Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part II.--His Youth
Chapter VIII. A Human Providence.
Robert kept himself thoroughly awake the whole night, and it was well that he had not to attend classes in the morning. As the gray of the world's reviving consciousness melted in at the window, the things around and within him looked and felt ghastly. Nothing is liker the gray dawn than the soul of one who has been watching by a sick bed all the long hours of the dark, except, indeed, it be the first glimmerings of truth on the mind lost in the dark of a godless life.
Ericson had waked often, and Robert had administered his medicine carefully. But he had been mostly between sleeping and waking, and had murmured strange words, whose passing shadows rather than glimmers roused the imagination of the youth as with messages from regions unknown.
As the light came he found his senses going, and went to his own room again to get a book that he might keep himself awake by reading at the window. To his surprise Shargar was gone, and for a moment he doubted whether he had not been dreaming all that had passed between them the night before. His plaid was folded up and laid upon a chair, as if it had been there all night, and his Ainsworth was on the table. But beside it was the money Shargar had drawn from his pockets.
About nine o'clock Dr. Anderson arrived, found Ericson not so much worse as he had expected, comforted Robert, and told him he must go to bed.
'But I cannot leave Mr. Ericson,' said Robert.
'Let your friend--what's his odd name?--watch him during the day.'
'Shargar, you mean, sir. But that's his nickname. His rale name they say his mither says, is George Moray--wi' an o an' no a u-r.--Do you see, sir?' concluded Robert significantly.
'No, I don't,' answered the doctor.
'They say he's a son o' the auld Markis's, that's it. His mither's a randy wife 'at gangs aboot the country--a gipsy they say. There's nae doobt aboot her. An' by a' accoonts the father's likly eneuch.'
'And how on earth did you come to have such a questionable companion?'
'Shargar's as fine a crater as ever God made,' said Robert warmly. 'Ye'll alloo 'at God made him, doctor; though his father an' mither thochtna muckle aboot him or God either whan they got him atween them? An' Shargar couldna help it. It micht ha' been you or me for that maitter, doctor.'
'I beg your pardon, Robert,' said Dr. Anderson quietly, although delighted with the fervour of his young kinsman: 'I only wanted to know how he came to be your companion.'
'I beg your pardon, doctor--but I thoucht ye was some scunnert at it; an' I canna bide Shargar to be luikit doon upo'. Luik here,' he continued, going to his box, and bringing out Shargar's little heap of coppers, in which two sixpences obscurely shone, 'he brocht a' that hame last nicht, an' syne sleepit upo' the rug i' my room there. We'll want a' 'at he can mak an' me too afore we get Mr. Ericson up again.'
'But ye haena tellt me yet,' said the doctor, so pleased with the lad that he relapsed into the dialect of his youth, 'hoo ye cam to forgather wi' 'im.'
'I tellt ye a' aboot it, doctor. It was a' my grannie's doin', God bless her--for weel he may, an' muckle she needs 't.'
'Oh! yes; I remember now all your grandmother's part in the story,' returned the doctor. 'But I still want to know how he came here.'
'She was gaein' to mak a taylor o' 'm: an' he jist ran awa', an' cam to me.'
'It was too bad of him that--after all she had done for him.'
'Ow, 'deed no, doctor. Even whan ye boucht a man an' paid for him, accordin' to the Jewish law, ye cudna mak a slave o' 'im for a'thegither, ohn him seekin' 't himsel'.--Eh! gin she could only get my father hame!' sighed Robert, after a pause.
'What should she want him home for?' asked Dr. Anderson, still making conversation.
'I didna mean hame to Rothieden. I believe she cud bide never seein' 'im again, gin only he wasna i' the ill place. She has awfu' notions aboot burnin' ill sowls for ever an' ever. But it's no hersel'. It's the wyte o' the ministers. Doctor, I do believe she wad gang an' be brunt hersel' wi' a great thanksgivin', gin it wad lat ony puir crater oot o' 't--no to say my father. An' I sair misdoobt gin mony o' them 'at pat it in her heid wad do as muckle. I'm some feared they're like Paul afore he was convertit: he wadna lift a stane himsel', but he likit weel to stan' oot by an' luik on.'
A deep sigh, almost a groan, from the bed, reminded them that they were talking too much and too loud for a sick-room. It was followed by the words, muttered, but articulate,
'What's the good when you don't know whether there's a God at all?'
''Deed, that's verra true, Mr. Ericson,' returned Robert. 'I wish ye wad fin' oot an' tell me. I wad be blithe to hear what ye had to say anent it--gin it was ay, ye ken.'
Ericson went on murmuring, but inarticulately now.
'This won't do at all, Robert, my boy,' said Dr. Anderson. 'You must not talk about such things with him, or indeed about anything. You must keep him as quiet as ever you can.'
