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George MacDonald.

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the lungs. I insisted on his dropping his work and coming home with me,
where I made him rest the remainder of the day and all Sunday, sending
word to his mother that I could not let him go home. When we left on
the Monday morning, we took him with us in the carriage hired for the
journey, and set him down at his mother's, apparently no worse than
usual.




CHAPTER VII.

AT THE FARM.


Leaving the younger members of the family at home with the servants, we
set out for a farmhouse, some twenty miles off, which Turner had
discovered for us. Connie had stood the journey down so well, and was
now so much stronger, that we had no anxiety about her so far as
regarded the travelling. Through deep lanes with many cottages, and
here and there a very ugly little chapel, over steep hills, up which
Turner and Wynnie and I walked, and along sterile moors we drove,
stopping at roadside inns, and often besides to raise Connie and let
her look about upon the extended prospect, so that it was drawing
towards evening before we arrived at our destination. On the way Turner
had warned us that we were not to expect a beautiful country, although
the place was within reach of much that was remarkable. Therefore we
were not surprised when we drew up at the door of a bare-looking,
shelterless house, with scarcely a tree in sight, and a stretch of
undulating fields on every side.

"A dreary place in winter, Turner," I said, after we had seen Connie
comfortably deposited in the nice white-curtained parlour, smelling of
dried roses even in the height of the fresh ones, and had strolled out
while our tea - dinner was being got ready for us.

"Not a doubt of it; but just the place I wanted for Miss Connie," he
replied. "We are high above the sea, and the air is very bracing, and
not, at this season, too cold. A month later I should not on any
account have brought her here."

"I think even now there is a certain freshness in the wind that calls
up a kind of will in the nerves to meet it."

"That is precisely what I wanted for you all. You observe there is no
rasp in its touch, however. There are regions in this island of ours
where even in the hottest day in summer you would frequently discover a
certain unfriendly edge in the air, that would set you wondering
whether the seasons had not changed since you were a boy, and used to
lie on the grass half the idle day."

"I often do wonder whether it may not be so, but I always come to the
conclusion that even this is but an example of the involuntary tendency
of the mind of man towards the ideal. He forgets all that comes between
and divides the hints of perfection scattered here and there along the
scope of his experience. I especially remember one summer day in my
childhood, which has coloured all my ideas of summer and bliss and
fulfilment of content. It is made up of only mossy grass, and the scent
of the earth and wild flowers, and hot sun, and perfect sky - deep and
blue, and traversed by blinding white clouds. I could not have been
more than five or six, I think, from the kind of dress I wore, the very
pearl buttons of which, encircled on their face with a ring of
half-spherical hollows, have their undeniable relation in my memory to
the heavens and the earth, to the march of the glorious clouds, and the
tender scent of the rooted flowers; and, indeed, when I think of it,
must, by the delight they gave me, have opened my mind the more to the
enjoyment of the eternal paradise around me. What a thing it is to
please a child!"

"I know what you mean perfectly," answered Turner. "It is as I get
older that I understand what Wordsworth says about childhood. It is
indeed a mercy that we were not born grown men, with what we consider
our wits about us. They are blinding things those wits we gather. I
fancy that the single thread by which God sometimes keeps hold of a man
is such an impression of his childhood as that of which you have been
speaking."

"I do not doubt it; for conscience is so near in all those memories to
which you refer. The whole surrounding of them is so at variance with
sin! A sense of purity, not in himself, for the child is not feeling
that he is pure, is all about him; and when afterwards the condition
returns upon him, - returns when he is conscious of so much that is evil
and so much that is unsatisfied in him, - it brings with it a longing
after the high clear air of moral well-being."

"Do you think, then, that it is only by association that nature thus
impresses us? that she has no power of meaning these things?"

"Not at all. No doubt there is something in the recollection of the
associations of childhood to strengthen the power of nature upon us;
but the power is in nature herself, else it would be but a poor weak
thing to what it is. There _is_ purity and state in that sky. There
_is_ a peace now in this wide still earth - not so very beautiful, you
own - and in that overhanging blue, which my heart cries out that it
needs and cannot be well till it gains - gains in the truth, gains in
God, who is the power of truth, the living and causing truth. There is
indeed a rest that remaineth, a rest pictured out even here this night,
to rouse my dull heart to desire it and follow after it, a rest that
consists in thinking the thoughts of Him who is the Peace because the
Unity, in being filled with that spirit which now pictures itself forth
in this repose of the heavens and the earth."

