CHAPTER I. SONG.
CHAPTER II. THE CURATE AND HIS WIFE.
CHAPTER III. THE SHADOWS.
CHAPTER IV. THE EVENING AT THE CURATE'S.
CHAPTER V. PERCY AND HIS MOTHER.
CHAPTER VI. THE BROKEN SWORDS.
CHAPTER VII. MY UNCLE PETER.
I CONFESS I was a little dismayed to find what a solemn turn the
club-stories had taken. But this dismay lasted for a moment only; for I
saw that Adela was deeply interested, again wearing the look that
indicates abstracted thought and feeling. I said to myself:
"This is very different mental fare from what you have been used
But she seemed able to mark, learn, and inwardly digest it, for she
had the appearance of one who is stilled by the strange newness of her
thoughts. I was sure that she was now experiencing a consciousness of
existence quite different from anything she had known before. But it
had a curious outcome.
For, when the silence began to grow painful, no one daring to ask a
question, and Mrs. Cathcart had resumed her knitting, Adela suddenly
rose, and going to the piano, struck a few chords, and began to sing.
The song was one of Heine's strange, ghost-dreams, so unreal in
everything but feeling, and therefore, as dreams, so true. Why did she
choose such a song after what we had been listening to? I accounted for
it by the supposition that, being but poorly provided as far as variety
in music went, this was the only thing suggested to her by the tone of
the paper, and, therefore, the nearest she could come to it. It served,
however, to make a change and a transition; which was, as I thought,
very desirable, lest any of the company should be scared from attending
the club; and I resolved that I would divert the current, next time, if
This was what Adela sang; and the singing of it was evidently a
relief to her:
I dreamt of the daughter of a king,
With a cheek white, wet, and chill;
Under the limes we sat murmuring,
And holding each other so still!
"Oh! not thy father's sceptre of gold,
Nor yet his shining throne,
Nor his diamond crown that glitters cold-
'Tis thyself I want, my own!"
"Oh! that is too good," she answered me;
"I lie in the grave all day;
And only at night I come to thee,
For I cannot keep away."
It was something that she had volunteered a song, whatever it was.
But it is a misfortune that, in writing a book, one cannot give the
music of a song. Perhaps, by the time that music has its fair part in
education, this may be done. But, meantime, we mention the fact of a
song, and then give the words, as if that were the song. The music is
the song, and the words are no more than the saddle on which the music
sits, the singer being the horse, who could do without a saddle well
enough.-May Adela forgive the comparison!-At the same time, a true-word
song has music of its own, and is quite independent, for its music,
both of that which it may beget, and of that with which it may be
As she rose, she glanced towards the doctor, and said:
"Now it is your turn, Mr. Armstrong."
Harry did not wait for a second invitation; for to sing was to him
evidently a pleasure too great to be put in jeopardy. He rose at once,
and sitting down at the instrument, sang-I cannot say as follows, you
see; I can only say the following words:
Autumn clouds are flying, flying,
O'er the waste of blue;
Summer flowers are dying, dying,
Late so lovely new.
Labouring wains are slowly rolling
Home with winter grain;
Holy bells are slowly tolling
Over buried men.
Goldener lights set noon a-sleeping
Like an afternoon;
Colder airs come stealing, creeping
After sun and moon;
And the leaves, all tired of blowing
Cloudlike o'er the sun,
Change to sunset-colours, knowing
That their day is done.
Autumn's sun is sinking, sinking
Into Winter's night;
And our hearts are thinking, thinking
Of the cold and blight.
Our life's sun is slowly going
Down the hill of might;
Will our clouds shine golden-glowing
On the slope of night?
But the vanished corn is lying
In rich golden glooms.
In the churchyard, all the singing
Is above the tombs.
Spring will come, slow-lingering,
Opening buds of faith.
Man goes forth to meet his spring,
Through the door of death.
So we love, with no less loving,
Hair that turns to grey;
Or a step less lightly moving
In life's autumn day.
And if thought, still-brooding, lingers
O'er each bygone thing,
'Tis because old Autumn's fingers
Paint in hues of Spring.
The whole tone of this song was practical and true, and so was
fitted to correct the unhealthiness of imagination which might have
been suspected in the choice of the preceding. "Words and music," I
said to myself, "must here have come from the same hand; for they are
one utterance. There is no setting of words to music here; but the
words have brought their own music with them; and the music has brought
its own words."
As Harry rose from the piano-forte, he said to me gaily:
"Now, Mr. Smith, it is your turn. I know when you sing, it will be
something worth listening to."
"Indeed, I hope so," I answered. "But the song-hour has not yet
come to me. How good you all ought to be who can sing! I feel as if my
heart would break with delight, if I could sing; and yet there is not a
sparrow on the housetop that cannot sing a better song than I."
"Your hour will come," said the clergyman, solemnly. "Then you will
sing, and all we shall listen. There is no inborn longing that shall
not be fulfilled. I think that is as certain as the forgiveness of
sins. Meantime, while your singing-robes are making, I will take your
place with my song, if Miss Cathcart will allow me."
"Do, please," said Adela, very heartily; "we shall all be
The clergyman sang, and sang even better than his brother. And
these were the words of his song:
The Mother Mary to the infant Jesus.
'Tis time to sleep, my little boy;
Why gaze they bright eyes so?
At night, earth's children, for new joy,
Home to thy Father go.
But thou art wakeful. Sleep, my child;
The moon and stars are gone;
The wind and snow they grow more wild,
And thou art smiling on.
My child, thou hast immortal eyes,
That see by their own light;
They see the innocent blood-it lies
Red-glowing through the night.
Through wind and storm unto thine ear
Cry after cry doth run;
And yet thou seemest not to hear,
And only smilest on.
When first thou camest to the earth,
All sounds of strife were still;
A silence lay around thy birth,
And thou didst sleep thy fill.
Why sleep'st thou-nay, why weep'st thou not?
Thy earth is woe-begone;
Babies and mothers wail their lot,
And still thou smilest on.
I read thine eyes like holy book;
No strife is pictured there;
Upon thy face I see the look
Of one who answers prayer.
Ah, yes!-Thine eyes, beyond this wild,
Behold God's will well done;
Men's songs thine ears are hearing, child;
And so thou smilest on.
The prodigals arise and go,
And God goes forth to meet;
Thou seest them gather, weeping low,
About the Father's feet.
And for their brothers men must bear,
Till all are homeward gone.
O Eyes, ye see my answered prayer!
Smile, Son of God, smile on.
As soon as the vibrations of this song, I do not mean on the chords
of the instrument, but in the echo-caves of our bosoms, had ceased, I
turned to the doctor and said:
"Are you ready with your story yet, Mr. Henry?"
"Oh, dear no!" he answered-"not for days. I am not an idle man like
you, Mr. Smith. I belong to the labouring class."
I knew that he could not have it ready.
"Well," I said, "if our friends have no objection, I will give you
another myself next time."
"Oh! thank you, uncle," said Adela.-"Another fairy tale, please."
"I can't promise you another fairy-tale just yet, but I can promise
you something equally absurd, if that will do."
"Oh yes! Anything you like, uncle. I, for one, am sure to like what
"Thank you, my dear. Now I will go; for I see the doctor waiting to
have a word with you."
The company took their leave, and the doctor was not two minutes
behind them; for as I went up to my room, after asking the curate when
I might call upon him, I saw him come out of the drawing-room and go
"Monday evening, then," I had heard the colonel say, as he followed
his guests to the hall.
AS I approached the door of the little house in which the curate
had so lately taken up his abode, he saw me from the window, and before
I had had time to knock, he had opened the door.
"Come in," he said. "I saw you coming. Come to my den, and we will
have a pipe together."
"I have brought some of my favourite cigars," I said, "and I want
you to try them."
"With all my heart."
The room to which he led me was small, but disfigured with no
offensive tidiness. Not a spot of wall was to be seen for books, and
yet there were not many books after all. We sat for some minutes
enjoying the fragrance of the western incense, without other communion
than that of the clouds we were blowing, and what I gathered from the
walls. For I am old enough, as I have already confessed, to be getting
long-sighted, and I made use of the gift in reading the names of the
curate's books, as I had read those of his brother's. They were mostly
books of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with a large
admixture from the nineteenth, and more than the usual proportion of
the German classics; though, strange to say, not a single volume of
German Theology could I discover. The curate was the first to break the
"I find this a very painful cigar," he said, with a half laugh.
"I am sorry you don't like it. Try another."
"The cigar is magnificent."
"Isn't it thoroughfare, then?"
"Oh yes! the cigar's all right. I haven't smoked such a cigar for
more than ten years; and that's the reason."
"I wish I had known you seven years, Mr. Armstrong."
"You have known me a hundred and seven."
"Then I have a right to---- "
"Poke my fire as much as you please."
And as Mr. Armstrong said so, he poked his own chest, to signify
the symbolism of his words.
"Then I should like to know something of your early
history-something to account for the fact that a man like you, at your
time of life, is only a curate."
"I can do all that, and account for the pain your cigar gives me,
in one and the same story."
I sat full of expectation.
"You won't find me long-winded, I hope."
"No fear of that. Begin directly. I adjure you by our friendship of
a hundred years."
"My father was a clergyman before me; one of those simple-hearted
men who think that to be good and kind is the first step towards doing
God's work; but who are too modest, too ignorant, and sometimes too
indolent to aspire to any second step, or even to inquire what the
second step may be. The poor in his parish loved him and preyed upon
him. He gave and gave, even after he had no more that he had a right to
"He was not by any means a rich man, although he had a little
property besides his benefice; but he managed to send me to Oxford.
Inheriting, as I suspect, a little tendency to extravagance; having at
least no love of money except for what it would bring; and seeing how
easily money might be raised there for need true or false, I gradually
learned to think less and less of the burdens grievous to be borne,
which a subjection to Mammon will accumulate on the shoulders of the
unsuspecting ass. I think the old man of the sea in Sindbad the Sailor,
must personify debt. At least I have found reason to think so. At the
same time I wish I had done nothing worse than run into debt. Yet by
far the greater part of it was incurred for the sake of having works of
art about me. Of course pictures were out of the question; but good
engravings and casts were within the reach of a borrower. At least it
was not for the sake of whip-handles and trowsers, that I fell into the
clutches of Moses Melchizedek, for that was the name of the devil to
whom I betrayed my soul for money. Emulation, however, mingled with the
love of art; and I must confess too, that cigars costs me money as well
as pictures; and as I have already hinted, there was worse behind. But
some things we can only speak to God about.
"I shall never forget the oily face of the villain-may God save
him, and then he'll be no villain!-as he first hinted that he would
lend me any money I might want, upon certain insignificant conditions,
such as signing for a hundred and fifty, where I should receive only a
hundred. The sunrise of the future glowed so golden, that it seemed to
me the easiest thing in the world to pay my debts there. Here, there
was what I wanted, cigars and all. There, there must be gold, else
whence the hue? I could pay all my debts in the future, with the utmost
ease. How was no matter. I borrowed and borrowed. I flattered myself,
besides, that in the things I bought I held money's worth; which , in
the main, would have been true, if I had been a dealer in such things;
but a mere owner can seldom get the worth of what he possesses,
especially when he cannot choose but sell, and has no choice of his
market. So when, horrified at last with the filth of the refuge into
which I had run to escape the bare walls of heaven, I sold off
everything but a few of my pet books"-here he glanced lovingly round
his humble study, where shone no glories of print or cast-"which I
ought to have sold as well, I found myself still a thousand pounds in
"Now although I had never had a thousand pounds from Melchizedek, I
had known perfectly well what I was about. I had been deluded, but not
cheated; and in my deep I saw yet a lower depth, into which I would not
fall-for then I felt I should be lost indeed-that of in any way
repudiating my debts. But what was to be done I had no idea.
"I had studied for the church, and I now took holy orders. I had a
few pounds a year from my mother's property, which all went in
part-payment of the interest of my debt, I dared not trouble my father
with any communication on the subject of my embarrassment, for I knew
that he could not help me, and that the impossibility of doing so would
make him more unhappy than the wrong I had done in involving myself. I
seized the first offer of a curacy that presented itself. Its
emoluments were just one hundred pounds a-year, of which I had not to
return twenty pounds, as some curates have had to do. Out of this I had
to pay one half, in interest for the thousand pounds. On the other
half, and the trifle my mother allowed me, I contrived to live.
"But the debt continued undiminished. It lay upon me as a mountain
might crush a little Titan. There was no cracking frost, no cutting
stream, to wear away, by slowest trituration, that mountain of folly
and wickedness. But what I suffered most from was the fact, that I must
seem to the poor of my parish unsympathetic and unkind. For although I
still managed to give away a little, it seemed to me such a small
shabby sum, every time that I drew my hand from my pocket, in which
perhaps I had left still less, that it was with a positive feeling of
shame that I offered it. There was no high generosity in this. It was
mostly selfish-the effect of the transmission of my father's blind
benevolence, working as an impulse in me. But it made me wretched. Add
to this a feeling of hypocrisy, in the knowledge that I, the dispenser
of sacred things to the people, was myself the slave of a money-lending
Jew, and you will easily see how my life could not be to me the reality
which it must be, for any true and healthy action, to every man. In a
word, I felt that I was humbug. As to my preaching, that could not have
had much reality in it of any kind, for I had no experience yet of the
relation of Christian Faith to Christian Action. In fact, I regarded
them as separable-not merely as distinguishable, in the necessity which
our human nature, itself an analysis of the divine, has for analysing
itself. I respected everything connected with my profession, which I
regarded as in itself eminently respectable; but, then, it was only the
profession I respected, and I was only doing church at best. I have
since altered my opinion about the profession, as such; and while I
love my work with all my heart, I do not care to think about its
worldly relations at all. The honour is to be a servant of men, whom
God thought worth making, worth allowing to sin, and worth helping out
of it at such a cost. But as far as regards the profession, is it a
manly kind of work, to put on a white gown once a week, and read out of
a book; and then put on a black gown, and read out of a paper you
bought or wrote; all about certain old time-honoured legends which have
some influence in keeping the common people on their good behaviour, by
promising them happiness after they are dead, if they are respectable,
and everlasting torture if they are blackguards? Is it manly?"
"You are scarcely fair to the profession even as such, Mr.
Armstrong," I said.
"That's what I feel about it," he answered. "Look here," he went
on, holding out a brawny right arm, with muscles like a
prize-fighter's, "they may laugh at what, by a happy hit, they have
called muscular christianity-I for one don't object to being laughed
at-but I ask you, is that work fit for a man to whom God has given an
arm like that? I declare to you, Smith, I would rather work in the
docks, and leave the churching to the softs and dandies; for then I
should be able to respect myself as giving work for my bread, instead
of drawing so many pounds a-year for talking goody to old wives and
sentimental young ladies;-for over men who are worth anything, such a
man has no influence. God forbid that I should be disrespectful to old
women, or even sentimental young ladies! They are worth serving with a
man's whole heart, but not worth pampering. I am speaking of the
profession as professed by a mere clergyman-one in whom the
"But you can't use those splendid muscles of yours in the church."
"But I can give up the use of them for something better and nobler.
They indicate work; but if I can do real spiritual instead of corporeal
work, I rise in the scale. I sacrifice my thews on the altar of my
faith. But by the mere clergyman, there is no work done to correspond-I
do not say to his capacity for work-but to the capacity for work
indicated by such a frame as mine-work of some sort, if not of the
higher poetic order, then of the lower porter-sort. But if there be a
living God, who is doing all he can to save men, to make them pure and
noble and high, humble and loving and true, to make them live the life
he cares to live himself; if he has revealed and is revealing this to
men, and needs for his purpose the work of their fellow-men, who have
already seen and known this purpose, surely there is no nobler office
than that of a parson; for to him is committed the grand work of
letting men see the thoughts of God, and the work of God-in a word, of
telling the story of Jesus, so that men shall see how true it is for
now, how beautiful it is for ever; and recognize it as in fact the
story of God. Then a clergyman has simply to be more of a man than
other men; whereas if he be but a clergyman, he is less of a man than
any other man who does honestly the work he has to do, whether he be
farm-labourer, shoemaker, or shopkeeper. For such a work, a man may
well pine in a dungeon, or starve in a curacy; yea, for such a work, a
man will endure the burden of having to dispense the wealth of a
bishopric after a divine fashion."
"But your story?" I said at last, unwilling as I was to interrupt
"Yes. This brings me back to it. Here was I starving for no high
principle, only for the common-place one of paying my debts; and paying
my debts out of the church's money too, for which, scanty as it was, I
gave wretched labour-reading prayers as neatly as I could, and
preaching sermons half evangelical, half scholastic, of the most unreal
and uninteresting sort; feeling all the time hypocritical, as I have
already said; and without the farthest prospect of deliverance.
"Then I fell in love."
"Worse and worse!"
"So it seemed; but so it wasn't-like a great many things. At all
events, she's down stairs now, busy at a baby's frock, I believe; God
bless her! Lizzie is the daughter of a lieutenant in the army, who died
before I knew her. She was living with her mother and elder sister, on
a very scanty income, in the village where I had the good fortune to be
the unhappy curate. I believe I was too unhappy to make myself
agreeable to the few young ladies of my congregation, which is
generally considered one of the first duties of a curate, in order, no
doubt, to secure their co-operation in his charitable schemes; and
certainly I do not think I received any great attention from
them-certainly not from Lizzie. I thought she pitied and rather
despised me. I don't know whether she did, but I still suspect it. I am
thankful to say I have no ground for thinking she does now. But we have
been through a kind of a moderate burning fiery furnace together, and
that brings out the sense, and burns out the nonsense, in both men and
women. Not that Lizzie had much nonsense to be burned out of her, as
you will soon see.
"I had often been fool enough to wonder that, while she was most
attentive and devout during the reading of the service, her face
assumed, during the sermon, a far off look of abstraction, that
indicated no reception of what I said, further than as an influence of
soporific quality. I felt that there was re-proof in this. In fact, it
roused my conscience yet more, and made me doubt whether there was
anything genuine in me at all. Sometimes I felt as if I really could
not go on, but must shut up my poor manuscript, which was 'an
ill-favoured thing, sir, but mine own,' and come down from the pulpit,
and beg Miss Lizzie Payton's pardon for presuming to read it in her
presence. At length that something, or rather want of something, in her
quiet unregarding eyes, aroused a certain opposition, ambition,
indignation in me. I strove to write better, and to do better
generally. Every good sentence, I launched at her-I don't quite know
whether I aimed at her heart or her head-I fear the latter; but I know
that I looked after my arrow with a hurried glance, to see whether it
had reached the mark. Seldom, however, did I find that my bow had had
the strength to arouse Miss Lizzie from the somniculose condition
which, in my bitterness, I attributed to her. Since then I have
frequently tried to bring home to her the charge, and wring from her
the confession that, occasionally, just occasionally, she was really
overpowered by the weather. But she has never admitted more than one
such lapse, which, happening in a hard frost, and the church being no
warmer than condescension, she wickedly remarked must have been owing,
not to the weight of the atmosphere, but the weight of something else.
At length, in my anxiety for self-justification, I persuaded myself
that her behaviour was a sign of spiritual insensibility; that she
needed conversion; that she looked with contempt from the far-off
table-lands of the Broad church, or the dizzy pinnacles of snow-clad
Puseyism, upon the humble efforts of one who followed in the footsteps
of the first fishers of men-for such I tried, in my self-protection, to
"One day, I happened to meet her in a retired lane near the
village. She was carrying a jug in her hand.
"'How do you do, Miss Lizzie? A labour of love?' I said, ass that I
"'Yes,' she answered; 'I've been over to Farmer Dale's, to fetch
some cream for mamma's tea.'
"She knew well enough I had meant a ministration to the poor.
"'Oh! I beg your pardon,' I rejoined; 'I thought you had been round
"This was wicked; for I knew quite well that she had no district.
"'No,' she answered, 'I leave that to my sister. Mamma is my
district. And do you know, her headaches are as painful as any
"This shut me up rather; but I plucked up courage presently.
"'You don't seem to like going to church, Miss Lizzie.'
"Her face flushed.
"'Who dares to say so? I am very regular in my attendance.'
"'Not a doubt of it. But you don't enjoy being there.'
"'Confess, now.-You don't like my sermons.'
"'Do you like them yourself, Mr. Armstrong?'
"Here was a floorer! Did I like them myself?-I really couldn't
honestly say I did. I was not greatly interested in them, further than
as they were my own, and my best attempts to say something about
something I knew nothing about. I was silent. She stood looking at me
out of clear grey eyes.
"'Now you have begun this conversation, Mr. Armstrong, I will go on
with it,' she said, at length. 'It was not of my seeking.-I do not
think you believe what you say in the pulpit.'
"Not believe what I said! Did I believe what I said? Or did I only
believe that it was to be believed? The tables were turned with a
vengeance. Here was the lay lamb, attacked and about to be worried by
the wolf clerical, turning and driving the said wolf to bay. I stood
and felt like a convicted criminal before the grey eyes of my judge.
And somehow or other I did not hate those clear pools of light. They
were very beautiful. But not one word could I find to say for myself. I
stood and looked at her, and I fear I began to twitch at my neck cloth,
with a vague instinct that I had better go and hang myself. I stared
and stared, and no doubt got as red as a turkey-cock-till it began to
be very embarrassing indeed. What refuge could there be from one who
spoke the truth so plainly? And how do you think I got out of it?"
asked Mr. Armstrong of me, John Smith, who, as he told the story, felt
almost in as great confusion and misery as the narrator must have been
in at that time, although now he looked amazingly jolly, and breathed
away at his cigar with the slow exhalations of an epicure.
"Mortal cannot tell," I answered.
"One mortal can," rejoined he, with a laugh.-"I fell on my knees,
and made speechless love to her."
Here came a pause. The countenance of the broad-church-man changed
as if a lovely summer cloud had passed over it. The jolly air vanished,
and he looked very solemn for a little while.
"There was no coxcombry in it, Smith. I may say that for myself. It
was the simplest and truest thing I ever did in my life. How was I to
help it? There stood the visible truth before me, looking out of the
woman's grey eyes. What was I to do? I thank God, I have never seen the
truth plain before me, let it look ever so ghostly, without rushing at
it. All my advances have been by a sudden act-to me like an
inspiration;-an act done in terror, almost, lest I should stop and
think about it, and fail to do it. And here was no ghost, but a
woman-angel, whose Thou art the man was spoken out of profundities of
sweetness and truth. Could I turn my back upon her? Could I parley with
her?-with the Truth? No. I fell on my knees, weeping like a child; for
all my misery, all my sense of bondage and untruth, broke from me in
"My hat had fallen off as I knelt. My head was bowed on my hands. I
felt as if she could save me. I dared not look up. She tells me since
that she was bewildered and frightened, but I discovered nothing of
that. At length I felt a light pressure, a touch of healing, fall on my
bended head. It was her hand. Still I hid my face, for I was ashamed
"'Come,' she said, in a low voice, which I dare say she compelled
to be firm; 'come with me into the Westland Woods. There we can talk.
Some one may come this way.'
"She has told me since that a kind of revelation came to her at the
moment; a sight not of the future but of the fact; and that this lifted
her high above every feeling of mere propriety, substituting for it a
conviction of right. She felt that God had given this man to her; and
she no more hesitated to ask me to go with her into the woods, than she
would hesitate to go with me now if I asked her. And indeed if she had
not done so, I don't know what would have come of it-how the story
would have ended. I believe I should be kneeling there now, a whitened
skeleton, to the terror and warning of all false churchmen who should
pass through the lonely lane.
"I rose at once, like an obedient child, and turned in the
direction of the Westland Woods, feeling that she was by my side, but
not yet daring to look at her.-Now there are few men to whom I would
tell the trifle that followed. It was a trifle as to the outside of it;
but it is amazing what virtue, in the old meaning of the word, may lie
in a trifle. The recognition of virtue is at the root of all magical
spells, and amulets, and talismans. Mind, I felt from the first that
you and I would understand each other."
"You rejoice my heart," I said.
"Well, the first thing I had to do, as you may suppose, to make me
fit to look at her, was to wipe my eyes. I put my hand in my pocket;
then my first hand in the breast pocket; then the other hand in the
other pocket; and the slow-dawning awful truth became apparent, that
here was a great brute of a curate, who had been crying like a baby,
and had no handkerchief. A moment of keen despair followed-chased away
by a vision of hope, in the shape of a little white cloud between me
and the green grass. This cloud floated over a lady's hand, and was in
fact a delicate handkerchief. I took it, and brought it to my eyes,
which gratefully acknowledged the comfort. And the scent of the
lavender-not lavender water, but the lavender itself, that puts you in
mind of country churches, and old bibles, and dusky low-ceiled parlours
on Sunday afternoons-the scent of the lavender was so pure and sweet,
and lovely! It gave me courage.
"'May I keep it?' I asked
"'Yes. Keep it,' she answered.
"'Will you take my arm now?'
"For answer, she took my arm, and we entered the woods. It was a
summer afternoon. The sun had outflanked the thick clouds of leaves
that rendered the woods impregnable from overhead, and was now shining
in, a little sideways, with that slumberous light belonging to summer
afternoons, in which everything, mind and all, seems half asleep and
"'Let me carry the jug,' I said.
"'No,' she answered, with a light laugh; 'you would be sure to
spill the cream, and spoil both your coat and mamma's tea.'
"'Then put it down in this hollow till we come back.'
"'It would be full of flies and beetles in a moment. Besides we
won't come back this way, shall we? I can carry it quite well.
Gentlemen don't like carrying things.'
"I feared lest the tone the conversation had assumed, might lead me
away from the resolution I had formed while kneeling in the lane. So,
as usual with me, I rushed blindly on the performance.
"'Miss Lizzie, I am a hypocritical and unhappy wretch.'
"She looked up at me with a face full of compassionate sympathy. I
could have lost myself in that gaze. But I would not be turned from my
purpose, of which she had no design, though her look had almost the
power; and, the floodgates of speech once opened, out it came, the
whole confession I have made to you, in what form or manner, I found,
the very first time I looked back upon the relation, that I had quite
"All the time, the sun was sending ever so many sloping ladders of
light down through the trees, for there was a little mist rising that
afternoon; and I felt as if they were the same kind of ladder that
Jacob saw, inviting a man to climb up to the light and peace of God. I
felt as if upon them invisible angels were going up and down all
through the summer wood, and that the angels must love our woods as we
love their skies. And amidst the trees and the ladders of ether, we
walked, and I talked, and Lizzie listened to all I had to say, without
uttering a syllable till I had finished.
"At length, having disclosed my whole bondage and grief, I ended
with the question:
"'Now, what is to be done?'
"She looked up in my face with those eyes of truth, and said:
"'That money must be paid, Mr. Armstrong.'
"'But how?' I responded, in despair.
"She did not seem to heed my question, but she really answered it.
"'And, if I were you, I would do no more duty till it was paid.'
"Here was decision with a vengeance. It was more than I had
bargained for. I was dumb. A moment's reflection, however, showed me
that she was perfectly right-that what I had called decision with a
vengeance, was merely the utterance of a child's perception of the true
way to walk in.
"Still I was silent; for long vistas of duty, and loss, and painful
action and effort opened before me. At length I said:
"'You are quite right, Miss Lizzie.'
"'I wish I could pay it for you,' she rejoined, looking up in my
face with an expression of still tenderness, while the tears clouded
her eyes just as clouds of a deeper grey come over the grey depths of
some summer skies.
"'But you can help me to pay it.'
"'Love me,' I said, and no more. I could not.
"The only answer she made, was to look up at me once more, then
stop, and, turning towards me, draw herself gently against my side, as
she held my arm. It was enough-was it not?
"Love me, I said, and she did love me; and she's down stairs, as I
told you; and I think she is not unhappy."
"But you're not going to stop there," I said.
"No, I'm not.-That very evening I told the vicar that I must go. He
pressed for my reasons; but I managed to avoid giving a direct answer.
I begged him to set me at liberty as soon as possible, meaning, when he
should have provided himself with a substitute. But he took offence at
last, and told me I might go when I pleased; for he was quite able to
perform the duties himself. After this, I felt it would be unpleasant
for him as well as for me, if I remained, and so I took him at his
word. And right glad I was not to have to preach any more to Lizzie. It
was time for me to act instead of talk.
"But what was I to do?-The moment the idea of ceasing to do church
was entertained by me, the true notion of what I was to do instead
presented itself. It was this. I would apply to my cousin, the
accountant. He was an older man, considerably, than myself, and had
already made a fortune in his profession. We had been on very good
terms indeed, considering that he was a dissenter, and all but hated
the church; while, I fear, I quite despised dissenters. I had often
dined with him, and he had found out that I had a great turn for
figures, as he called it. Having always been fond of mathematics, I had
been able to assist him in arriving at a true conclusion on what had
been to him a knotty point connected with life-insurance; and
consequently he had a high opinion of my capacity in his department.
"I wrote to him, telling him I had resolved to go into business for
a time. I did not choose to enlighten him further; and I fear I fared
the better with him from his fancying that I must have begun to
entertain doubts concerning church-establishments. I had the cunning
not to ask him to employ me; for I thought it very likely he would
request my services, which would put me in a better position with him.
