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by hearing Elizabeth say—" I suppose you know, Cyril, that Miss Craven is here: she came a week ago. I like her, for she is not in the least what I had fancied her."
"And what had your fancy painted her'.'" said Cyril, laughingly.
Here, remembering the old proverb that listeners seldom hear any good of themselves, and also feeling how very inconvenient it would be to be discovered perdu at some particular crisis of the conversation, I thought it only seemly to announce myself, so I swept my dress against the fire-irons, and very quickly drew upon me the regards of two pairs of eyes, that sought me from the oriel recess. "Oh! here is Miss Craven," cried Elizabeth, springing to her feet, and seizing my hands in her own demonstrative way. "Do you know, Agnes, I was just going to describe you, as well as I was able, to Cyril Denham. "We expected Cyril to-morrow, you know; but there was some blunder in the date of his note, and he came to-day. It does not matter in the least—Cyril is quite at home at Forest Range, and comes and goes exactly as it pleases him!"
"I sometimes, nay, very often, yo when it does not please me; the coming is another matter," responded the mellow voice, with still a minor inflexion in its quiet tones.
•' And all the while I am not introducing you to each other," interrupted Elizabeth; "but what's the use of such a formality, when you know each one perfectly who the other is? However, since Janet would be aghast at such an omission, and since mamma is most anxious that I should learn to discharge the onerous duties of MissAshburner, permit me:—Miss Craven, Mr. Cyril Denham!—Sir. Cyril Denham, Miss Craven! Now bow and curtsey, or touch the tips of each other's fingers, whichever is the fashion, and sit down and chat as if you had been good friends as long as you can remember anything."
It might have been rather difficult to obey Miss Ashbumer's injunction; but the loud striking of the dinnergong came most opportunely to de
liver us from any kind of embarrassment, and we went to the diningroom together, as comfortably as if we really had known each other from our cradles. And yet, a week ago, I met Elizabeth for the first time, and I did not even know that such a person as Cyril Denham lived. How very strange it all seems!—but I think I am going to be happy at Forest Range. We found a great deal to talk about at dinner-time. Sir John seemed almost as glad to see Mr. Denham at his table again as if he had been his own son come back from another hemisphere; Lady Ashburner also treated him with that true motherly consideration which seems to me the sweetest aspect of her character. Janet Anstmther gave her quiet but most cordial welcome; and as to Elizabeth, it was easy to perceive that she was delighted to converse once more with her old playfellow and life-long friend.
We ladies left the table early, and it was past nine o'clock when Sir John and Mr. Denham joined us. "Where have you been all this time?" asked Elizabeth, poutingly.
"We have been in the diningroom, talking politics," replied Sir John," and discussing soils, drainage, and guano."
'• Now, really!" returned Elizabeth, archly, " I call that heartless cruelty! What does Cyril know about guano or drains—unpleasant things that they are? I know how it has been, you have been lecturing. Papa; and poor Cyril has been trying to be interested, and sipping his claret with a woeful countenance, and an ardent longing to escape."
"I really was interested," interposed Cyril: "I am seriously thinking of giving my mind to agricultural chemistry."
Lady Ashburner looked up enquiringly, and Elizabeth cried out. "You don't mean that you will keep dreadful 'Works' like 'hose at Southam, which we always pass at full gallop if the wind comes in our direction'.'"
"Not exactly, but supposing I did?"
"Then you would be in bad odour at Forest Range, in more senses than one."
The last sentence was spoken nearly in a whisper, and I do not think any one besides myself heard it; and I did not hear Mr. Denham's answer, for Miss Anstruthcr went to her harp, and struck the opening chords of one of my favourite pieces, and in listening to the music I forgot all about the agricultural chemistry, and paid no more attention to the dialogue, which was still carried on between Miss Ashburner and Mr. Denham. A little while afterwards, Elizabeth was called from the room, and Sir John being occupied with some wonderful new pamphlet, and Lady Ashburner and Janet deep in some discussion respecting the temperature required for orchids, it naturally came to pass that Mr. Denham and I fell into conversation.
