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- The Young Step-Mother - 40/124 -


'I dare say you cannot believe it was yourself, any more than I can. What brought other thoughts!'

'Practical obligations made me somewhat less dreamy, and my dear boy, Edmund, did much for me, but all so insensibly, that I can remember no marked change. I do not know whether you will understand me, when I say that I had attained to somewhat of what I should call personal religion, such as we often find apart from the Church.'

'But, Edmund, you always were a Churchman.'

'I was; but I viewed the Church merely as an establishment--human, not divine. I had learnt faith from Holy Scripture, from my boy, from the infants who passed away so quickly, and I better understood how to direct the devotional tendencies that I had never been without, but the sacramental system had never dawned on my comprehension, nor the real meaning of Christian fellowship. Thence my isolation.'

'You had never fairly seen the Church.'

'Never. It might have made a great difference to me if Dusautoy had been here at the time of my trouble. When he did come, I had sunk into a state whence I could not rouse myself to understand his principles. I can hardly describe how intolerable my life had become. I was almost resolved on returning to India. I believe I should have done so if you had not come to my rescue.'

'What would you have done with the children?'

'To say the truth I had idolized their brother to such an exclusive degree, that I could not turn to the others when he was taken from me. I deserved to lose him; and since I have seen this unfortunate strain of melancholy developed in poor Sophia, who so much resembles him, I have been the more reconciled to his having been removed. I never understood what the others might be until you drew them out.'

Albinia paused, afraid to press his reserve too far; and the next thing she said was, 'I think I understand your distinction between personal religion and sacramental truth. It explains what has often puzzled me about good devout people who did not belong to the Church. The Visible Church cannot save without this individual personal religion but without having recourse to the Church, there is--' she could not find the word.

'There is a loss of external aid,' he said; 'nay, of much more. There is no certainty of receiving the benefits linked by Divine Power to her ordinances. Faith, in fact, while acknowledging the great Object of Faith, refuses or neglects to exercise herself upon the very subjects which He has set before her; and, in effect, would accept Him on her terms, not on His own.'

'It was not refusal on your part,' said Albinia.

'No, it was rather indifference and imaginary superiority. But I have read and thought much of late, and see more clearly. If I thought of this rite of Confirmation at all, it was only as a means of impressing young minds. I now see every evidence that it is the completion of Baptismal grace, and without, like poor Sophia, expecting that effects would ever have been perceptible, I think that had I known how to seek after the Spirit of Counsel and Ghostly Strength, I might have given way less to the infirmities of my character, and have been less wilfully insensible to obvious duties.'

'Then you have made up your mind?'

'Yes. I shall speak to Mr. Dusautoy at once.'

'And,' she said, feeling for his sensitive shyness, 'no one else need know it--at least--'

'I should not wish to conceal it from the children,' he answered, with his scrupulous candour. He was supine when thought more ill of than he deserved, but he always defended himself from undeserved credit.

'Whom do you think I have for a candidate?' said Mr. Dusautoy that evening.

'Another now! I thought you were talking to Mr. Kendal about the onslaught on the Pringle pew.'

'What do you think of my churchwarden himself?'

'You don't mean that he has never been confirmed!'

'So he tells me. He went out to India young, and was never in the way of such things. Well, it will be a great example.'

'Take care what you do. He will never endure having it talked of.'

'I think he has made up his mind, and is above all nonsense. I am sure it is well that I need not examine him. I should soon get beyond my depth.'

'And what good did his depth ever do to him,' indignantly cried Mrs. Dusautoy, 'till that dear good wife of his took him in hand? Don't you remember what a log he was when first we came--how I used to say he gave you subscriptions to get rid of you.'

'Well, well, Fanny, what's the use of recollecting all our foolish first impressions. I always told you he was the most able man in the parish.'

'Fanny' laughed merrily at this piece of sagacity, as she said 'Ay, the most able and the least practicable; and the best of it is, that his wife has not the most distant idea that she has been the making of him. She nearly quarrelled with me for hinting it. She would have it that "Edmund" had it all in him, and had only recovered his health and spirits.'

