Copyright
George MacDonald.

[Works] (Volume 3) online

. (page 9 of 35)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonald[Works] (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


face of Thomas Weir perched, like that of a man be-
headed for treason, upon the apex of the gablet of the
old tomb, as I was of hearing the wonderful playing of
that husky old organ, of which I have spoken once be-
fore. I continued to pay him a visit every now and
then; and I assure you, never was the attempt to be
thoroughly honest towards a man better understood or
more appreciated than my attempt was by the atheistical
carpenter. The man was no more an atheist than
David was when he saw the wicked spreading like a
green bay-tree, and was troubled at the sight. He only
wanted to see a God in whom he could trust. And if I
succeeded at all in making him hope that there might be
such a God, it is to me one of the most precious seals
of my ministry.

But it was now getting very near Christmas, and there
was one person whom I had never yet seen at church :



WHAT t PREACHED. 133



that was Catherine Weir. I thought, at first, it could
hardly be that she shrunk from being seen ; for how
then could she have taken to keeping a shop, where she
must be at the beck of every one t I had several times
gone and bought tobacco of her since that first occa-
sion ; and I had told my housekeeper to buy whatever
she could from her, instead of going to the larger shop
in the place ; at which Mrs Pearson had grumbled a
good deal, saying how could the things be so good out
of a poky shop like that? But I told her I did not care
if the things were not quite as good ; for it would be of
more consequence to Catherine to have the custom, than
it would be to me to have the one lump of sugar I put
In my tea of a morning one shade or even two shades
whiter. So I had contrived to keep up a kind of con-
nexion with her, although I saw that any attempt at
conversation was so distasteful to her, that it must do
harm until something should have brought about a
change in her feelings ; though what feeling wanted
changing, I could not at first tell. I came to the con-
clusion that she had been wronged grievously, and that
this wrong operating on a nature similar to her father's,
had drawn all her mind to brood over it. The world
itself, the whole order of her life, everything about her,
would seem then to have wronged her ; and to speak to
her of religion would only rouse her scorn, and make
her feel as if God himself, if there were a God, had
wronged her too. Evidently, likewise, she had that
peculiarity of strong, undeveloped natures, of being un-
able, once possessed by one set of thoughts, to get rid



134 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.

of it again, or to see anything except in the shadow of
those thoughts. I had no doubt, however, at last, that
she was ashamed of her position in the eyes of society,
although a hitherto indomitable pride had upheld her to
face it so far as was necessary to secure her independ-
ence ; both of which pride and shame prevented her
from appearing where it was unnecessary, and especially
in church. I could do nothing more than wait for a
favourable opportunity. I could invent no way of reach-
ing her yet ; for I had soon found that kindness to her
boy was regarded rather in the light of an insult to her.
1 should have been greatly puzzled to account for his
being such a sweet little fellow, had I not known that
he was a great deal with his aunt and grandfather. A
more attentive and devout worshipper was not in the
congregation than that little boy.

Before going on to speak of another of the most re-
markable of my parishioners, whom I have just once
mentioned I believe already, I should like to say that
on three several occasions before Christmas I had seen
Judy look grave. She was always quite well-behaved in
church, though restless, as one might expect. But on
these occasions she was not only attentive, but grave, as
if she felt something or other. I will not mention what
subjects I was upon at those times, because the mention
of them would not, in the minds of my readers, at all
harmonise with the only notion of Judy they can yet by
possibility have.

For Mrs Oldcastle, I never saw her change countenance
or even expression at anything I mean in church.




CHAPTER IX.

THE ORGANIST.

JN the afternoon of my second Sunday at
Marshmallows, I was standing in the church-
yard, casting a long shadow in the light of
the declining sun. I was reading the in-
scription upon an old headstone, for I thought every-
body was gone ; when I heard a door open, and shut
again before I could turn. I saw at once that it must
have been a little door in the tower, almost concealed
from where I stood by a deep buttress. I had never
seen the door open, and I had never inquired anything
about it, supposing it led merely into the tower.

