"Good night, dear friend!" he replied. There was a manly vigour in his tone that convinced me he was wrestling with, and triumphing over, the great sorrow that had so nearly wrecked his life--and that, on the stepping-stone of his dead self, he would surely rise to higher things!
There was no chance, I was glad to think, as we set out on Sunday afternoon, of meeting Eric at the Hall, as he had returned to town the day after his engagement was announced. His presence might have disturbed the calm--the almost unnatural calm--with which Arthur met the woman who had won his heart, and murmured the few graceful words of sympathy that the occasion demanded.
Lady Muriel was perfectly radiant with happiness: sadness could not live in the light of such a smile: and even Arthur brightened under it, and, when she remarked "You see I'm watering my flowers, though it is the Sabbath-Day," his voice had almost its old ring of cheerfulness as he replied "Even on the Sabbath-Day works of mercy are allowed. But this isn't the Sabbath-Day. The Sabbath-day has ceased to exist."
"I know it's not Saturday," Lady Muriel replied; "but isn't Sunday often called 'the Christian Sabbath'?"
"It is so called, I think, in recognition of the spirit of the Jewish institution, that one day in seven should be a day of rest. But I hold that Christians are freed from the literal observance of the Fourth Commandment."
"Then where is our authority for Sunday observance?"
"We have, first, the fact that the seventh day was 'sanctified', when God rested from the work of Creation. That is binding on us as Theists. Secondly, we have the fact that 'the Lord's Day' is a Christian institution. That is binding on us as Christians."
"And your practical rules would be--?"
"First, as Theists, to keep it holy in some special way, and to make it, so far as is reasonably possible, a day of rest. Secondly, as Christians, to attend public worship."
"And what of amusements?"
"I would say of them, as of all kinds of work, whatever is innocent on a week-day, is innocent on Sunday, provided it does not interfere with the duties of the day."
"Then you would allow children to play on Sunday?"
"Certainly I should. Why make the day irksome to their restless natures?"
"I have a letter somewhere," said Lady Muriel, "from an old friend, describing the way in which Sunday was kept in her younger days. I will fetch it for you."
"I had a similar description, viva voce, years ago," Arthur said when she had left us, "from a little girl. It was really touching to hear the melancholy tone in which she said 'On Sunday I mustn't play with my doll! On Sunday I mustn't run on the sands! On Sunday I mustn't dig in the garden!' Poor child! She had indeed abundant cause for hating Sunday!"
"Here is the letter," said Lady Muriel, returning. "Let me read you a piece of it."
"When, as a child, I first opened my eyes on a Sunday-morning, a feeling of dismal anticipation, which began at least on the Friday, culminated. I knew what was before me, and my wish, if not my word, was 'Would God it were evening!' It was no day of rest, but a day of texts, of catechisms (Watts'), of tracts about converted swearers, godly charwomen, and edifying deaths of sinners saved.
"Up with the lark, hymns and portions of Scripture had to be learned by heart till 8 o'clock, when there were family-prayers, then breakfast, which I was never able to enjoy, partly from the fast already undergone, and partly from the outlook I dreaded.
"At 9 came Sunday-School; and it made me indignant to be put into the class with the village-children, as well as alarmed lest, by some mistake of mine, I should be put below them.
"The Church-Service was a veritable Wilderness of Zin. I wandered in it, pitching the tabernacle of my thoughts on the lining of the square family-pew, the fidgets of my small brothers, and the horror of knowing that, on the Monday, I should have to write out, from memory, jottings of the rambling disconnected extempore sermon, which might have had any text but its own, and to stand or fall by the result.