And it fell out as I had anticipated. He replied at once, offering me
one hundred and fifty pounds to begin, with the prospect of an annual
advance of twenty pounds, if, upon further trial, we both found the
arrangement to our minds. I knew him to be an honourable man, and
accepted the proposal at once. And I cannot tell how light-hearted I
felt as I folded up my canonicals, and put them in a box to be left,
for the meantime, in the charge of my landlady.
"I was troubled with no hesitation as to the propriety of the
proceeding. Of course I felt that if it had been mere money-making, a
clergyman ought to have had nothing to do with it; but I felt now, on
the other hand, that if any man was bound to pay his debts, a clergyman
was; in fact, that he could not do his duty till he had paid his debts;
and that the wrong was not in turning to business now, but in having
undertaken the office with a weight of filthy lucre on my back and my
conscience, which my pocket could never relieve them of. Any scruple
about the matter, I felt would be only superstition; that, in fact, it
was a course of action worthy of a man, and therefore of a clergyman. I
thought well enough of the church, too, to believe that every man of
any manliness in it, would say that I had done right. And, to tell the
truth, so long as Lizzie was satisfied with me, I did not care for
archdeacon, or bishop. I meant just to drop out of the ranks of the
clergy without sign, and keep my very existence as secret as possible,
until the moment I had achieved my end, when I would go to my bishop,
and tell him all, requesting to be reinstated in my sacred office.
There was only one puzzle in the affair, and that was how the act
towards Mrs. Payton in regard to her daughter's engagement to me. The
old lady was not gifted with much common sense, I knew; and I feared
both that she would be shocked at the idea, and that she would not keep
my secret. Of course I consulted Lizzie about it. She had been thinking
about it already, and had concluded that the best way would be for her
to tell her mother the fact of our engagement, and for me to write to
her from London that I did not intend taking a second charge for some
time yet; and so leave Lizzie to act for the rest as occasion might
demand. All this was very easily managed, and in the course of another
week, chiefly devoted to the Westland Woods, I found myself at a desk
in Cannon Street.
"And now began a real experience of life. I had resolved to regard
the money I earned as the ransom-money of the church, paid by her for
the redemption of an erring servant from the power of Mammon: I would
therefore spend upon myself not one penny more than could be helped.
With this view, and perhaps with a lurking notion of penance in some
corner of my stupid brain, I betook myself to a lodging house in Hatton
Garden, where I paid just three shillings a week for a bedroom, if that
could be called a room which was rather a box, divided from a dozen
others by partitions of seven or eight feet in height. I had, besides,
the use of a common room, with light and fire, and the use of a kitchen
for cooking my own victuals, if I required any, presided over by an old
man, who was rather dirtier than necessity could justify, or the amount
of assistance he rendered could excuse. But I managed to avoid this
region of the establishment, by both breakfasting and dining in
eating-houses, of which I soon found out the best and cheapest. It is
amazing upon how little a man with a good constitution, a good
conscience, and an object, can live in London. I lived and throve. My
bedroom, though as small as it could possibly have been, was clean,
with all its appointments; and for a penny a week additional, I had the
use of a few newspapers. The only luxuries I indulged in, besides one
pipe of bird's-eye a day, were writing verses, and teaching myself
German. This last led to some little extravagance, for I soon came to
buy German books at the bookstalls; but I thought the church would get
the advantage of it by and by; and so I justified myself in it. I
translated a great many German songs. Now and then you will hear my
brother sing one of them. He was the only one of my family who knew
where I lived. The others addressed their letters to my cousin's place
of business. My father was dreadfully cut up at my desertion of the
church, as he considered it. But I told my brother the whole story, and
he went home, as he declared, prouder of his big brother than if he had
been made a bishop of. I believe he soon comforted the dear old man, by
helping him to see the matter in its true light; and not one word of
reproach did I ever receive from his lips or his pen. He did his best
likewise to keep the whole affair a secret.
"But a thousand pounds with interest, was a dreadful sum. However,
I paid the interest and more than fifty pounds of the principal the
first year. One good thing was, I had plenty of clothes, and so could
go a long time without becoming too shabby for business. I repaired
them myself. I brushed my own boots. Occasionally I washed my own
"But it was rather dreadful to think of the years that must pass
before I could be clear, before I could marry Lizzie, before I could
open my mouth again to utter truths which I now began to see, and which
grew dearer to me than existence itself. As to Lizzie, I comforted
myself by thinking that it did not matter much whether we were married
or not-we loved each other; and that was all that made marriage itself
a good thing, and we had the good thing as it was. We corresponded
regularly, and I need not say that this took a great many hours from
German and other luxuries, and made the things I did not like, much
easier to bear.
"I am not stoic enough to be able to say that the baseness and
meanness of things about me gave me no discomfort. In my father's
house, I had been used to a little simple luxury, for he liked to be
comfortable himself, and could not be so, unless he saw every one
comfortable about him as well. At college, likewise, I had not thwarted
the tendency to self-indulgence, as my condition now but too plainly
testified. It will be clear enough to you, Mr. Smith, that there must
have been things connected with such a mode of life, exceedingly
distasteful to one who had the habits of a gentleman; but it was not
the circumstances so much as the companions of my location, that bred
me discomfort. The people who shared the same roof with me, I felt
bound to acknowledge as so sharing, although at first it was difficult
to know how to behave to them, and their conduct sometimes caused me
excessive annoyance. They were of all births and breedings, but almost
all of them, like myself, under a cloud. It was not much that I had to
associate with them; but even while glancing at a paper before going up
to my room, for I allowed myself no time for that at the office, I
could not help occasionally hearing language which disgusted me to the
back-bone, and made me say to myself, as I went slowly up the stairs,
'My sins have found me out, and I am in hell for them.' Then, as I sat
on the side of my bed in my stall, the vision of the past would come
before me in all its beauty-the Westland Woods, the open country, the
comfortable abode, and above all, the homely gracious old church, with
its atmosphere of ripe sacredness and age-long belief; for now I looked
upon that reading-desk, and that pulpit, with new eyes and new
thoughts, as I will presently try to show you. I had not really lost
them, in the sense in which I regarded them now, as types of a region
of possibly noble work; but even with their old aspect, they would have
seemed more honourable than this constant labour in figures from
morning to night, till I thought sometimes that the depth of punishment
would be to have to reckon to all eternity. But, as I have said, I had
my consolations-Lizzie's letters, my books, a walk to Hampstead Heath
on a holiday, an occasional peep into Goethe or Schiller on a bright
day in St. Lawrence Pountney church-yard, to which I managed to get
admittance; and, will you believe it? going to a city church on
Sundays. More of this anon. So that, if I was in hell for my sins, it
was at least not one of Swedenborg's hells. Never before did I
understand what yet I had always considered one of the most exquisite
sonnets I knew:
"Mourner, that dost deserve thy mournfulness,
Call thyself punished, call the earth thy hell;
Say, 'God is angry, and I earned it well;
'I would not have him smile and not redress.'
Say this, and straightway all thy grief grows less.
'God rules at least, I find, as prophets tell,
'And proves it in this prison.' Straight thy cell
Smiles with an unsuspected loveliness.
-'A prison-and yet from door and window-bar,
'I catch a thousand breaths of his sweet air;
'Even to me, his days and nights are fair;
'He shows me many a flower, and many a star;
'And though I mourn, and he is very far,
'He does not kill the hope that reaches there.'"
"Where did you get that wonderful sonnet?" I cried, hardly
interrupting him, for when he came to the end of it, he paused with a
"It is one of the stars of the higher heavens which I spied through
"Will you give me a copy of it?"
"With all my heart. It has never been in print."
"Then your star reminds me of that quaint simile of Henry Vaughan,
'If a star were confined into a tomb,
Her captive flames must needs burn there;
But when the hand that locked her up gives room,
She'll shine through all the sphere.'"
"Ah yes; I know the poem. That is about the worst verse in it,
"What a number of verses you know!"
"They stick to me somehow."
"Is the sonnet your own?"
"My dear fellow, how could I speak in praise of it as I do, if it
were my own? I would say 'I wish it were!' only that would be worse
selfishness than coveting a man's purse. No. It is not mine."
"Well, will you go on with your story-if you will yet oblige me."
"I will. But I fear you will think it strange that I should be so
communicative to one whose friendship I have so lately gained."
"I believe there is a fate in such things," I answered.
"Well, I yield to it-if I do not weary you?"
"Go on. There is positively not the least danger of that."
"Well, it was not to hell I was really sent, but to school-and that
not a fashionable boarding, or expensive public school, but a
day-school like a Scotch parish school-to learn the conditions and ways
and thoughts of my brothers and sisters.
"I soon got over the disgust I felt at the coarseness of the men I
met. Indeed I found amongst business-gentlemen what affected me with
the same kind of feeling-only perhaps more profoundly-a coarseness not
of the social so much as of the spiritual nature-in a word, genuine
selfishness; whereas this quality was rather less remarkable in those
who had less to be selfish about. I do not say therefore that they had
less of it.-I soon saw that their profanity had chiefly a negative
significance; but it was long before I could get sufficiently
accustomed to their vileness, their beastliness-I beg the beast's
pardon!-to keep from leaving the room when a vein of that sort was
opened. But I succeeded in schooling myself to bear it. 'For,' thought
I, 'there must be some bond-some ascertainable and recognizable bond
between these men and me; I mean some bond that might show itself as
such to them and me.' I found out, before long, that there was a
tolerably broad and visible one-nothing less than our human nature,
recognized as such. For by degrees I came to give myself to know them.
I sat and talked to them, smoked with them, gave them tobacco, lent
them small moneys, made them an occasional trifling present of some
article of dress, of which I had more than I wanted; in short, gained
their confidence. It was strange, but without any reproof from me,
nothing more direct than simple silence, they soon ceased to utter a
word that could offend me; and before long, I had heard many of their
histories. And what stories they were! Set any one to talk about
himself, instead of about other people, and you will have a seam of the
precious mental metal opened up to you at once; only ore, most likely,
that needs much smelting and refining; or it may be, not gold at all,
but a metal which your mental alchemy may turn into gold. The one thing
I learned was, that they and I were one, that our hearts were the same.
How often I exclaimed inwardly, as some new trait came to light, in the
words, though without the generalizing scorn, of Shakspere's
Timon-"More man!" Sometimes I was seized with a kind of horror,
beholding my own visage in the mirror which some poor wretch's story
held up to me-distorted perhaps by the flaws in the glass, but still
mine: I saw myself in other circumstances and under other influences,
and felt sometimes for a moment, as if I had been guilty of the very
deeds-more often of the very neglects that had brought my companion to
misery. I felt in the most solemn moods of reflection, that I might
have done all that, and become all that. I saw but myself, over and
over again, with wondrous variations, none sufficient to destroy the
identity. And I said to myself that, if I was so like them in all that
was undesirable, it must be possible for them to become like me in all,
whatever it was, that rendered me in any way superior to them.
"But wherein did this superiority consist? I saw that whatever it
was, I had little praise in it. I said, 'What have I done to be better
than I found myself? If Lizzie had not taken me in hand, I should not
have done even this. What an effort it would need for one of these
really to begin to rouse and raise himself! And what have I done to
rouse and raise myself, to whom it would surely be easier? And how can
I hope to help them to rise till I have risen myself? It is not enough
to be above them: only by the strength of my own rising can I help to
raise them, for we are bound together by one cord. Then how shall I
rise? Whose uprising shall lift me? On what cords shall I lay hold to
be heaved out of the pit?' And then I thought of the story of the Lord
of men, who arose by his own might, not alone from the body-tomb, but
from all the death and despair of humanity, and lifted with him our
race, placing their tomb beneath their feet, and them in the sunny hope
that belongs to them, and for which they were created-the air of their
own freedom. 'But,' I said to myself, 'this is ideal, and belongs to
the race. Before it comes true for the race, it must be done in the
individual. If it be true for the race, it can only be through its
being attainable by the individual. There must be something in the
story belonging to the individual. I will look at the individual
Christ, and see how he arose.'
"And then I saw that the Lord himself was clasped in the love of
the Father; that it was in the power of mighty communion that the daily
obedience was done; that besides the outward story of his devotion to
men, there was the inward story-actually revealed to us men, marvellous
as that is-the inward story of his devotion to his father; of his
speech to him; of his upward look; of his delight in giving up to Him.
And the answer to his prayers comes out in his deeds. As Novalis says:
'In solitude the heavenly heart unfolded itself to a flower-chalice of
almighty love, turned towards the high face of the Father.' I saw that
it was in virtue of this, that, again to use the words of Novalis, 'the
mystery was unsealed. Heavenly spirits heaved the aged stone from the
gloomy grave; angels sat by the slumberer, bodied forth, in delicate
forms, from his dreams. Waking in new God-glories, he clomb the height
of the new-born world; buried with his own hand the old corpse in the
forsaken cavern, and laid thereon, with almighty arm, the stone which
no might raises again. Yet weep thy beloved, tears of joy, and of
boundless thanks at thy grave; still ever, with fearful gladness,
behold thee arisen, and themselves with thee.' If then he is the
captain of our salvation, the head of the body of the human church, I
must rise by partaking in my degree of his food, by doing in my degree
his work. I fell on my knees and I prayed to the Father. I rose, and
bethinking me of the words of the Son, I went and tried to do them. I
need say no more to you. A new life awoke in me from that hour, feeble
and dim, but yet life; and often as it has stopped growing, that has
always been my own fault. Where it will end, thank God! I cannot tell.
But existence is an awful grandeur and delight.
"Then I understood the state of my fellowmen, with all their
ignorance, and hate, and revenge; some misled by passion, some blinded
by dulness, some turned monomaniacs from a fierce sense of injustice
done them; and I said, 'There is no way of helping them but by being
good to them, and making them trust me. But in every one of them there
lies a secret chamber, to which God has access from behind by a hidden
door; while they know nothing of this chamber; and the other door
towards their own consciousness, is hidden by darkness and wrong, and
ruin of all kinds. Sometimes they become dimly aware that there must be
such a door. Some of us search for it, find it, turn back aghast; while
God is standing behind the door waiting to be found, and ready to hold
forth the arms of eternal tenderness to him who will open and look.
Some of us have torn the door open, and, lo! there is the Father, at
the heart of us, at the heart of all things.' I saw that he was leading
these men through dark ways of disappointment and misery, the cure of
their own wrong-doing, to find this door and find him. But could
nothing be done to help them-to lead them? They, too, must learn of
Christ. Could they not be led to him? If He leads to the Father, could
not man lead to Him? True, he says that it is the leading of the Father
that brings to Him; for the Father is all in all; He fills and rounds
the cycle. But He leads by the hand of man. Then I said, 'Is not this
the work of the church?'
"And with this new test, I went to one church after another. And
the prayers were beautiful. And my soul was comforted by them. And the
troubles of the week sank back into the far distance, and God ruled in
London city. But how could such as I thought of, love these prayers, or
understand them? For them the voice of living man was needed. And
surely the spirit that dwelt in the Church never intended to make less
of the voice of a living man pleading with his fellow-men in his own
voice, than the voice of many people pleading with God in the words
which those who had gone to Him had left behind them. If the Spirit be
in the church, does it only pray? Yet almost as often as a man stood up
to preach, I knew again why Lizzie had paid no heed to me. All he said
had nothing to do with me or my wants. And if not with these, how could
they have any influence on the all but outcasts of the social order? I
justified Lizzie to the very full now; and I took refuge from the
inanity of the sermon in thinking about her faithfulness. And that
faithfulness was far beyond anything I knew yet.
"And now there awoke in me an earnest longing after the office I
had forsaken. Thoughts began to burn in me, and words to come unbidden,
till sometimes I had almost to restrain myself from rising from the pew
where I was seated, ascending the pulpit stairs, and requesting the man
who had nothing to say, to walk down, and allow me, who had something
to say, to take his place. Was this conceit? Considering what I was
listening to, it could not have been great conceit at least. But I did
restrain myself, for I thought an encounter with the police would be
unseemly, and my motives scarcely of weight in the court to which they
would lead me."
Here Mr. Armstrong relieved himself and me with a good laugh. I say
relieved me, for his speech had held me in a state of tension such as
to be almost painful.
"But I looked to the future in hope," he went on,-"if ever I might
be counted worthy to resume the labour I had righteously abandoned;
having had the rightness confirmed by the light I had received in
carrying out the deed."
His voice here sank as to a natural pause, and I thought he was
going to end his story.
"Tell me something more," I said.
"Oh!" returned he, "as far as story is concerned, the best of it is
to come yet.-About six months after I was fairly settled in London, I
was riding in an omnibus, a rare enough accommodation with me, in the
dusk of an afternoon. I was going out to Fulham to dine with my cousin,
as I was sometimes forced to do. He was a good-hearted man, but-in
short, I did not find him interesting. I would have preferred talking
to a man who had barely escaped the gallows or the hulks. My cousin
never did anything plainly wicked, and consequently never repented of
anything. He thought no harm of being petty and unfair. He would not
have taken a farthing that was not his own, but if he could get the
better of you in an argument, he did not care by what means. He would
put a wrong meaning on your words, that he might triumph over you,
knowing all the time it was not what you meant. He would say: 'Words
are words. I have nothing to do with your meanings. You may say you
mean anything you like.' I wish it had been his dissent that made him
such. But I won't say more about him, for I believe it is my chief
fault, as to my profession, that I find common-place people dreadfully
uninteresting; and I am afraid I don't always give them quite fair
play.-I had to dine with him, and so I got into an omnibus going along
the Strand. And I had not been long in it, before I began thinking
about Lizzie. That was not very surprising.
"Next to me, nearer the top of the omnibus, sat a young woman, with
a large brown paper parcel on her lap. She dropt it, and I picked it up
for her; but seeing that it incommoded her considerably, I offered to
hold it for her. She gave a kind of start when I addressed her, but
allowed me to take the parcel. I could not see her face, because she
was close to my side. But a strange feeling came over me, as if I was
sitting next to Lizzie. I indulged in the fancy not from any belief in
it, only for the pleasure of it. But it grew to a great desire to see
the young woman's face, and find whether or not she was at all like
Lizzie. I could not, however, succeed in getting a peep within her
bonnet; and so strong did the desire become, that, when the omnibus
stopped at the circus, and she rose to get out, I got out first,
without restoring the parcel, and stood to hand her out, and then give
it back. Not yet could I see her face; but she accepted my hand, and
with a thrill of amazement, I felt a pressure of mine, which surely
could be nobody's but Lizzie's. And it was Lizzie sure enough! I kept
the parcel; she put her arm in mine, and we crossed the street
together, without a word spoken.
"'Lizzie!' I said, when we got into a quieter part.
"'Ralph!' she said, and pressed closer to my side.
"'How did you come here?'
"'Ah! I couldn't escape you.'
"'How did you come here?' I repeated.
"'You did not think,' she answered, with a low musical laugh, 'that
I was going to send you away to work, and take no share in it myself!'
"And then out came the whole truth. As soon as I had left, she set
about finding a situation, for she was very clever with her needle and
scissors. Her mother could easily do without her, as her elder sister
was at home; and her absence would relieve their scanty means. She had
been more fortunate than she could have hoped, and had found a good
situation with a dressmaker in Bond Street. Her salary was not large,
but it was likely to increase, and she had nothing to pay for food or
lodging; while, like myself, she was well provided with clothes, and
had, besides, facilities for procuring more. And to make a long story
as short as now may be, there she remained in her situation as long as
I remained in mine; and every quarter she brought me all she could
spare of her salary for the Jew to gorge upon."
"And you took it?" I said, rather inadvertently.
"Took it! Yes. I took it-thankfully as I would the blessing of
heaven. To have refused it would have argued me unworthy of her. We
understood each other too well for anything else. She shortened my
purgatory by a whole year-my Lizzie! It is over now; but none of it
will be over to all eternity. She made a man of me."
A pause followed, as was natural, and neither spoke for some
moments. The ends of our cigars had been thrown away long ago, but I
did not think of offering another. At length I said, for the sake of
"And you met pretty often, I daresay?"
"Every Sunday at church."
"Of all places, the place where you ought to have met."
"It was. We met in a quiet old city church, where there was nothing
to attract us but the loneliness, the service, and the bones of
"And when you had achieved your end---- "
"It was but a means to an end. I went at once to a certain bishop;
told him the whole story, not in quite such a lengthy shape as I have
told it to you; and begged him to reinstate me in my office."
"And what did he say?"
"Nothing. The good man did not venture upon many words. He held out
his hand to me; shook mine warmly; and here I am, you see, curate of
St. Thomas's, Purleybridge, and husband of Lizzie Payton. Am I not a
"You are," I said, with emphasis, rising to take my leave. "But it
is too bad of me to occupy so much of your time on a Saturday."
"Don't be uneasy about that. I shall preach all the better for it."
As I passed the parlour door, it was open, and Lizzie was busy with
a baby's frock. I think I should have known it for one, even if I had
not been put on the scent. She nodded kindly to me as I passed out. I
knew she was not one of the demonstrative sort, else I should have been
troubled that she did not speak to me. I thought afterwards that she
suspected, from the sustained sound of her husband's voice, that he had
been telling his own story; and that therefore she preferred letting me
go away without speaking to me that morning.
"What a story for our club!" thought I. "Surely that would do Adela
But of course I saw at once that it would not do. I could not for a
moment wish that the curate should tell it. Yet I did wish that Adela
could know it. So I have written it now; and there it is, as nearly as
he told it, as I could manage to record it.
The next day was Sunday. And here is a part of the curate's sermon.
"My friends, I will give you a likeness, or a parable, which I
think will help you to understand what is the matter with you all. For
you all have something the matter with you; and most of you know this
to be the case; though you may not know what is the matter. And those
of you that feel nothing amiss are far the worst off. Indeed you are;
for how are things to be set right if you do not even know that there
is anything to be set right? There is the greatest danger of everything
growing much worse, before you find out that anything is wrong.
"But now for my parable.
"It is a cold winter forenoon, with the snow upon everything out of
doors. The mother has gone out for the day, and the children are
amusing themselves in the nursery-pretending to make such things as men
make. But there is one among them who joins in their amusement only by
fits and starts. He is pale and restless, yet inactive.-His mother is
away. True, he is not well. But he is not very unwell; and if she were
at home, he would take his share in everything that was going on, with
as much enjoyment as any of them. But as it is, his fretfulness and
pettishness make no allowance for the wilfulness of his brothers and
sisters; and so the confusions they make in the room, carry confusion
into his heart and brain; till at length a brighter noon entices the
others out into the snow.
"Glad to be left alone, he seats himself by the fire and tries to
read. But the book he was so delighted with yesterday, is dull to-day.
He looks up at the clock and sighs, and wishes his mother would come
home. Again he betakes himself to his book, and the story transports
his imagination to the great icebergs on the polar sea. But the
sunlight has left them, and they no longer gleam and glitter and
sparkle, as if spangled with all the jewels of the hot tropics, but
shine cold and threatening as they tower over the ice-bound ship. He
lays down the tale, and takes up a poem. But it too is frozen. The
rhythm will not flow. And the sad feeling arises in his heart, that it
is not so very beautiful, after all, as he had used to think it.
"'Is there anything beautiful?' says the poor boy at length, and
wanders to the window. But the sun is under a cloud; cold, white, and
cheerless, like death, lies the wide world out of doors; and the prints
of his mother's feet in the snow, all point towards the village, and
away from home. His head aches; and he cannot eat his dinner. He creeps
up stairs to his mother's room. There the fire burns bright, and
through the window falls a ray of sunlight. But the fire and the very
sunlight are wintry and sad. 'Oh, when will mother be home?' He lays
himself in a corner amongst soft pillows, and rests his head; but it is
no nest for him, for the covering wings are not there. The
bright-coloured curtains look dull and grey; and the clock on the
chimney-piece will not hasten its pace one second, but is very
monotonous and unfeeling. Poor child! Is there any joy in the world? Oh
yes; but it always clings to the mother, and follows her about like a
radiance, and she has taken it with her. Oh, when will she be home? The
clock strikes as if it meant something, and then straightway goes on
again with the old wearisome tic-tac.
"He can hardly bear it. The fire burns up within, daylight goes
down without; the near world fades into darkness; the far-off worlds
brighten and come forth, and look from the cold sky into the warm room;
and the boy stares at them from the couch, and watches the motion of
one of them, like the flight of a great golden beetle, against the
divisions of the window-frame. Of this, too, he grows weary. Everything
around him has lost its interest. Even the fire, which is like the soul
of the room, within whose depths he had so often watched for strange
forms and images of beauty and terror, has ceased to attract his tired
eyes. He turns his back to it, and sees only its flickerings on the
walls. To any one else, looking in from the cold frosty night, the room
would appear the very picture of afternoon comfort and warmth; and he,
if he were descried thus nestling in its softest, warmest nook, would
be counted a blessed child, without care, without fear, made for
enjoyment, and knowing only fruition. But the mother is gone; and as
that flame-lighted room would appear to the passing eye, without the
fire, and with but a single candle to thaw the surrounding darkness and
cold, so its that child's heart without the presence of the mother.
"Worn out at length with loneliness and mental want, he closes his
eyes, and after the slow lapse of a few more empty moments, re-opens
them on the dusky ceiling, and the grey twilight window; no-on two eyes
near above him, and beaming upon him, the stars of a higher and holier
heaven than that which still looks in through the unshaded windows.
They are the eyes of the mother, looking closely and anxiously on her
sick boy. 'Mother, mother!' His arms cling around her neck, and pull
down her face to his.
"His head aches still, but the heart-ache is gone. When candles are
brought, and the chill night is shut out of doors and windows, and the
children are all gathered around the tea-table, laughing and happy, no
one is happier, though he does not laugh, than the sick child, who lies
on the couch and looks at his mother. Everything around is full of
interest and use, glorified by the radiation of her presence. Nothing
can go wrong. The splendour returns to the tale and the poem. Sickness
cannot make him wretched. Now when he closes his eyes, his spirit dares
to go forth wandering under the shining stars and above the sparkling
snow; and nothing is any more dull and unbeautiful. When night draws
on, and he is laid in his bed, her voice sings him, and her hand
soothes him, to sleep; nor do her influences vanish when he forgets
everything in sleep; for he wakes in the morning well and happy, made
whole by his faith in his mother. A power has gone forth from her love
to heal and restore him.
"Brothers sisters! do I not know your hearts from my own?-sick
hearts, which nothing can restore to health and joy but the presence of
Him who is Father and Mother both in one. Sunshine is not gladness,
because you see him not. The stars are far away, because He is not
near; and the flowers, the smiles of old Earth, do not make you smile,
because, although, thank God! you cannot get rid of the child's need,
you have forgotten what it is the need of. The winter is dreary and
dull, because, although you have the homeliest of homes, the warmest of
shelters, the safest of nests to creep into and rest-though the most
cheerful of fires is blazing for you, and a table is spread, waiting to
refresh your frozen and weary hearts-you have forgot the way thither,
and will not be troubled to ask the way; you shiver with the cold and
the hunger, rather than arise you say, 'I will go to my Father;' you
will die in the storm rather than fight the storm; you will lie down in
the snow rather than tread it under foot. The heart within you cries
out for something, and you let it cry. It is crying for its God-for its
father and mother and home. And all the world will look dull and
grey-and it if does not look so now, the day will come when it must
look so-till your heart is satisfied and quieted with the known
presence of Him in whom we live and move and have our being."
IT was again my turn to read. I opened my manuscript and had just
opened my mouth as well, when I was arrested for a moment. For,
happening to glance to the other side of the room, I saw that Percy had
thrown himself at full length on a couch, opposite to that on which
Adela was seated, and was watching her face with all his eyes. But his
look did not express love so much as jealousy. Indeed I had seen small
sign of his being attached to her. If she had encouraged him, which
certainly she did not, I daresay his love might have come out; but I
presume that he had been comfortably content until now, when perhaps
some remark of his mother had made him fear a rival. Mischief of some
sort was evidently brewing. A human cloud, surcharging itself with
electric fire, lay swelling on the horizon of our little assembly; but
I did not anticipate much danger from any storm that could break from
such a quarter. I believed that as far as my good friend, the colonel,
was concerned, Adela might at least refuse whom she pleased. Whether
she might find herself at equal liberty to choose whom she pleased, was
a question that I was unprepared to answer. And I could not think about
it now. I had to read. So I gave out the title-and went on:
"Old Ralph Rinkelmann made his living by comic sketches, and all
but lost it again by tragic poems. So he was just the man to be chosen
king of the fairies, for in Fairy-land the sovereignty is elective."
"But, uncle," interrupted Adela, "you said it was not to be a
"Well, I don't think you will call it one, when you have heard it,"
I answered. "But I am not particular as to names. The fairies have not
much to do with it anyhow."
"I beg your pardon, uncle," rejoined my niece; and I went on.
