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Chapter 23

THE END OF THE EVENING.


What specially delighted me during the evening, was the marked attention, and the serious look in the eyes, with which Roger listened. It was not often that he did look serious. He preferred, if possible, to get a joke out of a thing; but when he did enter into an argument, he was always fair. Although prone to take the side of objection to any religious remark, he yet never said any thing against religion itself. But his principles, and indeed his nature, seemed as yet in a state of solution,--uncrystallized, as my father would say. Mr. Morley, on the other hand, seemed an insoluble mass, incapable of receiving impressions from other minds. Any suggestion of his own mind, as to a course of action or a mode of thinking, had a good chance of being without question regarded as reasonable and right: he was more than ordinarily prejudiced in his own favor. The day after they thus met at our house, Miss Clare had a letter from him, in which he took the high hand with her, rebuking her solemnly for her presumption in saying, as he represented it, that no good could be done except after the fashion she laid down, and assuring her that she would thus alienate the most valuable assistance from any scheme she might cherish for the amelioration of the condition of the lower classes. It ended with the offer of a yearly subscription of five pounds to any project of the wisdom of which she would take the trouble to convince him. She replied, thanking him both, for his advice and his offer, but saying that, as she had no scheme on foot requiring such assistance, she could not at present accept the latter; should, however, any thing show itself for which that sort of help was desirable, she would take the liberty of reminding him of it.

When the ladies rose, Judy took me aside, and said,--

"What does it all mean, Wynnie?"

"Just what you hear," I answered.

"You asked us, to have a triumph over me, you naughty thing!"

"Well--partly--if I am to be honest; but far more to make you do justice to Miss Clare. You being my cousin, she had a right to that at my hands."

"Does Lady Bernard know as much about her as she seems?"

"She knows every thing about her, and visits her, too, in her very questionable abode. You see, Judy, a report may be a fact, and yet be untrue."

"I'm not going to be lectured by a chit like you. But I should like to have a little talk with Miss Clare."

"I will make you an opportunity."

I did so, and could not help overhearing a very pretty apology; to which Miss Clare replied, that she feared she only was to blame, inasmuch as she ought to have explained the peculiarity of her circumstances before accepting the engagement. At the time, it had not appeared to her necessary, she said; but now she would make a point of explaining before she accepted any fresh duty of the kind, for she saw it would be fairer to both parties. It was no wonder such an answer should entirely disarm cousin Judy, who forthwith begged she would, if she had no objection, resume her lessons with the children at the commencement of the next quarter.

"But I understand from Mrs. Percivale," objected Miss Clare, "that the office is filled to your thorough satisfaction."

"Yes; the lady I have is an excellent teacher; but the engagement was only for a quarter."

"If you have no other reason for parting with her, I could not think of stepping into her place. It would be a great disappointment to her, and my want of openness with you would be the cause of it. If you should part with her for any other reason, I should be very glad to serve you again."

Judy tried to argue with her, but Miss Clare was immovable.

"Will you let me come and see you, then?" said Judy.

"With all my heart," she answered. "You had better come with Mrs. Percivale, though, for it would not be easy for you to find the place."

We went up to the drawing-room to tea, passing through the study, and taking the gentlemen with us. Miss Clare played to us, and sang several songs,--the last a ballad of Schiller's, "The Pilgrim," setting forth the constant striving of the soul after something of which it never lays hold. The last verse of it I managed to remember. It was this:--


  Thither, ah! no footpath bendeth;
    Ah! the heaven above, so clear,
  Never, earth to touch, descendeth;
    And the There is never Here!"


"That is a beautiful song, and beautifully sung," said Mr. Blackstone; "but I am a little surprised at your choosing to sing it, for you cannot call it a Christian song."

"Don't you find St. Paul saying something very like it again and again?" Miss Clare returned with a smile, as if she perfectly knew what he objected to. "You find him striving, journeying, pressing on, reaching out to lay hold, but never having attained,--ever conscious of failure."

"That is true; but there is this huge difference,--that St. Paul expects to attain,--is confident of one day attaining; while Schiller, in that lyric at least, seems--I only say seems--hopeless of any satisfaction: Das Dort ist niemals Hier."

"It may have been only a mood," said Miss Clare. "St. Paul had his moods also, from which he had to rouse himself to fresh faith and hope and effort."

"But St. Paul writes only in his hopeful moods. Such alone he counts worthy of sharing with his fellows. If there is no hope, why, upon any theory, take the trouble to say so? It is pure weakness to desire sympathy in hopelessness. Hope alone justifies as well as excites either utterance or effort."

"I admit all you say, Mr. Blackstone; and yet I think such a poem invaluable; for is not Schiller therein the mouth of the whole creation groaning and travailling and inarticulately crying out for the sonship?"

