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´╗┐Title: Adela Cathcart, Volume 1
Author: MacDonald, George, 1824-1905
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Adela Cathcart, Volume 1" ***

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                           ADELA CATHCART

                             Volume I.

                                BY

                        GEORGE MACDONALD M.A.

               Me list not of the chaf ne of the stre
               Maken so long a tale as of the corn.

                        CHAUCER.--_Man of Lawes Tale_.



ADELA CATHCART

Originally published in 1864

With appreciation to Mrs. Morag Black for the master copies of Volumes
II and III, to the Bodleian Library for the photo-copies of Volume I,
and to Miss Tracy Samuel for type-copying Volumes I, II, and III for
this Edition.


To John Rutherfurd Russell M.D.

This book is affectionately dedicated by the author.



Contents of the First Volume

Chapter

I   CHRISTMAS EVE
II  CHURCH
III THE CHRISTMAS DINNER
IV  THE NEW DOCTOR
V   THE LIGHT PRINCESS
VI  THE BELL
VII THE SCHOOLMASTER'S STORY



ADELA CATHCART.


Chapter I.

Christmas Eve.


It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, sinking towards the night. All
day long the wintry light had been diluted with fog, and now the
vanguard of the darkness coming to aid the mist, the dying day was
well nigh smothered between them. When I looked through the window, it
was into a vague and dim solidification of space, a mysterious region
in which awful things might be going on, and out of which anything
might come; but out of which nothing came in the meantime, except
small sparkles of snow, or rather ice, which as we swept rapidly
onwards, and the darkness deepened, struck faster and faster against
the weather-windows. For we, that is, myself and a fellow-passenger,
of whom I knew nothing yet but the waistcoat and neckcloth, having
caught a glimpse of them as he searched for an obstinate
railway-ticket, were in a railway-carriage, darting along, at an all
but frightful rate, northwards from London.

Being, the sole occupants of the carriage, we had made the most of it,
like Englishmen, by taking seats diagonally opposite to each other,
laying our heads in the corners, and trying to go to sleep. But for me
it was of no use to try any longer. Not that I had anything particular
on my mind or spirits; but a man cannot always go to sleep at spare
moments. If anyone can, let him consider it a great gift, and make
good use of it accordingly; that is, by going to sleep on every such
opportunity.

As I, however, could not sleep, much as I should have enjoyed it, I
proceeded to occupy my very spare time with building, up what I may
call a conjectural mould, into which the face, dress, carriage, &c.,
of my companion would fit. I had already discovered that he was a
clergyman; but this added to my difficulties in constructing the said
mould. For, theoretically, I had a great dislike to clergymen; having,
hitherto, always found that the _clergy_ absorbed the _man_; and that
the _cloth_, as they called it even themselves, would be no bad
epithet for the individual, as well as the class. For all clergymen
whom I had yet met, regarded mankind and their interests solely from
the clerical point of view, seeming far more desirous that a man
should be a good church man, as they called it, than that he should
love God. Hence, there was always an indescribable and, to me,
unpleasant odour of their profession about them. If they knew more
concerning the _life_ of the world than other men, why should
everything they said remind one of mustiness and mildew? In a word,
why were they not men at worst, when at best they ought to be more of
men than other men?--And here lay the difficulty: by no effort could I
get the face before me to fit into the clerical mould which I had all
ready in my own mind for it. That was, at all events, the face of a
man, in spite of waistcoat and depilation. I was not even surprised
when, all at once, he sat upright in his seat, and asked me if I would
join him in a cigar. I gladly consented. And here let me state a fact,
which added then to my interest in my fellow-passenger, and will serve
now to excuse the enormity of smoking in a railway carriage. We were
going to the same place--we must be; and nobody would enter that
carriage to-night, but the man who had to clean it. For, although we
were shooting along at a terrible rate, the train would not stop to
set us down, but would cast us loose a mile from our station; and some
minutes after it had shot by like an infernal comet of darkness, our
carriage would trot gently up to the platform, as if it had come from
London all on its own hook--and thought nothing of it.

We were a long way yet, however, from our destination. The night grew
darker and colder, and after the necessary unmuffling occasioned by
the cigar process, we drew our wraps closer about us, leaned back in
our corners, and smoked away in silence; the red glow of our cigars
serving to light the carriage nearly as well as the red nose of the
neglected and half-extinguished lamp. For we were in a second-class
carriage, a fact for which I leave the clergyman to apologize: it is
nothing to me, for I am nobody.

But, after all, I fear I am unjust to the Railway Company, for there
was light enough for me to see, and in some measure scrutinize, the
face of my fellow-passenger. I could discern a strong chin, and good,
useful jaws; with a firm-lipped mouth, and a nose more remarkable for
quantity than disposition of mass, being rather low, and very
thick. It was surmounted by two brilliant, kindly, black eyes. I lay
in wait for his forehead, as if I had been a hunter, and he some
peculiar animal that wanted killing right in the middle of it. But it
was some time before I was gratified with a sight of it. I did see it,
however, and I _was_ gratified. For when he wanted to throw away the
end of his cigar, finding his window immovable (the frosty wind that
bore the snow-flakes blowing from that side), and seeing that I opened
mine to accommodate him, he moved across, and, in so doing, knocked
his hat against the roof. As he displaced, to replace it, I had my
opportunity. It was a splendid forehead for size every way, but
chiefly for breadth. A kind of rugged calm rested upon it--a
suggestion of slumbering power, which it delighted me to contemplate.
I felt that that was the sort of man to make a friend of, if one had
the good luck to be able. But I did not yet make any advance towards
further acquaintance.

My reader may, however, be desirous of knowing what kind of person is
making so much use of the pronoun _I_. He may have the same curiosity
to know his fellow-traveller over the region of these pages, that I
had to see the forehead of the clergyman. I can at least prevent any
further inconvenience from this possible curiosity, by telling him
enough to destroy his interest in me.

I am an----; well, I suppose I _am_ an old bachelor; not very far from
fifty, in fact; old enough, at all events, to be able to take pleasure
in watching without sharing; yet ready, notwithstanding, when occasion
offers, to take any necessary part in what may be going on, I am able,
as it were, to sit quietly alone, and look down upon life from a
second-floor window, delighting myself with my own speculations, and
weaving the various threads I gather, into webs of varying kind and
quality. Yet, as I have already said in another form, I am not the
last to rush down stairs and into the street, upon occasion of an
accident or a row in it, or a conflagration next door. I may just
mention, too, that having many years ago formed the Swedenborgian
resolution of never growing old, I am as yet able to flatter myself
that I am likely to keep it.

In proof of this, if further garrulity about myself can be pardoned, I
may state that every year, as Christmas approaches, I begin to grow
young again. At least I judge so from the fact that a strange,
mysterious pleasure, well known to me by this time, though little
understood and very varied, begins to glow in my mind with the first
hint, come from what quarter it may, whether from the church service,
or a bookseller's window, that the day of all the year is at hand--is
climbing up from the under-world. I enjoy it like a child. I buy the
Christmas number of every periodical I can lay my hands on, especially
those that have pictures in them; and although I am not very fond of
plum-pudding, I anticipate with satisfaction the roast beef and the
old port that ought always to accompany it. And above all things, I
delight in listening to stories, and sometimes in telling them.

It amuses me to find what a welcome nobody I am amongst young people;
for they think I take no heed of them, and don't know what they are
doing; when, all the time, I even know what they are thinking. They
would wonder to know how often I feel exactly as they do; only I think
the feeling is a more earnest and beautiful thing to me than it can be
to them yet. If I see a child crowing in his mother's arms, I seem to
myself to remember making precisely the same noise in my mother's
arms. If I see a youth and a maiden looking into each other's eyes, I
know what it means perhaps better than they do. But I say nothing. I
do not even smile; for my face is puckered, and I have a weakness
about the eyes. But all this will be proof enough that I have not
grown very old, in any bad and to-be-avoided sense, at least.

And now all the glow of the Christmas time was at its height in my
heart. For I was going to spend the Day, and a few weeks besides, with
a very old friend of mine, who lived near the town at which we were
about to arrive like a postscript.--Where could my companion be going?
I wanted to know, because I hoped to meet him again somehow or other.

I ought to have told you, kind reader, that my name is Smith--actually
_John_ Smith; but I'm none the worse for that; and as I do not want to
be distinguished much from other people, I do not feel it a hardship.

But where was my companion going? It could not be to my friend's; else
I should have known something about him. It could hardly be to the
clergyman's, because the vicarage was small, and there was a new
curate coming with his wife, whom it would probably have to
accommodate until their own house was ready. It could not be to the
lawyer's on the hill, because there all were from home on a visit to
their relations. It might be to Squire Vernon's, but he was the last
man likely to ask a clergyman to visit him; nor would a clergyman be
likely to find himself comfortable with the swearing old fox-hunter.
The question must, then, for the present, remain
unsettled.--So I left it, and, looking out of the window once more,
buried myself in Christmas fancies.

It was now dark. We were the under half of the world. The sun was
scorching and glowing on the other side, leaving us to night and
frost. But the night and the frost wake the sunshine of a higher world
in our hearts; and who cares for winter weather at Christmas?--I
believe in the proximate correctness of the date of our Saviour's
birth. I believe he always comes in winter. And then let Winter reign
without: Love is king within; and Love is lord of the Winter.

How the happy fires were glowing everywhere! We shot past many a
lighted cottage, and now and then a brilliant mansion. Inside both
were hearts like our own, and faces like ours, with the red coming out
on them, the red of joy, because it was Christmas. And most of them
had some little feast _toward_. Is it vulgar, this feasting at
Christmas? No. It is the Christmas feast that justifies all feasts, as
the bread and wine of the Communion are the essence of all bread and
wine, of all strength and rejoicing. If the Christianity of eating is
lost--I will not say _forgotten_--the true type of eating is to be
found at the dinner-hour in the Zoological Gardens. Certain I am, that
but for the love which, ever revealing itself, came out brightest at
that first Christmas time, there would be no feasting--nay no smiling;
no world to go careering in joy about its central fire; no men and
women upon it, to look up and rejoice.

"But you always look on the bright side of things."

No one spoke aloud; I heard the objection in my mind. Could it come
from the mind of my friend--for so I already counted him--opposite to
me? There was no need for that supposition--I had heard the objection
too often in my ears. And now I answered it in set, though unspoken
form.

"Yes," I said, "I do; for I keep in the light as much as I can. Let
the old heathens count Darkness the womb of all things. I count Light
the older, from the tread of whose feet fell the first shadow--and
that was Darkness. Darkness exists but by the light, and for the
light."

"But that is all mysticism. Look about you. The dark places of the
earth are the habitations of cruelty. Men and women blaspheme God and
die. How can this then be an hour for rejoicing?"

"They are in God's hands. Take from me my rejoicing, and I am
powerless to help them. It shall not destroy the whole bright holiday
to me, that my father has given my brother a beating. It will do him
good. He needed it somehow.--He is looking after them."

Could I have spoken some of these words aloud? For the eyes of the
clergyman were fixed upon me from his corner, as if he were trying to
put off his curiosity with the sop of a probable conjecture about me.

"I fear he would think me a heathen," I said to myself. "But if ever
there was humanity in a countenance, there it is."

It grew more and more pleasant to think of the bright fire and the
cheerful room that awaited me. Nor was the idea of the table, perhaps
already beginning to glitter with crystal and silver, altogether
uninteresting to me. For I was growing hungry.

But the speed at which we were now going was quite comforting. I
dropped into a reverie. I was roused from it by the sudden ceasing of
the fierce oscillation, which had for some time been threatening to
make a jelly of us. We were loose. In three minutes more we should be
at Purleybridge.

And in three minutes more, we were at Purleybridge--the only
passengers but one who arrived at the station that night. A servant
was waiting for me, and I followed him through the booking-office to
the carriage destined to bear me to _The Swanspond_, as my friend
Colonel Cathcart's house was called.

As I stepped into the carriage, I saw the clergyman walk by, with his
carpet-bag in his hand.

Now I knew Colonel Cathcart intimately enough to offer the use of his
carriage to my late companion; but at the moment I was about to
address him, the third passenger, of whom I had taken no particular
notice, came between us, and followed me into the carriage. This
occasioned a certain hesitation, with which I am only too easily
affected; the footman shut the door; I caught one glimpse of the
clergyman turning the corner of the station into a field-path; the
horses made a scramble; and away I rode to the Swanspond, feeling as
selfish as ten Pharisees. It is true, I had not spoken a word to him
beyond accepting his invitation to smoke with him; and yet I felt
almost sure that we should meet again, and that when we did, we should
both be glad of it. And now he was carrying a carpet-bag, and I was
seated in a carriage and pair!

It was far too dark for me to see what my new companion was like; but
when the light from the colonel's hall-door flashed upon us as we drew
up, I saw that he was a young man, with a certain expression in his
face which a first glance might have taken for fearlessness and power
of some sort, but which notwithstanding, I felt to be rather repellent
than otherwise. The moment the carriage-door was opened, he called the
servant by his name, saying,

"When the cart comes with the luggage, send mine up directly. Take
that now."

And he handed him his dressing-bag.

He spoke in a self-approving tone, and with a drawl which I will not
attempt to imitate, because I find all such imitation tends to
caricature; and I want to be believed. Besides, I find the production
of caricature has unfailingly a bad moral reaction upon myself. I
daresay it is not so with others, but with that I have nothing to do:
it is one of my weaknesses.

My worthy old friend, the colonel, met us in the hall--straight,
broad-shouldered, and tall, with a severe military expression
underlying the genuine hospitality of his countenance, as if he could
not get rid of a sense of duty even when doing what he liked best.
The door of the dining-room was partly open, and from it came the red
glow of a splendid fire, the chink of encountering glass and metal,
and, best of all, the pop of a cork.

"Would you like to go up-stairs, Smith, or will you have a glass of
wine first?--How do you do, Percy?"

"Thank you; I'll go to my room at once," I said.

"You'll find a fire there, I know. Having no regiment now, I look
after my servants. Mind you make use of them. I can't find enough of
work for them."

He left me, and again addressed the youth, who had by this time got
out of his great-coat, and, cold as it was, stood looking at his hands
by the hall-lamp. As I moved away, I heard him say, in a careless
tone,

"And how's Adela, uncle?"

The reply did not reach me, but I knew now who the young fellow was.

Hearing a kind of human grunt behind me, I turned and saw that I was
followed by the butler; and, by a kind of intuition, I knew that this
grunt was a remark, an inarticulate one, true, but not the less to the
point on that account. I knew that he had been in the dining-room by
the pop I had heard; and I knew by the grunt that he had heard his
master's observation about his servants.

"Come, Beeves," I said, "I don't want your help. You've got plenty to
do, you know, at dinner-time; and your master is rather hard upon
you--isn't he?"

I knew the man, of course.

"Well, Mr. Smith, master is the best master in the country, _he
is_. But he don't know what work is, _he don't_."

"Well, go to your work, and never mind me. I know every turn in the
house as well as yourself, Beeves."

"No, Mr. Smith; I'll attend to you, if _you_ please. Mr. Percy will
take care of _his_-self. There's no fear of him. But you're my
business. You are sure to give a man a kind word who does his best to
please you."

"Why, Beeves, I think that is the least a man can do."

"It's the most too, sir; and some people think it's too much."

I saw that the man was hurt, and sought to soothe him.

"You and I are old friends, at least, Beeves."

"Yes, Mr. Smith. Money won't do't, sir. My master gives good wages,
and I'm quite independing of visitors. But when a gentleman says to
me, 'Beeves, I'm obliged to you,' why then, Mr. Smith, you feels at
one _and_ the same time, that he's a gentleman, and that you aint a
boot-jack or a coal-scuttle. It's the sentiman, Mr. Smith. If he
despises us, why, we despises him. And we don't like waiting on a
gentleman as aint a gentleman. Ring the bell, Mr. Smith, when you want
anythink, and _I'll_ attend to you."

He had been twenty years in the colonel's service. He was not an old
soldier, yet had a thorough _esprit de corps_, looking, upon service
as an honourable profession. In this he was not only right, but had a
vast advantage over everybody whose profession is not sufficiently
honourable for his ambition. All such must _feel_ degraded. Beeves was
fifty; and, happily for his opinion of his profession, had never been
to London.

And the colonel was the best of masters; for because he ruled well,
every word of kindness told. It is with servants as with children and
with horses--it is of no use caressing them unless they know that you
mean them to go.

When the dinner-bell rang, I proceeded to the drawing-room. The
colonel was there, and I thought for a moment that he was alone. But I
soon saw that a couch by the fire was occupied by his daughter, the
Adela after whose health I had heard young Percy Cathcart inquiring.
She was our hostess, for Mrs. Cathcart had been dead for many years,
and Adela had been her only child. I approached to pay my respects,
but as soon as I got near enough to see her face, I turned
involuntarily to her father, and said,

"Cathcart, you never told me of this!"

He made me no reply; but I saw the long stern upper lip twitching
convulsively. I turned again to Adela, who tried to smile--with
precisely the effect of a momentary gleam of sunshine upon a cold,
leafless, and wet landscape.

"Adela, my dear, what is the matter?"

"I don't know, uncle."

She had called me uncle, since ever she had begun to speak, which must
have been nearly twenty years ago.

I stood and looked at her. Her face was pale and thin, and her eyes
were large, and yet sleepy. I may say at once that she had dark eyes
and a sweet face; and that is all the description I mean to give of
her. I had been accustomed to see that face, if not rosy, yet plump
and healthy; and those eyes with plenty of light for themselves, and
some to spare for other people. But it was neither her wan look nor
her dull eyes that distressed me: it was the expression of her
face. It was very sad to look at; but it was not so much sadness as
utter and careless hopelessness that it expressed.

"Have you any pain, Adela?" I asked.

"No," she answered.

"But you feel ill?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"I don't know."

And as she spoke, she tapped with one finger on the edge of the
_couvre-pied_ which was thrown over her, and gave a sigh as if her
very heart was weary of everything.

"Shall you come down to dinner with us?"

"Yes, uncle; I suppose I must."

"If you would rather have your dinner sent up, my love--" began her
father.

"Oh! no. It is all the same to me. I may as well go down."

My young companion of the carriage now entered, got up expensively.
He, too, looked shocked when he saw her.

"Why, Addie!" he said.

But she received him with perfect indifference, just lifting one cold
hand towards his, and then letting it fall again where it had lain
before. Percy looked a little mortified; in fact, more mortified now
than sorry; turned away, and stared at the fire.

Every time I open my mouth in a drawing-room before dinner, I am aware
of an amount of self-denial worthy of a forlorn hope. Yet the silence
was so awkward now, that I felt I must make an effort to say
something; and the more original the remark the better I felt it would
be for us all. But, with the best intentions, all I could effect was
to turn towards Mr. Percy and say,

"Rather cold for travelling, is it not?"

"Those foot-warmers are capital things, though," he answered. "Mine
was jolly hot. Might have roasted a potato on it, by Jove!"

"I came in a second-class carriage," I replied; "and they are too cold
to need a foot-warmer."

He gave a shrug with his shoulders, as if he had suddenly found
himself in low company, and must make the best of it. But he offered
no further remark.

Beeves announced dinner.

"Will you take Adela, Mr. Smith?" said the colonel.

"I think I won't go, after all, papa, if you don't mind. I don't want
any dinner."

"Very well, my dear," began her father, but could not help showing his
distress; perceiving which, Adela rose instantly from her couch, put
her arm in his, and led the way to the dining-room. Percy and I
followed.

"What can be the matter with the girl?" thought I. "She used to be
merry enough. Some love affair, I shouldn't wonder. I've never heard
of any. I know her father favours that puppy Percy; but I don't think
she is dying for _him_."

It was the dreariest Christmas Eve I had ever spent. The fire was
bright; the dishes were excellent; the wine was thorough; the host was
hospitable; the servants were attentive; and yet the dinner was as
gloomy as if we had all known it to be the last we should ever eat
together. If a ghost had been sitting in its shroud at the head of the
table, instead of Adela, it could hardly have cast a greater chill
over the guests. She did her duty well enough; but she did not look
it; and the charities which occasioned her no pleasure in the
administration, could hardly occasion us much in the reception.

As soon as she had left the room, Percy broke out, with more emphasis
than politeness:

"What the devil's the matter with Adela, uncle?"

"Indeed, I can't tell, my boy," answered the colonel, with more
kindness than the form of the question deserved.

"Have you no conjecture on the subject?" I asked.

"None. I have tried hard to find out; but I have altogether failed.
She tells me there is nothing the matter with her, only she is so
tired. What has she to tire her?"

"If she is tired inside first, everything will tire her."

"I wish you would try to find out, Smith."

"I will."

"Her mother died of a decline."

"I know. Have you had no advice?"

"Oh, yes! Dr. Wade is giving her steel-wine, and quinine, and all that
sort of thing. For my part, I don't believe in their medicines.
Certainly they don't do her any good."

"Is her chest affected--does he say?"

"He says not; but I believe he knows no more about the state of her
chest than he does about the other side of the moon. He's a stupid old
fool. He comes here for his fees, and he has them."

"Why don't you call in another, if you are not satisfied?"

"Why, my dear fellow, they're all the same in this infernal old
place. I believe they've all embalmed themselves, and are going by
clockwork. They and the clergy make sad fools of us. But we make worse
fools of ourselves to have them about us. To be sure, they see that
everything is proper. The doctor makes sure that we are dead before we
are buried, and the parson that we are buried after we are dead. About
the resurrection I suspect he knows as much as we do. He goes by
book."

In his perplexity and sorrow, the poor colonel was irritable and
unjust. I saw that it would be better to suggest than to reason. And I
partly took the homoeopathic system--the only one on which mental
distress, at least, can be treated with any advantage.

"Certainly," I said, "the medical profession has plenty of men in it
who live on humanity, like the very diseases they attempt to cure. And
plenty of the clergy find the Church a tolerably profitable
investment. The reading of the absolution is as productive to them
now, as it was to the pardon-sellers of old. But surely, colonel, you
won't huddle them all up together in one shapeless mass of
condemnation?"

"You always were right, Smith, and I'm a fool, as usual.--Percy, my
boy, what's going on at Somerset House?"

"The river, uncle."

"Nothing else?"

"Well--I don't know. Nothing much. It's horribly slow!"

"I'm afraid you won't find this much better. But you must take care of
yourself."

"I've made that a branch of special study, uncle. I flatter myself I
_can_ do that."

Colonel Cathcart laughed. Percy was the son of his only brother, who
had died young, and he had an especial affection for him. And where
the honest old man loved, he could see no harm; for he reasoned
something in this way: "He must be all right, or how could I like him
as I do?" But Percy was a common-place, selfish fellow--of that I was
convinced--whatever his other qualities, good or bad, might be; and I
sincerely hoped that any designs he might have of marrying his cousin,
might prove as vain as his late infantile passion for the moon. For I
beg to assure my readers that the circumstances in which I have
introduced Adela Cathcart, are no more fair to her real character,
than my lady readers would consider the effect of a lamp-shade of
bottle-green true in its presentation of their complexion.

We did not sit long over our wine. When we went up to the
drawing-room, Adela was not there, nor did she make her appearance
again that evening. For a little while we tried to talk; but, after
many failures, I yielded and withdrew on the score of fatigue; no
doubt relieving the mind of my old friend by doing so, for he had
severe ideas of the duty of a host as well as of a soldier, and to
these ideas he found it at present impossible to elevate the tone of
his behaviour.

When I reached my own room, I threw myself into the easiest of
arm-chairs, and began to reflect.

"John Smith," I said, "this is likely to be as uncomfortable a
Christmas-tide, as you, with your all but ubiquity, have ever had the
opportunity of passing. Nevertheless, please to remember a resolution
you came to once upon a time, that, as you were nobody, so you would
be nobody; and see if you can make yourself useful.--What can be the
matter with Adela?"

I sat and reflected for a long time; for during my life I had had many
opportunities of observation, and amongst other cases that had
interested me, I had seen some not unlike the present. The fact was
that, as everybody counted me nobody, I had taken full advantage of my
conceded nonentity, which, like Jack the Giant-killer's coat of
darkness, enabled me to learn much that would otherwise have escaped
me. My reflections on my observations, however, did not lead me to any
further or more practical conclusion just yet, than that other and
better advice ought to be called in.

Having administered this sedative sop to my restless practicalness,
I went to bed and to sleep.



Chapter II.

Church.


Adela did not make her appearance at the breakfast-table next morning,
although it was the morning of Christmas Day. And no one who had seen
her at dinner on Christmas Eve, would have expected to see her at
breakfast on Christmas-morn. Yet although her absence was rather a
relief, such a gloom occupied her place, that our party was anything
but cheerful. But the world about us was happy enough, not merely at
its unseen heart of fire, but on its wintered countenance--evidently
to all men. It was not "to hide her guilty front," as Milton says, in
the first two--and the least worthy--stanzas on the Nativity, that the
earth wooed the gentle air for innocent snow, but to put on the best
smile and the loveliest dress that the cold time and her suffering
state would allow, in welcome of the Lord of the snow and the
summer. I thought of the lines from Crashaw's _Hymn of the
Nativity_--Crashaw, who always suggested to me Shelley turned a
Catholic Priest:

  "I saw the curled drops, soft and slow,
    Come hovering o'er the place's head,
  Offering their whitest sheets of snow,
    To furnish the fair infant's bed.
  Forbear, said I, be not too bold:
    Your fleece is white, but 'tis too cold."

And as the sun shone rosy with mist, I naturally thought of the next
following stanza of the same hymn:

  "I saw the obsequious seraphim
    Their rosy fleece of fire bestow;
  For well they now can spare their wings,
    Since Heaven itself lies here below.
  Well done! said I; but are you sure
    Your down, so warm, will pass for pure?"

Adela, pale face and all, was down in time for church; and she and the
colonel and I walked to it together by the meadow path, where, on each
side, the green grass was peeping up through the glittering frost. For
the colonel, notwithstanding his last night's outbreak upon the
clergy, had a profound respect for them, and considered church-going
one of those military duties which belonged to every honest soldier
and gentleman. Percy had found employment elsewhere.

It was a blessed little church that, standing in a little meadow
church-yard, with a low strong ancient tower, and great buttresses
that put one in mind of the rock of ages, and a mighty still river
that flowed past the tower end, and a picturesque, straggling,
well-to-do parsonage at the chancel end. The church was nearly covered
with ivy, and looked as if it had grown out of the churchyard, to be
ready for the poor folks, as soon as they got up again, to praise God
in. But it had stood a long time, and none of them came, and the
praise of the living must be a poor thing to the praise of the dead,
notwithstanding all that the Psalmist says. So the church got
disheartened, and drooped, and now looked very old and grey-headed. It
could not get itself filled with praise enough.--And into this old,
and quaint, and weary but stout-hearted church, we went that bright
winter morning, to hear about a baby. My heart was full enough before
I left it.

Old Mr. Venables read the service with a voice and manner far more
memorial of departed dinners than of joys to come; but I sat--little
heeding the service, I confess--with my mind full of thoughts that
made me glad.

Now all my glad thoughts came to me through a hole in the
tower-door. For the door was far in a shadowy retreat, and in the
irregular lozenge-shaped hole in it, there was a piece of coarse thick
glass of a deep yellow. And through this yellow glass the sun
shone. And the cold shine of the winter sun was changed into the warm
glory of summer by the magic of that bit of glass.

Now when I saw the glow first, I thought without thinking, that it
came from some inner place, some shrine of old, or some ancient tomb
in the chancel of the church--forgetting the points of the
compass--where one might pray as in the _penetralia_ of the temple;
and I gazed on it as the pilgrim might gaze upon the lamp-light oozing
from the cavern of the Holy Sepulchre. But some one opened the door,
and the clear light of the Christmas morn broke upon the pavement, and
swept away the summer splendour.--The door was to the outside.--And I
said to myself: All the doors that lead inwards to the secret place of
the Most High, are doors outwards--out of self--out of smallness--out
of wrong. And these were some of the thoughts that came to me through
the hole in the door, and made me forget the service, which
Mr. Venables mumbled like a nicely cooked sweetbread.

But another voice broke the film that shrouded the ears of my brain,
and the words became inspired and alive, and I forgot my own thoughts
in listening to the Holy Book. For is not the voice of every loving
spirit a fresh inspiration to the dead letter? With a voice other than
this, does it not kill? And I thought I had heard the voice before,
but where I sat I could not see the Communion Table.--At length the
preacher ascended the pulpit stairs, and, to my delight and the
rousing of an altogether unwonted expectation, who should it be but my
fellow-traveller of last night!

He had a look of having something to say; and I immediately felt that
I had something to hear. Having read his text, which I forget, the
broad-browed man began with something like this:

"It is not the high summer alone that is God's. The winter also is
His. And into His winter He came to visit us. And all man's winters
are His--the winter of our poverty, the winter of our sorrow, the
winter of our unhappiness--even 'the winter of our discontent.'"

I stole a glance at Adela. Her large eyes were fixed on the preacher.

"Winter," he went on, "does not belong to death, although the outside
of it looks like death. Beneath the snow, the grass is growing. Below
the frost, the roots are warm and alive. Winter is only a spring too
weak and feeble for us to see that it is living. The cold does for all
things what the gardener has sometimes to do for valuable trees: he
must half kill them before they will bear any fruit. Winter is in
truth the small beginnings of the spring."

I glanced at Adela again; and still her eyes were fastened on the
speaker.

