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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPaul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 48. The Border-Land
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Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 48. The Border-Land Post by :dabell Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :2235

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Paul Faber, Surgeon - Chapter 48. The Border-Land

CHAPTER XLVIII. THE BORDER-LAND

Mr. Drew, the draper, was, of all his friends, the one who most frequently visited his old pastor. He had been the first, although a deacon of the church, in part to forsake his ministry, and join the worship of, as he honestly believed, a less scriptural community, because in the abbey church he heard better news of God and His Kingdom: to him rightly the gospel was every thing, and this church or that, save for its sake, less than nothing and vanity. It had hurt Mr. Drake not a little at first, but he found Drew in consequence only the more warmly his personal friend, and since learning to know Wingfold, had heartily justified his defection; and now that he was laid up, he missed something any day that passed without a visit from the draper. One evening Drew found him very poorly, though neither the doctor nor Dorothy could prevail upon him to go to bed. He could not rest, but kept walking about, his eye feverish, his pulse fluttering. He welcomed his friend even more warmly than usual, and made him sit by the fire, while he paced the room, turning and turning, like a caged animal that fain would be king of infinite space.

"I am sorry to see you so uncomfortable," said Mr. Drew.

"On the contrary, I feel uncommonly well," replied the pastor. "I always measure my health by my power of thinking; and to-night my thoughts are like birds--or like bees rather, that keep flying in delight from one lovely blossom to another. Only the fear keeps intruding that an hour may be at hand, when my soul will be dark, and it will seem as if the Lord had forsaken me."

"But does not _our daily bread mean our spiritual as well as our bodily bread?" said the draper. "Is it not just as wrong in respect of the one as of the other to distrust God for to-morrow when you have enough for to-day? Is He a God of times and seasons, of this and that, or is He the All in all?"

"You are right, old friend," said the minister, and ceasing his walk, he sat down by the fire opposite him. "I am faithless still.--O Father in Heaven, give us this day our daily bread.--I suspect, Drew, that I have had as yet no more than the shadow of an idea how immediately I--we live upon the Father.--I will tell you something. I had been thinking what it would be if God were now to try me with heavenly poverty, as for a short time he tried me with earthly poverty--that is, if he were to stint me of life itself--not give me enough of Himself to live upon--enough to make existence feel a good. The fancy grew to a fear, laid hold upon me, and made me miserable. Suppose, for instance, I said to myself, I were no more to have any larger visitation of thoughts and hopes and aspirations than old Mrs. Bloxam, who sits from morning to night with the same stocking on her needles, and absolutely the same expression, of as near nothing as may be upon human countenance, nor changes whoever speaks to her!"

"She says the Lord is with her," suggested the draper.

"Well!" rejoined the minister, in a slow, cogitative tone.

"And plainly life is to her worth having," added the draper. "Clearly she has as much of life as is necessary to her present stage."

"You are right. I have been saying just the same things to myself; and, I trust, when the Lord comes, He will not find me without faith. But just suppose life _were to grow altogether uninteresting! Suppose certain moods--such as you, with all your good spirits and blessed temper, must surely sometimes have experienced--suppose they were to become fixed, and life to seem utterly dull, God nowhere, and your own dreary self, and nothing but that self, everywhere!"

"Let me read you a chapter of St. John," said the draper.

"Presently I will. But I am not in the right mood just this moment. Let me tell you first how I came by my present mood. Don't mistake me: I am not possessed by the idea--I am only trying to understand its nature, and set a trap fit to catch it, if it should creep into my inner premises, and from an idea swell to a seeming fact.--Well, I had a strange kind of a vision last night--no, not a vision--yes, a kind of vision--anyhow a very strange experience. I don't know whether the draught the doctor gave me--I wish I had poor Faber back--this fellow is fitter to doctor oxen and mules than men!--I don't know whether the draught had any thing to do with it--I thought I tasted something sleepy in it--anyhow, thought is thought, and truth is truth, whatever drug, no less than whatever joy or sorrow, may have been midwife to it. The first I remember of the mental experience, whatever it may have to be called, is, that I was coming awake--returning to myself after some period wherein consciousness had been quiescent. Of place, or time, or circumstance, I knew nothing. I was only growing aware of being. I speculated upon nothing. I did not even say to myself, 'I was dead, and now I am coming alive.' I only felt. And I had but one feeling--and that feeling was love--the outgoing of a longing heart toward--I could not tell what;--toward--I can not describe the feeling--toward the only existence there was, and that was every thing;--toward pure being, not as an abstraction, but as the one actual fact, whence the world, men, and me--a something I knew only by being myself an existence. It was more me than myself; yet it was not me, or I could not have loved it. I never thought me myself by myself; my very existence was the consciousness of this absolute existence in and through and around me: it made my heart burn, and the burning of my heart was my life--and the burning was the presence of the Absolute. If you can imagine a growing fruit, all blind and deaf, yet loving the tree it could neither look upon nor hear, knowing it only through the unbroken arrival of its life therefrom--that is something like what I felt. I suspect the _form of the feeling was supplied by a shadowy memory of the time before I was born, while yet my life grew upon the life of my mother.

