Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 75

Taking a cup — Getting to heaven — After breakfast — Wooden gallery — Mechanical habit — Reserved and gloomy — Last words — A long time — From the clouds — Ray of hope — Momentary chill — Pleasing anticipation.

‘I was born in the heart of North Wales, the son of a respectable farmer, and am the youngest of seven brothers.

‘My father was a member of the Church of England, and was what is generally called a serious man. He went to church regularly, and read the Bible every Sunday evening; in his moments of leisure he was fond of holding religious discourse both with his family and his neighbours.

‘One autumn afternoon, on a week day, my father sat with one of his neighbours taking a cup of ale by the oak table in our stone kitchen. I sat near them, and listened to their discourse. I was at that time seven years of age. They were talking of religious matters. “It is a hard matter to get to heaven,” said my father. “Exceedingly so,” said the other. “However, I don’t despond; none need despair of getting to heaven, save those who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.”

‘“Ah!” said my father, “thank God I never committed that — how awful must be the state of a person who has committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. I can scarcely think of it without my hair standing on end”; and then my father and his friend began talking of the nature of the sin against the Holy Ghost, and I heard them say what it was, as I sat with greedy ears listening to their discourse.

‘I lay awake the greater part of the night musing upon what I had heard. I kept wondering to myself what must be the state of a person who had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and how he must feel. Once or twice I felt a strong inclination to commit it, a strange kind of fear, however, prevented me; at last I determined not to commit it, and, having said my prayers, I fell asleep.

‘When I awoke in the morning the first thing I thought of was the mysterious sin, and a voice within me seemed to say, “Commit it”; and I felt a strong temptation to do so, even stronger than in the night. I was just about to yield, when the same dread, of which I have already spoken, came over me, and, springing out of bed, I went down on my knees. I slept in a small room alone, to which I ascended by a wooden stair, open to the sky. I have often thought since that it is not a good thing for children to sleep alone.

‘After breakfast I went to school, and endeavoured to employ myself upon my tasks, but all in vain; I could think of nothing but the sin against the Holy Ghost; my eyes, instead of being fixed upon my book, wandered in vacancy. My master observed my inattention, and chid me. The time came for saying my task, and I had not acquired it. My master reproached me, and, yet more, he beat me; I felt shame and anger, and I went home with a full determination to commit the sin against the Holy Ghost.

‘But when I got home my father ordered me to do something connected with the farm, so that I was compelled to exert myself; I was occupied till night, and was so busy that I almost forgot the sin and my late resolution. My work completed, I took my supper, and went to my room; I began my prayers, and, when they were ended, I thought of the sin, but the temptation was slight, I felt very tired, and was presently asleep.

‘Thus, you see, I had plenty of time allotted me by a gracious and kind God to reflect on what I was about to do. He did not permit the enemy of souls to take me by surprise, and to hurry me at once into the commission of that which was to be my ruin here and hereafter. Whatever I did was of my own free will, after I had had time to reflect. Thus God is justified; He had no hand in my destruction, but, on the contrary, He did all that was compatible with justice to prevent it. I hasten to the fatal moment. Awaking in the night, I determined that nothing should prevent my committing the sin. Arising from my bed, I went out upon the wooden gallery; and having stood for a few moments looking at the stars, with which the heavens were thickly strewn, I laid myself down, and supporting my face with my hand, I murmured out words of horror, words not to be repeated, and in this manner I committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.

‘When the words were uttered I sat up upon the topmost step of the gallery; for some time I felt stunned in somewhat the same manner as I once subsequently felt after being stung by an adder. I soon arose, however, and retired to my bed, where, notwithstanding what I had done, I was not slow in falling asleep.

‘I awoke several times during the night, each time with the dim idea that something strange and monstrous had occurred, but I presently fell asleep again; in the morning I awoke with the same vague feeling, but presently recollection returned, and I remembered that I had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. I lay musing for some time on what I had done, and I felt rather stunned, as before; at last I arose and got out of bed, dressed myself, and then went down on my knees, and was about to pray from the force of mechanical habit; before I said a word, however, I recollected myself, and got up again. What was the use of praying? I thought; I had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost.

‘I went to school, but sat stupefied. I was again chidden, again beaten, by my master. I felt no anger this time, and scarcely heeded the strokes. I looked, however, at my master’s face, and thought to myself, you are beating me for being idle, as you suppose; poor man, what would you do if you knew I had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost?

‘Days and weeks passed by. I had once been cheerful, and fond of the society of children of my own age; but I was now reserved and gloomy. It seemed to me that a gulf separated me from all my fellow-creatures. I used to look at my brothers and schoolfellows, and think how different I was from them; they had not done what I had. I seemed, in my own eyes, a lone monstrous being, and yet, strange to say, I felt a kind of pride in being so. I was unhappy, but I frequently thought to myself, I have done what no one else would dare to do; there was something grand in the idea; I had yet to learn the horror of my condition.

