Paul Faber, Surgeon

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While the curate was preaching that same Sunday morning, in the cool cavernous church, with its great lights overhead, Walter Drake--the old minister, he was now called by his disloyal congregation--sat in a little arbor looking out on the river that flowed through the town to the sea. Green grass went down from where he sat to the very water's brink. It was a spot the old man loved, for there his best thoughts came to him. There was in him a good deal of the stuff of which poets are made, and since trouble overtook him, the river had more and more gathered to itself the aspect of that in the Pilgrim's Progress; and often, as he sat thus almost on its edge, he fancied himself waiting the welcome summoms to go home. It was a tidal river, with many changes. Now it flowed with a full, calm current, conquering the tide, like life sweeping death with it down into the bosom of the eternal. Now it seemed to stand still, as if aghast at the inroad of the awful thing; and then the minister would bethink himself that it was the tide of the eternal rising in the narrow earthly channel: men, he said to himself, called it death, because they did not know what it was, or the loveliness of its quickening energy. It fails on their sense by the might of its grand excess, and they call it by the name of its opposite. A weary and rather disappointed pilgrim, he thus comforted himself as he sat.

There a great salmon rose and fell, gleaming like a bolt of silver in the sun! There a little waterbeetle scurried along after some invisible prey. The blue smoke of his pipe melted in the Sabbath air. The softened sounds of a singing congregation came across gardens and hedges to his ear. They sang with more energy than grace, and, not for the first time, he felt they did. Were they indeed singing to the Lord, he asked himself, or only to the idol Custom? A silence came: the young man in the pulpit was giving out his text, and the faces that had turned themselves up to Walter Drake as flowers to the sun, were now all turning to the face of him they had chosen in his stead, "to minister to them in holy things." He took his pipe from his mouth, and sat motionless, with his eyes fixed on the ground.

But why was he not at chapel himself? Could it be that he yielded to temptation, actually preferring his clay pipe and the long glide of the river, to the worship, and the hymns and the sermon? Had there not been a time when he judged that man careless of the truth who did not go to the chapel, and that man little better who went to the church? Yet there he sat on a Sunday morning, the church on one side of him and the chapel on the other, smoking his pipe! His daughter was at the chapel; she had taken Ducky with her; the dog lay in the porch waiting for them; the cat thought too much of herself to make friends with her master; he had forgotten his New Testament on the study table; and now he had let his pipe out.

He was not well, it is true, but he was well enough to have gone. Was he too proud to be taught where he had been a teacher? or was it that the youth in his place taught there doctrines which neither they nor their fathers had known? It could not surely be from resentment that they had super-annuated him in the prime of his old age, with a pared third of his late salary, which nothing but honesty in respect to the small moneys he owed could have prevented him from refusing!

In truth it was impossible the old minister should have any great esteem for the flashy youth, proud of his small Latin and less Greek, a mere unit of the hundreds whom the devil of ambition drives to preaching; one who, whether the doctrines he taught were in the New Testament or not, certainly never found them there, being but the merest disciple of a disciple of a disciple, and fervid in words of which he perceived scarce a glimmer of the divine purport. At the same time, he might have seen points of resemblance between his own early history and that of the callow chirper of divinity now holding forth from his pulpit, which might have tended to mollify his judgment with sympathy.

His people had behaved ill to him, and he could not say he was free from resentment or pride, but he did make for them what excuse lay in the fact that the congregation had been dwindling ever since the curate at the abbey-church began to speak in such a strange outspoken fashion. There now was a right sort of man! he said to himself. No attempted oratory with him! no prepared surprises! no playhouse tricks! no studied graces in wafture of hands and upheaved eyes! And yet at moments when he became possessed with his object rather than subject, every inch of him seemed alive. He was odd--very odd; perhaps he was crazy--but at least he was honest. He had heard him himself, and judged him well worth helping to what was better, for, alas! notwithstanding the vigor of his preaching, he did not appear to have himself discovered as yet the treasure hid in the field. He was, nevertheless, incomparably the superior of the young man whom, expecting him to draw, the deacons of his church, with the members behind them, had substituted for himself, who had for more than fifteen years ministered to them the bread of life.

Bread!--Yes, I think it might honestly be called bread that Walter Drake had ministered. It had not been free from chalk or potatoes: bits of shell and peel might have been found in it, with an occasional bit of dirt, and a hair or two; yes, even a little alum, and that is bad, because it tends to destroy, not satisfy the hunger. There was sawdust in it, and parchment-dust, and lumber-dust; it was ill salted, badly baked, sad; sometimes it was blue-moldy, and sometimes even maggoty; but the mass of it was honest flour, and those who did not recoil from the look of it, or recognize the presence of the variety of foreign matter, could live upon it, in a sense, up to a certain pitch of life. But a great deal of it was not of his baking at all--he had been merely the distributor--crumbling down other bakers' loaves and making them up again in his own shapes. In his declining years, however, he had been really beginning to learn the business. Only, in his congregation were many who not merely preferred bad bread of certain kinds, but were incapable of digesting any of high quality.

