CHAPTER LIII: A NEW PUPIL
The sermon Lady Clementina heard with such delight had followed one
levelled at the common and right worldly idea of success harboured
by each, and unquestioned by one of the chief men of the community:
together they caused a strange uncertain sense of discomfort in
the mind diaconal. Slow to perceive that that idea, nauseous in
his presentment of it, was the very same cherished and justified
by themselves; unwilling also to believe that in his denunciation
of respecters of persons they themselves had a full share, they yet
felt a little uneasy from the vague whispers of their consciences
on the side of the neglected principles enounced, clashing with
the less vague conviction that if those whispers were encouraged
and listened to, the ruin of their hopes for their chapel, and
their influence in connection with it, must follow. They eyed each
other doubtfully, and there appeared a general tendency amongst
them to close pressed lips and single shakes of the head. But there
were other forces at work--tending in the same direction.
Whatever may have been the influence of the schoolmaster upon the
congregation gathered in Hope Chapel, there was one on whom his
converse, supplemented by his preaching, had taken genuine hold.
Frederick Marshal had begun to open his eyes to the fact that,
regarded as a profession, the ministry, as they called it in their
communion, was the meanest way of making a living in the whole
creation, one deserving the contempt of every man honest enough to
give honourable work, that is, work worth the money, for the money
paid him. Also he had a glimmering insight, on the other hand, into
the truth of what the dominie said--that it was the noblest of
martyrdoms to the man who, sent by God, loved the truth with his
whole soul, and was never happier than when bearing witness of
it, except, indeed, in those blessed moments when receiving it of
the Father. In consequence of this opening of his eyes the youth
recoiled with dismay from the sacrilegious mockery of which he had
been guilty in meditating the presumption of teaching holy things
of which the sole sign that he knew anything was now afforded by
this same recoil. At last he was not far from the kingdom of heaven,
though whether he was to be sent to persuade men that that kingdom
was amongst them, and must be in them, remained a question.
On the morning after the latter of those two sermons, Frederick,
as they sat at breakfast, succeeded, with no small effort, for he
feared his mother, in blurting out to his father the request that
he might be taken into the counting house; and when indignantly
requested, over the top of the teapot, to explain himself, declared
that he found it impossible to give his mind to a course of education
which could only end in the disappointment of his parents, seeing
he was at length satisfied that he had no call to the ministry.
His father was not displeased at the thought of having him at the
shop; but his mother was for some moments speechless with angry
tribulation. Recovering herself, with scornful bitterness she
requested to know to what tempter he had been giving ear--for
tempted he must have been ere son of hers would have been guilty
of backsliding from the cause; of taking his hand from the plough
and looking behind him. The youth returned such answers as, while
they satisfied his father he was right, served only to convince
his mother, where yet conviction was hardly needed, that she had to
thank the dominie for his defection, his apostasy from the church
to the world.
Incapable of perceiving that now first there was hope of a genuine
disciple in the child of her affection, she was filled with the gall
of disappointment, and with spite against the man who had taught
her son how worse than foolish it is to aspire to teach before one
has learned; nor did she fail to cast scathing reflections on her
husband, in that he had brought home a viper in his bosom, a wolf
into his fold, the wretched minion of a worldly church to lead her
son away captive at his will; and partly no doubt from his last
uncomfortable sermons, but mainly from the play of Mrs Marshal's
tongue on her husband's tympanum, the deacons in full conclave
agreed that no further renewal of the invitation to preach "for
them" should be made to the schoolmaster--just the end of the
business Mr Graham had expected, and for which he had provided. On
Tuesday morning he smiled to himself, and wondered whether, if he
were to preach in his own schoolroom the next Sunday evening, anyone
would come to hear him. On Saturday he received a cool letter of
thanks for his services, written by the ironmonger in the name of
the deacons, enclosing a cheque, tolerably liberal as ideas went,
in acknowledgment of them. The cheque Mr Graham returned, saying
that, as he was not a preacher by profession, he had no right to
take fees. It was a half holiday: he walked up to Hampstead Heath,
and was paid for everything, in sky and cloud, fresh air, and a
When the end of her troubled week came, and the Sunday of her
expectation brought lovely weather, with a certain vague suspicion
of peace, into the regions of Mayfair and Spitalfields, Clementina
walked across the Regent's Park to Hope Chapel, and its morning
observances; but thought herself poorly repaid for her exertions
by having to listen to a dreadful sermon and worse prayers from Mr
Masquar--one of the chief priests of Commonplace--a comfortable
idol to serve, seeing he accepts as homage to himself all that any
man offers to his own person, opinions, or history. But Clementina
contrived to endure it, comforting herself that she had made a
mistake in supposing Mr Graham preached in the morning.
