Chapter 12.

{250} CHARLES'S perplexities rapidly took a definite form on his coming into Devonshire. The very fact of his being at home, and not at Oxford where he ought to have been, brought them before his mind; and the near prospect of his examination and degree justified the consideration of them. No addition indeed was made to their substance, as already described; but they were no longer vague and indistinct, but thoroughly apprehended by him; nor did he make up his mind that they were insurmountable, but he saw clearly what it was that had to be surmounted. The particular form of argument into which they happened to fall was determined by the circumstances in which he found himself at the time, and was this, viz., how he could subscribe the Articles ex animo, without faith, more or less, in his Church as the imponent; and next, how he could have faith in her, her history and present condition being what they were. The fact of these difficulties was a great source of distress to him. It was aggravated by the circumstance that he had no one to talk to, or to sympathise with him under them. And it was completed by the {251} necessity of carrying about with him a secret which he dared not tell to others, yet which he foreboded must be told one day. All this was the secret of that depression of spirits which his sisters had observed in him.

He was one day sitting thoughtfully over the fire with a book in his hand, when Mary entered. "I wish you would teach me the art of reading Greek in live coals," she said.

"Sermons in stones, and good in everything," answered Charles.

"You do well to liken yourself to the melancholy Jacques," she replied.

"Not so," said he, "but to the good Duke Charles, who was banished to the green forest."

"A great grievance," answered Mary, "we being the wild things with whom you are forced to live. My dear Charles," she continued, "I hope the tittle-tattle that drove you here does not still dwell on your mind."

"Why, it is not very pleasant, Mary, after having been on the best terms with the whole College, and in particular with the Principal and Jennings, at last to be sent down, as a rowing-man might be rusticated for tandem-driving. You have no notion how strong the old Principal was, and Jennings too."

"Well, my dearest Charles, you must not brood over it," said Mary, "as I fear you are doing."

"I don't see where it is to end," said Charles; "the Principal expressly said that my prospects at the University were knocked up. I suppose they would not give me a testimonial, if I wished to stand for a fellowship anywhere." {252}

"Oh, it is a temporary mistake," said Mary; "I dare say by this time they know better. And it's one great gain to have you with us; we, at least, ought to be obliged to them."

"I have been so very careful, Mary," said Charles; "I have never been to the evening-parties, or to the sermons which are talked about in the University. It's quite amazing to me what can have put it into their heads. At the Article-lecture I now and then asked a question, but it was really because I wished to understand and get up the different subjects. Jennings fell on me the moment I entered his room. I can call it nothing else; very civil at first in his manner, but there was something in his eye before he spoke which told me at once what was coming. It's odd a man of such self-command as he should not better hide his feelings; but I have always been able to see what Jennings was thinking about."

"Depend on it," said his sister, "you will think nothing of it whatever this time next year. It will be like a summer cloud, come and gone."

"And then it damps me, and interrupts me in my reading. I fall back thinking of it, and cannot give my mind to my books, or exert myself. It is very hard."

Mary sighed; "I wish I could help you," she said; "but women can do so little. Come, let me take the fretting, and you the reading; that'll be a fair division."

"And then my dear mother too," he continued; "what will she think of it when it comes to her ears? and come it must."

"Nonsense," said Mary, "don't make a mountain of {253} a mole-hill. You will go back, take your degree, and nobody will be the wiser."

"No, it can't be so," said Charles, seriously.

"What do you mean?" asked Mary.

"These things don't clear off in that way," said he; "it is no summer-cloud; it may turn to rain, for what they know."

Mary looked at him with some surprise.

"I mean," he said, "that I have no confidence that they will let me take my degree, any more than let me reside there."

"That is very absurd," said she; "it's what I meant by brooding over things, and making mountains of mole-hills."

"My sweet Mary," he said, affectionately taking her hand, "my only real confidant and comfort, I would tell you something more, if you could bear it."

Mary was frightened, and her heart beat. "Charles," she said, withdrawing her hand, "any pain is less than to see you thus. I see too clearly that something is on your mind."

Charles put his feet on the fender, and looked down.