"The winter is the childhood of the year. Into this childhood of the
year came the child Jesus; and into this childhood of the year must we
all descend. It is as if God spoke to each of us according to our
need: My son, my daughter, you are growing old and cunning; you must
grow a child again, with my son, this blessed birth-time. You are
growing old and selfish; you must become a child. You are growing old
and careful; you must become a child. You are growing old and
distrustful; you must become a child. You are growing old and petty,
and weak, and foolish; you must become a child--my child, like the
baby there, that strong sunrise of faith and hope and love, lying in
his mother's arms in the stable.

"But one may say to me: 'You are talking in a dream. The Son of God is
a child no longer. He is the King of Heaven.' True, my friends. But He
who is the Unchangeable, could never become anything that He was not
always, for that would be to change. He is as much a child now as ever
he was. When he became a child, it was only to show us by itself, that
we might understand it better, what he was always in his deepest
nature. And when he was a child, he was not less the King of Heaven;
for it is in virtue of his childhood, of his sonship, that he is Lord
of Heaven and of Earth--'for of such'--namely, of children--'is the
kingdom of heaven.' And, therefore, when we think of the baby now, it
is still of the Son of man, of the King of men, that we think. And all
the feelings that the thought of that babe can wake in us, are as true
now as they were on that first Christmas day, when Mary covered from
the cold his little naked feet, ere long to be washed with the tears
of repentant women, and nailed by the hands of thoughtless men, who
knew not what they did, to the cross of fainting, and desolation, and
death."

Adela was hiding her face now.

"So, my friends, let us be children this Christmas. Of course, when I
say to anyone, 'You must be like a child,' I mean a good child. A
naughty child is not a child as long as his naughtiness lasts. He is
not what God meant when He said, 'I will make a child.' Think of the
best child you know--the one who has filled you with most
admiration. It is his child-likeness that has so delighted you. It is
because he is so true to the child-nature that you admire him. Jesus
is like that child. You must be like that child. But you cannot help
knowing some faults in him--some things that are like ill-grown men
and women. Jesus is not like him, there. Think of the best child you
can imagine; nay, think of a better than you can imagine--of the one
that God thinks of when he invents a child in the depth of his
fatherhood: such child-like men and women must you one day become; and
what day better to begin, than this blessed Christmas Morn? Let such a
child be born in your hearts this day. Take the child Jesus to your
bosoms, into your very souls, and let him grow there till he is one
with your every thought, and purpose, and hope. As a good child born
in a family will make the family good; so Jesus, born into the world,
will make the world good at last. And this perfect child, born in your
hearts, will make your hearts good; and that is God's best gift to
you.

"Then be happy this Christmas Day; for to you a child is born.
Childless women, this infant is yours--wives or maidens. Fathers and
mothers, he is your first-born, and he will save his brethren. Eat and
drink, and be merry and kind, for the love of God is the source of all
joy and all good things, and this love is present in the child
Jesus.--Now, to God the Father, &c."

"O my baby Lord!" I said in my heart; for the clergyman had forgotten
me, and said nothing about us old bachelors.

Of course this is but the substance of the sermon; and as, although I
came to know him well before many days were over, he never lent me his
manuscript--indeed, I doubt if he had any--my report must have lost
something of his nervous strength, and be diluted with the weakness of
my style.

Although I had been attending so well to the sermon, however, my eyes
had now and then wandered, not only to Adela's face, but all over the
church as well; and I could not help observing, a few pillars off, and
partly round a corner, the face of a young man--well, he was about
thirty, I should guess--out of which looked a pair of well-opened
hazel eyes, with rather notable eyelashes. Not that I, with my own
weak pair of washed-out grey, could see the eyelashes at that
distance, but I judged it must be their length that gave a kind of
feminine cast to the outline of the eyes. Nor should I have noticed
the face itself much, had it not seemed to me that those eyes were
pursuing a very thievish course; for, by the fact that, as often as I
looked their way, I saw the motion of their withdrawal, I concluded
that they were stealing glances at, certainly not from, my adopted
niece, Adela. This made me look at the face more attentively. I found
it a fine, frank, brown, country-looking face.--Could it have anything
to do with Adela's condition? Absurd! How could such health and ruddy
life have anything to do with the worn pallor of her countenance? Nor
did a single glance on the part of Adela reveal that she was aware of
the existence of the neighbouring observatory. I dismissed the
idea. And I was right, as time showed.

We remained to the Communion. When that was over, we walked out of the
old dark-roofed church, Adela looking as sad as ever, into the bright
cold sunshine, which wrought no change on her demeanour. How could it,
if the sun of righteousness, even, had failed for the time? And there,
in the churchyard, we found Percy, standing astride of an infant's
grave, with his hands in his trowser-pockets, and an air of
condescending satisfaction on his countenance, which seemed to say to
the dead beneath him:

"Pray, don't apologize. I know you are disagreeable; but you can't
help it, you know;"

--and to the living coming out of church:

"Well, have you had your little whim out?"

But what he did say, was to Adela:

"A merry Christmas to you, Addie! Won't you lean on me? You don't look
very stunning."

But her sole answer was to take my arm; and so we walked towards the
Swanspond.

"I suppose that's what they call _Broad Church,_" said the colonel.

"Generally speaking, I prefer breadth," I answered, vaguely. "Do you
think that's _Broad Church?_"

"Oh! I don't know. I suppose it's all right. He ran me through,
anyhow."

"I hope it _is_ all right," I answered. "It suits me."

"Well, I'm sure you know ten times better than I do. He seems a right
sort of man, whatever sort of clergyman he may be."

"Who is he--can you tell me?"

"Why, don't you know? That's our new curate, Mr. Armstrong."

"Curate!" I exclaimed. "A man like that! And at his years too! He must
be forty. You astonish me!"

"Well, I don't know. He may be forty. He is our curate; that is all I
can answer for."

"He was my companion in the train last night."

"Ah! that accounts for it. You had some talk with him, and found him
out? I believe he is a superior sort of man, too. Old Mr. Venables
seems to like him."

"All the talk I have had with him passed between pulpit and pew this
morning," I replied; "for the only words that we exchanged last night
were, 'Will you join me in a cigar?' from him, and 'With much
pleasure,' from me."

"Then, upon my life, I can't see what you think remarkable in his
being a curate. Though I confess, as I said before, he ran me through
the body. I'm rather soft-hearted, I believe, since Addie's illness."

He gave her a hasty glance. But she took no notice of what he had
said; and, indeed, seemed to have taken no notice of the
conversation--to which Percy had shown an equal amount of
indifference. A very different indifference seemed the only bond
between them.

When we reached home, we found lunch ready for us, and after waiting a
few minutes for Adela, but in vain, we seated ourselves at the table.

"Awfully like Sunday, and a cold dinner, uncle!" remarked Percy.

"We'll make up for that, my boy, when dinner-time comes."

"You don't like Sunday, then, Mr. Percy?" I said.

"A horrid bore," he answered. "My old mother made me hate it. We had
to go to church twice; and that was even worse than her veal-broth.
But the worst of it is, I can't get it out of my head that I ought to
be there, even when I'm driving tandem to Richmond."

"Ah! your mother will be with us on Sunday, I hope, Percy."

"Good heavens, uncle! Do you know what you are about? My mother here!
I'll just ring the bell, and tell James to pack my traps. I won't
stand it. I can't. Indeed I can't."

He rose as he spoke. His uncle caught him by the arm, laughing, and
made him sit down again; which he did with real or pretended
reluctance.

"We'll take care of you, Percy. Never mind.--Don't be a fool," he
added, seeing the evident annoyance of the young fellow.

"Well, uncle, you ought to have known better," said Percy, sulkily,
as, yielding, he resumed his seat, and poured himself out a bumper of
claret, by way of consolation.

He had not been much of a companion before: now he made himself almost
as unpleasant as a young man could be, and that is saying a great
deal. One, certainly, had need to have found something beautiful at
church, for here was the prospect of as wretched a Christmas dinner as
one could ever wish to avoid.

When Percy had drunk another bumper of claret, he rose and left the
room; and my host, turning to me, said:

"I fear, Smith, you will have anything but a merry Christmas, this
year. I hoped the sight of you would cheer up poor Adela, and set us
all right. And now Percy's out of humour at the thought of his mother
coming, and I'm sure I don't know what's to be done. We shall sit over
our dinner to-day like four crows over a carcass. It's very good of
you to stop."

"Oh! never mind me," I said. "I, too, can take care of myself. But has
Adela no companions of her own age?"

"None but Percy. And I am afraid she has got tired of him. He's a good
fellow, though a bit of a puppy. That'll wear off. I wish he would
take a fancy to the army, now."

I made no reply, but I thought the more. It seemed to me that to get
tired of Percy was the most natural proceeding that could be adopted
with regard to him and all about him.

But men judge men--and women, women--hardly.

"I'll tell you what I will do," said the colonel. "I will ask Mr.
Bloomfield, the schoolmaster, and his wife, to dine with us. It's no
use asking anybody else that I can think of. But they have no family,
and I dare say they can put off their own Christmas dinner till
to-morrow. They have but one maid, and she can dine with our
servants. They are very respectable people, I assure you."

The colonel always considered his plans thoroughly, and then acted on
them at once. He rose.

"A capital idea!" I said, as he disappeared. I went up to look for
Adela. She was not in the drawing-room. I went up again, and tapped at
the door of her room.

"Come in," she said, in a listless voice.

I entered.

"How are you now, Adela?" I asked.

"Thank you, uncle," was all her reply.

"What is the matter with you, my child?" I said, and drew a chair near
hers. She was half reclining, with a book lying upside down on her
knee.

"I would tell you at once, uncle, if I knew," she answered very
sweetly, but as sadly. "I believe I am dying; but of what I have not
the smallest idea."

"Nonsense!" I said. "You're not dying."

"You need not think to comfort me that way, uncle; for I think I would
rather die than not."

"Is there anything you would like?"

"Nothing. There is nothing worth liking, but sleep."

"Don't you sleep at night?"

"Not well.--I will tell you all I know about it.--Some six weeks ago,
I woke suddenly one morning, very early--I think about three
o'clock--with an overpowering sense of blackness and misery.
Everything I thought of seemed to have a core of wretchedness in it. I
fought with the feeling as well as I could, and got to sleep again.
But the effect of it did not leave me next day. I said to myself:
'They say "morning thoughts are true." What if this should be the true
way of looking at things?' And everything became grey and dismal about
me. Next morning it was just the same. It was as if I had waked in the
middle of some chaos over which God had never said: 'Let there be
light.' And the next day was worse. I began to see the bad in
everything--wrong motives--and self-love--and pretence, and everything
mean and low. And so it has gone on ever since. I wake wretched every
morning. I am crowded with wretched, if not wicked thoughts, all day.
Nothing seems worth anything. I don't care for anything."

"But you love somebody?"

"I hope I love my father. I don't know. I don't feel as if I did."

"And there's your cousin Percy." I confess this was a feeler I put
out.

"Percy's a fool!" she said, with some show of indignation, which I
hailed, for more reasons than one.

"But you enjoyed the sermon this morning, did you not?"

"I don't know. I thought it very poetical and very pretty; but whether
it was true--how could I tell? I didn't care. The baby he spoke about
was nothing to me. I didn't love him, or want to hear about him. Don't
you think me a brute, uncle?"

"No, I don't. I think you are ill. And I think we shall find something
that will do you good; but I can't tell yet what. You will dine with
us, won't you?"

"Oh! yes, if you and papa wish it."

"Of course we do. He is just gone to ask Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield to
dine with us."

"Oh!"

"You don't mind, do you?"

"Oh! no. They are nice people. I like them both."

"Well, I will leave you, my child. Sleep if you can. I will go and
walk in the garden, and think what can be done for my little girl."

"Thank you, uncle. But you can't do me any good. What if this should
be the true way of things? It is better to know it, if it is."

"Disease couldn't make a sun in the heavens. But it could make a man
blind, that he could not see it."

"I don't understand you."

"Never mind. It's of no consequence whether you do or not. When you
see light again, you will believe in it. For light compels faith."

"I believe in you, uncle; I do."

"Thank you, my dear. Good-bye."

I went round by the stables, and there found the colonel, talking to
his groom. He had returned already from his call, and the Bloomfields
were coming. I met Percy next, sauntering about, with a huge cigar in
his mouth.

"The Bloomfields are coming to dinner, Mr. Percy," I said.

"Who are they?"

"The schoolmaster and his wife."

"Just like that precious old uncle of mine! Why the deuce did he ask
_me_ this Christmas? I tell you what, Mr. Smith--I can't stand
it. There's nothing, not even cards, to amuse a fellow. And when my
mother comes, it will be ten times worse. I'll cut and run for it."

"Oh! no, you won't," I said. But I heartily wished he would. I confess
the insincerity, and am sorry for it.

"But what the devil does my mother want, coming here?"

"I haven't the pleasure of knowing your mother, so I cannot tell what
the devil she can want, coming here."

"Humph!"

He walked away.



Chapter III.

The Christmas dinner.


Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield arrived; the former a benevolent, grey-haired
man, with a large nose and small mouth, yet with nothing of the
foolish look which often accompanies such a malconformation; and the
latter a nice-looking little body, middle-aged, rather more; with
half-grey curls, and a cap with black ribbons. Indeed, they were both
in mourning. Mr. Bloomfield bore himself with a kind of unworldly
grace, and Mrs. Bloomfield with a kind of sweet primness. The
schoolmaster was inclined to be talkative; nor was his wife behind
him; and that was just what we wanted.

"I am sorry to see you in mourning," said the colonel to Mr.
Bloomfield, during dessert. "I trust it is for no near relative."

"No relative at all, sir. But a boy of mine, to whom, through God's
grace, I did a good turn once, and whom, as a consequence, I loved
ever after."

"Tell Colonel Cathcart the story, James," said his wife. "It can do no
harm to anybody now; and you needn't mention names, you know. You
would like to hear it, wouldn't you, sir?"

"Very much indeed," answered the colonel.

"Well, sir," began the schoolmaster, "there's not much in it to you, I
fear; though there was a good deal to him and me. I was usher in a
school at Peckham once. I was but a lad, but I tried to do my duty;
and the first part of my duty seemed to me, to take care of the
characters of the boys. So I tried to understand them all, and their
ways of looking at things, and thinking about them.

"One day, to the horror of the masters, it was discovered that a watch
belonging to one of the boys had been stolen. The boy who had lost it
was making a dreadful fuss about it, and declaring he would tell the
police, and set them to find it. The moment I heard of it, my
suspicion fell, half by knowledge, half by instinct, upon a certain
boy. He was one of the most gentlemanly boys in the school; but there
was a look of cunning in the corner of his eye, and a look of greed in
the corner of his mouth, which now and then came out clear enough to
me. Well, sir, I pondered for a few moments what I should do. I wanted
to avoid calling any attention to him; so I contrived to make the
worst of him in the Latin class--he was not a bad scholar--and so keep
him in when the rest went to play. As soon as they were gone, I took
him into my own room, and said to him, 'Fred, my boy, you knew your
lesson well enough; but I wanted you here. You stole Simmons's
watch.'"

"You had better mention no names, Mr. Bloomfield," interrupted his
wife.

"I beg your pardon, my dear. But it doesn't matter. Simmons was eaten
by a tiger, ten years ago. And I hope he agreed with him, for he never
did with anybody else I ever heard of. He was the worst boy I ever
knew.--'You stole Simmons's watch. Where is it?' He fell on his knees,
as white as a sheet. 'I sold it,' he said, in a voice choked with
terror. 'God help you, my boy!' I exclaimed. He burst out crying.
'Where did you sell it?' He told me. 'Where's the money you got for
it?' 'That's all I have left,' he answered, pulling out a small
handful of shillings and halfcrowns. 'Give it me,' I said. He gave it
me at once. 'Now you go to your lesson, and hold your tongue.' I got a
sovereign of my own to make up the sum--I could ill spare it, sir, but
the boy could worse spare his character--and I hurried off to the
place where he had sold the watch. To avoid scandal, I was forced to
pay the man the whole price, though I daresay an older man would have
managed better. At all events, I brought it home. I contrived to put
it in the boy's own box, so that the whole affair should appear to
have been only a trick, and then I gave the culprit a very serious
talking-to. He never did anything of the sort again, and died an
honourable man and a good officer, only three months ago, in India. A
thousand times over did he repay me the money I had spent for him, and
he left me this gold watch in his will--a memorial, not so much of his
fault, as of his deliverance from some of its natural consequences."

The schoolmaster pulled out the watch as he spoke, and we all looked
at it with respect.

It was a simple story and simply told. But I was pleased to see that
Adela took some interest in it. I remembered that, as a child, she had
always liked better to be told a story than to have any other
amusement whatever. And many a story I had had to coin on the spur of
the moment for the satisfaction of her childish avidity for that kind
of mental bull's-eye.

When we gentlemen were left alone, and the servants had withdrawn,
Mr. Bloomfield said to our host:

"I am sorry to see Miss Cathcart looking so far from well, colonel. I
hope you have good advice for her."

"Dr. Wade has been attending her for some time, but I don't think he's
doing her any good."

"Don't you think it might be well to get the new doctor to see her?
He's quite a remarkable man, I assure you."

"What! The young fellow that goes flying about the country in boots
and breeches?"

"Well, I suppose that is the man I mean. He's not so very young
though--he's thirty at least. And for the boots and breeches--I asked
him once, in a joking way, whether he did not think them rather
unprofessional. But he told me he saved ever so much time in open
weather by going across the country. 'And,' said he, 'if I can see
patients sooner, and more of them, in that way, I think it is quite
professional. The other day,' he said, 'I was sent for, and I went
straight as the crow flies, and I beat a little baby only by five
minutes after all.' Of course after that there was nothing more to
say."

"He has very queer notions, hasn't he?"

"Yes, he has, for a medical man. He goes to church, for instance."

"I don't count that a fault."

"Well, neither do I. Rather the contrary. But one of the profession
here says it is for the sake of being called out in the middle of the
service."

"Oh! that is stale. I don't think he would find that answer. But it is
a pity he is not married."

"So it is. I wish he were. But that is a fault that may be remedied
some day. One thing I know about him is, that when I called him in to
see one of my boarders, he sat by his bedside half an hour, watching
him, and then went away without giving him any medicine."

"I don't see the good of that. What do you make of that? I call it
very odd."

"He said to me: 'I am not sure what is the matter with him. A wrong
medicine would do him more harm than the right one would do him
good. Meantime he is in no danger. I will come and see him to-morrow
morning.' Now I liked that, because it showed me that he was thinking
over the case. The boy was well in two days. Not that that indicates
much. All I say is, he is not a common man."

"I don't like to dismiss Dr. Wade."

"No; but you must not stand on ceremony, if he is doing her no good.
You are judge enough of that."

I thought it best to say nothing; but I heartily approved of all the
honest gentleman said; and I meant to use my persuasion afterwards, if
necessary, to the same end; for I liked all he told about the new
doctor. I asked his name.

"Mr. Armstrong," answered the schoolmaster.

"Armstrong--" I repeated. "Is not that the name of the new curate?"

"To be sure. They are brothers. Henry, the doctor, is considerably
younger than the curate."

"Did the curate seek the appointment because the doctor was here
before him?"

"I suppose so. They are much attached to each other."

"If he is at all equal as a doctor to what I think his brother is as a
preacher, Purleybridge is a happy place to possess two such healers,"
I said.

"Well, time will show," returned Mr. Bloomfield.

All this time Percy sat yawning, and drinking claret. When we joined
the ladies, we found them engaged in a little gentle chat. There was
something about Mrs. Bloomfield that was very pleasing. The chief
ingredient in it was a certain quaint repose. She looked as if her
heart were at rest; as if for her everything, was right; as if she had
a little room of her own, just to her mind, and there her soul sat,
looking out through the muslin curtains of modest charity, upon the
world that went hurrying and seething past her windows. When we
entered--

"I was just beginning to tell Miss Cathcart," she said, "a curious
history that came under my notice once. I don't know if I ought
though, for it is rather sad."

"Oh! I like sad stories," said Adela.

"Well, there isn't much of romance in it either, but I will cut it
short now the gentlemen are come. I knew the lady. She had been
married some years. And report said her husband was not overkind to
her. All at once she disappeared, and her husband thought the worst of
her. Knowing her as well as I did, I did not believe a word of it. Yet
it was strange that she had left her baby, her only child, of a few
months, as well as her husband. I went to see her mother directly I
heard of it, and together we went to the police; and such a search as
we had! We traced her to a wretched lodging, where she had been for
two nights, but they did not know what had become of her. In fact,
they had turned her out because she had no money. Some information
that we had, made us go to a house near Hyde Park. We rang the
bell. Who should open the door, in a neat cap and print-gown, but the
poor lady herself! She fainted when she saw her mother. And then the
whole story came out. Her husband was stingy, and only allowed her
very small sum for housekeeping; and perhaps she was not a very good
manager, for good management is a gift, and everybody has not got
it. So she found that she could not clear off the butcher's bills on
the sum allowed her; and she had let the debt gather and gather, till
the thought of it, I believe, actually drove her out of her mind for
the time. She dared not tell her husband; but she knew it must come
out some day, and so at last, quite frantic with the thought of it,
she ran away, and left her baby behind her."

"And what became of her?" asked Adela.

"Her husband would never hear a word in her favour. He laughed at her
story in the most scornful way, and said he was too old a bird for
that. In fact, I believe he never saw her again. She went to her
mother's. She will have her child now, I suppose; for I hear that the
wretch of a husband, who would not let her have him, is dead. I
daresay she is happy at last. Poor thing! Some people would need stout
hearts, and have not got them."

Adela sighed. This story, too, seemed to interest her.

"What a miserable life!" she said.

"Well, Miss Cathcart," said the schoolmaster, "no doubt it was. But
every life that has to be lived, can be lived; and however impossible
it may seem to the onlookers, it has its own consolations, or, at
least, interests. And I always fancy the most indispensable thing to a
life is, that it should be interesting to those who have it to
live. My wife and I have come through a good deal, but the time when
the life looked hardest to others, was not, probably, the least
interesting to us. It is just like reading a book: anything will do if
you are taken up with it."

"Very good philosophy! Isn't it, Adela?" said the colonel.

Adela cast her eyes down, as if with a despairing sense of rebuke, and
did not reply.

"I wish you would tell Miss Cathcart," resumed the schoolmaster to his
wife, "that little story about the foolish lad you met once. And you
need not keep back the little of your own history that belongs to
it. I am sure the colonel will excuse you."

"I insist on hearing the whole of it," said the colonel, with a smile.

And Mrs. Bloomfield began.

Let me say here once for all, that I cannot keep the tales I tell in
this volume from partaking of my own peculiarities of style, any more
than I could keep the sermon free of such; for of course I give them
all at second hand; and sometimes, where a joint was missing, I have
had to supply facts as well as words. But I have kept as near to the
originals as these necessities and a certain preparation for the press
would permit me.

Mrs. Bloomfield, I say, began:

"A good many years ago, now, on a warm summer evening, a friend, whom
I was visiting, asked me to take a drive with her through one of the
London parks. I agreed to go, though I did not care much about it. I
had not breathed the fresh air for some weeks; yet I felt it a great
trouble to go. I had been ill, and my husband was ill, and we had
nothing to do, and we did not know what would become of us. So I was
anything but cheerful. I _knew_ that all was for the best, as my good
husband was always telling me, but my eyes were dim and my heart was
troubled, and I could not feel sure that God cared quite so much for
us as he did for the lilies.

"My friend was very cheerful, and seemed to enjoy everything; but a
kind of dreariness came over me, and I began comparing the loveliness
of the summer evening with the cold misty blank that seemed to make up
my future. My wretchedness grew greater and greater. The very colours
of the flowers, the blue of the sky, the sleep of the water, seemed to
push us out of the happy world that God had made. And yet the children
seemed as happy as if God were busy making, the things before their
eyes, and holding out each thing, as he made it, for them to look at.

"I should have told you that we had two children then."

"I did not know you had any family," interposed the colonel.

"Yes, we had two then. One of them is now in India, and the other was
not long out of heaven.--Well, I was glad when my friend stopped the
carriage, and got out with the children, to take them close to the
water's edge, and let them feed the swans. I liked better to sit in
the carriage alone--an ungrateful creature, in the midst of causes for
thankfulness. I did not care for the beautiful things about me; and I
was not even pleased that other people should enjoy them. I listlessly
watched the well-dressed ladies that passed, and hearkened
contemptuously to the drawling way in which they spoke. So bad and
proud was I, that I said in my heart, 'Thank God! I am not like them
yet!' Then came nursemaids and children; and I did envy the servants,
because they had work to do, and health to do it, and wages for it
when it was done. The carriage was standing still all this time, you
know. Then sickly-looking men passed, with still more sickly-looking
wives, some of them leading a child between them. But even their faces
told of wages, and the pleasure of an evenings walk in the park. And
now I was able to thank God that they had the parks to walk in. Then
came tottering by, an old man, apparently of eighty years, leaning on
the arm of his grand-daughter, I supposed--a tidy, gentle-looking
maiden. As they passed, I heard the old man say: 'He maketh me to lie
down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.' And
his quiet face looked as if the fields were yet green to his eyes, and
the still waters as pleasant as when he was a little child.

"At last I caught sight of a poor lad, who was walking along very
slowly, looking at a gay-coloured handkerchief which he had spread out
before him. His clothes were rather ragged, but not so ragged as
old. On his head was what we now call a wide-awake. It was very limp
and shapeless; but some one that loved him had trimmed it with a bit
of blue ribbon, the ends of which hung down on his shoulder. This gave
him an odd appearance even at a distance. When he came up and I could
see his face, it explained everything. There was a constant smile
about his mouth, which in itself was very sweet; but as it had nothing
to do with the rest of the countenance, the chief impression it
conveyed was of idiotcy. He came near the carriage, and stood there,
watching some men who were repairing the fence which divided the road
from the footpath. His hair was almost golden, and went waving about
in the wind. His eye was very large and clear, and of a bright
blue. But it had no meaning in it. He would have been very handsome,
had there been mind in his face; but as it was, the very regularity of
his unlighted features made the sight a sadder one. His figure was
young; but his face might have belonged to a man of sixty.

"He opened his mouth, stuck out his under jaw, and stood staring and
grinning at the men. At last one of them stopped to take breath, and,
catching sight of the lad, called out:

"'Why, Davy! is that you?'

"'Ya-as, it be,' replied Davy, nodding his head.

"'Why, Davy, it's ever so long since I clapped eyes on ye!' said the
man. 'Where ha' ye been?'

"'I 'aint been nowheres, as I knows on.'

"'Well, if ye 'aint been nowheres, what have ye been doing? Flying
your kite?'

"Davy shook his head sorrowfully, and at the same time kept on
grinning foolishly.

"'I 'aint got no kite; so I can't fly it.'

"'But you likes flyin' kites, don't ye?' said his friend, kindly.

"'Ya-as,' answered Davy, nodding his head, and rubbing his hands, and
laughing out. 'Kites is such fun! I wish I'd got un.'

"Then he looked thoughtfully, almost moodily, at the man, and said:

"'Where's _your_ kite? I likes kites. Kites is friends to me.'

"But by this time the man had turned again to his work, and was busy
driving a post into the ground; so he paid no attention to the lad's
question."

"Why, Mrs. Bloomfield," interrupted the colonel, "I should just like
you to send out with a reconnoitring party, for you seem to see
everything and forget nothing."

"You see best and remember best what most interests you, colonel; and
besides that, I got a good rebuke to my ingratitude from that poor
fellow. So you see I had reason to remember him. I hope I don't tire
you, Miss Cathcart."

"Quite the contrary," answered our hostess.

"By this time," resumed Mrs. Bloomfield, "another man had come up. He
had a coarse, hard-featured face; and he tried, or pretended to try,
to wheel his barrow, which was full of gravel, over Davy's toes. The
said toes were sticking quite bare through great holes in an old pair
of woman's boots. Then he began to tease him rather roughly. But Davy
took all his banter with just the same complacency and mirth with
which he had received the kindliness of the other man.

"'How's yer sweetheart, Davy?' he said.

"'Quite well, thank ye,' answered Davy.

"'What's her name?'

"'Ha! ha! ha! I won't tell ye that.'

"'Come now, Davy, tell us her name.'

"'Noa.'

"'Don't be a fool.'

"'I aint a fool. But I won't tell you her name.'

"'I don't believe ye've got e'er a sweetheart. Come now.'

"'I have though.'

"'I don't believe ye.'

"'I have though. I was at church with her last Sunday.'

"Suddenly the man, looking hard at Davy, changed his tone to one of
surprise, and exclaimed:

"'Why, boy, ye've got whiskers! Ye hadn't them the last time I see'd
ye. Why, ye _are_ set up now! When are ye going to begin to shave?
Where's your razors?'

"''Aint begun yet,' replied Davy. 'Shall shave some day, but I 'aint
got too much yet.'

"As he said this, he fondled away at his whiskers. They were few in
number, but evidently of great value in his eyes. Then he began to
stroke his chin, on which there was a little down visible--more like
mould in its association with his curious face than anything of more
healthy significance. After a few moments' pause, his tormentor began
again:

"'Well, I can't think where ye got them whiskers as ye're so fond
of. Do ye know where ye got them?'

"Davy took out his pocket-handkerchief, spread it out before him, and
stopped grinning.

"'Yaas; to be sure I do,' he said at last.

