Part 3 out of 4
"CHAPTER XIV.--THIS IS VERY KIND OF YOU.
"The prince went to dress for the occasion, for he was resolved to die
like a prince.
"When the princess heard that a man had offered to die for her, she
was so transported that she jumped off the bed, feeble as she was, and
danced about the room for joy. She did not care who the man was; that
was nothing to her. The hole wanted stopping; and if only a man would
do, why, take one. In an hour or two more, everything was ready. Her
maid dressed her in haste, and they carried her to the side of the
lake. When she saw it, she shrieked, and covered her face with her
hands. They bore her across to the stone, where they had already
placed a little boat for her. The water was not deep enough to float
it, but they hoped it would be, before long. They laid her on
cushions, placed in the boat wines and fruits and other nice things,
and stretched a canopy over all.
"In a few minutes, the prince appeared. The princess recognized him at
once; but did not think it worth while to acknowledge him.
"'Here I am,' said the prince. 'Put me in.'
"'They told me it was a shoe-black,' said the princess.
"'So I am,' said the prince. 'I blacked your little boots three times
a day, because they were all I could get of you. Put me in.'
"The courtiers did not resent his bluntness, except by saying to each
other, that he was taking it out in impudence.
"But how was he to be put in? The golden plate contained no
instructions on this point. The prince looked at the hole, and saw but
one way. He put both his legs into it, sitting on the stone, and,
stooping forward, covered the two corners that remained open, with his
two hands. In this uncomfortable position he resolved to abide his
fate, and, turning to the people, said:
"'Now you can go.'
"The king had already gone home to dinner.
"'Now you can go,' repeated the princess after him, like a parrot.
"The people obeyed her, and went.
"Presently a little wave flowed over the stone, and wetted one of the
prince's knees. But he did not mind it much. He began to sing, and the
song he sang was this:
"'As a world that has no well,
Darkly bright in forest-dell;
As a world without the gleam
Of the downward-going stream;
As a world without the glance
Of the ocean's fair expanse;
As a world where never rain
Glittered on the sunny plain;
Such, my heart, thy world would be,
If no love did flow in thee.
"'As a world without the sound
Of the rivulets under ground;
Or the bubbling of the spring
Out of darkness wandering;
Or the mighty rush and flowing
Of the river's downward going;
Or the music-showers that drop
On the outspread beech's top;
Or the ocean's mighty voice,
When his lifted waves rejoice;
Such, my soul, thy world would be,
If no love did sing in thee.
"'Lady, keep thy world's delight;
Keep the waters in thy sight.
Love hath made me strong to go,
For thy sake, to realms below,
Where the water's shine and hum
Through the darkness never come:
Let, I pray, one thought of me
Spring, a little well, in thee;
Lest thy loveless soul be found
Like a dry and thirsty ground.'
"'Sing again, prince. It makes it less tedious,' said the princess.
"But the prince was too much overcome to sing any more. And a long
"'This is very kind of you, prince,' said the princess at last, quite
coolly, as she lay in the boat with her eyes shut.
"'I am sorry I can't return the compliment,' thought the prince; 'but
you are worth dying for after all.'
"Again a wavelet, and another, and another, flowed over the stone, and
wetted both the prince's knees thoroughly; but he did not speak or
move. Two--three--four hours passed in this way, the princess
apparently fast asleep, and the prince very patient. But he was much
disappointed in his position, for he had none of the consolation he
had hoped for.
"At last he could bear it no longer.
"'Princess!' said he.
"But at the moment, up started the princess, crying,
"'I'm afloat! I'm afloat!'
"And the little boat bumped against the stone.
"'Princess!' repeated the prince, encouraged by seeing her wide awake,
and looking eagerly at the water.
"'Well?' said she, without once looking round.
"'Your papa promised that you should look at me; and you haven't
looked at me once.'
"'Did he? Then I suppose I must. But I am so sleepy!'
"'Sleep then, darling, and don't mind me,' said the poor prince.
"'Really, you are very good,' replied the princess. 'I think I will go
to sleep again.'
"'Just give me a glass of wine and a biscuit, first,' said the prince
"'With all my heart,' said the princess, and gaped as she said it.
"She got the wine and the biscuit, however; and, coming nearer with
"'Why, prince,' she said, 'you don't look well! Are you sure you don't
"'Not a bit,' answered he, feeling very faint indeed. 'Only, I shall
die before it is of any use to you, unless I have something to eat.'
"'There, then!' said she, holding out the wine to him.
"'Ah! you must feed me. I dare not move my hands. The water would run
"'Good gracious!' said the princess; and she began at once to feed him
with bits of biscuit, and sips of wine.
"As she fed him, he contrived to kiss the tips of her fingers now and
then. She did not seem to mind it, one way or the other. But the
prince felt better.
"'Now, for your own sake, princess,' said he, 'I cannot let you go to
sleep. You must sit and look at me, else I shall not be able to keep
"'Well, I will do anything I can to oblige you,' answered she, with
condescension; and, sitting down, she did look at him, and kept
looking at him with wonderful steadiness, considering all things.
"The sun went down, and the moon came up; and, gush after gush, the
waters were flowing over the rock. They were up to the prince's waist
"'Why can't we go and have a swim?' said the princess. 'There seems to
be water enough just about here.'
"'I shall never swim more,' said the prince.
"'Oh! I forgot,' said the princess, and was silent.
"So the water grew and grew, and rose up and up on the prince. And the
princess sat and looked at him. She fed him now and then. The night
wore on. The waters rose and rose. The moon rose likewise, higher and
higher, and shone full on the face of the dying prince. The water was
up to his neck.
"'Will you kiss me, princess?' said he feebly at last; for the fun was
all out of him now.
"'Yes, I will,' answered the princess; and kissed him with a long,
sweet, cold kiss.
"'Now,' said he, with a sigh of content, 'I die happy.'
"He did not speak again. The princess gave him some wine for the last
time: he was past eating. Then she sat down again, and looked at
him. The water rose and rose. It touched his chin. It touched his
lower lip. It touched between his lips. He shut them hard to keep it
out. The princess began to feel strange. It touched his upper lip. He
breathed through his nostrils. The princess looked wild. It covered
his nostrils. Her eyes looked scared, and shone strange in the
moonlight. His head fell back; the water closed over it; and the
bubbles of his last breath bubbled up through the water. The princess
gave a shriek, and sprang into the lake.
"She laid hold first of one leg, then of the other, and pulled and
tugged, but she could not move either. She stopped to take breath, and
that made her think that he could not get any breath. She was frantic.
She got hold of him, and held his head above the water, which was
possible now his hands were no longer on the hole. But it was of no
use, for he was past breathing.
"Love and water brought back all her strength. She got under the
water, and pulled and pulled with her whole might, till, at last, she
got one leg out. The other easily followed. How she got him into the
boat she never could tell; but when she did, she fainted away. Coming
to herself, she seized the oars, kept herself steady as best she
could; and rowed and rowed, though she had never rowed before. Round
rocks, and over shallows, and through mud, she rowed, till she got to
the landing-stairs of the palace. By this time her people were on the
shore, for they had heard her shriek. She made them carry the prince
to her own room, and lay him in her bed, and light a fire, and send
for the doctors.
"'But the lake, your Highness!' said the Chamberlain, who, roused by
the noise, came in, in his night-cap.
"'Go and drown yourself in it!' said she.
"This was the last rudeness of which the princess was ever guilty; and
one must allow that she had good cause to feel provoked with the lord
"Had it been the king himself, he would have fared no better. But both
he and the queen were fast asleep. And the chamberlain went back to
his bed. So the princess and her old nurse were left with the prince.
Somehow, the doctors never came. But the old nurse was a wise woman,
and knew what to do.
"They tried everything for a long time without success. The princess
was nearly distracted between hope and fear, but she tried on and on,
one thing after another, and everything over and over again.
"At last, when they had all but given it up, just as the sun rose, the
prince opened his eyes.
* * * * *
"CHAPTER XV.--LOOK AT THE RAIN!
"The princess burst into a passion of tears, and _fell_ on the floor.
There she lay for an hour, and her tears never ceased. All the pent-up
crying of her life was spent now. And a rain came on, such as had
never been seen in that country. The sun shone all the time, and the
great drops, which fell straight to the earth, shone likewise. The
palace was in the heart of a rainbow. It was a rain of rubies, and
sapphires, and emeralds, and topazes. The torrents poured from the
mountains like molten gold; and if it had not been for its
subterraneous outlet, the lake would have overflowed and inundated the
country. It was full from shore to shore.
"But the princess did not heed the lake. She lay on the floor and
wept. And this rain within doors was far more wonderful than the rain
out of doors. For when it abated a little, and she proceeded to rise,
she found, to her astonishment, that she could not. At length, after
many efforts, she succeeded in getting upon her feet. But she tumbled
down again directly. Hearing her fall, her old nurse uttered a yell of
delight, and ran to her, screaming:
"'My darling child! She's found her gravity!'
"'Oh! that's it, is it?' said the princess, rubbing her shoulder and
her knee alternately. 'I consider it very unpleasant. I feel as if I
should be crushed to pieces.'
"'Hurrah!' cried the prince, from the bed. 'If you're all right,
princess, so am I. How's the lake?'
"'Brimful,' answered the nurse.
"'Then we're all jolly.'
"'That we are, indeed!' answered the princess, sobbing.
"And there was rejoicing all over the country that rainy day. Even the
babies forgot their past troubles, and danced and crowed amazingly.
And the king told stories, and the queen listened to them. And he
divided the money in his box, and she the honey in her pot, to all the
children. And there was such jubilation as was never heard of before.
"Of course the prince and princess were betrothed at once. But the
princess had to learn to walk, before they could be married with any
propriety. And this was not so easy, at her time of life, for she
could walk no more than a baby. She was always falling down and
"'Is this the gravity you used to make so much of?' said she, one day,
to the prince. 'For my part, I was a great deal more comfortable
"'No, no; that's not it. This is it,' replied the prince, as he took
her up, and carried her about like a baby, kissing her all the time.
'This is gravity.'
"'That's better,' said she. 'I don't mind that so much.'
"And she smiled the sweetest, loveliest smile in the prince's face.
And she gave him one little kiss, in return for all his; and he
thought them overpaid, for he was beside himself with delight. I fear
she complained of her gravity more than once after this,
"It was a long time before she got reconciled to walking. But the pain
of learning it, was quite counterbalanced by two things, either of
which would have been sufficient consolation. The first was, that the
prince himself was her teacher; and the second, that she could tumble
into the lake as often as she pleased. Still, she preferred to have
the prince jump in with her; and the splash they made before, was
nothing to the splash they made now.
