George MacDonald.

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so like them in all that was undesirable, it must be possible for them
to become like me in all, whatever it was, that rendered me in any way
superior to them.

"But wherein did this superiority consist? I saw that whatever it was, I
had little praise in it. I said, 'What have I done to be better than I
found myself? If Lizzie had not taken me in hand, I should not have done
even this. What an effort it would need for one of these really to begin
to rouse and raise himself! And what have I done to rouse and raise
myself, to whom it would surely be easier? And how can I hope to help
them to rise till I have risen myself? It is not enough to be above
them: only by the strength of my own rising can I help to raise them,
for we are bound together by one cord. Then how shall I rise? Whose
uprising shall lift me? On what cords shall I lay hold to be heaved out
of the pit?' And then I thought of the story of the Lord of men, who
arose by his own might, not alone from the body-tomb, but from all the
death and despair of humanity, and lifted with him our race, placing
their tomb beneath their feet, and them in the sunny hope that belongs
to them, and for which they were created - the air of their own freedom.
'But,' I said to myself, 'this is ideal, and belongs to the race. Before
it comes true for the race, it must be done in the individual. If it be
true for the race, it can only be through its being attainable by the
individual. There must be something in the story belonging to the
individual. I will look at the individual Christ, and see how he arose.'

"And then I saw that the Lord himself was clasped in the love of the
Father; that it was in the power of mighty communion that the daily
obedience was done; that besides the outward story of his devotion to
men, there was the inward story - actually revealed to us men, marvellous
as that is - the inward story of his devotion to his father; of his
speech to him; of his upward look; of his delight in giving up to Him.
And the answer to his prayers comes out in his deeds. As Novalis says:
'In solitude the heavenly heart unfolded itself to a flower-chalice of
almighty love, turned towards the high face of the Father.' I saw that
it was in virtue of this, that, again to use the words of Novalis, 'the
mystery was unsealed. Heavenly spirits heaved the aged stone from the
gloomy grave; angels sat by the slumberer, bodied forth, in delicate
forms, from his dreams. Waking in new God-glories, he clomb the height
of the new-born world; buried with his own hand the old corpse in the
forsaken cavern, and laid thereon, with almighty arm, the stone which no
might raises again. Yet weep thy beloved, tears of joy, and of boundless
thanks at thy grave; still ever, with fearful gladness, behold thee
arisen, and themselves with thee.' If then he is the captain of our
salvation, the head of the body of the human church, I must rise by
partaking in my degree of his food, by doing in my degree his work. I
fell on my knees and I prayed to the Father. I rose, and bethinking me
of the words of the Son, I went and tried to do them. I need say no more
to you. A new life awoke in me from that hour, feeble and dim, but yet
life; and often as it has stopped growing, that has always been my own
fault. Where it will end, thank God! I cannot tell. But existence is an
awful grandeur and delight.

"Then I understood the state of my fellowmen, with all their ignorance,
and hate, and revenge; some misled by passion, some blinded by dulness,
some turned monomaniacs from a fierce sense of injustice done them; and
I said, 'There is no way of helping them but by being good to them, and
making them trust me. But in every one of them there lies a secret
chamber, to which God has access from behind by a hidden door; while
they know nothing of this chamber; and the other door towards their own
consciousness, is hidden by darkness and wrong, and ruin of all kinds.
Sometimes they become dimly aware that there must be such a door. Some
of us search for it, find it, turn back aghast; while God is standing
behind the door waiting to be found, and ready to hold forth the arms of
eternal tenderness to him who will open and look. Some of us have torn
the door open, and, lo! there is the Father, at the heart of us, at the
heart of all things.' I saw that he was leading these men through dark
ways of disappointment and misery, the cure of their own wrong-doing, to
find this door and find him. But could nothing be done to help them - to
lead them? They, too, must learn of Christ. Could they not be led to
him? If He leads to the Father, could not man lead to Him? True, he says
that it is the leading of the Father that brings to Him; for the Father
is all in all; He fills and rounds the cycle. But He leads by the hand
of man. Then I said, 'Is not this _the_ work of the church?'