"'Ye do?' growled the man, half humorously, half scornfully.

"'Yaas,' said Davy, nodding his head again and again.

"'Did ye buy 'em?'

"'Noa,' answered Davy; and the sweetness of the smile which he now
smiled was not confined to his mouth, but broke like light, the light
of intelligence, over his whole face.

"'Were they gave to ye?' pursued the man, now really curious to hear
what he would say.

"'Yaas,' said the poor fellow; and he clapped his hands in a kind of
suppressed glee.

"'Why, who gave 'em to ye?'

"Davy looked up in a way I shall never forget, and, pointing up with
his finger too, said nothing.

"'What do ye mean?' said the man. 'Who gave ye yer whiskers?'

"Davy pointed up to the sky again; and then, looking up with an
earnest expression, which, before you saw it, you would not have
thought possible to his face, said,

"'Blessed Father.'

"'Who?' shouted the man.

"'Blessed Father,' Davy repeated, once more pointing upwards.

"'Blessed Father!' returned the man, in a contemptuous tone; 'Blessed
Father!--I don't know who _that_ is. Where does he live? I never heerd
on _him_.'

"Davy looked at him as if he were sorry for him. Then going closer up
to him, he said:

"'Didn't you though? He lives up there'--again pointing to the
sky. 'And he is so kind! He gives me lots o' things.'

"'Well!' said the man, 'I wish he'd give me thing's. But you don't
look so very rich nayther.'

"'Oh! but he gives me lots o' things; and he's up there, and he gives
everybody lots o' things as likes to have 'em.'

"'Well, what's he gave you?'

"'Why, he's gave me some bread this mornin', and a tart last night--he
did.'

"And the boy nodded his head, as was his custom, to make his assertion
still stronger.

"'But you was sayin' just now, you hadn't got a kite. Why don't he
give you one?'

"'_He'll_ give me one fast 'nuff,' said Davy, grinning again, and
rubbing his hands.

"Miss Cathcart, I assure you I could have kissed the boy. And I hope I
felt some gratitude to God for giving the poor lad such trust in Him,
which, it seemed to me, was better than trusting in the
three-per-cents, colonel; for you can draw upon him to no end o' good
things. So Davy thought anyhow; and he had got the very thing for the
want of which my life was cold and sad, and discontented. Those words,
_Blessed Father_, and that look that turned his vacant face, like
Stephen's, into the face of an angel, because he was looking up to the
same glory, were in my ears and eyes for days. And they taught me, and
comforted me. He was the minister of God's best gifts to me. And to
how many more, who can tell? For Davy believed that God did care for
his own children.

"Davy sauntered away, and before my friend came back with the
children, I had lost sight of him; but at my request we moved on
slowly till we should find him again. Nor had we gone far, before I
saw him sitting in the middle of a group of little children. He was
showing them the pictures on his pocket-handkerchief. I had one
sixpence in my purse--it was the last I had, Mr. Smith."

Here, from some impulse or other, Mrs. Bloomfield addressed me.

"But I wasn't so poor but I could borrow, and it was a small price to
give for what I had got; and so, as I was not able to leave the
carriage, I asked my friend to take it to him, and tell him that
Blessed Father had sent him that to buy a kite. The expression of
childish glee upon his face, and the devout God bless you, Lady, upon
his tongue, were strangely but not incongruously mingled.

"Well, it was my last sixpence then, but here I and my husband are,
owing no man anything, and spending a happy Christmas Day, with many
thanks to Colonel and Miss Cathcart."

"No, my good Madam," said the colonel; "it is we who owe you the
happiest part of our Christmas Day. Is it not, Adela?"

"Yes, papa, it is indeed," answered Adela.

Then, with some hesitation, she added,

"But do you think it was quite fair? It was _you_, Mrs. Bloomfield,
who gave the boy the sixpence."

"I only said God sent it," said Mrs. Bloomfield.

"Besides," I interposed, "the boy never doubted it; and I think, after
all, with due submission to my niece, he was the best judge."

"I should be only too happy to grant it," she answered, with a
sigh. "Things might be all right if one could believe
that--thoroughly, I mean."

"At least you will allow," I said, "that this boy was not by any means
so miserable as he looked."

"Certainly," she answered, with hearty emphasis. "I think he was much
to be envied."

Here I discovered that Percy was asleep on a sofa.

Other talk followed, and the colonel was looking very thoughtful. Tea
was brought in, and soon after, our visitors rose to take their leave.

"You are not going already?" said the colonel.

"If you will excuse us," answered the schoolmaster. "We are early
birds."

"Well, will you dine with us this day week?"

"With much pleasure," answered both in a breath.

It was clear both that the colonel liked their simple honest company,
and that he saw they might do his daughter good; for her face looked
very earnest and sweet; and the clearness that precedes rain was
evident in the atmosphere of her eyes.

After their departure we soon separated; and I retired to my room full
of a new idea, which I thought, if well carried out, might be of still
further benefit to the invalid.

But before I went to bed, I had made a rough translation of the
following hymn of Luther's, which I have since completed--so far at
least as the following is complete. I often find that it helps to keep
good thoughts before the mind, to turn them into another shape of
words.

    From heaven above I come to you,
    To bring a story good and new:
    Of goodly news so much I bring--
    I cannot help it, I must sing.

    To you a child is come this morn,
    A child of holy maiden born;
    A little babe, so sweet and mild--
    It is a joy to see the child!

    'Tis little Jesus, whom we need
    Us out of sadness all to lead:
    He will himself our Saviour be,
    And from all sinning set us free.

    Here come the shepherds, whom we know;
    Let all of us right gladsome go,
    To see what God to us hath given--
    A gift that makes a stable heaven.

    Take heed, my heart. Be lowly. So
    Thou seest him lie in manger low:
    That is the baby sweet and mild;
    That is the little Jesus-child.

    Ah, Lord! the maker of us all!
    How hast thou grown so poor and small,
    That there thou liest on withered grass--
    The supper of the ox and ass?

    Were the world wider many-fold,
    And decked with gems and cloth of gold,
    'Twere far too mean and narrow all,
    To make for Thee a cradle small.

    Rough hay, and linen not too fine,
    The silk and velvet that are thine;
    Yet, as they were thy kingdom great,
    Thou liest in them in royal state.

    And this, all this, hath pleased Thee,
    That Thou mightst bring this truth to me:
    That all earth's good, in one combined,
    Is nothing to Thy mighty mind.

    Ah, little Jesus! lay thy head
    Down in a soft, white, little bed,
    That waits Thee in this heart of mine,
    And then this heart is always Thine.

    Such gladness in my heart would make
    Me dance and sing for Thy sweet sake.
    Glory to God in highest heaven,
    For He his son to us hath given!



Chapter IV.

The new doctor.


Next forenoon, wishing to have a little private talk with my friend, I
went to his room, and found him busy writing to Dr. Wade. He consulted
me on the contents of the letter, and I was heartily pleased with the
kind way in which he communicated to the old gentleman the resolution
he had come to, of trying whether another medical man might not be
more fortunate in his attempt to treat the illness of his daughter.

"I fear Dr. Wade will be offended, say what I like," said he.

"It is quite possible to be too much afraid of giving offence," I
said; "But nothing can be more gentle and friendly than the way in
which you have communicated the necessity."

"Well, it is a great comfort you think so. Will you go with me to call
on Mr. Armstrong?"

"With much pleasure," I answered; and we set out at once.

Shown into the doctor's dining-room, I took a glance at the books
lying about. I always take advantage of such an opportunity of gaining
immediate insight into character. Let me see a man's book-shelves,
especially if they are not extensive, and I fancy I know at once, in
some measure, what sort of a man the owner is. One small bookcase in a
recess of the room seemed to contain all the non-professional library
of Mr. Armstrong. I am not going to say here what books they were, or
what books I like to see; but I was greatly encouraged by the
consultation of the auguries afforded by the backs of these. I was
still busy with them, when the door opened, and the doctor entered. He
was the same man whom I had seen in church looking at Adela. He
advanced in a frank manly way to the colonel, and welcomed him by
name, though I believe no introduction had ever passed between
them. Then the colonel introduced me, and we were soon chatting very
comfortably. In his manner, I was glad to find that there was nothing
of the professional. I hate the professional. I was delighted to
observe, too, that what showed at a distance as a broad honest country
face, revealed, on a nearer view, lines of remarkable strength and
purity.

"My daughter is very far from well," said the colonel, in answer to a
general inquiry.

"So I have been sorry to understand," the doctor rejoined. "Indeed, it
is only too clear from her countenance."

"I want you to come and see if you can do her any good."

"Is not Dr. Wade attending her?"

"I have already informed him that I meant to request your advice."

"I shall be most happy to be of any service; but--might I suggest the
most likely means of enabling me to judge whether I can be useful or
not?"

"Most certainly."

"Then will you give me the opportunity of seeing her in a
non-professional way first? I presume, from the fact that she is able to
go to church, that she can be seen at home without the formality of an
express visit?"

"Certainly," replied the colonel, heartily. "Do me the favour to dine
with us this evening, and, as far as that can go you will see her--to
considerable disadvantage, I fear," he concluded, smiling sadly.

"Thank you; thank you. If in my power, I shall not fail you. But you
must leave a margin for professional contingencies."

"Of course. That is understood."

I had been watching Mr. Armstrong during this brief conversation, and
the favourable impressions I had already received of him were
deepened. His fine manly vigour, and the simple honesty of his
countenance, were such as became a healer of men. It seemed altogether
more likely that health might flow from such a source, than from the
_pudgey_, flabby figure of snuff-taking Dr. Wade, whose face had no
expression except a professional one. Mr. Armstrong's eyes looked you
full in the face, as if he was determined to understand you if he
could; and there seemed to me, with my foolish way of seeing signs
everywhere, something of tenderness about the droop of those long
eyelashes, so that his interpretation was not likely to fail from lack
of sympathy. Then there was the firm-set mouth of his brother the
curate, and a forehead as broad as his, if not so high or so full of
modelling. When we had taken our leave, I said to the colonel,

"If that man's opportunity has been equal to his qualification, I
think we may have great hopes of his success in encountering this
unknown disease of poor Adela."

"God grant it!" was all my friend's reply.

When he informed Adela that he expected Mr. Henry Armstrong to dinner,
she looked at him with a surprised expression, as much as to
say--"Surely you do not mean to give me into his hands!" but she only
said:

"Very well, papa."

So Mr. Armstrong came, and made himself very agreeable at dinner,
talking upon all sorts of subjects, and never letting drop a single
word to remind Adela that she was in the presence of a medical
man. Nor did he seem to take any notice of her more than was required
by ordinary politeness; but behavior without speciality of any sort,
he drew his judgments from her general manner, and such glances as
fell naturally to his share, of those that must pass between all the
persons making up a small dinner-company. This enabled him to see her
as she really was, for she remained quite at such ease as her
indisposition would permit. He drank no wine at dinner, and only one
glass after; and then asked the host if he might go to the drawing-room.

"And will you oblige me by coming with me, Mr. Smith? I can see that
you are at home here."

Of course the colonel consented, and I was at his service. Adela rose
from her couch when we entered the room. Mr. Armstrong went up to her
gently, and said:

"Are you able to sing something, Miss Cathcart? I have heard of your
singing."

"I fear not," she answered; "I have not sung for months."

"That is a pity. You must lose something by letting yourself get out
of practice. May I play something to you, then?"

She gave him a quick glance that indicated some surprise, and said:

"If you please. It will give me pleasure."

"May I look at your music first?"

"Certainly."

He turned over all her loose music from beginning to end. Then without
a word seated himself at the grand piano.

Whether he extemporized or played from memory, I, as ignorant of music
as of all other accomplishments, could not tell, but even to stupid
me, what he did play spoke. I assure my readers that I hardly know a
term in the whole musical vocabulary; and yet I am tempted to try to
describe what this music was like.

In the beginning, I heard nothing but a slow sameness, of which I was
soon weary. There was nothing like an air of any kind in it. It seemed
as if only his fingers were playing, and his mind had nothing to do
with it. It oppressed me with a sense of the common-place, which, of
all things, I hate. At length, into the midst of it, came a few notes,
like the first chirp of a sleepy bird trying to sing; only the attempt
was half a wail, which died away, and came again. Over and over again
came these few sad notes, increasing in number, fainting, despairing,
and reviving again; till at last, with a fluttering of agonized wings,
as of a soul struggling up out of the purgatorial smoke, the music-bird
sprang aloft, and broke into a wild but unsure jubilation. Then,
as if in the exuberance of its rejoicing it had broken some law of the
kingdom of harmony, it sank, plumb-down, into the purifying fires
again; where the old wailing, and the old struggle began, but with
increased vehemence and aspiration. By degrees, the surrounding
confusion and distress melted away into forms of harmony, which
sustained the mounting cry of longing and prayer. Then all the cry
vanished in a jubilant praise. Stronger and broader grew the
fundamental harmony, and bore aloft the thanksgiving; which, at
length, exhausted by its own utterance, sank peacefully, like a summer
sunset, into a grey twilight of calm, with the songs of the summer
birds dropping asleep one by one; till, at last, only one was left to
sing the sweetest prayer for all, before he, too, tucked his head
under his wing, and yielded to the restoring silence.

Then followed a pause. I glanced at Adela. She was quietly weeping.

But he did not leave the instrument yet. A few notes, as of the first
distress, awoke; and then a fine manly voice arose, singing the
following song, accompanied by something like the same music he had
already played. It was the same feelings put into words; or, at least,
something like the same feelings, for I am a poor interpreter of
music:

    Rejoice, said the sun, I will make thee gay
    With glory, and gladness, and holiday;
    I am dumb, O man, and I need thy voice.
    But man would not rejoice.

    Rejoice in thyself said he, O sun;
    For thou thy daily course dost run.
    In thy lofty place, rejoice if thou can:
    For me, I am only a man.

    Rejoice, said the wind, I am free and strong;
    I will wake in thy heart an ancient song.
    In the bowing woods--hark! hear my voice!
    But man would not rejoice.

    Rejoice, O wind, in thy strength, said he,
    For thou fulfillest thy destiny.
    Shake the trees, and the faint flowers fan:
    For me, I am only a man.

    I am here, said the night, with moon and star;
    The sun and the wind are gone afar;
    I am here with rest and dreams of choice.
    But man would not rejoice.

    For he said--What is rest to me, I pray,
    Who have done no labour all the day?
    He only should dream who has truth behind.
    Alas! for me and my kind!

    Then a voice, that came not from moon nor star,
    From the sun, nor the roving wind afar,
    Said, Man, I am with thee--rejoice, rejoice!
    And man said, I will rejoice!

"A wonderful physician this!" thought I to myself. "He must be a
follower of some of the old mystics of the profession, counting
harmony and health all one."

He sat still, for a few moments, before the instrument, perhaps to
compose his countenance, and then rose and turned to the company.

The colonel and Percy had entered by this time. The traces of tears
were evident on Adela's face, and Percy was eyeing first her and then
Armstrong, with some signs of disquietude. Even during dinner it had
been clear to me that Percy did not like the doctor, and now he was as
evidently jealous of him.

A little general conversation ensued, and the doctor took his
leave. The colonel followed him to the door. I would gladly have done
so too, but I remained in the drawing-room. All that passed between
them was:

"Will you oblige me by calling on Sunday morning, half an hour before
church-time, colonel?"

"With pleasure."

"Will you come with me, Smith?" asked my friend, after informing me of
the arrangement.

"Don't you think I might be in the way?"

"Not at all. I am getting old and stupid. I should like you to come
and take care of me. He won't do Adela any good, I fear."

"Why do you think so?"

"He has a depressing effect on her already. She is sure not to like
him. She was crying when I came into the room after dinner."

"Tears are not grief," I answered; "nor only the signs of grief, when
they do indicate its presence. They are a relief to it as well. But I
cannot help thinking there was some pleasure mingled with those tears,
for he had been playing very delightfully. He must be a very gifted
man."

"I don't know anything about that. You know I have no ear for
music.--That won't cure my child anyhow."

"I don't know," I answered. "It may help."

"Do you mean to say he thinks to cure her by playing the piano to her?
If he thinks to come here and do that, he is mistaken."

"You forget, Cathcart, that I have had no more conversation with him
than yourself. But surely you have seen no reason to quarrel with him
already."

"No, no, my dear fellow. I do believe I am getting a crusty old
curmudgeon. I can't bear to see Adela like this."

"Well, I confess, I have hopes from the new doctor; but we will see
what he says on Sunday."

"Why should we not have called to-morrow?"

"I can't answer that. I presume he wants time to think about the
case."

"And meantime he may break his neck over some gate that he can't or
won't open."

"Well, I should be sorry."

"But what's to become of us then?"

"Ah! you allow that? Then you do expect something of him?"

"To be sure I do, only I am afraid of making a fool of myself, and
that sets me grumbling at him, I suppose."

Next day was Saturday; and Mrs. Cathcart, Percy's mother, was expected
in the evening. I had a long walk in the morning, and after that
remained in my own room till dinner time. I confess I was prejudiced
against her; and just because I was prejudiced, I resolved to do all I
could to like her, especially as it was Christmas-tide. Not that one
time is not as good as another for loving your neighbour, but if ever
one is reminded of the duty, it is then. I schooled myself all I
could, and went into the drawing-room like a boy trying to be good; as
a means to which end, I put on as pleasant a face as would come. But
my good resolutions were sorely tried.

       *       *       *       *       *

These asterisks indicate the obliteration of the personal description
which I had given of her. Though true, it was ill-natured. And
besides, so indefinite is all description of this kind, that it is
quite possible it might be exactly like some woman to whom I am
utterly unworthy to hold a candle. So I won't tell what her features
were like. I will only say, that I am certain her late husband must
have considered her a very fine woman; and that I had an indescribable
sensation in the calves of my legs when I came near her. But then,
although I believe I am considered a good-natured man, I confess to
prejudices (which I commonly refuse to act upon), and to profound
dislikes, especially to certain sorts of women, which I can no more
help feeling, than I can help feeling the misery that permeates the
joints of my jaws when I chance to bite into a sour apple. So my
opinions about such women go for little or nothing.

When I entered the drawing-room, I saw at once that she had
established herself as protectress of Adela, and possibly as mistress
of the house. She leaned back in her chair at a considerable angle,
but without bending her spine, and her hands lay folded in her
lap. She made me a bow with her neck, without in the least altering
the angle of her position, while I made her one of my most profound
obeisances. A few common-places passed between us, and then her
brother-in-law leading her down to dinner, the evening passed by with
politeness on both sides. Adela did not appear to heed her presence
one way or the other. But then of late she had been very inexpressive.

Percy seemed to keep out of his mother's way as much as possible. How
he amused himself, I cannot imagine.

Next morning we went to call on the doctor, on our way to church.

"Well, Mr. Armstrong, what do you think of my daughter?" asked the
colonel.

"I do not think she is in a very bad way. Has she had any
disappointment that you know of?"

"None whatever."

"Ah--I have seen such a case before. There are a good many of them
amongst girls at her age. It is as if, without any disease, life were
gradually withdrawn itself--ebbing back as it were to its source.
Whether this has a physical or a psychological cause, it is impossible
to tell. In her case, I think the later, if indeed it have not a
deeper cause; that is, if I'm right in my hypothesis. A few days will
show me this; and if I am wrong, I will then make a closer examination
of her case. At present it is desirable that I should not annoy her in
any such way. Now for the practical: my conviction is that the best
thing that can be done for her is, to interest her in something, if
possible--no matter what it is. Does she take pleasure in anything?"

"She used to be very fond of music. But of late I have not heard her
touch the piano."

"May I be allowed to speak?" I asked.

"Most certainly," said both at once.

"I have had a little talk with Miss Cathcart, and I am entirely of
Mr. Armstrong's opinion," I said. "And with his permission--I am
pretty sure of my old friend's concurrence--I will tell you a plan I
have been thinking of. You remember, colonel, how she was more
interested in the anecdotes our friend the Bloomfields told the other
evening, than she has been in anything else, since I came. It seems to
me that the interest she cannot find for herself, we might be able to
provide for her, by telling her stories; the course of which everyone
should be at liberty to interrupt, for the introduction of any remark
whatever. If we once got her interested in anything, it seems to me,
as Mr. Armstrong has already hinted, that the tide of life would begin
to flow again. She would eat better, and sleep better, and speculate
less, and think less about herself--not _of_ herself--I don't mean
that, colonel; for no one could well think less of herself than she
does. And if we could amuse her in that way for a week or two, I think
it would give a fair chance to any physical remedies Mr. Armstrong
might think proper to try, for they act most rapidly on a system in
movement. It would be beginning from the inside, would it not?"

"A capital plan," said the doctor, who had been listening with marked
approbation; "and I know one who I am sure would help. For my part, I
never told a story in my life, but I am willing to try--after awhile,
that is. My brother, however, would, I know, be delighted to lend his
aid to such a scheme, if colonel Cathcart would be so good as to
include him in the conspiracy. It is his duty as well as mine; for she
is one of his flock. And he can tell a tale, real or fictitious,
better than any one I know."

"There can be no harm in trying it, gentlemen--with kindest thanks to
you for your interest in my poor child," said the colonel. "I confess
I have not much hope from such a plan, but--"

"You must not let her know that the thing is got up for her,"
interrupted the doctor.

"Certainly not. You must all come and dine with us, any day you
like. I will call on your brother to-morrow."

"This Christmas-tide gives good opportunity for such a scheme," I
said. "It will fall in well with all the festivities; and I am quite
willing to open the entertainment with a funny kind of fairy-tale,
which has been growing in my brain for some time."

"Capital!" said Mr. Armstrong. "We must have all sorts."

"Then shall it be Monday at six--that is, to-morrow?" asked the
colonel. "Your brother won't mind a short invitation?"

"Certainly not. Ask him to-day. But I would suggest five, if I might,
to give us more time afterwards."

"Very well. Let it be five. And now we will go to church."

The ends of the old oak pews next the chancel were curiously
carved. One had a ladder and a hammer and nails on it. Another a
number of round flat things, and when you counted them you found that
there were thirty. Another had a curious thing--I could not tell what,
till one day I met an old woman carrying just such a bag. On another
was a sponge on the point of a spear. There were more of such
carvings; but these I could see from where I sat. And all the sermon
was a persuading of the people that God really loved them, without any
_if_ or _but_.

Adela was very attentive to the clergy man; but I could see her glance
wander now and then from his face to that of his brother, who was in
the same place he had occupied on Christmas-day. The expression of her
aunt's face was judicial.

When we came out of church, the doctor shook hands with me and said:

"Can I have a word with you, Mr. Smith?"

"Most gladly," I answered. "Your time is precious: I will walk your
way."

"Thank you.--I like your plan heartily. But to tell the truth, I fancy
it is more a case for my brother than for me. But that may come about
all in good time, especially as she will now have an opportunity of
knowing him. He is the best fellow in the world. And his wife is as
good as he is. But--I feel I may say to you what I could not well say
to the colonel--I suspect the cause of her illness is rather a
spiritual one. She has evidently a strong mental constitution; and
this strong frame, so to speak, has been fed upon slops; and an
atrophy is the consequence. My hope in your plan is, partly, that it
may furnish a better mental table for her, for the time, and set her
foraging in new direction for the future."

"But how could you tell that from the very little conversation you had
with her?"

"It was not the conversation only--I watched everything about her; and
interpreted it by what I know about women. I believe that many of them
go into a consumption just from discontent--the righteous discontent
of a soul which is meant to sit at the Father's table, and so cannot
content itself with the husks which the swine eat. The theological
nourishment which is offered them is generally no better than husks.
They cannot live upon it, and so die and go home to their Father. And
without good spiritual food to keep the spiritual senses healthy and
true, they cannot see the thing's about them as they really are. They
cannot find interest in them, because they cannot find their _own_
place amoungst them. There was one thing though that confirmed me in
this idea about Miss Cathcart. I looked over her music on purpose, and
I did not find one song that rose above the level of the drawing-room,
or one piece of music that had any deep feeling or any thought in
it. Of course I judged by the composers."

"You astonish me by the truth and rapidity of your judgements. But how
did you, who like myself are a bachelor, come to know so much about
the minds of women?"

"I believe in part by reading Milton, and learning from him a certain
high notion about myself and my own duty. None but a pure man can
understand women--I mean the true womanhood that is in them. But more
than to Milton am I indebted to that brother of mine you heard preach
to-day. If ever God made a good man, he is one. He will tell you
himself that he knows what evil is. He drank of the cup, found it full
of thirst and bitterness; cast it from him, and turning to the
fountain of life, kneeled and drank, and rose up a gracious giant. I
say the last--not he. But this brother kept me out of the mire in
which he soiled his own garments, though, thank God! they are clean
enough now. Forgive my enthusiasm, Mr. Smith, about my brother. He is
worthy of it."

I felt the wind cold to my weak eyes, and did not answer for some
time, lest he should draw unfair conclusions.

"You should get him to tell you his story. It is well worth hearing;
and as I see we shall be friends all, I would rather you heard it from
his own mouth."

"I sincerely hope I may call that man my friend, some day."

"You may do so already. He was greatly taken with you on the journey
down."

"A mutual attraction then, I am happy to think. Good-bye, I am glad
you like my plan."

"I think it excellent. Anything hearty will do her good. Isn't there
any young man to fall in love with her?"

"I don't know of any at present."

"Only the _best_ thing will make her well; but all true things tend to
healing."

"But how is it that you have such notions--so different from those of
the mass of your professional brethren?"

"Oh!" said he, laughing, "if you really want an answer, be it known to
all men that I am a student of Van Helmont."

He turned away, laughing; and I, knowing nothing of Van Helmont, could
not tell whether he was in jest or in earnest.

At dinner some remark was made about the sermon, I think by our host.

"You don't call that the gospel!" said Mrs. Cathcart, with a smile.

"Why, what do you call it, Jane?"

"I don't know that I am bound to put a name upon it. I should,
however, call it pantheism."

"Might I ask you, madam, what you understand by _pantheism_?"

"Oh! neology, and all that sort of thing."

"And neology is--?"

"Really, Mr. Smith, a dinner-table is not the most suitable place in
the world for theological discussion."

"I quite agree with you, madam," I responded, astonished at my own
boldness.--I was not quite so much afraid of her after this, although
I had an instinctive sense that she did not at all like me. But Percy
was delighted to see his mother discomfited, and laughed into his
plate. She regarded him with lurid eyes for a moment, and then took
refuge in her plate in turn. The colonel was too polite to make any
remark at the time, but when he and I were alone, he said:

"Smith, I didn't expect it of you. Bravo, my boy!"

And I, John Smith, felt myself a hero.



Chapter V.

The light princess.


Five o'clock, anxiously expected by me, came, and with it the
announcement of dinner. I think those of us who were in the secret
would have hurried over it, but with Beeves hanging upon our wheels,
we could not. However, at length we were all in the drawing-room, the
ladies of the house evidently surprised that we had come up stairs so
soon. Besides the curate, with his wife and brother, our party
comprised our old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield, whose previous
engagement had been advanced by a few days.

When we were all seated, I began, as if it were quite a private
suggestion of my own:

"Adela, if you and our friends have no objection, I will read you a
story I have just scribbled off."

"I shall be delighted, uncle."

This was a stronger expression of content than I had yet heard her
use, and I felt flattered accordingly.

"This is Christmas-time, you know, and that is just the time for
story-telling," I added.

"I trust it is a story suitable to the season," said Mrs. Cathcart,
smiling.

"Yes, very," I said; "for it is a child's story--a fairy tale, namely;
though I confess I think it fitter for grown than for young children.
I hope it is funny, though. I think it is."

"So you approve of fairy-tales for children, Mr. Smith?"

"Not for children alone, madam; for everybody that can relish them."

"But not at a sacred time like this?"

And again she smiled an insinuating smile.

"If I thought God did not approve of fairy-tales, I would never read,
not to say write one, Sunday or Saturday. Would you, madam?"

"I never do."

"I feared not. But I must begin, notwithstanding."

The story, as I now give it, is not exactly as I read it then,
because, of course, I was more anxious that it should be correct when
I prepared it for the press, than when I merely read it before a few
friends.

"Once upon a time," I began; but I was unexpectedly interrupted by the
clergyman, who said, addressing our host:

"Will you allow me, Colonel Cathcart, to be Master of the Ceremonies
for the evening?"

"Certainly, Mr. Armstrong."

"Then I will alter the arrangement of the party. Here, Henry--don't
get up, Miss Cathcart--we'll just lift Miss Cathcart's couch to this
corner by the fire.--Lie still, please. Now, Mr. Smith, you sit here
in the middle. Now, Mrs. Cathcart, here is an easy chair for you. With
my commanding officer I will not interfere. But having such a jolly
fire it was a pity not to get the good of it. Mr. Bloomfield, here is
room for you and Mrs. Bloomfield."

"Excellently arranged," said our host. "I will sit by you, Mr.
Armstrong. Percy, won't you come and join the circle?"

"No, thank you, uncle," answered Percy from a couch, "I am more
comfortable here."

"Now, Lizzie," said the curate to his wife, "you sit on this stool by
me.--Too near the fire? No?--Very well.--Harry, put the bottle of
water near Mr. Smith. A fellow-feeling for another fellow--you see,
Mr. Smith. Now we're all right, I think; that is, if Mrs. Cathcart is
comfortable."

"Thanks. Quite."

"Then we may begin. Now, Mr. Smith.--One word more: anybody may speak
that likes. Now, then."

