George MacDonald.

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were presently beyond my hearing. But I went on
answering him myself all the way home. Did God care
to paint the sky of an evening, that a few of His children
might see it, and get just a hope, just an aspiration, out
of its passing green, and gold, and purple, and red ? and
should I think my day's labour lost, if it wrought no
visible salvation in the earth ?

But was the child's aspiration in vain? Could I tell
him God did not want his help to paint the sky? True,
he could mount no scaffold against the infinite of the
glowing west. But might he not with his little palette
and brush, when the time came, show his brothers and
sisters what he had seen there, and make them see it
too ? Might he not thus come, after long trying, to help
God to paint this glory of vapour and light inside the
minds of His children? Ah ! it any man's work is not


with God, its results shall be burned, ruthlessly burned,
because poor and bad.

" So, for my part," I said to myself, as I walked home,
" if I can put one touch of a rosy sunset into the life
of any man or woman of my cure, I shall teel that I
have worked with God. He is in no haste ; and if I do
what I may in earnest, I need not mourn if I work no
great work on the earth. Let God make His sunsets :
I will mottle my little fading cloud. To help the growth
of a thought that struggles towards the light ; to brush
with gentle hand the earth-stain from the white of one
snowdrop such be my ambition ! So shall I scale the
rocks in front, not leave my name carved upon those
behind me."

People talk about special providences. I believe in
the providences, but not in the specialty. I do not
believe that God lets the thread of my affairs go for six
days, and on the seventh evening takes it up for a
moment. The so-called special providences are no ex-
ception to the rule they are common to all men at all
moments. But it is a fact that God's care is more
evident in some instances of it than in others to the dim
and often bewildered vision of humanity. Upon such
instances men seize and call them providences. It is
well that they can ; but it would be gloriously better it
they could believe that the whole matter is one grand

I was one of such men at the time, and could not fail
to see what I called a special providence in this, that on
my first attempt to find where I stood in the scheme of


Providence, and while I was discouraged with regard to
the work before me, I should fall in with these two an
old man whom 1 could help, and a child who could help
me ; the one opening an outlet for my labour and my
love, and the other reminding me of the highest source
of the most humbling comfort, that in all my work I
might be a fellow-worker with God.



HESE events fell on the Saturday night. On
the Sunday morning, I read prayers and
preached. Never before had I enjoyed so
much the petitions of the Church, which
Hooker calls " the sending of angels upward," or the
reading of the lessons, which he calls " the receiving of
angels descended from above." And whether from the
newness of the parson, or the love of the service, cer-
tainly a congregation more intent, or more responsive,
a clergyman will hardly find. But, as I had feared, it
was different in the afternoon. The people had dined,
and the usual somnolence had followed ; nor could I
find in my heart to blame men and women who worked
hard all the week, for being drowsy on the day of rest.
So I curtailed my sermon as much as I could, omitting
page after page of my manuscript ; and when I came to
a close, was rewarded by perceiving an agreeable surprise


upon many of the faces round me. I resolved that, in
the afternoons at least, my sermons should be as short
as heart could wish.

But that afternoon there was at least one man of the
congregation who was neither drowsy nor inattentive.
Repeatedly my eyes left the page off which I was read-
ing and glanced towards him. Not once did I find his
eyes turned away from me.

There was a small loft in the west end of the church,
in which stood a little organ, whose voice, weakened
by years of praising, and possibly of neglect, had yet,
among a good many tones that were rough, wooden,
and reedy, a few remaining that were as mellow as ever
praiseful heart could wish to praise withal. And these
came in amongst the rest like trusting thoughts amidst
"eating cares;" like the faces of children borne in the
arms of a crowd of anxious mothers ; like hopes that are
young prophecies amidst the downward sweep of events.
For, though I do not understand music, I have a keen
ear for the perfection of the single tone, or the complete-
ness of the harmony. But of this organ more by and by.

Now this little gallery was something larger than was
just necessary for the organ and its ministrants, and a
few of the parishioners had chosen to sit in its fore- front.
Upon this occasion there was no one there but the man
to whom I have referred.

