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George MacDonald.

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have their burden of sweetness. Those that blew upon little Clare were
oftener filled with the smell of farmyards, and burning weeds, and
cottage-fires, than of flowers; but never would one of such odours
revisit him without bringing fresh delight to his heart. Its mere
memorial suggestion far out on the great sea would wake the old child
in the man. The pollards along the brooks grew lovely to his heart,
and were not the less lovely when he came to understand that they were
not so lovely as God had meant them to be. He was one of those who,
regarding what a thing _is_, and not comparing it with other things,
descry the thought of God in it, and love it; for to love what is
beautiful is as natural as to love our mothers.

The parsonage to which his new father and mother brought him was like
the landscape - humble. It was humble even for a parsonage - which has
no occasion to be fine. For men and women whose business it is to
teach their fellows to be true and fair, and not covet fine things,
are but hypocrites, or at best intruders and humbugs, if they want
fine things themselves. Jesus Christ did not care about fine
things. He loved every lovely thing that ever his father made. If any
one does not know the difference between fine things and lovely
things, he does not know much, if he has all the science in the world
at his finger-ends.

One good thing about the parsonage was, that it was aid, and the
swallows had loved it for centuries. That way Clare learned to love
the swallows - and they are worth loving. Then it had a very old
garden, nearly as old-fashioned as it was old, and many flowers that
have almost ceased to be seen grew in it, and did not enjoy their
lives the less that they were out of fashion. All the furniture in the
house was old, and mostly shabby; it was possible, therefore, to love
it a little. Who on earth could be such a fool as to love a new piece
of furniture! One might prize it; one might admire it; one might like
it because it was pretty, or because it was comfortable; but only a
silly woman whose soul went to bed on her new sideboard, could say she
loved it. And then it would not be true. It is impossible that any but
an _old_ piece of furniture should be loved.

His father and mother had a charming little room made for him in the
garret, right up among the swallows, who soon admitted him a member of
their society - an honorary member, that is, who was not expected to
fly with them to Africa except he liked. His new parents did this
because they saw that, when he could not be with them, he preferred
being by himself; and that moods came upon him in which he would steal
away even from them, seized with a longing for loneliness. In general,
next to being with his mother anywhere, he liked to be with his father
in the study. If both went out, and could not take him with them, he
would either go to his own room, or sit in the study alone. It was a
very untidy room, crowded with books, mostly old and dingy, and in
torn bindings. Many of them their owner never opened, and they
suffered in consequence; a few of them were constantly in his hands,
and suffered in consequence. All smelt strong of stale tobacco, but
that hardly accounts for the fact that Clare never took to smoking.
Another thing perhaps does - that he was always too much of a man to
want to look like a man by imitating men. That is unmanly. A boy who
wants to look like a man is not a manly boy, and men do not care for
his company. A true boy is always welcome to a true man, but a
would-be man is better on the other side of the wall.

His mother oftenest sat in a tiny little drawing-room, which smelt of
withered rose-leaves. I think it must smell of them still. I believe
it smelt of them a hundred years before she saw the place. Clare loved
the smell of the rose-leaves and disliked the smell of the tobacco;
yet he preferred the study with its dingy books to the pretty
drawing-room without his mother.

There was a village, a very small one, in the parish, and a good many
farm-houses.

Such was the place in which Clare spent the next few years of his
life, and there his new parents loved him heartily. The only thing
about him that troubled them, besides the possibility of losing him,
was, that they could not draw out the tiniest smile upon his sweet,
moonlight-face.



Chapter VI.

What did draw out his first smile.


