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Chapter 50


In the meantime things had been going very gloomily at Yrndale. Mrs. Raymount was better in health but hardly more cheerful. How could she be? how get over the sadness that her boy was such? But the thing that most oppressed her was to see the heart of his father so turned from the youth. What would become of them if essential discord invaded their home! Cornelius had not been pleasant, even she was to herself compelled to admit, since first he began to come within sight of manhood; but she had always looked to the time when growing sense would make him cast aside young-mannish ways; and this was the outcome of her cares and hopes and prayers for him! Her husband went about listless and sullen. He wrote no more. How could one thus disgraced in his family presume to teach the world anything! How could he ever hold up his head as one that had served his generation, when this was the kind of man he was to leave behind him for the life of the next! Cornelius's very being cast doubt on all he had ever said or done!

He had been proud of his children: they were like those of any common stock! and the shame recoiled upon himself. Bitterly he recalled the stain upon his family in generations gone by. He had never forged or stolen himself, yet the possibility had remained latent in him, else how could he have transmitted it? Perhaps there were things in which he might have been more honest, and so have killed the latent germ and his child not have had it to develop! Far into the distance he saw a continuous succession of dishonest Raymounts, nor succession only but multiplication, till streets and prisons were swarming with them. For hours he would sit with his hands in his pockets, scarcely daring to think, for the misery of the thoughts that came crowding out the moment the smallest chink was opened in their cage. He had become short, I do not say rough in his speech to his wife. He would break into sudden angry complaints against Hester for not coming home, but stop dead in the middle, as if nothing was worth being angry about now, and turn away with a sigh that was almost a groan. The sight of the children was a pain to him. Saffy was not one to understand much of grief beyond her own passing troubles; it was a thing for which she seemed to have little reception; and her occasionally unsympathetic ways were, considering her age, more of a grief to her mother than was quite reasonable; she feared she saw in her careless glee the same root which in her brother flowered in sullen disregard. Mark was very different. The father would order Saffy away, but the boy might come and go as he pleased, nor give him any annoyance, although he never or scarcely ever took any notice of him. He had been told nothing of the cause of his parents' evident misery. When the news came of Corney's illness, his mother told him of that; but he had sympathy and penetration enough to perceive that there must be something amiss more than that: if this were all, they would have told him of it when first they began to be changed! And when the news came that he was getting better, his father did not seem the least happier! He would sometimes stand and gaze at his father, but the solemn, far-off, starry look of the boy's eyes never seemed to disturb him. He loved his father as few boys love, and yet had a certain dread of him and discomfort in his presence, which he could not have accounted for, and which would vanish at once when he spoke to him. He had never recovered the effects of being so nearly drowned, and in the readier apprehension caused by accumulated troubles his mother began to doubt if ever he would be well again. He had got a good deal thinner; his food did not seem to nourish him; and his being seemed slipping away from the hold of the world. He was full of dreams and fancies, all of the higher order of things where love is the law. He did not read much that was new, for he soon got tired with the effort to understand; but he would spend happy hours alone, seeming to the ordinary eye to be doing nothing, because his doing was with the unseen. So-called religious children are often peculiarly disagreeable, mainly from false notions of the simple thing religion in their parents and teachers; but in truth nowhere may religion be more at home than in a child. A strong conscience and a loving regard to the desires of others were Mark's chief characteristics. When such children as he die, we may well imagine them wanted for special work in the world to which they go. If the very hairs of our head are all numbered, and he said so who knew and is true, our children do not drop hap-hazard into the near world, neither are they kept out of it by any care or any power of medicine: all goes by heavenliest will and loveliest ordinance. Some of us will have to be ashamed of our outcry after our dead. Beloved, even for your dear faces we can wait awhile, seeing it is His father, your father and our father to whom you have gone, leaving us with him still. Our day will come, and your joy and ours, and all shall be well.

The attachment of Mark to the major continued growing.

"When Majie comes," he said one of those days, "he must not go again."

"Why, Markie?" asked his mother, almost without a meaning, for her thought was with her eldest-born, her disgrace.

"Because, if he does," he answered, "I shall not see much of him."

The mother looked at the child, but said nothing. Sorrow was now the element of her soul. Cornelius had destroyed the family heart; the family must soon be broken up, and vanish in devouring vacancy! Do you ask where was her faith? I answer, Just where yours and mine is when we give thanks trusting in the things for which we give thanks; when we rest in what we have, in what we can do, in what people think of us, in the thought of the friends we have at our back, or in anything whatever but the living, outgoing power of the self-alive--the one causing potency in the heart of our souls, and in every clothing of those souls, from nerve, muscle, and skin to atmosphere and farthest space. The living life is the one power, the only that can, and he who puts his trust or hope in anything else whatever is a worshipper of idols. He who does not believe in God must be a truster in that which is lower than himself.

