THE PARK AT NESTLEY.
Just inside the park, on a mossy knoll, a little way from the ancient
wrought-iron gate that opened almost upon the one street of Owlkirk, the
rector dug the foundation of his chapel--an oblong Gothic hall, of two
squares and a half, capable of seating all in the parish nearer to it
than to the abbey church. In his wife's eyes, Mr. Bevis was now an
absolute saint, for not only had he begun to build a chapel in his own
grounds, but to read prayers in his own church! She was not the only
one, however, who remarked how devoutly he read them, and his presence
was a great comfort to Wingfold. He often objected to what his curate
preached--but only to his face, and seldom when they were not alone.
There was policy in this restraint: he had come to see that in all
probability he would have to give in--that his curate would most likely
satisfy him that he was right. The relation between them was marvelous
and lovely. The rector's was a quiet awakening, a gentle second birth
almost in old age. But then he had been but a boy all the time, and a
very good sort of boy. He had acted in no small measure according to the
light he had, and time was of course given him to grow in. It is not the
world alone that requires the fullness of its time to come, ere it can
receive a revelation; the individual also has to pass through his
various stages of Pagan, Guebre, Moslem, Jew, Essene--God knows what
all--before he can begin to see and understand the living Christ. The
child has to pass through all the phases of lower animal life; when,
change is arrested, he is born a monster; and in many a Christian the
rudiments of former stages are far from extinct--not seldom revive, and
for the time seem to reabsorb the development, making indeed a monstrous
"For myself,"--I give a passage from Wingfold's note-book, written for
his wife's reading--"I feel sometimes as if I were yet a pagan,
struggling hard to break through where I see a glimmer of something
better, called Christianity. In any case what I have, can be but a
foretaste of what I have yet to be; and if so, then indeed is there a
glory laid up for them that will have God, the I of their I, to
throne it in the temple he has built, to pervade the life he has lifed
out of himself. My soul is now as a chaos with a hungry heart of order
buried beneath its slime, that longs and longs for the moving of the
breath of God over its water and mud."
The foundation-stone of the chapel was to be laid with a short and
simple ceremony, at which no clergy but themselves were to be present.
The rector had not consented, and the curate had not urged, that it
should remain unconsecrated; it was therefore uncertain, so far at least
as Wingfold knew, whether it was to be chapel or lecture hall. In either
case it was for the use and benefit of the villagers, and they were all
invited to be present. A few of the neighbors who were friends of the
rector and his wife, were also invited, and among them was Miss
Mr. and Mrs. Bevis had long ere now called upon her, and found her, as
Mrs. Bevis said, fit for any society. She had lunched several times with
them, and, her health being now greatly restored, was the readier to
accept the present invitation, that she was growing again anxious about
Almost every one was taken with her sweet manner, shaded with sadness.
At one time self-dissatisfaction had made her too anxious to please: in
the mirror of other minds she sought a less unfavorable reflection of
herself. But trouble had greatly modified this tendency, and taken the
too-much out of her courtesy.
She and Mrs. Puckridge went together, and Faber, calling soon after,
found the door locked. He saw the gathering in the park, however, had
heard something about the ceremony, concluded they were assisting, and,
after a little questioning with himself, led his horse to the gate, made
fast the reins to it, went in, and approached the little assembly. Ere
he reached it, he saw them kneel, whereupon he made a circuit and got
behind a tree, for he would not willingly seem rude, and he dared not be
hypocritical. Thence he descried Juliet kneeling with the rest, and
could not help being rather annoyed. Neither could he help being a
little struck with the unusual kind of prayer the curate was making; for
he spoke as to the God of workmen, the God of invention and creation,
who made the hearts of his creatures so like his own that they must
build and make.
When the observance was over, and the people were scattering in groups,
till they should be summoned to the repast prepared for them, the rector
caught sight of the doctor, and went to him.
"Ha, Faber!" he cried, holding out his hand, "this is kind of you! I
should hardly have expected you to be present on such an occasion!"
"I hoped my presence would not offend you," answered the doctor. "I did
not presume to come closer than just within earshot of your devotions.
Neither must you think me unfriendly for keeping aloof."
"Certainly not. I would not have you guilty of irreverence."