In the evening her carriage once again drew up with clang and clatter
at the door of the chapel. But her coachman was out of temper at
having to leave the bosom of his family circle--as he styled the
table that upheld his pot of beer and jar of tobacco--of a Sunday,
and sought relief to his feelings in giving his horses a lesson in
crawling; the result of which was fortunate for his mistress: when
she entered, the obnoxious Mr Masquar was already reading the hymn.
She turned at once and made for the door.
But her carriage was already gone. A strange sense of loneliness
and desolation seized her. The place had grown hateful to her, and
she would have fled from it. Yet she lingered in the porch. The
eyes of the man in the pulpit, with his face of false solemnity
and low importance--she seemed to feel the look of them on her
back, yet she lingered. Now that Malcolm was gone, how was she to
learn when Mr Graham would be preaching?
"If you please, ma'am," said a humble and dejected voice.
She turned and saw the seamed and smoky face of the pew opener,
who had been watching her from the lobby, and had crept out after
her. She dropped a courtesy, and went on hurriedly, with an anxious
look now and then over her shoulder--"Oh, ma'am! we shan't see
'im no more. Our people here--they're very good people, but they
don't like to be told the truth. It seems to me as if they knowed
it so well they thought as how there was no need for them to mind
"You don't mean that Mr Graham has given up preaching here?"
"They've given up askin' of 'im to preach, lady. But if ever there
was a good man in that pulpit, Mr Graham he do be that man!"
"Do you know where he lives?"
"Yes, ma'am; but it would be hard to direct you." Here she looked
in at the door of the chapel with a curious half frightened glance,
as if to satisfy herself that the inner door was closed. "But,"
she went on, "they won't miss me now the service is begun, and I
can be back before it's over. I'll show you where, ma'am."
"I should be greatly obliged to you," said Clementina, "only I am
sorry to give you the trouble."
"To tell the truth, I'm only too glad to get away," she returned,
"for the place it do look like a cementery, now he's out of it."
"Was he so kind to you?"
"He never spoke word to me, as to myself like, no, nor never gave
me sixpence, like Mr Masquar do; but he give me strength in my
heart to bear up, and that's better than meat or money."
It was a good half hour's walk, and during it Clementina held what
conversation she might with her companion. It was not much the
woman had to say of a general sort. She knew little beyond her
own troubles and the help that met them, but what else are the two
main forces whose composition results in upward motion? Her world
was very limited--the houses in which she went charing, the chapel
she swept and dusted, the neighbours with whom she gossipped, the
little shops where she bought the barest needs of her bare life;
but it was at least large enough to leave behind her; and if she
was not one to take the kingdom of heaven by force, she was yet
one to creep quietly into it. The earthly life of such as she--
immeasurably less sordid than that of the poet who will not work
for his daily bread, or that of the speculator who, having settled
money on his wife, risks that of his neighbour--passing away like
a cloud, will hang in their west, stained indeed, but with gold,
blotted, but with roses. Dull as it all was now, Clementina yet
gained from her unfoldings a new outlook upon life, its needs, its
sorrows, its consolations, and its hopes; nor was there any vulgar
pity in the smile of the one, or of degrading acknowledgment in
the tears of the other, when a piece of gold passed from hand to
hand, as they parted.
The Sunday sealed door of the stationer's shop--for there was no
private entrance to the house--was opened by another sad faced
woman. What a place to seek the secret of life in! Lovelily enfolds
the husk its kernel; but what the human eye turns from as squalid
and unclean may enfold the seed that clasps, couched in infinite
withdrawment, the vital germ of all that is lovely and graceful,
harmonious and strong, all without which no poet would sing, no
martyr burn, no king rule in righteousness, no geometrician pore
over the marvellous must.
The woman led her through the counter into a little dingy room
behind the shop, looking out on a yard a few feet square, with a
water butt, half a dozen flower pots, and a maimed plaster Cupid
perched on the windowsill. There sat the schoolmaster, in conversation
with a lady, whom the woman of the house, awed by her sternness and
grandeur, had, out of regard to her lodger's feelings, shown into
her parlour and not into his bedroom.
