CHAPTER XLII: ST RONAN'S WELL
The next day the reading was resumed, and for several days was
regularly continued. Each day, as their interest grew, longer time
was devoted to it. They were all simple enough to accept what the
author gave them, nor, had a critic of the time been present to
instruct them that in this last he had fallen off, would they have
heeded him much: for Malcolm, it was the first story by the Great
Unknown he had seen. A question however occurring, not of art but
of morals, he was at once on the alert. It arose when they reached
that portion of the tale in which the true heir to an earldom and
its wealth offers to leave all in the possession of the usurper,
on the one condition of his ceasing to annoy a certain lady, whom,
by villainy of the worst, he had gained the power of rendering
unspeakably miserable. Naturally enough, at this point Malcolm's
personal interest was suddenly excited: here were elements strangely
correspondent with the circumstances of his present position. Tyrrel's
offer of acquiescence in things as they were, and abandonment of
his rights, which, in the story, is so amazing to the man of the
world to whom it is first propounded, drew an exclamation of delight
from both ladies--from Clementina because of its unselfishness,
from Florimel because of its devotion: neither of them was at
any time ready to raise a moral question, and least of all where
the heart approved. But Malcolm was interested after a different
fashion from theirs. Often during the reading he had made remarks
and given explanations--not so much to the annoyance of Lady
Clementina as she had feared, for since his rescue of the swift,
she had been more favourably disposed towards him, and had judged
him a little more justly--not that she understood him, but that
the gulf between them had contracted. He paused a moment, then
"Do you think it was right, my ladies? Ought Mr Tyrrel to have made
such an offer?"
"It was most generous of him," said Clementina, not without indignation
--and with the tone of one whose answer should decide the question.
"Splendidly generous," replied Malcolm; "--but--I so well
remember when Mr Graham first made me see that the question of duty
does not always lie between a good thing and a bad thing: there
would be no room for casuistry then, he said. A man has very often
to decide between one good thing and another. But indeed I can hardly
tell without more time to think, whether that comes in here. If a
man wants to be generous, it must at least be at his own expense."
"But surely," said Florimel, not in the least aware that she was
changing sides, "a man ought to hold by the rights that birth and
inheritance give him."
"That is by no means so clear, my lady," returned Malcolm, "as
you seem to think. A man may be bound to hold by things that are
his rights, but certainly not because they are rights. One of the
grandest things in having rights is that, being your rights, you
may give them up--except, of course, they involve duties with
the performance of which the abnegation would interfere."
"I have been trying to think," said Lady Clementina, "what can be
the two good things here to choose between."
"That is the right question, and logically put, my lady," rejoined
Malcolm, who, from his early training, could not help sometimes
putting on the schoolmaster. "The two good things are--let me
see--yes--on the one hand the protection of the lady to whom he
owed all possible devotion of man to woman, and on the other what
he owed to his tenants, and perhaps to society in general--yes
--as the owner of wealth and position. There is generosity on the
one side and dry duty on the other."
"But this was no case of mere love to the lady, I think," said
Clementina. "Did Mr Tyrrel not owe Miss Mowbray what reparation lay
in his power? Was it not his tempting of her to a secret marriage,
while yet she was nothing more than a girl, that brought the mischief
"That is the point," said Malcolm, "that makes the one difficulty.
Still, I do not see how there can be much of a question. He could
have no right to do fresh wrong for the mitigation of the consequences
of preceding wrong--to sacrifice others to atone for injuries
done by himself."
"Where would be the wrong to others?" said Florimel, now back to
her former position. "Why could it matter to tenants or society
which of the brothers happened to be an earl?"
"Only this, that, in the one case, the landlord of his tenants,
the earl in society, would be an honourable man, in the other, a
villain--a difference which might have consequences."
"But," said Lady Clementina, "is not generosity something more than
duty--something higher, something beyond it?"
"Yes," answered Malcolm, "so long as it does not go against duty,
but keeps in the same direction, is in harmony with it. I doubt
much, though, whether, as we grow in what is good, we shall not
come soon to see that generosity is but our duty, and nothing very
grand and beyond it. But the man who chooses to be generous at the
expense of justice, even if he give up at the same time everything
of his own, is but a poor creature beside him who, for the sake of
the right, will not only consent to appear selfish in the eyes of
men, but will go against his own heart and the comfort of those
dearest to him. The man who accepts a crown may be more noble than
he who lays one down and retires to the desert. Of the worthies
who do things by faith, some are sawn asunder, and some subdue
kingdoms. The look of the thing is nothing."
