George MacDonald.

The Seaboard Parish Volume 2 online

. (page 4 of 12)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe Seaboard Parish Volume 2 → online text (page 4 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

evidently interested in them. Wynnie stood behind Connie, looking over
her shoulder at the drawing in her hand.

"How do you get that shade of green?" I heard her ask as I came up.

And then Mr. Percivale proceeded to tell her; from which beginning they
went on to other things, till Mr. Percivale said -

"But it is hardly fair, Miss Walton; to criticise my work while you
keep your own under cover."

"I wasn't criticising, Mr. Percivale; was I, Connie?"

"I didn't hear her make a single remark, Mr. Percivale," said Connie,
taking her sister's side.

To my surprise they were talking away with the young man as if they had
known him for years, and my wife was seated at the foot of the couch,
apparently taking no exception to the suddenness of the intimacy. I am
afraid, when I think of it, that a good many springs would be missing
from the world's history if they might not flow till the papas gave
their wise consideration to everything about the course they were to

"I think, though," added Connie, "it is only fair that Mr. Percivale
_should_ see your work, Wynnie."

"Then I will fetch my portfolio, if Mr. Percivale will promise to
remember that I have no opinion of it. At the same time, if I could do
what I wanted to do, I think I should not be ashamed of showing my
drawings even to him."

And now I was surprised to find how like grown women my daughters could
talk. To me they always spoke like the children they were; but when I
heard them now it seemed as if they had started all at once into ladies
experienced in the ways of society. There they were chatting lightly,
airily, and yet decidedly, a slight tone of badinage interwoven, with a
young man of grace and dignity, whom they had only seen once before,
and who had advanced no farther, with Connie at least, than a stately
bow. They had, however, been a whole hour together before I arrived,
and their mother had been with them all the while, which gives great
courage to good girls, while, I am told, it shuts the mouths of those
who are sly. But then it must be remembered that there are as great
differences in mothers as in girls. And besides, I believe wise girls
have an instinct about men that all the experience of other men cannot
overtake. But yet again, there are many girls foolish enough to mistake
a mere impulse for instinct, and vanity for insight.

As Wynnie spoke, she turned and went back to the house to fetch some of
her work. Now, had she been going a message for me, she would have gone
like the wind; but on this occasion she stepped along in a stately
manner, far from devoid of grace, but equally free from frolic or
eagerness. And I could not help noting as well that Mr. Percivale's
eyes followed her. What I felt or fancied is of no consequence to
anybody. I do not think, even if I were writing an autobiography, I
should be forced to tell _all_ about myself. But an autobiography is
further from my fancy, however much I may have trenched upon its
limits, than any other form of literature with which I am acquainted.

She was not long in returning, however, though she came back with the
same dignified motion.

"There is nothing really worth either showing or concealing," she said
to Mr. Percivale, as she handed him the portfolio, to help himself, as
it were. She then turned away, as if a little feeling of shyness had
come over her, and began to look for something to do about Connie. I
could see that, although she had hitherto been almost indifferent about
the merit of her drawings, she had a new-born wish that they might not
appear altogether contemptible in the eyes of Mr. Percivale. And I saw,
too, that Connie's wide eyes were taking in everything. It was
wonderful how Connie's deprivations had made her keen in observing. Now
she hastened to her sister's rescue even from such a slight
inconvenience as the shadow of embarrassment in which she found
herself - perhaps from having seen some unusual expression in my face,
of which I was unconscious, though conscious enough of what might have
occasioned such.

"Give me your hand, Wynnie," said Connie, "and help me to move one inch
further on my side. - I may move just that much on my side, mayn't I,

"I think you had better not, my dear, if you can do without it," I
answered; for the doctor's injunctions had been strong.

"Very well, papa; but I feel as if it would do me good."

"Mr. Turner will be here next week, you know; and you must try to stick
to his rules till he comes to see you. Perhaps he will let you relax a

Connie smiled very sweetly and lay still, while Wynnie stood holding
her hand.

