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

THE GATE-LODGE.

Mr Bevis had his horses put to, then taken away again, and an old hunter saddled.  But half-way from home he came to a burst bridge, and had to return, much to the relief of his wife, who, when she had him in the house again, could enjoy the rain, she said:  it was so cosey and comfortable to feel you could not go out, or any body call.  I presume she therein seemed to take a bond of fate, and doubly assure the every-day dullness of her existence.  Well, she was a good creature, and doubtless a corner would be found for her up above, where a little more work would probably be required of her.

Polwarth and his niece Ruth rose late, for neither had slept well.  When they had breakfasted, they read together from the Bible:  first the uncle read the passage he had last got light upon ­he was always getting light upon passages, and then the niece the passage she had last been gladdened by; after which they sat and chatted a long time by the kitchen fire.

“I am afraid your asthma was bad last night, uncle dear,” said Ruth.  “I heard your breathing every time I woke.”

“It was, rather,” answered the little man, “but I took my revenge, and had a good crow over it.”

“I know what you mean, uncle:  do let me hear the crow.”

He rose, and slowly climbing the stair to his chamber, returned with a half sheet of paper in his hand, resumed his seat, and read the following lines, which he had written in pencil when the light came: 

  Satan, avaunt! 
    Nay, take thine hour;
  Thou canst not daunt,
    Thou hast no power;
  Be welcome to thy nest,
  Though it be in my breast.

  Burrow amain;
    Dig like a mole;
  Fill every vein
    With half-burned coal;
  Puff the keen dust about,
  And all to choke me out.

  Fill music’s ways
    With creaking cries,
  That no loud praise
    May climb the skies;
  And on my laboring chest
  Lay mountains of unrest.

  My slumber steep
    In dreams of haste,
  That only sleep,
    No rest I taste ­
  With stiflings, rimes of rote,
  And fingers on the throat.

  Satan, thy might
    I do defy;
  Live core of night,
    I patient lie: 
  A wind comes up the gray
  Will blow thee clean away.

  Christ’s angel, Death,
    All radiant white,
  With one cold breath
    Will scare thee quite,
  And give my lungs an air
  As fresh as answered prayer.

  So, Satan, do
    Thy worst with me,
  Until the True
    Shall set me free,
  And end what He began,
  By making me a man.

“It is not much of poetry, Ruth!” he said, raising his eyes from the paper; “ ­no song of thrush or blackbird!  I am ashamed that I called it a cock-crow ­for that is one of the finest things in the world ­a clarion defiance to darkness and sin ­far too good a name for my poor jingle ­except, indeed, you call it a Cochin-china-cock-crow ­from out a very wheezy chest!”

“‘My strength is made perfect in weakness,’” said Ruth solemnly, heedless of the depreciation.  To her the verses were as full of meaning as if she had made them herself.

“I think I like the older reading better ­that is, without the My,” said Polwarth:  “‘Strength is made perfect in weakness.’  Somehow ­I can not explain the feeling ­to hear a grand aphorism, spoken in widest application, as a fact of more than humanity, of all creation, from the mouth of the human God, the living Wisdom, seems to bring me close to the very heart of the universe.  Strength ­strength itself ­all over ­is made perfect in weakness; ­a law of being, you see, Ruth! not a law of Christian growth only, but a law of growth, even all the growth leading up to the Christian, which growth is the highest kind of creation.  The Master’s own strength was thus perfected, and so must be that of His brothers and sisters.  Ah, what a strength must be his! ­how patient in endurance ­how gentle in exercise ­how mighty in devotion ­how fine in its issues,-perfected by such suffering!  Ah, my child, you suffer sorely sometimes ­I know it well! but shall we not let patience have her perfect work, that we may ­one day, Ruth, one day, my child ­be perfect and entire, wanting nothing?”

Led by the climax of his tone, Ruth slipped from her stool on her knees.  Polwarth kneeled beside her, and said: 

“O Father of life, we praise Thee that one day Thou wilt take Thy poor crooked creatures, and give them bodies like Christ’s, perfect as His, and full of Thy light.  Help us to grow faster ­as fast as Thou canst help us to grow.  Help us to keep our eyes on the opening of Thy hand, that we may know the manna when it comes.  O Lord, we rejoice that we are Thy making, though Thy handiwork is not very clear in our outer man as yet.  We bless Thee that we feel Thy hand making us.  What if it be in pain!  Evermore we hear the voice of the potter above the hum and grind of his wheel.  Father, Thou only knowest how we love Thee.  Fashion the clay to Thy beautiful will.  To the eyes of men we are vessels of dishonor, but we know Thou dost not despise us, for Thou hast made us, and Thou dwellest with us.  Thou hast made us love Thee, and hope in Thee, and in Thy love we will be brave and endure.  All in good time, O Lord.  Amen.”

While they thus prayed, kneeling on the stone floor of the little kitchen, dark under the universal canopy of cloud, the rain went on clashing and murmuring all around, rushing from the eaves, and exploding with sharp hisses in the fire, and in the mingled noise they had neither heard a low tap, several times repeated, nor the soft opening of the door that followed.  When they rose from their knees, it was therefore with astonishment they saw a woman standing motionless in the doorway, without cloak or bonnet, her dank garments clinging to her form and dripping with rain.

