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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXI. THE LAST GROAT.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER XXI. THE LAST GROAT.

Thou hast been

As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing;

A man that fortune's buffets and rewards

Hast ta'en with equal thanks; and blessed are those

Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled

That they are not a pipe for fortune's finger

To sound what stop she please.

Hamlet.

Most friends befriend themselves with friendship's show.

SOUTHWELL.

HUGH took the ring to Mrs. Elton's, and gave it into Margaret's hand. She brought him back a message of warmest thanks from Euphra. She had asked for writing materials at once, and was now communicating the good news to Mr. Arnold, in Madeira.

|I have never seen her look so happy,| added Margaret. |She hopes to be able to see you in the evening, if you would not mind calling again.|

Hugh did call, and saw her. She received him most kindly. He was distressed to see how altered she was. The fire of one life seemed dying out -- flowing away and spending from her eyes, which it illuminated with too much light as it passed out. But the fire of another life, the immortal life, which lies in thought and feeling, in truth and love divine, which death cannot touch, because it is not of his kind, was growing as fast. He sat with her for an hour, and then went.

This chapter of his own history concluded, Hugh returned with fresh energy to his novel, and worked at it as his invention gave him scope. There was the more necessity that he should make progress, from the fact that, having sent his mother the greater part of the salary he had received from Mr. Arnold, he was now reduced to his last sovereign. Poverty looks rather ugly when she comes so close as this. But she had not yet accosted him; and with a sovereign in his pocket, and last week's rent paid, a bachelor is certainly not poverty-stricken, at least when he is as independent, not only of other people, but of himself, as Hugh was. Still, without more money than that a man walks in fetters, and is ready to forget that the various restraints he is under are not incompatible with most honourable freedom. So Hugh worked as hard as he could to finish his novel, and succeeded within a week. Then the real anxiety began. He carried it, with much doubtful hope, to one of the principal publishing houses. Had he been more selfishly wise, he would have put it into the hands of Falconer to negotiate for him. But he thought he had given him quite trouble enough already. So he went without an introduction even. The manuscript was received politely, and attention was promised. But a week passed, and another, and another. A human soul was in commotion about the meat that perisheth -- and the manuscript lay all the time unread, -- forgotten in a drawer.

At length he reached his last coin. He had had no meat for several days, except once that he dined at Mrs. Elton's. But he would not borrow till absolutely compelled, and sixpence would keep him alive another day. In the morning he had some breakfast (for he knew his books were worth enough to pay all he owed Miss Talbot), and then he wandered out. Through the streets he paced and paced, looking in at all the silversmiths' and printsellers' windows, and solacing his poverty with a favourite amusement of his in uneasy circumstances, an amusement cheap enough for a Scotchman reduced to his last
sixpence -- castle-building. This is not altogether a bad employment where hope has laid the foundation; but it is rather a heartless one where the imagination has to draw the ground plan as well as the elevations. The latter, however, was not quite Hugh's condition yet. -- He returned at night, carefully avoiding the cook-shops and their kindred snares, with a silver groat in his pocket still. But he crawled up stairs rather feebly, it must be confessed, for a youth with limbs moulded in the fashion of his.

He found a letter waiting him, from a friend of his mother, informing him that she was dangerously ill, and urging him to set off immediately for home. This was like the blast of fiery breath from the dragon's maw, which overthrew the Red-cross knight -- but into the well of life, where all his wounds were healed, and -- and -- well -- board and lodging provided him gratis.

When he had read the letter, he fell on his knees, and said to his father in heaven: |What am I to do?|

There was no lake with golden pieces in its bottom, whence a fish might bring him a coin. Nor in all the wide London lay there one he could claim as his, but the groat in his pocket.

He rose with the simple resolution to go and tell Falconer. He went. He was not at home. Emboldened by necessity, Hugh left his card, with the words on it: |Come to me; I need you.| He then returned, packed a few necessaries, and sat down to wait. But he had not sat five minutes before Falconer entered.

|What's the matter, Sutherland, my dear fellow? You haven't pricked yourself with that skewer, have you?|

Hugh handed him the letter with one hand; and when he had read it, held out the fourpenny piece in the other hand, to be read likewise. Falconer understood at once.

|Sutherland,| he said, in a tone of reproof, |it is a shame of you to forget that men are brothers. Are not two who come out of the heart of God, as closely related as if they had lain in the womb of one mother? Why did you not tell me? You have suffered -- I am sure you have.|

|I have -- a little,| Hugh confessed. |I am getting rather low in fact. I haven't had quite enough to eat.|

He said this to excuse the tears which Falconer's kindness -- not hunger -- compelled from their cells.

|But,| he added, |I would have come to you as soon as the fourpence was gone; or at least, if I hadn't got another before I was very hungry again.|

|Good heavens!| exclaimed Falconer, half angrily. Then pulling out his watch, |We have two hours,| said he, |before a train starts for the north. Come to my place.|

Hugh rose and obeyed. Falconer's attendant soon brought them a plentiful supper from a neighbouring shop; after which Falconer got out one of his bottles of port, well known to his more intimate friends; and Hugh thought no more about money than if he had had his purse full. If it had not been for anxiety about his mother, he would have been happier than he had ever been in his life before. For, crossing in the night the wavering, heaving morass of the world, had he not set his foot upon one spot which did not shake; the summit, indeed, of a mighty Plutonic rock, that went down widening away to the very centre of the earth? As he sped along in the railway that night, the prophecy of thousands of years came back: |A man shall be a hiding-place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.| And he thought it would be a blessed time indeed, when this was just what a man was. And then he thought of the Son of Man, who, by being such first, was enabling all his friends to be such too. Of him Falconer had already learned this |truth in the inward parts|; and had found, in the process of learning it, that this was the true nature which God had made his from the first, no new thing superinduced upon it. He had had but to clear away the rubbish of worldliness, which more or less buries the best natures for a time, and so to find himself.

