Chapter 13.

{105} OCTOBER came at length, and with it Charles's thoughts were turned again to Oxford. One or two weeks passed by; then a few days, and it was time to be packing. His father parted with him with even greater emotion than when he first went to school. He would himself drive him in the phaeton to the neighbouring town, from which the omnibus ran to the railroad, though he had the gout flying about him; and when the moment for parting came he could not get himself to give up his hand, as if he had something to say which, he could not recollect or master.

"Well, Christmas will soon come," he said; "we must part, it's no use delaying it. Write to us soon, dear boy; and tell us all about yourself and your matters. Tell us about your friends; they are nice young men apparently: but I have great confidence in your prudence; you have more prudence than some of them. Your tutor seems a valuable man, from what you tell me," he went on, repeating what had passed between him and Charles many times before: "a sound, well-judging man, that Mr. Vincent. Sheffield is too clever; he is young; you have an older head. It's no good my going on; I have said all this before: {106} and you may be late for the train. Well, God bless you, my dearest Charlie, and make you a blessing. May you be happier and better than your father! I have ever been blest all my life long—wonderfully blest. Blessings have been poured on me from my youth, far above my deserts; may they be doubled upon you! Good-bye, my beloved Charles, good-bye!"

Charles had to pass a day or two at the house of a relative who lived a little way out of London. While he was there a letter arrived for him, forwarded from home; it was from Willis, dated from London, and announced that he had come to a very important decision, and should not return to Oxford. Charles was fairly in the world again, plunged into the whirl of opinions: how sad a contrast to his tranquil home! There was no mistaking what the letter meant; and he set out at once with the chance of finding the writer at the house from which he dated it. It was a lodging at the west-end of the town; and he reached it about noon.

He found Willis in company with a person apparently two or three years older. Willis started on seeing him.

"Who would have thought! what brings you here?" he said; "I thought you were in the country." Then to his companion, "This is the friend I was speaking to you about, Morley. A happy meeting; sit down, dear Reding; I have much to tell you."

Charles sat down, all suspense, looking at Willis with such keen anxiety that the latter was forced to cut the matter short. "Reding, I am a Catholic." {107}

Charles threw himself back in his chair, and turned pale.

"My dear Reding, what is the matter with you? why don't you speak to me?"

Charles was still silent; at last, stooping forward, with his elbows on his knees, and his head on his hands, he said, in a low voice, "Oh, Willis, what have you done?"

"Done?" said Willis; "what you should do, and half Oxford besides. Oh, Reding, I'm so happy!"

"Alas, alas!" said Charles; "but what is the good of my staying?—all good attend you, Willis; good-bye!"

"No, my good Reding, you don't leave me so soon, having found me so unexpectedly; and you have had a long walk, I dare say; sit down, there's a good fellow; we shall have luncheon soon, and you must not go without taking your part in it." He took Charles's hat from him as he spoke; and Charles, in a mixture of feelings, let him have his way.

"Oh, Willis, so you have separated yourself from us for ever!" he said; "you have taken your course, we keep ours: our paths are different."

"Not so," said Willis; "you must follow me, and we shall be one still."

Charles was half offended. "Really I must go," he said, and he rose; "you must not talk in that manner."

"Pray, forgive me," answered Willis; "I won't do so again; but I could not help it; I am not in a common state, I'm so happy!"

A thought struck Reding. "Tell me, Willis," he {108} said, "your exact position; in what sense are you a Catholic? What is to prevent your returning with me to Oxford?"

His companion interposed: "I am taking a liberty, perhaps," he said; "but Mr. Willis has been regularly received into the Catholic Church."

"I have not introduced you," said Willis. "Reding, let me introduce Mr. Morley; Morley, Mr. Reding. Yes, Reding, I owe it to him that I am a Catholic. I have been on a tour with him abroad. We met with a good priest in France, who consented to receive my abjuration."

"Well, I think he might profitably have examined into your state of mind a little before he did so," said Reding; "you are not the person to become a Catholic, Willis."

"What do you mean?"

