Alice, or the Mysteries — Book 05

Produced by Dagny; and by David Widger

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BOOK V.

  ”FOOLS blind to truth; nor know their erring soul

   How much the half is better than the whole.”

        —HESIOD: Op. et Dies, 40.

CHAPTER I.

  Do as the Heavens have done; forget your evil;

  With them, forgive yourself.—The Winter’s Tale.

  . . . The sweet’st companion that e’er man

  Bred his hopes out of.—Ibid.

THE curate of Brook-Green was sitting outside his door. The vicarage
which he inhabited was a straggling, irregular, but picturesque
building,—humble enough to suit the means of the curate, yet large
enough to accommodate the vicar. It had been built in an age when the
indigentes et pauperes for whom universities were founded supplied,
more than they do now, the fountains of the Christian ministry, when
pastor and flock were more on an equality.

From under a rude and arched porch, with an oaken settle on either side
for the poor visitor, the door opened at once upon the old-fashioned
parlour,—a homely but pleasant room, with one wide but low cottage
casement, beneath which stood the dark shining table that supported the
large Bible in its green baize cover; the Concordance, and the last
Sunday’s sermon, in its jetty case. There by the fireplace stood the
bachelor’s round elbow-chair, with a needlework cushion at the back; a
walnut-tree bureau, another table or two, half a dozen plain chairs,
constituted the rest of the furniture, saving some two or three hundred
volumes, ranged in neat shelves on the clean wainscoted walls. There was
another room, to which you ascended by two steps, communicating with this
parlour, smaller but finer, and inhabited only on festive days, when Lady
Vargrave, or some other quiet neighbour, came to drink tea with the good
curate.

An old housekeeper and her grandson—a young fellow of about two and
twenty, who tended the garden, milked the cow, and did in fact what he
was wanted to do—composed the establishment of the humble minister.

We have digressed from Mr. Aubrey himself.

The curate was seated, then, one fine summer morning, on a bench at the
left of his porch, screened from the sun by the cool boughs of a
chestnut-tree, the shadow of which half covered the little lawn that
separated the precincts of the house from those of silent Death and
everlasting Hope; above the irregular and moss-grown paling rose the
village church; and, through openings in the trees, beyond the
burial-ground, partially gleamed the white walls of Lady Vargrave’s
cottage, and were seen at a distance the sails on the—

“Mighty waters, rolling evermore.”

The old man was calmly enjoying the beauty of the morning, the freshness
of the air, the warmth of the dancing beam, and not least, perhaps, his
own peaceful thoughts,—the spontaneous children of a contemplative
spirit and a quiet conscience. His was the age when we most sensitively
enjoy the mere sense of existence,—when the face of Nature and a passive
conviction of the benevolence of our Great Father suffice to create a
serene and ineffable happiness, which rarely visits us till we have done
with the passions; till memories, if more alive than heretofore, are yet
mellowed in the hues of time, and Faith softens into harmony all their
asperities and harshness; till nothing within us remains to cast a shadow
over the things without; and on the verge of life, the Angels are nearer
to us than of yore. There is an old age which has more youth of heart
than youth itself!

As the old man thus sat, the little gate through which, on Sabbath days,
he was wont to pass from the humble mansion to the house of God
noiselessly opened, and Lady Vargrave appeared.

The curate rose when he perceived her; and the lady’s fair features were
lighted up with a gentle pleasure, as she pressed his hand and returned
his salutation.

There was a peculiarity in Lady Vargrave’s countenance which I have
rarely seen in others. Her smile, which was singularly expressive, came
less from the lip than from the eyes; it was almost as if the brow
smiled; it was as the sudden and momentary vanishing of a light but
melancholy cloud that usually rested upon the features, placid as they
were.

They sat down on the rustic bench, and the sea-breeze wantoned amongst
the quivering leaves of the chestnut-tree that overhung their seat.

“I have come, as usual, to consult my kind friend,” said Lady Vargrave;
“and, as usual also, it is about our absent Evelyn.”

“Have you heard again from her, this morning?”

“Yes; and her letter increases the anxiety which your observation, so
much deeper than mine, first awakened.”

“Does she then write much of Lord Vargrave?”

“Not a great deal; but the little she does say, betrays how much she
shrinks from the union my poor husband desired: more, indeed, than ever!
But this is not all, nor the worst; for you know that the late lord had
provided against that probability—he loved her so tenderly, his ambition
for her only came from his affection; and the letter he left behind him
pardons and releases her, if she revolts from the choice he himself
preferred.”

“Lord Vargrave is, perhaps, a generous, he certainly seems a candid, man,
and he must be sensible that his uncle has already done all that justice
required.”

“I think so. But this, as I said, is not all; I have brought the letter
to show you. It seems to me as you apprehended. This Mr. Maltravers has
wound himself about her thoughts more than she herself imagines; you see
how she dwells on all that concerns him, and how, after checking herself,
she returns again and again to the same subject.”

The curate put on his spectacles, and took the letter. It was a strange

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