So I did begin--

"Title: THE LIGHT PRINCESS.

"Second Title: A FAIRY-TALE WITHOUT FAIRIES."

"Author: JOHN SMITH, Gentleman.

"Motto:--'_Your Servant, Goody Gravity_.'

"From--SIR CHARLES GRANDISON."

"I must be very stupid, I fear, Mr. Smith; but to tell the truth, _I_
can't make head or tail of it," said Mrs. Cathcart.

"Give me leave, madam," said I; "that is my office. Allow me, and I
hope to make both head and tail of it for you. But let me give you
first a mere general, and indeed a more applicable motto for my
story. It is this--from no worse authority than John Milton:

                   'Great bards beside
    In sage and solemn times have sung
    Of turneys and of trophies hung;
    Of forests and enchantments drear,
    Where more is meant than meets the ear.'

"Milton here refers to Spencer in particular, most likely. But what
distinguishes the true bard in such work is, that _more is meant than
meets the ear_; and although I am no bard, I should scorn to write
anything that only spoke to the _ear_, which signifies the surface
understanding."

General silence followed, and I went on.

"THE LIGHT PRINCESS.

"CHAPTER I.--WHAT! NO CHILDREN?

"Once upon a time, so long ago, that I have quite forgotten the date,
there lived a king and queen who had no children.

"And the king said to himself: 'All the queens of my acquaintance have
children, some three, some seven, an some as many as twelve; and my
queen has not one. I feel ill-used.' So he made up his mind to be
cross with his wife about it. But she bore it all like a good patient
queen as she was. Then the king grew very cross indeed. But the queen
pretended to take it all as a joke, and a very good one, too.

"'Why don't you have any daughters, at least?' said he, 'I don't say
sons; that might be too much to expect.'

"'I am sure, dear king, I am very sorry,' said the queen.

"'So you ought to be,' retorted the king; 'you are not going to make a
virtue of _that_, surely.'

"But he was not an ill-tempered king; and, in any matter of less
moment, he would have let the queen have her own way, with all his
heart. This, however, was an affair of state.

"The queen smiled.

"'You must have patience with a lady, you know, dear king,' said she.

"She was, indeed, a very nice queen, and heartily sorry that she could
not oblige the king immediately.

"The king tried to have patience, but he succeeded very badly. It was
more than he deserved, therefore, when, at last, the queen gave him a
daughter--as lovely a little princess as ever cried."

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER II.--WON'T I, JUST?


"The day drew near when the infant must be christened. The king wrote
all the invitations with his own hand. Of course somebody was
forgotten.

"Now, it does not generally matter if somebody is forgotten, but you
must mind who. Unfortunately, the king forgot without intending it;
and the chance fell upon the Princess Makemnoit, which was awkward.
For the Princess was the king's own sister; and he ought not to have
forgotten her. But she had made herself so disagreeable to the old
king, their father, that he had forgot her in making his will; and so
it was no wonder that her brother forgot her in writing his
invitations. But poor relations don't do anything to keep you in mind
of them. Why don't they? The king could not see into the garret she
lived in, could he? She was a sour, spiteful creature. The wrinkles of
contempt crossed the wrinkles of peevishness, and made her face as
full of wrinkles as a pat of butter. If ever a king could be justified
in forgetting anybody, this king was justified in forgetting his
sister, even at a christening. And then she was so disgracefully poor!
She looked very odd, too. Her forehead was as large as all the rest of
her face, and projected over it like a precipice. When she was angry,
her little eyes flashed blue. When she hated anybody, they shone
yellow and green. What they looked like when she loved anybody, I do
not know; for I never heard of her loving anybody but herself, and I
do not think she could have managed that, if she had not somehow got
used to herself. But what made it highly imprudent in the king to
forget her, was--that she was awfully clever. In fact, she was a
witch; and when she bewitched anybody, he very soon had enough of it;
for she beat all the wicked fairies in wickedness, and all the clever
ones in cleverness. She despised all the modes we read of in history,
in which offended fairies and witches have taken their revenges; and
therefore, after waiting and waiting in vain for an invitation, she
made up her mind at last to go without one, and make the whole family
miserable, like a princess and a philosopher.

"She put on her best gown, went to the palace, was kindly received by
the happy monarch, who forgot that he had forgotten her, and took her
place in the procession to the royal chapel. When they were all
gathered about the font, she contrived to get next to it, and throw
something into the water. She maintained then a very respectful
demeanour till the water was applied to the child's face. But at that
moment she turned round in her place three times, and muttered the
following words, loud enough for those beside her to hear:

  'Light of spirit, by my charms,
    Light of body, every part,
  Never weary human arms--
    Only crush thy parents' heart!'

"They all thought she had lost her wits, and was repeating some
foolish nursery rhyme; but a shudder went through the whole of them.
The baby, on the contrary, began to laugh and crow; while the nurse
gave a start and a smothered cry, for she thought she was struck with
paralysis: she could not feel the baby in her arms. But she clasped it
tight, and said nothing.

"The mischief was done."


Here I came to a pause, for I found the reading somewhat nervous work,
and had to make application to the water-bottle.

"Bravo! Mr. Smith," cried the clergyman. "A good beginning, I am sure;
for I cannot see what you are driving at."

"I think I do," said Henry. "Don't you, Lizzie?"

"No, I don't," answered Mrs. Armstrong.

"One thing," said Mrs. Cathcart with a smile, not a very sweet one,
but still a smile, "one thing, I must object to. That is, introducing
church ceremonies into a fairy-tale."

"Why, Mrs. Cathcart," answered the clergyman, taking up the cudgels
for me, "do you suppose the church to be such a cross-grained old
lady, that she will not allow her children to take a few gentle
liberties with their mother? She's able to stand that surely. They
won't love her the less for that."

"Besides," I ventured to say, "if both church and fairy-tale belong to
humanity, they may occasionally cross circles, without injury to
either. They must have something in common. There is the _Fairy
Queen_, and the _Pilgrim's Progress_, you know, Mrs. Cathcart. I can
fancy the pope even telling his nephews a fairy-tale."

"Ah, the pope! I daresay."

"And not the archbishop?"

"I don't think your reasoning quite correct, Mr. Smith," said the
clergyman; "and I think moreover there is a real objection to that
scene. It is, that no such charm could have had any effect where holy
water was employed as the medium. In fact I doubt if the wickedness
could have been wrought in a chapel at all."

"I submit," I said. "You are right. I hold up the four paws of my
mind, and crave indulgence."

"In the name of the church, having vindicated her power over evil
incantations, I permit you to proceed," said Mr. Armstrong, his black
eyes twinkling with fun.

Mrs. Cathcart smiled, and shook her head.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER III.--SHE CAN'T BE OURS.

"Her atrocious aunt had deprived the child of all her gravity. If you
ask me how this was effected, I answer: In the easiest way in the
world. She had only to destroy gravitation. And the princess was a
philosopher, and knew all the _ins_ and _outs_ of the laws of
gravitation as well as the _ins_ and _outs_ of her boot-lace. And
being a witch as well, she could abrogate those laws in a moment; or
at least so clog their wheels and rust their bearings, that they would
not work at all. But we have more to do with what followed, than with
how it was done.

"The first awkwardness that resulted from this unhappy privation was,
that the moment the nurse began to float the baby up and down, she
flew from her arms towards the ceiling. Happily, the resistance of the
air brought her ascending career to a close within a foot of it. There
she remained, horizontal as when she left her nurse's arms, kicking
and laughing amazingly. The nurse in terror flew to the bell, and
begged the footman who answered it, to bring up the house-steps
directly. Trembling in every limb, she climbed upon the steps, and had
to stand upon the very top, and reach up, before she could catch the
floating tail of the baby's long clothes.

"When the strange fact came to be known, there was a terrible
commotion in the palace. The occasion of its discovery by the king was
naturally a repetition of the nurse's experience. Astonished that he
felt no weight when the child was laid in his arms, he began to wave
her up and--not down; for she slowly ascended to the ceiling as
before, and there remained floating in perfect comfort and
satisfaction, as was testified by her peals of tiny laughter. The king
stood staring up in speechless amazement, and trembled so that his
beard shook like grass in the wind. At last, turning to the queen, who
was just as horror-struck as himself, he said, gasping, staring, and
stammering:

"'She _can't_ be ours, queen!'

"Now the queen was much cleverer than the king, and had begun already
to suspect that 'this effect defective came by cause.'

"'I am sure she is ours,' answered she. 'But we ought to have taken
better care of her at the christening. People who were never invited
ought not to have been present.'

"'Oh, ho!' said the king, tapping his forehead with his forefinger, 'I
have it all. I've found her out. Don't you see it, queen? Princess
Makemnoit has bewitched her.'

"'That's just what I say,' answered the queen.

"'I beg your pardon, my love; I did not hear you. John! bring the
steps I get on my throne with.'

"For he was a little king with a great throne, like many other kings.

"The throne-steps were brought, and set upon the dining-table, and
John got upon the top of them. But he could not reach the little
princess, who lay like a baby-laughter-cloud in the air, exploding
continuously.

"'Take the tongs, John,' said his majesty; and getting up on the
table, he handed them to him.

"John could reach the baby now, and the little princess was handed
down by the tongs.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER IV.--WHERE IS SHE?

"One fine summer day, a month after these her first adventures, during
which time she had been very carefully watched, the princess was lying
on the bed in the queen's own chamber, fast asleep. One of the windows
was open, for it was noon, and the day so sultry that the little girl
was wrapped in nothing less etherial than slumber itself. The queen
came into the room, and not observing that the baby was on the bed,
opened another window. A frolicsome fairy wind which had been watching
for a chance of mischief, rushed in at the one window, and taking its
way over the bed where the child was lying, caught her up, and rolling
and floating her along like a piece of flue, or a dandelion-seed,
carried her with it through the opposite window, and away.  The queen
went down stairs, quite ignorant of the loss she had herself
occasioned.  When the nurse returned, she supposed that her majesty
had carried her off, and, dreading a scolding, delayed making inquiry
about her. But hearing nothing, she grew uneasy, and went at length to
the queen's boudoir, where she found her majesty.

"'Please your majesty, shall I take the baby?' said she.

"'Where is she?' asked the queen.

"'Please forgive me. I know it was wrong.'

"'What do you mean?' said the queen, looking grave.

"'Oh! don't frighten me, your majesty!' exclaimed the nurse, clapping
her hands.

"The queen saw that something was amiss, and fell down in a faint. The
nurse rushed about the palace, screaming, 'My baby! my baby!'

"Every one ran to the queen's room. But the queen could give no
orders. They soon found out, however, that the princess was missing,
and in a moment the palace was like a bee-hive in a garden. But in a
minute more the queen was brought to herself by a great shout and a
clapping of hands. They had found the princess fast asleep under a
rose-bush, to which the elvish little wind-puff had carried her,
finishing its mischief by shaking a shower of red rose-leaves all over
the little white sleeper. Startled by the noise the servants made, she
woke; and furious with glee, scattered the rose-leaves in all
directions, like a shower of spray in the sunset.

"She was watched more carefully after this, no doubt; yet it would be
endless to relate all the odd incidents resulting from this
peculiarity of the young princess. But there never was a baby in a
house, not to say a palace, that kept a household in such constant
good humour, at least below stairs. If it was not easy for her nurses
to hold her, certainly she did not make their arms ache. And she was
so nice to play at ball with! There was positively no danger of
letting her fall. You might throw her down, or knock her down, or push
her down, but you couldn't _let_ her down. It is true, you might let
her fly into the fire or the coal-hole, or through the window; but
none of these accidents had happened as yet. If you heard peals of
laughter resounding from some unknown region, you might be sure enough
of the cause. Going down into the kitchen, or _the room_, you would
find Jane and Thomas, and Robert and Susan, all and sum, playing at
ball with the little princess. She was the ball herself, and did not
enjoy it the less for that. Away she went, flying from one to another,
screeching with laughter. And the servants loved the ball itself
better even than the game. But they had to take care how they threw
her, for if she received an upward direction, she would never come
down without being fetched.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER V.--WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

"But above stairs it was different. One day, for instance, after
breakfast, the king went into his counting-house, and counted out his
money. The operation gave him no pleasure.

"'To think,' said he to himself, 'that every one of these gold
sovereigns weighs a quarter of an ounce, and my real, live,
flesh-and-blood princess weighs nothing at all!'

"And he hated his gold sovereigns, as they lay with a broad smile of
self-satisfaction all over their yellow faces.

"The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey. But at the
second mouthful, she burst out crying, and could not swallow it. The
king heard her sobbing. Glad of anybody, but especially of his queen,
to quarrel with, he clashed his gold sovereigns into his money-box,
clapped his crown on his head, and rushed into the parlour.

"'What is all this about?' exclaimed he. 'What are you crying for,
queen?'

"'I can't eat it,' said the queen, looking ruefully at the honey-pot.

"'No wonder!' retorted the king. 'You've just eaten your
breakfast--two turkey eggs, and three anchovies.'

"'Oh! that's not it!' sobbed her majesty. 'It's my child, my child!'

"'Well, what's the matter with your child? She's neither up the
chimney nor down the draw-well. Just hear her laughing.' Yet the king
could not help a sigh, which he tried to turn into a cough, saying,

"'It is a good thing to be light-hearted, I am sure, whether she be
ours or not.'

"'It is a bad thing to be light-headed,' answered the queen, looking
with prophetic soul, far into the future.

"''Tis a good thing to be light-handed,' said the king.

"''Tis a bad thing to be light-fingered,' answered the queen.

"''Tis a good thing to be light-footed,' said the king.

"''Tis a bad thing,' began the queen; but the king interrupted her.

"'In fact,' said he, with the tone of one who concludes an argument in
which he has had only imaginary opponents, and in which, therefore, he
has come off triumphant--'in fact, it is a good thing altogether to be
light-bodied.'

"'But it is a bad thing altogether to be light-minded,' retorted the
queen, who was beginning to lose her temper.

"This last answer quite discomfited his majesty, who turned on his
heel, and betook himself to his counting-house again. But he was not
halfway towards it, when the voice of his queen overtook him:

"'And it's a bad thing to be light-haired,' screamed she, determined
to have more last words, now that her spirit was roused.

"The queen's hair was black as night; and the king's had been, and his
daughter's was, golden as morning. But it was not this reflection on
his hair that troubled him; it was the double use of the word _light_.
For the king hated all witticisms, and punning especially.  And
besides he could not tell whether the queen meant light-_haired_ or
light-_heired_; for why might she not aspirate her vowels when she was
ex-asperated herself?"

"Now, really," interrupted the clergyman, "I must protest. Mr. Smith,
you bury us under an avalanche of puns, and, I must say, not very good
ones. Now, the story, though humorous, is not of the kind to admit of
such fanciful embellishment. It reminds one rather of a burlesque at a
theatre--the lowest thing, from a literary point of view, to be
found."

"I submit," was all I could answer; for I feared that he was right.
The passage, as it now stands, is not nearly so bad as it was then,
though, I confess, it is still bad enough.

"I think," said Mrs. Armstrong, "since criticism is the order of the
evening, and Mr. Smith is so kind as not to mind it, that he makes the
king and queen too silly. It takes away from the reality."

"Right too, my dear madam," I answered.

"The reality of a fairy-tale?" said Mrs. Cathcart, as if asking a
question of herself.

"But will you grant me the justice," said I, "to temper your judgments
of me, if not of my story, by remembering that this is the first thing
of the sort I ever attempted?"

"I tell you what," said the doctor, "it's very easy to criticise, but
none of you could have written it yourselves."

"Of course not, for my part," said the clergyman.

Silence followed; and I resumed.

"He turned upon his other heel, and rejoined her. She looked angry
still, because she knew that she was guilty, or, what was much the
same, knew that he thought so.

"'My dear queen,' said he, 'duplicity of any sort is exceedingly
objectionable between married people, of any rank, not to say kings
and queens; and the most objectionable form it can assume is that of
punning.'

"'There!' said the queen, 'I never made a jest, but I broke it in the
making. I am the most unfortunate woman in the world!'

"She looked so rueful, that the king took her in his arms; and they
sat down to consult.

"'Can you bear this?' said the king.

"'No, I can't,' said the queen.

"'Well, what's to be done?' said the king.

"'I'm sure I don't know,' said the queen. 'But might you not try an
apology?'

"'To my old sister, I suppose you mean?' said the king.

"'Yes,' said the queen.

"'Well, I don't mind,' said the king.

"So he went the next morning to the garret of the princess, and,
making a very humble apology, begged her to undo the spell. But the
princess declared, with a very grave face, that she knew nothing at
all about it. Her eyes, however, shone pink, which was a sign that she
was happy. She advised the king and queen to have patience, and to
mend their ways. The king returned disconsolate.

The queen tried to comfort him.

"'We will wait till she is older. She may then be able to suggest
something herself. She will know at least how she feels, and explain
things to us.'

"'But what if she should marry!' exclaimed the king, in sudden
consternation at the idea.

"'Well, what of that?' rejoined the queen.

"'Just think! If she were to have any children! In the course of a
hundred years, the air might be as full of floating children as of
gossamers in autumn.'

"'That is no business of ours,' replied the queen. 'Besides, by that
time, they will have learned to take care of themselves.'

"A sigh was the king's only answer.

"He would have consulted the court physicians; but he was afraid they
would try experiments upon her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER VI--SHE LAUGHS TOO MUCH.

"Meantime, notwithstanding awkward occurrences, and griefs that she
brought her parents to, the little princess laughed and grew--not fat,
but plump and tall. She reached the age of seventeen, without having
fallen into, any worse scrape than a chimney; by rescuing her from
which, a little bird-nesting urchin got fame and a black face. Nor,
thoughtless as she was, had she committed anything worse than laughter
at everybody and everything, that came in her way. When she heard that
General Clanrunfort was cut to pieces with all his forces, she
laughed; when she heard that the enemy was on his way to besiege her
papa's capital, she laughed hugely; but when she heard that the city
would most likely be abandoned to the mercy of the enemy's
soldiery--why, then, she laughed immoderately. These were merely
reports invented for the sake of experiment. But she never could be
brought to see the serious side of anything. When her mother cried,
she said:

"'What queer faces mamma makes! And she squeezes water out of her
cheeks! Funny mama!'

"And when her papa stormed at her, she laughed, and danced round and
round him, clapping her hands, and crying:

"'Do it again, papa. Do it again! It's such fun! Dear, funny papa!'

"And if he tried to catch her, she glided from him in an instant, not
in the least afraid of him, but thinking, it part of the game not to
be caught. With one push of her foot, she would be floating in the air
above his head; or she would go dancing backwards and forwards and
sideways, like a great butterfly. It happened several times, when her
father and mother were holding a consultation about her in private,
that they were interrupted by vainly repressed outbursts of laughter
over their heads; and looking up with indignation, saw her floating at
full length in the air above them, whence she regarded them with the
most comical appreciation of the position.

"One day an awkward accident happened. The princess had come out upon
the lawn with one of her attendants, who held her by the hand. Spying
her father at the other side of the lawn, she snatched her hand from
the maid's, and sped across to him. Now, when she wanted to run alone,
her custom was to catch up a stone in each hand, so that she might
come down again after a bound. Whatever she wore as part of her attire
had no effect in this way: even gold, when it thus became as it were a
part of herself, lost all its weight for the time. But whatever she
only held in her hands, retained its downward tendency. On this
occasion she could see nothing to catch up, but a huge toad, that was
walking across the lawn as if he had a hundred years to do it in. Not
knowing what disgust meant, for this was one of her peculiarities, she
snatched up the toad, and bounded away. She had almost reached her
father, and he was holding out his arms to receive her, and take from
her lips the kiss which hovered on them like a butterfly on a rosebud,
when a puff of wind blew her aside into the arms of a young page, who
had just been receiving a message from his majesty. Now it was no
great peculiarity in the princess that, once she was set a-going, it
always cost her time and trouble to check herself. On this occasion
there was no time. She _must_ kiss--and she kissed the page. She did
not mind it much; for she had no shyness in her composition; and she
knew, besides, that she could not help it. So she only laughed, like a
musical-box. The poor page fared the worst. For the princess, trying
to correct the unfortunate tendency of the kiss, put out her hands to
keep her off the page; so that, along with the kiss, he received, on
the other cheek, a slap with the huge black toad, which she poked
right into his eye. He tried to laugh, too, but it resulted in a very
odd contortion of countenance, which showed that there was no danger
of his pluming himself on the kiss. Indeed it is not safe to be kissed
by princesses. As for the king, his dignity was greatly hurt, and he
did not speak to the page for a whole month.

"I may here remark that it was very amusing to see her run, if her
mode of progression could properly be called running. For first she
would make a bound; then, having alighted, she would run a few steps,
and make another bound. Sometimes she would fancy she had reached the
ground before she actually had, and her feet would go backwards and
forwards, running upon nothing at all, like those of a chicken on its
back. Then she would laugh like the very spirit of fun; only in her
laugh there was something missing. What it was, I find myself unable
to describe. I think it was a certain tone, depending upon the
possibility of sorrow--_morbidezza_, perhaps. She never smiled."

"I am not sure about your physics, Mr. Smith," said the doctor. "If
she had no gravity, no amount of muscular propulsion could have given
her any momentum. And again, if she had no gravity, she must
inevitably have ascended beyond the regions of the atmosphere."

"Bottle your philosophy, Harry, with the rest of your physics," said
the clergyman, laughing. "Don't you see that she must have had some
weight, only it wasn't worth mentioning, being no greater than the
ordinary weight of the atmosphere. Besides, you know very well that a
law of nature could not be destroyed. Therefore, it was only
witchcraft, you know; and the laws of that remain to be discovered--at
least so far as my knowledge goes.--Mr. Smith, you have gone in for a
fairy-tale; and if I were you, I would claim the immunities of
Fairyland."

"So I do," I responded fiercely, and went on.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER VII.--TRY METAPHYSICS.

"After a long avoidance of the painful subject, the king and queen
resolved to hold a counsel of three upon it; and so they sent for the
princess. In she came, sliding and flitting and gliding from one piece
of furniture to another, and put herself at last in an armchair, in a
sitting posture. Whether she could be said _to sit_, seeing she
received no support from the seat of the chair, I do not pretend to
determine.

"'My dear child,' said the king, 'you must be aware that you are not
exactly like other people.'

"'Oh, you dear funny papa! I have got a nose and two eyes and all the
rest. So have you. So has mamma.'

"'Now be serious, my dear, for once,' said the queen.

"'No, thank you, mamma; I had rather not.'

"'Would you not like to be able to walk like other people?' said the
king.

"'No indeed, I should think not. You only crawl. You are such slow
coaches!'

"'How do you feel, my child?' he resumed, after a pause of
discomfiture.

"'Quite well, thank you.'

"'I mean, what do you feel like?'

"'Like nothing at all, that I know of.'

"'You must feel like something.'

"'I feel like a princess with such a funny papa, and such a dear pet
of a queen-mamma!'

"'Now really!' began the queen; but the princess interrupted her.

"'Oh! yes,' she added, 'I remember. I have a curious feeling
sometimes, as if I were the only person that had any sense in the
whole world.'

"She had been trying to behave herself with dignity; but now she burst
into a violent fit of laughter, threw herself backwards over the
chair, and went rolling about the floor in an ecstasy of enjoyment.
The king picked her up easier than one does a down quilt, and replaced
her in her former relation to the chair. The exact preposition
expressing the relation I do not happen to know.

"'Is there nothing you wish for?' resumed the king, who had learned by
this time that it was quite useless to be angry with her.

"'O you dear papa!--yes,' answered she.

"'What is it, my darling?'

"'I have been longing for it--oh, such a time! Ever since last night.'

"'Tell me what it is.'

"'Will you promise to let me have it?'

"The king was on the point of saying _yes_; but the wiser queen
checked him with a single motion of her head.

"'Tell me what it is first,' said he.

"'No, no. Promise first.'

"'I dare not. What is it?'

"'Mind I hold you to your promise.--It is--to be tied to the end of a
string--a very long string indeed, and be flown like a kite. Oh, such
fun! I would rain rose-water, and hail sugar-plums, and snow
whipt-cream, and, and, and--'

"A fit of laughing checked her; and she would have been off again,
over the floor, had not the king started up and caught her just in
time. Seeing that nothing but talk could be got out of her, he rang
the bell, and sent her away with two of her ladies-in-waiting.

"'Now, queen,' he said, turning to her majesty, 'what _is_ to be
done?'

"'There is but one thing left,' answered she. 'Let us consult the
college of Metaphysicians.'

"'Bravo!' cried the king; 'we will.'

"Now at the head of this college were two very wise Chinese
philosophers--by name, Hum-Drum, and Kopy-Keck. For them the king
sent; and straightway they came. In a long speech, he communicated to
them what they knew very well already--as who did not?--namely, the
peculiar condition of his daughter in relation to the globe on which
she dwelt; and requested them to consult together as to what might be
the cause and probable cure of her _infirmity_. The king laid stress
upon the word, but failed to discover his own pun. The queen laughed;
but Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck heard with humility and retired in silence.
Their consultation consisted chiefly in propounding and supporting,
for the thousandth time, each his favourite theories. For the
condition of the princess afforded delightful scope for the discussion
of every question arising from the division of thought--in fact of all
the Metaphysics of the Chinese Empire. But it is only justice to say
that they did not altogether neglect the discussion of the practical
question, _what was to be done_.

"Hum-Drum was a Materialist, and Kopy-Keck was a Spiritualist. The
former was slow and sententious; the latter was quick and flighty; the
latter had generally the first word; the former the last.

"'I assert my former assertion,' began Kopy-Keck, with a plunge.
'There is not a fault in the princess, body or soul; only they are
wrong put together. Listen to me now, Hum-Drum, and I will tell you in
brief what I think. Don't speak. Don't answer me. I won't hear you
till I have done.--At that decisive moment, when souls seek their
appointed habitations, two eager souls met, struck, rebounded, lost
their way, and arrived each at the wrong place. The soul of the
princess was one of those, and she went far astray. She does not
belong by rights to this world at all, but to some other planet,
probably Mercury. Her proclivity to her true sphere destroys all the
natural influence which this orb would otherwise possess over her
corporeal frame. She cares for nothing here. There is no relation
between her and this world.

"'She must therefore be taught, by the sternest compulsion, to
take an interest in the earth as the earth. She must study every
department of its history--its animal history; its vegetable history;
its mineral history; its social history; its moral history; its
political history; its scientific history; its literary history; its
musical history; its artistical history; above all, its metaphysical
history. She must begin with the Chinese Dynasty, and end with
Japan. But first of all she must study Geology, and especially the
history of the extinct races of animals--their natures, their habits,
their loves, their hates, their revenges. She must----'

"'Hold, h-o-o-old!' roared Hum-Drum. 'It is certainly my turn now. My
rooted and insubvertible conviction is that the causes of the
anomalies evident in the princess's condition are strictly and solely
physical. But that is only tantamount to acknowledging that they
exist. Hear my opinion.--From some cause or other, of no importance to
our inquiry, the motion of her heart has been reversed. That
remarkable combination of the suction and the force pump, works the
wrong way--I mean in the case of the unfortunate princess: it draws in
where it should force out, and forces out where it should draw in. The
offices of the auricles and the ventricles are subverted. The blood is
sent forth by the veins, and returns by the arteries. Consequently it
is running the wrong way through all her corporeal organism--lungs and
all. Is it then all mysterious, seeing that such is the case, that on
the other particular of gravitation as well, she should differ from
normal humanity? My proposal for the cure is this:

"Phlebotomize until she is reduced to the last point of safety. Let it
be effected, if necessary, in a warm bath. When she is reduced to a
state of perfect asphyxy, apply a ligature to the left ancle, drawing
it as tight as the bone will bear. Apply, at the same moment, another
of equal tension around the right wrist. By means of plates
constructed for the purpose, place the other foot and hand under the
receivers of two air-pumps. Exhaust the receivers. Exhibit a pint of
French brandy, and await the result.'

"'Which would presently arrive in the form of grim Death,' said
Kopy-Keck.

"'If it should, she would yet die in doing our duty,' retorted
Hum-Drum.

"But their Majesties had too much tenderness for their volatile
offspring to subject her to either of the schemes of the equally
unscrupulous philosophers. Indeed the most complete knowledge of the
laws of nature would have been unserviceable in her case; for it was
impossible to classify her. She was a fifth imponderable body, sharing
all the other properties of the ponderable.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER VIII.--TRY A DROP OF WATER.

"Perhaps the best thing for the princess would have been falling in
love. But how a princess who had no gravity at all, could fall into
anything, is a difficulty--perhaps _the_ difficulty. As for her own
feelings on the subject, she did not even know that there was such a
bee-hive of honey and stings to be fallen into. And now I come to
mention another curious fact about her.

