Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 9 out of 16
into the study, he gave an emphatic word of praise to the coffee
which Catherine's house-wifely care sent after them, and accepting
a cigar, he sank into the arm-chair by the fire and spread a bony
hand to the blaze, as if he had been at home in that particular
corner for months. Robert, sitting opposite to him and watching
his guest's eyes travel round the room, with its medicine shelves,
its rods and nets, and preparations of uncanny beasts, its parish
litter, and its teeming bookcases, felt that the Mile End matter
was turning out oddly indeed.
'I have packed you a case of books, Mr. Elsmere,' said the Squire,
after a puff or two at his cigar. 'How have you got on without
that collection of Councils?'
He smiled a little awkwardly. It was one of the books Robert had
sent back. Robert flushed. He did not want the Squire to regard
him as wholly dependent on Murewell.
'I bought it,' he said, rather shortly. 'I have ruined myself in
books lately, and the London Library too supplies me really wonderfully
'Are these your books?' The Squire got up to look at them. 'Hum,
not at all bad for a beginning. I have sent you so and so,' and
he named one or two costly folios that Robert had long pined for
The Rector's eyes glistened.
'That was very good of you,' he said simply, 'They will be most
'And now, how much _time_,' said the other, settling himself again
to his cigar, his thin legs crossed over each other, and his great
head sunk into his shoulders, 'how much time do you give to this
'Generally the mornings--not always. A man with twelve hundred
souls to look after, you know, Mr. Wendover,' said Elsmere, with a
bright, half defiant accent, 'can't make grubbing among the Franks
his main business.'
The Squire said nothing, and smoked on. Robert gathered that his
companion thought his chances of doing anything worth mentioning
'Oh no,' he said, following out his own, thought with a shake of
his curly hair; 'of course I shall never do very much. But if I
don't, it won't be for want of knowing what the scholar's ideal
is.' And he lifted his hand with a smile toward the Squire's book
on 'English Culture,' which stood in the book-case just above him.
The Squire, following the gesture, smiled too. It was a faint,
slight illumining, but it changed the face agreeably.
Robert began to ask questions about the book, about the pictures
contained in it of foreign life and foreign universities. The
Squire consented to be drawn out, and presently was talking at his
Racy stories of Mommsen or Von Ranke were followed by a description
of an evening of mad carouse with Heine--a talk at Nohant with
George Sand--scenes in the Duchesse de Broglie's salon--a contemptuous
sketch of Guizot--a caustic sketch of Renan. Robert presently even
laid aside his pipe, and stood in his favorite attitude, lounging
against the mantel-piece, looking down, absorbed, on his visitor.
All that intellectual passion which his struggle at Mile End had
for the moment checked in him revived. Nay, after his weeks of
exclusive contact with the most hideous forms of bodily ill, this
interruption, these great names, this talk of great movements and
great causes, had a special savour and relish. All the horizons
of the mind expanded, the currents of the blood ran quicker.
Suddenly, however, he sprang up.
'I beg your pardon, Mr. Wendover, it is too bad to interrupt you--I
have enjoyed it immensely--but the fact is I have only two minutes
to get to Sunday School in!'
Mr. Wendover rose also, and resumed his ordinary manner.
'It is I who should apologize,' he said with stiff politeness 'for
having encroached in this way on your busy day, Mr. Elsmere.'
Robert helped him on with his coat, and then suddenly the Squire
turned to him.
'You were preaching this morning on one of the Isaiah quotations
in St. Matthew. It would interest you, I imagine, to see a recent
Jewish book on the subject of the prophecies quoted in the Gospels
which reached me yesterday. There is nothing particularly new in
it, but it looked to me well done.'
'Thank you,' said Robert, not, however, with any great heartiness,
and the Squire moved away. They parted at the gate, Robert running
down the hill to the village as fast as his long legs could carry
Sunday School--pshaw!' cried the Squire, as He tramped homeward in
the opposite direction.
Next morning a huge packing-case arrived from the Hall, and Robert
could not forbear a little gloating over the treasures in it before
he tore himself away to pay his morning visit to Mile End. There
everything was improving; the poor Sharland child indeed had slipped
away on the night after the Squire's visit, but the other bad cases
in the diphtheria ward were mending fast. John Allwood was gaining
strength daily, and poor Mary Sharland was feebly struggling back
to a life which seemed hardly worth so much effort to keep. Robert
felt, with a welcome sense of slackening strain, that the daily and
hourly superintendence which he and Catherine had been giving to
the place might lawfully be relaxed, that the nurses on the spot
were now more than equal to their task, and after having made his
round he raced home again in order to secure an hour with his books
The following day a note arrived, while they were at luncheon in
the Squire's angular precise handwriting. It contained a request
that, unless otherwise engaged, the Rector would walk with Mr.
Wendover that afternoon.
Robert flung it across to Catherine.
'Let me see,' he said, deliberating, 'have I any engagement I must
There was a sort of jealousy for his work within him contending
with this new fascination of the Squire's company. But, honestly,
there was nothing in the way, and he went.
That walk was the first of many. The Squire had no sooner convinced
himself that young Elsmere's society did in reality provide him
with a stimulus and recreation he had been too long without, than
in his imperious wilful way he began to possess himself of it as
much as possible. He never alluded to the trivial matters which
had first separated and then united them. He worked the better,
he thought the more clearly, for these talks and walks with Elsmere,
and therefore these talks and walks became an object with him.
They supplied a long-stifled want, the scholar's want of disciples,
of some form of investment for all that heaped-up capital of thought
he had been accumulating during a life-time.
As for Robert, he soon felt himself so much under the spell of the
Squire's strange and powerful personality that he was forced to
make a fight for it, lest this new claim should encroach upon the
old one. He would walk when the Squire liked, but three times out
of four these walks must be parish rounds, interrupted by descents
into cottages and chats in farmhouse parlors. The Squire submitted.
The neighborhood began to wonder over the strange spectacle of Mr.
Wendover waiting grimly in the winter dusk outside one of his own
farmhouses while Elsmere was inside, or patrolling a bit of lane
till Elsmere should have inquired after an invalid or beaten up a
recruit for his confirmation class, dogged the while by stealthy
children, with fingers in their mouths, who ran away in terror
directly he turned.
Rumors of this new friendship spread. One day, on the bit of road
between the Hall and the Rectory, Lady Helen behind her ponies
whirled past the two men, and her arch look at Elsmere said as plain
as words, 'Oh, you young wonder! what hook has served you with
On another occasion, close to Churton, a man in a cassock and cloak
came toward them. The Squire put up his eye-glass.
'Humph!' he remarked; 'do you know this merryandrew, Elsmere?'
It was Newcome. As they passed, Robert with slightly, heightened
color gave him an affectionate nod and smile. Newcome's quick eye
ran over the companions, he responded stiffly, and his step grew
more rapid. A week or two later Robert noticed with a little prick
of remorse that he had seen nothing of Newcome for an age. If
Newcome would not come to him, he must go to Mottringham. He planned
an expedition, but something happened to prevent it.
And Catherine? Naturally this new and most unexpected relation of
Robert's to the man who had begun by insulting him was of considerable
importance to the wife. In the first place it broke up to some
extent the exquisite _tete-a-tete_ of their home life; it encroached
often upon time that had always been hers; it filled Robert's mind
more and more with matters in which she had no concern. All these
things many wives might have resented. Catherine Elsmere resented
none of them. It is probable, of course, that she had her natural
moments of regret and comparison when love said to itself a little
sorely and hungrily, 'It is hard to be even a fraction less to him
then I once was?' But if so, these moments never betrayed themselves
in word or act. Her tender common sense, her sweet humility, made
her recognize at once Robert's need of intellectual comradeship,
isolated as he was in this remote rural district. She knew perfectly
that a clergyman's life of perpetual giving forth becomes morbid
and unhealthy if there is not some corresponding taking in.
If only it had not been Mr. Wendover! She marvelled over the
fascination Robert found in his dry cynical talk. She wondered
that a Christian pastor could ever forget Mr. Wendover's antecedents;
that the man who had nursed those sick children could forgive Mile
End. All in all as they were to each other, she felt for the first
time that she often understood her husband imperfectly. His mobility,
his eagerness, were sometimes now a perplexity, even a pain to her.
It must not be imagined, however, that Robert let himself drift
into this intellectual intimacy with one of the most distinguished
of anti-Christian thinkers without reflecting on its possible
consequences. The memory of that night of misery which "The Idols
of the Market Place" had inflicted on him was enough. He was no
match in controversy for Mr. Wendover, and he did not mean to attempt
One morning the Squire unexpectedly plunged into an account of a
German monograph he had just received on the subject of the Johannine
authorship of the fourth Gospel. It was almost the first occasion
on which he had touched what may strictly be called the _materiel_
of orthodoxy in their discussions--at any rate directly. But the
book was a striking one, and in the interest of it he had clearly
forgotten his ground a little. Suddenly the man who was walking
beside him interrupted him.
'I think we ought to understand one another perhaps, Mr. Wendover,'
Robert said, speaking under a quick sense of oppression, but with
his usual dignity and bright courtesy. 'I know your opinions, of
course, from your book; you know what mine, as an honest man, must
be, from the position I hold. My conscience does not forbid me to
discuss anything, only--I am no match for you on points of scholarship,
and I should just like to say once for all, that to me, whatever
else is true, the religion of Christ is true. I am a Christian and
a Christian minister. Therefore, whenever we come to discuss what
may be called Christian evidence, I do it with reserves, which you
would not have. I believe in an Incarnation, a Resurrection, a
Revelation. If there are literary difficulties, I must want to
smooth them away--you may want to make much of them. We come to
the matter from different points of view. You will not quarrel
with me for wanting to make it clear. It isn't as if we differed
slightly. We differ fundamentally--is it not so?'
The Squire was walking beside him with bent shoulders, the lower
lip pushed forward, as was usual with him when he was considering
a matter with close attention, but did not mean to communicate his
After a pause he said, with a faint, inscrutable smile,--
'Your reminder is perfectly just. Naturally we all have our reserves.
Neither of us can be expected to stultify his own.'
And the talk went forward again, Robert joining in more buoyantly
than ever, perhaps because he had achieved a necessary but disagreeable
thing and got done with it.
In reality he had but been doing as the child does when it sets up
its sand-barrier against the tide.
It, was the beginning of April. The gorse was fast extending its
golden empire over the commons. On the sunny slopes of the copses
primroses were breaking through the hazel roots and beginning to
gleam along the edges of the river. On the grass commons between
Murewell and Mile End the birches rose like green clouds against
the browns and purples of the still leafless oaks and beeches. The
birds were twittering and building. Every day Robert was on the
lookout for the swallows, or listening for the first notes of the
nightingale amid the bare spring coverts.
