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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 13. The Beech-Tree
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There & Back - Chapter 13. The Beech-Tree Post by :healthyways2101 Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3336

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There & Back - Chapter 13. The Beech-Tree


He went to bed, and after a dreamless night, rose to find the world overflowed with bliss. The sun was at his best, and every water-drop on the grass was shining all the colours of the rainbow. Surely the gems that are dug from the earth have their prototype in the dew-drops that lie on its surface. One might in a moment of sweet maundering imagine Nature hiding those sunless dew-drops of the mines in the darkness of a sweet sorrow that the youth of the morning must be so evanescent.

The whole world lay before Richard his inheritance. The sunlight gave it him, a gift from the height of his heaven. What was it to Richard that the park, its trees, its grass, its dew-drops, its cattle, its shadows, belonged to sir Wilton! He never even thought of the fact! He felt them his own! Was the soft, clear, fresh, damp air, with all the unreachable soul of it, not his, because it was sir Wilton's?

The highest property, as Dante tells us, increases to each by the sharing of it with others. But the common mind does not care for such property. Was not the blue, uplifted, hoping sky, that spoke to the sky inside Richard--was not that sir Wilton's? Yes, indeed; for were it not sir Wilton's, it could not be Richard's. But sir Wilton did not claim it, because he did not care for it, heard no sound of the speech it uttered. Happy would it have been for sir Wilton, that anything he called his, was his as it was Richard's! He could not prevent Richard from possessing Mortgrange in a way he himself did not and would not possess it. But neither yet were they Richard's in the full eternal way. Nature was a noble lady whose long visit made him glad; she was not yet at her own home in his house. There were things in the world that might come in and drive her out. Say rather, there was yet no chamber in that house in which she could take up her dwelling all night.

The setting sun had made Richard sad; his resurrection made him blessed! He dressed in haste, and went to find his way from the house.

Arrived in the park, and walking in cool delight on the wet grass, he began to think about the men and the races whom the greed of other men and races had pinched and shouldered and squeezed from the world. He thought of the men who, by preventing others and refusing to let them share, imagine to increase the length and breadth and depth of their own possessing; and thus by degrees he fell into a retributive mood. What should, what could, what would be done with such men?

"As they refuse their neighbours ground to stand upon," he said to himself, "as the very cubic space they cannot disrobe them of they begrudge them because it measures from what they count their land, I should like to know how high their possession goes! Is there any law that lays that down? To what point above him can the landowner complain of trespass in the gliding or hovering balloon? When hawking comes in again, as it will one day, by the law of revival, at what height will another man's falcon be an intruder on him who stands gazing up from his corn? Were I a power in the universe, I would cram the air over the heads of such incarnate greeds with clouds of souls! The sun should reach them only through the vapours of other life than theirs, inimical to them because of their selfishness. I would set the dead burrowing beneath them, so that the land they boast should heave under their feet with the writhing of the bodies they drove from the surface into the deeps. They should have but a carpet, wallowing in the waves of a continuous live earthquake. I know I am thinking like a fool; but surely at least there ought to be some set season for Truth and Justice to return to the forsaken earth! Are we for ever to bear without hope the presence of the cruel, the vulgar self-souled, the neighbour-crushing rich? Are the wicked the favourites of Nature, that they flourish like a green bay-tree? Doubtless it is right to forgive--but how to be able? Nobody has ever done me any harm yet; I have nothing to complain of; it cannot be revenge in me that longs for something, call it God, or Nature, or Justice, that will repay!--God it cannot be; but something sure there must be to which vengeance belongs!"

He might have gone further in his thinking, and perhaps come to ask what satisfaction there could be in any vengeance, so long as the evil-doer remained unhumbled by the perception and the shame of his doing, was neither sorry for it nor turned away from it--in a word, did not repent; but there came an interruption.

He was walking slowly along, unheeding where he went, when he heard a sound that made him look up. Then he saw that he was under a great beech, and the sound seemed to come from somewhere in the top of it--a sound like the pleased cooing of a dove. He looked hard into the branches and their wilderness of fresh leaves, but could descry nothing. Then came a little laugh, and with a preparatory rustling and rustling in its passage, a book--a small folio--fell plump at his feet.