Cherishing the hope that the patent consequences of his line of action
might have already taught him moderation, Mrs Marshal, instead of
going to chapel to hear Mr Masquar, had paid Mr Graham a visit,
with the object of enlisting his sympathies if she could, at all
events his services, in the combating of the scruples he had himself
aroused in the bosom of her son. What had passed between them I
do not care to record, but when Lady Clementina--unannounced of
the landlady--entered, there was light enough, notwithstanding
the non reflective properties of the water butt, to reveal Mrs
Marshal flushed and flashing, Mr Graham grave and luminous, and
to enable the chapel business eye of Mrs Marshal, which saw every
stranger that entered "Hope," at once to recognise her as having
made one of the congregation the last Sunday evening.
Evidently one of Mr Graham's party, she was not prejudiced in her
favour. But there was that in her manner which impressed her--
that something ethereal and indescribable which she herself was
constantly aping, and, almost involuntarily, she took upon herself
such honours as the place, despicable in her eyes, would admit of.
She rose, made a sweeping courtesy, and addressed Lady Clementina
with such a manner as people of Mrs Marshal's ambitions put off
and on like their clothes.
"Pray, take a seat, ma'am, such as it is," she said, with a wave
of her hand. "I believe I have had the pleasure of seeing you at
Lady Clementina sat down: the room was too small to stand in, and
Mrs Marshal seemed to take the half of it.
"I am not aware of the honour," she returned, doubtful what the
woman meant--perhaps some shop or dressmaker's. Clementina was
not one who delighted in freezing her humbler fellow creatures, as
we know; but there was something altogether repulsive in the would
be grand but really arrogant behaviour of her fellow visitor.
"I mean," said Mrs Marshal, a little abashed, for ambition is not
strength, "at our little Bethel in Kentish Town! Not that we live
there!" she explained with a superior smile.
"Oh! I think I understand. You must mean the chapel where this
gentleman was preaching."
"That is my meaning," assented Mrs Marshal.
"I went there tonight," said Clementina, turning with some timidity
to Mr Graham. "That I did not find you there, sir, will, I hope,
explain--"Here she paused, and turned again to Mrs Marshal. "I see
you think with me, ma'am, that a true teacher is worth following."
As she said this she turned once more to Mr Graham, who sat listening
with a queer, amused, but right courteous smile.
"I hope you will pardon me," she continued, "for venturing to
call upon you, and, as I have the misfortune to find you occupied,
allow me to call another day. If you would set me a time, I should
be more obliged than I can tell you," she concluded, her voice
trembling a little.
"Stay now, if you will, madam," returned the schoolmaster, with a
bow of oldest fashioned courtesy. "This lady has done laying her
commands upon me, I believe."
"As you think proper to call them commands, Mr Graham, I conclude
you intend to obey them," said Mrs Marshal, with a forced smile
and an attempt at pleasantry.
"Not for the world, madam," he answered. "Your son is acting the
part of a gentleman--yes, I make bold to say, of one who is very
nigh the kingdom of heaven, if not indeed within its gate, and before
I would check him I would be burnt at the stake--even were your
displeasure the fire, madam," he added, with a kindly bow. "Your
son is a line fellow."
"He would be, if he were left to himself. Good evening, Mr Graham.
Goodbye, rather, for I think we are not likely to meet again."
"In heaven, I hope, madam; for by that time we shall be able to
understand each other," said the schoolmaster, still kindly.
Mrs Marshal made no answer beyond a facial flash as she turned to
"Good evening, ma'am," she said. "To pay court to the earthen
vessel because of the treasure it may happen to hold, is to be a
respecter of persons as bad as any."
An answering flash broke from Clementina's blue orbs, but her speech
was more than calm as she returned,
"I learned something of that lesson last Sunday evening, I hope,
ma'am. But you have left me far behind, for you seem to have learned
disrespect even to the worthiest of persons. Good evening, ma'am."
She looked the angry matron full in the face, with an icy regard,
from which, as from the Gorgon eye, she fled.
The victor turned to the schoolmaster.
"I beg your pardon, sir," she said, "for presuming to take your
part, but a gentleman is helpless with a vulgar woman."
"I thank you, madam. I hope the sharpness of your rebuke--but
indeed the poor woman can hardly help her rudeness, for she is very
worldly, and believes herself very pious. It is the old story--
hard for the rich."
Clementina was struck.
"I too am rich and worldly," she said. "But I know that I am not
pious, and if you would but satisfy me that religion is common
sense, I would try to be religious with all my heart and soul."
"I willingly undertake the task. But let us know each other a
little first. And lest I should afterwards seem to have taken an
advantage of you, I hope you have no wish to be nameless to me, for
my friend Malcolm MacPhail had so described you that I recognized
your ladyship at once."
