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   Chapter 3 No.3

A Mere Accident By George Augustus Moore Characters: 34449

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Urns on corner walls, pilasters, circular windows, flowerage and loggia. What horrible taste, and quite out of keeping with the landscape!" He rang the bell.

"How do you do, Master John!" cried the tottering old butler who had known him since babyhood. "Very glad, indeed, we all are to see you home again, sir!"

Neither the appellation of Master John, nor the sight of the four paintings, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter, which decorated the walls of the passage, found favour with John, and the effusiveness of Mrs Norton, who rushed out of the drawing-room, followed by Kitty, and embraced her son, at once set on edge all his curious antipathies. Why this kissing, this approachment of flesh? Of course she was his mother.... Then this smiling girl in the background! He would have to amuse her and talk to her; what infinite boredom it would be! He trusted fervently that her visit would not be a long one.

Then through what seemed to him the pollution of triumph, he was led into the library; and he noticed, notwithstanding the presiding busts of Shakespeare and Milton, that there was but one wretched stand full of books in the room, and that in the gloom of a far corner. His mother sat down, and there was a resoluteness in her look and attitude that seemed to proclaim, "Now I hold you captive;" but she said:

"I was very much alarmed, my dear John, about your not sleeping. Mr Hare told me you said that you went two and three nights without closing your eyes, and that you had to have recourse to sleeping draughts."

"Not at all, mother, I never took a sleeping draught but twice in my life."

"Well, you don't sleep well, and I am sure it is those college beds. But you will be far more comfortable here. You are in the best bedroom in the house, the one in front of the staircase, the bridal chamber; and I have selected the largest and softest feather-bed in the house."

"My dear mother, if there is one thing more than another I dislike, it is a feather-bed. I should not be able to close my eyes; I beg of you to have it taken away."

Mrs Norton's face flushed. "I cannot understand, John; it is absurd to say that you cannot sleep on a feather-bed. Mr Hare told me you complained of insomnia, and there is no surer way of losing your health. It is owing to the hardness of those college mattresses, whereas in a feather-bed-"

"There is no use in our arguing that point, mother, I say I cannot sleep on a feather-bed...."

"But you have not tried one; I don't believe you ever slept on a feather-bed in your life."

"Well, I am not going to begin now."

"We haven't another bed aired in the house, and it is really too late to ask the servants to change your room."

"Well, then, I shall be obliged to sleep at the hotel in Henfield."

"You should not speak to your mother in that way; I will not have it."

"There! you see we are quarrelling already; I did wrong to come home."

"I am speaking to you for your own good, my dear John, and I think it is very stubborn of you to refuse to sleep on a feather-bed; if you don't like it, you can change it to-morrow."

The conversation fell, and in silence the speakers strove to master their irritation. Then John, for politeness' sake, spoke of when he had last seen Kitty. It was about five years ago. She had ridden her pony over to see them.

Mrs Norton talked of some people who had left the county, of a marriage, of an engagement, of a mooted engagement; and she jerked in a suggestion that if John were to apply at once, he would be placed on the list of deputy-lieutenants. Enumeration of the family influence-Lord So-and-so, the cousin, was the Lord Lieutenant's most intimate friend.

"You are not even a J.P., but there will be no difficulty about that; and you have not seen any of the county people for years. We will have the carriage out some day this week, and we'll pay a round of visits."

"We'll do nothing of the kind. I have no time for visiting; I must get on with my book. I hope to finish my study of St Augustine before I leave here. I have my books to unpack, and a great deal of reading to get through. I have done no more than glance at the Anglo-Latin. Literature died in France with Gregory of Tours at the end of the sixth century; with St Gregory the Great, in Italy, at the commencement of the seventh century; in Spain about the same time. And then the Anglo-Saxons became the representatives of the universal literature. All this is most important. I must re-read St Aldhelm and the Venerable Bede.... Now, I ask, do you expect me-me, with my head full of Aldhelm's alliterative verses-

"'Turbo terram teretibus

Qu? catervatim c?litus

Neque c?lorum culmina

......

......

