Evelyn Innes Part 57

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"We shall pray for you.... You will not fall into sin again; it is our prayers that enable men to overcome their pa.s.sions. Were it not for our prayers, G.o.d would have long ago destroyed the world. Think of the times of persecution and sacrilege, when prayer only survived in the monasteries."

Evelyn could not but acquiesce: a world without prayer would be an intolerable world, as unendurable to man as to G.o.d. But if the Reverend Mother's explanation were a true one! If these poor forsakers of the world were in truth the saviours of the world, without whose aid the world would have perished long since!

When she had gone, Evelyn sat thinking, her head leaned on her hand, her eyes fixed on the distant garden, seeing life from afar, strange and distant, like reflections in still waters. She could see distant figures in St. Peter's walk, tending the crosses and the statues of the Virgin placed in nooks, or hanging on the branches. Some four or five nuns were playing at ball on the terrace, and in the plaintive autumn afternoon, there was something extraordinarily touching in their simple amus.e.m.e.nt; and she had, perforce, to feel how much wiser was their childishness than the vanity of the world.

Ulick had said that their adventure was the same, only their ways were different. He had said that he sought G.o.d in art, while she sought him in dogma. But if she accepted dogma, it was only as a cripple accepts a crutch, Catholicism was essential to her, without it she could not walk; but while conforming to dogma, it seemed possible to transcend its narrowness, and to attach to every petty belief a spiritual significance. It is right that we should acquiesce in these beliefs, for they are the symbols by which the faith was kept alive and handed down.

G.o.d leads us by different ways, and though we may prefer to wors.h.i.+p G.o.d in the open air, we should not despise him who builds a house for wors.h.i.+p. The Real Being is all that we are sure of, for He is in our hearts, the rest is as little shadows. Ulick had quoted an Eastern mystic--'He that sees himself sees G.o.d, and in him there is neither I nor thou.'

And, reflecting on the significance of these words, she turned with pensive fingers the leaves of _The Way of Perfection_.

But she was going back to London on Monday! In London she would meet Owen and all her former life. She knew in a way how she was going to escape him. But her former life was everywhere. She got up and walked about the room, then she stood at the window, her hands held behind her back. She was sorely tried, and felt so weak in spirit that she was tempted, or fancied that she was tempted, to go away with Owen in the _Medusa_. Or she might tell him that she would marry him, and so end the whole matter. But she knew that she would do neither of these things.

She knew that she would sacrifice Owen and her career as an opera singer so that she might lead a chaste life. Yet a life of prayer and chast.i.ty was not natural to her; her natural preferences were for lovers and worldly pleasures, but she was sacrificing all that she liked for all that she disliked. She wondered, quite unable to account for her choice to herself. Her life seemed very mad, but, mad or sane, she was going to sacrifice Owen and her career. She might sing at concerts, but she did not think such singing would mean much to her and she thought of the splendid successful life that lay before her if she remained on the stage. Again she wondered at her choice, seeking in herself the reason that impelled her to do what she was doing. She could not say that she liked living with her father in Dulwich, nor did she look forward to giving singing lessons, and yet that was what she was going to do. She strove to distinguish her soul; it seemed flying before her like a bird, making straight for some goal which she could not distinguish. She could distinguish its wings in the blue air, and then she lost sight of them; then she caught sight of them again, and they were then no more than a tremulous sparkle in the air. Suddenly the vision vanished, and she found herself face to face with herself--her prosaic self which she had known always, and would know until she ceased to know everything. She was here in the Wimbledon Convent, and Owen was in London waiting for her. She knew she never would live with him again. But how would she finally separate herself from him? How would it all come about? She could imagine herself yielding, but if she did, it would not last a week. Her life would be unendurable, and she would have to send him away. For it is not true that Tannhauser goes back to Venus. He who repents, he who had once felt the ache and remorse of sin, may fall into sin again, but he quickly extricates himself; his sinning is of no long duration! It was the casual sin that she dreaded; at the bottom of her heart she knew that she would never live a life of sin again. But she trembled at the thought of losing the perfect peace and happiness which now reigned in her heart, even for a few hours. Her face contracted in an expression of terror at the thought of finding herself again involved in the anguish, revolt and despair which she had endured in Park Lane.

