on him and on his work, which Elsmere writhed under. His work!
Absurdity! What could be done in two years? He saw it all as the
merest nothing, a ragged beginning which might do more harm than
But the cheering was incessant, the popular feeling intense. There
was old Milsom waving a feeble arm; John Allwood gaunt, but radiant;
Mary Sharland, white still as the ribbons on her bonnet, egging on
her flushed and cheering husband; and the club boys grinning and
shouting, partly for love of Elsmere, mostly because to the young
human animal mere noise is heaven. In front was an old hedger and
ditcher, who came round the parish periodically, and never failed
to take Elsmere's opinion as to 'a bit of prapperty' he and two
other brothers as ancient as himself had been quarrelling over for
twenty years, and were likely to go on quarrelling over, till all
three litigants had closed their eyes on a mortal scene which had
afforded them on the whole vast entertainment, though little pelf.
Next him was a bowed and twisted old tramp who had been shepherd
in the district in his youth, had then gone through the Crimea and
the Mutiny, and was now living about the commons, welcome to feed
here and sleep there for the sake of his stories and his queer
innocuous wit. Robert had had many a gay argumentative walk with
him, and he and his companion had tramped miles to see the function,
to rattle their sticks on the floor in Elsmere's honor, and satiate
their curious gaze on the Squire.
When all was over, Elsmere, with his wife on his arm, mounted the
hill to the rectory, leaving the green behind them still crowded
with folk. Once inside the shelter of their own trees, husband and
wife turned instinctively and caught each other's hands. A low
groan broke from Elsmere's lips; Catherine looked at him one moment,
then fell weeping on his breast. The first chapter of their common
life was closed.
One thing more, however, of a private nature, remained for Elsmere
to do. Late in the afternoon he walked over to the Hall.
He found the Squire in the inner library, among his German books,
his pipe in his mouth, his old smoking coat and slippers bearing
witness to the rapidity and joy with which he had shut the world
out again after the futilities of the morning. His mood was more
accessible than Elsmere had yet found it since his return.
'Well, have you done with all those tomfooleries, Elsmere? Precious
eloquent speech you made! When I see you and people like you
throwing yourselves at the heads of the people, I always think of
Scaliger's remark about the Basques: "They say they understand one
another--_I don't believe a word of it!_" All that the lower class
wants to understand, at any rate, is the shortest way to the pockets
of you and me; all that you and I need understand, according to me,
is how to keep 'em off! There you have the sum and substance of
my political philosophy.'
'You remind me,' said Robert dryly, sitting down on one of the
library stools, 'of some of those sentiments you expressed so
forcibly on the first evening of our acquaintance.'
The Squire received the shaft with equanimity.
'I was not amiable, I remember, on that occasion,' he said coolly,
his thin, old man's fingers moving the while among the shelves of
books, 'nor on several subsequent ones. I had been made a fool of,
and you were not particularly adroit. But of course you won't
acknowledge it. Who ever yet got a parson to confess himself!'
'Strangely enough, Mr. Wendover,' said Robert, fixing him with a
pair of deliberate feverish eyes, 'I am here at this moment for
that very purpose.'
'Go on,' said the Squire, turning, however, to meet the Rector's
look, his gold spectacles falling forward over his long hooked nose,
his attitude one of sudden attention. 'Go on.'
All his grievances against Elsmere returned to him. He stood
Robert paused a moment and then said abruptly:
'Perhaps even you will agree, Mr. Wendover, that I had some reason
for sentiment this morning. Unless I read the lessons to-morrow,
which is possible, to-day has been my last public appearance as
rector of this parish!'
The Squire looked at him dumfounded.
'And your reasons?' he said, with quick imperativeness.
Robert gave them. He admitted, as plainly and bluntly as he had
done to Grey, the Squire's own part in the matter; but here, a note
of antagonism, almost of defiance, crept even into his confession
of wide and illimitable defeat. He was there, so to speak, to hand
over his sword. But to the Squire, his surrender had all the pride
'Why should you give up your living?' asked the Squire after several
minutes' complete silence.
He too had sat down, and was now bending forward, his sharp small
eyes peering at his companion.
'Simply because I prefer to feel myself an honest man. However, I
have not acted without advice. Grey of St. Anselm's--you know him
of course--was a very close personal friend of mine at Oxford. I
have been to see him, and we agreed it was the only thing to do.'
'Oh, Grey,' exclaimed the Squire, with a movement of impatience.
'Grey of course wanted you to set up a church of your own, or to
join his! He is like all idealists, he has the usual foolish
contempt for the compromise of institutions.'
'Not at all,' said Robert calmly, 'you are mistaken; he has the
most sacred respect for institutions. He only thinks it well, and
I agree with him, that with regard to a man's public profession and
practice he should recognize that two and two make four.'
It was clear to him from the Squire's tone and manner that Mr.
Wendover's instincts on the point were very much what he had expected,
the instincts of the philosophical man of the world, who scorns the
notion of taking popular beliefs seriously, whether for protest or
for sympathy. But he was too weary to argue. The Squire, however,
rose hastily and began to walk up and down in a gathering storm of
irritation. The triumph gained for his own side, the tribute to
his life's work, were at the moment absolutely indifferent to him.
They were effaced by something else much harder to analyze.
Whatever it was, it drove him to throw himself upon Robert's position
with a perverse bewildering bitterness.
'Why should you break up your life in this wanton way? Who, in
God's name is injured if you keep your living? It is the business
of the thinker and the scholar to clear his mind of cobwebs.
Granted. You have done it. But it is also the business of the
practical man to live! If I had your altruist, emotional temperament,
I should not hesitate for a moment. I should regard the historical
expressions of an eternal tendency in men as wholly indifferent to
me. If I understand you aright, you have flung away the sanctions
of orthodoxy. There is no other in the way. Treat words as they
deserve. _You_'--and the speaker laid an emphasis on the pronoun
which for the life of him he could not help making sarcastic--'_you_
will always have Gospel enough to preach.'
'I cannot,' Robert repeated quietly, unmoved by the taunt, if it
was one. 'I am in a different state, I imagine, from you. Words--that
is to say, the specific Christian formulae--may be indifferent to
you, though a month or two ago I should hardly have guessed it;
they are just now anything but indifferent to me.'
The Squire's brow grew darker. He took up the argument again, more
pugnaciously than ever. It was the strangest attempt ever made to
gibe and flout a wandering sheep, back into the fold. Robert's
resentment was roused at last. The Squire's temper seemed to him
totally inexplicable, his arguments contradictory, the conversation
useless and irritating. He got up to take his leave.
'What you are about to do, Elsmere,' the Squire wound up with
saturnine emphasis, 'is apiece of cowardice! You will live bitterly
to regret the haste and the unreason of it.'
'There has been no haste,' exclaimed Robert in the low tone of
passionate emotion; 'I have not rooted up the most sacred growths
of life as a careless child devastates its garden. There are some
things which a man only does because be _must_.'
There was a pause. Robert held out his hand. The Squire could
hardly touch it. Outwardly his mood was one of the strangest
eccentricity and anger; and as to what was beneath it, Elsmere's
quick divination was dulled by worry and fatigue. It only served
him so far that at the door he turned back, hat in hand, and said,
looking lingeringly the while at the solitary sombre figure, at the
great library, with all its suggestive and exquisite detail: 'If
Monday is fine, Squire, will you walk?'
The Squire made no reply except by another question,--
'Do you still keep to your Swiss plans for next week?' he asked
'Certainly. The plan, as it happens, is a Godsend. But there,'
said Robert, with a sigh, 'let me explain the details of this dismal
business to you on Monday. I have hardly the courage for it now.'
The curtain dropped behind him. Mr. Wendover stood a minute looking
after him; then, with some vehement expletive or other, walked up
to his writing-table, drew some folios that were laying on it toward
him, with hasty maladroit movements which sent his papers flying
over the floor, and plunged doggedly into work.
He and Mrs. Darcy dined alone. After dinner the Squire leant against
the mantelpiece, sipping his coffee, more gloomily silent than even
his sister had seen him for weeks. And, as always happened when
he became more difficult and morose, she became more childish. She
was now wholly absorbed with a little electric toy she had just
bought for Mary Elsmere, a number of infinitesimal little figures
dancing fantastically under the stimulus of an electric current,
generated by the simplest means. She hung over it absorbed, calling
to her brother every now and then, as though by sheer perversity,
to come and look whenever the pink or the blue _danseuse_ executed
a more surprising somersault than usual.
He took not the smallest spoken notice of her, though his eyes
followed her contemptuously as she moved from window to window with
her toy in pursuit of the fading light.
'Oh, Roger,' she called presently, still throwing herself to this
side and that, to catch new views of her pith puppets, 'I have got
something to show you. You must admire them--you shall! I have
been drawing them all day, and they are nearly done. You remember
what I told you once about my "imps?" I have seen them all my life,
since I was a child in France with papa, and I have never been able
to draw them till the last few weeks. They are such dears--such
darlings; every one will know them when he sees them! There is the
Chinese imp, the low, smirking creature, you know, that sits on
the edge of your cup of tea; there is the flipperty-flopperty
creature that flies out at you when you open a drawer; there is the
twisty-twirly person that sits jeering on the edge of your hat when
it blows away from you; and'--her voice dropped--'that _ugly, ugly_
thing I always see waiting for me on the top of a gate. They have
teased nee all my life, and now at last I have drawn them. If they
were to take offence to-morrow I should have them--the beauties--all
She came toward him, her _bizarre_ little figure swaying from side
to side, her eyes glittering, her restless hands pulling at the
lace round her blanched head and face. The Squire, his hands behind
him, looked at her frowning, an involuntary horror dawning on his
dark countenance, turned abruptly, and left the room.
Mr. Wendover worked till midnight; then, tired out, he turned to
the bit of fire to which, in spite of the oppressiveness of the
weather, the chilliness of age and nervous strain had led him to
set a light. He sat there for long, sunk in the blackest reverie.
He was the only living creature in the great library wing which
spread around and above him--the only waking creature in the whole
vast pile of Murewell. The silver lamps shone with a steady
melancholy light on the chequered walls of books. The silence was
a silence that could be felt; and the gleaming Artemis, the tortured
frowning Medusa, were hardly stiller in their frozen calm than the
crouching figure of the Squire.