Meantime Mr. Percivale, having received the drawings, had walked away
with them towards what they called the storm tower - a little building
standing square to the points of the compass, from little windows, in
which the coastguard could see with their telescopes along the coast on
both sides and far out to sea. This tower stood on the very edge of the
cliff, but behind it there was a steep descent, to reach which
apparently he went round the tower and disappeared. He evidently wanted
to make a leisurely examination of the drawings - somewhat formidable
for Wynnie, I thought. At the same time, it impressed me favourably
with regard to the young man that he was not inclined to pay a set of
stupid and untrue compliments the instant the portfolio was opened,
but, on the contrary, in order to speak what was real about them, would
take the trouble to make himself in some adequate measure acquainted
with them. I therefore, to Wynnie's relief, I fear, strolled after him,
seeing no harm in taking a peep at his person, while he was taking a
peep at my daughter's mind. I went round the tower to the other side,
and there saw him at a little distance below me, but further out on a
great rock that overhung the sea, connected with the cliff by a long
narrow isthmus, a few yards lower than the cliff itself, only just
broad enough to admit of a footpath along its top, and on one side
going sheer down with a smooth hard rock-face to the sands below. The
other side was less steep, and had some grass upon it. But the path was
too narrow, and the precipice too steep, for me to trust my head with
the business of guiding my feet along it. So I stood and saw him from
the mainland - saw his head at least bent over the drawings; saw how
slowly he turned from one to the other; saw how, after having gone over
them once, he turned to the beginning and went over them again, even
more slowly than before; saw how he turned the third time to the first.
Then, getting tired, I went back to the group on the down; caught sight
of Charlie and Harry turning heels over head down the slope toward the
house; found that my wife had gone home - in fact, that only Connie and
Wynnie were left. The sun had disappeared under a cloud, and the sea
had turned a little slaty; the yellow flowers in the short down-grass
no longer caught the eye with their gold, and the wind that bent their
tops had just the suspicion of an edge in it. And Wynnie's face looked
a little cloudy too, I thought, and I feared that it was my fault. I
fancied there was just a tinge of beseeching in Connie's eye, as I
looked at her, thinking there might be danger for her in the
sunlessness of the wind. But I do not know that all this, even the
clouding of the sun, may not have come out of my own mind, the result
of my not being quite satisfied with myself because of the mood I had
been in. My feeling had altered considerably in the mean time.

"Run, Wynnie, and ask Mr. Percivale, with my compliments, to come and
lunch with us," I said - more to let her see I was not displeased,
however I might have looked, than for any other reason. She
went - sedately as before.

Almost as soon as she was gone, I saw that I had put her in a
difficulty. For I had discovered, very soon after coming into these
parts, that her head was no more steady than my own on high places, for
she up had never been used to such in our own level country, except,
indeed, on the stair that led down to the old quarry and the well,
where, I can remember now, she always laid her hand on the balustrade
with some degree of tremor, although she had been in the way of going
up and down from childhood. But if she could not cross that narrow and
really dangerous isthmus, still less could she call to a man she had
never seen but once, across the intervening chasm. I therefore set off
after her, leaving Connie lying there in loneliness, between the sea
and the sky. But when I got to the other side of the little tower,
instead of finding her standing hesitating on the brink of action,
there she was on the rock beyond. Mr. Percivale had risen, and was
evidently giving an answer to my invitation; at least, the next moment
she turned to come back, and he followed. I stood trembling almost to
see her cross the knife-back of that ledge. If I had not been almost
fascinated, I should have turned and left them to come together, lest
the evil fancy should cross her mind that I was watching them, for it
was one thing to watch him with her drawings, and quite another to
watch him with herself. But I stood and stared as she crossed. In the
middle of the path, however - up to which point she had been walking
with perfect steadiness and composure - she lifted her eyes - by what
influence I cannot tell - saw me, looked as if she saw ghost, half
lifted her arms, swayed as if she would fall, and, indeed, was falling
over the precipice when Percivale, who was close behind her caught her
in his arms, almost too late for both of them. So nearly down was she
already, that her weight bent him over the rocky side, till it seemed
as if he must yield, or his body snap. For he bent from the waist, and
looked as if his feet only kept a hold on the ground. It was all over
in a moment, but in that moment it made a sun-picture on my brain,
which returns, ever and again, with such vivid agony that I cannot hope
to get rid of it till I get rid of the brain itself in which lies the
impress. In another moment they were at my side - she with a wan,
terrified smile, he in a ruddy alarm. I was unable to speak, and could
only, with trembling steps, lead the way from the dreadful spot. I
reproached myself afterwards for my want of faith in God; but I had not
had time to correct myself yet. Without a word on their side either,
they followed me. Before we reached Connie, I recovered myself
sufficiently to say, "Not a word to Connie," and they understood me. I
told Wynnie to run to the house, and send Walter to help me to carry
Connie home. She went, and, until Walter came, I talked to Mr.
Percivale as if nothing had happened. And what made me feel yet more
friendly towards him was, that he did not do as some young men wishing
to ingratiate themselves would have done: he did not offer to help me
to carry Connie home. I saw that the offer rose in his mind, and that
he repressed it. He understood that I must consider such a permission
as a privilege not to be accorded to the acquaintance of a day; that I
must know him better before I could allow the weight of my child to
rest on his strength. I was even grateful to him for this knowledge of
human nature. But he responded cordially to my invitation to lunch with
us, and walked by my side as Walter and I bore the precious burden home.

