George MacDonald.

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the alms-giving of a gentle rain upon a little plot of
Master Rogers's garden, which was therefore full of
moisture-loving flowers. This plot was divided from the
mill-wheel by a small stream which carried away the
surplus water, and was now full and running rapidly.

Beyond the stream, beside the flower bed, stood a
dusty young man, talking to a young woman with a rosy
face and clear honest eyes. The moment they saw me
they parted. The young man came across the stream
at a step, and the young woman went up the garden
towards the cottage.

"That must be Old Rogers's cottage?" I said to the

" Yes, sir," he answered, looking a little sheepish.

" Was that his daughter that nice-looking young
woman you were talking to?"

" Yes, sir, it was."

And he stole a shy pleased look at me out of the
corners of his eyes.

" It "s a good thing," I said, " to have an honest ex-
perienced old mill like yours, that can manage to go on
of itself for a little while now and then."

This gave a great help to his budding confidence. He

" Well, sir, it 's not very often it 's left to itself. Jane
isn't at her father's above once or twice a week at most"


"She doesn't live with them, then?"

"No, sir. You see they're both hearty, and they
ain't over well to do, and Jane lives up at the Hall, sir.
She 's upper housemaid, and waits on one of the young
ladies. Old Rogers has seen a great deal of the world,

" So I imagine. I am just going to see him. Good

I jumped across the stream, and went up a little gravel-
walk, which led me in a few yards to the cottage-door.
It was a sweet place to live in, with honeysuckle growing
over the house, and the sounds of the softly-labouring
mill-wheel ever in its little porch and about its windows.

The door was open, and Dame Rogers came from
within to meet me. She welcomed me, and led the way
into her little kitchen. As I entered, Jane went out at
the back-door. But it was only to call her father, who
presently came in.

"I'm glad to see ye, sir. This pleasure comes of
having no work to-day. After harvest there comes slack
times for the likes of me. People don't care about a
bag of old bones when they can get hold of young men.
Well, well, never mind, old woman. The Lord '11 take
us through somehow. When the wind blows, the ship
goes; when the wind drops, the ship stops; but the sea
is His all the same, for He made it; and the wind is
His all the same too."

He spoke in the most matter-of-fact tone, unaware of
anything poetic in what he said. To him it was just
common sense, and common sense only.


" I am sorry you are out of work," I said. " But my
garden is sadly out of order, and I must have something
done to it. You don't dislike gardening, do you?"

" Well, I beant a right good hand at garden-work,"
answered the old man, with some embarrassment, scratch-
ing his gray head with a troubled scratch.

There was more in this than met the ear; but what, I
could not conjecture. I would press the point a little.
So I took him at his own word.

" I won't ask you to do any of the more ornamental
part," I said, " only plain digging and hoeing."

" I would rather be excused, sir."

" I am afraid I made you think "

" I thought nothing, sir. I thank you kindly, sir."

" I assure you I want the work done, and I musl
employ some one else if you don't undertake it."

"Well, sir, my back's bad now no, sir, I won't tell
a story about it. I would just rather not, sir."

" Now," his wife broke in, " now, Old Rogers, why
won't 'ee tell the parson the truth, like a man, down-
right? If ye won't, I '11 do it for 'ee. The fact is, sir,"
she went on, turning to me, with a plate in her hand,
which she was wiping, " the fact is, that the old parson's
man for that kind o 1 work was Simmons, t'other end ot
the village; and my man is so afeard o' hurtin' e'er
another, that he'll turn the bread away from hi* own
mouth and let it fall in the dirt."

" Now, now, old 'oman, don't 'ee belie me. I 'm not
so bad as that. You see, sir, I never was good at
knowin' right from wrong like. I never was good, that


is, at tellin' exactly what I ought to do. So when any-
thing comes up, I just says to myself, ' Now, Old Rogers,
what do you think the Lord would best like you to do]'
And as soon as I ax myself that, I know directly what
I've got to do; and then my old woman can't turn me
no more than a bull. And she don't like my obstinate
fits. But, you see, I daren't sir, once I axed myself

" Stick to that, Rogers," I said.