So Elsmere was going! In a few weeks the rectory would be once
more tenanted by one of those nonentities the Squire had either
patronized or scorned all his life. The park, the lanes, the room
in which he sits, will know that spare young figure, that animated
voice, no more. The outlet which had brought so much relief and
stimulus to his own mental powers is closed; the friendship on which
he had unconsciously come to depend so much is broken before it had
All sorts of strange thwarted instincts make themselves felt in the
Squire. The wife he had once thought to marry, the children he
might have had, come to sit like ghosts with him beside the fire.
He had never, like Augustine, 'loved to love;' he had only loved
to know. But none of us escapes to the last the yearnings which
make us men. The Squire becomes conscious that certain fibres he
had thought long since dead in him had been all the while twining
themselves silently round the disciple who had shown him in many
respects such a filial consideration and confidence. That young
man might have become to him the son of his old age, the one human
being from whom, as weakness of mind and body break him down, even
his indomitable spirit might have accepted the sweetness of human
pity, the comfort of human help.
And it is his own hand which has done most to break the nascent,
slowly forming tie. He has bereft himself.
With what incredible recklessness had he been acting all these
It was the _levity_ of his own proceeding which stared him in the
face. His rough hand had closed on the delicate wings of a soul
as a boy crushes the butterfly he pursues. As Elsmere had stood
looking back at him from the library door, the suffering which spoke
in every line of that changed face had stirred a sudden troubled
remorse in Roger Wendover. It was mere justice that one result of
that suffering should be to leave himself forlorn.
He had been thinking and writing of religion, of the history of
ideas, all his life. Had he ever yet grasped the meaning of religion
_to the religious man_? _God_ and _faith_--what have these venerable
ideas ever mattered to him personally, except as the subjects of
the most ingenious analysis, the most delicate historical inductions?
Not only sceptical to the core, but constitutionally indifferent,
the Squire had always found enough to make life amply worth living
in the mere dissection of other men's beliefs.
But to-night! The unexpected shock of feeling, mingled with the
terrible sense, periodically alive in him, of physical doom, seems
to have stripped from the thorny soul its outer defences of mental
habit. He sees once more the hideous spectacle of his father's
death, his own black half-remembered moments of warning, the teasing
horror of his sister's increasing weakness of brain. Life has been
on the whole a burden, though there has been a certain joy no doubt
in the fierce intellectual struggle of it. And to-night it seems
so nearly over! A cold prescience of death creeps over the Squire
as he sits in the lamplit silence. His eye seems to be actually
penetrating the eternal vastness which lies about our life. He
feels himself old, feeble, alone. The awe, the terror which are
at the root of all religions have fallen even upon him at last.
The fire burns lower, the night wears on; outside an airless, misty
moonlight hangs over park and field. Hark! was that a sound upstairs,
in one of those silent empty rooms?
The Squire half rises, one hand on his chair, his blanched face
strained, listening. Again! Is it a footstep or simply a delusion
of the ear? He rises, pushes aside the curtains into the inner
library, where the lamps have almost burnt away, creeps up the
wooden stair, and into the deserted upper story.
Why was that door into the end room--his father's room--open? He
had seen it closed that afternoon. No one had been there since.
He stepped nearer. Was that simply a gleam of moonlight on the
polished floor--confused lines of shadow thrown by the vine outside?
And was that sound nothing but the stirring of the rising wind of
dawn against the open casement window? Or--
The Squire fled downstairs. He gained his chair again. He sat
upright an instant, impressing on himself, with sardonic vindictive
force, some of those truisms as to the action of mind on body, of
brain-process on sensation, which it had been part of his life's
work to illustrate. The philosopher had time to realize a shuddering
fellowship of weakness with his kind, to see himself as a helpless
instance of an inexorable law, before he fell back in his chair; a
swoon, born of pitiful human terror--terror of things unseen--creeping
over heart and brain.
It was a November afternoon. London lay wrapped in rainy fog. The
atmosphere was such as only a Londoner can breathe with equanimity,
and the gloom was indescribable.
Meanwhile, in defiance of the Inferno outside, festal preparations
were being made in a little house on Campden Hill. Lamps were lit;
in the drawing-room chairs were pushed back; the piano was open,
and a violin stand towered beside it; chrysanthemums were everywhere;
an invalid lady in a 'beat cap' occupied the sofa; and two girls
were flitting about, clearly making the last arrangements necessary
for a 'musical afternoon.'
The invalid was Mrs. Leyburn, the girls, of course, Rose and Agnes.
Rose at last was safely settled in her longed-for London, and an
artistic company, of the sort her soul loved, was coming to tea
Of Rose's summer at Burwood very little need be said. She was
conscious that she had not borne it very well. She had been off-hand
with Mrs. Thornburgh, and had enjoyed one or two open skirmishes
with Mrs. Seaton. Her whole temper had been irritating and
irritable--she was perfectly aware of it. Toward her sick mother,
indeed, she had controlled herself; nor, for such a restless creature,
had she made a bad nurse. But Agnes had endured much, and found
it all the harder because she was so totally in the dark as to the
whys and wherefores of her sister's moods.
Rose herself would have scornfully denied that any ways and
wherefores--beyond her rooted dislike of Whindale--existed. Since
her return from Berlin, and especially since that moment when, as
she was certain, Mr. Langham had avoided her and Catherine at the
National Gallery, she had been calmly certain of her own heart-wholeness.
Berlin had developed her precisely as she had desired that it
might. The necessities of the Bohemian student's life had trained
her to a new independence and shrewdness, and in her own opinion
she was now a woman of the world judging all things by pure reason.
Oh, of course, she understood him perfectly. In the first place,
at the time of their first meeting she had been a mere bread-and-butter
miss, the easiest of preys for anyone who might wish to get a few
hours amusement and distraction out of her temper and caprices.
In the next place, even supposing he had been ever inclined to fall
in love with her, which her new sardonic fairness of mind obliged
her to regard as entirely doubtful, he was a man to whom marriage
was impossible. How could anyone expect such a superfine dreamer
to turn bread-winner for a wife and household? Imagine Mr. Langham
interviewed by a rate-collector or troubled about coals! As to
her--simply--she had misunderstood the laws of the game. It was a
little bitter to have to confess it; a little bitter that he should
have seen it, and have felt reluctantly compelled to recall the
facts to her. But, after all most girls have some young follies
to blush over.
So far the little cynic would get, becoming rather more scarlet
however, over the process of reflection than was quite compatible
with the ostentatious worldly wisdom of it. Then a sudden inward
restlessness would break through, and she would spend a passionate
hour pacing up and down, and hungering for the moment when she might
avenge upon herself and him the week of silly friendship he had
found it necessary as her elder and monitor to out short!
In September came the news of Robert's resignation of his living.
Mother and daughters sat looking at each other over the letter,
stupefied. That this calamity, of all others, should have fallen
on Catherine, of all women! Rose said very little, and presently
jumped up with shining, excited eyes, and ran out for a walk with
Bob, leaving Agnes to console their tearful and agitated mother.
When she came in she went singing about the house as usual. Agnes,
who was moved by the news out of all her ordinary _sang-froid_, was
outraged by what seemed to her Rose's callousness. She wrote a
letter to Catherine, which Catherine put among her treasures, so
strangely unlike it was to the quiet indifferent Agnes of every
day. Rose spent a morning over an attempt at a letter, which when
it reached its destination only wounded Catherine by its constraint
And yet that same night when the child was alone, suddenly some
phrase of Catherine's letter recurred to her. She saw, as only
imaginative people see, with every detail visualized, her sister's
suffering, her sister's struggle that was to be. She jumped into
bed, and, stifling all sounds under the clothes, cried herself to
sleep, which did not prevent her next morning from harboring somewhere
at the bottom of her, a wicked and furtive satisfaction that Catherine
might now learn there were more opinions in the world than one.
As for the rest of the valley, Mrs. Leyburn soon passed from a
bewailing to a plaintive indignation with Robert, which was a relief
to her daughters. It seemed to her a reflection on 'Richard' that
Robert should have behaved so. Church opinions had been good enough
for 'Richard.' 'The young men seem to think, my dears, their fathers
were all fools!'
The Vicar, good man, was sincerely distressed, but sincerely
confident, also, that in time Elsmere would find his way back into
the fold. In Mrs. Thornburgh's dismay there was a secret superstitious
pang. Perhaps she had better not have meddled. Perhaps it was
never well to meddle. One event bears many readings, and the tragedy
of Catherine Elsmere's life took shape in the uneasy consciousness
of the Vicar's spouse as a more or less sharp admonition against
wilfulness in match-making.
Of course Rose had her way as to wintering in London. They came
up in the middle of October while the Elsmeres were still abroad,
and settled into a small house in Lerwick Gardens, Campden Hill,
which Catherine had secured for them on her way through town to the
As soon as Mrs. Leyburn had been made comfortable, Rose set to work
to look up her friends. She owed her acquaintance in London hitherto
mainly to Mr. and Mrs. Pierson, the young barrister and his aesthetic
wife whom she had originally met and made friends with in a
railway-carriage. Mr. Pierson was bustling and shrewd; not made
of the finest clay, yet not at all a bad fellow. His wife, the
daughter of a famous Mrs. Leo Hunter of a bygone generation, was
small, untidy, and in all matters of religious or political opinion
'emancipated' to an extreme. She had also a strong vein of inherited
social ambition, and she and her husband welcomed Rose with greater
effusion than ever, in proportion as she was more beautiful and
more indisputably gifted than ever. They placed themselves and
their house at the girl's service, partly out of genuine admiration
and good nature, partly also because they divined in her a profitable
For the Piersons, socially, were still climbing, and had by no means
attained. Their world, so far, consisted too much of the odds and
ends of most other worlds. They were not satisfied with it, and
the friendship of the girl-violinist, whose vivacious beauty and
artistic gift made a stir wherever she went, was a very welcome
addition to their resources. They feted her in their own house;
they took her to the houses of other people; society smiled on Miss
Leyburn's protectors more than it had ever smiled on Mr. and Mrs.
Pierson taken alone; and meanwhile Rose, flushed, excited, and
totally unsuspicious, thought the world a fairy-tale, and lived
from morning till night in a perpetual din of music, compliments,
and bravos, which seemed to her life indeed--life at last!
