George MacDonald.

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words, just as if they were a charm, or as if God would take offence if
they did not make the salvo of acknowledgment. It seems to me quite
heathenish. Our hearts ought ever to be in the spirit of those words;
our lips ought to utter them rarely. Besides, there are some things a
man might be pretty sure the Lord wills."

"It sounds fine, sir; but I'm not sure that I understand what you mean
to say. It sounds to me like a darkening of wisdom."

I saw that I had irritated him, and so had in some measure lost ground.
But Harry struck in -

"How _can_ you say that now, Joe? _I_ know what the parson means well
enough, and everybody knows I ain't got half the brains you've got."

"The reason is, Harry, that he's got something in his head that stands
in the way."

"And there's nothing in my head _to_ stand in the way!" returned Harry,

This made me laugh too, and even Joe could not help a sympathetic grin.
By this time it was getting dark.

"I'm afraid, Harry, after all, you won't get through to-night."

"I begin to think so too, sir. And there's Joe saying, 'I told you so,'
over and over to himself, though he won't say it out like a man."

Joe answered only with another grin.

"I tell you what it is, Harry," I said - "you must come again on Monday.
And on your way home, just look in and tell Joe's mother that I have
kept him over to-morrow. The change will do him good."

"No, sir, that can't he. I haven't got a clean shirt."

"You can have a shirt of mine," I said. "But I'm afraid you'll want
your Sunday clothes."

"I'll bring them for you, Joe - before you're up," interposed Harry.
"And then you can go to church with Aggy Coombes, you know."

Here was just what I wanted.

"Hold your tongue, Harry," said Joe angrily. "You're talking of what
you don't know anything about."

"Well, Joe, I ben't a fool, if I ben't so religious as you be. You
ben't a bad fellow, though you be a Methodist, and I ben't a fool,
though I be Harry Cobb."

"What do you mean, Harry? Do hold your tongue."

"Well, I'll tell you what I mean first, and then I'll hold my tongue. I
mean this - that nobody with two eyes, or one eye, for that matter, in
his head, could help seeing the eyes you and Aggy make at each other,
and why you don't port your helm and board her - I won't say it's more
than I know, but I du say it to be more than I think be fair to the
young woman."

"Hold your tongue, Harry."

"I said I would when I'd answered you as to what I meaned. So no more
at present; but I'll be over with your clothes afore you're up in the

As Harry spoke he was busy gathering his tools.

"They won't be in the way, will they, sir?" he said, as he heaped them
together in the furthest corner of the tower.

"Not in the least," I returned. "If I had my way, all the tools used in
building the church should be carved on the posts and pillars of it, to
indicate the sacredness of labour, and the worship of God that lies,
not in building the church merely, but in every honest trade honestly
pursued for the good of mankind and the need of the workman. For a
necessity of God is laid upon every workman as well as on St. Paul.
Only St. Paul saw it, and every workman doesn't, Harry."

"Thank you, sir. I like that way of it. I almost think I could be a
little bit religious after your way of it, sir."

"Almost, Harry!" growled Joe - not unkindly.

"Now, you hold your tongue, Joe," I said. "Leave Harry to me. You may
take him, if you like, after I've done with him."

Laughing merrily, but making no other reply than a hearty good-night,
Harry strode away out of the church, and Joe and I went home together.

When he had had his tea, I asked him to go out with me for a walk.

The sun was shining aslant upon the downs from over the sea. We rose
out of the shadowy hollow to the sunlit brow. I was a little in advance
of Joe. Happening to turn, I saw the light full on his head and face,
while the rest of his body had not yet emerged from the shadow.

"Stop, Joe," I said. "I want to see you so for a moment."

He stood - a little surprised.

"You look just like a man rising from the dead, Joe," I said.

"I don't know what you mean, sir," he returned.

"I will describe yourself to you. Your head and face are full of
sunlight, the rest of your body is still buried in the shadow. Look; I
will stand where you are now; and you come here. You will soon see what
I mean."

We changed places. Joe stared for a moment. Then his face brightened.

"I see what you mean, sir," he said. "I fancy you don't mean the
resurrection of the body, but the resurrection of righteousness."