"By degrees came a change. What seemed the fire in me, burned and burned until it began to grow light; in which light I began to remember things I had read and known about Jesus Christ and His Father and my Father. And with those memories the love grew and grew, till I could hardly bear the glory of God and His Christ, it made me love so intensely. Then the light seemed to begin to pass out beyond me somehow, and therewith I remembered the words of the Lord, 'Let your light so shine before men,' only I was not letting it shine, for while I loved like that, I could no more keep it from shining than I could the sun. The next thing was, that I began to think of one I had loved, then of another and another and another--then of all together whom ever I had loved, one after another, then all together. And the light that went out from me was as a nimbus infolding every one in the speechlessness of my love. But lo! then, the light staid not there, but, leaving them not, went on beyond them, reaching and infolding every one of those also, whom, after the manner of men, I had on earth merely known and not loved. And therewith I knew that, for all the rest of the creation of God, I needed but the hearing of the ears or the seeing of the eyes to love each and every one, in his and her degree; whereupon such a perfection of bliss awoke in me, that it seemed as if the fire of the divine sacrifice had at length seized upon my soul, and I was dying of absolute glory--which is love and love only. I had all things, yea the All. I was full and unutterably, immeasurably content. Yet still the light went flowing out and out from me, and love was life and life was light and light was love. On and on it flowed, until at last it grew eyes to me, and I could see. Lo! before me was the multitude of the brothers and sisters whom I loved--individually--a many, many--not a mass;--I loved every individual with that special, peculiar kind of love which alone belonged to that one, and to that one alone. The sight dazzled the eyes which love itself had opened. I said to myself, 'Ah, how radiant, how lovely, how divine they are! and they are mine, every one--the many, for I love them!'

"Then suddenly came a whisper--not to my ear--I heard it far away, but whether in some distant cave of thought, away beyond the flaming walls of the universe, or in some forgotten dungeon-corner of my own heart, I could not tell. 'O man,' it said, 'what a being, what a life is thine! See all these souls, these fires of life, regarding and loving thee! It is in the glory of thy love their faces shine. Their hearts receive it, and send it back in joy. Seest thou not all their eyes fixed upon thine? Seest thou not the light come and go upon their faces, as the pulses of thy heart flow and ebb? See, now they flash, and now they fade! Blessed art thou, O man, as none else in the universe of God is blessed!'

"It was, or seemed, only a voice. But therewith, horrible to tell, the glow of another fire arose in me--an orange and red fire, and it went out from me, and withered all the faces, and the next moment there was darkness--all was black as night. But my being was still awake--only if then there was bliss, now was there the absolute blackness of darkness, the positive negation of bliss, the recoil of self to devour itself, and forever. The consciousness of being was intense, but in all the universe was there nothing to enter that being, and make it other than an absolute loneliness. It was, and forever, a loveless, careless, hopeless monotony of self-knowing--a hell with but one demon, and no fire to make it cry: my self was the hell, my known self the demon of it--a hell of which I could not find the walls, cold and dark and empty, and I longed for a flame that I might know there was a God. Somehow I only remembered God as a word, however; I knew nothing of my whence or whither. One time there might have been a God, but there was none now: if there ever was one, He must be dead. Certainly there was no God to love--for if there was a God, how could the creature whose very essence was to him an evil, love the Creator of him? I had the word _love_, and I could reason about it in my mind, but I could not call up the memory of what the feeling of it was like. The blackness grew and grew. I hated life fiercely. I hated the very possibility of a God who had created me a blot, a blackness. With that I felt blackness begin to go out from me, as the light had gone before--not that I remembered the light; I had forgotten all about it, and remembered it only after I awoke. Then came the words of the Lord to me: 'If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!' And I knew what was coming: oh, horror! in a moment more I should see the faces of those I had once loved, dark with the blackness that went out from my very existence; then I should hate them, and my being would then be a hell to which the hell I now was would be a heaven! There was just grace enough left in me for the hideousness of the terror to wake me. I was cold as if I had been dipped in a well. But oh, how I thanked God that I was what I am, and might yet hope after what I may be!"

