TSW Chapter 2.5

 

Mr. Carleton’s Conversion

Excerpt from “Queechy” 1852

By Susan Warner

 

     Mr. Carleton now became more reserved and unsociable than ever. He wearied himself with thinking. If he could have got at the books, he would have spent his days and nights in studying the evidences of Christianity, but the ship was bare of any such books, and he never thought of turning to the most obvious of all, the Bible itself. His unbelief was shaken, it was within an ace of falling in pieces to the very foundation, or rather he began to suspect how foundationless it had been. It came at last to one point with him, -- if there were a God, he would not have left the world without a revelation, -- no more would he have suffered that revelation to defeat its own end by becoming corrupted or alloyed, if there was such a revelation it could be no other than the Bible, -- and his acceptance of the whole scheme of Christianity now hung upon the turn of a hair. Yet he could not resolve himself. He balanced the counter-doubts and arguments, on one side and on the other, and strained his mind to the task, -- he could not weigh them nicely enough. He was in a maze, and seeking to clear and calm his judgment that he might see the way out, it was in vain that he tried to shake his dizzied head from the effect of the turns it had made. By dint of anxiety to find the right path reason had lost herself in the wilderness.

     Fleda was not, as Mr. Carleton had feared she would be, at all alienated from him by the discovery that had given her much pain. It wrought in another way, rather to add a touch of tender and anxious interest to the affection she had for him. It gave her however much more pain than he thought. If he had seen the secret tears that fell on his account he would have been grieved, and if he had known of the many petitions that little heart made for him he would hardly have loved her more than he did.

     One evening Mr. Carleton had been a long while pacing up and down the deck in front of little Fleda's nest, thinking and thinking, without coming to any end. It was a most fair evening, near sunset, the sky without a cloud except two or three little dainty strips which set off its blue. The ocean was very quiet, only broken into cheerful suites of waves that seemed to have nothing to do but sparkle. The sun‘s rays were almost level now, and a long path of glory across the sea led off toward his sinking disk. Fleda sat watching and enjoying it all in her happy fashion, which always made the most of everything good, and was especially quick in catching any form of natural beauty.

     Mr. Carleton‘s thoughts were elsewhere, too busy to take note of things around him. Fleda looked now and then as he passed at his gloomy brow, wondering what he was thinking of, and wishing that he could have the same reason to be happy that she had. In one of his turns his eye met her gentle glance, and vexed and bewildered as he was with study there was something in that calm bright face that impelled him irresistibly to ask the little child to set the proud scholar right. Placing himself beside her, he said,

     “Elfie, how do you know there is a God? -- What reason have you for thinking so, out of the Bible?”

     It was a strange look little Fleda gave him. He felt it at the time, and he never forgot it. Such a look of reproach, sorrow, and pity, he afterwards thought, as an angel's face might have worn. The question did not seem to occupy her a moment. After this answering look she suddenly pointed to the sinking sun and said,

     “Who made that, Mr. Carleton?”

     Mr. Carleton's eyes, following the direction of hers, met the lone bright rays whose still witness-bearing was almost too powerful to be borne. The sun was just dipping majestically into the sea, and its calm self-assertion seemed to him at that instant hardly stronger than its vindication of its Author.

     A slight arrow may find the joint in the armour before which many weightier shafts have fallen powerless. Mr. Carleton was an unbeliever no more from that time.

 

 

 

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