"That could hardly be, if I recognized no presence."
"There was at least," rejoined Mr. Bevis, "the presence of a good many
of your neighbors, to whom you never fail to recognize your duty, and
that is the second half of religion: would it not have showed want of
reverence toward them, to bring an unsympathetic presence into the midst
of their devotion?"
"That I grant," said the doctor.
"But it may be," said the curate, who had come up while they talked,
"that what you, perhaps justifiably, refuse to recognize as irreverence,
has its root in some fault of which you are not yet aware."
"Then I'm not to blame for it," said Faber quietly.
"But you might be terribly the loser by it."
"That is, you mean, if there should be One to whom reverence is due?"
"Would that be fair, then--in an All-wise, that is, toward an ignorant
"I think not. Therefore I look for something to reveal it to you. But,
although I dare not say you are to blame, because that would be to take
upon myself the office of a judge, which is God's alone, He only being
able to give fair play, I would yet have you search yourself, and see
whether you may not come upon something which keeps you from giving full
and honest attention to what some people, as honest as yourself, think
they see true. I am speaking only from my knowledge of myself, and the
conviction that we are all much alike. What if you should discover that
you do not really and absolutely disbelieve in a God?--that the human
nature is not capable of such a disbelief?--that your unbelief has been
only indifference and irreverence--and that to a Being grander and
nobler and fairer than human heart can conceive?"
"If it be so, let Him punish me," said the doctor gravely.
"If it be so, He will," said the curate solemnly, "--and you will thank
Him for it--after a while. The God of my belief is too good not to make
Himself known to a man who loves what is fair and honest, as you do."
The doctor was silent.
While they were talking thus, two ladies had left the others and now
approached them--Mrs. Wingfold and Miss Meredith. They had heard the
last few sentences, and seeing two clergymen against one infidel,
hastened with the generosity of women to render him what aid they might.
"I am sure Mr. Faber is honest," said Helen.
"That is much to say for any man," returned the curate.
"If any man is, then," adjected Juliet.
"That is a great If," rejoined Wingfold."--Are you honest, Helen?"
he added, turning to his wife.
"No," she answered; "but I am honester than I was a year ago."
"So am I," said her husband; "and I hope to be honester yet before
another is over. It's a big thing to say, I am honest."
Juliet was silent, and Helen, who was much interested with her, turned
to see how she was taking it. Her lips were as white as her face. Helen
attributed the change to anger, and was silent also. The same moment the
rector moved toward the place where the luncheon-tables were, and they
all accompanied him, Helen still walking, in a little anxiety, by
Juliet's side. It was some minutes before the color came back to her
lips; but when Helen next addressed her, she answered as gently and
sweetly as if the silence had been nothing but an ordinary one.
"You will stay and lunch with us, Mr. Faber?" said the rector. "There
can be no hypocrisy in that--eh?"
"Thank you," returned the doctor heartily; "but my work is waiting me,
and we all agree that must be done, whatever our opinions as to the
ground of the obligation."
"And no man can say you don't do it," rejoined the curate kindly.
"That's one thing we do agree in, as you say: let us hold by it, Faber,
and keep as good friends as we can, till we grow better ones."
Faber could not quite match the curate in plain speaking: the pupil was
not up with his master yet.
"Thank you, Wingfold," he returned, and his voice was not free of
emotion, though Juliet alone felt the tremble of the one vibrating
thread in it. "--Miss Meredith," he went on, turning to her, "I have
heard of something that perhaps may suit you: will you allow me to call
in the evening, and talk it over with you?"
"Please do," responded Juliet eagerly. "Come before post-time if you
can. It may be necessary to write."
"I will. Good morning."
He made a general bow to the company and walked away, cutting off the
heads of the dandelions with his whip as he went. All followed with
their eyes his firm, graceful figure, as he strode over the grass in his
riding-boots and spurs.
"He's a fine fellow that!" said the rector. "--But, bless me!" he added,
turning to his curate, "how things change! If you had told me a year
ago, the day would come when I should call an atheist a fine fellow, I
should almost have thought you must be one yourself! Yet here I am
saying it--and never in my life so much in earnest to be a Christian!
How is it, Wingfold, my boy?"
