George MacDonald.

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"It is very beautiful here," I said, in a tone of contravention.

"It is very pretty," he answered - "very lovely, if you will - not very
beautiful, I think. I would keep that word for things of larger regard.
Beauty requires width, and here is none. I had almost said this place
was fanciful - the work of imagination in her play-hours, not in her
large serious moods. It affects me like the face of a woman only
pretty, about which boys and guardsmen will rave - to me not very
interesting, save for its single lines."

"Why, then, do you sketch the place?"

"A very fair question," he returned, with a smile. "Just because it is
soothing from the very absence of beauty. I would far rather, however,
if I were only following my taste, take the barest bit of the moor
above, with a streak of the cold sky over it. That gives room."

"You would like to put a skylark in it, wouldn't you?"

"That I would if I knew how. I see you know what I mean. But the mere
romantic I never had much taste for; though if you saw the kind of
pictures I try to paint, you would not wonder that I take sketches of
places like this, while in my heart of hearts I do not care much for
them. They are so different, and just _therefore_ they are good for me.
I am not working now; I am only playing."

"With a view to working better afterwards, I have no doubt," I answered.

"You are right there, I hope," was his quiet reply, as he turned and
walked back to the island.

He had not made a step towards joining us. He had only taken his hat
off to the ladies. He was gaining ground upon me rapidly.

"Have you quarrelled with our new friend, Harry?" said my wife, as I
came up to her.

She was sitting on a stone. Turner and Wynnie were farther off towards
the foot of the fall.

"Not in the least," I answered, slightly outraged - I did not at first
know why - by the question. "He is only gone to his work, which is a
duty belonging both to the first and second tables of the law."

"I hope you have asked him to come home to our early dinner, then," she

"I have not. That remains for you to do. Come, I will take you to him."

Ethelwyn rose at once, put her hand in mine, and with a little help
soon reached the table-rock. When Percivale saw that she was really on
a visit to him on his island-perch, he rose, and when she came near
enough, held out his hand. It was but a step, and she was beside him in
a moment. After the usual greetings, which on her part, although very
quiet, like every motion and word of hers, were yet indubitably cordial
and kind, she said, "When you get back to London, Mr. Percivale, might
I ask you to allow some friends of mine to call at your studio, and see
your paintings?"

"With all my heart," answered Percivale. "I must warn you, however,
that I have not much they will care to see. They will perhaps go away
less happy than they entered. Not many people care to see my pictures

"I would not send you anyone I thought unworthy of the honour,"
answered my wife.

Percivale bowed - one of his stately, old-world bows, which I greatly

"Any friend of yours - that is guarantee sufficient," he answered.

There was this peculiarity about any compliment that Percivale paid,
that you had not a doubt of its being genuine.

"Will you come and take an early dinner with us?" said my wife. "My
invalid daughter will be very pleased to see you."

"I will with pleasure," he answered, but in a tone of some hesitation,
as he glanced from Ethelwyn to me.

"My wife speaks for us all," I said. "It will give us all pleasure."

"I am only afraid it will break in upon your morning's work," remarked

"O, that is not of the least consequence," he rejoined. "In fact, as I
have just been saying to Mr. Walton, I am not working at all at
present. This is pure recreation."

As he spoke he turned towards his easel, and began hastily to bundle up
his things.

"We're not quite ready to go yet," said my wife, loath to leave the
lovely spot. "What a curious flat stone this is!" she added.

"It is," said Percivale. "The man to whom the place belongs, a worthy
yeoman of the old school, says that this wider part of the channel must
have been the fish-pond, and that the portly monks stood on this stone
and fished in the pond."

"Then was there a monastery here?" I asked.

"Certainly. The ruins of the chapel, one of the smallest, are on the
top, just above the fall - rather a fearful place to look down from. I
wonder you did not observe them as you came. They say it had a silver
bell in the days of its glory, which now lies in a deep hole under the
basin, half-way between the top and bottom of the fall. But the old man
says that nothing will make him look, or let anyone else lift the huge
stone; for he is much better pleased to believe that it may be there,
than he would be to know it was not there; for certainly, if it were
found, it would not be left there long."

