Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 16 out of 16
In Rose's soberly-sweet looks as he left her, Hugh Flaxman saw for
an instant, with the stirring of a joy as profound as if was delicate,
not the fanciful enchantress of the day before, but his wife that
was to be. And yet she held him to his bargain. All that his lips
touched as he said good-by was the little bunch of yellow briar
roses she gave him from her belt.
Thirty hours later he was descending the long hill from Sassetot
to Petites Dalles. It was the first of September. A chilly west
wind blew up the dust before him and stirred the parched leafage
of the valley. He knocked at the door, of which the woodwork was
all peeled and blistered by the sun. Catherine herself opened it.
'This is kind--this is like yourself!' she said, after a first stare
of amazement, when he had explained himself. 'He is in there, much
Robert looked up, stupefied, as Hugh Flaxman entered. But he sprang
up with his old brightness.
Well, this _is_ friendship! What on earth brings you here, old
fellow? Why aren't you in the stubbles celebrating St. Partridge?'
Hugh Flaxman said what he had to say very shortly, but so as to
make Robert's eyes gleam, and to bring his thin hand with a sort
of caressing touch upon Flaxman's shoulder.
'I shan't try to thank you--Catherine can if she likes. How relieved
she will be about that bothering journey of ours! However, I am
really ever so much better. It was very sharp while it lasted; and
the doctor no great shakes. But there never was such a woman as
my wife; she pulled me through! And now then, sir, just kindly
confess yourself, a little more plainly. What brought you and my
sisters-in-law together? You-need not try and persuade _me_ that
Long Whindale is the natural gate of the Lakes, or the route intended
by Heaven from London to Scotland, though I have no doubt you tried
that little fiction on them.'
Hugh Flaxman laughed, and sat down, very deliberately.
'I am glad to see that illness has not robbed you of that perspicacity
for which you are so remarkable, Elsmere. Well, the day before
yesterday I asked your sister Rose to marry me. She----'
'Go on man,' cried Robert, exasperated by his pause.
'I don't know how to put it,' said Flaxman calmly. 'For six months
we are to be rather more than friends, and a good deal less than
_fiances_. I am to be allowed to write to her. You may imagine
how seductive it is to one of the worst and laziest letter-writers
in the three kingdoms, that his fortunes in love should be made to
depend on his correspondence. I may scold her _if_ she gives me
occasion. And in six months, as one says to a publisher, "the
agreement will be open to revision."'
'And you are not engaged?'
'Not as I understand it,' replied Flaxman. 'Decidedly not!' he
added with energy, remembering that very platonic farewell.
Robert sat with his hands on his knees, ruminating.
'A fantastic thing, the modern young woman! Still I think I can
understand. There may have been more than mere caprice in it.'
His eye met his friend's significantly.
'I suppose so,' said Flaxman quietly. Not even for Robert's benefit
was he going to reveal any details of that scene on High Fell.
'Never mind, old fellow, I am content. And, indeed, _faute de
mieux_, I should be content with anything that brought me nearer
to her, were it but by the thousandth of an inch.'
Robert grasped his hand affectionately.
'Catherine,' he called through the door, 'never mind the supper;
let it burn. Flaxman brings news.'
Catherine listened to the story with amazement. Certainly her ways
would never have been as her sister's.
'Are we supposed to know?' she asked, very naturally.
'She never forbade me to tell,' said Flaxman, smiling. 'I think,
however, if I were you, I should say nothing about it--yet. I told
her it was part of our bargain that _she_ should explain my letters
to Mrs. Leyburn. I gave her free leave to invent any fairy tale
she pleased, but it was to be _her_ invention, not mine.'
Neither Robert nor Catherine were very well pleased. But there was
something reassuring as well as comic in the stoicism with which
Flaxman took his position. And clearly the matter must be left to
Next morning the weather had improved. Robert, his hand on Flaxman's
arm, got down to the beach. Flaxman watched him critically, did
not like some of his symptoms, but thought on the whole he must be
recovering at the normal rate, considering how severe the attack
'What do you think of him?' Catherine asked him next day, with all
her soul in her eyes. They had left Robert established in a sunny
nook, and were strolling on along the sands.
'I think you must get him home, call in a first-rate doctor, and
keep him quiet,' said Flaxman. 'He will be all right presently.'
'How _can_ we keep him quiet?' said Catherine, with a momentary
despair in her fine pale face. 'All day long and all night long
he is thinking of his work. It is like something fiery burning the
heart out of him.'
Flaxman felt the truth of the remark during the four days of calm
autumn weather he spent with them before the return journey. Robert
would talk to him for hours--now on the sands, with the gray infinity
of sea before them-now pacing the bounds of their little room till
fatigue made him drop heavily into his long chair; and the burden
of it all was the religious future of the working-class. He described
the scene in the club, and brought out the dreams swarming in his
mind, presenting them for Flaxman's criticism, and dealing with
them himself, with that startling mixture of acute common-sense and
eloquent passion which had always made him so effective as an
initiator. Flaxman listened dubiously at first, as he generally
listened to Elsmere, and then was carried away, not by the beliefs,
but by the man. _He_ found his pleasure in dallying with the
magnificent _possibility_ of the Church; doubt with him applied to
all propositions, whether positive or negative; and he had the
dislike of the aristocrat and the cosmopolitan for the provincialisms
of religious dissent. Political dissent or social reform was another
matter. Since the Revolution, every generous child of the century
has been open to the fascination of political or social Utopias.
But religion! _What--what is truth?_ Why not let the old things
However, it was through the social passion, once so real in him,
and still living, in spite of disillusion and self-mockery, that
Robert caught him, had in fact been slowly gaining possession of
him all these months.
'Well,' said Flaxman one day, 'suppose I grant you that Christianity
of the old sort shows strong signs of exhaustion, even in England,
and in spite of the Church expansion we hear so much about; and
suppose I believe with you that things will go badly without religion:
what then? Who can have a religion for the asking?'
'But who can have it without? _Seek_, that you may find. Experiment;
try new combinations. If a thing is going that humanity can't do
without, and you and I believe it, what duty is more urgent for us
than the effort to replace it?'
Flaxman shrugged his shoulders.
'What will you gain? A new sect?'
'Possibly. But what we _stand_ to gain is a new social bond,' was
the flashing answer-'a new compelling force in man and in society.
Can you deny that the world wants it? What are you economists and
sociologists of the new type always pining for? Why, for that
diminution of the self in man which is to enable the individual to
see the _world's_ ends clearly, and to care not only for his own
but for his neighbor's interest, which is to make the rich devote
themselves to the poor, and the poor bear with the rich. If man
only _would_, he _could_, you say, solve all the problems which
oppress him. It is man's will which is eternally defective, eternally
inadequate. Well, the great religions of the world are the stimulants
by which the power at the root of things has worked upon this
sluggish instrument of human destiny. Without religion you cannot
make the will equal to its tasks. Our present religion fails us;
we must, we will have another!'
He rose, and began to pace along the sands, now gently glowing in
the warm September evening, Flaxman beside him.
_A new religion!_ Of all words, the most tremendous? Flaxman
pitifully weighed against it the fraction of force fretting and
surging in the thin elastic frame beside him. He knew well,
however--few better--that the outburst was not a mere dream and
emptiness. There was experience behind it--a burning, driving
experience of actual fact.
Presently Robert said, with a change of tone, 'I must have that
whole block of warehouses, Flaxman.'
'Must You? said Flaxman, relieved by the drop from speculation to
the practical. 'Why?'
'Look here!' And sitting down again on a sandhill overgrown with
wild grasses and mats of seathistle, the poor pale reformer began
to draw out the details of his scheme on its material side. Three
floors of rooms brightly furnished, well lit and warmed; a large
hall for the Sunday lectures, concerts, entertainments, and
story-telling; rooms for the boys' club; two rooms for women and
girls, reached by a separate entrance; a library and reading-room
open to both sexes, well stored with books, and made beautiful by
pictures; three or four smaller rooms to serve as committee rooms
and for the purposes of the Naturalist Club which had been started
in May on the Murewell plan; and, if possible, a gymnasium.
'_Money!_' he said, drawing up with a laugh in mid-career. 'There's
the rub, of course. But I shall manage it.'
To judge from the past, Flaxman thought it extremely likely that
he would. He studied the cabalistic lines Elsmere's stick had made
in the sand for a minute or two; then he said dryly, 'I will take
the first expense; and draw on me afterward up to five hundred a
year, for the first four years.'
Robert turned upon him and grasped his hand.
'I do not thank you,' he said quietly, after a moment's pause; 'the
work itself will do that.'
Again they strolled on, talking, plunging into details, till Flaxman's
pulse beat as fast as Robert's; so full of infectious hope and
energy was the whole being of the man before him.
'I can take in the women and girls now,' Robert said at once.
'Catherine has promised to superintend it all.'
Then suddenly something struck the mobile mind, and he stood an
instant looking at his companion. It was the first time he had
mentioned Catherine's name in connection with the North R---- work.
Flaxman could not mistake the emotion, the unspoken thanks in those
eyes. He turned away, nervously knocking off the ashes of his
cigar. But the two men understood each other.
Two days later they were in London again. Robert was a great deal
better, and beginning to kick against invalid restraints. All men
have their pet irrationalities. Elsmere's irrationality was an
aversion to doctors, from the point of view of his own ailments.
He had an unbounded admiration for them as a class, and would have
nothing to say to them as individuals that he could possibly help.
Flaxman was sarcastic; Catherine looked imploring in vain. He
vowed that he was treating himself with a skill any professional
might envy, and went his way. And for a time the stimulus of London
and of his work seemed to act favorably upon him. After his first
welcome at the Club he came home with bright eye and vigorous step,
declaring that he was another man.
Flaxman established himself in St. James' Place. Town was deserted,
the partridges at Greenlaws clamored to be shot; the head-keeper
wrote letters which would have melted the heart of a stone. Flaxman
replied recklessly that any decent fellow in the neighborhood was
welcome to shoot his birds--a reply which almost brought upon him
the resignation of the outraged keeper by return of post. Lady
Charlotte wrote and remonstrated with him for neglecting a landowner's
duties, inquiring at the same time what he meant to do with regard
to 'that young lady.' To which Flaxman replied calmly that he had
just come back from the Lakes, where he had done, not indeed all
that he meant to do, but still something. Miss Leyburn and he were
not engaged, but he was on probation for six months, and found
London the best place for getting through it.
