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Title: Foxglove Manor, Volume I (of III) - A Novel
Author: Buchanan, Robert W.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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FOXGLOVE MANOR

A Novel

By Robert W. Buchanan

In Three Volumes, Vol. I.

London

Chatto And Windos, Piccadilly

1884



PREFATORY NOTE.

The following attempt at a tragedy in fiction (a tragedy, however,
without a tragic ending) must not be construed into an attack on the
English priesthood generally. I have simply pictured, in the Rev.
Charles Santley, a type of man which exists, and of which I have had
personal experience. Fortunately, such men are uncommon; still more
fortunately, the clergymen of, the English Establishment are for
the most part sane and healthy men, too unimaginative for morbid
deviations.

ROBERT BUCHANAN.



FOXGLOVE MANOR.



CHAPTER I. ST. CUTHBERT’S.

|As the sweet, clear voices of the surpliced choristers rose in the
closing verse of the hymn, and the vicar, in his white robe and
violet hood, ascended the pulpit steps, old Gabriel Ware, sexton and
doorkeeper of St. Cuthbert’s, limped across the pavement and slipped
into the porch, as his custom was at sermon-time on Sunday afternoons.

He waited till the singing had ceased and the congregation had settled
in their pews; and while he listened to the vicar announcing his
text--“For in Him we live, and move, and have our being”--he fumbled
in the pockets beneath his black gown of office, and then limped
noiselessly out into the sunshine, where, after a glance round him, he
pulled out a short clay pipe, well seasoned, filled it with twist, and
began his usual after-dinner smoke.

It was a hot, shimmering July afternoon, and it was much pleasanter to
sit out of doors on a tombstone, listening to the vicars voice as it
came though the dark lancets like a sound of running water.

Half a mile or so away, nestled in trees, was the village of Omberley,
with its glimpses of white walls and tiled or slated roofs. Then there
were soft, hazy stretches of pasture, with idyllic groupings of cattle
and sheep and trees. The fields of wheat and barley, turnips and
potatoes, lay out idle and warm, growing and taking no care, and
apparently causing none. The sight and smell of the land filled
Gabriel with a stolid satisfaction at the order of nature and the
providential gift of tobacco.

There was but the faintest breeze stirring, and it wafted all manner
of sweet odours and lulling whispers about the graveyard. Everywhere
there was evidence of a fervent throbbing vitality and joyousness. The
soft green turf which spread all round the church to the limits of the
churchyard, here billowing over a nameless grave, here crusting with
moss the base of a tombstone or a marble cross or a pillared urn,
here edging round an oblong plot brilliant with flowers and hothouse
plants,--the very turf seemed stirred by glad impulses, and quivering
with a crush of hurrying insect life. Daisies and buttercups and
little blue and pink eyed flowers danced among the restless spears of
grass with a merry hardihood. Laburnums and sycamores stood drowsing
in the hot shining air, but they were not asleep, and were not silent,
A persistent undertone came from among their shadowy boughs, as if
the sap were buzzing through every leaf and stalk. Up their trunks,
toiling through the rugged ravines of the rough bark, travelling
along the branches, flitting from one cool leaf to another, myriads of
nameless winged and creeping things went to and fro, and added their
murmurs to the vast, vague resonance of life. A soft, ceaseless
whispering was diffused from the tall green spires of a row of poplars
which Went along the iron railing that separated the enclosure from
the high-road. Blue and yellow butterflies fluttered from one ‘flowery
grave to another; the big booming humble-bee went blundering among the
blossoms; a grasshopper was: singing shrilly in the bushes near the
railing; a laborious caravan of ants was crossing the stony wilderness
of the gravel path; a dragon-fly hawked to and fro beneath the
sycamores; small birds dropped twittering on cross or urn for an
instant, flashed away up into a tree, and then darted off into the
fields, as though too full of excitement and gamesomeness to rest more
than a moment anywhere. Soft fleecy masses of luminous cloud slumbered
in the hot blue sky overhead, and only in its remote deeps did there
seem to be unimpassioned quietude and a sabbath stillness--only there
and in the church.

Notwithstanding the dazzling sunshine and the heat, the church was
cool and dim and fragrant. The black and red tiles of the pavement,
the brown massive; pillars and airy arches of sandstone, the oaken
pews, the spacious, sanctuary with, its wide, stone steps, affected
one with a. refreshing sense of coolness and comfort. The light
entered soft and subdued through richly stained glass, for the windows
looked, not on familiar breadths, of English landscape glowing
and ripening in the July sun, but seemed rather to open into the
strangely coloured world of nineteen centuries ago. The blessing of
the little children, the raising of Lazarus, the interview at the well
with the woman of Samaria, the minstrel rout about the house of the
ruler whose little maid lay not dead but sleeping, took the place
of the mundane scenes beheld through unhallowed windows. Even the
unpictured lancets were filled with leaded panes of crimson and blue
and gold. Then there was a faint, pleasant odour of incense about the
building, emphasizing the contrast between the mood of nature and the
mood of man. St. Cuthberts was floridly ritualistic, and the vicar
was one of those who felt that, in an age of spiritual disquiet
and unbelief, a man cannot cling with too many hands to the great
Revelation which appeared to be daily growing more elusive, and who
believed that if the soul may be lost, it may also be, in a measure,
saved through the senses. Feigned devotions and the absence of any
appeal to the physical nature of man had, he was convinced, drawn
innumerable souls into indifference on the one hand, and into
Catholicism on the other. If there was a resurrection of the body as
well as of the soul, surely the body ought not to be abandoned as a
thing accursed, from which no good can come. The vicar encountered no
difficulty in realize ing his views of the dignity of flesh and blood
at St. Cuthbert’s.

A thick, softly toned carpet lay on the broad stone steps which led
up to the communion table. Behind the communion table, and for some
distance to right and left, the sanctuary walls were hung with richly
coloured tapestry. The table itself--or the altar, as it was usually
called--was draped with violet silk, embroidered with amber crosses,
and upon it stood a large crucifix of brass, with vases of flowers,
and massive brazen candlesticks on either side. In the centre a
large brass gasalier was suspended from a large ring, containing
an enamelled cross, and beneath it hung an oil-lamp, which was kept
perpetually burning. Amid all the coolness and fragrance and mystical
flush of colour, that little leaf of flame floating in its glass cup
attracted the attention of the stranger most singularly. It piqued the
imagination, and added an indescribable feeling of hallowed sorcery to
the general effect, which was that of an influence too spiritual
not to excite reverence, but too sensuous to be considered sacred.
Stepping out of the churchyard, with its throbbing warmth and glad
undertones of commotion, into the cool, soft-lighted, artificially
coloured atmosphere of the church, one might have felt as if
dropped into the Middle Ages, but for the modern appearance of the
congregation.

St. Cuthbert’s was the fashionable place of worship at Omberley, and
its afternoon service was always well attended, though at a glance
one perceived, from the chromatic effect of the pews, that the large
majority of the congregation were of the more emotional sex. As the
vicar gave out his text, his taste for the bright and beautiful must
have been gratified by the flowers and feathers and dainty dresses,
and still more by the rows of young and pretty faces which were raised
towards the pulpit with such varied expression of interest, affection,
and admiration.

The Rev. Charles Santley had been Vicar of St. Cuthbert’s for little
less than a year. He was unmarried, just turned thirty, a little over
the middle height, and remarkably handsome. It was not to be wondered
at that, with such recommendations, the new vicar had at the very
outset fascinated the maids and matrons of his congregation. A bright
shapely face, with soft dark eyes, a complexion almost feminine in its
clear flush, a broad scholarly forehead, black hair slightly thinned
with study on the brow and at the temples, black moustache and short
curling black beard,--such was the face of the vicar as he stood
uncovered before you. His voice was musical and sympathetic; the
pressure of his hand invited confidence and trust; his soft dark eyes
not only looked into your heart, but conveyed the warmth and eagerness
of his own; you felt instinctively that here you might turn for help
which would never be found wanting, and seek advice that would never
lead you astray, appeal for sympathy with a certainty that you would
be understood, obey the prompting to transfer the burthen of spiritual
distress with a sure knowledge that your self-esteem would never be
wounded. Of course there were ladies of a critical and censorious
disposition among his flock, but even these were forced to acknowledge
the charm of his presence and the kindliness of his disposition. Among
the men he was less enthusiastically popular, as was natural enough;
but he was still greatly liked for his frankness and cordiality, and
his keen intellect and sterling common sense commanded their respect.

On one thing you might always reckon at St. Cuthbert’s--a thoughtful,
eloquent sermon, delivered in a voice full of exquisite modulations.
It happened often enough that the preacher forgot the capacities of
his hearers, and became dreamy and mystical; but, though you failed to
comprehend, you were conscious that the fault lay less with him than
with your own smaller spiritual nature. This, too, happened only in
certain passages, and never throughout an entire discourse. He began
on the grass, as the lark does, and gradually rose higher and higher
in the brightening heavens till your vision failed; but, if you waited
patiently, he descended again to earth, still singing.

On this Sunday afternoon, preaching from the text in the Acts, he
held his hearers spell-bound at the outset. Referring to the memorable
discourse in which the text occurs, he conjured up before them
Athens--glittering, garrulous, luxurious, profligate--the Athens St.
Paul had seen. The vivid picture was crowded with magnificent temples,
countless altars, innumerable shapes of mortal loveliness. Here
was the Agora, with its altar of the Twelve Gods, and its painted
cloisters, and its plane trees, beneath whose shade were disputing
groups of philosophers, in the garb of their various sects. Gods
and goddesses, in shining marble, in gold and ivory, caught the eye
wherever it fell. There were altars to Fame and Health and Energy, to
Modesty and Persuasion, to Pity and to Oblivion. On the ledges of the
precipitous Acropolis glittered the shrines of Bacchus and Æscülapius,
Venus, Earth, and Ceres. Over all towered the splendid statue of
Pallas, cast from the brazen spoils of Marathon, visible, as it
flashed in the sun, to the sailor doubling the distant promontory of
Sunium. Every divinity that it had entered into the imagination of man
to, conceive or the heart of man to yearn for, every deified attribute
of human nature, had here its shrine or its voluptuous image. “Ye men
of Athens, all things which I behold bear witness to your carefulness
in religion.” It was easier, said the Roman satirist, to find a god
than a man in Athens. And yet these men, with all their civilization,
with all their art and poetry and philosophy, had not found God, and,
notwithstanding all the statues and altars they had erected, were
aware that they had not found Him; for St. Paul, as he traversed
their resplendent city, and beheld their devotions, had found an altar
with this inscription, “_To the Unknown God._” Referring then to
those “certain philosophers of the Epicureans and of the Stoics,” who
encountered the apostle, he briefly sketched the two great systems of
Greek speculation, and their influence on the morality of the age: the
pantheism of the Stoics, who recognized in the universe a rational,
organizing soul which produced all things and absorbed all
things,--who perceived in pleasure no good, in pain no evil,--who
judged virtue to be virtue and vice vice, according as they conformed
to reason; the materialism of the Epicureans, who perceived in
creation a fortuitous concourse of atoms, acknowledged no Godhead,
or, at best, an unknowable, irresponsible Godhead, throned in happy
indifference far beyond human imptration,--taught that the soul
perished as the body perished, and was dissipated like a streak of
morning cloud into the infinite azure of the inane. Following Paul as
the philosophers “took him and brought him unto Areopagus,” where from
immemorial time the judges, seated on benches hewn out of the rock,
had sat under the witnessing heavens, passing sentence on the greatest
criminals and deciding the most solemn questions of religion, he
glanced down once more at the city glittering with temples and
thronged with gods and goddesses, and bringing into broad contrast
the radiant Apollo and the voluptuous Aphrodite, with the scourged and
thorn-crowned figure on the cross, he read the message of the apostle
to the pagan world. On how many altars to-day might not the words “To
the Unknown God” be fittingly inscribed! “In Him we live, and move,
and have our being;” but how few of us have “felt after” and found
Him! In a strain of impassioned eloquence the preacher spoke of that
unseen sustaining presence, which brooded over and encompassed us; of
the yearning of the human heart for communion with the Creator; of the
cry of anguish which rose from the depths of our being, when our
eyes ached with straining into the night and saw nothing, when our
quivering hands were reached out into the infinite and clasped but
darkness; of the intense need we felt for a personal, tangible,
sympathetic Being, for an incarnation of the divinity; of those
ecstatic ascensions of the soul, in which man “felt after” and
actually touched God; and, as he spoke, his glowing words gradually
ceased to convey any definite meaning to the great majority of his
hearers: but one face, flushed with joyous intelligence, one young
beautiful face, with large, liquid blue eyes of worship, and with
eager tremulous lips, was all the while turned fixedly up to his.

Seated in a little curtained nook near the organ, a slim, fair girl
of two and twenty watched the preacher with almost breathless
earnestness. She was a bright little fragile-looking blossom of a
being, who seemed scarcely to have yet slipped out of her girlhood.
Her face was of that delicate white, tinged with a spot of pink, which
so often indicates a consumptive constitution, but in her case
this delicacy of complexion was owing rather to the fineness of the
material of which nature had moulded her. Light fine hair, in silky
confusion rather than curls, clustered about her forehead and temples.
Her little hands still clasped the music-book from which she had been
playing the accompaniment of the hymn--for Edith Dove was the organist
of St. Cuthbert’s--as though from the outset she had been too absorbed
to remember that she was holding it.

Occasionally the vicar turned towards the aisle in which she sat, and
his glance rested on her for a moment, and each time their eyes met
Edith’s heart beat more rapidly, and a deeper tinge of rose-colour
brightened her cheeks. But Mr. Santley showed no sign of kindred
emotion; he was wholly absorbed in the fervid thoughts which flowed
from his lips in such strains of exaltation. As his eyes wandered
over the congregation, however, he suddenly saw another face which was
turned attentively towards him, and which made him pause abruptly. He
stopped in the midst of a sentence. He felt the action of his heart
cease, and he knew that the blood was driven from his cheeks. He
looked dazedly down at his manuscript, but was unable to find the
place where his memory had failed him. For a few seconds there was
dead silence in the church, and the eyes of the congregation were
turned inquiringly towards the pulpit. Then, stammering and flushing,
he resumed almost at haphazard. But the enthusiasm of the preacher had
deserted him; his attention was distracted by a rush of recollections
and feelings which he could not banish; the words he had written
seemed to him foreign and purposeless, and it was only with a resolute
effort that he constrained himself to read the parallel he had drawn
between the pantheism and materialism of the days of St. Paul and
those of our own time. To the close of his sermon he never once
ventured to turn his eyes again in the direction of that face, but
kept them fixed resolutely upon his manuscript. Not till he had
descended the pulpit steps and was crossing the chancel, did he hazard
a glance across the church towards that disquieting apparition.

When the service was ended, and the choristers, headed by the
cross-bearer, had passed in procession down the nave to the vestry,
the vicar hastily disrobed and issued into the churchyard. As with a
strange fluttering hopefulness he had half anticipated, he was being
waited for. A lady was moving slowly about among the graves, pausing
now and again to read an inscription on a stone, but keeping a
constant observation on the church doors. As he came out of the porch,
she advanced to meet him, with a smile upon the face which had so
terribly disconcerted him. She was a most beautiful, starry-looking
creature--a tall, graceful, supple figure, with the exquisitely
moulded head of a Greek statue; a ripe rich complexion suffused with
a blush-rose tint; large lovely black eyes full of fire and softness;
long, curved, black eyelashes; a profusion of silky black hair parted
in little waves on a broad, bright forehead; and a pair of sweet, red
lips.

She held out a little white hand to him, and, as he took it, their
first words were uttered simultaneously.

“Ellen!”

“Mr. Santley!”

“I never dreamed,” said the vicar, excitedly, “I never dared to hope,
to see you again!”

“Oh, the world is very small,” she replied gaily, “and people keep
crossing each other at the most unexpected times and in the oddest
of places. But I am so glad to see you. Are you doing well? You can
scarcely imagine how curious it was when I recognized you to-day. Of
course I had heard your name as our vicar, but I had no idea it could
be _you_.”

“I am sure you are not more glad than I am,” rejoined the vicar. “Are
you staying at Omberley? Have you friends here?”

She regarded him for a moment with a mixed expression of surprise and
amusement.

“Do you not know that I am one of your parishioners now?” she asked,
with a pleasant laugh.

He looked wonderingly into her dark, joyous eyes, and felt a sudden
sense of chill and darkness within him, as a quick intelligence of who
and what she now was flashed into his mind.

“Are you at the Manor?” he asked, in a low, agitated voice.

“Yes,” she answered, without noticing his emotion. “We arrived only
yesterday, and have hardly had time yet to feel that we are at home;
but I could not resist the inclination to see what sort of a church,
and what sort of a vicar,” she added, with a glance of sly candour,
“we had at St. Cuthbert’s. I am really so glad I came. Of course you
will call and see us as soon and as often as you can, will you not?
Mr. Haldane will be delighted, I know.”

“You are very kind,” said the vicar, scarcely aware of what he was
saying.

“Indeed, I wish to be so,” she replied, smiling. “Of course you know
Mr. Haldane?”

“No; I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting him. He--you had gone
abroad before I came to Omberley.”

“Then you have not been here long?”

“Not quite a year yet.”

“And do you like the place--and the people?”

“Both, very much indeed!”

“You are not married yet, I think Mr. Haldane said?”

The vicar looked at her with a sadness that was almost reproachful as
he answered, “No; I have my sister living with me.”

“How pleasant! You _must_ bring Miss Santley with you when you come,
will you not?”

As she spoke she moved slowly towards the gateway opening on to the
road, where a little basket-carriage was awaiting her. He accompanied
her, and for a few seconds there was silence between them. Then they
shook hands again before she got into the carriage, and she repeated
her assurance--

“I am so glad to have met you, Mr. Santley!”

She took the reins, and, lightly flicking the ponies with the whip,
flashed upon him a farewell smile from those dark, spiritual eyes and
laughing lips.

The vicar turned back into the churchyard, and following a narrow
path that led across the sward through a wicket and a small beech
plantation, entered the Vicarage with a pale, troubled face.



CHAPTER II. AT THE VICARAGE.

|When he reached the house he found that his presence was needed at
the bedside of a labourer, who had met with a serious accident a day
or two before, and who was now sinking rapidly. Mr. Santley was a
man who never begrudged time or trouble in the interests of his
parishioners; and, though he had yet another service to attend, and
was already fatigued by the work of the day, he readily signified his
willingness to comply with the request of the dying man, and at once
started for the village.

He felt at the moment that the duty placed before him would be a
relief from the thronging recollections and the wild promptings which
had set his heart and brain in a turmoil. As he went down the road,
however, the face of the dying man who had sent to seek his priestly
aid, and the face of the beautiful wife of the owner of Foxglove
Manor, seemed to be striving for mastery over him; he was unable to
concentrate his attention on any subject. His will was in abeyance,
and he appeared to himself to be in a sort of waking nightmare, in
which the most distorted thoughts of marriage and death, of a lost
love and of a lost God, of the mockery of life, the mockery of youth,
the mockery of religion, presented themselves before him in a hideous
masquerade, till the function he was about to fulfil appeared to him
at one moment a sacrilege and at another a degrading folly.

