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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Minister's Wife » CHAPTER IV
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Next morning the household in the Glebe Cottage found itself solaced and comforted from the excitement of the night. To Jean Campbell the incident was commonplace; ‘No a thing to make a work about,’ she acknowledged frankly; while even Isabel, except for a certain sense of excitement and giddiness as she settled down to ordinary things, comforted herself, like a child, that the matter was over, and that she should hear no more of it.{25}

When Mr. Lothian paid her his usual afternoon visit, he found the sick girl, as usual, in her invalid chair, with her knitting in her hands. Isabel had left the room only as he became visible on the road, and her work lay in a little heap on the table. He cast a hasty look at it, even at the moment when he greeted the other sister. That evidence of an abrupt departure was of more consequence than it ought to have been to the minister. He shook his head as he sat down by the abandoned work.

‘She need not have run away when she saw me coming,’ he said, with a little sigh. ‘I could have said nothing to anger her, here.’

‘She did not mean it,’ said Margaret. ‘She is hasty, like a bairn. I am afraid sometimes I have made too much a bairn of her. I have grown so old myself, and she is so bonnie and young.’

‘Too bonnie and young,’ said the poor minister; and then he roused himself to a sense of justice; ‘but not younger—nor bonnier either for that matter—than you, my poor Margaret. It is your illness that makes you feel a difference. I remember two years ago——’

‘I would rather forget that,’ said Margaret, with a faint blush. ‘It is not illness, but death, that makes the difference, and sometimes I wonder what will become of her when I’m gone. I feel as if I should always want to take care of Bell, even in Heaven.’

‘It may be so permitted for aught we know,’ said Mr. Lothian.

He put out his hand, and took her wasted hand into his. The first fret that had crossed it for years was on poor Margaret’s brow. To think of her sister as happy eventually, when her own grave was green, was sweet to the dying girl. But the conflict in Isabel’s mind now, of happiness and self-sacrifice, was the hardest burden that had ever fallen on her delicate spirit. It seemed to introduce an alien note in the soft concords of the ending life.

‘Yes, whether or no,’ said Margaret, with a faint smile; ‘and I wish you would preach to me now. I never get to the kirk with other folk. I am growing a law to myself, I fear, instead of minding the true law. Speak to me, for I’m wearied and cannot speak to myself.’

‘It is you that have taught me many a day,’ said the minister; and then he paused, and that pang of pity with which the strong sometimes look on the weak thrilled through him.

‘Margaret,’ he said, ‘you know I cannot speak to you as many can; your sickness comes from the hand of{26} God, and you have never repined against Him. What comes from the clash and contradiction of human feelings is a different burden to bear. It seems a feature in our life that we must go against each other daily, whether we will or no. There is no happiness but has trouble in its train. What is joy to her is grief to you. What would be comfort to you, would sicken me and—aye, I will be just to him—one other, with disappointment and pain. The lassie that was married in the village yesterday made her mother’s heart bleed; but her own would have suffered as sorely, and so would the lad’s if she had not married. What can we say? It is not trouble of God’s sending, but the complications of human nature. He looks down from Heaven and beholds and tries the children of men, as says the Scripture. It is the one that bears the heat and the cold, the long calm and the fierce tempest, that is Christ’s soldier; but the cold and the heat, and the calm and the storm, are all natural—not punishments of God, but necessities of the world. We have to brace our minds up to them. It’s a cross world, and its conditions must be borne—I do not say because God sends them of first purpose and will—but always for Christ’s sake.’