'So far,' he said, 'I am getting on well, and developing an amount
of energy, especially in the matter of correspondence, which alone
ought to commend the arrangement to the relations of an idle man.
But we must be left "to dream our dream unto ourselves alone."
One word from anybody belonging to me to anybody belonging to her
on the subject, and----. But threats are puerile. _For the present_,
I am, your devoted Nephew
Flaxman chuckled as he sent off the letter.
He stayed because he was too restless to be anywhere else, and
because he loved the Elsmeres for Rose's sake and his own. He
thought moreover that a cool-headed friend with an eye for something
else in the world than religious reform might be useful just then
to Elsmere, and he was determined at the same time to see what the
reformer meant to be at.
In the first place, Robert's attention was directed to getting
possession of the whole block of buildings, in which the existing
school and lecture-rooms took up only the lowest floor. This was
a matter of some difficulty, for the floors above were employed in
warehousing goods belonging to various minor import trades, and
were hold on tenures of different lengths. However, by dint of
some money and much skill, the requisite clearances were effected
during September and part of October. By the end of that month all
but the top floor, the tenant of which refused to be dislodged,
fell into Elsmere's hands.
Meanwhile at a meeting held every Sunday after lecture--a meeting
composed mainly of artisans of the district, but including also
Robert's helpers from the West, and a small sprinkling of persons
interested in the man and his work from all parts--the details of
'The New Brotherhood of Christ' were being hammered out. Catherine
was generally present, sitting a little apart, with a look which
Flaxman, who now knew her well, was always trying to decipher
afresh--a sort of sweet aloofness, as though the spirit behind it
saw down the vistas of the future, ends and solutions which gave
it courage to endure the present. Murray Edwardes too was always
there. It often struck Flaxman afterward that in Robert's attitude
toward Edwardes at this time, in his constant desire to bring him
forward, to associate him with himself as much as possible in the
government and formation of the infant society, there was a
half-conscious prescience of a truth that as yet none knew, not
even the tender wife, the watchful friend.
The meetings were of extraordinary interest. The men, the great
majority of whom had been disciplined and moulded for months by
contact with Elsmere's teaching and Elsmere's thought, showed a
responsiveness, a receptivity, even a power of initiation which
often struck Flaxman with wonder. Were these the men he had seen
in the Club-hall on the night of Robert's address--sour, stolid,
brutalized, hostile to all things in heaven and earth?
'And we go on prating that the age of saints is over, the, role of
the individual lessening day by day! Fool! go and be a saint, go
and give yourself to ideas; go and _live_ the life hid with Christ
in God, and see,'--so would run the quick comment of the observer.
But incessant as was the reciprocity, the interchange and play of
feeling between Robert and the wide following growing up around
him, it was plain to Flaxman that although he never moved a step
without carrying his world with him, he was never at the mercy of
his world. Nothing was ever really left to chance. Through all
these strange debates, which began rawly and clumsily enough, and
grew every week more and more absorbing to all concerned, Flaxman
was convinced that hardly any rule or formula of the new society
was ultimately adopted which had not been for long in Robert's
mind--thought out and brought into final shape, perhaps, on the
Petites Dalles sands. It was an unobtrusive art, his art of
government, but a most effective one.
At any moment, as Flaxman often felt, at any rate in the early
meetings, the discussions as to the religious practices which were
to bind together the new association might have passed the line,
and become puerile or grotesque. At any moment the jarring characters
and ambitions of the men Elsmere had to deal with might have dispersed
that delicate atmosphere of moral sympathy and passion in which the
whole new birth seemed to have been conceived, and upon the maintenance
of which its fruition and development depended. But as soon as
Elsmere appeared, difficulties vanished, enthusiasm sprang up again.
The rules of the new society came simply and naturally into being,
steeped and halloed, as it were, from the beginning, in the passion
and genius of one great heart. The fastidious critical instinct
in Flaxman was silenced no less than the sour, half-educated analysis
of such a man as Lestrange.
In the same way all personal jars seemed to melt away beside him.
There were some painful things connected with the new departure.
Wardlaw, for instance, a conscientious Comtist refusing stoutly
to admit anything more than 'an unknowable reality behind phenomena,'
was distressed and affronted by the strongly religious bent Elsmere
was giving to the work he had begun. Lestrange, who was a man of
great though raw ability, who almost always spoke at the meetings,
and whom Robert was bent on attaching to the society, had times
when the things he was half inclined to worship one day he was much
more inclined to burn the next in the sight of all men, and when
the smallest failure of temper on Robert's part might have entailed
a disagreeable scene, and the possible formation of a harassing
But Robert's manner to Wardlaw was that of a grateful younger
brother. It was clear that the Comtist could not formally join the
Brotherhood. But all the share and influence that could be secured
him in the practical working of it, was secured him. And what was
more, Robert succeeded in infusing his own delicacy, his own
compunctions on the subject into the men and youths who had profited
in the past by Wardlaw's rough self-devotion. So that if, through
much that went on now, he could only be a spectator, at least he
was not allowed to feel himself an alien or forgotten.
As to Lestrange, against a man who was as ready to laugh as to
preach, and into whose ardent soul nature had infused a saving sense
of the whimsical in life and character, cynicism and vanity seemed
to have no case. Robert's quick temper had been wonderfully
disciplined by life since his Oxford days. He had now very little
of that stiff-neckedness, so fatal to the average reformer, which
makes a man insist on all or nothing from his followers. He took
what each man had to give. Nay, he made it almost seem as though
the grudging support of Lestrange, or the critical half-patronizing
approval of the young barrister from the West who came down to
listen to him, and made a favor of teaching in his night-school,
were as precious to him as was the wholehearted, the self-abandoning
veneration, which the majority of those about him had begun to show
toward the man in whom, as Charles Richards said, they had 'seen
At last by the middle of November the whole great building, with
the exception of the top floor, was cleared and ready for use.
Robert felt the same joy in it, in it's clean paint, the half-filled
shelves in the library, the pictures standing against the walls
ready to be hung, the rolls of bright-colored matting ready to be
laid down, as he had felt in the Murewell Institute. He and Flaxman,
helped by a voluntary army of men, worked at it from morning till
night. Only Catherine could ever persuade him to remember that he
was not yet physically himself.
Then came the day when the building was formally opened, when the
gilt letters over the door, 'The New Brotherhood of Christ,' shone
out into the dingy street, and when the first enrolment of names
in the book of the Brotherhood took place.
For two hours a continuous stream of human beings surrounded the
little table beside which Elsmere stood, inscribing their names,
and receiving from him the silver badge, bearing the head of Christ,
which was to be the outward and conspicuous sign of membership.
Men came of all sorts: the intelligent well-paid artisan, the pallid
clerk or small accountant, stalwart warehouse men, huge carters and
dray-men, the boy attached to each by the laws of the profession
often straggling lumpishly behind his master. Women were there:
wives who came because their lords came, or because Mr. Elsmere had
been 'that good' to them that anything they could do to oblige him
'they would, and welcome;' prim pupil-teachers, holding themselves
with straight superior shoulders; children, who came trooping in,
grinned up into Robert's face and retreated again with red cheeks,
the silver badge tight clasped in hands which not even much scrubbing
could make passable.
Flaxman stood and watched it from the side. It was an extraordinary
scene: the crowd, the slight figure on the platform, the two great
inscriptions, which represented the only 'articles' of the new
faith, gleaming from the freshly colored walls:--
'_In thee, O Eternal, have I put my trust!_'
'_This do in remembrance of Me:_'--
--the recesses on either side of the hall lined with white marble,
and destined, the one to hold the names of the living members of
the Brotherhood; the other to commemorate those who had passed away
(empty this last save for the one poor name of 'Charles Richards');
the copies of Giotto's Paduan Virtues--Faith, Fortitude, Charity,
and the like-which broke the long wall at intervals. The cynic in
the onlooker tried to assert itself against the feeling with which
the air seemed overcharged in vain.
Whatever comes of it, Flaxman said to himself with strong, involuntary
conviction, 'whether he fails or no, the spirit that is moving here
is the same spirit that spread the Church, the spirit that sent out
Benedictine and Franciscan into the world, that fired the children
of Luther, or Calvin, or George Fox; the spirit of devotion, through
a man, to an idea; through one much-loved, much-trusted soul to
some eternal verity, newly caught, newly conceived, behind it.
There is no approaching the idea for the masses except through the
human life; there is no lasting power for the man except as the
slave of the idea!'
A week later he wrote to his aunt as follows. He could not write
to her of Rose, he did hot care to write of himself, and he knew
that Elsmere's Club address had left a mark even on her restless
and overcrowded mind. Moreover he himself was absorbed.
'We are in the full stream of religion--making. I watch it with a
fascination you at a distance cannot possibly understand, even when
my judgement demurs, and my intelligence protests that the thing
cannot live without Elsmere, and that Elsmere's life is a frail
one. After the ceremony of enrolment which I described to you
yesterday the Council of the New Brotherhood was chosen by popular
election, and Elsmere gave an address. Two-thirds of the council,
I should think, are workingmen, the rest of the upper class; Elsmere,
of course, President.'
'Since then the first religious service under the new constitution
has been held. The service is extremely simple, and the basis of
the whole is "new bottles for the new wine." The opening prayer
is recited by everybody present standing. It is rather an act of
adoration and faith than a prayer, properly so called. It represents,
in fact, the placing of the soul in the presence of God. The mortal
turns to the eternal; the ignorant and imperfect look away from
themselves to the knowledge and perfection of the All-Holy. It is
Elsmere's drawing up, I imagine--at any rate it is essentially
modern, expressing the modern spirit, answering to modern need, as
I imagine the first Christian prayers expressed the spirit and
answered to the need of an earlier day.'
