WEIGHED AND WANTING
BY GEORGE MACDONALD
I. Bad Weather
II. Father, Mother and Son
III. The Magic Lantern
IV. Hester alone
V. Truly the Light is sweet
VI. The Aquarium
VII. Amy Amber
VIII. Cornelius and Vavasor
IX. Songs and Singers
X. Hester and Amy
XI. At Home
XII. A Beginning
XIII. A private Exhibition
XIV. Vavasor and Hester
XV. A small Failure
XVI. The Concert Room
XVII. An uninvited Guest
XIX. Light and Shade
XX. The Journey
XXI. Mother and Daughter
XXIII. Down the Hill
XXIV. Out of the Frying pan
XXV. Was it into the Fire?
XXVI. Waiting a Purpose
XXVII. Major H. G. Marvel
XXVIII. The Major and Vavasor
XXIX. A brave Act
XXX. In another Light
XXXI. The Major and Cousin Helen's Boys
XXXII. A distinguished Guest
XXXIII. Courtship in earnest
XXXV. In London
XXXVI. A Talk with the Major
XXXVIII. In the House
XXXIX. The Major and the Small-pox
XL. Down and down
XLII. Deep calleth unto Deep
XLIV. On the Way up
XLV. More yet
XLVI. Amy and Corney
XLVII. Miss Vavasor
XLVIII. Mr. Christopher
XLIX. An Arrangement
L. Things at Home
LI. The Return
LII. A heavenly Vision
LIII. A sad Beginning
LIV. Mother and Son
LV. Miss Dasomma and Amy
LVI. The sick Room
LVII. Vengeance is Mine
LVIII. Father and Daughter-in-law
LIX. The Message
LX. A birthday Gift
It was a gray, windy noon in the beginning of autumn. The sky and the sea were almost of the same color, and that not a beautiful one. The edge of the horizon where they met was an edge no more, but a bar thick and blurred, across which from the unseen came troops of waves that broke into white crests, the flying manes of speed, as they rushed at, rather than ran towards the shore: in their eagerness came out once more the old enmity between moist and dry. The trees and the smoke were greatly troubled, the former because they would fain stand still, the latter because it would fain ascend, while the wind kept tossing the former and beating down the latter. Not one of the hundreds of fishing boats belonging to the coast was to be seen; not a sail even was visible; not the smoke of a solitary steamer ploughing its own miserable path through the rain-fog to London or Aberdeen. It was sad weather and depressing to not a few of the thousands come to Burcliff to enjoy a holiday which, whether of days or of weeks, had looked short to the labor weary when first they came, and was growing shorter and shorter, while the days that composed it grew longer and longer by the frightful vitality of dreariness. Especially to those of them who hated work, a day like this, wrapping them in a blanket of fog, whence the water was every now and then squeezed down upon them in the wettest of all rains, seemed a huge bite snatched by that vague enemy against whom the grumbling of the world is continually directed out of the cake that by every right and reason belonged to them. For were they not born to be happy, and how was human being to fulfill his destiny in such circumstances?
There are men and women who can be happy in any—even in such circumstances and worse, but they are rare, and not a little better worth knowing than the common class of mortals—alas that they will be common! content to be common they are not and cannot be. Among these exceptional mortals I do not count such as, having secured the corner of a couch within the radius of a good fire, forget the world around them by help of the magic lantern of a novel that interests them: such may not be in the least worth knowing for their disposition or moral attainment—not even although the noise of the waves on the sands, or the storm in the chimney, or the rain on the windows but serves to deepen the calm of their spirits. Take the novel away, give the fire a black heart; let the smells born in a lodging-house kitchen invade the sitting-room, and the person, man or woman, who can then, on such a day, be patient with a patience pleasant to other people, is, I repeat, one worth knowing—and such there are, though not many. Mrs. Raymount, half the head and more than half the heart of a certain family in a certain lodging house in the forefront of Burcliff, was one of such.
It was not a large family, yet contained perhaps as many varieties of character and temper as some larger ones, with as many several ways of fronting such a misfortune—for that is what poor creatures, the slaves of the elements, count it—as rainy weather in a season concerning which all men agree that it ought to be fine, and that something is out of order, giving ground of complaint, if it be not fine. The father met it with tolerably good humor; but he was so busy writing a paper for one of the monthly reviews, that he would have kept the house had the day been as fine as both the church going visitors, and the mammon-worshipping residents with income depending on the reputation of their weather, would have made it if they could, nor once said by your leave; therefore he had no credit, and his temper must pass as not proven. But if you had taken from the mother her piece of work—she was busy embroidering a lady's pinafore in a design for which she had taken colors and arrangement from a peacock's feather, but was disposing them in the form of a sun which with its rays covered the stomacher, the deeper tints making the shadow between the golden arrows—had you taken from her this piece of work, I say, and given her nothing to do instead, she would yet have looked and been as peaceful as she now looked, for she was not like Doctor Doddridge's dog that did not know who made him.
A longish lad stood in the bow window, leaning his head on the shutter, in a mood of smouldering rebellion against the order of things. He was such a mere creature of moods, that individual judgments of his character might well have proved irreconcilable. He had not yet begun by the use of his will—constantly indeed mistaking impulse for will—to blend the conflicting elements of his nature into one. He was therefore a man much as the mass of flour and raisins, etc., when first put into the bag, is a plum-pudding; and had to pass through something analogous to boiling to give him a chance of becoming worthy of the name he would have arrogated. But in his own estimate of himself he claimed always the virtues of whose presence he was conscious in his good moods letting the bad ones slide, nor taking any account of what was in them. He substituted forgetfulness for repudiation, a return of good humor for repentance, and at best a joke for apology.
Mark, a pale, handsome boy of ten, and Josephine, a rosy girl of seven, sat on the opposite side of the fire, amusing themselves with a puzzle. The gusts of wind, and the great splashes of rain on the glass, only made them feel the cosier and more satisfied.
"Beastly weather!" remarked Cornelius, as with an effort half wriggle, half spring, he raised himself perpendicular, and turned towards the room rather than the persons in it.
"I'm sorry you don't like it, Cornie," said his elder sister, who sat beside her mother trimming what promised to be a pretty bonnet. A concentrated effort to draw her needle through an accumulation of silken folds seemed to take something off the bloom of the smile with which she spoke.
"Oh, it's all very well for girls!" returned Cornelius. "You don't do anything worth doing; and besides you've got so many things you like doing, and so much time to do them in, that it's all one to you whether you go out or stay at home. But when a fellow has but a miserable three weeks and then back to a rot of work he cares no more for than a felon for the treadmill, then it is rather hard to have such a hole made in it! Day after day, as sure as the sun rises—if he does rise—of weather as abominable as rain and wind can make it!"
"My dear boy!" said his mother without looking up.
"Oh, yes, mother! I know! You're so good you would have had Job himself take it coolly. But I'm not like you. Only you needn't think me so very—what you call it! It's only a breach in the laws of nature I'm grumbling at. I don't mean anything to offend you."
"Perhaps you mean more than you think," answered his mother with a deep-drawn breath, which, if not a sigh, was very nearly one. "I should be far more miserable than any weather could make me, not to be able to join in the song of the three holy children."
"I've heard you say that before, mother," said the youth, in a tone that roused his sister's anger; for much that the mother let pass was by the daughter for her sake resented. "But you see," he went on, "the three holy children, as you call them, hadn't much weather of any sort where they sung their song. Precious tired one gets of it before the choir's through with it!"
"They would have been glad enough of some of the weather you call beastly," said Hester, again pulling through a stiff needle, this time without any smile, for sometimes that brother was more than she could bear.
"Oh, I dare say! But then, you see, they knew, when they got out, they wouldn't have to go back to a beastly bank, where notes and gold all day went flying about like bats—nothing but the sight and the figures of it coming their way!"
The mother's face grew very sad as it bent over her work. The youth saw her trouble.
"Mother, don't be vexed with a fellow," he said more gently. "I wasn't made good like you."
"I think you were right about the holy children," she said quietly.
"What!" exclaimed Cornelius. "Mother, I never once before heard you say I was right about any mortal thing! Come, this is pleasant! I begin to think strong ale of myself! I don't understand it, though."
"Shall I tell you? Would you care to know what I mean?"
"Oh, yes, mother! if you want to tell me."
"I think you were right when you implied it was the furnace that made them sing about the world outside of it: one can fancy the idea of the frost and the snow and the ice being particularly pleasant to them. And I am afraid, Cornelius, my dear son, you need the furnace to teach you that the will of God, even in weather, is a thing for rejoicing in, not for abusing. But I dread the fire for your sake, my boy!"
"I should have thought this weather and the bank behind it furnace enough, mother!" he answered, trying to laugh off her words.
"It does not seem to be," she said, with some displeasure. "But then," she added with a sigh, "you have not the same companion that the three holy children had."
