It was not often that Falconer went to church; but he seemed to have some design in going oftener than usual at present. The Sunday after the one last mentioned, he went as well, though not to the same church, and calling for Hugh took him with him. What they found there, and the conversation following thereupon, I will try to relate, because, although they do not immediately affect my outward story, they greatly influenced Hugh's real history.
They heard the Morning Service and the Litany read in an ordinary manner, though somewhat more devoutly than usual. Then, from the communion-table, rose a voice vibrating with solemn emotion, like the voice of Abraham pleading for Sodom. It thrilled through Hugh's heart. The sermon which followed affected him no less, although, when he came out, he confessed to Falconer that he had only caught flying glimpses of its meaning, scope, and drift.
"I seldom go to church," said Falconer; "but when I do, I come here: and always feel that I am in the presence of one of the holy servants of God's great temple not made with hands. I heartily trust that man. He is what he seems to be."
"They say he is awfully heterodox."
"How then can he remain in the church, if he is as honest as you say?"
"In this way, as I humbly venture to think," Falconer answered. "He looks upon the formulæ of the church as utterances of living truth -- vital embodiments -- to be regarded as one ought to regard human faces. In these human faces, others may see this or that inferior expression, may find out the mean and the small and the incomplete: he looks for and finds the ideal; the grand, sacred, God-meant meaning; and by that he holds as the meaning of the human countenances, for it is the meaning of him who made them. So with the confession of the Church of England: he believes that not man only, but God also, and God first and chief, had to do with the making of it; and therefore he looks in it for the Eternal and the Divine, and he finds what he seeks. And as no words can avoid bearing in them the possibility of a variety of interpretations, he would exclude whatever the words might mean, or, regarded merely as words, do mean, in a narrow exposition: he thinks it would be dishonest to take the low meaning as the meaning. To return to the faces: he passes by moods and tempers, and beholds the main character -- that on whose surface the temporal and transient floats. Both in faces and in formulæ he loves the divine substance, with his true, manly, brave heart; and as for the faults in both -- for man, too, has his share in both -- I believe he is ready to die by them, if only in so doing he might die for them. -- I had a vision of him this morning as I sat and listened to his voice, which always seems to me to come immediately from his heart, as if his heart spoke with lips of its own. Shall I tell you my vision? --
"I saw a crowd -- priests and laymen -- speeding, hurrying, darting away, up a steep, crumbling height. Mitres, hoods, and hats rolled behind them to the bottom. Every one for himself, with hands and feet they scramble and flee, to save their souls from the fires of hell which come rolling in along the hollow below with the forward 'pointing spires' of billowy flame. But beneath, right in the course of the fire, stands one man upon a little rock which goes down to the centre of the great world, and faces the approaching flames. He stands bareheaded, his eyes bright with faith in God, and the mighty mouth that utters his truth, fixed in holy defiance. His denial comes from no fear, or weak dislike to that which is painful. On neither side will he tell lies for peace. He is ready to be lost for his fellow-men. In the name of God he rebukes the flames of hell. The fugitives pause on the top, look back, call him lying prophet, and shout evil opprobrious names at the man who counts not his own life dear to him, who has forgotten his own soul in his sacred devotion to men, who fills up what is left behind of the sufferings of Christ, for his body's sake -- for the human race, of which he is the head. Be sure that, come what may of the rest, let the flames of hell ebb or flow, that man is safe, for he is delivered already from the only devil that can make hell itself a torture, the devil of selfishness -- the only one that can possess a man and make himself his own living hell. He is out of all that region of things, and already dwelling in the secret place of the Almighty."
"Go on, go on."
"He trusts in God so absolutely, that he leaves his salvation to him -- utterly, fearlessly; and, forgetting it, as being no concern of his, sets himself to do the work that God has given him to do, even as his Lord did before him, counting that alone worthy of his care. Let God's will be done, and all is well. If God's will be done, he cannot fare ill. To him, God is all in all. If it be possible to separate such things, it is the glory of God, even more than the salvation of men, that he seeks. He will not have it that his Father in heaven is not perfect. He believes entirely that God loves, yea, is love; and, therefore, that hell itself must be subservient to that love, and but an embodiment of it; that the grand work of Justice is to make way for a Love which will give to every man that which is right and ten times more, even if it should be by means of awful suffering -- a suffering which the Love of the Father will not shun, either for himself or his children, but will eagerly meet for their sakes, that he may give them all that is in his heart."
"Surely you speak your own opinions in describing thus warmly the faith of the preacher."
"I do. He is accountable for nothing I say. All I assert is, that this is how I seem to myself to succeed in understanding him."
"How is it that so many good people call him heterodox?"
