Thomas Wingfold, Curate - vol.2

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Helen ran upstairs, dropped on her knees by her brother's bedside, and fell into a fit of sobbing, which no tears came to relieve.

"Helen! Helen! if you give way I shall go mad," said a voice of misery from the pillow.

She jumped up, wiping her dry eyes.

"What a wicked, selfish, bad sister, bad nurse, bad everything, I am, Poldie!" she said, her tone ascending the steps of vocal indignation as she spoke. "But shall I tell you"--here she looked all about the chamber and into the dressing-room ere she proceeded--"shall I tell you, Poldie, what it is that makes me so-- I don't know what?--It is all the fault of the sermon I heard this morning. It is the first sermon I ever really listened to in my life--certainly the first I ever thought about again after I was out of the church. Somehow or other of late Mr. Wingfold has been preaching so strangely! but this is the first time I have cared to listen. Do you know he preaches as if he actually believed the things he was saying, and not only that, but as if he expected to persuade you of them too! I USED to think all clergymen believed them, but I doubt it now more than ever, for Mr. Wingfold speaks so differently and looks so different. I never saw any clergyman look like that; and I never saw such a change on a man as there is on him. There must be something to account for it. Could it be that he has himself really gone to--as he says--and found rest--or something he hadn't got before? But you won't know what I mean unless I tell you first what he was preaching about. His text was: Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden;--a common enough text, you know? Poldie! but somehow it seemed fresh to him, and he made it look fresh to me, for I felt as if it hadn't been intended for preaching about at all, but for going straight into people's hearts its own self, without any sermon. I think the way he did it was this: he first made us feel the sort of person that said the words, and then made us feel that he did say them, and so made us want to see what they could really mean. But of course what made them so different to me, was"--here Helen did burst into tears, but she fought with her sobs, and went on--"was--was--that my heart is breaking for you, Poldie--for I shall never see you smile again, my darling!"

She buried her face on his pillow, and Leopold uttered "a great and exceeding bitter cry." Her hand was on his mouth instantly, and her sobs ceased, while the tears kept flowing down her white face.

"Just think, Poldie," she said, in a voice which she seemed to have borrowed in her need from some one else, "--just think a moment! What if there should be some help in the great wide universe--somewhere, for as wide as it is--a heart that feels for us both, as my heart feels for you, Poldie! Oh! oh! wouldn't it be grand? Wouldn't it be lovely to be at peace again, Poldie? If there should be somebody somewhere who could take this gnawing serpent from my heart!"--She pulled wildly at her dress.--"'Come unto me,' he said, 'all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' That's what he said:--oh! if it could be true!"

"Surely it is--for you, best of sisters," cried Leopold; "but what has it to do with me? Nothing. She is DEAD--I killed her. Even if God were to raise her to life again, HE could not make it that I didn't drive the knife into her heart! Give ME rest!--why there's the hand that did it! O my God! my God!" cried the poor youth, and stared at his thin wasted hand, through which the light shone red, as at a conscious evil thing that had done the deed, and was still stained with its signs.

"God CAN'T be very angry with you, Poldie," sobbed Helen, feeling about blindly in the dark forest of her thoughts for some herb of comfort, and offering any leaf upon which her hand fell first.

"Then he ain't fit to be God!" cried Leopold fiercely. "I wouldn't have a word to say to a God that didn't cut a man in pieces for such a deed! Oh Helen, she was so lovely!--and what is she now?"

"Surely if there were a God, he would do something to set it right somehow! I know if I was God, Poldie, I should find some way of setting you up again, my darling. You ain't half as bad as you make yourself out."

"You had better tell that to the jury, Helen, and see how they will take it," said Leopold contemptuously.

"The jury!" Helen almost screamed. "What do you mean, Poldie?"

"Well!" returned Leopold, in a tone of justification, but made no further answer to her question. "All God can do to set it right," he resumed, after a pause, "is to damn me for ever and ever, as one of the blackest creatures in creation."

"THAT I don't believe, anyhow!" returned Helen with equal vehemence and indefiniteness.

And for the first time, George Bascombe's teachings were a comfort to her. It was all nonsense about a God. As to her brother's misery, it had no source but that to which Shakespeare attributed the misery of Macbeth--and who should know better than Shakespeare?--the fear, namely, of people doing the like to himself! But straightway thereupon--horrible thought!--she found herself--yes! it was in her--call it thought, or call it feeling, it was hers!--she found herself despising her poor crushed brother! disgusted with him! turning from him, not even in scorn of his weakness, but in anger at what he had brought upon her! It was but a flash of the lightning of hell: one glance of his great, troubled, appealing, yet hopeless eyes, vague with the fogs that steamed up from the Phlegethon within him, was enough to turn her anger at him into hate of herself who had stabbed his angel in her heart. Then in herself she knew that all murderers are not of Macbeth's order, and that all remorse is not for oneself.

But where was the God to be found who could and MIGHT help in the wretched case? How were they to approach him? Or what could he do for them? Were such a being to assure Leopold that no hurt should come to him--even that he thought little of the wrong that he had done--would that make his crushed heart begin to swell again with fresh life? would that bring back Emmeline from the dark grave and the worms to the sunny earth and the speech of men? And whither, yet farther, he might have sent her, she dared not think. And Leopold was not merely at strife with himself, but condemned to dwell with a self that was loathsome to him. She no longer saw any glimmer of hope but such as lay in George's doctrine of death. If there was no helper who could clean hearts and revive the light of life, then welcome gaunt death! let the grim-mouthed skeleton be crowned at every feast!

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