She recalled the moments when she saw herself vile and loathsome, when she had turned from the image of her soul which had been shown to her.

Then, to rid herself of the remembrance, she thought of the joy she had experienced that morning at hearing in the creed that G.o.d's kingdom shall never pa.s.s away. Her soul had kindled like a flame, and she had praised G.o.d, crying to herself, "Thy kingdom shall last for ever and ever." It had seemed to her that her soul had acquired kings.h.i.+p over all her faculties, over all her senses, for the time being it had ruled her utterly; and so delicious was its subjection that she had not dared to move lest she should lose this sweet peace. Her lips had murmured an Our Father, but so slowly that the Sanctus bell had rung before she had finished it. Nothing troubled her, nothing seemed capable of troubling her, and the torrent of delight which had flowed into and gently overflowed her soul had intoxicated and absorbed her until it had seemed to her that there was nothing further for her to desire.

She remembered that when Ma.s.s was over she had risen from her knees elated, feeling that she had prayed even as the nuns prayed, and she had retired to her room, striving to restrain her looks and thoughts so that she might prolong this union with G.o.d.

To remember this experience gave her courage. For she could not doubt that the intention of so special a favour was to convince her that she would not be lacking in courage when the time came to deny herself to Owen Asher. At the same time she was troubled, and she feared that she was not quite sincere with herself. She would easily resist him now; but in six months' time, in a year? Besides, she would meet other men; her thoughts even now went out towards one. Ah! wretched weakness, abominable sin! She was filled with contempt for herself, and yet at the bottom of her heart, like hope at the bottom of Pandora's box, there was tolerance. Her sins interested her; she would not be herself without them, and this being so, how could she hope to conquer herself?

Sat.u.r.day and Sunday were monotonous and anxious days. She had begun to wonder what was in the newspapers, and she had written to say that her carriage was to come to fetch her on Monday at three o'clock.

There had not been a gleam of light since early morning, only a gentle diffused twilight, and the foliage in the garden was almost human in its listlessness; a flat grey sky hung about the trees like a shroud. Mother Philippa and Mother Mary Hilda were walking with her about the gra.s.s-grown drive. They were waiting for the Reverend Mother, who had gone to fetch a medal for Evelyn. She heard her chestnuts champing their bits ready to take her back to London, and she could not listen to Mother Philippa's conversation, for she had been suddenly taken with a desire to say one last prayer in the chapel. She must say one more prayer in the presence of the Sacrament. So, excusing herself, she ran back, and, kneeling down, she buried her face in her hands. At once all her thoughts hushed within her; it was like bees entering a hive to make honey. Prayer came to her without difficulty, without even asking, and she enjoyed almost five minutes' breathless adoration.

The three nuns kissed her, and as the Reverend Mother hung the medal round her neck, she told her that prayers would be constantly offered up for her preservation. The chestnuts plunged at starting.... If she were killed now it would not matter. But the horses soon settled down into their long swinging trot of ten miles an hour, and all the way to London she reflected. The Reverend Mother had said that the prayers of nuns and monks were the wall and bastion tower which saved a sinful world from the wrath of G.o.d, and she thought of the fume of prayer ascending night and day from this convent as from a censer. Men had always prayed, since the beginning of things men had prayed, and as Ulick had said, wisdom was not invented yesterday. He agreed with the naturalistic philosophers that force is indestructible, only objecting that the naturalistic philosophers did not go far enough, the theory of the indestructibility of force being equally applicable to the spiritual world. The world exists not in itself, but in man's thought.... Often an intense evocation has brought the absent one before the seer's eyes, and that there are sympathies which transcend and overrule the laws of time and s.p.a.ce hardly admits of doubt. Life is but a continual hypnotism; and the thoughts of others reach us from every side, determining in some measure our actions. It was therefore certain that she would be influenced by the prayers that would be offered up for her by the convent. She imagined these prayers intervening between her and sin, coming to her aid in some moment of perilous temptation, and perhaps in the end determining the course of her life.

THE END

Evelyn Innes Part 57

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Evelyn Innes Part 57 summary

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