J. H. (Joseph Henry) Shorthouse.

The little schoolmaster Mark, a spiritual romance online

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A Spiritual Romance




_Part I - First Edition, October 1883. Reprinted December 1883_

_Part II - First Edition, 1884. Reprinted twice February 1885_

_Complete Edition made up from parts 1885. Reprinted 1891, 1894_

_Printed by_ R. & R. CLARK, _Edinburgh._


THE readers of German autobiography (and more delightful reading cannot
be had) will perceive that I have made use of some passages in the
childhood of Heinrich Jung-Stilling to create the character of Little
Mark. The experience of the Princess as to private religious societies
was also that of Stilling. Should this little tale induce any one, at
present ignorant of Stilling's Autobiography, to read that book, they
will forget any grudge they may have formed against the present writer.
As a matter of common honesty I should wish to express the pleasure I
have had in reading another delightful book, _Studies of the Eighteenth
Century in Italy_, by Vernon Lee.

The words of the anthem in the concluding chapter are taken from a
sermon by Canon Knox Little, "The Vision of the Truth," preached in St.
Paul's in Lent 1883, and published in _The Witness of the Passion_. They
are so exactly in accord with the message which the shadowy beings of my
tale seem to have left me that I cannot force myself to coin another

J. H. S.

Lady Alwyne Compton



A Spiritual Romance.



THE Court Chaplain Eisenhart walked up the village street towards the
schoolhouse. It was April, in the year 1750, and a soft west wind was
blowing up the street, across the oak woods of the near forest. Between
the forest and the village lay a valley of meadows, planted with thorn
bushes and old birch trees with snow-white stems: the fresh green leaves
trembled continually in the restless wind. On the other side of the
street a lofty crag rose precipitously above a rushing mountain torrent.
This rock is the spur of other lofty hills, planted with oak and beech
trees, through the openings of which a boy may frequently be seen,
driving an ox or gathering firewood on his half-trodden path. Here and
there in the distance the smoke of charcoal-burners ascends into the
sky. Between the street and the torrent stand the houses of the village,
with high thatched roofs and walls of timber and of mud, and, at the
back, projecting stages and steps above the rushing water. A paradise in
the late spring, in summer, and in autumn, these wild and romantic
woods, traversed only by a few forest paths, are terrible in winter, and
the contrast is part of their charm. The schoolhouse stands in the upper
part of the village, on the opposite side of the street to the rest of
the houses, looking across the valley to the western sun. Two large
birch trees are before the open door. The Court Chaplain pauses before
he goes in.

How it comes to pass that a Court Chaplain should be walking up the
street of this forest village we shall see anon.

At first sight there does not seem to be much schoolwork going on. A
boy, or we should rather say a child, of fifteen is seated at an open
window looking over the forest. He is fair-haired and blue-eyed; but it
is the deep blue of an angel's, not the cold gray blue of a courtier's
eyes. Around him are seated several children, both boys and girls; and,
far from teaching, he appears to be relating stories to them. The
story, whatever it is, ceases as the Court Chaplain goes in, and both
raconteur and audience rise.

"I have something to say to thee, schoolmaster," said the Chaplain,
"send the children away. Thou wilt not teach them anything more to-day,
I suspect."

The children went away lingeringly, not at all like children just let
loose from school.

When they were gone the expression of the Chaplain's face changed - he
looked at the little schoolmaster very kindly, and sat down on one of
the benches, which were black and worn with age.

"Last year, little one," he said, "when the Herr Rector took thee away
from the Latin school and from thy father's tailoring, and confirmed
thee, and thou tookest thy first communion, and he made thee
schoolmaster here, many wise people shook their heads. I do not think,"
he continued, with a smile, "that they have ceased shaking them when
they have seen in how strange a manner thou keepest school."

"Ah, your Reverence," said the boy, eagerly, "the good people are
satisfied enough when they see that their children learn without
receiving much correction; and many of them even take pleasure in the
beautiful tales which I relate to the children, and which they repeat to
them. Every morning, as soon as the children enter the school, I pray
with them, and catechise them in the principles of our holy religion, as
God teaches me, for I use no book. Then I set the children to read and
to write, and promise them these charming tales if they learn well. It
is impossible to express with what zeal the children learn. When they
are perverse or not diligent I do not relate my histories, but I read to

"Well, little one," said the Court Chaplain, "it is a strange system of
education, but I am far from saying that it is a bad one. Nevertheless
it will not last. The Herr Rector has his eye upon thee, and will send
thee back to thy tailoring very soon."

The tears came into the little schoolmaster's eyes, and he turned very

"Well, do not be sad," said the Chaplain. "I have been thinking and
working for thee. Thou hast heard of the Prince, though thou hast, I
think, never seen the pleasure palace, Joyeuse, though it is so near."

