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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 44. A Door Opened In Heaven
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There & Back - Chapter 44. A Door Opened In Heaven Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3550

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There & Back - Chapter 44. A Door Opened In Heaven

CHAPTER XLIV. A DOOR OPENED IN HEAVEN

Some men hunt their fellows to prey upon them, and fill their own greedy maws; Richard hunted and caught his brother and sister that he might feed them with the labour of his hands. I fear there was therefore a little more for the mother to guzzle, but it is of small consequence whether those that go down the hill arrive at the foot a week sooner or later. To Arthur and Alice, their new-found brother, strong and loving, was as an angel from high heaven. It was no fault in Richard that he did not find a correspondent comfort in them. It did in truth comfort him to see them improve in looks and in strength; but they had not many thoughts to share with him--had little coin for spiritual commerce. Even their religion, like that of most who claim any, had little shape or colour. What there was of it was genuine, which made it infinitely precious, but it was much too weak to pass over to the help of another. Divine aid, however, of a different sort, was waiting for him.

Hitherto he had heard little or no music. The little was from the church-organ, and his not unjustifiable prejudice against its surroundings, had disinclined him to listen when it spoke. The intellect of the youth had come to the front, and the higher powers to which art is ministrant, had remained much undeveloped, shut in darkened palace-rooms, where a ray of genial impulse not often entered. For the highest of those powers, the imagination, without which no discovery of any grandeur is made even in the realms of science, dwells in the halls of aspiration, outlook, desire, and hope, and round the windows and filling the air of these, hung the dry dust-cloud of Richard's negation. But when Love, with her attendant Sorrow, came, they opened wide all the doors and windows of them to what might enter. Hitherto all his poetry, even what he produced, had come to Richard at second-hand, that is, from the inspiration of books; its flowers were of the moon, not of the sun; they sprang under the pale reflex light of other souls: for genuine life of any and every sort, the immediate inspiration of the Almighty is the one essential, and for that, Sorrow and Love now made a way.

First of all, the lower winds and sidelong rays of art, all from the father of lights, crept in, able now to work for his perfect will. For when a man has once begun to live, then have the thoughts and feelings of other men, and every art in which those thoughts or feelings are embodied by them, a sevenfold power for the strengthening and rousing of the divine nature in him. And as the divine nature is roused, the diviner nature, the immediate God, enters to possess it.

A gentleman who employed Richard, happened one day, in conversation with him as he pursued his work, to start the subject of music, and made a remark which, notwithstanding Richard's ignorance, found sufficient way into his mind to make him think over what little experience he had had of sweet sounds, ere he made his reply. When made, it revealed in truth his ignorance, but his modesty as well, and his capacity for understanding--with the result that the gentleman, who was not only a lover of music but a believer in it, said to him in return things which roused in him such a desire to put them to the test for verification or disapproval, that he went the next Monday night to the popular concert at St. James's Hall. In the crowd that waited more than an hour at the door of the orchestra to secure a shilling-place, there was not one that knew so little of music as he; but there never had been in it one whose ignorance was more worthy of destruction. The first throbbing flash of the violins cleft his soul as lightning cleaves a dark cloud, and set his body shivering as with its thunder--and lo, a door was opened in heaven! and, like the writhings of a cloud in the grasp of a heavenly wind, all the discords of spirit-pain were breaking up, changing, and solving themselves into the song of the violins! After that, he went every Monday night to the same concert-room. It was his church, the mount of his ascension, the place whence he soared--no, but was lifted up to what was as yet his highest consciousness of being. All that was best and simplest in him came wide awake as he sat and listened. What fact did the music prove? None whatever. Yet would not the logic of all science have persuaded Richard that the sea of mood and mystic response, tossing his soul hither and thither on its radiant waters, as, deep unto deep, it answered the marching array of live waves, fashioned one by one out of the still air, marshalled and ranked and driven on in symmetric relation and order by those strange creative powers with their curious symbols, throned at their godlike labour--that the answer of his soul, I say, was but an illusion, the babble of a sleeping child in reply to a question never put. If it was an illusion, how came it that such illusion was possible? If an illusion, whence its peculiar bliss--a bliss aroused by law imperative that ruled its factors, yet bore scant resemblance to the bliss? What he felt, he knew that he felt, and knew that be had never caused it, never commanded its presence, never foreseen its arrival, never known of its possible existence. The feeling was _in him_, but had been waked by some power _beyond him_, for he was not himself even present at its origin! The voice of that power was a voice all sweetness and persuading, yet a voice of creation, calling up a world of splendour and delight, the beams of whose chambers were indeed laid upon the waters, but had there a foundation the less lively earth could not afford. For the very essence of the creative voice, working wildest delirium of content, was law that could not be broken, the very law of the thought of God himself. Law is life, for God is law, and God is life. Law is the root and the stalk of life, beauty is the flower of life, and joy is its odour; but life itself is love. The flower and its odour are given unto men; the root and stalk they may search into if they will; the giver of life they must know, or they cannot live with his life, they cannot share in the life eternal.