To understand in some degree the vicars mental condition, it is
necessary to glance back on his past life. In early manhood Charles
Santley had been seriously impressed with the sense of a special
vocation to a religious life. He was the son of a wealthy merchant,
whose entire fortune had perished in one of our great commercial
crises, and whose death had followed close upon his ruin. Up to that
period Charles had been undecided as to his choice of a pursuit;
but the necessity of making an immediate selection resulted in his
devoting himself to the Church. Barely sufficient had been saved from
the wreck of their property to support his widowed mother and his
sister. For himself, he was endowed with a splendid physique, a keen
intellect, and indomitable energy; and he at once flung himself into
his new career. He supported himself by teaching until he was admitted
to orders, when he obtained a curacy, and eventually, through the
interest of some old friends of his father, he was presented with the
living of St. Cuthbert’s. In the course of these years of struggle,
however, there was gradually developing within the man a spirit which
threatened to render his success worse than useless to him. Ardent,
emotional, profoundly convinced of the eternal truths of revelation
and of the glorious mission of the Church, the young clergyman was
at the same time boldly speculative and keenly alive to the grandiose
developments of the modern schools of thought. It was not till he
stood on the extreme verge of science and looked beyond that he fully
realized his position. He then perceived with horror that it was no
longer impossible--that it was even no longer difficult--to regard
the great message of redemption as a dream of the world, the glorious
faith of Christendom as a purely ethnic mythology, morality as a
merely natural growth of a natural instinct of self-preservation.
Indeed, the difficulty consisted in believing otherwise. The
Fatherhood of a personal God was slipping away from his soul; the
Sonship of a Saviour was melting into a fantastic unreality; the
conviction of a personal immortality was dissipating into mental mist
and darkness. The mystery of evil was growing into a fiendish enigma;
virtue passed him, and showed herself to be a hollow mask.

His whole nature rose in revolt against this horrible scientific
travesty of Gods universe. He shrank back alike from the new truths
and from the theories evolved from them. His faith could not stand the
test of the wider knowledge. If God were indeed a myth, immortality
but a dream, virtue an unprofitable delusion, man simply a
beast gifted with speech, better the old faith concerning all
these--accepted though it were in despite of reason and in outrage of
immortal truth--than the hideous simulacra of the new philosophy. He
cast himself back upon the bosom of the Church; he clung to her as
to the garment of God; but he was powerless to exorcise the spirit
of scepticism. It rose before him in sacred places, it scoffed at
his most earnest and impassioned utterances; he seemed to hear within
himself cynical laughter as he stood at the bedside of the dying;
when he knelt to pray it stood at his ear and suggested blasphemy; it
converted the solemn light of the Church into a motley atmosphere
of superstition; it stimulated his strong animal nature to the very
bounds of self-restraint. Still, if he was unable to exorcise it,
he had yet the strength to contend with and to master it. Precisely
because he was sceptical he was rigid in outward doctrine, zealous for
forms, and indefatigable in the discharge of his clerical functions.
In his passionate endeavour to convince himself, he convinced his
hearers and confirmed them in the faith in which he was himself unable
to trust.

To-day the old conflict between the sacerdotal and the sceptical was
complicated by new elements of spiritual discord. After seven years of
hopeless separation, Charles Santley had once more stood face to face
with the embodied dream and inspiration of his early manhood, and had
found her, in the full lustre of her peerless womanhood, another man’s
wife. During those years he had, it was true, reconciled himself
to what then had been forced upon him as the inevitable, and he had
sternly set himself to master the problem of his existence, without
any secret hope that in the coming years his success might bring her
within his reach; but he had never forgotten her. She was to him the
starry poetry of his youth. He looked back to the time when he had
first known and loved her, as a sadder and a wiser world looks back to
the Golden Age. The memory of her was the ghost of an ancient worship,
flitting in a dim rosy twilight about the Elysian fields of memory,
and, it being twilight, the fields were touched with a hallowed
feeling of loss and a divine sentiment of regret. And now--oh, bitter
irony of time and fortune!--now that, he had achieved success, now
that all the old gulfs which had separated them were spanned with
golden bridges, now that he might have claimed her and she might have
been proud to acknowledge the claim, she once more crossed his life--a
vision of beauty, a star of inspiration--and once, more he knew that
she was hopelessly, infinitely more hopelessly than ever, raised
beyond his seeking.

He was detained so long at the bedside of the dying man that, by the
time he had again reached the Vicarage, the bells were ringing for
evening service and the western sky was ablaze with sunset. In
the church the light streamed through the lancets and the painted
casements, filling the air with motley breadths of glowing colour,
and painting pillar and arch and the brown sandstone with glorious
blazonry. Even in the curtained nook near the organ the space was
flooded with enchanted lights, and Edith Dove sat beside the tall
gilded instrument like a picture of St. Cecilia in an illuminated
missal. In the pulpit the vicar stood as if transfigured. He spoke,
too, as though he felt that this was the splendour of a new heaven
opening upon a new earth, and the glad rustle of the trees in the cool
breeze outside was the murmur of paradise.

“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,” were the words
of his text, and throughout the fervid exposition of the apostle’s
faith in the resurrection the sweet, blue eyes and the eager lips of
the organist were turned towards the preacher. He seemed this evening,
however, to be unconscious of her presence. He addressed himself
entirely to the listeners in the pews in front of him, and never cast
even a solitary glance towards the aisle where she sat.

At the close of the service Edith found Miss Santley waiting for her
at the entrance. It had now been customary for several weeks past for
Miss Dove to go over to the Vicarage on Sunday evening and remain to
supper with Mr. Santley and his sister. They went slowly through the
churchyard together, and took the little path which led to the house.
They remained chatting at the wicket for a few moments, expecting
the appearance of the vicar. When Mr. Santley issued from the church,
however, he passed quickly down the gravelled walk to the high-road.
He had thrown a rapid look towards the plantation, and had seen the
young women, but he gave no indication of having observed them.

“Why, Charles is not coming!” exclaimed Miss Santley, with surprise,
as she saw her brother; “he surely cannot be going down to Omberley
again.”

“He is not going to Omberley, dear,” said Edith, who had been watching
for the vicar, and had been keen enough to notice the hasty glance he
had cast in their direction; “he is going up the road.”

“Then wherever can he be going to? And he had not had tea yet, poor
fellow!”

Miss Santley stepped a few paces back into the churchyard, and stood
on tiptoe to catch a glimpse of him over the hedge; but the vicar had
already passed out of sight.

“Never mind, dear,” she said to Edith. “Shall we go in and have a
little chat by ourselves? He may have some sick call or other, and he
is sure to be back soon, or he would have told me where he was
going. Come, you needn’t look so sad,” Miss Santley continued, as she
observed the expression of her companion’s face.

“I didn’t think I was looking sad,” replied Edith, blushing.

“Oh yes, you were; dreadfully,” said Miss Santley, laughing in a
bantering manner.

“You don’t think Mr. Santley is--is not quite well?” asked Edith,
timidly.

“Oh no; Charles is quite well, I am sure.”

“Perhaps he is displeased with something,” said Edith, as if speaking
to herself rather than to Miss Santley.

“What a little fidget you are!” said her companion, taking the girl’s
arm. “I know what you are thinking of. I am sure he has no cause to be
displeased with _you_, at any rate.”

“I hope not,” replied Miss Dove, brightening a little. “Only I felt
a misgiving. You do feel misgivings about all sorts of things, don’t
you, Mary, without knowing why--a sort of presentiment and an uneasy
feeling that something is going to happen?”

“Young people in love, I believe, experience feelings of that kind,”
 said Miss Santley, with mock gravity, “Come in, you dear little goose,
and don’t vex your poor wee heart like that. He will be back before we
have got half our talk over.”

The vicar strode rapidly along the road until he reached the summit
of a rising ground, from which he could see two counties spread out
before him in fruitful undulations of field and meadow and woodland.
The sunset was burning down in front of him. Far away in the distant
landscape were soft mists of blue smoke rising from half-hidden
villages, and here and there flashed points of brightness where the
sun struck on the windows of a farmstead. On either hand were great
expanses of yellowing corn swaying in the cool breeze and reddening
in the low crimson light. He left the road, and passed through a gate
into one of the fields. Following a footpath, he went along the hedge
till he reached a stile. Here he was alone and concealed in a vast sea
of rustling corn. He sat down on the top of the stile, and resting
his elbows on his knees and his chin in his hands, gazed abstractedly
into the glowing west.

A single word which escaped him betrayed the workings of his mind:
“Married!”

Seven years ago, when Charles Santley began his struggle in life, he
obtained through a clerical friend a position as teacher of classics
in a seminary for young ladies in a small sea-side town in a southern
county. He found his new labour especially congenial. A handsome young
professor, whose attention was fixed on the Church, and who purposed
to devote himself to her service, was cordially-welcomed by the devout
ladies who conducted the establishment. They were three sisters who
had been overlooked in the wide yearning crowd of unloved womanhood,
and who had turned for consolation to the mystical passions of
religion. Under their care a bevy of bright young creatures
were brought up as in the chaste seclusion of a convent. Their
impressionable natures were surrounded by a strange artificial
atmosphere of spiritual emotion; life shone in upon them, as it were,
through the lancets of a-mediaeval ecclesiasticism, and their young
hearts, breaking into blossom, were coloured once and for ever with
those deep glowing tints.

It was here that the young man, in the first dawn of the romance of
manhood, met the beautiful girl who was now the wife of the owner of
Foxglove Manor. She was then turned of seventeen, and had become aware
of the first shy longings and sweet impulses of her nature. She was
his favourite pupil, and sat at his right hand at the long table
when he gave his lessons. He used her pen and pencil, referred to her
books, touched her hand with his in the ordinary work of the lesson.
Her clothes touched his clothes beneath the table. At times their
feet met accidentally. She regularly put a flower in a glass of water
before his place. All these trifles were the thrilling incidents of
a delicious romance which the school-girl was making in her flurried
little heart. He, too, was not insensible to the trifles which
affected his passionate pupil. Her great dark eyes sent electric
flashes through him. Her breath reached him sweeter than roses. Her
beautiful dark hair rubbed against his shoulder or his cheek, and he
tried to prevent the hot blood from flushing into his face. When their
hands touched he could have snatched hers and kissed it.

Ellen Derwent was happily not a boarder at the establishment, but
resided with her aunt. Her family were wealthy country people, and
Ellen, who had been ailing for a little while, had been ordered to the
sea-side for change of air. Early in the bright mornings, and after
the day’s schooling was over, Ellen wandered about the sea-shore or
took long walks along the cliffs. Santley met her first by accident,
and after that, though the meetings might still be called accidental,
each knew that to-morrow and to-morrow and yet again to-morrow
the same instinctive feeling--call it a divine chance or love’s
premonition--would bring them together.

Ah! happy, radiant days by that glad sea and in the wild loveliness
of those romantic cliffs! Oh, vision of flushed cheek and shining eyes,
and sweet red lips and throbbing bosom! Oh, dim heavenly summer dawns,
when the sea mists were just brightening, and the little birds were
singing, and the sea-side town was still half asleep, and only two
lovers were walking hand in hand along the green brow of the cliffs!
Oh, sweet autumn twilights which the shining eyes seemed to fill with
dark burning lustre! Oh, kisses, sweeter than ever pressed by woman’s
lips before or since! Oh, thrill of clasped hands and mad palpitations
of loving bosoms!

The swaying corn sounded like the sea as the breeze passed over it,
and the-murmur broke the vicars reverie.

“Married!”

Married? yes, married! The sweet secret could not be kept for ever,
and when Miss Lilburn, Ellen’s aunt, discovered it, she at once spoke
to Mr. Santley. She did not oppose his suit--indeed, she liked him
greatly, but love, after all, was no mere school-girl’s dream. Was
he in a position to make Ellen his wife? In any case, they must know
about it at home. If Mr. Derwent approved, she would be most happy
that Mr. Santley should visit her; but, in the meantime, it was only
prudent that Ellen should discontinue these pleasant rambles.

He had never seen Ellen since, until her face made his heart stand
still in the midst of his sermon.

The vicar rose from the stile with clenched hands and set teeth.

“Bitter, bitter!” he said, raising his face to the sky and shaking his
head as though he saw above him an invisible face, and spoke half in
exquisite pain, half in stoical endurance.



CHAPTER III. “THERE IS A CHANGE!”

|When Edith and Miss Santley reached the Vicarage, they went into
the parlour, which, besides having a western exposure, commanded to
a considerable distance a view of the high-road along which the vicar
had passed.

“I always think this is the pleasantest room in the house,” said Miss
Santley, as she drew an armchair into the recess of the open window,
and Edith seated herself on the couch. “Charles prefers an eastern
frontage, for the sake of the early morning, he says; but I am always.
busy in the morning, so I suppose I like the afternoon light best,
when I have a little time to sit and bask.”

“Isn’t it natural, too,” suggested Edith, “that men should prefer
sunrise and women sunset? Men are so active and sanguine, and have
so many interests to engage their attention, and women--well, as a
rule--are such dreamers! Is it not almost constitutional?”

“And when did you ever see me dreaming, may I ask?” inquired Miss
Santley.

“Oh no; you are not one of the dreamers,” replied Edith, quickly. “You
should have been called Martha instead of Mary.”

“Insinuating that I am a bit of a busybody, eh?” said Miss Santley,
with a sly twinkle of humour.

“You know I did not mean to insinuate that.”

“Or that you had yourself chosen the better part, eh?” she continued
gaily.

Edith coloured deeply, and cast her eyes on the floor, while an
expression of pain passed across her face.

“Nay, my dear, do not look hurt. You know that was only said in jest.”

“You cannot tell how such jests hurt me,” replied the girl, her lips
beginning to tremble.

“Even between our two selves?” asked Miss Santley, taking Edith’s hand
gently and stroking it with both of hers. “You know, my dear little
girl, how I love you, and how pleased I was when I discovered the way
in which that poor little heart of yours was beating. You know that
there is no one in the world whom I would more gladly--ay, or a
thousandth part so gladly--take for a sister. Don’t you, Edith? Answer
me, dear.”

“Yes,” replied the girl, letting her head hang upon her bosom, and
feeling her face on flame.

“And have I not tried to help you? I know Charles is fond of you--I am
sure of that. I have eyes in my head, my dear, though they are not so
young and pretty as yours. And I know, too, that a little while ago
he was anxious to know what I would say if he should propose to take
a wife. I shall be only too pleased when he makes up his mind. It will
relieve me of a great deal of care and anxiety. And he could not in
the wide world choose a better or a dearer little girl.”

Miss Santley was not ordinarily of a demonstrative disposition, but as
she uttered those last words she drew Edith towards her and kissed her
on the forehead.

The vicar’s sister was some twelve years his senior. A stout, homely,
motherly little woman, with plain but pleasing features, brown hair,
a shrewd but kindly expression, clear grey eyes, and a firm mouth and
chin, she was as unlike the Vicar in personal appearance as she was
unlike him in character and temperament. This family unlikeness,
however, had had no prejudicial effect on their mutual affection,
though in Miss Santley’s case it was the source of much secret
uneasiness on her brother’s account. As unimaginative as she was
practical, she was at a loss to understand her brother’s emotional
mysticism and dreamy idealism; but her knowledge of human nature made
her timorously aware of the dangers which beset the combination of a
splendid physique with a glowing temperament which was almost febrile
in its sensuous impulsiveness. She was spared the torture of sharing
that darker secret of unbelief; but she was sufficiently conscious of
the strong fervid nature of the vicar, to feel thankful that Edith had
made a deep impression on him, and that when he did marry it would be
a bright and congenial young creature who would be worthy of him and
attached to herself.

“So why should it hurt you, if I do jest a little?” asked Miss
Santley, as she kissed Edith. “Love cannot always be transcendental,
otherwise two people will never come closely together. The best gift a
couple of lovers can possess in common, is a capacity for a little fun
and affectionate wit. Your solemn lovers are always misunderstanding
each other, and quarrelling and making it up again.”

“But we are not lovers yet, Mary,” said Edith in a timid whisper.

“Not yet, perhaps; but you will be soon, if I am capable of forming
any opinion.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Edith replied with a sigh; and her soft
blue eyes filled with tears. Then raising her eyes imploringly to Miss
Santley, and nervously taking her hand, she continued: “Oh, Mary, do
not think me too forward and eager and unwomanly. Do not judge me too
hardly. I know a girl should not give her heart away till she is asked
for it. But I cannot help it--I love him--I love him so! I have done
all I could to prevent myself from loving him, but it is no use--oh!
it is no use.”

She burst into a paroxysm of passionate sobbing, and Miss Santley,
without saying a word, put her arms about her and softly caressed her
soft flaxen hair.

The outburst was gradually subdued, and Edith, with a hot glowing
face hidden on her friend’s shoulder, was too ashamed to change her
position.

“Do you feel better now, dear? asked Miss Santley in a kindly voice.

“Oh, Mary, are you not ashamed of me--disgusted?”

Miss Santley replied in a woman’s way with another kiss, and again
fondled the girl’s head.

After a pause of a few moments, she gently raised her face and
regarded it affectionately.

“You must come upstairs and wash away those tell-tales before he
returns. And”--she added a little hesitatingly--“will you not trust me
with the cause of all this trouble?”

“I am afraid you will laugh at me, dear, it must seem such a foolish
cause to you. And I know you will say it was all simply my fancy.”

“What was it?”

“You know, dear, where I sit in church?” Edith began, nervously
playing with the lace on Miss Santley’s dress. “Well, he always used
to turn twice or thrice in my direction during the sermon. I used
to think he did it because he knew I was there. And he did it this
afternoon. But in the evening he never looked once during the whole
time.”

Miss Santley began to smile in spite of herself.

“Then when he came out of the church he saw you and me waiting for
him--I saw him give one single sharp look--and then he went on as if
he had not perceived us. He would not have gone away like that, Mary,
if I had not been with you.”

“And is that all?” inquired Mary as Edith paused.

“I think it is quite enough,” the latter replied sorrowfully. “It
means that he is tired of me; he was displeased that I was with you;
he did not want to speak to me.”

“My dear girl, all this is simply silly fancy; you will make your
whole life miserable if you imagine things in this way.”

“I knew you would say that; but you do not understand. I hardly
understand myself; but I know what I say is true. You remember old
Harry Wilson down in the village--he has a wooden leg, you know, but
when there is going to be a bad change of weather, he says he can feel
it in the foot he has lost; and he is always right. I think I am like
him, dear; I have lost something, and it makes me feel when there is a
change, long before the storm breaks.”

“All this is nothing but nonsense, my little woman!” said Miss Santley
reassuringly. “Come with me upstairs, and let us make ourselves
presentable.” When Edith had bathed her face, the two came downstairs
again, but instead of returning to the parlour they went into the
library. This was specially the vicar’s room, and, more than any
other, it indicated the tastes and character of its occupant. The
whole house, indeed, was tinged with the mediaeval colouring of
the church, and in all parts of it you came upon indications of the
ecclesiastical spirit of the owner; but here the vicar had given
fullest expression to his fancy, and the room had as much the
appearance of an oratory as of a library. At one end a small alcove
jutted out into the plantation, and the windows were filled with
stained glass. On the walls hung several of Raphael’s cartoons; on the
mantelpiece stood, under glass, a marble group of The Dead Christ;
the furniture, which was of carved oak, suggested the stalls in
the chancel; the brass gasalier and brackets were of ecclesiastical
design; and, lastly, the library shelves were solemnly weighted with
long rows of theology, sermons, and Biblical literature in several
languages. In a separate bookcase, which was kept locked, were
gathered together a number of scientific works and volumes of modern
speculative philosophy. A third bookcase was devoted to history,
poetry, travels, and miscellaneous works. The great bulk of the
library, however, was clerical, and the vicar had within arm’s reach
a fair epitome of all that the good men of all ages and many countries
had discovered regarding the mystery of the world and the relationship
of man.

In one corner of the room stood a tall richly carved triangular
cupboard of black oak, and it too, like the bookcase of science, was
kept perpetually locked.

As Edith entered the room her eyes fell upon it, and turning to her
companion she asked--

“Oh, Mary, have you discovered the skeleton yet?”

“No,” replied Miss Santley, with a laugh. “Charles is forgetful enough
in some things, but he has never yet left the key in that lock. I once
asked him what it was he concealed so carefully, but he refused
to satisfy my curiosity; so I resolved to trust to chance and his
carelessness. I have waited so long, however, that my curiosity has at
last been tired out. I don’t suppose, after all, it is anything worth
knowing.”

“And why does he always keep this bookcase locked too? The books all
look so fresh and new, and they are much more attractive than those
dusty old fellows any one can look into. I should like to read several
of those, one hears so much about them. There is Darwin, ‘The Descent
of Man’--I have read articles about that book in the magazines, and I
know he believes Adam and Eve were apes in Paradise or something like
that.”

“Oh, my dear, Charles would never allow you to read those books on any
account. They are all dreadfully wicked and blasphemous. He only
reads them himself to refute them and to be able to show how false and
dangerous they are.”