"They did not mean to insist on his residence; for they needed his
presence only on special occasions. But they must get hold of him
somehow, first of all, in order to make him king. Once he was crowned,
they could get him as often as they pleased; but before this ceremony,
there was a difficulty. For it is only between life and death that the
fairies have power over grown-up mortals, and can carry them off to
their country. So they had to watch for an opportunity.
"Nor had they to wait long. For old Ralph was taken dreadfully ill;
and while hovering between life and death, they carried him off, and
crowned him king of Fairy-land. But after he was crowned, it was no
wonder, considering the state of his health, that he should not be able
to sit quite upright on the throne of Fairy-land; or that, in
consequence, all the gnomes and goblins, and ugly, cruel things that
live in the holes and corners of the kingdom, should take advantage of
his condition, and run quite wild, playing him, king as he was, all
sorts of tricks; crowding about his throne, climbing up the steps, and
actually scrambling and quarrelling like mice about his ears and eyes,
so that he could see and think of nothing else. But I am not going to
tell anything more about this part of his adventures just at present.
By strong and sustained efforts, he succeeded, after much trouble and
suffering, in reducing his rebellious subjects to order. They all
vanished to their respective holes and corners; and King Ralph, coming
to himself, found himself in his bed, half propped up with pillows.
"But the room was full of dark creatures, which gambolled about in
the firelight in such a strange, huge, but noiseless fashion, that he
thought at first that some of his rebellious goblins had not been
subdued with the rest, and had followed him beyond the bounds of
Fairy-land into his own private house in London. How else could these
mad, grotesque hippopotamus-calves make their ugly appearance in Ralph
Rinkelmann's bedroom? But he soon found out, that although they were
like the underground goblins, they were very different as well, and
would require quite different treatment. He felt convinced that they
were his subjects too, but that he must have overlooked them somehow at
his late coronation-if indeed they had been present; for he could not
recollect that he had seen anything just like them before. He resolved,
therefore, to pay particular attention to their habits, ways, and
characters; else he saw plainly that they would soon be too much for
him; as indeed this intrusion into this chamber, where Mrs. Rinkelmann,
who must be queen if he was king, sat taking some tea by the fire-side,
plainly indicated. But she, perceiving that he was looking about him
with a more composed expression than his face had worn for many days,
started up, and came quickly and quietly to his side, and her face was
bright with gladness. Whereupon the fire burned up more cheerily; and
the figures became more composed and respectful in their behaviour,
retreating towards the wall like well-trained attendants. Then the king
of Fairy-land had some tea and dry toast, and leaning back on his
pillows, nearly fell asleep; but not quite, for he still watched the
"Presently the queen left the room to give some of the young
princes and princesses their tea; and the fire burned lower; and
behold, the figures grew as black, and as mad in their gambols, as
ever! Their favourite games seemed to be Hide and Seek; Touch and Go;
Grin and Vanish; and many other such; and all in the king's
bed-chamber, too; so that it was quite alarming. It was almost as bad
as if the house had been haunted by certain creatures, which shall be
nameless in a fairy-story, because with them fairy-land will not
willingly have much to do.
"'But it is a mercy that they have their slippers on!' said the
king to himself; for his head ached.
"As he lay back, with his eyes half-shut and half-open, too tired
to pay longer attention to their games, but, on the whole, considerably
more amused than offended with the liberties they took, for they seemed
good-natured creatures, and more frolicsome than positively
ill-mannered, he became suddenly aware that two of them had stepped
forward from the walls, upon which, after the manner of great spiders,
most of them preferred sprawling, and now stood in the middle of the
floor, at the foot of his majesty's bed, becking, and bowing, and
ducking in the most grotesquely obsequious manner; while every now and
then they turned solemnly round upon one heel, evidently considering
that motion the highest token of homage they could show.
"'What do you want?' said the king.
"'That it may please your majesty to be better acquainted with us,'
answered they. 'We are your majesty's subjects.'
"'I know you are: I shall be most happy,' answered the king.
"'We are not what your majesty takes us for, though. We are not so
foolish as your majesty thinks us.'
"'It is impossible to take you for anything that I know of,'
rejoined the king, who wished to make them talk, and said whatever came
uppermost;-'for soldiers, sailors, or anything: you will not stand
still long enough. I suppose you really belong to the fire-brigade; at
least, you keep putting its light out.'
"'Don't jest, please your majesty.' And as they said the words, for
they both spoke at once throughout the interview, they performed a
grave somerset, towards the king.
"'Not jest!' retorted he; 'and with you? Why, you do nothing but
jest. What are you?'
"'The Shadows, sire. And when we do jest, sire, we always jest in
earnest. But perhaps your majesty does not see us distinctly.'
"'I see you perfectly well,' replied the king.
"'Permit me, however,' rejoined one of the Shadows; and as he
spoke, he approached the king, and lifting a dark fore-finger, drew it
lightly, but carefully, across the ridge of his forehead, from temple
to temple. The king felt the soft gliding touch go, like water, into
every hollow, and over the top of every height of that mountain-chain
of thought. He had involuntarily closed his eyes during the operation,
and when he unclosed them again, as soon as the finger was withdrawn,
he found that they were opened in more senses than one. The room
appeared to have extended itself on all sides, till he could not
exactly see where the walls were; and all about it stood the Shadows
motionless. They were tall and solemn; rather awful, indeed, in their
appearance, notwithstanding many remarkable traits of grotesqueness,
looking, in fact, just like the pictures of Puritans drawn by
Cavaliers, with long arms, and very long, thin legs, from which hung
large loose feet, while in their countenances length of chin and nose
predominated. The solemnity of their mien, however, overcame all the
oddity of their form, so that they were very eerie indeed to look at,
dressed as they all were in funereal black. But a single glance was all
that the king was allowed to have; for the former operator waved his
dusky palm across his vision, and once more the king saw only the
fire-lighted walls, and dark shapes flickering about upon them. The two
who had spoken for the rest seemed likewise to have vanished. But at
last the king discovered them, standing one on each side of the
fire-place. They kept close to the chimney-wall, and talked to each
other across the length of the chimney-piece; thus avoiding the direct
rays of the fire, which, though light is necessary to their appearing
to human eyes, do not agree with them at all-much less give birth to
them, as the king was soon to learn. After a few minutes, they again
approached the bed, and spoke thus:
"'It is now getting dark, please your majesty. We mean-out of doors
in the snow. Your majesty may see, from where he is lying, the cold
light of its great winding-sheet-a famous carpet for the Shadows to
dance upon, your majesty. All our brothers and sisters will be at
church now, before going to their night's work.'
"'Do they always go to church before they go to work?'
"'They always go to church first.'
"'Where is it?'
"'In Iceland. Would your majesty like to see it?'
"'How can I go and see it, when, as you know very well, I am ill in
bed? Besides I should be sure to take cold in a frosty night like this,
even if I put on the blankets, and took the feather-bed for a muff.'
"A sort of quivering passed over their faces, which seemed to be
their mode of laughing. The whole shape of the face shook and
fluctuated as if it had been some dark fluid; till by slow degrees of
gathering calm, it settled into its former rest. Then one of them drew
aside the curtains of the bed, and, the window-curtains not having been
yet drawn, the king beheld the white glimmering night outside,
struggling with the heaps of darkness that tried to quench it; and the
heavens full of stars, flashing and sparkling like live jewels. The
other Shadow went towards the fire and vanished in it.
"Scores of Shadows immediately began an insane dance all about the
room; disappearing, one after the other, through the uncovered window,
and gliding darkly away over the face of the white snow; for the window
looked at once on a field of snow. In a few moments, the room was quite
cleared of them; but instead of being relieved by their absence, the
king felt immediately as if he were in a dead house, and could hardly
breathe for the sense of emptiness and desolation that fell upon him.
But as he lay looking out on the snow, which stretched blank and wide
before him, he spied in the distance a long dark line which drew nearer
and nearer, and showed itself at last to be all the Shadows, walking in
a double row, and carrying in the midst of them something like a bier.
They vanished under the window, but soon reappeared, having somehow
climbed up the wall of the house; for they entered in perfect order by
the window, as if melting through the transparency of the glass.
"They still carried the bier or litter. It was covered with richest
furs, and skins of gorgeous wild beasts, whose eyes were replaced by
sapphires and emeralds, that glittered and gleamed in the fire and
snow-light. The outermost skin sparkled with frost, but the inside ones
were soft and warm and dry as the down under a swan's wing. The Shadows
approached the bed, and set the litter upon it. Then a number of them
brought a huge fur-robe, and wrapping it round the king, laid him on
the litter in the midst of the furs. Nothing could be more gentle and
respectful than the way in which they moved him; and he never thought
of refusing to go. Then they put something on his head, and, lifting
the litter, carried him once round the room, to fall into order. As he
passed the mirror, he saw that he was covered with royal ermine, and
that his head wore a wonderful crown-of gold set with none but red
stones: rubies and carbuncles and garnets, and others whose names he
could not tell, glowed gloriously around his head, like the
salamandrine essence of all the Christmas fires over the world. A
sceptre lay beside him-a rod of ebony, surmounted by a cone-shaped
diamond, which, cut in a hundred facets, flashed all the hues of the
rainbow, and threw coloured gleams on every side, that looked like
shadows more etherial than those that bore him. Then the Shadows rose
gently to the window, passed through it, and sinking slowing upon the
field of outstretched snow, commenced an orderly gliding rather than
march along the frozen surface. They took it by turns to bear the king,
as they sped with the swiftness of thought, in a straight line towards
the north. The polestar rose above their heads with visible rapidity;
for indeed they moved quite as fast as the sad thoughts, though not
with all the speed of happy desires. England and Scotland slid past the
litter of the king of the Shadows. Over rivers and lakes they skimmed
and glided. They climbed the high mountains, and crossed the valleys
with an unfelt bound; till they came to John-o'-Groat's house and the
northern sea. The sea was not frozen; for all the stars shone as clear
out of the deeps below as they shone out of the deeps above; and as the
bearers slid along the blue-grey surface, with never a furrow in their
track, so clear was the water beneath, that the king saw neither
surface, bottom, nor substance to it, and seemed to be gliding only
through the blue sphere of heaven, with the stars above him, and the
stars below him, and between the stars and him nothing but an
emptiness, where, for the first time in his life, his soul felt that it
had room enough.
"At length they reached the rocky shores of Iceland, where they
landed, still pursuing their journey. All this time the king felt no
cold; for the red stones in his crown kept him warm, and the emerald
and sapphire eyes of the wild beasts kept the frosts from settling upon
"Oftentimes upon their way, they had to pass through forests,
caverns, and rock-shadowed paths, where it was so dark that at first
the king feared he would lose his Shadows altogether. But as soon as
they entered such places, the diamond in his sceptre began to shine and
glow and flash, sending out streams of light of all the colours that
painter's soul could dream of; in which light the Shadows grew livelier
and stronger than ever, speeding through the dark ways with an all but
blinding swiftness. In the light of the diamond, too, some of their
forms became more simple and human, while others seemed only to break
out into a yet more untamable absurdity. Once, as they passed through a
cave, the king actually saw some of their eyes-strange shadow-eyes: he
had never seen any of their eyes before. But at the same moment when he
saw their eyes, he knew their faces too, for they turned them full upon
him for an instant; and the other Shadows, catching sight of these,
shrank and shivered, and nearly vanished. Lovely faces they were; but
the king was very thoughtful after he saw them, and continued rather
troubled all the rest of the journey. He could not account for those
faces being there, and the faces of Shadows too, with living eyes."
"What does that mean?" asked Adela.
And I am rather ashamed to say that I could only answer, "I am not
sure," and make haste to go on again.
"At last they climbed up the bed of a little stream, and then
passing through a narrow rocky defile, came out suddenly upon the side
of a mountain, overlooking a blue frozen lake in the very heart of
mighty hills. Overhead the aurora borealis was shivering and flashing
like a battle of ten thousand spears. Underneath, its beams passed
faintly over the blue ice and the sides of the snow clad mountains,
whose tops shot up like huge icicles all about, with here and there a
star sparkling on the very tip of one. But as the northern lights in
the sky above, so wavered and quivered, and shot hither and thither,
the Shadows on the surface of the lake below; now gathering in groups,
and now shivering asunder; now covering the whole surface of the lake,
and anon condensed into one dark knot in the centre. Every here and
there on the white mountains, might be seen two or three shooting away
towards the tops, and vanishing beyond them. Their number was
gradually, though hardly visibly, diminishing.
"'Please your majesty,' said the Shadows, 'this is our church-the
Church of the Shadows.'
"And so saying, the king's body-guard set down the litter upon a
rock, and mingled with the multitudes below. They soon returned,
however, and bore the king down into the middle of the lake. All the
Shadows came crowding round him, respectfully but fearlessly; and sure
never such a grotesque assembly revealed itself before to mortal eyes.
The king had seen all kind of gnomes, goblins, and kobolds at his
coronation; but they were quite rectilinear figures, compared with the
insane lawlessness of form in which the Shadows rejoiced; and the
wildest gambols of the former, were orderly dances of ceremony, beside
the apparently aimless and wilful contortions of figure, and
metamorphoses of shape, in which the latter indulged. They retained,
however, all the time, to the surprise of the king, an identity, each
of his own type, inexplicably perceptible through every change. Indeed
this preservation of the primary idea of each form, was quite as
wonderful as the bewildering and ridiculous alterations to which the
form itself was every moment subjected.
"'What are you?' said the king, leaning on his elbow, and looking
"'The Shadows, your majesty,' answered several voices at once.
"'The human Shadows. The Shadows of men, and women, and their
"'Are you not the shadows of chairs, and tables, and poker, and
tongs, just as well?'
"At this question a strange jarring commotion went through the
assembly with a shock. Several of the figures shot up as high as the
aurora, but instantly settled down again to human size, as if
overmastering their feelings, out of respect to him who had roused
them. One who had bounded to the highest visible icy peak, and as
suddenly returned, now elbowed his way through the rest, and made
himself spokesman for them during the remaining part of the dialogue.
"'Excuse our agitation, your majesty,' said he. 'I see your majesty
has not yet thought proper to make himself acquainted with our nature
"'I wish to do so now,' replied the king.
"'We are the Shadows,' repeated the Shadow, solemnly.
"'Well?' said the king.
"'We do not often appear to men.'
"'Ha!' said the king.
"'We do not belong to the sunshine at all. We go through it unseen,
and only by a passing chill do men recognize an unknown presence.'
"'Ha!' said the king, again.
"'It is only in the twilight of the fire, or when one man or woman
is alone with a single candle, or when any number of people are all
feeling the same thing at once, making them one, that we show
ourselves, and the truth of things.
"'Can that be true that loves the night?' said the king.
"'The darkness is the nurse of light,' answered the Shadow.
"'Can that be true which mocks at forms?' said the king.
"'Truth rides abroad in shapeless storms,' answered the Shadow.
"'Ha! ha!' thought Ralph Rinkelmann, 'it rhymes. The shadow caps my
questions with his answers.-Very strange!' And he grew thoughtful
"The Shadow was the first to resume.
"'Please your majesty, may we present our petition?'
"'By all means,' replied the king. 'I am not well enough to receive
it in proper state.'
"'Never mind, your majesty. We do not care for much ceremony; and
indeed none of us are quite well at present. The subject of our
petition weighs upon us.'
"'Go on,' said the king.
"'Sire,' began the Shadow, 'our very existence is in danger. The
various sorts of artificial light, both in houses and in men, women and
children, threaten to end our being. The use and the disposition of
gaslights, especially high in the centres, blind the eyes by which
alone we can be perceived. We are all but banished from towns. We are
driven into villages and lonely houses, chiefly old farm-houses, out of
which, even, our friends the fairies are fast disappearing. We
therefore petition our king, by the power of his art, to restore us to
our rights in the house itself, and in the hearts of its dwellers.'
"'But,' said the king, 'you frighten the children.'
"'Very seldom, your majesty; and then only for their good. We
seldom seek to frighten anybody. We only want to make people silent and
thoughtful; to awe them a little, your majesty.'
"'You are much more likely to make them laugh,' said the king.
"'Are we?' said the Shadow.
"And approaching the king one step, he stood quite still for a
moment. The diamond of the king's sceptre shot out a vivid flame of
violet light, and the king stared at the Shadow in silence, and his lip
"Now what does that mean?" said Adela, again.
"How can I tell?" I answered, and went on:
"'It is only,' resumed the Shadow, 'when our thoughts are not fixed
upon any particular object, that our bodies are subject to all the
vagaries of elemental influences. Generally amongst worldly men and
frivolous women, we only attach ourselves to some article of furniture
or of dress; and they never doubt that we are mere foolish and vague
results of the dashing of the waves of the light against the solid
forms of which their houses are full. We do not care to tell them the
truth, for they would never see it. But let the worldly man---- or the
frivolous woman----and then---- '
"At each of the pauses indicated, the mass of Shadows throbbed and
heaved with emotion, but soon settled again into comparative stillness.
Once more the Shadow addressed himself to speak. But suddenly they all
looked up, and the king, following their gaze, saw that the aurora had
begun to pale.
"'The moon is rising,' said the Shadow. As soon as she looks over
the mountains into the valley, we must be gone, for we have plenty to
do by the moon: we are powerful in her light. But if your majesty will
come here to-morrow night, your majesty may learn a great deal more
about us, and judge for himself whether it be fit to accord our
petition; for then will be our grand annual assembly, in which we
report to our chiefs the deeds we have attempted, and the good or bad
success we have had.'
"'If you send for me,' replied the king, 'I will come.'
"Ere the Shadow could reply, the tip of the moon's crescent horn
peeped up from behind an icy pinnacle, and one slender ray fell on the
lake. It shone upon no Shadows. Ere the eye of the king could again
seek the earth after beholding the first brightness of the moon's
resurrection, they had vanished; and the surface of the lake glittered
cold and blue in the pale moonlight.
"There the king lay, alone in the midst of the frozen lake, with
the moon staring at him. But at length he heard from somewhere a voice
that he knew.
"'Will you take another cup of tea, dear?' said Mrs. Rinkelmann;
and Ralph, coming slowly to himself, found that he was lying in his own
"'Yes, I will,' he answered; 'and rather a large piece of toast, if
you please; for I have been a long journey since I saw you last.'
"'He has not come to himself quite,' said Mrs. Rinkelmann, between
her and herself.
"'You would be rather surprised,' continued Ralph, 'if I told you
where I had been, and all about it.'
"'I daresay I should,' responded his wife.
"'Then I will tell you,' rejoined Ralph.
"But at that moment, a great Shadow bounced out of the fire with a
single huge leap, and covered the whole room. Then it settled in one
corner, and Ralph saw it shaking its fist at him from the end of a
preposterous arm. So he took the hint, and held his peace. And it was
as well for him. For I happen to know something about the Shadows too;
and I know that if he had told his wife all about it just then, they
would not have sent for him the following evening.
"But as the king, after taking his tea and toast, lay and looked
about him, the dancing shadows in his room seemed to him odder and more
inexplicable than ever. The whole chamber was full of mystery. So it
generally was, but now it was more mysterious than ever. After all that
he had seen in the Shadow-church, his own room and its shadows were yet
more wonderful and unintelligible than those.
"This made it the more likely that he had seen a true vision; for,
instead of making common things look common place, as a false vision
would have done, it made common things disclose the wonderful that was
"'The same applied to all true art,' thought Ralph Rinkelmann.
"The next afternoon, as the twilight was growing dusky, the king
lay wondering whether or not the Shadows would fetch him again. He
wanted very much to go, for he had enjoyed the journey exceedingly, and
he longed, besides, to hear some of the Shadows tell their stories. But
the darkness grew deeper and deeper, and the Shadows did not come. The
cause was, that Mrs. Rinkelmann sat by the fire in the gloaming; and
they could not carry off the king while she was there. Some of them
tried to frighten her away, by playing the oddest pranks on the walls,
and floor, and ceiling; but altogether without effect: the queen only
smiled, for she had a good conscience. Suddenly, however, a dreadful
scream was heard from the nursery, and Mrs. Rinkelmann rushed up stairs
to see what was the matter. No sooner had she gone, than the two
warders of the chimney-corners stepped out into the middle of the room,
and said, in a low voice:
"'Is your majesty ready?'
"'Have you no hearts?' said the king; 'or are they as black as your
faces? Did you not hear the child scream? I must know what is the
matter with her before I go.'
"'Your majesty may keep his mind easy on that point,' replied the
warders. 'We had tried everything we could think of, to get rid of her
majesty the queen, but without effect. So a young madcap Shadow, half
against the will of the older ones of us, slipped up stairs into the
nursery; and has, no doubt, succeeded in appalling the baby, for he is
very lithe and long-legged.-Now, your majesty.'
"'I will have no such tricks played in my nursery,' said the king,
rather angrily. 'You might put the child beside itself.'
"'Then there would be twins, your majesty. And we rather like
"'None of your miserable jesting! You might put the child out of
"'Impossible, sire; for she has not got into them yet.'
"'Go away,' said the king.
"'Forgive us, your majesty. Really, it will do the child good; for
that Shadow will, all her life, be to her a symbol of what is ugly and
bad. When she feels in danger of hating or envying anyone, that Shadow
will come back to her mind, and make her shudder.'
"'Very well,' said the king. 'I like that. Let us go.'
"The Shadows went through the same ceremonies and preparations as
before; during which, the young Shadow before-mentioned, contrived to
make such grimaces as kept the baby in terror, and the queen in the
nursery, till all was ready. Then with a bound that doubled him up
against the ceiling, and a kick of his legs six feet out behind him, he
vanished through the nursery door, and reached the king's bed-chamber
just in time to take his place with the last who were melting through
the window in the rear of the litter, and settling down upon the snow
beneath. Away they went, a gliding blackness over the white carpet, as
before. And it was Christmas Eve.
"When they came in sight of the mountain-lake, the king saw that it
was crowded over its whole surface with a changeful intermingling of
Shadows. They were all talking and listening alternately, in pairs,
trios, and groups of every size. Here and there, large companies were
absorbed in attention to one elevated above the rest, not in a pulpit,
or on a platform, but on the stilts of his own legs, elongated for the
nonce. The aurora, right overhead, lighted up the lake and the sides of
the mountains, by sending down from the zenith, nearly to the surface
of the lake, great folded vapours, luminous with all the colours of a
"Many, however, as the words were that passed on all sides, not a
whisper of a sound reached the ears of the king: their shadow speech
could not enter his corporeal organs. One of his guides, however,
seeing that the king wanted to hear and could not, went through a
strange manipulation of his head and ears; after which he could hear
perfectly, though still only the voice to which, for the time, he
directed his attention. This, however, was a great advantage, and one
which the king longed to carry back with him to the world of men.
"The king now discovered that this was not merely the church of the
Shadows, but their news-exchange at the same time. For, as the Shadows
have no writing or printing, the only way in which they can make each
other acquainted with their doings and thinkings, is to meet and talk
at this word-mart and parliament of shades. And as, in the world,
people read their favourite authors, and listen to their favourite
speakers, so here the Shadows seek their favourite Shadows, listen to
their adventures, and hear generally what they have to say.
"Feeling quite strong, the king rose and walked about amongst them,
wrapped in his ermine robe, with his red crown on his head, and his
diamond sceptre in his hand. Every group of Shadows to which he drew
near, ceased talking as soon as they saw him approach; but at a nod
they went on again directly, conversing and relating and commenting, as
if no one was there of other kind or of higher rank than themselves. So
the king heard a good many stories, at some of which he laughed, and at
some of which he cried. But if the stories that the Shadows told were
printed, they would make a book that no publisher could produce fast
enough to satisfy the buyers. I will record some of the things that the
king heard, for he told them to me soon after. In fact, I was for some
time his private secretary, and that is how I come to know all about
"'I made him confess before a week was over,' said a gloomy old
"'But what was the good of that?' said a pert young one; 'that
could not undo what was done.'
"'Yes, it might.'
"'What! bring the dead to life?'
"'No; but comfort the murderer. I could not bear to see the
pitiable misery he was in. He was far happier with the rope round his
neck, than he was with the purse in his pocket. I saved him from
killing himself too.'
"'How did you make him confess?'
"'Only by wallowing on the wall a little.'
"'How could that make him tell?'
"He was silent; and the king turned to another.
"'I made a fashionable mother repent.'
"'How?' broke from several voices, in whose sound was mingled a
touch of incredulity.
"'Only by making a little coffin on the wall,' was the reply.
"'Did the fashionable mother then confess?'
"'She had nothing more to confess than everybody knew.'
"'What did everybody know then?'
"'That she might have been kissing a living child, when she
followed a dead one to the grave.-The next will fare better.'
"'I put a stop to a wedding,' said another.
"'Horrid shade!' remarked a poetic imp.
"'How?' said others. 'Tell us how.'
"'Only by throwing a darkness, as if from the branch of a sconce,
over the forehead of a fair girl.-They are not married yet, and I do
not think they will be. But I loved the youth who loved her. How he
started! It was a revelation to him.'
"'But did it not deceive him?'
"'Quite the contrary.'
"'But it was only a shadow from the outside, not a shadow coming
through from the soul of the girl.'
"'Yes. You may say so. But it was all that was wanted to let the
meaning of her forehead come out-yes, of her whole face, which had now
and then, in the pauses of his passion, perplexed the youth. All of it,
curled nostrils, pouting lips, projecting chin, instantly fell into
harmony with that darkness between her eyebrows. The youth understood
it in a moment, and went home miserable. And they're not married yet.'
"'I caught a toper alone, over his magnum of port,' said a very
dark Shadow; 'and didn't I give it him! I made delirium tremens first;
and then I settled into a funeral, passing slowly along the whole of
the dining-room wall. I gave him plenty of plumes and mourning coaches.
And then I gave him a funeral service, but I could not manage to make
the surplice white, which was all the better for such a sinner. The
wretch stared till his face passed from purple to grey, and actually
left his fifth glass only, unfinished, and took refuge with his wife
and children in the drawing-room, much to their surprise. I believe he
actually drank a cup of tea; and although I have often looked in again,
I have never seen him drinking alone at least.'
"'But does he drink less? Have you done him any good?'
"'I hope so; but I am sorry to say I can't feel sure about it.'
"'Humph! Humph! Humph!' grunted various shadow throats.
"'I had such fun once!' cried another. 'I made such game of a young
"'You have no right to make game of any one.'
"'Oh yes, I have-when it is for his good. He used to study his
sermons-where do you think?'
"'In his study, of course.'
"'Yes and no. Guess again.'
"'Out amongst the faces in the streets.'
"'In still green places in the country?'
"'In old books?'
"'No, no. Tell us.'
"'In the looking glass. Ha! ha! ha!'
"'He was fair game; fair shadow-game.'
"'I thought so. And I made such fun of him one night on the wall!
He had sense enough to see that it was himself, and very like an ape.
So he got ashamed, turned the mirror with its face to the wall, and
thought a little more about his people, and a little less about
himself. I was very glad; for, please you majesty,'-and here the
speaker turned towards the king-'we don't like the creatures that live
in the mirrors. You call them ghosts, don't you?'
"Before the king could reply, another had commenced. But the
mention of the clergyman made the king wish to hear one of the
shadow-sermons. So he turned him towards a long Shadow, who was
preaching to a very quiet and listening crowd. He was just concluding
"Therefore, dear Shadows, it is the more needful that we love one
another as much as we can, because that is not much. We have no excuse
for not loving as mortals have, for we do not die like them. I suppose
it is the thought of that death that makes them hate so much. Then
again, we go to sleep all day, most of us, and not in the night, as men
do. And you know that we forget every thing that happened the night
before; therefore, we ought to love well, for the love is short. Ah!
dear Shadow, whom I love now with all my shadowy soul, I shall not love
thee to-morrow eve, I shall not know thee; I shall pass thee in the
crowd and never dream that the Shadow whom I now love is near me then.
Happy Shades! for we only remember our tales until we have told them
here, and then they vanish in the shadow-churchyard, where we bury only
our dead selves. Ah! brethren, who would be a man and remember? Who
would be a man and weep? We ought indeed to love one another, for we
alone inherit oblivion; we alone are renewed with eternal birth; we
alone have no gathered weight of years. I will tell you the awful fate
of one Shadow who rebelled against his nature, and sought to remember
the past. He said, 'I will remember this eve.' He fought with the
genial influences of kindly sleep when the sun rose on the awful dead
day of light; and although he could not keep quite awake, he dreamed of
the foregone eve, and he never forgot his dream. Then he tried again
the next night, and the next and the next; and he tempted another
Shadow to try it with him. At last their awful fate overtook them; and,
instead of being Shadows any longer, they began to have shadows
sticking to them; and they thickened and thickened till they vanished
out of our world; and they are now condemned to walk the earth, a man
and a woman, with death behind them, and memories within them. Ah,
brother Shades! let us love one another, for we shall soon forget. We
are not men, but Shadows.'
"The king turned away, and pitied the poor Shadows far more than
they pitied men.