"I do, Joe. Did it ever strike you that the whole history of the
Christian life is a series of such resurrections? Every time a man
bethinks himself that he is not walking in the light, that he has been
forgetting himself, and must repent, that he has been asleep and must
awake, that he has been letting his garments trail, and must gird up
the loins of his mind - every time this takes place, there is a
resurrection in the world. Yes, Joe; and every time that a man finds
that his heart is troubled, that he is not rejoicing in God, a
resurrection must follow - a resurrection out of the night of troubled
thoughts into the gladness of the truth. For the truth is, and ever
was, and ever must be, gladness, however much the souls on which it
shines may be obscured by the clouds of sorrow, troubled by the
thunders of fear, or shot through with the lightnings of pain. Now,
Joe, will you let me tell you what you are like - I do not know your
thoughts; I am only judging from your words and looks?"

"You may if you like, sir," answered Joe, a little sulkily. But I was
not to be repelled.

I stood up in the sunlight, so that my eyes caught only about half the
sun's disc. Then I bent my face towards the earth.

"What part of me is the light shining on now, Joe?"

"Just the top of your head," answered he.

"There, then," I returned, "that is just what you are like - a man with
the light on his head, but not on his face. And why not on your face?
Because you hold your head down."

"Isn't it possible, sir, that a man might lose the light on his face,
as you put it, by doing his duty?"

"That is a difficult question," I replied. "I must think before I
answer it."

"I mean," added Joe - "mightn't his duty be a painful one?"

"Yes. But I think that would rather etherealise than destroy the light.
Behind the sorrow would spring a yet greater light from the very duty
itself. I have expressed myself badly, but you will see what I
mean. - To be frank with you, Joe, I do not see that light in your face.
Therefore I think something must be wrong with you. Remember a good man
is not necessarily in the right. St. Peter was a good man, yet our Lord
called him Satan - and meant it of course, for he never said what he did
not mean."

"How can I be wrong when all my trouble comes from doing my
duty - nothing else, as far as I know?"

"Then," I replied, a sudden light breaking in on my mind, "I doubt
whether what you suppose to be your duty can be your duty. If it were,
I do not think it would make you so miserable. At least - I may be
wrong, but I venture to think so."

"What is a man to go by, then? If he thinks a thing is his duty, is he
not to do it?"

"Most assuredly - until he knows better. But it is of the greatest
consequence whether the supposed duty be the will of God or the
invention of one's own fancy or mistaken judgment. A real duty is
always something right in itself. The duty a man makes his for the
time, by supposing it to be a duty, may be something quite wrong in
itself. The duty of a Hindoo widow is to burn herself on the body of
her husband. But that duty lasts no longer than till she sees that, not
being the will of God, it is not her duty. A real duty, on the other
hand, is a necessity of the human nature, without seeing and doing
which a man can never attain to the truth and blessedness of his own
being. It was the duty of the early hermits to encourage the growth of
vermin upon their bodies, for they supposed that was pleasing to God;
but they could not fare so well as if they had seen the truth that the
will of God was cleanliness. And there may be far more serious things
done by Christian people against the will of God, in the fancy of doing
their duty, than such a trifle as swarming with worms. In a word,
thinking a thing is your duty makes it your duty only till you know
better. And the prime duty of every man is to seek and find, that he
may do, the will of God."

"But do you think, sir, that a man is likely to be doing what he ought
not, if he is doing what he don't like?"

"Not so likely, I allow. But there may be ambition in it. A man must
not want to be better than the right. That is the delusion of the
anchorite - a delusion in which the man forgets the rights of others for
the sake of his own sanctity."

"It might be for the sake of another person, and not for the person's
own sake at all."

"It might be; but except it were the will of God for that other person,
it would be doing him or her a real injury."

We were coming gradually towards what I wanted to make the point in
question. I wished him to tell me all about it himself, however, for I
knew that while advice given on request is generally disregarded, to
offer advice unasked is worthy only of a fool.

"But how are you to know the will of God in every case?" asked Joe.

"By looking at the general laws of life, and obeying them - except there
be anything special in a particular case to bring it under a higher

"Ah! but that be just what there is here."

