ABOUT this time her friend, Miss Carmichael, returned from a rather lengthened visit. But after the atonement that had taken place between her and Donal, it was with some anxiety that lady Arctura looked forward to seeing her. She shrank from telling her what had come about through the wonderful poem, as she thought it, which had so bewitched her. She shrank too from showing her the verses: they were not of a kind, she was sure, to meet with recognition from her. She knew she would make game of them, and that not good-humouredly like Kate, who yet confessed to some beauty in them. For herself, the poem and the study of its growth had ministered so much nourishment to certain healthy poetic seeds lying hard and dry in her bosom, that they had begun to sprout, indeed to shoot rapidly up. Donal's poem could not fail therefore to be to her thenceforward something sacred. A related result also was that it had made her aware of something very defective in her friend's constitution: she did not know whether in her constitution mental, moral, or spiritual: probably it was in all three. Doubtless, thought Arctura, she knew most things better than she, and certainly had a great deal more common sense; but, on the other hand, was she not satisfied with far less than she could be satisfied with? To believe as her friend believed would not save her from insanity! She must be made on a smaller scale of necessities than herself! How was she able to love the God she said she believed in? God should at least be as beautiful as his creature could imagine him! But Miss Carmichael would say her poor earthly imagination was not to occupy itself with such a high subject! Oh, why would not God tell her something about himself -- something direct -- straight from himself? Why should she only hear of him at second hand -- always and always?
Alas, poor girl! second hand? Five hundredth hand rather? And she might have been all the time communing with the very God himself, manifest in his own shape, which is ours also! -- all the time learning that her imagination could never -- not to say originate, but, when presented, receive into it the unspeakable excess of his loveliness, of his absolute devotion and tenderness to the creatures, the children of his father!
In the absence of Miss Carmichael she had thought with less oppression of many things that in her presence appeared ghastly-hopeless; now in the prospect of her reappearance she began to feel wicked in daring a thought of her own concerning the God that was nearer to her than her thoughts! Such an unhealthy mastery had she gained over her! What if they met Donal, and she saw her smile to him as she always did now! One thing she was determined upon -- and herein lay the pledge of her coming freedom! -- that she would not behave to him in the least otherwise than her wont. If she would be worthy, she must be straightforward!
Donal and she had never had any further talk, much as she would have liked it, upon things poetic. As a matter of supposed duty -- where she had got the idea I do not know -- certainly not from Miss Carmichael, seeing she approved of little poetry but that of Young, Cowper, Pollok, and James Montgomery -- she had been reading the Paradise Lost, and wished much to speak of it to Donal, but had not the courage.
When Miss Carmichael came, she at once perceived a difference in her, and it set her thinking. She was not one to do or say anything without thinking over it first. She had such a thorough confidence in her judgment, and such a pleasure in exercising it, that she almost always rejected an impulse. Judgment was on the throne; feeling under the footstool. There was something in Arctura's carriage which reminded her of the only time when she had stood upon her rank with her. This was once she made a remark disparaging a favourite dog: for the animals Arctura could brave even her spiritual nightmare: they were not under the wrath and curse like men and women, therefore might be defended! She had on that occasion shown so much offence that Miss Carmichael saw, if she was to keep her influence over her, she must avoid rousing the phantom of rank in defence of prejudice. She was now therefore careful -- said next to nothing, but watched her keenly, and not the less slyly that she looked her straight in the face. There is an effort to see into the soul of others that is essentially treacherous; wherever, friendship being the ostensible bond, inquiry outruns regard, it is treachery -- an endeavour to grasp more than the friend would knowingly give.
They went for a little walk in the grounds; as they returned they met Donal going out with Davie. Arctura and Donal passed with a bow and a friendly smile; Davie stopped and spoke to the ladies, then bounded after his friend.
|Have you attended the scripture-lesson regularly?| asked Miss Carmichael.
|Yes; I have been absent only once, I think, since you left,| replied Arctura.
|Good, my dear! You have not been leaving your lamb to the wolf!|
|I begin to doubt if he be a wolf.|
|Ah! does he wear his sheepskin so well? Are you sure he is not plotting to devour sheep and shepherd together?| said Miss Carmichael, with an open glance of search.
|Don't you think,| suggested Arctura, |when you are not able to say anything, it would be better not to be present? Your silence looks like agreement.|
|But you can always protest! You can assert he is all wrong. You can say you do not in the least agree with him!|
|But what if you are not sure that you do not agree with him?|
|I thought as much!| said Miss Carmichael to herself. |I might have foreseen this!| -- Here she spoke. -- |If you are not sure you do agree, you can say, 'I can't say I agree with you!' It is always safer to admit little than much.|
|I do not quite follow you. But speaking of little and much, I am sure I want a great deal more than I know yet to save me. I have never yet heard what seems enough.|
|Is that to say God has not done his part?|
|No; it is only to say that I hope he has done more than I have yet heard.|
|More than send his son to die for your sins?|
|More than you say that means.|
|You have but to believe Christ did so.|
|I don't know that he died for my sins.|
|He died for the sins of the whole world.|
|Then I must be saved!|
|Yes, if you believe that he made atonement for your sins.|
|Then I cannot be saved except I believe that I shall be saved. And I cannot believe I shall be saved until I know I shall be saved!|
|You are cavilling, Arctura! Ah, this is what you have been learning of Mr. Grant! I ought not to have gone away!|
|Nothing of the sort!| said Arctura, drawing herself up a little. |I am sorry if I have said anything wrong; but really I can get hold of nothing! I feel sometimes as if I should go out of my mind.|
|Arctura, I have done my best for you! If you think you have found a better teacher, no warning, I fear, will any longer avail!|
|If I did think I had found a better teacher, no warning certainly would; I am only afraid I have not. But of one thing I am sure -- that the things Mr. Grant teaches are much more to be desired than -- |
|By the unsanctified heart, no doubt!| said Sophia.
