On a certain time the Lady St. Mary had commanded the Lord Jesus to fetch her some water out of the well. And when he had gone to fetch the water, the pitcher, when it was brought up full, brake. But Jesus, spreading his mantle, gathered up the water again, and brought it in that to his mother. -- The First (apocryphal) Gospel of the INFANCY of JESUS CHRIST.
Mrs. Elton read prayers morning and evening; -- very elaborate compositions, which would have instructed the apostles themselves in many things they had never anticipated. But, unfortunately, Mrs. Elton must likewise read certain remarks, in the form of a homily, intended to impress the scripture which preceded it upon the minds of the listeners. Between the mortar of the homilist's faith, and the dull blows of the pestle of his arrogance, the fair form of truth was ground into the powder of pious small talk. This result was not pleasant either to Harry or to Euphra. Euphra, with her life threatening to go to ruin about her, was crying out for him who made the soul of man, "who loved us into being,"2 and who alone can renew the life of his children; and in such words as those a scoffing demon seemed to mock at her needs. Harry had the natural dislike of all childlike natures to everything formal, exclusive, and unjust. But, having received nothing of what is commonly called a religious training, this advantage resulted from his new experiences in Mrs. Elton's family, that a good direction was given to his thoughts by the dislike which he felt to such utterances. More than this: a horror fell upon him lest these things should be true; lest the mighty All of nature should be only a mechanism, without expression and without beauty; lest the God who made us should be like us only in this, that he too was selfish and mean and proud; lest his ideas should resemble those that inhabit the brain of a retired money-maker, or of an arbitrary monarch claiming a divine right -- instead of towering as the heavens over the earth, above the loftiest moods of highest poet, most generous child, or most devoted mother. I do not mean that these thoughts took these shapes in Harry's mind; but that his feelings were such as might have been condensed into such thoughts, had his intellect been more mature.
One morning, the passage of scripture which Mrs. Elton read was the story of the young man who came to Jesus, and went away sorrowful, because the Lord thought so well of him, and loved him so heartily, that he wanted to set him free from his riches. A great portion of the homily was occupied with proving that the evangelist could not possibly mean that Jesus loved the young man in any pregnant sense of the word; but merely meant that Jesus "felt kindly disposed towards him" -- felt a poor little human interest in him, in fact, and did not love him divinely at all.
Harry's face was in a flame all the time she was reading. When the service was over -- and a bond service it was for Euphra and him -- they left the room together. As soon as the door was shut, he burst out:
"I say, Euphra! Wasn't that a shame? They would have Jesus as bad as themselves. We shall have somebody writing a book next to prove that after all Jesus was a Pharisee."
"Never mind," said the heart-sore, sceptical Euphra; "never mind, Harry; it's all nonsense."
"No, it's not all nonsense. Jesus did love the young man. I believe the story itself before all the Doctors of Divinity in the world. He loves all of us, he does -- with all his heart, too."
"I hope so," was all she could reply; but she was comforted by Harry's vehement confession of faith.
Euphra was so far softened, or perhaps weakened, by suffering, that she yielded many things which would have seemed impossible before. One of these was that she went to church with Mrs. Elton, where that lady hoped she would get good to her soul. Harry of course was not left behind. The church she frequented was a fashionable one, with a vicar more fashionable still; for had he left that church, more than half his congregation, which consisted mostly of ladies, would have left it also, and followed him to the ends of London. He was a middle-aged man, with a rubicund countenance, and a gentle familiarity of manner, that was exceedingly pleasing to the fashionable sheep who, conscious that they had wandered from the fold, were waiting with exemplary patience for the barouches and mail-phaetons of the skies to carry them back without the trouble of walking. Alas for them! they have to learn that the chariots of heaven are chariots of fire.
The Sunday morning following the conversation I have just recorded, the clergyman's sermon was devoted to the illustration of the greatness and condescension of the Saviour. After a certain amount of tame excitement expended upon the consideration of his power and kingdom, one passage was wound up in this fashion:
"Yes, my friends, even her most gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, the ruler over millions diverse in speech and in hue, to whom we all look up with humble submission, and whom we acknowledge as our sovereign lady -- even she, great as she is, adds by her homage a jewel to his crown; and, hailing him as her Lord, bows and renders him worship! Yet this is he who comes down to visit, yea, dwells with his own elect, his chosen ones, whom he has led back to the fold of his grace."
