Chapter XII. A Sunday.




A man may be a heretic in the truth; and if he believe things only
because his pastor says so, or the assembly so determines, without
knowing other reason, though his belief be true, yet the very truth
he holds becomes his heresy.--MILTON.--Areopagitica.

At length the expected visitors arrived. Hugh saw nothing of them till they assembled for dinner. Mrs. Elton was a benevolent old lady--not old enough to give in to being old--rather tall, and rather stout, in rich widow-costume, whose depth had been moderated by time. Her kindly grey eyes looked out from a calm face, which seemed to have taken comfort from loving everybody in a mild and moderate fashion. Lady Emily was a slender girl, rather shy, with fair hair, and a pale innocent face. She wore a violet dress, which put out her blue eyes. She showed to no advantage beside the suppressed glow of life which made Euphra look like a tropical twilight--I am aware there is no such thing, but if there were, it would be just like her.

Mrs. Elton seemed to have concentrated the motherhood of her nature, which was her most prominent characteristic, notwithstanding--or perhaps in virtue of--her childlessness, upon Lady Emily. To her Mrs. Elton was solicitously attentive; and she, on her part, received it all sweetly and gratefully, taking no umbrage at being treated as more of an invalid than she was.

Lady Emily ate nothing but chicken, and custard-pudding or rice, all the time she was at Arnstead.

The richer and more seasoned any dish, the more grateful it was to Euphra.

Mr. Arnold was a saddle-of-mutton man.

Hugh preferred roast-beef, but ate anything.

"What sort of a clergyman have you now, Mr. Arnold?" asked Mrs. Elton, at the dinner-table.

"Oh! a very respectable young gentleman, brother to Sir Richard, who has the gift, you know. A very moderate, excellent clergyman he makes, too!"

"All! but you know, Lady Emily and I"--here she looked at Lady Emily, who smiled and blushed faintly, "are very dependent on our Sundays, and"--

"We all go to church regularly, I assure you, Mrs. Elton; and of course my carriage shall be always at your disposal."

"I was in no doubt about either of those things, indeed, Mr. Arnold. But what sort of a preacher is he?"

"Ah, well! let me see.--What was the subject of his sermon last Sunday, Euphra, my dear?"

"The devil and all his angels," answered Euphra, with a wicked flash in her eyes.

"Yes, yes; so it was. Oh! I assure you, Mrs. Elton, he is quite a respectable preacher, as well as clergyman. He is an honour to the cloth."

Hugh could not help thinking that the tailor should have his due, and that Mr. Arnold gave it him.

"He is no Puseyite either," added Mr. Arnold, seeing but not understanding Mrs. Elton's baffled expression, "though he does preach once a month in his surplice."

"I am afraid you will not find him very original, though," said Hugh, wishing to help the old lady.

"Original!" interposed Mr. Arnold. "Really, I am bound to say I don't know how the remark applies. How is a man to be original on a subject that is all laid down in plain print--to use a vulgar expression--and has been commented upon for eighteen hundred years and more?"

"Very true, Mr. Arnold," responded Mrs. Elton. "We don't want originality, do we? It is only the gospel we want. Does he preach the gospel?"

"How can he preach anything else? His text is always out of some part of the Bible."

"I am glad to see you hold by the Inspiration of the Scriptures, Mr. Arnold," said Mrs. Elton, chaotically bewildered.

"Good heavens! Madam, what do you mean? Could you for a moment suppose me to be an atheist? Surely you have not become a student of German Neology?" And Mr. Arnold smiled a grim smile.

"Not I, indeed!" protested poor Mrs. Elton, moving uneasily in her seat;--"I quite agree with you, Mr. Arnold."

"Then you may take my word for it, that you will hear nothing but what is highly orthodox, and perfectly worthy of a gentleman and a clergyman, from the pulpit of Mr. Penfold. He dined with us only last week."

This last assertion was made in an injured tone, just sufficient to curl the tail of the sentence. After which, what was to be said?

Several vain attempts followed, before a new subject was started, sufficiently uninteresting to cause, neither from warmth nor stupidity, any danger of dissension, and quite worthy of being here omitted.

Dinner over, and the ceremony of tea--in Lady Emily's case, milk and water--having been observed, the visitors withdrew.