"I have seen the iron gates with the golden scrolls," said the boy.
"They are like the heavenly Jerusalem; every several gate is one pearl."

The Chaplain did not notice the confused metaphor of this description.

"Well," he said, "I have been speaking to the Prince of thee. Thou
knowest nothing of these things, but the Prince has lived for many years
in Italy, a country where they do nothing but sing and dance. He has
come back, as thou knowest, and has married a wife, according to the
traditions of his race. Since he came back to Germany he has taken a
fancy to this forest-lodge, for at first it was little more, and has
garnished it and enlarged it according to his southern fancies; that is
why he likes it better than his princely cities. He has two children - a
boy and a girl - eight and nine, or thereabouts. The Princess is not a
good woman. She neglects her children, and she prefers the princely
cities to her husband, to her little ones, and to the beautiful forests
and hills."

The little schoolmaster listened with open eyes. Then he said, beneath
his breath:

"How Satanic that must be!"

"The Prince," continued the Court Chaplain, "is a beautiful soul
'manqué,' which means spoilt. His sister, the Princess Isoline von
Isenberg-Wertheim, is such a soul. She has joined herself to a company
of pious people who have taken an old manor-house belonging to the
Prince on the farther side of the palace gardens, where they devote
themselves to prayer, to good works, and to the manufacture of
half-silk stuffs, by which they maintain themselves and give to the
poor. The Prince himself knows something of such feelings. He indeed
knows the way of piety, though he does not follow it. He acknowledges
the grace of refinement which piety gives, even to the most highly bred.
He is particularly desirous that his children should possess this
supreme touch. Something that I told him of thee pleased his fancy. Thy
strange way of keeping school seemed to him very new; more especially
was he delighted with that infancy story of thee and old Father Stalher.
The old man, I told the Prince, came into thy father's for his new coat
and found thee reading. Reading, in any one, seemed to Father Stalher
little short of miraculous; but in a child of eight it was more - it was

"'What are you doing there, child?' said Father Stalher.

"'I am reading.'

"'Canst thou read already?'

"'That is a foolish question, for I am a human being,' said the child,
and began to read with ease, proper emphasis, and due distinction.

"Stalher was amazed, and said:

"'The devil fetch me, I have never seen the like in all my life.'

"Then little Mark jumped up and looked timidly and carefully round the
room. When he saw that the devil did not come, he went down on his knees
in the middle of the floor and said:

"'O God! how gracious art thou.'

"Then, standing up boldly before old Stalher, he said:

"'Man, hast thou ever seen Satan?'


"'Then call upon him no more.'

"And the child went quietly into another room.

"And I told the Prince what thy old grandfather used to say to me.

"'The lad is soaring away from us; we must pray that God will guide him
by His good Spirit.'

"When I told all this to the Prince, he said:

"'I will have this boy. He shall teach my children as he does the
village ones. None can teach children as can such a child as this.'"

The little schoolmaster had been looking before him all the time the
Chaplain had been speaking, as though in something of a maze. He
evidently saw nothing to wonder at in the story of himself and old
Stalher. It seemed to him commonplace and obvious enough.

"I shall send up a tailor from Joyeuse to-morrow," said the Chaplain; "a
court tailor, such as thou never saw'st, nor thy father either. He must
measure thee for a court-suit of black. Then we will go together, and I
will present thee to the Prince."


A FEW days after this conversation there was a melancholy procession
down the village street. The Court Chaplain and the schoolmaster walked
first; the boy was crying bitterly. Then followed all the children of
the school, all weeping, and many peasant women, and two or three old
men. The Rector stood in a corner of the churchyard under a great walnut
tree and looked on. He did not weep. The Court Chaplain looked ashamed,
for all the people took this misfortune to be of his causing.

When they had gone some way out of the village the children stopped,
and, collecting into a little crowd, they wept more than ever. The
Chaplain turned round and waved his hand, but the little schoolmaster
was too troubled to take any farewell. He covered his face with his
hands and went on, weeping bitterly. At last they passed away out of

When they had gone on some distance, the boy became calmer; he took his
hands from his face, and looked up at the Chaplain through his tears.

"What am I to do when I come to the Prince, your Reverence?" he said.

"Thou must make a bow as best thou canst," said the other; "thou must
not speak till the Prince speaks to thee, and thou must say 'Highness'
sometimes, but not too often."

"How am I to tell when to say 'Highness' and when to forbear?" said the

"Ah! that I cannot tell thee. Thou must trust in God; He will show thee
when to say 'Highness' and when not."

They went forward in this way across the meadows, and through the
scattered forest for two leagues or more, in the mid-day heat. The boy
was not used to labour, and he grew very tired and unhappy. It seemed to
him that he was leaving behind all that was fair and true and beautiful,
and going to that which was false and garish and unkind. At last they
came to an open drive, or avenue of the forest, where great oaks were
growing. Some distance up the avenue they saw a high park pale
stretching away on either hand, and in the centre of the drive were
iron gates covered with gilt scrolls and letters. The Court Chaplain
pushed the gates open, and they went in.