The minister's face was pale as the horse that grew gray when Death mounted him; and his eyes shone with a feverous brilliancy. The draper breathed a deep breath, and rubbed his white forehead. The minister rose and began again to pace the room. Drew would have taken his departure, but feared leaving him in such a state. He bethought himself of something that might help to calm him, and took out his pocket-book. The minister's dream had moved him deeply, but he restrained himself all he could from manifesting his emotion.

"Your vision," he said, "reminds me of some verses of Mr. Wingfold's, of which Mrs. Wingfold very kindly let me take a copy. I have them here in my pocket-book; may I read them to you?"

The minister gave rather a listless consent, but that was enough for Mr. Drew's object, and he read the following poem.


SHALL THE DEAD PRAISE THEE?

I can not praise Thee. By his instrument
The organ-master sits, nor moves a hand;
For see the organ pipes o'erthrown and bent,
Twisted and broke, like corn-stalks tempest-fanned!

I well could praise Thee for a flower, a dove;
But not for life that is not life in me;
Not for a being that is less than love--
A barren shoal half-lifted from a sea,

And for the land whence no wind bloweth ships,
And all my living dead ones thither blown--
Rather I'd kiss no more their precious lips,
Than carry them a heart so poor and prone.

Yet I do bless Thee Thou art what Thou art,
That Thou dost know Thyself what Thou dost know--
A perfect, simple, tender, rhythmic heart,
Beating Thy blood to all in bounteous flow.

And I can bless Thee too for every smart,
For every disappointment, ache, and fear;
For every hook Thou fixest in my heart,
For every burning cord that draws me near.

But prayer these wake, not song. Thyself I crave.
Come Thou, or all Thy gifts away I fling.
Thou silent, I am but an empty grave;
Think to me, Father, and I am a king.

Then, like the wind-stirred bones, my pipes shall quake,
The air burst, as from burning house the blaze;
And swift contending harmonies shall shake
Thy windows with a storm of jubilant praise.

Thee praised, I haste me humble to my own--
Then love not shame shall bow me at their feet,
Then first and only to my stature grown,
Fulfilled of love, a servant all-complete.


At first the minister seemed scarcely to listen, as he sat with closed eyes and knitted brows, but gradually the wrinkles disappeared like ripples, an expression of repose supervened, and when the draper lifted his eyes at the close of his reading, there was a smile of quiet satisfaction on the now aged-looking countenance. As he did not open his eyes, Drew crept softly from the room, saying to Dorothy as he left the house, that she _must get him to bed as soon as possible. She went to him, and now found no difficulty in persuading him. But something, she could not tell what, in his appearance, alarmed her, and she sent for the doctor. He was not at home, and had expected to be out all night. She sat by his bedside for hours, but at last, as he was quietly asleep, ventured to lay herself on a couch in the room. There she too fell fast asleep, and slept till morning, undisturbed.

When she went to his bedside, she found him breathing softly, and thought him still asleep. But he opened his eyes, looked at her for a moment fixedly, and then said:

"Dorothy, child of my heart! things may be very different from what we have been taught, or what we may of ourselves desire; but every difference will be the step of an ascending stair--each nearer and nearer to the divine perfection which alone can satisfy the children of a God, alone supply the poorest of their cravings."

She stooped and kissed his hand, then hastened to get him some food.

When she returned, he was gone up the stair of her future, leaving behind him, like a last message that all was well, the loveliest smile frozen upon a face of peace. The past had laid hold upon his body; he was free in the Eternal. Dorothy was left standing at the top of the stair of the present.

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