Yes! the bank had stopped. The ancient firm of Smith, Brown, Jones, Robinson, and Co., which had been for some years past expanding from a solid golden organism into a cobweb-tissue and huge balloon of threadbare paper, had at last worn through and collapsed, dropping its car and human contents miserably into the Thames mud. Why detail the pitiable post-mortem examination resulting? Lancelot sickened over it for many a long day; not, indeed, mourning at his private losses, but at the thorough hollowness of the system which it exposed, about which he spoke his mind pretty freely to his uncle, who bore it good-humouredly enough. Indeed, the discussions to which it gave rise rather comforted the good man, by turning his thought from his own losses to general principles. ‘I have ruined you, my poor boy,’ he used to say; ‘so you may as well take your money’s worth out of me in bullying.’ Nothing, indeed, could surpass his honest and manly sorrow for having been the cause of Lancelot’s beggary; but as for persuading him that his system was wrong, it was quite impossible. Not that Lancelot was hard upon him; on the contrary, he assured him, repeatedly, of his conviction, that the precepts of the Bible had nothing to do with the laws of commerce; that though the Jews were forbidden to take interest of Jews, Christians had a perfect right to be as hard as they liked on ‘brother’ Christians; that there could not be the least harm in share-jobbing, for though it did, to be sure, add nothing to the wealth of the community — only conjure money out of your neighbour’s pocket into your own — yet was not that all fair in trade? If a man did not know the real value of the shares he sold you, you were not bound to tell him. Again, Lancelot quite agreed with his uncle, that though covetousness might be idolatry, yet money-making could not be called covetousness; and that, on the whole, though making haste to be rich was denounced as a dangerous and ruinous temptation in St. Paul’s times, that was not the slightest reason why it should be so now. All these concessions were made with a freedom which caused the good banker to suspect at times that his shrewd nephew was laughing at him in his sleeve, but he could not but subscribe to them for the sake of consistency; though as a staunch Protestant, it puzzled him a little at times to find it necessary to justify himself by getting his ‘infidel’ nephew to explain away so much of the Bible for him. But men are accustomed to do that now-a-days, and so was he.
Once only did Lancelot break out with his real sentiments when the banker was planning how to reestablish his credit; to set to work, in fact, to blow over again the same bubble which had already burst under him.
‘If I were a Christian,’ said Lancelot, ‘like you, I would call this credit system of yours the devil’s selfish counterfeit of God’s order of mutual love and trust; the child of that miserable dream, which, as Dr. Chalmers well said, expects universal selfishness to do the work of universal love. Look at your credit system, how — not in its abuse, but in its very essence — it carries the seeds of self-destruction. In the first place, a man’s credit depends, not upon his real worth and property, but upon his reputation for property; daily and hourly he is tempted, he is forced, to puff himself, to pretend to be richer than he is.’
The banker sighed and shrugged his shoulders. ‘We all do it, my dear boy.’
‘I know it. You must do it, or be more than human. There is lie the first, and look at lie the second. This credit system is founded on the universal faith and honour of men towards men. But do you think faith and honour can be the children of selfishness? Men must be chivalrous and disinterested to be honourable. And you expect them all to join in universal faith — each for his own selfish interest? You forget that if that is the prime motive, men will be honourable only as long as it suits that same self-interest.’
The banker shrugged his shoulders again.
‘Yes, my dear uncle,’ said Lancelot, ‘you all forget it, though you suffer for it daily and hourly; though the honourable men among you complain of the stain which has fallen on the old chivalrous good faith of English commerce, and say that now, abroad as well as at home, an Englishman’s word is no longer worth other men’s bonds. You see the evil, and you deplore it in disgust. Ask yourself honestly, how can you battle against it, while you allow in practice, and in theory too, except in church on Sundays, the very falsehood from which it all springs? — that a man is bound to get wealth, not for his country, but for himself; that, in short, not patriotism, but selfishness, is the bond of all society. Selfishness can collect, not unite, a herd of cowardly wild cattle, that they may feed together, breed together, keep off the wolf and bear together. But when one of your wild cattle falls sick, what becomes of the corporate feelings of the herd then? For one man of your class who is nobly helped by his fellows, are not the thousand left behind to perish? Your Bible talks of society, not as a herd, but as a living tree, an organic individual body, a holy brotherhood, and kingdom of God. And here is an idol which you have set up instead of it!’