After a moment it opened again, and, to my surprise,
out came, stooping his tall form to get his gray head
clear of the low archway, a man whom no one could
pass without looking after him. Tall, and strongly built,
he had the carriage of a military man, without an atom
or that sternness which one generally finds in the faces



136 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.

f

of those accustomed to command. He had a large face,
with large regular features, and large clear gray eyes, all
of which united to express an exceeding placidity or re-
pose. It shone with intelligence a mild intelligence
no way suggestive of profundity, although of geniality.
Indeed, there was a little too much expression. The
face seemed to express all that lay beneath it.

I was not satisfied with the countenance ; and yet it
looked quite good. It was somehow a too well-ordered
face. It was quite Greek in its outline ; and marvellously
well kept and smooth, considering that the beard, to
which razors were utterly strange, and which descended
half-way down his breast, would have been as white as
snow except for a slight yellowish tinge. His eyebrows
were still very dark, only just touched with the frost of
winter. His hair, too, as I saw when he lifted his hat,
was still wonderfully dark for the condition of his beard.
It flashed into my mind, that this must be the organist
who played so remarkably. Somehow I had not hap-
pened yet to inquire about him. But there was a state-
liness in this man amounting almost to consciousness
of dignity ; and I was a little bewildered. His clothes
were all of black, very neat and clean, but old-fashioned
and threadbare They bore signs of use, but more signs
of time and careful keeping. I would have spoken to
him, but something in the manner in which he bowed
to me as he passed, prevented me, and I let him go un-
accosted.

The sexton coming out directly after, and proceeding
to lock the door, I was struck by the action, " What fr



THE ORGANIST. 137



he locking the door for ? " I said to myself. But I said
nothing to him, because I had not answered the question
myself yet

" Who is that gentleman," I asked, " who came out
just now ? "

" That is Mr Stoddart, sir," he answered.

I thought I had heard the name in the neighbourhood
before.

"Is it he who plays the organ ? " I asked.

" That he do, sir. He 's played our organ for the last
ten year, ever since he come to live at the Hall."

"What Hall?"

" Why the Hall, to be sure, Oldcastle Hall, you
know."

And then it dawned on my recollection that I had
heard Judy mention her uncle Stoddart. But how could
he be her uncle?

" Is he a relation of the family ? " I asked.

" He 's a brother-in-law, I believe, of the old lady, sir,
but how ever he come to live there I don't know. It 's
no such binding connexion, you know, sir. He's been
in the milintairy line, 1 believe, sir, in the Ingies, or
somewheres."

I do not think I shall have any more strange parish-
ioners to present to my readers ; at least I do not re-
member any more just at this moment And this one,
as the reader will see, I positively could not keep
out

A military man from India ! a brother-in-law of Mrs
Oldcastle, choosing to live with her ! an entrancing per-



138 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.

former upon an old, asthmatic, dry-throated church
organ ! taking no trouble to make the clergyman's ac-
quaintance, and passing him in the churchyard with a
courteous bow, although his face was full of kindliness,
if not of kindness ! I could not help thinking all this
strange. And yet will the reader cease to accord me
credit when I assert it? although I had quite intended
to inquire after him when I left the vicarage to go to
the Hall, and had even thought of him when sitting with
Mrs Oldcastle, I never thought of him again after going
with Judy, and left the house without having made a
single inquiry after him. Nor did I think of him again
till just as I was passing under the outstretched neck of
one of those serpivolants on the gate ; and what made
me think of him then, I cannot in the least imagine ; but
I resolved at once that I would call upon him the fol-
lowing week, lest he should think that the fact of his
having omitted to call upon me had been the occasion
of such an apparently pointed omission on my part.
For I had long ago determined to be no further guided
by the rules of society than as they might aid in bring-
ing about true neighbourliness, and if possible friendli-
ness and friendship. Wherever they might interfere
with these, I would disregard them as far on the other
hand as the disregard of them might tend to bring about
the results I desired.

When, carrying out this resolution, I rang the door-
bell at the Hall, and inquired whether Mr Stoddart was
at home, the butler stared ; and, as I simply continued
gazing in return, and waiting, he answered at length,



THE ORGANIST. 139



with some hesitation, as if he were picking and choosing
his words :

" Mr Stoddart never calls upon any one, sir."

" I am not complaining of Mr Stoddart," I answered,
wishing to put the man at his ease.

" But nobody calls upon Mr Stoddart," he returned.

" That 's very unkind of somebody, surely," I said.

" But he doesn't want anybody to call upon him, sir."

