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THE ROAD TO OWLKIRK.
Paul Faber fared otherwise. Hardly was he in bed before he was called out of it again. A messenger had come from Mrs. Puckridge to say that Miss Meredith was worse, and if the doctor did not start at once, she would be dead before he reached Owlkirk. He sent orders to his groom to saddle Niger and bring him round instantly, and hurried on his clothes, vexed that he had taken Ruber both in the morning and afternoon, and could not have him now. But Niger was a good horse also: if he was but two-thirds of Ruber's size, he was but one-third of his age, and saw better at night. On the other hand he was less easily seen, but the midnight there was so still and deserted, that that was of small consequence. In a few minutes they were out together in a lane as dark as pitch, compelled now to keep to the roads, for there was not light enough to see the pocket-compass by which the surgeon sometimes steered across country.
Could we learn what waking-dreams haunted the boyhood of a man, we should have a rare help toward understanding the character he has developed. Those of the young Faber were, almost exclusively, of playing the prince of help and deliverance among women and men. Like most boys that dream, he dreamed himself rich and powerful, but the wealth and power were for the good of his fellow-creatures. If it must be confessed that he lingered most over the thanks and admiration he set to haunt his dream-steps, and hover about his dream-person, it must be remembered that he was the only real person in the dreams, and that he regarded lovingly the mere shadows of his fellow-men. His dreams were not of strength and destruction, but of influence and life. Even his revenges never-reached further than the making of his enemies ashamed.
It was the spirit of help, then, that had urged him into the profession he followed. He had found much dirt about the door of it, and had not been able to cross the threshold without some cleaving to his garments. He is a high-souled youth indeed, in whom the low regards and corrupt knowledge of his superiors will fail utterly of degrading influence; he must be one stronger than Faber who can listen to scoffing materialism from the lips of authority and experience, and not come to look upon humanity and life with a less reverent regard. What man can learn to look upon the dying as so much matter about to be rekneaded and remodeled into a fresh mass of feverous joys, futile aspirations, and stinging chagrins, without a self-contempt from which there is no shelter but the poor hope that we may be a little better than we appear to ourselves. But Faber escaped the worst. He did not learn to look on humanity without respect, or to meet the stare of appealing eyes from man or animal, without genuine response--without sympathy. He never joined in any jest over suffering, not to say betted on the chance of the man who lay panting under the terrors of an impending operation. Can one be capable of such things, and not have sunk deep indeed in the putrid pit of decomposing humanity? It is true that before he began to practice, Faber had come to regard man as a body and not an embodiment, the highest in him as dependent on his physical organization--as indeed but the aroma, as it were, of its blossom the brain, therefore subject to all the vicissitudes of the human plant from which it rises; but he had been touched to issues too fine to be absolutely interpenetrated and inslaved by the reaction of accepted theories. His poetic nature, like the indwelling fire of the world, was ever ready to play havoc with induration and constriction, and the same moment when degrading influences ceased to operate, the delicacy of his feeling began to revive. Even at its lowest, this delicacy preserved him from much into which vulgar natures plunge; it kept alive the memory of a lovely mother; and fed the flame of that wondering, worshiping reverence for women which is the saviour of men until the Truth Himself saves both. A few years of worthy labor in his profession had done much to develop him, and his character for uprightness, benevolence, and skill, with the people of Glaston and its neighborhood, where he had been ministering only about a year, was already of the highest. Even now, when, in a fever of honesty, he declared there could be no God in such an ill-ordered world, so full was his heart of the human half of religion, that he could not stand by the bedside of dying man or woman, without lamenting that there was no consolation--that stern truth would allow him to cast no feeblest glamour of hope upon the departing shadow. His was a nobler nature than theirs who, believing no more than he, are satisfied with the assurance that at the heart of the evils of the world lie laws unchangeable.
The main weak point in him was, that, while he was indeed tender-hearted, and did no kindnesses to be seen of men, he did them to be seen of himself: he saw him who did them all the time. The boy was in the man; doing his deeds he sought, not the approbation merely, but the admiration of his own consciousness. I am afraid to say this was wrong, but it was poor and childish, crippled his walk, and obstructed his higher development. He liked to know himself a benefactor. Such a man may well be of noble nature, but he is a mere dabbler in nobility. Faber delighted in the thought that, having repudiated all motives of personal interest involved in religious belief, all that regard for the future, with its rewards and punishments, which, in his ignorance, genuine or willful, of essential Christianity, he took for its main potence, he ministered to his neighbor, doing to him as he would have him do to himself, hopeless of any divine recognition, of any betterness beyond the grave, in a fashion at least as noble as that of the most devoted of Christians. It did not occur to him to ask if he loved him as well--if his care about him was equal to his satisfaction in himself. Neither did he reflect that the devotion he admired in himself had been brought to the birth in him through others, in whom it was first generated by a fast belief in an unselfish, loving, self-devoting God. Had he inquired he might have discovered that this belief had carried some men immeasurably further in the help of their fellows, than he had yet gone. Indeed he might, I think, have found instances of men of faith spending their lives for their fellows, whose defective theology or diseased humility would not allow them to hope their own salvation. Inquiry might have given him ground for fearing that with the love of the imagined God, the love of the indubitable man would decay and vanish. But such as Faber was, he was both loved and honored by all whom he had ever attended; and, with his fine tastes, his genial nature, his quiet conscience, his good health, his enjoyment of life, his knowledge and love of his profession, his activity, his tender heart--especially to women and children, his keen intellect, and his devising though not embodying imagination, if any man could get on without a God, Faber was that man. He was now trying it, and as yet the trial had cost him no effort: he seemed to himself to be doing very well indeed. And why should he not do as well as the thousands, who counting themselves religious people, get through the business of the hour, the day, the week, the year, without one reference in any thing they do or abstain from doing, to the will of God, or the words of Christ? If he was more helpful to his fellows than they, he fared better; for actions in themselves good, however imperfect the motives that give rise to them, react blissfully upon character and nature. It is better to be an atheist who does the will of God, than a so-called Christian who does not. The atheist will not be dismissed because he said Lord, Lord, and did not obey. The thing that God loves is the only lovely thing, and he who does it, does well, and is upon the way to discover that he does it very badly. When he comes to do it as the will of the perfect Good, then is he on the road to do it perfectly--that is, from love of its own inherent self-constituted goodness, born in the heart of the Perfect. The doing of things from duty is but a stage on the road to the kingdom of truth and love. Not the less must the stage be journeyed; every path diverging from it is "the flowery way that leads to the broad gate and the great fire."
It was with more than his usual zeal of helpfulness that Faber was now riding toward Owlkirk, to revisit his new patient. Could he have mistaken the symptoms of her attack?
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