George MacDonald.

[Works] (Volume 3) online

. (page 31 of 35)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonald[Works] (Volume 3) → online text (page 31 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

her window. She then could not rest any more than I.
Sleep was driven from her eyes because she must wed
the man she would not ; while sleep was driven from
mine because I could not marry the woman I would.
Was that it? No. My heart acquitted me, in part a*
least, of thinking only of my own sorrow in the presence
of her greater distress. Gladly would I have given her
up for ever, without a hope, to redeem her from such
a bondage. " But it would be to marry another soir.e
day," suggested the tormentor within. And then the
storm, which had a little abated, broke out afresh in my
soul. But before I rose from her seat I was ready even
for that at least I thought so if only I might deliver
her from the all but destniction that seemed to be im-
pending over her. The same moment in which my
mind seemed to have arrived at the possibility of such
a resolution, I rose almost involuntarily, and glancing
once more at the dull light in her window for I did
not doubt that it was her window, though it was much
too dark to discern the shape of the house almost felt
my way to the stair, and climbed again into the storm.

But I was quieter now, and able to go home, ft must
have been nearly morning, though at this season of the
year the morning is undefined, when I reached my own
house. My sister had gone to bed, for I could always
let myself in ; nor, indeed, did anyone in Marshmallows

2 K.


think the locking of the door at night an imperative

When I fell asleep, I was again in the old quarry,
staring into the deep well. I thought Mrs Oldcastle
was murdering her daughter in the house above, while
I was spell-bound to the spot, where, if I stood long
enough, I should see her body float into the well from
the subterranean passage, the opening of which was
just below where I stood. I was thus confusing and
reconstructing the two dreadful stories of the place
that told me by old Weir, about the circumstances of
his birth ; and that told me by Dr Duncan, about Mrs
Oldcastle's treatment of her elder daughter. But as a
wnite hand and arm appeared in the water below me,
sorrow and pity more than horror broke the bonds of
sleep, and I awoke to less trouble than that of my
dreams, only because that which I feared had not yet



was the Sabbath morn. But such a Sab-
^ bath ! The day seemed all wan with wecp-
Q$l ing, and gray with care. The wind dashed
itself against the casement, laden with soft
heavy sleet. The ground, the bushes, the very out-
houses seemed sodden with the rain. The trees, which
looked stricken as if they could die of grief, were yet
tormented with fear, for the bare branches went stream-
ing out in the torrent of the wind, as cowering before
the invisible foe. The first thing I knew when I awoke
was the raving of that wind. I could lie in bed not a
moment longer. I could not rest. But how was I to
do the work of my office ? When a man's duty looks
like an enemy, dragging him into the dark mountains,
he has no less to go with it than when, like a fnend with
loving face, it otters to lead him along green pastures
by the river-side. I had little power over ray feelings;


I could not prevent my mind from mirroring itself in the
nature around me; but I could address myself to the
work I had to do. " My God !" was all the prayer I
could pray ere I descended to join my sister at the
breakfast-table. But He knew what lay behind the one

Martha could not nelp seeing that something was the
matter. I saw by her looks that she could read so
much in mine. But her eyes alone questioned me, and
that only by glancing at me anxiously from time to
time. I was grateful to her for saying nothing. It is a
fine thing in friendship to know when to be silent

The prayers were before me, in the hands of all my
friends, and in the hearts of some of them ; and if I
could not enter into them as I would, I could yet read
them humbly before God as His servant to help the
people to worship as one flock. But how was I to
preach 1 I had been in difficulty before now, but never
in so much. How was I to teach others, whose mind
was one confusion? The subject on which I was pon-
dering when young Weir came to tell me his sister was
dying, had retreated as if into the far past ; it seemed as
if years had come between that time and this, though
but one black night had rolled by. To attempt to speak
upon that would have been vain, for I had nothing to
say on the matter now. And if I could have recalled
my former thoughts, I should have felt a hypocrite as I
delivered them, so utterly dissociated would they have
been from anything that I was thinking or feeling now.
Here would have been my visible form and audible