" Besides, sir," he went on, " Simmons wants it more
than I do. He 's got a sick wife ; and my old woman,
thank God, is hale and hearty. And there is another
thing besides, sir : he might take it hard of you, sir, and
think it was turning away an old servant like; and then,
sir, he wouldn't be ready to hear what you had to tell
him, and might, mayhap, lose a deal o' comfort. And
that I would take worst of all, sir."

" Well, well, Rogers, Simmons shall have the job."

" Thank ye, sir," said the old man.

His wife, who could not see the thing quite from her
husband's point of view, was too honest to say anything ;
but she was none the less cordial to me. The daughter
stood looking from one to the other with attentive face,
which took everything, but revealed nothing.

I rose to go. As I reached the door, I remembered
the tobacco in my pocket. I had not bought it for my-
self. I never could smoke. Nor do I conceive that
smoking is essential to a clergyman in the country;
though I have occasionally envied one of my brethren
in London, who will sit down by the fire, and, lighting


his pipe, at the same time please his host and subdue
the bad smells of the place. And I never could hit his
way of talking to his parishioners either. He could put
them at their ease in a moment. I think he must have
got the trick out of his pipe. But in reality, I seldom
think about how I ought to talk to anybody I am with.

That I didn't smoke myself was no reason why I
should not help Old Rogers to smoke. So I pulled out
the tobacco.

" You smoke, don't you, Rogers'?" I said.

"Well, sir, I can't deny it It's not much I spend
on baccay, anyhow. Is it, dame 1

" No, that it bean't," answered his wife.

" You don't think there 's any harm in smoking a
pipe, sir?"

" Not the least," I answered, with emphasis.

" You see, sir," he went on, not giving me time to
prove how far I was from thinking there was any harm
in it, " You see, sir, sailors learns many ways they might
be better without I used to take my pan o' grog with
the rest of them ; but I give that up quite, 'cause as how
I don't want it now."

" 'Cause as how," interrupted his wife, " you spend
the money on tea for me, instead. You wicked old
man to tell stories !"

" Well, I takes my share of the tea, old woman, and
I 'm sure it's a deal better for me. But, to tell the truth,
sir, I was a little troubled in my mind about the baccay,
not knowing whether I ought to have it or not For
you see, the parson that's gone didn't more than half


like it, as I could tell by the turn of his hawse-holes
when he came in at the door and me a-smokin'. Not
as he said anything ; for, ye see, I was an old man, and
I daresay that kep him quiet. But I did hear him blow
up a young chap i' the village he come upon promiscus
with a pipe in his mouth. He did give him a thunderin'
broadside, to be sure ! So I was in two minds whether
I ought to go on with my pipe or not."

" And how did you settle the question, Rogers?"
" Why, I followed my own old chart, sir."
" Quite right One mustn't mind too much what
other people think."

" That's not exactly what I mean, sir."
" What do you mean then ? I should like to know."
" Well, sir, I mean that I said to myself, ' Now, Old
Rogers, what do you think the Lord would say about
this here baccay business?"'

"And what did you think He would say?"
" Why, sir, I thought He would say, ' Old Rogers,
have yer baccay ; only mind ye don't grumble when you
'aint got none/"

Something in this I could not at the time have told
what touched me more than I can express. No doubt
it was the simple reality of the relation in which the old
man stood to his Father in heaven that made me feel
as if the tears would come in spite of me.

" And this is the man," I said to myself, " whom I
thought I should be able to teach ! Well, the wisest
learn most, and I may be useful to him after alL"
As I said nothing, the old man resumed


" For you see, sir, it is not always a body feels he has
a right to spend his ha'pence on baccay ; and sometimes,
too, he 'aint got none to spend."

" In the meantime," I said, " here is some that I
bought for you as I came along. I hope you will find
it good. I am no judge."

The old sailor's eyes glistened with gratitude. " Well,
who 'd ha' thought it. You didn't think I was beggin'
lor tt, sir, surely 1"

" You see I had it for you in my pocket."

" Well, that is good o' you, sir !"

" Why, Rogers, that'll last you a month !" exclaimed
his wife, looking nearly as pleased as himself.

