Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part III.--His Manhood
Chapter II. Home Again.
Four years passed before Falconer returned to his native country, during which period Dr. Anderson had visited him twice, and shown himself well satisfied with his condition and pursuits. The doctor had likewise visited Rothieden, and had comforted the heart of the grandmother with regard to her Robert. From what he learned upon this visit, he had arrived at a true conjecture, I believe, as to the cause of the great change which had suddenly taken place in the youth. But he never asked Robert a question leading in the direction of the grief which he saw the healthy and earnest nature of the youth gradually assimilating into his life. He had too much respect for sorrow to approach it with curiosity. He had learned to put off his shoes when he drew nigh the burning bush of human pain.
Robert had not settled at any of the universities, but had moved from one to the other as he saw fit, report guiding him to the men who spoke with authority. The time of doubt and anxious questioning was far from over, but the time was long gone by--if in his case it had ever been--when he could be like a wave of the sea, driven of the wind and tossed. He had ever one anchor of the soul, and he found that it held--the faith of Jesus (I say the faith of Jesus, not his own faith in Jesus), the truth of Jesus, the life of Jesus. However his intellect might be tossed on the waves of speculation and criticism, he found that the word the Lord had spoken remained steadfast; for in doing righteously, in loving mercy, in walking humbly, the conviction increased that Jesus knew the very secret of human life. Now and then some great vision gleamed across his soul of the working of all things towards a far-off goal of simple obedience to a law of life, which God knew, and which his son had justified through sorrow and pain. Again and again the words of the Master gave him a peep into a region where all was explicable, where all that was crooked might be made straight, where every mountain of wrong might be made low, and every valley of suffering exalted. Ever and again some one of the dark perplexities of humanity began to glimmer with light in its inmost depth. Nor was he without those moments of communion when the creature is lifted into the secret place of the Creator.
Looking back to the time when it seemed that he cried and was not heard, he saw that God had been hearing, had been answering, all the time; had been making him capable of receiving the gift for which he prayed. He saw that intellectual difficulty encompassing the highest operations of harmonizing truth, can no more affect their reality than the dulness of chaos disprove the motions of the wind of God over the face of its waters. He saw that any true revelation must come out of the unknown in God through the unknown in man. He saw that its truths must rise in the man as powers of life, and that only as that life grows and unfolds can the ever-lagging intellect gain glimpses of partial outlines fading away into the infinite--that, indeed, only in material things and the laws that belong to them, are outlines possible--even there, only in the picture of them which the mind that analyzes them makes for itself, not in the things themselves.
At the close of these four years, with his spirit calm and hopeful, truth his passion, and music, which again he had resumed and diligently cultivated, his pleasure, Falconer returned to Aberdeen. He was received by Dr. Anderson as if he had in truth been his own son. In the room stood a tall figure, with its back towards them, pocketing its handkerchief. The next moment the figure turned, and--could it be?--yes, it was Shargar. Doubt lingered only until he opened his mouth, and said 'Eh, Robert!' with which exclamation he threw himself upon him, and after a very undignified fashion began crying heartily. Tall as he was, Robert's great black head towered above him, and his shoulders were like a rock against which Shargar's slight figure leaned. He looked down like a compassionate mastiff upon a distressed Italian grayhound. His eyes shimmered with feeling, but Robert's tears, if he ever shed any, were kept for very solemn occasions. He was more likely to weep for awful joy than for any sufferings either in himself or others. 'Shargar!' pronounced in a tone full of a thousand memories, was all the greeting he returned; but his great manly hand pressed Shargar's delicate long-fingered one with a grasp which must have satisfied his friend that everything was as it had been between them, and that their friendship from henceforth would take a new start. For with all that Robert had seen, thought, and learned, now that the bitterness of loss had gone by, the old times and the old friends were dearer. If there was any truth in the religion of God's will, in which he was a disciple, every moment of life's history which had brought soul in contact with soul, must be sacred as a voice from behind the veil. Therefore he could not now rest until he had gone to see his grandmother.
'Will you come to Rothieden with me, Shargar? I beg your pardon--I oughtn't to keep up an old nickname,' said Robert, as they sat that evening with the doctor, over a tumbler of toddy.