"The palace was built on the shore of the loveliest lake in the world;
and the princess loved this lake more than father or mother. The root
of this preference no doubt, although the princess did not recognize
it as such--was, that, the moment she got into it, she recovered the
natural right of which she had been so wickedly deprived--namely,
gravity. Whether this was owing to the fact that water had been
employed as the means of conveying the injury, I do not know. But it
is certain that she could swim and dive like the duck that her old
nurse said she was. The way that this alleviation of her misfortune
was discovered, was as follows. One summer evening, during the
carnival of the country, she had been taken upon the lake, by the king
and queen, in the royal barge. They were accompanied by many of the
courtiers in a fleet of little boats. In the middle of the lake she
wanted to get into the lord chancellor's barge, for his daughter, who
was a great favourite with her, was in it with her father. The old
king rarely condescended to make light of his misfortune; but on this
occasion he happened to be in a particularly good humour; and, as the
barges approached each other, he caught up the princess to throw her
into the chancellor's barge. He lost his balance, however, and,
dropping into the bottom of the barge, lost his hold of his daughter;
not however before imparting to her the downward tendency of his own
person, though in a somewhat different direction; for, as the king
fell into the boat, she fell into the water. With a burst of delighted
laughter, she disappeared in the lake. A cry of horror ascended from
the boats. They had never seen the princess go down before. Half the
men were under water in a moment; but they had all, one after another,
come up to the surface again for breath, when--tinkle, tinkle, babble
and gush! came the princess's laugh over the water from far
away. There she was, swimming like a swan. Nor would she come out for
king or queen, chancellor or daughter. But though she was obstinate,
she seemed more sedate than usual. Perhaps that was because a great
pleasure spoils laughing. After this, the passion of her life was to
get into the water, and she was always the better behaved and the more
beautiful the more she had of it. Summer and winter it was all the
same; only she could not stay quite so long in the water, when they
had to break the ice to let her in. Any day, from morning till
evening, she might be descried--a streak of white in the blue
water--lying as still as the shadow of a cloud, or shooting along like
a dolphin; disappearing, and coming up again far off, just where one
did not expect her. She would have been in the lake of a night too, if
she could have had her way; for the balcony of her window overhung a
deep pool in it; and through a shallow reedy passage she could have
swum out into the wide wet water, and no one would have been any the
wiser. Indeed when she happened to wake in the moonlight, she could
hardly resist the temptation. But there was the sad difficulty of
getting into it. She had as great a dread of the air as some children
have of the water. For the slightest gust of wind would blow her away;
and a gust might arise in the stillest moment. And if she gave herself
a push towards the water and just failed of reaching it, her situation
would be dreadfully awkward, irrespective of the wind; for at best
there she would have to remain, suspended in her nightgown, till she
was seen and angled for by somebody from the window.

"'Oh! if I had my gravity,' thought she contemplating the water, 'I
would flash off this balcony like a long white sea-bird, head-long
into the darling wetness. Heigh-ho!'

"This was the only consideration that made her wish to be like other
people.

"Another reason for being fond of the water was that in it alone she
enjoyed any freedom. For she could not walk out without a cortege,
consisting in part of a troop of light horse, for fear of the
liberties which the wind might take with her. And the king grew more
apprehensive with increasing years, till at last he would not allow
her to walk abroad without some twenty silken cords fastened to as
many parts of her dress, and held by twenty noble-men. Of course
horseback was out of the question. But she bade good-bye to all this
ceremony when she got into the water. So remarkable were its effects
upon her, especially in restoring her for the time to the ordinary
human gravity, that, strange to say, Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck agreed in
recommending the king to bury her alive for three years; in the hope
that, as the water did her so much good, the earth would do her yet
more. But the king had some vulgar prejudices against the experiment,
and would not give his consent. Foiled in this, they yet agreed in
another recommendation; which, seeing that the one imported his
opinions from China and the other from Thibet, was very remarkable
indeed. They said that, if water of external origin and application
could be so efficacious, water from a deeper source might work a
perfect cure; in short, that, if the poor afflicted princess could by
any means be made to cry, she might recover her lost gravity.

"But how was this to be brought about? Therein lay all the difficulty.
The philosophers were not wise enough for this. To make the princess
cry was as impossible as to make her weigh. They sent for a
professional beggar; commanded him to prepare his most touching oracle
of woe; helped him, out of the court charade-box, to whatever he
wanted for dressing up, and promised great rewards in the event of his
success. But it was all in vain. She listened to the mendicant
artist's story, and gazed at his marvellous make-up, till she could
contain herself no longer, and went into the most undignified
contortions for relief, shrieking, positively screeching with
laughter.

"When she had a little recovered herself, she ordered her attendants
to drive him away, and not give him a single copper; whereupon his
look of mortified discomfiture wrought her punishment and his revenge,
for it sent her into violent hysterics, from which she was with
difficulty recovered.

"But so anxious was the king that the suggestion should have a fair
trial, that he put himself in a rage one day, and, rushing up to her
room, gave her an awful whipping. But not a tear would flow. She
looked grave, and her laughing sounded uncommonly like screaming--that
was all. The good old tyrant, though he put on his best gold
spectacles to look, could not discover the smallest cloud in the
serene blue of her eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER IX.--PUT ME IN AGAIN.

"It must have been about this time that the son of a king, who lived a
thousand miles from Lagobel, set out to look for the daughter of a
queen. He travelled far and wide, but as sure as he found a princess,
he found some fault with her. Of course he could not marry a mere
woman, however beautiful, and there was no princess to be found worthy
of him. Whether the prince was so near perfection that he had a right
to demand perfection itself, I cannot pretend to say. All I know is
that he was a fine, handsome, brave, generous, well-bred and
well-behaved youth, as all princes are.

"In his wanderings he had come across some reports about our princess;
but as everybody said she was bewitched, he never dreamed that she
could bewitch him. For what indeed could a prince do with a princess
that had lost her gravity? Who could tell what she might not lose
next? She might lose her visibility; or her tangibility; or, in short,
the power of making impressions upon the radical sensorium; so that he
should never be able to tell whether she was dead or alive. Of course
he made no further inquiries about her.

"One day he lost sight of his retinue in a great forest. These forests
are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, like a
sieve that keeps back the bran. Then the princes get away to follow
their fortunes. In this they have the advantage of the princesses, who
are forced to marry before they have had a bit of fun. I wish our
princesses got lost in a forest sometimes.

"One lovely evening, after wandering about for many days, he found
that he was approaching the outskirts of this forest; for the trees
had got so thin that he could see the sunset through them; and he soon
came upon a kind of heath. Next he came upon signs of human
neighbourhood; but by this time it was getting late, and there was
nobody in the fields to direct him.

"After travelling for another hour, his horse, quite worn out with
long labour and lack of food, fell, and was unable to rise again. So
he continued his journey on foot. At length he entered another
wood--not a wild forest, but a civilized wood, through which a
footpath led him to the side of a lake. Along this path the prince
pursued his way through the gathering darkness. Suddenly he paused,
and listened. Strange sounds came across the water. It was, in fact,
the princess laughing. Now, there was something odd in her laugh, as I
have already hinted; for the hatching of a real hearty laugh, requires
the incubation of gravity; and, perhaps, this was how the prince
mistook the laughter for screaming. Looking over the lake, he saw
something white in the water; and, in an instant, he had torn off his
tunic, kicked off his sandals, and plunged in. He soon reached the
white object, and found that it was a woman. There was not light
enough to show that she was a princess, but quite enough to show that
she was a lady, for it does not want much light to see that.

"Now, I cannot tell how it came about;--whether she pretended to be
drowning, or whether he frightened her, or caught her so as to
embarrass her; but certainly he brought her to shore in a fashion
ignominious to a swimmer, and more nearly drowned than she had ever
expected to be; for the water had got into her throat as often as she
had tried to speak.

"At the place to which he bore her, the bank was only a foot or two
above the water; so he gave her a strong lift out of the water, to lay
her on the bank. But, her gravitation ceasing the moment she left the
water, away she went, up into the air, scolding and screaming:

"'You naughty, _naughty_, NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY man!'

"No one had ever succeeded in putting her into a passion before.--When
the prince saw her ascend, he thought he must have been bewitched, and
have mistaken a great swan for a lady. But the princess caught hold of
the topmost cone upon a lofty fir. This came off; but she caught at
another; and, in fact, stopped herself by gathering cones, dropping
them as the stalks gave way. The prince, meantime, stood in the water,
forgetting to get out. But the princess disappearing, he scrambled on
shore, and went in the direction of the tree. He found her climbing
down one of the branches, towards the stem. But in the darkness of the
wood, the prince continued in some bewilderment as to what the
phenomenon could be; until, reaching the ground, and seeing him
standing there, she caught hold of him, and said:

"I'll tell papa.'

"'Oh, no, you won't!' rejoined the prince.

"'Yes, I will,' she persisted. 'What business had you to pull me down
out of the water, and throw me to the bottom of the air? I never did
you any harm.'

"'I am sure I did not mean to hurt you.'

"'I don't believe you have any brains; and that is a worse loss than
your wretched gravity. I pity you.'

"The prince now saw that he had come upon the bewitched princess, and
had already offended her. Before he could think what to say next, the
princess, giving a stamp with her foot that would have sent her aloft
again, but for the hold she had of his arm, said angrily:

"'Put me up directly.'

"'Put you up where, you beauty?' asked the prince. "He had fallen in
love with her, almost, already; for her anger made her more charming
than anyone else had ever beheld her; and, as far as he could see,
which certainly was not far, she had not a single fault about her,
except, of course, that she had no gravity. A prince, however, must be
incapable of judging of a princess by weight. The loveliness of a
foot, for instance, is hardly to be estimated by the depth of the
impression it can make in mud!

"'Put you up where, you beauty?' said the prince.

"'In the water, you stupid!' answered the princess.

"'Come, then,' said the prince.

"The condition of her dress, increasing her usual difficulty in
walking, compelled her to cling to him; and he could hardly persuade
himself that he was not in a delightful dream, notwithstanding the
torrent of musical abuse with which she overwhelmed him. The prince
being in no hurry, they reached the lake at quite another part, where
the bank was twenty-five feet high at least. When they stood at the
edge, the prince, turning towards the princess, said:

"'How am I to put you in?'

"'That is your business,' she answered, quite snappishly. 'You took me
out--put me in again.'

"'Very well,' said the prince; and, catching her up in his arms, he
sprang with her from the rock. The princess had just time to give one
delighted shriek of laughter before the water closed over them. When
they came to the surface, the princess, for a moment or two, could not
even laugh, for she had gone down with such a rush, that it was with
difficulty that she recovered her breath. The moment they reached the
surface--

"'How do you like falling in?' said the prince.

"After a few efforts, the princess panted out:

"'Is that what you call _falling in_?'

"'Yes,' answered the prince, 'I should think it a very tolerable
specimen.'

"'It seemed to me like going up,' rejoined she.

"'My feeling was certainly one of elevation, too,' the prince
conceded.

"The princess did not appear to understand him, for she retorted his
first question:

'"How do _you_ like falling in?'

"'Beyond everything,' answered he; 'for I have fallen in with the only
perfect creature I ever saw.'

"'No more of that: I am tired of it,' said the princess.

"Perhaps she shared her father's aversion to punning.

"'Don't you like falling in, then?' said the prince.

"'It is the most delightful fun I ever had in my life,' answered
she. 'I never fell before. I wish I could learn. To think I am the
only person in my father's kingdom that can't fall!'

"Here the poor princess looked almost sad.

"'I shall be most happy to fall in with you any time you like.' said
the prince, devotedly.

"'Thank you. I don't know. Perhaps it would not be proper. But I don't
care. At all events, as we have fallen in, let us have a swim
together.'

"'With all my heart,' said the prince.

"And away they went, swimming, and diving, and floating, until at last
they heard cries along the shore, and saw lights glancing in all
directions. It was now quite late, and there was no moon.

"'I must go home,' said the princess. 'I am very sorry, for this is
delightful.'

"'So am I,' responded the prince. 'But I am glad I haven't a home to
go to--at least, I don't exactly know where it is.'

"'I wish I hadn't one either,' rejoined the princess; 'it is so
stupid! I have a great mind,' she continued, 'to play them all a
trick. Why couldn't they leave me alone? They won't trust me in the
lake for a single night! You see where that green light is burning?
That is the window of my room. Now if you would just swim there with
me very quietly, and when we are all but under the balcony, give me
such a push--_up_ you call it--as you did a little while ago, I should
be able to catch hold of the balcony, and get in at the window; and
then they may look for me till to-morrow morning!'

"'With more obedience than pleasure,' said the prince, gallantly; and
away they swam, very gently.

"'Will you be in the lake to-morrow-night?' the prince ventured to
ask.

"'To be sure I will. I don't think so. Perhaps,'--was the princess's
somewhat strange answer.

"But the prince was intelligent enough not to press her further; and
merely whispered, as he gave her the parting lift: 'Don't tell.' The
only answer the princess returned was a roguish look. She was already
a yard above his head. The look seemed to say: 'Never fear. It is too
good fun to spoil that way.'

"So perfectly like other people had she been in the water, that even
yet the prince could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw her ascend
slowly, grasp the balcony, and disappear through the window. He
turned, almost expecting to see her still by his side. But he was
alone in the water. So he swam away quietly, and watched the lights
roving about the shore for hours after the princess was safe in her
chamber. As soon as they disappeared, he landed in search of his tunic
and sword, and, after some trouble, found them again. Then he made the
best of his way round the lake to the other side. There the wood was
wilder, and the shore steeper--rising more immediately towards the
mountains which surrounded the lake on all sides, and kept sending it
messages of silvery streams from morning to night, and all night
long. He soon found a spot whence he could see the green light in the
princess's room, and where, even in the broad daylight, he would be in
no danger of being discovered from the opposite shore. It was a sort
of cave in the rock, where he provided himself a bed of withered
leaves, and lay down too tired for hunger to keep him awake. All night
long he dreamed that he was swimming with the princess."

"All that is very improper--to my mind," said Mrs. Cathcart. And she
glanced towards the place where Percy had deposited himself, as if she
were afraid of her boy's morals.

But if she was anxious on that score, her fears must have been
dispersed the same moment by an indubitable snore from the youth, who
was in his favourite position--lying at full length on a couch.

"You must remember all this is in Fairyland, aunt," said Adela, with a
smile. "Nobody does what papa and mamma would not like here. We must
not judge the people in fairy tales by precisely the same
conventionalities we have. They must be good after their own fashion."

"Conventionalities! Humph!" said Mrs. Cathcart.

"Besides, I don't think the princess was quite accountable," said I.

"You should have made her so, then," rejoined my critic.

"Oh! wait a little, madam," I replied.

"I think," said the clergyman, "that Miss Cathcart's defence is very
tolerably sufficient; and, in my character of Master of the
Ceremonies, I order Mr. Smith to proceed."

I made haste to do so, before Mrs. Cathcart should open a new battery.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER X.--LOOK AT THE MOON.

"Early the next morning, the prince set out to look for something to
eat, which he soon found at a forester's hut, where for many following
days he was supplied with all that a brave prince could consider
necessary. And having plenty to keep him alive for the present, he
would not think of wants not yet in existence. Whenever Care intruded,
this prince always bowed him out in the most princely manner.

"When he returned from his breakfast to his watch-cave, he saw the
princess already floating about in the lake, attended by the king and
queen--whom he knew by their crowns--and a great company in lovely
little boats, with canopies of all the colours of the rainbow, and
flags and streamers of a great many more. It was a very bright day,
and soon the prince, burned up with the heat, began to long for the
water and the cool princess. But he had to endure till the twilight;
for the boats had provisions on board, and it was not till the sun
went down, that the gay party began to vanish. Boat after boat drew
away to the shore, following that of the king and queen, till only
one, apparently the princess's own boat, remained. But she did not
want to go home even yet, and the prince thought he saw her order the
boat to the shore without her. At all events, it rowed away; and now,
of all the radiant company, only one white speck remained. Then the
prince began to sing.

"And this was what he sang:

        "'Lady fair,
        Swan-white,
        Lift thine eyes,
        Banish night
        By the might
        Of thine eyes.

        Snowy arms,
        Oars of snow,
        Oar her hither,
        Plashing low
        Soft and slow,
        Oar her hither.

        Stream behind her
        O'er the lake,
        Radiant whiteness!
        In her wake
        Following, following for her sake,
        Radiant whiteness!

        Cling about her,
        Waters blue;
        Part not from her,
        But renew
        Cold and true
        Kisses round her.

        Lap me round,
        Waters sad
        That have left her;
        Make me glad,
        For ye had
        Kissed her ere ye left her.'

"Before he had finished his song, the princess was just under the
place where he sat, and looking up to find him. Her ears had led her
truly.

"'Would you like a fall, princess?' said the prince, looking down.

"'Ah! there you are! Yes, if you please, prince,' said the princess,
looking up.

"'How do you know I am a prince, princess?' said the prince.

"'Because you are a very nice young man, prince,' said the princess.

"'Come up then, princess.'

"'Fetch me, prince.'

"The prince took off his scarf, then his sword-belt, then his tunic,
and tied them all together, and let them down. But the line was far
too short. He unwound his turban, and added it to the rest, when it
was all but long enough; and his purse completed it. The princess just
managed to lay hold of the knot of money, and was beside him in a
moment. This rock was much higher than the other, and the splash and
the dive were tremendous. The princess was in ecstasies of delight,
and their swim was delicious.

"Night after night they met, and swam about in the dark clear lake;
where such was the prince's delight, that (whether the princess's way
of looking at things infected him, or he was actually getting
light-headed,) he often fancied that he was swimming in the sky
instead of the lake. But when he talked about being in heaven, the
princess laughed at him dreadfully.

"When the moon came, she brought them fresh pleasure. Everything
looked strange and new in her light, with an old, withered, yet
unfading newness. When the moon was nearly full, one of their great
delights was, to dive deep in the water, and then, turning round, look
up through it at the great blot of light close above them, shimmering
and trembling and wavering, spreading and contracting, seeming to melt
away, and again grow solid. Then they would shoot up through it; and
lo! there was the moon, far off, clear and steady and cold, and very
lovely, at the bottom of a deeper and bluer lake than theirs, as the
princess said.

"The prince soon found out that while in the water the princess was
very like other people. And besides this, she was not so forward in
her questions, or pert in her replies at sea as on shore. Neither did
she laugh so much; and when she did laugh, it was more gently. She
seemed altogether more modest and maidenly in the water than out of
it. But when the prince, who had really fallen in love when he fell in
the lake, began to talk to her about love, she always turned her head
towards him and laughed. After a while she began to look puzzled, as
if she were trying to understand what he meant, but could
not--revealing a notion that he meant something. But as soon as ever
she left the lake, she was so altered, that the prince said to
himself: 'If I marry her, I see no help for it; we must turn merman
and mermaid, and go out to sea at once.'

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER XI.--HISS!

"The princess's pleasure in the lake had grown to a passion, and she
could scarcely bear to be out of it for an hour. Imagine then her
consternation, when, diving with the prince one night, a sudden
suspicion seized her, that the lake was not so deep as it used to
be. The prince could not imagine what had happened. She shot to the
surface, and, without a word, swam at full speed towards the higher
side of the lake. He followed, begging to know if she was ill, or what
was the matter. She never turned her head, or took the smallest notice
of his question. Arrived at the shore, she coasted the rocks, with
minute inspection. But she was not able to come to a conclusion, for
the moon was very small, and so she could not see well. She turned
therefore and swam home, without saying a word to explain her conduct
to the prince, of whose presence she seemed no longer conscious. He
withdrew to his cave, in great perplexity and distress.

"Next day she made many observations, which, alas! strengthened her
fears. She saw that the banks were too dry; and that the grass on the
shore, and the trailing plants on the rocks, were withering away. She
caused marks to be made along the borders, and examined them, day
after day, in all directions of the wind; till at last the horrible
idea became a certain fact--that the surface of the lake was slowly
sinking.

"The poor princess nearly went out of the little mind she had. It was
awful to her, to see the lake which she loved more than any living
thing, lie dying before her eyes. It sank away, slowly vanishing. The
tops of rocks that had never been seen before, began to appear far
down in the clear water. Before long, they were dry in the sun. It was
fearful to think of the mud that would lie baking and festering, full
of lovely creatures dying, and ugly creatures coming to life, like the
unmaking of a world. And how hot the sun would be without any lake!
She could not bear to swim in it, and began to pine away. Her life
seemed bound up with it; and ever as the lake sank, she pined. People
said she would not live an hour after the lake was gone.--But she
never cried.

"Proclamation was made to all the kingdom, that whosoever should
discover the cause of the lake's decrease, would be rewarded after a
princely fashion. Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck applied themselves to their
physics and metaphysics; but in vain. No one came forward to suggest a
cause.

"Now the fact was, that the old princess was at the root of the
mischief. When she heard that her niece found more pleasure in the
water, than any one else had out of it, she went into a rage, and
cursed herself for her want of foresight.

"'But,' said she, 'I will soon set all right. The king and the people
shall die of thirst; their brains shall boil and frizzle in their
skulls, before I shall lose my revenge.'

"And she laughed a ferocious laugh, that made the hairs on the back of
her black cat stand erect with terror.

"Then she went to an old chest in the room, and opening it, took out
what looked like a piece of dried sea-weed. This she threw into a tub
of water. Then she threw some powder into the water, and stirred it
with her bare arm, muttering over it words of hideous sound, and yet
more hideous import. Then she set the tub aside, and took from the
chest a huge bunch of a hundred rusty keys, that clattered in her
shaking hands. Then she sat down and proceeded to oil them all. Before
she had finished, out from the tub, the water of which had kept on a
slow motion ever since she had ceased stirring it, came the head and
half the body of a huge grey snake. But the witch did not look
round. It grew out of the tub, waving itself backwards and forwards
with a slow horizontal motion, till it reached the princess, when it
laid its head upon her shoulder, and gave a low hiss in her ear. She
started--but with joy; and seeing the head resting on her shoulder,
drew it towards her and kissed it. Then she drew it all out of the
tub, and wound it round her body. It was one of those dreadful
creatures which few have ever beheld--the White Snakes of Darkness.

"Then she took the keys and went down into her cellar; and as she
unlocked the door, she said to herself,

"'This _is_ worth living for!'

"Locking the door behind her, she descended a few steps into the
cellar, and crossing it, unlocked another door into a dark, narrow
passage. This also she locked behind her, and descended a few more
steps. If any one had followed the witch-princess, he would have heard
her unlock exactly one hundred doors, and descend a few steps after
unlocking each. When she had unlocked the last, she entered a vast
cave, the roof of which was supported by huge natural pillars of
rock. Now this roof was the underside of the bottom of the lake.

"She then untwined the snake from her body, and held it by the tail,
high above her. The hideous creature stretched up its head towards the
roof of the cavern, which it was just able to reach. It then began to
move its head backwards and forwards, with a slow oscillating motion,
as if looking for something. At the same moment, the witch began to
walk round and round the cavern, coming nearer to the centre every
circuit; while the head of the snake described the same path over the
roof that she did over the floor, for she held it up still. And still
it kept slowly oscillating. Round and round the cavern they went thus,
ever lessening the circuit, till, at last, the snake made a sudden
dart, and clung fast to the roof with its mouth. 'That's right, my
beauty!' cried the princess; 'drain it dry.'

"She let it go, left it hanging, and sat down on a great stone, with
her black cat, who had followed her all round the cave, by her
side. Then she began to knit, and mutter awful words. The snake hung
like a huge leech, sucking at the stone; the cat stood with his back
arched, and his tail like a piece of cable, looking up at the snake;
and the old woman sat and knitted and muttered. Seven days and seven
nights they sat thus; when suddenly the serpent dropped from the roof,
as if exhausted, and shrivelled up like a piece of dried sea-weed on
the floor. The witch started to her feet, picked it up, put it in her
pocket, and looked up at the roof. One drop of water was trembling on
the spot where the snake had been sucking. As soon as she saw that,
she turned and fled, followed by her cat. She shut the door in a
terrible hurry, locked it, and having muttered some frightful words,
sped to the next, which also she locked and muttered over; and so with
all the hundred doors, till she arrived in her own cellar. There she
sat down on the floor ready to faint, but listening with malicious
delight to the rushing of the water, which she could hear distinctly
through all the hundred doors.

"But this was not enough. Now that she had tasted revenge, she lost
her patience. Without further measures, the lake would be too long in
disappearing. So the next night, with the last shred of the dying old
moon rising, she took some of the water in which she had revived the
snake, put it in a bottle, and set out, accompanied by her cat. Ere
she returned, she had made the entire circuit of the lake, muttering
fearful words as she crossed every stream, and casting into it some of
the water out of her bottle. When she had finished the circuit, she
muttered yet again, and flung a handful of the water towards the
moon. Every spring in the country ceased to throb and bubble, dying
away like the pulse of a dying man. The next day there was no sound of
falling water to be heard along the borders of the lake. The very
courses were dry; and the mountains showed no silvery streaks down
their dark sides. And not alone had the fountains of mother Earth
ceased to flow; for all the babies throughout the country were crying
dreadfully--only without tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER XII.--WHERE IS THE PRINCE?

"Never since the night when the princess left him so abruptly, had the
prince had a single interview with her. He had seen her once or twice
in the lake; but as far as he could discover, she had not been in it
any more at night. He had sat and sung, and looked in vain for his
Nereid; while she, like a true Nereid, was wasting away with her lake,
sinking as it sank, withering as it dried. When at length he
discovered the change that was taking place in the level of the water,
he was in great alarm and perplexity. He could not tell whether the
lake was dying because the lady had forsaken it; or whether the lady
would not come because the lake had begun to sink. But he resolved to
know so much at least.

"He disguised himself, and, going to the palace, requested to see the
lord chamberlain. His appearance at once gained his request; and the
lord chamberlain being a man of some insight, perceived that there was
more in the prince's solicitation than met the ear. He felt likewise
that no one could tell whence a solution of the present difficulties
might arise. So he granted the prince's prayer to be made shoe-black
to the princess. It was rather knowing in the prince to request such
an easy post; for the princess could not possibly soil as many shoes
as other princesses.

"He soon learned all that could be told about the princess. He went
nearly distracted; but, after roaming about the lake for days, and
diving in every depth that remained, all that he could do was to put
an extra-polish on the dainty pair of boots that was never called for.

"For the princess kept her room, with the curtains drawn to shut out
the dying lake. But she could not shut it out of her mind for a
moment. It haunted her imagination so that she felt as if her lake
were her soul, drying up within her, first to become mud, and then
madness and death. She brooded over the change, with all its dreadful
accompaniments, till she was nearly out of her mind. As for the
prince, she had forgotten him. However much she had enjoyed his
company in the water, she did not care for him without it. But she
seemed to have forgotten her father and mother too.

"The lake went on sinking. Small slimy spots began to appear, which
glittered steadily amidst the changeful shine of the water. These grew
to broad patches of mud, which widened and spread, with rocks here and
there, and floundering fishes and crawling eels swarming about. The
people went everywhere catching these, and looking for anything that
might have been dropped into the water.

"At length the lake was all but gone; only a few of the deepest pools
remaining unexhausted.

"It happened one day that a party of youngsters found themselves on
the brink of one of these pools, in the very centre of the lake. It
was a rocky basin of considerable depth. Looking in, they saw at the
bottom something that shone yellow in the sun. A little boy jumped in
and dived for it. It was a plate of gold, covered with writing. They
carried it to the king.

"On one side of it stood these words:

    'Death alone from death can save.
    Love is death, and so is brave.
    Love can fill the deepest grave.
    Love loves on beneath the wave.'

"Now this was enigmatical enough to the king and courtiers. But the
reverse of the plate explained it a little. Its contents amounted to
this:

"_If the lake should disappear, they must find the hole through which
the water ran. But it would be useless to try to stop it by any
ordinary means. There was but one effectual mode.--The body of a
living man could alone stanch the flow. The man must give himself of
his own will; and the lake must take his life as it filled. Otherwise
the offering would be of no avail. If the nation could not provide one
hero, it was time it should perish._

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER XIII.--HERE I AM.

"This was a very disheartening revelation to the king. Not that he was
unwilling to sacrifice a subject, but that he was hopeless of finding
a man willing to sacrifice himself. No time could be lost, however;
for the princess was lying motionless on her bed, and taking no
nourishment but lake-water, which was now none of the best. Therefore
the king caused the contents of the wonderful plate of gold to be
published throughout the country.

"No one, however, came forward.

"The prince, having gone several days' journey into the forest, to
consult a hermit whom he had met there on his way to Lagobel, knew
nothing of the oracle till his return.

"When he had acquainted himself with all the particulars, he sat down
and thought.

"'She would die, if I didn't do it; and life would be nothing to me
without her: so I shall lose nothing by doing it. And life will be as
pleasant to her as ever, for she will soon forget me, and there will
be so much more beauty and happiness in the world. To be sure I shall
not see it.'--Here the poor prince gave a sigh.--'How lovely the lake
will be in the moonlight, with that glorious creature sporting in it
like a wild goddess! It is rather hard to be drowned by inches,
though. Let me see--that will be seventy inches of me to drown.'--Here
he tried to laugh, but could not.--'The longer the better, however,'
he resumed; 'for can I not bargain that the princess shall be beside
me all the time? So I shall see her once more, kiss her perhaps, who
knows?--and die looking in her eyes. It will be no death. At least I
shall not feel it. And to see the lake filling for the beauty
again!--All right! I am ready.'

"He kissed the princess's boot, laid it down, and hurried to the
king's apartment. But feeling, as he went, that anything sentimental
would be disagreeable, he resolved to carry off the whole affair with
burlesque. So he knocked at the door of the king's counting-house,
where it was all but a capital crime to disturb him. When the king
heard the knock, he started up, and opened the door in a rage. Seeing
only the shoe-black, he drew his sword. This, I am sorry to say, was
his usual mode of asserting his regality, when he thought his dignity
was in danger. But the prince was not in the least alarmed.

