Chapter 18.

{155} WHEN Charles got to his room he saw a letter from home lying on his table; and, to his alarm, it had a deep black edge. He tore it open. Alas, it announced the sudden death of his dear father! He had been ailing some weeks with the gout, which at length had attacked his stomach and carried him off in a few hours.

Oh, my poor dear Charles, I sympathise with you keenly all that long night, and in that indescribable waking in the morning; and that dreary day of travel which followed it! By the afternoon you were at home. Oh, piercing change! it was but six or seven weeks before that you had passed the same objects the reverse way, with what different feelings, and oh, in what company, as you made for the railway omnibus! It was a grief not to be put into words; and to meet mother, sisters—and the Dead! ...

The funeral is over by some days; Charles is to remain at home the remainder of the term, and does not return to Oxford till towards the end of January. The signs of grief have been put away; the house looks cheerful as before; the fire as bright, the mirrors {156} as clear, the furniture as orderly; the pictures are the same, and the ornaments on the mantelpiece stand as they have stood, and the French clock tells the hour, as it has told it for years past. The inmates of the parsonage wear, it is most true, the signs of a heavy bereavement; but they converse as usual, and on ordinary subjects; they pursue the same employments, they work, they read, they walk in the garden, they dine. There is no change except in the inward consciousness of an overwhelming loss. He is not there, not merely on this day or that, for so it well might be; he is not merely away, but, as they know well, he is gone and will not return. That he is absent now is but a token and a memorial to their minds that he will be absent always. But especially at dinner; Charles had to take a place which he had sometimes filled, but then as the deputy, and in the presence of him whom now he succeeded. His father, being not much more than a middle-aged man, had been accustomed to carve himself. And when at the meal of the day Charles looked up, he had to encounter the troubled look of one, who, from her place at table, had before her eyes a still more vivid memento of their common loss;—aliquid desideraverunt oculi.

Mr. Reding had left his family well provided for; and this, though a real alleviation of their loss in the event, perhaps augmented the pain of it at the moment. He had ever been a kind, indulgent father. He was a most respectable clergyman of the old school; pious in his sentiments, a gentleman in his feelings, exemplary in his social relations. He was no reader and never {157} had been in the way to gain theological knowledge; he sincerely believed all that was in the Prayer Book, but his sermons were very rarely doctrinal. They were sensible, manly discourses on the moral duties. He administered Holy Communion at the three great festivals, saw his Bishop once or twice a year, was on good terms with the country gentlemen in his neighbourhood, was charitable to the poor, hospitable in his housekeeping, and was a staunch though not a violent supporter of the Tory interest in his county. He was incapable of anything harsh, or petty, or low, or uncourteous; and died esteemed by the great houses about him, and lamented by his parishioners.

It was the first great grief poor Charles had ever had, and he felt it to be real. How did the small anxieties which had of late teased him vanish before this tangible calamity! He then understood the difference between what was real and what was not. All the doubts, inquiries, surmises, views, which had of late haunted him on theological subjects, seemed like so many shams, which flitted before him in sun-bright hours, but had no root in his inward nature, and fell from him, like the helpless December leaves, in the hour of his affliction. He felt now where his heart and his life lay. His birth, his parentage, his education, his home, were great realities; to these his being was united; out of these he grew. He felt he must be what providence had made him. What is called the pursuit of truth seemed an idle dream. He had great tangible duties to his father's memory, to his mother and sisters, to his position; he felt sick of all theories {158} as if they had taken him in, and he secretly resolved never more to have anything to do with them. Let the world go on as it might, happen what would to others, his own place and his own path were clear. He would go back to Oxford, attend steadily to his books, put aside all distractions, avoid bye-paths, and do his best to acquit himself well in the schools. The Church of England as it was, its Articles, bishops, preachers, professors, had sufficed for much better persons than he was; they were good enough for him. He could not do better than imitate the life and death of his beloved father; quiet years in the country at a distance from all excitements, a round of pious, useful works among the poor, the care of a village school, and at length the death of the righteous.

At the moment, and for some time to come, he had special duties towards his mother; he wished, as far as might be, to supply to her the place of him she had lost. She had great trials before her still; if it was a grief to himself to leave Hartley, what would it be to her? Not many months would pass before she would have to quit a place ever dear, and now sacred in her thoughts; there was in store for her the anguish of dismantling the home of many years, and the toil and whirl of packing; a wearied head and an aching heart at a time when she would have most need of self-possession and energy.

Such were the thoughts which came upon him again and again in those sorrowful weeks. A leaf had been turned over in his life; he could not be what he had been. People come to man's estate at very different {159} ages. Youngest sons in a family, like monks in a convent, may remain children till they have reached middle age; but the elder, should their father die prematurely, are suddenly ripened into manhood, when they are almost boys. Charles had left Oxford a clever unformed youth; he returned a man.

Chapter 2-1

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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