George MacDonald.

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I could get his feelings right in regard to other and
more important things, a reform in that matter would
soon follow; whereas to make a mountain of a mole-
hill would be to put that very mountain between him
and me. Nor would I ask him any questions, lest I
should just happen to ask him the wrong one ; for this
parishioner of mine evidently wanted careful handling,
if I would do him any good. And it will not do any
man good to fling even the Bible in his face. Nay, a
roll of bank-notes, which would be more evidently a
good to most men, would carry insult with it if presented
in that manner. You cannot expect people to accept
before they have had a chance of seeing what the offered
gift really is.

After a pause, therefore, the carpenter had once more
to recommence, or let the conversation lie. I stood in
a waiting attitude. And while I looked at him, I was
reminded of some one else whom I knew with whom,
too, I had pleasant associations though I could not in
the least determine who that one might be.

" It 's very foolish of me to talk so to a stranger," he

TH corriN. 51

" It is very kind and friendly of you," I said, still
careful to make no advances. " And you yourself be-
long to the old family that once lived in this old house 1"

" It would be no boast to tell the truth, sir, even if it
were a credit to me, which it is not. That family has
been nothing but a curse to ours."

I noted that he spoke of that family as different from
his, and yet implied that he belonged to it. The ex-
planation would come in time. But the man was again
silent, planing away at half the lid of his sister's coffin.
And I could not help thinking that the closed mouth
meant to utter nothing more on this occasion.

" I am sure there must be many a story to tell about
this old place, if only there were any one to tell them,"
I said at last, looking round the room once more. " 1
think I see the remains of paintings on the ceiling."

" You are sharp-eyed, sir. My father says they were
plain enough in his young days."

" Is your father alive, then ?"

" That he is, sir, and hearty too, though he seldom
goes out of doors now. Will you go up stairs and see
him ? He 's past ninety, sir. He has plenty of stories
to tell about the old place before it began to fall to
pieces like."

" I won't go to-day," I said, partly because I wanted
to be at home to receive any one who might call, and
partly to secure an excuse for calling again upon the
carpenter sooner than I should otherwise have liked to
do. " I expect visitors myself, and it is time I were at
home. Good morning."


" Good morning, sir."

And away home I went with a new wonder in my
brain. The man did not seem unknown to me. I mean,
the state of his mind woke no feeling of perplexity in
me. I was certain of understanding it thoroughly when
I had learned something of his history ; for that such a
man must have a history of his own was rendered only
the more probable from the fact that he knew something
of the history of his forefathers, though, indeed, there
are some men who seem to have no other. It was
strange, however, to think of that man working away at
a trade in the very house in which such ancestors had
eaten and drunk, and married and given in marriage.
The house and family had declined together in out-
ward appearance at least ; for it was quite possible both
might have risen in the moral and spiritual scale in
proportion as they sank in the social one. And if
any of my readers are at first inclined to think that this
could hardly be, seeing that the man was little, if any-
thing, better than an infidel, I would just like to hold
one minute's conversation with them on that subject.
A man may be on the way to the truth, just in virtue of
his doubting. I will tell you what Lord Bacon says,
and of all writers of English I delight in him : " So it is
in contemplation : if a man will begin with certainties,
he shall end in doubts ; but if he will be content to
begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties." Now I
could not tell the kind or character of this man's doubt ,
but it was evidently real and not affected doubt; and
that was much in his favour. And I could see that he


was a thinking man ; just one of the sort I thought 1
should get on with in time, because he was honest
notwithstanding that unpleasant smile of his, which
did irritate me a little, and partly piqued me into the
determination to get the better of the man, if I possibly
could, by making friends with him. At all events, here
was another strange parishioner. And who could it be
that he was like f



HEN I came near my own gate, I saw that it
was open \ and when I came in sight of my
own door, I found a carriage standing be-
fore it, and a footman ringing the bell. It
was an old-fashioned carriage, with two white horses in
it, yet whiter by age than by nature. They looked as if
no coachman could get more than three miles an hour
out of them, they were so fat and knuckle-kneed. But
my attention could not rest long on the horses, and
I reached the door just as my housekeeper was pro-
nouncing me absent. There were two ladies in the
carriage, one old and one young.

