Part 2 out of 3
"'I made him confess before a week was over,' said a gloomy old Shadow.
"'But what was the good of that?' said a pert young one; 'that could not
undo what was done.'
"'Yes, it might.'
"'What! bring the dead to life?'
"'No; but comfort the murderer. I could not bear to see the pitiable
misery he was in. He was far happier with the rope round his neck, than
he was with the purse in his pocket. I saved him from killing himself
"'How did you make him confess?'
"'Only by wallowing on the wall a little.'
"'How could that make him tell?'
"He was silent; and the king turned to another.
"'I made a fashionable mother repent.'
"'How?' broke from several voices, in whose sound was mingled a touch of
"'Only by making a little coffin on the wall,' was the reply.
"'Did the fashionable mother then confess?'
"'She had nothing more to confess than everybody knew.'
"'What did everybody know then?'
"'That she might have been kissing a living child, when she followed a
dead one to the grave.--The next will fare better.'
"'I put a stop to a wedding,' said another.
"'Horrid shade!' remarked a poetic imp.
"'How?' said others. 'Tell us how.'
"'Only by throwing a darkness, as if from the branch of a sconce, over
the forehead of a fair girl.--They are not married yet, and I do not
think they will be. But I loved the youth who loved her. How he started!
It was a revelation to him.'
"'But did it not deceive him?'
"'Quite the contrary.'
"'But it was only a shadow from the outside, not a shadow coming through
from the soul of the girl.'
"'Yes. You may say so. But it was all that was wanted to let the meaning
of her forehead come out--yes, of her whole face, which had now and
then, in the pauses of his passion, perplexed the youth. All of it,
curled nostrils, pouting lips, projecting chin, instantly fell into
harmony with that darkness between her eyebrows. The youth understood it
in a moment, and went home miserable. And they're not married
"'I caught a toper alone, over his magnum of port,' said a very dark
Shadow; 'and didn't I give it him! I made _delirium tremens_ first;
and then I settled into a funeral, passing slowly along the whole of the
dining-room wall. I gave him plenty of plumes and mourning coaches. And
then I gave him a funeral service, but I could not manage to make the
surplice white, which was all the better for such a sinner. The wretch
stared till his face passed from purple to grey, and actually left his
fifth glass only, unfinished, and took refuge with his wife and children
in the drawing-room, much to their surprise. I believe he actually drank
a cup of tea; and although I have often looked in again, I have never
seen him drinking alone at least.'
"'But does he drink less? Have you done him any good?'
"'I hope so; but I am sorry to say I can't feel sure about it.'
"'Humph! Humph! Humph!' grunted various shadow throats.
"'I had such fun once!' cried another. 'I made such game of a young
"'You have no right to make game of any one.'
"'Oh yes, I have--when it is for his good. He used to study his
sermons--where do you think?'
"'In his study, of course.'
"'Yes and no. Guess again.'
"'Out amongst the faces in the streets.'
"'In still green places in the country?'
"'In old books?'
"'No, no. Tell us.'
"'In the looking glass. Ha! ha! ha!'
"'He was fair game; fair shadow-game.'
"'I thought so. And I made such fun of him one night on the wall! He had
sense enough to see that it was himself, and very like an ape. So he got
ashamed, turned the mirror with its face to the wall, and thought a
little more about his people, and a little less about himself. I was
very glad; for, please you majesty,'--and here the speaker turned
towards the king--'we don't like the creatures that live in the mirrors.
You call them ghosts, don't you?'
"Before the king could reply, another had commenced. But the mention of
the clergyman made the king wish to hear one of the shadow-sermons. So
he turned him towards a long Shadow, who was preaching to a very quiet
and listening crowd. He was just concluding his sermon.
"Therefore, dear Shadows, it is the more needful that we love one
another as much as we can, because that is not much. We have no excuse
for not loving as mortals have, for we do not die like them. I suppose
it is the thought of that death that makes them hate so much. Then
again, we go to sleep all day, most of us, and not in the night, as men
do. And you know that we forget every thing that happened the night
before; therefore, we ought to love well, for the love is short. Ah!
dear Shadow, whom I love now with all my shadowy soul, I shall not love
thee to-morrow eve, I shall not know thee; I shall pass thee in the
crowd and never dream that the Shadow whom I now love is near me then.
Happy Shades! for we only remember our tales until we have told them
here, and then they vanish in the shadow-churchyard, where we bury only
our dead selves. Ah! brethren, who would be a man and remember? Who
would be a man and weep? We ought indeed to love one another, for we
alone inherit oblivion; we alone are renewed with eternal birth; we
alone have no gathered weight of years. I will tell you the awful fate
of one Shadow who rebelled against his nature, and sought to remember
the past. He said, 'I _will_ remember this eve.' He fought with the
genial influences of kindly sleep when the sun rose on the awful dead
day of light; and although he could not keep quite awake, he dreamed of
the foregone eve, and he never forgot his dream. Then he tried again the
next night, and the next and the next; and he tempted another Shadow to
try it with him. At last their awful fate overtook them; and, instead of
being Shadows any longer, they began to have shadows sticking to them;
and they thickened and thickened till they vanished out of our world;
and they are now condemned to walk the earth, a man and a woman, with
death behind them, and memories within them. Ah, brother Shades! let us
love one another, for we shall soon forget. We are not men, but
"The king turned away, and pitied the poor Shadows far more than they
"'Oh! how we played with a musician one night!' exclaimed one of another
group, to which the king had directed a passing thought. He stopped to
listen.--'Up and down we went, like the hammers and dampers on his
piano. But he took his revenge on us. For after he had watched us for
half an hour in the twilight, he rose and went to his instrument, and
played a shadow-dance that fixed us all in sound for ever. Each could
tell the very notes meant for him; and as long as he played, we could
not stop, but went on dancing and dancing after the music, just as the
magician--I mean the musician--pleased. And he punished us well; for he
nearly danced us all off our legs and out of shape, into tired heaps of
collapsed and palpitating darkness. We wont go near him for some time
again, if we can only remember it. He had been very miserable all day,
he was so poor; and we could not think of any way of comforting him
except making him laugh. We did not succeed, with our best efforts; but
it turned out better than we had expected after all; for his
shadow-dance got him into notice, and he is quite popular now, and
making money fast.--If he does not take care, we shall have other work
to do with him by and by, poor fellow!'
"'I and some others did the same for a poor play-wright once. He had a
Christmas piece to write, and not being an original genius, he could
think of nothing that had not been done already twenty times. I saw the
trouble he was in, and collecting a few stray Shadows, we acted, in dumb
show of course, the funniest bit of nonsense we could think of; and it
was quite successful. The poor fellow watched every motion, roaring with
laughter at us, and delight at the ideas we put into his head. He turned
it all into words and scenes and actions; and the piece came off "with a
success unprecedented in the annals of the stage;"--at least so said the
reporter of the _Punny Palpitator_.'
* * * * *
"Now don't you try, uncle, there's a dear, to make any fun; for you know
you can't. It's always a failure," said Adela, looking as mischievous
as she could. "You can only make people cry: you can't make them laugh.
So don't try it. It hurts my feelings dreadfully when you fail; and gives
me a pain in the back of my neck besides."
I heard her with delight, but went on, saying:
"I must read what I have written, you monkey!"
* * * * *
"'But how long we have to look for a chance of doing anything worth
doing!' said a long, thin, especially lugubrious Shadow. 'I have only
done one deed worth telling, ever since we met last. But I am proud of
"'What was it? What was it?' rose from twenty voices.
"'I crept into a dining-room, one twilight, soon after last
Christmas-day. I had been drawn thither by the glow of a bright fire
through red window-curtains. At first I thought there was no one there,
and was on the point of leaving the room, and going out again into the
snowy street, when I suddenly caught the sparkle of eyes, and saw that
they belonged to a little boy who lay very still on a sofa. I crept into
a dark corner by the sideboard, and watched him. He seemed very sad, and
did nothing but stare into the fire. At last he sighed out: 'I wish
mamma would come home.' 'Poor boy!' thought I, 'there is no help for
that but mamma.' Yet I would try to while away the time for him. So out
of my corner I stretched a long shadow arm, reaching all across the
ceiling, and pretended to make a grab at him. He was rather frightened
at first; but he was a brave boy, and soon saw that it was all a joke.
So when I did it again, he made a clutch at me; and then we had such
fun! For though he often sighed, and wished mamma would come home, he
always began again with me; and on we went with the wildest game. At
last his mother's knock came to the door, and, starting up in delight,
he rushed into the hall to meet her, and forgot all about poor black me.
But I did not mind that in the least; for when I glided out after him
into the hall, I was well repaid for my trouble, by hearing his mother
say to him: 'Why, Charlie, my dear, you look ever so much better since
I left you!' At that moment I slipped through the closing door, and as
I ran across the snow, I heard the mother say: 'What shadow can that be,
passing so quickly?' And Charlie answered with a merry laugh: 'Oh!
mamma, I suppose it must be the funny shadow that has been playing such
games with me, all the time you were out.' As soon as the door was shut,
I crept along the wall, and looked in at the dining-room window. And I
heard his mamma say, as she led him into the room: 'What an imagination
the boy has!' Ha! ha! ha! Then she looked at him very earnestly for a
minute, and the tears came in her eyes; and as she stooped down over
him, I heard the sounds of a mingling kiss and sob.'"