"'Please your majesty, I'm your butler,' said he.

"'My butler! you lying rascal? What do you mean?'

"'I mean, I will cork your big bottle.'

"'Is the fellow mad?' bawled the king, raising the point of his sword.

"'I will put a stopper--plug--what you call it, in your leaky lake,
grand monarch,' said the prince.

"The king was in such a rage, that before he could speak he had time
to cool, and to reflect that it would be great waste to kill the only
man who was willing to be useful in the present emergency, seeing that
in the end the insolent fellow would be as dead as if he had died by
his majesty's own hand.

"'Oh!' said he at last, putting up his sword with difficulty--it was
so long; 'I am obliged to you, you young fool! Take a glass of wine?'

"'No, thank you,' replied the prince.

"'Very well,' said the king. 'Would you like to run and see your
parents before you make your experiment?'

"'No, thank you,' said the prince.

"'Then we will go and look for the hole at once,' said his majesty,
and proceeded to call some attendants.

"'Stop, please your majesty; I have a condition to make,' interposed
the prince.

"'What!' exclaimed the king; 'a condition! and with me! How dare you?'

"'As you please,' said the prince coolly. 'I wish your majesty good
morning.'

"'You wretch! I will have you put in a sack, and stuck in the hole.'

"'Very well, your majesty,' replied the prince, becoming a little more
respectful, lest the wrath of the king should deprive him of the
pleasure of dying for the princess. 'But what good will that do your
majesty? Please to remember that the oracle says the victim must offer
himself.'

"'Well, you _have_ offered yourself,' retorted the king.

"'Yes, upon one condition.'

"'Condition again!' roared the king, once more drawing his sword.
'Begone! Somebody else will be glad enough to take the honour off your
shoulders.'

"'Your majesty knows it will not be easy to get one to take my place.'

"'Well, what is your condition?' growled the king, feeling that the
prince was right.

"'Only this,' replied the prince: 'that, as I must on no account die
before I am fairly drowned, and the waiting will be rather wearisome,
the princess, your daughter, shall go with me, feed me with her own
hands, and look at me now and then, to comfort me; for you must
confess it is rather hard. As soon as the water is up to my eyes, she
may go and be happy, and forget her poor shoe-black.'

"Here the prince's voice faltered, and he very nearly grew
sentimental, in spite of his resolutions.

"'Why didn't you tell me before what your condition was? Such a fuss
about nothing!' exclaimed the king.

"'Do you grant it?' persisted the prince.

"'I do,' replied the king.

"'Very well. I am ready.'

"'Go and have some dinner, then, while I set my people to find the
place.'

"The king ordered out his guards, and gave directions to the officers
to find the hole in the lake at once. So the bed of the lake was
marked out in divisions, and thoroughly examined; and in an hour or
so, the hole was discovered. It was in the middle of a stone, near the
centre of the lake, in the very pool where the golden plate had been
found. It was a three-cornered hole, of no great size. There was water
all round the stone, but none was flowing through the hole.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER XIV.--THIS IS VERY KIND OF YOU.

"The prince went to dress for the occasion, for he was resolved to die
like a prince.

"When the princess heard that a man had offered to die for her, she
was so transported that she jumped off the bed, feeble as she was, and
danced about the room for joy. She did not care who the man was; that
was nothing to her. The hole wanted stopping; and if only a man would
do, why, take one. In an hour or two more, everything was ready. Her
maid dressed her in haste, and they carried her to the side of the
lake. When she saw it, she shrieked, and covered her face with her
hands. They bore her across to the stone, where they had already
placed a little boat for her. The water was not deep enough to float
it, but they hoped it would be, before long. They laid her on
cushions, placed in the boat wines and fruits and other nice things,
and stretched a canopy over all.

"In a few minutes, the prince appeared. The princess recognized him at
once; but did not think it worth while to acknowledge him.

"'Here I am,' said the prince. 'Put me in.'

"'They told me it was a shoe-black,' said the princess.

"'So I am,' said the prince. 'I blacked your little boots three times
a day, because they were all I could get of you. Put me in.'

"The courtiers did not resent his bluntness, except by saying to each
other, that he was taking it out in impudence.

"But how was he to be put in? The golden plate contained no
instructions on this point. The prince looked at the hole, and saw but
one way. He put both his legs into it, sitting on the stone, and,
stooping forward, covered the two corners that remained open, with his
two hands. In this uncomfortable position he resolved to abide his
fate, and, turning to the people, said:

"'Now you can go.'

"The king had already gone home to dinner.

"'Now you can go,' repeated the princess after him, like a parrot.

"The people obeyed her, and went.

"Presently a little wave flowed over the stone, and wetted one of the
prince's knees. But he did not mind it much. He began to sing, and the
song he sang was this:

    "'As a world that has no well,
    Darkly bright in forest-dell;
    As a world without the gleam
    Of the downward-going stream;
    As a world without the glance
    Of the ocean's fair expanse;
    As a world where never rain
    Glittered on the sunny plain;
    Such, my heart, thy world would be,
    If no love did flow in thee.

    "'As a world without the sound
    Of the rivulets under ground;
    Or the bubbling of the spring
    Out of darkness wandering;
    Or the mighty rush and flowing
    Of the river's downward going;
    Or the music-showers that drop
    On the outspread beech's top;
    Or the ocean's mighty voice,
    When his lifted waves rejoice;
    Such, my soul, thy world would be,
    If no love did sing in thee.

    "'Lady, keep thy world's delight;
    Keep the waters in thy sight.
    Love hath made me strong to go,
    For thy sake, to realms below,
    Where the water's shine and hum
    Through the darkness never come:
    Let, I pray, one thought of me
    Spring, a little well, in thee;
    Lest thy loveless soul be found
    Like a dry and thirsty ground.'

"'Sing again, prince. It makes it less tedious,' said the princess.

"But the prince was too much overcome to sing any more. And a long
pause followed.

"'This is very kind of you, prince,' said the princess at last, quite
coolly, as she lay in the boat with her eyes shut.

"'I am sorry I can't return the compliment,' thought the prince; 'but
you are worth dying for after all.'

"Again a wavelet, and another, and another, flowed over the stone, and
wetted both the prince's knees thoroughly; but he did not speak or
move. Two--three--four hours passed in this way, the princess
apparently fast asleep, and the prince very patient. But he was much
disappointed in his position, for he had none of the consolation he
had hoped for.

"At last he could bear it no longer.

"'Princess!' said he.

"But at the moment, up started the princess, crying,

"'I'm afloat! I'm afloat!'

"And the little boat bumped against the stone.

"'Princess!' repeated the prince, encouraged by seeing her wide awake,
and looking eagerly at the water.

"'Well?' said she, without once looking round.

"'Your papa promised that you should look at me; and you haven't
looked at me once.'

"'Did he? Then I suppose I must. But I am so sleepy!'

"'Sleep then, darling, and don't mind me,' said the poor prince.

"'Really, you are very good,' replied the princess. 'I think I will go
to sleep again.'

"'Just give me a glass of wine and a biscuit, first,' said the prince
very humbly.

"'With all my heart,' said the princess, and gaped as she said it.

"She got the wine and the biscuit, however; and, coming nearer with
them,

"'Why, prince,' she said, 'you don't look well! Are you sure you don't
mind it?'

"'Not a bit,' answered he, feeling very faint indeed. 'Only, I shall
die before it is of any use to you, unless I have something to eat.'

"'There, then!' said she, holding out the wine to him.

"'Ah! you must feed me. I dare not move my hands. The water would run
away directly.'

"'Good gracious!' said the princess; and she began at once to feed him
with bits of biscuit, and sips of wine.

"As she fed him, he contrived to kiss the tips of her fingers now and
then. She did not seem to mind it, one way or the other. But the
prince felt better.

"'Now, for your own sake, princess,' said he, 'I cannot let you go to
sleep. You must sit and look at me, else I shall not be able to keep
up.'

"'Well, I will do anything I can to oblige you,' answered she, with
condescension; and, sitting down, she did look at him, and kept
looking at him with wonderful steadiness, considering all things.

"The sun went down, and the moon came up; and, gush after gush, the
waters were flowing over the rock. They were up to the prince's waist
now.

"'Why can't we go and have a swim?' said the princess. 'There seems to
be water enough just about here.'

"'I shall never swim more,' said the prince.

"'Oh! I forgot,' said the princess, and was silent.

"So the water grew and grew, and rose up and up on the prince. And the
princess sat and looked at him. She fed him now and then. The night
wore on. The waters rose and rose. The moon rose likewise, higher and
higher, and shone full on the face of the dying prince. The water was
up to his neck.

"'Will you kiss me, princess?' said he feebly at last; for the fun was
all out of him now.

"'Yes, I will,' answered the princess; and kissed him with a long,
sweet, cold kiss.

"'Now,' said he, with a sigh of content, 'I die happy.'

"He did not speak again. The princess gave him some wine for the last
time: he was past eating. Then she sat down again, and looked at
him. The water rose and rose. It touched his chin. It touched his
lower lip. It touched between his lips. He shut them hard to keep it
out. The princess began to feel strange. It touched his upper lip. He
breathed through his nostrils. The princess looked wild. It covered
his nostrils. Her eyes looked scared, and shone strange in the
moonlight. His head fell back; the water closed over it; and the
bubbles of his last breath bubbled up through the water. The princess
gave a shriek, and sprang into the lake.

"She laid hold first of one leg, then of the other, and pulled and
tugged, but she could not move either. She stopped to take breath, and
that made her think that he could not get any breath. She was frantic.
She got hold of him, and held his head above the water, which was
possible now his hands were no longer on the hole. But it was of no
use, for he was past breathing.

"Love and water brought back all her strength. She got under the
water, and pulled and pulled with her whole might, till, at last, she
got one leg out. The other easily followed. How she got him into the
boat she never could tell; but when she did, she fainted away. Coming
to herself, she seized the oars, kept herself steady as best she
could; and rowed and rowed, though she had never rowed before. Round
rocks, and over shallows, and through mud, she rowed, till she got to
the landing-stairs of the palace. By this time her people were on the
shore, for they had heard her shriek. She made them carry the prince
to her own room, and lay him in her bed, and light a fire, and send
for the doctors.

"'But the lake, your Highness!' said the Chamberlain, who, roused by
the noise, came in, in his night-cap.

"'Go and drown yourself in it!' said she.

"This was the last rudeness of which the princess was ever guilty; and
one must allow that she had good cause to feel provoked with the lord
chamberlain.

"Had it been the king himself, he would have fared no better. But both
he and the queen were fast asleep. And the chamberlain went back to
his bed. So the princess and her old nurse were left with the prince.
Somehow, the doctors never came. But the old nurse was a wise woman,
and knew what to do.

"They tried everything for a long time without success. The princess
was nearly distracted between hope and fear, but she tried on and on,
one thing after another, and everything over and over again.

"At last, when they had all but given it up, just as the sun rose, the
prince opened his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

"CHAPTER XV.--LOOK AT THE RAIN!

"The princess burst into a passion of tears, and _fell_ on the floor.
There she lay for an hour, and her tears never ceased. All the pent-up
crying of her life was spent now. And a rain came on, such as had
never been seen in that country. The sun shone all the time, and the
great drops, which fell straight to the earth, shone likewise. The
palace was in the heart of a rainbow. It was a rain of rubies, and
sapphires, and emeralds, and topazes. The torrents poured from the
mountains like molten gold; and if it had not been for its
subterraneous outlet, the lake would have overflowed and inundated the
country. It was full from shore to shore.

"But the princess did not heed the lake. She lay on the floor and
wept. And this rain within doors was far more wonderful than the rain
out of doors. For when it abated a little, and she proceeded to rise,
she found, to her astonishment, that she could not. At length, after
many efforts, she succeeded in getting upon her feet. But she tumbled
down again directly. Hearing her fall, her old nurse uttered a yell of
delight, and ran to her, screaming:

"'My darling child! She's found her gravity!'

"'Oh! that's it, is it?' said the princess, rubbing her shoulder and
her knee alternately. 'I consider it very unpleasant. I feel as if I
should be crushed to pieces.'

"'Hurrah!' cried the prince, from the bed. 'If you're all right,
princess, so am I. How's the lake?'

"'Brimful,' answered the nurse.

"'Then we're all jolly.'

"'That we are, indeed!' answered the princess, sobbing.

"And there was rejoicing all over the country that rainy day. Even the
babies forgot their past troubles, and danced and crowed amazingly.
And the king told stories, and the queen listened to them. And he
divided the money in his box, and she the honey in her pot, to all the
children. And there was such jubilation as was never heard of before.

"Of course the prince and princess were betrothed at once. But the
princess had to learn to walk, before they could be married with any
propriety. And this was not so easy, at her time of life, for she
could walk no more than a baby. She was always falling down and
hurting herself.

"'Is this the gravity you used to make so much of?' said she, one day,
to the prince. 'For my part, I was a great deal more comfortable
without it.'

"'No, no; that's not it. This is it,' replied the prince, as he took
her up, and carried her about like a baby, kissing her all the time.
'This is gravity.'

"'That's better,' said she. 'I don't mind that so much.'

"And she smiled the sweetest, loveliest smile in the prince's face.
And she gave him one little kiss, in return for all his; and he
thought them overpaid, for he was beside himself with delight. I fear
she complained of her gravity more than once after this,
notwithstanding.

"It was a long time before she got reconciled to walking. But the pain
of learning it, was quite counterbalanced by two things, either of
which would have been sufficient consolation. The first was, that the
prince himself was her teacher; and the second, that she could tumble
into the lake as often as she pleased. Still, she preferred to have
the prince jump in with her; and the splash they made before, was
nothing to the splash they made now.

"The lake never sank again. In process of time, it wore the roof of
the cavern quite through, and was twice as deep as before.

"The only revenge the princess took upon her aunt, was to tread pretty
hard on her gouty toe, the next time she saw her. But she was sorry
for it the very next day, when she heard that the water had undermined
her house, and that it had fallen in the night, burying her in its
ruins; whence no one ever ventured to dig up her body. There she lies
to this day.

"So the prince and princess lived and were happy; and had crowns of
gold, and clothes of cloth, and shoes of leather, and children of boys
and girls, not one of whom was ever known, on the most critical
occasion, to lose the smallest atom of his or her due proportion of
gravity."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Bravo!"

"Capital!"

"Very good indeed!"

"Quite a success!"

cried my complimentary friends.

"I don't think the princess could have rowed, though--without gravity,
you know," said the schoolmaster.

"But she did," said Adela. "I won't have my uncle found fault with. It
is a very funny, and a very pretty story."

"What is the moral of it?" drawled Mrs. Cathcart, with the first
syllable of _moral_ very long and very gentle.

"That you need not be afraid of ill-natured aunts, though they are
witches," said Adela.

"No, my dear; that's not it," I said. "It is, that you need not mind
forgetting your poor relations. No harm will come of it in the end."

"I think the moral is," said the doctor, "that no girl is worth
anything till she has cried a little."

Adela gave him a quick glance, and then cast her eyes down. Whether he
had looked at her I don't know. But I should think not.--Neither the
clergyman nor his wife had made any remark. I turned to them.

"I am afraid you do not approve of my poor story," I said.

"On the contrary," replied Mr. Armstrong, "I think there is a great
deal of meaning in it, to those who can see through its fairy-gates.
What do you think of it, my dear?"

"I was so pleased with the earnest parts of it, that the fun jarred
upon me a little, I confess," said Mrs. Armstrong. "But I daresay that
was silly."

"I think it was, my dear. But you can afford to be silly sometimes, in
a good cause."

"You might have given us the wedding." said Mrs. Bloomfield.

"I am an old bachelor, you see. I fear I don't give weddings their
due," I answered. "I don't care for them--in stories, I mean."

"When will you dine with us again?" asked the colonel.

"When you please," answered the curate.

"To-morrow, then?"

"Rather too soon that, is it not? Who is to read the next story?"

"Why, you, of course," answered his brother.

"I am at your service," rejoined Mr. Armstrong. "But to-morrow!"

"Don't you think, Ralph," said his wife, "you could read better if you
followed your usual custom of dining early?"

"I am sure I should, Lizzie. Don't you think, Colonel Cathcart, it
would be better to come in the evening, just after your dinner? I like
to dine early, and I am a great tea-drinker. If we might have a huge
tea-kettle on the fire, and tea-pot to correspond on the table, and I,
as I read my story, and the rest of the company, as they listen, might
help ourselves, I think it would be very jolly, and very homely."

To this the colonel readily agreed. I heard the ladies whispering a
little, and the words--"Very considerate indeed!" from Mrs.
Bloomfield, reached my ears. Indeed I had thought that the colonel's
hospitality was making him forget his servants. And I could not help
laughing to think what Beeves's face would have been like, if he had
heard us all invited to dinner again, the next day.

Whether Adela suspected us now, I do not know. She said nothing to
show it.

Just before the doctor left, with his brother and sister, he went up
to her, and said, in a by-the-bye sort of way:

"I am sorry to hear that you have not been quite well of late, Miss
Cathcart. You have been catching cold, I am afraid. Let me feel your
pulse."

She gave him her wrist directly, saying:

"I feel much better to-night, thank you."

He stood--listening to the pulse, you would have said--his whole
attitude was so entirely that of one listening, with his eyes doing
nothing at all. He stood thus for a while, without consulting his
watch, looking as if the pulse had brought him into immediate
communication with the troubled heart itself, and he could feel every
flutter and effort which it made. Then he took out his watch and
counted.

Now that his eyes were quite safe, I saw Adela's eyes steal up to his
face, and rest there for a half a minute with a reposeful expression.
I felt that there was something healing in the very presence and touch
of the man--so full was he of health and humanity; and I thought Adela
felt that he was a good man, and one to be trusted in.

He gave her back her hand, as it were, so gently did he let it go, and
said:

"I will send you something as soon as I get home, to take at once. I
presume you will go to bed soon?"

"I will, if you think it best."

And so Mr. Henry Armstrong was, without more ado, tacitly installed as
physician to Miss Adela Cathcart; and she seemed quite content with
the new arrangement.


Chapter VI.

The bell.


Before the next meeting took place, namely, after breakfast on the
following morning, Percy having gone to visit the dogs, Mrs. Cathcart
addressed me:

"I had something to say to my brother, Mr. Smith, but--"

"And you wish to be alone with him? With all my heart," I said.

"Not at all, Mr. Smith," she answered, with one of her smiles, which
were quite incomprehensible to me, until I hit upon the theory that
she kept a stock of them for general use, as stingy old ladies keep up
their half worn ribbons to make presents of to servant-maids; "I only
wanted to know, before I made a remark to the colonel, whether
Dr. Armstrong--"

"Mr. Armstrong lays no claim to the rank of a physician."

"So much the better for my argument. But is he a friend of yours,
Mr. Smith?"

"Yes--of nearly a week's standing."

"Oh, then, I am in no danger of hurting your feelings."

"I don't know that," thought I, but I did not say it.

"Well, Colonel Cathcart--excuse the liberty I am taking--but surely
you do not mean to dismiss Dr. Wade, and give a young man like that
the charge of your daughter's health at such a crisis."

"Dr. Wade is dismissed already, Jane. He did her no more good than any
old woman might have done."

"But such a young man!"

"Not so very young," I ventured to say. "He is thirty at least."

But the colonel was angry with her interference; for, an impetuous man
always, he had become irritable of late.

"Jane," he said, "is a man less likely to be delicate because he is
young? Or does a man always become more refined as he grows older? For
my part--" and here his opposition to his unpleasant sister-in-law
possibly made him say more than he would otherwise have conceded--"I
have never seen a young man whose manners and behaviour I liked
better."

"Much good that will do her! It will only hasten the mischief. You men
are so slow to take a hint, brother; and it is really too hard to be
forced to explain one's self always. Don't you see that, whether he
cures her or not, he will make her fall in love with him? And you
won't relish that, I fancy."

"You won't relish it, at all events. But mayn't he fall in love with
her as well?" thought I; which thought, a certain expression in the
colonel's face kept me from uttering. I saw at once that his sister's
words had set a discord in the good man's music. He made no reply; and
Mrs. Cathcart saw that her arrow had gone to the feather. I saw what
she tried to conceal--the flash of success on her face. But she
presently extinguished it, and rose and left the room. I thought with
myself that such an arrangement would be the very best thing for
Adela; and that, if the blessedness of woman lies in any way in the
possession of true manhood, she, let her position in society be what
it might compared with his, and let her have all the earls in the
kingdom for uncles, would be a fortunate woman indeed, to marry such a
man as Harry Armstrong;--for so much was I attracted to the man, that
I already called him Harry, when I and Myself talked about him. But I
was concerned to see my old friend so much disturbed. I hoped however
that his good generous heart would right its own jarring chords before
long, and that he would not spoil a chance of Adela's recovery,
however slight, by any hasty measures founded on nothing better than
paternal jealousy. I thought, indeed, he had gone too far to make that
possible for some time; but I did not know how far his internal
discomfort might act upon his behaviour as host, and so interfere with
the homeliness of our story-club, upon which I depended not a little
for a portion of the desired result.

The motive of Mrs. Cathcart's opposition was evident. She was a
partizan of Percy; for Adela was a very tolerable fortune, as people
say.

These thoughts went through my mind, as thoughts do, in no time at
all; and when the lady had closed the door behind her with protracted
gentleness, I was ready to show my game; in which I really considered
my friend and myself partners.

"Those women," I said, (women forgive me!), with a laugh which I trust
the colonel did not discover to be a forced one--"Those women are
always thinking about falling in love and that sort of foolery. I
wonder she isn't jealous of me now! Well, I do love Adela better than
any man will, for some weeks to come. I've been a sweetheart of hers
ever since she was in long clothes." Here I tried to laugh again, and,
to judge from the colonel, I verily believe I succeeded. The cloud
lightened on his face, as I made light of its cause, till at last he
laughed too. If I thought it all nonsense, why should he think it
earnest? So I turned the conversation to the club, about which I was
more concerned than about the love-making at present, seeing the
latter had positively no existence as yet.

"Adela seemed quite to enjoy the reading last night," I said.

"I thought she looked very grave," he answered.

The good man had been watching her face all the time, I saw, and
evidently paying no heed to the story. I doubted if he was the better
judge for this--observing only _ab extra_, and without being in
sympathy with her feelings as moved by the tale.

"Now that is just what I should have wished to see," I answered.
"We don't want her merry all at once. What we want is, that she
should take an interest in something. A grave face is a sign of
interest. It is all the world better than a listless face."

"But what good can stories do in sickness?"

"That depends on the origin of the sickness. My conviction is, that,
near or far off, in ourselves, or in our ancestors--say Adam and Eve,
for comprehension's sake--all our ailments have a moral cause. I think
that if we were all good, disease would, in the course of generations,
disappear utterly from the face of the earth."

"That's just like one of your notions, old friend! Rather peculiar.
Mystical, is it not?"

"But I meant to go on to say that, in Adela's case, I believe, from
conversation I have had with her, that the operation of mind on body
is far more immediate than that I have hinted at."

"You cannot mean to imply," said my friend, in some alarm, that Adela
has anything upon her conscience?"

"Certainly not. But there may be moral diseases that do not in the
least imply personal wrong or fault. They may themselves be
transmitted, for instance. Or even if such sprung wholly from present
physical causes, any help given to the mind would react on those
causes. Still more would the physical ill be influenced through the
mental, if the mind be the source of both.

"Now from whatever cause, Adela is in a kind of moral atrophy, for she
cannot digest the food provided for her, so as to get any good of
it. Suppose a patient in a corresponding physical condition, should
show a relish for anything proposed to him, would you not take it for
a sign that that was just the thing to do him good? And we may accept
the interest Adela shows in any kind of mental pabulum provided for
her, as an analogous sign. It corresponds to relish, and is a ground
for expecting some benefit to follow--in a word, some nourishment of
the spiritual life. Relish may be called the digestion of the palate;
interest, the digestion of the inner ears; both significant of further
digestion to follow. The food thus relished may not be the best food;
and yet it may be the best for the patient, because she feels no
repugnance to it, and can digest and assimilate, as well as swallow
it. For my part, I believe in no cramming, bodily or mental. I think
nothing learned without interest, can be of the slightest after
benefit; and although the effort may comprise a moral good, it
involves considerable intellectual injury. All I have said applies
with still greater force to religious teaching, though that is not
definitely the question now."

"Well, Smith, I can't talk philosophy like you; but what you say
sounds to me like sense. At all events, if Adela enjoys it, that is
enough for me. Will the young doctor tell stories too?"

"I don't know. I fancy he _could_. But to-night we have his brother."

"I shall make them welcome, anyhow."

This was all I wanted of him; and now I was impatient for the evening,
and the clergyman's tale. The more I saw of him the better I liked
him, and felt the more interest in him. I went to church that same
day, and heard him read prayers, and liked him better still; so that I
was quite hungry for the story he was going to read to us.

The evening came, and with it the company. Arrangements, similar to
those of the evening before, having been made, with some little
improvements, the colonel now occupying the middle place in the
half-circle, and the doctor seated, whether by chance or design, at
the corner farthest from the invalid's couch, the clergyman said, as
he rolled and unrolled the manuscript in his hand:

"To explain how I came to write a story, the scene of which is in
Scotland, I may be allowed to inform the company that I spent a good
part of my boyhood in a town in Aberdeenshire, with my grandfather,
who was a thorough Scotchman. He had removed thither from the south,
where the name is indigenous; being indeed a descendant of that
Christy, whom his father, Johnie Armstrong, standing with the rope
about his neck, ready to be hanged--or murdered, as the ballad calls
it--apostrophizes in these words:

    'And God be with thee, Christy, my son,
      Where thou sits on thy nurse's knee!
    But an' thou live this hundred year,
      Thy father's better thou'lt never be.'

But I beg your pardon, ladies and gentlemen all, for this has
positively nothing to do with the story. Only please to remember that
in those days it was quite respectable to be hanged."

We all agreed to this with a profusion of corroboration, except the
colonel; who, I thought, winced a little. But presently our attention
was occupied with the story, thus announced:

"_The Bell. A Sketch in Pen and Ink_."

He read in a great, deep, musical voice, with a wealth of pathos in
it--always suppressed, yet almost too much for me in the more touching
portions of the story.

"One interruption more," he said, before he began. "I fear you will
find it a sad story."

And he looked at Adela.

I believe that he had chosen the story on the homoeopathic principle.

"I like sad stories," she answered; and he went on at once.

        "THE BELL.

 "A SKETCH IN PEN AND INK.

"Elsie Scott had let her work fall on her knees, and her hands on her
work, and was looking out of the wide, low window of her room, which
was on one of the ground floors of the village street. Through a gap
in the household shrubbery of fuchsias and myrtles filling the
window-sill, one passing on the foot-pavement might get a momentary
glimpse of her pale face, lighted up with two blue eyes, over which some
inward trouble had spread a faint, gauze-like haziness. But almost
before her thoughts had had time to wander back to this trouble, a
shout of children's voices, at the other end of the street, reached
her ear. She listened a moment. A shadow of displeasure and pain
crossed her countenance; and rising hastily, she betook herself to an
inner apartment, and closed the door behind her.

"Meantime the sounds drew nearer; and by and by, an old man, whose
strange appearance and dress showed that he had little capacity either
for good or evil, passed the window. His clothes were comfortable
enough in quality and condition, for they were the annual gift of a
benevolent lady in the neighbourhood; but, being made to accommodate
his taste, both known and traditional, they were somewhat peculiar in
cut and adornment. Both coat and trousers were of a dark grey cloth;
but the former, which, in its shape, partook of the military, had a
straight collar of yellow, and narrow cuffs of the same; while upon
both sleeves, about the place where a corporal wears his stripes, was
expressed, in the same yellow cloth, a somewhat singular device. It
was as close an imitation of a bell, with its tongue hanging out of
its mouth, as the tailor's skill could produce from a single piece of
cloth. The origin of the military cut of his coat was well known. His
preference for it arose in the time of the wars of the first Napoleon,
when the threatened invasion of the country caused the organization of
many volunteer regiments. The martial show and exercises captivated
the poor man's fancy; and from that time forward nothing pleased his
vanity, and consequently conciliated his good will more, than to style
him by his favourite title--the _Colonel_. But the badge on his arm
had a deeper origin, which will be partially manifest in the course of
the story--if story it can be called. It was, indeed, the baptism of
the fool, the outward and visible sign of his relation to the infinite
and unseen. His countenance, however, although the features were not
of any peculiarly low or animal type, showed no corresponding sign of
the consciousness of such a relation, being as vacant as human
countenance could well be.

"The cause of Elsie's annoyance was that the fool was annoyed; for, he
was turned his rank into scorn, and assailed him with epithets hateful
to him. Although the most harmless of creatures when let alone, he was
dangerous when roused; and now he stooped repeatedly to pick up stones
and hurl them at his tormentors, who took care, while abusing him, to
keep at a considerable distance, lest he should get hold of them.
Amidst the sounds of derision that followed him, might be heard the
words frequently repeated--'_Come hame, come hame._' But in a few
minutes the noise ceased, either from the interference of some
friendly inhabitant, or that the boys grew weary, and departed in
search of other amusement. By and by, Elsie might be seen again at her
work in the window; but the cloud over her eyes was deeper, and her
whole face more sad.