'I thocht he was comin' till himsel',' returned Robert. 'But I will tak care, I assure ye, doctor. Only I'm feared I may fa' asleep the nicht, for I was dooms sleepy this mornin'.'
'I will send Johnston as soon as I get home, and you must go to bed when he comes.'
''Deed, doctor, that winna do at a'. It wad be ower mony strange faces a'thegither. We'll get Mistress Fyvie to luik till 'im the day, an' Shargar canna work the morn, bein' Sunday. An' I'll gang to my bed for fear o' doin' waur, though I doobt I winna sleep i' the daylicht.'
Dr. Anderson was satisfied, and went home--cogitating much. This boy, this cousin of his, made a vortex of good about him into which whoever came near it was drawn. He seemed at the same time quite unaware of anything worthy in his conduct. The good he did sprung from some inward necessity, with just enough in it of the salt of choice to keep it from losing its savour. To these cogitations of Dr. Anderson, I add that there was no conscious exercise of religion in it--for there his mind was all at sea. Of course I believe notwithstanding that religion had much, I ought to say everything, to do with it. Robert had not yet found in God a reason for being true to his fellows; but, if God was leading him to be the man he became, how could any good results of this leading be other than religion? All good is of God. Robert began where he could. The first table was too high for him; he began with the second. If a man love his brother whom he hath seen, the love of God whom he hath not seen, is not very far off. These results in Robert were the first outcome of divine facts and influences--they were the buds of the fruit hereafter to be gathered in perfect devotion. God be praised by those who know religion to be the truth of humanity--its own truth that sets it free--not binds, and lops, and mutilates it! who see God to be the father of every human soul--the ideal Father, not an inventor of schemes, or the upholder of a court etiquette for whose use he has chosen to desecrate the name of justice!
To return to Dr. Anderson. I have had little opportunity of knowing his history in India. He returned from it half-way down the hill of life, sad, gentle, kind, and rich. Whence his sadness came, we need not inquire. Some woman out in that fervid land may have darkened his story--darkened it wronglessly, it may be, with coldness, or only with death. But to return home without wife to accompany him or child to meet him,--to sit by his riches like a man over a fire of straws in a Siberian frost; to know that old faces were gone and old hearts changed, that the pattern of things in the heavens had melted away from the face of the earth, that the chill evenings of autumn were settling down into longer and longer nights, and that no hope lay any more beyond the mountains--surely this was enough to make a gentle-minded man sad, even if the individual sorrows of his history had gathered into gold and purple in the west. I say west advisedly. For we are journeying, like our globe, ever towards the east. Death and the west are behind us--ever behind us, and settling into the unchangeable.
It was natural that he should be interested in the fine promise of Robert, in whom he saw revived the hopes of his own youth, but in a nature at once more robust and more ideal. Where the doctor was refined, Robert was strong; where the doctor was firm with a firmness he had cultivated, Robert was imperious with an imperiousness time would mellow; where the doctor was generous and careful at once, Robert gave his mite and forgot it. He was rugged in the simplicity of his truthfulness, and his speech bewrayed him as altogether of the people; but the doctor knew the hole of the pit whence he had been himself digged. All that would fall away as the spiky shell from the polished chestnut, and be reabsorbed in the growth of the grand cone-flowering tree, to stand up in the sun and wind of the years a very altar of incense. It is no wonder, I repeat, that he loved the boy, and longed to further his plans. But he was too wise to overwhelm him with a cataract of fortune instead of blessing him with the merciful dew of progress.
'The fellow will bring me in for no end of expense,' he said, smiling to himself, as he drove home in his chariot. 'The less he means it the more unconscionable he will be. There's that Ericson--but that isn't worth thinking of. I must do something for that queer protégé of his, though--that Shargar. The fellow is as good as a dog, and that's saying not a little for him. I wonder if he can learn--or if he takes after his father the marquis, who never could spell. Well, it is a comfort to have something to do worth doing. I did think of endowing a hospital; but I'm not sure that it isn't better to endow a good man than a hospital. I'll think about it. I won't say anything about Shargar either, till I see how he goes on. I might give him a job, though, now and then. But where to fall in with him--prowling about after jobs?'
He threw himself back in his seat, and laughed with a delight he had rarely felt. He was a providence watching over the boys, who expected nothing of him beyond advice for Ericson! Might there not be a Providence that equally transcended the vision of men, shaping to nobler ends the blocked-out designs of their rough-hewn marbles?
His thoughts wandered back to his friend the Brahmin, who died longing for that absorption into deity which had been the dream of his life: might not the Brahmin find the grand idea shaped to yet finer issues than his aspiration had dared contemplate?--might he not inherit in the purification of his will such an absorption as should intensify his personality?