As he spoke Percivale had continued packing his gear. He now led our
party up to the chapel, and thence down a few yards to the edge of the
chasm, where the water fell headlong. I turned away with that fear of
high places which is one of my many weaknesses; and when I turned again
towards the spot, there was Wynnie on the very edge, looking over into
the flash and tumult of the water below, but with a nervous grasp of
the hand of Percivale, who stood a little farther back.

In going home, the painter led us by an easier way out of the valley,
left his little easel and other things at a cottage, and then walked on
in front between my wife and daughter, while Turner and I followed. He
seemed quite at his ease with them, and plenty of talk and laughter
rose on the way. I, however, was chiefly occupied with finding out
Turner's impression of Connie's condition.

"She is certainly better," he said. "I wonder you do not see it as
plainly as I do. The pain is nearly gone from her spine, and she can
move herself a good deal more, I am certain, than she could when she
left. She asked me yesterday if she might not turn upon one side. 'Do
you think you could?' I asked. - 'I think so,' she answered. 'At any
rate, I have often a great inclination to try; only papa said I had
better wait till you came.' I do think she might be allowed a little
more change of posture now."

"Then you have really some hope of her final recovery?"

"I have _hope_ most certainly. But what is hope in me, you must not
allow to become certainty in you. I am nearly sure, though, that she
can never be other than an invalid; that is, if I am to judge by what I
know of such cases."

"I am thankful for the hope," I answered. "You need not be afraid of my
turning upon you, should the hope never pass into sight. I should do so
only if I found that you had been treating me irrationally - inspiring
me with hope which you knew to be false. The element of uncertainty is
essential to hope, and for all true hope, even as hope, man has to be
unspeakably thankful."



I was glad to be able to arrange with a young clergyman who was on a
visit to Kilkhaven, that he should take my duty for me the next Sunday,
for that was the only one Turner could spend with us. He and I and
Wynnie walked together two miles to church. It was a lovely morning,
with just a tint of autumn in the air. But even that tint, though all
else was of the summer, brought a shadow, I could see, on Wynnie's face.

"You said you would show me a poem of - Vaughan, I think you said, was
the name of the writer. I am too ignorant of our older literature,"
said Turner.

"I have only just made acquaintance with him," I answered. "But I think
I can repeat the poem. You shall judge whether it is not like
Wordsworth's Ode.

'Happy those early days, when I
Shined in my angel infancy;
Before I understood the place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy ought
But a white, celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And looking back, at that short space,
Could see a glimpse of his bright face;
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
But felt through all this fleshly dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.
O how I long to travel back - - '"

But here I broke down, for I could not remember the rest with even
approximate accuracy.

"When did this Vaughan live?" asked Turner.

"He was born, I find, in 1621 - five years, that is, after Shakspere's
death, and when Milton was about thirteen years old. He lived to the
age of seventy-three, but seems to have been little known. In politics
he was on the Cavalier side. By the way, he was a medical man, like
you, Turner - an M.D. We'll have a glance at the little book when we go
back. Don't let me forget to show it you. A good many of your
profession have distinguished themselves in literature, and as profound
believers too."

"I should have thought the profession had been chiefly remarkable for
such as believe only in the evidence of the senses."

"As if having searched into the innermost recesses of the body, and not
having found a soul, they considered themselves justified in declaring
there was none."

"Just so."

"Well, that is true of the commonplace amongst them, I do believe. You
will find the exceptions have been men of fine minds and
characters - not such as he of whom Chaucer says,

'His study was but little on the Bible;'

for if you look at the rest of the description of the man, you will
find that he was in alliance with his apothecary for their mutual
advantage, that he was a money-loving man, and that some of Chaucer's
keenest irony is spent on him in an off-hand, quiet manner. Compare the
tone in which he writes of the doctor of physic, with the profound
reverence wherewith he bows himself before the poor country-parson."

