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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWeighed And Wanting - Chapter 36. A Talk With The Major
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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 36. A Talk With The Major Post by :voltaire11 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2516

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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 36. A Talk With The Major

CHAPTER XXXVI. A TALK WITH THE MAJOR

While she meditated thus, major Marvel made his appearance. He had been watching outside, saw her uncle go, and an hour after was shown to the room where she still sat, staring out on the frosty trees of the square.

"Why, my child," he said, with almost paternal tenderness, "your hand is as cold as ice! Why do you sit so far from the fire?"

She rose and went to the fire with him. He put her in an easy chair, and sat down beside her. Common, pudgy, red-faced, bald-headed as he was, she come to him, and that out of regions of deepest thought, with a sense of refuge. He could scarcely have understood one of her difficulties, would doubtless have judged not a few of her scruples nonsensical and over-driven; yet knowing this it was a comfort to her to come from those regions back to a mere, honest, human heart--to feel a human soul in a human body nigh her. For the mere human is divine, though not _the divine, and to the mere human essential comfort. Should relations be broken between her and lord Gartley, she knew it would delight the major; yet she was able to look upon him as a friend in whom she could trust. Unity of _opinion is not necessary to confident friendship and warm love.

As they talked, the major, seeing she was much depressed, and thinking to draw her from troubled thought, began to tell her some of the more personal parts of his history, and in these she soon became so interested that she began to ask him questions, and drew from him much that he would never have thought of volunteering. Before their talk was over, she had come to regard the man as she could not have imagined it possible she should. She had looked upon him as a man of so many and such redeeming qualities, that his faults must be over-looked and himself defended from any overweighing of them; but now she felt him a man to be looked up to--almost revered. It was true that every now and then some remark would reveal in him a less than attractive commonness of thinking; and that his notions in religion were of the crudest, for he regarded it as a set of doctrines--not a few of them very dishonouring to God; yet was the man in a high sense a true man. There is nothing shows more how hard it has been for God to redeem the world than the opinions still uttered concerning him and his so-called _plans by many who love him and try to obey him: a man may be in possession of the most precious jewels, and yet know so little about them that his description of them would never induce a jeweller to purchase them, but on the contrary make him regard the man as a fool, deceived with bits of coloured glass for rubies and sapphires. Major Marvel was not of such. He knew nothing of the slang of the Pharisees, knew little of the language of either the saints or the prophets, had, like most Christians, many worldly ways of looking at things, and yet I think our Lord would have said there was no guile in him.

With her new insight into the man's character came to Hester the question whether she would not be justified in taking him into her confidence with regard to Cornelius. She had received no injunctions to secrecy from her father: neither he nor her mother ever thought of such a thing with her; they knew she was to be trusted as they were themselves to be trusted. Her father had taken no step towards any effort for the rescue of his son, and she would sorely need help in what she must herself try to do. She could say nothing to the major about lord Gartley, or the influence her brother's behaviour might have on her future: that would not be fair either to Gartley or to the major; but might she not ask him to help her to find Corney? She was certain he would be prudent and keep quiet whatever ought to be kept quiet; while on the other hand her father had spoken as if he would have nothing of it all concealed. She told him the whole story, hiding nothing that she knew. Hardly could she restrain her tears as she spoke, but she ended without having shed one. The major had said nothing, betrayed nothing, only listened intently.

"My dear Hester," he said solemnly, after a few moments' pause, "the mysteries of creation are beyond me!"

Hester thought the remark irrelevant, but waited. "It's such a mixture!" he went on. "There is your mother, the loveliest woman except yourself God ever made! Then comes Cornelius--a--well!--Then comes yourself! and then little Mark! a child--I will not say too good to live--God forbid!--but too good for any of the common uses of this world! I declare to you I am terrified when left alone with him, and keep wishing for somebody to come into the room!"

"What about him terrifies you?" asked Hester, amused at the idea, in spite of the gnawing unrest at her heart.

"To answer you," replied the major, "I must think a bit! Let me see! Let me see! Yes! it must be that! I am ashamed to confess it, but to a saint one must speak the truth: I believe in my heart it is simply fear lest I should find I must give up everything and do as I know he is thinking I ought."

"And what is that?"

"Turn a saint like him."

"And why should you be afraid of that?"

"Well, you see, I'm not the stuff that saints--good saints, I mean, are made of; and rather than not be a good one, if I once set about it, I would, saving your presence, be the devil himself."

Hester laughed, yet with some self-accusation.

"I think," she said softly, "one day you will be as good a saint as love can wish you to be."

"Give me time; give me time, I beg," cried the major, wiping his forehead, and evidently in some perturbation. "I would not willingly begin anything I should disgrace, for that would be to disgrace myself, and I never had any will to that, though the old ladies of our village used to say I was born without any shame. But the main cause of my unpopularity was that I hated humbug--and I do hate humbug, cousin Hester, and shall hate it till I die--and so want to steer clear of it."

"I hate it, I hope, as much as you do, major Marvel," responded Hester. "But, whatever it may be mixed up with, what is true, you know, cannot be humbug, and what is not true cannot be anything else than humbug."

"Yes, yes! but how is one to know what is true, my dear? There are so many differing claims to the quality!"

"I have been told, and I believe it with all my heart," replied Hester, "that the only way to know what is true is to do what is true."

"But you must know what is true before you can begin to do what is true."

"Everybody knows something that is true to do--that is, something he ought to lose no time in setting about. The true thing to any man is the thing that must not be let alone but done. It is much easier to know what is true to do than what is true to think. But those who do the one will come to know the other--and none else, I believe."

