Read CHAPTER XIII. of Paul Faber‚ Surgeon, free online book, by George MacDonald, on ReadCentral.com.

THE HEATH AT NESTLEY.

On the Monday morning, Mr. Bevis’s groom came to the rectory with a note for the curate, begging him and Mrs. Wingfold to dine at Nestley the same day if possible.

“I know,” the rector wrote, “Monday is, or ought to be, an idle day with you, and I write instead of my wife, because I want to see you on business.  I would have come to you, had I not had reasons for wishing to see you here rather than at Glaston.  The earlier you can come and the longer you can stay the better, but you shall go as soon after an early dinner as you please.  You are a bee and I am a drone.  God bless you.

JOHN BEVIS.”

The curate took the note to his wife.  Things were at once arranged, an answer of ready obedience committed to the groom, and Helen’s pony-carriage ordered out.

The curate called every thing Helen’s.  He had a great contempt for the spirit of men who marry rich wives and then lord it over their money, as if they had done a fine thing in getting hold of it, and the wife had been but keeping it from its rightful owner.  They do not know what a confession their whole bearing is, that, but for their wives’ money, they would be but the merest, poorest nobodies.  So small are they that even that suffices to make them feel big!  But Helen did not like it, especially when he would ask her if he might have this or that, or do so and so.  Any common man who heard him would have thought him afraid of his wife; but a large-hearted woman would at once have understood, as did Helen, that it all came of his fine sense of truth, and reality, and obligation.  Still Helen would have had him forget all such matters in connection with her.  They were one beyond obligation.  She had given him herself, and what were bank-notes after that?  But he thought of her always as an angel who had taken him in, to comfort, and bless, and cherish him with love, that he might the better do the work of his God and hers; therefore his obligation to her was his glory.

“Your ponies go splendidly to-day, Helen,” he said, as admiringly he watched how her hands on the reins seemed to mold their movements.

They were the tiniest, daintiest things, of the smallest ever seen in harness, but with all the ways of big horses, therefore amusing in their very grace.  They were the delight of the children of Glaston and the villages round.

“Why will you call them my ponies, Thomas?” returned his wife, just sufficiently vexed to find it easy to pretend to be cross.  “I don’t see what good I have got by marrying you, if every thing is to be mine all the same!”

“Don’t be unreasonable, my Helen!” said the curate, looking into the lovely eyes whose colors seemed a little blown about in their rings.  “Don’t you see it is my way of feeling to myself how much, and with what a halo about them, they are mine?  If I had bought them with my own money, I should hardly care for them.  Thank God, they are not mine that way, or in any way like that way. You are mine, my life, and they are yours ­mine therefore because they are about you like your clothes or your watch.  They are mine as your handkerchief and your gloves are mine ­through worshiping love.  Listen to reason.  If a thing is yours it is ten times more mine than if I had bought it, for, just because it is yours, I am able to possess it as the meek, and not the land-owners, inherit the earth.  It makes having such a deep and high ­indeed a perfect thing!  I take pleasure without an atom of shame in every rich thing you have brought me.  Do you think, if you died, and I carried your watch, I should ever cease to feel the watch was yours?  Just so they are your ponies; and if you don’t like me to say so, you can contradict me every time, you know, all the same.”

“I know people will think I am like the lady we heard of the other day, who told her husband the sideboard was hers, not his.  Thomas, I hate to look like the rich one, when all that makes life worth living for, or fit to be lived, was and is given me by you.”

“No, no, no, my darling! don’t say that; you terrify me.  I was but the postman that brought you the good news.”

“Well! and what else with me and the ponies and the money and all that?  Did I make the ponies?  Or did I even earn the money that bought them?  It is only the money my father and brother have done with.  Don’t make me look as if I did not behave like a lady to my own husband, Thomas.”

“Well, my beautiful, I’ll make up for all my wrongs by ordering you about as if I were the Marquis of Saluzzo, and you the patient Grisel.”

“I wish you would.  You don’t order me about half enough.”

“I’ll try to do better.  You shall see.”