'Then follows some passage from the life of Christ. Elsmere reads
it and expounds it, in the first place, as a lecturer might expound
a passage of Tacitus, historically and critically. His explanation
of miracle, his efforts to make his audience realize the germs of
miraculous belief which each mass carries with him in the constitution
and inherited furniture of his mind, are some of the most
ingenious--perhaps the most convincing--I have ever heard. My heart
and my head have never been very much at one, as you know, on this
matter of the marvelous element in religion.
'But then when the critic has done, the poet and the believer begins.
Whether he has got hold of the true Christ is another matter; but
that the Christ he preaches moves the human heart as much as--and
in the case of the London artisan, more than--the current orthodox
presentation of him, I begin to have ocular demonstration.
'I was present, for instance, at his children's Sunday class the
other day. He had brought them up to the story of the Crucifixion,
reading from the Revised Version, and amplifying wherever the sense
required it. Suddenly a little girl laid her head on the desk
before her, and with choking sobs implored him not to go on. The
whole class seemed ready to do the same. The pure human pity of
the story--the contrast between the innocence and the pain of the
sufferer--seemed to be more than they could bear. And there was
no comforting sense of a jugglery by which the suffering was not
real after all, and the sufferer not man but God.
'He took one of them upon his knee and tried to console them. But
there is something piercingly penetrating and austere even in the
consolations of this new faith. He did but remind the children of
the burden of gratitude laid upon them. "Would you let him stiffer
so much in vain? His suffering has made you and me happier and
better to-day, at this moment, than we could have been without
Jesus. You will understand how, and why, more clearly when you
grow up. Let us in return keep him in our hearts always, and obey
his words! It is all you can do for his sake, just as all you could
do for a mother who died would be to follow her wishes and sacredly
keep her memory."
'That was about the gist of it. It was a strange little scene,
wonderfully suggestive and pathetic.
'But a few more words about the Sunday service. After the address
came a hymn. There are only seven hymns in the little service book,
gathered out of the finest we have. It is supposed that in a short
time they will become so familiar to the members of the Brotherhood
that they will be sung readily by heart. The singing of them in
the public service alternates with an equal number of Psalms. And
both Psalms and hymns are meant to be recited or sung constantly
in the homes of the members, and to become part of the every-day
life of the Brotherhood. They have been most carefully chosen, and
a sort of ritual importance has been attached to them from the
beginning. Each day in the week has its particular hymn or Psalm.
'Then the whole wound up with another short prayer, also repeated
standing, a commendation of the individual, the Brotherhood, the
nation, the world, to God. The phrases of it are terse and grand.
One can see at once that it has laid hold of the popular sense,
the popular memory. The Lord's Prayer followed. Then, after a
silent pause of "recollection," Elsmere dismissed them.
'"_Go in peace, in the love of God, and in the memory of His servant,
'I looked, carefully at the men as they were tramping out. Some
of them were among the Secularist speakers you and I heard at the
club in April. In my wonder, I thought of a saying of Vinet's:
"_C'est pour la religion que le peuple a le plus de talent; c'est
en religion qu'il montre le plus d'esprit._"
In a later letter he wrote:----
'I have not yet described to you what is perhaps the most characteristic,
the most binding practice of the New Brotherhood. It is that which
has raised most angry comment, cries of "profanity," "wanton insult,"
and whatnot. I came upon it yesterday in an interesting Way. I
was working with Elsmere at the arrangement of the library, which
is now becoming a most fascinating place, under the management of
a librarian chosen from the neighborhood, when he asked me to go
and take a message to a carpenter who has been giving us voluntary
help in the evening, after his day's work. He thought that as it
was the dinner hour, and the man worked in the dock close by, I
might find him at home. I went off to the model lodging-house where
I was told to look for him, mounted the common stairs, and knocked
at his door. Nobody seemed to hear me, and as the door was ajar I
pushed it open.
'Inside was a curious sight. The table was spread with the mid-day
meal, a few bloaters, some potatoes, and bread. Round the table
stood four children, the eldest about fourteen, and the youngest
six or seven. At one end of it stood the carpenter himself in his
working apron, a brawny Saxon, bowed a little by his trade. Before
him was a plate of bread, and his horny hands were resting on it.
The street was noisy; they had not heard my knock; and as I pushed
open the door there was an old coat hanging over the corner of it
which concealed me.
'Something in the attitudes of all concerned reminded me, kept me
where I was, silent.
'The father lifted his right hand.
'The Master said, "This do in remembrance of Me!"
'The children stooped for a moment in silence, then the youngest
said slowly, in a little softened cockney voice that touched me
'"_Jesus, we remember Thee always!_"
'It was the appointed response. As she spoke I recollected the
child perfectly at Elsmere's class. I also remembered that she had
no mother; that her mother had died of cancer in June, visited and
comforted to the end by Elsmere and his wife.
'Well, the great question of course remains--is there a sufficient
strength of _feeling_ and _conviction_ behind these things? If so,
after all, everything was new once, and Christianity was but modified
'I believe I shall soon be as deep in this matter as Elsmere. In
Elgood Street great preparations are going on for Christmas. But
it will be a new sort of Christmas. We shall hear very little, it
seems, of angels and shepherds, and a great deal of the humble
childhood of a little Jewish boy whose genius grown to maturity
transformed the Western world. To see Elsmere, with his boys and
girls about him, trying to make them feel themselves the heirs and
fellows of the Nazarene child, to make them understand something
of the lessons that child must have learnt, the sights he must have
seen, and the thoughts that must have come to him, is a spectacle
of which I will not miss more than I can help. Don't imagine,
however, that I am converted exactly!--but only that I am more
interested and stimulated than I have been for years. And don't
expect me for Christmas. I shall stay here.'
New Year's Day.
'I am writing from the library of the New Brotherhood. The amount
of activity, social, educational, religious, of which this great
building promises to be the centre is already astonishing. Everything,
of course, including the constitution of the infant society, is as
yet purely tentative and experimental. But for a scheme so young,
things are falling into working order with wonderful rapidity.
Each department is worked by committees under the central council.
Elsmere, of course, is _ex-officio_ chairman of a large proportion;
Wardlaw, Mackay, I, and a few other fellows, "run" the rest for the
present. But each committee contains workingmen; and it is the
object of everybody concerned to make the workman element more and
more real and efficient. What with the "tax", on the members which
was fixed by a general meeting, and the contributions from outside,
the society already commands a fair income. But Elsmere is anxious
not to attempt too much at once, and will go slowly and train his
'Music, it seems, is going to be a great feature in the future. I
have my own projects as to this part of the business, which, however,
I forbid you to guess at.
'By the rules of the Brotherhood, every member is bound to some
work in connection with it during the year, but little or much, as
he or she is able. And every meeting, every undertaking of whatever
kind, opens with the special "word" or formula of the society, "This
do in remembrance of me."'
'Besides the Sunday lectures, Elsmere is pegging away on Saturday
evenings at "The History of the Moral Life in Man." It is a
remarkable course, and very largely attended by people of all sorts.
He tries to make it an exposition of the principles of the new
movement, of '"that continuous and leading only revelation of God
in life and nature,"' which is in reality the basis of his whole
thought. By the way, the letters that are pouring in upon him from
all parts are extraordinary. They show an amount and degree of
interest in ideas of the kind which are surprising to a Laodicean
like me. But he is not surprised--says he always expected it--and
that there are thousands who only want a rallying-point.
'His personal effect, the love that is felt for him, the passion
and energy of the nature--never has our generation seen anything
to equal it. As you perceive, I am reduced to taking it all
seriously, and don't know what to make of him or myself.
'_She_, poor soul! is now always with him, comes down with him day
after day, and works away. She no more believes in his ideas, I
think, than she ever did; but all her antagonism is gone. In the
midst of the stir about him her face often haunts me. It has changed
lately; she is no longer a young woman, but so refined, so spiritual!
'But he is ailing and fragile. _There_ is the one cloud on a scene
that fills me with increasing wonder and reverence.
One cold Sunday afternoon, in January, Flaxman, descending the steps
of the New Brotherhood, was overtaken by a Dr. Edmondson, an able
young physician, just set up for himself as a consultant, who had
only lately attached himself to Elsmere, and was now helping him
with eagerness to organize a dispensary. Young Edmondson and Flaxman
exchanged a few words on Elsmere's lecture, and then the doctor
'I don't like his looks nor his voice. How long has he been hoarse
'More or less for the last month. He is very much worried by it
himself, and talks of clergyman's throat. He had a touch of it,
it appears, once in the country.'
'Clergyman's throat?' Edmondson shook his bead dubiously. 'It may
be. I wish he would let me overhaul him.'
'I wish he would!' said Flaxman devoutly. 'I will see what I can
do. I will get hold of Mrs. Elsmere.'
Meanwhile Robert and Catherine had driven home together. And as
they entered the study, she caught his hands, a suppressed and
exquisite passion gleaming in her face.
'You did not explain Him! You never will!'
He stood, held by her, his gaze meeting hers. Then in an instant
his faced changed, blanched before her--he seemed to gasp for
breath--she was only just able to save him from falling. It was
apparently another swoon of exhaustion. As she knelt beside him
on the floor, having done for him all she could, watching his return
to consciousness, Catherine's look would have terrified any of those
who loved her. There are some natures which are never blind, never
taken blissfully unawares, and which taste calamity and grief to
the very dregs.
'Robert, to-morrow you will see a doctor?' she implored him when
at last he was safely in bed--white, but smiling.
'Send for Edmondson. What I mind most is this hoarseness,' he said,
in a voice that was little more than a tremulous whisper.
Catherine hardly closed her eyes all night. The room, the house,
seemed to her stifling, oppressive, like a grave. And, by ill luck,
with the morning came a long expected letter, not indeed from the
Squire, but about the Squire. Robert had been for some time expecting
a summons to Murewell. The Squire had written to him last in October
from Clarens, on the Lake of Geneva. Since then weeks had passed
without bringing Elsmere any news of him at all. Meanwhile the
growth of the New Brotherhood had absorbed its founder, so that the
inquiries which should have been sent to Murewell had been postponed.