But the spring was less perfectly delightful to him than it might
have been, for Catherine was away. Mrs. Leyburn, who was to have
come south to them in February, was attacked by bronchitis instead
at Burwood and forbidden to move, even to a warmer climate. In
March, Catherine, feeling restless and anxious about her mother,
and thinking it hard that Agnes should have all the nursing and
responsibility tore herself from her man and her baby, and went
north to Whindale for a fortnight, leaving Robert forlorn.
Now, however, she was in London, whither she had gone for a few
days on her way home, to meet Rose and to shop. Robert's opinion
was that all women, even St. Elizabeths, have somewhere rooted in
them an inordinate partiality for shopping; otherwise why should
that operation take four or five mortal days? Surely with a little
energy, one might buy up the whole of London in twelve hours!
However, Catherine lingered, and as her purchases were made, Robert
crossly supposed it must all be Rose's fault. He believed that
Rose spent a great deal too much on dress.
Catherine's letters, of course, were full of her sister. Rose, she
said, had come back from Berlin handsomer than ever, and playing,
she supposed magnificently. At any rate, the letters which followed
her in shoals from Berlin flattered her to the skies, and during
the three months preceding her return, Joachim himself had taken
her as a pupil and given her unusual attention.
'And now, of course,' wrote Catherine, 'she is desperately disappointed
that mamma and Agnes cannot join her in town, as she had hoped.
She does her best, I know, poor child, to conceal it and to feel
as she ought about mamma, but I can see that the idea of an indefinite
time at Burwood is intolerable to her. As to Berlin, I think she
has enjoyed it, but she talks very scornfully of German _Schwaermerei_
and German women, and she tells the oddest stories of her professors.
With one or two of them she seems to have been in a state of war
from the beginning; but some of them, my dear Robert, I am persuaded
were just simply in love with her!
'I don't--no, I never _shall_ believe, that independent, exciting
student's life is good for a girl. But I never say so to Rose.
When she forgets to be irritable and to feel that the world is going
against her, she is often very sweet to me, and I can't bear there
should be any conflict.'
His next day's letter contained the following:--
'Are you properly amused, sir, at your wife's performances in town?
Our three concerts you have heard all about. I still can't get
over them. I go about haunted by the _seriousness_, the life and
death interest people throw into music. It is astonishing! And
outside, as we got into our hansom, such sights and sounds!--such
starved, fierce-looking men, such ghastly women!
'But since then Rose has been taking me into society. Yesterday
afternoon, after I wrote to you, we went to see Rose's artistic
friends--the Piersons--with whom she was staying last summer, and
to-day we have even called on Lady Charlotte Wynnstay.
'As to Mrs. Pierson, I never saw such an odd bundle of ribbons and
rags and queer embroideries as she looked when we called. However,
Rose says that, for "an aesthete"--she despises them now herself--Mrs.
Pierson has wonderful taste, and that her wall-papers and her gowns,
if I only understood them, are not the least like those of other
aesthetic persons, but very _recherche_--which may be. She talked
to Rose of nothing but acting, especially of Madame Desforets. No
one, according to her, has anything to do with an actress' private
life, or ought to take it into account. But, Robert dear, an actress
is a woman, and has a soul!'
'Then, Lady Charlotte:--you would have laughed at our _entree_.'
'We found she was in town, and went on her "day," as she had asked
Rose to do. The room was rather dark--none of these London rooms
seem to me to have any light and air in them. The butler got our
names wrong and I marched in first, more shy than I ever have been
before in my life. Lady Charlotte had two gentlemen with her. She
evidently did not know me in the least; she stood staring at me
with her eyeglass on, and her cap so crooked I could think of nothing
but a wish to put it straight. Then Rose followed, and in a few
minutes it seemed to me as though it were Rose who were hostess,
talking to the two gentlemen and being kind to Lady Charlotte. I
am sure everybody in the room was amused by her self-possession,
Lady Charlotte included. The gentlemen stared at her a great deal,
and Lady Charlotte paid her one or two compliments on her looks,
which _I_ thought she would not have ventured to say to anyone in
her own circle.'
'We stayed about half an hour. One of the gentlemen was, I believe,
a member of the Government, an under-secretary for something, but
he and Rose and Lady Charlotte talked again of nothing but musicians
and actors. It is strange that politicians should have time to
know so much of these things. The other gentleman reminded me of
Hotspur's popinjay. I think now I made out that he wrote for the
newspapers, but at the moment I should have felt it insulting to
accuse him of anything so humdrum as an occupation in life. He
discovered somehow that I had an interest in the Church, and he
asked me, leaning back in his chair and lisping, whether I really
thought "the Church could still totter on a while in the rural
districts." He was informed her condition was so "vewy dethperate."
'Then I laughed outright, and found my tongue. Perhaps his next
article on the Church will have a few facts in it. I did my best
to put some into him. Rose at last looked round at me, astonished.
But he did not dislike me, I think. I was not impertinent to him,
husband mine. If I might have described just _one_ of your days
to his high-and-mightiness! There is no need to tell you, I think,
whether I did or not.'
'Then when we got up to go, Lady Charlotte asked Rose to stay with
her. Rose explained why she couldn't, and Lady Charlotte pitied
her dreadfully for having a family, and the under-secretary said
that it was one's first duty in life to trample on one's relations,
and that he hoped nothing would prevent his hearing her play
sometime later in the year. Rose said very decidedly she should
be in town for the winter. Lady Charlotte said she would have an
evening specially for her, and as I said nothing, we got away at
The letter of the following day recorded a little adventure:--
'I was much startled this morning. I had got Rose to come with me
to the National Gallery on our way to her dressmaker. We were
standing before Raphael's "Vigil of the Knight," when suddenly I
saw Rose, who was looking away toward the door into the long gallery,
turn perfectly white. I followed her eyes, and there, in the
doorway, disappearing--I am almost certain--was Mr. Langham! One
cannot mistake his walk or his profile. Before I could say a word
Rose had walked away to another wall of pictures, and when we joined
again we did not speak of it. Did he see us, I wonder, and purposely
avoid us? Something made me think so.'
'Oh, I wish I could believe she had forgotten him! I am certain
she would laugh me to angry scorn if I mentioned him; but there she
sits by the fire now, while I am writing, quite drooping and pale,
because she thinks I am not noticing. If she did but love me a
little more! It must be my fault, I know.'
'Yes, as you say, Burwood may as well be shut up or let. My dear,
Robert could imagine the sigh with which Catherine had laid clown
her pen. Dear tender soul, with all its old-world fidelities and
pieties pure and unimpaired! He raised the signature to his lips.
Next day Catherine came back to him. Robert had no words too
opprobrious for the widowed condition from which her return had
rescued him. It seemed to Catherine, however, that life had been
very full and keen with him since her departure! He lingered with
her after supper, vowing that his club boys might make what hay in
the study they pleased; he was going to tell her the news, whatever
'I told you of my two dinners at the Hall? The first was just
_tete-a-tete_ with the Squire; oh, and Mrs. Darcy, of course. I
am always forgetting her, poor little thing, which is most ungrateful
of me. A pathetic life that, Catherine. She seems to me, in her
odd way, perpetually hungering for affections for praise. No doubt,
if she got them she wouldn't know what to do with them. She would
just touch and leave them as she does everything. Her talk and she
are both as light and wandering as thistledown. But still, meanwhile,
she hungers, and is never satisfied. There seems to be something
peculiarly antipathetic in her to the Squire. I can't make it out.
He is sometimes quite brutal to her when she is more inconsequent
than usual. I often wonder she goes on living with him.'
Catherine made some indignant comment.
'Yes,' said Robert, musing. 'Yes, it is bad.'
But Catherine thought his tone might have been more unqualified,
and marvelled again at the curious lenity of judgment he had always
shown of late toward Mr. Wendover. And all his judgments of himself
and others were generally so quick, so uncompromising!
'On the second occasion we had Freake and Dashwood,' naming two
well-known English antiquarians. 'Very learned, very jealous, and
very snuffy; altogether "too genuine," as poor mother used to say
of those old chairs we got for the dining-room. But afterward when
we were all smoking in the library, the Squire came out of his shell
and talked. I never heard him more brilliant!'
He paused a moment, his bright eyes looking far away from her, as
though fixed on the scene he was describing.
'Such a mind!' he said at last with a long breath, 'such a memory!
Catherine, my book has been making great strides since you left.
With Mr. Wendover to go to, all the problems are simplified. One
is saved all false starts, all beating about the bush. What a piece
of luck it was that put one down beside such a guide, such a living
storehouse of knowledge!'
He spoke in a glow of energy and enthusiasm. Catherine sat looking
at him wistfully, her gray eyes crossed by many varying shades of
memory and feeling.
At last his look met hers, and the animation of it softened at once,
'Do you think I am making knowledge too much of a god just now,
Madonna mine?' he said, throwing himself down beside her. 'I have
been full of qualms myself. The Squire excites one so, makes one
feel as though intellect--accumulation--were the whole of life.
But I struggle against it--I do. I go on, for instance, trying to
make the Squire do his social duties--behave like "a human."'
Catherine could not help smiling at his tone.
'Well?' she inquired.
He shook his head ruefully.
'The Squire is a tough customer--most men of sixty-seven with strong
wills are, I suppose. At any rate, he is like one of the Thurston
trout--sees through all my manoeuvres. But one piece of news will
astonish you, Catherine!' And he sprang up to deliver it with
effect. 'Henslowe is dismissed.'
'Henslowe dismissed!' Catherine sat properly amazed, while Robert
told the story.
The dismissal of Henslowe indeed represented the price which Mr.
Wendover had been so far willing to pay for Elsmere's society.
Some _quid pro quo_ there must be--that he was prepared to
admit--considering their relative positions as Squire and parson.
But, as Robert shrewdly suspected, not one of his wiles so far had
imposed on the master of Murewell. He had his own sarcastic smiles
over them, and over Elsmere's pastoral _naivete_ in general. The
evidences of the young Rector's power and popularity were, however,
on the whole, pleasant to Mr. Wendover. If Elsmere had his will
with all the rest of the world, Mr. Wendover knew perfectly well
who it was that at the present moment had his will with Elsmere.
He had found a great piquancy in this shaping of a mind more
intellectually eager and pliant than any he had yet come across
among younger men; perpetual food too, for his sense of irony, in
the intellectual contradictions, wherein Elsmere's developing ideas
and information were now, according to the Squire, involving him
at every turn.
