Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Jonathan Ingram, David Garcia and Distributed Proofreaders
BY GEORGE MACDONALD
CONTENTS OF THE SECOND VOLUME.
II. THE CURATE AND HIS WIFE
III. THE SHADOWS
IV. THE EVENING AT THE CURATE'S
V. PERCY AND HIS MOTHER
VI. THE BROKEN SWORDS
VII. MY UNCLE PETER
I confess I was a little dismayed to find what a solemn turn the
club-stories had taken. But this dismay lasted for a moment only;
for I saw that Adela was deeply interested, again wearing the look
that indicates abstracted thought and feeling. I said to myself:
"This is very different mental fare from what you have been used to,
But she seemed able to mark, learn, and inwardly digest it, for she had
the appearance of one who is stilled by the strange newness of her
thoughts. I was sure that she was now experiencing a consciousness of
existence quite different from anything she had known before. But it
had a curious outcome.
For, when the silence began to grow painful, no one daring to ask a
question, and Mrs. Cathcart had resumed her knitting, Adela suddenly
rose, and going to the piano, struck a few chords, and began to sing.
The song was one of Heine's strange, ghost-dreams, so unreal in
everything but feeling, and therefore, as dreams, so true. Why did she
choose such a song after what we had been listening to? I accounted for
it by the supposition that, being but poorly provided as far as variety
in music went, this was the only thing suggested to her by the tone of
the paper, and, therefore, the nearest she could come to it. It served,
however, to make a change and a transition; which was, as I thought,
very desirable, lest any of the company should be scared from attending
the club; and I resolved that I would divert the current, next time,
if I could.
This was what Adela sang; and the singing of it was evidently a relief
I dreamt of the daughter of a king,
With a cheek white, wet, and chill;
Under the limes we sat murmuring,
And holding each other so still!
"Oh! not thy father's sceptre of gold,
Nor yet his shining throne,
Nor his diamond crown that glitters cold--
'Tis thyself I want, my own!"
"Oh! that is too good," she answered me;
"I lie in the grave all day;
And only at night I come to thee,
For I cannot keep away."
It was something that she had volunteered a song, whatever it was. But
it is a misfortune that, in writing a book, one cannot give the music of
a song. Perhaps, by the time that music has its fair part in education,
this may be done. But, meantime, we mention the fact of a song, and then
give the words, as if that were the song. The music is the song, and the
words are no more than the saddle on which the music sits, the singer
being the horse, who could do without a saddle well enough.--May Adela
forgive the comparison!--At the same time, a true-word song has music of
its own, and is quite independent, for its music, both of that which it
may beget, and of that with which it may be associated.
As she rose, she glanced towards the doctor, and said:
"Now it is your turn, Mr. Armstrong."
Harry did not wait for a second invitation; for to sing was to him
evidently a pleasure too great to be put in jeopardy. He rose at once,
and sitting down at the instrument, sang--I cannot say _as
follows_, you see; I can only say _the following words_:
Autumn clouds are flying, flying,
O'er the waste of blue;
Summer flowers are dying, dying,
Late so lovely new.
Labouring wains are slowly rolling
Home with winter grain;
Holy bells are slowly tolling
Over buried men.
Goldener lights set noon a-sleeping
Like an afternoon;
Colder airs come stealing, creeping
After sun and moon;
And the leaves, all tired of blowing
Cloudlike o'er the sun,
Change to sunset-colours, knowing
That their day is done.
Autumn's sun is sinking, sinking
Into Winter's night;
And our hearts are thinking, thinking
Of the cold and blight.
Our life's sun is slowly going
Down the hill of might;
Will our clouds shine golden-glowing
On the slope of night?
But the vanished corn is lying
In rich golden glooms.
In the churchyard, all the singing
Is above the tombs.
Spring will come, slow-lingering,
Opening buds of faith.
Man goes forth to meet his spring,
Through the door of death.
So we love, with no less loving,
Hair that turns to grey;
Or a step less lightly moving
In life's autumn day.
And if thought, still-brooding, lingers
O'er each bygone thing,
'Tis because old Autumn's fingers
Paint in hues of Spring.
The whole tone of this song was practical and true, and so was fitted to
correct the unhealthiness of imagination which might have been suspected
in the choice of the preceding. "Words and music," I said to myself,
"must here have come from the same hand; for they are one utterance.
There is no setting of words to music here; but the words have brought
their own music with them; and the music has brought its own words."
As Harry rose from the piano-forte, he said to me gaily:
"Now, Mr. Smith, it is your turn. I know when you sing, it will be
something worth listening to."
"Indeed, I hope so," I answered. "But the song-hour has not yet come to
me. How good you all ought to be who can sing! I feel as if my heart
would break with delight, if I could sing; and yet there is not a
sparrow on the housetop that cannot sing a better song than I."
"Your hour will come," said the clergyman, solemnly. "Then you will
sing, and all we shall listen. There is no inborn longing that shall not
be fulfilled. I think that is as certain as the forgiveness of sins.
Meantime, while your singing-robes are making, I will take your place
with my song, if Miss Cathcart will allow me."
"Do, please," said Adela, very heartily; "we shall all be delighted."
The clergyman sang, and sang even better than his brother. And these
were the words of his song:
_The Mother Mary to the infant Jesus._
'Tis time to sleep, my little boy;
Why gaze they bright eyes so?
At night, earth's children, for new joy,
Home to thy Father go.
But thou art wakeful. Sleep, my child;
The moon and stars are gone;
The wind and snow they grow more wild,
And thou art smiling on.
My child, thou hast immortal eyes,
That see by their own light;
They see the innocent blood--it lies
Red-glowing through the night.
Through wind and storm unto thine ear
Cry after cry doth run;
And yet thou seemest not to hear,
And only smilest on.
When first thou earnest to the earth,
All sounds of strife were still;
A silence lay around thy birth,
And thou didst sleep thy fill.
Why sleep'st thou--nay, why weep'st thou not?
Thy earth is woe-begone;
Babies and mothers wail their lot,
And still thou smilest on.
I read thine eyes like holy book;
No strife is pictured there;
Upon thy face I see the look
Of one who answers prayer.
Ah, yes!--Thine eyes, beyond this wild,
Behold God's will well done;
Men's songs thine ears are hearing, child;
And so thou smilest on.
The prodigals arise and go,
And God goes forth to meet;
Thou seest them gather, weeping low,
About the Father's feet.
And for their brothers men must bear,
Till all are homeward gone.
O Eyes, ye see my answered prayer!
Smile, Son of God, smile on.
As soon as the vibrations of this song, I do not mean on the chords of
the instrument, but in the echo-caves of our bosoms, had ceased, I
turned to the doctor and said:
"Are you ready with your story yet, Mr. Henry?"
"Oh, dear no!" he answered--"not for days. I am not an idle man like
you, Mr. Smith. I belong to the labouring class."
I knew that he could not have it ready.
"Well," I said, "if our friends have no objection, I will give you
another myself next time."
"Oh! thank you, uncle," said Adela.--"Another fairy tale, please."
"I can't promise you another fairy-tale just yet, but I can promise you
something equally absurd, if that will do."
"Oh yes! Anything you like, uncle. _I_, for one, am sure to like
what you like."
"Thank you, my dear. Now I will go; for I see the doctor waiting to have
a word with you."
The company took their leave, and the doctor was not two minutes behind
them; for as I went up to my room, after asking the curate when I might
call upon him, I saw him come out of the drawing-room and go down
"Monday evening, then," I had heard the colonel say, as he followed his
guests to the hall.
THE CURATE AND HIS WIFE.
As I approached the door of the little house in which the curate had so
lately taken up his abode, he saw me from the window, and before I had
had time to knock, he had opened the door.
"Come in," he said. "I saw you coming. Come to my den, and we will have
a pipe together."
"I have brought some of my favourite cigars," I said, "and I want you to
"With all my heart."
The room to which he led me was small, but disfigured with no offensive
tidiness. Not a spot of wall was to be seen for books, and yet there
were not many books after all. We sat for some minutes enjoying the
fragrance of the western incense, without other communion than that of
the clouds we were blowing, and what I gathered from the walls. For I am
old enough, as I have already confessed, to be getting long-sighted, and
I made use of the gift in reading the names of the curate's books, as I
had read those of his brother's. They were mostly books of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, with a large admixture from the nineteenth,
and more than the usual proportion of the German classics; though,
strange to say, not a single volume of German Theology could I discover.
The curate was the first to break the silence.
"I find this a very painful cigar," he said, with a half laugh.
"I am sorry you don't like it. Try another."
"The cigar is magnificent."
"Isn't it thoroughfare, then?"
"Oh yes! the cigar's all right. I haven't smoked such a cigar for more
than ten years; and that's the reason."
"I wish I had known you seven years, Mr. Armstrong."
"You have known me a hundred and seven."
"Then I have a right to--"
"Poke my fire as much as you please."
And as Mr. Armstrong said so, he poked his own chest, to signify the
symbolism of his words.
"Then I should like to know something of your early history--something
to account for the fact that a man like you, at your time of life, is
only a curate."
"I can do all that, and account for the pain your cigar gives me, in one
and the same story."
I sat full of expectation.
"You won't find me long-winded, I hope."
"No fear of that. Begin directly. I adjure you by our friendship of a
"My father was a clergyman before me; one of those simple-hearted men
who think that to be good and kind is the first step towards doing God's
work; but who are too modest, too ignorant, and sometimes too indolent
to aspire to any second step, or even to inquire what the second step
may be. The poor in his parish loved him and preyed upon him. He gave
and gave, even after he had no more that he had a right to give.
"He was not by any means a rich man, although he had a little property
besides his benefice; but he managed to send me to Oxford. Inheriting,
as I suspect, a little tendency to extravagance; having at least no love
of money except for what it would bring; and seeing how easily money
might be raised there for need true or false, I gradually learned to
think less and less of the burdens grievous to be borne, which a
subjection to Mammon will accumulate on the shoulders of the
unsuspecting ass. I think the old man of the sea in _Sindbad the
Sailor_, must personify debt. At least _I_ have found reason to
think so. At the same time I wish I had done nothing worse than run into
debt. Yet by far the greater part of it was incurred for the sake of
having works of art about me. Of course pictures were out of the
question; but good engravings and casts were within the reach of a
borrower. At least it was not for the sake of whip-handles and trowsers,
that I fell into the clutches of Moses Melchizedek, for that was the
name of the devil to whom I betrayed my soul for money. Emulation,
however, mingled with the love of art; and I must confess too, that
cigars costs me money as well as pictures; and as I have already hinted,
there was worse behind. But some things we can only speak to God about.