"Six weeks at least, wife," he answered. "And ye
don't smoke yourself, sir, and yet ye bring baccay to
me ! Well, it's just like yer Master, sir.''

I went away, resolved that Old Rogers should have
no chance of "grumbling" for want of tobacco, if I
could help it



JN" the way back, my thoughts were still occu-
pied with the woman I had seen in the little
shop. The old man-of-war's man was pro-
bably the nobler being of the two ; and if I
had had to choose between them, I should no doubt
have chosen him. But I had not to choose between
them ; I had only to think about them ; and I thought a
great deal more about the one I could not understand
than the one I could understand. For Old Rogers
wanted little help from me ; whereas the other was evi-
dently a soul in pain, and therefore belonged to me in
peculiar right of my office ; while the readiest way in
which I could justify to myself the possession of that
office was to make it a shepherding of the sheep. So I
resolved to find out what I could about her, as one hav-
ing a right to know, that I might see whether I could
not help her. From herself it was evident that her


secret, if she had one, was not to be easily gained ; but
even the common reports of the village would be some
enlightenment to the darkness I was in about her.

As I went again through the village, I observed a nar-
row lane striking off to the left, and resolved to explore
in that direction. It led up to one side of the large
house of which I have already spoken. As I came near,
I smelt what has been to me always a delightful smell
that of fresh deals under the hands of the carpenter. In
the scent of those boards of pine is enclosed all the idea
the tree could gather of the world of forest where it was
reared. It speaks of many wild and bright but chiefly
clean and rather cold things. If I were idling, it would
draw me to it across many fields. Turning a corner, I
heard the sound of a saw. And this sound drew me yet
more. For a carpenter's shop was the delight of my
boyhood ; and after I began to read the history of our
Lord with something of that sense of reality with which
we read other histories, and which, I am sorry to think,
so much of the well-meant instruction we receive in our
youth tends to destroy, my feeling about such a work
shop grew stronger and stronger, till at last I never could
go near enough to see the shavings lying on the floor of
one, without a spiritual sensation sucli as I have in enter-
ing an old church ; which sensation, ever since having
been admitted on the usual conditions to a Mohamme-
dan mosque, urges me to pull off, not only my hat, but
my shoes likewise. And the feeling has grown upon
me, till now it seems at times as if the only cure in the
world for social pride would be to go for five silent


minutes into a carpenter's shop. How one can think of
himself as above his neighbours, within sight, sound, or
smell of one, I fear I am getting almost unable to ima-
gine ; and one ought not to get out of sympathy with the
wrong. Only as I am growing old now, it does not
matter so much, for I daresay my time will not be very

So I drew near to the shop, feeling as if the Lord might
be at work there at one of the benches. And when I
reached the door, there was my pale-faced hearer of the
Sunday afternoon, sawing a board for a coffin-lid.

As my shadow fell across and darkened his work, he
lifted his head and saw me.

I could not altogether understand the expression of
his countenance as he stood upright from his labour and
touched his old hat with rather a proud than a courteous
gesture. And I could not believe that he was glad to
see me, although he laid down his saw and advanced to
the door. It was the gentleman in him, not the man,
that sought to make me welcome, hardly caring whether
I saw through the ceremony or not. True, there was a
smile on his lips, but the smile of a man who cherishes
a secret grudge ; of one who does not altogether dislike
you, but who has a claim upon you say, for an apology,
of which claim he doubts whether you know the exist-
ence. So the smile seemed tightened, and stopped just
when it got half-way to its width, and was about to be-
come hearty and begin to shine.

" May I come in 1 " I said.

" Come in, sir," he answered.


" I am glad I have happened to come upon you by
accident," I said.

He smiled as if he did not quite believe in the acci-
dent, and considered it a part of the play between us
that I should pretend it I hastened to add

" I was wandering about the place, making some
acquaintance with it, and with my friends in it, when
I came upon you quite unexpectedly. You know I
saw you in church on Sunday afternoon."

" I know you saw me, sir," he answered, with a motion
as if to return to his work ; " but, to tell the truth, I
don't go to church very often."

I did not quite know whether to take this as proceed-
ing from an honest fear of being misunderstood, or from
a sense of being in general superior to all that sort of
thing. But I felt that it would be of no good to pursue
the inquiry directly. I looked therefore for something
to say.

