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OUT OF THE CLOUD;
A TALE; BY P. W. P.
A TALK ABOUT THE CLERGY AND THE DEVIL.
SITTING at breakfast one morning, not a great while after the events recorded in the previous chapters, Lester appeared to be inuch depressed, and Ella had evidently descended without her usual flow of spirits and good humour. Few ladies were of a more, cheerful disposition, and generally, the morning meal was enlivened by a genial conversation, in which she took no unimportant part. There was something to tell of her flowers, or feathered domestics, of which she was particularly fond, and equally curious in watching and commenting upon their habits. According to custom, Lester and Ella had been out in the grounds, she to gather a few flowers, for the breakfast-table, he to enjoy his reflections and plan the business of the day ; but this morning there was moodiness-a heaviness upon
their spirits, and both had failed in their objects, the flowers pleased her not, although many of them were among the finest specimens which could be produced ; and his thoughts were confused and moody. A few letters lying upon the table were hastily opened and passed over without comment. Neither spoke of their contents, and it appeared as if the meal were to end in perfect silence. Had they been two lovers who had had words on tle previous evening, they could not have been more politely cold, or lovingly formal to each other. This, however, was a condition of things that coulil only be temporary, for neither of them had any cause of alienation or coldness. Ella was the first to break through the barrier by asking
“How is it, George, that I have such a strange distaste for talking or moving this morning? I feel as if it would be a relief for me if I could get into some dark quiet corner to shed tears; it seems as if something fearful, or especially unpleasant were about to happen. I have no pricking of my thumbs' to tell me that something evil this way comes,' and yet, at one VOL. VI. NEW SERIES, VOL. II.
moment, I am in a state of indescribable apprehension ; while, in the next, I feel a sudden joy, which is equally overwhelming and inexplicable.”
Lester confessed to sharing the same indefinable dread, still, without being able to account for it. It was only when rallied by his sister, who, none the less, continued “ill at ease,” and pressed to endeavour an explanation of such phenomena, that he roused himself sufficiently to observe, in answer to her questions, that probably what they felt depended upon the unpleasant situation of their affairs in Crosswood, and upon the growing distaste to his ministerial efforts.
That situation was anything but enviable. With the best and purest intentions, Lester had commenced his official life with dealing in the plainest and most straightforward manner with his parishioners. He was gentle in reproof, but especially firm in maintaining his opinions. He invariably called both things and actions by their right names, and would not pretend to be what he was not. In all his sermons he avoided historical and prophetical discussions, and bluntly assumed Christianity to be a well-defined religious and moral system, having, on the one hand, a set of promises relating to the future, for the joy of all believers, which were sure to be fulfilled, and a series of duties to be performed in the present by those who would be at peace here and hereafter.
l'pon one occasion, preaching before the Dean, he chose for his text the command given by Jesus to his disciples, “ Swear not at all," and after exposing, in a few plain sentences, the fallacies which crowd the pages of those divines who attempt to soften down its obvious meaning, he proceeded to argue that all Christians—that all who take the name of Jesus—are bound to refuse to make oath in public courts quite as much so as in private life. After the congregation had dispersed, the Dean endeavoured to persuade him that the sermon was based upon a fallacy.
“I shall not,” said he, "insult you by using the arguments commonly employed to satisfy the ignorant and vulgar crowd upon this point, for, of course, you know, that, more or less distinctly, they are sophistical. They suit the crowd and satisfy it, therefore, I do not hesitate about using them in ordinary sermons. But, of course, there can be no doubt of Jesus having meant his command to be binding upon all Christian men, none that he meant swearing in the ordinary meaning of that term. All that I freely concede, just as you stated it; but still, I would impress this upon your mind, that we must use our own discretion in regard to the times and seasons. We are not to cast pearls before swine. It is not wise at all times to preach the entire doctrines and duties of Christianity. Men would take alarm, and leave us altogether, so that it becomes our duty to give them no more than they can bear. And this is not an age in which to preach against 'public oaths,' for they constitute part of the law of the land, and, as such, we must
Lester warmly contended that either we should preach Christianity as a whole, or cease to call ourselves Christians, and that if Jesus were the Christ, then he thought it presumptuous on our parts to alter or hide up any part of his teaching
The Dean declined to continue the discussion, but kindly intimated his admiration of Lester's genius and earnestness. “But, beware," said he, in conclusion, “lest the latter lead you into those bold courses of preaching and denunciation, through which the power of the former will be deprived of its due weight and influence upon society."
