George MacDonald.

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nearer and nearer to the invisible world, all my brothers
and sisters grow dearer and dearer to me ; I feel towards
them more and more as the children of my Father in
heaven ; and although some of them are good children
and some naughty children, some very lovable and some
hard to love, yet I never feel that they are below me,
or unfit to listen to the story even of my love, if they
only care to listen ; and if they do not care, there is no
harm done, except they read it. Even should they, and
then scoff at what seemed and seems to me the precious
story, I have these defences : first, that it was not for
them that I cast forth my precious pearls, for precious
to me is the significance of every fact in my history
not that it is mine, for I have only been as clay in the


hands of the potter, but that it is God's, who made my
history as it seemed and was good to Him ; and second,
that even should they trample them under their feet, they
cannot well get at me to rend me. And more, the
nearer I come to the region beyond, the more I feel
that in that land a man needs not shrink from uttering
his deepest thoughts, inasmuch as he that understands
them not will not therefore revile him. " But you are
not there yet You are in the land in which the brother
speaketh evil of that which he understandeth not."
True, friend ; too true. But I only do as Ur Donne
did in writing that poem in his sickness, when he thought
he was near to the world of which \ve speak : I rehearse
now, that I may find it easier then.

" Since I am coming to that holy room,

Where, with the choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music, as I come,
I tune the instrument here at the door ;
And what I must do then, think here before."

When Rogers had thanked God, he rose, took my
hand, and said :

" Mr Walton, you will preach now. I thank God for
the good we shall all get from the trouble you have gone

" I ought to be the better for it," I answered.

" You will be the better for it," he returned. " I be-
lieve I 've alias been the better for any trouble as ever
I had to go through with. I couldn't quite say the same
for every bit of good luck I had ; leastways, I consider


trouble the best luck a man can have. And I wish you
a good night, sir. Thank God ! again."

" But, Rogers, you don't mean it would be good for
us to have bad luck always, do you ? You shouldn't be
pleased at what 's come to me now, in that case."

" No, sir, sartinly not."

*' How can you say, then, that bad luck is the best
luck ? "

" I mean the bad luck that comes to us not the bad
luck that doesn't come. But you're right, sir. Good
luck or bad luck 's both best when He sends 'em, as He
allus does. In fac', sir, there is no bad luck but what
comes out o' the man hisself. The rest 's all good."

But whether it was the consequence of a reaction from
the mental strain I had suffered, or the depressing effect
of Miss Oldcastle's illness coming so close upon the joy
of winning her ; or that I was more careless and less
anxious to do my duty than I ought to have been I
greatly fear that Old Rogers must have been painfully
disappointed in the sermons which I did preach for
several of the following Sundays. He never even hinted
at such a fact, but I felt it much myself. A man has
often to be humbled through failure, especially after suc-
cess. I do not clearly know how my failures worked
upon me ; but I think a man may sometimes get spiritual
good without being conscious of the point of its arrival,
or being able to trace the process by which it was
wrought in him. I believe that my failures did work
some humility in me, and a certain carelessness of out-
ward success even in spiritual matters, so far as the sue-


cess affected me, provided only the will of God was done
in the dishonour of my weakness. And I think, but I
am not sure, that soon after I approached this condition
of mind, I began to preach better. But still I found for
some time that however much the subject of my sermon
interested me in my study or in the church or vestry on
the Saturday evening ; nay, even although my heart was
full of fervour during the prayers and lessons; no sooner
had I begun to speak than the glow died out of the sky
of my thoughts; a dull clearness of the intellectual facul-
ties took its place ; and I was painfully aware that what
I could speak without being moved myself was not the
most likely utterance to move the feelings of those who
only listened. Still a man may occasionally be used by
the Spirit of God as the inglorious " trumpet of a pro-
phecy" instead of being inspired with the life of the
Word, and hence speaking out of a full heart in testi-
mony of that which he hath known and seen.

