Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part III.--His Manhood
Chapter V. A Talk with Grannie.
Dr. Anderson's body was, according to the fine custom of many of the people of Aberdeen, borne to the grave by twelve stalwart men in black, with broad round bonnets on their heads, the one-half relieving the other--a privilege of the company of shore-porters. Their exequies are thus freed from the artificial, grotesque, and pagan horror given by obscene mutes, frightful hearse, horses, and feathers. As soon as, in the beautiful phrase of the Old Testament, John Anderson was thus gathered to his fathers, Robert went to pay a visit to his grandmother.
Dressed to a point in the same costume in which he had known her from childhood, he found her little altered in appearance. She was one of those who instead of stooping with age, settle downwards: she was still as erect as ever, though shorter. Her step was feebler, and when she prayed, her voice quavered more. On her face sat the same settled, almost hard repose, as ever; but her behaviour was still more gentle than when he had seen her last. Notwithstanding, however, that time had wrought so little change in her appearance, Robert felt that somehow the mist of a separation between her world and his was gathering; that she was, as it were, fading from his sight and presence, like the moon towards 'her interlunar cave.' Her face was gradually turning from him towards the land of light.
'I hae buried my best frien' but yersel', grannie,' he said, as he took a chair close by her side, where he used to sit when he read the Bible and Boston to her.
'I trust he's happy. He was a douce and a weel-behaved man; and ye hae rizzon to respec' his memory. Did he dee the deith o' the richteous, think ye, laddie?'
'I do think that, grannie. He loved God and his Saviour.'
'The Lord be praised!' said Mrs. Falconer. 'I had guid houps o' 'im in 's latter days. And fowk says he's made a rich man o' ye, Robert?'
'He's left me ilka thing, excep' something till 's servan's--wha hae weel deserved it.'
'Eh, Robert! but it's a terrible snare. Siller 's an awfu' thing. My puir Anerew never begud to gang the ill gait, till he began to hae ower muckle siller. But it badena lang wi' 'im.'
'But it's no an ill thing itsel', grannie; for God made siller as weel 's ither things.'
'He thinksna muckle o' 't, though, or he wad gie mair o' 't to some fowk. But as ye say, it's his, and gin ye hae grace to use 't aricht, it may be made a great blessin' to yersel' and ither fowk. But eh, laddie! tak guid tent 'at ye ride upo' the tap o' 't, an' no lat it rise like a muckle jaw (billow) ower yer heid; for it's an awfu' thing to be droont in riches.'
'Them 'at prays no to be led into temptation hae a chance--haena they, grannie?'
'That hae they, Robert. And to be plain wi' ye, I haena that muckle fear o' ye; for I hae heard the kin' o' life 'at ye hae been leadin'. God's hearkent to my prayers for you; and gin ye gang on as ye hae begun, my prayers, like them o' David the son o' Jesse, are endit. Gang on, my dear lad, gang on to pluck brands frae the burnin'. Haud oot a helpin' han' to ilka son and dauchter o' Adam 'at will tak a grip o' 't. Be a burnin' an' a shinin' licht, that men may praise, no you, for ye're but clay i' the han's o' the potter, but yer Father in heaven. Tak the drunkard frae his whusky, the deboshed frae his debosh, the sweirer frae his aiths, the leear frae his lees; and giena ony o' them ower muckle o' yer siller at ance, for fear 'at they grow fat an' kick an' defy God and you. That's my advice to ye, Robert.'
'And I houp I'll be able to haud gey and near till 't, grannie, for it's o' the best. But wha tellt ye what I was aboot in Lonnon?'
'Ay, jist himsel'. I hae had letter upo' letter frae 'im aboot you and a' 'at ye was aboot. He keepit me acquant wi' 't a'.'
This fresh proof of his friend's affection touched Robert deeply. He had himself written often to his grandmother, but he had never entered into any detail of his doings, although the thought of her was ever at hand beside the thought of his father.
'Do ye ken, grannie, what's at the hert o' my houps i' the meesery an' degradation that I see frae mornin' to nicht, and aftener yet frae nicht to mornin' i' the back closes and wynds o' the great city?'
'I trust it's the glory o' God, laddie.'