Edith, who had approached the window, now suddenly started back, and a
bright flush rose to her face.

“Here is Mr. Santley, Mary! How pale and wearied he looks!”

A moment or two later the vicar entered the library. At the sight of
Miss Dove he paused for an instant, and then advancing, held out his
hand to her.

“You here, Miss Edith!” he said coldly. “How are you, and how is your
aunt?”

He did not wait for an answer, but went to his writing-table and sat
down.

The two women exchanged glances of surprise, and Edith’s face grew sad
and white.

“Are you not well, Charles?” his sister asked, going up to him and
looking solicitously into his face.

“I am not very well this evening,” replied the vicar; “it is the
weather, I think. If Miss Edith will excuse me, I think I will leave
you and lie down. I feel tired.”

He rose again abruptly, and Edith stood regarding him with large,
wistful eyes. He moved towards the door, and then suddenly stopped and
turned to her.

“Good evening,” he said once more, holding out his hand and speaking
in a cold, distant manner. “Present my compliments to your aunt.”

“I hope you will be well in the morning,” said Edith, timidly.

“Thanks. Yes; I expect I shall be all right again after a little
rest.”

He turned and left her, and Miss Santley, glancing at her
significantly, followed him to his room.

“He has over-exerted himself to-day,” said Mary a little later, as she
accompanied Miss Dove to the garden gate. “He had a sick call in the
afternoon, and was unable to take his usual rest. You will excuse my
not accompanying you home, will you not?”

“Oh certainly,” said Edith. “I hope it is nothing serious. Would you
not like to see Dr. Spruce? I can call, you know.”

“He says he does not need the doctor; he knows what is the matter with
him, and only requires rest. Good night, dear! I am so sorry I cannot
go part of the way with you.”

“Do not think of that,” said Edith, shaking hands. “It is not late,
and you must not leave him.”

The sunset had lowered down to its last red embers, but it was still
quite light as Edith turned away from the Vicarage gate. She proceeded
slowly down the road towards the village for a few moments, and then
paused and looked back. No one was on the road. Retracing her steps,
she passed the Vicarage at a quick pace, and took the direction which
the vicar had taken an hour before. Strangely enough, she stopped at
the top of the rising ground where he had stopped; went through the
same gate, into the same field, and, following the same path, reached
the stile on which he had sat. Here she sat down, with the great sea
of corn whispering and murmuring about her, and the distant landscape
growing-gradually more and more indistinct in the bluish vapour of the
twilight. Alone and hidden from observation, she sat on the step with
her arms on the cross-bar of the stile and her head laid on them,
weeping bitterly.

“I have lost something, and it makes, me feel when there is a change!”



CHAPTER IV. GEORGE HALDANE.

|The low-lying landscape had vanished in the twilight, and the stars
were twinkling in the clear blue sky before Edith rose, dried her
eyes, and began to return homeward. The moon had risen, but had yet
scarcely freed itself from the tops of the dark woods, through which
it shone round and ruddy. As she passed the Vicarage, she paused and
looked up at the windows. She felt prompted to steal quietly up to
the door and inquire whether Mr. Santley was any better, but a fear
arising from many causes held her back. Besides, the house was in
darkness, and every one seemed to have retired to rest.

Since Edith had been in the habit of visiting the Vicarage, this was
the first occasion on which she had returned home alone. Unreasonable
as she acknowledged the suspicion to be, she could not rid herself
of the belief that Mr. Santleys indisposition had been, assumed as an
excuse for avoiding her. She strove to convince herself that she was
foolishly sensitive and jealous, to hope that the change in the vicars
manner was but an illusion of her excited fancy, to feel confident
that when she saw him to-morrow she would recognize how childish she
had been.

Miss Dove was exceedingly fond of music, and during the week she was
accustomed to spend hours alone in the church, giving utterance to her
thoughts, and feelings in dreamy voluntaries, which were the fugitive
inspiration of the moment, or filling the cool, richly lighted aisles
with the impassioned strains of Mozart, Haydn, and Mendelssohn. The
sound of the organ could be heard at the Vicarage, and Mr. Santley had
been in the habit of going into the church, and conversing with her
while she played. It was with the hope that one of his favourite
pieces would again bring him to her that, during the afternoon of the
following day, Edith took her seat at the organ. With nervous, eager
fingers she swept the key-board, and sent her troubled heart into
the yearning anguish and clamorous impetration of the _Agnus Dei_
of Haydn’s No. 2. When she had finished she rested for a little, and
glanced expectantly down the aisle; but no footstep disturbed
the quiet of the place. She then turned to another of the vicar’s
favourites--a _Gloria_ of Mozart’s. The volumes of throbbing sound
vibrated through the stained windows, and floated across the bright
churchyard to the Vicarage; but Ediths hope was not realized. She
played till she felt wearied, rather with the hopelessness of her task
than with the physical exertion; but the schoolboy who blew the organ
for her was exhausted, and when she saw how red and hot he looked,
she closed the instrument and dismissed him. Every day that week she
repeated her experiment, but her music had apparently lost its
magical influence. The vicar never came. She called thrice to see Miss
Santley, but each time he was away from home. Once she saw him in the
village, and her heart began to beat violently as he approached; but
they were on different sides of the street, and instead of crossing
over to her, as he had always done hitherto, he merely smiled, raised
his hat, and passed on. Sunday came round at length, and she looked
forward with a sad, painful wonder to the customary visit in the
evening.

It was a bright, breezy sabbath morning, and the great limes and
sycamores which buried Foxglove Manor in a wilderness of billowy
verdure, rolled gladsomely in the sun, and filled the world with a
vast sealike _susurrus_. On the stone terrace which ran along the
front of the mansion the master of the Manor was lounging, with a
cigar in his mouth, and a huge deer-hound basking at his feet; while
in the shadow of the room his wife stood at an open French window,
conversing with him.

Mr. Haldane was a tall, broad-shouldered, powerful man of about
forty years of age. His face, especially in repose, was by no means
handsome. His grave, large, strongly marked features expressed
decision, daring, and indomitable force. His forehead was broad, and
deeply marked with the perpendicular lines of long mental labour. The
poise of his head suggested a habit of boldly confronting an opponent.
His short hair and closely trimmed beard were touched with gray, and
gave a certain keenness and frostiness to his appearance. A grim,
self-sufficing, iron-natured man, one would have said, until one had
looked into his bright blue-gray eyes, which lit up his strong, rugged
face with an expression of frankness and dry humour.

“My dear Nell,” he said at length, in answer to the persistent
persuasion of his wife, “do not be cross. There are two things in the
world which I abhor beyond all others: a damp church and a dry
sermon. Invite your vicar as often as you please. I will do my best to
entertain him; but do not press me to sit out an interminable farrago
of irritating platitudes in a chilly, straight-backed pew.”

“I assure you, George, you will be charmed with him, if you will only
let me prevail on you to come.”

“Why cannot you Christians dispense with incense, and allow smoking
instead--at least during the sermon?”

Mrs. Haldane made a little grimace of horror.

“You would then have whole burnt offerings dedicated with a devout and
cheerful heart.”

“George, you are shockingly profane! I see it is no use urging you
any further; but I did think you would have put yourself to even some
little inconvenience for my sake.”

“For your sake, Nell!” replied Mr. Haldane, laughing. “Why did you not
say so sooner? You know I would do anything on those terms. Have I not
often told you the married philosopher has but one moral law--to do
his wife’s will in all things.”

“Then you will accompany me?”

“Certainly I will.”

“You are a dear, good old bear,” exclaimed Mrs. Haldane, slipping on
to the terrace and caressing his head with both hands. “But you
know you _are_ a bear, and you will try for once to be nice and
good-natured, will you not? And you will not be cold and cynical
with him because he is ideal and enthusiastic? And if you do not
acknowledge that he is a delightful preacher, and that the dear little
church is charming----”

“You will not ask me to go again?”

“I was going to say that, but it will be wiser to make no promises.
You know, dear, you should go to church, if it were only for the sake
of giving a good example; and it is my duty to try and persuade you
to go. And oh, George, seriously I do wish you could feel that it drew
you nearer to God; that where two or three are gathered together, He
is in the midst of them. Now, do not smile in that hard, derisive
way. I know I cannot argue with you, but if I cannot reply to your
reasoning, you cannot convince my heart. I do believe, in spite of all
logic, that I have a heavenly Father who loves and watches over me and
you too, dear; and I should be wretched----”

“My dear little woman,” said Mr. Haldane, taking both her hands in one
of his, “you have no cause to be wretched. I have no wish to deprive
you of your belief in a heavenly Father. With women the illusions of
the heart last longer than with men; and perhaps, in these days of
change and innovation, it is as well that women have still a creed to
find comfort in. For my part, I confess I hardly understand what it
is attracts you in your religion. The civilized world, so far as I can
see, has outgrown the golden age of worship, and _latria_ is one of
the lost arts.”

The presence of the master of Foxglove Manor created considerable
surprise and curiosity among the congregation at St. Cuthbert’s.
Though he had lived in the neighbourhood for the last twelve years,
this was the first time he had been seen inside a church. Much more
attention was paid during the service to the beautiful lady of the
Manor, and the grim, powerful man who sat beside her, than was in
keeping with the sacred character of the occasion. Mr. Haldane, on his
part, though he did his best by imitating the example of his wife to
conform to the ritual, was keenly critical of the whole service. The
dim religious light of the painted windows pleased his eye, but failed
to exercise any influence on his feelings. The decorations of the
church seemed to him insincere and artificial. He missed in the
atmosphere that sense of reverence which he had experienced in the old
cathedrals in Spain and Italy. The ceremonies appeared dry, joyless,
and uninteresting, and as he watched the congregation bowing,
kneeling, praying, singing, pageants of the jubilant mythic worship of
the ancient world crowded upon his imagination.

“What are you thinking of?” his wife once whispered, as she caught a
sidelong glance at his abstracted face.

“Diana at Ephesus!” he replied, with a curious twinkle in his keen
gray eyes.

Once or twice during the sermon a saturnine smile passed across
his face, and Mrs. Haldane pressed his foot by way of warning; but
otherwise he listened gravely throughout, with his large, strongly
marked features turned to the preacher.

“Well, have you been interested, dear?” asked Mrs. Haldane, when the
service was over, and they were waiting in the churchyard for the
vicar.

“Yes,” he replied drily; “your vicar is interesting.”

“Now, what do you mean by that?”

“He will repay study, my dear.”

Mrs. Haldane looked sharply into her husband’s face, but was
dissatisfied with her scrutiny.

“You don’t like him?”

“I have no reason yet to like or dislike him. In a general way, I
should prefer to say that I do like him.”

“But what do you mean by your remark that he will repay study?”

“Perhaps you will not understand me,” he answered thoughtfully. “Your
vicar has a soul, Nell.”

“So have we all, I suppose.”

“At least he believes he has one,” said Mr. Haldane, with a slight
shrug of his shoulders.

“Well!”

“And he is trying to save it.”

“We all are, I hope.”

“I beg your pardon, Nell; the phenomenon in these days is a
psychological rarity, and, being rare, is naturally interesting. It
is one of the obscure problems of cerebration. Ah! here comes your
vicar.”

With a bright smile Mrs. Haldane advanced to meet him, and cordially
shook hands with him. “You must allow me to introduce you to my
husband. George, Mr. Santley.”

“My wife tells me,” said Mr. Haldane, as they shook hands, “that she
was an old pupil of yours.”

“Yes,” said the vicar, with an uneasy glance towards her, “many years
ago.”

“It is a little curious,” continued Mr. Haldane, “how people lose
sight of each other for years, and then are unexpectedly thrown
together into the same small social circle, after they have quite
forgotten each others existence.”

The vicar winced at the last words, but replied with a faint smile,
“The great world is, after all, a very little world.”

“Ah, my dear sir, I see I have started a familiar train of
thought--the littleness of the world,” said Mr. Haldane, with a dry
light in his eyes.

“And you fear I may improve the occasion?” asked the vicar a little
coldly.

“Pray do not misunderstand my husband,” interposed Mrs. Haldane. “He
was delighted with your sermon to-day; and I do not wonder, for you
have the power of appealing to the heart and raising the mind beyond
earthly things. It was only a few moments ago that he told me he was
deeply interested.”

“I perceived that he was amused once or twice,” replied the vicar,
with a smile.

“I confess that I may have smiled at one or two points in your
discourse.”

“Excuse my interrupting you,” said Mrs. Haldane; “will you not walk?
You can spare time to accompany us a little way?”

Mr. Santley bowed, and Mrs. Haldane signed to the coachman to drive on
slowly towards the village.

“For example,” resumed Mr. Haldane, “I see you still stick to the old
chronology and the mythic Eden.”

“Certainly I do.”

“And yet you should be aware that at least a thousand years before the
date you fix for the creation of Adam, tribes of savage hunters and
fishers peopled the old fir-woods of Denmark, and set their nets in
the German Ocean.”

“It may eventually prove necessary to revise the chronology of the
Bible,” replied the vicar; “but there is at present too much conflict
of opinion among your archaeologists to decide on the absolute age of
these tribes. After all, the question is one of minor importance.”

“Granted. But you cannot say the same of the efficacy of prayer.”

Mrs. Haldane laid her hand on her husband’s arm, and stopped abruptly.
“Ask Mr. Santley to dinner, George, and then you can discuss as long
and as profoundly as you like; but I will not allow you to argue now.
Besides, I want to talk to Mr. Santley.”

Mr. Haldane laughed good-naturedly. “Just as you please, my dear. If
Mr. Santley will favour us with his company, I shall be very glad.
Your predecessor was a frequent visitor at our house. A jovial,
rubicund fellow, whose troubles in this life were less of the world
and the devil than of the flesh! A fat, ponderous man and a Tory, as
all fat men are; a sort of Falstaff _in pontificalibus_; a man with a
wit and a shrewd palate for old port. Poor fellow! he was snuffed out
like a candle. One could have better spared a better man.”

“Will you come to-morrow?” asked Mrs. Haldane; “and, if your sister
can accompany you, will you bring her? You will excuse our informality
and so short a notice.”

“I shall be very happy to call tomorrow.”

“Then, if you can spare me a few moments I will have a better
opportunity of speaking to you. I must learn all about the parish,
and I have a whole catechism of questions to ask you. You will come
to-morrow, then?” she concluded, with one of those flashing looks from
her great dark eyes.

He watched them drive away with that look burning in his brain and
the pressure of her hand tingling through every nerve. He stood gazing
after her with a passionate light in his eyes and an eager, yearning
expression on his pale, agitated face. This was the woman he had
lost, and now they were again thrown together in the same small social
circle, after she had completely forgotten his existence! Those words
of her husband had cut him to the quick. Could she so soon, so easily,
so completely have forgotten him? It seemed incredible. If she
had used any such expression to her husband, was it not rather to
forestall any jealous suspicion on his part? Clearly she had not
divulged the secret of those schoolgirl days. _He_ knew not the
story of that sweet, imperishable romance; those burning kisses and
unforgotten vows had been hidden from him; and in that concealment
the vicar found a strange, subtle pleasure. It was at least one tie
between him and her; one secret in common in which her husband had no
share.



CHAPTER V. THE LAMB AND THE SHEPHERD.

|The vicar was standing close beside the village school, and as he
turned to go back home he saw the schoolmistress in the doorway of
her little cottage. He started as though she had been looking into his
heart, instead of watching the carriage as it bowled along towards
the village. Without a moment’s hesitation, however, he opened the
schoolyard gate and went up to her.

“Well, Miss Greatheart, how are you to-day?”

Dora, a bright, merry-looking woman of about thirty, dropped a curtsy,
and invited the vicar into the house.

“Thank you, no; I must not stay. I have just been speaking, as you
have seen, to my new parishioners. I call them new, though I suppose
they are older in the parish than I am myself.”

“Old as they are, this is the first time I ever set eyes on Mr.
Haldane in our church, sir. His pretty wife must have converted him.”

“Then they have not been long married?”

“Somewhere about two years, I should think. All last year they were
away in Egypt and Palestine; and perhaps now that he’s seen the Land,
he believes in the Book.”

“Indeed!”

“Seeing’s believing, you know, sir; and if all tales be true, he used
not to believe in anything from the roof upward. Oh, you may well look
shocked, sir, but he was quite an atheist and an infidel; but you see
he was so rich that the gentry round about didn’t care to give him
the go-by. I suppose you haven’t been to the Manor yet, sir? The old
vicar, Mr. Hart, was always there. People did say he paid more court
to the people at the Manor than he should have done, considering the
need for him in the parish; and when Mr. Hart got his second stroke,
there were those that said it was a judgment on him for high living,
and the company he kept. But you know, sir, how folks’ tongues will
wag.”

“Is the Manor far from here? Of course I have heard of the place, but
I have never been near it.”

“It’s about four miles, sir, and a lonely place it is, and dismal it
must be in winter, with miles of wood about it. In summer it is not
so bad, but it is awfully wild and solitary. I went over the grounds
once, years ago. I became acquainted with one of the housemaids, you
see, sir--quite a nice young person--and she invited me to tea. I
remember it was getting dusk when I left, and she took me through the
woods. Dear me, what a fright I got! I happened to look up, and there
was a man, quite a giant, standing among the trees. I screamed, and
would have run had not Jane--that was the maid, sir--laughed, and said
it was only a statue. And so it was, for we went right up to it. All
the woods are full of statues--quite improper and rude, and rather
frightening to meet in the dusk. But now he is converted, Mrs. Haldane
will have them all taken away, I should think. I don’t believe the
place is haunted, though there are some strange stories told about
it; but I do know that the chapel--there is an old chapel close by
the house--is shut up, and no one goes near it but Mr. Haldane and
his valet--a dark foreign person, with such eyes! Queer tales are told
about lights being seen in it at all hours of the night, and some of
the old folk believe that if any one could look in they would see that
the foreign valet had horns and a cloven foot, and that his master was
worshipping him. I think that’s all nonsense myself; but there’s no
doubt Mr. Haldane used to be dreadfully wicked, and an atheist.”

“If he was so very bad,” said the vicar, smiling, “surely it was
strange that Mr. Hart used to associate with him so much.”

“Well, you see, sir, he was always liberal, and kept a good table, and
Mr. Hart was a cheerful liver. Then Mr. Haldane was always ready with
his purse when there was a hard winter, or the crops were bad, or any
poor person was ill.”

“I see, I see,” said the vicar.

“But his charity could not do him any good, people said, when he
didn’t believe there was a God, or that he had a soul.”

“So they didn’t consider it worth while to be thankful?”

“I don’t think they did, sir.”

“And was Mrs. Haldane staying at the Manor the first year of their
marriage?”

“Yes; he brought her back with him after the honeymoon.”

“And do they speak as kindly of her in the village as they do of her
husband?”

“Oh, indeed, sir, they worship her. Even old Mother Grimsoll, who said
she wanted to make a charity woman of her when you bought her that
scarlet cloak last winter, has a good word for Mrs. Haldane. She isn’t
the least bit conceited, and she knows that poor people have their
proper pride; and when she helps any one she makes them feel that they
are doing her a favour. When Mr. Hart was alive she used to go round
with him, devising and dispensing charities. It’s only a pity she is
married to--to--“--and Miss Greatheart beat impatiently on the ground
with her foot in the effort to recall the word--“to an agnostic. Mr.
Hart said he wasn’t an atheist, but an agnostic, though I dare say if
the truth were known one is worse than the other.”

“You are not very charitable, Miss Greatheart; come, now, confess,”
 said the vicar, good-humouredly.

“Perhaps not, sir; but I have no patience with atheists and
agnostics.”

“An atheist,” continued the vicar, “is a person who does not believe
in a God; an agnostic is one who merely says he does not know whether
there is a God or not.”

“Doesn’t know!” exclaimed Dora, indignantly. “Wherever was the man
brought up?”

That evening, as Miss Santley and Edith went across from the church to
the Vicarage together, the vicar joined them, and Miss Dove remained
to supper as usual. The time passed pleasantly enough; but Edith
was conscious of a certain restraint, in the conversation, a curious
chilliness in the atmosphere. When at length she rose to go home, the
vicar went to the window, and looked out for a few seconds.