In the silence that followed, and which Mr. Lothian made no attempt to disturb, sounds from without made themselves heard by degrees. There came an echo of steps on the road, and voices at the door. Margaret gave no heed, being absorbed in her own thoughts. But the minister, more used to the popular commotion, roused himself, and listened anxiously. Then there was a little parley outside. Mr. Lothian hurried out, to stay, if possible, the visit which he had foreseen. The group at the door was as great a contrast as could be imagined to the calm of the scene he had just left. Isabel stood, with flushed cheeks and clasped hands, before the parlour-door, half barring the entrance, half showing the way. Jean Campbell stood at the door of the kitchen, holding up her hands in excitement, and partial terror. ‘Eh, if it could be—if it could but be!’ she cried. ‘Our Margaret, that was ay a child of God! Oh, Ailie woman, think weel before you disturb her. I’ll no have her disturbed!—but if it was the will of God——’

‘It’s the will of God that brings me here,’ said the young prophetess of Loch Diarmid. She was scarcely older than the patient to whom she came. She stood on the threshold of the house, in simple, ordinary dress a fair Lowland beauty, with abundant light locks, a delicate, half-hectic colour, and blue eyes à fleur de{27} tête, which, in her excitement, seemed absolutely to project from her face. They were the visionary, translucent eyes, not giving out, but absorbing, the light, which so often reveal the character of a mystic and enthusiast. She was no deceiver, it was evident, but believed in her own mission with a fervour which, to some degree, overcame the incredulity of every sympathetic spectator. She moved forward, with that strange directness which only primitive nature or passion ever shows, to the door of the room in which Margaret was. She took no notice of Isabel who stood in the way. ‘It’s in the name of the Lord,’ said the inspired creature. Even the minister, who stood there ready to defend the repose of his friend against all comers, gave way before her with a strange thrill of something like faith. It might be—it was possible—God had employed such messengers before now. A creature spotless, and perfect, and young, in the first glow of love, and energy, and enthusiasm, could any human thing be nearer the angels? And the angels were God’s messengers. Mr. Lothian stood back subdued—his own convictions and strong sense standing him in no stead against the excitement of the moment. Had he opposed her he would have felt guilty. He stood back against the wall and let her pass. ‘If it is of God,’ he said to himself. And she went in as Miriam might have gone with her timbrels—like a figure in a triumphant procession, going on to miracle and wonder in the name of the lord.

Behind her, however, came one who roused no such sentiments in the mind of the minister. This was a man evidently not of Ailie’s rank, nor in any way resembling her, except in the flush of excitement which in him might have gone to any length of fanaticism. His mouth was closely shut; the lines of his face were rigid and strained; his eyes burned with a cloudy fire. Passion, which might almost be insanity, was in his look. The pair were as unlike as if one had been an errant angel astray from Heaven, and the other one of the rebels who fell from them with Lucifer. The minister started and grew red, and put up his hand to oppose the further progress of this unexpected visitor; although it was already very well known that ‘Saul was among the prophets,’ and ‘Mr. John,’ heretofore of a very different character, had entered their ranks.

‘Mr. John, this is no place for you,’ said Mr. Lothian. ‘You have no need that I should tell you that. This is no place for you.’

‘Wherever God’s work is to be done is the place for me,’ was the answer; and the speaker pressed on. He{28} was a powerful man, and a scuffle there might have been fatal to the dying girl; but yet the minister confronted him, and put his hand on his breast.

‘It is not the work of God to disturb his dying saint,’ said Mr. Lothian. ‘She’ll soon be free and in your way no longer. Let her go in peace.’

‘Go?’ cried Mr. John, ‘dying?—never while God is faithful that promised. Stand back and let us in; it is to save her life.’

But it was not this or any more likely reason; it was simply to prevent the noise of contradiction and controversy from reaching Margaret, that Mr. Lothian yielded. He himself followed the stranger into the room, and Isabel crept after him. By this time the sun had set, and the daylight began to wane. Perhaps Margaret had guessed what the interruption meant. She was sitting as she had been when Mr. Lothian left her, with her hands crossed upon her breast, motionless, her eyes fixed upon the soft obscurity that gleamed in through the window. She turned her head half round as they all entered. ‘Ailie, is it you?’ she said. There was scarcely any surprise in her voice. ‘I heard what had happened, and I knew you would be sure to come to me.’