The letter which reached him now was from old Meyrick. 'The Squire
has had another bad attack, and is _much_ weaker. But his mind is
clear again, and he greatly desires to see you. If you can, come
'_His mind is clear again!_' Horrified by the words and by the
images they called up, remorseful also for his own long silence,
Robert sprang up from bed, where the letter had been brought to
him, and presently appeared down stairs, where Catherine, believing
him safely captive for the morning, was going through some household
'I _must_ go, I _must_ go!' he said as he handed her the letter.
Meyrick puts it cautiously, but it may be the end!'
Catherine looked at him in despair.
'Robert, you are like a ghost yourself, and I have sent for Dr.
'Put him off till the day after to-morrow. Dear little wife, listen;
my voice is ever so much better. Murewell air will do me good.'
She turned away to hide the tears in her eyes. Then she tried fresh
persuasions, but it was useless--His look was glowing and restless.
She saw he felt it a calling impossible to disobey. A telegram
was sent to Edmondson, and Robert drove off to Waterloo.
Out of the form of London it was a mild, sunny winter's day. Robert
breathed more freely with every mile. His eyes took note of every
landmark in the familiar journey with a thirsty eagerness. It was
a year and a half since he had traveled it. He forgot his weakness,
the exhausting pressure and publicity of his new work. The past
possessed him, thrust out the present. Surely he had been up to
London for the day and was going back to Catherine!
At the station he hailed an old friend among the cabmen.
'Take me to the corner of the Murewell Lane, Tom. Then you may
drive on my bag to the Hall, and I shall walk over the common.'
The man urged on his tottering old steed with a will. In the streets
of the little town Robert saw several acquaintances who stopped and
stared at the apparition. Were the houses, the people real, or was
it all a hallucination--his flight and his return, so unthought of
yesterday, so easy and swift to-day?
By the time they were out on the wild ground between the market
town and Murewell, Robert's spirits were as buoyant as thistle-down.
He and the driver kept up an incessant gossip over the neighborhood,
and he jumped down from the carriage as the man stopped with the
alacrity of a boy.
'Go on, Tom; see if I'm not there as soon as you.'
'Looks most uncommon bad,' the man muttered to himself as his horse
shambled off. 'Seems as spry as a lark all the same.'
Why, the gorse was out, positively out in January! and the thrushes
were singing as though it were March. Robert stopped opposite a
bush covered with timid, half-opened blooms, and thought he had
seen nothing so beautiful since he had last trodden that road in
spring. Presently he was in the same cart-track he had crossed on
the night of his confession to Catherine; he lingered beside the
same solitary fir on the brink of the ridge. A winter world lay
before him; soft brown woodland, or reddish heath and fern, struck
sideways by the sun, clothing the earth's bareness everywhere--curling
mists--blue, points of distant hill--a gray luminous depth of sky.
The eyes were moist, the lips moved. There in the place of his old
anguish he stood and blessed God!--not for any personal happiness,
but simply for that communication of Himself which may make every
hour of common living a revelation.
Twenty minutes later, leaving the park gate to his left, he hurried
up the lane leading to the Vicarage. One look! he might not be
able to leave the Squire later. The gate of the wood-path was ajar.
Surely just inside it he should find Catherine in her garden hat,
the white-frocked child dragging behind her! And there was the
square stone house, the brown cornfield, the red-brown woods! Why,
what had the man been doing with the study? White blinds showed
it was a bedroom now. Vandal! Besides, how could the boys have
free access except of that ground-floor room? And all that pretty
stretch of grass under the acacia had been cut up into stiff little
lozenge-shaped beds, filled, he supposed, in summer with the properest
geraniums. He should never dare to tell that to Catherine.
He stood and watched the little significant signs of change in this
realm, which had been once his own, with a dissatisfied mouth, his
undermind filled the while with tempestuous yearning and affection.
In that upper room he had lain through that agonized night of
crisis! the dawn-twittering of the summer birds seemed to be still
in his ears. And there, in the distance, was the blue wreath of
smoke hanging over Mile End. Ah! the new cottages must be warm
this winter. The children did not lie in the wet any longer--thank
God! Was there time just to run down to Irwin's cottage, to have
a look at the Institute?
He had been standing on the further side of the road from the rectory
that he might not seem to be spying out the land and his successor's
ways too closely. Suddenly he found himself clinging to a gate
near him that led into a field. He was shaken by a horrible struggle
for breath. The self seemed to be foundering in a stifling sea,
and fought like a drowning thing. When the moment passed, he looked
round him bewildered, drawing his hand across his eyes. The world
had grown black--the sun seemed to be scarcely shining. Were those
the sounds of children's voices on the hill, the rumbling of a
cart--or was it all, sight and sound alike, mirage and delirium?
With difficulty, leaning on his stick as though he were a man of
seventy, he groped his way back to the Park. There he sank down,
still gasping, among the roots of one of the great cedars near the
gate. After a while the attack passed off and he found himself
able to walk on. But the joy, the leaping pulse of half an hour
ago were gone from his veins. Was that the river--the house? He
looked at them with dull eyes. All the light was lowered. A veil
seemed to lie between him and the familiar things.
However, by the time he reached the door of the Hall will and nature
had reasserted themselves, and he knew where he was and what he had
Vincent flung the door open with his old lordly air.
'Why, sir! _Mr._ Elsmere!'
The butler's voice began on a note of joyful surprise, sliding at
once into one of alarm. He stood and stared at this ghost of the
Elsmere grasped his hand, and asked him to take him into the
dining-room and give him some wine before announcing him. Vincent
ministered to him with a long face, pressing all the alcoholic
resources of the Hall upon him in turn. The Squire was much better,
he declared, had been carried down to the library.
'But, lor, sir, there ain't much to be said for your looks
neither--seems as if London didn't suit you, sir.'
Elsmere explained feebly that he had been suffering from his throat,
and had overtired himself by walking over the common. Then,
recognizing from a distorted vision of himself in a Venetian mirror
hanging by, that something of his natural color had returned to
him, he rose and bade Vincent announce him.
'And Mrs. Darcy?' he asked, as they stopped out into the hall again.
'Oh, Mrs. Darcy, sir, she's very well,' said the man, but, as it
seemed to Robert with something of an embarrassed air.
He followed Vincent down the long passage--haunted by old memories,
by the old sickening sense of mental anguish--to the curtained door.
Vincent ushered him in. There was a stir of feet, and a voice,
but at first he saw nothing. The room was very much darkened.
Then Meyrick emerged into distinctness.
'Squire, here is Mr. Elsmere! Well, Mr. Elsmere, sir, I'm sure
we're very much obliged to you for meeting the Squire's wishes so
promptly. You'll find him poorly, Mr. Elsmere, but mendin--oh yes,
mending, sir--no doubt of it.'
Elsmere began to perceive a figure by the fire. A bony hand was
advanced to him out of the gloom.
'That'll do, Meyrick. You won't be wanted till the evening.'
The imperious note in the voice struck Robert with a sudden sense
of relief. After all, the Squire was still capable of trampling
In another minute the door had closed on the old doctor, and the
two men were alone. Robert was beginning to get used to the dim
light. Out of it, the Squire's face gleamed almost as whitely as
the tortured marble of the Medusa just above their heads.
'It's some inflammation in the eyes,' the Squire explained briefly,
'that's made Meyrick set up all this d----d business of blinds and
shutters. I don't mean to stand it much longer. The eyes are
better, and I prefer to see my way out of the world, if possible.'
'But you are recovering?' Robert said, laying his hand affectionately
on the old man's knee.
'I have added to my knowledge,' said the Squire dryly, 'Like Heine,
I am qualified to give lectures in heaven on the ignorance of doctors
on earth. And I am not in bed, which I was last week. For Heaven's
sake don't ask questions. If there is a loathsome subject on earth
it is the subject of the human body. Well, I suppose my message
to you dragged you away from a thousand things you had rather be
doing. What are you so hoarse for? Neglecting yourself as usual,
for the sake of "the people," who wouldn't even subscribe to bury
you? Have you been working up the Apocrypha as I recommended you
last time we met?'
The great head fell forward, and through the dusk Robert caught the
sarcastic gleam of the eyes.
'For the last four months, Squire, I have been doing two things
with neither of which you had much sympathy in old days--holiday-making
'Oh' I remember,' interrupted the Squire hastily. 'I was low last
week, and read the Church papers by way of a counter-irritant. You
have been starting a new religion, I see. A new religion! _Humph!_'
'You are hardly the man to deny,' he said, undisturbed, 'that the
old ones _laissent a desirer_.'
'Because there are old abuses, is that any reason why you should
go and set up a brand-new one--an ugly anachronism besides?' retorted
the Squire. 'However, you and I have no common ground--never had.
I say _know_, you say _feel_. Where is the difference, after all,
between you and any charlatan of the lot? Well, how is Madame de
'I have not seen her for six months,' Robert replied, with equal
The Squire laughed a little under his breath.
'What did you think of her?'
'Very much what you told me to think--intellectually,' replied
Robert, facing him, but flushing with the readiness of physical
'Well, I certainly never told you to think anything--_morally_,'
said the Squire. 'The word moral has no relation to her. Whom did
you see there?'
The catechism was naturally most distasteful to its object, but
Elsmere went through with it, the Squire watching him for a while
with an expression which had a spark of malice in it. It is not
unlikely that some gossip of the Lady Aubrey sort had reached him.
Elsmere had always seemed to him oppressively good. The idea that
Madame de Netteville had tried her arts upon him was not without
But while Robert was answering a question, he was aware of a subtle
change in the Squire's attitude-a relaxation of his own sense of
tension. After a minute he bent forward, peering through the
darkness. The Squire's head had fallen back, his mouth was slightly
open, and the breath came lightly, quiveringly through. The cynic
of a moment ago had dropped suddenly into a sleep of more than
childish weakness and defenselessness.
Robert remained bending forward, gazing at the man who had once
meant so much to him.
Strange white face, sunk in the great chair! Behind it glimmered
the Donatello figures and the divine Hermes, a glorious shape in
the dusk, looking scorn on human decrepitude. All round spread the
dim walls of books. The life they had nourished was dropping into
the abyss out of ken--they remained. Sixty years of effort and
slavery to end so--a river lost in the sands!