" Ah, here is Mr Walton !" said the old lady, in a
serene voice, with a clear hardness in its tone ; and I
held out my hand to aid her descent. She had pulled
off her glove to get a card out of her card-case, and so
put the tips of two old fingers, worn very smooth, as if


polished with feeling what things were like, upon the
palm of my hand. I then offered my hand to her com-
panion, a girl apparently about fourteen, who took a
hearty hold of it, and jumped down beside her with a
smile. As I followed them into the house, I took their
card from the housekeeper's hand, and read, Mrs Old-
castle and Miss Gladwyn,

I confess here to my reader, that these are not really
the names I read on the card. I made these up this
minute. But the names of the persons of humble posi-
tion in my story are their real names. And my reason
for making the difference will be plain enough. You
can never find out my friend Old Rogers ; you might
find out the people who called on me in their carriage
tvith the ancient white horses.

When they were seated in the drawing-room, I said
to the old lady

" I remember seeing you in church on Sunday morn-
ing. It is very kind of you to call so soon."

" You will always see me in church," she returned,
with a stiff bow, and an expansion of deadness on her
face, which I interpreted into an assertion of dignity, re-
sulting from the implied possibility that I might have
passed her over in my congregation, or might have for-
gotten her after not passing her over.

" Except when you have a headache, grannie," said
Miss Gladwyn, with an arch look first at her grand-
mother, and then at me. " Grannie has bad headaches

The deadness melted a little from Mrs Oldcastle's


face, as she turned with half a smile to her grandchild,
and said

" Yes, Pet. But you know that cannot be an interest-
ing fact to Mr Walton."

" I beg your pardon, Mrs Oldcastle," I said. " A
clergyman ought to know something, and the more the
better, of the troubles of his flock. Sympathy is one of
the first demands he ought to be able to meet. I know
what a headache is."

The former expression, or rather non-expression, re-
turned ; this time unaccompanied by a bow.

" I trust, Mr Walton, I trust I am above any morbid
necessity for sympathy. But, as you say, amongst the
poor of your flock, it is very desirable that a clergyman
should be able to sympathise."

" It 's quite true what grannie says, Mr Walton, though
you mightn't think it. When she has a headache, she
shuts herself up in her own room, and doesn't even let
me come near her nobody but Sarah ; and how she can
prefer her to me, I 'm sure I don't know."

And here the girl pretended to pout, but with a sparkle
in her bright gray eye.

" The subject is not interesting to me, Pet. Pray, Mr
Walton, is it a point of conscience with you to wear the
surplice when you preach 1 "

11 Not in the least," I answered. " I think I like it
rather better on the whole. But that 's not why I wear

" Never mind grannie, Mr Walton. / think the sur-
plice is lovely. I 'm sure it 's much liker the way we


shall be dressed in heaven, though I don't think I shall
ever get there, if I must read the good books grannie

" I don't know that it is necessary to read any good
books but the good book," I said.

" There, grannie ! " exclaimed Miss Gladwyn, trium-
phantly. " I 'm so glad I 've got Mr Walton on my
side ! "

" Mr Walton is not so old as I am, my dear, and has
much to learn yet."

I could not help feeling a little annoyed, (which was
very foolish, I know,) and saying to myself, " If it 's to
make me like you, I had rather not learn any more;"
but I said nothing aloud, of course.

" Have you got a headache to-day, grannie ? "

" No, Pet. Be quiet. I wish to ask Mr Walton why
he wears the surplice "

" Simply," I replied, " because I was told the people
had been accustomed to it under my predecessor."

" But that can be no good reason for doing what is
not right that people have been accustomed to it."

" But I don't allow that it 's not right. I think it is a
matter of no consequence whatever. If I find that the
people don't like it, I will give it up with pleasure."

