The Marquis of Lossie/Chapter XXI

The Marquis of Lossie - Chapter XXI
by George MacDonald



When Malcolm at length reached his lodging, he found there a letter from Miss Horn, containing the much-desired information as to where the schoolmaster was to be found in the London wilderness. It was now getting rather late, and the dusk of a spring night had begun to gather, but little more than the breadth of the Regent's Park lay between him and his best friend — his only one in London — and he set out immediately for Camden Town.

The relation between him and his late schoolmaster was indeed of the strongest and closest. Long before Malcolm was born, and ever since, had Alexander Graham loved Malcolm's mother, but not until within the last few months had he learned that Malcolm was the son of Griselda Campbell. The discovery was to the schoolmaster like the bursting out of a known flower on an unknown plant. He knew then, not why he had loved the boy — for he loved every one of his pupils more or less — but why he had loved him with such a peculiar tone of affection.

It was a lovely evening. There had been rain in the afternoon as Malcolm walked home from the Pool, but before the sun set it had cleared up, and as he went through the park toward the dingy suburb the first heralds of the returning youth of the year met him from all sides in the guise of odors — not yet those of flowers, but the more ethereal if less sweet scents of buds and grass and ever pure earth moistened with the waters of heaven. And, to his surprise, he found that his sojourn in a great city, although as yet so brief, had already made the open earth with its corn and grass more dear to him and wonderful. But when he left the park, and crossed the Hampstead road into a dreary region of dwellings crowded and commonplace as the thoughts of a worshiper of Mammon, houses upon houses, here and there shepherded by a tall spire, it was hard to believe that the spring was indeed coming slowly up this way.

After not a few inquiries he found himself at a stationer's shop, a poor little place, and learned that Mr. Graham lodged over it, and was then at home. He was shown up into a shabby room, with an iron bedstead, a chest of drawers daubed with sickly paint, a table with a stained red cover, a few bookshelves in a recess over the washstand, and two chairs seated with haircloth. On one of these, by the side of a small fire in a neglected grate, sat the schoolmaster reading his Plato. On the table beside him lay his Greek New Testament and an old edition of George Herbert. He looked up as the door opened, and, notwithstanding his strange dress, recognizing at once his friend and pupil, rose hastily, and welcomed him with hand and eyes and countenance, but without word spoken. For a few moments the two stood silent, holding each the other's hand and gazing each in the other's eyes, then sat down, still speechless, one on each side of the fire.

They looked at each other and smiled, and again a minute passed. Then the schoolmaster rose, rang the bell, and when it was answered by a rather careworn young woman, requested her to bring tea. "I'm sorry I cannot give you cakes or fresh butter, my lord," he said with a smile; and they were the first words spoken." The former is not to be had, and the latter is beyond my means. But what I have will content one who is able to count that abundance which many would count privation."

He spoke in the choice word-measured phrase and stately speech which Wordsworth says "grave livers do in Scotland use," but under it all rang a tone of humor, as if he knew the form of his utterance too important for the subject-matter of it, and would gently amuse with it both his visitor and himself.

He was a man of middle height, but so thin that notwithstanding a slight stoop in the shoulders he looked rather tall — much on the young side of fifty, but apparently a good way on the other, partly from the little hair he had being grey. He had sandy-colored whiskers and a shaven chin. Except his large, sweetly-closed mouth and rather long upper lip, there was nothing very notable in his features. At ordinary moments, indeed, there was nothing in his appearance other than insignificant to the ordinary observer. His eyes were of a pale quiet blue, but when he smiled they sparkled and throbbed with light. He wore the same old black tail-coat he had worn last in his school at Portlossie, but the white neckcloth he had always been seen in there had given place to a black one: that was the sole change in the aspect of the man.

About Portlossie he had been greatly respected, notwithstanding the rumor that he was a "stickit minister" — that is, one who had failed in the attempt to preach — and when the presbytery dismissed him on the charge of heresy, there had been many tears on the part of his pupils and much childish defiance of his unenviable successor.

Few words passed between the two men until they had had their tea, and then followed a long talk, Malcolm first explaining his present position, and then answering many questions of the master as to how things had gone since he left. Next followed anxious questions on Malcolm's side as to how his friend found himself in the prison of London.

"I do miss the air, and the laverocks (skylarks), and the gowans," he confessed, "but I have them all in my mind; and at my age a man ought to be able to satisfy himself with the idea of a thing in his soul. Of outer things that have contributed to his inward growth the memory alone may then well be enough. The sights which when I lie down to sleep, rise before that inward eye Wordsworth calls the bliss of solitude have upon me the power almost of a spiritual vision, so purely radiant are they of that which dwells in them, the divine thought which is their substance, their hypostasis. My boy, I doubt if you can yet tell what it is to know the presence of the living God in and about you."

"I houp I hae a bit notion o' 't, sir," said Malcolm.

"But believe me that, in any case, however much a man may have of it, he may have it endlessly more. Since I left the cottage where I hoped to end my days under the shadow of the house of your ancestors, since I came into this region of bricks and smoke and the crowded tokens too plain of want and care, I have found a reality in the things I had been trying to teach you at Portlossie such as I had before imagined only in my best moments. And more still: I am now far better able to understand how it must have been with our Lord when He was trying to teach the men and women in Palestine to have faith in God. Depend upon it, we get our best use of life in learning by the facts of its ebb and flow to understand the Son of man. And again, when we understand him, then only do we understand our life and ourselves. Never can we know the majesty of the will of God concerning us except by understanding Jesus and the work the Father gave him to do. Now, nothing is a more heavenly delight than to enter into a dusky room in the house of your friend, and there, with a blow of the heavenly rod, draw light from the dark wall — open a window, a fountain of the eternal light, and let in the truth which is the life of the world. Joyously would a man spend his life — right joyously, even if the road led to the gallows — in showing the grandest he sees — the splendent purities of the divine region, the mountain-top up to which the voice of God is ever calling his children. Yes, I can understand even how a man might live, like the good hermits of old, in triumphant meditation upon such all-satisfying truths, and let the waves of the world's time wash by him in unheeded flow until his cell changed to his tomb and his spirit soared free. But to spend your time in giving little lessons when you have great ones to give; in teaching the multiplication-table the morning after you made at midnight a grand discovery upon the very summits of the moonlit mountain-range of the mathematics; in enforcing the old law, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, when you know in your own heart that not a soul can ever learn to keep it without first learning to fulfil an infinitely greater one — to love his neighbor even as Christ hath loved him — then indeed one may well grow disheartened, and feel as if he were not in the place prepared for, and at the work required of, him. But it is just then that he must go back to school himself, and learn not only the patience of God, who keeps the whole dull obstinate world alive while generation after generation is born and vanishes — and of the mighty multitude only one here and there rises up from the fetters of humanity into the freedom of the sons of God — and yet goes on teaching the whole, and bringing every man who will but turn his ear a little towards the voice that calls him nearer and nearer to the second birth of sonship and liberty; not only this divine patience must he learn, but the divine insight as well, which in every form spies the reflex of the truth it cannot contain, and in every lowliest lesson sees the highest drawn nearer and the soul growing alive unto God."