George MacDonald.

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bay, for the Friday of this same week.

The morning rose gloriously. Harry and Charlie were turning the house
upside down, to judge by their noise, long before I was in the humour
to get up, for I had been reading late the night before. I never made
much objection to mere noise, knowing that I could stop it the moment I
pleased, and knowing, which was of more consequence, that so far from
there being anything wrong in making a noise, the sea would make noise
enough in our ears before we left Kilkhaven. The moment, however, that
I heard a thread of whining or a burst of anger in the noise, I would
interfere at once - treating these just as things that must be dismissed
at once. Harry and Charlie were, I say, to use their own form of
speech, making such a row that morning, however, that I was afraid of
some injury to the house or furniture, which were not our own. So I
opened my door and called out -

"Harry! Charlie! What on earth are you about?"

"Nothing, papa," answered Charlie. "Only it's so jolly!"

"What is jolly, my boy?" I asked.

"O, I don't know, papa! It's _so_ jolly!"

"Is it the sunshine?" thought I; "and the wind? God's world all over?
The God of gladness in the hearts of the lads? Is it that? No wonder,
then, that they cannot tell yet what it is!"

I withdrew into my room; and so far from seeking to put an end to the
noise - I knew Connie did not mind it - listened to it with a kind of
reverence, as the outcome of a gladness which the God of joy had
kindled in their hearts. Soon after, however, I heard certain dim
growls of expostulation from Harry, and having, from experience, ground
for believing that the elder was tyrannising over the younger, I
stopped that and the noise together, sending Charlie to find out where
the tide would be between one and two o'clock, and Harry to run to the
top of the hill, and find out the direction of the wind. Before I was
dressed, Charlie was knocking at my door with the news that it would be
half-tide about one; and Harry speedily followed with the discovery
that the wind was north-east by south-west, which of course determined
that the sun would shine all day.

As the dinner-hour drew near, the servants went over, with Walter at
their head, to choose a rock convenient for a table, under the shelter
of the rocks on the sands across the bay. Thither, when Walter
returned, we bore our Connie, carrying her litter close by the edge of
the retreating tide, which sometimes broke in a ripple of music under
her, wetting our feet with innocuous rush. The child's delight was
extreme, as she thus skimmed the edge of the ocean, with the little
ones gambolling about her, and her mamma and Wynnie walking quietly on
the landward side, for she wished to have no one between her and the

After scrambling with difficulty over some rocky ledges, and stopping
at Connie's request, to let her look into a deep pool in the sand,
which somehow or other retained the water after the rest had retreated,
we set her down near the mouth of a cave, in the shadow of a rock. And
there was our dinner nicely laid for us on a flat rock in front of the
cave. The cliffs rose behind us, with curiously curved and variously
angled strata. The sun in his full splendour threw dark shadows on the
brilliant yellow sand, more and more of which appeared as the bright
blue water withdrew itself, now rippling over it as if it meant to hide
it all up again, now uncovering more as it withdrew for another rush.
Before we had finished our dinner, the foremost wavelets appeared so
far away over the plain of the sand, that it seemed a long walk to the
edge that had been almost at our feet a little while ago. Between us
and it lay a lovely desert of glittering sand.

When even Charlie and Harry had arrived at the conclusion that it was
time to stop eating, we left the shadow and went out into the sun,
carrying Connie and laying her down in the midst of "the ribbed
sea-sand," which was very ribby to-day. On a shawl a little way off
from her lay her baby, crowing and kicking with the same jollity that
had possessed the boys ever since the morning. I wandered about with
Wynnie on the sands, picking up amongst other things strange creatures
in thin shells ending in vegetable-like tufts, if I remember rightly.
My wife sat on the end of Connie's litter, and Dora and the boys, a
little way off, were trying how far the full force of three wooden
spades could, in digging a hole, keep ahead of the water which was ever
tumbling in the sand from the sides of the same. Behind, the servants
were busy washing the plates in a pool, and burying the fragments of
the feast; for I made it a rule wherever we went that the fair face of
nature was not to be defiled. I have always taken the part of
excursionists in these latter days of running to and fro, against those
who complain that the loveliest places are being destroyed by their
inroads. But there is one most offensive, even disgusting habit amongst
them - that of leaving bones, fragments of meat pies, and worse than
all, pieces of greasy paper about the place, which I cannot excuse, or
at least defend. Even the surface of Cumberland and Westmoreland lakes
will be defiled with these floating abominations - not abominations at
all if they are decently burned or buried when done with, but certainly
abominations when left to be cast hither and thither in the wind, over
the grass, or on the eddy and ripple of the pure water, for days after
those who have thus left their shame behind them have returned to their
shops or factories. I forgive them for trampling down the grass and the
ferns. That cannot be helped, and in comparison of the good they get,
is not to be considered at all. But why should they leave such a savage
trail behind them as this, forgetting too that though they have done
with the spot, there are others coming after them to whom these
remnants must be an offence?