Grassabatur turbinibus

Crebrantur nigris nubibus

Carent nocturna nebula-'

"a letter descriptive of a great storm which he was caught in as he was returning home one night...."

"Now, sir, we have had quite enough of that, and I would advise you not to go on with any of that nonsense here; you will be turned into dreadful ridicule."

"That's just why I wish to avoid them ... but you have no pity for me. Just fancy my having to listen to them! How I have suffered.... What is the use of growing wheat when we are only getting eight pounds ten a load?... But we must grow something, and there is nothing else but wheat. We must procure a certain amount of straw, or we'd have no manure, and you can't work a farm without manure. I don't believe in the fish manure. But there is market gardening, and if we kept shops in Brighton, we could grow our own stuff and sell it at retail price.... And then there is a great deal to be done with flowers."

"Now, sir, that will do, that will do.... How dare you speak to me so! I will not allow it." And then relapsing into an angry silence, Mrs Norton drew her shawl about her shoulders.

One of a thousand quarrels. The basis of each nature was common sense-shrewd common sense-but such similarity of structure is in itself apt to lead to much violent shocking of opinion; and to this end an adjuvant was found in the dose of fantasy, mysticism, idealism which was inherent in John's character. "Why is he not like other people? Why will he waste his time with a lot of rubbishy Latin authors? Why will he not take up his position in the county?" Mrs Norton asked herself these questions as she fumed on the sofa.

"I wonder why she will continue to try to impose her will upon mine. I wonder why she has not found out by this time the uselessness of her effort. But no; she still keeps on hoping at last to wear me down. She wants me to live the life she has marked out for me to live-to take up my position in the county, and, above all, to marry and give an heir to the property. I see it all; that is why she wanted me to spend Christmas with her; that is why she has Kitty Hare here to meet me. How cunning, how mean women are: a man would not do that. Had I known it.... I have a mind to leave to-morrow. I wonder if the girl is in the little conspiracy." And turning his head he looked at her.

Tall and slight, a grey dress, pale as the wet sky, fell from her waist outward in the manner of a child's frock, and there was a lightness, there was brightness in the clear eyes. The intense youth of her heart was evanescent; it seemed constantly rising upwards like the breath of a spring morning-a morning when the birds are trilling. The face sharpened to a tiny chin, and the face was pale, although there was bloom on the cheeks. The forehead was shadowed by a sparkling cloud of brown hair, the nose was straight, and each little nostril was pink tinted. The ears were like shells. There was a rigidity in her attitude. She laughed abruptly, perhaps a little nervously, and the abrupt laugh revealed the line of tiny white teeth. Thin arms fell straight to the translucent hands, and there was a recollection of puritan England in look and in gesture.

Her picturesqueness calmed John's ebullient discontent; he decided that she knew nothing of, and was not an accomplice in, his mother's scheme: For the sake of his guest he strove to make himself agreeable during dinner, but it was clear that he missed the hierarchy of the college table. The conversation fell repeatedly. Mrs Norton and Kitty spoke of making syrup for the bees; and their discussion of the illness of poor Dr --, who would no longer be able to get through the work of the parish single-handed, and would require a curate, was continued till the ladies rose from table. Nor did matters mend in the library. John's thoughts went back to his book; the room seemed to him intolerably uncomfortable and ugly. He went to the billiard-room to smoke a cigar. It was not clear to him if he would be able to spend two months in this odious place. He might offer them to God as penance for his sins; if every evening passed like the present, it were a modern martyrdom. But had they removed that horrid feather-bed? He went upstairs. The feather-bed had been removed.

The room was large and ample, and it was draped with many curtains-pale curtains covered with walking birds and falling petals, a sort of Indian pattern. There was a sofa at the foot of the bed, and the toilette-table hung out its skirts in the wavering light of the fire. John tossed to and fro staring at the birds and petals. He thought of his ascetic college bed, of the great Christ upon the wall, of the prie-dieu with the great rosary hanging, but in vain; he could not rid his mind of the distasteful feminine influences which had filled the day, and which now haunted the night.

