MACDONALD will make the
most of it, of that I feel sure," said a friend, discussing the
prospects of three or four students of our acquaintance.
The "it " was nothing less than the life which stretched before us,
full of varied prospects of usefulness, ambition, pleasure.
"No thanks to him," said another, "so much of it has been made for
him. He is rich. He has only to choose the best and the highest, and
to find every furtherance in his choice."
"But he loses the stimulus to exertion," said a third.
"You do not know him," was the rejoinder. "He has stimulus enough in
himself. He sat beside Andrew Home the other day in class. You know
Andrew, a good, solid fellow, with lots of head. What a contrast
they presented! Andrew looked like a figure cut in freestone. Not a
fold of his sandy hair seemed capable of motion. But Maurice — the
professor played on him; every nerve of his face moved, dashed,
quivered. The very hair of his head seemed stirred with a
It was a graphic description. Maurice Macdonald was of all things a
man — alive, alive to the finger-tips and hair-points — with eager,
seeking, searching, sentient life.
His father was Scotch, an adventurer in the good and noble sense of
the word, a sense now nearly lost. He had come up to London, entered
a merchant's warehouse, saved, and set a-going enterprises of his
own, till he had become a great Russia merchant. He was not a
scholar, yet he was a man of education, travelled, polished,
public-spirited. He had married an English lady, who had died
leaving him a son. Again he had married, but without any accession
to his family. Maurice was still his only child. He had bestowed on
him a liberal education, and had sent him to one of the Northern
universities, believing strongly in the physical and moral if not
intellectual hardihood of the North.
The moral atmosphere was certainly bracing. The greater number of
Maurice Macdonald's companions were more distinguished by poverty
than by wealth. They could not indulge in pleasure, for pleasure is
more or less costly; and, setting aside the mere boys, who took what
pleasure they could in rough boyish fashion, they indulged in study
instead. There were young men there from remote parishes (studying
theology and medicine), who would go back, when the session was
over, to the farm, the shop, or the sheep-fold, to lend helping
hands to the toils that enabled them to devote themselves to
learning; some of them destined in after-time to raise the whole
religious thought of a nation to higher levels, some to diffuse, by
new discovery, a world-wide healing.
The students were poor for the most part, for in Scotland the path
of learning, from the bench of the parish school to the chair of the
professor, is open to all. The ambition of the true Scottish mother
is for a son in "the ministry" — the Church. Learning is loved and
honoured in the humblest homes, and that very love and honour has a
refining influence there. In our own day the son of a cobbler has
preached before the Queen. A baker's apprentice was the discoverer
of chloroform; and, later, a little low-browed shop in a tiny
fishing town has sent three Senior Wranglers in succession to one of
the two great English universities.
These had their work laid out for them, and were in earnest about it
too; Maurice was one of the few who might rove at will over the
whole field of knowledge, and he did. Everywhere he was attracted in
search of truth, not the truth of this or that science or philosophy
only, but THE TRUTH, that which gives to each science and philosophy
its highest import, and unity to all.
With the chemist he studied the subtle mixing of the elements,
almost justifying the guess of the first philosophers of ancient
Greece when they resolved the world's wondrous whole into air or
water. With the geologist he examined the testimony of the rocks,
and learnt how the foundations of the earth were laid. With the
botanist and the zoologist he scanned and classified its vegetable
and animal products, and with the anatomist entered into the still
more sacred mysteries of life. And all with an eagerness
unsurpassed, a fervour of spirit which nothing seemed to daunt or
weary. His very teachers felt his presence inspiriting. Hardly one
of them could see the fixed beautiful face turned up to the rostrum,
or the thoughtful head bent over the rapidly-filling page of his
notebook, without even unconsciously responding to the eager
scholar. More than one of these teachers were, besides Christian
men, men who brought to the science of which they were masters the
simplicity and humility of childlike faith, and who saw the hand of
God in all his works, the greatest and the least. These looking on
Maurice Macdonald loved him, as Christ himself looked on the young
man who was rich like him and had kept himself so pure.
For Maurice Macdonald was not a Christian. He had not been led to
profess Christianity, otherwise he would not have contented himself
with mere profession, he would have carried into it the same eager
searching spirit which he carried into everything else, and might
thus have arrived at "The Truth" by a nearer way than that which he
had entered, that maze of knowledge in which many wander weary and
heavy-laden to the end, never reaching (while we can hear their
voices) that home of the spirit which is set in the midst.
Maurice had not been brought up in a Christian home. What the mother
who had died so young might have been he did not know. He had often
thought of her, looked on her miniature, and wished that he had had
the lovely living face to gaze upon instead. He had longed for her
affection when the want of such affection had made itself felt in
his heart. He had even fancied her looking down upon him from
heaven, which was very unphilosophical of course, only he could not
help the fancy; but this was all. How she had thought and felt,
believed and lived, he never asked himself.
And his father explained nothing. He was one of those men who
explain nothing — not even themselves. He spoke and acted very much
as other men in his position spoke and acted on the ordinary affairs
of life. But he gave no key to his thoughts; the purely practical
side of his character was always towards you. You had an idea — at
least, people of a more spiritual metal had an idea — that the man
was solid. It might be that the shaped and polished block was a
casket; in that case there might be jewels within, or only musty
parchments — title — deeds to a great estate, or old love-letters —
no one could tell. He spent money on art, but you could not tell
whether he really cared for art, or did it because other people
cared for it. He worked for the public weal, but whether from
benevolence or expediency, it was impossible to say. He held himself
aloof from churches and sects — would name himself by none of their
names — Protestant or Catholic, Trinitarian or Unitarian. Such
was Mr. Macdonald.
And the friends or acquaintances whom he gathered about him were all
what are called practical men — men who did not trouble themselves
with any theories about themselves or the universe; practical
politicians, who believed that happiness consisted in the greatest
good of the greatest number, as far as meat, drink, and other
purchasable things were concerned, or perhaps only to the extent of
the greatest number of Englishmen; political economists, not of the
new school, who calculate in moral values, but of the old material
type — such were Mr. Macdonald’s chosen friends.
True, with school and college his son had seen little of
either father or friends; but the home atmosphere had been imbibed
in childhood, and his father, in choosing for him teachers and
tutors, had, without exactly meaning it — though that too is
doubtful — excluded the religious element. It may appear
strange, but it is true, for all Maurice Macdonald knew of real
Christianity he might have been born a Greek or Roman of the first
century. Of course, historically and socially he knew all that
was to be known — the life of its founder, the divisions of its
adherents, but of its spiritual aspect nothing at all.
The home to which Maurice was about to return was pagan to
the core. The wife whom Mr. Macdonald had married made no
scruple of acknowledging her infidelity. Mr. Macdonald himself
acknowledged nothing, neither belief nor unbelief, but she was an
avowed Sadducee. She would turn upon you her large dark eyes —
she was a very pretty woman, though her beauty was of a fleshly type
— and quite gently and quietly put aside all reference to spiritual
matters with a "You know I don’t believe in anything of that sort."
And yet she would have been full of melancholy apprehension if a
single black crow had crossed her in her morning walk. An
additional black crow, however, reversed the decree, which was
Towards the close of his last session an incident occurred
which formed a turning-point in Maurice Macdonald’s career, though
it did but send his thoughts running in another channel. The
chemistry professor became ill, and unable to conduct his class;
friends supplied his place. His students missed and lamented
him, and went on as usual, but Maurice came to a dead stop.
Maurice had not only loved the teaching, but the teacher. His
whole heart had gone out to this man; why he could not tell.
The professor was a man of genius, but that would not account for
it. There were men of equal if not greater genius at the
university, for whom he did not care at all. There were even
more genial teachers; for the professor was by nature shy and
somewhat reserved; but for Maurice he had an unaccountable charm.
His voice, his eye, his smile, thrilled him with pleasure.
The young man called once to inquire at the
professor's house, and was sent away sorrowful. The professor's
state was very precarious. Though not hoping to see him, before
leaving town Maurice called once more; but on this occasion he was
asked to come in. Hearing of his last visit, the professor had
desired that if he came again he should be admitted.
He was admitted into a very plain room on the ground floor, about as
well furnished as the servants' room in his father's house. The
professor lay upon a couch at full length, with his head raised on a
horsehair cushion. A brown rug covered his limbs. There was no
attempt to make anything bright about him. Even the fire, a necessity
in the cold Northern spring, was smothered with ashes. The only
bright spot in the room was the sufferer's face. That was radiant
with a light from within, as he took the
hand of his student.
"I am glad to see you, Macdonald," was his simple greeting.
