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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 15
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The Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 15 Post by :Prd2BHawn Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :3267

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The Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 15

CHAPTER XV.

There were many things at that time that were full of mystery, things which I never came to understand. There was in particular a certain sort of people, whom one met occasionally, for whom I could never wholly account. They were unlike others in this fact, that they never appeared to belong to any particular place or community. They were both men and women, who seemed--I can express it in no other way--to be in the possession of a secret so great that it made everything else trivial and indifferent to them. Not that they were impatient or contemptuous--it was quite the other way; but to use a similitude, they were like good-natured, active, kindly elders at a children's party. They did not shun conversation, but if one talked with them, they used a kind of tender and gentle irony, which had something admiring and complimentary about it, which took away any sense of vexation or of baffled curiosity. It was simply as though their concern lay elsewhere; they joined in anything with a frank delight, not with any touch of condescension. They were even more kindly and affectionate than others, because they did not seem to have any small problems of their own, and could give their whole attention and thought to the person they were with. These inscrutable people puzzled me very much. I asked Amroth about them once.

"Who are these people," I said, "whom one sometimes meets, who are so far removed from all of us? What are they doing here?"

Amroth smiled. "So you have detected them!" he said. "You are quite right, and it does your observation credit. But you must find it out for yourself. I cannot explain, and if I could, you would not understand me yet."

"Then I am not mistaken," I said, "but I wish you would give me a hint--they seem to know something more worth knowing than all beside."

"Exactly," said Amroth. "You are very near the truth; it is staring you in the face; but it would spoil all if I told you. There is plenty about them in the old books you used to read--they have the secret of joy." And that is all that he would say.

It was on a solitary ramble one day, outside of the place of delight, that I came nearer to one of these people than I ever did at any other time. I had wandered off into a pleasant place of grassy glades with little thorn-thickets everywhere. I went up a small eminence, which commanded a view of the beautiful plain with its blue distance and the enamelled green foreground of close-grown coverts. There I sat for a long time lost in pleasant thought and wonder, when I saw a man drawing near, walking slowly and looking about him with a serene and delighted air. He passed not far from me, and observing me, waved a hand of welcome, came up the slope, and greeting me in a friendly and open manner, asked if he might sit with me for a little.

"This is a pleasant place," he said, "and you seem very agreeably occupied."

"Yes," I said, looking into his smiling face, "one has no engagements here, and no need of business to fill the time--but indeed I am not sure that I am busy enough." As I spoke I was regarding him with some curiosity. He was a man of mature age, with a strong, firm-featured face, healthy and sunburnt of aspect, and he was dressed, not as I was for ease and repose, but with the garments of a traveller. His hat, which was large and of some soft grey cloth, was pushed to his back, and hung there by a cord round his neck. His hair was a little grizzled, and lay close-curled to his head; in his strong and muscular hand he carried a stick. He smiled again at my words, and said:

"Oh, one need not trouble about being busy until the time comes; that is a feeling one inherits from the life of earth, and I am sure you have not left it long. You have a very fresh air about you, as if you had rested, and rested well."

"Yes, I have rested," I said; "but though I am content enough, there is something unquiet in me, I am afraid!"

"Ah!" he said, "there is that in all of us, and it would not be well with us if there were not. Will you tell me a little about yourself? That is one of the pleasures of this life here, that we have no need to be cautious, or to fear that we shall give ourselves away."

I told him my adventures, and he listened with serious attention.

"Ah, that is all very good," he said at last, "but you must not be in any hurry; it is a great thing that ideas should dawn upon us gradually--one gets the full truth of them so. It was the hurry of life which was so bewildering--the shocks, the surprises, the ugly reflections of one's conduct that one saw in other lives--the corners one had to turn. Things, indeed, come suddenly even here, but one is led up to them gently enough; allowed to enter the sea for oneself, not soused and ducked in it. You will need all the strength you can store up for what is before you, and I can see in your face that you are storing up strength--but the weariness is not quite gone out of your mind."

He was silent for a little, musing, till I said, "Will you not tell me some of your own adventures? I am sure from your look that you have them; and you are a pilgrim, it seems. Where are you bound?"

"Oh," he said lightly, "I am not one of the people who have adventures--just the journey and the talk beside the way."

"But," I said, "I have seen some others like you, and I am puzzled about it. You seem, if I may say so--I do not mean anything disrespectful or impertinent--to be like the gipsies whom one meets in quiet country places, with a secret knowledge of their own, a pride too great to be worth expressing, not anxious about life, not weary or dissatisfied, caring not for localities or possessions, but with a sort of eager pleasure in freedom and movement."