After breakfast next morning Mrs Norton stopped John as he was going upstairs to unpack his books. "Now," she said, "you must go out for a walk with Kitty Hare, and I hope you will make yourself agreeable. I want you to see the new greenhouse I have put up; she'll show it to you. And I told the bailiff to meet you in the yard. I thought you might like to see him."

"I wish, mother, you would not interfere in my business; had I wanted to see Burnes I should have sent for him."

"If you don't want to see him, he wants to see you. There are some cottages on the farm that must be put into repair at once. As for interfering in your business, I don't know how you can talk like that; were it not for me the whole place would be falling to pieces."

"Quite true; I know you save me a great deal of expense; but really ..."

"Really what? You won't go out to walk with Kitty Hare?"

"I did not say I wouldn't, but I must say that I am very busy just now. I had thought of doing a little reading, for I have an appointment with my solicitor in the afternoon."

"That man charges you £200 a-year for collecting the rents; now, if you were to do it yourself, you would save the money, and it would give you something to do."

"Something to do! I have too much to do as it is.... But if I am going out with Kitty.... Where is she?"

"I saw her go into the library a moment ago."

And as it was preferable to go for a walk with Kitty than to continue the interview with his mother, John seized his hat and called Kitty, Kitty, Kitty! Presently she appeared, and they walked towards the garden, talking. She told him she had been at Thornby Place the whole time the greenhouse was being built, and when they opened the door they were greeted by Sammy. He sprang instantly on her shoulder.

"This is my cat," she said. "I've fed him since he was a little kitten; isn't he sweet?"

The girl was beautiful on the brilliant flower background; she stroked the great caressing creature, and when she put him down he mewed reproachfully. Further on her two tame rooks cawed joyously, and alighted on her shoulder.

"I wonder they don't fly away, and join the others in the trees."

"One did go away, and he came back nearly dead with hunger. But he is all right now, aren't you, dear?" And the bird cawed, and rubbed its black head against its mistress' cheek. "Poor little things, they fell out of the nest before they could fly, and I brought them up. But you don't care for pets, do you, John?"

"I don't like birds!"

"Don't like birds! Why, that seems as strange as if you said that you didn't like flowers."

"Mrs Norton told me, sir, that you would like to speak to me about them cottages on the Erringham Farm," said the bailiff.

"Yes, yes, I must go over and see them to-morrow morning at ten o'clock. I intend to go thoroughly into everything. How are they getting on with the cottages that were burnt down?"

"Rather slow, sir, the weather is so bad."

"But talking of fire, Burnes, I find that I can insure at a much cheaper rate at Lloyds' than at most of the offices. I find that I shall make a saving of £20 a-year."

"That's worth thinking about, sir."

While the young squire talked to his bailiff Kitty fed her rooks. They cawed, and flew to her hand for the scraps of meat. The coachman came to speak about oats and straw. They went to the stables. Kitty adored horses, it amused John to see her pat them, and her vivacity and light-heartedness rather pleased him than otherwise.

Nevertheless, during the whole of the following week the ladies held little communication with John. He lived apart from them. In the mornings he went out with his bailiffs to inspect farms and consult about possible improvement and necessary repairs. He had appointments with his solicitor. There were accounts to be gone through. He never paid a bill without verifying every item. It was difficult to say what should be done with a farm for which a tenant could not be found even at a reduced rent. At four o'clock he came into tea, his head full of calculations of such a complex character that even his mother could not follow the different statements to his satisfaction. When she disagreed with him, he took up the "Epistles of St Columban of Bangor," the "Epistola ad Sethum," or the celebrated poem, "Epistola ad Fedolium," written when the saint was seventy-two, and continued his reading, making copious notes in a pocket-book. To do so he drew his chair close to the library fire, and when Kitty came quickly into the room with a flutter of skirts and a sound of laughter, he awoke from contemplation, and her singing as she ascended the stairs jarred the dreams of cloister and choir which mounted from the pages to his brain in clear and intoxicating rhapsody.

On the third of November Mrs Norton announced that the meet of the hounds had been fixed for the fifteenth, and that there would be a hunt breakfast.