“I think, Mary, you might accompany us; and when we have seen Miss
Edith home, we could take a turn round together. It is a beautiful
night.”

Mary nodded assent, and Edith felt her heart sink within her. She was
certain now that he was avoiding her. As she followed Miss Santley
upstairs to put on her things, a sudden thought flashed upon her.

“I shall be with you in a moment, Mary,” she said; “I have dropped my
handkerchief, I think.”

She ran back to the parlour, and met the vicar face to face as he
paced the room.

She stood still, and looked at him silently for a moment. She had
taken him by surprise, and he too stood motionless.

“Well,” he said at last, with a faint smile.

“Do you hate me, Charles?” she asked in a low, steady voice.

“Hate you! Why should I hate you, my dear Edith? What should put such
thoughts----”

“I have only a few seconds to speak to you,” Miss Dove continued
hastily. “Answer me truly and directly. You do not hate me?”

“I shall never hate you, dear.”

“‘Why do you avoid me?”

“Have I avoided you?”

“You know you have. Why?”

“I have not avoided you, Edith.”

“Do you still love me?”

“You know I do.”

“As much as ever you did?”

“As much as ever.”

“Can I see you to-morrow--alone?”

“You know I am going to the Manor.”

“I know,” said Edith, with a slight tone of bitterness. “You will
return in the evening, I suppose? I shall wait for you on the road
till nine o’clock.”

“I may be detained, you know, Edith.”

“Then I shall be practising in the church on Tuesday afternoon as
usual.”

“Very well,” he assented.

“Am I still to trust you, Charles?” she asked, raising her soft blue
eyes earnestly to his face.

“Yes.”

“Yes?” She dwelt upon the word, still looking fondly up to him. He
understood her, and bent over and kissed her.

“You will try to return home tomorrow before nine? I have been
miserable all this week, and I have so much to say to you.”

“I will try to see you,” said the vicar.

“I must run now; Mary will wonder what has kept me.”

The great woods about Foxglove Manor were certainly lovely, and in the
winter, with the snow on their black branches, and snow on the fallen
leaves and the open spaces between the clumps of forestry, the place
might have seemed dreary and dismal; but on this July afternoon the
vicar experienced an indescribable sense of buoyancy and enlargement
among these vast tossing masses of foliage. Their incessant murmur
filled the air with an inarticulate music, which recalled to his
memory the singing pines of Theocritus and the voices of the firs of
the Hebrew prophets. A spirit of romance for ever haunts the woodland,
as though the olden traditions of dryad and sylvan maiden had not yet
been wholly superseded by the more accurate report of science. In the
skirts of the great clusters of timber, cattle were grazing in groups
of white and red; in the open spaces of pasture land between wood and
wood, deer were visible among the patches of bracken. In the depths of
the forest ways he came upon the colossal statues copied from the
old masters; and at length, at a turn of the shadowy road, he found
himself in view of the mansion--an ancient, square mass of brown
sandstone, stained with weather and incrustations of moss and lichens,
and covered all along the southern exposure with a dense growth of
ivy. The grounds immediately in front were laid out in formal plots
for flowers and breadths of turf traversed by gravelled pathways. A
little withdrawn from the house stood the ruined chapel of which the
schoolmistress had spoken. The ivy had invaded it, and scaled every
wall to the very eaves, while patches of stonecrop and houseleek,
which had established themselves on the slated roof, gave it a
singular aspect of complete abandonment.

As Mr. Santley entered one of the walks which led to the terraced
entrance, Mrs. Haldane, who had observed his approach, appeared on the
stone steps, and descended to meet him.

“How good of you to come so early!” she exclaimed. “George will be
delighted. He is in his laboratory, experimenting as usual. We shall
join him, after you have had some refreshment.”

“No refreshment for me, thank you.”

“Are you quite sure? You must require something after so long a walk.”

“Nothing really, I assure you.”

“Well, I shall not press you, as we shall have dinner soon. Shall
we go to Mr. Haldane? Have you visited the Manor before--not in our
absence? How do you like it?”

“I envy you your magnificent woods.

“Yes; are they not charming? And you will like the house, too, when
you have seen it.”

“Do you not find it dull, however?” asked the vicar, looking into her
face with an expression of keen scrutiny. “You are still young--in the
blossom of your youth--and society must still have its attractions for
you.”

“One enjoys society all the more after a little seclusion.”

“No doubt.”

“And we have just returned, you must recollect, from a whole year of
wandering and sight-seeing, so that it is a positive relief to awaken
morning after morning and find the same peaceful landscape, the same
quiet woods about one.”

“That is very natural; but the heart does not long remain content with
the unchanging face of nature, however beautiful it may be. Even the
best and strongest require sympathy, and when once we become conscious
of that want----”

“Have you begun to feel it?” she asked suddenly, as he paused.

“I suppose it is the inevitable experience of a clergyman in a country
parish,” he replied, with a smile.

“Yes, I suppose it is. So few can take an interest in your tastes,
and aspirations, and intellectual pleasures, and pursuits. Is not that
so?”

“It may seem vanity to think so.”

“Oh no; I think not. The people you meet every day are mostly
concerned in their turnips or the wheat or their cattle, and their
talk is the merest village gossip. It must indeed be very depressing
to listen day after day to nothing but that. One has, of course, a
refuge in books.”

“But books are not life. The daydreams of the library are a poor
substitute for the real action of a mans own heart and brain.”

“Then one has also the great fields of natural science to explore.
I think you will find the work of my husband interesting, and if you
could turn your mind in the same direction, you would find in him
inexhaustible sympathy.”

As she spoke, they reached the low-arched portal of the chapel. The
thick oaken door, studded with big iron nails, was open, and before
them stood a man who bowed profoundly to Mrs. Haldane, and then darted
a swift, penetrating glance at the vicar.

“Mr. Haldane is within, Baptisto?” she asked.

“Yes, senora.”

He stood aside to allow them to pass, and as Mr. Santley entered he
regarded the man with an eye which photographed every feature of his
dark Spanish face. It was a face which, once seen, stamped itself in
haunting lineaments on the memory. A dusky olive complexion; a fierce,
handsome mouth and chin; a broad, intelligent forehead; short, crisp
black hair sprinkled with grey; a thin, black moustache, twisted and
pointed at the ends; and a pair of big, black, unfathomable eyes,
filled with liquid fire. It was the man’s eyes that arrested the
attention first, gave character not only to the face but to the man
himself, and indeed served to identify him. In the village, “the
foreign gentleman with the eyes” was the popular and sufficient
description of Baptisto.



CHAPTER VI. THE UNKNOWN GOD.

|As the vicar entered the chapel, he stopped short, struck with
astonishment at the singular appearance of the interior.

The sunlight streaming through the leaded diamond panes of the
casements, instead of falling on the familiar pews, flagged nave,
and solemn walls, shone with a startling effect on the heterogeneous
contents of a museum and laboratory. Along one side of the building
were ranged several glass cases containing collections of fossils,
arctic and tropical shells, antique implements of flint, stone, and
bronze, and geological specimens. The walls were decorated with savage
curiosities--shields of skin, carved clubs and paddles, spears and
arrows tipped with flint or fishbone, mats of grass, strings of
wampum, and dresses of skins and feathers. On a couple of small
shelves grinned two rows of hideous crania, gathered as ethnic types
from all quarters of the barbarian world, and beside them lay a
plaster cast of a famous paleolithic skull. On the various stands
and tables in different parts of the room were retorts and crucibles,
curious tubes, glasses and flasks, electric jars and batteries,
balances, microscopes, prisms, strange instruments of brass and glass,
and a bewildering litter of odds and ends, for which only a student
of science could find a name or a use. At the further end of the room,
under the coloured east window, stood an escritoire covered with a
confused mass of paper, and beside it stood a small table piled with
books.

As Mrs. Haldane and the vicar entered, the master of Foxglove Manor,
who had been writing, rose, laid down his pipe, buttoned his old
velvet shooting-jacket, and hastened forward to welcome his visitor.

Baptisto gravely set a couple of chairs, and, at a sign from his
master, bowed profoundly, and retired to the further end of the
apartment.

“Do you smoke, Mr. Santley?” Mr. Haldane asked, glancing at a box of
new clay pipes.

“No, thank you; but I do not dislike the smell of tobacco. I find,
however, that smoking disagrees with me--irritates instead of
soothing, as professors of the weed tell me it should do.”

“Touches the solar plexus, eh? Then beware of it! The value of
the solar system is often determined by the condition of the solar
plexus.”

“That does seem to be frequently the case,” replied Mr. Santley,
smiling.

“Invariably, my dear sir, as the ancients were well aware when they
formulated that comprehensive, but little comprehended, proverb of
the sound mind in the sound body. It is curious how frequently modern
science finds herself demonstrating the truth of the guesses of the
old philosophers!”

“I perceive you are devoted to science,” said Mr. Santley, waving his
hand towards the evidences of his host’s taste.

“Oh yes, he is perpetually experimenting in some direction or other,”
 said Mrs. Haldane, with a laugh. “I believe he and Baptisto would
pass the night here, boiling germs or mounting all manner of invisible
little monsters for the microscope, if I allowed them. You must know,
Mr. Santley, that Mr. Haldane is writing a _magnum opus_--‘The
History of Morals,’ I believe, is to be the title--and what with his
experiments and his chapters, he can scarcely find time to dine.”

“You have been happy in your subject,” said the vicar, turning to the
master of the Manor. “The history of morals must be an enthralling
book. I can scarcely imagine any subject affording larger scope
for literary genius than this of the development of that divine law
written on the heart of Adam. Why do you smile, may I ask?”

“Pardon me; I was not conscious that I did smile, except mentally. You
will excuse me, however, if I frankly say that I was smiling at your
conception of the genesis of morality. What you term the divine law
written on the heart of Adam represents to me a very advanced stage in
the development of the moral sense. We must begin far beyond Adam,
my dear sir, if we would arrive at a philosophic appreciation of
the subject. We must explore as far as possible into that misty and
enigmatic period which precedes historical record; approach as nearly
as may be to the time when in the savage, possibly semi-simian, brain
of the earliest of our predecessors experience had begun to reiterate
her proofs that what was good was to his personal advantage, and that
what was bad entailed loss and suffering. It has hitherto been the
habit to believe that the Decalogue was revealed from Sinai in thunder
and lightning and clouds of darkness. As a dramatic image or allegory
only should that be accepted. Clouds of darkness do indeed surround
the genesis of the moral in man, and the law has been revealed by the
deadly lightnings of disease and war and famine and misery, through
unknown and innumerable generations. No divine law was written on the
heart of the first man, or society would not be where it is to-day.
No; unhappily, one might say, morality has been like everything else
human--like everything else, human or not,--like the coloured flower
to the plant, the gay plumage to the bird, a dearly bought conquest, a
painfully laboured evolution.”

Once or twice during Mr. Haldane’s remarks, the vicar had raised his
hand in disclaimer, but waited till he had finished before speaking.

“I was about to protest,” he now said, “against several of your
expressions, but I fear controversy is of little good when the
disputants argue from different premises. I perceive that you have
accepted a theory of life which completely shuts out God from His
creation.”

“Pardon me; like the old Greek, I can still raise an altar to the
unknown God.”

“To a cold, remote, indifferent abstraction, then,” replied Mr.
Santley, impulsively; “to a God unknowing as unknown--a vague,
unrealizable, impersonal Power.”

“Impersonal, I grant you, and therefore more logical, even according
to human reason, than the huge, passionate anthropomorphism of Jew and
Christian. Consciousness and personality imply the notion of limits and
conditions; and which is the grander idea--a limited, conditioned
Power, however great, or, an absolute transcendent Godhead, free from
all the limits which govern our finite being? God cannot be conscious
as we understand consciousness, nor personal as we understand
personality-If He were, then indeed we might well believe that we were
made after His image and likeness.”

“And can you find comfort in such a creed? Can you turn for strength,
or grace, or consolation to such a power as you describe?”

“Why should I?” asked Mr. Haldane, smiling. “If I need any of these
things, my need is the result of some law violated or unobserved. The
world is ruled by law, and every breach of law entails an inescapable
penalty. If I suffer I must endure.”

“That is cold comfort for all the sum of misery in the world.”

“It is the only true comfort. The rest is delusion. Preach that every
violated law avenges itself, not in some half mythical hell at the
close of a life that seems illimitable--for men never do realize that
they will one day die--but avenges itself here and now; preach that no
crucified Redeemer can interfere between the violator of the law and
its penalty; preach that if men sin they will infallibly suffer, and
you will really do something to regenerate mankind. Christianity, with
its doctrines of atonement and vicarious suffering and redemption, has
done as much to fill the world with vice, crime, and disease as the
most degraded, creed of pagan or savage. The groaning and travail of
creation are clamant proofs that vicarious suffering and redemption
are the veriest dreams.”

“Either purposely or inadvertently you mix up the physical and the
moral law,” interposed the vicar.

“The physical and the moral are but one law, articles of the one
universal code of nature.”

“True,” said the vicar. “I forgot that you denied man his immortal
soul, as you deny him his divine sonship. And so you are content to
believe that man is born to live, labour, suffer, and perish.”

“Concede that God is content that such should be man’s destiny,”
 replied Mr. Haldane, “what then?”

“What then?” echoed the vicar, rising from his chair with flashing
eyes and agitated face; “why, then life is a fiendish mockery!”

Mr. Haldane’s face wore a grim smile as he heard the bitter emphasis
of the vicar’s reply.

“Ah, my worthy friend,” he said, “you illustrate how necessary it is
that when one has his hand full of truth he should only open it one
finger at a time. If you revolt thus angrily against the new gospel,
what can be expected from the ignorant and the vicious? The meaning
and purpose of life does not depend on whether the individual man
shall perish or shall be immortal. If perish he must, he may at least
perish heroically. Annihilation or immortality does not affect the
validity of religion, whose paramount aim is not to prepare for
another world, but to make the best of this--to realize its ideal
greatness and nobility. If life should suddenly appear a mockery,
contrast the present with that remote past of the naked savage of the
stone age, or the brutal condition of his more remote sylvan ancestor,
learning to walk erect and to articulate; and then summon up a
vision of the possible future, when superstition shall have ceased to
embitter man’s life, when a knowledge of natural law shall have made
men virtuous, when disease shall have vanished from the world, and
the nations shall, in a golden age of peace and perfected arts, have
learnt the method of a patriarchal longevity. Millions of individuals
have wept and toiled and perished to secure for us the present; we
and millions shall weep and toil and perish to secure the future for
them.”

“And that you take to be the significance of life, the progress of the
race?”

“And is not that at least as noble a significance as a heaven peopled
with the penitent thief, the drunkard, the gallow’s-bird, the
harlot, the thousand bestial types of humanity redeemed by vicarious
agony--the thousand brutes of civilization who, in this age, are
not fit for life even on this earth, to say nothing of an enlarged
immortality?”

“But with ever-rising grades of immortality before them, even those
bestial types might ascend to a perfect manhood, and shall they
perish?”

“Have they not been ascending ever since the Miocene?” asked Mr.
Haldane, with a scornful laugh. “However, it is little use discussing
the matter. As you have said, we cannot agree upon first principles.
Let me show you, instead, some of my curiosities. Did you ever see the
Mentone skull? Here is a plaster cast of it.”

“And do you accept this dark and comfortless creed of your husband?”
 asked Mr. Santley, turning to Mrs. Haldane as he took the cast in his
hand.

“Oh no,” she replied, raising her soft dark eyes to him earnestly;
“the progress of humanity does not satisfy me as an explanation of
the enigma of life in man or woman. I cannot abandon my old faith and
trust in the God-Man for an unknown power who does not care for my
suffering and cannot hear my prayers. What to me can such a god be?
And what can life be but a mockery if my soul, with its yearnings
and aspirations and ideals, ceases to exist after death--has no
other world but this, in which I know its infinite wants can never be
satisfied?”

The vicar’s face brightened, and his heart beat with a strange,
impulsive ardour as he listened to her. Why had this woman, whose
enthusiasm and sympathy might have enabled him to realize his own high
ideal of the spiritual, been denied him? What evil destiny had bound
her for ever to a man whose paralyzing creed must make a perpetual
division between them--a man who could look into her sweet face and
yet think of her as merely a beautiful animal; who could fold her in
his arms, and yet tranquilly accept the teaching that at death that
pure, radiant soul of hers would be for ever extinguished? These
thoughts and feelings went through the vicars consciousness swiftly as
sunshine and shadow over a landscape.

His eyes dropped on the plaster cast in his hand.

“This is very old?” he asked musingly.

“One of the oldest skulls in the world,” replied Mr. Haldane. “It was
discovered by Dr. Rivière in a cave at Mentone, in a cliff overlooking
the sea. The man belonged to the ancient stone age, and was
contemporary with the mammoth and woolly rhinoceros of the
Post-pliocene. The cave was a place of burial, and on the head of the
skeleton was a thickly plaited network of sea-shells, with a fringe
of deers’ teeth around the edge; the limbs were adorned with bracelets
and anklets of shells also; and in front of the face was placed a
little oxide of iron, used as war-paint, no doubt.”

“Even in the Post-pliocene, then,” said the vicar, “it would appear
that man believed in a hereafter.”

“Ah, yes; it is an antique superstition, and even yet we have not
outgrown it-Human progress is slow.”

“And this face was raised to the blue sky ages ago, looking for God!”

Mr. Haldane shrugged his shoulders, and smiled grimly.

“How is it possible that you, who-must share the weaknesses and
sorrows of the human heart, can so stoically accept the horrible
prospect of annihilation?” asked the vicar, half angrily.

“I accept truths. Do you imagine I prefer annihilation? I could
wish that life were ordered otherwise, but wishing’ cannot change
an eternal system. Immortality cannot be achieved by defying’
annihilation.”

“Have you realized death?” exclaimed the vicar, passionately. “Can
you, dare you, look forward to a time when, say, your wife shall lie
cold and lifeless,--and hold to the doctrine that you have lost her
for ever, that never again shall your spirit mingle with hers, that
you and she are for all eternity divorced?”

“You appeal to the passions, and not to the reason,” replied Mr.
Haldane, coldly. “What holds good for the beast which perishes, holds
good for all of us, and will hold good for those who come after us,
and who will be greater and nobler than we.”

“Be it so,” replied the vicar, in an undertone. As he spoke he bit his
lip, and his cheek coloured. The thought was not meant for utterance,
but it slipped into words before he was aware. For the full
significance of that thought was a singular exemplification of the
conflicting spiritual and animal natures of the man. That divorce of
death which had been pronounced inevitable opened before him, in a
dreamy vista of the future, a new world of ecstatic beatitude, where
his soul and the radiant spirit of the woman who stood beside him
should be mingled together in indissoluble communion.



CHAPTER VII. CELESTIAL AFFINITIES.

|Shortly afterwards Mrs. Haldane suggested that they should take a
turn about the grounds, instead of wasting the sunshine indoors.
As they left the chapel the vicar paused and looked back at the
ivy-draped building, with its half-hidden lancets.

“You have turned a sacred edifice to a strange use,” he said. “Here,
within the walls where past generations have dwelt and worshipped,
you have set up your apparatus for the destruction of man’s holiest
heritage. Pardon me if I speak warmly, but to me this appears to be
sacrilege.”

“The Church has always been intolerant of science and research,”
 replied Mr. Haldane, good-humouredly, “and it is the fortune of
conflict if sometimes we are able to make reprisals. But, seriously, I
see no desecration here.”

“No desecration in converting Gods house into a laboratory to analyze
soul and spirit into function and force!”

“No desecration,” should say, “in converting the shrine of a narrow,
selfish superstition into a schoolroom where one may learn a truer
and a grander theology, and a less presumptuous and illusive theory of
life. It is, however, impossible for us to be at one on these matters;
let us at least agree to differ amicably. Your predecessor and I found
much of common interest. He was of the old school, but life had taught
him a kindly tolerance of opinion. To you, as I gleaned from your
sermon yesterday, the new philosophy and modern criticism are
familiar. You must surely concede that the old theological ground must
be immeasurably widened, if you are still resolved to occupy it.
Why should you fear truth, if God has indeed revealed Himself to the
Church?”