voice, uttering that as present to me now, as felt by me
now, which I did think and feel yesterday, but which,
although I believed it, was not present to my feeling or
heart, and must wait the revolution of months, or it
might be of years, before I should feel it again, before I
should be able to exhort my people about it with the
fervour of a present faith. But, indeed, I could not even
recall what I had thought and felt. Should I then tell
them that I could not speak to them that morning]
There would be nothing wrong in that. But I felt
ashamed of yielding to personal trouble when the truths
of God were all about me, although I could not feel
them. Might not some hungry soul go away without
being satisfied, because I was faint and down-hearted ?
I confess I had a desire likewise to avoid giving rise
to speculation and talk about myself, a desire which,
although not wrong, could neither have strengthened
me to speak the truth, nor have justified me in making
the attempt. What was to be done?

All at once the remembrance crossed my mind of a
sermon I had preached before upon the words of St
Paul : " Thou therefore which tcachtst another, teachest
thou not thyself?" a subject suggested by the fact that
on the preceding Sunday I had especially fell, in preach-
ing to my people, that I was exhorting myself whose
necessity was greater than theirs at least I felt it to be
greater than I could know theirs to be. And no\v the
converse of the thought came to me, and I said to
myself, " Might I not try the other way now, and preach
to myself? In teaching myself, mipjht 1 not teach others J


Would it not hold? I am very troubled and faithless
now. If I knew that God was going to lay the full
weight of this grief upon me, yet if I loved Him with all
my heart, should I not at least be more quiet? There
would not be a storm within me then, JLS if the Father
had descended from the throne of the heavens, and
'chaos were come again.' Let me expostulate with
myself in my heart, and the words of my expostulation
will not be the less true with my people."

All this passed through my mind as I sat in my study
after breakfast, with the great old cedar roaring before my
window. It was within an hour of church-time. I took
my Bible, read and thought, got even some comfort
already, and found myself in my vestry not quite unwill-
ing to read the prayers and speak to my people.

There were very few present. The day was one of
the worst violently stormy, which harmonized some-
what with my feelings ; and, to my further relief, the
Hall pew was empty. Instead of finding myself a mere
minister to the prayers of others, I found, as I read,
that my heart went out in crying to God for the divine
presence of His Spirit. And if I thought more of myself
in my prayers than was well, yet as soon as I was con-
verted, would I not strengthen my brethren? And the
sermon I preached to myself and through myself to my
people, was that which the stars had preached to me,
and thereby driven me to my knees by the mill-door.
I took for my text, " The glory of the Lord shall be
revealed ; " and then I proceeded to show them how
the glory of the Lord was to be revealed. I Dre^v^


to myself that throughout this fortieth chapter of the
prophecies of Isaiah, the power of God is put side by
side with the weakness of men, not that He, the perfect,
may glory over His feeble children ; not that He may
say to them " Look how mighty I am, and go down
upon your knees and worship" for power alone was
never yet worthy of prayer ; but that he may say thus :
" Look, my children, you will never be strong but with
tny strength. I have no other to give you. And that
you can get only by trusting in me. I cannot give it you
any other way. There is no other way. But can you
not trust in me ? Look how strong I am. You wither
like the grass. Do not fear. Let the grass wither. Lay
hold of my word, that which I say to you out of my
truth, and that will be life in you that the blowing of
the wind that withers cannot reach. I am coming with
my strong hand and my judging arm to do my work.
And what is the work of my strong hand and ruling
arm ? To feed my flock like a shepherd, to gather the
lambs with my arm, and carry them in my bosom, and
gently lead those that are with young. I have measured
the waters in the hollow of my hand, and held the
mountains in my scales, to give each his due weight,
and all the nations, so strong and fearful in your eyes
are as nothing beside my strength and what I ran do.
Do not think of me as of an image that your hands can
make, a tiling you can choose to serve, and for which
you can do things to win its favour. I am before
above the earth, and over your life, and your oppressors
I will wither with my breath. I come to you with help.