I hardly remember when or how I came upon the
plan, but now, as often as I find myself in such a condi-
tion, I turn away from any attempt to produce a ser-
mon ; and, taking up one of the sayings of our Lord
which He himself has said " are spirit and are life," I
labour simply to make the people see in it what I see
in it ; and when I find that thus my own heart is warmed,
I am justified in the hope that the hearts of some at
least of my hearers are thereby warmed likewise.

But no doubt the fact that the life of Miss Oldcastle
seemed to tremble in the balance, had something to do
with those results of which I may have already said too


much. My design had been to go at once to London
and make preparation for as early a wedding as she
would consent to ; but the very day after I brought her
home, life and not marriage was the question. Dr Dun-
can looked very grave, and although he gave me all the
encouragement he could, all his encouragement did not
amount to much. There was such a lack of vitality
about her ! The treatment to which she had been for
so long a time subjected had depressed her till life was
nearly quenched from lack of hope. Nor did the sud-
den change seem able to restore the healthy action of
what the old physicians called the animal spirits. Pos-
sibly the strong reaction paralysed their channels, and
thus prevented her gladness from reaching her physical
nature so as to operate on its health. Her whole com-
plaint appeared in excessive weakness. Finding that
she fainted after every little excitement, I left her for
four weeks entirely to my sister and Dr Duncan, during
which time she never saw me ; and it was long before I
could venture to stay in her room more than a minute
or two. But as the summer approached she began to
show signs of reviving life, and by the end of May was
able to be wheeled into the garden in a chair.

During her aunt's illness, Judy came often to the
vicarage. But Miss Oldcastle was unable to see her any
more than myself without the painful consequence which
I have mentioned. So the dear child always came to
me in the study, and through her endless vivacity in-
fected me with some of her hope. For she had no fears
whatever about her aunt's recovery.


I had had some painful apprehensions as to the treat-
ment Judy herself might meet with from her grand-
mother, and had been doubtful whether I ought not to
have carried her off as well as her aunt ; but the first
time she came, which was the next day, she set my mind
at rest on that subject

" But does your grannie know where you are cornel"
I had asked her.

" So well, Mr Walton," she replied, " that there was
no occasion to tell her. Why shouldn't I rebel as well
as Aunt Wynnie, I wonder?" she added, looking arch-
ness itself.

" How does she bear it?"

" Bear what, Mr Walton ? "

" The loss of your aunt."

" You don't think grannie cares about that, do you?
She's vexed enough at the loss of Captain Everard.
Do you know, I think he had too much wine yesterday,
or he wouldn't have made quite such a fool of himself."

" I fear he hadn't had quite enough to give him cour-
age, Judy. I daresay he was brave enough once, but a
bad conscience soon destroys a man's courage."

" Why do you call it a bad conscience, Mr Walton?
I should have thought that a bad conscience was one
that would let a girl go on anyhow and say nothing
About it to make her uncomfortable."

" You are quite right, Judy ; that is the worst kind of
conscience, certainly. But tell me, how does Mrs Old-
castle bear it?"

"' You asked me that already."


Somehow Judy's words always seem more pert upon
paper than they did upon her lips. Her naivete, the
twinkling light in her eyes, and the smile flitting about
her mouth, always modified greatly the expression of her

" Grannie never says a word about you or auntie

" But you said she was vexed : how do you know
that ? "

" Because ever since the captain went away this morn-
ing, she won't speak a word to Sarah even."

" Are you not afraid of her locking you up some day
or other?"

" Not a bit of it. Grannie won't touch me. And you
shouldn't tempt me to run away from her like auntie. I
won't. Grannie is a naughty old lady, and I don't be-
lieve anybody loves her but me not Sarah, I 'm certain.
Therefore I can't leave her, and I won't leave her, Mr
Walton, whatever you may say about her."

" Indeed, I don't want you to leave her, Judy."