Mr. Porson was a man about five and forty; his wife was a few years
younger. His theories of religion were neither large nor lofty; he
accepted those that were handed down to him, and did not trouble
himself as to whether they were correct. He did what was better: he
tried constantly to obey the law of God, whether he found it in the
Bible or in his own heart. Thus he was greater in the kingdom of
heaven than thousands that knew more, had better theories about God,
and could talk much more fluently concerning religion than he. By
obeying God he let God teach him. So his heart was always growing; and
where the heart grows, there is no fear of the intellect; there it
also grows, and in the best fashion of growth. He was very good to his
people, and not foolishly kind. He tried his best to help them to be
what they ought to be, to make them bear their troubles, be true to
one another, and govern themselves. He was like a father to them. For
some, of course, he could do but little, because they were locked
boxes with nothing in them; but for a few he did much. Perhaps it was
because he was so good to his flock that God gave him little Clare to
bring up. Perhaps it was because he and his wife were so good to
Clare, that by and by a wonderful thing took place.

About three years after the earthquake, Mrs. Porson had a baby-girl
sent her for her very own. The father and mother thought themselves
the happiest couple on the face of the earth - and who knows but they
were! If they were not, so much the better! for then, happy as they
were, there were happier yet than they; and who, in his greatest
happiness, would not be happier still to know that the earth held
happier than he!

When Clare first saw the baby, he looked down on her with solemn,
unmoved countenance, and gazed changeless for a whole minute. He
thought there had been another earthquake, that another church-dome
had fallen, and another child been found and brought home from the
ruin. Then light began to grow somewhere under his face. His mother,
full as was her heart of her new child, watched his countenance
anxiously. The light under his face grew and grew, till his face was
radiant. Then out of the midst of the shining broke the heavenliest
smile she had ever seen on human countenance - a smile that was a
clearer revelation of God than ten thousand books about him. For what
must not that God be, who had made the boy that smiled such a smile
and never knew it! After this he smiled occasionally, though it was
but seldom. He never laughed - that is, not until years after this
time; but, on the other hand, he never looked sullen. A quiet peace,
like the stillness of a long summer twilight in the north, dwelt upon
his visage, and appeared to model his every motion. Part of his life
seemed away, and he waiting for it to come back. Then he would be
merry!

He was never in a hurry, yet always doing something - always, that is,
when he was not in his own room. There his mother would sometimes find
him sitting absolutely still, with his hands on his knees. Nor was she
sorry to surprise him thus, for then she was sure of one of his rare
smiles. She thought he must then be dreaming of his own mother, and a
pang would go through her at the thought that he would one day love
her more than herself. "He will laugh then!" she said. She did not
think how the gratitude of that mother would one day overwhelm her
with gladness.

He never sought to be caressed, but always snuggled to one that drew
him close. Never once did he push any one away. He learned what
lessons were set him - not very fast, but with persistent endeavour to
understand. He was greatly given to reading, but not particularly
quick. He thus escaped much, fancying that he knew when he did not
know - a quicksand into which fall so many clever boys and girls. Give
me a slow, steady boy, who knows when he does not know a thing! To
know that you do not know, is to be a small prophet. Such a boy has a
glimmer of the something he does not know, or at least of the place
where it is; while the boy who easily grasps the words that stand for
a thing, is apt to think he knows the thing itself when he sees but
the wrapper of it - thinks he knows the church when he has caught sight
of the weather-cock. Mrs. Porson could see the understanding of a
thing gradually burst into blossom on the boy's face. It did not
smile, it only shone. Understanding is light; it needs love to change
light into a smile.

There was something in the boy that his parents hardly hoped to
understand; something in his face that made them long to know what was
going on in him, but made them doubt if ever in this life they
should. He was not concealing anything from them. He did not know that
he had anything to tell, or that they wanted to know anything. He
never doubted that everybody saw him just as he felt himself; his soul
seemed bare to all the world. But he knew little of what was passing
in him: child or man never knows more than a small part of that.

When first he was allowed to take the little one in his arms, he
sitting on a stool at his mother's feet, it was almost a new start in
his existence. A new confidence was born in his spirit. Mrs. Person
could read, as if reflected in his countenance, the pride and
tenderness that composed so much of her own conscious motherhood. A
certain staidness, almost sternness, took possession of his face as he
bent over the helpless creature, half on his knees, half in his
arms - the sternness of a protecting divinity that knew danger not
afar. He had taken a step upward in being; he was aware in himself,
without knowing it, of the dignity of fatherhood. Even now he knew
what so many seem never to learn, that a man is the defender of the
weak; that, if a man is his brother's keeper, still more is he his
sister's. She belonged to him, therefore he was hers in the slavery of
love, which alone is freedom. So reverential and so careful did he
show himself, that soon his mother trusted him, to the extent of his
power, more than any nurse.