"The lake never sank again. In process of time, it wore the roof of
the cavern quite through, and was twice as deep as before.
"The only revenge the princess took upon her aunt, was to tread pretty
hard on her gouty toe, the next time she saw her. But she was sorry
for it the very next day, when she heard that the water had undermined
her house, and that it had fallen in the night, burying her in its
ruins; whence no one ever ventured to dig up her body. There she lies
to this day.
"So the prince and princess lived and were happy; and had crowns of
gold, and clothes of cloth, and shoes of leather, and children of boys
and girls, not one of whom was ever known, on the most critical
occasion, to lose the smallest atom of his or her due proportion of
* * * * *
"Very good indeed!"
"Quite a success!"
cried my complimentary friends.
"I don't think the princess could have rowed, though--without gravity,
you know," said the schoolmaster.
"But she did," said Adela. "I won't have my uncle found fault with. It
is a very funny, and a very pretty story."
"What is the moral of it?" drawled Mrs. Cathcart, with the first
syllable of _moral_ very long and very gentle.
"That you need not be afraid of ill-natured aunts, though they are
witches," said Adela.
"No, my dear; that's not it," I said. "It is, that you need not mind
forgetting your poor relations. No harm will come of it in the end."
"I think the moral is," said the doctor, "that no girl is worth
anything till she has cried a little."
Adela gave him a quick glance, and then cast her eyes down. Whether he
had looked at her I don't know. But I should think not.--Neither the
clergyman nor his wife had made any remark. I turned to them.
"I am afraid you do not approve of my poor story," I said.
"On the contrary," replied Mr. Armstrong, "I think there is a great
deal of meaning in it, to those who can see through its fairy-gates.
What do you think of it, my dear?"
"I was so pleased with the earnest parts of it, that the fun jarred
upon me a little, I confess," said Mrs. Armstrong. "But I daresay that
"I think it was, my dear. But you can afford to be silly sometimes, in
a good cause."
"You might have given us the wedding." said Mrs. Bloomfield.
"I am an old bachelor, you see. I fear I don't give weddings their
due," I answered. "I don't care for them--in stories, I mean."
"When will you dine with us again?" asked the colonel.
"When you please," answered the curate.
"Rather too soon that, is it not? Who is to read the next story?"
"Why, you, of course," answered his brother.
"I am at your service," rejoined Mr. Armstrong. "But to-morrow!"
"Don't you think, Ralph," said his wife, "you could read better if you
followed your usual custom of dining early?"
"I am sure I should, Lizzie. Don't you think, Colonel Cathcart, it
would be better to come in the evening, just after your dinner? I like
to dine early, and I am a great tea-drinker. If we might have a huge
tea-kettle on the fire, and tea-pot to correspond on the table, and I,
as I read my story, and the rest of the company, as they listen, might
help ourselves, I think it would be very jolly, and very homely."
To this the colonel readily agreed. I heard the ladies whispering a
little, and the words--"Very considerate indeed!" from Mrs.
Bloomfield, reached my ears. Indeed I had thought that the colonel's
hospitality was making him forget his servants. And I could not help
laughing to think what Beeves's face would have been like, if he had
heard us all invited to dinner again, the next day.
Whether Adela suspected us now, I do not know. She said nothing to
Just before the doctor left, with his brother and sister, he went up
to her, and said, in a by-the-bye sort of way:
"I am sorry to hear that you have not been quite well of late, Miss
Cathcart. You have been catching cold, I am afraid. Let me feel your
She gave him her wrist directly, saying:
"I feel much better to-night, thank you."
He stood--listening to the pulse, you would have said--his whole
attitude was so entirely that of one listening, with his eyes doing
nothing at all. He stood thus for a while, without consulting his
watch, looking as if the pulse had brought him into immediate
communication with the troubled heart itself, and he could feel every
flutter and effort which it made. Then he took out his watch and
Now that his eyes were quite safe, I saw Adela's eyes steal up to his
face, and rest there for a half a minute with a reposeful expression.
I felt that there was something healing in the very presence and touch
of the man--so full was he of health and humanity; and I thought Adela
felt that he was a good man, and one to be trusted in.
He gave her back her hand, as it were, so gently did he let it go, and
"I will send you something as soon as I get home, to take at once. I
presume you will go to bed soon?"
"I will, if you think it best."
And so Mr. Henry Armstrong was, without more ado, tacitly installed as
physician to Miss Adela Cathcart; and she seemed quite content with
the new arrangement.
Before the next meeting took place, namely, after breakfast on the
following morning, Percy having gone to visit the dogs, Mrs. Cathcart
"I had something to say to my brother, Mr. Smith, but--"
"And you wish to be alone with him? With all my heart," I said.
"Not at all, Mr. Smith," she answered, with one of her smiles, which
were quite incomprehensible to me, until I hit upon the theory that
she kept a stock of them for general use, as stingy old ladies keep up
their half worn ribbons to make presents of to servant-maids; "I only
wanted to know, before I made a remark to the colonel, whether
"Mr. Armstrong lays no claim to the rank of a physician."
"So much the better for my argument. But is he a friend of yours,
"Yes--of nearly a week's standing."
"Oh, then, I am in no danger of hurting your feelings."
"I don't know that," thought I, but I did not say it.
"Well, Colonel Cathcart--excuse the liberty I am taking--but surely
you do not mean to dismiss Dr. Wade, and give a young man like that
the charge of your daughter's health at such a crisis."
"Dr. Wade is dismissed already, Jane. He did her no more good than any
old woman might have done."
"But such a young man!"
"Not so very young," I ventured to say. "He is thirty at least."
But the colonel was angry with her interference; for, an impetuous man
always, he had become irritable of late.
"Jane," he said, "is a man less likely to be delicate because he is
young? Or does a man always become more refined as he grows older? For
my part--" and here his opposition to his unpleasant sister-in-law
possibly made him say more than he would otherwise have conceded--"I
have never seen a young man whose manners and behaviour I liked
"Much good that will do her! It will only hasten the mischief. You men
are so slow to take a hint, brother; and it is really too hard to be
forced to explain one's self always. Don't you see that, whether he
cures her or not, he will make her fall in love with him? And you
won't relish that, I fancy."
"You won't relish it, at all events. But mayn't he fall in love with
her as well?" thought I; which thought, a certain expression in the
colonel's face kept me from uttering. I saw at once that his sister's
words had set a discord in the good man's music. He made no reply; and
Mrs. Cathcart saw that her arrow had gone to the feather. I saw what
she tried to conceal--the flash of success on her face. But she
presently extinguished it, and rose and left the room. I thought with
myself that such an arrangement would be the very best thing for
Adela; and that, if the blessedness of woman lies in any way in the
possession of true manhood, she, let her position in society be what
it might compared with his, and let her have all the earls in the
kingdom for uncles, would be a fortunate woman indeed, to marry such a
man as Harry Armstrong;--for so much was I attracted to the man, that
I already called him Harry, when I and Myself talked about him. But I
was concerned to see my old friend so much disturbed. I hoped however
that his good generous heart would right its own jarring chords before
long, and that he would not spoil a chance of Adela's recovery,
however slight, by any hasty measures founded on nothing better than
paternal jealousy. I thought, indeed, he had gone too far to make that
possible for some time; but I did not know how far his internal
discomfort might act upon his behaviour as host, and so interfere with
the homeliness of our story-club, upon which I depended not a little
for a portion of the desired result.
The motive of Mrs. Cathcart's opposition was evident. She was a
partizan of Percy; for Adela was a very tolerable fortune, as people
These thoughts went through my mind, as thoughts do, in no time at
all; and when the lady had closed the door behind her with protracted
gentleness, I was ready to show my game; in which I really considered
my friend and myself partners.
"Those women," I said, (women forgive me!), with a laugh which I trust
the colonel did not discover to be a forced one--"Those women are
always thinking about falling in love and that sort of foolery. I
wonder she isn't jealous of me now! Well, I do love Adela better than
any man will, for some weeks to come. I've been a sweetheart of hers
ever since she was in long clothes." Here I tried to laugh again, and,
to judge from the colonel, I verily believe I succeeded. The cloud
lightened on his face, as I made light of its cause, till at last he
laughed too. If I thought it all nonsense, why should he think it
earnest? So I turned the conversation to the club, about which I was
more concerned than about the love-making at present, seeing the
latter had positively no existence as yet.
"Adela seemed quite to enjoy the reading last night," I said.
"I thought she looked very grave," he answered.
The good man had been watching her face all the time, I saw, and
evidently paying no heed to the story. I doubted if he was the better
judge for this--observing only _ab extra_, and without being in
sympathy with her feelings as moved by the tale.
"Now that is just what I should have wished to see," I answered.
"We don't want her merry all at once. What we want is, that she
should take an interest in something. A grave face is a sign of
interest. It is all the world better than a listless face."
"But what good can stories do in sickness?"
"That depends on the origin of the sickness. My conviction is, that,
near or far off, in ourselves, or in our ancestors--say Adam and Eve,
for comprehension's sake--all our ailments have a moral cause. I think
that if we were all good, disease would, in the course of generations,
disappear utterly from the face of the earth."
"That's just like one of your notions, old friend! Rather peculiar.
Mystical, is it not?"
"But I meant to go on to say that, in Adela's case, I believe, from
conversation I have had with her, that the operation of mind on body
is far more immediate than that I have hinted at."
"You cannot mean to imply," said my friend, in some alarm, that Adela
has anything upon her conscience?"
"Certainly not. But there may be moral diseases that do not in the
least imply personal wrong or fault. They may themselves be
transmitted, for instance. Or even if such sprung wholly from present
physical causes, any help given to the mind would react on those
causes. Still more would the physical ill be influenced through the
mental, if the mind be the source of both.
"Now from whatever cause, Adela is in a kind of moral atrophy, for she
cannot digest the food provided for her, so as to get any good of
it. Suppose a patient in a corresponding physical condition, should
show a relish for anything proposed to him, would you not take it for
a sign that that was just the thing to do him good? And we may accept
the interest Adela shows in any kind of mental pabulum provided for
her, as an analogous sign. It corresponds to relish, and is a ground
for expecting some benefit to follow--in a word, some nourishment of
the spiritual life. Relish may be called the digestion of the palate;
interest, the digestion of the inner ears; both significant of further
digestion to follow. The food thus relished may not be the best food;
and yet it may be the best for the patient, because she feels no
repugnance to it, and can digest and assimilate, as well as swallow
it. For my part, I believe in no cramming, bodily or mental. I think
nothing learned without interest, can be of the slightest after
benefit; and although the effort may comprise a moral good, it
involves considerable intellectual injury. All I have said applies
with still greater force to religious teaching, though that is not
definitely the question now."