'If you call me anything else, I'll cut my throat, Robert, as I told you before. If any one else does,' he added, laughing, 'I'll cut his throat.'
'Can he go with me, doctor?' asked Robert, turning to their host.
'Certainly. He has not been to Rothieden since he took his degree. He's an A.M. now, and has distinguished himself besides. You'll see him in his uniform soon, I hope. Let's drink his health, Robert. Fill your glass.'
The doctor filled his glass slowly and solemnly. He seldom drank even wine, but this was a rare occasion. He then rose, and with equal slowness, and a tremor in his voice which rendered it impossible to imagine the presence of anything but seriousness, said,
'Robert, my son, let's drink the health of George Moray, Gentleman. Stand up.'
Robert rose, and in his confusion Shargar rose too, and sat down again, blushing till his red hair looked yellow beside his cheeks. The men repeated the words, 'George Moray, Gentleman,' emptied their glasses, and resumed their seats. Shargar rose trembling, and tried in vain to speak. The reason in part was, that he sought to utter himself in English.
'Hoots! Damn English!' he broke out at last. 'Gin I be a gentleman, Dr. Anderson and Robert Falconer, it's you twa 'at's made me ane, an' God bless ye, an' I'm yer hoomble servant to a' etairnity.'
So saying, Shargar resumed his seat, filled his glass with trembling hand, emptied it to hide his feelings, but without success, rose once more, and retreated to the hall for a space.
The next morning Robert and Shargar got on the coach and went to Rothieden. Robert turned his head aside as they came near the bridge and the old house of Bogbonnie. But, ashamed of his weakness, he turned again and looked at the house. There it stood, all the same,--a thing for the night winds to howl in, and follow each other in mad gambols through its long passages and rooms, so empty from the first that not even a ghost had any reason for going there--a place almost without a history--dreary emblem of so many empty souls that have hidden their talent in a napkin, and have nothing to return for it when the Master calls them. Having looked this one in the face, he felt stronger to meet those other places before which his heart quailed yet more. He knew that Miss St. John had left soon after Ericson's death: whether he was sorry or glad that he should not see her he could not tell. He thought Rothieden would look like Pompeii, a city buried and disinterred; but when the coach drove into the long straggling street, he found the old love revive, and although the blood rushed back to his heart when Captain Forsyth's house came in view, he did not turn away, but made his eyes, and through them his heart, familiar with its desolation. He got down at the corner, and leaving Shargar to go on to The Boar's Head and look after the luggage, walked into his grandmother's house and straight into her little parlour. She rose with her old stateliness when she saw a stranger enter the room, and stood waiting his address.
'Weel, grannie,' said Robert, and took her in his arms.
'The Lord's name be praised!' faltered she. 'He's ower guid to the likes o' me.'
And she lifted up her voice and wept.
She had been informed of his coming, but she had not expected him till the evening; he was much altered, and old age is slow.
He had hardly placed her in her chair, when Betty came in. If she had shown him respect before, it was reverence now.
'Eh, sir!' she said, 'I didna ken it was you, or I wadna hae come into the room ohn chappit at the door. I'll awa' back to my kitchie.'
So saying, she turned to leave the room.
'Hoots! Betty,' cried Robert, 'dinna be a gowk. Gie 's a grip o yer han'.'
Betty stood staring and irresolute, overcome at sight of the manly bulk before her.
'Gin ye dinna behave yersel', Betty, I'll jist awa' ower to Muckledrum, an' hae a caw (drive) throu the sessions-buik.'
Betty laughed for the first time at the awful threat, and the ice once broken, things returned to somewhat of their old footing.
I must not linger on these days. The next morning Robert paid a visit to Bodyfauld, and found that time had there flowed so gently that it had left but few wrinkles and fewer gray hairs. The fields, too, had little change to show; and the hill was all the same, save that its pines had grown. His chief mission was to John Hewson and his wife. When he left for the continent, he was not so utterly absorbed in his own griefs as to forget Jessie. He told her story to Dr. Anderson, and the good man had gone to see her the same day.
In the evening, when he knew he should find them both at home, he walked into the cottage. They were seated by the fire, with the same pot hanging on the same crook for their supper. They rose, and asked him to sit down, but did not know him. When he told them who he was, they greeted him warmly, and John Hewson smiled something of the old smile, but only like it, for it had no 'rays proportionately delivered' from his mouth over his face.