"And I — I hope you are better?" Maurice was strangely moved.
The professor shook his head. "Not much of that," he said, "my
general health is improved, but" — he looked down on his
outstretched limbs — "these are as bad as ever. I fear I shall never
A hot flush of pain spread over Maurice's face. He could not speak.
"I have often thought my brain might go," continued the professor,
"but I never thought of my legs. I shall have reason to be thankful
if it rests with them. Ah! you may think this room a prison, but
the body itself may become a closer prison — a prison more terrible
than was ever devised by man's worst imaginations. I have seen it in
my own family. I have reason to dread it for myself. Think of having
organs of speech and being unable to utter a word, or even give a
sign, to those waiting to catch it! I have not come to that yet, you
see." He was speaking quite cheerfully. And then he turned from the
subject altogether, asking, "Do you mean to go on with your studies,
Macdonald? I think you said once you would not enter any
"I do not know," answered Maurice, for the first time in his life
feeling the worthlessness of all his knowledge. "My father desires
to initiate me into business. I don't know that I shall care for it,
but at any rate I shall have leisure for something else."
"What have you been doing with yourself?" asked the professor,
kindly, but with a searching look. He was struck with the difference
in the young man's tone, and unaware that the change had taken place
since he entered the room. "You are not usually so little in
"What is there worth doing," Maurice longed to say, "in the face of
a liability like this? What is there worth knowing? — except,
indeed, it were the secret, impossible and unattainable, of
reversing the decree of nature by which it is imposed." And if he
had said this, the professor would have answered, "Or that other
secret, neither impossible nor unattainable, which reconciles to its
infliction." And if Maurice had asked further, "What is this?" he
would have answered, "Faith!" He would have bowed his head and
answered, as he had answered to his own soul in its sorest conflict,
"Faith in God the Father, and in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
But Maurice did not say what he longed to say, instead of it he
smiled, and said he had been dissipating in Edinburgh society, and
was idler than usual.
And the professor, who was anything but an ascetic, told him that
that was no excuse, and that having played heartily, he ought to
work all the more heartily. Then he pressed upon him the importance
of a particular vein of thought which he had entered upon with his
class, and urged him to continue working it out.
"Your doing so is all the more important that you are going into a
new sphere. You will be sure to bring new ideas and new ways of
thinking to it," he said; and at parting, "Mind you keep up with
"Keep up with us!" Then he meant to go on. Knowledge, the merest
grains of it, were still of value to him. It was incomprehensible to
go on unless it was so. "Yes," thought Maurice, trying to account
for the fact, "knowledge is power, he can still feel that; but if
the worst comes, the state which he pictured, even that will cease
Thus he went on thinking, after he had bidden adieu to his friend
and teacher, and the prostrate figure, whose singular grace and
nobleness he had almost worshipped, haunted him in every avenue of
It was as if suddenly he had found himself behind the veil of some
mystery after which he had toiled and strained, and behold a heap of
ashes! He had in his heart a yearning which would not be appeased.
At one time he thought he would like to go back to the professor and
open his heart to him, offer to stay with him, give up his life to
him as disciple, nay, as a very servant, as limbs to him, as senses,
if these should fail. Then he laughed at himself, "Bah! a woman
might do this; women can do these sort of things." The only thing he
did was a thing inconsequent, of no consequence whatever. He was
wandering about in the east wind till his face was as grey as the
stones of the city, and he went into a florist's and sent the
professor a bundle of exquisite flowers. Then reflecting on their
perishable nature and the probable indifference of the man to whom
he had sent them — to Maurice himself they would not have been
indifferent, but a genuine solace — he betook himself to a
publisher's and sent him a pile of the newest books.
The professor guessed rightly concerning the books, that they were
the gift of a student, and felt a grater pleasure in their perusal,
beyond and above what their contents afforded, but concerning the
flowers he guessed wrongly. He was forty, the professor, and far
from rich; but for once in his life he was vain enough to suppose
that he was an object of special tenderness, and to single out the
subject of it — a thing which might have led to unpleasant
consequences, but that, with health and prospects such as his, the
professor could not and would not entertain the idea of marriage. He
must manage to let the lady know that he felt and appreciated the
kindness, however. So he had the flowers placed quite near him, on a
small table, and when he was once more alone, he put out a thin hand
and touched tenderly the cool, soft petals, fancied it must be like
the touch of a certain fair forehead, and he smiled as he closed his
eyes and repeated the process.
life was not one which could satisfy even moderately a character
such as his; even if it had been full of higher influences and
interests, it is unlikely that it would. He was by nature a seeker. The thirst of the soul consumed him, and the cup which alone can
slake it had never been offered to his lips.
A few months' eager devotion to business — he could do nothing
without being eager — and he knew as much as some would have taken
years to understand. He grasped the principles of a great trade, and
proceeded to master its details. Then followed routine, which is
only ordered industry, and calls for a power which is moral rather
than intellectual, and he set himself to that. He could see its
value, and was determined to acquire the power which it needed. It
was to him a difficult task, but this also he accomplished, only,
like a dammed-up river, the energies of his spirit burst forth when
the barrier was removed.
And the question was how they were to expend themselves. There was
pleasure, pure pleasure — for Maurice was one who sought for pearls,
and turned with a disgust which was absolute, in body and soul, from
the swine-trough of licentiousness — and the highest and purest
pleasures were within his reach. His home, though only a West London
mansion, was a perfect paradise of sensuous beauty. The soul of the
woman who presided there seemed to have taken refuge in her senses. She indulged in the most exquisite tastes. Exquisite art adorned the
spacious chambers, exquisite flowers bloomed there in fresh
succession as if they were immortal. Exquisite food, exquisite
dress, exquisite music awaited Maurice every evening. His
step-mother had a perfect passion for beauty, only "passion" does
not express her calm absorbing love of it. She chose her friends for
their beauty, just as she chose her flowers. She threw aside an ugly
or faded one without remorse. Plain girls were rigidly excluded from
her parties. No grace, no bloom, no freshness in the world could
equal those of the young English girls Mrs. Macdonald could gather
together. She never crowded them.
All this was not without its influence on Maurice, but his love of
the beautiful went deeper than outward beauty. Time after time, when
he lighted on a lovely face, he was attracted, but it was to seek
under it the beautiful soul of which it appeared the embodiment, and
time after time he was repelled. Levity repelled him on the one
hand, and inanity on the other. Doubtless some of those who repelled
him were good and sweet girls, who laid aside the levity and inanity
to a great extent with their evening dresses. It was the fault of
the society in which they moved that they appeared as they did, and
were in deadly danger of becoming what they appeared, vain,
frivolous, bold, unmeaning. The purpose of life set before them,
display and attraction, was eating into their hearts. Maurice judged
them harshly. He loved none of them, and yet his heart had become
conscious of seeking something to love.
Just at this time, when Maurice had been at home about a year, there
had dropped, or rather been dropped, from his step-mother's circle,
a young married lady, whose loveliness all had admired. The
beautiful reckless creature had been sorely sinned against as well
as sinning, and Maurice gave her a too perilous pity. They met by
chance. How tell the mournful story? yet in truth it must be told. "He that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." Maurice
fell. He entangled himself in a connection equally fatal to both,
for she had nothing to gain, everything to lose, in loving him. She
lost all for him, so he believed, and he would have given her all in
return if that had been possible. He would have married her; but her
husband, an old and cruel profligate, declined to trouble himself
about her. Her maintenance fell upon Maurice. She was frightfully
extravagant, and Maurice got into money difficulties. Disappointment
too had settled upon his spirit, for the false jewel he had bought
so dearly was gone, crushed into a pinch of dingy paste-powder. He
saw this woman as she was, shallow, indelicate g saw in her, with a
shudder of revulsion, an unclean thing. He was degraded in his own
eyes, degraded and in chains, for he could not set himself free. He
had a glimpse too, in those days, of a love that might have been
his. He had made the acquaintance of a gentleman whose family he had
not yet seen. It was difficult to see them, as they did not go much
into society, staying chiefly in the country, at a place of their
father's not far from London. Since they did not go to society,
however, society came to them; but it was a society selected by a
wise and good father. If he had known what there was to know of
Maurice Macdonald's life, he certainly would not have admitted him;
but Maurice interested and attracted him, and, for good or evil, he
brought him to his house for a summer holiday.