"'Oh! how we played with a musician one night!' exclaimed one of
another group, to which the king had directed a passing thought. He
stopped to listen.-'Up and down we went, like the hammers and dampers
on his piano. But he took his revenge on us. For after he had watched
us for half an hour in the twilight, he rose and went to his
instrument, and played a shadow-dance that fixed us all in sound for
ever. Each could tell the very notes meant for him; and as long as he
played, we could not stop, but went on dancing and dancing after the
music, just as the magician-I mean the musician-pleased. And he
punished us well; for he nearly danced us all off our legs and out of
shape, into tired heaps of collapsed and palpitating darkness. We wont
go near him for some time again, if we can only remember it. He had
been very miserable all day, he was so poor; and we could not think of
any way of comforting him except making him laugh. We did not succeed,
with our best efforts; but it turned out better than we had expected
after all; for his shadow-dance got him into notice, and he is quite
popular now, and making money fast.-If he does not take care, we shall
have other work to do with him by and by, poor fellow!'
"'I and some others did the same for a poor play-wright once. He
had a Christmas piece to write, and not being an original genius, he
could think of nothing that had not been done already twenty times. I
saw the trouble he was in, and collecting a few stray Shadows, we
acted, in dumb show of course, the funniest bit of nonsense we could
think of; and it was quite successful. The poor fellow watched every
motion, roaring with laughter at us, and delight at the ideas we put
into his head. He turned it all into words and scenes and actions; and
the piece came off "with a success unprecedented in the annals of the
stage;"-at least so said the reporter of the Punny Palpitator.'
"Now don't you try, uncle, there's a dear, to make any fun; for you
know you can't. It's always a failure," said Adela, looking as
mischievous as she could. "You can only make people cry: you can't make
them laugh. So don't try it. It hurts my feelings dreadfully when you
fail; and gives me a pain in the back of my neck besides."
I heard her with delight, but went on, saying:
"I must read what I have written, you monkey!"
"'But how long we have to look for a chance of doing anything worth
doing!' said a long, thin, especially lugubrious Shadow. 'I have only
done one deed worth telling, ever since we met last. But I am proud of
"'What was it? What was it?' rose from twenty voices.
"'I crept into a dining-room, one twilight, soon after last
Christmas-day. I had been drawn thither by the glow of a bright fire
through red window-curtains. At first I thought there was no one there,
and was on the point of leaving the room, and going out again into the
snowy street, when I suddenly caught the sparkle of eyes, and saw that
they belonged to a little boy who lay very still on a sofa. I crept
into a dark corner by the sideboard, and watched him. He seemed very
sad, and did nothing but stare into the fire. At last he sighed out: 'I
wish mamma would come home.' 'Poor boy!' thought I, 'there is no help
for that but mamma.' Yet I would try to while away the time for him. So
out of my corner I stretched a long shadow arm, reaching all across the
ceiling, and pretended to make a grab at him. He was rather frightened
at first; but he was a brave boy, and soon saw that it was all a joke.
So when I did it again, he made a clutch at me; and then we had such
fun! For though he often sighed, and wished mamma would come home, he
always began again with me; and on we went with the wildest game. At
last his mother's knock came to the door, and, starting up in delight,
he rushed into the hall to meet her, and forgot all about poor black
me. But I did not mind that in the least; for when I glided out after
him into the hall, I was well repaid for my trouble, by hearing his
mother say to him: 'Why, Charlie, my dear, you look ever so much better
since I left you!' At that moment I slipped through the closing door,
and as I ran across the snow, I heard the mother say: 'What shadow can
that be, passing so quickly?' And Charlie answered with a merry laugh:
'Oh! mamma, I suppose it must be the funny shadow that has been playing
such games with me, all the time you were out.' As soon as the door was
shut, I crept along the wall, and looked in at the dining-room window.
And I heard his mamma say, as she led him into the room: 'What an
imagination the boy has!' Ha! ha! ha! Then she looked at him very
earnestly for a minute, and the tears came in her eyes; and as she
stooped down over him, I heard the sounds of a mingling kiss and sob.'"
"Ah, I thought so!" cried Adela, who espied, peeping, that I had
this last tale on a separate slip of paper-"I thought so! That is
yours, Mr. Armstrong, and not uncle's at all. He stole it out of your
"You are excessively troublesome to-night, Adela," I rejoined. "But
I confess the theft."
"He had quite a right to take what I had done with, Miss Cathcart,"
said the curate; and once more I resumed.
"'I always look for nurseries full of children,' said another; 'and
this winter I have been very fortunate. I am sure we belong especially
to children. One evening, looking about in a great city, I saw through
the window into a large nursery, where the odious gas had not yet been
lighted. Round the fire sat a company of the most delightful children I
had ever seen. They were waiting patiently for their tea. It was too
good an opportunity to be lost. I hurried away, and gathering together
twenty of the best Shadows I could find, returned in a few moments to
the nursery. There we began on the walls one of our best dances. To be
sure it was mostly extemporized; but I managed to keep it in harmony by
singing this song, which I made as we went on. Of course the children
could not hear it; they only saw the motions that answered to it. But
with them they seemed to be very much delighted indeed, as I shall
presently show you. This was the song:
'Swing, swang, swingle, swuff,
Flicker, flacker, fling, fluff!
Thus we go,
To and fro;
Here and there,
Born and bred;
On! Come on.
All our life,
Is a strife,
And a wearying for rest
On the darkness' friendly breast.
Sides all aching,
Grumbling, grim and gruff.
Swingle, swangle, swuff!
Now a knot of darkness;
Now dissolved gloom;
Now a pall of blackness
Hiding all the room.
Flicker, flacker, fluff!
Black and black enough!
Dancing now like demons;
Lying like the dead;
Gladly would we stop it,
And go down to bed!
But our work we still must do,
Shadow men, as well as you.
Rooting, rising, shooting,
Heaving, sinking, creeping;
Hid in corners crooning;
Splitting, poking, leaping,
Gathering, towering, swooning.
When we're lurking,
Yet we're working,
For our labour we must do,
Shadow men, as well as you.
Flicker, flacker, fling, fluff!
Swing, swang, swingle, swuff!'
"'How thick the Shadows are!' said one of the children-a thoughtful
"'I wonder where they come from?' said a dreamy little boy.
"'I think they grow out of the wall,' answered the little girl;
'for I have been watching them come; first one and then another, and
then a whole lot of them. I am sure they grow out of the walls.'
"'Perhaps they have papas and mammas,' said an older boy, with a
"'Yes, yes; the doctor brings them in his pocket,' said another
consequential little maiden.
"'No; I'll tell you,' said the older boy. 'They're ghosts.'
"'But ghosts are white.'
"'Oh! these have got black coming down the chimney.'
"'No,' said a curious-looking, white-faced boy of fourteen, who had
been reading by the firelight, and had stopped to hear the little ones
talk; 'they're body-ghosts; they're not soul-ghosts.'
"A silence followed, broken by the first, the dreamy-eyed boy, who
"'I hope they didn't make me;' at which they all burst out
laughing, just as the nurse brought in their tea. When she proceeded to
light the gas, we vanished.
"'I stopped a murder,' cried another.
"'How? How? How?'
"'I will tell you.-I had been lurking about a sick room for some
time, where a miser lay, apparently dying. I did not like the place at
all, but I felt as if I was wanted there. There were plenty of lurking
places about, for it was full of all sorts of old furniture,-especially
cabinets, chests and presses. I believe he had in that room every bit
of the property he had spent a long life in gathering. And I knew he
had lots of gold in those places; for one night, when his nurse was
away, he crept out of bed, mumbling and shaking, and managed to open
one of his chests, though he nearly fell down with the effort. I was
peeping over his shoulder, and such a gleam of gold fell upon me, that
it nearly killed me. But hearing his nurse coming, he slammed the lid
down, and I recovered. I tried very hard, but I could not do him any
good. For although I made all sorts of shapes on the walls and ceiling,
representing evil deeds that he had done, of which there were plenty to
choose from, I could make no shapes on his brain or conscience. He had
no eyes for anything but gold. And it so happened that his nurse had
neither eyes nor heart for anything else either.
"'One day as she was seated beside his bed, but where he could not
see her, stirring some gruel in a basin, to cool it from him, I saw her
take a little phial from her bosom, and I knew by the expression of her
face both what it was and what she was going to do with it. Fortunately
the cork was a little hard to get out, and this gave me one moment to
"'The room was so crowded with all sorts of things, that although
there were no curtains on the four-post bed to hide from the miser the
sight of his precious treasures, there was yet but one spot on the
ceiling suitable for casting myself upon in the shape I wished to
assume. And this spot was hard to reach. But I discovered that upon
this very spot there was a square gleam of firelight thrown from a
strange old dusty mirror that stood away in some corner, so I got in
front of the fire, spied where the mirror was, threw myself upon it,
and bounded from its face upon the square pool of dim light on the
ceiling, assuming, as I passed, the shape of an old stooping hag,
pouring something from a phial into a basin. I made the handle of the
spoon with my own nose, ha! ha!'
"And the shadow-hand caressed the shadow tip of the shadow-nose,
before the shadow-tongue resumed.
"'The old miser saw me. He would not taste the gruel that night,
although his nurse coaxed and scolded till they were both weary. She
pretended to taste it, and to think it very good; and at last retired
into a corner, and made as if she were eating it herself; but I saw
that she took good care to pour it all out.'
"'But she must either succeed, or starve him, at last.'
"'I will tell you.'
"'But,' interposed another, 'he was not worth saving.'
"'He might repent,' said another more benevolent Shadow.
"'No chance of that,' returned the former. 'Misers never do. The
love of money has less in it to cure itself than any other wickedness
into which wretched men can fall. What a mercy it is to be born a
Shadow! Wickedness does not stick to us. What do we care for
"'Amen! Amen! Amen!' came from a hundred shadow-voices.
"'You should have let her murder him, and so have had done with
"'And besides, how was he to escape at last? He could never get rid
of her-could he?'
"'I was going to tell you,' resumed the narrator, 'only you had so
many shadow-remarks to make, that you would not let me.'
"'Go on; go on.'
"'There was a little grandchild who used to come and see him
sometimes-the only creature the miser cared for. Her mother was his
daughter; but the old man would never see her, because she had married
against his will. Her husband was now dead, but he had not forgiven her
yet. After the shadow he had seen, however, he said to himself, as he
lay awake that night-I saw the words on his face-'How shall I get rid
of that old devil? If I don't eat I shall die. I wish little Mary would
come to-morrow. Ah! her mother would never serve me so, if I lived a
hundred years more.' He lay awake, thinking such things over and over
again all night long, and I stood watching him from a dark corner; till
the day spring came and shook me out. When I came back next night, the
room was tidy and clean. His own daughter, a sad-faced, still beautiful
woman, sat by his bedside; and little Mary was curled up on the floor,
by the fire, imitating us, by making queer shadows on the ceiling with
her twisted hands. But she could not think how ever they got there. And
no wonder, for I helped her to some very unaccountable ones.'
"'I have a story about a grand-daughter, too,' said another, the
moment that speaker ceased.
"'Tell it. Tell it.'
"'Last Christmas-day,' he began, 'I and a troop of us set out in
the twilight, to find some house where we could all have something to
do; for we had made up our minds to act together. We tried several, but
found objections to them all. At last we espied a large lonely
country-house, and hastening to it, we found great preparations making
for the Christmas-dinner. We rushed into it, scampered all over it, and
made up our minds in a moment that it would do. We amused ourselves in
the nursery first, where there were several children being dressed for
dinner. We generally do go to the nursery first, your majesty. This
time we were especially charmed with a little girl about five years
old, who clapped her hands and danced about with delight at the antics
we performed; and we said we would do something for her if we had a
chance. The company began to arrive; and at every arrival, we rushed to
the hall, and cut wonderful capers of welcome. Between times, we
scudded away to see how the dressing went on. One girl about eighteen
was delightful. She dressed herself as if she did not care much about
it, but could no help doing it prettily. When she took her last look of
the phantom in the glass, she half smiled to it.-But we do not like
those creatures that come into the mirrors at all, your majesty. We
don't understand them. They are dreadful to us.-She looked rather sad
and pale, but very sweet and hopeful. We wanted to know all about her,
and soon found out that she was a distant relation and a great
favourite of the gentleman of the house, an old man, with an expression
of benevolence mingled with obstinacy and a deep shade of the
tyrannical. We could not admire him much; but we would not make up our
minds all at once: Shadows never do.
"'The dinner-bell rang, and down we hurried. The children all
looked happy, and we were merry. There was one cross fellow among the
servants waiting, and didn't we plague him! and didn't we get fun out
of him! When he was bringing up dishes, we lay in wait for him at every
corner, and sprung upon him from the floor, and from over the
banisters, and down from the cornices. He started and stumbled and
blundered about, so that his fellow-servants thought he was tipsy. Once
he dropped a plate, and had to pick up the pieces, and hurry away with
them. Didn't we pursue him as he went! It was lucky for him his master
did not see him; but we took care not to let him get into any real
scrape, though his eyes were quite dazed with the dodging of the
unaccountable shadows. Sometimes he thought the walls were coming down
upon him; sometimes that the floor was gaping to swallow him; sometimes
that he would be knocked in pieces by the hurrying to and fro, or be
smothered in the black crowd.
"'When the blazing plum-pudding was carried in, we made a perfect
shadow-carnival about it, dancing and mumming in the blue flames, like
mad demons. And how the children screamed with delight!
"'The old gentleman, who was very fond of children, was laughing
his heartiest laugh, when a loud knock came to the hall-door. The fair
maiden started, turned paler, and then red as the Christmas fire. I saw
it, and flung my hands across her face. She was very glad, and I know
she said in her heart, "You kind Shadow!" which paid me well. Then I
followed the rest into the hall, and found there a jolly, handsome,
brown-faced sailor, evidently a son of the house. The old man received
him with tears in his eyes, and the children with shouts of joy. The
maiden escaped in the confusion, just in time to save herself from
fainting. We crowded about the lamp to hide her retreat, and nearly put
it out. The butler could not get it to burn up before she had glided
into her place again, delighted to find the room so dark. The sailor
only had seen her go, and now he sat down beside her, and, without a
word, got hold of her hand in the gloom. But now we all scattered to
the walls and the corners; and the lamp blazed up again, and he let her
"'During the rest of the dinner, the old man watched them both, and
saw that there was something between them, and was very angry. For he
was an important man in his own estimation-and they had never consulted
him. The fact was, they had never known their own minds till the sailor
had gone upon his last voyage; and had learned each other's only this
moment.-We found out all this by watching them, and then talking
together about it afterwards.-The old gentleman saw too, that his
favourite, who was under such obligation to him for loving her so much,
loved his son better than him; and this made him so jealous, that he
soon overshadowed the whole table with his morose looks and short
answers. That kind of shadowing is very different from ours; and the
Christmas dessert grew so gloomy that we Shadows could not bear it, and
were delighted when the ladies rose to go to the drawing-room. The
gentlemen would not stay behind the ladies, even for the sake of the
well-known wine. So the moddy host, notwithstanding his hospitality,
was left alone at the table, in the great silent room. We followed the
company upstairs to the drawing-room, and thence to the nursery for
snap-dragon. While they were busy with this most shadowy of games,
nearly all the Shadows crept down stairs again to the dining-room,
where the old man still sat, gnawing the bone of his own selfishness.
They crowded into the room, and by using every kind of
expansion-blowing themselves out like soap-bubbles, they succeeded in
heaping up the whole room with shade upon shade. They clustered
thickest about the fire and the lamp, till at last they almost drowned
them in hills of darkness.
"'Before they had accomplished so much, the children, tired with
fun and frolio, were put to bed. But the little girl of five years old,
with whom we had been so pleased when first we arrived, could not go to
sleep. She had a little room of her own; and I had watched her to bed,
and now kept her awake by gambolling in the rays of the night-light.
When her eyes were once fixed upon me, I took the shape of her
grandfather, representing him on the wall, as he sat in his chair, with
his head bent down, and his arms hanging listlessly by his sides. And
the child remembered that that was just as she had seen him last; for
she had happened to peep in at the dining-room door, after all the rest
had gone up stairs. "What if he should be sitting there still," thought
she, "all alone in the dark!" She scrambled out of bed and crept down.
"'Meantime the others had made the room below so dark, that only
the face and white hair of the old man could be dimly discerned in the
shadowy crowd. For he had filled his own mind with shadows, which we
Shadows wanted to draw out of him. Those shadows are very different
from us, your majesty knows. He was thinking of all the disappointments
he had had in life, and of all the ingratitude he had met with. He
thought far more of the good he had done, than the good others had got.
"After all I have done for them," said he, with a sigh of bitterness,
"not one of them cares a straw for me. My own children will be glad
when I am gone!" At that instant he lifted up his eyes and saw,
standing close by the door, a tiny figure in a long night-gown. The
door behind her was shut. It was my little friend who had crept in
noiselessly. A pang of icy fear shot to the old man's heart-but it
melted away as fast, for we made a lane through us for a single ray
from the fire to fall on the face of the little sprite; and he thought
it was a child of his own that had died when just the age of her little
niece, who now stood looking for her grandfather among the Shadows. He
thought she had come out of her grave in the old darkness, to ask why
her father was sitting alone on Christmas-day. And he felt he had no
answer to give his little ghost, but one he would be ashamed for her to
hear. But the little girl saw him now. She walked up to him with a
childish stateliness-stumbling once or twice on what seemed her long
shroud. Pushing through the crowded shadows, she reached him, climbed
upon his knee, laid her little long-haired head on his shoulders, and
said: "Ganpa! you goomy? Isn't it your Kismass-day, too, ganpa?"
"'A new fount of love seemed to burst from the clay of the old
man's heart. He clasped the child to his bosom, and wept. Then, without
a word, he rose with her in his arms, carried her up to her room, and
laying her down in her bed, covered her up, kissed her sweet little
mouth unconscious of reproof, and then went to the drawing-room.
"'As soon as he entered, he saw the culprits in a quiet corner
alone. He went up to them, took a hand of each, and joining them in
both his, said, "God bless you!" Then he turned to the rest of the
company, and "Now," said he, "let's have a Christmas carol."-And well
he might; for though I have paid many visits to the house, I have never
seen him cross since; and I am sure that must cost him a good deal of
"'We have just come from a great palace,' said another, 'where we
knew there were many children, and where we thought to hear glad
voices, and see royally merry looks. But as soon as we entered, we
became aware that one mighty Shadow shrouded the whole; and that Shadow
deepened and deepened, till it gathered in darkness about the reposing
form of a wise prince. When we saw him, we could move no more, but
clung heavily to the walls, and by our stillness added to the sorrow of
the hour. And when we saw the mother of her people weeping with bowed
head for the loss of him in whom she had trusted, we were seized with
such a longing to be Shadows no longer, but winged angels, which are
the white shadows cast in heaven from the Light of Light, so to gather
around her, and hover over her with comforting, that we vanished from
the walls and found ourselves floating high above the towers of the
palace, where we met the angels on their way; and knew that our service
was not needed.'
"By this time there was a glimmer of approaching moonlight, and the
king began to see several of those stranger Shadows, with human faces
and eyes, moving about amongst the crowd. He knew at once that they did
not belong to his dominion. They looked at him, and came near him, and
passed slowly, but they never made any obeisance, or gave sign of
homage. And what their eyes said to him, the king only could tell. And
he did not tell.
"'What are those other Shadows that move through the crowd?' said
he to one of his subjects near him.
"The Shadow started, looked round, shivered slightly, and laid his
finger on his lips. Then leading the king a little aside, and looking
carefully about him once more,
"'I do not know,' said he, in a low tone, 'what they are. I have
heard of them often, but only once did I ever see any of them before.
That was when some of us one night paid a visit to a man who sat much
alone, and was said to think a great deal. We saw two of those sitting
in the room with him, and he was as pale as they were. We could not
cross the threshold, but shivered and shook, and felt ready to melt
away. Is not your majesty afraid of them too?'
"But the king made no answer; and before he could speak again, the
moon had climbed above the mighty pillars of the church of the Shadows,
and looked in at the great window of the sky.
"The shapes had all vanished; and the king, again lifting up his
eyes, saw but the wall of his own chamber, on which flickered the
Shadow of a Little Child. He looked down, and there, sitting on a stool
by the fire, he saw one of his own little ones, waiting to say good
night to his father, and go to bed early, that he might rise as early,
and be very good and happy all Christmas-day.
"And Ralph Rinkelmann rejoiced that he was a man, and not a
When I had finished my story, the not unusual silence followed. It
was soon broken by Adela.
"But what were those other shadows, mysteries in the midst of
mystery?" persisted she.
"My dear, as the little child said shadows were the ghosts of the
body, so I say these were the shadows of the mind.-Will that do?"
"I must think. I don't know. I can't trust you.-I do believe,
uncle, you write whatever comes into your head; and then when any one
asks you the meaning of this or that, you hunt round till you find a
meaning just about the same size as the thing itself, and stick it
on.-Don't you, now?"
"Perhaps yes, and perhaps no, and perhaps both," I answered.
"You have the most confounded imagination I ever knew, Smith, my
boy!" said the colonel. "You run right away, and leave me to come
hobbling after as I best can."
"Oh, never mind; I always return to my wife and children," I
answered; and being an old bachelor, this passed for a good joke with
the kind-hearted company. No more remarks were made upon my Shadow
story, though I was glad to see the curate pondering over it. Before we
parted, the usual question of who was to read the next, had to be
"I proposed, for a change," said the curate, "that the club meet at
my house the next time, and that the story be omitted for once. We'll
have some music, and singing, and poetry, and all that sort of thing.
What do you say, Lizzie?"
"With all my heart," answered Mrs. Armstrong.
"You forget," said the colonel, "that Adela is not well enough to
go out yet."
Adela looked as if she thought that was a mistake, and glanced
towards the doctor. I think Percy caught sight of the glance as it
"If I may be allowed to give a professional opinion," said Harry,
"I think she could go without the smallest danger, if she were well
"You can have the carriage, of course, my love," said her father,
"if you would like to go."
"I should very much like to go," said Adela.
And so it was settled to the evident contentment of all except the
mother and son, who, I suppose, felt that Adela was slipping through
their fingers, in this strengthening of adverse influences. I was sure
myself, that nothing could be better for her, in either view of the
case. Harry did not stay behind to ask her any questions this evening,
but left with the rest.
The next day, the bright frosty weather still continuing, I took
Adela out for a walk.
"You are much better, I think, my dear," I said.
"Very much," she answered. "I think Mr. Armstrong's prescription is
doing me a great deal of good. It seems like magic. I sleep very well
indeed now. And somehow life seems a much more possible thing than it
looked a week or two ago. And the whole world appears more like the
work of God."
"I am very glad, my dear. If all your new curate tries to teach us
be true, the world need not look very dreary to any of us."
"But do you believe it all, uncle?"
"Yes I do, my dear. I believe that the grand noble way of thinking
of God and his will must be the true way, though it never can be grand
or noble enough; and that belief in beauty and truth, notwithstanding
so many things that are neither beautiful nor true, is essential to a
right understanding of the world. Whatever is not good and beautiful,
is doomed by the very death that is in it; and when we find such things
in ourselves or in other people, we may take comfort that these must be
destroyed one day, even if it be by that form of divine love which
appears as a consuming fire."
"But that is very dreadful too, is it not, uncle?"
"Yes, me dear. But there is a refuge from it; and then the fear
proves a friend."
"God himself. If you go close up to him, his spirit will become
your spirit, and you will need no fire then. You will find that that
which is fire to them that are afar off, is a mighty graciousness to
them that are nigh. They are both the same thing."
Adela made me no answer. Perhaps I tried to give her more than she
was ready to receive. Perhaps she needed more leading, before she would
be able to walk in that road. If so, then Providence was leading her;
and I need not seek to hasten a divine process.
But at least she enjoyed her walk that bright winter day, and came
home without being wearied, or the cold getting any victory over her.
As we passed some cottages on our way home, Adela said-
"There is a poor woman who lives in one of these cottages, who used
to be a servant of ours. She is in bad health, and I dare say is not
very well off in this frost, for her husband is only a labourer. I
should like to go and see her."
"With all my heart, my dear," I answered.
"This is the house," said Adela; and she lifted the latch and went
in gently, I following.
No one had heard our entrance, and when Adela knocked at the inner
door, there was no reply. Whereupon she opened the door, and then we
saw the woman seated on one side of the fire, and the man on the other
side with his pipe in his mouth; while between them sat the curate with
his hands in his pockets, and his pipe likewise in his mouth. But they
were blowing but a small cloud between them, and were evidently very
deep in an earnest conversation.
I overheard a part of what the cottager was saying, and could not
help listening to the rest.
"And the man was telling them, sir, that God had picked out so many
men, women, and children, to go right away to glory, and left the rest
to be damned for ever and ever in hell. And I up and spoke to him; and
'sir,' says I, 'if I was tould as how I was to pick out so many out o'
my childeren, and take 'em with me to a fine house, and leave the rest
to be burnt up i' the old one, which o' them would I choose?' 'How can
I tell?' says he. 'No doubt,' says I; 'they aint your sons and darters.
But I can. I wouldn't move a foot, sir, but I'd take my chance wi' the
poor things. And, sir,' says I, 'we're all God's childeren; and which
o' us is he to choose, and which is he to leave out? I don't believe
he'd know a bit better how to choose one and leave another than I
should, sir-that is, his heart wouldn't let him lose e'er a one o' us,
or he'd be miserable for ever, as I should be, if I left one o' mine i'
Here Adela had the good sense to close the door again, yet more
softly than she had opened it; and we retired.
"That's the right sort of man," said I, "to get a hold of the poor.
He understands them, being himself as poor in spirit as they are in
pocket-or, indeed, I might have said, as he is in pocket himself. But
depend upon it he comes out both ways poorer than he went in."
"It should not be required of a curate to give money," said Adela.
"Do you grudge him the blessedness of giving, Adela?"
"Oh, no. I only think it is too hard on him."
"It is as necessary for a poor man to give away, as for a rich man.
Many poor men are more devoted worshippers of Mammon than some rich
And then I took her home.
AS I led Adela, well wrapped in furs, down the steps to put her
into the carriage, I felt by the wind, and saw by the sky, that a
snowstorm was at hand. This set my heart beating with delight, for
after all I am only what my friends call me-an old boy; and so I am
still very fond of snow and wind. Of course this pleasure is often
modified by the recollection that it is to most people no pleasure, and
to some a source of great suffering. But then I recover myself by
thinking, that I did not send for the snow, and that my enjoyment of it
will neither increase their pains nor lessen my sympathies. And so I
enjoy it again with all my heart. It is partly the sense of being lapt
in a mysterious fluctuating depth of exquisite shapes of evanescent
matter, falling like a cataract from an unknown airy gulf, where they
grow into being and form out of the invisible-well-named by the prophet
Job-for a prophet he was in the truest sense, all-seated in his ashes
and armed with his potsherd-the womb of the snow; partly the sense of
motion and the goings of the wind through the etherial mass; partly the
delight that always comes from contest with nature, a contest in which
no vile passions are aroused, and no weak enemy goes helpless to the
ground. I presume that in a right condition of our nervous nature,
instead of our being, as some would tell us, less exposed to the
influences of nature, we should in fact be altogether open to them. Our
nerves would be a thorough-fare for Nature in all and each of her moods
and feelings, stormy or peaceful, sunshiny or sad. The true refuge from
the slavery to which this would expose us, the subjection of man to
circumstance, is to be found, not in the deadening of the nervous
constitution, or in a struggle with the influences themselves, but in
the strengthening of the moral and refining of the spiritual nature; so
that, as the storms rave through the vault of heaven without breaking
its strong arches with their winds, or staining its etherial blue with
their rain-clouds, the soul of man should keep clear and steady and
great, holding within it its own feelings and even passions, knowing
that, let them moan or rave as they will, they cannot touch the nearest
verge of the empyrean dome, in whose region they have their birth and
For me, I felt myself now, just an expectant human snow-storm; and
as I sat on the box by the coachman, I rejoiced to greet the first
flake, which alighted on the tip of my nose even before we had cleared
our own grounds. Before we had got up street, the wind had risen, and
the snow thickened, till the horses seemed inclined to turn their tails
to the hill and the storm together, for the storm came down the hill in
their faces. It was soon impossible to see one's hand before one's
eyes; and the carriage lamps served only to reveal a chaotic fury of
snow-flakes, crossing each other's path at all angles, in the eddies of
the wind amongst the houses. The coachman had to keep encouraging his
horses to get them to face it at all. The ground was very slippery; and
so fast fell the snow, that it had actually begun to ball in the
horses' feet before we reached our destination. When we were all safe
in Mrs. Armstrong's drawing-room, we sat for a while listening to the
wind roaring in the chimney, before any of us spoke. And then I did not
join in the conversation, but pleased myself with looking at the room;
for next to human faces, I delight in human abodes, which will always,
more or less, according to the amount of choice vouchsafed in the
occupancy, be like the creatures who dwell in them. Even the
soldier-crab must have some likeness to the snail of whose house he
takes possession, else he could not live in it at all.