Old Meyrick stole in again, and stood looking at the sleeping Squire.
'A bad sign! a bad sign!' he said, and shook his head mournfully.
After he had made an effort to take some food which Vincent pressed
upon him, Robert, conscious of a stronger physical _malaise_ than
had ever yet tormented him, was crossing the hall again, when he
suddenly saw Mrs. Darcy at the door of a room which opened into the
hall. He went up to her with a warm greeting.
'Are you going in to the Squire? Let us go together.'
She looked at him with no surprise, as though she had seen him the
day before, and as he spoke she retreated a step into the room
behind her, a curious film, so it seemed to him, darkening her small
'The Squire is not here. He is gone away. Have you seen my white
mice? Oh, they are such darlings! Only, one of them is ill, and
they won't let me have the doctor.'
Her voice sank into the most pitiful plaintiveness. She stood in
the middle of the room, pointing with an elfish finger to a large
cage of white mice which stood in the window. The room seemed full
besides of other creatures. Robert stood rooted, looking at the
tiny withered figure in the black dress, its snowy hair and diminutive
face swathed in lace with a perplexity into which there slipped an
involuntary shiver. Suddenly he became aware of a woman by the
fire, a decent, strong-looking body in gray, who rose as his look
turned to her. Their eyes met; her expression and the little jerk
of her head toward Mrs. Darcy, who was now standing by the cage
coaxing the mice with the weirdest gestures, were enough. Robert
turned, and went out sick at heart. The careful exquisite beauty
of the great hall struck him as something mocking and anti-human.
No one else in the house said a word to him of Mrs. Darcy. In the
evening the Squire talked much at intervals, but in another key.
He insisted on a certain amount of light, and, leaning on Robert's
arm, went feebly round the bookshelves. He took out one of the
volumes of the Fathers that Newman had given him.
'When I think of the hours I wasted over this barbarous rubbish,'
he said, his blanched fingers turning the leaves vindictively, 'and
of the other hours I maundered away in services and self-examination!
Thank Heaven, however, the germ of revolt and sanity was always
there. And when once I got to it, I learnt my lesson pretty quick.'
Robert paused, his kind inquiring eyes looking down on the shrunken
'Oh, not one _you_ have any chance of learning, my good friend,'
said the other aggressively. 'And after all it's simple. _Go to
your grave with your eyes open_--that's all. But men don't learn
it, somehow. Newman was incapable--so are you. All the religions
are nothing but so many vulgar anaesthetics, which only the few have
courage to refuse.'
'Do yon want me to contradict you?' said Robert, smiling; 'I am
The Squire took no notice. Presently, when he was in his chair
again, he said abruptly, pointing to a mahogany bureau in the window,
'The book is all there--both parts, first and second. Publish it
if you please. If not, throw it into the fire. Both are equally
indifferent to me. It has done its work; it has helped me through
half a century of living.'
'It shall be to me a sacred trust,' said Elsmere with emotion. 'Of
course, if you don't publish it, I shall publish it.'
'As you please. Well, then, if you have nothing more rational to
tell me about, tell me of this ridiculous Brotherhood of yours.'
Robert, so adjured, began to talk, but with difficulty. The words
would not flow, and it was almost a relief when in the middle that
strange creeping sleep overtook the Squire again.
Meyrick, who was staying in the house, and who had been coming in
and out throughout the evening, eyeing Elsmere, now that there was
more light on the scene, with almost as much anxiety and misgiving
as the Squire, was summoned. The Squire was put into his carrying-chair.
Vincent and a male attendant appeared, and he was borne to his
room, Meyrick peremptorily refusing to allow Robert to lend so much
as a finger to the performance. They took him up the library stairs,
through the empty book-rooms and that dreary room which had been
his father's, and so into his own. By the time they set him down
he was quite aware and conscious again.
'It can't be said that I follow my own precepts,' he said to Robert
grimly as they put him down. 'Not much of the open eye about this.
I shall sleep myself into the unknown as sweetly as any Saint in
Robert was going when the Squire called him back.
'You'll stay to-morrow, Elsmere?'
'Of course, if you wish it.'
The wrinkled eyes fixed him intently.
'Why did you ever go?'
'As I told you before, Squire, because there was nothing else for
an honest man to do.'
The Squire turned round with a frown.
'What the deuce are you dawdling about, Benson? Give me my stick
and get me out of this.'
By midnight all was still in the vast pile of Murewell. Outside,
the night was slightly frosty. A clear moon shone over the sloping
reaches of the park; the trees shone silvery in the cold light,
their black shadows cast along the grass. Robert found himself
quartered in the Stuart room, where James II had slept, and where
the tartan hangings of the ponderous carved bed, and the rose and
thistle reliefs of the walls and ceilings, untouched for two hundred
years, bore witness to the loyal preparations made by some bygone
Wendover. He was mortally tired, but by way of distracting his
thoughts a little from the Squire, and that other tragedy which the
great house sheltered somewhere in its walls, he took from his
coat-pocket a French _Anthologie_ which had been Catherine's birthday
gift to him, and read a little before he fell asleep.
Then he slept profoundly--the sleep of exhaustion. Suddenly he
found himself sitting up in bed, his heart beating to suffocation,
strange noises in his ears.
A cry 'Help!' resounded through the wide empty galleries.
He flung on his dressing-gown, and ran out in the direction of the
The hideous cries and scuffling grew more apparent as he reached
it. At that moment Benson, the man who had helped to carry the
Squire, ran up.
'My God, sir!' he said, deadly white, 'another attack!'
The Squire's room was empty, but the door into the lumber-room
adjoining it was open, and the stifled sounds came through it.
They rushed in and found Meyrick struggling in the grip of a white
figure, that seemed to have the face of a fiend and the grip of a
tiger. Those old bloodshot eyes--those wrinkled hands on the throat
of the doctor--horrible!
They released poor Meyrick, who staggered bleeding into the Squire's
room. Then Robert and Benson got the Squire back by main force.
The whole face was convulsed, the poor shrunken limbs rigid as iron.
Meyrick, who was sitting gasping, by a superhuman effort of will
mastered himself enough to give directions for a strong opiate.
Benson managed to control the madman while Robert found it. Then
between them they got it swallowed.
But nature had been too quick for them. Before the opiate could
have had time to work, the Squire shrank together like a puppet of
which the threads are loosened, and fell heavily sideways out of
his captors' hands on to the bed. They laid him there, tenderly
covering him from the January cold. The swollen eyelids fell,
leaving just a thread of white visible underneath, the clenched
hands slowly relaxed; the loud breathing seemed to be the breathing
Meyrick, whose wound on the head had been hastily bound up, threw
himself beside the bed. The night-light beyond cast a grotesque
shadow of him on the wall, emphasizing, as though in mockery, the
long straight back, the ragged whiskers, the strange ends and horns
of the bandage. But the passion in the old face was as purely
tragic as any that ever spoke through the lips of an Antigone or a
'The last--the last!' he said, choked, the tears falling down his
lined cheeks on to the Squire's hand. 'He can never rally from
this. And I was fool enough to think yesterday I had pulled him
Again a long gaze of inarticulate grief; then he looked up at Robert.
'He wouldn't have Benson to-night. I slept in the next room with
the door ajar. A few minutes ago I heard him moving. I was up in
an instant, and found him standing by that door, peering through,
bare-footed, a wind like ice coming up. He looked at me, frowning,
all in a flame. "_My father_," he said--"_my father_--he went that
way--what do _you_ want here? Keep back!" I threw myself on him;
he had something sharp which scratched me on the temple; I got that
away from him, but it was his hands'--and the old man shuddered.
'I thought they would have done for me before anyone could hear,
and that then he would kill himself as his father did.'
Again be hung over the figure on the bed--his own withered hand
stroking that of the Squire with a yearning affection.
'When was the last attack?' asked Robert sadly.
'A month ago, sir, just after they got back. Ah, Mr. Elsmere, he
suffered. And he's been so lonely. No one to cheer him, no one
to please him with his food--to put his cushions right--to coax him
up a bit, and that,--and his poor sister too, always there before
his eyes. Of course he would stand to it, he liked to be alone.
But I'll never believe men are made so unlike one to the other.
The Almighty meant a man to have a wife or a child about him when
he comes to the last. He missed you, sir, when you went away. Not
that he'd say a word, but he moped. His books didn't seem to please
him, nor anything else. I've just broke my heart over him this
There was silence a moment in the big room, hung round with the
shapes of bygone Wendovers. The opiate had taken effect. The
Squire's countenance was no longer convulsed. The great brow was
calm; a more than common dignity and peace spoke from the long
peaked face. Robert bent over him. The madman, the cynic, had
passed away; the dying scholar and thinker lay before him.
'Will he rally?' he asked, under his breath.
Meyrick shook his head.
'I doubt it. It has exhausted all the strength he had left. The
heart is failing rapidly. I think he will sleep away. And, Mr.
Elsmere, you go--go and sleep. Benson and I'll watch. Oh, my
scratch is nothing, sir. I'm used to a rough-and-tumble life. But
you go. If there's a change we'll wake you.'
Elsmere bent down and kissed the Squire's forehead tenderly, as a
son might have done. By this time he himself could hardly stand.
He crept away to his own room, his nerves still quivering with the
terror of that sudden waking, the horror of that struggle.
It was impossible to sleep. The moon was at the full outside. He
drew back the curtains, made up the fire, and wrapping himself in
a fur coat which Flaxman had lately forced upon him, sat where he
could see the moonlit park, and still be within the range of the
As the excitement passed away a reaction of feverish weakness set
in. The strangest whirlwind of thoughts fled through him in the
darkness, suggested very often by the figures on the seventeenth
century tapestry which lined the walls. Were those the trees in
the woodpath? Surely that was Catherine's figure trailing--and
that dome--strange! Was he still walking in Grey's funeral procession,
the Oxford buildings looking sadly down? Death here! Death there!
