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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWeighed And Wanting - Chapter 39. The Major And The Small-Pox
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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 39. The Major And The Small-Pox Post by :voltaire11 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2591

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Weighed And Wanting - Chapter 39. The Major And The Small-Pox

CHAPTER XXXIX. THE MAJOR AND THE SMALL-POX

His lordship was scarcely gone when the major came. So closely did the appearance of the one follow on the disappearance of the other, that there was ground for suspecting the major had seen his lordship enter the house, and had been waiting and watching till he was gone. But she was not yet to be seen: she had no fear of the worst small-pox could do to her, yet was taking what measures appeared advisable for her protection. Her fearlessness came from no fancied absence of danger, but from an utter disbelief in chance. The same and only faith that would have enabled him to face the man-eating tiger, enabled her to face the small-pox; if she did die by going into such places, it was all right.

For aught I know there may be a region whose dwellers are so little capable of being individually cared for, that they are left to the action of mere general laws as sufficient for what for the time can be done for them. Such may well to themselves seem to be blown about by all the winds of chaos and the limbo--which winds they call chance? Even then and there it is God who has ordered all the generals of their condition, and when they are sick of it, will help them out of it. One thing is sure--that God is doing his best for _every man.

The major sat down and waited.

"I am at my wits' end!" he said, when she entered the room. "I can't find the fellow! That detective's a muff! He ain't got a trace of him yet! I must put on another!--Don't you think you had better go home? I will do what can be done, you may be sure!"

"I _am sure," answered Hester. "But mamma is better; so long as I am away papa will not leave her; and she would rather have papa than a dozen of me."

"But it must be so dreary for you--here alone all day!" he said, with a touch of malice.

"I go about among my people," she answered.

"Ah! ah!" he returned. "Then I hope you will be careful what houses you go into, for I hear the small-pox is in the neighborhood."

"I have just come from a house where it is now," she answered. The major rose in haste. "--But," she went on, "I have changed all my clothes, and had a bath since."

The major sat down again.

"My dear young lady!" he said, the roses a little ashy on his cheek-bones, "do you know what you are about?"

"I hope I do--I _think I do" she answered.

"Hope! Think!" repeated the major indignantly.

"Well, _believe_," said Hester.

"Come, come!" he rejoined with rudeness, "you may hope or think or believe what you like, but you have no business to act but on what you _know_."

"I suppose you never act where you do not know!" returned Hester. "You always _know you will win the battle, kill the tiger, take the small-pox, and be the worse for it?"

"It's all very well for you to laugh!" returned the major; "but what is to become of us if you take the small-pox! Why, my dear cousin, you might lose every scrap of your good looks!"

"And then who on earth would care for me any more!" said Hester, with mock mournfulness, which brought a glimmer of the merry light back to the major's face.

"But really, Hester," he persisted, "this is most imprudent. It is your life, not your beauty only you are periling!"

"Perhaps," she answered.

"And the lives of us all!" added the major.

"Is the small-pox worse than a man-eating tiger?" she asked.

"Ten times worse," he answered. "You can fight the tiger, but you can't fight the small-pox. You really ought _not to run such fearful risks."

"How are they to be avoided? Every time you send for the doctor you run a risk! You can't order a clean doctor every time!"

"A joke's all very well! but it is our duty to take care of ourselves."

"In reason, yes," replied Hester.

"You may think," said the major, "that God takes special care of you because you are about his business--and far be it from me to say you are not about his business or that he does not take care of you; but what is to become of me and the like of me if we take the small-pox from you?"

Hester had it on her lips to say that if he was meant to die of the small-pox, he might as well take it of her as of another; but she said instead that she was sure God took care of her, but not sure she should not die of the small-pox.

"How can you say God takes care of you if he lets you die of the small-pox!"

"No doubt people would die if God forgot them, but do you think people die because God forgets them?"

"My dear cousin Hester, if there is one thing I have a _penchant for, it is common sense! A paradox I detest with my whole soul!"

"One word, dear major Marvel: Did God take care of Jesus?"

"Of course! of course! But he wasn't like other men, you know."

"I don't want to fare better, that is, I don't want to have more of God's care than he had."

