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THE BLOWING OF THE WIND.
Smaller and smaller Faber felt as he pursued his plain, courageous confession of wrong to the man whose life was even now in peril for the sake of his neglected child. When he concluded with the expression of his conviction that Amanda was his daughter, then first the old minister spoke. His love had made him guess what was coming, and he was on his guard.
"May I ask what is your object in making this statement to me, Mr. Faber?" he said coldly.
"I am conscious of none but to confess the truth, and perform any duty that may be mine in consequence of the discovery," said the doctor.
"Do you wish this truth published to the people of Glaston?" inquired the minister, in the same icy tone.
"I have no such desire: but I am of course prepared to confess Amanda my child, and to make you what amends may be possible for the trouble and expense she has occasioned you."
"Trouble! Expense!" cried the minister fiercely. "Do you mean in your cold-blooded heart, that, because you, who have no claim to the child but that of self-indulgence--because you believe her yours, I who have for years carried her in my bosom, am going to give her up to a man, who, all these years, has made not one effort to discover his missing child? In the sight of God, which of us is her father? But I forget; that is a question you can not understand. Whether or not you are her father, I do not care a straw. You have not proved it; and I tell you that, until the court of chancery orders me to deliver up my darling to you, to be taught there is no living Father of men--and that by the fittest of all men to enforce the lie--not until then will I yield a hair of her head to you. God grant, if you were her father, her mother had more part in her than you!--A thousand times rather I would we had both perished in the roaring mud, than that I should have to give her up to you."
He struck his fist on the table, rose, and turned from him. Faber also rose, quietly, silent and pale. He stood a moment, waiting. Mr. Drake turned. Faber made him an obeisance, and left the room.
The minister was too hard upon him. He would not have been so hard but for his atheism; he would not have been so hard if he could have seen into his soul. But Faber felt he deserved it. Ere he reached home, however, he had begun to think it rather hard that, when a man confessed a wrong, and desired to make what reparation he could, he should have the very candor of his confession thus thrown in his teeth. Verily, even toward the righteous among men, candor is a perilous duty.
He entered the surgery. There he had been making some experiments with peroxide of manganese, a solution of which stood in a bottle on the table. A ray of brilliant sunlight was upon it, casting its shadow on a piece of white paper, a glorious red. It caught his eyes. He could never tell what it had to do with the current of his thoughts, but neither could he afterward get rid of the feeling that it had had some influence upon it. For as he looked at it, scarcely knowing he did, and thinking still how hard the minister had been upon him, suddenly he found himself in the minister's place, and before him Juliet making her sad confession: how had he met that confession? The whole scene returned, and for the first time struck him right on the heart, and then first he began to be in reality humbled in his own eyes. What if, after all, he was but a poor creature? What if, instead of having any thing to be proud of, he was in reality one who, before any jury of men or women called to judge him, must hide his head in shame?
The thought once allowed to enter and remain long enough to be questioned, never more went far from him. For a time he walked in the midst of a dull cloud, first of dread, then of dismay--a cloud from which came thunders, and lightnings, and rain. It passed, and a doubtful dawn rose dim and scared upon his consciousness, a dawn in which the sun did not appear, and on which followed a gray, solemn day. A humbler regard of himself had taken the place of confidence and satisfaction. An undefined hunger, far from understood by himself, but having vaguely for its object clearance and atonement and personal purity even, had begun to grow, and move within him. The thought stung him with keen self-contempt, yet think he must and did, that a woman might be spotted not a little, and yet be good enough for him in the eyes of retributive justice. He saw plainly that his treatment of his wife, knowing what he did of himself, was a far worse shame than any fault of which a girl, such as Juliet was at the time, could have been guilty. And with that, for all that he believed it utterly in vain, his longing after the love he had lost, grew and grew, ever passing over into sickening despair, and then springing afresh; he longed for Juliet as she had prayed to him--as the only power that could make him clean; it seemed somehow as if she could even help him in his repentance for the wrong done to Amanda's mother. The pride of the Pharisee was gone, the dignity of the husband had vanished, and his soul longed after the love that covers a multitude of sins, as the air in which alone his spirit could breathe and live and find room. I set it down briefly: the change passed upon him by many degrees, with countless alternations of mood and feeling, and without the smallest conscious change of opinion.