The holiday lasted only from Saturday till Monday, and Maurice was
the only guest. His host was bent on making his acquaintance — bent,
too, on a nobler aim. He saw in the young man, or thought he saw,
one who craved for higher things, one who would love the highest if
And so far he was right. Mrs. Messenger welcomed him, and Maurice
longed for such a mother. She introduced him to her daughters one by
one, and he received a new impression of women. They led him into
the garden, and with Mary Messenger walking by his side he felt a new
sensation, thrilling, horrible — that is not too strong a word for
it — like that of the man without the wedding garment looking round
at the guest by his side. How pure, how sincere, how simple she was
in dress, in manners, in all things! There was a light upon her
loveliness like that in her eyes, which was true and sweet, which
was holy. In her presence he breathed a purer, freer air — the air
for which he had panted. It was the difference between his mother's
pent-up imprisoned exotics and this wide fresh English garden, with
its back ground stretching to the distant sky-line over miles of
Its effect upon him was to sadden, almost to sicken him with shame. He felt just as he ought to have felt, that he had no right there.
His face took an almost withered look. "He must be out of health,"
thought the mother, who had no son of her own, and she redoubled her
frank tenderness. "He is unhappy," thought Mary, and checked her
innocent gaiety to accord with his mood.
After dinner came music and the garden. A bell recalled them from
its moonlit walks, and the song of the nightingale in the little
wood beyond. It was the prayer-bell. The two younger girls went
toward the house one on each side of their father, Mary returned
with Maurice. He looked at her pure face, etherealised by the soft
light. He did not dare to offer her his arm. Her white dress brushed
him as they walked, and he could hardly help shrinking, as if the
contact might reveal him as he was.
They entered the house. Mr. Messenger led the way to a little
private chapel, where the servants were already seated. He took his
place on a slight elevation in front of them, and conducted family
service. It was the first time Maurice had been present at such a
scene. He knelt as they knelt, and hid his face in his hands. He did
not wish to appear absorbed in prayer, but his humiliation was
complete. Mr. Messenger used the prayer, "For all sorts and
conditions of men." In the pause he prayed for the stranger.
That night Maurice could not sleep, he was miserable. He sat at his
window looking out upon the garden, and saw the dawn. Next morning
he was looking haggard. Mrs. Messenger noticed it with concern. He
had better not go to church. She herself would stay with him. They
saw the others go, Mary by her father's side, the younger sisters
following, and sat down on the lawn under a great walnut-tree.
Maurice could hardly trust himself to speak. He would gladly have
laid his head on this woman's knees, and confessed to her what he
was, and been gone before her daughter's return. After a little talk
she went and brought out some favourite volumes and laid them on the
grass, and begged to be excused for a time. She fancied that he
wished to be alone. When she came back he had fallen asleep under
She stood and looked at him pityingly. Should she wake him, and try
to win from him perhaps some unacknowledged sense of mortal
weakness? But the frame, though slight, did not seem diseased, and
the face, no longer worn and haggard, looked anything but sickly. At
length she resolved to let him sleep on.
And he slept soundly, serenely, under the broad-leaved tree, out of
which the warm sun drew aromatic fragrance. He was still sleeping
when the little party came back from church. They stepped over the
grass, and did not wake him, and Mrs. Messenger, keeping guard over
him now, put her finger on her lips. No one made the least noise,
and yet he woke. His eyes met Mary's first. She was clasping with
two hands her father's arm, and bending over Maurice with a gaze
half admiring, half tender, such as women bestow on a sleeping
child. He started up, flushed, smiling, apologetic, and for the
remainder of his stay was more like his old self, the Maurice who
charmed all women and most men. He talked with Mr. Messenger on the
graver topics of the day, treated by the latter from a far higher
point of view than any to which Maurice had been accustomed. And, to
his amazement, not only did the ladies form an attentive audience,
but Mrs. Messenger and even Mary took part in the conversation.
In the afternoon they walked, the afternoon sky having drawn over it
the delicious awning of cloud by which English skies make amends for
their frequent gloom, those grey and white clouds which are like the
wings of a dove for cool, soft shadow. In the evening they had music
again, Mary's music. She alone could do justice to the great master. The selection was from Beethoven, from his last and grandest
sonatas, and from the "Missa Solennis." After a pause — "I
never hear his music," said Mr. Messenger, without thinking of his
life — that he who created such harmonies was deaf to all. I think I
see him sitting apart, in his total silence, while the finale of his
Ninth Symphony drew down the plaudits of the musical world at
Vienna, till a friend turned his face to the audience, that he might
see the enthusiasm whose thunders he could not hear. I think I see
him turning, and the tide of applause breaking like a wave upon the
shore — the crowd bursting into tears before the old man's face.
What a piece of sardonic mockery that scene would be, but for the
faith which made his life a grander music!"
"But for faith!" the words echoed and re-echoed through Maurice's
heart, and somehow with the words came back also a vision of the
Scotch professor lying stricken in his prime.
Faith! Was this the key which would unlock the mystery of the
universe? Was this the jewel of life, the one thing worth seeking
and finding, worth giving up all to obtain? Faith! the substance of
things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, as he had
somewhere read. Was that the light which shone in Mary Messenger's
quiet eyes, so different from other eyes he had known that they
seemed to belong to another world? He could not tell; but he yielded
himself to the influence of that home atmosphere, to him so strange
and sweet and new.
"I fear," said Mr. Messenger, when their guest had departed, "that
my favourite has not realised your expectations?"
"And yet he has raised them somehow," said his wife. "I should like
to see more of him."
"I like him very much indeed," said Mary, frankly.
"Then I will ask him to come again soon," said her father.
But Maurice was not destined to come again soon. His life had become
unbearable. His father must soon be made aware of his
embarrassments. He absented himself for a few days from home and
wrote to him, making a full confession.
Mr. Macdonald was seized, on the receipt of this letter, with a
passion which in him was rare. He had been seldom disappointed,
being a man of rare calculating powers, and he was proportionately
unable to brook disappointment. Maurice had disappointed him — he
had made a fool of himself that was the way in which he put it. He
thought not "the fair promise of his youth is blighted," but "my
faith in him is lost." He could not even make up his mind to write
to Maurice and put him out of suspense.
But Maurice's step-mother stood by him in the crisis, and served him
better than a mother might have done, because more dispassionately. She softened down offence, she made allowances; she was full of
kindness and sympathy towards both; she talked over her husband,
she wrote to her step-son, and really kept them from finally
breaking with each other.
Mr. Macdonald at length proposed an ultimatum. There was no need for
him, if he had but known, to pen that clause of the proposal
insisting on the breaking off of his connection, that had already
broken itself off for all time; but the ultimatum included a three
years' residence in Russia, as his father's agent, and an instant
departure from London. Maurice accepted, and was immediately
dispatched to Scotland to transact some business with a mercantile
house in Glasgow, previous to his departure for the country of the Czar.
He did not pass through Scotland without thinking of the professor,
and wishing to pay him a visit, but time failed him. He arrived in
Glasgow on Saturday morning, had only the day for his business, the
next for rest, and on Monday morning he was to leave the country for
his place of banishment. But the Glasgow merchant was rapid;
transacted the business, and whisked him off to his villa down the
Clyde on Saturday afternoon, promising to fetch him back again in
good time on Monday morning.
He was duly carried off to the kirk by the merchant and his maiden
sister; but in the afternoon he was free to take a stroll by the
seaside — so much was conceded to youth and a worldly upbringing. Taking his stroll in rather melancholy fashion, whom should he see
at some little distance but a man so like the professor, that he
watched his approach with the keenest interest. Of course it could
not be the professor himself. The gentleman had a lady on his arm
But there was no mistaking the smile of recognition which lighted up
the professor's face, nor yet the hearty greeting shouted forth, on
a nearer approach, by the professor's voice.
"Macdonald! one of the last people in the world I expected to meet
here! My wife, Mr. Macdonald." With an exchange of hearty greetings
and sufficient explanations, Maurice turned and walked with them. He
would have been glad to spend the rest of his day in their society,
but that was impossible, so he made the most of the present.
Talking of books, a sudden thought darted into the professor's
brain. He stood still for a moment, and laid his hand upon his
companion's shoulder. "Did you send me a lot of books when you left
us?" he asked.
"I sent you a bouquet, I remember," Maurice stammered, blushing, and
trying to get out of being thanked.
The professor laughed. A look passed between him and his wife, and
then, not a little to Maurice's embarrassment, they both laughed
The professor felt that some explanation was necessary. "But for
your posy we might never have been married. It was the missing link,
you know. I accused her of sending it — in short, it brought us
together. I am sure we ought to thank you — eh, Alison?" said the
Alison thought so too, and smiled, and hoped that Maurice would not
fail to visit them when he returned to Scotland. Then they parted at
the merchant's door, and the professor and his wife continued their
stroll upon the beach.
