Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 2 out of 16
the wall, her curly head thrown back, her eyes half shut, her mouth
expressing an angry endurance. Robert watched her with amusement.
It was certainly a remarkable duet. After an _adagio_ opening in
which flute and piano were at magnificent cross purposes from the
beginning, the two instruments plunged into an _allegro_ very long
and very fast, which became ultimately a desperate race between the
competing performers for the final chord. Mr. Mayhew toiled away,
taxing the resources of his whole vast frame to keep his small
instrument in a line with the piano, and taxing them in vain. For
the shriller and the wilder grew the flute, and the greater the
exertion of the dark Hercules performing on it, the fiercer grew
the pace of the piano. Rose stamped her little foot.
'Two bars ahead last page,' she murmured, 'three bars this; will
no one stop her!'
But the pages flew past, turned assiduously by Agnes, who took a
sardonic delight in these performances, and every countenance in
the room seemed to take a look of sharpened anxiety as to how the
duet was to end, and who was to be victor.
Nobody knowing Miss Barks need to have, been in any doubt as to
that! Crash came the last chord, and the poor flute, nearly half
a page behind, was left shrilly hanging, in mid-air, forsaken and
companionless, an object of derision to gods and men.
'Ah! I took it a little fast!' said the lady, triumphantly looking
up at the discomfited clergyman.
'Mr. Elsmere,' said Rose, hiding herself in the window-curtain
beside him, that she might have her laugh in safety, 'do they play
like that in Oxford, or has Long Whindale a monopoly?'
But before be could answer, Mrs. Thornburgh called to the girl.
'Rose! Rose! Don't go out again! It is your turn next!'
Rose advanced reluctantly, her head in air. Robert, remembering
something that Mrs. Thornburgh had said to him as to her musical
power, supposed that she felt it an indignity to be asked to play
in such company.
Mrs. Thornburgh motioned to him to come and sit by Mrs. Leyburn, a
summons which he obeyed with the more alacrity, as it brought him
once more within reach of Mrs. Leyburn's oldest daughter.
'Are you fond of music, Mr. Elsmere?' asked Mrs. Leyburn in her
little mincing voice, making room for his chair beside them. 'If
you are, I am sure my youngest daughter's playing, will please you.'
Catherine moved abruptly. Robert, while he made some pleasant
answer, divined that the reserved and stately daughter must be often
troubled by the mother's expansiveness.
Meanwhile the room was again settling itself to, listen. Mrs.
Seaton was severely turning over a photograph book. In her opinion
the violin was an unbecoming instrument for young women. Miss Barks
sat upright with the studiously neutral expression which befits the
artist asked to listen to a rival. Mr. Thornburgh sat pensive, one
foot drooped over the other. He was very fond of the Leyburn girls,
but music seemed to him, good man, one of the least comprehensible
of human pleasures. As for Rose, she had at last arranged herself
and her accompanist Agnes, after routing out from her music a couple
of _Fantasie-Stuecke_, which she had wickedly chosen as presenting
the most severely classical contrast to the 'rubbish' played by the
preceding performers. She stood with her lithe figure in its
old-fashioned dress thrown out against the black coats of a group
of gentlemen beyond, one slim arched foot advanced, the ends of the
blue sash dangling, the hand and arm, beautifully formed but still
wanting the roundness of womanhood, raised high for action, the
lightly poised head thrown back with an air. Robert thought her a
bewitching, half-grown thing, overflowing with potentialities of
future brilliance and empire.
Her music astonished him. Where had a little provincial maiden
learned to play with this intelligence, this force, this delicate
command of her instrument? He was not a musician, and therefore
could not gauge her exactly, but he was more or less familiar with
music and its standards, as all people become nowadays who live in
a highly cultivated society, and he knew enough at any rate to see
that what he was listening to was remarkable, was out of the common
range. Still more evident was this, when from the humorous piece
with which the sisters led off--a dance of clowns, but clowns of
Arcady--they slid into a delicate rippling _chant d'amour_, the
long-drawn notes of the violin rising and falling on the piano
accompaniment with an exquisite plaintiveness. Where did a _fillette_,
unformed, inexperienced, win the secret of so much eloquence--only
from the natural dreams of a girl's heart as to 'the lovers waiting
in the hidden years?'
But when the music ceased, Elsmere, after a hearty clap that set
the room applauding likewise, turned not to the musician but the
figure beside Mrs. Leyburn, the sister who had sat listening with
an impassiveness, a sort of gentle remoteness of look which had
piqued his curiosity. The mother meanwhile was drinking in the
compliments of Dr. Baker.
'Excellent!' cried Elsmere. 'How in the name of fortune, Miss
Leyburn, if I may ask, has your sister managed to get on so far in
this remote place?'
'She goes to Manchester every year to some relations we have there,'
said Catherine quietly; 'I believe she has been very well taught.'
'But surely,' he said warmly, 'it is more than teaching--more even
than talent--there is something like genius in it?'
She did not answer very readily.
'I don't know,' she said at last. 'Everyone says it is very good.'
He would have been repelled by her irresponsiveness but that her
last words had in them a note of lingering, of wistfulness, as
though the subject were connected with an inner debate not yet
solved which troubled bar. He was puzzled, but certainly not
Twenty minutes later everybody was going. The Seatons went first,
and the other guests lingered awhile afterward to enjoy the sense
of freedom left by their departure. But at last the Mayews, father
and son, set off on foot to walk home over the moonlit mountains;
the doctor tucked himself and his daughter into his high gig and
drove off with a sweeping ironical bow to Rose, who had stood on
the steps teasing him to the last; and Robert Elsmere offered to
escort the Miss Leyburns and their mother home.
Mrs. Thornburgh was left protesting to the vicar's incredulous ears
that never--never as long as she lived--would she have Mrs. Seaton
inside her doors again.
'Her manners'--cried the vicar's wife, fuming-'her manners would
disgrace a Whinborough shop-girl. She has none-positively none!'
Then suddenly her round, comfortable face brightened and broadened
out into a beaming smile--
'But, after all, William, say what you will--and you always do say
the most unpleasant things you can think of--it was a great success.
I know the Leyburns enjoyed it. And as for Robert, I saw him
_looking_--_looking_--at that little minx Rose while she was playing
as if he couldn't take his eyes off her. What a picture she made,
to be sure!'
The vicar, who had been standing with his back to fireplace and his
hands in his pockets, received his wife's remarks first of all with
lifted eyebrows, and then with a low chuckle, half scornful, half
compassionate, which made her start in her chair.
'Rose?' he said, impatiently. 'Rose, my dear, where were your eyes?'
It was very rarely indeed, that on her own ground, so to speak, the
vicar ventured to take the whip-hand of her like this. Mrs.
Thornburgh looked at him in amazement.
'Do you mean to say,' he asked, in raised tones, 'that you didn't
notice that from the moment you first introduced Robert to Catherine
Leyburn, he had practically no attention for anybody else?'
Mrs. Thornburgh gazed at him--her memory flew back over the evening-and
her impulsive contradiction died on her lips. It was now her turn
'Catherine!' she said feebly. 'Catherine! how absurd!'
But she turned and, with quickened breath, looked out of the window
after the retreating figures. Mrs. Thornburgh went up to bed that
night an inch taller. She had never felt herself more exquisitely
indispensable, more of a personage.
Before, however, we go on to chronicle the ultimate success or
failure of Mrs. Thornburgh as a match-maker, it may be well to
inquire a little more closely into the antecedents of the man who
had suddenly roused so much activity in her contriving mind. And,
indeed, these antecedents are important to us. For the interest
of an uncomplicated story will entirely depend upon the clearness
with which the reader may have grasped the general outlines of a
quick soul's development. And this development had already made
considerable progress before Mrs. Thornburgh set eyes upon her
husband's cousin, Robert Elsmere.
Robert Elsmere, then, was well born and fairly well provided with
this world's goods; up to a certain moderate point, indeed, a
favorite of fortune in all respects. His father belonged to the
younger line of an old Sussex family, and owed his pleasant country
living to the family instincts of his uncle, Sir William Elsmere,
in whom Whig doctrines and Conservative traditions were pretty
evenly mixed, with a result of the usual respectable and inconspicuous
kind. His virtues had descended mostly to his daughters, while all
his various weaknesses and fatuities had blossomed into vices in
the person of his eldest son and heir, the Sir Mowbray Elsmere of
Mrs. Seaton's early recollections.
Edward Elsmere, rector of Murewell in Surrey, and father of Robert,
had died before his uncle and patron; and his widow and son had
been left to face the world together. Sir William Elsmere and his
nephew's wife had not much in common, and rarely concerned themselves
with each other. Mrs. Elsmere was an Irishwoman by birth, with
irregular Irish ways, and a passion for strange garments, which
made her the dread of the conventional English squire; and, after
she left the vicarage with her son, she and her husband's uncle met
no more. But when he died it was found that the old man's sense
of kinship, acting blindly and irrationally, but with a slow
inevitableness and certainty, had stirred in him at the last in
behalf of his great-nephew. He left him a money legacy, the interest
of which was to be administered by his mother till his majority,
and in a letter addressed to his heir he directed that, should the
boy on attaining manhood show any disposition to enter the Church,
all possible steps were to be taken to endow him with the family
living of Murewell, which had been his father's, and which at the
time of the old Baronet's death was occupied by another connection
of the family, already well stricken in years.
Mowbray Elsmere had been hardly on speaking terms with his cousin
Edward, and was neither amiable nor generous, but his father knew
that the tenacious Elsmere instinct was to be depended on for the
fulfillment of his wishes. And so it proved. No sooner was his
father dead, than Sir Mowbray curtly communicated his instructions
to Mrs. Elsmere, then living at the town of Harden for the sake of
the great public school recently transported there. She was to
inform him, when the right moment arrived, if it was the boy's wish,
to enter the Church, and meanwhile he referred her to his lawyers
for particulars of such immediate benefits as were secured to her
under the late Baronet's will.
At the moment when Sir Mowbray's letter reached her, Mrs. Elsmere
was playing a leading part in the small society to which circumstances
had consigned her. She was the personal friend of half the masters
and their wives, and of at least a quarter of the school, while in
the little town which stretched up the hill covered by the new
school buildings, she was the helper, gossip, and confident of half
the parish. Her vast hats, strange in fashion and inordinate in
brim, her shawls of many colors, hitched now to this side now to
that, her swaying gait and looped-up skirts, her spectacles, and
the dangling parcels in which her soul delighted, were the outward
signs of a personality familiar to all. For under those checked
shawls which few women passed without an inward marvel, there beat
one of the warmest hearts that ever animated mortal clay, and the
prematurely, wrinkled face, with its small quick eyes and shrewd
indulgent mouth, bespoke a nature as responsive as it was vigorous.
Their owner vas constantly in the public eye. Her house, during
the hours at any rate in which her boy was at school, was little
else than a halting place between two journeys. Visits to the poor,
long watches by the sick; committees, in which her racy breadth of
character gave her always an important place; discussions with the
vicar, arguments with the curates, a chat with this person and a
walk with that--these were the incidents and occupations which
filled her day. Life was delightful to her; action, energy,
influence, were delightful to her; she could only breathe freely
in the very thick of the stirring, many-colored tumult of existence.
