« VorigeDoorgaan »
before the silent commune of her heart was interrupted by a kindly hand resting on her shoulder, while in a tone of tender reproach, “ Geraldine !" said her favourite friend, “is it to be ever thus ! That vigorous mind, that noble heart, are they laid prostrate at the sight of danger, and are those ties of kindred and friendship so forgotten, that self alone engrosses one who once lived but for others! Ah! dearest, when I look upon this change, I tremble for all human constancy, and think “truly this is a living death.' »
“And would you see me welcome dangerdeath” said Geraldine, “ give me back my ignorance, my prejudice, my blindness, and my peace. Let me think error, truth—delusion, certainty—and I will rush upon the tainted throng; will court the breath, will grasp the hand, of the first dying one, and hail the agonies which tear the frame, but free the soul to wing its flight above.
“ Your blindness and your peace, my Geraldine ! Have you misled me then? Do you then love, and love unhappily ?"
Geraldine smiled. “Katherine, your woman's heart cannot suppose a feeling worthy to engross its depth and magnitude, but love, mere human love! But hear my heart declare its sentiments; that heart of which the waywardness, the passion, and the pride, you-you alone-have known in their full extent ; hear me declare my present joy, that heaven forbade my early choice; that I have since escaped all ties that could have fettered me that I am free to follow the truth whithersoever it may
“Geraldine," gravely replied her friend, “my mind being calmly settled in its early faith, would I not gladly attribute your excitement and distress to some other cause than that of bias towards a creed,
which I must ever think most dark, deceitful and dangerous ?"
The heavy tolling of the bell here interrupted them, and continued for some minutes, during which the friends remained silent, Geraldine being apparently engaged in prayer. On its ceasing she remarked, “How sad it is to watch those empty forms, surviving all the intrinsic value which they once possessed. At each score of deaths within our hapless town, that solemn sound is heard--for what?
-to warn the officials for mere official purposes, but no longer as the ancient passing bell,' when, far as the sounds could reach, the bended knee and fervent prayer obeyed the appeal to Christian charity, that souls which yet survived should supplicate for those departing hence. But Katherine," continued she with altered tone, and a joyousness of countenance and manner, which, though once hers, she had of late but little shown, “ Within these last few hours something has spoken peace to me-something connected with those popular shouts sent forth at sunset. How strange that having heard them, as you must have done distinctly, and repeatedly, two hours since, you have made no comment on them. This over-caution has confirmed my prophetic feeling, that those acclamations from an ignorant capricious mob, proceed from the same cause which, one short month ago, drew from them yells and execrations! Yes, Katherine, I see it is so ! He who was hooted and pelted from the town, for simply preaching according to the doctrine of his Church, and the dictates of his conscience, he has now returned, because his enemies are dying of a fatal disease, and he can save or die with them. This is the devoted being heaven has sent, to speak peace to me, and to say, Geraldine, thy prayer is heard." Here the first gush of tears she had known through many painful weeks, flowed irre
pressibly, and relieved the tension and excitement of her mind.
“My dearest friend,” at length began Katherine, “you observed to me some months ago, that our minds understood each other, as though they were parts of a whole, and grateful am I to say, that I feel this equally with yourself, excepting in this unlucky instance: but here, I candidly own, I do not sympathize; and although I admit that nothing can have been more heroic than the conduct of this Catholic priest, or more apparently harsh than that of the leading people of the town, including, perhaps, some even of the clergy, yet I cannot but lament his return. All thinking and feeling persons regretted, as much as yourself, that the very characteristics of Protestantism, liberality and benevolence, should have been forgotten on this occasion, while an opposite conduct has proved as impolitic as it was ungenerous; for in these popular excite. ments there is always danger of a reaction; and it is exactly this reaction of feeling that has led this stupid mob, which I despise equally with yourself, to believe that their persecution of this Mr., or, as they call him, Father, Bernard, has drawn on them heaven's vengeance in the cholera, and that his recall will stay the contagion. Certain it is, if the report of servants may be trusted, that when he appeared at that gate, where the sanatory cordon' begins, and simply told the group who were loitering there, that he had returned to nurse and comfort their sick, the news quickly spread, a crowd collected, and Mr. Bernard was actually borne along, amid the shouts of the multitude, to the cholera hospital, where his advice and remedies are alone attended to. And now, Geraldine, if he but stop here, I willingly give him my meed of praise ; but surely your love of what is noble and disinterested can never influence you so far as to hope, that the
awful delusions of the Romish Creed shall be once more held forth to the poor ignorant creatures who surround him, and who will now be weakened by terror and disease, and biassed by gratitude ?"
“I believe," said Geraldine abstractedly, " that there is one point in which all these disputing Doctors agree, namely, that whatever may be the agony of the sufferers in this dreadful disease, they never lose their senses. These poor creatutes will then be aware of Mr. Bernard's presence, and of his spiritual care-how merciful!"
“ The best preparation for death must take place in the person's own mind," returned Katherine. “ This priest may comfort his own zealous heart with fancied converts in their last moments; he may administer to them all the rites prescribed by his Church, but do you seriously suppose, my dearest Geraldine, that these converts, even if sincere, will find more acceptance before God than those poor unassisted Protestants, who have been taught to rest solely on the merits of their Redeemer ?"
“ I will tell you what I seriously suppose,” said Geraldine,“ that whatever Christ has commanded we are to obey implicitly,—that we are not to conjecture, and reason, and make an allegory of it, or limit it entirely to the times of the Apostles; but we are to follow His commands to the very letter. So far, perhaps, you may think that we agree; but I begin to perceive that to our Lord's promises are attached certain conditions, while you think them wholly free and unconditional. Now, this confidence may be praiseworthy, it may be presumptuous, according as it is, or is not, conformable to Christ's intentions with respect to us."
“To what are you referring ?" inquired Katherine.
“ Principally to that sacrament commanded by an inspired Apostle to be administered to the sick,
which we Protestants have supposed beneficial only to the early Christians, and which you seem to think of no consequence at all.”
“ We cannot be long in doubt,” replied Katherine, “ while we have our Bibles.”
“How can you say that," cried Geraldine, “ when we are differing at this very moment, not about the divine authority of the Sacred Book, but about its meaning! If it be impossible to doubt, while we have the Bible, why are we not agreed on the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, commanded by Saint James, seeing that we both ardently desire to know the truth, both read incessantly in the Sacred Record, and both pray for the teaching of the spirit ? Kate! Kate! tell me not that every Bible reader knows the truth: I am weary of this repeated but unsatisfactory answer; I have proved its hollowness. You know well the increased interest I took in religion three years ago,--the confidence I placed in the body of professing Christians, both in this neighbourhood and in London, and the conspicuous part which, from my zeal and my position here, I was induced to take in the various religious associations set on foot. What have become of those Bible readers !-those I most trusted! One has ceased to pray, and now can only praise, being certain of salvation ; another has joined the Baptists, being dissatisfied with • Infant Baptism ;' and my former excellent governess, and still dear friend, has become infatuated by the doctrines of the · Miracu. lous Gifts;' and has even been worked upon by the frenzy of excitement, to utter those sounds which her party denominate the Unknown Tongue ! She has ceased to communicate with any of her former acquaintances, as being without the pale of the true Church, which has received baptism by the Holy Ghost; but she still yearns after me with the feelings of a sister. I have received several letters