"Who was that?" rejoined Cornelius, for he had partly forgotten the story he knew well enough in childhood.
"We will not talk about him now," answered his mother. "He has been knocking at your chamber-door for some time: when he comes to the furnace-door, perhaps you will open that to him."
Cornelius returned no answer; he felt his mother's seriousness awkward, and said to himself she was unkind; why couldn't she make some allowance for a fellow? He meant no harm!
He was still less patient with his mother's not very frequent admonitions, since going into the bank, for, much as he disliked it, he considered himself quite a man of the world in consequence. But he was almost as little capable of slipping like a pebble among other pebbles, the peculiar faculty of the man of the world, as he was of perceiving the kind of thing his mother cared about—and that not from moral lack alone, but from dullness and want of imagination as well. He was like the child so sure he can run alone that he snatches his hand from his mother's and sets off through dirt and puddles, so to act the part of the great personage he would consider himself.
With all her peace of soul, the heart of the mother was very anxious about her son, but she said no more to him now: she knew that the shower bath is not the readiest mode of making a child friendly with cold water.
Just then broke out the sun. The wind had at last blown a hole in the clouds, and through that at once, as is his wont, and the wont of a greater light than the sun, he shone.
"Come! there's something almost like sunshine!" said Cornelius, having for a few moments watched the light on the sands. "Before it goes in again, as it's sure to do in five minutes at the farthest, get on your bonnet, Hester, and let's have an attempt at a walk."
Before Hester could answer came a sudden spatter of rain on the window.
"There! I told you so! That's always the way! Just my luck! For me to set my heart on a thing is all one with being disappointed of it."
"But if the thing was not worth setting your heart on?" said Hester, speaking with forced gentleness.
"What does that signify? The thing is that your heart is set on it. What you think nothing other people may yet be bold enough to take for something."
"Well, at least, if I had to be disappointed, I should like it to be in something that would be worth having."
"Would you now?" returned Cornelius spitefully. "I hope you may have what you want. For my part I don't desire to be better than my neighbor. I think it downright selfish."
"Do you want to be as good as your neighbor, Cornie?" said his mother, looking up through a film of tears. "But there is a more important question than that," she went on, having waited a moment in vain for an answer, "and that is, whether you are content with being as good as yourself, or want to be better."
"To tell you the truth, mother, I don't trouble my head about such things. Philosophers are agreed that self consciousness is the bane of the present age: I mean to avoid it. If you had let me go into the army, I might have had some leisure for what you call thought, but that horrible bank takes everything out of a fellow. The only thing it leaves is a burning desire to forget it at any cost till the time comes when you must endure it again. If I hadn't some amusement in between, I should cut my throat, or take to opium or brandy. I wonder how the governor would like to be in my place!"
Hester rose and left the room, indignant with him for speaking so of his father.
"If your father were in your place, Cornelius," said his mother with dignity, "he would perform the duties of it without grumbling, however irksome they might be."
"How do you know that, mother? He was never tried."
"I know it because I know him," she answered.
Cornelius gave a grunt.
"If you think it hard," his mother resumed, "that you have to follow a way of life not of your own choosing, you must remember that you never could be got to express a preference for one way over another, and that your father had to strain every nerve to send you to college—to the disadvantage, for a time at least, of others of the family. I am sorry to have to remind you also that you did not make it any easier for him by your mode of living while there."
"I didn't run up a single bill!" cried Cornelius with indignation; "and my father knows it!"
"He does; but he knows also that your cousin Robert did not spend above two-thirds of what you did, and made more of his time too."
"He was in rather a different set," sneered the youth.
"And you know," his mother went on, "that his main design in placing you in your uncle's bank was that you might gain such a knowledge of business as will be necessary to the proper management of the money he will leave behind him. When you have gained that knowledge, there will be time to look farther, for you are young yet."
Now his father's money was the continuous occasion of annoyance to Cornelius, for it was no secret from his family how he meant to dispose of it. He intended, namely, to leave it under trustees, of whom he wished his son to be one until he married, when it was to be divided equally among his children.
This arrangement was not agreeable to Cornelius, who could not see, he said, what advantage in that case he had from being the eldest of the family.
He broke out in a tone of expostulation, ready to swell into indignant complaint.
"Now, mother," he said "do you think it fair that I should have to look after the whole family as if they were my own?"
This was by no means his real cause of complaint, but he chose to use it as his grievance for the present.
"You will have the other trustees to advise with," said his mother. "It need not weigh on you very heavily."
"Well, of course, I could do better with it than anybody out of the family."
"If you have your father's love of fair play, Cornelius, you will. What you can do to that end now is to make yourself thoroughly acquainted with business."
"A bank's not the place to get the knowledge of business necessary for that sort of thing."
"Your father has reasons for preferring a general to any special knowledge. The fitness resulting will depend upon yourself. And when you marry you will, as you know, be rid of the responsibility. So far your father and you are of one mind; he does not think it fair that a married man should be burdened with any family but his own."
"What if I should marry before my father's death?"
"I hope, indeed, you will, Cornelius. The arrangements your father has made is one of provision against the unlikely. When you are married, I don't doubt he will make another, to meet the new circumstances."
"Now," said Cornelius to himself, "I do believe if I was to marry money—as why shouldn't I?—my father would divide my share amongst the rest, and not give me a farthing!"
Full of the injury of the idea, he rose and left the room. His mother, poor woman, wept as he vanished. She dared not allow herself to ask why she wept—dared not allow to herself that her first-born was not a lovely thought to her—dared not ask where he could have got such a mean nature—so mean that he did not know he was mean.
Although the ill-humor in which he had been ever since he came was by himself attributed to the weather, and had been expended on the cooking, on the couches, on the beds, and twenty different things that displeased him, he had nevertheless brought it with him; and her experience gave her the sad doubt that the cause of it might lie in his own conduct—for the consciousness may be rendered uneasy without much rousing of the conscience proper.
He had always been fitful and wayward, but had never before behaved so unpleasantly. Certainly his world had not improved him for his home. Yet amongst his companions he bore the character of the best-natured fellow in the world. To them he never showed any of the peevishness arising from mental discomfort, but kept it for those who loved him a thousand times better, and would have cheerfully parted with their own happiness for his. He was but one of a large herd of youths, possessing no will of their own, yet enjoying the reputation of a strong one; for moved by liking or any foolish notion, his pettiness made a principle of, he would be obstinate; and the common philosophy always takes obstinacy for strength of will, even when it springs from utter inability to will against liking.
Mr. Raymount knew little of the real nature of his son. The youth was afraid of his father—none the less that he spoke of him with so little respect. Before him he dared not show his true nature. He knew and dreaded the scorn which the least disclosure of his feeling about the intended division of his father's money would rouse in him. He knew also that his mother would not betray him—he would have counted it betrayal—to his father; nor would any one who had ever heard Mr. Raymount give vent to his judgment of any conduct he despised, have wondered at the reticence of either of them.
Whether in his youth he would have done as well in a position like his son's as his worshipping wife believed, may be doubtful; but that he would have done better than his son must seem more than probable.
FATHER, MOTHER, AND SON.
Gerald Raymount was a man of an unusual combination of qualities. There were such contradictions in his character as to give ground for the suspicion, in which he certainly himself indulged, that there must be in him at least one strain not far removed from the savage, while on the other hand there were mental conditions apparently presupposing ages of culture. At the university he had indulged in large reading outside the hedge of his required studies, and gained thus an acquaintance with and developed a faculty in literature destined to stand him in good stead.
Inheriting earthly life and a history—nothing more—from a long line of ancestors, and a few thousand pounds—less than twenty—from his father, who was a country attorney, a gentle, quarrelsome man, who yet never, except upon absolute necessity, carried a case into court, he had found, as his family increased, that his income was not sufficient for their maintenance in accustomed ease. With not one expensive personal taste between them, they had neither of them the faculty for saving money—often but another phrase for doing mean things. Neither husband nor wife was capable of screwing. Had the latter been, certainly the free-handedness of the former would have driven her to it; but while Mrs. Raymount would go without a new bonnet till an outcry arose in the family that its respectability was in danger, she could not offer two shillings a day to a sempstress who thought herself worth half-a-crown; she could not allow a dish to be set on her table which was not as likely to encourage hunger as allay it; neither because some richer neighbors gave so little, would she take to herself the spiritual fare provided in church without making a liberal acknowledgment in carnal things. The result of this way of life was the deplorable one that Mr. Raymount was compelled to rouse himself, and, from the chair of a somewhat self-indulgent reader of many books, betake himself to his study-table, to prove whether it were not possible for him to become the writer of such as might add to an income showing scantier every quarter. Here we may see the natural punishment of liberal habits; for this man indulging in them, and, instead of checking them in his wife, loving her the more that she indulged in them also, was for this reason condemned to labor—the worst evil of life in the judgment of both the man about Mayfair and the tramp of the casual ward. But there are others who dare not count that labor an evil which helps to bring out the best elements of human nature, not even when the necessity for it outlasts any impulse towards it, and who remember the words of the Lord: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."
