Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 8 out of 16
smarting Rose, was possessed by one thought though many terrible
hours, and one only--the thought of Catherine's safety. It was
strange and unexpected, but Catherine, the most normal and healthy
of women, had a hard struggle for her own life and her child's, and
it was not till the gray autumn morning, after a day and night which
left a permanent mark on Robert that he was summoned at last, and
with the sense of one emerging from black gulfs of terror, received
from his wife's languid hand the tiny fingers of his firstborn.
The days that followed were full of emotion for these two people,
who were perhaps always ever-serious, oversensitive. They had no
idea of minimizing the great common experiences of life. Both of
them were really simple, brought up in old-fashioned simple ways,
easily touched, responsive to all that high spiritual education
which flows from the familiar incidents of the human story, approached
poetically and passionately. As the young husband sat in the quiet
of his wife's room, the occasional restless movements of the small
brown head against her breast causing the only sound perceptible
in the country silence, he felt all the deep familiar currents of
human feeling sweeping through him--love, reverence, thanksgiving--and
all the walls of the soul, as it were, expanding and enlarging as
Responsive creature that he was, the experience of these days was
hardly happiness. It went too deep; it brought him too poignantly
near to all that is most real and therefore most tragic in life.
Catherine's recovery also was slower than might have been expected,
considering her constitutional soundness, and for the first week,
after that faint moment of joy when her child was laid upon her arm
and she saw her husband's quivering face above her, there was a
kind of depression hovering over her. Robert felt it, and felt too
that all his devotion could not soothe it away. At last she said
to him one evening, in the encroaching September twilight, speaking
with a sudden hurrying vehemence, wholly unlike herself, as though
a barrier of reserve had given way,--
'Robert, I cannot put it out of my head. I cannot forget it, _the
pain of the world!_'
He shut the book he was reading, her hand in his, and bent over her
with questioning eyes.
'It seems' she went on with that difficulty which a strong nature
always feels in self-revelation, 'to take the joy even out of our
love--and the child. I feel ashamed almost that mere physical pain
should have laid such hold on me--and yet I can't get away from it.
It's not for myself,' and she smiled faintly at him. 'Comparatively
I had so little to bear! But I know now for the first time what
physical pain may mean--and I never knew before! I lie thinking,
Robert, about all creatures in pain--workmen crushed by machinery,
or soldiers--or poor things in hospitals--above all of women! Oh,
when I get well, how I will take care of the women here! What women
must suffer even here in out-of-the-way cottages--no doctor, no
kind nursing, all blind agony and struggle! And women in London
in dens like those Mr. Newcome got into, degraded, forsaken,
ill-treated, the thought of the child only an extra horror and
burden! And the pain all the time so merciless, so cruel--no escape!
Oh, to give all one is, or ever can be, to comforting! And yet
the great sea of it one can never touch! It is a nightmare--I am
weak still, I suppose; I don't know myself; but I can see nothing
but jarred, tortured creatures everywhere. All my own joys and
comforts seem to lift me selfishly above the common lot.'
She stopped, her large gray-blue eyes dim with tears, trying once
more for that habitual self-restraint which physical weakness had
'You _are_ weak,' he said, caressing her, 'and that destroys for a
time the normal balance of things. It is true, darling, but we are
not meant to see it always so clearly. God knows we could not bear
it if we did.'
And to think,' she said, shuddering a little, 'that there are men
and women who in the face of it can still refuse Christ and the
Cross, can still say this life is all! How can they live--how dare
Then he saw that not only man's pain but man's defiance, had been
haunting her, and he guessed what persons and memories had been
flitting through her mind. But he dared not talk lest she should
exhaust herself. Presently, seeing a volume of Augustine's
'Confessions', her favorite book, lying beside her, he took it up,
turning over the pages, and weaving passages together as they caught
'_Speak to me, for Thy compassion's sake, O Lord my God, and tell
me what art Thou to me! Say unto my soul, "I am thy salvation."
Speak it that I may hear. Behold the ears of my heart, O Lord; open
them and say into my soul, "I am thy salvation!" I will follow
after this voice of Thine, I will lay hold on Thee. The temple of
my soul, wherein Thou shouldest enter, is narrow, do Thou enlarge
it. It falleth into ruins--do Thou rebuild it! . . . Woe to that
bold soul which hopeth, if it do but let Thee go, to find something
better than Thee! It turneth hither and thither, on this side and
on that, and all things are hard and bitter unto it. For Thou only
art rest! . . . Whithersoever the soul of man turneth it findeth
sorrow, except only in Thee. Fix there, then, thy resting-place,
mm soul! Lay up in Him whatever thou hast received from Him.
Commend to the keeping of the Truth whatever the Truth hath given
thee, and thou shalt lose nothing. And thy dead things shall revive
and thy weak things shall be made whole!_'
She listened, appropriating and clinging to every word, till the
nervous clasp of the long delicate fingers relaxed, her head dropped
a little, gently, against the head of the child, and tired with
much feeling she slept.
Robert slipped away and strolled out into the garden in the
fast-gathering darkness. His mind was full of that intense spiritual
life of Catherine's which in its wonderful self-contentedness and
strength was always a marvel, sometimes a reproach to him. Beside
her, he seemed to himself a light creature, drawn hither and thither
by this interest and by that, tangled in the fleeting shows of
things--the toy and plaything of circumstance. He thought ruefully
and humbly, as he wondered on through the dusk, of his own lack of
inwardness: 'Everything divides me from Thee!' he could have cried
in St. Augustine's manner. 'Books, and friends, and work--all seem
to hide Thee from me. Why am I so passionate for this and that,
for all these sections and fragments of Thee? Oh, for the One, the
All! Fix, there thy resting-place, my soul!'
And presently, after this cry of self-reproach, he turned to muse
on that intuition of the world's pain which had been troubling
Catherine, shrinking from it even more than she had shrunk from it,
in proportion as his nature was more imaginative than hers. And
Christ the only clew, the only remedy--no other anywhere in this
vast Universe, where all men are under sentences of death, where
the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until
And yet what countless generations of men had borne their pain,
knowing nothing of the one Healer. He thought of Buddhist patience
and Buddhist charity; of the long centuries during which Chaldean
or Persian or Egyptian lived, suffered, and died, trusting the gods
they knew. And how many other generations, nominally children of
the Great Hope, had used it as a mere instrument of passion or of
hate, cursing in the name of love, destroying in the name of pity!
For how much of the world's pain was not Christianity itself
responsible? His thoughts recurred with a kind of anguished perplexity
to some of the problems stirred in him of late by his historical
reading. The strifes and feuds and violences of the early Church
returned to weigh upon him--the hair-splitting superstition, the
selfish passion for power. He recalled Gibbon's lamentation over
the age of the Antonines, and Mommsen's grave doubt whether, taken
as a whole, the area once covered by the Roman Empire can be said
to be substantially happier now than in the days of Severus.
_O corruptio optimi!_ That men should have been so little affected
by that shining ideal of the New Jerusalem, 'descended out of Heaven
from God,' into their very midst--that the print of the 'blessed
feet' along the world's highway should have been so often buried
in the sands of cruelty and fraud!
The September wind blew about him as he strolled through the darkening
common, set thick with great bushes of sombre juniper among the
yellowing fern, which stretched away on the left-hand side of the
road leading to the Hall. He stood and watched the masses of
restless discordant cloud which the sunset had left behind it,
thinking the while of Mr. Grey, of his assertions and his denials.
Certain phrases of his which Robert had heard drop from him on one
or two rare occasions during the later stages of his Oxford life
ran through his head.
'_The fairy-tale of Christianity_'--'_The origins of Christian
Mythology_.' He could recall, as the words rose in his memory, the
simplicity of the rugged face, and the melancholy mingled with fire
which had always marked the great tutor's sayings about religion.
'_Fairy Tale!_' Could any reasonable man watch a life like Catherine's
and believe that nothing but a delusion lay at the heart of it?
And as he asked the question, he seemed to hear Mr. Grey's answer:
'All religions are true and all are false. In them all, more or
less visibly, man grasps at the one thing needful--self forsaken,
God laid hold of. The spirit in them all is the same, answers
eternally to reality; it is but the letter, the fashion, the imagery,
that are relative and changing.'
He turned and walked homeward, struggling with a host of tempestuous
ideas as swift and varying as the autumn clouds hurrying overhead.
And then, through a break in a line of trees, he caught sight of
the tower and chancel window of the little church. In an instant
he had a vision of early summer mornings--dewy, perfumed, silent,
save for the birds and all the soft stir of rural birth and growth,
of a chancel fragrant with many flowers, of a distant church with
scattered figures, of the kneeling form of his wife close beside
him, himself bending over her, the sacrament of the Lord's death
in his hand. The emotion, the intensity, the absolute self-surrender
of innumerable such moments in the past--moments of a common faith,
a common self-abasement--came flooding back upon him. With a
movement of joy and penitence he threw himself at the feet of
Catherine's Master and his own: '_Fix there thy resting-place, my
Catherine's later convalescence dwelt in her mind in after years
as a time of peculiar softness and peace. Her baby-girl throve;
Robert had driven the Squire and Henslowe out of his mind, and was
all eagerness as to certain negotiations with a famous naturalist
for a lecture at the village club. At Mile End, as though to put
the Rector in the wrong, serious illness had for the time disappeared;
and Mrs. Leyburn's mild chatter, as she gently poked about the house
and garden, went out in Catherine's pony-carriage, inspected
Catherine's stores, and hovered over Catherine's babe, had a
constantly cheering effect on the still languid mother. Like all
theorists, especially those at secondhand, Mrs. Leyburn's maxims
had been very much routed by the event. The babe had ailments she
did not understand, or it developed likes and dislikes she had
forgotten existed in babies, and Mrs. Leyburn was nonplussed. She
would sit with it on her lap, anxiously studying its peculiarities.
She was sure it squinted, that its back was weaker than other
babies, that it cried more than hers had ever done. She loved to
be plaintive; it would have seemed to her unladylike to be too
cheerful, even over a first grandchild.
Agnes meanwhile made herself practically useful, as was her way,
and she did almost more than anybody to beguile Catherine's recovery
by her hours of Long Whindale chat. She had no passionate feeling
about the place and the people as Catherine had, but she was easily
content, and she had a good wholesome feminine curiosity as to the
courtings and weddings and buryings of the human beings about her.
So she would sit and chat, working the while with the quickest,
neatest of fingers, till Catherine knew 6as much about Jenny Tyson's
Whinborough lover, and Farmer Tredall's troubles with his son, and
the way in which that odious woman Molly Redgold bullied her little
consumptive husband, as Agnes knew, which was saying a good deal.
About themselves Agnes was frankness itself.
'Since you went,' she would say with a shrug, 'I keep the coach
steady, perhaps, but Rose drives, and we shall have to go where she
takes us. By the way, Cathie, what have you been doing to her here?
She is not a bit like herself. I don't generally mind being
snubbed. It amuses her and doesn't hurt me; and, of course, I know
I am meant to be her foil. But really, sometimes she is too bad
even for me.'