“The Church does not fear truth,” replied the vicar; “but she does
fear the wild speculations and guesses at truth which unsettle the
faith of the world. For myself I have looked into some of these
fantastic theories of science, and I repudiate them as at once
blasphemous and hopeless. It is easy to destroy the old trust in the
beneficence of Providence, in the redemption and destiny of man; but
when you have accomplished that, you can go no further. Tyndall proves
to you that all life in the world is the outcome of antecedent life;
Haeckel contends that science must in the long run accept spontaneous
generation. Your leading men are at loggerheads; and it signifies
little which is right, for in either case the _causa causans_ is only
removed one link further back in the chain of causation. Some of
you hold that there is only matter and force in the universe, but on
others it is beginning to dawn that possibly matter and force are in
the ultimate one and the same. And again, it signifies little which is
right, for both, being conditioned, must have had a beginning. A God,
a creative Power, is needed in the long run--‘a power behind humanity,
and behind all other things,’ as Herbert Spencer describes it; a God
of whom science can predicate nothing, of whom science declares it to
be beyond her province to speak, but of whom every heart is at some
time vividly conscious and has been from the beginning--demonstrably
from the Paleolithic period until now.”

“Oh, Mr. Santley, I am so pleased you have said that. I have often
wished that I were able to answer my husband, but I have no power of
argument,” said Mrs. Haldane, looking gratefully at the vicar. “You
must not think he is not a good, a real practical Christian, in spite
of his opinions.”

Mr. Haldane laughed quietly as his wife slipped her hand into his.

“As to the God of the Paleolithic man, Mr. Santley forgets that it was
at best a personification of some of the great natural powers--wind;
rain, thunder, sunshine, and moonlight; and as to Christianity, my
dear, there is much in the teaching of Christ, and even of the Church,
which I reverence and hold sacred. Morality, and the consequent
civilization of the world, owes more to Christianity than to any
other creed. It has done much evil, but I think it has done more good.
Purified from its mythic delusions, it has still a splendid future
before it.”

“And _à propos_ of practical Christianity, Mr. Santley,” continued
Mrs. Haldane, “I want to talk to you about the parish. I am eager to
begin with my poor people again; and, by-the-bye, the children have, I
understand, had no school treat yet this year. Now, sit down here and
tell me all about your sick, in the first place.”

Mr. Haldane stood listening to the woes and illnesses of the village
for a few minutes, and then left them together in deep discussions
over flannels and medicines and nourishing food. Dinner passed
pleasantly enough. The vicar had satisfied his conscience by
protesting against the desecration of the chapel and the disastrous
results of scientific research. Clearly it was useless, and worse than
useless, to contend with this large-natured, clear-headed unbeliever.
It was infinitely more agreeable to feel the soft dark light of Mrs.
Haldane’s eyes dwelling on his face, and to listen to the music of her
voice as she told him of their travels abroad. In his imagination the
scenes she described rose before him, and he and she were the central
figures in the clear, new landscape. He thought of their walks on the
cliffs and on the sea-shore, in the golden days that had gone by. How
easily it might have been!

The sun had gone down when he parted from his host and hostess at the
great gate at the end of the avenue. He had declined their offer to
drive him over to Omberley. He preferred walking in the cool of the
evening, and the distance was, he professed, not at all too great. As
he shook hands with her, that wild, etherial fancy of a world to come,
in which her husband would have no claim to her, brightened his eyes
and flushed his cheek. There was a strange nervous pressure in the
touch of his hand, and an expression of surprise started into her
face. He noticed it at once, and was warned. Mr. Haldane’s farewell
was bluffly cordial, and he warmly pressed the vicar to call on them
at any time that best suited his convenience.

They were pretty sure to be always at home, and they were not likely
to have too much company.

As he walked along the high-road, bordered on one side with the green
murmuring masses of foliage, and on the other with waving breadths of
corn, his mind was absorbed in that new dream of transcendent love.
There was nothing earthly or gross in this dawning glow of spiritual
passion; indeed, it raised him in delicious exaltation beyond the
coarseness of the physical, till, as it suddenly occurred to him that
somewhere on his way Edith was waiting for him, his heart rose in
revulsion at the recollection of her. At the same time there was a
large element of the sensuous beauty of transient humanity in that
celestial forecast. The pure, radiant spirit of the woman he loved
still wore the sweet lineaments of her earthly loveliness. Death had
not destroyed that magical face; those dark, luminous, loving eyes;
that sweet shape of womanhood. The spiritual body was cast in the
mould of the physical, and the chief difference lay in a shining
mistiness of colour, which floated in a sort of elusive drapery about
the glorified woman, and replaced the worldly silks and satins of the
living wife. This spiritual being was no intangible abstraction, of
which only the intellect could take cognizance. As in its temporal
condition, it could still kiss and thrill with a touch. Clearly,
however unconscious he might be of the fact, the vicar’s conception of
the divine was intensely human, and his spiritual idealizations were
the immediate growth and delicate blossom of the senses.

A great stillness was growing over the land as he pursued his way. The
woodlands had been left behind him, and their incessant murmur was now
inaudible. Sleep and quietude had fallen on the level fields; not an
ear of wheat stirred, no leaf rustled. The birds had all gone to nest,
except a solitary string of belated crows, flying low down in black
dots, against the distant silvery green horizon. The moon was
rising through a low-lying haze, which had begun to spread over the
landscape. The vicar looked at his watch. It was after nine o’clock.
He began to hope that Edith had grown tired of waiting for him, and
had returned home. He had a sickening feeling of repugnance and vague
dread of meeting her.

Little more than a month after Mr. Santley had settled in Omberley,
Miss Dove had come to live with her aunt.

Her father and mother had died within a year of each other, and the
girl gladly accepted the offer of Mrs. Russell to consider her house
as a home until she had had time to look about her. Edith had been
left sufficiently well provided for, and her aunt, the widow of a
banker, was in a position of independence, so that the disinterested
offer was accepted without any sense of dependence or humiliation.
The bright, innocent face of the girl instantly caught the eye of
the vicar. He saw her frequently at her aunt’s house, and gradually
learned to esteem, not only her excellent qualities, but to find a use
for her accomplishments. She was especially fond of music, and when
the vicar suggested that she might add to the beauty of the service
at St. Cuthbert’s by interesting herself in the choir and presiding
at the organ, she eagerly acquiesced. The church was one of Edith’s
favourite haunts; and when the vicar, who was himself a lover of
music, heard the soul-stirring vibrations of some masterpiece of the
great composers, his steps were drawn by an easily explicable fatality
to the side of the pretty performer. Still, it was a fatality. Slowly,
and imperceptibly at first, the sense of pleasure at meeting grew up
between the two; then swiftly and imperceptibly they found that there
was something in the presence of each other that satisfied a
vague, indefinable craving; and lastly, with a sudden access of
self-consciousness, they looked into each other’s eyes, and each
became gladly and tremulously aware of the other’s love. Edith was
still young, almost too young yet to assume the station of the wife of
the spiritual head of the parish; and Mr. Santley was not sure as to
the manner in which his sister would receive the intimation that there
was, even in the remote future, to be a new mistress brought to the
Vicarage. The girl was, however, still too happy in the knowledge that
she was beloved to look forward to marriage. With a strange, feminine
inconsistency, she regarded their union with a certain dread and
shamefacedness. It seemed such a dreadful exposure that all the
village should know that they loved each other. “Oh no, no; it must
not be for a long, long time yet!” she once exclaimed nervously. “Is
it not sufficient happiness to know that I am yours and you are mine?
I cannot bear to think that every one must know our secret.” To have
those long, pleasant chats under cover of the music; to be invited
to the Vicarage, and to sit and talk with him there; to receive those
haphazard glances, as it were, while he was preaching; to be escorted
home by him in the evening when it was dark, and no one could see that
her hand was on his arm; to receive those almost stolen kisses; to
feel his arm about her waist what more could maiden desire to dream
over for weeks and months--for years, if need were?

Edith was endowed with the intense feminine faith and fervid ideality
of the worshipper. To sit at her lover’s feet and to look up adoringly
to him, was at once her favourite mental and physical attitude. On her
side, she exercised a curious spiritual influence over him. There was
such an aerial brightness and lightness about her, such sweet fragile
loveliness in her form and figure, such tender abandonment of self in
her disposition, that he felt he had not only a woman to love, but a
beautiful childlike soul to keep unspotted from the world, to
guide through the dark ways of life to the arms of the great loving
Fatherhood of God. The presence of Edith helped him to banish the dark
doubts and evil promptings of the spirit of unbelief. When she spoke
to him of her spiritual experiences, he felt joyous ascensions of
the heart which raised him nearer to heaven. She created in him the
unspeakable holy longings and vague wants that give the lives of the
mystic saints of Roman Catholicism so singular a blending of divine
illumination and voluptuous colour. Unconsciously the vicar was
realizing in his own nature Swedenborg’s doctrine of celestial
affinities. This love restored to him the innocence and ardour of the
days of Eden; he had found at once his Eve and his Paradise, and he
felt that, as of old, God still walked in the garden in the cool of
the day. Some such glamour surrounds the first developments of every
sincere attachment. It is the first rosy tingling flush of dawn, dim
and sweet and dreamy, and, like the dawn, it glows and brightens into
the fierce clear heat of broad day, burning the dew from the petal and
withering the blossom.

As Mr. Santley’s thoughts turned to Edith, the recollection of these
things came vividly upon him. Only a week ago, and she was the one
woman in the world he believed he could have chosen for his wife. In
an instant, at the sight of a face, all had been changed. His love had
become a burthen, a shame, a dread to him. Edith had grown hateful to
him. At the same time, he could not deaden the sting of remorse as
he reflected on his broken vows. The passionate protestations he had
uttered sounded again in his ears in accents of bitter mockery; the
pledges he had given seemed now to him hideous blasphemies.

At a bend of the road he suddenly came in sight of a figure moving
before him in the dusk. He knew at a glance it was she, and he
prepared himself for the meeting. Although he earnestly wished to
disembarrass himself of her, he found himself unable to do so at once
and brutally. He would try to estrange her, and free himself little by
little.

As they approached each other he saw that Edith’s face was grave and
sad. She was trying to learn from his look in what manner she ought to
speak to him.

His assurances on the previous evening had not tranquillized her, and
she had still a terrible misgiving that a chasm was widening between
them.

The vicar was the first to speak.

“I am a little later than I expected,” he said, as he held out his
hand to her.

“It does not signify _now_. I was only afraid that you might be so
late I should have to go home without seeing you.”

He made no reply, and they walked on side by side in silence for a few
seconds. At last she stopped abruptly and looked at him.

“Charles,” she said, “you know what you said to me last night?”

“Yes.”

“Was it true?”

“Why should you ask such a question? Why should you doubt its truth?”

“I try not to doubt it, but I cannot help it. Oh, tell me again that
you do not hate and contemn me! Tell me you still love me.”

“My dear Edith,” replied the vicar, laying his hand on her arm, “you
are not well. You have been overtaxing your strength and exciting
yourself.”

Edith did not answer, but the tears rose to her eyes and began to run
down her cheeks. She did not sob or make any sound of weeping, but her
hand was pressed against her throat.

“Come, don’t cry like that; you know I cannot bear to see you cry.”

He stopped as he spoke, and took her hand in his. They stood still a
little while, and she at length was able to speak.

“Do you remember,” she asked in a low, broken voice, “that I once told
you you were my conscience?”

He regarded her uneasily before he replied.

“Yes; you once said that, I know. But why return to that now?”

“And have you not been?”

He was silent.

“Your word,” she continued, “has been my law; what you have said I
have believed. Have I done wrong?”

“Why are you letting these things trouble you now?” he asked
impatiently.

“Because I know that when a woman gives herself wholly to the man she
loves, it is common for her to lose him, and I have begun to feel that
I am losing you.”

“I do not think I have given you any reason to feel that.”

She did not speak again immediately, but stood with her innocent blue
eyes raised beseechingly to his face. Suddenly she took hold of his
hands, and said--

“You told me that in the eyes of God we were man and wife, that
no marriage ceremony could ever join us together more truly, that
marriage really consisted in the union of heart and soul, not in
the words of any priest--did you not? Was that true? Am I still your
little wife?”

He hesitated. The blood had vanished from his cheek, leaving it
haggard and pale; she felt his hands trembling in hers. Then, with
a sudden impulse, he took her face between his hands and drew her
towards him, as he answered--

“You are, darling. I will not do you any wrong.”



CHAPTER VIII. A SICK-CALL.

|Mr. Santley’s reply was as sincere at the moment it was spoken as
it was impulsive. The saner and better part of him rose in sudden
sympathy towards this young, confiding girl who had laid her whole
being in his hands, to be his treasure or his plaything. He resolved
to be faithful to the solemn pledge he had given her, and to cast
from him for ever all thought of Mrs. Haldane, and all memory of that
passionate episode of the past. He drew Edith’s hand under his arm and
held it there. That warm little bit of responsive flesh and blood had
still, he felt, a power to thrill through his nature. He bent down
and kissed it. For some time their conversation was embarrassed, but
gradually all sense of doubt and estrangement vanished, and he was
telling her about his visit to the Manor. A pressure was laid upon
him to make her such amends as he was able for his coldness during the
past week, and he determined to break the spell which Mrs. Haldane’s
beauty threw over him by revealing their old friendship to Edith. It
was not wise, but under the stress of remorse and a reviving passion
men seldom act wisely. Except in the case of a jealous disposition, a
woman is always pleased to hear of her lover’s old vaguely cherished
love affairs, when there is no possibility of their ever coming to
life again. She knows instinctively, even when she is not told so
adoringly, that she supersedes all her predecessors and combines
all their virtues and charms. He loved this one for her beauty and
sweetness, that one for her clear bright intelligence; each in a
different way; but her he loves in both the old ways, and in a new way
also which she alone could inspire.

“Mrs. Haldane was an old pupil of mine--indeed, a favourite
pupil--many years ago; so, naturally, I am much interested in her,”
 said the vicar in a tentative manner.

The words were a revelation to Edith; they explained to her all her
uneasiness and all his change of manner.

“And you find that you still love her a little?” Edith ventured to say
in a sad, faltering tone.

“I never said I loved her, my dear,” replied the vicar, with a forced
laugh.

“But you did, did you not? She was your favourite pupil.”

How uncomfortably keen-sighted this young person seemed to be, in
spite of her soft, endearing ways!

“Would you be a little jealous if I said I did?” he asked, regarding
her with a scrutinizing look.

“Jealous! Oh no. Why should I? Is she not married? And am I not really
and truly your little wife?”

He pressed her hand gently for answer.

“And when you saw her again last Sunday, and saw how beautiful she
was,” Edith continued, “you felt sorry that you had lost her--just a
little regretful, did you not?”

The vicar hesitated, and then did the most foolish thing a man can do
in such circumstances--confessed the truth.

“You will not be vexed, darling, if I say that I did feel regret?”

“You loved her very much?”

“She was my first love.” replied the vicar. “But you must remember it
was years ago. Long before I knew you; when I was quite a young man.”

“And was she very fond of you?” Edith went on quietly.

“I used to think she was.”

“But she was not true to you?”

“I do not blame her. I do not think it was her fault. Her people were
wealthy, and I was poor, a poor teacher.”

“And it was this made you so cold and hard to me all last week?”

Mr. Santley did not answer at once.

It would be brutal to say yes, and he dared not hazard a denial.

“Oh, Charles, she never loved you as I have.”

“Never, never,” replied the vicar hurriedly; and a flush rose to his
face.

“When you meet her, when you see her again,” said Edith, grasping his
arm with earnest emphasis, “will you remember that? Promise me.”

“I will never forget it,” said the vicar in a low voice.

He did not see Mrs. Haldane again, however, during the week. On the
following Sunday his eyes wandered only for a moment towards the Manor
pew, and he perceived that she was alone. When he met her after the
service his manner was constrained, but she appeared not to notice it.
She spoke again of the parish work, and told him that in a day or two
she would drive over and accompany him on some of his calls. He looked
forward with uneasiness and self-distrust to her cooperation in his
daily work. There was an irresistible something, a magical atmosphere,
an invisible radiation of the enticing about this woman. Her large
glowing black eyes seemed to fasten upon his soul and draw it beyond
his control. Her starry smile intoxicated and maddened him. Beside
her, Edith was but a weak, delicate child, with a child’s clinging
attachment, a child’s credulity and trust, a child’s little gusts of
passion. His lost love was a woman--such a woman as men in old
times would have perished for as a queen, would have worshipped as a
goddess--such a woman, he fancied, as that Naomi whose beauty has been
the mysterious tradition of five thousand years.

Early one afternoon, about the middle of the week, the vicar was
just about to set out on his customary round of visitation, when
Mrs. Haldane’s pony-carriage drove up to the gate. He assisted her to
alight, and returned with her to the house.

Miss Santley, who had been as sensitive to the change in her brother
as Edith herself, regarded Mrs. Haldane with little favour. She was
ready to acknowledge that it was very good and kind of the mistress of
Foxglove Manor to interest herself in the wants and suffering of the
parish, but she entertained grave misgivings as to the prudence of
her brother and this old pupil of his being thrown too frequently
together. She was just a little formal and reserved with her visitor,
who announced her intention of going with the vicar to this sick-call
he had spoken of.

“You will have to walk, however,” said Mr. Santley, “as the cottage is
some little distance across the fields.”

“I came prepared for walking,” she replied, with a laugh. “James can
put up at the village till our return.”

“Will you do us the favour of taking tea with us?” asked Miss Santley,
“You will, require it, if my brother takes you his usual round.”

“Thank you, I shall be very glad. If James calls for me at--what time
shall I say?--six, will that be soon enough?” The coachman received
his instructions, and Mr. Santley and Mrs. Haldane set out on their
first combined mission. They traversed half a dozen fields, and came
in sight of a small cluster of cottages lying low in a green hollow.
A narrow lane ran past them to Omberley in one direction and to the
high-road in another. Half a dozen poplars grew in a line along the
lane, and the cottages were surrounded by small gardens, filled with
fruit trees.

“What a picturesque little spot!” exclaimed Mrs. Haldane. “I think
nothing looks so pretty as an English cottage with its white walls and
tiled roof peering out from a cluster of apple; and pear trees.”

“Pretty enough, but damp!” replied the vicar. “In wet weather they are
in a perfect quagmire. Ah, listen!”

They were now very near the houses, and the sound to which Mr. Santley
called her attention was the voice of a man crying out in great pain.

“What can it be?” asked Mrs. Haldane, with a look of alarm.

“It is the poor fellow we are going to see. He was knocked down and
run over by a cart about two years ago. His spine has been injured,
and the doctors can do nothing for him. He is quite helpless, and has
been bedridden all that time.”

“Poor creature! what a dreadful thing it must be to suffer like that!”

“Sometimes for weeks together he feels no pain. Then he is suddenly
seized by the most fearful torture, and you can hear his cries for a
great distance.”

As they approached the cottage the man’s voice grew louder, and they
could distinguish his words: “Oh, what shall I do? Oh, who’ll tell me
what to do?”

Mrs. Haldane shuddered. In that green, peaceful, picturesque spot that
persistent reiteration of the man’s agony was horrible.

“Will you come in?” asked the vicar doubtfully.

His companion signed her assent, and Mr. Santley knocked gently at the
door. In a few seconds some one was heard coming down the staircase,
and a little gray-haired, gray-faced woman, dressed in black, came to
the door and curtsied to her visitors.

“Mansfield is very bad again to-day?” said the vicar.

“Ay, this be one of his bad days, sir. He have been that bad since
Sunday, I haven’t known what to do with him.”

The voice of the sick man suddenly ceased, and he appeared to be
listening.

“Who’s there?” he shrieked out, after a pause. “Jennie; blast you!
who’s there?”

“He be raving mad, ma’am!” said Mrs. Mansfield, apologetically. “He
don’t know what he is saying.”

