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Page 89

18. XVIII.

Arthur Kavanagh was descended from an
ancient Catholic family. His ancestors had purchased
from the Baron Victor of St. Castine a
portion of his vast estates, lying upon that wild
and wonderful sea-coast of Maine, which, even
upon the map, attracts the eye by its singular and
picturesque indentations, and fills the heart of the
beholder with something of that delight which
throbbed in the veins of Pierre du Gast, when,
with a royal charter of the land from the Atlantic
to the Pacific, he sailed down the coast in all the
pride of one who is to be prince of such a vast
domain. Here, in the bosom of the solemn
forests, they continued the practice of that faith
which had first been planted there by Rasle and
St. Castine; and the little church where they
worshipped is still standing, though now as closed


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and silent as the graves which surround it, and in
which the dust of the Kavanaghs lies buried.

In these solitudes, in this faith, was Kavanagh
born, and grew to childhood, a feeble, delicate
boy, watched over by a grave and taciturn father,
and a mother who looked upon him with infinite
tenderness, as upon a treasure she should not long
retain. She walked with him by the sea-side,
and spake to him of God, and the mysterious
majesty of the ocean, with its tides and tempests.
She sat with him on the carpet of golden threads
beneath the aromatic pines, and, as the perpetual
melancholy sound ran along the rattling boughs,
his soul seemed to rise and fall, with a motion and
a whisper like those in the branches over him.
She taught him his letters from the Lives of the
Saints,—a volume full of wondrous legends, and
illustrated with engravings from pictures by the
old masters, which opened to him at once the
world of spirits and the world of art; and both
were beautiful. She explained to him the pictures;
she read to him the legends,—the lives
of holy men and women, full of faith and good
works,—things which ever afterward remained
associated together in his mind. Thus holiness
of life, and self-renunciation, and devotion to duty,


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were early impressed upon his soul. To his
quick imagination, the spiritual world became
real; the holy company of the saints stood round
about the solitary boy; his guardian angels led
him by the hand by day, and sat by his pillow at
night. At times, even, he wished to die, that he
might see them and talk with them, and return no
more to his weak and weary body.

Of all the legends of the mysterious book, that
which most delighted and most deeply impressed
him was the legend of St. Christopher. The picture
was from a painting of Paolo Farinato, representing
a figure of gigantic strength and stature,
leaning upon a staff, and bearing the infant Christ
on his bending shoulders across the rushing
river. The legend related, that St. Christopher,
being of huge proportions and immense strength,
wandered long about the world before his conversion,
seeking for the greatest king, and willing
to obey no other. After serving various masters,
whom he in turn deserted, because each recognized
by some word or sign another greater than
himself, he heard by chance of Christ, the king
of heaven and earth, and asked of a holy hermit
where he might be found, and how he might serve
him. The hermit told him he must fast and


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pray; but the giant replied that if he fasted he
should lose his strength, and that he did not know
how to pray. Then the hermit told him to take
up his abode on the banks of a dangerous mountain
torrent, where travellers were often drowned
in crossing, and to rescue any that might be in
peril. The giant obeyed; and tearing up a palmtree
by the roots for a staff, he took his station by
the river's side, and saved many lives. And the
Lord looked down from heaven and said, “Behold
this strong man, who knows not yet the way
to worship, but has found the way to serve me!”
And one night he heard the voice of a child,
crying in the darkness and saying, “Christopher!
come and bear me over the river!”
And he went out, and found the child sitting alone
on the margin of the stream; and taking him upon
his shoulders, he waded into the water. Then
the wind began to roar, and the waves to rise
higher and higher about him, and his little burden,
which at first had seemed so light, grew heavier
and heavier as he advanced, and bent his huge
shoulders down, and put his life in peril; so that,
when he reached the shore, he said, “Who art
thou, O child, that hast weighed upon me with a
weight, as if I had borne the whole world upon


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my shoulders?” And the little child answered,
“Thou hast borne the whole world upon thy
shoulders, and Him who created it. I am Christ,
whom thou by thy deeds of charity wouldst serve.
Thou and thy service are accepted. Plant thy
staff in the ground, and it shall blossom and bear
fruit!” With these words, the child vanished

There was something in this beautiful legend
that entirely captivated the heart of the boy,
and a vague sense of its hidden meaning seemed
at times to seize him and control him. Later in
life it became more and more evident to him, and
remained forever in his mind as a lovely allegory
of active charity and a willingness to serve. Like
the giant's staff, it blossomed and bore fruit.

