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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate - 90/90 -
All the way down the river, the sweet change haunted him. When he got into the park, and reached that hollow betwixt the steep ferny slopes where he sat on the day with which my narrative opens, he seated himself again on the same stone, and reviewed the past twelve months. This was much such a day as that, only the hour was different: it was the setting sun that now shone upon the ferns, and cast shadows from them big enough for oaks. What a change had passed upon him! That day the New Testament had been the book of the church--this day it was a fountain of living waters to the man Thomas Wingfold. He had not opened his Horace for six months. Great trouble he had had; both that and its results were precious. Now a new trouble had come, but that also was a form of life: he would rather love and suffer and love still, a thousand times rather, than return to the poverty of not knowing Helen Lingard; yet a thousand times rather would he forget Helen Lingard than lose from his heart one word of the Master, whose love was the root and only pledge and security of love, the only power that could glorify it--could cleanse it from the mingled selfishness that wrought for its final decay and death.
The sun was down ere he left the park, and the twilight was rapidly following the sun as he drew near to the Abbey on his way home. Suddenly, more like an odour than a sound, he heard the organ, he thought. Never yet had he heard it on a week-day: the organist was not of those who haunt their instrument. Often of late had the curate gazed on that organ as upon a rock filled with sweet waters, before which he stood a Moses without his rod; sometimes the solemn instrument appeared to him a dumb Jeremiah that sat there from Sunday to Sunday, all the week long, with his head bowed upon his hands, and not a Jebusite to listen to him: if only his fingers had been taught the craft, he thought, how his soul would pour itself out through the song-tubes of that tabernacle of sweetness and prayer, and on the blast of its utterance ascend to the throne of the most high! Who could it be that was now peopling the silence of the vast church with melodious sounds, worshipping creatures of the elements? If the winds and the flames of fire are his augels, how much more the grandly consorting tones of the heavenly organ! He would go and see what power informed the vaporous music.
He entered the church by one of the towers, in which a stair led skyward, passing the neighbourhood of the organ, and having a door to its loft. As he ascended, came a pause in the music;--and then, like the breaking up of a summer cloud in the heavenliest of rain-showers, began the prelude to the solo in the Messiah, THOU DIDST NOT LEAVE HIS SOUL IN HELL. Up still the curate crept softly. All at once a rich full contralto voice--surely he had heard it before--came floating out on the torrent, every tone bearing a word of sorrowful triumph in its bosom.
He reached the door. Very gently he opened it, and peeped in. But the back of the organ was towards him, and he could see nothing. He stepped upon the tiles of the little apse. One stride cleared the end of the organ, and he saw the face of the singer: it WAS Helen Lingard!
She started. The music folded its wings and dropped--like a lark into its nest. But Helen recovered herself at once, rose from her ministration at the music-altar, and approached the curate.
"Have I taken too great a liberty?" she said, in a gentle, steady voice.
"No, surely," he answered. "I am sorry I startled you. I wish you would wake such sounds oftener."
"He didn't leave my brother's soul in hell, did he, Mr. Wingfold?" she said abruptly, and her eyes shone through the dusk.
"If ever a soul was taken out of hell, it was Leopold's," returned the curate. "And it lifts mine out of it too," he added, "to hear you say so."
"I behaved very badly to you. I confess my fault. Will you forgive me?" she said.
"I love you too much to be able to forgive you:" that was the word in the curate's heart, but a different found its way to his lips.
"My heart is open to you, Miss Lingard," he said: "take what forgiveness you think you need. For what I can tell, it may be my part to ask forgiveness, not to grant it. If I have been harder to you than there was need, I pray you to forgive me. Perhaps I did not enter enough into your difficulties."
"You never said one word more than was right, or harder than I deserved. Alas! I can no more--in this world at least--ask Leopold to forgive me, but I can ask you and Mr. Polwarth, who were as the angels of God to him, to pardon me for him and for yourselves too. I was obstinate and proud and selfish.--Oh, Mr. Wingfold, can you, do you really believe that Leopold is somewhere? Is he alive this moment? Shall I ever--ever--I don't mind if it's a thousand years first--but shall I EVER see him again?"
"I do think so. I think the story must be true that tells us Jesus took to himself again the body he left on the cross, and brought it with him out of its grave."
"Will you take me for a pupil--a disciple--and teach me to believe--or hope, if you like that word better--as you do?" said Helen humbly.
How the heart of the curate beat--like the drum of a praising orchestra!
"Dear Miss Lingard," he answered, very solemnly, "I can teach you nothing; I can but show you where I found what has changed my life from a bleak November to a sunny June--with its thunder-storms no doubt--but still June beside November. Perhaps I could help you a little if you were really set out to find Jesus, but you must yourself set out. It is you who must find him. Words of mine, as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, may let you know that one is near who thinks he sees him, but it is you who must search, and you who must find. If you do search, you will find, with or without help of mine.--But it is getting dark.--You have the key of the north door, I suppose?"
"Then will you lock the door, and take the key to Mrs. Jenkins. I will stay here a while, and then follow you home, if you will allow we, where we can have a little talk together. Ah, what an anthem the silent organ will play for me!"
Helen turned and went down into the church, and thence home.
The curate remained with the organ. It was silent, and so were his lips, but his heart--the music was not latent there, for his praise and thanksgiving ascended, without voice or instrument, essential harmony, to the ear that hears thought, and the heart that vibrates to every chord of feeling in the hearts it has created. Ah! what is it we send up thither, where our thoughts are either a dissonance or a sweetness and a grace? Alone in the dusky church, the curate's ascended like a song of the angels, for his heart was all a thanksgiving--not for any perfected gift, but for many a lovely hope. He knelt down by the organ and worshipped the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ--that God and no other was the God of his expectation. When he rose from his knees, the church was dark, but through the windows of the clerestory many stars were shining.
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