With the beginning of November the Elsmeres returned, and about the
same time Rose began to project tea-parties of her own, to which
Mrs. Leyburn gave a flurried assent. When the invitations were
written, Rose sat staring at them a little, pen in hand.
'I wonder what Catherine will say to some of these people!' she
remarked in a dubious voice to Agnes. 'Some of them are queer, I
admit; but, after all, those two superior persons will have to get
used to my friends some time, and they may as well begin.'
'You cannot expect poor Cathie to come,' said Agnes with sudden
Rose's eyebrows went up. Agnes resented her ironical expression,
and with a word or two of quite unusual sharpness got up and went.
Rose, left alone, sprang up suddenly, and clasped her white fingers
above her head, with a long breath.
'Where my heart used to be, there is now just--a black--cold--cinder,'
she remarked with sarcastic emphasis. 'I am sure I used to be a
nice girl once, but it is so long ago I can't remember it!'
She stayed so a minute or more; then two tears suddenly broke and
fell. She dashed them angrily away, and sat down again to her
Among the cards she had still to fill up, was one of which the
envelope was addressed to the Hon. Hugh Flaxman, 90 St. Jame's
Place. Lady Charlotte, though she had afterward again left town,
had been in Martin Street at the end of October. The Leyburns had
lunched there, and had been introduced by her to her nephew, and
Lady Helen's brother, Mr. Flaxman. The girls had found him agreeable;
he had called the week afterward when they were not at home; and
Rose now carelessly sent him a card, with the inward reflection
that he was much too great a man to come, and was probably enjoying
himself at country houses, as every aristocrat should in November.
The following day the two girls made their way over to Bedford
Square, where the Elsmeres had taken a house in order to be near
the British Museum. They pushed their way upstairs through a medley
of packing-cases and a sickening smell of paint. There was a sound
of an opening door, and a gentleman stepped out of a back room,
which was to be Elsmere's study, on to the landing.
It was Edward Langham. He and Rose stood and stared at each other
a moment. Then Rose in the coolest lightest voice introduced him
to Agnes. Agnes, with one curious glance, took in her sister's
defiant, smiling ease and the stranger's embarrassment; then she
went on to find Catherine. The two left behind exchanged a few
banal questions and answers, Langham had only allowed himself one
look at the dazzling, face and eyes framed in fur cap and boa.
Afterward he stood making a study of the ground, and answering her
remarks in his usual stumbling fashion. What was it had gone out
of her voice--simply the soft callow sounds of first youth? And
what a personage she had grown in these twelve months--how formidably,
consciously brilliant in look and dress and manner!
Yes, he was still in town--settled there, indeed, for some time.
And she--was there any special day on which Mrs. Leyburn received
visitors? He asked the question, of course, with various hesitations
'Oh dear, yes! Will you come next Wednesday, for instance, and
inspect a musical menagerie? The animals will go through their
performances from four till seven. And I can answer for it that
some of the specimens will be entirely new to you.'
The prospect offered could hardly have been more repellent to him,
but he got out an acceptance somehow. She nodded lightly to him
and passed on, and he went downstairs, his head in a whirl. Where
had the crude pretty child of yesteryear departed to--impulsive,
conceited, readily offended, easily touched, sensitive as to what
all the world might think of her and her performances? The girl
he had just left had counted all her resources, tried the edge of
all her weapons, and knew her own place too well to ask for anybody
else's appraisement. What beauty--good heavens!--what _aplomb!_
The rich husband Elsmere talked of would hardly take much waiting
So cogitating, Langham took his way westward to his Beaumont Street
rooms. They were on the second floor, small, dingy, choked with
books. Ordinarily he shut the door behind him with a sigh of
content. This evening they seemed to him intolerably confined and
stuffy. He thought of going out to his club and a concert, but did
nothing, after all, but sit brooding over the fire till midnight,
alternately hugging and hating his solitude.
And so we return to the Wednesday following this unexpected meeting.
The drawing-room at No. 27 was beginning to fill. Rose stood at
the door receiving the guests as they flowed in, while Agnes in the
background dispensed tea. She was discussing with herself the
probability of Langham's appearance. 'Whom shall I introduce him
to first?' she pondered, while she shook hands. 'The poet? I see
Mamma is now struggling with him. The 'cellist with the hair--or
the lady in Greek dress--or the esoteric Buddhist? What a fascinating
selection! I had really no notion we should be quite so curious!'
'Mees Rose, they wait for you,' said a charming golden-bearded young
German, viola in hand, bowing before her. He and his kind were
most of them in love with her already, and all the more so because
she knew so well how to keep them at a distance.
She went off, beckoning to Agnes to take her place, and the quartet
began. The young German aforesaid played the viola, while the
'cello was divinely played by a Hungarian, of whose outer man it
need only be said that in wild profusion of much-tortured hair, in
Hebraism of feature, and swarthy smoothness of cheek, he belonged
to that type which Nature would seem to have already used to excess
in the production of the continental musician. Rose herself was
violinist, and the instruments dashed into the opening allegro with
a precision and an _entrain_ that took the room by storm.
In the middle of it, Langham pushed his way into the crowd round
the drawing-room door. Through the heads about him be could see
her standing a little in advance of the others, her head turned to
one side, really in the natural attitude of violin-playing, but,
as it seemed to him, in a kind of ravishment of listening--cheeks
flushed, eyes shining, and the right arm and high-curved wrist
managing the bow with a grace born of knowledge and fine training.
'Very much improved, eh?' said an English professional to a German
neighbor, lifting his eyebrows interrogatively.
The other nodded with the business-like air of one who knows.
'Joachim, they say, war darueber entzueckt, and did his best vid her,
and now D---- has got her--'naming a famous violinist--'she vill
make fast brogress. He vill schtamp upon her treecks!'
'But will she ever be more than a very clever amateur? Too pretty,
eh?' And the questioner nudged his companion, dropping his voice.
Langham would have given worlds to get on into the room, over the
prostrate body of the speaker by preference, but the laws of mass
and weight had him at their mercy, and he was rooted to the spot.
The other shrugged his shoulders. 'Vell, vid a bretty
woman--_ueberhaupt_--it _doesn't_ mean business! It's zoziety--the
dukes and the duchesses--that ruins all the young talents!'
This whispered conversation went on during the andante. With the
scherzo the two hirsute faces broke into broad smiles. The artist
behind each woke up, and Langham heard no more, except guttural
sounds of delight and quick notes of technical criticism.
How that Scherzo danced and coquetted, and how the Presto flew as
though all the winds were behind it, chasing it, chasing its mad
eddies of notes through listening space! At the end, amid a wild
storm of applause, she laid down her violin, and, proudly smiling,
her breast still heaving with excitement and exertion, received the
praises of those crowding round her. The group round the door was
precipitated forward, and Langham with it. She saw him in a moment.
Her white brow contracted, and she gave him a quick but hardly
smiling glance of recognition through the crowd. He thought there
was no chance of getting at her, and moved aside amid the general
hubbub to look at a picture.
'Mr. Langham, how do you do?'
He turned sharply and found her beside him. She had come to him
with malice in her heart--malice born of smart, and long smouldering
pain; but as she caught his look, the look of the nervous, short-sighted
scholar and recluse, as her glance swept over the delicate refinement
of the face, a sudden softness quivered in her own. The game was
'You will find nobody here you know,' she said abruptly, a little
under her breath. 'I am morally certain you never saw a single
person in the room before! Shall I introduce you?'
'Delighted, of course. But don't disturb yourself about me, Miss
Leyburn. I come out of my hole so seldom, everything amuses me--but
especially looking and listening.'
'Which means,' she said, with frank audacity, 'that you dislike new
His eye kindled at once. 'Say rather that it means a preference
for the people that are not new! There is such a thing as concentrating
one's attention. I came to hear you play, Miss Leyburn!'
She glanced at him from under her long lashes, one hand playing
with the rings on the other. He thought, suddenly, with a sting
of regret, of the confiding child who had flushed under his praise
that Sunday evening at Murewell.
'Superb!' he said, but half mechanically. 'I had no notion a
winter's work would have done so much for you. Was Berlin as
stimulating as you expected? When I heard you had gone, I said to
myself--"Well, at least, now, there is one completely happy person
'Did you? How easily we all dogmatize about each other!' she said
scornfully. Her manner was by no means simple. He did not feel
himself at all at ease with her. His very embarrassment, however,
drove him into rashness, as often happens.
'I thought I had enough to go upon!' he said in another tone; and
his black eyes, sparkling as though a film had dropped from then,
supplied the reference his words forbore.
She turned away from him with a perceptible drawing up of the whole
'Will you come and be introduced?' she asked him coldly. He bowed
as coldly and followed her. Wholesome resentment of her manner was
denied him. He had asked for her friendship, and had then gone
away and forgotten her. Clearly what she meant him to see now was
that they were strangers again. Well, she was amply in her right.
He suspected that his allusion to their first talk over the fire
had not been unwelcome to her, as an opportunity.
And he had actually debated whether he should come, lest in spite
of himself she might beguile him once more into those old lapses
of will and common-sense! Coxcomb!
He made a few spasmodic efforts at conversation with the lady to
whom she had introduced him, then awkwardly disengaged himself and
went to stand in a corner and study his neighbors.
Close to him, he found, was the poet of the party, got up in the
most correct professional costume--long hair, velvet coat, eye-glass
and all. His extravagance, however, was of the most conventional
type. Only his vanity had a touch of the sublime. Langham, who
possessed a sort of fine-ear gift for catching conversation, heard
him saying to an open-eyed _ingenue_ beside him,--
'Oh, my literary baggage is small as yet. I have only done, perhaps,
three things that will live.'
'Oh, Mr. Wood!' said the maiden, mildly protesting against so much
He smiled, thrusting his hand into the breast of the velvet coat.
'But then,' he said in a tone of the purest candor, 'at my age I
don't think Shelley had done more!'
Langham, who, like all shy men, was liable to occasional explosions,
was seized with a convulsive fit of coughing and had to retire from
the neighborhood of the bard, who looked round him, disturbed and
At last he discovered a point of view in the back room whence he
could watch the humors of the crowd without coming too closely in
contact with them. What a miscellaneous collection it was! He
began to be irritably jealous for Rose's place in the world. She
ought to be more adequately surrounded than this. What was Mrs.
