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her mother, and if that failed, to act 'as her conscience should
direct her;' and enclosed an answer from the superior of the
convent, to a letter which Argemone had in a mad moment asked him to
write. The superior's letter spoke of Argemone's joining her as a
settled matter, and of her room as ready for her, while it lauded to
the skies the peaceful activity and usefulness of the establishment.
This letter troubled Argemone exceedingly. She had never before
been compelled to face her own feelings, either about the nunnery or
about Lancelot. She had taken up the fancy of becoming a Sister of
Charity, not as Honoria might have done, from genuine love of the
poor, but from 'a sense of duty.' Almsgiving and visiting the sick
were one of the methods of earning heaven prescribed by her new
creed. She was ashamed of her own laziness by the side of Honoria's
simple benevolence; and, sad though it may be to have to say it, she
longed to outdo her by some signal act of self-sacrifice. She had
looked to this nunnery, too, as an escape, once and for all, from
her own luxury, just as people who have not strength to be temperate
take refuge in teetotalism; and the thought of menial services
towards the poor, however distasteful to her, came in quite prettily
to fill up the little ideal of a life of romantic asceticisms and
mystic contemplation, which gave the true charm in her eyes to her
wild project. But now - just as a field had opened to her cravings
after poetry and art, wider and richer than she had ever imagined -
just as those simple childlike views of man and nature, which she
had learnt to despise, were assuming an awful holiness in her eyes -
just as she had found a human soul to whose regeneration she could
devote all her energies, - to be required to give all up, perhaps for
ever (and she felt that if at all, it ought to be for ever); - it was
too much for her little heart to bear; and she cried bitterly; and
tried to pray, and could not; and longed for a strong and tender
bosom on which to lay her head, and pour out all her doubts and
struggles; and there was none. Her mother did not understand -
hardly loved her. Honoria loved her; but understood her even less
than her mother. Pride - the pride of intellect, the pride of self-
will - had long since sealed her lips to her own family. . . .

And then, out of the darkness of her heart, Lancelot's image rose
before her stronger than all, tenderer than all; and as she
remembered his magical faculty of anticipating all her thoughts,
embodying for her all her vague surmises, he seemed to beckon her
towards him. - She shuddered and turned away. And now she first
became conscious how he had haunted her thoughts in the last few
months, not as a soul to be saved, but as a living man - his face,
his figure, his voice, his every gesture and expression, rising
clear before her, in spite of herself, by day and night.

And then she thought of his last drawing, and the looks which had
accompanied it, - unmistakable looks of passionate and adoring love.
There was no denying it - she had always known that he loved her, but
she had never dared to confess it to herself. But now the
earthquake was come, and all the secrets of her heart burst upward
to the light, and she faced the thought in shame and terror. 'How
unjust I have been to him! how cruel! thus to entice him on in
hopeless love!'

She lifted up her eyes, and saw in the mirror opposite the
reflection of her own exquisite beauty.

'I could have known what I was doing! I knew all the while! And
yet it is so delicious to feel that any one loves me! Is it
selfishness? It is selfishness, to pamper my vanity on an affection
which I do not, will not return. I will not be thus in debt to him,
even for his love. I do not love him - I do not; and even if I did,
to give myself up to a man of whom I know so little, who is not even
a Christian, much less a Churchman! Ay! and to give up my will to
any man! to become the subject, the slave, of another human being!
I, who have worshipped the belief in woman's independence, the hope
of woman's enfranchisement, who have felt how glorious it is to live
like the angels, single and self-sustained! What if I cut the
Gordian knot, and here make, once for all, a vow of perpetual
celibacy?'

She flung herself on her knees - she could not collect her thoughts.

'No,' she said, 'I am not prepared for this. It is too solemn to be
undertaken in this miserable whirlwind of passion. I will fast, and
meditate, and go up formally to the little chapel, and there devote
myself to God; and, in the meantime, to write at once to the
superior of the Beguines; to go to my mother, and tell her once for
all - What? Must I lose him? - must I give him up? Not his love - I
cannot give up that - would that I could! but no! he will love me for
ever. I know it as well as if an angel told me. But to give up
him! Never to see him! never to hear his voice! never to walk with
him among the beech woods any more! Oh, Argemone! Argemone!
miserable girl! and is it come to this?' And she threw herself on
the sofa, and hid her face in her hands.