The major was silent, and sat looking very thoughtful. At last he rose.

"Is there anything you want me to do in this sad affair, cousin Hester?" he said.

"I want your help to find my brother."

"Why should you want to find him? You cannot do him any good!"

"Who can tell that? If Christ came to seek and save his lost, we ought to seek and save our lost."

"Young men don't go wrong for the mere sake of going wrong: you may find him in such a position as will make it impossible for you to have anything to do with him."

"You know that line of Spenser's.--

Entire affection hateth nicer hands'?"

asked Hester.

"No, I don't know it; and I don't know that I understand it now you tell it me," replied the major, just a little crossly, for he did not like poetry; it was one of his bugbear humbugs. "But one thing is plain: you must not expose yourself to what in such a search would be unavoidable."

The care of men over some women would not seldom be ludicrous but for the sad suggested contrast of their carelessness over others.

"Answer me one question, dear major Marvel," said Hester: "Which is in most danger from disease--the healthy or the sickly?"

"That's a question for the doctor," he answered cautiously; "and I don't believe he knows anything about it either. What it has to do with the matter in hand I cannot think."

Hester saw it was not for her now to pursue the argument. And one would almost imagine it scarce needed pursuing! For who shall walk safe in the haunts of evil but those upon whom, being pure, evil has no hold? The world's notions of purity are simply childish--because it is not itself pure. You might well suppose its cherished ones on the brink of all corruption, so much afraid does it seem of having them tainted _before their time_. Sorry would one be, but for the sake of those for whom Christ died, that any woman should be pained with the sight of evil, but the true woman may, even like God himself, know all evil and remain just as lovely, as clean, as angelic and worshipful as any child in the simplest country home. The idea of a woman like Hester being _in any sense defiled by knowing what her Lord knows while she fills up what is left behind of the sufferings of Christ for her to suffer for the sake of his world, is contemptible. As wrong melts away and vanishes in the heart of Christ, so does the impurity she encounters vanish in the heart of the pure woman: it is there burned up.

"I hardly see what is to be done," said the major, after a moment's silence. "What do you say to an advertisement in _The Times_, to the effect that, if C. R. will return to his family, all will be forgiven?"

"That I must not, dare not do. There is surely some other way of finding persons without going to the police!"

"What do you think your father would like done?"

"I do not know; but as I am Corney's sister, I will venture as a sister may. I think my father will be pleased in the end, but I will risk his displeasure for the sake of my brother. If my father were to cast him off, would you say I was bound to cast him off?"

"I dare say nothing where you are sure, Hester. My only anxiety would be whether you thoroughly knew what you were about."

"If one were able to look upon the question of life or death as a mere candle-flame in the sun of duty, would she not at least be more likely to do right than wrong?"

"If the question were put about a soldier I should feel surer how to answer you," replied the major. "But you are so much better than I--you go upon such different tactics, that we can hardly, I fear, bring our troops right in front of each other.--I will do what I can for you--though I greatly fear your brother will never prove worth the trouble."

"People have repented who have gone as far wrong as Corney," said Hester, with the tears in her voice it not in her eyes.

"True!" responded the major; "but I don't believe he has character enough to repent of anything. He will be fertile enough in excuse! But I will do what I can to find out where he is."

Hester heartily thanked him, and he took his leave.

Her very estrangement from him, the thought of her mother's misery and the self-condemnation that must overtake her father if he did nothing, urged her to find Cornelius. But if she found him, what would come of it? Was he likely to go home with her? How would he be received if he did go home? and if not, what was she to do with or for him? Was he to keep the money so vilely appropriated? And what was he to do when it was spent? If want would drive him home, the sooner he came to it the better! We pity the prodigal with his swine, but then first a ray of hope begins to break through the darkness of his fate.

To do nothing was nearly unendurable, and she saw nothing to do. She could only wait, and it took all the patience and submission she could find. She wrote to her father, told him what there was to tell, and ended her letter with a message to her mother:--"Tell darling mother," she said, "that what a sister can do, up to the strength God gives her, shall be done for my brother. Major Marvel is doing his best to find him."

Next day she heard from her father that her mother was slowly recovering; and on the following day that her letter was a great comfort to her; but beyond this he made no remark. Even his silence however was something of a relief to Hester.

In the meantime she was not idle. Hers was not the nature even in grief to sit still. The moment she had dispatched her letter, she set out to visit her poor friends. On her way she went into Mrs. Baldwin's shop and had a little talk with her, in the course of which she asked if she had ever heard anything more of the Frankses. Mrs. Baldwin replied that she had once or twice heard of their being seen in the way of their profession; but feared they were not getting on. Hester was sorry, but had many more she knew better to think of.

There was much rejoicing at her return. But there were changes--new faces where she had left friends, and not the best news of some who remained. One or two were in prison of whom when she left she was in great hope. One or two were getting on better in the sense of this world, but she could see nothing in themselves to make her glad of their "good luck." One who had signed the pledge some time before she went, had broken out fearfully, and all but killed his wife. One of whom she had been hopeful, had disappeared--it was supposed with another man's wife. In spite of their sufferings the evil one seemed as busy among them as among the world's elect.

The little ones came about her again, but with less confidence, both because she had been away, and because they had grown more than they had improved. But soon things were nearly on the old footing with them.

Every day she went among them. Certain of the women--chiefly those who had suffered most with least fault--were as warmly her friends as before. Amongst them was just one who had some experience of the Christian life, and she had begun to learn long before Hester came to know her: she did not seem, however, to have gained any influence even with those who lived in the same house; only who can trace the slow working of leaven?

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