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My reader will perceive that this part of my story is drawing to a close. It embraces but a brief period of my life, and I have plenty more behind not altogether unworthy of record. But the portions of any man's life most generally interesting are those in which, while the outward history is most stirring, it derives its chief significance from accompanying conflict within. It is not the rapid change of events, or the unusual concourse of circumstances that alone can interest the thoughtful mind; while, on the other hand, internal change and tumult can be ill set forth to the reader, save they be accompanied and in part, at least, occasioned by outward events capable of embodying and elucidating the things that are of themselves unseen. For man's life ought to be a whole; and not to mention the spiritual necessities of our nature--to leave the fact alone that a man is a mere thing of shreds and patches until his heart is united, as the Psalmist says, to fear the name of God--to leave these considerations aside, I say, no man's life is fit for representation as a work of art save in proportion as there has been a significant relation between his outer and inner life, a visible outcome of some sort of harmony between them. Therefore I chose the portion in which I had suffered most, and in which the outward occurrences of my own life had been most interesting, for the fullest representation; while I reserve for a more occasional and fragmentary record many things in the way of experience, thought, observation, and facts in the history both of myself and individuals of my flock, which admit of, and indeed require, a more individual treatment than would be altogether suitable to a continuous story. But before I close this part of my communications with those whom I count my friends, for till they assure me of the contrary I mean to flatter myself with considering my readers generally as such, I must gather up the ends of my thread, and dispose them in such a manner that they shall neither hang too loose, nor yet refuse length enough for what my friend Rogers would call splicing.
It was yet summer when Miss Oldcastle and I were married. It was to me a day awful in its gladness. She was now quite well, and no shadow hung upon her half-moon forehead. We went for a fortnight into Wales, and then returned to the vicarage and the duties of the parish, in which my wife was quite ready to assist me.
Perhaps it would help the wives of some clergymen out of some difficulties, and be their protection against some reproaches, if they would at once take the position with regard to the parishioners which Mrs Walton took, namely, that of their servant, but not in her own right--in her husband's. She saw, and told them so, that the best thing she could do for them was to help me, that she held no office whatever in the parish, and they must apply to me when anything went amiss. Had she not constantly refused to be a "judge or a divider," she would have been constantly troubled with quarrels too paltry to be referred to me, and which were the sooner forgotten that the litigants were not drawn on further and further into the desert of dispute by the mirage of a justice that could quench no thirst. Only when any such affair was brought before me, did she use her good offices to bring about a right feeling between the contending parties, generally next-door neighbours, and mostly women, who, being at home all day, found their rights clash in a manner that seldom happened with those that worked in the fields. Whatever her counsel could do, however, had full scope through me, who earnestly sought it. And whatever she gave the poor, she gave as a private person, out of her own pocket. She never administered the communion offering--that is, after finding out, as she soon did, that it was a source of endless dispute between some of the recipients, who regarded it as their common property, and were never satisfied with what they received. This is the case in many country parishes, I fear. As soon as I came to know it, I simply told the recipients that, although the communion offering belonged to them, yet the distribution of it rested entirely with me; and that I would distribute it neither according to their fancied merits nor the degree of friendship I felt for them, but according to the best judgment I could form as to their necessities; and if any of them thought these were underrated, they were quite at liberty to make a fresh representation of them to me; but that I, who knew more about their neighbours than it was likely they did, and was not prejudiced by the personal regards which they could hardly fail to be influenced by, was more likely than they were to arrive at an equitable distribution of the money--upon my principles if not on theirs. And at the same time I tried to show them that a very great part of the disputes in the world came from our having a very keen feeling of our own troubles, and a very dull feeling of our neighbour's; for if the case was reversed, and our neighbour's condition became ours, ten to one our judgment would be reversed likewise. And I think some of them got some sense out of what I said. But I ever found the great difficulty in my dealing with my people to be the preservation of the authority which was needful for service; for when the elder serve the younger--and in many cases it is not age that determines seniority--they must not forget that without which the service they offer will fail to be received as such by those to whom it is offered. At the same time they must ever take heed that their claim to authority be founded on the truth, and not on ecclesiastical or social position. Their standing in the church accredits their offer of service: the service itself can only be accredited by the Truth and the Lord of Truth, who is the servant of all.
