Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 76

Hasty farewell — Lofty rock — Wrestlings of Jacob — No rest — Ways of Providence — Two females — Foot of the Cross — Enemy of souls — Perplexed — Lucky hour — Valetudinarian — Methodists — Fervent in prayer — You Saxons — Weak creatures — Very agreeable — Almost happy — Kindness and solicitude.

‘Where was I, young man? Oh, I remember, at the fatal passage which removed all hope. I will not dwell on what I felt. I closed my eyes, and wished that I might be dreaming; but it was no dream, but a terrific reality: I will not dwell on that period, I should only shock you. I could not bear my feelings; so, bidding my friends a hasty farewell, I abandoned myself to horror and despair, and ran wild through Wales, climbing mountains and wading streams.

‘Climbing mountains and wading streams, I ran wild about, I was burnt by the sun, drenched by the rain, and had frequently at night no other covering than the sky, or the humid roof of some cave; but nothing seemed to affect my constitution; probably the fire which burned within me counteracted what I suffered from without. During the space of three years I scarcely knew what befell me; my life was a dream — a wild, horrible dream; more than once I believe I was in the hands of robbers, and once in the hands of gypsies. I liked the last description of people least of all; I could not abide their yellow faces, or their ceaseless clabber. Escaping from these beings, whose countenances and godless discourse brought to my mind the demons of the deep Unknown, I still ran wild through Wales, I know not how long. On one occasion, coming in some degree to my recollection, I felt myself quite unable to bear the horrors of my situation; looking round I found myself near the sea; instantly the idea came into my head that I would cast myself into it, and thus anticipate my final doom. I hesitated a moment, but a voice within me seemed to tell me that I could do no better; the sea was near, and I could not swim, so I determined to fling myself into the sea. As I was running along at great speed, in the direction of a lofty rock, which beetled over the waters, I suddenly felt myself seized by the coat. I strove to tear myself away, but in vain; looking round, I perceived a venerable hale old man, who had hold of me. “Let me go!” said I, fiercely. “I will not let thee go,” said the old man, and now, instead of with one, he grappled me with both hands. “In whose name dost thou detain me?” said I, scarcely knowing what I said. “In the name of my Master, who made thee and yonder sea; and has said to the sea, So far shalt thou come, and no farther, and to thee, Thou shalt do no murder.” “Has not a man a right to do what he pleases with his own?” said I. “He has,” said the old man, “but thy life is not thy own; thou art accountable for it to thy God. Nay, I will not let thee go,” he continued, as I again struggled; “if thou struggle with me the whole day I will not let thee go, as Charles Wesley says, in his ‘Wrestlings of Jacob’; and see, it is of no use struggling, for I am, in the strength of my Master, stronger than thou”; and indeed, all of a sudden I had become very weak and exhausted; whereupon the old man, beholding my situation, took me by the arm and led me gently to a neighbouring town, which stood behind a hill, and which I had not before observed; presently he opened the door of a respectable-looking house, which stood beside a large building having the appearance of a chapel, and conducted me into a small room, with a great many books in it. Having caused me to sit down, he stood looking at me for some time, occasionally heaving a sigh. I was, indeed, haggard and forlorn. “Who art thou?” he said at last. “A miserable man,” I replied. “What makes thee miserable?” said the old man. “A hideous crime,” I replied. “I can find no rest; like Cain I wander here and there.” The old man turned pale. “Hast thou taken another’s life?” said he; “if so, I advise thee to surrender thyself to the magistrate; thou canst do no better; thy doing so will be the best proof of thy repentance; and though there be no hope for thee in this world there may be much in the next.” “No,” said I, “I have never taken another’s life.” “What then, another’s goods? If so, restore them sevenfold, if possible: or, if it be not in thy power, and thy conscience accuse thee, surrender thyself to the magistrate, and make the only satisfaction thou art able.” “I have taken no one’s goods,” said I. “Of what art thou guilty, then?” said he. “Art thou a drunkard? a profligate?” “Alas, no,” said I; “I am neither of these; would that I were no worse.”

