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

THE RECTORY.

The curate and his wife had a good deal of talk about Juliet as they drove home from Nestley.  Much pleased with herself, they heard from their hostess what she had learned of her history, and were the more interested.  They must find her a situation, they agreed, where she would feel at home; and in the meantime would let her understand that, if she took up her abode in Glaston, and were so inclined, the town was large enough to give a good hope of finding a few daily engagements.

Before they left Nestley, Helen had said to Mrs. Bevis that she would like to ask Miss Meredith to visit them for a few days.

“No one knows much about her,” remarked Mrs. Bevis, feeling responsible.

“She can’t be poison,” returned Helen.  “And if she were, she couldn’t hurt us.  That’s the good of being husband and wife:  so long as you are of one mind, you can do almost any thing.”

When Faber called upon Juliet in the evening, nothing passed between them concerning the situation at which he had hinted.  When he entered she was seated as usual in the corner of the dingy little couch, under the small window looking into the garden, in the shadow.  She did not rise, but held out her hand to him.  He went hastily up to her, took the hand she offered, sat down beside her, and at once broke into a full declaration of his love ­now voluble, now hesitating, now submissive, now persuasive, but humblest when most passionate.  Whatever the man’s conceit, or his estimate of the thing he would have her accept, it was in all honesty and modesty that he offered her the surrender of the very citadel of his being ­alas, too “empty, swept, and garnished!” Juliet kept her head turned from him; he felt the hand he held tremble, and every now and then make a faint struggle to escape from his; but he could not see that her emotion was such as hardly to be accounted for either by pleasure at the hearing of welcome words, or sorrow that her reply must cause pain.  He ceased at length, and with eyes of longing sought a glimpse of her face, and caught one.  Its wild, waste expression frightened him.  It was pallid like an old sunset, and her breath came and went stormily.  Three times, in a growing agony of effort, her lips failed of speech.  She gave a sudden despairing cast of her head sideways, her mouth opened a little as if with mere helplessness, she threw a pitiful glance in his face, burst into a tumult of sobs, and fell back on the couch.  Not a tear came to her eyes, but such was her trouble that she did not even care to lift her hand to her face to hide the movements of its rebellious muscles.  Faber, bewildered, but, from the habits of his profession, master of himself, instantly prepared her something, which she took obediently; and as soon as she was quieted a little, mounted and rode away:  two things were clear ­one, that she could not be indifferent to him; the other, that, whatever the cause of her emotion, she would for the present be better without him.  He was both too kind and too proud to persist in presenting himself.

The next morning Helen drew up her ponies at Mrs. Puckridge’s door, and Wingfold got out and stood by their heads, while she went in to call on Miss Meredith.

Juliet had passed a sleepless night, and greatly dreaded the next interview with Faber.  Helen’s invitation, therefore, to pay them a few days’ visit, came to her like a redemption:  in their house she would have protection both from Faber and from herself.  Heartily, with tears in her eyes, she accepted it; and her cordial and grateful readiness placed her yet a step higher in the regard of her new friends.  The acceptance of a favor may be the conferring of a greater.  Quickly, hurriedly, she put up “her bag of needments,” and with a sad, sweet smile of gentle apology, took the curate’s place beside his wife, while he got into the seat behind.

Juliet, having been of late so much confined to the house, could not keep back the tears called forth by the pleasure of the rapid motion through the air, the constant change of scene, and that sense of human story which haunts the mind in passing unknown houses and farms and villages.  An old thatched barn works as directly on the social feeling as the ancient castle or venerable manor-seat; many a simple house will move one’s heart like a poem; many a cottage like a melody.  When at last she caught sight of the great church-tower, she clapped her hands with delight.  There was a place in which to wander and hide! she thought ­in which to find refuge and rest, and coolness and shadow!  Even for Faber’s own sake she would not believe that faith a mere folly which had built such a pile as that!  Surely there was some way of meeting the terrible things he said ­if only she could find it!

“Are you fastidious, Miss Meredith, or willing to do any thing that is honest?” the curate asked rather abruptly, leaning forward from the back seat.

“If ever I was fastidious,” she answered, “I think I am pretty nearly cured.  I should certainly like my work to be so far within my capacity as to be pleasant to me.”

“Then there is no fear,” answered the curate.  “The people who don’t get on, are those that pick and choose upon false principles.  They generally attempt what they are unfit for, and deserve their failures. ­Are you willing to teach little puds and little tongues?”

“Certainly.”

“Tell me what you are able to do?”

“I would rather not.  You might think differently when you came to know me.  But you can ask me any questions you please.  I shan’t hide my knowledge, and I can’t hide my ignorance.”

“Thank you,” said the curate, and leaned back again in his seat.

After luncheon, Helen found to her delight that, although Juliet was deficient enough in the mechanics belonging to both voice and instrument, she could yet sing and play with expression and facility, while her voice was one of the loveliest she had ever heard.  When the curate came home from his afternoon attentions to the ailing of his flock, he was delighted to hear his wife’s report of her gifts.

“Would you mind reading a page or two aloud?” he said to their visitor, after they had had a cup of tea.  “I often get my wife to read to me.”

She consented at once.  He put a volume of Carlyle into her hand.  She had never even tasted a book of his before, yet presently caught the spirit of the passage, and read charmingly.

In the course of a day or two they discovered that she was sadly defective in spelling, a paltry poverty no doubt, yet awkward for one who would teach children.  In grammar and arithmetic also the curate found her lacking.  Going from place to place with her father, she had never been much at school, she said, and no one had ever compelled her to attend to the dry things.  But nothing could be more satisfactory than the way in which she now, with the help of the curate and his wife, set herself to learn; and until she should have gained such proficiency as would enable them to speak of her acquirements with confidence, they persuaded her, with no great difficulty, to continue their guest.  Wingfold, who had been a tutor in his day, was well qualified to assist her, and she learned with wonderful rapidity.

The point that most perplexed Wingfold with her was that, while very capable of perceiving and admiring the good, she was yet capable of admiring things of altogether inferior quality.  What did it mean?  Could it arise from an excess of productive faculty, not yet sufficiently differenced from the receptive?  One could imagine such an excess ready to seize the poorest molds, flow into them, and endow them for itself with attributed life and power.  He found also that she was familiar with the modes of thought and expression peculiar to a certain school of theology ­embodiments from which, having done their good, and long commenced doing their evil, Truth had begun to withdraw itself, consuming as it withdrew.  For the moment the fire ceases to be the life of the bush in which it appears, the bush will begin to be consumed.  At the same time he could perfectly recognize the influence of Faber upon her.  For not unfrequently, the talk between the curate and his wife would turn upon some point connected with the unbelief of the land, so much more active, though but seemingly more extensive than heretofore; when she would now make a remark, now ask a question, in which the curate heard the doctor as plainly as if the words had come direct from his lips:  those who did not believe might answer so and so ­might refuse the evidence ­might explain the thing differently.  But she listened well, and seemed to understand what they said.  The best of her undoubtedly appeared in her music, in which she was fundamentally far superior to Helen, though by no means so well trained, taught or practiced in it; whence Helen had the unspeakable delight, one which only a humble, large and lofty mind can ever have, of consciously ministering to the growth of another in the very thing wherein that other is naturally the superior.  The way to the blessedness that is in music, as to all other blessednesses, lies through weary labors, and the master must suffer with the disciple; Helen took Juliet like a child, set her to scales and exercises, and made her practice hours a day.