But the banker was deaf to all arguments. No doubt he had plenty, for he was himself a just and generous — ay, and a God-fearing man in his way, only he regarded Lancelot’s young fancies as too visionary to deserve an answer; which they most probably are; else, having been broached as often as they have been, they would surely, ere now, have provoked the complete refutation which can, no doubt, be given to them by hundreds of learned votaries of so-called commerce. And here I beg my readers to recollect that I am in no way answerable for the speculations, either of Lancelot or any of his acquaintances; and that these papers have been, from beginning to end, as in name, so in nature, Yeast — an honest sample of the questions, which, good or bad, are fermenting in the minds of the young of this day, and are rapidly leavening the minds of the rising generation. No doubt they are all as full of fallacies as possible, but as long as the saying of the German sage stands true, that ‘the destiny of any nation, at any given moment, depends on the opinions of its young men under five-and-twenty,’ so long it must be worth while for those who wish to preserve the present order of society to justify its acknowledged evils somewhat, not only to the few young men who are interested in preserving them, but also to the many who are not.
Though, therefore, I am neither Plymouth Brother nor Communist, and as thoroughly convinced as the newspapers can make me, that to assert the duties of property is only to plot its destruction, and that a community of goods must needs imply a community of wives (as every one knows was the case with the apostolic Christians), I shall take the liberty of narrating Lancelot’s fanatical conduct, without execratory comment, certain that he will still receive his just reward of condemnation; and that, if I find facts, a sensible public will find abhorrence for them. His behaviour was, indeed, most singular; he absolutely refused a good commercial situation which his uncle procured him. He did not believe in being ‘cured by a hair of the dog that bit him;’ and he refused, also, the really generous offers of the creditors, to allow him a sufficient maintenance.
‘No,’ he said, ‘no more pay without work for me. I will earn my bread or starve. It seems God’s will to teach me what poverty is — I will see that His intention is not left half fulfilled. I have sinned, and only in the stern delight of a just penance can I gain self-respect.’
‘But, my dear madman,’ said his uncle, ‘you are just the innocent one among us all. You, at least, were only a sleeping partner.’
‘And therein lies my sin; I took money which I never earned, and cared as little how it was gained as how I spent it. Henceforth I shall touch no farthing which is the fruit of a system which I cannot approve. I accuse no one. Actions may vary in rightfulness, according to the age and the person. But what may be right for you, because you think it right, is surely wrong for me because I think it wrong.’
So, with grim determination, he sent to the hammer every article he possessed, till he had literally nothing left but the clothes in which he stood. ‘He could not rest,’ he said, ‘till he had pulled out all his borrowed peacock’s feathers. When they were gone he should be able to see, at last, whether he was jackdaw or eagle.’ And wonder not, reader, at this same strength of will. The very genius, which too often makes its possessor self-indulgent in common matters, from the intense capability of enjoyment which it brings, may also, when once his whole being is stirred into motion by some great object, transform him into a hero.
And he carried a letter, too, in his bosom, night and day, which routed all coward fears and sad forebodings as soon as they arose, and converted the lonely and squalid lodging to which he had retired, into a fairy palace peopled with bright phantoms of future bliss. I need not say from whom it came.
‘Beloved!’ (it ran) ‘Darling! you need not pain yourself to tell me anything. I know all; and I know, too (do not ask me how), your noble determination to drink the wholesome cup of poverty to the very dregs.