" You ought to have principles of your own, Mr

" I hope I have. And one of them is, not to make
mountains of molehills ; for a molehill is not a mountain.
A man ought to have too much to do in obeying his con-
science and keeping his soul's garments clean, to mind


whether he wears black or white when telling his flock
that God loves them, and that they will never be happy
till they believe it."

" They may believe that too soon."

" I don't think any one can believe the truth too

A pause followed, during which it became evident to
me that Miss Gladwyn saw fun in the whole affair, and
was enjoying it thoroughly. Mrs Oldcastle's face, on
the contrary, was illegible. She resumed in a measured
still voice, which she meant to be meek, I daresay, but
which was really authoritative

" I am sorry, Mr Walton, that your principles are so
loose and unsettled. You will see my honesty in saying
so when you find that, objecting to the surplice, as I do,
on Protestant grounds, I yet warn you against making
any change because you may discover that your parish-
ioners are against it. You have no idea, Mr Walton,
what inroads Radicalism, as they call it, has been mak-
ing in this neighbourhood. It is quite dreadful. Every-
body, down to the poorest, claiming a right to think for
himself, and set his betters right ! There 's one worse
than any of the rest but he 's no better than an atheist
a carpenter of the name of Weir, always talking to his
neighbours against the proprietors and the magistrates,
and the clergy too, Mr Walton, and the game-laws, and
what not 1 ? And if you once show them that you are
afraid of them by going a step out of your way for their
opinion about anything, there will be no end to it ; for
the beginning of strife is like the letting out of water, as


you know. / should know nothing about it, but that
my daughter's maid I came to hear of it through her
a decent girl of the name of Rogers, and born of decent
parents, but unfortunately attached to the son of one of
your churchwardens, who has put him into that mill on
the river you can almost see from here."

" Who put him in the mill 1 "

" His own father, to whom it belongs."

" Well, it seems to me a very good match for her."

" Yes, indeed, and for him too. But his foolish father
thinks the match below him, as if there was any differ-
ence between the positions of people in that rank of
life ! Every one seems striving to tread on the heels of
every one else, instead of being content with the station
to which God has called them. I am content with
mine. I had nothing to do with putting myself there.
Why should they not be content with theirs ? They
need to be taught Christian humility and respect for
their superiors. That's the virtue most wanted at pre-
sent. The poor have to look up to the rich "

" That 's right, grannie ! And the rich have to look
down on the poor."

" No, my dear. I did not say that. The rich have
to be kind to the poor."

" But, grannie, why did you marry Mr Oldcastle ? "

" What does the child mean ? "

" Uncle StodJart says you refused ever so many offers
when you were a girl."

" Uncle Stoddart has no business to be talking about

such tilings to a chit like you," returned the grandmother,



smiling, however, at the charge, which so far certainly
contained no reproach.

"And grandpapa was the ugliest and the richest o*
them all wasn't he, grannie? and Colonel Markham
the handsomest and the poorest 1 "

A flush of anger crimsoned the old lady's pale fact
It looked dead no longer.

" Hold your tongue," she said. " You are rude."

And Miss Gladwyn did hold her tongue, but nothing
else, for she was laughing all over.

The relation between these two was evidently a very
odd one. It was clear that Miss Gladwyn was a spoiled
child, though I could not help thinking her very nicely
spoiled, as far as I saw ; and that the old lady persisted
in regarding her as a cub, although her claws had grown
quite long enough to be dangerous. Certainly, if things
went on thus, it was pretty clear which of them would
soon have the upper hand, for grannie was vulnerable,
and Pet was not.

It really began to look as if there were none but
characters in my parish. I began to think it must be
the strangest parish in England, and to wonder that I
had never heard of it before. " Surely it must be in
some story-book at least ! " I said to myself.

But her grand-daughter's tiger-cat-play drove the old
lady nearer to me. She rose and held out her hand,
saying, with some kindness

" Take my advice, my dear Mr Walton, and don't
make too much of your poor, or they '11 soon be too
much for you to manage. Come, Pet : it 's time to go


home to lunch. And for the surplice, take your own
way and wear it. / shan't say anything more about it."

" I will do what I can see to be right in the matter,"
I answered as gently as I could ; for I did not want to
quarrel with her, although I thought her both presump-
tuous and rude.