Death everywhere, yawning under life from the beginning! The veil
which hides the common abyss, in sight of which men could not always
hold themselves and live, is rent asunder, and he looks shuddering
Then the image changed, and in its stead, that old familiar image
of the river of Death took possession of him. He stood himself on
the brink: on the other side was Grey and the Squire. But he felt
no pang of separation, of pain; for he himself was just about to
cross and join them! And during a strange brief lull of feeling
the mind harbored image and expectation alike with perfect calm.
Then the fever-spell broke,--the brain cleared,--and he was terribly
himself again. Whence came it--this fresh, inexorable consciousness?
He tried to repel it, to forget himself, to cling blindly, without
thought, to God's love and Catherine's. But the anguish mounted
fast. On the one hand, the fast-growing certainty, urging and
penetrating through every nerve and fibre of the shaken frame; on
the other, the ideal fabric of his efforts and his dreams, the New
Jerusalem of a regenerate faith; the poor, the loving, and the
simple walking therein!
'_My God! my God! no time, no future!_'
In his misery, he moved to the uncovered window, and stood looking
through it, seeing and not seeing. Outside, the river, just filmed
with ice, shone under the moon; over it bent the trees, laden with
hoar-frost. Was that a heron, rising for an instant, beyond the
bridge, in the unearthly blue?
And quietly,--heavily,--like an irrevocable sentence, there came,
breathed to him as it were from that winter cold and loneliness,
words that he had read an hour or two before, in the little red
book beside his hand--words in which the gayest of French poets has
fixed, as though by accident, the most traginc of all human cries--
'_Quittez le long espoir et les vastes pensees_.'
He sank on his knees, wrestling with himself and with the bitter
longing for life, and the same words rang through him, deafening
every cry but their own.
'_Quittez,--quittez,--le long espoir et les vastes pensees!_'
There is little more to tell. The man who had lived so fast was
no long time dying. The eager soul was swift in this as in all
The day after Elsmere's return from Murewell, where he left the
Squire still alive (the telegram announcing the death reached Bedford
Square a few hours after Robert's arrival), Edmondson came up to
see him and examine him. He discovered tubercular disease of the
larynx, which begins with slight hoarseness and weariness, and
develops into one of the most rapid forms of phthisis. In his
opinion it had been originally set up by the effects of that chill
at Petites Dalles acting upon a constitution never strong, and at
that moment peculiarly susceptible to mischief. And of course the
speaking and preaching of the last four months had done enormous
It was with great outward composure that Elsmere received his _arret
de mort_ at the hands of the young doctor, who announced the result
of his examination with a hesitating lip and a voice which struggled
in vain to preserve its professional calm. He knew too much of
medicine himself to be deceived by Edmondson's optimist remarks as
to the possible effect of a warm climate like Algiers on his
condition. He sat down, resting his head on his hands a moment;
then wringing Edmondson's hand, he went out feebly to find his Wife.
Catherine had been waiting in the dining-room, her whole soul one
dry, tense misery. She stood looking out of the window, taking
curious heed of a Jewish wedding that was going on in the Square,
of the preposterous bouquets of the coachman and the gaping circle
of errand-boys. How pinched the bride looked in the north wind!
When the door opened and Catherine saw her husband come in--her
young husband, to whom she had been married not yet four years--with
that indescribable look in the eyes which seemed to divine and
confirm all those terrors which had been shaking her during her
agonized waiting, there followed a moment between them which words
cannot render. When it ended--that half-articulate convulsion of
love and anguish--she found herself sitting on the sofa beside him,
his head on her breast, his hand clasping hers.
'Do you wish me to go, Catherine?' he asked her gently, '--to
Her eyes implored for her.
'Then I will,' he said, but with a long sigh. 'It will only prolong
it two months,' he thought; 'and does one not owe it to the people
for whom one has tried to live, to make a brave end among them?
Ah, no! no! those two months are hers!'
So, without any outward resistance, he let the necessary preparations
be made. It wrung his heart to go, but he could not wring hers by
After his interview wit Robert, and his further interview with
Catherine, to whom he gave the most minute recommendations and
directions, with a reverent gentleness which seemed to make the
true state of the case more ghastly plain to the wife than ever,
Edmondson went off to Flaxman.
Flaxman heard his news with horror.
'A _bad_ case, you say--advanced?'
'A bad case!' Edmondson repeated gloomily. 'He has been fighting
against it too long under that absurd delusion of clergyman's throat.
If only men would not insist upon being their own doctors! And,
of course, that going down to Murewell the other day was madness.
I shall go with him to Algiers, and probably stay a week or two.
To think of that life, that career, cut short! This is a queer
sort of world!'
When Flaxman went over to Bedford Square in the afternoon, he went
like a man going himself to execution. In the hall he met Catherine.
'You have seen Dr. Edmondson?' she asked, pale and still, except
for a little nervous quivering of the lip.
He stooped and kissed her hand.
'Yes. He says he goes with you to Algiers. I will come after if
you will have me. The climate may do wonders.'
She looked at him with the most heart-rending of smiles.
'Will you go in to Robert? He is in the study.'
He went, in trepidation, and found Robert lying tucked up on the
sofa, apparently reading.
'Don't--don't old fellow,' he said affectionately, as Flaxman almost
broke down. 'It comes to all of us sooner or later. Whenever it
comes we think it too soon. I believe I have been sure of it for
some time. We are such strange creatures! It has been so present
to me lately that life was too good to last. You remember the sort
of feeling one used to have as a child about some treat in the
distance--that it was too much joy--that something was sure to come
between you and it? Well, in a sense, I have had my joy the first
fruits of it at least.'
But as he threw his arms behind his head, leaning back on them,
Flaxman saw the eyes darken and the naive boyish mouth contract,
and knew that under all these brave words there was a heart which
'How strange!' Robert went on reflectively; 'yesterday I was
travelling, walking like other men, a member of society. To-day I
am an invalid; in the true sense, a man no longer. The world has
done with me; a barrier. I shall never recross has sprung up between
me and it.--Flaxman, to-night is the story-telling. Will you read
to them? I have the book here prepared--some scenes from David
Copperfield. And you will fell them?'
A hard task, but Flaxman undertook it. Never did he forget the
scene. Some ominous rumor had spread, and the New Brotherhood was
besieged. Impossible to give the reading. A hall full of strained
up-turned faces listened to Flaxman's announcement, and to Elsmere's
messages of cheer and exhortation, and then a wild wave of grief
spread through the place. The street outside was blocked, men
looking dismally into each other's eyes, women weeping, children
sobbing for sympathy, all feeling themselves at once shelterless
and forsaken. When Elsmere heard the news of it, he turned on his
face, and asked even Catherine to leave him for a while.
The preparations were pushed on. The New Brotherhood had just
become the subject of an animated discussion in the press, and
London was touched by the news of its young founder's breakdown.
Catherine found herself besieged by offers of help of various kinds.
One offer Flaxman persuaded her to accept. It was the loan of a
villa at El Biar, on the hill above Algiers, belonging to a connection
of his own. A resident on the spot was to take all trouble off
their hands; they were to find servants ready for them, and every
Catherine made every arrangement, met every kindness with a
self-reliant calm that never failed. But it seemed to Flaxman that
her heart was broken--that half of her, in feeling, was already on
the other side of this horror which stared them all in the face.
Was it his perception of it which stirred Robert after a while to
a greater hopefulness of speech, a constant bright dwelling on the
flowery sunshine for which they were about to exchange the fog and
cold of London? The momentary revival of energy was more pitiful
to Flaxman than his first quiet resignation.
He himself wrote every day to Rose. Strange love-letters! in which
the feeling that could not be avowed ran as a fiery under-current
through all the sad brotherly record of the invalid's doings and
prospects. There was deep trouble in Long Whindale. Mrs. Leyburn
was tearful and hysterical, and wished to rush off to town to see
Catherine. Agnes wrote in distress that her mother was quite unfit
to travel, showing her own inner conviction, too, that the poor
thing would only be an extra burden on the Elsmeres if the journey
were achieved. Rose wrote asking to be allowed to go with them to
Algiers; and after a little consultation it was so arranged, Mrs.
Leyburn being tenderly persuaded, Robert himself writing, to stay
where she was.
The morning after the interview with Edmondson, Robert sent for
Murray Edwardes. They were closeted together for nearly an hour.
Edwardes came out with the look of one who has been lifted into
'I thank God,' he said to Catherine, with deep emotion, 'that I
ever knew him. I pray that I may be found worthy to carry out my
pledges to him.'
When Catherine went into the study she found Robert gazing into the
fire with dreamy eyes. He started and looked up to her with a
'Murray Edwardes has promised himself heart and soul to the work.
If necessary, he will give up his chapel to carry it on. But we
hope it will be possible to work them together. What a brick he
is! What a blessed chance it was that took me to that breakfast
party at Flaxman's!'
The rest of the time before departure he spent almost entirely in
consultation and arrangement with Edwardes. It was terrible how
rapidly worse he seemed to grow directly the situation had declared
itself, and the determination _not_ to be ill had been perforce
overthrown. But his struggle against breathlessness and weakness,
and all the other symptoms of his state during these last days, was
heroic. On the last day of all, by his own persistent wish, a
certain number of members of the Brotherhood came to say good-by
to him. They came in one by one, Macdonald first. The old Scotchman,
from the height of his sixty years of tough weather-beaten manhood,
looked down on Robert with a fatherly concern.
'Eh, Mister Elsmere, but it's a fine place yur gawin' tu, they say.
Ye'll do weel there, sir--ye'll do weel. And as for the wark,
sir, we'll keep it oop-we'll not lot the Deil mak' hay o' it, if
we knaws it--the auld leer!' he added with a phraseology which did
more honor to the Calvinism of his blood than the philosophy of his
Lestrange came in, with a pale sharp face, and said little in his
ten minutes. But Robert divined in him a sort of repressed curiosity
and excitement akin to that of Voltaire turning his feverish eyes
toward _le grand secret_. 'You, who preached to us that consciousness,
and God, and the soul are the only realities--are you so sure of
it now you are dying, as you were in health? Are your courage,
your certainty, what they were?' These were the sort of questions
that seemed to underlie the man's spoken words.