Whether it was a pauper in the workhouse, or boys from the school,
or a girl caught in the tangle of a love-affair, it was all the
same to Mrs. Elsmere. Everything moved her, everything appealed
to her. Her life was a perpetual giving forth, and such was the
inherent nobility and soundness of the nature, that in spite of her
curious Irish fondness for the vehement romantic sides of experience,
she did little harm, and much good. Her tongue might be over-ready
and her championships indiscreet, but her hands were helpful, and
her heart was true. There was something contagious in her enjoyment
of life, and with all her strong religious faith, the thought of
death, of any final pulse and silence in the whirr of the great
social machine was to her a thought of greater chill and horror
than to many a less brave and spiritual soul.
Till her boy was twelve years old, however, she had lived for him
first and foremost. She had taught him, played with him, learnt
with him, communicating to him through all his lessons her own fire
and eagerness to a degree which every now and then taxed the physical
powers of the child. Whenever the signs of strain appeared, however,
the mother would be overtaken by a fit of repentant watchfulness,
and for days together Robert would find her the most fascinating
playmate, storyteller, and romp; and forget all his precocious
interest in history or vulgar fractions. In after years when Robert
looked back upon his childhood, he was often reminded of the stories
of Goethe's bringing-up. He could recall exactly the same scenes
as Goethe describes,--mother and child sitting together in the
gloaming, the mother's dark eyes dancing with fun or kindling with
dramatic fire, as she carried an imaginary hero or heroine through
a series of the raciest adventures; the child all eagerness and
sympathy, now clapping his little hands at the fall of the giant,
or the defeat of the sorcerer, and now arguing and suggesting in
ways which gave perpetually fresh stimulus to the mother's
inventiveness. He could see her dressing up with him on wet days,
reciting King Henry to his Prince Hal, or Prospero to his Ariel,
or simply giving free vent to her own exuberant Irish fun till both
he and she, would sink exhausted into each other's arms, and end
the evening with a long croon, sitting curled up together in a big
armchair in front of the fire. He could see himself as a child of
many crazes, eager for poetry one week, for natural history the
next, now spending all his spare time in strumming, now in drawing,
and now forgetting everything but the delights of tree-climbing and
And through it all he had the quiet, memory of his mother's
companionship, he could recall her rueful looks whenever the eager
inaccurate ways, in which he reflected certain ineradicable tendencies
of her own, had lost him a school advantage; he could remember her
exhortations, with the dash in them of humorous self-reproach which
made them so stirring to the child's affection; and he could realize
their old far-off life at Murewell, the joys and the worries of it,
and see her now gossiping with the village folk, now wearing herself
impetuously to death in their service, and now roaming with him
over the Surrey heaths in search of all the dirty delectable things
in which a boy-naturalist delights. And through it all he was
conscious of the same vivid energetic creature, disposing with some
difficulty and _fracas_ of its own excess of nervous life.
To return, however, to this same critical moment of Mowbray's offer.
Robert at the time was a boy of sixteen, doing very well at school,
a favorite both with boys and masters. But as to whether his
development would lead him in the direction of taking Orders, his
mother had not the slightest idea. She was not herself very much
tempted by the prospect. There were recollections connected with
Murewell, and with the long death in life which her husband had
passed through there, which were deeply painful to her; and, moreover,
her sympathy with the clergy as a class was by no means strong.
Her experience had not been large, but the feeling based on it
promised to have all the tenacity of a favorite prejudice. Fortune
had handed over the parish of Harden to a ritualist vicar. Mrs.
Elsmere's inherited Evangelicalism--she came from an Ulster
county--rebelled against his doctrine, but the man himself was too
lovable to be disliked. Mrs. Elsmere knew a hero when she saw him.
And in his own narrow way, the small-headed emaciated vicar was a
hero, and he and Mrs. Elsmere had soon tasted each other's quality,
and formed a curious alliance, founded on true similarity in
But the criticism thus warded off the vicar expended itself with
all the more force on his subordinates. The Harden curates were
the chief crook in Mrs. Elsmere's otherwise tolerable lot. Her
parish activities brought her across them perpetually, and she could
not away with them. Their cassocks, their pretensions, their
stupidities, roused the Irish-woman's sense of humor at every turn.
The individuals came and went, but the type it seemed to her was
always the same; and she made their peculiarities the basis of a
pessimist theory as to the future of the English Church, which was
a source of constant amusement to the very broad-minded young men
who filled up the school staff. She, so ready in general to see
all the world's good points, was almost blind when it was a curate's
virtues which were in question. So that, in spite of all her
persistent church-going, and her love of church performances as an
essential part of the busy human spectacle, Mrs. Elsmere had no
yearning for a clerical son. The little accidents of a personal
experience had led to wide generalizations, as is the way with us
mortals, and the position of the young parson in these days of
increased parsonic pretensions was, to Mrs. Elsmere, a position in
which there was an inherent risk of absurdity. She wished her son
to impose upon her when it came to his taking any serious step in
life. She asked for nothing better, indeed, than to be able, when
the time came, to bow the motherly knee to him in homage, and she
felt a little dread lest, in her flat moments, a clerical son might
sometimes rouse in her that sharp sense of the ludicrous which is
the enemy of all happy illusions.
Still, of course, the Elsmere proposal was one to be seriously
considered in its due time and place. Mrs. Elsmere only reflected
that it would certainly be better to Say nothing of it to Robert
until he should be at college. His impressionable temperament, and
the power he had occasionally shown of absorbing himself in a subject
till it produced in him a fit of intense continuous brooding,
unfavorable to health and nervous energy, all warned her not to
supply him, at a period of rapid mental and bodily growth, with any
fresh stimulus to the sense of responsibility. As a boy he had
always shown himself religiously susceptible to a certain extent,
and his mother's religious likes and dislikes had invariably found
in him a blind and chivalrous support. He was content to be with
her, to worship with her, and to feel that no reluctance or resistance
divided his heart from hers. But there had been nothing specially
noteworthy or precocious about his religious development, and at
sixteen or seventeen, in spite of his affectionate compliance, and
his natural reverence for all persons and beliefs in authority, his
mother was perfectly aware that many other things in his life were
more real to him than religion. And on this point, at any rate,
she was certainly not the person to force him.
He was such a schoolboy as a discerning master delights in--keen
about everything, bright, docile, popular, excellent at games. He
was in the sixth, moreover, as soon as his age allowed; that is to
say, as soon as he was sixteen; and his pride in everything connected
with the great body which he had already a marked and important
place was unbounded. Very early in his school career the literary
instincts, which had always been present in him, and which his
mother had largely helped to develop by her own restless imaginative
ways of approaching life and the world made themselves felt with
considerable force. Some time before his cousin's letter arrived,
he had been taken with a craze for English poetry, and, but for the
corrective influence of a favorite tutor would probably have thrown
himself into it with the same exclusive passion as he had shown for
subject after subject in his eager a ebullient childhood. His mother
found him at thirteen inditing a letter on the subject, of 'The
Faerie Queene' to a school-friend, in which, with a sincerity which
made her forgive the pomposity, he remarked--
'I can truly say with Pope, that this great work has afforded me
And about the same time, a master who was much interested in the
boy's prospects of getting the school prize for Latin verse, a
subject for which be had always shown a special aptitude, asked him
anxiously, after an Easter holiday, what he had been reading; the
boy ran his hands through his hair, and still keeping his finger
between the leaves, shut a book before him from which he had been
learning by heart, and which was, alas! neither Ovid nor Virgil.
'I have just finished Belial! 'he said, with a sigh of satisfaction,
'and am beginning Beelzebub.'
A craze of this kind was naturally followed by a feverish period
of juvenile authorship, when the house was littered over with stanzas
from the opening canto of a great poem on Columbus, or with moral
essays in the manner of Pope, castigating the vices of the time
with an energy which sorely tried the gravity of the mother whenever
she was called upon, as she invariably was, to play audience to the
young poet. At the same time the classics absorbed in reality their
full share of this fast developing power. Virgil and Aeschylus
appealed to the same fibres, the same susceptibilities, as Milton
and Shakspeare, and, the boy's quick imaginative sense appropriated
Greek and Latin life with the same ease which it showed in possessing
itself of that bygone English life whence sprung the 'Canterbury
Tales,' or 'As You Like It.' So that his tutor, who was much
attached to him, and who made it one of his main objects in life
to keep the boy's aspiring nose to the grindstone of grammatical
_minutiae_, began about the time of Sir Mowbray's letter to prophesy
very smooth things indeed to his mother as to his future success
at college, the possibility of his getting the famous St. Anselm's
scholarship, and so on.
Evidently such a youth, was not likely to depend for the attainment
of a foothold in life on a piece of family privileges. The world
was all before him where to choose, Mrs. Elsmere thought proudly
to herself, as her mother's fancy wandered rashly through the coming
years. And for many reasons she secretly allowed herself to hope
that he would find for himself some other post of ministry in a
very various world than the vicarage of Murewell.
So she wrote a civil letter of acknowledgment to Sir Mowbray,
informing him that the intentions of his great-uncle should be
communicated to the boy when he should be of fit age to consider
them, and that meanwhile she was obliged to him for pointing out
the procedure by which she might lay hands on the legacy bequeathed
to her in trust for her son, the income of which would now be doubly
welcome in view of his college expenses. There the matter rested,
and Mrs. Elsmere, during the two years which followed, thought
little more about it. She became more and more absorbed in her
boy's immediate prospects, in the care of his health, which was
uneven and tried somewhat by the strain of preparation for an attempt
on the St. Anselm's scholarship, and in the demands which his ardent
nature, oppressed with the weight of its own aspirations, was
constantly making upon her support and sympathy.
At last the moment so long expected arrived. Mrs. Elsmere and her
son left Harden amid a chorus of good wishes, and settled themselves
early in November in Oxford lodgings. Robert was to have a few
days' complete holiday before the examination, and he and his mother
spent it in exploring the beautiful old town, now shrouded in the
'pensive glooms' of still gray autumn weather. There was no sun
to light up the misty reaches of the river; the trees in the Broad
Walk were almost bare; the Virginian creeper no longer shone in
patches of delicate crimson on the college walls; the gardens were
damp and forsaken. But to Mrs. Elsmere and Robert the place needed
neither sun nor summer 'for beauty's heightening.' On both of them
it laid its old irresistible spell; the sentiment haunting its
quadrangles, its libraries, and its dim melodious chapels, stole
into the lad's heart and alternately soothed and stimulated that
keen individual consciousness which naturally accompanies the first
entrance into manhood. Here, on this soil, steepest in memories,
_his_ problems, _his_ struggles, were to be fought out in their
turn, 'Take up thy manhood,' said the inward voice, 'and show what
is in thee. The hour and the opportunity have come!'
And to this thrill of vague expectation, this young sense of an
expanding world, something of pathos and of sacredness was added
by the dumb influences of the old streets and weather-beaten stones.
How tenacious they were of the past! The dreaming city seemed to
be still brooding in the autumn calm over the long succession of
her sons. The continuity, the complexity of human experience; the
unremitting effort of the race; the stream of purpose running through
it all; these were the kind of thoughts which, in more or less
inchoate and fragmentary shape, pervaded the boy's sensitive mind
as he rambled with his mother from college to college.