"And with this new test, I went to one church after another. And the
prayers were beautiful. And my soul was comforted by them. And the
troubles of the week sank back into the far distance, and God ruled in
London city. But how could such as I thought of, love these prayers, or
understand them? For them the voice of living man was needed. And surely
the spirit that dwelt in the Church never intended to make less of the
voice of a living man pleading with his fellow-men in his own voice,
than the voice of many people pleading with God in the words which those
who had gone to Him had left behind them. If the Spirit be in the
church, does it only pray? Yet almost as often as a man stood up to
preach, I knew again why Lizzie had paid no heed to me. All he said had
nothing to do with me or my wants. And if not with these, how could they
have any influence on the all but outcasts of the social order? I
justified Lizzie to the very full now; and I took refuge from the
inanity of the sermon in thinking about her faithfulness. And that
faithfulness was far beyond anything I knew yet.

"And now there awoke in me an earnest longing after the office I had
forsaken. Thoughts began to burn in me, and words to come unbidden, till
sometimes I had almost to restrain myself from rising from the pew where
I was seated, ascending the pulpit stairs, and requesting the man who
had nothing to say, to walk down, and allow me, who had something to
say, to take his place. Was this conceit? Considering what I was
listening to, it could not have been _great_ conceit at least. But
I did restrain myself, for I thought an encounter with the police would
be unseemly, and my motives scarcely of weight in the court to which
they would lead me."

Here Mr. Armstrong relieved himself and me with a good laugh. I say
relieved me, for his speech had held me in a state of tension such as to
be almost painful.

"But I looked to the future in hope," he went on, - "if ever I might be
counted worthy to resume the labour I had righteously abandoned; having
had the rightness confirmed by the light I had received in carrying out
the deed."

His voice here sank as to a natural pause, and I thought he was going to
end his story.

"Tell me something more," I said.

"Oh!" returned he, "as far as story is concerned, the best of it is to
come yet. - About six months after I was fairly settled in London, I was
riding in an omnibus, a rare enough accommodation with me, in the dusk
of an afternoon. I was going out to Fulham to dine with my cousin, as I
was sometimes forced to do. He was a good-hearted man, but - in short, I
did not find him interesting. I would have preferred talking to a man
who had barely escaped the gallows or the hulks. My cousin never did
anything plainly wicked, and consequently never repented of anything. He
thought no harm of being petty and unfair. He would not have taken a
farthing that was not his own, but if he could get the better of you in
an argument, he did not care by what means. He would put a wrong meaning
on your words, that he might triumph over you, knowing all the time it
was not what you meant. He would say: 'Words are words. I have nothing
to do with your meanings. You may say you mean anything you like.' I
wish it had been his dissent that made him such. But I won't say more
about him, for I believe it is my chief fault, as to my profession, that
I find common-place people dreadfully uninteresting; and I am afraid I
don't always give them quite fair play. - I had to dine with him, and so
I got into an omnibus going along the Strand. And I had not been long in
it, before I began thinking about Lizzie. That was not very surprising.

"Next to me, nearer the top of the omnibus, sat a young woman, with a
large brown paper parcel on her lap. She dropt it, and I picked it up
for her; but seeing that it incommoded her considerably, I offered to
hold it for her. She gave a kind of start when I addressed her, but
allowed me to take the parcel. I could not see her face, because she was
close to my side. But a strange feeling came over me, as if I was
sitting next to Lizzie. I indulged in the fancy not from any belief in
it, only for the pleasure of it. But it grew to a great desire to see
the young woman's face, and find whether or not she was at all like
Lizzie. I could not, however, succeed in getting a peep within her
bonnet; and so strong did the desire become, that, when the omnibus
stopped at the circus, and she rose to get out, I got out first, without
restoring the parcel, and stood to hand her out, and then give it back.
Not yet could I see her face; but she accepted my hand, and with a
thrill of amazement, I felt a pressure on mine, which surely could be
nobody's but Lizzie's. And it was Lizzie sure enough! I kept the parcel;
she put her arm in mine, and we crossed the street together, without a
word spoken.