For Gerald Raymount, it made a man of him—which he is not who is of no service to his generation. Doubtless he was driven thereto by necessity; but the question is not whether a man works upon more or less compulsion, but whether the work he is thus taught to do he makes good honest work for which the world is so much the better. In this matter of work there are many first that shall be last. The work of a baker for instance must stand higher in the judgment of the universe than that of a brewer, let his ale be ever so good. Because the one trade brings more money than the other the judgment of this world counts it more honorable, but there is the other judgment at hand.
In the exercise of his calling Raymount was compelled to think more carefully than before, and thus not only his mind took a fresh start, but his moral and spiritual nature as well. He slid more and more into writing out the necessities and experiences of his own heart and history, and so by degrees gained power of the only true kind—that, namely, of rousing the will, not merely the passions, or even the aspirations of men. The poetry in which he had disported himself at college now came to the service of his prose, and the deeper poetic nature, which is the prophetic in every man, awoke in him. Till after they had lived together a good many years the wife did not know the worth of the man she had married, nor indeed was he half the worth when she married him that he had now grown to be. The longer they lived the prouder she grew of him and of his work; nor was she the less the practical wisdom of the house that she looked upon her husband as a great man. He was not a great man—only a growing man; yet was she nothing the worse for thinking so highly of him; the object of it was not such that her admiration caused her to deteriorate.
The daughter of a London barrister, of what is called a good family, she had opportunity of knowing something of what is called life before she married, and from mere dissatisfaction had early begun to withdraw from the show and self-assertion of social life, and seek within herself the door of that quiet chamber whose existence is unknown to most. For a time she found thus a measure of quiet—not worthy of the name of rest; she had not heeded a certain low knocking as of one who would enter and share it with her; but now for a long time he who thus knocked had been her companion in the chamber whose walls are the infinite. Why is it that men and women will welcome any tale of love, devotion, and sacrifice from one to another of themselves, but turn from the least hint at the existence of a perfect love at the root of it all? With such a message to them, a man is a maundering prophet. Is it not that their natures are yet so far from the ideal, the natural, the true, that the words of the prophet rouse in them no vision, no poorest perception of spiritual fact?
Helen Raymount was now a little woman of fifty, clothed in a sweet dignity, from which the contrast she disliked between her plentiful gray hair, and her great, clear, dark eyes, took nothing; it was an opposition without discord. She had but the two daughters and two sons already introduced, of whom Hester was the eldest.
Wise as was the mother, and far-seeing as was the father, they had made the mistake common to all but the wisest parents, of putting off to a period more or less too late the moment of beginning to teach their children obedience. If this be not commenced at the first possible moment, there is no better reason why it should be begun at any other, except that it will be the harder every hour it is postponed. The spiritual loss and injury caused to the child by their waiting till they fancy him fit to reason with, is immense; yet there is nothing in which parents are more stupid and cowardly, if not stiff-necked, than this. I do not speak of those mere animal parents, whose lasting influence over their progeny is not a thing to be greatly desired, but of those who, having a conscience, yet avoid this part of their duty in a manner of which a good motherly cat would be ashamed. To one who has learned of all things to desire deliverance from himself, a nursery in which the children are humored and scolded and punished instead of being taught obedience, looks like a moral slaughter-house.
The dawn of reason will doubtless help to develop obedience; but obedience is yet more necessary to the development of reason. To require of a child only what he can understand the reason of, is simply to help him to make himself his own God—that is a devil. That some seem so little injured by their bad training is no argument in presence of the many in whom one can read as in a book the consequences of their parents' foolishness.
Cornelius was a youth of good abilities, and with a few good qualities. Naturally kind-hearted, yet full of self and its poor importance, he had an admiration of certain easy and showy virtues. He was himself not incapable of an unthinking generosity; felt pity for picturesque suffering; was tempted to kindness by the prospect of a responsive devotion. Unable to bear the sight of suffering, he was yet careless of causing it where he would not see it; incapable of thwarting himself, he was full of weak indignation at being thwarted; supremely conceited, he had yet a regard for the habits and judgments of men of a certain stamp which towards a great man would have been veneration, and would have elevated his being. But the sole essentials of life as yet discovered by Cornelius were a good carriage, good manners, self-confidence, and seeming carelessness in spending. That the spender was greedy after the money he yet scorned to work for, made no important difference in Cornelius's estimate of him. In a word, he fashioned a fine gentleman-god in his foolish brain, and then fell down and worshipped him with what worship was possible between them. To all home-excellence he was so far blind that he looked down upon it; the opinion of father or mother, though they had reared such a son as himself, was not to be compared in authority with that of Reginald Vavasor, who, though so poor as to be one of his fellow-clerks, was heir apparent to an earldom.
THE MAGIC LANTERN.
Cornelius, leaving his mother, took refuge with his anger in his own room. Although he had occupied it but a fortnight the top of its chest of drawers was covered with yellow novels—the sole kind of literature for which Cornelius cared. Of this he read largely, if indeed his mode of swallowing could be called reading; his father would have got more pleasure out of the poorest of them than Cornelius could from a dozen. And now in this day's dreariness, he had not one left unread, and was too lazy or effeminate or prudent to encounter the wind and rain that beset the path betwixt him and the nearest bookshop. None of his father's books had any attraction for him. Neither science, philosophy, history, nor poetry held for him any interest. A drearier soul in a drearier setting could hardly be imagined than the soul of this youth in that day's weather at Burcliff.
Does a reader remark, "Well, wherein was the poor fellow to blame? No man can make himself like this or like that! The thing that is a passion to one is a bore to another! Some with both ear and voice have no love for music. Most exquisite of sonatas would not to them make up for a game of billiards! They cannot help it: they are made so"?—I answer, It is true no one can by an effort of the will care for this or that; but where a man cares for nothing that is worth caring for, the fault must lie, not in the nature God made, but in the character the man himself has made and is making. There is a moral reason why he does not and cannot care. If Cornelius had begun at any time, without other compulsion than the urging within him, to do something he knew he ought to do, he would not now have been the poor slave of circumstances he was—at the call and beck of the weather—such, in fact, as the weather willed. When men face a duty, not merely will that duty become at once less unpleasant to them, but life itself will immediately begin to gather interest; for in duty, and in duty only, does the individual begin to come into real contact with life; therein only can he see what life is, and grow fit for it.
He threw himself on his bed—for he dared not smoke where his father was—and dozed away the hours till lunch, then returned and dozed again, with more success, till tea time. This was his only resource against the unpleasantness of the day. The others were nowise particularly weighed down by it, and the less that Cornelius was so little in the room, haunting the window with his hands in his pockets.
When tea was over, he rose and sauntered once more to the window, the only outlook he ever frequented.
"Hullo!" he cried, turning from it quickly. "I say, Hester! here's a lark! the sun's shining as if his grandmother had but just taught him how! The rain's over, I declare—at least for a quarter of an hour! Come, let's have a walk. We'll go and hear the band in the castle-gardens. I don't think there's any thing going on at the theatre, else I would take you there."
The sight of the sun revives both men and midges.
"I would rather walk," said Hester. "It is seldom one sees good acting in the provinces. At best there is but one star. I prefer a jewel to a gem, and a decent play to a fine part."
"Hester," said Cornelius with reproof, "I believe you think it a fine thing to be hard to please! I know a fellow that calls it a kind of suicide. To allow a spot to spoil your pleasure in a beauty is to be too fond of perfection."
"No, Corney," answered his sister, "that is hardly my position. What I would say is rather, that one point of excellence is not enough to make a whole beautiful—a face, or a play—or a character."
Hester had a rather severe mode of speaking, especially to this brother, which, if it had an end, failed of it. She was the only person in the house who could ever have done any thing with him, and she lost her advantage—let me use a figure—by shouting to him from a distance, instead of coming close up to him and speaking in a whisper. But for that she did not love him enough, neither was she yet calm enough in herself to be able for it. I doubt much, however, if he would have been in any degree permanently the better for the best she could have done for him. He was too self-satisfied for any redemption. He was afraid of his father, resented the interference of his mother, was as cross as he pleased with his sister, and cared little whether she was vexed with him or not. And he regarded the opinion of any girl, just because she was a girl, too little to imagine any reflection on himself in the remark she had just made.
While they talked he had been watching the clouds.
"Do go, Hester," he said. "I give you my word it will be a fine evening."
She went to put on her hat and cloak, and presently they were in the street.
It was one of those misty clearings in which sometimes the day seems to gather up his careless skirts, that have been sweeping the patient, half-drowned world, as he draws nigh the threshold of the waiting night. There was a great lump of orange color half melted up in the watery clouds of the west, but all was dreary and scarce consolable, up to the clear spaces above, stung with the steely stars that began to peep out of the blue hope of heaven. Thither Hester kept casting up her eyes as they walked, or rather somehow her eyes kept travelling thitherward of themselves, as if indeed they had to do with things up there. And the child that cries for the moon is wiser than the man who looks upon the heavens as a mere accident of the earth, with which none but unpractical men concern themselves.