Here Wynnie spoke, though with some tremor in her voice.

"I never know, papa, what people mean by talking about childhood in
that way. I never seem to have been a bit younger and more innocent
than I am."

"Don't you remember a time, Wynnie, when the things about you - the sky
and the earth, say - seemed to you much grander than they seem now? You
are old enough to have lost something."

She thought for a little while before she answered.

"My dreams were, I know. I cannot say so of anything else."

I in my turn had to be silent, for I did not see the true answer,
though I was sure there was one somewhere, if I could only find it. All
I could reply, however, even after I had meditated a good while,
was - and perhaps, after all, it was the best thing I could have said:

"Then you must make a good use of your dreams, my child."

"Why, papa?"

"Because they are the only memorials of childhood you have left."

"How am I to make a good use of them? I don't know what to do with my
silly old dreams."

But she gave a sigh as she spoke that testified her silly old dreams
had a charm for her still.

"If your dreams, my child, have ever testified to you of a condition of
things beyond that which you see around you, if they have been to you
the hints of a wonder and glory beyond what visits you now, you must
not call them silly, for they are just what the scents of Paradise
borne on the air were to Adam and Eve as they delved and spun,
reminding them that they must aspire yet again through labour into that
childhood of obedience which is the only paradise of humanity - into
that oneness with the will of the Father, which our race, our
individual selves, need just as much as if we had personally fallen
with Adam, and from which we fall every time we are disobedient to the
voice of the Father within our souls - to the conscience which is his
making and his witness. If you have had no childhood, my Wynnie, yet
permit your old father to say that everything I see in you indicates
more strongly in you than in most people that it is this childhood
after which you are blindly longing, without which you find that life
is hardly to be endured. Thank God for your dreams, my child. In him
you will find that the essence of those dreams is fulfilled. We are
saved by hope, Turner. Never man hoped too much, or repented that he
had hoped. The plague is that we don't hope in God half enough. The
very fact that hope is strength, and strength the outcome, the body of
life, shows that hope is at one with life, with the very essence of
what says 'I am' - yea, of what doubts and says 'Am I?' and therefore is
reasonable to creatures who cannot even doubt save in that they live."

By this time, for I have, of course, only given the outlines, or rather
salient points, of our conversation, we had reached the church, where,
if I found the sermon neither healing nor inspiring, I found the
prayers full of hope and consolation. They at least are safe beyond
human caprice, conceit, or incapacity. Upon them, too, the man who is
distressed at the thought of how little of the needful food he had been
able to provide for his people, may fall back for comfort, in the
thought that there at least was what ought to have done them good, what
it was well worth their while to go to church for. But I did think they
were too long for any individual Christian soul, to sympathise with
from beginning to end, that is, to respond to, like organ-tube to the
fingered key, in every touch of the utterance of the general Christian
soul. For my reader must remember that it is one thing to read prayers
and another to respond; and that I had had very few opportunities of
being in the position of the latter duty. I had had suspicions before,
and now they were confirmed - that the present crowding of services was
most inexpedient. And as I pondered on the matter, instead of trying to
go on praying after I had already uttered my soul, which is but a
heathenish attempt after much speaking, I thought how our Lord had
given us such a short prayer to pray, and I began to wonder when or how
the services came to be so heaped the one on the back of the other as
they now were. No doubt many people defended them; no doubt many people
could sit them out; but how many people could pray from beginning to
end of them I On this point we had some talk as we went home. Wynnie
was opposed to any change of the present use on the ground that we
should only have the longer sermons.