‘Thereupon the old man looked steadfastly at me for some time; then, after appearing to reflect, he said, “Young man, I have a great desire to know your name.” “What matters it to you what is my name?” said I; “you know nothing of me.” “Perhaps you are mistaken,” said the old man, looking kindly at me; “but at all events tell me your name.” I hesitated a moment, and then told him who I was, whereupon he exclaimed with much emotion, “I thought so; how wonderful are the ways of Providence. I have heard of thee, young man, and know thy mother well. Only a month ago, when upon a journey, I experienced much kindness from her. She was speaking to me of her lost child, with tears; she told me that you were one of the best of sons, but that some strange idea appeared to have occupied your mind. Despair not, my son. If thou hast been afflicted, I doubt not but that thy affliction will eventually turn out to thy benefit; I doubt not but that thou wilt be preserved, as an example of the great mercy of God. I will now kneel down and pray for thee, my son.”

‘He knelt down, and prayed long and fervently. I remained standing for some time; at length I knelt down likewise. I scarcely knew what he was saying, but when he concluded I said “Amen.”

‘And when we had risen from our knees, the old man left me for a short time, and on his return led me into another room, where were two females; one was an elderly person, the wife of the old man, — the other was a young woman of very prepossessing appearance (hang not down thy head, Winifred), who I soon found was a distant relation of the old man, — both received me with great kindness, the old man having doubtless previously told them who I was.

‘I stayed several days in the good man’s house. I had still the greater portion of a small sum which I happened to have about me when I departed on my dolorous wandering, and with this I purchased clothes, and altered my appearance considerably. On the evening of the second day my friend said, “I am going to preach, perhaps you will come and hear me.” I consented, and we all went, not to a church, but to the large building next the house; for the old man, though a clergyman, was not of the established persuasion, and there the old man mounted a pulpit, and began to preach. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” etc. etc., was his text. His sermon was long, but I still bear the greater portion of it in my mind.

‘The substance of it was that Jesus was at all times ready to take upon Himself the burden of our sins, provided we came to Him with a humble and contrite spirit, and begged His help. This doctrine was new to me; I had often been at church, but had never heard it preached before, at least so distinctly. When he said that all men might be saved, I shook, for I expected he would add, all except those who had committed the mysterious sin; but no, all men were to be saved who with a humble and contrite spirit would come to Jesus, cast themselves at the foot of His cross, and accept pardon through the merits of His blood-shedding alone. “Therefore, my friends,” said he, in conclusion, “despair not — however guilty you may be, despair not — however desperate your condition may seem,” said he, fixing his eyes upon me, “despair not. There is nothing more foolish and more wicked than despair; over-weening confidence is not more foolish than despair; both are the favourite weapons of the enemy of souls.”

‘This discourse gave rise in my mind to no slight perplexity. I had read in the Scriptures that he who committeth a certain sin shall never be forgiven, and that there is no hope for him either in this world or the next. And here was a man, a good man certainly, and one who, of necessity, was thoroughly acquainted with the Scriptures, who told me that any one might be forgiven, however wicked, who would only trust in Christ and in the merits of His blood-shedding. Did I believe in Christ? Ay, truly. Was I willing to be saved by Christ? Ay, truly. Did I trust in Christ? I trusted that Christ would save every one but myself. And why not myself? simply because the Scriptures had told me that he who has committed the sin against the Holy Ghost can never be saved, and I had committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, — perhaps the only one who ever had committed it. How could I hope? The Scriptures could not lie, and yet here was this good old man, profoundly versed in the Scriptures, who bade me hope; would he lie? No. But did the old man know my case? Ah, no, he did not know my case! but yet he had bid me hope, whatever I had done, provided I would go to Jesus. But how could I think of going to Jesus, when the Scriptures told me plainly that all would be useless? I was perplexed, and yet a ray of hope began to dawn in my soul. I thought of consulting the good man, but I was afraid he would drive away the small glimmer. I was afraid he would say, “Oh yes, every one is to be saved, except a wretch like you; I was not aware before that there was anything so horrible, — begone!” Once or twice the old man questioned me on the subject of my misery, but I evaded him; once, indeed, when he looked particularly benevolent, I think I should have unbosomed myself to him, but we were interrupted. He never pressed me much; perhaps he was delicate in probing my mind, as we were then of different persuasions. Hence he advised me to seek the advice of some powerful minister in my own church; there were many such in it, he said.