The space below this gallery was not included in the
part of the church used for the service. It was claimed
by the gardener of the place, that is the sexton, to hold
his gardening tools. There were a few ancient carvings


in wood lying in it, very brown in the dusky light that
came through a small lancet window, opening, not to the
outside, but into the tower, itself dusky with an endur-
ing twilight. And there were some broken old head-
stones, and the kindly spade and pickaxe but I have
really nothing to do with these now, for I am, as it were,
in the pulpit, whence one ought to look beyond such
things as these.

Rising against the screen which separated this mouldy
portion of the church from the rest, stood an old monu-
ment of carved wood, once brilliantly painted in the
portions that bore the arms of the family over whose
vault it stood, but now all bare and worn, itself gently
flowing away into the dust it commemorated. It lifted
its gablet, carved to look like a canopy, till its apex was
on a level with the book-board on the front of the
organ-loft ; and over in fact upon this apex appeared
the face of the man whom I have mentioned. It was a
very remarkable countenance pale, and very thin, with-
out any hair, except that of thick eyebrows that far over-
hung keen, questioning eyes. Short bushy hair, gray,
not white, covered a well formed head with a high
narrow forehead. As I have said, those keen eyes
kept looking at me from under their gray eyebrows all
the time of the sermon intelligently without doubt, but
whether sympathetically or otherwise I could not de-
termine. And indeed I hardly know yet.

My vestry door opened upon a little group of graves,
simple and green, without headstone or slab; poor
graves, the memory of whose occupants no one had


cared to preserve. Good men must have preceded
me here, else the poor would not have lain so near the
chancel and the vestry-door. All about and beyond
were stones, with here and there a monument ; for
mine was a large parish, and there were old and rich
families in it, more of which buried their dead here
than assembled their living. But close by the vestry-
door, there was this little billowy lake of grass. And
at the end of the narrow path leading from the door,
was the churchyard wall, with a few steps on each side
of it, that the parson might pass at once from the
churchyard into his own shrubbery, here tangled, almost
matted, from luxuriance of growth. But I would not
creep out the back way from among my people. That
way might do very well to come in by ; but to go out,
I would use the door of the people. So I went along
the church, a fine old place, such as I had never hoped
to be presented to, and went out by the door in the
north side into the middle of the churchyard. The door
on the other side was chiefly used by the few gentry of
the neighbourhood ; and the Lych-gate, with its covered
way, (for the main road had once passed on that side,)
was shared between the coffins and the carriages, the
dead who had no rank but one, that of the dead, and
the living who had more money than their neighbours.
For, let the old gentry disclaim it as they may, mere
wealth, derived from whatever source, will sooner reach
their level than poor antiquity, or the rarest refinement
of personal worth ; although, to be sure, the oldest of
them will sooner give to the rich their sons or their


daughters to wed, to love if they can, to have children
by, than they will yield a jot of their ancestral pre-
eminence, or acknowledge any equality in their sons
or daughters-in-law. The carpenter's son is to them an
old myth, not an everlasting fact. To Mammon alone
will they yield a little of their rank none of it to
Christ. Let me glorify God that Jesus took not on
Him the nature of nobles, but the seed of Adam; for
what could I do without my poor brothers and sisters?

I passed along the church to the northern door, and
went out. The churchyard lay in bright sunshine. All
the rain and gloom were gone. "If one could only
bring this glory of sun and grass into one's hope for the
future!" thought I; and looking down I saw the little
boy who aspired to paint the sky, looking up in my
face with mingled confidence and awe.

" Do you trust me, my little man ?" thought I. " You
shall trust me then. But I won't be a priest to you.
I'll be a big brother."

For the priesthood passes away, the brotherhood en-
dures. The priesthood passes away, swallowed up in
the brotherhood. It is because men cannot learn simple
things, cannot believe in the brotherhood, that they
need a priesthood. But as Dr Arnold said of the Sun-
day, " They do need it." And I, for one, am sure that
the priesthood needs the people much more than the
people needs the priesthood.

