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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 31. Wingfold And Barbara
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There & Back - Chapter 31. Wingfold And Barbara Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1866

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There & Back - Chapter 31. Wingfold And Barbara

CHAPTER XXXI. WINGFOLD AND BARBARA

The bickerings between her father and mother had had not a little to do with the peculiar features of Barbara's life in the colony. As soon as she saw a cloud rising, having learned by frequent experience what it was sure to result in, she would creep away, mount one of the many horses at her choice, and race from the house like a dog in terror, till she was miles from the spot where her father and mother would by that time be writhing in fiercest wordy warfare. What the object of their wrangling might be, she never inquired. It was plain to her almost from the first that nothing was gained by it beyond the silence of fatigue; and as that silence was always fruitful of new strife, it brought a comfort known to be but temporary. Had she not been accustomed to it from earliest childhood, it would have been terrible to her to see human lives going off in such a foul smoke of hell! Not a sentence was uttered by the one but was furiously felt as a wrong by the other--to be remorselessly met by wrong as flagrant, rousing in its turn the indignation of injury to a pain unendurable. It is strange that the man who most keenly feels the wrong done him, should so often be the most insensible to the wrong he does. So dominant is the unreason of the moment, that the injury he inflicts appears absolute justice, and the injury he suffers absolute injustice. Yet such disputes turn seldom upon the main point at issue between the parties; it may not even once be mentioned, while some new trifle is fought over with all the bitterness of the alienation that lies gnawing and biting and burning beneath. War is raging between kingdoms for the possession of a hovel, which possessed, the quarrel were no nearer settlement than before!

Hence it came that Barbara paid so little regard to her mother's challenge of the clergyman. Single combat of the sort she seemed to seek was an experience of Barbara's life too often recurrent to be interesting; the thunders of its artillery, near or afar, passed over her almost unheeded. She had indeed sufficient respect for the forms of religion to regret that her mother should make her behaviour in church the talk of the parish, and to be rather pleased that the clergyman should have had the best of it in his joust of arms with her, but further interest in the matter she scarcely took.

On a certain day, Miss Brown wanting at least one pair of new shoes, and her mistress cherishing the idea of a lesson in shoeing her, for which lesson arrangement had not even yet been made, Barbara, having been all the afternoon in the house, went out toward sunset, to have a walk with a book.

She was sauntering along a grassy road which, though within their own park, belonged to the public, when she almost ran against a man similarly occupied with herself, for he also was absorbed in the book he carried. I should like to know what two books brought them thus together! Each started back with an apology, then both burst into a modest laugh, which renewed itself with merrier ring, when the first and then the second attempt to pass, with all space for elbow-room, failed, and they stood opposite each other in a hopeless mental paralysis.

"Fate is opposed to our unneighbourliness!" said Mr. Wingfold. "She will not allow us to pass, and depart in peace! What do you say, Miss Wylder?--shall we yield or shall we resist?" As he spoke, he held out his hand.

Now Barbara was the last person in the world to refuse, without a painfully good reason, any offered hand. She had never seen cause to desire the acquaintance of a man because he was a clergyman; but neither had she any unwillingness, because he was a clergyman, to make his acquaintance; while to Thomas Wingfold she already felt some attraction: the strong little hand was in his immediately, and felt comfortable in the great honest clasp, which it returned heartily.

"I never saw you on your own feet before, Miss Wylder!" said the clergyman.

"Nor on anybody else's, I hope!" she returned.

"Oh, yes, indeed!--on Miss Brown's many a time!"

"You know Miss Brown then? She is my most intimate friend!"

"I am well aware of that! Everything worth knowing in the parish, and a good deal that is not, comes to my ears."

"May I hope you count Miss Brown's affairs worth hearing about, then?"

"Of course I do! Does not a lady call her friend, whose acquaintance I have long wished to make! and do I not know that Miss Brown loves her in return! I cannot help sometimes regretting for a moment that four-footed friends in general are so short-lived."

"Why only for a moment?" said Barbara.

"Because I remind myself that it must be best for them and us--best for the friendship between us, best for us every way. But indeed I have more to be thankful for in the relation than most people of my acquaintance, for I sometimes drive a pony yet that is over forty!"

"Forty years of age!"

"Yes."

"I should like to see that pony!"

"You shall see her, any day you will come to the parsonage. I will gladly introduce her to you, but it is getting rather late to desire her acquaintance: she does not see very well, and is not so good-tempered as she once was. But she will soon be better."

"How do you mean?"

"She has a process to go through out of which she will come ever so much the better."

"Good gracious! you're not going to have an operation performed on her--at _her age?"