'His religious foundations are gone already, if he did but know
it,' Mr. Wendover grimly remarked to himself one day about this
time, 'but he will take so long finding it out that the results are
not worth speculating on.'
Cynically assured, therefore, at bottom, of his own power with this
ebullient nature, the Squire was quite prepared to make external
concessions, or, as we have said, to pay his price. It annoyed him
that when Elsmere would press for allotment land, or a new institute,
or a better supply of water for the village, it was not open to him
merely to give _carte blanche_, and refer his petitioner to Henslowe.
Robert's opinion of Henslowe, and Henslowe's now more cautious but
still incessant hostility to the Rector, were patent at last even
to the Squire. The situation was worrying and wasted time. It
must be changed.
So one morning he met Elsmere with a bundle of letters in his hand,
calmly informed him that Henslowe had been sent about his business,
and that it would be a kindness if Mr. Elsmere would do him the
favor of looking through some applications for the vacant post just
Elsmere, much taken by surprise, felt at first as it was natural
for an over-sensitive, over-scrupulous man to feel. His enemy, had
been given into his hand, and instead of victory he could only
realize that he had brought a man to ruin.
'He has a wife and children,' he said quickly, looking at the Squire.
'Of course I have pensioned him,' replied the Squire impatiently;
'otherwise I imagine he would be hanging round our necks to the end
of the chapter.'
There was something in the careless indifference of the tone which
sent a shiver through Elsmere. After all, this man had served the
Squire for fifteen years, and it was not Mr. Wendover who had much
to complain of.
No one with a conscience could have held out a finger to keep
Henslowe in his post. But though Elsmere took the letters and
promised to give them his best attention, as soon as he got home
he made himself irrationally miserable over the matter. It was not
his fault that, from the moment of his arrival in the parish,
Henslowe had made him the target of a vulgar and embittered hostility,
and so far as he had struck out in return it had been for the
protection of persecuted and defenseless creatures. But all the
same, he could not get the thought of the man's collapse and
humiliation out of his mind. How at his age was he to find other
work, and how was he to endure life at Murewell without his comfortable
house, his smart gig, his easy command of spirits, and the cringing
of the farmers?
Tormented by the sordid misery of the situation almost as though
it had been his own, Elsmere ran down impulsively in the evening
to the agent's house. Could nothing be done to assure the man that
he was not really his enemy, and that anything the parson's influence
and the parson's money could do to help him to a more decent life,
and work which offered fewer temptations and less power over human
beings, should be done?
It need hardly be said that the visit was a complete failure.
Henslowe, who was drinking hard, no sooner heard Elsmere's voice
in the little hall than he dashed open the door which separated
them, and, in a paroxysm of drunken rage, hurled at Elsmere all the
venomous stuff he had been garnering up for months against some
such occasion. The vilest abuse, the foulest charges--there was
nothing that the maddened sot, now fairly unmasked, denied himself.
Elsmere, pale and erect, tried to make himself heard. In vain.
Henslowe was physically incapable of taking in a word.
At last the agent, beside himself, made a rush, his three untidy
children, who had been hanging open-mouthed in the background, set
up a howl of terror, and his Scotch wife, more pinched and sour
than ever, who had been so far a gloomy spectator of the scene,
'Have doon wi' ye,' she said sullenly, putting out a long bony arm
in front of her husband, 'or I'll just lock oop that brandy where
ye'll naw find it if ye pull the house doon. Now, sir,' turning
to Elsmere, 'would ye jest be going? Ye mean it weel, I daur say,
but ye've doon yer wark, and ye maun leave it.'
And she motioned him out, not without a sombre dignity. Elsmere
went home crestfallen. The enthusiast is a good deal too apt to
under-estimate the stubbornness of moral fact, and these rebuffs
have their stern uses for character.
'They intend to go on living here, I am told,' Elsmere said, as he
wound up the story, 'and as Henslowe is still churchwarden, he may
do us a world of mischief yet. However, I think that wife will
keep him in order. No doubt vengeance would be sweet to her as to
him, but she has a shrewd eye, poor soul, to the Squire's remittances.
It is a wretched business, and I don't take a man's hate easily,
Catherine!--though it may be a folly to say so.'
Catherine was irresponsive. The Old Testament element in her found
a lawful satisfaction in Henslowe's fall, and a wicked man's hatred,
according to her, mattered only to himself. The Squire's conduct,
on the other hand, made her uneasily proud. To her, naturally, it
simply meant that he was falling under Robert's spell. So much the
better for him, but--
That same afternoon Robert started on a walk to a distant farm,
where one of his Sunday-school boys lay recovering from rheumatic
fever. The rector had his pocket full of articles--a story book
in one, a puzzle map in the other--destined for Master Carter's
amusement. On the way he was to pick up Mr. Wendover at the park
gates. It was a delicious April morning. A soft west wind blew
through leaf and grass--
Driving sweet buds, like flocks, to feed in air.
The spring was stirring everywhere, and Robert raced along, feeling
in every vein a life, an ebullience akin to that of nature. As he
neared the place of meeting it occurred to him that the Squire had
been unusually busy lately, unusually silent and absent too on their
walks. What _was_ he always at work on? Robert had often inquired
of him as to the nature of those piles of proof and manuscript with
which his table was littered. The Squire had never given any but
the most general answer, and had always changed the subject. There
was an invincible _personal_ reserve about him which, through all
his walks and talks with Elsmere, had never as yet broken down.
He would talk of other men and other men's' labors by the hour, but
not of his own. Elsmere reflected on the fact, mingling with the
reflection a certain humorous scorn of his own constant openness
and readiness to take counsel with the world.
'However, _his_ book isn't a mere excuse, as Langham's is,' Elsmere
inwardly remarked. 'Langham, in a certain sense, plays even with
learning; Mr. Wendover plays at nothing.'
By the way, he had a letter from Langham in his pocket much more
cheerful and human than usual. Let him look through it again.
Not a word, of course, of that National Gallery experience!--a
circumstance, however, which threw no light on it either way.
'I find myself a good deal reconciled to life by this migration of
Mine,' wrote Langham, 'Now that my enforced duties to them are all
done with, my fellow-creatures seem to me much more decent fellows
than before. The great stir of London, in which, unless I please,
I have no part whatever, attracts me more than I could have thought
possible. No one in these noisy streets has any rightful claim
upon me. I have cut away at one stroke lectures, and Boards of
Studies, and tutors' meetings, and all the rest of the wearisome
Oxford make-believe, and the creature left behind feels lighter and
nimbler than he has felt for years. I go to concerts and theatres;
I look at the people in the streets; I even begin to take an
outsider's interest in social questions, in the puny dikes, which
well-meaning people are trying to raise all round us against the
encroaching, devastating labor-troubles of the future. By dint of
running away from life, I may end by cutting a much more passable
figure in it than before. Be consoled, my dear Elsmere; reconsider
There, under the great cedar by the gate, stood Mr. Wendover.
Illumined as he was by the spring sunshine, he struck Elsmere as
looking unusually shrunken and old. And yet under the look of
physical exhaustion there was a now serenity, almost a peacefulness
of expression, which gave the whole man a different aspect.
'Don't take me far,' he said abruptly, as they started. 'I have
not got the energy for it. I have been over-working and must go
'I have been sure of it for some time,' said Elsmere warmly. 'You
ought to have a long rest. But mayn't I know, Mr. Wendover, before
you take it, what this great task is you have been toiling at?
Remember, you have never told me a word of it.'
And Elsmere's smile had in it a touch of most friendly reproach.
Fatigue had left the scholar relaxed, comparatively defenseless.
His sunk and wrinkled eyes lit up with a smile, faint indeed, but
of unwonted softness.
'A task indeed,' he said with a sigh, 'the task of a life-time.
To-day I finished the second third of it. Probably before the last
section is begun some interloping German will have stepped down
before me; it is the way of the race! But for the moment there is
the satisfaction of having come to an end of some sort--a natural
halt, at any rate.'
Elsmere's eyes were still interrogative. 'Oh, well,' said the
Squire, hastily, 'it is a book I planned just after I took my
Doctor's degree at Berlin. It struck me then as the great want of
modern scholarship. It is a History of Evidence, or rather, more
strictly, "A History of _Testimony_."'
Robert started. The library flashed into his mind, and Langham's
figure in the long gray coat sitting on the stool.
'A great subject,' he said slowly, 'a magnificent subject .How have
you conceived it I wonder?'
'Simply from the standpoint of evolution, of development. The
philosophical value of the subject is enormous. You must have
considered it, of course; every historian must. But few people
have any idea in detail of the amount of light which the history
of human witness in the world, systematically carried through,
throws on the history of the human mind; that is to say, on the
history of ideas.'
The Squire paused, his keen scrutinizing look dwelling on the face
beside him, as though to judge whether he were understood.
'Oh, true!' cried Elsmere; 'most true. Now I know what vague want
it is that has been haunting me for months----'
He stopped short, his look, aglow with all the young thinker's ardor
fixed on the Squire.
The Squire received the outburst in silence--a somewhat ambiguous
'But go on,' said Elsmere; 'please go on.'
'Well, you remember,' said the Squire slowly, 'that when Tractarianism
began I was for a time one of Newman's victims. Then, when Newman
departed, I went over body and bones to the Liberal reaction which
followed his going. In the first ardor of what seemed to me a
release from slavery I migrated to Berlin, in search of knowledge
which there was no getting in England, and there, with the taste
of a dozen aimless theological controversies still in my mouth,
this idea first took hold of me. It was simply this:--Could one
through an exhaustive examination of human records, helped by modern
physiological and mental science, get at the conditions, physical
and mental, which govern the greater or lesser correspondence between
human witness and the fact it reports?'
'A giant's task!' cried Robert; 'hardly conceivable!'
The Squire smiled slightly--the smile of a man who looks back with
indulgent, half-melancholy satire on the rash ambitions of his
'Naturally,' he resumed, 'I soon saw I must restrict myself to
European testimony, and that only up to the Renaissance. To do
that, of course, I had to dig into the East, to learn several
Oriental languages--Sanscrit among them. Hebrew I already knew.
Then, when I had got my languages, I began to work steadily through
the whole mass of existing records, sifting and comparing. It is
thirty years since I started. Fifteen years ago I finished the
section dealing with classical antiquity--with India, Persia, Egypt,
and Judaea. To-day I have put the last strokes to a History of
Testimony from the Christian era down to the sixth century--from
Livy to Gregory of Tours, from Augustus to Justinian.'
Elsmere turned to him with wonder, with a movement of irrepressible
homage. Thirty years of unbroken solitary labor for one end, one
cause! In our hurried, fragmentary life, a purpose of this tenacity,
this power of realizing itself, strikes the imagination.
