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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 2 - Chapter 31. George And Leopold
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Thomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 2 - Chapter 31. George And Leopold Post by :holipsism Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1100

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Thomas Wingfold, Curate - Volume 2 - Chapter 31. George And Leopold

VOLUME II CHAPTER XXXI. GEORGE AND LEOPOLD

George went again to Leopold's room, and sat down by him. The youth lay with his eyes half closed, and a smile--a faint sad one--flickered over his face. He was asleep: from infancy he had slept with his eyes open.

"Emmeline!" he murmured, in the tone of one who entreats forgiveness.

"Strange infatuation!" said George to himself: "even his dreams are mad! Good God! there can't be anything in it--can there? I begin to feel as if I were not quite safe myself. Mad-doctors go mad themselves, they say. I wonder what sort of floating sporule carries the infection--reaching the brain by the nose, I fancy. Or perhaps there is latent madness in us all, requiring only the presence of another madness to set it free."

Leopold was awake and looking at him.

"Is it a very bad way of dying?" he asked.

"What is, old boy!"

"Hanging."

"Yes, very bad--choking, you know," answered George, who wanted to make the worst of it.

"I thought the neck was broken and all was over," returned Leopold, with a slight tremor in his voice.

"Yes, that's how it ought to be; but it fails so often!"

"At least there's no more hanging in public, and that's a comfort," said Leopold.

"What a queer thing," said George to himself, "that a man should be ready to hang for an idea! Why should he not do his best to enjoy what is left of the sunlight, seeing, as their own prophet says, the night cometh when no man can work? A few more whiffs of his cigar before it goes out, would hurt no one. It is one thing to hang a murderer, and quite another to hang yourself if you happen to be the man. But he's stark raving mad, and must be humoured. Dance upon nothing for an idea! Well, it's not without plenty of parallels in history!--I wonder whether his one idea would give way now, if it were brought to the actual test of hanging! It is a pity it couldn't be tried, just for experiment's sake. But a strait-waistcoat would be better."

Leopold's acquaintance with George had been but small, and of his favourite theories he knew nothing. But he had always known that he was not merely his sister's cousin, but the trusted friend both of her and of her aunt; and since he had come to know of his frequent visits, he had begun to believe him more to Helen than a friend. Hence the moment he had made up his mind to confess, he was ready to trust George entirely, and although he was disappointed to find him receive his communication in a spirit so different from that of Wingfold and his friend, he felt no motion of distrust on that account, seeing Helen, who had been to him true as steel, took the same view of his resolution.

"What would you do yourself then, George, if you had committed a crime like mine?" he asked, after lying silent for a while.

None of George's theories had greatly taxed his imagination. He had not been in any habit of fancying himself in this or that situation--and when he did, it was always in some pleasant one of victory or recognition. Possible conditions of humanity other than pleasant, he had been content to regard from the outside, and come to logical conclusions concerning, without, as a German would say, thinking himself into them at all; and it would have been to do the very idea of George Bascombe a wrong to imagine him entangled in any such net of glowing wire as a crime against society! Therefore, although for most questions George had always an answer ready, for this he had none at hand, and required a moment, and but a moment, to think.

"I would say to myself," he replied, "'What is done, is done, and is beyond my power to alter or help.' And so I would be a man and bear it--not a weakling, and let it crush me. No, by Jove! it shouldn't crush ME!"

"Ah, but you haven't tried the weight of it, George!" returned Leopold.

"God forbid!" said George.

"God forbid! indeed," rejoined Leopold; "but there 'tis done for all his forbidding!"

"What's done is done, God or devil, and must be borne, I say," said Bascombe, stretching out his legs. He was aware it sounded heartless, but how could he help it? What else was there to be said?

"But if you can't bear it? If it is driving you mad--mad--mad? If you must do something or kill yourself?" cried Leopold.

"You haven't done your best at trying yet," returned George. "But you are ill, and not very able to try, I daresay, and so we can't help it. On Monday we shall go to Mr. Hooker, and see what he says to it."

He rose and went to get a book from the library. On the stair he met the butler: Mr. Wingfold had called to see Mr. Lingard.

"He can't see him to-day. He is too much exhausted," said Bascombe; and the curate left the house thoughtful and sorry, feeling as if a vulture had settled by the side of the youth--a good-natured vulture, no doubt, but not the less one bent on picking out the eyes of his mind.

He walked away along the street towards the church with down-bent head, seeing no one. He entered the churchyard, not looking whither he went: a lovely soul was in pain and peril, and he could not get near to help it. They were giving it choke-damp to breathe, instead of mountain-air. They were washing its sores with anodynes instead of laying them open with the knife of honesty, that they might be cleansed and healed. He found himself stumbling among the level gravestones, and stopped and sat down.

He sat a while, seeming to think of nothing, his eyes resting on a little tuft of moss that shone like green gold in the sunlight on the shoulder of an awkward little cherub's wing. Ere long he found himself thinking how not the soul of Leopold, but that of Helen, was in chief danger. Poor Leopold had the serpent of his crime to sting him alive, but Helen had the vampyre of an imperfect love to fan her asleep with the airs of a false devotion. It was Helen he had to be anxious about more than Leopold.

He rose and walked back to the house.

"Can I see Miss Lingard?" he asked.

It was a maid who opened the door this time. She showed him into the library, and went to inquire.

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