"Oh, my dear mother! you don't mean that they are coming here to lunch!"

"For the last twenty years all our side of the county has been in the habit of coming here to lunch, but of course you can shut your doors to all your friends and acquaintances. No doubt they will think you have come down here on purpose to insult them."

"Insult them! why should I insult them? I haven't seen them since I was a boy. I remember that the hunt breakfast used to go on all day long. Every woman in the county used to come, and they used to stay to tea, and you used to insist on a great number remaining to supper."

"Well, you can put a stop to all that now that you have consented to come to Thornby Place, only I hope you don't expect me to remain here to see my friends insulted."

"But just think of the expense! and in these bad times. You know I cannot find a tenant for the Woreington farm. I am afraid I shall have to provide the capital and farm it myself. Now, in the face of such losses, don't you think that we should retrench?"

"Retrench! A few fowls and rounds of beef! You don't think of retrenching when you present Stanton College with a stained glass window that costs five hundred pounds."

"Of course, if you like it, mother..."

"I like nothing but what you like, but I really think that for you to put down the hunt breakfast the first time you honour us with a visit, would look very much as if you intended to insult the whole county."

"It will be a day of misery for me!" replied John, laughing; "but I daresay I shall live through it."

"I think you will like it very much," said Kitty. "There will be a lot of pretty girls here: the Misses Green are coming from Worthing; the eldest is such a pretty girl, you are sure to admire her. And the hounds and horses look so beautiful."

Mrs Norton and Kitty spoke daily of invitations, and later on of cooking and the various things that were wanted. John continued to go through his accounts in the morning, and to read monkish Latin in the evening; but he was secretly nervous, and he dreaded the approaching day.

He was called an hour earlier-eight o'clock; he drank a cup of cold tea and ate a piece of dry toast in a back room. The dining-room was full of servants, who laid out a long table rich with comestibles and glittering with glass. Mrs Norton and Kitty were upstairs dressing.

He wandered into the drawing-room and viewed the dead, cumbrous furniture; the two cabinets bright with brass and veneer. He stood at the window staring. It was raining. The yellow of the falling leaves was hidden in the grey mist. It ceased

to rain. "This weather will keep many away; so much the better; there will be too many as it is. I wonder who this can be." A melancholy brougham passed up the drive. There were three old maids, all looking sweetly alike; one was a cripple who walked with crutches, and her smile was the best and the gayest imaginable smile.

"How little material welfare has to do with our happiness," thought John. "There is one whose path is the narrowest, and she is happier and better than I." And then the three sweet old maids talked with their cousin of the weather; and they all wondered-a sweet feminine wonderment-if he would see a girl that day whom he would marry.

Presently the house was full of people. The passage was full of girls; a few men sat at breakfast at the end of the long table. Some red coats passed across the green glare of the park, and the hounds trotted about a single horseman. Voices. "Oh! how sweet they look! oh, the dear dogs!" The huntsman stopped in front of the house, the hounds sniffed here and there, the whips trotted their horses and drove them back. "Get together, get together; get back there; Woodland, Beauty, come up here." The hounds rolled on the grass, and leaned their fore-paws on the railings, willing to be caressed.

"How sweet they are, look at their soft eyes," cried an old lady whose deity was a pug, and whose back garden reeked of the tropics. "Look how good and kind they are; they would not hurt anything; it is only wicked men who teach them to be ..." The old lady hesitated before the word "bad," and murmured something about killing.

There was a lady with melting eyes, many children, and a long sealskin, and she availed herself of the excuse of seeing the hounds to rejoin a young man in whom she was interested. There was an old sportsman of seventy winters, as hale and as hearty as an oak, standing on the door-step, and he made John promise to come over and see him. The girls strolled about in groups. As usual young men were lacking. Looking at his watch, the huntsman pressed the sides of his horse, and rode to draw the covers at the end of the park. The ladies followed to see the start, although the mud was inches deep under foot. "Hu in, hu in," cried the huntsman. The whips trotted round cracking their long whips. Not a sound was heard. Suddenly there was a whimper, "Hark to Woodland," cried the huntsman. The hounds rallied to the point, but nothing came of it. Apparently the old bitch was at fault. The huntsman muttered something inaudible. But some few hundred yards further on, in an outlying clump where no one would expect to find, a fox broke clean away.