Catherine sighed, but held her peace. Like all strong persons, she
kept things very much to herself. It only made vexation more real
to talk about them. But she and Agnes discussed the winter and
'You had better let her go,' said Agnes, significantly; 'she will
A few days afterward Catherine, opening the drawing-room door
unexpectedly, came upon Rose sitting idly at the piano, her hands
resting on the keys, and her great gray eyes straining out of her
white face with an expression which sent the sister's heart into
'How you steal about, Catherine!' cried the player, getting up and
shutting the piano. 'I declare you are just like Millais's Gray
Lady in that ghostly gown.'
Catherine came swiftly across the floor. She had just left her
child, and the sweet dignity of motherhood was in her step, her
look. She came and threw her arms round the girl.
'Rose dear, I have settled it all with mamma. The money can be
managed, and you shall go to Berlin for the winter when you like.'
She drew herself back a little, still with her arms round Rose's
waist, and looked at her smiling, to see how she took it.
Rose had a strange movement of irritation. She drew herself out
of Catherine's grasp.
'I don't know that I had settled on Berlin,' she said coldly, 'Very
possibly Leipsic would be better.'
Catherine's face fell.
'Whichever you like, dear. I have been thinking about it ever since
that day you spoke of it--you remember--and now I have talked it
over with mamma. If she can't manage, all the expense we will help.
Oh Rose,' and she came nearer again, timidly, her eyes melting,
'I know we haven't understood each other. I have been ignorant, I
think, and narrow. But I meant it for the best, dear--I did--'
Her voice failed her, but in her look there seemed to be written
the history of all the prayers and yearnings of her youth over the
pretty wayward child who had been her joy and torment. Rose could
not but meet that look--its nobleness, its humble surrender.
Suddenly two large tears rolled down her cheeks. She dashed them
'I am not a bit well,' she said, as though in irritable excuse both
to herself and Catherine. 'I believe I have had a headache for a
And then she put her arms down on a table near and hid her face
upon them. She was one bundle of jarring nerves; sore, poor
passionate child, that she was betraying herself; sorer still that,
as she told herself, Catherine was sending her to Berlin as a
consolation. When girls have love-troubles the first thing their
elders do is to look for a diversion. She felt sick and humiliated.
Catherine had been talking her over with the family, she supposed.
Meanwhile Catherine stood by her tenderly, stroking her hair and
saying soothing things.
'I am sure you will be happy at Berlin, Rose. And you mustn't leave
me out of your life, dear, though I am so stupid and unmusical.
You must write to me about all you do. We must be in a new time.
Oh, I feel so guilty sometimes,' she went on, falling into a low
intensity of voice that startled Rose, and made her look hurriedly
up. 'I fought against your music, I suppose, because I thought it
was devouring you--leaving no room for--for religion--for God. I
was jealous of it for Christ's sake. And all the time I was
blundering! Oh, Rose,' and she sank on her knees beside the chair,
resting her head against the girl's shoulder, 'papa charged me to
make you love God, and I torture myself with thinking that, instead,
it has been my doing, my foolish, clumsy doing, that you have come
to think religion dull and hard. Oh, my darling, if I could make
amends--if I could got you not to love your art less but to love
it in God! Christ is the first reality; all things else are real
and lovely in Him! Oh, I have been frightening you away from Him!
I ought to have drawn you near. I have been so--so silent, so
shut up, I have never tried to make you feel what it was kept _me_
at His feet! Oh, Rose darling, you think the world real, and
pleasure and enjoyment real. But if I could have made you see and
know the things I have seen up in the mountains--among the poor,
the dying--you would have _felt_ Him saving, redeeming, interceding,
as I did. Oh, then you _must_, you _would_ have known that Christ
only is real, that our joys can only truly exist in Him. I should
have been more open--more faithful--more humble.'
She paused with a long quivering sigh. Rose suddenly lifted herself,
and they fell into each others' arms.
Rose, shaken and excited, thought, of course, of that night at
Burwood, when she had won leave to go to Manchester. This scene
was the sequel to that--the next stage in one and the same process.
Her feeling was much the same as that of the naturalist who comes
close to any of the hidden operations of life. She had come near
to Catherine's spirit in the growing. Beside that sweet expansion,
how poor and feverish and earth-stained the poor child felt herself!
But there were many currents in Rose--many things striving for the
mastery. She kissed Catherine once or twice, then she drew herself
back suddenly, looking into the other's face. A great wave of
feeling rushed up and broke.
'Catherine, could you ever have married a man that did not believe
She flung the question out--a kind of morbid curiosity, a wild wish
to find an outlet of some sort for things pent up in her, driving
Catherine started. But she met Rose's half-frowning eyes steadily.
'Never, Rose! To me it would not be marriage.' The child's face
lost its softness. She drew one hand away.
'What have we to do with it?' She cried. 'Each one for himself.'
'But marriage makes two one,' said Catherine, pale, but with a firm
clearness. 'And if husband and wife are only one in body and estate,
not one in soul, why who that believes in the soul would accept
such a bond, endure such a miserable second best?'
She rose. But though her voice had recovered all its energy, her
attitude, her look was still tenderness, still yearning itself.
'Religion does not fill up the soul,' said Rose slowly. Then she
added carelessly, a passionate red flying into her cheek, against
her will, 'However, I cannot imagine any question that interests
me personally less. I was curious what you would say.'
And she too got up, drawing her hand lightly along the keyboard of
the piano. Her pose had a kind of defiance in it; her knit brows
forbade Catherine to ask questions. Catherine stood irresolute.
Should she throw herself on her sister, imploring her to speak,
opening her own heart on the subject of this wild, unhappy fancy
for a man who would never think again of the child he had played
But the North-country dread of words, of speech that only defines
and magnifies, prevailed. Let there be no words, but let her love
So, after a moment's pause, she began in a different tone upon the
inquiries she had been making, the arrangements that would be wanted
for this musical winter. Rose was almost listless at first. A
stranger would have thought she was being persuaded into something
against her will. But she could not keep it up. The natural
instinct reasserted itself, and she was soon planning and deciding
as sharply, and with as much young omniscience, as usual.
By the evening it was settled. Mrs. Leyburn, much bewildered, asked
Catherine doubtfully, the last thing at night, whether she wanted
Rose to be a professional. Catherine exclaimed.
'But, my dear,' said the widow, staring pensively into her bedroom
fire, 'what's she to do with all this music?' Then after a second
she added half severely: 'I don't believe her father would have
liked it; I don't, indeed, Catherine!'
Poor Catherine smiled and sighed in the background, but made no
'However, she never looks so pretty as when she's playing the violin;
never!' said Mrs. Leyburn presently in the distance, with a long
breath of satisfaction. 'She's got such a lovely hand and arm,
Catherine! They're prettier than mine, and even your father used
to notice mine.'
'_Even_.' The word had a little sound of bitterness. In spite of
all his love, had the gentle puzzle-headed woman found her unearthly
husband often very hard to live with?
Rose meanwhile was sitting up in bed, with her hands round her
knees, dreaming. So she had got her heart's desire! There did not
seem to be much joy in the getting, but that was the way of things,
one was told. She knew she should hate the Germans--great, bouncing,
over-fed, sentimental creatures!
Then her thoughts ran into the future. After six months--yes, by
April--she would be home, and Agnes and her mother could meet her
_London_. Ah, it was London she was thinking of all the time, not
Berlin! She could not stay in the present; or rather the Rose of
the present went straining to the Rose of the future, asking to be
righted, to be avenged.
'I will learn--I will learn fast, many things besides music!' she
said to herself feverishly. 'By April I shall be _much_ cleverer.
Oh, _then_ I won't be a fool so easily. We shall be sure to meet,
of course. But he shall find out that it was only a _child_, only
a silly, softhearted baby he played with down here. I shan't care
for him in the least, of course not, not after six months. I don't
_mean_ to. And I will make him know it--oh, I will, though he is
so wise, and so much older, and mounts on such stilts when he
So once more Rose flung her defiance at fate. But when Catherine
came along the passage an hour later she heard low sounds from
Rose's room, which ceased abruptly as her step drew near. The elder
sister paused; her eyes filled with tears; her hand closed indignantly.
Then she came closer, all but went in, thought better of it, and
moved away. If there is any truth in brain waves, Langham should
have slept restlessly that night.
Ten days later an escort had been found, all preparations had been
made, and Rose was gone.
Mrs. Leyburn and Agnes lingered a while, and then they too departed
under an engagement to come back after Christmas for a long stay,
that Mrs. Leyburn might cheat the Northern spring a little.
So husband and wife were alone again. How they relished their
solitude! Catherine took up many threads of work which her months
of comparative weakness had forced her to let drop. She taught
vigorously in the school; in the afternoons, so far as her child
would let her, she carried her tender presence and her practical
knowledge of nursing to the sick and feeble; and on two evenings
in the week she and Robert threw open a little room there was on
the ground-floor between the study and the dining-room to the women
and girls of the village, as a sort of drawing-room. Hard-worked
mothers would come, who had put their fretful babes to sleep, and
given their lords to eat, and had just energy left, while the eldest
daughter watched, and the men were at the club or the 'Blue Boar,'
to put on a clean apron and climb the short hill to the rectory.
Once there, there was nothing to think of for an hour but the bright
room, Catherine's kind face, the Rector's jokes, and the illustrated
papers or the photographs that were spread out for them to look at
if they would. The girls learned to come, because Catherine could
teach them a simple dressmaking, and was clever in catching stray
persons to set them singing; and because Mr. Elsmere read exciting
stories, and because nothing any one of them ever told Mrs. Elsmere
was forgotten by her, or failed to interest her. Any of her social
equals of the neighborhood would have hardly recognized the reserved
and stately Catherine on these occasions. Here she felt herself
at home, at ease. She would never, indeed, have Robert's pliancy,
his quick divination, and for some time after her transplanting the
North-country woman had found it very difficult to suit herself to
a new shade of local character. But she was learning from Robert
every day; she watched him among the poor, recognizing all his gifts
with a humble intensity of admiring love, which said little but
treasured everything, and for herself her inward happiness and peace
shone through her quiet ways, making her the mother and the friend
of all about her.
As for Robert, he, of course, was living at high pressure all round.
Outside his sermons and his school, his Natural History Club had
perhaps most of his heart, and the passion for science, little
continuous work as he was able to give it, grew on him more and
more. He kept up as best he could, working with one hand, so to
speak, when he could not spare two, and in his long rambles over
moor and hill, gathering in with his quick eye a harvest of local
fact wherewith to feed their knowledge and his own.
The mornings he always spent at work among his books, the afternoons
in endless tramps over the parish, sometimes alone, sometimes with
Catherine; and in the evenings, if Catherine was 'at home' twice a
week to womankind, he had his nights when his study became the haunt
and prey of half the boys in the place, who were free of everything,
as soon as he had taught them to respect his books, and not to taste
his medicines; other nights when he was lecturing or story-telling,
in the club or in some outlying hamlet; or others again, when with
Catherine beside him he would sit trying to think some of that
religious passion which burned in both their hearts, into clear
words or striking illustrations for his sermons.
