Thomas Wingfold, Curate - vol.2

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"I can do nothing with that. I have tried and tried to pray, but it is of no use. There is such a weight on my heart that no power of mine can lift it up. I suppose it is because I cannot believe there is anyone hearing a word I say. Yesterday, when I got alone in the park, I prayed aloud: I thought that perhaps, even if he might not be able to read what was in my heart, he might be able to hear my voice. I was even foolish enough to wish I knew Greek, because perhaps he would understand me better if I were to pray in Greek. My brain seems turning. It is of no use! There is no help anywhere!"

She tried hard, but could not prevent a sob. And then came a burst of tears.

"Will you not tell me something about it?" said the curate, yet more gently. Oh, how gladly would he relieve her heart if he might! "Perhaps Jesus has begun to give you help, though you do not know it yet," he said, "His help may be on the way to you, or even with you, only you do not recognize it for what it is. I have known that kind of thing. Tell me some fact or some feeling I can lay hold of. Possibly there is something you ought to do and are not doing, and that is why you cannot rest. I think Jesus would give no rest except in the way of learning of him."

Helen's sobs ceased, but what appeared to the curate a long silence followed. At length she said, with faltering voice:

"Suppose it were a great wrong that had been done, and that was the unendurable thought? SUPPOSE, I say, that was what made me miserable!"

"Then you must of course make all possible reparation," answered Wingfold at once.

"But if none were possible--what then?"

Here the answer was not so plain, and the curate had to think.

"At least," he said at length, "you could confess the wrong, and ask forgiveness."

"But if that also were impossible," said Helen, shuddering inwardly to find how near she drew to the edge of the awful fact.

Again the curate took time to reply.

"I am endeavouring to answer your questions as well as I can," he said; "but it is hard to deal with generalities. You see how useless, for that very reason, my answers have as yet been! Still I have something more to say, and hesitate only because it may imply more confidence than I dare profess, and of all things I dread untruth. But I am honest in this much at least, that I desire with true heart to find a God who will acknowledge me as his creature and make me his child, and if there be any God I am nearly certain he will do so; for surely there cannot be any other kind of God than the Father of Jesus Christ! In the strength of this much of conscious truth I venture to say--that no crime can be committed against a creature without being committed also against the creator of that creature; therefore surely the first step for anyone who has committed such a crime must be to humble himself before God, confess the sin, and ask forgiveness and cleansing. If there is anything in religion at all it must rest upon an actual individual communication between God and the creature he has made; and if God heard the man's prayer and forgave him, then the man would certainly know it in his heart and be consoled--perhaps by the gift of humility."

"Then you think confession to God is all that is required?"

"If there be no one else wronged to whom confession can be made. If the case were mine--and sometimes I much fear that in taking holy orders I have grievously sinned--I should then do just as I have done with regard to that--cry to the living power which I think originated me, to set the matter right for me."

"But if it could not be set right?"

"Then to forgive and console me."

"Alas! alas! that he will not hear of. He would rather be punished than consoled. I fear for his brain. But indeed that might be well."

She had gone much farther than she had intended; but the more doubtful help became, the more she was driven by the agony of a perishing hope to search the heart of Wingfold.

Again the curate pondered.

"Are you sure," he said at length, "that the person of whom you speak is not neglecting something he ought to do--something he knows perhaps?"

He had come back to the same with which he started.

Through her veil he saw her turn deadly white. Ever since Leopold said the word JURY, a ghastly fear had haunted Helen. She pressed her hand on her heart and made no answer.

"I speak from experience," the curate went on--"from what else could I speak? I know that so long as we hang back from doing what conscience urges, there is no peace for us. I will not say our prayers are not heard, for Mr. Polwarth has taught me that the most precious answer prayer can have, lies in the growing strength of the impulse towards the dreaded duty, and in the ever sharper stings of the conscience. I think I asked already whether there were no relatives to whom reparation could be made?"

"Yes, yes," gasped Helen;" and I told you reparation was impossible."

Her voice had sunk almost to a groan.

"But at least confession--" said Wingfold---and started from his seat.

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