It was quite true that Maurice's flowers had brought about an
understanding between the professor and the lady whom he loved. The
day after they had been sent, she and her mother, the wife of a
fellow-professor, had called to see the invalid. The professor had
known Alison Scott in the shortest of short frocks. He knew all
women through her. Men know women mostly thus, through a medium, and
happy is the man who knows them through such a one, uncoloured by
affectation or envy, undwarfed by littleness or frivolity.
He would have thanked her for the flowers then and there, but she
bent over them till she almost brushed them with her lips, and said,
"How beautiful!" and he was mute.
Gradually he got a little better, and at length was able to be moved
to the seaside. The Scotts had taken up their summer quarters at a
pretty little town on the coast of Fife, and thither he had
followed. He got well enough to walk about on crutches, and took the
first opportunity of being alone with Alison to call her a little
Alison looked uncomprehending, and asked the reason why she was
called such a shocking bad name.
"You know you pretended never to have seen those flowers before," he
"What flowers?" she had asked.
They were sitting in a little wood that stretched along the shore.
The professor was resting himself and his crutches on a rustic seat
placed there for the public convenience. Alison was standing over
him, her back against a tree.
"What flowers?" she had asked, innocently.
"Why, those beautiful flowers you sent me when I was ill," he had
made answer. He thought himself well now by comparison.
"I never sent you any flowers," was Alison's plain matter-of-fact
statement. She wished she had sent him all she had ever had in her
life when she saw his face, the light gone quite out of it.
"Someone sent me some very pretty flowers, and I jumped to the
conclusion it was you," he said, in his most distant voice. He did
not mean his tone to be so very different to what it had been a
moment before; but he was chilled and disappointed, and could not
"If I had thought you cared —" she was beginning.
"It was not the flowers I cared for," he interrupted, hastily. "It
was that somebody cared enough about me to send them. I wonder who
did!" He seemed absent, speculating. When he looked up, Alison was
blushing crimson, evidently struggling with herself
"I would have brought you a cart-load," she said, bravely meeting
his eyes, "if I had known you would take it so."
"Ah, Alison, I am selfish, I fear! but I would not have you care too
much for me," he had said; "I am a cripple for life."
"As if that had anything to do with it, as if I could help caring
for you. I will never love any one as I love you," had burst from
the impetuous girl, "I never feel so good as when I am with you, so
happy as when I am doing something for you."
And so the professor had won a wife, a companion in health, a
comfort in sickness, one whose price he held to be above all rubies. And God gave him, as a foretaste of His kingdom, a few years of
earthly happiness as unalloyed as ever fell to mortal lot.
He and his Alison often wondered, when they went back to the city,
or took their well-won holiday in the summers that followed, what
had become of Maurice, whose profound melancholy had interested the
latter almost as much as his unconscious connection with the story
of their love.
And what was Maurice doing then? The three years were drawing to a
close. What had the seeker found in them? Was he still a seeker, or
was he satisfied at last? Much had happened in those years. Maurice
had led a life of incessant labour. Besides transacting the business
entrusted to him with energy and ability, he had reached forth on
every side in search of fresh enterprise; larger and larger
discretionary power had been yielded to him, as it was found always
exercised with prudence. From being the mere agent of his father's
house he had become its partner, and its most active one. His spare
time he had devoted to the acquisition of the difficult Russian
language. In this ceaseless activity lay his only happiness, for
happiness it was — no man can work heartily at any work worth doing
without enjoying a certain amount of satisfaction. But his heart was
empty, there was the "aching void" within.
He was desperately alone; the cultivated young merchant was offered
the entrée into the gay society of St. Petersburg, but when
he accepted invitations to its gatherings he only felt all the more
keenly his utter loneliness. When he went abroad in the city or its
environs he envied poor men's joys, so he sat oftenest solitary,
learning or working, brooding over vaster and vaster schemes.
Towards the close of the three years his father died, and he was
recalled to England to take his place at the head of the concern,
now one of the greatest in the country. It was an enviable position. With a princely fortune, it conferred princely power, far more real
power than falls to the lot of princes nowadays. A scrap of writing
fell from his hands, and hundreds on hundreds, whole villages, whole
towns, set to work to execute an order; another scrap, and they were
fed and clothed, they and theirs provided for by the labour of other
hundreds. But Maurice was not to be envied; his father's death had
still further saddened him. He had died as he had lived, shrouded in
unbroken reserve. The casket remained sealed for ever. When the news
of his sudden death reached Maurice he could hardly realise it. He
went to his desk and took out the last letter he had ever received
from him. There were the brief business-like communications about
business matters, the equally brief and formal acknowledgment of
their near relationship at the close. Was it possible that the
correspondence had ended? that all communication, as far as this
world was concerned, had ceased? As far as this world was concerned!
Was there any other world? He could not answer, not even with an
Very soon after his return he renewed his acquaintance with the
Messengers. On the occasion of his first visit Mary was there — he felt his heart thrill as his hand met hers. Vain regret and
humiliation filled his soul.
It is the fashion of the world to make light of such a sin as
Maurice had been guilty of especially when it is a thing of the
past, to pretend that it thinks hardly any the worse of a man for
it, and that a man need not and does not think any the worse of
himself for it. Away with the vain pretence! Sin is of the soul, and
stains as deeply the man's as the woman's, if he is more callous
over it, that is only a proof that it has hurt him more. But Maurice
did not think lightly of it. He felt degraded, humiliated, lost as
ever any fallen woman did in the presence of spotless womanhood. Such a feeling has driven many a man out of such presence, and into
that of womanhood anything but spotless, till perhaps callousness
A FEW months
after her husband's death, Mrs. Macdonald began to show symptoms of
declining health. That death had been a great shock to her — the
first profound alarm she had ever felt, though she was no longer
young. She had had neither brothers nor sisters, nor any children,
to realise the truth that—
In human hearts is guarded by a fear."
She had led a life unusually free from trouble and sorrow. Her eyes
had never been dimmed with weeping, nor her cheek paled with
watching. She looked ten years younger than most women of her age. But since her husband's death she had worn a strangely haggard look. She was restless and unhappy in her enforced seclusion. She hated
the gloomy garments which she felt bound to wear; but far more she
hated and longed to rid herself of the thought of death. She was
constantly going over in her mind the actual physical horror of it,
rehearsing the last scenes of the tragedy; the failing breath, the
closing eye, the stiffening limbs, the rigid marble features, the
closing coffin, the everlasting farewell. No wonder Mrs. Macdonald
looked haggard and worn. She had sedulously kept aloof from disease
and death, guarded herself against horrors of all sorts, and lo! the
worst of horrors had invaded her, come close to her as her own
garments, dwelt with her, and would not be sent away.
But for Maurice's presence she felt she could not have endured those
first months. If he had been her own son he could hardly have
treated her with greater devotion and tenderness, and his tenderness
was real, not apparent. She had been very good to him, and he had
learnt to love her long ago. Then she was the only one who knew him,
and she loved him still. They had planned to go away together, and
spend a month or two abroad, when Mrs. Macdonald became so much and
so rapidly worse that the plan had to be given up.
A fashionable physician was called in, and, having received a hint
of his patient's state of mind before the complete prostration which
he witnessed, he prescribed, along with his powerful tonics, a
constant cheerfulness and ease of mind. Mournful and pathetic were
the efforts made to obtain these precious things in that wealthy and
luxurious household. The gloomy garments were laid aside. The
invalid was attired in virgin white, in spite of continued and
increasing weakness, her toilette was as elaborate as ever. Whatever
could tempt the palate was set before her. The fairest flowers, the
choicest pictures were brought into her rooms. The most tasteful
trifles were elaborated to please her. Friends were called in, and
responded to the call, to chat and trifle with her. All was of no
avail. Nothing continued to please, nothing satisfied.
At length it was evident that the struggle was one between death and
life. It was death that prevailed. With all her faculties
unimpaired, with her love of life in full force, this woman learnt
for she was not to be deceived — that she was about to die, and
then, and not till then, she managed to rid herself of the thoughts
of death. She summoned all her resolution; so long as she did not
feel the hand of death upon her, so long she would hold out.
She made Maurice promise that he would not even see her when that
hour came, or look upon her face in death. "It is unpleasant," she
pleaded, "and I do not like to be unpleasant."
She was very brave, but she had to do with the king of terrors. When the end came her cries resounded through the spacious mansion.
