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


Happening at length to hear that visitors were expected, Juliet, notwithstanding the assurances of her hostess that there was plenty of room for her, insisted on finding lodgings, and taking more direct measures for obtaining employment.  But the curate had not been idle in her affairs, and had already arranged for her with some of his own people who had small children, only he had meant she should not begin just yet.  He wanted her both to be a little stronger, and to have got a little further with one or two of her studies.  And now, consulting with Helen, he broached a new idea on the matter of her lodgment.

A day or two before Jones, the butcher, had been talking to him about Mr. Drake ­saying how badly his congregation had behaved to him, and in what trouble he had come to him, because he could not pay his bill.  The good fellow had all this time never mentioned the matter; and it was from growing concern about the minister that he now spoke of it to the curate.

“We don’t know all the circumstances, however, Mr. Jones,” the curate replied; “and perhaps Mr. Drake himself does not think so badly of it as you do.  He is a most worthy man.  Mind you let him have whatever he wants.  I’ll see to you.  Don’t mention it to a soul.”

“Bless your heart and liver, sir!” exclaimed the butcher, “he’s ten times too much of a gentleman to do a kindness to.  I couldn’t take no liberty with that man ­no, not if he was ’most dead of hunger.  He’d eat the rats out of his own cellar, I do believe, before he’d accept what you may call a charity; and for buying when he knows he can’t pay, why he’d beg outright before he’d do that.  What he do live on now I can’t nohow make out ­and that’s what doos make me angry with him ­as if a honest tradesman didn’t know how to behave to a gentleman!  Why, they tell me, sir, he did use to drive his carriage and pair in London!  And now he’s a doin’ of his best to live on nothink at all! ­leastways, so they tell me ­seem’ as how he’d have ’em believe he was turned a ­what’s it they call it! ­a ­a ­a wegetablarian! ­that’s what he do, sir!  But I know better.  He may be eatin’ grass like a ox, as did that same old king o’ Israel as growed the feathers and claws in consequence; and I don’t say he ain’t; but one thing I’m sure of, and that is, that if he be, it’s by cause he can’t help it.  Why, sir, I put it to you ­no gentleman would ­if he could help it. ­Why don’t he come to me for a bit o’ wholesome meat?” he went on in a sorely injured tone.  “He knows I’m ready for anythink in reason!  Them peas an’ beans an’ cabbages an’ porridges an’ carrots an’ turmits ­why, sir, they ain’t nothink at all but water an’ wind.  I don’t say as they mayn’t keep a body alive for a year or two, but, bless you, there’s nothink in them; and the man’ll be a skelinton long before he’s dead an’ buried; an’ I shed jest like to know where’s the good o’ life on sich terms as them!”

Thus Jones, the butcher ­a man who never sold bad meat, never charged for an ounce more than he delivered, and when he sold to the poor, considered them.  In buying and selling he had a weakness for giving the fair play he demanded.  He had a little spare money somewhere, but he did not make a fortune out of hunger, retire early, and build churches.  A local preacher once asked him if he knew what was the plan of salvation.  He answered with the utmost innocence, cutting him off a great lump of leg of beef for a family he had just told him was starving, that he hadn’t an idea, but no Christian could doubt it was all right.

The curate, then, pondering over what Mr. Jones had told him, had an idea; and now he and his wife were speedily of one mind as to attempting an arrangement for Juliet with Miss Drake.  What she would be able to pay would, they thought, ease them a little, while she would have the advantage of a better protection than a lodging with more humble people would afford her.  Juliet was willing for any thing they thought best.

Wingfold therefore called on the minister, to make the proposal to him, and was shown up to his study ­a mere box, where there was just room for a chair on each side of the little writing-table.  The walls from top to bottom were entirely hidden with books.

Mr. Drake received him with a touching mixture of sadness and cordiality, and heard in silence what he had to say.

“It is very kind of you to think of us, Mr. Wingfold,” he replied, after a moment’s pause.  “But I fear the thing is impossible.  Indeed, it is out of the question.  Circumstances are changed with us.  Things are not as they once were.”

There had always been a certain negative virtue in Mr. Drake, which only his friends were able to see, and only the wisest of them to set over against his display ­this, namely, that he never attempted to gain credit for what he knew he had not.  As he was not above show, I can not say he was safely above false show, for he who is capable of the one is still in danger of the other; but he was altogether above deception:  that he scorned.  If, in his time of plenty he liked men to be aware of his worldly facilities, he now, in the time of his poverty, preferred that men should be aware of the bonds in which he lived.  His nature was simple, and loved to let in the daylight.  Concealment was altogether alien to him.  From morning to night anxious, he could not bear to be supposed of easy heart.  Some men think poverty such a shame that they would rather be judged absolutely mean than confess it.  Mr. Drake’s openness may have sprung from too great a desire for sympathy; or from a diseased honesty ­I can not tell; I will freely allow that if his faith had been as a grain of mustard seed, he would not have been so haunted with a sense of his poverty, as to be morbidly anxious to confess it.  He would have known that his affairs were in high charge:  and that, in the full flow of the fountain of prosperity, as well as in the scanty, gravelly driblets from the hard-wrought pump of poverty, the supply came all the same from under the throne of God, and he would not have felt poor.  A man ought never to feel rich for riches, nor poor for poverty.  The perfect man must always feel rich, because God is rich.

