Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part III.--His Manhood
Chapter XII. Andrew at Last.
Having at length persuaded the woman to go with him, Falconer made her take his arm, and led her off the bridge. In Parliament Street he was looking about for a cab as they walked on, when a man he did not know, stopped, touched his hat, and addressed him.
'I'm thinkin', sir, ye'll be sair wantit at hame the nicht It wad be better to gang at ance, an' lat the puir fowk luik efter themsels for ae nicht.'
'I'm sorry I dinna ken ye, man. Do ye ken me?'
'Fine that, Mr. Falconer. There's mony ane kens you and praises God.'
'God be praised!' returned Falconer. 'Why am I wanted at home?'
''Deed I wad raither not say, sir.--Hey!'
This last exclamation was addressed to a cab just disappearing down King Street from Whitehall. The driver heard, turned, and in a moment more was by their side.
'Ye had better gang into her an' awa' hame, and lea' the poor lassie to me. I'll tak guid care o' her.'
She clung to Falconer's arm. The man opened the door of the cab. Falconer put her in, told the driver to go to Queen Square, and if he could not make haste, to stop the first cab that could, got in himself, thanked his unknown friend, who did not seem quite satisfied, and drove off.
Happily Miss St. John was at home, and there was no delay. Neither was any explanation of more than six words necessary. He jumped again into the cab and drove home. Fortunately for his mood, though in fact it mattered little for any result, the horse was fresh, and both able and willing.
When he entered John Street, he came to observe before reaching his own door that a good many men were about in little quiet groups--some twenty or so, here and there. When he let himself in with his pass-key, there were two men in the entry. Without stopping to speak, he ran up to his own chambers. When he got into his sitting-room, there stood De Fleuri, who simply waved his hand towards the old sofa. On it lay an elderly man, with his eyes half open, and a look almost of idiocy upon his pale, puffed face, which was damp and shining. His breathing was laboured, but there was no further sign of suffering. He lay perfectly still. Falconer saw at once that he was under the influence of some narcotic, probably opium; and the same moment the all but conviction darted into his mind that Andrew Falconer, his grandmother's son, lay there before him. That he was his own father he had no feeling yet. He turned to De Fleuri.
'Thank you, friend,' he said. 'I shall find time to thank you.'
'Are we right?' asked De Fleuri.
'I don't know. I think so,' answered Falconer; and without another word the man withdrew.
His first mood was very strange. It seemed as if all the romance had suddenly deserted his life, and it lay bare and hopeless. He felt nothing. No tears rose to the brim of their bottomless wells--the only wells that have no bottom, for they go into the depths of the infinite soul. He sat down in his chair, stunned as to the heart and all the finer chords of his nature. The man on the horsehair sofa lay breathing--that was all. The gray hair about the pale ill-shaven face glimmered like a cloud before him. What should he do or say when he awaked? How approach this far-estranged soul? How ever send the cry of father into that fog-filled world? Could he ever have climbed on those knees and kissed those lips, in the far-off days when the sun and the wind of that northern atmosphere made his childhood blessed beyond dreams? The actual--that is the present phase of the ever-changing--looked the ideal in the face; and the mirror that held them both, shook and quivered at the discord of the faces reflected. A kind of moral cold seemed to radiate from the object before him, and chill him to the very bones. This could not long be endured. He fled from the actual to the source of all the ideal--to that Saviour who, the infinite mediator, mediates between all hopes and all positions; between the most debased actual and the loftiest ideal; between the little scoffer of St. Giles's and his angel that ever beholds the face of the Father in heaven. He fell on his knees, and spoke to God, saying that he had made this man; that the mark of his fingers was on the man's soul somewhere. He prayed to the making Spirit to bring the man to his right mind, to give him once more the heart of a child, to begin him yet again at the beginning. Then at last, all the evil he had done and suffered would but swell his gratitude to Him who had delivered him from himself and his own deeds. Having breathed this out before the God of his life, Falconer rose, strengthened to meet the honourable debased soul when it should at length look forth from the dull smeared windows of those ill-used eyes.
He felt his pulse. There was no danger from the narcotic. The coma would pass away. Meantime he would get him to bed. When he began to undress him a new reverence arose which overcame all disgust at the state in which he found him. At length one sad little fact about his dress, revealing the poverty-stricken attempt of a man to preserve the shadow of decency, called back the waters of the far-ebbed ocean of his feelings. At the prick of a pin the heart's blood will flow: at the sight of--a pin it was--Robert burst into tears, and wept like a child; the deadly cold was banished from his heart, and he not only loved, but knew that he loved--felt the love that was there. Everything then about the worn body and shabby garments of the man smote upon the heart of his son, and through his very poverty he was sacred in his eyes. The human heart awakened the filial--reversing thus the ordinary process of Nature, who by means of the filial, when her plans are unbroken, awakes the human; and he reproached himself bitterly for his hardness, as he now judged his late mental condition--unfairly, I think. He soon had him safe in bed, unconscious of the helping hands that had been busy about him in his heedless sleep; unconscious of the radiant planet of love that had been folding him round in its atmosphere of affection.