"Unconsciously, then. He does not know what he wants."

"Apparently, not. Neither does the creation. Neither do we. We do know it is oneness with God we want; but of what that means we have only vague, though glowing hints."

I saw Mr. Morley scratch his left ear like a young calf, only more impatiently.

"But," Miss Clare went on, "is it not invaluable as the confession of one of the noblest of spirits, that he had found neither repose nor sense of attainment?"

"But," said Roger, "did you ever know any one of those you call Christians who professed to have reached satisfaction; or, if so, whose life would justify you in believing him?"

"I have never known a satisfied Christian, I confess," answered Miss Clare. "Indeed, I should take satisfaction as a poor voucher for Christianity. But I have known several contented Christians. I might, in respect of one or two of them, use a stronger word,--certainly not satisfied. I believe there is a grand, essential unsatisfaction,--I do not mean dissatisfaction,--which adds the delight of expectation to the peace of attainment; and that, I presume, is the very consciousness of heaven. But where faith may not have produced even contentment, it will yet sustain hope: which, if we may judge from the ballad, no mere aspiration can. We must believe in a living ideal, before we can have a tireless heart; an ideal which draws our poor vague ideal to itself, to fill it full and make it alive."

I should have been amazed to hear Miss Clare talk like this, had I not often heard my father say that aspiration and obedience were the two mightiest forces for development. Her own needs and her own deeds had been her tutors; and the light by which she had read their lessons was the candle of the Lord within her.

When my husband would have put her into Lady Bernard's carriage, as they were leaving, she said she should prefer walking home; and, as Lady Bernard did not press her to the contrary, Percivale could not remonstrate. "I am sorry I cannot walk with you, Miss Clare," he said. "I must not leave my duties, but"--

"There's not the slightest occasion," she interrupted. "I know every yard of the way. Good-night."

The carriage drove off in one direction, and Miss Clare tripped lightly along in the other. Percivale darted into the house, and told Roger, who snatched up his hat, and bounded after her. Already she was out of sight; but he, following light-footed, overtook her in the crescent. It was, however, only after persistent entreaty that he prevailed on her to allow him to accompany her.

"You do not know, Mr. Roger," she said pleasantly, "what you may be exposing yourself to, in going with me. I may have to do something you wouldn't like to have a share in."

"I shall be only too glad to have the humblest share in any thing you draw me into," said Roger.

As it fell out, they had not gone far before they came upon a little crowd, chiefly of boys, who ought to have been in bed long before, gathered about a man and woman. The man was forcing his company on a woman who was evidently annoyed that she could not get rid of him.

"Is he your husband?" asked Miss Clare, making her way through the crowd.

"No, miss," the woman answered. "I never saw him afore. I'm only just come in from the country."

She looked more angry than frightened. Roger said her black eyes flashed dangerously, and she felt about the bosom of her dress--for a knife, he was certain.

"You leave her alone," he said to the man, getting between him and her.

"Mind your own business," returned the man, in a voice that showed he was drunk.

For a moment Roger was undecided what to do; for he feared involving Miss Clare in a row, as he called it. But when the fellow, pushing suddenly past him, laid his hand on Miss Clare, and shoved her away, he gave him a blow that sent him staggering into the street; whereupon, to his astonishment, Miss Clare, leaving the woman, followed the man, and as soon as he had recovered his equilibrium, laid her hand on his arm and spoke to him, but in a voice so low and gentle that Roger, who had followed her, could not hear a word she said. For a moment or two the man seemed to try to listen, but his condition was too much for him; and, turning from her, he began again to follow the woman, who was now walking wearily away. Roger again interposed.

"Don't strike him, Mr. Roger," cried Miss Clare: "he's too drunk for that. But keep him back if you can, while I take the woman away. If I see a policeman, I will send him."

The man heard her last words, and they roused him to fury. He rushed at Roger, who, implicitly obedient, only dodged to let him pass, and again confronted him, engaging his attention until help arrived. He was, however, by this time so fierce and violent, that Roger felt bound to assist the policeman.

As soon as the man was locked up, he went to Lime Court. The moon was shining, and the narrow passage lay bright beneath her. Along the street, people were going and coming, though it was past midnight, but the court was very still. He walked into it as far as the spot where we had together seen Miss Clare. The door at which she had entered was open; but he knew nothing of the house or its people, and feared to compromise her by making inquiries. He walked several times up and down, somewhat anxious, but gradually persuading himself that in all probability no further annoyance had befallen her; until at last he felt able to leave the place.

He came back to our house, where, finding his brother at his final pipe in the study, he told him all about their adventure.


George MacDonald