"Well, Smith, I can't talk philosophy like you; but what you say
sounds to me like sense. At all events, if Adela enjoys it, that is
enough for me. Will the young doctor tell stories too?"
"I don't know. I fancy he _could_. But to-night we have his brother."
"I shall make them welcome, anyhow."
This was all I wanted of him; and now I was impatient for the evening,
and the clergyman's tale. The more I saw of him the better I liked
him, and felt the more interest in him. I went to church that same
day, and heard him read prayers, and liked him better still; so that I
was quite hungry for the story he was going to read to us.
The evening came, and with it the company. Arrangements, similar to
those of the evening before, having been made, with some little
improvements, the colonel now occupying the middle place in the
half-circle, and the doctor seated, whether by chance or design, at
the corner farthest from the invalid's couch, the clergyman said, as
he rolled and unrolled the manuscript in his hand:
"To explain how I came to write a story, the scene of which is in
Scotland, I may be allowed to inform the company that I spent a good
part of my boyhood in a town in Aberdeenshire, with my grandfather,
who was a thorough Scotchman. He had removed thither from the south,
where the name is indigenous; being indeed a descendant of that
Christy, whom his father, Johnie Armstrong, standing with the rope
about his neck, ready to be hanged--or murdered, as the ballad calls
it--apostrophizes in these words:
'And God be with thee, Christy, my son,
Where thou sits on thy nurse's knee!
But an' thou live this hundred year,
Thy father's better thou'lt never be.'
But I beg your pardon, ladies and gentlemen all, for this has
positively nothing to do with the story. Only please to remember that
in those days it was quite respectable to be hanged."
We all agreed to this with a profusion of corroboration, except the
colonel; who, I thought, winced a little. But presently our attention
was occupied with the story, thus announced:
"_The Bell. A Sketch in Pen and Ink_."
He read in a great, deep, musical voice, with a wealth of pathos in
it--always suppressed, yet almost too much for me in the more touching
portions of the story.
"One interruption more," he said, before he began. "I fear you will
find it a sad story."
And he looked at Adela.
I believe that he had chosen the story on the homoeopathic principle.
"I like sad stories," she answered; and he went on at once.
"A SKETCH IN PEN AND INK.
"Elsie Scott had let her work fall on her knees, and her hands on her
work, and was looking out of the wide, low window of her room, which
was on one of the ground floors of the village street. Through a gap
in the household shrubbery of fuchsias and myrtles filling the window-
sill, one passing on the foot-pavement might get a momentary glimpse
of her pale face, lighted up with two blue eyes, over which some
inward trouble had spread a faint, gauze-like haziness. But almost
before her thoughts had had time to wander back to this trouble, a
shout of children's voices, at the other end of the street, reached
her ear. She listened a moment. A shadow of displeasure and pain
crossed her countenance; and rising hastily, she betook herself to an
inner apartment, and closed the door behind her.
"Meantime the sounds drew nearer; and by and by, an old man, whose
strange appearance and dress showed that he had little capacity either
for good or evil, passed the window. His clothes were comfortable
enough in quality and condition, for they were the annual gift of a
benevolent lady in the neighbourhood; but, being made to accommodate
his taste, both known and traditional, they were somewhat peculiar in
cut and adornment. Both coat and trousers were of a dark grey cloth;
but the former, which, in its shape, partook of the military, had a
straight collar of yellow, and narrow cuffs of the same; while upon
both sleeves, about the place where a corporal wears his stripes, was
expressed, in the same yellow cloth, a somewhat singular device. It
was as close an imitation of a bell, with its tongue hanging out of
its mouth, as the tailor's skill could produce from a single piece of
cloth. The origin of the military cut of his coat was well known. His
preference for it arose in the time of the wars of the first Napoleon,
when the threatened invasion of the country caused the organization of
many volunteer regiments. The martial show and exercises captivated
the poor man's fancy; and from that time forward nothing pleased his
vanity, and consequently conciliated his good will more, than to style
him by his favourite title--the _Colonel_. But the badge on his arm
had a deeper origin, which will be partially manifest in the course of
the story--if story it can be called. It was, indeed, the baptism of
the fool, the outward and visible sign of his relation to the infinite
and unseen. His countenance, however, although the features were not
of any peculiarly low or animal type, showed no corresponding sign of
the consciousness of such a relation, being as vacant as human
countenance could well be.
"The cause of Elsie's annoyance was that the fool was annoyed; for, he
was turned his rank into scorn, and assailed him with epithets hateful
to him. Although the most harmless of creatures when let alone, he was
dangerous when roused; and now he stooped repeatedly to pick up stones
and hurl them at his tormentors, who took care, while abusing him, to
keep at a considerable distance, lest he should get hold of them.
Amidst the sounds of derision that followed him, might be heard the
words frequently repeated--'_Come hame, come hame._' But in a few
minutes the noise ceased, either from the interference of some
friendly inhabitant, or that the boys grew weary, and departed in
search of other amusement. By and by, Elsie might be seen again at her
work in the window; but the cloud over her eyes was deeper, and her
whole face more sad.
"Indeed, so much did the persecution of the poor man affect her, that
an onlooker would have been compelled to seek the cause in some yet
deeper sympathy than that commonly felt for the oppressed, even by
women. And such a sympathy existed, strange as it may seem, between
the beautiful girl (for many called her a _bonnie lassie_) and this
'tatter of humanity.' Nothing would have been farther from the
thoughts of those that knew them, than the supposition of any
correspondence or connection between them; yet this sympathy sprung in
part from a real similarity in their history and present condition.
"All the facts that were known about _Feel Jock's_ origin were these:
that seventy years ago, a man who had gone with his horse and cart
some miles from the village, to fetch home a load of peat from a
desolate _moss_, had heard, while toiling along as rough a road on as
lonely a hill-side as any in Scotland, the cry of a child; and,
searching about, had found the infant, hardly wrapt in rags, and
untended, as if the earth herself had just given him birth,--that
desert moor, wide and dismal, broken and watery, the only bosom for
him to lie upon, and the cold, clear night-heaven his only covering.
The man had brought him home, and the parish had taken parish-care of
him. He had grown up, and proved what he now was--almost an idiot.
Many of the townspeople were kind to him, and employed him in fetching
water for them from the river and wells in the neighbourhood, paying
him for his trouble in victuals, or whisky, of which he was very
fond. He seldom spoke; and the sentences he could utter were few; yet
the tone, and even the words of his limited vocabulary, were
sufficient to express gratitude and some measure of love towards those
who were kind to him, and hatred of those who teased and insulted him.
He lived a life without aim, and apparently to no purpose; in this
resembling most of his more gifted fellow-men, who, with all the tools
and materials needful for the building of a noble mansion, are yet
content with a clay hut.
"Elsie, on the contrary, had been born in a comfortable farmhouse,
amidst homeliness and abundance. But at a very early age, she had lost
both father and mother; not so early, however, but that she had faint
memories of warm soft times on her mother's bosom, and of refuge in
her mother's arms from the attacks of geese, and the pursuit of pigs.
Therefore, in after-times, when she looked forward to heaven, it was
as much a reverting to the old heavenly times of childhood and
mother's love, as an anticipation of something yet to be revealed.
Indeed, without some such memory, how should we ever picture to
ourselves a perfect rest? But sometimes it would seem as if the more a
heart was made capable of loving, the less it had to love; and poor
Elsie, in passing from a mother's to a brother's guardianship, felt a
change of spiritual temperature, too keen. He was not a bad man, or
incapable of benevolence when touched by the sight of want in anything
of which he would himself have felt the privation; but he was so
coarsely made, that only the purest animal necessities affected him;
and a hard word, or unfeeling speech, could never have reached the
quick of his nature through the hide that enclosed it. Elsie, on the
contrary, was excessively and painfully sensitive, as if her nature
constantly protended an invisible multitude of half-spiritual, half-
nervous antennae, which shrunk and trembled in every current of air at
all below their own temperature. The effect of this upon her behaviour
was such, that she was called odd; and the poor girl felt that she was
not like other people, yet could not help it. Her brother, too,
laughed at her without the slightest idea of the pain he occasioned,
or the remotest feeling of curiosity as to what the inward and
consistent causes of the outward abnormal condition might be.
Tenderness was the divine comforting she needed; and it was altogether
absent from her brother's character and behaviour.
"Her neighbours looked on her with some interest, but they rather
shunned than courted her acquaintance; especially after the return of
certain nervous attacks, to which she had been subject in childhood,
and which were again brought on by the events I must relate. It is
curious how certain diseases repel, by a kind of awe, the sympathies
of the neighbours: as if, by the fact of being subject to them, the
patient were removed into another realm of existence, from which, like
the dead with the living, she can hold communion with those around her
only partially, and with a mixture of dread pervading the intercourse.
Thus some of the deepest, purest wells of spiritual life, are, like
those in old castles, choked up by the decay of the outer walls. But
what tended more than anything, perhaps, to keep up the painful unrest
of her soul (for the beauty of her character was evident in the fact,
that the irritation seldom reached her _mind_), was a circumstance at
which, in its present connection, some of my readers will smile, and
others feel a shudder corresponding in kind to that of Elsie.
"Her brother was very fond of a rather small, but ferocious-looking
bull-dog, which followed close at his heels, wherever he went, with
hanging head and slouching gait, never leaping or racing about like
other dogs. When in the house, he always lay under his master's
chair. He seemed to dislike Elsie, and she felt an unspeakable
repugnance to him. Though she never mentioned her aversion, her
brother easily saw it by the way in which she avoided the animal; and
attributing it entirely to fear--which indeed had a great share in the
matter--he would cruelly aggravate it, by telling her stories of the
fierce hardihood and relentless persistency of this kind of animal. He
dared not yet further increase her terror by offering to set the
creature upon her, because it was doubtful whether he might be able to
restrain him; but the mental suffering which he occasioned by this
heartless conduct, and for which he had no sympathy, was as severe as
many bodily sufferings to which he would have been sorry to subject
her. Whenever the poor girl happened inadvertently to pass near the
dog, which was seldom, a low growl made her aware of his proximity,
and drove her to a quick retreat. He was, in fact, the animal
impersonation of the animal opposition which she had continually to
endure. Like chooses like; and the bull-dog _in_ her brother made
choice of the bull-dog _out of_ him for his companion. So her day was
one of shrinking fear and multiform discomfort.