" Ah ! that 's another matter. I didn't know that.
Of course, nobody has a right to intrude upon anybody.
However, as I happen to have come without knowing
his dislike to being visited, perhaps you will take him
my card, and say that if it is not disagreeable to him, I
should like exceedingly to thank him in person for his
sermon on the organ last Sunday."

He had played an exquisite voluntary in the morning.

" Give my message exactly, if you please," I said, as I
followed the man into the hall.

" I will try, sir," he answered. " But won't you come
up-stairs to mistress's room, sir, while I take this to Mr
Stoddart?"

" No, I thank you," I answered. " I came to call
upon Mr Stoddart only, and I will wait the result of
your mission here in the hall."

The man withdrew, and I sat down on a, bench, and
amused myself with looking at the portraits about me.
I learned afterwards that they had hung, till some thirty
years before, in a long gallery connecting the main part
of the house with that portion to which the turret referred
to so often in Old Weir's story was attached. One par-



140 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.

ticularly pleased me. It was the portrait of a young
woman very lovely but with an expression both sad
and scared, I think, would be the readiest word to
communicate what I mean. It was indubitably, indeed
remarkably, like Miss Oldcastle. And I learned after-
wards that it was the portrait of Mrs Oldcastle's grand-
mother, that very Mrs Crowfoot mentioned m Weir's
story. It had been taken about six months after her
marriage, and about as many before her death.

The butler returned, with the request that I would
follow him. He led me up the grand staircase, through
a passage at right angles to that which led to the old
lady's room, up a narrow circular staircase at the end of
the passage, across a landing, then up a straight steep
narrow stair, upon which two people could not pass
without turning sideways and then squeezing. At the
top of this I found myself in a small cylindrical lobby,
papered in blocks of stone. There was no door to be
seen. It was lighted by a conical skylight. My con-
ductor gave a push against the wall. Certain blocks
yielded, and others came forward. In fact a door re-
volved on central pivots, and we were admitted to a
chamber crowded with books from floor to ceiling,
arranged with wonderful neatness and solidity. From
the centre of the ceiling, whence hung a globular lamp,
radiated what I took to be a number of strong beams
supporting a floor above; for our ancestors put the ceil-
ing above the beams, instead of below them, as we do,
and gained in space if they lost in quietness. But I
soon found out my mistake. Those radiating beams



THE ORGANIST. 14!



were in reality book-shelves. For on each side of those
I passed under I could see the gilded backs of books
standing closely ranged together. I had never seen the
contrivance before, nor, I presume, was it to be seen
anywhere else.

" How does Mr Stoddart reach those books?" I asked
my conductor.

" I don't exactly know, sir," whispered the butler.
' His own man could tell you, I dare say. But he has
a holiday to-day; and I do not think he would explain
it either; for he says his master allows no interference
with his contrivances. I believe, however, he does not
use a ladder."

There was no one in the room, and I saw no entrance
but that by which we had entered. The next moment,
however, a nest of shelves revolved in front of me, and
there Mr Stodilart stood with outstretched hand.

" You have found me at last, Mr Walton, and I am
glad to see you," he said.

He led me into an inner room, much larger than the
one I had passed through.

" I am glad," I replied, " that I did not know, till the
butler told me, your unwillingness to be intruded upon ;
for I fear, had I known it, I should have been yet longer
a stranger to you."

" You are no stranger to me. I have heard you read
prayers, and I have heard you preach."

" And I have heard you play; so you are no stranger
to me either."

" Well, before we say another word," said Mr Stoddart,



142 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.

" I must just say one word about this report of my un-
sociable disposition. I encourage it; but am very glad
to see you, notwithstanding. Do sit down."

I obeyed, and waited for the rest of his word.

" I was so bored with visits after I came, visits which
were to me utterly uninteresting, that I was only too
glad when the unusual nature of some of my pursuits
gave rise to the rumour that I was mad. The more
people say I am mad, the better pleased I am, so long
as they are satisfied with my own mode of shutting my-
self up. and do not attempt to carry out any fancies of
their own in regard to my personal freedom."

Upon this followed some desultory conversation, dur-
ing which I took some observations of the room. Like
the outer room, it was full of books from floor to ceiling.
But the ceiling was divided into compartments, harmoni-
ously coloured.