The rest of the day after receiving Faber's communication, poor Mr. Drake roamed about like one on the verge of insanity, struggling to retain lawful dominion over his thoughts. At times he was lost in apprehensive melancholy, at times roused to such fierce anger that he had to restrain himself from audible malediction. The following day Dorothy would have sent for Faber, for he had a worse attack of the fever than ever before, but he declared that the man should never again cross his threshold. Dorothy concluded there had been a fresh outbreak between them of the old volcano. He grew worse and worse, and did not object to her sending for Dr. Mather; but he did not do him much good. He was in a very critical state, and Dorothy was miserable about him. The fever was persistent, and the cough which he had had ever since the day that brought his illness, grew worse. His friends would gladly have prevailed upon him to seek a warmer climate, but he would not hear of it.
Upon one occasion, Dorothy, encouraged by the presence of Dr. Mather, was entreating him afresh to go somewhere from home for a while.
"No, no: what would become of my money?" he answered, with a smile which Dorothy understood. The doctor imagined it the speech of a man whom previous poverty and suddenly supervening wealth had made penurious.
"Oh!" he remarked reassuringly, "you need not spend a penny more abroad than you do at home. The difference in the living would, in some places, quite make up for the expense of the journey."
The minister looked bewildered for a moment, then seemed to find himself, smiled again, and replied--
"You do not quite understand me: I have a great deal of money to spend, and it ought to be spent here in England where it was made--God knows how."
"You may get help to spend it in England, without throwing your life away with it," said the doctor, who could not help thinking of his own large family.
"Yes, I dare say I might--from many--but it was given me to spend--in destroying injustice, in doing to men as others ought to have done to them. My preaching was such a poor affair that it is taken from me, and a lower calling given me--to spend money. If I do not well with that, then indeed I am a lost man. If I be not faithful in that which is another's, who will give me that which is my own? If I can not further the coming of Christ, I can at least make a road or two, exalt a valley or two, to prepare His way before Him."
Thereupon it was the doctor's turn to smile. All that was to him as if spoken in a language unknown, except that he recognized the religious tone in it. "The man is true to his profession," he said to himself, "--as he ought to be of course; but catch me spending my money that way, if I had but a hold of it!"
His father died soon after, and he got a hold of the money he called his, whereupon he parted with his practice, and by idleness and self-indulgence, knowing all the time what he was about, brought on an infirmity which no skill could cure, and is now a grumbling invalid, at one or another of the German spas. I mention it partly because many preferred this man to Faber on the ground that he went to church every Sunday, and always shook his head at the other's atheism.
Faber wrote a kind, respectful letter, somewhat injured in tone, to the minister, saying he was much concerned to hear that he was not so well, and expressing his apprehension that he himself had been in some measure the cause of his relapse. He begged leave to assure him that he perfectly recognized the absolute superiority of Mr. Drake's claim to the child. He had never dreamed of asserting any right in her, except so much as was implied in the acknowledgment of his duty to restore the expense which his wrong and neglect had caused her true father; beyond that he well knew he could make no return save in gratitude; but if he might, for the very partial easing of his conscience, be permitted to supply the means of the child's education, he was ready to sign an agreement that all else connected with it should be left entirely to Mr. Drake. He begged to be allowed to see her sometimes, for, long ere a suspicion had crossed his mind that she was his, the child was already dear to him. He was certain that her mother would have much preferred Mr. Drake's influence to his own, and for her sake also, he would be careful to disturb nothing. But he hoped Mr. Drake would remember that, however unworthy, he was still her father.
The minister was touched by the letter, moved also in the hope that an arrow from the quiver of truth had found in the doctor a vulnerable spot. He answered that he should be welcome to see the child when he would; and that she should go to him when he pleased. He must promise, however, as the honest man every body knew him to be, not to teach her there was no God, or lead her to despise the instructions she received at home.
The word honest was to Faber like a blow. He had come to the painful conclusion that he was neither honest man nor gentleman. Doubtless he would have knocked any one down who told him so, but then who had the right to take with him the liberties of a conscience? Pure love only, I suspect, can do that without wrong. He would not try less to be honest in the time to come, but he had never been, and could no more ever feel honest. It did not matter much. What was there worth any effort? All was flat and miserable--a hideous long life! What did it matter what he was, so long as he hurt nobody any more! He was tired of it all.
It added greatly to his despondency that he found he could no longer trust his temper. That the cause might be purely physical was no consolation to him. He had been accustomed to depend on his imperturbability, and now he could scarcely recall the feeling of the mental condition. He did not suspect how much the change was owing to his new-gained insight into his character, and the haunting dissatisfaction it caused.