So I stooped and lifted the child and held him in my
arms. And the little fellow looked at me one moment
longer, and then put his arms gently round my neck.


And so we were friends. When I had set him down,
which I did presently, for I shuddered at the idea of the
people thinking that I was showing off the clergyman,
I looked at the boy. In his face was great sweetness
mingled with great rusticity, and I could not tell whether
he was the child of gentlefolk or of peasants. He did
not say a word, but walked away to join his aunt, who
was waiting for him at the gate of the churchyard. He
kept his head turned towards me, however, as he went,
so that, not seeing where he was going, he stumbled
over the grave of a child, and fell in the hollow on the
other side. I ran to pick him up. His aunt reached
nim at the same moment.

"Oh, thank you, sir!" she said, as I gave him to
her, with an earnestness which seemed to me dispropoi
tionate to the deed, and carried him away with a deep
blush over all her countenance.

At the churchyard-gate, the old man-of-war's man was
waiting to have another look at me. His hat was in his
hand, and he gave a pull to the short hair over his fore-
head, as if he would gladly take that off too, to show his
respect for the new parson. I held out my hand grate-
fully. It could not close around the hard, unyielding
mass of fingers which met it. He did not know how to
shake hands, and left it all to rce. But pleasure sparkled
in his eyes.

" My old woman would like to shake hands with you,
sir," he said.

Beside him stood his old woman, in a portentous
bonnet. bn?ath whose gay jellow ribbons appeared a


dusky old face, wrinkled like a ship's timbers, out of
which looked a pair of keen black eyes, where the best
beauty, that of loving-kindness, had not merely lingered,
but triumphed.

" I shall be in to see you soon," I said, as I shook
hands with her. " I shall find out where you live."

" Down by the mill," she said ; " close by it, sir.
There 's one bed in our garden that always thrives, in
the hottest summer, by the plash from the mill, sir."

" Ask for Old Rogers, sir," said the man. " Every-
body knows Old Rogers. But if your reverence minds
what my wife says, you won't go wrong. When
you find the river, it takes you to the mill ; and when
you find the mill, you find the wheel ; and when you
find the wheel, you haven't far to look for the cottage,
sir. It 's a poor place, but you '11 be welcome, sir,"



(HE next day I might expect some visitors.
It is a fortunate thing that English society
now regards the parson as a gentleman, else
he would have little chance of being useful
to the upper classes. But I wanted to get a good start
of them, and see some of my poor before my rich came
to see me. So after breakfast, on as lovely a Monday
in the beginning of autumn as ever came to comfort a
clergyman in the reaction of his efforts to feed his flock
on the Sunday, I walked out, and took my way to the
village. I strove to dismiss from my mind every feeling
of (/i>i?ig duty, of performing my part, and all that. I had
a horror of becoming a moral policeman as much as of
"doing church." I would simply enjoy the privilege,
more open to me in virtue of my office, of minister-
ing. But as no servant has a right to force his ser-
vice, so I would be the neighbour only, until such time


as the opportunity of being the servant should show

The village was as irregular as a village should be,
partly consisting of those white houses with intersect-
ing parallelograms of black which still abound in some
regions of our island. Just in the centre, however,
grouping about an old house of red brick, which had
once been a manorial residence, but was now subdivided
in all modes that analytic ingenuity could devise, rose a
portion of it which, from one point of view, might seem
part of an old town. But you had only to pass round
any one of three visible corners to see stacks of wheat
and a farm-yard ; while in another direction the houses
went straggling away into a wood that looked very like
the beginning of a forest, of which some of the village
orchards appeared to form part. From the street the
slow-winding, poplar-bordered stream was here and there
just visible.

I did not quite like to have it between me and my
village. I could not help preferring that homely rela-
tion in which the houses are built up like swallow-nests
on to the very walls of the cathedrals themselves, to the
arrangement here, where the river flowed, with what flow
there was in it, between the church and the people.