‘I stayed several days in the family, during which time I more than once heard my venerable friend preach; each time he preached, he exhorted his hearers not to despair. The whole family were kind to me; his wife frequently discoursed with me, and also the young person to whom I have already alluded. It appeared to me that the latter took a peculiar interest in my fate.

‘At last my friend said to me, “It is now time thou shouldest return to thy mother and thy brother.” So I arose, and departed to my mother and my brother; and at my departure my old friend gave me his blessing, and his wife and the young person shed tears, the last especially. And when my mother saw me, she shed tears, and fell on my neck and kissed me, and my brother took me by the hand and bade me welcome; and when our first emotions were subsided, my mother said, “I trust thou art come in a lucky hour. A few weeks ago my cousin (whose favourite thou always wast) died and left thee his heir — left thee the goodly farm in which he lived. I trust, my son, that thou wilt now settle, and be a comfort to me in my old days.” And I answered, “I will, if so please the Lord”; and I said to myself, “God grant that this bequest be a token of the Lord’s favour.”

‘And in a few days I departed to take possession of my farm; it was about twenty miles from my mother’s house, in a beautiful but rather wild district; I arrived at the fall of the leaf. All day long I busied myself with my farm, and thus kept my mind employed. At night, however, I felt rather solitary, and I frequently wished for a companion. Each night and morning I prayed fervently unto the Lord; for His hand had been very heavy upon me, and I feared Him.

‘There was one thing connected with my new abode which gave me considerable uneasiness — the want of spiritual instruction. There was a church, indeed, close at hand, in which service was occasionally performed, but in so hurried and heartless a manner that I derived little benefit from it. The clergyman to whom the benefice belonged was a valetudinarian, who passed his time in London, or at some watering-place, entrusting the care of his flock to the curate of a distant parish, who gave himself very little trouble about the matter. Now I wanted every Sunday to hear from the pulpit words of consolation and encouragement, similar to those which I had heard uttered from the pulpit by my good and venerable friend, but I was debarred from this privilege. At length, one day being in conversation with one of my labourers, a staid and serious man, I spoke to him of the matter which lay heavy upon my mind; whereupon, looking me wistfully in the face, he said, “Master, the want of religious instruction in my church was what drove me to the Methodists.” “The Methodists,” said I, “are there any in these parts?” “There is a chapel,” said he, “only half a mile distant, at which there are two services every Sunday, and other two during the week.” Now it happened that my venerable friend was of the Methodist persuasion, and when I heard the poor man talk in this manner, I said to him, “May I go with you next Sunday?” “Why not?” said he; so I went with the labourer on the ensuing Sabbath to the meeting of the Methodists.

‘I liked the preaching which I heard at the chapel very well, though it was not quite so comfortable as that of my old friend, the preacher being in some respects a different kind of man. It, however, did me good, and I went again, and continued to do so, though I did not become a regular member of the body at that time.

‘I had now the benefit of religious instruction, and also to a certain extent of religious fellowship, for the preacher and various members of his flock frequently came to see me. They were honest plain men, not exactly of the description which I wished for, but still good sort of people, and I was glad to see them. Once on a time, when some of them were with me, one of them inquired whether I was fervent in prayer. “Very fervent,” said I. “And do you read the Scriptures often?” said he. “No,” said I. “Why not?” said he. “Because I am afraid to see there my own condemnation.” They looked at each other, and said nothing at the time. On leaving me, however, they all advised me to read the Scriptures with fervency and prayer.

‘As I had told these honest people, I shrank from searching the Scriptures; the remembrance of the fatal passage was still too vivid in my mind to permit me. I did not wish to see my condemnation repeated, but I was very fervent in prayer, and almost hoped that God would yet forgive me by virtue of the blood-shedding of the Lamb. Time passed on, my affairs prospered, and I enjoyed a certain portion of tranquillity. Occasionally, when I had nothing else to do, I renewed my studies. Many is the book I read, especially in my native language, for I was always fond of my native language, and proud of being a Welshman. Amongst the books I read were the odes of the great Ab Gwilym, whom thou, friend, hast never heard of; no, nor any of thy countrymen, for you are an ignorant race, you Saxons, at least with respect to all that relates to Wales and Welshmen. I likewise read the book of Master Ellis Wyn. The latter work possessed a singular fascination for me, on account of its wonderful delineations of the torments of the nether world.

