Chapter 13.

{261} NEITHER to brother nor to sister had the conversation been a satisfaction or relief. "I can go nowhere for sympathy," thought Charles; "dear Mary does not understand me more than others. I can't bring out what I mean and feel; and when I attempt to do so, my statements and arguments seem absurd to myself. It has been a great effort to tell her; and in one sense it is a gain, for it is a trial over. Else I have taken nothing by my move, and might as well have held my tongue. I have simply pained her without relieving myself. By-the-bye, she has gone off believing about twice as much as the fact. I was going to set her right when Carry came in. My only difficulty is about taking orders; and she thinks I am going to be a Roman Catholic. How absurd! but women will run on so; give an inch, and they take an ell. I know nothing of the Roman Catholics. The simple question is, whether I should go to the Bar or the Church. I declare, I think I have made vastly too much of it myself. I ought to have begun this way with her,—I ought to have said: 'D'you know, I have serious thoughts of reading law?' I've made a hash of it." {262}

Poor Mary, on the other hand, was in a confusion of thought and feeling as painful as it was new to her; though for a time household matters and necessary duties towards her younger sisters occupied her mind in a different direction. She had been indeed taken at her word; little had she expected what would come on her when she engaged to "take the fretting, while he took the reading". She had known what grief was, not so long ago; but not till now had she known anxiety. Charles's state of mind was a matter of simple astonishment to her. At first it quite frightened and shocked her; it was as if Charles had lost his identity, and had turned out some one else. It was like a great breach of trust. She had seen there was a good deal in the newspapers about the "Oxford party" and their doings; and at different places, where she had been on visits, she had heard of churches being done up in the new fashion, and clergymen being accused, in consequence, of Popery—a charge which she had laughed at. But now it was actually brought home to her door that there was something in it. Yet it was to her incomprehensible, and she hardly knew where she was. And that, of all persons in the world, her brother, her own Charles, with whom she had been one heart and soul all their lives—one so cheerful, so religious, so good, so sensible, so cautious,—that he should be the first specimen that crossed her path of the new opinions,—it bewildered her.

And where had he got his notions?—Notions! she could not call them notions; he had nothing to say for himself. It was an infatuation; he, so clever, so sharp-sighted, {263} could say nothing better in defence of himself than that Mrs. Bishop of Monmouth was too pretty, and that old Dr. Stock sat upon a cushion. Oh, sad, sad indeed! How was it he could be so insensible to the blessings he gained from his Church, and had enjoyed all his life? What could he need? She had no need at all: going to church was a pleasure to her. She liked to hear the Lessons and the Collects, coming round year after year, and marking the seasons. The historical books and prophets in summer; then the "stir-up" Collect just before Advent; the beautiful Collects in Advent itself, with the Lessons from Isaiah reaching on through Epiphany; they were quite music to the ear. Then the Psalms, varying with every Sunday; they were a perpetual solace to her—ever old, yet ever new. The occasional additions, too—the Athanasian Creed, the Benedictus, Deus misereatur, and Omnia opera, which her father had been used to read at certain great feasts; and the beautiful Litany. What could he want more? where could he find so much? Well, it was a mystery to her; and she could only feel thankful that she was not exposed to the temptations, whatever they were, which had acted on the powerful mind of her brother.

Then, she had anticipated how pleasant it would be when Charles was a clergyman, and she should hear him preach; when there would be one whom she would have a right to ask questions and to consult whenever she wished. This prospect was at an end; she could no longer trust him: he had given a shake to her confidence which it never could recover; it was gone for {264} ever. They were all of them women but he; he was their only stay, now that their father had been taken away. What was now to become of them? To be abandoned by her own brother! oh, how terrible!

And how was she to break it to her mother? for broken it must be sooner or later. She could not deceive herself; she knew her brother well enough to feel sure that, when he had really got hold of a thing, he would not let it go again without convincing reasons; and what reasons there could be for letting it go she could not conceive, if there could be reasons for taking it up. The taking it up baffled all reason, all calculation. Well, but how was her mother to be told of it? Was it better to let her suspect it first, and so break it to her, or to wait till the event happened? The problem was too difficult for the present, and she must leave it.

This was her state for several days, till her fever of mind gradually subsided into a state of which a dull anxiety was a latent but habitual element, leaving her as usual at ordinary times, but every now and then betraying itself by sudden sharp sighs or wanderings of thought. Neither brother nor sister, loving each other really as much as ever, had quite the same sweetness and evenness of temper as was natural to them; self-control became a duty, and the evening circle was duller than before, without any one being able to say why. Charles was more attentive to his mother; he no more brought his books into the drawing-room, but gave himself to her company. He read to them, but he had little to talk about; and Eliza and Caroline {265} both wished his stupid examination past and over, that he might be restored to his natural liveliness.

As to Mrs. Reding, she did not observe more than that her son was a very hard student, and grudged himself a walk or ride, let the day be ever so fine. She was a mild, quiet person, of keen feelings and precise habits; not very quick at observation; and, having lived all her life in the country, and till her late loss having scarcely known what trouble was, she was singularly unable to comprehend how things could go on in any way but one. Charles had not told her the real cause of his spending the winter at home, thinking it would be a needless vexation to her; much less did he contemplate harassing her with the recital of his own religious difficulties, which were not appreciable by her, and issued in no definite result. To his sister he did attempt an explanation of his former conversation, with a view of softening the extreme misgivings which it had created in her mind. She received it thankfully, and professed to be relieved by it; but the blow was struck, the suspicion was lodged deep in her mind—he was still Charles, dear to her as ever, but she never could rid herself of the anticipation which on that occasion she had expressed.

Chapter 2-14

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Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
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