Thomas Wingfold, Curate - vol.2

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The curate walked hurriedly home, and seated himself at his table, where yet lay his Greek Testament open at the passage he had been pondering for his sermon. Alas! all he had then been thinking with such fervour had vanished. He knew his inspiring text, but the rest was gone. Worst of all, feeling was gone with thought, and was, for the time at least, beyond recall. Righteous as his anger was, it had ruffled the mirror of his soul till it could no longer reflect heavenly things. He rose, caught up his New Testament, and went to the church-yard. It was a still place, and since the pains of a new birth had come upon him, he had often sought the shelter of its calm. A few yards from the wall of the rectory garden stood an old yew-tree, and a little nearer on one side was a small thicket of cypress; between these and the wall was an ancient stone upon which he generally seated himself. It had already begun to be called the curate's chair. Most imagined him drawn thither by a clerical love of gloom, but in that case he could scarcely have had such delight in seeing the sky through the dark foliage of the yew: he thought the parts so seen looked more divinely blue than any of the rest. He would have admitted, however, that he found quiet, for the soul as well as the body, upon this edge of the world, this brink of the gulf that swallowed the ever-pouring ever-vanishing Niagara of human life. On the stone he now seated himself and fell a-musing.

What a change had come upon him--slow, indeed, yet how vast, since the night when he sat in the same churchyard indignant and uneasy with the words of Bascombe like hot coals in his heart! He had been made ashamed of himself who had never thought much of himself, but the more he had lost of worthiness in his own eyes the more he had gained in worth. And the more his poor satisfaction with himself had died out, the more the world had awaked around him. For it must be remembered that a little conceit is no more to be endured than a great one, but must be swept utterly away. Sky and wind and water and birds and trees said to him, "Forget thyself and we will think of thee. Sing no more to thyself thy foolish songs of decay, and we will all sing to thee of love and hope and faith and resurrection." Earth and air had grown full of hints and sparkles and vital motions, as if between them and his soul an abiding community of fundamental existence had manifested itself. He had never in the old days that were so near and yet seemed so far behind him, consciously cared for the sunlight: now even the shadows were marvellous in his eyes, and the glitter the golden weather-cock on the tower was like a cry of the prophet Isaiah. High and alone in the clear blue air it swung, an endless warning to him that veers with the wind of the world, the words of men, the summer breezes of their praise, or the bitter blasts of their wintry blame; it was no longer to him a cock of the winds, but a cock of the truth--a Peter-cock, that crew aloud in golden shine its rebuke of cowardice and lying. Never before had he sought acquaintance with the flowers that came dreaming up out of the earth in the woods and the lanes like a mist of loveliness, but the spring-time came in his own soul, and then he knew the children of the spring. And as the joy of the reviving world found its way into the throats of the birds, so did the spring in his reviving soul find its way into the channels of thought and speech, and issue in utterance both rhythmic and melodious.--But not in any, neither in all of these things lay the chief sign and embodiment of the change he recognised in himself. It was this: that, whereas in former times the name Christ had been to him little more than a dull theological symbol, the thought of him and of his thoughts was now constantly with him; ever and anon some fresh light would break from the cloudy halo that enwrapped his grandeur; ever was he growing more the Son of Man to his loving heart, ever more the Son of God to his aspiring spirit. Testimony had merged almost in vision: he saw into, and partly understood the perfection it presented: he looked upon the face of God and lived. Oftener and oftener, as the days passed, did it seem as if the man were by his side, and at times, in the stillness of the summer-eve, when he walked alone, it seemed almost, as thoughts of revealing arose in his heart, that the Master himself was teaching him in spoken words. What need now to rack his soul in following the dim-seen, ever evanishing paths of metaphysics! he had but to obey the prophet of life, the man whose being and doing and teaching were blended in one three-fold harmony, or rather, were the three-fold analysis of one white essence--he had but to obey him, haunt his footsteps, and hearken after the sound of his spirit, and all truth would in healthy process be unfolded in himself. What philosophy could carry him where Jesus would carry his obedient friends--into his own peace, namely, far above all fear and all hate, where his soul should breathe such a high atmosphere of strength at once and repose, that he should love even his enemies, and that with no such love as condescendingly overlooks, but with the real, hearty, and self-involved affection that would die to give them the true life! Alas! how far was he from such perfection now--from such a martyrdom, lovely as endless, in the consuming fire of God! And at the thought, he fell from the heights of his contemplation--but was caught in the thicket of prayer.

By the time he reached his lodging, the glow had vanished, but the mood remained. He sat down and wrote the first sketch of the following verses, then found that his sermon had again drawn nigh, and was within the reach of his spiritual tentacles.

Father, I cry to thee for bread, With hungered longing, eager prayer; Thou hear'st, and givest me instead More hunger and a half-despair.

O Lord, how long? My days decline; My youth is lapped in memories old; I need not bread alone, but wine-- See, cup and hand to thee I hold.

yet thou givest: thanks, O Lord, That still my heart with hunger faints!
day will come when at thy board I sit forgetting all my plaints.

If rain must come and winds must blow, And I pore long o'er dim-seen chart, Yet, Lord, let not the hunger go, And keep the faintness at my heart.

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