To the minister he replied that he had been learning a good deal of late, and among other things that the casting away of superstition did not necessarily do much for the development of the moral nature; in consequence of which discovery, he did not feel bound as before to propagate the negative portions of his creed. If its denials were true, he no longer believed them powerful for good; and merely as facts he did not see that a man was required to disseminate them. Even here, however, his opinion must go for little, seeing he had ceased to care much for any thing, true or false. Life was no longer of any value to him, except indeed he could be of service to Amanda. Mr. Drake might be assured she was the last person on whom he would wish to bring to bear any of the opinions so objectionable in his eyes. He would make him the most comprehensive promise to that effect. Would Mr. Drake allow him to say one thing more?--He was heartily ashamed of his past history; and if there was one thing to make him wish there were a God--of which he saw no chance--it was that he might beg of Him the power to make up for the wrongs he had done, even if it should require an eternity of atonement. Until he could hope for that, he must sincerely hold that his was the better belief, as well as the likelier--namely, that the wronger and the wronged went into darkness, friendly with oblivion, joy and sorrow alike forgotten, there to bid adieu both to reproach and self-contempt. For himself he had no desire after prolonged existence. Why should he desire to live a day, not to say forever--worth nothing to himself, or to any one? If there were a God, he would rather entreat Him, and that he would do humbly enough, to unmake him again. Certainly, if there were a God, He had not done over well by His creatures, making them so ignorant and feeble that they could not fail to fall. Would Mr. Drake have made his Amanda so?
When Wingfold read the letter of which I have thus given the substance--it was not until a long time after, in Polwarth's room--he folded it softly together and said:
"When he wrote that letter, Paul Faber was already becoming not merely a man to love, but a man to revere." After a pause he added, "But what a world it would be, filled with contented men, all capable of doing the things for which they would despise themselves."
It was some time before the minister was able to answer the letter except by sending Amanda at once to the doctor with a message of kind regards and thanks. But his inability to reply was quite as much from the letter's giving him so much to think of first, as from his weakness and fever. For he saw that to preach, as it was commonly understood, the doctrine of the forgiveness of sins to such a man, would be useless: he would rather believe in a God who would punish them, than in One who would pass them by. To be told he was forgiven, would but rouse in him contemptuous indignation. "What is that to me?" he would return. "I remain what I am." Then grew up in the mind of the minister the following plant of thought: "Things divine can only be shadowed in the human; what is in man must be understood of God with the divine difference--not only of degree, but of kind, involved in the fact that He makes me, I can make nothing, and if I could, should yet be no less a creature of Him the Creator; therefore, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and what we call His forgiveness may be, must be something altogether transcending the conception of man--overwhelming to such need as even that of Paul Faber, whose soul has begun to hunger after righteousness, and whose hunger must be a hunger that will not easily be satisfied." For a poor nature will for a time be satisfied with a middling God; but as the nature grows richer, the ideal of the God desired grows greater. The true man can be satisfied only with a God of magnificence, never with a God such as in his childhood and youth had been presented to Faber as the God of the Bible. That God only whom Christ reveals to the humble seeker, can ever satisfy human soul.
Then it came into the minister's mind, thinking over Faber's religion toward his fellows, and his lack toward God, how when the young man asked Jesus what commandments he must keep up that he might inherit eternal life, Jesus did not say a word concerning those of the first table--not a word, that is, about his duty toward God; He spoke only of his duty toward man. Then it struck him that our Lord gave him no sketch or summary or part of a religious system--only told him what he asked, the practical steps by which he might begin to climb toward eternal life. One thing he lacked--namely, God Himself, but as to how God would meet him, Jesus says nothing, but Himself meets him on those steps with the offer of God. He treats the duties of the second table as a stair to the first--a stair which, probably by its crumbling away in failure beneath his feet as he ascended, would lift him to such a vision and such a horror of final frustration, as would make him stretch forth his hands, like the sinking Peter, to the living God, the life eternal which he blindly sought, without whose closest presence he could never do the simplest duty aright, even of those he had been doing from his youth up. His measure of success, and his sense of utter failure, would together lift him toward the One Good.
Thus, looking out upon truth from the cave of his brother's need, and seeing the direction in which the shadow of his atheism fell, the minister learned in what direction the clouded light lay, and turning his gaze thitherward, learned much. It is only the aged who have dropped thinking that become stupid. Such can learn no more, until first their young nurse Death has taken off their clothes, and put the old babies to bed. Of such was not Walter Drake. Certain of his formerly petted doctrines he now threw away as worse than rubbish; others he dropped with indifference; of some it was as if the angels picked his pockets without his knowing it, or ever missing them; and still he found, whatever so-called doctrine he parted with, that the one glowing truth which had lain at the heart of it, buried, mired, obscured, not only remained with him, but shone out fresh, restored to itself by the loss of the clay-lump of worldly figures and phrases, in which the human intellect had inclosed it. His faith was elevated, and so confirmed.
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