He would have gone to chapel that morning had the young man been such as he could respect. Neither his doctrine, nor the behavior of the church to himself, would have kept him away. Had he followed his inclination he would have gone to the church, only that would have looked spiteful. His late congregation would easily excuse his non-attendance with them; they would even pitifully explain to each other why he could not appear just yet; but to go to church would be in their eyes unpardonable--a declaration of a war of revenge.

There was, however, a reason besides, why Mr. Drake could not go to church that morning, and if not a more serious, it was a much more painful one. Some short time before he had any ground to suspect that his congregation was faltering in its loyalty to him, his daughter had discovered that the chapel butcher, when he sent a piece of meat, invariably charged for a few ounces beyond the weight delivered. Now Mr. Drake was a man of such honesty that all kinds of cheating, down to the most respectable, were abominable to him; that the man was a professor of religion made his conduct unpardonable in his eyes, and that he was one of his own congregation rendered it insupportable. Having taken pains to satisfy himself of the fact, he declined to deal with him any further, and did not spare to tell him why. The man was far too dishonest to profit by the rebuke save in circumspection and cunning, was revengeful in proportion to the justice of the accusation, and of course brought his influence, which was not small, to bear upon the votes of the church-members in respect of the pastorate.

Had there been another butcher in connection with the chapel, Mr. Drake would have turned to him, but as there was not, and they could not go without meat, he had to betake himself to the principal butcher in the place, who was a member of the Church of England. Soon after his troubles commenced, and before many weeks were over he saw plainly enough that he must either resign altogether, and go out into the great world of dissent in search of some pastorless flock that might vote him their crook, to be guided by him whither they wanted to go, and whither most of them believed they knew the way as well as he, or accept the pittance offered him. This would be to retire from the forefront of the battle, and take an undistinguished place in the crowd of mere camp-followers; but, for the sake of honesty, as I have already explained, and with the hope that it might be only for a brief season, he had chosen the latter half of the alternative. And truly it was a great relief not to have to grind out of his poor, weary, groaning mill the two inevitable weekly sermons--labor sufficient to darken the face of nature to the conscientious man. For his people thought themselves intellectual, and certainly were critical. Mere edification in holiness was not enough for them. A large infusion of some polemic element was necessary to make the meat savory and such as their souls loved. Their ambition was not to grow in grace, but in social influence and regard--to glorify their dissent, not the communion of saints. Upon the chief corner-stone they would build their stubble of paltry religionism; they would set up their ragged tent in the midst of the eternal temple, careless how it blocked up window and stair.

Now last week Mr. Drake had requested his new butcher to send his bill--with some little anxiety, because of the sudden limitation of his income; but when he saw it he was filled with horror. Amounting only to a very few pounds, causes had come together to make it a large one in comparison with the figures he was accustomed to see. Always feeding some of his flock, he had at this time two sickly, nursing mothers who drew their mortal life from his kitchen; and, besides, the doctor had, some time ago, ordered a larger amount of animal food for the little Amanda. In fine, the sum at the bottom of that long slip of paper, with the wood-cut of a prize ox at the top of it, small as he would have thought it at one period of his history, was greater than he could imagine how to pay; and if he went to church, it would be to feel the eye of the butcher and not that of the curate upon him all the time. It was a dismay, a horror to him to have an account rendered which he could not settle, and especially from his new butcher, after he had so severely rebuked the old one. Where was the mighty difference in honesty between himself and the offender? the one claimed for meat he had not sold, the other ordered that for which he could not pay! Would not Mr. Jones imagine he had left his fellow-butcher and come to him because he had run up a large bill for which he was unable to write a check? This was that over which the spirit of the man now brooded by far the most painfully; this it was that made him leave his New Testament in the study, let his pipe out, and look almost lovingly upon the fast-flowing river, because it was a symbol of death.

He had chosen preaching as a profession, just as so many take orders--with this difference from a large proportion of such, that he had striven powerfully to convince himself that he trusted in the merits of the Redeemer. Had he not in this met with tolerable success, he would not have yielded to the wish of his friends and left his father's shop in his native country-town for a dissenting college in the neighborhood of London. There he worked well, and became a good scholar, learning to read in the true sense of the word, that is, to try the spirits as he read. His character, so called, was sound, and his conscience, if not sensitive, was firm and regnant. But he was injured both spiritually and morally by some of the instructions there given. For one of the objects held up as duties before him, was to become capable of rendering himself acceptable to a congregation.