Florimel made a neat little yawn over her work. Clementina's hands
rested a moment in her lap, and she looked thoughtful. But she
resumed her work, and said no more. Malcolm began to read again.
Presently Clementina interrupted him. She had not been listening.
"Why should a man want to be better than his neighbours, any more
than to be richer?" she said, as if uttering her thoughts aloud.
"Why, indeed," responded Malcolm, "except he wants to become a
"Then, why do you talk for duty against generosity?"
"Oh!" said Malcolm, for a moment perplexed. He did not at once
catch the relation of her ideas. "Does a man ever do his duty," he
rejoined at length, "in order to be better than his neighbours."
If he does, he won't do it long. A man does his duty because he
must. He has no choice but do it."
"If a man has no choice, how is it that so many men choose to do
wrong?" asked Clementina.
"In virtue of being slaves and stealing the choice," replied Malcolm.
"You are playing with words," said Clementina.
"If I am, at least I am not playing with things," returned Malcolm.
"If you like it better, my lady, I will say that, in declaring he
has no choice, the man with all his soul chooses the good, recognizing
it as the very necessity of his nature."
"If I know in myself that I have a choice, all you say goes for
nothing," persisted Clementina. "I am not at all sure I would not
do wrong for the sake of another. The more one preferred what was
right, the greater would be the sacrifice."
"If it was for the grandeur of it, my lady, that would be for the
man's own sake, not his friend's."
"Leave that out then," said Clementina.
"The more a man loved another, then--say a woman, as here in
the story--it seems to me, the more willing would he be that she
should continue to suffer rather than cease by wrong. Think, my
lady: the essence of wrong is injustice: to help another by wrong
is to do injustice to somebody you do not know well enough to love
for the sake of one you do know well enough to love. What honest
man could think of that twice? The woman capable of accepting such
a sacrifice would be contemptible."
"She need not know of it."
"He would know that she needed but to know of it to despise him."
"Then might it not be noble in him to consent for her sake to be
contemptible in her eyes?"
"If no others were concerned. And then there would be no injustice,
therefore nothing wrong, and nothing contemptible."
"Might not what he did be wrong in the abstract, without having
reference to any person?"
"There is no wrong man can do but is a thwarting of the living
Right. Surely you believe, my lady, that there is a living Power
of right, whose justice is the soul of our justice, who will have
right done, and causes even our own souls to take up arms against
us when we do wrong."
"In plain language, I suppose you mean--Do I believe in a God?"
"That is what I mean, if by a God you mean a being who cares about
us, and loves justice--that is, fair play--one whom therefore
we wrong to the very heart when we do a thing that is not just."
"I would gladly believe in such a being, if things were so that
I could. As they are, I confess it seems to me the best thing to
doubt it. I do doubt it very much. How can I help doubting it, when
I see so much suffering, oppression, and cruelty in the world? If
there were such a being as you say, would he permit the horrible
things we hear of on every hand?"
"I used to find that a difficulty. Indeed it troubled me sorely
until I came to understand things better. I remember Mr Graham
saying once something like this--I did not understand it for
months after: 'Every kind hearted person who thinks a great deal of
being comfortable, and takes prosperity to consist in being well
off must be tempted to doubt the existence of a God.--And perhaps
it is well they should be so tempted,' he added."
"Why did he add that?"
"I think because such are in danger of believing in an evil God.
And if men believed in an evil God, and had not the courage to defy
him, they must sink to the very depths of savagery. At least that
is what I ventured to suppose he meant."
Clementina opened her eyes wide, but said nothing. Religious people,
she found, could think as boldly as she.
"I remember all about it so well!" Malcolm added, thoughtfully.
"We had been talking about the Prometheus of .AEschylus--how he
would not give in to Jupiter."
"I am trying to understand," said Clementina, and ceased--and
a silence fell which for a few moments Malcolm could not break.
For suddenly he felt as if he had fallen under the power of a
spell. Something seemed to radiate from her silence which invaded
his consciousness. It was as if the wind which dwells in the tree
of life had waked in the twilight of heaven, and blew upon his
spirit. It was not that now first he saw that she was beautiful;
the moment his eyes fell upon her that morning in the park, he saw
her beautiful as he had never seen woman before. Neither was it
that now first he saw her good, even in that first interview her
heart had revealed itself to him as very lovely. But the foolishness
which flowed from her lips, noble and unselfish as it was, had barred
the way betwixt his feelings and her individuality as effectually
as if she had been the loveliest of Venuses lying uncarved in the
lunar marble of Carrara. There are men to whom silliness is an
absolute freezing mixture; to whose hearts a plain, sensible woman
at once appeals as a woman, while no amount of beauty can serve as
sweet oblivious antidote to counteract the nausea produced by folly.