"'Lizzie!' I said, when we got into a quieter part.

"'Ralph!' she said, and pressed closer to my side.

"'How did you come here?'

"'Ah! I couldn't escape you.'

"'How did you come here?' I repeated.

"'You did not think,' she answered, with a low musical laugh, 'that I
was going to send you away to work, and take no share in it myself!'

"And then out came the whole truth. As soon as I had left, she set about
finding a situation, for she was very clever with her needle and
scissors. Her mother could easily do without her, as her elder sister
was at home; and her absence would relieve their scanty means. She had
been more fortunate than she could have hoped, and had found a good
situation with a dressmaker in Bond Street. Her salary was not large,
but it was likely to increase, and she had nothing to pay for food or
lodging; while, like myself, she was well provided with clothes, and
had, besides, facilities for procuring more. And to make a long story as
short as now may be, there she remained in her situation as long as I
remained in mine; and every quarter she brought me all she could spare
of her salary for the Jew to gorge upon."

"And you took it?" I said, rather inadvertently.

"Took it! Yes. I took it - thankfully as I would the blessing of heaven.
To have refused it would have argued me unworthy of _her_. We
understood each other too well for anything else. She shortened my
purgatory by a whole year - my Lizzie! It is over now; but none of it
will be over to all eternity. She made a man of me."

A pause followed, as was natural, and neither spoke for some moments.
The ends of our cigars had been thrown away long ago, but I did not
think of offering another. At length I said, for the sake of saying

"And you met pretty often, I daresay?"

"Every Sunday at church."

"Of all places, the place where you ought to have met."

"It was. We met in a quiet old city church, where there was nothing to
attract us but the loneliness, the service, and the bones of Milton."

"And when you had achieved your end - "

"It was but a means to an end. I went at once to a certain bishop; told
him the whole story, not in quite such a lengthy shape as I have told it
to you; and begged him to reinstate me in my office."

"And what did he say?"

"Nothing. The good man did not venture upon many words. He held out his
hand to me; shook mine warmly; and here I am, you see, curate of St.
Thomas's, Purleybridge, and husband of Lizzie Payton. Am I not a
fortunate fellow?"

"You are," I said, with emphasis, rising to take my leave. "But it is
too bad of me to occupy so much of your time on a Saturday."

"Don't be uneasy about that. I shall preach all the better for it."

As I passed the parlour door, it was open, and Lizzie was busy with a
baby's frock. I think I should have known it for one, even if I had not
been put on the scent. She nodded kindly to me as I passed out. I knew
she was not one of the demonstrative sort, else I should have been
troubled that she did not speak to me. I thought afterwards that she
suspected, from the sustained sound of her husband's voice, that he had
been telling his own story; and that therefore she preferred letting me
go away without speaking to me that morning.

"What a story for our club!" thought I. "Surely that would do Adela good

But of course I saw at once that it would not do. I could not for a
moment wish that the curate should tell it. Yet I did wish that Adela
could know it. So I have written it now; and there it is, as nearly as
he told it, as I could manage to record it.

The next day was Sunday. And here is a part of the curate's sermon.

"My friends, I will give you a likeness, or a parable, which I think
will help you to understand what is the matter with you all. For you all
have something the matter with you; and most of you know this to be the
case; though you may not know what is the matter. And those of you that
feel nothing amiss are far the worst off. Indeed you are; for how are
things to be set right if you do not even know that there is anything to
be set right? There is the greatest danger of everything growing much
worse, before you find out that anything is wrong.

"But now for my parable.

"It is a cold winter forenoon, with the snow upon everything out of
doors. The mother has gone out for the day, and the children are amusing
themselves in the nursery - pretending to make such things as men make.
But there is one among them who joins in their amusement only by fits
and starts. He is pale and restless, yet inactive. - His mother is away.
True, he is not well. But he is not very unwell; and if she were at
home, he would take his share in everything that was going on, with as
much enjoyment as any of them. But as it is, his fretfulness and
pettishness make no allowance for the wilfulness of his brothers and
sisters; and so the confusions they make in the room, carry confusion
into his heart and brain; till at length a brighter noon entices the
others out into the snow.

