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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 2 - Chapter 23. Compelled Confidence
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Thomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 2 - Chapter 23. Compelled Confidence Post by :holipsism Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :845

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Thomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 2 - Chapter 23. Compelled Confidence

VOLUME II CHAPTER XXIII. COMPELLED CONFIDENCE

Helen flew to the dressing-room to hide her dismay, and there cast herself on the bed. The gray Fate above, or the awful Demo-gorgon beneath, would have its way! Whether it was a living Will or but the shadow of the events it seemed to order, it was too much for her. She had no choice but yield. She rose and returned to her brother.

"I am going to find Mr. Wingfold," she said in a hoarse voice, as she took her hat.

"Don't be long then, Helen," returned Leopold. "I can't bear you out of my sight. And don't let aunt come into the room. SHE might come again, you know, and then all would be out.--Bring him with you, Helen."

"I will," answered Helen, and went.

The curate might have returned: she would seek him first at his lodging. She cared nothing about appearances now.

It was a dull afternoon. Clouds had gathered, and the wind was chilly. It seemed to blow out of the church, which stood up cold and gray against the sky, filling the end of the street. What a wretched, horrible world it was! She approached the church, and entered the churchyard from which it rose like a rock from the Dead Sea--a type of the true church, around whose walls lie the dead bodies of the old selves left behind by those who enter. Helen would have envied the dead, who lay so still under its waves; but, alas! if Leopold was right, they but roamed elsewhere in their trouble, and were no better for dying.

She hurried across, and reached the house; but Mr. Wingfold had not yet returned, and she hurried back across it again, to tell Leopold that she must go farther to find him.

The poor youth was already more composed. What will not the vaguest hope sometimes do for a man! Helen told him she had seen the curate in the park, when she was out in the morning, and he might be there still, or she might meet him coming back. Leopold only begged her to make haste. She took the road to the lodge.

She did not meet him, and it was with intense repugnance that she approached the gate.

"Is Mr. Wingfold here?" she asked of Rachel, as if she had never spoken to her before; and Rachel, turning paler at the sight of her, answered that he was in the garden with her uncle, and went to call him.

The moment he appeared she said, in a tone rendered by conflicting emotions inexplicable, and sounding almost rude,

"Will you come to my brother? He is very ill, and wants to see you."

"Certainly," returned Wingfold; "I will go with you at once."

But in his heart he trembled at the thought of being looked to for consolation and counsel, and that apparently in a case of no ordinary kind. Most likely he would not know what to say, or how to behave himself! How different it would be if with all his heart he believed the grand lovely things recorded in the book of his profession! Then indeed he might enter the chambers of pain and fear and guilt with the innocent confidence of a winged angel of comfort and healing! But now the eyes of his understanding were blinded with the IFS and BUTS that flew swarming like black muscae wherever they turned. Still he would--nay, he must go and do his best.

They walked across the park to reach the house by the garden, and for some distance they walked in silence. At length Helen said:

"You must not encourage my brother to talk much, if you please; and you must not mind what he says; he has had brain-fever, and sometimes talks strangely. But on the other hand, if he fancy you don't believe him, it will drive him wild--so you must take care-- please."

Her voice was like that of a soul trying to speak with unproved lips.

"Miss Lingard," said Wingfold, slowly and quietly--and if his voice trembled, he only was aware of it, "I cannot see your face, therefore you must pardon me if I ask you--are you quite honest with me?"

Helen's first feeling was anger. She held her peace for a time. Then she said,

"So, Mr. Wingfold!--that is the way you help the helpless!"

"How can any man help without knowing what has to be helped?" returned the curate. "The very being of his help depends upon his knowing the truth. It is very plain you do not trust me, and equally impossible I should be of any service as long as the case is such."

Again Helen held her peace. Resentment and dislike towards himself combined with terror of his anticipated counsel to render her speechless.

Her silence lasted so long that Wingfold came to the resolution of making a venture that had occurred to him more than once that morning. Had he not been convinced that a soul was in dire misery, he would not have had recourse to the seeming cruelty.

"Would this help to satisfy you that, whatever my advice may be worth, at least my discretion may be trusted?" he said.

They were at the moment passing through a little thicket in the park, where nobody could see them, and as he spoke, he took the knife-sheath from his pocket, and held it out to her.