Then his choir was much upon his mind. He knew nothing about music,
nor did Catherine; their efforts made Rose laugh irreverently when
she got their letters at Berlin. But Robert believed in a choir
chiefly as an excellent social and centralizing instrument. There
had been none in Mr. Preston's day. He was determined to have one,
and a good one, and by sheer energy he succeeded, delighting in his
boyish way over the opposition some of his novelties excited among
the older and more stiff-backed inhabitants.
'Let them talk,' he would say brightly to Catherine. 'They will
come round; and talk is good. Anything to make them think, to stir
Of course that old problem of the agricultural laborer weighed upon
him--his grievances, his wants. He went about pondering the English
land system, more than half inclined one day to sink part of his
capital in a peasant-proprietor experiment, and engulfed the next
in all the moral and economical objections to the French system.
Land for allotments, at any rate, he had set his heart on. But in
this direction, as in many others, the way was barred. All the
land in the parish was the Squire's, and not an inch of the Squire's
land would Henslowe let young Elsmere have anything to do with if
he knew it. He would neither repair, nor enlarge the Workmen's
Institute; and he had a way of forgetting the Squire's customary
subscriptions to parochial objects, always paid through him, which
gave him much food for chuckling whenever he passed Elsmere in the
country lanes. The man's coarse insolence and mean hatred made
themselves felt at every turn, besmirching and embittering.
Still it was very true that neither Henslowe nor the Squire could
do Robert much harm. His hold on the parish was visibly strengthening;
his sermons were not only filling the church with his own parishioners,
but attracting hearers from the districts round Murewell, so that
even on these winter Sundays there was almost always a sprinkling
of strange faces among the congregation; and his position in the
county and diocese was becoming every month more honorable and
important. The gentry about showed them much kindness, and would
have shown them much hospitality if they had been allowed. But
though Robert had nothing of the ascetic about him, and liked the
society of his equals as much as most good-tempered and vivacious
people do, he and Catherine decided that for the present they had
no time to spare for visits and county society. Still, of course,
there were many occasions on which the routine of their life brought
them across their neighbors, and it began to be pretty widely
recognized that Elsmere was a young fellow of unusual promise and
intelligence, that his wife too was remarkable, and that between
them they were likely to raise the standard of clerical effort
considerably in their part of Surrey.
All the factors of this life--his work, his influence, his recovered
health, the lavish beauty of the country, Elsmere enjoyed with all
his heart. But at the root of all there lay what gave value and
savor to everything else--that exquisite home-life of theirs, that
tender, triple bond of husband, wife, and child.
Catherine coming home tired from teaching or visiting, would find
her step quickening as she reached the gate of the rectory, and the
sense of delicious possession waking up in her, which is one of the
first fruits of motherhood. There, at the window, between the
lamplight behind and the winter dusk outside, would be the child
in its nurse's arms, little wondering, motiveless smiles passing
over the tiny puckered face that was so oddly like Robert already.
And afterward, in the fire-lit nursery, with the bath in front of
the high fender, and all the necessaries of baby life beside it,
she would go through those functions which mothers love and linger
over, let the kicking, dimpled creature principally concerned protest
as it may against the over-refinements of civilization. Then, when
the little restless voice was stilled, and the cradle left silent
in the darkened room, there would come the short watching for Robert,
his voice, his kiss, their simple meal together, a moment of rest,
of laughter and chat, before some fresh effort claimed them. Every
now and then--white-letter days--there would drop on them a long
evening together. Then out would come one of the few books--Dante
or Virgil or Milton--which had entered into the fibre of Catherine's
strong nature. The two heads would draw close over them, or Robert
would take some thought of hers as a text, and spout away from the
hearthrug, watching all the while for her smile, her look of assent.
Sometimes, late at night, when there was a sermon on his mind, he
would dive into his pocket for his Greek Testament and make her
read, partly for the sake of teaching her--for she knew some Greek
and longed to know more--but mostly that he might get from her some
of that garnered wealth of spiritual experience which he adored in
her. They would go from verse to verse, from thought to thought,
till suddenly perhaps the tide of feeling would rise, and while the
windswept round the house, and the owls hooted in the elms, they
would sit hand in hand, lost in love and fait--Christ near
them--Eternity, warm with God, enwrapping them.
So much for the man of action, the husband, the philanthropist.
In reality, great as was the moral energy of this period of Elsmere's
life, the dominant distinguishing note of it was not moral but
In matters of conduct he was but developing habits and tendencies
already strongly present in him; in matters of his thinking, with
every month of this winter he was becoming conscious of fresh forces,
fresh hunger, fresh horizons.
'_One half of your day be the king of your world_,' Mr. Grey had
said to him; '_the other half be the slave of something which will
take you out of your world_, into the general life, the life of
thought, of man as a whole, of the universe.'
The counsel, as we have seen, had struck root and flowered into
action. So many men of Elsmere's type give themselves up once and
for all as they become mature to the life of doing and feeling,
practically excluding the life of thought. It was Henry Grey's
influence in all probability, perhaps, too, the training of an
earlier Langham, that saved for Elsmere the life of thought.
The form taken by this training of his own mind he had been thus
encouraged not to abandon, was, as we know, the study of history.
He had well mapped out before him that book on the origins of
France which he had described to Langham. It was to take him years,
of course, and meanwhile, in his first enthusiasm, he was like a
child, revelling in the treasure of work that lay before him. As
he had told Langham, he had just got below the surface of a great
subject and was beginning to dig into the roots of it. Hitherto
he had been under the guidance of men of his own day, of the
nineteenth century historian, who refashions the past on the lines
of his own mind, who gives it rationality, coherence, and, as it
were, modernness, so that the main impression he produces on us,
so long as we look at that past through him only, is on the whole
an impression of continuity of _resemblance_.
Whereas, on the contrary, the, first impression left on a man by
the attempt to plunge into the materials of history for himself is
almost always an extraordinarily sharp impression of _difference_,
of _contrast_. Ultimately, of course, he sees that those men and
women whose letters and biographies, whose creeds and general
conceptions he is investigating, are in truth his ancestors, bone
of his bone, flesh of his flesh. But at first the student who goes
back, say, in the history of Europe, behind the Renaissance or
behind the Crusades into the actual deposits of the past, is often
struck with a kind of _vertige_. The men and women whom he has
dragged forth into the light of his own mind are to him like some
strange puppet-show. They are called by names he knows--kings,
bishops, judges, poets, priests, men of letters--but what a gulf
between him and them! What motives, what beliefs, what embryonic
processes of thought and morals, what bizarre combinations of
ignorance and knowledge, of the highest sanctity with the lowest
credulity or falsehood; what extraordinary prepossessions, born
with a man and tainting his whole ways of seeing and thinking from
childhood to the grave! Amid all the intellectual dislocation of
the spectacle, indeed, he perceives certain Greeks and certain
Latins who represent a forward strain, who belong as it seems to a
world of their own, a world ahead of them. To them he stretches
out his hand: '_You_,' he says to them, 'though your priests spoke
to you not of Christ, but of Zeus and Artemis, _you_ are really my
kindred!' But intellectually they stand alone. Around them, after
them, for long ages the world 'spake as a child, felt as a child,
understood as a child.'
Then he sees what it is makes the difference, digs the gulf.
'_Science_,' the mind cries, '_ordered knowledge_.' And so for the
first time the modern recognizes what the accumulations of his
forefathers have done for him. He takes the torch which man has
been so long and patiently fashioning to his hand, and turns it on
the past, and at every step the sight grows stranger, and yet more
moving, more pathetic. The darkness into which he penetrates does
but make him grasp his own guiding light the more closely. And
yet, bit by bit, it has been prepared for him by these groping,
half-conscious generations, and the scrutiny which began in repulsion
and laughter ends in a marvelling gratitude.
But the repulsion and the laughter come first, and during this
winter of work Elsmere felt them both very strongly. He would sit
in the morning buried among the records of decaying Rome and emerging
France, surrounded by Chronicles, by Church Councils, by lives of
the Saints, by primitive systems of law, pushing his imaginative,
impetuous way through them. Sometimes Catherine would be there,
and he would pour out on her something of what was in his own mind.
One day he was deep in the life of a certain saint. The saint had
been bishop of a diocese in Southern France. His biographer was
his successor in the see, a man of high political importance in the
Burgundian state, renowned besides for sanctity and learning. Only
some twenty years separated the biography, at the latest, from the
death of its subject. It contained some curious material for social
history, and Robert was reading it with avidity. But it was, of
course, a tissue of marvels. The young bishop had practised every
virtue known to the time, and wrought every conceivable miracle,
and the miracles were better told than usual, with more ingenuity,
more imagination. Perhaps on that account they struck the reader's
sense more sharply.
'And the saint said to the sorcerers and to the practisers of unholy
arts, that they should do those evil things no more, for he had
bound the spirits of whom they were wont to inquire, and they would
get no further answers to their incantations. Then those stiff-necked
sons of the Devil fell upon the man of God, scourged him sore, and
threatened him with death, if he would not instantly loose those
spirits he had bound. And seeing he could prevail nothing, and
being moreover, admonished by God so to do, he permitted them to
work their own damnation. For he called for a parchment and wrote
upon it, "_Ambrose unto Satan--Enter!_" Then was the spell loosed,
the spirits returned, the sorcerers inquired as they were accustomed,
and received answers. But in a short space of time every one of
them perished miserably and was delivered unto his natural lord
Satanas, whereunto he belonged.'
Robert made a hasty exclamation, and turning to Catherine, who was
working beside him, read the passage to her, with a few words as
to the book and its author.
Catherine's work dropped a moment on to her knee.
'What extraordinary superstition!' she said, startled. 'A bishop,
Robert, and an educated man?'
'But it is the whole habit of mind,' he said half to himself, staring
into the fire, 'that is so astounding. No one escapes it. The
whole age really is non-sane.'
'I suppose the devout Catholic would believe that?'
'I am not sure,' said Robert dreamily, and remained sunk in thought
for long after, while Catherine worked, and pondered a Christmas
entertainment for her girls.
Perhaps it was his scientific work, fragmentary as it was that was
really quickening and sharpening these historical impressions of
his. Evolution--once a mere germ in the mind--was beginning to
press, to encroach, to intermeddle with the mind's other furniture.
And the comparative instinct--that tool, _par excellence_, of modern
science was at last fully awake, was growing fast, taking hold, now
here, now there.
'It is tolerably clear to me,' he said to himself suddenly one
winter afternoon, as he was trudging home alone from Mile End, 'that
some day or other I must set to work to bring a little order into
one's notions of the Old Testament. At present they are just a
He walked on awhile, struggling with the rainstorm which had overtaken
him, till again the mind's quick life took voice.
'But what matter? God in the beginning--God in the prophets--in
Israel's best life--God in Christ! How are any theories about the
Pentateuch to touch that?'