"She is going to have her body stript off her!"

"Good gracious!" cried Barbara again, but with yet greater energy--then seeing what he meant, laughed at her mistake.

"But then," she said, with eager resumption, "you must believe there is something to strip her body off? _I do! I have always thought so!"

"So have I, and so I do indeed!" answered Wingfold. "I can't prove it. I can't prove anything--to my own satisfaction, that is, though I dare say I might to the satisfaction of one who did not love the creatures enough to be anxious about them. I don't think you can prove anything that is worth being anxious about."

"Then why do you believe it?" asked Barbara, influenced by the talk of the century.

"Because I _can_," answered Wingfold. "To believe and to be able to prove, have little or nothing to do with each other. To believe and to convince have much to do with each other."

"But," persisted Barbara, with Richard in her mind, "how are you to be sure of a thing you can't prove?"

"That's a good question, and this is my answer," said Wingfold:--"What you love, you already believe enough to put it to the proof of trial. My life is such a proving; and the proof is so promising that it fills me with the happiest hope. To prove with your brains the thing you love, would be to deck the garments of salvation with a useless fringe. Shall I search heaven and earth for proof that my wife is a good and lovely woman? The signs of it are everywhere; the proofs of it nowhere."

They walked along for a while, side by side, in silence. Which had turned and gone with the other neither knew. Barbara was beginning already to feel that safety which almost everybody sooner or later came to feel in Wingfold's company--a safety born of the sense that, in the closest talk, he never lay in wait for a victory, but took his companion, as one of his own people, into the end after which he was striving.

"Then," said Barbara at length, still thinking of Richard, "if you believe that even the beasts are saved, you must think it very bad of a man not to believe in a God!"

"I should think anyhow that he didn't care much about the beasts--that he hadn't a heart big enough to take the beasts in!"

"But he couldn't, you know, if he didn't believe in God!"

"I understand; only, if he loved the poor beasts very much, and thought what a bad time they have of it in the world, I don't know how he could help _hoping at least, that there was a God somewhere who would somehow make up to them for it all! For my own part I don't know how to be content except the beasts themselves, when it is all over and the good time come, are able to say, 'After all, it is well worth it, bad as it was!'"

"But what if it was just that suffering that made the man think there could not be a God, or he would put a stop to it?"

"That looks to me very close to believing in God."

"How do you make that out?"

"If a man believed in a God that did not heed the suffering of the creation, one who made men and women and beasts knowing that they must suffer, and suffer only--and went on believing so however you set him thinking about it, I should say to him, 'You believe in a devil, and so are in the way to become a devil yourself.' A thousand times rather would I believe that there was no God, and that the misery came by chance from which there was no escape. What I do believe is, that there is a God who is even now doing his best to take all men and all beasts out of the misery in which they find themselves."

"But why did he let them come into it?"

"That the God will tell them, to their satisfaction, so soon as ever they shall have become capable of understanding it. There must be things so entirely beyond our capacity, that we cannot now see enough of them to be able even to say that they are incomprehensible. There must be millions of truths that have not yet risen above the horizon of what we call the finite."

"Then you would not think a person so very, very wicked, for not believing in a God?"

"That depends on the sort of God he fancied himself asked to believe in. Would you call a Greek philosopher wicked for not believing in Mercury or Venus? If a man had the same notion of God that I have, or anything like it, and did not at least desire that there might be such a God, then I confess I should have difficulty in understanding how he could be good. But the God offered him might not be worth believing in, might even be such that it was a virtuous act to refuse to believe in him."

"One thing more, Mr. Wingfold--and you must not think I am arguing against you or against God, for if I thought there was no God, I should just take poison:--tell me, mightn't a man think the idea of such a God as you believe in, too good to be true?"

"I should need to know something of his history, rightly to understand that. Why should he be able to think anything too good to be true? Why should a thing not be true because it was good? It seems to me, if a thing be bad, it cannot possibly be true. If you say the thing is, I answer it exists because of something under the badness. Badness by itself can have no life in it. But if the man really thought as you suggest, I would say to him, 'You cannot _know such a being does not exist: is it possible you should be content that such a being should not exist? If such a being did exist, would you be content never to find him, but to go on for ever and ever saying, _He can't be! He can't be! He's so good he can't be! Supposing you find one day that there he is, will your defence before him be satisfactory to yourself: "There he is after all, but he was too good to believe in, therefore I did not try to find him"? Will you say to him--"_If you had not been so good, if you had been a little less good, a little worse, just a trifle bad, I could and would have believed in you?"_'"

"But if the man could not believe there was any such being, how could he have heart to look for him?"