"True," said Turner, after a pause. "I must think more about such
things. The science the present day is going wild about will not give
us that rest."

"No; but that rest will do much to give you that science. A man with
this repose in his heart will do more by far, other capabilities being
equal, to find out the laws that govern things. For all law is living
rest."

"What you have been saying," resumed Turner, after another pause,
"reminds me much of one of Wordsworth's poems. I do not mean the famous
ode."

"You mean the 'Ninth Evening Voluntary,' I know - one of his finest and
truest and deepest poems. It begins, 'Had this effulgence disappeared.'"

"Yes, that is the one I mean. I shall read it again when I go home. But
you don't agree with Wordsworth, do you, about our having had an
existence previous to this?"

He gave a little laugh as he asked the question.

"Not in the least. But an opinion held by such men as Plato, Origen,
and Wordsworth, is not to be laughed at, Mr. Turner. It cannot be in
its nature absurd. I might have mentioned Shelley as holding it, too,
had his opinion been worth anything."

"Then you don't think much of Shelley?"

"I think his _feeling_ most valuable; his _opinion_ nearly worthless."

"Well, perhaps I had no business to laugh, at it; but - "

"Do not suppose for a moment that I even lean to it. I dislike it. It
would make me unhappy to think there was the least of sound argument
for it. But I respect the men who have held it, and know there must be
_something_ good in it, else they could not have held it."

"Are you able then to sympathise with that ode of Wordsworth's? Does it
not depend for all its worth on the admission of this theory?"

"Not in the least. Is it necessary to admit that we must have had a
conscious life before this life to find meaning in the words, -

'But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home'?

Is not all the good in us his image? Imperfect and sinful as we are, is
not all the foundation of our being his image? Is not the sin all ours,
and the life in us all God's? We cannot be the creatures of God without
partaking of his nature. Every motion of our conscience, every
admiration of what is pure and noble, is a sign and a result of this.
Is not every self-accusation a proof of the presence of his spirit?
That comes not of ourselves - that is not without him. These are the
clouds of glory we come trailing from him. All feelings of beauty and
peace and loveliness and right and goodness, we trail with us from our
home. God is the only home of the human soul. To interpret in this
manner what Wordsworth says, will enable us to enter into perfect
sympathy with all that grandest of his poems. I do not say this is what
he meant; but I think it includes what he meant by being greater and
wider than what he meant. Nor am I guilty of presumption in saying so,
for surely the idea that we are born of God is a greater idea than that
we have lived with him a life before this life. But Wordsworth is not
the first among our religious poets to give us at least what is
valuable in the notion. I came upon a volume amongst my friend
Shepherd's books, with which I had made no acquaintance before - Henry
Vaughan's poems. I brought it with me, for it has finer lines, I almost
think, than any in George Herbert, though not so fine poems by any
means as his best. When we go into the house I will read one of them to
you."

"Thank you," said Turner. "I wish I could have such talk once a week.
The shades of the prison-house, you know, Mr. Walton, are always trying
to close about us, and shut out the vision of the glories we have come
from, as Wordsworth says."

"A man," I answered, "who ministers to the miserable necessities of his
fellows has even more need than another to believe in the light and the
gladness - else a poor Job's comforter will he be. _I_ don't want to be
treated like a musical snuff-box."

The doctor laughed.

"No man can _prove_," he said, "that there is not a being inside the
snuff-box, existing in virtue of the harmony of its parts, comfortable
when they go well, sick when they go badly, and dying when it is
dismembered, or even when it stops."

"No," I answered. "No man can prove it. But no man can convince a human
being of it. And just as little can anyone convince me that my
conscience, making me do sometimes what I _don't_ like, comes from a
harmonious action of the particles of my brain. But it is time we went
in, for by the law of things in general, I being ready for my dinner,
my dinner ought to be ready for me."