"Will you please put it in the library!" said a voice he had heard before--long before, it seemed--but had not forgotten.

"I will bring it to you--at least I would, if I could see where you are!" answered Richard, gazing with yet keener search into the thick mass of leaf-cloud over his head.

"No, no; I don't want more of it. I can't see you, and don't know who you are; but please take the book, and lay it on the middle table in the library. It may be hurt, and I don't want to come down just yet."

"Very well, miss!" answered Richard; "I will.--The fall from such a height, and through all those branches, must have done it quite enough harm already!"

"Oh!--I never thought of that!" said the voice.

Richard took up the book, and walked away with it, pondering.

"Is it possible," he said to himself, "that the little lady, whose big mare I shod last year, is up there in that tree? It must be her voice!--I cannot, surely, be mistaken!--But how on earth, or rather how in heaven, did she get up? Yet why shouldn't she climb as well as any other? It must be as easy as riding that huge mare. And then she's not like other ladies! She's not of the ordinary breed of this planet! Which of them would have spoken to a blacksmith-lad as she spoke to me! Who but herself would have tied up a scratch in a working man's hand!"

He was right so far: she could climb as no other in that county, no other, perhaps, in England, man or boy or girl, could climb. She was like a squirrel at climbing; and for the last few mornings, the weather having grown decidedly summery, had gone before breakfast to say her prayers in that tree.

Richard carried the book to the house--it was Pope's Letters--found his way to the library, and laid it where she said, hoping she would come to seek it, and that he might then be present. Would she recognize the fellow that shod her mare? he wondered.

He could do nothing till he knew where he was to work, and therefore, after breakfast in the servants' hall, he asked one of the men to let him know when Mr. Lestrange would see him, and went to his room.

Richard had not yet become aware of any moral pressure. The duty of aspiration or self-conquest, had never in any shape been forced upon him, and his conscience had not made him acquainted with it. What is called a good conscience is often but a dull one that gives no trouble when it ought to bark loudest; but Richard's was not of that sort, and yet was very much at ease. I may say for him that he had done nothing he knew to be bad at the moment; and very little that he had to be ashamed of afterwards, either at school or since he left it. Partly through the care of his parents, he had never got into what is called bad company, had formed no undesirable intimacies. He had a natural cleanliness, a natural sense of the becoming, which did much to keep him from evil: he could not consent to regard himself with disgust, and he would have been easily disgusted with himself. If he did not, as I have indicated, set himself with any conscious effort to rise above himself, he did do something against sinking below himself. The books he chose were almost all of the better sort. He had instinctively laid aside some in which he recognized a degrading influence.

But here let me remark that it depends partly on the degree of a man's moral development, whether this or that book will be to him degrading or otherwise. A book which one man ought to scorn, may be of elevating tendency to another, because it is a little above his present moral condition. A book which to enjoy would harm a more delicate mind, may _perhaps benefit the nature that would have chosen a coarser book still. We cannot determine the operation of energies, when we do not know on what moral level they are at work. The dead may be left to bury their dead; it would be sad to see an angel haunting a charnel-house.

I have been led into this digression through the desire to give an approximate idea of the good, rather vacant, unselfish, and yet self-contented, if not self-satisfied condition of Richard's being.

He got out a manuscript-book in which he was in the habit of setting down whatever came to him, and wrote for some time, happily making more than one spot of ink on the toilet-cover, which served to open the eyes of Mrs. Locke to her mistake in thinking a workman would not want a writing-table; so that before the next evening he found in his chamber everything comfortable for writing, as well as for sleeping and dressing.

He was interrupted by the entrance of a servant with the message that Mr. Lestrange was in the morning-room, and wished to see him.

He followed the man and found Lestrange at the breakfast-table, with a tall young woman, very ordinary-looking, except for her large, soft, dark eyes, and the little lady whose mare he had shod, and whose voice he had that morning heard from the tree-top.

He advanced half-way to the table, and stood.

"Ah, there you are!" said Lestrange, glancing up, and immediately reverting to his plate. "We've got to set to work, haven't we?"