The awe-stricken servants clung together in the passages, and wept. When Maurice came back from the City, early, because of the state in
which he had left her, he rushed up to her, forgetful of his
promise, forgetful of everything but her extremity. She turned her
dying eyes upon him. He will never forget their look! He will never
forget that hour! Its shadow stretched
across his life.
He caught the trembling hands, and held them in his own, and her
cries ceased, but her eyes were fixed upon his face — hopeless and
imploring. Strangely enough his first impulse was to pray, and he
would have prayed had he known how; but he did not. Sending forth a
form of words into the unknown he knew was not prayer, but
incantation. So he stood by her side through the long dumb agony,
and strove to sustain her, till his knees knocked together and the
sweat stood upon his forehead.
When it was over, and he was released, he stumbled down the stairs
and fell fainting at the foot.
The sadness of Maurice's life had deepened still more. He fell ill
of a nameless disease, whose symptoms were languor of all the
functions. Doctors sounded him to find out the seat of it, and all
alike pronounced heart, lungs, and every organ sound. No disease was
discoverable, only a general want of tone. He felt old and weary. He
had an utter lack of interest in life, nay, rather an utter distaste
for it, looking upon it as a painted prison from which only a
terrible release awaited.
The physicians sent him away in search of health. He went, hardly
It was autumn, and he turned northward into Scotland. It struck him
that he would like to redeem his promise to the professor, and see
him once more after the lapse of years. Perhaps he too was dead. To
Maurice, in his present mood, it seemed most natural that he should
be. It seemed more natural to die than to live.
But the professor was not dead, nor was it difficult to find him. From the capital he traced him to the little Fifeshire town where he
had taken up his abode. His house was a small freestone cottage set
on a little hill, and looking down on a narrow strip of wood along
the shore of the firth.
"Laid up again, you see," was the professor's greeting.
"I grieve to see it," replied Maurice. "Is it the old disease?"
"That and worse," was the answer given, cheerily. "The enemy only
invaded a small portion of the territory last time. He is marching
on to the final conquest now."
"Yet you do not seem unhappy. You look more cheerful than ever,"
"Why, what an ingrate I should be to do anything else! Just look." He waved his hand towards the open window.
Maurice looked, and saw a lovely prospect. The silver firth, the
glittering shore, a fair city lying in the embrace of the hills.
"It is very beautiful," he said; "but, pardon me, what is it to you? It is to me at this moment nothing."
The professor raised himself a little on his elbow — it was but
little he could raise himself now.
"You are neither blind, deaf nor senseless in the body, and
therefore, Macdonald, you must be suffering from disease of the
soul. Feel that breeze coming in at the window," he added, waxing
eloquent, "to me it is the very breath of God. Nothing! why, in at
every gate of sense streams a perfect flood of joy."
"Yes," replied Maurice; "but in at these gates come also pain,
horror, darkness, corruption, death."
"My dear fellow," exclaimed the professor, "what a fearful shadow
you are casting! You must have turned your back upon the light."
"Forgive me," said Maurice. "How inconsiderate I have been! You must
have more than enough of your own shadow." Maurice had heard the
saddest accounts of all his friend had suffered.
The professor smiled. Just then his wife came in, looking
thoughtful, but seriously sweet. She recognised Maurice immediately,
and welcomed him.
"Alison, Mr. Macdonald will dine with us," said her husband, "and in
the meantime he will stay with me. It will set you free for an hour
She smiled on them and left them together.
"Shadow!" said the professor, resuming their discourse. "I have
turned my back upon that long ago. There is only one shadow to face
now — that of the dark valley. Life is all too bright for me. You
can guess how bright she has made it, can you not? God's last, most
"Yes," said Maurice, in a low tone, "but the more precious a thing
is, the harder it is to give it up."
"'The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly
pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and
sold all that he had and bought it.'"
The voice of the professor sounded on like a strain of perfect
"And again — 'This is life eternal, to know him the only true God,
and Jesus Christ whom he hath sent! For that knowledge I laid down
everything long ago, all earthly wisdom — all earthly love — all,
all. Do you know what attracted me to you, Macdonald, more than to
any of the young men I had taught? It was that I saw in you a reflex
of my own ardent youth. Like you, I coveted the best gifts."
"But you never failed as I have failed," interrupted his hearer,
"How do you know that?" said the professor. "I only know that my
wisdom had become foolishness and my love idolatry, when I was
plunged headlong into a sea of sorrows. Failure! I should think I
know what that is. I had failed to find a God in the universe. The
more I studied his marvellous works, the less I knew of him, till,
with the fool, I had said in my heart, 'There is no God.' Can any
failure be so great as that — to seek life and to find death?"
He paused exhausted. Maurice's countenance fell, for he had been
hanging on his master's lips, with the secret hope that they might
drop this pearl of price, this knowledge which was worth all the
"I will go on," said the professor. "I will tell you my story,
though there is not much to tell. I was in the heyday of my youth,
poor but successful, and bent upon success in the branch of study I
had chosen. A prize offered, a prize of no ordinary kind — one which
would have set me at once above poverty and necessity, and given me
the amplest means and opportunity for the pursuit of my science. More than that, it would have allowed me shortly to marry the woman
I loved — not this Alison, but another, her youngest aunt. That
prize I lost through the treachery of the friend I loved best. The
prize itself was only a certain gold medal, but the gainer of the
medal was to receive an appointment of value. I and my friend went
in for it together and it would have been mine but for a flaw in my
method, due, as I came to know, to his wilfully damaging my work. "It was at terrible experience. I think I could have borne the loss,
especially if it had been his gain; but the after-knowledge was more
could bear. It shook my faith in that humanity which I had been
exalting to the chief place in the universe. But worse was to
follow. I had been overworking before, and the shock proved too much
for me. I fell down in a fit, which passed away, but left me, the
doctor said, liable to a recurrence of the same kind of seizure, and
revealed in my never very healthy constitution a tendency to
paralysis. Under the circumstances I myself would have set Alison
free; but she was the first to break the bond. Shortly
after she married my friend, and they went away together to the post
which was the fruit of his treachery."
"But he never prospered. Such men never do," said Maurice,
triumphantly. "I should like to hear how that man ended."
"The end is not yet," said the professor, sadly. "He is a prosperous
man as the world counts prosperity; one of the shining lights of the
great metropolis — everywhere quoted, courted by the great, rich,
and renowned. He has friends, he has children."
"No; she died young, and he married a wealthy wife."
"How did I survive it? I threw off the disease instead of the mortal
coil which I desired to be rid of. Do you know that I have sometimes
longed to lay hands on my own life. I knew enough of the secrets of
nature to have put an end to it painlessly; but something withheld
me — a feeling of the meanness of deserting mingled with the
interest of the lover of experiment in watching it to the legitimate
end. But I was sunk in a very sea of sorrow. I could have said with
the psalmist, 'All Thy waves and billows have gone over me.' I
seemed to lie forgotten and forsaken of God and man.
"Then one day I began to think over my childhood, a very lonely but
a very happy one, and I remembered a dream of mine — a very frequent
dream it was, of climbing up an endless stair, all in darkness, and
that one day in going up an actual stair the dream had led to a
strange realisation. Young as I was at the time, I thought to myself
'This stair is my life. I am going up and up into the darkness; but
it will be light at the top.' And then I thought the Christ of my
childish fancy stretched a hand out of the darkness and led me on. When I came to myself I was standing still on the landing-place. But
the momentary vision had made the greatest impression on me. I
remember trying with all my might to be good, and to feel that
presence with me always. All this came back to me then, and in my
weariness I took up the Greek Testament that lay beside me, and had
been used as a mere text-book for the language. I read and read. All
at once — all at once that central figure became a Divine reality. This knowledge of God in Christ Jesus the Lord was no cunningly
devised fable. It was life itself, the spring and source of all. 'All that I have, all that I am, are thine,' I exclaimed aloud. I
had found the pearl of great price, and I thank God," added the
professor, "that from that hour to this I have been enabled to count
but loss that I might win Christ, and be found in him."
"I envy you," said Macdonald, "for what so evidently gives to your
life its unity and joy; but you do not know how hopeless it makes me
feel. If you had spoken to me in an unknown tongue, I could hardly
have realised less the nature of the influence under which you feel
"I can understand it well, for the influence is faith, as much the
gift of God as this wonderful gift of sight, the secret of which all
the microscopes and all the science in the world cannot reveal. All
that I can tell you happened to me was that 'whereas' (spiritually)
'I was blind, now I see.'"
"I would give all I have for such a vision," said Maurice,
"Then," said the professor, sinking back wearied, "you are not far
from the kingdom of God."
