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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate V2 - 20/32 -
Helen left the room, with one anxious look at her brother as she went.
Without a moment's further delay, Leopold began, and in wonderfully direct and unbroken narrative, told the sad evil tale as he had formerly told it to his sister, only more consecutively and quietly. Possibly his anxiety as to how the listener would receive it, served, by dividing him between two emotions, to keep the reuttered tale from overpowering him with freshened vividness. All the time, he kept watching Wingfold's face, the expressions of which the curate felt those eyes were reading like a book.
He was so well prepared, however, that no expression of surprise, no reflex of its ghastfulness met Leopold's gaze, and he went on to the end without a pause even. When he had finished, both sat silent, looking in each other's eyes, Wingfold's beaming with compassion, and Lingard's glimmering with doubtful, anxious inquiry and appeal. At length Wingfold said:
"And what do you think I can do for you?"
"I don't know. I thought you could tell me something. I cannot live like this! If I had but thought before I did it, and killed myself instead of her! It would have done so much better! Of course I should be in hell now, but that would be all right, and this is all wrong. I have no right to be lying here and Emmeline in her grave. I know I deserve to be miserable for ever and ever, and I don't want not to be miserable--that is all right--but there is something in this wretchedness that I cannot bear. Tell me something to make me able to endure my misery. That is what you can do for me. I don't want to go mad. And what is worst of all, I have made my sister miserable, and I can't bear to see it. She is wasting away with it. And besides I fancy she loves George Bascombe--and who would marry the sister of a murderer? And now she has begun to come to me again--in the daytime--I mean Emmeline!--or I have begun to see her again--I don't know which;--perhaps she is always there, only I don't always see her--and it don't much matter which. Only if other people were to see her!--While she is there nothing could persuade me I do not see her, but afterwards I am not so sure that I did. And at night I keep dreaming the horrible thing over and over again; and the agony is to think I shall never get rid of it, and never never feel clean again. To be for ever and ever a murderer and people not know it, is more than I CAN bear."
THE CURATE'S COUNSEL.
Not seeing yet what he had to say, but knowing that scintillation the smallest is light, the curate let the talk take its natural course, and said the next thing that came to him.
"How do you feel when you think that you may yet be found out?" he asked.
"At first I was more afraid of that than of anything else. Then after that danger seemed past, I was afraid of the life to come. That fear left me next, and now it is the thing itself that is always haunting me. I often wish they would come and take me, and deliver me from myself. It would be a comfort to have it all known, and never need to start again. I think I could even bear to see her in the prison. If it would annihilate the deed, or bring Emmeline back, I cannot tell you how gladly I would be hanged. I would, indeed, Mr. Wingfold. I I hope you will believe me, though I don't deserve it."
"I do believe you," said the curate, and a silence followed.
"There is but one thing I can say with confidence at this moment," he resumed: "it is, that I am your friend, and will stand by you. But the first part of friendship sometimes is to confess poverty, and I want to tell you that, of the very things concerning which I ought to know most, I knew least. I have but lately begun to feel after God, and I dare not say that I have found him, but I think I know now where to find him. And I do think, if we could find him, then we should find help. All I can do for you now is only to be near you, and talk to you, and pray to God for you, that so together we may wait for what light may come.--Does anything ever look to you as if it would make you feel better?"
"I have no right to feel better or take comfort from anything."
"I am not sure about that.--Do you feel any better for having me come to see you?"
"Oh, yes, indeed I do!"
"Well, there is no wrong in that, is there?"
"I don't know. It seems a sneaking kind of thing: she has got none of it. My sister makes excuses for me, but the moment I begin to listen to them I only feel the more horrid."
"I have said nothing of that kind to you."
"And yet you like to have me here?"
"Yes, indeed, sir," he answered, earnestly.
"And it does not make you think less of your crime?"
"No. It makes me feel it worse than ever to see you sitting there, a clean, strong, innocent man, and think what I might have been."
"Then the comfort you get from me does you no harm, at least. If I were to find my company made you think with less hatred of your crime, I should go away that instant."
"Thank you, sir," said Leopold humbly. "Oh, sir!" he resumed after a little silence, "--to think that never more to all eternity shall I be able to think of myself as I used to think!"
"Perhaps you used to think too much of yourself," returned the curate. "For the greatest fool and rascal in creation there is yet a worse condition, and that is--not to know it, but think himself a respectable man. As the event proves, though you would doubtless have laughed at the idea, you were then capable of committing a murder. I have come to see--at least I think I have--that except a man has God dwelling in him, he may be, or may become, capable of any crime within the compass of human nature."
"I don't know anything about God," said Leopold. "I daresay I thought I did before this happened--before I did it, I mean," he added in correction,"--but I know now that I don't, and never did."
"Ah, Leopold!" said the curate, "think, if my coming to you comforts you, what would it be to have him who made you always with you!"
"Where would be the good? I daresay he might forgive me, if I were to do this and that, but where would be the good of it? It would not take the thing off me one bit."
"Ah! now," said Wingfold, "I fear you are thinking a little about your own disgrace and not only of the bad you have done. Why should you not be ashamed? Why would you have the shame taken off you? Nay; you must humbly consent to bear it. Perhaps your shame is the hand of love washing the defilement from off you. Let us keep our shame, and be made clean from the filth!"
"I don't know that I understand you, sir. What do you mean by the defilement? Is it not to have done the deed that is the defilement?"
"Is it not rather to have that in you, a part, or all but a part of your being, that makes you capable of doing it? If you had resisted and conquered, you would have been clean from it; and now, if you repent and God comes to you, you will yet be clean. Again I say, let us keep our shame and be made clean! Shame is not defilement, though a mean pride persuades men so. On the contrary, the man who is honestly ashamed has begun to be clean."
"But what good would that do to Emmeline? It cannot bring her up again to the bright world out of the dark grave."
"Emmeline is not in the dark grave."
"Where is she, then?" he said with a ghastly look.
"That I cannot tell. I only know that, if there be a God, she is in his hands," replied the curate.
The youth gazed on in his face and made no answer. Wingfold saw that he had been wrong in trying to comfort him with the thought of God dwelling in him. How was such a poor passionate creature to take that for a comfort? How was he to understand or prize the idea, who had his spiritual nature so all undeveloped? He would try another way.
"Shall I tell you what seems to me sometimes the only one thing I want to help me out of my difficulties?"
"Yes, please, sir," answered Leopold, as humbly as a child.
"I think sometimes, if I could but see Jesus for one moment--"
"Ah!" cried Leopold, and gave a great sigh.
'YOU would like to see him then, would you?"
"Oh, Mr. Wingfold!"
"What would you say to him if you saw him?"
"I don't know. I would fall down on my face and hold his feet lest he should go away from me."
"Do you think then he could help you?"
"Yes. He could make Emmeline alive again. He could destroy what I have done."
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