"Indeed, so much did the persecution of the poor man affect her, that
an onlooker would have been compelled to seek the cause in some yet
deeper sympathy than that commonly felt for the oppressed, even by
women. And such a sympathy existed, strange as it may seem, between
the beautiful girl (for many called her a _bonnie lassie_) and this
'tatter of humanity.' Nothing would have been farther from the
thoughts of those that knew them, than the supposition of any
correspondence or connection between them; yet this sympathy sprung in
part from a real similarity in their history and present condition.

"All the facts that were known about _Feel Jock's_ origin were these:
that seventy years ago, a man who had gone with his horse and cart
some miles from the village, to fetch home a load of peat from a
desolate _moss_, had heard, while toiling along as rough a road on as
lonely a hill-side as any in Scotland, the cry of a child; and,
searching about, had found the infant, hardly wrapt in rags, and
untended, as if the earth herself had just given him birth,--that
desert moor, wide and dismal, broken and watery, the only bosom for
him to lie upon, and the cold, clear night-heaven his only covering.
The man had brought him home, and the parish had taken parish-care of
him. He had grown up, and proved what he now was--almost an idiot.
Many of the townspeople were kind to him, and employed him in fetching
water for them from the river and wells in the neighbourhood, paying
him for his trouble in victuals, or whisky, of which he was very
fond. He seldom spoke; and the sentences he could utter were few; yet
the tone, and even the words of his limited vocabulary, were
sufficient to express gratitude and some measure of love towards those
who were kind to him, and hatred of those who teased and insulted him.
He lived a life without aim, and apparently to no purpose; in this
resembling most of his more gifted fellow-men, who, with all the tools
and materials needful for the building of a noble mansion, are yet
content with a clay hut.

"Elsie, on the contrary, had been born in a comfortable farmhouse,
amidst homeliness and abundance. But at a very early age, she had lost
both father and mother; not so early, however, but that she had faint
memories of warm soft times on her mother's bosom, and of refuge in
her mother's arms from the attacks of geese, and the pursuit of pigs.
Therefore, in after-times, when she looked forward to heaven, it was
as much a reverting to the old heavenly times of childhood and
mother's love, as an anticipation of something yet to be revealed.
Indeed, without some such memory, how should we ever picture to
ourselves a perfect rest? But sometimes it would seem as if the more a
heart was made capable of loving, the less it had to love; and poor
Elsie, in passing from a mother's to a brother's guardianship, felt a
change of spiritual temperature, too keen. He was not a bad man, or
incapable of benevolence when touched by the sight of want in anything
of which he would himself have felt the privation; but he was so
coarsely made, that only the purest animal necessities affected him;
and a hard word, or unfeeling speech, could never have reached the
quick of his nature through the hide that enclosed it. Elsie, on the
contrary, was excessively and painfully sensitive, as if her nature
constantly protended an invisible multitude of half-spiritual,
half-nervous antennae, which shrunk and trembled in every current of air
at all below their own temperature. The effect of this upon her behaviour
was such, that she was called odd; and the poor girl felt that she was
not like other people, yet could not help it. Her brother, too,
laughed at her without the slightest idea of the pain he occasioned,
or the remotest feeling of curiosity as to what the inward and
consistent causes of the outward abnormal condition might be.
Tenderness was the divine comforting she needed; and it was altogether
absent from her brother's character and behaviour.

"Her neighbours looked on her with some interest, but they rather
shunned than courted her acquaintance; especially after the return of
certain nervous attacks, to which she had been subject in childhood,
and which were again brought on by the events I must relate. It is
curious how certain diseases repel, by a kind of awe, the sympathies
of the neighbours: as if, by the fact of being subject to them, the
patient were removed into another realm of existence, from which, like
the dead with the living, she can hold communion with those around her
only partially, and with a mixture of dread pervading the intercourse.
Thus some of the deepest, purest wells of spiritual life, are, like
those in old castles, choked up by the decay of the outer walls. But
what tended more than anything, perhaps, to keep up the painful unrest
of her soul (for the beauty of her character was evident in the fact,
that the irritation seldom reached her _mind_), was a circumstance at
which, in its present connection, some of my readers will smile, and
others feel a shudder corresponding in kind to that of Elsie.

"Her brother was very fond of a rather small, but ferocious-looking
bull-dog, which followed close at his heels, wherever he went, with
hanging head and slouching gait, never leaping or racing about like
other dogs. When in the house, he always lay under his master's
chair. He seemed to dislike Elsie, and she felt an unspeakable
repugnance to him. Though she never mentioned her aversion, her
brother easily saw it by the way in which she avoided the animal; and
attributing it entirely to fear--which indeed had a great share in the
matter--he would cruelly aggravate it, by telling her stories of the
fierce hardihood and relentless persistency of this kind of animal. He
dared not yet further increase her terror by offering to set the
creature upon her, because it was doubtful whether he might be able to
restrain him; but the mental suffering which he occasioned by this
heartless conduct, and for which he had no sympathy, was as severe as
many bodily sufferings to which he would have been sorry to subject
her. Whenever the poor girl happened inadvertently to pass near the
dog, which was seldom, a low growl made her aware of his proximity,
and drove her to a quick retreat. He was, in fact, the animal
impersonation of the animal opposition which she had continually to
endure. Like chooses like; and the bull-dog _in_ her brother made
choice of the bull-dog _out of_ him for his companion. So her day was
one of shrinking fear and multiform discomfort.

"But a nature capable of so much distress, must of necessity be
_capable_ of a corresponding amount of pleasure; and in her case this
was manifest in the fact, that sleep and the quiet of her own room
restored her wonderfully. If she was only let alone, a calm mood,
filled with images of pleasure, soon took possession of her mind.

"Her acquaintance with the fool had commenced some ten years previous
to the time I write of, when she was quite a little girl, and had come
from the country with her brother, who, having taken a small farm
close to the town, preferred residing in the town to occupying the
farm-house, which was not comfortable. She looked at first with some
terror on his uncouth appearance, and with much wonderment on his
strange dress. This wonder was heightened by a conversation she
overheard one day in the street, between the fool and a little
pale-faced boy, who, approaching him respectfully, said, 'Weel, cornel!'
'Weel, laddie!' was the reply. 'Fat dis the wow say, cornel?' 'Come
hame, come hame!' answered the _colonel_, with both accent and
quantity heaped on the word _hame_. She heard no more, and knew not
what the little she had heard, meant. What the _wow_ could be, she had
no idea; only, as the years passed on, the strange word became in her
mind indescribably associated with the strange shape in yellow cloth
on his sleeves. Had she been a native of the town, she could not have
failed to know its import, so familiar was every one with it, although
the word did not belong to the local vocabulary; but, as it was, years
passed away before she discovered its meaning. And when, again and
again, the fool, attempting to convey his gratitude for some kindness
she had shown him, mumbled over the words--_'The wow o' Rivven--the
wow o' Rivven,'_ the wonder would return as to what could be the idea
associated with them in his mind, but she made no advance towards
their explanation.

"That, however, which most attracted her to the old man, was his
persecution by the children. They were to him what the bull-dog was to
her--the constant source of irritation and annoyance. They could
hardly hurt him, nor did he appear to dread other injury from them
than insult, to which, fool though he was, he was keenly alive. Human
gad-flies that they were! they sometimes stung him beyond endurance,
and he would curse them in the impotence of his anger. Once or twice
Elsie had been so far carried beyond her constitutional timidity, by
sympathy for the distress of her friend, that she had gone out and
talked to the boys,--even scolded them, so that they slunk away
ashamed, and began to stand as much in dread of her as of the clutches
of their prey. So she, gentle and timid to excess, acquired among them
the reputation of a termagant. Popular opinion among children, as
among men, is often just, but as often very unjust; for the same
manifestations may proceed from opposite principles; and, therefore,
as indices to character, any mislead as often as enlighten.

"Next door to the house in which Elsie resided, dwelt a tradesman and
his wife, who kept an indefinite sort of shop, in which various kinds
of goods were exposed to sale. Their youngest son was about the same
age as Elsie; and while they were rather more than children, and less
than young people, he spent many of his evenings with her, somewhat to
the loss of position in his classes at the parish school. They were,
indeed, much attached to each other; and, peculiarly constituted as
Elsie was, one may imagine what kind of heavenly messenger a companion
stronger than herself must have been to her. In fact, if she could
have framed the undefinable need of her child-like nature into an
articulate prayer, it would have been--'Give me some one to love me
stronger than I.' Any love was helpful, yes, in its degree, saving to
her poor troubled soul; but the hope, as they grew older together,
that the powerful, yet tender-hearted youth, really loved her, and
would one day make her his wife, was like the opening of heavenly eyes
of life and love in the hitherto blank and death-like face of her
existence. But nothing had been said of love, although they met and
parted like lovers.

"Doubtless if the circles of their thought and feeling had continued
as now to intersect each other, there would have been no interruption
to their affection; but the time at length arrived when the old couple
seeing the rest of their family comfortably settled in life, resolved
to make a gentleman of the youngest; and so sent him from school to
college. The facilities existing in Scotland for providing a
professional training, enabled them to educate him as a surgeon. He
parted from Elsie with some regret; but, far less dependent on her
than she was on him, and full of the prospects of the future, he felt
none of that sinking at the heart which seemed to lay her whole nature
open to a fresh inroad of all the terrors and sorrows of her peculiar
existence. No correspondence took place between them. New pursuits and
relations, and the development of his tastes and judgments, entirely
altered the position of poor Elsie in his memory. Having been, during
their intercourse, far less of a man than she of a woman, he had no
definite idea of the place he had occupied in her regard; and in his
mind she receded into the background of the past, without his having
any idea that she would suffer thereby, or that he was unjust towards
her; while, in her thoughts, his image stood in the highest and
clearest relief. It was the centre-point from which and towards which
all lines radiated and converged; and although she could not but be
doubtful about the future, yet there was much hope mingled with her
doubts.

"But when, at the close of two years, he visited his native village,
and she saw before her, instead of the homely youth who had left her
that winter evening, one who, to her inexperienced eyes, appeared a
finished gentleman, her heart sank within her, as if she had found
Nature herself false in her ripening processes, destroying the
beautiful promise of a former year by changing instead of developing
her creations. He spoke kindly to her, but not cordially. To her ear
the voice seemed to come from a great distance out of the past; and
while she looked upon him, that optical change passed over her vision,
which all have experienced after gazing abstractedly on any object for
a time: his form grew very small, and receded to an immeasurable
distance; till, her imagination mingling with the twilight haze of her
senses, she seemed to see him standing far off on a hill, with the
bright horizon of sunset for a back-ground to his clearly defined
figure.

"She knew no more till she found herself in bed in the dark; and the
first message that reached her from the outer world, was the infernal
growl of the bull-dog from the room below. Next day she saw her lover
walking with two ladies, who would have thought it some degree of
condescension to speak to her; and he passed the house without once
looking towards it.

"One who is sufficiently possessed by the demon of nervousness to be
glad of the magnetic influences of a friend's company in a public
promenade, or of a horse beneath him in passing through a churchyard,
will have some faint idea of how utterly exposed and defenceless poor
Elsie now felt on the crowded thoroughfare of life. And the
insensibility which had overtaken her, was not the ordinary swoon with
which Nature relieves the over-strained nerves, but the return of the
epileptic fits of her early childhood; and if the condition of the
poor girl had been pitiable before, it was tenfold more so now. Yet
she did not complain, but bore all in silence, though it was evident
that her health was giving way. But now, help came to her from a
strange quarter; though many might not be willing to accord the name
of help to that which rather hastened than retarded the progress of
her decline.

"She had gone to spend a few of the summer days with a relative in the
country, some miles from her home, if home it could be called. One
evening, towards sunset, she went out for a solitary walk. Passing
from the little garden gate, she went along a bare country road for
some distance, and then, turning aside by a footpath through a thicket
of low trees, she came out in a lonely little churchyard on the
hill-side. Hardly knowing whether or not she had intended to go there,
she seated herself on a mound covered with long grass, one of
many. Before her stood the ruins of an old church which was taking
centuries to crumble. Little remained but the gable-wall, immensely
thick, and covered with ancient ivy. The rays of the setting sun fell
on a mound at its foot, not green like the rest, but of a rich,
red-brown in the rosy sunset, and evidently but newly heaped up. Her
eyes, too, rested upon it. Slowly the sun sank below the near horizon.

"As the last brilliant point disappeared, the ivy darkened, and a wind
arose and shook all its leaves, making them look cold and troubled;
and to Elsie's ear came a low faint sound, as from a far-off bell. But
close beside her--and she started and shivered at the sound--rose a
deep, monotonous, almost sepulchral voice: '_Come hame, come hame! The
wow, the wow!_'

"At once she understood the whole. She sat in the churchyard of the
ancient parish church of Ruthven; and when she lifted up her eyes,
there she saw, in the half-ruined belfry, the old bell, all but hidden
with ivy, which the passing wind had roused to utter one sleepy tone;
and there, beside her, stood the fool with the bell on his arm; and to
him and to her the _wow o' Rivven_ said, '_Come hame, come hame!_' Ah,
what did she want in the whole universe of God but a home? And though
the ground beneath was hard, and the sky overhead far and boundless,
and the hill-side lonely and companionless, yet somewhere within the
visible, and beyond these the outer surfaces of creation, there might
be a home for her; as round the wintry house the snows lie heaped up
cold and white and dreary all the long _forenight_, while within,
beyond the closed shutters, and giving no glimmer through the thick
stone walls, the fires are blazing joyously, and the voices and
laughter of young unfrozen children are heard, and nothing belongs to
winter but the grey hairs on the heads of the parents, within whose
warm hearts child-like voices are heard, and child-like thoughts move
to and fro. The kernel of winter itself is spring, or a sleeping
summer.

"It was no wonder that the fool, cast out of the earth on a far more
desolate spot than this, should seek to return within her bosom at
this place of open doors, and should call it _home_. For surely the
surface of the earth had no home for him. The mound at the foot of the
gable contained the body of one who had shown him kindness. He had
followed the funeral that afternoon from the town, and had remained
behind with the bell. Indeed, it was his custom, though Elsie had not
known it, to follow every funeral going to this, his favourite
churchyard of Ruthven; and, possibly in imitation of its booming, for
it was still tolled at the funerals, he had given the old bell the
name of the _wow_, and had translated its monotonous clangour into the
articulate sounds--_come home, come home_. What precise meaning he
attached to the words, it is impossible to say; but it was evident
that the place possessed a strange attraction for him, drawing him
towards it by the cords of some spiritual magnetism. It is possible
that in the mind of the idiot there may have been some feeling about
this churchyard and bell, which, in the mind of another, would have
become a grand poetic thought; a feeling as if the ghostly old bell
hung at the church-door of the invisible world, and ever and anon rung
out joyous notes (though they sounded sad in the ears of the living),
calling to the children of the unseen to _come home, come home_.--She
sat for some time in silence; for the bell did not ring again, and the
fool spoke no more; till the dews began to fall, when she rose and
went home, followed by her companion, who passed the night in the
barn.

"From that hour Elsie was furnished with a visual image of the rest
she sought; an image which, mingling with deeper and holier thoughts,
became, like the bow set in the cloud, the earthly pledge and sign of
the fulfilment of heavenly hopes. Often when the wintry fog of cold
discomfort and homelessness filled her soul, all at once the picture
of the little churchyard--with the old gable and belfry, and the
slanting sunlight steeping down to the very roots the long grass on
the graves--arose in the darkened chamber (_camera obscura_) of her
soul; and again she heard the faint AEolian sound of the bell, and the
voice of the prophet-fool who interpreted the oracle; and the inward
weariness was soothed by the promise of a long sleep. Who can tell how
many have been counted fools simply because they were prophets; or how
much of the madness in the world may be the utterance of thoughts true
and just, but belonging to a region differing from ours in its nature
and scenery!

"But to Elsie looking out of her window came the mocking tones of the
idle boys who had chosen as the vehicle of their scorn the very words
which showed the relation of the fool to the eternal, and revealed in
him an element higher far than any yet developed in them. They turned
his glory into shame, like the enemies of David when they mocked the
would-be king. And the best in a man is often that which is most
condemned by those who have not attained to his goodness. The words,
however, even as repeated by the boys, had not solely awakened
indignation at the persecution of the old man: they had likewise
comforted her with the thought of the refuge that awaited both him and
her.

"But the same evening a worse trial befell her. Again she sat near the
window, oppressed by the consciousness that her brother had come
in. He had gone up-stairs, and his dog had remained at the door,
exchanging surly compliments with some of his own kind; when the fool
came strolling past, and, I do not know from what cause, the dog flew
at him. Elsie heard his cry and looked up. Her fear of the brute
vanished in a moment before her sympathy for her friend. She darted
from the house, and rushed towards the dog to drag him off the
defenceless idiot, calling him by his name in a tone of anger and
dislike. He left the fool, and, springing at Elsie, seized her by the
arm above the elbow with such a gripe that, in the midst of her agony,
she fancied she heard the bone crack. But she uttered no cry, for the
most apprehensive are sometimes the most courageous. Just then,
however, her former lover was coming along the street, and, catching a
glimpse of what had happened, was on the spot in an instant, took the
dog by the throat with a gripe not inferior to his own, and having
thus compelled him to give up his hold, dashed him on the ground with
a force that almost stunned him, and then with a superadded kick sent
him away limping and howling; whereupon the fool, attacking him
furiously with a stick, would certainly have finished him, had not his
master descried his plight and come to his rescue.

"Meantime the young surgeon had carried Elsie into the house; for, as
soon as she was rescued from the dog, she had fallen down in one of
her fits, which were becoming more and more frequent of themselves,
and little needed such a shock as this to increase their violence. He
was dressing her arm when she began to recover; and when she opened
her eyes, in a state of half-consciousness, the first object she
beheld, was his face bending over her. Re-calling nothing of what had
occurred, it seemed to her, in the dreamy condition in which the fit
had left her, the same face, unchanged, which had once shone in upon
her tardy spring-time, and promised to ripen it into summer. She
forgot that it had departed and left her in the wintry cold. And so
she uttered wild words of love and trust; and the youth, while stung
with remorse at his own neglect, was astonished to perceive the poetic
forms of beauty in which the soul of the uneducated maiden burst into
flower. But as her senses recovered themselves, the face gradually
changed to her, as if the slow alteration of two years had been
phantasmagorically compressed into a few moments; and the glow
departed from the maiden's thoughts and words, and her soul found
itself at the narrow window of the present, from which she could
behold but a dreary country.--From the street came the iambic cry of
the fool, 'Come hame, come hame."

"Tycho Brahe, I think, is said to have kept a fool, who frequently sat
at his feet in his study, and to whose mutterings he used to listen in
the pauses of his own thought. The shining soul of the astronomer drew
forth the rainbow of harmony from the misty spray of words ascending
ever from the dark gulf into which the thoughts of the idiot were ever
falling. He beheld curious concurrences of words therein, and could
read strange meanings from them--sometimes even received wondrous
hints for the direction of celestial inquiry, from what, to any other,
and it may be to the fool himself, was but a ceaseless and aimless
babble. Such power lieth in words. It is not then to be wondered at,
that the sounds I have mentioned should fall on the ears of Elsie, at
such a moment, as a message from God himself. This then--all this
dreariness--was but a passing show like the rest, and there lay
somewhere for her a reality--a home. The tears burst up from her
oppressed heart. She received the message, and prepared to go home.
From that time her strength gradually sank, but her spirits as
steadily rose.

"The strength of the fool, too, began to fail, for he was old. He bore
all the signs of age, even to the grey hairs, which betokened no
wisdom. But one cannot say what wisdom might be in him, or how far he
had not fought his own battle, and been victorious. Whether any notion
of a continuance of life and thought dwelt in his brain, it is
impossible to tell; but he seemed to have the idea that this was not
his home; and those who saw him gradually approaching his end, might
well anticipate for him a higher life in the world to come. He had
passed through this world without ever awakening to such a
consciousness of being, as is common to mankind. He had spent his
years like a weary dream through a long night--a strange, dismal,
unkindly dream; and now the morning was at hand. Often in his dream
had he listened with sleepy senses to the ringing of the bell, but
that bell would awake him at last. He was like a seed buried too deep
in the soil, to which, therefore, has never forced its way upwards to
the open air, never experienced the resurrection of the dead. But
seeds will grow ages after they have fallen into the earth; and,
indeed, with many kinds, and within some limits, the older the seed
before it germinates, the more plentiful is the fruit. And may it not
be believed of many human beings, that, the great Husbandman having
sown them like seeds in the soil of human affairs, there they lie
buried a life long; and only after the upturning of the soil by death,
reach a position in which the awakening of their aspiration and the
consequent growth become possible. Surely he has made nothing in vain.

"A violent cold and cough brought him at last near to his end, and,
hearing that he was ill, Elsie ventured one bright spring day to go to
see him. When she entered the miserable room where he lay, he held out
his hand to her with something like a smile, and muttered feebly and
painfully, 'I'm gaein' to the wow, nae to come back again.' Elsie
could not restrain her tears; while the old man, looking fixedly at
her, though with meaningless eyes, muttered, for the last time, '_Come
hame! come hame!_' and sank into a lethargy, from which nothing could
rouse him, till, next morning, he was waked by friendly death from the
long sleep of this world's night. They bore him to his favourite
church-yard, and buried him within the site of the old church, below
his loved bell, which had ever been to him as the cuckoo-note of a
coming spring. Thus he at length obeyed its summons, and went home.

"Elsie lingered till the first summer days lay warm on the land.
Several kind hearts in the village, hearing of her illness, visited
her and ministered to her. Wondering at her sweetness and patience,
they regretted they had not known her before. How much consolation
might not their kindness have imparted, and how much might not their
sympathy have strengthened her on her painful road! But they could not
long have delayed her going home. Nor, mentally constituted as she
was, would this have been at all to be desired. Indeed it was chiefly
the expectation of departure that quieted and soothed her tremulous
nature. It is true that a deep spring of hope and faith kept singing
on in her heart, but this alone, without the anticipation of speedy
release, could only have kept her mind at peace. It could not have
reached, at least for a long time, the border land between body and
mind, in which her disease lay.

"One still night of summer, the nurse who watched by her bedside heard
her murmur through her sleep, 'I hear it: _come hame--come hame_. I'm
comin', I'm comin'--I'm gaein' hame to the wow, nae to come back.' She
awoke at the sound of her own words, and begged the nurse to convey to
her brother her last request, that she might be buried by the side of
the fool, within the old church of Ruthven. Then she turned her face
to the wall, and in the morning was found quiet and cold. She must
have died within a few minutes after her last words. She was buried
according to her request; and thus she, too, went home.

"Side by side rest the aged fool and the young maiden; for the bell
called them, and they obeyed; and surely they found the fire burning
bright, and heard friendly voices, and felt sweet lips on theirs, in
the home to which they went. Surely both intellect and love were
waiting them there.

"Still the old bell hangs in the old gable; and whenever another is
borne to the old churchyard, it keeps calling to those who are left
behind, with the same sad, but friendly and unchanging voice--_'Come
hame! come hame! come hame!'_"

For a full minute, there was silence in the little company. I myself
dared not look up, but the movement of indistinct and cloudy white
over my undirected eyes, let me know that two or three, amongst them
Adela, were lifting their handkerchiefs to their faces. At length a
voice broke the silence.

"How much of your affecting tale is true, Mr. Armstrong?"

The voice belonged to Mrs. Cathcart.

"I object to the question," said I. "I don't want to know. Suppose,
Mrs. Cathcart, I were to put this story-club, members, stories, and
all, into a book, how would any one like to have her real existence
questioned? It would at least imply that I had made a very bad
portrait of that one."

The lady cast rather a frightened look at me, which I confess I was
not sorry to see. But the curate interposed.

"What frightful sophistry, Mr. Smith!" Then turning to Mrs. Cathcart,
he continued:

"I have not the slightest objection to answer your question, Mrs.
Cathcart; and if our friend Mr. Smith does not want to hear the
answer, I will wait till he stops his ears."

He glanced to me, his black eyes twinkling with fun. I saw that it was
all he could do to keep from winking; but he did.

"Oh no," I answered; "I will share what is going."

"Well, then, the fool is a real character, in every point. But I
learned after I had written the sketch, that I had made one mistake.
He was in reality about seventeen, when he was found on the hill. The
bell is a real character too. Elsie is a creature of my own. So of
course are the brother and the dog."

"I don't know whether to be glad or sorry that there was no Elsie,"
said his wife. "But did you know the fool yourself?"

"Perfectly well, and had a great respect for him. When a little boy, I
was quite proud of the way he behaved to me. He occasionally visited
the general persecution of the boys, upon any boy he chanced to meet
on the road; but as often as I met him, he walked quietly past me,
muttering '_Auntie's folk_!' or returning my greeting of _'A fine day,
Colonel!'_ with a grunted _'Ay!'_"

"What did he mean by 'Auntie's folk?'" asked Mrs. Armstrong.

"My grandmother was kind to him, and he always called her _Auntie_. I
cannot tell how the fancy originated; but certainly he knew all her
descendants somehow--a degree of intelligence not to have been
expected of him--and invariably murmured 'Auntie's folk,' as often as
he passed any of them on the road, as if to remind himself that these
were friends, or relations. Possibly he had lived with an aunt before
he was exposed on the moor."

"Is _wow_ a word at all?" I asked.

"If you look into Jamieson's Dictionary," said Armstrong, "as I have
done for the express purpose, you will find that the word is used
differently in different quarters of the country--chiefly, however, as
a verb. It means _to bark, to howl;_ likewise _to wave or beckon;_
also _to woo, or make love to_. Any of these might be given as an
explanation of his word. But I do not think it had anything to do with
these meanings; nor was the word used, in that district, in either of
the last two senses, in my time at least. It was used, however, in the
meaning of _alas_--a form of _woe_ in fact; as _wow's me!_ But I
believe it was, in the fool's use, an attempt to reproduce the sound
which the bell made. If you repeat the word several times, resting on
the final _w_, and pausing between each repetition--_wow! wow!
wow!_--you will find that the sound is not at all unlike the tolling
of a funeral bell; and therefore the word is most probably an
onomatopoetic invention of the fool's own."

Adela offered no remark upon the story, and I knew from her
countenance that she was too much affected to be inclined to speak.
Her eyes had that fixed, forward look, which, combined with haziness,
indicates deep emotion, while the curves of her mouth were nearly
straightened out by the compression of her lips. I had thought, while
the reader went on, that she could hardly fail to find in the story of
Elsie, some correspondence to her own condition and necessities: I now
believe that she had found that correspondence. More talk was not
desirable; and I was glad when, after a few attempts at ordinary
conversation, Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield rose to take their leave, which
was accepted by the whole company as a signal for departure.

"But stay," I interposed; "who is to read or tell next?"

"Why, I will be revenged on Harry," said the clergyman.

"That you can't," said the doctor; "for I have nothing to give you."

"You don't mean to say you are going to jib?"

"No. I don't say I won't read. In fact I have a story in my head, and
a bit of it on paper; but I positively can't read next time."

"Will you oblige us with a story, Colonel?" said I.

"My dear fellow, you know I never put pen to paper in my life, except
when I could not help it. I may tell you a story before it is all
over, but write one I cannot."

"A tale that is told is the best tale of all," I said. "Shall we book
you for next time?"

"No, no! not next time; positively not. My story must come of itself,
else I cannot tell it at all."

"Well, there's nobody left but you, Mr. Bloomfield. So you can't get
rid of it."

"I don't think I ever wrote what was worth calling a story; but I
don't mind reading you something of the sort which I have at home, on
one condition."

"What is that?"

"That nobody ask any questions about it."

"Oh! certainly."

"But my only reason is, that somehow I feel it would all come to
pieces if you did. It is nothing, as a story; but there are feelings
expressed in it, which were very strong in me when I wrote it, and
which I do not feel willing to talk about, although I have no
objection to having them thought about."

"Well, that is settled. When shall we meet again?"

"To-morrow, or the day after," said the colonel; "which you please."

"Oh! the day after, if I may have a word in it," said the doctor. "I
shall be very busy to-morrow--and we mustn't crowd remedies either,
you know."

The close of the sentence was addressed to me only. The rest of the
company had taken leave, and were already at the door, when he made
the last remark. He now came up to his patient, felt her pulse, and
put the question,

"How have you slept the last two nights?"

"Better, thank you."

"And do you feel refreshed when you wake?"

"More so than for some time."

"I won't give you anything to-night.--Good night."

"Good night. Thank you."

This was all that passed between them. Jealousy, with the six eyes of
Colonel, Mrs., and Percy Cathcart, was intent upon the pair during the
brief conversation. And I thought Adela perceived the fact.



Chapter VII.

The schoolmaster's story.


I was walking up the street the next day, when, finding I was passing
the Grammar-school, and knowing there was nothing going on there now,
I thought I should not be intruding if I dropped in upon the
schoolmaster and his wife, and had a little chat with them. I already
counted them friends; for I felt that however different our training
and lives might have been, we all meant the same thing now, and that
is the true bond of fellowship. I found Mr. Bloomfield reading to his
wife--a novel, too. Evidently he intended to make the most of this
individual holiday, by making it as unlike a work-day as possible.

"I see you are enjoying yourselves," I said. "It's a shame to break in
upon you."

"We are delighted to see you. Your interruption will only postpone a
good thing to a better," said the kind-hearted schoolmaster, laying
down his book. "Will you take a pipe?"

"With pleasure--but not here, surely?"

"Oh! we smoke everywhere in holiday-time."

"You enjoy your holiday, I can see."