Mrs. Elsmere, too, was fascinated by Oxford. But for all her eager
interest, the historic beauty of the place aroused in her an
under-mood of melancholy, just as it did in Robert. Both had the
impressionable Celtic temperament, and both felt that a critical
moment was upon them, and that the Oxford air was charged with fate
for each of them. For the first time in their lives they were to
be parted. The mother's long guardianship was coming to an end.
Had she loved him enough? Had she so far fulfilled the trust her
dead husband had imposed upon her? Would her boy love her in the
new life as he had loved her in the old? And would her poor craving
heart bear to see him absorbed by fresh interests and passions, in
which her share could be only, at the best, secondary and indirect?
One day--it was on the afternoon preceding the examination--she gave
hurried, half-laughing utterance to some of these misgivings of hers.
They were walking down the Lime-walk of Trinity Gardens: beneath their
feet a yellow fresh-strewn carpet of leaves, brown interlacing
branches overhead, and a red misty sun shining through the trunks.
Robert understood his mother perfectly, and the way she had of hiding
a storm of feeling under these tremulous comedy airs. So that,
instead of laughing too, he took her hand and, there being no
spectators anywhere to be seen in the damp November garden, he raised
it to his lips with a few broken words of affection and gratitude
which very nearly overcame the self-command of both of them. She
crashed wildly into another subject, and then suddenly it occurred to
her impulsive mind that the moment had come to make him acquainted
with those dying intentions of his great-uncle which we have already
described. The diversion was a welcome one, and the duty seemed
clear. So, accordingly, she made him give her all his attention while
she told him the story and the terms of Sir Mowbray's letter, forcing
herself the while to keep her own opinions and predilections as much
as possible out of sight.
Robert listened with interest and astonishment, the sense of a
new-found manhood waxing once more strong within him, as his mind
admitted the strange picture of himself occupying the place which
had been his fathers; master of the house and the parish he had
wandered over with childish steps, clinging to the finger or the
coat of the tall, stooping figure which occupied the dim background
of his recollections. 'Poor mother,' he said, thoughtfully, when
she paused, 'it would be hard upon _you_ to go back to Murewell!'
'Oh, you mustn't think of me when the time comes,' said Mrs. Elsmere,
sighing. 'I shall be a tiresome old woman, and you will be a young
man a wife. There, put it out of your head, Robert. I thought I
had better tell you, for, after all, the fact may concern your
Oxford life. But you've got a long time yet before you need begin
to worry about it.'
The boy drew himself up to his full height, and tossed his tumbling
reddish hair back from his eyes. He was nearly six feet already,
with a long, thin body and head which amply justified his school
nickname of 'the darning-needle.'
'Don't you trouble either, mother,' he said, with a tone of decision;
I don't feel as if I should ever take Orders.'
Mrs. Elsmere was old enough to know what importance to attach to
the trenchancy of eighteen, but still the words were pleasant to
The next day Robert went up for examination, and after three days
of hard work, and phases of alternate hope and depression, in which
mother and son excited one another to no useful purpose, there came
the anxious crowding round the college gate in the November twilight,
and the sudden flight of dispersing messengers bearing the news
over Oxford. The scholarship had been won by a precocious Etonian
with an extraordinary talent for 'stems' and all that appertaineth
thereto. But the exhibition fell to Robert, and mother and son
were well content.
The boy was eager to come into residence at once, though he would
matriculate too late to keep the term. The college authorities
were willing, and on the Saturday following the announcement of his
success he was matriculated, saw the Provost, and was informed that
rooms would be found for him without delay. His mother and he gayly
climbed innumerable stairs to inspect the garrets of which be was
soon to take proud possession, sallying forth from them only to
enjoy an agitated delightful afternoon among the shops. Expenditure,
always charming, becomes under these circumstances a sacred and
pontifical act. Never had Mrs. Elsmere bought a teapot for herself
with half the fervor which she now threw into the purchase of
Robert's; and the young man, accustomed to a rather bare home, and
an Irish lack of the little elegancies of life, was overwhelmed
when his mother actually dragged him into a printseller's, and added
an engraving or two to the enticing miscellaneous mass of which he
was already master.
They only just left themselves time to rush back to their lodgings
and dress for the solemn function of a dinner with the Provost.
The dinner, however, was a great success. The short, shy manner
of their white-haired host thawed under the influence of Mrs.
Elsmere's racy, unaffected ways, and it was not long before everybody
in the room had more or less made friends with her, and forgiven
her her marvellous drab poplin, adorned with fresh pink ruchings
for the occasion. As for the Provost, Mrs. Elsmere had been told
that he was a person of whom she must inevitably stand in awe. But
all her life long she had been like the youth in the fairy tale who
desired to learn how to shiver and could not attain unto it. Fate
had denied her the capacity of standing in awe of anybody, and she
rushed at her host as a new type, delighting in the thrill which
she felt creeping over her when she found herself on the arm of one
who had been the rallying-point of a hundred struggles, and a centre
of influence over thousands of English lives.
And then followed the proud moment when Robert, in his exhibitioner's
gown, took her to service in the chapel on Sunday. The scores of
young faces, the full unison of the hymns, and finally the Provost's
sermon, with its strange brusqueries and simplicities of manner and
phrase--simplicities suggestive, so full of a rich and yet disciplined
experience, that they haunted her mind for weeks afterward--completed
the general impression made upon her by the Oxford life. She came
out, tremulous and shaken, leaning on her son's arm. She, too,
like the generations before her, had launched her venture into the
deep. Her boy was putting out from her into the ocean; henceforth
she could but watch him from the shore. Brought into contact with
this imposing University organization, with all its suggestions of
virile energies and functions, the mother suddenly felt herself
insignificant and forsaken. He had been her all, her own, and now
on this training-ground of English youth, it seemed to her that the
great human society had claimed him from her.
In his Oxford life Robert surrendered himself to the best and most
stimulating influences of the place, just as he had done at school.
He was a youth of many friends, by virtue of a natural gift of
sympathy, which was no doubt often abused, and by no means invariably
profitable to its owner, but wherein, at any rate, his power over
his fellows, like the power of half the potent men in the world's
history always lay rooted. He had his mother's delight in living.
He loved the cricket-field, he loved the river; his athletic
instincts and his athletic friends were always fighting in him with
his literary instincts and the friends who appealed primarily to
the intellectual and moral side of him. He made many mistakes alike
in friends and in pursuits; in the freshness of a young and roving
curiosity he had great difficulty in submitting himself to the
intellectual routine of the University, a difficulty which ultimately
cost him much; but at the bottom of the lad, all the time, there
was a strength of will, a force and even tyranny of conscience,
which kept his charm and pliancy from degenerating into weakness,
and made it not only delightful, but profitable to love him. He
knew that his mother was bound up in him, and his being was set to
satisfy, so far as he could, all her honorable ambitions.
His many undergraduate friends, strong as their influence must have
been in the aggregate on a nature so receptive, hardly concern us
here. His future life, so far as we can see, was most noticeably
affected by two men older than himself, and belonging to the
dons--both of them fellows and tutors of St. Anselm's, though on
different planes of age.
The first one, Edward Langham, was Robert's tutor, and about seven
years older than himself. He was a man about whom, on entering the
college, Robert heard more than the usual crop of stories. The
healthy young English barbarian has an aversion to the intrusion
of more manner into life than is absolutely necessary. Now Langham
was overburdened with manner, though it was manner of the deprecating
and not of the arrogant order. Decisions, it seemed, of all sorts
were abominable to him. To help a friend he had once consented to
be Pro-proctor. He resigned in a month, and none of his acquaintances
ever afterward dared to allude to the experience. If you could
have got at his inmost mind, it was affirmed, the persons most
obnoxious there would have been found to be the scout, who intrusively
asked him every morning what he would have for breakfast, and the
college cook, who, till such a course was strictly forbidden him,
mounted to his room at half-past nine to inquire whether he would
"dine in." Being a scholar of considerable eminence, it pleased
him to assume on all questions an exasperating degree of ignorance;
and the wags of the college averred that when asked if it rained,
or if collections took place on such and such a day, it was pain
and grief to him to have to affirm positively, without qualifications,
that so it was.
Such a man was not very likely, one would have thought, to captivate
an ardent, impulsive boy like Elsmere. Edward Langham, however,
notwithstanding undergraduate tales, was a very remarkable person.
In the first place, he was possessed of exceptional personal beauty.
His coloring was vividly black and white, closely curling jet-black
hair and fine black eyes contrasting with a pale, clear complexion
and even, white teeth. So far he had the characteristics which
certain Irishmen share with most Spaniards. But the Celtic or
Iberian brilliance was balanced by a classical delicacy and precision
of feature. He had the brow, the nose, the upper lip, the finely-molded
chin, which belong to the more severe and spiritual Greek type.
Certainly of Greek blitheness and directness there was no trace.
The eye was wavering and profoundly melancholy; all the movements
of the tall, finely-built frame were hesitating and doubtful. It
was as though the man were suffering from paralysis of some moral
muscle or other; as if some of the normal springs of action in him
had been profoundly and permanently weakened.
He had a curious history. He was the only child of a doctor in a
Lincolnshire country town. His old parents had brought him up in
strict provincial ways, ignoring the boy's idiosyncrasies as much
as possible. They did not want an exceptional and abnormal son,
and they tried to put down his dreamy, self-conscious habits by
forcing him into the common, middle-class Evangelical groove. As
soon as he got to college, however, the brooding, gifted nature had
a moment of sudden and, as it seemed to the old people in Gainsborough,
most reprehensible expansion. Poems were sent to them, cut out of
one or the other of the leading periodicals, with their son's
initials appended, and articles of philosophical art-criticism,
published while the boy was still an undergraduate--which seemed
to the stern father everything that was sophistical and subversive.
For they treated Christianity itself as an open question, and
showed especially scant respect for the "Protestantism of the
Protestant religion." The father warned him grimly that he was not
going to spend his hard-earned savings on the support of a free-thinking
scribbler, and the young man wrote no more till just after he had
taken a double first in Greats. Then the publication of an article
in one of the leading Reviews on "The Ideals of Modern Culture,"
not only brought him a furious letter from home stopping all supplies,
but also lost him a probable fellowship. His college was one of
the narrowest and most backward in Oxford, and it was made perfectly
plain to him before the fellowship examination that be would not
He left the college, took pupils for a while, then stood for a
vacant fellowship at St. Anselm's, the Liberal headquarters, and
got it with flying colors.
Thenceforward one would have thought that a brilliant and favorable
mental development was secured to him. Not at all. The moment
of his quarrel with his father and his college had, in fact,
represented a moment of energy, of comparative success, which never
recurred. It Was as though this outburst of action and liberty had
disappointed him, as if some deep-rooted instinct--cold, critical,
reflective--had reasserted itself, condemning him and his censors
equally. The uselessness of utterance, the futility of enthusiasm,
the inaccessibility of the ideal, the practical absurdity of trying
to realize any of the mind's inward dreams: these were the kind of
considerations which descended upon him, slowly and fatally, crushing
down the newly springing growths of action or of passion. It was
as though life had demonstrated to him the essential truth of a
childish saying of his own which had startled and displeased his
Calvinist mother years before. "Mother," the delicate, large-eyed
child had said to her one day in a fit of physical weariness, "how
is it I dislike the things I dislike so much more than I like the
things I like?"
