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HOME > Short Stories > Ten Degrees Backward > CHAPTER XXIII THE PEACE OF GOD
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I awoke one morning with a strange feeling that something wonderful had happened during the night: and as my mind gradually cleared, I realised what that something was.

I had forgiven Frank Wildacre.

Or, rather, I had come to the knowledge that there was nothing to forgive: that the man whose insensate folly had spoilt my life and Fay\'s was not Frank at all, but myself.

But the result was the same. After nearly three years of the outer darkness I had come once more into the light: I was at peace with Man and therefore with God: and that seemed to be all that signified.

On myself I had no mercy. I could not forgive myself—I cannot forgive myself now—I never shall forgive myself. But that was a matter of no moment. Self-pardon is never the way of salvation. I knew—how I knew I cannot tell, but I did know it—that God had forgiven me: I believed from the depths of my heart that Fay, with the more perfect comprehension of those who are already on the Other Side, had forgiven me also: therefore my self-condemnation was no bar across the path of life, but rather a healthy and permanent discipline of the soul.

With a joy beyond all earthly joy I rose and dressed and went out into the hazy autumn morning. It was Sunday: and as I stood in the grey mist which still lay over everything and which shrouded the garden and the fields from my view, I heard the church-bell ringing for the eight o\'clock Celebration. And for the first time for more than two years that bell called to me, and bade me come and take my place at the Eucharistic Feast: for at last I was in love and charity with all men, and intended to lead a new life.

I answered the Call and entered the Church which was hallowed by the worship of centuries: and there I made my confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling upon my knees, as the pilgrims had knelt there ages and ages before me. And as in lowly adoration I partook of the Blessed Food Which Christ Himself had ordained, I thereby received Him into my heart by faith: and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, once more filled my heart and mind with the knowledge and love of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ.

And so I began life over again in that autumn morning in Restham Church, at the beginning of the Great War.

I did not see Frank when I came home after the Service was over, as he never came down to breakfast: but as I sat at my solitary meal I knew no loneliness: the glory of the Great Reconciliation was about me still.

After breakfast Jeavons came to me in a somewhat deprecating manner.

"I am sorry to trouble you, Sir Reginald," he began, "and I told Maggie Pearson so, but she wouldn\'t take no, and begged me to come and give you her message."

Maggie Pearson was the daughter of one of my keepers—a respectable man with a tidy wife and a large family.

"And what was her message?" I asked.

Jeavons still appeared confused. "I really did my best, Sir Reginald, to make her understand that you\'d given up all that sort of thing and never went in for it now, finding it more or less uncertain, as you might say, and out of the usual course of events, and so not altogether to be depended upon; and that she\'d much better stick to the doctor and not trouble you, Mr. Wildacre being laid up in the house, and you with enough on your hands as it is. But she went on crying, and said her mother\'d never forgive her if she didn\'t give you the message."

I felt that such unaccustomed loquacity was a sign of serious mental disturbance on the part of Jeavons. He was generally so very brief and to the point.

"Well, what was the message?" I repeated, with (I cannot help thinking) commendable patience.

"Well, Sir Reginald, begging your pardon, the fact is that Mrs. Pearson\'s baby is dying of brownchitis or pewmonia or some other disease connected with its teething, and nothing will satisfy her but that you should come and lay your hands on it, like as was your custom at one time, having outgrown it since. I told Maggie as how you had given up the habit long ago, which she said her mother knew: but all the same, Mrs. Pearson still persisted that she was sure you could cure the baby if you tried, which was just like her obstinacy, and to my thinking a great impertinence."

"Have they had the doctor, do you know?" I asked.

"Yes, Sir Reginald, and he can\'t do nothing more than what he has done, he says, and he is afraid the child will die. Though what they wants with that extra child at all, beats me, having six besides, and none too much food for them all, with the dreadful war sending up the prices of everything."

For two years now I had refused all the villagers\' requests that I would exercise my gift of healing upon them, as I knew, alas! that the gift was no longer mine: and they had gradually ceased to proffer these requests. Therefore it struck me as noteworthy that on the very day when, as the old theologists put it, I had "found peace," I should be asked to exercise this lost power once more. It seemed to be one of those wonderful instances of direct Interposition which we of this faithless and perverse generation disguise under the pseudonym of "remarkable coincidences."

"Tell Maggie that I will come at once," I said.

And Jeavons accordingly departed, leaving behind him an atmosphere of respectful disapproval and regret. Anything bordering on the unusual—let alone the miraculous—filled my excellent butler with horror and dismay.

When I am tempted—as indeed I often am, and frequently successfully—to despise those Jeavons-like souls who delight to burrow in the commonplace whenever the light of the supernatural shows above the horizon, I remind myself of the first Order that was given after the dread gates of death had been flung open and the ruler\'s little daughter had come through them back to life. He Who had performed the stupendous miracle did not take this unique opportunity of preaching a sermon to the company assembled in the house of mourning, with His Own Action as the text: on the contrary "He commanded that something should be given her to eat."

How joyfully those who had laughed Him to scorn when He contradicted their conventional assumption that death was the final ending—laughed, doubtless with the uncomfortable, mocking laughter of all materially minded people when confronted with things undreamed of in their smug philosophy—must have hurried to lay the table and prepare the meal, and perform all the trivial little duties which form the essence of the normal and the commonplace. How relieved they must have felt to find themselves once more in the ordinary routine of everyday existence!

And I like to think that it was then His turn to smile—He Who knew them so well, and remembered that they were but dust; yet the dust wherein He had clothed Himself in order to identify Himself with them. But I am sure that in His smile there was no scorn. He knew what they needed, and He supplied all their need.

Obedient to the Call which had come to me, I went through the village, hardly conscious of any volition on my own part. I had merged my will in another\'s, and had no longer any desire to act on my own initiative. It is a strange feeling, this absolute surrender of self, and brings with it that peace which the world can never give nor take away.

Still as in a dream I entered the cottage at the far end of the village, and found Mrs. Pearson rocking in her arms her dying child; the other children hanging round, all more or less in a state of tears.

"Good-morning, Mrs. Pearson," I said, when Maggie had ushered me into the midst of the weeping group. "I have come because you sent for me."

"And right thankful I am to you, Sir Reginald," replied the poor woman: "I says to myself, when the doctor give my baby up, \'If anybody can save her, Sir Reginald can.\'"

"I will do what I can," I said, "but it is years now since I have had the power to heal anybody. I lost it when her ladyship went away."............
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