He had, I presume, found the ladies not uninterested in the restoration that was about to be initiated, and had therefore sent for Richard while breakfast was going on.

The fledgling baronet, except for his too favourable opinion of himself, in which he was unlike only a very few, and an amount of assumption not small toward his supposed inferiors, was not a disagreeable human, and now spoke pleasantly.

"Yes, sir," answered Richard. "Shall I wait outside until you have done breakfast?"

He feared the servant might have made a mistake.

"I sent for you," replied Lestrange curtly.

"Very well, sir. I have not yet learned whether the tools I sent on have been delivered, but there will be plenty to do in the way of preparation.--May I ask if you have settled where I am to work, sir?"

"Ah! I had not thought of that!"

"It seems to me, sir, that the library itself would suit best; that is, if I might have a good-sized kitchen-table in it, and roll up half the carpet. When I had to beat a book I could take it into the passage, or just outside the window. Nothing else would make any dust."

Lestrange had been thinking how to have the binder under his eye, and yet not seem to watch a fellow so much above his notion of a working man; the family made very little use of the library, and Richard's proposal seemed just the thing. He would be sure to stick to his work where some one might any moment be coming in!

"I don't see any difficulty," he answered.

"I should want a little fire for my glue-pot and polishing-iron. There will be gilding and lettering too, though I hope not much--title-pieces to replace, and a touch here and there to give to the tooling! No man with any reverence in him would meddle much with such delicate, lovely old things as many of these gildings! He would not dare more than just touch them!"

The little lady sat eating her toast, but losing no word that was said. She knew from his voice the young man was the same to whom she had called out of the beech-tree; but now she seemed to recognize him as the blacksmith whose hand she had bound up: what could a blacksmith do in a library? She was puzzled.

Richard noted that she was dressed in some green stuff, which perhaps was the cause of his having been unable to discover her in the tree! Her great eyes--they were bigger than those of the tall lady--every now and then looked up at him with a renewed question, to which they seemed to find no answer. They were big blue eyes--very dark for blue, and rather too round for perfection; but their roundness was at one with the prevailing expression of her face, which was innocent daring, inquiry, and confidence. The paleness of it was a healthy paleness, with just an inclination to freckle. Her dark, half-scorched-looking hair was so abundant and rebellious, that it had to be all over compelled with gold pins. Its manipulation had neither beginning, middle, nor end. She ate daintily enough, but as if she meant to have a breakfast that should last her till luncheon--when plainly the active little furnace of her life would want fresh fuel. But it was of another kind of fuel she was thinking now. In the man who stood there, so independent, yet so free from self-assertion, she saw a prospect of learning something. She was hungry after knowing, but, though fond of reading, was very ignorant of books. She thought like a poet, but had never read a real poem. She was full of imagination, but very imperfectly knew what the word meant. She had never in her life read a work of genuine imagination--not even _Undine_, not even _The Ugly Duckling_.

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There & Back - Chapter 14. The Library There & Back - Chapter 14. The Library

There & Back - Chapter 14. The Library
CHAPTER XIV. THE LIBRARYAfter some talk, it was settled that Richard should work in the large oriel of the library. Mrs. Locke was called, and the necessary orders were given. Employer and workman were both anxious, the one to see, the other to make a commencement. In a few minutes Richard had looked out as many of the books in most need of attention as would keep him, turning from the one to the other, as each required time in the press or to dry, thoroughly employed. "There is a volume here I should like to know your mind about, sir,"

There & Back - Chapter 12. Mortgrange There & Back - Chapter 12. Mortgrange

There & Back - Chapter 12. Mortgrange
CHAPTER XII. MORTGRANGEIn the spring came a letter from young Lestrange, through Simon Armour, asking Richard upon what terms he would undertake the work wanted in the library. He handed the letter to his father, and they held a consultation. "There's this to be considered," said the bookbinder, "that, if you go there, you lose your connection here--in a measure, at least. Therefore you cannot do the work at the same rate as in your own shop." "On the other hand, I should have my keep." "That is true, and of course is something; but I think it may fairly be