"Glad to be left alone, he seats himself by the fire and tries to read.
But the book he was so delighted with yesterday, is dull today. He looks
up at the clock and sighs, and wishes his mother would come home. Again
he betakes himself to his book, and the story transports his imagination
to the great icebergs on the polar sea. But the sunlight has left them,
and they no longer gleam and glitter and sparkle, as if spangled with
all the jewels of the hot tropics, but shine cold and threatening as
they tower over the ice-bound ship. He lays down the tale, and takes up
a poem. But it too is frozen. The rhythm will not flow. And the sad
feeling arises in his heart, that it is not so very beautiful, after
all, as he had used to think it.

"'Is there anything beautiful?' says the poor boy at length, and wanders
to the window. But the sun is under a cloud; cold, white, and cheerless,
like death, lies the wide world out of doors; and the prints of his
mother's feet in the snow, all point towards the village, and away from
home. His head aches; and he cannot eat his dinner. He creeps up stairs
to his mother's room. There the fire burns bright, and through the
window falls a ray of sunlight. But the fire and the very sunlight are
wintry and sad. 'Oh, when will mother be home?' He lays himself in a
corner amongst soft pillows, and rests his head; but it is no nest for
him, for the covering wings are not there. The bright-coloured curtains
look dull and grey; and the clock on the chimney-piece will not hasten
its pace one second, but is very monotonous and unfeeling. Poor child!
Is there any joy in the world? Oh yes; but it always clings to the
mother, and follows her about like a radiance, and she has taken it with
her. Oh, when will she be home? The clock strikes as if it meant
something, and then straightway goes on again with the old wearisome

"He can hardly bear it. The fire burns up within, daylight goes down
without; the near world fades into darkness; the far-off worlds brighten
and come forth, and look from the cold sky into the warm room; and the
boy stares at them from the couch, and watches the motion of one of
them, like the flight of a great golden beetle, against the divisions of
the window-frame. Of this, too, he grows weary. Everything around him
has lost its interest. Even the fire, which is like the soul of the
room, within whose depths he had so often watched for strange forms and
images of beauty and terror, has ceased to attract his tired eyes. He
turns his back to it, and sees only its flickerings on the walls. To any
one else, looking in from the cold frosty night, the room would appear
the very picture of afternoon comfort and warmth; and he, if he were
descried thus nestling in its softest, warmest nook, would be counted a
blessed child, without care, without fear, made for enjoyment, and
knowing only fruition. But the mother is gone; and as that flame-lighted
room would appear to the passing eye, without the fire, and with but a
single candle to thaw the surrounding darkness and cold, so its that
child's heart without the presence of the mother.

"Worn out at length with loneliness and mental want, he closes his eyes,
and after the slow lapse of a few more empty moments, re-opens them on
the dusky ceiling, and the grey twilight window; no - on two eyes near
above him, and beaming upon him, the stars of a higher and holier heaven
than that which still looks in through the unshaded windows. They are
the eyes of the mother, looking closely and anxiously on her sick boy.
'Mother, mother!' His arms cling around her neck, and pull down her face
to his.

"His head aches still, but the heart-ache is gone. When candles are
brought, and the chill night is shut out of doors and windows, and the
children are all gathered around the tea-table, laughing and happy, no
one is happier, though he does not laugh, than the sick child, who lies
on the couch and looks at his mother. Everything around is full of
interest and use, glorified by the radiation of her presence. Nothing
can go wrong. The splendour returns to the tale and the poem. Sickness
cannot make him wretched. Now when he closes his eyes, his spirit dares
to go forth wandering under the shining stars and above the sparkling
snow; and nothing is any more dull and unbeautiful. When night draws on,
and he is laid in his bed, her voice sings him, and her hand soothes
him, to sleep; nor do her influences vanish when he forgets everything
in sleep; for he wakes in the morning well and happy, made whole by his
faith in his mother. A power has gone forth from her love to heal and
restore him.