A little way beyond the farther end of the village
appeared an iron gate, of considerable size, dividing
a lofty stone wall. And upon the top of that one of
the stone pillars supporting the gate which I could see,
stood a creature of stone, whether natant, volant, passant,
touchant, or ramfant, I could not tell, only it looked


like something terrible enough for a quite antediluvian

As I passed along the street, wondering with myself
what relations between me and these houses were hid-
den in the future, my eye was caught by the window of
a little shop, in which strings of beads and elephants
of gingerbread formed the chief samples of the goods
within. It was a window much broader than it was
high, divided into lozenge-shaped panes. Wondering
what kind of old woman presided over the treasures
in this cave of Aladdin, I thought to make a first ot
my visits by going in and buying something. But I
hesitated, because I could not think of anything I was
in want of at least that the old woman was likely to
have. To be sure I wanted a copy of Bengel's " Gno-
mon ; " but she was not likely to have that. I wanted
the fourth plate in the third volume of Law's " Behmen;"
she was not likely to have that either. I did not care
for gingerbread; and I had no little girl to take home
beads to.

But why should I not go in without an ostensible
errand ? For this reason : there are dissenters every-
where, and I could not tell but I might be going into
the shop of a dissenter. Now, though, I confess, no-
thing would have pleased me better than that all the
dissenters should return to their old home in the
Church, I could not endure the suspicion of laying
myself out to entice them back by canvassing or using
any personal influence. Whether they returned or not,
however, (and I did not expect many would,) I hoped


atill, some day, to stand towards every one of them in
the relation of the parson of the parish, that is, one of
whom each might feel certain that he was ready to
serve him or her at any hour when he might be wanted
to render a service. In the meantime, I could not help

I had almost made up my mind to ask if she had a
small pocket compass, for I had seen such things in
little country shops I am afraid only in France, though
when the door opened, and out came the little boy
whom I had already seen twice, and who was therefore
one of my oldest friends in the place. He came across
the road to me, took me by the hand, and said

" Come and see mother."

l< Where, my dear?" I asked.

" In the shop there," he answered.

" Is it your mother's shop ? "

" Yes."

I said no more, but accompanied him. Of course my
expectation of seeing an old woman behind the counter
had vanished, but I was not in the least prepared for
the kind of woman I did see.

The place was half a shop and half a kitchen. A
yard or so of counter stretched inwards from the door,
just as a hint to those who might be intrusively inclined.
Beyond this, by the chimney-corner, sat the mother, who
rose as we entered. She was certainly one I do not
say of the most beautiful, but. until I have time to ex-
plain further of the most remarkable women I "had ever
seen. Her face was absolutely wiiite no, pale cream


colour except her lips and a spot upon each cheek,
which glowed with a deep carmine. You would have
said she had been painting, and painting very inartisti-
cally, so little was the red shaded into the surrounding
white. Now this was certainly not beautiful. Indeed,
it occasioned a strange feeling, almost of terror, at first,
for she reminded one of the spectre woman in the
" Rime of the Ancient Mariner." But when I got used
to her complexion, I saw that the form of her features
was quite beautiful. She might indeed have been lovely
but for a certain hardness which showed through the
beauty. This might have been the result of ill health,
ill-endured ; but I doubted it. For there was a certain
modelling of the cheeks and lips which showed that the
teeth within were firmly closed ; and, taken with the
look of the eyes and forehead, seemed the expression ot
a constant and bitter self-command. But there were in-
dubitable marks of ill health upon her, notwithstanding;
for not to mention her complexion, her large dark eye
was burning as if the lamp of life had broken and the
oil was blazing , and there was a slight expansion of the
nostrils, which indicated physical unrest. But her man-
ner was perfectly, almost dreadfully, quiet ; her voice
soft, low, and chiefly expressive of indifference. She
spoke without looking me in the face, but did not seem
either shy or ashamed. Her figure was remarkably
graceful, though too worn to be beautiful. Here wa3
a strange parishioner for me ! in a country toy -shop,
too !

As soon as the little fellow had brought me in, he


shnmk away through a half-open door that revealed a
stair behind.