"I do not mind that. I am annoyed only when good-hearted people, with small natures and cultivated intellects, patronise him, and talk forgivingly of his warm heart and unsound judgment. To these, theology must be like a map -- with plenty of lines in it. They cannot trust their house on the high table-land of his theology, because they cannot see the outlines bounding the said table-land. It is not small enough for them. They cannot take it in. Such can hardly be satisfied with the creation, one would think, seeing there is no line of division anywhere in it. They would take care there should be no mistake."
"Does God draw no lines, then?"
"When he does, they are pure lines, without breadth, and consequently invisible to mortal eyes; not Chinese walls of separation, such as these definers would construct. Such minds are à priori incapable of theorising upon his theories. Or, to alter the figure, they will discover a thousand faults in his drawing, but they can never behold the figure constructed by his lines, and containing the faults which they believe they discover."
"But can those theories in religion be correct which are so hard to see?"
"They are only hard to certain natures."
"But those natures are above the average."
"Yes, in intellect and its cultivation -- nothing more."
"You have granted them heart."
"Not much; but what there is, good."
"That is allowing a great deal, though. Is it not hard then to say that such cannot understand him?"
"Why? They will get to heaven, which is all they want. And they will understand him one day, which is more than they pray for. Till they have done being anxious about their own salvation, we must forgive them that they can contemplate with calmness the damnation of a universe, and believe that God is yet more indifferent than they."
"But do they not bring the charges likewise against you, of being unable to understand them?"
"Yes. And so it must remain, till the Spirit of God decide the matter, which I presume must take place by slow degrees. For this decision can only consist in the enlightenment of souls to see the truth; and therefore has to do with individuals only. There is no triumph for the Truth but that. She knows no glorying over the vanquished, for in her victory the vanquished is already of the vanquishers. Till then, the Right must be content to be called the Wrong, and -- which is far harder -- to seem the Wrong. There is no spiritual victory gained by a verbal conquest; or by any kind of torture, even should the rack employed be that of the purest logic. Nay more: so long as the wicked themselves remain impenitent, there is mourning in heaven; and when there is no longer any hope over one last remaining sinner, heaven itself must confess its defeat, heap upon that sinner what plagues you will."
Hugh pondered, and continued pondering till they reached Falconer's chambers. At the door Hugh paused.
"Will you not come in?"
"I fear I shall become troublesome."
"No fear of that. I promise to get rid of you as soon as I find you so."
"Thank you. Just let me know when you have had enough of me."
They entered. Mrs. Ashton, who, unlike her class, was never missing when wanted, got them some bread and cheese; and Falconer's Fortunatus-purse of a cellar -- the bottom of his cupboard -- supplied its usual bottle of port; to which fare the friends sat down.
The conversation, like a bird descending in spirals, settled at last upon the subject which had more or less occupied Hugh's thoughts ever since his unsatisfactory conversation with Funkelstein, at their first meeting; and still more since he had learned that this man himself exercised an unlawful influence over Euphra. He begged Falconer, if he had any theory comprehending such things, to let him know what kind of a relation it was, in which Miss Cameron stood to Funkelstein, or Count von Halkar.
"I have had occasion to think a good deal about those things," said Falconer. "The first thing evident is, that Miss Cameron is peculiarly constituted, belonging to a class which is, however, larger than is commonly supposed, circumstances rarely combining to bring out its peculiarities. In those who constitute this class, the nervous element, either from preponderating, or from not being in healthy and harmonious combination with the more material element, manifests itself beyond its ordinary sphere of operation, and so occasions results unlike the usual phenomena of life, though, of course, in accordance with natural laws. To use a simile: it is, in such cases, as if all the nerves of the human body came crowding to the surface, and there exposed themselves to a thousand influences, from which they would otherwise be preserved. Of course I am not attempting to explain, only to suggest a conceivable hypothesis. Upon such constitutions, it would not be surprising that certain other constitutions, similar, yet differing, should exercise a peculiar influence. You are, I dare say, more or less familiar with the main features of mesmerism and its allies, among which is what is called biology. I presume it is on such constitutions as I have supposed, that those powers are chiefly operative. Miss Cameron has, at some time or other in her history, submitted herself to the influences of this Count Halkar; and he has thus gained a most dangerous authority over her, which he has exercised for his own ends."
"She more than implied as much in the last conversation I had with her."