"Because," answered Reding, "you are more of a Dissenter than a Catholic. I beg your pardon," he added, seeing Willis look up sharply, "let me be frank with you, pray do. You were attached to the Church of Rome, not as a child to a mother, but in a wayward, roving way, as a matter of fancy or liking, or (excuse me) as a greedy boy to something nice; and you pursued your object by disobeying the authorities set over you."

It was as much as Willis could bear; he said he thought he recollected a text about "obeying God rather than men".

"I see you have disobeyed men," retorted Charles; "I trust you have been obeying God." {109}

Willis thought him rude, and would not speak.

Mr. Morley began: "If you knew the circumstances better," he said, "you would doubtless judge differently. I consider Mr. Willis to be just the very person on whom it was incumbent to join the Church, and who will make an excellent Catholic. You must blame, not the venerable priest who received him, but me. The good man saw his devotion, his tears, his humility, his earnest desire; but the state of his mind he learned through me, who speak French better than Mr. Willis. However, he had quite enough conversation with him in French and Latin. He could not reject a postulant for salvation; it was impossible. Had you been he, you would have done the same."

"Well, sir, perhaps I have been unjust to him and you," said Charles; "however, I cannot augur well of this."

"You are judging, sir," answered Mr. Morley, "let me say it, of things you do not know. You do not know what the Catholic religion is; you do not know what its grace is, or the gift of faith."

The speaker was a layman; he spoke with earnestness the more intense because quiet. Charles felt himself reproved by his manner; his good taste suggested to him that he had been too vehement in the presence of a stranger; yet he did not feel the less confidence in his cause. He paused before he answered; then he said briefly, that he was aware that he did not know the Roman Catholic religion, but he knew Mr. Willis. He could not help giving his opinion that good would not come of it. {110}

"I have ever been a Catholic," said Mr. Morley; "so far I cannot judge of members of the Church of England; but this I know, that the Catholic Church is the only true Church. I may be wrong in many things; I cannot be wrong in this. This too I know, that the Catholic faith is one, and that no other Church has faith. The Church of England has no faith. You, my dear sir, have no faith."

This was a home-thrust; the controversies of Oxford passed before Reding's mind; but he instantly recovered himself. "You cannot expect," said he, smiling, "that I, almost a boy, should be able to argue with yourself, or to defend my Church, or to explain her faith. I am content to hold that faith, to hold what she holds, without professing to be a divine. This is the doctrine which I have been taught at Oxford. I am under teaching there; I am not yet taught. Excuse me, then, if I decline an argument with you. With Mr. Willis, it is natural that I should argue; we are equals, and understand each other; but I am no theologian."

Here Willis cried out, "Oh, my dear Reding, what I say is, 'Come and see'. Don't stand at the door arguing; but enter the great home of the soul, enter and adore."

"But," said Reding, "surely God wills us to be guided by reason; I don't mean that reason is everything, but it is at least something. Surely we ought not to act without it, against it."

"But is not doubt a dreadful state?" said Willis—"a most perilous state? No state is safe but that of {111} faith. Can it be safe to be without faith? Now, have you faith in your Church? I know you well enough to know you have not; where, then, are you?"

"Willis, you have misunderstood me most extraordinarily," said Charles: "ten thousand thoughts pass through the mind, and if it is safe to note down and bring against a man his stray words I suppose there's nothing he mayn't be accused of holding. You must be alluding to some half-sentence or other of mine, which I have forgotten, and which was no real sample of my sentiments. Do you mean I have no worship? and does not worship presuppose faith? I have much to learn, I am conscious; but I wish to learn it from the Church under whose shadow my lot is cast, and with whom I am content."

"He confesses," said Willis, "that he has no faith; he confesses that he is in doubt. My dear Reding, can you sincerely plead that you are in invincible ignorance after what has passed between us? Now, suppose for an instant that Catholicism is true, is it not certain that you now have an opportunity of embracing it? and if you do not, are you in a state to die in?"