'I houp that's no a'thegither wantin', grannie. For I love God wi' a' my hert. But I doobt it's aftener the savin' o' my earthly father nor the glory o' my heavenly ane that I'm thinkin' o'.'
Mrs. Falconer heaved a deep sigh.
'God grant ye success, Robert,' she said. 'But that canna be richt.'
'What canna be richt?'
'No to put the glory o' God first and foremost.'
'Weel, grannie; but a body canna rise to the heicht o' grace a' at ance, nor yet in ten, or twenty year. Maybe gin I do richt, I may be able to come to that or a' be dune. An' efter a', I'm sure I love God mair nor my father. But I canna help thinkin' this, that gin God heardna ae sang o' glory frae this ill-doin' earth o' his, he wadna be nane the waur; but--'
'Hoo ken ye that?' interrupted his grandmother.
'Because he wad be as gude and great and grand as ever.'
'But what wad come o' my father wantin' his salvation? He can waur want that, remainin' the slave o' iniquity, than God can want his glory. Forby, ye ken there's nae glory to God like the repentin' o' a sinner, justifeein' God, an' sayin' till him--"Father, ye're a' richt, an' I'm a' wrang." What greater glory can God hae nor that?'
'It's a' true 'at ye say. But still gin God cares for that same glory, ye oucht to think o' that first, afore even the salvation o' yer father.'
'Maybe ye're richt, grannie. An' gin it be as ye say--he's promised to lead us into a' trowth, an' he'll lead me into that trowth. But I'm thinkin' it's mair for oor sakes than his ain 'at he cares aboot his glory. I dinna believe 'at he thinks aboot his glory excep' for the sake o' the trowth an' men's herts deein' for want o' 't.'
Mrs. Falconer thought for a moment.
'It may be 'at ye're richt, laddie; but ye hae a way o' sayin' things 'at 's some fearsome.'
'God's nae like a prood man to tak offence, grannie. There's naething pleases him like the trowth, an' there's naething displeases him like leein', particularly whan it's by way o' uphaudin' him. He wants nae sic uphaudin'. Noo, ye say things aboot him whiles 'at soun's to me fearsome.'
'What kin' o' things are they, laddie?' asked the old lady, with offence glooming in the background.
'Sic like as whan ye speyk aboot him as gin he was a puir prood bailey-like body, fu' o' his ain importance, an' ready to be doon upo' onybody 'at didna ca' him by the name o' 's office--ay think-thinkin' aboot 's ain glory; in place o' the quaiet, michty, gran', self-forgettin', a'-creatin', a'-uphaudin', eternal bein', wha took the form o' man in Christ Jesus, jist that he micht hae 't in 's pooer to beir and be humblet for oor sakes. Eh, grannie! think o' the face o' that man o' sorrows, that never said a hard word till a sinfu' wuman, or a despised publican: was he thinkin' aboot 's ain glory, think ye? An' we hae no richt to say we ken God save in the face o' Christ Jesus. Whatever 's no like Christ is no like God.'
'But, laddie, he cam to saitisfee God's justice by sufferin' the punishment due to oor sins; to turn aside his wrath an' curse; to reconcile him to us. Sae he cudna be a'thegither like God.'
'He did naething o' the kin', grannie. It's a' a lee that. He cam to saitisfee God's justice by giein' him back his bairns; by garrin' them see that God was just; by sendin' them greetin' hame to fa' at his feet, an' grip his knees an' say, "Father, ye're i' the richt." He cam to lift the weicht o' the sins that God had curst aff o' the shoothers o' them 'at did them, by makin' them turn agen them, an' be for God an' no for sin. And there isna a word o' reconceelin' God till 's in a' the Testament, for there was no need o' that: it was us that he needed to be reconcilet to him. An' sae he bore oor sins and carried oor sorrows; for those sins comin' oot in the multitudes--ay and in his ain disciples as weel, caused him no en' o' grief o' mind an' pain o' body, as a'body kens. It wasna his ain sins, for he had nane, but oors, that caused him sufferin'; and he took them awa'--they're vainishin' even noo frae the earth, though it doesna luik like it in Rag-fair or Petticoat-lane. An' for oor sorrows--they jist garred him greit. His richteousness jist annihilates oor guilt, for it's a great gulf that swallows up and destroys 't. And sae he gae his life a ransom for us: and he is the life o' the world. He took oor sins upo' him, for he cam into the middle o' them an' took them up--by no sleicht o' han', by no quibblin' o' the lawyers, aboot imputin' his richteousness to us, and sic like, which is no to be found i' the Bible at a', though I dinna say that there's no possible meanin' i' the phrase, but he took them and took them awa'; and here am I, grannie, growin' oot o' my sins in consequennce, and there are ye, grannie, growin' oot o' yours in consequennce, an' haein' nearhan' dune wi' them a'thegither er this time.'