For some reason, known to himself, Falconer had taken Hugh, who had gone to him according to appointment that morning, to this same church. As they came out, Hugh said:
"Mr. --- is quite proud of the honour done his master by the queen."
"I do not think," answered Falconer, "that his master will think so much of it; for he once had his feet washed by a woman that was a sinner."
The homily which Mrs. Elton read at prayers that evening, bore upon the same subject nominally as the chapter that preceded it -- that of election; a doctrine which in the Bible asserts the fact of God's choosing certain persons for the specific purpose of receiving first, and so communicating the gifts of his grace to the whole world; but which, in the homily referred to, was taken to mean the choice of certain persons for ultimate salvation, to the exclusion of the rest. They were sitting in silence after the close, when Harry started up suddenly, saying: "I don't want God to love me, if he does not love everybody;" and, bursting into tears, hurried out of the room. Mrs. Elton was awfully shocked at his wickedness. Euphra, hastened after him; but he would not return, and went supperless to bed. Euphra, however, carried him some supper. He sat up in bed and ate it with the tears in his eyes. She kissed him, and bade him good night; when, just as she was leaving the room, he broke out with:
"But only think, Euphra, if it should be true! I would rather not have been made."
"It is not true," said Euphra, in whom a faint glimmer of faith in God awoke for the sake of the boy whom she loved -- awoke to comfort him, when it would not open its eyes for herself. "No, Harry dear, if there is a God at all, he is not like that."
"No, he can't be," said Harry, vehemently, and with the brightness of a sudden thought; "for if he were like that, he wouldn't be a God worth being; and that couldn't be, you know."
Euphra knelt by her bedside, and prayed more hopefully than for many days before. She prayed that God would let her know that he was not an idol of man's invention.
Till friendly sleep came, and untied the knot of care, both Euphra and Harry lay troubled with things too great for them. Even in their sleep, the care would gather again, and body itself into dreams. The first thought that visited Harry when he awoke, was the memory of his dream: that he died and went to heaven; that heaven was a great church just like the one Mrs. Elton went to, only larger; that the pews were filled with angels, so crowded together that they had to tuck up their wings very close indeed -- and Harry could not help wondering what they wanted them for; that they were all singing psalms; that the pulpit by a little change had been converted into a throne, on which sat God the Father, looking very solemn and severe; that Jesus was seated in the reading-desk, looking very sad; and that the Holy Ghost sat on the clerk's desk, in the shape of a white dove; that a cherub, whose face reminded him very much of a policeman he knew, took him by the shoulder for trying to pluck a splendid green feather out of an archangel's wing, and led him up to the throne, where God shook his head at him in such a dreadful way, that he was terrified, and then stretched out his hand to lay hold on him; that he shrieked with fear; and that Jesus put out his hand and lifted him into the reading-desk, and hid him down below. And there Harry lay, feeling so safe, stroking and kissing the feet that had been weary and wounded for him, till, in the growing delight of the thought that he actually held those feet, he came awake and remembered it all. Truly it was a childish dream, but not without its own significance. For surely the only refuge from heathenish representations of God under Christian forms, the only refuge from man's blinding and paralysing theories, from the dead wooden shapes substituted for the living forms of human love and hope and aspiration, from the interpretations which render scripture as dry as a speech in Chancery -- surely the one refuge from all these awful evils is the Son of man; for no misrepresentation and no misconception can destroy the beauty of that face which the marring of sorrow has elevated into the region of reality, beyond the marring of irreverent speculation and scholastic definition.
From the God of man's painting, we turn to the man of God's being, and he leads us to the true God, the radiation of whose glory we first see in him. Happy is that man who has a glimpse of this, even in a dream such as Harry's! -- a dream in other respects childish and incongruous, but not more absurd than the instruction whence it sprung.
But the troubles returned with the day. Prayers revived them. He sought Euphra in her room.
"They say I must repent and be sorry for my sins," said he. "I have been trying very hard; but I can't think of any, except once that I gave Gog" (his Welsh pony) "such a beating because he would go where I didn't want him. But he's forgotten it long ago; and I gave him two feeds of corn after it, and so somehow I can't feel very sorry now. What shall I do? -- But that's not what I mind most. It always seems to me it would be so much grander of God to say: 'Come along, never mind. I'll make you good. I can't wait till you are good; I love you so much.'"