I need no worship from you. But I say love me, for
love is life, and I love you. Look at the stars I have
made. I know every one of them. Not one goes wrong,
because I keep him right. Why sayest thou, O Jacob,
and speakest, O Israel my way is hid from the Lord,
and my judgment is passed over from my God 1 I give
power to the faint, and to them that have no might,
plenty of strength."

" Thus," I went on to say, " God brings His strength
to destroy our weakness by making us strong. This is
a God indeed ! Shall we not trust Him]"

I gave my people this paraphrase of the chapter, to
help them to see the meanings which their familiarity
with the words, and their non-familiarity with the modes
of Eastern thought, and the forms of Eastern expression,
would unite to prevent them from catching more than
broken glimmerings of. And then I tried to show them
that it was in the commonest troubles of life, as well as
in the spiritual fears and perplexities that came upon
them, that they were to trust in God; for God made
the outside as well as the inside, and they altogether
belonged to Him; and that when outside things, such
as pain or loss of work, or difficulty in getting money,
were referred to God and His will, they too straightway
became spiritual affairs, for nothing in the world could
any longer appear common or unclean to the man who
saw God in everything. But I told them they must not
be too anxious to be delivered from that which troubled
them : but they ought to be anxious to have the pre-
sence of God with them to support them, and make


them able in patience to possess their souls ; and so the
trouble would work its end the purification of their
minds, that the light and gladness of God and all His
earth, which the pure in heart and the meek alone could
inherit, might shine in upon them. And then I repeated
to them this portion of a prayer out of one of Sir Philip
Sidney's books :

"O Lord, I yield unto Thy will, and joyfully embrace
what sorrow Thou wilt have me suffer. Only thus much
let me crave of Thee, (let my craving, O Lord, be
accepted of Thee, since even that proceeds from Thee,)
let me crave, even by the noblest title, which in my
greatest affliction I may give myself, that I am Thy
creature, and by Thy goodness (which is Thyself) that
Thou wilt suffer some beam of Thy majesty so to shine
into my mind, that it may still depend confidently on

All the time I was speaking, the rain, mingled with
sleet, was dashing against the windows, and the wind
was howling over the graves all about. But the dead
were not troubled by the storm ; and over my head,
from beam to beam of the roof, now resting on one,
now flitting to another, a sparrow kept flying, which
had taken refuge in the church till the storm should
cease and the sun shine out in the temple.
" This," I said aloud, " is what the church is for : as
the sparrow finds there a house from the storm, so
the human heart escapes thither to hear the still small


voice of God when its faith is too weak to find Him in
the storm, and in the sorrow, and in the pain." And
while I spoke, a dim watery gleam fell on the chancel-
floor, and the comfort of the sun awoke in my heart.
Nor let any one call me superstitious for taking that pale
sun-ray of hope as sent to me ; for I received it as
comfort for the race, and for me as one of the family,
even as the bow that was set in the cloud, a promise to
the eyes of light for them that sit in darkness. As I
write, my eye falls upon the Bible on the table by my
side, and I read the words, " For the Lord God is a sun
and shield, the Lord will give grace and glory." And
I lift my eyes from my paper and look abroad from my
window, and the sun is shining in its strength. The
leaves are dancing in the light wind that gives them
each its share of the sun, and my trouble has passed
away for ever, like the storm of that night and the unrest
of that strange Sabbath.

Such comforts would come to us oftener from Nature,
if we really believed that our God was the God of
Nature ; that when He made, or rather when He
makes, He means ; that not His hands only, but His
heart too, is in the making of those things ; that, there-
fore, the influences of Nature upon human minds and
hearts are because He intended them. And if we be-
lieve that our God is everywhere, why should we not
think Him present even in the coincidences that some-
times seem so strange ? For, if He be in the things
that coincide, He must be in the coincidence of those


Miss Oldcastle told me once that she could not take
her eyes off a butterfly which was flitting about in the
church all the time I was speaking of the resurrection
of the dead. I told the people that in Greek there was
one word for the soul and for a butterfly Psyche ; that
I thought as the light on the rain made the natural
symbol of mercy the rainbow, so the butterfly was the
type in nature, and made to the end, amongst other
ends, of being such a type of the resurrection of the
human body ; that its name certainly expressed the
hope of the Greeks in immortality, while to us it speaks
likewise of a glorified body, whereby we shall know and
love each other with our eyes as well as our hearts.
My sister saw the butterfly too, but only remembered
that she had seen it when it was mentioned in her hear-
ing : on her the sight made no impression ; she saw no

