Adam Bede, by George Eliot

Chapter 2

The Preaching

About a quarter to seven there was an unusual appearance of excitement in the village of Hayslope, and through the whole length of its little street, from the Donnithorne Arms to the churchyard gate, the inhabitants had evidently been drawn out of their houses by something more than the pleasure of lounging in the evening sunshine. The Donnithorne Arms stood at the entrance of the village, and a small farmyard and stackyard which flanked it, indicating that there was a pretty take of land attached to the inn, gave the traveller a promise of good feed for himself and his horse, which might well console him for the ignorance in which the weather-beaten sign left him as to the heraldic bearings of that ancient family, the Donnithornes. Mr. Casson, the landlord, had been for some time standing at the door with his hands in his pockets, balancing himself on his heels and toes and looking towards a piece of unenclosed ground, with a maple in the middle of it, which he knew to be the destination of certain grave- looking men and women whom he had observed passing at intervals.

Mr. Casson’s person was by no means of that common type which can be allowed to pass without description. On a front view it appeared to consist principally of two spheres, bearing about the same relation to each other as the earth and the moon: that is to say, the lower sphere might be said, at a rough guess, to be thirteen times larger than the upper which naturally performed the function of a mere satellite and tributary. But here the resemblance ceased, for Mr. Casson’s head was not at all a melancholy-looking satellite nor was it a “spotty globe,” as Milton has irreverently called the moon; on the contrary, no head and face could look more sleek and healthy, and its expression — which was chiefly confined to a pair of round and ruddy cheeks, the slight knot and interruptions forming the nose and eyes being scarcely worth mention — was one of jolly contentment, only tempered by that sense of personal dignity which usually made itself felt in his attitude and bearing. This sense of dignity could hardly be considered excessive in a man who had been butler to “the family” for fifteen years, and who, in his present high position, was necessarily very much in contact with his inferiors. How to reconcile his dignity with the satisfaction of his curiosity by walking towards the Green was the problem that Mr. Casson had been revolving in his mind for the last five minutes; but when he had partly solved it by taking his hands out of his pockets, and thrusting them into the armholes of his waistcoat, by throwing his head on one side, and providing himself with an air of contemptuous indifference to whatever might fall under his notice, his thoughts were diverted by the approach of the horseman whom we lately saw pausing to have another look at our friend Adam, and who now pulled up at the door of the Donnithorne Arms.

“Take off the bridle and give him a drink, ostler,” said the traveller to the lad in a smock-frock, who had come out of the yard at the sound of the horse’s hoofs.

“Why, what’s up in your pretty village, landlord?” he continued, getting down. “There seems to be quite a stir.”

“It’s a Methodis’ preaching, sir; it’s been gev hout as a young woman’s a-going to preach on the Green,” answered Mr. Casson, in a treble and wheezy voice, with a slightly mincing accent. “Will you please to step in, sir, an’ tek somethink?”

“No, I must be getting on to Rosseter. I only want a drink for my horse. And what does your parson say, I wonder, to a young woman preaching just under his nose?”

“Parson Irwine, sir, doesn’t live here; he lives at Brox’on, over the hill there. The parsonage here’s a tumble-down place, sir, not fit for gentry to live in. He comes here to preach of a Sunday afternoon, sir, an’ puts up his hoss here. It’s a grey cob, sir, an’ he sets great store by’t. He’s allays put up his hoss here, sir, iver since before I hed the Donnithorne Arms. I’m not this countryman, you may tell by my tongue, sir. They’re cur’ous talkers i’ this country, sir; the gentry’s hard work to hunderstand ’em. I was brought hup among the gentry, sir, an’ got the turn o’ their tongue when I was a bye. Why, what do you think the folks here says for ‘hevn’t you?’— the gentry, you know, says, ‘hevn’t you’— well, the people about here says ‘hanna yey.’ It’s what they call the dileck as is spoke hereabout, sir. That’s what I’ve heared Squire Donnithorne say many a time; it’s the dileck, says he.”

“Aye, aye,” said the stranger, smiling. “I know it very well. But you’ve not got many Methodists about here, surely — in this agricultural spot? I should have thought there would hardly be such a thing as a Methodist to be found about here. You’re all farmers, aren’t you? The Methodists can seldom lay much hold on THEM.”

“Why, sir, there’s a pretty lot o’ workmen round about, sir. There’s Mester Burge as owns the timber-yard over there, he underteks a good bit o’ building an’ repairs. An’ there’s the stone-pits not far off. There’s plenty of emply i’ this countryside, sir. An’ there’s a fine batch o’ Methodisses at Treddles’on — that’s the market town about three mile off — you’ll maybe ha’ come through it, sir. There’s pretty nigh a score of ’em on the Green now, as come from there. That’s where our people gets it from, though there’s only two men of ’em in all Hayslope: that’s Will Maskery, the wheelwright, and Seth Bede, a young man as works at the carpenterin’.”