At length in our roaming, Wynnie and I approached a long low ridge of
rock, rising towards the sea into which it ran. Crossing this, we came
suddenly upon the painter whom Dora had called Niceboots, sitting with
a small easel before him. We were right above him ere we knew. He had
his back towards us, so that we saw at once what he was painting.

"O, papa!" cried Wynnie involuntarily, and the painter looked round.

"I beg your pardon," I said. "We came over from the other side, and did
not see you before. I hope we have not disturbed you much."

"Not in the least," he answered courteously, and rose as he spoke.

I saw that the subject on his easel suggested that of which Wynnie had
been making a sketch at the same time, on the day when Connie first lay
on the top of the opposite cliff. But he was not even looking in the
same direction now.

"Do you mind having your work seen before it is finished?"

"Not in the least, if the spectators will do me the favour to remember
that most processes have to go through a seemingly chaotic stage," he

I was struck with the mode and tone of the remark.

"Here is no common man," I said to myself, and responded to him in
something of a similar style.

"I wish we could always keep that in mind with regard to human beings
themselves, as well as their works," I said aloud.

The painter looked at me, and I looked at him.

"We speak each from the experience of his own profession, I presume,"
he said.

"But," I returned, glancing at the little picture in oils upon his
easel, "your work here, though my knowledge of painting is next to
nothing - perhaps I ought to say nothing at all - this picture must have
long ago passed the chaotic stage."

"It is nearly as much finished as I care to make it," he returned. "I
hardly count this work at all. I am chiefly amusing, or rather
pleasing, my own fancy at present."

"Apparently," I remarked, "you had the conical rock outside the hay for
your model, and now you are finishing it with your back turned towards
it. How is that?"

"I will soon explain," he answered. "The moment I saw this rock, it
reminded me of Dante's Purgatory."

"Ah, you are a reader of Dante?" I said. "In the original, I hope."

"Yes. A friend of mine, a brother painter, an Italian, set me going
with that, and once going with Dante, nobody could well stop. I never
knew what intensity _per se_ was till I began to read Dante."

"That is quite my own feeling. Now, to return to your picture."

"Without departing at all from natural forms, I thought to make it
suggest the Purgatorio to anyone who remembered the description given
of the place _ab extra_ by Ulysses, in the end of the twenty-sixth
canto of the Inferno. Of course, that thing there is a mere rock, yet
it has certain mountain forms about it. I have put it at a much greater
distance, you see, and have sought to make it look a solitary mountain
in the midst of a great water. You will discover even now that the
circles of the Purgatory are suggested without any approach, I think,
to artificial structure; and there are occasional hints at figures,
which you cannot definitely detach from the rocks - which, by the way,
you must remember, were in one part full of sculptures. I have kept the
mountain near enough, however, to indicate the great expanse of wild
flowers on the top, which Matilda was so busy gathering. I want to
indicate too the wind up there in the terrestrial paradise, ever and
always blowing one way. You remember, Mr. Walton?" - for the young man,
getting animated, began to talk as if we had known each other for some
time - and here he repeated the purport of Dante's words in English:

"An air of sweetness, changeless in its flow,
With no more strength than in a soft wind lies,
Smote peacefully against me on the brow.
By which the leaves all trembling, level-wise,
Did every one bend thitherward to where
The high mount throws its shadow at sunrise."