The first thing to be done by one who would read a room is, to
clear it as soon as possible of the air of the marvellous, the air of
the storybook, which pervades every place at the first sight of it. But
I am not now going to write a treatise upon this art, for which I have
not time to invent a name; but only to give as much of a description of
this room as will enable my readers to feel quite at home with us in
it, during our evening there. It was a large low room, with two beams
across the ceiling at unequal distances. There was only a drugget on
the floor, and the window curtains were scanty. But there was a
glorious fire on the hearth, and the tea-board was filled with splendid
china, as old as the potteries. The chairs, I believe, had been brought
from old Mr. Armstrong's lumber-room, and so they all looked as if they
could tell stories themselves. At all events they were just the proper
chairs to tell stories in, and I could not help regretting that we were
not to have any to-night. The rest of the company had arrived before
us. A warm corner in an old-fashioned sofa had been prepared for Adela,
and as soon as she was settled in it, our hostess proceeded to pour out
the tea with a simplicity and grace which showed that she had been just
as much a lady when carrying parcels for the dressmaker, and would have
been a lady if she had been a housemaid. Such a women are rare in every
circle, the best of every kind being rare. It is very disappointing to
the imaginative youth when, coming up to London and going into society,
he finds that so few of the men and women he meets, come within the
charmed circle of his ideal refinement.
I said to myself: "I am sure she could write a story if she would.
I must have a try for one from her."
When tea was over, she looked at her husband, and then went to the
piano, and sang the following ballad:
"'Traveller, what lies over the hill?
Traveller, tell to me:
I am only a child-from the window-sill
Over I cannot see.'
"'Child, there's a valley over there,
Pretty and woody and shy;
And a little brook that says-'take care,
Or I'll drown you by and by.'
"'And what comes next?' 'A little town;
And a towering hill again;
More hills and valleys, up and down,
And a river now and then.'
"'And what comes next?' 'A lonely moor,
Without a beaten way;
And grey clouds sailing slow, before
A wind that will not stay.'
"'And then?' 'Dark rocks and yellow sand,
And a moaning sea beside.'
'And then?' 'More sea, more sea more land,
And rivers deep and wide.'
"'And then?' 'Oh! rock and mountain and vale,
Rivers and fields and men;
Over and over-a weary tale-
And round to your home again.'
"'Is that the end? It is weary at best.'
'No, child; it is not the end.
On summer eves, away in the west,
You will see a stair ascend;
"'Built of all colours of lovely stones-
A stair up into the sky;
Where no one is weary, and no one moans,
Or wants to be laid by.'
"'I will go.' 'But the steps are very steep:
If you would climb up there,
You must lie at its foot, as still as sleep,
And be a step of the stair,
"'For others to put their feet on you,
To reach the stones high-piled;
Till Jesus comes and takes you too,
And leads you up, my child!'"
That is one of your parables, I am sure, Ralph," said the doctor,
who was sitting, quite at his ease, on a footstool, with his back
against the wall, by the side of the fire opposite to Adela, casting
every now and then a glance across the fiery gulf, just as he had done
in church when I first saw him. And Percy was there to watch them,
though, from some high words I overheard, I had judged that it was with
difficulty his mother had prevailed on him to come. I could not help
thinking myself, that two pairs of eyes met and parted rather oftener
than any other two pairs in the room; but I could find nothing to
"Now, Miss Cathcart, it is your turn to sing."
"Would you mind singing another of Heine's songs?" said the doctor,
as he offered his hand to lead her to the piano.
"No," she answered. "I will not sing one of that sort. It was not
liked last time. Perhaps what I do sing won't be much better though.
"The waters are rising and flowing
Over the weedy stone-
Over and over it going:
It is never gone.
"So joy on joy may go sweeping
Over the head of pain-
Over and over it leaping:
It will rise again."
"Very lovely, but not much better than what I asked for. In
revenge, I will give you one of Heine's that my brother translated. It
always reminds me, with a great difference, of one in In Memoriam,
beginning: Dark house."
So spake Harry, and sang:
"The shapes of the days forgotten
Out of their graves arise,
And show me what once my life was,
In the presence of thine eyes.
"All day through the streets I wandered,
As in dreams men go and come;
The people in wonder looked at me,
I was so mournful dumb.
"It was better though, at night-fall,
When, through the empty town,
I and my shadow together
Went silent up and down.
"With echoing, echoing footstep,
Over the bridge I walk;
The moon breaks out of the waters,
And looks as if she would talk.
"I stood still before thy dwelling,
Like a tree that prays for rain;
I stood gazing up at thy window-
My heart was in such pain.
"And thou lookedst through thy curtains-
I saw thy shining hand;
And thou sawest me, in the moonlight,
Still as a statue stand."
"Excuse me," said Mrs. Cathcart, with a smile, "but I don't think
such sentimental songs good for anybody. They can't be healthy-I
believe that is the word they use now-a-days."
"I don't say they are," returned the doctor; "but many a pain is
relieved by finding its expression. I wish he had never written worse."
"That is not why I like them," said the curate. "They seem to me to
hold the same place in literature that our dreams do in life. If so
much of our life is actually spent in dreaming, there must be some
place in our literature for what corresponds to dreaming. Even in this
region, we cannot step beyond the boundaries of our nature. I delight
in reading Lord Bacon now; but one of Jean Paul's dreams will often
give me more delight than one of Bacon's best paragraphs. It depends
upon the mood. Some dreams like these, in poetry or in sleep, arouse
individual states of consciousness altogether different from any of our
waking moods, and not to be recalled by any mere effort of the will.
All our being, for the moment, has a new and strange colouring. We have
another kind of life. I think myself, our life would be much poorer
without our dreams; a thousand rainbow tints and combinations would be
gone; music and poetry would lose many an indescribable exquisiteness
and tenderness. You see I like to take our dreams seriously, as I would
even our fun. For I believe that those new mysterious feelings that
come to us in sleep, if they be only from dreams of a richer grass and
a softer wind than we have known awake, are indications of wells of
feeling and delight which have not yet broken out of their
hiding-places in our souls, and are only to be suspected from these
rings of fairy green that spring up in the high places of our sleep."
"I say, Ralph," interrupted Harry, "just repeat that strangest of
Heine's ballads, that---"
"Oh, no, no; not that one. Mrs. Cathcart would not like it at all."
"Yes, please do," said Adela.
"Pray don't think of me, gentlemen," said the aunt.
"No, I won't," said the curate.
"Then I will," said the doctor, with a glance at Adela, which
seemed to say-"If you want it, you shall have it, whether they like it
He repeated, with just a touch of the recitative in his tone, the
"Night lay upon mine eyelids;
Upon my mouth lay lead;
With withered heart and sinews,
I lay among the dead.
"How long I lay and slumbered,
I knew not in the gloom.
I wakened up, and listened
To a knocking at my tomb.
"'Wilt thou not rise, my Henry?
Immortal day draws on;
The dead are all arisen;
The endless joy begun.'
"'My love, I cannot raise me;
Nor could I find the door;
My eyes with bitter weeping
Are blind for evermore.'
"'But from thine eyes, dear Henry,
I'll kiss away the night;
Thou shalt behold the angels,
And Heaven's own blessed light.'
"'My love, I cannot raise me;
The blood is flowing still,
Where thou, heart-deep, didst stab me,
With a dagger-speech, to kill.'
"'Oh! I will lay my hand, Henry,
So soft upon thy heart;
And that will stop the bleeding-
Stop all the bitter smart.'
"'My love, I cannot raise me;
My head is bleeding too.
When thou wast stolen from me,
I shot it through and through.'
"'With my thick hair, my Henry,
I will stop the fountain red;
Press back again the blood-stream,
And heal thy wounded head.'
"She begged so soft, so dearly,
I could no more say no;
Writhing, I strove to raise me,
And to the maiden go.
"Then the wounds again burst open;
And afresh the torrents break
From head and heart-life's torrents-
And lo! I am awake."
"There now, that is enough!" said the curate. "That is not nice-is
it, Mrs. Cathcart?"
Mrs. Cathcart smiled, and said:
"I should hardly have thought your time well-spent in translating
it, Mr. Armstrong."
"It took me a few idle minutes only," said the curate. "But my
foolish brother, who has a child's fancy for horrid things, took a
fancy to that; and so he won't let my sins be forgotten. But I will
take away the taste of it with another of Heine's, seeing we have
fallen upon him. I should never have dreamed of introducing him here.
It was Miss Cathcart's first song that opened the vein, I believe."
"I am the guilty person," said Adela; "and I fear I am not sorry
for my sins-the consequences have been too pleasant. Do go on, Mr.
"High in the heavens the sun was glowing;
Around him the white clouds, like waves, were flowing;
The sea was very still and grey.
Dreamily thinking as I lay,
Close by the gliding vessel's wheel,
A sleepless slumber did o'er me steal;
And I saw the Christ, the healer of woe,
In white and waving garments go;
Walking in giant form went he
Over the land and sea.
High in the heaven he towered his head,
And his hands in blessing forth he spread
Over the land and sea.
And for a heart, O wonder meet!
In his breast the sun did throb and beat;
In his breast, for a heart to the only One,
Shone the red, the flaming sun.
The flaming red sunheart of the Lord
Forth its gracious life-beams poured;
Its fair and love-benignant light
Softly shone, with warming might,
Over the land and sea.
"Sounds of solemn bells that go
Through the still air to and fro,
Draw, like swans, in a rosy band,
The gliding ship to the grassy land,
Where a mighty city, towered and high,
Breaks and jags the line of the sky.
"Oh, wonder of peach, how still was the town!
The hollow tumult had all gone down
Of the bustling and babbling trades.
Men and women, and youths and maids,
White clothes wearing,
Palm branches bearing,
Walked through the clean and echoing streets;
And when one with another meets,
They look at each other with eyes that tell
That they understand each other well;
And, trembling with love and sweet restraint,
Each kisses the other upon the brow,
And looks above, like a hoping saint,
To the holy, healing sunheart's glow;
Which atoning all, its red blood streams
Downward in still outwelling beams;
Till, threefold blessed, they call aloud,
The single hearts of a happy crowd.
Praised be Jesus Christ!"
"You will like that better," concluded the curate, again addressing
"Fanciful," she answered. "I don't like fancies about sacred
"I fear, however," replied he, "that most of our serious thoughts
about sacred things are little better than fancies."
"Sing that other of his about the flowers, and I promise you never
to mention his name in this company again," said Harry.
"Very well, I will, on that condition," answered Ralph.
"In the sunny summer morning
Into the garden I come;
The flowers are whispering and speaking,
But I, I wander dumb.
"The flowers are whispering and speaking,
And they gaze at my visage wan:
'You must not be cross with our sister,
You melancholy man!'"
"Is that all?" said Adela.
"Yes, that's all," answered the singer.
"But we cannot let you off with that only," she said.
"What an awful night it is!" interrupted the colonel, rising and
going to the window to peep out. "Between me and the lamp, the air
looks solid with driving snow."
"Sing one of your winter songs, Ralph," said the curate's wife.
"This is surely stormy enough for one of your Scotch winters that you
are so proud of."
Thus adjured, Mr. Armstrong sang:
"A morning clear, with frosty light
From sunbeams late and low;
They shine upon the snow so white,
And shine back from the snow.
"From icy spears a drop will run-
Not fall: at afternoon,
It shines a diamond for the sun,
An opal for the moon.
"And when the bright sad sun is low
Behind the mountain-dome,
A twilight wind will come, and blow
All round the children's home;
"And waft about the powdery snow,
As night's dim footsteps pass;
But waiting, in its grave below,
Green lies the summer-grass."
"Now it seems to me," said the colonel, "though I am no authority
in such matters, that it is just in such weather as this, that we don't
need songs of that sort. They are not very exhilarating."
"There is truth in that," replied Mr. Armstrong. "I think it is in
winter chiefly that we want songs of summer, as the Jews sang-if not
the songs of Zion, yet of Zion, in a strange land. Indeed most of our
songs are of this sort."
"Then sing one of your own summer songs."
"No, my dear; I would rather not. I don't altogether like them.
Besides, if Harry could sing that Tryst of Schiller's, it would bring
back the feeling of the summer better than any brooding over the
remembrances of it could do."
"Did you translate that too?" I asked.
"Yes. As I told you, at one time of my life translating was a
constant recreation to me. I have had many half-successes, some of
which you have heard. I think this one better."
"What is the name of it?"
"It is 'Die Erwartung'-The Waiting, literally, or Expectation. But
the Scotch word Tryst (Rendezvous) is a better name for a poem, though
English. It is often curious how a literal rendering, even when it
gives quite the meaning, will not do, because of the different ranks of
the two words in their respective languages."
"I have heard you say," said Harry, "that the principles of the
translation of lyrics have yet to be explored."
"Yes. But what I have just said, applies nearly as much to prose as
to the verse.-Sing, Harry. You know it well enough."
"Part is in recitative."
"So it is. Go on."
"To enter into the poem, you must suppose a lover waiting in an
arbour for his lady-love. First come two recited lines of expectation;
then two more, in quite a different measure, of disappointment; and
then a long-lined song of meditation; until expectation is again
aroused, to be again disappointed-and so on through the poem.
"That was the wicket a-shaking!
That was its clang as it fell!
No, 'twas but the night-wind waking,
And the poplars' answering swell.
Put on thy beauty, foliage-vaulted roof,
To greet her entrance, radiant all with grace;
Ye branches weave a holy tent, star-proof;
With lovely darkness, silent, her embrace;
Sweet, wandering airs, creep through the leafy woof,
And toy and gambol round her rosy face,
When with its load of beauty, lightly borne,
Glides in the fairy foot, and brings my morn.
Hush! I hear timid, yet daring
Steps that are almost a race!
No, a bird-some terror scaring-
Started from its roosting place.
Quench thy sunk torch, Hyperion. Night, appear!
Dim, ghostly Night, lone loveliness entrancing!
Spread, purple blossoms, round us, in a sphere;
Twin, lattice-boughs, the mystery enhancing;
Love's joy would die, if more than two were here-
She shuns the daybeam indiscreetly glancing.
Eve's star alone-no envious tell-tale she-
Gazes unblamed, from far across the sea.
Hark! distant voices, that lightly
Ripple the silence deep!
No; the swans that, circling nightly,
Through the silver waters sweep.
Around me wavers an harmonious flow;
The fountain's fall swells in delicious rushes;
The flower beneath the west wind's kiss bends low;
A trembling joy from each to all outgushes.
Grape-clusters beckon; peaches luring glow,
Behind dark leaves hiding their crimson blushes;
The winds, cooled with the sighs of flowers asleep,
Light waves of odour o'er my forehead sweep.
Hear I not echoing footfalls,
Hither along the pleached walk?
No; the over-ripened fruit falls
Heavy-swollen, from off its stalk.
Dull is the eye of day that flamed so bright;
In gentle death, its colours all are dim;
Unfolding fearless in the fair half light,
The flower-cups ope, that all day closed their brim;
Calm lifts the moon her clear face on the night;
Dissolved in masses faint, Earth's features swim;
Each grace withdraws the soft relaxing zone-
Beauty unrobed shines full on me alone.
See I not, there, a white shimmer?-
Something with pale silken shine?
No; it is the column's glimmer,
'Gainst the gloomy hedge of pine.
O longing heart! no more thyself delight
With shadow-forms-a sweet deceiving pleasure;
Filling thy arms but as the vault of night
Infoldeth darkness without hope or measure.
O lead the living beauty to my sight,
That living love her loveliness may treasure!
Let but her shadow fall across my eyes,
And straight my dreams exulting truths will rise!
And soft as, when, purple and golden,
The clouds of the evening descend,
So had she drawn nigh unbeholden,
And wakened with kisses her friend."
Never had song a stranger accompaniment than this song; for the air
was full of fierce noises near and afar. Again the colonel went to the
window. When he drew back the curtains, at Adela's request, and pulled
up the blind, you might have fancied the dark wind full of snowy
Banshees, fleeting and flickering by, and uttering strange ghostly
cries of warning. The friends crowded into the bay-window, and stared
out into the night with a kind of happy awe. They pressed their brows
against the panes, in the vain hope of seeing where there was no light.
Every now and then the wind would rush up against the window in fierce
attack, as if the creatures that rode by upon the blast had seen the
row of white faces, and it angered them to be thus stared at, and they
rode their airy steeds full tilt against the thin rampart of glass that
protected the human weaklings from becoming the spoil of their terrors.
While every one was silent with the intensity of this outlook, and
with the awe of such an uproar of wild things without souls, there came
a loud knock at the door, which was close to the window where they
stood. Even the old colonel, whose nerves were as hard as piano-wires,
started back and cried "God bless me!" The doctor, too, started, and
began mechanically to button his coat, but said nothing. Adela gave a
little suppressed scream, and ashamed of the weakness, crept away to
The servant entered, saying that Dr. Armstrong's man wanted to see
him. Harry went into the passage, which was just outside the
drawing-room, and the company overheard the following conversation,
"There's a man come after you from Cropstone Farm, sir. His missus
is took sudden."
"What?"-It's not the old lady then? It's the young mistress?"
"Yes; she's in labour, sir; leastways she was-he's been three hours
on the road. I reckon it's all over by this time.-You won't go, sir!
It's morally unpossible."
"Won't go! It's morally impossible not. You knew I would go.-That's
the mare outside."
"No, sir. It's Tilter."
"Then you did think I wouldn't go! You knew well enough Tilter's no
use for a job like this. The mare's my only chance."
"I beg your pardon, sir. I did not think you would go."
"Home with you, as hard as Tilter can drive-confound him!-And bring
the mare instantly. She's had her supper?"
"I left her munching, sir."
"Don't let her drink. I'll give her a quart of ale at Job
"You won't go that way, surely, sir?"
"It's the nearest; and the snow can't be very deep yet."
"I've brought your boots and breeches, sir."
The man hurried out, and Harry was heard to run up stairs to his
bother's room. The friends stared at each other in some perturbation.
Presently Harry re-entered, in the articles last mentioned, saying-
"Ralph, have you an old shooting-coat you could lend me?"
"I should think so, Harry. I'll fetch you one."
Now at length the looks of the circle found some expression in the
words of the colonel:
"Mr. Armstrong, I am an old soldier, and I trust I know what duty
is. The only question is, Can this be done?"
"Colonel, no man can tell what can or cannot be done till he tries.
I think it can."
The colonel held out his hand-his sole reply.
The schoolmaster and his wife ventured to expostulate. To them
Harry made fun of the danger. Adela had come from the corner to which
she had retreated, and joined the group. She laid her hand on Harry's
arm, and he saw that she was pale as death.
"Don't go," she said.
As if to enforce her words, the street-door, which, I suppose,
William had not shut properly, burst open with a bang against the wall,
and the wind went shrieking through the house, as if in triumph at
having forced an entrance.
"The woman is in labour," said Harry in reply to Adela, forgetting,
in the stern reality both for the poor woman and himself, that girls of
Adela's age and social position are not accustomed to hear such facts
so plainly expressed, from a man's lips. Adela, however, simply
accepted the fact, and replied:
"But you will be too late anyhow."
"Perhaps just in time," he answered, as his brother entered with a
coat over his arm.
"Ralph," he went on, with a laugh, "they are trying to persuade me
not to go."
"It is a tempting of Providence," said Mrs. Bloomfield.
"Harry, my boy," said the curate solemnly, "I would rather have you
brought home dead to-morrow, than see you sitting by that fire five
minutes after your mare comes. But you'll put on a great-coat?"
"No, thank you. I shall do much better without one. How comical I
shall look in Farmer Prisphig's Sunday clothes! I'm not going to be
lost this storm, Mrs. Bloomfield; for I second-see myself at this
moment, sitting by the farmer's kitchen fire, in certain habiliments a
world too wide for my unshrunk shanks, but doing my best to be worthy
of them by the attention I am paying to my supper."
Here he stooped to Lizzie and whispered in her ear:
"Don't let them make a fuss about my going. There is really no
particular danger. And I don't want my patient there frightened and
thrown back, you know."
Mrs. Armstrong nodded a promise. In a moment more, Harry had
changed his coat; for the storm had swept away ceremony at least.
Lizzie ran and brought him a glass of wine; but he begged for a glass
of milk instead, and was soon supplied; after which he buttoned up his
coat, tightened the straps of his spurs, which had been brought slack
on his boots, put on one of a thick pair of gloves which he found in
his brother's coat, bade them all good night, drew on the other glove,
and stood prepared to go.
Did he or did he not see Adela's eyes gazing out of her pale face
with an expression of admiring apprehension, as she stood bending
forward, and looking up at the strong man about to fight the storm, and
all ready to meet it? I don't know. I only put it to his conscience.
In a moment more, the knock came again-the only sign, for no one
could hear the mare's hoofs in the wind and snow. With one glance and
one good night, he hurried out. The wind once more, for a brief moment,
held an infernal carnival in the house. They crowded to the window-saw
a dim form heave up on horseback, and presently vanish. All space lay
beyond; but, for them, he was swallowed up by the jaws of the darkness.
They knew no more. A flash of pride in his brother shot from Ralph's
eyes, as, with restrained excitement, for which he sought some outlet,
he walked towards the piano. His wife looked at Ralph with the same
light of pride, tempered by thankfulness; for she knew, if he had been
sent for, he would have gone all the same as Harry; but then he was not
such a horseman as his brother. The fact was, he had neither seat nor
hands, though no end of pluck.
"He will have to turn back," said the colonel. "He can't reach
Cropstone Farm to-night. It lies right across the moor. It is
"Impossible things are always being done," said the curate, "else
the world would have been all moor by this time."
"The wind is dead against him," said the schoolmaster.
"Better in front than in flank," said the colonel. "It won't blow
him out of the saddle."
Adela had crept back to her corner, where she sat shading her eyes,
and listening. I saw that her face was very pale. Lizzie joined her,
and began talking to her.
I had not much fear for Harry, for I could not believe that his
hour was come yet. I had great confidence in him and his mare. And I
believed in the God that made Harry and the mare, and the storm too,
through which he had sent them to the aid of one who was doing her part
to keep his world going.
But now Mr. Armstrong had found a vent for his excitement in
another of his winter songs, which might be very well for his mood,
though it was not altogether suited to that of some of the rest of us.
"Oh wildly wild the winter-blast
Is whirling round the snow;
The wintry storms are up at last,
And care not how they go.
In wreaths and mists, the frozen white
Is torn into the air;
It pictures, in the dreary light,
An ocean in despair.
Come, darkness! rouse the fancy more;
Storm! wake the silent sea;
Till, roaring in the tempest-roar,
It rave to ecstasy;
And death-like figures, long and white,
Sweep through the driving spray;
And, fading in the ghastly night,
Cry faintly far away."
I saw Adela shudder. Presently she asked her papa whether it was
not time to go home. Mrs. Armstrong proposed that she should stay all
night; but she evidently wished to go. It would be rather perilous work
to drive down the hill with the wind behind, in such a night, but a
servant was sent to hasten the carriage notwithstanding. The colonel
and Percy and I ran along side of it, ready to render any assistance
that might be necessary; and, although we all said we had never been
out in such an uproar of the elements, we reached home in safety.
As Adela bade us good night in the hall, I certainly felt very
uneasy as to the effects of the night's adventures upon her-she looked
so pale and wretched.
She did not come down to breakfast.
But she appeared at lunch, nothing the worse, and in very good
If I did not think that this had something to do with another fact
I have come to the knowledge of since, I don't know that the
particulars of the evening need have been related so minutely. The
other fact was this: that in the grey dawn of the morning, by which
time the snow had ceased, though the wind still blew, Adela saw from
her window a weary rider and wearier horse pass the house, going up the
street. The heads of both were sunk low. You might have thought the
poor mare was looking for something she had lost last night in the
snow; and perhaps it was not all fatigue with Harry Armstrong. Perhaps
he was giving thanks that he had saved two lives instead of losing his
own. He was not so absorbed, however, but that he looked up at the
house as he passed, and I believe he saw the blind of her window drop
back into its place.
But how did she come to be looking out just at the moment?
If a lady has not slept all night, and has looked out of window
ninety-nine times before, it is not very wonderful that at the
hundredth time she should see what she was looking for; that is, if the
object desired has not been lost in the snow, or drowned in a moorland
pit; neither of which had happened to Harry Armstrong. Nor is it
unlikely that, after seeing what she has watched for, she will fall too
fast asleep to be roused by the breakfast bell.
AT luncheon, the colonel said-
"Well, Adela, you will be glad to know that our hero of last night
returned quite safe this morning."
"I am glad to know it, papa."
"He is one of the right sort, that young fellow. Duty is the first
thing with him."
"Perhaps duty may not have been his only motive," said Mrs.
Cathcart, coldly. "It was too good an opportunity to be lost."
Adela seemed to understand her, for she blushed-but not with
embarrassment alone, for the fire that made her cheek glow red, flashed
in flames from her eyes.
"Some people, aunt," she said, trying to follow the cold tone in
which Mrs. Cathcart had spoken, "have not the faculty for the
perception of the noble and self-denying. Their own lives are so
habitually elevated, that they see nothing remarkable in the devotion
"Well, I do see nothing remarkable in it," returned the aunt, in a
tone that indicated she hardly knew what to make of Adela's sarcasm.
"Mr. Armstrong would have been liable to an action at law if he had
refused to go. And then to come into the drawing-room in his boots and
spurs, and change his coat before ladies!-It was all just of a piece
with the coarse speech he made to you when you were simple enough to
ask him not to go. I can't think what you admire about the man, I am
Adela rose and left the room.
"You are too hard on Mr. Armstrong," said the colonel.
"Perhaps I am, Colonel; but I have my reasons. If you will be blind
to your daughter's interests, that is only the more reason why I should
keep my eyes open to them."
So saying, Mrs. Cathcart rose, and followed her niece-out of the
room, but no farther, I will venture to say. Fierce as the aunt was,
there had been that in the niece's eyes, as she went, which I do not
believe the vulgar courage of the aunt could have faced.
I concluded that Mrs. Cathcart had discovered Adela's restlessness
the night before; had very possibly peeped into her room; and, as her
windows looked in the same direction, might have seen Harry riding home
from his selfish task in the cold grey morning; for scheming can
destroy the rest of some women as perfectly as loving can destroy the
rest of others. She might have made the observation, too, that Adela
had lain as still as a bird unhatched, after that apparition of
weariness had passed.
The colonel again sank into an uncomfortable mood. He had loved his
dead brother very dearly, and had set his heart on marrying Adela to
Percy. Besides there was quite enough of worldliness left in the heart
of the honourable old soldier, to make him feel that a country
practitioner, of very moderate means, was not to be justified in
aspiring to the hand of his daughter. Moreover, he could hardly endure
the thought of his daughter's marriage at all, for he had not a little
of the old man's jealousy in him; and the notion of Percy being her
husband was the only form in which the thought could present itself,
that was in the least degree endurable to him. Yet he could not help
admiring Harry; and until his thoughts had been turned into their
present channel by Mrs. Cathcart's remarks, he had felt that that lady
was unjust to the doctor. But to think that his line, for he had no
son, should merge into that of the Armstrongs, who were of somewhat
dubious descent in his eyes, and Scotch, too-though, by the way, his
own line was Scotch, a few hundred years back-was sufficient to cause
him very considerable uneasiness-pain would be the more correct word.
I have, for many pages, said very little about Percy; simply
because there has been very little to say about him. He was always
present at our readings, but did not appear to take any interest in
them. He would generally lie on a couch, and stare either at Adela or
the fire till he fell asleep. If he did not succeed in getting to
sleep, he would show manifest signs of being bored. No doubt he
considered the whole affair a piece of sentimental humbug. And during
the day I saw very little of him. He had hunted once or twice, on one
of his uncle's horses: they had scarcely seen the hounds this season.
But that was a bore, no doubt. He went skating occasionally, and had
once tried to get Adela to accompany him; but she would not. These
amusements, with a few scattered hours of snipe-shooting, composed his
Christmas enjoyments; the intervals being filled up with yawning,
teasing the dogs, growling at his mother and the cold, and sleeping
"the innocent sleep."
Whether he had any real regard for Adela, I could not quite satisfy
myself-I mean real by the standard and on the scale of his own being;
for of course, as compared with the love of men like the Armstrongs,
the attachment of a lad like Percy could hardly be considered real at
all. But even that, as I say, I could not clearly find out. His
jealousy seemed rather the jealousy of what was his, or ought to be
his, than any more profound or tragical feeling. But he evidently
disliked the doctor-and the curate, too, whether for his own sake or
for the doctor's, is of little consequence.
In the course of this forenoon, I came upon Master Percy in the
kitchen garden. He had set an old shutter against one of the walls for
a target, and was peppering away at it with a revolver; apparently
quite satisfied if he succeeded in hitting the same panel twice
running, at twelve paces. Guessing at the nonsense that was in his
head, I sauntered up to him and watched his practice for a while. He
pulled the trigger with a jerk that threw the muzzle up half an inch
every time he fired, else I don't believe he would have hit the board
at all. But he held his breath before-hand, till he was red in the
face, because he had heard that, in firing at a mark, pistol-shooters
did not even breathe, to avoid the influence of the motion of the chest
upon the aim.