“The preacher comes from Treddleston, then, does she?”

“Nay, sir, she comes out o’ Stonyshire, pretty nigh thirty mile off. But she’s a-visitin’ hereabout at Mester Poyser’s at the Hall Farm — it’s them barns an’ big walnut-trees, right away to the left, sir. She’s own niece to Poyser’s wife, an’ they’ll be fine an’ vexed at her for making a fool of herself i’ that way. But I’ve heared as there’s no holding these Methodisses when the maggit’s once got i’ their head: many of ’em goes stark starin’ mad wi’ their religion. Though this young woman’s quiet enough to look at, by what I can make out; I’ve not seen her myself.”

“Well, I wish I had time to wait and see her, but I must get on. I’ve been out of my way for the last twenty minutes to have a look at that place in the valley. It’s Squire Donnithorne’s, I suppose?”

“Yes, sir, that’s Donnithorne Chase, that is. Fine hoaks there, isn’t there, sir? I should know what it is, sir, for I’ve lived butler there a-going i’ fifteen year. It’s Captain Donnithorne as is th’ heir, sir — Squire Donnithorne’s grandson. He’ll be comin’ of hage this ’ay-’arvest, sir, an’ we shall hev fine doin’s. He owns all the land about here, sir, Squire Donnithorne does.”

“Well, it’s a pretty spot, whoever may own it,” said the traveller, mounting his horse; “and one meets some fine strapping fellows about too. I met as fine a young fellow as ever I saw in my life, about half an hour ago, before I came up the hill — a carpenter, a tall, broad-shouldered fellow with black hair and black eyes, marching along like a soldier. We want such fellows as he to lick the French.”

“Aye, sir, that’s Adam Bede, that is, I’ll be bound — Thias Bede’s son everybody knows him hereabout. He’s an uncommon clever stiddy fellow, an’ wonderful strong. Lord bless you, sir — if you’ll hexcuse me for saying so — he can walk forty mile a-day, an’ lift a matter o’ sixty ston’. He’s an uncommon favourite wi’ the gentry, sir: Captain Donnithorne and Parson Irwine meks a fine fuss wi’ him. But he’s a little lifted up an’ peppery-like.”

“Well, good evening to you, landlord; I must get on.”

“Your servant, sir; good evenin’.”

The traveller put his horse into a quick walk up the village, but when he approached the Green, the beauty of the view that lay on his right hand, the singular contrast presented by the groups of villagers with the knot of Methodists near the maple, and perhaps yet more, curiosity to see the young female preacher, proved too much for his anxiety to get to the end of his journey, and he paused.

The Green lay at the extremity of the village, and from it the road branched off in two directions, one leading farther up the hill by the church, and the other winding gently down towards the valley. On the side of the Green that led towards the church, the broken line of thatched cottages was continued nearly to the churchyard gate; but on the opposite northwestern side, there was nothing to obstruct the view of gently swelling meadow, and wooded valley, and dark masses of distant hill. That rich undulating district of Loamshire to which Hayslope belonged lies close to a grim outskirt of Stonyshire, overlooked by its barren hills as a pretty blooming sister may sometimes be seen linked in the arm of a rugged, tall, swarthy brother; and in two or three hours’ ride the traveller might exchange a bleak treeless region, intersected by lines of cold grey stone, for one where his road wound under the shelter of woods, or up swelling hills, muffled with hedgerows and long meadow-grass and thick corn; and where at every turn he came upon some fine old country-seat nestled in the valley or crowning the slope, some homestead with its long length of barn and its cluster of golden ricks, some grey steeple looking out from a pretty confusion of trees and thatch and dark-red tiles. It was just such a picture as this last that Hayslope Church had made to the traveller as he began to mount the gentle slope leading to its pleasant uplands, and now from his station near the Green he had before him in one view nearly all the other typical features of this pleasant land. High up against the horizon were the huge conical masses of hill, like giant mounds intended to fortify this region of corn and grass against the keen and hungry winds of the north; not distant enough to be clothed in purple mystery, but with sombre greenish sides visibly specked with sheep, whose motion was only revealed by memory, not detected by sight; wooed from day to day by the changing hours, but responding with no change in themselves — left for ever grim and sullen after the flush of morning, the winged gleams of the April noonday, the parting crimson glory of the ripening summer sun. And directly below them the eye rested on a more advanced line of hanging woods, divided by bright patches of pasture or furrowed crops, and not yet deepened into the uniform leafy curtains of high summer, but still showing the warm tints of the young oak and the tender green of the ash and lime. Then came the valley, where the woods grew thicker, as if they had rolled down and hurried together from the patches left smooth on the slope, that they might take the better care of the tall mansion which lifted its parapets and sent its faint blue summer smoke among them. Doubtless there was a large sweep of park and a broad glassy pool in front of that mansion, but the swelling slope of meadow would not let our traveller see them from the village green. He saw instead a foreground which was just as lovely — the level sunlight lying like transparent gold among the gently curving stems of the feathered grass and the tall red sorrel, and the white ambels of the hemlocks lining the bushy hedgerows. It was that moment in summer when the sound of the scythe being whetted makes us cast more lingering looks at the flower-sprinkled tresses of the meadows.