* * * * *
"Ah, I thought so!" cried Adela, who espied, peeping, that I had this
last tale on a separate slip of paper--"I thought so! That is yours,
Mr. Armstrong, and not uncle's at all. He stole it out of your sermon."
"You are excessively troublesome to-night, Adela," I rejoined. "But I
confess the theft."
"He had quite a right to take what I had done with, Miss Cathcart," said
the curate; and once more I resumed.
* * * * *
"'I always look for nurseries full of children,' said another; 'and this
winter I have been very fortunate. I am sure we belong especially to
children. One evening, looking about in a great city, I saw through the
window into a large nursery, where the odious gas had not yet been
lighted. Round the fire sat a company of the most delightful children
I had ever seen. They were waiting patiently for their tea. It was too
good an opportunity to be lost. I hurried away, and gathering together
twenty of the best Shadows I could find, returned in a few moments to
the nursery. There we began on the walls one of our best dances. To be
sure it was mostly extemporized; but I managed to keep it in harmony by
singing this song, which I made as we went on. Of course the children
could not hear it; they only saw the motions that answered to it. But
with them they seemed to be very much delighted indeed, as I shall
presently show you. This was the song:
'Swing, swang, swingle, swuff,
Flicker, flacker, fling, fluff!
Thus we go,
To and fro;
Here and there,
Born and bred;
On! Come on.
All our life,
Is a strife,
And a wearying for rest
On the darkness' friendly breast.
Sides all aching,
Grumbling, grim and gruff.
Swingle, swangle, swuff!
Now a knot of darkness;
Now dissolved gloom;
Now a pall of blackness
Hiding all the room.
Flicker, flacker, fluff!
Black and black enough!
Dancing now like demons;
Lying like the dead;
Gladly would we stop it,
And go down to bed!
But our work we still must do,
Shadow men, as well as you.
Rooting, rising, shooting,
Heaving, sinking, creeping;
Hid in corners crooning;
Splitting, poking, leaping,
Gathering, towering, swooning.
When we're lurking,
Yet we're working,
For our labour we must do,
Shadow men, as well as you.
Flicker, flacker, fling, fluff!
Swing, swang, swingle, swuff!'
"'How thick the Shadows are!' said one of the children--a thoughtful
"'I wonder where they come from?' said a dreamy little boy.
"'I think they grow out of the wall,' answered the little girl; 'for I
have been watching them come; first one and then another, and then a
whole lot of them. I am sure they grow out of the walls.'
"'Perhaps they have papas and mammas,' said an older boy, with a smile.
"'Yes, yes; the doctor brings them in his pocket,' said another
consequential little maiden.
"'No; I'll tell you,' said the older boy. 'They're ghosts.'
"'But ghosts are white.'
"'Oh! these have got black coming down the chimney.'
"'No,' said a curious-looking, white-faced boy of fourteen, who had been
reading by the firelight, and had stopped to hear the little ones talk;
'they're body-ghosts; they're not soul-ghosts.'
"A silence followed, broken by the first, the dreamy-eyed boy, who said:
"'I hope they didn't make me;' at which they all burst out laughing,
just as the nurse brought in their tea. When she proceeded to light the
gas, we vanished.
"'I stopped a murder,' cried another.
"'How? How? How?'
"'I will tell you.--I had been lurking about a sick room for some time,
where a miser lay, apparently dying. I did not like the place at all,
but I felt as if I was wanted there. There were plenty of lurking places
about, for it was full of all sorts of old furniture,--especially
cabinets, chests and presses. I believe he had in that room every bit of
the property he had spent a long life in gathering. And I knew he had
lots of gold in those places; for one night, when his nurse was away, he
crept out of bed, mumbling and shaking, and managed to open one of his
chests, though he nearly fell down with the effort. I was peeping over
his shoulder, and such a gleam of gold fell upon me, that it nearly
killed me. But hearing his nurse coming, he slammed the lid down, and I
recovered. I tried very hard, but I could not do him any good. For
although I made all sorts of shapes on the walls and ceiling,
representing evil deeds that he had done, of which there were plenty to
choose from, I could make no shapes on his brain or conscience. He had
no eyes for anything but gold. And it so happened that his nurse had
neither eyes nor heart for anything else either.
"'One day as she was seated beside his bed, but where he could not see
her, stirring some gruel in a basin, to cool it from him, I saw her take
a little phial from her bosom, and I knew by the expression of her face
both what it was and what she was going to do with it. Fortunately the
cork was a little hard to get out, and this gave me one moment to think.
"'The room was so crowded with all sorts of things, that although there
were no curtains on the four-post bed to hide from the miser the sight
of his precious treasures, there was yet but one spot on the ceiling
suitable for casting myself upon in the shape I wished to assume. And
this spot was hard to reach. But I discovered that upon this very spot
there was a square gleam of firelight thrown from a strange old dusty
mirror that stood away in some corner, so I got in front of the fire,
spied where the mirror was, threw myself upon it, and bounded from its
face upon the square pool of dim light on the ceiling, assuming, as I
passed, the shape of an old stooping hag, pouring something from a phial
into a basin. I made the handle of the spoon with my own nose, ha! ha!'
"And the shadow-hand caressed the shadow tip of the shadow-nose, before
the shadow-tongue resumed.
"'The old miser saw me. He would not taste the gruel that night,
although his nurse coaxed and scolded till they were both weary. She
pretended to taste it, and to think it very good; and at last retired
into a corner, and made as if she were eating it herself; but I saw that
she took good care to pour it all out.'
"'But she must either succeed, or starve him, at last.'
"'I will tell you.'
"'But,' interposed another, 'he was not worth saving.'
"'He might repent,' said another more benevolent Shadow.
"'No chance of that,' returned the former. 'Misers never do. The love of
money has less in it to cure itself than any other wickedness into which
wretched men can fall. What a mercy it is to be born a Shadow!
Wickedness does not stick to us. What do we care for gold!--Rubbish!'
"'Amen! Amen! Amen!' came from a hundred shadow-voices.
"'You should have let her murder him, and so have had done with him.'
"'And besides, how was he to escape at last? He could never get rid of
"'I was going to tell you,' resumed the narrator, 'only you had so many
shadow-remarks to make, that you would not let me.'
"'Go on; go on.'
"'There was a little grandchild who used to come and see him
sometimes--the only creature the miser cared for. Her mother was his
daughter; but the old man would never see her, because she had married
against his will. Her husband was now dead, but he had not forgiven her
yet. After the shadow he had seen, however, he said to himself, as he
lay awake that night--I saw the words on his face--'How shall I get rid
of that old devil? If I don't eat I shall die. I wish little Mary would
come to-morrow. Ah! her mother would never serve me so, if I lived a
hundred years more.' He lay awake, thinking such things over and over
again all night long, and I stood watching him from a dark corner; till
the day spring came and shook me out. When I came back next night, the
room was tidy and clean. His own daughter, a sad-faced, still beautiful
woman, sat by his bedside; and little Mary was curled up on the floor,
by the fire, imitating us, by making queer shadows on the ceiling with
her twisted hands. But she could not think how ever they got there. And
no wonder, for I helped her to some very unaccountable ones.'
"'I have a story about a grand-daughter, too,' said another, the moment
that speaker ceased.
"'Tell it. Tell it.'
"'Last Christmas-day,' he began, 'I and a troop of us set out in the
twilight, to find some house where we could all have something to do;
for we had made up our minds to act together. We tried several, but
found objections to them all. At last we espied a large lonely
country-house, and hastening to it, we found great preparations making
for the Christmas-dinner. We rushed into it, scampered all over it, and
made up our minds in a moment that it would do. We amused ourselves in
the nursery first, where there were several children being dressed for
dinner. We generally do go to the nursery first, your majesty. This time
we were especially charmed with a little girl about five years old, who
clapped her hands and danced about with delight at the antics we
performed; and we said we would do something for her if we had a chance.
The company began to arrive; and at every arrival, we rushed to the
hall, and cut wonderful capers of welcome. Between times, we scudded
away to see how the dressing went on. One girl about eighteen was
delightful. She dressed herself as if she did not care much about it,
but could no help doing it prettily. When she took her last look of the
phantom in the glass, she half smiled to it.--But we do not like those
creatures that come into the mirrors at all, your majesty. We don't
understand them. They are dreadful to us.--She looked rather sad and
pale, but very sweet and hopeful. We wanted to know all about her, and
soon found out that she was a distant relation and a great favourite of
the gentleman of the house, an old man, with an expression of
benevolence mingled with obstinacy and a deep shade of the tyrannical.
We could not admire him much; but we would not make up our minds all at
once: Shadows never do.
"'The dinner-bell rang, and down we hurried. The children all looked
happy, and we were merry. There was one cross fellow among the servants
waiting, and didn't we plague him! and didn't we get fun out of him!
When he was bringing up dishes, we lay in wait for him at every corner,
and sprung upon him from the floor, and from over the banisters, and
down from the cornices. He started and stumbled and blundered about, so
that his fellow-servants thought he was tipsy. Once he dropped a plate,
and had to pick up the pieces, and hurry away with them. Didn't we
pursue him as he went! It was lucky for him his master did not see him;
but we took care not to let him get into any real scrape, though his
eyes were quite dazed with the dodging of the unaccountable shadows.
Sometimes he thought the walls were coming down upon him; sometimes that
the floor was gaping to swallow him; sometimes that he would be knocked
in pieces by the hurrying to and fro, or be smothered in the black
"'When the blazing plum-pudding was carried in, we made a perfect
shadow-carnival about it, dancing and mumming in the blue flames, like
mad demons. And how the children screamed with delight!