And Judy did not leave her as long as she lived.
And the old lady's love to that child was at least one
redeeming point in her fierce character. No one can
tell how much good it may have done her before she
died though but a few years passed before her soul was
required of her. Before that time came, however, a
quarrel took place between her and Sarah, which quarrel
I incline to regard as a hopeful sign. And to this day
Judy has never heard how her old grannie treated her
mother. When she learns it now from these pages I


think she will be glad that she did not know it before
her death.

The old lady would see neither doctor nor parson ;
nor would she hear of sending for her daughter. The
only sign of softening that she gave was that once she
folded her granddaughter in her arms and wept long and
bitterly. Perhaps the thought of her dying child came
back upon her, along with the reflection that the only
friend she had was the child of that marriage which she
had persecuted to dissolution.


I Y reader will perceive that this part of my


story is drawing to a close. It embraces
but a brief period of my life, and I have
plenty more behind not altogether unworthy
of record. But the portions of any man's life most
generally interesting are those in which, while the out-
ward history is most stirring, it derives its chief signifi-
cance from accompanying conflict within. It is not the
rapid change of events, or the unusual concourse 01" cir-
cumstances that alone can interest the thoughtful mind ;
while, on the other hand, internal change and tumult
can be ill set forth to the reader, save they be accom-
panied and in part, at least, occasioned by outward
events capable of embodying and elucidating the things
that are of themselves unseen. For man's life ought to
be a whole ; and not to mention the spiritual necessities
of our nature to leave the fact alone that a man is a


mere thing of shreds and patches until his heart is united,
as the Psalmist says, to fear the name of God to leave
these considerations aside, I say, no man's life is fit for
representation as a work of art save in proportion as
there has been a significant relation between his outer
and inner life, a visible outcome of some sort of harmony
between them. Therefore I chose the portion in which
I had suffered most, and in which the outward occur-
rences of my own life had been most interesting, for the
fullest representation ; while I reserve for a more occa-
sional and fragmentary record many things in the way of
experience, thought, observation, and facts in the history
both of myself and individuals of my flock, which admit
of, and indeed require, a more individual treatment than
would be altogether suitable to a continuous story. But
before I close this part of my communications with those
whom I count my friends, for till they assure me of the
contrary I mean to flatter myself with considering my
readers generally as such, I must gather up the ends of
my tnread, and dispose them in such a manner that they
shall neither hang too loose, nor yet refuse length enough
for what my friend Rogers would call splicing.

It was yet summer when Miss Oldcastle and I were
married. It was to me a day awful in its gladness. She
was now quite well, and no shadow hung upon her half-
moon forehead. We went for a fortnight into Wales,
and then returned to the vicarage and the duties of the
parish, in which my wife was quite ready to assist me.

Perhaps it would help the wives of some clergymen
out of some difficulties, and be their protection against


some reproaches, if they would at once take the position
with regard to the parishioners which Mrs Walton took,
namely, that of their servant, but not in her own right
in her husband's. She saw, and told them so, that
the best thing she could do for them was to help me,
that she held no office whatever in the parish, and they
must apply to me when anything went amiss. Had she
not constantly refused to be a " judge or a divider," she
would have been constantly troubled with quarrels too
paltry to be referred to me, and which were the sooner
forgotten that the litigants were not drawn on further
and further into the desert of dispute by the mirage of
a justice that could quench no thirst. Only when any
such affair was brought before me, did she use her good
offices to bring about a right feeling between the con-
tending parties, generally next-door neighbours, and
mostly women, who, being at home all day, found their
rights clash in a manner that seldom happened with
those that worked in the fields. Whatever her counsel
could do, however, had full scope through me, who
earnestly sought it. And whatever she gave the poor,
she gave as a private person, out of her own pocket.
She never administered the communion offering that
is, after finding out, as she soon did, that it was a
source of endless dispute between some of the recipi-
ents, who regarded it as their common property, and
were never satisfied with what they received. This is
the case in many country parishes, I fear. As soon as
I came to know it, I simply told the recipients that,
although the communion offering belonged to them,


