Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 77

Getting late — Seven years old — Chastening — Go forth — London Bridge — Same eyes — Common occurrence — Very sleepy.

‘And so I still say,’ said Winifred, sobbing. ‘Let us retire to rest, dear husband; your fears are groundless. I had hoped long since that your affliction would have passed away, and I still hope that it eventually will; so take heart, Peter, and let us retire to rest, for it is getting late.’

‘Rest!’ said Peter; ‘there is no rest for the wicked!’

‘We are all wicked,’ said Winifred; ‘but you are afraid of a shadow. How often have I told you that the sin of your heart is not the sin against the Holy Ghost: the sin of your heart is its natural pride, of which you are scarcely aware, to keep down which God in His mercy permitted you to be terrified with the idea of having committed a sin which you never committed.’

‘Then you will still maintain,’ said Peter, ‘that I never committed the sin against the Holy Spirit?’

‘I will,’ said Winifred; ‘you never committed it. How should a child seven years old commit a sin like that?’

‘Have I not read my own condemnation?’ said Peter. ‘Did not the first words which I read in the Holy Scripture condemn me? “He who committeth the sin against the Holy Ghost shall never enter into the kingdom of God.”’

‘You never committed it,’ said Winifred.

‘But the words! the words! the words!’ said Peter.

‘The words are true words,’ said Winifred, sobbing; ‘but they were not meant for you, but for those who have broken their profession, who, having embraced the cross, have receded from their Master.’

‘And what sayst thou to the effect which the words produced upon me?’ said Peter. ‘Did they not cause me to run wild through Wales for years, like Merddin Wyllt of yore; thinkest thou that I opened the book at that particular passage by chance?’

‘No,’ said Winifred, ‘not by chance; it was the hand of God directed you, doubtless for some wise purpose. You had become satisfied with yourself. The Lord wished to rouse thee from thy state of carnal security, and therefore directed your eyes to that fearful passage.’

‘Does the Lord then carry out His designs by means of guile?’ said Peter with a groan. ‘Is not the Lord true? Would the Lord impress upon me that I had committed a sin of which I am guiltless? Hush, Winifred! hush! thou knowest that I have committed the sin.’

‘Thou hast not committed it,’ said Winifred, sobbing yet more violently. ‘Were they my last words, I would persist that thou hast not committed it, though, perhaps, thou wouldst, but for this chastening; it was not to convince thee that thou hast committed the sin, but rather to prevent thee from committing it, that the Lord brought that passage before thy eyes. He is not to blame, if thou art wilfully blind to the truth and wisdom of His ways.’

‘I see thou wouldst comfort me,’ said Peter, ‘as thou hast often before attempted to do. I would fain ask the young man his opinion.’

‘I have not yet heard the whole of your history,’ said I.

‘My story is nearly told,’ said Peter; ‘a few words will complete it. My wife endeavoured to console and reassure me, using the arguments which you have just heard her use, and many others, but in vain. Peace nor comfort came to my breast. I was rapidly falling into the depths of despair; when one day Winifred said to me, “I see thou wilt be lost, if we remain here. One resource only remains. Thou must go forth, my husband, into the wide world, and to comfort thee I will go with thee.” “And what can I do in the wide world?” said I, despondingly. “Much,” replied Winifred, “if you will but exert yourself; much good canst thou do with the blessing of God.” Many things of the same kind she said to me; and at last I arose from the earth to which God had smitten me, and disposed of my property in the best way I could, and went into the world. We did all the good we were able, visiting the sick, ministering to the sick, and praying with the sick. At last I became celebrated as the possessor of a great gift of prayer. And people urged me to preach, and Winifred urged me too, and at last I consented, and I preached. I— I— outcast Peter, became the preacher Peter Williams. I, the lost one, attempted to show others the right road. And in this way I have gone on for thirteen years, preaching and teaching, visiting the sick, and ministering to them, with Winifred by my side heartening me on. Occasionally I am visited with fits of indescribable agony, generally on the night before the Sabbath; for I then ask myself, how dare I, the outcast, attempt to preach the word of God? Young man, my tale is told; you seem in thought!’

‘I am thinking of London Bridge,’ said I.

‘Of London Bridge!’ said Peter and his wife.

‘Yes,’ said I, ‘of London Bridge. I am indebted for much wisdom to London Bridge; it was there that I completed my studies. But to the point. I was once reading on London Bridge a book which an ancient gentlewoman, who kept the bridge, was in the habit of lending me; and there I found written, “Each one carries in his breast the recollection of some sin which presses heavy upon him. Oh, if men could but look into each other’s hearts, what blackness would they find there!”’

‘That’s true,’ said Peter. ‘What is the name of the book?’

‘The Life of Blessed Mary Flanders.’

‘Some popish saint, I suppose,’ said Peter.

‘As much of a saint, I daresay,’ said I, ‘as most popish ones; but you interrupted me. One part of your narrative brought the passage which I have quoted into my mind. You said that after you had committed this same sin of yours you were in the habit, at school, of looking upon your schoolfellows with a kind of gloomy superiority, considering yourself a lone monstrous being who had committed a sin far above the daring of any of them. Are you sure that many others of your schoolfellows were not looking upon you and the others with much the same eyes with which you were looking upon them?’

‘How!’ said Peter, ‘dost thou think that they had divined my secret?’

‘Not they,’ said I, ‘they were, I daresay, thinking too much of themselves and of their own concerns to have divined any secrets of yours. All I mean to say is, they had probably secrets of their own, and who knows that the secret sin of more than one of them was not the very sin which caused you so much misery?’

‘Dost thou then imagine,’ said Peter, ‘the sin against the Holy Ghost to be so common an occurrence?’

‘As you have described it,’ said I, ‘of very common occurrence, especially amongst children, who are, indeed, the only beings likely to commit it.’

‘Truly,’ said Winifred, ‘the young man talks wisely.’

Peter was silent for some moments, and appeared to be reflecting; at last, suddenly raising his head, he looked me full in the face, and, grasping my hand with vehemence, he said, ‘Tell me, young man, only one thing, hast thou, too, committed the sin against the Holy Ghost?’

‘I am neither Papist nor Methodist,’ said I, ‘but of the Church, and, being so, confess myself to no one, but keep my own counsel; I will tell thee, however, had I committed, at the same age, twenty such sins as that which you committed, I should feel no uneasiness at these years — but I am sleepy, and must go to rest.’

‘God bless thee, young man,’ said Winifred.

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