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Chapter 31


The major was in no haste to leave, but he spent most of his time with Mark, and was in nobody's way. Mark was very happy with the major. The nature of the man was so childlike that, although he knew little of the deep things in which Mark was at home, his presence was never an interruption to the child's thoughts; and when the boy made a remark in the upward direction, he would look so grave, and hold such a peace that the child never missed the lacking words of response. Who knows what the man may not have gained even from silent communication with the child!

One day he was telling the boy how he had been out alone on a desolate hill all night; how he heard the beasts roaring round him, and not one of them came near him. "Did you see him?" asked Mark.

"See who, sonny?" returned the major.

"The one between you and them," answered Mark in a subdued tone; and from the tone the major understood.

"No," he answered; and taking into his the spirit of the child, went on. "I don't think any one sees him now-a-days."

"Isn't it a pity?" said Mark. Then after a thoughtful pause, he resumed: "Well, not see him just with your eyes, you know! But old Jonathan at the cottage--he has got no eyes--at least none to speak of, for they're no good to see with--he always speaks of seeing the people he has been talking with--and in a way he does see them, don't you think? But I fancy sometimes I must have seen him with my very eyes when I was young: and that's why I keep always expecting to see him again--some day, you know--some day. Don't you think I shall, Majie?"

"I hope so, indeed, Mark! It would be a bad job if we were never to see him!" he added, suddenly struck with a feeling he had never had before.

"Yes, indeed; that it would!" responded the child. "Why, where would be the good of it all, you know! That's what we came here for--ain't it? God calls children--I know he calls some, for he said, 'Samuel! Samuel!' I wish he would call me!"

"What would you say?" asked the major.

"I would say--' Here I am, God! What is it?' We musn't keep God waiting, you know!"

The major felt, like Wordsworth with the leech-gatherer, that the child was there to give him "apt admonishment." Could God have ever called him and he not have listened? Of course it was all a fancy! And yet as he looked at the child, and met his simple believing eyes, he felt he had been a great sinner, and the best things he had done were not fit to be looked at. Happily there were no conventional religious phrases in the mouth of the child to repel him; his father and mother had a horror of pharisaic Christianity: I use the word pharisaic in its true sense--as formal, not as hypocritical. They had both seen in their youth too many religious prigs to endure temple-whitewash on their children. Except what they heard at church, hardly a special religious phrase ever entered their ears. Those of the New Testament were avoided from reverence, lest they should grow common and fail of their purpose when the children read them for themselves. "But if this succeeded with Hester and Mark, how with Cornelius?" I answer, if to that youth's education had been added the common forms of a religious one, he would have been--not perhaps a worse fellow, but a far more offensive one, and harder to influence for good. Inclined to scoff, he would have had the religious material for jest and ribaldry ready to his hand; while if he had wanted to start as a hypocrite, it would have been specially easy. The true teaching for children is persons, history and doctrine in the old sense of the New Testament--instruction in righteousness, that is--not human theory about divine facts.