That day they conversed no more. The conversation had exhausted the
invalid, and though he was very glad to spend himself in such a
service, both Maurice and Mrs. Macdonald insisted on complete
repose. He lay on his couch beside them, and listened to their quiet
converse, and looked "infinitely happy." Maurice could describe it
as nothing less. "Heaven!" he would say in the after-time, "it
requires no translation to take us there. I have seen it shining on
a human face. Nay, what is more, I can
say, humbly and reverently, I have felt it within me, especially
when I have been wearied out with bodily service."
Maurice was able to say this, for, remaining with his friend to the
last, pouring out his whole heart to him, and taken into close
communion with his Christian spirit, he too found the priceless
pearl. A recognition of their immortal fellowship was among the last
earthly utterances of the dying saint, for whom death had lost its
sting — nay, to whom to die was gain. Only the Christian can feel
that. The worldling may meet death stoically even if it does not
come upon him unawares; but to him it is the loss of
all, "the direst discouragement."
And Maurice had been living in the very shadow of death. The death
he had witnessed, and that which he had not witnessed, had both
taken a supreme hold of his imagination; a verse he had seen
somewhere was for ever ringing in his ears:—
"Oh, awful triumph of the tomb!
The deepest love must leave us there,
And ending thus in hopeless gloom,
The deeper love, the worse despair."
It rang in his ears as he walked along the shores of the firth, and
came back again to the side of his dying friend and teacher, from
whose lips he heard, as if in another language, that to die was
What gain? Was it a gain in love, in power, in knowledge? How could
any one tell? No one had returned; no one had ever succeeded in
piercing the dark veil. Every earthly thing had to be laid down
before taking that journey. And yet they were no meaningless words
to him who uttered them. When the hour of mortal weakness came, with
solemn joy the professor hailed the summons.
"Maurice," he said, "this faith supports me;" they had been speaking
of immortality — an immortality of love, and joy, and power. "This
faith supports me; but I shall not need it long, I am going to
exchange it for reality. Even the merchantman bought the priceless
pearl to exchange again, and not to keep. There will be no need of
faith in Heaven. Have you found it yet?"
And Maurice had knelt down by the bed of his friend, and whispered,
"I have found it."
"And you are satisfied?" He spoke as if with assurance.
Maurice pressed his hand, and answered, "I am satisfied."
"And you close with the bargain?"
"All that I have,"' whispered Maurice, as it making a vow.
"And all that you are or can be," echoed the professor, solemnly,
laying his dying hand on the young man's head.
Maurice rose up released for ever from death's dominion. There are
those who say that even if this life was all, if it ended with the
latest breath, there would still be enough to thank and bless God
for having given; who say that they could still enjoy life, with all
its varied pleasures, its beauty, its goodness, its tenderness, its
Not so Maurice Macdonald. No sooner had he come in contact with sin
and death, than that last fearful penalty annulled for him every
joy, quenched every aspiration, poisoned the springs of life. He was
ready to exclaim;—
"T'were better that we had not been,
If death's dominion holds, and he
The face of God has never seen
Who dreamt that dream of life to be.
"Better that unto us be born
No child, to us no son be given;
That, mocked of God, Creation's scorn,
Our race should fail from under heaven.
"The childless world for some few years
Would bear her freight of human woe;
And then, rejoicing, with her peers,
Voiceless but glad would onward go."
But now in Him who brought life as well as immortality fully to
light, Maurice could be satisfied. His swift-thoughted fervent soul
need no more sink to earth, but might move in curves wide as
"To die is gain." The words had been often on the professor's lips,
and Maurice had at length understood their force and preciousness. Yes, truly, the bargain he had made was an infinite one. All that he
had was the poorest, the most worthless exchange for it. Yet it
followed naturally. If he had given himself to Christ, all that he
had went with it.
And what had he? He began to reckon. He had wealth. If he could have
laid it down at an apostle's feet, that would greatly have
simplified matters for Maurice, but times had changed since the days
of Peter, James, and John, and even if there had been an apostle at
whose feet he could have laid it, the wealth of the London merchant
was difficult to realise. He might draw from it a princely revenue,
but the capital from which it was drawn was at the four corners of
the earth. To gather it in would be to plunge hundreds into poverty. It was better obeying the command, "Occupy till I come," to let it
remain where it was. In this light he could not look upon that vast
capital as his at all, and for the rest he was also a steward. He
had culture. "How could that be given up to Christ and used in his
service?" Maurice asked himself. It could not be worthless — a thing
to be cast away as soon as a man became a Christian. Surely that
which had received so much from Christianity had something to give
back. They were questions which Maurice would never have asked at
all, if some of the finest minds of his day had not misunderstood
the nature of culture — had not exalted it on a false basis, till
they had made it a means of separation from their fellows, instead
of a bond of union — a thing of forms of words, instead of living
truths. Thus treated culture becomes sickly and feeble. To create a
caste of culture is a folly, for culture lives on universal
knowledge and universal sympathy. It is the filth of the soil of
humanity, and instead of making that soil richer, such a culture
tends to make it poorer and poorer, to exhaust it altogether.
By a flash of his quickened intellect, Maurice perceived that
religion was the highest culture, and that all lower culture was in
its service, was helping to do its work. Besides wealth and culture,
Maurice had the influence derived from these, from his position, and
from his youthful energy, which seemed intensified under the power
which had taken possession of him. More than all the old ardour of
his nature returned to him. It was the renewing of his youth, the
renewing of his strength. "He has come back with new life," said
those who knew him, and noted the outward change. Maurice felt it to
be nothing less, only he knew that it was not due to the body, but
to the spirit. Men embrace the Gospel so coldly that they never know
its joy. Maurice did. Accepting its terms without reservation, he
knew what is fully known to few,
the peace that passeth understanding, the joy that is unspeakable
and full of glory.
And it seemed his function to distribute joy. Some poor struggling
East-end curate would get hold of his name, and come to him as a
last resource for help for some failing school, some sinking refuge,
saying, "You don't know how hard it is to collect money for such
things. It is harassing work. People seem to have so many claims
upon them; doubtless you have more than most. And yet a little will
help us with your name."
"Save your energies for better things than begging," would Maurice
answer. "I will give you all you require."
Having ascertained that the thing was good, why should he withhold
what was needful to its success? "Oh, but we want so much," the
slightly abashed worker would say. "We could not expect you to do it
They might not expect, but Maurice would perform. Asking simply,
"How much do you require?" he would hand over to the astonished and
generally depressed collector a sum over and above what he asked,
saying, "Call upon me next year, and I will do the same." "For the
first time in my life I wept for joy," said one who had experienced
many a disappointment and many a rebuff for the cause he had at
heart, and who had gone to Maurice anxious and care-burdened, and
had come away thankful and free. "He is the only man I ever envied,"
said another, in the like case, and that man would have given his
life for his work.
And that was what Maurice longed to do. Nay, he was doing it in a
measure, for he laboured on at the calling which enabled him to give
his princely gifts. His charity was simply unbounded, for much of it
was unknown and unheard of. He still lived in his father's house, but
its expenditure was reduced to the minimum. In it were no idle,
wasteful servants. Its master lived a life of austere simplicity. He
kept no carriages. He walked, or used the public conveyances. He had
to be a law unto himself, and very strictly he ruled the
interpretation concerning "all that he had."
IT was the summer of 1870. With the suddenness of a thunderstorm war
burst upon Europe. Like the peals of its thunder, followed one
another in rapid succession its strange and terrible events. The
army of France marched to the invasion of Germany, and the German
legions retaliated by the invasion of France. There is a skirmish at Saarbruck, at which a sickly boy receives "his baptism of fire" —
hollow horrible words, which reverberate with a ring of mockery
among the nations. In two days follows the battle of Weissenburg, in
two more that of Wörth. The fields of France are already reeking
with slaughter. A few days more and Courcelles is fought under the
walls of Metz. Mars-le-tour and Gravelotte follow, with hardly
enough interval for the burial of the dead. After the desperate
slaughter of Gravelotte there is a brief interval, till the hosts of
Germany, still pouring into France, surround and capture a whole
army at Sedan. Round and about the city is a very Aceldema. The
Emperor gives up his sword and 8o,ooo prisoners. And all within one
short month since that skirmish at Saarbruck.
Then from those conquered provinces rose a cry
which rolled over Europe. On to Paris tramped the conquering
hosts, leaving behind them a mass of human misery unequalled in
modern times — burning villages, ruined homesteads, homeless wanderers, and everywhere the
wounded and the dying, and the fields of dead.