He might have seen other beauties in the landscape if he had turned a little in his saddle and looked eastward, beyond Jonathan Burge’s pasture and woodyard towards the green corn-fields and walnut-trees of the Hall Farm; but apparently there was more interest for him in the living groups close at hand. Every generation in the village was there, from old “Feyther Taft” in his brown worsted night-cap, who was bent nearly double, but seemed tough enough to keep on his legs a long while, leaning on his short stick, down to the babies with their little round heads lolling forward in quilted linen caps. Now and then there was a new arrival; perhaps a slouching labourer, who, having eaten his supper, came out to look at the unusual scene with a slow bovine gaze, willing to hear what any one had to say in explanation of it, but by no means excited enough to ask a question. But all took care not to join the Methodists on the Green, and identify themselves in that way with the expectant audience, for there was not one of them that would not have disclaimed the imputation of having come out to hear the “preacher woman”— they had only come out to see “what war a-goin’ on, like.” The men were chiefly gathered in the neighbourhood of the blacksmith’s shop. But do not imagine them gathered in a knot. Villagers never swarm: a whisper is unknown among them, and they seem almost as incapable of an undertone as a cow or a stag. Your true rustic turns his back on his interlocutor, throwing a question over his shoulder as if he meant to run away from the answer, and walking a step or two farther off when the interest of the dialogue culminates. So the group in the vicinity of the blacksmith’s door was by no means a close one, and formed no screen in front of Chad Cranage, the blacksmith himself, who stood with his black brawny arms folded, leaning against the door-post, and occasionally sending forth a bellowing laugh at his own jokes, giving them a marked preference over the sarcasms of Wiry Ben, who had renounced the pleasures of the Holly Bush for the sake of seeing life under a new form. But both styles of wit were treated with equal contempt by Mr. Joshua Rann. Mr. Rann’s leathern apron and subdued griminess can leave no one in any doubt that he is the village shoemaker; the thrusting out of his chin and stomach and the twirling of his thumbs are more subtle indications, intended to prepare unwary strangers for the discovery that they are in the presence of the parish clerk. “Old Joshway,” as he is irreverently called by his neighbours, is in a state of simmering indignation; but he has not yet opened his lips except to say, in a resounding bass undertone, like the tuning of a violoncello, “Sehon, King of the Amorites; for His mercy endureth for ever; and Og the King of Basan: for His mercy endureth for ever”— a quotation which may seem to have slight bearing on the present occasion, but, as with every other anomaly, adequate knowledge will show it to be a natural sequence. Mr. Rann was inwardly maintaining the dignity of the Church in the face of this scandalous irruption of Methodism, and as that dignity was bound up with his own sonorous utterance of the responses, his argument naturally suggested a quotation from the psalm he had read the last Sunday afternoon.

The stronger curiosity of the women had drawn them quite to the edge of the Green, where they could examine more closely the Quakerlike costume and odd deportment of the female Methodists. Underneath the maple there was a small cart, which had been brought from the wheelwright’s to serve as a pulpit, and round this a couple of benches and a few chairs had been placed. Some of the Methodists were resting on these, with their eyes closed, as if wrapt in prayer or meditation. Others chose to continue standing, and had turned their faces towards the villagers with a look of melancholy compassion, which was highly amusing to Bessy Cranage, the blacksmith’s buxom daughter, known to her neighbours as Chad’s Bess, who wondered “why the folks war amakin’ faces a that’ns.” Chad’s Bess was the object of peculiar compassion, because her hair, being turned back under a cap which was set at the top of her head, exposed to view an ornament of which she was much prouder than of her red cheeks — namely, a pair of large round ear-rings with false garnets in them, ornaments condemned not only by the Methodists, but by her own cousin and namesake Timothy’s Bess, who, with much cousinly feeling, often wished “them ear- rings” might come to good.