‘But man does not love to be alone; indeed, the Scripture says that it is not good for man to be alone. I occupied my body with the pursuits of husbandry, and I improved my mind with the perusal of good and wise books; but, as I have already said, I frequently sighed for a companion with whom I could exchange ideas, and who could take an interest in my pursuits; the want of such a one I more particularly felt in the long winter evenings. It was then that the image of the young person whom I had seen in the house of the preacher frequently rose up distinctly before my mind’s eye, decked with quiet graces — hang not down your head, Winifred — and I thought that of all the women in the world I should wish her to be my partner, and then I considered whether it would be possible to obtain her. I am ready to acknowledge, friend, that it was both selfish and wicked in me to wish to fetter any human being to a lost creature like myself, conscious of having committed a crime for which the Scriptures told me there is no pardon. I had, indeed, a long struggle as to whether I should make the attempt or not — selfishness however prevailed. I will not detain your attention with relating all that occurred at this period — suffice it to say that I made my suit and was successful; it is true that the old man, who was her guardian, hesitated, and asked several questions respecting my state of mind. I am afraid that I partly deceived him, perhaps he partly deceived himself; he was pleased that I had adopted his profession — we are all weak creatures. With respect to the young person, she did not ask many questions; and I soon found that I had won her heart. To be brief, I married her; and here she is, the truest wife that ever man had, and the kindest. Kind I may well call her, seeing that she shrinks not from me, who so cruelly deceived her, in not telling her at first what I was. I married her, friend; and brought her home to my little possession, where we passed our time very agreeably. Our affairs prospered, our garners were full, and there was coin in our purse. I worked in the field; Winifred busied herself with the dairy. At night I frequently read books to her, books of my own country, friend; I likewise read to her songs of my own, holy songs and carols which she admired, and which yourself would perhaps admire, could you understand them; but I repeat, you Saxons are an ignorant people with respect to us, and a perverse, inasmuch as you despise Welsh without understanding it. Every night I prayed fervently, and my wife admired my gift of prayer.

‘One night, after I had been reading to my wife a portion of Ellis Wyn, my wife said, “This is a wonderful book, and containing much true and pleasant doctrine; but how is it that you, who are so fond of good books, and good things in general, never read the Bible? You read me the book of Master Ellis Wyn, you read me sweet songs of your own composition, you edify me with your gift of prayer, but yet you never read the Bible.” And when I heard her mention the Bible I shook, for I thought of my own condemnation. However, I dearly loved my wife, and as she pressed me, I commenced on that very night reading the Bible. All went on smoothly for a long time; for months and months I did not find the fatal passage, so that I almost thought that I had imagined it. My affairs prospered much the while, so that I was almost happy, — taking pleasure in everything around me, — in my wife, in my farm, my books and compositions, and the Welsh language; till one night, as I was reading the Bible, feeling particularly comfortable, a thought having just come into my head that I would print some of my compositions, and purchase a particular field of a neighbour — O God — God! I came to the fatal passage.

‘Friend, friend, what shall I say? I rushed out. My wife followed me, asking me what was the matter. I could only answer with groans — for three days and three nights I did little else than groan. Oh the kindness and solicitude of my wife! “What is the matter husband, dear husband?” she was continually saying. I became at last more calm. My wife still persisted in asking me the cause of my late paroxysm. It is hard to keep a secret from a wife, especially such a wife as mine, so I told my wife the tale, as we sat one night — it was a mid-winter night — over the dying brands of our hearth, after the family had retired to rest, her hand locked in mine, even as it is now.

‘I thought she would have shrunk from me with horror; but she did not; her hand, it is true, trembled once or twice; but that was all. At last she gave mine a gentle pressure; and, looking up in my face, she said — what do you think my wife said, young man?’

‘It is impossible for me to guess,’ said I.

“Let us go to rest, my love; your fears are all groundless.”’

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