Nestley was a lovely place, and the house was old enough to be quite respectable ­one of those houses with a history and a growth, which are getting rarer every day as the ugly temples of mammon usurp their places.  It was dusky, cool, and somber ­a little shabby, indeed, which fell in harmoniously with its peculiar charm, and indeed added to it.  A lawn, not immaculate of the sweet fault of daisies, sank slowly to a babbling little tributary of the Lythe, and beyond were fern-covered slopes, and heather, and furze, and pine-woods.  The rector was a sensible Englishman, who objected to have things done after the taste of his gardener instead of his own.  He loved grass like a village poet, and would have no flower-beds cut in his lawn.  Neither would he have any flowers planted in the summer to be taken up again before the winter.  He would have no cockney gardening about his place, he said.  Perhaps that was partly why he never employed any but his old cottagers about the grounds; and the result was that for half the show he had twice the loveliness.  His ambition was to have every possible English garden flower.

As soon as his visitors arrived, he and his curate went away together, and Mrs. Wingfold was shown into the drawing-room, where was Mrs. Bevis with her knitting.  A greater contrast than that of the two ladies then seated together in the long, low, dusky room, it were not easy to imagine.  I am greatly puzzled to think what conscious good in life Mrs. Bevis enjoyed ­just as I am puzzled to understand the eagerness with which horses, not hungry, and evidently in full enjoyment of the sun and air and easy exercise, will yet hurry to their stable the moment their heads are turned in the direction of them.  Is it that they have no hope in the unknown, and then alone, in all the vicissitudes of their day, know their destination?  Would but some good kind widow, of the same type with Mrs. Bevis, without children, tell me wherefore she is unwilling to die!  She has no special friend to whom she unbosoms herself ­indeed, so far as any one knows, she has never had any thing of which to unbosom herself.  She has no pet ­dog or cat or monkey or macaw, and has never been seen to hug a child.  She never reads poetry ­I doubt if she knows more than the first line of How doth.  She reads neither novels nor history, and looks at the newspaper as if the type were fly-spots.  Yet there she sits smiling!  Why! oh! why?  Probably she does not know.  Never did question, not to say doubt, cause those soft, square-ended fingers to move one atom less measuredly in the construction of Mrs. Bevis’s muffetee, the sole knittable thing her nature seemed capable of.  Never was sock seen on her needles; the turning of the heel was too much for her.  That she had her virtues, however, was plain from the fact that her servants staid with her years and years; and I can, beside, from observation set down a few of them.  She never asked her husband what he would have for dinner.  When he was ready to go out with her, she was always ready too.  She never gave one true reason, and kept back a truer ­possibly there was not room for two thoughts at once in her brain.  She never screwed down a dependent; never kept small tradespeople waiting for their money; never refused a reasonable request.  In fact, she was a stuffed bag of virtues; the bag was of no great size, but neither were the virtues insignificant.  There are dozens of sorts of people I should feel a far stronger objection to living with; but what puzzles me is how she contrives to live with herself, never questioning the comfort of the arrangement, or desiring that it should one day come to an end.  Surely she must be deep, and know some secret!

For the other lady, Helen Lingard that was, she had since her marriage altered considerably in the right direction.  She used to be a little dry, a little stiff, and a little stately.  To the last I should be far from objecting, were it not that her stateliness was of the mechanical sort, belonging to the spine, and not to a soul uplift.  Now it had left her spine and settled in a soul that scorned the low and loved the lowly.  Her step was lighter, her voice more flexible, her laugh much merrier and more frequent, for now her heart was gay.  Her husband praised God when he heard her laugh; the laugh suggested the praise, for itself rang like praises.  She would pull up her ponies in the middle of the street, and at word or sign, the carriage would be full of children.  Whoever could might scramble in till it was full.  At the least rudeness, the offender would be ordered to the pavement, and would always obey, generally weeping.  She would drive two or three times up and down the street with her load, then turn it out, and take another, and another, until as many as she judged fit had had a taste of the pleasure.  This she had learned from seeing a costermonger fill his cart with children, and push behind, while the donkey in front pulled them along the street, to the praise and glory of God.

