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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate - 4/90 -
Bascombe was on the point of saying he objected to it nowhere except in church, but for his aunt's sake, or rather for his own sake in his aunt's eyes, he restrained himself, and uttered his feelings only in a peculiar smile, of import so mingled, that its meaning was illegible ere it had quivered along his lip and vanished.
"I am no metaphysician," he said, and Wingfold accepted the dismissal of the subject.
Little passed between the two men over their wine; and as neither of them cared to drink more than a couple of glasses, they soon rejoined the ladies in the drawing-room.
Mrs. Ramshorn was taking her usual forty winks in her arm-chair, and their entrance did not disturb her. Helen was turning over some music.
"I am looking for a song for you, George," she said. "I want Mr. Wingfold to hear you sing, lest he should take you for a man of stone and lime."
"Never mind looking," returned her cousin. "I will sing one you have never heard."
And seating himself at the piano, he sang the following verses. They were his own, a fact he would probably have allowed to creep out, had they met with more sympathy. His voice was a full bass one, full of tone.
"Each man has his lampful, his lampful of oil; He may dull its glimmer with sorrow and toil; He may leave it unlit, and let it dry, Or wave it aloft, and hold it high: For mine, it shall burn with a fearless flame In the front of the darkness that has no name.
"Sunshine and Wind?--are ye there? Ho! ho! Are ye comrades or lords, as ye shine and blow? I care not, I! I will lift my head Till ye shine and blow on my grassy bed. See, brother Sun, I am shining too! Wind, I am living as well as you!
"Though the sun go out like a vagrant spark, And his daughter planets are left in the dark, I care not, I! For why should I care? I shall be hurtless, nor here nor there. Sun and Wind, let us shine and shout, For the day draws nigh when we all go out!"
"I don't like the song," said Helen, wrinkling her brows a little. "It sounds--well, heathenish."
She would, I fear, have said nothing of the sort, being used to that kind of sound from her cousin, had not a clergyman been present. Yet she said it from no hypocrisy, but simple regard to his professional feelings,
"I sung it for Mr. Wingfold," returned Bascombe. "It would have been a song after Horace's own heart."
"Don't you think," rejoined the curate, "the defiant tone of your song would have been strange to him? I confess that what I find chiefly attractive in Horace is his sad submission to the inevitable."
"Sad?" echoed Bascombe.
"Don't you think so?"
"No. He makes the best of it, and as merrily as he can."
"AS HE CAN, I grant you," said Wingfold.
Here Mrs. Ramshorn woke, and the subject was dropped, leaving Mr. Wingfold in some perplexity as to this young man and his talk, and what the phenomenon signified. Was heathenism after all secretly cherished, and about to become fashionable in English society? He saw little of its phases, and for what he knew it might be so.
Helen sat down to the piano. Her time was perfect, and she never blundered a note. She played well and woodenly, and had for her reward a certain wooden satisfaction in her own performance. The music she chose was good of its kind, but had more to do with the instrument than the feelings, and was more dependent upon execution than expression. Bascombe yawned behind his handkerchief, and Wingfold gazed at the profile of the player, wondering how, with such fine features and complexion, with such a fine-shaped and well-set head? her face should be so far short of interesting. It seemed a face that had no story.
A STAGGERING QUESTION.
It was time the curate should take his leave. Bascombe would go out with him and have his last cigar. The wind had fallen, and the moon was shining. A vague sense of contrast came over Wingfold, and as he stepped on the pavement from the threshold of the high gates of wrought iron, he turned involuntarily and looked back at the house. It was of red brick, and flat-faced in the style of Queen Anne's time, so that the light could do nothing with it in the way of shadow, and dwelt only on the dignity of its unpretentiousness. But aloft over its ridge the moon floated in the softest, loveliest blue, with just a cloud here and there to show how blue it was, and a sparkle where its blueness took fire in a star. It was autumn, almost winter, below, and the creepers that clung to the house waved in the now gentle wind like the straggling tresses of old age; but above was a sky that might have overhung the last melting of spring into summer. At the end of the street rose the great square tower of the church, seeming larger than in the daylight. There was something in it all that made the curate feel there ought to be more--as if the night knew something he did not; and he yielded himself to its invasion.
His companion having carefully lighted his cigar all round its extreme periphery, took it from his mouth, regarded its glowing end with a smile of satisfaction, and burst into a laugh. It was not a scornful laugh, neither was it a merry or a humorous laugh; it was one of satisfaction and amusement.
"Let me have a share in the fun," said the curate.
"You have it," said his companion--rudely, indeed, but not quite offensively, and put his cigar in his mouth again.
Wingfold was not one to take umbrage easily. He was not important enough in his own eyes for that, but he did not choose to go farther.
"That's a fine old church," he said, pointing to the dark mass invading the blue--so solid, yet so clear in outline.
"I am glad the mason-work is to your mind," returned Bascombe, almost compassionately. "It must be some satisfaction, perhaps consolation to you."
Before he had thus concluded the sentence a little scorn had crept into his tone.
"You make some allusion which I do not quite apprehend," said the curate.
"Now, I am going to be honest with you," said Bascombe abruptly, and stopping, he turned towards his companion, and took the full-flavoured Havannah from his lips. "I like you," he went on, "for you seem reasonable; and besides, a man ought to speak out what he thinks. So here goes!--Tell me honestly--do you believe one word of all that!"
And he in his turn pointed in the direction of the great tower.
The curate was taken by surprise and made no answer: it was as if he had received a sudden blow in the face. Recovering himself presently, however, he sought room to pass the question without direct encounter.
"How came the thing there?" he said, once more indicating the church-tower.
"By faith, no doubt," answered Bascombe, laughing,--"but not your faith; no, nor the faith of any of the last few generations."
"There are more churches built now, ten times over, than in any former period of our history."
"True; but of what sort? All imitation--never an original amongst them all!"
"If they had found out the right way, why change it?"
"Good! But it is rather ominous for the claim of a divine origin to your religion that it should be the only one thing that in these days takes the crab's move--backwards. You are indebted to your forefathers for your would-be belief, as well as for their genuine churches. You hardly know what your belief is. There is my aunt--as good a specimen as I know of what you call a Christian!--so accustomed is she to think and speak too after the forms of what you heard my cousin call heathenism, that she would never have discovered, had she been as wide awake as she was sound asleep, that the song I sung was anything but a good Christian ballad."
"Pardon me; I think you are wrong there."
"What! did you never remark how these Christian people, who profess to believe that their great man has conquered death, and all that rubbish--did you never observe the way they look if the least allusion is made to death, or the eternity they say they expect beyond it? Do they not stare as if you had committed a breach of manners? Religion itself is the same way: as much as you like about
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