Malcolm had found Clementina irritating, and the more irritating
that she was so beautiful. But at the first sound from her lips that
indicated genuine and truthful thought, the atmosphere had begun
to change; and at the first troubled gleam in her eyes, revealing
that she pursued some dim seen thing of the world of reality, a
nameless potency throbbed into the spiritual space betwixt her and
him, and embraced them in an aether of entrancing relation. All
that had been needed to awake love to her was, that her soul, her
self should look out of its windows--and now he had caught a
glimpse of it. Not all her beauty, not all her heart, not all her
courage, could draw him while she would ride only a hobby horse,
however tight its skin might be stuffed with emotions. But now who
could tell how soon she might be charging in the front line of the
Amazons of the Lord--on as real a horse as any in the heavenly
army? For was she not thinking--the rarest human operation in
"I will try to speak a little more clearly, my lady," said Malcolm.
"If ease and comfort, and the pleasures of animal and intellectual
being, were the best things to be had, as they are the only things
most people desire, then that maker who did not care that his
creatures should possess or were deprived of such, could not be a
good God. But if the need with the lack of such things should be
the means, the only means, of their gaining something in
its very nature so much better that--"
"But," interrupted Clementina, "if they don't care about anything
better--if they are content as they are?"
"Should he then who called them into existence be limited in his
further intents for the perfecting of their creation, by their
notions concerning themselves who cannot add to their life one
cubit?--such notions being often consciously dishonest? If he
knows them worthless without something that he can give, shall he
withhold his hand because they do not care that he should stretch
it forth? Should a child not be taught to ride because he is content
to run on foot?"
"But the means, according to your own theory, are so frightful!"
"But suppose he knows that the barest beginnings of the good he
intends them would not merely reconcile them to those means, but
cause them to choose his will at any expense of suffering! I tell
you, Lady Clementina," continued Malcolm, rising, and approaching
her a step or two, "if I. had not the hope of one day being good
like God himself, if I thought there was no escape out of the wrong
and badness I feel within me and know I am not able to rid myself
of without supreme help, not all the wealth and honours of the
world could reconcile me to life."
"You do not know what you are talking of," said Clementina, coldly
and softly, without lifting her head.
"I do," said Malcolm.
"You mean you would kill yourself but for your belief in God?"
"By life, I meant being, my lady. If there were no God, I dared
not kill myself, lest worse should be waiting me in the awful voids
beyond. If there be a God, living or dying is all one--so it be
what he pleases."
"I have read of saints," said Clementina, with cool dissatisfaction
in her tone, "uttering such sentiments--"
"Sentiments!" said Malcolm to himself
"--and I do not doubt such were felt or at least imagined by them;
but I fail to understand how, even supposing these things true,
a young man like yourself should, in the midst of a busy
world, and with an occupation which, to say the least,--"
Here she paused. After a moment Malcolm ventured to help her.
"Is so far from an ideal one--would you say, my lady?"
"Something like that," answered Clementina, and concluded "I wonder
how you can have arrived at such ideas."
"There is nothing wonderful in it, my lady," returned Malcolm.
"Why should not a youth, a boy, a child, for as a child I thought
about what the kingdom of heaven could mean, desire with all his
might that his heart and mind should be clean, his will strong,
his thoughts just, his head clear, his soul dwelling in the place
of life? Why should I not desire that my life should be a complete
thing, and an outgoing of life to my neighbour? Some people are
content not to do mean actions: I want to become incapable of a
mean thought or feeling; and so I shall be before all is done."
"Still, how did you come to begin so much earlier than others?"
"All I know as to that, my lady, is that I had the best man in the
world to teach me."
"And why did not I have such a man to teach me? I could have learned
of such a man too."
"If you are able now, my lady, it does not follow that it would
have been the best thing for you sooner. Some children learn far
better for not being begun early, and will get before others who
have been at it for years. As you grow ready for it, somewhere
or other you will find what is needful for you--in a book, or a
friend, or, best of all in your own thoughts--the eternal thought
speaking in your thought."
It flashed through her mind, "Can it be that I have found it now
--on the lips of a groom?"
Was it her own spirit or another that laughed strangely within her?
