George MacDonald.

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sit in the room with the poor girl, I did not know how
to object, though I did not at all like her being there.
I felt a great mistrust of the woman somehow or other.
I never did like blacks, and I never shall. So she went,
and sat by her, and waited on her very kindly at least
poor Emily said so. I called her Emily because she had
begged me, that she might feel as if her mother were with
her, and she was a child again. I had tried before to
find out from her when greater care would be necessary,
but she couldn't tell me anything. I doubted even if


she understood me. I longed to have the wedding over
that I might get rid of the black woman, and have time
to take her place, and get everything prepared. The
captain arrived, and his man with him. And twice I
came upon the two blacks in close conversation. Well,
the wedding-day came. The people went to church ;
and while they were there a terrible storm of wind and
snow came on, such that the horses would hardly face it
The captain was going to take his bride home to his
father, Sir Giles's ; but, short as the distance was, before
the time came the storm got so dreadful that no one
could think of leaving the house that night The wind
blew for all the world just as it blows this night, only it
was snow in its mouth, and not rain. Carriage and
horses and all would have been blown off the road for
certain. It did blow, to be sure ! After dinner was
over and the ladies were gone to the drawing-room, and
the gentlemen had been sitting over their wine for some
time, the butler, William Weir an honest man, whose
wife lived at the lodge came to my room looking
scared. " Lawks, William ! " says I,' said my aunt, sir,
"'whatever is the matter with you?" "Well, Mrs
Prendergast ! " says he, and said no more. " Lawks,
William," says I, "speak out." "Well," says he, "Mrs
Prendergast, it 's a strange wedding, it is ! There 's the
ladies all alone in the withdrawing-room, and there's the
gentlemen calling for more wine, and cursing and swear-
ing that it 's awful to hear. It 's my belief that swords
HI be drawn afore long." " Tut ! " says I, " William, it
'11 come the sooner if you don't give them what they


want. Go and get it as fast as you can." "I don't
a'most like goin' down them stairs alone, in sich a night,
ma'am," says he. " Would you mind coming with me 1"
" Dear me, William," says I, " a pretty story to tell
your wife" she was my own half-sister, and younger
than me "a pretty story to tell your wife, that you
wanted an old body like me to go and take care of you
in your own cellar," says I. " But I '11 go with you, if
you like; for, to tell the truth, it's a terrible night"
And so down we went, and brought up six bottles more
of the best port. And I really didn't wonder, when 1
was down there, and heard the dull roar of the wind
against the rock below, that William didn't much like to
go alone. When he went back with the wine, the cap-
tain said, " William, what kept you so long 1 Mr Cent-
livre says that you were afraid to go down into the
cellar." Now, wasn't that odd, for it was a real fact ?
Before William could reply, Sir Giles said, " A man
might well be afraid to go anywhere alone in a night
like this." Whereupon the captain cried, with an oath,
that he would go down the underground stair, and into
every vault on the way, for the wager of a guinea. And
there the matter, according to William, dropped, for the
fresh wine was put on the table. But after they had
drunk the most of it the captain, according to William,
drinking less than usual it was brought up again, he
couldn't tell by which of them. And in five minutes
after, they were all at my door, demanding the key of
the room at the top of the stair. I was just going up to
see poor Emily when I heard the noise of their unsteady


feet coming along the passage to my door ; and I gave
the captain the key at once, wishing with all my heart
he might get a good fright for his pains. He took a jug
with him, too, to bring some water up from the well, as
* proof he had been down. The rest of the gentlemen
went with him into the little cellar-room ; but they
wouldn't stop there till he came up again, they said it
was so cold. They all came into my room, where they
talked as gentlemen wouldn't do if the wine hadn't got
uppermost It was some time before the captain re-
turned It's a good way down and back. When he
came in at last, he looked as if he had got the fright I
wished him, he had such a scared look. The candle in
his lantern was out, and there was no water in the jug.
" There 's your guinea, Centlivre," says he, throwing it
on the table. " You needn't ask me any questions, for
I won't answer one of them." " Captain," says I, as he
turned to leave the room, and the other gentlemen rose
to follow him, " I '11 just hang up the key again." " By
all means," says he. " Where is it, then ? " says I. He
ttarted and made as if he searched his pockets all over
for it. " I must have dropped it," says he ; " but it 's of
no consequence ; you can send William to look for it in
the morning. It can't be lost, you know." " Very well,
captain," said I. But I didn't like being without the
key, because of course he hadn't locked the door, and
that part of the house has a bad name, and no wonder.
It wasn't exactly pleasant to have the door left open.
All this time I couldn't get to see how Emily was As
often as I looked from my window, I saw her light in


