George MacDonald.

Adela Cathcart, Volume 1 online

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that, amidst their true child-faces, (all going well with them, as not
unfrequently happened in his schoolroom), he felt as if all the
elements of Paradise were gathered around him, and knew that he was
God's child, doing God's work.

"But while that dream was passing through the soul of the husband,
another visited the wife, as she lay in the faintness and trembling
joy of the new motherhood. For although she that has been mother
before, is not the less a new mother to the new child, her former
relation not covering with its wings the fresh bird in the nest of her
bosom, yet there must be a peculiar delight in the thoughts and
feelings that come with the first-born. - As she lay half in a sleep,
half in a faint, with the vapours of a gentle delirium floating
through her brain, without losing the sense of existence she lost the
consciousness of its form, and thought she lay, not a young mother in
her bed, but a nosegay of wild flowers in a basket, crushed, flattened
and half-withered. With her in the basket lay other bunches of
flowers, whose odours, some rare as well as rich, revealed to her the
sad contrast in which she was placed. Beside her lay a cluster of
delicately curved, faintly tinged, tea-scented roses; while she was
only blue hyacinth bells, pale primroses, amethyst anemones, closed
blood-coloured daisies, purple violets, and one sweet-scented, pure
white orchis. The basket lay on the counter of a well-known little
shop in the village, waiting for purchasers. By and by her own husband
entered the shop, and approached the basket to choose a nosegay. 'Ah!'
thought she, 'will he choose me? How dreadful if he should not, and I
should be left lying here, while he takes another! But how should he
choose me? They are all so beautiful; and even my scent is nearly
gone. And he cannot know that it is I lying here. Alas! alas!' But as
she thought thus, she felt his hand clasp her, heard the ransom-money
fall, and felt that she was pressed to his face and lips, as he passed
from the shop. He _had_ chosen her; he _had_ known her. She opened her
eyes: her husband's kiss had awakened her. She did not speak, but
looked up thankfully in his eyes, as if he had, in fact, like one of
the old knights, delivered her from the transformation of some evil
magic, by the counter-enchantment of a kiss, and restored her from a
half-withered nosegay to be a woman, a wife, a mother. The dream
comforted her much, for she had often feared that she, the simple,
so-called uneducated girl, could not be enough for the great
schoolmaster. But soon her thoughts flowed into another channel; the
tears rose in her dark eyes, shining clear from beneath a stream that
was not of sorrow; and it was only weakness that kept her from
uttering audible words like these: - 'Father in heaven, shall I trust
my husband's love, and doubt thine? Wilt thou meet less richly the
fearing hope of thy child's heart, than he in my dream met the longing
of his wife's? He was perfected in my eyes by the love he bore
me - shall I find thee less complete? Here I lie on thy world, faint,
and crushed, and withered; and my soul often seems as if it had lost
all the odours that should float up in the sweet-smelling savour of
thankfulness and love to thee. But thou hast only to take me, only to
choose me, only to clasp me to thy bosom, and I shall be a beautiful
singing angel, singing to God, and comforting my husband while I
sing. Father, take me, possess me, fill me!'

"So she lay patiently waiting for the summer-time of restored strength
that drew slowly nigh. With her husband and her child near her, in her
soul, and God everywhere, there was for her no death, and no
hurt. When she said to herself, 'How rich I am!' it was with the
riches that pass not away - the riches of the Son of man; for in her
treasures, the human and the divine were blended - were one.

"But there was a hard trial in store for them. They had learned to
receive what the Father sent: they had now to learn that what he gave
he gave eternally, after his own being - his own glory. For ere the
mother awoke from her first sleep, the baby, like a frolicsome
child-angel, that but tapped at his mother's window and fled - the baby
died; died while the mother slept away the pangs of its birth, died
while the father was teaching other babes out of the joy of his new

"When the mother woke, she lay still in her joy - the joy of a doubled
life; and knew not that death had been there, and had left behind only
the little human coffin.

"'Nurse, bring me the baby,' she said at last. 'I want to see it.'

"But the nurse pretended not to hear.

"'I want to nurse it. Bring it.'

"She had not yet learned to say _him_; for it was her first baby.