‘Oh that I were with you! Oh that I could give you my fortune! butthat is not yet, alas! in my own power. No! rather would I share that poverty with you, and strengthen you in your purpose. And yet, I cannot bear the thought of you, lonely — perhaps miserable. But, courage! though you have lost all, you have found me; and now you are knitting me to you for ever — justifying my own love to me by your nobleness; and am I not worth all the world to you? I dare say this to you; you will not think me conceited. Can we misunderstand each other’s hearts? And all this while you are alone! Oh! I have mourned for you! Since I heard of your misfortune I have not tasted pleasure. The light of heaven has been black to me, and I have lived only upon love. I will not taste comfort while you are wretched. Would that I could be poor like you! Every night upon the bare floor I lie down to sleep, and fancy you in your little chamber, and nestle to you, and cover that dear face with kisses. Strange! that I should dare to speak thus to you, whom a few months ago I had never heard of! Wonderful simplicity of love! How all that is prudish and artificial flees before it! I seem to have begun a new life. If I could play now, it would be only with little children. Farewell! be great — a glorious future is before you and me in you!’
Lancelot’s answer must remain untold; perhaps the veil has been already too far lifted which hides the sanctuary of such love. But, alas! to his letter no second had been returned; and he felt — though he dared not confess it to himself — a gloomy presentiment of evil flit across him, as he thought of his fallen fortunes, and the altered light in which his suit would be regarded by Argemone’s parents. Once he blamed himself bitterly for not having gone to Mr. Lavington the moment he discovered Argemone’s affection, and insuring — as he then might have done — his consent. But again he felt that no sloth had kept him back, but adoring reverence for his God-given treasure, and humble astonishment at his own happiness; and he fled from the thought into renewed examination into the state of the masses, the effect of which was only to deepen his own determination to share their lot.
But at the same time it seemed to him but fair to live, as long as it would last, on that part of his capital which his creditors would have given nothing for — namely, his information; and he set to work to write. But, alas! he had but a ‘small literary connection;’ and the entree of the initiated ring is not obtained in a day. . . . Besides, he would not write trash. — He was in far too grim a humour for that; and if he wrote on important subjects, able editors always were in the habit of entrusting them to old contributors — men, in short, in whose judgment they had confidence — not to say anything which would commit the magazine to anything but its own little party-theory. And behold! poor Lancelot found himself of no party whatsoever. He was in a minority of one against the whole world, on all points, right or wrong. He had the unhappiest knack (as all geniuses have) of seeing connections, humorous or awful, between the most seemingly antipodal things; of illustrating every subject from three or four different spheres which it is anathema to mention in the same page. If he wrote a physical-science article, able editors asked him what the deuce a scrap of high-churchism did in the middle of it? If he took the same article to a high-church magazine, the editor could not commit himself to any theory which made the earth more than six thousand years old, and was afraid that the public taste would not approve of the allusions to free-masonry and Soyer’s soup. . . . And worse than that, one and all — Jew, Turk, infidel, and heretic, as well as the orthodox — joined in pious horror at his irreverence; — the shocking way he had of jumbling religion and politics — the human and the divine — the theories of the pulpit with the facts of the exchange. . . . The very atheists, who laughed at him for believing in a God, agreed that that, at least, was inconsistent with the dignity of the God — who did not exist. . . . It was Syncretism . . . Pantheism . . . .
‘Very well, friends,’ quoth Lancelot to himself, in bitter rage, one day, ‘if you choose to be without God in the world, and to honour Him by denying Him . . . do so! You shall have your way; and go to the place whither it seems leading you just now, at railroad pace. But I must live. . . . Well, at least, there is some old college nonsense of mine, written three years ago, when I believed, like you, that all heaven and earth was put together out of separate bits, like a child’s puzzle, and that each topic ought to have its private little pigeon-hole all to itself in a man’s brain, like drugs in a chemist’s shop. Perhaps it will suit you, friends; perhaps it will be system-frozen, and narrow, and dogmatic, and cowardly, and godless enough for you.’ . . . So he went forth with them to market; and behold! they were bought forthwith. There was verily a demand for such; . . . and in spite of the ten thousand ink-fountains which were daily pouring out similar Stygian liquors, the public thirst remained unslaked. ‘Well,’ thought Lancelot, ‘the negro race is not the only one which is afflicted with manias for eating dirt. . . . By the bye, where is poor Luke?’
