Perhaps the greatest benefit that resulted to Hugh from being thus made a pilgrim and a stranger in the earth, was, that Nature herself saw him, and took him in, Hitherto, as I have already said, Hugh's acquaintance with Nature had been chiefly a second-hand one -- he knew friends of hers. Nature in poetry -- not in the form of Thomsonian or Cowperian descriptions, good as they are, but closely interwoven with and expository of human thought and feeling -- had long been dear to him. In this form he had believed that he knew her so well, as to be able to reproduce the lineaments of her beloved face. But now she herself appeared to him -- the grand, pure, tender mother, ancient in years, yet ever young; appeared to him, not in the mirror of a man's words, but bending over him from the fathomless bosom of the sky, from the outspread arms of the forest-trees, from the silent judgment of the everlasting hills. She spoke to him from the depths of air, from the winds that harp upon the boughs, and trumpet upon the great caverns, and from the streams that sing as they go to be lost in rest. She would have shone upon him out of the eyes of her infants, the flowers, but they had their faces turned to her breast now, hiding from the pale blue eyes and the freezing breath of old Winter, who was looking for them with his face bent close to their refuge. And he felt that she had a power to heal and to instruct; yea, that she was a power of life, and could speak to the heart and conscience mighty words about God and Truth and Love.
For he did not forsake his dead home in haste. He lingered over it, and roamed about its neighbourhood. Regarding all about him with quiet, almost passive spirit, he was astonished to find how his eyes opened to see nature in the mass. Before, he had beheld only portions and beauties. When or how the change passed upon him he could not tell. But he no longer looked for a pretty eyebrow or a lovely lip on the face of nature: the soul of nature looked out upon him from the harmony of all, guiding him unsought to the discovery of a thousand separate delights; while from the expanded vision new meanings flashed upon him every day. He beheld in the great All the expression of the thoughts and feelings of the maker of the heavens and the earth and the sea and the fountains of water. The powers of the world to come, that is, the world of unseen truth and ideal reality, were upon him in the presence of the world that now is. For the first time in his life, he felt at home with nature; and while he could moan with the wintry wind, he no longer sighed in the wintry sunshine, that foretold, like the far-off flutter of a herald's banner, the approach of victorious lady-spring.
With the sorrow and loneliness of loss within him, and Nature around him seeming to sigh for a fuller expression of the thought that throbbed within her, it is no wonder that the form of Margaret, the gathering of the thousand forms of nature into one intensity and harmony of loveliness, should rise again upon the world of his imagination, to set no more. Father and mother were gone. Margaret remained behind. Nature lay around him like a shining disk, that needed a visible centre of intensest light -- a shield of silver, that needed but a diamond boss: Margaret alone could be that centre -- that diamond light-giver; for she alone, of all the women he knew, seemed so to drink of the sun-rays of God, as to radiate them forth, for very fulness, upon the clouded world.
She had dawned on him like a sweet crescent moon, hanging far-off in a cold and low horizon: now, lifting his eyes, he saw that same moon nearly at the full, and high overhead, yet leaning down towards him through the deep blue air, that overflowed with her calm triumph of light. He knew that he loved her now. He knew that every place he went through, caught a glimmer of romance the moment he thought of her; that every most trifling event that happened to himself, looked like a piece of a story-book the moment he thought of telling it to her. But the growth of these feelings had been gradual -- so slow and gradual, that when he recognized them, it seemed to him as if he had felt them from the first. The fact was, that as soon as he began to be capable of loving Margaret, he had begun to love her. He had never been able to understand her till he was driven into the desert. But now that Nature revealed herself to him full of Life, yea, of the Life of Life, namely, of God himself, it was natural that he should honour and love that 'lady of her own'; that he should recognize Margaret as greater than himself, as nearer to the heart of Nature -- yea, of God the father of all. She had been one with Nature from childhood, and when he began to be one with nature too, he must become one with her.
And now, in absence, he began to study the character of her whom, in presence, he had thought he knew perfectly. He soon found that it was a Manoa, a golden city in a land of Paradise -- too good to be believed in, except by him who was blessed with the beholding of it. He knew now that she had always understood what he was only just waking to recognize. And he felt that the scholar had been very patient with the stupidity of the master, and had drawn from his lessons a nourishment of which he had known nothing himself.
But dared he think of marrying her, a creature inspired with a presence of the Spirit of God which none but the saints enjoy, and thence clothed with a garment of beauty, which her spirit wove out of its own loveliness? She was a being to glorify any man merely by granting him her habitual presence: what, then, if she gave her love! She would bring with her the presence of God himself, for she walked ever in his light, and that light clung to her and radiated from her. True, many young maidens must be walking in the sunshine of God, else whence the light and loveliness and bloom, the smile and the laugh of their youth? But Margaret not only walked in this light: she knew it and whence it came. She looked up to its source, and it illuminated her face.
The silent girl of old days, whose countenance wore the stillness of an unsunned pool, as she listened with reverence to his lessons, had blossomed into the calm, stately woman, before whose presence he felt rebuked he knew not why, upon whose face lay slumbering thought, ever ready to wake into life and motion. Dared he love her? Dared he tell her that he loved her? Dared he, so poor, so worthless, seek for himself such a world's treasure? -- He might have known that worth does not need honour; that its lowliness is content with ascribing it.