the old west turret out there, SamueL You know the
room where the bed is still. The rain and the wind will
be blowing right through it to-night That's the bed
you was born upon, Samuel.' It's all gone now,. sir,
turret and all, like a good deal more about the old
place ; but there 's a story about that turret afterwards,
only I mustn't try to tell you two things at once. ' Now
I had told the Indian woman that if anything happened,
if she was worse, or wanted to see me, she must put the
candle on the right side of the window, and I should
always be looking out, and would come directly, who-
ever might wait For I was expecting you some time
soon, and nobody knew anything about when you might
come. But there the blind continued drawn down as
before. So I thought all was going on right. And what
with the storm keeping Sir Giles and so many more that
would have gone home that night, there was no end of
work, and some contrivance necessary, I can tell you, to
get them all bedded for the night, for we were nothing
too well provided with blankets and linen in the house.
There was always more room than money in it. So it
was past twelve o'clock before I had a minute to my-
self, and that was only after they had all gone to
bed the bride and bridegroom in the crimson cham-
ber, of course. Well, at last I crept quietly into
Emily's room. I ought to have told you that I had
not let her know anything about the wedding being
that day, and had enjoined the heathen woman not
to say a word ; for I thought she might as well die
without hearing about it. But I believe the vile wretch


did tell her. When I opened the room-door, there
was no light there. I spoke, but no one answered. I
had my own candle in my hand, but it had been blown
out as I came up the stair. I turned and ran along the
corridor to reach the main stair, which was the nearest
way to my room, when all at once I heard such a shriek
from the crimson chamber as I never heard in my life.
It made me all creep like worms. And in a moment
doors and doors were opened, and lights came out,
everybody looking terrified ; and what with drink, and
horror, and sleep, some of the gentlemen were awful
to look upon. And the door of the crimson chamber
opened too, and the captain appeared in his dressing-
gown, bawling out to know what was the matter ; though
I 'm certain, to this day, the cry did come from that
room, and that he knew more about it than any one else
did. As soon as I got a light, however, which I did
from Sir Giles's candle, I left them to settle it amongst
them, and ran back to the west turret. When I entered
the room, there was my dear girl lying white and motion-
less. There could be no doubt a baby had been born,
but no baby was to be seen. I rushed to the bed ; but
though she was still warm, your poor mother was quite
dead. There was no use in thinking about helping her ;
but what could have become of the child ? As if by a
light in my mind, I saw it all. I rushed down to rny
room, got my lantern, and, without waiting to be afraid,
ran to the underground stairs, where I actually found
the door standing open. I had not gone down more
than three turnings, when I thought I heard a cry, and


I sped faster still. And just about half-way down, there
lay a bundle in a blanket. And how ever you got over
the state I found you in, Samuel, I can't think. But I
caught you up as you was, and ran to my own room with
you ; and I locked the door, and there being a kettle
on the fire, and some conveniences in the place, I did
the best for you I could. For the breath wasn't out of
you, though it well might have been. And then I laid
you before the fire, and by that time you had begun to
cry a little, to my great pleasure, and then I got a blanket
off my bed, and wrapt you up in it; and, the storm
being abated by this time, made the best of my way
with you through the snow to the lodge, where William's
wife lived. It was not so far off then as it is now. But
in the midst of my trouble the silly body did make me
laugh when he opened the door to me, and saw the
bundle in my arms. " Mrs Prendergast," says he, " I
didn't expect it of you." " Hold your tongue," I said.
" You would never have talked such nonsense if you
had had the grace to have any of your own," says I.
And with that I into the bedroom and shut the door,
and left him out there in his shirt. My sister and I
soon got everything arranged, for there was no time to
lose. And before morning I had all made tidy, and
your poor mother lying as sweet a corpse as ever angel
saw. And no one could say a word against her. And
it 's my belief that that villain made her believe somehow
or other that she was as good as married to him. She
was buried down there in the churchyard, close by the
vestry-door,' said my aunt, sir; and all of our family have