And into the clear eyes, the young face aglow with wind and rain,
there leapt a light, a softness indescribable.
But the vivider and the keener grew this new mental life of Elsmere's,
the more constant became his sense of soreness as to that foolish
and motiveless quarrel which divided him from the Squire. Naturally
he was for ever being harassed and pulled up in his work by the
mere loss of the Murewell library. To have such a collection so
close, and to be cut off from it, was a state of things no student
could help feeling severely. But it was much more than that: it
was the man he hankered after; the man who was a master where he
was a beginner; the man who had given his life to learning, and was
carrying all his vast accumulations sombrely to the grave, unused,
'He might have given me his knowledge,' thought Elsmere sadly, 'and
I--I--would have been a son to him. Why is life so perverse?'
Meanwhile he was as much cut off from the great house and its master
as though both had been surrounded by the thorn hedge of fairy tale.
The Hall had its visitors during these winter months, but the
Elsmeres saw nothing of them. Robert gulped down a natural sigh
when one Saturday evening, as he passed the Hall gates, he saw
driving through them the chief of English science side by side with
the most accomplished of English critics.
"'There are good times in the world and I ain't in 'em!'" he said
to himself with a laugh and a shrug as he turned up the lane to the
rectory, and then, boylike, was ashamed of himself, and greeted
Catherine, with all the tenderer greeting.
Only on two occasions during three months could he be sure of having
seen the Squire. Both were in the twilight, when, as the neighborhood
declared, Mr. Wendover always walked, and both made a sharp impression
on the Rector's nerves. In the heart of one of the loneliest commons
of the parish Robert, swinging along one November evening through
the scattered furze bushes growing ghostly in the darkness, was
suddenly conscious of a cloaked figure with slouching shoulders and
head bent forward coming toward him. It passed without recognition
of any kind, and for an instant Robert caught the long, sharpened
features and haughty eyes of the Squire.
At another time Robert was walking, far from home, along a bit of
level road. The pools in the ruts were just filmed with frost, and
gleamed under the sunset; the winter dusk was clear and chill. A
horseman turned into the road from a side lane. It was the Squire
again, alone. The sharp sound of the approaching hoofs stirred
Robert's pulse, and as they passed each other the Rector raised his
hat. He thought his greeting was acknowledged, but could not be
quite sure. From the shelter of a group of trees he stood a moment
and looked after the retreating figure. It and the horse showed
dark against a wide sky barred by stormy reds and purples. The
wind whistled through the withered oaks; the long road with its
lines of glimmering pools seemed to stretch endlessly into the
sunset; and with every minute the night strode on. Age and loneliness
could have found no fitter setting. A shiver ran through Elsmere
as he stepped forward.
Undoubtedly the quarrel, helped by his work, and the perpetual
presence of that beautiful house commanding the whole country round
it from its plateau above the river, kept Elsmere specially in mind
of the Squire. As before their first meeting, and in spite of it,
he became more and more imaginatively preoccupied with him. One
of the signs of it was a strong desire to read the Squire's two
famous books: one, 'The Idols of the Market Place,' an attack on
English beliefs; the other, 'Essays on English Culture,' an attack
on English ideals of education. He had never come across them as
it happened, and perhaps Newcome's denunciation had some effect in
inducing him for a time to refrain from reading them. But in
December he ordered them and waited their coming with impatience.
He said nothing of the order to Catherine; somehow there were by
now two or three portions of his work, two or three branches of his
thought, which had fallen out of their common discussion. After
all she was not literary and with all their oneness of soul there
could not be an _identity_ of interests or pursuits.
The books arrived in the morning. (Oh, how dismally well, with
what a tightening of the heart, did Robert always remember that day
in after years!) He was much too busy to look at them, and went
off to a meeting. In the evening, coming home late from his
night-school, he found Catherine tired, sent her to bed, and went
himself into his study to put together some notes for a cottage
lecture he was to give the following day. The packet of books,
unopened, lay on his writing-table. He took off the wrapper, and
in his eager way fell to reading the first he touched.
It was the first volume of the 'Idols of the Market Place.'
Ten or twelve years before, Mr. Wendover had launched this book
into a startled and protesting England. It had been the fruit of
his first renewal of contact with English life and English ideas
after his return from Berlin. Fresh from the speculative ferment
of Germany and the far profaner scepticism of France, he had returned
to a society where the first chapter of Genesis and the theory of
verbal inspiration were still regarded as valid and important
counters on the board of thought. The result had been this book.
In it each stronghold of English popular religion had been assailed
in turn, at a time when English orthodoxy was a far more formidable
thing than it is now.
The Pentateuch, the Prophets, the Gospels, St. Paul, Tradition, the
Fathers, Protestantism and Justification by Faith, the Eighteenth
Century, the Broad Church Movement, Anglican Theology--the Squire
had his say about them all. And while the coolness and frankness
of the method sent a shook of indignation and horror through the
religious public, the subtle and caustic style, and the epigrams
with which the book was strewn, forced both the religious and
irreligious public to read, whether they would or no. A storm of
controversy rose round the volumes, and some of the keenest observers
of English life had said at the time, and maintained since, that
the publication of the book had made or marked an epoch.
Robert had lit on those pages in the Essay on the Gospels where the
Squire fell to analyzing the evidence for the Resurrection, following
up his analysis by an attempt at reconstructing the conditions out
of which the belief in 'the legend' arose. Robert began to read
vaguely at first, then to hurry on through page after page, still
standing, seized at once by the bizarre power of the style, the
audacity and range of the treatment.
Not a sound in the house. Outside, the tossing, moaning December
night; inside, the faintly crackling fire, the standing figure.
Suddenly it was to Robert as though a cruel torturing hand were laid
upon his inmost being. His breath failed him; the book slipped out
of his grasp; he sank down upon his chair, his head in his hands.
Oh, what a desolate, intolerable moment! Over the young idealist
soul there swept a dry destroying whirlwind of thought. Elements
Gathered from all sources--from his own historical work, from the
Squire's book, from the secret, half-conscious recesses of the mind-
-entered into it, and as it passed it seemed to scorch the heart.
He stayed bowed there a while, then he roused himself with a
half-groan, and hastily extinguishing his lamp; he groped his way
upstairs to his wife's room. Catherine lay asleep. The child, lost
among its white coverings, slept too; there was a dim light over
the bed, the books, the pictures. Beside his wife's pillow was a
table on which there lay open her little Testament and the 'Imitation'
her father had given her. Elsmere sank down beside her, appalled
by the contrast between this soft religious peace and that black
agony of doubt which still overshadowed him. He knelt there,
restraining his breath lest it should wake her, wrestling piteously
with himself, crying for pardon, for faith, feeling himself utterly
unworthy to touch even the dear hand that lay so near him. But
gradually the traditional forces of his life reasserted themselves.
The horror lifted. Prayer brought comfort and a passionate, healing
self-abasement. 'Master, forgive--defend--purify--' cried the
aching heart. '_There is none other that fighteth for us, but only
Thou, O God!_'
He did not open the book again. Next morning he put it back into
his shelves. If there were any Christian who could affront such
an antagonist with a light heart, he felt with a shudder of memory
it was not he.
'I have neither learning nor experience enough--yet,' he said to
himself slowly as he moved away. 'Of course it can be met, but I
must grow, must think--first.'
And of that night's wrestle he said not a word to any living soul.
He did penance for it in the tenderest, most secret ways, but he
shrank in misery from the thought of revealing it even to Catherine.
Meanwhile the poor poisoned folk at Mile End lived and apparently
throve, in defiance of all the laws of the universe. Robert, as
soon as he found that radical measures were for the time hopeless,
had applied himself with redoubled energy to making the people use
such palliatives as were within their reach, and had preached boiled
water and the removal of filth till, as he declared to Catherine,
his dreams were one long sanitary nightmare. But he was not confiding
enough to believe that the people paid much heed, and he hoped more
from a dry hard winter than from any exertion either of his or
But, alas! with the end of November a season of furious rain set
Then Robert began to watch Mile End with anxiety, for so far every
outbreak of illness there had followed upon unusual damp. But the
rains passed leaving behind them no worse result than the usual
winter crop of lung ailments and rheumatism, and he breathed again.
Christmas came and went, and with the end of December the wet weather
returned. Day after day rolling masses of southwest cloud came up
from the Atlantic and wrapped the whole country in rain, which
reminded Catherine of her Westmoreland rain more than any she had
yet seen in the South. Robert accused her of liking it for that
reason, but she shook her head with a sigh, declaring that it was
'nothing without the peaks.'
One afternoon she was shutting the door of the school behind her,
and stepping out on the road skirting the green--the bedabbled
wintry green--when she saw Robert emerging from the Mile End lane.
She crossed over to him, wondering, as she neared him, that he
seemed to take no notice of her. He was striding along, his wideawake
over his eyes, and so absorbed that she had almost touched him
before he saw her.
'Darling, is that you? Don't stop me, I am going to take the
pony-carriage in for Meyrick. I have just come back from that
accursed place; three cases of diphtheria in one house, Sharland's
wife--and two others down with fever.'
She made a horrified exclamation.
'It will spread,' he said gloomily, 'I know it will. I never saw
the children look such a ghastly crew before. Well, I must go for
Meyrick and a nurse, and we must isolate and make a fight for it.'
In a few days the diphtheria epidemic reached terrible proportion's.
There had been one death, others were expected, and soon Robert
in his brief hours at home could find no relief in anything, so
heavy was the oppression of the day's memories. At first Catherine
for the child's sake kept away; but the little Mary was weaned, had
a good Scotch nurse, was in every way thriving, and after a day or
two Catherine's craving to help, to be with Robert in his trouble
was too strong to be withstood. But she dared not go backward and
forward between her baby and the diphtheritic children. So she
bethought herself of Mrs. Elsmere's servant, old Martha, who was
still inhabiting Mrs. Elsmere's cottage till a tenant could be found
for it, and doing good service meanwhile as an occasional parish
nurse. The baby and its nurse went over to the cottage. Catherine
carried the child there, wrapped close in maternal arms, and leaving
her on old Martha's lap, went back to Robert.
Then she and he devoted themselves to a hand-to-hand fight with the
epidemic. At the climax of it, there were about twenty children
down with it in different stages, and seven cases of fever. They
had two hospital nurses; one of the better cottages, turned into a
sanatorium, accommodated the worst cases under the nurses, and
Robert and Catherine, directed by them and the doctors, took the
responsibility of the rest, he helping to nurse the boys and she
the girls. Of the fever cases Sharland's wife was the worst. A
feeble creature at all times, it seemed almost impossible she could
weather through. But day after day passed, and by dint of incessant
nursing she still lived. A youth of twenty, the main support of a
mother and five or six younger children, was also desperately ill.
Robert hardly ever had him out of his thoughts, and the boy's
doglike affection for the Rector, struggling with his deathly
weakness, was like a perpetual exemplification of Ahriman and
Ormuzd--the power of life struggling with the power of death.
