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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Rough Shaking - Chapter 4. The New Family
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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 4. The New Family Post by :tripro Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2499

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A Rough Shaking - Chapter 4. The New Family

Chapter IV. The new family

How shall a man describe what passed in the mind of a childless wife, with a motherless boy in her arms! It is the loveliest provision, doubtless, that every child should have a mother of his own; but there is a mother-love--which I had almost called more divine--the love, namely, that a woman bears to a child because he is a child, regardless of whether he be her own or another's. It is that they may learn to love thus, that women have children. Some women love so without having any. No conceivable treasure of the world could have once entered into comparison with the burden of richness Mrs. Porson bore. She told afterward, with voice hushed by fear of irreverence, how, as they went down one of the hills, she slept for a moment, and dreamed that she was Mary with the holy thing in her arms, fleeing to Egypt on the ass, with Joseph, her husband, walking by her side. For years and years they had been longing for a child--and here lay the divinest little one, with every mark of the kingdom upon him! His father and mother lying crushed under the fallen dome of that fearful church, was it strange he should seem to belong to her?

But there might be some one somewhere in the world with a better claim; possibly--horrible thought!--with more need of him than she! Up started a hideous cupidity, a fierce temptation to dishonesty, such as she had never imagined. We do not know what is in us until the temptation comes. Then there is the devil to fight. And Mrs. Porson fought him.

Mr. Porson was, in a milder degree, affected much as his wife. He could not help wishing, nor was he wrong in wishing, that, since the child's father and mother were gone, they might take their place, and love their orphan. They were far from rich, but what was one child! They might surely manage to give him a good education, and set him doing for himself! But, alas, there might be others--others with love-property in the child! The same thoughts were working in each, but neither dared utter them in the presence of the sleeping treasure.

As they descended the last slope above the town, with the wide sea-horizon before them, they beheld such a glory of after-sunset as, even on that coast, was unusual. A chord of colour that might have been the prostrate fragment of a gigantic rainbow, lay along a large arc of the horizon. The farther portion of the sea was an indigo blue, save for a grayish line that parted it from the dusky red of the sky. This red faded up through orange and dingy yellow to a pale green and pale blue, above which came the depth of the blue night, in which rayed resplendent the evening star. Below the star and nearer to the west, lay, very thin and very long, the sickle of the new moon. If death be what it looks to the unthinking soul, and if the heavens declare the glory of God, as they do indeed to the heart that knows him, then is there discord between heaven and earth such as no argument can harmonize. But death is not what men think it, for "Blessed are they that mourn for the dead."

The sight enhanced the wonder and hope of the two honest good souls in the treasure they carried. Out of the bosom of the skeleton Death himself, had been given them--into their very arms--a germ of life, a jewel of heaven! At the thought of what lay up the hill behind them, they felt their joy in the child almost wicked; but if God had taken the child's father and mother, might they not be glad in the hope that he had chosen them to replace them? That he had for the moment at least, they were bound to believe!

They travelled slowly on, through the dying sunset, and an hour or two of the star-bright night that followed, adorned rather than lighted by the quaint boat of the crescent moon. Weary, but lapt in a voiceless triumph, they came at last, guided by the donkeys, to their hotel.

All were talking of the earthquake. A great part of the English had fled in a panic terror, like sheep that had no shepherd--hunted by their own fears, and betrayed by their imagined faith. The steadiest church-goer fled like the infidel he reviled. The fool said in his heart, "There is no God," and fled. The Christian said with his mouth, "Verily there is a God that ruleth in the earth!" and fled--far as he could from the place which, as he fancied, had shown signs of a special presence of the father of Jesus Christ.

After the Persons were in the house, there came two or three small shocks. Every time, out with a cry rushed the inhabitants into the streets; every time, out into the garden of the hotel swarmed such as were left in it of Germans and English. But our little couple, who had that day seen so much more of its terrors than any one else in the place, and whose chamber was at the top of the house where the swaying was worst, were too much absorbed in watching and tending their lovely boy to heed the earthquake. Perhaps their hearts whispered, "Can that which has given us such a gift be unfriendly?"

"If his father and mother," said Mrs. Person, as they stood regarding him, "are permitted to see their child, they shall see how we love him, and be willing he should love us!"

As they went up the stairs with him, the boy woke When he looked and saw a face that was not his mother's, a cloud swept across the heaven of his eyes. He closed them again, and did not speak. The first of the shocks came as they were putting him to bed: he turned very white and looked up fixedly, as if waiting another fall from above, but sat motionless on his new mother's lap. The instant the vibration and rocking ceased, he drank from the cup of milk she offered him, as quietly as if but a distant thunder had rolled away. When she put him in the bed, he looked at her with such an indescribable expression of bewildered loss, that she burst into tears. The child did not cry. He had not cried since they took him. The woman's heart was like to break for him, but she managed to say,

"God has taken her, my darling. He is keeping her for you, and I am going to keep you for her;" and with that she kissed him.

The same moment came the second shock.

Need wakes prophecy: the need of the child made of the parson a prophet.

"It is God that does the shaking," he said. "It's all right. Nobody will be the worse--not much, at least!"

"Not at all," rejoined the boy, and turned his face away.

From the lips of such a tiny child, the words seemed almost awful.

He fell fast asleep, and never woke till the morning. Mrs. Porson lay beside him, yielding him, stout as she was, a good half of the little Italian bed. She scarcely slept for excitement and fear of smothering him.

The Persons were honest people, and for all their desire to possess the child, made no secret of how and where they had found him, or of as much of his name as he could tell them, which was only _Clare_. But they never heard of inquiry after him. On the gunboat at Genoa they knew nothing of their commander's purposes, or where to seek him. Days passed before they began to be uneasy about him, and when they did make what search for him they could, it was fruitless.

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Chapter V. His new homeThe place to which the good people carried the gift of the earthquake--carried him with much anxiety and more exultation--had no very distinctive features. It had many fields in grass, many in crop, and some lying fallow--all softly undulating. It had some trees, and everywhere hedges dividing fields whose strange shapes witnessed to a complicated history, of which few could tell anything. Here and there in the hollows between the motionless earth-billows, flowed, but did not seem to flow, what they called a brook. But the brooks there were like deep soundless pools without beginning or end.
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Chapter III. Without his parentsThe sun in England seems to shine because he cannot help it; the sun in Italy seems to shine because he means it, and wants to mean it. Thus he shone the next morning, including in his attentions a curious little couple, husband and wife, who, attended by a guide, and borne by animals which might be mules and might be donkeys, and were not lovely to look on except through sympathy with their ugliness, were slowly ascending a steep terraced and zigzagged road, with olive trees above and below them. They were on the south side
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