After Hugh had eaten and drunk, and thus once more experienced the divinity that lay in food and wine, he went to take leave of his friends at Mrs. Elton's. Like most invalids, Euphra was better in the evening: she requested to see him. He found her in bed, and much wasted since he saw her last. He could not keep the tears from filling his eyes, for all the events of that day had brought them near the surface.

|Do not cry, dear friend,| she said sweetly. |There is no room for me here any more, and I am sent for.|

Hugh could not reply. She went on:

|I have written to Mr. Arnold about the ring, and all you did to get it. Do you know he is going to marry Lady Emily?|

Still Hugh could not answer.

Margaret stood on the other side of the bed, the graceful embodiment of holy health, and in his sorrow, he could not help feeling the beauty of her presence. Her lovely hands were the servants of Euphra, and her light, firm feet moved only in ministration. He felt that Euphra had room in the world while Margaret waited on her. It is not house, and fire, and plenty of servants, and all the things that money can procure, that make a home -- not father or mother or friends; but one heart which will not be weary of helping, will not be offended with the petulance of sickness, nor the ministrations needful to weakness: this |entire affection hating nicer hands| will make a home of a cave in a rock, or a gipsy's tent. This Euphra had in Margaret, and Hugh saw it.

|I trust you will find your mother better, Hugh| said Euphra.

|I fear not,| answered he.

|Well, Margaret has been teaching me, and I think I have learned it, that death is not at all such a dreadful thing as it looks. I said to her: 'It is easy for you, Margaret, who are so far from death's door.' But she told me that she had been all but dead once, and that you had saved her life almost with your own. Oh, Hugh! she is such a dear!|

Euphra smiled with ten times the fascination of any of her old smiles; for the soul of the smile was love.

|I shall never see you again, I daresay,| she went on. |My heart thanks you, from its very depths, for your goodness to me. It has been a thousand times more than I deserve.|

Hugh kissed in silence the wasted hand held out to him in adieu, and departed. And the world itself was a sad wandering star.

Falconer had called for him. They drove to Miss Talbot's, where Hugh got his 'bag of needments,' and bade his landlady good-bye for a time. Falconer then accompanied him to the railway.

Having left him for a moment, Falconer rejoined him, saying: |I have your ticket;| and put him into a first-class carriage.

Hugh remonstrated. Falconer replied:

|I find this hulk of mine worth taking care of. You will be twice the good to your mother, if you reach her tolerably fresh.|

He stood by the carriage door talking to him, till the train started; walked alongside till it was fairly in motion; then, bidding him good-bye, left in his hand a little packet, which Hugh, opening it by the light of the lamp, found to consist of a few sovereigns and a few shillings folded up in a twenty-pound-note.

I ought to tell one other little fact, however. Just before the engine whistled, Falconer said to Hugh:

|Give me that fourpenny piece, you brave old fellow!|

|There it is,| said Hugh. |What do you want it for?|

|I am going to make a wedding-present of it to your wife, whoever she may happen to be. I hope she will be worthy of it.|

Hugh instantly thought within himself:

|What a wife Margaret would make to Falconer!|

The thought was followed by a pang, keen and clear.

Those who are in the habit of regarding the real and the ideal as essentially and therefore irreconcileably opposed, will remark that I cannot have drawn the representation of Falconer faithfully. Perhaps the difficulty they will experience in recognizing its truthfulness, may spring from the fact that they themselves are un-ideal enough to belong to the not small class of strong-minded friends whose chief care, in performing the part of the rock in the weary land, is -- not to shelter you imprudently. They are afraid of weakening your constitution by it, especially if it is not strong to begin with; so if they do just take off the edge of the tempest with the sharp corners of their sheltering rock for a moment, the next, they will thrust you out into the rain, to get hardy and self-denying, by being wet to the skin and well blown about.

The rich easily learn the wisdom of Solomon, but are unapt scholars of him who is greater than Solomon. It is, on the other hand, so easy for the poor to help each other, that they have little merit in it: it is no virtue -- only a beauty. But there are a few rich, who, rivalling the poor in their own peculiar excellences, enter into the kingdom of heaven in spite of their riches; and then find that by means of their riches they are made rulers over many cities. She to whose memory this book is dedicated, is -- I will not say was -- one of the noblest of such.

There are two ways of accounting for the difficulty which a reader may find in believing in such a character: either that, not being poor, he has never needed such a friend; or that, being rich, he has never been such a friend.

Or if it be that, being poor, he has never found such a friend; his difficulty is easy to remove: -- I have.

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