So he wrote no more, he quarreled no more, he meddled with the great
passionate things of life and expression no more. On his taking
up residence in St. Anselm's, indeed, and on his being appointed
first lecturer and then tutor, he had a momentary pleasure in the
thought of teaching. His mind was a storehouse of thought and fact,
and to the man brought up at a dull provincial day-school and never
allowed to associate freely with his kind, the bright lads fresh
from Eton and Harrow about him were singularly attractive. But a
few terms were enough to scatter this illusion too. He could not
be simple, he could not be spontaneous; he was tormented by
self-consciousness; and it was impossible to him to talk and behave
as those talk and behave who have been brought up more or less in
the big world from the beginning. So this dream too faded, for
youth asks before all things simplicity and spontaneity in those
who would take possession of it. His lectures, which were at first
brilliant enough to attract numbers of men from other colleges,
became gradually mere dry, ingenious skeletons, without life or
feeling. It was possible to learn a great deal from him; it was
not possible to catch from him any contagion of that _amor
intellectualis_ which had flamed at one moment so high within him.
He ceased to compose; but as the intellectual faculty must have
some employment, he became a translator, a contributor to dictionaries,
a microscopic student of texts, not in the interest of anything
beyond, but simply as a kind of mental stone-breaking.
The only survival of that moment of glow and color in his life was
his love of music and the theatre. Almost every year he disappeared
to France to haunt the Paris theatres for a fortnight; to Berlin
or Bayreuth to drink his fill of music. He talked neither of music
nor of acting; he made no one sharer of his enjoyment, if he did
enjoy. It was simply his way of cheating his creative faculty,
which, though it had grown impotent, was still there, still restless.
Altogether a melancholy, pitiable man--at once thorough-going
sceptic and thorough-going idealist, the victim of that critical
sense which says 'No' to every impulse, and is always restlessly
and yet hopelessly, seeking the future through the neglected and
And yet the man's instincts, at this period of his life at any rate,
were habitually kindly and affectionate. He knew nothing of women,
and was not liked by them, but it was not his fault if he made no
impression on the youth about him. It seemed to him that he was
always seeking in their eyes and faces for some light of sympathy
which was always escaping him, and which he was powerless to compel.
He met it for the first time in Robert Elsmere. The susceptible,
poetical boy was struck at some favorable moment by that romantic
side of the ineffective tutor--his silence, his melancholy, his
personal beauty--which no one else, with perhaps one or two exceptions
among the older men, cared to take into account; or touched perhaps
by some note in him, surprised in passing, by weariness or shrinking,
as compared with the contemptuous tone of the college toward him.
He showed his liking impetuously, boyishly, as his way was, and
thenceforward during his University career Langham became his slave.
He had no ambition for himself; his motto might have been that
dismal one--'The small things of life are odious to me, and the
habit of them enslaves me; the great things of life are eternally
attractive to me, and indolence and fear put them by;' but for the
University chances of this lanky, red-haired youth--with his
eagerness, his boundless curiosity, his genius for all sorts of
lovable mistakes--he disquieted himself greatly. He tried to
discipline the roving mind, to infuse into the boy's literary temper
the delicacy, the precision, the subtlety of his own. His fastidious,
critical habits of work supplied exactly the antidote which Elsmere's
main faults of haste and carelessness required. He was always
holding up before him the inexhaustible patience and labor involved
in all true knowledge; and it was to the germs of critical judgment
so planted in him that Elsemere owed many of the later growths of
his development--growths with which we have not yet to concern
And in return, the tutor allowed himself rarely, very rarely, a
moment of utterance from the depths of his real self. One evening,
in the summer term following the boy's matriculation, Elsmere brought
him an essay after Hall, and they sat on talking afterward. It was
a rainy, cheerless evening; the first contest of the Boats week had
been rowed in cold wind and sheet; a dreary blast whistled through
the college. Suddenly Langham reached out his hand for an open
letter. 'I have had an offer, Elsmere,' he said, abruptly.
And he put it into his hand. It was the offer of an important
Scotch professorship, coming from the man most influential in
assigning it. The last occupant of the post had been a scholar of
European eminence. Langham's contributions to a great foreign
review, and certain Oxford recommendations, were the basis of the
present overture, which, coming from one who was himself a classic
of the classics, was couched in terms flattering to any young man's
Robert looked up with a joyful exclamation when he had finished the
'I congratulate you, sir.'
'I have refused it,' said Langham, abruptly.
His companion sat open-mouthed. Young as he was, he know perfectly
well that this particular appointment was one of the blue ribbons
of British scholarship.
'Do you think--' said the other in a tone of singular vibration,
which had in it a note of almost contemptuous irritation--'do you
think _I_ am the man to get and keep a hold on a rampageous class
of hundreds of Scotch lads? Do you think _I_ am the man to carry
on what Reid began--Reid, that old fighter, that preacher of all
sorts of jubilant dogmas?'
He looked at Elsmere under his straight, black brows, imperiously.
The youth felt the nervous tension in the elder man's voice and
manner, was startled by a confidence never before bestowed upon
him, close as that unequal bond between them had been growing during
the six months of his Oxford life, and plucking up courage hurled
at him a number of frank, young expostulations, which really put
into friendly shape all that was being said about Langham in his
College and in the University. Why was he so self-distrustful, so
absurdly diffident of responsibility, so bent on hiding his great
gifts under a bushel?
The tutor smiled sadly, and, sitting down, buried his head in his
hands and said nothing for a while. Then he looked up and stretched
out a hand toward a book which lay on a table near. It was the
'Reveries' of Senancour. 'My answer is written _here_,' he said.
'It will seem to you now, Elsmere, mere Midsummer madness. May it
always seem so to you. Forgive me. The pressure of solitude
sometimes is too great.'
Elsmere looked up with one of his flashing, affectionate smiles,
and took the book from Langham's hand. He found on the open page
a marked passage:
"Oh swiftly passing seasons of life! There was a time when men
seemed to be sincere; when thought was nourished on friendship,
kindness, love; when dawn still kept its brilliance, and the night
its peace. _I can_, the soul said to itself, and _I will_; I will
do all that is right--all that is natural. But soon resistance,
difficulty, unforeseen, coming we know not whence, arrest us,
undeceive us, and the human yoke grows heavy on our necks;
Thenceforward we become merely sharers in the common woe. Hemmed
in on all sides, we feel our faculties only to realize their
impotence: we have time and strength to do what we _must_, never
what we will. Men go on repeating the words work, genius, success.
Fools! Will all these resounding projects, though they enable us
to cheat ourselves, enable us to cheat the icy fate which rules us
and our globe, wandering forsaken through the vast silence of the
Robert looked up startled, the book dropping from his hand. The
words sent a chill to the heart of one born to hope, to will, to
Suddenly Langham dashed the volume from him almost with violence.
'Forget that drivel, Elsmere. It was a crime to show it to you.
It is not sane; neither perhaps am I. But I am not going to Scotland.
They would request me to resign in a week.'
Long after Elsmere, who had stayed talking awhile on other things,
had gone, Langham sat on brooding over the empty grate.
'Corrupter of youth!' he said to himself once, bitterly. And perhaps
it was to a certain remorse in the tutor's mind that Elsmere owed
an experience of great importance to his afterlife.
The name of a certain Mr. Grey had for some time before his entry
at Oxford been more or less familiar to Robert's ears as that of a
person of great influence and consideration at St. Anselm's. His
tutor at Harden had spoken of him in the boy's hearing as one of
the most remarkable men of the generation, and had several times
impressed upon his pupil that nothing could be so desirable for him
as to secure the friendship of such a man. It was on the occasion
of his first interview with the Provost, after the scholarship
examination, that Robert was first brought face to face with Mr.
Grey. He could remember a short dark man standing beside the
Provost, who had been introduced to him by that name, but the
nervousness of the moment had been so great that the boy had been
quite incapable of giving him any special attention.
During his first term and a half of residence, Robert occasionally
met Mr. Grey in the quadrangle or in the street, and the tutor,
remembering the thin, bright-faced youth, would return his salutations
kindly, and sometimes stop to speak to him, to ask him if he were
comfortably settled in his rooms, or make a remark about the boats.
But the acquaintance did not seem likely to progress, for Mr. Grey
was a Greats tutor, and Robert naturally had nothing to do with him
as far as work was concerned.
However, a day or two after the conversation we have described,
Robert, going to Langham's rooms late in the afternoon to return a
book which had been lent to him, perceived two figures standing
talking on the hearth-rug and by the western light beating in
recognized the thickset frame and broad brow of Mr. Grey.
'Come in, Elsmere,' said Langham, as he stood hesitating on the
threshold. 'You have met Mr. Grey before, I think?'
'We first met at an anxious moment,' said Mr. Grey, smiling and
shaking hands with the boy. 'A first interview with the Provost
is always formidable. I remember it too well myself. You did very
well, I remember, Mr. Elsmere. Well, Langham, I must be off. I
shall be late for my meeting as it is. I think we have settled our
business. Good night.'
Langham stood a moment after the door closed, eyeing Elsmere. There
was a curious struggle going on in the tutor's mind.
'Elsmere,' he said at last, abruptly, 'would you like to go tonight
and hear Grey preach?'
'Preach!' exclaimed the lad. 'I thought he was a layman.'
So he is. It will be a lay sermon. It was always the custom here
with the clerical tutors to address their men once a term before
Communion Sunday, and some years ago, when Grey first became tutor,
he determined, though he was a layman, to carry on the practice.
It was an extraordinary effort, for he is a man to whom words on
such a subject are the coining of his heart's blood, and he has
repeated it very rarely. It is two years now since his last address.'
Of course I should like to go,' said Robert, with eagerness. Is
'Strictly it is for his Greats pupils, but I can take you in. It
is hardly meant for freshmen; but--well, you are far enough on to
make it interesting to you.'
'The lad will take to Grey's influence like a fish to water,' thought
the tutor to himself when he was alone, not without strange reluctance.
'Well, no one can say I have not given him his opportunity to be
The sarcasm of the last word was the kind of sarcasm which a man
of his type in an earlier generation might have applied to the
'earnestness' of an Arnoldian Rugby.
At eight o'clock that evening Robert found himself crossing the
quadrangle with Langham on the way to one of the larger lecture-rooms,
which was to be the scene of the address. The room when they got
in was already nearly full, all the working fellows of the college
were present, and a body of some thirty men besides, most of them
already far on in their University career. A minute or two afterward
Mr. Grey entered. The door opening on to the quadrangle, where the
trees, undeterred by east wind, were just bursting into leaf, was
shut; and the little assembly knelt, while Mr. Grey's voice with
its broad intonation, in which a strong native homeliness lingered
under the gentleness of accent, recited the collect 'Lord of all
power and might,' a silent pause following the last words. Then
the audience settled itself, and Mr. Grey, standing by a small deal
table with the gaslight behind him, began his address.