One night, after many another such, he sat entranced, listening to the song of a violin, alone and perfect, soaring and sailing the empyrean unconvoyed,--and Barbara in his heart was listening with him. He had given up hope of seeing her again in this world, but not all hope of seeing her again somewhere; and her image had not grown less dear, I should rather say less precious to him. The song, like a heavenly lark, folded its wings while yet high in the air, and ceased: its nest was somewhere up in the blue. Should I say rather that one after one the singing birds flitted from the strings, those telegraph wires betwixt the seen and the unseen, and now the last lingerer was gone? All was over, and the world was still. But the face of Barbara kept shining from the depths of Richard's soul, as if she stood behind him, and her face looked up reflected from its ethereal ocean.

All at once he was aware that his bodily eyes were resting on the bodily face of Barbara. It was as if his strong imagining of her had made her be. His heart gave a great bound--and stood still, as if for eternity. But the blood surged back to his brain, and he knew that together they had been listening to the same enchanting spell, had been aloft together in the same aether of delight: heaven is high and deep, and its lower air is music; in the upper regions the music may pass, who knows, merging unlost, into something endlessly better! He had felt, without knowing it, the power of her presence; it had been ruling his thoughts! He gazed and gazed, never taking his eyes from her but for the joy of seeing her afresh, for the comfort of their return to their home. She was so far off that he could gaze at will, and thus was distance a blessing. Not seldom does removal bring the parted nearer. It is not death alone that makes "far-distant images draw nigh," but distance itself is an angel of God, mediating the propinquity of souls. As he gazed he became aware that she saw him, and that she knew that he saw her. How he knew it he could not have told. There was no change on her face, no sign of recognition, but he knew that she saw and knew. In his modesty he neither perceived nor imagined more. His heart received no thrill from the pleasure that throbbed in the heart of the lovely lady at sight of the poor sorrowful workman; neither did she in her modesty perceive on what a throne of gems she sat in his heart. She saw that his cheek was pale and thin, and that his eyes were larger and brighter; she little thought how the fierce sun of agony had ripened his soul since they parted.

For the rest of the concert, the music had sunk to a soft delight, and took the second place; the delight of seeing dulled his delight in hearing. All the rainbow claspings and weavings of strange accords, all the wing-wafts of out-dreaming melody, seemed to him to come flickering and floating from one creative centre--the face, and specially the eyes of Barbara; yet the music and Barbara seemed one. The form of it that entered by his eyes met that which entered by his ears, and they were one ere he noted a difference. Barbara was the music, and the music was Barbara. He saw her with his ears; he heard her with his eyes. But as the last sonata sank to its death, suddenly the face and the tones parted company, and he knew that his eyes and her face must part next, and the same moment her face was already far away. She had left him; she was looking for her fan, and preparing to go.

He was not far from the door. He hurried softly out, plunged into the open air as into a great cool river, went round the house, and took his stand at one of the doors, where he waited like one watching the flow of a river of gravel for the shine of a diamond. But the flow sank to threads and drops, and the diamond never shone.

He walked home, nevertheless, as if he had seen an end of sorrow: how much had been given him that night, for ever to have and to hold! Such an hour went far to redeem the hateful thing, life! A much worse world would be more than endurable, with its black and gray once or twice in a century crossed by such a band of gold! Who would not plunge through ages of vapour for one flash of such a star! Who would not dig to the centre for one glimpse of a gem of such exhaustless fire! "But, alas, how many for whom no golden threads are woven into the web of life!" he said to himself as he thought of Alice and Arthur--but straightway answered himself, saying, "Who dares assert it? The secret of a man's life is with himself; who can speak for another!" He had himself been miserable, and was now content--oh, how much more than content--that he had been miserable! He was even strong to be miserable again! What might not fall to the lot of the rest, every one of them, ere God, if there were a God, had done with them! Who invented music? Some one must have made the delight of it possible! With his own share in its joy he had had nothing to do! Was Chance its grand inventor, its great ingenieur? Why or how should Chance love loveliness that was not, and make it be, that others might love it? Could it be a deaf God, or a being that did not care and would not listen, that invented music? No; music did not come of itself, neither could the source of it be devoid of music!

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