Yes, Argemone, it is come to this; and the best thing you can do, is
just what you are doing - to lie there and cry yourself to sleep,
while the angels are laughing kindly (if a solemn public, who
settles everything for them, will permit them to laugh) at the
rickety old windmill of sham-Popery which you have taken for a real
giant.

At that same day and hour, as it chanced, Lancelot, little dreaming
what the said windmill was grinding for him, was scribbling a hasty
and angry answer to a letter of Luke's, which, perhaps, came that
very morning in order to put him into a proper temper for the
demolishing of windmills. It ran thus, -


'Ay, my good Cousin, - So I expected -


'Suave mari magno turbantibus aequora ventis
E terra magnum alterius spectare laborem . . .


Pleasant and easy for you Protestants (for I will call you what you
are, in spite of your own denials, a truly consistent and logical
Protestant - and therefore a Materialist) - easy for you, I say, to
sit on the shore, in cold, cruel self-satisfaction, and tell the
poor wretch buffeting with the waves what he ought to do while he is
choking and drowning. . . . Thank Heaven, the storm has stranded me
upon the everlasting Rock of Peter; - but it has been a sore trouble
to reach it. Protestants, who look at creeds as things to be
changed like coats, whenever they seem not to fit them, little know
what we Catholic-hearted ones suffer. . . . If they did, they would
be more merciful and more chary in the requirements of us, just as
we are in the very throe of a new-born existence. The excellent
man, to whose care I have committed myself, has a wise and a tender
heart . . . he saw no harm in my concealing from my father the
spiritual reason of my giving up my curacy (for I have given it up),
and only giving the outward, but equally true reason, that I found
it on the whole an ineligible and distressing post. . . . I know
you will apply to such an act that disgusting monosyllable of which
Protestants are so fond. He felt with me and for me - for my horror
of giving pain to my father, and for my wearied and excited state of
mind; and strangely enough - to show how differently, according to
the difference of the organs, the same object may appear to two
people - he quoted in my favour that very verse which you wrest
against me. He wished me to show my father that I had only changed
my heaven, and not my character, by becoming an Ultramontane-
Catholic . . . that, as far as his esteem and affection were founded
on anything in me, the ground of it did not vanish with my
conversion. If I had told him at once of my altered opinions, he
would have henceforth viewed every word and action with a perjudiced
eye. . . . Protestants are so bigoted . . . but if, after seeing me
for a month or two the same Luke that he had ever known me, he were
gradually informed that I had all the while held that creed which he
had considered incompatible with such a life as I hope mine would
be - you must see the effect which it ought to have. . . . I don't
doubt that you will complain of all this. . . . All I can say is,
that I cannot sympathise with that superstitious reverence for mere
verbal truth, which is so common among Protestants. . . . It seems
to me they throw away the spirit of truth, in their idolatry of its
letter. For instance, - what is the use of informing a man of a true
fact but to induce a true opinion in him? But if, by clinging to
the exact letter of the fact, you create a false opinion in his
mind, as I should do in my father's case, if by telling him at once
of my change, I gave him an unjust horror of Catholicism, - you do
not tell him the truth. . . . You may speak what is true to you, -
but it becomes an error when received into his mind. . . . If his
mind is a refracting and polarising medium - if the crystalline lens
of his soul's eye has been changed into tourmaline or Labrador spar-
-the only way to give him a true image of the fact, is to present it
to him already properly altered in form, and adapted to suit the
obliquity of his vision; in order that the very refractive power of
his faculties may, instead of distorting it, correct it, and make it
straight for him; and so a verbal wrong in fact may possess him with
a right opinion. . . .

'You see the whole question turns on your Protestant deification of
the intellect. . . . If you really believed, as you all say you do,
that the nature of man, and therefore his intellect among the rest,
was utterly corrupt, you would not be so superstitiously careful to
tell the truth . . . as you call it; because you would know that
man's heart, if not his head, would needs turn the truth into a lie
by its own corruption. . . . The proper use of reasoning is to
produce opinion, - and if the subject in which you wish to produce
the opinion is diseased, you must adapt the medicine accordingly.'