But as she walked gazing at "an azure disc, shield of tranquility," over her head, she set her foot down unevenly, and gave her ankle a wrench. She could not help uttering a little cry.
"There now, Hester!" said Cornelius, pulling her up like a horse that stumbled, "that's what you get by your star-gazing! You are always coming to grief by looking higher than your head!"
"Oh, please, stop a minute, Corney," returned Hester, for the fellow would have walked on as if nothing had happened. "My ankle hurts so!"
"I didn't know it was so bad as that!" he answered stopping. "There! take my arm."
"Now I can go on again," she said, after a few moments of silent endurance. "How stupid of me!—on a plain asphalt pavement!"
He might have excused her with the remark that just on such was an accidental inequality the more dangerous.
"What bright, particular star were you worshipping now?" he asked scoffingly.
"What do you mean by that?" she rejoined in a tone affected by her suffering, which thence, from his lack of sympathy, he took for one of crossness.
"You know quite well," he answered roughly, "that you are always worshipping some paragon or other—for a while, till you get tired of her, and then throw her away for another!"
Hester was hurt and made no answer.
There was some apparent ground for the accusation. She was ready to think extravagantly of any new acquaintances that pleased her. Frank and true and generous, it was but natural she should read others by herself; just as those in whom is meanness or guile cannot help attributing the same to the simplest. Nor was the result unnatural either, namely, that, when a brief intercourse had sufficed to reveal a nature on the common level, it sufficed also to chill the feeling that had rushed to the surface to welcome a friend, and send the new-found floating far away on the swift ebb of disappointment. Any whom she treats thus, called her, of course, fitful and changeable, whereas it was in truth the unchangeableness of her ideal and her faithfulness to it that exposed her to blame. She was so true, so much in earnest, and, although gentle, had so little softness to drape the sterner outlines of her character that she was looked upon with dislike by not a few of her acquaintance.
"That again comes of looking too high, and judging with precipitation," resumed Cornelius, urged from within to be unpleasant—and the rather that she did not reply.
He was always ready to criticise, and it was so much the easier for him that he had not the least bent towards self-criticism. For the latter supposes some degree of truth in the inward parts, and that is obstructive to the indulgence of the former tendency. As to himself, he would be hand and glove at a moment's notice with any man who looked a gentleman, and made himself agreeable; nor whatever he might find him to be, was he, so long as the man was not looked down upon by others, the least inclined to avoid his company because of moral shadiness. "A man can take care of himself!" he would say.
Hester stopped again.
"Corney," she said, "my ankle feels so weak! I am walking in terror of twisting it again. You must let me stand a bit. I shall be all right in a minute."
"I'm very sorry," rejoined her brother disagreeably. "We must take the first fly we meet, and go home again. It's just my luck! I thought we were going to have some fun!"
They stood silent, she looking nowhere, and he staring now in this direction, now in that. "Hullo! what's this?" he cried, his gaze fixing on a large building opposite. "The Pilgrim's Progress! The Rake's Progress! Ha! ha! As edifying as amusing, no doubt! I suppose the Pilgrim and the Rake are contrasted with each other. But how, I wonder! Is it a lecture or a magic lantern? Both, I dare say! Let's go in and see! I can't read any more of the bill. We may at least sit there till your ankle is better. 'Admission—front seats sixpence.' Come along. We may get a good laugh, who knows?—a thing cheap at any price—for our sixpence!"
"I don't mind," said Hester, and they crossed the road.
It was a large, dingy, dirty, water-stained and somewhat dilapidated hall to which the stone stair, ascending immediately from the door, led them; and it would have looked considerably worse but for the obscurity belonging to the nature of the entertainment, through which it took some pains to discover the twenty-five or thirty people that formed the company present. It was indeed a dim, but not therefore, a very religious light that pervaded rather than overcame the gloom, issuing chiefly from the crude and discordant colors of a luminous picture on a great screen at the farther end of the hall. There an ill-proportioned figure, presenting, although his burden was of course gone some time, a still very humpy Christian, was shown extended on the ground, with his sword a yard beyond his reach, and Apollyon straddling across the whole breadth of the way, and taking him in the stride. But that huge stride was the fiend's sole expression of vigor; for, although he held a flaming dart ready to strike the poor man dead, his own dragon countenance was so feebly demoniacal that it seemed unlikely he would have the heart to drive it home. The lantern from which proceeded the picture, was managed by a hidden operator, evidently from his voice, occasionally overheard, a mere boy; and an old man, like a broken-down clergyman, whose dirty white neckcloth seemed adjusted on a secret understanding of moral obliquity, its knot suggesting a gradual approach to the last position a knot on the neck can assume, kept walking up and down the parti-colored gloom, flaunting a pretense of lecture on the scenes presented. Whether he was a little drunk or greatly in his dotage, it was impossible to determine without a nearer acquaintance. If I venture to give a specimen of his mode of lecturing, it will be seen that a few lingering rags of scholastic acquirement, yet fluttered about the poor fellow.
"Here you behold the terrible battle between Christian—or was it Faithful?—I used to know, but trouble has played old Hookey with my memory. It's all here, you know"—and he tapped the bald table-land of his head—"but somehow it ain't handy as it used! In the morning it flourisheth and groweth up: in the evening it is cut down and withereth. Man that is in honor and abideth not, is like the beast that perisheth—but there's Christian and Apollyon, right afore you, and better him than me. When I was a young one, and that wasn't yesterday, I used to think, but that was before I could read, that Apollyon was one and the same with Bonaparty—Nappoleon, you know. And I wasn't just so far wrong neither, as I shall readily prove to those of my distinguished audience who have been to college like myself, and learned to read Greek like their mother tongue. For what is the very name Apollyon, but an occult prophecy concerning the great conqueror of Europe! nothing can be plainer! Of course the first letter, N, stands for nothing—a mere veil to cover the prophecy till the time of revealing. In all languages it is the sign of negation—no, and none, and never, and nothing; therefore cast it away as the nothing it is. Then what have you left but apoleon! Throw away another letter, and what have you but poleon! Throw away letter after letter, and what do you get but words—Napoleon, apoleon, poleon, oleon, leon, eon, or, if you like, on! Now these are all Greek words—and what, pray, do they mean? I will give you a literal translation, and I challenge any Greek scholar who may be here present to set me right, that is, to show me wrong: Napoleon the destroyer of cities, being a destroying lion! Now I should like to know a more sure word of prophecy than that! Would any one in the company oblige me? I take that now for an incontrovertible"—he stammered over this word—"proof of the truth of the Bible. But I am wandering from my subject, which error, I pray you, ladies and gentlemen, to excuse, for I am no longer what I was in the prime of youth's rosy morn—come, I must get on! Change the slide, boy; I'm sick of it. I'm sick of it all. I want to get home and go to bed."
He maundered on in this way, uttering even worse nonsense than I have set down, and mingling with it soiled and dusty commonplaces of religion, every now and then dwelling for a moment or two upon his own mental and physical declension from the admirable being he once was. He reached the height of his absurdity in describing the resistance of the two pilgrims to the manifold temptations of Vanity Fair, which he so set forth as to take from Christian and Faithful the smallest possible appearance of merit in turning their backs upon them.
Cornelius was in fits of laughter, which he scarcely tried to choke. When the dreary old soul drew near where he sat, smelling abominably of strong drink, the only thing that kept his merriment within bounds was the dread that the man might address him personally, and so draw upon him the attention of the audience.
Very different was the mood of Hester. To the astonishment of Cornelius, when at last they rose to go, there were tears in her eyes. The misery of the whole thing was too dreadful to her! The lantern itself must, she thought, have been made when the invention was in its infancy, and its pictured slides seemed the remnants of various outworn series. Those of the Rake's Progress were something too hideous and lamentable to be dwelt upon. And the ruinous, wretched old man did not merely seem to have taken to this as a last effort, but to have in his dotage turned back upon his life course, and resumed a half-forgotten trade—or perhaps only an accomplishment of which he had made use for the benefit of his people when he was a clergyman—to find that the faculty for it he once had, and on which he had reckoned to carry him through, had abandoned him. Worst of all to the heart of Hester was the fact that so few people were present, many of them children at half-price, some of whom seemed far from satisfied with the amusement offered them. When the hall and the gas—but that would not be much—and the advertising were paid for, what would the poor old scrag-end of humanity, with his yellow-white neckcloth knotted hard under his left ear, have over for his supper? Was there any woman to look after him? and would she give him anything fit to eat? Hester was all but crying to think she could do nothing for him—that he was so far from her and beyond her help, when she remembered the fat woman with curls hanging down her cheeks, who had taken their money at the door. Apparently she was his wife—and seemed to thrive upon it! But alas for the misery of the whole thing!