"I should think so. I don't believe one of the boys delights in a
holiday quite as heartily as I do. You must not imagine I don't enjoy
my work, though."

"Not in the least. Earnest work breeds earnest play. But you must find
the labour wearisome at times."

"I confess I have felt it such. I have said to myself sometimes: 'Am I
to go on for ever teaching boys Latin grammar, till I wish there had
never been a Latin nation to leave such an incubus upon the bosom of
after ages?' Then I would remind myself, that, under cover of grammar
and geography, and all the other _farce_-meat (as the word ought to be
written and pronounced), I put something better into my pupils;
something that I loved myself, and cared to give to them. But I often
ask myself to what it all goes.--I learn to love my boys. I kill in
them all the bad I can. I nourish in them all the good I can. I send
them across the borders of manhood--and they leave me, and most likely
I hear nothing more of them. And I say to myself: 'My life is like a
wind. It blows and will cease.' But something says in reply: 'Wouldst
thou not be one of God's winds, content to blow, and scatter the rain
and dew, and shake the plants into fresh life, and then pass away and
know nothing of what thou hast done?' And I answer: 'Yes, Lord."'

"You are not a wind; you are a poet, Mr. Bloomfield," I said, with
emotion.

"One of the speechless ones, then," he returned, with a smile that
showed plainly enough that the speechless longed for utterance. It was
such a smile as would, upon the face of a child, wile anything out of
you. Surely God, who needs no wiles to make him give what one is ready
to receive, will let him sing some day, to his heart's content! And
me, too, O Lord, I pray.

"What a pleasure it must be to you now, to have such a man as
Mr. Armstrong for your curate! He will be a brother to you," I said,
as soon as I could speak.

"Mr. Smith, I cannot tell you what he is to me already. He is doing
what I would fain have done--what was denied to me."

"How do you mean?"

"I studied for the church. But I aimed too high. My heart burned
within me, but my powers were small. I wanted to relight the ancient
lamp, but my rush-light would not kindle it. My friends saw no light;
they only smelt burning: I was heterodox. I hesitated, I feared, I
yielded, I withdrew. To this day, I do not know whether I did right or
wrong. But I am honoured yet in being allowed to teach. And if at the
last I have the faintest 'Well done' from the Master, I shall be
satisfied."

Mrs. Bloomfield was gently weeping; partly from regret, as I judged,
that her husband was not in the position she would have given him,
partly from delight in his manly goodness. A watery film stood in the
schoolmaster's eyes, and his wise gentle face was irradiated with the
light of a far-off morning, whose dawn was visible to his hope.

"The world is the better for you at least, Mr. Bloomfield," I said. "I
wish some more of us were as sure as you of helping on the daily
Creation, which is quite as certain a fact as that of old; and is even
more important to us, than that recorded in the book of Genesis. It is
not great battles alone that build up the world's history, nor great
poems alone that make the generations grow. There is a still small
rain from heaven that has more to do with the blessedness of nature
and of human nature, than the mightiest earthquake, or the loveliest
rainbow."

"I do comfort myself," he answered, "at this Christmas-time, and for
the whole year, with the thought that, after all, the world was saved
by a child.--But that brings me to think of a little trouble I am in,
Mr. Smith. The only paper I have, at all fit for reading to-morrow
night, is much too short to occupy the evening. What is to be done?"

"Oh! we can talk about it."

"That is just what I could not bear. It is rather an odd composition,
I fear; but whether it be worth anything or not, I cannot help having
a great affection for it."

"Then it is true, I presume?"

"There again! That is just one of the questions I don't want to
answer. I quite sympathized with you last night in not wishing to know
how much of Mr. Armstrong's story was true. Even if wholly fictitious,
a good story is always true. But there are things which one would have
no right to invent, which would be worth nothing if they were
invented, from the very circumstance of their origin in the brain, and
not in the world. The very beauty of them demands that they should be
fact; or, if not, that they should not be told--sent out poor
unclothed spirits into the world before a body of fact has been
prepared for them. But I have always found it impossible to define the
kinds of stories I mean. The nearest I can come to it is this: If the
force of the lesson depends on the story being a fact, it must not be
told except it is a fact. Then again, there are true things that one
would be shy of telling, if he thought they would be attributed to
himself. Now this story of mine is made up of fiction and fact both.
And I fear that if I were called upon to take it to pieces, it would
lose the force of any little truth it possesses, besides exposing me
to what I would gladly avoid. Indeed I fear I ought not to read it at
all."

"You are amongst friends, you know, Mr. Bloomfield."

"Entirely?" he asked, with a half comic expression.

"Well," I answered, laughing, "any exception that may exist, is hardly
worth considering, and indeed ought to be thankfully accepted, as
tending to wholesomeness. Neither vinegar nor mustard would be
desirable as food, you know; yet--"

"I understand you. I am ashamed of having made such a fuss about
nothing. I will do my best, I assure you."

I fear that the fastidiousness of the good man will not be excuse
enough for the introduction of such a long preamble to a story for
which only a few will in the least care. But the said preamble
happening to touch on some interesting subjects, I thought it well to
record it. As to the story itself, there are some remarks of Balzac in
the introduction to one of his, that would well apply to the
schoolmaster's. They are to the effect that some stories which have
nothing in them as stories, yet fill one with an interest both gentle
and profound, if they are read in the mood that is exactly fitted for
their just reception.

Mr. Bloomfield conducted me to the door.

"I hope you will not think me a grumbler," he said; "I should not like
your disapprobation, Mr. Smith."

"You do me great honour," I said, honestly. "Believe me there is no
danger of that. I understand and sympathize with you entirely."

"My love of approbation is large," he said, tapping the bump referred
to with his forefinger. "Excuse it and me too."

"There is no need, my dear friend," I said, "if I may call you such."

His answer was a warm squeeze of the hand, with which we parted.

As I returned home, I met Henry Armstrong, mounted on a bay mare of a
far different sort from what a sportsman would consider a doctor
justified in using for his purposes. In fact she was a thorough
hunter; no beauty certainly, with her ewe-neck, drooping tail, and
white face and stocking; but she had an eye at once gentle and wild as
that of a savage angel, if my reader will condescend to dream for a
moment of such an anomaly; while her hind quarters were power itself,
and her foreleg was flung right out from the shoulder with a gesture
not of work but of delight; the step itself being entirely one of
work,--long in proportion to its height. The lines of her fore and
hind-quarters converged so much, that there was hardly more than room
for the saddle between them. I had never seen such action. Altogether,
although not much of a hunting man, the motion of the creature gave me
such a sense of power and joy, that I longed to be scouring the fields
with her under me. It was a sunshiny day, with a keen cold air, and a
thin sprinkling of snow; and Harry looked so radiant with health, that
one could easily believe he had health to convey, if not to bestow. He
stopped and inquired after his patient.

"Could you not get her to go out with you, Mr. Smith?" he said.

"Would that be safe, Mr. Henry?"

"Perfectly safe, if she is willing to go; not otherwise. Get her to go
willingly for ten minutes, and see if she is not the better for it.
What I want is to make the blood go quicker and more plentifully
through her brain. She has not fever enough. She does not live fast
enough."

"I will try," I said. "Have you been far to-day?"

"Just come out. You might tell that by the mare. You should see her
three hours after this."

And he patted her neck as if he loved her--as I am sure he did--and
trotted gently away.

When I came up to the gate, Beeves was standing at it.

"A nice gentleman that, sir!" said he.

"He is, Beeves. I quite agree with you."

"And rides a good mare, sir; and rides as well as any man in the
country. I never see him leave home in a hurry. Always goes gently
out, and comes gently in. What has gone between, you may see by her
skin when she comes home."

"Does he hunt, Beeves?"

"I believe not, sir; except the fox crosses him in one of his
rounds. Then if he is heading anywhere in his direction, they say
doctor and mare go at it like mad. He's got two more in his stable,
better horses to look at; but that's the one to go."

"I wonder how he affords such animals."

"They say he has a way of buying them lame, and a wonderful knack of
setting them up again. They all go, anyhow."

"Will you say to your mistress, that I should like very much if she
would come to me here."

Beeves stared, but said, "Yes, sir," and went in. I was now standing
in front of the house, doubtful of the reception Adela would give my
message, but judging that curiosity would aid my desire. I was right.
Beeves came back with the message that his mistress would join me in a
few minutes. In a quarter of an hour she came, wrapt in furs. She was
very pale, but her eye was brighter than usual, and it did not shrink
from the cold glitter of the snow. She put her arm in mine, and we
walked for ten minutes along the dry gravel walks, chatting
cheerfully, about anything and nothing.

"Now you must go in," I said.

"Not yet, surely, uncle. By the bye, do you think it was right of me
to come out?"

"Mr. Henry Armstrong said you might."

She did not reply, but I thought a slight rose-colour tinged her
cheek.

"But he said you must not be out more than ten minutes."

"Well, I suppose I must do as I am told."

And she turned at once, and went up the stair to the door, almost as
lightly as any other girl of her age.

There was some progress, plainly enough. But was that a rose-tinge I
had seen on her cheek or not?

The next evening, after tea, we arranged ourselves much as on the last
occasion; and Mr. Bloomfield, taking a neat manuscript from his
pocket, and evidently restraining himself from apology and
explanation, although as evidently nervous about the whole proceeding,
and jealous of his own presumption, began to read as follows.

His voice trembled as he read, and his wife's face was a shade or two
paler than usual.

    "BIRTH, DREAMING, AND DEATH.

"In a little room, scantily furnished, lighted, not from the window,
for it was dark without, and the shutters were closed, but from the
peaked flame of a small, clear-burning lamp, sat a young man, with his
back to the lamp and his face to the fire. No book or paper on the
table indicated labour just forsaken; nor could one tell from his
eyes, in which the light had all retreated inwards, whether his
consciousness was absorbed in thought, or reverie only. The window
curtains, which scarcely concealed the shutters, were of coarse
texture, but of brilliant scarlet--for he loved bright colours; and
the faint reflection they threw on his pale, thin face, made it look
more delicate than it would have seemed in pure daylight. Two or three
bookshelves, suspended by cords from a nail in the wall, contained a
collection of books, poverty-stricken as to numbers, with but few to
fill up the chronological gap between the Greek New Testament and
stray volumes of the poets of the present century. But his love for
the souls of his individual books was the stronger that there was no
possibility of its degenerating into avarice for the bodies or
outsides whose aggregate constitutes the piece of house-furniture
called a library.

"Some years before, the young man (my story is so short, and calls in
so few personages, that I need not give him a name) had aspired, under
the influence of religious and sympathetic feeling, to be a clergyman;
but Providence, either in the form of poverty, or of theological
difficulty, had prevented his prosecuting his studies to that end. And
now he was only a village schoolmaster, nor likely to advance
further. I have said _only_ a village schoolmaster; but is it not
better to be a teacher _of_ babes than a preacher _to_ men, at any
time; not to speak of those troublous times of transition, wherein a
difference of degree must so often assume the appearance of a
difference of kind? That man is more happy--I will not say more
blessed--who, loving boys and girls, is loved and revered by them,
than he who, ministering unto men and women, is compelled to pour his
words into the filter of religious suspicion, whence the water is
allowed to pass away unheeded, and only the residuum is retained for
the analysis of ignorant party-spirit.

"He had married a simple village girl, in whose eyes he was nobler
than the noblest--to whom he was the mirror, in which the real forms
of all things around were reflected. Who dares pity my poor village
schoolmaster? I fling his pity away. Had he not found in her love the
verdict of God, that he was worth loving? Did he not in her possess
the eternal and unchangeable? Were not her eyes openings through which
he looked into the great depths that could not be measured or
represented? She was his public, his society, his critic. He found in
her the heaven of his rest. God gave unto him immortality, and he was
glad. For his ambition, it had died of its own mortality. He read the
words of Jesus, and the words of great prophets whom he has sent; and
learned that the wind-tossed anemone is a word of God as real and true
as the unbending oak beneath which it grows--that reality is an
absolute existence precluding degrees. If his mind was, as his room,
scantily furnished, it was yet lofty; if his light was small, it was
brilliant. God lived, and he lived. Perhaps the highest moral height
which a man can reach, and at the same time the most difficult of
attainment, is the willingness to be _nothing_ relatively, so that he
attain that positive excellence which the original conditions of his
being render not merely possible, but imperative. It is nothing to a
man to be greater or less than another--to be esteemed or otherwise by
the public or private world in which he moves. Does he, or does he
not, behold and love and live the unchangeable, the essential, the
divine? This he can only do according as God has made him. He can
behold and understand God in the least degree, as well as in the
greatest, only by the godlike within him; and he that loves thus the
good and great has no room, no thought, no necessity for comparison
and difference. The truth satisfies him. He lives in its
absoluteness. God makes the glow-worm as well as the star; the light
in both is divine. If mine be an earth-star to gladden the wayside, I
must cultivate humbly and rejoicingly its green earth-glow, and not
seek to blanch it to the whiteness of the stars that lie in the fields
of blue. For to deny God in my own being is to cease to behold him in
any. God and man can meet only by the man's becoming that which God
meant him to be. Then he enters into the house of life, which is
greater than the house of fame. It is better to be a child in a green
field, than a knight of many orders in a state ceremonial.

"All night long he had sat there, and morning was drawing nigh. He has
not heard the busy wind all night, heaping up snow against the house,
which will make him start at the ghostly face of the world when at
length he opens the shutters, and it stares upon him so white. For up
in a little room above, white-curtained, like the great earth without,
there has been a storm, too, half the night--moanings and prayers--and
some forbidden tears; but now, at length, it is over; and through the
portals of two mouths instead of one, flows and ebbs the tide of the
great air-sea which feeds the life of man. With the sorrow of the
mother, the new life is purchased for the child; our very being is
redeemed from nothingness with the pains of a death of which we know
nothing.

"An hour has gone by since the watcher below has been delivered from
the fear and doubt that held him. He has seen the mother and the
child--the first she has given to life and him--and has returned to
his lonely room, quiet and glad.

"But not long did he sit thus before thoughts of doubt awoke in his
mind. He remembered his scanty income, and the somewhat feeble health
of his wife. One or two small debts he had contracted, seemed
absolutely to press on his bosom; and the newborn child--'oh! how
doubly welcome,' he thought, 'if I were but half as rich again as I
am!'--brought with it, as its own love, so its own care. The dogs of
need, that so often hunt us up to heaven, seemed hard upon his heels;
and he prayed to God with fervour; and as he prayed he fell asleep in
his chair, and as he slept he dreamed. The fire and the lamp burned on
as before, but threw no rays into his soul; yet now, for the first
time, he seemed to become aware of the storm without; for his dream
was as follows:--

"He lay in his bed, and listened to the howling of the wintry wind. He
trembled at the thought of the pitiless cold, and turned to sleep
again, when he thought he heard a feeble knocking at the door. He rose
in haste, and went down with a light. As he opened the door, the wind,
entering with a gust of frosty particles, blew out his candle; but he
found it unnecessary, for the grey dawn had come. Looking out, he saw
nothing at first; but a second look, turned downwards, showed him a
little half-frozen child, who looked quietly, but beseechingly, in his
face. His hair was filled with drifted snow, and his little hands and
cheeks were blue with cold. The heart of the schoolmaster swelled to
bursting with the spring-flood of love and pity that rose up within
it. He lifted the child to his bosom, and carried him into the house;
where, in the dream's incongruity, he found a fire blazing in the room
in which he now slept. The child said never a word. He set him by the
fire, and made haste to get hot water, and put him in a warm bath. He
never doubted that this was a stray orphan who had wandered to him for
protection, and he felt that he could not part with him again; even
though the train of his previous troubles and doubts once more passed
through the mind of the dreamer, and there seemed no answer to his
perplexities for the lack of that cheap thing, gold--yea, silver. But
when he had undressed and bathed the little orphan, and having dried
him on his knees, set him down to reach something warm to wrap him in,
the boy suddenly looked up in his face, as if revived, and said with a
heavenly smile, 'I am the child Jesus.' 'The child Jesus!' said the
dreamer, astonished. 'Thou art like any other child.' 'No, do not say
so,' returned the boy; 'but say, _Any other child is like me_.' And
the child and the dream slowly faded away; and he awoke with these
words sounding in his heart--'Whosoever shall receiveth one of such
children in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me,
receiveth not me, but him that sent me.' It was the voice of God
saying to him: 'Thou wouldst receive the child whom I sent thee out of
the cold, stormy night; receive the new child out of the cold waste
into the warm human house, as the door by which it can enter God's
house, its home. If better could be done for it, or for thee, would I
have sent it hither? Through thy love, my little one must learn my
love and be blessed. And thou shall not keep it without thy reward.
For thy necessities--in thy little house, is there not yet room? in
thy barrel, is there not yet meal? and thy purse is not empty quite.
Thou canst not eat more than a mouthful at once. I have made thee
so. Is it any trouble to me to take care of thee? Only I prefer to
feed thee from my own hand, and not from thy store.'And the
schoolmaster sprang up in joy, ran upstairs, kissed his wife, and
clasped the baby in his arms in the name of the child Jesus. And in
that embrace, he knew that he received God to his heart. Soon, with a
tender, beaming face, he was wading through the snow to the
school-house, where he spent a happy day amidst the rosy faces and
bright eyes of his boys and girls. These, likewise, he loved the more
dearly and joyfully for that dream, and those words in his heart; so
that, amidst their true child-faces, (all going well with them, as not
unfrequently happened in his schoolroom), he felt as if all the
elements of Paradise were gathered around him, and knew that he was
God's child, doing God's work.

"But while that dream was passing through the soul of the husband,
another visited the wife, as she lay in the faintness and trembling
joy of the new motherhood. For although she that has been mother
before, is not the less a new mother to the new child, her former
relation not covering with its wings the fresh bird in the nest of her
bosom, yet there must be a peculiar delight in the thoughts and
feelings that come with the first-born.--As she lay half in a sleep,
half in a faint, with the vapours of a gentle delirium floating
through her brain, without losing the sense of existence she lost the
consciousness of its form, and thought she lay, not a young mother in
her bed, but a nosegay of wild flowers in a basket, crushed, flattened
and half-withered. With her in the basket lay other bunches of
flowers, whose odours, some rare as well as rich, revealed to her the
sad contrast in which she was placed. Beside her lay a cluster of
delicately curved, faintly tinged, tea-scented roses; while she was
only blue hyacinth bells, pale primroses, amethyst anemones, closed
blood-coloured daisies, purple violets, and one sweet-scented, pure
white orchis. The basket lay on the counter of a well-known little
shop in the village, waiting for purchasers. By and by her own husband
entered the shop, and approached the basket to choose a nosegay. 'Ah!'
thought she, 'will he choose me? How dreadful if he should not, and I
should be left lying here, while he takes another! But how should he
choose me? They are all so beautiful; and even my scent is nearly
gone. And he cannot know that it is I lying here. Alas! alas!' But as
she thought thus, she felt his hand clasp her, heard the ransom-money
fall, and felt that she was pressed to his face and lips, as he passed
from the shop. He _had_ chosen her; he _had_ known her. She opened her
eyes: her husband's kiss had awakened her. She did not speak, but
looked up thankfully in his eyes, as if he had, in fact, like one of
the old knights, delivered her from the transformation of some evil
magic, by the counter-enchantment of a kiss, and restored her from a
half-withered nosegay to be a woman, a wife, a mother. The dream
comforted her much, for she had often feared that she, the simple,
so-called uneducated girl, could not be enough for the great
schoolmaster. But soon her thoughts flowed into another channel; the
tears rose in her dark eyes, shining clear from beneath a stream that
was not of sorrow; and it was only weakness that kept her from
uttering audible words like these:--'Father in heaven, shall I trust
my husband's love, and doubt thine? Wilt thou meet less richly the
fearing hope of thy child's heart, than he in my dream met the longing
of his wife's? He was perfected in my eyes by the love he bore
me--shall I find thee less complete? Here I lie on thy world, faint,
and crushed, and withered; and my soul often seems as if it had lost
all the odours that should float up in the sweet-smelling savour of
thankfulness and love to thee. But thou hast only to take me, only to
choose me, only to clasp me to thy bosom, and I shall be a beautiful
singing angel, singing to God, and comforting my husband while I
sing. Father, take me, possess me, fill me!'

"So she lay patiently waiting for the summer-time of restored strength
that drew slowly nigh. With her husband and her child near her, in her
soul, and God everywhere, there was for her no death, and no
hurt. When she said to herself, 'How rich I am!' it was with the
riches that pass not away--the riches of the Son of man; for in her
treasures, the human and the divine were blended--were one.

"But there was a hard trial in store for them. They had learned to
receive what the Father sent: they had now to learn that what he gave
he gave eternally, after his own being--his own glory. For ere the
mother awoke from her first sleep, the baby, like a frolicsome
child-angel, that but tapped at his mother's window and fled--the baby
died; died while the mother slept away the pangs of its birth, died
while the father was teaching other babes out of the joy of his new
fatherhood.

"When the mother woke, she lay still in her joy--the joy of a doubled
life; and knew not that death had been there, and had left behind only
the little human coffin.

"'Nurse, bring me the baby,' she said at last. 'I want to see it.'

"But the nurse pretended not to hear.

"'I want to nurse it. Bring it.'

"She had not yet learned to say _him_; for it was her first baby.

"But the nurse went out of the room, and remained some minutes
away. When she returned, the mother spoke more absolutely, and the
nurse was compelled to reply--at last.

"'Nurse, do bring me the baby; I am quite able to nurse it now.'

"'Not yet, if you please, ma'am. Really you must rest a while
first. Do try to go to sleep.'

"The nurse spoke steadily, and looked her too straight in the face;
and there was a constraint in her voice, a determination to be calm,
that at once roused the suspicion of the mother; for though her
first-born was dead, and she had given birth to what was now, as far
as the eye could reach, the waxen image of a son, a child had come
from God, and had departed to him again; and she was his mother.

"And the fear fell upon her heart that it might be as it was; and,
looking at her attendant with a face blanched yet more with fear than
with suffering, she said,

"'Nurse, is the baby--?'

"She could not say _dead_; for to utter the word would be at once to
make it possible that the only fruit of her labour had been pain and
sorrow.

"But the nurse saw that further concealment was impossible; and,
without another word, went and fetched the husband, who, with face
pale as the mother's, brought the baby, dressed in its white clothes,
and laid it by its mother's side, where it lay too still.

"'Oh, ma'am, do not take on so,' said the nurse, as she saw the face
of the mother grow like the face of the child, as if she were about to
rush after him into the dark.

"But she was not 'taking on' at all. She only felt that pain at her
heart, which is the farewell kiss of a long-cherished joy. Though cast
out of paradise into a world that looked very dull and weary, yet,
used to suffering, and always claiming from God the consolation it
needed, and satisfied with that, she was able, presently, to look up
in her husband's face, and try to reassure him of her well-being by a
dreary smile.

"'Leave the baby,' she said; and they left it where it was. Long and
earnestly she gazed on the perfect tiny features of the little
alabaster countenance, and tried to feel that this was the child she
had been so long waiting for. As she looked, she fancied she heard it
breathe, and she thought--'What if it should be only asleep!' but,
alas! the eyes would not open, and when she drew it close to her, she
shivered to feel it so cold. At length, as her eyes wandered over and
over the little face, a look of her husband dawned unexpectedly upon
it; and, as if the wife's heart awoke the mother's she cried out,
'Baby! baby!' and burst into tears, during which weeping she fell
asleep.

"When she awoke, she found the babe had been removed while she slept.
But the unsatisfied heart of the mother longed to look again on the
form of the child; and again, though with remonstrance from the nurse,
it was laid beside her. All day and all night long, it remained by her
side, like a little frozen thing that had wandered from its home, and
now lay dead by the door.

"Next morning the nurse protested that she must part with it, for it
made her fret; but she knew it quieted her, and she would rather keep
her little lifeless babe. At length the nurse appealed to the father;
and the mother feared he would think it necessary to remove it; but to
her joy and gratitude he said, 'No, no; let her keep it as long as she
likes.' And she loved her husband the more for that; for he understood
her.

"Then she had the cradle brought near the bed, all ready as it was for
a live child that had open eyes, and therefore needed sleep--needed
the lids of the brain to close, when it was filled full of the strange
colours and forms of the new world. But this one needed no cradle, for
it slept on. It needed, instead of the little curtains to darken it to
sleep, a great sunlight to wake it up from the darkness, and the
ever-satisfied rest. Yet she laid it in the cradle, which she had set
near her, where she could see it, with the little hand and arm laid
out on the white coverlet. If she could only keep it so! Could not
something be done, if not to awake it, yet to turn it to stone, and
let it remain so for ever? No; the body must go back to its mother,
the earth, and the _form_ which is immortal, being the thought of God,
must go back to its Father--the Maker. And as it lay in the white
cradle, a white coffin was being made for it. And the mother thought:
'I wonder which trees are growing coffins for my husband and me.'

"But ere the child, that had the prayer of Job in his grief, and had
died from its mother's womb, was carried away to be buried, the mother
prayed over it this prayer:--'O God, if thou wilt not let me be a
mother, I have one refuge: I will go back and be a child: I will be
thy child more than ever. My mother-heart will find relief in
childhood towards its Father. For is it not the same nature that makes
the true mother and the true child? Is it not the same thought
blossoming upward and blossoming downward? So there is God the Father
and God the Son. Thou wilt keep my little son for me. He has gone home
to be nursed for me. And when I grow well, I will be more simple, and
truthful, and joyful in thy sight. And now thou art taking away my
child, my plaything, from me. But I think how pleased I should be, if
I had a daughter, and she loved me so well that she only smiled when I
took her plaything from her. Oh! I will not disappoint thee--thou
shall have thy joy. Here I am, do with me what thou wilt; I will only
smile.'

"And how fared the heart of the father? At first, in the bitterness of
his grief, he called the loss of his child a punishment for his doubt
and unbelief; and the feeling of punishment made the stroke more keen,
and the heart less willing to endure it. But better thoughts woke
within him ere long.

"The old woman who swept out his schoolroom, came in the evening to
inquire after the mistress, and to offer her condolences on the loss
of the baby. She came likewise to tell the news, that a certain old
man of little respectability had departed at last, unregretted by a
single soul in the village but herself, who had been his nurse through
the last tedious illness.

"The schoolmaster thought with himself:

"'Can that soiled and withered leaf of a man, and my little snow-flake
of a baby, have gone the same road? Will they meet by the way? Can
they talk about the same thing--anything? They must part on the
boarders of the shining land, and they could hardly speak by the way.'

"'He will live four-and-twenty hours, nurse,' the doctor had said.

"'No, doctor; he will die to-night,' the nurse had replied; during
which whispered dialogue, the patient had lain breathing quietly, for
the last of suffering was nearly over.

He was at the close of an ill-spent life, not so much selfishly
towards others as indulgently towards himself. He had failed of true
joy by trying often and perseveringly to create a false one; and now,
about to knock at the gate of the other world, he bore with him no
burden of the good things of this; and one might be tempted to say of
him, that it were better he had not been born. The great majestic
mystery lay before him--but when would he see its majesty?

"He was dying thus, because he had tried to live as Nature said he
should not live; and he had taken his own wages--for the law of the
Maker is the necessity of his creature. His own children had forsaken
him, for they were not perfect as their Father in heaven, who maketh
his sun to shine on the evil and on the good. Instead of doubling
their care as his need doubled, they had thought of the disgrace he
brought on them, and not of the duty they owed him; and now, left to
die alone for them, he was waited on by this hired nurse, who,
familiar with death-beds, knew better than the doctor--knew that he
could live only a few hours.

"Stooping to his ear, she had told him, as gently as she could--for
she thought she ought not to conceal it--that he must die that night.
He had lain silent for a few moments; then had called her, and, with
broken and failing voice, had said, 'Nurse, you are the only friend I
have: give me one kiss before I die.' And the woman-heart had answered
the prayer.

"'And,' said the old woman, 'he put his arms round my neck, and gave
me a long kiss, such a long kiss! and then he turned his face away,
and never spoke again.'

"So, with the last unction of a woman's kiss, with this baptism for
the dead, he had departed.

"'Poor old man! he had not quite destroyed his heart yet,' thought the
schoolmaster. 'Surely it was the child-nature that woke in him at the
last, when the only thing left for his soul to desire, the only thing
he could think of as a preparation for the dread something, was a
kiss. Strange conjunction, yet simple and natural! Eternity--a kiss.
Kiss me; for I am going to the Unknown!--Poor old man!' the
schoolmaster went on in his thoughts, 'I hope my baby has met him, and
put his tiny hand in the poor old shaking hand, and so led him across
the borders into the shining land, and up to where Jesus sits, and
said to the Lord: "Lord, forgive this old man, for he knew not what he
did." And I trust the Lord has forgiven him.'

"And then the bereaved father fell on his knees, and cried out:

"'Lord, thou hast not punished me. Thou wouldst not punish for a
passing thought of troubled unbelief, with which I strove. Lord, take
my child and his mother and me, and do what thou wilt with us. I know
thou givest not, to take again.'

"And ere the schoolmaster could call his protestantism to his aid, he
had ended his prayer with the cry:

"'And O God! have mercy upon the poor old man, and lay not his sins to
his charge.'

"For, though a woman's kiss may comfort a man to eternity, it is not
all he needs. And the thought of his lost child had made the soul of
the father compassionate."

       *       *       *       *       *

He ceased, and we sat silent.

       *       *       *       *       *

END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.





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