Among those whose hearts rose at the cry — and in England they were
not a few — no one responded more eagerly than Maurice Macdonald. There was yet in the background of his life a sense of
incompleteness, a feeling that he had a warfare to accomplish, and
was straitened till he had accomplished it. When the horror of that
time seemed to reach its culmination in the burning of Bazeilles, he
could remain a spectator no longer. He said to himself "I must go to
help not only with money, but with personal effort, in the relief of
the sufferers." To don the red cross, whose badge some few
miscreants were wearing for pleasure or for profit, and to make it
the sign, as was meet, of supreme self-devoting sacrifice, was to
his eager spirit the very service for which he craved.
No time was to be lost. Before the business day was done on which
his resolve was taken, he called on Mr. Messenger in the City,
prepared at all points. The object of his visit was to ask that
gentleman to be his executor, which he did in so many words.
"You are making a will. It is quite right, but you seem in haste
about it," said Mr. Messenger.
"I am going abroad. I may be in danger. You ought indeed to know all
about it before you undertake this. I will tell you. I am going to
the seat of war."
"On business?" asked his friend.
"No," replied Maurice, and he smiled. "I am going as a Red-cross
The elder man was cautious. His eyes moistened; but he said, "Are
you sure you ought to go?"
"I think I can be of use there," he said, simply. "But you must keep
my purpose secret. I do not wish it to be known."
"But," Mr. Messenger urged, "there are many in the field already. Had you not better keep your post here and contribute to the funds?"
"I am called," said Maurice. "Do not think me vain, but I know
something of business and the modes of getting rapid supplies. I
know the language of both combatants, and men are dying. I may be
privileged to speak the word of life, as well as to give the bread
"Go," said Mr. Messenger. It was all he could say. He was deeply
Then Maurice told him what he would be called upon to do in the
event of his death. There was provision made for the carrying on of
the great concern of which he was the sole head. He had nominated
two of his principal employees his successors, on the payment of
certain sums to his executor, stretching over a period of years; he
had endowed the various schemes he had hitherto aided, and made
munificent bequests to others. Everything had been thought of. No
one dependent on him had been forgotten, whether friend or servant. When he had explained every arrangement, he and Mr. Messenger drove
together to the lawyer's chambers, to whom a draft of the will had
been already sent. It was signed, sealed, and witnessed that very
"Now I am ready," said Maurice, as they walked out together.
"And when do you go?"
"To-morrow," was the quiet answer.
"So soon? Won't you come and say good-bye?" asked his friend. "How
long have you?"
"Then come with me now."
Maurice hesitated, and answered, "No." It would be better to have no
farewells. There were some things he could do. And there was
something to say before he could take the place he coveted in Mr.
Mr. Messenger insisted on knowing what it was, and received from the
young man a full and free confession of the wrong that had stained
his life. "If I come back again," he added, "will you receive me?"
"Maurice, you are not going with the dream of making expiation?"
said Mr. Messenger.
"No," he replied. "That has been made for me."
"Come back, and we will receive you gladly," said Mr. Messenger.
"As a son?" he asked, holding out his hand.
"As a son, Maurice."
"Will you give my love to Mary, then?"
And so they parted; and Mr. Messenger went home and told the news
to his eager circle.
"Going to the war!" said the younger sisters, half-incredulous, and
anxious to know all about it. Then they looked wistfully at Mary,
for though Maurice's visits had not been so frequent as so favoured
a guest's might have been, and though there hovered about his
attentions an indefinable timidity, the sisters in their secret
confidences had set him down as Mary's lover. But Mary murmured,
"Oh, mamma!" and went away that she might hear no more.
Next morning early, long before visiting hours, Mrs. Messenger
brought her eldest daughter to pay a farewell visit to Maurice. They
spoke to him so cheerfully, that, though he had shrunk from the
meeting, he was glad they had come, he hardly dared think how glad.
"Have you done all your packing?" asked Mrs. Messenger.
"I do not know," he answered, smiling.
"Why do you ask?"
"Because we want to give you something, and we must not waste time
about it," she answered.
"See, it will not burden you to carry," said Mary, holding up a bit
of red braid.
He understood in a moment, and went away, and came back with a coat
over his arm.
Mary sat down and took out a little work-bag, and sewed upon the
sleeve the figure of a cross. Mrs. Messenger looked on while her
brave girl did it and gave it to Maurice with a sweet serious
smile. "Good—bye," she said, putting away her things, and rising to
"Good-bye, and God bless you, dearest!" said Maurice, holding her
hand for a moment.
"Come back safe to us," said Mary's mother, and they left him, for a
A week after Maurice was in Sedan. Almost all trace of the battle
which had raged round its walls had disappeared. The dead had been
buried, the wounded carried off to such shelter as could be found
for them, the débris of musket and helmet and war material gathered
up and removed, and the dew had washed away the strange dark stains
where horse and man had fallen, shattered by shot and mitrailleuse. Only a dead horse lay here and there, tainting the wholesome air,
only a letter fluttered by bush or roadside, the last of hundreds
already gathered and sent "home" by kindly hands to French village
and German cottage.
But in the villages round there was no end to the trail of horrors,
to the suffering which seemed to increase instead of diminishing as
the days went by. September waned, and as the wounded were healed
the hale sickened. The Prussian requisitions had swept away the
people's food. Pestilence, too, followed in the track of the war,
smiting man and beast. The cattle over a wide area died by thousands
of rinderpest; fever and dysentery attacked the starving peasantry.
Maurice had intended to follow the army, but he could not leave the
scene of such wide-spread disaster. Everywhere the young Englishman
was known, in every emergency; in the lazaretto tending the
stricken, working with M. le Curé in saving his scattered flock from
famine and despair; thoughtful of the coming winter, ordering
blankets, provisions, fuel, and food.
Another month passed away, during which the utmost exertions had
only sufficed to keep the people alive, and had done little to
repair the actual ravages of the war. Another month brought the rain
and the cold, and the capitulation of Metz. An American, foremost in
the work of mercy, entreated Maurice to come thither, for all the
district round the beleaguered city was in misery and in ruin, and
within its walls was hidden the most fearful suffering.
On the raising of the lengthened siege the soldiers, happily for
them, fell into the hands of their enemies ― the sick to be cared for,
the prisoners to receive welcome rations; but the poorer among the
townspeople, left to their own resources, were in greater straits
than before. Thousands of cases called for immediate relief. From
house to house in the narrow back streets Maurice and the American
went, carrying food and cordials to those who were too far reduced
even to make known their wants; to fathers and mothers who sat
listlessly starving, knowing nothing about their city's fate,
knowing only that it was days since they had eaten their last meal
of bread mixed with sawdust, or of the carrion of which their little
ones had long ago sickened and died.
This was their first task, and they saved many lives which another
day, or even a few more hours, would have put an end to. But outside
the city, in the burnt and battered villages, the scenes were still
more appalling. Having seen the most pressing distress within the
walls alleviated, and its recurrence to some extent provided
against, by a large index of help and the liberality of the richer
citizens, Maurice and his friend separated, to render what
assistance they could to the wretched country people in the environs. From an outlying village Maurice managed to send a message to his
friend that he would remain for the present, as his services were
urgently needed. They had taken rooms together in Metz. Maurice did
not return, and the American was called elsewhere; at the end of
eight days he set out in search of him.
"With a great and bitter cry he recognised in one of
the body of Maurice
It was with difficulty that he found the place, asking first, as
always, for M. le Curé. He was answered that M. le Curé was dead. Where was his house? It had escaped the general destruction, and he
had turned it into an hospital and general refuge — he had turned it
at the same time into a pesthouse. When the American entered the
dwelling, from which the very women held aloof, he found there not
living men, but corpses. With a great and bitter cry he recognised
in one of them the body of Maurice
Every breath drawn within those walls was like a sip of poison, to
handle those disfigured bodies of the dead more dangerous than to
lift a living serpent; but the young American, true to his red cross
badge, did not shrink from doing what was yet to be done, lamenting
that he had not been there to succour the living rather than to bury
the dead. His first work was to wrap up the bodies — of which there
were three — in what coverings he could find, and then to go in
search of help. It rained — had rained persistently for the last ten
days; and, sitting at the cottage hearths, two or three families
huddling together, he found the wretched lounging peasants as he had
found them before, when he had first entered the village to make
inquiries for his friend.
Their apathy was frightful. He entreated help in vain. In vain he
lashed them with reproach for leaving their Curé to die unattended.
When had he died?
They did not know.
His blood might be upon their heads. They might have saved him.
It was the plague, they whispered. They would not go into the house. No one had come out alive. M. le Curé had not come out for days. When he no longer came out to them they knew he was dead.