It was a fierce fight. Presently it seemed to the husband and wife
as though the few daily hours spent at the rectory were mere halts
between successive acts of battle with the plague-fiend--a more
real and grim Grendel of the Marshes--for the lives of children.
Catherine could always sleep in these intervals, quietly and
dreamlessly; Robert very soon could only sleep by the help of some
prescription of old Meyrick's. On all occasions of strain since
his boyhood there had been signs in him of a certain lack of
constitutional hardness which his mother knew very well, but which
his wife was only just beginning to recognize. However, he laughed
to scorn any attempt to restrain his constant goings and comings,
or those hours of night-nursing, in which, as the hospital nurses
were the first to admit, no one was so successful as the Rector.
And when he stood up on Sundays to preach in Murewell Church, the
worn and spiritual look of the man, and the knowledge warm at each
heart of those before him of how the Rector not only talked but
lived, carried every word home.
This strain upon all the moral and physical forces, however, strangely
enough, came to Robert as a kind of relief. It broke through a
tension of brain which of late had become an oppression. And for
both him and Catherine these dark times had moments of intensest
joy, points of white light illuminating heaven and earth.
There were cloudy nights--wet, stormy January nights--when sometimes
it happened to them to come back both together from the hamlet,
Robert carrying a lantern, Catherine clothed in waterproof from
head to foot, walking beside him, the rays flashing now on her face,
now on the wooded sides of the lane, while the wind howled through
the dark vault of branches overhead. And then, as they talked or
were silent, suddenly a sense of the intense blessedness of this
comradeship of theirs would rise like a flood in the man's heart,
and he would fling his free arm round her, forcing her to stand a
moment in the January night and storm while he said to her words
of passionate gratitude, of faith in an immortal union reaching
beyond change or deaths lost in a kiss which was a sacrament. Then
there were the moments when they saw their child, held high in
Martha's arms at the window, and leaping toward her mother; the
moments when one pallid, sickly being after another was pronounced
out of danger; and by the help of them the weeks passed away.
Nor were they left without help from outside. Lady Helen Varley
no sooner heard the news than she hurried over. Robert on his way
one morning from one cottage to another saw her pony-carriage in
the lane. He hastened up to her before she could dismount.
'No, Lady Helen, you mustn't come here,' he said to her peremptorily,
as she held out her hand.
'Oh, Mr. Elsmere, let me. My boy is in town with his grandmother.
Let me just go through, at any rate, and see what I can send you.'
Robert shook his head, smiling. A common friend of theirs and hers
had once described this little lady to Elsmere by a French sentence
which originally applied to the Duchesse de Choiseul. 'Une charmante
petite fee sortie d'un oeuf enchante!'--so it ran. Certainly, as
Elsmere looked down upon her now, fresh from those squalid
death-stricken hovels behind him, he was brought more abruptly than
ever upon the contrasts of life. Lady Helen wore a green velvet
and fur mantle, in the production of which even Worth had felt some
pride; a little green velvet bonnet perched on her fair hair; one
tiny hand, ungloved, seemed ablaze with diamonds; there were opals
and diamonds somewhere at her throat, gleaming among her sables.
But she wore her jewels as carelessly as she wore her high birth,
her quaint, irregular prettiness, or the one or two brilliant gifts
which made her sought after wherever she went. She loved her opals
as she loved all bright things; if it pleased her to wear them in
the morning she wore them; and in five minutes she was capable of
making the sourest Puritan forget to frown on her and them. To
Robert she always seemed the quintessence of breeding, of aristocracy
at their best. All her freaks, her sallies, her absurdities even,
were graceful. At her freest and gayest there were things in
her--restraints, reticences, perceptions--which implied behind her
generations of rich, happy, important people, with ample leisure
to cultivate all the more delicate niceties of social feeling and
relation. Robert was often struck by the curious differences between
her and Rose. Rose was far the handsome; she was at least as clever;
and she had a strong imperious will where Lady Helen had only
impulses and sympathies and _engouements_. But Rose belonged to
the class which struggles, where each individual depends on himself
and knows it. Lady Helen had never struggled for anything--all the
best things of the world were hers so easily that she hardly gave
them a thought; or rather, what she had gathered without pain she
held so lightly, she dispensed so lavishly, that men's eyes followed
her, fluttering through life, with much the same feeling as was
struck from Clough's radical hero by the peerless Lady Maria:--
Live, be lovely, forget us, be beautiful, even to proudness,
Even for their poor sakes whose happiness is to behold you;
Live, be uncaring, be joyous, be sumptuous; only be lovely!
'Uncaring,' however, little Lady Helen never was. If she was a
fairy, she was a fairy all heart, all frank, foolish smiles and
'No, Lady Helen--no,' Robert said again. 'This is no place for
you, and we are getting on capitally.'
She pouted a little.
'I believe you and Mrs. Elsmere are just killing yourselves all in
a corner, with no one to see,' she said indignantly. 'If you won't
let me see, I shall send Sir Harry. But who'--and her brown fawn's
eyes ran startled over the cottages before her--'who, Mr. Elsmere,
does this _dreadful_ place belong to?'
'Mr. Wendover,' said Robert shortly.
'Impossible!' she cried incredulously. 'Why, I wouldn't ask one
of my dogs to sleep there,' and she pointed to the nearest hovel,
whereof the walls were tottering outward, the thatch was falling
to pieces, and the windows were mended with anything that came
handy--rags, paper, or the crown of an old hat.
'No, you would be ill-advised' said Robert, looking with a bitter
little smile at the sleek dachshund that sat blinking beside its
'But what is the agent about?'
Then Robert told her the story, not mincing his words. Since the
epidemic had begun, all that sense of imaginative attraction which
had been reviving in him toward the Squire had been simply blotted
out by a fierce heat of indignation. When he thought of Mr. Wendover
now, he thought of him as the man to whom in strict truth it was
owing that helpless children died in choking torture. All that
agony, of wrath and pity he had gone through in the last ten days
sprang to his lips now as he talked to Lady Helen, and poured itself
into his words.
'Old Meyrick and I have taken things into our own hands now,' he
said at last briefly. 'We have already made two cottages fairly
habitable. To-morrow the inspector comes. I told the people
yesterday I wouldn't be bound by my promise a day longer. He must
put the screw on Henslowe, and if Henslowe dawdles, why we shall
just drain and repair and sink for a well, ourselves. I can find
the money somehow. At present we get all our water from one of the
farms on the brow.'
'Money!' said Lady Helen impulsively, her looks warm with sympathy
for the pale, harassed young rector. 'Sir Harry shall send you as
much as you want. And anything else--blankets--coals?'
Out came her notebooks and Robert was drawn into a list. Then,
full of joyfulness at being allowed to help, she gathered up her
reins, she nodded her pretty little head at him, and was just
starting off her ponies at full speed, equally eager 'to tell Harry'
and to ransack Churton for the stores required, when it occurred
to her to pull up again.
'Oh, Mr. Elsmere, my aunt, Lady Charlotte, does nothing but talk
about your sister-in-law. _Why_ did you keep her all to yourself?
Is it kind, is it neighborly, to have such a wonder to stay with
you and let nobody share?'
'A wonder?' said Robert, amused. 'Rose plays the violin very well,
'As if relations ever saw one in proper perspective!' exclaimed
Lady Helen. 'My aunt wants to be allowed to have her in town next
season if you will all let her. I think she would find it fun.
Aunt Charlotte knows all the world and his wife. And if I'm there,
and Miss Leyburn will let me make friends with her, why, you know,
_I_ can just protect her a little from Aunt Charlotte?'
The little laughing face bent forward again; Robert, smiling, raised
his hat, and the ponies whirled her off. In anybody else Elsmere
would have thought all this effusion insincere or patronizing. But
Lady Helen was the most spontaneous of mortals, and the only highborn
woman he had ever met who was really, and not only apparently, free
from the 'nonsense of rank.' Robert shrewdly suspected Lady
Charlotte's social tolerance to be a mere varnish. But this little
person, and her favorite brother Hugh, to judge from the accounts
of him, must always have found life too romantic, too wildly and
delightfully interesting from top to bottom, to be measured by any
but romantic standards.
Next day Sir Harry Varley, a great burly country squire, who adored
his wife, kept the hounds, owned a model estate, and thanked God
every morning that he was an Englishman, rode over to Mile End.
Robert, who had just been round the place with the inspector and
was dead tired, had only energy to show him a few of the worst
enormities. Sir Harry, leaving a check behind him, rode off with
a discharge of strong language, at which Robert, clergyman as he
was, only grimly smiled.
A few days later Mr. Wendover's crimes as a landowner, his agent's
brutality, young Elsmere's devotion, and the horrors of the Mile
End outbreak, were in everybody's mouth. The county was roused.
The Radical newspaper came out on the Saturday with a flaming
article; Robert, much to his annoyance, found himself the local
hero; and money began to come in to him freely.
On the Monday morning Henslowe appeared on the scene with an army
of workmen. A racy communication from the inspector had reached
him two days before, so had a copy of the 'Churton Advertiser.'
He had spent Sunday in a drinking bout turning over all possible
plans of vengeance and evasion. Toward the evening, however, his
wife, a gaunt clever Scotchwoman, who saw ruin before them, and had
on occasion an even sharper tongue than her husband, managed to
capture the supplies of brandy in the house and effectually conceal
them. Then she waited for the moment of collapse which came on
toward morning, and with her hands on her hips she poured into him
a volley of home-truths which not even Sir Harry Varley could have
bettered. Henslowe's nerve gave way. He went out at daybreak,
white and sullen, to look for workmen.
Robert, standing on the step of a cottage, watched him give his
orders, and took vigilant note of their substance. They embodied
the inspector's directions, and the Rector was satisfied. Henslowe
was obliged to pass him on his way to another group of houses. At
first he affected not to see the Rector, then suddenly Elsmere was
conscious that the man's bloodshot eyes were on him. Such a look!
If hate could have killed, Elsmere would have fallen where he
stood. Yet the man's hand mechanically moved to his hat, as though
the spell of his wife's harangue were still potent over his shaking
Robert took no notice whatever of the salutation. He stood calmly
watching till Henslowe disappeared into the last house. Then he
called one of the agent's train, heard what was to be done, gave a
sharp nod of assent, and turned on his heel. So far so good: the
servant had been made to feel, but he wished it had been the master.
Oh, those three little emaciated creatures whose eyes he had closed,
whose clammy hands he had held to the last!--what reckoning should
be asked for their undeserved torments when the Great Account came
to be made up?
Meanwhile not a sound apparently of all this reached the Squire in
the sublime solitude of Murewell. A fortnight had passed. Henslowe
had been conquered, the county had rushed to Elsmere's help, and
neither he nor Mrs. Darcy had made a sign. Their life was so
abnormal that it was perfectly possible they had heard nothing.
Elsmere wondered when they _would_ hear.
The Rector's chief help and support all through had been old Meyrick.
The parish doctor had been in bed with rheumatism when the epidemic
broke out, and Robert, feeling it a comfort to be rid of him, had
thrown the whole business into the hands of Meyrick and his son.