"Brothers, sisters! do I not know your hearts from my own? - sick hearts,
which nothing can restore to health and joy but the presence of Him who
is Father and Mother both in one. Sunshine is not gladness, because you
see him not. The stars are far away, because He is not near; and the
flowers, the smiles of old Earth, do not make you smile, because,
although, thank God! you cannot get rid of the child's need, you have
forgotten what it is the need of. The winter is dreary and dull,
because, although you have the homeliest of homes, the warmest of
shelters, the safest of nests to creep into and rest - though the most
cheerful of fires is blazing for you, and a table is spread, waiting to
refresh your frozen and weary hearts - you have forgot the way thither,
and will not be troubled to ask the way; you shiver with the cold and
the hunger, rather than arise you say, 'I will go to my Father;' you
will die in the storm rather than fight the storm; you will lie down in
the snow rather than tread it under foot. The heart within you cries out
for something, and you let it cry. It is crying for its God - for its
father and mother and home. And all the world will look dull and
grey - and it if does not look so now, the day will come when it must
look so - till your heart is satisfied and quieted with the known
presence of Him in whom we live and move and have our being."



It was again my turn to read. I opened my manuscript and had just opened
my mouth as well, when I was arrested for a moment. For, happening to
glance to the other side of the room, I saw that Percy had thrown
himself at full length on a couch, opposite to that on which Adela was
seated, and was watching her face with all his eyes. But his look did
not express love so much as jealousy. Indeed I had seen small sign of
his being attached to her. If she had encouraged him, which certainly
she did not, I daresay his love might have come out; but I presume that
he had been comfortably content until now, when perhaps some remark of
his mother had made him fear a rival. Mischief of some sort was
evidently brewing. A human cloud, surcharging itself with electric fire,
lay swelling on the horizon of our little assembly; but I did not
anticipate much danger from any storm that could break from such a
quarter. I believed that as far as my good friend, the colonel, was
concerned, Adela might at least refuse whom she pleased. Whether she
might find herself at equal liberty to choose whom she pleased, was a
question that I was unprepared to answer. And I could not think about
it now. I had to read. So I gave out the title - and went on:


"Old Ralph Rinkelmann made his living by comic sketches, and all but
lost it again by tragic poems. So he was just the man to be chosen king
of the fairies, for in Fairy-land the sovereignty is elective."

* * * * *

"But, uncle," interrupted Adela, "you said it was not to be a

"Well, I don't think you will call it one, when you have heard it,"
I answered. "But I am not particular as to names. The fairies have
not much to do with it anyhow."

"I beg your pardon, uncle," rejoined my niece; and I went on.

* * * * *

"They did not mean to insist on his residence; for they needed his
presence only on special occasions. But they must get hold of him
somehow, first of all, in order to make him king. Once he was crowned,
they could get him as often as they pleased; but before this ceremony,
there was a difficulty. For it is only between life and death that the
fairies have power over grown-up mortals, and can carry them off to
their country. So they had to watch for an opportunity.

"Nor had they to wait long. For old Ralph was taken dreadfully ill; and
while hovering between life and death, they carried him off, and crowned
him king of Fairy-land. But after he was crowned, it was no wonder,
considering the state of his health, that he should not be able to sit
quite upright on the throne of Fairy-land; or that, in consequence, all
the gnomes and goblins, and ugly, cruel things that live in the holes
and corners of the kingdom, should take advantage of his condition, and
run quite wild, playing him, king as he was, all sorts of tricks;
crowding about his throne, climbing up the steps, and actually
scrambling and quarrelling like mice about his ears and eyes, so that he
could see and think of nothing else. But I am not going to tell anything
more about this part of his adventures just at present. By strong and
sustained efforts, he succeeded, after much trouble and suffering, in
reducing his rebellious subjects to order. They all vanished to their
respective holes and corners; and King Ralph, coming to himself, found
himself in his bed, half propped up with pillows.

"But the room was full of dark creatures, which gambolled about in the
firelight in such a strange, huge, but noiseless fashion, that he
thought at first that some of his rebellious goblins had not been
subdued with the rest, and had followed him beyond the bounds of
Fairy-land into his own private house in London. How else could these

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 3 of 12)