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Adela Cathcart by George MacDonald

Part 3 out of 3

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the first time, there had been blood on his sword--there the sword lay,
a spot on the chased hilt still. He had cut down one of the enemy in a
skirmish with a sally party of the besieged and the look of the man as
he fell, haunted him. He felt, for the time, that he dared not pray to
the Father, for the blood of a brother had rushed forth at the stroke of
his arm, and there was one fewer of living souls on the earth because he
lived thereon. And to-morrow he must lead a troop of men up to that poor
disabled town, and turn them loose upon it, not knowing what might
follow in the triumph of enraged and victorious foes, who for weeks had
been subjected, by the constancy of the place, to the greatest
privations. It was true the general had issued his commands against all
disorder and pillage; but if the soldiers once yielded to temptation,
what might not be done before the officers could reclaim them! All the
wretched tales he had read of the sack of cities rushed back on his
memory. He shuddered as he lay. Then his conscience began to speak, and
to ask what right he had to be there.--Was the war a just one?--He could
not tell; for this was a bad time for settling nice questions. But there
he was, right or wrong, fighting and shedding blood on God's earth,
beneath God's heaven.

"Over and over he turned the question in his mind; again and again the
spouting blood of his foe, and the death-look in his eye, rose before
him; and the youth who at school could never fight with a companion
because he was not sure that he was in the right, was alone in the midst
of undoubting men of war, amongst whom he was driven helplessly along,
upon the waves of a terrible necessity. What wonder that in the midst
of these perplexities his courage should fail him! What wonder that the
consciousness of fainting should increase the faintness! or that the
dread of fear and its consequences should hasten and invigorate its
attacks! To crown all, when he dropped into a troubled slumber at
length, he found himself hurried, as on a storm of fire, through the
streets of the captured town, from all the windows of which looked
forth familiar faces, old and young, but distorted from the memory of
his boyhood by fear and wild despair. On one spot lay the body of his
father, with his face to the earth; and he woke at the cry of horror
and rage that burst from his own lips, as he saw the rough, bloody
hand of a soldier twisted in the loose hair of his elder sister, and
the younger fainting in the arms of a scoundrel belonging to his own
regiment.

"He slept no more. As the grey morning broke, the troops appointed for
the attack assembled without sound of trumpet or drum, and were silently
formed in fitting order. The young ensign was in his place, weary and
wretched after his miserable night. Before him he saw a great,
broad-shouldered lieutenant, whose brawny hand seemed almost too large
for his sword-hilt, and in any one of whose limbs played more animal
life than in the whole body of the pale youth. The firm-set lips of this
officer, and the fire of his eye, showed a concentrated resolution,
which, by the contrast, increased the misery of the ensign, and seemed,
as if the stronger absorbed the weaker, to draw out from him the last
fibres of self-possession: the sight of unattainable determination,
while it increased the feeling of the arduousness of that which required
such determination, threw him into the great gulf which lay between him
and it. In this disorder of his nervous and mental condition, with a
doubting conscience and a shrinking heart, is it any wonder that the
terrors which lay before him at the gap in those bristling walls,
should draw near, and, making sudden inroad upon his soul, overwhelm the
government of a will worn out by the tortures of an unassured spirit?
What share fear contributed to unman him, it was impossible for him,
in the dark, confused conflict of differing emotions, to determine;
but doubtless a natural shrinking from danger, there being no excitement
to deaden its influence, and no hope of victory to encourage to the
struggle, seeing victory was dreadful to him as defeat, had its part in
the sad result. Many men who have courage, are dependent on ignorance
and a low state of the moral feeling for that courage; and a further
progress towards the development of the higher nature would, for a time
at least, entirely overthrow it. Nor could such loss of courage be
rightly designated by the name of cowardice.

"But, alas! the colonel happened to fix his eyes upon him as he passed
along the file; and this completed his confusion. He betrayed such
evident symptoms of perturbation, that that officer ordered him under
arrest; and the result was, that, chiefly for the sake of example to the
army, he was, upon trial by court-martial, expelled from the service,
and had his sword broken over his head. Alas for the delicate minded
youth! Alas for the home-darling!

"Long after, he found at the bottom of his chest the pieces of the
broken sword, and remembered that, at the time, he had lifted them from
the ground and carried them away. But he could not recall under what
impulse he had done so. Perhaps the agony he suffered, passing the
bounds of mortal endurance, had opened for him a vista into the eternal,
and had shown him, if not the injustice of the sentence passed upon him,
yet his freedom from blame, or, endowing him with dim prophetic vision,
had given him the assurance that some day the stain would be wiped from
his soul, and leave him standing clear before the tribunal of his own
honour. Some feeling like this, I say, may have caused him, with a
passing gleam of indignant protest, to lift the fragments from the
earth, and carry them away; even as the friends of a so-called traitor
may bear away his mutilated body from the wheel. But if such was the
case, the vision was soon overwhelmed and forgotten in the succeeding
anguish. He could not see that, in mercy to his doubting spirit, the
question which had agitated his mind almost to madness, and which no
results of the impending conflict could have settled for him, was thus
quietly set aside for the time; nor that, painful as was the dark,
dreadful existence that he was now to pass in self-torment and moaning,
it would go by, and leave his spirit clearer far, than if, in his
apprehension, it had been stained with further blood-guiltiness, instead
of the loss of honour. Years after, when he accidentally learned that on
that very morning the whole of his company, with parts of several more,
had, or ever they began to mount the breach, been blown to pieces by the
explosion of a mine, he cried aloud in bitterness, "Would God that my
fear had not been discovered before I reached that spot!" But surely it
is better to pass into the next region of life having reaped some
assurance, some firmness of character, determination of effort, and
consciousness of the worth of life, in the present world; so approaching
the future steadily and faithfully, and if in much darkness and
ignorance, yet not in the oscillations of moral uncertainty.

"Close upon the catastrophe followed a torpor, which lasted he did not
know how long, and which wrapped in a thick fog all the succeeding
events. For some time he can hardly be said to have had any conscious
history. He awoke to life and torture when half-way across the sea
towards his native country, where was no home any longer for him. To
this point, and no farther, could his thoughts return in after years.
But the misery which he then endured is hardly to be understood, save by
those of like delicate temperament with himself. All day long he sat
silent in his cabin; nor could any effort of the captain, or others on
board, induce him to go on deck till night came on, when, under the
starlight, he ventured into the open air. The sky soothed him then, he
knew not how. For the face of nature is the face of God, and must bear
expressions that can influence, though unconsciously to them, the most
ignorant and hopeless of His children. Often did he watch the clouds in
hope of a storm, his spirit rising and falling as the sky darkened or
cleared; he longed, in the necessary selfishness of such suffering, for
a tumult of waters to swallow the vessel; and only the recollection of
how many lives were involved in its safety besides his own, prevented
him from praying to God for lightning and tempest, borne on which he
might dash into the haven of the other world. One night, following a
sultry calm day, he thought that Mercy had heard his unuttered prayer.
The air and sea were intense darkness, till a light as intense for one
moment annihilated it, and the succeeding darkness seemed shattered with
the sharp reports of the thunder that cracked without reverberation. He
who had shrunk from battle with his fellowmen, rushed to the mainmast,
threw himself on his knees, and stretched forth his arms in speechless
energy of supplication; but the storm passed away overhead, and left him
kneeling still by the uninjured mast. At length the vessel reached her
port. He hurried on shore to bury himself in the most secret place he
could find. _Out of sight_ was his first, his only thought. Return
to his mother he would not, he could not; and, indeed, his friends never
learned his fate, until it had carried him far beyond their reach.

"For several weeks he lurked about like a malefactor, in low
lodging-houses in narrow streets of the seaport to which the vessel had
borne him, heeding no one, and but little shocked at the strange society
and conversation with which, though only in bodily presence, he had to
mingle. These formed the subjects of reflection in after times; and he
came to the conclusion that, though much evil and much misery exist,
sufficient to move prayers and tears in those who love their kind, yet
there is less of both than those looking down from a more elevated
social position upon the weltering heap of humanity, are ready to
imagine; especially if they regard it likewise from the pedestal of
self-congratulation on which a meagre type of religion has elevated
them. But at length his little stock of money was nearly expended, and
there was nothing that he could do, or learn to do, in this seaport. He
felt impelled to seek manual labour, partly because he thought it more
likely he could obtain that sort of employment, without a request for
reference as to his character, which would lead to inquiry about his
previous history; and partly, perhaps, from an instinctive feeling that
hard bodily labour would tend to lessen his inward suffering.

"He left the town, therefore, at nightfall of a July day, carrying a
little bundle of linen, and the remains of his money, somewhat augmented
by the sale of various articles of clothing and convenience, which his
change of life rendered superfluous and unsuitable. He directed his
course northwards, travelling principally by night--so painfully did he
shrink from the gaze even of foot-farers like himself; and sleeping
during the day in some hidden nook of wood or thicket, or under the
shadow of a great tree in a solitary field. So fine was the season,
that for three successive weeks he was able to travel thus without
inconvenience, lying down when the sun grew hot in the forenoon, and
generally waking when the first faint stars were hesitating in the great
darkening heavens that covered and shielded him. For above every cloud,
above every storm, rise up, calm, clear, divine, the deep infinite
skies; they embrace the tempest even as the sunshine; by their
permission it exists within their boundless peace: therefore it cannot
hurt, and must pass away, while there they stand as ever, domed up
eternally, lasting, strong, and pure.