When they came out and breathed again the blue, clean, rain-washed air instead of the musty smells of the hall, involuntarily Hester's eyes rose to the vault whose only keystone is the will of the Father, whose endless space alone is large enough to picture the heart of God: how was that old man to get up into the high regions and grow clean and wise? For all the look, he must belong there as well as she! And were there not thousands equally and more miserable in the world—people wrapped in no tenderness, to whom none ministered, left if not driven—so it seemed at the moment to Hester—to fold themselves in their own selfishness? And was there nothing she, a favored one of the family, could do to help, to comfort, to lift up one such of her own flesh and blood?—to rescue a heart from the misery of hopelessness?—to make this one or that feel there was a heart of love and refuge at the centre of things? Hester had a large, though not hitherto entirely active aspiration in her; and now, the moment she began to flutter her weak wings, she found the whole human family hanging upon her, and that she could not rise except in raising them along with her. For the necessities of our deepest nature are such as not to admit of a mere private individual satisfaction. I well remember feeling as a child that I did not care for God to love me if he did not love everybody: the kind of love I needed was love essential to my nature—the love of me, a man, not of me a person—the love therefore that all men needed, the love that belonged to their nature as the children of the Father, a love he could not give me except he gave it to all men.
But this was not the beginning of Hester's enthusiasm for her kind—only a crystallizing shock it received.
Nor was it likely to be the less powerful in the end that now at the age of three and twenty she had but little to show for it. She was one of the strong ones that grow slowly; and she had now for some years been cherishing an idea, and working for its realization, which every sight and sound of misery tended to quicken and strengthen.
"There you are again," said Cornelius—"star-gazing as usual! You'll be spraining your other ankle presently!"
"I had forgotten all about my ankle, Corney dear," returned Hester, softened by her sorrowful sympathy; "but I will be careful."
"You had better. Well, I think between us we had the worth of our shilling! Did you ever see such a ridiculous old bloke!"
"I wish you would not use that word, Corney," said Hester, letting her displeasure fall on the word, where she knew the feeling was entrenched beyond assault.
"What's the matter with the word? It is the most respectable old Anglo-Saxon."
Hester said no more, but heaved an inward sigh. Of what consequence were the words her brother used, so long as he recognized no dignity in life, never set himself to be! Why should any one be taught to behave like a gentleman, so long as he is no gentleman?
Cornelius burst out laughing.
"To think of those muffs going through the river—sliding along the bottom, and spreading out their feelers above the water, like two rearing lobsters! And the angels waiting for them on the bank like laundresses with their clean shirts! Ha! ha! ha!"
"They seemed to me," answered Hester, "very much like the men, and angels too, in that old edition of the Pilgrim papa thinks so much of. I couldn't for my part, absurd as they were, help feeling a certain pathos in the figures and faces."
"That came of the fine interpretation the old—hm!—codger gave of their actions and movements!"
"It may have come of the pitiful feeling the whole affair gave me—I cannot tell," said Hester. "That old man made me very sad."
"Now you do strand me, Hester!" replied her brother. "How you could see anything pathetic, or pitiful as you call it, in that disreputable old humbug, I can't even imagine. A more ludicrous specimen of tumble-down humanity it would be impossible to find! A drunken old thief—I'll lay you any thing! Catch me leaving a sov where he could spy the shine of it!"
"And don't you count that pitiful, Cornelius? Can you see one of your own kind, with heart and head and hands like your own, so self-abandoned, so low, so hopeless, and feel no pity for him? Didn't you hear him say to himself as he passed you, 'Come, let's get on! I'm sick of it. I don't know what I'm talking about.' He seemed actually to despise himself!"
"What better or more just could he do? But never you mind: he's all right! Don't you trouble your head about him. You should see him when he gets home! He'll have his hot supper and his hot tumbler, don't you fear! Swear he will too, and fluently, if it's not waiting him!"
"Now that seems to me the most pitiful of all," returned Hester, and was on the point of adding, "That is just the kind of pity I feel for you, Corney," but checked herself. "Is it not most pitiful to see a human being, made in the image of God, sunk so low?" she said.
"It's his own doing," returned Cornelius.
"And is not that yet the lowest and worst of it all? If he could not help it, and therefore was not to blame, it would be sad enough; but to be such, and be to blame for being such, seems to me misery upon misery unbearable."
"There I don't agree with you—not at all! So long as a fellow has fair play, and nothing happens to him but what he brings upon himself, I don't see what he has to complain of."
"But that is not the question," interrupted Hester. "It is not whether he has anything to complain of, but whether he has anything to be pitied for. I don't know what I wouldn't do to make that old man clean and comfortable!"
Cornelius again burst into a great laugh. No man was anything to him merely because he was a man.
"A highly interesting protege you would have!" he said; "and no doubt your friends would congratulate you when you presented him! But for my part I don't see the least occasion to trouble your head about such riffraff. Every manufacture has its waste, and he's human waste. There's misery enough in the world without looking out for it, and taking other people's upon our shoulders. You remember what one of the fellows in the magic lantern said: 'Every tub must stand on its own bottom'!"
Hester held her peace. That her own brother's one mode of relieving the suffering in the world should be to avoid as much as possible adding to his own, was to her sisterly heart humiliating.
When the family separated for the night and Hester reached her room, she sat down and fell a thinking, not more earnestly but more continuously.
She was one of those women—not few in number, I have good reason to think, though doubtless few comparatively, who from the first dawn of consciousness have all their lives endeavored, with varying success, with frequent failure of strength, and occasional brief collapse of effort, to do the right thing. Therein she had but followed in the footsteps of her mother, who, though not so cultivated as she, walked no less steady in the true path of humanity. But the very earnestness of Hester's endeavor along with the small reason she found for considering it successful; the frequent irritation with herself because of failure; and the impossibility of satisfying the hard master Self, who, while he flatters some, requires of others more than they can give—all tended to make her less evenly sympathetic with those about her than her heart's theory demanded. Willing to lay down her life for them, a matchless nurse in sickness, and in trouble revealing a tenderness perfectly lovely, she was yet not the one to whom first either of the children was ready to flee with hurt or sorrow: she was not yet all human, because she was not yet at home with the divine.
Thousands that are capable of great sacrifices are yet not capable of the little ones which are all that are required of them. God seems to take pleasure in working by degrees; the progress of the truth is as the permeation of leaven, or the growth of a seed: a multitude of successive small sacrifices may work more good in the world than many a large one. What would even our Lord's death on the cross have been, except as the crown of a life in which he died daily, giving himself, soul, body and spirit, to his men and women? It is the Being that is the precious thing. Being is the mother to all little Doings as well as the grown-up Deeds and the mighty heroic Sacrifice; and these little Doings, like the good children of the house, make the bliss of it. Hester had not had time, neither had she prayed enough to be quite yet, though she was growing well towards it. She was a good way up the hill, and the Lord was coming down to meet her, but they had not quite met yet, so as to go up the rest of the way together.
In religious politics, Hester was what is called a good churchwoman, which in truth means a good deal of a sectarian. She not merely recoiled from such as venerated the more primitive modes of church-government rather than those of later expediency, and preferred far inferior extempore prayers to the best possible prayers in print, going therefore to some chapel instead of the church, but she looked down upon them as from a superior social standing—that is, with the judgment of this world, and not that of Christ the carpenter's son. In short, she had a repugnance to the whole race of dissenters, and would not have soiled her dress with the dust of one of their school-rooms even. She regarded her own conscience as her Lord, but had not therefore any respect for that of another man where it differed from her in the direction of what she counted vulgarity. So she was scarcely in the kingdom of heaven yet, any more than thousands who regard themselves as choice Christians. I do not say these feelings were very active in her, for little occurred to call them out; but she did not love her dissenting neighbor, and felt good and condescending when, brought into contact with one, she behaved kindly to him.
I well know that some of my readers will heartily approve of her in this very thing, and that not a few good dissenters on the other hand, who are equally and in precisely the same way sectarians, that is bad Christians, will scorn her for it; but for my part I would rather cut off my right hand than be so cased and stayed in a narrow garment of pride and satisfaction, condemned to keep company with myself instead of the Master as he goes everywhere—into the poorest companies of them that love each other, and so invite his presence.
The Lord of truth and beauty has died for us: shall we who, by haunting what we call his courts, have had our sense of beauty, our joy in grace tenfold exalted, gather around us, in the presence of those we count less refined than ourselves, skirts trimmed with the phylacteries of the world's law, turning up the Pharisaical nose, and forgetting both what painful facts self-criticism has revealed to ourselves, and the eyes upon us of the yet more delicate refinement and the yet gentle breeding of the high countries? May these not see in us some malgrace which it needs the gentleness of Christ to get over and forget, some savagery of which we are not aware, some gaucherie that repels though it cannot estrange them? Casting from us our own faults first, let us cast from us and from him our neighbor's also. O gentle man, the common man is yet thy brother, and thy gentleness should make him great, infecting him with thy humility, not rousing in him the echo of a vile unheavenly scorn. Wilt thou, with thy lofty condescension, more intrinsically vulgar than even his ugly self-assertion, give him cause too good to hate thy refinement? It is not thy refinement makes thee despise him; it is thy own vulgarity; and if we dare not search ourselves close enough to discover the low breeding, the bad blood in us, it will one day come out plain as the smitten brand of the forcat.