“Jennie, you damned little varmint----”

“Hush, John, it be the parson!” his wife called up the staircase.

“To hell with the parson! Oh, what shall I do? Oh, who’ll tell me what
to do?”

“I’ll go up to him, sir, and tell him you’re here. He be very bad
to-day, poor soul! Will it please you to walk in, ma’am?”

The little woman went upstairs, and her entrance to the sick-room was
greeted with a volley of foul curses screamed out in furious rage.
Gradually, however, the access of passion was exhausted, and the man
was again heard repeating his hopeless appeal for relief.

“How do they live?” asked Mrs. Haldane, glancing about the small but
scrupulously clean room in which she stood. “Have they any grown-up
children?”

“No, only their two selves. She is the bread-winner. She does knitting
and sewing, and the neighbours, who are very kind to her, assist her
with her garden and do her many little kindnesses.”

“Poor woman! And she has endured this horrible infliction for two
years!”

“If you please, sir, you can come up now,” said Mrs. Mansfield from
the top of the stairs.

The vicar went up, and Mrs. Haldane followed him. They entered a
pretty large whitewashed bedroom, with raftered roof and a four-post
bedstead in the centre of the room. Though meagrely furnished,
everything was spotlessly clean and tidy. On the bed lay a great gaunt
man, panting and moaning, with his large filmy blue eyes turned up
to the roof. He was far above the common stature, and his huge wasted
frame, only half hidden by the bedclothes, was piteous to look at. His
large venerable head, covered with thin, long white hair, filled
one with surprise and regretful admiration. His face was thin and
colourless, and a fringe of white beard gave it a still more deathly
appearance. One could scarcely believe that the wreck before him was
a common labourer. It seemed rather such a spectacle as Beatrice Cenci
might have looked on had her father died cursing on his bed.

“Here’s parson come to see thee, and a lady wi’ him,” said Mrs.
Mansfield, raising her husband’s head.

He looked at them with his glazed blue eyes, made prominent with pain,
and his moaning grew louder, till they could again distinguish the
constant cry for release from pain: “Oh, what shall I do? Oh, who’ll
tell me what to do?”

“Try to think of God, and pray to Him for help,” said the vicar,
bending over the suffering man.

“Oh, I have prayed and prayed and prayed,” he replied querulously;
“but it does no good.”

“He were praying all day yesterday and singing hymns,” said Mrs.
Mans-held. “I don’t know what’s gotten hold of him to-day, but he have
been dreadful. And he were ever such a pious, God-fearing man. It fair
breaks my heart to hear him swearing like that. But God will not count
it against him, for he’s been clean beside himself.”

“Well, let me hear you pray now, Mansfield,” said the vicar. “Turn
your heart and your mind to God, and He will comfort you.”

“O God,” said the sick man, with the obedient simplicity of a child,
“I turn my heart and my mind to Thee; do Thou comfort me and take me
to Thyself. O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour of mankind,
do Thou remember me in Thy paradise. Look down upon me, O Lord, a
miserable offender, and spare Thou them which confess their faults and
are truly penitent.”

With a strange light on his white, wasted face, with his gaunt hands
folded on the counterpane before him, the old man sat up in bed and
prayed in the same loud voice of pain and semi-delirium. A wild,
inconceivable, interminable prayer; for long after they had left
the house, old Mansfield could be heard some hundreds of yards away,
screaming to God for mercy and consolation.

“We had better leave him praying,” said the vicar softly; “and when he
begins cursing and swearing again, Mrs. Mansfield, just kneel down and
pray in a loud voice beside him. It will suggest a new current to his
thoughts.”

“God won’t count his cursing against him, sir, will he?” asked the
little woman. “He were ever a sober Christian man till this misery
came on him.”

“No, no,” said the vicar; “God judges the heart, not the tongue of
delirium.”

“How old is your husband?” inquired Mrs. Haldane.

“He be eighty-one come Martinmas, ma’am.”

“Poor old man! And you do sewing and knitting, do you not?”

“Yes, ma’am, what he lets me do. He be main fractious whiles.”

“And have you plenty to go on with at present?”

“I have what’ll keep me busy for a fortnight yet.”

“I will see you again before then. I hope your husband will soon be
better.”

“There be no hope of that, ma’am. The only betterness for him ‘ll be
when God takes him.”

“I know you will be able to find a use for this,” said Mrs. Haldane in
a whisper, as they went, out of the house. “Goodbye for the present.”

“Oh, ma’am! God bless you!” said Mrs. Mansfield, the tears springing
into her eyes as she looked at the gold coin in her hand.



CHAPTER IX. A SUMMER SHOWER.

|After that first round of visitation Mrs. Haldane and the vicar met
very frequently.

She found that she could be of use to a great number of poor people,
and the occupation afforded her by her self-imposed duties was novel
and interesting. It is pleasant to take the place of Providence, and
mete out help and gladness to afflicted humanity. She was actuated by
no petty spirit of vanity or ostentation; and though she soon learned
that the poorer and more necessitous people are, the more thankless
they are as a rule, these disagreeable experiences did not disillusion
her. Very often she would leave her carriage at the village inn and
accompany Mr. Santley on foot across the fields and down the deep
green lanes to the different houses at which he was to call. Their
conversations on these occasions were very interesting to her;
and more than once as she drove back home in the evening she fell
a-thinking of that distant schoolgirl past which Jiad so nearly faded
away from her memory, and began to wonder whether, if her family had
not so promptly extinguished that little romance of hers, she would
now have been the wife of the vicar of Omberley. No word had yet
passed between them of that old time, and occasionally she felt just
the least curiosity to know how he regarded it. She knew he had not
forgotten it, and she smiled to herself as she called to mind the way
in which he had addressed her as “Ellen” that first Sunday. She
had ever since been only Mrs. Haldane to him. There was a singular
fascination about him which she was unable to explain to herself.
She remembered his words, his looks his gestures with a curious
distinctness. She was conscious that, notwithstanding his reticence,
he still entertained a warm attachment to her. She could see it in his
eyes, could hear it in the tones of his voice, could feel it in the
pressure of his hand. There is no incentive to affection so powerful
and subtle as the knowledge that one is beloved. Without any analysis
of her feelings or any misgiving whatever, Mrs. Haldane knew that the
vicar’s friendship was very dear to her, that his sympathy and counsel
were rapidly growing indispensable. Many things troubled her in
connection with her husband--his indifference to any form of
religion, his stern acceptance of the conclusions of science, however
destructive they might be of all that the world had clung to as
essential to goodness and happiness, his utter disbelief of the truths
of revelation, his rejection of the only God in whom she could place
trust and confidence. Diffidently at first, and with pain and doubt,
she spoke to Mr. Santley of these troubles, and of the waverings of
her own convictions. Her husband was so good, so upright and noble a
man, that she could not despair of his some day returning to the faith
and the Church of his boyhood. Could the vicar not aid her in winning
him back to God? Then, too, at times her husband’s words appealed to
her reason so irresistibly that she began to question whether after
all she had not spent her life in the worship of a delusion. That did
not happen often, but it terrified her that it should be possible
for her at any time or in any circumstance to call in question the
fatherhood of God or the divinity of Christ.

It was only natural that these matters-should draw the vicar and
his fair parishioner very close to each other; and that intimate
relationship of soul with soul by subtle degrees widened and widened
till each became deeply interested in everything that could in any
way affect the other. In spite of his strongest resolve to be true to
Edith, Mr. Santley felt himself irresistibly drawn to her beautiful
rival. He struggled with the enchantment till further resistance
seemed useless, and then he sought refuge in self-deception. His
nature, he fancied, was wide enough to include the love of both.
To Edith he could give the affection of a husband, to Ellen the
anticipative passion of a disfranchised spirit. One was a temporal,
the other an eternal sentiment.

One afternoon, as they were returning from a visit, being on the
edge of the moss about a couple of miles from the village, they were
overtaken by a storm. There was a clump of trees hard by, and they
entered it for shelter. Mrs. Haldane had her waterproof with her; but
the rain drove in such drenching showers, that the vicar insisted on
her standing under his umbrella and sheltering her person with her
own. Side by side, with the large trunk of a beech-tree behind them
and its tossing branches overhead, they stood there for nearly half an
hour. He held his umbrella over her so that his arm almost touched her
further shoulder. They were very close together, and while she watched
the flying volleys of rain he was gazing on the beautiful complexion
of her face and neck, on the rich dark masses of her hair, her sweet
arched eyebrows and long curving eyelashes. For years he had not been
able to regard her so closely. She did not notice his scrutiny at
first, but, when she did, little sunny flushes of colour made her
loveliness still more electrical. They were talking of the storm at
first, but now there was an interval of silence. She felt his eyes
upon her face--they seemed to touch her, and the contract made her
cheeks glow. At last she turned and looked straight at him.

“I was thinking of long ago,” he said in answer to her look; “do you
remember how once we were caught by a thunderstorm at Seacombe, and we
stood together under a tree just as we are now?”

“What an excellent memory you have!” she said with a smile, while her
colour again rose.

“I never forget anything,” rejoined Mr. Santley with emphasis. “But
surely you too recollect that?”

“Oh yes; I have not forgotten it,” she said lightly. “We were very
foolish people in those days.”

“We were very happy people, were we not?

“Yes, I think we were; it was a childish happiness.”

“Manhood, then, has brought me no greater. Ah, Ellen, you seem to have
easily let the past slip away from you. With me it is as vivid to-day
as if it were only yesterday that you and I walked on the cliffs
together. Do you remember we went to the gipsy’s camp in the
sand-hills, and had our fortunes told?”

Mrs. Haldane blushed and laughed.

“We were foolish enough to do anything, I think, at that time.”

“That pretty gipsy girl with the dark almond eyes and red-and-amber
headdress was sadly out in her reading of our destinies.”

Mrs. Haldane made no reply. These reminiscences, and especially the
tone in which the vicar dwelt on them, disquieted her.

“I think the worst of the shower is over now,” she said, stepping from
under his umbrella. As she spoke, however, a fresh gust of wind and
rain contradicted her, and she stepped further into the shelter of the
tree. Mr. Santley clearly understood the significance of her words and
action.

“It is raining far too heavily to go yet,” he said gently. “Let me
hold my umbrella over you.”

She consented a little uneasily, but he laid his hand upon her arm and
said--

“I have displeased you by referring to the past, have I not? Come,
be frank with me. Surely we are good enough friends by this to speak
candidly to each other.”

She raised her great dark eyes to his face and replied gravely,

“I do not like you to speak of the past in that way. I do not think
it is right. I hope we _are_ good enough friends to speak candidly. I
have trusted you as a friend, as a very dear and true friend. I wish
to keep you always my friend; but when you spoke just now of
our childish liking for each other, I do not think you spoke as
a--friend.”

The vicar was silent, and his eyes were cast on the ground.

“Have I done you an injustice?” she asked in a low tone, after a
little pause. “Then, pray, do forgive me.”

The vicar regarded her with a look of sadness, and took the little
gloved hand she held out to him.

“You do me injustice in thinking that I have forgotten your position.”

Mrs. Haldane coloured deeply.

“No,” continued the vicar, “I have not forgotten that. I _cannot_
forget it. And if I still love you with the old love of those vanished
years, if I love you with a love which will colour my whole life, do
not imagine that it is with any hope of a response in this world. I
do your husband no injustice; I do you no dishonour. I loved you long
before he knew you; I shall love you still in that after life in which
he has deliberately abandoned all claim to you in the very existence
of which he places no belief. Between this and then let me be your
friend--your brother; let me be as one in whom you will ever find
sympathy and devotedness; one who can share and understand all your
doubts and distress, all your temptations and trials. I do not ask you
to love me; I only ask you to let me love you.” This gust of passion
was so sudden, so unexpected, so overwhelming, that almost before she
was aware, he had spoken and she had listened. And now as she thought
of what he said a strangely mixed sensation of doubt and pleasure
awoke within her. All that he wished to be he was indeed already
in her eyes--her adviser, sympathiser, friend. Only this secret
unexpectant love which lived on the past and the future agitated her.
And yet surely it was a pure spiritual love which asked for no return
on this side of the grave. These thoughts occurred to her before she
took the sober common-sense view of what he had said.

“You are taking too visionary, too feverish a view of life when you
speak in that way,” she said gently. “We cannot live on dreams. Our
duties, our work, our disappointments and cares are too real for us to
be satisfied with any love less real. You will some day meet some one
worthy of your affection, capable of sympathising with you and aiding
you in your life-work--some one who will be a fitting helpmeet to you.
For my part, I think that whenever we have missed what we are apt to
consider a great happiness it is a sure sign that God intends some
better thing for us.”

The vicar shook his head silently.

“Oh, you must have more faith!” she continued brightly. “And it ought
to be very easy for you to have faith in this matter. You have all the
advantages on your side. And, if I may be frank with you, I will say
that I think you would be happier if you _were_ married. You need some
responsive heart, and nowhere could one more need close companionship
than in such a place as Omberley.”

The rain had ceased, and as she spoke the last words she glanced up at
the clouds breaking away from the sunny blue of the sky.

“I think we may safely start now. How bright and sweet everything
looks after the rain; and what a fragrance the fields have!”

Mr. Santley did not attempt to renew the conversation. Clearly she was
not in the mood, and he believed that what he had said had fallen
as seed in a generous soil, and would germinate in the warmth of her
fervid temperament. It was enough that she knew he still loved her.

Such a knowledge is ever dangerous to an imaginative woman. For
several days after that incident Mrs. Haldane never thought of
the vicar, never heard his name mentioned without at the same time
unconsciously recalling--or rather without having flashed upon her a
mental picture not only of that little wood near the moss, but of the
romantic shore at Seacombe. She felt a strange tender interest in the
man who had loved her so long, and still loved her so hopelessly, so
unselfishly. Hitherto in their relationship she had only thought of
herself, of her own needs and her own happiness. She had looked up to
him. But that avowal had changed their position towards one another
in a singular way. He to whom every one felt entitled to appeal to
for advice, assistance, consolation, was evidently himself in need of
human affection. She had hitherto regarded the priest rather than the
man, but now the man chiefly engaged her attention, and attracted her
sympathy while he excited and perplexed her imagination. What could
she do to be of service to him? She set her woman’s wit to work in a
woman’s way, and speedily arrived at one means of serving him.

“George,” she said to her husband one morning at breakfast, “I have
been thinking of asking an old schoolfellow of mine, Hettie Taylor, to
come and spend a few weeks with us. She lives in London, and she will
be delighted with the change to the country, I know. What do you say?”

“Beginning to feel lonely already?” he asked, glancing up at her.

“Oh no, not at all. Only I have been thinking of her, and should like
to have her with me again for a little while. I am sure you will
like her. She is very pretty--such beautiful brown hair and eyes--and
decidedly intellectual.”

“Ask her by all means, then.”

“Thanks. I will write to her to-day. No, not to-day--I shall be busy
seeing after the children’s picnic. Will you not come, dear? You know
you love children.”

“To a picnic, my dear girl!” cried Mr. Haldane aghast.

“Yes, in Barton Wood. The children are all going in a couple of
waggons. And there will be some of the old people there if the weather
is fine. Do come.”

“A picnic, my dear Nell, is pure atavism--it is one of those lapses
into savagery which betray the aboriginal arboreal blood,” said
Mr. Haldane, laughing. “No, no; I have too much respect for the
civilization of the century and for my personal comfort to willingly
retrograde to the Drift Period.”



CHAPTER X. THE KISS.

|The artist in search of a pretty rural subject could not do better
than paint a village holiday--a holiday from which the men and women
are all but excluded, and the village school-children and the old
people are gathered together for a voyage through the leafy lanes to
the picturesque playground of a neighbouring wood. Such an enjoyable
spectacle as that presented on the day of the Omberley school-treat
deserved to be immortalized by art, if only for the sake of filling a
city parlour with a sense of eternal summer. It was a glorious August
morning that laughed out over Omberley on the day of the great picnic.
The young people were astir early, for it had been impossible to sleep
from the excitement they felt after the first glimmer of dawn. About
ten o’clock the streets were gay with troops of children, clean,
rosy-cheeked, and dressed in their Sunday clothes, who went singing
to the rendezvous at the schoolhouse. There they were received by Miss
Dora Greatheart, who inspected them all, and expressed her approbation
at finding them so neat and prim. In twos and threes the old people,
the men in tall hats and swallow-tailed coats for the most part, and
the women in their best black gowns and church bonnets, came slowly
along the road, gossiping and laughing and breathing hard with the
weakness of old age. Then came the musicians--old Gabriel Ware, the
sexton, with his fiddle, and two younger men, one of whom played the
concertina and the other the cornopean, each with a huge nosegay in
his breast and wearing the jauntiest air conceivable. There was
a happy buzz of excitement about the schoolhouse as the people
assembled; a joyous babble of the clear treble voices of little lads
and lasses, and the piping notes of garrulous patriarchs and ancient
dames; a strange picture, as pathetic as it was pretty, of bright
young faces and dancing little figures mingling among gray wrinkled
visages and frail stooping shapes.

“Well, Dora, we are to have a fine day,” said Edith, as she entered
the garden and shook hands with the schoolmistress.

“Splendid; only we shall be a little late in starting. We should have
been off at ten, and the waggons have not come yet. Why, here is old
Daddy coming!”

She had stepped out to the road to look for the waggons, and now she
went to welcome the new arrival whom she called Daddy. He was a very
old, very wiry little man, with a funny little face full of wrinkles,
a pair of little grey eyes, and a perfectly bald head. This was the
oldest inhabitant of Omberley; and though he was in his ninety-second
year, he was as brisk and hearty as many who were twenty years his
juniors.

“Well, Daddy, you have actually come!” said Dora, shaking hands with
him. “I am very glad. And how do you feel to-day? Pretty strong and
hearty?’

“Strong as Samson, mistress, and hearty as--hearty as anything,”
 replied the old man, with a chuckle.

“Please, miss,” said a young woman who accompanied him, “mother sends
her duty, and will you kindly take care of him and see as he doesn’t
go a-thinking.”

Daddy’s only symptom of senility was an aptitude to fall into a state
of unconsciousness, and in these cases, which sometimes lasted for
hours together, he would sit down wherever he was, and consequently
ran considerable risks when he went out-of-doors alone. Though the old
fellow was quite unable to give any account of himself during these
lapses into oblivion, he always stoutly declared that he had been only
thinking.

“And please, miss, you’ll find his bacca-box and his pipe in his tail
pocket, and his hankercher, and the matches is in his vest pocket. He
do forget where he puts his things.”

Daddy laughed scornfully.

“I never forgets nothing, I don’t,” he said boastingly. “I can mind
o’ the great beech as was blown down on the green in the whirlywind
of ‘92; ay, I mind----”

A loud cheer from the school children interrupted the flow of Daddy’s
reminiscences. The greeting was intended for the vicar and the
patroness of the festival, Mrs. Haldane, who now drove up to the
school-house. She was already acquainted with Dora, but she had not
yet met either Edith or the oldest inhabitant. Mr. Santley introduced
both as the waggons came in sight, and at once the cheering was
renewed, and the children streamed out into the road. What a fine
sight those waggons were v--the long, curved, wheeled ships of the
inland farmer, painted yellow and red, and drawn by big horses, with
huge collars and bright iron chains! The semicircular canvas awning
had been removed, but the wooden arches which supported it were
wreathed with leaves and flowers, and festoons hung overhead between
arch and arch. The horses, too, were gaily decked out, each having a
nosegay between its ears, and its mane and tail tied up with ribbons.
The bottom of the waggons were covered with trusses of straw, to make
comfortable seats for the old folk. The more daring of the lads were
already clambering up the wheels, and securing seats on the flakes
which went along the sides of the rustic ship like a sort of
outrigger.

Before allowing Daddy to be helped on board, Miss Greatheart beckoned
to her a little pale-faced girl who was obliged to use crutches.

“Nannie dear, I want you to look after Daddy as much as you can. When
you are tired of him you must come and tell me. Don’t let him go away
by himself, and wake him up if he sleeps too long.”

This was said in a whisper to the child, who smiled and nodded.