"Several times he attempted to get agricultural employment; but the
whiteness of his hands and the tone of his voice not merely suggested
unfitness for labour, but generated suspicion as to the character of one
who had evidently dropped from a rank so much higher, and was seeking
admittance within the natural masonic boundaries and secrets and
privileges of another. Disheartened somewhat, but hopeful, he journeyed
on. I say hopeful; for the blessed power of life in the universe in
fresh air and sunshine absorbed by active exercise, in winds, yea in
rain, though it fell but seldom, had begun to work its natural healing,
soothing effect, upon his perturbed spirit. And there was room for hope
in his new endeavour. As his bodily strength increased, and his health,
considerably impaired by inward suffering, improved, the trouble of his
soul became more endurable--and in some measure to endure is to conquer
and destroy. In proportion as the mind grows in the strength of
patience, the disturber of its peace sickens and fades away. At length,
one day, a widow lady in a village through which his road led him, gave
him a day's work in her garden. He laboured hard and well,
notwithstanding his soon-blistered hands, received his wages thankfully,
and found a resting-place for the night on the low part of a hay-stack
from which the upper portion had been cut away. Here he ate his supper
of bread and cheese, pleased to have found such comfortable quarters,
and soon fell fast asleep.

"When he awoke, the whole heavens and earth seemed to give a full denial
to sin and sorrow. The sun was just mounting over the horizon, looking
up the clear cloud-mottled sky. From millions of water-drops hanging on
the bending stalks of grass, sparkled his rays in varied refraction,
transformed here to a gorgeous burning ruby, there to an emerald, green
as the grass, and yonder to a flashing, sunny topaz. The chanting
priest-lark had gone up from the low earth, as soon as the heavenly
light had begun to enwrap and illumine the folds of its tabernacle; and
had entered the high heavens with his offering, whence, unseen, he now
dropped on the earth the sprinkled sounds of his overflowing
blessedness. The poor youth rose but to kneel, and cry, from a bursting
heart, "Hast Thou not, O Father, some care for me? Canst Thou not
restore my lost honour? Can anything befall Thy children for which Thou
hast no help? Surely, if the face of Thy world lie not, joy and not
grief is at the heart of the universe. Is there none for me?"

"The highest poetic feeling of which we are now conscious, springs
not from the beholding of perfected beauty, but from the mute sympathy
which the creation with all its children manifests with us in the
groaning and travailing which look for the sonship. Because of our
need and aspiration, the snowdrop gives birth in our hearts to a loftier
spiritual and poetic feeling, than the rose most complete in form,
colour, and odour. The rose is of Paradise--the snowdrop is of the
striving, hoping, longing Earth. Perhaps our highest poetry is the
expression of our aspirations in the sympathetic forms of visible
nature. Nor is this merely a longing for a restored Paradise; for even
in the ordinary history of men, no man or woman that has fallen, can be
restored to the position formerly held. Such must rise to a yet higher
place, whence they can behold their former standing far beneath their
feet. They must be restored by the attainment of something better than
they ever possessed before, or not at all. If the law be a weariness,
we must escape it by taking refuge with the spirit, for not otherwise
can we fulfil the law than by being above the law. To escape the
overhanging rocks of Sinai, we must climb to its secret top.

"'Is thy strait horizon dreary?
Is thy foolish fancy chill?
Change the feet that have grown weary
For the wings that never will.'

"Thus, like one of the wandering knights searching the wide earth for
the Sangreal, did he wander on, searching for his lost honour, or rather
(for that he counted gone for ever) seeking unconsciously for the peace
of mind which had departed from him, and taken with it, not the joy
merely, but almost the possibility, of existence.

"At last, when his little store was all but exhausted, he was employed
by a market gardener, in the neighbourhood of a large country town, to
work in his garden, and sometimes take his vegetables to market. With
him he continued for a few weeks, and wished for no change; until, one
day driving his cart through the town, he saw approaching him an elderly
gentleman, whom he knew at once, by his gait and carriage, to be a
military man. Now he had never seen his uncle the retired officer, but
it struck him that this might be he; and under the tyranny of his
passion for concealment, he fancied that, if it were he, he might
recognise him by some family likeness--not considering the improbability
of his looking at him. This fancy, with the painful effect which the
sight of an officer, even in plain clothes, had upon him, recalling the
torture of that frightful day, so overcame him, that he found himself at
the other end of an alley before he recollected that he had the horse
and cart in charge. This increased his difficulty; for now he dared not
return, lest his inquiries after the vehicle, if the horse had strayed
from the direct line, should attract attention, and cause interrogations
which he would be unable to answer. The fatal want of self-possession
seemed again to ruin him. He forsook the town by the nearest way, struck
across the country to another line of road, and before he was missed,
was miles away, still in a northerly direction.

"But although he thus shunned the face of man, especially of any one
who reminded him of the past, the loss of his reputation in their eyes
was not the cause of his inward grief. That would have been comparatively
powerless to disturb him, had he not lost his own respect. He quailed
before his own thoughts; he was dishonoured in his own eyes. His
perplexity had not yet sufficiently cleared away to allow him to see the
extenuating circumstances of the case; not to say the fact that the
peculiar mental condition in which he was at the time, removed the case
quite out of the class of ordinary instances of cowardice. He condemned
himself more severely than any of his judges would have dared;
remembering that portion of his mental sensations which had savoured of
fear, and forgetting the causes which had produced it. He judged himself
a man stained with the foulest blot that could cleave to a soldier's
name, a blot which nothing but death, not even death, could efface.
But, inwardly condemned and outwardly degraded, his dread of recognition
was intense; and feeling that he was in more danger of being discovered
where the population was sparser, he resolved to hide himself once more
in the midst of poverty; and, with this view, found his way to one of
the largest of the manufacturing towns.

"He reached it during the strike of a great part of the workmen; so
that, though he found some difficulty in procuring employment, as might
be expected from his ignorance of machine-labour, he yet was sooner
successful than he would otherwise have been. Possessed of a natural
aptitude for mechanical operations, he soon became a tolerable workman;
and he found that his previous education assisted to the fitting
execution of those operations even which were most purely mechanical.

"He found also, at first, that the unrelaxing attention requisite for
the mastering of the many niceties of his work, of necessity drew his
mind somewhat from its brooding over his misfortune, hitherto almost
ceaseless. Every now and then, however, a pang would shoot suddenly to
his heart, and turn his face pale, even before his consciousness had
time to inquire what was the matter. So by degrees, as attention became
less necessary, and the nervo-mechanical action of his system increased
with use, his thoughts again returned to their old misery. He would wake
at night in his poor room, with the feeling that a ghostly nightmare sat
on his soul; that a want--a loss--miserable, fearful--was present; that
something of his heart was gone from him; and through the darkness he
would hear the snap of the breaking sword, and lie for a moment
overwhelmed beneath the assurance of the incredible fact. Could it be
true that he was a coward? that _his_ honour was gone, and in its
place a stain? that _he_ was a thing for men--and worse, for
women--to point the finger at, laughing bitter laughter? Never lover or
husband could have mourned with the same desolation over the departure
of the loved; the girl alone, weeping scorching tears over _her_
degradation, could resemble him in his agony, as he lay on his bed, and
wept and moaned.

"His sufferings had returned with the greater weight, that he was no
longer upheld by the "divine air" and the open heavens, whose sunlight
now only reached him late in an afternoon, as he stood at his loom,
through windows so coated with dust that they looked like frosted glass;
showing, as it passed through the air to fall on the dirty floor, how
the breath of life was thick with dust of iron and wood, and films of
cotton; amidst which his senses were now too much dulled by custom to
detect the exhalations from greasy wheels and overtasked human-kind.
Nor could he find comfort in the society of his fellow-labourers.
True, it was a kind of comfort to have those near him who could not
know of his grief; but there was so little in common between them,
that any interchange of thought was impossible. At least, so it seemed
to him. Yet sometimes his longing for human companionship would drive
him out of his dreary room at night, and send him wandering through the
lower part of the town, where he would gaze wistfully on the miserable
faces that passed him, as if looking for some one--some angel, even
there--to speak goodwill to his hungry heart.

"Once he entered one of those gin-palaces, which, like the golden gates
of hell, entice the miserable to worse misery, and seated himself close
to a half-tipsy, good-natured wretch, who made room for him on a bench
by the wall. He was comforted even by this proximity to one who would
not repel him. But soon the paintings of warlike action--of knights, and
horses, and mighty deeds done with battle-axe, and broad-sword, which
adorned the--panels all round, drove him forth even from this heaven of
the damned; yet not before the impious thought had arisen in his heart,
that the brilliantly painted and sculptural roof, with the gilded
vine-leaves and bunches of grapes trained up the windows, all lighted
with the great shining chandeliers, was only a microcosmic repetition of
the bright heavens and the glowing earth, that overhung and surrounded
the misery of man. But the memory of how kindly they had comforted and
elevated him, at one period of his painful history, not only banished
the wicked thought, but brought him more quiet, in the resurrection of
a past blessing, than he had known for some time. The period, however,
was now at hand when a new grief, followed by a new and more elevated
activity, was to do its part towards the closing up of the fountain of
bitterness.

"Amongst his fellow-labourers, he had for a short time taken some
interest in observing a young woman, who had lately joined them. There
was nothing remarkable about her, except what at first sight seemed a
remarkable plainness. A slight scar over one of her rather prominent
eyebrows, increased this impression of plainness. But the first day had
not passed, before he began to see that there was something not
altogether common in those deep eyes; and the plain look vanished before
a closer observation, which also discovered, in the forehead and the
lines of the mouth, traces of sorrow or other suffering. There was an
expression, too, in the whole face, of fixedness of purpose, without any
hardness of determination. Her countenance altogether seemed the index
to an interesting mental history. Signs of mental trouble were always an
attraction to him; in this case so great, that he overcame his shyness,
and spoke to her one evening as they left the works. He often walked
home with her after that; as, indeed, was natural, seeing that she
occupied an attic in the same poor lodging-house in which he lived
himself. The street did not bear the best character; nor, indeed, would
the occupations of all the inmates of the house have stood
investigation; but so retiring and quiet was this girl, and so seldom
did she go abroad after work hours, that he had not discovered till then
that she lived in the same street, not to say the same house with
himself.