His own words were too much for Harry, and he burst into tears at the thought of God being so kind. Euphra, instead of trying to comfort him, cried too. Thus they continued for some time, Harry with his head on her knees, and she kindly fondling it with her distressed hands. Harry was the first to recover; for his was the April time, when rain clears the heavens. All at once he sprung to his feet, and exclaimed:
"Only think, Euphra! What if, after all, I should find out that God is as kind as you are!"
How Euphra's heart smote her!
"Dear Harry," answered she, "God must be a great deal kinder than I am. I have not been kind to you at all."
"Don't say that, Euphra. I shall be quite content if God is as kind as you."
"Oh, Harry! I hope God is like what I dreamed about my mother last night."
"Tell me what you dreamed about her, dear Euphra."
"I dreamed that I was a little child -- "
"Were you a little girl when your mother died?"
"Oh, yes; such a tiny! But I can just remember her."
"Tell me your dream, then."
"I dreamed that I was a little girl, out all alone on a wild mountain-moor, tripping and stumbling on my night-gown. And the wind was so cold! And, somehow or other, the wind was an enemy to me, and it followed and caught me, and whirled and tossed me about, and then ran away again. Then I hastened on, and the thorns went into my feet, and the stones cut them. And I heard the blood from them trickling down the hill-side as I walked."
"Then they would be like the feet I saw in my dream last night."
"Whose feet were they?"
"Tell me about it."
"You must finish yours first, please, Euphra."
So Euphra went on:
"I got dreadfully lame. And the wind ran after me, and caught me again, and took me in his great blue ghostly arms, and shook me about, and then dropped me again to go on. But it was very hard to go on, and I couldn't stop; and there was no use in stopping, for the wind was everywhere in a moment. Then suddenly I saw before me a great cataract, all in white, falling flash from a precipice; and I thought with myself, 'I will go into the cataract, and it will beat my life out, and then the wind will not get me any more.' So I hastened towards it, but the wind caught me many times before I got near it. At last I reached it, and threw myself down into the basin it had hollowed out of the rocks. But as I was falling, something caught me gently, and held me fast, and it was not the wind. I opened my eyes, and behold! I was in my mother's arms, and she was clasping me to her breast; for what I had taken for a cataract falling into a gulf, was only my mother, with her white grave-clothes floating all about her, standing up in her grave, to look after me. 'It was time you came home, my darling,' she said, and stooped down into her grave with me in her arms. And oh! I was so happy; and her bosom was not cold, or her arms hard, and she carried me just like a baby. And when she stooped down, then a door opened somewhere in the grave, I could not find out where exactly -- and in a moment after, we were sitting together in a summer grove, with the tree-tops steeped in sunshine, and waving about in a quiet loving wind -- oh, how different from the one that chased me home! -- and we underneath in the shadow of the trees. And then I said, 'Mother, I've hurt my feet.'"
"Did you call her mother when you were a little girl?" interposed Harry.
"No," answered Euphra. "I called her mamma, like other children; but in my dreams I always call her mother."
"And what did she say?"
"She said -- 'Poor child!' -- and held my feet to her bosom; and after that, when I looked at them, the bleeding was all gone, and I was not lame any more."
Euphra, paused with a sigh.
"Oh, Harry! I do not like to be lame."
"What more?" said Harry, intent only on the dream.
"Oh! then I was so happy, that I woke up directly."
"What a pity! But if it should come true?"
"How could it come true, dear Harry?"
"Why, this world is sometimes cold, and the road is hard -- you know what I mean, Euphra."
"Yes, I do."
"I wish I could dream dreams like that! How clever you must be!"
"But you dream dreams, too, Harry. Tell me yours."
"Oh, no, I never dream dreams; the dreams dream me," answered Harry, with a smile.
Then he told his dream, to which Euphra listened with an interest uninjured by the grotesqueness of its fancy. Each interpreted the other's with reverence.
They ceased talking; and sat silent for a while. Then Harry, putting his arms round Euphra's neck, and his lips close to her ear, whispered:
"Perhaps God will say my darling to you some day, Euphra; just as your mother did in your dream."
She was silent. Harry looked round into her face, and saw that the tears were flowing fast.
At that instant, a gentle knock came to the door. Euphra could not reply to it. It was repeated. After another moment's delay, the door opened, and Margaret walked in.