Thomas Wingfold, Curate - vol.2

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Wingfold went straight to his friend Polwarth, and asked him if he would allow him to bring Mr. Drew some evening to tea.

"You mean the linen-draper?" asked Polwarth. "Certainly, if you wish it."

"Some troubles are catching," said the curate. "Drew has caught my disease."

"I am delighted to hear it. It would be hard to catch a better, and it's one a rich man, as they say he is, seldom does catch. But I always liked his round, good-humoured, honest face. If I remember rightly, he had a sore trial in his wife. It is generally understood that she ran away with some fellow or other. But that was before he came to live in Glaston.--Would you mind looking in upon Rachel for a few minutes, sir? She is not so well to-day, and has not been out of her own room."

"With all my heart," answered Wingfold. "I am sorry to hear she is suffering."

"She is always suffering more or less," said the little man. "But she enjoys life notwithstanding, as you may clearly see. It is to her only a mitigated good, and that, I trust, for the sake of an unmitigated one.--Come this way, sir."

He led the curate to the room next his own. It was a humble little garret, but dainty with whiteness. One who did not thoroughly know her, might have said it was like her life, colourless, but bright with innocence and peace. The walls were white; the boards of the uncarpeted floor were as white as scrubbing could make old deal; the curtains of windows and bed were whiteness itself; the coverlet was white; so was the face that looked smiling over the top of it from the one low white pillow. But although Wingfold knew that face so well, he almost started at the sight of it now: in the patience of its suffering it was positively lovely. All that was painful to see was hidden; the crooked little body lay at rest in the grave of the bed-clothes; the soul rose from it, and looked, gracious with womanhood, in the eyes of the curate.

"I cannot give you my hand," she said smiling, as he went softly towards her, feeling like Moses when he put off his shoes, "for I have such a pain in my arm, I cannot well raise it."

The curate bowed reverentially, seated himself in a chair by her bedside, and, like a true comforter, said nothing.

"Don't be sorry for me, Mr. Wingfold," said her sweet voice at length. "The poor dwarfie, as the children call me, is not a creature to be pitied. You don't know how happy I am as I lie here, knowing my uncle is in the next room, and will come the moment I call him--and that there is one nearer still," she added in a lower voice, almost in a whisper, "whom I haven't even to call. I am his, and he shall do with me just as he likes. I fancy sometimes, when I have to lie still, that I am a little sheep, tied hands and feet--I should have said all four feet, if I am a sheep"--and here she gave a little merry laugh--"lying on an altar--the bed here--burning away, in the flame of life, that consumes the deathful body--burning, heart and soul and sense, up to the great Father.--Forgive me, Mr. Wingfold, for talking about myself, but you looked so miserable! and I knew it was your kind heart feeling for me. But I need not, for that, have gone on at such a rate. I am ashamed of myself!"

"On the contrary, I am exceedingly obliged to you for honouring me by talking so freely," said Wingfold. "It is a great satisfaction to find that suffering is not necessarily unhappiness. I could be well content to suffer also, Miss Polwarth, if with the suffering I might have the same peace."

"Sometimes I am troubled," she answered; "but generally I am in peace, and sometimes too happy to dare speak about it.--Would the persons you and my uncle were talking about the other day--would they say all my pleasant as well as my painful thoughts came from the same cause--vibrations in my brain?"

"No doubt. They would say, I presume, that the pleasant thoughts come from regular, and the unpleasant from irregular motions of its particles. They must give the same origin to both. Would you be willing to acknowledge that only your pleasant thoughts had a higher origin, and that your painful ones came from physical sources?"

Because of a headache and depression of spirits, Wingfold had been turning over similar questions in his own mind the night before.

"I see," said the dwarfie--"I see. No. There are sad thoughts sometimes which in their season I would not lose, for I would have their influences with me always. In their season they are better than a host of happy ones, and there is joy at the root of all. But if they did come from physical causes, would it follow that they did not come from God? Is he not the God of the dying as well as the God of the living?"

"If there be a God, Miss Polwarth," returned Wingfold eagerly, "then is he God everywhere, and not a maggot can die any more than a Shakespeare be born without him. He is either enough, that is, all in all, or he is not at all."

"That is what I think--because it is best:--I can give no better reason."

"If there be a God, there can be no better reason," said Wingfold.

This IF of Wingfold's was, I need hardly now say, an IF of bare honesty, and came of no desire to shake an unthinking confidence. Neither, had it been of the other sort, could it have shaken Rachel's, for her confidence was full of thinking. As little could it shock her, for she hardly missed a sentence that passed between her uncle and his new friend. She made no reply, never imagining it her business to combat the doubts of a man whom she knew to be eager after the truth, and being guiltless of any tendency, because she believed, to condemn doubt as wicked.

A short silence followed.

"How delightful it must be to feel well and strong!" said Rachel at length. "I can't help often thinking of Miss Lingard. It's always Miss Lingard comes up to me when I think of such things. Oh! ain't she beautiful and strong, Mr. Wingfold?--and sits on her horse as straight as a rush! It does one good to see her. Just fancy me on a great tall horse! What a bag of potatoes I should look!"

She burst into a merry laugh, and then came a few tears, which were not all of the merriment of which she let them pass as the consequence, remarking, as she wiped them away,

"But no one can tell, Mr. Wingfold,--and I'm sure Miss Lingard would be astonished to hear--what pleasure I have while lying unable to move. I suppose I benefit by what people call the law of compensation! How I hate the word! As if THAT was the way the Father of Jesus Christ did, and not his very best to get his children, elder brothers and prodigal sons, home to his heart! You heard what my uncle said about dreams the other day?" she resumed after a little pause.