“The fact is,” Mr. Drake went on, “we are very poor ­absolutely poor, Mr. Wingfold ­so poor that I may not even refuse the trifling annuity my late congregation will dole out to me.”

“I am sorry to know it,” said the curate.

“But I must take heed of injustice,” the pastor resumed; “I do not think they would have treated me so had they not imagined me possessed of private means.  The pity now is that the necessity which would make me glad to fall in with your kind proposal itself renders the thing impracticable.  Even with what your friend would contribute to the housekeeping we could not provide a table fit for her.  But Dorothy ought to have the pleasure of hearing your kind proposition:  if you will allow me I will call her.”

Dorothy was in the kitchen, making pastry ­for the rare treat of a chicken pudding:  they had had a present of a couple of chickens from Mrs. Thomson ­when she heard her father’s voice calling her from the top of the little stair.  When Lisbeth opened the door to the curate she was on her way out, and had not yet returned; so she did not know any one was with him, and hurried up with her arms bare.  She recoiled half a step when she saw Mr. Wingfold, then went frankly forward to welcome him, her hands in her white pinafore.

“It’s only flour,” she said, smiling.

“It is a rare pleasure now-a-days to catch a lady at work” said Wingfold.  “My wife always dusts my study for me.  I told her I would not have it done except she did it ­just to have the pleasure of seeing her at it.  My conviction is, that only a lady can become a thorough servant.”

“Why don’t you have lady-helps then?” said Dorothy.

“Because I don’t know where to find them.  Ladies are scarce; and any thing almost would be better than a houseful of half-ladies.”

“I think I understand,” said Dorothy thoughtfully.

Her father now stated Mr. Wingfold’s proposal ­in the tone of one sorry to be unable to entertain it.

“I see perfectly why you think we could not manage it, papa,” said Dorothy.  “But why should not Miss Meredith lodge with us in the same way as with Mrs. Puckridge?  She could have the drawing-room and my bedroom, and her meals by herself.  Lisbeth is wretched for want of dinners to cook.”

“Miss Meredith would hardly relish the idea of turning you out of your drawing-room,” said Wingfold.

“Tell her it may save us from being turned out of the house.  Tell her she will be a great help to us,” returned Dorothy eagerly.

“My child,” said her father, the tears standing in his eyes, “your reproach sinks into my very soul.”

“My reproach, father!” repeated Dorothy aghast.  “How you do mistake me!  I can’t say with you that the will of God is every thing; but I can say that far less than your will ­your ability ­will always be enough for me.”

“My child,” returned her father, “you go on to rebuke me!  You are immeasurably truer to me than I am to my God. ­Mr. Wingfold, you love the Lord, else I would not confess my sin to you:  of late I have often thought, or at least felt as if He was dealing hardly with me.  Ah, my dear sir! you are a young man:  for the peace of your soul serve God so, that, by the time you are my age, you may be sure of Him.  I try hard to put my trust in Him, but my faith is weak.  It ought by this time to have been strong.  I always want to see the way He is leading me ­to understand something of what He is doing with me or teaching me, before I can accept His will, or get my heart to consent not to complain.  It makes me very unhappy.  I begin to fear that I have never known even the beginning of confidence, and that faith has been with me but a thing of the understanding and the lips.”

He bowed his head on his hands.  Dorothy went up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder, looking unspeakably sad.  A sudden impulse moved the curate.

“Let us pray,” he said, rising, and kneeled down.

It was a strange, unlikely thing to do; but he was an unlikely man, and did it.  The others made haste to kneel also.