"Well, as you seem to know so much better than other people," she
said, "I want you to explain to me how the God in whom you profess
to believe can make use of such cruelties. It seems to me more like
the revelling of a demon."
"My lady!" remonstrated Malcolm, "I never pretended to explain. All
I say is, that, if I had reason for hoping there was a God, and if
I found, from my own experience and the testimony of others, that
suffering led to valued good, I should think, hope, expect to
find that he caused suffering for reasons of the highest, purest
and kindest import, such as when understood must be absolutely
satisfactory to the sufferers themselves. If a man cannot believe
that, and if he thinks the pain the worst evil of all, then of
course he cannot believe there is a good God. Still, even then,
if he would lay claim to being a lover of truth, he ought to give
the idea--the mere idea of God fair play, lest there should be
a good God after all, and he all his life doing him the injustice
of refusing him his trust and obedience."
"And. how are we to give the mere idea of him fair play?" asked
Clementina, rather contemptuously. But I think she was fighting
emotion, confused and troublesome.
"By looking to the heart of whatever claims to be a revelation of
"It would take a lifetime to read the half of such."
"I will correct myself, and say--whatever of the sort has best
claims on your regard--whatever any person you look upon as
good, believes and would have you believe--at the same time doing
diligently what you know to be right; for, if there be a God, that
must be his will, and, if there be not, it remains our duty."
All this time, Florimel was working away at her embroidery, a little
smile of satisfaction flickering on her face. She was pleased to
hear her clever friend talking so with her strange vassal. As to
what they were saying, she had no doubt it was all right, but to
her it was not interesting. She was mildly debating with herself
whether she should tell her friend about Lenorme.
Clementina's work now lay on her lap and her hands on her work,
while her eyes at one time gazed on the grass at her feet, at
another searched Malcolm's face with a troubled look. The light of
Malcolm's candle was beginning to penetrate into her dusky room,
the power of his faith to tell upon the weakness of her unbelief.
There is no strength in unbelief. Even the unbelief of what is
false is no source of might. It is the truth shining from behind
that gives the strength to disbelieve. But into the house where
the refusal of the bad is followed by no embracing of the good--
the house empty and swept and garnished--the bad will return,
bringing with it seven evils that are worse.
If something of that sacred mystery, holy in the heart of the
Father, which draws together the souls of man and woman, was at work
between them, let those scoff at the mingling of love and religion
who know nothing of either; but man or woman who, loving woman or
man, has never in that love lifted the heart to the Father, and
everyone whose divine love has not yet cast at least an arm round
the human love, must take heed what they think of themselves, for
they are yet but paddlers in the tide of the eternal ocean. Love
is a lifting no less than a swelling of the heart, What changes,
what metamorphoses, transformations, purifications, glorifications,
this or that love must undergo ere it take its eternal place in
the kingdom of heaven, through all its changes yet remaining, in
its one essential root, the same, let the coming redemption reveal.
The hope of all honest lovers will lead them to the vision. Only
let them remember that love must dwell in the will as well as in
But whatever the nature of Malcolm's influence upon Lady Clementina,
she resented it, thinking towards and speaking to him repellently.
Something in her did not like him. She knew he did not approve of
her, and she did not like being disapproved of. Neither did she
approve of him. He was pedantic--and far too good for an honest
and brave youth: not that she could say she had seen dishonesty or
cowardice in him, or that she could have told which vice she would
prefer to season his goodness withal, and bring him to the level
of her ideal. And then, for all her theories of equality, he was
a groom--therefore to a lady ought to be repulsive--at least
when she found him intruding into the chambers of her thoughts
--personally intruding--yes, and met there by some traitorous
feelings whose behaviour she could not understand. She resented
it all, and felt towards Malcolm as if he were guilty of forcing
himself into the sacred presence of her bosom's queen--whereas it
was his angel that did so, his Idea, over which he had no control.
Clementina would have turned that Idea out, and when she found she
could not, her soul started up wrathful, in maidenly disgust with
her heart, and cast resentment upon everything in him whereon it would
hang. She had not yet, however, come to ask herself any questions;
she had only begun to fear that a woman to whom a person from the
stables could be interesting, even in the form of an unexplained
riddle, must be herself a person of low tastes; and that, for all
her pride in coming of honest people, there must be a drop of bad
blood in her somewhere.
For a time her eyes had been fixed on her work, and there had been
silence in the little group.
"My lady!" said Malcolm, and drew a step nearer to Clementina.