"'The old gentleman, who was very fond of children, was laughing his
heartiest laugh, when a loud knock came to the hall-door. The fair
maiden started, turned paler, and then red as the Christmas fire. I saw
it, and flung my hands across her face. She was very glad, and I know
she said in her heart, "You kind Shadow!" which paid me well. Then I
followed the rest into the hall, and found there a jolly, handsome,
brown-faced sailor, evidently a son of the house. The old man received
him with tears in his eyes, and the children with shouts of joy. The
maiden escaped in the confusion, just in time to save herself from
fainting. We crowded about the lamp to hide her retreat, and nearly put
it out. The butler could not get it to burn up before she had glided
into her place again, delighted to find the room so dark. The sailor
only had seen her go, and now he sat down beside her, and, without a
word, got hold of her hand in the gloom. But now we all scattered to the
walls and the corners; and the lamp blazed up again, and he let her hand
"'During the rest of the dinner, the old man watched them both, and saw
that there was something between them, and was very angry. For he was an
important man in his own estimation--and they had never consulted him.
The fact was, they had never known their own minds till the sailor had
gone upon his last voyage; and had learned each other's only this
moment.--We found out all this by watching them, and then talking
together about it afterwards.--The old gentleman saw too, that his
favourite, who was under such obligation to him for loving her so much,
loved his son better than him; and this made him so jealous, that he
soon overshadowed the whole table with his morose looks and short
answers. That kind of shadowing is very different from ours; and the
Christmas dessert grew so gloomy that we Shadows could not bear it, and
were delighted when the ladies rose to go to the drawing-room. The
gentlemen would not stay behind the ladies, even for the sake of the
well-known wine. So the moddy host, notwithstanding his hospitality,
was left alone at the table, in the great silent room. We followed the
company upstairs to the drawing-room, and thence to the nursery for
snap-dragon. While they were busy with this most shadowy of games,
nearly all the Shadows crept down stairs again to the dining-room, where
the old man still sat, gnawing the bone of his own selfishness. They
crowded into the room, and by using every kind of expansion--blowing
themselves out like soap-bubbles, they succeeded in heaping up the whole
room with shade upon shade. They clustered thickest about the fire and
the lamp, till at last they almost drowned them in hills of darkness.
"'Before they had accomplished so much, the children, tired with fun and
frolic, were put to bed. But the little girl of five years old, with
whom we had been so pleased when first we arrived, could not go to
sleep. She had a little room of her own; and I had watched her to bed,
and now kept her awake by gambolling in the rays of the night-light.
When her eyes were once fixed upon me, I took the shape of her
grandfather, representing him on the wall, as he sat in his chair, with
his head bent down, and his arms hanging listlessly by his sides. And
the child remembered that that was just as she had seen him last; for
she had happened to peep in at the dining-room door, after all the rest
had gone up stairs. "What if he should be sitting there still," thought
she, "all alone in the dark!" She scrambled out of bed and crept down.
"'Meantime the others had made the room below so dark, that only the
face and white hair of the old man could be dimly discerned in the
shadowy crowd. For he had filled his own mind with shadows, which we
Shadows wanted to draw out of him. Those shadows are very different from
us, your majesty knows. He was thinking of all the disappointments he
had had in life, and of all the ingratitude he had met with. He thought
far more of the good he had done, than the good others had got. "After
all I have done for them," said he, with a sigh of bitterness, "not one
of them cares a straw for me. My own children will be glad when I am
gone!" At that instant he lifted up his eyes and saw, standing close by
the door, a tiny figure in a long night-gown. The door behind her was
shut. It was my little friend who had crept in noiselessly. A pang of
icy fear shot to the old man's heart--but it melted away as fast, for we
made a lane through us for a single ray from the fire to fall on the
face of the little sprite; and he thought it was a child of his own that
had died when just the age of her little niece, who now stood looking
for her grandfather among the Shadows. He thought she had come out of
her grave in the old darkness, to ask why her father was sitting alone
on Christmas-day. And he felt he had no answer to give his little ghost,
but one he would be ashamed for her to hear. But the little girl saw him
now. She walked up to him with a childish stateliness--stumbling once or
twice on what seemed her long shroud. Pushing through the crowded
shadows, she reached him, climbed upon his knee, laid her little
long-haired head on his shoulders, and said: "Ganpa! you goomy? Isn't it
your Kismass-day, too, ganpa?"
"'A new fount of love seemed to burst from the clay of the old man's
heart. He clasped the child to his bosom, and wept. Then, without a
word, he rose with her in his arms, carried her up to her room, and
laying her down in her bed, covered her up, kissed her sweet little
mouth unconscious of reproof, and then went to the drawing-room.
"'As soon as he entered, he saw the culprits in a quiet corner alone. He
went up to them, took a hand of each, and joining them in both his,
said, "God bless you!" Then he turned to the rest of the company, and
"Now," said he, "let's have a Christmas carol."--And well he might; for
though I have paid many visits to the house, I have never seen him cross
since; and I am sure that must cost him a good deal of trouble.'
"'We have just come from a great palace,' said another, 'where we knew
there were many children, and where we thought to hear glad voices, and
see royally merry looks. But as soon as we entered, we became aware that
one mighty Shadow shrouded the whole; and that Shadow deepened and
deepened, till it gathered in darkness about the reposing form of a wise
prince. When we saw him, we could move no more, but clung heavily to the
walls, and by our stillness added to the sorrow of the hour. And when we
saw the mother of her people weeping with bowed head for the loss of him
in whom she had trusted, we were seized with such a longing to be
Shadows no longer, but winged angels, which are the white shadows cast
in heaven from the Light of Light, so to gather around her, and hover
over her with comforting, that we vanished from the walls and found
ourselves floating high above the towers of the palace, where we met the
angels on their way; and knew that our service was not needed.'
"By this time there was a glimmer of approaching moonlight, and the king
began to see several of those stranger Shadows, with human faces and
eyes, moving about amongst the crowd. He knew at once that they did not
belong to his dominion. They looked at him, and came near him, and
passed slowly, but they never made any obeisance, or gave sign of
homage. And what their eyes said to him, the king only could tell. And
he did not tell.
"'What are those other Shadows that move through the crowd?' said he to
one of his subjects near him.
"The Shadow started, looked round, shivered slightly, and laid his
finger on his lips. Then leading the king a little aside, and looking
carefully about him once more,
"'I do not know,' said he, in a low tone, 'what they are. I have heard
of them often, but only once did I ever see any of them before. That was
when some of us one night paid a visit to a man who sat much alone, and
was said to think a great deal. We saw two of those sitting in the room
with him, and he was as pale as they were. We could not cross the
threshold, but shivered and shook, and felt ready to melt away. Is not
your majesty afraid of them too?'
"But the king made no answer; and before he could speak again, the moon
had climbed above the mighty pillars of the church of the Shadows, and
looked in at the great window of the sky.
"The shapes had all vanished; and the king, again lifting up his eyes,
saw but the wall of his own chamber, on which flickered the Shadow of a
Little Child. He looked down, and there, sitting on a stool by the fire,
he saw one of his own little ones, waiting to say good night to his
father, and go to bed early, that he might rise as early, and be very
good and happy all Christmas-day.
"And Ralph Rinkelmann rejoiced that he was a man, and not a Shadow."
* * * * *
When I had finished my story, the not unusual silence followed. It was
soon broken by Adela.
"But what were those other shadows, mysteries in the midst of mystery?"
"My dear, as the little child said shadows were the ghosts of the body,
so I say these were the shadows of the mind.--Will that do?"
"I must think. I don't know. I can't trust you.---I _do_ believe,
uncle, you write whatever comes into your head; and then when any one
asks you the meaning of this or that, you hunt round till you find a
meaning just about the same size as the thing itself, and stick it
on.--Don't you, now?"
"Perhaps _yes_, and perhaps _no_, and perhaps both," I
"You have the most confounded imagination I ever knew, Smith, my boy!"
said the colonel. "You run right away, and leave me to come hobbling
after as I best can."
"Oh, never mind; I always return to my wife and children," I answered;
and being an old bachelor, this passed for a good joke with the
kind-hearted company. No more remarks were made upon my Shadow story,
though I was glad to see the curate pondering over it. Before we parted,
the usual question of who was to read the next, had to be settled.
"I proposed, for a change," said the curate, "that the club meet at my
house the next time, and that the story be omitted for once. We'll have
some music, and singing, and poetry, and all that sort of thing. What do
you say, Lizzie?"
"With all my heart," answered Mrs. Armstrong.
"You forget," said the colonel, "that Adela is not well enough to go out
Adela looked as if she thought that was a mistake, and glanced towards
the doctor. I think Percy caught sight of the glance as it passed him.
"If I may be allowed to give a professional opinion," said Harry, "I
think she could go without the smallest danger, if she were well wrapped
"You can have the carriage, of course, my love," said her father, "if
you would like to go."
"I should very much like to go," said Adela.
And so it was settled to the evident contentment of all except the
mother and son, who, I suppose, felt that Adela was slipping through
their fingers, in this strengthening of adverse influences. I was sure
myself, that nothing could be better for her, in either view of the
case. Harry did not stay behind to ask her any questions this evening,
but left with the rest.