But the time at length came, when his father
decreed that he must be sent away to school. It
was not meet that his son should be educated as a
girl. He must go to the Jesuit college in Canada.
Accordingly, one bright Summer morning,
he departed with his father, on horseback, through
those majestic forests that stretch with almost unbroken
shadows from the sea to the St. Lawrence,
leaving behind him all the endearments of
home, and a wound in his mother's heart that


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never ceased to ache,—a longing, unsatisfied
and insatiable, for her absent Arthur, who had
gone from her perhaps for ever.

At college he distinguished himself by his zeal
for study, by the docility, gentleness, and generosity
of his nature. There he was thoroughly
trained in the classics, and in the dogmas of that
august faith, whose turrets gleam with such crystalline
light, and whose dungeons are so deep, and
dark, and terrible. The study of philosophy and
theology was congenial to his mind. Indeed, he
often laid aside Homer for Parmenides, and
turned from the odes of Pindar and Horace to the
mystic hymns of Cleanthes and Synesius.

The uniformity of college life was broken only
by the annual visit home in the Summer vacation;
the joyous meeting, the bitter parting; the long
journey to and fro through the grand, solitary,
mysterious forest. To his mother these visits
were even more precious than to himself; for
ever more and more they added to her boundless
affection the feeling of pride and confidence and
satisfaction,—the joy and beauty of a youth unspotted
from the world, and glowing with the enthusiasm
of virtue.

At length his college days were ended. He


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returned home full of youth, full of joy and hope;
but it was only to receive the dying blessings of
his mother, who expired in peace, having seen his
face once more. Then the house became empty
to him. Solitary was the sea-shore, solitary were
the woodland walks. But the spiritual world
seemed nearer and more real. For affairs he had
no aptitude; and he betook himself again to his
philosophic and theological studies. He pondered
with fond enthusiasm on the rapturous pages
of Molinos and Madame Guyon; and in a spirit
akin to that which wrote, he read the writings of
Santa Theresa, which he found among his mother's
books,—the Meditations, the Road to Perfection,
and the Moradas, or Castle of the
Soul. She, too, had lingered over those pages
with delight, and there were many passages
marked by her own hand. Among them was
this, which he often repeated to himself in his
lonely walks: “O, Life, Life! how canst thou
sustain thyself, being absent from thy Life? In
so great a solitude, in what shalt thou employ thyself?
What shalt thou do, since all thy deeds
are faulty and imperfect?”

In such meditations passed many weeks and
months. But mingled with them, continually and


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ever with more distinctness, arose in his memory
from the days of childhood the old tradition of
Saint Christopher,—the beautiful allegory of
humility and labor. He and his service had been
accepted, though he would not fast, and had not
learned to pray! It became more and more
clear to him, that the life of man consists not in
seeing visions, and in dreaming dreams, but in
active charity and willing service.

Moreover, the study of ecclesiastical history
awoke within him many strange and dubious
thoughts. The books taught him more than their
writers meant to teach. It was impossible to
read of Athanasius without reading also of Arian;
it was impossible to hear of Calvin without hearing
of Servetus. Reason began more energetically
to vindicate itself; that Reason, which is a
light in darkness, not that which is “a thorn in
Revelation's side.” The search after Truth and
Freedom, both intellectual and spiritual, became
a passion in his soul; and he pursued it until he
had left far behind him many dusky dogmas,
many antique superstitions, many time-honored
observances, which the lips of her alone, who
first taught them to him in his childhood, had
invested with solemnity and sanctity.


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By slow degrees, and not by violent spiritual
conflicts, he became a Protestant. He had but
passed from one chapel to another in the same
vast cathedral. He was still beneath the same
ample roof, still heard the same divine service
chanted in a different dialect of the same universal
language. Out of his old faith he brought with
him all he had found in it that was holy and pure
and of good report. Not its bigotry, and fanaticism,
and intolerance; but its zeal, its self-devotion,
its heavenly aspirations, its human sympathies,
its endless deeds of charity. Not till after
his father's death, however, did he become a
clergyman. Then his vocation was manifest to
him. He no longer hesitated, but entered upon
its many duties and responsibilities, its many
trials and discouragements, with the zeal of Peter
and the gentleness of John.