"I shall never forget the oily face of the villain--may God save him,
and then he'll be no villain!--as he first hinted that he would lend me
any money I might want, upon certain insignificant conditions, such as
signing for a hundred and fifty, where I should receive only a hundred.
The sunrise of the future glowed so golden, that it seemed to me the
easiest thing in the world to pay my debts _there_. Here, there was
what I wanted, cigars and all. There, there must be gold, else whence
the hue? I could pay all my debts in the future, with the utmost ease.
_How_ was no matter. I borrowed and borrowed. I flattered myself,
besides, that in the things I bought I held money's worth; which, in the
main, would have been true, if I had been a dealer in such things; but a
mere owner can seldom get the worth of what he possesses, especially
when he cannot choose but sell, and has no choice of his market. So
when, horrified at last with the filth of the refuge into which I had
run to escape the bare walls of heaven, I sold off everything but a few
of my pet books"--here he glanced lovingly round his humble study, where
shone no glories of print or cast--"which I ought to have sold as well,
I found myself still a thousand pounds in debt.
"Now although I had never had a thousand pounds from Melchizedek, I had
known perfectly well what I was about. I had been deluded, but not
cheated; and in my deep I saw yet a lower depth, into which I
_would_ not fall--for then I felt I should be lost indeed--that of
in any way repudiating my debts. But what was to be done I had no idea.
"I had studied for the church, and I now took holy orders. I had a few
pounds a year from my mother's property, which all went in part-payment
of the interest of my debt, I dared not trouble my father with any
communication on the subject of my embarrassment, for I knew that he
could not help me, and that the impossibility of doing so would make him
more unhappy than the wrong I had done in involving myself. I seized the
first offer of a curacy that presented itself. Its emoluments were just
one hundred pounds a-year, of which I had _not_ to return twenty
pounds, as some curates have had to do. Out of this I had to pay one
half, in interest for the thousand pounds. On the other half, and the
trifle my mother allowed me, I contrived to live.
"But the debt continued undiminished. It lay upon me as a mountain might
crush a little Titan. There was no cracking frost, no cutting stream, to
wear away, by slowest trituration, that mountain of folly and
wickedness. But what I suffered most from was the fact, that I must seem
to the poor of my parish unsympathetic and unkind. For although I still
managed to give away a little, it seemed to me such a small shabby sum,
every time that I drew my hand from my pocket, in which perhaps I had
left still less, that it was with a positive feeling of shame that I
offered it. There was no high generosity in this. It was mostly
selfish--the effect of the transmission of my father's blind
benevolence, working as an impulse in me. But it made me wretched. Add
to this a feeling of hypocrisy, in the knowledge that I, the dispenser
of sacred things to the people, was myself the slave of a money-lending
Jew, and you will easily see how my life could not be to me the reality
which it must be, for any true and healthy action, to every man. In a
word, I felt that I was humbug. As to my preaching, that could not have
had much reality in it of any kind, for I had no experience yet of the
relation of Christian Faith to Christian Action. In fact, I regarded
them as separable--not merely as distinguishable, in the necessity which
our human nature, itself an analysis of the divine, has for analysing
itself. I respected everything connected with my profession, which I
regarded as in itself eminently respectable; but, then, it was only the
profession I respected, and I was only _doing church_ at best. I
have since altered my opinion about the profession, as such; and while I
love my work with all my heart, I do not care to think about its worldly
relations at all. The honour is to be a servant of men, whom God thought
worth making, worth allowing to sin, and worth helping out of it at such
a cost. But as far as regards the _profession_, is it a manly kind
of work, to put on a white gown once a week, and read out of a book; and
then put on a black gown, and read out of a paper you bought or wrote;
all about certain old time-honoured legends which have some influence in
keeping the common people on their good behaviour, by promising them
happiness after they are dead, if they are respectable, and everlasting
torture if they are blackguards? Is it manly?"
"You are scarcely fair to the profession even as such, Mr. Armstrong," I
"That's what I _feel_ about it," he answered. "Look here," he went
on, holding out a brawny right arm, with muscles like a prize-fighter's,
"they may laugh at what, by a happy hit, they have called muscular
christianity--I for one don't object to being laughed at--but I ask you,
is that work fit for a man to whom God has given an arm like that? I
declare to you, Smith, I would rather work in the docks, and leave the
_churching_ to the softs and dandies; for then I should be able to
respect myself as giving work for my bread, instead of drawing so many
pounds a-year for talking _goody_ to old wives and sentimental
young ladies;--for over men who are worth anything, such a man has no
influence. God forbid that I should be disrespectful to old women, or
even sentimental young ladies! They are worth _serving_ with a
man's whole heart, but not worth pampering. I am speaking of the
profession as professed by a mere clergyman--one in whom the
"But you can't use those splendid muscles of yours in the church."
"But I can give up the use of them for something better and nobler. They
indicate work; but if I can do real spiritual instead of corporeal work,
I rise in the scale. I sacrifice my thews on the altar of my faith. But
by the mere clergyman, there is no work done to correspond--I do not say
to _his_ capacity for work--but to the capacity for work indicated
by such a frame as mine--work of some sort, if not of the higher poetic
order, then of the lower porter-sort. But if there be a living God, who
is doing all he can to save men, to make them pure and noble and high,
humble and loving and true, to make them live the life he cares to live
himself; if he has revealed and is revealing this to men, and needs for
his purpose the work of their fellow-men, who have already seen and
known this purpose, surely there is no nobler office than that of a
parson; for to him is committed the grand work of letting men see the
thoughts of God, and the work of God--in a word, of telling the story of
Jesus, so that men shall see how true it is for _now_, how
beautiful it is for _ever_; and recognize it as in fact _the_
story of God. Then a clergyman has simply to be more of a man than other
men; whereas if he be but a clergyman, he is less of a man than any
other man who does honestly the work he has to do, whether he be
farm-labourer, shoemaker, or shopkeeper. For such a work, a man may well
pine in a dungeon, or starve in a curacy; yea, for such a work, a man
will endure the burden of having to dispense the wealth of a bishopric
after a divine fashion."
"But your story?" I said at last, unwilling as I was to interrupt his
"Yes. This brings me back to it. Here was I starving for no high
principle, only for the common-place one of paying my debts; and paying
my debts out of the church's money too, for which, scanty as it was, I
gave wretched labour--reading prayers as neatly as I could, and
preaching sermons half evangelical, half scholastic, of the most unreal
and uninteresting sort; feeling all the time hypocritical, as I have
already said; and without the farthest prospect of deliverance.
"Then I fell in love."
"Worse and worse!"
"So it seemed; but so it wasn't--like a great many things. At all
events, she's down stairs now, busy at a baby's frock, I believe; God
bless her! Lizzie is the daughter of a lieutenant in the army, who died
before I knew her. She was living with her mother and elder sister, on a
very scanty income, in the village where I had the good fortune to be
the unhappy curate. I believe I was too unhappy to make myself agreeable
to the few young ladies of my congregation, which is generally
considered one of the first duties of a curate, in order, no doubt, to
secure their co-operation in his charitable schemes; and certainly I do
not think I received any great attention from them--certainly not from
Lizzie. I thought she pitied and rather despised me. I don't know
whether she did, but I still suspect it. I am thankful to say I have no
ground for thinking she does now. But we have been through a kind of a
moderate burning fiery furnace together, and that brings out the sense,
and burns out the nonsense, in both men and women. Not that Lizzie had
much nonsense to be burned out of her, as you will soon see.
"I had often been fool enough to wonder that, while she was most
attentive and devout during the reading of the service, her face
assumed, during the sermon, a far off look of abstraction, that
indicated no reception of what I said, further than as an influence of
soporific quality. I felt that there was re-proof in this. In fact, it
roused my conscience yet more, and made me doubt whether there was
anything genuine in me at all. Sometimes I felt as if I really could not
go on, but must shut up my poor manuscript, which was 'an ill-favoured
thing, sir, but mine own,' and come down from the pulpit, and beg Miss
Lizzie Payton's pardon for presuming to read it in her presence. At
length that something, or rather want of something, in her quiet
unregarding eyes, aroused a certain opposition, ambition, indignation in
me. I strove to write better, and to do better generally. Every good
sentence, I launched at her--I don't quite know whether I aimed at her
heart or her head--I fear the latter; but I know that I looked after my
arrow with a hurried glance, to see whether it had reached the mark.
Seldom, however, did I find that my bow had had the strength to arouse
Miss Lizzie from the somniculose condition which, in my bitterness, I
attributed to her. Since then I have frequently tried to bring home to
her the charge, and wring from her the confession that, occasionally,
just occasionally, she was really overpowered by the weather. But she
has never admitted more than one such lapse, which, happening in a hard
frost, and the church being no warmer than condescension, she wickedly
remarked must have been owing, not to the weight of the atmosphere, but
the weight of something else. At length, in my anxiety for
self-justification, I persuaded myself that her behaviour was a sign of
spiritual insensibility; that she needed conversion; that she looked
with contempt from the far-off table-lands of the Broad church, or the
dizzy pinnacles of snow-clad Puseyism, upon the humble efforts of one
who followed in the footsteps of the first fishers of men--for such I
tried, in my self-protection, to consider myself.
"One day, I happened to meet her in a retired lane near the village. She
was carrying a jug in her hand.
"'How do you do, Miss Lizzie? A labour of love?' I said, ass that I was!
"'Yes,' she answered; 'I've been over to Farmer Dale's, to fetch some
cream for mamma's tea.'
"She knew well enough I had meant a ministration to the poor.
"'Oh! I beg your pardon,' I rejoined; 'I thought you had been round your
"This was wicked; for I knew quite well that she had no district.
"'No,' she answered, 'I leave that to my sister. Mamma is my district.
And do you know, her headaches are as painful as any washerwoman's.'
"This shut me up rather; but I plucked up courage presently.
"'You don't seem to like going to church, Miss Lizzie.'
"Her face flushed.
"'Who dares to say so? I am very regular in my attendance.'
"'Not a doubt of it. But you don't enjoy being there.'
"'Confess, now.--You don't like my sermons.'
"'Do you like them yourself, Mr. Armstrong?'