The next day, the bright frosty weather still continuing, I took Adela
out for a walk.
"You are much better, I think, my dear," I said.
"Very much," she answered. "I think Mr. Armstrong's prescription is
doing me a great deal of good. It seems like magic. I sleep very well
indeed now. And somehow life seems a much more possible thing than it
looked a week or two ago. And the whole world appears more like the work
"I am very glad, my dear. If all your new curate tries to teach us be
true, the world need not look very dreary to any of us."
"But do you believe it all, uncle?"
"Yes I do, my dear. I believe that the grand noble way of thinking of
God and his will must be the true way, though it never can be grand or
noble enough; and that belief in beauty and truth, notwithstanding so
many things that are neither beautiful nor true, is essential to a right
understanding of the world. Whatever is not good and beautiful, is
doomed by the very death that is in it; and when we find such things in
ourselves or in other people, we may take comfort that these must be
destroyed one day, even if it be by that form of divine love which
appears as a consuming fire."
"But that is very dreadful too, is it not, uncle?"
"Yes, me dear. But there is a refuge from it; and then the fear proves a
"God himself. If you go close up to him, his spirit will become your
spirit, and you will need no fire then. You will find that that which is
fire to them that are afar off, is a mighty graciousness to them that
are nigh. They are both the same thing."
Adela made me no answer. Perhaps I tried to give her more than she was
ready to receive. Perhaps she needed more leading, before she would be
able to walk in that road. If so, then Providence was leading her; and I
need not seek to hasten a divine process.
But at least she enjoyed her walk that bright winter day, and came home
without being wearied, or the cold getting any victory over her.
As we passed some cottages on our way home, Adela said--
"There is a poor woman who lives in one of these cottages, who used to
be a servant of ours. She is in bad health, and I dare say is not very
well off in this frost, for her husband is only a labourer. I should
like to go and see her."
"With all my heart, my dear," I answered.
"This is the house," said Adela; and she lifted the latch and went in
gently, I following.
No one had heard our entrance, and when Adela knocked at the inner door,
there was no reply. Whereupon she opened the door, and then we saw the
woman seated on one side of the fire, and the man on the other side with
his pipe in his mouth; while between them sat the curate with his hands
in his pockets, and his pipe likewise in his mouth. But they were
blowing but a small cloud between them, and were evidently very deep in
an earnest conversation.
I overheard a part of what the cottager was saying, and could not help
listening to the rest.
"And the man was telling them, sir, that God had picked out so many men,
women, and children, to go right away to glory, and left the rest to be
damned for ever and ever in hell. And I up and spoke to him; and 'sir,'
says I, 'if I was tould as how I was to pick out so many out o' my
childeren, and take 'em with me to a fine house, and leave the rest to
be burnt up i' the old one, which o' them would I choose?' 'How can I
tell?' says he. 'No doubt,' says I; 'they aint your sons and darters.
But I can. I wouldn't move a foot, sir, but I'd take my chance wi' the
poor things. And, sir,' says I, 'we're all God's childeren; and which o'
us is he to choose, and which is he to leave out? I don't believe he'd
know a bit better how to choose one and leave another than I should,
sir--that is, his heart wouldn't let him lose e'er a one o' us, or he'd
be miserable for ever, as I should be, if I left one o' mine i' the
Here Adela had the good sense to close the door again, yet more softly
than she had opened it; and we retired.
"That's the right sort of man," said I, "to get a hold of the poor. He
understands them, being himself as poor in spirit as they are in
pocket--or, indeed, I might have said, as he is in pocket himself. But
depend upon it he comes out both ways poorer than he went in."
"It should not be required of a curate to give money," said Adela.
"Do you grudge him the blessedness of giving, Adela?"
"Oh, no. I only think it is too hard on him."
"It is as necessary for a poor man to give away, as for a rich man. Many
poor men are more devoted worshippers of Mammon than some rich men."
And then I took her home.
THE EVENING AT THE CURATE'S.
As I led Adela, well wrapped in furs, down the steps to put her into the
carriage, I felt by the wind, and saw by the sky, that a snowstorm was
at hand. This set my heart beating with delight, for after all I am only
what my friends call me--an old boy; and so I am still very fond of snow
and wind. Of course this pleasure is often modified by the recollection
that it is to most people no pleasure, and to some a source of great
suffering. But then I recover myself by thinking, that I did not send
for the snow, and that my enjoyment of it will neither increase their
pains nor lessen my sympathies. And so I enjoy it again with all my
heart. It is partly the sense of being lapt in a mysterious fluctuating
depth of exquisite shapes of evanescent matter, falling like a cataract
from an unknown airy gulf, where they grow into being and form out of
the invisible--well-named by the prophet Job--for a prophet he was in
the truest sense, all-seated in his ashes and armed with his
potsherd--the womb of the snow; partly the sense of motion and the
goings of the wind through the etherial mass; partly the delight that
always comes from contest with nature, a contest in which no vile
passions are aroused, and no weak enemy goes helpless to the ground. I
presume that in a right condition of our nervous nature, instead of our
being, as some would tell us, less exposed to the influences of nature,
we should in fact be altogether open to them. Our nerves would be a
thorough-fare for Nature in all and each of her moods and feelings,
stormy or peaceful, sunshiny or sad. The true refuge from the slavery to
which this would expose us, the subjection of man to circumstance, is to
be found, not in the deadening of the nervous constitution, or in a
struggle with the influences themselves, but in the strengthening of the
moral and refining of the spiritual nature; so that, as the storms rave
through the vault of heaven without breaking its strong arches with
their winds, or staining its etherial blue with their rain-clouds, the
soul of man should keep clear and steady and great, holding within it
its own feelings and even passions, knowing that, let them moan or rave
as they will, they cannot touch the nearest verge of the empyrean dome,
in whose region they have their birth and being.
For me, I felt myself now, just an expectant human snow-storm; and as I
sat on the box by the coachman, I rejoiced to greet the first flake,
which alighted on the tip of my nose even before we had cleared our own
grounds. Before we had got _up street_, the wind had risen, and the
snow thickened, till the horses seemed inclined to turn their tails to
the hill and the storm together, for the storm came down the hill in
their faces. It was soon impossible to see one's hand before one's eyes;
and the carriage lamps served only to reveal a chaotic fury of
snow-flakes, crossing each other's path at all angles, in the eddies of
the wind amongst the houses. The coachman had to keep encouraging his
horses to get them to face it at all. The ground was very slippery; and
so fast fell the snow, that it had actually begun to ball in the horses'
feet before we reached our destination. When we were all safe in Mrs.
Armstrong's drawing-room, we sat for a while listening to the wind
roaring in the chimney, before any of us spoke. And then I did not join
in the conversation, but pleased myself with looking at the room; for
next to human faces, I delight in human abodes, which will always, more
or less, according to the amount of choice vouchsafed in the occupancy,
be like the creatures who dwell in them. Even the soldier-crab must have
some likeness to the snail of whose house he takes possession, else he
could not live in it at all.
The first thing to be done by one who would read a room is, to clear it
as soon as possible of the air of the marvellous, the air of the
storybook, which pervades every place at the first sight of it. But I am
not now going to write a treatise upon this art, for which I have not
time to invent a name; but only to give as much of a description of this
room as will enable my readers to feel quite at home with us in it,
during our evening there. It was a large low room, with two beams across
the ceiling at unequal distances. There was only a drugget on the floor,
and the window curtains were scanty. But there was a glorious fire on
the hearth, and the tea-board was filled with splendid china, as old as
the potteries. The chairs, I believe, had been brought from old Mr.
Armstrong's lumber-room, and so they all looked as if they could tell
stories themselves. At all events they were just the proper chairs to
tell stories in, and I could not help regretting that we were not to
have any to-night. The rest of the company had arrived before us. A warm
corner in an old-fashioned sofa had been prepared for Adela, and as soon
as she was settled in it, our hostess proceeded to pour out the tea with
a simplicity and grace which showed that she had been just as much a
lady when carrying parcels for the dressmaker, and would have been a
lady if she had been a housemaid. Such a women are rare in every circle,
the best of every kind being rare. It is very disappointing to the
imaginative youth when, coming up to London and going into society, he
finds that so few of the men and women he meets, come within the charmed
circle of his ideal refinement.
I said to myself: "I am sure she could write a story if she would. I
must have a try for one from her."
When tea was over, she looked at her husband, and then went to the
piano, and sang the following ballad:
"'Traveller, what lies over the hill?
Traveller, tell to me:
I am only a child--from the window-sill
Over I cannot see.'
"'Child, there's a valley over there,
Pretty and woody and shy;
And a little brook that says--'take care,
Or I'll drown you by and by.'
"'And what comes next?' 'A little town;
And a towering hill again;
More hills and valleys, up and down,
And a river now and then.'
"'And what comes next?' 'A lonely moor,
Without a beaten way;
And grey clouds sailing slow, before
A wind that will not stay.'
"'And then?' 'Dark rocks and yellow sand,
And a moaning sea beside.'
'And then?' 'More sea, more sea more land,
And rivers deep and wide.'
"'And then?' 'Oh! rock and mountain and vale,
Rivers and fields and men;
Over and over--a weary tale--
And round to your home again.'
"'Is that the end? It is weary at best.'
'No, child; it is not the end.
On summer eves, away in the west,
You will see a stair ascend;
"'Built of all colours of lovely stones--
A stair up into the sky;
Where no one is weary, and no one moans,
Or wants to be laid by.'