'And your two books?'
'Were a mere interlude,' replied the Squire briefly. 'After the
completion of the first part of my work, there were certain deposits
left in me which it was a relief to get rid of, especially in
connection with my renewed impressions of England,' he added dryly.
Elsmere was silent, thinking this then was the explanation of the
Squire's minute and exhaustive knowledge of the early Christian
centuries, a knowledge into which--apart from certain forbidden
topics-he had himself dipped so freely. Suddenly, as he mused,
there awoke in the young man a new hunger, a new unmanageable impulse
toward frankness of speech. All his nascent intellectual powers
were alive and clamorous. For the moment his past reticences and
timidities looked to him absurd. The mind rebelled against the
barriers it had been rearing against itself. It rushed on to sweep
them away, crying out that all this shrinking from free discussion
had been at bottom 'a mere treason to faith.'
'Naturally, Mr. Wendover,' he said at last, and his tone had a
half-defiant, half-nervous energy, 'you have given your best attention
all these years to the Christian problems.'
'Naturally,' said the Squire dryly. Then, as his companion still
seemed to wait, keenly expectant, he resumed, with something cynical
in the smile which accompanied the words,--
'But I have no wish to infringe our convention.'
'A convention was it?' replied Elsmere flushing. 'I think I only
wanted to make my own position clear and prevent misunderstanding.
But it is impossible that I should be indifferent to the results
of thirty years' such work as you can give to so great a subject.'
The Squire drew himself up a little under his cloak and seemed to
consider. His tired eyes, fixed on the spring lane before them,
saw in reality only the long retrospects of the past. Then a light
broke in them--a light of battle. He turned to the man beside him,
and his sharp look swept over him from head to foot. Well, if he
would have it, let him have it. He had been contemptuously content
so far to let the subject be. But Mr. Wendover, in spite of his
philosophy, had never been proof all his life against an anti-clerical
instinct worthy almost of a Paris municipal councillor. In spite
of his fatigue there woke in him a kind of cruel whimsical pleasure
at the notion of speaking, once for all, what he conceived to be
the whole bare truth to this clever, attractive dreamer, to the
young fellow who thought he could condescend to science from the
standpoint of the Christian miracles!
'Results?' he said interrogatively. 'Well, as you will understand,
it is tolerably difficult to summarize such a mass at a moment's
notice. But I can give you the lines of my last volumes, if it
would interest you to hear them.
That walk prolonged itself far beyond Mr. Wendover's original
intention. There was something in the situation, in Elsmere's
comments, or arguments, or silences which after a while banished
the scholar's sense of exhaustion and made him oblivious of the
country distances. No man feels another's soul quivering and
struggling in his grasp without excitement, let his nerve and his
self-restraint be what they may.
As for Elsmere, that hour and a half, little as he realized it at
the time, represented the turning-point of life. He listened, he
suggested, he put in an acute remark here, an argument there, such
as the Squire had often difficulty in meeting. Every now and then
the inner protest of an attacked faith would break through in words
so full of poignancy, in imagery so dramatic, that the Squire's
closely-knit sentences would be for the moment wholly disarranged.
On the whole, he proved himself no mean guardian of all that was
most sacred to himself and to Catherine, and the Squire's intellectual
respect for him rose considerably.
All the same, by the end of their conversation that first period
of happy unclouded youth we have been considering was over for poor
Elsmere. In obedience to certain inevitable laws and instincts of
the mind, he had been for months tempting his fate, inviting
catastrophe. None the less did the first sure approaches of that
catastrophe fill him with a restless resistance which was in itself
As to the Squire's talk, it was simply the outporing of one of the
richest, most sceptical, and most highly trained of minds on the
subject of Christian origins. At no previous period of his life
would it have greatly affected Elsmere. But now at every step the
ideas, impressions arguments bred in him by his months of historical
work and ordinary converse with the Squire rushed in, as they had
done once before, to cripple resistance, to check an emerging answer,
to justify Mr. Wendover.
We may quote a few fragmentary utterances taken almost at random
from the long wrestle of the two men, for the sake of indicating
the main lines of a bitter after-struggle.
'Testimony like every other human product has _developed_. Man's
power of apprehending and recording what he sees and hears has grown
from less to more, from weaker to stronger, like any other of his
faculties, just as the reasoning powers of the cave-dweller have
developed into the reasoning powers of a Kant. What one wants is
the ordered proof of this, and it can be got from history and
'To plunge into the Christian period without having first cleared
the mind as to what is meant in history and literature by "the
critical method," which in history may be defined as the "science
of what is credible," and in literature as "the science of what is
rational," is to invite fiasco. The theologian in such a state
sees no obstacle to accepting an arbitrary list of documents with
all the strange stuff they may contain, and declaring them to be
sound historical material, while he applies to all the strange stuff
of a similar kind surrounding them the most rigorous principles of
modern science. Or he has to make believe that the reasoning
processes exhibited in the speeches of the Acts, in certain passages
of St. Paul's Epistles, or in the Old Testament quotations in the
Gospels, have a validity for the mind of the nineteenth century,
when in truth they are the imperfect, half-childish products of the
mind of the first century of quite insignificant or indirect value
to the historian of fact, of enormous value to the historian of
_testimony_ and its varieties.'
'Suppose, for instance, before I begin to deal with the Christian
story, and the earliest Christian development, I try to make out
beforehand what are the moulds, the channels into which the testimony
of the time must run. I look for these moulds, of course, in the
dominant ideas, the intellectual preconceptions and preoccupations
existing when the period begins.
'In the first place, I shall find present in the age which saw the
birth of Christianity, as in so many other ages, a universal
preconception in favor of miracle--that is to say, of deviations
from the common norm of experience, governing the work of _all_ men
of _all_ schools. Very well, allow for it then. Read the testimony
of the period in the light of it. Be prepared for the inevitable
differences between it and the testimony of your own day. The
witness of the time is not true, nor, in the strict sense, false.
It is merely incompetent, half-trained, pre-scientific, but all
through perfectly natural. The wonder would have been to have had
a life of Christ without miracles. The air teems with them. The
East is full of Messiahs. Even a Tacitus is superstitious. Even
a Vespasian works miracles. Even a Nero cannot die, but fifty years
after his death is still looked for as the inaugurator of a millennium
of horror. The Resurrection is partly invented, partly imagined,
partly ideally true--in any case wholly intelligible and natural,
as a product of the age, when once you have the key of that age.'
'In the next place, look for the preconceptions that have a definite
historical origin; those, for instance, flowing from the pre-Christian,
apocalyptic literature of the Jews, taking the Maccabean legend of
Daniel as the centre of inquiry--those flowing from Alexandrian
Judaism and the school of Philo--those flowing from the. Palestinian
schools of exegesis. Examine your synoptic gospels, your Gospel
of St. John, your Apocalypse, in the light of these. You have no
other chance of understanding them. But so examined, they fall
into place, become explicable and rational; such material as science
can make full use of. The doctrine of the Divinity of Christ,
Christian eschatology, and Christian views of prophecy will also
have found _their_ place in a sound historical scheme!'
'It is discreditable now for the man of intelligence to refuse to
read his Livy in the light of his Mommsen. My object has been to
help in making it discreditable to him to refuse to read his Christian
documents in the light of a trained scientific criticism. We shall
have made some positive advance in rationality when the man who is
perfectly capable of dealing sanely with legend in one connection,
and, in another, will insist on confounding it with history proper,
cannot do so any longer without losing caste, without falling _ipso
facto_ out of court with men of education. It is enough for a man
of letters if he has helped ever so little in the final staking out
of the boundaries between reason and unreason!'
And so on. These are mere ragged gleanings from an ample store.
The discussion in reality ranged over the whole field of history,
plunged into philosophy, and into the subtlest problems of mind.
At the end of it, after he had been conscious for many bitter moments
of that same constriction of heart which had overtaken him once
before at Mr. Wendover's hands, the religious passion in Elsmere
once more rose with sudden stubborn energy against the iron negations
pressed upon it.
'I will not fight you any more, Mr. Wendover,' he said, with his
moved, flashing look. 'I am perfectly conscious that my own mental
experience of the last two years has made it necessary to re-examine
some of these intellectual foundations of faith. But as to the faith
itself, that is its own witness. It does not depend, after all,
upon anything external, but upon the living voice of the Eternal
in the soul of man!'
Involuntarily his pace quickened. The whole man was gathered into
one great, useless, pitiful defiance, and the outer world was
forgotten. The Squire kept up with difficulty awhile, a faint
glimmer of sarcasm playing now and then round the straight thin-lipped
mouth. Then suddenly he stopped.
'No, let it be. Forget me and my book, Elsmere. Everything can
be got out of in this world. By the way, we seem to have reached
the ends of the earth. Those are the new Mile End cottages, I
believe. With your leave, I'll sit down in one of them, and send
to the Hall for the carriage.'
Elsmere's repentant attention was drawn at once to his companion.
'I am a selfish idiot,' he said hotly, 'to have led you into
over-walking and over-talking like this.'
The Squire made some short reply and instantly turned the matter
off. The momentary softness which had marked his meeting with
Elsmere had entirely vanished, leaving only the Mr. Wendover of
every day, who was merely made awkward and unapproachable by the
slightest touch of personal sympathy. No living being, certainly
not his foolish little sister, had any right to take care of the
Squire. And as the signs of age became more apparent, this one
fact had often worked powerfully on the sympathies of Elsmere's
chivalrous youth, though as yet he had been no more capable than
any one else of breaking through the Squire's haughty reserve.
As they turned down the newly-worn track to the cottages, whereof
the weekly progress had been for some time the delight of Elsmere's
heart, they met old Meyrick in his pony-carriage. He stopped his
shambling steed at sight of the pair. The bleared, spectacled eyes
lit up, the prim mouth broke into a smile which matched the April
'Well Squire; well, Mr. Elsmere, are you going to have a look at
those places? Never saw such palaces. I only hope I may end my
days in anything so good. Will you give me a lease, Squire?'
Mr. Wendover's deep eyes took a momentary survey, half indulgent,
half contemptuous, of the naive, awkward-looking old creature in
the pony-carriage. Then without troubling to find an answer he
went his way.
Robert stayed chatting a moment or two, knowing perfectly well what
Meyrick's gay garrulity meant. A sharp and bitter sense of the
ironies of life swept across him. The Squire humanized, influenced
by him--he knew that was the image in Meyrick's mind, he remembered
with a quiet scorn its presence in his own. And never, never had
he felt his own weakness and the strength of that grim personality
so much as at that instant.