"Here was a floorer! Did I like them myself?--I really couldn't honestly
say I did. I was not greatly interested in them, further than as they
were my own, and my best attempts to say something about something I
knew nothing about. I was silent. She stood looking at me out of clear
"'Now you have begun this conversation, Mr. Armstrong, I will go on with
it,' she said, at length. 'It was not of my seeking.--I do not think you
believe what you say in the pulpit.'
"Not believe what I said! Did I believe what I said? Or did I only
believe that it was to be believed? The tables were turned with a
vengeance. Here was the lay lamb, attacked and about to be worried by
the wolf clerical, turning and driving the said wolf to bay. I stood and
felt like a convicted criminal before the grey eyes of my judge. And
somehow or other I did not hate those clear pools of light. They were
very beautiful. But not one word could I find to say for myself. I stood
and looked at her, and I fear I began to twitch at my neck cloth, with a
vague instinct that I had better go and hang myself. I stared and
stared, and no doubt got as red as a turkey-cock--till it began to be
very embarrassing indeed. What refuge could there be from one who spoke
the truth so plainly? And how do you think I got out of it?" asked Mr.
Armstrong of me, John Smith, who, as he told the story, felt almost in
as great confusion and misery as the narrator must have been in at that
time, although now he looked amazingly jolly, and breathed away at his
cigar with the slow exhalations of an epicure.
"Mortal cannot tell," I answered.
"One mortal can," rejoined he, with a laugh.--"I fell on my knees, and
made speechless love to her."
Here came a pause. The countenance of the broad-church-man changed as if
a lovely summer cloud had passed over it. The jolly air vanished, and he
looked very solemn for a little while.
"There was no coxcombry in it, Smith. I may say that for myself. It was
the simplest and truest thing I ever did in my life. How was I to help
it? There stood the visible truth before me, looking out of the woman's
grey eyes. What was I to do? I thank God, I have never seen the truth
plain before me, let it look ever so ghostly, without rushing at it. All
my advances have been by a sudden act--to me like an inspiration;--an
act done in terror, almost, lest I should stop and think about it, and
fail to do it. And here was no ghost, but a woman-angel, whose _Thou
art the man_ was spoken out of profundities of sweetness and truth.
Could I turn my back upon her? Could I parley with her?--with the Truth?
No. I fell on my knees, weeping like a child; for all my misery, all my
sense of bondage and untruth, broke from me in those tears.
"My hat had fallen off as I knelt. My head was bowed on my hands. I felt
as if she could save me. I dared not look up. She tells me since that
she was bewildered and frightened, but I discovered nothing of that. At
length I felt a light pressure, a touch of healing, fall on my bended
head. It was her hand. Still I hid my face, for I was ashamed before
"'Come,' she said, in a low voice, which I dare say she compelled to be
firm; 'come with me into the Westland Woods. There we can talk. Some one
may come this way.'
"She has told me since that a kind of revelation came to her at the
moment; a sight not of the future but of the fact; and that this lifted
her high above every feeling of mere propriety, substituting for it a
conviction of right. She felt that God had given this man to her; and
she no more hesitated to ask me to go with her into the woods, than she
would hesitate to go with me now if I asked her. And indeed if she had
not done so, I don't know what would have come of it--how the story
would have ended. I believe I should be kneeling there now, a whitened
skeleton, to the terror and warning of all false churchmen who should
pass through the lonely lane.
"I rose at once, like an obedient child, and turned in the direction of
the Westland Woods, feeling that she was by my side, but not yet daring
to look at her.--Now there are few men to whom I would tell the trifle
that followed. It was a trifle as to the outside of it; but it is
amazing what _virtue_, in the old meaning of the word, may lie in a
trifle. The recognition of virtue is at the root of all magical spells,
and amulets, and talismans. Mind, I felt from the first that you and I
would understand each other."
"You rejoice my heart," I said.
"Well, the first thing I had to do, as you may suppose, to make me fit
to look at her, was to wipe my eyes. I put my hand in my pocket; then my
first hand in the breast pocket; then the other hand in the other
pocket; and the slow-dawning awful truth became apparent, that here was
a great brute of a curate, who had been crying like a baby, and had no
handkerchief. A moment of keen despair followed--chased away by a vision
of hope, in the shape of a little white cloud between me and the green
grass. This cloud floated over a lady's hand, and was in fact a delicate
handkerchief. I took it, and brought it to my eyes, which gratefully
acknowledged the comfort. And the scent of the lavender--not lavender
water, but the lavender itself, that puts you in mind of country
churches, and old bibles, and dusky low-ceiled parlours on Sunday
afternoons--the scent of the lavender was so pure and sweet, and lovely!
It gave me courage.
"'May I keep it?' I asked
"'Yes. Keep it,' she answered.
"'Will you take my arm now?'
"For answer, she took my arm, and we entered the woods. It was a summer
afternoon. The sun had outflanked the thick clouds of leaves that
rendered the woods impregnable from overhead, and was now shining in, a
little sideways, with that slumberous light belonging to summer
afternoons, in which everything, mind and all, seems half asleep and all
"'Let me carry the jug,' I said.
"'No,' she answered, with a light laugh; 'you would be sure to spill the
cream, and spoil both your coat and mamma's tea.'
"'Then put it down in this hollow till we come back.'
"'It would be full of flies and beetles in a moment. Besides we won't
come back this way, shall we? I can carry it quite well. Gentlemen don't
like carrying things.'
"I feared lest the tone the conversation had assumed, might lead me away
from the resolution I had formed while kneeling in the lane. So, as
usual with me, I rushed blindly on the performance.
"'Miss Lizzie, I am a hypocritical and unhappy wretch.'
"She looked up at me with a face full of compassionate sympathy. I could
have lost myself in that gaze. But I would not be turned from my
purpose, of which she had no design, though her look had almost the
power; and, the floodgates of speech once opened, out it came, the whole
confession I have made to you, in what form or manner, I found, the very
first time I looked back upon the relation, that I had quite forgotten.
"All the time, the sun was sending ever so many sloping ladders of light
down through the trees, for there was a little mist rising that
afternoon; and I felt as if they were the same kind of ladder that Jacob
saw, inviting a man to climb up to the light and peace of God. I felt as
if upon them invisible angels were going up and down all through the
summer wood, and that the angels must love our woods as we love their
skies. And amidst the trees and the ladders of ether, we walked, and I
talked, and Lizzie listened to all I had to say, without uttering a
syllable till I had finished.
"At length, having disclosed my whole bondage and grief, I ended with
"'Now, what is to be done?'
"She looked up in my face with those eyes of truth, and said:
"'That money must be paid, Mr. Armstrong.'
"'But how?' I responded, in despair.
"She did not seem to heed my question, but she really answered it.
"'And, if I were you, I would do no more duty till it was paid.'
"Here was decision with a vengeance. It was more than I had bargained
for. I was dumb. A moment's reflection, however, showed me that she was
perfectly right--that what I had called _decision with a
vengeance_, was merely the utterance of a child's perception of the
true way to walk in.
"Still I was silent; for long vistas of duty, and loss, and painful
action and effort opened before me. At length I said:
"'You are quite right, Miss Lizzie.'
"'I wish I could pay it for you,' she rejoined, looking up in my face
with an expression of still tenderness, while the tears clouded her eyes
just as clouds of a deeper grey come over the grey depths of some summer
"'But you can help me to pay it.'
"'Love me,' I said, and no more. I could not.
"The only answer she made, was to look up at me once more, then stop,
and, turning towards me, draw herself gently against my side, as she
held my arm. It was enough--was it not?
"_Love me_, I said, and she did love me; and she's down stairs, as
I told you; and I think she is not unhappy."
"But you're not going to stop there," I said.
"No, I'm not.--That very evening I told the vicar that I must go. He
pressed for my reasons; but I managed to avoid giving a direct answer. I
begged him to set me at liberty as soon as possible, meaning, when he
should have provided himself with a substitute. But he took offence at
last, and told me I might go when I pleased; for he was quite able to
perform the duties himself. After this, I felt it would be unpleasant
for him as well as for me, if I remained, and so I took him at his word.
And right glad I was not to have to preach any more to Lizzie. It was
time for me to act instead of talk.
"But what was I to do?--The moment the idea of ceasing to _do
church_ was entertained by me, the true notion of what I was to do
instead presented itself. It was this. I would apply to my cousin, the
accountant. He was an older man, considerably, than myself, and had
already made a fortune in his profession. We had been on very good terms
indeed, considering that he was a dissenter, and all but hated the
church; while, I fear, I quite despised dissenters. I had often dined
with him, and he had found out that I had a great turn for figures, as
he called it. Having always been fond of mathematics, I had been able to
assist him in arriving at a true conclusion on what had been to him a
knotty point connected with life-insurance; and consequently he had a
high opinion of my capacity in his department.
"I wrote to him, telling him I had resolved to go into business for a
time. I did not choose to enlighten him further; and I fear I fared the
better with him from his fancying that I must have begun to entertain
doubts concerning church-establishments. I had the cunning not to ask
him to employ me; for I thought it very likely he would request my
services, which would put me in a better position with him. And it fell
out as I had anticipated. He replied at once, offering me one hundred
and fifty pounds to begin, with the prospect of an annual advance of
twenty pounds, if, upon further trial, we both found the arrangement to
our minds. I knew him to be an honourable man, and accepted the proposal
at once. And I cannot tell how light-hearted I felt as I folded up my
canonicals, and put them in a box to be left, for the meantime, in the
charge of my landlady.
"I was troubled with no hesitation as to the propriety of the
proceeding. Of course I felt that if it had been mere money-making, a
clergyman ought to have had nothing to do with it; but I felt now, on
the other hand, that if any man was bound to pay his debts, a clergyman
was; in fact, that he could not do his duty till he had paid his debts;
and that the wrong was not in turning to business now, but in having
undertaken the office with a weight of filthy lucre on my back and my
conscience, which my pocket could never relieve them of. Any scruple
about the matter, I felt would be only superstition; that, in fact, it
was a course of action worthy of a man, and therefore of a clergyman. I
thought well enough of the church, too, to believe that every man of any
manliness in it, would say that I had done right. And, to tell the
truth, so long as Lizzie was satisfied with me, I did not care for
archdeacon, or bishop. I meant just to drop out of the ranks of the
clergy without sign, and keep my very existence as secret as possible,
until the moment I had achieved my end, when I would go to my bishop,
and tell him all, requesting to be reinstated in my sacred office. There
was only one puzzle in the affair, and that was how the act towards Mrs.