There was something trying in it, but Robert did his best to put
aside his consciousness of it. He thanked him for his help in the
past, and implored him to stand by the young society and Mr. Edwardes.
'I shall hardly come back, Lestrange. But what does one man matter?
One soldier falls, another presses forward.'
The watchmaker rose, then paused a moment, a flush passing over
'We can't stand without you!' he said abruptly, then, seeing Robert's
look of distress, he seemed to cast about for something reassuring
to say, but could find nothing. Robert at last held out his hand
with a smile, and he went. He left Elsmere struggling with a pang
of horrible depression. In reality there was no man who worked
harder at the New Brotherhood during the months that followed than
Lestrange. He worked under perpetual protest from the _frondeur_
within him, but something stung him on--on--till a habit had been
formed which promises to be the joy and salvation of his later life.
Was it the haunting memory of that thin figure--the hand clinging
to the chair--the white appealing look?
Others came and went, till Catherine trembled for the consequences.
She herself took in Mrs. Richards and her children, comforting the
sobbing creatures afterward with a calmness born of her own despair.
Robson, in the last stage himself, sent him a grimly characteristic
message. 'I shall solve the riddle, sir, before you. The doctor
gives me three days. For the first time in my life, I shall know
what you are still guessing at. May the blessing of one who never
blessed thing or creature before he saw you go with you!'
After it all Robert sank on the sofa with a groan.
'No more!' he said hoarsely-'no more! Now for air-the sea!
To-mmorow, wife, to-morrow! _Cras ingens iterabimus sequor_. Ah
me! I leave _my_ new Salamis behind!'
But on that last evening he insisted on writing letters to Langham
'I will spare Langham the sight of me,' he said, smiling sadly.
'And I will spare myself the sight of Newcome--I could not bear it,
I think! But I must say good-by--for I love them both.'
Next day, two hours after the Elsmeres had left for Dover, a cab
drove up to their house in Bedford Square, and Newcome descended
from it. 'Gone, sir, two hours ago,' said the house-maid, and the
priest turned away with an involuntary gesture of despair. To his
dying day the passionate heart bore the burden of that 'too late,'
believing that even at the eleventh hour Elsmere would have been
granted to his prayers. He might even have followed them, but that
a great retreat for clergy he was just on the point of conducting
made it impossible.
Flaxman went down with them to Dover. Rose, in the midst of all
her new and womanly care for her sister and Robert, was very sweet
to him. In any other circumstances, he told himself, he could
easily have broken down the flimsy barrier between them, but in
those last twenty-four hours he could press no claim of his own.
When the steamer cast loose, the girl, hanging over the side, stood
watching, the tall figure on the pier against the gray January sky.
Catherine caught her look and attitude, and could have cried aloud
in her own gnawing pain.
Flaxman got a cheery letter from Edmondson describing their arrival.
Their journey had gone well; even the odious passage from Marseilles
had been tolerable; little Mary had proved a model traveller; the
villa was luxurious, the weather good.
'I have got rooms close by them in the Vice-Consul's cottage,' wrote
Edmondson, 'Imagine, within sixty hours of leaving London in a
January fog, finding yourself tramping over wild marigolds and
mignonette, under a sky and through an air as balmy as those of an
English June--when an English June behaves itself. Elsmere's room
overlooks the Bay, the great plain of the Metidja dotted with
villages, and the grand range of the Djurjura, backed by snowy
summits one can hardly tell from the clouds. His spirits are
marvellous. He is plunged in the history of Algiers, raving about
one Fromentin, learning Spanish even! The wonderful purity and
warmth of the air seem to have relieved the larynx greatly. He
breathes and speaks much more easily than when we left London. I
sometimes feel when I look at him as though in this as in all else
he were unlike the common sons of men--as though to _him_ it might
be possible to subdue even this fell disease.'
Elsmere himself wrote--
'"I had not heard the half"-Flaxman! An enchanted land--air, sun,
warmth, roses, orange blossom, new potatoes, green peas, veiled
Eastern beauties, domed mosques and preaching Mahdis--everything
that feeds the outer and the inner man. To throw the window open
at waking to the depth of sunlit air between us and the curve of
the Bay, is for the moment heaven! One's soul seems to escape one,
to pour itself into the luminous blue of the morning. I am better--I
'Mary flourishes exceedingly. She lives mostly on oranges, and has
been adopted by sixty nuns who inhabit the convent over the way,
and sell us the most delicious butter and cream. Imagine, if she
were a trifle older, her mother would hardly view the proceedings
of those dear berosaried women with so much equanimity.'
'As for Rose, she writes more letters than Clarissa, and receives
more than an editor of the "Times." I have the strongest views,
as you know, as to the vanity of letter-writing. There was a time
when you shared them, but there are circumstances and conjunctures,
alas! in which no man can be sure of his friend or his friend's
principles. Kind friend, good fellow, go often to Elgood Street.
Tell me everything about everybody. It is possible, after all,
that I may live to come back to them.'
But a week later, alas! the letters fell into a very different
strain. The weather had changed, had turned indeed damp and rainy,
the natives of course declaring that such gloom and storm in January
had never been known before. Edmondson wrote in discouragement.
Elsmere had had a touch of cold, had been confined to bed, and
almost speechless. His letter was full of medical detail, from
which Flaxman gathered that in spite of the rally of the first ten
days, it was clear that the disease was attacking constantly fresh
tissue. 'He is very depressed too,' said Edmondson; 'I have never
seen him so yet. He sits and looks at us in the evening sometimes
with eyes that wring one's heart. It is as though, after having
for a moment allowed himself to hope, he found it a doubly hard
task to submit.'
Ah, that depression! It was the last eclipse through which a radiant
soul was called to pass; but while it lasted it was black indeed.
The implacable reality, obscured at first by the emotion and
excitement of farewells, and then by a brief spring of hope and
returning vigor, showed itself now in all its stern nakedness--sat
down, as it were, eye to eye with Elsmere--immovable, ineluctable.
There were certain features of the disease itself which were
specially trying to such a nature. The long silences it enforced
were so unlike him, seemed already to withdraw him so pitifully
from their yearning grasp! In these dark days he would sit crouching
over the wood-fire in the little _salon_, or lie drawn to the window
looking out on the rainstorms bowing the ilexes or scattering the
meshes of clematis, silent, almost always gentle, but turning
sometimes on Catherine, or on Mary playing at his feet, eyes which,
as Edmondson said, 'wrung the heart.'
'But in reality, under the husband's depression, and under the
wife's inexhaustible devotion, a combat was going on, which reached
no third person, but was throughout poignant and tragic to the
highest degree. Catherine was making her last effort, Robert his
last stand. As we know, ever since that passionate submission of
the wife which had thrown her morally at her husband's feet, there
had lingered at the bottom of her heart one last supreme hope. All
persons of the older Christian type attribute a special importance
to the moment of death. While the man of science looks forward to
his last hour as a moment of certain intellectual weakness, and
calmly warns his friends before hand that he is to be judged by the
utterances of health and not by those of physical collapse, the
Christian believes that on the confines of eternity the veil of
flesh shrouding the soul grows thin and transparent, and that the
glories and the truths of Heaven are visible with a special clearness
and authority to the dying. It was for this moment, either in
herself or in him, that Catherine's unconquerable faith had been
patiently and dumbly waiting. Either she would go first, and death
would wing her poor last words to him with a magic and power not
their own; or, when he came to leave her, the veil of doubt would
fall away perforce from a spirit as pure as it was humble, and the
eternal light, the light of the Crucified, shine through.
Probably, if there had been no breach in Robert's serenity Catherine's
poor last effort would have been much feebler, briefer, more
hesitating. But when she saw him plunged for a short space in
mortal discouragement in a sombreness that as the days went on had
its points and crests of feverish irritation, her anguished pity
came to the help of her creed. Robert felt himself besieged, driven
within the citadel, her being urging, grappling with his. In little
half-articulate words and ways, in her attempts to draw him back
to some of their old religious books and prayers, in those kneeling
vigils he often found her maintaining at night beside him, he felt
a persistent attack which nearly--in his weakness--overthrew him.
For 'reason and thought grow tired like muscles and nerves.' Some
of the greatest and most daring thinkers of the world have felt
this pitiful longing to be at one with those who love them, at
whatever cost, before the last farewell. And the simpler Christian
faith has still to create around it those venerable associations
and habits which buttress individual feebleness and diminish the
One early February morning, just before dawn, Robert stretched out
his hand for his wife and found her kneeling beside him. The dim
mingled light showed him her face vaguely--her clasped hands, her
eyes. He looked at her in silence, she at him--there seemed to be
a strange sheen as of battle between them. Then he drew her head
down to him.
'Catherine,' he said to her in a feeble intense whisper, 'would you
leave me without comfort, without help, at the end?'
'Oh, my beloved!' she cited, under her breath, throwing her arms
round him, 'if you would but stretch out your hand to the true
comfort--the true help--the Lamb of God sacrificed for us!'
He stroked her hair tenderly.
'My weariness might yield--my true best self never. I know whom I
have believed. Oh, my darling, be content. Your misery, your
prayers hold me back from God--from that truth and that trust which
can alone be honestly mine. Submit, my wife! Leave me in God's
She raised her head. His eyes were bright with fever, his lips
trembling, his whole look heavenly. She bowed herself again, with
a quiet burst of tears, and all indescribable self abasement. They
had had their last struggle, and once more he had conquered!
Afterward the cloud lifted from him. Depression and irritation
disappeared. It seemed to her often as though he lay already on
the breast of God; even her, wifely love grew timid and awestruck.
Yet he did not talk much of immortality, of reunion. It was like
a scrupulous child that dares not take for granted more than it's
father has allowed it to know. At the same time, it was plain to
those about him that the only realities to him in a world of shadows
were God--love--the soul.
One day he suddenly caught Catherine's hands, drew her face to
him, and studied it with his, glowing and hollow eyes, as though
he would draw it into his soul.
'He made it,' he said hoarsely, as he let her go--'this love--this
yearning. And in life He only makes us yearn that He may satisfy.