I scarcely know what we talked about at first, probably the weather, and the continued coldness of the season, and the aspect of the country about Forest Range: but presently we touched on subjects more personally interesting, and somehow began narrating to each other certain experiences of mind and feeling. And then, catching himself up, Mr. Denham exclaimed, "But forgive me! I am getting egotistical: a sad failing of mine, as you will find if you see much of me. Of course one is always very interesting to one's self, and one is apt to forget the lack of interest other people must necessarily suffer from, in listening to moral dissections, confessions, and similar weaknesses."
"And yet, may we not gain strength by telling each other some of the processes through which we go, while mind and character are forming?"
"Undoubtedly! Only if one is altogether a failure in one's self, what then?"
"No one need be 'altogether a failure.'"
"You think not! But what if circumstances are uniformly adverse—what if wind and tide are evermore against you?"
"Mr. Denham, I do not believe
they ever are! Tides, whether literal or metaphorical, must ebb and flow, and winds must blow from every quarter of the compass. The mischief is, that we are not always on the watch for the flood-tide, and the favourable breeze; or, perceiving them, we are indisposed to set sail at that particular moment, and loiter and procrastinate, till the opportunity has past away."
"But what if one does not hold one's fate in one's own hands?"
"I suppose no one does exactly, for God rules all; but as far as mere humanity is concerned, I think one must be a slave or a child, to be utterly swayed or forced against one's will and reason, to a course that is manifestly dangerous or wrong."
"Sometimes one has no course at all! What would you say to a man who drifts along as circumstances lead him. accepting just what occasion offers, and never shaping out for himself any definite aims, or seeking any goal, or striving after any settled object?"
"I would say he is committing moral suicide: he might as well be taking small doses of slow poison every day! Let him propose to himself some end and aim to be achieved; let him be careful that it be an aim worthy of his manhood; let him ask God's blessing on his work, and then take it in hand earnestly, persevering!y, resolved to reach the mark, or die in the pursuit!"
"And if barriers present themselves '!"
"Overleap them, or throw them down. Let nothing turn you back, when once you are quite sure that you are in the right way."
"Oh ! there is the difficulty, to be sure. How can anyone be sure— anyone who like myself practically believes in nothing?"
I felt a little shocked, as I said. "Have you no creed?"
"No!" he replied. "But do not think I am an infidel: only I have not faith, and I cannot understand. When you know me a little better, you will comprehend exactly what I mean. All things seem to me so narrow, so inconsistent; life so difficult a problem, so sad a poem; the future all so dim and doubtful; the great eternity so boundless and so dark!"
Strange, that I have felt the same myself, only I never dared say it out to any living person. Sometimes it has come across me, " Why do I live—what is life? and oh ! more mysterious still—what is immortality? Can it be that we are, indeed, only actors in a play, which is sometimes comedy and sometimes tragedy: that by-and-by the last scene will be put upon the stage, the curtain will drop, the foot-lights be extinguished, and the house be empty, dark, and cold'.' Not exactly! This play of life is never played out: the actors come and go unceasingly, scene succeeds scene, and the "Acts" are numberless. But one play blends into another, and the actors of this year are not the actors of the next; the curtain falls only on individual episodes of the drama. The great representation goes on century after century, and the theatre of the world is crowded still, though nearly six thousand years have passed since first the wonderful play began.
But yet—yet it will come to an end, this marvellous drama called Human Life. And soon, very soon, my part may be played out—and what then?
Oh! there is something in the human soul that nothing seems to satisfy: it is heaven-bora, my father used to tell me, therefore can it never be filled with the husks and shadows of the world. But then, if there are husks, there must be grain somewhere, and shadows prove that the substance is not far away. How shall I find the realities of life—how shall I feed upon the grain, and clasp the substance of the tantalizing shadow?