"'I will go.' 'But the steps are very steep:
If you would climb up there,
You must lie at its foot, as still as sleep,
And be a step of the stair,
"'For others to put their feet on you,
To reach the stones high-piled;
Till Jesus comes and takes you too,
And leads you up, my child!'"
"That is one of your parables, I am sure, Ralph," said the doctor, who
was sitting, quite at his ease, on a footstool, with his back against
the wall, by the side of the fire opposite to Adela, casting every now
and then a glance across the fiery gulf, just as he had done in church
when I first saw him. And Percy was there to watch them, though, from
some high words I overheard, I had judged that it was with difficulty
his mother had prevailed on him to come. I could not help thinking
myself, that two pairs of eyes met and parted rather oftener than any
other two pairs in the room; but I could find nothing to object.
"Now, Miss Cathcart, it is your turn to sing."
"Would you mind singing another of Heine's songs?" said the doctor,
as he offered his hand to lead her to the piano.
"No," she answered. "I will not sing one of that sort. It was not
liked last time. Perhaps what I do sing won't be much better though.
"The waters are rising and flowing
Over the weedy stone--
Over and over it going:
It is never gone.
"So joy on joy may go sweeping
Over the head of pain--
Over and over it leaping:
It will rise again."
"Very lovely, but not much better than what I asked for. In revenge, I
will give you one of Heine's that my brother translated. It always
reminds me, with a great difference, of one in In Memoriam, beginning:
So spake Harry, and sang:
"The shapes of the days forgotten
Out of their graves arise,
And show me what once my life was,
In the presence of thine eyes.
"All day through the streets I wandered,
As in dreams men go and come;
The people in wonder looked at me,
I was so mournful dumb.
"It was better though, at night-fall,
When, through the empty town,
I and my shadow together
Went silent up and down.
"With echoing, echoing footstep,
Over the bridge I walk;
The moon breaks out of the waters,
And looks as if she would talk.
"I stood still before thy dwelling,
Like a tree that prays for rain;
I stood gazing up at thy window--
My heart was in such pain.
"And thou lookedst through thy curtains--
I saw thy shining hand;
And thou sawest me, in the moonlight,
Still as a statue stand."
"Excuse me," said Mrs. Cathcart, with a smile, "but I don't think such
sentimental songs good for anybody. They can't be _healthy_--I
believe that is the word they use now-a-days."
"I don't say they are," returned the doctor; "but many a pain is
relieved by finding its expression. I wish he had never written worse."
"That is not why I like them," said the curate. "They seem to me to hold
the same place in literature that our dreams do in life. If so much of
our life is actually spent in dreaming, there must be some place in our
literature for what corresponds to dreaming. Even in this region, we
cannot step beyond the boundaries of our nature. I delight in reading
Lord Bacon now; but one of Jean Paul's dreams will often give me more
delight than one of Bacon's best paragraphs. It depends upon the mood.
Some dreams like these, in poetry or in sleep, arouse individual states
of consciousness altogether different from any of our waking moods, and
not to be recalled by any mere effort of the will. All our being, for
the moment, has a new and strange colouring. We have another kind of
life. I think myself, our life would be much poorer without our dreams;
a thousand rainbow tints and combinations would be gone; music and
poetry would lose many an indescribable exquisiteness and tenderness.
You see I like to take our dreams seriously, as I would even our fun.
For I believe that those new mysterious feelings that come to us in
sleep, if they be only from dreams of a richer grass and a softer wind
than we have known awake, are indications of wells of feeling and
delight which have not yet broken out of their hiding-places in our
souls, and are only to be suspected from these rings of fairy green that
spring up in the high places of our sleep."
"I say, Ralph," interrupted Harry, "just repeat that strangest of
Heine's ballads, that--"
"Oh, no, no; not that one. Mrs. Cathcart would not like it at all."
"Yes, please do," said Adela.
"Pray don't think of me, gentlemen," said the aunt.
"No, I won't," said the curate.
"Then I will," said the doctor, with a glance at Adela, which seemed to
say--"If you want it, you shall have it, whether they like it or not."
He repeated, with just a touch of the recitative in his tone, the
"Night lay upon mine eyelids;
Upon my mouth lay lead;
With withered heart and sinews,
I lay among the dead.
"How long I lay and slumbered,
I knew not in the gloom.
I wakened up, and listened
To a knocking at my tomb.
"'Wilt thou not rise, my Henry?
Immortal day draws on;
The dead are all arisen;
The endless joy begun.'
"'My love, I cannot raise me;
Nor could I find the door;
My eyes with bitter weeping
Are blind for evermore.'
"'But from thine eyes, dear Henry,
I'll kiss away the night;
Thou shall behold the angels,
And Heaven's own blessed light.'
"'My love, I cannot raise me;
The blood is flowing still,
Where thou, heart-deep, didst stab me,
With a dagger-speech, to kill.'
"'Oh! I will lay my hand, Henry,
So soft upon thy heart;
And that will stop the bleeding--
Stop all the bitter smart.'
"'My love, I cannot raise me;
My head is bleeding too.
When thou wast stolen from me,
I shot it through and through.'
"'With my thick hair, my Henry,
I will stop the fountain red;
Press back again the blood-stream,
And heal thy wounded head.'
"She begged so soft, so dearly,
I could no more say no;
Writhing, I strove to raise me,
And to the maiden go.
"Then the wounds again burst open;
And afresh the torrents break
From head and heart--life's torrents--
And lo! I am awake."
"There now, that is enough!" said the curate. "That is not nice--is it,
Mrs. Cathcart smiled, and said:
"I should hardly have thought your time well-spent in translating it,
"It took me a few idle minutes only," said the curate. "But my foolish
brother, who has a child's fancy for horrid things, took a fancy to
that; and so he won't let my sins be forgotten. But I will take away
the taste of it with another of Heine's, seeing we have fallen upon him.
I should never have dreamed of introducing him here. It was Miss
Cathcart's first song that opened the vein, I believe."
"I am the guilty person," said Adela; "and I fear I am not sorry for my
sins--the consequences have been too pleasant. Do go on, Mr. Armstrong."
"High in the heavens the sun was glowing;
Around him the white clouds, like waves, were flowing;
The sea was very still and grey.
Dreamily thinking as I lay,
Close by the gliding vessel's wheel,
A sleepless slumber did o'er me steal;
And I saw the Christ, the healer of woe,
In white and waving garments go;
Walking in giant form went he
Over the land and sea.
High in the heaven he towered his head,
And his hands in blessing forth he spread
Over the land and sea.
And for a heart, O wonder meet!
In his breast the sun did throb and beat;
In his breast, for a heart to the only One,
Shone the red, the flaming sun.
The flaming red sunheart of the Lord
Forth its gracious life-beams poured;
Its fair and love-benignant light
Softly shone, with warming might,
Over the land and sea.
"Sounds of solemn bells that go
Through the still air to and fro,
Draw, like swans, in a rosy band,
The gliding ship to the grassy land,
Where a mighty city, towered and high,
Breaks and jags the line of the sky.
"Oh, wonder of peach, how still was the town!
The hollow tumult had all gone down
Of the bustling and babbling trades.
Men and women, and youths and maids,
White clothes wearing,
Palm branches bearing,
Walked through the clean and echoing streets;
And when one with another meets,
They look at each other with eyes that tell
That they understand each other well;
And, trembling with love and sweet restraint,
Each kisses the other upon the brow,
And looks above, like a hoping saint,
To the holy, healing sunheart's glow;
Which atoning all, its red blood streams
Downward in still outwelling beams;
Till, threefold blessed, they call aloud,
The single hearts of a happy crowd.
Praised be Jesus Christ!"
"You will like that better," concluded the curate, again addressing
"Fanciful," she answered. "I don't like fancies about sacred things."
"I fear, however," replied he, "that most of our serious thoughts about
sacred things are little better than fancies."
"Sing that other of his about the flowers, and I promise you never to
mention his name in this company again," said Harry.
"Very well, I will, on that condition," answered Ralph.
"In the sunny summer morning
Into the garden I come;
The flowers are whispering and speaking,
But I, I wander dumb.
"The flowers are whispering and speaking,
And they gaze at my visage wan:
'You must not be cross with our sister,
You melancholy man!'"
"Is that all?" said Adela.
"Yes, that's all," answered the singer.
"But we cannot let you off with that only," she said.
"What an awful night it is!" interrupted the colonel, rising and going
to the window to peep out. "Between me and the lamp, the air looks solid
with driving snow."
"Sing one of your winter songs, Ralph," said the curate's wife. "This
is surely stormy enough for one of your Scotch winters that you are so
Thus adjured, Mr, Armstrong sang:
"A morning clear, with frosty light
From sunbeams late and low;
They shine upon the snow so white,
And shine back from the snow.
"From icy spears a drop will run--
Not fall: at afternoon,
It shines a diamond for the sun,
An opal for the moon.
"And when the bright sad sun is low
Behind the mountain-dome,
A twilight wind will come, and blow
All round the children's home;
"And waft about the powdery snow,
As night's dim footsteps pass;
But waiting, in its grave below,
Green lies the summer-grass."
"Now it seems to me," said the colonel, "though I am no authority in
such matters, that it is just in such weather as this, that we don't
need songs of that sort. They are not very exhilarating."
"There is truth in that," replied Mr. Armstrong. "I think it is in
winter chiefly that we want songs of summer, as the Jews sang--if not
the songs of Zion, yet of Zion, in a strange land. Indeed most of our
songs are of this sort."