Leyburn--what were the Elsmeres about? He rebelled against the
thought of her living perpetually among her inferiors, the centre
of a vulgar publicity, queen of the second-rate.
It provoked him that she should be amusing herself so well. Her
laughter, every now and then, came ringing into the back room. And
presently there was a general hubbub. Langham craned his neck
forward, and saw a struggle going on over a roll of music, between
Rose and the long-haired, long-nosed violoncellist. Evidently, she
did not want to play some particular piece, and wished to put it
out of sight. Whereupon the Hungarian, who had been clamoring for
it, rushed to its rescue and there was a mock fight over it. At
last, amid the applause of the room, Rose was beaten, and her
conqueror, flourishing the music on high, executed a kind of _pas
seul_ of triumph.
'_Victoria!_' he cried. 'Now denn for de conditions of peace.
Mees Rose, vill you kindly tune up? You are as moch beaten as the
French at Sedan.'
'Not a stone of my fortresses, not an inch of my territory!' said
Rose, with fine emphasis, crossing her white wrists before her.
The Hungarian looked at her, the wild poetic strain in him, which
was the strain of race, asserting itself.
'But if de victor bows,' he said, dropping on one knee before her.
'If force lay down his spoils at de feet of beauty?'
The circle round them applauded hotly, the touch of theatricality
finding immediate response. Langham was remorselessly conscious
of the man's absurd _chevelure_ and ill-fitting clothes. But Rose
herself had evidently nothing but relish for the score. Proudly
smiling, she held out her hand for her property, and as soon as she
had it safe, she whisked it into the open drawer of a cabinet
standing near, and drawing out the key, held it up a moment in her
taper fingers, and then, depositing it in a little velvet bag hanging
at her girdle, she closed the snap upon it with a little vindictive
wave of triumph. Every movement was graceful, rapid, effective.
Half a dozen German throats broke into guttural protest. Amid the
storm of laughter and remonstrance, the door suddenly opened. The
fluttered parlor-maid mumbled a long name, with a port of soldierly
uprightness, there advanced behind her a large fair-haired woman,
followed by a gentleman, and in the distance by another figure.
Rose drew back a moment astounded, one hand on the piano, her dress
sweeping round her. An awkward silence fell on the chattering
circle of musicians.
'Good heavens!' said Langham to himself, 'Lady Charlotte Wynnstay!'
How do you do, Miss Leyburn?' said one of the most piercing of
voices. 'Are you surprised to see me? You didn't ask me--perhaps
you don't want me. But I have come, you see, partly because my
nephew was coming,' and she pointed to the gentleman behind her,
'partly because I meant to punish you for not having come to see
me last Thursday. Why didn't you?'
'Because we thought you were still away,' said Rose, who had by
this time recovered her self-possession. 'But if you meant to
punish me, Lady Charlotte, you have done it badly. I am delighted
to see you. May I introduce my sister? Agnes, will you find Lady
Charlotte Wynnstay a chair by mamma?'
'Oh, you wish, I see, to dispose of me at once,' said the other
imperturbably. 'What is happening? Is it music?'
'Aunt Charlotte, that is most disingenuous on your part. I gave
you ample warning.'
Rose, turned a smiling face toward the speaker. It was Mr. Flaxman,
Lady Charlotte's companion.
'You need not have drawn the picture too black, Mr. Flaxman. There
is an escape. If Lady Charlotte will only let my sister take her
into the next room, she will find herself well out of the clutches
of the music. Oh, Robert! Here you are at last! Lady Charlotte,
you remember my brother-in-law? Robert, will you get Lady Charlotte
'_I_ am not going to be banished,' said Mr. Flaxman, looking down
upon her, his well-bred, slightly worn face aglow with animation
'Then you will be deafened,' said Rose, laughing, as she escaped
from him a moment, to arrange for a song from a tall formidable
maiden, built after the fashion of Mr. Gilbert's contralto heroines,
with a voice which bore out the ample promise of her frame.
'Your sister is a terribly self-possessed young person, Mr. Elsmere,'
said Lady Charlotte, as Robert piloted her across the room.
'Does that imply praise or blame on your part, Lady Charlotte?'
asked Robert, smiling.
'Neither at present. I don't know Miss Leyburn well enough. I
merely state a fact. No tea, Mr. Elsmere. I have had three teas
already, and I am not like the American woman who could always worry
down another cup.'
She was introduced to Mrs. Leyburn; but the plaintive invalid was
immediately seized with terror of her voice and appearance, and was
infinitely grateful to Robert for removing her as promptly as
possible to a chair on the border of the two rooms where she could
talk or listen as she pleased. For a few moments she listened to
Frauelein Adelmann's veiled unmanageable contralto; then she turned
magisterially to Robert standing behind her--
'The art of singing has gone out,' she declared 'since the Germans
have been allowed to meddle in it. By the way, Mr. Elsmere how do
you manage to be here? Are you taking a holiday?'
Robert looked at her with a start.
'I have left Murewell, Lady Charlotte.'
'Left Murewell!' she said in astonishment, turning round to look
at him, her eyeglass at her eye. 'Why has Helen told me nothing
about it? Have you got another living?'
'No. My wife and I are settling in London. We only told Lady Helen
of our intentions a few weeks ago.'
To which it may be added that Lady Helen, touched and dismayed by
Elsmere's letter to her, had not been very eager to hand over the
woes of her friends to her aunt's cool and irresponsible comments.
Lady Charlotte deliberately looked at him a minute longer through
her glass. Then she let it fall.
'You don't mean to tell me any more, I can see, Mr. Elsmere. But
you will allow me to be astonished?'
'Certainly,' he said, smiling sadly, and immediately afterward
relapsing into silence.
'Have you heard of the Squire, lately?' he asked her after a pause.
'Not from him. We are excellent friends when we meet, but he doesn't
consider me worth writing to. His sister--little idiot--writes to
me every now and then. But she has not vouchsafed me a letter since
the summer. I should say from the last accounts that he was
'He had a mysterious attack of illness just before I left' said
Robert gravely. 'It made one anxious.'
'Oh, it is the old story. All the Wendovers have died of weak
hearts or queer brains--generally of both together. I imagine you
had some experience of the Squire's queerness at one time, Mr.
Elsmere. I can't say you and he seemed to be on particularly good
terms on the only occasion I ever had the pleasure of meeting you
She looked up at him, smiling grimly. She had a curiously exact
memory for the unpleasant scenes of life.
'Oh, you remember that unlucky evening!' said Robert, reddening a
little--'We soon got over that. We became great friends.'
Again, however, Lady Charlotte was struck by the quiet melancholy
of his tone. How strangely the look of youth--which had been so
attractive in him the year before--had ebbed from the man's face--from
complexion, eyes, expression! She stared at him, full of a brusque,
tormenting curiosity as to the how and why.
'I hope there is some one among you strong enough to manage Miss
Rose,' she said presently, with an abrupt change of subject. 'That
little sister-in-law of yours is going to be the rage.'
'Heaven forbid!' cried Robert fervently.
'Heaven will do nothing of the kind. She is twice as pretty as she
was last year; I am told she plays twice as well. She had always
the sort of manner that provoked people one moment and charmed them
the next. And, to judge by my few words with her just now, I should
say she had developed it finely. Well, now, Mr. Elsmere, who is
going to take care of her?'
'I suppose we shall all have a try at it, Lady Charlotte.'
'Her mother doesn't look to me a person of nerve enough,' said Lady
Charlotte coolly. 'She is a girl certain--absolutely certain--to
have adventures, and you may as well be prepared for them.'
'I can only trust she will disappoint your expectations, Lady
Charlotte,' said Robert, with a slightly sarcastic emphasis.
'Elsmere, who is that man talking to Miss Leyburn?' asked Langham
as the two friends stood side by side, a little later, watching the
'A certain Mr. Flaxman, brother to a pretty little neighbor of ours
in Surrey--Lady Helen Varley--and nephew to Lady Charlotte. I have
not seen him here before; but I think the girls like him.'
'Is he the Flaxman who got the mathematical prize at Berlin last
'Yes, I believe so. A striking person altogether. He is enormously
rich, Lady Helen tells me, in spite of an elder brother. All the
money in his mother's family has come to him, and he is the heir
to Lord Daniel's great Derbyshire property. Twelve years ago I
used to hear him talked about incessantly by the Cambridge men one
met. "Citizen Flaxman" they called him, for his opinion's sake.
He would ask his scout to dinner, and insist on dining with his own
servants, and shaking hands with his friends' butlers. The scouts
and the butlers put an end to that, and altogether, I imagine, the
world disappointed him. He has a story, poor fellow, too--a young
wife who died with her first baby ten years ago. The world supposes
him never to have got over it, which makes him all the more
interesting. A distinguished face, don't you think?--the good type
of English aristocrat.'
Langham assented. But his attention was fixed on the group in which
Rose's bright hair was conspicuous; and when Robert left him and
went to amuse Mrs. Leyburn, he still stood rooted to the same spot
watching. Rose was leaning against the piano, one hand behind her,
her whole attitude full of a young, easy, self-confident grace.
Mr. Flaxman was standing beside her, and they were deep in talk--serious
talk apparently, to judge by her quiet manner and the charmed,
attentive interest of his look. Occasionally, however, there was
a sally on her part, and an answering flash of laughter on his; but
the stream of conversation closed immediately over the interruption,
and flowed on as evenly as before.
Unconsciously Langham retreated further and further into the
comparative darkness of the inner room. He felt himself singularly
insignificant and out of place, and he made no more efforts to talk.
Rose played a violin solo, and played it with astonishing delicacy
and fire. When it was over Langham saw her turn from the applauding
circle crowding in upon her and throw a smiling interrogative look
over her shoulder at Mr. Flaxman. Mr. Flaxman bent over her, and
as he spoke Langham caught her flush, and the excited sparkle of
her eyes. Was this the 'someone in the stream?' No doubt!--no
When the party broke up Langham found himself borne toward the outer
room, and before he knew where he was going he was standing beside
'Are _you_ still here?' she said to him, startled, as he held out
his hand. He replied by some comments on the music, a little
lumbering and infelicitous, as all his small-talk was. She hardly
listened, but presently she looked up nervously, compelled as it
were by the great melancholy eves above her.
