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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate V2 - 6/32 -
or that right which is really wrong. But one thing I begin to see, that before a man can do right by his neighbour, he must love him as himself. Only I am such a poor scholar in these high things that, as you have just said, I cannot pretend to teach anybody. That sermon was but an appeal to men's own consciences whether they kept the words of the Lord by whose name they called themselves. Except in your case, Mr. Drew, I am not aware that one of the congregation has taken it to heart."
"I am not sure of that," returned the draper. "Some talk amongst my own people has made me fancy that, perhaps, though talk be but froth, the froth may rise from some hot work down below. Never man could tell from the quiet way I am talking to you, how much I have felt these few days past."
Wingfold looked him in the face: the earnestness of the man was plain in his eyes, and his resolve stamped on every feature. The curate thought of Zacchaeus; thought of Matthew at the receipt of custom; thought with some shame of certain judgments concerning trade, and shopkeepers especially, that seemed somehow to have bred in him like creeping things--for whence they had come he could not tell.
Now it was clear as day that--always provided the man Christ Jesus can be and is with his disciples always to the end of the world--a tradesman might just as soon have Jesus behind the counter with him, teaching him to buy and sell IN HIS NAME, that is, as he would have done it, as an earl riding over his lands might have him with him, teaching him how to treat his farmers and cottagers--all depending on how the one did his trading and the other his earling. A mere truism, is it? Yes, it is, and more is the pity; for what is a truism, as most men count truisms? What is it but a truth that ought to have been buried long ago in the lives of men--to send up for ever the corn of true deeds and the wine of loving kindness,--but instead of being buried in friendly soil, is allowed to lie about, kicked hither and thither in the dry and empty garret of their brains, till they are sick of the sight and sound of it, and to be rid of the thought of it, declare it to be no living truth but only a lifeless truism! Yet in their brain that truism must rattle until they shift it to its rightful quarters in their heart, where it will rattle no longer but take root and be a strength and loveliness. Is a truth to cease to be uttered because no better form than that of some divine truism--say of St. John Boanerges--can be found for it? To the critic the truism is a sea-worn, foot-trodden pebble; to the obedient scholar, a radiant topaz, which, as he polishes it with the dust of its use, may turn into a diamond.
"Jesus buying and selling!" said Wingfold to himself. "And why not? Did Jesus make chairs and tables, or boats perhaps, which the people of Nazareth wanted, without any admixture of trade in the matter? Was there no transaction? No passing of money between hands? Did they not pay his father for them? Was his Father's way of keeping things going in the world, too vile for the hands of him whose being was delight in the will of that Father? No; there must be a way of handling money that is noble as the handling of the sword in the hands of the patriot. Neither the mean man who loves it, nor the faithless man who despises it, knows how to handle it. The former is one who allows his dog to become a nuisance, the latter one who kicks him from his sight. The noble man is he who so truly does the work given him to do that the inherent nobility of that work is manifest. And the trader who trades nobly is nobler surely than the high-born who, if he carried the principles of his daily life into trade, would be as pitiful a sneak as any he that bows and scrapes falsely behind that altar of lies, his counter."--All flat truisms I know, but no longer such to Wingfold to whom they now for the first time showed themselves truths.
He had taken a kindly leave of the draper, promising to call again soon, and had reached the room-door on his way out, when he turned suddenly and said,
"Did you think to try praying, Mr. Drew? Men, whose minds, if I may venture to judge, seem to me, from their writings, of the very highest order, have really and positively believed that the loftiest activity of a man's being lay in prayer to the unknown Father of that being, and that light in the inward parts was the certain consequence--that, in very truth, not only did the prayer of the man find the ear of God, but the man himself found God Himself. I have no right to an opinion, but I have a splendid hope that I shall one day find it true. The Lord said a man must go on praying and not lose heart."
With the words he walked out, and the deacon thought of his many prayers at prayer-meetings and family-worships. The words of a young man who seemed to have only just discovered that there was such a thing as prayer, who could not pretend to be sure about it, but hoped splendidly, made him ashamed of them all.
Wingfold went straight to his friend Polwarth, and asked him if he would allow him to bring Mr. Drew some evening to tea.