“God of justice,” he said, “Thou knowest how hard it is for us, and Thou wilt be fair to us.  We have seen no visions; we have never heard the voice of Thy Son, of whom those tales, so dear to us, have come down the ages; we have to fight on in much darkness of spirit and of mind, both from the ignorance we can not help, and from the fault we could have helped; we inherit blindness from the error of our fathers; and when fear, or the dread of shame, or the pains of death, come upon us, we are ready to despair, and cry out that there is no God, or, if there be, He has forgotten His children.  There are times when the darkness closes about us like a wall, and Thou appearest nowhere, either in our hearts, or in the outer universe; we can not tell whether the things we seemed to do in Thy name, were not mere hypocrisies, and our very life is but a gulf of darkness.  We cry aloud, and our despair is as a fire in our bones to make us cry; but to all our crying and listening, there seems neither hearing nor answer in the boundless waste.  Thou who knowest Thyself God, who knowest Thyself that for which we groan, Thou whom Jesus called Father, we appeal to Thee, not as we imagine Thee, but as Thou seest Thyself, as Jesus knows Thee, to Thy very self we cry ­help us, O Cause of us!  O Thou from whom alone we are this weakness, through whom alone we can become strength, help us ­be our Father.  We ask for nothing beyond what Thy Son has told us to ask.  We beg for no signs or wonders, but for Thy breath upon our souls, Thy spirit in our hearts.  We pray for no cloven tongues of fire ­for no mighty rousing of brain or imagination; but we do, with all our power of prayer, pray for Thy spirit; we do not even pray to know that it is given to us; let us, if so it pleases Thee, remain in doubt of the gift for years to come ­but lead us thereby.  Knowing ourselves only as poor and feeble, aware only of ordinary and common movements of mind and soul, may we yet be possessed by the spirit of God, led by His will in ours.  For all things in a man, even those that seem to him the commonest and least uplifted, are the creation of Thy heart, and by the lowly doors of our wavering judgment, dull imagination, luke-warm love, and palsied will, Thou canst enter and glorify all.  Give us patience because our hope is in Thee, not in ourselves.  Work Thy will in us, and our prayers are ended.  Amen.”

They rose.  The curate said he would call again in the evening, bade them good-by, and went.  Mr. Drake turned to his daughter and said ­

“Dorothy, that’s not the way I have been used to pray or hear people pray; nevertheless the young man seemed to speak very straight up to God.  It appears to me there was another spirit there with his.  I will humble myself before the Lord.  Who knows but he may lift me up!”

“What can my father mean by saying that perhaps God will lift him up?” said Dorothy to herself when she was alone.  “It seems to me if I only knew God was anywhere, I should want no other lifting up.  I should then be lifted up above every thing forever.”

Had she said so to the curate, he would have told her that the only way to be absolutely certain of God, is to see Him as He is, and for that we must first become absolutely pure in heart.  For this He is working in us, and perfection and vision will flash together.  Were conviction possible without that purity and that vision, I imagine it would work evil in us, fix in their imperfection our ideas, notions, feelings, concerning God, give us for His glory the warped reflection of our cracked and spotted and rippled glass, and so turn our worship into an idolatry.

Dorothy was a rather little woman, with lightish auburn hair, a large and somewhat heavy forehead, fine gray eyes, small well-fashioned features, a fair complexion on a thin skin, and a mouth that would have been better in shape if it had not so often been informed of trouble.  With this trouble their poverty had nothing to do; that did not weigh upon her a straw.  She was proud to share her father’s lot, and could have lived on as little as any laboring woman with seven children.  She was indeed a trifle happier since her father’s displacement, and would have been happier still had he found it within the barest possibility to decline the annuity allotted him; for, as far back as she could remember, she had been aware of a dislike to his position ­partly from pride it may be, but partly also from a sense of the imperfection of the relation between him and his people ­one in which love must be altogether predominant, else is it hateful ­and chiefly because of a certain sordid element in the community ­a vile way of looking at sacred things through the spectacles of mammon, more evident ­I only say more evident ­in dissenting than in Church of England communities, because of the pressure of expenses upon them.  Perhaps the impossibility of regarding her father’s church with reverence, laid her mind more open to the cause of her trouble ­such doubts, namely, as an active intellect, nourished on some of the best books, and disgusted with the weak fervor of others rated high in her hearing, had been suggesting for years before any words of Faber’s reached her.  The more her devout nature longed to worship, the more she found it impossible to worship that which was presented for her love and adoration.  See believed entirely in her father, but she knew he could not meet her doubts, for many things made it plain that he had never had such himself.  An ordinary mind that has had doubts, and has encountered and overcome them, or verified and found them the porters of the gates of truth, may be profoundly useful to any mind similarly assailed; but no knowledge of books, no amount of logic, no degree of acquaintance with the wisest conclusions of others, can enable a man who has not encountered skepticism in his own mind, to afford any essential help to those caught in the net.  For one thing, such a man will be incapable of conceiving the possibility that the net may be the net of The Fisher of Men.

Dorothy, therefore, was sorely oppressed.  For a long time her life had seemed withering from her, and now that her father was fainting on the steep path, and she had no water to offer him, she was ready to cry aloud in bitterness of spirit.

