Robert Falconer by George MacDonald
Part III.--His Manhood
Chapter XIV. The Brown Letter.
At length the time arrived when Robert would make a further attempt, although with a fear and trembling to quiet which he had to seek the higher aid. His father had recovered his attempt to rush anew upon destruction. He was gentler and more thoughtful, and would again sit for an hour at a time gazing into the fire. From the expression of his countenance upon such occasions, Robert hoped that his visions were not of the evil days, but of those of his innocence.
One evening when he was in one of these moods--he had just had his tea, the gas was lighted, and he was sitting as I have described--Robert began to play in the next room, hoping that the music would sink into his heart, and do something to prepare the way for what was to follow. Just as he had played over the Flowers of the Forest for the third time, his housekeeper entered the room, and receiving permission from her master, went through into Andrew's chamber, and presented a packet, which she said, and said truly, for she was not in the secret, had been left for him. He received it with evident surprise, mingled with some consternation, looked at the address, looked at the seal, laid it on the table, and gazed again with troubled looks into the fire. He had had no correspondence for many years. Falconer had peeped in when the woman entered, but the moment she retired he could watch him no longer. He went on playing a slow, lingering voluntary, such as the wind plays, of an amber autumn evening, on the Šolian harp of its pines. He played so gently that he must hear if his father should speak.
For what seemed hours, though it was but half-an-hour, he went on playing. At length he heard a stifled sob. He rose, and peeped again into the room. The gray head was bowed between the hands, and the gaunt frame was shaken with sobs. On the table lay the portraits of himself and his wife; and the faded brown letter, so many years folded in silence and darkness, lay open beside them. He had known the seal, with the bush of rushes and the Gaelic motto. He had gently torn the paper from around it, and had read the letter from the grave--no, from the land beyond, the land of light, where human love is glorified. Not then did Falconer read the sacred words of his mother; but afterwards his father put them into his hands. I will give them as nearly as I can remember them, for the letter is not in my possession.
'My beloved Andrew, I can hardly write, for I am at the point of death. I love you still--love you as dearly as before you left me. Will you ever see this? I will try to send it to you. I will leave it behind me, that it may come into your hands when and how it may please God. You may be an old man before you read these words, and may have almost forgotten your young wife. Oh! if I could take your head on my bosom where it used to lie, and without saying a word, think all that I am thinking into your heart. Oh! my love, my love! will you have had enough of the world and its ways by the time this reaches you? Or will you be dead, like me, when this is found, and the eyes of your son only, my darling little Robert, read the words? Oh, Andrew, Andrew! my heart is bleeding, not altogether for myself, not altogether for you, but both for you and for me. Shall I never, never be able to let out the sea of my love that swells till my heart is like to break with its longing after you, my own Andrew? Shall I never, never see you again? That is the terrible thought--the only thought almost that makes me shrink from dying. If I should go to sleep, as some think, and not even dream about you, as I dream and weep every night now! If I should only wake in the crowd of the resurrection, and not know where to find you! Oh, Andrew, I feel as if I should lose my reason when I think that you may be on the left hand of the Judge, and I can no longer say my love, because you do not, cannot any more love God. I will tell you the dream I had about you last night, which I think was what makes me write this letter. I was standing in a great crowd of people, and I saw the empty graves about us on every side. We were waiting for the great white throne to appear in the clouds. And as soon as I knew that, I cried, "Andrew, Andrew!" for I could not help it. And the people did not heed me; and I cried out and ran about everywhere, looking for you. At last I came to a great gulf. When I looked down into it, I could see nothing but a blue deep, like the blue of the sky, under my feet. It was not so wide but that I could see across it, but it was oh! so terribly deep. All at once, as I stood trembling on the very edge, I saw you on the other side, looking towards me, and stretching out your arms as if you wanted me. You were old and much changed, but I knew you at once, and I gave a cry that I thought all the universe must have heard. You heard me. I could see that. And I was in a terrible agony to get to you. But there was no way, for if I fell into the gulf I should go down for ever, it was so deep. Something made me look away, and I saw a man coming quietly along the same side of the gulf, on the edge, towards me. And when he came nearer to me, I saw that he was dressed in a gown down to his feet, and that his feet were bare and had a hole in each of them. So I knew who it was, Andrew. And I fell down and kissed his feet, and lifted up my hands, and looked into his face--oh, such a face! And I tried to pray. But all I could say was, "O Lord, Andrew, Andrew!" Then he smiled, and said, "Daughter, be of good cheer. Do you want to go to him?" And I said, "Yes, Lord." Then he said, "And so do I. Come." And he took my hand and led me over the edge of the precipice; and I was not afraid, and I did not sink, but walked upon the air to go to you. But when I got to you, it was too much to bear; and when I thought I had you in my arms at last, I awoke, crying as I never cried before, not even when I found that you had left me to die without you. Oh, Andrew, what if the dream should come true! But if it should not come true! I dare not think of that, Andrew. I couldn't be happy in heaven without you. It may be very wicked, but I do not feel as if it were, and I can't help it if it is. But, dear husband, come to me again. Come back, like the prodigal in the New Testament. God will forgive you everything. Don't touch drink again, my dear love. I know it was the drink that made you do as you did. You could never have done it. It was the drink that drove you to do it. You didn't know what you were doing. And then you were ashamed, and thought I would be angry, and could not bear to come back to me. Ah, if you were to come in at the door, as