All the main points of the experience which followed stamped
themselves on Robert's mind with extraordinary intensity. Nor did
he ever lose the memory of the outward scene. In after-years,
memory could always recall to him at will the face and figure of
the speaker, the massive head, the deep eyes sunk under the brows,
the Midland accent, the make of limb and feature which seemed to
have some suggestion in them of the rude strength and simplicity
of a peasant ancestry; and then the nobility, the fire, the spiritual
beauty flashing through it all! Here, indeed, was a man on whom
his fellows might lean, a man in whom the generation of spiritual
force was so strong and continuous that it overflowed of necessity
into the poorer, barrener lives around him, kindling and enriching.
Robert felt himself seized and penetrated, filled with a fervor
and an admiration which he was too young and immature to analyze,
but which was to be none the less potent and lasting.
Much of the sermon itself, indeed, was beyond him. It was on the
meaning of St. Paul's great conception, 'Death unto sin and a new
birth unto righteousness.' What did the Apostle mean by a death
to sin and self? What were the precise ideas attached to the words
'risen with Christ?' Are this, death and this resurrection necessarily
dependent upon certain alleged historical events? Or are they not
primarily, and were they not, even in the mind of St. Paul, two
aspects of a spiritual process perpetually re-enacted in the soul
of man, and constituting the veritable revelation of God? Which
is the stable and lasting Witness of the Father: the spiritual
history of the individual and the world, or the envelope of miracle
to which hitherto mankind has attributed so much Importance?
Mr. Grey's treatment of these questions was clothed, throughout a
large portion of the lecture in metaphysical language, which no boy
fresh from school, however intellectually quick, could be expected
to follow with any precision. It was not, therefore, the argument,
or the logical structure of the sermon, which so profoundly affected
young Elsmere. It was the speaker himself, and the occasional
passages in which, addressing himself to the practical needs of his
hearers, he put before them the claims and conditions of the higher
life with a pregnant simplicity and rugged beauty of phrase. Conceit
selfishness, vice--how, as he spoke of them, they seemed to wither
from his presence! How the 'pitiful, earthy self' with its passions
and its cravings sank into nothingness beside the 'great ideas' and
the 'great causes' for which, as Christians and as men, he claimed
To the boy sitting among the crowd at the back of the room, his
face supported in his hands and his gleaming eyes fixed on the
speaker, it seemed as if all the poetry and history through which
a restless curiosity and ideality had carried him so far, took a
new meaning from this experience. It was by men like this that the
moral progress of the world had been shaped and inspired, he felt
brought near to the great primal forces breathing through the divine
workshop; and in place of natural disposition and reverent compliance,
there sprang up in him suddenly an actual burning certainty of
belief. 'Axioms are not axioms,' said poor Keats, 'till they have
been proved upon our pulses;' and the old familiar figure of the
Divine combat, of the struggle in which man and God are one, was
proved once more upon a human pulse on that May night, in the hush
of that quiet lecture-room.
As the little moving crowd of men dispersed over the main quadrangle
to their respective staircases, Langham and Robert stood together
a moment in the windy darkness, lit by the occasional glimmering
of a cloudy moon.
'Thank you, thank you, sir!' said the lad, eager and yet afraid to
speak, lest he should break the spell of memory. 'I should be sorry
indeed to have missed that!'
'Yes, it was fine, extraordinarily fine, the best he has ever given,
I think. Good night.'
And Langham turned away, his head sunk on his breast, his hands
behind him. Robert went to his room conscious of a momentary check
of feeling. But it soon passed, and he sat up late, thinking of
the sermon, or pouring out in a letter to his mother the new
hero-worship of which his mind was full.
A few days later, as it happened, came an invitation to the junior
exhibitioner to spend an evening at Mr. Grey's house. Elsmere went
in a state of curious eagerness and trepidation, and came away with
a number of fresh impressions which, when he had put them into
order, did but quicken his new-born sense of devotion. The quiet
unpretending house, with its exquisite neatness and its abundance
of books, the family life, with the heart-happiness underneath, and
the gentle trust and courtesy on the surface, the little touches
of austerity which betrayed themselves here and there in the household
ways--all these surroundings stole into the lad's imagination,
touched in him responsive fibres of taste and feeling.
But there was some surprise, too, mingled with the charm. He came,
still shaken, as it were, by the power of the sermon, expecting to
see in the preacher of it the outward and visible signs of a
leadership which, as he already knew, was a great force in Oxford
life. His mood was that of the disciple only eager to be enrolled.
And what he found was a quiet, friendly host, surrounded by a group
of men talking the ordinary pleasant Oxford chit-chat--the river,
the schools, the Union, the football matches, and so on. Every now
and then, as Elsmere stood at the edge of the circle listening, the
rugged face in the centre of it would break into a smile, or some
boyish speaker would elicit the low spontaneous laugh in which there
was such a sound of human fellowship, such a genuine note of
self-forgetfulness. Sometimes the conversation strayed into politics,
and then Mr. Grey, an eager politician, would throw back his head,
and talk with more sparkle and rapidity, flashing occasionally into
grim humor which seemed to throw light on the innate strength and
pugnacity of the peasant and Puritan breed from which he sprang.
Nothing could be more unlike the inspired philosopher, the mystic
surrounded by an adoring school, whom Robert had been picturing to
himself in his walk up to the house, through the soft May twilight.
It was not long before the tutor had learned to take much kindly
notice of the ardent and yet modest exhibitioner, in whose future
it was impossible not to feel a sympathetic interest.
'You will always find us on Sunday afternoons, before chapel,' he
said to him one day as they parted after watching a football match
in the damp mists of the Park, and the boy's flush of pleasure
showed how much he valued the permission.
For three years those Sunday half-hours were the great charm of
Robert Elsmere's life. When he came to look back upon them, he
could remember nothing very definite. A few interesting scraps of
talk about books; a good deal of talk about politics, showing in
the tutor a living interest in the needs and training of that
broadening democracy on which the future of England rests; a few
graphic sayings about individuals; above all, a constant readiness
on the host's part to listen, to sit quiet, with the slight unconscious
look of fatigue which was so eloquent of a strenuous intellectual
life, taking kindly heed of anything that sincerity, even a stupid
awkward sincerity, had got to say--these were the sort of impressions
they had left behind them, reinforced always, indeed, by the one
continuous impression of a great soul speaking with difficulty and
labor, but still clearly, still effectually, through an unblemished
series of noble acts and efforts.
Term after term passed away. Mrs. Elsmere became more and more
proud of her boy, and more and more assured that her years of
intelligent devotion to him had won her his entire love and confidence,
'so long as they both should live;' she came up to him once or
twice, making Lagham almost flee the University because she would
be grateful to him in public, and attending the boat-races in festive
attire to which she had devoted the most anxious attention for
Robert's sake, and which made her, dear, good, impracticable soul,
the observed of all observers. When she came, she and Robert talked
all day, so far as lectures allowed, and most of the night, after
their own eager, improvident fashion; and she soon gathered with
that solemn, half-tragic sense of change which besets a mother's
heart at such a moment, that there were many new forces at work in
her boy's mind, deep undercurrents of feeling, stirred in him by
the Oxford influences, which must before long rise powerfully to
He was passing from a bright, buoyant lad into t ma4, and a man of
ardor and conviction. And the chief instrument in the transformation
was Mr. Grey.
Elsmere got his first in Moderations easily. But the Final schools
were a different matter. In the first days of his, return to Oxford,
in the October of his third year, while he was still making up his
lecture list, and taking a general oversight of the work demanded
from him, before plunging definitely into it, he was oppressed with
a sense that the two years lying before him constituted a problem
which would be harder to solve than any which had yet been set him.
It seemed to him in a moment which was one of some slackness and
reaction, that he had been growing too fast. He had been making
friends besides in far too many camps, and the thought, half
attractive, half repellent, of all those midnight discussions over
smouldering fires, which Oxford was preparing for him, those
fascinating moments of intellectual fence with minds as eager and
as crude as his own, and of all the delightful dipping into the
very latest literature, which such moments encouraged and involved,
seemed to convey a sort of warning to the boy's will that it was
not equal to the situation. He was neither dull enough nor great
enough for a striking Oxford success. How was he to prevent himself
from attempting impossibilities and achieving a final mediocrity?
He felt a dismal certainty that he should never be able to control
the strayings of will and curiosity, now into this path, now into
that; and a still stronger and genuine certainty that it is not by
such digression that a man gets up the Ethics or the Annals.
Langham watched him with a half irritable attention. In spite of
the paralysis of all natural ambitious in himself, he was illogically
keen that Elsmere should win the distinctions of the place. He,
the most laborious, the most disinterested of scholars, turned
himself almost into a crammer for Elsmere's benefit. He abused the
lad's multifarious reading, declared it was no better than
dram-drinking, and even preached to him an ingenious variety of
mechanical aids to memory and short cuts to knowledge, till Robert
would turn round upon him with some triumphant retort drawn from
his own utterances at some sincerer and less discreet moment. In
vain. Langham felt a dismal certainty before many weeks were over
that Elsmere would miss his First in Greats. He was too curious,
too restless, too passionate about many things. Above all he was
beginning, in the tutor's opinion, to concern himself disastrously
early with that most overwhelming and most brain-confusing of all
human interests--the interest of religion. Grey had made him
'earnest' with a vengeance.
Elsmere was now attending Grey's philosophical lectures, following
them with enthusiasm, and making use of them, as so often happens,
for the defence and fortification of views quite other than his
teacher's. The whole basis of Grey's thought was ardently idealist
and Hegelian. He had broken with the popular Christianity, but for
him, God, consciousness, duty, were the only realities. None of
the various forms of materialist thought escaped his challenge; no
genuine utterance of the spiritual life of man but was sure of his
sympathy. It was known that after having prepared himself for the
Christian ministry, he had remained a layman because it had become
impossible to him to accept miracle; and it was evident that the
commoner type of Churchmen regarded him as an antagonist all the
more dangerous because he was to sympathetic. But the negative and
critical side of him was what in reality told least upon his pupils.