|The unsanctified heart,| rejoined Arctura, astonished at her own boldness, and the sense of power and freedom growing in her as she spoke, |surely needs God as much as the sanctified! But can the heart be altogether unsanctified that desires to find God so beautiful and good that it can worship him with its whole power of love and adoration? Or is God less beautiful and good than that?|
|We ought to worship God whatever he is.|
|But could we love him with all our hearts if he were not altogether lovable?|
|He might not be the less to be worshipped though he seemed so to us. We must worship his justice as much as his love, his power as much as his justice.|
Arctura returned no answer; the words had fallen on her heart like an ice-berg. She was not, however, so utterly overwhelmed by them as she would have been some time before; she thought with herself, |I will ask Mr. Grant! I am sure he does not think like that! Worship power as much as love! I begin to think she does not understand what she is talking about! If I were to make a creature needing all my love to make life endurable to him, and then not be kind enough to him, should I not be cruel? Would I not be to blame? Can God be God and do anything conceivably to blame -- anything that is not altogether beautiful? She tells me we cannot judge what it would be right for God to do by what it would be right for us to do: if what seems right to me is not right to God, I must wrong my conscience and be a sinner in order to serve him! Then my conscience is not the voice of God in me! How then am I made in his image? What does it mean? Ah, but that image has been defaced by the fall! So I cannot tell a bit what God is like? Then how am I to love him? I never can love him! I am very miserable! I am not God's child!
Thus, long after Miss Carmichael had taken a coldly sorrowful farewell of her, Arctura went round and round the old mill-horse rack of her self-questioning: God was not to be trusted in until she had done something she could not do, upon which he would take her into his favour, and then she could trust him! What a God to give all her heart to, to long for, to dream of being at home with! Then she compared Miss Carmichael and Donal Grant, and thought whether Donal might not be as likely to be right as she. Oh, where was assurance, where was certainty about anything! How was she ever to know? What if the thing she came to know for certain should be -- a God she could not love!
The next day was Sunday. Davie and his tutor overtook her going home from church. It came as of itself to her lips, and she said,
|Mr. Grant, how are we to know what God is like?|
|'Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the father, and how sayest thou then, Show us the father?'|
Thus answered Donal, without a word of his own, and though the three walked side by side, it was ten minutes before another was spoken. Then at last said Arctura,
|If I could but see Christ!|
|It is not necessary to see him to know what he is like. You can read what those who knew him said he was like; that is the first step to understanding him, which is the true seeing; the second is, doing what he tells you: when you understand him -- there is your God!|
From that day Arctura's search took a new departure. It is strange how often one may hear a thing, yet never have really heard it! The heart can hear only what it is capable of hearing; therefore |the times of this ignorance God winked at;| but alas for him who will not hear what he is capable of hearing!
His failure to get word or even sight of Eppy, together with some uneasiness at the condition in which her grandfather continued, induced lord Forgue to accept the invitation -- which his father had taken pains to have sent him -- to spend three weeks or a month with a relative in the north of England. He would gladly have sent a message to Eppy before he went, but had no one he could trust with it: Davie was too much under the influence of his tutor! So he departed without sign, and Eppy soon imagined he had deserted her. For a time her tears flowed yet more freely, but by and by she began to feel something of relief in having the matter settled, for she could not see how they were ever to be married. She would have been content to love him always, she said to herself, were there no prospect of marriage, or even were there no marriage in question; but would he continue to care for her love? She did not think she could expect that. So with many tears she gave him up -- or thought she did. He had loved her, and that was a grand thing!
There was much that was good, and something that was wise in the girl, notwithstanding her folly in allowing such a lover. The temptation was great: even if his attentions were in their nature but transient, they were sweet while they passed. I doubt if her love was of the deepest she had to give; but who can tell? A woman will love where a man can see nothing lovely. So long as she is able still to love, she is never quite to be pitied; but when the reaction comes -- ?
So the dull days went by.
But for lady Arctura a great hope had begun to dawn -- the hope, namely, that the world was in the hand, yea in the heart of One whom she herself might one day see, in her inmost soul, and with clearest eyes, to be Love itself -- not a love she could not care for, but the very heart, generating centre, embracing circumference, and crown of all loves.
Donal prayed to God for lady Arctura, and waited. Her hour was not yet come, but was coming! Everyone that is ready the Father brings to Jesus: the disciple is not greater than his master, and must not think to hasten the hour, or lead one who is not yet taught of God; he must not be miserable about another as if God had forgotten him. Strange helpers of God we shall be, if, thinking to do his work, we act as if he were neglecting it! To wait for God, believing it his one design to redeem his creatures, ready to put the hand to, the moment his hour strikes, is the faith fit for a fellow-worker with him!