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   Chapter 18 A WINTER IDYLL.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 24204

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Lady Joan the same day wrote to her brother Borland, now Mergwain, telling him what had taken place. But it must be some time before she received his answer, for the post from England reached the neighbouring city but intermittently, and was there altogether arrested, so far as Howglen and Muir o' Warlock were concerned. The laird told her she must have patience, and assured her that to them her presence was welcome.

And now began for Cosmo an episode of enchantment, as wondrous as any dream of tree-top, or summer wave city-for if it was not so full of lighter marvel around, it had at the heart of it a deeper marvel, namely a live and beautiful lady.

She was a girl of nearly eighteen, but looked older-shapely, strong, and graceful. But both her life-consciousness and her spirits-in some only do the words mean the same thing-had been kept down by the family relations in which she found herself. Her father loved her with what love was in him, and therefore was jealous; trusted, and therefore enslaved her; could make her useful, and therefore oppressed her. Since his health began to decline he would go nowhere without her, though he spoke seldom a pleasant, and often a very unpleasant word to her. He never praised her to her face, but swore deeply to her excellence in ears that cared little to hear of it. When at home she must always be within his reach, if not within his call; but he was far from slow to anger with her, and she dreaded his anger, not so much from love or fear as from nicety, because of the ugly things he would say when he was offended with her. One hears of ruling by love and ruling by fear, but this man ruled by disgust. At home he lived much as we have seen him in the house of another, cared for nobody's comfort but his own, and was hard to keep in good humour-such good humour as was possible to him. He paid no attention to business or management: his estates had long been under trustees; lolled about in his room, diverting himself with a horrible monkey which he taught ugly tricks; drank almost constantly; and would throw dice by himself for an hour together-doing what he could, which was little, towards the poor object of killing Time. He kept a poor larder but a rich cellar; almost always without money, he yet contrived to hold his bins replenished, and that from the farther end: he might have been expecting to live to a hundred and twenty for of visitors he had none, except an occasional time-belated companion of his youth, whom the faint, muddled memories of old sins would bring to his door, when they would spend a day or two together, soaking, and telling bad stories, at times hardly restrained until Joan left the room-that is, if her brother was not present, before whom her father was on his good behaviour.

The old man was in bad repute with the neighbours, and they never called upon him-which they would have found it hard to justify, seeing some who were not better were quite respectable. No doubt he was the dilapidated old reprobate they counted him, but if he had not made himself poor, they would have found his morals no business of theirs. They pitied the daughter, or at least spoke pityingly of her, but could not for her sake countenance the father! Neglecting their duty towards her, they began to regard her with a blame which was the shadow of their neglect, thinking of her as defiled in her father's defilement. The creeping things-those which God hath not yet cleansed-call the pure things unclean. But it was better to be so judged than to run the risk of growing after the pattern of her judges. I suspect the man who leads a dissolute, and the man who leads a commonly selfish life, will land from the great jump pretty nearly in the same spot. What if those who have despised each the other's sins, are set down to stare at them together, until each finds his own iniquity to be hateful.

Of the latter, the respectably selfish class, was Borland her brother. He knew his presence a protection to his sister, yet gave himself no trouble to look after her. As the apple of his eye would he cherish the fluid in which he hoped to discover some secret process of nature; but he was not his sister's keeper, and a drop of mud more or less cast into her spirit was to him of no consequence. Yet he would as soon have left a woman he wanted to marry within reach of the miasms that now and then surrounded Joan, as unwarned in the dark by the cage of a tiger.

At home, therefore, because of the poverty of the family, the ill-repute of her father, and the pride and self-withdrawal of her brother, she led a lonely life where everything around her was left to run wild. The lawn was more of a meadow than a lawn, and the park a mere pasture for cattle. The shrubbery was an impassable tangle, and the flower garden a wilderness. She could do nothing to set things right, and lived about the place like a poor relation. At school, which she left at fifteen, she had learned nothing so as to be of any vital use to her-possibly left it a little less capable than she went. For some of her natural perceptions could hardly fail to be blunted by the artificial, false, and selfish judgments and regards which had there surrounded her. Without a mother, without a companion, she had to find what solace, what pastime she could. In the huge house there was not a piano fit to play upon; and her only source of in-door amusement was a library containing a large disproportion of books in old French bindings, with much tarnished gilding on the backs. But a native purity of soul kept her lovely, and capable of becoming lovelier.

[Illustration: COSMO AND LADY JOAN CLIMBING.]

The mystery of all mysteries is the upward tendency of so many souls through so much that clogs and would defile their wings, while so many others SEEM never even to look up. Then, having so begun with the dust, how do these ever come to raise their eyes to the hills? The keenest of us moral philosophers are but poor, mole-eyed creatures! One day, I trust, we shall laugh at many a difficulty that now seems insurmountable, but others will keep rising behind them. Lady Joan did not like ugly things, and so shrank from evil things. She was the less in danger from liberty, because of the disgust which certain tones and words of her father had repeatedly occasioned her. She learned self-defence early-and alone, without even a dog to keep her company, and help her to the laws of the world outside herself.