"He soon learned her history--a very common one as outward events,
but not surely insignificant because common. Her father and mother
were both dead, and hence she had to find her livelihood alone,
and amidst associations which were always disagreeable, and sometimes
painful. Her quick womanly instinct must have discovered that he too
had a history; for though, his mental prostration favouring the
operation of outward influences, he had greatly approximated in
appearance to those amongst whom he laboured, there were yet signs,
besides the educated accent of his speech, which would have
distinguished him to an observer; but she put no questions to him,
nor made any approach towards seeking a return of the confidence she
reposed in him. It was a sensible alleviation to his sufferings to
hear her kind voice, and look in her gentle face, as they walked home
together; and at length the expectation of this pleasure began to
present itself, in the midst of the busy, dreary work-hours, as the
shadow of a heaven to close up the dismal, uninteresting day.

"But one morning he missed her from her place, and a keener pain passed
through him than he had felt of late; for he knew that the Plague was
abroad, feeding in the low stagnant places of human abode; and he had
but too much reason to dread that she might be now struggling in its
grasp. He seized the first opportunity of slipping out and hurrying
home. He sprang upstairs to her room. He found the door locked, but
heard a faint moaning within. To avoid disturbing her, while determined
to gain an entrance, he went down for the key of his own door, with
which he succeeded in unlocking hers, and so crossed her threshold for
the first time. There she lay on her bed, tossing in pain, and beginning
to be delirious. Careless of his own life, and feeling that he could not
die better than in helping the only friend he had; certain, likewise,
of the difficulty of finding a nurse for one in this disease and of her
station in life; and sure, likewise, that there could be no question of
propriety, either in the circumstances with which they were surrounded,
nor in this case of terrible fever almost as hopeless for her as
dangerous to him, he instantly began the duties of a nurse, and returned
no more to his employment. He had a little money in his possession, for
he could not, in the way in which he lived, spend all his wages; so he
proceeded to make her as comfortable as he could, with all the pent-up
tenderness of a loving heart finding an outlet at length. When a boy at
home, he had often taken the place of nurse, and he felt quite capable
of performing its duties. Nor was his boyhood far behind yet, although
the trials he had come through made it appear an age since he had lost
his light heart. So he never left her bedside, except to procure what
was necessary for her. She was too ill to oppose any of his measures,
or to seek to prohibit his presence. Indeed, by the time he had returned
with the first medicine, she was insensible; and she continued so
through the whole of the following week, during which time he was
constantly with her.

"That action produces feeling is as often true as its converse; and it
is not surprising that, while he smoothed the pillow for her head, he
should have made a nest in his heart for the helpless girl. Slowly and
unconsciously he learned to love her. The chasm between his early
associations and the circumstances in which he found her, vanished as
he drew near to the simple, essential womanhood. His heart saw hers and
loved it; and he knew that, the centre once gained, he could, as from
the fountain of life, as from the innermost secret of the holy place,
the hidden germ of power and possibility, transform the outer intellect
and outermost manners as he pleased. With what a thrill of joy, a
feeling for a long time unknown to him, and till now never known in this
form or with this intensity, the thought arose in his heart that here
lay one who some day would love him; that he should have a place of
refuge and rest; one to lie in his bosom and not despise him! "For,"
said he to himself, "I will call forth her soul from where it sleeps,
like an unawakened echo, in an unknown cave; and like a child, of whom
I once dreamed, that was mine, and to my delight turned in fear from all
besides, and clung to me, this soul of hers will run with bewildered,
half-sleeping eyes, and tottering steps, but with a cry of joy on its
lips, to me as the life-giver. She will cling to me and worship me. Then
will I tell her, for she must know all, that I am low and contemptible;
that I am an outcast from the world, and that if she receive me, she
will be to me as God. And I will fall down at her feet and pray her for
comfort, for life, for restoration to myself; and she will throw herself
beside me, and weep and love me, I know. And we will go through life
together, working hard, but for each other; and when we die, she shall
lead me into paradise as the prize her angel-hand found cast on a desert
shore, from the storm of winds and waves which I was too weak to
resist--and raised, and tended, and saved." Often did such thoughts
as these pass through his mind while watching by her bed; alternated,
checked, and sometimes destroyed, by the fears which attended her
precarious condition, but returning with every apparent betterment
or hopeful symptom.

"I will not stop to decide the nice question, how far the intention was
right, of causing her to love him before she knew his story. If in the
whole matter there was too much thought of self, my only apology is
the sequel. One day, the ninth from the commencement of her illness,
a letter arrived, addressed to her; which he, thinking he might prevent
some inconvenience thereby, opened and read, in the confidence of that
love which already made her and all belonging to her appear his own.
It was from a soldier--_her lover_. It was plain that they had been
betrothed before he left for the continent a year ago; but this was the
first letter which he had written to her. It breathed changeless love,
and hope, and confidence in her. He was so fascinated that he read it
through without pause.

"Laying it down, he sat pale, motionless, almost inanimate. From the
hard-won sunny heights, he was once more cast down into the shadow of
death. The second storm of his life began, howling and raging, with yet
more awful lulls between. "Is she not _mine_?" he said, in agony.
"Do I not feel that she is mine? Who will watch over her as I? Who will
kiss her soul to life as I? Shall she be torn away from me, when my soul
seems to have dwelt with hers for ever in an eternal house? But have
I not a right to her? Have I not given my life for hers? Is he not a
soldier, and are there not many chances that he may never return? And it
may be that, although they were engaged in word, soul has never touched
soul with them; their love has never reached that point where it passes
from the mortal to the immortal, the indissoluble: and so, in a sense,
she may be yet free. Will he do for her what I will do? Shall this
precious heart of hers, in which I see the buds of so many beauties,
be left to wither and die?"

"But here the voice within him cried out, "Art thou the disposer of
destinies? Wilt thou, in a universe where the visible God hath died
for the Truth's sake, do evil that a good, which He might neglect or
overlook, may be gained? Leave thou her to Him, and do thou right."
And he said within himself, "Now is the real trial for my life! Shall
I conquer or no?" And his heart awoke and cried, "I will. God forgive
me for wronging the poor soldier! A brave man, brave at least, is better
for her than I."

"A great strength arose within him, and lifted him up to depart. "Surely
I may kiss her once," he said. For the crisis was over, and she slept.
He stooped towards her face, but before he had reached her lips he saw
her eyelids tremble; and he who had longed for the opening of those
eyes, as of the gates of heaven, that she might love him, stricken now
with fear lest she should love him, fled from her, before the eyelids
that hid such strife and such victory from the unconscious maiden had
time to unclose. But it was agony--quietly to pack up his bundle of
linen in the room below, when he knew she was lying awake above, with
her dear, pale face, and living eyes! What remained of his money, except
a few shillings, he put up in a scrap of paper, and went out with his
bundle in his hand, first to seek a nurse for his friend, and then to go
he knew not whither. He met the factory people with whom he had worked,
going to dinner, and amongst them a girl who had herself but lately
recovered from the fever, and was yet hardly able for work. She was the
only friend the sick girl had seemed to have amongst the women at the
factory, and she was easily persuaded to go and take charge of her.
He put the money in her hand, begging her to use it for the invalid,
and promising to send the equivalent of her wages for the time he thought
she would have to wait on her. This he easily did by the sale of a ring,
which, besides his mother's watch, was the only article of value he had
retained. He begged her likewise not to mention his name in the matter;
and was foolish enough to expect that she would entirely keep the
promise she had made him.

"Wandering along the street, purposeless now and bereft, he spied a
recruiting party at the door of a public-house; and on coming nearer,
found, by one of those strange coincidences which do occur in life,
and which have possibly their root in a hidden and wondrous law, that
it was a party, perhaps a remnant, of the very regiment in which he
had himself served, and in which his misfortune had befallen him. Almost
simultaneously with the shock which the sight of the well-known number
on the soldiers' knapsacks gave him, arose in his mind the romantic,
ideal thought, of enlisting in the ranks of this same regiment, and
recovering, as a private soldier and unknown, that honour which as
officer he had lost. To this determination, the new necessity in which
he now stood for action and change of life, doubtless contributed,
though unconsciously. He offered himself to the sergeant; and,
notwithstanding that his dress indicated a mode of life unsuitable as
the antecedent to a soldier's, his appearance, and the necessity for
recruits combined, led to his easy acceptance.

"The English armies were employed in expelling the enemy from an invaded
and helpless country. Whatever might be the political motives which had
induced the Government to this measure, the young man was now able to
feel that he could go and fight, individually and for his part, in the
cause of liberty. He was free to possess his own motives for joining
in the execution of the schemes of those who commanded his commanders.

"With a heavy heart, but with more of inward hope and strength than he
had ever known before, he marched with his comrades to the seaport and
embarked. It seemed to him that because he had done right in his last
trial, here was a new glorious chance held out to his hand. True, it
was a terrible change to pass from a woman in whom he had hoped to
find healing, into the society of rough men, to march with them, "_mit
gleichem Tritt und Schritt_," up to the bristling bayonets or the
horrid vacancy of the cannon mouth. But it was the only cure for the
evil that consumed his life.

"He reached the army in safety, and gave himself, with religious
assiduity, to the smallest duties of his new position. No one had a
brighter polish on his arms, or whiter belts than he. In the necessary
movements, he soon became precise to a degree that attracted the
attention of his officers; while his character was remarkable for
all the virtues belonging to a perfect soldier.

"One day, as he stood sentry, he saw the eyes of his colonel intently
fixed on him. He felt his lip quiver, but he compressed and stilled it,
and tried to look as unconscious as he could; which effort was assisted
by the formal bearing required by his position. Now the colonel,
such had been the losses of the regiment, had been promoted from a
lieutenancy in the same, and had belonged to it at the time of the
ensign's degradation. Indeed, had not the changes in the regiment
been so great, he could hardly have escaped so long without discovery.
But the poor fellow would have felt that his name was already free of
reproach, if he had seen what followed on the close inspection which
had awakened his apprehensions, and which, in fact, had convinced the
colonel of his identity with the disgraced ensign. With a hasty and less
soldierly step than usual the colonel entered his tent, threw himself
on his bed and wept like a child. When he rose he was overheard to say
these words--and these only escaped his lips: 'He is nobler than I.'

