Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 7

At the sound of a new voice the lady in the bower started, as
he could see by her outline through the crevices of the wood-
work and creepers. The minister looked surprised.

'You will lend me your Bible, sir, to assist my memory?' he
continued.

The minister held out the Bible with some reluctance, but he
allowed Somerset to take it from his hand. The latter,
stepping upon a large moss-covered stone which stood near, and
laying his hat on a flat beech bough that rose and fell behind
him, pointed to the minister to seat himself on the grass.
The minister looked at the grass, and looked up again at
Somerset, but did not move.

Somerset for the moment was not observing him. His new
position had turned out to be exactly opposite the open side
of the bower, and now for the first time he beheld the
interior. On the seat was the woman who had stood beneath his
eyes in the chapel, the 'Paula' of Miss De Stancy's
enthusiastic eulogies. She wore a summer hat, beneath which
her fair curly hair formed a thicket round her forehead. It
would be impossible to describe her as she then appeared. Not
sensuous enough for an Aphrodite, and too subdued for a Hebe,
she would yet, with the adjunct of doves or nectar, have stood
sufficiently well for either of those personages, if presented
in a pink morning light, and with mythological scarcity of
attire.

Half in surprise she glanced up at him; and lowering her eyes
again, as if no surprise were ever let influence her actions
for more than a moment, she sat on as before, looking past
Somerset's position at the view down the river, visible for a
long distance before her till it was lost under the bending
trees.

Somerset turned over the leaves of the minister's Bible, and
began:--

'In the First Epistle to the Corinthians, the seventh chapter
and the fourteenth verse--'.

Here the young lady raised her eyes in spite of her reserve,
but it being, apparently, too much labour to keep them raised,
allowed her glance to subside upon her jet necklace, extending
it with the thumb of her left hand.

'Sir!' said the Baptist excitedly, 'I know that passage well--
it is the last refuge of the Paedobaptists--I foresee your
argument. I have met it dozens of times, and it is not worth
that snap of the fingers! It is worth no more than the
argument from circumcision, or the Suffer-little-children
argument.'

'Then turn to the sixteenth chapter of the Acts, and the
thirty-third--'

'That, too,' cried the minister, 'is answered by what I said
before! I perceive, sir, that you adopt the method of a
special pleader, and not that of an honest inquirer. Is it,
or is it not, an answer to my proofs from the eighth chapter
of the Acts, the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh verses; the
sixteenth of Mark, sixteenth verse; second of Acts, forty-
first verse; the tenth and the forty-seventh verse; or the
eighteenth and eighth verse?'

'Very well, then. Let me prove the point by other reasoning--
by the argument from Apostolic tradition.' He threw the
minister's book upon the grass, and proceeded with his
contention, which comprised a fairly good exposition of the
earliest practice of the Church and inferences therefrom.
(When he reached this point an interest in his off-hand
arguments was revealed by the mobile bosom of Miss Paula
Power, though she still occupied herself by drawing out the
necklace. Testimony from Justin Martyr followed; with
inferences from Irenaeus in the expression, 'Omnes enim venit
per semetipsum salvare; omnes inquam, qui per eum renascuntur
in Deum, INFANTES et parvulos et pueros et juvenes.' (At the
sound of so much seriousness Paula turned her eyes upon the
speaker with attention.) He next adduced proof of the
signification of 'renascor' in the writings of the Fathers, as
reasoned by Wall; arguments from Tertullian's advice to defer
the rite; citations from Cyprian, Nazianzen, Chrysostom, and
Jerome; and briefly summed up the whole matter.

Somerset looked round for the minister as he concluded. But
the old man, after standing face to face with the speaker, had
turned his back upon him, and during the latter portions of
the attack had moved slowly away. He now looked back; his
countenance was full of commiserating reproach as he lifted
his hand, twice shook his head, and said, 'In the Epistle to
the Philippians, first chapter and sixteenth verse, it is
written that there are some who preach in contention and not
sincerely. And in the Second Epistle to Timothy, fourth
chapter and fourth verse, attention is drawn to those whose
ears refuse the truth, and are turned unto fables. I wish you
good afternoon, sir, and that priceless gift, SINCERITY.'