But it cost both me and my wife some time and some suffering before we learned how to deport ourselves in these respects.
In the same manner she avoided the too near, because unprofitable, approaches of a portion of the richer part of the community. For from her probable position in time to come, rather than her position in time past, many of the fashionable people in the county began to call upon her--in no small degree to her annoyance, simply from the fact that she and they had so little in common. So, while she performed all towards them that etiquette demanded, she excused herself from the closer intimacy which some of them courted, on the ground of the many duties which naturally fell to the parson's wife in a country parish like ours; and I am sure that long before we had gained the footing we now have, we had begun to reap the benefits of this mode of regarding our duty in the parish as one, springing from the same source, and tending to the same end. The parson's wife who takes to herself authority in virtue of her position, and the parson's wife who disclaims all connexion with the professional work of her husband, are equally out of place in being parsons' wives. The one who refuses to serve denies her greatest privilege; the one who will be a mistress receives the greater condemnation. When the wife is one with her husband, and the husband is worthy, the position will soon reveal itself.
But there cannot be many clergymen's wives amongst my readers; and I may have occupied more space than reasonable with this "large discourse." I apologize, and, there is room to fear, go on to do the same again.
As I write I am seated in that little octagonal room overlooking the quarry, with its green lining of trees, and its deep central well. It is my study now. My wife is not yet too old to prefer the little room in which she thought and suffered so much, to every other, although the stair that leads to it is high and steep. Nor do I object to her preference because there is no ready way to reach it save through this: I see her the oftener. And although I do not like any one to look over my shoulder while I write--it disconcerts me somehow--yet the moment the sheet is finished and flung on the heap, it is her property, as the print, reader, is yours. I hear her step overhead now. She is opening her window. Now I hear her door close; and now her foot is on the stair.
"Come in, love. I have just finished another sheet. There it is. What shall I end the book with? What shall I tell the friends with whom I have been conversing so often and so long for the last thing ere for a little while I bid them good-bye?"
And Ethelwyn bends her smooth forehead--for she has a smooth forehead still, although the hair that crowns it is almost white--over the last few sheets; and while she reads, I will tell those who will read, one of the good things that come of being married. It is, that there is one face upon which the changes come without your seeing them; or rather, there is one face which you can still see the same through all the shadows which years have gathered and heaped upon it. No, stay; I have got a better way of putting it still: there is one face whose final beauty you can see the mere clearly as the bloom of youth departs, and the loveliness of wisdom and the beauty of holiness take its place; for in it you behold all that you loved before, veiled, it is true, but glowing with gathered brilliance under the veil ("Stop one moment, my dear") from which it will one day shine out like the moon from under a cloud, when a stream of the upper air floats it from off her face.
"Now, Ethelwyn, I am ready. What shall I write about next?"
"I don't think you have told them anywhere about Tom."
"No more I have. I meant to do so. But I am ashamed of it."
"The more reason to tell it."
"You are quite right. I will go on with it at once. But you must not stand there behind me. When I was a child, I could always confess best when I hid my face with my hands."
"Besides," said Ethelwyn, without seeming to hear what I said, "I do not want to have people saying that the vicar has made himself out so good that nobody can believe in him."
"That would be a great fault in my book, Ethelwyn. What does it come from in me? Let me see. I do not think I want to appear better than I am; but it sounds hypocritical to make merely general confessions, and it is indecorous to make particular ones. Besides, I doubt if it is good to write much about bad things even in the way of confession---"
"Well, well, never mind justifying it," said Ethelwyn. "I don't want any justification. But here is a chance for you. The story will, I think, do good, and not harm. You had better tell it, I do think. So if you are inclined, I will go away at once, and let you go on without interruption. You will have it finished before dinner, and Tom is coming, and you can tell him what you have done."
So, reader, now my wife has left me, I will begin. It shall not be a long story.