"Ah!" I said, "pretty well. But you should see Mr. Henry Armstrong
Whereupon Mr. Percy Cathcart deliberately damned Mr. Henry
Armstrong, expressly and by name. I pretended not to have heard him,
and, continuing to regard the said condemned as still alive and
comfortable, went on:
"Just ask him, the next time you find him at home, to let you see
him drive a nail with three pistol-bullets."
He threw the pistol from him, exploded himself, like a shell, in
twenty different fragments of oaths, and left me the kitchen garden and
the pistol, which latter I took a little practice with myself, for the
sake of emptying two of the chambers still charged. Whether Henry
Armstrong even knew how to fire a pistol, I did not know; but I dare
say he was a first-rate shot, if I only had known it. I sent the pistol
up to Mr. Percy's room by the hand of Mr. Beeves; but I never heard him
practising any more.
The next night the curate was to read us another story. The time
arrived, and with it all our company, except Harry. Indeed it was a
marvel that he had been able to attend so often as he had attended. I
presume the severe weather had by this time added to his sick-list.
Although I fear the chief end of our readings was not so fully
attained as hitherto, or, in other words, that Adela did not enjoy the
evening so much as usual, I will yet record all with my usual
The curate and his wife were a little late, and when they arrived,
they found us waiting for them in music. As soon as they entered, Adela
rose from the piano.
"Do go on, Miss Cathcart," said the curate.
"I had just finished," she replied.
"Then, if you will allow me, I will sing a song first, which I
think will act as an antidote to those sentimental ones which we had at
my house, and of which Mrs. Cathcart did not approve."
"Thank you," said everybody, Mrs. Cathcart included.
Whereupon the curate sang:
"I am content. In trumpet-tones,
My song, let people know.
And many a mighty man, with throne
And sceptre, is not so.
And if he is, I joyful cry,
Why then, he's just the same as I.
The Mogul's gold, the Sultan's show-
His bliss, supreme too soon,
Who, lord of all the world below,
Looked up unto the moon-
I would not pick it up-all that
Is only fit for laughing at.
My motto is-Content with this.
Gold-place-I prize not such.
That which I have, my measure is;
Wise men desire not much.
Men wish and wish, and have their will,
And wish again, as hungry still.
And gold and honour are besides
A very brittle glass;
And Time, in his unresting tides,
Makes all things change and pass;
Turns riches to a beggar's dole;
Sets glory's race an infant's goal.
Be noble-that is more than wealth;
Do right-that's more than place;
Then in the spirit there is health,
And gladness in the face;
Then thou art with thyself at one,
And, no man hating, fearest none.
I am content. In trumpet-tones,
My song, let people know.
And many a mighty man, with throne
And sceptre, is not so.
And if he is, I joyful cry,
Why then, he's just the same as I."
"Is that one of your own, Mr. Armstrong?" asked the colonel.
"It is, like most of those you have heard from me and my brother,
only a translation."
"I am no judge of poetry, but it seems to me that if he was
content, he need not say so much about it."
"There is something in what you say. But there was no show-off in
Claudius, I think. He was a most simple-hearted, amiable man, to all
appearance. A man of business, too-manager of a bank at Altona, in the
beginning of the present century. But as I have not given a favourable
impression of him, allow me to repeat a little bit of innocent humour
of his-a cradle song-which I like fully better than the other."
"Most certainly; it is only fair," answered the colonel.
"Sleep, baby boy, sleep sweet, secure;
Thou art thy father's miniature;
That art thou, though thy father goes
And swears that thou hast not his nose.
A moment gone, he looked at thee,
My little budding rose,
And said-No doubt there's much of me,
But he has not my nose.
I think myself, it is too small,
But it is his nose after all;
For if thy nose his nose be not,
Whence came the nose that thou hast got?
Sleep, baby, sleep; don't half-way doze:
To tease me-that's his part.
No matter if you've not his nose,
So be you've got his heart!"
EVERY one liked this, except Mrs. Cathcart, who opined, with her
usual smile, that it was rather silly.
"Well, I hope a father may be silly sometimes," said the curate,
with a glance at his wife, which she did not acknowledge. "At least I
fear I should be silly enough, if I were a father."
No more remarks were made, and as it was now quite time to begin
the story, Mr. Armstrong took his place, and the rest took their
places. He began at once.
"THE BROKEN SWORDS.
"The eyes of three, two sisters and a brother, gazed for the last
time on a great pale-golden star, that followed the sun down the steep
west. It went down to arise again; and the brother about to depart
might return, but more than the usual doubt hung upon his future. For
between the white dresses of the sisters, shone his scarlet coat and
golden sword-knot, which he had put on for the first time, more to
gratify their pride than his own vanity. The brightening moon, as if
prophetic of a future memory, had already begun to dim the scarlet and
the gold, and to give them a pale, ghostly hue. In her thoughtful light
the whole group seemed more like a meeting in the land of shadows, than
a parting in the substantial earth.-But which should be called the land
of realities?-the region where appearance, and space, and time drive
between, and stop the flowing currents of the soul's speech? or that
region where heart meets heart, and appearance has become the slave to
utterance, and space and time are forgotten?
"Through the quiet air came the far-off rush of water, and the near
cry of the land-rail. Now and then a chilly wind blew unheeded through
the startled and jostling leaves that shaded the ivy-seat. Else, there
was calm everywhere, rendered yet deeper and more intense by the dusky
sorrow that filled their hearts. For, far away, hundreds of miles
beyond the hearing of their ears, roared the great war-guns; next week
their brother must sail with his regiment to join the army; and
to-morrow he must leave his home.
"The sisters looked on him tenderly, with vague fears about his
fate. Yet little they divined it. That the face they loved might lie
pale and bloody, in a heap of slain, was the worst image of it that
arose before them; but this, had they seen the future, they would, in
ignorance of the further future, have infinitely preferred to that
which awaited him. And even while they looked on him, a dim feeling of
the unsuitableness of his lot filled their minds. For, indeed, to all
judgments it must have seemed unsuitable that the home-boy, the loved
of his mother, the pet of his sisters, who was happy womanlike (as
Coleridge says), if he possessed the signs of love, having never yet
sought for its proofs-that he should be sent amongst soldiers, to
command and be commanded; to kill, or perhaps to be himself crushed out
of the fair earth in the uproar that brings back for the moment the
reign of Night and Chaos. No wonder that to his sisters it seemed
strange and sad. Yet such was their own position in the battle of life,
in which their father had died with doubtful conquest, that when their
old military uncle sent the boy an ensign's commission, they did not
dream of refusing the only path open, as they thought, to an honourable
profession, even though it might lead to the trench-grave. They heard
it as the voice of destiny, wept, and yielded.
"If they had possessed a deeper insight into his character, they
would have discovered yet further reason to doubt the fitness of the
profession chosen for him; and if they had ever seen him at school, it
is possible the doubt of fitness might have strengthened into a
certainty of incongruity. His comparative inactivity amongst his
schoolfellows, though occasioned by no dulness of intellect, might have
suggested the necessity of a quiet life, if inclination and liking had
been the arbiters in the choice. Nor was this inactivity the result of
defective animal spirits either, for sometimes his mirth and boyish
frolic were unbounded; but it seemed to proceed from an over-activity
of the inward life, absorbing, and in some measure checking, the
outward manifestation. He had so much to do in his own hidden kingdom,
that he had not time to take his place in the polity and strife of the
commonwealth around him. Hence, while other boys were acting, he was
thinking. In this point of difference, he felt keenly the superiority
of many of his companions; for another boy would have the obstacle
overcome, or the adversary subdued, while he was meditating on the
propriety, or on the means, of effecting the desired end. He envied
their promptitude, while they never saw reason to envy his wisdom; for
his conscience, tender and not strong, frequently transformed slowness
of determination into irresolution: while a delicacy of the sympathetic
nerves tended to distract him from any predetermined course, by the
diversity of their vibrations, responsive to influences from all
quarters, and destructive to unity of purpose.
"Of such a one, the à priori judgment would be, that he ought to be
left to meditate and grow for some time, before being called upon to
produce the fruits of action. But add to these mental conditions a
vivid imagination, and a high sense of honour, nourished in childhood
by the reading of the old knightly romances, and then put the youth in
a position in which action is imperative, and you have elements of
strife sufficient to reduce that fair kingdom of his to utter anarchy
and madness. Yet so little. do we know ourselves, and so different are
the symbols with which the imagination works its algebra, from the
realities which those symbols represent, that as yet the youth felt no
uneasiness, but contemplated his new calling with a glad enthusiasm and
some vanity; for all his prospect lay in the glow of the scarlet and
the gold. Nor did this excitement receive any check till the day before
his departure, on which day I have introduced him to my readers, when,
accidently taking up a newspaper of a week old, his eye fell on these
words-"Already crying women are to be met in the streets." With this
cloud afar on his horizon, which, though no bigger than a man's hand,
yet cast a perceptible shadow over his mind, he departed next morning.
The coach carried him beyond the consecrated circle of home laws and
impulses, out into the great tumult, above which rises ever and anon
the cry of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
"Every tragedy of higher order, constructed in Christian times,
will correspond more or less to the grand drama of the Bible; wherein
the first act opens with a brilliant sunset vision of Paradise, in
which childish sense and need are served with all the profusion of the
indulgent nurse. But the glory fades off into grey and black, and night
settles down upon the heart which, rightly uncontent with the childish,
and not having yet learned the childlike, seeks knowledge and manhood
as a thing denied by the Maker, and yet to be gained by the creature;
so sets forth alone to climb the heavens, and instead of climbing,
falls into the abyss. Then follows the long dismal night of feverish
efforts and delirious visions, or, it may be, helpless despair; till at
length a deeper stratum of the soul is heaved to the surface; and amid
the first dawn of morning, the youth says within him, "I have sinned
against my Maker-I will arise and go to my Father." More or less, I
say, will Christian tragedy correspond to this-a fall and a rising
again; not a rising only, but a victory; not a victory merely, but a
triumph. Such, in its way and degree, is my story. I have shown, in one
passing scene, the home paradise; now I have to show a scene of a far
"The young ensign was lying in his tent, weary, but wakeful. All
day long the cannon had been bellowing against the walls of the city,
which now lay with wide, gaping breach, ready for the morrow's storm,
but covered yet with the friendly darkness. His regiment was ordered to
be ready with the earliest dawn to march up to the breach. That day,
for the first time, there had been blood on his sword-there the sword
lay, a spot on the chased hilt still. He had cut down one of the enemy
in a skirmish with a sally party of the besieged and the look of the
man as he fell, haunted him. He felt, for the time, that he dared not
pray to the Father, for the blood of a brother had rushed forth at the
stroke of his arm, and there was one fewer of living souls on the earth
because he lived thereon. And to-morrow he must lead a troop of men up
to that poor disabled town, and turn them loose upon it, not knowing
what might follow in the triumph of enraged and victorious foes, who
for weeks had been subjected, by the constancy of the place, to the
greatest privations. It was true the general had issued his commands
against all disorder and pillage; but if the soldiers once yielded to
temptation, what might not be done before the officers could reclaim
them! All the wretched tales he had read of the sack of cities rushed
back on his memory. He shuddered as he lay. Then his conscience began
to speak, and to ask what right he had to be there.-Was the war a just
one?-He could not tell; for this was a bad time for settling nice
questions. But there he was, right or wrong, fighting and shedding
blood on God's earth, beneath God's heaven.
"Over and over he turned the question in his mind; again and again
the spouting blood of his foe, and the death-look in his eye, rose
before him; and the youth who at school could never fight with a
companion because he was not sure that he was in the right, was alone
in the midst of undoubting men of war, amongst whom he was driven
helplessly along, upon the waves of a terrible necessity. What wonder
that in the midst of these perplexities his courage should fail him!
What wonder that the consciousness of fainting should increase the
faintness! or that the dread of fear and its consequences should hasten
and invigorate its attacks! To crown all, when he dropped into a
troubled slumber at length, he found himself hurried, as on a storm of
fire, through the streets of the captured town, from all the windows of
which looked forth familiar faces, old and young, but distorted from
the memory of his boyhood by fear and wild despair. On one spot lay the
body of his father, with his face to the earth; and he woke at the cry
of horror and rage that burst from his own lips, as he saw the rough,
bloody hand of a soldier twisted in the loose hair of his elder sister,
and the younger fainting in the arms of a scoundrel belonging to his
"He slept no more. As the grey morning broke, the troops appointed
for the attack assembled without sound of trumpet or drum, and were
silently formed in fitting order. The young ensign was in his place,
weary and wretched after his miserable night. Before him he saw a
great, broad-shouldered lieutenant, whose brawny hand seemed almost too
large for his sword-hilt, and in any one of whose limbs played more
animal life than in the whole body of the pale youth. The firm-set lips
of this officer, and the fire of his eye, showed a concentrated
resolution, which, by the contrast, increased the misery of the ensign,
and seemed, as if the stronger absorbed the weaker, to draw out from
him the last fibres of self-possession: the sight of unattainable
determination, while it increased the feeling of the arduousness of
that which required such determination, threw him into the great gulf
which lay between him and it. In this disorder of his nervous and
mental condition, with a doubting conscience and a shrinking heart, is
it any wonder that the terrors which lay before him at the gap in those
bristling walls, should draw near, and, making sudden inroad upon his
soul, overwhelm the government of a will worn out by the tortures of an
unassured spirit? What share fear contributed to unman him, it was
impossible for him, in the dark, confused conflict of differing
emotions, to determine; but doubtless a natural shrinking from danger,
there being no excitement to deaden its influence, and no hope of
victory to encourage to the struggle, seeing victory was dreadful to
him as defeat, had its part in the sad result. Many men who have
courage, are dependent on ignorance and a low state of the moral
feeling for that courage; and a further progress towards the
development of the higher nature would, for a time at least, entirely
overthrow it. Nor could such loss of courage be rightly designated by
the name of cowardice.
But, alas! the colonel happened to fix his eyes upon him as he
passed along the file; and this completed his confusion. He betrayed
such evident symptoms of perturbation, that that officer ordered him
under arrest; and the result was, that, chiefly for the sake of example
to the army, he was, upon trial by court-martial, expelled from the
service, and had his sword broken over his head. Alas for the delicate
minded youth! Alas for the home-darling!
"Long after, he found at the bottom of his chest the pieces of the
broken sword, and remembered that, at the time, he had lifted them from
the ground and carried them away. But he could not recall under what
impulse he had done so. Perhaps the agony he suffered, passing the
bounds of mortal endurance, had opened for him a vista into the
eternal, and had shown him, if not the injustice of the sentence passed
upon him, yet his freedom from blame, or, endowing him with dim
prophetic vision, had given him the assurance that some day the stain
would be wiped from his soul, and leave him standing clear before the
tribunal of his own honour. Some feeling like this, I say, may have
caused him, with a passing gleam of indignant protest, to lift the
fragments from the earth, and carry them away; even as the friends of a
so-called traitor may bear away his mutilated body from the wheel. But
if such was the case, the vision was soon overwhelmed and forgotten in
the succeeding anguish. He could not see that, in mercy to his doubting
spirit, the question which had agitated his mind almost to madness, and
which no results of the impending conflict could have settled for him,
was thus quietly set aside for the time; nor that, painful as was the
dark, dreadful existence that he was now to pass in self-torment and
moaning, it would go by, and leave his spirit clearer far, than if, in
his apprehension, it had been stained with further blood-guiltiness,
instead of the loss of honour. Years after, when he accidentally
learned that on that very morning the whole of his company, with parts
of several more, had, or ever they began to mount the breach, been
blown to pieces by the explosion of a mine, he cried aloud in
bitterness, "Would God that my fear had not been discovered before I
reached that spot!" But surely it is better to pass into the next
region of life having reaped some assurance, some firmness of
character, determination of effort, and consciousness of the worth of
life, in the present world; so approaching the future steadily and
faithfully, and if in much darkness and ignorance, yet not in the
oscillations of moral uncertainty.
"Close upon the catastrophe followed a torpor, which lasted he did
not know how long, and which wrapped in a thick fog all the succeeding
events. For some time he can hardly be said to have had any conscious
history. He awoke to life and torture when half-way across the sea
towards his native country, where was no home any longer for him. To
this point, and no farther, could his thoughts return in after years.
But the misery which he then endured is hardly to be understood, save
by those of like delicate temperament with himself. All day long he sat
silent in his cabin; nor could any effort of the captain, or others on
board, induce him to go on deck till night came on, when, under the
starlight, he ventured into the open air. The sky soothed him then, he
knew not how. For the face of nature is the face of God, and must bear
expressions that can influence, though unconsciously to them, the most
ignorant and hopeless of His children. Often did he watch the clouds in
hope of a storm, his spirit rising and falling as the sky darkened or
cleared; he longed, in the necessary selfishness of such suffering, for
a tumult of waters to swallow the vessel; and only the recollection of
how many lives were involved in its safety besides his own, prevented
him from praying to God for lightning and tempest, borne on which he
might dash into the haven of the other world. One night, following a
sultry calm day, he thought that Mercy had heard his unuttered prayer.
The air and sea were intense darkness, till a light as intense for one
moment annihilated it, and the succeeding darkness seemed shattered
with the sharp reports of the thunder that cracked without
reverberation. He who had shrunk from battle with his fellow-men,
rushed to the mainmast, threw himself on his knees, and stretched forth
his arms in speechless energy of supplication; but the storm passed
away overhead, and left him kneeling still by the uninjured mast. At
length the vessel reached her port. He hurried on shore to bury himself
in the most secret place he could find. Out of sight was his first, his
only thought. Return to his mother he would not, he could not; and,
indeed, his friends never learned his fate, until it had carried him
far beyond their reach.
"For several weeks he lurked about like a malefactor, in low
lodging-houses in narrow streets of the seaport to which the vessel had
borne him, heeding no one, and but little shocked at the strange
society and conversation with which, though only in bodily presence, he
had to mingle. These formed the subjects of reflection in after times;
and he came to the conclusion that, though much evil and much misery
exist, sufficient to move prayers and tears in those who love their
kind, yet there is less of both than those looking down from a more
elevated social position upon the weltering heap of humanity, are ready
to imagine; especially if they regard it likewise from the pedestal of
self-congratulation on which a meagre type of religion has elevated
them. But at length his little stock of money was nearly expended, and
there was nothing that he could do, or learn to do, in this seaport. He
felt impelled to seek manual labour, partly because he thought it more
likely he could obtain that sort of employment, without a request for
reference as to his character, which would lead to inquiry about his
previous history; and partly, perhaps, from an instinctive feeling that
hard bodily labour would tend to lessen his inward suffering.
"He left the town, therefore, at nightfall of a July day, carrying
a little bundle of linen, and the remains of his money, somewhat
augmented by the sale of various articles of clothing and convenience,
which his change of life rendered superfluous and unsuitable. He
directed his course northwards, travelling principally by night-so
painfully did he shrink from the gaze even of foot-farers like himself;
and sleeping during the day in some hidden nook of wood or thicket, or
under the shadow of a great tree in a solitary field. So fine was the
season, that for three successive weeks he was able to travel thus
without inconvenience, lying down when the sun grew hot in the
forenoon, and generally waking when the first faint stars were
hesitating in the great darkening heavens that covered and shielded
him. For above every cloud, above every storm, rise up, calm, clear,
divine, the deep infinite skies; they embrace the tempest even as the
sunshine; by their permission it exists within their boundless peace:
therefore it cannot hurt, and must pass away, while there they stand as
ever, domed up eternally, lasting, strong, and pure.
"Several times he attempted to get agricultural employment; but the
whiteness of his hands and the tone of his voice not merely suggested
unfitness for labour, but generated suspicion as to the character of
one who had evidently dropped from a rank so much higher, and was
seeking admittance within the natural masonic boundaries and secrets
and privileges of another. Disheartened somewhat, but hopeful, he
journeyed on. I say hopeful; for the blessed power of life in the
universe in fresh air and sunshine absorbed by active exercise, in
winds, yea in rain, though it fell but seldom, had begun to work its
natural healing, soothing effect, upon his perturbed spirit. And there
was room for hope in his new endeavour. As his bodily strength
increased, and his health, considerably impaired by inward suffering,
improved, the trouble of his soul became more endurable-and in some
measure to endure is to conquer and destroy. In proportion as the mind
grows in the strength of patience, the disturber of its peace sickens
and fades away. At length, one day, a widow lady in a village through
which his road led him, gave him a day's work in her garden. He
laboured hard and well, notwithstanding his soon-blistered hands,
received his wages thankfully, and found a resting-place for the night
on the low part of a hay-stack from which the upper portion had been
cut away. Here he ate his supper of bread and cheese, pleased to have
found such comfortable quarters, and soon fell fast asleep.
"When he awoke, the whole heavens and earth seemed to give a full
denial to sin and sorrow. The sun was just mounting over the horizon,
looking up the clear cloud-mottled sky. From millions of water-drops
hanging on the bending stalks of grass, sparkled his rays in varied
refraction, transformed here to a gorgeous burning ruby, there to an
emerald, green as the grass, and yonder to a flashing, sunny topaz. The
chanting priest-lark had gone up from the low earth, as soon as the
heavenly light had begun to enwrap and illumine the folds of its
tabernacle; and had entered the high heavens with his offering, whence,
unseen, he now dropped on the earth the sprinkled sounds of his
overflowing blessedness. The poor youth rose but to kneel, and cry,
from a bursting heart, "Hast Thou not, O Father, some care for me?
Canst Thou not restore my lost honour? Can anything befall Thy children
for which Thou hast no help? Surely, if the face of Thy world lie not,
joy and not grief is at the heart of the universe. Is there none for
"The highest poetic feeling of which we are now conscious, springs
not from the beholding of perfected beauty, but from the mute sympathy
which the creation with all its children manifests with us in the
groaning and travailing which look for the sonship. Because of our need
and aspiration, the snowdrop gives birth in our hearts to a loftier
spiritual and poetic feeling, than the rose most complete in form,
colour, and odour. The rose is of Paradise-the snowdrop is of the
striving, hoping, longing Earth. Perhaps our highest poetry is the
expression of our aspirations in the sympathetic forms of visible
nature. Nor is this merely a longing for a restored Paradise; for even
in the ordinary history of men, no man or woman that has fallen, can be
restored to the position formerly held. Such must rise to a yet higher
place, whence they can behold their former standing far beneath their
feet. They must be restored by the attainment of something better than
they ever possessed before, or not at all. If the law be a weariness,
we must escape it by taking refuge with the spirit, for not otherwise
can we fulfil the law than by being above the law. To escape the
overhanging rocks of Sinai, we must climb to its secret top.
"'Is thy strait horizon dreary?
Is thy foolish fancy chill?
Change the feet that have grown weary
For the wings that never will.'
"Thus, like one of the wandering knights searching the wide earth
for the Sangreal, did he wander on, searching for his lost honour, or
rather (for that he counted gone for ever) seeking unconsciously for
the peace of mind which had departed from him, and taken with it, not
the joy merely, but almost the possibility, of existence.
"At last, when his little store was all but exhausted, he was
employed by a market gardener, in the neighbourhood of a large country
town, to work in his garden, and sometimes take his vegetables to
market. With him he continued for a few weeks, and wished for no
change; until, one day driving his cart through the town, he saw
approaching him an elderly gentleman, whom he knew at once, by his gait
and carriage, to be a military man. Now he had never seen his uncle the
retired officer, but it struck him that this might be he; and under the
tyranny of his passion for concealment, he fancied that, if it were he,
he might recognise him by some family likeness-not considering the
improbability of his looking at him. This fancy, with the painful
effect which the sight of an officer, even in plain clothes, had upon
him, recalling the torture of that frightful day, so overcame him, that
he found himself at the other end of an alley before he recollected
that he had the horse and cart in charge. This increased his
difficulty; for now he dared not return, lest his inquiries after the
vehicle, if the horse had strayed from the direct line, should attract
attention, and cause interrogations which he would be unable to answer.
The fatal want of self-possession seemed again to ruin him. He forsook
the town by the nearest way, struck across the country to another line
of road, and before he was missed, was miles away, still in a northerly
"But although he thus shunned the face of man, especially of any
one who reminded him of the past, the loss of his reputation in their
eyes was not the cause of his inward grief. That would have been
comparatively powerless to disturb him, had he not lost his own
respect. He quailed before his own thoughts; he was dishonoured in his
own eyes. His perplexity had not yet sufficiently cleared away to allow
him to see the extenuating circumstances of the case; not to say the
fact that the peculiar mental condition in which he was at the time,
removed the case quite out of the class of ordinary instances of
cowardice. He condemned himself more severely than any of his judges
would have dared; remembering that portion of his mental sensations
which had savoured of fear, and forgetting the causes which had
produced it. He judged himself a man stained with the foulest blot that
could cleave to a soldier's name, a blot which nothing but death, not
even death, could efface. But, inwardly condemned and outwardly
degraded, his dread of recognition was intense; and feeling that he was
in more danger of being discovered where the population was sparser, he
resolved to hide himself once more in the midst of poverty; and, with
this view, found his way to one of the largest of the manufacturing
"He reached it during the strike of a great part of the workmen; so
that, though he found some difficulty in procuring employment, as might
be expected from his ignorance of machine-labour, he yet was sooner
successful than he would otherwise have been. Possessed of a natural
aptitude for mechanical operations, he soon became a tolerable workman;
and he found that his previous education assisted to the fitting
execution of those operations even which were most purely mechanical.
"He found also, at first, that the unrelaxing attention requisite
for the mastering of the many niceties of his work, of necessity drew
his mind somewhat from its brooding over his misfortune, hitherto
almost ceaseless. Every now and then, however, a pang would shoot
suddenly to his heart, and turn his face pale, even before his
consciousness had time to inquire what was the matter. So by degrees,
as attention became less necessary, and the nervo-mechanical action of
his system increased with use, his thoughts again returned to their old
misery. He would wake at night in his poor room, with the feeling that
a ghostly nightmare sat on his soul; that a want-a loss-miserable,
fearful-was present; that something of his heart was gone from him; and
through the darkness he would hear the snap of the breaking sword, and
lie for a moment overwhelmed beneath the assurance of the incredible
fact. Could it be true that he was a coward? that his honour was gone,
and in its place a stain? that he was a thing for men-and worse, for
women-to point the finger at, laughing bitter laughter? Never lover or
husband could have mourned with the same desolation over the departure
of the loved; the girl alone, weeping scorching tears over her
degradation, could resemble him in his agony, as he lay on his bed, and
wept and moaned.
"His sufferings had returned with the greater weight, that he was
no longer upheld by the "divine air" and the open heavens, whose
sunlight now only reached him late in an afternoon, as he stood at his
loom, through windows so coated with dust that they looked like frosted
glass; showing, as it passed through the air to fall on the dirty
floor, how the breath of life was thick with dust of iron and wood, and
films of cotton; amidst which his senses were now too much dulled by
custom to detect the exhalations from greasy wheels and overtasked
human-kind. Nor could he find comfort in the society of his
fellow-labourers. True, it was a kind of comfort to have those near him
who could not know of his grief; but there was so little in common
between them, that any interchange of thought was impossible. At least,
so it seemed to him. Yet sometimes his longing for human companionship
would drive him out of his dreary room at night, and send him wandering
through the lower part of the town, where he would gaze wistfully on
the miserable faces that passed him, as if looking for some one-some
angel, even there-to speak goodwill to his hungry heart.
"Once he entered one of those gin-palaces, which, like the golden
gates of hell, entice the miserable to worse misery, and seated himself
close to a half-tipsy, good-natured wretch, who made room for him on a
bench by the wall. He was comforted even by this proximity to one who
would not repel him. But soon the paintings of warlike action-of
knights, and horses, and mighty deeds done with battle-axe, and
broad-sword, which adorned the-panels all round, drove him forth even
from this heaven of the damned; yet not before the impious thought had
arisen in his heart, that the brilliantly painted and sculptural roof,
with the gilded vine-leaves and bunches of grapes trained up the
windows, all lighted with the great shining chandeliers, was only a
microcosmic repetition of the bright heavens and the glowing earth,
that overhung and surrounded the misery of man. But the memory of how
kindly they had comforted and elevated him, at one period of his
painful history, not only banished the wicked thought, but brought him
more quiet, in the resurrection of a past blessing, than he had known
for some time. The period, however, was now at hand when a new grief,
followed by a new and more elevated activity, was to do its part
towards the closing up of the fountain of bitterness.