We had another talk to-day— Cyril Denham and I—I cannot help calling him so, for only the servants say, Mr. Denham. He seems to seek counsel from me, and like a true woman, I give him what he wants ; but all the while a voice is saying to me, "Physician, heal thy
self!" I, too, am conscious of want of faith—
"I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope
And yet, I am sure that " nothing walks with aimless feet"—that even what seems to us the mere rubbish and debris of the pile, shall be wrought at last into the grand eternal structure—but what am I?
"An infant crying in the night. An infant crying for the light, And with no language but a cry."
Surely Cyril Denham and I may help each other. How beautiful a mind he has! How sweet and pure a countenance! And then that voice! it would be melancholy but for its depth and harmony. And how well he knows my favourite authors! We had a charming reading from Tennyson last night. And now he is gone—gone back to that dreary home of his at Southchester! To-morrow we are going to visit the cathedral, and to stay to afternoon prayers. We are, I believe, to dine at Mrs. Denham's, and return home by the last train, which stops at Ashchurch Station.
Saturday, the 5th of March was a glorious day: clear, cold, and bracing. We drove to Ashchurch Station for the 115 up-train, and by a quarter to two we were at the Cathedral doors, with the verger waiting to show us over the building. Oh! how glorious it looked in the golden sunlight of the wintry afternoon! The western windows cast their purple glory on tomb, and pillar, and marble pavement; and high up the lofty nave, broad rays of rubycoloured light fell aslant the solemn arches. The choir lay in shadow, pinnacle, fret-work, and altar-screen in dusky gloom: and all was silent in the grand old temple—silent like some mountain glen whose walls are the everlasting hills, and whose dome is the great blue firmament!
"Shall I show you over, Sir?" said the verger, as he closed the door behind him.
•• No," said Cyril Denham, "I know the cathedral as well as you do, Simons."
"That's true enough, Sir," replied the verger. "I don't know but what you really know it better—its history I mean, not the ways of it. Here's the keys. Sir; I can trust 'em to you, but it isn't to many a one I would trust 'em, I can assure you. That's the key of the ladyechapel, and that of the south aisle of the choir: and shall you want to be going into the crypt, Mr. Denham?"
"That will be as the ladies think best; but I will take the key, certainly. We shall be back long before service begins. Thank you, Simons."
Somehow we never tired of our beautiful cathedral; we were always ready to fall in raptures with its glorious aisles and high arched roof, and noble tracery of screen, and stall, and stately tomb, and we never wearied of its associations with the centuries long past away: for Southchester Cathedral has memories of the olden Saxon times, when as yet the Norman had not swayed the sceptre of the land—memories of kings, and queens, and priests and saints, who lived and died, and laid their bones in some fair slirinn of that proud minster, ere the Dane came o'er the sea, with lust of conquest in his soul, and rapine in his heart. To wander about those dim aisles, and quiet chapels, to linger by those tombs of other years, to catch the purple radiance from the storied casements, to glance from pointed Gothic arch to low-browed Norman portal, as we passed on, listening to Cyril Denham's outpouring of the lore he had heaped up from boyhood concerning Southchester, and her minster church—was like reading the pages of some ancient history of England, done into glorious prose of our own time! There were the chests wherein reposed the royal hearts that had turned to dust a thousand years ago; there was the legendary grave of a saint, who had
been awaiting the resurrection-day for twelve long centuries ; there was the dark, unhonoured grave of the Red King, who met his doom in the forest glades not very far away; there in effigy lay a cardinal of renown, wearing his robes of scarlet, and all the insignia of his lordly power; there were shrines where noble worsliippers, whose names will live for ever in the chronicles of song and story, knelt and prayed and wept, and wore the marble with their tears; and there were chapels telling their own tale of many a world-worn heart that long ago had ceased to beat; and one dim faded altar where a reigning queen of England, no later than the sixteenth century, became a wedded wife. This was in very deed and truth—
"A dim and mighty Minster of old Time! A temple shadqwy with remembrancer Of the majestic Past!"
