« ZurückWeiter »
THE THREE WORDS. I came up to the house, lifted the latch, and walked in. We, countryfolks, do not stand upon formalities; and to knock or ring, even when the means of doing so are furnished, is considered so indicative of “quality,” that the good housewife would expect to see no one less than the king himself, and all his trumpeters, when the door was opened. As yet, however, I was only in the hall, which though it felt warm by contrast with the wild, bleak weather out of doors, was cold and comfortless enough under other circumstances. I heard voices in the parlour: one of these I recognized as belonging to Mrs. Curtis ; but the other, a low, measured, softly-flowing note, I did not know. So I tapped with my knuckles on the door, and it was soon opened.
“Well to be sure !” said Mrs. Curtis, “why if it isn't Mr. Enderby. Pray, sir, come in, and take a seat near the fire; its a sortly rare day, a'int it, sir, out o'doors ?" Then turning to the stranger, she introduced me in due form. I bowed, and placing a chair near the fire, sat down and enquired after Mr. Curtis.
“Thankee, sir,” she said, smiling and glancing every moment towards the stranger, as if she feared committing herself in some way or other, -" Why he is but poorly-he can't eat and drink --leastwise nothing like what he used to do—not but what he does take something—but not like he did once; may be you understand what I mean, sir ?"
“Perfectly," was the reply. “You don't think then that he is seriously unwell ?"
“Why, sir, I wouldn't say that neither ; you understand he is not well-not what he was-you'll excuse me—but I should say it was rather serious than otherwise ; for I can't get him to take scarcely any thing—he takes a mere nothing."
In this strain the good lady continued for some time, but as the burden of her tale seemed to be simply this—that her husband ate little or nothing, a sure criterion of ill-health amongst the less educated of our country friends, I was rude enough to pay little attention to her remarks, contenting myself with letting her run on, whilst I took a survey of the stranger who sat beside her.
He was a man of about five and thirty—a sleek, oily personage, with mild but inexpressive features. His hair, carefully adjusted, was of glossy black, and worn rather full behind. He was dressed, like myself, in sables; and yet it would have been difficult to have found two other individuals less alike in outward appearance than we were. My own coat was not a little worn and quite out of fashion, and my whole toilet had been made so carelessly that morning, and had been moreover not a little damaged by the rough weather I had encountered, that I should have been very sorry to have stood beside him in a London drawing-room. His whole appearance, on the contrary, was precise in the extreme; his coat, though there was a little affectation of Quaker-like plainness about the collar, being in the newest style; and his cravat, of snowy whiteness, and guiltless of a single unauthorised crease or wrinkle. Doubled down over it was a collar of the same spotless white, and just below it, on his shirt front, a plain cross of jet contrasted with it to advantage. He said nothing; but as he watched the leatures of our worthy hostess, a faint shadowy smile, like moonlight from behind a cloud, played over his polished features.
At length, when Mrs. Curtis ceased talking, he looked complacently, first at me, and then at her, and said something. Anxious to know more of him than his name, which I was not sure, moreover, that I had caught correctly, I listened attentively, but just at tha tmoment a slight tap at the door elicited our
"If you please, ma'am," said a voice behind it, “ Master says, if that was Mr. Enderby as came in, he should like to see him?"
At the mention of my name I turned round abruptly, and then looking towards Mrs. Curtis, she indicated that the servant would at once shew me upstairs to her master.
After many twistings and turnings, for the old house seemed as if it had been originally but a nucleus of solid timber, round which its passages had next been built, and then its several chambers—I reached the door of the invalid's room. He was seated in a low arm chair beside the fire, and from various indications on a side table, it did not appear to me that his appetite was altogether to be despaired of. In fact, he was not seriously unwell; but having been hitherto the subject of uninterrupted health, he was not disposed to make the least of his ailments. After the usual introductory civilities, in which he made a few interpolations relative to his cough, his restlessness and his loss of appetite, he talked of the weather, and of his crops and cattle; he then asked if I knew how the market went yesterday; whether I had seen any “birds” as I came along, and if I was at the agricultural dinner and demonstration last week ?
These enquiries being over, I ventured to touch upon subjects of higher importance, hinting that I belived he wished to see me, and asking whether he had not sent down word to that effect by the servant?
This remark drew forth a few more complaints touching his ailments, in which his “poor head” was severely taxed for his loss of memory.-“Well," said he, “if you'll believe me, I declare I'd quite forgotten it; but now you mention it, I did want to see you Do you know if White's come back from London yet: I ought to see him again, about that pony.”