"But this officer showed himself worthy of commanding such men as this
private; for right nobly did he understand and meet his feelings. He
uttered no word of the discovery he had made, till years afterwards;
but it soon began to be remarked that whenever anything arduous, or in
any manner distinguished, had to be done, this man was sure to be of
the party appointed. In short, as often as he could, the colonel "set
him in the forefront of the battle." Passing through all with wonderful
escape, he was soon as much noticed for his reckless bravery, as hitherto
for his precision in the discharge of duties bringing only commendation
and not honour. But his final lustration was at hand.

"A great part of the army was hastening, by forced marches, to raise
the siege of a town which was already on the point of falling into the
hands of the enemy. Forming one of a reconnoitring party, which preceded
the main body at some considerable distance, he and his companions came
suddenly upon one of the enemy's outposts, occupying a high, and on one
side precipitous rock, a short way from the town, which it commanded.
Retreat was impossible, for they were already discovered, and the
bullets were falling amongst them like the first of a hail-storm. The
only possibility of escape remaining for them was a nearly hopeless
improbability. It lay in forcing the post on this steep rock; which if
they could do before assistance came to the enemy, they might, perhaps,
be able to hold out, by means of its defences, till the arrival of the
army. Their position was at once understood by all; and, by a sudden,
simultaneous impulse, they found themselves half-way up the steep
ascent, and in the struggle of a close conflict, without being aware
of any order to that effect from their officer. But their courage was
of no avail; the advantages of the place were too great; and in a few
minutes the whole party was cut to pieces, or stretched helpless on
the rock. Our youth had fallen amongst the foremost; for a musket ball
had grazed his skull, and laid him insensible.

"But consciousness slowly returned, and he succeeded at last in raising
himself and looking around him. The place was deserted. A few of his
friends, alive, but grievously wounded, lay near him. The rest were
dead. It appeared that, learning the proximity of the English forces
from this rencontre with part of their advanced guard, and dreading
lest the town, which was on the point of surrendering, should after
all be snatched from their grasp, the commander of the enemy's forces
had ordered an immediate and general assault; and had for this purpose
recalled from their outposts the whole of his troops thus stationed,
that he might make the attempt with the utmost strength he could
accumulate.

"As the youth's power of vision returned, he perceived, from the height
where he he lay, that the town was already in the hands of the enemy.
But looking down into the level space immediately below him, he started
to his feet at once; for a girl, bare-headed, was fleeing towards the
rock, pursued by several soldiers. "Aha!" said he, divining her
purpose--the soldiers behind and the rock before her--"I will help you
to die!" And he stooped and wrenched from the dead fingers of a sergeant
the sword which they clenched by the bloody hilt. A new throb of life
pulsed through him to his very finger-tips; and on the brink of the
unseen world he stood, with the blood rushing through his veins in a
wild dance of excitement. One who lay near him wounded, but recovered
afterwards, said that he looked like one inspired. With a keen eye he
watched the chase. The girl drew nigh; and rushed up the path near which
he was standing. Close on her footsteps came the soldiers, the distance
gradually lessening between them.

"Not many paces higher up, was a narrower part of the ascent, where
the path was confined by great stones, or pieces of rock. Here had been
the chief defence in the preceding assault, and in it lay many bodies
of his friends. Thither he went and took his stand.

"On the girl came, over the dead, with rigid hands and flying feet,
the bloodless skin drawn tight on her features, and her eyes awfully
large and wild. She did not see him though she bounded past so near
that her hair flew in his eyes. "Never mind!" said he, "we shall meet
soon." And he stepped into the narrow path just in time to face her
pursuers--between her and them. Like the red lightning the bloody
sword fell, and a man beneath it. Cling! clang! went the echoes in
the rocks--and another man was down; for, in his excitement, he was
a destroying angel to the breathless pursuers. His stature rose, his
chest dilated; and as the third foe fell dead, the girl was safe;
for her body lay a broken, empty, but undesecrated temple, at the foot
of the rock. That moment his sword flew in shivers from his grasp.
The next instant he fell, pierced to the heart; and his spirit rose
triumphant, free, strong, and calm, above the stormy world, which at
length lay vanquished beneath him."

* * * * *

"A capital story!" cried our host, the moment the curate had ceased
reading. "But you should not have killed him. You should have made a
general of him. By heaven! he deserved it."

Mr. Armstrong was evidently much pleased that the colonel so heartily
sympathized with his tale. And every one else added some words of
commendation. I could not help thinking with myself that he had only
embodied the story of his own life in other more striking forms. But I
knew that, if I said so, he would laugh at me, and answer that all he
had done was quite easy to do--he had found no difficulty in it; whereas
this man was a hero and did the thing that he found very difficult
indeed. Still I was sure that the story was at least the outgrowth of
his own mind.

"May we ask," I said, "how much of the tale is fact?"

"I am sorry it is not all fact," he answered.

"Tell us how much, then," I said.

"Well, I will tell you what made me write it. I heard an old lady at a
dinner-table mention that she had once known a young officer who had his
sword broken over his head, and was dismissed from the army, for
cowardice. I began trying first to understand his feelings; then to see
how the thing could have happened; and then to discover what could be
done for him. And hence the story. That was all, I am sorry to say."

"I thought as much," I rejoined.

"Will you excuse me if I venture to make a remark?" said Mrs.
Bloomfield.

"With all my heart," answered the curate.

"It seemed to me that there was nothing Christian in the story. And I
cannot help feeling that a clergyman might, therefore, have done
better."

"I allow that in words there is nothing Christian," answered Mr.
Armstrong; "and I am quite ready to allow also that it might have been
better if something of the kind you mean had been expressed in it. The
whole thing, however, is only a sketch. But I cannot allow that, in
spirit and scope, it is anything other than Christian, or indeed
anything but Christian. It seems to me that the whole might be used as a
Christian parable."

While the curate spoke, I had seen Adela's face flush; but the cause was
not _visible_ to me. As he uttered the last words, a hand was laid
on his shoulder, and Harry's voice said:

"At your parables again, Ralph?"

He had come in so gently that the only sign of his entrance had been the
rose-light on Adela's cheeks.--Was he the sun? And was she a cloud of
the east?

"Glad to see you safe amongst us again," said the colonel, backed by
almost every one of the company.

"What's your quarrel with my parables, Harry?" said the curate.

"Quarrel? None at all. They are the delight of my heart. I only wish
you would give our friends one of your best--_The Castle_, for
instance."

"Not yet a while, Harry. It is not my turn for some time, I hope.
Perhaps Miss Cathcart will be tired of the whole affair, before it
comes round to me again."

"Then I shall deserve to be starved of stories all the rest of my life,"
answered Adela, laughing.

"If you will allow me, then," said Harry, "I will give you a parable,
called _The Lost Church_, from the German poet, Uhland."

"Softly, Harry," said his brother; "you are ready enough with what is
not yours to give; but where is your own story that you promised, and
which indeed we should have a right to demand, whether you had promised
it or not?"

"I am working at it, Ralph, in my spare moments, which are not very
many; and I want to choose the right sort of night to tell it in, too.
This one wouldn't do at all. There's no moon."

"If it is a horrid story, it is a pity you did not read it last time,
before you set out to cross the moor."

"Oh, that night would not have done at all. A night like that drives all
fear out of one's head. But indeed it is not finished yet.--May I repeat
the parable now, Miss Cathcart?"

"What do you mean by a _parable_, Mr. Henry?" interrupted Mrs.
Cathcart. "It sounds rather profane to me."

"I mean a picture in words, where more is meant than meets the ear."

"But why call it a parable?"

"Because it is one."

"Why not speak in plain words then?"

"Because a good parable is plainer than the plainest words. You remember
what Tennyson says--that

'truth embodied in a tale
Shall enter in at lowly doors'?"

"Goethe," said the curate, "has a little parable about poems, which is
equally true about parables--

'Poems are painted window-panes.
If one looks from the square into the church,
Dusk and dimness are his gains--
Sir Philistine is left in the lurch.
The sight, so seen, may well enrage him,
Nor any words henceforth assuage him.

But come just inside what conceals;
Cross the holy threshold quite--
All at once,'tis rainbow-bright;
Device and story flash to light;
A gracious splendour truth reveals.
This, to God's children, is full measure;
It edifies and gives them pleasure.'"

"I can't follow that," said Adela.

"I will write it out for you," said Harry; "and then you will be able
to follow it perfectly."

"Thank you very much. Now for your parable."

"It is called _The Lost Church_; and I assure you it is full of
meaning."

"I hope I shall be able to find it out."

"You will find the more the longer you think about it.

'Oft in the far wood, overhead,
Tones of a bell are heard obscurely;
How old the sounds no sage has said,
Or yet explained the story surely.
From the lost church, the legend saith,
Out on the winds, the ringing goeth;
Once full of pilgrims was the path--
Now where to find it, no one knoweth.

Deep in the wood I lately went,
Where no foot-trodden path is lying;
From the time's woe and discontent,
My heart went forth to God in sighing.
When in the forest's wild repose,
I heard the ringing somewhat clearer;
The higher that my longing rose,
Downward it rang the fuller, nearer.

So on its thoughts my heart did brood,
My sense was with the sound so busy,
That I have never understood
How I clomb up the height so dizzy.
To me it seemed a hundred years
Had passed away in dreaming, sighing--
When lo! high o'er the clouds, appears
An open space in sunlight lying.

The heaven, dark-blue, above it bowed;
The sun shone o'er it, large and glowing;
Beneath, a ministers structure proud
Stood in the gold light, golden showing.
It seemed on those great clouds, sun-clear,
Aloft to hover, as on pinions;
Its spire-point seemed to disappear,
Melting away in high dominions.

