Lavengro, by George Borrow

Chapter 79

Deep interest — Goodly country — Two mansions — Welshman’s Candle — Beautiful universe — Godly discourse — Fine church — Points of doctrine — Strange adventures — Paltry cause — Roman pontiff — Evil spirit.

On the morrow I said to my friends, ‘I am about to depart; farewell!’ ‘Depart!’ said Peter and his wife, simultaneously; ‘whither wouldst thou go?’ ‘I can’t stay here all my days,’ I replied. ‘Of course not,’ said Peter; ‘but we had no idea of losing thee so soon: we had almost hoped that thou wouldst join us, become one of us. We are under infinite obligations to thee.’ ‘You mean I am under infinite obligations to you,’ said I. ‘Did you not save my life?’ ‘Perhaps so, under God,’ said Peter; ‘and what hast thou not done for me? Art thou aware that, under God, thou hast preserved my soul from despair? But, independent of that, we like thy company, and feel a deep interest in thee, and would fain teach thee the way that is right. Hearken, tomorrow we go into Wales; go with us.’ ‘I have no wish to go into Wales,’ said I. ‘Why not?’ said Peter, with animation. ‘Wales is a goodly country; as the Scripture says — a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, that spring out of valleys and hills, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig lead.’

‘I daresay it is a very fine country,’ said I, ‘but I have no wish to go there just now; my destiny seems to point in another direction, to say nothing of my trade.’ ‘Thou dost right to say nothing of thy trade,’ said Peter, smiling, ‘for thou seemest to care nothing about it; which has led Winifred and myself to suspect that thou art not altogether what thou seemest; but, setting that aside, we should be most happy if thou wouldst go with us into Wales.’ ‘I cannot promise to go with you into Wales,’ said I; ‘but, as you depart tomorrow, I will stay with you through the day, and on the morrow accompany you part of the way.’ ‘Do,’ said Peter: ‘I have many people to see today, and so has Winifred; but we will both endeavour to have some serious discourse with thee, which, perhaps, will turn to thy profit in the end.’

In the course of the day the good Peter came to me, as I was seated beneath the oak, and, placing himself by me, commenced addressing me in the following manner:-

‘I have no doubt, my young friend, that you are willing to admit that the most important thing which a human being possesses is his soul; it is of infinitely more importance than the body, which is a frail substance, and cannot last for many years; but not so the soul, which, by its nature, is imperishable. To one of two mansions the soul is destined to depart, after its separation from the body, to heaven or hell; to the halls of eternal bliss, where God and His holy angels dwell, or to the place of endless misery, inhabited by Satan and his grisly companions. My friend, if the joys of heaven are great, unutterably great, so are the torments of hell unutterably so. I wish not to speak of them, I wish not to terrify your imagination with the torments of hell: indeed, I like not to think of them; but it is necessary to speak of them sometimes, and to think of them sometimes, lest you should sink into a state of carnal security. Authors, friend, and learned men, are not altogether agreed as to the particulars of hell. They all agree, however, in considering it a place of exceeding horror. Master Ellis Wyn, who by the bye was a churchman, calls it, amongst other things, a place of strong sighs, and of flaming sparks. Master Rees Pritchard, who was not only a churchman, but Vicar of Llandovery, and flourished about two hundred years ago — I wish many like him flourished now — speaking of hell, in his collection of sweet hymns called the “Welshman’s Candle,” observes,

‘“The pool is continually blazing; it is very deep, without any known bottom, and the walls are so high, that there is neither hope nor possibility of escaping over them.”

‘But, as I told you just now, I have no great pleasure in talking of hell. No, friend, no; I would sooner talk of the other place, and of the goodness and hospitality of God amongst His saints above.’

And then the excellent man began to dilate upon the joys of heaven, and the goodness and hospitality of God in the mansions above; explaining to me, in the clearest way, how I might get there.

And when he had finished what he had to say, he left me, whereupon Winifred drew nigh, and sitting down by me began to address me. ‘I do not think,’ said she, ‘from what I have observed of thee, that thou wouldst wish to be ungrateful, and yet, is not thy whole life a series of ingratitude, and to whom? — to thy Maker. Has He not endowed thee with a goodly and healthy form; and senses which enable thee to enjoy the delights of His beautiful universe — the work of His hands? Canst thou not enjoy, even to rapture, the brightness of the sun, the perfume of the meads, and the song of the dear birds which inhabit among the trees? Yes, thou canst; for I have seen thee, and observed thee doing so. Yet, during the whole time that I have known thee, I have not heard proceed from thy lips one single word of praise or thanksgiving to . . . ’

And in this manner the admirable woman proceeded for a considerable time, and to all her discourse I listened with attention; and when she had concluded, I took her hand and said, ‘I thank you,’ and that was all.

On the next day everything was ready for our departure. The good family of the house came to bid us farewell. There were shaking of hands, and kisses, as on the night of our arrival.

And as I stood somewhat apart, the young girl of whom I have spoken so often came up to me, and holding out her hand, said, ‘Farewell, young man, wherever thou goest.’ Then, after looking around her, she said, ‘It was all true you told me. Yesterday I received a letter from him thou wottest of; he is coming soon. God bless you, young man; who would have thought thou knewest so much!’

So, after we had taken our farewell of the good family, we departed, proceeding in the direction of Wales. Peter was very cheerful, and enlivened the way with godly discourse and spiritual hymns, some of which were in the Welsh language. At length I said, ‘It is a pity that you did not continue in the Church; you have a turn for Psalmody, and I have heard of a man becoming a bishop by means of a less qualification.’

