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Chapter 2

I TRY.


I hope no one will think I try to write like my father; for that would be to go against what he always made a great point of,--that nobody whatever should imitate any other person whatever, but in modesty and humility allow the seed that God had sown in her to grow. He said all imitation tended to dwarf and distort the plant, if it even allowed the seed to germinate at all. So, if I do write like him, it will be because I cannot help it.

I will just look how "The Seaboard Parish" ends, and perhaps that will put into my head how I ought to begin. I see my father does mention that I had then been Mrs. Percivale for many years. Not so very many though,--five or six, if I remember rightly, and that is three or four years ago. Yes; I nave been married nine years. I may as well say a word as to how it came about; and, if Percivale doesn't like it, the remedy lies in his pen. I shall be far more thankful to have any thing struck out on suspicion than remain on sufferance.

After our return home from Kilkhaven, my father and mother had a good many talks about me and Percivale, and sometimes they took different sides. I will give a shadow of one of these conversations. I think ladies can write fully as natural talk as gentlemen can, though the bits between mayn't be so good.

Mother.--I am afraid, my dear husband [This was my mother's most solemn mode of addressing my father], "they are too like each other to make a suitable match."

Father.--I am sorry to learn you consider me so very unlike yourself, Ethelwyn. I had hoped there was a very strong resemblance indeed, and that the match had not proved altogether unsuitable.

Mother.--Just think, though, what would have become of me by this time, if you had been half as unbelieving a creature as I was. Indeed, I fear sometimes I am not much better now.

Father.--I think I am, then; and I know you've done me nothing but good with your unbelief. It was just because I was of the same sort precisely that I was able to understand and help you. My circumstances and education and superior years--

Mother.--Now, don't plume yourself on that, Harry; for you know everybody says you look much the younger of the two.

Father.--I had no idea that everybody was so rude. I repeat, that my more years, as well as my severer education, had, no doubt, helped me a little further on before I came to know you; but it was only in virtue of the doubt in me that I was able to understand and appreciate the doubt in you.

Mother.--But then you had at least begun to leave it behind before I knew you, and so had grown able to help me. And Mr. Percivale does not seem, by all I can make out, a bit nearer believing in any thing than poor Wynnie herself.

Father.--At least, he doesn't fancy he believes when he does not, as so many do, and consider themselves superior persons in consequence. I don't know that it would have done you any great harm, Miss Ethelwyn, to have made my acquaintance when I was in the worst of my doubts concerning the truth of things. Allow me to tell you that I was nearer making shipwreck of my faith at a certain period than I ever was before or have been since.

Mother.--What period was that?

Father.--Just the little while when I had lost all hope of ever marrying you,--unbeliever as you counted yourself.

Mother.--You don't mean to say you would have ceased to believe in God, if he hadn't given you your own way?

Father.--No, my dear. I firmly believe, that, had I never married you, I should have come in the end to say, "Thy will be done," and to believe that it must be all right, however hard to bear. But, oh, what a terrible thing it would have been, and what a frightful valley of the shadow of death I should have had to go through first!

[I know my mother said nothing more just then, but let my father have it all his own way for a while.]

Father.--You see, this Percivale is an honest man. I don't exactly know how he has been brought up; and it is quite possible he may have had such evil instruction in Christianity that he attributes to it doctrines which, if I supposed they actually belonged to it, would make me reject it at once as ungodlike and bad. I have found this the case sometimes. I remember once being astonished to hear a certain noble-minded lady utter some indignant words against what I considered a very weighty doctrine of Christianity; but, listening, I soon found that what she supposed the doctrine to contain was something considered vastly unchristian. This may be the case with Percivale, though I never heard him say a word of the kind. I think his difficulty comes mainly from seeing so much suffering in the world, that he cannot imagine the presence and rule of a good God, and therefore lies with religion rather than with Christianity as yet. I am all but certain, the only thing that will ever make him able to believe in a God at all is meditation on the Christian idea of God,--I mean the idea of God in Christ reconciling the world to himself,--not that pagan corruption of Christ in God reconciling him to the world. He will then see that suffering is not either wrath or neglect, but pure-hearted love and tenderness. But we must give him time, wife; as God has borne with us, we must believe that he bears with others, and so learn to wait in hopeful patience until they, too, see as we see.

And as to trusting our Wynnie with Percivale, he seems to be as good as she is. I should for my part have more apprehension in giving her to one who would be called a thoroughly religious man; for not only would the unfitness be greater, but such a man would be more likely to confirm her in doubt, if the phrase be permissible. She wants what some would call homoeopathic treatment. And how should they be able to love one another, if they are not fit to be married to each other? The fitness, seems inherent to the fact.