'I wis that may be true, laddie. But I carena hoo ye put it,' returned his grandmother, bewildered no doubt with this outburst, 'sae be that ye put him first an' last an' i' the mids' o' a' thing, an' say wi' a' yer hert, "His will be dune!"'
'Wi' a' my hert, "His will be dune," grannie,' responded Robert.
'Amen, amen. And noo, laddie, duv ye think there's ony likliheid that yer father 's still i' the body? I dream aboot him whiles sae lifelike that I canna believe him deid. But that's a' freits (superstitions).'
'Weel, grannie, I haena the least assurance. But I hae the mair houp. Wad ye ken him gin ye saw him?'
'Ken him!' she cried; 'I wad ken him gin he had been no to say four, but forty days i' the sepulchre! My ain Anerew! Hoo cud ye speir sic a queston, laddie?'
'He maun be sair changed, grannie. He maun be turnin' auld by this time.'
'Auld! Sic like 's yersel, laddie.--Hoots, hoots! ye're richt. I am forgettin'. But nanetheless wad I ken him.'
'I wis I kent what he was like. I saw him ance--hardly twise, but a' that I min' upo' wad stan' me in ill stead amo' the streets o' Lonnon.'
'I doobt that,' returned Mrs. Falconer--a form of expression rather oddly indicating sympathetic and somewhat regretful agreement with what has been said. 'But,' she went on, 'I can lat ye see a pictur' o' 'im, though I doobt it winna shaw sae muckle to you as to me. He had it paintit to gie to yer mother upo' their weddin' day. Och hone! She did the like for him; but what cam o' that ane, I dinna ken.'
Mrs. Falconer went into the little closet to the old bureau, and bringing out the miniature, gave it to Robert. It was the portrait of a young man in antiquated blue coat and white waistcoat, looking innocent, and, it must be confessed, dull and uninteresting. It had been painted by a travelling artist, and probably his skill did not reach to expression. It brought to Robert's mind no faintest shadow of recollection. It did not correspond in the smallest degree to what seemed his vague memory, perhaps half imagination, of the tall worn man whom he had seen that Sunday. He could not have a hope that this would give him the slightest aid in finding him of whom it had once been a shadowy resemblance at least.
'Is 't like him, grannie?' he asked.
As if to satisfy herself once more ere she replied, she took the miniature, and gazed at it for some time. Then with a deep hopeless sigh, she answered,
'Ay, it's like him; but it's no himsel'. Eh, the bonny broo, an' the smilin' een o' him!--smilin' upon a'body, an' upo' her maist o' a', till he took to the drink, and waur gin waur can be. It was a' siller an' company--company 'at cudna be merry ohn drunken. Verity their lauchter was like the cracklin' o' thorns aneath a pot. Het watter and whusky was aye the cry efter their denner an' efter their supper, till my puir Anerew tuik till the bare whusky i' the mornin' to fill the ebb o' the toddy. He wad never hae dune as he did but for the whusky. It jist drave oot a' gude and loot in a' ill.'
'Wull ye lat me tak this wi' me, grannie?' said Robert; for though the portrait was useless for identification, it might serve a further purpose.
'Ow, ay, tak it. I dinna want it. I can see him weel wantin' that. But I hae nae houp left 'at ye'll ever fa' in wi' him.'
'God's aye doin' unlikly things, grannie,' said Robert, solemnly.
'He's dune a' 'at he can for him, I doobt, already.'
'Duv ye think 'at God cudna save a man gin he liket, than, grannie?'
'God can do a'thing. There's nae doobt but by the gift o' his speerit he cud save a'body.'