We are not always in this turmoil Mr. Langham. Perhaps some other
day you will come and make friends with my mother?'
Naturally, it was during their two months of autumn travel that
Elsmere and Catherine first realized in detail what Elsmere's act
was to mean to them, as husband and wife, in the future. Each left
England with the most tender and heroic resolves. And no one who
knows anything of life will need to be told that even for these two
finely natured people such resolves were infinitely easier to make
than to carry out.
'I will not preach to you--I will not persecute you!' Catherine had
said to her husband at the moment of her first shock and anguish.
And she did her utmost, poor thing! to keep her word. All through
the innumerable bitternesses which accompanied Elsmere's withdrawal
from Murewell--the letters which followed them, the remonstrances
of public and private friends, the paragraphs which found their
way, do what they would, into the newspapers--the pain of deserting,
as it seemed to her, certain poor and helpless folk who had been
taught to look to her and Robert, and whose bewildered lamentations
came to them through young, Armitstead--through all this she held
her peace; she did her best to soften Robert's grief; she never
once reproached him with her own.
But at the same time the inevitable separation of their inmost hopes
and beliefs had thrown her back on herself, had immensely strengthened
that Puritan independent fibre in her which her youth had developed,
and which her happy marriage had only temporarily masked, not
weakened. Never had Catherine believed so strongly and intensely
as now, when the husband who had been the guide and inspirer of her
religious life, had given up the old faith and practices. By virtue
of a kind of nervous instinctive dread, his relaxations bred increased
rigidity in her. Often when she was alone--or at night--she was
seized with a lonely, an awful sense of responsibility. Oh! let
her guard her faith, not only for her own sake, her child's, her
Lord's, but for his that it might be given to her patience at last
to lead him back.
And the only way in which it seemed to her possible to guard it was
to set up certain barriers of silence. She feared that fiery
persuasive quality in Robert she had so often seen at work on other
people. With him conviction was life--it was the man himself, to
an extraordinary degree. How was she to resist the pressure of
those now ardors with which his mind was filling--she who loved
him!--except by building, at any rate for the time, an inclosure
of silence round her Christian beliefs? It was in some ways a
pathetic repetition of the situation between Robert and the Squire
in the early days of their friendship, but in Catherine's mind there
was no trembling presence of new knowledge conspiring from within
with the forces without. At this moment of her life, she was more
passionately convinced than ever that the only knowledge truly worth
having in this world was: the knowledge of God's mercies in Christ.
So, gradually, with a gentle persistency she withdrew certain parts
of herself from Robert's ken; she avoided certain subjects, or
anything that might lead to them; she ignored the religious and
philosophical books he was constantly reading; she prayed and thought
alone--always for him, of him--but still resolutely alone. It was
impossible, however, that so great a change in their life could be
effected without a perpetual sense of breaking links, a perpetual
series of dumb wounds and griefs on both sides. There came a moment,
when, as he sat alone one evening in a pine wood above the Lake of
Geneva, Elsmere suddenly awoke to the conviction that in spite of
all his efforts and illusions, their relation to each other was
altering, dwindling, impoverishing; the terror of that summer night
at Murewell was being dismally justified.
His own mind during this time was in a state of perpetual discovery,
'sailing the seas where there was never sand'--the vast shadowy
seas of speculative thought. All his life, reserve to those nearest
to him had been pain and grief to him. He was one of those people,
as we know, who throw off readily; to whom sympathy, expansion, are
indispensable; who suffer physically and mentally from anything
cold and rigid beside them. And now, at every turn in their talk,
their reading, in many of the smallest details of their common
existence, Elsmere began to feel the presence of this cold and rigid
something. He was ever conscious of self-defence on her side, of
pained drawing back on his. And with every succeeding effort of
his at self-repression, it seemed to him as though fresh nails were
driven into the coffin of that old free habit of perfect confidence
which had made the heaven of their life since they had been man and
He sat on for long, through the September evening, pondering,
wrestling. Was it simply inevitable, the natural result of his own
act, and of her antecedents, to which be must submit himself, as
to any mutilation or loss of power in the body? The young lover
and husband rebelled--the believer rebelled--against the admission.
Probably if his change had left him anchorless and forsaken, as
it leaves many men, be would have been ready enough to submit, in
terror lest his own forlornness should bring about hers. But in
spite of the intellectual confusion which inevitably attends any
wholesale reconstruction of a man's platform of action, he had
never been more sure of God, or the Divine aims of the world, than
now; never more open than now, amid this exquisite Alpine world,
to those passionate moments of religious trust which are man's
eternal defiance to the iron silences about him. Originally, as
we know, he had shrunk from the thought of change in her corresponding
to his own; now that his own foothold was strengthening, his longing
for a new union was overpowering that old dread. The proselytizing
instinct may be never quite morally defensible, even as between
husband and wife. Nevertheless, in all strong, convinced, and
ardent souls it exists, and must be reckoned with.
At last one evening he was overcome by a sudden impulse which
neutralized for the moment his nervous dread of hurting her. Some
little incident of their day together was rankling, and it was borne
in upon him that almost any violent protest on her part would have
been preferable to this constant soft evasion of hers, which was
gradually, imperceptibly dividing heart from heart.
They were in a bare attic room at the very top of one of the huge
newly-built hotels which during the last twenty years have invaded
all the high places of Switzerland. The August, which had been so
hot in England, had been rainy and broken in Switzerland. But it
had been followed by a warm and mellow September, and the favorite
hotels below a certain height were still full. When the Elsmeres
arrived at Les Avants this scantily furnished garret out of which
some servants had been hurried to make room for them, was all that
could be found. They, however, liked it for its space and its view.
They looked sideways from their windows on to the upper end of the
lake, three thousand feet below them. Opposite, across the blue
water, rose a grandiose rampart of mountains, the stage on which
from morn till night the sun went through a long transformation
scene of beauty. The water was marked every now and then by passing
boats and steamers--tiny specks which served to measure the vastness
of all around them. To right and left, spurs of green mountains
shut out alike the lower lake and the icy splendors of the 'Valais
depths profound.' What made the charm of the narrow prospect was,
first, the sense it produced in the spectator of hanging dizzily
above the lake, with infinite air below him, and, then, the magical
effects of dawn and evening, when wreaths of mist would blot out
the valley and the lake, and leave the eye of the watcher face to
face across the fathomless abyss with the majestic mountain mass,
and its attendant retinue of clouds, as though they and he were
alone in the universe.
It was a peaceful September night. From the open window beside
him, Robert could see a world of high moonlight, limited and invaded
on all sides by sharp black masses of shade. A few rare lights
glimmered on the spreading alp below, and every now and then a
breath of music came to them wafted from a military band playing a
mile or two away. They had been climbing most of the afternoon,
and Catherine was lying down, her brown hair loose about her, the
thin oval of her face and clear line of brow just visible in the
Suddenly he stretched out his hand for his Greek Testament, which
was always near him, though there had been no common reading since
that bitter day of his confession to her. The mark still lay in
the well-worn volume at the point reached in their last reading at
Murewell. He opened upon it, and began the eleventh chapter of St.
Catherine trembled when she saw him take up the book. He began
without preface, treating the passage before him in his usual
way,--that is to say, taking verse after verse in the Greek,
translating and commenting. She never spoke all through, and at
last he closed the little Testament, and bent toward her, his look
full of feeling.
'Catherine! can't you let me--will you never let me tell you, now,
how that story--how the old things--affect me, from the new point
of view? You always stop me when I try. I believe you think of
me as having thrown it all away. Would it not comfort you sometimes,
if you knew that although much of the Gospels, this very raising
of Lazarus, for instance, seems to me no longer true in the historical
sense, still they are always full to me of an ideal, a poetical
truth? Lazarus may not have died and come to life, may never have
existed; but still to me, now as always, love for Jesus of Nazareth
is "resurrection" and "life?"'
He spoke with the most painful diffidence, the most wistful tenderness.
There was a pause. Then Catherine said, in a rigid, constrained
'If the Gospels are not true in fact, as history, as reality, I
cannot see how they are true at all, or of any value.'
The next minute she rose, and, going to the little wooden dressing-table,
she began to brush out and plat for the night her straight silky
veil of hair. As she passed him Robert saw her face pale and set.
He sat quiet another moment or two, and then he went toward her and
took her in his arms.
'Catherine,' he said to her, his lips trembling, 'am I never to
speak my mind to you anymore? Do you mean always to hold me at
arm's length--to refuse always to hear what I have to say in defence
of the change which has cost us both so much?'
She hesitated, trying hard to restrain herself. But it was of no
use. She broke into tears--quiet but most bitter tears.
'Robert, I cannot! Oh! you must see I cannot. It is not because
I am hard, but because I am weak. How can I stand up against you?
I dare not--I dare not. If you were not yourself--not my husband--'
Her voice dropped. Robert guessed that at the bottom of her
resistance there was an intolerable fear of what love might do with
her if she once gave it an opening. He felt himself cruel, brutal,
and yet an urgent sense of all that was at stake drove him on.
'I would not press or worry you, God knows!' he said, almost
piteously, kissing her forehead as she lay against him. 'But
remember, Catherine, I cannot put these things aside. I once thought
I could--that I could fall back on my historical work, and leave
religious matters alone as far as criticism was concerned. But I
cannot. They fill my mind more and more. I feel more and more
impelled to search them out, and to put my conclusions about them
into shape. And all the time this is going on, are you and I to
remain strangers to one another, and all that concerns our truest
life--are we, Catherine?'
He spoke in a low voice of intense feeling. She turned her face
and pressed her lips to his hand. Both had the scene in the wood-path
after her flight and return in their minds, and both were filled
with a despairing sense of the difficulty of living, not through
great crises, but through the detail of every day.
'Could yon not work at other things?' she whispered.
He was silent, looking straight before him into the moon-lit shimmer
and white spectral hazes of the valley, his arms still round her.
'No!' he burst out at last; 'not till I have satisfied myself. I
feel it burning within me, like a command from God, to work out the
problem, to make it clearer to myself--and to others,' he added
Her heart sank within her. The last words called up before her a
dismal future of controversy and publicity, in which at every stop
she would be condemning her husband.