He cannot lead us to the end and disappoint the craving He himself
set in us. No, no--could you--Could I--do it? And He, the source
of love, of justice----'
Flaxman arrived a few days afterward. Edmondson had started for
London the night before, leaving Elsmere better again, able to drive
and even walk a little, and well looked after by a local doctor of
ability. As Flaxman, tramping up behind his carriage climbed the
long hill to El Biar, he saw the whole marvellous place in a white
light of beauty--the bay, the city, the mountains, olive-yard and
orange-grove, drawn in pale tints on luminous air. Suddenly, at
the entrance of a steep and narrow lane, he noticed a slight figure
parasol standing--a parasol against the sun.
'We thought You would like to be shown the short cut up the hill,'
said Rose's voice--strangely demure and shy. 'The man can drive
A grip of the hand, a word to the driver, and they were alone in
the high-walled lane which was really the old road up the hill
before the French brought zigzags and civilization. She gave him
news of Robert--better than he had expected. Under the influence
of one of the natural reactions that wait on illness, the girl's
tone was cheerful, and Flaxman's spirits rose. They talked of the
splendor of the day, the discomforts of the steamer, the picturesqueness
of the landing--of anything and everything but the hidden something
which was responsible for the dancing brightness in his eyes, the
occasional swift veiling of her own.
Then, at, an angle of the lane, where a little spring ran cool and
brown into a moss-grown trough, where the blue broke joyously through
the gray cloud of olive-wood, where not a sight or sound was to be
heard of all the busy life which hides and nestles along the hill,
he stopped, his hands seizing hers.
'How long?' he said, flushing, his light overcoat falling back from
his strong, well-made frame; 'from August to February--how long?'
No more! It was most natural, nay, inevitable. For the moment
death stood aside and love asserted itself. But this is no place
to chronicle what it said.
And he had hardly asked, and she had hardly yielded, before the
same misgiving, the same, shrinking, seized on the lovers themselves.
They sped up the hill, they crept into the house far apart. It
was agreed that neither of them should say word.
But, with that extraordinarily quick perception that sometimes goes
with such a state as his, Elsmere had guessed the position of things
before he and Flaxman had been half an hour together. He took a
boyish pleasure in making his friend confess himself, and, when
Flaxman left him, at once sent for Catherine and told her.
Catherine, coming out afterward, met Flaxman in the little tiled
hall. How she had aged and blanched! She stood a moment opposite
to him, in her plain long dress with its white collar and cuffs,
her face working a little.
'We are so glad!' she said, but almost with a sob-'God bless you!'
And, wringing his hand, she passed away from him, hiding her eyes,
but without a sound. When they met again she was quite self-contained
and bright, talking much both with him and Rose about the future.
And one little word of Rose's must be recorded here, for those who
have followed her through these four years. It was at night, when
Robert, with smiles, had driven them out of doors to look at the
moon over the bay, from the terrace just beyond the windows. They
had been sitting on the balustrade talking of Elsmere. In this
nearness to death, Rose had lost her mocking ways; but she was shy
and difficult, and Flaxman felt it all very strange, and did not
venture to woo her much.
When, all at once, he felt her hand steal trembling, a little white
suppliant, into his, and her face against his shoulder.
'You won't--you won't ever be angry with me for making you wait
like that? It was impertinent--it was like a child playing tricks!'
Flaxman was deeply shocked by the change in Robert. He was terribly
emaciated. They could only talk at rare intervals in the day; and
it was clear that his nights were often one long struggle for breath.
But his spirits were extraordinarily even, and his days occupied
to a point Flaxman could hardly have believed. He would creep,
down stairs at eleven, read his English letters (among them always
some from Elgood Street) write his answers to them--those difficult
scrawls are among the treasured archives of a society which is fast
gathering to itself some of the best life in England--then often
fall asleep with fatigue. After food there would come a short
drive, or, if the day was very warm, an hour or two of sitting
outside, generally his best time for talking. He had a wheeled
chair in which Flaxman would take him across to the convent garden--a
dream of beauty. Overhead an orange canopy--leaf and blossom and
golden fruit all in simultaneous perfection; underneath a revel of
every imaginable flower--narcissus and anemones, geraniums and
clematis; and all about, hedges of monthly roses, dark red and pale
alternately, making a roseleaf carpet under their feet. Through the
tree-trunks shone the white sun-warmed convent and far beyond were
glimpses of downward-trending valleys edged by twinkling sea.
Here, sensitive and receptive to his last hour, Elsmere drank in
beauty and delight; talking, too, whenever it was possible to him,
of all things in heaven and earth. Then when he came home, he would
have out his books and fall to some old critical problem--his worn
and scored Greek Testament always beside him, the quick eye making
its way through some new monograph or other, the parched lips opening
every now and then to call Flaxman's attention to some fresh light
on an obscure point--only to relinquish the effort again and again
with an unfailing patience.
But though he would begin as ardently as ever, he could not keep
his attention fixed to these things very long. Then it would be
the turn of his favorite poets--Wordsworth, Tennyson, Virgil.
Virgil perhaps most frequently. Flaxman would read the AEneid aloud
to him, Robert following the passages he loved best in whisper, his
hand resting the while in Catherine's. And then Mary would be
brought in, and he would lie watching her while she played.
'I have had a letter,' he said to Flaxman one afternoon, 'from a
Broad Church clergyman in the Midlands, who imagines me to be still
militant in London, protesting against the "absurd and wasteful
isolation" of the New Brotherhood. He asks me why instead of leaving
the Church I did not join the Church Reform Union, why I did not
attempt to widen the Church from within, and why we in Elgood Street
are not now in organic connection with the new Broad Church settlement
in East London. I believe I have written him rather a sharp letter;
I could not help it. It was borne in on me to tell him that it is
all owing to him and his brethren that we are in the muddle we are
in to-day. Miracle is to our time what the law was to the early
Christians. We _must_ make up our minds about it one way or the
other. And if we decide to throw it over as Paul threw over the
law, then we must fight as he did. There is no help in subterfuge,
no help in anything but a perfect sincerity. We must come out of
it. The ground must be cleared; then may come the rebuilding.
Religion itself, the peace of generations to come, is at stake.
If we could wait indefinitely while the Church widened, well and
good. But we have but the one life, the one chance of saying the
word or playing the part assigned us.'
On another occasion, in the convent garden, he broke out with,--
'I often lie here, Flaxman, wondering at the way in which men become
the slaves of some metaphysical word--_personality_, or _intelligence_,
or what not! What meaning can they have as applied to God? Herbert
Spencer is quite right. We no sooner attempt to define what we
mean by a Personal God than we lose ourselves in labyrinths of
language and logic. But why attempt it at all? I like that French
saying, "_Quand on me demande ce que c'est que Dieu, je l'ignore;
quand on ne me le demande pas, je le sais tres-bien!_" No, we
cannot, realize Him in words--we can only live in Him, and die to
On another occasion, he said, speaking to Catherine of the Squire
and of Meyrick's account of his last year of life,--
'How selfish one is, _always_--when one least thinks it! How could
I have forgotten him so completely as I did during all that New
Brotherhood time? Where, what is he now? Ah! if somewhere, somehow,
He did not finish the sentence, but the painful yearning of his
look finished it for him.
But the days passed on, and the voice grew rarer, the strength
feebler. By the beginning of March all coming downstairs was over.
He was entirely confined to his room, almost to his bed. Then
there came a horrible week, when no narcotics took effect, when
every night was a wrestle for life, which it seemed must be the
last. They had a good nurse, but Flaxman and Catherine mostly
shared the watching between them.
One morning he had just dropped into a fevered sleep. Catherine
was sitting by the window gazing out into a dawn world of sun which
reminded her of the summer sunrises at Petites Dalles. She looked
the shadow of herself. Spiritually, too, she was the shadow of
herself. Her life was no longer her own: she lived in him--in every
look of those eyes--in every movement of that wasted frame.
As she sat there, her Bible on her knee, her strained unseeing gaze
resting on the garden and the sea, a sort of hallucination took
possession of her. It seemed to her that she saw the form of the
Son of Man passing over the misty slope in front of her, that the
dim majestic figure turned and beckoned. In her half-dream she
fell on her knees. 'Master!' she cried in agony, 'I cannot leave
him! Call me not! My life is here. I have no heart--it beats in
And the figure passed on, the beckoning hand dropping at its side.
She followed it with a sort of anguish, but it seemed to her as
though mind and body were alike incapable of moving--that she would
not if she could. Then suddenly a sound from behind startled her.
She turned, her trance shaken off in an instant, and saw Robert
sitting up in bed.
For a moment her lover, her husband, of the early day was before
her--as she ran to him. But he did not see her.
An ecstasy of joy was on his face; the whole man bent forward
'_The child's cry!--thank God! Oh! Meyrick--Catherine--thank God!_'
And she knew that he stood again on the stairs at Murewell in that
September night which gave them their first born, and that he thanked
God because her pain was over.
An instant's strained looking, and, sinking back into her arms, he
gave two or three gasping breaths, and died.
Five days later Flaxman and Rose brought Catherine home. It was
supposed that she would return to her mother at Burwood. Instead,
she settled down again in London, and not one of those whom Robert
Elsmere had loved was forgotten by his widow. Every Sunday morning,
with her child beside her, she worshipped in the old ways; every
Sunday afternoon saw her black-veiled figure sitting motionless in
a corner of the Elgood Street Hall. In the week she gave all her
time and money to the various works of charity which he had started.
But she held her peace. Many were grateful to her; some loved
her; none understood her. She lived for one hope only; and the
years passed all too slowly.
The New Brotherhood still exists, and grows. There are many who
imagined that as it had been raised out of the earth by Elsmere's
genius, so it would sink with him. Not so! He would have fought
the struggle to victory with surpassing force, with a brilliancy
and rapidity none after him could rival. But the struggle was not
his. His effort was but a fraction of the effort of the race. In
that effort, and in the Divine force behind it, is our trust, as
Others, I doubt not, if not we,
The issue of our toils shall see;
And (they forgotten and unknown)
Young children gather as their own
The harvest that the dead had sown.
Back to Full Books