During our meal, he made himself quite agreeable; talked well on the
topics of the day, not altogether as a man who had made up his mind,
but not the less, rather the more, as a man who had thought about them,
and one who did not find it so easy to come to a conclusion as most
people do - or possibly as not feeling the necessity of coming to a
conclusion, and therefore preferring to allow the conclusion to grow
instead of constructing one for immediate use. This I rather liked than
otherwise. His behaviour, I need hardly say, after what I have told of
him already, was entirely that of a gentleman; and his education was
good. But what I did not like was, that as often as the conversation
made a bend in the direction of religious matters, he was sure to bend
it away in some other direction as soon as ever he laid his next hold
upon it. This, however, might have various reasons to account for it,
and I would wait.

After lunch, as we rose from the table, he took Wynnie's portfolio from
the side-table where he had laid it, and with no more than a bow and
thanks returned it to her. She, I thought, looked a little
disappointed, though she said as lightly as she could:

"I am afraid you have not found anything worthy of criticism in my poor
attempts, Mr. Percivale?"

"On the contrary, I shall be most happy to tell you what I think of
them if you would like to hear the impression they have made upon me,"
he replied, holding out his hand to take the portfolio again.

"I shall be greatly obliged to you," she said, returning it, "for I
have had no one to help me since I left school, except a book called
_Modern Painters_, which I think has the most beautiful things in it I
ever read, but which I lay down every now and then with a kind of
despair, as if I never could do anything worth doing. How long the next
volume is in coming! Do you know the author, Mr. Percivale?"

"I wish I did. He has given me much help. I do not say I can agree with
everything he writes; but when I do not, I have such a respect for him
that I always feel as if he must be right whether he seems to me to be
right or not. And if he is severe, it is with the severity of love that
will speak only the truth."

This last speech fell on my ear like the tone of a church bell. "That
will do, my friend," thought I. But I said nothing to interrupt.

By this time he had laid the portfolio open on the side-table, and
placed a chair in front of it for my daughter. Then seating himself by
her side, but without the least approach to familiarity, he began to
talk to her about her drawings, praising, in general, the feeling, but
finding fault with the want of nicety in the execution - at least so it
appeared to me from what I could understand of the conversation.

"But," said my daughter, "it seems to me that if you get the feeling
right, that is the main thing."

"No doubt," returned Mr. Percivale; "so much the main thing that any
imperfection or coarseness or untruth which interferes with it becomes
of the greatest consequence."

"But can it really interfere with the feeling?"