I descended from the pulpit comforted by the sermon
I had preached to myself. But I was glad to feel justi-
fied in telling my people that, in consequence of the
continued storm, for there had been no more of sunshine
than just that watery gleam, there would be no service
in the afternoon, and that I would instead visit sonic of
my sick poor, whom the weather might have discom-
posed in their worn dwellings.

The people were very slow in dispersing. There was
so much putting on of clogs, gathering up of skirts over
the head, and expanding of umbrellas, scon to be taken
down again as worse than useless in the violence ot the
wind, that the porches were crowded, and the few left


in the church detained till the others made way. I
lingered with these. They were all poor people.

" I am sorry you will have such a wet walk home,"
I said to Mrs Baird, the wife of old Reginald Baird, the
shoemaker, a little wizened creature, with more wrinkles
than hairs, who the older and more withered she grew,
seemed like the kernels of some nuts only to grow the

" It 's very good of you to let us off this afternoon,
sir. Not as I minds the wet : it finds out the holes
in people's shoes, and gets my husband into more

This was in fact the response of the shoemaker's
wife to my sermon. If we look for responses after our
fashion instead of after people's own fashion, we ought
to be disappointed. Any recognition of truth, whatever
form it may take, whether that of poetic delight, intel-
lectual corroboration, practical commonplace, or even
vulgar aphorism, must be welcomed by the husbandmen
of the God of growth. A response which jars against
the peculiar pitch of our mental instrument, must not
therefore be turned away from with dislike. Our mood
of the moment is not "that by which the universe is tuned
into its harmonies. We must drop our instrument and
listen to the other, and if we find that the player upon
it is breathing after a higher expression, is, after his
fashion, striving to embody something he sees of the
same truth the utterance of which called forth this his
answer, let us thank God and take courage. God at
least is pleased : and if our refinement and education


take away from our pleasure, it is because of something
low, false, and selfish, not divine in a word, that is
mingled with that refinement and that education. If
the shoemaker's wife's response to the prophet's grand
poem about the care of God over His creatures, took
the form of acknowledgment for the rain that found out
the holes in the people's shoes, it was the more genuine
and true, for in itself it afforded proof that it was not
a mere reflex of the words of the prophet, but sprung
from the experience and recognition of the shoemaker's
wife. Nor was there anything necessarily selfish in it,
for if there are holes in people's shoes, the sooner they
are found out the better.

While I was talking to Mrs Buird, Mr Stoddart, whose
love for the old organ had been stronger than his dislike
to the storm, had come down into the church, and now
approached me.

" I never saw you in the church before, Mr Stoddart,"
I said, " though I have heard you often enough. You
use your own private door always."

" I thought to go that way now, but there came such
a fierce burst of wind and rain in my face, that my
courage failed me, and I turned back like the sparrow
for refuge in the church."

" A thought strikes me," I said. " Come home with
me, and have some lunch, and then we will go together
to see some of my poor people. I have often wished
to ask you."

His face fell.

" It is such a. day "' be ansv.x-red, remonstratingly, but


not positively refusing. It was not his way ever to

refuse anything positively.

"So it was when you set out this morning," I re-
turned ; " but you would not deprive us of the aid of
your music for the sake of a charge of wind, and a rattle
of rain-drops."

" But I shan't be of any use. You are going, and
that is enough."

" I beg your pardon. Your very presence will be of
use. Nothing yet given him or done for him by his
fellow, ever did any man so much good as the recogni-
tion of the brotherhood by the common signs of friend-
ship and sympathy. The best good of given money
depends on the degree to which it is the sign of that
friendship and sympathy. Our Lord did not make little
of visiting : ' I was sick, and ye visited me.' ' Inasmuch
as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not
to me.' Of course, if the visitor goes professionally and
not humanly, as a mere religious policeman, that is
whether he only distributes tracts with condescending
words, or gives money liberally because he thinks he
ought, the more he does not go the better, for he only
does harm to them and himself too."