yet the distribution of it rested entirely with me ; and
that I would distribute it neither according to their
fancied merits nor the degree of friendship I felt for
them, but according to the best judgment I could form
as to their necessities ; and if any of them thought these
were underrated, they were quite at liberty to make a
fresh representation of them to me ; but that I, who
knew more about their neighbours than it was likely
they did, and was not prejudiced by the personal re-
gards which they could hardly fail to be influenced by,
was more likely than they were to arrive at an equitable
distribution of the money upon my principles if not
on theirs. And at the same time I tried to show them
that a very great part of the disputes in the world came
from our having a very keen feeling of our own troubles,
and a very dull feeling of our neighbour's; for if the
case was reversed, and our neighbour's condition be-
came ours, ten to one our judgment would be reversed
likewise. And I think some of them got some sense
out of what I said. But I ever found the great difficulty
in my dealing with my people to be the preservation of
the authority which was needful for service ; for when
the elder serve the younger and in many cases it is
not age that determines seniority they must not forget
that without which the service they offer will fail to be
received as such by those to whom it is offered. At
the same time they must ever take heed that their
claim to authority be founded on the truth, and not on
ecclesiastical or social position. Their standing in the

church accredits their offer of service : the service itself

2 o


can only be accredited by the Truth and the Lord of
Truth, who is the servant of all.

But it cost both me and my wife some time and some
suffering before we learned how to deport ourselves in
these respects.

In the same manner she avoided the too near, because
unprofitable, approaches of a portion of the richer part
of the community. For from her probable position in
time to come, rather than her position in time past,
many of the fashionable people in the county began to
call upon her in no small degree to her annoyance,
simply from the fact that she and they had so little in
common. So, while she performed all towards them
that etiquette demanded, she excused herself from the
closer intimacy which some of them courted, on the
ground of the many duties which naturally fell to the
parson's wife in a country parish like ours ; and I am
sure that long before we had gained the footing we now
have, we had begun to reap the benefits of this mode of
regarding our duty in the parish as one, springing from
the same source, and tending to the same end. The
parson's wife who takes to herself authority in virtue of
her position, and the parson's wife who disclaims all con-
nexion with the professional work of her husband, are
equally out of place in being parsons' wives. The one
who refuses to serve denies her greatest privilege ; the one
who will be a mistress receives the greater condemnation.
When the wife is one with her husband, and the husband
is worthy, the position will soon reveal itself.

But there cannot be many clergymen's wives amongst


my readers ; and I may have occupied more space than
reasonable with this " large discourse." I apologize,
and, there is room to fear, go on to do the same again.

As I write I am seated in that little octagonal room
overlooking the quarry, with its green lining of trees,
and its deep central well. It is my study now. My
wife is not yet too old to prefer the little room in which
she thought and suffered so much, to every other,
although the stair that leads to it is high and steep.
Nor do I object to her preference because there is no
ready way to reach it save through this : I see her the
oftener. And although I do not like any one to look
over my shoulder while I write it disconcerts me some-
how yet the moment the sheet is finished and flung on
the heap, it is her property, as the print, reader, is yours.
I hear her step overhead now. She is opening her win
dow. Now I hear her door close ; and now her foot i?
on the stair.

" Come in, love. I have just finished another sheet.
There it is. What shall I end the book with } What
shall I tell the friends with whom I have been convers-
ing so often and so long for the last thing ere for a little
while I bid them good-bye 1 "

And Ethelwyn bends her smooth forehead for she
has a smooth forehead still, although the hair that crowns
it is almost white over the last few sheets ; and while
she reads, I will tell those who will read, one of the
good things that come of being married. It is, that
there is one face upon which the changes come without
your seeing them ; or rather, there is one face which you


can still see the same through all the shadows which
years have gathered and heaped upon it. No, stay ; I
have got a better way of putting it still : there is one
face whose final beauty you can see the more clearly as
the bloom of youth departs, and the loveliness of wisdom
and the beauty of holiness take its place ; for in it you
behold all that you loved before, veiled, it is true, but
glowing with gathered brilliance under the veil ("Stop
one moment, my dear") from which it will one day
shine out like the moon from under a cloud, when a
stream of the upper air floats it from off her face.