"Perhaps not with most people, simply because most people observe so
badly that their recollections of nature are all blurred and blotted
and indistinct, and therefore the imperfections we are speaking of do
not affect them. But with the more cultivated it is otherwise. It is
for them you ought to work, for you do not thereby lose the others.
Besides, the feeling is always intensified by the finish, for that
belongs to the feeling too, and must, I should think, have some
influence even where it is not noted."

"But is it not a hopeless thing to attempt the finish of nature?"

"Not at all; to the degree, that is, in which you can represent
anything else of nature. But in this drawing now you have no
representative of, nothing to hint at or recall the feeling of the
exquisiteness of nature's finish. Why should you not at least have
drawn a true horizon-line there? Has the absolute truth of the meeting
of sea and sky nothing to do with the feeling which such a landscape
produces? I should have thought you would have learned that, if
anything, from Mr. Ruskin."

Mr. Percivale spoke earnestly. Wynnie, either from disappointment or
despair, probably from a mixture of both, apparently fancied that, or
rather felt as if, he was scolding her, and got cross. This was
anything but dignified, especially with a stranger, and one who was
doing his best to help her. And yet, somehow, I must with shame confess
I was not altogether sorry to see it. In fact, my reader, I must just
uncover my sin, and say that I felt a little jealous of Mr. Percivale.
The negative reason was that I had not yet learned to love him. The
only cure for jealousy is love. But I was ashamed too of Wynnie's
behaving so childishly. Her face flushed, the tears came in her eyes,
and she rose, saying, with a little choke in her voice -

"I see it's no use trying. I won't intrude any more into things I am
incapable of. I am much obliged to you, Mr. Percivale, for showing me
how presumptuous I have been."

The painter rose as she rose, looking greatly concerned. But he did not
attempt to answer her. Indeed she gave him no time. He could only
spring after her to open the door for her. A more than respectful bow
as she left the room was his only adieu. But when he turned his face
again towards me, it expressed even a degree of consternation.

"I fear," he said, approaching me with an almost military step, much at
variance with the shadow upon his countenance, "I fear I have been rude
to Miss Walton, but nothing was farther - "

"You mistake entirely, Mr. Percivale. I heard all you were saying, and
you were not in the least rude. On the contrary, I consider you were
very kind to take the trouble with her you did. Allow me to make the
apology for my daughter which I am sure she will wish made when she
recovers from the disappointment of finding more obstacles in the way
of her favourite pursuit than she had previously supposed. She is only
too ready to lose heart, and she paid too little attention to your
approbation and too much - in proportion, I mean - to your - criticism.
She felt discouraged and lost her temper, but more with herself and her
poor attempts, I venture to assure you, than with your remarks upon
them. She is too much given to despising her own efforts."

"But I must have been to blame if I caused any such feeling with regard
to those drawings, for I assure you they contain great promise."

"I am glad you think so. That I should myself be of the same opinion
can be of no consequence."

"Miss Walton at least sees what ought to be represented. All she needs
is greater severity in the quality of representation. And that would
have grown without any remark from onlookers. Only a friendly criticism
is sometimes a great help. It opens the eyes a little sooner than they
would have opened of themselves. And time," he added, with a half sigh
and with an appeal in his tone, as if he would justify himself to my
conscience, "is half the battle in this world. It is over so soon."

"No sooner than it ought to be," I rejoined.

"So it may appear to you," he returned; "for you, I presume to
conjecture, have worked hard and done much. I may or may not have
worked hard - sometimes I think I have, sometimes I think I have
not - but I certainly have done little. Here I am nearly thirty, and
have made no mark on the world yet."

"I don't know that that is of so much consequence," I said. "I have
never hoped for more than to rub out a few of the marks already made."

"Perhaps you are right," he returned. "Every man has something he can
do, and more, I suppose, that he can't do. But I have no right to turn
a visit into a visitation. Will you please tell Miss Walton that I am
very sorry I presumed on the privileges of a drawing-master, and gave
her pain. It was so far from my intention that it will be a lesson to
me for the future."

With these words he took his leave, and I could not help being greatly
pleased both with them and with his bearing. He was clearly anything
but a common man.