That evening Catherine noticed an unusual silence and depression
in Robert. She did her best to cheer it away, to get at the cause
of it. In vain. At last, with her usual wise tenderness, she left
him alone, conscious herself, as she closed the study door behind
her, of a momentary dreariness of soul, coming she knew not whence,
and only dispersed by the instinctive upward leap of prayer.
Robert was no sooner alone than he put down his pipe and sat brooding
over the fire. All the long debate of the afternoon began to fight
itself out in the shrinking mind. Suddenly, in his restless pain,
a thought occurred to him. He had been much struck in the Squire's
conversation by certain allusions to arguments drawn from the Book
of Daniel. It was not a subject with which Robert had any great
familiarity. Here remembered his Pusey dimly--certain Divinity
lectures--an article of Westcott's.
He raised his hand quickly and took down the monograph on 'The Use
of the Old Testament in the New,' which the Squire had sent him in
the earliest days of their acquaintance. A secret dread and
repugnance had held him from it till now. Curiously enough it was
not he but Catherine, as we shall see, who had opened it first.
Now, however, he got it down and turned to the section on Daniel.
It was a change of conviction on the subject of the date and
authorship of this strange product of Jewish patriotism in the
second century before Christ that drove M. Renan out of the Church
of Rome. 'For the Catholic Church to confess,' he says in his
'Souvenirs,' 'that Daniel is an apocryphal book of the time of the
Maccabees, would be to confess that she had made a mistake; if she
had made this mistake, she may have made others; she is no longer
The Protestant, who is in truth more bound to the Book of Daniel
than M. Renan, has various ways of getting over the difficulties
raised against the supposed authorship of the book by modern
criticism. Robert found all these ways enumerated in the brilliant
and vigorous pages of the book before him.
In the first place, like the orthodox Saint-Sulpicien, the Protestant
meets the critic with a flat _non possumus_. 'Your arguments are
useless and irrelevant,' he says in effect. 'However plausible may
be your objections the Book of Daniel _is_ what it professes to be,
_because_ our Lord quoted it in such a manner as to distinctly
recognize its authority. All-True and All-Knowing cannot have made
a mistake, nor can He have expressly led His disciples to reward
as genuine and Divine, prophecies which were in truth the inventions
of an ingenious romancer.'
But the liberal Anglican--the man, that is to say, whose logical
sense is inferior to his sense of literary probabilities--proceeds
'Your arguments are perfectly just,' he says to the critic; 'the
book is a patriotic fraud, of no value except to the historian of
literature. But bow do you know that our Lord quoted it as _true_
in the strictest sense? In fact He quoted it as literature, as a
Greek might have quoted Homer, as an Englishman might quote
And many a harassed Churchman takes refuge forthwith in the new
explanation. It is very difficult, no doubt, to make the passages
in the Gospels agree with it, but at the bottom of his mind there
is a saving silent scorn for the old theories of inspiration. He
admits to himself that probably Christ was not correctly reported
in the matter.
Then appears the critic, having no interests to serve, no _parti
pris_ to defend, and states the matter calmly, dispassionately, as
it appears to him. 'No reasonable man,' says the ablest German
exponent of the Book of Daniel, 'can doubt that this most interesting
piece of writing belongs to the year 169 or 170 B.C. It was written
to stir up the courage and patriotism of the Jews, weighed down by
the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes. It had enormous vogue.
It inaugurated a new Apocalyptic literature. And clearly the youth
of Jesus of Nazareth was vitally influenced by it. It entered into
his thought, it helped to shape his career.'
But Elsmere did not trouble himself much with the critic, as at any
rate he was reported by the author of the book before him. Long
before the critical case was reached, he had flung the book heavily
from him. The mind accomplished its further task without help from
outside. In the stillness of the night there rose up weirdly before
him a whole new mental picture--effacing, pushing out, innumerable
older images of thought. It was the image of a purely human
Christ--purely human, explicable, yet always wonderful Christianity.
It broke his heart but the spell of it was like some dream-country
wherein we see all the familiar objects of life in new relations
and perspectives. He gazed upon it fascinated the wailing underneath
checked a while by the strange beauty and order of the emerging
spectacle. Only a little while! Then with a groan Elsmere looked
up, his eyes worn, his lips white and set.
'I must face it--I must face it through! God help me!'
A slight sound overhead in Catherine's room sent a sudden spasm of
feeling through the young face. He threw himself down, hiding from
his own foresight of what was to be.
'My, darling, my darling! But she shall know nothing of it--yet.'
And he did face it through.
The next three months were the bitterest months of Elsmere's life.
They were marked by anguished mental struggle, by a consciousness
of painful separation from the soul nearest to his own, and by a
constantly increasing sense of oppression, of closing avenues and
narrowing alternatives, which for weeks together seemed to hold the
mind in a grip whence there was no escape.
That struggle was not hurried and embittered by the bodily presence
of the Squire. Mr. Wendover went off to Italy a few days after the
conversation we have described. But though he was not present in
the flesh, the great book of his life was in Elsmere's hands, he
had formally invited Elsmere's remarks upon it; and the air of
Murewell seemed still echoing with his sentences, still astir with
his thoughts. That curious instinct of pursuit, that avid, imperious
wish to crush an irritating resistance, which his last walk with
Elsmere had first awakened in him with any strength, persisted.
He wrote to Robert from abroad, and the proud, fastidious scholar
had never taken more pains with anything than with those letters.
Robert might have stopped them, have cast the whole matter from him
with one resolute effort. In other relations he had will enough
and to spare.
Was it an unexpected weakness of fibre that made it impossible?--that
had placed him in this way at the Squire's disposal? Half the world
would answer yes. Might not the other half plead that in every
generation there is a minority of these mobile, impressionable,
defenseless natures, who are ultimately at the mercy of experience,
at the mercy of thought, at the mercy (shall we say?) of truth; and
that, in fact, it is from this minority that all human advance
During these three miserable months it cannot be said--poor
Elsmere!--that he attempted any systematic study of Christian
evidence. His mind was too much torn, his heart too sore. He
pounced feverishly on one test point after another, on the Pentateuch,
the Prophets, the relation of the New Testament to the thoughts and
beliefs of its time, the Gospel of St. John, the evidence as to the
Resurrection, the intellectual and moral conditions surrounding the
formation of the Canon. His mind swayed hither and thither, driven
from each resting-place in turn by the pressure of some new difficulty.
And--let it be said again--all through, the only constant element
in the whole dismal process was his trained historical sense. If
he had gone through this conflict at Oxford, for instance, he would
have come out of it unscathed; for he would simply have remained
throughout it ignorant of the true problems at issue. As it was
the keen instrument he had sharpened so laboriously on indifferent
material, now ploughed its agonizing way, bit by bit, into the most
intimate recesses of thought and faith.
Much of the actual struggle he was able to keep from Catherine's
view, as he had vowed to himself to keep it. For after the Squire's
departure, Mrs. Darcy too went joyously up to London to flutter
awhile through the golden alleys of Mayfair; and Elsmere was left
once more in undisturbed possession of the Murewell library. There
for a while on every day--oh, pitiful relief!--he could hide himself
from the eyes he loved.
But, after all, married love allows of nothing but the shallowest
concealments. Catherine had already had one or two alarms. Once,
in Robert's study, among a tumbled mass of books he had pulled out
in search of something missing, and which she was putting in order,
she had come across that very book on the Prophecies which at a
critical moment had so deeply affected Elsmere. It lay open and
Catherine was caught by the heading of a section: 'The Messianic
She began to read, mechanically at first and read about a page.
That page so shocked a mind accustomed to a purely traditional and
mystical interpretation of the Bible that the book dropped abruptly
from her hand, and she stood a moment by her husband's table, her
fine face pale and frowning.
She noticed, with bitterness, Mr. Wendover's name on the title-page.
Was it right for Robert to have such books? Was it wise, was it
prudent, for the Christian to measure himself against such antagonism
as this? She wrestled painfully with the question. 'Oh, but I
can't understand,' she said to herself with an almost agonized
energy. 'It is I who am timid, faithless! He _must_--he _must_--know
what they say; he must have gone through the dark places if he is
to carry others through them.'
So she stilled and trampled on the inward protest. She yearned to
speak of it to Robert, but something withheld her. In her passionate
wifely trust she could not bear to seem to question the use he made
of his time and thought; and a delicate moral scruple warned her
she might easily allow her dislike of the Wendover friendship to
lead her into exaggeration and injustice.
But the stab of that moment recurred--dealt now by one slight
incident--now by another. And after the Squire's departure Catherine
suddenly realized that the whole atmosphere of their home-life was
Robert was giving himself to his people with a more scrupulous
energy than ever. Never had she seen him so pitiful, so full of
heart for every human creature. His sermons, with their constant
imaginative dwelling on the earthly life of Jesus, affected her now
with a poignancy, a pathos, which were almost unbearable. And his
tenderness to her was beyond words. But with that tenderness there
was constantly mixed a note of remorse, a painful self-depreciation
which she could hardly notice in speech, but which every now and
then wrung her heart. And in his parish work he often showed a
depression, an irritability, entirely new to her. He who had always
the happiest power of forgetting to-morrow all the rubs of to-day,
seemed now quite incapable of saving himself and his cheerfulness
in the old ways, nay, had developed a capacity for sheer worry she
had never seen in him before. And meanwhile all the old gossips
of the place spoke their mind freely to Catherine on the subject
of the Rector's looks, coupling their remarks with a variety of
prescriptions out of which Robert did sometimes manage to get one
of his old laughs. His sleeplessness, too, which had always been
a constitutional tendency, had become now so constant and wearing
that Catherine began to feel a nervous hatred of his book-work, and
of those long mornings at the Hall; a passionate wish to put an end
to it, and carry him away for a holiday.
But he would not bear of the holiday, and he could hardly bear any
talk of himself. And Catherine had been brought up in a school of
feeling which bade love be very scrupulous, very delicate, and which
recognized in the strongest way the right of every human soul to
its own privacy, its own reserves. That something definite troubled
him she was certain. What it was he clearly avoided telling her,
and she could not hurt him by impatience.
He would tell her soon--when it was right--she cried pitifully to
herself. Meantime both suffered, she not knowing why, clinging to
each other the while more passionately than ever.
One night, however, coming down in her dressing-gown into the study
in search of a _Christian Year_ she had left behind her, she found
Robert with papers strewn before him, his arms on the table and his
head laid down upon them. He looked up as she came in, and the
expression of his eyes drew her to him irresistibly.
'Were you asleep, Robert? Do come to bed!'
He sat up, and with a pathetic gesture held out his arm to her.
She came on to his knee, putting her white arms round his neck,
while he leant his head against her breast.