"A law with more exceptions than instances, I fear," said Turner.

"I doubt that," I answered. "The readiness is everything, and that we
constantly blunder in. But we had better see whether we are really
ready for it, by trying whether it is ready for us."

Connie went to bed early, as indeed we all did, and she was rather
better than worse the next morning. My wife, for the first time for
many nights, said nothing about the crying of the sea. The following
day Turner and I set out to explore the neighbourhood. The rest
remained quietly at home.

It was, as I have said, a high bare country. The fields lay side by
side, parted from each other chiefly, as so often in Scotland, by stone
walls; and these stones being of a laminated nature, the walls were not
unfrequently built by laying thin plates on their edges, which gave a
neatness to them not found in other parts of the country as far as I am
aware. In the middle of the fields came here and there patches of yet
unreclaimed moorland.

Now in a region like this, beauty must be looked for below the surface.
There is a probability of finding hollows of repose, sunken spots of
loveliness, hidden away altogether from the general aspect of
sternness, or perhaps sterility, that meets the eye in glancing over
the outspread landscape; just as in the natures of stern men you may
expect to find, if opportunity should be afforded you, sunny spots of
tender verdure, kept ever green by that very sternness which is turned
towards the common gaze - thus existent because they are below the
surface, and not laid bare to the sweep of the cold winds that roam the
world. How often have not men started with amaze at the discovery of
some feminine sweetness, some grace of protection in the man whom they
had judged cold and hard and rugged, inaccessible to the more genial
influences of humanity! It may be that such men are only fighting
against the wind, and keep their hearts open to the sun.

I knew this; and when Turner and I set out that morning to explore, I
expected to light upon some instance of it - some mine or other in which
nature had hidden away rare jewels; but I was not prepared to find such
as I did find. With our hearts full of a glad secret we returned home,
but we said nothing about it, in order that Ethelwyn and Wynnie might
enjoy the discovery even as we had enjoyed it.

There was another grand fact with regard to the neighbourhood about
which we judged it better to be silent for a few days, that the inland
influences might be free to work. We were considerably nearer the ocean
than my wife and daughters supposed, for we had made a great round in
order to arrive from the land-side. We were, however, out of the sound
of its waves, which broke all along the shore, in this part, at the
foot of tremendous cliffs. What cliffs they were we shall soon find.




CHAPTER VIII.

THE KEEVE.


"Now, my dear! now, Wynnie!" I said, after prayers the next morning,
"you must come out for a walk as soon as ever you can get your bonnets
on."

"But we can't leave Connie, papa," objected Wynnie.

"O, yes, you can, quite well. There's nursie to look after her. What do
you say, Connie?"

For, for some time now, Connie had been able to get up so early, that
it was no unusual thing to have prayers in her room.

"I am entirely independent of help from my family," returned Connie
grandiloquently. "I am a woman of independent means," she added. "If
you say another word, I will rise and leave the room."

And she made a movement as if she would actually do as she had said.
Seized with an involuntary terror, I rushed towards her, and the
impertinent girl burst out laughing in my face - threw herself back on
her pillows, and laughed delightedly.

"Take care, papa," she said. "I carry a terrible club for rebellious
people." Then, her mood changing, she added, as if to suppress the
tears gathering in her eyes, "I am the queen - of luxury and
self-will - and I won't have anybody come near me till dinner-time. I
mean to enjoy myself."

So the matter was settled, and we went out for our walk. Ethelwyn was
not such a good walker as she had been; but even if she had retained
the strength of her youth, we should not have got on much the better
for it - so often did she and Wynnie stop to grub ferns out of the
chinks and roots of the stone-walls. Now, I admire ferns as much as
anybody - that is, not, I fear, so much as my wife and daughter, but
quite enough notwithstanding - but I do not quite enjoy being pulled up
like a fern at every turn.

"Now, my dear, what is the use of stopping to torture that harmless
vegetable?" I say, but say in vain. "It is much more beautiful where it
is than it will be anywhere where you can put it. Besides, you know
they never come to anything with you. They _always_ die."