" But I cannot pretend to feel any of the interest you
consider essential : why then should I go?"

" To please me, your friend. That is a good human
reason. You need not say a word you must not pre-
tend anything. Go as my companion, not as their visitor.
Will you come 1 "

" I suppose I must.'"'


" You must, then. Thank you. You will lielp me.
I have seldom a companion."

So when the storm-fit had abated for the moment, we
hurried to the vicarage, had a good though hasty lunch,
(to which I was pleased to see Mr Stoddart do justice ;
for it is with man as with beast, if you want work out
of him, he must eat well and it is the one justification
of eating well, that a man woiks well upon it,) and set
out for the village. The rain was worse than ever.
There was no sleet, and the wind was not cold, but
the windows of heaven were opened, and if the foun-
tains of the great deep were not broken up, it looked
like it, at least, when we reached the bridge and saw
how the river had spread out over all the low lands
on its borders. We could not talk much as we went

" Don't you find some pleasure in fighting the wind ? "
I said.

" I have no doubt I should," answered Mr Stoddart,
" if I thought I were going to do any good ; but as it
is, to tell the truth, I would rather be by my own fire
with my folio Dante on the reading dc.-,k."

" Well, I would rather help the poorest woman in
creation, than contemplate the sufferings of the greatest
and wickedest," I said.

" There are two things you forget," returned Mr
Stoddart " First, that the poem of Dante is not nearly
occupied with the sufferings of the wicked ; and next,
that what I have complained of in this expedition
which, as far as I am concerned, I would call a \\ild-


goose chase, were it not that it is your doing and not
mine is that I am not going to help anybody."

" You would have the best of the argument entirely,"
I replied, " if your expectation was sure to turn out

As I spoke, we had come within a few yards of the
Tomkins's cottage, which lay low down from the village
towards the river, and I saw that the water was at the
threshold. I turned to Mr Stoddart, who, to do him
justice, had not yet grumbled in the least.

" Perhaps you had better go home, after all," I said ;
" for you must wade into Tomkins's if you go at all.
Poor old man ! what can he be doing, with his wife
dying, and the river in his house ! "

" You have constituted yourself my superior officer,
Mr Walton. I never turned my back on my leader yet.
Though I confess I wish I could see the enemy a little

" There is the enemy," I said, pointing to the water,
and walking into it.

Mr Stoddart followed me without a moment's hesita-

When I opened the door, the first thing I saw was a
small stream of water running straight from the door to
the fire on the hearth, which it had already drowned.
The old man was sitting by his wife's bedside. Life
seemed rapidly going from the old woman. She lay
breathing very hard.

" Oh, sir," said the old man, as he rose, almost cry-
ing, " you 're come at last !"


" Did you send for met" I asked.

" No, sir. I had nobody to send. Leastways, I
asked the Lord if He wouldn't fetch you. I been
prayin' hard for you for the last hour. I couldn't leave
her to come for you. And I do believe the wind 'ud ha'
blown me off my two old legs."

"Well, I am come, you see. I would have come
sooner, but I had no idea you would be flooded."

"It's not that I mind, sir, though it is cold sin' the
fire went But she is goin' now, sir. She ha'n't spoken
a word this two hours and more, and her breathin 's
worse and worse. She don't know me now, sir."

A moan of protestation came from the dying woman.

" She does know you, and loves you too, Tomkins,"
I said. " And you '11 both know each other better by
and by."

The old woman made a feeble motion with her hand.
I took it in mine. It was cold and deathlike. The rain
was falling in large slow drops from the roof upon the bed-
clothes. But she would be beyond the reach of all the
raging storms before long, and it did not matter much.

" Look if you can find a basin or plate, Mr Stocklart,
and put it to catch the drop here," I said.

For I wanted to give him the first chance of being

"There's one in the press there," said the old man,

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonald[Works] (Volume 3) → online text (page 31 of 35)