"But a nature capable of so much distress, must of necessity be
_capable_ of a corresponding amount of pleasure; and in her case this
was manifest in the fact, that sleep and the quiet of her own room
restored her wonderfully. If she was only let alone, a calm mood,
filled with images of pleasure, soon took possession of her mind.
"Her acquaintance with the fool had commenced some ten years previous
to the time I write of, when she was quite a little girl, and had come
from the country with her brother, who, having taken a small farm
close to the town, preferred residing in the town to occupying the
farm-house, which was not comfortable. She looked at first with some
terror on his uncouth appearance, and with much wonderment on his
strange dress. This wonder was heightened by a conversation she
overheard one day in the street, between the fool and a little pale-
faced boy, who, approaching him respectfully, said, 'Weel, cornel!'
'Weel, laddie!' was the reply. 'Fat dis the wow say, cornel?' 'Come
hame, come hame!' answered the _colonel_, with both accent and
quantity heaped on the word _hame_. She heard no more, and knew not
what the little she had heard, meant. What the _wow_ could be, she had
no idea; only, as the years passed on, the strange word became in her
mind indescribably associated with the strange shape in yellow cloth
on his sleeves. Had she been a native of the town, she could not have
failed to know its import, so familiar was every one with it, although
the word did not belong to the local vocabulary; but, as it was, years
passed away before she discovered its meaning. And when, again and
again, the fool, attempting to convey his gratitude for some kindness
she had shown him, mumbled over the words--_'The wow o' Rivven--the
wow o' Rivven,'_ the wonder would return as to what could be the idea
associated with them in his mind, but she made no advance towards
"That, however, which most attracted her to the old man, was his
persecution by the children. They were to him what the bull-dog was to
her--the constant source of irritation and annoyance. They could
hardly hurt him, nor did he appear to dread other injury from them
than insult, to which, fool though he was, he was keenly alive. Human
gad-flies that they were! they sometimes stung him beyond endurance,
and he would curse them in the impotence of his anger. Once or twice
Elsie had been so far carried beyond her constitutional timidity, by
sympathy for the distress of her friend, that she had gone out and
talked to the boys,--even scolded them, so that they slunk away
ashamed, and began to stand as much in dread of her as of the clutches
of their prey. So she, gentle and timid to excess, acquired among them
the reputation of a termagant. Popular opinion among children, as
among men, is often just, but as often very unjust; for the same
manifestations may proceed from opposite principles; and, therefore,
as indices to character, any mislead as often as enlighten.
"Next door to the house in which Elsie resided, dwelt a tradesman and
his wife, who kept an indefinite sort of shop, in which various kinds
of goods were exposed to sale. Their youngest son was about the same
age as Elsie; and while they were rather more than children, and less
than young people, he spent many of his evenings with her, somewhat to
the loss of position in his classes at the parish school. They were,
indeed, much attached to each other; and, peculiarly constituted as
Elsie was, one may imagine what kind of heavenly messenger a companion
stronger than herself must have been to her. In fact, if she could
have framed the undefinable need of her child-like nature into an
articulate prayer, it would have been--'Give me some one to love me
stronger than I.' Any love was helpful, yes, in its degree, saving to
her poor troubled soul; but the hope, as they grew older together,
that the powerful, yet tender-hearted youth, really loved her, and
would one day make her his wife, was like the opening of heavenly eyes
of life and love in the hitherto blank and death-like face of her
existence. But nothing had been said of love, although they met and
parted like lovers.
"Doubtless if the circles of their thought and feeling had continued
as now to intersect each other, there would have been no interruption
to their affection; but the time at length arrived when the old couple
seeing the rest of their family comfortably settled in life, resolved
to make a gentleman of the youngest; and so sent him from school to
college. The facilities existing in Scotland for providing a
professional training, enabled them to educate him as a surgeon. He
parted from Elsie with some regret; but, far less dependent on her
than she was on him, and full of the prospects of the future, he felt
none of that sinking at the heart which seemed to lay her whole nature
open to a fresh inroad of all the terrors and sorrows of her peculiar
existence. No correspondence took place between them. New pursuits and
relations, and the development of his tastes and judgments, entirely
altered the position of poor Elsie in his memory. Having been, during
their intercourse, far less of a man than she of a woman, he had no
definite idea of the place he had occupied in her regard; and in his
mind she receded into the background of the past, without his having
any idea that she would suffer thereby, or that he was unjust towards
her; while, in her thoughts, his image stood in the highest and
clearest relief. It was the centre-point from which and towards which
all lines radiated and converged; and although she could not but be
doubtful about the future, yet there was much hope mingled with her
"But when, at the close of two years, he visited his native village,
and she saw before her, instead of the homely youth who had left her
that winter evening, one who, to her inexperienced eyes, appeared a
finished gentleman, her heart sank within her, as if she had found
Nature herself false in her ripening processes, destroying the
beautiful promise of a former year by changing instead of developing
her creations. He spoke kindly to her, but not cordially. To her ear
the voice seemed to come from a great distance out of the past; and
while she looked upon him, that optical change passed over her vision,
which all have experienced after gazing abstractedly on any object for
a time: his form grew very small, and receded to an immeasurable
distance; till, her imagination mingling with the twilight haze of her
senses, she seemed to see him standing far off on a hill, with the
bright horizon of sunset for a back-ground to his clearly defined
"She knew no more till she found herself in bed in the dark; and the
first message that reached her from the outer world, was the infernal
growl of the bull-dog from the room below. Next day she saw her lover
walking with two ladies, who would have thought it some degree of
condescension to speak to her; and he passed the house without once
looking towards it.
"One who is sufficiently possessed by the demon of nervousness to be
glad of the magnetic influences of a friend's company in a public
promenade, or of a horse beneath him in passing through a churchyard,
will have some faint idea of how utterly exposed and defenceless poor
Elsie now felt on the crowded thoroughfare of life. And the
insensibility which had overtaken her, was not the ordinary swoon with
which Nature relieves the over-strained nerves, but the return of the
epileptic fits of her early childhood; and if the condition of the
poor girl had been pitiable before, it was tenfold more so now. Yet
she did not complain, but bore all in silence, though it was evident
that her health was giving way. But now, help came to her from a
strange quarter; though many might not be willing to accord the name
of help to that which rather hastened than retarded the progress of
"She had gone to spend a few of the summer days with a relative in the
country, some miles from her home, if home it could be called. One
evening, towards sunset, she went out for a solitary walk. Passing
from the little garden gate, she went along a bare country road for
some distance, and then, turning aside by a footpath through a thicket
of low trees, she came out in a lonely little churchyard on the
hill-side. Hardly knowing whether or not she had intended to go there,
she seated herself on a mound covered with long grass, one of
many. Before her stood the ruins of an old church which was taking
centuries to crumble. Little remained but the gable-wall, immensely
thick, and covered with ancient ivy. The rays of the setting sun fell
on a mound at its foot, not green like the rest, but of a rich,
red-brown in the rosy sunset, and evidently but newly heaped up. Her
eyes, too, rested upon it. Slowly the sun sank below the near horizon.
"As the last brilliant point disappeared, the ivy darkened, and a wind
arose and shook all its leaves, making them look cold and troubled;
and to Elsie's ear came a low faint sound, as from a far-off bell. But
close beside her--and she started and shivered at the sound--rose a
deep, monotonous, almost sepulchral voice: '_Come hame, come hame! The
wow, the wow!_'
"At once she understood the whole. She sat in the churchyard of the
ancient parish church of Ruthven; and when she lifted up her eyes,
there she saw, in the half-ruined belfry, the old bell, all but hidden
with ivy, which the passing wind had roused to utter one sleepy tone;
and there, beside her, stood the fool with the bell on his arm; and to
him and to her the _wow o' Rivven_ said, '_Come hame, come hame!_' Ah,
what did she want in the whole universe of God but a home? And though
the ground beneath was hard, and the sky overhead far and boundless,
and the hill-side lonely and companionless, yet somewhere within the
visible, and beyond these the outer surfaces of creation, there might
be a home for her; as round the wintry house the snows lie heaped up
cold and white and dreary all the long _forenight_, while within,
beyond the closed shutters, and giving no glimmer through the thick
stone walls, the fires are blazing joyously, and the voices and
laughter of young unfrozen children are heard, and nothing belongs to
winter but the grey hairs on the heads of the parents, within whose
warm hearts child-like voices are heard, and child-like thoughts move
to and fro. The kernel of winter itself is spring, or a sleeping
"It was no wonder that the fool, cast out of the earth on a far more
desolate spot than this, should seek to return within her bosom at
this place of open doors, and should call it _home_. For surely the
surface of the earth had no home for him. The mound at the foot of the
gable contained the body of one who had shown him kindness. He had
followed the funeral that afternoon from the town, and had remained
behind with the bell. Indeed, it was his custom, though Elsie had not
known it, to follow every funeral going to this, his favourite
churchyard of Ruthven; and, possibly in imitation of its booming, for
it was still tolled at the funerals, he had given the old bell the
name of the _wow_, and had translated its monotonous clangour into the
articulate sounds--_come home, come home_. What precise meaning he
attached to the words, it is impossible to say; but it was evident
that the place possessed a strange attraction for him, drawing him
towards it by the cords of some spiritual magnetism. It is possible
that in the mind of the idiot there may have been some feeling about
this churchyard and bell, which, in the mind of another, would have
become a grand poetic thought; a feeling as if the ghostly old bell
hung at the church-door of the invisible world, and ever and anon rung
out joyous notes (though they sounded sad in the ears of the living),
calling to the children of the unseen to _come home, come home_.--She
sat for some time in silence; for the bell did not ring again, and the
fool spoke no more; till the dews began to fall, when she rose and
went home, followed by her companion, who passed the night in the
"From that hour Elsie was furnished with a visual image of the rest
she sought; an image which, mingling with deeper and holier thoughts,
became, like the bow set in the cloud, the earthly pledge and sign of
the fulfilment of heavenly hopes. Often when the wintry fog of cold
discomfort and homelessness filled her soul, all at once the picture
of the little churchyard--with the old gable and belfry, and the
slanting sunlight steeping down to the very roots the long grass on
the graves--arose in the darkened chamber (_camera obscura_) of her
soul; and again she heard the faint AEolian sound of the bell, and the
voice of the prophet-fool who interpreted the oracle; and the inward
weariness was soothed by the promise of a long sleep. Who can tell how
many have been counted fools simply because they were prophets; or how
much of the madness in the world may be the utterance of thoughts true
and just, but belonging to a region differing from ours in its nature
"But to Elsie looking out of her window came the mocking tones of the
idle boys who had chosen as the vehicle of their scorn the very words
which showed the relation of the fool to the eternal, and revealed in
him an element higher far than any yet developed in them. They turned
his glory into shame, like the enemies of David when they mocked the
would-be king. And the best in a man is often that which is most
condemned by those who have not attained to his goodness. The words,
however, even as repeated by the boys, had not solely awakened
indignation at the persecution of the old man: they had likewise
comforted her with the thought of the refuge that awaited both him and
"But the same evening a worse trial befell her. Again she sat near the
window, oppressed by the consciousness that her brother had come
in. He had gone up-stairs, and his dog had remained at the door,
exchanging surly compliments with some of his own kind; when the fool
came strolling past, and, I do not know from what cause, the dog flew
at him. Elsie heard his cry and looked up. Her fear of the brute
vanished in a moment before her sympathy for her friend. She darted
from the house, and rushed towards the dog to drag him off the
defenceless idiot, calling him by his name in a tone of anger and
dislike. He left the fool, and, springing at Elsie, seized her by the
arm above the elbow with such a gripe that, in the midst of her agony,
she fancied she heard the bone crack. But she uttered no cry, for the
most apprehensive are sometimes the most courageous. Just then,
however, her former lover was coming along the street, and, catching a
glimpse of what had happened, was on the spot in an instant, took the
dog by the throat with a gripe not inferior to his own, and having
thus compelled him to give up his hold, dashed him on the ground with
a force that almost stunned him, and then with a superadded kick sent
him away limping and howling; whereupon the fool, attacking him
furiously with a stick, would certainly have finished him, had not his
master descried his plight and come to his rescue.
