Epilogue: (Page 6)
"The first cloud has risen. I entered the room unexpectedly just now, and found her in tears.
"With considerable difficulty I persuaded her to tell me what had happened. Are there any limits to the mischief that can be done by the tongue of a foolish woman? The landlady at my lodgings is the woman, in this case. Having no decided plans for the future as yet, we returned (most unfortunately, as the event has proved) to the rooms in London which I inhabited in my bachelor days. They are still mine for six weeks to come, and Mercy was unwilling to let me incur the expense of taking her to a hotel. At breakfast this morning I rashly congratulated myself (in my wife's hearing) on finding that a much smaller collection than usual of letters and cards had accumulated in my absence. Breakfast over, I was obliged to go out. Painfully sensitive, poor thing, to any change in my experience of the little world around me which it is possible to connect with the event of my marriage, Mercy questioned the landlady, in my absence, about the diminished number of my visitors and my correspondents. The woman seized the opportunity of gossiping about me and my affairs, and my wife's quick perception drew the right conclusion unerringly. My marriage has decided certain wise heads of families on discontinuing their social relations with me. The facts, unfortunately, speak for themselves. People who in former years habitually called upon me and invited me--or who, in the event of my absence, habitually wrote to me at this season--have abstained with a remarkable unanimity from calling, inviting, or writing now.
"It would have been sheer waste of time--to say nothing of its also implying a want of confidence in my wife--if I had attempted to set things right by disputing Mercy's conclusion. I could only satisfy her that not so much as the shadow of disappointment or mortification rested on my mind. In this way I have, to some extent, succeeded in composing my poor darling. But the wound has been inflicted, and the wound is felt. There is no disguising that result. I must face it boldly.
"Trifling as this incident is in my estimation, it has decided me on one point already. In shaping my future course I am now resolved to act on my own convictions--in preference to taking the well-meant advice of such friends as are still left to me.
"All my little success in life has been gained in the pulpit. I am what is termed a popular preacher--but I have never, in my secret self, felt any exultation in my own notoriety, or any extraordinary respect for the means by which it has been won. In the first place, I have a very low idea of the importance of oratory as an intellectual accomplishment. There is no other art in which the conditions of success are so easy of attainment; there is no other art in the practice of which so much that is purely superficial passes itself off habitually for something that claims to be profound. Then, again, how poor it is in the results which it achieves! Take my own case. How often (for example) have I thundered with all my heart and soul against the wicked extravagance of dress among women--against their filthy false hair and their nauseous powders and paints! How often (to take another example) have I denounced the mercenary and material spirit of the age--the habitual corruptions and dishonesties of commerce, in high places and in low! What good have I done? I have delighted the very people whom it was my object to rebuke.
'What a charming sermon!' 'More eloquent than ever!' 'I used to dread the sermon at the other church--do you know, I quite look forward to it now.' That is the effect I produce on Sunday. On Monday the women are off to the milliners to spend more money than ever; the city men are off to business to make more money than ever--while my grocer, loud in my praises in his Sunday coat, turns up his week-day sleeves and adulterates his favorite preacher's sugar as cheerfully as usual!
"I have often, in past years, felt the objections to pursuing my career which are here indicated. They were bitterly present to my mind when I resigned my curacy, and they strongly influence me now.
"I am weary of my cheaply won success in the pulpit. I am weary of society as I find it in my time. I felt some respect for myself, and some heart and hope in my works among the miserable wretches in Green Anchor Fields. But I can not, and must not, return among them: I have no right, now, to trifle with my health and my life. I must go back to my preaching, or I must leave England. Among a primitive people, away from the cities--in the far and fertile West of the great American continent--I might live happily with my wife, and do good among my neighbors, secure of providing for our wants out of the modest little income which is almost useless to me here. In the life which I thus picture to myself I see love, peace, health, and duties and occupations that are worthy of a Christian man. What prospect is before me if I take the advice of my friends and stay here? Work of which I am weary, because I have long since ceased to respect it; petty malice that strikes at me through my wife, and mortifies and humiliates her, turn where she may. If I had only myself to think of, I might defy the worst that malice can do. But I have Mercy to think of--Mercy, whom I love better than my own life! Women live, poor things, in the opinions of others. I have had one warning already of what my wife is likely to suffer at the hands of my 'friends'--Heaven forgive me for misusing the word! Shall I deliberately expose her to fresh mortifications?--and this for the sake of returning to a career the rewards of which I no longer prize? No! We will both be happy--we will both be free! God is merciful, Nature is kind, Love is true, in the New World as well as the Old. To the New World we will go!"