"Amongst his fellow-labourers, he had for a short time taken some
interest in observing a young woman, who had lately joined them. There
was nothing remarkable about her, except what at first sight seemed a
remarkable plainness. A slight scar over one of her rather prominent
eyebrows, increased this impression of plainness. But the first day had
not passed, before he began to see that there was something not
altogether common in those deep eyes; and the plain look vanished
before a closer observation, which also discovered, in the forehead and
the lines of the mouth, traces of sorrow or other suffering. There was
an expression, too, in the whole face, of fixedness of purpose, without
any hardness of determination. Her countenance altogether seemed the
index to an interesting mental history. Signs of mental trouble were
always an attraction to him; in this case so great, that he overcame
his shyness, and spoke to her one evening as they left the works. He
often walked home with her after that; as, indeed, was natural, seeing
that she occupied an attic in the same poor lodging-house in which he
lived himself. The street did not bear the best character; nor, indeed,
would the occupations of all the inmates of the house have stood
investigation; but so retiring and quiet was this girl, and so seldom
did she go abroad after work hours, that he had not discovered till
then that she lived in the same street, not to say the same house with
"He soon learned her history-a very common one as outward events,
but not surely insignificant because common. Her father and mother were
both dead, and hence she had to find her livelihood alone, and amidst
associations which were always disagreeable, and sometimes painful. Her
quick womanly instinct must have discovered that he too had a history;
for though, his mental prostration favouring the operation of outward
influences, he had greatly approximated in appearance to those amongst
whom he laboured, there were yet signs, besides the educated accent of
his speech, which would have distinguished him to an observer; but she
put no questions to him, nor made any approach towards seeking a return
of the confidence she reposed in him. It was a sensible alleviation to
his sufferings to hear her kind voice, and look in her gentle face, as
they walked home together; and at length the expectation of this
pleasure began to present itself, in the midst of the busy, dreary
work-hours, as the shadow of a heaven to close up the dismal,
"But one morning he missed her from her place, and a keener pain
passed through him than he had felt of late; for he knew that the
Plague was abroad, feeding in the low stagnant places of human abode;
and he had but too much reason to dread that she might be now
struggling in its grasp. He seized the first opportunity of slipping
out and hurrying home. He sprang upstairs to her room. He found the
door locked, but heard a faint moaning within. To avoid disturbing her,
while determined to gain an entrance, he went down for the key of his
own door, with which he succeeded in unlocking hers, and so crossed her
threshold for the first time. There she lay on her bed, tossing in
pain, and beginning to be delirious. Careless of his own life, and
feeling that he could not die better than in helping the only friend he
had; certain, likewise, of the difficulty of finding a nurse for one in
this disease and of her station in life; and sure, likewise, that there
could be no question of propriety, either in the circumstances with
which they were surrounded, nor in this case of terrible fever almost
as hopeless for her as dangerous to him, he instantly began the duties
of a nurse, and returned no more to his employment. He had a little
money in his possession, for he could not, in the way in which he
lived, spend all his wages; so he proceeded to make her as comfortable
as he could, with all the pent-up tenderness of a loving heart finding
an outlet at length. When a boy at home, he had often taken the place
of nurse, and he felt quite capable of performing its duties. Nor was
his boyhood far behind yet, although the trials he had come through
made it appear an age since he had lost his light heart. So he never
left her bedside, except to procure what was necessary for her. She was
too ill to oppose any of his measures, or to seek to prohibit his
presence. Indeed, by the time he had returned with the first medicine,
she was insensible; and she continued so through the whole of the
following week, during which time he was constantly with her.
"That action produces feeling is as often true as its converse; and
it is not surprising that, while he smoothed the pillow for her head,
he should have made a nest in his heart for the helpless girl. Slowly
and unconsciously he learned to love her. The chasm between his early
associations and the circumstances in which he found her, vanished as
he drew near to the simple, essential womanhood. His heart saw hers and
loved it; and he knew that, the centre once gained, he could, as from
the fountain of life, as from the innermost secret of the holy place,
the hidden germ of power and possibility, transform the outer intellect
and outermost manners as he pleased. With what a thrill of joy, a
feeling for a long time unknown to him, and till now never known in
this form or with this intensity, the thought arose in his heart that
here lay one who some day would love him; that he should have a place
of refuge and rest; one to lie in his bosom and not despise him! "For,"
said he to himself, "I will call forth her soul from where it sleeps,
like an unawakened echo, in an unknown cave; and like a child, of whom
I once dreamed, that was mine, and to my delight turned in fear from
all besides, and clung to me, this soul of hers will run with
bewildered, half-sleeping eyes, and tottering steps, but with a cry of
joy on its lips, to me as the life-giver. She will cling to me and
worship me. Then will I tell her, for she must know all, that I am low
and contemptible; that I am an outcast from the world, and that if she
receive me, she will be to me as God. And I will fall down at her feet
and pray her for comfort, for life, for restoration to myself; and she
will throw herself beside me, and weep and love me, I know. And we will
go through life together, working hard, but for each other; and when we
die, she shall lead me into paradise as the prize her angel-hand found
cast on a desert shore, from the storm of winds and waves which I was
too weak to resist-and raised, and tended, and saved." Often did such
thoughts as these pass through his mind while watching by her bed;
alternated, checked, and sometimes destroyed, by the fears which
attended her precarious condition, but returning with every apparent
betterment or hopeful symptom.
"I will not stop to decide the nice question, how far the intention
was right, of causing her to love him before she knew his story. If in
the whole matter there was too much thought of self, my only apology is
the sequel. One day, the ninth from the commencement of her illness, a
letter arrived, addressed to her; which he, thinking he might prevent
some inconvenience thereby, opened and read, in the confidence of that
love which already made her and all belonging to her appear his own. It
was from a soldier-her lover. It was plain that they had been betrothed
before he left for the continent a year ago; but this was the first
letter which he had written to her. It breathed changeless love, and
hope, and confidence in her. He was so fascinated that he read it
through without pause.
"Laying it down, he sat pale, motionless, almost inanimate. From
the hard-won sunny heights, he was once more cast down into the shadow
of death. The second storm of his life began, howling and raging, with
yet more awful lulls between. "Is she not mine?" he said, in agony. "Do
I not feel that she is mine? Who will watch over her as I? Who will
kiss her soul to life as I? Shall she be torn away from me, when my
soul seems to have dwelt with hers for ever in an eternal house? But
have I not a right to her? Have I not given my life for hers? Is he not
a soldier, and are there not many chances that he may never return? And
it may be that, although they were engaged in word, soul has never
touched soul with them; their love has never reached that point where
it passes from the mortal to the immortal, the indissoluble: and so, in
a sense, she may be yet free. Will he do for her what I will do? Shall
this precious heart of hers, in which I see the buds of so many
beauties, be left to wither and die?"
"But here the voice within him cried out, "Art thou the disposer of
destinies? Wilt thou, in a universe where the visible God hath died for
the Truth's sake, do evil that a good, which He might neglect or
overlook, may be gained? Leave thou her to Him, and do thou right." And
he said within himself, "Now is the real trial for my life! Shall I
conquer or no?" And his heart awoke and cried, "I will. God forgive me
for wronging the poor soldier! A brave man, brave at least, is better
for her than I."
"A great strength arose within him, and lifted him up to depart.
"Surely I may kiss her once," he said. For the crisis was over, and she
slept. He stooped towards her face, but before he had reached her lips
he saw her eyelids tremble; and he who had longed for the opening of
those eyes, as of the gates of heaven, that she might love him,
stricken now with fear lest she should love him, fled from her, before
the eyelids that hid such strife and such victory from the unconscious
maiden had time to unclose. But it was agony-quietly to pack up his
bundle of linen in the room below, when he knew she was lying awake
above, with her dear, pale face, and living eyes! What remained of his
money, except a few shillings, he put up in a scrap of paper, and went
out with his bundle in his hand, first to seek a nurse for his friend,
and then to go he knew not whither. He met the factory people with whom
he had worked, going to dinner, and amongst them a girl who had herself
but lately recovered from the fever, and was yet hardly able for work.
She was the only friend the sick girl had seemed to have amongst the
women at the factory, and she was easily persuaded to go and take
charge of her. He put the money in her hand, begging her to use it for
the invalid, and promising to send the equivalent of her wages for the
time he thought she would have to wait on her. This he easily did by
the sale of a ring, which, besides his mother's watch, was the only
article of value he had retained. He begged her likewise not to mention
his name in the matter; and was foolish enough to expect that she would
entirely keep the promise she had made him.
"Wandering along the street, purposeless now and bereft, he spied a
recruiting party at the door of a public-house; and on coming nearer,
found, by one of those strange coincidences which do occur in life, and
which have possibly their root in a hidden and wondrous law, that it
was a party, perhaps a remnant, of the very regiment in which he had
himself served, and in which his misfortune had befallen him. Almost
simultaneously with the shock which the sight of the well-known number
on the soldiers' knapsacks gave him, arose in his mind the romantic,
ideal thought, of enlisting in the ranks of this same regiment, and
recovering, as a private soldier and unknown, that honour which as
officer he had lost. To this determination, the new necessity in which
he now stood for action and change of life, doubtless contributed,
though unconsciously. He offered himself to the sergeant; and,
notwithstanding that his dress indicated a mode of life unsuitable as
the antecedent to a soldier's, his appearance, and the necessity for
recruits combined, led to his easy acceptance.
"The English armies were employed in expelling the enemy from an
invaded and helpless country. Whatever might be the political motives
which had induced the Government to this measure, the young man was now
able to feel that he could go and fight, individually and for his part,
in the cause of liberty. He was free to possess his own motives for
joining in the execution of the schemes of those who commanded his
"With a heavy heart, but with more of inward hope and strength than
he had ever known before, he marched with his comrades to the seaport
and embarked. It seemed to him that because he had done right in his
last trial, here was a new glorious chance held out to his hand. True,
it was a terrible change to pass from a woman in whom he had hoped to
find healing, into the society of rough men, to march with them, "mit
gleichem Tritt und Schritt," up to the bristling bayonets or the horrid
vacancy of the cannon mouth. But it was the only cure for the evil that
consumed his life.
"He reached the army in safety, and gave himself, with religious
assiduity, to the smallest duties of his new position. No one had a
brighter polish on his arms, or whiter belts than he. In the necessary
movements, he soon became precise to a degree that attracted the
attention of his officers; while his character was remarkable for all
the virtues belonging to a perfect soldier.
"One day, as he stood sentry, he saw the eyes of his colonel
intently fixed on him. He felt his lip quiver, but he compressed and
stilled it, and tried to look as unconscious as he could; which effort
was assisted by the formal bearing required by his position. Now the
colonel, such had been the losses of the regiment, had been promoted
from a lieutenancy in the same, and had belonged to it at the time of
the ensign's degradation. Indeed, had not the changes in the regiment
been so great, he could hardly have escaped so long without discovery.
But the poor fellow would have felt that his name was already free of
reproach, if he had seen what followed on the close inspection which
had awakened his apprehensions, and which, in fact, had convinced the
colonel of his identity with the disgraced ensign. With a hasty and
less soldierly step than usual the colonel entered his tent, threw
himself on his bed and wept like a child. When he rose he was overheard
to say these words-and these only escaped his lips: "He is nobler than
"But this officer showed himself worthy of commanding such men as
this private; for right nobly did he understand and meet his feelings.
He uttered no word of the discovery he had made, till years afterwards;
but it soon began to be remarked that whenever anything arduous, or in
any manner distinguished, had to be done, this man was sure to be of
the party appointed. In short, as often as he could, the colonel "set
him in the forefront of the battle." Passing through all with wonderful
escape, he was soon as much noticed for his reckless bravery, as
hitherto for his precision in the discharge of duties bringing only
commendation and not honour. But his final lustration was at hand.
"A great part of the army was hastening, by forced marches, to
raise the siege of a town which was already on the point of falling
into the hands of the enemy. Forming one of a reconnoitring party,
which preceded the main body at some considerable distance, he and his
companions came suddenly upon one of the enemy's outposts, occupying a
high, and on one side precipitous rock, a short way from the town,
which it commanded. Retreat was impossible, for they were already
discovered, and the bullets were falling amongst them like the first of
a hail-storm. The only possibility of escape remaining for them was a
nearly hopeless improbability. It lay in forcing the post on this steep
rock; which if they could do before assistance came to the enemy, they
might, perhaps, be able to hold out, by means of its defences, till the
arrival of the army. Their position was at once understood by all; and,
by a sudden, simultaneous impulse, they found themselves half-way up
the steep ascent, and in the struggle of a close conflict, without
being aware of any order to that effect from their officer. But their
courage was of no avail; the advantages of the place were too great;
and in a few minutes the whole party was cut to pieces, or stretched
helpless on the rock. Our youth had fallen amongst the foremost; for a
musket ball had grazed his skull, and laid him insensible.
"But consciousness slowly returned, and he succeeded at last in
raising himself and looking around him. The place was deserted. A few
of his friends, alive, but grievously wounded, lay near him. The rest
were dead. It appeared that, learning the proximity of the English
forces from this rencontre with part of their advanced guard, and
dreading lest the town, which was on the point of surrendering, should
after all be snatched from their grasp, the commander of the enemy's
forces had ordered an immediate and general assault; and had for this
purpose recalled from their outposts the whole of his troops thus
stationed, that he might make the attempt with the utmost strength he
"As the youth's power of vision returned, he perceived, from the
height where he he lay, that the town was already in the hands of the
enemy. But looking down into the level space immediately below him, he
started to his feet at once; for a girl, bare-headed, was fleeing
towards the rock, pursued by several soldiers. "Aha!" said he, divining
her purpose-the soldiers behind and the rock before her-"I will help
you to die!" And he stooped and wrenched from the dead fingers of a
sergeant the sword which they clenched by the bloody hilt. A new throb
of life pulsed through him to his very finger-tips; and on the brink of
the unseen world he stood, with the blood rushing through his veins in
a wild dance of excitement. One who lay near him wounded, but recovered
afterwards, said that he looked like one inspired. With a keen eye he
watched the chase. The girl drew nigh; and rushed up the path near
which he was standing. Close on her footsteps came the soldiers, the
distance gradually lessening between them.
"Not many paces higher up, was a narrower part of the ascent, where
the path was confined by great stones, or pieces of rock. Here had been
the chief defence in the preceding assault, and in it lay many bodies
of his friends. Thither he went and took his stand.
"On the girl came, over the dead, with rigid hands and flying feet,
the bloodless skin drawn tight on her features, and her eyes awfully
large and wild. She did not see him though she bounded past so near
that her hair flew in his eyes. "Never mind!" said he, "we shall meet
soon." And he stepped into the narrow path just in time to face her
pursuers-between her and them. Like the red lightning the bloody sword
fell, and a man beneath it. Cling! clang! went the echoes in the
rocks-and another man was down; for, in his excitement, he was a
destroying angel to the breathless pursuers. His stature rose, his
chest dilated; and as the third foe fell dead, the girl was safe; for
her body lay a broken, empty, but undesecrated temple, at the foot of
the rock. That moment his sword flew in shivers from his grasp. The
next instant he fell, pierced to the heart; and his spirit rose
triumphant, free, strong, and calm, above the stormy world, which at
length lay vanquished beneath him."
"A capital story!" cried our host, the moment the curate had ceased
reading. "But you should not have killed him. You should have made a
general of him. By heaven! he deserved it."
Mr. Armstrong was evidently much pleased that the colonel so
heartily sympathized with his tale. And every one else added some words
of commendation. I could not help thinking with myself that he had only
embodied the story of his own life in other more striking forms. But I
knew that, if I said so, he would laugh at me, and answer that all he
had done was quite easy to do-he had found no difficulty in it; whereas
this man was a hero and did the thing that he found very difficult
indeed. Still I was sure that the story was at least the outgrowth of
his own mind.
"May we ask," I said, "how much of the tale is fact?"
"I am sorry it is not all fact," he answered.
"Tell us how much, then," I said.
"Well, I will tell you what made me write it. I heard an old lady
at a dinner-table mention that she had once known a young officer who
had his sword broken over his head, and was dismissed from the army,
for cowardice. I began trying first to understand his feelings; then to
see how the thing could have happened; and then to discover what could
be done for him. And hence the story. That was all, I am sorry to say."
"I thought as much," I rejoined.
"Will you excuse me if I venture to make a remark?" said Mrs.
"With all my heart," answered the curate.
"It seemed to me that there was nothing Christian in the story. And
I cannot help feeling that a clergyman might, therefore, have done
"I allow that in words there is nothing Christian," answered Mr.
Armstrong; "and I am quite ready to allow also that it might have been
better if something of the kind you mean had been expressed in it. The
whole thing, however, is only a sketch. But I cannot allow that, in
spirit and scope, it is anything other than Christian, or indeed
anything but Christian. It seems to me that the whole might be used as
a Christian parable."
While the curate spoke, I had seen Adela's face flush; but the
cause was not visible to me. As he uttered the last words, a hand was
laid on his shoulder, and Harry's voice said:
"At your parables again, Ralph?"
He had come in so gently that the only sign of his entrance had
been the rose-light on Adela's cheeks.-Was he the sun? And was she a
cloud of the east?
"Glad to see you safe amongst us again," said the colonel, backed
by almost every one of the company.
"What's your quarrel with my parables, Harry?" said the curate.
"Quarrel? None at all. They are the delight of my heart. I only
wish you would give our friends one of your best-The Castle, for
"Not yet a while, Harry. It is not my turn for some time, I hope.
Perhaps Miss Cathcart will be tired of the whole affair, before it
comes round to me again."
"Then I shall deserve to be starved of stories all the rest of my
life," answered Adela, laughing.
"If you will allow me, then," said Harry, "I will give you a
parable, called The Lost Church, from the German poet, Uhland."
"Softly, Harry," said his brother; "you are ready enough with what
is not yours to give; but where is your own story that you promised,
and which indeed we should have a right to demand, whether you had
promised it or not?"
"I am working at it, Ralph, in my spare moments, which are not very
many; and I want to choose the right sort of night to tell it in, too.
This one wouldn't do at all. There's no moon."
"If it is a horrid story, it is a pity you did not read it last
time, before you set out to cross the moor."
"Oh, that night would not have done at all. A night like that
drives all fear out of one's head. But indeed it is not finished
yet.-May I repeat the parable now, Miss Cathcart?"
"What do you mean by a parable, Mr. Henry?" interrupted Mrs.
Cathcart. "It sounds rather profane to me."
"I mean a picture in words, where more is meant than meets the
"But why call it a parable?"
"Because it is one."
"Why not speak in plain words then?"
"Because a good parable is plainer than the plainest words. You
remember what Tennyson says-that
'truth embodied in a tale
Shall enter in at lowly doors'?"
"Goethe," said the curate, "has a little parable about poems, which
is equally true about parables-
'Poems are painted window-panes.
If one looks from the square into the church,
Dusk and dimness are his gains-
Sir Philistine is left in the lurch.
The sight, so seen, may well enrage him,
Nor any words henceforth assuage him.
But come just inside what conceals;
Cross the holy threshold quite-
All at once,'tis rainbow-bright;
Device and story flash to light;
A gracious splendour truth reveals.
This, to God's children, is full measure;
It edifies and gives them pleasure.'"
"I can't follow that," said Adela.
"I will write it out for you," said Harry; "and then you will be
able to follow it perfectly."
"Thank you very much. Now for your parable."
"It is called The Lost Church; and I assure you it is full of
"I hope I shall be able to find it out."
"You will find the more the longer you think about it.
'Oft in the far wood, overhead,
Tones of a bell are heard obscurely;
How old the sounds no sage has said,
Or yet explained the story surely.
From the lost church, the legend saith,
Out on the winds, the ringing goeth;
Once full of pilgrims was the path-
Now where to find it, no one knoweth.
Deep in the wood I lately went,
Where no foot-trodden path is lying;
From the time's woe and discontent,
My heart went forth to God in sighing.
When in the forest's wild repose,
I heard the ringing somewhat clearer;
The higher that my longing rose,
Downward it rang the fuller, nearer.
So on its thoughts my heart did brood,
My sense was with the sound so busy,
That I have never understood
How I clomb up the height so dizzy.
To me it seemed a hundred years
Had passed away in dreaming, sighing-
When lo! high o'er the clouds, appears
An open space in sunlight lying.
The heaven, dark-blue, above it bowed;
The sun shone o'er it, large and glowing;
Beneath, a ministers structure proud
Stood in the gold light, golden showing.
It seemed on those great clouds, sun-clear,
Aloft to hover, as on pinions;
Its spire-point seemed to disappear,
Melting away in high dominions.
The bell's clear tones, entrancing, full-
The quivering tower, they, booming, swung it;
No human hand the rope did pull-
The holy storm-winds sweeping rung it.
The storm, the stream, came down, came near,
And seized my heart with longing holy;
Into the church I went, with fear,
With trembling step, and gladness lowly.
The threshold crossed-I cannot show
What in me moved; words cannot paint it.
Both dark and clear, the windows glow
With noble forms of martyrs sainted.
I gazed and saw-transfigured glory!
The pictures swell and break their barriers;
I saw the world and all its story
Of holy women, holy warriors.
Down at the altar I sank slowly;
My heart was like the face of Stephen.
Aloft, upon the arches holy,
Shone out in gold the glow of heaven.
I prayed; I looked again; and lo!
The dome's high sweep had flown asunder;
The heavenly gates wide open go;
And every veil unveils a wonder.
What gloriousness I then beheld,
Kneeling in prayer, silent and wondrous,
What sounds triumphant on me swelled,
Like organs and like trumpets thunderous-
My mortal words can never tell;
But who for such is sighing sorest,
Let him give heed unto the bell
That dimly soundeth in the forest.'"
"Splendid!" cried the schoolmaster, with enthusiasm.
"What is the lost church?" asked Mrs. Cathcart.
"No one can tell, but him who finds it, like the poet," answered
"But I suppose you at least consider it the Church of England,"
returned the lady with one of her sweetest attempts at a smile.
"God forbid!" exclaimed the clergyman, with a kind of sacred
"Not the Church of England!" cried Mrs. Cathcart, in a tone of
horror likewise, dashed with amazement.
"No, madam-the Church of God; the great cathedral-church of the
universe; of which Church I trust the Church of England is a little
"God bless you, Mr. Armstrong!" cried the schoolmaster.
The colonel likewise showed some sign of emotion. Mrs. Cathcart
looked set-down and indignant. Percy stared. Adela and Harry looked at
"Whoever finds God in his own heart," said the clergyman, solemnly,
"has found the lost Church-the Church of God."
And he looked at Adela as he spoke. She cast down her eyes, and
thanked him with her heart.
A silence followed.
"Harry, you must come up with your story next time-positively,"
said Mr. Armstrong at length.
"I don't think I can. I cannot undertake to do so, at all events."
"Then what is to be done?-I have it. Lizzie, my dear, you have got
that story you wrote once for a Christmas paper, have you not?"
"Yes, I have, Ralph; but that is far too slight a thing to be worth
"It will do at least to give Harry a chance for his. I mustn't
praise it 'afore fowk,' you know."
"But it was never quite finished-at least so people said."
"Well, you can finish it to-morrow well enough."
"I haven't time."
"You needn't be working at that--- all day long and every day.
There is no such hurry."
The blank indicates a certain cessation of intelligible sound
occasioned by the close application of Lizzie's palm to Ralph's lips.
She did not, dare, however, to make any further opposition to his
"I think we have some claim on you, Mrs. Armstrong," said the host.
"It will be my sister's turn next time, and after that Percy's."
Percy gave a great laugh; and his mother said, with a slight toss
of her head:
"I am not so fond of being criticised myself!"
"Has criticism been your occupation, Mrs. Cathcart," I said,
"during our readings? If so, then indeed we have a claim on you greater
than I had supposed."
She could not hide some degree of confusion and annoyance. But I
had had my revenge, and I had no wish for her story; so I said nothing
We parted with the understanding that Mrs. Armstrong would read her
story on the following Monday.
Again, before he took his leave, Mr. Harry had a little therapeutic
tete-a-tete with Miss Adela, which lasted about two minutes, Mrs.
Cathcart watching them every second of the time, with her eyes as round
and wide as she could make them, for they were by nature very long, and
by art very narrow, for she rarely opened them to any width at all.
They were not pleasant eyes, those eyes of Mrs. Cathcart's. Percy's
were like them, only better, for though they had a reddish tinge, he
did open them wider.
"WHY don't you write a story, Percy?" said his mother to him next
morning at breakfast.
"Plenty of quill-driving at Somerset-House, mother. I prefer
something else in the holidays."
"But I don't like to see you showing to disadvantage, Percy," said
his uncle kindly. "Why don't you try?"
"The doctor-fellow hasn't read one yet. And I don't think he will."
"Have patience. I think he will."
"I don't care. I don't want to hear it. It's all a confounded bore.
They're nothing but goody humbug, or sentimental whining. His would be
sure to smell of black draught. I'm not partial to drugs."
The mother frowned, and the uncle tried to smile kindly and
excusingly. Percy rose and left the room.
"You see he's jealous of the doctor," remarked his mother, with an
upward toss of the head.
The colonel did not reply, and I ventured no remark.
"There is a vein of essential vulgarity in both the brothers," said
"I don't think so," returned the colonel; and there the
Adela was practising at her piano the greater part of the day. The
weather would not admit of a walk.
When we were all seated once more for our reading and Mrs.
Armstrong had her paper in her hand, after a little delay of apparent
irresolution, she said all at once:
"Ralph, I can't read. Will you read it for me?"
"Do try to read it yourself, my dear," said her husband.
"I am sure I shall break down," she answered.
"If you were able to write it, surely you are able to read it,"
said the colonel. "I know what my difficulty would be."
"It is a very different thing to read one's own writing. I could
read anything else well enough.-Will you read it for me, Henry?"
"With pleasure, if it must be any other than yourself. I know your
handwriting nearly as well as my own. It's none of your usual
lady-hands-all point and no character. But what do you say, Ralph?"
"Read it by all means, if she will have it so. The company has had
enough of my reading. It will be a change of voice at least."
I saw that Adela looked pleasedly expectant.
"Pray don't look for much," said Mrs. Armstrong in a pleading tone.
"I assure you it is nothing, or at best a mere trifle. But I could not
help myself, without feeling obstinate. And my husband lays so much on
the cherished obstinacy of Lady Macbeth, holding that to be the key to
her character, that he has terrified me from every indulgence of mine."
She laughed very sweetly; and her husband joining in the laugh, all
further hindrance was swept away in the music of their laughter; and
Harry, taking the papers from his sister's hand, commenced at once. It
was partly in print, and partly in manuscript.
"MY UNCLE PETER.
"I will tell you the story of my Uncle Peter, who was born on
Christmas-day. He was very anxious to die on Christmas-day as well; but
I must confess that was rather ambitious in Uncle Peter. Shakespeare is
said to have been born on St. George's-day, and there is some ground
for believing that he died on St. George's-day. He thus fulfilled a
cycle. But we cannot expect that of any but great men, and Uncle Peter
was not a great man, though I think I shall be able to show that he was
a good man. The only pieces of selfishness I ever discovered in him
were, his self-gratulation at having been born on Christmas-day, and
the ambition with regard to his death, which I have just recorded; and
that this selfishness was not of a kind to be very injurious to his
fellow-men, I think I shall be able to show as well.
"The first remembrance that I have of him, is his taking me one
Christmas-eve to the largest toy-shop in London, and telling me to
choose any toy whatever that I pleased. He little knew the agony of
choice into which this request of his,-for it was put to me as a
request, in the most polite, loving manner,-threw his astonished
nephew. If a general right of choice from the treasures of the whole
world had been unanimously voted me, it could hardly have cast me into
greater perplexity. I wandered about, staring like a distracted ghost
at the 'wealth of Ormus and of Ind,' displayed about me. Uncle Peter
followed me with perfect patience; nay, I believe, with a delight that
equalled my perplexity, for, every now and then when I looked round to
him with a silent appeal for sympathy in the distressing dilemma into
which he had thrown me, I found him rubbing his hands and spiritually
chuckling over his victim. Nor would he volunteer the least assistance
to save me from the dire consequences of too much liberty. How long I
was in making up my mind I cannot tell; but as I look back upon this
splendour of my childhood, I feel as if I must have wandered for weeks
through interminable forest-alleys of toy-bearing trees. As often as I
read the story of Aladdin-and I read it now and then still, for I have
children about, and their books about-the subterranean orchard of
jewels always brings back to my inward vision the inexhaustible riches
of the toy-shop to which Uncle Peter took me that Christmas-eve. As
soon as, in despair of choosing well, I had made a desperate plunge at
decision, my Uncle Peter, as if to forestall any supervention of
repentance, began buying like a maniac, giving me everything that took
his fancy or mine, till we and our toys nearly filled the cab which he
called to take us home.
"Uncle Peter was little round man, not very fat, resembling both in
limbs and features an overgrown baby. And I believe the resemblance was
not merely an external one; for, though his intellect was quite up to
par, he retained a degree of simplicity of character and of tastes that
was not childlike only, but bordered, sometimes, upon the childish. To
look at him, you could not have fancied a face or a figure with less of
the romantic about them; yet I believe that the whole region of his
brain was held in fee-simple, whatever that may mean, by a race of
fairy architects, who built aerial castles therein, regardless of
expense. His imagination was the most distinguishing feature of his
character. And to hear him defend any of his extravagancies, it would
appear that he considered himself especially privileged in that
respect. 'Ah, my dear,' he would say to my mother when she expostulated
with him on making some present far beyond the small means he at that
time possessed, 'ah, my dear, you see I was born on Christmas-day.'