"Ah! your work is not always a pleasant one," I said,
associating the feelings of which I have already spoken
with the facts before me, and looking at the coffin, the
lower part of which stood nearly finished upon trestles
on the floor.

" Well, there are unpleasant things in all trades," he
answered. " But it does not matter," he added, with
an increase of bitterness in his smile.

" I didn't mean," I said, " that the work was un-
pleasant only sad. It must always be painful to make
a coffin."

" A joiner gets used to it, sir, as you do to the funeral



service. But, for my part, I don't see why it should be
considered so unhappy for a man to be buried. This
isn't such a good job, after all, this world, sir, you must

" Neither is that coffin," said I, as if by a sudden in-

The man seemed taken aback, as Old Rogers might
have said. He looked at the coffin and then looked
at me.

" Well, sir," he said, after a short pause, which no
doubt seemed longer both to him and to me than it
would have seemed to any third person, " I don't see
anything amiss with the coffin. I don't say it '11 last till
doomsday, as the gravedigger says to Hamlet, because
I don't know so n;uch about doomsday as some people
pretend to ; but you see, sir, it 's not finished yet."

" Thank you," I said ; " that 's just what I meant
You thought I was hasty in my judgment of your coffin ;
whereas I only said of it knowingly what you said of the
world thoughtlessly. How do you know that the world
is finished any more than your coffin 1 And how dare
you then say that it is a bad job 1 ?"

The same respectfully scornful smile passed over his
face, as much as to say, " Ah ! it 's your trade to talk
that way, so I must not be too hard upon you."

"At any rate, sir," he said, "whoever made it has
taken long enough about it, a person would think, to
finish anything he ever meant to finish."

" One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and
a thousand years as one day," I said.


** That's supposing," he answered, " that the Lord did
make the world. For my part, I am half of a mind that
the Ix>rd didn't make it at all"

" I am very glad to hear you say so," I answered.
Hereupon I found that we had changed places a little.
He looked up at me. The smile of superiority was no
longer there, and a puzzled questioning, which might
indicate either " Who would have expected that from
you t " or, " What can he mean ? " or both at once, had
taken its place. I, for my part, knew that on the scale
of the man's judgment I had risen nearer to his own
level. As he said nothing, however, and I was in danger
of being misunderstood, I proceeded at once.

" Of course it seems to me better that you should not
believe God had done a thing, than that you should be-
lieve He had not done it well ! "

" Ah ! I see, sir. Then you will allow there is some
room for doubting whether He made the world at all]"

" Yes; for I do not think an honest man, as you seem
to me to be, would be able to doubt without any room
whatever. That would be only for a fool. But it is just
possible, as we are not perfectly good ourselves you '11
allow that, won't you ? "

" That I will, sir ; God knows."

"Well, I say as we're not quite good ourselves, it's
just possible that things may be too good for us to do
them the justice of believing in them."

" But there are things, you must allow, so plainly
wrong ! "

" So much so, both in the world and in mvself, that it


would be to me torturing despair to believe that God
did not make the world ; for then, how would it ever be
put right? Therefore I prefer the theory that He has
not done making it yet."

" But wouldn't you say, sir, that God might have
managed it without so many slips in the making as your
way would suppose ? I should think myself a bad work-
man if I worked after that fashion."

" I do not believe that there are any slips. You know
you are making a coffin ; but are you sure you know
what God is making of the world?"

" That I can't tell, of course, nor anybody else."

" Then you can't say that what looks like a slip is
really a slip, either in the design or in the workmanship.
You do not know what end He has in view ; and you
may find some day that those slips were just the straight
road to that very end."

" Ah ! maybe. But you can't be sure of it, you see."

" Perhaps not, in the way you mean ; but sure enough,
for all that, to try it upon life to order my way by it,
and so find that it works well. And I find that it ex-
plains everything that comes near it. You know that
no engineer would be satisfied with his engine on paper,
nor with any proof whatever except seeing how it will

He made no reply.