"I thought you said you did not use translations?"

"I thought it possible that - Miss Walton (?)" interrogatively
this - "might not follow the Italian so easily, and I feared to seem

"She won't lag far behind, I flatter myself," I returned. "Whose
translation do you quote?"

He hesitated a moment; then said carelessly:

"I have cobbled a few passages after that fashion myself."

"It has the merit of being near the original at least," I returned;
"and that seems to me one of the chief merits a translation can

"Then," the painter resumed, rather hastily, as if to avoid any further
remark upon his verses, "you see those white things in the air above?"
Here he turned to Wynnie. "Miss Walton will remember - I think she was
making a drawing of the rock at the same time I was - how the seagulls,
or some such birds - only two or three of them - kept flitting about the
top of it?"

"I remember quite well," answered Wynnie, with a look of appeal to me.

"Yes," I interposed; "my daughter, in describing what she had been
attempting to draw, spoke especially of the birds over the rock. For
she said the white lapping of the waves looked like spirits trying to
get loose, and the white birds like foam that had broken its chains,
and risen in triumph into the air."

Here Mr. Niceboots, for as yet I did not know what else to call him,
looked at Wynnie almost with a start.

"How wonderfully that falls in with my fancy about the rock!" he said.
"Purgatory indeed! with imprisoned souls lapping at its foot, and the
free souls winging their way aloft in ether. Well, this world is a kind
of purgatory anyhow - is it not, Mr. Walton?"

"Certainly it is. We are here tried as by fire, to see what our work
is - whether wood, hay, and stubble, or gold and silver and precious

"You see," resumed the painter, "if anybody only glanced at my little
picture, he would take those for sea-birds; but if he looked into it,
and began to suspect me, he would find out that they were Dante and
Beatrice on their way to the sphere of the moon."

"In one respect at least, then, your picture has the merit of
corresponding to fact; for what thing is there in the world, or what
group of things, in which the natural man will not see merely the
things of nature, but the spiritual man the things of the spirit?"

"I am no theologian," said the painter, turning away, I thought
somewhat coldly.

But I could see that Wynnie was greatly interested in him. Perhaps she
thought that here was some enlightenment of the riddle of the world for
her, if she could but get at what he was thinking. She was used to my
way of it: here might be something new.

"If I can be of any service to Miss Walton with her drawing, I shall be
happy," he said, turning again towards me.

But his last gesture had made me a little distrustful of him, and I
received his advances on this point with a coldness which I did not
wish to make more marked than his own towards my last observation.

"You are very kind," I said; "but Miss Walton does not presume to be an

I saw a slight shade pass over Wynnie's countenance. When I turned to
Mr. Niceboots, a shade of a different sort was on his. Surely I had
said something wrong to cast a gloom on two young faces. I made haste
to make amends.

"We are just going to have some coffee," I said, "for my servants, I
see, have managed to kindle a fire. Will you come and allow me to
introduce you to Mrs. Walton?"

"With much pleasure," he answered, rising from the rock whereon, as he
spoke about his picture, he had again seated himself. He was a
fine-built, black-bearded, sunburnt fellow, with clear gray eyes
notwithstanding, a rather Roman nose, and good features generally. But
there was an air of suppression, if not of sadness, about him, however,
did not in the least interfere with the manliness of his countenance,
or of its expression.

"But," I said, "how am I to effect an introduction, seeing I do not yet
know your name."

I had had to keep a sharp look-out on myself lest I should call him Mr.
Niceboots. He smiled very graciously and replied,

"My name is Percivale - Charles Percivale."

"A descendant of Sir Percivale of King Arthur's Round Table?"

"I cannot count quite so far back," he answered, "as that - not quite to
the Conquest," he added, with a slight deepening of his sunburnt hue.
"I do come of a fighting race, but I cannot claim Sir Percivale."

We were now walking along the edge of the still retreating waves
towards the group upon the sands, Mr. Percivale and I foremost, and
Wynnie lingering behind.

"O, do look here papa!" she cried, from some little distance.