'An' ye think he's no mercifu' eneuch to do 't?'
'It winna do to meddle wi' fowk's free wull. To gar fowk he gude wad be nae gudeness.'
'But gin God could actually create the free wull, dinna ye think he cud help it to gang richt, withoot ony garrin'? We ken sae little aboot it, grannie! Hoo does his speerit help onybody? Does he gar them 'at accep's the offer o' salvation?'
'Na, I canna think that. But he shaws them the trowth in sic a way that they jist canna bide themsel's, but maun turn to him for verra peace an' rist.'
'Weel, that's something as I think. An' until I'm sure that a man has had the trowth shawn till him in sic a way 's that, I canna alloo mysel' to think that hooever he may hae sinned, he has finally rejeckit the trowth. Gin I kent that a man had seen the trowth as I hae seen 't whiles, and had deleeberately turned his back upo' 't and said, "I'll nane o' 't," than I doobt I wad be maist compelled to alloo that there was nae mair salvation for him, but a certain and fearfu' luikin' for o' judgment and fiery indignation. But I dinna believe that ever man did sae. But even than, I dinna ken.'
'I did a' for him that I kent hoo to do,' said Mrs. Falconer, reflectingly. 'Nicht an' mornin' an' aften midday prayin' for an' wi' him.'
'Maybe ye scunnert him at it, grannie.'
She gave a stifled cry of despair.
'Dinna say that, laddie, or ye'll drive me oot o' my min'. God forgie me, gin that be true. I deserve hell mair nor my Anerew.'
'But, ye see, grannie, supposin' it war sae, that wadna be laid to your accoont, seein' ye did the best ye kent. Nor wad it be forgotten to him. It wad mak a hantle difference to his sin; it wad be a great excuse for him. An' jist think, gin it be fair for ae human being to influence anither a' 'at they can, and that's nae interferin' wi' their free wull--it's impossible to measure what God cud do wi' his speerit winnin' at them frae a' sides, and able to put sic thouchts an' sic pictures into them as we canna think. It wad a' be true that he tellt them, and the trowth can never be a meddlin' wi' the free wull.'
Mrs. Falconer made no reply, but evidently went on thinking.
She was, though not a great reader, yet a good reader. Any book that was devout and thoughtful she read gladly. Through some one or other of this sort she must have been instructed concerning free will, for I do not think such notions could have formed any portion of the religious teaching she had heard. Men in that part of Scotland then believed that the free will of man was only exercised in rejecting--never in accepting the truth; and that men were saved by the gift of the Spirit, given to some and not to others, according to the free will of God, in the exercise of which no reason appreciable by men, or having anything to do with their notions of love or justice, had any share. In the recognition of will and choice in the acceptance of the mercy of God, Mrs. Falconer was then in advance of her time. And it is no wonder if her notions did not all hang logically together.
'At ony rate, grannie,' resumed her grandson, 'I haena dune a' for him 'at I can yet; and I'm no gaein' to believe onything that wad mak me remiss in my endeavour. Houp for mysel', for my father, for a'body, is what's savin' me, an' garrin' me work. An' gin ye tell me that I'm no workin' wi' God, that God's no the best an' the greatest worker aboon a', ye tak the verra hert oot o' my breist, and I dinna believe in God nae mair, an' my han's drap doon by my sides, an' my legs winna gang. No,' said Robert, rising, 'God 'ill gie me my father sometime, grannie; for what man can do wantin' a father? Human bein' canna win at the hert o' things, canna ken a' the oots an' ins, a' the sides o' love, excep' he has a father amo' the lave to love; an' I hae had nane, grannie. An' that God kens.'
She made him no answer. She dared not say that he expected too much from God. Is it likely that Jesus will say so of any man or woman when he looks for faith in the earth?
Robert went out to see some of his old friends, and when he returned it was time for supper and worship. These were the same as of old: a plate of porridge, and a wooden bowl of milk for the former; a chapter and a hymn, both read, and a prayer from grannie, and then from Robert for the latter. And so they went to bed.
But Robert could not sleep. He rose and dressed himself, went up to the empty garret, looked at the stars through the skylight, knelt and prayed for his father and for all men to the Father of all, then softly descended the stairs, and went out into the street.