Tales on the Parables Vol. 2 (IV)

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THE PEARL


CHAPTER I.


"MAURICE 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 spirit-breath."

    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 fortunate.

    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 walk again."

    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 profession?"

    "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 earnest."

    "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 us!"

    "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 for him.

    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 thought.

    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.


 
CHAPTER II.


MAURICE MACDONALD'S 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 he knew.

    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 bowery land.

    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 the tree.

    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 too.

    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 together.

    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 professor.

    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 hypocrite.

    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 had answered.

    "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 command it.

    "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 undoubting "No."

    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 was attained.


 
CHAPTER III.


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—


                                     "All tenderness
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 caring whither.

    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," said Maurice.

    "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 or two."

    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 precious gift."

    "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 music.

    "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, bitterly.

    "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 world besides.

    "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 than I 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."

    "Her 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 all things 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 and act."

    "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, earnestly.

    "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 gain.

    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 love.  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 eternity itself

    "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."

    "All!"

    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 all."

    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."


 
CHAPTER IV.


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 Knight."

    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 which perishes."

    "Go," said Mr. Messenger.  It was all he could say.  He was deeply moved.

    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 hour.

    "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?"

    "Till noon."

    "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. Messenger's household.

    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?"

    "I will."

    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 go.

    "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 moment half-unmanned.

    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 them
the body of Maurice Macdonald."


    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 Macdonald.

    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 these.

    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 frame.

    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 heavenly smile.

    "This book has my address in full.  Some one may find it and send it."

    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:—


THE RESURRECTION.


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
             stay.

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.


――――♦――――
 

 



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