We turned and saw her gazing at something on the sand at her feet.
Hastening back, we found it to be a little narrow line of foam-bubbles,
which the water had left behind it on the sand, slowly breaking and
passing out of sight. Why there should be foam-bubbles there then, and
not always, I do not know. But there they were - and such colours! deep
rose and grassy green and ultramarine blue; and, above all, one dark,
yet brilliant and intensely-burnished, metallic gold. All of them were
of a solid-looking burnished colour, like opaque body-colour laid on
behind translucent crystal. Those little ocean bubbles were well worth
turning to see; and so I said to Wynnie. But, as we gazed, they went on
vanishing, one by one. Every moment a heavenly glory of hue burst, and
was nowhere.

We walked away again towards the rest of our party.

"Don't you think those bubbles more beautiful than any precious stones
you ever saw, papa?"

"Yes, my love, I think they are, except it be the opal. In the opal,
God seems to have fixed the evanescent and made the vanishing eternal."

"And flowers are more beautiful things than jewels?' she said

"Many - perhaps most flowers are," I granted. "And did you ever see such
curves and delicate textures anywhere else as in the clouds, papa?"

"I think not - in the cirrhous clouds at least - the frozen ones. But
what are you putting me to my catechism for in this way, my child?"

"O, papa, I could go on a long time with that catechism; but I will end
with one question more, which you will perhaps find a little harder to
answer. Only I daresay you have had an answer ready for years lest one
of us should ask you some day."

"No, my love. I never got an answer ready for anything lest one of my
children should ask me. But it is not surprising either that children
should be puzzled about the things that have puzzled their father, or
that by the time they are able to put the questions, he should have
found out some sort of an answer to most of them. Go on with your
catechism, Wynnie. Now for your puzzle!"

"It's not a funny question, papa; it's a very serious one. I can't
think why the unchanging God should have made all the most beautiful
things wither and grow ugly, or burst and vanish, or die somehow and be
no more. Mamma is not so beautiful as she once was, is she?"

"In one way, no; but in another and better way, much more so. But we
will not talk about her kind of beauty just now; we will keep to the
more material loveliness of which you have been speaking - though, in
truth, no loveliness can be only material. Well, then, for my answer;
it is, I think, because God loves the beauty so much that he makes all
beautiful things vanish quickly."

"I do not understand you, papa."

"I daresay not, my dear. But I will explain to you a little, if Mr.
Percivale will excuse me."

"On the contrary, I am greatly interested, both in the question and the

"Well, then, Wynnie; everything has a soul and a body, or something
like them. By the body we know the soul. But we are always ready to
love the body instead of the soul. Therefore, God makes the body die
continually, that we may learn to love the soul indeed. The world is
full of beautiful things, but God has saved many men from loving the
mere bodies of them, by making them poor; and more still by reminding
them that if they be as rich as Croesus all their lives, they will be
as poor as Diogenes - poorer, without even a tub - when this world, with
all its pictures, scenery, books, and - alas for some
Christians! - bibles even, shall have vanished away."

"Why do you say _alas_, papa - if they are Christians especially?"

"I say _alas_ only from their point of view, not from mine. I mean such
as are always talking and arguing from the Bible, and never giving
themselves any trouble to do what it tells them. They insist on the
anise and cummin, and forget the judgment, mercy, and faith. These
worship the body of the truth, and forget the soul of it. If the
flowers were not perishable, we should cease to contemplate their
beauty, either blinded by the passion for hoarding the bodies of them,
or dulled by the hebetude of commonplaceness that the constant presence
of them would occasion. To compare great things with small, the flowers
wither, the bubbles break, the clouds and sunsets pass, for the very
same holy reason, in the degree of its application to them, for which
the Lord withdrew from his disciples and ascended again to his
Father - that the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Soul of things,
might come to them and abide with them, and so the Son return, and the
Father be revealed. The flower is not its loveliness, and its
loveliness we must love, else we shall only treat them as flower-greedy
children, who gather and gather, and fill hands and baskets, from a
mere desire of acquisition, excusable enough in them, but the same in
kind, however harmless in mode, and degree, and object, as the avarice
of the miser. Therefore God, that we may always have them, and ever
learn to love their beauty, and yet more their truth, sends the
beneficent winter that we may think about what we have lost, and
welcome them when they come again with greater tenderness and love,
with clearer eyes to see, and purer hearts to understand, the spirit
that dwells in them. We cannot do without the 'winter of our
discontent.' Shakspere surely saw that when he makes Titania say, in _A
Midsummer Night's Dream_:

'The human mortals want their winter here' -

namely, to set things right; and none of those editors who would alter
the line seem to have been capable of understanding its import."