"Well, my dear fellow, that may be; but the special conduct may not be
right for the special case for all that. The speciality of the case may
not be even sufficient to take it from under the ordinary rule. But it
is of no use talking generals. Let us come to particulars. If you can
trust me, tell me all about it, and we may be able to let some light
in. I am sure there is darkness somewhere."

"I will turn it over in my mind, sir; and if I can bring myself to talk
about it, I will. I would rather tell you than anyone else."

I said no more. We watched a glorious sunset - there never was a grander
place for sunsets - and went home.



The next morning Harry came with the clothes. But Joe did not go to
church. Neither did Agnes make her appearance that morning. They were
both present at the evening service, however.

When we came out of church, it was cloudy and dark, and the wind was
blowing cold from the sea. The sky was covered with one cloud, but the
waves tossing themselves against the rocks, flashed whiteness out of
the general gloom. As the tide rose the wind increased. It was a night
of surly temper - hard and gloomy. Not a star cracked the blue
above - there was no blue; and the wind was _gurly_; I once heard that
word in Scotland, and never forgot it.

After one of our usual gatherings in Connie's room, which were much
shorter here because of the evening service in summer, I withdrew till
supper should be ready.

Now I have always had, as I think I have incidentally stated before, a
certain peculiar pleasure in the surly aspects of nature. When I was a
young man this took form in opposition and defiance; since I had begun
to grow old the form had changed into a sense of safety. I welcomed
such aspects, partly at least, because they roused my faith to look
through and beyond the small region of human conditions in which alone
the storm can be and blow, and thus induced a feeling like that of the
child who lies in his warm crib and listens to the howling of one of
these same storms outside the strong-built house which yet trembles at
its fiercer onsets: the house is not in danger; or, if it be, that is
his father's business, not his. Hence it came that, after supper, I put
on my great-coat and travelling-cap, and went out into the ill-tempered
night - speaking of it in its human symbolism.

I meant to have a stroll down to the breakwater, of which I have yet
said little, but which was a favourite resort, both of myself and my
children. At the further end of it, always covered at high water, was
an outlying cluster of low rocks, in the heart of which the lord of the
manor, a noble-hearted Christian gentleman of the old school, had
constructed a bath of graduated depth - an open-air swimming-pool - the
only really safe place for men who were swimmers to bathe in. Thither I
was in the habit of taking my two little men every morning, and bathing
with them, that I might develop the fish that was in them; for, as
George Herbert says:

"Man is everything,
And more: he is a tree, yet bears no fruit;
A beast, yet is, or should be, more;"

and he might have gone on to say that he is, or should be, a fish as

It will seem strange to any reader who can recall the position of my
Connie's room, that the nearest way to the breakwater should be through
that room; but so it was. I mention the fact because I want my readers
to understand a certain peculiarity of the room. By the side of the
window which looked out upon the breakwater was a narrow door,
apparently of a closet or cupboard, which communicated, however, with a
narrow, curving, wood-built passage, leading into a little wooden hut,
the walls of which were by no means impervious to the wind, for they
were formed of outside-planks, with the bark still upon them. From this
hut one or two little windows looked seaward, and a door led out on the
bit of sward in which lay the flower-bed under Connie's window. From
this spot again a door in the low wall and thick hedge led out on the
downs, where a path wound along the cliffs that formed the side of the
bay, till, descending under the storm-tower, it brought you to the root
of the breakwater.

This mole stretched its long strong low back to a rock a good way out,
breaking the force of the waves, and rendering the channel of a small
river, that here flowed into the sea across the sands from the mouth of
the canal, a refuge from the Atlantic. But it was a roadway often hard
to reach. In fair weather even, the wind falling as the vessel rounded
the point of the breakwater into the calm of the projecting headlands,
the under-current would sometimes dash her helpless on the rocks.
During all this heavenly summer there had been no thought or fear of
any such disaster. The present night was a hint of what weather would
yet come.

When I went into Connie's room, I found her lying in bed a very picture
of peace. But my entrance destroyed the picture.

"Papa," she said, "why have you got your coat on? Surely you are not
going out to-night. The wind is blowing dreadfully."

"Not very dreadfully, Connie. It blew much worse the night we found
your baby."