been buried there ever since, my son Tom's wife among
them, sir."

"But what was that cry in the house!" I asked.
" And what became of the black woman?"

"The woman was never seen again in our quarter;
and what the cry was my aunt never would say. She
seemed to know though ; notwithstanding, as she said,
that Captain and Mrs Crowfoot denied all knowledge of
it But the lady looked dreadful, she said, and never
was well again, and died at the birth of her first child.
That was the present Mrs Oldcastle's father, sir."

" But why should the woman have left you on the
stair, instead of drowning you in the well at the bot-
tom ? "

" My aunt evidently thought there was some mystery
about that as well as the other, for she had no doubt
about the woman's intention. But all she would ever
say concerning it was, ' The key was never found,
Samuel. You see I had to get a new one made.' And
she pointed to where it hung on the wall. ' But that
doesn't look new now,' she would say. ' The lock was
very hard to fit again.' And so you see, sir, I was
brought up as her nephew, though people were sur-
prised, no doubt, that William Weir's wife should have
a child, and nobody know she was expecting. Well,
with all the reports of the captain's money, none of it
showed in this old place, which from that day began, as
it were, to crumble away. There 's been little repair
Hone upon it since then. If it hadn't been a well-built
place to begin with, it wouldn't be standing now, sir


But it 's a very different place, I can tell you. Why, all
behind was a garden with terraces, and fruit trees, and
gay flowers, to no end. I remember it as well as yes-
terday ; nay, a great deal better, for the matter of that.
For I don't remember yesterday at all, sir."

I have tried a little to tell the story as he told it. But
I am aware that I have succeeded very badly ; for I am
not like my friend in London, who, I verily believe,
could give you an exact representation of any dialect he
ever heard. I wish I had been able to give a little
more of the form of the old man's speech ; all I have
been able to do is to show a difference from my own
way of telling a story. But in the main, I think, I have
reported it correctly. I believe if the old man was cor-
rect in representing his aunt's account, the story is very
little altered between us.

But why should I tell such a story at all ?

I am willing to allow, at once, that I have very likely
given it more room than it deserves in these poor Annals
of mine; but the reason why I tell it at all is simply this,
that, as it came from the old man's lips, it interested me
greatly. It certainly did not produce the effect I had
hoped to gain from an interview with him, namely, a
reduction to the common and present. For all this ancient
tale tended to keep up the sense of distance between
my day's experience at the Hall and the work I had to
do amongst my cottagers and trades-people. Indeed, it
came very strangely upon that experience.

" But surely you did not believe such an extravagant
tale ? The old man was in his dotage, to begin with."


Had the old man been in his dotage, which he was
not, my answer would have been a more triumphant
one. For when was dotage consistently and imagina-
tively inventive? But why should I not believe the
story ? There are people who can never believe any-
thing that is not (I do not say merely in accordance with
their own character, but) in accordance with the parti-
cular mood they may happen to be in at the time it if
presented to them. They know nothing of human nature
beyond their own immediate preference at the moment
for port or sherry, for vice or virtue. To tell me there
could not be a man so lost to shame, if to rectitude, as
Captain Crowfoot, is simply to talk nonsense. Nay,
gentle reader, if you and let me suppose I address a
lady if you will give yourself up for thirty years to doing
just whatever your lowest self and not your best self may
like, I will warrant you capable, by the end of that time,
of child murder at least I do not think the descent to
Avernus is always easy; but it is always possible. Many
and many such a story was fact in old times; and human
nature being the same still, though under different re-
straints, equally horrible things are constantly in progress
towards the windows of the newspapers.