As soon as my wife and I had settled down at home, and I had begun to arrange my work again, it came to my mind that for a long time I had been doing very little for Tom Weir. I could not blame myself much for this, and I was pretty sure neither he nor his father blamed me at all; but I now saw that it was time we should recommence something definite in the way of study. When he came to my house the next morning, and I proceeded to acquaint myself with what he had been doing, I found to my great pleasure that he had made very considerable progress both in Latin and Mathematics, and I resolved that I would now push him a little. I found this only brought out his mettle; and his progress, as it seemed to me, was extraordinary. Nor was this all. There were such growing signs of goodness in addition to the uprightness which had first led to our acquaintance, that although I carefully abstained from making the suggestion to him, I was more than pleased when I discovered, from some remark he made, that he would gladly give himself to the service of the Church. At the same time I felt compelled to be the more cautious in anything I said, from the fact that the prospect of the social elevation which would be involved in the change might be a temptation to him, as no doubt it has been to many a man of humble birth. However, as I continued to observe him closely, my conviction was deepened that he was rarely fitted for ministering to his fellows; and soon it came to speech between his father and me, when I found that Thomas, so far from being unfavourably inclined to the proposal, was prepared to spend the few savings of his careful life upon his education. To this, however, I could not listen, because there was his daughter Mary, who was very delicate, and his grandchild too, for whom he ought to make what little provision he could. I therefore took the matter in my own hands, and by means of a judicious combination of experience and what money I could spare, I managed, at less expense than most parents suppose to be unavoidable, to maintain my young friend at Oxford till such time as he gained a fellowship. I felt justified in doing so in part from the fact that some day or other Mrs Walton would inherit the Oldcastle property, as well as come into possession of certain moneys of her own, now in the trust of her mother and two gentlemen in London, which would be nearly sufficient to free the estate from incumbrance, although she could not touch it as long as her mother lived and chose to refuse her the use of it, at least without a law-suit, with which neither of us was inclined to have anything to do. But I did not lose a penny by the affair. For of the very first money Tom received after he had got his fellowship, he brought the half to me, and continued to do so until he had repaid me every shilling I had spent upon him. As soon as he was in deacon's orders, he came to assist me for a while as curate, and I found him a great help and comfort. He occupied the large room over his father's shop which had been his grandfather's: he had been dead for some years.
I was now engaged on a work which I had been contemplating for a long time, upon the development of the love of Nature as shown in the earlier literature of the Jews and Greeks, through that of the Romans, Italians, and other nations, with the Anglo-Saxon for a fresh starting-point, into its latest forms in Gray, Thomson, Cowper, Crabbe, Wordsworth, Keats, and Tennyson; and Tom supplied me with much of the time which I bestowed upon this object, and I was really grateful to him. But, in looking back, and trying to account to myself for the snare into which I fell, I see plainly enough that I thought too much of what I had done for Tom, and too little of the honour God had done me in allowing me to help Tom. I took the high-dais-throne over him, not consciously, I believe, but still with a contemptible condescension, not of manner but of heart, so delicately refined by the innate sophistry of my selfishness, that the better nature in me called it only fatherly friendship, and did not recognize it as that abominable thing so favoured of all those that especially worship themselves. But I abuse my fault instead of confessing it.
One evening, a gentle tap came to my door, and Tom entered. He looked pale and anxious, and there was an uncertainty about his motions which I could not understand.
"What is the matter, Tom?" I asked.
"I wanted to say something to you, sir," answered Tom.
"Say on," I returned, cheerily.
"It is not so easy to say, sir," rejoined Tom, with a faint smile. "Miss Walton, sir--"
"Well, what of her? There's nothing happened to her? She was here a few minutes ago--though, now I think of it--"
Here a suspicion of the truth flashed on me, and struck me dumb. I am now covered with shame to think how, when the thing approached myself on that side, it swept away for the moment all my fine theories about the equality of men in Christ their Head. How could Tom Weir, whose father was a joiner, who had been a lad in a London shop himself, dare to propose marrying my sister? Instead of thinking of what he really was, my regard rested upon this and that stage through which he had passed to reach his present condition. In fact, I regarded him rather as of my making than of God's.