The bell's clear tones, entrancing, full--
The quivering tower, they, booming, swung it;
No human hand the rope did pull--
The holy storm-winds sweeping rung it.
The storm, the stream, came down, came near,
And seized my heart with longing holy;
Into the church I went, with fear,
With trembling step, and gladness lowly.

The threshold crossed--I cannot show
What in me moved; words cannot paint it.
Both dark and clear, the windows glow
With noble forms of martyrs sainted.
I gazed and saw--transfigured glory!
The pictures swell and break their barriers;
I saw the world and all its story
Of holy women, holy warriors.

Down at the altar I sank slowly;
My heart was like the face of Stephen.
Aloft, upon the arches holy,
Shone out in gold the glow of heaven.
I prayed; I looked again; and lo!
The dome's high sweep had flown asunder;
The heavenly gates wide open go;
And every veil unveils a wonder.

What gloriousness I then beheld,
Kneeling in prayer, silent and wondrous,
What sounds triumphant on me swelled,
Like organs and like trumpets thunderous--
My mortal words can never tell;
But who for such is sighing sorest,
Let him give heed unto the bell
That dimly soundeth in the forest.'"

"Splendid!" cried the schoolmaster, with enthusiasm.

"What is the lost church?" asked Mrs. Cathcart.

"No one can tell, but him who finds it, like the poet," answered the
curate.

"But I suppose _you_ at least consider it the Church of England,"
returned the lady with one of her sweetest attempts at a smile.

"God forbid!" exclaimed the clergyman, with a kind of sacred horror.

"Not the Church of England!" cried Mrs. Cathcart, in a tone of horror
likewise, dashed with amazement.

"No, madam--the Church of God; the great cathedral-church of the
universe; of which Church I trust the Church of England is a little
Jesus-chapel."

"God bless you, Mr. Armstrong!" cried the schoolmaster.

The colonel likewise showed some sign of emotion. Mrs. Cathcart looked
set-down and indignant. Percy stared. Adela and Harry looked at each
other.

"Whoever finds God in his own heart," said the clergyman, solemnly,
"has found the lost Church--the Church of God."

And he looked at Adela as he spoke. She cast down her eyes, and thanked
him with her heart.

A silence followed.

"Harry, you must come up with your story next time--positively," said
Mr. Armstrong at length.

"I don't think I can. I cannot undertake to do so, at all events."

"Then what is to be done?--I have it. Lizzie, my dear, you have got
that story you wrote once for a Christmas paper, have you not?"

"Yes, I have, Ralph; but that is far too slight a thing to be worth
reading here."

"It will do at least to give Harry a chance for his. I mustn't praise
it 'afore fowk,' you know."

"But it was never quite finished--at least so people said."

"Well, you can finish it to-morrow well enough."

"I haven't time."

"You needn't be working at that--all day long and every day. There is
no such hurry."

The blank indicates a certain cessation of intelligible sound occasioned
by the close application of Lizzie's palm to Ralph's lips. She did not,
dare, however, to make any further opposition to his request.

"I think we have some claim on you, Mrs. Armstrong," said the host. "It
will be my sister's turn next time, and after that Percy's."

Percy gave a great laugh; and his mother said, with a slight toss of her
head:

"I am not so fond of being criticised myself!"

"Has criticism been _your_ occupation, Mrs. Cathcart," I said,
"during our readings? If so, then indeed we have a claim on you greater
than I had supposed."

She could not hide some degree of confusion and annoyance. But I had had
my revenge, and I had no wish for her story; so I said nothing more.

We parted with the understanding that Mrs. Armstrong would read her
story on the following Monday.

Again, before he took his leave, Mr. Harry had a little therapeutic
_tete-a-tete_ with Miss Adela, which lasted about two minutes, Mrs.
Cathcart watching them every second of the time, with her eyes as round
and wide as she could make them, for they were by nature very long, and
by art very narrow, for she rarely opened them to any width at all. They
were not pleasant eyes, those eyes of Mrs. Cathcart's. Percy's were like
them, only better, for though they had a reddish tinge, he did open them
wider.

CHAPTER VII.

MY UNCLE PETER.

"Why don't you write a story, Percy?" said his mother to him next
morning at breakfast.

"Plenty of quill-driving at Somerset-House, mother. I prefer something
else in the holidays."

"But I don't like to see you showing to disadvantage, Percy," said his
uncle kindly. "Why don't you try?"

"The doctor-fellow hasn't read one yet. And I don't think he will."

"Have patience. I think he will."

"I don't care. I don't want to hear it. It's all a confounded bore.
They're nothing but goody humbug, or sentimental whining. His would
be sure to smell of black draught. I'm not partial to drugs."

The mother frowned, and the uncle tried to smile kindly and excusingly.
Percy rose and left the room.

"You see he's jealous of the doctor," remarked his mother, with an
upward toss of the head.

The colonel did not reply, and I ventured no remark.

"There is a vein of essential vulgarity in both the brothers," said
the lady.

"I don't think so," returned the colonel; and there the conversation
ended.

Adela was practising at her piano the greater part of the day. The
weather would not admit of a walk.

When we were all seated once more for our reading and Mrs. Armstrong had
her paper in her hand, after a little delay of apparent irresolution,
she said all at once:

"Ralph, I can't read. Will you read it for me?"

"Do try to read it yourself, my dear," said her husband.

"I am sure I shall break down," she answered.

"If you were able to write it, surely you are able to read it," said the
colonel. "I know what my difficulty would be."

"It is a very different thing to read one's own writing. I could read
anything else well enough.--Will you read it for me, Henry?"

"With pleasure, if it must be any other than yourself. I know your
handwriting nearly as well as my own. It's none of your usual
lady-hands-all point and no character. But what do you say, Ralph?"

"Read it by all means, if she will have it so. The company has had
enough of my reading. It will be a change of voice at least."

I saw that Adela looked pleasedly expectant.

"Pray don't look for much," said Mrs. Armstrong in a pleading tone.
"I assure you it is nothing, or at best a mere trifle. But I could
not help myself, without feeling obstinate. And my husband lays so
much on the cherished obstinacy of Lady Macbeth, holding that to be
the key to her character, that he has terrified me from every
indulgence of mine."

She laughed very sweetly; and her husband joining in the laugh, all
further hindrance was swept away in the music of their laughter; and
Harry, taking the papers from his sister's hand, commenced at once.
It was partly in print, and partly in manuscript.

"MY UNCLE PETER.

"I will tell you the story of my Uncle Peter, who was born on
Christmas-day. He was very anxious to die on Christmas-day as well;
but I must confess that was rather ambitious in Uncle Peter. Shakespeare
is said to have been born on St. George's-day, and there is some ground
for believing that he died on St. George's-day. He thus fulfilled a cycle.
But we cannot expect that of any but great men, and Uncle Peter was not
a great man, though I think I shall be able to show that he was a good
man. The only pieces of selfishness I ever discovered in him were, his
self-gratulation at having been born on Christmas-day, and the ambition
with regard to his death, which I have just recorded; and that this
selfishness was not of a kind to be very injurious to his fellowmen,
I think I shall be able to show as well.

"The first remembrance that I have of him, is his taking me one
Christmas-eve to the largest toy-shop in London, and telling me to
choose any toy whatever that I pleased. He little knew the agony of
choice into which this request of his,--for it was put to me as a
request, in the most polite, loving manner,--threw his astonished
nephew. If a general right of choice from the treasures of the whole
world had been unanimously voted me, it could hardly have cast me into
greater perplexity. I wandered about, staring like a distracted ghost
at the 'wealth of Ormus and of Ind,' displayed about me. Uncle Peter
followed me with perfect patience; nay, I believe, with a delight that
equalled my perplexity, for, every now and then when I looked round to
him with a silent appeal for sympathy in the distressing dilemma into
which he had thrown me, I found him rubbing his hands and spiritually
chuckling over his victim. Nor would he volunteer the least assistance
to save me from the dire consequences of too much liberty. How long I
was in making up my mind I cannot tell; but as I look back upon this
splendour of my childhood, I feel as if I must have wandered for weeks
through interminable forest-alleys of toy-bearing trees. As often as I
read the story of Aladdin--and I read it now and then still, for I have
children about, and their books about--the subterranean orchard of
jewels always brings back to my inward vision the inexhaustible riches
of the toy-shop to which Uncle Peter took me that Christmas-eve. As soon
as, in despair of choosing well, I had made a desperate plunge at
decision, my Uncle Peter, as if to forestall any supervention of
repentance, began buying like a maniac, giving me everything that took
his fancy or mine, till we and our toys nearly filled the cab which he
called to take us home.

"Uncle Peter was little round man, not _very_ fat, resembling both
in limbs and features an overgrown baby. And I believe the resemblance
was not merely an external one; for, though his intellect was quite up
to par, he retained a degree of simplicity of character and of tastes
that was not childlike only, but bordered, sometimes, upon the childish.
To look at him, you could not have fancied a face or a figure with less
of the romantic about them; yet I believe that the whole region of his
brain was held in fee-simple, whatever that may mean, by a race of fairy
architects, who built aerial castles therein, regardless of expense.
His imagination was the most distinguishing feature of his character.
And to hear him defend any of his extravagancies, it would appear that he
considered himself especially privileged in that respect. 'Ah, my dear,'
he would say to my mother when she expostulated with him on making some
present far beyond the small means he at that time possessed, 'ah, my
dear, you see I was born on Christmas-day.' Many a time he would come in
from town, where he was a clerk in a merchant's office, with the water
running out of his boots, and his umbrella carefully tucked under his
arm; and we would know very well that he had given the last coppers he
had, for his omnibus home, to some beggar or crossing-sweeper, and had
then been so delighted with the pleasure he had given, that he forgot to
make the best of it by putting up his umbrella. Home he would trudge,
in his worn suit of black, with his steel watch-chain and bunch of
ancestral seals swinging and ringing from his fob, and the rain running
into his trousers pockets, to the great endangerment of the health of
his cherished old silver watch, which never went wrong because it was
put right every day by St. Paul's. He was quite poor then, as I have
said. I do not think he had more than a hundred pounds a-year, and he
must have been five and thirty. I suppose his employers showed their
care for the morals of their clerks, by never allowing them any margin
to mis-spend. But Uncle Peter lived in constant hope and expectation of
some unexampled good luck befalling him; 'For,' said he, 'I was born on
Christmas-day.'