The country is as flat as a smooth sea. Chanctonbury Ring stands up like a mighty cliff on a northern shore; its crown of trees is grim. The abrupt ascents of Toddington Mount bear away to the left, and tide-like the fields flow up into the great gulf between.

"He's making for the furze, but he'll never reach them; he got no start, and the ground is heavy."

Then the watchers saw the horsemen making their way up the chalky roads cut in the precipitous side of the downs. Rain began to fall, umbrellas were put up, and all hurried home to lunch.

"Now John, try and make yourself agreeable, go over and talk to some of the young ladies. Why do you dress yourself in that way? Have you no other coat? You look like a young priest. Look at that young man over there! how nicely dressed he is! I wish you would let your moustache grow; it would improve you immensely." With these and similar remarks whispered to him, Mrs Norton continued to exasperate her son until the servants announced that lunch was ready. "Take in Mrs So-and-so," she said to John, who would fain have escaped from the melting glances of the lady in the long sealskin. He offered her his arm with an air of resignation, and set to work valiantly to carve a huge turkey.

As soon as the servants had cleared away after one set another came, and although the meet was a small one, John took six ladies in to lunch. About half-past three the men adjourned to the billiard-room to smoke. The girls, mighty in numbers, followed, and, with their arms round each other's waists, and interlacing fingers, they grouped themselves about the room. Two huntsmen returned dripping wet, and much to his annoyance, John had to furnish them with a change of clothes. There was tea in the drawing-room about five o'clock, and soon after the visitors began to take their leave.

The wind blew very coldly, the roosting rooks rose out of the branches, and the carriages rolled into the night; but still a remnant of visitors stood on the steps talking to John. His cold was worse; he felt very ill, and now a long sharp pain had grown through his left side, and momentarily it became more and more difficult to exchange polite words and smiles. The footmen stood waiting by the open door, the horses champed their bits, the green of the park was dark, and a group of kissing girls moved about the loggia, wheels grated on the gravel ... all were gone! The butler shut the door, and John went to the library fire.

There his mother found him. She saw that something was seriously the matter. He was helped up to bed, and the doctor was sent for. A bad attack of pleurisy. John was rolled up in an enormous mustard plaster-mustard and cayenne pepper; it bit into the flesh. He roared with pain; he was slightly delirious; he cursed those around him, using blasphemous language.

For more than a week he suffered. He lay bent over, unable to straighten himself, as if a nerve had been wound up too tightly in the left side. He was fed on gruel and beef-tea, the room was kept very warm; it was not until the twelfth day that he was taken out of bed.

"You have had a narrow escape," the doctor said to John, who, well wrapped up, lay back, looking very weak and pale, before a blazing fire. "It was very lucky I was sent for. Twenty-four hours later I would not have answered for your life."

"I was delirious, was I not?"

"Yes, slightly; you cursed and swore fearfully at us when we rolled you up in the mustard plaster.... Well, it was very hot, and must have burnt you."

"Yes, it was; it has scarcely left a bit of skin on me. But did I use very bad language? I suppose I could not help it.... I was delirious, was I not?"

"Yes, slightly."

"Yes; but I remember, and if I remember right, I used very bad language; and people when they are really delirious do not know what they say. Is not that so, doctor?"

"If they are really delirious they do not remember, but you were only slightly delirious ... you were maddened by the pain occasioned by the pungency of the plaster."

"Yes; but do you think I knew what I was saying?"

"You must have known what you were saying, because you remember what you said."

"But could I be held accountable for what I said?"

"Accountable.... Well, I hardly know what you mean. You were certainly not in the full possession of your senses. Your mother (Mrs Norton) was very much shocked, but I told her that you were not accountable for what you said."

"Then I could not be held accountable, I did not know what I was saying."

"I don't think you did exactly; people in a passion don't know what they say!"