That Hester had a tendency to high church had little or nothing to do with the matter. Such exclusiveness is simply a form of that pride, justify or explain it as you will, which found its fullest embodiment in the Jewish Pharisee—the evil thing that Christ came to burn up with his lovely fire, and which yet so many of us who call ourselves by his name keep hugging to our bosoms—I mean the pride that says, "I am better than thou." If these or those be in any true sense below us, it is of Satan to despise—of Christ to stoop and lay hold of and lift the sister soul up nearer to the heart of the divine tenderness.
But this tenderness, which has its roots in every human heart, had larger roots in the heart of Hester than in most. Whatever her failings, whatever ugly weeds grew in the neglected corners of her nature, the moment she came in contact with any of her kind in whatever condition of sadness or need, the pent-up love of God—I mean the love that came of God and was divine in her—would burst its barriers and rush forth, sometimes almost overwhelming herself in its torrent. She would then be ready to die, nothing less, to help the poor and miserable. She was not yet far enough advanced to pity vulgarity in itself—perhaps none but Christ is able to do that—but she could and did pity greatly its associated want and misery, nor was repelled from them by their accompanying degradation.
The tide of action, in these later years flowing more swiftly in the hearts of women—whence has resulted so much that is noble, so much that is paltry, according to the nature of the heart in which it swells—had been rising in that of Hester also. She must not waste her life! She must do something! What should it be? Her deep sense of the misery around her had of course suggested that it must be something in the way of help. But what form was the help to take? "I have no money!" she said to herself—for this the last and feeblest of means for the doing of good is always the first to suggest itself to one who has not perceived the mind of God in the matter. To me it seems that the first thing in regard to money is to prevent it from doing harm. The man who sets out to do good with his fortune is like one who would drive a team of tigers through the streets of a city, or hunt the fox with cheetahs. I would think of money as Christ thought of it, not otherwise; for no other way is true, however it may recommend itself to good men; and neither Christ nor his apostles did anything by means of money; nay, he who would join them in their labors had to abandon his fortune.
This evening, then, the thought of the vulgar, miserable, ruinous old man, with his wretched magic lantern, kept haunting Hester, and made her very pitiful; and naturally, starting from him, her thoughts went wandering abroad over the universe of misery. For was not the world full of men and women who groaned, not merely under poverty and cruelty, weakness and sickness, but under dullness and stupidity, hugged in the paralyzing arms of that devil-fish, The Commonplace, or held fast to the rocks by the crab Custom, while the tide of moral indifference was fast rising to choke them? Was there no prophet, no redemption, no mediator for such as these? Were there not thousands of women, born with a trembling impulse towards the true and lovely, in whom it was withering for lack of nurture, and they themselves continuously massing into common clay, a summer-fall of human flowers off the branches of hope and aspiration? How many young wives, especially linked to the husbands of their choice, and by this very means disenchanted, as they themselves would call it, were doomed to look no more upon life as the antechamber of the infinite, but as the counting-house of the king of the nursery-ballad, where you may, if you can, eat bread and honey, but where you must count your money! At the windows of the husband-house no more looks out the lover but the man of business, who takes his life to consist in the abundance of the things he possesses! He must make money for his children!—and would make money if he had nor chick nor child. Could she do nothing for such wives at least? The man who by honest means made people laugh, sent a fire-headed arrow into the ranks of the beleaguering enemy of his race; he who beguiled from another a genuine tear, made heavenly wind visit his heart with a cool odor of paradise! What was there for her to do?
But possibly Hester might neither have begun nor gone on thinking thus, had it not been for a sense of power within her springing from, or at least associated with, a certain special gift which she had all her life, under the faithful care of her mother, been cultivating. Endowed with a passion for music—what is a true passion but a heavenly hunger?—which she indulged; relieved, strengthened, nor ever sated, by a continuous study of both theoretical and practical music, she approached both piano and organ with eager yet withholding foot, each as a great and effectual door ready to open into regions of delight. But she was gifted also with a fine contralto voice, of exceptional scope and flexibility, whose capacity of being educated into an organ of expression was not thrown away upon one who had a world inside her to express—doubtless as yet not a little chaotic, but in process of assuming form that might demand utterance; and this angelic instrument had for some years been under careful training. And now this night came to Hester, if not for the first time, yet more clearly than ever before, the thought whether she might not in some way make use of this her one gift for the service she desired—for the comfort, that was, and the uplifting of humanity, especially such humanity as had sunk below even its individual level. Thus instinctively she sought relief from sympathetic pain in the alleviation and removal of its cause.
But pity and instinctive recoil from pain were by no means all the elements of the impulse moving Hester in this direction. An honest and active mind such as hers could not have carried her so often to church and for so long a time, whatever might be the nature of the direct teaching she there received, without gaining some glimpses of the mightiest truth of our being, that we belong to God in actual fact of spiritual property and profoundest relationship. She had much to learn in this direction yet—as who has not who is ages in advance of life?—but this night came back to her, as it had often already returned, the memory of a sermon she had heard some twelve months before on the text, "Glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." It was a dull enough sermon, yet not so dull but it enabled her to supply in some degree its own lack; and when she went out of the dark church into the sunshine,—and heard the birds singing as if they knew without any St. Francis to tell them that their bodies and their spirits were God's, a sense awoke in her such as she had not had before, that the grand voice lying like an unborn angel in the chest and throat of her, belonged not to herself but to God, and must be used in some way for the working of his will in the world which as well as the voice he had made. She had no real notion yet of what is meant by the glory of God. She had not quite learned that simplest of high truths that the glory of God is the beauty of Christ's face. She had a lingering idea—a hideously frightful one, though its vagueness kept it in great measure from injuring her—that the One only good, the One only unselfish thought a great deal of himself, and looked strictly after his rights in the way of homage. Hence she thought first of devoting the splendor and richness of her voice to swell the song of some church-choir. With her notion of God and of her relation to him, how could she yet have escaped the poor pagan fancy—good for a pagan, but beggarly for a Christian, that church and its goings-on are a serving of God? She had not begun to ask how these were to do God any good—or if my reader objects to the phrase, I will use a common one saying the same thing—how these were to do anything for God. She had not begun to see that God is the one great servant of all, and that the only way to serve him is to be a fellow-servant with him—to be, say, a nurse in his nursery, and tend this or that lonely, this or that rickety child of his. She had not yet come to see that it is as absurd to call song and prayer a serving of God, as it would be to say the thief on the cross did something for Christ in consenting to go with him to paradise. But now some dim perception of this truth began to wake in her. Vaguely she began to feel that perhaps God had given her this voice and this marriage of delight and power in music and song for some reason like that for which he had made the birds the poets of the animal world: what if her part also should be to drive dull care away? what if she too were intended to be a door-keeper in the house of God, and open or keep open windows in heaven that the air of the high places might reach the low swampy ground? If while she sang, her soul mounted on the wings of her song till it fluttered against the latticed doors of heaven as a bird flutters against the wires of its cage; if also God has made of one blood all nations of men—why, then, surely her song was capable of more than carrying merely herself up into the regions of delight! Nay more, might there not from her throat go forth a trumpet-cry of truth among such as could hear and respond to the cry? Then, when the humblest servant should receive the reward of his well-doing, she would not be left outside, but enter into the joy of her Lord. How specially such work might be done by her she did not yet see, but the truth had drawn nigh her that, to serve God in any true sense, we must serve him where he needs service—among his children lying in the heart of lack, in sin and pain and sorrow; and she saw that, if she was to serve at all, it must be with her best, with her special equipment.
I need not follow the gradations, unmarked of herself, by which she at length came to a sort of conclusion: the immediate practical result was, that she gave herself more than ever to the cultivation of her gift, seeing in the distance the possibility of her becoming, in one mode or another, or in all modes perhaps together, a songstress to her generation.
TRULY THE LIGHT IS SWEET.
The cry of the human heart in all ages and in every moment is, "Where is God and how shall I find him?"—No, friend, I will not accept your testimony to the contrary—not though you may be as well fitted as ever one of eight hundred millions to come forward with it. You take it for granted that you know your own heart because you call it yours, but I say that your heart is a far deeper thing than you know or are capable of knowing. Its very nature is hid from you. I use but a poor figure when I say that the roots of your heart go down beyond your knowledge—whole eternities beyond it—into the heart of God. If you have never yet made one discovery in your heart, your testimony concerning it is not worth a tuft of flue; and if you have made discoveries in it, does not the fact reveal that it is but little known to you, and that there must be discoveries innumerable yet to be made in it? To him who has been making discoveries in it for fifty years, the depths of his heart are yet a mystery—a mystery, however, peopled with loveliest hopes. I repeat whether the man knows it or not, his heart in its depths is ever crying out for God.