"He was never married. When people used to jest with him about being an
old bachelor, he used to smile, for anything would make him smile; but
I was a very little boy indeed when I began to observe that the smile
on such occasions was mingled with sadness, and that Uncle Peter's face
looked very much as if he were going to cry. But he never said anything
on the subject, and not even my mother knew whether he had had any
love-story or not. I have often wondered whether his goodness might not
come in part from his having lost some one very dear to him, and having
his life on earth purified by the thoughts of her life in heaven. But
I never found out. After his death--for he did die, though not on
Christmas-day--I found a lock of hair folded in paper with a date on
it--that was all--in a secret drawer of his old desk. The date was far
earlier than my first recollections of him. I reverentially burnt it
with fire.

"He lived in lodgings by himself not far from our house; and, when not
with us, was pretty sure to be found seated in his easy-chair, for he
was fond of his simple comforts, beside a good fire, reading by the
light of one candle. He had his tea always as soon as he came home,
and some buttered toast or a hot muffin, of which he was sure to make
me eat three-quarters if I chanced to drop in upon him at the right hour,
which, I am rather ashamed to say, I not unfrequently did. He dared not
order another, as I soon discovered. Yet, I fear, that did not abate my
appetite for what there was. You see, I was never so good as Uncle
Peter. When he had finished his tea, he turned his chair to the fire,
and read--what do you think? Sensible Travels and Discoveries, or
Political Economy, or Popular Geology? No: Fairy Tales, as many as he
could lay hold of; and when they failed him, Romances or Novels. Almost
anything in this way would do that was not bad. I believe he had read
every word of Richardson's novels, and most of Fielding's and De Foe's.
But once I saw him throw a volume in the fire, which he had been
fidgeting over for a while. I was just finishing a sum I had brought
across to him to help me with. I looked up, and saw the volume in the
fire. The heat made it writhe open, and I saw the author's name, and
that was _Sterne_. He had bought it at a book-stall as he came
home. He sat awhile, and then got up and took down his Bible, and began
reading a chapter in the New Testament, as if for an antidote to the
book he had destroyed."

* * * * *

"I put in that piece," said the curate.

* * * * *

"But Uncle Peter's luck came at last--at least, he thought it did, when
he received a lawyer's letter announcing the _demise_ of a cousin
of whom he had heard little for a great many years, although they had
been warm friends while at school together. This cousin had been brought
up to some trade in the wood line--had been a cooper or a carpenter,
and had somehow or other got landed in India, and, though not in the
Company's service, had contrived in one way and another to amass what
might be called a large fortune in any rank of life. I am afraid to
mention the amount of it, lest it should throw discredit on my story.
The whole of this fortune he left to Uncle Peter, for he had no nearer
relation, and had always remembered him with affection.

"I happened to be seated beside my uncle when the lawyer's letter
arrived. He was reading 'Peter Wilkins.' He laid down the book with
reluctance, thinking the envelope contained some advertisement of slaty
coal for his kitchen-fire, or cottony silk for his girls' dresses.
Fancy my surprise when my little uncle jumped up on his chair, and
thence on the table, upon which he commenced a sort of demoniac hornpipe.
But that sober article of furniture declined giving its support to such
proceedings for a single moment, and fell with an awful crash to the
floor. My uncle was dancing amidst its ruins like Nero in blazing Rome,
when he was reduced to an awful sense of impropriety by the entrance of
his landlady. I was sitting in open-mouthed astonishment at my uncle's
extravagance, when he suddenly dropped into his chair, like a lark into
its nest, leaving heaven silent. But silence did not reign long.

"'_Well_! Mr, Belper,' began his landlady, in a tone as difficult
of description as it is easy of conception, for her fists had already
planted themselves in her own opposing sides. But, to my astonishment,
my uncle was not in the least awed, although I am sure, however much
he tried to hide it, that I have often seen him tremble in his shoes
at the distant roar of this tigress. But it is wonderful how much
courage a pocketful of sovereigns will give. It is far better for
rousing the pluck of a man than any number of bottles of wine in his
head. What a brave thing a whole fortune must be then!

"'Take that rickety old thing away,' said my uncle.

"'Rickety, Mr. Belper! I'm astonished to hear a decent gentleman like
you slander the very table as you've eaten off for the last--'

"'We won't be precise to a year, ma'am,' interrupted my uncle.

"'And if you will have little scapegraces of neveys into my house to
break the furniture, why, them as breaks, pays, Mr. Belper.'

"'Very well. Of course I will pay for it. I broke it myself, ma'am;
and if you don't get out of my room, I'll--'

"Uncle Peter jumped up once more, and made for the heap of ruins in the
middle of the floor. The landlady vanished in a moment, and my uncle
threw himself again into his chair, and absolutely roared with laughter.

"'Shan't we have rare fun, Charlie, my boy?' said he at last, and went
off into another fit of laughter.

"'Why, uncle, what is the matter with you?' I managed to say, in utter
bewilderment.

"'Nothing but luck, Charlie. It's gone to my head. I'm not used to it,
Charlie, that's all. I'll come all right by-and-by. Bless you, my boy!'

"What do you think was the first thing my uncle did to relieve himself
of the awful accession of power which had just befallen him? The
following morning he gathered together every sixpence he had in the
house, and went out of one grocer's shop into another, and out of one
baker's shop into another, until he had changed the whole into
threepenny pieces. Then he walked to town, as usual, to business. But
one or two of his friends who were walking the same way, and followed
behind him, could not think what Mr. Belper was about. Every crossing
that he came to he made use of to cross to the other side. He crossed
and recrossed the same street twenty times, they said. But at length
they observed, that, with a legerdemain worthy of a professor, he
slipped something into every sweeper's hand as he passed him. It was
one of the threepenny pieces. When he walked home in the evening, he
had nothing to give, and besides went through one of the wet experiences
to which I have already alluded. To add to his discomfort, he found,
when he got home, that his tobacco-jar was quite empty, so that he was
forced to put on his wet shoes again--for he never, to the end of his
days, had more than one pair at a time--in order to come across to my
mother to borrow sixpence. Before the legacy was paid to him, he went
through a good many of the tortures which result from being 'a king
and no king.' The inward consciousness and the outward possibility did
not in the least correspond. At length, after much manoeuvring with
the lawyers, who seemed to sympathize with the departed cousin in this,
that they too would prefer keeping the money till death parted them and
it, he succeeded in getting a thousand pounds of it on Christmas-eve.

"'NOW!' said Uncle Peter, in enormous capitals.--That night a thundering
knock came to our door. We were all sitting in our little
dining-room--father, mother, and seven children of us--talking about
what we should do next day. The door opened, and in came the most
grotesque figure you could imagine. It was seven feet high at least,
without any head, a mere walking tree-stump, as far as shape went,
only it looked soft. The little ones were terrified, but not the bigger
ones of us; for from top to toe (if it had a toe) it was covered with
toys of every conceivable description, fastened on to it somehow or
other. It was a perfect treasure-cave of Ali Baba turned inside out.
We shrieked with delight. The figure stood perfectly still, and we
gathered round it in a group to have a nearer view of the wonder.
We then discovered that there were tickets on all the articles, which
we supposed at first to record the price of each. But, upon still
closer examination, we discovered that every one of the tickets had one
or other of our names upon it. This caused a fresh explosion of joy.
Nor was it the children only that were thus remembered. A little box
bore my mother's name. When she opened it, we saw a real gold watch and
chain, and seals and dangles of every sort, of useful and useless kind;
and my mother's initials were on the back of the watch. My father had a
silver flute, and to the music of it we had such a dance! the strange
figure, now considerable lighter, joining in it without uttering a word.
During the dance one of my sisters, a very sharp-eyed little puss,
espied about half way up the monster two bright eyes looking out of a
shadowy depth of something like the skirts of a great coat. She peeped
and peeped; and at length, with a perfect scream of exultation, cried
out, 'It's Uncle Peter! It's Uncle Peter!' The music ceased; the dance
was forgotten; we flew upon him like a pack of hungry wolves; we tore
him to the ground; despoiled him of coats, and plaids, and elevating
sticks; and discovered the kernel of the beneficent monster in the
person of real Uncle Peter; which, after all, was the best present he
could have brought us on Christmas-eve, for we had been very dull for
want of him, and had been wondering why he did not come.

"But Uncle Peter had laid great plans for his birthday, and for the
carrying out of them he took me into his confidence,--I being now a lad
of fifteen, and partaking sufficiently of my uncle's nature to enjoy at
least the fun of his benevolence. He had been for some time perfecting
his information about a few of the families in the neighbourhood; for
he was a bit of a gossip, and did not turn his landlady out of the room
when she came in with a whisper of news, in the manner in which he had
turned her out when she came to expostulate about the table. But she
knew her lodger well enough never to dare to bring him any scandal.
From her he had learned that a certain artist in the neighbourhood was
very poor. He made inquiry about him where he thought he could hear more,
and finding that he was steady and hard-working (Uncle Peter never cared
to inquire whether he had genius or not; it was enough to him that the
poor fellow's pictures did not sell), resolved that he should have a more
pleasant Christmas than he expected. One other chief outlet for his
brotherly love, in the present instance, was a dissenting minister and
his wife, who had a large family of little children. They lived in the
same street with himself. Uncle Peter was an unwavering adherent to the
Church of England, but he would have felt himself a dissenter at once if
he had excommunicated any one by withdrawing his sympathies from him.
He knew that this minister was a thoroughly good man, and he had even
gone to hear him preach once or twice. He knew too that his congregation
was not the more liberal to him that he was liberal to all men. So he
resolved that he would act the part of one of the black angels that
brought bread and meat to Elijah in the wilderness. Uncle Peter would
never have pretended to rank higher than one of the foresaid ravens.