This son was nominally his father's junior partner, but as he was,
besides, a young and brilliant M.D. fresh from a great hospital,
and his father was just a poor old general practitioner, with the
barest qualification and only forty years' experience to recommend
him, it will easily be imagined that the subordination was purely
nominal. Indeed young Meyrick was fast ousting his father in all
directions, and the neighborhood, which had so far found itself
unable either to enter or to quit this mortal scene without old
Meyrick's assistance, was beginning to send notes to the house in
Charton High Street, whereon the superscription 'Dr. _Edward_
Meyrick' was underlined with ungrateful emphasis. The father took
his deposition very quietly. Only on Murewell Hall would he allow
no trespassing, and so long as his son left him undisturbed there,
he took his effacement in other quarters with perfect meekness.
Young Elsmere's behavior to him, however, at a time when all the
rest of the Churton world was beginning to hold him cheap and let
him see it, had touched the old man's heart, and he was the Rector's
slave in this Mile End business. Edward Meyrick would come whirling
in and out of the hamlet once a day. Robert was seldom sorry to
see the back of him. His attainments, of course, were useful, but
his cocksureness was irritating, and his manner to his father,
abominable. The father, on the other hand, came over in the shabby
pony-cart he had driven for the last forty years, and having himself
no press of business, would spend hours with the Rector over the
cases, giving them an infinity of patient watching, and amusing
Robert by the cautious hostility he would allow himself every now
and then toward his souls newfangled devices.
At first Meyrick showed himself fidgety as to the Squire. Had he
been seen, been heard from? He received Robert's sharp negatives
with long sighs, but Robert clearly saw that, like the rest of the
world, he was too much afraid of Mr. Wendover to go and beard him.
Some months before, as it happened, Elsmere had told him the story
of his encounter with the Squire, and had been a good deal moved
and surprised by the old man's concern.
One day, about three weeks from the beginning of the outbreak, when
the state of things in the hamlet was beginning decidedly to mend,
Meyrick arrived for his morning round, much preoccupied. He hurried
his work a little, and after it was done asked Robert to walk up
the road with him.
'I have seen the Squire, sir,' he said, turning on his companion
with a certain excitement.
'Have you?' he replied with his hands behind him, and a world of
expression in his sarcastic voice.
'You misjudge him! You misjudge him, Mr. Elsmere!' the old man
said tremulously. 'I told you he could know of this business--and
he didn't! He has been in town part of the time, and down here,
how is he to know anything? He sees nobody. That man Henslowe,
sir, must be a real _bad_ fellow.'
'Don't abuse the man,' said Robert, looking up. 'It's not worth
while, when you can say your mind of the master.'
Old Meyrick sighed.
'Well,' said Robert, after a moment, his lip drawn and quivering,
'you told him the story, I suppose? Seven deaths, is it, by now?
Well, what sort of impression did these unfortunate accidents'--and
'He talked of sending money,' said Meyrick doubtfully; he said he
would have Henslowe up and inquire. He seemed put about and annoyed.
Oh, Mr. Elsmere, you think too hardly of the Squire, that you do!'
They strolled on together in silence. Robert was not inclined to
discuss the matter. But old Meyrick seemed to be laboring under
some suppressed emotion, and presently he began upon his own
experiences as a doctor of the Wendover family. He had already
broached the subject more or less vaguely with Robert. Now, however,
he threw his medical reserve, generally his strongest characteristic,
to the winds. He insisted on telling his companion, who listened
reluctantly, the whole miserable and ghastly story of the old
Squire's suicide. He described the heir's summons, his arrival
just in time for the last scene with all its horrors, and that
mysterious condition of the Squire for some months afterward, when
no one, not even Mrs. Darcy, had been admitted to the Hall, and old
Meyrick, directed at intervals by a great London doctor, had been
the only spectator of Roger Wendover's physical and mental breakdown,
the only witness of that dark consciousness of inherited fatality
which at that period of his life not even the Squire's iron will
had been able wholly to conceal.
Robert, whose attention was inevitably roused after a while, found
himself with some curiosity realizing the Squire from another man's
totally different point of view. Evidently Meyrick had seen him
at such moments as wring from the harshest nature whatever grains
of tenderness, of pity, or of natural human weakness may be in it.
And it was clear, too, that the Squire, conscious perhaps of a
shared secret, and feeling a certain soothing influence in the
_naivete_ and simplicity of the old man's sympathy, had allowed
himself at times, in the years succeeding that illness of his, an
amount of unbending in Meyrick's presence, such as probably no other
mortal had ever witnessed in him since his earliest youth.
And yet how childish the old man's whole mental image of the Squire
was after all! What small account it made of the subtleties, the
gnarled intricacies and contradictions of such a character! Horror
at his father's end, and dread of a like fate for himself! Robert
did not know very much of the Squire, but he knew enough to feel
sure that this confiding, indulgent theory of Meyrick's was ludicrously
far from the mark as an adequate explanation of Mr. Wendover's later
Presently Meyrick became aware of the sort of tacit resistance which
his companion's mind was opposing to his own. He dropped the
wandering narrative he was busy upon with a sigh.
'Ah well, I dare say it's hard, it's hard,' he said with patient
acquiescence in his voice, 'to believe a man can't help himself.
I dare say we doctors get to muddle up right and wrong. But if
ever there was a man sick in mind--for all his book learning they
talk about--and sick in soul, that man is the Squire.'
Robert looked at him with a softer expression. There was a new
dignity about the simple old man. The old-fashioned deference,
which had never let him forget in speaking to Robert that he was
speaking to a man of family, and which showed itself in all sorts
of antiquated locutions which were a torment to his son, had given
way to something still more deeply ingrained. His gaunt figure,
with the stoop, and the spectacles, and the long straight hair--like
the figure of a superannuated schoolmaster--assumed, as he turned
again to his younger companion, something of authority, something
almost of stateliness.
'Ah, Mr. Elsmere,' he said, laying his shrunk hand on the younger
man's sleeve and speaking with emotion, 'you're very good to the
poor. We're all proud of you--you and your good lady. But when
you were coming, and I heard tell all about you, I thought of my
poor Squire, and I said to myself, "That young man'll be good to
_him_. The Squire will make friends with him, and Mr. Elsmere will
have a good wife--and there'll be children born to him--and the
Squire will take an interest--and--and--maybe----"
The old man paused. Robert grasped his hand silently.
'And there was something in the way between you,' the speaker went
on, starting. 'I dare say you were quite right--quite right. I
can't judge. Only there are ways of doing a thing. And it was a
last chance; and now it's missed--it's missed. Ah! It's no good
talking; he has a heart--he has! Many's the kind thing he's done
in old days for me and mine--I'll never forget them! But all these
last few years--oh, I know, I know. Yon can't go and shut your
heart up, and fly in the face of all the duties the Lord laid on
you, without losing yourself and setting the Lord against you. But
it is pitiful, Mr. Elsmere, it's pitiful!'
It seemed to Robert suddenly as though there was a Divine breath
passing through the wintry, lane and through the shaking voice of
the old man. Beside the spirit looking out of those wrinkled eyes,
his own hot youth, its justest resentments, its most righteous
angers, seemed crude, harsh, inexcusable.
'Thank you, Meyrick, thank you, and God bless you! Don't imagine
I will forget a word you have said to me.'
The Rector shook the hand he held warmly twice over, a gentle smile
passed over Meyrick's aging face, and they parted.
That night it fell to Robert to sit up after midnight with John
Allwood, the youth of twenty whose case had been a severer tax on
the powers of the little nursing staff than perhaps any other.
Mother and neighbors were worn out, and it was difficult to spare
a hospital nurse for long together from the diphtheria cases.
Robert, therefore, had insisted during the preceding week on taking
alternate nights with one of the nurses. During the first hours
before midnight he slept soundly on a bed made up in the ground-floor
room of the little sanatorium. Then at twelve the nurse called
him, and he went out, his eyes still heavy with sleep, into a still,
frosty winter's night.
After so much rain, so much restlessness of wind and cloud, the
silence and the starry calm of it were infinitely welcome. The
sharp cold air cleared his brain and braced his nerves, and by the
time he reached the cottage whither he was bound, he was broad
awake. He opened the door softly, passed through the lower room,
crowded with sleeping children, climbed the narrow stairs as
noiselessly as possible, and found himself in a garret, faintly
lit, a bed in one corner, and a woman sitting beside it. The woman
glided away, the Rector looked carefully at the table of instructions
hanging over the bed, assured himself that wine and milk and beef
essence and medicines were ready to his hand, put out his watch on
the wooden table near the bed, and sat him down to his task. The
boy was sleeping the sleep of weakness. Food was to be given every
half hour, and in this perpetual impulse to the system lay his only
The Rector had his Greek Testament with him, and could just read
it by the help of the dim light. But after a while, as the still
hours passed on, it dropped on to his knee, and he sat thinking--endlessly
thinking. The young laborer lay motionless beside him, the lines
of the long emaciated frame showing through the bedclothes. The
night-light flickered on the broken, discolored ceiling; every now
and then a mouse scratched in the plaster; the mother's heavy
breathing came from the next room; sometimes a dog barked or an owl
cried outside. Otherwise deep silence, such silence as drives the
soul back upon itself.
Elsmere was conscious of a strange sense of moral expansion. The
stern judgments, the passionate condemnations which his nature
housed so painfully, seemed lifted from it. The soul breathed an
'ampler aether, a diviner air.' Oh! the mysteries of life and
character, the subtle, inexhaustible claims of pity! The problems
which hang upon our being here; its mixture of elements; the pressure
of its inexorable physical environment; the relations of mind to
body, of man's poor will to this tangled tyrannous life--it was
along these old, old lines his thought went painfully groping and
always at intervals it came back to the Squire, pondering, seeking
to understand, a new soberness, a new humility and patience entering
And yet it was not Meyrick's facts exactly that had brought this
about. Robert thought them imperfect, only half true. Rather was
it the spirit of love, of infinite forbearance in which the simpler,
duller nature had declared itself that had appealed to him, nay,
Then these thoughts led him on further and further from man to God,
from human defect to the Eternal Perfectness. Never once during
those hours did Elsmere's hand fail to perform its needed service
to the faint sleeper beside him, and yet that night was one long
dream and strangeness to him, nothing real anywhere but consciousness,
and God its source; the soul attacked every now and then by phantom
stabs of doubt, of bitter, brief misgiving, as the barriers of sense
between it and the eternal enigma grew more and more transparent,
wrestling a while, and then prevailing. And each golden moment of
certainty, of conquering faith, seemed to Robert in some sort a
gift from Catherine's hand. It was she who led him through the
shades; it was her voice murmuring in his ear.
When the first gray dawn began to creep in slowly perceptible waves
into the room, Elsmere felt as though not hours but fears of
experience lay between him and the beginnings of his watch.
'It is by these moments we should date our lives' he murmured to
himself as he rose: 'they are the only real landmarks.'