‘Time passed on, and I began to think less of what I had done; I began once more to take pleasure in my childish sports; I was active, and excelled at football and the like all the lads of my age. I likewise began, what I had never done before, to take pleasure in the exercises of the school. I made great progress in Welsh and English grammar, and learnt to construe Latin. My master no longer chid or beat me, but one day told my father that he had no doubt that one day I should be an honour to Wales.

‘Shortly after this my father fell sick; the progress of the disorder was rapid; feeling his end approaching, he called his children before him. After tenderly embracing us, he said “God bless you, my children, I am going from you, but take comfort, I trust that we shall all meet again in heaven.”

‘As he uttered these last words, horror took entire possession of me. Meet my father in heaven, — how could I ever hope to meet him there? I looked wildly at my brethren and at my mother; they were all bathed in tears, but how I envied them. They might hope to meet my father in heaven, but how different were they from me, they had never committed the unpardonable sin.

‘In a few days my father died; he left his family in comfortable circumstances, at least such as would be considered so in Wales, where the wants of the people are few. My elder brother carried on the farm for the benefit of my mother and us all. In course of time my brothers were put out to various trades. I still remained at school, but without being a source of expense to my relations, as I was by this time able to assist my master in the business of the school.

‘I was diligent both in self-improvement and in the instruction of others; nevertheless, a horrible weight pressed upon my breast; I knew I was a lost being; that for me there was no hope; that, though all others might be saved, I must of necessity be lost; I had committed the unpardonable sin, for which I was doomed to eternal punishment, in the flaming gulf, as soon as life was over! — and how long could I hope to live? perhaps fifty years; at the end of which I must go to my place; and then I would count the months and the days, nay, even the hours, which yet intervened between me and my doom. Sometimes I would comfort myself with the idea that a long time would elapse before my time would be out; but then again I thought that, however long the term might be, it must be out at last; and then I would fall into an agony, during which I would almost wish that the term were out, and that I were in my place; the horrors of which I thought could scarcely be worse than what I then endured.

‘There was one thought about this time which caused me unutterable grief and shame, perhaps more shame than grief. It was that my father, who was gone to heaven, and was there daily holding communion with his God, was by this time aware of my crime. I imagined him looking down from the clouds upon his wretched son, with a countenance of inexpressible horror. When this idea was upon me, I would often rush to some secret place to hide myself; to some thicket, where I would cast myself on the ground, and thrust my head into a thick bush, in order to escape from the horror-struck glance of my father above in the clouds; and there I would continue groaning till the agony had, in some degree, passed away.

‘The wretchedness of my state increasing daily, it at last became apparent to the master of the school, who questioned me earnestly and affectionately. I, however, gave him no satisfactory answer, being apprehensive that, if I unbosomed myself, I should become as much an object of horror to him as I had long been to myself. At length he suspected that I was unsettled in my intellects; and, fearing probably the ill effect of my presence upon his scholars, he advised me to go home; which I was glad to do, as I felt myself every day becoming less qualified for the duties of the office which I had undertaken.

‘So I returned home to my mother and my brother, who received me with the greatest kindness and affection. I now determined to devote myself to husbandry, and assist my brother in the business of the farm. I was still, however, very much distressed. One fine morning, however, as I was at work in the field, and the birds were carolling around me, a ray of hope began to break upon my poor dark soul. I looked at the earth and looked at the sky, and felt as I had not done for many a year; presently a delicious feeling stole over me. I was beginning to enjoy existence. I shall never forget that hour. I flung myself on the soil, and kissed it; then, springing up with a sudden impulse, I rushed into the depths of a neighbouring wood, and, falling upon my knees, did what I had not done for a long, long time — prayed to God.

‘A change, an entire change, seemed to have come over me. I was no longer gloomy and despairing, but gay and happy. My slumbers were light and easy; not disturbed, as before, by frightful dreams. I arose with the lark, and like him uttered a cheerful song of praise to God, frequently and earnestly, and was particularly cautious not to do anything which I considered might cause His displeasure.

‘At church I was constant, and when there listened with deepest attention to every word which proceeded from the mouth of the minister. In a little time it appeared to me that I had become a good, very good, young man. At times the recollection of the sin would return, and I would feel a momentary chill; but the thought quickly vanished, and I again felt happy and secure.

‘One Sunday morning, after I had said my prayers, I felt particularly joyous. I thought of the innocent and virtuous life I was leading; and when the recollection of the sin intruded for a moment, said, “I am sure God will never utterly cast away so good a creature as myself.” I went to church, and was as usual attentive. The subject of the sermon was on the duty of searching the Scriptures: all I knew of them was from the liturgy. I now, however, determined to read them, and perfect the good work which I had begun. My father’s Bible was upon the shelf, and on that evening I took it with me to my chamber. I placed it on the table, and sat down. My heart was filled with pleasing anticipation. I opened the book at random, and began to read; the first passage on which my eyes lighted was the following:-

‘“He who committeth the sin against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven, either in this world or the next.”’

Here Peter was seized with convulsive tremors. Winifred sobbed violently. I got up, and went away. Returning in about a quarter of an hour, I found him more calm; he motioned me to sit down; and, after a short pause, continued his narration.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32