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“ So much larger that it is useless to compare the two places. Don't be in a hurry to get to London, boy; it is a grand, terrible place !”
“ Margery says it is a very wicked place; she has a sister living there, you know, and so she knows something about it. Is London so very dreadfully wicked, Mr. Gibson ?”
" It is wicked, as all large cities are; but if there is more wickedness in London than in the country, there is also, I think, more goodness. There is always strength in combination, and in London many people combine in excellent labours, while many more, alas! combine to do the devil's work. I do not know much of London life myself, of course, for the greater part of my life has been spent among these mountains; but I know a good deal from books, from newspapers, and from friends to whom the great city is familiar; and I should say that both God and Satan are more zealously served in London than in any other portion of the British Isles. I daresay you will be able to judge for yourself some day.”
“I do hope so; I want to see the world.”
“ Time enough, time enough! Don't get impatient and discontented, Hugh! Don't be restless! Restlessness spoils many a noble nature. Your life here is quiet, and happy, and safe. Here there are few temptations; and though I do not care much for those negative virtues which are falsely called innocence, I hold it to be a great blessing to pass one's childhood and early youth amid scenes of comparative purity and piety. It is not good to be too early initiated into the ways of this present evil world. It is well that the trial of one's virtue should be proportioned to one's moral strength, which, like physical strength, depends very much upon habits, training, and surrounding impressions. Also, Hugh, God has placed you here; He brought you here when you were a little unconscious infant. See! the everlasting hills are all around us, the solemn mountains shut us in on all sides; we are safe, as it were, in the hollow of His hand. It is God's will that you should be here, therefore it is the best place, the only place for you. Here it is not difficult for you to learn and labour truly to do your duty in that station to which it has pleased God to call you.”
“Does that always mean the station in which we are born?”. “ By no means! Very good people sometimes make very foolish and mischievous mistakes on this head. Finding in themselves no desire and no capacity for rising above the station which they inherit as birthright, they fancy it is wrong in others to aspire to something better and higher; they pride themselves on their spirit of contentment and on their imaginary consistency, which all the while is pure apathy, and a natural clinging to a meaner state. The very words of the catechism should guard against this error ; it is not said, 'the station in which I was born, the station to which my parents belong,' but the station to which it shall please God to call me!' Only the catechism fares no better than the Bible. Why should it? Narrow-minded, selfish people make what they will of it, and quote both, in defence of their own shallow conceits and selfishness. I don't know a book," continued the good man, musingly, “ that is so perverted as the Holy Bible. People have a favourite doctrine or dogma of their own, on which, conscious of failure in their daily life, they build all their hopes, or on the strength of which they assume certain virtues that are carried to such extremes that they become faults, if not actual vices; and they quote isolated passages and ignore contexts till one begins to feel the ground slipping away from under one's feet, and one trembles lest one's standard of belief has melted away into thin air! The God of the Bible is 'the God of all Grace ;' but some people's god is made up of an apotheosized Moses and a Jupiter Maximus, thunderbolts in hand! But this you cannot understand yet, my boy. We were talking about stations in life-yours, mine everybody's. Our proper station is always that to which God calls
“ Can we always know when God calls us?"
“ Certainly we can ! When God says 'Go hence,' or 'Come hither,' He says it plainly enough by the indications of His Providence. The great thing is not to try to force our way into a new route, to await God's summons, and to be ready to obey it the moment we hear it. It is true He does not speak to us in an audible voice, and there are no infallible oracles to which we can betake ourselves; but to the heart that sincerely desires to know God's will He reveals Himself, and He makes our way plain before our face, if only we ask Him to be our Guide, and to lead us in the right road. When my heart was overwhelmed within me then Thou knewest my path.' But, Hugh, what has put you upon asking so many questions?”
“I have been thinking, Mr. Gibson, I am eleven years old to. day, and I do not know who I am.”
He was silent for a moment, then he replied very gravely, almost in Margery's words, “You are the son of Captain Vassall, and born in lawful wedlock.”
“Yes, I know; but who was Captain Vassall, and who was my mother?”
“ Captain Vassall, as far as I know, was a good, noble-minded man; he was the son of poor people, and lowly born, but he had talent and enterprise ; he worked his way up from a common sailor lad to be captain of a small trading vessel. He might have risen to something higher had he lived, but he died when he was not quite thirty.”
“And my mother?” “Was your father's dearly loved wife. I cannot tell you anything more.”
"Did the news of my father's death kill her?”
“No. You, her child-his child—lay upon her bosom, and for your sake she bore up. She was very poor, very friendless; she was hardly tried.” “And she too died ? ”
There was no answer. Mr. Gibson kept his hands in his pockets and his hat over his eyes. I waited breathlessly while he hummed the tune of the Evening Hymn from beginning to end, and in extremely Adagio time. Then almost in an agony I burst out, “Do tell me, Mr. Gibson. I must know some day: why not now? Did my mother die? I want to know where her grave is if she did die. And if she did not, if she still lives, where is she, and why am I not with her as other children are with their mothers ?”
“Your mother is dead to you, my boy. Ask no more questions, Hugh ; nothing can come of them but perplexity and sorrow. Try not to think about yourself ; reverence your father's memory, and remember always when you are tempted to sin or to idle vanities that you are the son of as good a man as ever lived, of one who lives still and eternally in the glorious world beyond the grave. Your father, though lowly born, was, I am told, a true gentleman. He was one of God's noblemen ; his was the truest and best patent of nobility. Seek you too to be noble. Fear God; let His service be your delight; love all men, and be content with that which you have."