"Still," I said, "I do not think even that so great an evil. A
sensitive conscience will not reproach itself so much for not listening
to the whole of a sermon, as for kneeling in prayer and not praying. I
think myself, however, that after the prayers are over, everyone should
be at liberty to go out and leave the sermon unheard, if he pleases. I
think the result would be in the end a good one both for parson and
people. It would break through the deadness of this custom, this use
and wont. Many a young mind is turned for life against the influences
of church-going - one of the most sacred influences when _pure_, that
is, un-mingled with non-essentials - just by the feeling that he _must_
do so and so, that he must go through a certain round of duty. It is a
willing service that the Lord wants; no forced devotions are either
acceptable to him, or other than injurious to the worshipper, if such
he can be called."

After an early dinner, I said to Turner - "Come out with me, and we will
read that poem of Vaughan's in which I broke down today."

"O, papa!" said Connie, in a tone of injury, from the sofa.

"What is it, my dear?" I asked.

"Wouldn't it be as good for us as for Mr. Turner?"

"Quite, my dear. Well, I will keep it for the evening, and meantime Mr.
Turner and I will go and see if we can find out anything about the
change in the church-service."

For I had thrown into my bag as I left the rectory a copy of _The
Clergyman's Vade Mecum_ - a treatise occupied with the externals of the
churchman's relations - in which I soon came upon the following passage:

"So then it appears that the common practice of reading all three
together, is an innovation, and if an ancient or infirm clergyman do
read them at two or three several times, he is more strictly
conformable; however, this is much better than to omit any part of the
liturgy, or to read all three offices into one, as is now commonly
done, without any pause or distinction."

"On the part of the clergyman, you see, Turner," I said, when I had
finished reading the whole passage to him. "There is no care taken of
the delicate women of the congregation, but only of the ancient or
infirm clergyman. And the logic, to say the least, is rather queer: is
it only in virtue of his antiquity and infirmity that he is to be
upheld in being more strictly conformable? The writer's honesty has its
heels trodden upon by the fear of giving offence. Nevertheless there
should perhaps be a certain slowness to admit change, even back to a
more ancient form."

"I don't know that I can quite agree with you there," said Turner. "If
the form is better, no one should hesitate to advocate the change. If
it is worse, then slowness is not sufficient - utter obstinacy is the
right condition."

"You are right, Turner. For the right must be the rule, and where _the
right_ is beyond our understanding or our reach, then _the better_, as
indeed not only right compared with the other, but the sole ascent
towards the right."

In the evening I took Henry Vaughan's poems into the common
sitting-room, and to Connie's great delight read the whole of the
lovely, though unequal little poem, called "The Retreat," in recalling
which I had failed in the morning. She was especially delighted with
the "white celestial thought," and the "bright shoots of
everlastingness." Then I gave a few lines from another yet more unequal
poem, worthy in themselves of the best of the other. I quote the first
strophe entire:


"I cannot reach it; and my striving eye
Dazzles at it, as at eternity.
Were now that chronicle alive,
Those white designs which children drive,
And the thoughts of each harmless hour,
With their content too in my power,
Quickly would I make my path even,
And by mere playing go to heaven.

* * * * *

And yet the practice worldlings call
Business and weighty action all,
Checking the poor child for his play,
But gravely cast themselves away.

* * * * *

An age of mysteries! which he
Must live twice that would God's face see;
Which angels guard, and with it play,
Angels! which foul men drive away.
How do I study now, and scan
Thee more than ere I studied man,
And only see through a long night
Thy edges and thy bordering light I
O for thy centre and midday!
For sure that is the _narrow way!_"

"For of such is the kingdom of heaven." said my wife softly, as I
closed the book.

"May I have the book, papa?" said Connie, holding out her thin white
cloud of a hand to take it.

"Certainly, my child. And if Wynnie would read it with you, she will
feel more of the truth of what Mr. Percivale was saying to her about
finish. Here are the finest, grandest thoughts, set forth sometimes
with such carelessness, at least such lack of neatness, that, instead
of their falling on the mind with all their power of loveliness, they
are like a beautiful face disfigured with patches, and, what is worse,
they put the mind out of the right, quiet, unquestioning, open mood,
which is the only fit one for the reception of such true things as are
embodied in the poems. But they are too beautiful after all to be more
than a little spoiled by such a lack of the finish with which Art ends
off all her labours. A gentleman, however, thinks it of no little
importance to have his nails nice as well as his face and his shirt."