It cannot be said that Lester profited much by this well-meant advice, for he still rose, Sunday after Sunday, to preach practical sermons, in which were no apologies for splendid sin, no excuses for unchristian bitterness. Through all he said, there ran the two convictions that “ Jesus had authority to teach a new religion, whose lightest precepts are binding upon us,” and that “human life is no idle dream, to be frittered away in mere folly, but a stern reality, to be lived manfully and with honour.” But it was impossible to hide from himself the fact, that while the poor were almost malignantly delighted by his preaching, the respectable tradesmen, the farmers, and the wealthy, were very much dissatisfied. The poor were not so, and yet they were not much improved, for, as a rule, they kept constantly on the watch for what they called the hard hits given to the rich masters, and gave little or no heed to the general bearings of the discourse. This soon became known to the wealthy churchmen, and made them treat the rector as a revolutionist in disguise, scarcely a day passed without his receiving an annoying letter, or being exposed to most unpleasant interviews, all of which operated upon his spirits, and made him feel how hard it is to be an honest
Ella was not satisfied with the general answer her brother had given, and suggested that she was in that state of mind in which persons are said to foretel disaster. What,” she asked, “is the difference between that and prophecy ?"
"It is exceedingly difficult," he replied, "to draw a line between philosophical or practical prediction; and those utterances which have been spoken of, and are still known as prophecies. So many instances are recorded of men having foretold future events, that it would be as unwise to deny the fact, as it is on the part of others to assume them to have been directed and instructed by a supernatural Power. The latter may be supposed, but cannot be demonstrated.”
"I have always felt the impossibilty of proving that," interposed Ella, “and it has frequently occurred to me, as a matter worth inquiring into, how the ancient prophets could know themselves to be filled with Inspiration. Of course, I believe, as you know, that they were so, still, I cannot understand how they knew it. I have tried to tell whence came my own thoughts, how they were connected with recent events, but could not do
And if I were inspired, I feel that it would be impossible for me to prove it, even to my own satisfaction, much less to that of others. Until I can tell the source of my ordinary thoughts, I should be unable to speak of any as supernatural. How then can this be told ?”
“ As I have said, Ella, that cannot be demonstrated, but there is still a greater difficulty in discriminating between feelings which are the first-born of Fear, and those strange premonitions of coming disaster which have been recorded among
the remarkable anecdotes of illustrious men. When it occurs in the instances of soldiers or sailors going into battle--they predicting their own death-there is nothing really worthy of wonder; the only real cause of astonishment, lies in the fact, that so much should have been said about such premonitions, for, if it be remembered that thousands march to the field under the same conviction, who yet succeed in quitting it without even receiving a wound, the cases of those who fall will cease to appear remarkable. There are, however, other instances of premonitions in which there were no known circumstances calculated to excite them, wherein the parties have foretold that accidents were about to happen, and which came accordingly. There
is, at first sight, something surprising in this, but on reflection it is found that these
may be resolved in a similar manner. As for instance, it is by no means rare for persons to feel an undefined repugnance to taking a journey, which has been previously settled upon, or to engaging in tasks in which their assistance has been promised. They feel as if some accident would befal them, and consequently are thoroughly averse to entering into the proposed business, yet, being constrained, they do it, and, as it turns out, with perfect safety. The dread of evil proved to be imaginary, and, much to the disgust of the Spiritualist, no farther notice was taken of it. The medical philosopher explains the phenomenon by referring it to some derangement of the liver and its secretions, and concludes that a larger amount of biliary matter was present in the blood to operate upon the brain. This explanation shocks the sensibilities of many who pretend to philosophical acumen, quite as much as poets are shocked when the hesitation and changing moods of Hamlet are referred to dyspepsia. Still there is a ineasure of truth in the suggestion which no wise man will venture upon repudiating. But it does not follow that there are no cases which cannot be thus accounted for. It
appears perfectly clear that there are, instances in which coming events cast their shadows before,' in which the soul seems capable of prefiguring for itself the fact, but not the nature of the storm which is about to burst, or wherein it seems to have a perfect knowledge of the fact that something pleasant is about to occur. But,” he added, “I must not remain here idling away the time, discussing incomprehensible subjects, especially while there are so many sick to be visited, and so much parish business to attend to." He hurried away, and the dullness soon passed from his spirits. Returning about five to dinuer, he was startled by Jane in the hall crying out
“Oh, Sir, dear Master George, who do you think is in the parlour with Miss Ella ? Not Miss Mary! No! You can't guess, but its Doctor Moule. He has come, and is going to stay all night."