When Juliet woke that morning, she cared little that the sky was dull and the earth dark.  A selfish sorrow, a selfish love even, makes us stupid, and Juliet had been growing more and more stupid.  Many people, it seems to me, through sorrow endured perforce and without a gracious submission, slowly sink in the scale of existence.  Such are some of those middle-aged women, who might be the very strength of social well-being, but have no aspiration, and hope only downward ­after rich husbands for their daughters, it may be ­a new bonnet or an old coronet ­the devil knows what.

Bad as the weather had been the day before, Dorothy had yet contrived to visit her, and see that she was provided with every necessary; and Juliet never doubted she would come that day also.  She thought of Dorothy’s ministrations as we so often do of God’s ­as of things that come of themselves, for which there is no occasion to be thankful.

When she had finished the other little house-work required for her comfort, a labor in which she found some little respite from the gnawings of memory and the blankness of anticipation, she ended by making up a good fire, though without a thought of Dorothy’s being wet when she arrived, and sitting down by the window, stared out at the pools, spreading wider and wider on the gravel walks beneath her.  She sat till she grew chilly, then rose and dropped into an easy chair by the fire, and fell fast asleep.

She slept a long time, and woke in a terror, seeming to have waked herself with a cry.  The fire was out, and the hearth cold.  She shivered and drew her shawl about her.  Then suddenly she remembered the frightful dream she had had.

She dreamed that she had just fled from her husband and gained the park, when, the moment she entered it, something seized her from behind, and bore her swiftly, as in the arms of a man ­only she seemed to hear the rush of wings behind her ­the way she had been going.  She struggled in terror, but in vain; the power bore her swiftly on, and she knew whither.  Her very being recoiled from the horrible depth of the motionless pool, in which, as she now seemed to know, lived one of the loathsome creatures of the semi-chaotic era of the world, which had survived its kind as well as its coevals, and was ages older than the human race.  The pool appeared ­but not as she had known it, for it boiled and heaved, bubbled and rose.  From its lowest depths it was moved to meet and receive her!  Coil upon coil it lifted itself into the air, towering like a waterspout, then stretched out a long, writhing, shivering neck to take her from the invisible arms that bore her to her doom.  The neck shot out a head, and the head shot out the tongue of a water-snake.  She shrieked and woke, bathed in terror.

With the memory of the dream not a little of its horror returned; she rose to shake it off, and went to the window.  What did she see there?  The fearsome pool had entered the garden, had come half-way to the house, and was plainly rising every moment.  More or less the pool had haunted her ever since she came; she had seldom dared go nearer it than half-way down the garden.  But for the dulling influence of her misery, it would have been an unendurable horror to her, now it was coming to fetch her as she had seen it in her warning dream!  Her brain reeled; for a moment she gazed paralyzed with horror, then turned from the window, and, with almost the conviction that the fiend of her vision was pursuing her, fled from the house, and across the park, through the sheets of rain, to the gate-lodge, nor stopped until, all unaware of having once thought of him in her terror, she stood at the door of Polwarth’s cottage.

Ruth was darting toward her with outstretched hands, when her uncle stopped her.

“Ruth, my child,” he said, “run and light a fire in the parlor.  I will welcome our visitor.”

She turned instantly, and left the room.  Then Polwarth went up to Juliet, who stood trembling, unable to utter a word, and said, with perfect old-fashioned courtesy, “You are heartily welcome, ma’am.  I sent Ruth away that I might first assure you that you are as safe with her as with me.  Sit here a moment, ma’am.  You are so wet, I dare not place you nearer to the fire. ­Ruth!”

She came instantly.

“Ruth,” he repeated, “this lady is Mrs. Faber.  She is come to visit us for a while.  Nobody must know of it. ­You need not be at all uneasy, Mrs. Faber.  Not a soul will come near us to-day.  But I will lock the door, to secure time, if any one should. ­You will get Mrs. Faber’s room ready at once, Ruth.  I will come and help you.  But a spoonful of brandy in hot water first, please. ­Let me move your chair a little, ma’am ­out of the draught.”

Juliet in silence did every thing she was told, received the prescribed antidote from Ruth, and was left alone in the kitchen.

But the moment she was freed from one dread, she was seized by another; suspicion took the place of terror; and as soon as she heard the toiling of the goblins up the creaking staircase, she crept to the foot of it after them, and with no more compunction than a princess in a fairy-tale, set herself to listen.  It was not difficult, for the little inclosed staircase carried every word to the bottom of it.

“I thought she wasn’t dead!” she heard Ruth exclaim joyfully; and the words and tone set her wondering.

“I saw you did not seem greatly astonished at the sight of her; but what made you think such an unlikely thing?” rejoined her uncle.

“I saw you did not believe she was dead.  That was enough for me.”

“You are a witch, Ruth!  I never said a word one way or the other.”