But while he thus ministered, a new question arose in his mind--to meet with its own new, God-given answer. What if this should not be the man after all?--if this love had been spent in mistake, and did not belong to him at all? The answer was, that he was a man. The love Robert had given he could not, would not withdraw. The man who had been for a moment as his father he could not cease to regard with devotion. At least he was a man with a divine soul. He might at least be somebody's father. Where love had found a moment's rest for the sole of its foot, there it must build its nest.
When he had got him safe in bed, he sat down beside him to think what he would do next. This sleep gave him very needful leisure to think. He could determine nothing--not even how to find out if he was indeed his father. If he approached the subject without guile, the man might be fearful and cunning--might have reasons for being so, and for striving to conceal the truth. But this was the first thing to make sure of, because, if it was he, all the hold he had upon him lay in his knowing it for certain. He could not think. He had had little sleep the night before. He must not sleep this night. He dragged his bath into his sitting-room, and refreshed his faculties with plenty of cold water, then lighted his pipe and went on thinking--not without prayer to that Power whose candle is the understanding of man. All at once he saw how to begin. He went again into the chamber, and looked at the man, and handled him, and knew by his art that a waking of some sort was nigh. Then he went to a corner of his sitting-room, and from beneath the table drew out a long box, and from the box lifted Dooble Sandy's auld wife, tuned the somewhat neglected strings, and laid the instrument on the table.
When, keeping constant watch over the sleeping man, he judged at length that his soul had come near enough to the surface of the ocean of sleep to communicate with the outer world through that bubble his body, which had floated upon its waves all the night unconscious, he put his chair just outside the chamber door, which opened from his sitting-room, and began to play gently, softly, far away. For a while he extemporized only, thinking of Rothieden, and the grandmother, and the bleach-green, and the hills, and the waste old factory, and his mother's portrait and letters. As he dreamed on, his dream got louder, and, he hoped, was waking a more and more vivid dream in the mind of the sleeper. 'For who can tell,' thought Falconer, 'what mysterious sympathies of blood and childhood's experience there may be between me and that man?--such, it may be, that my utterance on the violin will wake in his soul the very visions of which my soul is full while I play, each with its own nebulous atmosphere of dream-light around it.' For music wakes its own feeling, and feeling wakes thought, or rather, when perfected, blossoms into thought, thought radiant of music as those lilies that shine phosphorescent in the July nights. He played more and more forcefully, growing in hope. But he had been led astray in some measure by the fulness of his expectation. Strange to tell, doctor as he was, he had forgotten one important factor in his calculation: how the man would awake from his artificial sleep. He had not reckoned of how the limbeck of his brain would be left discoloured with vile deposit, when the fumes of the narcotic should have settled and given up its central spaces to the faintness of desertion.
Robert was very keen of hearing. Indeed he possessed all his senses keener than any other man I have known. He heard him toss on his bed. Then he broke into a growl, and damned the miauling, which, he said, the strings could never have learned anywhere but in a cat's belly. But Robert was used to bad language; and there are some bad things which, seeing that there they are, it is of the greatest consequence to get used to. It gave him, no doubt, a pang of disappointment to hear such an echo to his music from the soul which he had hoped especially fitted to respond in harmonious unison with the wail of his violin. But not for even this moment did he lose his presence of mind. He instantly moderated the tone of the instrument, and gradually drew the sound away once more into the distance of hearing. But he did not therefore let it die. Through various changes it floated in the thin Šther of the soul, changes delicate as when the wind leaves the harp of the reeds by a river's brink, and falls a-ringing at the heather bells, or playing with the dry silvery pods of honesty that hang in the poor man's garden, till at length it drew nearer once more, bearing on its wings the wail of red Flodden, the Flowers of the Forest. Listening through the melody for sounds of a far different kind, Robert was aware that those sounds had ceased; the growling was still; he heard no more turnings to and fro. How it was operating he could not tell, further than that there must be some measure of soothing in its influence. He ceased quite, and listened again. For a few moments there was no sound. Then he heard the half-articulate murmuring of one whose organs have been all but overcome by the beneficent paralysis of sleep, but whose feeble will would compel them to utterance. He was nearly asleep again. Was it a fact, or a fancy of Robert's eager heart? Did the man really say,
'Play that again, father. It's bonnie, that! I aye likit the Flooers o' the Forest. Play awa'. I hae had a frichtsome dream. I thocht I was i' the ill place. I doobt I'm no weel. But yer fiddle aye did me gude. Play awa', father!'
