Imagine God and Man set down together to play that game of chess that we call life. The one player is a master, the other a bungling amateur, so the outcome of the game cannot be in question. The amateur has free will, he does what he pleases, for it was he who chose to set up his will against that of the master in the first place; he throws the whole board into confusion time and again and by his foolishness delays the orderly ending of it all for countless generations, but every stupid move of his is dealt with by a masterly counterstroke, and slowly but inexorably the game sweeps on to the master's victory. But, mind you, the game could not move on at all without the full complement of pieces; Kings, Queens, Bishops, Knights, Pawns; the master does not lose sight of a single one of them.
Though her head was aching too much for her to reason with herself, she could think of nice things - the Cumberland hills, her lambs, her Nannie, who had taught her this trick of detachment. "When you're sick or sorry, child" she had said, "think of other things as much as you are able. It's just practice, Start young and you'll get the trick of it." And most astonishingly, after a little while of going back to childhood and remembering Nannie in her blue print dress, with her white apron on and her sleeves rolled up, turning on the bath-water and humming a little song as she did it, she fell asleep.
In one life only had the fighting, the healing, the teaching, the praying, and the suffering held equal and perfect place, and that life could never on earth be lived again. For some dying men, he thought, there would have been comfort in the old belief that a soul comes back to earth again and again, the fighter returning to pray and the teacher to heal. Once he had half believed that himself, but now he could not. Once only had the perfect life been focused in a human body. He had not returned. Why should we? The Word now taught and healed, fought and suffered, through the yielded wills of other men.
One morning, waking out of deep sleep, she had, like James Anderson a few hours ago, humbly recognized her knowledge, and known herself mistaken until now, and a follower of the path of least resistance. For unbelief was easier than belief, much less demanding and subtly flattering because the agnostic felt himself to be intellectually superior to the believer. And then unbelief haunted by faith, as she knew by experience, produced a rather pleasant nostalgia, while belief haunted by doubt involved real suffering; that she knew now by intuition, soon probably she would know it by experience also. One had to be haunted by one or the other, she imagined, and to make the choice if only subconsciously. She was ashamed that subconsciously she had chosen not to suffer.
She knew when people were happy, whether they laughed or not. Indeed at eight years old she knew already that laughter was not always a sign of happiness. Sometimes when people were completely quiet there came to her that wonderful sense of well being, and her taut nerves relaxed in peace. But there was the other side of the picture. When others were wretched, even though hiddenly so, she was strung up and anguished. A child still, she knew nothing of herself. She did not understand the reason for the deep alternations of mood that afflicted her, and could not know yet how acceptance of the change from well-being to its opposite, offered for those who suffered, could serve them. That supreme usefulness to which her awareness of the needs of others would eventually lead her was a long way in the future, and before she found the bare cell there would be the desert of ineffectiveness to cross, for she was one whose fear and reserve would make it hard for her to have the normal happy traffic with her fellow human beings.
The Eliots found it a queer sort of evening - a transition evening. Hitherto the Herb of Grace had been to them a summer home; they had known it only permeated with sun and light, flower-scented, windows and doors open wide. But now doors were shut, curtains drawn to hide the sad, grey dusk. Instead of the lap of the water against the river wall they heard the whisper of the flames, and instead of the flowers in the garden they smelt the roasting chestnuts, burning apple logs, the oil lamps, polish - all the home smells. This intimacy with the house was deepening; when winter came it would be deeper still. Nadine glanced over her shoulder at the firelight gleaming upon the dark wood of the panelling, at the shadows gathering in the corners, and marvelled to see how the old place seemed to have shrunk in size with the shutting out of the daylight. It seemed gathering them in, holding them close.