Payton in regard to her daughter's engagement to me. The old lady was
not gifted with much common sense, I knew; and I feared both that she
would be shocked at the idea, and that she would not keep my secret. Of
course I consulted Lizzie about it. She had been thinking about it
already, and had concluded that the best way would be for her to tell
her mother the fact of our engagement, and for me to write to her from
London that I did not intend taking a second charge for some time yet;
and so leave Lizzie to act for the rest as occasion might demand. All
this was very easily managed, and in the course of another week, chiefly
devoted to the Westland Woods, I found myself at a desk in Cannon
"And now began a real experience of life. I had resolved to regard the
money I earned as the ransom-money of the church, paid by her for the
redemption of an erring servant from the power of Mammon: I would
therefore spend upon myself not one penny more than could be helped.
With this view, and perhaps with a lurking notion of penance in some
corner of my stupid brain, I betook myself to a lodging house in Hatton
Garden, where I paid just three shillings a week for a bedroom, if that
could be called a room which was rather a box, divided from a dozen
others by partitions of seven or eight feet in height. I had, besides,
the use of a common room, with light and fire, and the use of a kitchen
for cooking my own victuals, if I required any, presided over by an old
man, who was rather dirtier than necessity could justify, or the amount
of assistance he rendered could excuse. But I managed to avoid this
region of the establishment, by both breakfasting and dining in
eating-houses, of which I soon found out the best and cheapest. It is
amazing upon how little a man with a good constitution, a good
conscience, and an object, can live in London. I lived and throve. My
bedroom, though as small as it could possibly have been, was clean, with
all its appointments; and for a penny a week additional, I had the use
of a few newspapers. The only luxuries I indulged in, besides one pipe
of bird's-eye a day, were writing verses, and teaching myself German.
This last led to some little extravagance, for I soon came to buy German
books at the bookstalls; but I thought the church would get the
advantage of it by and by; and so I justified myself in it. I translated
a great many German songs. Now and then you will hear my brother sing
one of them. He was the only one of my family who knew where I lived.
The others addressed their letters to my cousin's place of business. My
father was dreadfully cut up at my desertion of the church, as he
considered it. But I told my brother the whole story, and he went home,
as he declared, prouder of his big brother than if he had been made a
bishop of. I believe he soon comforted the dear old man, by helping him
to see the matter in its true light; and not one word of reproach did I
ever receive from his lips or his pen. He did his best likewise to keep
the whole affair a secret.
"But a thousand pounds with interest, was a dreadful sum. However, I
paid the interest and more than fifty pounds of the principal the first
year. One good thing was, I had plenty of clothes, and so could go a
long time without becoming too shabby for business. I repaired them
myself. I brushed my own boots. Occasionally I washed my own collars.
"But it was rather dreadful to think of the years that must pass before
I could be clear, before I could marry Lizzie, before I could open my
mouth again to utter truths which I now began to _see_, and which
grew dearer to me than existence itself. As to Lizzie, I comforted
myself by thinking that it did not matter much whether we were married
or not--we loved each other; and that was all that made marriage itself
a good thing, and we had the good thing as it was. We corresponded
regularly, and I need not say that this took a great many hours from
German and other luxuries, and made the things I did not like, much
easier to bear.
"I am not stoic enough to be able to say that the baseness and meanness
of things about me gave me no discomfort. In my father's house, I had
been used to a little simple luxury, for he liked to be comfortable
himself, and could not be so, unless he saw every one comfortable about
him as well. At college, likewise, I had not thwarted the tendency to
self-indulgence, as my condition now but too plainly testified. It will
be clear enough to you, Mr. Smith, that there must have been things
connected with such a mode of life, exceedingly distasteful to one who
had the habits of a gentleman; but it was not the circumstances so much
as the companions of my location, that bred me discomfort. The people
who shared the same roof with me, I felt bound to acknowledge as so
sharing, although at first it was difficult to know how to behave to
them, and their conduct sometimes caused me excessive annoyance. They
were of all births and breedings, but almost all of them, like myself,
under a cloud. It was not much that I had to associate with them; but
even while glancing at a paper before going up to my room, for I allowed
myself no time for that at the office, I could not help occasionally
hearing language which disgusted me to the back-bone, and made me say to
myself, as I went slowly up the stairs, 'My sins have found me out, and
I am in hell for them.' Then, as I sat on the side of my bed in my
stall, the vision of the past would come before me in all its
beauty--the Westland Woods, the open country, the comfortable abode, and
above all, the homely gracious old church, with its atmosphere of ripe
sacredness and age-long belief; for now I looked upon that reading-desk,
and that pulpit, with new eyes and new thoughts, as I will presently try
to show you. I had not really lost them, in the sense in which I
regarded them now, as types of a region of possibly noble work; but even
with their old aspect, they would have seemed more honourable than this
constant labour in figures from morning to night, till I thought
sometimes that the depth of punishment would be to have to reckon to all
eternity. But, as I have said, I had my consolations--Lizzie's letters,
my books, a walk to Hampstead Heath on a holiday, an occasional peep
into Goethe or Schiller on a bright day in St. Lawrence Pountney
church-yard, to which I managed to get admittance; and, will you believe
it? going to a city church on Sundays. More of this anon. So that, if I
was in hell for my sins, it was at least not one of Swedenborg's hells.
Never before did I understand what yet I had always considered one of
the most exquisite sonnets I knew:
"Mourner, that dost deserve thy mournfulness,
Call thyself punished, call the earth thy hell;
Say, 'God is angry, and I earned it well;
'I would not have him smile and not redress.'
Say this, and straightway all thy grief grows less.
'God rules at least, I find, as prophets tell,
'And proves it in this prison.' Straight thy cell
Smiles with an unsuspected loveliness.
--'A prison--and yet from door and window-bar,
'I catch a thousand breaths of his sweet air;
'Even to me, his days and nights are fair;
'He shows me many a flower, and many a star;
'And though I mourn, and he is very far,
'He does not kill the hope that reaches there.'"
"Where did you get that wonderful sonnet?" I cried, hardly interrupting
him, for when he came to the end of it, he paused with a solemn pause.
"It is one of the stars of the higher heavens which I spied through my
"Will you give me a copy of it?"
"With all my heart. It has never been in print."
"Then your star reminds me of that quaint simile of Henry Vaughan,
'If a star were confined into a tomb,
Her captive flames must needs burn there;
But when the hand that locked her up gives room,
She'll shine through all the sphere.'"
"Ah yes; I know the poem. That is about the worst verse in it, though."
"What a number of verses you know!"
"They stick to me somehow."
"Is the sonnet your own?"
"My dear fellow, how could I speak in praise of it as I do, if it were
my own? I would say 'I wish it were!' only that would be worse
selfishness than coveting a man's purse. No. It is not mine."
"Well, will you go on with your story--if you will yet oblige me."
"I will. But I fear you will think it strange that I should be so
communicative to one whose friendship I have so lately gained."
"I believe there is a fate in such things," I answered.
"Well, I yield to it--if I do not weary you?"
"Go on. There is positively not the least danger of that."
"Well, it was not to hell I was really sent, but to school--and that not
a fashionable boarding, or expensive public school, but a day-school
like a Scotch parish school--to learn the conditions and ways and
thoughts of my brothers and sisters.
"I soon got over the disgust I felt at the coarseness of the men I met.
Indeed I found amongst business-gentlemen what affected me with the same
kind of feeling--only perhaps more profoundly--a coarseness not of the
social so much as of the spiritual nature--in a word, genuine
selfishness; whereas this quality was rather less remarkable in those
who had less to be selfish about. I do not say therefore that they had
less of it.--I soon saw that their profanity had chiefly a negative
significance; but it was long before I could get sufficiently accustomed
to their vileness, their beastliness--I beg the beast's pardon!--to keep
from leaving the room when a vein of that sort was opened. But I
succeeded in schooling myself to bear it. 'For,' thought I, 'there must
be some bond--some ascertainable and recognizable bond between these men
and me; I mean some bond that might show itself as such to them and me.'
I found out, before long, that there was a tolerably broad and visible
one--nothing less than our human nature, recognized as such. For by
degrees I came to give myself to know them. I sat and talked to them,
smoked with them, gave them tobacco, lent them small moneys, made them
an occasional trifling present of some article of dress, of which I had
more than I wanted; in short, gained their confidence. It was strange,
but without any reproof from me, nothing more direct than simple
silence, they soon ceased to utter a word that could offend me; and
before long, I had heard many of their histories. And what stories they
were! Set any one to talk about himself, instead of about other people,
and you will have a seam of the precious mental metal opened up to you
at once; only ore, most likely, that needs much smelting and refining;
or it may be, not gold at all, but a metal which your mental alchemy may
turn into gold. The one thing I learned was, that they and I were one,
that our hearts were the same. How often I exclaimed inwardly, as some
new trait came to light, in the words, though without the generalizing
scorn, of Shakspere's Timon--"More man!" Sometimes I was seized with a
kind of horror, beholding my own visage in the mirror which some poor
wretch's story held up to me--distorted perhaps by the flaws in the
glass, but still mine: I saw myself in other circumstances and under
other influences, and felt sometimes for a moment, as if I had been
guilty of the very deeds--more often of the very neglects that had
brought my companion to misery. I felt in the most solemn moods of
reflection, that I might have done all that, and become all that. I saw
but myself, over and over again, with wondrous variations, none
sufficient to destroy the identity. And I said to myself that, if I was
so like them in all that was undesirable, it must be possible for them
to become like me in all, whatever it was, that rendered me in any way
superior to them.
"But wherein did this superiority consist? I saw that whatever it was, I
had little praise in it. I said, 'What have I done to be better than I
found myself? If Lizzie had not taken me in hand, I should not have done
even this. What an effort it would need for one of these really to begin
to rouse and raise himself! And what have I done to rouse and raise
myself, to whom it would surely be easier? And how can I hope to help
them to rise till I have risen myself? It is not enough to be above
them: only by the strength of my own rising can I help to raise them,
for we are bound together by one cord. Then how shall I rise? Whose
uprising shall lift me? On what cords shall I lay hold to be heaved out
of the pit?' And then I thought of the story of the Lord of men, who
arose by his own might, not alone from the body-tomb, but from all the
death and despair of humanity, and lifted with him our race, placing
their tomb beneath their feet, and them in the sunny hope that belongs
to them, and for which they were created--the air of their own freedom.