Then the stranger offered bribes, showed a handful of silver, and
the men rose doubtfully, and the women pushed them forward. One went
for the Curé of a neighbouring village, to ask him to come over on
the morrow, some to dig the graves, and some to hammer together the
three rude coffins. The American remained to see that it was done. Encouraged by him, a woman was found who re-entered the Curé's
house. They took refuge in the kitchen, and purified it as far as
possible. The American had sent for disinfectants. He had driven
over to the village and had brought food and cordials, but not
In the evening they had arrived, and the coffins were ready. With
the help of two of the men the dead were laid in them, and the
women, ransacking the Curé's stores, covered them over with a linen
sheet, the three under one pall — the Curé, Maurice, and a nameless
wanderer whom no one knew.
Maurice had been the last to die. He had occupied a couch drawn
close to the window, the Curé had lain on his narrow bed, opposite.
In the adjoining room, with a door open between them, the unknown
had died on another. The general refuge had been in the dining-room
underneath, which was empty, but with the signs of such occupation.
By the side of the Curé was a small table. Maurice must have placed
it there. On it lay a wooden crucifix, his prayer book, and a glass
of wine and water. On the opposite wall hung a photograph of Scheffer's great picture, the "Christus Consolateur," in an oaken
Drawn up to the couch where Maurice lay was a wooden chair. He had
placed on it some bread and wine, and a pocket-book and pencil. Of
these the American took possession. They had recorded, as he
anticipated, all, save the end. The entries were as follow:—
"Nov. 12. — Entered the house of the Curé of M――, found him waiting
on two sick men, nursing, cooking, even washing for them. Tells me
he has received the sick and wounded, but during the last three
weeks all have died. The doctor has not been to see his patients for
two days. He fears the doctor may be ill. Five days ago his
housekeeper died, and he has missed her much. No one else will come
to him. He is not a poor man, like most of them; he has still food
in the house, and wine and
linen, though he has given the greater part away. His housekeeper
had insisted on husbanding the goods, else all would have been gone. There is a perfect panic among his parishioners. No one will come
in. They will only draw near to the garden-gate and speak with him,
and bring him what he wants and lay it down there. They brought him
some eggs to-day. He gives me one, but says he cannot eat.
"Midnight. — One of the men has died. He was unconscious; but the
good priest prayed with him to the last. Instead of his evening meal
he took the sacrament according to the rites of his Church with the
sick man who still lived. I longed to join them. We were one in
spirit, and repeated the Paternoster and the Apostle's Creed
together. All this we believed in common, so we could not be far
apart. The communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the
resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
As we spoke the words, kneeling together, I felt for the first time
all the unity — giving power of a creed.
"Nov. 3. — Our patient is very ill. I have only heard of this disease. It is the most virulent form of typhus. The stricken are covered
with a white powder, as if they had been dusted with meal, it makes
them look very ghastly. It is deadly too. M. le Curé is firm in the
belief that no one recovers from it.
"We went out and buried the dead man in the churchyard close to the
house — too close, I think. On one side the graves come quite up to
its walls. No one would help us. The rain was falling in a constant
drizzle. I had a waterproof and held an umbrella over the Curé while
he read the service, but he was wet through before. The grave was
not nearly deep enough. I am very wearied, too wearied to sleep. No
doctor to-day. I shall watch by our other patient to-night, for the
good Curé is exhausted.
"Nov. 14. — The Curé is stricken down at last. A sudden, terrible
prostration. He tried to crawl out of bed this morning, and could
not. What is to be done? No one will enter the house; I have sent
again for the doctor, but he does not come.
"Nov. 15. — The doctor does not come. I am sick. I have eaten
nothing. M. le Curé is very ill. He prays without ceasing. Sometimes
his mind wanders; but still he prays. The other sick man will not
recover, he is dying. It rains; and I have seen no one to-day.
"Nov. 16. — What is this? I am too ill to move. Will no one come to
us? Are we left to die? 'When thou passest through the waters, I
will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow
thee.' 'Fear thou not; for I am
with thee: be not dismayed, for I am thy God.' The words came to me
like a distinct utterance. It is enough, I will have no more fear. I
said the words aloud in French, and the Curé answered with a
"This book has my address in full. Some one may find it and send
Then followed, faintly written, an address in London, and the one
word — "Mary."
Here the journal had been laid down, and taken up again to add —
"The sound in the next room has ceased. The sick man is quiet. I
cannot hear his breathing — he is dead. M. le Curé has become
unconscious. He, too, will die. But I am young and strong; I may
recover. I cannot realise the idea of death. Life seems so vivid, so
full of use and power. If He wills that I should die, what then? Living or dying, I have made the blessed bargain, which leaves me
entirely in His hands"
The last lines here were very feeble. They had been traced it was
evident with the utmost difficulty.
Another night seems to have passed, and the writer has tried to
resume his entries, and failed. It is as if a blind man had essayed
to write, nay, worse than that, for the hand seems paralysed.
Nothing is to be made of the confused lines except one name. No, not
hers. The highest known in heaven or earth — the name of Jesus.
They buried him beside the Curé in the churchyard of M ――. Some one
has erected a cross over his grave, but there is no name graven on
it. It was as he wished, for no one had known him. The
people speak of him by the only name by which they knew him, "The
Young Englishman." Maurice Macdonald is one we have borrowed.
It was a strange fulfilment of the prediction that he would make the
most of life. He had been very near to making the worst of it. He
had sinned and sorrowed, and he had died young, enjoying neither
love nor honour, though capable of winning both. Only, like the
merchantman seeking goodly pearls, having found one pearl of great
price, he sold all that he had and bought it. And the quality of
that heavenly jewel is such that when all other possessions fall
away from their possessor that remains. It
may be carried undimmed through the fires of affliction, in which
all earthly good melts into dross. It alone can be borne through the
floods of death into the kingdom beyond the grave.
After the war the young American carried to England, as a sacred
treasure, the book in which Maurice had written the record of the
last days of his life, and gave it into the hands of Mr. Messenger,
for his daughter Mary. He, too, was charmed with the quiet grace and
spiritual beauty of Mr. Messenger's eldest daughter, and, attracted
by these, he lingered in England, Mr. Messenger having opened to him
his hospitable house. But for Mary, though she liked him
exceedingly, he had no counter attraction of the kind she sought. He
spoke to her father on the subject, as a man of equal fortune and
position, and acknowledged this as he did so, and her father
answered, "Let her alone. You think that time has lessened her
regret, but it has not diminished her love. Mary's heart is yet with
Maurice in heaven." And with this answer he saw it best to be
satisfied, and depart. Mary's greatest earthly treasure is her
lover's journal. In it she seems to speak to him heart to heart, for
to it he had committed many a
fervent thought, set often, too, in music of his own. Maurice might
have been a poet. In his journal there were verses not a few, some
of which had in them a ring of unusual child-like joyfulness. This
last was Mary's favourite:—
What to the soul in sorrow's night
The dawning of another day?
New sorrow comes with morning light,
Fresh bleed the wounds sleep scarce could
Thus waking early to their woe,
The women, ere the dawn of day,
Went forth to see the grave where low
In death their Lord and Master lay.
The veil of night was half withdrawn,
And gave the sleeping earth to view,
The living wonder of the dawn
Was born in heaven, and spread and grew.
Spring's resurrection breathed abroad,
And many a blossom shook its wings
Dust free, arising from the sod
A glory among living things.
It breathed about the garden tomb
Made in the rock, and sealed with stone ―
Hard rock to thee it brings no bloom,
It brings no life to thee alone.
Such were their thoughts who weeping went
To Christ's new grave to nurse their grief;
Dim was the dawn its light that lent
Ere day rose bright beyond belief.
Glorious and fair the day that burst
From that dim dawn as these drew near,
And learnt that death had done its worst,
"The Lord has risen, He is not here!"
This greeting from the empty tomb
Is doubtful joy till He appears;
Their risen sun dispels the gloom,
And Mary sees Him through her tears.
The light which on that morning broke
Lights the dark realm where death is king;
The greeting from that grave which spoke
Round all the world shall joyful ring.
Glorious and fair beyond our hope,
The day which in that hour had birth,
The glad new day of boundless scope,
No more to set upon the earth.
The Lord has risen. Our life appears
Divine in that diviner light,
Which shines immortal through our tears,
What time we sit in sorrow's night.
"The Lord has risen — has risen, indeed!"
Throughout the earth the tidings run;
In higher thought and holier deed
Life blossoms to her living sun.