"Meantime the young surgeon had carried Elsie into the house; for, as
soon as she was rescued from the dog, she had fallen down in one of
her fits, which were becoming more and more frequent of themselves,
and little needed such a shock as this to increase their violence. He
was dressing her arm when she began to recover; and when she opened
her eyes, in a state of half-consciousness, the first object she
beheld, was his face bending over her. Re-calling nothing of what had
occurred, it seemed to her, in the dreamy condition in which the fit
had left her, the same face, unchanged, which had once shone in upon
her tardy spring-time, and promised to ripen it into summer. She
forgot that it had departed and left her in the wintry cold. And so
she uttered wild words of love and trust; and the youth, while stung
with remorse at his own neglect, was astonished to perceive the poetic
forms of beauty in which the soul of the uneducated maiden burst into
flower. But as her senses recovered themselves, the face gradually
changed to her, as if the slow alteration of two years had been
phantasmagorically compressed into a few moments; and the glow
departed from the maiden's thoughts and words, and her soul found
itself at the narrow window of the present, from which she could
behold but a dreary country.--From the street came the iambic cry of
the fool, 'Come hame, come hame."
"Tycho Brahe, I think, is said to have kept a fool, who frequently sat
at his feet in his study, and to whose mutterings he used to listen in
the pauses of his own thought. The shining soul of the astronomer drew
forth the rainbow of harmony from the misty spray of words ascending
ever from the dark gulf into which the thoughts of the idiot were ever
falling. He beheld curious concurrences of words therein, and could
read strange meanings from them--sometimes even received wondrous
hints for the direction of celestial inquiry, from what, to any other,
and it may be to the fool himself, was but a ceaseless and aimless
babble. Such power lieth in words. It is not then to be wondered at,
that the sounds I have mentioned should fall on the ears of Elsie, at
such a moment, as a message from God himself. This then--all this
dreariness--was but a passing show like the rest, and there lay
somewhere for her a reality--a home. The tears burst up from her
oppressed heart. She received the message, and prepared to go home.
From that time her strength gradually sank, but her spirits as
"The strength of the fool, too, began to fail, for he was old. He bore
all the signs of age, even to the grey hairs, which betokened no
wisdom. But one cannot say what wisdom might be in him, or how far he
had not fought his own battle, and been victorious. Whether any notion
of a continuance of life and thought dwelt in his brain, it is
impossible to tell; but he seemed to have the idea that this was not
his home; and those who saw him gradually approaching his end, might
well anticipate for him a higher life in the world to come. He had
passed through this world without ever awakening to such a
consciousness of being, as is common to mankind. He had spent his
years like a weary dream through a long night--a strange, dismal,
unkindly dream; and now the morning was at hand. Often in his dream
had he listened with sleepy senses to the ringing of the bell, but
that bell would awake him at last. He was like a seed buried too deep
in the soil, to which, therefore, has never forced its way upwards to
the open air, never experienced the resurrection of the dead. But
seeds will grow ages after they have fallen into the earth; and,
indeed, with many kinds, and within some limits, the older the seed
before it germinates, the more plentiful is the fruit. And may it not
be believed of many human beings, that, the great Husbandman having
sown them like seeds in the soil of human affairs, there they lie
buried a life long; and only after the upturning of the soil by death,
reach a position in which the awakening of their aspiration and the
consequent growth become possible. Surely he has made nothing in vain.
"A violent cold and cough brought him at last near to his end, and,
hearing that he was ill, Elsie ventured one bright spring day to go to
see him. When she entered the miserable room where he lay, he held out
his hand to her with something like a smile, and muttered feebly and
painfully, 'I'm gaein' to the wow, nae to come back again.' Elsie
could not restrain her tears; while the old man, looking fixedly at
her, though with meaningless eyes, muttered, for the last time, '_Come
hame! come hame!_' and sank into a lethargy, from which nothing could
rouse him, till, next morning, he was waked by friendly death from the
long sleep of this world's night. They bore him to his favourite
church-yard, and buried him within the site of the old church, below
his loved bell, which had ever been to him as the cuckoo-note of a
coming spring. Thus he at length obeyed its summons, and went home.
"Elsie lingered till the first summer days lay warm on the land.
Several kind hearts in the village, hearing of her illness, visited
her and ministered to her. Wondering at her sweetness and patience,
they regretted they had not known her before. How much consolation
might not their kindness have imparted, and how much might not their
sympathy have strengthened her on her painful road! But they could not
long have delayed her going home. Nor, mentally constituted as she
was, would this have been at all to be desired. Indeed it was chiefly
the expectation of departure that quieted and soothed her tremulous
nature. It is true that a deep spring of hope and faith kept singing
on in her heart, but this alone, without the anticipation of speedy
release, could only have kept her mind at peace. It could not have
reached, at least for a long time, the border land between body and
mind, in which her disease lay.
"One still night of summer, the nurse who watched by her bedside heard
her murmur through her sleep, 'I hear it: _come hame--come hame_. I'm
comin', I'm comin'--I'm gaein' hame to the wow, nae to come back.' She
awoke at the sound of her own words, and begged the nurse to convey to
her brother her last request, that she might be buried by the side of
the fool, within the old church of Ruthven. Then she turned her face
to the wall, and in the morning was found quiet and cold. She must
have died within a few minutes after her last words. She was buried
according to her request; and thus she, too, went home.
"Side by side rest the aged fool and the young maiden; for the bell
called them, and they obeyed; and surely they found the fire burning
bright, and heard friendly voices, and felt sweet lips on theirs, in
the home to which they went. Surely both intellect and love were
waiting them there.
"Still the old bell hangs in the old gable; and whenever another is
borne to the old churchyard, it keeps calling to those who are left
behind, with the same sad, but friendly and unchanging voice--_'Come
hame! come hame! come hame!'_"
For a full minute, there was silence in the little company. I myself
dared not look up, but the movement of indistinct and cloudy white
over my undirected eyes, let me know that two or three, amongst them
Adela, were lifting their handkerchiefs to their faces. At length a
voice broke the silence.
"How much of your affecting tale is true, Mr. Armstrong?"
The voice belonged to Mrs. Cathcart.
"I object to the question," said I. "I don't want to know. Suppose,
Mrs. Cathcart, I were to put this story-club, members, stories, and
all, into a book, how would any one like to have her real existence
questioned? It would at least imply that I had made a very bad
portrait of that one."
The lady cast rather a frightened look at me, which I confess I was
not sorry to see. But the curate interposed.
"What frightful sophistry, Mr. Smith!" Then turning to Mrs. Cathcart,
"I have not the slightest objection to answer your question, Mrs.
Cathcart; and if our friend Mr. Smith does not want to hear the
answer, I will wait till he stops his ears."
He glanced to me, his black eyes twinkling with fun. I saw that it was
all he could do to keep from winking; but he did.
"Oh no," I answered; "I will share what is going."
"Well, then, the fool is a real character, in every point. But I
learned after I had written the sketch, that I had made one mistake.
He was in reality about seventeen, when he was found on the hill. The
bell is a real character too. Elsie is a creature of my own. So of
course are the brother and the dog."
"I don't know whether to be glad or sorry that there was no Elsie,"
said his wife. "But did you know the fool yourself?"
"Perfectly well, and had a great respect for him. When a little boy, I
was quite proud of the way he behaved to me. He occasionally visited
the general persecution of the boys, upon any boy he chanced to meet
on the road; but as often as I met him, he walked quietly past me,
muttering '_Auntie's folk_!' or returning my greeting of _'A fine day,
Colonel!'_ with a grunted _'Ay!'_"
"What did he mean by 'Auntie's folk?'" asked Mrs. Armstrong.
"My grandmother was kind to him, and he always called her _Auntie_. I
cannot tell how the fancy originated; but certainly he knew all her
descendants somehow--a degree of intelligence not to have been
expected of him--and invariably murmured 'Auntie's folk,' as often as
he passed any of them on the road, as if to remind himself that these
were friends, or relations. Possibly he had lived with an aunt before
he was exposed on the moor."
"Is _wow_ a word at all?" I asked.
