John Wesley had ample food for thought for the remainder of his journey. He knew that the man who had appeared to him so suddenly out of the mist had for some time been on the brink of madness through his wild passion for Nelly Pol-whele, which brought about a frenzy of jealousy in respect of any man whom he saw near the girl. The fierceness of his gibes was due to this madness of his. But had the wretch stumbled in his blindness over a true thing? Was it the truth that he, Wesley, had all. unknown to himself drawn that girl close to him by a tenderer cord than that which had caused her to minister to his needs after he had preached his first great sermon?

The very idea of such a thing happening was startling to him. It would have seemed shocking to him if it had not seemed incredible. How was it possible, he asked himself, that that girl could have been drawn to love him? What was he to attract the love of such a young woman? He was in all matters save only one, cold and austere. He knew that his austereness had been made the subject of ridicule—of caricature—at Oxford and Bath and elsewhere. He had been called lugubrious by reason of his dwelling so intently on the severer side of life, and he had never thought it necessary to defend himself from such charges. He was sure that they were not true.

That was the manner of man that he was, and this being so, how was it possible that he should ever draw to himself the love of such a bright creature as Nelly Polwhele? What was she? Why, the very opposite to him in every respect. She was vivacious—almost frivolous; she had taken a delight in all the gaieties of life—why, the first time he saw her she had been in the act of imitating a notorious play-actress, and, what made it worse, she was playing the part extremely well. To be sure she had taken his reproof with an acknowledgment that it was deserved, and she had of her own free will and under no pressure from him promised that she would never again enter a playhouse; but still he knew that the desire for such gaieties was not eradicated from her nature. It would be unnatural to suppose' that it was. In short, she had nothing in common with him, and to fancy that she had seen anything in him to attract her love would be to fancy the butterfly in rapture around a thistle.

Oh, it was incredible that such a thing should happen. The notion was the outcome of the jealousy of that wretch. Why, the first time that the man had seen them together had he not burst out on them, accusing him of stealing away the child's affection, although he had not been ten minutes by her side?

Of course the notion was preposterous. He felt that it was so, and at the same moment that this conviction came to him, he was conscious of a little feeling of sadness to think that it was so. The more certain he became on the matter the greater was the regret that he felt.

Was it curious that he should dwell upon what the man had said last rather than upon what he had said first? But some time had passed before he recalled the charge that Bennet had brought against him almost immediately after they had met—the charge of having Nelly Polwhele in his thoughts rather than the work with which he had been entrusted by his Maker. The man had accused him of loving the girl, and declared that his present trouble was the rebuke that he had earned.

He had been startled by this accusation. Was that because he did not know all that was in his own heart? Could it be possible that he loved Nelly Polwhele? Once before he had asked himself this question, and he had not been able to assure himself as to how it should be answered, before he received that letter calling him back to this neighbourhood; and all thoughts that did not bear upon the subject of that' letter were swept from his mind. He knew that he heard in his ear a quick whisper that said:

You will be beside her again within four days;” but only for a single second had that thought taken possession of him. It had come to him with the leap up of a candle flame before it is extinguished. That thought had been quenched at the moment of its exuberance, and now he knew that this accusation brought against him was false; not once—not for a single moment, even when riding far into the evening through the lonely places of the valley where he might have looked to feel cheered by such a thought, had his heart whispered to him:

You will be beside her again within four days.”

She had not come between him and the work which he had to do.

But now the man had said to him all that brought back his thoughts to Nelly Polwhele; and having, as he fancied, answered the question which he put to him respecting her loving him, he found himself face to face with the Question of the possibility of his loving her.

It came upon him with the force of a blow; the logical outcome of his first reflections:

“If I found it incredible that she could have any affection for me because we have nothing in common, is not the same reason sufficient to convince me that it is impossible I could love her?”

He was exceedingly anxious to assure himself that the feeling which he had for her was not the love which a man has for a woman; but he did not feel any great exultation on coming to this logical conclusion of his consideration of the question which had been suggested to him by the accusations of Bennet; on the contrary, he was conscious of a certain plaintive note in the midst of all his logic—a plaintive human note—the desire of a good man for the love of a good woman. He felt very lonely riding down that valley of sea-mist permeated not with the cold of the sea, but with the warmth of the sunlight that struck some of the highest green ridges of the slopes above him. His logic had led him only into his barren loneliness, until his sound mental training, which compelled him to examine an argument from every standpoint, asserted itself and he found that his logic was carrying him on still further, for now it was saying to him:

If you, who have nothing in common with that young woman, have been led to love her, what is there incredible in the suggestion that she has been led to love you?