The major was still at Yrndale, when, in the gloomy month to which for reasons he had shifted his holiday, Cornelius arrived. The major could hardly accept him as one of the family, so utterly inferior did he show. There was a kind of mean beauty about his face and person and an evident varnish on his manners which revolted him. "That lad will bring grief on them!" he said to himself. He was more than usually polite to the major: he was in the army, the goal of his aspiration! but he laughed at what he called his vulgarity in private, and delighted to annoy Hester with remarks upon her "ancient adorer." Because he prized nothing of the kind, he could see nothing of his essential worth, and took note merely of his blunders, personal ways and oddities. The major was not properly vulgar, only ill-bred: he had not had a sharp enough mother, jealous for the good manners as well as good behaviour of her boy. There are many ladylike mothers--ladylike because their mothers were ladies and taught them to behave like ladies, whose children do not turn out ladies and gentlemen because they do not teach them as they were taught themselves. Cornelius had been taught--and had learned nothing but manners. He was vulgar with a vulgarity that went miles deeper than that of the major. The major would have been sorry to find he had hurt the feelings of a dog; Cornelius would have whistled on learning that he had hurt the feelings of a woman. If the major was a clown, Cornelius was a cad. The one was capable of genuine sympathy; the other not yet of any. The latter loved his own paltry self, counting it the most precious thing in creation; the former was conceited it is true, but had no lofty opinion of himself. Hence it was that he thought so much of his small successes. His boasting of them was mainly an uneasy effort at establishing himself comfortably in his own eyes and the eyes of friends. It was little more than a dog's turning of himself round and round before he lies down. He knew they were small things of which he boasted but he had no other, and scorned to invent: his great things, those in which he had shown himself a true and generous man, he looked on as matters of course, nor recognized anything in them worth thinking of. He was not a great man, but had elements of greatness; he had no vision of truth, but obeyed his moral instincts: when those should blossom into true intents, as one day they must, he would be a great man. As yet he was not safe. But how blessed a thing that God will judge us and man shall not! Where we see no difference, he sees ages of difference. The very thing that looks to us for condemnation may to the eyes of God show in its heart ground of excuse, yea, of partial justification. Only God's excuse is, I suspect, seldom coincident with the excuse a man makes for himself. If any one thinks that God will not search closely into things, I say there could not be such a God. He will see the uttermost farthing paid. His excuses are as just as his condemnations.

In respect of Cornelius the major was more careful than usual not to make himself disagreeable, for his feelings put him on his guard: there are not a few who behave better to those they do not like than to those they do. He thus flattered, without intending it, the vanity of the youth, who did not therefore spare his criticism behind his back. Hester usually answered in his defence, but sometimes would not condescend to justify him to such an accuser. One day she lost her temper with her beam-eyed brother. "Cornelius, the major may have his faults," she said, "but you are not the man to find them out. He is ten times the gentleman you are. I say it deliberately, and with all my soul!" As she began this speech, the major entered the room, but she did not see him. He asked Cornelius to go with him for a walk. Hoping he had only just come in, but a little anxious, Cornelius agreed, and as they walked behaved better than he had ever done before--till he had persuaded himself that the major had heard nothing, when he speedily relapsed into his former manner--one of condescension and thin offence to nearly every one about him. But all the time the major was studying him, and saw into him deeper than his mother or Hester--descried a certain furtive anxiety in the youth's eyes when he was silent, an unrest as of trouble he would not show. "The rascal has been doing something wrong," he said to himself; "he is afraid of being found out! And found out he is sure to be; he has not the brains to hide a thing! It's not murder--he ain't got the pluck for that; but it may be petty larceny!"

The weeks went on. Cornelius's month wore out, but he seemed restless for it to be gone, making no response to the lamentations of the children that Christmas was so near, and their new home such a grand one for keeping it in, and Corney not to be with them! He did not show them much kindness, but a little went a great way with them, and they loved him.

"Mind you're well, before I come again, Markie," he said as he took his leave; "you're not a pleasant sight moping about the house!" The tears came in the child's eyes. He was not moping--only weakly and even when looking a little sad, was quite happy.

"I don't think I mope, Hessy--do I?" he said. "What does Corney mean? I don't want to do what ain't nice. I want to be pleasant!"

"Never mind, Markie dear," answered Hester; "it's only that you are not very strong--not up to a game of romps as you used to be. You will be merry again one day."

"I am merry enough," replied Mark; "only somehow the merry goes all about inside me, and don't want to come out--like the little bird, you know, that wouldn't go out of its cage though I left the door open for it. I suppose it felt just like me. I don't care if I never go out of the house again."

He was indeed happy enough--more than happy when Majie was there. They would be together most days all day long. And the amount of stories Mark, with all his contemplativeness could swallow, was amazing. That may be good food which cannot give life. But the family-party was soon to be broken up--not by subtraction, but by addition. The presence of the major had done nothing to spoil the homeness of home, but it was now for a time to be set aside.

There is something wrong with anyone who, entering a house of any kind, makes it less of a home. The angel-stranger makes the children of a house more aware of their home; they delight in showing it to him, for he takes interest in all that belongs to the family-life--the only blessed life in heaven or upon earth, and sees the things as the children see them. But the stranger of this world makes the very home by his presence feel out of doors.

George MacDonald