‘Very probably,’ said Peter; ‘more the pity. But I have told you the reason of my forsaking it. Frequently, when I went to the church door, I found it barred, and the priest absent; what was I to do? My heart was bursting for want of some religious help and comfort; what could I do? as good Master Rees Pritchard observes in his “Candle for Welshmen”:-

‘“It is a doleful thing to see little children burning on the hot coals for want of help; but yet more doleful to see a flock of souls falling into the burning lake for want of a priest.”’

‘The Church of England is a fine church,’ said I; ‘I would not advise any one to speak ill of the Church of England before me.’

‘I have nothing to say against the church,’ said Peter; ‘all I wish is that it would fling itself a little more open, and that its priests would a little more bestir themselves; in a word, that it would shoulder the cross and become a missionary church.’

‘It is too proud for that,’ said Winifred.

‘You are much more of a Methodist,’ said I, ‘than your husband. But tell me,’ said I, addressing myself to Peter, ‘do you not differ from the church in some points of doctrine? I, of course, as a true member of the church, am quite ignorant of the peculiar opinions of wandering sectaries.’

‘Oh the pride of that church!’ said Winifred, half to herself; ‘wandering sectaries!’

‘We differ in no points of doctrine,’ said Peter; ‘we believe all the church believes, though we are not so fond of vain and superfluous ceremonies, snow-white neckcloths and surplices, as the church is. We likewise think that there is no harm in a sermon by the road-side, or in holding free discourse with a beggar beneath a hedge, or a tinker,’ he added, smiling; ‘it was those superfluous ceremonies, those surplices and white neckcloths, and, above all, the necessity of strictly regulating his words and conversation, which drove John Wesley out of the church, and sent him wandering up and down as you see me, poor Welsh Peter, do.’

Nothing farther passed for some time; we were now drawing near the hills: at last I said, ‘You must have met with a great many strange adventures since you took up this course of life?’

‘Many,’ said Peter, ‘it has been my lot to meet with; but none more strange than one which occurred to me only a few weeks ago. You were asking me, not long since, whether I believed in devils? Ay, truly, young man; and I believe that the abyss and the yet deeper unknown do not contain them all; some walk about upon the green earth. So it happened, some weeks ago, that I was exercising my ministry about forty miles from here. I was alone, Winifred being slightly indisposed, staying for a few days at the house of an acquaintance; I had finished afternoon’s worship — the people had dispersed, and I was sitting solitary by my cart under some green trees in a quiet retired place; suddenly a voice said to me, “Good-evening, Pastor”; I looked up, and before me stood a man, at least the appearance of a man, dressed in a black suit of rather a singular fashion. He was about my own age, or somewhat older. As I looked upon him, it appeared to me that I had seen him twice before whilst preaching. I replied to his salutation, and perceiving that he looked somewhat fatigued, I took out a stool from the cart, and asked him to sit down. We began to discourse; I at first supposed that he might be one of ourselves, some wandering minister; but I was soon undeceived. Neither his language nor his ideas were those of any one of our body. He spoke on all kinds of matters with much fluency; till at last he mentioned my preaching, complimenting me on my powers. I replied, as well I might, that I could claim no merit of my own, and that if I spoke with any effect, it was only by the grace of God. As I uttered these last words, a horrible kind of sneer came over his countenance, which made me shudder, for there was something diabolical in it. I said little more, but listened attentively to his discourse. At last he said that I was engaged in a paltry cause, quite unworthy of one of my powers. “How can that be,” said I, “even if I possessed all the powers in the world, seeing that I am engaged in the cause of our Lord Jesus?”

‘The same kind of sneer again came on his countenance, but he almost instantly observed, that if I chose to forsake this same miserable cause, from which nothing but contempt and privation was to be expected, he would enlist me into another, from which I might expect both profit and renown. An idea now came into my head, and I told him firmly that if he wished me to forsake my present profession and become a member of the Church of England, I must absolutely decline; that I had no ill-will against that church, but I thought I could do most good in my present position, which I would not forsake to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Thereupon he burst into a strange laughter, and went away, repeating to himself, “Church of England! Archbishop of Canterbury!” A few days after, when I was once more in a solitary place, he again appeared before me, and asked me whether I had thought over his words, and whether I was willing to enlist under the banners of his master, adding that he was eager to secure me, as he conceived that I might be highly useful to the cause. I then asked him who his master was; he hesitated for a moment, and then answered, “The Roman Pontiff.” “If it be he,” said I, “I can have nothing to do with him; I will serve no one who is an enemy of Christ.” Thereupon he drew near to me, and told me not to talk so much like a simpleton; that as for Christ, it was probable that no such person ever existed, but that if He ever did, He was the greatest impostor the world ever saw. How long he continued in this way I know not, for I now considered that an evil spirit was before me, and shrank within myself, shivering in every limb; when I recovered myself and looked about me, he was gone. Two days after, he again stood before me, in the same place, and about the same hour, renewing his propositions, and speaking more horribly than before. I made him no answer; whereupon he continued; but suddenly hearing a noise behind him, he looked round and beheld Winifred, who had returned to me on the morning of that day. “Who are you?” said he, fiercely. “This man’s wife,” said she, calmly fixing her eyes upon him. “Begone from him, unhappy one, thou temptest him in vain.” He made no answer, but stood as if transfixed: at length, recovering himself, he departed, muttering “Wife! wife! If the fool has a wife, he will never do for us.”’

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