I write, you would see whether or not I was proud to have my Andrew again. But I would not be nice for you to look at now. You used to think me pretty--you said beautiful--so long ago. But I am so thin now, and my face so white, that I almost frighten myself when I look in the glass. And before you get this I shall be all gone to dust, either knowing nothing about you, or trying to praise God, and always forgetting where I am in my psalm, longing so for you to come. I am afraid I love you too much to be fit to go to heaven. Then, perhaps, God will send me to the other place, all for love of you, Andrew. And I do believe I should like that better. But I don't think he will, if he is anything like the man I saw in my dream. But I am growing so faint that I can hardly write. I never felt like this before. But that dream has given me strength to die, because I hope you will come too. Oh, my dear Andrew, do, do repent and turn to God, and he will forgive you. Believe in Jesus, and he will save you, and bring me to you across the deep place. But I must make haste. I can hardly see. And I must not leave this letter open for anybody but you to read after I am dead. Good-bye, Andrew. I love you all the same. I am, my dearest Husband, your affectionate Wife,
Then followed the date. It was within a week of her death. The letter was feebly written, every stroke seeming more feeble by the contrasted strength of the words. When Falconer read it afterwards, in the midst of the emotions it aroused--the strange lovely feelings of such a bond between him and a beautiful ghost, far away somewhere in God's universe, who had carried him in her lost body, and nursed him at her breasts--in the midst of it all, he could not help wondering, he told me, to find the forms and words so like what he would have written himself. It seemed so long ago when that faded, discoloured paper, with the gilt edges, and the pale brown ink, and folded in the large sheet, and sealed with the curious wax, must have been written; and here were its words so fresh, so new! not withered like the rose-leaves that scented the paper from the work-box where he had found it, but as fresh as if just shaken from the rose-trees of the heart's garden. It was no wonder that Andrew Falconer should be sitting with his head in his hands when Robert looked in on him, for he had read this letter.
When Robert saw how he sat, he withdrew, and took his violin again, and played all the tunes of the old country he could think of, recalling Dooble Sandy's workshop, that he might recall the music he had learnt there.
No one who understands the bit and bridle of the association of ideas, as it is called in the skeleton language of mental philosophy, wherewith the Father-God holds fast the souls of his children--to the very last that we see of them, at least, and doubtless to endless ages beyond--will sneer at Falconer's notion of making God's violin a ministering spirit in the process of conversion. There is a well-authenticated story of a convict's having been greatly reformed for a time, by going, in one of the colonies, into a church, where the matting along the aisle was of the same pattern as that in the church to which he had gone when a boy--with his mother, I suppose. It was not the matting that so far converted him: it was not to the music of his violin that Falconer looked for aid, but to the memories of childhood, the mysteries of the kingdom of innocence which that could recall--those memories which
For an hour he did not venture to go near him. When he entered the room he found him sitting in the same place, no longer weeping, but gazing into the fire with a sad countenance, the expression of which showed Falconer at once that the soul had come out of its cave of obscuration, and drawn nearer to the surface of life. He had not seen him look so much like one 'clothed, and in his right mind,' before. He knew well that nothing could be built upon this; that this very emotion did but expose him the more to the besetting sin; that in this mood he would drink, even if he knew that he would in consequence be in danger of murdering the wife whose letter had made him weep. But it was progress, notwithstanding. He looked up at Robert as he entered, and then dropped his eyes again. He regarded him perhaps as a presence doubtful whether of angel or devil, even as the demoniacs regarded the Lord of Life who had come to set them free. Bewildered he must have been to find himself, towards the close of a long life of debauchery, wickedness, and the growing pains of hell, caught in a net of old times, old feelings, old truths.
Now Robert had carefully avoided every indication that might disclose him to be a Scotchman even, nor was there the least sign of suspicion in Andrew's manner. The only solution of the mystery that could have presented itself to him was, that his friends were at the root of it--probably his son, of whom he knew absolutely nothing. His mother could not be alive still. Of his wife's relatives there had never been one who would have taken any trouble about him after her death, hardly even before it. John Lammie was the only person, except Dr. Anderson, whose friendship he could suppose capable of this development. The latter was the more likely person. But he would be too much for him yet; he was not going to be treated like a child, he said to himself, as often as the devil got uppermost.
My reader must understand that Andrew had never been a man of resolution. He had been wilful and headstrong; and these qualities, in children especially, are often mistaken for resolution, and generally go under the name of strength of will. There never was a greater mistake. The mistake, indeed, is only excusable from the fact that extremes meet, and that this disposition is so opposite to the other, that it looks to the careless eye most like it. He never resisted his own impulses, or the enticements of evil companions. Kept within certain bounds at home, after he had begun to go wrong, by the weight of opinion, he rushed into all excesses when abroad upon business, till at length the vessel of his fortune went to pieces, and he was a waif on the waters of the world. But in feeling he had never been vulgar, however much so in action. There was a feeble good in him that had in part been protected by its very feebleness. He could not sin so much against it as if it had been strong. For many years he had fits of shame, and of grief without repentance; for repentance is the active, the divine part--the turning again; but taking more steadily both to strong drink and opium, he was at the time when De Fleuri found him only the dull ghost of Andrew Falconer walking in a dream of its lost carcass.