By and by she made the delightful discovery that, when he was alone
with the baby, the silent boy could talk. Where was no need or hope of
being understood, his words began to flow - with a rhythmical cadence
that seemed ever on the verge of verse. When first his mother heard
the sweet murmur of his voice, she listened; and then first she
learned what a hold the terrible thing that had given him into her
arms had upon him. For she heard him half singing, half saying -

"Baby, baby, do not grow. Keep small, and lie on my lap, and dream of
walking, but never walk; for when you walk you will run, and when you
run you will go away with father and mother - away to a big place where
the ground goes up to the sky; and you will go up the ground that goes
up to the sky, and you will come to a big church, and you will go into
the church; and the ground and the church and the sky will go _hurr,
hurr, hurr_; and the sky, full of angels, will come down with a great
roar; and all the yards and sails will drop out of the sky, and tumble
down father and mother, and hold them down that they cannot get up
again; and then you will have nobody but me. I will do all I can, but
I am only brother Clare, and you will want, want, want mother and
father, mother and father, and they will be always coming, and never
be come, not for ever so long! Don't grow a big girl, Maly!"

The mother could not think what to say. She went in, and, in the hope
of turning his thoughts aside, took the baby, and made haste to
consult her husband.

"We must leave it," said Mr. Person. "Experience will soon correct
what mistake is in his notion. It is not so very far wrong. You and I
must go from them one day: what is it but that the sky will fall down
on us, and our bodies will get up no more! He thinks the time nearer
at hand than for their sakes I hope it is; but nobody can tell."

Clare never associated the church where the awful thing took place,
with the church to which he went on Sundays. The time for it, he
imagined, came to everybody. To Clare, nothing ever _happened_. The
way out of the world was a church in a city set on a hill, and there
an earthquake was always ready.

The heart of his adoptive mother grew yet more tender toward him after
the coming of her own child. She was not quite sure that she did not
love him even more than Mary. She could not help the feeling that he
was a child of heaven sent out to nurse on the earth; and that it was
in reward for her care of him that her own darling was sent her. That
their love to the boy had something to do with the coming of the girl,
I believe myself, though what that something was, I do not precisely
understand.

She left him less often alone with the child. She would not have his
thoughts drawn to the church of the earthquake; neither would she have
the mournfulness of his sweet voice much in the ears of her baby. He
never sang in a minor key when any one was by, but always and solely
when the baby and he were alone together.



Chapter VII.

Clare and his brothers.


After a year or two, Mr. Person became anxious lest the boy should
grow up too unlike other boys - lest he should not be manly, but of a
too gently sad behaviour. He began, therefore, to take him with him
about the parish, and was delighted to find him show extraordinary
endurance. He would walk many miles, and come home less fatigued than
his companion. To be sure, he had not much weight to carry; but it
seemed to Mr. Porson that his utter freedom from thought about himself
had a large share in his immunity from weariness. He continued slight
and thin - which was natural, for he was growing fast; but the muscles
of his little bird-like legs seemed of steel. The spindle-shanks went
striding, striding without a check, along the roughest roads, the pale
face shining atop of them like a sweet calm moon. To Mr. Person's
eyes, the moon, stooping, as she sometimes seems to do, downward from
the sky, always looked like him. The child woke something new in the
heart and mind of every one that loved him, but was himself
unconscious of his influence. His company was no check to his father
when meditating, after his habit as he walked, what he should say to
his people the next Sunday. For the good man never wrote or read a
sermon, but talked to his people as one who would meet what was in
them with what was in him. Hence they always believed "the parson
meant it." He never said anything clever, and never said anything
unwise; never amused them, and never made them feel scornful, either
of him or of any one else.