Then it was that he was conscious of a feeling of exultation. His own heart seemed to be revealed to him in a moment. Only for a moment, however; for he gave a cry, passing his hand athwart his face as if to sweep away a film of mist from before his eyes.

“Madness—madness and disaster! The love of woman is not for such as I—the man spoke the truth. The love of woman is not for me. Not for me the sweet companionship, the fireside of home, the little cradle from which comes the little cry—not for me—not for me!”

He rode on, and so docile had his mind become through the stern discipline of years, not once did his thoughts stray to Nelly from the grave matter which he had been considering when he encountered bennet—not once did he think even of Bennet. What he had before him was the question of what steps he should take to counteract the mischief which had been done and was still being done by the man who had taken it upon him to predict the end of the world.

A change seemed to have come over his way of looking at the matter. Previously he had not seen his way clearly; the mist that was sweeping through the valley seemed to have obscured his mental vision. He had been aware of a certain ill-defined sympathy in regard to the man since he had shown himself to be something of a mystic; his trance and, his account of the vision that he had seen had urged Wesley's interest into another channel, as it were; so that he found himself considering somewhat dreamily the whole question of the trustworthiness of visions, and then he had been able to agree with his friends at the Mill who had certainly not taken very long to make up their minds as to how Pritchard should be dealt with.

Now, however, Wesley seemed to see his way clearly. He became practical in a moment. He perceived that it was necessary for him to dissociate himself and his system from such as Pritchard—men who sought to play solely upon the emotions of their hearers, and who had nothing of the Truth to offer them however receptive their hearers' hearts had become. He did not doubt that Pritchard would take credit to himself for the non-fulfilment of his prophecy. He would bring forward the case of Jonah and Nineveh. Jonah had said definitely that Nineveh would be destroyed on a certain day; but the inhabitants had been aroused to repent, and the city's last day had been deferred. He would take credit to himself for arresting the Day of Judgment, his prophecy having brought about the repentance of his neighbours at Porthawn and Ruthallion, and thus the fact of his prophecy not being realised would actually add to the fame which he had already achieved, and his harmfulness would be proportionately increased.

Wesley knew that not much time was left to him and his friends to take action as it seemed right to him. The day was Friday, and he would preach on Sunday and state his views in respect of Pritchard and his following, so that it should be known that he discountenanced their acts. He had seen and heard enough during his ride through the valley to let him know how imminent was disaster to the whole system of which he was the exponent.

He had succeeded in banishing from his mind every thought which he had had in regard to Nelly Polwhele; so that it was somewhat disturbing for him to come upon her close to the entrance gates to the Court. She was carrying a wicker bird cage containing two young doves; he heard her voice talking to the birds before he recognised her. For a moment lie felt that he should stop his horse and allow her to proceed so far in front of him that she should reach the village without his overtaking her; but a moment's reflection was enough to assure him that to act in this way would be cowardice. He had succeeded in banishing her from his mind, and that gave him confidence in his own power to abide by the decision to which he had come respecting her. To avoid her at this time would have been to confess to himself that he was not strong enough to control his own heart; and he believed that he was strong enough to do so. Therefore he found himself once more beside her and felt that he was without a trouble in the world.

Of course she became very red when he spoke her name and stooped from his saddle to give her his hand. She had blushed in the same way an hour before when old Squire Trevelyan had found her with his daughters and said a kindly word to her.

“I have been to my young ladies,” she said, “and see what they have given to me, sir.” She held up the cage and the birds turned their heads daintily in order to eye him. “They were found in a nest by one of the keepers, and as my ladies are going to London they gave the little birds to me. I hope they will thrive under my care.”

“Why should they not?” he said. “You will be a mother to them and they will teach you.”

She laughed with a puzzled wrinkle between her eyes.

“Teach me, sir?”

“Ay, they will teach you, I would fain hope, how becoming is a sober shade of dress even to the young.”

“Do I need to be taught such a lesson, Mr. Wesley?” she cried, and now her face was in need of such a lesson. She spoke as if hurt by his suggestion.

“I have never seen you dressed except modestly and as is becoming to a young woman,” he replied. “Indeed I meant not what I said to be a reproach. I only said what came first to mind when I saw those dainty well-dressed creatures. My thought was: 'Her association with such companions will surely prevent her from yielding to the weakness of most young women. She will see that the dove conveys gentleness to the mind, whereas the peacock is the type of all that is to be despised.' Then, my dear child, the pair of turtle doves is an emblem of sacrifice.”