" But the whole tale has such a melodramatic air !"
That argument simply amounts to this : that, because
such subjects are capable of being employed with great
dramatic effect, and of being at the same time very
badly represented, therefore they cannot take place in
real life. But ar>k any physician of your acquaintance,
whether a story is unlikely simply because it involves


terrible things such as do not occur every day. The
fact is, that such things, occurring monthly or yearly
only, are more easily hidden away out of sight. Indeed
we can have no sense of security for ourselves except in
the knowledge that we are striving up and away, and
therefore cannot be sinking nearer to the region of such
awful possibilities.

Yet, as I said before, I am afraid I have given it too
large a space in my narrative. Only it so forcibly re-
minded me at the time of the expression I could not
understand upon Miss Oldcastle's face, and since then
has been so often recalled by circumstances and events,
that I felt impelled to record it in full. And now I
have done with it.

I left the old man with thanks for the kind reception
he had given me, and walked home, revolving many
things with which I shall not detain the attention of my
reader. Indeed my thoughts were confused and troubled,
and would ill bear analysis or record. I shut myself
up in my study, and tried to read a sermon of Jeremy
Taylor. But it would not do. I fell fast asleep over it
at last, and woke refreshed



JURING the suffering which accompanied the
disappointment at which I have already
hinted, I did not think it inconsistent with
the manly spirit in which I was resolved
to endure it, to seek consolation from such a source
as the New Testament if mayhap consolation for such
a trouble was to be found there. Whereupon, a little
to my surprise, I discovered that I could not read the
Epistles at all. For I did not then care an atom for the
theological discussions in which I had been interested
before, and for the sake of which I had read those
epistles. Now that I was in trouble, what to me was
that philosophical theology staring me in the face from
out the sacred page ? Ah ! reader, do not misunder-
stand me. AH reading of the Book is not reading of
the Word. And many that are first shall be last and
the last first. I know turn: that it was Jesus Christ and


not theology that filled the hearts of the men that wrote
those epistles Jesus Christ, the living, loving God-Man,
whom I found not in the Epistles, but in the Gospels.
The Gospels contain what the apostles preached the
Epistles what they viTOte after the preaching. And
until we understand the Gospel, the good news of Jesus
Christ our brother-king until we understand Him,
until we have His Spirit, promised so freely to them
that ask it all the Epistles, the words of men who
were full of Him, and wrote out of that fulness, who
loved Him so utterly that by that very love they were
lifted into the air of pure reason and right, and would
die for Him, and did die for Him, without two thoughts
about it, in the very simplicity of no choice the Letters,
I say, of such men are to us a sealed book. Until we
love the Lord so as to do what He tells us, we have no
right to have an opinion about what one of those men
meant; for all they wrote is about things beyond us.
The simplest woman who tries not to judge her neigh-
bour, or not to be anxious for the morrow, will better
know what is best to know, than the best-read bishop
without that one simple outgoing of his highest nature
in the effort to do the will of Him who thus spoke.

But I have, as is too common with me, been led
away by my feelings from the path to the object before
me. What I wanted to say was this : that, although I
could make nothing of the epistles, could see no possi-
bility of consolation for my distress springing from them,
I found it altogether different when I tried the Gospel
once more. Indeed, it then took such a hold of me as