" What can I do for you, sir ? " said the mother,
coldly, and with a kind of book-propriety of speech, as
she stood on the other side of the little counter, pre-
pared to open box or drawer at command.

' To tell the truth, I hardly know," I said. " I am
the new vicar ; but I do not think that I should have
come in to see you just to-day, if it had not been that
your little boy there where is he gone to ? He asked
me to come in and see his mother."

" He is too ready to make advances to strangers,

She said this in an incisive tone.

" Oh, but," I answered, " I am not a stranger to him.
I have met him twice before. He is a little darling. I
assure you he has quite gained my heart.'"

No reply for a moment. Then just "Indeed!" and
nothing more.

I could not understand it.

But a jar on a shelf, marked Tobacco, rescued me from
the most pressing portion of the perplexity, namely,
what to say next.

" Will you give me a quarter of a pound of tobacco ?*
I said.

The woman turned, took down the jar, arranged the
scales, weighed out the quantity, wrapped it up, took
the money, and all without one other word than,
"Thank you, sir;" which was all I could return, with
the addition of, " Good morning. '


For nothing was left me but to walk away with my
parcel in my pocket.

The little boy did not show himself again. I had
hoped to find him outside.

Pondering, speculating, I now set out for the mill,
which, I had already learned, was on the village side of
the river. Coming to a lane leading down to the river,
I followed it, and then walked up a path outside the
row of pollards, through a lovely meadow, where brown
and white cows were eating and shining all over the
thick deep grass. Beyond the meadow, a wood on the
side of a rising ground went parallel with the river a
long way. The river flowed on my right. That is, I
knew that it was flowing, but I could not have told how
I knew, it was so slow. Still swollen, it was of a clear
brown, in which you could see the browner trouts dart-
ing to and fro with such a slippery gliding, that the
motion seemed the result of will, without any such in-
termediate and complicate arrangement as brain and
nerves and muscles. The water-beetles went spinning
about over the surface ; and one glorious dragon-fly
made a mist about him with his long wings. And over
all, the sun hung in the sky, pouring down life ; shining
on the roots of the willows at the bottom of the stream ;
lighting up the black head of the water-rat as he hurried
across to the opposite bank ; glorifying the rich green
lake of the grass ; and giving to the whole an utterance
of love and hope and joy, which was, to him who could
read it, a more certain and full revelation of God than
any display of power in thunder, in avalanche, in stormy


sea. Those with whom the feeling of religion is only
occasional, have it most when the awful or grand breaks
out of the common ; the meek who inherit the earth,
find the God of the whole earth more evidently present
I do not say more present, for there is no measuring
of His presence more evidently present in the com-
monest things. That which is best He gives most plen-
tifully, as is reason with Him. Hence the quiet fulness
of ordinary nature ; hence the Spirit to them that ask it.
I soon came within sound of the mill ; and presently,
crossing the stream that flowed back to the river after
having done its work on the corn, I came in front of
the building, and looked over the half-door into the mill.
The floor was clean and dusty. A few full sacks, tied
tight at the mouth they always look to me as if
Joseph's silver cup were just inside stood about. In
the farther corner, the flour was trickling down out of
two wooden spouts into a wooden receptacle below.
The whole place was full of its own faint but pleasant
odour. No man was visible. The spouts went on
pouring the slow torrent of flour, as if everything could
go on with perfect propriety of itself. I could not even
see how a man could get at the stones that I heard
grinding away above, except he went up the rope that
hung from the ceiling. So I walked round the corner
of the place, and found myself in the company of the
water-wheel, mossy and green with ancient waterdrops,
looking so furred and overgrown and lumpy, that one
might have thought the wood of it had taken to growing
again in its old days, and so the wheel was losing by


slow degrees the shape of a wheel, to become some new
awful monster of a pollard As yet, however, it was
going round; slowly, indeed, and with the gravity of
age, but doing its work, and casting its loose drops in

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonald[Works] (Volume 3) → online text (page 2 of 35)