'But,' I said to myself, 'this is ideal, and belongs to the race. Before
it comes true for the race, it must be done in the individual. If it be
true for the race, it can only be through its being attainable by the
individual. There must be something in the story belonging to the
individual. I will look at the individual Christ, and see how he arose.'
"And then I saw that the Lord himself was clasped in the love of the
Father; that it was in the power of mighty communion that the daily
obedience was done; that besides the outward story of his devotion to
men, there was the inward story--actually revealed to us men, marvellous
as that is--the inward story of his devotion to his father; of his
speech to him; of his upward look; of his delight in giving up to Him.
And the answer to his prayers comes out in his deeds. As Novalis says:
'In solitude the heavenly heart unfolded itself to a flower-chalice of
almighty love, turned towards the high face of the Father.' I saw that
it was in virtue of this, that, again to use the words of Novalis, 'the
mystery was unsealed. Heavenly spirits heaved the aged stone from the
gloomy grave; angels sat by the slumberer, bodied forth, in delicate
forms, from his dreams. Waking in new God-glories, he clomb the height
of the new-born world; buried with his own hand the old corpse in the
forsaken cavern, and laid thereon, with almighty arm, the stone which no
might raises again. Yet weep thy beloved, tears of joy, and of boundless
thanks at thy grave; still ever, with fearful gladness, behold thee
arisen, and themselves with thee.' If then he is the captain of our
salvation, the head of the body of the human church, I must rise by
partaking in my degree of his food, by doing in my degree his work. I
fell on my knees and I prayed to the Father. I rose, and bethinking me
of the words of the Son, I went and tried to do them. I need say no more
to you. A new life awoke in me from that hour, feeble and dim, but yet
life; and often as it has stopped growing, that has always been my own
fault. Where it will end, thank God! I cannot tell. But existence is an
awful grandeur and delight.
"Then I understood the state of my fellowmen, with all their ignorance,
and hate, and revenge; some misled by passion, some blinded by dulness,
some turned monomaniacs from a fierce sense of injustice done them; and
I said, 'There is no way of helping them but by being good to them, and
making them trust me. But in every one of them there lies a secret
chamber, to which God has access from behind by a hidden door; while
they know nothing of this chamber; and the other door towards their own
consciousness, is hidden by darkness and wrong, and ruin of all kinds.
Sometimes they become dimly aware that there must be such a door. Some
of us search for it, find it, turn back aghast; while God is standing
behind the door waiting to be found, and ready to hold forth the arms of
eternal tenderness to him who will open and look. Some of us have torn
the door open, and, lo! there is the Father, at the heart of us, at the
heart of all things.' I saw that he was leading these men through dark
ways of disappointment and misery, the cure of their own wrong-doing, to
find this door and find him. But could nothing be done to help them--to
lead them? They, too, must learn of Christ. Could they not be led to
him? If He leads to the Father, could not man lead to Him? True, he says
that it is the leading of the Father that brings to Him; for the Father
is all in all; He fills and rounds the cycle. But He leads by the hand
of man. Then I said, 'Is not this _the_ work of the church?'
"And with this new test, I went to one church after another. And the
prayers were beautiful. And my soul was comforted by them. And the
troubles of the week sank back into the far distance, and God ruled in
London city. But how could such as I thought of, love these prayers, or
understand them? For them the voice of living man was needed. And surely
the spirit that dwelt in the Church never intended to make less of the
voice of a living man pleading with his fellow-men in his own voice,
than the voice of many people pleading with God in the words which those
who had gone to Him had left behind them. If the Spirit be in the
church, does it only pray? Yet almost as often as a man stood up to
preach, I knew again why Lizzie had paid no heed to me. All he said had
nothing to do with me or my wants. And if not with these, how could they
have any influence on the all but outcasts of the social order? I
justified Lizzie to the very full now; and I took refuge from the
inanity of the sermon in thinking about her faithfulness. And that
faithfulness was far beyond anything I knew yet.
"And now there awoke in me an earnest longing after the office I had
forsaken. Thoughts began to burn in me, and words to come unbidden, till
sometimes I had almost to restrain myself from rising from the pew where
I was seated, ascending the pulpit stairs, and requesting the man who
had nothing to say, to walk down, and allow me, who had something to
say, to take his place. Was this conceit? Considering what I was
listening to, it could not have been _great_ conceit at least. But
I did restrain myself, for I thought an encounter with the police would
be unseemly, and my motives scarcely of weight in the court to which
they would lead me."
Here Mr. Armstrong relieved himself and me with a good laugh. I say
relieved me, for his speech had held me in a state of tension such as to
be almost painful.
"But I looked to the future in hope," he went on,--"if ever I might be
counted worthy to resume the labour I had righteously abandoned; having
had the rightness confirmed by the light I had received in carrying out
His voice here sank as to a natural pause, and I thought he was going to
end his story.
"Tell me something more," I said.
"Oh!" returned he, "as far as story is concerned, the best of it is to
come yet.--About six months after I was fairly settled in London, I was
riding in an omnibus, a rare enough accommodation with me, in the dusk
of an afternoon. I was going out to Fulham to dine with my cousin, as I
was sometimes forced to do. He was a good-hearted man, but--in short, I
did not find him interesting. I would have preferred talking to a man
who had barely escaped the gallows or the hulks. My cousin never did
anything plainly wicked, and consequently never repented of anything. He
thought no harm of being petty and unfair. He would not have taken a
farthing that was not his own, but if he could get the better of you in
an argument, he did not care by what means. He would put a wrong meaning
on your words, that he might triumph over you, knowing all the time it
was not what you meant. He would say: 'Words are words. I have nothing
to do with your meanings. You may say you mean anything you like.' I
wish it had been his dissent that made him such. But I won't say more
about him, for I believe it is my chief fault, as to my profession, that
I find common-place people dreadfully uninteresting; and I am afraid I
don't always give them quite fair play.--I had to dine with him, and so
I got into an omnibus going along the Strand. And I had not been long in
it, before I began thinking about Lizzie. That was not very surprising.
"Next to me, nearer the top of the omnibus, sat a young woman, with a
large brown paper parcel on her lap. She dropt it, and I picked it up
for her; but seeing that it incommoded her considerably, I offered to
hold it for her. She gave a kind of start when I addressed her, but
allowed me to take the parcel. I could not see her face, because she was
close to my side. But a strange feeling came over me, as if I was
sitting next to Lizzie. I indulged in the fancy not from any belief in
it, only for the pleasure of it. But it grew to a great desire to see
the young woman's face, and find whether or not she was at all like
Lizzie. I could not, however, succeed in getting a peep within her
bonnet; and so strong did the desire become, that, when the omnibus
stopped at the circus, and she rose to get out, I got out first, without
restoring the parcel, and stood to hand her out, and then give it back.
Not yet could I see her face; but she accepted my hand, and with a
thrill of amazement, I felt a pressure on mine, which surely could be
nobody's but Lizzie's. And it was Lizzie sure enough! I kept the parcel;
she put her arm in mine, and we crossed the street together, without a
"'Lizzie!' I said, when we got into a quieter part.
"'Ralph!' she said, and pressed closer to my side.
"'How did you come here?'
"'Ah! I couldn't escape you.'
"'How did you come here?' I repeated.
"'You did not think,' she answered, with a low musical laugh, 'that I
was going to send you away to work, and take no share in it myself!'
"And then out came the whole truth. As soon as I had left, she set about
finding a situation, for she was very clever with her needle and
scissors. Her mother could easily do without her, as her elder sister
was at home; and her absence would relieve their scanty means. She had
been more fortunate than she could have hoped, and had found a good
situation with a dressmaker in Bond Street. Her salary was not large,
but it was likely to increase, and she had nothing to pay for food or
lodging; while, like myself, she was well provided with clothes, and
had, besides, facilities for procuring more. And to make a long story as
short as now may be, there she remained in her situation as long as I
remained in mine; and every quarter she brought me all she could spare
of her salary for the Jew to gorge upon."
"And you took it?" I said, rather inadvertently.
"Took it! Yes. I took it--thankfully as I would the blessing of heaven.
To have refused it would have argued me unworthy of _her_. We
understood each other too well for anything else. She shortened my
purgatory by a whole year--my Lizzie! It is over now; but none of it
will be over to all eternity. She made a man of me."
A pause followed, as was natural, and neither spoke for some moments.
The ends of our cigars had been thrown away long ago, but I did not
think of offering another. At length I said, for the sake of saying
"And you met pretty often, I daresay?"
"Every Sunday at church."
"Of all places, the place where you ought to have met."
"It was. We met in a quiet old city church, where there was nothing to
attract us but the loneliness, the service, and the bones of Milton."
"And when you had achieved your end--"
"It was but a means to an end. I went at once to a certain bishop; told
him the whole story, not in quite such a lengthy shape as I have told it
to you; and begged him to reinstate me in my office."
"And what did he say?"
"Nothing. The good man did not venture upon many words. He held out his
hand to me; shook mine warmly; and here I am, you see, curate of St.
Thomas's, Purleybridge, and husband of Lizzie Payton. Am I not a
"You are," I said, with emphasis, rising to take my leave. "But it is
too bad of me to occupy so much of your time on a Saturday."
"Don't be uneasy about that. I shall preach all the better for it."
As I passed the parlour door, it was open, and Lizzie was busy with a
baby's frock. I think I should have known it for one, even if I had not
been put on the scent. She nodded kindly to me as I passed out. I knew
she was not one of the demonstrative sort, else I should have been
troubled that she did not speak to me. I thought afterwards that she
suspected, from the sustained sound of her husband's voice, that he had
been telling his own story; and that therefore she preferred letting me
go away without speaking to me that morning.
"What a story for our club!" thought I. "Surely that would do Adela good
But of course I saw at once that it would not do. I could not for a
moment wish that the curate should tell it. Yet I did wish that Adela
could know it. So I have written it now; and there it is, as nearly as
he told it, as I could manage to record it.
The next day was Sunday. And here is a part of the curate's sermon.
"My friends, I will give you a likeness, or a parable, which I think
will help you to understand what is the matter with you all. For you all
have something the matter with you; and most of you know this to be the
case; though you may not know what is the matter. And those of you that
feel nothing amiss are far the worst off. Indeed you are; for how are
things to be set right if you do not even know that there is anything to
be set right? There is the greatest danger of everything growing much
worse, before you find out that anything is wrong.