Mark seldom talked about his brother. Before he went away the last time he had begun to shrink from him a little, as if with some instinct of an inward separation. He would stand a little way off and look at him as if he were a stranger in whom he was interested, and as if he himself were trying to determine what mental attitude he must assume towards him. When he heard that he was ill, the tears came in his eyes, but he did not speak.

"Are you not sorry for Corney?" said his mother.

"I'm sorry," he answered, "because it must make him unhappy. He does not like being ill."

"You don't like being ill, I'm sure Mark!" returned his mother, apprehending affectation.

"I don't mind it much," answered the boy, looking far away--as it seemed to his mother, towards a region to which she herself had begun to look with longing. The way her husband took their grief made them no more a family, but a mere household. He brooded alone and said nothing. They did not share sorrow as they had shared joy.

At last came a letter from Hester saying that in two days she hoped to start with Corney to bring him home. The mother read the letter, and with a faded gleam of joy on her countenance, passed it to her husband. He took it, glanced at it, threw it from him, rose, and left the room. For an hour his wife heard him pacing up and down his study; then he took his hat and stick and went out. What he might have resolved upon had Corney been returning in tolerable health, I do not know--possibly to kick him out of the house for his impudence in daring to show his face there; but even this wrathful father, who thought he did well to be angry, could not turn from his sickly child, let him be the greatest scoundrel under the all-seeing sun? But not therefore would he receive or acknowledge him! Swine were the natural companions of the prodigal, and the sooner he was with them the better! There was truth in the remark, but hell in the spirit of it: for the heart of the father was turned from his son. The Messiah came to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children. Strange it should ever have wanted doing! But it wants doing still. There is scarce a discernible segment of the round of unity between many fathers and their children.

Gerald Raymount went walking through the pine-woods on his hills. Little satisfaction lay in land to which such a son was to succeed! No! the land was his own! not an acre, not as much as would bury him, should the rascal have! Alas! he had taken honesty as a matter of course in his family. Were they not his children? He had not thought of God as the bond of life between him and them, nor sought to nourish the life in them. He was their father and was content with them. He had pondered much the laws by which society proceeds and prospers, but had not endeavoured in his own case to carry towards perfection the relation that first goes to the making of society: the relation between himself and his children had been left to shift for itself. He had never known anything of what was going on in the mind of his son. He had never asked himself if the boy loved the truth--if he cared that things should stand in him on the footing of eternal reason, or if his consciousness was anything better than the wallowing of a happy-go-lucky satisfaction in being. And now he was astonished to find his boy no better than the common sort of human animal! My reader may say he was worse, for there is the stealing; but that is just the point in which I see him likest the common run of men, while in his home relations he was worse. It is my conviction that such an act of open disgrace as he had been guilty of, may be the outcome of evil more easy to cast off than that indicated by home-habits embodying a selfishness regarded embodied in families, and which perhaps are as a mere matter of course. There is little hope of the repentance and redemption of certain some until they have committed one or another of the many wrong things of which they are daily, through a course of unrestrained selfishness, becoming more and more capable. Few seem to understand that the true end is not to keep their children from doing what is wrong, though that is on the way to it, but to render them incapable of doing wrong. While one is capable of doing wrong, he is no nearer right than if that wrong were done--not so near as if the wrong were done and repented of. Some minds are never roused to the true nature of their selfishness until having clone some patent wrong, the eyes of the collective human conscience are fixed with the essence of human disapprobation and general repudiation upon them. Doubtless in the disapproving crowd are many just as capable of the wrong as they, but the deeper nature in them, God's and not yet theirs utters its disapproval, and the culprit feels it. Happy he if then at last he begin to turn from the evil itself, so repenting! This Cornelius had not begun to do yet, but his illness, while perhaps it delayed the time when the thought of turning should present itself, made it more likely the thought would be entertained when it did present itself.

The father came back from his lonely walk, in which his communion with nature had been of the smallest, as determined as before that his son, having unsonned himself, should no more be treated as a son. He could not refuse him shelter in his house for a time, but he should be in it on sufferance--in no right of sonship, and should be made to understand it was so!

But the heart of the mother was longing after her boy, like a human hen whose chicken had run from under her wing and come to grief. He had sinned, he had suffered, and was in disgrace--good reasons why the mother's heart should cling to the youth, why her arms should long to fold him to her bosom! The things which made his father feel he could not speak to him again, worked in the deeper nature of the mother in opposite fashion. In her they reached a stratum of the Divine. Was he unlovely?--she must love him the more! Was he selfish and repellent?--she must get the nearer to him! Everything was reason to her for love and more love. If he were but with her! She would clasp him so close that evil should not touch him! Satan himself could not get at him with her whole mother-being folded round him! She had been feeling of late as if she could not get near him: now that sickness had reduced his strength, and shame his proud spirit, love would have room to enter and minister! The good of all evil is to make a way for love, which is essential good. Therefore evil exists, and will exist until love destroy and cast it out. Corney could not keep his mother out of his heart now! She thought there were ten things she could do for him now to one she could have done for him before! When, oh when would he appear, that her heart might go out to meet him!

George MacDonald