"Then sing one of your own summer songs."
"No, my dear; I would rather not. I don't altogether like them. Besides,
if Harry could sing that _Tryst_ of Schiller's, it would bring back
the feeling of the summer better than any brooding over the remembrances
of it could do."
"Did you translate that too?" I asked.
"Yes. As I told you, at one time of my life translating was a constant
recreation to me. I have had many half-successes, some of which you have
heard. I think this one better."
"What is the name of it?"
"It is 'Die Erwartung'--_The Waiting_, literally, or
_Expectation._ But the Scotch word _Tryst_ (Rendezvous) is a
better name for a poem, though English. It is often curious how a
literal rendering, even when it gives quite the meaning, will not do,
because of the different ranks of the two words in their respective
"I have heard you say," said Harry, "that the principles of the
translation of lyrics have yet to be explored."
"Yes. But what I have just said, applies nearly as much to prose as to
the verse.--Sing, Harry. You know it well enough."
"Part is in recitative,"
"So it is. Go on."
"To enter into the poem, you must suppose a lover waiting in an arbour
for his lady-love. First come two recited lines of expectation; then two
more, in quite a different measure, of disappointment; and then a
long-lined song of meditation; until expectation is again aroused, to be
again disappointed--and so on through the poem.
"That was the wicket a-shaking!
That was its clang as it fell!
No, 'twas but the night-wind waking,
And the poplars' answering swell.
Put on thy beauty, foliage-vaulted roof,
To greet her entrance, radiant all with grace;
Ye branches weave a holy tent, star-proof;
With lovely darkness, silent, her embrace;
Sweet, wandering airs, creep through the leafy woof,
And toy and gambol round her rosy face,
When with its load of beauty, lightly borne,
Glides in the fairy foot, and brings my morn.
Hush! I hear timid, yet daring
Steps that are almost a race!
No, a bird--some terror scaring--
Started from its roosting place.
Quench thy sunk torch, Hyperion. Night, appear!
Dim, ghostly Night, lone loveliness entrancing!
Spread, purple blossoms, round us, in a sphere;
Twin, lattice-boughs, the mystery enhancing;
Love's joy would die, if more than two were here--
She shuns the daybeam indiscreetly glancing.
Eve's star alone--no envious tell-tale she--
Gazes unblamed, from far across the sea.
Hark! distant voices, that lightly
Ripple the silence deep!
No; the swans that, circling nightly,
Through the silver waters sweep.
Around me wavers an harmonious flow;
The fountain's fall swells in delicious rushes;
The flower beneath the west wind's kiss bends low;
A trembling joy from each to all outgushes.
Grape-clusters beckon; peaches luring glow,
Behind dark leaves hiding their crimson blushes;
The winds, cooled with the sighs of flowers asleep,
Light waves of odour o'er my forehead sweep.
Hear I not echoing footfalls,
Hither along the pleached walk?
No; the over-ripened fruit falls
Heavy-swollen, from off its stalk.
Dull is the eye of day that flamed so bright;
In gentle death, its colours all are dim;
Unfolding fearless in the fair half light,
The flower-cups ope, that all day closed their brim;
Calm lifts the moon her clear face on the night;
Dissolved in masses faint, Earth's features swim;
Each grace withdraws the soft relaxing zone--
Beauty unrobed shines full on me alone.
See I not, there, a white shimmer?--
Something with pale silken shine?
No; it is the column's glimmer,
'Gainst the gloomy hedge of pine.
O longing heart! no more thyself delight
With shadow-forms--a sweet deceiving pleasure;
Filling thy arms but as the vault of night
Infoldeth darkness without hope or measure.
O lead the living beauty to my sight,
That living love her loveliness may treasure!
Let but her shadow fall across my eyes,
And straight my dreams exulting truths will rise!
And soft as, when, purple and golden,
The clouds of the evening descend,
So had she drawn nigh unbeholden,
And wakened with kisses her friend."
Never had song a stranger accompaniment than this song; for the air was
full of fierce noises near and afar. Again the colonel went to the
window. When he drew back the curtains, at Adela's request, and pulled
up the blind, you might have fancied the dark wind full of snowy
Banshees, fleeting and flickering by, and uttering strange ghostly cries
of warning. The friends crowded into the bay-window, and stared out into
the night with a kind of happy awe. They pressed their brows against the
panes, in the vain hope of seeing where there was no light. Every now
and then the wind would rush up against the window in fierce attack, as
if the creatures that rode by upon the blast had seen the row of white
faces, and it angered them to be thus stared at, and they rode their
airy steeds full tilt against the thin rampart of glass that protected
the human weaklings from becoming the spoil of their terrors.
While every one was silent with the intensity of this outlook, and with
the awe of such an uproar of wild things without souls, there came a
loud knock at the door, which was close to the window where they stood.
Even the old colonel, whose nerves were as hard as piano-wires, started
back and cried "God bless me!" The doctor, too, started, and began
mechanically to button his coat, but said nothing. Adela gave a little
suppressed scream, and ashamed of the weakness, crept away to her
The servant entered, saying that Dr. Armstrong's man wanted to see him.
Harry went into the passage, which was just outside the drawing-room,
and the company overheard the following conversation, every word.
"There's a man come after you from Cropstone Farm, sir. His missus is
"What?--It's not the old lady then? It's the young mistress?"
"Yes; she's in labour, sir; leastways she was--he's been three hours on
the road. I reckon it's all over by this time.--You won't go, sir! It's
"Won't go! It's morally impossible not. You knew I would go.--That's the
"No, sir. It's Tilter."
"Then you did think I wouldn't go! You knew well enough Tilter's no use
for a job like this. The mare's my only chance."
"I beg your pardon, sir. I did not think you would go."
"Home with you, as hard as Tilter can drive--confound him!--And bring
the mare instantly. She's had her supper?"
"I left her munching, sir."
"Don't let her drink. I'll give her a quart of ale at Job Timpson's."
"You won't go that way, surely, sir?"
"It's the nearest; and the snow can't be very deep yet."
"I've brought your boots and breeches, sir."
The man hurried out, and Harry was heard to run up stairs to his
brother's room. The friends stared at each other in some perturbation.
Presently Harry re-entered, in the articles last mentioned, saying--
"Ralph, have you an old shooting-coat you could lend me?"
"I should think so, Harry. I'll fetch you one."
Now at length the looks of the circle found some expression in the words
of the colonel:
"Mr. Armstrong, I am an old soldier, and I trust I know what duty is.
The only question is, _Can_ this be done?"
"Colonel, no man can tell what can or cannot be done till he tries. I
think it can."
The colonel held out his hand--his sole reply.
The schoolmaster and his wife ventured to expostulate. To them Harry
made fun of the danger. Adela had come from the corner to which she had
retreated, and joined the group. She laid her hand on Harry's arm, and
he saw that she was pale as death.
"Don't go," she said.
As if to enforce her words, the street-door, which, I suppose, William
had not shut properly, burst open with a bang against the wall, and the
wind went shrieking through the house, as if in triumph at having forced
"The woman is in labour," said Harry in reply to Adela, forgetting, in
the stern reality both for the poor woman and himself, that girls of
Adela's age and social position are not accustomed to hear such facts so
plainly expressed, from a man's lips. Adela, however, simply accepted
the fact, and replied:
"But you will be too late anyhow."
"Perhaps just in time," he answered, as his brother entered with a coat
over his arm.
"Ralph," he went on, with a laugh, "they are trying to persuade me not
"It is a tempting of Providence," said Mrs. Bloomfield.
"Harry, my boy," said the curate solemnly, "I would rather have you
brought home dead to-morrow, than see you sitting by that fire five
minutes after your mare comes. But you'll put on a great-coat?"
"No, thank you. I shall do much better without one. How comical I shall
look in Farmer Prisphig's Sunday clothes! I'm not going to be lost this
storm, Mrs. Bloomfield; for I second-see myself at this moment, sitting
by the farmer's kitchen fire, in certain habiliments a world too wide
for my unshrunk shanks, but doing my best to be worthy of them by the
attention I am paying to my supper."
Here he stooped to Lizzie and whispered in her ear:
"Don't let them make a fuss about my going. There is really no
particular danger. And I don't want my patient there frightened and
thrown back, you know."
Mrs. Armstrong nodded a promise. In a moment more, Harry had changed his
coat; for the storm had swept away ceremony at least. Lizzie ran and
brought him a glass of wine; but he begged for a glass of milk instead,
and was soon supplied; after which he buttoned up his coat, tightened
the straps of his spurs, which had been brought slack on his boots, put
on one of a thick pair of gloves which he found in his brother's coat,
bade them all good night, drew on the other glove, and stood prepared to
Did he or did he not see Adela's eyes gazing out of her pale face with
an expression of admiring apprehension, as she stood bending forward,
and looking up at the strong man about to fight the storm, and all ready
to meet it? I don't know. I only put it to his conscience.
In a moment more, the knock came again--the only sign, for no one could
hear the mare's hoofs in the wind and snow. With one glance and one good
night, he hurried out. The wind once more, for a brief moment, held an
infernal carnival in the house. They crowded to the window--saw a dim
form heave up on horseback, and presently vanish. All space lay beyond;
but, for them, he was swallowed up by the jaws of the darkness. They
knew no more. A flash of pride in his brother shot from Ralph's eyes,
as, with restrained excitement, for which he sought some outlet, he
walked towards the piano. His wife looked at Ralph with the same light
of pride, tempered by thankfulness; for she knew, if he had been sent
for, he would have gone all the same as Harry; but then he was not such
a horseman as his brother. The fact was, he had neither seat nor hands,
though no end of pluck.