Timothy’s Bess, though retaining her maiden appellation among her familiars, had long been the wife of Sandy Jim, and possessed a handsome set of matronly jewels, of which it is enough to mention the heavy baby she was rocking in her arms, and the sturdy fellow of five in kneebreeches, and red legs, who had a rusty milk-can round his neck by way of drum, and was very carefully avoided by Chad’s small terrier. This young olive-branch, notorious under the name of Timothy’s Bess’s Ben, being of an inquiring disposition, unchecked by any false modesty, had advanced beyond the group of women and children, and was walking round the Methodists, looking up in their faces with his mouth wide open, and beating his stick against the milk-can by way of musical accompaniment. But one of the elderly women bending down to take him by the shoulder, with an air of grave remonstrance, Timothy’s Bess’s Ben first kicked out vigorously, then took to his heels and sought refuge behind his father’s legs.

“Ye gallows young dog,” said Sandy Jim, with some paternal pride, “if ye donna keep that stick quiet, I’ll tek it from ye. What dy’e mane by kickin’ foulks?”

“Here! Gie him here to me, Jim,” said Chad Cranage; “I’ll tie hirs up an’ shoe him as I do th’ hosses. Well, Mester Casson,” he continued, as that personage sauntered up towards the group of men, “how are ye t’ naight? Are ye coom t’ help groon? They say folks allays groon when they’re hearkenin’ to th’ Methodys, as if they war bad i’ th’ inside. I mane to groon as loud as your cow did th’ other naight, an’ then the praicher ’ull think I’m i’ th’ raight way.”

“I’d advise you not to be up to no nonsense, Chad,” said Mr. Casson, with some dignity; “Poyser wouldn’t like to hear as his wife’s niece was treated any ways disrespectful, for all he mayn’t be fond of her taking on herself to preach.”

“Aye, an’ she’s a pleasant-looked un too,” said Wiry Ben. “I’ll stick up for the pretty women preachin’; I know they’d persuade me over a deal sooner nor th’ ugly men. I shouldna wonder if I turn Methody afore the night’s out, an’ begin to coort the preacher, like Seth Bede.”

“Why, Seth’s looking rether too high, I should think,” said Mr. Casson. “This woman’s kin wouldn’t like her to demean herself to a common carpenter.”

“Tchu!” said Ben, with a long treble intonation, “what’s folks’s kin got to do wi’t? Not a chip. Poyser’s wife may turn her nose up an’ forget bygones, but this Dinah Morris, they tell me, ’s as poor as iver she was — works at a mill, an’s much ado to keep hersen. A strappin’ young carpenter as is a ready-made Methody, like Seth, wouldna be a bad match for her. Why, Poysers make as big a fuss wi’ Adam Bede as if he war a nevvy o’ their own.”

“Idle talk! idle talk!” said Mr. Joshua Rann. “Adam an’ Seth’s two men; you wunna fit them two wi’ the same last.”

“Maybe,” said Wiry Ben, contemptuously, “but Seth’s the lad for me, though he war a Methody twice o’er. I’m fair beat wi’ Seth, for I’ve been teasin’ him iver sin’ we’ve been workin’ together, an’ he bears me no more malice nor a lamb. An’ he’s a stout- hearted feller too, for when we saw the old tree all afire a- comin’ across the fields one night, an’ we thought as it war a boguy, Seth made no more ado, but he up to’t as bold as a constable. Why, there he comes out o’ Will Maskery’s; an’ there’s Will hisself, lookin’ as meek as if he couldna knock a nail o’ the head for fear o’ hurtin’t. An’ there’s the pretty preacher woman! My eye, she’s got her bonnet off. I mun go a bit nearer.”