“Which showed that you were thinking, and made me think.  You had something in your mind which you did not choose to tell me yet.”

“Ah, child!” rejoined her uncle, in a solemn tone, “how difficult it is to hide any thing!  I don’t think God wants any thing hidden.  The light is His region, His kingdom, His palace-home.  It can only be evil, outside or in, that makes us turn from the fullest light of the universe.  Truly one must be born again to enter into the kingdom!”

Juliet heard every word, heard and was bewildered.  The place in which she had sought refuge was plainly little better than a kobold-cave, yet merely from listening to the talk of the kobolds without half understanding it, she had begun already to feel a sense of safety stealing over her, such as she had never been for an instant aware of in the Old House, even with Dorothy beside her.

They went on talking, and she went on listening.  They were so much her inferiors there could be no impropriety in doing so!

“The poor lady,” she heard the man-goblin say, “has had some difference with her husband; but whether she wants to hide from him or from the whole world or from both, she only can tell.  Our business is to take care of her, and do for her what God may lay to our hand.  What she desires to hide, is sacred to us.  We have no secrets of our own, Ruth, and have the more room for those of other people who are unhappy enough to have any.  Let God reveal what He pleases:  there are many who have no right to know what they most desire to know.  She needs nursing, poor thing!  We will pray to God for her.”

“But how shall we make her comfortable in such a poor little house?” returned Ruth.  “It is the dearest place in the world to me ­but how will she feel in it?”

“We will keep her warm and clean,” answered her uncle, “and that is all an angel would require.”

“An angel! ­yes,” answered Ruth:  “for angels don’t eat; or, at least, if they do, for I doubt if you will grant that they don’t, I am certain that they are not so hard to please as some people down here.  The poor, dear lady is delicate ­you know she has always been ­and I am not much of a cook.”

“You are a very good cook, my dear.  Perhaps you do not know a great many dishes, but you are a dainty cook of those you do know.  Few people can have more need than we to be careful what they eat, ­we have got such a pair of troublesome cranky little bodies; and if you can suit them, I feel sure you will be able to suit any invalid that is not fastidious by nature rather than necessity.”

“I will do my best,” said Ruth cheerily, comforted by her uncle’s confidence.  “The worst is that, for her own sake, I must not get a girl to help me.”

“The lady will help you with her own room,” said Polwarth.  “I have a shrewd notion that it is only the fine ladies, those that are so little of ladies that they make so much of being ladies, who mind doing things with their own hands.  Now you must go and make her some tea, while she gets in bed.  She is sure to like tea best.”

Juliet retreated noiselessly, and when the woman-gnome entered the kitchen, there sat the disconsolate lady where she had left her, still like the outcast princess of a fairy-tale:  she had walked in at the door, and they had immediately begun to arrange for her stay, and the strangest thing to Juliet was that she hardly felt it strange.  It was only as if she had come a day sooner than she was expected ­which indeed was very much the case, for Polwarth had been looking forward to the possibility, and latterly to the likelihood of her becoming their guest.

“Your room is ready now,” said Ruth, approaching her timidly, and looking up at her with her woman’s childlike face on the body of a child.  “Will you come?”

Juliet rose and followed her to the garret-room with the dormer window, in which Ruth slept.

“Will you please get into bed as fast as you can,” she said, “and when you knock on the floor I will come and take away your clothes and get them dried.  Please to wrap this new blanket round you, lest the cold sheets should give you a chill.  They are well aired, though.  I will bring you a hot bottle, and some tea.  Dinner will be ready soon.”

So saying she left the chamber softly.  The creak of the door as she closed it, and the white curtains of the bed and window, reminded Juliet of a certain room she once occupied at the house of an old nurse, where she had been happier than ever since in all her life, until her brief bliss with Faber:  she burst into tears, and weeping undressed and got into bed.  There the dryness and the warmth and the sense of safety soothed her speedily; and with the comfort crept in the happy thought that here she lay on the very edge of the high road to Glaston, and that nothing could be more probable than that she would soon see her husband ride past.  With that one hope she could sit at a window watching for centuries!  “O Paul!  Paul! my Paul!” she moaned.  “If I could but be made clean again for you!  I would willingly be burned at the stake, if the fire would only make me clean, for the chance of seeing you again in the other world!” But as the comfort into her brain, so the peace of her new surroundings stole into her heart.  The fancy grew upon her that she was in a fairy-tale, in which she must take every thing as it came, for she could not alter the text.  Fear vanished; neither staring eyes nor creeping pool could find her in the guardianship of the benevolent goblins.  She fell fast asleep; and the large, clear, gray eyes of the little woman gnome came and looked at her as she slept, and their gaze did not rouse her.  Softly she went, and came again; but, although dinner was then ready, Ruth knew better than to wake her.  She knew that sleep is the chief nourisher in life’s feast, and would not withdraw the sacred dish.  Her uncle said sleep was God’s contrivance for giving man the help he could not get into him while he was awake.  So the loving gnomes had their dinner together, putting aside the best portions of it against the waking of the beautiful lady lying fast asleep above.