“Is that why they were chosen as the symbols of love?” said the girl, after a pause.

He looked at her curiously for some time. He wondered what was in her mind. Had she gone as far as her words suggested in her knowledge of what it meant to love?

“I think that there can be no true love without self-sacrifice,” said he. “'Tis the very essence—the spiritual part of love.”

“Is It so in verity, sir?” she cried. “Now I have ever thought that what is called love is of all things the most selfish. Were it not so why should it provoke men to quarrel—nay, the quarrelling is not only on the side of the men. I have seen sisters up in arms simply because the lover of one had given a kindly glance to the other.”

“To be ready to sacrifice one's self to save the loved one from disaster—from trouble in any shape or form—that is the love that is true, he assured of that, Nelly,” said he. “Love, if it be true, will help one to do one's duty—to our Maker as well as to our fellow-men, and to do that duty without a thought of whatever sacrifices it may demand. Love, if it be true, will not shrink from the greatest sacrifice that can be demanded of it—separation from the one who is beloved—a dividing asunder forever. That is why it is the noblest part of a man's nature, and that is why it should not be lightly spoken of as is done daily.”

“Ah, sir,” she said, “that may be the love that poets dream of; I have read out of poetry books to my ladies at the Court, when they were having their hair brushed. There was the poet Waller, whom they liked to have read to them, and Mr. Pope, in places. Mr. Marlowe they had a great regard for. They all put their dreams of love into beautiful words that would make the coldest of us in love with love. But for the real thing for daily life I think that simple folk must needs be content with the homelier variety.”

“There is only one sort of love, and that is love,” said he. “'Tis a flower that blooms as well in a cottage garden as in the parterres of a palace—nay, there are plants that thrive best in a poor soil, becoming stunted and losing their fragrance in rich ground, and it hath oft seemed to me that love is such a growth.”

“And yet I have heard it said that love flies out at the window when poverty comes in by the door,” she said.

“That never was love; 'twas something that came in the disguise of love.”

“I do believe that there are many such sham things prowling about, and knocking at such doors as they find well painted. Some of them have heard of silver being stored away in old jugs, and some have gone round to the byres to see exactly how many cows were there before knocking at the door.”

He smiled in response to her smiling. And then suddenly they both became grave.

“Have you had recent converse with that man Bennet?” he asked suddenly.

She swung the bird cage so quickly round that the doves were well-nigh jerked off their perch. She had flushed at the same moment, and a little frown was upon the face that she turned up to him.

“Why asked you that question? Is it because you were speaking of the sham loves, sir?” she asked.

“I ask your pardon if I seem somewhat of a busybody, Nelly Polwhele,” he said. “But the truth is that I—I find myself thinking of you at times—as a father—as an elder brother might think of—a sweet sister of tender years.”

Now she was blushing rosier than before, and there was no frown upon her forehead. But she did not lower her eyes or turn them away from his face. There was about her no sign of the bashful country girl who has been paid a compliment by one above her in rank. She did not lower her eyes; it was he who lowered his before her.

“'Tis the truth, dear child, that I tell you: I have been strangely interested in you since the first day I saw you, and I have oft wondered what your future would be. I have thought of you in my prayers.”

“I do not deserve so much from you, sir,” she said softly, and now her eyes were on the ground, and he knew by the sound of her voice that they were full of tears. She spoke softly—jerkily. “I do not deserve so much that is good, though if I were asked what thing on earth I valued most I should say that it was that you should think well of me.”

“How could I think otherwise, Nelly?” he asked. “You gave me your promise of your own free will, not to allow any further longing after the playhouse to take possession of you, and I know that you have kept that promise. You never missed a preaching and you were ever attentive. I do not doubt that the seed sown in your heart will bear good fruit. Then you were thoughtful for my comfort upon more than one occasion and—Why should you not dwell in my thoughts? Why should you not be associated with my hopes? Do you think that there is any tenderer feeling than that which a shepherd has for one of his lambs that he has turned into the path that leads to the fold?”

“I am unworthy, sir, I have forgotten your teaching even before your words had ceased to sound in mine ears. I have not scrupled to deceive. I led on John Bennet to believe that I might relent toward him, when all the time I detested him.”

“Why did you do that?” he asked gravely.