"He who has the spirit of his Master, will speak the truth even of his
Master's enemies," answered the curate. "To this he is driven if he does
not go willingly, for he knows his Master loves his enemies. If you see
Faber a fine fellow, you say so, just as the Lord would, and try the
more to save him. A man who loves and serves his neighbor, let him speak
ever so many words against the Son of Man, is not sinning against the
Holy Ghost. He is still open to the sacred influence--the virtue which
is ever going forth from God to heal. It is the man who in the name of
religion opposes that which he sees to be good, who is in danger of
"Come, come, Wingfold! whatever you do, don't mis-quote," said the
"I don't say it is the right reading," returned the curate, "but I can
hardly be convicted of misquoting, so long as it is that of the two
oldest manuscripts we have."
"You always have the better of me," answered the rector. "But tell
me--are not the atheists of the present day a better sort of fellows
than those we used to hear of when we were young?"
"I do think so. But, as one who believes with his whole soul, and
strives with his whole will, I attribute their betterness to the growing
influences of God upon the race through them that have believed. And I
am certain of this, that, whatever they are, it needs but time and
continued unbelief to bring them down to any level from whatever height.
They will either repent, or fall back into the worst things, believing
no more in their fellow-man and the duty they owe him--of which they now
rightly make so much, and yet not half enough--than they do in God and
His Christ. But I do not believe half the bad things Christians have
said and written of atheists. Indeed I do not believe the greater number
of those they have called such, were atheists at all. I suspect that
worse dishonesty, and greater injustice, are to be found among the
champions, lay and cleric, of religious Opinion, than in any other
class. If God were such a One as many of those who would fancy
themselves His apostles, the universe would be but a huge hell. Look at
certain of the so-called religious newspapers, for instance. Religious!
Their tongue is set on fire of hell. It may be said that they are mere
money-speculations; but what makes them pay? Who buys them? To please
whom do they write? Do not many buy them who are now and then themselves
disgusted with them? Why do they not refuse to touch the unclean things?
Instead of keeping the commandment, 'that he who loveth God love his
brother also,' these, the prime channels of Satanic influence in the
Church, powerfully teach, that He that loveth God must abuse his
brother--or he shall be himself abused."
"I fancy," said the rector, "they would withhold the name of brother
from those they abuse."
"No; not always."
"They would from an unbeliever."
"Yes. But let them then call him an enemy, and behave to him as
such--that is, love him, or at least try to give him the fair play to
which the most wicked of devils has the same right as the holiest of
saints. It is the vile falsehood and miserable unreality of Christians,
their faithlessness to their Master, their love of their own wretched
sects, their worldliness and unchristianity, their talking and not
doing, that has to answer, I suspect, for the greater part of our
"I have seen a good deal of Mr. Faber of late," Juliet said, with a
slight tremor in her voice, "and he seems to me incapable of falling
into those vile conditions I used to hear attributed to atheists."
"The atheism of some men," said the curate, "is a nobler thing than the
Christianity of some of the foremost of so-called and so-believed
Christians, and I may not doubt they will fare better at the last."
The rector looked a little blank at this, but said nothing. He had so
often found, upon reflection, that what seemed extravagance in his
curate was yet the spirit of Scripture, that he had learned to suspend
Miss Meredith's face glowed with the pleasure of hearing justice
rendered the man in whom she was so much interested, and she looked the
more beautiful. She went soon after luncheon was over, leaving a
favorable impression behind her. Some of the ladies said she was much
too fond of the doctor; but the gentlemen admired her spirit in standing
up for him. Some objected to her paleness; others said it was not
paleness, but fairness, for her eyes and hair were as dark as the night;
but all agreed, that whatever it was to be called, her complexion was
peculiar--some for that very reason judging it the more admirable, and
others the contrary. Some said she was too stately, and attributed her
carriage to a pride to which, in her position, she had no right, they
said. Others judged that she needed such a bearing the more for
self-defense, especially if she had come down in the world. Her dress,
it was generally allowed, was a little too severe--some thought, in its
defiance of the fashion, assuming. No one disputed that she had been
accustomed to good society, and none could say that she had made the
slightest intrusive movement toward their circle. Still, why was it that
nobody knew any thing about her?