"Ah! yes, but we are answerable for sins committed in the heat of passion: we should restrain our passion; we were wrong in the first instance in giving way to passion.... But I was ill, it was not exactly passion. And I was very near death; I had a narrow escape, doctor?"

"Yes, I think I can call it a narrow escape."

The voices ceased,-five o'clock,-the curtains were rosy with lamp light, and conscience awoke in the langours of convalescent hours. "I stood on the verge of death!" The whisper died away. John was still very weak, and he had not strength to think with much insistance, but now and then remembrance surprised him suddenly like pain; it came unexpectedly, he knew not whence nor how, but he could not choose but listen. Each interval of thought grew longer; the scabs of forgetfulness were picked away, the red sore was exposed bleeding and bare. Was he responsible for those words? He could remember them all now; each like a burning arrow lacerated his bosom, and he pulled them to and fro. Remembrance in the watches of the night, dawn fills the dark spaces of a window, meditations grow more and more lucid. He could now distinguish the instantaneous sensation of wrong that had flashed on his excited mind in the moment of his sinning.... Then he could think no more, and in the twilight of contrition he dreamed vaguely of God's great goodness, of penance, of ideal atonements. Christ hung on the cross, and far away the darkness was seared with flames and demons.

And as strength returned, remembrance of his blasphemies grew stronger and fiercer, and often as he lay on his pillow, his thoughts passing in long procession, his soul would leap into intense suffering. "I stood on the verge of death with blasphemies on my tongue. I might have been called to confront my Maker with horrible blasphemies in my heart and on my tongue; but He in His Divine goodness spared me: He gave me time to repent. Am I answerable, O my God, for those dreadful words that I uttered against Thee, because I suffered a little pain, against Thee Who once died on the cross to save me! O God, Lord, in Thine infinite mercy look down on me, on me! Vouchsafe me Thy mercy, O my God, for I was weak! My sin is loathsome; I prostrate myself before Thee, I cry aloud for mercy!"

Then seeing Christ amid His white million of youths, beautiful singing saints, gold curls and gold aureoles, lifted throats, and form of harp and dulcimer, he fell prone in great bitterness on the misery of earthly life. His happinesses and ambitions appeared to him less than the scattering of a little sand on the sea-shore. Joy is passion, passion is suffering; we cannot desire what we possess, therefore desire is rebellion prolonged indefinitely against the realities of existence; when we attain the object of our desire, we must perforce neglect it in favour of something still unknown, and so we progress from illusion to illusion. The winds of folly and desolation howl about us; the sorrows of happiness are the worst to bear, and the wise soon learn that there is nothing to dream of but the end of desire.... God is the one ideal, the Church the one shelter from the misery and meanness of life. Peace is inherent in lofty arches, rapture in painted panes.... See the mitres and crosiers, the blood-stained heavenly breasts, the loin-linen hanging over orbs of light.... Listen! ah! the voices of chanting boys, and out of the cloud of incense come Latin terminations, and the organ still is swelling.

In such religious ?stheticisms the soul of John Norton had long slumbered, but now it awoke in remorse and pain, and, repulsing its habitual exaltations even as if they were sins, he turned to the primal idea of the vileness of this life, and its sole utility in enabling man to gain heaven. Beauty, what was it but temptation? He winced before a conclusion so repugnant to him, but the terrors of the verge on which he had so lately stood were still upon him in all their force, and he crushed his natural feelings....

The manifestation of modern pessimism in John Norton has been described, and how its influence was checked by constitutional mysticity has also been shown. Schopenhauer, when he overstepped the line ruled by the Church, was instantly rejected. From him John Norton's faith had suffered nothing; the severest and most violent shocks had come from another side-a side which none would guess, so complex and contradictory are the involutions of the human brain. Hellenism, Greek culture and ideal; academic groves; young disciples, Plato and Socrates, the august nakedness of the Gods were equal, or almost equal, in his mind with the lacerated bodies of meagre saints; and his heart wavered between the temple of simple lines and the cathedral of a thousand arches. Once there had been a sharp struggle, but Christ, not Apollo, had been the victor, and the great cross in the bedroom of Stanton College overshadowed the beautiful slim body in which Divinity seemed to circulate like blood; and this photograph was all that now remained of much youthful anguish and much temptation.