Reding was perplexed how to answer; that is, he could not with the necessary quickness analyse and put into words the answer which his reason suggested to Willis's rapid interrogatories. Mr. Morley had kept silence, lest Charles should have two upon him at once; but when Willis paused, and Charles did not reply, he interposed. He said that all the calls in Scripture were obeyed with promptitude by those who were called; and that our Lord would not suffer one man even to go {112} and bury his father. Reding answered, that in those cases the voice of Christ was actually heard; He was on earth, in bodily presence; now, however, the very question was, which was the voice of Christ; and whether the Church of Rome did or did not speak with the voice of Christ;—that surely we ought to act prudently; that Christ could not wish us to act otherwise; that, for himself, he had no doubt that he was in the place where Providence wished him to be; but, even if he had any doubts whether Christ was calling him elsewhere (which he had not), but if he had, he should certainly think that Christ called him in the way and method of careful examination—that prudence was the divinely appointed means of coming at the truth.

"Prudence!" cried Willis, "such prudence as St. Thomas's, I suppose, when he determined to see before believing."

Charles hesitated to answer.

"I see it," continued Willis; and, starting up, he seized his arm; "come, my dear fellow, come with me directly; let us go to the good priest who lives two streets off. You shall be received this very day. On with your hat." And before Charles could show any resistance, he was half out of the room.

He could not help laughing, in spite of his vexation; he disengaged his arm, and deliberately sat down. "Not so fast," he said; "we are not quite this sort of person."

Willis looked awkward for a moment; then he said, "Well, at least you must go into a retreat; you must go forthwith. Morley, do you know when Mr. De {113} Mowbray or Father Agostino gives his next retreat? Reding, it is just what you want, just what all Oxford men want; I think you will not refuse me."

Charles looked up in his face, and smiled. "It is not my line," he said, at length. "I am on my way to Oxford. I must go. I came here to be of use to you; I can be of none, so I must go. Would I could be of service; but it is hopeless. Oh, it makes my heart ache!" And he went on brushing his hat with his glove, as if on the point of rising, yet loth to rise.

Morley now struck in: he spoke all along like a gentleman and a man of real piety, but with a great ignorance of Protestants or how they were to be treated.

"Excuse me, Mr. Reding," he said, "if before you go I say one word. I feel very much for the struggle which is going on in your mind; and I am sure it is not for such as me to speak harshly or unkindly to you. The struggle between conviction and motives of this world is often long; may it have a happy termination in your case! Do not be offended if I suggest to you that the dearest and closest ties, such as your connection with the Protestant Church involves, may be on the side of the world in certain cases. It is a sort of martyrdom to have to break such; but they who do so have a martyr's reward. And, then, at a university you have so many inducements to fall in with the prevailing tone of thought; prospects, success in life, good opinion of friends—all these things are against you. They are likely to choke the good seed. Well, I could have wished that you had been able to follow the dictates of conscience at once; but the conflict {114} must continue its appointed time; we will hope that all will end well."

"I can't persuade these good people," thought Charles, as he closed the street door after him, that I am not in a state of conviction, and struggling against it; how absurd! Here I come to reclaim a deserter, and I am seized even bodily, and against my will all but hurried into a profession of faith. Do these things happen to people every day? or is there some particular fate with me thus to be brought across religious controversies which I am not up to? I a Roman Catholic! What a contrast all this with quiet Hartley!" naming his home. As he continued to think on what had passed he was still less satisfied with it or with himself. He had gone to lecture, and he had been lectured; and he had let out his secret state of mind: no, not let out, he had nothing to let out. He had indeed implied that he was inquiring after religious truth; but every Protestant inquires; he would not be a Protestant if he did not. Of course he was seeking the truth; it was his duty to do so; he recollected distinctly his tutor laying down on one occasion the duty of private judgment. This was the very difference between Protestants and Catholics. Catholics begin with faith; Protestants with inquiry; and he ought to have said this to Willis. He was provoked he had not said it; it would have simplified the question, and shown how far he was from being unsettled. Unsettled!—it was most extravagant. He wished this had but struck him during the conversation, but it was a relief that it struck him now; it reconciled him to his position.

Chapter 1-14

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