Thereupon my wife reminds me of this fern and that fern, gathered in
such and such places, and now in such and such corners of the garden or
the greenhouse, or under glass-shades in this or that room, of the very
existence of which I am ignorant, whether from original inattention, or
merely from forgetfulness, I do not know. Certainly, out of their own
place I do not care much for them.

At length, partly by the inducement I held out to them of a much
greater variety of ferns where we were bound, I succeeded in getting
them over the two miles in little more than two hours. After passing
from the lanes into the fields, our way led downwards till we reached a
very steep large slope, with a delightful southern exposure, and
covered with the sweetest down-grasses. It was just the place to lie
in, as on the edge of the earth, and look abroad upon the universe of
air and floating worlds.

"Let us have a rest here, Ethel," I said. "I am sure this is much more
delightful than uprooting ferns. What an awful thing to think that here
we are on this great round tumbling ball of a world, held by the feet,
and lifting up the head into infinite space - without choice or wish of
our own - compelled to think and to be, whether we will or not! Just God
must know it to be very good, or he would not have taken it in his
hands to make individual lives without a possible will of theirs. He
must be our Father, or we are wretched creatures - the slaves of a fatal
necessity! Did it ever strike you, Turner, that each one of us stands
on the apex of the world? With a sphere, you know, it must be so. And
thus is typified, as it seems to me, that each one of us must look up
for himself to find God, and then look abroad to find his fellows."

"I think I know what you mean," was all Turner's reply.

"No doubt," I resumed, "the apprehension of this truth has, in
otherwise ill-ordered minds, given rise to all sorts of fierce and
grotesque fanaticism. But the minds which have thus conceived the
truth, would have been immeasurably worse without it; nay, this truth
affords at last the only possible door out of the miseries of their own
chaos, whether inherited or the result of their own misconduct."

"What's that in the grass?" cried Wynnie, in a tone of alarm.

I looked where she indicated, and saw a slow-worm, or blind-worm, lying
basking in the sun. I rose and went towards it.

"Here's your stick," said Turner.

"What for?" I asked. "Why should I kill it? It is perfectly harmless,
and, to my mind, beautiful."

I took it in my hands, and brought it to my wife. She gave an
involuntary shudder as it came near her.

"I assure you it is harmless," I said, "though it has a forked tongue."
And I opened its mouth as I spoke. "I do not think the serpent form is
essentially ugly."

"It makes me feel ugly," said Wynnie.

"I allow I do not quite understand the mystery of it," I said. "But you
never saw lovelier ornamentation than these silvery scales, with all
the neatness of what you ladies call a set pattern, and none of the
stiffness, for there are not two of them the same in form. And you
never saw lovelier curves than this little patient creature, which does
not even try to get away from me, makes with the queer long thin body
of him."

"I wonder how it can look after its tail, it is so far off," said
Wynnie.

"It does though - better than you ladies look after your long dresses. I
wonder whether it is descended from creatures that once had feet, and
did not make a good use of them. Perhaps they had wings even, and would
not use them at all, and so lost them. Its ancestors may have had
poison-fangs; it is innocent enough. But it is a terrible thing to be
all feet, is it not? There is an awful significance in the condemnation
of the serpent - 'On thy belly shalt thou go, and eat dust.' But it is
better to talk of beautiful things. _My_ soul at least has dropped from
its world apex. Let us go on. Come, wife. Come, Turner."

They did not seem willing to rise. But the glen drew me. I rose, and my
wife followed my example with the help of my hand. She returned to the
subject, however, as we descended the slope.

"Is it possible that in the course of ever so many ages wings and feet
should be both lost?" she said.

"The most presumptuous thing in the world is to pronounce on the
possible and the impossible. I do not know what is possible and what is
impossible. I can only tell a little of what is true and what is
untrue. But I do say this, that between the condition of many decent
members of society and that for the sake of which God made them, there
is a gulf quite as vast as that between a serpent and a bird. I get
peeps now and then into the condition of my own heart, which, for the
moment, make it seem impossible that I should ever rise into a true
state of nature - that is, into the simplicity of God's will concerning
me. The only hope for ourselves and for others lies in him - in the
power the creating spirit has over the spirits he has made."