He was reserved, he talked with difficulty, and his respect for
the immaturity of the young lives near him was complete. So that
what he sowed others often reaped, or to quote the expression of a
well-known rationalist about him: 'The Tories were always carrying
off his honey to their hive.' Elsmere, for instance, took in all
that Grey had to give, drank in all the ideal fervor, the spiritual
enthusiasm of the great tutor, and then, as Grey himself would have
done some twenty years earlier, carried his religious passion so
stimulated into the service of the great positive tradition around
And at that particular moment in Oxford history, the passage from
philosophic idealism to glad acquiescence in the received Christian
system, was a peculiarly easy one. It was the most natural thing
in the world that a young man of Elsmere's temperament should rally
to the Church. The place was passing through one of those periodical
crises of reaction against an overdriven rationalism, which show
themselves with tolerable regularity in any great centre of
intellectual activity. It had begun to be recognized with a great
burst of enthusiasm and astonishment, that, after all, Mill and
Herbert Spencer had not said the last word on all things in heaven
and earth. And now there was exaggerated recoil. A fresh wave of
religious romanticism was fast gathering strength; the spirit of
Newman had reappeared in the place which Newman had loved and left;
religion was becoming once more popular among the most trivial
souls, and a deep reality among a large proportion of the nobler
With this movement of opinion Robert had very soon found himself
in close and sympathetic contact. The meagre impression left upon
his boyhood by the somewhat grotesque succession of the Harden
curates, and by his mother's shifts of wit at their expense, was
soon driven out of him by the stateliness and comely beauty of the
Church order as it was revealed to him at Oxford. The religious
air, the solemn beauty of the place itself, its innumerable
associations with an organized and venerable faith, the great public
functions and expressions of that faith, possessed the boy's
imagination more and more. As he sat in the undergraduates' gallery
at St. Mary's on the Sundays, when the great High Church preacher
of the moment occupied the pulpit, and looked down on the crowded
building, full of grave black-gowned figures and framed in one
continuous belt of closely packed boyish faces; as he listened to
the preacher's vibrating voice, rising and falling with the orator's
instinct for musical effect; or as he stood up with the great
surrounding body of undergraduates to send the melody of some Latin
hymn rolling into the far recesses of the choir, the sight and the
experience touched his inmost feeling, and satisfied all the poetical
and dramatic instincts of a passionate nature. The system behind
the sight took stronger and stronger hold upon him; he began to
wish ardently and continuously to become a part of it, to cast in
his lot definitely with it.
One May evening he was wandering by himself along the towing-path
which skirts the upper river, a prey to many thoughts, to forebodings
about the schools which were to begin in three weeks, and to
speculations as to how his mother would take the news of the second
class, which be himself felt to be inevitable. Suddenly, for no
apparent reason, there flashed into his mind the little conversation
with his mother, which had taken place nearly four years before,
in the garden at Trinity. He remembered the antagonism which the
idea of a clerical life for him had raised in both of them, and a
smile at his own ignorance and his mother's prejudice passed over
his quick young face. He sat down on the grassy bank, a mass of
reeds at his feet, the shadows of the poplars behind him lying
across the still river; and opposite, the wide green expanse of the
great town-meadow, dotted with white patches of geese and herds of
grazing horses. There, with a sense of something solemn and critical
passing over him, he began to dream out his future life.
And when he rose half an hour afterward, and turned his steps
homeward, he knew with an inward tremor of heart that the next great
step of the way was practically taken. For there by the gliding
river, and in view of the distant Oxford spires, which his fancy
took to witness the act, he had vowed himself in prayer and
self-abasement to the ministry of the Church.
During the three weeks that followed he made some frantic efforts
to make up lost ground. He had not been idle for a single day, but
he had been unwise, an intellectual spendthrift, living in a
continuous succession of enthusiasms and now at the critical moment
his stock of nerve and energy was at a low ebb. He went in depressed
and tired, his friends watching anxiously for the result. On the
day of the Logic paper, as he emerged into the Schools quadrangle,
he felt his arm caught by Mr. Grey.
'Come with me for a walk, Elsmere; you look as if some air would
do you good.'
Robert acquiesced, and the two men turned into the passageway leading
out on to Radcliffe Square.
'I have done for myself, sir,' said the youth, with a sigh, half
impatience, half depression. 'It seems to me to-day that I had
neither mind nor memory. If I get a second I shall be lucky.'
'Oh, you will get your second whatever happens,' said Mr. Grey,
quietly, 'and you mustn't be too much cast down about it if you
don't get your first.'
This implied acceptance of his partial defeat, coming from another's
lips, struck the excitable Robert like a lash. It was only what
he had been saying to himself, but in the most pessimist forecasts
we make for ourselves, there is always an under-protest of hope.
'I have been wasting my time here lately,' he said, hurriedly raising
his college cap from his brows as if it oppressed them, and pushing
his hair back with a weary, restless gesture.
'No,' said Mr. Grey, turning his kind, frank eyes upon him. 'As
far as general training goes, you have not wasted your time at all.
There are many clever men who don't get a first class, and yet it
is good for them to be here--so long as they are not loungers and
idlers, of course. And you have not been a lounger; you have been
headstrong and a little over-confident, perhaps,'--the speaker's
smile took all the sting out of the words--'but you have grown into
a man, you are fit now for man's work. Don't let yourself be
depressed, Elsmere. You will do better in life than you have done
The young man was deeply touched. This tone of personal comment
and admonition was very rare with Mr. Grey. He felt a sudden
consciousness of a shared burden which was infinity soothing, and
though he made no answer, his face lost something of its harassed
look, as the two walked on together down Oriel Street and into
'Have you any immediate plans?' said Mr. Grey, as they turned into
the Broad Walk, now in the full leafage of June, and rustling under
a brisk western wind blowing from the river.
'No; at least I suppose it will be no good my trying for a fellowship.
But I meant to tell you, Sir, of one, thing-I have, made up my
mind to take Orders.'
'You have? When?'
'Quite lately. So that fixes me, I suppose, to come back for
divinity lectures in the autumn.'
Mr. Grey said nothing for a while, and they strolled in and out of
the great shadows thrown by the elms across their path.
'You feel no difficulties in the way?' he asked at last, with a
certain quick brusqueness of manner.
'No,' said Robert, eagerly. 'I never had any. Perhaps,' he added
with a sudden humility, 'it is because I have never gone deep
enough. What I believe might have been worth more if I had had
more struggle; but it has all seemed so plain.'
The young voice speaking with hesitation and reserve, and yet with
a deep inner, conviction, was pleasant to hear. Mr. Grey turned
toward it, and the great eyes under the furrowed brow had a peculiar
gentleness of expression.
'You will probably be very happy in the life,' he said. 'The Church
wants men of your sort.'
But through all the sympathy of the tone Robert was conscious of a
veil between them. He knew, of course, pretty much what it was,
and with a sudden impulse he felt that he would have given worlds
to break through it and talk frankly with this man whom he revered
beyond all others, wide as was the intellectual difference between
them. But the tutor's reticence and the younger man's respect
When the unlucky second class was actually proclaimed to the world,
Langham took it to heart perhaps more than either Elsmere or his
mother. No one knew better than he what Elsmere's gifts were. It
was absurd that he should not have made more of them in sight of
the public. '_Le clericalisme, voila l'ennemi!_' was about the
gist of Langham's mood during the days that followed on the class
Elsmere, however, did not divulge his intention of taking Orders
to him till ten days afterward, when he had carried off Langham to
stay at Harden, and he and his old tutor were smoking in his mother's
little garden one moonlit night.
When he had finished his statement Langham stood still a moment,
watching the wreaths of smoke as they curled and vanished. The
curious interest in Elsmere's career, which during a certain number
of months had made him almost practical, almost energetic, had
disappeared. He was his own languid, paradoxical self.
'Well, after all,' he said at last, very slowly, 'the difficulty
lies in preaching anything. One may as well preach a respectable
mythology as anything else.'
'What do you mean by a mythology?' cried Robert, hotly.
'Simply ideas, or experiences, personified,' said Langham, puffing
away. 'I take it they are the subject-matter of all theologies.'
'I don't understand you,' said Robert, flushing. 'To the Christian,
facts have been the medium by which ideas the world could not
otherwise have come at have been communicated to man. Christian
theology is a system of ideas indeed, but of ideas realized, made
manifest in facts.'
Langham looked at him for a moment, undecided; then that suppressed
irritation we have already spoken of broke through. 'How do you
know they are facts?' he said, dryly.
The younger man took up the challenge with all his natural eagerness,
and the conversation resolved itself into a discussion of Christian
evidences. Or rather Robert held forth, and Langham kept him going
by an occasional remark which acted like the prick of a spur. The
tutor's psychological curiosity was soon satisfied. He declared
to himself that the intellect had precious little to do with Elsmere's
Christianity. He had got hold of all the stock apologetic arguments,
and used them, his companion admitted, with ability and ingenuity.
But they were merely the outworks of the citadel. The inmost
fortress was held by something wholly distinct from intellectual
conviction--by moral passion, by love, by feeling, by that mysticism,
in short, which no healthy youth should be without.
'He imagines he has satisfied his intellect,' was the inward comment
of one of the most melancholy of sceptics, 'and he has never so
much as exerted it. What a brute protest!'
And suddenly Langham threw up the sponge. He held out his hand to
his companion, a momentary gleam of tenderness in his black eyes,
such as on one or two critical occasions before had disarmed the
'No use to discuss it further. You have a strong case, of course,
and you have put it well. Only, when you are pegging away at
reforming and enlightening the world, don't trample too much on the
people who have more than enough to do to enlighten themselves.'
As to Mrs. Elsmere, in this now turn of her son's fortunes she
realized with humorous distinctness that for some years past Robert
had been educating her as well as himself. Her old rebellious sense
of something inherently absurd in the clerical status had been
gradually slain in her by her long contact through him with the
finer and more imposing aspects of church life. She was still on
light skirmishing terms with the Harden curates, and at times she
would flame out into the wildest, wittiest threats and gibes, for
the momentary satisfaction of her own essentially lay instincts;
but at bottom she knew perfectly well that, when the moment came,
no mother could be more loyal, more easily imposed upon, than she
'I suppose, then, Robert, we shall be back at Murewell before very
long,' she said to him one morning abruptly, studying him the while
out of her small twinkling eyes. What dignity there was already
in the young lightly-built frame! What frankness and character in
the irregular, attractive face!
'Mother,' cried Elsmere, indignantly, 'what do you take line for?
Do you imagine I am going to bury myself in the country at five
or six-and-twenty, take six hundred a year, and nothing to do for
it? That would be a deserter's act indeed.'
Mrs. Elsmere shrugged her shoulders. 'Oh, I supposed you would
insist on killing yourself, to begin with. To most people nowadays
that seems to be the necessary preliminary of a useful career.'
Robert laughed and kissed her, but her question had stirred him so
much that he sat down that very evening to write to his cousin
Mowbray Elsmere. He announced to him that he was about to read for
Orders, and that at the same time he relinquished all claim on the
living of Murewell. 'Do what you like with it when it falls vacant,'
he wrote, 'without reference to me. My views are strong that
before a clergyman in health and strength, and in no immediate want
of money, allows himself the luxury of a country parish, he is
bound, for some years at any rate, to meet the challenge of evil
and poverty where the fight is hardest-among our English town
Sir Mowbray Elsmere replied curtly in a day or two, to the effect
that Robert's letter seemed to him superfluous. He, Sir. Mowbray,
had nothing to do with his cousin's views. When the living was
vacant--the present holder, however, was uncommon tough and did not
mean dying--he should follow out the instructions of his father's
will, and if Robert did not want the thing he could say so.
In the autumn Robert and his mother went back to Oxford. The
following spring he redeemed his Oxford reputation completely by
winning a Fellowship at Merton after a brilliant fight with some
of the beat men of his year, and in June he was ordained.
In the summer term some teaching work was offered him at Merton,
and by Mr. Grey's advice he accepted it, thus postponing for a while
that London curacy and that stout grapple with human need at its
sorest for which his soul was pining. 'Stay here a year or two,'
Grey said, bluntly; 'you are at the beginning of your best learning
time, and you are not one of the natures who can do without books.