"A great part of the forenoon of Christmas-day was spent by my uncle and
me in preparations. The presents he had planned were many, but I will
only mention two or three of them in particular. For the minister and
his family he got a small bottle with a large mouth. This he filled as
full of new sovereigns as it would hold; labelled it outside, _Pickled
Mushrooms_; 'for doesn't it grow in the earth without any seed?' said
he; and then wrapped it up like a grocer's parcel. For the artist, he
took a large shell from his chimney-piece; folded a fifty-pound note in
a bit of paper, which he tied up with a green ribbon; inserted the paper
in the jaws of the shell, so that the ends of the ribbon should hang
out; folded it up in paper and sealed it; wrote outside, _Enquire
within_; enclosed the whole in a tin box and directed it, _With
Christmas-day's compliments_; 'for wasn't I born on Christmas-day?'
concluded Uncle Peter for the twentieth time that forenoon. Then there
were a dozen or two of the best port he could get, for a lady who had
just had a baby, and whose husband and his income he knew from business
relations. Nor were the children forgotten. Every house in his street
and ours in which he knew there were little ones, had a parcel of toys
and sweet things prepared for it.

"As soon as the afternoon grew dusky, we set out with as many as we
could carry. A slight disguise secured me from discovery, my duty being
to leave the parcels at the different houses. In the case of the more
valuable of them, my duty was to ask for the master or mistress, and see
the packet in safe hands. In this I was successful in every instance.
It must have been a great relief to my uncle when the number of parcels
was sufficiently diminished to restore to him the use of his hands,
for to him they were as necessary for rubbing as a tail is to a dog for
wagging--in both cases for electrical reasons, no doubt. He dropped
several parcels in the vain attempt to hold them and perform the usual
frictional movement notwithstanding; so he was compelled instead to go
through a kind of solemn pace, which got more and more rapid as the
parcels decreased in number, till it became at last, in its wild
movements, something like a Highlander's sword-dance. We had to go home
several times for more, keeping the best till the last. When Uncle Peter
saw me give the 'pickled mushrooms' into the hands of the lady of the
house, he uttered a kind of laugh, strangled into a crow, which startled
the good lady, who was evidently rather alarmed already at the weight
of the small parcel, for she said, with a scared look:--

"'It's not gunpowder, is it?'

"'No,' I said; 'I think it's shot.'

"'Shot!' said she, looking even more alarmed. 'Don't you think you had
better take it back again?'

"She held out the parcel to me, and made as if she would shut the door.

"'Why, ma'am,' I answered, 'you would not have me taken up for stealing
it?'

"It was a foolish reply; but it answered the purpose if not the
question. She kept the parcel and shut the door. When I looked round
I saw my uncle going through a regular series of convolutions,
corresponding exactly to the bodily contortions he must have executed
at school every time he received a course of what they call _palmies_
in Scotland; if, indeed, Uncle Peter was ever even suspected of improper
behaviour at school. It consisted first of a dance, then a double-up;
then another dance, then another double-up, and so on.

"'Some stupid hoax, I suppose!' said the artist, as I put the parcel
into his hands. He looked gloomy enough, poor fellow.

"'Don't be too sure of that, if you please, sir,' said I, and vanished.

"Everything was a good joke to uncle all that evening.

"'Charlie,' said he, 'I never had such a birthday in my life before;
but, please God, now I've begun, this will not be the last of the sort.
But, you young rascal, if you split, why, I'll thrash the life out of
you. No, I won't--'here my uncle assumed a dignified attitude, and
concluded with mock solemnity--'No, I won't. I will cut you off with a
shilling.'

"This was a _crescendo_ passage, ending in a howl; upon which he
commenced once more an edition of the Highland fling, with impromptu
variations.

"When all the parcels were delivered, we walked home together to my
uncle's lodgings, where he gave me a glass of wine and a sovereign
for my trouble. I believe I felt as rich as any of them.

"But now I must tell you the romance of my uncle's life. I do not mean
the suspected hidden romance, for that no one knew--except, indeed,
a dead one knew all about it. It was a later romance, which, however,
nearly cost him his life once.

"One Christmas-eve we had been occupied, as usual, with the presents of
the following Christmas-day, and--will you believe it?--in the same
lodgings, too, for my uncle was a thorough Tory in his hatred of change.
Indeed, although two years had passed, and he had had the whole of his
property at his disposal since the legal term of one year, he still
continued to draw his salary of L100 of Messrs. Buff and Codgers.
One Christmas-eve, I say, I was helping him to make up parcels, when,
from a sudden impulse, I said to him--

"'How good you are, uncle!'

"'Ha! ha! ha!' laughed he; 'that's the best joke of all. Good, my boy!
Ha! ha! ha! Why, Charlie, you don't fancy I care one atom for all these
people, do you? I do it all to please myself. Ha! ha! ha! It's the
cheapest pleasure at the money, considering the quality, that I know.
That _is_ a joke. Good, indeed! Ha! ha! ha!'

"I am happy to say I was an old enough bird not to be caught with this
metaphysical chaff. But my uncle's face grew suddenly very grave, even
sad in its expression; and after a pause he resumed, but this time
without any laughing:--

"'Good, Charlie! Why, I'm no use to anybody.'

"'You do me good, anyhow, uncle,' I answered. 'If I'm not a better man
for having you for an uncle, why I shall be a great deal the worse,
that's all.'

"'Why, there it is!' rejoined my uncle; 'I don't know whether I do good
or harm. But for you, Charlie, you're a good boy, and don't want any
good done to you. It would break my heart, Charlie, if I thought you
weren't a good boy.'

"He always called me a boy after I was a grown man. But then I believe
he always felt like a boy himself, and quite forgot that we were uncle
and nephew.

"I was silent, and he resumed,--

"'I wish I could be of real, unmistakeable use to anyone! But I fear I
am not good enough to have that honour done me.'

"Next morning,--that was Christmas-day,--he went out for a walk alone,
apparently oppressed with the thought with which the serious part of
our conversation on the preceding evening had closed. Of course nothing
less than a threepenny piece would do for a crossing-sweeper on
Christmas-day; but one tiny little girl touched his heart so that
the usual coin was doubled. Still this did not relieve the heart of
the giver sufficiently; for the child looked up in his face in a way,
whatever the way was, that made his heart ache. So he gave her a
shilling. But he felt no better after that.--I am following his own
account of feelings and circumstances.

"'This won't do,' said Uncle Peter to himself. 'What is your name?'
said Uncle Peter to the little girl.

"'Little Christmas,' she answered.

"'Little Christmas!' exclaimed Uncle Peter. 'I see why that wouldn't
do now. What do you mean?'

"'Little Christmas, sir; please, sir.'

"'Who calls you that?'

"'Everybody, sir.'

"'Why do they call you that?'

"'It's my name, sir.'

"'What's your father's name?'

"'I ain't got none, sir'

"'But you know what his name was?'

"'No, sir.'

"'How did you get your name then? It must be the same as your father's,
you know.'

"'Then I suppose my father was Christmas-day, sir, for I knows of none
else. They always calls me Little Christmas.'

"'H'm! A little sister of mine, I see,' said Uncle Peter to himself.

"'Well, who's your mother?'

"'My aunt, sir. She knows I'm out, sir.'

"There was not the least impudence in the child's tone or manner in
saying this. She looked up at him with her gipsy eye in the most
confident manner. She had not struck him in the least as beautiful;
but the longer he looked at her, the more he was pleased with her.

"'Is your aunt kind to you?'

"'She gives me my wittles.'

"'Suppose you did not get any money all day, what would she say to you?'

"'Oh, she won't give me a hidin' to-day, sir, supposin' I gets no more.
You've giv' me enough already, sir; thank you, sir. I'll change it into
ha'pence.'

"'She does beat you sometimes, then?'

"'Oh, my!'

"Here she rubbed her arms and elbows as if she ached all over at the
thought, and these were the only parts she could reach to rub for the
whole.

"'I _will_,' said Uncle Peter to himself.

"'Do you think you were born on Christmas-day, little one?'

"'I think I was once, sir.'

"'I shall teach the child to tell lies if I go on asking her questions
in this way,' thought my uncle. 'Will you go home with me?' he said
coaxingly.

"'Yes, sir, if you will tell me where to put my broom, for I must not
go home without it, else aunt would wollop me.'

"'I will buy you a new broom.'

"'But aunt would wollop me all the same if I did not bring home the old
one for our Christmas fire.'

"'Never mind. I will take care of you. You may bring your broom if you
like, though,' he added, seeing a cloud come over the little face.

"'Thank you, sir,' said the child; and, shouldering her broom, she
trotted along behind him, as he led the way home.

"But this would not do, either. Before they had gone twelve paces,
he had the child in one hand; and before they had gone a second twelve,
he had the broom in the other. And so Uncle Peter walked home with his
child and his broom. The latter he set down inside the door, and the
former he led upstairs to his room. There he seated her on a chair by
the fire, and ringing the bell, asked the landlady to bring a basin
of bread and milk. The woman cast a look of indignation and wrath at
the poor little immortal. She might have been the impersonation of
Christmas-day in the catacombs, as she sat with her feet wide apart,
and reaching halfway down the legs of the chair, and her black eyes
staring from the midst of knotted tangles of hair that never felt comb
or brush, or were defended from the wind by bonnet or hood. I dare say
uncle's poor apartment, with its cases of stuffed birds and its square
piano that was used for a cupboard, seemed to her the most sumptuous of
conceivable abodes. But she said nothing--only stared. When her bread
and milk came, she ate it up without a word, and when she had finished
it, sat still for a moment, as if pondering what it became her to do
next. Then she rose, dropped a courtesy, and said:--'Thank you, sir.
Please, sir, where's my broom?'