Instead of finding the presence of Clare distract his thoughts, he had
at times a curious sense that the boy was teaching him - that his
sermon was running before, or walking sedately on this side of him or
that. For Clare could run like the wind; and did run after
butterflies, dragon-flies, or anything that offered a chance of seeing
it nearer; but he never killed, and seldom tried to catch anything, if
but for a moment's examination. The swiftest run would scarcely
heighten the colour of his pale cheeks.

He soon came to be known in the farm-houses of the parish. The
farmer-families were a little shy of him at first, fancying him too
fine a little gentleman for them; but as they got to know him, they
grew fond of him. They called him "the parson's man," which pleased
Clare. But one old woman called him "the parson's cherubim."

One day Mr. Porson was calling at the house of the largest farm in the
parish, the nearest house to the parsonage. The farmer's wife was ill,
and having to go to her room to see her, he said to the boy -

"Clare, you run into the yard. Give my compliments to any one you
meet, and ask him to let you stay with him."

When the time came for their departure, Mr. Porson went to find
him. He did not call him; he wanted to see what he was about. Unable
to discover him, and coming upon no one of whom he might inquire, for
it was hay-time and everybody in the fields, he was at last driven to
use his voice.

He had not to call twice. Out of the covered part of the pigsty, not
far from which the parson stood, the boy came creeping on all fours,
followed by a litter of half-grown, grunting, gamboling pigs.

"Here I am, papa!" he cried.

"Clare," exclaimed his father, "what a mess you have made of
yourself!"

"I gave them your compliments," answered the boy, as he scrambled over
the fence with his father's assistance, "and asked them if I might
stay with them till you were ready. They said yes, and invited me
in. I went in; and we've been having such games! They were very kind
to me."

His father turned involuntarily and looked into the sty. There stood
all the pigs in a row, gazing after the boy, and looking as sorry as
their thick skins and bony snouts would let them. Their mother rose in
a ridge behind them, gazing too. Mr. Skymer always spoke of pigs as
about the most intelligent animals in the world.

I do not know when or where or how his love of the animals began, for
he could not tell me. If it began with the pigs, it was far from
ending with them.

The next day he asked his father if he might go and call upon the
pigs.

"Have you forgotten, Clare," said his mother, "what a job Susan and I
had with your clothes? I wonder still how you could have done such a
thing! They were quite filthy. When I saw you, I had half a mind to
put you in a bath, clothes and all. I doubt if they are sweet yet!"

"Oh, yes, they are, indeed, mamma!" returned Clare; "and you know I
shall be careful after this! I shall not go into their house, but get
the farmer to let them out. I've thought of a new game with them!"

His mother consented; the farmer did let the pigs out; and Clare and
they had a right good game together among the ricks in the yard.

His growing nature showed itself in a swiftly widening friendship for
live things. The spreading ripples of his affection took in the cows
and the horses, the hens and the geese, and every creature about the
place, till at length it had to pull up at the moles, because he could
not get at them. I doubt if he would have liked them if he had seen
one eat a frog! He called the pigs little brothers, and the horses and
cows big brothers, and was perfectly at home with them before people
knew he cared for their company. I think his absolute simplicity
brought him near to the fountain of life, or rather, prevented him
from straying from it; and this kept him so alive himself, that he was
delicately sensitive to all life. He felt himself pledged to all other
life as being one with it. Its forms were therefore so open to him as
to seem familiar from the first. He knew instinctively what went on in
regions of life differing from his own - knew, without knowing how,
what the animals were thinking and feeling; so was able to interpret
their motions, even the sudden changes in their behaviour.