"I think I understand you a little," answered Wynnie. Then, changing
her tone, "I told you, papa, you would have an answer ready; didn't I?"

"Yes, my child; but with this difference - I found the answer to meet my
own necessities, not yours."

"And so you had it ready for me when I wanted it."

"Just so. That is the only certainty you have in regard to what you
give away. No one who has not tasted it and found it good has a right
to offer any spiritual dish to his neighbour."

Mr. Percivale took no part in our conversation. The moment I had
presented him to Mrs. Walton and Connie, and he had paid his respects
by a somewhat stately old-world obeisance, he merged the salutation
into a farewell, and, either forgetting my offer of coffee, or having
changed his mind, withdrew, a little to my disappointment, for,
notwithstanding his lack of response where some things he said would
have led me to expect it, I had begun to feel much interested in him.

He was scarcely beyond hearing, when Dora came up to me from her
digging, with an eager look on her sunny face.

"Hasn't he got nice boots, papa?"

"Indeed, my dear, I am unable to support you in that assertion, for I
never saw his boots."

"I did, then," returned the child; "and I never saw such nice boots."

"I accept the statement willingly," I replied; and we heard no more of
the boots, for his name was now substituted for his nickname. Nor did I
see himself again for some days - not in fact till next Sunday - though
why he should come to church at all was something of a puzzle to me,
especially when I knew him better.



The next day I set out after breakfast to inquire about a blacksmith.
It was not every or any blacksmith that would do. I must not fix on the
first to do my work because he was the first. There was one in the
village, I soon learned; but I found him an ordinary man, who, I have
no doubt, could shoe a horse and avoid the quick, but from whom any
greater delicacy of touch was not to be expected. Inquiring further, I
heard of a young smith who had lately settled in a hamlet a couple of
miles distant, but still within the parish. In the afternoon I set out
to find him. To my surprise, he was a pale-faced, thoughtful-looking
man, with a huge frame, which appeared worn rather than naturally thin,
and large eyes that looked at the anvil as if it was the horizon of the
world. He had got a horse-shoe in his tongs when I entered.
Notwithstanding the fire that glowed on the hearth, and the sparks that
flew like a nimbus in eruption from about his person, the place looked
very dark to me entering from the glorious blaze of the almost noontide
sun, and felt cool after the deep lane through which I had come, and
which had seemed a very reservoir of sunbeams. I could see the smith by
the glow of his horse-shoe; but all between me and the shoe was dark.

"Good-morning," I said. "It is a good thing to find a man by his work.
I heard you half a mile off or so, and now I see you, but only by the
glow of your work. It is a grand thing to work in fire."

He lifted his hammered hand to his forehead courteously, and as lightly
as if the hammer had been the butt-end of a whip.

"I don't know if you would say the same if you had to work at it in
weather like this," he answered.

"If I did not," I returned, "that would be the fault of my weakness,
and would not affect the assertion I have just made, that it is a fine
thing to work in fire."

"Well, you may be right," he rejoined with a sigh, as, throwing the
horse-shoe he had been fashioning from the tongs on the ground, he next
let the hammer drop beside the anvil, and leaning against it held his
head for a moment between his hands, and regarded the floor. "It does
not much matter to me," he went on, "if I only get through my work and
have done with it. No man shall say I shirked what I'd got to do. And
then when it's over there won't be a word to say agen me, or - "

He did not finish the sentence. And now I could see the sunlight lying
in a somewhat dreary patch, if the word _dreary_ can be truly used with
respect to any manifestation of sunlight, on the dark clay floor.

"I hope you are not ill," I said.

He made no answer, but taking up his tongs caught with it from a beam
one of a number of roughly-finished horse-shoes which hung there, and
put it on the fire to be fashioned to a certain fit. While he turned it

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