" I 'm on your side, Mr Walton," said the girl, with a
sweet comical smile, as she squeezed my hand once

I led them to the carriage, and it was with a feeling of
relief that I saw it drive off.

The old lady certainly was not pleasant. She had a
white smooth face over which the skin was drawn tight,
gray hair, and rather lurid hazel eyes. I felt a repug.
nance to her that was hardly to be accounted for by her
arrogance to me, or by her superciliousness to the poor ;
although either would have accounted for much of it.
For I confess that I have not yet learned to bear pre-
sumption and rudeness with all the patience and forgive-
ness with which I ought by this time to be able to meet
them. And as to the poor, I am afraid I was always in
some danger of being a partizan of theirs against the
rich ; and that a clergyman ought never to be. And
indeed the poor rich have more need of the care of the
clergyman than the others, seeing it is hardly that the
rich shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, and the
poor have all the advantage over them in that respect.

" Still," I said to myself, " there must be some good
in the woman she cannot be altogether so hard as she
looks, else how should that child dare to take the


liberties of a kitten with her ? She doesn't look to me
like one to make game of! However, I shall know a
little more about her when I return her call, and I will
do my best to keep on good terms with her."

I took down a volume of Plato to comfort me after
the irritation which my nerves had undergone, and sat
down in an easy-chair beside the open window of my
study. And with Plato in my hand, and all that out-
side my window, I began to feel as if, after all, a man
might be happy, even if a lady had refused him. And
there I sat, without opening my favourite vellum-bound
volume, gazing out on the happy world, whence a gentle
wind came in, as if to bid me welcome with a kiss to
all it had to give me. And then I thought of the wind
that bloweth where it listeth, which is everywhere, and I
quite forgot to open my Plato, and thanked God for the
Life of life, whose story and whose words are in that
best of books, and who explains everything to us, and
makes us love Socrates and David and all good men
ten times more ; and who follows no law but the law of
love, and no fashion but the will of God ; for where did
ever one read words less like moralising and more like
simple earnestness of truth than all those of Jesus?
And I prayed my God that He would make me able to
speak good common heavenly sense to my people, and
forgive me for feeling so cross and proud towards the
unhappy old lady for I was sure she was not happy
and make me into a rock which swallowed up the waves
of wrong in its great caverns, and never threw them back
to swell the commotion of the angry sea whence they


came. Ah, what it would be actually to annihilate
wrong in this way ! to be able to say, it shall not be
wrong against me, so utterly do I forgive it ! How
much sooner, then, would the wrong-doer repent, and
get rid of the wrong from his side also ! But the painful
fact will show itself, not less curious than painful, that
it is more difficult to forgive small wrongs than great
ones. Perhaps, however, the forgiveness of the great
wrongs is not so true as it seems. P'or do we not think
it is a fine thing to forgive such wrongs, and so do it
rather for our own sakes than for the sake of the wrong-
doer? It is dreadful not to be good, and to have bad
ways inside one.

Such thoughts passed through my mind. And once
more the great light went up on me with regard to my
office, namely, that just because I was parson to the
parish, I must not be the person to myself. And I
prayed God to keep me from feeling stung and proud,
however any one might behave to me ; for all my value
lay in being a sacrifice to Him and the people.

So when Mrs Pearson knocked at the door, and told
me that a lady and gentleman had called, I shut my
book which I had just opened, and kept down as well
as I could the rising grumble of the inhospitable Eng-
lishman, who is apt to be forgetful to entertain strangers,
at least in the parlour of his heart. And I cannot count
it perfect hospitality to be friendly and plentiful towards
those whom you have invited to your house what thank
has a man in that 1 while you are cold and forbidding
to those who have not that claim on your attention.