You will be all the better worth having afterward, and there is
no lack of work here for a man's moral energies.'
Langham took the same line, and Elsmere submitted. Three happy and
fruitful years followed. The young lecturer developed an amazing
power of work. That concentration which he had been unable to
achieve for himself his will was strong enough to maintain when it
was a question of meeting the demands of a college class in which
he was deeply interested. He became a stimulating and successful
teacher, and one of the most popular of men. His passionate sense
of responsibility toward his pupils made him load himself with
burdens to which he was constantly physically unequal, and fill the
vacations almost as full as the terms. And as he was comparatively
a man of means, his generous, impetuous temper was able to gratify
itself in ways that would have been impossible to others. The story
of his summer reading parties, for instances, if one could have
unravelled it, would have been found to be one long string of acts
of kindness toward men poorer and duller than himself.
At the same time he formed close and eager relations with the heads
of the religious party in Oxford. His mother's Evangelical training
of him, and Mr. Grey's influence, together, perhaps, with certain
drifts of temperament, prevented him from becoming a High Churchman.
The sacramental, ceremonial view of the Church never took hold
upon him. But to the English Church as a great national institution
for the promotion of God's work on earth no one could have been
more deeply loyal, and none coming close to him could mistake the
fervor and passion of his Christian feeling. At the same time he
did not know what rancor or bitterness meant, so that men of all
shades of Christian belief reckoned a friend in him, and he went
through life surrounded by an unusual, perhaps a dangerous, amount
of liking and affection. He threw himself ardently into the
charitable work of Oxford, now helping a High Church vicar, and now
toiling with Gray and one or two other Liberal fellows, at the
maintenance of a coffee-palace and lecture-room just started by
them in one of the suburbs; while in the second year of his lectureship
the success of some first attempts at preaching fixed the attention
of the religious leaders upon him as upon a man certain to make his
So the three years passed--not, perhaps, of great intellectual
advance, for other forces in him than those of the intellect were
mainly to the fore, but years certainly of continuous growth in
character and moral experience. And at the end of them Mowbray
Elsmere made his offer, and it was accepted.
The secret of it, of course, was overwork. Mrs. Elsmere, from the
little house in Morton Street where she had established herself,
had watched her boy's meteoric career through those crowded months
with very frequent misgivings. No one knew better than she that
Robert was constitutionally not of the toughest fibre, and she
realized long before he did that the Oxford life as he was bent on
leading it must end for him in premature breakdown. But, as always
happens, neither her remonstrance, nor Mr. Grey's common sense, nor
Langham's fidgety protests had any effect on the young enthusiast
to whom self-slaughter came so easy. During the latter half of his
third year of teaching he was continually being sent away by the
doctors, and coming back only to break down again. At last, in the
January of his fourth year, the collapse became so decided, that
he consented, bribed by the prospect of the Holy Land, to go away
for three months to Egypt and the East, accompanied by his mother
and a college friend.
Just before their departure news reached him of the death of the
Rector of Murewell, followed by a formal offer of the living from
Sir Mowbray. At the moment when the letter arrived he was feeling
desperately tired and ill, and in after-life he never forgot the
half-superstitious thrill and deep sense of depression with which
he received it. For within him was a slowly emerging, despairing
conviction that he was indeed physically unequal to the claims of
his Oxford work, and if so, still more unequal to grappling with
the hardest pastoral labor and the worst forms of English poverty.
And the coincidence of the Murewell incumbent's death struck his
sensitive mind as a Divine leading.
But it was a painful defeat. He took the letter to Grey, and Grey
strongly advised him to accept.
'You overdrive your scruples, Elsmere,' said the Liberal tutor,
with emphasis. 'No one can say a living with 1,200 souls, and no
curate, is a sinecure. As for hard town work, it is absurd--you
couldn't stand it. And after all, I imagine, there are some souls
worth saving out of the towns.'
Elsmere pointed out vindictively that family livings were a corrupt
and indefensible institution. Mr. Grey replied calmly that they
probably were, but that the fact did not affect, so far as he could
see, Elsmere's competence to fulfil all the duties of rector of
'After all, my dear fellow,' he said, a smile breaking over his
strong, expressive face, 'it is well even for reformers to be sane.'
Mrs. Elsmere was passive. It seemed to her that she had foreseen
it all along. She was miserable about his health, but she too had
a moment of superstition, and would not urge him. Murewell was no
name of happy omen to her--she had passed the darkest hours of her
In the end Robert asked for delay, which was grudgingly granted
him. Then he and his mother and friend fled over seas: he feverishly
determined to get well and beat the fates. But, after a halcyon
time Palestine and Constantinople, a whiff of poisoned air at Cannes,
on their way home, acting on a low constitutional state, settled
matters. Robert was laid up for weeks with malarious fever, and
when he struggled out again into the hot Riviera sunshine, it was
clear to himself and everybody else that he must do what he could,
and not what he would, in the Christian vineyard.
'Mother,' he said one day, suddenly looking up at her as she sat
near him working, 'can _you_ be happy at Murewell?'
There was a wistfulness in the long, thin face, and a pathetic
accent of surrender in the voice, which hurt the mother's heart.
'I can be happy wherever you are,' she said, laying her brown nervous
hand on his blanched one.
'Then give me pen and paper and let me write to Mowbray; I wonder
whether the place has changed at all. Heigh ho! How is one to
preach to people who have stuffed you up with gooseberries, or swung
you on gates, or lifted you over puddles to save your petticoats?
I wonder what has become of that boy whom I hit in the eye with
my bow and arrow, or of that other lout who pummelled me into the
middle of next week for disturbing his bird-trap? By the way, is
the Squire-is Roger Wendover--living at the Hall now?'
He turned to his mother with a sudden start of interest.
'So I hear,' said Mrs. Elsmere, dryly. '_He_ won't be much good
He sat on meditating while she went for pen and paper. He had
forgotten the Squire of Murewell. But Roger Wendover, the famous
and eccentric owner of Murewell Hall, hermit and scholar, possessed
of one of the most magnificent libraries in England, and author of
books which had carried a revolutionary shock into the heart of
English society, was not a figure to be overlooked by any rector
of Murewell, least of all by one possessed of Robert's culture and
The young man ransacked his memory on the subject with a sudden
access of interest in his new home that was to be.
Six weeks later they were in England, and Robert, now convalescent,
had accepted an invitation to spend a month in Long Whindale with
his mother's cousins, the Thornburghs, who offered him quiet, and
bracing air. He was to enter on his duties at Murewell in July,
the Bishop, who had been made aware of his Oxford reputation,
welcoming the new recruit to the diocese with marked warmth of
'Agnes, if you want any tea, here it is,' cried Rose, calling from
outside through the dining-room window; 'and tell mamma.'
It was the first of June, and the spell of warmth in which Robert
Elsmere had arrived was still maintaining itself. An intelligent
foreigner dropped into the flower-sprinkled valley might have
believed that, after all, England, and even Northern England, had
a summer. Early in the season as it was, the sun was already drawing
the color out of the hills; the young green, hardly a week or two
old, was darkening. Except the oaks. They were brilliance itself
against the luminous gray-blue sky. So were the beeches, their
young downy leaves just unpacked, tumbling loosely open to the
light. But the larches, and the birches, and the hawthorns were
already sobered by a longer acquaintance with life and Phoebus.
Rose sat fanning herself with a portentous hat, which when in its
proper place served her, apparently, both as hat and as parasol.
She seemed to have been running races with a fine collie, who lay
at her feet panting, but studying her with his bright eyes, and
evidently ready to be off again at the first indication that his
playmate had recovered her wind. Chattie was coming lazily over
the lawn, stretching each leg behind her as she walked, tail arched,
green eyes flaming in the sun, a model of treacherous beauty.
'Chattie, you fiend, come here!' cried Rose, holding out a hand to
her; 'if Miss Barks were ever pretty she must have looked like you
at this moment.'
'I won't have Chattie put upon,' said Agnes, establishing herself
at the other side of the little tea-table; 'she has done you no
harm. Come to me, beastie. I won't compare you to disagreeable
The cat looked from one sister to the other, blinking; then with a
sudden magnificent spring leaped on to Agnes's lap and curled herself
'Nothing but cupboard love,' said Rose scornfully, in answer to
Agnes's laugh; 'she knows you will give her bread and butter and
I won't, out of a double regard for my skirts and her morals. Oh,
dear me! Miss Barks was quite seraphic last night; she never made
a single remark about my clothes, and she didn't even say to me as
she generally does, with an air of compassion, that she "quite
understands how hard it must be to keep in tune."'
'The amusing thing was Mrs. Seaton and Mr. Elsmere,' said Agnes.
'I just love, as Mrs. Thornburgh says, to hear her instructing other
people in their own particular trades. She didn't get much change
out of him.'
Rose gave Agnes her tea, and then, bending forward, with one hand
on her heart, said in a stage whisper, with a dramatic glance round
the garden, 'My heart is whole. How is yours?'
'_Intact_,' said Agnes, calmly, as that French bric-a-brac man in
the Brompton Road used to say of his pots. But he is very nice.'
'Oh, charming! But when my destiny arrives'-and Rose, returning
to her tea, swept her little hand with a teaspoon in it eloquently
round-'he won't have his hair cut close. I must have luxuriant
locks, and I will take _no_ excuse! _Une chevelure de poete_, the
eye of an eagle, the moustache of a hero, the hand of a Rubinstein,
and, if it pleases him, the temper of a fiend. He will be odious,
insufferable for all the world besides, except for me; and for me
he will be heaven.'
She threw herself back, a twinkle in her bright eye, but a little
flush of something half real on her cheek.
'No doubt,' said Agnes, dryly. 'But you can't wonder if under the
circumstances I don't pine for a brother-in-law. To return to the
subject, however, Catherine liked him. She said so.'
'Oh, that doesn't count,' replied Rose, discontentedly. Catherine
likes everybody--of a certain sort--and everybody likes Catherine.'
'Does that mean, Miss Hasty,' said her sister, 'that you have made
up your mind Catherine will never marry?'
'Marry!' cried Rose. 'You might as 'well talk of marrying Westminster
Agnes looked at her attentively. Rose's fun had a decided lack of
sweetness. 'After all,' she said, demurely, 'St. Elizabeth married.'
'Yes, but then she was a princess. Reasons of State. If Catherine
were "her Royal Highness" it would be her duty to marry, which would
just make all the difference. Duty! I hate the word.'
And Rose took up a fir-cone lying near and threw it at the nose of
the collie, who made a jump at it, and then resumed an attitude of
blinking and dignified protest against his mistress's follies.
Agnes again studied her sister. 'What's the matter with you, Rose?'
'The usual thing, my dear,' replied Rose, curtly, 'only more so.
I had a letter this morning from Carry Ford--the daughter you know,
of those nice people I stayed in Manchester with last year. Well,
she wants me to go and stay the winter with them and study under a
first-rate man, Franzen, who is to be in Manchester two days a week
during the winter. I haven't said a word about it--what's the use?