Most of the students were but too ready to regard, or at least to treat this object as the first and foremost of duties. The master-duty of devotion to Christ, and obedience to every word that proceeded out of His mouth, was very much treated as a thing understood, requiring little enforcement; while, the main thing demanded of them being sermons in some sense their own--honey culled at least by their own bees, and not bought in jars, much was said about the plan and composition of sermons, about style and elocution, and action--all plainly and confessedly, with a view to pulpit-success--the lowest of all low successes, and the most worldly.

These instructions Walter Drake accepted as the wisdom of the holy serpent--devoted large attention to composition, labored to form his style on the best models, and before beginning to write a sermon, always heated the furnace of production with fuel from some exciting or suggestive author: it would be more correct to say, fed the mill of composition from some such source; one consequence of all which was, that when at last, after many years, he did begin to develop some individuality, he could not, and never did shake himself free of those weary models; his thoughts, appearing in clothes which were not made for them, wore always a certain stiffness and unreality which did not by nature belong to them, blunting the impressions which his earnestness and sincerity did notwithstanding make.

Determined to succeed, he cultivated eloquence also--what he supposed eloquence, that is, being, of course, merely elocution, to attain the right gestures belonging to which he looked far more frequently into his landlady's mirror, than for his spiritual action into the law of liberty. He had his reward in the success he sought. But I must make haste, for the story of worldly success is always a mean tale. In a few years, and for not a few after, he was a popular preacher in one of the suburbs of London--a good deal sought after, and greatly lauded. He lived in comfort, indulged indeed in some amount of show; married a widow with a large life-annuity, which between them they spent entirely, and that not altogether in making friends with everlasting habitations; in a word, gazed out on the social landscape far oftener than lifted his eyes to the hills.

After some ten or twelve years, a change began. They had three children; the two boys, healthy and beautiful, took scarlatina and died; the poor, sickly girl wailed on. His wife, who had always been more devoted to her children than her husband, pined, and died also. Her money went, if not with her, yet away from him. His spirits began to fail him, and his small, puny, peaking daughter did not comfort him much. He was capable of true, but not yet of pure love; at present his love was capricious. Little Dora--a small Dorothy indeed in his estimation--had always been a better child than either of her brothers, but he loved them the more that others admired them, and her the less that others pitied her: he did try to love her, for there was a large element of justice in his nature. This, but for his being so much occupied with making himself acceptable to his congregation, would have given him a leadership in the rising rebellion against a theology which crushed the hearts of men by attributing injustice to their God. As it was, he lay at anchor, and let the tide rush past him.

Further change followed--gradual, but rapid. His congregation began to discover that he was not the man he had been. They complained of lack of variety in his preaching; said he took it too easy; did not study his sermons sufficiently; often spoke extempore, which was a poor compliment to them; did not visit with impartiality, and indeed had all along favored the carriage people. There was a party in the church which had not been cordial to him from the first; partly from his fault, partly from theirs, he had always made them feel they were of the lower grade; and from an increase of shops in the neighborhood, this party was now gathering head. Their leaders went so far at length as to hint at a necessity for explanation in regard to the accounts of certain charities administered by the pastor. In these, unhappily, lacunae were patent. In his troubles the pastor had grown careless. But it was altogether to his own loss, for not merely had the money been spent with a rigidity of uprightness, such as few indeed of his accusers exercised in their business affairs, but he had in his disbursements exceeded the contribution committed to his charge. Confident, however, in his position, and much occupied with other thoughts, he had taken no care to set down the particulars of his expenditure, and his enemies did not fail to hint a connection between this fact and the loss of his wife's annuity. Worst of all, doubts of his orthodoxy began to be expressed by the more ignorant, and harbored without examination by the less ignorant.

All at once he became aware of the general disloyalty of his flock, and immediately resigned. Scarcely had he done so when he was invited to Glaston, and received with open arms. There he would heal his wounds, and spend the rest of his days in peace. "He caught a slip or two" in descending, but soon began to find the valley of humiliation that wholesome place which all true pilgrims have ever declared it. Comparative retirement, some sense of lost labor, some suspicion of the worth of the ends for which he had spent his strength, a waking desire after the God in whom he had vaguely believed all the time he was letting the dust of paltry accident inflame his eyes, blistering and deadening his touch with the efflorescent crusts and agaric tumors upon the dry bones of theology, gilding the vane of his chapel instead of cleansing its porch and its floor--these all favored the birth in his mind of the question, whether he had ever entered in at the straight gate himself, or had not merely been standing by its side calling to others to enter in. Was it even as well as this with him? Had he not been more intent on gathering a wretched flock within the rough, wool-stealing, wind-sifting, beggarly hurdles of his church, than on housing true men and women safe in the fold of the true Shepherd? Feeding troughs for the sheep there might be many in the fields, and they might or might not be presided over by servants of the true Shepherd, but the fold they were not! He grew humble before the Master, and the Master began to lord it lovingly over him. He sought His presence, and found Him; began to think less of books and rabbis, yea even, for the time, of Paul and Apollos and Cephas, and to pore and ponder over the living tale of the New Covenant; began to feel that the Lord meant what He said, and that His apostles also meant what He said; forgot Calvin a good deal, outgrew the influences of Jonathan Edwards, and began to understand Jesus Christ.