With none of the conventionalities of society, Lady Joan saw no reason for making a difficulty when, the day after that on which her father died, Cosmo proposed a walk in the snow. He saw her properly provided for what seemed to her an adventure-with short skirts, and stockings over her shoes-and they set out together, in the brilliant light of a sun rapidly declining toward the western horizon, though it had but just passed the low noon. The moment she stepped from the threshold, Joan was invaded by an almost giddy sense of freedom. The keen air and the impeding snow sent the warm blood to her cheeks, and her heart beat as if new-born into a better world. She was annoyed with herself, but in vain she called herself heartless; in vain she accused herself of indifference to the loss of her father, said to herself she was a worthless girl: there was the sun in the sky-not warm, but dazzling-bright and shining straight into her very being! while the air, instinct with life, was filling her lungs like water drunk by a thirsty soul, and making her heart beat like the heart of Eve when first she woke alive, and felt what her Maker had willed! Life indeed was good! it was a blessed thing for the eyes to behold the sun!-Let death do what it can, there is just one thing it cannot destroy, and that is life. Never in itself, only in the unfaith of man, does life recognize any sway of death.-A fresh burst of healthy vigour seemed born to answer each fresh effort. Over the torrent they walked on a bridge of snow, and listening could hear, far down, below the thick white blanket, the noise of its hidden rushing. Away and up the hill they went; the hidden torrent of Joan's blood flowed clearer; her heart sang to her soul; and everything began to look like a thing in a story-herself a princess, and her attendant a younger brother, travelling with her to meet the tide of in-flowing lovely adventure. Such a brother was a luxury she had never had-very different from an older one. He talked so strangely too-now like a child, now like an old man! She felt a charm in both, but understood neither. Capable, through confidence in his father, of receiving wisdom far beyond what he could have thought out for himself, he sometimes said things because he understood them, which seemed to most who heard them beyond his years. Some people only understand enough of a truth to reject it, but Cosmo's reception by faith turned to sight, as all true faith does at last, and formed a soil for thought more immediately his own.

They had been climbing a steep ascent, very difficult in the snow, and had at length reached the top, where they stood for a moment panting, with another ascent beyond them.

"Aren't you always wanting to climb and climb, Lady Joan?" said the boy.

"Call me Joan, and I will answer you."

"Then, Joan,-how kind you are! Don't you always want to be getting up?-up higher than you are?"

"No; I don't think I do."

"I believe you do, only you don't know it. When I get on the top of yon hill there, it always seems to me such a little way up!-and Mr. Simon tells me I should feel much the same, if it were the top of the highest peak in the Himmalays."

Lady Joan did not reply, and Cosmo too was silent for a time.

"Don't you think," he began again, "though life is so very good-to me especially with you here-you would get very tired if you thought you had to live in this world always-for ever and ever and ever, and never, never get out of it?"

"No, I don't," said Joan. "I can't say I find life so nice as you think it, but one keeps hoping it may turn to something better."

She was amused with what she counted childish talk for a boy of his years-so manly too beyond his years!

"That is very curious!" he returned. "Now I am quite happy; but this moment I should feel just in a prison, if I thought I should never get to another world; for what you can never get out of, is your prison-isn't it?"

"Yes-but if you don't want to get out?"

"Ah, that is true! but as soon as that comes to a prisoner, it is a sign that he is worn out, and has not life enough in him to look the world in the face. I was talking about it the other day with Mr. Simon, else I shouldn't have got it so plain. The blue roof so high above us there, is indeed very different from the stone vault of a prison, for there is no stop or end to it. But if you can never get away from under it, never get off the floor at the bottom of it, I feel as if it might almost as well be something solid that held me in. There would be no promise in the stars then: they look now like promises, don't they? I do not believe God would ever show us a thing he did not mean to give us."

"You are a very odd boy, Cosmo. I am almost afraid to listen to you. You say such presumptuous things!"

Cosmo laughed a little gentle laugh.

"How can you love God, Joan, and be afraid to speak before him? I should no more dream of his being angry with me for thinking he made me for great and glad things, and was altogether generous towards me, than I could imagine my father angry with me for wishing to be as wise and as good as he is, when I know it is wise and good he most wants me to be."

"Ah, but he is your father, you know, and that is very different!"