"You mean the linen-draper?" asked Polwarth. "Certainly, if you wish it."
"Some troubles are catching," said the curate. "Drew has caught my disease."
"I am delighted to hear it. It would be hard to catch a better, and it's one a rich man, as they say he is, seldom does catch. But I always liked his round, good-humoured, honest face. If I remember rightly, he had a sore trial in his wife. It is generally understood that she ran away with some fellow or other. But that was before he came to live in Glaston.--Would you mind looking in upon Rachel for a few minutes, sir? She is not so well to-day, and has not been out of her own room."
"With all my heart," answered Wingfold. "I am sorry to hear she is suffering."
"She is always suffering more or less," said the little man. "But she enjoys life notwithstanding, as you may clearly see. It is to her only a mitigated good, and that, I trust, for the sake of an unmitigated one.--Come this way, sir."
He led the curate to the room next his own. It was a humble little garret, but dainty with whiteness. One who did not thoroughly know her, might have said it was like her life, colourless, but bright with innocence and peace. The walls were white; the boards of the uncarpeted floor were as white as scrubbing could make old deal; the curtains of windows and bed were whiteness itself; the coverlet was white; so was the face that looked smiling over the top of it from the one low white pillow. But although Wingfold knew that face so well, he almost started at the sight of it now: in the patience of its suffering it was positively lovely. All that was painful to see was hidden; the crooked little body lay at rest in the grave of the bed-clothes; the soul rose from it, and looked, gracious with womanhood, in the eyes of the curate.
"I cannot give you my hand," she said smiling, as he went softly towards her, feeling like Moses when he put off his shoes, "for I have such a pain in my arm, I cannot well raise it."
The curate bowed reverentially, seated himself in a chair by her bedside, and, like a true comforter, said nothing.
"Don't be sorry for me, Mr. Wingfold," said her sweet voice at length. "The poor dwarfie, as the children call me, is not a creature to be pitied. You don't know how happy I am as I lie here, knowing my uncle is in the next room, and will come the moment I call him--and that there is one nearer still," she added in a lower voice, almost in a whisper, "whom I haven't even to call. I am his, and he shall do with me just as he likes. I fancy sometimes, when I have to lie still, that I am a little sheep, tied hands and feet--I should have said all four feet, if I am a sheep"--and here she gave a little merry laugh--"lying on an altar--the bed here--burning away, in the flame of life, that consumes the deathful body--burning, heart and soul and sense, up to the great Father.--Forgive me, Mr. Wingfold, for talking about myself, but you looked so miserable! and I knew it was your kind heart feeling for me. But I need not, for that, have gone on at such a rate. I am ashamed of myself!"
"On the contrary, I am exceedingly obliged to you for honouring me by talking so freely," said Wingfold. "It is a great satisfaction to find that suffering is not necessarily unhappiness. I could be well content to suffer also, Miss Polwarth, if with the suffering I might have the same peace."
"Sometimes I am troubled," she answered; "but generally I am in peace, and sometimes too happy to dare speak about it.--Would the persons you and my uncle were talking about the other day--would they say all my pleasant as well as my painful thoughts came from the same cause--vibrations in my brain?"
"No doubt. They would say, I presume, that the pleasant thoughts come from regular, and the unpleasant from irregular motions of its particles. They must give the same origin to both. Would you be willing to acknowledge that only your pleasant thoughts had a higher origin, and that your painful ones came from physical sources?"
Because of a headache and depression of spirits, Wingfold had been turning over similar questions in his own mind the night before.
"I see," said the dwarfie--"I see. No. There are sad thoughts sometimes which in their season I would not lose, for I would have their influences with me always. In their season they are better than a host of happy ones, and there is joy at the root of all. But if they did come from physical causes, would it follow that they did not come from God? Is he not the God of the dying as well as the God of the living?"
"If there be a God, Miss Polwarth," returned Wingfold eagerly, "then is he God everywhere, and not a maggot can die any more than a Shakespeare be born without him. He is either enough, that is, all in all, or he is not at all."
"That is what I think--because it is best:--I can give no better reason."
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