'Are you tired with all your walking to-day?' she said presently,
a pang at her heart.
'I am tired,' he said, 'but not with walking.'
'Does your book worry you? You shouldn't work so hard, Robert--you
'Don't talk, of it. Don't let us talk or think at all, only feel!'
And he tightened his arms round her, happy once more for a mordent
in this environment of a perfect love. There was silence for a few
moments, Catherine feeling more and more disturbed and anxious.
'Think of your mountains,' he said presently, his eyes still pressed
against her, 'of High Fell, and the moonlight, and the house where
Mary Backhouse died. Oh! Catherine, I see you still, and shall
always see you, as I saw you then, my angel of healing and of grace!'
'I too have been thinking of her tonight,' said Catherine softly,
'and of the walk to Shanmoor. This evening in the garden it seemed
to me as though there were Westmoreland scents in the air! I was
haunted by a vision of bracken, and rocks, and sheep browsing up
the fell slopes.'
'Oh for a breath of the wind on High Fell!' cried Robert,--it was
so new to her, the dear voice with his accent in it, of yearning
depression! 'I want more of the spirit of the mountains, their
serenity, their strength. Say me that Duddon sonnet you used to
say to me there, as you said it to me that last Sunday before our
wedding, when we walked up the Shanmoor road to say good-by to that
blessed spot. Oh! how I sit and think of it sometimes, when life
seems to be going crookedly, that rock on the fell-side where I
found you, and caught you, and snared you, my dove, for ever.'
And Catherine, whose mere voice was as balm to this man of many
impulses, repeated to him, softly in the midnight silence, those
noble lines in which Wordsworth has expressed, with the reserve and
yet the strength of the great poet, the loftiest yearning of the
Enough, if something from our hand have power
To live and move, and serve the future hour,
And if, as towards the silent tomb we go,
Through love, through hope, and faith's transcendent dower,
We feel that we are greater than we know.
'He has divined it all,' said Robert, drawing a long breath when
she stopped, which seem to relax the fibres of the inner man, 'the
fever and the fret of human thought, the sense of littleness, of
impotence, of evanescence-and he has soothed it all!'
'Oh, not all, not all!' cried Catherine, her look kindling, and her
rare passion breaking through; 'how little in comparison!'
For her thoughts were with him of whom it was said--'_He needed not
that anyone should bear witness concerning man, for he knew what
was in man_.' But Robert's only response was silence and a kind
of quivering sigh.
'Robert!' she cried, pressing her cheek against his temple, 'tell
me my dear, dear husband, what it is troubles you. Something does--I
'Catherine,--wife--beloved!' he said to her, after another pause,
in a tone of strange tension she never forgot; 'generations of men
and women have known what it is to be led spiritually into the
desert, into that outer wilderness where even the Lord was "tempted."
What am I that I should claim to escape it? And you cannot come
through it with me, my darling--no not even you! It is loneliness--it
is solitariness itself--' and be shuddered. 'But pray for me--pray
that _He_ may be with me, and that at the end there may be light!'
He pressed her to him convulsively, then gently released her. His
solemn eyes, fixed upon her as she stood there beside him, seemed
to forbid her to say a word more. She stooped; she laid her lips
to his; it was a meeting of soul with soul; then she went softly
out, breaking the quiet of the house by a stifled sob as she passed
Oh! But at last she thought she understood him. She had not passed
her girlhood, side by side with a man of delicate fibre, of melancholy
and scrupulous temperament, and within hearing of all the natural
interests of a deeply religious mind, religious biography, religious
psychology, and--within certain sharply defined limits--religious
speculation, without being brought face to face with the black
possibilities of 'doubts' and 'difficulties' as barriers in the
Christian path. Has not almost every Christian of illustrious
excellence been tried and humbled by them? Catherine, looking back
upon her own youth, could remember certain crises of religious
melancholy, during which she had often dropped off to sleep at night
on a pillow wet with tears. They had passed away quickly, and for
ever. But she went back to them now, straining her eyes through
the darkness of her own past, recalling her father's days of spiritual
depression, and the few difficult words she had sometimes heard
from him as to those bitter times of religious dryness and hopelessness,
by which God chastens from time to time His most faithful and heroic
souls. A half-contempt awoke in her for the unclouded serenity and
confidence of her own inner life. If her own spiritual experience
had gone deeper, she told herself with the strangest self-blame,
she would have been able now to understand Robert better--to help
She thought as she lay awake after those painful moments in the
study, the fears welling up slowly in the darkness, of many things
that had puzzled her in the past. She remembered the book she had
seen on his table; her thoughts travelled over his months of
intercourse with the Squire; and the memory of Mr. Newcome's
attitude toward the man whom he conceived to be his Lord's adversary,
as contrasted with Robert's, filled her with a shrinking pain she
dare not analyze.
Still all through, her feeling toward her husband was in the main
akin to that of the English civilian at home toward English soldiers
abroad, suffering and dying that England may be great. _She_ had
sheltered herself all her life from those deadly forces of unbelief
which exist in English society, by a steady refusal to know what,
however, any educated university man must perforce know. But such
a course of action was impossible for Robert. He had been forced
into the open, into the fall tide of the Lord's battle. The chances
of that battle are many; and the more courage the more risk of
wounds and pain. But the great Captain knows--the great Captain
does not forget His own!
For never, never had she smallest doubt as to the issue of this
sudden crisis in her husband's consciousness, even when she came
nearest to apprehending its nature. As well might she doubt the
return of daylight, as dream of any permanent eclipse descending
upon the faith which had shown through every detail of Robert's
ardent impulsive life, with all its struggles, all its failings,
all its beauty, since she had known him first. The dread did not
even occur to her. In her agony of pity and reverence she thought
of him as passing through a trial, which is specially the believer's
trial--the chastening by which God proves the soul He loves. Let
her only love and trust in patience.
So that day by day as Robert's depression still continued, Catherine
surrounded him with the tenderest and wisest affection. Her quiet
common-sense made itself heard, forbidding her to make too much of
the change in him, which might after all, she thought, be partly
explained by the mere physical results of his long strain of body
and mind during the Mile End epidemic. And for the rest she would
not argue; she would not inquire. She only prayed that she might
so lead the Christian life beside him, that the Lord's tenderness,
the Lord's consolation, might shine upon him through her. It had
never been her wont to speak to him much about his own influence,
his own effect, in the parish. To the austerer Christian,
considerations of this kind are forbidden: 'It is not I, but Christ
that worketh in me.' But now, whenever she came across any striking
trace of his power over the weak or the impure, the sick or the
sad, she would in some way make it known to him, offering it to him
in her delicate tenderness, as though it were a gift that the Father
had laid in her hand for him: a token that the Master was still
indeed with His servant, and that all was fundamentally well!
And so much, perhaps, the contact with his wife's faith, the power
of her love, wrought in Robert, that during these weeks and months
he also never lost his own certainty of emergence from the shadow
which had overtaken him. And, indeed, driven on from day to day,
as he was by an imperious intellectual thirst, which would be
satisfied, the religion of the heart, the imaginative emotional
habit of years, that incessant drama which the soul enacts with the
Divine Powers to which it feels itself committed, lived and persisted
through it all. Feeling was untouched. The heart was still
passionately on the side of all its old loves and adorations, still
blindly trustful that in the end, by some compromise as yet unseen,
they would be restored to it intact.
Some time toward the end of July Robert was coming home from the
Hall before lunch, tired and worn, as the morning always left him,
and meditating some fresh sheets of the Squire's proofs which had
been in his hands that morning. On the road crossing that to the
rectory he suddenly saw Reginald Newcome, thinner and whiter than
ever, striding along as fast as cassock and cloak would let him,
his eyes on the ground, and his wideawake drawn over them. He and
Elsmere had scarcely met for months, and Robert had lately made up
his mind that Newcome was distinctly less friendly, and wished to
Elsmere had touched his arm before Newcome had perceived any one
near him. Then be drew back with a start--
'Elsmere you here! I had an idea you were away for a holiday!'
'Oh, dear, no!' said Robert, smiling. 'I may get away in September,
perhaps--not till then.'
'Mr. Wendover at home?' said the other, his eyes turning to the
Hall, of which the chimneys were just visible from where they stood.
'No, he is abroad.'
'You and he have made friends, I understand,' said the other abruptly,
his eager, look returning to Elsmere; 'I hear of you as always
'We have made friends, and we walk a great deal when the Squire is
here,' said Robert, meeting Newcome's harshness of tone with a
bright dignity. 'Mr. Wendover has even been doing something for
us in the village. You should come and see the new Institute. The
roof is on, and we shall open it in August or September. The best
building of the kind in the country by far, and Mr. Wendover's
'I suppose you use the library a great deal?' said Newcome, paying
no attention to these remarks, and still eyeing his companion
'A great deal.'
Robert had at that moment under his arm a German treatise on the
history of the Logos doctrine, which afterward, looking back on the
little scene, he thought it probable Newcome recognized. They
turned toward the rectory together, Newcome still asking abrupt
questions as to the Squire, the length of time he was to be away,
Elsmere's work, parochial and literary, during the past six months,
the number of his Sunday congregation, of his communicants, &c.
Elsmere bore his catechism with perfect temper, though Newcome's
manner had in it a strange and almost judicial imperativeness.
'Elsmere,'--said his questioner presently, after a pause, 'I am
going to have a retreat for priests at the Clergy House next month.
Father H----,' mentioning a famous High Churchman, 'will conduct
it. You would do me a special favor--' and suddenly the face
softened, and shone with all its old magnetism on Elsmere--'if you
would come. I believe you would find nothing to dislike in it, or
in our rule, which is a most simple one.'
Robert smiled, and laid his big hand on the other's arm.
'No, Newcome, no; I am in no mood for H----'
The High Churchman looked at him with a quick and painful anxiety
visible in the stern eyes.
'Will you tell me what that means?'
'It means,' said Robert, clasping his hands tightly behind him, his
pace slackening a little to meet that of Newcome--'it means that
if you will give me your prayers, Newcome, your companionship
sometimes, your pity always, I will thank you from the bottom of
my heart. But I am in a state just now, when I must fight my battles
for myself, and in God's sight only!'
It was the first burst of confidence which had passed his lips to
any one but Catherine.
Newcome stood still, a tremor of strong emotion running through the
'You are in trouble, Elsmere; I felt it, I knew it, when I first
'Yes, I am in trouble,' said Robert quietly.
'Opinions, I suppose--or facts,' said Robert, his arms dropping
wearily beside him. 'Have you ever known what it is to be troubled
in mind, I wonder, Newcome?'
And he looked at his companion with a sudden pitiful curiosity.