Where the man does not know it, it is because the unfaithful Self, a would-be monarch, has usurped the consciousness; the demon-man is uppermost, not Christ-man; he is down in the crying heart, and the demon-man—that is the self that worships itself—is trampling on the heart and smothering it up in the rubbish of ambitions, lusts, and cares. If ever its cry reaches that Self, it calls it childish folly, and tramples the harder. It does not know that a child crying on God is mightier than a warrior dwelling in steel.
If we had none but fine weather, the demon-Self would be too much for the divine-Self, and would always keep it down; but bad weather, misfortune, ill-luck, adversity, or whatever name but punishment or the love of God men may call it, sides with the Christ-self down below, and helps to make its voice heard. On the other hand if we had nothing but bad weather, the hope of those in whom the divine Self is slowly rising would grow too faint; while those in whom the bad weather had not yet begun to work good would settle down into weak, hopeless rebellion. Without hope can any man repent?
To the people at Burcliff came at length a lovely morning, with sky and air like the face of a repentant child—a child who has repented so thoroughly that the sin has passed from him, and he is no longer even ashamed. The water seemed dancing in the joy of a new birth, and the wind, coming and going in gentle conscious organ-like swells, was at it with them, while the sun kept looking merrily down on the glad commotion his presence caused.
"Ah," thought the mother, as she looked from her windows ere she began to dress for this new live day, "how would it be if the Light at the heart of the sun were shining thus on the worlds made in his image!"
She was thinking of her boy, whom perhaps, in all the world, she only was able to love heartily—there was so little in the personal being of the lad, that is, in the thing he was to himself, and was making of himself, to help anyone to love him! But in the absolute mere existence is reason for love, and upon that God does love—so love, that he will suffer and cause suffering for the development of that existence into a thing in its own full nature lovable, namely, an existence in its own will one with the perfect love whence it issued; and the mother's heart more than any other God has made is like him in power of loving. Alas that she is so seldom like him in wisdom—so often thwarting the work of God, and rendering more severe his measures with her child by her attempts to shield him from His law, and save him from saving sorrow. How often from his very infancy—if she does not, like the very nurse she employs, actively teach him to be selfish—does she get between him and the right consequences of his conduct, as if with her one feeble loving hand, she would stay the fly-wheel of the holy universe. It is the law that the man who does evil shall suffer; it is the only hope for him, and a hope for the neighbor he wrongs. When he forsakes his evil, one by one the dogs of suffering will halt and drop away from his track; and he will find at last they have but hounded him into the land of his nativity, into the home of his Father in heaven.
As soon as breakfast was over, the whole family set out for a walk. Mr. Raymount seldom left the house till after lunch, but even he, who cared comparatively little for the open air, had grown eager after it. Streets, hills and sands were swarming with human beings, all drawn out by the sun.
"I sometimes wonder," he said, "that so many people require so little to make them happy. Let but the sun break through the clouds, and he sets them all going like ants in an ant-hill!"
"Yes," returned his wife, "but then see how little on the other hand is required to make them miserable! Let the sun hide his head for a day, and they grumble!"
Making the remark, the good woman never thought of her son Cornelius, the one of her family whose conduct illustrated it. At the moment she saw him cheerful, and her love looked upon him as good. She was one of the best of women herself: whatever hour she was called, her lamp was sure to have oil in it; and yet all the time since first he lay in her arms, I doubt if she had ever done anything to help the youth to conquer himself. Now it was too late, even had she known what could be done. But the others had so far turned out well: why should not this one also? The moment his bad humors were over, she looked on him as reformed; and when he uttered worldliness, she persuaded herself he was but jesting. But alas! she had no adequate notion—not a shadow of one—of the selfishness of the man-child she had given to the world. This matter of the black sheep in the white flock is one of the most mysterious of the facts of spiritual generation.
Sometimes, indeed, the sheep is by no means so black as to the whiter ones he seems; perhaps neither are they so much whiter as their friends and they themselves think; for to be altogether respectable is not to be clean; and the black sheep may be all the better than some of the rest that he looks what he is, and does not dye his wool. But on the other hand he may be a great deal worse than some of his own family think him.
"Then," said Hester, after a longish pause, "those that need more to make them happy, are less easily made unhappy?"
To this question rather than remark, she received no reply. Her father and mother both felt it not altogether an easy one to answer: it suggested points requiring consideration. To Cornelius, it was a mere girl's speech, not worth heeding where the girl was his sister. He turned up at it a mental nose, the merest of snubs; and well he might, for he had not the least notion of what it meant or involved.
As little notion had his father that his son Cornelius was a black sheep. He was not what the world would have called a black sheep, but his father, could he have seen into him, would have counted him a very black sheep indeed—and none the whiter that he recognized in the blackness certain shades that were of paternal origin. It was, however, only to the rest of the family that Cornelius showed his blackness: of his father he was afraid; and that father, being proud of his children, would have found it hard to believe anything bad of them: like his faults they were his own! His faith in his children was in no small measure conceit of that which was his, and blinded him to their faults as it blinded him to some of his own. The discovery of any serious fault in one of them would be a sore wound to his vanity, a destruction of his self-content.
The co-existence of good and evil in the same person is perhaps the most puzzling of all facts. What a shock it gives one to hear a woman who loves God, and spends both time and money on the betterment of her kind, call a pauper child a brat, and see her turn with disgust from the idea of treating any strange child, more especially one of low birth, as her own. "O Christ!" cries the heart, "is this one of the women that follows thee?" And she is one of the women that follow him—only she needs such a lesson as he gave his disciples through the Syrophenician woman.
Mr. Raymount had such an opinion of himself, that while he never obtruded his opinions upon others, he never imagined them disregarded in his own family. It never entered his mind that any member of it might in this or that think differently from himself. But both his wife and Hester were able to think, and did think for themselves, as they were bound in the truth of things to do; and there were considerable divergements of the paths in which they walked from that he had trodden. He had indeed always taken too much for granted, and ought to have used more pains to have his notions understood by them, if he laid so much on their intellectual sympathy. He supposed all the three read what he wrote; and his wife and daughter did read the most of it; but what would he think when he came to know that his son not only read next to nothing of it, but read that little with a contempt not altogether unconscious—for no other reason than that it was his father who wrote it? Nor was the youth quite without justification—for was he not himself a production of his father? But then he looked upon the latter as one of altogether superior quality! It is indeed strange how vulgar minds despise the things they have looked upon and their hands have handled, just because they have looked upon them and their hands have handled them; is there not in the fact a humiliating lesson, which yet they are unable to read, of the degrading power of their own presence upon themselves and their judgments? Whether a man is a hero to his valet or the opposite, depends as much on the valet as on the man: The bond, then, between the father and the son, was by no means so strong as the father thought it. Indeed the selfishness of Cornelius made him almost look upon his father as his enemy, because of his intentions with regard to the division of his property. And selfishness rarely fails of good arguments. Nor can anything destroy it but such a turning of things upside down as only he that made them can work.
"Let's go and see the people at the aquarium," said Cornelius.
"Do you mean the fishes?" asked his father.
"No, I don't care about them; I said the people," answered Cornelius stupidly.
"The people of an aquarium must surely be fishes, eh, Saffy?" said the father to the bright child, walking hand in hand with him. It was Josephine. Her eyes were so blue that but for the association he would have called her Sapphira. Between the two he contented himself with the pet name of Saffy.
"Ah but, papa," said Hester, "Corney didn't say the people of the aquarium, but the people at the aquarium!"
"Two of you are too many for me!" returned the father playfully. "Well, then, Saffy, let us go and see the people of and the people at the aquarium.—Which do you want to see, Hester?"
"Oh, the fishes of course, papa!"
"Why of course?"
"Because they're so much more interesting than the people," said Hester rebuked in herself as she said it—before she knew why.
"Fishes more interesting than people!" exclaimed her father.
"They're so like people, papa!"
"Oh, then surely the people must be the more interesting after all, if it is the likeness of the fishes to people that makes them interesting! Which of all the people you love do you see likest a fish now?"
"What! is it only people you hate that you see like fishes?"
"I don't hate anybody, papa."
"There's a way of not caring about people, though—looking down on them and seeing them like fishes, that's precious like hating them," said Cornelius, who enjoyed a crowd, and putting his sister in the wrong still better: to that end he could easily say a sensible thing.
"If you mean me, Corney, I think you do me injustice," said Hester. "The worst I do is to look at them the wrong way of the telescope."
"But why do you never see anyone you love like a fish?" persisted her father.