To all which Lancelot, with several strong curses, scrawled the
following answer: -


'And this is my Cousin Luke! - Well, I shall believe henceforward
that there is, after all, a thousand times greater moral gulf fixed
between Popery and Tractarianism, than between Tractarianism and the
extremest Protestantism. My dear fellow, - I won't bother you, by
cutting up your charming ambiguous middle terms, which make reason
and reasoning identical, or your theory that the office of reasoning
is to induce opinions - (the devil take opinions, right or wrong - I
want facts, faith in real facts!) - or about deifying the intellect -
as if all sound intellect was not in itself divine light - a
revelation to man of absolute laws independent of him, as the very
heathens hold. But this I will do - thank you most sincerely for the
compliment you pay us Cismontane heretics. We do retain some dim
belief in a God - even I am beginning to believe in believing in Him.
And therefore, as I begin to suppose, it is, that we reverence
facts, as the work of God, His acted words and will, which we dare
not falsify; which we believe will tell their own story better than
we can tell it for them. If our eyes are dimmed, we think it safer
to clear them, which do belong to us, than to bedevil, by the light
of those very ALREADY DIMMED eyes, the objects round, which do not
belong to us. Whether we are consistent or not about the
corruptness of man, we are about the incorruptness of God; and
therefore about that of the facts by which God teaches men: and
believe, and will continue to believe, that the blackest of all
sins, the deepest of all Atheisms, that which, above all things,
proves no faith in God's government of the universe, no sense of His
presence, no understanding of His character, is - a lie.

'One word more - Unless you tell your father within twenty-four hours
after receiving this letter, I will. And I, being a Protestant (if
cursing Popery means Protestantism), mean what I say.'


As Lancelot walked up to the Priory that morning, the Reverend
Panurgus O'Blareaway dashed out of a cottage by the roadside, and
seized him unceremoniously by the shoulders. He was a specimen of
humanity which Lancelot could not help at once liking and despising;
a quaint mixture of conceit and earnestness, uniting the shrewdness
of a stockjobber with the frolic of a schoolboy broke loose. He was
rector of a place in the west of Ireland, containing some ten
Protestants and some thousand Papists. Being, unfortunately for
himself, a red-hot Orangeman, he had thought fit to quarrel with the
priest, in consequence of which he found himself deprived both of
tithes and congregation; and after receiving three or four Rockite
letters, and a charge of slugs through his hat (of which he always
talked as if being shot at was the most pleasant and amusing feature
of Irish life), he repaired to England, and there, after trying to
set up as popular preacher in London, declaiming at Exeter Hall, and
writing for all the third-rate magazines, found himself incumbent of
Lower Whitford. He worked there, as he said himself, 'like a
horse;' spent his mornings in the schools, his afternoons in the
cottages; preached four or five extempore sermons every week to
overflowing congregations; took the lead, by virtue of the 'gift of
the gab,' at all 'religious' meetings for ten miles round; and
really did a great deal of good in his way. He had an unblushing
candour about his own worldly ambition, with a tremendous brogue;
and prided himself on exaggerating deliberately both of these
excellences.

'The top of the morning to ye, Mr. Smith. Ye haven't such a thing
as a cegar about ye? I've been preaching to school-children till me
throat's as dry as the slave of a lime-burner's coat.'

'I am very sorry; but, really, I have left my case at home.'

'Oh! ah! faix and I forgot. Ye mustn't be smokin' the nasty things
going up to the castle. Och, Mr. Smith, but you're the lucky man!'

'I am much obliged to you for the compliment,' said Lancelot,
gruffly; 'but really I don't see how I deserve it.'

'Desarve it! Sure luck's all, and that's your luck, and not your
deserts at all. To have the handsomest girl in the county dying for
love of ye' - (Panurgus had a happy knack of blurting out truths -
when they were pleasant ones). 'And she just the beautifulest
creature that ever spilte shoe-leather, barring Lady Philandria
Mountflunkey, of Castle Mountflunkey, Quane's County, that shall be
nameless.'

'Upon my word, O'Blareaway, you seem to be better acquainted with my
matters than I am. Don't you think, on the whole, it might be
better to mind your own business?'