"So his will became her law. There is in the world of mind a something corresponding to physical force in the material world. -- I cannot avoid just touching upon a higher analogy. The kingdom of heaven is not come, even when God's will is our law: it is come when God's will is our will. While God's will is our law, we are but a kind of noble slaves; when his will is our will, we are free children. Nothing in nature is free enough to be a symbol for the state of those who act immediately from the essence of their hidden life, and the recognition of God's will as that essence. But, as I said, this belongs to a far higher region. I only wanted to touch on the relation of the freedoms -- physical, mental, and spiritual. To return to the point in hand: I recognise in the story a clear evidence of strife and partial victory in the affair of the ring. The count -- we will call him by the name he gives himself -- had evidently been anxious for years to possess himself of this ring: the probable reasons we have already talked of. He had laid his injunctions on his slave to find it for him; and she, perhaps at first nothing loath, perhaps loving the man as well as submitting to him, had for a long time attempted to find it, but had failed. The count, probably doubting her sincerity, and hoping, at all events, to urge her search, followed her to Arnstead, where it is very likely he had been before, although he had avoided Mr. Arnold. Judging it advantageous to get into the house, in order to make observations, he employed his chance meeting with you to that result. But, before this, he had watched Miss Cameron's familiarity with you -- was jealous and tyrannical. Hence the variations of her conduct to you; for when his power was upon her, she could not do as she pleased. But she must have had a real regard for you; for she evidently refused to get you into trouble by taking the ring from your custody. But my surprise is that the fellow limited himself to that one jewel."
"You may soon be relieved from that surprise," answered Hugh: "he took a valuable diamond of mine as well."
"The rascal! We may catch him, but you are not likely to find your diamond again. Still, there is some possibility."
"How do you know she was not willing to take it from me?"
"Because, by her own account, he had to destroy her power of volition entirely, before he could make her do it. He threw her into a mesmeric sleep."
"I should like to understand his power over her a little better. In such cases of biology -- how they came to abuse the word, I should like to know -- "
"Just as they call table-rapping, &c., spiritualism."
"I suppose his relation to her must be classed amongst phenomena of that sort?"
"Well, tell me, does the influence outlast the mesmeric condition?"
"If by mesmeric condition you mean any state evidently approaching to that of sleep -- undoubtedly. It is, in many cases, quite independent of such a condition. Perhaps the degree of willing submission at first, may have something to do with it. But mesmeric influence, whatever it may mean, is entirely independent of sleep. That is an accident accompanying it, perhaps sometimes indicating its culmination."
"Does the person so influenced act with or against his will?"
"That is a most difficult question, involving others equally difficult. My own impression is, that the patient -- for patient in a very serious sense he is -- acts with his inclination, and often with his will; but in many cases with his inclination against his will. This is a very important distinction in morals, but often overlooked. When a man is acting with his inclination, his will is in abeyance. In our present imperfect condition, it seems to me that the absolute will has no opportunity of pure action, of operating entirely as itself, except when working in opposition to inclination. But to return: the power of the biologist appears to me to lie in this -- he is able, by some mysterious sympathy, to produce in the mind of the patient such forceful impulses to do whatever he wills, that they are in fact irresistible to almost all who are obnoxious to his influence. The will requires an especial training and a distinct development, before it is capable of acting with any degree of freedom. The men who have undergone this are very few indeed; and no one whose will is not educated as well, can, if subjected to the influences of biology, resist the impulses roused in his passive brain by the active brain of the operator. This at least is my impression.
"Other things no doubt combined to increase the influence in the present case. She liked him, perhaps more than liked him once. She was partially committed to his schemes; and she was easily mesmerised. It would seem, besides, that she was naturally disposed to somnambulism. This is a remarkable co-existence of distinct developments of the same peculiarity. In this latter condition, even if in others she were able to resist him, she would be quite helpless; for all the thoughts that passed through her brain would owe their origin to his. -- Imagine being forced to think another man's thoughts! That would be possession indeed! And this is not far removed from the old stories about the demons entering into a man. -- He would be ruler over the whole intellectual life that passed in her during the time; and which to her, as far as the ideas suggested belonged to the outward world, would appear an outer life, passing all round her, not in her. She would, in fact, be a creature of his imagination for the time, as much as any character invented, and sent through varied circumstances, feelings, and actions, by the mind of the poet or novelist. Look at the facts. She warned you to beware of the count that night before you went into the haunted bed-chamber. Even when she entered it, by your own account -- "
"Entered it? Then you do think it was Euphra who personated the ghost?"
"I am sure of it. She was sleep-walking."
"But so different -- such a death-like look!"
"All that was easy enough to manage. She refused to obey him at first. He mesmerized her. It very likely went farther than he expected; and he succeeded too well. Experienced, no doubt, in disguises, he dressed her as like the dead Lady Euphrasia as he could, following her picture. Perhaps she possessed such a disguise, and had used it before. He thus protected her from suspicion, and himself from implication. -- What was the colour of the hair in the picture?"