"I know it is very different-God is so much, much more my father than is the laird of Glenwarlock! He is so much more to me, and so much nearer to me, though my father is the best father that ever lived! God, you know, Joan, God is more than anybody knows what to say about. Sometimes, when I am lying in my bed at n

ight, my heart swells and swells in me, that I hardly know how to bear it, with the thought that here I am, come out of God, and yet not OUT of him-close to the very life that said to everything BE, and it was! -you think it strange that I talk so?"

"Rather, I must confess! I don't believe it can be a good thing at your age to think so much about religion. There is a time for everything. You talk like one of those good little children in books that always die-at least I have heard of such books-I never saw any of them."

Cosmo laughed again.

"Which of us is the merrier-you or me? Which of us is the stronger, Joan? The moment I saw you, I thought you looked like one that hadn't enough of something-as if you weren't happy; but if you knew that the great beautiful person we call God, was always near you, it would be impossible for you to go on being sad."

Joan gave a great sigh: her heart knew its own bitterness, and there was little joy in it for a stranger to intermeddle with. But she said to herself the boy would be a gray-haired man before he was twenty, and began to imagine a mission to help him out of these morbid fancies.

"You must surely understand, Cosmo," she said, "that, while we are in this world, we must live as people of this world, not of another."

"But you can't mean that the people of this world are banished from Him who put them in it! He is all the same, in this world and in every other. If anything makes us happy, it must make us much happier to know it for a bit of frozen love-for the love that gives is to the gift as water is to snow. Ah, you should hear our torrent sing in summer, and shout in the spring! The thought of God fills me so full of life that I want to go and do something for everybody. I am never miserable. I don't think I shall be when my father dies."

"Oh, Cosmo!-with such a good father as yours! I am shocked."

Her words struck a pang into her own heart, for she felt as if she had compared his father and hers, over whom she was not miserable. Cosmo turned, and looked at her. The sun was close upon the horizon, and his level rays shone full on the face of the boy.

"Lady Joan," he said slowly, and with a tremble in his voice, "I should just laugh with delight to have to die for my father. But if he were taken from me now, I should be so proud of him, I should have no room to be miserable. As God makes me glad though I cannot see him, so my father would make me glad though I could not see him. I cannot see him now, and yet I am glad because my father IS-away down there in the old castle; and when he is gone from me, I shall be glad still, for he will be SOMEWHERE all the same-with God as he is now. We shall meet again one day, and run at each other."

It was an odd phrase with which he ended, but Lady Joan did not laugh.

The sun was down, and the cold, blue gray twilight came creeping from the east. They turned and walked home, through a luminous dusk. It would not be dark all night, though the moon did not rise till late, for the snow gave out a ghostly radiance. Surely it must be one of those substances that have the power of drinking and hoarding the light of the sun, that with their memories of it they may thin the darkness! I suspect everything does it more or less. Far below were the lights of the castle, and across an unbroken waste of whiteness the gleams of the village. The air was keen as an essence of points and edges, and the thought of the kitchen fire grew pleasant. Cosmo took Joan's hand, and down the hill they ran, swiftly descending what they had toilsomely climbed.

As she ran, the thought that one of those lights was burning by the body of her father, rebuked Joan afresh. She was not glad, and she could not be sorry! If Cosmo's father were to die, Cosmo would be both sorry and glad! But the boy turned his face, ever and again as they ran, up to hers-she was a little taller than he-and his every look comforted her. An attendant boy-angel he seemed, whose business it was to rebuke and console her. If he were her brother, she would be well content never more to leave the savage place! For the strange old man in the red night-cap was such a gentleman! and this odd boy, absolutely unnatural in his goodness, was nevertheless charming! She did not yet know that goodness is the only nature. She regarded it as a noble sort of disease-as something at least which it was possible to have too much of. She had not a suspicion that goodness and nothing else is life and health-that what the universe demands of us is to be good boys and girls.

To judge religion we must have it-not stare at it from the bottom of a seeming interminable ladder. When she reached the door, she felt as if waking out of a dream, in which she had been led along strange paths by a curious angel. But not to himself was Cosmo like an angel! For indeed he was a strong, viguorous, hopeful, trusting boy of God's in this world, and would be just such a boy in the next-one namely who did his work, and was ready for whatever was meant to come.

When, from all that world of snow outside, Joan entered the kitchen with its red heart of fire, she knew for a moment how a little bird feels when creeping under the wing of his mother. Those old Hebrews-what poets they were! Holy and homely and daring, they delighted in the wings of the Almighty; but the Son of the Father made the lovely image more homely still, likening himself to the hen under whose wings the chickens would not creep for all her crying and calling. Then first was Joan aware of simple confidence, of safety and satisfaction and loss of care; for the old man in the red nightcap would see to everything! Nought would go amiss where he was at the head of affairs! And hardly was she seated when she felt a new fold of his protection about her: he told her he had had her room changed, that she might be near his mother and Grizzie, and not have to go out to reach it.