'And all this time, all these years, perhaps,' he went on--before,
in her perplexity, she could find words--'is my wife never going
to let me speak freely to her? Am I to act, think, judge, without
her knowledge? Is she to know less of me than a friend, less even
than the public for whom I write or speak?'
It seemed intolerable to him, all the more that every moment they
stood there together it was being impressed upon him that in fact
this was what she meant, what she had contemplated from the beginning.
'Robert, I cannot defend myself against you,' she cried, again
clinging to him. 'Oh, think for me! You know what I feel; that I
dare not risk what is not mine!'
He kissed her again and then moved away from her to the window.
It began to be plain to him that his effort was merely futile, and
had better not have been made. But his heart was very sore.
'Do you ever ask yourself--' he said presently, looking steadily
into the night--'no, I don't think you can, Catherine--what part
the reasoning faculty, that faculty which marks us out from the
animal, was meant to play in life? Did God give it to us simply
that you might trample upon it and ignore it both in yourself and
She had dropped into a chair, and sat with clasped hands, her hair
falling about her white dressing-gown, and framing the nobly-featured
face blanched by the moonlight. She did not attempt a reply, but
the melancholy of an invincibly resolution, which was, so to speak,
not her own doing, but rather was like a necessity imposed upon her
from outside, breathed through her silence.
He turned and looked at her. She raised her arms, and the gesture
reminded him for a moment of the Donatello figure in the Murewell
library--the same delicate austere beauty, the same tenderness, the
same underlying reserve. He took her outstretched hands and held
them against his breast. His hotly-beating heart told him that he
was perfectly right, and that to accept the barriers she was setting
up would impoverish all their future life together. But he could
not struggle with the woman on whom he had already inflicted so
severe a practical trial. Moreover, he felt strangely as he stood
there the danger of rousing in her those illimitable possibilities
of the religious temper, the dread of which had once before risen
spectre-like in his heart.
So once more he yielded. She rewarded him with all the charm, all
the delightfulness, of which under the circumstances she was mistress.
They wandered up the Rhone valley, through the St. Gothard, and
spent a fortnight between Como and Lugano. During these days her
one thought was to revive and refresh him, and he let her tend him,
and lent himself to the various heroic futilities by which she would
try as part of her nursing mission--to make the future look less
empty and their distress less real. Of course under all this
delicate give and take both suffered; both felt that the promise
of their marriage had failed them, and that they had come dismally
down to a second best. But after all they were young, and the
autumn was beautiful--and though they hurt each other, they were
alone together, and constantly, passionately, interested in each
other. Italy, too, softened all things--even Catherine's English
tone and temper. As long as the delicious luxury of the Italian
autumn, with all its primitive pagan suggestiveness, was still round
them, as long as they were still among the cities of the Lombard
plain--that battleground and highway of nations, which roused all
Robert's historical enthusiasm, and set him reading, discussing,
thinking--in his old impetuous way--about something else than minute
problems of Christian evidence, the newborn friction between them
was necessarily reduced to a minimum.
But with their return home, with their plunge into London life, the
difficulties of the situation began to define themselves more
sharply. In after years, one of Catherine's dreariest memories was
the memory of their first instalment in the Bedford Square house.
Robert's anxiety to make it pleasant and homelike was pitiful to
watch. He had none of the modern passion for upholstery, and
probably the vaguest notions of what was aesthetically correct. But
during their furnishing days, he was never tired of wandering about
in search of pretty things--a rug, a screen, an engraving which
might brighten the rooms in which Catherine was to live. He would
put everything in its place with a restless eagerness, and then
Catherine would be called in, and would play her part bravely. She
would smile and ask questions, and admire, and then when Robert had
gone, she would move slowly to the window and look out at the great
mass of the British Museum frowning beyond the little dingy strip
of garden, with a sick longing in her heart for the Murewell
cornfield, the wood-path, the village, the free air-bathed spaces
of heath and common. Oh! this huge London, with its unfathomable
poverty and its heartless wealth--how it oppressed and bewildered
her! Its mere grime and squalor, its murky, poisoned atmosphere
were a perpetual trial to the country-woman brought up amid the
dash of mountain streams and the scents of mountain pastures. She
drooped physically for a time, as did the child.
But morally? With Catherine everything really depended on the moral
state. She could have followed Robert to a London living with a
joy and hope which would have completely deadened all these repulsions
of the senses, now so active in her. But without this inner glow,
in the presence of the profound spiritual difference circumstance
had developed between her and the man she loved, everything was a
burden. Even her religion, though she clung to it with an
ever-increasing tenacity, failed at this period to bring her much
comfort. Every night it seemed to her that the day had been one
long and dreary struggle to make something out of nothing; and in
the morning the night, too, seemed to have been alive with
conflict--_All Thy waves and Thy storms have gone over me!_
Robert guessed it all, and whatever remorseful love could do to
soften such a strain and burden he tried to do. He encouraged her
to find work among the poor; he tried in the tenderest ways to
interest her in the great spectacle of London life which was already,
in spite of yearning and regret, beginning to fascinate and absorb
himself. But their standards were now so different that she was
constantly shrinking from what attracted him, or painfully judging
what was to him merely curious and interesting. He was really more
and more oppressed by her intellectual limitations, though never
consciously would he have allowed himself to admit them, and she
was more and more bewildered by what constantly seemed to her a
breaking up of principles, a relaxation of moral fibre.
And the work among the poor was difficult. Robert instinctively
felt that for him to offer his services in charitable work to the
narrow Evangelical whose church Catherine had joined, would have
been merely to invite rebuff. So that even in the love and care
of the unfortunate they were separated. For he had not yet found
a sphere of work, and if he had, Catherine's invincible impulse in
these matters was always to attach herself to the authorities and
powers that be. He could only acquiesce when she suggested applying
to Mr. Clarendon for some charitable occupation for herself.
After her letter to him, Catherine had an interview with the Vicar
at his home. She was puzzled by the start and sudden pause for
recollection with which he received her name, the tone of compassion
which crept into his talk with her, the pitying look and grasp of
the hand with which he dismissed her. Then, as she walked home,
it flashed upon her that she had seen a copy, some weeks old, of
the _Record_ lying on the good man's table, the very copy which
contained Robert's name among the list of men who during the last
ten years had thrown up the Anglican ministry. The delicate face
flushed miserably from brow to chin. Pitied for being Robert's
wife! Oh, monstrous!--incredible!
Meanwhile Robert, man-like, in spite of all the griefs and sorenesses
of the position, had immeasurably the best of it. In the first
place such incessant activity of mind as his is in itself both tonic
and narcotic. It was constantly generating in him fresh purposes
and hopes, constantly deadening regret, and pushing the old things
out of sight. He was full of many projects literary and social,
but they were all in truth the fruits of one long experimental
process, the passionate attempt of the reason to justify to itself
the God in whom the heart believed. Abstract thought, as Mr. Grey
saw, had had comparatively little to do with Elsmere's relinquishment
of the Church of England. But as soon as the Christian bases of
faith were overthrown, that faith had naturally to find for itself
other supports and attachments. For faith itself--in God and a
spiritual order--had been so wrought into the nature by years of
reverent and adoring living, that nothing could destroy it. With
Elsmere as with all men of religious temperament, belief in
Christianity and faith in God had not at the outset been a matter
of reasoning at all, but of sympathy, feeling, association, daily
experience. Then the intellect had broken in, and destroyed or
transformed the belief in Christianity. But after the crash, _faith_
emerged as strong as ever, only craving and eager to make a fresh
peace, a fresh compact with the reason.
Elsmere had heard Grey say long ago in one of the few moments of
real intimacy he had enjoyed with him at Oxford, 'My interest in
philosophy springs solely from the chance it offers me of knowing
something more of God!' Driven by the same thirst he too threw
himself into the same quest, pushing his way laboriously through
the philosophical border-lands of science, through the ethical
speculation of the day, through the history of man's moral and
religious past. And while on the one hand the intellect was able
to contribute an ever stronger support to the faith which was the
man; on the other, the sphere in him of a patient ignorance, which
abstains from all attempts at knowing what man cannot know, and
substitutes trust for either knowledge or despair, was perpetually
widening. 'I take my stand on conscience and the moral life!' was
the upshot of it all. 'In them I find my God! As for all these
various problems, ethical and scientific, which you press upon me,
my pessimist friend, I, too, am bewildered; I, too, have no
explanations to offer. But I trust and wait. In spite of them--beyond
them--I have abundantly enough for faith--for hope--for action!'
We may quote a passage or two from some letters of his written at
this time to that young Armitstead who had taken his place at
Murewell and was still there till Mowbray Elsmere should appoint a
new man. Armitstead had been a college friend of Elsmere's. He
was a High Churchman of a singularly gentle and delicate type, and
the manner in which he had received Elsmere's story on the day of
his arrival at Murewell had permanently endeared him to the teller
of it. At the same time the defection from Christianity of a man
who at Oxford had been to him the object of much hero-worship, and,
since Oxford, an example of pastoral efficiency, had painfully
affected young Armitstead, and he began a correspondence with Robert
which was in many ways a relief to both. In Switzerland and Italy,
when his wife's gentle inexorable silence became too oppressive to
him, Robert would pour himself out in letters to Armitstead, and
the correspondence did not altogether cease with his return to
London. To the Squire during the same period Elsmere also wrote
frequently, but rarely or never on religious matters.
On one occasion Armitstead had been pressing the favorite Christian
dilemma--Christianity or nothing. Inside Christianity, light and
certainly; outside it, chaos. 'If it were not for the Gospels and
the Church I should be a Positivist to-morrow. Your Theism is a
mere arbitrary hypothesis, at the mercy of any rival philosophical
theory. How, regarding our position as precarious, you should come
to regard your own as stable, is to me incomprehensible!'
'What I conceive to be the vital difference between Theism and
Christianity,' wrote Elsmere in reply, 'is that as an explanation
of things _Theism can never be disproved_. At the worst it must
always remain in the position of an alternative hypothesis, which
the hostile man of science cannot destroy, though he is under no
obligation to adopt it. Broadly speaking, it is not the facts which
are in dispute, but the inference to be drawn from them.'
'Now, considering the enormous complication of the facts, the
Theistic inference will, to put it at the lowest, always have its
place, always command respect. The man of science may not adopt
it, but by no advance of science that I, at any rate, can foresee,
can it be driven out of the field.
