Chapter 11.

{86} NO opportunity has occurred of informing the reader that, during the last week or two, Charles had accidentally been a good deal thrown across Willis, the umbra of White at Bateman's breakfast-party. He had liked his looks on that occasion, when he was dumb; he did not like him so much when he heard him talk; still he could not help being interested in him, and not the least for this reason, that Willis seemed to have taken a great fancy to himself. He certainly did court Charles, and seemed anxious to stand well with him. Charles, however, did not like his mode of talking better than he did White's; and when he first saw his rooms, there was much in them which shocked both his good sense and his religious principles. A large ivory crucifix, in a glass case, was a conspicuous ornament between the windows; an engraving, representing the Blessed Trinity, as is usual in Catholic countries, hung over the fire-place, and a picture of the Madonna and St. Dominic was opposite to it. On the mantelpiece were a rosary, a thuribulum, and other tokens of Catholicism, of which Charles did not know the uses; a missal, ritual, and some Catholic tracts, lay on the table; {87} and, as he happened to come on Willis unexpectedly, he found him sitting in a vestment more like a cassock than a reading-gown, and engaged upon some portion of the Breviary. Virgil and Sophocles, Herodotus and Cicero seemed, as impure pagans, to have hid themselves in corners, or flitted away, before the awful presence of the Ancient Church. Charles had taken upon himself to protest against some of these singularities, but without success.

On the evening before his departure for the country he had occasion to go towards Folly Bridge to pay a bill, when he was startled, as he passed what he had ever taken for a dissenting chapel, to see Willis come out of it. He hardly could believe he saw correctly; he knew, indeed, that Willis had been detained in Oxford, as he had been himself; but what had compelled him to a visit so extraordinary as that which he had just made, Charles had no means of determining.

"Willis!" he cried, as he stopped.

Willis coloured, and tried to look easy.

"Do come a few paces with me," said Charles. "What in the world has taken you there? Is it not a dissenting meeting?"

"Dissenting meeting!" cried Willis, surprised and offended in his turn: "what on earth could make you think I would go to a dissenting meeting?"

"Well, I beg your pardon," said Charles; "I recollect now; it's the exhibition room. However, once it was a chapel: that's my mistake. Isn't it what is called 'the Old Methodist Chapel'? I never was there; they showed there the Dio-astro-doxon, so I {88} think they called it." Charles talked on, to cover his own mistake, for he was ashamed of the charge he had made.

Willis did not know whether he was in jest or earnest. "Reding," he said, "don't go on; you offend me."

"Well, what is it?" said Charles.

"You know well enough," answered Willis, "though you wish to annoy me."

"I don't indeed."

"It's the Catholic church," said Willis.

Reding was silent a moment; then he said, "Well, I don't think you have mended the matter; it is a dissenting meeting, call it what you will, though not the kind of one I meant".

"What can you mean?" asked Willis.

"Rather, what mean you by going to such places? retorted Charles; "why, it is against your oath."

"My oath! what oath?"

"There's not an oath now; but there was an oath till lately," said Reding; "and we still make a very solemn engagement. Don't you recollect your matriculation at the Vice-Chancellor's, and what oaths and declarations you made?"

"I don't know what I made: my tutor told me nothing about it. I signed a book or two."

"You did more," said Reding. "I was told most carefully. You solemnly engaged to keep the statutes; and one statute is, not to go into any dissenting chapel or meeting whatever."

"Catholics are not Dissenters," said Willis. {89}

"Oh, don't speak so," said Charles; "you know it's meant to include them. The statute wishes us to keep from all places of worship whatever but our own."

"But it is an illegal declaration our vow," said Willis, "and so not binding."

"Where did you find that get-off?" said Charles; "the priest put that into your head."

"I don't know the priest; I never spoke a word to him," answered Willis.

"Well, any how, it's not your own answer," said Reding; "and does not help you. I am no casuist; but if it is an illegal engagement you should not continue to enjoy the benefit of it."

"What benefit?"

"Your cap and gown, a university education; the chance of a scholarship or fellowship. Give up these, and then plead, if you will, and lawfully, that you are quit of your engagement; but don't sail under false colours: don't take the benefit and break the stipulation."

"You take it too seriously; there are half a hundred statutes you don't keep, any more than I. You are most inconsistent."

"Well, if we don't keep them," said Charles, "I suppose it is in points where the authorities don't enforce them; for instance, they don't mean us to dress in brown, though the statutes order it."

"But they do mean to keep you from walking down High Street in beaver," answered Willis; "for the Proctors march up and down, and send you back, if they catch you." {90}

"But this is a different matter," said Reding, changing his ground; "this is a matter of religion. It can't be right to go to strange places of worship or meetings."

"Why," said Willis, "if we are one Church with the Roman Catholics, I can't make out for the life of me how it's wrong for us to go to them or them to us."

"I'm no divine, I don't understand what is meant by one Church," said Charles; "but I know well that there's not a bishop, not a clergyman, not a sober churchman in the land but would give it against you. It's a sheer absurdity."

"Don't talk in that way," answered Willis, "please don't. I feel all my heart drawn to the Catholic worship; our own service is so cold."

"That's just what every stiff Dissenter says," answered Charles; "every poor cottager, too, who knows no better, and goes after the Methodists—after her dear Mr. Spoutaway or the preaching cobbler. She says (I have heard them), 'Oh, sir, I suppose we ought to go where we get most good. Mr. So-and-so goes to my heart—he goes through me.'"

Willis laughed; "Well, not a bad reason, as times go, I think," said he: "poor souls, what better means of judging have they? how can you hope they will like 'the Scripture moveth us'? Really you are making too much of it. This is only the second time I have been there, and, I tell you in earnest, I find my mind filled with awe and devotion there; as I think you would too. I really am better for it; I cannot pray in church; there's a bad smell there, and the pews hide everything; I can't see through a deal board. But {91} here, when I went in, I found all still, and calm, the space open, and, in the twilight, the Tabernacle just visible, pointed out by the lamp."

Charles looked very uncomfortable. "Really, Willis," he said, "I don't know what to say to you. Heaven forbid that I should speak against the Roman Catholics; I know nothing about them. But this I know, that you are not a Roman Catholic, and have no business there. If they have such sacred things among them as those you allude to, still these are not yours; you are an intruder. I know nothing about it; I don't like to give a judgment, I am sure. But it's a tampering with sacred things; running here and there, touching and tasting, taking up, putting down. I don't like it," he added, with vehemence; "it's taking liberties with God."

"Oh, my dear Reding, please don't speak so very severely," said poor Willis; "now what have I done more than you would do yourself, were you in France or Italy? Do you mean to say you wouldn't enter the churches abroad?"

"I will only decide about what is before me," answered Reding; "when I go abroad, then will be the time to think about your question. It is quite enough to know what we ought to do at the moment, and I am clear you have been doing wrong. How did you find your way there?"

"White took me."

"Then there is one man in the world more thoughtless than you: do many of the gownsmen go there?"

"Not that I know of; one or two have gone from {92} curiosity; there is no practice of going, at least this is what I am told."

"Well," said Charles, "you must promise me you will not go again. Come, we won't part till you do."

"That is too much," said Willis, gently; then, disengaging his arm from Reding's, he suddenly darted away from him, saying, "Good-bye, good-bye; to our next merry meeting—au revoir."

There was no help for it. Charles walked slowly home, saying to himself: "What if, after all, the Roman Catholic Church is the true Church? I wish I knew what to believe; no one will tell me what to believe; I am so left to myself." Then he thought: "I suppose I know quite enough for practice—more than I do practise; and I ought surely to be contented and thankful".

Chapter 1-12

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