"Yes. I thought it very sensible," replied the curate.

"It all depends on the sort, don't it?" said Rachel. "Some of mine I would not give for a library. They make me grow, telling me things I should never learn otherwise. I don't mean any rubbish about future events, and such like. Of all useless things a knowledge of the future seems to me the most useless, for what are you to do with a thing before it exists? Such a knowledge could only bewilder you as to the right way to take--would make you see double instead of single. That's not the sort I mean at all.--You won't laugh at me, Mr. Wingfold?"

"I can scarcely imagine anything less likely."

"Then I don't mind opening my toy-box to you.--In my dreams, for instance, I am sometimes visited by such a sense of freedom as fills me with a pure bliss unknown to my waking thoughts except as a rosy cloud on the horizon. As if they were some heavenly corporation, my dreams present me, not with the freedom of some poor little city like London, but with the freedom of all space."

The curate sat and listened with wonder--but with no sense of unfitness; such speech and such thought suited well with the face that looked up from the low pillow with its lovely eyes--for lovely they were, with a light that had both flash and force.

"I don't believe," she went on, "that even Miss Lingard has more of the blessed sense of freedom and strength and motion when she is on horseback than I have when I am asleep. The very winds of my dreams will make me so unspeakabably happy that I wake weeping. Do not tell me it is gone then, for I continue so happy that I can hardly get to sleep again to hunt for more joy. Don't say it is an unreality--for where does freedom lie? In the body or in the mind? What does it matter whether my body be lying still or moving from one spot of space to another? What is the good of motion but to produce the feeling of freedom? The feeling is everything, and if I have it, that is all that I want. Bodily motion would indeed disturb it for me--lay fetters on my spirit.--Sometimes, again, I dream of a new flower--one never before beheld by mortal eye--with some strange, wonderful quality in it, perhaps, that makes it a treasure, like that flower of Milton's invention--haemony--in Comus, you know. But one curious thing is that that strange quality will never be recalled in waking hours; so that what it was I can never tell--as if it belonged to other regions than the life of this world: I retain only the vaguest memory of its power, and marvel, and preciousness.--Sometimes it is a little poem or a song I dream of, or some strange musical instrument, perhaps like one of those I have seen angels with in a photograph from an old picture. And somehow with the instrument always comes the knowledge of how to play upon it. So you see, sir, as it has pleased God to send me into the world as crooked as a crab, and nearly as lame as a seal, it has pleased him also to give me the health and riches of the night to strengthen me for the pains and poverties of the day.--You rejoice in a beautiful thought when it comes to you, Mr. Wingfold--do you not?"

"When it comes to me," answered Wingfold significantly--almost petulantly. Could it be that he envied the dwarf-girl?

"Then is the thought any worse because it comes in a shape?--or is the feeling less of a feeling that it is born in a dream?"

"I need no convincing, I admit all you say," returned Wingfold.

"Why are you so silent, then? You make me think you are objecting inside to everything I am saying," rejoined Rachel with a smile.

"Partly because I fear you are exciting yourself too much and will suffer in consequence," answered the curate, who had noted the rosy flush on her face.

The same moment her uncle re-entered the room.

"I have been trying to convince Mr. Wingfold that there MAY be some good in dreaming, uncle," she said.

"Successfully?" asked Polwarth.

"Unnecessarily," interjected Wingfold. "I required for conviction only the facts. Why should I suppose that, if there be a God, he is driven out of us by sleep?"

"It is an awful thing," said Polwarth, "to think--that this feeble individuality of ours, the offspring of God's individuality, should have some power, and even more will than power, to close its door against him, and keep house without him!"

"But what sort of a house?" murmured Wingfold.

"Yes, uncle," said Rachel; "but think how he keeps about us, haunting the doors and windows like the very wind, watching to get in! And sometimes he makes of himself a tempest, that both doors and windows fly open, and he enters in fear and dismay."

The prophetic in the uncle was the poetic in the niece.

"For you and me, uncle," she went on, "he made the doors and windows so rickety that they COULD not keep him out."

"Ye are the temples of the Holy Ghost," said the curate, almost unconsciously.

"Some of us a little ruinous!" rejoined the girl.

So full was her soul of a lively devotion that she took the liberties of a child of the house with sacred things.

"But, Mr. Wingfold," she continued. "I must tell you one more curious thing about my dreams: I NEVER dream of being crooked and dwarfish. I don't dream that I am straight either; I suppose I feel all right, and therefore never think about it. That makes me fancy my soul must be straight.--Don't you think so, sir?"

"Indeed I do," said Wingfold warmly.

"I'm afraid I shall be telling you some of my dreams some day."

"We are rather given to that weakness," said Polwarth,--"so much so as to make me fear for our brains sometimes. But a crooked rose-tree may yet bear a good rose."

"Ah! you are thinking of my poor father, uncle, I know," said Rachel. "His was a straight stem and a fine rose, only overblown, perhaps.--I don't think I need be much afraid of that, for if I were to go out of my mind, I should not have strength to live--unless indeed I knew God through all the madness. I think my father did in a way."

"It was quite plain he did," answered her uncle, "and that in no feeble way either.--Some day I must tell you,"--here he turned to Wingfold--"about that brother of mine, Rachel's father. I should even like to show you a manuscript he left behind him--surely one of the strangest ever written! It would be well worth printing if that would ensure its falling into the hands of those who could read through the madness.--But we have talked quite long enough for your head, child; I will take Mr. Wingfold into the next room."

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