"If he believed the idea of him so good, yet did not desire such a being enough to wish that he might be, enough to feel it worth his while to cry out, in some fashion or other, after him, then I could not help suspecting something wrong in his will, or his moral nature somewhere; or, perhaps, that the words he spoke were but words, and that he did not really and truly feel that the idea of such a God was too good to be true. In any such case his maker would not have cause to be satisfied with him. And if his maker was not satisfied with what he had made, do you think the man made would have cause to be satisfied with himself?"

"But if he was made so?"

"Then no good being, not to say a faithful creator, would blame him for what he could not help. If the God had made his creature incapable of knowing him, then of course the creature would not feel that he needed to know him. He would be where we generally imagine the lower animals--unable, therefore not caring to know who made him."

"But is not that just the point? A man may say truly, 'I don't feel I want to know anything about God; I do not believe I am made to understand him; I take no interest in the thought of a God'!"

"Before I could answer you concerning such a man, I should want to know whether he had not been doing as he knew he ought not to do, living as he knew he ought not to live, and spoiling himself, so spoiling the thing that God had made that, although naturally he would like to know about God, yet now, through having by wrong-doing injured his deepest faculty of understanding, he did not care to know anything concerning him."

"What could be done for such a man?"

"God knows--God _does know. I think he will make his very life a terrible burden, so that for pure misery he will cry to him."

"But suppose he was a man who tried to do right, who tried to help his neighbour, who was at least so far a good man as to deny the God that most people seem to believe in--what would you say then?"

"I would say, 'Have patience.' If there be a good God, he cannot be altogether dissatisfied with such a man. Of course it is something wanting that makes him like that, and it may be he is to blame, or it may be he can't help it: I do not know when any man has arrived at the point of development at which he is capable of believing in God: the child of a savage may be capable, and a gray-haired man of science incapable. If such a man says, 'The question of a God is not interesting to me,' I believe him; but, if he be such a man as you have last described, I believe also that, as God is taking care of him who is the God of patience, the time must come when something will make him want to know whether there be a God, and whether he cannot get near him, so as to be near him.' I would say, 'He is in God's school; don't be too much troubled about him, as if God might overlook and forget him. He will see to all that concerns him. He has made him, and he loves him, and he is doing and will do his very best for him.'"

"Oh, I am so glad to hear you speak like that!" cried Barbara. "I didn't know clergymen were like that! I'm sure they don't talk like that in the pulpit!"

"Well, you know a man can't just chat with his people in the pulpit as he may when he has one alone to himself! For, you see, there are hundreds there, and they are all very different, and that must make a difference in the way he can talk to them. There are multitudes who could not understand a word of what we have been saying to each, other! But if a clergyman says anything in the pulpit that differs in essence from what he says out of it, he is a false prophet, and has no business anywhere but in the realm of falsehood."

"Why is he in the church, then?"

"If there be any such man in the church of England, we have to ask first how he got into it. I used to think the bishop who ordained him must be to blame for letting such a man in. But I am told the bishops haven't the power to keep out any one who passes their examination, provided he is morally decent; and if that be true, I don't know what is to be done. What I know is, that I have enough to do with my parish, and that to mind my work is the best I can do to set the church right."

"I suppose the bishops--some of them at least--would say, 'If we do not take the men we can get, how is the work of the church to go on?'"

"I presume that even such bishops would allow that the business of the church is to teach men about God: that they cannot get men who know God, is a bad argument for employing men who do not know him to teach others about him. It is founded on utter distrust of God. I believe the only way to set the thing right is to refuse the bad that there may be room for God to send the good. By admitting the false they block the way for the true. But the poor bishops have great difficulties. I am glad I am not a bishop! My parish is nearly too much for me sometimes!"

Barbara could not help thinking how her mother alone had been almost too much for him.

Their talk the rest of the way was lighter and more general; and to her great joy Barbara discovered that the clergyman loved books the same way the bookbinder loved them. But she did not mention Richard.

The parson took leave of her at a convenient issue from the park. But before she had gone many steps he came running after her and said--

"By the way, Miss Wylder, here are some verses that may please you! We were talking about our hopes for the animals! I heard the story they are founded on the other day from my friend the dissenting minister of the village. The little daughter of Dr. Doddridge, the celebrated theologian, was overheard asking the dog if he knew who made him. Receiving no reply, she said what you will find written there as the text of the poem."

He put a paper in her hand, and left her. She opened it, and found what follows:--


DR. DODDRIDGE'S DOG.

"What! you Dr. Doddridge's dog, and not know who made you!"

My little dog, who blessed you
With such white toothy-pegs?
And who was it that dressed you
In such a lot of legs!