He laughed. "Yes," he said, "you are right! I am no doubt a sort of nomad, as you say, detached from life perhaps. I don't know that it is desirable; there is a great deal to be said for living in the same place and loving the same things. Most people are happier so, and learn what they have to learn in that manner."

"Yes," I said, "that is true and beautiful--the same old house, the same trees and pastures, the stream and the water-plants that hide it, the blue hills beyond the nearer wood--the dear familiar things; but even so the road which passes through the fields, over the bridge, up the covert-side ... it leads somewhere, and the heart on sunny days leaps up to follow it! Talking with you here, I feel a hunger for something wider and more free; your voice has the sound of the wind, with the secret knowledge of strange hill-tops and solitary seas! Sometimes the heart settles down upon what it knows and loves, but sometimes it reaches out to all the love and beauty hidden in the world, and in the waters beyond the world, and would embrace it all if it could. The faces one sees as one passes through unfamiliar cities or villages, how one longs to talk, to question, to ask what gave them the look they wear.... And you, if I may say it, seem to have passed beyond the need of wanting or desiring anything ... but I must not talk thus to a stranger; you must forgive me."

"Forgive you?" said the stranger; "that is only an earthly phrase--the old terror of indiscretion and caution. What are we here for but to get acquainted with one another--to let our inmost thoughts talk together? In the world we are bounded by time and space, and we have the terror of each other's glances and exteriors to contend with. We make friends on earth in spite of our limitations; but in heaven we get to know each other's hearts; and that blessing goes back with us to the dim fields and narrow houses of the earth. I see plainly enough that you are not perfectly happy; but one can only win content through discontent. Where you are now, you are not in accord with the souls about you. Never mind that! There are beautiful spirits within reach of your hand and heart; a little clouded by mistaking the quality of joy, no doubt, but great and everlasting for all that. You must try to draw near to them, and find spirits to love. Do you not remember in the days of earth how one felt sometimes in an unfamiliar place--among a gathering of strangers--at church perhaps, or at some school which one visited, where one saw the young faces, which showed so clearly, before the world had stamped itself in frowns and heaviness upon them, the quality of the soul within? Don't you remember the feeling at such times of how many there were in the world whom one might love, if one had leisure and opportunity and energy? Well, there is no need to resist that, or to deplore it here; one may go where one's will inclines one, and speak as one's heart tells one to speak. I think you are perhaps too conscious of waiting for something. Your task lies ahead of you, but the work of love can begin at once and anywhere."

"Yes," I said, "I feel that now and here. Will you not tell me something of yourself in return? I cannot read your mind clearly--it is occupied with something I cannot grasp--what is your work in heaven?"

"Oh," he said lightly, "that is easy enough, and yet you would not understand it. I have been led through the shadow of fear, and I have passed out on the other side. And my duty is to release others from fear, as far as I can. It is the darkest shadow of all, because it dwells in the unknown. Pain, without it, is no suffering at all; indeed pain is almost a pleasure, when one knows what it is doing for one. But fear is the doubt whether pain or suffering are really helping us; and just as memory never has any touch of fear about it, so hope may likewise have done with fear."

"But how did you learn this?" I said.

"Only by fearing to the uttermost," he replied. "The power--it is not courage, because that only defies fear--cannot be given one; it must be painfully won. You remember the blessing of the pure in heart, that they shall see God? There would be little hope in that promise for the soul that knew itself to be impure, if it were not for the other side of it--that the vision of God, which is the most terrible of all things, can give purity to the most sin-stained soul. In that vision, all desire and all fear have an end, because there is nothing left either to desire or to dread. That vision we may delay or hasten. We may delay it, if we allow our prudence, or our shame, or our comfort, to get in the way: we may hasten it, if we cast ourselves at every moment of our pilgrimage upon the mercy and the love of God. His one desire is that we should be satisfied; and if He seems to put obstacles in our way, to keep us waiting, to permit us to be miserable, that is only that we may learn to cast ourselves into love and service--which is the one way to His heart. But now I must be going, for I have said all that you can bear. Will you remember this--not to reserve yourself, not to think others unworthy or hostile, but to cast your love and trust freely and lavishly, everywhere and anywhere? We must gather nothing, hold on to nothing, just give ourselves away at every moment, flowing like the stream into every channel that is open, withholding nothing, retaining nothing. I see," he added, "very great and beautiful things ahead of you, and very sad and painful things as well. But you are close to the light, and it is breaking all about you with a splendour which you cannot guess."

He rose up, he took my hand in his own and laid the other on my brow, and I felt his heart go out to mine and gather me to him, as a child is gathered to a father's arms. And then he went silently and lightly upon his way.

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