Ah! where was poor Luke? Lancelot had received from him one short and hurried note, blotted with tears, which told how he had informed his father; and how his father had refused to see him, and had forbid him the house; and how he had offered him an allowance of fifty pounds a year (it should have been five hundred, he said, if he had possessed it), which Luke’s director, sensibly enough, had compelled him to accept. . . . And there the letter ended, abruptly, leaving the writer evidently in lower depths than he had either experienced already, or expected at all.
Lancelot had often pleaded for him with his father; but in vain. Not that the good man was hard-hearted: he would cry like a child about it all to Lancelot when they sat together after dinner. But he was utterly beside himself, what with grief, shame, terror, and astonishment. On the whole, the sorrow was a real comfort to him: it gave him something beside his bankruptcy to think of; and, distracted between the two different griefs, he could brood over neither. But of the two, certainly his son’s conversion was the worst in his eyes. The bankruptcy was intelligible — measurable; it was something known and classified — part of the ills which flesh (or, at least, commercial flesh) is heir to. But going to Rome! —
‘I can’t understand it. I won’t believe it. It’s so foolish, you see, Lancelot — so foolish — like an ass that eats thistles! . . . There must be some reason; — there must be-something we don’t know, sir! Do you think they could have promised to make him a cardinal?’
Lancelot quite agreed that there were reasons for it, that they — or, at least, the banker — did not know . . . .
‘Depend upon it, they promised him something — some prince-bishopric, perhaps. Else why on earth could a man go over! It’s out of the course of nature!’
Lancelot tried in vain to make him understand that a man might sacrifice everything to conscience, and actually give up all worldly weal for what he thought right. The banker turned on him with angry resignation —
‘Very well — I suppose he’s done right then! I suppose you’ll go next! Take up a false religion, and give up everything for it! Why, then, he must be honest; and if he’s honest, he’s in the right; and I suppose I’d better go too!’
Lancelot argued: but in vain. The idea of disinterested sacrifice was so utterly foreign to the good man’s own creed and practice, that he could but see one pair of alternatives.
‘Either he is a good man, or he’s a hypocrite. Either he’s right, or he’s gone over for some vile selfish end; and what can that be but money?’
Lancelot gently hinted that there might be other selfish ends besides pecuniary ones — saving one’s soul, for instance.
‘Why, if he wants to save his soul, he’s right. What ought we all to do, but try to save our souls? I tell you there’s some sinister reason. They’ve told him that they expect to convert England — I should like to see them do it! — and that he’ll be made a bishop. Don’t argue with me, or you’ll drive me mad. I know those Jesuits!’
And as soon as he began upon the Jesuits, Lancelot prudently held his tongue. The good man had worked himself up into a perfect frenzy of terror and suspicion about them. He suspected concealed Jesuits among his footmen and his housemaids; Jesuits in his counting-house, Jesuits in his duns . . . .
‘Hang it, sir! how do I know that there ain’t a Jesuit listening to us now behind the curtain?’
‘I’ll go and look,’ quoth Lancelot, and suited the action to the word.
‘Well, if there ain’t there might be. They’re everywhere, I tell you. That vicar of Whitford was a Jesuit. I was sure of it all along; but the man seemed so pious; and certainly he did my poor dear boy a deal of good. But he ruined you, you know. And I’m convinced — no, don’t contradict me; I tell you, I won’t stand it — I’m convinced that this whole mess of mine is a plot of those rascals; — I’m as certain of it as if they’d told me!’
‘For what end?’