She started like a young horse at something dead: she had never seen it, but the shape had an association. She paled, retreated a step, with a drawing back of her head and neck and a spreading of her nostrils, stared for a moment, first at the sheath, then at the curate, gave a little moan, bit her under lip hard, held out her hand, but as if she were afraid to touch the thing, and said:

"What is it? Where did you find it?"

She would have taken it, but Wingfold held it fast.

"Give it me," she said imperatively. "It is mine. I lost it."

"There is something dark on the lining of it," said the curate, and looked straight into her eyes.

She let go her hold. But almost the same moment she snatched the sheath out of his hand and held it to her bosom, while her look of terror changed into one of defiance. Wingfold made no attempt to recover it. She put it in her pocket, and drew herself up.

"What do you mean?" she said, in a voice that was hard yet trembled.

She felt like one that sees the vultures gathering above him, and lifts a moveable finger in defence. Then with sudden haughtiness both of gesture and word:

"You have been acting the spy, sir!"

"No," returned the curate quietly. "The sheath was committed to my care by one whom certain facts that had come to his knowledge-- certain words he had overheard--"

He paused. She shook visibly, but still would hold what ground might yet be left her.

"Why did you not give it me before?" she asked.

"In the public street, or in your aunt's presence?"

"You are cruel!" she panted. Her strength was going. "What do you know?"

"Nothing so well as that I want to serve you, and you may trust me."

"What do you mean to do?"

"My best to help you and your brother."

"But to what end?"

"To any end that is right."

"But how? What would you tell him to do?"

"You must help me to discover what he ought to do."

"Not--" she cried, clasping her hands and dropping on her knees before him, "--you WILL not tell him to give himself up? Promise me you will not, and I will tell you everything. He shall do anything you please but that! Anything but that!"

Wingfold's heart was sore at sight of her agony. He would have raised her with soothing words of sympathy and assurance, but still she cried, "Promise me you will not make him give himself up."

"I dare not promise anything." he said. "I MUST do what I may see to be right. Believe me, I have no wish to force myself into your confidence, but you have let me see that you are in great trouble and in need of help, and I should be unfaithful to my calling if I did not do my best to make you trust me."

A pause followed. Helen rose despairingly, and they resumed their walk. Just as they reached the door in the fence which would let them out upon the meadow in sight of the Manor-house, she turned to him and said,

"I will trust you, Mr. Wingfold. I mean, I will take you to my brother, and he shall do as he thinks proper."

They passed out and walked across the meadow in silence. In the passage under the fence, as she turned from closing the door behind them, she stood and pressed her hand to her side.

"Oh! Mr. Wingfold," she cried, "my heart will break! He has no one but me! No one but me to be mother and sister and all to him! He is NOT wicked--my poor darling!"

She caught the curate by the arm with a grasp which left its mark behind it, and gazed appealingly into his face: in the dim tomb-like light, her wide-strained eyes, white agonized countenance, and trembling roseless lips made her look like one called back from death "to speak of horrors."

"Save him from madness," she said, in forced and unnatural utterance. "Save him from the remorse gnawing at his heart. But do not, DO not counsel him to give himself up."

"Would it not be better you should tell me about it," said the curate, "and save him the pain and excitement?"

"I will do so, if he wishes it, not otherwise. Come; we must not stay longer. He can hardly bear me out of his sight. I will leave you for one moment in the library, and then come to you. If you should see my aunt, not a word of all this, please. All she knows is that he has had brain-fever, and is recovering only very slowly. I have never given her even a hint of anything worse. Indeed, honestly, Mr. Wingfold, I am not at all certain he did do what he will tell you. But there is his misery all the same. Do have pity on us, and don't be hard upon the poor boy. He is but a boy--only twenty."

"May God be to me as I am to him!" said Wingfold solemnly.

Helen withdrew her entreating eyes, and let go his arm. They went up into the garden and into the house.

Afterwards, Wingfold was astonished at his own calmness and decision in taking upon him--almost, as it were, dragging to him--this relation with Helen and her brother. But he had felt that not to do so would be to abandon Helen to her grief, and that for her sake he must not hesitate to encounter whatever might have to be encountered in doing so.

Helen left him in the library, as she had said, and there he waited her return in a kind of stupor, unable to think, and feeling as if he were lost in a strange and anxious dream.

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