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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPaul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 25. Osterfield Park
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Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 25. Osterfield Park Post by :Sunil_Tanna Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2830

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Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 25. Osterfield Park


It was a long time since Mr. Drake and Dorothy had had such a talk together, or had spent such a pleasant evening as that on which they went into Osterfield Park to be alone with a knowledge of their changed fortunes. The anxiety of each, differing so greatly from that of the other, had tended to shut up each in loneliness beyond the hearing of the other; so that, while there was no breach in their love, it was yet in danger of having long to endure

"an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat."

But this evening their souls rushed together. The father's anxiety was chiefly elevated; the daughter's remained much what it was before; yet these anxieties no longer availed to keep them apart.

Each relation of life has its peculiar beauty of holiness; but that beauty is the expression of its essential truth, and the essence itself is so strong that it bestows upon its embodiment even the power of partial metamorphosis with all other vital relations. How many daughters have in the devotion of their tenderness, become as mothers to their own fathers! Who has not known some sister more of a wife to a man than she for whose sake he neglected her? But it will take the loves of all the relations of life gathered in one, to shadow the love which, in the kingdom of heaven, is recognized as due to each from each human being _per se_. It is for the sake of the essential human, that all human relations and all forms of them exist--that we may learn what it is, and become capable of loving it aright.

Dorothy would now have been as a mother to her father, had she had but a good hope, if no more, of finding her Father in heaven. She was not at peace enough to mother any body. She had indeed a grasp of the skirt of His robe--only she could not be sure it was not the mere fringe of a cloud she held. Not the less was her father all her care, and pride, and joy. Of his faults she saw none: there was enough of the noble and generous in him to hide them from a less partial beholder than a daughter. They had never been serious in comparison with his virtues. I do not mean that every fault is not so serious that a man must be willing to die twenty deaths to get rid of it; but that, relatively to the getting rid of it, a fault is serious or not, in proportion to the depth of its root, rather than the amount of its foliage. Neither can that be the worst-conditioned fault, the man's own suspicion of which would make him hang his head in shame; those are his worst faults which a man will start up to defend; those are the most dangerous moral diseases whose symptoms are regarded as the signs of health.

Like lovers they walked out together, with eyes only for each other, for the good news had made them shy--through the lane, into the cross street, and out into Pine street, along which they went westward, meeting the gaze of the low sun, which wrapped them round in a veil of light and dark, for the light made their eyes dark, so that they seemed feeling their way out of the light into the shadow.

"This is like life," said the pastor, looking down at the precious face beside him: "our eyes can best see from under the shadow of afflictions."

"I would rather it were from under the shadow of God's wings," replied Dorothy timidly.

"So it is! so it is! Afflictions are but the shadow of His wings," said her father eagerly. "Keep there, my child, and you will never need the afflictions I have needed. I have been a hard one to save."

But the child thought within herself, "Alas, father! you have never had any afflictions which you or I either could not bear tenfold better than what I have to bear." She was perhaps right. Only she did not know that when she got through, all would be transfigured with the light of her resurrection, just as her father's poverty now was in the light of his plenty.

Little more passed between them in the street. All the way to the entrance of the park they were silent. There they exchanged a few words with the sweet-faced little dwarf-woman that opened the gate, and those few words set the currents of their thoughts singing yet more sweetly as they flowed. They entered the great park, through the trees that bordered it, still in silence, but when they reached the wide expanse of grass, with its clumps of trees and thickets, simultaneously they breathed a deep breath of the sweet wind, and the fountains of their deeps were broken up. The evening was lovely, they wandered about long in delight, and much was the trustful converse they held. It was getting dark before they thought of returning.

The father had been telling the daughter how he had mourned and wept when his boys were taken from him, never thinking at all of the girl who was left him.

"And now," he said, "I would not part with my Dorothy to have them back the finest boys in the world. What would my old age be without you, my darling?"

Dorothy's heart beat high. Surely there must be a Father in heaven too! They walked a while in a great silence, for the heart of each was full. And all the time scarce an allusion had been made to the money.

As they returned they passed the new house, at some distance, on the highest point in the park. It stood unfinished, with all its windows boarded up.

"The walls of that house," said Mr. Drake, "were scarcely above ground when I came to Glaston. So they had been for twenty years, and so they remained until, as you remember, the building was recommenced some three or four years ago. Now, again, it is forsaken, and only the wind is at home in it."

"They tell me the estate is for sale," said Dorothy. "Those building-lots, just where the lane leads into Pine street, I fancy belong to it."

"I wish," returned her father, "they would sell me that tumble-down place in the hollow they call the Old House of Glaston. I shouldn't mind paying a good sum for it. What a place it would be to live in! And what a pleasure there would be in the making of it once more habitable, and watching order dawn out of neglect!"

"It would be delightful," responded Dorothy. "When I was a child, it was one of my dreams that that house was my papa's--with the wild garden and all the fruit, and the terrible lake, and the ghost of the lady that goes about in the sack she was drowned in. But would you really buy it, father, if you could get it?"