" Now, Ethelwyn, I am ready. What shall I write
about next ? "

" I don't think you have told them anywhere about

" No more I have. I meant to do so. But I am
ashamed of it."

" The more reason to tell it."

" You are quite right. I will go on with it at once.
But you must not stand there behind me. When I was
a child, I could always confess best when I hid my face
with my hands."

" Besides," said Ethelwyn, without seeming to hear
what I said, " I do not want to have people saying that
the vicar has made himself out so good that nobody
can believe in him."

" That would be a great fault in my book, Ethelwyn.
What does it come from in me ? Let me see. I do not
think I want to appear better than I am ; but it sounds
hypocritical to make merely general confessions, and it


is indecorous to make particular ones. Besides, I doubt
if it is good to write much about bad things even in the
way of confession "

" Well, well, never mind justifying it," said Ethelwyn.
" / don't want any justification. But here is a chance
for you. The story will, I think, do good, and not harm.
You had better tell it, I do think. So if you are inclined,
I will go away at once, and let you go on without inter-
ruption. You will have it finished before dinner, and
Tom is coming, and you can tell him what you have

So, reader, now my wife has left me, I will begin. It
shall not be a long story.

As soon as my wife and I had settled down at home,
and I had begun to arrange my work again, it came to
my mind that for a long time I had been doing very
little for Tom Weir. I could not blame myself much
for this, and I was pretty sure neither he nor his father
blamed me at all ; but I now saw that it was time we
should recommence something definite in the way of
study. When he came to my house the next morning,
and I proceeded to acquaint myself with what he had
been doing, I found to my great pleasure that he had
made very considerable progress both in Latin and
Mathematics, and I resolved that I would now push him
a little. I found this only brought out his mettle ; and
his progress, as it seemed to me, was extraordinary.
Nor was this all. There were such growing signs of
goodness in addition to the uprightness which had first
led to our acquaintance, that although I carefully al>


stained from making the suggestion to him, I was more
than pleased when I discovered, from some remark he
made, that he would gladly give himself to the service
of the Church. At the same time I felt compelled to be
the more cautious in anything I said, from the fact that
the prospect of the social elevation which would be in-
volved in the change might be a temptation to him, as
no doubt it has been to many a man of humble birth.
However, as I continued to observe him closely, my
conviction was deepened that he was rarely fitted for
ministering to his fellows ; and soon it came to speech
between his father and me, when I found that Thomas,
so far from being unfavourably inclined to the proposal,
was prepared to spend the few savings of his careful life
upon his education. To this, however, I could not lis-
ten, because there was his daughter Mary, who was very
delicate, and his grandchild too, for whom he ought to
make what little provision he could. I therefore took
the matter in my own hands, and by means of a judicious
combination of experience and what money I could spare,
I managed, at less expense than most parents suppose
to be unavoidable, to maintain my young friend at Ox-
ford till such time as he gained a fellowship. I felt jus-
tified in doing so in part from the fact that some day or
other Mrs Walton would inherit the Oldcastle property,
as well as come into possession of certain moneys of
her own, now in the trust of her mother and two gentle-
men in London, which would be nearly sufficient to free
the estate from incumbrance, although she could not
touch it as long as her mother lived and chose to refuse


her the use of it, at least without a law-suit, with which
neither of us was inclined to have anything to do. But
I did not lose a penny by the affair. For of the very
first money Tom received after he had got his fellowship,
he brought the half to me, and continued to do so until

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonald[Works] (Volume 3) → online text (page 34 of 35)