White was a neigbour of mine; but I did not happen to know that he had been to London ; and as I had not seen him for a week past, could not say whether he was come back. Giving him an answer to this effect, I asked, in a tone of disappointment, if this were all he had to say? He gave me as direct an answer as courtesy would allow, and relapsing into a train of thought, suggested by the occasion, I sat silent for a few minutes.
Well spake the son of Sirach, when he said “How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and he that hath pleasure in the goad, and in driving oxen, and is occupied in their labours, and talketh but of the breed of bullocks ? He giveth his mind to make furrows, and is diligent to give the kine fodder.”
“I had hoped,” said I, after this short pause—“that you were anxious to see me on some matters of more consequence. I understood you were ill; and you seem to think so yourself, if I may judge from your complainings. Illness is a trial : but such trials are sent from God to serve a purpose of his own, and are not only intended, but adapted, to do us good. 'In the day of adversity, consider.' God has taken you from your farm and merchandize; and here, in this sick room, he calls you as it were
aside, to talk with you, about the unsubstantial character of worldly pursuits and worldly gains; and to shew you that man does not live by bread alone-by the means and appliances which nature gives him - but by every word that proceedeth out of His own mouth.”
“Very true,” said the invalid — "very true--it's all very good what you say ; but I'm not going to die yet."
"To die yet!,” I added with involuntary emphasis, for the remark had taken me by surprise-—" To die yet! We can neither of us be quite sure of that. But this is by the way. I am sorry to find that, like too many others, you think religion was only made to die by. You forget that godliness is great gain in this life, as well as in that which is to come.”
Finding that I was not likely to be useful in the way I had contemplated, I soon took leave of the patient. His feelings instead of being refined and spiritualized by his infirmity, seemed to have become more gross, and to centre more completely in his temporal wants. He was going back to the animal, instead of reaching forward to those spiritual things that were above and before him. There was a lesson in this which I did not then read aright, but it was afterwards in some measure interpreted in the strong light of an otherwise unimportant incident which I met with on my way homewards.
1 halted at the parlour door on coming down stairs, for the noise of merriment within led me to believe there must be other company there beside the gentleman I had already seen. In this, however, I was mistaken. Our demure friend was the mainspring of this passage of pleasantry, though he resumed his composure at my entrance. He talked a good deal—told a few pointless stories, at which he was kind enough to laugh himself, as I could not-asked about Major Goode and his connections, and led me, indirectly, to conjecture that he had some business to transact in a neighbouring town, where he was also to attend the grand annual ball that evening. This last piece of information puzzled me a little. I had made up my mind that he was a clergyman-papist-puseyite-or popular-but I could not suppose so public a character would shew himself at such an assembly as that to which he had referred. Who and what was he then? We shall see bye and bye.
Heartily wearied with so vapid and unpromising a visit, I took my leave, and turned homewards. Once out of doors, I felt in a new world. The cows in the homestead, standing knee deep in straw, turned on me their large meek eyes as I passed, and I was soon out of sight of the farm. The weather was now at its roughest, and though it was just early afternoon, the clouds and gloom that backed the almost trackless landscape, seemed resolved to close over it before the proper time, and force upon us a premature twilight, that had no alternative but to grow darker as the day drew on. My walk across those fields was no enviable one. The snow fell fast, mingled with rain, and where exposed to the full fury of the wind, drove in a stinging shower against my face. I pushed on, and soon reached the road; making head against it as well as I could, till I arrived at a small way-side cottage, half farm, half ale house; in an open shed beside which, I took shelter for a time. Here I heard voices, and a casual rumbling; the low, small, thunder of a skittle ground, and looking through an opening at the back of the hovel, saw a company of noisy rustics recreating themselves at that game, with a little fellow, wet and shivering with cold, begging in a whining tone for charity. It was the boy I had met that morning; and calling him to come round to me, I saw that he was completely broken down by suffering : his mission had been entirely unproductive, and he had been drenched and battered by the storm, till the poor fellow shook in his shoes, and could only answer my enquiries in short spasmodic sentences.
Foiled in my attempt to meet the spiritual necessities of Curtis, I felt that this disappointment was reacting on my own mind, and at once reverted to the words of Jeremiah ; “I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” Thus influenced, I was about to administer a word of spiritual instruction to the young tramper, when it occurred to me that in this instance, as in the case of Curtis, the physical position of the listener augured very unfavorably for the success of my attempt. The Great Want that pressed on the poor boy to the exclusion or absorption of every other, was the want of warmth and food. Was it not downright mockery to tender that which could never