Clementina said that, on the contrary, she had given her name to
the woman who opened the door.
"It is because of what Malcolm said of you that I ventured to come
to you," she added.
"Have you seen Malcolm lately?" he asked, his brow clouding a
little. "It is more than a week since he has been to me."
Thereupon, with embarrassment, such as she would never have felt except
in the presence of pure simplicity, she told of his disappearance
with his mistress.
"And you think they have run away together?" said the schoolmaster,
his face beaming with what, to Clementina's surprise, looked almost
"Yes, I think so," she answered. "Why not, if they choose?"
"I will say this for my friend Malcolm," returned Mr Graham composedly,
"that whatever he did I should expect to find not only all right
in intention, but prudent and well devised also. The present may
well seem a rash, ill considered affair for both of them, but--"
"I see no necessity either for explanation or excuse," said
Clementina, too eager to mark that she interrupted Mr Graham. "In
making up her mind to marry him, Lady Lossie has shown greater
wisdom and courage than, I confess, I had given her credit for."
"And Malcolm?" rejoined the schoolmaster softly. "Should you say
of him that he showed equal wisdom?"
"I decline to give an opinion upon the gentleman's part in the
business," answered Clementina, laughing, but glad there was so
little light in the room, for she was painfully conscious of the
burning of her cheeks. "Besides, I have no measure to apply to
Malcolm," she went on, a little hurriedly. "He is like no one else
I have ever talked with, and I confess there is something about
him I cannot understand. Indeed, he is beyond me altogether."
"Perhaps, having known him from infancy, I might be able to explain
him," returned Mr Graham, in a tone that invited questioning.
"Perhaps, then," said Clementina, "I may be permitted, in jealousy
for the teaching I have received of him, to confess my bewilderment
that one so young should be capable of dealing with such things as
he delights in. The youth of the prophet makes me doubt his prophecy."
"At least," rejoined Mr Graham, "the phenomenon coincides with what
the master of these things said of them--that they were revealed
to babes and not to the wise and prudent. As to Malcolm's wonderful
facility in giving them form and utterance, that depends so
immediately on the clear sight of them, that, granted a little of
the gift poetic, developed through reading and talk, we need not
wonder much at it."
"You consider your friend a genius?" suggested Clementina.
"I consider him possessed of a kind of heavenly common sense,
equally at home in the truths of divine relation, and the facts of
the human struggle with nature and her forces. I should never have
discovered my own ignorance in certain points of the mathematics
but for the questions that boy put to me before he was twelve years
of age. A thing not understood lay in his mind like a fretting
foreign body. But there is a far more important factor concerned
than this exceptional degree of insight. Understanding is the reward
of obedience. Peter says 'the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given them
that obey him.' Obedience is the key to every door. I am perplexed
at the stupidity of the ordinary religious being. In the most practical
of all matters, he will talk, and speculate, and try to feel, but
he will not set himself to do. It is different with Malcolm. From
the first he has been trying to obey. Nor do I see why it should be
strange that even a child should understand these things, if they
are the very elements of the region for which we were created and
to which our being holds essential relations, as a bird to the
air, or a fish to the sea. If a man may not understand the things
of God whence he came, what shall he understand?"
"How, then, is it that so few do understand?"
"Because where they know, so few obey. This boy, I say, did. If
you had seen, as I have, the almost superhuman struggles of his
will to master the fierce temper his ancestors gave him, you would
marvel less at what he has so early become. I have seen him, white
with passion, cast himself on his face on the shore, and cling with
his hands to the earth as if in a paroxysm of bodily suffering;
then after a few moments rise and do a service to the man who had
wronged him. Were it any wonder if the light should have soon gone
up in a soul like that? When I was a younger man I used to go out
with the fishing boats now and then, drawn chiefly by my love for
the boy, who earned his own bread that way before he was in his
teens. One night we were caught in a terrible storm, and had to
stand out to sea in the pitch dark. He was then not fourteen. 'Can
you let a boy like that steer?' I said to the captain of the boat.
'Yes; just a boy like that,' he answered. 'Ma'colm 'ill steer
as straucht's a porpus.' When he was relieved, he crept over the
thwarts to where I sat. 'Is there any true definition of a straight
line, sir?' he said. 'I can't take the one in my Euclid.'--'So
you're not afraid, Malcolm?' I returned, heedless of his question,
for I wanted to see what he would answer. 'Afraid, sir!' he rejoined
with some surprise, 'I wad ill like to hear the Lord say, O thou
o' little faith!'--'But,' I persisted, 'God may mean to drown
you!'--'An' what for no?' he returned. 'Gien ye war to tell me
'at I micht be droon't ohn him meant it, I wad be fleyt eneuch.'