After a little indifferent chat, Robert said,
'I came through Aberdeen yesterday, John.'
At the very mention of Aberdeen, John's head sunk. He gave no answer, but sat looking in the fire. His wife rose and went to the other end of the room, busying herself quietly about the supper. Robert thought it best to plunge into the matter at once.
'I saw Jessie last nicht,' he said.
Still there was no reply. John's face had grown hard as a stone face, but Robert thought rather from the determination to govern his feelings than from resentment.
'She's been doin' weel ever sin' syne,' he added.
Still no word from either; and Robert fearing some outburst of indignation ere he had said his say, now made haste.
'She's been a servant wi' Dr. Anderson for four year noo, an' he's sair pleased wi' her. She's a fine woman. But her bairnie's deid, an' that was a sair blow till her.'
He heard a sob from the mother, but still John made no sign.
'It was a bonnie bairnie as ever ye saw. It luikit in her face, she says, as gin it kent a' aboot it, and had only come to help her throu the warst o' 't; for it gaed hame 'maist as sune's ever she was richt able to thank God for sen'in' her sic an angel to lead her to repentance.'
'John,' said his wife, coming behind his chair, and laying her hand on his shoulder, 'what for dinna ye speyk? Ye hear what Maister Faukner says.--Ye dinna think a thing's clean useless 'cause there may be a spot upo' 't?' she added, wiping her eyes with her apron.
'A spot upo' 't?' cried John, starting to his feet. 'What ca' ye a spot?--Wuman, dinna drive me mad to hear ye lichtlie the glory o' virginity.'
'That's a' verra weel, John,' interposed Robert quietly; 'but there was ane thocht as muckle o' 't as ye do, an' wad hae been ashamed to hear ye speak that gait aboot yer ain dauchter'
'I dinna unnerstan' ye,' returned Hewson, looking raised-like at him.
'Dinna ye ken, man, that amo' them 'at kent the Lord best whan he cam frae haiven to luik efter his ain--to seek and to save, ye ken--amo' them 'at cam roon aboot him to hearken till 'im, was lasses 'at had gane the wrang gait a'thegither,--no like your bonnie Jessie 'at fell but ance. Man, ye're jist like Simon the Pharisee, 'at was sae scunnert at oor Lord 'cause he loot the wuman 'at was a sinner tak her wull o' 's feet--the feet 'at they war gaein' to tak their wull o' efter anither fashion afore lang. He wad hae shawn her the door--Simon wad--like you, John; but the Lord tuik her pairt. An' lat me tell you, John--an' I winna beg yer pardon for sayin' 't, for it's God's trowth--lat me tell you, 'at gin ye gang on that gait ye'll be sidin' wi' the Pharisee, an' no wi' oor Lord. Ye may lippen to yer wife, ay, an' to Jessie hersel', that kens better nor eyther o' ye, no to mak little o' virginity. Faith! they think mair o' 't than ye do, I'm thinkin', efter a'; only it's no a thing to say muckle aboot. An' it's no to stan' for a'thing, efter a'.'
Silence followed. John sat down again, and buried his face in his hands. At length he murmured from between them,
'The lassie's weel?'
'Ay,' answered Robert; and silence followed again.
'What wad ye hae me do?' asked John, lifting his head a little.
'I wad hae ye sen' a kin' word till her. The lassie's hert's jist longin' efter ye. That's a'. And that's no ower muckle.'
''Deed no,' assented the mother.
John said nothing. But when his visitor rose he bade him a warm good-night.
When Robert returned to Aberdeen he was the bearer of such a message as made poor Jessie glad at heart. This was his first experience of the sort.
When he left the cottage, he did not return to the house, but threaded the little forest of pines, climbing the hill till he came out on its bare crown, where nothing grew but heather and blaeberries. There he threw himself down, and gazed into the heavens. The sun was below the horizon; all the dazzle was gone out of the gold, and the roses were fast fading; the downy blue of the sky was trembling into stars over his head; the brown dusk was gathering in the air; and a wind full of gentleness and peace came to him from the west. He let his thoughts go where they would, and they went up into the abyss over his head.