Her perfect quiet, the composure of her attitude, the calm face gleaming like something cut in marble against the grey wall, had a certain effect even upon the young enthusiast. She made a pause ere she began, and her companion, who had been standing behind her, came round to her right hand, and gazed eagerly upon Margaret’s face. The moment she saw him, Margaret, too, was disturbed in her composure; she started and gave a little cry and raised herself up in her chair; while, as for the intruder, he pressed forward upon her with eyes that burned in their deep sockets and an air of restrained passion, before which for the moment the fever of Ailie’s inspiration sank into the shade.

‘Has it come to this?’ he said. ‘And I was never told, never called to her! But, thanks be to God, we are still in time, and the prayer of faith will save——’

‘Mr. John,’ said Margaret, raising herself erect, ‘this is no place for you. Why should you be told or called to me? If Ailie has anything to say I am content to hear her; but you and me are best apart.’

‘Why should we be best apart,’ cried Mr. John, ‘when you know what my heart is? No, I will not go. Be silent all of you; how dare you interfere between her and me? I have come with one of God’s handmaidens to save her life.’

‘Let him be,’ said Ailie. ‘We’ve come here together that we may hold the Lord to his promise. Margret{29} Diarmid, I’ve come to bid you rise up and be strong as I am. O woman! can you lie there and see the world lying in wickedness, and no find it in your heart to throw off the bonds of Satan? Why should ye lie and suffer there? It’s no doctors you want, it’s faith you want. We a’ ken you’re a child of God. Margret, hearken to me. I was like you, I was in my bed, worse than you, and pondered and pondered and kept silence till my heart burned. I said to mysel why was it? and the Lord taught me it was Satan and no His will. Do you think I lay there one day mair? I listened to the voice that was in my ears. I thought no more of flesh and blood; I rose up and here I am. Margret Diarmid, I command you to rise up in the name of the Lord!’

They all gathered close, with an uncontrollable thrill of excitement, to listen to this appeal and to see the result of it. Isabel fell on her knees beside her sister, and gazed at her to see the change, if any came. Ailie, with her hands raised over Margaret’s head, and her face lifted to Heaven, waited for her answer. John Diarmid by her side, with a look of wilder passion still, hung over the group in speechless excitement. Even Jean Campbell behind stood wringing her hands, feeling her heart beat and her temples throb. Was it the Spirit of God that was about to come, shaking the homely room as by a whirlwind? There was a pause of awful stillness during which nobody spoke. When Margaret answered, the bystanders started and looked at each other. The calm tone of her voice fell upon their excited nerves like something from a different world.

‘I hear your voice, Ailie,’ said Margaret, with the softness of a whisper, though her words fell quite distinct and clear upon their ears, ‘but I hear no voice within. Can you not believe that God may deal one way with you and another with me?’

‘God has no stepbairns,’ cried Ailie. ‘Does He love me better than you? O neebors! on your knees—on your knees! Will He no remember His ain word that’s passed to us and canna be recalled. What two or three agree to ask is granted afore we speak. It’s no His consent, but her’s we have to seek!’

Then she threw herself on her knees, with upturned face and hands stretched out. They all sank down around her, filling the darkening room with kneeling figures. Even the minister, whose office was thus taken out of his hands, knelt down behind the girl who took such wild authority upon her, and bent his face into his clasped hands, moved, as only the prevailing excitement of the time could have moved him, by that faint{30} tinge of possibility which was in the air. Isabel, kneeling too, took her sister’s hand, and watched her with an intense gaze which seemed to penetrate to her very heart.

No one in the room except Margaret escaped the contagion of that strange emotion. She had fallen back into her chair in weakness, and gazed at them with calm and pitiful looks, like those of an angel. Hers was the only heart that beat no faster. She lay and looked at them all as a creature past all the storms of life might be supposed to look at those still tossing on its stormy tide. She was not roused by the appeal made to her faith, nor overwhelmed by the fervour of the prayers, the tears, the exclamations, the bewildered, breathless expectations by which she was surrounded. She put one arm softly round Isabel, who knelt by her side, and with her other hand took hold of Ailie’s, which was stretched up over her in entreaty. There seemed to be something mesmeric in the touch of those cool, soft fingers. Ailie’s outstretched arms fell; her eyes turned to Margaret’s face; a strange wonder came over her countenance; her voice died away as if surprise had extinguished it; and then there was again another pause, full of fate.