‘How the deuce can I tell? Am I a Jesuit, to understand their sneaking, underhand — pah! I’m sick of life! Nothing but rogues wherever one turns!’
And then Lancelot used to try to persuade him to take poor Luke back again. But vague terror had steeled his heart.
‘What! Why, he’d convert us all! He’d convert his sisters! He’d bring his priests in here, or his nuns disguised as ladies’ maids, and we should all go over, every one of us, like a set of nine-pins!’
‘You seem to think Protestantism a rather shaky cause, if it is so easy to be upset.’
‘Sir! Protestantism is the cause of England and Christianity, and civilisation, and freedom, and common sense, sir! and that’s the very reason why it’s so easy to pervert men from it; and the very reason why it’s a lost cause, and popery, and Antichrist, and the gates of hell are coming in like a flood to prevail against it!’
‘Well,’ thought Lancelot, ‘that is the very strangest reason for it’s being a lost cause! Perhaps if my poor uncle believed it really to be the cause of God Himself, he would not be in such extreme fear for it, or fancy it required such a hotbed and greenhouse culture. . . . Really, if his sisters were little girls of ten years old, who looked up to him as an oracle, there would be some reason in it. . . . But those tall, ball-going, flirting, self-satisfied cousins of mine — who would have been glad enough, either of them, two months ago, to snap up me, infidelity, bad character, and all, as a charming rich young roue — if they have not learnt enough Protestantism in the last five-and-twenty years to take care of themselves, Protestantism must have very few allurements, or else be very badly carried out in practice by those who talk loudest in favour of it. . . . I heard them praising O’Blareaway’s “ministry,” by the bye, the other day. So he is up in town at last — at the summit of his ambition. Well, he may suit them. I wonder how many young creatures like Argemone and Luke he would keep from Popery!’
But there was no use arguing with a man in such a state of mind; and gradually Lancelot gave it up, in hopes that time would bring the good man to his sane wits again, and that a father’s feelings would prove themselves stronger, because more divine, than a so-called Protestant’s fears, though that would have been, in the banker’s eyes, and in the Jesuit’s also — so do extremes meet — the very reason for expecting them to be the weaker; for it is the rule with all bigots, that the right cause is always a lost cause, and therefore requires — God’s weapons of love, truth, and reason being well known to be too weak — to be defended, if it is to be saved, with the devil’s weapons of bad logic, spite, and calumny.
At last, in despair of obtaining tidings of his cousin by any other method, Lancelot made up his mind to apply to a certain remarkable man, whose ‘conversion’ had preceded Luke’s about a year, and had, indeed, mainly caused it.
He went, . . . and was not disappointed. With the most winning courtesy and sweetness, his story and his request were patiently listened to.
‘The outcome of your speech, then, my dear sir, as I apprehend it, is a request to me to send back the fugitive lamb into the jaws of the well-meaning, but still lupine wolf?’
This was spoken with so sweet and arch a smile, that it was impossible to be angry.
‘On my honour, I have no wish to convert him. All I want is to have human speech of him — to hear from his own lips that he is content. Whither should I convert him? Not to my own platform — for I am nowhere. Not to that which he has left, . . . for if he could have found standing ground there, he would not have gone elsewhere for rest.’
‘Therefore they went out from you, because they were not of you,’ said the ‘Father,’ half aside.
‘Most true, sir. I have felt long that argument was bootless with those whose root-ideas of Deity, man, earth, and heaven, were as utterly different from my own, as if we had been created by two different beings.’
‘Do you include in that catalogue those ideas of truth, love, and justice, which are Deity itself? Have you no common ground in them?’
‘You are an elder and a better man than I. . . . It would be insolent in me to answer that question, except in one way, . . . and —’
‘In that you cannot answer it. Be it so. . . . You shall see your cousin. You may make what efforts you will for his reconversion. The Catholic Church,’ continued he, with one of his arch, deep-meaning smiles, ‘is not, like popular Protestantism, driven into shrieking terror at the approach of a foe. She has too much faith in herself, and in Him who gives to her the power of truth, to expect every gay meadow to allure away her lambs from the fold.’