Inside, the forest drive was planted with young trees in triple rows.
After walking for some distance they reached another gate, similar to
the first, but provided with "loges," or guardrooms, on either side. One
or two soldiers were standing listlessly about, but they took no heed.
Here the drive entered the palace gardens, laid out in grass plots and
stone terraces, and crossed by lofty hedges which shut out the view.
They approached the long façade of a house with pointed roofs and green
shutter blinds to all the windows. Here the Chaplain left the path, and
conducted his companion to a remote side entrance; and, after passing
through many passages and small rooms, at last left him to the tender
mercies of the court tailor and some domestics, at whose hands the
little schoolmaster suffered what appeared to him to be unspeakable
indignities. He was washed from head to foot, his hair was cut, curled,
and frizzled, and he was finally arrayed in a plain suit of black silk,
with silk stockings, and delicate shoes with silver buckles, and plain
linen bands like a clergyman. The worn homespun suit that had become
dear to him was ruthlessly thrown upon a dust-heap, and a message was
sent to Herr Chaplain that his _protégé_ was now fit to be presented to
the Prince.

The boy could scarcely restrain his tears; he felt as though he were
wandering through the paths of a miserable dream. Ah! could he only
awake and find himself again in the old schoolhouse, narrating the
adventures of the Fair Melusina to the attentive little ones.

The Chaplain led him up some back stairs, and through corridors and
anterooms, all full of wonderful things, which the boy passed
bewildered, till they reached a small room where were two boys
apparently of his own age. They appeared to have been just engaged in
punching each other's heads, for their hair was disordered, their faces
red, and one was in tears. They regarded the Chaplain with a sullen
suspicion, and the schoolmaster with undisguised contempt. The door at
the farther side of the room was partly open, the Chaplain scratched
upon it, and, receiving some answer, they went in.

The little schoolmaster dared scarcely breathe when he got into the
room, so surprising was all he saw. To the left of the door, as they
came in, was placed a harpsichord, before which was standing, with her
back towards them, a young girl whose face they could not see; by her
side, at the harpsichord, was seated an elderly man upon whom the boy
gazed with wonder, so different was he from anything that he had ever
seen before; opposite to them, in the window, hung a canary in a cage,
and the boy perceived, even in the surprise of the moment, that the bird
was agitated and troubled. But the next moment all his attention was
absorbed by the figure of the Prince, who was seated on a couch to the
right of the room, and almost facing them. To say that this was the
most wonderful sight that the little schoolmaster had ever seen would be
to speak foolishly, for he had seen no wonderful sights, but it
surpassed the wildest imagination of his dreams. The Prince was a very
handsome man of about thirty-five, of a slight and delicate figure, and
of foreign manners and pose. He was dressed in a suit of what seemed to
the boy a wonderful white cloth, of a soft material, embroidered in
silk, with flowers of the most lovely tints. The coat was sparingly
ornamented in this manner, but the waistcoat, which was only partly
seen, was a mass of these exquisite flowers. At his throat and wrists
were masses of costly lace, and his hair was frizzled, and slightly
powdered, which increased the delicate expression of his features, which
were perfectly cut. He lay back on the couch, caressing, with his right
hand, a small monkey, also gorgeously dressed, and armed with a toy
sword, who sat on the arm of the sofa cracking nuts, and throwing the
shells upon the carpet.

The Prince looked up as the two came in, and waved his disengaged hand
for them to stand back, and the next moment the strange phantasmagoria,
into which the boy's life was turned, took another phase, and he again
lost all perception of what he had seen before; for there burst into the
little room the most wonderful voice, which not only he and the
Chaplain, but even the Maestro and the Prince, had well-nigh ever heard.

The girl, who was taking her music lesson, had been discovered in Italy
by the old Maestro, who managed the music of the private theatre which
the Prince had formed. He had heard her, a poor untaught girl, in a
coffee-house in Venice, and she afterwards became, in the opinion of
some, the most pathetic female actress and singer of the century.

The first chord of her voice penetrated into the boy's nature as nothing
had ever done before; he had never heard any singing save that of the
peasants at church, and of the boys and girls who sang hymns round the
cottage hearths in the winter nights.

The solemn tramp of the Lutheran measures, where the deep basses of the
men drown the women's soft voices, and the shrill unshaded singing of
the children, could hardly belong to this art, which he heard now for
the first time. These sudden runs and trills, so fantastic and
difficult, these chords and harmonies, so quaint and full of colour,
were messages from a world of sound, as yet an unknown country to the
boy. He stood gazing upon the singer with open mouth. The Prince moved
his jewelled hand slightly in unison with the notes; the monkey,
apparently rather scared, left off cracking his nuts, and, creeping
close to his master, nestled against his beautiful coat close to the
star upon his breast.