"But the nurse went out of the room, and remained some minutes
away. When she returned, the mother spoke more absolutely, and the
nurse was compelled to reply - at last.

"'Nurse, do bring me the baby; I am quite able to nurse it now.'

"'Not yet, if you please, ma'am. Really you must rest a while
first. Do try to go to sleep.'

"The nurse spoke steadily, and looked her too straight in the face;
and there was a constraint in her voice, a determination to be calm,
that at once roused the suspicion of the mother; for though her
first-born was dead, and she had given birth to what was now, as far
as the eye could reach, the waxen image of a son, a child had come
from God, and had departed to him again; and she was his mother.

"And the fear fell upon her heart that it might be as it was; and,
looking at her attendant with a face blanched yet more with fear than
with suffering, she said,

"'Nurse, is the baby - ?'

"She could not say _dead_; for to utter the word would be at once to
make it possible that the only fruit of her labour had been pain and

"But the nurse saw that further concealment was impossible; and,
without another word, went and fetched the husband, who, with face
pale as the mother's, brought the baby, dressed in its white clothes,
and laid it by its mother's side, where it lay too still.

"'Oh, ma'am, do not take on so,' said the nurse, as she saw the face
of the mother grow like the face of the child, as if she were about to
rush after him into the dark.

"But she was not 'taking on' at all. She only felt that pain at her
heart, which is the farewell kiss of a long-cherished joy. Though cast
out of paradise into a world that looked very dull and weary, yet,
used to suffering, and always claiming from God the consolation it
needed, and satisfied with that, she was able, presently, to look up
in her husband's face, and try to reassure him of her well-being by a
dreary smile.

"'Leave the baby,' she said; and they left it where it was. Long and
earnestly she gazed on the perfect tiny features of the little
alabaster countenance, and tried to feel that this was the child she
had been so long waiting for. As she looked, she fancied she heard it
breathe, and she thought - 'What if it should be only asleep!' but,
alas! the eyes would not open, and when she drew it close to her, she
shivered to feel it so cold. At length, as her eyes wandered over and
over the little face, a look of her husband dawned unexpectedly upon
it; and, as if the wife's heart awoke the mother's she cried out,
'Baby! baby!' and burst into tears, during which weeping she fell

"When she awoke, she found the babe had been removed while she slept.
But the unsatisfied heart of the mother longed to look again on the
form of the child; and again, though with remonstrance from the nurse,
it was laid beside her. All day and all night long, it remained by her
side, like a little frozen thing that had wandered from its home, and
now lay dead by the door.

"Next morning the nurse protested that she must part with it, for it
made her fret; but she knew it quieted her, and she would rather keep
her little lifeless babe. At length the nurse appealed to the father;
and the mother feared he would think it necessary to remove it; but to
her joy and gratitude he said, 'No, no; let her keep it as long as she
likes.' And she loved her husband the more for that; for he understood

"Then she had the cradle brought near the bed, all ready as it was for
a live child that had open eyes, and therefore needed sleep - needed
the lids of the brain to close, when it was filled full of the strange
colours and forms of the new world. But this one needed no cradle, for
it slept on. It needed, instead of the little curtains to darken it to
sleep, a great sunlight to wake it up from the darkness, and the
ever-satisfied rest. Yet she laid it in the cradle, which she had set
near her, where she could see it, with the little hand and arm laid
out on the white coverlet. If she could only keep it so! Could not
something be done, if not to awake it, yet to turn it to stone, and
let it remain so for ever? No; the body must go back to its mother,
the earth, and the _form_ which is immortal, being the thought of God,
must go back to its Father - the Maker. And as it lay in the white
cradle, a white coffin was being made for it. And the mother thought:
'I wonder which trees are growing coffins for my husband and me.'