She had never heard the curate preach ­had heard talk of his oddity on all sides, from men and women no more capable of judging him than the caterpillar of judging the butterfly ­which yet it must become.  The draper, who understood him, naturally shrunk from praising to her the teaching for which he not unfrequently deserted that of her father, and she never looked in the direction of him with any hope.  Yet now, the very first time she had heard him speak out of the abundance of his heart, he had left behind him a faint brown ray of hope in hers.  It was very peculiar of him to break out in prayer after such an abrupt fashion ­in the presence of an older minister than himself ­and praying for him too!  But there was such an appearance of reality about the man! such a simplicity in his look! such a directness in his petitions! such an active fervor of hope in his tone ­without an atom of what she had heard called unction!  His thought and speech appeared to arise from no separated sacred mood that might be assumed and laid aside, but from present faith and feeling, from the absolute point of life at that moment being lived by him.  It was an immediate appeal to a hearing, and understanding, and caring God, whose breath was the very air His creatures breathed, the element of their life; an utter acknowledgment of His will as the bliss of His sons and daughters!  Such was the shining of the curate’s light, and it awoke hope in Dorothy.

In the evening he came again as he had said, and brought Juliet.  Each in the other, Dorothy and she recognized suffering, and in a very few moments every thing was arranged between them.  Juliet was charmed with the simplicity and intentness of Dorothy; in Juliet’s manner and carriage, Dorothy at once recognized a breeding superior to her own, and at once laid hold of the excellence by acknowledging it.  In a moment she made Juliet understand how things were, and Juliet saw as quickly that she must assent to the arrangement proposed.  But she had not been with them two days, when Dorothy found the drawing-room as open to her as before she came, and far more pleasant.

While the girls were talking below, the two clergymen sat again in the study.

“I have taken the liberty,” said the curate, “of bringing an old book I should like you to look at, if you don’t mind ­chiefly for the sake of some verses that pleased me much when I read them first, and now please me more when I read them for the tenth time.  If you will allow me, I will read them to you.”

Mr. Drake liked good poetry, but did not much relish being called upon to admire, as he imagined he was now.  He assented, of course, graciously enough, and soon found his mistake.

This is the poem Wingfold read: 


  Lord, according to Thy words,
  I have considered Thy birds;
  And I find their life good,
  And better the better understood;
  Sowing neither corn nor wheat,
  They have all that they can eat;
  Reaping no more than they sow. 
  They have all they can stow;
  Having neither barn nor store,
  Hungry again, they eat more.

  Considering, I see too that they
  Have a busy life, and plenty of play;
  In the earth they dig their bills deep,
  And work well though they do not heap;
  Then to play in the air they are not loth,
  And their nests between are better than both.

  But this is when there blow no storms;
  When berries are plenty in winter, and worms;
  When their feathers are thick, and oil is enough
  To keep the cold out and the rain off: 
  If there should come a long hard frost,
  Then it looks as Thy birds were lost.

  But I consider further, and find
  A hungry bird has a free mind;
  He is hungry to-day, not to-morrow;
  Steals no comfort, no grief doth borrow;
  This moment is his, Thy will hath said it,
  The next is nothing till Thou hast made it.

  The bird has pain, but has no fear,
  Which is the worst of any gear;
  When cold and hunger and harm betide him,
  He gathers them not to stuff inside him;
  Content with the day’s ill he has got,
  He waits just, nor haggles with his lot;
  Neither jumbles God’s will
  With driblets from his own still.

  But next I see, in my endeavor,
  Thy birds here do not live forever;
  That cold or hunger, sickness or age,
  Finishes their earthly stage;
  The rook drops without a stroke,
  And never gives another croak;
  Birds lie here, and birds lie there,
  With little feathers all astare;
  And in Thy own sermon, Thou
  That the sparrow falls dost allow.

  It shall not cause me any alarm,
  For neither so comes the bird to harm,
  Seeing our Father, Thou hast said,
  Is by the sparrow’s dying bed;
  Therefore it is a blessed place,
  And the sparrow in high grace.

  It cometh therefore to this.  Lord;
  I have considered Thy word,
  And henceforth will be Thy bird.

By the time Wingfold ceased, the tears were running down the old man’s face.  When he saw that, the curate rose at once, laid the book on the table, shook hands with him, and went away.  The minister laid his head on the table, and wept.

Juliet had soon almost as much teaching as she could manage.  People liked her, and children came to love her a little.  A good report of her spread.  The work was hard, chiefly because it included more walking than she had been accustomed to; but Dorothy generally walked with her, and to the places furthest off, Helen frequently took her with her ponies, and she got through the day’s work pretty well.  The fees were small, but they sufficed, and made life a little easier to her host and his family.  Amanda got very fond of her, and, without pretending to teach her, Juliet taught her a good deal.  On Sundays she went to church; and Dorothy, although it cost her a struggle to face the imputation of resentment, by which the chapel-people would necessarily interpret the change, went regularly with her, in the growing hope of receiving light from the curate.  Her father also not unfrequently accompanied her.