“It was to induce him to come to hear you preach, Mr. Wesley,” she replied. “I thought that it was possible if he heard you preach that he might change his ways as so many others have changed theirs, and so I was led to promise to allow him to walk home with me if he came to the preaching. I felt that I was doing wrong at the time, though it did not seem so bad as it does now.”

“But you did not give him any further promise?”

“None—none whatsoever. And when I found that he was unaffected by your preaching I refused him even the small favour—he thought it a favour—which I had granted him before. But I knew that I was double-dealing, and indeed I have cried over the thought of it, and when I heard that you were coming back I resolved to confess it all to you.”

“I encountered the man not more than half an hour ago,” said he.

She seemed to be surprised.

“Then he has broken the promise which he made to me,” she cried. “He gave me his word to forsake this neighbourhood for two months, at least, and I believed that he went away.”

“By what means were you able to obtain such a promise from him?” asked Wesley.

She was silent for some time—silent and ill at ease. At last she said slowly:

“I fear that I was guilty of double dealing again. I believe he went away with the impression that I would think with favour of him.”

“I fear that you meant to convey such an impression to him, Nelly.”

“I cannot deny it sir. I admit it. But I got rid of him. Oh, if you knew how he persecuted me you would not be hard on me.”

“My poor child, who am I that I should condemn you? I do not say that you were not wrong to deceive him as you did; the fact that your own conscience tells you that you were wrong proves that you were.”

“I do not desire to defend myself, sir; and perhaps it was also wrong for me to think as I have been thinking during the past week or two that just as it is counted an honourable thing for a general in battle to hoodwink his enemy, so it may not be quite fair to a woman to call her double dealing for using the wits that she has for her own protection. Were we endowed with wits for no purpose, do you think, Mr. Wesley?”

Mr. Wesley, the preacher of austerity, settled his countenance—not without difficulty—while he kept his eyes fixed upon the pretty face that looked up innocently to his own. He shook his head and raised a finger of reproof. He began to speak with gravity, his intention being to assure her of the danger there was trying to argue against the dictates of one's conscience. If cunning was the gift of Nature, Conscience was the gift of God—that was in his mind when he began to speak.

“Child,” he began, “you are in peril; you

“A woman,” she cried. “I am a woman, and I know that there are some—they are all men—who assert that to be a woman is to be incapable of understanding an argument—so that——”

“To be a woman is to be a creature that has no need of argument because feeling is ever more potent than argument,” said he. “To be a woman is to be a creature of feeling; of grace, of tenderness—of womanliness. If your conscience tells you that you were wrong to deceive John Bennet, be sure that you were wrong; but Heaven forbid that I should condemn you for acting as your womanly wit prompted. And may Heaven forgive me if I speak for once as a man rather than a preacher. 'Tis because I have spoken so that I—I—oh, if I do not run away at once there is no knowing where I may end. Fare thee well, child; and be sure—oh, be sure that your conscience is your true director, not your woman's wits—and least of all, John Wesley, the preacher.”

He laid his hand tenderly upon her head; then suddenly drew it back with a jerk as if he had been stung upon the palm. His horse started, and he made no attempt to restrain it, even when it began to canter. In a few seconds he had gone round the bend on the road beneath the trees that overhung the wall of the Trevelyan demesne.

He had reached the house where he was to lodge before he recollected that although he had been conversing with Nelly Polwhele for close upon twenty minutes—although they had touched upon some topics of common interest, neither of them had referred even in the most distant way to the matter which had brought about his return to the neighbourhood; neither of them had so much as mentioned the name of Pritchard, or referred to his prophecy of the End of all things.

As a matter of fact a whole hour had passed before John Wesley remembered that it was necessary for him to determine as speedily as possible what form his protest against the man and his act should take.

His sudden coming upon Nelly Polwhele had left a rather disturbing impression upon him—at first a delightfully disturbing impression, and then one that added to the gravity of his thoughts—in fact just such a complex impression as is produced upon an ordinary man when coming out of the presence of the woman whom he loves, he knows not why.

The sum of his reflections regarding their meeting was that while he had an uneasy feeling that he had spoken too impulsively to her at the moment of parting from her, yet altogether he was the better of having been with her. A cup of cool water in the desert—those were the words that came to him when he was alone in his room. After the horrible scenes that he had witnessed while riding through the valley—after the horrible torture to which he had been subjected by the gibes of John Bennet—she had appeared before his weary eyes, so fresh, so sweet, so gracious! Truly he was the better for being near her, and once more he repeated the word:

“A cup of cool water in the desert land.”

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