I'm sure he never told you
Not to speak when spoken to!
But it's not for me to scold you:--
Dogs bark, and pussies mew!

I'll tell you, little brother,
In case you do not know:--
One only, not another,
Could make us two just so.

You love me?--Quiet!--I'm proving!--
It must be God above
That, filled those eyes with loving!--
He was the first to love!

One day he'll stop all sadness--
Hark to the nightingale!
Oh blessed God of gladness!--
Come, doggie, wag your tail!

That's "Thank you, God!"--He gave you
Of life this little taste;
And with more life he'll save you,
Not let you go to waste!

So we'll live on together,
And share our bite and sup;
Until he says, "Come hither,"--
And lifts us both high up!


Barbara was so much pleased with the verses that she thought them a great deal better than they were.

Wingfold walked home thinking how, in his dull parish, where so few seemed to care whether they were going back to be monkeys or on to be men, he had yet found two such interesting young people as Richard and Barbara.

He had come upon Richard again at his grandfather's, had had a little more talk with him, and had found him not so far from the kingdom of heaven but that he cared to deny a false god; and he had just discovered in Barbara, who so seldom went to church and who came of such strange parents, one in whom the love of God was not merely innate, but keenly alive. The heart of the one recoiled from a God that was not; the heart of the other was drawn to a God of whom she knew little: were not the two upon converging tracks? What to most clergymen would have seemed the depth of a winter of unbelief, seemed to Wingfold a springtime full of the sounds of the rising sap.

"What man," he said to himself, "knowing the care that some men have of their fellow-men, even to the spending of themselves for them, can doubt that, loving the children, they must one day love the father! Who more welcome to the heart of the eternal father, than the man who loves his brother, whom also the unchanging father loves!"

Personally, I find the whole matter of religious teaching and observance in general a very dull business--as dull as most secular teaching. If salvation is anything like what are commonly considered its _means_, it is to me a consummation devoutly to be deprecated. But no one ever found Wingfold dull. For one thing he scarcely thought about the church, and never mistook it for the kingdom of God. Its worldly affairs gave him no concern, and party-spirit was loathsome to him as the very antichrist. He was a servant of the church universal, of all that believed or ever would believe in the Lord Christ, therefore of all men, of the whole universe--and first, of every man, woman, and child in his own parish. But though he was the servant of the boundless church, no church was his master. He had no master but the one lord of life. Therefore the so-called prosperity of the church did not interest him. He knew that the Master works from within outward, and believed no danger possible to the church, except from such of its nominal pastors as know nothing of the life that works leavening from within. The will of God was all Wingfold cared about, and if the church was not content with that, the church was nothing to him, and might do to him as it would. He did not spend his life for the people because he was a parson, but he was a parson because the church of England gave him facilities for spending his life for the people. He gave himself altogether to the Lord, and therefore to his people. He believed in Jesus Christ as the everyday life of the world, whose presence is just us needful in bank, or shop, or house of lords, as at what so many of the clergy call the altar. When the Lord is known as the heart of every joy, as well as the refuge from every sorrow, then the altar will be known for what it is--an ecclesiastical antique. The Father permitted but never ordained sacrifice; in tenderness to his children he ordered the ways of their unbelieving belief. So at least thought and said Wingfold, and if he did not say so in the pulpit, it was not lest his fellows should regard him as a traitor, but because so few of his people would understand. He would spend no strength in trying to shore up the church; he sent his life-blood through its veins, and his appeal to the Living One, for whose judgment he waited.

The world would not perish if what is called the church did go to pieces; a truer church, for there might well be a truer, would arise out of her ruins. But let no one seek to destroy; let him that builds only take heed that he build with gold and silver and precious stones, not with wood and hay and stubble! If the church were so built, who could harm it! if it were not in part so built, it would be as little worth pulling down as letting stand. There is in it a far deeper and better vitality than its blatant supporters will be able to ruin by their advocacy, or the enviers of its valueless social position by their assaults upon that position.

Wingfold never thought of associating the anxiety of the heiress with the unbelief of the bookbinder. He laughed a laugh of delight when afterward he learned their relation to each other.

The next Sunday, Barbara was at church, and never afterward willingly missed going. She sought the friendship of Mrs. Wingfold, and found at last a woman to whom she could heartily look up. She found in her also a clergyman's wife who understood her husband--not because he was small-minded, but because she was large-hearted--and fell in thoroughly with his modes of teaching his people, as well as his objects in regard to them. She never sought to make one in the parish a churchman, but tried to make every one she had to do with a scholar of Christ, a child to his father in heaven.

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