"But now for my parable.
"It is a cold winter forenoon, with the snow upon everything out of
doors. The mother has gone out for the day, and the children are amusing
themselves in the nursery--pretending to make such things as men make.
But there is one among them who joins in their amusement only by fits
and starts. He is pale and restless, yet inactive.--His mother is away.
True, he is not well. But he is not very unwell; and if she were at
home, he would take his share in everything that was going on, with as
much enjoyment as any of them. But as it is, his fretfulness and
pettishness make no allowance for the wilfulness of his brothers and
sisters; and so the confusions they make in the room, carry confusion
into his heart and brain; till at length a brighter noon entices the
others out into the snow.
"Glad to be left alone, he seats himself by the fire and tries to read.
But the book he was so delighted with yesterday, is dull today. He looks
up at the clock and sighs, and wishes his mother would come home. Again
he betakes himself to his book, and the story transports his imagination
to the great icebergs on the polar sea. But the sunlight has left them,
and they no longer gleam and glitter and sparkle, as if spangled with
all the jewels of the hot tropics, but shine cold and threatening as
they tower over the ice-bound ship. He lays down the tale, and takes up
a poem. But it too is frozen. The rhythm will not flow. And the sad
feeling arises in his heart, that it is not so very beautiful, after
all, as he had used to think it.
"'Is there anything beautiful?' says the poor boy at length, and wanders
to the window. But the sun is under a cloud; cold, white, and cheerless,
like death, lies the wide world out of doors; and the prints of his
mother's feet in the snow, all point towards the village, and away from
home. His head aches; and he cannot eat his dinner. He creeps up stairs
to his mother's room. There the fire burns bright, and through the
window falls a ray of sunlight. But the fire and the very sunlight are
wintry and sad. 'Oh, when will mother be home?' He lays himself in a
corner amongst soft pillows, and rests his head; but it is no nest for
him, for the covering wings are not there. The bright-coloured curtains
look dull and grey; and the clock on the chimney-piece will not hasten
its pace one second, but is very monotonous and unfeeling. Poor child!
Is there any joy in the world? Oh yes; but it always clings to the
mother, and follows her about like a radiance, and she has taken it with
her. Oh, when will she be home? The clock strikes as if it meant
something, and then straightway goes on again with the old wearisome
"He can hardly bear it. The fire burns up within, daylight goes down
without; the near world fades into darkness; the far-off worlds brighten
and come forth, and look from the cold sky into the warm room; and the
boy stares at them from the couch, and watches the motion of one of
them, like the flight of a great golden beetle, against the divisions of
the window-frame. Of this, too, he grows weary. Everything around him
has lost its interest. Even the fire, which is like the soul of the
room, within whose depths he had so often watched for strange forms and
images of beauty and terror, has ceased to attract his tired eyes. He
turns his back to it, and sees only its flickerings on the walls. To any
one else, looking in from the cold frosty night, the room would appear
the very picture of afternoon comfort and warmth; and he, if he were
descried thus nestling in its softest, warmest nook, would be counted a
blessed child, without care, without fear, made for enjoyment, and
knowing only fruition. But the mother is gone; and as that flame-lighted
room would appear to the passing eye, without the fire, and with but a
single candle to thaw the surrounding darkness and cold, so its that
child's heart without the presence of the mother.
"Worn out at length with loneliness and mental want, he closes his eyes,
and after the slow lapse of a few more empty moments, re-opens them on
the dusky ceiling, and the grey twilight window; no--on two eyes near
above him, and beaming upon him, the stars of a higher and holier heaven
than that which still looks in through the unshaded windows. They are
the eyes of the mother, looking closely and anxiously on her sick boy.
'Mother, mother!' His arms cling around her neck, and pull down her face
"His head aches still, but the heart-ache is gone. When candles are
brought, and the chill night is shut out of doors and windows, and the
children are all gathered around the tea-table, laughing and happy, no
one is happier, though he does not laugh, than the sick child, who lies
on the couch and looks at his mother. Everything around is full of
interest and use, glorified by the radiation of her presence. Nothing
can go wrong. The splendour returns to the tale and the poem. Sickness
cannot make him wretched. Now when he closes his eyes, his spirit dares
to go forth wandering under the shining stars and above the sparkling
snow; and nothing is any more dull and unbeautiful. When night draws on,
and he is laid in his bed, her voice sings him, and her hand soothes
him, to sleep; nor do her influences vanish when he forgets everything
in sleep; for he wakes in the morning well and happy, made whole by his
faith in his mother. A power has gone forth from her love to heal and
"Brothers, sisters! do I not know your hearts from my own?--sick hearts,
which nothing can restore to health and joy but the presence of Him who
is Father and Mother both in one. Sunshine is not gladness, because you
see him not. The stars are far away, because He is not near; and the
flowers, the smiles of old Earth, do not make you smile, because,
although, thank God! you cannot get rid of the child's need, you have
forgotten what it is the need of. The winter is dreary and dull,
because, although you have the homeliest of homes, the warmest of
shelters, the safest of nests to creep into and rest--though the most
cheerful of fires is blazing for you, and a table is spread, waiting to
refresh your frozen and weary hearts--you have forgot the way thither,
and will not be troubled to ask the way; you shiver with the cold and
the hunger, rather than arise you say, 'I will go to my Father;' you
will die in the storm rather than fight the storm; you will lie down in
the snow rather than tread it under foot. The heart within you cries out
for something, and you let it cry. It is crying for its God--for its
father and mother and home. And all the world will look dull and
grey--and it if does not look so now, the day will come when it must
look so--till your heart is satisfied and quieted with the known
presence of Him in whom we live and move and have our being."
It was again my turn to read. I opened my manuscript and had just opened
my mouth as well, when I was arrested for a moment. For, happening to
glance to the other side of the room, I saw that Percy had thrown
himself at full length on a couch, opposite to that on which Adela was
seated, and was watching her face with all his eyes. But his look did
not express love so much as jealousy. Indeed I had seen small sign of
his being attached to her. If she had encouraged him, which certainly
she did not, I daresay his love might have come out; but I presume that
he had been comfortably content until now, when perhaps some remark of
his mother had made him fear a rival. Mischief of some sort was
evidently brewing. A human cloud, surcharging itself with electric fire,
lay swelling on the horizon of our little assembly; but I did not
anticipate much danger from any storm that could break from such a
quarter. I believed that as far as my good friend, the colonel, was
concerned, Adela might at least refuse whom she pleased. Whether she
might find herself at equal liberty to choose whom she pleased, was a
question that I was unprepared to answer. And I could not think about
it now. I had to read. So I gave out the title--and went on:
"Old Ralph Rinkelmann made his living by comic sketches, and all but
lost it again by tragic poems. So he was just the man to be chosen king
of the fairies, for in Fairy-land the sovereignty is elective."
* * * * *
"But, uncle," interrupted Adela, "you said it was not to be a
"Well, I don't think you will call it one, when you have heard it,"
I answered. "But I am not particular as to names. The fairies have
not much to do with it anyhow."
"I beg your pardon, uncle," rejoined my niece; and I went on.
* * * * *
"They did not mean to insist on his residence; for they needed his
presence only on special occasions. But they must get hold of him
somehow, first of all, in order to make him king. Once he was crowned,
they could get him as often as they pleased; but before this ceremony,
there was a difficulty. For it is only between life and death that the
fairies have power over grown-up mortals, and can carry them off to
their country. So they had to watch for an opportunity.
"Nor had they to wait long. For old Ralph was taken dreadfully ill; and
while hovering between life and death, they carried him off, and crowned
him king of Fairy-land. But after he was crowned, it was no wonder,
considering the state of his health, that he should not be able to sit
quite upright on the throne of Fairy-land; or that, in consequence, all
the gnomes and goblins, and ugly, cruel things that live in the holes
and corners of the kingdom, should take advantage of his condition, and
run quite wild, playing him, king as he was, all sorts of tricks;
crowding about his throne, climbing up the steps, and actually
scrambling and quarrelling like mice about his ears and eyes, so that he
could see and think of nothing else. But I am not going to tell anything
more about this part of his adventures just at present. By strong and
sustained efforts, he succeeded, after much trouble and suffering, in
reducing his rebellious subjects to order. They all vanished to their
respective holes and corners; and King Ralph, coming to himself, found
himself in his bed, half propped up with pillows.
"But the room was full of dark creatures, which gambolled about in the
firelight in such a strange, huge, but noiseless fashion, that he
thought at first that some of his rebellious goblins had not been
subdued with the rest, and had followed him beyond the bounds of
Fairy-land into his own private house in London. How else could these
mad, grotesque hippopotamus-calves make their ugly appearance in Ralph
Rinkelmann's bedroom? But he soon found out, that although they were
like the under-ground goblins, they were very different as well, and
would require quite different treatment. He felt convinced that they
were his subjects too, but that he must have overlooked them somehow at
his late coronation--if indeed they had been present; for he could not
recollect that he had seen anything just like them before. He resolved,
therefore, to pay particular attention to their habits, ways, and
characters; else he saw plainly that they would soon be too much for
him; as indeed this intrusion into this chamber, where Mrs. Rinkelmann,
who must be queen if he was king, sat taking some tea by the fire-side,
plainly indicated. But she, perceiving that he was looking about him
with a more composed expression than his face had worn for many days,
started up, and came quickly and quietly to his side, and her face was
bright with gladness. Whereupon the fire burned up more cheerily; and
the figures became more composed and respectful in their behaviour,
retreating towards the wall like well-trained attendants. Then the king
of Fairy-land had some tea and dry toast, and leaning back on his
pillows, nearly fell asleep; but not quite, for he still watched the
"Presently the queen left the room to give some of the young princes and
princesses their tea; and the fire burned lower; and behold, the figures
grew as black, and as mad in their gambols, as ever! Their favourite
games seemed to be _Hide and Seek; Touch and Go; Grin and Vanish;_
and many other such; and all in the king's bed-chamber, too; so that it
was quite alarming. It was almost as bad as if the house had been
haunted by certain creatures, which shall be nameless in a fairy-story,
because with them fairy-land will not willingly have much to do.
"'But it is a mercy that they have their slippers on!' said the king to
himself; for his head ached.