'Me own business! Poker o' Moses! and ain't it me own business?
Haven't ye spilte my tenderest hopes? And good luck to ye in that
same, for ye're as pretty a rider as ever kicked coping-stones out
of a wall; and poor Paddy loves a sportsman by nature. Och! but
ye've got a hand of trumps this time. Didn't I mate the vicar the
other day, and spake my mind to him?'

'What do you mean?' asked Lancelot, with a strong expletive.

'Faix, I told him he might as well Faugh a ballagh - make a rid road,
and get out of that, with his bowings and his crossings, and his
Popery made asy for small minds, for there was a gun a-field that
would wipe his eye, - maning yourself, ye Prathestant.'

'All I can say is, that you had really better mind your own
business, and I'll mind my own.'

'Och,' said the good-natured Irishman, 'and it's you must mind my
business, and I'll mind yours; and that's all fair and aqual. Ye've
cut me out intirely at the Priory, ye Tory, and so ye're bound to
give me a lift somehow. Couldn't ye look me out a fine fat widow,
with an illigant little fortune? For what's England made for except
to find poor Paddy a wife and money? Ah, ye may laugh, but I'd buy
me a chapel at the West-end: me talents are thrown away here
intirely, wasting me swateness on the desert air, as Tom Moore says'
(Panurgus used to attribute all quotations whatsoever to Irish
geniuses); 'and I flatter meself I'm the boy to shute the Gospel to
the aristocracy.'

Lancelot burst into a roar of laughter, and escaped over the next
gate: but the Irishman's coarse hints stuck by him as they were
intended to do. 'Dying for the love of me!' He knew it was an
impudent exaggeration, but, somehow, it gave him confidence; 'there
is no smoke,' he thought, 'without fire.' And his heart beat high
with new hopes, for which he laughed at himself all the while. It
was just the cordial which he needed. That conversation determined
the history of his life.

He met Argemone that morning in the library, as usual; but he soon
found that she was not thinking of Homer. She was moody and
abstracted; and he could not help at last saying, -

'I am afraid I and my classics are de trop this morning, Miss
Lavington.'

'Oh, no, no. Never that.' She turned away her head. He fancied
that it was to hide a tear.

Suddenly she rose, and turned to him with a clear, calm, gentle
gaze.

'Listen to me, Mr. Smith. We must part to-day, and for ever. This
intimacy has gone on - too long, I am afraid, for your happiness.
And now, like all pleasant things in this miserable world, it must
cease. I cannot tell you why; but you will trust me. I thank you
for it - I thank God for it. I have learnt things from it which I
shall never forget. I have learnt, at least from it, to esteem and
honour you. You have vast powers. Nothing, nothing, I believe, is
too high for you to attempt and succeed. But we must part; and now,
God be with you. Oh, that you would but believe that these glorious
talents are His loan! That you would but be a true and loyal knight
to him who said - "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and
ye shall find rest unto your souls!" - Ay,' she went on, more and
more passionately, for she felt that not she, but One mightier than
herself was speaking through her, 'then you might be great indeed.
Then I might watch your name from afar, rising higher and higher
daily in the ranks of God's own heroes. I see it - and you have
taught me to see it - that you are meant for a faith nobler and
deeper than all doctrines and systems can give. You must become the
philosopher, who can discover new truths - the artist who can embody
them in new forms, while poor I - And that is another reason why we
should part. - Hush! hear me out. I must not be a clog, to drag you
down in your course. Take this, and farewell; and remember that you
once had a friend called Argemone.'

She put into his hands a little Bible. He took it, and laid it down
on the table.

For a minute he stood silent and rooted to the spot.
Disappointment, shame, rage, hatred, all boiled up madly within him.
The bitterest insults rose to his lips - 'Flirt, cold-hearted pedant,
fanatic!' but they sank again unspoken, as he looked into the
celestial azure of those eyes, calm and pure as a soft evening sky.
A mighty struggle between good and evil shook his heart to the
roots; and, for the first time in his life, his soul breathed out
one real prayer, that God would help him now or never to play the
man. And in a moment the darkness passed; a new spirit called out
all the latent strength within him; and gently and proudly he
answered her, -

'Yes, I will go. I have had mad dreams, conceited and insolent, and
have met with my deserts. Brute and fool as I am, I have aspired
even to you! And I have gained, in the sunshine of your
condescension, strength and purity. - Is not that enough for me? And
now I will show you that I love you - by obeying you. You tell me to
depart - I go for ever.'