"I think I should, Dorothy," answered Mr. Drake.

"Would it not be damp--so much in the hollow? Is it not the lowest spot in the park?"

"In the park--yes; for the park drains into it. But the park lies high; and you must note that the lake, deep as it is--very deep, yet drains into the Lythe. For all they say of no bottom to it, I am nearly sure the deepest part of the lake is higher than the surface of the river. If I am right, then we could, if we pleased, empty the lake altogether--not that I should like the place nearly so well without it. The situation is charming--and so sheltered!--looking full south--just the place to keep open house in!"

"That is just like you, father!" cried Dorothy, clapping her hands once and holding them together as she looked up at him. "The very day you are out of prison, you want to begin to keep an open house!--Dear father!"

"Don't mistake me, my darling. There was a time, long ago, after your mother was good enough to marry me, when--I am ashamed to confess it even to you, my child--I did enjoy making a show. I wanted people to see, that, although I was a minister of a sect looked down upon by the wealthy priests of a worldly establishment, I knew how to live after the world's fashion as well as they. That time you will scarcely recall, Dorothy?"

"I remember the coachman's buttons," answered Dorothy.

"Well! I suppose it will be the same with not a few times and circumstances we may try to recall in the other world. Some insignificant thing will be all, and fittingly too, by which we shall be able to identify them.--I liked to give nice dinner parties, and we returned every invitation we accepted. I took much pains to have good wines, and the right wines with the right dishes, and all that kind of thing--though I dare say I made more blunders than I knew. Your mother had been used to that way of living, and it was no show in her as it was in me. Then I was proud of my library and the rare books in it. I delighted in showing them, and talking over the rarity of this edition, the tallness of that copy, the binding, and such-like follies. And where was the wonder, seeing I served religion so much in the same way--descanting upon the needlework that clothed the king's daughter, instead of her inward glory! I do not say always, for I had my better times. But how often have I not insisted on the mint and anise and cummin, and forgotten the judgment, mercy and faith! How many sermons have I not preached about the latchets of Christ's shoes, when I might have been talking about Christ himself! But now I do not want a good house to make a show with any more: I want to be hospitable. I don't call giving dinners being hospitable. I would have my house a hiding-place from the wind, a covert from the tempest. That would be to be hospitable. Ah! if your mother were with us, my child! But you will be my little wife, as you have been for so many years now.--God keeps open house; I should like to keep open house.--I wonder does any body ever preach hospitality as a Christian duty?"

"I hope you won't keep a butler, and set up for grand, father," said Dorothy.

"Indeed I will not, my child. I would not run the risk of postponing the pleasure of the Lord to that of inhospitable servants. I will look to you to keep a warm, comfortable, welcoming house, and such servants only as shall be hospitable in heart and behavior, and make no difference between the poor and the rich."

"I can't feel that any body is poor," said Dorothy, after a pause, "except those that can't be sure of God.--They are so poor!" she added.

"You are right, my child!" returned her father. "It was not my poverty--it was not being sure of God that crushed me.--How long is it since I was poor, Dorothy?"

"Two days, father--not two till to-morrow morning."

"It looks to me two centuries. My mind is at ease, and I have not paid a debt yet! How vile of me to want the money in my own hand, and not be content it should be in God's pocket, to come out just as it was wanted! Alas! I have more faith in my uncle's leavings than in my Father's generosity! But I must not forget gratitude in shame. Come, my child--no one can see us--let us kneel down here on the grass and pray to God who is in yon star just twinkling through the gray, and in my heart and in yours, my child."

I will not give the words of the minister's prayer. The words are not the prayer. Mr. Drake's words were commonplace, with much of the conventionality and platitude of prayer-meetings. He had always objected to the formality of the Prayer-book, but the words of his own prayers without book were far more formal; the prayer itself was in the heart, not on the lips, and was far better than the words. But poor Dorothy heard only the words, and they did not help her. They seemed rather to freeze than revive her faith, making her feel as if she never could believe in the God of her father. She was too unhappy to reason well, or she might have seen that she was not bound to measure God by the way her father talked to him--that the form of the prayer had to do with her father, not immediately with God--that God might be altogether adorable, notwithstanding the prayers of all heathens and of all saints.

Their talk turned again upon the Old House of Glaston.

"If it be true, as I have heard ever since I came," said Mr. Drake, "that Lord de Barre means to pull down the house and plow up the garden, and if he be so short of money as they say, he might perhaps take a few thousands for it. The Lythe bounds the estate, and there makes a great loop, so that a portion might be cut off by a straight line from one arm of the curve to the other, which would be quite outside the park. I will set some inquiry on foot. I have wished for a long time to leave the river, only we had a lease. The Old House is nothing like so low as the one we are in now. Besides, as I propose, we should have space to build, if we found it desirable, on the level of the park."

