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Then the brother and sister were silent for some time, till Evered said, speaking rather with an effort, —
“Do not be vexed at what I am going to say, Virgie, but I feel I must speak before it is too late; I don't want to see you a 'girl of the period,' and it is so much the fashion among the girls of the present day to rave (really I can use no other word) about the one particular church they attend, almost speaking as if they could not worship God anywhere else, that I speak to put you on your guard-mind, I do not say you are one of them, but you have not mixed much with these people, and so naturally have not seen how utterly unreal, nay irreverent, such talking is. So let me warn you against this frivolous religion, which places so much dependence on the church, ritual and priests, as almost to overlook the real meaning of the great truths set forth in them. Of course I do not mean to say that one can help preferring one church above another, for I do myself, but I do mean that we should try not to place so much trust in the particular way the service is rendered at our favourite church, as to be distressed when we go to another, where everything is not the same. As long as the true spirit of the Church is followed, and catholic doctrine preached and practised, it does not matter materially, whether a few points of extreme Ritual are omitted, from the fear of offending weaker brethren,' or any other good reason. Do not think I would cry down all the valuable forms and symbols of our grand Catholic Truths, which is far from the case, as I have been used to them all my life, but I should never despise a church because it was not so 'advanced as All Saints' in point of Ritual.”
"I quite see what you mean, Evered," said Virginia, "Mr. Courtenay spoke of it too. I shall try hard not to be a 'girl of the period,'" she added smiling.
“I don't think you are likely to be," said Evered, kindly.
“Not as long as I have you to scold me when I begin to be silly," she said lightly, then with deep feeling —"Oh Evered! what an immense deal I owe you."
“I have not finished haranguing you yet,” said Evered, as she came up to the table at which he was sitting, and knelt down beside him“I want to say something more, in a measure connected with what I have just said. Among these very same 'girls of the period,' (as we have taken to call them,) there is something far more sad and prejudicial to their welfare than even their silly talking about churches I mean the way in which they make heroes of certain priests—the rectors or vicars of their several parishes. Especially is this the case among those, who like you, use confession and are under the direction of a priest. They in reality reverence the individual more than the office, and forget that he is merely the agent of Almighty God. I cannot tell you what harm is done by this hero-worship, not only to the people who give way to it, but to others as well, as it weakens the cause of CHRIST almost as much as downright abuse of the sacraments would do. What has a priest of himself? Simply nothing. It is only in virtue of his divine office, as a type and representative of the one continual High Priest, as the steward of His mysteries, that he has any power at all. We glorify GOD 'Who has given such power unto man,' but for all that he is no less a man, a creature as others, as others full of infirmities and sins, who, while he administers healing, has need of healing himself. Against this error, Virginia, I believe you have been particularly cautioned, for Mr. Courtenay has, I know, a great dread of anything of this kind. He was speaking of it to me, only the other day, saying what a general failing it was among the young, and drew my attention to the fact that this fault is common among those whose religion is on the surface and has no depth. He said there was only one way to counteract and overcome it, by the Grace of God. Those who have this tendency to venerate and exalt their spiritual guide, should force that reverence and love to centre on the One Who is alone worthy of adoration, and thus a special devotion to our dear LORD Himself, Who speaks through His Priests, would be the result. In speaking thus, my dear child, I have not meant to insinuate that you have in any way fallen into this horrible unreality, but my abhorrence of it is so great that I have warned you
beforehand against it, that you may ever be on your guard."
“And I am sure I thank you for speaking of it, from the bottom of my heart," she answered, looking up in his face with a trustful, open gaze. “I am so glad you have talked to me about it, though I never felt inclined to look upon Mr. Courtenay in that light. I might have however, but now you have warned me, I don't think I ever shall.”
She is wonderfully humble," said Evered mentally, and then added aloud, “Remember you cannot honour the office of a priest too highly, but guard carefully against all personal reverence or private feeling of any kind. Uncle Arthur used to feel just as strongly on this subject
as I do. Once, about three years ago, soon after a new family consisting of a widowed mother and two daughters came to Ardleigh, when one of the girls sent me a pair of slippers she had worked, he made me send them back and say he never let me take presents. He never would himself, though he offended more than one person in this way, because he thought it showed too personal feelings.”
“How sorry and ashamed the girl must have been when you sent her slippers back. Poor girl! What was her name ? and is she at Ardleigh still ?"
“Her name was Henrietta Edwards: she has since married and I have quite lost sight of her. Hers was the last wedding dear Uncle Arthur ever celebrated.”