A kind of flash passed over Mr. Newcome's face.
'_Have I ever known?_' he repeated vaguely, and then he drew his
thin hand, the hand of the ascetic and the mystic, hastily across
his eyes, and was silent--his lips moving, his gaze on the ground,
his whole aspect that of a man wrought out of himself by a sudden
passion of memory.
Robert watched him with surprise, and was just speaking, when Mr.
Newcome looked up, every drawn attenuated feature working painfully.
'Did you never ask yourself, Elsmere,' he said slowly, 'what it was
drove me from the bar and journalism to the East End? Do you think
I don't know,' and his voice rose, his eyes flamed, 'what black
devil it is that is gnawing at your heart now? Why, man, I have
been through darker gulfs of hell than you have ever sounded! Many
a night I have felt myself _mad_--_mad of doubt_--a castaway on a
shoreless sea; doubting not only God or Christ, but myself, the
soul, the very existence of good. I found only one way out of it,
and you will find only one way.'
The lithe hand caught Robert's arm impetuously--the voice with its
accent of fierce conviction was at his ear.
'Trample on yourself! Pray down the demon, fast, scourge, kill the
body, that the soul may live! What are we, miserable worms, that
we should defy the Most High, that we should set our wretched
faculties against His Omnipotence? Submit--submit--humble yourself,
my brother! Fling away the freedom which is your ruin. There is
no freedom for man. Either a slave to Christ, or a slave to his
own lusts--there is no other choice. Go away; exchange your work
here for a time for work in London. You have too much leisure here:
Satan has too much opportunity. I foresaw it--I foresaw it when
you and I first met. I felt I had a message for you, and here I
deliver it. In the Lord's Name, I bid you fly; I bid you yield in
time. Better to be the Lord's captive than _the Lord's betrayer!_'
The wasted form was drawn up to its full height, the arm was
outstretched, the long cloak fell back from it in long folds--voice
and eye were majesty itself. Robert had a tremor of responsive
passion. How easy it sounded, how tempting--to cut the knot, to
mutilate and starve the rebellious intellect which would assert
itself against the soul's purest instincts! Newcome had done it--why
And then, suddenly, as he stood gazing at his companion, the spring
sun, and murmur all about them--another face, another life another
message, flashed on his inmost sense, the face and life of Henry
Grey. Words torn from their context, but full for him of intensest
meaning, passed rapidly through his mind: '_God is not wisely trusted
when declared unintelligible.' 'Such honor rooted in dishonor
stands; such unfaithful makes us falsely true.' 'God is for ever
reason: and His communication, His revelation, is reason_.'
He turned away with a slight, sad shake of the head. The spell was
broken. Mr. Newcome's arm dropped, and he moved sombrely on beside
Robert--the hand, which held a little book of Hours against his
cloak, trembling slightly.
At the rectory gate he stopped.
'Good-by--I must go home.'
'You won't come in?--No, no, Newcome; believe me, I am no rash
careless egotist, risking wantonly the most precious things in life!
But the call is on me, and I must follow it. All life is God's,
and all thought--not only a fraction of it. He cannot let me wander
But the cold fingers he held so warmly dropped from his, and Newcome
A week afterward, or thereabout, Robert had in some sense followed
Newcome's counsel. Admonished perhaps by sheer physical weakness,
as much as by anything else, he had for the moment laid down his
arms; he had yielded to an invading feebleness of the will, which
refused, as it were, to carry on the struggle any longer, at such
a life-destroying pitch of intensity. The intellectual oppression
of itself brought about wild reaction and recoil, and a passionate
appeal to that inward witness of the soul which holds its own long
after the reason has practically ceased to struggle.
It came about in this way. One morning he stood reading in the
window of the library the last of the Squire's letters. It contained
a short but masterly analysis of the mental habits and idiosyncrasies
of St. Paul, _a propos_ of St. Paul's witness to the Resurrection.
Every now and then, as Elsmere turned the pages, the orthodox
protest would assert itself, the orthodox arguments make themselves
felt as though in mechanical involuntary protest. But their force
and vitality were gone. Between the Paul of Anglican theology and
the fiery, fallible man of genius--so weak logically, so strong in
poetry, in rhetoric, in moral passion, whose portrait has been drawn
for us by a free and temperate criticism--the Rector knew, in a
sort of dull way, that his choice was made. The one picture carried
reason and imagination with it; the other contented neither.
But as he put down the letter something seemed to snap within him.
Some chord of physical endurance gave way. For five months he had
been living intellectually at a speed no man maintains with impunity,
and this letter of the Squire's, with its imperious demands upon
the tired irritable bran, was the last straw.
He sank down on the oriel seat, the letter dropping from his hands.
Outside, the little garden, now a mass of red and pink roses, the
hill and the distant stretches of park were wrapped in a thick,
sultry mist, through which a dim, far-off sunlight struggled on to
the library floor, and lay in ghostly patches on the polished boards
and lower ranges of books.
The simplest religious thoughts began to flow over him--the simplest,
childish words of prayer were on his lips. He felt himself delivered,
he knew not how or why.
He rose deliberately, laid the Squire's letter among his other
papers, and tied them up carefully; then he took up the books which
lay piled on the Squire's writing-table: all those volumes of German,
French, and English criticism, liberal or apologetic, which he had
been accumulating round him day, by day with a feverish toilsome
impartiality, and began rapidly and methodically to put them back
in their places on the shelves.
'I have done too much thinking, too much reading,' he was saying
to himself as he went through his task. 'Now let it be the turn
of something else!'
And still as he handled the books, it was as though Catherine's
figure glided backward and forward beside him, across the smooth
floor, as though her hand were on his arm, her eyes shining into
his. Ah--he knew well what it was had made the sharpest sting of
this wrestle through which he had been passing! It was not merely
religious dread, religious shame; that terror of disloyalty to the
Divine Images which have filled the soul's inmost shrine since its
first entry into consciousness, such as every good man feels in a
like strait. This had been strong indeed; but men are men, and
love is love! Ay, it was to the dark certainty of Catherine's
misery, that every advance in knowledge and intellectual power had
brought him nearer. It was from that certainty, that he now, and
for the last time, recoiled. It was too much. It could not be
He walked home, counting up the engagements of the next few weeks--the
school-treat, two club field-days, a sermon in the county town, the
probable opening of the new Workmen's Institute, and so on. Oh!
to be through them all and away, away amid Alpine scents and silences.
He stood a moment beside the gray, slowly-moving river, half bidden
beneath the rank flower-growth, the tensy and willow-herb, the
luxuriant elder and trailing brambles of its August banks--and
thought with hungry passion of the clean-swept Alpine pasture, the
fir-woods, and the tameless mountain streams. In three weeks or
less he and Catherine should be climbing the Jaman or the Dent du
Midi. And till then he would want all his time for men and women.
Books should hold him no more.
Catherine only put her arms round his neck in silence when he told
her. The relief was too great for words. He, too, held her close,
saying nothing. But that night, for the first time for weeks,
Elsmere's wife slept in peace and woke without dread of the day
The next fortnight was a time of truce. Elsmere neither read nor
reasoned. He spent his days in the school, in the village, pottering
about the Mile End cottages, or the new institute--sometimes fishing,
sometimes passing long summer hours on the commons with his club
boys, hunting the ponds for caddises, newts, and water-beetles,
peering into the furze-bushes for second broods, or watching the
sand-martins in the gravel-pits, and trudging home at night in the
midst of an escort of enthusiasts, all of them with pockets as full
and, miry as his own, to deposit the treasures of the day in the
club-room. Once more the Rector, though physically perhaps less
ardent than of yore, was the life of the party, and a certain awe
and strangeness which had developed in his boys' minds toward him,
during the last few weeks, passed away.
It was curious that in these days he would neither sit nor walk
alone if he could help it. Catherine or a stray parishioner was
almost always with him. All the while, vaguely, in the depth of
consciousness, there was the knowledge that behind this piece of
quiet water on which his life was now sailing, there lay storm and
darkness, and that in front loomed fresh possibilities of tempest.
He knew, in a way, that it was a treacherous peace which had
overtaken him. And yet it was peace. The pressure exerted by the
will had temporarily given way, and the deepest forces of the man's
being had reasserted themselves. He could feel and love and pray
again; and Catherine, seeing the old glow in the eyes, the old
spring in the step, made the whole of life one thank-offering.
On the evening following that moment of reaction in the Murewell
library Robert had written to the Squire. His letter had been
practically a withdrawal from the correspondence.
'I find,' he wrote, 'that I have been spending too much time and
energy lately on these critical matters. It seems to me that my
work as a clergyman has suffered. Nor can I deny that your book
and your letters have been to me a source of great trouble of mind.'
'My heart is where it was, but my head is often confused. Let
controversy rest awhile. My wife says I want a holiday; I think
so myself, and we are off in three weeks: not however, I hope,
before we have welcomed you home again, and got you to open the new
Institute, which is already dazzling the eyes of the village by its
size and splendor, and the white paint that Harris the builder has
been lavishing upon it.'
Ten days later, rather earlier than was expected, the Squire and
Mrs. Darcy were at home again. Robert re-entered the great house
the morning after their arrival with a strange reluctance. Its
glory and magnificence, the warm perfumed air of the hall, brought
back a sense of old oppressions, and he walked down the passage to
the library with a sinking heart. There he found the Squire busy
as usual with one of those fresh cargoes of books which always
accompanied him on any homeward journey. He was more brown, more
wrinkled, more shrunken; more full of force, of harsh epigram, of
grim anecdote than ever. Robert sat on the edge of the table
laughing over his stories of French Orientalists, or Roman cardinals
or modern Greek professors, enjoying the impartial sarcasm which
one of the greatest of savants was always ready to pour out upon
his brethren of the craft.
The Squire, however, was never genial for a moment during the
interview. He did not mention his book nor Elsmere's letter. But
Elsmere suspected in him a good deal of suppressed irritability;
and, as after a while he abruptly ceased to talk, the visit grew
The Rector walked home feeling restless and depressed. The mind
had begun to work again. It was only by a great effort that he
could turn his thoughts from the Squire, and all that the Squire
had meant to him during the past year, and so woo back to himself
'the shy bird Peace.'
Mr. Wendover watched the door close behind him, and then went back
to his work with a gesture of impatience.
'Once a priest, always a priest. What a fool I was to forget it!
You think you make an impression on the mystic, and at the bottom
there is always something which defies you and common-sense. "Two
and two do not, and shall not, make four,"' he said to himself, in
a mincing voice of angry sarcasm. '"It would give me too much pain
that they should." 'Well, and so I suppose what might have been a
rational friendship will go by the board like everything else.