"If you look into Jamieson's Dictionary," said Armstrong, "as I have
done for the express purpose, you will find that the word is used
differently in different quarters of the country--chiefly, however, as
a verb. It means _to bark, to howl;_ likewise _to wave or beckon;_
also _to woo, or make love to_. Any of these might be given as an
explanation of his word. But I do not think it had anything to do with
these meanings; nor was the word used, in that district, in either of
the last two senses, in my time at least. It was used, however, in the
meaning of _alas_--a form of _woe_ in fact; as _wow's me!_ But I
believe it was, in the fool's use, an attempt to reproduce the sound
which the bell made. If you repeat the word several times, resting on
the final _w_, and pausing between each repetition--_wow! wow!
wow!_--you will find that the sound is not at all unlike the tolling
of a funeral bell; and therefore the word is most probably an
onomatopoetic invention of the fool's own."
Adela offered no remark upon the story, and I knew from her
countenance that she was too much affected to be inclined to speak.
Her eyes had that fixed, forward look, which, combined with haziness,
indicates deep emotion, while the curves of her mouth were nearly
straightened out by the compression of her lips. I had thought, while
the reader went on, that she could hardly fail to find in the story of
Elsie, some correspondence to her own condition and necessities: I now
believe that she had found that correspondence. More talk was not
desirable; and I was glad when, after a few attempts at ordinary
conversation, Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield rose to take their leave, which
was accepted by the whole company as a signal for departure.
"But stay," I interposed; "who is to read or tell next?"
"Why, I will be revenged on Harry," said the clergyman.
"That you can't," said the doctor; "for I have nothing to give you."
"You don't mean to say you are going to jib?"
"No. I don't say I won't read. In fact I have a story in my head, and
a bit of it on paper; but I positively can't read next time."
"Will you oblige us with a story, Colonel?" said I.
"My dear fellow, you know I never put pen to paper in my life, except
when I could not help it. I may tell you a story before it is all
over, but write one I cannot."
"A tale that is told is the best tale of all," I said. "Shall we book
you for next time?"
"No, no! not next time; positively not. My story must come of itself,
else I cannot tell it at all."
"Well, there's nobody left but you, Mr. Bloomfield. So you can't get
rid of it."
"I don't think I ever wrote what was worth calling a story; but I
don't mind reading you something of the sort which I have at home, on
"What is that?"
"That nobody ask any questions about it."
"But my only reason is, that somehow I feel it would all come to
pieces if you did. It is nothing, as a story; but there are feelings
expressed in it, which were very strong in me when I wrote it, and
which I do not feel willing to talk about, although I have no
objection to having them thought about."
"Well, that is settled. When shall we meet again?"
"To-morrow, or the day after," said the colonel; "which you please."
"Oh! the day after, if I may have a word in it," said the doctor. "I
shall be very busy to-morrow--and we mustn't crowd remedies either,
The close of the sentence was addressed to me only. The rest of the
company had taken leave, and were already at the door, when he made
the last remark. He now came up to his patient, felt her pulse, and
put the question,
"How have you slept the last two nights?"
"Better, thank you."
"And do you feel refreshed when you wake?"
"More so than for some time."
"I won't give you anything to-night.--Good night."
"Good night. Thank you."
This was all that passed between them. Jealousy, with the six eyes of
Colonel, Mrs., and Percy Cathcart, was intent upon the pair during the
brief conversation. And I thought Adela perceived the fact.
The schoolmaster's story.
I was walking up the street the next day, when, finding I was passing
the Grammar-school, and knowing there was nothing going on there now,
I thought I should not be intruding if I dropped in upon the
schoolmaster and his wife, and had a little chat with them. I already
counted them friends; for I felt that however different our training
and lives might have been, we all meant the same thing now, and that
is the true bond of fellowship. I found Mr. Bloomfield reading to his
wife--a novel, too. Evidently he intended to make the most of this
individual holiday, by making it as unlike a work-day as possible.
"I see you are enjoying yourselves," I said. "It's a shame to break in
"We are delighted to see you. Your interruption will only postpone a
good thing to a better," said the kind-hearted schoolmaster, laying
down his book. "Will you take a pipe?"
"With pleasure--but not here, surely?"
"Oh! we smoke everywhere in holiday-time."
"You enjoy your holiday, I can see."
"I should think so. I don't believe one of the boys delights in a
holiday quite as heartily as I do. You must not imagine I don't enjoy
my work, though."
"Not in the least. Earnest work breeds earnest play. But you must find
the labour wearisome at times."
"I confess I have felt it such. I have said to myself sometimes: 'Am I
to go on for ever teaching boys Latin grammar, till I wish there had
never been a Latin nation to leave such an incubus upon the bosom of
after ages?' Then I would remind myself, that, under cover of grammar
and geography, and all the other _farce_-meat (as the word ought to be
written and pronounced), I put something better into my pupils;
something that I loved myself, and cared to give to them. But I often
ask myself to what it all goes.--I learn to love my boys. I kill in
them all the bad I can. I nourish in them all the good I can. I send
them across the borders of manhood--and they leave me, and most likely
I hear nothing more of them. And I say to myself: 'My life is like a
wind. It blows and will cease.' But something says in reply: 'Wouldst
thou not be one of God's winds, content to blow, and scatter the rain
and dew, and shake the plants into fresh life, and then pass away and
know nothing of what thou hast done?' And I answer: 'Yes, Lord."'
"You are not a wind; you are a poet, Mr. Bloomfield," I said, with
"One of the speechless ones, then," he returned, with a smile that
showed plainly enough that the speechless longed for utterance. It was
such a smile as would, upon the face of a child, wile anything out of
you. Surely God, who needs no wiles to make him give what one is ready
to receive, will let him sing some day, to his heart's content! And
me, too, O Lord, I pray.
"What a pleasure it must be to you now, to have such a man as
Mr. Armstrong for your curate! He will be a brother to you," I said,
as soon as I could speak.
"Mr, Smith, I cannot tell you what he is to me already. He is doing
what I would fain have done--what was denied to me."
"How do you mean?"
"I studied for the church. But I aimed too high. My heart burned
within me, but my powers were small. I wanted to relight the ancient
lamp, but my rush-light would not kindle it. My friends saw no light;
they only smelt burning: I was heterodox. I hesitated, I feared, I
yielded, I withdrew. To this day, I do not know whether I did right or
wrong. But I am honoured yet in being allowed to teach. And if at the
last I have the faintest 'Well done' from the Master, I shall be
Mrs. Bloomfield was gently weeping; partly from regret, as I judged,
that her husband was not in the position she would have given him,
partly from delight in his manly goodness. A watery film stood in the
schoolmaster's eyes, and his wise gentle face was irradiated with the
light of a far-off morning, whose dawn was visible to his hope.
"The world is the better for you at least, Mr. Bloomfield," I said. "I
wish some more of us were as sure as you of helping on the daily
Creation, which is quite as certain a fact as that of old; and is even
more important to us, than that recorded in the book of Genesis. It is
not great battles alone that build up the world's history, nor great
poems alone that make the generations grow. There is a still small
rain from heaven that has more to do with the blessedness of nature
and of human nature, than the mightiest earthquake, or the loveliest
"I do comfort myself," he answered, "at this Christmas-time, and for
the whole year, with the thought that, after all, the world was saved
by a child.--But that brings me to think of a little trouble I am in,
Mr. Smith. The only paper I have, at all fit for reading to-morrow
night, is much too short to occupy the evening. What is to be done?"
"Oh! we can talk about it."
"That is just what I could not bear. It is rather an odd composition,
I fear; but whether it be worth anything or not, I cannot help having
a great affection for it."
"Then it is true, I presume?"
"There again! That is just one of the questions I don't want to
answer. I quite sympathized with you last night in not wishing to know
how much of Mr. Armstrong's story was true. Even if wholly fictitious,
a good story is always true. But there are things which one would have
no right to invent, which would be worth nothing if they were
invented, from the very circumstance of their origin in the brain, and
not in the world. The very beauty of them demands that they should be
fact; or, if not, that they should not be told--sent out poor
unclothed spirits into the world before a body of fact has been
prepared for them. But I have always found it impossible to define the
kinds of stories I mean. The nearest I can come to it is this: If the
force of the lesson depends on the story being a fact, it must not be
told except it is a fact. Then again, there are true things that one
would be shy of telling, if he thought they would be attributed to
himself. Now this story of mine is made up of fiction and fact both.
And I fear that if I were called upon to take it to pieces, it would
lose the force of any little truth it possesses, besides exposing me
to what I would gladly avoid. Indeed I fear I ought not to read it at
"You are amongst friends, you know, Mr. Bloomfield."
"Entirely?" he asked, with a half comic expression.
"Well," I answered, laughing, "any exception that may exist, is hardly
worth considering, and indeed ought to be thankfully accepted, as
tending to wholesomeness. Neither vinegar nor mustard would be
desirable as food, you know; yet--"
"I understand you. I am ashamed of having made such a fuss about
nothing. I will do my best, I assure you."
I fear that the fastidiousness of the good man will not be excuse
enough for the introduction of such a long preamble to a story for
which only a few will in the least care. But the said preamble
happening to touch on some interesting subjects, I thought it well to
record it. As to the story itself, there are some remarks of Balzac in
the introduction to one of his, that would well apply to the
schoolmaster's. They are to the effect that some stories which have
nothing in them as stories, yet fill one with an interest both gentle
and profound, if they are read in the mood that is exactly fitted for
their just reception.
Mr. Bloomfield conducted me to the door.
"I hope you will not think me a grumbler," he said; "I should not like
your disapprobation, Mr. Smith."
"You do me great honour," I said, honestly. "Believe me there is no
danger of that. I understand and sympathize with you entirely."
"My love of approbation is large," he said, tapping the bump referred
to with his forefinger. "Excuse it and me too."
"There is no need, my dear friend," I said, "if I may call you such."
His answer was a warm squeeze of the hand, with which we parted.
As I returned home, I met Henry Armstrong, mounted on a bay mare of a
far different sort from what a sportsman would consider a doctor
justified in using for his purposes. In fact she was a thorough
hunter; no beauty certainly, with her ewe-neck, drooping tail, and
white face and stocking; but she had an eye at once gentle and wild as
that of a savage angel, if my reader will condescend to dream for a
moment of such an anomaly; while her hind quarters were power itself,
and her foreleg was flung right out from the shoulder with a gesture
not of work but of delight; the step itself being entirely one of
work,--long in proportion to its height. The lines of her fore and
hind-quarters converged so much, that there was hardly more than room
for the saddle between them. I had never seen such action. Altogether,
although not much of a hunting man, the motion of the creature gave me
such a sense of power and joy, that I longed to be scouring the fields
with her under me. It was a sunshiny day, with a keen cold air, and a
thin sprinkling of snow; and Harry looked so radiant with health, that
one could easily believe he had health to convey, if not to bestow. He
stopped and inquired after his patient.