It seemed as though the past itself lay sleeping in its consecrated grave —as though the centuries that were gone were here resting peacefully till the Great Day should dawn, and the grave give up her dead, and the secrets of all hearts be revealed. We did not go into the crypt, for Elizabeth shivered at the idea, and Lady Ashburner suggested that a warm day in July would be the proper time for such a visit, and Miss Craven would have many opportunities of coming into Southchester, and going over the cathedral again and again, if she were so minded. By this time we were all rather chilly. and glad to escape to the "George Hotel," where refreshments and a good lire awaited us. But we had little time to luxuriate, for the service commenced at four, and it was past three when we reached the High-street. Lady Ashburner and Elizabeth remained at the hotel, the former because she was tired, the latter because she would remain to bear her mother company. We— Cyril, Agnes, and I—went back to the cathedral with all speed, and entered the nave just as the clergy and the choristers were coming up in double file from the southern transept.
We of Southchester are famous for the beautiful rendering of the daily service, for a reverence and decorum. for the lack of which I am sorry to say some choral services are truly infamous! On this occasion it was sweet and grand beyond description: ever rising and falling, swelled and died the waves of sound, now mounting as it were towards the high arched roof, now sinking into low soft murmurs, like the echoes of a dream of melody. Now it seemed as though the floods were lifting up their voice, and the thunder-peal was sounding through the sky; now as if the forest-pines were straining in the wintry blast, and moaning out in wailing minor key the solemn secrets that the deep woods keep of earth's great wrong and travail; and now, as if downstealing from afar, came, as it were, the heavenly voices of angelic choirs, whispering peace and joy and hope celestial, as when in the ancient, time they sang above the fields of Bethlehem, "Glory be to God in the highest."
But the service came to an end, and reluctantly Cyril and Agnes prepared to depart. One last look back towards the dark choir-screen, and they were in the porch, ruddy now with the last red rays of the departing sunset.
•■ You can admire our cathedral after having seen far grander churches on the Continent'.'" said Cyril presently.
"Ah. yes! indeed I can! Some of the cathedrals I saw were marvels of architecture; but the faith of their altars was not the faith in which I had been trained; the language was not that to which I have listened ever since I can remember. And many of the finest churches, too, were spoiled by the gaudy finery of their decorations; so much tinfoil, so lunch drapery, and so many greasy, dirty taper-stands."
*' One would think that tapers burning at a shrine would have a poetical effect!"
*' Now and then, on great oceaions, they do look picturesque ; but. generally speaking, they rather offend than gratify the taste, and
that apart from all religious considerations. You may see circles of ugly tallow candles — some tall, some short, some barely lighted, some expiring on the kind of saveall or pivot on which they are fixed, in nearly every little chapel, and chapels in a foreign church of any magnitude are innumerable; near them often sits some withered crone whose office it is to replenish the candles as they are exhausted, but not to clean the greasy metal plates on which they stand! The minor altars are decked out with lace and flowers—the commonest artificial flowers under glass shades, or in gilded tawdry vases,— such as, in England a respectable washerwoman will sometimes buy for her best room. The only things at all tolerable are the lilies of the Virgin's shrine. As for the pulpits in some of the Parisian churches, they are absolutely grotesque with all their gilding, and their awkward canopies of wooden clouds, and painted rays of glory! At Rouen there is much less of this ; and the matchless church of St. Ouen is nearly free from this atrocious frippery and gaudiness! I low infinitely I prefer the chaste and simple grandeur of undecorated stone and marble, and dark, carved [oak. I cannot tell you! And this cathedral has peculiar charms; it is so closely linked with the records of England's earliest chronicles, carrying us back to a day when the Norman, from whom we are so proud to trace our doscent, was an upstart in the land! I thank you very much, Mr. Denham for all you have told me h> day; it was a t housand times better than any official cicerone telling his tale like a schoolboy saying out his weekly catechism."
"I have studied the Cathedral; I love it! I am proud of it, as I am proud of this ancient city of my birth, old Southchester. I have spent days in deciphering old MSS. of learned monks; I have had access to the archives of the chapter-house, to those of the college also; I have had entrusted to my care the chronicles of the abbots of the stormy reign of John, and of the last half