it had never taken before. Only that is simply saying
nothing. I found out that I had known nothing at all
about it ; that I had only a certain surface-knowledge,
which tended rather to ignorance, because it fostered
the delusion that I did know. Know that man, Christ
Jesus ! Ah ! Lord, I would go through fire and water
to sit the last at Thy table in Thy kingdom ; but dare I
say now I krunv Thee ! But Thou art the Gospel, for
Thou art the Way, the Truth, and the Life ; and I have
found Thee the Gospel. For I found, as I read, that
Thy very presence in my thoughts, not as the theolo-
gians show Thee, but as Thou showedst Thyself to them
vho report Thee to us, smoothed the troubled waters of
my spirit, so that, even while the storm lasted, I was
able to walk upon them to go to Thee. And when
those waters became clear, I most rejoiced in their
clearness because they mirrored Thy form because
Thou wert there to my vision the one Ideal, the
perfect man, the God perfected as king of men by
working out His Godhood in the work of man ; reveal-
ing that God and man are one ; that to serve God, a
man must be partaker of the Divine nature ; that for a
man's work to be done thoroughly, God must come and
do it first Himself; that to help men, He must be what
He is man in God, God in man visibly before their
eyes, or to the hearing of their ears. So much I saw.

And therefore, when I was once more in a position
to help my fellows, what could I want to give them but
that which was the very bread and water of life to me
the Saviour himself] And how was I to do this ? By


trying to represent the man in all the simplicity of His
life, of His sayings and doings, of His refusals to say or
do. I took the story from the beginning, and told them
about the Baby; trying to make the fathers and mothers,
and all whose love for children supplied the lack of
fatherhood and motherhood, feel that it was a real baby-
boy. And I followed the life on and on, trying to show
them how He felt, as far as one might dare to touch
such sacred things, when He did so and so, or said so
and so; and what His relation to His father and mother
and brothers and sisters was, and to the different kinds
of people who came about Him. And I tried to show
them what His sayings meant, as far as I understood
them myself, and where I could not understand them
I just told them so, and said I hoped for more light by
and by to enable me to understand them ; telling them
that that hope was a sharp goad to my resolution, driv-
ing me on to do my duty, because I knew that only as
\ did my duty would light go up in my heart, making
me wise to understand the precious words of my Lord.
And I told them that if they would try to do their duty,
they would find more understanding from that than from
any explanation I could give them.

And so I went on from Sunday to Sunday. And the
number of people that slept grew less and less, until, at
last, it was reduced to the churchwarden, Mr Brownrigg,
and an old washerwoman, who, poor thing, stood so
much all the week, that sitting down with her was like
going to bed, and she never could do it, as she told me,
without going to sleep. I, therefore, called upon her


every Monday morning, and had five minutes' chat with
her as she stood at her wash-tub, wishing to make up to
her for her drowsiness; and thinking that if I could
once get her interested in anything, she might be able
to keep awake a little while at the beginning of the
sermon ; for she gave me no chance of interesting her
on Sundays going fast asleep the moment I stood up
to preach. I never got so far as that, however ; and the
only fact that showed me I had made any impression
upon her, beyond the pleasure she always manifested
when I appeared on the Monday, was, that, whereas all
my linen had been very badly washed at first, a decided
improvement took place after a while, beginning with
my surplice and bands, and gradually extending itself
to my shirts and handkerchiefs; till at last even Mrs
Pearson was unable to find any fault with the poor old
sleepy woman's work. For Mr Brownrigg, I am not
sure that the sense of any one sentence I ever uttered,
down to the day of his death, entered into his brain I
dare not say his mind or heart With regard to him,
and millions besides, I am more than happy to obey my
Lord's command, and not judge.

But it was not long either before my congregations
began to improve, whatever might be the cause. I could
not help hoping that it was really because they liked to
hear the Gospel, that is, the good news about Christ
himself. And I always made use of the knowledge I
had of my individual hearers, to say what I thought
would do them good. Not that I ever preached at any-
body; I only sought to explain the principles of tilings


in which I knew action of some sort was demanded
from them. For I remembered how our Lord's sermon
against covetousness, with the parable of the rich man
with the little barn, had for its occasion the request of a
man that our Lord would interfere to make his brother
share with him ; which He declining to do, yet gave
both brothers a lesson such as, if they wished to do
what was right, would help them to see clearly what was
the right thing to do in this and every such matter.
Clear the mind's eye, by washing away the covetous-
ness, and the whole nature would be full of light, and
the right walk would speedily follow.

Before long, likewise, I was as sure of seeing the pale

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