Many a time he would come in from town, where he was a clerk in a
merchant's office, with the water running out of his boots, and his
umbrella carefully tucked under his arm; and we would know very well
that he had given the last coppers he had, for his omnibus home, to
some beggar or crossing-sweeper, and had then been so delighted with
the pleasure he had given, that he forgot to make the best of it by
putting up his umbrella. Home he would trudge, in his worn suit of
black, with his steel watch-chain and bunch of ancestral seals swinging
and ringing from his fob, and the rain running into his trousers
pockets, to the great endangerment of the health of his cherished old
silver watch, which never went wrong because it was put right every day
by St. Paul's. He was quite poor then, as I have said. I do not think
he had more than a hundred pounds a-year, and he must have been five
and thirty. I suppose his employers showed their care for the morals of
their clerks, by never allowing them any margin to mis-spend. But Uncle
Peter lived in constant hope and expectation of some unexampled good
luck befalling him; 'For,' said he, 'I was born on Christmas-day.'
"He was never married. When people used to jest with him about
being an old bachelor, he used to smile, for anything would make him
smile; but I was a very little boy indeed when I began to observe that
the smile on such occasions was mingled with sadness, and that Uncle
Peter's face looked very much as if he were going to cry. But he never
said anything on the subject, and not even my mother knew whether he
had had any love-story or not. I have often wondered whether his
goodness might not come in part from his having lost some one very dear
to him, and having his life on earth purified by the thoughts of her
life in heaven. But I never found out. After his death-for he did die,
though not on Christmas-day-I found a lock of hair folded in paper with
a date on it-that was all-in a secret drawer of his old desk. The date
was far earlier than my first recollections of him. I reverentially
burnt it with fire.
"He lived in lodgings by himself not far from our house; and, when
not with us, was pretty sure to be found seated in his easy-chair, for
he was fond of his simple comforts, beside a good fire, reading by the
light of one candle. He had his tea always as soon as he came home, and
some buttered toast or a hot muffin, of which he was sure to make me
eat three-quarters if I chanced to drop in upon him at the right hour,
which, I am rather ashamed to say, I not unfrequently did. He dared not
order another, as I soon discovered. Yet, I fear, that did not abate my
appetite for what there was. You see, I was never so good as Uncle
Peter. When he had finished his tea, he turned his chair to the fire,
and read-what do you think? Sensible Travels and Discoveries, or
Political Economy, or Popular Geology? No: Fairy Tales, as many as he
could lay hold of; and when they failed him, Romances or Novels. Almost
anything in this way would do that was not bad. I believe he had read
every word of Richardson's novels, and most of Fielding's and De Foe's.
But once I saw him throw a volume in the fire, which he had been
fidgeting over for a while. I was just finishing a sum I had brought
across to him to help me with. I looked up, and saw the volume in the
fire. The heat made it writhe open, and I saw the author's name, and
that was Sterne. He had bought it at a book-stall as he came home. He
sat awhile, and then got up and took down his Bible, and began reading
a chapter in the New Testament, as if for an antidote to the book he
"I put in that piece," said the curate.
"But Uncle Peter's luck came at last-at least, he thought it did,
when he received a lawyer's letter announcing the demise of a cousin of
whom he had heard little for a great many years, although they had been
warm friends while at school together. This cousin had been brought up
to some trade in the wood line-had been a cooper or a carpenter, and
had somehow or other got landed in India, and, though not in the
Company's service, had contrived in one way and another to amass what
might be called a large fortune in any rank of life. I am afraid to
mention the amount of it, lest it should throw discredit on my story.
The whole of this fortune he left to Uncle Peter, for he had no nearer
relation, and had always remembered him with affection.
"I happened to be seated beside my uncle when the lawyer's letter
arrived. He was reading 'Peter Wilkins.' He laid down the book with
reluctance, thinking the envelope contained some advertisement of slaty
coal for his kitchen-fire, or cottony silk for his girls' dresses.
Fancy my surprise when my little uncle jumped up on his chair, and
thence on the table, upon which he commenced a sort of demoniac
hornpipe. But that sober article of furniture declined giving its
support to such proceedings for a single moment, and fell with an awful
crash to the floor. My uncle was dancing amidst its ruins like Nero in
blazing Rome, when he was reduced to an awful sense of impropriety by
the entrance of his landlady. I was sitting in open-mouthed
astonishment at my uncle's extravagance, when he suddenly dropped into
his chair, like a lark into its nest, leaving heaven silent. But
silence did not reign long.
"'Well! Mr. Belper,' began his landlady, in a tone as difficult of
description as it is easy of conception, for her fists had already
planted themselves in her own opposing sides. But, to my astonishment,
my uncle was not in the least awed, although I am sure, however much he
tried to hide it, that I have often seen him tremble in his shoes at
the distant roar of this tigress. But it is wonderful how much courage
a pocketful of sovereigns will give. It is far better for rousing the
pluck of a man than any number of bottles of wine in his head. What a
brave thing a whole fortune must be then!
"'Take that rickety old thing away,' said my uncle.
"'Rickety, Mr. Belper! I'm astonished to hear a decent gentleman
like you slander the very table as you've eaten off for the last--- '
"'We won't be precise to a year, ma'am,' interrupted my uncle.
"'And if you will have little scapegraces of neveys into my house
to break the furniture, why, them as breaks, pays, Mr. Belper.'
"'Very well. Of course I will pay for it. I broke it myself, ma'am;
and if you don't get out of my room, I'll--- '
"Uncle Peter jumped up once more, and made for the heap of ruins in
the middle of the floor. The landlady vanished in a moment, and my
uncle threw himself again into his chair, and absolutely roared with
"'Shan't we have rare fun, Charlie, my boy?' said he at last, and
went off into another fit of laughter.
"'Why, uncle, what is the matter with you?' I managed to say, in
"'Nothing but luck, Charlie. It's gone to my head. I'm not used to
it, Charlie, that's all. I'll come all right by-and-by. Bless you, my
"What do you think was the first thing my uncle did to relieve
himself of the awful accession of power which had just befallen him?
The following morning he gathered together every sixpence he had in the
house, and went out of one grocer's shop into another, and out of one
baker's shop into another, until he had changed the whole into
threepenny pieces. Then he walked to town, as usual, to business. But
one or two of his friends who were walking the same way, and followed
behind him, could not think what Mr. Belper was about. Every crossing
that he came to he made use of to cross to the other side. He crossed
and recrossed the same street twenty times, they said. But at length
they observed, that, with a legerdemain worthy of a professor, he
slipped something into every sweeper's hand as he passed him. It was
one of the threepenny pieces. When he walked home in the evening, he
had nothing to give, and besides went through one of the wet
experiences to which I have already alluded. To add to his discomfort,
he found, when he got home, that his tobacco-jar was quite empty, so
that he was forced to put on his wet shoes again-for he never, to the
end of his days, had more than one pair at a time-in order to come
across to my mother to borrow sixpence. Before the legacy was paid to
him, he went through a good many of the tortures which result from
being 'a king and no king.' The inward consciousness and the outward
possibility did not in the least correspond. At length, after much
manuvring with the lawyers, who seemed to sympathize with the departed
cousin in this, that they too would prefer keeping the money till death
parted them and it, he succeeded in getting a thousand pounds of it on
"'NOW!' said Uncle Peter, in enormous capitals.-That night a
thundering knock came to our door. We were all sitting in our little
dining-room-father, mother, and seven children of us-talking about what
we should do next day. The door opened, and in came the most grotesque
figure you could imagine. It was seven feet high at least, without any
head, a mere walking tree-stump, as far as shape went, only it looked
soft. The little ones were terrified, but not the bigger ones of us;
for from top to toe (if it had a toe) it was covered with toys of every
conceivable description, fastened on to it somehow or other. It was a
perfect treasure-cave of Ali Baba turned inside out. We shrieked with
delight. The figure stood perfectly still, and we gathered round it in
a group to have a nearer view of the wonder. We then discovered that
there were tickets on all the articles, which we supposed at first to
record the price of each. But, upon still closer examination, we
discovered that every one of the tickets had one or other of our names
upon it. This caused a fresh explosion of joy. Nor was it the children
only that were thus remembered. A little box bore my mother's name.
When she opened it, we saw a real gold watch and chain, and seals and
dangles of every sort, of useful and useless kind; and my mother's
initials were on the back of the watch. My father had a silver flute,
and to the music of it we had such a dance! the strange figure, now
considerable lighter, joining in it without uttering a word. During the
dance one of my sisters, a very sharp-eyed little puss, espied about
half way up the monster two bright eyes looking out of a shadowy depth
of something like the skirts of a great coat. She peeped and peeped;
and at length, with a perfect scream of exultation, cried out, 'It's
Uncle Peter! It's Uncle Peter!' The music ceased; the dance was
forgotten; we flew upon him like a pack of hungry wolves; we tore him
to the ground; despoiled him of coats, and plaids, and elevating
sticks; and discovered the kernel of the beneficent monster in the
person of real Uncle Peter; which, after all, was the best present he
could have brought us on Christmas-eve, for we had been very dull for
want of him, and had been wondering why he did not come.
"But Uncle Peter had laid great plans for his birthday, and for the
carrying out of them he took me into his confidence,-I being now a lad
of fifteen, and partaking sufficiently of my uncle's nature to enjoy at
least the fun of his benevolence. He had been for some time perfecting
his information about a few of the families in the neighbourhood; for
he was a bit of a gossip, and did not turn his landlady out of the room
when she came in with a whisper of news, in the manner in which he had
turned her out when she came to expostulate about the table. But she
knew her lodger well enough never to dare to bring him any scandal.
From her he had learned that a certain artist in the neighbourhood was
very poor. He made inquiry about him where he thought he could hear
more, and finding that he was steady and hard-working (Uncle Peter
never cared to inquire whether he had genius or not; it was enough to
him that the poor fellow's pictures did not sell), resolved that he
should have a more pleasant Christmas than he expected. One other chief
outlet for his brotherly love, in the present instance, was a
dissenting minister and his wife, who had a large family of little
children. They lived in the same street with himself. Uncle Peter was
an unwavering adherent to the Church of England, but he would have felt
himself a dissenter at once if he had excommunicated any one by
withdrawing his sympathies from him. He knew that this minister was a
thoroughly good man, and he had even gone to hear him preach once or
twice. He knew too that his congregation was not the more liberal to
him that he was liberal to all men. So he resolved that he would act
the part of one of the black angels that brought bread and meat to
Elijah in the wilderness. Uncle Peter would never have pretended to
rank higher than one of the foresaid ravens.
"A great part of the forenoon of Christmas-day was spent by my
uncle and me in preparations. The presents he had planned were many,
but I will only mention two or three of them in particular. For the
minister and his family he got a small bottle with a large mouth. This
he filled as full of new sovereigns as it would hold; labelled it
outside, Pickled Mushrooms; 'for doesn't it grow in the earth without
any seed?' said he; and then wrapped it up like a grocer's parcel. For
the artist, he took a large shell from his chimney-piece; folded a
fifty-pound note in a bit of paper, which he tied up with a green
ribbon; inserted the paper in the jaws of the shell, so that the ends
of the ribbon should hang out; folded it up in paper and sealed it;
wrote outside, Enquire within; enclosed the whole in a tin box and
directed it, With Christmas-day's compliments; 'for wasn't I born on
Christmas-day?' concluded Uncle Peter for the twentieth time that
forenoon. Then there were a dozen or two of the best port he could get,
for a lady who had just had a baby, and whose husband and his income he
knew from business relations. Nor were the children forgotten. Every
house in his street and ours in which he knew there were little ones,
had a parcel of toys and sweet things prepared for it.
As soon as the afternoon grew dusky, we set out with as many as we
could carry. A slight disguise secured me from discovery, my duty being
to leave the parcels at the different houses. In the case of the more
valuable of them, my duty was to ask for the master or mistress, and
see the packet in safe hands. In this I was successful in every
instance. It must have been a great relief to my uncle when the number
of parcels was sufficiently diminished to restore to him the use of his
hands, for to him they were as necessary for rubbing as a tail is to a
dog for wagging-in both cases for electrical reasons, no doubt. He
dropped several parcels in the vain attempt to hold them and perform
the usual frictional movement notwithstanding; so he was compelled
instead to go through a kind of solemn pace, which got more and more
rapid as the parcels decreased in number, till it became at last, in
its wild movements, something like a Highlander's sword-dance. We had
to go home several times for more, keeping the best till the last. When
Uncle Peter saw me give the 'pickled mushrooms' into the hands of the
lady of the house, he uttered a kind of laugh, strangled into a crow,
which startled the good lady, who was evidently rather alarmed already
at the weight of the small parcel, for she said, with a scared look:-
"'It's not gunpowder, is it?'
"'No,' I said; 'I think it's shot.'
"'Shot!' said she, looking even more alarmed. 'Don't you think you
had better take it back again?'
"She held out the parcel to me, and made as if she would shut the
"'Why, ma'am,' I answered, 'you would not have me taken up for
"It was a foolish reply; but it answered the purpose if not the
question. She kept the parcel and shut the door. When I looked round I
saw my uncle going through a regular series of convolutions,
corresponding exactly to the bodily contortions he must have executed
at school every time he received a course of what they call palmies in
Scotland; if, indeed, Uncle Peter was ever even suspected of improper
behaviour at school. It consisted first of a dance, then a double-up;
then another dance, then another double-up, and so on.
"'Some stupid hoax, I suppose!' said the artist, as I put the
parcel into his hands. He looked gloomy enough, poor fellow.
"'Don't be too sure of that, if you please, sir,' said I, and
"Everything was a good joke to uncle all that evening.
"'Charlie,' said he, 'I never had such a birthday in my life
before; but, please God, now I've begun, this will not be the last of
the sort. But, you young rascal, if you split, why, I'll thrash the
life out of you. No, I won't-' here my uncle assumed a dignified
attitude, and concluded with mock solemnity-'No, I won't. I will cut
you off with a shilling.'
"This was a crescendo passage, ending in a howl; upon which he
commenced once more an edition of the Highland fling, with impromptu
"When all the parcels were delivered, we walked home together to my
uncle's lodgings, where he gave me a glass of wine and a sovereign for
my trouble. I believe I felt as rich as any of them.
"But now I must tell you the romance of my uncle's life. I do not
mean the suspected hidden romance, for that no one knew-except, indeed,
a dead one knew all about it. It was a later romance, which, however,
nearly cost him his life once.
"One Christmas-eve we had been occupied, as usual, with the
presents of the following Christmas-day, and-will you believe it?-in
the same lodgings, too, for my uncle was a thorough Tory in his hatred
of change. Indeed, although two years had passed, and he had had the
whole of his property at his disposal since the legal term of one year,
he still continued to draw his salary of £100 of Messrs. Buff and
Codgers. One Christmas-eve, I say, I was helping him to make up
parcels, when, from a sudden impulse, I said to him-
"'How good you are, uncle!'
"'Ha! ha! ha!' laughed he; 'that's the best joke of all. Good, my
boy! Ha! ha! ha! Why, Charlie, you don't fancy I care one atom for all
these people, do you? I do it all to please myself. Ha! ha! ha! It's
the cheapest pleasure at the money, considering the quality, that I
know. That is a joke. Good, indeed! Ha! ha! ha!'
"I am happy to say I was an old enough bird not to be caught with
this metaphysical chaff. But my uncle's face grew suddenly very grave,
even sad in its expression; and after a pause he resumed, but this time
without any laughing:-
"'Good, Charlie! Why, I'm no use to anybody.'
"'You do me good, anyhow, uncle,' I answered. 'If I'm not a better
man for having you for an uncle, why I shall be a great deal the worse,
"'Why, there it is!' rejoined my uncle; 'I don't know whether I do
good or harm. But for you, Charlie, you're a good boy, and don't want
any good done to you. It would break my heart, Charlie, if I thought
you weren't a good boy.'
"He always called me a boy after I was a grown man. But then I
believe he always felt like a boy himself, and quite forgot that we
were uncle and nephew.
"I was silent, and he resumed,-
"'I wish I could be of real, unmistakeable use to anyone! But I
fear I am not good enough to have that honour done me.'
"Next morning,-that was Christmas-day,-he went out for a walk
alone, apparently oppressed with the thought with which the serious
part of our conversation on the preceding evening had closed. Of course
nothing less than a threepenny piece would do for a crossing-sweeper on
Christmas-day; but one tiny little girl touched his heart so that the
usual coin was doubled. Still this did not relieve the heart of the
giver sufficiently; for the child looked up in his face in a way,
whatever the way was, that made his heart ache. So he gave her a
shilling. But he felt no better after that.-I am following his own
account of feelings and circumstances.
"'This won't do,' said Uncle Peter to himself. 'What is your name?'
said Uncle Peter to the little girl.
"'Little Christmas,' she answered.
"'Little Christmas!' exclaimed Uncle Peter. 'I see why that
wouldn't do now. What do you mean?'
"'Little Christmas, sir; please, sir.'
"'Who calls you that?'
"'Why do they call you that?'
"'It's my name, sir.'
"'What's your father's name?'
"'I ain't got none, sir'
"'But you know what his name was?'
"'How did you get your name then? It must be the same as your
father's, you know.'
"'Then I suppose my father was Christmas-day, sir, for I knows of
none else. They always calls me Little Christmas.'
"'H'm! A little sister of mine, I see,' said Uncle Peter to
"'Well, who's your mother?'
"'My aunt, sir. She knows I'm out, sir.'
"There was not the least impudence in the child's tone or manner in
saying this. She looked up at him with her gipsy eye in the most
confident manner. She had not struck him in the least as beautiful; but
the longer he looked at her, the more he was pleased with her.
"'Is your aunt kind to you?'
"'She gives me my wittles.'
"'Suppose you did not get any money all day, what would she say to
"'Oh, she won't give me a hidin' to-day, sir, supposin' I gets no
more. You've giv' me enough already, sir; thank you, sir. I'll change
it into ha'pence.'
"'She does beat you sometimes, then?'
"Here she rubbed her arms and elbows as if she ached all over at
the thought, and these were the only parts she could reach to rub for
"'I will,' said Uncle Peter to himself.
"'Do you think you were born on Christmas-day, little one?'
"'I think I was once, sir.'
"'I shall teach the child to tell lies if I go on asking her
questions in this way,' thought my uncle. 'Will you go home with me?'
he said coaxingly.
"'Yes, sir, if you will tell me where to put my broom, for I must
not go home without it, else aunt would wollop me.'
"'I will buy you a new broom.'
"'But aunt would wollop me all the same if I did not bring home the
old one for our Christmas fire.'
"'Never mind. I will take care of you. You may bring your broom if
you like, though,' he added, seeing a cloud come over the little face.
"'Thank you, sir,' said the child; and, shouldering her broom, she
trotted along behind him, as he led the way home.
"But this would not do, either. Before they had gone twelve paces,
he had the child in one hand; and before they had gone a second twelve,
he had the broom in the other. And so Uncle Peter walked home with his
child and his broom. The latter he set down inside the door, and the
former he led upstairs to his room. There he seated her on a chair by
the fire, and ringing the bell, asked the landlady to bring a basin of
bread and milk. The woman cast a look of indignation and wrath at the
poor little immortal. She might have been the impersonation of
Christmas-day in the catacombs, as she sat with her feet wide apart,
and reaching halfway down the legs of the chair, and her black eyes
staring from the midst of knotted tangles of hair that never felt comb
or brush, or were defended from the wind by bonnet or hood. I dare say
uncle's poor apartment, with its cases of stuffed birds and its square
piano that was used for a cupboard, seemed to her the most sumptuous of
conceivable abodes. But she said nothing-only stared. When her bread
and milk came, she ate it up without a word, and when she had finished
it, sat still for a moment, as if pondering what it became her to do
next. Then she rose, dropped a courtesy, and said:-'Thank you, sir.
Please, sir, where's my broom?'
"'Oh, but I want you to stop with me, and be my little girl.'
"'Please, sir, I would rather go to my crossing.'
"The face of Little Christmas lengthened visibly, and she was upon
the point of crying. Uncle Peter saw that he had been too precipitate,
and that he must woo the child before he could hope to win her; so he
asked her for her address. But though she knew the way to her home
perfectly, she could give only what seemed to him the most confused
directions how to find it. No doubt to her they seemed as clear as day.
Afraid of terrifying her by following her, the best way seemed to him
to promise her a new frock on the morrow, if she would come and fetch
it. Her face brightened so at the sound of a new frock, that my uncle
had very little fear of the fault being hers if she did not come.
"'Will you know the way back, my dear?'
"'I always know my way anywheres,' answered she. So she was allowed
to depart with her cherished broom.
"Uncle Peter took my mother into council upon the affair of the
frock. She thought an old one of my sister's would do best. But my
uncle had said a new frock, and a new one it must be. So next day my
mother went with him to buy one, and was excessively amused with his
entire ignorance of what was suitable for the child. However, the frock
being purchased, he saw how absurd it would be to put a new frock over
such garments as she must have below, and accordingly made my mother
buy everything to clothe her completely. With these treasures he
hastened home, and found poor Little Christmas and her broom waiting
for him outside the door, for the landlady would not let her in. This
roused the wrath of my uncle to such a degree, that, although he had
borne wrongs innumerable and aggravated for a long period of years
without complaint, he walked in and gave her notice that he would leave
in a week. I think she expected he would forget all about it before the
day arrived; but with his further designs for Little Christmas, he was
not likely to forget it; and I fear I have seldom enjoyed anything so
much as the consternation of the woman (whom I heartily hated) when she
saw a truck arrive to remove my uncle's few personal possessions from
her inhospitable roof. I believe she took her revenge by giving her
cronies to understand that she had turned my uncle away at a week's
warning for bringing home improper companions to her respectable
house.-But to return to Little Christmas. She fared all the better for
the landlady's unkindness; for my mother took her home and washed her
with her own soft hands from head to foot; and then put all the new
clothes on her, and she looked charming. How my uncle would have
managed I can't think. He was delighted at the improvement in her
appearance. I saw him turn round and wipe his eyes with his
"'Now, Little Christmas, will you come and live with me?' said he.
"She pulled the same face, though not quite so long as before, and
said, 'I would rather go to my crossing, please, sir.'
"My uncle heaved a sigh and let her go.
"She shouldered her broom as if it had been the rifle of a giant,
and trotted away to her work.
"But next day, and the next, and the next, she was not to be seen
at her wonted corner. When a whole week had passed and she did not make
her appearance, my uncle was in despair.
"'You see, Charlie,' said he, 'I am fated to be of no use to
anybody, though I was born on Christmas-day.'
"The very next day, however, being Sunday, my uncle found her as he
went to church. She was sweeping a new crossing. She seemed to have
found a lower deep still, for, alas! all her new clothes were gone, and
she was more tattered and wretched-looking than before. As soon as she
saw my uncle she burst into tears.
"'Look,' she said, pulling up her little frock, and showing her
thigh with a terrible bruise upon it; 'she did it.'
"A fresh burst of tears followed.
"'Where are your new clothes, Little Christmas?' asked my uncle.
"'She sold them for gin, and then beat me awful. Please, sir, I
couldn't help it.'
"The child's tears were so bitter, that my uncle, without thinking,
"'Never mind, dear; you shall have another frock.'
"Her tears ceased, and her face brightened for a moment; but the
weeping returned almost instantaneously with increased violence, and
she sobbed out:
"'It's no use, sir; she'd only serve me the same, sir.'
"'Will you come home and live with me, then?'
"She flung her broom from her into the middle of the street, nearly
throwing down a cab-horse, betwixt whose fore-legs it tried to pass;
then, heedless of the oaths of the man, whom my uncle pacified with a
shilling, put her hand in that of her friend and trotted home with him.
From that day till the day of his death she never left him-of her own
accord, at least.
"My uncle had, by this time, got into lodgings with a woman of the
right sort, who received the little stray lamb with open arms and open
heart. Once more she was washed and clothed from head to foot, and from
skin to frock. My uncle never allowed her to go out without him, or
some one who was capable of protecting her. He did not think it at all
necessary to supply the woman, who might not be her aunt after all,
with gin unlimited, for the privilege of rescuing Little Christmas from
her cruelty. So he felt that she was in great danger of being carried
off, for the sake either of her earnings or her ransom; and, in fact,
some very suspicious-looking characters were several times observed
prowling about in the neighbourhood. Uncle Peter, however, took what
care he could to prevent any report of this reaching the ears of Little
Christmas, lest she should live in terror; and contented himself with
watching her carefully. It was some time before my mother would consent
to our playing with her freely and beyond her sight; for it was strange
to hear the ugly words which would now and then break from her dear
little innocent lips. But she was very easily cured of this, although,
of course, some time must pass before she could be quite depended upon.
She was a sweet-tempered, loving child. But the love seemed for some
time to have no way of showing itself, so little had she been used to
ways of love and tenderness. When we kissed her she never returned the
kiss, but only stared; yet whatever we asked her to do she would do as
if her whole heart was in it; and I did not doubt it was. Now I know it
"After a few years, when Christmas began to be considered tolerably
capable of taking care of herself, the vigilance of my uncle gradually
relaxed a little. A month before her thirteenth birthday, as near as my
uncle could guess, the girl disappeared. She had gone to the day-school
as usual, and was expected home in the afternoon; for my uncle would
never part with her to go to a boarding-school, and yet wished her to
have the benefit of mingling with her fellows, and not being always
tied to the button-hole of an old bachelor. But she did not return at
the usual hour. My uncle went to inquire about her. She had left the
school with the rest. Night drew on. My uncle was in despair. He roamed
the streets all night; spoke about his child to every policeman he met;
went to the station-house of the district, and described her; had bills
printed, and offered a hundred pounds reward for her restoration. All
was unavailing. The miscreants must have seen bills, but feared to
repose confidence in the offer. Poor Uncle Peter drooped and grew thin.
Before the month was out, his clothes were hanging about him like a
sack. He could hardly swallow a mouthful; hardly even sit down to a
meal. I believe he loved his Little Christmas every whit as much as if
she had been his own daughter-perhaps more-for he could not help
thinking of what she might have been if he had not rescued her; and he
felt that God had given her to him as certainly as if she had been his
own child, only that she had come in another way. He would get out of
bed in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and go wandering up
and down the streets, and into dreadful places, sometimes, to try to
find her. But fasting and watching could not go on long without
bringing friends with them. Uncle Peter was seized with a fever, which
grew and grew till his life was despaired of. He was very delirious at
times, and then the strangest fancies had possession of his brain.
Sometimes he seemed to see the horrid woman she called her aunt,
torturing the poor child; sometimes it was old Pagan Father Christmas,
clothed in snow and ice, come to fetch his daughter; sometimes it was
his old landlady shutting her out in the frost; or himself finding her
afterwards, but frozen so hard to the ground that he could not move her
to get her indoors. The doctors seemed doubtful, and gave as their
opinion-a decided shake of the head.
"Christmas-day arrived. In the afternoon, to the wonder of all
about him, although he had been wandering a moment before, he suddenly
"'I was born on Christmas-day, you know. This is the first
Christmas-day that didn't bring me good luck.'
"Turning to me, he added-
"'Charlie, my boy, its' a good thing ANOTHER besides me was born on
Christmas-day, isn't it?'
"'Yes, dear uncle,' said I; and it was all I could say. He lay
quite quiet for a few minutes, when there came a gentle knock to the
"'That's Chrissy!' he cried, starting up in bed, and stretching out
his arms with trembling eagerness. 'And me to say this Christmas-day
would bring me no good!'
"He fell back on his pillow, and burst into a flood of tears.
"I rushed down to the door, and reached it before the servant. I
stared. There stood a girl about the size of Chrissy, with an old
battered bonnet on, and a ragged shawl. She was standing on the
door-step, trembling. I felt she was trembling somehow, for I don't
think I saw it. She had Chrissy's eyes too, I thought; but the light
was dim now, for the evening was coming on.
"All this passed through my mind in a moment, during which she
"'What is it?' I said, in a tremor of expectation.
"'Charlie, don't you know me?' she said, and burst into tears.
"We were in each other's arms in a moment-for the first time. But
Chrissy is my wife now. I led her up stairs in triumph, and into my
"'I knew it was my lamb!' he cried, stretching out his arms, and
trying to lift himself up, only he was too weak.
"Chrissy flew to his arms. She was very dirty, and her clothes had
such a smell of poverty! But there she lay in my uncle's bosom, both of
them sobbing, for a long time; and when at last she withdrew, she
tumbled down on the floor, and there she lay motionless. I was in a
dreadful fright, but my mother came in at the moment, while I was
trying to put some brandy within her cold lips, and got her into a warm
bath, and put her to bed.
"In the morning she was much better, though the doctor would not
let her get up for a day or two. I think, however, that was partly for
my uncle's sake.
"When at length she entered the room one morning, dressed in her
own nice clothes, for there were plenty in the wardrobe in her room, my
uncle stretched out his arms to her once more, and said:
"'Ah! Chrissy, I thought I was going to have my own way, and die on
Christmas-day; but it would have been one too soon, before I had found
you, my darling.'