What can make the man shilly-shally in this way! He is convinced
already, as he knows--those later letters were conclusive! His
living, perhaps, and hid work! Not for the money's sake, there
never was a more incredibly disinterested person born. But his
work? Well, who is to hinder his work? Will he be the first parson
in the Church of England who looks after the poor and holds his
tongue? If you can't speak your mind, it is something at any rate
to possess one--nine-tenths of the clergy being without the appendage.
But Elsmere--pshaw! he will go muddling on to the end of the
The Squire, indeed, was like a hunter whose prey escapes him at the
very moment of capture, and there grew on him a mocking, aggressive
mood which Elsmere often found hard to bear.
One natural symptom of it was his renewed churlishness as to all
local matters. Elsmere one afternoon spent an hour in trying to
persuade him to open the new Institute.
'What on earth do you want me for?' inquired Mr. Wendover, standing
before the fire in the library, the Medusa head peering over his
shoulder. 'You know perfectly well that all the gentry about here--I
suppose you will have some of them--regard me as an old reprobate,
and the poor people, I imagine, as a kind of ogre. To me it doesn't
matter a two-penny damn--I apologize; it was the Duke of Wellington's
favorite standard of value--but I can't, see what good it can do
either you or the village, under the circumstances, that I should
stand on my head for the popular edification.'
Elsmere, however, merely stood his ground, arguing and bantering,
till the Squire grudgingly gave way. This time, after he departed,
Mr. Wendover, instead of going to his work, still stood gloomily
ruminating in front of the fire. His frowning eyes wandered round
the great room before him. For the first time he was conscious
that now, as soon as the charm of Elsmere's presence was withdrawn,
his working hours were doubly solitary; that his loneliness weighed
upon him more; and that it mattered to him appreciably whether that
young man went or stayed. The stirring of a new sensation,
however-unparalleled since the brief days when even Roger Wendover
had his friends and his attractions like other men--was soon lost
in renewed chafing at Elsmere's absurdities. The Squire had been
at first perfectly content--so he told himself--to limit the field
of their intercourse, and would have been content to go on doing
so. But Elsmere himself had invited freedom of speech between them.
'I would have given him my best,' Mr. Wendover reflected impatiently.
'I could have handed on to him all I shall never use, and he might
use, admirably. And now we might as well be on the terms we were
to begin with for all the good I get out of him, or he out of me.
Clearly nothing but cowardice! He cannot face the intellectual
change, and he must, I suppose, dread lest it should affect his
work. Good God, what nonsense! As if any one inquired what an
English parson believed nowadays, so long as he performs all the
usual antics decently!'
And, meanwhile, it never occurred to the Squire that Elsmere had a
wife, and a pious one. Catherine had been dropped out of his
calculation as to Elsmere's future, at a very early stage.
The following afternoon Robert, coming home from a round, found
Catherine out, and a note awaiting him from the Hall.
'Can you and Mrs. Elsmere come in to tea?' wrote the Squire. 'Madame
de Netteville is here, and one or two others.'
Robert grumbled a good deal, looked for Catherine to devise an
excuse for him, could not find her, and at last reluctantly set out
He was tired and his mood was heavy. As be trudged through the
park he never once noticed the soft, sun-flooded distance, the
shining loops of the river, the feeding dear, or any of those natural
witcheries to which eye and sense were generally so responsive.
The laborers going home, the children--with aprons full of crab-apples,
and lips dyed by the first blackberries--who passed him, got but
an absent smile or salute from the Rector. The interval of exaltation
and recoil was over. The ship of the mind was once more laboring
in alien and dreary seas.
He roused himself to remember that he had been curious to see Madame
de Netteville. She was an old friend of the Squire's, the holder
of a London salon, much more exquisite and select than anything
Lady Charlotte could show.
'She had the same thing in Paris before the war,' the Squire
explained. 'Renan gave me a card to her. An extraordinary woman.
No particular originality; but one of the best persons "to consult
about ideas," like Joubert's Madame de Beaumont, I ever saw.
Receptiveness itself. A beauty, too, or was one, and a bit of a
sphinx, which adds to the attraction. Mystery becomes a woman
vastly. One suspects her of adventures just enough to find her
society doubly piquant,'
Vincent directed him to the upper terrace, whither tea had been
taken. This terrace, which was one of the features of Murewell,
occupied the top of the yew-clothed hill on which the library looked
out. Evelyn himself had planned it. Along its upper side ran one
of the most beautiful of old walls, broken by niches and statues,
tapestried with roses and honey-suckle, and opening in the centre
to reveal Evelyn's darling conceit of all--a semicircular space,
holding a fountain, and leading to a grotto. The grotto had been
scooped out of the hill; it was peopled with dim figures of fauns
and nymphs who showed white amid its moist greenery; and in front
a marble Silence drooped over the fountain, which held gold and
silver fish in a singularly clear water. Outside ran the long
stretch of level turf, edged with a jewelled rim of flowers; and
as the hill fell steeply underneath, the terrace was like a high
green platform raised into air, in order that a Wendover might see
his domain, which from thence lay for miles spread out before him.
Here, beside the fountain, were gathered the Squire, Mrs. Darcy,
Madame de Netteville, and two unknown men. One of them was introduced
to Elsmere as Mr. Spooner, and recognized by him as a Fellow of the
Royal Society, a famous mathematician, sceptic, _bon vivant_, and
sayer of good things. The other was a young Liberal Catholic, the
author of a remarkable collection of essays on mediaeval subjects
in which the Squire, treating the man's opinions of course as of
no account, had instantly recognized the note of the true scholar.
A pale, small, hectic creature, possessed of that restless energy,
of mind which often goes with the heightened temperature of
Robert took a seat by Madame de Netteville, whose appearance was
picturesqueness itself. Her dress, a skilful mixture of black and
creamy yellow, laid about her in folds, as soft, as carelessly
effective as her manner. Her plumed hat shadowed a face which was
no longer young, in such a way as to hide all the lines possible;
while the half-light brought admirably out the rich dark smoothness
of the tints, the black lustre of the eyes. A delicate blue-veined
hand lay, upon her knee, and Robert was conscious after ten minutes
or so that all her movements, which seemed at first merely slow and
languid, were in reality singularly full of decision and purpose.
She was not easy to talk to on a first acquaintance. Robert felt
that she was studying him, and was not so much at his ease as usual,
partly owing to fatigue and mental worry.
She asked him little abrupt questions about the neighborhood, his
parish, his work in a soft tone which had, however, a distinct
loftiness, even _hauteur_. His answers, on the other hand, were
often a trifle reckless and offhand. He was in a mood to be impatient
with a _mondaine's_ languid inquiries into clerical work, and it
seemed to him the Squire's description had been overdone.
'So you try to civilize your peasants,' she said at last. 'Does
it succeed--is it worth while?'
'That depends on your general ideas of what is worth while,' he
'Oh, everything is worth while that passes the time,' she said
hurriedly. 'The clergy of the old regime went through life half
asleep. That was their way of passing it. Your way, being a modern,
is to bustle and try experiments.'
Her eyes, half closed but none the less provocative, ran over
Elsmere's keen face and pliant frame. An atmosphere of intellectual
and social assumption entrapped her, which annoyed Robert in much
the same way as Langham's philosophical airs were wont to do. He
was drawn without knowing it into a match of wits, wherein his
strokes, if they lacked the finish and subtlety of hers, showed
certainly no lack of sharpness or mental resource. Madame de
Netteville's tone insensibly changed, her manner quickened; her
great eyes gradually unclosed.
Suddenly, as they were in the middle of a skirmish as to the reality
of influence, Madame de Netteville paradoxically maintaining that no
human being had ever really converted, transformed or convinced
another--the voice of young Wishart, shrill and tremulous, rose
above the general level of talk.
'I am quite ready; I am not the least afraid of a definition.
Theology is organized knowledge in the field of religion, a science
like any other science!'
'Certainly, my dear sir, certainly,' said Mr. Spooner, leaning
forward, with his hands round his knees, and speaking with the most
elegant and good-humored _sang-froid_ imaginable, 'the science of
the world's ghosts! I cannot imagine any more fascinating.'
'Well,' said Madame de Netteville to Robert, with a deep breath;
'_that_ was a remark to have hurled at you all at once out of doors
on a summer's afternoon! Oh, Mr. Spooner!' she said, raising her
voice. 'Don't play the heretic here! There is no fun in it; there
are too many with you.'
'I did not begin it, my dear madam, and your reproach is unjust.
On one side of me Archbishop Manning's _fidus Achates_,' and the
speaker took off his large straw hat and gracefully, waved it--first
to the right and then to the left. 'On the other, the Rector of
the parish. "Cannon to right of me, cannon to left of me." I
submit my courage is unimpeachable!'
He spoke with a smiling courtesy as excessive as his silky moustache,
his long straw-colored beard, and his Panama hat. Madame de
Netteville surveyed him with cool, critical eyes. Robert smiled
slightly, acknowledged the bow, but did not speak.
Mr. Wishart evidently took no heed of anything but his own thoughts.
He sat bolt upright with shining excited eyes.
'Ah, I remember that article of yours in the _Fortnightly!_ How
you sceptics miss the point!'
And out came a stream of argument and denunciation which had probably
lain lava-hot at the heart of the young convert for years, waiting
for such a moment as this, when he had before him at close quarters
two of the most famous antagonists of his faith. The outburst was
striking, but certainly unpardonably ill-timed. Madame de Netteville
retreated into herself with a shrug. Robert, in whom a sore nerve
had been set jarring, did his utmost to begin his talk with her
In vain!--for the Squire struck in. He had been sitting huddled
together--his cynical eyes wandering from Wishart to Elsmere--when
suddenly some extravagant remark of the young Catholic, and Robert's
effort to edge away from the conversation, caught his attention at
the same moment. His face hardened, and in his nasal voice he dealt
a swift epigram at Mr. Wishart, which for the moment left the young
But only for the moment. In another minute or two the argument,
begun so casually, had developed into a serious trial of strength,
in which the Squire and young Wishart took the chief parts, while
Mr. Spooner threw in a laugh and a sarcasm here and there.
And as long as Mr. Wendover talked Madame de Netteville listened.
Robert's restless repulsion to the whole incident; his passionate
wish to escape from these phrases, and illustrations, and turns of
argument which were all so wearisomely stale and familiar to him,
found no support in her. Mrs. Darcy dared not second his attempts
at chat, for Mr. Wendover, on the rare occasions when be held forth,
was accustomed to be listened to; and Elsmere was of too sensitive
a social fibre to break up the party by an abrupt exit, which could
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