When they reached the gate on their return, a second dwarfish figure, a man, pigeon-chested, short-necked, and asthmatic--a strange, gnome-like figure, came from the lodge to open it. Every body in Glaston knew Polwarth the gatekeeper.

"How is the asthma to-night, Mr. Polwarth?" said the pastor. He had not yet got rid of the tone in which in his young days he had been accustomed to address the poor of his flock--a tone half familiar, half condescending. To big ships barnacles will stick--and may add weeks to the length of a voyage too.

"Not very bad, thank you, Mr. Drake. But, bad or not, it is always a friendly devil," answered the little man.

"I am ast---- a little surprised to hear you use such----express yourself so, Mr. Polwarth," said the minister.

The little man laughed a quiet, huskily melodious, gently merry laugh.

"I am not original in the idea, and scarcely so in my way of expressing it. I am sorry you don't like it, Mr. Drake," he said. "I found it in the second epistle to the Corinthians last night, and my heart has been full of it ever since. It is surely no very bad sign if the truth should make us merry at a time! It ought to do so, I think, seeing merriment is one of the lower forms of bliss."

"I am at a loss to understand you, Mr. Polwarth," said the minister.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Drake. I will come to the point. In the passage I refer to St. Paul says: 'There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure:'--am I not right in speaking of such a demon as a friendly one? He was a gift from God."

"I had not observed--that is, I had not taken particular notice of the unusual combination of phrases in the passage," answered Mr. Drake. "It is a very remarkable one, certainly. I remember no other in which a messenger of Satan is spoken of as being _given by God."

"Clearly, sir, St. Paul accepted him as something to be grateful for, so soon as his mission was explained to him; and after that, who is to say what may not be a gift of God! It won't do to grumble at any thing--will it, sir?--when it may so unexpectedly turn out to be _given to us by God. I begin to suspect that never, until we see a thing plainly a gift of God, can we be sure that we see it right. I am quite certain the most unpleasant things may be such gifts. I should be glad enough to part with this asthma of mine, if it pleased God it should depart from me; but would I yield a fraction of what it has brought me, for the best lungs in England? I trow not!"

"You are a happy man, Mr. Polwarth--if you can say that and abide by it."

"I _am a happy man, sir. I don't know what would come of me sometimes, for very gladness, if I hadn't my good friend, the asthma-devil, to keep me down a bit. Good night, sir," he added, for Mr. Drake was already moving away.

He felt superior to this man, set him down as forward, did not quite approve of him. Always ready to judge involuntarily from externals, he would have been shocked to discover how much the deformity of the man, which caused him discomfort, prejudiced him also against him. Then Polwarth seldom went to a place of worship, and when he did, went to church! A cranky, visionary, talkative man, he was in Mr. Drake's eyes. He set him down as one of those mystical interpreters of the Word, who are always searching it for strange things, whose very insight leads them to vagary, blinding them to the relative value of things. It is amazing from what a mere fraction of fact concerning him, a man will dare judge the whole of another man. In reality, little Polwarth could have carried big Drake to the top of any hill Difficulty, up which, in his spiritual pilgrimage, he had yet had to go panting and groaning--and to the top of many another besides, within sight even of which the minister would never come in this world.

"He is too ready with his spiritual experience, that little man!--too fond of airing it," said the minister to his daughter. "I don't quite know what to make of him. He is a favorite with Mr. Wingfold; but my experience makes me doubtful. I suspect prodigies."

Now Polwarth was not in the habit of airing his religious experiences; but all Glaston could see that the minister was in trouble, and he caught at the first opportunity he had of showing his sympathy with him, offering him a share of the comfort he had just been receiving himself. He smiled at its apparent rejection, and closed the gate softly, saying to himself that the good man would think of it yet, he was sure.

Dorothy took little interest in Polwarth, little therefore in her father's judgment of him. But, better even than Wingfold himself, that poor physical failure of a man could have helped her from under every gravestone that was now crushing the life out of her--not so much from superiority of intellect, certainly not from superiority of learning, but mainly because he was alive all through, because the life eternal pervaded every atom of his life, every thought, every action. Door nor window of his being had a lock to it! All of them were always on the swing to the wind that bloweth where it listeth. Upon occasions when most would seek refuge from the dark sky and gusty weather of trouble, by hiding from the messengers of Satan in the deepest cellar of their hearts, there to sit grumbling, Polwarth always went out into the open air. If the wind was rough, there was none the less life in it: the breath of God, it was rough to blow the faults from him, genial to put fresh energy in him; if the rain fell, it was the water of cleansing and growth. Misfortune he would not know by that name: there was no _mis but in himself, and that the messenger of Satan was there to buffet. So long as God was, all was right. No wonder the minister then was incapable of measuring the gate-keeper! But Polwarth was right about him--as he went home he pondered the passage to which he had referred him, wondering whether he was to regard the fortune sent him as a messenger of Satan given to buffet him.

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