The next day was Sunday. Lady Emily came down stairs in black, which suited her better. She was a pretty, gentle creature, interesting from her illness, and good, because she knew no evil, except what she heard of from the pulpit. They walked to church, which was at no great distance, along a meadow-path paved with flags, some of them worn through by the heavy shoes of country generations. The church was one of those which are, in some measure, typical of the Church itself; for it was very old, and would have been very beautiful, had it not been all plastered over, and whitened to a smooth uniformity of ugliness--the attempt having been more successful in the case of the type. The open roof had had a French heaven added to it--I mean a ceiling; and the pillars, which, even if they were not carved--though it was impossible to come to a conclusion on that point--must yet have been worn into the beauty of age, had been filled up, and stained with yellow ochre. Even the remnants of stained glass in some of the windows, were half concealed by modern appliances for the partial exclusion of the light. The church had fared as Chaucer in the hands of Dryden. So had the truth, that flickered through the sermon, fared in the hands of the clergyman, or of the sermon-wright whose manuscript he had bought for eighteen pence--I am told that sermons are to be procured at that price--on his last visit to London. Having, although a Scotchman, had an episcopalian education, Hugh could not help rejoicing that not merely the Bible, but the Church-service as well, had been fixed beyond the reach of such degenerating influences as those which had operated on the more material embodiments of religion; for otherwise such would certainly have been the first to operate, and would have found the greatest scope in any alteration. We may hope that nothing but a true growth in such religion as needs and seeks new expression for new depth and breadth of feeling, will ever be permitted to lay the hand of change upon it--a hand, otherwise, of desecration and ruin.

The sermon was chiefly occupied with proving that God is no respecter of persons; a mark of indubitable condescension in the clergyman, the rank in society which he could claim for himself duly considered. But, unfortunately, the church was so constructed, that its area contained three platforms of position, actually of differing level; the loftiest, in the chancel, on the right hand of the pulpit, occupied by the gentry; the middle, opposite the pulpit, occupied by the tulip-beds of their servants; and the third, on the left of the pulpit, occupied by the common parishioners. Unfortunately, too, by the perpetuation of some old custom, whose significance was not worn out, all on the left of the pulpit were expected, as often as they stood up to sing--which was three times--to turn their backs to the pulpit, and so face away from the chancel where the gentry stood. But there was not much inconsistency, after all; the sermon founding its argument chiefly on the antithetical facts, that death, lowering the rich to the level of the poor, was a dead leveller; and that, on the other hand, the life to come would raise the poor to the level of the rich. It was a pity that there was no phrase in the language to justify him in carrying out the antithesis, and so balancing his sentence like a rope-walker, by saying that life was a live leveller. The sermon ended with a solemn warning: "Those who neglect the gospel-scheme, and never think of death and judgment--be they rich or poor, be they wise or ignorant--whether they dwell in the palace or the hut--shall be damned. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost," &c.

Lady Emily was forced to confess that she had not been much interested in the sermon. Mrs. Elton thought he spoke plainly, but there was not much of the gospel in it. Mr. Arnold opined that people should not go to church to hear sermons, but to make the responses; whoever read prayers, it made no difference, for the prayers were the Church's, not the parson's; and for the sermon, as long as it showed the uneducated how to be saved, and taught them to do their duty in the station of life to which God had called them, and so long as the parson preached neither Puseyism nor Radicalism--(he frowned solemnly and disgustedly as he repeated the word)--nor Radicalism, it was of comparatively little moment whether he was a man of intellect or not, for he could not go wrong.

Little was said in reply to this, except something not very audible or definite, by Mrs. Elton, about the necessity of faith. The conversation, which took place at luncheon, flagged, and the visitors withdrew to their respective rooms, to comfort themselves with their Daily Portions.

At dinner, Mr. Arnold, evidently believing he had made an impression by his harangue of the morning, resumed the subject. Hugh was a little surprised to find that he had, even of a negative sort, strong opinions on the subject of religion.

"What do you think, then, Mrs. Elton, my dear madam, that a clergyman ought to preach?"

"I think, Mr. Arnold, that he ought to preach salvation by faith in the merits of the Saviour."

"Oh! of course, of course. We shall not differ about that. Everybody believes that."

"I doubt it very much.--He ought, in order that men may believe, to explain the divine plan, by which the demands of divine justice are satisfied, and the punishment due to sin averted from the guilty, and laid upon the innocent; that, by bearing our sins, he might make atonement to the wrath of a justly offended God; and so--"

"Now, my dear madam, permit me to ask what right we, the subjects of a Supreme Authority, have to inquire into the reasons of his doings? It seems to me--I should be sorry to offend any one, but it seems to me quite as presumptuous as the present arrogance of the lower classes in interfering with government, and demanding a right to give their opinion, forsooth, as to the laws by which they shall be governed; as if they were capable of understanding the principles by which kings rule, and governors decree justice.--I believe I quote Scripture."