I see your ladyship does not understand: I will interpret the dark
saying: 'And why should he not drown me? If you were to tell me
I might be drowned without his meaning it, I should be frightened
enough.' Believe me, my lady, the right way is simple to find,
though only they that seek it first can find it. But I have allowed
myself," concluded the schoolmaster, "to be carried adrift in my
laudation of Malcolm. You did not come to hear praises of him, my
"I owe him much," said Clementina. "--But tell me then, Mr Graham,
how is it that you know there is a God, and one--one--fit to
be trusted as you trust him?"
"In no way that I can bring to bear on the reason of another so as
to produce conviction."
"Then what is to become of me?"
"I can do for you what is far better. I can persuade you to look
and see whether before your own door stands not a gate--lies not
a path to walk in. Entering by that gate, walking in that path,
you shall yourself arrive at the conviction, which no man can give
you, that there is a living Love and Truth at the heart of your
being, and pervading all that surrounds you. The man who seeks
the truth in any other manner will never find it. Listen to me a
moment, my lady. I loved that boy's mother. Naturally she did not
love me--how could she? I was very unhappy. I sought comfort
from the unknown source of my life. He gave me to understand his
Son, and so I understood himself, knew that I came of God, and was
"But how do you know that it was not all a delusion--the product
of your own fervid imagination? Do not mistake me; I want to find
"It is a right and honest question, my lady. I will tell you.
"Not to mention the conviction which a truth beheld must carry with
itself and concerning which there can be no argument either with
him who does or him who does not see it, this experience goes far
with me, and would with you if you had it, as you may--namely,
that all my difficulties and confusions have gone on clearing
themselves up ever since I set out to walk in that way. My consciousness
of life is threefold what it was; my perception of what is lovely
around me, and my delight in it, threefold; my power of understanding
things and of ordering my way, threefold also; the same with my
hope and my courage, my love to my kind, my power of forgiveness.
In short, I cannot but believe that my whole being and its whole
world are in process of rectification for me. Is not that something
to set against the doubt born of the eye and ear, and the questions
of an intellect that can neither grasp nor disprove? I say nothing
of better things still. To the man who receives such as I mean,
they are the heart of life; to the man who does not, they exist
not. But I say--if I thus find my whole being enlightened and
redeemed, and know that therein I fare according to the word of
the man of whom the old story tells: if I find that his word, and
the result of action founded upon that word, correspond and agree,
opening a heaven within and beyond me, in which I see myself
delivered from all that now in myself is to myself despicable and
unlovely; if I can reasonably--reasonably to myself not to another
--cherish hopes of a glory of conscious being, divinely better
than all my imagination when most daring could invent--a glory
springing from absolute unity with my creator, and therefore with
my neighbour; if the Lord of the ancient tale, I say, has thus held
word with me, am I likely to doubt much or long whether there be
such a lord or no?"
"What, then, is the way that lies before my own door? Help me to
"It is just the old way--as old as the conscience--that of
obedience to any and every law of personal duty. But if you have
ever seen the Lord, if only from afar--if you have any vaguest
suspicion that the Jew Jesus, who professed to have come from God,
was a better man than other men, one of your first duties must
be to open your ears to his words, and see whether they commend
themselves to you as true; then, if they do, to obey them with your
whole strength and might, upheld by the hope of the vision promised
in them to the obedient. This is the way of life, which will lead
a man out of the miseries of the nineteenth century, as it led Paul
out of the miseries of the first."
There followed a little pause, and then a long talk about what the
schoolmaster had called the old story; in which he spoke with such
fervid delight of this and that point in the tale; removing this
and that stumbling-block by giving the true reading--or the
right interpretation; showing the what and why and how--the very
intent of our Lord in the thing he said or did, that, for the first
time in her life, Clementina began to feel as if such a man must
really have lived, that his blessed feet must really have walked
over the acres of Palestine, that his human heart must indeed have
thought and felt, worshipped and borne, right humanly. Even in the
presence of her new teacher, and with his words in her ears, she
began to desire her own chamber that she might sit down with the
neglected story and read for herself.
The schoolmaster walked with her to the chapel door. There her
carriage was already waiting. He put her in, and, while the Reverend
Jacob Masquar was still holding forth upon the difference between
adoption and justification, Clementina drove away, never more to
delight the hearts of the deacons with the noise of the hoofs of
her horses, staying the wheels of her yellow chariot.