The minister vanished behind the trees; Somerset and Miss
Power being left confronting each other alone.

Somerset stepped aside from the stone, hat in hand, at the
same moment in which Miss Power rose from her seat. She
hesitated for an instant, and said, with a pretty girlish
stiffness, sweeping back the skirt of her dress to free her
toes in turning: 'Although you are personally unknown to me,
I cannot leave you without expressing my deep sense of your
profound scholarship, and my admiration for the thoroughness
of your studies in divinity.'

'Your opinion gives me great pleasure,' said Somerset, bowing,
and fairly blushing. 'But, believe me, I am no scholar, and
no theologian. My knowledge of the subject arises simply from
the accident that some few years ago I looked into the
question for a special reason. In the study of my profession
I was interested in the designing of fonts and baptisteries,
and by a natural process I was led to investigate the history
of baptism; and some of the arguments I then learnt up still
remain with me. That's the simple explanation of my
erudition.'

'If your sermons at the church only match your address to-day,
I shall not wonder at hearing that the parishioners are at
last willing to attend.'

It flashed upon Somerset's mind that she supposed him to be
the new curate, of whose arrival he had casually heard, during
his sojourn at the inn. Before he could bring himself to
correct an error to which, perhaps, more than to anything
else, was owing the friendliness of her manner, she went on,
as if to escape the embarrassment of silence:--

'I need hardly say that I at least do not doubt the sincerity
of your arguments.'

'Nevertheless, I was not altogether sincere,' he answered.

She was silent.

'Then why should you have delivered such a defence of me?' she
asked with simple curiosity.

Somerset involuntarily looked in her face for his answer.

Paula again teased the necklace. 'Would you have spoken so
eloquently on the other side if I--if occasion had served?'
she inquired shyly.

'Perhaps I would.'

Another pause, till she said, 'I, too, was insincere.'

'You?'

'I was.'

'In what way?,

'In letting him, and you, think I had been at all influenced
by authority, scriptural or patristic.'

'May I ask, why, then, did you decline the ceremony the other
evening?'

'Ah, you, too, have heard of it!' she said quickly.

'No.'

'What then?'

'I saw it.'

She blushed and looked down the river. 'I cannot give my
reasons,' she said.

'Of course not,' said Somerset.

'I would give a great deal to possess real logical dogmatism.'

'So would I.'

There was a moment of embarrassment: she wanted to get away,
but did not precisely know how. He would have withdrawn had
she not said, as if rather oppressed by her conscience, and
evidently still thinking him the curate: 'I cannot but feel
that Mr. Woodwell's heart has been unnecessarily wounded.'

'The minister's?'

'Yes. He is single-mindedness itself. He gives away nearly
all he has to the poor. He works among the sick, carrying
them necessaries with his own hands. He teaches the ignorant
men and lads of the village when he ought to be resting at
home, till he is absolutely prostrate from exhaustion, and
then he sits up at night writing encouraging letters to those
poor people who formerly belonged to his congregation in the
village, and have now gone away. He always offends ladies,
because he can't help speaking the truth as he believes it;
but he hasn't offended me!'

Her feelings had risen towards the end, so that she finished
quite warmly, and turned aside.

'I was not in the least aware that he was such a man,'
murmured Somerset, looking wistfully after the minister. . . .
'Whatever you may have done, I fear that I have grievously
wounded a worthy man's heart from an idle wish to engage in a
useless, unbecoming, dull, last-century argument.'

'Not dull,' she murmured, 'for it interested me.'

Somerset accepted her correction willingly. 'It was ill-
considered of me, however,' he said; 'and in his distress he
has forgotten his Bible.' He went and picked up the worn
volume from where it lay on the grass.

'You can easily win him to forgive you, by just following, and
returning the book to him,' she observed.