She was overbearing in one thing, and that was submission.  Once, when I was in her husband’s study, she made a remark on something he had said or written, I forget what, for which her conscience of love immediately smote her.  She threw herself on the floor, crept under the writing table at which he sat, and clasped his knees.

“I beg your pardon, husband,” she said sorrowfully.

“Helen,” he cried, laughing rather oddly, “you will make a consummate idiot of me before you have done.”

“Forgive me,” she pleaded.

“I can’t forgive you.  How can I forgive where there is positively nothing to be forgiven?”

“I don’t care what you say; I know better; you must forgive me.”

“Nonsense!”

“Forgive me.”

“Do get up.  Don’t be silly.”

“Forgive me.  I will lie here till you do.”

“But your remark was perfectly true.”

“It makes no difference.  I ought not to have said it like that.  Forgive me, or I will cry.”

I will tell no more of it.  Perhaps it is silly of me to tell any, but it moved me strangely.

I have said enough to show there was a contrast between the two ladies.  As to what passed in the way of talk, that, from pure incapacity, I dare not attempt to report.  I did hear them talk once, and they laughed too, but not one salient point could I lay hold of by which afterward to recall their conversation.  Do I dislike Mrs. Bevis?  Not in the smallest degree.  I could read a book I loved in her presence.  That would be impossible to me in the presence of Mrs. Ramshorn.

Mrs. Wingfold had developed a great faculty for liking people.  It was quite a fresh shoot of her nature, for she had before been rather of a repellent disposition.  I wish there were more, and amongst them some of the best of people, similarly changed.  Surely the latter would soon be, if once they had a glimpse of how much the coming of the kingdom is retarded by defect of courtesy.  The people I mean are slow to like, and until they come to like, they seem to dislike.  I have known such whose manner was fit to imply entire disapprobation of the very existence of those upon whom they looked for the first time.  They might then have been saying to themselves, “I would never have created such people!” Had I not known them, I could not have imagined them lovers of God or man, though they were of both.  True courtesy, that is, courtesy born of a true heart, is a most lovely, and absolutely indispensable grace ­one that nobody but a Christian can thoroughly develop.  God grant us a “coming-on disposition,” as Shakespeare calls it.  Who shall tell whose angel stands nearer to the face of the Father?  Should my brother stand lower in the social scale than I, shall I not be the more tender, and respectful, and self-refusing toward him, that God has placed him there who may all the time be greater than I?  A year before, Helen could hardly endure doughy Mrs. Bevis, but now she had found something to like in her, and there was confidence and faith between them.  So there they sat, the elder lady meandering on, and Helen, who had taken care to bring some work with her, every now and then casting a bright glance in her face, or saying two or three words with a smile, or asking some simple question.  Mrs. Bevis talked chiefly of the supposed affairs and undoubted illness of Miss Meredith, concerning both of which rather strange reports had reached her.

Meantime the gentlemen were walking through the park in earnest conversation.  They crossed the little brook and climbed to the heath on the other side.  There the rector stood, and turning to his companion, said: 

“It’s rather late in the day for a fellow to wake up, ain’t it, Wingfold?  You see I was brought up to hate fanaticism, and that may have blinded me to something you have seen and got a hold of.  I wish I could just see what it is, but I never was much of a theologian.  Indeed I suspect I am rather stupid in some things.  But I would fain try to look my duty in the face.  It’s not for me to start up and teach the people, because I ought to have been doing it all this time:  I’ve got nothing to teach them.  God only knows whether I haven’t been breaking every one of the commandments I used to read to them every Sunday.”

“But God does know, sir,” said the curate, with even more than his usual respect in his tone, “and that is well, for otherwise we might go on breaking them forever.”

The rector gave him a sudden look, full in the face, but said nothing, seemed to fall a thinking, and for some time was silent.

“There’s one thing clear,” he resumed:  “I’ve been taking pay, and doing no work.  I used to think I was at least doing no harm ­that I was merely using one of the privileges of my position:  I not only paid a curate, but all the repair the church ever got was from me.  Now, however, for the first time, I reflect that the money was not given me for that.  Doubtless it has been all the better for my congregation, but that is only an instance of the good God brings out of evil, and the evil is mine still.  Then, again, there’s all this property my wife brought me:  what have I done with that?  The kingdom of heaven has not come a hair’s-breadth nearer for my being a parson of the Church of England; neither are the people of England a shade the better that I am one of her land-owners.  It is surely time I did something, Wingfold, my boy!”