He turned away. Why did she almost spring after him?

'Lancelot! one word! Do not misunderstand me, as I know you will.
You will think me so cold, heartless, fickle. - Oh, you do not know -
you never can know - how much I, too, have felt!'

He stopped, spell-bound. In an instant his conversation with the
Irishman flashed up before him with new force and meaning. A
thousand petty incidents, which he had driven contemptuously from
his mind, returned as triumphant evidences; and, with an impetuous
determination, he cried out, -

'I see - I see it all, Argemone! We love each other! You are mine,
never to be parted!'

What was her womanhood, that it could stand against the energy of
his manly will! The almost coarse simplicity of his words silenced
her with a delicious violence. She could only bury her face in her
hands and sob out, -

'Oh, Lancelot, Lancelot, whither are you forcing me?'

'I am forcing you no whither. God, the Father of spirits, is
leading you! You, who believe in Him, how dare you fight against
Him?'

'Lancelot, I cannot - I cannot listen to you - read that!' And she
handed him the vicar's letter. He read it, tossed it on the carpet,
and crushed it with his heel.

'Wretched pedant! Can your intellect be deluded by such barefaced
sophistries? "God's will," forsooth! And if your mother's
opposition is not a sign that God's will - if it mean anything except
your own will, or that - that man's - is against this mad project, and
not for it, what sign would you have? So "celibacy is the highest
state!" And why? Because "it is the safest and the easiest road to
heaven?" A pretty reason, vicar! I should have thought that that
was a sign of a lower state and not a higher. Noble spirits show
their nobleness by daring the most difficult paths. And even if
marriage was but one weed-field of temptations, as these miserable
pedants say, who have either never tried it, or misused it to their
own shame, it would be a greater deed to conquer its temptations
than to flee from them in cowardly longings after ease and safety!'

She did not answer him, but kept her face buried in her hands.

'Again, I say, Argemone, will you fight against Fate - Providence -
God - call it what you will? Who made us meet at the chapel? Who
made me, by my accident, a guest in your father's house! Who put it
into your heart to care for my poor soul? Who gave us this strange
attraction towards each other, in spite of our unlikeness?
Wonderful that the very chain of circumstances which you seem to
fancy the offspring of chance or the devil, should have first taught
me to believe that there is a God who guides us! Argemone! speak,
tell me, if you will, to go for ever; but tell me first the truth -
You love me!'

A strong shudder ran through her frame - the ice of artificial years
cracked, and the clear stream of her woman's nature welled up to the
light, as pure as when she first lay on her mother's bosom: she
lifted up her eyes, and with one long look of passionate tenderness
she faltered out, -

'I love you!'

He did not stir, but watched her with clasped hands, like one who in
dreams finds himself in some fairy palace, and fears that a movement
may break the spell.

'Now, go,' she said; 'go, and let me collect my thoughts. All this
has been too much for me. Do not look sad - you may come again to-
morrow.'

She smiled and held out her hand. He caught it, covered it with
kisses, and pressed it to his heart. She half drew it back,
frightened. The sensation was new to her. Again the delicious
feeling of being utterly in his power came over her, and she left
her hand upon his heart, and blushed as she felt its passionate
throbbings.

He turned to go - not as before. She followed with greedy eyes her
new-found treasure; and as the door closed behind him, she felt as
if Lancelot was the whole world, and there was nothing beside him,
and wondered how a moment had made him all in all to her; and then
she sank upon her knees, and folded her hands upon her bosom, and
her prayers for him were like the prayers of a little child.


CHAPTER XI: THUNDERSTORM THE FIRST


But what had become of the 'bit of writing' which Harry Verney, by
the instigation of his evil genius, had put into the squire's fly-
book? Tregarva had waited in terrible suspense for many weeks,
expecting the explosion which he knew must follow its discovery. He
had confided to Lancelot the contents of the paper, and Lancelot had
tried many stratagems to get possession of it, but all in vain.


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Online LibraryCharles KingsleyYeast: a Problem → online text (page 12 of 23)