'I will,' said the young man impulsively. And, bowing to her,
he hastened along the river brink after the minister. He at
length saw his friend before him, leaning over the gate which
led from the private path into a lane, his cheek resting on
the palm of his hand with every outward sign of abstraction.
He was not conscious of Somerset's presence till the latter
touched him on the shoulder.

Never was a reconciliation effected more readily. When
Somerset said that, fearing his motives might be misconstrued,
he had followed to assure the minister of his goodwill and
esteem, Mr. Woodwell held out his hand, and proved his
friendliness in return by preparing to have the controversy on
their religious differences over again from the beginning,
with exhaustive detail. Somerset evaded this with alacrity,
and once having won his companion to other subjects he found
that the austere man had a smile as pleasant as an infant's on
the rare moments when he indulged in it; moreover, that he was
warmly attached to Miss Power.

'Though she gives me more trouble than all the rest of the
Baptist church in this district,' he said, 'I love her as my
own daughter. But I am sadly exercised to know what she is at
heart. Heaven supply me with fortitude to contest her wild
opinions, and intractability! But she has sweet virtues, and
her conduct at times can be most endearing.'

'I believe it!' said Somerset, with more fervour than mere
politeness required.

'Sometimes I think those Stancy towers and lands will be a
curse to her. The spirit of old papistical times still
lingers in the nooks of those silent walls, like a bad odour
in a still atmosphere, dulling the iconoclastic emotions of
the true Puritan. It would be a pity indeed if she were to be
tainted by the very situation that her father's indomitable
energy created for her.'

'Do not be concerned about her,' said Somerset gently. 'She's
not a Paedobaptist at heart, although she seems so.'

Mr. Woodwell placed his finger on Somerset's arm, saying, 'If
she's not a Paedobaptist, or Episcopalian; if she is not
vulnerable to the mediaeval influences of her mansion, lands,
and new acquaintance, it is because she's been vulnerable to
what is worse: to doctrines beside which the errors of
Paaedobaptists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, are but as
air.'

'How? You astonish me.'

'Have you heard in your metropolitan experience of a curious
body of New Lights, as they think themselves?' The minister
whispered a name to his listener, as if he were fearful of
being overheard.

'O no,' said Somerset, shaking his head, and smiling at the
minister's horror. 'She's not that; at least, I think not. .
. . She's a woman; nothing more. Don't fear for her; all
will be well.'

The poor old man sighed. 'I love her as my own. I will say
no more.'

Somerset was now in haste to go back to the lady, to ease her
apparent anxiety as to the result of his mission, and also
because time seemed heavy in the loss of her discreet voice
and soft, buoyant look. Every moment of delay began to be as
two. But the minister was too earnest in his converse to see
his companion's haste, and it was not till perception was
forced upon him by the actual retreat of Somerset that he
remembered time to be a limited commodity. He then expressed
his wish to see Somerset at his house to tea any afternoon he
could spare, and receiving the other's promise to call as soon
as he could, allowed the younger man to set out for the
summer-house, which he did at a smart pace. When he reached
it he looked around, and found she was gone.

Somerset was immediately struck by his own lack of social
dexterity. Why did he act so readily on the whimsical
suggestion of another person, and follow the minister, when he
might have said that he would call on Mr. Woodwell to-morrow,
and, making himself known to Miss Power as the visiting
architect of whom she had heard from Miss De Stancy, have had
the pleasure of attending her to the castle? 'That's what any
other man would have had wit enough to do!' he said.

There then arose the question whether her despatching him
after the minister was such an admirable act of good-nature to
a good man as it had at first seemed to be. Perhaps it was
simply a manoeuvre for getting rid of himself; and he
remembered his doubt whether a certain light in her eyes when
she inquired concerning his sincerity were innocent
earnestness or the reverse. As the possibility of levity
crossed his brain, his face warmed; it pained him to think
that a woman so interesting could condescend to a trick of
even so mild a complexion as that. He wanted to think her the
soul of all that was tender, and noble, and kind. The
pleasure of setting himself to win a minister's goodwill was a
little tarnished now.

Thomas Hardy