“Now, Daddy, here’s little Nannie Swales,” said Dora; “I want you to
take care of her. You’re the only person I can trust to look after her
properly. And she likes to talk to you and see you smoke.”

The little old man smiled and chuckled complacently.

“Put her aside of me, mistress, and I’ll see as no ill comes to her.”

What could have been more charmingly idyllic than those two great
waggons, crowded with little shining-eyed tots, merry lads and lasses,
withered old men and women, all happy and contented? The blue sky
laughed down on them; the green leaves and flowers embowered them;
and as a start was; made, one of the musicians struck up “For we’ll
a-hunting go” on the concertina, and a score of clear, fresh voices
joined in the jovial song.

Through the village, which turned out to wave hands to them as they
passed singing and cheering, away through gold-green stretches of
ripening harvest, past empty fields where the hay had all been cut and
carted, between level expanses of root crops lying green in the hot
sun, till at last the dark embankment of Barton Wood rises above the
distant sky. How cool and refreshing it is, after the glare of the
midday sun, to get into the green shadowland of these grand old
beeches and sycamores!

The road winds leisurely as if to seek out the coolest recesses of the
wood, and beneath the great bunches of heavy foliage, what quiet,
dim distances one sees between the trunks, strewn thick with withered
leaves, through which the moss and grass and a thousand moist plants
thrust their emerald way, and blue and pink and yellow flowers are
clustered in cushions of velvet colour! A few yards away from the
road the air seems brown and transparent. That must be the reason why
the leaves of the mountain ash are so darkly green, and the berries so
brilliantly crimson. If you pluck a bunch and take it out of the wood,
you will find it has become disenchanted; the colour is no longer the
same.

The road is not a highway, but leads to an old quarry of brown
sandstone. There has been no work done here for a few years, but
many generations of stonemasons have plied hammer and chisel in this
picturesque workshop. It is a tradition that the stone of Foxglove
Manor, old as it is, was got here. The old church was built from these
brown walls of stone; so was the Vicarage, and so were the windowsills
and facings of all the houses in Omberley. It is an unusually large
quarry, for a great deal of stone has been taken away during these
two hundred odd years. A great deal of half-shaped stone lies about in
large square and oblong blocks, both on the floor of the quarry, and
among the trees at its entrance. The trees must have sprung up since
many of these blocks were cut, otherwise it is not easy to see why
they should have been put where you now find them. On two sides the
walls of rock are high and precipitous, but on the others the grass
and ferns and beeches are carried into the quarry as on the swell of a
green wave. A stone shed and hut, roofed with red tiles, stand at the
foot of one of these slopes, and here the commissariat department has
established itself. A romantic, green, cosy, convenient spot for a
picnic and a dance!

The waggons were driven right into the quarry, and the horses were
hobbled and allowed to graze beneath the trees. The hour before
dinner was spent in wandering through the woods gathering flowers
and berries, in rolling about on the soft grass, or in smoking and
chatting among the blocks of sandstone. When the cornopean sounded
the signal for the feast, the youngsters came trooping in, dancing
and eager to begin, for the excitement had prevented most of them from
taking breakfast.

And what a luxurious feast it was The vicar, Mrs. Haldane, Edith, and
Miss Greatheart, went about the various groups seeing that every one
was well supplied with what they liked best. After the cold meats,
pies, and pastry, came a liberal distribution of fruit and milk to
the children, and a glass of wine to the old people; and at this
point Daddy was made the object of so much nudging and whispering and
signalling, that at last he got upon his feet and made a wonderful
little speech on behalf of the company, keeping his wine-glass in his
hand all the time, and every now and then holding it up between his
eye and the light with the shrewd air of a connoisseur. Then there
were three cheers for Mrs. Haldane, and three cheers for the vicar,
three for Dora and for Edith, and happily some young rascal, whose
milk had been too strong for him, proposed in a frightened scream
three cheers for. Daddy, which were very heartily given by all the
school children, though the seniors looked much shocked and surprised
at so daring a demonstration.

In about an hour the racing and games were to begin, and meanwhile
Mrs. Haldane, the vicar, and the two young ladies were to have lunch
together. It is not necessary to enter into any detail of the various
sports which took place, or to linger over the dancing and merrymaking
that followed. When the fun was at its height, and Daddy was capering
gaily to the jigging of the small orchestra, Edith, who felt only half
interested, slipped quietly away into the wood. She was not surprised
or aggrieved that Mr. Santley paid so much attention to the lady of
the Manor, but she felt hurt that he seemed so completely to forget
and overlook herself. She wished now to be a little alone in Arden,
for Edith loved the woods, and in every glade she could imagine in her
fanciful moments that Jaques, or Rosalind, or Touchstone had just gone
by, so closely had she associated the dramatic idyl with every piece
of English forest-land.

She followed at haphazard a foot-track that went through the trees
until she reached a brook, which she found she could cross by means
of three slippery-looking stepping-stones, against which the water
bickered and gurgled as it raced along. All the steep banks were
knee-deep in beautiful ferns close by the waters edge, and higher up
the slope grew luxurious tufts of wild flowers. The sound of-the water
was very pleasant to hear, and when she had nimbly jumped across it,
instead of following the path, she went up the side of the stream to
where a mountain ash leaned its dense clusters of blood-bright berries
right across. At the foot of the tree was a large boulder, and, after
a glance round her, she sat down and drew off her shoes and
stockings. The weather was warm, and the clear, sun-flecked water was
irresistibly inviting. There she sat for some time, dreamily paddling
with her little white feet, like a pretty dryad whose tree grew in too
dry a soil.

She had finished playing with the cool stream, and was letting her
feet dry in the patches of sunlight that pierced through the branches
above her, when she heard a sound of voices. She hastily tried to draw
on her stockings, but her skin was still too moist; and so, gathering
her feet under her skirt, she concealed herself as much as possible
from the observation of the intruders. As they approached she
recognized the voices with a start, and crouched down behind the
boulder more closely than before.

“We can go no further this way,” said Mrs. Haldane.

“Oh yes, we can. I will assist you over the stones,” the vicar
rejoined.

“They look very treacherous and slippery, and the water makes one
nervous, running so fast.”

“Look, it is quite safe!” said the vicar; and Edith, peeping from the
side of the boulder, saw him step quickly across the brook. “It is a
pity you should miss the old Roman camp, when you are so near it.”

“If you will come back and assist me from this side, I will try them,”
 said Mrs. Haldane..

The vicar returned across the brook, and Edith saw the lady gather her
dress and prepare to step on to the first stone.

“Now, you must be ready to reach me your hand in case I need it.”

“Oh, you will find it quite easy when you try. Don’t stop, but go
right across without hesitation.”

Mrs. Haldane jumped fairly enough on to the first boulder, but,
instead of allowing the forward impetus to carry her on, she tried to
stop and steady herself on the narrow footing among the rushing water.
She lost at once her balance and her courage, and turning to him with
outstretched arms, she cried out, “Quick! quick! I shall fall!”

She threw herself back to the side as she spoke, and he caught her in
his arms. Her arms were about his neck, her face close to his; he
felt her breath upon his cheek. It was only for an instant, and as
she tried to recover herself, their eyes met with a flash of
self-consciousness. In the passionate excitement of that supreme
moment he strained her to his breast, and pressed his lips to her in a
long, violent kiss.

Edith sprang to her feet as though she had been stung; but instantly
she recollected herself, and sank down into her hiding-place.

Mrs. Haldane tore herself from the arms that encircled her, and
fronted the vicar with a flushed, angry face.

“Are you mad, Mr. Santley?” she asked indignantly. “Allow me to pass
at once.”

He stood aside trembling, white, and speechless; and she swept by him
and hurried back through the wood.

The vicar looked after her, but stood as if rooted to the spot; while
Edith, heedless of the hard stones and her naked feet, ran down wildly
to the stepping-stones.

He turned as she approached, and there, with the water whirling
between them, she confronted him like his outraged conscience.



CHAPTER XI. EDITH.

|Is this your fidelity? is this your love?” she asked bitterly.

The deadly pallor of the vicars face had given place to a flush of
guilt and shame. He crossed the brook and stood beside her.

“Edith, I have done wrong. Can you forgive me?” he asked, attempting
to take her hand.

“Do not touch me, Mr. Santley!” she exclaimed, stepping back from him.
“Do not speak to me.”

“Will you not forgive me, Edith?”

“Ask God to forgive you. It matters little now whether I forgive or
not. Please go away and leave me.”

“I cannot leave you in this manner. Say you forgive. I confess I
have done wrong, but it was in the heat of passion, it was not
premeditated.”

“The heat of passion! Was it only in the heat of passion that you----
Oh, go at once, Mr. Santley! Go before I say what had better be left
unspoken!” The vicar paused and looked at her anxiously; but Edith,
throwing her shoes and stockings on the ground, sat down on a stone,
and resting her pale, unhappy face on her hands, gazed with a hard,
fixed expression at the water.

“Dearest Edith, try to believe that what I did was only an act of
momentary madness; blame me if you will, for I cannot too severely
blame myself, but do not look so relentless and unforgiving.”

She never stirred or gave any indication that she had heard him, but
sat staring at the water.

“You will be sorry for your unkindness afterwards,” he continued.

She paid no heed to him, and he saw it was hopeless to try to effect a
reconciliation at the present moment.

“Since you command me to go, I will go.”

Still she appeared not to have heard him. He went back across the
brook, and, glancing back once or twice, disappeared in the wood. A
minute or two later he stole back again, and saw that she was still
sitting by the brook in the same stony attitude. A vague sense of
uneasiness took possession of him. He knew that even the meekest,
frailest, and gentlest of women are capable of the most tragic
extremities when under the sway of passion. Yet what could he do?
She would not speak to him, and was deaf to all he could say in
extenuation of his conduct. Trusting to the effect of a little
quiet reflection, and to the love which he knew she felt for him,
he resolved at length to leave her to herself. After all he had, it
seemed to him, more to fear from Mrs. Haldane than from Edith. To what
frightful consequences he had exposed himself by that act of folly!
Would she tell her husband? Would the story leak out and become the
scandal of the country side? With a sickening dread of what the future
had in store for him, he retraced his steps to the quarry.

Mrs. Haldane’s first impulse was to order her carriage and at once
drive home, but her hurried walk through the wood gradually became
slower as she reflected on the strange interpretation that would be
put upon so sudden a departure. She had brought the vicar, and if she
now hastened away without him, evil tongues would soon be busied with
both her name and his. For the sake of the office he held, and for her
own sake as well, she resolved to be silent on what had happened. She
felt sure that the vicar would be sufficiently punished by the stings
of his own conscience, and if any future chastisement were required
he should find it in her distance and frigid treatment of him.
Consequently, when Mrs. Haldane reached the quarry she assumed a
cheerful, friendly air, stopped to say a few kind words to the old
people, and interested herself in the amusements of the children. It
was now drawing near tea-time, and the sun was westering.

Mr. Santley felt relieved when he found that Mrs. Haldane had not
abruptly left, as he dreaded she would do, but he made no attempt to
speak to her or attract her attention. At tea-time she took a cup in
her hand and joined a group of little girls, instead of taking her
place at the table set aside for her.

The vicar’s eye glanced restlessly about for Edith, but she had not
obeyed the summons of the cornopean, and in the bustle and excitement,
her absence was not noticed. It was only when the horses had been put
into the shafts, and the children, after being counted, were taking
their places in the waggons, that Miss Greatheart missed her.

“Have you seen Miss Dove, Mr. Santley?” she asked, after she had
searched in vain through the little crowd for Edith. “I don’t think
she was at tea.”

“She went in the direction of the old camp,” replied the#vicar,
hurriedly; “she cannot have heard the signal. Do not say anything. I
think I shall be easily able to find her. If Mrs. Haldane asks for me,
will you say I have gone to look for her? You can start as soon as you
are ready; we shall easily overtake you.”

So saying, Mr. Santley plunged into the wood, and hurried to the
brook. Edith was still sitting where he had left her, but she had in
the meanwhile put on her shoes and stockings. Instead of the
fixed, determined expression, her face now wore a look of intense
wretchedness, and evidently she had been crying. She looked up at the
sound of his footsteps.

“Edith, we are going home,” he said, as he reached the edge of the
stream.

“You can go,” was the answer.

“But not without you.”

“Yes, without me. I am not going home. I am never going home any more.
I have no home. Oh! mother, mother!”

The last words were uttered in a low, sobbing voice.

“Come, come, you must not speak like that. You must go home. What
would your poor aunt say if you did anything so foolish?”

“Oh, what would she say if she knew how I have disgraced her and
myself? No, I cannot go home any more.”

“But you cannot stay here all night,” said the vicar, with a chill,
sinking tremor at the heart.

She gave no answer.

“Edith, my dear girl, for God’s sake do not say you are thinking of
doing anything rash!”

“What else can I do? What else am I fit for but disgrace and a
miserable end? Oh, Mr. Santley, you swore to me that before God I was
your true wife. I believed you then. I did not think you were only
acting in a moment of passion. But now I see that it was a dreadful
sin. I was not your wife; and oh! what have you made me instead?”

He was very pale, and he trembled from head to foot as he listened to
her words.

“Do not speak so loud,” he said in a hoarse whisper.

“What! do you feel ashamed? Are you afraid of any one knowing? But God
knows it now, and my poor, poor mother knows it--God help me!--and all
the world will know it some day.”

“Edith, you will not ruin me?”

“Have you not ruined me? Have you not cast me off for a woman who
does not even care for you--for another man’s wife? Oh no, do not be
afraid. I will take my shame with me in silence. No one shall be able
to say a word against you now, but all the world will know at the
last.”

“Edith, listen to me. I will tell you everything; I will hide nothing
from you; but do not condemn me unheard. All that I said to you was
true, and is still true. Till _she_ came, I did really and most truly
love you with all my heart and soul. You were my very wife, in God’s
eyes, if love and truth be, as they are, what makes the validity
of marriage. I did not deceive you; I did not speak in a moment of
passion. Before Heaven I took you for my wife, and before Heaven I
believed myself your husband.”

“And then she came!” interposed Edith, bitterly.

“And then she came. I have told you all she was to me once, all
I hoped she would one day be. But I have not told you how I have
struggled to be true to you in every word and thought. It has been a
hard and a bitter struggle--all the more hard and bitter that I have
failed. I confess, Edith, that I have not been true. But are we all
sinless? are we perfect?”

“We can at least be honourable. Your love of her is a crime.”

“Her beauty maddens me. She is my evil angel. To see her is to love
her and long for her. And instead of helping me to conquer temptation,
instead of trying to save me from myself, you cast me from you, you
upbraid my weakness, you taunt me with your unhappiness. When she is
not near, my better nature turns to you. You help me to believe in
God, in goodness; she drives me to unbelief and atheism. Did you fancy
I was a saint? Have not I my passions and temptations as well as other
men? Even the just man falls seven times a day; if you indeed loved me
as a true wife, you would find it in your heart to forgive even unto
seventy times seven.”

“You know how I have loved!”

“_Have_ loved! Ay, and how easily you have ceased to love!”

“No, no; I have never ceased to love you. It is because I must still
love and love you that I am so wretched.”

“Then how can you be so unforgiving?”

“Oh, I am not unforgiving. I can forgive you anything, so long as I
know that I am dear to you. Seven and seventy-seven times.”

“And you forgive me now?”

“I do. But you will never any more----”

“You must help me not to; you must pray for me, and assist me to be
ever faithful to you.”

“I will, I will.”

He drew her to him, and kissed her on the lips.

“And you will come home now?”

“Yes, with you.”

“The waggons have started, and we must walk quickly to overtake them.”

“Oh, I don’t care now how far we have to walk.”

“Mrs. Haldane, however, may have waited for us.”

Edith stopped short.

“I couldn’t go near her.”

“Consider a moment, darling. She knows nothing about you, and she does
not know that you know anything about her. It might look strange if
she drove home without me, after bringing me here. I feared at first
that she would have left instantly, but she did not. She may not
wish to give people any reason for talking about any sudden coolness
between us. Do you understand me?”

“Yes. I will go.”

The vicar had correctly divined the course Mrs. Haldane had pursued.
When she learned that Mr. Santley had gone in search of Edith, she
drove very leisurely along, so that they might overtake her. She had
just got clear of the wood when, on looking round, she observed them
coming through the trees. She drew up till they reached her; and when
they had got in, she started a brisk conversation with Edith on all
manner of topics. She was in her liveliest mood, and to Edith it
seemed almost incredible that the scene she had witnessed at the brook
was a very serious fact, and not an hallucination. Edith noticed,
however, that the vicar seldom spoke, and that, though Mrs. Haldane
listened and answered when he made any remark, the conversation was
between Mrs. Haldane and herself.

At parting Mrs. Haldane gave him her finger-tips, and was apparently
paying more attention to Edith when she said good-bye to him.



CHAPTER XII. CONSCIENCE.

|Mrs. Haldane came no more to the Vicarage that week, and on Sunday
she did not remain, as she had hitherto done, for the communion at the
close of the morning service. She was evidently deeply offended, and
was doing all she could to avoid meeting the vicar. With him that week
had been one of terrible conflict. Tortured with remorse and shame, he
was still mad with passion. That kiss was still burning on his lips.
He still could feel that voluptuous form in his arms. It seemed,
indeed, as though Mrs. Haldane were his evil genius, driving him on
to destruction. He was unable to pray; and when he sat down to prepare
his sermon, her face rose between him and the paper, and, starting
up, he rushed from the house and walked rapidly away into the country.
This was in the forenoon, and he walked on and on at a quick pace for
several hours. He passed little hamlets and farmsteads which he did
not notice, for his mind was absorbed in a wretchedness so intense
that he scarcely was conscious of what he was doing. In the afternoon
he came to a wood, and, worn out with fatigue and agitation, he
entered it and flung himself beneath the shadow of a tree.

There he lay, a prey to conscience, till the sun went down. He had had
no food since morning, and he was now weak and nervous. He returned
from the wood to the high-road and retraced his steps homeward. As he
passed by the wayside cottages, he was tempted once or twice to stop
and ask for bread and milk, but after a mental contest he each time
conquered the pangs of hunger and thirst, and went on again. The
fathers of the desert had subdued the lusts of the flesh by hunger and
stripes and physical suffering, and if mortification could exorcise
the evil spirit within him, he would have no mercy on himself. He was
a great distance from home, and, notwithstanding his resolution to
suffer and endure, he was several times forced to sit down and rest on
heaps of broken stones by the wayside; and on one of these occasions
a spray of bramble-berries hanging over the hedge caught his eye,
and looked so rich and sweet that he plucked one and raised it to his
mouth. The next moment, however, he had flung it away from him. On
another occasion he was startled to his feet by the sound of wheels,
and as he walked on he was overtaken by a neighbouring farmer in his
gig, who drew up as he was passing, and touched his hat.

“Making for home, Mr. Santley?” he asked, as he shook up the cushion
on the vacant seat beside him. “I can put you down at your own door,
sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Henderson; I prefer walking, and I have some business
to attend to.”

“All right, sir. It’s a fine evening for a walk. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye.”

The vicar watched the gig diminish on the distant road till at
length the hedgerows concealed it, with a certain sense of stoical
satisfaction. He felt he was not all weakness; there was yet left
some power of self-denial, some fortitude to endure self-inflicted
chastisement.

It was nearly dark when he arrived again in Omberley. The windows were
ruddy with fire and gaslight; there were no children playing in the
streets; several of the small shopkeepers who kept open late, were now
at last putting up their shutters. There was a genial glow from the
red-curtained window of the village inn, and a sound of singing and
merriment.

“Why should I not go in and join them?” he thought to himself. “What
an effect it would have, if I stepped into the sanded taproom and
called for a pipe and a quart of beer! The vicar smoking a long clay,
with his frothing pewter on the deal table beside him! Why not? Has
not the vicar his gross appetites as well as you? Why should you be
scandalized, friends, if he should indulge in the same merry way as
yourselves? Is he not a mere man like you, with the same animal needs
and cravings? Fools, who shrink with horror from the humanity of a man
because he wears a black coat and talks to you of duty and sacrifice
and godliness! How little you know the poor wretch to whom you look
for counsel and comfort and mediation with Heaven!”