It was eight o'clock, and the nurse who was to relieve him had come.
The results of the night for his charge were good: the strength
had been maintained, the pulse was firmer, the temperature lower.
The boy, throwing off his drowsiness, lay watching the Rector's
face as he talked in an undertone to the nurse, his haggard eyes
full of a dumb, friendly wistfulness. When Robert bent over him
to say good-by, this expression brightened into something more
positive, and Robert left him, feeling at last that there was a
promise of life in his look and touch.
In, another moment he had stepped out into the January morning.
It was clear and still as the night had been. In the east there
was a pale promise of sun; the reddish-brown trunks of the fir woods
had just caught it and rose faintly in glowing in endless vistas
and colonnades one behind the other. The flooded river itself
rushed through the bridge as full and turbid as before, but all the
other water surfaces had gleaming films of ice. The whole ruinous
place had a clean, almost a festal air under the touch of the frost,
while on the side of the hill leading to Murewell, tree rose above
tree, the delicate network of their wintry twigs and branches set
against stretches of frost-whitened grass, till finally they climbed
into the pale all-completing blue. In a copse close at hand there
were woodcutters at work, and piles of gleaming laths shining through
the underwood. Robins hopped along the frosty road, and as he
walked on through the houses toward the bridge, Robert's quick ear
distinguished that most wintry of all sounds--the cry of a flock
of field-fares passing overhead.
As he neared the bridge he suddenly caught sight of a figure upon
it, the figure of a man wrapped in a large Inverness cloak, leaning
against the stone parapet. With a start he recognized the Squire.
He went up to him without an instant's slackening of his steady
step. The Squire heard the sound of someone coming, turned, and
saw the Rector.
'I am glad to see you here, Mr. Wendover,' said Robert, stopping
and holding out his hand. 'I meant to have come to talk to you
about this place this morning. I ought to have come before.'
He spoke gently, and quite simply, almost as if they had parted the
day before. The Squire touched his hand for an instant.
'You may not, perhaps, be aware, Mr. Elsmere,' he said, endeavoring
to speak with all his old hauteur, while his heavy lips twitched
nervously, 'that, for one reason and another, I knew nothing of the
epidemic here till yesterday, when Meyrick told me.'
'I heard from Mr. Meyrick that it was so. As you are here now, Mr.
Wendover, and I am in no great hurry to get home, may I take you
through and show you the people?'
The Squire at last looked at him straight--at the face worn and
pale, yet still so extraordinarily youthful, in which something of
the solemnity and high emotion of the night seemed to be still
'Are you just come?' he said abruptly, 'or are you going back?'
'I have been here through the night, sitting up with one of the
fever cases. It's hard work for the nurses and the relations
sometimes, without help.'
The Squire moved on mechanically toward the village, and Robert
moved beside him.
'And Mrs. Elsmere?'
'Mrs. Elsmere was here most of yesterday. She used to stay the
night when the diphtheria was at its worst; but there are only four
anxious cases left, the rest all convalescent.'
The Squire said no more, and they turned into the lane, where the
ice lay thick in the deep ruts, and on either hand curls of smoke
rose into the clear cold sky. The Squire looked about him with
eyes which no detail escaped. Robert, without a word of comment,
pointed out this feature and that, showed where Henslowe had begun
repairs, where the new well was to be, what the water-supply had
been till now, drew the Squire's attention to the roofs, the pigstyes,
the drainage, or rather complete absence of drainage, and all in
the dry voice of someone going through a catalogue. Word had already
fled like wildfire through the hamlet that the Squire was there.
Children and adults, a pale emaciated crew, poured out into the
wintry air to look. The Squire knit his brows with annoyance as
the little crowd in the lane grew. Robert took no notice.
Presently he pushed open the door of the house where he had spent
the night. In the kitchen a girl of sixteen was clearing away the
various nondescript heaps on which the family had slept, and was
preparing breakfast. The Squire looked at the floor,--
'I thought I understood from Henslowe,' he muttered, as though to
himself, 'that there were no mud floors left on the estate--'
'There are only three houses in Mile End without them; said Robert,
catching what he said.
They went upstairs, and the mother stood open-eyed while the Squire's
restless look gathered in the details of the room, the youth's face
as he lay back on his pillows, whiter than they, exhausted and yet
refreshed by the sponging with vinegar and water which the mother
had just been administering to him; the bed, the gaps in the
worm-eaten boards, the holes in the roof where the plaster bulged
inward, as though a shake would bring it down; the coarse china
shepherdesses on the mantelshelf, and the flowers which Catherine
had put there the day before. He asked a few questions, said an
abrupt word or two to the mother, and they tramped downstairs again
and into the street. Then Robert took him across to the little
improvised hospital, saying to him on the threshold, with a moment's
'As you know, for adults there is not much risk, but there is always
A peremptory movement of the Squire's hand stopped him, and they
went in. In the downstairs room were half-a-dozen convalescents,
pale, shadowy creatures, four of them under ten, sitting up in their
little cots, each of them with a red flannel jacket drawn from Lady
Helen's stores, and enjoying the breakfast which a nurse in white
cap and apron had just brought them. Upstairs in a room from which
a lath-and-plaster partition had been removed, and which had been
adapted, warmed and ventilated by various contrivances to which
Robert and Meyrick had devoted their practical minds, were the 'four
anxious cases.' One of them, a little creature of six, one of
Sharland's black-eyed children, was sitting up, supported by the
nurse, and coughing, its little life away. As soon as he saw it,
Robert's step quickened. He forgot the Squire altogether. He came
and stood by the bedside, rigidly still, for he could do nothing,
but his whole soul absorbed in that horrible struggle for air. How
often he had seen it now, and never without the same wild sense of
revolt and protest! At last the hideous membrane was loosened, the
child got relief and lay back white and corpselike, but with a
pitiful momentary relaxation of the drawn lines on its little brow.
Robert stooped and kissed the damp tiny hand. The child's
eyes remained shut, but the fingers made a feeble effort to close
'Mr. Elsmere,' said the nurse, a motherly body, looking at him with
friendly admonition, 'if you don't go home and rest you'll be ill
too, and I'd like to know who'll be the better for that?'
'How many deaths?' asked the Squire abruptly, touching Elsmere's
arm, and so reminding Robert of his existence. 'Meyrick spoke of
He stood near the door, but his eyes were fixed on the little bed,
on the half-swooning child.
'Seven,' said Robert, turning upon him. 'Five of diphtheria, two
of fever. That little one will go, too.'
'Horrible!' said the Squire under his breath, and then moved to the
The two men went downstairs in perfect silence. Below, in the
convalescent room, the children were capable of smiles, and of
quick, coquettish beckonings to the Rector to come and make game
with them as usual. But he could only kiss his hand to them and
escape, for there was more to do.
He took the Squire through all the remaining fever cases, and into
several of the worst cottages--Milsom's among them--and when it was
all over they emerged into the lane again, near the bridge. There
was still a crowd of children and women hanging about, watching
eagerly for the Squire, whom many of them had never seen at all,
and about whom various myths had gradually formed themselves in the
country-side. The Squire walked away from them hurriedly, followed
by Robert, and again they halted on the centre of the bridge. A
horse led by a groom was being walked up and down on a flat piece
of road just beyond.
It was an awkward moment. Robert never forgot the thrill of it,
or the association of wintry sunshine streaming down upon a sparkling
world of ice and delicate woodland and foam-flecked river.
The squire turned toward him irresolutely; his sharply-cut wrinkled
lips opening and closing again. Then he held out his hand: 'Mr.
Elsmere, I did you a wrong--I did this place and its people a wrong.
In my view, regret for the past is useless. Much of what has
occurred here is plainly irreparable; I will think what can be done
for the future. As for my relation to you, it rests with you to
say whether it can be amended. I recognize that you have just cause
What invincible pride there was in the man's very surrender! But
Elsmere was not repelled by it. He knew that in their hour together
the Squire had _felt_. His soul had lost its bitterness. The dead
and their wrong were with God.
He took the Squire's outstretched hand, grasping it cordially, a
pure, unworldly dignity in his whole look and bearing.
'Let us be friends, Mr. Wendover. It will be a great comfort to
us--my wife and me. Will you remember us both very kindly to Mrs.
Commonplace words, but words that made an epoch in the life of both.
In another minute the Squire, on horse-back, was trotting along
the side road leading to the Hall, and Robert was speeding home to
Catherine as fast as his long legs could carry him.
She was waiting for him on the steps, shading her eyes against the
unwonted sun. He kissed her with the spirits of a boy and told her
all, his news.
Catherine listened bewildered, not knowing what to say or how all
at once to forgive, to join Robert in forgetting. But that strange
spiritual glow about him was not to be withstood. She threw her
arms about him at last with a half sob,--
'Oh, Robert--yes! Dear Robert--thank God!'
'Never think any more,' he said at last, leading her in from the
little hall, 'of What has been, only of what shall be! Oh, Catherine,
give me some tea; and never did I see anything so tempting as that
'He sank down into it, and when she put his breakfast beside him
she saw with a start that he was fast asleep. The wife stood and
watched him, the signs of fatigue round eyes and mouth, the placid
expression, and her face was soft with tenderness and joy. Of
course--of course, even that hard man must love him. Who could
help it? My Robert!'
And so now in this disguise, now in that, the supreme hour of
Catherine's life stole on and on toward her.
As may be imagined, the 'Churton Advertiser' did not find its way
to Murewell. It was certainly no pressure of social disapproval
that made the Squire go down to Mile End in that winter's dawn.
The county might talk, or the local press might harangue, till
Doomsday, and Mr. Wendover would either know nothing or care less.
Still his interview with Meyrick in the park after his return from
a week in town, whither he had gone to see some old Berlin friends,
had been a shock to him. A man may play the intelligent recluse,
may refuse to fit his life to his neighbors' notions as much as you
please, and still find death, especially death for which he has
some responsibility, as disturbing a fact as the rest of us.
He went home in much irritable discomfort. It seemed to him probably
that fortune need not have been so eager to put him in the wrong.
To relieve his mind he sent for Henslowe, and in an interview, the
memory of which sent a shiver through the agent to the end of his
days, he let it be seen that though it did not for the moment suit
him to dismiss the man who had brought this upon him, that man's
reign in any true sense was over.
But afterward the Squire was still restless. What was astir in him
was not so much pity or remorse as certain instincts of race which
still survived under the strange super-structure of manners he had
built upon them. It may be the part of a gentlemen and a scholar
to let the agent whom you have interposed between yourself and a
boorish peasantry have a free hand; but, after all, the estate is
yours, and to expose the rector of the parish to all sorts of
avoidable risks in the pursuit of his official duty by reason of
the gratuitous filth of your property, is an act of doubtful breeding.
The Squire in his most rough-and-tumble days at Berlin had always
felt himself the grandee as well as the student. He abhorred
sentimentalism, but neither did he choose to cut an unseemly figure
in his own eyes.