"I can't tell you," he said, at length, with vehemence; then, seeing by her face how much he was distressing her, he said, half-laughing, as if to turn the edge of his words, "My dear Mary, when people bear witness against one, one can't help fearing that there is, perhaps, something to bear witness against."

"Impossible, Charles! you corrupt other people! you falsify the Prayer Book and Articles! impossible!"

"Mary, which do you think would be the best judge {254} whether my face was dirty and my coat shabby, you or I? Well, then, perhaps Jennings, or at least common report, knows more about me than I do myself."

"You must not speak in this way," said Mary, much hurt; "you really do pain me now. What can you mean?"

Charles covered his face with his hands, and at length said: "It's no good; you can't assist me here: I only pain you. I ought not to have begun the subject."

There was a silence.

"My dearest Charles," said Mary tenderly, "come, I will bear anything, and not be annoyed. Anything better than to see you go on in this way. But really you frighten me."

"Why," he answered, "when a number of people tell me that Oxford is not my place, not my position, perhaps they are right; perhaps it isn't."

"But is that really all?" she said; "who wants you to lead an Oxford life? not we."

"No, but Oxford implies taking a degree—taking orders."

"Now, my dear Charles, speak out; don't drop hints; let me know;" and she sat down with a look of great anxiety.

"Well," he said, making an effort; "yet I don't know where to begin; but many things have happened to me, in various ways, to show me that I have not a place, a position, a home, that I am not made for, that I am a stranger in, the Church of England."

There was a dreadful pause; Mary turned very pale; then, darting at a conclusion with precipitancy, she said {255} quickly, "You mean to say, you are going to join the Church of Rome, Charles".

"No," he said, "it is not so. I mean no such thing; I mean just what I say; I have told you the whole; I have kept nothing back. It is this, and no more—that I feel out of place."

"Well, then," she said, "you must tell me more; for, to my apprehension, you mean just what I have said, nothing short of it."

"I can't go through things in order," he said; "but wherever I go, whomever I talk with, I feel him to be another sort of person from what I am. I can't convey it to you; you won't understand me; but the words of the Psalm, 'I am a stranger upon earth,' describe what I always feel. No one thinks or feels like me. I hear sermons, I talk on religious subjects with friends, and every one seems to bear witness against me. And now the College bears its witness, and sends me down."

"Oh, Charles," said Mary, "how changed you are!" and tears came into her eyes; "you used to be so cheerful, so happy. You took such pleasure in every one, in everything. We used to laugh and say, 'All Charlie's geese are swans'. What has come over you?" She paused, and then continued: "Don't you recollect those lines in the 'Christian Year'? I can't repeat them; we used to apply them to you; something about hope or love 'making all things bright with her own magic smile'."

Charles was touched when he was reminded of what he had been three years before; he said: "I suppose it is coming out of shadows into realities". {256}

"There has been much to sadden you," she added, sighing; "and now these nasty books are too much for you. Why should you go up for honours? what's the good of it?"

There was a pause again.

"I wish I could bring home to you," said Charles, "the number of intimations, as it were, which have been given me of my uncongeniality, as it may be called, with things as they are. What perhaps most affected me was a talk I had with Carlton, whom I have lately been reading with; for, if I could not agree with him, or rather, if he bore witness against me, who could be expected to say a word for me? I cannot bear the pomp and pretence which I see everywhere. I am not speaking against individuals; they are very good persons, I know; but, really, if you saw Oxford as it is! The Heads with such large incomes; they are indeed very liberal of their money, and their wives are often simple, self-denying persons, as every one says, and do a great deal of good in the place; but I speak of the system. Here are ministers of Christ with large incomes, living in finely furnished houses, with wives and families, and stately butlers and servants in livery, giving dinners all in the best style, condescending and gracious, waving their hands and mincing their words, as if they were the cream of the earth, but without anything to make them clergymen but a black coat and a white tie. And then Bishops or Deans come, with women tucked under their arm; and they can't enter church but a fine powdered man runs first with a cushion for them to sit on, and a warm sheepskin to keep their feet from the stones. {257}

Mary laughed: "Well, my dear Charles," she said, "I did not think you had seen so much of Bishops, Deans, Professors, and Heads of houses at St. Saviour's; you have kept good company".