"'Oh, but I want you to stop with me, and be my little girl.'

"'Please, sir, I would rather go to my crossing.'

"The face of Little Christmas lengthened visibly, and she was upon the
point of crying. Uncle Peter saw that he had been too precipitate, and
that he must woo the child before he could hope to win her; so he asked
her for her address. But though she knew the way to her home perfectly,
she could give only what seemed to him the most confused directions how
to find it. No doubt to her they seemed as clear as day. Afraid of
terrifying her by following her, the best way seemed to him to promise
her a new frock on the morrow, if she would come and fetch it. Her face
brightened so at the sound of a new frock, that my uncle had very little
fear of the fault being hers if she did not come.

"'Will you know the way back, my dear?'"

"'I always know my way anywheres,' answered she. So she was allowed to
depart with her cherished broom."

"Uncle Peter took my mother into council upon the affair of the frock.
She thought an old one of my sister's would do best. But my uncle had
said a _new_ frock, and a new one it must be. So next day my mother
went with him to buy one, and was excessively amused with his entire
ignorance of what was suitable for the child. However, the frock being
purchased, he saw how absurd it would be to put a new frock over such
garments as she must have below, and accordingly made my mother buy
everything to clothe her completely. With these treasures he hastened
home, and found poor Little Christmas and her broom waiting for him
outside the door, for the landlady would not let her in. This roused the
wrath of my uncle to such a degree, that, although he had borne wrongs
innumerable and aggravated for a long period of years without complaint,
he walked in and gave her notice that he would leave in a week. I think
she expected he would forget all about it before the day arrived; but
with his further designs for Little Christmas, he was not likely to
forget it; and I fear I have seldom enjoyed anything so much as the
consternation of the woman (whom I heartily hated) when she saw a truck
arrive to remove my uncle's few personal possessions from her
inhospitable roof. I believe she took her revenge by giving her cronies
to understand that she had turned my uncle away at a week's warning for
bringing home improper companions to her respectable house.--But to
return to Little Christmas. She fared all the better for the landlady's
unkindness; for my mother took her home and washed her with her own soft
hands from head to foot; and then put all the new clothes on her, and
she looked charming. How my uncle would have managed I can't think.
He was delighted at the improvement in her appearance. I saw him turn
round and wipe his eyes with his handkerchief.

"'Now, Little Christmas, will you come and live with me?' said he.

"She pulled the same face, though not quite so long as before, and said,
'I would rather go to my crossing, please, sir.'

"My uncle heaved a sigh and let her go.

"She shouldered her broom as if it had been the rifle of a giant, and
trotted away to her work.

"But next day, and the next, and the next, she was not to be seen at
her wonted corner. When a whole week had passed and she did not make
her appearance, my uncle was in despair. "'You see, Charlie,' said he,
'I am fated to be of no use to anybody, though I was born on
Christmas-day.'

"The very next day, however, being Sunday, my uncle found her as he went
to church. She was sweeping a new crossing. She seemed to have found a
lower deep still, for, alas! all her new clothes were gone, and she was
more tattered and wretched-looking than before. As soon as she saw my
uncle she burst into tears.

"'Look,' she said, pulling up her little frock, and showing her thigh
with a terrible bruise upon it; '_she_ did it.'

"A fresh burst of tears followed.

"'Where are your new clothes, Little Christmas?' asked my uncle.

"'She sold them for gin, and then beat me awful. Please, sir, I couldn't
help it.'

"The child's tears were so bitter, that my uncle, without thinking,
said--

"'Never mind, dear; you shall have another frock.'

"Her tears ceased, and her face brightened for a moment; but the weeping
returned almost instantaneously with increased violence, and she sobbed
out:

"'It's no use, sir; she'd only serve me the same, sir.'

"'Will you come home and live with me, then?'

"'Yes, please.'

"She flung her broom from her into the middle of the street, nearly
throwing down a cab-horse, betwixt whose fore-legs it tried to pass;
then, heedless of the oaths of the man, whom my uncle pacified with a
shilling, put her hand in that of her friend and trotted home with him.
From that day till the day of his death she never left him--of her own
accord, at least.

"My uncle had, by this time, got into lodgings with a woman of the right
sort, who received the little stray lamb with open arms and open heart.
Once more she was washed and clothed from head to foot, and from skin to
frock. My uncle never allowed her to go out without him, or some one who
was capable of protecting her. He did not think it at all necessary to
supply the woman, who might not be her aunt after all, with gin
unlimited, for the privilege of rescuing Little Christmas from her
cruelty. So he felt that she was in great danger of being carried off,
for the sake either of her earnings or her ransom; and, in fact, some
very suspicious-looking characters were several times observed prowling
about in the neighbourhood. Uncle Peter, however, took what care he
could to prevent any report of this reaching the ears of Little
Christmas, lest she should live in terror; and contented himself with
watching her carefully. It was some time before my mother would consent
to our playing with her freely and beyond her sight; for it was strange
to hear the ugly words which would now and then break from her dear
little innocent lips. But she was very easily cured of this, although,
of course, some time must pass before she could be quite depended upon.
She was a sweet-tempered, loving child. But the love seemed for some
time to have no way of showing itself, so little had she been used to
ways of love and tenderness. When we kissed her she never returned the
kiss, but only stared; yet whatever we asked her to do she would do as
if her whole heart was in it; and I did not doubt it was. Now I know it
was.

"After a few years, when Christmas began to be considered tolerably
capable of taking care of herself, the vigilance of my uncle gradually
relaxed a little. A month before her thirteenth birthday, as near as my
uncle could guess, the girl disappeared. She had gone to the day-school
as usual, and was expected home in the afternoon; for my uncle would
never part with her to go to a boarding-school, and yet wished her to
have the benefit of mingling with her fellows, and not being always tied
to the button-hole of an old bachelor. But she did not return at the
usual hour. My uncle went to inquire about her. She had left the school
with the rest. Night drew on. My uncle was in despair. He roamed the
streets all night; spoke about his child to every policeman he met;
went to the station-house of the district, and described her; had bills
printed, and offered a hundred pounds reward for her restoration.
All was unavailing. The miscreants must have seen bills, but feared to
repose confidence in the offer. Poor Uncle Peter drooped and grew thin.
Before the month was out, his clothes were hanging about him like a
sack. He could hardly swallow a mouthful; hardly even sit down to a
meal. I believe he loved his Little Christmas every whit as much as
if she had been his own daughter--perhaps more--for he could not help
thinking of what she might have been if he had not rescued her; and he
felt that God had given her to him as certainly as if she had been his
own child, only that she had come in another way. He would get out of
bed in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and go wandering up and
down the streets, and into dreadful places, sometimes, to try to find
her. But fasting and watching could not go on long without bringing
friends with them. Uncle Peter was seized with a fever, which grew and
grew till his life was despaired of. He was very delirious at times,
and then the strangest fancies had possession of his brain. Sometimes
he seemed to see the horrid woman she called her aunt, torturing the
poor child; sometimes it was old Pagan Father Christmas, clothed in snow
and ice, come to fetch his daughter; sometimes it was his old landlady
shutting her out in the frost; or himself finding her afterwards, but
frozen so hard to the ground that he could not move her to get her
indoors. The doctors seemed doubtful, and gave as their opinion--a
decided shake of the head.

"Christmas-day arrived. In the afternoon, to the wonder of all about
him, although he had been wandering a moment before, he suddenly said--

"'I was born on Christmas-day, you know. This is the first Christmas-day
that didn't bring me good luck.'

"Turning to me, he added--

"'Charlie, my boy, its' a good thing ANOTHER besides me was born on
Christmas-day, isn't it?'

"'Yes, dear uncle,' said I; and it was all I could say. He lay quite
quiet for a few minutes, when there came a gentle knock to the street
door.

"'That's Chrissy!' he cried, starting up in bed, and stretching out his
arms with trembling eagerness. 'And me to say this Christmas-day would
bring me no good!'

"He fell back on his pillow, and burst into a flood of tears.

"I rushed down to the door, and reached it before the servant. I stared.
There stood a girl about the size of Chrissy, with an old battered
bonnet on, and a ragged shawl. She was standing on the door-step,
trembling. I felt she was trembling somehow, for I don't think I saw it.
She had Chrissy's eyes too, I thought; but the light was dim now, for
the evening was coming on.

"All this passed through my mind in a moment, during which she stood
silent.

"'What is it?' I said, in a tremor of expectation.

"'Charlie, don't you know me?' she said, and burst into tears.

"We were in each other's arms in a moment--for the first time. But
Chrissy is my wife now. I led her up stairs in triumph, and into my
uncle's room.

"'I knew it was my lamb!' he cried, stretching out his arms, and trying
to lift himself up, only he was too weak.

"Chrissy flew to his arms. She was very dirty, and her clothes had such
a smell of poverty! But there she lay in my uncle's bosom, both of them
sobbing, for a long time; and when at last she withdrew, she tumbled
down on the floor, and there she lay motionless. I was in a dreadful
fright, but my mother came in at the moment, while I was trying to put
some brandy within her cold lips, and got her into a warm bath, and put
her to bed.

"In the morning she was much better, though the doctor would not let
her get up for a day or two. I think, however, that was partly for my
uncle's sake.

"When at length she entered the room one morning, dressed in her own
nice clothes, for there were plenty in the wardrobe in her room, my
uncle stretched out his arms to her once more, and said:

"'Ah! Chrissy, I thought I was going to have my own way, an die on
Christmas-day; but it would have been one too soon, before I had found
you, my darling."

END OF THE SECOND VOLUME

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