"Could you not get her to go out with you, Mr. Smith?" he said.
"Would that be safe, Mr. Henry?"
"Perfectly safe, if she is willing to go; not otherwise. Get her to go
willingly for ten minutes, and see if she is not the better for it.
What I want is to make the blood go quicker and more plentifully
through her brain. She has not fever enough. She does not live fast
"I will try," I said. "Have you been far to-day?"
"Just come out. You might tell that by the mare. You should see her
three hours after this."
And he patted her neck as if he loved her--as I am sure he did--and
trotted gently away.
When I came up to the gate, Beeves was standing at it.
"A nice gentleman that, sir!" said he.
"He is, Beeves. I quite agree with you."
"And rides a good mare, sir; and rides as well as any man in the
country. I never see him leave home in a hurry. Always goes gently
out, and comes gently in. What has gone between, you may see by her
skin when she comes home."
"Does he hunt, Beeves?"
"I believe not, sir; except the fox crosses him in one of his
rounds. Then if he is heading anywhere in his direction, they say
doctor and mare go at it like mad. He's got two more in his stable,
better horses to look at; but that's the one to go."
"I wonder how he affords such animals."
"They say he has a way of buying them lame, and a wonderful knack of
setting them up again. They all go, anyhow."
"Will you say to your mistress, that I should like very much if she
would come to me here."
Beeves stared, but said, "Yes, sir," and went in. I was now standing
in front of the house, doubtful of the reception Adela would give my
message, but judging that curiosity would aid my desire. I was right.
Beeves came back with the message that his mistress would join me in a
few minutes. In a quarter of an hour she came, wrapt in furs. She was
very pale, but her eye was brighter than usual, and it did not shrink
from the cold glitter of the snow. She put her arm in mine, and we
walked for ten minutes along the dry gravel walks, chatting
cheerfully, about anything and nothing.
"Now you must go in," I said.
"Not yet, surely, uncle. By the bye, do you think it was right of me
to come out?"
"Mr. Henry Armstrong said you might."
She did not reply, but I thought a slight rose-colour tinged her
"But he said you must not be out more than ten minutes."
"Well, I suppose I must do as I am told."
And she turned at once, and went up the stair to the door, almost as
lightly as any other girl of her age.
There was some progress, plainly enough. But was that a rose-tinge I
had seen on her cheek or not?
The next evening, after tea, we arranged ourselves much as on the last
occasion; and Mr. Bloomfield, taking a neat manuscript from his
pocket, and evidently restraining himself from apology and
explanation, although as evidently nervous about the whole proceeding,
and jealous of his own presumption, began to read as follows.
His voice trembled as he read, and his wife's face was a shade or two
paler than usual.
"BIRTH, DREAMING, AND DEATH.
"In a little room, scantily furnished, lighted, not from the window,
for it was dark without, and the shutters were closed, but from the
peaked flame of a small, clear-burning lamp, sat a young man, with his
back to the lamp and his face to the fire. No book or paper on the
table indicated labour just forsaken; nor could one tell from his
eyes, in which the light had all retreated inwards, whether his
consciousness was absorbed in thought, or reverie only. The window
curtains, which scarcely concealed the shutters, were of coarse
texture, but of brilliant scarlet--for he loved bright colours; and
the faint reflection they threw on his pale, thin face, made it look
more delicate than it would have seemed in pure daylight. Two or three
bookshelves, suspended by cords from a nail in the wall, contained a
collection of books, poverty-stricken as to numbers, with but few to
fill up the chronological gap between the Greek New Testament and
stray volumes of the poets of the present century. But his love for
the souls of his individual books was the stronger that there was no
possibility of its degenerating into avarice for the bodies or
outsides whose aggregate constitutes the piece of house-furniture
called a library.
"Some years before, the young man (my story is so short, and calls in
so few personages, that I need not give him a name) had aspired, under
the influence of religious and sympathetic feeling, to be a clergyman;
but Providence, either in the form of poverty, or of theological
difficulty, had prevented his prosecuting his studies to that end. And
now he was only a village schoolmaster, nor likely to advance
further. I have said _only_ a village schoolmaster; but is it not
better to be a teacher _of_ babes than a preacher _to_ men, at any
time; not to speak of those troublous times of transition, wherein a
difference of degree must so often assume the appearance of a
difference of kind? That man is more happy--I will not say more
blessed--who, loving boys and girls, is loved and revered by them,
than he who, ministering unto men and women, is compelled to pour his
words into the filter of religious suspicion, whence the water is
allowed to pass away unheeded, and only the residuum is retained for
the analysis of ignorant party-spirit.
"He had married a simple village girl, in whose eyes he was nobler
than the noblest--to whom he was the mirror, in which the real forms
of all things around were reflected. Who dares pity my poor village
schoolmaster? I fling his pity away. Had he not found in her love the
verdict of God, that he was worth loving? Did he not in her possess
the eternal and unchangeable? Were not her eyes openings through which
he looked into the great depths that could not be measured or
represented? She was his public, his society, his critic. He found in
her the heaven of his rest. God gave unto him immortality, and he was
glad. For his ambition, it had died of its own mortality. He read the
words of Jesus, and the words of great prophets whom he has sent; and
learned that the wind-tossed anemone is a word of God as real and true
as the unbending oak beneath which it grows--that reality is an
absolute existence precluding degrees. If his mind was, as his room,
scantily furnished, it was yet lofty; if his light was small, it was
brilliant. God lived, and he lived. Perhaps the highest moral height
which a man can reach, and at the same time the most difficult of
attainment, is the willingness to be _nothing_ relatively, so that he
attain that positive excellence which the original conditions of his
being render not merely possible, but imperative. It is nothing to a
man to be greater or less than another--to be esteemed or otherwise by
the public or private world in which he moves. Does he, or does he
not, behold and love and live the unchangeable, the essential, the
divine? This he can only do according as God has made him. He can
behold and understand God in the least degree, as well as in the
greatest, only by the godlike within him; and he that loves thus the
good and great has no room, no thought, no necessity for comparison
and difference. The truth satisfies him. He lives in its
absoluteness. God makes the glow-worm as well as the star; the light
in both is divine. If mine be an earth-star to gladden the wayside, I
must cultivate humbly and rejoicingly its green earth-glow, and not
seek to blanch it to the whiteness of the stars that lie in the fields
of blue. For to deny God in my own being is to cease to behold him in
any. God and man can meet only by the man's becoming that which God
meant him to be. Then he enters into the house of life, which is
greater than the house of fame. It is better to be a child in a green
field, than a knight of many orders in a state ceremonial.
"All night long he had sat there, and morning was drawing nigh. He has
not heard the busy wind all night, heaping up snow against the house,
which will make him start at the ghostly face of the world when at
length he opens the shutters, and it stares upon him so white. For up
in a little room above, white-curtained, like the great earth without,
there has been a storm, too, half the night--moanings and prayers--and
some forbidden tears; but now, at length, it is over; and through the
portals of two mouths instead of one, flows and ebbs the tide of the
great air-sea which feeds the life of man. With the sorrow of the
mother, the new life is purchased for the child; our very being is
redeemed from nothingness with the pains of a death of which we know
"An hour has gone by since the watcher below has been delivered from
the fear and doubt that held him. He has seen the mother and the
child--the first she has given to life and him--and has returned to
his lonely room, quiet and glad.
"But not long did he sit thus before thoughts of doubt awoke in his
mind. He remembered his scanty income, and the somewhat feeble health
of his wife. One or two small debts he had contracted, seemed
absolutely to press on his bosom; and the newborn child--'oh! how
doubly welcome,' he thought, 'if I were but half as rich again as I
am!'--brought with it, as its own love, so its own care. The dogs of
need, that so often hunt us up to heaven, seemed hard upon his heels;
and he prayed to God with fervour; and as he prayed he fell asleep in
his chair, and as he slept he dreamed. The fire and the lamp burned on
as before, but threw no rays into his soul; yet now, for the first
time, he seemed to become aware of the storm without; for his dream
was as follows:--
"He lay in his bed, and listened to the howling of the wintry wind. He
trembled at the thought of the pitiless cold, and turned to sleep
again, when he thought he heard a feeble knocking at the door. He rose
in haste, and went down with a light. As he opened the door, the wind,
entering with a gust of frosty particles, blew out his candle; but he
found it unnecessary, for the grey dawn had come. Looking out, he saw
nothing at first; but a second look, turned downwards, showed him a
little half-frozen child, who looked quietly, but beseechingly, in his
face. His hair was filled with drifted snow, and his little hands and
cheeks were blue with cold. The heart of the schoolmaster swelled to
bursting with the spring-flood of love and pity that rose up within
it. He lifted the child to his bosom, and carried him into the house;
where, in the dream's incongruity, he found a fire blazing in the room
in which he now slept. The child said never a word. He set him by the
fire, and made haste to get hot water, and put him in a warm bath. He
never doubted that this was a stray orphan who had wandered to him for
protection, and he felt that he could not part with him again; even
though the train of his previous troubles and doubts once more passed
through the mind of the dreamer, and there seemed no answer to his
perplexities for the lack of that cheap thing, gold--yea, silver. But
when he had undressed and bathed the little orphan, and having dried
him on his knees, set him down to reach something warm to wrap him in,
the boy suddenly looked up in his face, as if revived, and said with a
heavenly smile, 'I am the child Jesus.' 'The child Jesus!' said the
dreamer, astonished. 'Thou art like any other child.' 'No, do not say
so,' returned the boy; 'but say, _Any other child is like me_.' And
the child and the dream slowly faded away; and he awoke with these
words sounding in his heart--'Whosoever shall receiveth one of such
children in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me,
receiveth not me, but him that sent me.' It was the voice of God
saying to him: 'Thou wouldst receive the child whom I sent thee out of
the cold, stormy night; receive the new child out of the cold waste
into the warm human house, as the door by which it can enter God's
house, its home. If better could be done for it, or for thee, would I
have sent it hither? Through thy love, my little one must learn my
love and be blessed. And thou shall not keep it without thy reward.
For thy necessities--in thy little house, is there not yet room? in
thy barrel, is there not yet meal? and thy purse is not empty quite.