There was one dangerous animal on the place - a bull, of which the
farmer had often said he must part with him, or he would be the death
of somebody. One morning he was struck with terror to find Clare in
the stall with Nimrod. The brute was chained up pretty short, but was
free enough for terrible mischief: Clare was stroking his nose, and
the beast was standing as still as a bull of bronze, with one curved
and one sharp, forward-set, wicked-looking horn in alarming proximity
to the angelic face. The farmer stood in dismay, still as the bull,
afraid to move. Clare looked up and smiled, but his delicate little
hand went on caressing the huge head. It was one of God's small high
creatures visiting with good news of hope one of his big low
creatures - a little brother of Jesus Christ bringing a taste of his
father's kingdom to his great dull bull of a brother. The farmer
called him. The boy came at once. Mr. Goodenough told him he must not
go near the bull; he was fierce and dangerous. Clare informed him that
he and the bull had been friends for a long time; and to prove it ran
back, and before the farmer could lay hold of him, was perched on the
animal's shoulders. The bull went on eating the grass in the manger
before him, and took as little heed of the boy as if it were but a fly
that had lighted on him, and neither tickled nor stung him.

By degrees he grew familiar with all the goings on at the farm, and
drew nearer to a true relation with the earth that nourishes
all. Where the soil was not too heavy, the ploughman would set him on
the back of the near horse, and there he would ride in triumph to the
music of the ploughman's whistle behind. His was not the pomp of the
destroyer who rides trampling, but the pomp of the saviour drawing
forth life from the earth. In the summer the hayfield knew him, and in
the autumn the harvest-field, where busily he gathered what the earth
gave, and for himself strength, a sense of wide life and large
relations. The very mould, not to say the grass-blades and the
daisies, was dear to him. He was more sympathetic with the daisies
ploughed down than was even Burns, for he had a strong feeling that
they went somewhere, and were the better for going; that this was the
way their sky fell upon them.

All the people on the farm, all the people of the village, every one
in the parish knew the boy and his story. From his gentleness and
lovingkindness to live things, there were who said he was half-witted;
others said he saw ghosts. The boys of the village despised, and some
hated him, because he was so unlike them. They called him a girl
because where they tormented he caressed. At this he would smile, and
they durst not lay hands on him.

The days are long in boyhood, and Clare could do a many things in
one. There was the morning, the forenoon, and the long afternoon and
evening! He could help on the farm; he could play with ever so many
animals; he could learn his lessons, which happily were not heavy; he
could read any book he pleased in his father's library, where
_Paradise Lost_ was his favourite; he could nurse little Maly. He had
the more time for all these that he had no companion of his own age,
no one he wanted to go about with after school-hours. His father was
still his chief human companion, and neither of them grew tired of the
other.

The most remarkable thing in the child was the calm and gentle
greatness of his heart. You often find children very fond of one or
two people, who, perhaps, in evil return, want to keep them all to
themselves, and reproach them for loving others. Many persons count it
a sign of depth in a child that he loves only one or two. I doubt it
greatly. I think that only the child who loves all life can love right
well, can love deeply and strongly and tenderly the lives that come
nearest him. Low nurses and small-hearted mothers dwarf and pervert
their children, doing their worst to keep them from having big hearts
like God. Clare had other teaching than this. He had lost his father
and mother, but many were given him to love; and so he was helped to
wait patiently till he found them again. God was keeping them for him
somewhere, and keeping him for them here.

The good for which we are born into this world is, that we may learn
to love. I think Clare the most enviable of boys, because he loved
more than any one of his age I have heard of. There are people - oh,
such silly people they are! - though they may sometimes be
pleasing - who are always wanting people to love them. They think so
much of themselves, that they want to think more; and to know that
people love them makes them able to think more of themselves. They
even think themselves loving because they are fond of being loved!
You might as soon say because a man loves money he is generous;
because he loves to gather, therefore he knows how to scatter; because
he likes to read a story, therefore he can write one. Such lovers are
only selfish in a deeper way, and are more to blame than other selfish
people; for, loving to be loved, they ought the better to know what an
evil thing it is not to love; what a mean thing to accept what they
are not willing to give. Even to love only those that love us, is, as
the Lord has taught us, but a pinched and sneaking way of
loving. Clare never thought about being loved. He was too busy loving,



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldA Rough Shaking → online text (page 4 of 24)