Several of the men followed Ben’s lead, and the traveller pushed his horse on to the Green, as Dinah walked rather quickly and in advance of her companions towards the cart under the maple-tree. While she was near Seth’s tall figure, she looked short, but when she had mounted the cart, and was away from all comparison, she seemed above the middle height of woman, though in reality she did not exceed it — an effect which was due to the slimness of her figure and the simple line of her black stuff dress. The stranger was struck with surprise as he saw her approach and mount the cart — surprise, not so much at the feminine delicacy of her appearance, as at the total absence of self-consciousness in her demeanour. He had made up his mind to see her advance with a measured step and a demure solemnity of countenance; he had felt sure that her face would be mantled with the smile of conscious saintship, or else charged with denunciatory bitterness. He knew but two types of Methodist — the ecstatic and the bilious. But Dinah walked as simply as if she were going to market, and seemed as unconscious of her outward appearance as a little boy: there was no blush, no tremulousness, which said, “I know you think me a pretty woman, too young to preach”; no casting up or down of the eyelids, no compression of the lips, no attitude of the arms that said, “But you must think of me as a saint.” She held no book in her ungloved hands, but let them hang down lightly crossed before her, as she stood and turned her grey eyes on the people. There was no keenness in the eyes; they seemed rather to be shedding love than making observations; they had the liquid look which tells that the mind is full of what it has to give out, rather than impressed by external objects. She stood with her left hand towards the descending sun, and leafy boughs screened her from its rays; but in this sober light the delicate colouring of her face seemed to gather a calm vividness, like flowers at evening. It was a small oval face, of a uniform transparent whiteness, with an egglike line of cheek and chin, a full but firm mouth, a delicate nostril, and a low perpendicular brow, surmounted by a rising arch of parting between smooth locks of pale reddish hair. The hair was drawn straight back behind the ears, and covered, except for an inch or two above the brow, by a net Quaker cap. The eyebrows, of the same colour as the hair, were perfectly horizontal and firmly pencilled; the eyelashes, though no darker, were long and abundant — nothing was left blurred or unfinished. It was one of those faces that make one think of white flowers with light touches of colour on their pure petals. The eyes had no peculiar beauty, beyond that of expression; they looked so simple, so candid, so gravely loving, that no accusing scowl, no light sneer could help melting away before their glance. Joshua Rann gave a long cough, as if he were clearing his throat in order to come to a new understanding with himself; Chad Cranage lifted up his leather skull-cap and scratched his head; and Wiry Ben wondered how Seth had the pluck to think of courting her.

“A sweet woman,” the stranger said to himself, “but surely nature never meant her for a preacher.”

Perhaps he was one of those who think that nature has theatrical properties and, with the considerate view of facilitating art and psychology, “makes up,” her characters, so that there may be no mistake about them. But Dinah began to speak.

“Dear friends,” she said in a clear but not loud voice “let us pray for a blessing.”

She closed her eyes, and hanging her head down a little continued in the same moderate tone, as if speaking to some one quite near her: “Saviour of sinners! When a poor woman laden with sins, went out to the well to draw water, she found Thee sitting at the well. She knew Thee not; she had not sought Thee; her mind was dark; her life was unholy. But Thou didst speak to her, Thou didst teach her, Thou didst show her that her life lay open before Thee, and yet Thou wast ready to give her that blessing which she had never sought. Jesus, Thou art in the midst of us, and Thou knowest all men: if there is any here like that poor woman — if their minds are dark, their lives unholy — if they have come out not seeking Thee, not desiring to be taught; deal with them according to the free mercy which Thou didst show to her Speak to them, Lord, open their ears to my message, bring their sins to their minds, and make them thirst for that salvation which Thou art ready to give.

“Lord, Thou art with Thy people still: they see Thee in the night- watches, and their hearts burn within them as Thou talkest with them by the way. And Thou art near to those who have not known Thee: open their eyes that they may see Thee — see Thee weeping over them, and saying ‘Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life’— see Thee hanging on the cross and saying, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’— see Thee as Thou wilt come again in Thy glory to judge them at the last. Amen.”

Dinah opened her eyes again and paused, looking at the group of villagers, who were now gathered rather more closely on her right hand.

“Dear friends,” she began, raising her voice a little, “you have all of you been to church, and I think you must have heard the clergyman read these words: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.’ Jesus Christ spoke those words — he said he came TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. I don’t know whether you ever thought about those words much, but I will tell you when I remember first hearing them. It was on just such a sort of evening as this, when I was a little girl, and my aunt as brought me up took me to hear a good man preach out of doors, just as we are here. I remember his face well: he was a very old man, and had very long white hair; his voice was very soft and beautiful, not like any voice I had ever heard before. I was a little girl and scarcely knew anything, and this old man seemed to me such a different sort of a man from anybody I had ever seen before that I thought he had perhaps come down from the sky to preach to us, and I said, ‘Aunt, will he go back to the sky to-night, like the picture in the Bible?’

“That man of God was Mr. Wesley, who spent his life in doing what our blessed Lord did — preaching the Gospel to the poor — and he entered into his rest eight years ago. I came to know more about him years after, but I was a foolish thoughtless child then, and I remembered only one thing he told us in his sermon. He told us as ‘Gospel’ meant ‘good news.’ The Gospel, you know, is what the Bible tells us about God.