She looked up. How lovely she was with the trouble in her eyes!
Thought Malcolm, "If only she were what she might be! If the form
were but filled with the spirit! the body with life!"
"My lady!" he repeated, just a little embarrassed, "I should like
to tell you one thing that came to me only lately--came to me
when thinking over the hard words you spoke to me that day in the
park. But it is something so awful that I dare not speak of it
except you will make your heart solemn to hear it."
He stopped, with his eyes questioning hers. Clementina's first
thought once more was madness, but as she steadily returned his
look, her face grew pale, and she gently bowed her head in consent.
"I will try then," said Malcolm. "--Everybody knows what few
think about, that once there lived a man who, in the broad face
of prejudiced respectability, truth hating hypocrisy, commonplace
religion, and dull book learning, affirmed that he knew the secret
of life, and understood the heart and history of men--who wept
over their sorrows, yet worshipped the God of the whole earth,
saying that he had known him from eternal days. The same said that
he came to do what the Father did, and that he did nothing but what
he had learned of the Father. They killed him, you know, my lady,
in a terrible way that one is afraid even to think of. But he
insisted that he laid down his life; that he allowed them to take
it. Now I ask whether that grandest thing, crowning his life, the
yielding of it to the hand of violence, he had not learned also from
his Father. Was his death the only thing he had not so learned? If
I am right, and I do not say if in doubt, then the suffering of
those three terrible hours was a type of the suffering of the Father
himself in bringing sons and daughters through the cleansing and
glorifying fires, without which the created cannot be made the very
children of God, partakers of the divine nature and peace. Then
from the lowest, weakest tone of suffering, up to the loftiest
pitch, the divinest acme of pain, there is not one pang to which
the sensorium of the universe does not respond; never an untuneful
vibration of nerve or spirit but thrills beyond the brain or the
heart of the sufferer to the brain, the heart of the universe;
and God, in the simplest, most literal, fullest sense, and not by
sympathy alone, suffers with his creatures."
"Well, but he is able to bear it; they are not: I cannot bring
myself to see the right of it."
"Nor will you, my lady, so long as you cannot bring yourself to
see the good they get by it.--My lady, when I was trying my best
with poor Kelpie, you would not listen to me."
"You are ungenerous," said Clementina, flushing.
"My lady," persisted Malcolm, "you would not understand me. You
denied me a heart because of what seemed in your eyes cruelty. I
knew that I was saving her from death at the least, probably from
a life of torture: God may be good, though to you his government may
seem to deny it. There is but one way God cares to govern--the
way of the Father King--and that way is at hand.--But I have yet
given you only the one half of my theory: If God feels pain, then
he puts forth his will to bear and subject that pain; if the pain
comes to him from his creature, living in him, will the endurance
of God be confined to himself, and not, in its turn, pass beyond
the bounds of his individuality, and react upon the sufferer to his
sustaining? I do not mean that sustaining which a man feels from
knowing his will one with God's and God with him, but such sustaining
as those his creatures also may have who do not or cannot know
whence the sustaining comes. I believe that the endurance of God
goes forth to uphold, that his patience is strength to his creatures,
and that, while the whole creation may well groan, its suffering
is more bearable therefore than it seems to the repugnance of our
"That is a dangerous doctrine," said Clementina.
"Will it then make the cruel man more cruel to be told that God
is caring for the tortured creature from the citadel of whose life
he would force an answer to save his own from the sphinx that must
at last devour him, let him answer ever so wisely? Or will it make
the tender less pitiful to be consoled a little in the agony of
beholding what they cannot alleviate? Many hearts are from sympathy
as sorely in need of comfort as those with whom they suffer. And
to such I have one word more--to your heart, my lady, if it will
consent to be consoled: The animals, I believe, suffer less than
we, because they scarcely think of the past, and not at all of the
future. It is the same with children, Mr Graham says they suffer less
than grown people, and for the same reason. To get back something
of this privilege of theirs, we have to be obedient and take no
thought for the morrow."
Clementina took up her work. Malcolm walked away.
"Malcolm," cried his mistress, "are you not going on with the book?"
"I hope your ladyship will excuse me," said Malcolm. "I would rather
not read more just at present."
It may seem incredible that one so young as Malcolm should have
been able to talk thus, and indeed my report may have given words
more formal and systematic than his really were. For the matter of
them, it must be remembered that he was not young in the effort to
do and understand; and that the advantage to such a pupil of such
a teacher as Mr Graham is illimitable.