Some of my readers may be inclined to think that I hide, for the sake of my hero -- poor little hero, one of God's children, learning to walk -- an inevitable struggle between his love and his pride; inasmuch as, being but a tutor, he might be expected to think the more of his good family, and the possibility of his one day coming to honour without the drawback of having done anything to merit it, a title being almost within his grasp; while Margaret was a ploughman's daughter, and a lady's maid. But, although I know more of Hugh's faults than I have thought it at all necessary to bring out in my story, I protest that, had he been capable of giving the name of love to a feeling in whose presence pride dared to speak, I should have considered him unworthy of my poor pen. In plain language, I doubt if I should have cared to write his story at all.
He gathered together, as I have said, the few memorials of the old ship gone down in the quiet ocean of time; paid one visit of sorrowful gladness to his parent's grave, over which he raised no futile stone -- leaving it, like the forms within it, in the hands of holy decay; and took his road -- whither? To Margaret's home -- to see old Janet; and to go once to the grave of his second father. Then he would return to the toil and hunger and hope of London.
What made Hugh go to Turriepuffit? His love to Margaret? No. A better motive even than that: -- Repentance. Better I mean for Hugh as to the individual occasion; not in itself; for love is deeper than repentance, seeing that without love there can be no repentance. He had repented before; but now that he haunted in silence the regions of the past, the whole of his history in connection with David returned on him clear and vivid, as if passing once again before his eyes and through his heart; and he repented more deeply still. Perhaps he was not quite so much to blame as he thought himself. Perhaps only now was it possible for the seeds of truth, which David had sown in his heart, to show themselves above the soil of lower, yet ministering cares. They had needed to lie a winter long in the earth. Now the keen blasts and grinding frosts had done their work, and they began to grow in the tearful prime. Sorrow for loss brought in her train sorrow for wrong -- a sister more solemn still, and with a deeper blessing in the voice of her loving farewell. -- It is a great mistake to suppose that sorrow is a part of repentance. It is far too good a grace to come so easily. A man may repent, that is, think better of it, and change his way, and be very much of a Pharisee -- I do not say a hypocrite -- for a long time after: it needs a saint to be sorrowful. Yet repentance is generally the road to this sorrow. -- And now that in the gracious time of grief, his eyesight purified by tears, he entered one after another all the chambers of the past, he humbly renewed once more his friendship with the noble dead, and with the homely, heartful living. The grey-headed man who walked with God like a child, and with his fellow-men like an elder brother who was always forgetting his birthright and serving the younger; the woman who believed where she could not see, and loved where she could not understand; and the maiden who was still and lustreless, because she ever absorbed and seldom reflected the light -- all came to him, as if to comfort him once more in his loneliness, when his heart had room for them, and need of them yet again. David now became, after his departure, yet more of a father to him than before, for that spirit, which is the true soul of all this body of things, had begun to recall to his mind the words of David, and so teach him the things that David knew, the everlasting realities of God. And it seemed to him the while, that he heard David himself uttering, in his homely, kingly voice, whatever truth returned to him from the echo-cave of the past. Even when a quite new thought arose within him, it came to him in the voice of David, or at least with the solemn music of his tones clinging about it as the murmur about the river's course. Experience had now brought him up to the point where he could begin to profit by David's communion; he needed the things which David could teach him; and David began forthwith to give them to him.
That birth of nature in his soul, which enabled him to understand and love Margaret, helped him likewise to contemplate with admiration and awe, the towering peaks of David's hopes, trusts, and aspirations. He had taught the ploughman mathematics, but that ploughman had possessed in himself all the essential elements of the grandeur of the old prophets, glorified by the faith which the Son of Man did not find in the earth, but left behind him to grow in it, and which had grown to a noble growth of beauty and strength in this peasant, simple and patriarchal in the midst of a self-conceited age. And, oh! how good he had been to him! He had built a house that he might take him in from the cold, and make life pleasant to him, as in the presence of God. He had given him his heart every time he gave him his great manly hand. And this man, this friend, this presence of Christ, Hugh had forsaken, neglected, all but forgotten. He could not go, and, like the prodigal, fall down before him, and say, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and thee," for that heaven had taken him up out of his sight. He could only weep instead, and bitterly repent. Yes; there was one thing more he could do. Janet still lived. He would go to her, and confess his sin, and beg her forgiveness. Receiving it, he would be at peace. He knew David forgave him, whether he confessed or not; and that, if he were alive, David would seek his confession only as the casting away of the separation from his heart, as the banishment of the worldly spirit, and as the natural sign by which he might know that Hugh was one with him yet.
Janet was David's representative on earth: he would go to her.
So he returned, rich and great; rich in knowing that he was the child of Him to whom all the gold mines belong; and great in that humility which alone recognizes greatness, and in the beginnings of that meekness which shall inherit the earth. No more would he stunt his spiritual growth by self-satisfaction. No more would he lay aside, in the cellars of his mind, poor withered bulbs of opinions, which, but for the evil ministrations of that self-satisfaction, seeking to preserve them by drying and salting, might have been already bursting into blossoms of truth, of infinite loveliness.
He knew that Margaret thought far too well of him -- honoured him greatly beyond his deserts. He would not allow her to be any longer thus deceived. He would tell her what a poor creature he was. But he would say, too, that he hoped one day to be worthy of her praise, that he hoped to grow to what she thought him. If he should fail in convincing her, he would receive all the honour she gave him humbly, as paid, not to him, but to what he ought to be. God grant it might be as to his future self!
In this mood he went to Janet.