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- Thomas Wingfold, Curate V3 - 30/31 -


by believing in a lovely hope that looks like a promise, and seems as if it ought to be true? How can a devotion to the facts of her existence be required of one whose nature has been proved to her a lie?--You speak from the facts of your nature, George; I speak from the facts of mine."

Helen had come awake at last! It would have suited George better had she remained a half-quickened statue, responsive only to himself, her not over-potent Pygmalion. He sat speechless--with his eyes fixed on her.

"You need no God," she went on, "therefore you seek none. If you need none, you are right to seek none, I dare say. But I need a God--oh, I cannot tell how I need him, if he be to be found! and by the same reasoning I will give my life to the search for him. To the last I will go on seeking him, for if once I give in, and confess there is no God, I shall go mad--mad, and perhaps kill somebody like poor Poldie. George, I have said my say. I would not have come into the garden but to say it. Good-bye."

As she spoke she rose and held out her hand to him. But in the tumult of more emotions than I can well name--amongst the rest indignation, dismay, disappointment, pride, and chagrin, he lost himself while searching in vain for words, paid no heed to her movement, and lifted no hand to take that she offered.

With head erect she walked from the summer-house.

"The love of a lifetime!--a sweet invitation!" she said to herself, as with the slow step of restrained wrath she went up the garden.

George sat for some minutes as she had left him. Then he broke the silence in his own ears and said,

"Well, I'm damned!"

And so he was--for the time--and a very good thing too, for he required it.

CHAPTER XXXI.

THOU DIDST NOT LEAVE.

The next day the curate found himself so ill at ease, from the reaction after excitement of various kinds, that he determined to give himself a holiday. His notion of a holiday was a very simple one: a day in a deep wood, if such could be had, with a volume fit for alternate reading and pocketing as he might feel inclined. Of late no volume had been his companion in any wanderings but his New Testament.

There was a remnant of real old-fashioned forest on the Lythe, some distance up: thither he went by the road, the shortest way, to return by the winding course of the stream. It was a beautiful day of St. Martin's summer. In the forest, if the leaves were gone, there was the more light, and sun and shadow played many a lovely game. But he saw them as though he saw them not, for fear and hope struggled in his heart, and for a long time prayer itself could not atone them. At length a calm fell, and he set out to return home, down the bank of the river.

Many-hued and many-shaped had been the thoughts, not that came to him from the forest, but that he had carried thither with him: through all and each of them, ever and again had come dawning the face of Helen, as he had seen it in church the day before, where she sat between her aunt and her cousin, so unlike either. For, to their annoyance, she had insisted on going to church, and to hers, they had refused to let her go alone. And in her face the curate had seen something he had never seen there until then,--a wistful look, as if now she would be glad to pick up any suitable crumb to carry home with her. In that dawn of coming childhood, though he dared not yet altogether believe it such, the hard contemptuous expression of Bascombe's countenance, and the severe disapproval in Mrs. Ramshorn's, were entirely lost upon him.

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?"


Thomas Wingfold, Curate V3 - 30/31

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