All the night through, till the dawn of the gray morning, Falconer watched the sleeping man, all but certain that he was indeed his father. Eternities of thought passed through his mind as he watched--this time by the couch, as he hoped, of a new birth. He was about to see what could be done by one man, strengthened by all the aids that love and devotion could give, for the redemption of his fellow. As through the darkness of the night and a sluggish fog to aid it, the light of a pure heaven made its slow irresistible way, his hope grew that athwart the fog of an evil life, the darkness that might be felt, the light of the Spirit of God would yet penetrate the heart of the sinner, and shake the wickedness out of it. Deeper and yet deeper grew his compassion and his sympathy, in prospect of the tortures the man must go through, before the will that he had sunk into a deeper sleep than any into which opium could sink his bodily being, would shake off its deathly lethargy, and arise, torn with struggling pain, to behold the light of a new spiritual morning. All that he could do he was prepared to do, regardless of entreaty, regardless of torture, anger, and hate, with the inexorable justice of love, the law that will not, must not, dares not yield--strong with an awful tenderness, a wisdom that cannot be turned aside, to redeem the lost soul of his father. And he strengthened his heart for the conflict by saying that if he would do thus for his father, what would not God do for his child? Had He not proved already, if there was any truth in the grand story of the world's redemption through that obedience unto the death, that his devotion was entire, and would leave nothing undone that could be done to lift this sheep out of the pit into whose darkness and filth he had fallen out of the sweet Sabbath of the universe?
He removed all his clothes, searched the pockets, found in them one poor shilling and a few coppers, a black cutty pipe, a box of snuff, a screw of pigtail, a knife with a buckhorn handle and one broken blade, and a pawn-ticket for a keyed flute, on the proceeds of which he was now sleeping--a sleep how dearly purchased, when he might have had it free, as the gift of God's gentle darkness! Then he destroyed the garments, committing them to the fire as the hoped farewell to the state of which they were the symbols and signs.
He found himself perplexed, however, by the absence of some of the usual symptoms of the habit of opium, and concluded that his poor father was in the habit of using stimulants as well as narcotics, and that the action of the one interfered with the action of the other.
He called his housekeeper. She did not know whom her master supposed his guest to be, and regarded him only as one of the many objects of his kindness. He told her to get some tea ready, as the patient would most likely wake with a headache. He instructed her to wait upon him as a matter of course, and explain nothing. He had resolved to pass for the doctor, as indeed he was; and he told her that if he should be at all troublesome, he would be with her at once. She must keep the room dark. He would have his own breakfast now; and if the patient remained quiet, would sleep on the sofa.
He woke murmuring, and evidently suffered from headache and nausea. Mrs. Ashton took him some tea. He refused it with an oath--more of discomfort than of ill-nature--and was too unwell to show any curiosity about the person who had offered it. Probably he was accustomed to so many changes of abode, and to so many bewilderments of the brain, that he did not care to inquire where he was or who waited upon him. But happily for the heart's desire of Falconer, the debauchery of his father had at length reached one of many crises. He had caught cold before De Fleuri and his comrades found him. He was now ill--feverish and oppressed. Through the whole of the following week they nursed and waited upon him without his asking a single question as to where he was or who they were; during all which time Falconer saw no one but De Fleuri and the many poor fellows who called to inquire after him and the result of their supposed success. He never left the house, but either watched by the bedside, or waited in the next room. Often would the patient get out of bed, driven by the longing for drink or for opium, gnawing him through all the hallucinations of delirium; but he was weak, and therefore manageable. If in any lucid moments he thought where he was, he no doubt supposed that he was in a hospital, and probably had sense enough to understand that it was of no use to attempt to get his own way there. He was soon much worn, and his limbs trembled greatly. It was absolutely necessary to give him stimulants, or he would have died, but Robert reduced them gradually as he recovered strength.
But there was an infinite work to be done beyond even curing him of his evil habits. To keep him from strong drink and opium, even till the craving after them was gone, would be but the capturing of the merest outwork of the enemy's castle. He must be made such that, even if the longing should return with tenfold force, and all the means for its gratification should lie within the reach of his outstretched hand, he would not touch them. God only was able to do that for him. He would do all that he knew how to do, and God would not fail of his part. For this he had raised him up; to this he had called him; for this work he had educated him, made him a physician, given him money, time, the love and aid of his fellows, and, beyond all, a rich energy of hope and faith in his heart, emboldening him to attempt whatever his hand found to do.