'Lord, come to me,' he cried in his heart, 'for I cannot go to thee. If I were to go up and up through that awful space for ages and ages, I should never find thee. Yet there thou art. The tenderness of thy infinitude looks upon me from those heavens. Thou art in them and in me. Because thou thinkest, I think. I am thine--all thine. I abandon myself to thee. Fill me with thyself. When I am full of thee, my griefs themselves will grow golden in thy sunlight. Thou holdest them and their cause, and wilt find some nobler atonement between them than vile forgetfulness and the death of love. Lord, let me help those that are wretched because they do not know thee. Let me tell them that thou, the Life, must needs suffer for and with them, that they may be partakers of thy ineffable peace. My life is hid in thine: take me in thy hand as Gideon bore the pitcher to the battle. Let me be broken if need be, that thy light may shine upon the lies which men tell them in thy name, and which eat away their hearts.'
Having persuaded Shargar to remain with Mrs. Falconer for a few days, and thus remove the feeling of offence she still cherished because of his 'munelicht flittin',' he returned to Dr. Anderson, who now unfolded his plans for him. These were, that he should attend the medical classes common to the two universities, and at the same time accompany him in his visits to the poor. He did not at all mean, he said, to determine Robert's life as that of a medical man, but from what he had learned of his feelings, he was confident that a knowledge of medicine would be invaluable to him. I think the good doctor must have foreseen the kind of life which Falconer would at length choose to lead, and with true and admirable wisdom, sought to prepare him for it. However this may be, Robert entertained the proposal gladly, went into the scheme with his whole heart, and began to widen that knowledge of and sympathy with the poor which were the foundation of all his influence over them.
For a time, therefore, he gave a diligent and careful attendance upon lectures, read sufficiently, took his rounds with Dr. Anderson, and performed such duties as he delegated to his greater strength. Had the healing art been far less of an enjoyment to him than it was, he could yet hardly have failed of great progress therein; but seeing that it accorded with his best feelings, profoundest theories, and loftiest hopes, and that he received it as a work given him to do, it is not surprising that a certain faculty of cure, almost partaking of the instinctive, should have been rapidly developed in him, to the wonder and delight of his friend and master.
In this labour he again spent about four years, during which time he gathered much knowledge of human nature, learning especially to judge it from no stand-point of his own, but in every individual case to take a new position whence the nature and history of the man should appear in true relation to the yet uncompleted result. He who cannot feel the humanity of his neighbour because he is different from himself in education, habits, opinions, morals, circumstances, objects, is unfit, if not unworthy, to aid him.
Within this period Shargar had gone out to India, where he had distinguished himself particularly on a certain harassing march. Towards the close of the four years he had leave of absence, and was on his way home. About the same time Robert, in consequence of a fever brought on by over-fatigue, was in much need of a holiday; and Dr. Anderson proposed that he should meet Moray at Southampton.
Shargar had no expectation of seeing him, and his delight, not greater on that account, broke out more wildly. No thinnest film had grown over his heart, though in all else he was considerably changed. The army had done everything that was wanted for his outward show of man. The drawling walk had vanished, and a firm step and soldierly stride had taken its place; his bearing was free, yet dignified; his high descent came out in the ease of his carriage and manners: there could be no doubt that at last Shargar was a gentleman. His hair had changed to a kind of red chestnut. His complexion was much darkened with the Indian sun. His eyes, too, were darker, and no longer rolled slowly from one object to another, but indicated by their quick glances a mind ready to observe and as ready to resolve. His whole appearance was more than prepossessing--it was even striking.
Robert was greatly delighted with the improvement in him, and far more when he found that his mind's growth had at least kept pace with his body's change. It would be more correct to say that it had preceded and occasioned it; for however much the army may be able to do in that way, it had certainly, in Moray's case, only seconded the law of inward growth working outward show.
The young men went up to London together, and great was the pleasure they had in each other's society, after so long a separation in which their hearts had remained unchanged while their natures had grown both worthy and capable of more honour and affection. They had both much to tell; for Robert was naturally open save in regard to his grief; and Shargar was proud of being able to communicate with Robert from a nearer level, in virtue of now knowing many things that Robert could not know. They went together to a hotel in St. Paul's Churchyard.