"But it is very dark."

"I allow that; but there is a glimmer from the sea. I am only going on
the breakwater for a few minutes. You know I like a stormy night quite
as much as a fine one."

"I shall be miserable till you come home, papa."

"Nonsense, Connie. You don't think your father hasn't sense to take
care of himself! Or rather, Connie, for I grant that is poor ground of
comfort, you don't think I can go anywhere without my Father to take
care of me?"

"But there is no occasion - is there, papa?"

"Do you think I should be better pleased with my boys if they shrunk
from everything involving the least possibility of danger because there
was no occasion for it? That is just the way to make cowards. And I am
certain God would not like his children to indulge in such moods of
self-preservation as that. He might well be ashamed of them. The
fearful are far more likely to meet with accidents than the courageous.
But really, Connie, I am almost ashamed of talking so. It is all your
fault. There is positively no ground for apprehension, and I hope you
won't spoil my walk by the thought that my foolish little girl is

"I will be good - indeed I will, papa," she said, holding up her mouth
to kiss me.

I left her room, and went through the wooden passage into the bark hut.
The wind roared about it, shook it, and pawed it, and sung and whistled
in the chinks of the planks. I went out and shut the door. That moment
the wind seized upon me, and I had to fight with it. When I got on the
path leading along the edge of the downs, I felt something lighter than
any feather fly in my face. When I put up my hand, I found my cheek
wet. Again and again I was thus assailed, but when I got to the
breakwater I found what it was. They were flakes of foam, bubbles
worked up into little masses of adhering thousands, which the wind blew
off the waters and across the downs, carrying some of them miles
inland. When I reached the breakwater, and looked along its ridge
through the darkness of the night, I was bewildered to see a whiteness
lying here and there in a great patch upon its top. They were but
accumulations of these foam-flakes, like soap-suds, lying so thick that
I expected to have to wade through them, only they vanished at the
touch of my feet. Till then I had almost believed it was snow I saw. On
the edge of the waves, in quieter spots, they lay like yeast, foaming
and working. Now and then a little rush of water from a higher wave
swept over the top of the broad breakwater, as with head bowed sideways
against the wind, I struggled along towards the rock at its end; but I
said to myself, "The tide is falling fast, and salt water hurts
nobody," and struggled on over the huge rough stones of the mighty
heap, outside which the waves were white with wrath, inside which they
had fallen asleep, only heaving with the memory of their late unrest. I
reached the tall rock at length, climbed the rude stair leading up to
the flagstaff, and looked abroad, if looking it could be called, into
the thick dark. But the wind blew so strong on the top that I was glad
to descend. Between me and the basin where yesterday morning I had
bathed in still water and sunshine with my boys, rolled the deathly
waves. I wandered on the rough narrow space yet uncovered, stumbling
over the stones and the rocky points between which they lay, stood here
and there half-meditating, and at length, finding a sheltered nook in a
mass of rock, sat with the wind howling and the waves bursting around
me. There I fell into a sort of brown study - almost a half-sleep.

But I had not sat long before I came broad awake, for I heard voices,
low and earnest. One I recognised as Joe's voice. The other was a
woman's. I could not tell what they said for some time, and therefore
felt no immediate necessity for disclosing my proximity, but sat
debating with myself whether I should speak to them or not. At length,
in a lull of the wind, I heard the woman say - I could fancy with a
sigh -

"I'm sure you'll du what is right, Joe. Don't 'e think o' me, Joe."

"It's just of you that I du think, Aggy. You know it ben't for my sake.
Surely you know that?"

There was no answer for a moment. I was still doubting what I had best
do - go away quietly or let them know I was there - when she spoke again.
There was a momentary lull now in the noises of both wind and water,
and I heard what she said well enough.

"It ben't for me to contradict you, Joe. But I don't think you be going
to die. You be no worse than last year. Be you now, Joe?"

It flashed across me how once before, a stormy night and darkness had
brought me close to a soul in agony. Then I was in agony myself; now
the world was all fair and hopeful around me - the portals of the world
beyond ever opening wider as I approached them, and letting out more of
their glory to gladden the path to their threshold. But here were two
souls straying in a mist which faith might roll away, and leave them
walking in the light. The moment was come. I must speak.