"Hence the sparkle of gold-dust in her hair. The count managed it all. He willed that she should go, and she went. Her disguise was certain safety, should she be seen. You would suspect the ghost and no one else if she appeared to you, and you lost the ring after. But even in this state she yielded against her better inclination, for she was weeping when you saw her. But she could not help it. While you lay on the couch in the haunted chamber, where he carried you, the awful death-ghost was busy in your room, was opening your desk, fingering your papers, and stealing your ring. It is rather a frightful idea."
"She did not take my ring, I am sure. He followed her, and took it. -- But she could not have come in at either door -- "
"Could not? Did she not go out at one of them? Besides, I do not doubt that such a room as that had private communication with the open air as well. I should much like to examine the place."
"But how could she have gone through the bolted door then?"
"That door may have been set in another, larger by half the frame or so, and opening with a spring and concealed hinges. There is no difficulty about that. There are such places to be found now and then in old houses. But, indeed, if you will excuse me, I do not consider your testimony, on every minute particular, quite satisfactory."
"Why?" asked Hugh, rather offended.
"First, because of the state of excitement you must have been in; and next, because I doubt the wine that was left in your room. The count no doubt knew enough of drugs to put a few ghostly horrors into the decanter. But poor Miss Cameron! The horrors he has put into her mind and life! It is a sad fate -- all but a sentence of insanity."
Hugh sprang to his feet.
"By heaven!" he cried, "I will strangle the knave."
"Stop, stop!" said Falconer. "No revenge! Leave him to the sleeping divinity within him, which will awake one day, and complete the hell that he is now building for himself -- for the very fire of hell is the divine in it. Your work is to set Euphra free. If you did strangle him, how do you know if that would free her from him?"
"Horrible! -- Have you no news of him?"
"What, then, can I do for her?"
"You must teach her to foil him."
"How am I to do that? Even if I knew how, I cannot see her, I cannot speak to her."
"I have a great faith in opportunity."
"But how should she foil him?"
"She must pray to God to redeem her fettered will -- to strengthen her will to redeem herself. She must resist the count, should he again claim her submission (as, for her sake, I hope he will), as she would the devil himself. She must overcome. Then she will be free -- not before. This will be very hard to do. His power has been excessive and peculiar, and her submission long and complete. Even if he left her alone, she would not therefore be free. She must defy him; break his bonds; oppose his will; assert her freedom; and defeat him utterly."
"Oh! who will help her? I have no power. Even if I were with her, I could not help her in such a struggle. I wish David were not dead. He was the man. -- You could now, Mr. Falconer."
"No. Except I knew her, had known her for some time, and had a strong hold of all her nature, I could not, would not try to help her. If Providence brought this about, I would do my best; but otherwise I would not interfere. But if she pray to God, he will give her whatever help she needs, and in the best way, too."
"I think it would be some comfort to her if we could find the ring -- the crystal, I mean."
"It would be more, I think, if we could find the diamond."
"How can we find either?"
"We must find the count first. I have not given that up, of course. I will tell you what I should like to do, if I knew the lady."
"Get her to come to London, and make herself as public as possible: go to operas and balls, and theatres; be presented at court; take a stall at every bazaar, and sell charity puff-balls -- get as much into the papers as possible. 'The lovely, accomplished, fascinating Miss Cameron, &c., &c.'"
"What do you mean?"
"I will tell you what I mean. The count has forsaken her now; but as soon as he heard that she was somebody, that she was followed and admired, his vanity would be roused, his old sense of property in her would revive, and he would begin once more to draw her into his toils. What the result would be, it is impossible to foretell; but it would at least give us a chance of catching him, and her a chance of resisting him."
"I don't think, however, that she would venture on that course herself. I should not dare to propose it to her."
"No, no. It was only an invention, to deceive myself with the fancy that I was doing something. There would be many objections to such a plan, even if it were practicable. I must still try to find him, and if fresh endeavours should fail, devise fresher still."
"Thank you a thousand times," said Hugh. "It is too good of you to take so much trouble."
"It is my business," answered Falconer. "Is there not a soul in trouble?"
Hugh went home, full of his new friend. With the clue he had given him, he was able to follow all the windings of Euphra's behaviour, and to account for almost everything that had taken place. It was quite painful to him to feel that he could be of no immediate service to her; but he could hardly doubt that, before long, Falconer would, in his wisdom and experience, excogitate some mode of procedure in which he might be able to take a part.
He sat down to his novel, which had been making but little progress for some time; for it is hard to write a novel when one is living in the midst of a romance. But the romance, at this time, was not very close to him. It had a past and a possible future, but no present. That same future, however, might at any moment dawn into the present.
In the meantime, teaching the Latin grammar and the English alphabet to young aspirants after the honours of the ministry, was not work inimical to invention, from either the exhaustion of its excitement or the absorption of its interest.