He was turning away, when the taproom door was flung open, and half
a dozen tipsy men, cursing and quarrelling, staggered out into the
street.

Among them was a handsome, swarthy girl of two and twenty, gaily
dressed in colours, with a coloured handkerchief bound over her black
hair, and a guitar in her hand. They were evidently quarrelling about
the girl, who was doing her best to make peace among them.

“You does me no good by your fighting and kicking up a row, masters.
Decent folks won’t let a wench into the house when there’s always a
fight got up about her. You spoils my market, and gets me an ill name,
masters.”

“Any way, Jack Haywood shan’t lay a finger on thee, Sal!” cried a
burly young fellow, deep in his cups, as he clenched his horny fist
and shook it at Jack.

“What is’t to you what Jack does?” returned the girl, saucily.
“Neither Jack nor thee shall lay a finger on me against my will. I
reckon I can take care o’ myself, masters.”

“Ay, ay, thou canst that!” assented several voices.

The vicar, who had stood to witness this scene, now stepped in among
the group. The men recognized him, and, touching their forelocks,
slunk away in sheepish silence. He uttered not a word, but his pale
face sobered them like a dash of cold water. Only the girl was left,
and she stood, red and frightened, while her hands were nervously
busied with the guitar.

“You are back again, Sal, and at your old ways,” said the vicar, in a
low voice. “I see, all good advice and all encouragement are wasted on
you.”

“I can’t help it, sir,” said the girl, sullenly. “I was born bad; I’m
of a bad lot. It’s no use trying any more. It’s in the blood and the
bone, and it’ll come out, in spite of everything.”

“Have you made much to-day?” asked the vicar.

“A shilling.”

“Where are you going to stop tonight?”

“At old Mary Henson’s, in Bara Street.”

“Then, go home at once, Sal,” said the vicar, giving her a half-crown.
“Will you promise me?”

“Yes.”

“And you will speak to no man tonight? You promise?”

“Yes,” said the girl, taking the money, with a strange look of inquiry
at the vicar.

“And try to say your prayers before you go to sleep.”

The girl dropped a curtsy, and went slowly down the street. With a
bitter laugh, the vicar pursued his way homeward.

“In the blood and the bone! In the blood and the bone!” he; repeated
to himself. “You are right, girl; we are born bad--born bad. The
bestial madness of ages and aeons, the lust and lasciviousness of
countless generations, are still in our blood, and our instincts
are still the instincts of the beast and the savage. Hypocrite and
blasphemer that I am! Whited sepulchre, reeking with corruption!
Living lie and mask of holiness! O God, what a wretch am I, who dare,
to speak of purity and repentance to this woman!”

When he reached the Vicarage, his sister was anxiously awaiting him,
and supper was ready.

“Where have you been so long?” she asked, a little impatiently. “I
think you might leave word when you expect to be detained beyond your
usual time. It is eleven o’clock.”

“I could not say how long I should be,” replied the vicar, with a
weary look, which touched his sister and changed her ill-temper to
solicitude.

“You are quite tired out, poor fellow,” she said, laying her hand on
his shoulder. “Well, come to supper. It is ready.”

“I cannot take anything at present,” replied Mr. Santley. “I will, go
and do a little of my sermon.”

“Shall I leave something out for you, then?”

“Yes, please. Good night.”

He went into the study, lit the gas, and, locking the door, flung
himself into an armchair.

“In the blood! in the blood!” he bitterly communed with himself. “And,
with all our wild dreams and aspirations, we are but what science says
we are, the conqueror of the lascivious ape, the offspring of some
common ancestral bestiality, which transmitted to the simian its
animalism free and unfettered except by appetite, and to man the germs
of a moral law which must be for ever at variance with his sensual
instincts. God! we are worse than apes--we the immortals, with our
ideals of spirit and purity!”

He rose, and going across the room to the tall, carved oak cupboard,
whose contents were a secret to all but himself, he unlocked it and
opened the folding doors. The light fell on a large, beautiful statue
of the Madonna, with the Infant Christ in her arms. The figure was in
plaster, exquisitely coloured, and of a rare loveliness. He looked at
it abstractedly for a long while.

“Mother of God!” he exclaimed at length, with passionate fervour.
“Spotless virgin, woman above all women glorified, the solitary boast
of our tainted nature--oh, dream and desire of men striving for their
lost innocence, how vainly have I worshipped and prayed to thee! How
ardently have I believed in thy immaculate motherhood! How yearningly
I have cried to thee for thy aid and intercession! And no answer has
been granted to my supplications. My feverish exaltation has passed
from me, leaving me weak and at the mercy of my senses. Art thou,
too, but a poetic myth of a later superstition--an idealization more
beautiful, more divine than the frail goddesses of Greece and Rome?
The art and poetry of the world have turned to thee for inspiration,
the ascetic has filled the cold cell with the shining vision of thee,
altars have been raised to thee over half the globe, the prayers of
nations ascend to thee, and art thou but a beautiful conception of the
heart, powerless to aid or to hear thy suppliants?”

He paused, as if, indeed, he expected some sign or word in answer to
his wild appeal. Then, closing the doors again and locking them, he
went towards his-desk. On it lay the manuscript of the sermon he had
preached on the Unknown God.

“The Unknown God!” he exclaimed. “What if her husband is right! What
if, indeed, there be no God, no God for us, no God of whom we shall
ever be conscious! All science points that way. When the man is dead,
his soul is dead too. We deny it; but what is our denial worth? It is
our interest to deny it. All phenomena contradict our denial. No man
has ever risen from the grave to give us assurance of our immortality.
Ah, truly, ‘if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ
not risen; and if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and
your faith is also vain!’”

He paced the room excitedly.

“Why act the knave and the hypocrite longer? Why delude the world
with a false hope of a future that can never be? Why preach prayer
and sacrifice, and suffering and patience, when this life is all? If
Christ is not risen, our preaching is vain, and your faith is also
vain.”

He again paced the room; and then, going to a drawer where the keys of
the church were kept, he took them, and stole noiselessly out of the
house. All was very still outside. The stars were shining, and it was
duskily clear. He traversed the churchyard, and reaching the porch
he unlocked the door and entered. It was quite dark, except that the
tall, narrow windows looked grey against the blackness of the rest of
the building, and a little bead of flame burned in the sanctuary lamp.
He closed the door after him, and went up the echoing nave to the
chancel. Thence he groped his way to the pulpit, and ascending he
looked down into the darkness before him.

He stood there in silence, straining his eyes into the gloom, and
gradually there came out of the darkness faint, spectral rows of
faces, turned up to his with a horrified and bewildered aspect. He
uttered no word, but in his brain he was preaching from the text of
Paul, and proving that Christ, indeed, had never risen, and that their
faith was vain. This world was all, and there was nothing beyond it.
Vice and virtue were but social and physical distinctions, implying
that the consequences of the one were destructive of happiness, of the
other were conducive to happiness. Sin was a fiction, and the sense
of sinfulness a morbid development of the imagination. Every man was a
law unto himself, and that law must be obeyed. A mans actions were the
outcome of his constitution. He was not morally responsible for them.
Indeed, moral responsibility was a philosophical error. In dumb show
was that long, phrenzied sermon preached to a phantom congregation. At
the close the vicar, omitting the usual form of benediction, descended
from the pulpit, staggered across the chancel, and fell in a swoon at
the foot of the steps which led to the altar.



CHAPTER XIII. IN THE LABORATORY.

|The grey dawn was glimmering through the chancel when Mr. Santley
regained consciousness. He looked wonderingly about him, and at first
was unable to understand how he came to be in his present position.
That physical collapse had been a merciful relief from a state of
mental tension which had become intolerable. He felt faint but calm,
and the horrible excitement of the last few hours presented itself
to his memory as a sort of ghastly nightmare from which he had been
providentially awakened.

He rose and went out into the churchyard. The air was moist and cool.
A strange white mist lay in fantastic pools and streaks on the bare
hayfields. The corn was full of an indistinct white gauzy vapour. So
were the trees. There was not much of it in the open air. It had a
spectral look, and, like spirits, it seemed to require some material
thing to interpenetrate and rest upon. The grass was heavy with dew,
and the gravelled walk as dark coloured as though there had been rain.
From the corn came the sound of innumerable chirpings and twitterings.
The fields seemed to be swarming with sweet, sharp musical notes. In
the trees, too, though there was no stir of wings, there was a very
tumult of bird-song--not the full, joyous outpouring, but a ceaseless
orchestral tuning up and rehearsing as it were. The familiar graveyard
in this unusual misty light, and alive with this strange music, seemed
a place in which ne had never been before. The effect was as novel as
the first appearance of a well-known landscape buried in snow.

The newness of what was so familiar excited an indefinable interest in
him. He felt somehow as though he had passed through the valley of the
shadow, and this was the day after death--that death by which we
shall not all die, but by which we and all things shall be changed.
He lingered in that mental state in which thought expands beyond the
bounds of consciousness, and it was not till a low, faint flush of
red began to colour the east that he returned to the Vicarage, and,
throwing himself on his bed, fell into the deep, dreamless sleep of
exhaustion.

It was fortunate for Mr. Santley that he had inherited a magnificent
constitution, or the consequences of this wild conflict might have
been disastrous. He woke late, but the brief period of rest and
unconsciousness had repaired the reckless waste of nervous force. Only
a profound sadness remained as a testimony of the terrible nature of
the emotion he had endured. The rest of the week passed in a sort of
weary, listless stupor and the same heavy sadness. When Sunday came
round, he shuddered as he ascended the pulpit at the recollection
of that phantasmal audience to which he had last preached; but his
intellect was clear and sane, and he kept faithfully to the written
discourse spread out before him. He was not surprised that Mrs.
Haldane left before he had any opportunity of speaking to her.

He had half expected as much. She regarded him with a cold, haughty
contempt--a contempt too passionless to permit her even to avenge the
insult he had offered her by exposing him to his parishioners. She
knew he loved her--and indeed was not this folly proof of the frantic
character of his love?--and she knew that total loss of her would be
the greatest chastisement even vindictiveness could wish to inflict
upon him. It would have been possible for him, he thought, to bear
in silence any punishment from her except this icy contempt and utter
indifference. If she had hated him, if she had pursued him with bitter
hostility, if she had disgraced him, he could have endured it; it
would have been no more than he merited. But that she should simply
ignore him, that she should not consider it worth her while even to be
angry, was an intolerable humiliation.

In spite of all, he still loved her! It was useless to seek to delude
himself into any belief to the contrary. He loved her, in defiance of
honour, goodness; in spite of misery and shame; in spite of divine or
human law; in spite of man or God. He loved her with a mad, despairing
passion, which he might conceal from all eyes for a little while, but
which he could never quell; which he felt would some day break out
in a frantic paroxysm that would involve both him and her in a common
ruin. Home, position, reputation, this life and the next--he could
sacrifice all for her. He could not exist without her. To see her and
be never seen by her was a living hell. If he were, indeed, to be for
ever doomed to this misery, better that he should perish at once, and
have done for ever with the torture of being.

This alternative presented itself to the vicar not merely as one of
those exaggerated expressions of feeling common to many men in
moments of unendurable pain or depression, but as a sober reality. An
existence in which Mrs. Haldane took no part and shared no interest
was literally to him an existence more hateful than self-destruction
itself. On the Monday he proceeded to the neighbouring market town,
and bought a revolver and a packet of cartridges. He loaded the weapon
on the road, and threw the remaining cartridges away. That evening he
spent in looking over his papers, a large number of which he burned.
He then sat down, and wrote for some time; but when he had finished,
he threw what he had written into the fire. What need was there to put
any explanation on record? He then took from the bookcase the great
poem of Lucretius, and read till a late hour.

Next morning he arose early, and seemed in better spirits than he had
been for some time. He told his sister that he was going to walk over
to Foxglove Manor, and was not certain as to when he would return. He
left the house, humming a tune, and set out at a brisk pace through
the village. The weather was bright and inspiriting. The country never
before seemed so full of health and gladness and joyous life. The
lark was singing far up in the shining blue sky; butterflies went
fluttering across the road; whirring flights of birds along the
hedgerows preceded him all the way. He looked at everything and
noticed everything--the bright flowers growing among the wayside
weeds; the snail which had crept on to the footpath, and whose shell
he carefully avoided. He observed too much to think; but one thought,
underlying this discursive activity of mind, kept him company all the
while--“I have struggled and prayed; I have tried to believe and to
trust; I can do no more. If there be a God who is concerned in man,
let him now give evidence of His providence.”

When he reached the Manor, he was ushered into the reception-room,
where he was not kept long waiting. Mrs. Haldane entered the
apartment, and received him with a chilling courtesy. She noticed
that, though he had advanced eagerly at her entrance, he had not
offered her his hand; and now that she had bowed to him with a certain
constrained grace, he stood regarding her hesitatingly.

“I have come,” he said at last, in a low, nervous voice, “to throw
myself on your mercy, to beg your forgiveness, to ask you once more to
restore me your confidence and friendship.”

“I freely forgive you, Mr. Santley,” she replied at once. “It is
better that what has taken place should be forgiven and forgotten
as speedily as possible. But my confidence and friendship! How can I
trust you any more? And I did trust and esteem you so much. I regarded
you---- But I will not even reproach you with having destroyed my
idealization of you.”

“Reproach me and censure me as you will,” he cried earnestly; “but do
not cast me away from you, do not be heartlessly indifferent to me. It
lies in your hands to make my life happy or miserable. It depends on
you whether I can live at all.”

“That cannot be,” replied Mrs. Haldane, shaking her head gravely.

“It is and must be,” said the vicar. “All my future, both here and
hereafter, hangs on your decision now. I have fought with myself, and
prayed to God to be delivered from my bondage; but it is in vain. No
answer has been vouchsafed to my supplications; no grace, no strength
has been granted in my need. Had I prayed to the deaf impersonal power
which your husband believes in, I could not have been more hopelessly
unheard or unheeded. The conflict is over. I am the gladiator fallen
in the arena, and it rests with you to give the signal of reprieve or
destruction.”

“I do not understand you, Mr. Santley,” she said, feeling alarmed and
excited. “What do you ask? What would you have me do?”

“Oh, what would I have you do!” he exclaimed passionately; then,
checking himself abruptly, he continued eagerly, “I would have you
be as you were before I offended you. I would have you forgive my
offence.”

“I have promised to forgive and forget it,” said Mrs. Haldane.

“No; do not forget it, but pardon it, and try to look upon it as more
venial than you now do. Oh, Ellen, had I not loved you beyond all that
a man values in this world, would it be possible to have so far fallen
in your esteem?”

She frowned, and was about to interrupt him; but he went on
hurriedly--“Do not be angry. I will not speak to you of love again.
I will only answer your question. I would, as I have said, that you
should forgive my offence, and be the same to me as though it had
never happened. Not only my use in life, my happiness, my honour
depend on this, but life itself. I cannot exist without some share
in your thoughts, in your interests, in your regard. Life would be
intolerable if you were to be wholly taken away from me. Do I ask too
much? Answer me quickly, for I am prepared for either alternative. You
and God--if, indeed, there be above us a God who sees and cares--must
now decide my course.”

“You frighten and bewilder me with your passion. I do not know what
to answer you. Indeed, I hardly know whether I understand you. I have
forgiven you. I bear you no ill will. I hope, indeed, that you may
be happy, and that you may soon find some one who will be worthier of
your love than I could have been. I am both sorry and ashamed of what
has happened, and I will try to forget it, both for your sake and my
own. Have I not said enough?”

“And the future?” he asked, with an anxious look.

“‘The future will be a continuation of the past, seeing that all is
forgiven and forgotten.”

“And you will still allow me to speak to you, to see you? You will not
treat me with silence and indifference?”

“I will be as I used to be,” said Ellen, with a look of doubt and
hesitation. “And you will _trust_ me?”

“Are you to be trusted, Mr. Santley?” she asked in a low voice. “You
know how fully I trusted you before.”

“And you must trust me again if all is to be the same as it was. Is
not that our agreement?”

“I will try to, but the result will entirely depend upon yourself.”

“I cannot say how thankful and grateful I am to you,” he said,
extending his hand.

She took it, and he raised hers to his lips, though she coloured and
tried to withdraw it.

“Nay, it is but a token of my gratitude and submission. I am thankful
to live, and you do not know how certainly you have enabled me to
live.”

“My husband is in the laboratory,” said Mrs. Haldane, who felt uneasy,
and wished to bring this interview to a close.

“Shall we join him?

“Certainly, if you wish it.”

They found Mr. Haldane busily engaged in writing, while the
sinister-looking attendant, with the dark, startling eyes, was
noiselessly occupied in filling a number of flasks with some
mysterious decoction intended for immediate experiment.

“Ever busy!” exclaimed the vicar.

“Busier than ever just now,” replied Mr. Haldane. “I am preparing a
paper which I intend to read on Tuesday next before the scientific
congress at Paris.”

“Are you going to Paris?” asked Mr. Santley, with surprise, and
addressing the question rather to Mrs. Haldane than her husband.

“Mr. Haldane is going, but I remain here.”

A look of relief passed over the vicar’s face.

“And what is the subject of your paper, if curiosity be pardonable?”
 he asked.

“Oh, it is a chapter from the great _opus_ on morals. I call it ‘The
Problem of Suicide.’ A singularly fascinating subject to one who has
paid any attention to it, I assure you. Does it happen to have fallen
in your line of study?”

“I cannot say it has.”

“You would find some curious generalizations here, in that case,”
 said Mr. Haldane, pointing to the sheets of paper on his desk.
“For instance, I suppose you would be hardly prepared to grant that
suicide, which seems a barbarous and unenlightened act, is really an
effect of civilization, or that an act which appears more than any
other an evidence of individual spontaneity, is in fact the inevitable
issue of universal and absolute social law.”

“I am certainly not prepared to concede that.”

“No; few persons unacquainted with the subject would be. Still, the
facts remain. The suicide who imagines he is rebelling against all
law and asserting his individual independence, is but illustrating the
coercion of the physical and psychical dispensation. Why, you shall
not even choose your own weapon of destruction, or select the spot in
which you shall die. Law will fix those apparently trivial details
for you. If your suicide is an Englishman, for example, he will prefer
hanging to cutting and stabbing, cutting and stabbing to drowning,
drowning to poison, and poison to firearms. With English women the
order of preference is modified. A third of the women, and hardly a
seventh of the men, seek death by drowning; while a seventh of the
women poison themselves, but only a fifteenth of the men. The ratios
hold good from year to year--relatively at least--for suicide is
largely on the increase. You should look into the matter for yourself.
It is a most attractive social problem.”

“Perhaps Mr. Santley would like to look at your paper?” suggested Mrs.
Haldane.

“You shall be very welcome to see it when I return,” said the
philosopher.

“Thank you very much. I have no doubt it will be extremely
interesting. And when do you leave?”

“The day after to-morrow. I shall spend a day or two in London, and
possibly a week or a fortnight in Paris. Indeed, I have some notion of
paying a flying visit to Berlin.”

That afternoon, as the vicar returned home, he paused by a pool in one
of the fields that skirted the high-road, and flung his revolver into
it.

“Can it be possible,” he asked himself, “that man has no volition, no
independence of action; that his choice of life or death even is not
a choice, but a predetermined issue of mechanical forces?” He watched
the ripples die away on the water, and then resumed his way.

“Are we mere automata, accomplishing not our own wills, but the secret
purpose of a subtle agency, of whose control we are unconscious?”

Gradually the problem which perplexed him gave place to another wave
of thought. His step became firmer and more elastic, and his face
brightened.

The thought which effected this change in his demeanour was Mr.
Haldane’s departure. What might not happen in those few days of
absence? Was not Mr. Haldane also accomplishing an unknown,
destiny? Might not this journey be providential? Or say, rather an
unanticipated road to the great end? Suppose Mr. Haldane should never
return!

The possibilities involved in that reflection!

Then he thought of Mrs. Haldane. For a week, perhaps for a fortnight,
she would be alone at the Manor. For a fortnight? Who could
foretell--perhaps for ever!


END OF VOL. I.





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