But I was not to be repressed. A mysterious influence seemed to be upon me that evening, setting me to ask all manner of questions, and form all sorts of wild conjectures. Again I inquired, “My mother then is alive? Oh! please do tell me, sir.”
“Yes, Hugh, she lives, but not for you. I wish you had not asked these questions, for I can only tell you the bare fact, and that I tell only because I will not deceive. Believe me it is best that you should not know anything more about her.”
I felt myself growing very hot, for a terrible thought came into my mind. Was my mother a shame to me, a shame to my father's memory?
"Did she do anything very wrong?” I asked, stammeringly.
“No, no," returned the vicar, perceiving my distress. “No; God forbid that I should give you any such idea. Your mother was always your father's true and faithful wife ; she loved him very dearly, poor soul, and his death was almost more than she could
bear. Perhaps it would have been better for her had she died under her great sorrow; but God knows. It was His will that it should be otherwise. Let us talk no more about it, Hugh; think of yourself as an orphan, for such you truly are. You will never know your mother, so do not let your mind run on any wild notion of seeking her and finding her. One thing more I will add : you could not do her a greater injury than by claiming her as your parent; when you are older you shall know why. Now let us hasten home; the old people will be looking out for you, and Mrs. Foster will wonder where I am. I told her to have supper ready in half an hour, for I was only going to take a brisk walk up the fell as far as the nook and back again.”
Almost silently we took our way into the valley below. It was night now; the last sunset gleam had faded long before, and the stars were shining serenely in a dark but cloudless sky. One star more lustrous than the rest cast its silvery rays upon the glassy waters of the mere, revealing where it lay under the shadow of the great rocky fell. All was hushed and still; the wind that had soughed eerily among the hills scarcely moved a leaf down here by the margin of the quiet lake; there was no sound of man or beast, no hum of insect, no fluttering of wings. Only far away the deep, low murmur of the Force, so far away that we never heard it in the daytime. Ah! I can see it now, that starlit sky, the faint gleam upon the reed-fringed tarn, the dim outline of the great hills against the clear horizon, and the figure of the good man, my friend, going before me along the dusty, white road. And then the barking of a dog, our own house-dog Trusty, who came out I suppose. to look for me; and there was the old gate, hanging loosely on its hinges, and I was at home.
“Won't you come in, sir?” I asked, as I pushed back the gate “I heard grandfather say he wanted to speak to you."
“I have seen Martin ; he came to the vicarage this afternoon; but I will just step in and tell them how it happens that we are so late. It is not out of my way, you know ; indeed, by going through your house and garden I cut off the windings of the lane. But there is no light in the kitchen window; surely they are not gone to bed ; it is not more than half-past nine.”
“Ah, no! perhaps they are in the front of the house." But I wondered greatly at the absence of fire and candle on that side ; for at this time Martin regularly smoked his pipe on the kitchenhearth, and there was generally a cheerful blaze of peats which shone through the curtainless window, and showed like a beacon in the outer gloom. The kitchen-door, however, stood wide open, and there was just a faint glimmer in the grate of dying peats or brands. No one, however, was present, so I opened the door which
led into the house-place, and sure enough there were Martin and Margery sitting at the table in the middle of the room, with an open letter, and a long-wicked, unsnuffed tallow candle between them. They were so absorbed in the subject they were discussing that they never heard me lift the latch, or, hearing, they did not notice the familiar sound, and both of them started, and regarded each other with a curious, guilty sort of look when they saw me standing before them.
“Here is the vicar," I said; and at the same instant Mr. Gib. son emerged from the dark doorway, and came into the visible gloom of the dimly lighted house-place. His first action was to snuff the candle; his second to scrutinise the two mazed and almost scared countenances before him.
“T' Lord has sent ye vicar!” said Margery. "Martin and me we 're sair exercised in our minds. I niver was so scomfished in a' my born days.”
“What has happened?” asked Mr. Gibson, kindly. The people always looked to him for sympathy; and whether it was the loss of a child, or a murrain among the cocks and hens, they went to him for comfort and for counsel, sure of kindness and consideration, and of finding what they sought.
"Aggy Jackson went to Crampton yestermorn,” replied Margery-she was generally spokeswoman, her husband saying but little in her presence—“ and I wanted anither bottle o'ť red wine; so I gi'ed her t money, and I ses, ‘Bring t'best they've got, Aggy; for t'best's cheapest always,' is my maxim; and ca' at Crossthwaite's and say they can't hev' them hams at that price; for tho' I ses it, as oughtn't to, my hams is the best o' hams, and they're none like to 'em in a' t' country-side-for why? I got the receipt lang agone from—from them as you know of, vicar?”
The vicar waited patiently, though his supper was spoiling and Mrs. Foster would be probably growing irate. He knew Margery's peculiarities, and was wiser than to stop the flood of her eloquence, knowing that he would come sooner to that which he wished to know if he gave her full licence of speech.
But Martin interposed :-“Whisht, dame! what does vicar care aboot t hams? Yer reverence !—to cut matters short-Aggy ganged t post-office on business of her ain, and they gi’ed her this letter for me; it had laved there a week or mair, and I s'pose it ’nd have layed till Yule if naebody from Eaglesmere hadn't ganged to fetch it. And, vicar”-continued Martin, laying his hand emphatically on the letter—“this here letter be from the South."
And I was sure that Martin glanced at me as he spoke. “From the South ?-from Povercourt, that is ? ” said the vicar. “Fra' Dovercourt, sure enough!" put in Margery, soon tired of