‘Ailie, God hears,’ said the sick girl; ‘and He will give me life; but not here, and not now. You’re not to think your prayers refused. I’m near to the gate and I can hear the message sent. It says, “Aye, she shall be saved; aye, she shall rise up; not in earth, but in Heaven."’

‘No,’ said Ailie, passionately; ‘it’s no a true spirit of prophecy; it’s an evil spirit come to tempt you. No. O ye of little faith, wherefore do ye doubt? Is the Lord to be vexed for ever with this generation that will not believe? Listen to His voice. Arise, arise! shake off the bonds of Satan. Rise up, and stand upon your feet. Margaret, let not God’s servants plead in vain. Oh, hearken to mo while I plead with you, harder, far harder, than I have to plead with God. Why will ye die, O house of Israel? Rise up and live: I command you in the name of the Lord!’

‘Oh, if you would but try! O my Maggie, will you try?’ sobbed Isabel, clasping her sister closer, and gazing with supplication beyond words in her face.

And the minister lifted his face from his hands, and looked at her; and little Mary, who had stolen in, came forward like a little wandering spirit, and threw herself, with a cry, on Margaret’s shoulder, in a wild attempt to raise her up. This last effort of childish passion was more than the sick girl could bear. She turned round{31} upon them all with a wondering burst of patience and impatience.

‘Is there no one to understand?’ she said, with a plaintive cry, and drew her hands away and covered her face with them in a kind of despair. Even her own had turned, as it were, against her. Her bodily strength gave way; her heart failed her; no response woke in her mind to those wild addresses. That they should leave her alone, alone, was all she longed for—only to be left in quiet, to be at peace.

Then the minister stood up, and took Ailie by the arm. She was shivering and trembling with the revulsion, worn out with her excitement. Her moment of ‘power’ was over.

‘You can do no more here,’ he said, with a thrill in his voice which betrayed how much he himself had been moved. She is worn out, and you are worn out, and here there is no more to say. Ailie, for God’s sake come with me, and disturb her no more.’

‘O friends, it’s the wiles of Satan,’ said Ailie. ‘Oh, to think he should be there! Margret—Margret, how can I leave you to perish! Let me stay by her day and night, and wrestle with Satan for his prey!’

‘You will come with me,’ said Mr. Lothian, firmly, and then the passionate creature burst into choking sobs and tears. Poor Margaret, whose thread of life was worn so thin, whose weakness could so ill bear the struggle, sat in the gathering twilight, and looked on while the prophetess, who had come to heal her, was led, like an exhausted child, from her presence. She thought she was alone, but a sound close to her startled her back again into a little flush of agitation. ‘I am worn and weaker,’ she said, driven to the limit of her powers. ‘Oh, will ye let me be? Whoever you are, leave me and my life to God!’

‘Margaret, it is I,’ said a deep voice close to her ear. ‘Why will you die? Do you know my heart will die with you, and my last hope? Am I to live to curse God? or will you live—will you live, and save a sinful soul? Margaret, because I have been ill to you have pity on me!’

Weak as she was, Margaret started from her seat. ‘John Diarmid,’ she cried, ‘how dare ye speak to me? Am I the one to bear the blame of your blessing or your misery? If you had the heart of a man, you would go miles and miles rather than enter here.’

‘I would lie at your door like a dog,’ said the man in his passion, ‘rather than be banished like this; but I’ll go away to the ends of the earth, Margaret, Margaret, if you’ll live, and not die!’

‘I’ll do as the Lord pleases,’ said the poor girl, stretch{32}ing out her feeble hands in the darkness for some support. She was worn out. Before her persecutor could reach her she had sunk upon the floor with a faintness which soon reached the length of unconsciousness. The women, rushing in at his cry, carried her to her bed. She had not fainted to be out of suffering; her heart throbbed against her breast, as though struggling to be free. Poor Margaret! The human passion was more hard to meet than all that went before.


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