‘I assure you that your gallant permission is unnecessary. I am beginning, at least, to believe that there is a Father in Heaven who educates His children; and I have no wish to interfere with His methods. Let my cousin go his way . . . he will learn something which he wanted, I doubt not, on his present path, even as I shall on mine. “Se tu segui la tua stella” is my motto. . . . Let it be his too, wherever the star may guide him. If it be a will-o’-the-wisp, and lead to the morass, he will only learn how to avoid morasses better for the future.’
‘Ave Maris stella! It is the star of Bethlehem which he follows . . . the star of Mary, immaculate, all-loving!’ . . . And he bowed his head reverently. ‘Would that you, too, would submit yourself to that guidance! . . . You, too, would seem to want some loving heart whereon to rest.’ . . .
Lancelot sighed. ‘I am not a child, but a man; I want not a mother to pet, but a man to rule me.’
Slowly his companion raised his thin hand, and pointed to the crucifix, which stood at the other end of the apartment.
‘Behold him!’ and he bowed his head once more . . . and Lancelot, he knew not why, did the same . . . and yet in an instant he threw his head up proudly, and answered with George Fox’s old reply to the Puritans —
‘I want a live Christ, not a dead one. . . . That is noble . . . beautiful . . . it may be true. . . . But it has no message for me.’
‘He died for you.’
‘I care for the world, and not myself.’
‘He died for the world.’
‘And has deserted it, as folks say now, and become — an absentee, performing His work by deputies. . . . Do not start; the blasphemy is not mine, but those who preach it. No wonder that the owners of the soil think it no shame to desert their estates, when preachers tell them that He to whom they say, all power is given in heaven and earth, has deserted His.’
‘What would you have, my dear sir?’ asked the father.
‘What the Jews had. A king of my nation, and of the hearts of my nation, who would teach soldiers, artists, craftsmen, statesmen, poets, priests, if priests there must be. I want a human lord, who understands me and the millions round me, pities us, teaches us, orders our history, civilisation, development for us. I come to you, full of manhood, and you send me to a woman. I go to the Protestants, full of desires to right the world — and they begin to talk of the next life, and give up this as lost!’
A quiet smile lighted up the thin wan face, full of unfathomable thoughts; and he replied, again half to himself —
‘Am I God, to kill or to make alive, that thou sendest to me to recover a man of his leprosy? Farewell. You shall see your cousin here at noon tomorrow. You will not refuse my blessing, or my prayers, even though they be offered to a mother?’
‘I will refuse nothing in the form of human love.’ And the father blessed him fervently, and he went out . . . .
‘What a man!’ said he to himself, ‘or rather the wreck of what a man! Oh, for such a heart, with the thews and sinews of a truly English brain!’
Next day he met Luke in that room. Their talk was short and sad. Luke was on the point of entering an order devoted especially to the worship of the Blessed Virgin.
‘My father has cast me out . . . I must go to her feet. She will have mercy, though man has none.’
‘But why enter the order? Why take an irrevocable step?’
‘Because it is irrevocable; because I shall enter an utterly new life, in which old things shall pass away, and all things become new, and I shall forget the very names of Parent, Englishman, Citizen — the very existence of that strange Babel of man’s building, whose roar and moan oppress me every time I walk the street. Oh, for solitude, meditation, penance! Oh, to make up by bitter self-punishment my ingratitude to her who has been leading me unseen, for years, home to her bosom! — The all-prevailing mother, daughter of Gabriel, spouse of Deity, flower of the earth, whom I have so long despised! Oh, to follow the example of the blessed Mary of Oignies, who every day inflicted on her most holy person eleven hundred stripes in honour of that all-perfect maiden!’