Perhaps it might do something to modify the scorn of all classes for those beneath them, to consider that, by regarding others thus, they justify those above them in looking down upon them in their turn. In London shops, I am credibly informed, the young women who serve in the show-rooms, or behind the counters, are called LADIES, and talk of the girls who make up the articles for sale as PERSONS. To the learned professions, however, the distinction between the shopwomen and milliners is, from their superior height, unrecognizable; while doctors and lawyers are again, I doubt not, massed by countesses and other blue-blooded realities, with the literary lions who roar at soirees and kettle-drums, or even with chiropodists and violin-players! But I am growing scornful at scorn, and forget that I too have been scornful. Brothers, sisters, all good men and true women, let the Master seat us where He will. Until he says, "Come up higher," let us sit at the foot of the board, or stand behind, honoured in waiting upon His guests. All that kind of thing is worth nothing in the kingdom; and nothing will be remembered of us but the Master's judgment.
I have known a good churchwoman who would be sweet as a sister to the abject poor, but offensively condescending to a shopkeeper or a dissenter, exactly as if he was a Pariah, and she a Brahmin. I have known good people who were noble and generous towards their so-called inferiors and full of the rights of the race--until it touched their own family, and just no longer. Yea I, who had talked like this for years, at once, when Tom Weir wanted to marry my sister, lost my faith in the broad lines of human distinction. judged according to appearances in which I did not even believe, and judged not righteous judgment.
"For," reasoned the world in me, "is it not too bad to drag your wife in for such an alliance? Has she not lowered herself enough already? Has she not married far below her accredited position in society? Will she not feel injured by your family if she see it capable of forming such a connexion?"
What answer I returned to Tom I hardly know. I remember that the poor fellow's face fell, and that he murmured something which I did not heed. And then I found myself walking in the garden under the great cedar, having stepped out of the window almost unconsciously, and left Tom standing there alone. It was very good of him ever to forgive me.
Wandering about in the garden, my wife saw me from her window, and met me as I turned a corner in the shrubbery.
And now I am going to have my revenge upon her in a way she does not expect, for making me tell the story: I will tell her share in it.
"What is the matter with you, Henry?" she asked.
"Oh, not much," I answered. "Only that Weir has been making me rather uncomfortable."
"What has he been doing?" she inquired, in some alarm. "It is not possible he has done anything wrong."
My wife trusted him as much as I did.
"No--o--o," I answered. "Not anything exactly wrong."
"It must be very nearly wrong, Henry, to make you look so miserable."
I began to feel ashamed and more uncomfortable.
"He has been falling in love with Martha," I said; "and when I put one thing to another, I fear he may have made her fall in love with him too." My wife laughed merrily.
"Whal a wicked curate!"
"Well, but you know it is not exactly agreeable."
"You know why well enough."
"At least, I am not going to take it for granted. Is he not a good man?"
"Is he not a well-educated man?"
"As well as myself--for his years."
"Is he not clever?"
"One of the cleverest fellows I ever met"
"Is he not a gentleman?"
"I have not a fault to find with his manners."
"Nor with his habits?" my wife went on.
"Nor with his ways of thinking?"
"No.--But, Ethelwyn, you know what I mean quite well. His family, you know."
"Well, is his father not a respectable man?"
"Oh, yes, certainly. Thoroughly respectable."
"He wouldn't borrow money of his tailor instead of paying for his clothes, would he?"
"And if he were to die to-day he would carry no debts to heaven with him?"
"I believe not."
"Does he bear false witness against his neighbour?"
"No. He scorns a lie as much as any man I ever knew."
"Which of the commandments is it in particular that he breaks, then?"
"None that I know of; excepting that no one can keep them yet that is only human. He tries to keep every one of them I do believe."
"Well, I think Tom very fortunate in having such a father. I wish my mother had been as good."
"That is all true, and yet--"
"And yet, suppose a young man you liked had had a fashionable father who had ruined half a score of trades-people by his extravagance--would you object to him because of his family?"
"Then, with you, position outweighs honesty--in fathers, at least."
To this I was not ready with an answer, and my wife went on.
"It might be reasonable if you did though, from fear lest he should turn out like his father.--But do you know why I would not accept your offer of taking my name when I should succeed to the property?"
"You said you liked mine better," I answered.