"But ere the child, that had the prayer of Job in his grief, and had
died from its mother's womb, was carried away to be buried, the mother
prayed over it this prayer: - 'O God, if thou wilt not let me be a
mother, I have one refuge: I will go back and be a child: I will be
thy child more than ever. My mother-heart will find relief in
childhood towards its Father. For is it not the same nature that makes
the true mother and the true child? Is it not the same thought
blossoming upward and blossoming downward? So there is God the Father
and God the Son. Thou wilt keep my little son for me. He has gone home
to be nursed for me. And when I grow well, I will be more simple, and
truthful, and joyful in thy sight. And now thou art taking away my
child, my plaything, from me. But I think how pleased I should be, if
I had a daughter, and she loved me so well that she only smiled when I
took her plaything from her. Oh! I will not disappoint thee - thou
shall have thy joy. Here I am, do with me what thou wilt; I will only

"And how fared the heart of the father? At first, in the bitterness of
his grief, he called the loss of his child a punishment for his doubt
and unbelief; and the feeling of punishment made the stroke more keen,
and the heart less willing to endure it. But better thoughts woke
within him ere long.

"The old woman who swept out his schoolroom, came in the evening to
inquire after the mistress, and to offer her condolences on the loss
of the baby. She came likewise to tell the news, that a certain old
man of little respectability had departed at last, unregretted by a
single soul in the village but herself, who had been his nurse through
the last tedious illness.

"The schoolmaster thought with himself:

"'Can that soiled and withered leaf of a man, and my little snow-flake
of a baby, have gone the same road? Will they meet by the way? Can
they talk about the same thing - anything? They must part on the
boarders of the shining land, and they could hardly speak by the way.'

"'He will live four-and-twenty hours, nurse,' the doctor had said.

"'No, doctor; he will die to-night,' the nurse had replied; during
which whispered dialogue, the patient had lain breathing quietly, for
the last of suffering was nearly over.

He was at the close of an ill-spent life, not so much selfishly
towards others as indulgently towards himself. He had failed of true
joy by trying often and perseveringly to create a false one; and now,
about to knock at the gate of the other world, he bore with him no
burden of the good things of this; and one might be tempted to say of
him, that it were better he had not been born. The great majestic
mystery lay before him - but when would he see its majesty?

"He was dying thus, because he had tried to live as Nature said he
should not live; and he had taken his own wages - for the law of the
Maker is the necessity of his creature. His own children had forsaken
him, for they were not perfect as their Father in heaven, who maketh
his sun to shine on the evil and on the good. Instead of doubling
their care as his need doubled, they had thought of the disgrace he
brought on them, and not of the duty they owed him; and now, left to
die alone for them, he was waited on by this hired nurse, who,
familiar with death-beds, knew better than the doctor - knew that he
could live only a few hours.

"Stooping to his ear, she had told him, as gently as she could - for
she thought she ought not to conceal it - that he must die that night.
He had lain silent for a few moments; then had called her, and, with
broken and failing voice, had said, 'Nurse, you are the only friend I
have: give me one kiss before I die.' And the woman-heart had answered
the prayer.

"'And,' said the old woman, 'he put his arms round my neck, and gave
me a long kiss, such a long kiss! and then he turned his face away,
and never spoke again.'

"So, with the last unction of a woman's kiss, with this baptism for
the dead, he had departed.

"'Poor old man! he had not quite destroyed his heart yet,' thought the
schoolmaster. 'Surely it was the child-nature that woke in him at the
last, when the only thing left for his soul to desire, the only thing
he could think of as a preparation for the dread something, was a
kiss. Strange conjunction, yet simple and natural! Eternity - a kiss.
Kiss me; for I am going to the Unknown! - Poor old man!' the
schoolmaster went on in his thoughts, 'I hope my baby has met him, and
put his tiny hand in the poor old shaking hand, and so led him across
the borders into the shining land, and up to where Jesus sits, and
said to the Lord: "Lord, forgive this old man, for he knew not what he
did." And I trust the Lord has forgiven him.'

"And then the bereaved father fell on his knees, and cried out:

"'Lord, thou hast not punished me. Thou wouldst not punish for a
passing thought of troubled unbelief, with which I strove. Lord, take
my child and his mother and me, and do what thou wilt with us. I know
thou givest not, to take again.'

"And ere the schoolmaster could call his protestantism to his aid, he
had ended his prayer with the cry:

"'And O God! have mercy upon the poor old man, and lay not his sins to
his charge.'

"For, though a woman's kiss may comfort a man to eternity, it is not
all he needs. And the thought of his lost child had made the soul of
the father compassionate."

* * * * *

He ceased, and we sat silent.

* * * * *


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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 1 → online text (page 12 of 12)