When Wynnie appeared at dinner she looked ashamed of herself, and her
face betrayed that she had been crying. But I said nothing, for I had
confidence that all she needed was time to come to herself, that the
voice that speaks louder than any thunder might make its stillness
heard. And when I came home from my walk the next morning I found Mr.
Percivale once more in the group about Connie, and evidently on the
best possible terms with all. The same afternoon Wynnie went out
sketching with Dora. I had no doubt that she had made some sort of
apology to Mr. Percivale; but I did not make the slightest attempt to
discover what had passed between them, for though it is of all things
desirable that children should be quite open with their parents, I was
most anxious to lay upon them no burden of obligation. For such burden
lies against the door of utterance, and makes it the more difficult to
open. It paralyses the speech of the soul. What I desired was that they
should trust me so that faith should overcome all difficulty that might
lie in the way of their being open with me. That end is not to be
gained by any urging of admonition. Against such, growing years at
least, if nothing else, will bring a strong reaction. Nor even, if so
gained would the gain be at all of the right sort. The openness would
not be faith. Besides, a parent must respect the spiritual person of
his child, and approach it with reverence, for that too looks the
Father in the face, and has an audience with him into which no earthly
parent can enter even if he dared to desire it. Therefore I trusted my
child. And when I saw that she looked at me a little shyly when we next
met, I only sought to show her the more tenderness and confidence,
telling her all about my plans with the bells, and my talks with the
smith and Mrs. Coombes. She listened with just such interest as I had
always been accustomed to see in her, asking such questions, and making
such remarks as I might have expected, but I still felt that there was
the thread of a little uneasiness through the web of our
intercourse, - such a thread of a false colour as one may sometimes find
wandering through the labour of the loom, and seek with pains to draw
from the woven stuff. But it was for Wynnie to take it out, not for me.
And she did not leave it long. For as she bade me good-night in my
study, she said suddenly, yet with hesitating openness,

"Papa, I told Mr. Percivale that I was sorry I had behaved so badly
about the drawings."

"You did right, my child," I replied. At the same moment a pang of
anxiety passed through me lest under the influence of her repentance
she should have said anything more than becoming. But I banished the
doubt instantly as faithlessness in the womanly instincts of my child.
For we men are always so ready and anxious to keep women right, like
the wretched creature, Laertes, in _Hamlet_, who reads his sister such
a lesson on her maidenly duties, but declines almost with contempt to
listen to a word from her as to any co-relative obligation on his side!

And here I may remark in regard to one of the vexed questions of the
day - the rights of women - that what women demand it is not for men to
withhold. It is not their business to lay the law for women. That women
must lay down for themselves. I confess that, although I must herein
seem to many of my readers old-fashioned and conservative, I should not
like to see any woman I cared much for either in parliament or in an
anatomical class-room; but on the other hand I feel that women must be
left free to settle that matter. If it is not good, good women will
find it out and recoil from it. If it is good then God give them good
speed. One thing they _have_ a right to - a far wider and more valuable
education than they have been in the way of receiving. When the mothers
are well taught the generations will grow in knowledge at a fourfold
rate. But still the teaching of life is better than all the schools,
and common sense than all learning. This common sense is a rare gift,
scantier in none than in those who lay claim to it on the ground of
following commonplace, worldly, and prudential maxims. But I must
return to my Wynnie.

"And what did Mr. Percivale say?" I resumed, for she was silent.

"He took the blame all on himself, papa."

"Like a gentleman," I said.

"But I could not leave it so, you know, papa, because that was not the


"I told him that I had lost my temper from disappointment; that I had
thought I did not care for my drawings because I was so far from
satisfied with them, but when he made me feel that they were worth
nothing, then I found from the vexation I felt that I had cared for
them. But I do think, papa, I was more ashamed of having shown them,
and vexed with myself, than cross with him. But I was very silly."

"Well, and what did he say?"

"He began to praise them then. But you know I could not take much of
that, for what could he do?"

"You might give him credit for a little honesty, at least."

"Yes; but things may be true in a way, you know, and not mean much."

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe Seaboard Parish Volume 2 → online text (page 4 of 12)