A fact to note is that his sense of reality had always remained in a rudimentary state; it was, as it were, diffused over the world and mankind. For instance, his belief in the misery and degradation of earthly life, and the natural bestiality of man, was incurable; but of this or that individual he had no opinion; he was to John Norton a blank sheet of paper, to which he could not affix even a title. His childhood had been one of bitter tumult and passionate sorrow; the different and dissident ideals growing up in his heart and striving for the mastery, had torn and tortured him, and he had long lain as upon a mental rack. Ignorance of the material laws of existence had extended even into his sixteenth year, and when, bit by bit, the veil fell, and he understood, he was filled with loathing of life and mad desire to wash himself free of its stain; and it was this very hatred of natural flesh that precipitated a perilous worship of the deified flesh of the God. But mysticity saved him from plain paganism, and the art of the Gothic cathedral grew dear to him. It was nearer akin to him, and he assuaged his wounded soul in the ecstacies of incense and the great charms of Gregorian chant.

But fear now for the first time took possession of him, and he realised-if not in all its truth, at least in part-that his love of God had only taken the form of a gratification of the senses, a sensuality higher but as intense as those which he so much reproved. Fear smouldered in his very entrails, and doubt fumed and went out like steam-long lines and falling shadows and slowly dispersing clouds. His life had been but a sin, an abomination, and the fairest places darkened as the examination of conscience proceeded. His thought whirled in dreadful night, soul-torturing contradictions came suddenly under his eyes, like images in a night-mare; and in horror and despair, as a woman rising from a bed of small-pox drops the mirror after the first glance, and shrinks from destroying the fair remembrance of her face by pursuing the traces of the disease through every feature, he hid his face in his hands and called for forgiveness-for escape from the endless record of his conscience. With staring eyes and contracted brows he saw the flames which await him who blasphemes. To the verge of those flames he had drifted. If God in His infinite mercy had not withheld him?... He pictured himself lost in fires and furies. Then looking up he saw the face of Christ, grown pitiless in final time-Christ standing immutable amid His white million of youths....

And the worthlessness and the abjectness of earthly life struck him with awful and all-convincing power, and this vision of the worthlessness of existence was clearer than any previous vision. He paused. There was but one conclusion ... it looked down upon him like a star-he would become a priest. All darkness, all madness, all fear faded, and with sure and certain breath he breathed happiness; the sense of consecration nestled in its heart, and its light shone upon his face.

There was nothing in the past, but there is the sweetness of meditation in the present, and in the future there is God. Like a fountain flowing amid a summer of leaves and song, the sweet hours came with quiet and melodious murmur. In the great arm-chair of his ancestors he sits thin and tall. Thin and tall. The great flames decorate the darkness, and the twilight sheds upon the rose curtains, walking birds and falling petals. But his thoughts are dreaming through long aisle and solemn arch, clouds of incense and painted panes.... The palms rise in great curls like the sky; and amid the opulence of gold vestments, the whiteness of the choir, the Latin terminations and the long abstinences, the holy oil comes like a kiss that never dies ... and in full glory of symbol and chant, the very savour of God descends upon him ... and then he awakes, surprised to find such dreams out of sleep.

His resolve did not alter; he longed for health because it would bring the realisation of his desire, and time appeared to him cruelly long. Nor could he think of the pain he inflicted on his mother, so centred was he in this thought; he was blind to her sorrowing face, he was deaf to her entreaty; he could neither feel nor see beyond the immediate object he had in mind, and he spoke to her in despair of the length of months that separated him from consecration; he speculated on the possibility of expediting that happy day by a dispensation from the Pope. The moment he could obtain permission from the doctor he ordered his trunks to be packed, and when he bid Mrs Norton and Kitty Hare good-bye, he exacted a promise from the former to be present at Stanton College on Palm Sunday. He wished her to be present when he embraced Holy Orders.

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