Cosmo heard with delight that his father had given up his room to Lady Joan, and would share his. To sleep with his father was one of the greatest joys the world held for him. Such a sense of safety and comfort-of hen's wings-was nowhere else to be had on the face of the great world! It was the full type of conscious well-being, of softness and warmth and peace in the heart of strength. His father was to him a downy nest inside a stone-castle.

They all sat together round the kitchen fire. The laird fell into a gentle monologue, in which, to Joan's thinking, he talked even more strangely than Cosmo. Things born in the fire and the smoke, like the song of the three holy children, issued from the furnace clothed in softest moonlight. Joan said to herself it was plain where the boy got his oddity; but what she called oddity was but sense from a deeper source than she knew the existence of. He read them also passages of the book then occupying him so much: Joan wondered what attraction such a jumble of good words and no sense could have for a man so capable in ordinary affairs. Then came supper; and after that, for the first time in her life, Joan was present when a man had the presumption to speak to his Maker direct from his own heart, without the mediation of a book. This she found odder than all the rest; she had never even heard of such a thing! So peculiar, so unfathomable were his utterances, that it never occurred to her the man might be meaning something; farther from her still was the thought, that perhaps God liked to hear him, was listening to him and understanding him, and would give him the things he asked. She heard only an extraordinary gibberish, supposed suitable to a religious observance-family prayers, she thought it must be! She felt confused, troubled, ashamed-so grievously out of her element that she never knew until they rose, that the rest were kneeling while she sat staring into the fire. Then she felt guilty and shy, but as nobody took any notice, persuaded herself they had not observed. The unpleasantness of all this, however, did not prevent her from saying to herself as she went to bed, "Oh, how delightful it would be to live in a house where everybody understood, and loved, and thought about everybody else!" She did not know that she was wishing for nothing more, and something a little less, than the kingdom of heaven-the very thing she thought the laird and Cosmo so strange for troubling their heads about. If men's wishes are not always for what the kingdom of heaven would bring them, their miseries at least are all for the lack of that kingdom.

That night Joan dreamed herself in a desert island, where she had to go through great hardships, but where everybody was good to everybody, and never thought of taking care except of each other; and that, when a beautiful ship came to carry her away, she cried, and would not go.

Three weeks of all kinds of weather, except warm, followed, ending with torrents of rain, and a rapid thaw; but before that time Joan had got as careless of the weather as Cosmo, and nothing delighted her more than to encounter any sort of it with him. Nothing kept her in-doors, and as she always attended to Grizzie's injunctions the moment she returned, she took no harm, and grew much stronger. It is not encountering the weather that is dangerous, but encountering it when the strength is not equal to the encounter. These two would come in wet from head to foot, change their clothes, have a good meal, sleep well, and wake in the morning without the least cold. They would spend the hours between breakfast and dinner ascending the bank of a hill-stream, dammed by the snow, swollen by the thaw, and now rushing with a roar to the valley; or fighting their way through wind and sleet to the top of some wild expanse of hill-moorland, houseless for miles and miles-waste bog, and dry stony soil, as far as eye could reach, with here and there a solitary stock or bush, bending low to the ground in the steady bitter wind-a hopeless region, save that it made the hope in their hearts glow the redder; or climbing a gully, deep-worn by the few wheels of a month but the many of centuries, and more by the torrents that rushed always down its trench when it rained heavily, or thawed after snow-hearing the wind sweep across it above their heads, but feeling no breath of its pres-ence, till emerging suddenly upon its plane, they had to struggle with it for very foot-hold upon the round earth. In such contests Lady Joan delighted. It was so nice, she said, to have a downright good fight, and nobody out of temper! She would come home from the windy war with her face glowing, her eyes flashing, her hair challenging storm from every point of the compass, and her heart merry with very peacefulness. Her only thoughts of trouble were, that her father's body lay unburied, and that Borland would come and take her away.

When the thaw came at last, the laird had the coffin brought again into the guest-chamber, and there placed on trestles, to wait the coming of the new Lord Mergwain.

Outstripping the letter that announced his departure, he arrived at length, and with him his man of business. Lady Joan's heart gave a small beat of pleasure at sight of him, then lay quiet, sad, and apprehensive: the cold proper salute he gave her seemed, after the life she had of late been living, to belong rather to some sunless world than the realms of humanity. He uttered one commonplace concerning his father's death, and never alluded to it again; behaved in a dignified, recognizant manner to the laird, as to an inferior to whom he was under more obligation than he saw how to wipe out; and, after the snub with which he met the boy's friendly approach, took no farther notice of Cosmo. Seated three minutes, he began to require the laird's assistance towards the removal of the body; could not be prevailed upon to accept refreshment; had a messenger dispatched instantly to procure the nearest hearse and four horses; and that same afternoon started for England, following the body, and taking his sister with him.

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