Mother.--But many a two love each other who would have loved each other a good deal more if they hadn't been married.

Father.--Then it was most desirable they should find out that what they thought a grand affection was not worthy of the name. But I don't think there is much fear of that between those two.

Mother.--I don't, however, see how that man is to do her any good, when you have tried to make her happy for so long, and all in vain.

Father.--I don't know that it has been all in vain. But it is quite possible she does not understand me. She fancies, I dare say, that I believe every thing without any trouble, and therefore cannot enter into her difficulties.

Mother.--But you have told her many and many a time that you do.

Father.--Yes: and I hope I was right; but the same things look so different to different people that the same words won't describe them to both; and it may seem to her that I am talking of something not at all like what she is feeling or thinking of. But when she sees the troubled face of Percivale, she knows that he is suffering; and sympathy being thus established between them, the least word of the one will do more to help the other than oceans of argument. Love is the one great instructor. And each will try to be good, and to find out for the sake of the other.

Mother.--I don't like her going from home for the help that lay at her very door.

Father.--You know, my dear, you like the Dean's preaching much better than mine.

Mother.--Now, that is unkind of you!

Father.--And why? [My father went on, taking no heed of my mother's expostulation.] Because, in the first place, it is better; because, in the second, it comes in a newer form to you, for you have got used to all my modes; in the third place, it has more force from the fact that it is not subject to the doubt of personal preference; and lastly, because he has a large, comprehensive way of asserting things, which pleases you better than my more dubitant mode of submitting them,--all very sound and good reasons: but still, why be so vexed with Wynnie?

[My mother was now, however, so vexed with my father for saying she preferred the Dean's preaching to his,--although I doubt very much whether it wasn't true,--that she actually walked out of the octagon room where they were, and left him to meditate on his unkindness. Vexed with herself the next moment, she returned as if nothing had happened. I am only telling what my mother told me; for to her grown daughters she is blessedly trusting.]

Mother.--Then if you will have them married, husband, will you say how on earth you expect them to live? He just makes both ends meet now: I suppose he doesn't make things out worse than they are; and that is his own account of the state of his affairs.

Father.--Ah, yes! that is--a secondary consideration, my dear. But I have hardly begun to think about it yet. There will be a difficulty there, I can easily imagine; for he is far too independent to let us do any thing for him.

Mother.--And you can't do much, if they would. Really, they oughtn't to marry yet.

Father.--Really, we must leave it to themselves. I don't think you and I need trouble our heads about it. When Percivale considers himself prepared to marry, and Wynnie thinks he is right, you may be sure they see their way to a livelihood without running in hopeless debt to their tradespeople.

Mother.--Oh, yes! I dare say: in some poky little lodging or other!

Father.--For my part, Ethelwyn, I think it better to build castles in the air than huts in the smoke. But seriously, a little poverty and a little struggling would be a most healthy and healing thing for Wynnie. It hasn't done Percivale much good yet, I confess; for he is far too indifferent to his own comforts to mind it: but it will be quite another thing when he has a young wife and perhaps children depending upon him. Then his poverty may begin to hurt him, and so do him some good.


       *      *      *      *      *      *      *


It may seem odd that my father and mother should now be taking such opposite sides to those they took when the question of our engagement was first started, as represented by my father in "The Seaboard Parish." But it will seem inconsistent to none of the family; for it was no unusual thing for them to take opposite sides to those they had previously advocated,--each happening at the time, possibly enlightened by the foregone arguments of the other, to be impressed with the correlate truth, as my father calls the other side of a thing. Besides, engagement and marriage are two different things; and although my mother was the first to recognize the good of our being engaged, when it came to marriage she got frightened, I think. Any how, I have her authority for saying that something like this passed between her and my father on the subject.

Discussion between them differed in this from what I have generally heard between married people, that it was always founded on a tacit understanding of certain unmentioned principles; and no doubt sometimes, if a stranger had been present, he would have been bewildered as to the very meaning of what they were saying. But we girls generally understood: and I fancy we learned more from their differences than from their agreements; for of course it was the differences that brought out their minds most, and chiefly led us to think that we might understand. In our house there were very few of those mysteries which in some houses seem so to abound; and I think the openness with which every question, for whose concealment there was no special reason, was discussed, did more than even any direct instruction we received to develop what thinking faculty might be in us. Nor was there much reason to dread that my small brothers might repeat any thing. I remember hearing Harry say to Charley once, they being then eight and nine years old, "That is mamma's opinion, Charley, not yours; and you know we must not repeat what we hear."