Thou canst not eat more than a mouthful at once. I have made thee
so. Is it any trouble to me to take care of thee? Only I prefer to
feed thee from my own hand, and not from thy store.'And the
schoolmaster sprang up in joy, ran upstairs, kissed his wife, and
clasped the baby in his arms in the name of the child Jesus. And in
that embrace, he knew that he received God to his heart. Soon, with a
tender, beaming face, he was wading through the snow to the
school-house, where he spent a happy day amidst the rosy faces and
bright eyes of his boys and girls. These, likewise, he loved the more
dearly and joyfully for that dream, and those words in his heart; so
that, amidst their true child-faces, (all going well with them, as not
unfrequently happened in his schoolroom), he felt as if all the
elements of Paradise were gathered around him, and knew that he was
God's child, doing God's work.
"But while that dream was passing through the soul of the husband,
another visited the wife, as she lay in the faintness and trembling
joy of the new motherhood. For although she that has been mother
before, is not the less a new mother to the new child, her former
relation not covering with its wings the fresh bird in the nest of her
bosom, yet there must be a peculiar delight in the thoughts and
feelings that come with the first-born.--As she lay half in a sleep,
half in a faint, with the vapours of a gentle delirium floating
through her brain, without losing the sense of existence she lost the
consciousness of its form, and thought she lay, not a young mother in
her bed, but a nosegay of wild flowers in a basket, crushed, flattened
and half-withered. With her in the basket lay other bunches of
flowers, whose odours, some rare as well as rich, revealed to her the
sad contrast in which she was placed. Beside her lay a cluster of
delicately curved, faintly tinged, tea-scented roses; while she was
only blue hyacinth bells, pale primroses, amethyst anemones, closed
blood-coloured daisies, purple violets, and one sweet-scented, pure
white orchis. The basket lay on the counter of a well-known little
shop in the village, waiting for purchasers. By and by her own husband
entered the shop, and approached the basket to choose a nosegay. 'Ah!'
thought she, 'will he choose me? How dreadful if he should not, and I
should be left lying here, while he takes another! But how should he
choose me? They are all so beautiful; and even my scent is nearly
gone. And he cannot know that it is I lying here. Alas! alas!' But as
she thought thus, she felt his hand clasp her, heard the ransom-money
fall, and felt that she was pressed to his face and lips, as he passed
from the shop. He _had_ chosen her; he _had_ known her. She opened her
eyes: her husband's kiss had awakened her. She did not speak, but
looked up thankfully in his eyes, as if he had, in fact, like one of
the old knights, delivered her from the transformation of some evil
magic, by the counter-enchantment of a kiss, and restored her from a
half-withered nosegay to be a woman, a wife, a mother. The dream
comforted her much, for she had often feared that she, the simple,
so-called uneducated girl, could not be enough for the great
schoolmaster. But soon her thoughts flowed into another channel; the
tears rose in her dark eyes, shining clear from beneath a stream that
was not of sorrow; and it was only weakness that kept her from
uttering audible words like these:--'Father in heaven, shall I trust
my husband's love, and doubt thine? Wilt thou meet less richly the
fearing hope of thy child's heart, than he in my dream met the longing
of his wife's? He was perfected in my eyes by the love he bore
me--shall I find thee less complete? Here I lie on thy world, faint,
and crushed, and withered; and my soul often seems as if it had lost
all the odours that should float up in the sweet-smelling savour of
thankfulness and love to thee. But thou hast only to take me, only to
choose me, only to clasp me to thy bosom, and I shall be a beautiful
singing angel, singing to God, and comforting my husband while I
sing. Father, take me, possess me, fill me!'
"So she lay patiently waiting for the summer-time of restored strength
that drew slowly nigh. With her husband and her child near her, in her
soul, and God everywhere, there was for her no death, and no
hurt. When she said to herself, 'How rich I am!' it was with the
riches that pass not away--the riches of the Son of man; for in her
treasures, the human and the divine were blended--were one.
"But there was a hard trial in store for them. They had learned to
receive what the Father sent: they had now to learn that what he gave
he gave eternally, after his own being--his own glory. For ere the
mother awoke from her first sleep, the baby, like a frolicsome child-
angel, that but tapped at his mother's window and fled--the baby died;
died while the mother slept away the pangs of its birth, died while
the father was teaching other babes out of the joy of his new
"When the mother woke, she lay still in her joy--the joy of a doubled
life; and knew not that death had been there, and had left behind only
the little human coffin.
"'Nurse, bring me the baby,' she said at last. 'I want to see it.'
"But the nurse pretended not to hear.
"'I want to nurse it. Bring it.'
"She had not yet learned to say _him_; for it was her first baby.
"But the nurse went out of the room, and remained some minutes
away. When she returned, the mother spoke more absolutely, and the
nurse was compelled to reply--at last.
"'Nurse, do bring me the baby; I am quite able to nurse it now.'
"'Not yet, if you please, ma'am. Really you must rest a while
first. Do try to go to sleep.'
"The nurse spoke steadily, and looked her too straight in the face;
and there was a constraint in her voice, a determination to be calm,
that at once roused the suspicion of the mother; for though her
first-born was dead, and she had given birth to what was now, as far
as the eye could reach, the waxen image of a son, a child had come
from God, and had departed to him again; and she was his mother.
"And the fear fell upon her heart that it might be as it was; and,
looking at her attendant with a face blanched yet more with fear than
with suffering, she said,
"'Nurse, is the baby--?'
"She could not say _dead_; for to utter the word would be at once to
make it possible that the only fruit of her labour had been pain and
"But the nurse saw that further concealment was impossible; and,
without another word, went and fetched the husband, who, with face
pale as the mother's, brought the baby, dressed in its white clothes,
and laid it by its mother's side, where it lay too still.
"'Oh, ma'am, do not take on so,' said the nurse, as she saw the face
of the mother grow like the face of the child, as if she were about to
rush after him into the dark.
"But she was not 'taking on' at all. She only felt that pain at her
heart, which is the farewell kiss of a long-cherished joy. Though cast
out of paradise into a world that looked very dull and weary, yet,
used to suffering, and always claiming from God the consolation it
needed, and satisfied with that, she was able, presently, to look up
in her husband's face, and try to reassure him of her well-being by a
"'Leave the baby,' she said; and they left it where it was. Long and
earnestly she gazed on the perfect tiny features of the little
alabaster countenance, and tried to feel that this was the child she
had been so long waiting for. As she looked, she fancied she heard it
breathe, and she thought--'What if it should be only asleep!' but,
alas! the eyes would not open, and when she drew it close to her, she
shivered to feel it so cold. At length, as her eyes wandered over and
over the little face, a look of her husband dawned unexpectedly upon
it; and, as if the wife's heart awoke the mother's she cried out,
'Baby! baby!' and burst into tears, during which weeping she fell
"When she awoke, she found the babe had been removed while she slept.
But the unsatisfied heart of the mother longed to look again on the
form of the child; and again, though with remonstrance from the nurse,
it was laid beside her. All day and all night long, it remained by her
side, like a little frozen thing that had wandered from its home, and
now lay dead by the door.
"Next morning the nurse protested that she must part with it, for it
made her fret; but she knew it quieted her, and she would rather keep
her little lifeless babe. At length the nurse appealed to the father;
and the mother feared he would think it necessary to remove it; but to
her joy and gratitude he said, 'No, no; let her keep it as long as she
likes.' And she loved her husband the more for that; for he understood
"Then she had the cradle brought near the bed, all ready as it was for
a live child that had open eyes, and therefore needed sleep--needed
the lids of the brain to close, when it was filled full of the strange
colours and forms of the new world. But this one needed no cradle, for
it slept on. It needed, instead of the little curtains to darken it to
sleep, a great sunlight to wake it up from the darkness, and the
ever-satisfied rest. Yet she laid it in the cradle, which she had set
near her, where she could see it, with the little hand and arm laid
out on the white coverlet. If she could only keep it so! Could not
something be done, if not to awake it, yet to turn it to stone, and
let it remain so for ever? No; the body must go back to its mother,
the earth, and the _form_ which is immortal, being the thought of God,
must go back to its Father--the Maker. And as it lay in the white
cradle, a white coffin was being made for it. And the mother thought:
'I wonder which trees are growing coffins for my husband and me.'
"But ere the child, that had the prayer of Job in his grief, and had
died from its mother's womb, was carried away to be buried, the mother
prayed over it this prayer:--'O God, if thou wilt not let me be a
mother, I have one refuge: I will go back and be a child: I will be
thy child more than ever. My mother-heart will find relief in
childhood towards its Father. For is it not the same nature that makes
the true mother and the true child? Is it not the same thought
blossoming upward and blossoming downward? So there is God the Father
and God the Son. Thou wilt keep my little son for me. He has gone home
to be nursed for me. And when I grow well, I will be more simple, and
truthful, and joyful in thy sight. And now thou art taking away my
child, my plaything, from me. But I think how pleased I should be, if
I had a daughter, and she loved me so well that she only smiled when I
took her plaything from her. Oh! I will not disappoint thee--thou
shall have thy joy. Here I am, do with me what thou wilt; I will only
"And how fared the heart of the father? At first, in the bitterness of
his grief, he called the loss of his child a punishment for his doubt
and unbelief; and the feeling of punishment made the stroke more keen,
and the heart less willing to endure it. But better thoughts woke
within him ere long.
"The old woman who swept out his schoolroom, came in the evening to
inquire after the mistress, and to offer her condolences on the loss
of the baby. She came likewise to tell the news, that a certain old
man of little respectability had departed at last, unregretted by a
single soul in the village but herself, who had been his nurse through
the last tedious illness.
"The schoolmaster thought with himself:
"'Can that soiled and withered leaf of a man, and my little snow-flake
of a baby, have gone the same road? Will they meet by the way? Can
they talk about the same thing--anything? They must part on the
boarders of the shining land, and they could hardly speak by the way.'
"'He will live four-and-twenty hours, nurse,' the doctor had said.
"'No, doctor; he will die to-night,' the nurse had replied; during
which whispered dialogue, the patient had lain breathing quietly, for
the last of suffering was nearly over.
He was at the close of an ill-spent life, not so much selfishly
towards others as indulgently towards himself. He had failed of true
joy by trying often and perseveringly to create a false one; and now,
about to knock at the gate of the other world, he bore with him no
burden of the good things of this; and one might be tempted to say of
him, that it were better he had not been born. The great majestic
mystery lay before him--but when would he see its majesty?