"Evered, I wouldn't have been that girl for anything !” said Virginia impressively. “But oh! how late it is !” as the clock struck seven,"I must go at once.
you for this nice long talk.” It was with calm, peaceful feelings that Virginia awoke on her Confirmation day, the day on which she was to begin a new epoch in her life, dedicating it to God. Nevertheless, with the knowledge of the great strength which would that day be given her, full in her mind, she dared not let herself dwell on the future of her after life. The one great sorrow of her life was still pressing heavily upon her, though there was a restful sense of the worst being endured, that there could be no sharper pang in store for her--that come what would, nothing could ever touch her as that had done. She should never marry, she knew that well enough, but beyond this, she dared not look. The present alone must be lived in, and in fulfilling its duties, she would best prepare for the future, whatever it might be. In espousing the cause of CHRIST, could she choose her own path? Was it not sufficient alone to know that He would guide her, without asking where ? Only she might pray for her life to be an active one, and she did pray that it might. There was nothing she dreaded like an inactive useless life, uneventful it might be, if God willed, but not useless, for she felt that real hearty work for God would help her to look totally out of self. And so, praying for a clear and acceptable vocation, she began the day which was to see her admitted to the highest of all privileges and make her more than ever one with CHRIST.
She went with her brother to be present at the seven o'clock Celebration at S. Margaret's, and spent the morning quietly, partly alone, or with Aunt Cicely, away from all which might disquiet or unsettle her thoughts. If any one had told her a year ago of the changes she would have undergone as autumn came round again, she would hardly have believed them possible.
At two in the afternoon Virginia came to the little room at the back of the dining-room, which since Evered's recovery had been used as his study, ready dressed to go with him to S. Bartholomew's. He was folding up his cassock, surplice, and white stole as she entered, dressed simply in white without ornament of any kind. Her rich dark hair was curled up tightly and hidden under a thick white llama veil, and as she stood before Evered, looking down, the long black lashes resting on the fair white cheek, she looked so pure and gentle, that it was almost with a feeling of reverence that he came to her side and murmured a few soft words of blessing.
She was far too occupied with her own thoughts to talk during the drive to S. Bartholomew's Church, and when they arrived, and Evered was parting with her to go to the vestry, a firm clasp of the hand spoke more eloquently than many words.
The Confirmation was strictly private ; besides Virginia, there were but two other candidates, both girls, younger than herself, for whom the privilege of a special Confirmation had been granted. Virginia of course knew nothing of them then, nor why they were so honoured, but she afterwards learnt that they were going out to India almost immediately, and that the Bishop of London had permitted their uncle, the head of a foreign diocese, then in England, to confirm them before they sailed for Bombay.
The Service consisted merely of Litany and Hymns, as Evensong was to be at the usual evening hour. Virginia was much impressed with the Bishop's charge, which was both eloquent and powerful. She was the last to be confirmed, but even when kneeling at the chancel steps (where the Bishop confirmed,) did not appear nervous, so entirely did she forget herself in realizing the awful blessedness of the gift about to be bestowed upon her. At the conclusion of the service the Bishop spoke sternly and earnestly to the three young girls, and bade them remember how much more would now be expected of them than hitherto, and how, if they turned aside from serving CHRIST now they had “put their hands to the plough,” they would not be fit for the kingdom of God.
The Feast of SS. Michael and All Angels rose fair and bright—as fair and bright as it could in dingy London. Even the little caged goldfinch
sang more joyously than was his wont, Virginia thought, as she was dressing for the early service, and then her thoughts travelled on to the sweet songs of the innumerable company of Angels in the Heavenly Jerusalem, and involuntarily the majestic words of the heavenborn Sanctus rose to her lips, and she knelt down in lowly adoration.
Evered was to celebrate that morning at S. Margaret's, and of course we cannot attempt to describe the feelings with which Virginia joined her brother in pleading the great commemorative Sacrifice, yet we may in some measure comprehend how they became, from that peaceful hour in the early morning, more to each other than they had ever been before.
Days slipped quickly past, and ere another fortnight they were on their way to Torquay. Parting with Aunt Cicely was a great wrench to Virginia, who perhaps had an indistinct foreshadowing that they should never meet again in this world, but her other prejudices had strangely vanished, and she looked forward with not a little pleasure to spending a few quiet months with her brother alone. She felt herself that she needed a change. Any unwonted exertion completely knocked her up, and despite all the sympathy Evered gave her, night brought a total collapse of all mental powers, and if ever she attempted to look beyond into the unfathomable future, the old weary discontent with life would assail her. But Evered saw this tendency, and by judicious cheerfulness steered her through these sorrowful repinings, and helped her to centre her gaze on the changeless One above, Who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.”
CHAPTER VII. CONCLUSION.
“ Safe in the bosom of thy God,
It is a royal day in the month of May, the time nine o'clock in the morning, the place Torquay. The sun is streaming full into the windows of a bright room belonging to a house in a certain Crescent, standing some way from the town itself, and facing the sea. The centre house in this terrace is a private hotel, or sort of boardinghouse, where our old friends Evered and Virginia Randall have been passing