‘Such an honour, I could have thought, would have pleased better Kali, the murder-goddess of the Thugs,’ thought Lancelot to himself; but he had not the heart to say it, and he only replied —
‘So torture propitiates the Virgin? That explains the strange story I read lately, of her having appeared in the Cevennes, and informed the peasantry that she had sent the potato disease on account of their neglecting her shrines; that unless they repented, she would next year destroy their cattle; and the third year, themselves.’
‘Why not?’ asked poor Luke.
‘Why not, indeed? If God is to be capricious, proud, revengeful, why not the Son of God? And if the Son of God, why not His mother?’
‘You judge spiritual feelings by the carnal test of the understanding; your Protestant horror of asceticism lies at the root of all you say. How can you comprehend the self-satisfaction, the absolute delight, of self-punishment?’
‘So far from it, I have always had an infinite respect for asceticism, as a noble and manful thing — the only manful thing to my eyes left in popery; and fast dying out of that under Jesuit influence. You recollect the quarrel between the Tablet and the Jesuits, over Faber’s unlucky honesty about St. Rose of Lima? . . . But, really, as long as you honour asceticism as a means of appeasing the angry deities, I shall prefer to St. Dominic’s cuirass or St. Hedwiga’s chilblains, John Mytton’s two hours’ crawl on the ice in his shirt, after a flock of wild ducks. They both endured like heroes; but the former for a selfish, if not a blasphemous end; the latter, as a man should, to test and strengthen his own powers of endurance. . . . There, I will say no more. Go your way, in God’s name. There must be lessons to be learnt in all strong and self-restraining action. . . . So you will learn something from the scourge and the hair-shirt. We must all take the bitter medicine of suffering, I suppose.’
‘And, therefore, I am the wiser, in forcing the draught on myself.’
‘Provided it be the right draught, and do not require another and still bitterer one to expel the effects of the poison. I have no faith in people’s doctoring themselves, either physically or spiritually.’
‘I am not my own physician; I follow the rules of an infallible Church, and the examples of her canonised saints.’
‘Well . . . perhaps they may have known what was best for themselves. . . . But as for you and me here, in the year 1849. . . . However, we shall argue on for ever. Forgive me if I have offended you.’
‘I am not offended. The Catholic Church has always been a persecuted one.’
‘Then walk with me a little way, and I will persecute you no more.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘To . . . To —’ Lancelot had not the heart to say whither.
‘To my father’s! Ah! what a son I would have been to him now, in his extreme need! . . . And he will not let me! Lancelot, is it impossible to move him? I do not want to go home again . . . to live there . . . I could not face that, though I longed but this moment to do it. I cannot face the self-satisfied, pitying looks . . . the everlasting suspicion that they suspect me to be speaking untruths, or proselytising in secret. . . . Cruel and unjust!’
Lancelot thought of a certain letter of Luke’s . . . but who was he, to break the bruised reed?
‘No; I will not see him. Better thus; better vanish, and be known only according to the spirit by the spirits of saints and confessors, and their successors upon earth. No! I will die, and give no sign.’
‘I must see somewhat more of you, indeed.’
‘I will meet you here, then, two hours hence. Near that house — even along the way which leads to it — I cannot go. It would be too painful: too painful to think that you were walking towards it — the old house where I was born and bred . . . and I shut out — even though it be for the sake of the kingdom of heaven!’
‘Or for the sake of your own share therein, my poor cousin!’ thought Lancelot to himself, ‘which is a very different matter.’
‘Whither, after you have been —?’ Luke could not get out the word home.
‘To Claude Mellot’s.’
‘I will walk part of the way thither with you. But he is a very bad companion for you.’
‘I can’t help that. I cannot live; and I am going to turn painter. It is not the road in which to find a fortune; but still, the very sign-painters live somehow, I suppose. I am going this very afternoon to Claude Mellot, and enlist. I sold the last of my treasured Mss. to a fifth-rate magazine this morning, for what it would fetch. It has been like eating one’s own children — but, at least, they have fed me. So now “to fresh fields and pastures new.”’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10