"Are we, then, to remain in utter ignorance of the divine character?"

"What business have we with the divine character? Or how could we understand it? It seems to me we have enough to do with our own. Do I inquire into the character of my sovereign? All we have to do is, to listen to what we are told by those who are educated for such studies, whom the Church approves, and who are appointed to take care of the souls committed to their charge; to teach them to respect their superiors, and to lead honest, hard-working lives."

Much more of the same sort flowed from the oracular lips of Mr. Arnold. When he ceased, he found that the conversation had ceased also. As soon as the ladies withdrew, he said, without looking at Hugh, as he filled his glass:

"Mr. Sutherland, I hate cant."

And so he canted against it.

But the next day, and during the whole week, he seemed to lay himself out to make amends for the sharpness of his remarks on the Sunday. He was afraid he had made his guests uncomfortable, and so sinned against his own character as a host. Everything that he could devise, was brought to bear for their entertainment; daily rides in the open carriage, in which he always accompanied them, to show his estate, and the improvements he was making upon it; visits sometimes to the more deserving, as he called them, of the poor upon his property--the more deserving being the most submissive and obedient to the wishes of their lord; inspections of the schools, &c., &c.; in all of which matters he took a stupid, benevolent interest. For if people would be content to occupy the corner in which he chose to place them, he would throw them morsel after morsel, as long as ever they chose to pick it up. But woe to them if they left this corner a single pace!

Euphra made one of the party always; and it was dreary indeed for Hugh to be left in the desolate house without her, though but for a few hours. And when she was at home, she never yet permitted him to speak to her alone.

There might have been some hope for Harry in Hugh's separation from Euphra; but the result was, that, although he spent school-hours more regularly with him, Hugh was yet more dull, and uninterested in the work, than he had been before. Instead of caring that his pupil should understand this or that particular, he would be speculating on Euphra's behaviour, trying to account for this or that individual look or tone, or seeking, perhaps, a special symbolic meaning in some general remark that she had happened to let fall. Meanwhile, poor Harry would be stupifying himself with work which he could not understand for lack of some explanation or other that ought to have been given him weeks ago. Still, however, he clung to Hugh with a far-off, worshipping love, never suspecting that he could be to blame, but thinking at one time that he must be ill, at another that he himself was really too stupid, and that his big brother could not help getting tired of him. When Hugh would be wandering about the place, seeking to catch a glimpse of the skirt of Euphra's dress, as she went about with her guests, or devising how he could procure an interview with her alone, Harry would be following him at a distance, like a little terrier that had lost its master, and did not know whether this man would be friendly or not; never spying on his actions, but merely longing to be near him--for had not Hugh set him going in the way of life, even if he had now left him to walk in it alone? If Hugh could have once seen into that warm, true, pining little heart, he would not have neglected it as he did. He had no eyes, however, but for Euphra.

Still, it may be that even now Harry was able to gather, though with tears, some advantage from Hugh's neglect. He used to wander about alone; and it may be that the hints which his tutor had already given him, enabled him now to find for himself the interest belonging to many objects never before remarked. Perhaps even now he began to take a few steps alone; the waking independence of which was of more value for the future growth of his nature, than a thousand miles accomplished by the aid of the strong arm of his tutor. One certain advantage was, that the constitutional trouble of the boy's nature had now assumed a definite form, by gathering around a definite object, and blending its own shadowy being with the sorrow he experienced from the loss of his tutor's sympathy. Should that sorrow ever be cleared away, much besides might be cleared away along with it.

Meantime, nature found some channels, worn by his grief, through which her comforts, that, like waters, press on all sides, and enter at every cranny and fissure in the house of life, might gently flow into him with their sympathetic soothing. Often he would creep away to the nest which Hugh had built and then forsaken; and seated there in the solitude of the wide-bourgeoned oak, he would sometimes feel for a moment as if lifted up above the world and its sorrows, to be visited by an all-healing wind from God, that came to him, through the wilderness of leaves around him---gently, like all powerful things.

But I am putting the boy's feelings into forms and words for him. He had none of either for them.



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