'Christianity is in a totally different position. Its grounds are
not philosophical but literary and historical. It rests not upon
all fact, but upon a special group of facts. It is and will always
remain, a great literary and historical problem, a _question of
documents and testimony_. Hence, the Christian explanation is
vulnerable in a way in which the Theistic explanation can never be
vulnerable. The contention at any rate, of persons in my position
is: That to the man who has had the special training required, and
in whom this training has not been neutralized by any overwhelming
bias of temperament, it can be as clearly demonstrated that the
miraculous Christian story rests on a tissue of mistake, as it can
be demonstrated that the Isidorian Decretals were a forgery, or the
correspondence of Paul and Seneca a pious fraud, or that the mediaeval
belief in witchcraft was the product of physical ignorance and
'You say,' he wrote again, in another connection, to Armitstead
from Milan, 'you say you think my later letters have been far too
aggressive and positive. I, too, am astonished at myself. I do
not know my own mood, it is so clear, so sharp, so combative. Is
it the spectacle of Italy, I wonder--of a country practically without
religion--the spectacle in fact of Latin Europe as a whole, ad the
practical Atheism in which it is engulfed? My dear friend, the
problem of the world at this moment is--_how to find a religion?_--some
great conception which shall be once more capable, as the old was
capable, of welding societies, and keeping man's brutish elements
in check. Surely Christianity of the traditional sort is failing
everywhere--less obviously with us, and in Teutonic Europe generally,
but notoriously, in all the Catholic countries. We talk complacently
of the decline of Buddhism. But what have we to say of the decline
of Christianity? And yet this last is infinitely more striking and
more tragic, inasmuch as it affects a more important section of
mankind. I, at any rate, am not one of those who would seek to
minimize the results of this decline for human life, nor can I bring
myself to believe that Positivism or "evolutional morality" will
ever satisfy the race.'
'In the period of social struggle which undeniably lies before us,
both in the old and the new world, are we then to witness a war of
classes, unsoftened by the ideal hopes, the ideal law, of faith?
It looks like it. What does the artisan class, what does the town
democracy throughout Europe, care any longer for Christian checks
or Christian sanctions as they have been taught to understand them?
Superstition, in certain parts of rural Europe, there is in plenty,
but wherever you get intelligence and therefore movement, you got
at once either indifference to, or a passionate break with Christianity.
And consider what it means, what it will mean, this Atheism of the
great democracies which are to be our masters! The world has never
seen anything like it; such spiritual anarchy and poverty combined
with such material power and resource. Every society--Christian
and non-Christian--has always till now had its ideal, of greater
or less ethical value, its appeal to something beyond man. Has
Christianity brought us to this: that the Christian nations are to
be the first in the world's history to try the experiment of a life
without faith--that life which you and I, at any rate, are agreed
in thinking a life worthy only of the brute?
'Oh forgive me! These things must hurt you--they would have hurt
me in old days--but they burn within me, and you bid me speak out.
What if it be God himself who is driving His painful lesson home
to me, to you, to the world? What does it mean: this gradual growth
of what we call infidelity, of criticism and science on the one
hand, this gradual death of the old traditions on the other? _Sin_,
you answer, _the enmity of the human mind against God, the momentary
triumph of Satan_. And so you acquiesce, heavy-hearted, in God's
present defeat, looking for vengeance and requital here-after. I
am not so ready to believe in man's capacity to rebel against his
Maker! Where you see ruin and sin, I see the urgent process of
Divine education, God's steady ineluctable command "to put away
childish things," the pressure of His spirit on ours toward new
ways of worship and new forms of love!'
And after a while it was with these 'new ways of worship and now
forms of love' that the mind began to be perpetually occupied. The
break with the old things was no sooner complete, than the eager
soul, incapable then, as always, of resting in negation or oppositions
pressed passionately forward to a new synthesis, not only speculative,
but practical. Before it rose perpetually the haunting vision of
another palace of faith--another church or company of the faithful,
which was to become the shelter of human aspiration amid the
desolation and anarchy caused by the crashing of the old! How many
men and women must have gone through the same strait as itself--how
many must be watching with it through the darkness for the rising
of a new City of God!
One afternoon, close upon Christmas, he found himself in Parliament
Square, on his way toward Westminster Bridge and the Embankment.
The beauty of a sunset sky behind the Abbey arrested him, and he
stood leaning over the railings beside the Peel statue to look.
The day before, he had passed the same spot with a German friend.
His companion--a man of influence and mark in his own country, who
had been brought up however in England and knew it well--had stopped
before the Abbey and had said to him with emphasis: 'I never find
myself in this particular spot of London without a sense of emotion
and reverence. Other people feel that in treading the Forum of
Rome they are at the centre of human things. I am more thrilled
by Westminster than Rome; your venerable Abbey is to me the symbol
of a nationality to which the modern world owes obligations it can
never repay. You are rooted deep in the past; you have also a
future of infinite expansiveness stretching before you. Among
European nations at this moment you alone have freedom in the true
sense, you alone have religion. I would give a year of life to
know what you will have made of your freedom and your religion two
hundred years hence!'
As Robert recalled the words, the Abbey lay before him, wrapped in
the bluish haze of the winter afternoon. Only the towers rose out
of the mist, gray and black against the red bands of cloud. A pair
of pigeons circled round them, as careless and free in flight as
though they were alone with the towers and the sunset. Below, the
streets were full of people; the omnibuses rolled to and fro; the
lamps were just lit; lines of straggling figures, dark in the half
light, were crossing the street here and there. And to all the
human rush and swirl below, the quiet of the Abbey and the infinite
red distances of sky gave a peculiar pathos and significance.
Robert filled his eye and sense, and then walked quickly away toward
the Embankment. Carrying the poetry and grandeur of England's past
with him, he turned his face east-ward to the great new-made London
on the other side of St. Paul's, the London of the democracy, of
the nineteenth century, and of the future. He was wrestling with
himself, a prey to one of those critical moments of life, when
circumstance seems once more to restore to us the power of choice,
of distributing a Yes or a No among the great solicitations which
meet the human spirit on its path from silence to silence. The
thought of his friend's reverence, and of his own personal debt
toward the country to whose long travail of centuries he owed all
his own joys and faculties, was hot within him.
Here and here did England help me--how can I help England,--say!
Ah! that vast chaotic London south and east of the great church!
He already knew something of it. A Liberal clergyman there, settled
in the very blackest, busiest heart of it, had already made him
welcome on Mr. Grey's introduction. He had gone with this good man
on several occasions through some little fraction of that teeming
world, now so hidden and peaceful between the murky river mists and
the cleaner light-filled rays of the sky. He had heard much, and
pondered a good deal, the quick mind caught at once by the differences,
some tragic, some merely curious and stimulating, between the
monotonous life of his own rural folk, and the mad rush, the voracious
hurry, the bewildering appearances and disappearances, the sudden
engulfments, of working London.
Moreover, he had spent a Sunday or two wandering among the East End
churches. There, rather than among the streets and courts outside,
as it had seemed to him, lay the tragedy of the city. Such emptiness,
such desertion, such a hopeless breach between the great craving
need outside and the boon offered it within! Here and there, indeed,
a patch of bright colored success, as it claimed to be, where the
primitive tendency of man toward the organized excitement of religious
ritual, visible in all nations and civilizations, had been appealed
to with more energy and more results than usual. But in general,
blank failure, or rather obvious want of success--as the devoted
men now beating the void there were themselves the first to admit,
with pain, and patient submission to the inscrutable Will of God.
But is it not time we assured ourselves, he was always asking,
whether God is still in truth behind the offer man is perpetually
making to his brother man on His behalf? He was behind it once,
and it had efficacy, had power. But now--What if all these processes
of so-called destruction and decay were but the mere workings of
that divine plastic force which is forever moulding human society?
What if these beautiful venerable things which had fallen from
him, as from thousands of his follows, represented, in the present
stage of the world's history, not the props, but the hinderances,
And if all these large things were true, as he believed, what should
be the individual's part in this transition England? Surely, at
the least, a part of plain sincerity of act and speech--a correspondence
as perfect as could be reached between the inner faith and the outer
word and deed. So much, at the least, was clearly required of him!
'Do not imagine,' he said to himself, as though with a fierce dread
of possible self-delusion, 'that it is in you to play any great,
any commanding part. Shun the thought of it, if it were possible!
But let me do what is given me to do! Here in this human wilderness,
may I spend whatever of time or energy or faculty may be mine, in
the faithful attempt to help forward the new House of Faith that
is to be, though my utmost efforts should but succeed in laying
some obscure stone in still unseen foundations! Let me try and
hand on to some other human soul, or souls, before I die, the truth
which has freed, and which is now sustaining my own heart. Can any
do more? Is not every man who feels any certainty in him, whatever,
bound to do as much? What matter if the wise folk scoff, if even
at times, and in a certain sense, one seem to oneself ridiculous--absurdly
lonely and powerless! All great changes are preceded by numbers
of sporadic, and as the bystander thinks, impotent efforts. But
while the individual effort sinks, drowned perhaps in mockery, the
general movement quickens, gathers force we know not how, and--'
'While the tired wave vainly breaking,
Seems here no painful Inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in the main!'
Darkness sank over the river; all the gray and purple distance with
its dim edge of spires and domes against the sky, all the vague
intervening blackness of street, or bridge or railway station were
starred and patterned with lights. The vastness, the beauty of the
city filled him with a sense of mysterious attraction, and as he
walked on with his face uplifted to it, it was as though he took
his life in his hand and flung it afresh into the human gulf.
'What does it matter if one's work be raw and uncomely! All that
lies outside the great organized traditions of an age must always
look so. Let me bear my witness bravely, not spending life in
speech, but not undervaluing speech--above all, not being ashamed
or afraid of it, because other wise people may prefer a policy of
silence. A man has but the one pure life, the one tiny spark of
faith. Better be venturesome with both for God's sake, than
over-cautious, over-thrifty. And--to his own Master he standeth
Plans of work of all kinds, literary and practical, thoughts of
preaching in some bare bidden room to men and women orphaned and
strangled like himself, began to crowd upon him. The old clerical
instinct in him winced at some of them. Robert had nothing of the
sectary about him by nature; he was always too deeply and easily
affected by the great historic existences about him. But when the
Oxford man or the ex-official of one of the most venerable and
decorous of societies protested, the believer, or, if you will, the
enthusiast, put the protest by.