"I have my eyes about me," said Charles, "and have had quite opportunities enough; I can't go into particulars."

"Well, you have been hard on them, I think," said Mary; "when a poor old man has the rheumatism," and she sighed a little, "it is hard he mayn't have his feet kept from the cold."

"Ah, Mary, I can't bring it home to you! but you must, please, throw yourself into what I say, and not criticise my instances or my terms. What I mean is, that there is a worldly air about everything, as unlike as possible the spirit of the Gospel. I don't impute to the dons ambition or avarice; but still, what Heads of houses, Fellows, and all of them evidently put before them as an end is, to enjoy the world in the first place, and to serve God in the second. Not that they don't make it their final object to get to heaven; but their immediate object is to be comfortable, to marry, to have a fair income, station, and respectability, a convenient house, a pleasant country, a sociable neighbourhood. There is nothing high about them. I declare I think the Puseyites are the only persons who have high views in the whole place; I should say, the only persons who profess them, for I don't know them to speak about them." He thought of White.

"Well, you are talking of things I don't know {258} about," said Mary; "but I can't think all the young clever men of the place are looking out for ease and comfort; nor can I believe that in the Church of Rome money has always been put to the best of purposes."

"I said nothing about the Church of Rome," said Charles; "why do you bring in the Church of Rome? that's another thing altogether. What I mean is, that there is a worldly smell about Oxford which I can't abide. I am not using 'worldly' in its worse sense. People are religious and charitable; but—I don't like to mention names—but I know various dons, and the notion of evangelical poverty, the danger of riches, the giving up all for Christ—all those ideas which are first principles in Scripture, as I read it, don't seem to enter into their idea of religion. I declare, I think that is the reason why the Puseyites are so unpopular."

"Well, I can't see," said Mary, "why you must be disgusted with the world, and with your place and duties in it, because there are worldly people in it."

"But I was speaking of Carlton," said Charles; "do you know, good fellow as he is—and I love, admire, and respect him exceedingly—he actually laid it down almost as an axiom, that a clergyman of the English Church ought to marry? He said that celibacy might be very well in other communions, but that a man made himself a fool, and was out of joint with the age who remained single in the Church of England."

Poor Charles was so serious, and the proposition which he related was so monstrous, that Mary, in spite of her real distress, could not help laughing out. "I really cannot help it," she said; "well, it really was a {259} most extraordinary statement, I confess. But, my dear Charlie, you are not afraid that he will carry you off against your will, and marry you to some fair lady before you know where you are?"

"Don't talk in that way, Mary," said Charles; "I can't bear a joke just now. I mean, Carlton is so sensible a man, and takes so just a view of things, that the conviction flashed on my mind that the Church of England really was what he implied it to be—a form of religion very unlike that of the Apostles."

This sobered Mary indeed. "Alas," she said, "we have got upon very different ground now; not what our Church thinks of you, but what you think of our Church." There was a pause. "I thought this was at the bottom," she said; "I never could believe that a parcel of people, some of whom you cared nothing for, telling you that you were not in your place, would make you think so, unless you first felt it yourself. That's the real truth; and then you interpret what others say in your own way." Another uncomfortable pause. Then she continued: "I see how it will be. When you take up a thing, Charles, I know well you don't lay it down. No, you have made up your mind already. We shall see you a Roman Catholic."

"Do you then bear witness against me, Mary, as well as the rest?" said he, sorrowfully.

She saw her mistake. "No," she answered; "all I say is, that it rests with yourself, not with others. If you have made up your mind, there's no help for it. It is not others who drive you, who bear witness {260} against you. Dear Charles, don't mistake me, and don't deceive yourself. You have a strong will."

At this moment Caroline entered the room. "I could not think where you were, Mary," she said; "here Perkins has been crying after you ever so long. It's something about dinner; I don't know what. We have hunted high and low, and never guessed you were helping Charles at his books." Mary gave a deep sigh, and left the room.

Chapter 2-13

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