After a night, therefore, less tranquil or less meditative than
usual, he rose early and sallied forth at one of those unusual hours
he generally chose for walking. The thing must be put right somehow,
and at once, with as little waste of time and energy as possible,
and Henslowe had shown himself not to be trusted; so telling a
servant to follow him, the Squire had made his way with difficulty
to a place he had not seen for years.
Then had followed the unexpected and unwelcome apparition of the
Rector. The Squire did not want to be impressed by the young man;
did not want to make friends with him. No doubt his devotion had
served his own purposes. Still Mr. Wendover was one of the subtlest
living judges of character when he pleased, and his enforced progress
through these hovels with Elsmere had not exactly softened him, but
had filled him with a curious contempt for his own hastiness of
'History would be inexplicable after all without the honest fanatic,'
he said to himself on the way home. 'I suppose I had forgotten it.
There is nothing like a dread of being bored for blunting your
In the course of the day he sent off a letter to the Rector intimating
in the very briefest, dryest way that the cottages should be rebuilt
on a different site as soon as possible, and enclosing a liberal
contribution toward the expenses incurred in fighting the epidemic.
When the letter was gone he drew his books toward him with a sound
which was partly disgust, partly relief. This annoying business
had wretchedly interrupted him, and his concessions left him mainly
conscious of a strong nervous distaste for the idea of any fresh
interview with young Elsmere. He had got his money and his apology;
let him be content.
However, next morning after breakfast, Mr. Wendover once more saw
his study door open to admit the tall figure of the Rector. The
note and check had reached Robert late the night before, and, true
to his new-born determination to make the best of the Squire, he
had caught up his wideawake at the first opportunity and walked off
to the Hall to acknowledge the gift in person. The interview opened
as awkwardly as it was possible, and with their former conversation
on the same spot fresh in their minds both men spent a sufficiently
difficult ten minutes. The Squire was asking himself, indeed,
impatiently, all the time, whether he could possibly be forced in
the future to put up with such an experience again, and Robert found
his host, if less sarcastic than before, certainly as impenetrable
At last, however, the Mile End matter was exhausted, and then Robert,
as good luck would have it, turned his longing eyes on the Squire's
books, especially on the latest volumes of a magnificent German
_Weltgeschichte_ lying near his elbow, which he had coveted for
months without being able to conquer his conscience sufficiently
to become the possessor of it. He took it up with an exclamation
of delight, and a quiet critical remark that exactly hit the value
and scope of the book. The Squire's eyebrows went up, and the
corners of his mouth slackened visibly. Half an hour later the two
men, to the amazement of Mrs. Darcy, who was watching them from the
drawing-room window, walked back to the park gates together, and
what Robert's nobility and beauty of character would never have won
him, though he had worn himself to death in the service of the poor
and the tormented under the Squire's eyes, a chance coincidence of
intellectual interest had won him almost in a moment.
The Squire walked back to the house under a threatening sky, his
mackintosh cloak wrapped about him, his arms folded, his mind full
of an unwonted excitement.
The sentiment of long-past days--days in Berlin, in Paris, where
conversations such as that he had just passed through were the daily
relief and reward of labor, was stirring in him. Occasionally he
had endeavored to import the materials for them from the Continent,
from London. But as a matter of fact, it was years since he had
had any such talk as this with an Englishman on English ground, and
he suddenly realized that he had been unwholesomely solitary, and
that for the scholar there is no nerve stimulus like that of an
occasional interchange of ideas with some one acquainted with his
'Who would ever have thought of discovering instincts and aptitudes
of such a kind in this long-legged optimist?' The Squire shrugged
his shoulders as he thought of the attempt involved in such a
personality to combine both worlds, the world of action and the
world of thought. Absurd! Of course, ultimately one or other must
go to the wall.
Meanwhile, what a ludicrous waste of time and opportunity that he
and this man should have been at cross-purposes like this! 'Why
the deuce couldn't he have given some rational account of himself
to begin with!' thought the Squire irritably, forgetting, of course,
who it was that had wholly denied him the opportunity. 'And then
the sending back of those books: what a piece of idiocy!'
Granted an historical taste in this young parson, it was a curious
chance, Mr. Wendover reflected, that in his choice of a subject he
should just have fallen on the period of the later Empire--of the
passage from the old-world to the new, where the Squire was a master.
The Squire fell to thinking of the kind of knowledge implied in
his remarks, of the stage he seemed to have reached, and then to
cogitating as to the books he must be now in want of. He went back
to his library, ran over the shelves, picking out volumes here and
there with an unwonted glow and interest all the while. He sent
for a case, and made a youth who sometimes acted as his secretary
pack them. And still as he went back to his own work new names
would occur to him, and full of the scholar's avaricious sense of
the shortness of time, he would shake his head and frown over the
three months which young Elsmere had already passed, grappling with
problems like Teutonic Arianism, the spread of Monasticism in Gaul,
and Heaven knows what besides, half a mile from the man and the
library which could have supplied him with the best help to be got
in England, unbenefited by either! Mile End was obliterated, and
the annoyance, of the morning forgotten.
The next day was Sunday, a wet January Sunday, raw and sleety, the
frost breaking up on all sides and flooding the roads with mire.
Robert, rising in his place to begin morning service, and wondering
to see the congregation so good on such a day, was suddenly startled,
as his eye travelled mechanically over to the Hall pew, usually
tenanted by Mrs. Darcy in solitary state, to see the characteristic
figure of the Squire. His amazement was so great that he almost
stumbled in the exhortation, and his feeling was evidently shared
by the congregation, which throughout the service showed a restlessness,
an excited tendency to peer round corners and pillars, that was not
favorable to devotion.
'Has he come to spy out the land?' the Rector thought to himself,
and could not help a momentary tremor at the idea of preaching
before so formidable an auditor. Then he pulled himself together
by a great effort, and fixing his eyes on a shockheaded urchin half
way down the church, read the service to him. Catherine meanwhile
in her seat on the northern side of the nave, her soul lulled in
Sunday peace, knew nothing of Mr. Wendover's appearance.
Robert preached on the first sermon of Jesus, on the first appearance
of the young Master in the synagogue at Nazareth:--
'_This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears!_'
The sermon dwelt on the Messianic aspect of Christ's mission, on
the mystery and poetry of that long national expectation, on the
pathos of Jewish disillusion, on the sureness and beauty of Christian
insight as faith gradually transferred trait after trait of the
Messiah of prophecy to the Christ of Nazareth. At first there was
a certain amount of hesitation, a slight wavering hither and
thither--a difficult choice of words--and then the soul freed itself
from man, and the preacher forgot all but his Master and his people.'
At the door as he came out stood Mr. Wendover and Catherine, slightly
flushed and much puzzled for conversation, beside him. The Hall
carriage was drawn close up to the door, and Mrs. Darcy, evidently
much excited, had her small head out of the window and was showering
a number of flighty inquiries and suggestions on her brother, to
which he paid no more heed than to the patter of the rain.
When Robert appeared the Squire addressed him ceremoniously,--
'With your leave, Mr. Elsmere, I will walk with you to the rectory.'
Then, in another voice, 'Go home, Laetitia, and don't send anything
He made a signal to the coachman, and the carriage started, Mrs.
Darcy's protesting head remaining out of window as long as anything
could be seen of the group at the church door. The odd little
creature had paid one or two hurried and recent visits to Catherine
during the quarrel, visits so filled, however, with vague railing
against her brother and by a queer incoherent melancholy, that
Catherine felt them extremely uncomfortable, and took care not to
invite them. Clearly she was mortally afraid of 'Roger,' and yet
ashamed of being afraid. Catherine could see that all the poor
thing's foolish whims and affectations were trampled on; that she
suffered, rebelled, found herself no more able to affect Mr. Wendover
than if she had been a fly buzzing round him, and became all the
more foolish and whimsical in consequence.
The Squire and the Elsmeres crossed the common to the rectory,
followed at a discreet interval by groups of villagers curious to
get a look at the Squire. Robert was conscious of a good deal of
embarrassment, but did his best to hide it. Catherine felt all
through as if the skies had fallen. The Squire alone was at his
ease, or as much at his ease as he ever was. He commented on the
congregation, even condescended to say something of the singing,
and passed over the staring of the choristers with a magnanimity
of silence which did him credit.
They reached the rectory door, and it was evidently the Squire's
purpose to come in, so Robert invited him in. Catherine threw open
her little drawing-room door, and then was seized with shyness as
the Squire passed in, and she saw over his shoulder her baby, lying
kicking and crowing on the hearthrug, in anticipation of her arrival,
the nurse watching it. The Squire in his great cloak stopped, and
looked down at the baby as if it had been some curious kind of
reptile. The nurse blushed, courtesied, and caught up the gurgling
creature in a twinkling.
Robert made a laughing remark on the tyranny and ubiquity of babies.
The Squire smiled grimly. He supposed it was necessary that the
human race should be carried on. Catherine meanwhile slipped out
and ordered another place to be laid at the dinner-table, devoutly
hoping that it might not be used.
It was used. The Squire stayed till it was necessary to invite
him, then accepted the invitation, and Catherine found herself
dispensing boiled mutton to him, while Robert supplied him with
some very modest claret, the sort of wine which a man who drinks
none thinks it necessary to have in the house, and watched the
nervousness of their little parlor-maid with a fellow-feeling which
made it difficult for him during the early part of the meal to keep
a perfectly straight countenance. After a while, however, both he
and Catherine were ready to admit that the Squire was making himself
agreeable. He talked of Paris, of a conversation he had had with
M. Renan, whose name luckily was quite unknown to Catherine, as to
the state of things in the French Chamber.
'A set of chemists and quill-drivers,' he said contemptuously; 'but
as Renan remarked to me, there is one thing to be said for a
government of that sort, "Ils ne font pas la guerre." And so long
as they don't run France into adventures, and a man can keep a roof
over his head and a son in his pocket, the men of letters at any
rate can rub along. The really interesting thing in France just
now is not French politics--Heaven save the mark!--but French
scholarship. There never was so little original genius going in
Paris, and there never was so much good work being done.'
Robert thought the point of view eminently characteristic.
'Catholicism, I suppose,' he said, 'as a force to be reckoned with,
is dwindling more and more?'
'Absolutely dead,' said the Squire emphatically, 'as an intellectual
force. They haven't got a writer, scarcely a preacher. Not one
decent book has been produced on that side for years.'
'And the Protestants, too,' said Robert, 'have lost all their best
men of late,' and he mentioned one or two well-known French Protestant
'Oh, as to French Protestantism '--and the Squire's shrug was
superb--'Teutonic Protestantism is in the order of things, so to
speak, but _Latin_ Protestantism! There is no more sterile hybrid
in the world!'.
Then, becoming suddenly aware that he might have said something
inconsistent with his company, the Squire stopped abruptly. Robert,
catching Catherine's quick compression of the lips, was grateful
to him, and the conversation moved on in another direction.
Yes, certainly, all things considered, Mr. Wendover made himself
agreeable. He ate his boiled mutton and drank his _ordinaire_ like
a man, and when the meal was over, and he and Robert had withdrawn
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