" What a number of books you have !" I observed.

" Not a great many," he answered. " But I think
there is hardly one of them with which I have not some
kind of personal acquaintance. I think I could almost
find you any one you wanted in the dark, or in the
twilight at least, which would allow me to distinguish
whether the top edge was gilt, red, marbled, or uncut.
I have bound a couple of hundred or so of them myself.
I don't think you could tell the work from a tradesman's.
I '11 give you a guinea for the poor-box if you pick out
three of my binding consecutively."

I accepted the challenge; for although I could not
bind a book, I considered myself to have a keen eye for



THE ORGANIST. 143



the outside finish. After looking over the backs ol' a
great many, I took one down, examined a little further,
and presented it.

" You are right Now try again."

Again I was successful, although I doubted.

" And now for the last," he said.

Once more I was right.

" There is your guinea," said he, a little mortified.

" No," I answered. " I do not feel at liberty to take
it, because, to tell the truth, the last was a mere guess,
nothing more."

Mr Stoddart looked relieved.

" You are more honest than most of your profession,"
he said. " But I am far more pleased to offer you the
guinea upon the smallest doubt of your having won it."

" I have no claim upon it."

" What ! Coivldn't you swallow a small scruple like
that for the sake of the poor even? Well, I don't be-
lieve you could. Oblige me by taking this guinea for
some one or other of your poor people. But I am glad
you weren't sure of that last book. I am indeed."

I took the guinea, and put it in my purse.

" But," he resumed, " you won't do, Mr Walton.
You're not fit for your profession. You won't tell a lie
for God's sake. You won't dodge about a little to keep
all right between Jove and his weary parishioners. You
won't cheat a little for the sake of the poor ! You
wouldn't even bamboozle a little at a bazaar!"

" I should not like to boast of my principles," I an-
swered ; " for the moment one does so, they become as



144 ANNALS OF A QUIKT NEIGHBOURHOOD.

the apples of Sodom. But assuredly I would not favour
a fiction to keep a world out of hell. The hell that a
lie would keep any man out of is doubtless the very best
place for him to go to. It is truth, yes, The Truth that
saves the world."

" You are right, I daresay. You are more sure about
it than I am though."

" Let us agree where we can," I said, " first of all ;
and that will make us able to disagree, where we must,
without quarrelling."

" Good," he said " Would you like to see my work-
shop]"

" Very much, indeed," I answered, heartily.

" Do you take any pleasure in applied mechanics ? "

" I used to do so as a boy. But of course I have
little time now for anything of the sort."

" Ah ! of course."

He pushed a compartment of books. It yielded, and
we entered a small closet. In another moment I found
myself leaving the floor, and in yet a moment we were
on the floor of an upper room.

" What a nice way of getting up-stairs ! " I said.

" There is no other way of getting to this room," an-
swered Mr Stoddart. " I built it myself; and there was
no room for stairs. This is my shop. In my library I
only read my favourite books. Here I read anything I
want to read ; write anything I want to write ; bind my
books ; invent machines ; and amuse myself generally.
Take a chair."

I obeyed, and began to look about me.



THB ORGANIST. 145



The room had many books in detached book-cases.
There were various benches against the walls between,
one a bookbinder's ; another a carpenter's ; a third
had a turning-lathe ; a fourth had an iron vice fixed on
it, and was evidently used for working in metal. Be-
sides these, for it was a large room, there were several
tables with chemical apparatus upon them, Florence-
flasks, retorts, sand-baths, and such like ; while in a
corner stood a furnace.

" What an accumulation of ways and means you have
about you ! " I said ; " and all, apparently, to different
ends.''

" All to the same end, if my object were understood."

" I presume I must ask no questions as to that object ?"

" It would take time to explain. I have theories of
education. I think a man has to educate himself into
harmony. Therefore he must open every possible win-
dow by which the influences of the All may come in
upon him. I do not think any man complete without
a perfect development of his mechanical faculties, for
instance, and I encourage them to develop themselves
into such windows."

" I do not object to your theory, provided you do not
put it forward as a perfect scheme of human life. If
you did, I should have some questions to ask you about
it, lest I should misunderstand you."

