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


All this time poor Faber, to his offer of himself to Juliet, had received no answer but a swoon ­or something very near it.  Every attempt he made to see her alone at the rectory had been foiled; and he almost came to the conclusion that the curate and his wife had set themselves to prejudice against himself a mind already prejudiced against his principles.  It added to his uneasiness that, as he soon discovered, she went regularly to church.  He knew the power and persuasion of Wingfold, and looked upon his influence as antagonistic to his hopes.  Pride, anger, and fear were all at work in him; but he went on calling, and did his best to preserve an untroubled demeanor.  Juliet imagined no change in his feelings, and her behavior to him was not such as to prevent them from deepening still.

Every time he went it was with a desperate resolution of laying his hand on the veil in which she had wrapped herself, but every time he found it impossible, for one reason or another, to make a single movement toward withdrawing it.  Again and again he tried to write to her, but the haunting suspicion that she would lay his epistle before her new friends, always made him throw down his pen in a smothering indignation.  He found himself compelled to wait what opportunity chance or change might afford him.

When he learned that she had gone to live with the Drakes, it was a relief to him; for although he knew the minister was far more personal in his hostility than Wingfold, he was confident his influence over her would not be so great; and now he would have a better chance, he thought, of seeing her alone.  Meantime he took satisfaction in knowing that he did not neglect a single patient, and that in no case had he been less successful either as to diagnosis or treatment because of his trouble.  He pitied himself just a little as a martyr to the truth, a martyr the more meritorious that the truth to which he sacrificed himself gave him no hope for the future, and for the present no shadow of compensation beyond the satisfaction of not being deceived.  It remains a question, however, which there was no one to put to Faber ­whether he had not some amends in relief from the notion, vaguely it may be, yet unpleasantly haunting many minds ­of a Supreme Being ­a Deity ­putting forth claims to obedience ­an uncomfortable sort of phantom, however imaginary, for one to have brooding above him, and continually coming between him and the freedom of an else empty universe.  To the human soul as I have learned to know it, an empty universe would be as an exhausted receiver to the lungs that thirst for air; but Faber liked the idea:  how he would have liked the reality remains another thing.  I suspect that what we call damnation is something as near it as it can be made; itself it can not be, for even the damned must live by God’s life.  Was it, I repeat, no compensation for his martyrdom to his precious truth, to know that to none had he to render an account?  Was he relieved from no misty sense of a moral consciousness judging his, and ready to enforce its rebuke ­a belief which seems to me to involve the highest idea, the noblest pledge, the richest promise of our nature?  There may be men in whose turning from implicit to explicit denial, no such element of relief is concerned ­I can not tell; but although the structure of Paul Faber’s life had in it material of noble sort, I doubt if he was one of such.

The summer at length reigned lordly in the land.  The roses were in bloom, from the black purple to the warm white.  Ah, those roses!  He must indeed be a God who invented the roses.  They sank into the red hearts of men and women, caused old men to sigh, young men to long, and women to weep with strange ecstatic sadness.  But their scent made Faber lonely and poor, for the rose-heart would not open its leaves to him.

The winds were soft and odor-laden.  The wide meadows through which flowed the river, seemed to smite the eye with their greenness; and the black and red and white kine bent down their sleek necks among the marsh-marigolds and the meadow-sweet and the hundred lovely things that border the level water-courses, and fed on the blessed grass.  Along the banks, here with nets, there with rod and line, they caught the gleaming salmon, and his silver armor flashed useless in the sun.  The old pastor sat much in his little summer-house, and paced his green walk on the border of the Lythe; but in all the gold of the sunlight, in all the glow and the plenty around him, his heart was oppressed with the sense of his poverty.  It was not that he could not do the thing he would, but that he could not meet and rectify the thing he had done.  He could behave, he said to himself, neither as a gentleman nor a Christian, for lack of money; and, worst of all, he could not get rid of a sense of wrong ­of rebellious heavings of heart, of resentments, of doubts that came thick upon him ­not of the existence of God, nor of His goodness towards men in general, but of His kindness to himself.  Logically, no doubt, they were all bound in one, and the being that could be unfair to a beetle could not be God, could not make a beetle; but our feelings, especially where a wretched self is concerned, are notably illogical.

The morning of a glorious day came in with saffron, gold, and crimson.  The color sobered, but the glory grew.  The fleeting dyes passed, but the azure sky, the white clouds, and the yellow fire remained.  The larks dropped down to their breakfast.  The kine had long been busy at theirs, for they had slept their short night in the midst of their food.  Every thing that could move was in motion, and what could not move was shining, and what could not shine was feeling warm.  But the pastor was tossing restless.  He had a troubled night.  The rent of his house fell due with the miserable pittance allowed him by the church; but the hard thing was not that he had to pay nearly the whole of the latter to meet the former, but that he must first take it.  The thought of that burned in his veins like poison.  But he had no choice.  To refuse it would be dishonest; it would be to spare or perhaps indulge his feelings at the expense of the guiltless.  He must not kill himself, he said, because he had insured his life, and the act would leave his daughter nearly destitute.  Yet how was the insurance longer to be paid?  It was hard, with all his faults, to be brought to this!  It was hard that he who all his life had been urging people to have faith, should have his own turned into a mockery.