And so the dream gathered substance and stayed with him, till at
last he found himself at his own door. As he closed it behind him,
Catherine came out into the pretty old hall from the dining-room.
'Robert, have you walked all the way?'
'Yes. I came along the Embankment. Such a beautiful evening!'
He slipped his arm inside hers, and they mounted the stairs together.
She glanced at him wistfully. She was perfectly aware that these
months were to him months of incessant travail of spirit, and she
caught at this moment the old strenuous look of eye and brow she
knew so well. A year ago, and every thought of his mind had been
open to her--and now--she herself had shut them out--but her heart
sank within her.
She turned and kissed him. He bent his head fondly over her. But
inwardly all the ardor of his mood collapsed at the touch of her.
For the protest of a world in arms can be withstood with joy, but
the protest that steals into your heart, that takes love's garb and
uses love's ways--_there_ is the difficulty!
But Robert was some time in finding his opening, in realizing any
fraction of his dream. At first he tried work under the Broad
Church Vicar to whom Grey had introduced him. He undertook some
rent-collecting, and some evening lectures on elementary science
to boys and men. But after a while he began to feel his position
false and unsatisfactory. In truth, his opinions were in the main
identical with those of the Vicar under whom he was acting. But
Mr. Vernon was a Broad Churchman, belonged to the Church Reform
movement, and thought it absolutely necessary to 'keep things going,'
and by a policy of prudent silence and gradual expansion from within,
to save the great 'plant' of the Establishment from falling wholesale
into the hands of the High Churchmen. In consequence, he was
involved, as Robert held, in endless contradictions and practical
falsities of speech and action. His large church was attended by
a handful of some fifty to a hundred persons. Vernon could not
preach what he did believe, and would not preach, more than what
was absolutely necessary, what he did not believe. He was hard-working
and kind-hearted, but the perpetual divorce between thought and
action, which his position made inevitable, was constantly blunting
and weakening all he did. His whole life, indeed, was one long
waste of power, simply for lack of an elementary frankness.
But if these became Robert's views as to Vernon, Vernon's feeling
toward Elsmere after six weeks' acquaintance was not less decided.
He was constitutionally timid, and he probably divined in his new
helper a man of no ordinary calibre, whose influence might very
well turn out some day to be of the 'incalculably diffusive' kind.
He grew uncomfortable, begged Elsmere to beware of any 'direct
religious teaching,' talked in warm praise of a 'policy of omissions,'
and in equally warm denunciation of 'anything like a policy of
attack.' In short, it became plain that two men so much alike and
yet so different, could not long co-operate.
However, just as the fact was being brought home to Elsmere, a
friendly chance intervened.
Hugh Flaxman, the Leyburns' new acquaintance and Lady Helen's
brother, had been drawn to Elsmere at first sight; and a meeting
or two, now at Lady Charlotte's, now at the Leyburns', had led both
men far on the way to a friendship. Of Hugh Flaxman himself more
hereafter. At present all that need be recorded is that it was at
Mr. Flaxman's house, overlooking St. James's Park, Robert first met
a man who was to give him the opening for which he was looking.
Mr. Flaxman was fond of breakfast parties a la Rogers, and on the
first occasion when Robert could be induced to attend one of these
functions, he saw opposite to him what be supposed to be a lad of
twenty, a young slip of a fellow, whose sallies of fun and invincible
good humor attracted him greatly.
Sparkling brown eyes, full lips rich in humor and pugnacity, 'lockes
crull as they were layde in presse,' the same look of 'wonderly'
activity too, in spite of his short stature and dainty make, as
Chaucer lends his Squire--the type was so fresh ad pleasing that
Robert was more and more held by it, especially when he discovered
to his bewilderment that the supposed stripling must be from his
talk a man quite as old as himself, an official besides, filling
what was clearly some important place in the world. He took his
full share in the politics and literature started at the table, and
presently, when conversation fell on the proposed municipality for
London, said things to which the whole party listened. Robert's
curiosity was aroused, and after breakfast he questioned his host
and was promptly introduced to 'Mr. Murray Edwardes.'
Whereupon it turned out that this baby-faced sage was filling a
post, in the work of which perhaps few people in London could have
taken so much interest as Robert Elsmere.
Fifty years before, a wealthy merchant who had been one of the chief
pillars of London Unitarianism had made his will and died. His
great warehouses lay in one of the Eastern riverside districts of
the city, and in his will he endeavored to do something according
to his lights for the place in which he had amassed his money. He
left a fairly large bequest wherewith to build and endow a Unitarian
chapel and found certain Unitarian charities, in the heart of what
was even then one of the densest and most poverty-stricken of London
parishes. For a long time, however, chapel and charities seemed
likely to rank as one of the idle freaks of religious wealth and
nothing more. Unitarianism of the old sort is perhaps the most
illogical creed that exists, and certainly it has never been the
creed of the poor. In old days it required the presence of a certain
arid stratum of the middle classes to live and thrive at all. This
stratum was not to be found in R----, which rejoiced instead in the
most squalid types of poverty and crime, types wherewith the mild
shrivelled Unitarian minister had about as much power of grappling
as a Poet Laureate with a Trafalgar Square Socialist.
Soon after the erection of the chapel, there arose that shaking of
the dry bones of religious England which we call the Tractarian
movement. For many years the new force left R---- quite undisturbed.
The parish church droned away, the Unitarian minister preached
decorously to empty benches, knowing nothing of the agitations
outside. At last however, toward the end of the old minister's
life, a powerful church of the new type, staffed by friends and
pupils of Pussy, rose in the centre of R----, and the little Unitarian
chapel was for a time more snuffed out than ever, a fate which this
time it shared dismally with the parish church. As generally
happened, however, in those days, the proceedings at this now and
splendid St. Wilfrid's were not long in stirring up the Protestantism
of the British rough,--the said Protestantism being always one of
the finest excuses for brickbats of which the modern cockney is
master. The parish lapsed into a state of private war--hectic
clergy heading exasperated processions or intoning defiant Litanies
on the one side,--mobs, rotten eggs, dead cats, and blatant Protestant
orators on the other.
The war went on practically for years, and while it was still raging,
the minister of the Unitarian chapel died, and the authorities
concerned chose in his place a young fellow, the son of a Bristol
minister, a Cambridge man besides, as chance would have it, of
brilliant attainments, and unusually commended from many quarters,
even including some Church ones of the Liberal kind. This curly-haired
youth, as he was then in reality, and as to his own quaint vexation
he went on seeming to be up to quite middle age, had the wit to
perceive at the moment of his entry on the troubled scene that
behind all the mere brutal opposition to the new church, and in
contrast with the sheer indifference of three-fourths of the district,
there was a small party consisting of an aristocracy of the artisans,
whose protest against the Puseyite doings was of a much quieter,
sterner sort, and among whom the uproar had mainly roused a certain
crude power of thinking. He threw himself upon this element, which
he rather divined than discovered, and it responded. He preached
a simple creed, drove it home by pure and generous living; he
lectured, taught, brought down workers from the West End, and before
he had been five years in the harness had not only made himself a
power in R----, but was beginning to be heard of and watched with
no small interest by many outsiders.
This was the man on whom Robert had now stumbled. Before they had
talked twenty minutes each was fascinated by the other. They said
good-by to their host, and wandered out together into St. James's
Park, where the trees were white with frost and an orange sun was
struggling through the fog. Here Murray Edwardes poured out the
whole story of his ministry to attentive ears. Robert listened
eagerly. Unitarianism was not a familiar subject of thought to
him. He had never dreamt of joining the Unitarians, and was indeed
long ago convinced that in the beliefs of a Channing no one once
fairly started on the critical road could rationally stop. That
common thinness and aridity too of the Unitarian temper had weighed
with him. But here, in the person of Murray Edwardes, it was as
though he saw something old and threadbare revivified. The young
man's creed, as he presented it, had grace, persuasiveness even
unction: and there was something in his tone of mind which was like
a fresh wind blowing over the fevered places of the other's heart.
They talked long and earnestly, Edwardes describing his own work,
and the changes creeping over the modern Unitarian body, Elsmere
saying little, asking much.
At last the young man looked at Elsmere with eyes of bright decision.
'You cannot work with the Church!' he said--'it is impossible. You
will only wear yourself out in efforts to restrain what you could
do infinitely more good, as things stand now, by pouring out. Come
to us!--I will put you in the way. You shall be hampered by no
pledges of any sort. Come and take the direction of some of my
workers. We have all got our hands more than full. Your knowledge,
your experience, would be invaluable. There is no other opening
like it in England just now for men of your way of thinking and
mine. Come! Who knows what we may be putting our Hands to--what
fruit may grow from the smallest seed?'
The two men stopped beside the lightly frozen water. Robert gathered
that in this soul, too, there had risen the same large intoxicating
dream of a recognized Christendom, a new wide-spreading, shelter
of faith for discouraged, brow-beaten man, as in his own. 'I will!'
he said briefly, after a pause, his own look kindling--'it is the
opening I have been pining for. I will give you all I can, and
bless you for the chance.'
That evening Robert got home late after a busy day full of various
engagements. Mary, after some waiting up for 'Fader,' had just
been carried protesting, red lips pouting, and fat legs kicking,
off to bed. Catherine was straightening the room, which had been
thrown into confusion by the child's romps.
It was with an effort--for he knew it would be a shock to her--that
he began to talk to her about the breakfast-party at Mr. Flaxman's,
and his talk with Murray Edwardes. But be had made it a rule with
himself to tell her everything that he was doing or meant to do.
She would not let him tell her what he was thinking. But as much
openness as there could be between them, there should be.
Catherine listened--still moving about the while--the thin beautiful
lips becoming more and more compressed. Yes, it was hard to her,
very hard; the people among whom she had been brought up, her father
especially, would have held out the hand of fellowship to any body
of Christian people, but not to the Unitarian. No real barrier of
feeling divided them from any orthodox Dissenter, but the gulf
between them and the Unitarian had been dug very deep by various
forces--forces of thought originally, of strong habit and prejudice
in the course of time.
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