"He will have to turn back," said the colonel. "He can't reach Cropstone
Farm to-night. It lies right across the moor. It is impossible."
"Impossible things are always being done," said the curate, "else the
world would have been all moor by this time."
"The wind is dead against him," said the schoolmaster.
"Better in front than in flank," said the colonel. "It won't blow him
out of the saddle."
Adela had crept back to her corner, where she sat shading her eyes, and
listening. I saw that her face was very pale. Lizzie joined her, and
began talking to her.
I had not much fear for Harry, for I could not believe that his hour was
come yet. I had great confidence in him and his mare. And I believed in
the God that made Harry and the mare, and the storm too, through which
he had sent them to the aid of one who was doing her part to keep his
But now Mr. Armstrong had found a vent for his excitement in another of
his winter songs, which might be very well for his mood, though it was
not altogether suited to that of some of the rest of us. He sang--
"Oh wildly wild the winter-blast
Is whirling round the snow;
The wintry storms are up at last,
And care not how they go.
In wreaths and mists, the frozen white
Is torn into the air;
It pictures, in the dreary light,
An ocean in despair.
Come, darkness! rouse the fancy more;
Storm! wake the silent sea;
Till, roaring in the tempest-roar,
It rave to ecstasy;
And death-like figures, long and white,
Sweep through the driving spray;
And, fading in the ghastly night,
Cry faintly far away."
I saw Adela shudder. Presently she asked her papa whether it was not
time to go home. Mrs. Armstrong proposed that she should stay all night;
but she evidently wished to go. It would be rather perilous work to
drive down the hill with the wind behind, in such a night, but a servant
was sent to hasten the carriage notwithstanding. The colonel and Percy
and I ran along side of it, ready to render any assistance that might be
necessary; and, although we all said we had never been out in such an
uproar of the elements, we reached home in safety.
As Adela bade us good night in the hall, I certainly felt very uneasy as
to the effects of the night's adventures upon her--she looked so pale
She did not come down to breakfast.
But she appeared at lunch, nothing the worse, and in very good spirits.
If I did not think that this had something to do with another fact I
have come to the knowledge of since, I don't know that the particulars
of the evening need have been related so minutely. The other fact was
this: that in the grey dawn of the morning, by which time the snow had
ceased, though the wind still blew, Adela saw from her window a weary
rider and wearier horse pass the house, going up the street. The heads
of both were sunk low. You might have thought the poor mare was looking
for something she had lost last night in the snow; and perhaps it was
not all fatigue with Harry Armstrong. Perhaps he was giving thanks that
he had saved two lives instead of losing his own. He was not so
absorbed, however, but that he looked up at the house as he passed, and
I believe he saw the blind of her window drop back into its place.
But how did she come to be looking out just at the moment?
If a lady has not slept all night, and has looked out of window
ninety-nine times before, it is not very wonderful that at the hundredth
time she should see what she was looking for; that is, if the object
desired has not been lost in the snow, or drowned in a moorland pit;
neither of which had happened to Harry Armstrong. Nor is it unlikely
that, after seeing what she has watched for, she will fall too fast
asleep to be roused by the breakfast bell.
PERCY AND HIS MOTHER.
At luncheon, the colonel said--
"Well, Adela, you will be glad to know that our hero of last night
returned quite safe this morning."
"I am glad to know it, papa."
"He is one of the right sort, that young fellow. Duty is the first thing
"Perhaps duty may not have been his only motive," said Mrs. Cathcart,
coldly. "It was too good an opportunity to be lost."
Adela seemed to understand her, for she blushed--but not with
embarrassment alone, for the fire that made her cheek glow red, flashed
in flames from her eyes.
"Some people, aunt," she said, trying to follow the cold tone in which
Mrs. Cathcart had spoken, "have not the faculty for the perception of
the noble and self-denying. Their own lives are so habitually elevated,
that they see nothing remarkable in the devotion of others."
"Well, I do see nothing remarkable in it," returned the aunt, in a tone
that indicated she hardly knew what to make of Adela's sarcasm. "Mr.
Armstrong would have been liable to an action at law if he had refused
to go. And then to come into the drawing-room in his boots and spurs,
and change his coat before ladies!--It was all just of a piece with the
coarse speech he made to you when you were simple enough to ask him not
to go. I can't think what you admire about the man, I am sure."
Adela rose and left the room.
"You are too hard on Mr. Armstrong," said the colonel
"Perhaps I am, Colonel; but I have my reasons. If you will be blind to
your daughter's interests, that is only the more reason why I should
keep my eyes open to them."
So saying, Mrs. Cathcart rose, and followed her niece--out of the room,
but no farther, I will venture to say. Fierce as the aunt was, there had
been that in the niece's eyes, as she went, which I do not believe the
vulgar courage of the aunt could have faced.
I concluded that Mrs. Cathcart had discovered Adela's restlessness the
night before; had very possibly peeped into her room; and, as her
windows looked in the same direction, might have seen Harry riding home
from his selfish task in the cold grey morning; for scheming can destroy
the rest of some women as perfectly as loving can destroy the rest of
others. She might have made the observation, too, that Adela had lain as
still as a bird unhatched, after that apparition of weariness had
The colonel again sank into an uncomfortable mood. He had loved his dead
brother very dearly, and had set his heart on marrying Adela to Percy.
Besides there was quite enough of worldliness left in the heart of the
honourable old soldier, to make him feel that a country practitioner, of
very moderate means, was not to be justified in aspiring to the hand of
his daughter. Moreover, he could hardly endure the thought of his
daughter's marriage at all, for he had not a little of the old man's
jealousy in him; and the notion of Percy being her husband was the only
form in which the thought could present itself, that was in the least
degree endurable to him. Yet he could not help admiring Harry; and until
his thoughts had been turned into their present channel by Mrs.
Cathcart's remarks, he had felt that that lady was unjust to the doctor.
But to think that his line, for he had no son, should merge into that of
the Armstrongs, who were of somewhat dubious descent in his eyes, and
Scotch, too--though, by the way, his own line was Scotch, a few hundred
years back--was sufficient to cause him very considerable
uneasiness--_pain_ would be the more correct word.
I have, for many pages, said very little about Percy; simply because
there has been very little to say about him. He was always present at
our readings, but did not appear to take any interest in them. He would
generally lie on a couch, and stare either at Adela or the fire till he
fell asleep. If he did not succeed in getting to sleep, he would show
manifest signs of being bored. No doubt he considered the whole affair a
piece of sentimental humbug. And during the day I saw very little of
him. He had hunted once or twice, on one of his uncle's horses: they had
scarcely seen the hounds this season. But that was a bore, no doubt. He
went skating occasionally, and had once tried to get Adela to accompany
him; but she would not. These amusements, with a few scattered hours of
snipe-shooting, composed his Christmas enjoyments; the intervals being
filled up with yawning, teasing the dogs, growling at his mother and the
cold, and sleeping "the innocent sleep."
Whether he had any real regard for Adela, I could not quite satisfy
myself--I mean _real_ by the standard and on the scale of his own
being; for of course, as compared with the love of men like the
Armstrongs, the attachment of a lad like Percy could hardly be
considered _real_ at all. But even that, as I say, I could not
clearly find out. His jealousy seemed rather the jealousy of what was
his, or ought to be his, than any more profound or tragical feeling. But
he evidently disliked the doctor--and the curate, too, whether for his
own sake or for the doctor's, is of little consequence.
In the course of this forenoon, I came upon Master Percy in the kitchen
garden. He had set an old shutter against one of the walls for a target,
and was peppering away at it with a revolver; apparently quite satisfied
if he succeeded in hitting the same panel twice running, at twelve
paces. Guessing at the nonsense that was in his head, I sauntered up to
him and watched his practice for a while. He pulled the trigger with a
jerk that threw the muzzle up half an inch every time he fired, else I
don't believe he would have hit the board at all. But he held his breath
before-hand, till he was red in the face, because he had heard that, in
firing at a mark, pistol-shooters did not even breathe, to avoid the
influence of the motion of the chest upon the aim.
"Ah!" I said, "pretty well. But you should see Mr. Henry Armstrong
Whereupon Mr. Percy Cathcart deliberately damned Mr. Henry Armstrong,
expressly and by name. I pretended not to have heard him, and,
continuing to regard the said condemned as still alive and comfortable,
"Just ask him, the next time you find him at home, to let you see him
drive a nail with three pistol-bullets."
He threw the pistol from him, exploded himself, like a shell, in twenty
different fragments of oaths, and left me the kitchen garden and the
pistol, which latter I took a little practice with myself, for the sake
of emptying two of the chambers still charged. Whether Henry Armstrong
even knew how to fire a pistol, I did not know; but I dare say he was
a first-rate shot, if I only had known it. I sent the pistol up to Mr.
Percy's room by the hand of Mr. Beeves; but I never heard him practising
The next night the curate was to read us another story. The time
arrived, and with it all our company, except Harry. Indeed it was a
marvel that he had been able to attend so often as he had attended.
I presume the severe weather had by this time added to his sick-list.