Few sights can be lovelier than that of a man who, having rushed up the staircase of fame in his youth--what matter whether the fame of a paltry world, or a paltry sect of that world!--comes slowly, gently, graciously down in his old age, content to lose that which he never had, and careful only to be honest at last. It had not been so with Walter Drake. He had to come down first to begin to get the good of it, but once down, it was not long ere he began to go up a very different stair indeed. A change took place in him which turned all aims, all efforts, all victories of the world, into the merest, most poverty-stricken trifling. He had been a tarrer and smearer, a marker and shearer of sheep, rather than a pastor; but now he recognized the rod and leaned on the staff of the true Shepherd Who feeds both shepherds and sheep. Hearty were the thanks he offered that he had been staid in his worse than foolish career.

Since then, he had got into a hollow in the valley, and at this moment, as he sat in his summer-house, was looking from a verge abrupt into what seemed a bottomless gulf of humiliation. For his handsome London house, he had little better than a cottage, in which his study was not a quarter of the size of the one he had left; he had sold two-thirds of his books; for three men and four women servants, he had but one old woman and his own daughter to do the work of the house; for all quadrupedal menie, he had but a nondescript canine and a contemptuous feline foundling; from a devoted congregation of comparatively educated people, he had sunk to one in which there was not a person of higher standing than a tradesman, and that congregation had now rejected him as not up to their mark, turning him off to do his best with fifty pounds a year. He had himself heard the cheating butcher remark in the open street that it was quite enough, and more than ever his Master had. But all these things were as nothing in his eyes beside his inability to pay Mr. Jones's bill. He had outgrown his former self, but this kind of misery it would be but deeper degradation to outgrow. All before this had been but humiliation; this was shame. Now first he knew what poverty was! Had God forgotten him? That could not be! that which could forget could not be God. Did he not care then that such things should befall his creatures? Were they but trifles in his eyes? He ceased thinking, gave way to the feeling that God dealt hardly with him, and sat stupidly indulging a sense of grievance--with self-pity, than which there is scarce one more childish or enfeebling in the whole circle of the emotions. Was this what God had brought him nearer to Himself for? was this the end of a ministry in which he had, in some measure at least, denied himself and served God and his fellow? He could bear any thing but shame! That too could he have borne had he not been a teacher of religion--one whose failure must brand him a hypocrite. How mean it would sound--what a reproach to the cause, that the congregational minister had run up a bill with a church-butcher which he was unable to pay! It was the shame--the shame he could not bear! Ought he to have been subjected to it?

A humbler and better mood slowly dawned with unconscious change, and he began to ponder with himself wherein he had been misusing the money given him: either he had been misusing it, or God had not given him enough, seeing it would not reach the end of his needs; but he could think only of the poor he had fed, and the child he had adopted, and surely God would overlook those points of extravagance. Still, if he had not the means, he had not the right to do such things. It might not in itself be wrong, but in respect of him it was as dishonest as if he had spent the money on himself--not to mention that it was a thwarting of the counsel of God, who, if He had meant them to be so aided, would have sent him the money to spend upon them honestly. His one excuse was that he could not have foreseen how soon his income was going to shrink to a third. In future he would withhold his hand. But surely he might keep the child? Nay, having once taken her in charge, he must keep the child. It was a comfort, there could be no doubt about that. God had money enough, and certainly He would enable him to do that! Only, why then did He bring him to such poverty?

So round in his mill he went, round and round again, and back to the old evil mood. Either there was no God, or he was a hard-used man, whom his Master did not mind bringing to shame before his enemies! He could not tell which would triumph the more--the church-butcher over dissent, or the chapel-butcher over the church-butcher, and the pastor who had rebuked him for dishonesty! His very soul was disquieted within him. He rose at last with a tear trickling down his cheek, and walked to and fro in his garden.

Things went on nevertheless as if all was right with the world. The Lythe flowed to the sea, and the silver-mailed salmon leaped into the more limpid air. The sun shone gracious over all his kingdom, and his little praisers were loud in every bush. The primroses, earth-born suns, were shining about in every border. The sound of the great organ came from the grand old church, and the sound of many voices from the humble chapel. Only, where was the heart of it all?

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