The place Turner had chosen suited us all so well, that after attending
to my duties on the two following Sundays at Kilkhaven, I returned on
the Monday or Tuesday to the farmhouse. But Turner left us in the
middle of the second week, for he could not be longer absent from his
charge at home, and we missed him much. It was some days before Connie
was quite as cheerful again as usual. I do not mean that she was in the
least gloomy - that she never was; she was only a little less merry. But
whether it was that Turner had opened our eyes, or that she had visibly
improved since he allowed her to make a little change in her
posture - certainly she appeared to us to have made considerable
progress, and every now and then we were discovering some little proof
of the fact. One evening, while we were still at the farm, she startled
us by calling out suddenly, -

"Papa, papa! I moved my big toe! I did indeed."

We were all about her in a moment. But I saw that she was excited, and
fearing a reaction I sought to calm her.

"But, my dear," I said, as quietly as I could, "you are probably still
aware that you are possessed of two big toes: which of them are we to
congratulate on this first stride in the march of improvement?"

She broke out in the merriest laugh. A pause followed in which her face
wore a puzzled expression. Then she said all at once, "Papa, it is very
odd, but I can't tell which of them," and burst into tears. I was
afraid that I had done more harm than good.

"It is not of the slightest consequence, my child," I said. "You have
had so little communication with the twins of late, that it is no
wonder you should not be able to tell the one from the other."

She smiled again through her sobs, but was silent, with shining face,
for the rest of the evening. Our hopes took a fresh start, but we heard
no more from her of her power over her big toe. As often as I inquired
she said she was afraid she had made a mistake, for she had not had
another hint of its existence. Still I thought it could not have been a
fancy, and I would cleave to my belief in the good sign.

Percivale called to see us several times, but always appeared anxious
not to intrude more of his society upon us than might be agreeable. He
grew in my regard, however; and at length I asked him if he would
assist me in another surprise which I meditated for my companions, and
this time for Connie as well, and which I hoped would prevent the
painful influences of the sight of the sea from returning upon them
when they went back to Kilkhaven: they must see the sea from a quite
different shore first. In a word I would take them to Tintagel, of the
near position of which they were not aware, although in some of our
walks we had seen the ocean in the distance. An early day was fixed for
carrying out our project, and I proceeded to get everything ready. The
only difficulty was to find a carriage in the neighbourhood suitable
for receiving Connie's litter. In this, however, I at length succeeded,
and on the morning of a glorious day of blue and gold, we set out for
the little village of Trevenna, now far better known than at the time
of which I write. Connie had been out every day since she came, now in
one part of the fields, now in another, enjoying the expanse of earth
and sky, but she had had no drive, and consequently had seen no variety
of scenery. Therefore, believing she was now thoroughly able to bear
it, I quite reckoned of the good she would get from the inevitable
excitement. We resolved, however, after finding how much she enjoyed
the few miles' drive, that we would not demand more, of her strength
that day, and therefore put up at the little inn, where, after ordering
dinner, Percivale and I left the ladies, and sallied forth to

We walked through the village and down the valley beyond, sloping
steeply between hills towards the sea, the opening closed at the end by
the blue of the ocean below and the more ethereal blue of the sky
above. But when we reached the mouth of the valley we found that we
were not yet on the shore, for a precipice lay between us and the
little beach below. On the left a great peninsula of rock stood out
into the sea, upon which rose the ruins of the keep of Tintagel, while
behind on the mainland stood the ruins of the castle itself, connected
with the other only by a narrow isthmus. We had read that this
peninsula had once been an island, and that the two parts of the castle
were formerly connected by a drawbridge. Looking up at the great gap
which now divided the two portions, it seemed at first impossible to
believe that they had ever been thus united; but a little reflection

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe Seaboard Parish Volume 2 → online text (page 7 of 12)