Although I fear the chief end of our readings was not so fully attained
as hitherto, or, in other words, that Adela did not enjoy the evening so
much as usual, I will yet record all with my usual faithfulness.
The curate and his wife were a little late, and when they arrived, they
found us waiting for them in music. As soon as they entered, Adela rose
from the piano.
"Do go on, Miss Cathcart," said the curate.
"I had just finished," she replied.
"Then, if you will allow me, I will sing a song first, which I think
will act as an antidote to those sentimental ones which we had at my
house, and of which Mrs. Cathcart did not approve."
"Thank you," said everybody, Mrs. Cathcart included.
Whereupon the curate sang:
"I am content. In trumpet-tones,
My song, let people know.
And many a mighty man, with throne
And sceptre, is not so.
And if he is, I joyful cry,
Why then, he's just the same as I.
The Mogul's gold, the Sultan's show--
His bliss, supreme too soon,
Who, lord of all the world below,
Looked up unto the moon--
I would not pick it up--all that
Is only fit for laughing at.
My motto is--_Content with this_.
Gold-place--I prize not such.
That which I have, my measure is;
Wise men desire not much.
Men wish and wish, and have their will,
And wish again, as hungry still.
And gold and honour are besides
A very brittle glass;
And Time, in his unresting tides,
Makes all things change and pass;
Turns riches to a beggar's dole;
Sets glory's race an infant's goal.
Be noble--that is more than wealth;
Do right--that's more than place;
Then in the spirit there is health,
And gladness in the face;
Then thou art with thyself at one,
And, no man hating, fearest none.
I am content. In trumpet-tones,
My song, let people know.
And many a mighty man, with throne
And sceptre, is not so.
And if he is, I joyful cry,
Why then, he's just the same as I."
"Is that one of your own, Mr. Armstrong?" asked the colonel.
"It is, like most of those you have heard from me and my brother, only
"I am no judge of poetry, but it seems to me that if he was content,
he need not say so much about it."
"There is something in what you say. But there was no show-off in
Claudius, I think. He was a most simple-hearted, amiable man, to all
appearance. A man of business, too--manager of a bank at Altona, in the
beginning of the present century. But as I have not given a favourable
impression of him, allow me to repeat a little bit of innocent humour
of his--a cradle song--which I like fully better than the other."
"Most certainly; it is only fair," answered the colonel.
"Sleep, baby boy, sleep sweet, secure;
Thou art thy father's miniature;
That art thou, though thy father goes
And swears that thou hast not his nose.
A moment gone, he looked at thee,
My little budding rose,
And said--No doubt there's much of me,
But he has not my nose.
I think myself, it is too small,
But it is _his_ nose after all;
For if thy nose his nose be not,
Whence came the nose that thou hast got?
Sleep, baby, sleep; don't half-way doze:
To tease me--that's his part.
No matter if you've not his nose,
So be you've got his heart!"
THE BROKEN SWORDS.
Every one liked this, except Mrs. Cathcart, who opined, with her usual
smile, that it was rather silly.
"Well, I hope a father may be silly sometimes," said the curate, with a
glance at his wife, which she did not acknowledge. "At least I fear I
should be silly enough, if I were a father."
No more remarks were made, and as it was now quite time to begin the
story, Mr. Armstrong took his place, and the rest took their places. He
began at once.
"THE BROKEN SWORDS.
"The eyes of three, two sisters and a brother, gazed for the last time
on a great pale-golden star, that followed the sun down the steep west.
It went down to arise again; and the brother about to depart might
return, but more than the usual doubt hung upon his future. For between
the white dresses of the sisters, shone his scarlet coat and golden
sword-knot, which he had put on for the first time, more to gratify
their pride than his own vanity. The brightening moon, as if prophetic
of a future memory, had already begun to dim the scarlet and the gold,
and to give them a pale, ghostly hue. In her thoughtful light the whole
group seemed more like a meeting in the land of shadows, than a parting
in the substantial earth.--But which should be called the land of
realities?--the region where appearance, and space, and time drive
between, and stop the flowing currents of the soul's speech? or that
region where heart meets heart, and appearance has become the slave to
utterance, and space and time are forgotten?
"Through the quiet air came the far-off rush of water, and the near cry
of the land-rail. Now and then a chilly wind blew unheeded through the
startled and jostling leaves that shaded the ivy-seat. Else, there was
calm everywhere, rendered yet deeper and more intense by the dusky
sorrow that filled their hearts. For, far away, hundreds of miles beyond
the hearing of their ears, roared the great war-guns; next week their
brother must sail with his regiment to join the army; and to-morrow he
must leave his home.
"The sisters looked on him tenderly, with vague fears about his fate.
Yet little they divined it. That the face they loved might lie pale and
bloody, in a heap of slain, was the worst image of it that arose before
them; but this, had they seen the future, they would, in ignorance of
the further future, have infinitely preferred to that which awaited him.
And even while they looked on him, a dim feeling of the unsuitableness
of his lot filled their minds. For, indeed, to all judgments it must
have seemed unsuitable that the home-boy, the loved of his mother, the
pet of his sisters, who was happy womanlike (as Coleridge says), if he
possessed the signs of love, having never yet sought for its
proofs--that he should be sent amongst soldiers, to command and be
commanded; to kill, or perhaps to be himself crushed out of the fair
earth in the uproar that brings back for the moment the reign of Night
and Chaos. No wonder that to his sisters it seemed strange and sad. Yet
such was their own position in the battle of life, in which their father
had died with doubtful conquest, that when their old military uncle sent
the boy an ensign's commission, they did not dream of refusing the only
path open, as they thought, to an honourable profession, even though it
might lead to the trench-grave. They heard it as the voice of destiny,
wept, and yielded.
"If they had possessed a deeper insight into his character, they would
have discovered yet further reason to doubt the fitness of the
profession chosen for him; and if they had ever seen him at school,
it is possible the doubt of fitness might have strengthened into a
certainty of incongruity. His comparative inactivity amongst his
schoolfellows, though occasioned by no dulness of intellect, might have
suggested the necessity of a quiet life, if inclination and liking had
been the arbiters in the choice. Nor was this inactivity the result of
defective animal spirits either, for sometimes his mirth and boyish
frolic were unbounded; but it seemed to proceed from an over-activity
of the inward life, absorbing, and in some measure checking, the outward
manifestation. He had so much to do in his own hidden kingdom, that he
had not time to take his place in the polity and strife of the
commonwealth around him. Hence, while other boys were acting, he was
thinking. In this point of difference, he felt keenly the superiority
of many of his companions; for another boy would have the obstacle
overcome, or the adversary subdued, while he was meditating on the
propriety, or on the means, of effecting the desired end. He envied
their promptitude, while they never saw reason to envy his wisdom; for
his conscience, tender and not strong, frequently transformed slowness
of determination into irresolution: while a delicacy of the sympathetic
nerves tended to distract him from any predetermined course, by the
diversity of their vibrations, responsive to influences from all
quarters, and destructive to unity of purpose.
"Of such a one, the _a priori_ judgment would be, that he ought to
be left to meditate and grow for some time, before being called upon to
produce the fruits of action. But add to these mental conditions a vivid
imagination, and a high sense of honour, nourished in childhood by the
reading of the old knightly romances, and then put the youth in a
position in which action is imperative, and you have elements of strife
sufficient to reduce that fair kingdom of his to utter anarchy and
madness. Yet so little, do we know ourselves, and so different are the
symbols with which the imagination works its algebra, from the realities
which those symbols represent, that as yet the youth felt no uneasiness,
but contemplated his new calling with a glad enthusiasm and some vanity;
for all his prospect lay in the glow of the scarlet and the gold. Nor
did this excitement receive any check till the day before his departure,
on which day I have introduced him to my readers, when, accidently
taking up a newspaper of a week old, his eye fell on these
words--"_Already crying women are to be met in the streets_." With
this cloud afar on his horizon, which, though no bigger than a man's
hand, yet cast a perceptible shadow over his mind, he departed next
morning. The coach carried him beyond the consecrated circle of home
laws and impulses, out into the great tumult, above which rises ever and
anon the cry of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
"Every tragedy of higher order, constructed in Christian times, will
correspond more or less to the grand drama of the Bible; wherein the
first act opens with a brilliant sunset vision of Paradise, in which
childish sense and need are served with all the profusion of the
indulgent nurse. But the glory fades off into grey and black, and night
settles down upon the heart which, rightly uncontent with the childish,
and not having yet learned the childlike, seeks knowledge and manhood as
a thing denied by the Maker, and yet to be gained by the creature; so
sets forth alone to climb the heavens, and instead of climbing, falls
into the abyss. Then follows the long dismal night of feverish efforts
and delirious visions, or, it may be, helpless despair; till at length a
deeper stratum of the soul is heaved to the surface; and amid the first
dawn of morning, the youth says within him, "I have sinned against my
_Maker_--I will arise and go to my _Father_." More or less,
I say, will Christian tragedy correspond to this--a fall and a rising
again; not a rising only, but a victory; not a victory merely, but a
triumph. Such, in its way and degree, is my story. I have shown, in one
passing scene, the home paradise; now I have to show a scene of a far
"The young ensign was lying in his tent, weary, but wakeful. All day
long the cannon had been bellowing against the walls of the city, which
now lay with wide, gaping breach, ready for the morrow's storm, but
covered yet with the friendly darkness. His regiment was ordered to be
ready with the earliest dawn to march up to the breach. That day, for
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