"Joe!" I called out.

"Who's there?" he cried; and I heard him start to his feet.

"Only Mr. Walton. Where are you?"

"We can't be very far off," he answered, not in a tone of any pleasure
at finding me so nigh.

I rose, and peering about through the darkness, found that they were a
little higher up on the same rock by which I was sheltered.

"You mustn't think," I said, "that I have been eavesdropping. I had no
idea anyone was near me till I heard your voices, and I did not hear a
word till just the last sentence or two."

"I saw someone go up the Castle-rock," said Joe; "but I thought he was
gone away again. It will be a lesson to me."

"I'm no tell-tale, Joe," I returned, as I scrambled up the rock. "You
will have no cause to regret that I happened to overhear a little. I am
sure, Joe, you will never say anything you need be ashamed of. But what
I heard was sufficient to let me into the secret of your trouble. Will
you let me talk to Joe, Agnes? I've been young myself, and, to tell the
truth, I don't think I'm old yet."

"I am sure, sir," she answered, "you won't be hard on Joe and me. I
don't suppose there be anything wrong in liking each other, though we
can't be - married."

She spoke in a low tone, and her voice trembled very much; yet there
was a certain womanly composure in her utterance. "I'm sure it's very
bold of me to talk so," she added, "but Joe will tell you all about it."

I was close beside them now, and fancied I saw through the dusk the
motion of her hand stealing into his.

"Well, Joe, this is just what I wanted," I said. "A woman can be braver
than a big smith sometimes. Agnes has done her part. Now you do yours,
and tell me all about it."

No response followed my adjuration. I must help him.

"I think I know how the matter lies, Joe. You think you are not going
to live long, and that therefore you ought not to marry. Am I right?"

"Not far off it, sir," he answered.

"Now, Joe," I said, "can't we talk as friends about this matter? I have
no right to intrude into your affairs - none in the least - except what
friendship gives me. If you say I am not to talk about it, I shall be
silent. To force advice upon you would be as impertinent as useless."

"It's all the same, I'm afraid, sir. My mind has been made up for a
long time. What right have I to bring other people into trouble? But I
take it kind of you, sir, though I mayn't look over-pleased. Agnes
wants to hear your way of it. I'm agreeable."

This was not very encouraging. Still I thought it sufficient ground for

"I suppose you will allow that the root of all Christian behaviour is
the will of God?"

"Surely, sir."

"Is it not the will of God, then, that when a man and woman love each
other, they should marry?"

"Certainly, sir - where there be no reasons against it."

"Of course. And you judge you see reason for not doing so, else you

"I do see that a man should not bring a woman into trouble for the sake
of being comfortable himself for the rest of a few weary days."

Agnes was sobbing gently behind her handkerchief. I knew how gladly she
would be Joe's wife, if only to nurse him through his last illness.

"Not except it would make her comfortable too, I grant you, Joe. But
listen to me. In the first place, you don't know, and you are not
required to know, when you are going to die. In fact, you have nothing
to do with it. Many a life has been injured by the constant expectation
of death. It is life we have to do with, not death. The best
preparation for the night is to work while the day lasts, diligently.
The best preparation for death is life. Besides, I have known delicate
people who have outlived all their strong relations, and been left
alone in the earth - because they had possibly taken too much care of
themselves. But marriage is God's will, and death is God's will, and
you have no business to set the one over against, as antagonistic to,
the other. For anything you know, the gladness and the peace of
marriage may be the very means intended for your restoration to health
and strength. I suspect your desire to marry, fighting against the
fancy that you ought not to marry, has a good deal to do with the state
of health in which you now find yourself. A man would get over many
things if he were happy, that he cannot get over when he is miserable."

"But it's for Aggy. You forget that."

"I do not forget it. What right have you to seek for her another kind
of welfare than you would have yourself? Are you to treat her as if she
were worldly when you are not - to provide for her a comfort which
yourself you would despise? Why should you not marry because you have
to die soon? - if you _are_ thus doomed, which to me is by no means

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe Seaboard Parish Volume 2 → online text (page 10 of 12)