By this time the descent on the grass was getting too steep and
slippery to admit of our continuing to advance in that direction. We
turned, therefore, down the valley in the direction of the sea. It was
but a narrow cleft, and narrowed much towards a deeper cleft, in which
we now saw the tops of trees, and from which we heard the rush of
water. Nor had we gone far in this direction before we came upon a gate
in a stone wall, which led into what seemed a neglected garden. We
entered, and found a path turning and winding, among small trees, and
luxuriant ferns, and great stones, and fragments of ruins down towards
the bottom of the chasm. The noise of falling water increased as we
went on, and at length, after some scrambling and several sharp turns,
we found ourselves with a nearly precipitous wall on each side, clothed
with shrubs and ivy, and creeping things of the vegetable world. Up
this cleft there was no advance. The head of it was a precipice down
which shot the stream from the vale above, pouring out of a deep slit
it had itself cut in the rock as with a knife. Halfway down, it tumbled
into a great basin of hollowed stone, and flowing from a chasm in its
side, which left part of the lip of the basin standing like the arch of
a vanished bridge, it fell into a black pool below, whence it crept as
if half-stunned or weary down the gentle decline of the ravine. It was
a perfect little picture. I, for my part, had never seen such a
picturesque fall. It was a little gem of nature, complete in effect.
The ladies were full of pleasure. Wynnie, forgetting her usual reserve,
broke out in frantic exclamations of delight.

We stood for a while regarding the ceaseless pour of the water down the
precipice, here shot slanting in a little trough of the rock, full of
force and purpose, here falling in great curls of green and gray, with
an expression of absolute helplessness and conscious perdition, as if
sheer to the centre, but rejoicing the next moment to find itself
brought up boiling and bubbling in the basin, to issue in the gathered
hope of experience. Then we turned down the stream a little way,
crossed it by a plank, and stood again to regard it from the opposite
side. Small as the whole affair was - not more than about a hundred and
fifty feet in height - it was so full of variety that I saw it was all
my memory could do, if it carried away anything like a correct picture
of its aspect. I was contemplating it fixedly, when a little stifled
cry from Wynnie made me start and look round. Her face was flushed, yet
she was trying to look unconcerned.

"I thought we were quite alone, papa," she said; "but I see a gentleman
sketching."

I looked whither she indicated. A little way down, the bed of the
ravine widened considerably, and was no doubt filled with water in
rainy weather. Now it was swampy - full of reeds and willow bushes. But
on the opposite side of the stream, with a little canal from it going
all around it, lay a great flat rectangular stone, not more than a foot
above the level of the water, and upon a camp-stool in the centre of
this stone sat a gentleman sketching. I had no doubt that Wynnie had
recognised him at once. And I was annoyed, and indeed angry, to think
that Mr. Percivale had followed us here. But while I regarded him, he
looked up, rose very quietly, and, with his pencil in his hand, came
towards us. With no nearer approach to familiarity than a bow, and no
expression of either much pleasure or any surprise, he said -

"I have seen your party for some time, Mr. Walton - since you crossed
the stream; but I would not break in upon your enjoyment with the
surprise which my presence here must cause you."

I suppose I answered with a bow of some sort; for I could not say with
truth that I was glad to see him. He resumed, doubtless penetrating my
suspicion -

"I have been here almost a week. I certainly had no expectation of the
pleasure of seeing you."

This he said lightly, though no doubt with the object of clearing
himself. And I was, if not reassured, yet disarmed, by his statement;
for I could not believe, from what I knew of him, that he would be
guilty of such a white lie as many a gentleman would have thought
justifiable on the occasion. Still, I suppose he found me a little
stiff, for presently he said -

"If you will excuse me, I will return to my work."

Then I felt as if I must say something, for I had shown him no courtesy
during the interview.

"It must be a great pleasure to carry away such talismans with
you - capable of bringing the place back to your mental vision at any
moment."

"To tell the truth," he answered, "I am a little ashamed of being found
sketching here. Such bits of scenery are not of my favourite studies.
But it is a change."


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