"As he lay back, with his eyes half-shut and half-open, too tired to pay
longer attention to their games, but, on the whole, considerably more
amused than offended with the liberties they took, for they seemed
good-natured creatures, and more frolicsome than positively
ill-mannered, he became suddenly aware that two of them had stepped
forward from the walls, upon which, after the manner of great spiders,
most of them preferred sprawling, and now stood in the middle of the
floor, at the foot of his majesty's bed, becking, and bowing, and
ducking in the most grotesquely obsequious manner; while every now and
then they turned solemnly round upon one heel, evidently considering
that motion the highest token of homage they could show.
"'What do you want?' said the king.
"'That it may please your majesty to be better acquainted with us,'
answered they. 'We are your majesty's subjects.'
"'I know you are: I shall be most happy,' answered the king.
"'We are not what your majesty takes us for, though. We are not so
foolish as your majesty thinks us.'
"'It is impossible to take you for anything that I know of,' rejoined
the king, who wished to make them talk, and said whatever came
uppermost;--'for soldiers, sailors, or anything: you will not stand
still long enough. I suppose you really belong to the fire-brigade; at
least, you keep putting its light out.'
"'Don't jest, please your majesty.' And as they said the words, for they
both spoke at once throughout the interview, they performed a grave
somerset, towards the king.
"'Not jest!' retorted he; 'and with you? Why, you do nothing but jest.
What are you?'
"'The Shadows, sire. And when we do jest, sire, we always jest in
earnest. But perhaps your majesty does not see us distinctly.'
"'I see you perfectly well,' replied the king.
"'Permit me, however,' rejoined one of the Shadows; and as he spoke, he
approached the king, and lifting a dark fore-finger, drew it lightly,
but carefully, across the ridge of his forehead, from temple to temple.
The king felt the soft gliding touch go, like water, into every hollow,
and over the top of every height of that mountain-chain of thought. He
had involuntarily closed his eyes during the operation, and when he
unclosed them again, as soon as the finger was withdrawn, he found that
they were opened in more senses than one. The room appeared to have
extended itself on all sides, till he could not exactly see where the
walls were; and all about it stood the Shadows motionless. They were
tall and solemn; rather awful, indeed, in their appearance,
notwithstanding many remarkable traits of grotesqueness, looking, in
fact, just like the pictures of Puritans drawn by Cavaliers, with long
arms, and very long, thin legs, from which hung large loose feet, while
in their countenances length of chin and nose predominated. The
solemnity of their mien, however, overcame all the oddity of their form,
so that they were very _eerie_ indeed to look at, dressed as they
all were in funereal black. But a single glance was all that the king
was allowed to have; for the former operator waved his dusky palm across
his vision, and once more the king saw only the fire-lighted walls, and
dark shapes flickering about upon them. The two who had spoken for the
rest seemed likewise to have vanished. But at last the king discovered
them, standing one on each side of the fire-place. They kept close to
the chimney-wall, and talked to each other across the length of the
chimney-piece; thus avoiding the direct rays of the fire, which, though
light is necessary to their appearing to human eyes, do not agree with
them at all--much less give birth to them, as the king was soon to
learn. After a few minutes, they again approached the bed, and spoke
"'It is now getting dark, please your majesty. We mean--out of doors in
the snow. Your majesty may see, from where he is lying, the cold light
of its great winding-sheet--a famous carpet for the Shadows to dance
upon, your majesty. All our brothers and sisters will be at church now,
before going to their night's work.'
"'Do they always go to church before they go to work?'
"'They always go to church first.'
"'Where is it?'
"'In Iceland. Would your majesty like to see it?'
"'How can I go and see it, when, as you know very well, I am ill in bed?
Besides I should be sure to take cold in a frosty night like this, even
if I put on the blankets, and took the feather-bed for a muff.'
"A sort of quivering passed over their faces, which seemed to be their
mode of laughing. The whole shape of the face shook and fluctuated as if
it had been some dark fluid; till by slow degrees of gathering calm, it
settled into its former rest. Then one of them drew aside the curtains
of the bed, and, the window-curtains not having been yet drawn, the king
beheld the white glimmering night outside, struggling with the heaps of
darkness that tried to quench it; and the heavens full of stars,
flashing and sparkling like live jewels. The other Shadow went towards
the fire and vanished in it.
"Scores of Shadows immediately began an insane dance all about the room;
disappearing, one after the other, through the uncovered window, and
gliding darkly away over the face of the white snow; for the window
looked at once on a field of snow. In a few moments, the room was quite
cleared of them; but instead of being relieved by their absence, the
king felt immediately as if he were in a dead house, and could hardly
breathe for the sense of emptiness and desolation that fell upon him.
But as he lay looking out on the snow, which stretched blank and wide
before him, he spied in the distance a long dark line which drew nearer
and nearer, and showed itself at last to be all the Shadows, walking in
a double row, and carrying in the midst of them something like a bier.
They vanished under the window, but soon reappeared, having somehow
climbed up the wall of the house; for they entered in perfect order by
the window, as if melting through the transparency of the glass.
"They still carried the bier or litter. It was covered with richest
furs, and skins of gorgeous wild beasts, whose eyes were replaced by
sapphires and emeralds, that glittered and gleamed in the fire and
snow-light. The outermost skin sparkled with frost, but the inside ones
were soft and warm and dry as the down under a swan's wing. The Shadows
approached the bed, and set the litter upon it. Then a number of them
brought a huge fur-robe, and wrapping it round the king, laid him on the
litter in the midst of the furs. Nothing could be more gentle and
respectful than the way in which they moved him; and he never thought of
refusing to go. Then they put something on his head, and, lifting the
litter, carried him once round the room, to fall into order. As he
passed the mirror, he saw that he was covered with royal ermine, and
that his head wore a wonderful crown--of gold set with none but red
stones: rubies and carbuncles and garnets, and others whose names he
could not tell, glowed gloriously around his head, like the salamandrine
essence of all the Christmas fires over the world. A sceptre lay beside
him--a rod of ebony, surmounted by a cone-shaped diamond, which, cut in
a hundred facets, flashed all the hues of the rainbow, and threw
coloured gleams on every side, that looked like shadows more etherial
than those that bore him. Then the Shadows rose gently to the window,
passed through it, and sinking slowing upon the field of outstretched
snow, commenced an orderly gliding rather than march along the frozen
surface. They took it by turns to bear the king, as they sped with the
swiftness of thought, in a straight line towards the north. The polestar
rose above their heads with visible rapidity; for indeed they moved
quite as fast as the sad thoughts, though not with all the speed of
happy desires. England and Scotland slid past the litter of the king of
the Shadows. Over rivers and lakes they skimmed and glided. They climbed
the high mountains, and crossed the valleys with an unfelt bound; till
they came to John-o'-Groat's house and the northern sea. The sea was not
frozen; for all the stars shone as clear out of the deeps below as they
shone out of the deeps above; and as the bearers slid along the
blue-grey surface, with never a furrow in their track, so clear was the
water beneath, that the king saw neither surface, bottom, nor substance
to it, and seemed to be gliding only through the blue sphere of heaven,
with the stars above him, and the stars below him, and between the stars
and him nothing but an emptiness, where, for the first time in his life,
his soul felt that it had room enough.
"At length they reached the rocky shores of Iceland, where they landed,
still pursuing their journey. All this time the king felt no cold; for
the red stones in his crown kept him warm, and the emerald and sapphire
eyes of the wild beasts kept the frosts from settling upon his litter.
"Oftentimes upon their way, they had to pass through forests, caverns,
and rock-shadowed paths, where it was so dark that at first the king
feared he would lose his Shadows altogether. But as soon as they entered
such places, the diamond in his sceptre began to shine and glow and
flash, sending out streams of light of all the colours that painter's
soul could dream of; in which light the Shadows grew livelier and
stronger than ever, speeding through the dark ways with an all but
blinding swiftness. In the light of the diamond, too, some of their
forms became more simple and human, while others seemed only to break
out into a yet more untamable absurdity. Once, as they passed through a
cave, the king actually saw some of their eyes--strange shadow-eyes: he
had never seen any of their eyes before. But at the same moment when he
saw their eyes, he knew their faces too, for they turned them full upon
him for an instant; and the other Shadows, catching sight of these,
shrank and shivered, and nearly vanished. Lovely faces they were; but
the king was very thoughtful after he saw them, and continued rather
troubled all the rest of the journey. He could not account for those
faces being there, and the faces of Shadows too, with living eyes."
* * * * *
"What does that mean?" asked Adela.
And I am rather ashamed to say that I could only answer, "I am not
sure," and make haste to go on again.
* * * * *
"At last they climbed up the bed of a little stream, and then passing
through a narrow rocky defile, came out suddenly upon the side of a
mountain, overlooking a blue frozen lake in the very heart of mighty
hills. Overhead the _aurora borealis_ was shivering and flashing
like a battle of ten thousand spears. Underneath, its beams passed
faintly over the blue ice and the sides of the snow clad mountains,
whose tops shot up like huge icicles all about, with here and there a
star sparkling on the very tip of one. But as the northern lights in the
sky above, so wavered and quivered, and shot hither and thither, the
Shadows on the surface of the lake below; now gathering in groups, and
now shivering asunder; now covering the whole surface of the lake, and
anon condensed into one dark knot in the centre. Every here and there on
the white mountains, might be seen two or three shooting away towards
the tops, and vanishing beyond them. Their number was gradually, though
hardly visibly, diminishing.
"'Please your majesty,' said the Shadows, 'this is our church--the
Church of the Shadows.'
"And so saying, the king's body-guard set down the litter upon a rock,
and mingled with the multitudes below. They soon returned, however, and
bore the king down into the middle of the lake. All the Shadows came
crowding round him, respectfully but fearlessly; and sure never such a
grotesque assembly revealed itself before to mortal eyes. The king had
seen all kind of gnomes, goblins, and kobolds at his coronation; but
they were quite rectilinear figures, compared with the insane
lawlessness of form in which the Shadows rejoiced; and the wildest
gambols of the former, were orderly dances of ceremony, beside the
apparently aimless and wilful contortions of figure, and metamorphoses
of shape, in which the latter indulged. They retained, however, all the
time, to the surprise of the king, an identity, each of his own type,
inexplicably perceptible through every change. Indeed this preservation
of the primary idea of each form, was quite as wonderful as the
bewildering and ridiculous alterations to which the form itself was
every moment subjected.
"'What are you?' said the king, leaning on his elbow, and looking around
"'The Shadows, your majesty,' answered several voices at once.
"'The human Shadows. The Shadows of men, and women, and their children.'