That is not to be perfect as our Father in heaven is
perfect. By all means tell people, when you are busy
about something that must be done, that you cannot
spare the time for them except they want you upon
something of yet more pressing necessity ; but tell them,
and do not get rid of them by the use of the instrument
commonly called Hie cold shoulder. It is a wicked instru-
ment that, and ought to have fallen out of use by this

I went and received Mr and Miss Boulderstone, and
was at least thus far rewarded that the eerie feeling, as
the Scotch would call it, which I had about my parish,
as containing none but characters, and therefore not
being cannie, was entirely removed. At least there was
a wholesome leaven in it of honest stupidity. Please,
kind reader, do not fancy I am sneering. I declare to
you I think a sneer the worst thing God has not made.
A curse is nothing in wickedness to it, it seems to me.
I do mean that honest stupidity I respect heartily, and
do assert my conviction that I do not know how Eng-
land at least would get on without it. But I do not
mean the stupidity that sets up for teaching itself to its
neighbour, thinking itself wisdom all the time. That I
do not respect

Mr and Miss Boulderstone left me a little fatigued,
but in no way sore or grumbling. They only sent me
back with additional zest to my Plato, of which I en-
joyed a hearty page or two before any one else arrived.
The only other visitors I had that day were an old sur-
geon in the navy, who since his retirement had practised


for many years in the neighbourhood, and was still at
the call of any one who did not think him too old-
fashioned for even here the fashions, though decidedly
elderly young ladies by the time they arrived, held their
sway none the less imperiously and Mr Brownrigg, the
churchwarden. More of Dr Duncan by and by.

Except Mr and Miss Boulderstone, I had not yet
seen any common people. They were all decidedly
jncommon, and, as regarded most of them, I could not
think I should have any difficulty in preaching to them.
For, whatever place a man may give to preaching in the
ritual of the church indeed it does not properly belong
to the ritual at all it is yet the part of the so-called
service with which his personality has most to do. To
the influences of the other parts he has to submit him-
self, ever turning the openings of his soul towards them,
that he may not be a mere praying-machine; but with
the sermon it is otherwise. That he produces. For
that he is responsible. And therefore, I say, it was a
great comfort to me to find myself amongst a people
from which my spirit neither shrunk in the act of preach-
ing, nor with regard to which it was likely to feel that it
was beating itself against a stone wall. There was some
good in preaching to a man like Weir or Old Rogers.
Whether there was any good in preaching to a woman
like Mrs Oklcastle I did not know.

The evening 1 thought I might give to my books, and
thus end my first Monday in my parish; but, as I said,
Mr Brownrigg, the churchwarden, called and stayed a
whole weary hour, talking about matters quite unin-


teresting to any who may hereafter peruse what I am
now writing. Really he was not an "interesting man :
short, broad, stout, red-faced, with an immense amount
of mental inertia, discharging itself in constant lingual
activity about little nothings. Indeed, when there was
no new nothing to be had, the old nothing would do
over again to make a fresh fuss about. But if you
attempted to convey a thought into his mind which
involved the moving round half a degree from where he
stood, and looking at the matter from a point even so
far new, you found him utterly, totally impenetrable, as
pachydermatous as any rhinoceros or behemoth. One
other corporeal fact I could not help observing, was,
that his cheeks rose at once from the collar of his green
coat, his neck being invisible, from the hollow between
it and the jaw being filled up to a level. The conforma-
tion was just what he himself delighted to contemplate
in his pigs, to which his resemblance was greatly in-
creased by unwearied endeavours to keep himself close
shaved. I could not help feeling anxious about his son
and Jane Rogers. He gave a quantity of gossip about
various people, evidently anxious that I should regard
them as he regarded them; but in all he said concerning
them I could scarcely detect one point of significance as
to character or history. I was very glad indeed when
the waddling of hands for it was the perfect imbecility
of hand-shaking was over, and he was safely out of the
gate. He had kept me standing on the steps for full
five minutes, and I did not feel safe from him till I was
once more in my study with the door shut.


I am not going to try my reader's patience with any-
thing of a more detailed account of my introduction to
my various parishioners. I shall mention them only as
they come up in the course of my story. Before many
days had passed I had found out my poor, who, I
thought, must be somewhere, seeing the Lord had said
we should have them with us always. There was a
workhouse in the village, but there were not a great
many in it; for the poor were kindly enough handled who

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