“Think of that now! Jesus Christ did really come down from heaven, as I, like a silly child, thought Mr. Wesley did; and what he came down for was to tell good news about God to the poor. Why, you and me, dear friends, are poor. We have been brought up in poor cottages and have been reared on oat-cake, and lived coarse; and we haven’t been to school much, nor read books, and we don’t know much about anything but what happens just round us. We are just the sort of people that want to hear good news. For when anybody’s well off, they don’t much mind about hearing news from distant parts; but if a poor man or woman’s in trouble and has hard work to make out a living, they like to have a letter to tell ’em they’ve got a friend as will help ’em. To be sure, we can’t help knowing something about God, even if we’ve never heard the Gospel, the good news that our Saviour brought us. For we know everything comes from God: don’t you say almost every day, ‘This and that will happen, please God,’ and ‘We shall begin to cut the grass soon, please God to send us a little more sunshine’? We know very well we are altogether in the hands of God. We didn’t bring ourselves into the world, we can’t keep ourselves alive while we’re sleeping; the daylight, and the wind, and the corn, and the cows to give us milk — everything we have comes from God. And he gave us our souls and put love between parents and children, and husband and wife. But is that as much as we want to know about God? We see he is great and mighty, and can do what he will: we are lost, as if we was struggling in great waters, when we try to think of him.

“But perhaps doubts come into your mind like this: Can God take much notice of us poor people? Perhaps he only made the world for the great and the wise and the rich. It doesn’t cost him much to give us our little handful of victual and bit of clothing; but how do we know he cares for us any more than we care for the worms and things in the garden, so as we rear our carrots and onions? Will God take care of us when we die? And has he any comfort for us when we are lame and sick and helpless? Perhaps, too, he is angry with us; else why does the blight come, and the bad harvests, and the fever, and all sorts of pain and trouble? For our life is full of trouble, and if God sends us good, he seems to send bad too. How is it? How is it?

“Ah, dear friends, we are in sad want of good news about God; and what does other good news signify if we haven’t that? For everything else comes to an end, and when we die we leave it all. But God lasts when everything else is gone. What shall we do if he is not our friend?”

Then Dinah told how the good news had been brought, and how the mind of God towards the poor had been made manifest in the life of Jesus, dwelling on its lowliness and its acts of mercy.

“So you see, dear friends,” she went on, “Jesus spent his time almost all in doing good to poor people; he preached out of doors to them, and he made friends of poor workmen, and taught them and took pains with them. Not but what he did good to the rich too, for he was full of love to all men, only he saw as the poor were more in want of his help. So he cured the lame and the sick and the blind, and he worked miracles to feed the hungry because, he said, he was sorry for them; and he was very kind to the little children and comforted those who had lost their friends; and he spoke very tenderly to poor sinners that were sorry for their sins.

“Ah, wouldn’t you love such a man if you saw him — if he were here in this village? What a kind heart he must have! What a friend he would be to go to in trouble! How pleasant it must be to be taught by him.

“Well, dear friends, who WAS this man? Was he only a good man — a very good man, and no more — like our dear Mr. Wesley, who has been taken from us? . . . He was the Son of God —’in the image of the Father,’ the Bible says; that means, just like God, who is the beginning and end of all things — the God we want to know about. So then, all the love that Jesus showed to the poor is the same love that God has for us. We can understand what Jesus felt, because he came in a body like ours and spoke words such as we speak to each other. We were afraid to think what God was before — the God who made the world and the sky and the thunder and lightning. We could never see him; we could only see the things he had made; and some of these things was very terrible, so as we might well tremble when we thought of him. But our blessed Saviour has showed us what God is in a way us poor ignorant people can understand; he has showed us what God’s heart is, what are his feelings towards us.

“But let us see a little more about what Jesus came on earth for. Another time he said, ‘I came to seek and to save that which was lost’; and another time, ‘I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’

“The LOST! . . . SINNERS! . . . Ah, dear friends, does that mean you and me?”

Hitherto the traveller had been chained to the spot against his will by the charm of Dinah’s mellow treble tones, which had a variety of modulation like that of a fine instrument touched with the unconscious skill of musical instinct. The simple things she said seemed like novelties, as a melody strikes us with a new feeling when we hear it sung by the pure voice of a boyish chorister; the quiet depth of conviction with which she spoke seemed in itself an evidence for the truth of her message. He saw that she had thoroughly arrested her hearers. The villagers had pressed nearer to her, and there was no longer anything but grave attention on all faces. She spoke slowly, though quite fluently, often pausing after a question, or before any transition of ideas. There was no change of attitude, no gesture; the effect of her speech was produced entirely by the inflections of her voice, and when she came to the question, “Will God take care of us when we die?” she uttered it in such a tone of plaintive appeal that the tears came into some of the hardest eyes. The stranger had ceased to doubt, as he had done at the first glance, that she could fix the attention of her rougher hearers, but still he wondered whether she could have that power of rousing their more violent emotions, which must surely be a necessary seal of her vocation as a Methodist preacher, until she came to the words, “Lost! — Sinners!” when there was a great change in her voice and manner. She had made a long pause before the exclamation, and the pause seemed to be filled by agitating thoughts that showed themselves in her features. Her pale face became paler; the circles under her eyes deepened, as they did when tears half-gather without falling; and the mild loving eyes took an expression of appalled pity, as if she had suddenly discerned a destroying angel hovering over the heads of the people. Her voice became deep and muffled, but there was still no gesture. Nothing could be less like the ordinary type of the Ranter than Dinah. She was not preaching as she heard others preach, but speaking directly from her own emotions and under the inspiration of her own simple faith.