"So I did. But I did not tell you that I was ashamed that my good husband should take a name which for centuries had been borne by hard-hearted, worldly minded people, who, to speak the truth of my ancestors to my husband, were neither gentle nor honest, nor high-minded."
"Still, Ethelwyn, you know there is something in it, though it is not so easy to say what. And you avoid that. I suppose Martha has been talking you over to her side."
"Harry," my wife said, with a shade of solemnity, "I am almost ashamed of you for the first time. And I will punish you by telling you the truth. Do you think I had nothing of that sort to get over when I began to find that I was thinking a little more about you than was quite convenient under the circumstances? Your manners, dear Harry, though irreproachable, just had not the tone that I had been accustomed to. There was a diffidence about you also that did not at first advance you in my regard."
"Yes, yes," I answered, a little piqued, "I dare say. I have no doubt you thought me a boor."
"I beg your pardon, wifie. I know you didn't. But it is quite bad enough to have brought you down to my level, without sinking you still lower."
"Now there you are wrong, Harry. And that is what I want to show you. I found that my love to you would not be satisfied with making an exception in your favour. I must see what force there really was in the notions I had been bred in."
"Ah!" I said. "I see. You looked for a principle in what you had thought was an exception."
"Yes," returned my wife; "and I soon found one. And the next step was to throw away all false judgment in regard to such things. And so I can see more clearly than you into the right of the matter.--Would you hesitate a moment between Tom Weir and the dissolute son of an earl, Harry?"
"You know I would not."
"Well, just carry out the considerations that suggests, and you will find that where there is everything personally noble, pure, simple, and good, the lowliness of a man's birth is but an added honour to him; for it shows that his nobility is altogether from within him, and therefore is his own. It cannot then have been put on him by education or imitation, as many men's manners are, who wear their good breeding like their fine clothes, or as the Pharisee his prayers, to be seen of men."
"But his sister?"
"Harry, Harry! You were preaching last Sunday about the way God thinks of things. And you said that was the only true way of thinking about them. Would the Mary that poured the ointment on Jesus's head have refused to marry a good man because he was the brother of that Mary who poured it on His feet? Have you thought what God would think of Tom for a husband to Martha?"
I did not answer, for conscience had begun to speak. When I lifted my eyes from the ground, thinking Ethelwyn stood beside me, she was gone. I felt as if she were dead, to punish me for my pride. But still I could not get over it, though I was ashamed to follow and find her. I went and got my hat instead, and strolled out.
What was it that drew me towards Thomas Weir's shop? I think it must have been incipient repentance--a feeling that I had wronged the man. But just as I turned the corner, and the smell of the wood reached me, the picture so often associated in my mind with such a scene of human labour, rose before me. I saw the Lord of Life bending over His bench, fashioning some lowly utensil for some housewife of Nazareth. And He would receive payment for it too; for He at least could see no disgrace in the order of things that His Father had appointed. It is the vulgar mind that looks down on the earning and worships the inheriting of money. How infinitely more poetic is the belief that our Lord did His work like any other honest man, than that straining after His glorification in the early centuries of the Church by the invention of fables even to the disgrace of his father! They say that Joseph was a bad carpenter, and our Lord had to work miracles to set the things right which he had made wrong! To such a class of mind as invented these fables do those belong who think they honour our Lord when they judge anything human too common or too unclean for Him to have done.
And the thought sprung up at once in my mind--"If I ever see our Lord face to face, how shall I feel if He says to me; 'Didst thou do well to murmur that thy sister espoused a certain man for that in his youth he had earned his bread as I earned mine? Where was then thy right to say unto me, Lord, Lord?'"
I hurried into the workshop.
"Has Tom told you about it?" I said.
"Yes, sir. And I told him to mind what he was about; for he was not a gentleman, and you was, sir."
"I hope I am. And Tom is as much a gentleman as I have any claim to be."
Thomas Weir held out his hand.
"Now, sir, I do believe you mean in my shop what you say in your pulpit; and there is ONE Christian in the world at least.--But what will your good lady say? She's higher-born than you--no offence, sir."
"Ah, Thomas, you shame me. I am not so good as you think me. It was my wife that brought me to reason about it."
"God bless her."
"Amen. I'm going to find Tom."