“I think it is, sir,” answered the curate.

“Then, in God’s name, what am I to do?” returned the rector, almost testily.

“Nobody can answer that question but yourself, sir,” replied Wingfold.

“It’s no use my trying to preach.  I could not write a sermon if I took a month to it.  If it were a paper on the management of a stable, now, I think I could write that ­respectably.  I know what I am about there.  I could even write one on some of the diseases of horses and bullocks ­but that’s not what the church pays me for.  There’s one thing though ­it comes over me strong that I should like to read prayers in the old place again.  I want to pray, and I don’t know how; and it seems as if I could shove in some of my own if I had them going through my head once again.  I tell you what:  we won’t make any fuss about it ­what’s in a name? ­but from this day you shall be incumbent, and I will be curate.  You shall preach ­or what you please, and I shall read the prayers or not, just as you please.  Try what you can make of me, Wingfold.  Don’t ask me to do what I can’t, but help me to do what I can.  Look here ­here’s what I’ve been thinking ­it came to me last night as I was walking about here after coming from Glaston: ­here, in this corner of the parish, we are a long way from church.  In the village there, there is no place of worship except a little Methodist one.  There isn’t one of their ­local preachers, I believe they call them ­that don’t preach a deal better than I could if I tried ever so much.  It’s vulgar enough sometimes, they tell me, but then they preach, and mean it.  Now I might mean it, but I shouldn’t preach; ­for what is it to people at work all the week to have a man read a sermon to them?  You might as well drive a nail by pushing it in with the palm of your hand.  Those men use the hammer.  Ill-bred, conceited fellows, some of them, I happen to know, but they know their business.  Now why shouldn’t I build a little place here on my own ground, and get the bishop to consecrate it?  I would read prayers for you in the abbey church in the morning, and then you would not be too tired to come and preach here in the evening.  I would read the prayers here too, if you liked.”

“I think your scheme delightful,” answered the curate, after a moment’s pause.  “I would only venture to suggest one improvement ­that you should not have your chapel consecrated.  You will find it ever so much more useful.  It will then be dedicated to the God of the whole earth, instead of the God of the Church of England.”

“Why! ain’t they the same?” cried the rector, half aghast, as he stopped and faced round on the curate.

“Yes,” answered Wingfold; “and all will be well when the Church of England really recognizes the fact.  Meantime its idea of God is such as will not at all fit the God of the whole earth.  And that is why she is in bondage.  Except she burst the bonds of her own selfishness, she will burst her heart and go to pieces, as her enemies would have her.  Every piece will be alive, though, I trust, more or less.”

“I don’t understand you,” said the rector.  “What has all that to do with the consecration of my chapel?”

“If you don’t consecrate it,” answered Wingfold, “it will remain a portion of the universe, a thoroughfare for all divine influences, open as the heavens to every wind that blows.  Consecration ­”

Here the curate checked himself.  He was going to say ­“is another word for congestion,” ­but he bethought himself what a wicked thing it would be, for the satisfaction of speaking his mind, to disturb that of his rector, brooding over a good work.

“But,” he concluded therefore, “there will be time enough to think about that.  The scheme is a delightful one.  Apart from it, however, altogether ­if you would but read prayers in your own church, it would wonderfully strengthen my hands.  Only I am afraid I should shock you sometimes.”

“I will take my chance of that.  If you do, I will tell you of it.  And if I do what you don’t like, you must tell me of it.  I trust neither of us will find the other incapable of understanding his neighbor’s position.”

They walked to the spot which the rector had already in his mind as the most suitable for the projected chapel.  It was a bit of gently rising ground, near one of the gates, whence they could see the whole of the little village of Owlkirk.  One of the nearest cottages was that of Mrs. Puckridge.  They saw the doctor ride in at the other end of the street, stop there, fasten his horse to the paling, and go in.