But now she had entered into a new current of feeling. Her manner became less calm, her utterance more rapid and agitated, as she tried to bring home to the people their guilt their wilful darkness, their state of disobedience to God — as she dwelt on the hatefulness of sin, the Divine holiness, and the sufferings of the Saviour, by which a way had been opened for their salvation. At last it seemed as if, in her yearning desire to reclaim the lost sheep, she could not be satisfied by addressing her hearers as a body. She appealed first to one and then to another, beseeching them with tears to turn to God while there was yet time; painting to them the desolation of their souls, lost in sin, feeding on the husks of this miserable world, far away from God their Father; and then the love of the Saviour, who was waiting and watching for their return.

There was many a responsive sigh and groan from her fellow- Methodists, but the village mind does not easily take fire, and a little smouldering vague anxiety that might easily die out again was the utmost effect Dinah’s preaching had wrought in them at present. Yet no one had retired, except the children and “old Feyther Taft,” who being too deaf to catch many words, had some time ago gone back to his inglenook. Wiry Ben was feeling very uncomfortable, and almost wishing he had not come to hear Dinah; he thought what she said would haunt him somehow. Yet he couldn’t help liking to look at her and listen to her, though he dreaded every moment that she would fix her eyes on him and address him in particular. She had already addressed Sandy Jim, who was now holding the baby to relieve his wife, and the big soft-hearted man had rubbed away some tears with his fist, with a confused intention of being a better fellow, going less to the Holly Bush down by the Stone-pits, and cleaning himself more regularly of a Sunday.

In front of Sandy Jim stood Chad’s Bess, who had shown an unwonted quietude and fixity of attention ever since Dinah had begun to speak. Not that the matter of the discourse had arrested her at once, for she was lost in a puzzling speculation as to what pleasure and satisfaction there could be in life to a young woman who wore a cap like Dinah’s. Giving up this inquiry in despair, she took to studying Dinah’s nose, eyes, mouth, and hair, and wondering whether it was better to have such a sort of pale face as that, or fat red cheeks and round black eyes like her own. But gradually the influence of the general gravity told upon her, and she became conscious of what Dinah was saying. The gentle tones, the loving persuasion, did not touch her, but when the more severe appeals came she began to be frightened. Poor Bessy had always been considered a naughty girl; she was conscious of it; if it was necessary to be very good, it was clear she must be in a bad way. She couldn’t find her places at church as Sally Rann could, she had often been tittering when she “curcheyed” to Mr. Irwine; and these religious deficiencies were accompanied by a corresponding slackness in the minor morals, for Bessy belonged unquestionably to that unsoaped lazy class of feminine characters with whom you may venture to “eat an egg, an apple, or a nut.” All this she was generally conscious of, and hitherto had not been greatly ashamed of it. But now she began to feel very much as if the constable had come to take her up and carry her before the justice for some undefined offence. She had a terrified sense that God, whom she had always thought of as very far off, was very near to her, and that Jesus was close by looking at her, though she could not see him. For Dinah had that belief in visible manifestations of Jesus, which is common among the Methodists, and she communicated it irresistibly to her hearers: she made them feel that he was among them bodily, and might at any moment show himself to them in some way that would strike anguish and penitence into their hearts.

“See!” she exclaimed, turning to the left, with her eyes fixed on a point above the heads of the people. “See where our blessed Lord stands and weeps and stretches out his arms towards you. Hear what he says: ‘How often would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ . . . and ye would not,” she repeated, in a tone of pleading reproach, turning her eyes on the people again. “See the print of the nails on his dear hands and feet. It is your sins that made them! Ah! How pale and worn he looks! He has gone through all that great agony in the garden, when his soul was exceeding sorrowful even unto death, and the great drops of sweat fell like blood to the ground. They spat upon him and buffeted him, they scourged him, they mocked him, they laid the heavy cross on his bruised shoulders. Then they nailed him up. Ah, what pain! His lips are parched with thirst, and they mock him still in this great agony; yet with those parched lips he prays for them, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ Then a horror of great darkness fell upon him, and he felt what sinners feel when they are for ever shut out from God. That was the last drop in the cup of bitterness. ‘My God, my God!’ he cries, ‘why hast Thou forsaken me?’