At the same moment Tom entered the shop, with a very melancholy face. He started when he saw me, and looked confused.
"Tom, my boy," I said, "I behaved very badly to you. I am sorry for it. Come back with me, and have a walk with my sister. I don't think she'll be sorry to see you."
His face brightened up at once, and we left the shop together. Evidently with a great effort Tom was the first to speak.
"I know, sir, how many difficulties my presumption must put you in."
"Not another word about it, Tom. You are blameless. I wish I were. If we only act as God would have us, other considerations may look after themselves--or, rather, He will look after them. The world will never be right till the mind of God is the measure of things, and the will of God the law of things. In the kingdom of Heaven nothing else is acknowledged. And till that kingdom come, the mind and will of God must, with those that look for that kingdom, over-ride every other way of thinking, feeling, and judging. I see it more plainly than ever I did. Take my sister, in God's name, Tom, and be good to her."
Tom went to find Martha, and I to find Ethelwyn.
"It is all right," I said, "even to the shame I feel at having needed your reproof."
"Don't think of that. God gives us all time to come to our right minds, you know," answered my wife.
"But how did you get on so far a-head of me, wifie?"
"Why," she said, "I only told you back again what you have been telling me for the last seven or eight years."
So to me the message had come first, but my wife had answered first with the deed.
And now I have had my revenge on her.
Next to her and my children, Tom has been my greatest comfort for many years. He is still my curate, and I do not think we shall part till death part us for a time. My sister is worth twice what she was before, though they have no children. We have many, and they have taught me much.
Thomas Weir is now too old to work any longer. He occupies his father's chair in the large room of the old house. The workshop I have had turned into a school-room, of the external condition of which his daughter takes good care, while a great part of her brother Tom's time is devoted to the children; for he and I agree that, where it can be done, the pastoral care ought to be at least equally divided between the sheep and the lambs. For the sooner the children are brought under right influences--I do not mean a great deal of religious speech, but the right influences of truth and honesty, and an evident regard to what God wants of us--not only are they the more easily wrought upon, but the sooner do they recognize those influences as right and good. And while Tom quite agrees with me that there must not be much talk about religion, he thinks that there must be just the more acting upon religion; and that if it be everywhere at hand in all things taught and done, it will be ready to show itself to every one who looks for it. And besides that action is more powerful than speech in the inculcation of religion, Tom says there is no such corrective of sectarianism of every kind as the repression of speech and the encouragement of action.
Besides being a great help to me and everybody else almost in Marshmallows, Tom has distinguished himself in the literary world j and when I read his books I am yet prouder of my brother-in-law. I am only afraid that Martha is not good enough for him. But she certainly improves, as I have said already.
Jane Rogers was married to young Brownrigg about a year after we were married. The old man is all but confined to the chimney-corner now, and Richard manages the farm, though not quite to his father's satisfaction, of course. But they are doing well notwithstanding. The old mill has been superseded by one of new and rare device, built by Richard; but the old cottage where his wife's parents lived has slowly mouldered back to the dust.
For the old people have been dead for many years.
Often in the summer days as I go to or come from the vestry, I sit down for a moment on the turf that covers my old friend, and think that every day is mouldering away this body of mine till it shall fall a heap of dust into its appointed place. But what is that to me? It is to me the drawing nigh of the fresh morning of life, when I shall be young and strong again, glad in the presence of the wise and beloved dead, and unspeakably glad in the presence of my God, which I have now but hope to possess far more hereafter.
I will not take a solemn leave of my friends iust yet. For I hope to hold a little more communion with them ere I go hence. I know that my mental faculty is growing weaker, but some power yet remains; and I say to myself, "Perhaps this is the final trial of your faith--to trust in God to take care of your intellect for you, and to believe, in weakness, the truths He revealed to you in strength. Remember that Truth depends not upon your seeing it, and believe as you saw when your sight was at its best. For then you saw that the Truth was beyond all you could see." Thus I try to prepare for dark days that may come, but which cannot come without God in them.
And meantime I hope to be able to communicate some more of the good things experience and thought have taught me, and it may be some more of the events that have befallen my friends and myself in our pilgrimage. So, kind readers, God be with you. That is the older and better form of Good Bye.
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