They soon came to be of one mind about Mr. Percivale and me: for indeed the only real ground for doubt that had ever existed was, whether I was good enough for him; and for my part, I knew then and know now, that I was and am dreadfully inferior to him. And notwithstanding the tremendous work women are now making about their rights (and, in as far as they are their rights, I hope to goodness they may get them, if it were only that certain who make me feel ashamed of myself because I, too, am a woman, might perhaps then drop out of the public regard),--notwithstanding this, I venture the sweeping assertion, that every woman is not as good as every man, and that it is not necessary to the dignity of a wife that she should assert even equality with her husband. Let him assert her equality or superiority if he will; but, were it a fact, it would be a poor one for her to assert, seeing her glory is in her husband. To seek the chief place is especially unfitting the marriage-feast. Whether I be a Christian or not,--and I have good reason to doubt it every day of my life,--at least I see that in the New Jerusalem one essential of citizenship consists in knowing how to set the good in others over against the evil in ourselves.

There, now, my father might have said that! and no doubt has said so twenty times in my hearing. It is, however, only since I was married that I have come to see it for myself; and, now that I do see it, I have a right to say it.

So we were married at last. My mother believes it was my father's good advice to Percivale concerning the sort of pictures he painted, that brought it about. For certainly soon after we were engaged, he began to have what his artist friends called a run of luck: he sold one picture after another in a very extraordinary and hopeful manner. But Percivale says it was his love for me--indeed he does--which enabled him to see not only much deeper into things, but also to see much better the bloom that hangs about every thing, and so to paint much better pictures than before. He felt, he said, that he had a hold now where before he had only a sight. However this may be, he had got on so well for a while that he wrote at last, that, if I was willing to share his poverty, it would not, he thought, be absolute starvation; and I was, of course, perfectly content. I can't put in words--indeed I dare not, for fear of writing what would be, if not unladylike, at least uncharitable--my contempt for those women who, loving a man, hesitate to run every risk with him. Of course, if they cannot trust him, it is a different thing. I am not going to say any thing about that; for I should be out of my depth,--not in the least understanding how a woman can love a man to whom she cannot look up. I believe there are who can; I see some men married whom I don't believe any woman ever did or ever could respect; all I say is, I don't understand it.

My father and mother made no objection, and were evidently at last quite agreed that it would be the best thing for both of us; and so, I say, we were married.

I ought to just mention, that, before the day arrived, my mother went up to London at Percivale's request, to help him in getting together the few things absolutely needful for the barest commencement of housekeeping. For the rest, it had been arranged that we should furnish by degrees, buying as we saw what we liked, and could afford it. The greater part of modern fashions in furniture, having both been accustomed to the stateliness of a more artistic period, we detested for their ugliness, and chiefly, therefore, we desired to look about us at our leisure.

My mother came back more satisfied with the little house he had taken than I had expected. It was not so easy to get one to suit us; for of course he required a large room to paint in, with a good north light. He had however succeeded better than he had hoped.

"You will find things very different from what you have been used to, Wynnie," said my mother.

"Of course, mamma; I know that," I answered. "I hope I am prepared to meet it. If I don't like it, I shall have no one to blame but myself; and I don't see what right people have to expect what they have been used to."

"There is just this advantage," said my father, "in having been used to nice things, that it ought to be easier to keep from sinking into the sordid, however straitened the new circumstances may be, compared with the old."

On the evening before the wedding, my father took me into the octagon room, and there knelt down with me and my mother, and prayed for me in such a wonderful way that I was perfectly astonished and overcome. I had never known him to do any thing of the kind before. He was not favorable to extempore prayer in public, or even in the family, and indeed had often seemed willing to omit prayers for what I could not always count sufficient reason: he had a horror at their getting to be a matter of course, and a form; for then, he said, they ceased to be worship at all, and were a mere pagan rite, better far left alone. I remember also he said, that those, however good they might be, who urged attention to the forms of religion, such as going to church and saying prayers, were, however innocently, just the prophets of Pharisaism; that what men had to be stirred up to was to lay hold upon God, and then they would not fail to find out what religious forms they ought to cherish. "The spirit first, and then the flesh," he would say. To put the latter before the former was a falsehood, and therefore a frightful danger, being at the root of all declensions in the Church, and making ever-recurring earthquakes and persecutions and repentances and reformations needful. I find what my father used to say coming back so often now that I hear so little of it,--especially as he talks much less, accusing himself of having always talked too much,--and I understand it so much better now, that I shall be always in danger of interrupting my narrative to say something that he said. But when I commence the next chapter, I shall get on faster, I hope. My story is like a vessel I saw once being launched: it would stick on the stocks, instead of sliding away into the expectant waters.


George MacDonald