Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
FACING THE CONSEQUENCES
A young man of Haldane's age is capable of despairing thoughts, and even of desperate moods, of quite extended continuance; but it usually requires a long lifetime of disaster and sin to bury hope so deep that the stone of its sepulchre is not rolled away as the morning dawns. Haldane had thought that his hope was dead; but Mrs. Arnot's presence, combined with her manner, soon made it clear, even to himself, that it was not; and yet it was but a weak and trembling hope, scarcely assured of its right to exist, that revived at her touch and voice. His heart both clung to and shrank from the pure, good woman who stood beside him.
He trembled, and his breast heaved convulsively for a few moments, and she quietly waited until he should grow more calm, only stroking his bowed head once or twice with a slight and reassuring caress. At last he asked in a low, hoarse voice:
"Do you know why I am here?"
"And yet you have come in kindness--in mercy, rather."
"I have come because I am deeply interested in you."
"I am not worthy--I am not fit for you to touch."
"I am glad you feel so."
"Then why do you come?"
"Because I wish to help you to become worthy."
"That's impossible. It's too late."
"Perhaps it is. That is a question for you alone to decide; but I wish you to think well before you do decide it."
"Pardon me, Mrs. Arnot," he said emphatically, raising his head, and dashing away bitter tears; "the world has decided that question for me, and all have said in one harsh, united voice, 'You shall not rise.' It has ground me under its heel as vindictively as if I were a viper. You are so unlike the world that you don't know it. It has given me no chance whatever."
"Egbert, what have you to do with the world?"
"God knows I wanted to recover what I had lost," he continued in the same rapid tone. "God knows I left this cell weeks since with the honest purpose of working my way up to a position that would entitle me to your respect, and change my mother's shame into pride. But I found a mad-dog cry raised against me. And this professedly Christian town has fairly hunted me back to this prison."
Mrs. Arnot sighed deeply, but after a moment said, "I do not excuse the Christian town, neither can I excuse you."
"You too, then, blame me, and side against me."
"No, Egbert, I side with you, and yet I blame you deeply; but I pity you more."
He rose, and paced the cell with his old, restless steps. "It's no use," he said; "the world says, 'Go to the devil,' and gives me no chance to do otherwise."
"Do you regard the world--whatever you may mean by the phrase--as your friend?"
"Friend!" he repeated, with bitter emphasis.
"Why, then, do you take its advice? I did not come here to tell you to go to perdition."
"But if the world sets its face against me like a flint, what is there for me to do but to remain in prison or hide in a desert, unless I do what I had purposed, defy it and strike back, though it be only as a worm that tries to sting the foot that crushes it."
"Egbert, if you should die, the world would forget that you had ever existed, in a few days."
"Certainly. It would give me merely a passing thought as of a nuisance that had been abated."
"Well, then, would it not be wise to forget the world for a little while? You are shut away from it for the present, and it cannot molest you. In the meantime you can settle some very important personal questions. The world has power over your fate only as you give it power. You need not lie like a helpless worm in its path, waiting to be crushed. Get up like a man, and take care of yourself. The world may let you starve, but it cannot prevent you from becoming good and true and manly; if you do become so, however, rest assured the world will eventually find a place for you, and, perhaps, an honored place. But be that as it may, a good Christian man is sustained by something far more substantial than the world's breath."
Out of respect for Mrs. Arnot, Haldane was silent. He supposed that her proposed remedy for his desperate troubles was that he should "become a Christian," and to this phrase he had learned to give only the most conventional meaning.
"Becoming a Christian," in his estimation, was the making of certain professions, going through peculiar and abnormal experiences, and joining a church, the object of all this being to escape a "wrath to come" in the indefinite future. To begin with, he had not the slightest idea how to set in motion these spiritual evolutions, had he desired them; and to his intense and practical nature the whole subject was as unattractive as a library of musty and scholastic books. He wanted some remedy that applied to this world, and would help him now. He did not associate Mrs. Arnot's action with Christian principle, but believed it to be due to the peculiar and natural kindness of her heart. Christians in general had not troubled themselves about him, and, as far as he could judge, had turned as coldly from him as had others. His mother had always been regarded as an eminently religious woman, and yet he knew that she was morbidly sensitive to the world's opinion and society's verdict.
From childhood he had associated religion with numerous Sunday restraints and the immaculate mourning-dress which seemed chiefly to occupy his mother's thoughts during the hour preceding service. He had no conception of a faith that could be to him what the Master's strong sustaining hand was to the disciple who suddenly found himself sinking in a stormy sea.
It is not strange that the distressed in body or mind turn away from a religion of dreary formalities and vague, uncomprehended mental processes. Instant and practical help is what is craved; and just such help Christ ever gave when he came to manifest God's will and ways to men. By whose authority do some religious teachers now lead the suffering through such a round-about, intricate, or arid path of things to be done and doctrines to be accepted before bringing them to Christ?
But when a mind has become mystified with preconceived ideas and prejudices, it is no easy task to reveal to it the truth, however simple. Mrs. Arnot had come into the light but slowly herself, and she had passed through too many deep and prolonged spiritual experiences to hope for any immediate and radical change in Haldane. Indeed, she was in great doubt whether he would ever receive the faithful words she proposed speaking to him; and she fully believed that anything he attempted in his own strength would again end in disheartening failure.
"Egbert," she said gently, but very gravely, "have you fully settled it in your own mind that I am your friend and wish you well?"