"Perhaps because I could not love anybody that was like a fish."
"Certainly there is something not beautiful about them!" said Mr. Raymount.
"They're beastly ugly," said Cornelius.
"Let us look into it a little," continued his father. "What is it about them that is ugly? Their colors are sometimes very beautiful—and their shapes, too."
"Their heads and faces," said Hester, "are the only parts of them in which they can be like human beings, and those are very ugly."
"I'm not sure that you are right, Hester," said the mother, who had not spoken till now. "There must surely be something human in their bodies as well, for now and then I see their ways and motions so like those of men and women, that I felt for a moment almost as if I understood how they were feeling, and were just going to know what they were thinking."
"I suspect," said Mr. Raymount, "your mother's too much of a poet to be trusted alone in an aquarium. It would have driven Shelley crazy—to judge from his Sensitive Plant."
They had now reached the middle of the descent to the mysteries of the place, when Cornelius, who, with an interest Hester could not understand in him, and which was partly owing to a mere love of transition, had been staring at the ascending faces, uttered a cry of recognition, and darted down to the next landing. With a degree of respect he seldom manifested they saw him there accost a gentleman leaning over the balustrade, and shake hands with him. He was several years older than Cornelius, not a few inches taller, and much better-looking—one indeed who could hardly fail to attract notice even in a crowd. Corney's weakest point, next to his heart, was his legs, which perhaps accounted for his worship of Mr. Vavasor's calves, in themselves nothing remarkable. He was already glancing stolen looks at these objects of his jealous admiration when the rest reached the landing, and Mr. Raymount, willing to know his son's friend, desired Corney to introduce him.
Cornelius had been now eighteen months in the bank, and had never even mentioned the name of a fellow clerk. He was one of those youths who take the only possible way for emptiness to make itself of consequence—that of concealment and affected mystery. Not even now but for his father's request, would he have presented his bank friend to him or any of the family.
The manners and approach of Mr. Vavasor were such as at once to recommend him to the friendly reception of all, from Mr. Raymount to little Saffy, who had the rare charm of being shy without being rude. If not genial, his manners were yet friendly, and his carriage if not graceful was easy; both were apt to be abrupt where he was familiar. It was a kind of company bearing he had, but dashed with indifference, except where he desired to commend himself. He shook hands with little Saffy as respectfully as with her mother, but with neither altogether respectfully; and immediately the pale-faced, cold, loving boy, Mark, unwillingly, therefore almost unconsciously, disliked him. He was beyond question handsome, with a Grecian nose nearly perfect, which had its large part in the aristocratic look he bore. This was favored also by the simplicity of his dress. He turned with them, and re-descended the stairs.
"Why didn't you tell me you were coming, Mr. Vavasor? I could have met you," said Cornelius, with just a little stretch of the degree of familiarity in use between them.
"I didn't know myself till the last minute," answered Vavasor. "It was a sudden resolve of my aunt's. Neither had I the remotest idea you were here."
"Have you been seeing the fishes?" asked Hester, at whose side their new acquaintance was walking now they had reached the subterranean level.
"I have just passed along their cages," he answered. "They are not well kept; the glass is dirty, and the water, too. I fancied they looked unhappy, and came away. I can't bear to see creatures pining. It would be a good deed to poison them all."
"Wouldn't it be better to give them some fresh water?" said little Saffy, "that would make them glad."
To this wisdom there was no response.
When they came to the door of the concert-room, Cornelius turned into it, leaving his "friend" with his "people" to go and look at the fishes. Mr. Vavasor kept his place by the side of Hester.
"We were just talking, when we had the pleasure of meeting you, about people and fishes—comparing them in a way," said Hester. "I can't make it clear to myself why I like seeing the fishes better than the people."
"I fancy it must be because you call them fishes and not fish," replied Vavasor. "If the fishes were a shoal of herrings or mackerel, I doubt if you would—at least for many times. If, on the other hand, the men and women in the concert-room were as oddly distinguished one from another as these different fishes, you would prefer going with your brother."
"I'm sure I shouldn't" said Saffy to Mark.
"Phizzes is best on fishes," answered Mark sententiously. "I like faces best; only you don't always want to look at what you like best!—I wonder why."
"And yet I suspect," said Mrs. Raymount to Vavasor, "many of the people are as much distinguished from each other in character as the fishes are in form."
"Possibly," interjected her husband, "they are as different in their faces also, only we are too much of their kind to be able to read the differences so clearly."
"Surely you do not mean," said Vavasor respectfully, "that any two persons in the concert-room can be as much unlike each other as that flounder shuddering along the sandy bottom, and that yard of eel sliding through the water like an embodied wickedness?"
Hester was greatly struck with the poetic tone of the remark.
"I think you may find people as different," replied her father, "if you take into the account the more delicate as well as the more striking differences—the deeper as well as the surface diversities. Now you make me think of it, I begin to doubt whether all these live grotesques may not have been made to the pattern of different developments of humanity."
"Look at that dog-fish," said Vavasor, pointing to the largest in the tank. "What a brute! Don't you hate him, Miss Raymount?"
"I am not willing to hate any live thing," answered Hester with a smile, "—from selfish motives, perhaps; I feel as if it would be to my own loss, causing me some kind of irreparable hurt."
"But you would kill such a creature as that—would you not?" he rejoined.
"In possible circumstances," she answered; "but killing and hating have nothing necessarily to do with each other. He that hates his brother is always a murderer, not always he that kills him."
"This is another sort of girl from any I've met yet!" said Vavasor to himself. "I wonder what she's really like!"
He did not know that what she was really like was just what he, with all his fancied knowledge of women both in life and literature, was incapable of seeing—so different was she in kind from poor-gentleman Vavasor.
"But just look at the head, eyes and mouth of the fiend!" he persisted.
Hester, forcing herself a little, did regard the animal for two or three minutes. Then a slight shudder passed through her, and she turned away her eyes.
"I see you've caught the look of him!" said Vavasor. "Is he not a horror?"
"He is. But that was not what made me turn away: I found if I looked a moment longer I should hate him in spite of myself."
"And why shouldn't you hate him? You would be doing the wretch no wrong. Even if he knew it, it would be only what he deserved."
"That you cannot tell except you knew all about his nature, and every point of his history from the beginning of the creation till now. I dare not judge even a dog-fish. And whatever his deserts, I don't choose to hate him, because I don't choose to hate."
She turned away, and Vavasor saw she wanted no more of the dog-fish.
"Oh!" cried Saffy, with a face of terror, "look, look, mamma! It's staring at me!"
The child hid her face in her mother's gown, yet turned immediately to look again.
Mr. Raymount looked also, following her gaze, and was fascinated by the sight that met his eyes. Through the glass, high above his head, and not far from the surface, he saw a huge thornback, bending toward them and seeming to look down on them, as it flew slowly through the water—the action of the two sides of its body fringed with fins, and its consequent motion, were much more like the act of flying than that of swimming. Behind him floated his long tail, making him yet more resemble the hideously imagined kite which he at once suggested. But the terrible thing about him was the death's-head look of the upper part of him. His white belly was of course toward them, and his eyes were on the other side, but there were nostrils that looked exactly like the empty sockets of eyes, and below them was a hideous mouth. These made the face that seemed to Saffy to be hovering over and watching them.
"Like an infernal angel of death!" thought Mr. Raymount, but would not rouse yet more the imagination of the little one by saying it. Hester gazed with steadfast mien at the floating spectre.
"You seem in no danger from that one," said Vavasor.
"I don't think I understand you," said Hester. "What danger can there be from any of them?"
"I mean of hating him."
"You are right; I do not feel the smallest inclination to hate him."
"Yet the ray is even uglier than the dog-fish."
"That may be—I think not—but who hates for ugliness? I never should. Ugliness only moves my pity."
"Then what do you hate for?" asked Vavasor. "—But I beg your pardon: you never hate! Let me ask then, what is it that makes you feel as if you might hate?"
"If you will look again at the dog-fish, and tell me the expression of its mouth, I may be able to answer you," she returned.
"I will," said Vavasor; and, betaking himself to a farther portion of the tank, he stood there watching a little shoal of those sharks of the northern seas. While he was gone Cornelius rejoined them.
"I wish I knew why God made such ugly creatures," said Saffy to Mark.
The boy gave a curious half-sad smile, without turning his eyes from the thornback, and said nothing.
"Do you know why God made any creatures, pet?" said Hester.
"No, I don't. Why did he, Hessy?"
"I am almost afraid to guess. But if you don't know why he made any, why should you wonder that he made those?"
"Because they are so ugly.—Do tell me why he made them?" she added coaxingly.
"You had better ask mamma."
"But, Hessy, I don't like to ask mamma."
"Why don't you like to ask mamma, you little goose?"
"Because," said Saffy, who was all the time holding her mother's hand, and knew she was hearing her, "mamma mightn't know what to say."