It is a principle of mine never to push anything over
the edge. When I am successful in any argument, my
one dread is of humiliating my opponent. Indeed I
cannot bear it It humiliates me. And if you want


him to think about anything, you must leave him room,
and not give him such associations with the question
that the very idea of it will be painful and irritating to
him. Let him have a hand in the convincing of himselt
I have been surprised sometimes to see my own argu-
ments come up fresh and green, when I thought the
fowls of the air had devoured them up. When a man
reasons for victory and not for the truth in the other soul,
he is sure of just one ally, the same that Faust had in
fighting Gretchen's brother that is, the Devil. But
God and good men are against him. So I never follow
up a victory of that kind, for, as I said, the defeat ol
the intehect is not the object in fighting with the sword
of the Spirit, but the acceptance of the heart. In this
case, therefore, I drew back.

" May I ask for whom you are making that coffin V

" For a sister of my own, sir."

" I 'm sorry to hear that."

" There 's no occasion. I can't say I 'm sorry, though
she was one of the best women I ever knew "

" Why are you not sorry, then? Life's a good thing
in the main, you will allow."

" Yes, when it 's endurable at all. But to have a brute
of a husband coming home at any hour of the night or
morning, drunk upon the money she had earned by hard
work, was enough to take more of the shine out of
things than church-going on Sundays could put in again,
regular as she was, poor woman ! I 'm as glad as her
bnite of a husband, that she's out of his way at last."

" How do you know he's glad of it?''


" lie 's been drunk every night since she died."

" Then he's the worse for losing her?"

" He may well be. Crying like a hypocrite, too, over
his own work ! "

" A fool he must be. A hypocrite, perhaps not. A
hypocrite is a terrible name to give. Perhaps her death
will do him good."

" He doesn't deserve to be done any good to. I
would have made this coffin for him with a world of

" I never found that I deserved anything, not even a
coffin. The only claim that I could ever lay to any-
thing was that I was very much in want of it"

The old smile returned as much as to say, " That 's
your little game in the church." But I resolved to try
nothing more with him at present; and indeed was sorry
that I had started the new question at all, partly because
thus I had again given him occasion to feel that he knew
better than I did, which was not good either for him or
for me in our relation to each other.

" This has been a fine old room once," I said, look-
ing round the workshop.

" You can see it wasn't a workshop always, sir.
Many a grand dinner-party has sat down in this room
when it was in its glory. Look at the chimney-piece

" I have been looking at it," I said, going nearer.

" It represents the four quarters of the world, you see."

I saw strange figures of men and women, one on a
kneeling camel, one on a crawling crocodile, and others


differently mounted ; with various besides of Nature's
bizarre productions creeping and flying in stone-carving
over the huge fire-place, in which, in place of a fire,
stood several new and therefore brilliantly red cart-
wheels. The sun shone through the upper part of a
high window, of which many of the panes were broken,
right in upon the cart-wheels, which, glowing thus in the
chimney under the sombre chimney-piece, added to the
grotesque look of the whole assemblage of contrasts.
The coffin and the carpenter stood in the twilight occa-
sioned by the sharp division of light made by a lofty
wing of the house that rose flanking the other window.
The room was still wainscotted in panels, which, I pre-
sume, for the sake of the more light required for handi-
craft, had been washed all over with white. At the level
of labour they were broken in many places. Somehow
or other, the whole reminded me of Albert Diirer's
" Melencholia."

Seeing I was interested in looking about his shop, my
new friend for I could not help feeling that we should
be friends before all was over, and so began to count
him one already resumed the conversation. He had
never taken up the dropped thread of it before.

"Yes, sir," he said; "the owners of the place little
thought it would come to this the deals growing into a
coffin there on the spot where the grand dinner was laid
for them and their guests ! But there is another thing
about it that is odder still ; my son is the last male "

Here he stopped suddenly, and his face grew very red.
As suddenly he resumed


" I 'm not a gentleman, sir; but I will tell the truth.
Curse it ! I beg your pardon, sir," and here the old
smile " I don't think I got that from their side of the
house. My son's not the last male descendant"

Here followed another pause.

As to the imprecation, I knew better than to take any
notice of a mere expression of excitement under a sense
of some injury with which I was not yet acquainted. If

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