"I don't understand you. I should think if we were sure God took as good care of us as of him--"

But there he stopped, for he began to have a glimmer of where she was leading him.

"Did he keep him what you call safe?" said Hester. "Did he not allow the worst man could do to overtake him? Was it not the very consequence of his obedience?"

"Then you have made up your mind to die of the small-pox?--In that case----"

"Only if it be God's will," interrupted Hester.

"To that, and that alone, have I made up my mind. If I die of the small-pox, it will not be because it could not be helped, or because I caught it by chance; it will be because God allowed it as best for me and for us all. It will not be a punishment for breaking his laws: he loves none better, I believe, than those who break the laws of nature to fulfil the laws of the spirit--which is the deeper nature, 'the nature naturing nature,' as I read the other day: of course it sounds nonsense to anyone who does not understand it."

"That's your humble servant," said the major. "I haven't a notion what you or the author you quote means, though I don't doubt both of you mean well, and that you are a most courageous and indeed heroic young woman. For all that it is time your friends interfered; and I am going to write by the next post to let your father know how you are misbehaving yourself."

"They will not believe me quite so bad as I fear you will represent me."

"I don't know. I must write anyhow."

"That they may order me home to give them the small-pox? Wouldn't it be better to wait and be sure I had not taken it already? Your letter, too, might carry the infection. I think you had better not write."

"You persist in making fun of it! I say again it is not a thing to be joked about," remarked the major, looking red.

"I think," returned Hester, "whoever lives in terror of infection had better take it and have done with it. I know I would rather die than live in the fear of death. It is the meanest of slaveries. At least, to live a slave to one's fears is next worst to living a slave to one's likings. Do as you please, major Marvel, but I give you warning that if you interpose--I will not say _interfere_--because you do it all for kindness--but if you interpose, I will never ask you to help me again; I will never let you know what I am doing, or come to you for advice, lest, instead of assisting me, you should set about preventing me from doing what I may have to do."

She held out her hand to him, adding with a smile:

"Is it for good-bye, or a compact?"

"But just look at it from my point of view," said the major, disturbed by the appeal. "What will your father say if he finds me aiding and abetting?"

"You did not come up at my father's request, or from the least desire on his part to have me looked after. You were not put in charge of me, and have no right to suppose me doing anything my parents would not like. They never objected to my going among my friends as I thought fit. Possibly they had more faith in my good sense, knowing me better than major Marvel."

"But when one sees you doing the thing that is plainly wrong----"

"If it be so plainly wrong, how is it that I who am really anxious to do right, should not see it wrong? Why should you think me less likely to know what is right than you, major Marvel?"

"I give in," said the major, "and will abide by the consequences."

"But you shall not needlessly put yourself in danger. You must not come to me except I send for you. If you hear anything of Corney, write, please."

"You don't imagine," cried the major, firing up, "that I am going to turn tail where you advance? I'm not going to run from the small-pox any more than you. So long as he don't get on my back to hunt other people, I don't care. By George! you women have more courage ten times than we men!"

"What we've got to do we just go and do, without thinking about danger. I believe it is often the best wisdom to be blind and let God be our eyes as well as our shield. But would it be right of you, not called to the work, to put yourself in danger because you would not be out where I am in? I could admire of course, but never quite justify sir Philip Sidney in putting off his cuisses because his general had not got his on."

"You're fit for a field-marshal, my dear!" said the major enthusiastically--adding, as he kissed her hand, "I will think over what you have said, and at least not betray you without warning."

"That is enough for the present," returned Hester, shaking hands with him warmly.

The major went away hardly knowing whither, so filled was he with admiration of "cousin Helen's girl."

"By Jove!" he said to himself, "it's a confounded good thing I didn't marry Helen; she would never have had a girl like that if I had! Things are always best. The world needs a few such in it--even if they be fools--though I suspect they will turn out the wise ones, and we the fools for taking such care of our precious selves!"

But the major was by no means a selfish man. He was pretty much mixed, like the rest of us. Only, if we do not make up our minds not to be mixed with the one thing, we shall by and by be but little mixed with the other.

That same evening he sent her word that one answering the description of Cornelius had been descried in the neighborhood of Addison square.

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