And, indeed, it was no wonder she was happy. This step taken of free will by Mr. Kendal, was an evidence not only of a powerful reasoning intellect bowed to an act of simple faith but of a victory over the false shame that had always been a part of his nature. Nor did it apparently cost him as much as his consent to Sophy's admission into the Church; the first effort had been the greatest, and he was now too much taken up with deep thoughts of devotion to be sensitive as to the eyes and remarks of the world. The very resolution to bend in faithful obedience to a rite usually belonging to early youth and not obviously enforced to human reason, nor made an express condition of salvation, was as a pledge that he would strive to walk for the future in the path of self-denying obedience. Who that saw the manly well-knit form kneeling among the slight youthful ones around, and the thoughtful, sorrow-marked brow bowed down beneath the Apostolic hand, could doubt that such faith and such humble obedience would surely be endowed with a full measure of the Spirit of Ghostly Might, to lead him on in his battle with himself? Those young ones needed the 'sevenfold veil between them and the fires of youth,' but surely the freshening and renewing came most blessedly to the man weary already with sin and woe, and tired out alike with himself and the world, because he had lived to himself alone.

CHAPTER XIII.

Old Mr. Pringle never stirred beyond his parlour, and was invisible to every one, except his housekeeper and doctor, but his tall, square, curtained pew was jealously locked up, and was a grievance to the vicar, who having been foiled in several attempts, was meditating a fresh one, if, as he told his wife, he could bring his churchwarden up to the scratch, when one Sunday morning the congregation was electrified by the sound of a creak and a shake, and beheld a stout hale sunburnt gentleman, fighting with the disused door, and finally gaining the victory by strength of hand, admitting himself and a boy among the dust and the cobwebs.

Had Mr. Pringle, or rather his housekeeper, made a virtue of necessity? and if so, who could it be?

Albinia hailed the event as a fertile source of conjecture which might stave off dangerous subjects in the Sunday call, but there was no opportunity for any discussion, for Maria was popping about, settling and unsettling everything and everybody, in a state of greater confusion than ever, inextricably entangling her inquiries for Sophy with her explanations about the rheumatism which had kept grandmamma from church, and jumping up to pull down the Venetian blind, which descended awry, and went up worse. The lines got into such a hopeless complication, that Albinia came to help her, while Mr. Kendal stood dutifully by the fire, in the sentry-like manner in which he always passed that hour, bending now and then to listen and respond to some meek remark of old Mrs. Meadows, and now and then originating one. As to assisting Maria in any pother, he well knew that would be a vain act of chivalry, and he generally contrived to be insensible to her turmoils.

'Who could that have been in old Pringle's seat?' he presently began, appropriating Albinia's cherished morsel of gossip; but he was not allowed to enjoy it, for Miss Meadows broke out,

'Oh, Edmund! this blind, I beg your pardon, but if you would help--'

He was obliged to move to the window, and nervously clutching his arm, she whispered, 'You'll excuse it, I know, but don't mention it-- not a word to mamma.' Mr. Kendal looked at Albinia to gather what could be this dreadful subject, but the next words made it no longer doubtful. 'Ah, you were away, there's no use in explaining--but not a word of Sam Pringle. It would only make her uneasy--' she gasped in a floundering whisper, stopping suddenly short, for at that moment the stranger and his son were entering the garden, so near them, that they might have seen the three pairs of eyes levelled on them, through the wide open end of the unfortunate blind, which was now in the shape of a fan.

Albinia's cheeks glowed with sympathy, and she longed for the power of helping her, marvelling how a being so nervously restless and devoid of self-command could pass through a scene likely to be so trying. The bell sounded, and the loud hearty tones of a manly voice were heard. Albinia looked to see whether her help were needed, but Miss Meadows's whole face was brightened, and moving across the room with unusually even steps, she leant on the arm of her mother's chair, saying, 'Mamma, it is Captain Pringle. You remember Samuel Pringle? He settled in the Mauritius, you know, and he was at church this morning with his little boy.'


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