"'Are you not the shadows of chairs, and tables, and poker, and tongs,
just as well?'
"At this question a strange jarring commotion went through the assembly
with a shock. Several of the figures shot up as high as the aurora, but
instantly settled down again to human size, as if overmastering their
feelings, out of respect to him who had roused them. One who had bounded
to the highest visible icy peak, and as suddenly returned, now elbowed
his way through the rest, and made himself spokesman for them during the
remaining part of the dialogue.
"'Excuse our agitation, your majesty,' said he. 'I see your majesty has
not yet thought proper to make himself acquainted with our nature and
"'I wish to do so now,' replied the king.
"'We are the Shadows,' repeated the Shadow, solemnly.
"'Well?' said the king.
"'We do not often appear to men.'
"'Ha!' said the king.
"'We do not belong to the sunshine at all. We go through it unseen, and
only by a passing chill do men recognize an unknown presence.'
"'Ha!' said the king, again.
"'It is only in the twilight of the fire, or when one man or woman is
alone with a single candle, or when any number of people are all feeling
the same thing at once, making them one, that we show ourselves, and the
truth of things.
"'Can that be true that loves the night?' said the king.
"'The darkness is the nurse of light,' answered the Shadow.
"'Can that be true which mocks at forms?' said the king.
"'Truth rides abroad in shapeless storms,' answered the Shadow.
"'Ha! ha!' thought Ralph Rinkelmann, 'it rhymes. The shadow caps my
questions with his answers.--Very strange!' And he grew thoughtful
"The Shadow was the first to resume.
"'Please your majesty, may we present our petition?'
"'By all means,' replied the king. 'I am not well enough to receive it
in proper state.'
"'Never mind, your majesty. We do not care for much ceremony; and indeed
none of us are quite well at present. The subject of our petition weighs
"'Go on,' said the king.
"'Sire,' began the Shadow, 'our very existence is in danger. The various
sorts of artificial light, both in houses and in men, women and
children, threaten to end our being. The use and the disposition of
gaslights, especially high in the centres, blind the eyes by which alone
we can be perceived. We are all but banished from towns. We are driven
into villages and lonely houses, chiefly old farm-houses, out of which,
even, our friends the fairies are fast disappearing. We therefore
petition our king, by the power of his art, to restore us to our rights
in the house itself, and in the hearts of its dwellers.'
"'But,' said the king, 'you frighten the children.'
"'Very seldom, your majesty; and then only for their good. We seldom
seek to frighten anybody. We only want to make people silent and
thoughtful; to awe them a little, your majesty.'
"'You are much more likely to make them laugh,' said the king.
"'Are we?' said the Shadow.
"And approaching the king one step, he stood quite still for a moment.
The diamond of the king's sceptre shot out a vivid flame of violet
light, and the king stared at the Shadow in silence, and his lip
* * * * *
"Now what does that mean?" said Adela, again.
"How can I tell?" I answered, and went on:
* * * * *
"'It is only,' resumed the Shadow, 'when our thoughts are not fixed upon
any particular object, that our bodies are subject to all the vagaries
of elemental influences. Generally amongst worldly men and frivolous
women, we only attach ourselves to some article of furniture or of
dress; and they never doubt that we are mere foolish and vague results
of the dashing of the waves of the light against the solid forms of
which their houses are full. We do not care to tell them the truth, for
they would never see it. But let the worldly man----or the frivolous
"At each of the pauses indicated, the mass of Shadows throbbed and
heaved with emotion, but soon settled again into comparative stillness.
Once more the Shadow addressed himself to speak. But suddenly they all
looked up, and the king, following their gaze, saw that the aurora had
begun to pale.
"'The moon is rising,' said the Shadow. As soon as she looks over the
mountains into the valley, we must be gone, for we have plenty to do by
the moon: we are powerful in her light. But if your majesty will come
here to-morrow night, your majesty may learn a great deal more about us,
and judge for himself whether it be fit to accord our petition; for then
will be our grand annual assembly, in which we report to our chiefs the
deeds we have attempted, and the good or bad success we have had.'
"'If you send for me,' replied the king, 'I will come.'
"Ere the Shadow could reply, the tip of the moon's crescent horn peeped
up from behind an icy pinnacle, and one slender ray fell on the lake. It
shone upon no Shadows. Ere the eye of the king could again seek the
earth after beholding the first brightness of the moon's resurrection,
they had vanished; and the surface of the lake glittered cold and blue
in the pale moonlight.
"There the king lay, alone in the midst of the frozen lake, with the
moon staring at him. But at length he heard from somewhere a voice that
"'Will you take another cup of tea, dear?' said Mrs. Rinkelmann; and
Ralph, coming slowly to himself, found that he was lying in his own bed.
"'Yes, I will,' he answered; 'and rather a large piece of toast, if you
please; for I have been a long journey since I saw you last.'
"'He has not come to himself quite,' said Mrs. Rinkelmann, between her
"'You would be rather surprised,' continued Ralph, 'if I told you where
I had been, and all about it.'
"'I daresay I should,' responded his wife.
"'Then I will tell you,' rejoined Ralph.
"But at that moment, a great Shadow bounced out of the fire with a
single huge leap, and covered the whole room. Then it settled in one
corner, and Ralph saw it shaking its fist at him from the end of a
preposterous arm. So he took the hint, and held his peace. And it was as
well for him. For I happen to know something about the Shadows too; and
I know that if he had told his wife all about it just then, they would
not have sent for him the following evening.
"But as the king, after taking his tea and toast, lay and looked about
him, the dancing shadows in his room seemed to him odder and more
inexplicable than ever. The whole chamber was full of mystery. So it
generally was, but now it was more mysterious than ever. After all that
he had seen in the Shadow-church, his own room and its shadows were yet
more wonderful and unintelligible than those.
"This made it the more likely that he had seen a true vision; for,
instead of making common things look common place, as a false vision
would have done, it made common things disclose the wonderful that was
"'The same applied to all true art,' thought Ralph Rinkelmann.
"The next afternoon, as the twilight was growing dusky, the king lay
wondering whether or not the Shadows would fetch him again. He wanted
very much to go, for he had enjoyed the journey exceedingly, and he
longed, besides, to hear some of the Shadows tell their stories. But the
darkness grew deeper and deeper, and the Shadows did not come. The cause
was, that Mrs. Rinkelmann sat by the fire in the gloaming; and they
could not carry off the king while she was there. Some of them tried to
frighten her away, by playing the oddest pranks on the walls, and floor,
and ceiling; but altogether without effect: the queen only smiled, for
she had a good conscience. Suddenly, however, a dreadful scream was
heard from the nursery, and Mrs. Rinkelmann rushed up stairs to see what
was the matter. No sooner had she gone, than the two warders of the
chimney-corners stepped out into the middle of the room, and said, in a
"'Is your majesty ready?'
"'Have you no hearts?' said the king; 'or are they as black as your
faces? Did you not hear the child scream? I must know what is the matter
with her before I go.'
"'Your majesty may keep his mind easy on that point,' replied the
warders. 'We had tried everything we could think of, to get rid of her
majesty the queen, but without effect. So a young madcap Shadow, half
against the will of the older ones of us, slipped up stairs into the
nursery; and has, no doubt, succeeded in appalling the baby, for he is
very lithe and long-legged.--Now, your majesty.'
"'I will have no such tricks played in my nursery,' said the king,
rather angrily. 'You might put the child beside itself.'
"'Then there would be twins, your majesty. And we rather like twins.'
"'None of your miserable jesting! You might put the child out of her
"'Impossible, sire; for she has not got into them yet.'
"'Go away,' said the king.
"'Forgive us, your majesty. Really, it will do the child good; for that
Shadow will, all her life, be to her a symbol of what is ugly and bad.
When she feels in danger of hating or envying anyone, that Shadow will
come back to her mind, and make her shudder.'
"'Very well,' said the king. 'I like that. Let us go.'
"The Shadows went through the same ceremonies and preparations as
before; during which, the young Shadow before-mentioned, contrived to
make such grimaces as kept the baby in terror, and the queen in the
nursery, till all was ready. Then with a bound that doubled him up
against the ceiling, and a kick of his legs six feet out behind him, he
vanished through the nursery door, and reached the king's bed-chamber
just in time to take his place with the last who were melting through
the window in the rear of the litter, and settling down upon the snow
beneath. Away they went, a gliding blackness over the white carpet, as
before. And it was Christmas Eve.
"When they came in sight of the mountain-lake, the king saw that it was
crowded over its whole surface with a changeful intermingling of
Shadows. They were all talking and listening alternately, in pairs,
trios, and groups of every size. Here and there, large companies were
absorbed in attention to one elevated above the rest, not in a pulpit,
or on a platform, but on the stilts of his own legs, elongated for the
nonce. The aurora, right overhead, lighted up the lake and the sides of
the mountains, by sending down from the zenith, nearly to the surface of
the lake, great folded vapours, luminous with all the colours of a faint
"Many, however, as the words were that passed on all sides, not a
whisper of a sound reached the ears of the king: their shadow speech
could not enter his corporeal organs. One of his guides, however, seeing
that the king wanted to hear and could not, went through a strange
manipulation of his head and ears; after which he could hear perfectly,
though still only the voice to which, for the time, he directed his
attention. This, however, was a great advantage, and one which the king
longed to carry back with him to the world of men.
"The king now discovered that this was not merely the church of the
Shadows, but their news-exchange at the same time. For, as the Shadows
have no writing or printing, the only way in which they can make each
other acquainted with their doings and thinkings, is to meet and talk at
this word-mart and parliament of shades. And as, in the world, people
read their favourite authors, and listen to their favourite speakers, so
here the Shadows seek their favourite Shadows, listen to their
adventures, and hear generally what they have to say.
"Feeling quite strong, the king rose and walked about amongst them,
wrapped in his ermine robe, with his red crown on his head, and his
diamond sceptre in his hand. Every group of Shadows to which he drew
near, ceased talking as soon as they saw him approach; but at a nod they
went on again directly, conversing and relating and commenting, as if no
one was there of other kind or of higher rank than themselves. So the
king heard a good many stories, at some of which he laughed, and at some
of which he cried. But if the stories that the Shadows told were
printed, they would make a book that no publisher could produce fast
enough to satisfy the buyers. I will record some of the things that the
king heard, for he told them to me soon after. In fact, I was for some
time his private secretary, and that is how I come to know all about his
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