"How can I believe otherwise, since you are here, and speaking to me as you do?"
"Well, I am going to test your faith in me and my kindness. I am going to speak plainly, and perhaps you may think even harshly. You are very sick, and if I am to be your physician I must give you some sharp, decisive treatment. Will you remember through it all that my only motive is to make you well?"
"I will try to."
"You have kept away from me a long time. Perhaps when released from this place you will again avoid me, and I may never have another opportunity like the present. Now, while you have a chance to think, I am going to ask you to face the consequences of your present course. Within an hour after passing out of this cell you will have it in your power to trample on your better nature and stupefy your mind. But now, if you will, you have a chance to use the powers God has given you, and settle finally on your plan of life."
"I have already trampled on my manhood--what is worse, I have lost it. I haven't any courage or strength left."
"That can scarcely be true of one but little more than twenty. You are to be here in quietness for the next ten days, I learn. It is my intention, so far as it is in my power to bring it about, that you deliberately face the consequences of your present course during this time. By the consequences I do not mean what the world will think of you, but, rather, the personal results of your action--what you must suffer while you are in the world, and what you must suffer when far beyond the world. Egbert, are you pleased with yourself? are you satisfied with yourself?"
"I loathe myself."
"You can get away from the world--you are away from it now, and soon you will be away from it finally--but you can never get away from yourself. Are you willing to face an eternal consciousness of defeat, failure, and personal baseness?"
He shuddered, but was silent.
"There is no place in God's pure heaven for the drunkard--the morally loathsome and deformed. Are you willing to be swept away among the chaff and the thorns, and to have, forever, the shameful and humiliating knowledge that you rightfully belong to the rubbish of the universe? Are you willing to have a sleepless memory tell you in every torturing way possible what a noble, happy man you might have been, but would not be? Your power to drown memory and conscience, and stupefy your mind, will last a little while only at best. How are you going to endure the time when you must remember everything and think of everything? These are more important questions than what the world thinks of you."
"Have you no pity?" he groaned.
"Yes, my heart overflows with pity. Is it not kindness to tell you whither your path is leading? If I had the power I would lay hold of you, and force you to come with me into the path of life and safety," she answered, with a rush of tears to her eyes.
Her sympathy touched him deeply, and disarmed her words of all power to awaken resentment.
"Mrs. Arnot," he cried, passionately, "I did mean--I did try--to do better when I left this place; but, between my own accursed weakness and the hard-hearted world, I am here again, and almost without hope."
"Egbert, though I did not discourage you at the time, I had little hope of your accomplishing anything when you left this cell some weeks since. You went out to regain your old position and the world's favor, as one might look for a jewel or sum of money he had lost. You can never gain even these advantages in the way you proposed, and if you enjoy them again the cause will exist, not in what you do only, but chiefly in what you are. When you started out to win the favor of society, from which you had been alienated partly by misfortune, but largely through your own wrong action, there was no radical change in your character, or even in your controlling motives. You regretted the evil because of its immediate and disagreeable consequences. I do not excuse the world's harshness toward the erring; but, after all, if you can disabuse your mind of prejudice you will admit that its action is very natural, and would, probably, have been your own before you passed under this cloud. Consider what the world knows of you. It, after all, is quite shrewd in judging whom it may trust and whom it is safe to keep at arm's-length. Knowing yourself and your own weaknesses as you do, could you honestly recommend yourself to the confidence of any one? With your character unchanged, what guarantee have you against the first temptation or gust of passion to which you are subjected? You had no lack of wounded pride and ambition when you started out, but you will surely admit that such feelings are of little value compared with Christian integrity and manly principle, which render anything dishonorable or base impossible.
"I do not consider the world's favor worth very much, but the world's respect is, for it usually respects only what is respectable. As you form a character that you can honestly respect yourself, you will find society gradually learning to share in that esteem. Believe me, Egbert, if you ever regain the world's lost favor, which you value so highly, you will discover the first earnest of it in your own changed and purified character. The world will pay no heed to any amount of self-assertion, and will remain equally indifferent to appeals and upbraidings; but sooner or later it will find out just what you are in your essential life, and will estimate you accordingly. I have dwelt on this phase of your misfortune fully, because I see that it weighs so heavily on your heart. Can you accept my judgment in the matter? Remember, I have lived nearly three times as long as you have, and speak from ripe experience. I have always been a close observer of society, and am quite sure I am right. If you were my own son I would use the same words."
"Mrs. Arnot," he replied slowly, with contracted brow, "you are giving me much to think about. I fear I have been as stupid as I have been bad. My whole life seems one wretched blunder."
"Ah, if you will only think, I shall have strong hopes of you. But in measuring these questions do not use the inch rule of time and earth only. As I have said before, remember you will soon have done with earth forever, but never can you get away from God, nor be rid of yourself. You are on wretched terms with both, and will be, whatever happens, until your nature is brought into harmony with God's will. We are so made, so designed in our every fibre, that evil tortures us like a diseased nerve; and it always will till we get rid of it. Therefore, Egbert, remember--O that I could burn it into your consciousness--the best that you can gain from your proposed evil course is a brief respite in base and sensual stupefaction, or equally artificial and unmanly excitement, and then endless waking, bitter memories, and torturing regret. Face this truth now, before it is too late. Good-by for a time. I will come again when I can; or you can send for me when you please;" and she gave him her hand in cordial pressure.
He did not say a word, but his face was very white, and it was evident that her faithful words had opened a prospect that had simply appalled him.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.