The latter piece of information was lost upon Lester, for no sooner had he heard who was with his sister than he bounded off to join them, and within a minute a manly gripe of the hand told the two friends how glad they were to meet.
Yes," said the Doctor, “I knew I should be welcome, and I had no time to write. An old patient of mine, who is staying about eight miles from here, would have me sent for. She was not satisfied with the country doctor, and said he did not understand her complaint. Probably he did not, for all she suffers from is the having too much money, too little to do, and an inordinate appetite. I can manage her well enough, so I was obliged to come, and being so near, how could I return without calling ?”
“I would never have forgiven you,” said Ella, “but now prepare for dinner and a long chat. I quite envy you the luxury in store.'
Preparations were soon made; dinner was soon despatched, and then, as Ella had predicted, an interesting conversation followed.
At one point the Doctor suddenly asked, “ And what would you say if I were coming to live with you ?”
Nothing that the blind goddess could turn up upon her wheel would give us greater pleasure than to know that Doctor Moule was coming to reside at Crosswood. I speak for Ella and Mary--who will soon be hereas well as myself. And, Doctor, if the Rectory is not large enough I'll build a new wing, to make room for you.'
“Better let it alone, for I should be a perpetual bore to Ella. No, it will not answer just now; but when I have the gout, or am scant of breath, and need a deal of nursing, then I'll come. And, indeed, George,” he gravely continued, “it is hard to tell who is to nurse me, now the two queens are away.”
“Let us strike a bargain : and do you agree to join us before the gout comes, to prevent travelling."
No, it will not do. In fact, at present the district is too healthy, much too healthy for me. Not that I care a pin about the fees, but I must have something to do. I could no more live without patients than a terrier could thrive without vermin."
You are as difficult to trip up as an eеl is to hold; but, Doctor, I have you upon the hip there. You mean to say, that unless somebody else is sick you cannot be content. Is not that a strange confession for a philosopher ?”
“ It may sound so, yet it is true; and I am no exception to the general rule, except, perhaps, in speaking the truth about it. All professions thrive by evils. Judges, Lawyers, and Gaol Governors prosper through the existence of knaves; and the glorious profession of arms would be unknown, were it not for despotism and selfishness. And the Clergy are in the same predicament. No offence to the Cloth; but were it not for the Father of Lies, clerical toast would be but poorly buttered; in fact, the clergy would have no bread to toast.'
Well, if we are dependants upon his bounty, at least we are his sworn enemies-always in arms against him!”
“Yes, in theory they are, and it's a pretty theory, too; but they don't want him to be poisoned out of the way. For instance, you have begun to teach men to hate the devil, and, according to the too popular notion, all the clergy would be delighted to hear of his destruction.”
“So they would be! and although the world is distracted with religious divisions, all sects would agree about the advantage of getting him put decently out of the way. I'm not sure of their caring two straws about its being decently' done, so long as it were done."
Doctor Moule shook his head incredulously, being under the impression; that when Lester knew more of the clergy his opinions would be greatly, changed. According to his ideas, they would denounce the devil living, but would equally denounce any who would undertake to put him out of existence. As was his good fortune when speaking, he had an illustration ready.
• Your father used to tell the story of a Captain Maclean, who was powerful as an orator in denouncing war as a very horrible, savage, and altogether ignoble plan of settling disputes;' but when any one proposed that peace should be proclaimed and preserved, he was equally eloquent in urging, that such a plan was ridiculous, ' because, without war, there would be nothing for the soldiers to do.' Now, that is much the same as the conduct of the clergy. If any man could kill the devil, and went forth upon the highway intending to do it, they would stop him."
Dollond would be thrown into a fever to lear you talk thus, and I feel quite uncomfortable.”
· Yes, because, although he is very learned, he never looks at things with a practical eye. The fact is, that this is a land of vested interests, and we are so conservative, that not even the devil could be killed without calling forth the bitterness of those who have a vested interest in his life. Every profession must live. Sickness finds me plenty to do, and the devil makes trork for gentlemen of your cloth. Yet why do you look so uncomfortable, George?"