“All this he bore for you! For you — and you never think of him; for you — and you turn your backs on him; you don’t care what he has gone through for you. Yet he is not weary of toiling for you: he has risen from the dead, he is praying for you at the right hand of God —’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ And he is upon this earth too; he is among us; he is there close to you now; I see his wounded body and his look of love.”

Here Dinah turned to Bessy Cranage, whose bonny youth and evident vanity had touched her with pity.

“Poor child! Poor child! He is beseeching you, and you don’t listen to him. You think of ear-rings and fine gowns and caps, and you never think of the Saviour who died to save your precious soul. Your cheeks will be shrivelled one day, your hair will be grey, your poor body will be thin and tottering! Then you will begin to feel that your soul is not saved; then you will have to stand before God dressed in your sins, in your evil tempers and vain thoughts. And Jesus, who stands ready to help you now, won’t help you then; because you won’t have him to be your Saviour, he will be your judge. Now he looks at you with love and mercy and says, ‘Come to me that you may have life’; then he will turn away from you, and say, ‘Depart from me into ever-lasting fire!’”

Poor Bessy’s wide-open black eyes began to fill with tears, her great red cheeks and lips became quite pale, and her face was distorted like a little child’s before a burst of crying.

“Ah, poor blind child!” Dinah went on, “think if it should happen to you as it once happened to a servant of God in the days of her vanity. SHE thought of her lace caps and saved all her money to buy ’em; she thought nothing about how she might get a clean heart and a right spirit — she only wanted to have better lace than other girls. And one day when she put her new cap on and looked in the glass, she saw a bleeding Face crowned with thorns. That face is looking at you now”— here Dinah pointed to a spot close in front of Bessy —”Ah, tear off those follies! Cast them away from you, as if they were stinging adders. They ARE stinging you — they are poisoning your soul — they are dragging you down into a dark bottomless pit, where you will sink for ever, and for ever, and for ever, further away from light and God.”

Bessy could bear it no longer: a great terror was upon her, and wrenching her ear-rings from her ears, she threw them down before her, sobbing aloud. Her father, Chad, frightened lest he should be “laid hold on” too, this impression on the rebellious Bess striking him as nothing less than a miracle, walked hastily away and began to work at his anvil by way of reassuring himself. “Folks mun ha’ hoss-shoes, praichin’ or no praichin’: the divil canna lay hould o’ me for that,” he muttered to himself.

But now Dinah began to tell of the joys that were in store for the penitent, and to describe in her simple way the divine peace and love with which the soul of the believer is filled — how the sense of God’s love turns poverty into riches and satisfies the soul so that no uneasy desire vexes it, no fear alarms it: how, at last, the very temptation to sin is extinguished, and heaven is begun upon earth, because no cloud passes between the soul and God, who is its eternal sun.

“Dear friends,” she said at last, “brothers and sisters, whom I love as those for whom my Lord has died, believe me, I know what this great blessedness is; and because I know it, I want you to have it too. I am poor, like you: I have to get my living with my hands; but no lord nor lady can be so happy as me, if they haven’t got the love of God in their souls. Think what it is — not to hate anything but sin; to be full of love to every creature; to be frightened at nothing; to be sure that all things will turn to good; not to mind pain, because it is our Father’s will; to know that nothing — no, not if the earth was to be burnt up, or the waters come and drown us — nothing could part us from God who loves us, and who fills our souls with peace and joy, because we are sure that whatever he wills is holy, just, and good.

“Dear friends, come and take this blessedness; it is offered to you; it is the good news that Jesus came to preach to the poor. It is not like the riches of this world, so that the more one gets the less the rest can have. God is without end; his love is without end —

Its streams the whole creation reach,

So plenteous is the store;

Enough for all, enough for each,

Enough for evermore.

Dinah had been speaking at least an hour, and the reddening light of the parting day seemed to give a solemn emphasis to her closing words. The stranger, who had been interested in the course of her sermon as if it had been the development of a drama — for there is this sort of fascination in all sincere unpremeditated eloquence, which opens to one the inward drama of the speaker’s emotions — now turned his horse aside and pursued his way, while Dinah said, “Let us sing a little, dear friends”; and as he was still winding down the slope, the voices of the Methodists reached him, rising and falling in that strange blending of exultation and sadness which belongs to the cadence of a hymn.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/e/eliot/george/e42a/chapter2.html

Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:42