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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate - 50/90 -
"The dwarf!" exclaimed Helen, shuddering at the remembrance of what she had gone through at the cottage.
"Yes. That man's soul is as grand and beautiful and patient as his body is insignificant and distorted and troubled. He is the wisest and best man I have ever known.
"I must ask Leopold," returned Helen, who, the better the man was represented, felt the more jealous and fearful of the advice he might give. Her love and her conscience were not yet at one with each other.
They parted at the door from the garden, and she returned to the sick-room.
She paused, hesitating to enter. All was still as the grave. She turned the handle softly and peeped in: could it be that Wingfold's bearing had communicated to her mind a shadow of the awe with which he had left the place where perhaps a soul was being born again? Leopold did not move. Terror laid hold of her heart. She stepped quickly in, and round the screen to the side of the bed. There, to her glad surprise, he lay fast asleep, with the tears not yet dried upon his face. Her heart swelled with some sense unknown before: was it rudimentary thankfulness to the Father of her spirit?
As she stood gazing with the look of a mother over her sick child, he lifted his eyelids, and smiled a sad smile.
"When did you come into the room?" he said.
"A minute ago," she answered.
"I did not hear you," he returned.
"No, you were asleep."
"Not I! Mr. Wingfold is only just gone."
"I have let him out on the meadow since."
Leopold stared, looked half alarmed, and then said,
"Did God make me sleep, Helen?"
She did not answer. The light of a new hope in his eye, as if the dawn had begun at last to break over the dark mountains, was already reflected from her heart.
"Oh! Helen," he said, "that IS a good fellow, SUCH a good fellow!"
A pang of jealousy, the first she had ever felt, shot to her heart: she had hitherto, since his trouble, been all in all to her Leopold! Had the curate been a man she liked, she would not perhaps have minded it so much.
"You will be able to do without me now," she said sadly. "I never could understand taking to people at first sight!"
"Some people are made so, I suppose, Helen. I know I took to you at first sight! I shall never forget the first time I saw you--when I came to this country a lonely little foreigner,--and you, a great beautiful lady, for such you seemed to me, though you have told me since you were only a great gawky girl--I know that could never have been--you ran to meet me, and took me in your arms, and kissed me. I was as if I had crossed the sea of death and found paradise in your bosom! I am not likely to forget you for Mr. Wingfold, good and kind and strong as he is! Even SHE could not make me forget you, Helen. But neither you nor I can do without Mr. Wingfold any more, I fancy. I wish you liked him better!--but you will in time. You see he's not one to pay young ladies compliments, as I have heard some parsons do; and he may be a little--no, not unpolished, not that--that's not what I mean--but unornamental in his manners! Only, you see,--"
"Only, you see, Poldie," interrupted Helen, with a smile, a rare thing between them, "you know all about him, though you never saw him before."
"That is true," returned Leopold; "but then he came to me with his door open, and let me walk in. It doesn't take long to know a man then. He hasn't got a secret like us, Helen," he added, sadly.
"What did he say to you?"
"Much what he said to you from the pulpit the other day, I should think."
Then she was right! For all his hardness and want of sympathy, the curate had yet had regard to her entreaties, and was not going to put any horrid notions about duty and self-sacrifice into the poor boy's head!
"He's coming again to-morrow," added Leopold, almost gleefully, "and then perhaps he will tell me more, and help me on a bit!"
"Did he tell you he wants to bring a friend with him?"
"I can't see the good of taking more people into our confidence."
"Why should he not do what he thinks best, Helen? You don't interfere with the doctor--why should you with him? When a man is going to the bottom as fast as he can, and another comes diving after him--it isn't for me to say how he is to take hold of me. No, Helen; when I trust, I trust out and out."
Helen sighed, thinking how ill that had worked with Emmeline.
Ever since George Bascombe had talked about the Polwarths that day they met him in the park, she had felt a sort of physical horror of them, as if they were some kind of unclean creature that ought not to be in existence at all. But when Leopold uttered himself thus, she felt that the current of events had seized her, and that she could only submit to be carried along.
The next day the curate called again on Leopold. But Helen happened to be otherwise engaged for a few minutes, and Mrs. Ramshorn to be in the sick-room when the servant brought his name. With her jealousy of Wingfold's teaching, she would not have admitted him, but Lingard made such loud protest when he heard her say "Not at home," insisting on seeing him, that she had to give way, and tell the maid to show him up. She HAD NO NOTION however of leaving him alone in the room with the invalid: who could tell what absurd and extravagant ideas he might not put into the boy's head! He might make him turn monk, or Socinian, or latter-day-saint, for what she knew! So she sat, blocking up the sole small window in the youth's dark dwelling that looked eastward, and damming back the tide of the dawn from his diseased and tormented soul. Little conversation was therefore possible. Still the face of his new friend was a comfort to Leopold, and ere he left him they had managed to fix an hour for next day, when they would not be thus foiled of their talk.
That same afternoon, Wingfold took the draper to see Polwarth.
Rachel was lying on the sofa in the parlour--a poor little heap, looking more like a grave disturbed by efforts at a resurrection, than a form informed with humanity. But she was cheerful and cordial, receiving Mr. Drew and accepted his sympathy most kindly.
"We'll see what God will do for me," she said in answer to a word from the curate. Her whole bearing, now as always, was that of one who perfectly trusted a supreme spirit under whose influences lay even the rugged material of her deformed dwelling.
Polwarth allowed Wingfold to help him in getting tea, and the conversation, as will be the case where all are in earnest, quickly found the right channel.
It is not often in real life that such conversations occur. Generally, in any talk worth calling conversation, every man has some point to maintain, and his object is to justify his own thesis and disprove his neighbour's. I will allow that he may primarily have adopted his thesis because of some sign of truth in it, but his mode of supporting it is generally such as to block up every cranny in his soul at which more truth might enter. In the present case, unusual as it is for so many as three truth-loving men to come thus together on the face of this planet, here were three simply set on uttering truth they had seen, and gaining sight of truth as yet veiled from them.
I shall attempt only a general impression of the result of their evening's intercourse, partly recording the utterances of Polwarth.
"I have been trying hard to follow you, Mr. Polwarth," said the draper, after his host had for a while had the talk to himself, "but I cannot get a hold of your remarks. One moment I think I have got the end of the clew, and the next find myself all abroad again. Would you tell me what you mean by divine service, for I think you must use the phrase in some different sense from what I have been accustomed to?"
"Ah! I ought to remember," said Polwarth, "that what has grown familiar to my mind from much solitary thinking, may not at once show itself to another, when presented in the forms of a foreign individuality. I ought to have premised that, when I use the phrase, DIVINE SERVICE, I mean nothing whatever belonging to the church, or its observances. I mean by it what it ought to mean--the serving of God--the doing of something for God. Shall I make of the church in my foolish imaginations a temple of idolatrous worship by supposing that it is for the sake of supplying some need that God has, or of gratifying some taste in him, that I there listen to his word, say prayers to him, and sing his praises? Shall I be such a dull mule in the presence of the living Truth? Or, to use a homely simile, shall I be as the good boy of the nursery rhyme, who, seated in his corner of selfish complacency, regards the eating of his pie as a virtuous action, enjoys the contemplation of it, and thinks what a pleasant object he thus makes of himself to his parents?
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