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Chapter 35

XXXV.

"Well?" said Sewell's wife, when they were gone.

"Well," he responded; and after a moment he said, "There's this comfort about it which we don't always have in such cases: there doesn't seem to be anybody else. It would be indefinitely worse if there were."

"Why, of course. What in the world are you thinking about?"

"About that foolish girl who came to me with her miserable love- trouble. I declare, I can't get rid of it. I feel morally certain that she went away from me and dismissed the poor fellow who was looking to her love to save him."

"At the cost of some other poor creature who'd trusted and believed in him till his silly fancy changed? I hope for the credit of women that she did. But you may be morally certain she did nothing of the kind. Girls don't give up all their hopes in life so easily as that. She might think she would do it, because she had read of such things, and thought it was fine, but when it came to the pinch, she wouldn't."

"I hope not. If she did she would commit a great error, a criminal error."

"Well, you needn't be afraid. Look at Mrs. Tom Corey. And that was her own sister!"

"That was different. Corey had never thought of her sister, much less made love to her, or promised to marry her. Besides, Mrs. Corey had her father and mother to advise her, and support her in behaving sensibly. And this poor creature had nothing but her own novel fed fancies, and her crazy conscience. She thought that because she inflicted suffering upon herself she was acting unselfishly. Really the fakirs of India and the Penitentes of New Mexico are more harmless; for they don't hurt any one else. If she has forced some poor fellow into a marriage like this of Barker's she's committed a deadly sin. She'd better driven him to suicide, than condemned him to live a lie to the end of his days. No doubt she regarded it as a momentary act of expiation. That's the way her romances taught her to look at loveless marriage—as something spectacular, transitory, instead of the enduring, degrading squalor that it is!"

"What in the world are you talking about, David? I should think you were a novelist yourself, by the wild way you go on! You have no proof whatever that Barker isn't happily engaged. I'm sure he's got a much better girl than he deserves, and one that's fully his equal. She's only too fond of that dry stick. Such a girl as the one you described,—like that mysterious visitor of yours,—what possible relation could she have with him? She was a lady!"

"Yes, yes! Of course, it's absurd. But everybody seems to be tangled up with everybody else. My dear, will you give me a cup of tea? I think I'll go to writing at once."

Before she left her husband to order his tea Mrs. Sewell asked, "And do you think you have got through with him now?"

"I have just begun with him," replied Sewell.

His mind, naturally enough in connection with Lemuel, was running upon his friend Evans, and the subject they had once talked of in that room. It was primarily in thinking of him that he begun to write his sermon on Complicity, which made a great impression at the time, and had a more lasting effect as enlarged from the newspaper reports, and reprinted in pamphlet form. His evolution from the text, "Remember them that are in bonds as bound with them," of a complete philosophy of life, was humorously treated by some of his critics as a phase of Darwinism, but upon the whole the sermon met with great favour. It not only strengthened Sewell's hold upon the affections of his own congregation, but carried his name beyond Boston, and made him the topic of editorials in the Sunday editions of leading newspapers as far off as Chicago. It struck one of those popular moods of intelligent sympathy when the failure of a large class of underpaid and worthy workers to assert their right to a living wage against a powerful monopoly had sent a thrill of respectful pity through every generous heart in the country; and it was largely supposed that Sewell's sermon referred indirectly to the telegraphers' strike. Those who were aware of his habit of seeking to produce a personal rather than a general effect, of his belief that you can have a righteous public only by the slow process of having righteous men and women, knew that he meant something much nearer home to each of his hearers when he preached the old Christ- humanity to them, and enforced again the lessons that no one for good or for evil, for sorrow or joy, for sickness or health, stood apart from his fellows, but each was bound to the highest and the lowest by ties that centred in the hand of God. No man, he said, sinned or suffered to himself alone; his error and his pain darkened and afflicted men who never heard of his name. If a community was corrupt, if an age was immoral, it was not because of the vicious, but the virtuous who fancied themselves indifferent spectators. It was not the tyrant who oppressed, it was the wickedness that had made him possible. The gospel—Christ—God, so far as men had imagined him,—was but a lesson, a type, a witness from everlasting to everlasting of the spiritual unity of man. As we grew in grace, in humanity, in civilisation, our recognition of this truth would be transfigured from a duty to a privilege, a joy, a heavenly rapture. Many men might go through life harmlessly without realising this, perhaps, but sterilely; only those who had had the care of others laid upon them, lived usefully, fruitfully. Let no one shrink from such a burden, or seek to rid himself of it. Rather let him bind it fast upon his neck, and rejoice in it. The wretched, the foolish, the ignorant whom we found at every turn, were something more; they were the messengers of God, sent to tell his secret to any that would hear it. Happy he in whose ears their cry for help was a perpetual voice, for that man, whatever his creed, knew God and could never forget him. In his responsibility for his weaker brethren he was Godlike, for God was but the impersonation of loving responsibility, of infinite and never-ceasing care for us all.

When Sewell came down from his pulpit, many people came up to speak to him of his sermon. Some of the women's faces showed the traces of tears, and each person had made its application to himself. There were two or three who had heard between the words. Old Bromfield Corey, who was coming a good deal more to church since his eyes began to fail him, because it was a change and a sort of relief from being read to, said—

"I didn't know that they had translated it Barker in the revised version. Well, you must let me know how he's getting on, Sewell, and give me a chance at the revelation, too, if he ever gets troublesome to you again."

Miss Vane was standing at the door with his wife when Sewell came out. She took his hand and pressed it.

"Do you think I threw away my chance?" she demanded. She had her veil down, and at first Sewell thought it was laughter that shook her voice, but it was not that.

He did not know quite what to say, but he did say, "He was sent to me.'"

As they walked off alone, his wife said—

"Well, David, I hope you haven't preached away all your truth and righteousness."

"I know what you mean, my dear," answered Sewell humbly. He added, "You shall remind me if I seem likely to forget." But he concluded seriously, "If I thought I could never do anything more for Barker, I should be very unhappy; I should take it as a sign that I had been recreant to my charge."

William Dean Howells