Here heart and conscience together smote him.  Well might his faith be mocked, for what better was it than a mockery itself!  Where was this thing he called his faith?  Was he not cherishing, talking flat unbelief? ­as much as telling God he did not trust in Him?  Where was the faithlessness of which his faithlessness complained?  A phantom of its own!  Yea, let God be true and every man a liar!  Had the hour come, and not the money?  A fine faith it was that depended on the very presence of the help! ­that required for its existence that the supply should come before the need! ­a fine faith in truth, which still would follow in the rear of sight! ­But why then did God leave him thus without faith?  Why did not God make him able to trust?  He had prayed quite as much for faith as for money.  His conscience replied, “That is your part ­the thing you will not do.  If God put faith into your heart without your stirring up your heart to believe, the faith would be God’s and not yours.  It is true all is God’s; he made this you call me, and made it able to believe, and gave you Himself to believe in; and if after that He were to make you believe without you doing your utmost part, He would be making you down again into a sort of holy dog, not making you grow a man like Christ Jesus His Son” ­“But I have tried hard to trust in Him,” said the little self. ­“Yes, and then fainted and ceased,” said the great self, the conscience.

Thus it went on in the poor man’s soul.  Ever and anon he said to himself, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,” and ever and anon his heart sickened afresh, and he said to himself, “I shall go down to the grave with shame, and my memorial will be debts unpaid, for the Lord hath forsaken me.”  All the night he had lain wrestling with fear and doubt:  fear was hard upon him, but doubt was much harder.  “If I could but trust,” he said, “I could endure any thing.”

In the splendor of the dawn, he fell into a troubled sleep, and a more troubled dream, which woke him again to misery.  Outside his chamber, the world was rich in light, in song, in warmth, in odor, in growth, in color, in space; inside, all was to him gloomy, groanful, cold, musty, ungenial, dingy, confined; yet there was he more at ease, shrunk from the light, and in the glorious morning that shone through the chinks of his shutters, saw but an alien common day, not the coach of his Father, come to carry him yet another stage toward his home.  He was in want of nothing at the moment.  There were no holes in the well-polished shoes that seemed to keep ghostly guard outside his chamber-door.  The clothes that lay by his bedside were indeed a little threadbare, but sound and spotless.  The hat that hung in the passage below might have been much shabbier without necessarily indicating poverty.  His walking-stick had a gold knob like any earl’s.  If he did choose to smoke a church-warden, he had a great silver-mounted meerschaum on his mantle-shelf.  True, the butcher’s shop had for some time contributed nothing to his dinners, but his vegetable diet agreed with him.  He would himself have given any man time, would as soon have taken his child by the throat as his debtor, had worshiped God after a bettering fashion for forty years at least, and yet would not give God time to do His best for him ­the best that perfect love, and power limited only by the lack of full consent in the man himself, could do.

His daughter always came into his room the first thing in the morning.  It was plain to her that he had been more restless than usual, and at sight of his glazy red-rimmed eyes and gray face, her heart sank within her.  For a moment she was half angry with him, thinking in herself that if she believed as he did, she would never trouble her heart about any thing:  her head should do all the business.  But with his faith, she would have done just the same as he, It is one thing to be so used to certain statements and modes of thought that you take all for true, and quite another so to believe the heart of it all, that you are in essential and imperturbable peace and gladness because of it.  But oh, how the poor girl sighed for the freedom of a God to trust in!  She could content herself with the husks the swine ate, if she only knew that a Father sat at the home-heart of the universe, wanting to have her.  Faithful in her faithlessness, she did her best to comfort her believing father:  beyond the love that offered it, she had but cold comfort to give.  He did not listen to a word she said, and she left him at last with a sigh, and went to get him his breakfast.  When she returned, she brought him his letters with his tea and toast.  He told her to take them away:  she might open them herself if she liked; they could be nothing but bills!  She might take the tray too; he did not want any breakfast:  what right had he to eat what he had no money to pay for!  There would be a long bill at the baker’s next!  What right had any one to live on other people!  Dorothy told him she paid for every loaf as it came, and that there was no bill at the baker’s, though indeed he had done his best to begin one.  He stretched out his arms, drew her down to his bosom, said she was his only comfort, then pushed her away, turned his face to the wall, and wept.  She saw it would be better to leave him, and, knowing in this mood he would eat nothing, she carried the tray with her.  A few moments after, she came rushing up the stair like a wind, and entered his room swiftly, her face “white with the whiteness of what is dead.”