I know all Catherine's arguments by heart. Manchester is not
Whindale, and papa wished us to live in Whindale; I am not somebody
else and needn't earn my bread; and art is not religion; and--'
'Wheels!' exclaimed Agnes. 'Catherine, I suppose, home from
Rose got up and peered through the rhododendron bushes at the top
of the wall which shut them off from the road.
'Catherine and an unknown. Catherine driving at a foot's pace, and
the unknown walking beside her. Oh, I see, of course--Mr. Elsmere.
He will come in to tea, so I'll go for a cup. It is his duty to
call on us to-day.'
When Rose came back in the wake of her mother, Catherine and Robert
Elsmere were coming up the drive. Something had given Catherine
more color than usual, and as Mrs. Leyburn shook hands with the
young clergyman her mother's eyes turned approvingly to her eldest
daughter. 'After all she is as handsome as Rose,' she said to
herself-'though it _is_ quite a different style.'
Rose, who was always tea-maker, dispensed her wares; Catherine took
her favorite low seat beside her mother, clasping Mrs. Leyburn's
thin mittened hand a while tenderly in her own; Robert and Agnes
set up a lively gossip on the subject of the Thornburghs' guests,
in which Rose joined, while Catherine looked smiling on. She seemed
apart from the rest, Robert thought; not, clearly, by her own will,
but by virtue of a difference of temperament which could not but
make itself felt. Yet once as Rose passed her Robert saw her stretch
out her hand and touch her sister caressingly, with a bright upward
look and smile, as though she would say, 'Is all well? have you
had a good time this afternoon, Roeschen?' Clearly, the strong
contemplative nature was not strong enough to dispense with any of
the little wants and cravings of human affection. Compared to the
main impression she was making on him, her suppliant attitude at
her mother's feet and her caress of her sister were like flowers
breaking through the stern March soil and changing the whole spirit
of the fields.
Presently he said something of Oxford, and mentioned, Merton.
Instantly Mrs. Leyburn fell upon him. Had he ever seen Mr. S--,
who had been a Fellow there, and Rose's godfather?
'I don't acknowledge him,' said Rose, pouting. 'Other people's
godfathers give them mugs and corals. Mine never gave me anything
but a Concordance.'
Robert laughed, and proved to their satisfaction that Mr. S-- had
been extinct before his day. But could they ask him any other
questions? 'Mrs. Leyburn became quite animated, and, diving into
her memory, produced a number of fragmentary reminiscences of her
husband's Queen's friends, asking him information about each and
all of them. The young man disentangled all her questions, racked
his brains to answer, and showed all through a quick friendliness,
a charming deference as of youth to age, which confirmed the liking
of the whole party for him. Then the mention of an associate of
Richard Leyburn's youth, who had been one of the Tractarian leaders,
led him into talk of Oxford changes and the influences of the
present. He drew for them the famous High Church preacher of the
moment, described the great spectacle of his Bampton Lectures, by
which Oxford had been recently thrilled, and gave a dramatic account
of a sermon on evolution preached by the hermit-veteran Pusey, as
though by another Elias returning to the world to deliver a last
warning message to men. Catherine listened absorbed, her deep eyes
fixed upon him. And though all he said was pitched in a vivacious
narrative key and addressed as much to the others as to her, inwardly
it seemed to him that his one object all through was to touch and
keep her attention.
Then, in answer to inquiries about himself, he fell to describing
St. Anselm's with enthusiasm,--its growth its Provost, its effectiveness
as a great educational machine, the impression it had made on Oxford
and the country. This led him naturally to talk of Mr. Grey, then,
next to the Provost, the most prominent figure in the college; and
once embarked on this theme be became more eloquent and interesting
than ever. The circle of women listened to him as to a voice from
the large world. He made them feel the beat of the great currents
of English life and thought; he seemed to bring the stir and rush
of our central English society into the deep quiet of their valley.
Even the bright-haired Rose, idly swinging her pretty foot, with
a head full of dreams and discontent was beguiled, and for the
moment seemed to lose her restless self in listening.
He told an exciting story of a bad election riot in Oxford, which
had been quelled at considerable personal risk by Mr. Grey, who had
gained his influence in the town by a devotion of years to the
policy of breaking down as far as possible the old venomous feud
between city and university.
When be paused Mrs. Leyburn said, vaguely, 'Did you say he was a
canon of somewhere?'
'Oh, no,' said Robert, smiling, 'he is not a clergyman.'
'But you said he preached,' said Agnes.
'Yes--but lay sermons--addresses. He is not one of us even, according
to your standard and mine.'
A Nonconformist?' sighed Mrs. Leyburn. 'Oh, I know they have let
in everybody now.'
'Well, if you like,' said Robert. 'What I meant was that his opinions
are not orthodox. He could not be a clergyman, but he is one of
the noblest of men!'
He spoke with affectionate warmth. Then suddenly Catherine's eyes
met his and he felt an involuntary start. A veil had fallen over
them; her sweet moved sympathy was gone; she seemed to have shrunk
She turned to Mrs. Leyburn. 'Mother, do you know, I have all sorts
of messages from Aunt Ellen'--and in an under-voice she began to
give Mrs. Leyburn the news of her afternoon expedition.
Rose and Agnes soon plunged young Elsmere into another stream of
talk. But he kept his feeling of perplexity. His experience of
other women seemed to give him nothing to go upon with regard to
Presently Catherine got up and drew her plain little black cape
round her again.
'My dear!' remonstrated Mrs. Leyburn. 'Where are you off to now?'
'To the Backhouses, mother,' she said, in a low voice; 'I have not
been there for two days. I must go this evening'
Mrs. Leyburn said no more. Catherine's 'musts were never disputed.
She moved toward Elsmere with out-stretched hand. But he also
'I too must be going,' he said; 'I have paid you an unconscionable
visit. If you are going past the Vicarage, Miss Leyburn, may I
escort you so far?'
She stood quietly waiting while he made his farewells. Agnes, whose
eye fell on her sister during the pause, was struck with a passing
sense of something out of the common. She could hardly have defined
her impression, but Catherine seemed more alive to the outer world,
more like other people, less nun-like, than usual.
When they had left the garden together, as they had come into it,
and Mrs. Leyburn, complaining of chilliness, had retreated to the
drawing-room, Rose laid a quick hand on her sister's arm.
'You say Catherine likes him? Owl! What is a great deal more
certain is that he likes her.'
'Well,' said Agnes, calmly, 'well, I await your remarks.'
'Poor fellow!' said Rose grimly, and removed her hand.
Meanwhile Elsmere and Catherine walked along the valley road toward
the Vicarage. He thought, uneasily, she was a little more reserved
with him than she had been in those pleasant moments after he had
overtaken her in the pony-carriage; but still she was always kind,
always courteous. And what a white hand it was, hanging ungloved
against her dress! What a beautiful dignity and freedom, as of
mountain winds and mountain streams, in every movement!
'You are bound for High Ghyll?' he said to her as they neared the
Vicarage gate. 'Is it not a long way for you? You have been at a
meeting already, your sister said, and teaching this morning!'
He looked down on her with a charming diffidence, as though aware
that their acquaintance was very young, and yet with a warm eagerness
of feeling piercing through. As she paused under his eye the
slightest flush rose to Catherine's cheek. Then she looked up with
a smile. It was amusing to be taken care of by this tall stranger!
'It is most unfeminine, I am afraid,' she said, but I couldn't be
tired if I tried.'
Elsmere grasped her hand.
'You make me feel myself more than ever a shocking-example,' he
said, letting it go with a little sigh. The smart of his own
renunciation was still keen in him. She lingered a moment, could
find nothing to say, threw him a look all shy sympathy and lovely
pity, and was gone.
In the evening Robert got an explanation of that sudden stiffening
in his auditor of the afternoon, which had perplexed him. He and
the vicar were sitting smoking in the study after dinner, and the
ingenious young man managed to shift the conversation on to the
Leyburns, as he had managed to shift it once or twice before that
day, flattering himself, of course, on each occasion that his
manoeuvres were beyond detection. The vicar, good soul, by virtue
of his original discovery, detected them all, and with a sense of
appropriation in the matter, not at all unmixed with a sense of
triumph over Mrs. T., kept the ball rolling merrily.
'Miss Leyburn seems to have very strong religious views,' said
Robert, _a propos_ of some remark of the vicar's as to the assistance
she was to him in the school.
'Ah, she is her father's daughter,' said the vicar, genially. He
had his oldest coat on, his favorite pipe between his lips, and a
bit of domestic carpentering on his knee at which he was fiddling
away; and, being perfectly happy, was also perfectly amiable.
'Richard Leyburn was a fanatic--as mild as you please, but immovable,'
'Evangelical, with a dash of Quakerism. He lent me Madame Guyon's
Life once to read. I didn't appreciate it. I told him that for
all her religion she seemed to me to have a deal of the vixen in
her. He could hardly get over it; it nearly broke our friendship.
But I suppose he was very like her, except that--in my opinion--his
nature was sweeter. He was a fatalist--saw leadings of Providence
in every little thing. And such a dreamer! When he came to live
up here just before his death, and all, his active life was taken
off him, I believe half his time he was seeing visions. He used
to wander over the fells and meet you with a start, as though you
belonged to another world than the one, he was walking in.'
'And his eldest daughter was much with him?'
'The apple of his eye. She understood him. He could talk his soul
out to her. The others, of course, were children; and his wife--well,
his wife was just what you see her now, poor thing. He must have
married her when she was very young and very pretty. She was a
squire's daughter some where near the school of which he was master--a
good family, I believe--she'll tell you so, in a ladylike way. He
was always fidgety about her health. He loved her, I suppose, or
had loved her. But it was Catherine who had his mind, Catherine
who was his friend. She adored him. I believe there was always a
sort of pity in her heart for him too. But at any rate he made her
and trained her. He poured all his ideas and convictions into her.'
'Which were strong?'
'Uncommonly. For all his gentle ethereal look, you could neither
bend nor break him. I don't believe anybody but Richard Leyburn
could have gone through Oxford at the height of the Oxford Movement,
and, so to speak, have known nothing about it, while living all the
time for religion. He had a great deal in common with the Quakers,
as I said; a great deal in common with the Wesleyans; but he was
very loyal to the Church all the same. He regarded it as the golden
mean. George Herbert was his favorite poet. He used to carry his
poems about with him on the mountains, and an expurgated "Christian
Year"--the only thing he ever took from the High Churchmen--which
he had made for himself, and which he and Catherine knew by heart.
In some ways he was not a bigot at all. He would have had the
Church make peace with the Dissenters; he was all for up setting
tests so far as Nonconformity was concerned. But he drew the most
rigid line between belief and unbelief. He would not have dined
at the same table with a Unitarian if he could have helped it. I
remember a furious article of his in the "Record" against admitting
Unitarians to the Universities or allowing them to sit in Parliament.
England is a Christian State, he said; they are not Christians--they
have no right in her except on sufferance. Well, I suppose he was
about right,' said the vicar, with a sigh. 'We are all so halfhearted
'Not he,' cried Robert, hotly. 'Who are we that because a man
differs from us in opinion who are to shut him out from the education
of political and civil duty? But never mind, Cousin William. Go
'There's no more that I remember, except that of course Catherine
took all these ideas from him. He wouldn't let his children know
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