He smiled what I took for a self-satisfied smile.
There was nothing offensive in it, but it left me with-
out anything to reply to. No embarrassment followed,
however, for a rustling motion in the room the same



146 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.

instant attracted my attention, and I saw, to my sur-
prise, and I must confess, a little to my confusion, Miss
Oldcastle. She was seated in a corner, reading from a
quarto lying upon her knees.

" Oh ! you didn't know my niece was here ? To tell
the truth, I forgot her when I brought you up, else I
would have introduced you."

" That is not necessary, uncle," said Miss Oldcastle,
closing her book.

I was by her instantly. She slipped the quarto from
her knee, and took my offered hand.

"Are you fond of old books?" I said, not having any-
thing better to say.

" Some old books," she answered.

" May I ask what book you were reading?"

" I will answer you under protest," she said, with a
smile.

" I withdraw the question at once," I returned.

" I will answer it notwithstanding. It is a volume of
Jacob Behmen."

" Do you understand him 1 "

" Yes. Don't you ? "

" Well, I have made but little attempt," I answered.
" Indeed, it was only as I passed through London last
that I bought his works ; and I am sorry to find that
one of the plates is missing from my copy."

"Which plate is it? It is not very easy, I understand,
to procure a perfect copy. One of my uncle's copies
has no two volumes bound alike. Each must have be-
longed to a different set."



THF. ORGANIST. 147



" I can't tell you what the plate is. But there are
only three of those very curious unfolding ones in my
third volume, and there should be four."

" I do not think so. Indeed, I am sure you are
wrong."

" I am glad to hear it though to be glad that the
world does not possess what I thought I only was de-
prived of, is selfishness, cover it over as one may with
the fiction of a perfect copy."

" I don't know," she returned, without any response
to what I said. " I should always like things perfect
myself."

" Doubtless," I answered ; and thought it better to
try another direction.

" How is Mrs Oldcastle 1 ' I asked, feeling in its turn
the reproach of hypocrisy ; for though I could have
suffered, I hope, in my person and goods and reputa-
tion, to make that woman other than she was, I could
not say that I cared one atom whether she was in
health or not. Possibly I should have preferred the
latter member of the alternative ; for the suffering of
the lower nature is as a fire that drives the higher
nature upwards. So I felt rather hypocritical when I
asked Miss Oldcastle after her.

" Quite well, thank you," she answered, in a tone of
indifference, which implied either that she saw through
me, or shared in my indifference. I could not tell
which.

" And how is Miss Judy ?" I inquired.

" A little savage, as usual."



148 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.

" Not the worse for her wetting, I hope."

" Oh ! dear no. There never was health to equal that
child's. It belongs to her savage nature."

" I wish some of us were more of savages, then," I
returned ; for I saw signs of exhaustion in her eyes which
moved my sympathy.

" You don't mean me, Mr Walton, I hope. For if you
do, I assure you your interest is quite thrown away.
Uncle will tell you I am as strong as an elephant"

But here came a slight elevation of her person ; and a
shadow at the same moment passed over her face. I
saw that she felt she ought not to have allowed herself
to become the subject of conversation.

Meantime her uncle was busy at one of his benches
filing away at a piece of brass fixed in the vice. lie
had thick gloves on. And, indeed, it had puzzled me
before to think how he could have so many kinds of
work, and yet keep his hands so smooth and white as
they were. I could not help thinking the results could
hardly be of the most useful description if they were
all accomplished without some loss of whiteness and
smoothness in the process. Even the feet that keep
the garments clean must be washed themselves in the
end.

When I glanced away from Miss Oldcastle in the
embarrassment produced by the repulsion of her last
manner, I saw Judy in the room. At the same moment
Miss Oldcastle rose.

" What is the matter, Judy?" she said.

" Grannie wants you," said Judy.



THK OKGANIST. 149



Miss Oldcastle left the room, and Judy turned to me.

" How do you do, Mr Walton?" she said.

" Quite well, thank you, Judy," I answered " Your
uncle admits you to his workshop, then?"

" Yes, indeed. He would feel rather dull, sometimes,
without me. Wouldn't you, Uncle Stoddart?"

"Just as the horses in the field would feel dull with-
out the gad-fly, Judy," said Mr Stoddart, laughing.



Online LibraryGeorge MacDonald[Works] (Volume 3) → online text (page 9 of 35)