Thomas Wingfold, Curate - vol.2

Home - George MacDonald - Thomas Wingfold, Curate - vol.2

Prev | Next | Contents


Helen rose and hastened to her brother, with a heart of lead in her body.

She started when she saw him: some change had passed on him since the morning! Was that eager look in his eyes a fresh access of the fever? That glimmer on his countenance, doubtful as the first of the morning, when the traveller knows not whether the light be in the sky or only in his brain, did look more like a dawn of his old healthful radiance than any fresh fire of madness; but at the same time he appeared more wasted and pinched and death-like than she had yet seen him. Or was it only in her eyes--was she but reading in his face the agony she had herself gone through that day?

"Helen, Helen!" he cried as she entered the room, "come here, close to me."

She hastened to him, sat down on the bedside, took his hand, and looked as cheerfully as she could, yet it was but the more woefully, in his face.

"Helen!" he said again, and he spoke with a strange expression in his voice, for it seemed that of hope, "I have been thinking all day of what you told me on Sunday."

"What was that, Poldie?" asked Helen with a pang of fear.

"Why, those words of course--what else? You sang them to me afterwards, you know. Helen, I should like to see Mr. Wingfold. Don't you think he might be able to do something?"

"What sort of thing, Poldie?" she faltered, growing sick at heart.--Was this what came of praying! she thought bitterly.

"Something or other--I don't know what exactly," returned Leopold.--"Oh Helen!" he broke out with a cry, stifled by the caution that had grown habitual to both of them, "is there no help of any kind anywhere? Surely Mr. Wingfold could tell me something--comfort me somehow, if I were to tell him all about it! I could trust the man that said such things as those you told me. That I could!--Oh! I wish I hadn't run away, but had let them take me and hang me!"

Helen felt herself grow white. She turned away, and pretended to search for something she had dropped.

"I don't think he would be of the slightest use to you," she said, still stooping.

And she felt like a devil dragging the soul of her brother to hell. But that was a foolish fancy, and must be resisted!

"Not if I told him everything?" Leopold hissed from between his teeth in the struggle to keep down a shriek.

"No, not if you told him everything," she answered, and felt like a judge condemning him to death.

"What is he there for then?" said Leopold indignantly, and turned his face to the wall and moaned.

Helen had not yet thought of asking herself whether her love to her brother was all clear love, and nowise mingled with selfishness-- whether in the fresh horror that day poured into the cup that had seemed already running over, it was of her brother only she thought, or whether threatened shame to herself had not a part in her misery. But, as far as she was aware, she was quite honest in saying that the curate could not comfort him--for what attempt even had he made to comfort her? What had he done but utter common-places and truisms about duty? And who could tell but--indeed was she not certain that such a man, bringing the artillery of his fanaticism to bear upon her poor boy's wild enthusiastic temperament, would speedily persuade him to make a reality of that terrible thing he had already thought of, that hideously impossible possibility which she dared not even allow to present itself before her imagination? So he lay and moaned, and she sat crushed and speechless with despairing misery.

All at once Leopold sat straight up, his eyes fixed and flaming, his face white: he looked like a corpse possessed by a spirit of fear and horror. Helen's heart swelled into her throat, the muscles of her face contracted with irresistible rigor, and she felt it grow exactly like his, while with wide eyes she stared at him, and he stared at something which lest she also should see, she dared not turn her head. Surely, she thought afterwards, she must have been that moment in the presence of something unearthly! Her physical being was wrenched from her control, and she must simply sit and wait until the power or influence, whichever it might be, should pass away. How long it was ere it relaxed its hold she could not tell; it could not have been long, she thought. Suddenly the light sank from Leopold's eyes, his muscles relaxed, he fell back motionless, apparently senseless, on the pillow, and she thought he was dead. The same moment she was free; the horror had departed from her own atmosphere too, and she made haste to restore him. But in all she did for him, she felt like the executioner who gives restoratives to the wretch that has fainted on the rack or the wheel. What right had SHE, she thought, to multiply to him his moments of torture? If the cruel power that had created him for such misery, whoever, whatever, wherever he might be, chose thus to torture him, was she, his only friend, out of the selfish affection he had planted in her, to lend herself his tool? Yet she hesitated not a single moment in her ministrations.

There is so much passes in us of which our consciousness takes no grasp,--or but with such a flitting touch as scarcely to hand it over to the memory--that I feel encouraged to doubt whether ever there was a man absolutely without hope. That there have been, alas, are many, who are aware of no ground of hope, nay even who feel no glimmer in them of anything they can call hope, I know; but I think in them all is an underlying unconscious hope. I think that not one in all the world has more than a shadowy notion of what hopelessness means. Perhaps utter hopelessness is the outer darkness.

At length Leopold opened his eyes, gave a terrified glance around, held out his arms to her, and drew her down upon his face.

"I saw her!" he said, in a voice that sounded as if it came from the grave, and she heard it in her heart.

"Nonsense, dear Poldie! it was all fancy--nothing more," she returned, in a voice almost as hollow as his; and the lightness of the words uttered in such a tone jarred dismayfully on her own ear.

"Fancy!" he repeated; "I know what fancy is as well as any man or woman born: THAT was no fancy. She stood there, by the wardrobe--in the same dress!--her face as white as her dress! And--listen!--I will tell YOU--I will soon satisfy you it COULD be no fancy."--Here he pushed her from him and looked straight in her eyes.--"I saw her back reflected in the mirror of the wardrobe-door, and"--here the fixed look of horror threatened to return upon his face, but he went on--"listen,--there was a worm crawling on it, over her lovely white shoulder! Ugh! I saw it in the mirror!"

His voice had risen to a strangled shriek, his face was distorted, and he shook like a child on the point of yelling aloud in an agony of fear. Helen clasped his face between her hands, and gathering courage from despair, if indeed that be a possible source of courage, and it is not gathered rather from the hidden hope of which I speak, and the love that will cleave and not forsake, she set her teeth, and said:

"Let her come then, Poldie! I am with you, and I defy her! She shall know that a sister's love is stronger than the hate of a jilt--even if you did kill her. Before God, Poldie, I would after all rather be you than she. Say what you will, she had herself to blame, and I don't doubt did twenty worse things than you did when you killed her."

But Leopold seemed not to hear a word she said, and lay with his face to the wall.

At length he turned his head suddenly, and said,

"Helen, if you don't let me see Mr. Wingfold, I shall go mad, and then everything will come out."

Prev | Next | Contents