Then suddenly, in this world of wonders, a still more wonderful thing
occurred. There entered into this bewitching, this entrancing voice, a
strange, almost a discordant, note. Through the fantasied gaiety of the
theme, to which the sustained whirr of the harpsichord was like the
sigh of the wind through the long grass, there was perceptible a strain,
a tremor of sadness, almost of sobs. It was as if, in the midst of
festival, some hidden grief, known beforetime of all, but forgotten or
suppressed, should at once and in a moment well up in the hearts of all,
turning the dance-measures into funeral chants, the love-songs into the
loveliest of chorales. The Maestro faltered in his accompaniment; the
Prince left off marking the time, he swept the monkey from him with a
movement of his hand, and leaned forward eagerly in his seat: the
discarded favourite slunk into a corner, where it leaned disconsolately
against the wall. The pathetic strain went on, growing more tremulous
and more intense, when suddenly the singing stopped, the girl buried
her face in her hands and sank upon the floor in a passion of tears; the
boy sprang forward, he forgot where he was, he forgot the Prince -

"It is the bird," he cried, "the bird!"

The canary, whose dying struggles the singer had been watching through
her song, gave a final shudder and fell lifeless from its perch.

The Prince rose: he lifted the singer from her knees, and, taking her
hands from the wet face, he turned to the others with a smile.

"Ah, Herr Chaplain," he said, "you come in a good hour. This then is the
angel-child. They will console each other."

And, picking up the monkey as he passed, he left the room by another


WHEN the Prince was gone the Maestro gathered up some music and turned
to his pupil, who was drying her eyes and looking somewhat curiously at
the boy through her tears.

"Well, Signorina," he said, "you truly sang that very well. If you could
bring some of that 'timbre' into your voice always, you would indeed be
a singer. But you are too light, too 'frivole.' I wish we could have a
canary always who would die;" and, bowing very slightly to the Chaplain,
he left the room.

Then the Chaplain looked kindly at the young people.

"Fräulein," he said, "this is the young tutor to the little serene
Highnesses, I will leave you together, as the Prince wished."

When they were alone the boy felt very uncomfortable. He was very shy.
This perhaps was as well, for there was no shyness at all on the part of
his companion.

"So," she said, looking at him with a smile, and eyes that were again
bright, "you are the new toy. I have heard of you. You are a wonderful
holy child; what they call 'pious' in this country. How very funny! come
and give me a kiss."

"No, Fräulein," said Mark, blushing still more, "that would be improper
in me."

"Would it?" said the girl lightly; "don't angels kiss? How very stupid
it must be to be an angel! Come and look at poor 'Fifine' then! I
suppose she is quite dead."

And, opening the cage, she took out the piteous heap of yellow feathers
and held it in her delicate hand, while the tears came again into her
large dark eyes.

"Ah! it was dreadful," she said, "to sing and see him die."

"But, Fräulein," said the boy, "you sang most beautifully. I never heard
anything so wonderful. It was heaven itself."

The girl looked at him very kindly.

"Oh, you like my singing," she said, "I am glad of that. Do you know, we
shall be great friends. I like you. You are a very pretty boy."

And she tried to put her arm round his neck. Mark eluded her embrace.
"Fräulein," he said, with a dignified air, which made his companion
laugh, "you must remember that I am tutor to their serene Highnesses; I
shall be very glad to be friends with you, and you will tell me
something about the people in the palace."

"Oh!" replied the girl, "there is no one but our own company, but they
are the greatest fun, and better fun here than anywhere else. It is
delightful to see them among these stupid, solemn, heavy Germans, with
their terrible language. I shall love to see you with them, you will
stare your pretty eyes out. There's old Carricchio - that's not his name,
you know, but he is called so because of his part - that is the best of
them, they are always the same - off the stage or on it - always
laughing, always joking, always kicking up their heels. You will see the
faces - such delicious grimaces, old Carricchio will make at you when he
asks you for the salt. But don't be frightened, I'll take care of you.
They are all in love with me, but I like you already better than all of
them. You shall come on yourself sometime, just as you are; you will
make a delightful part."

Mark stared at her with amazement.

"But what are these people?" he said; "what do they do?"

"Oh, you will see," she said, laughing; "how can I tell you. You never
dreamt of such things; you will stare your eyes out. Well, there's the
Prince, and the little Highnesses, and the old _Barotin_, the governess,
and" - here a change came over the girl's face - "and the Princess is
coming soon, I hear, with her '_servente_.'"

"The Princess!" said the boy, "does she ever come?"

"Yes, she comes, sometimes," said his companion. "I wish she didn't. She
is a bad woman. I hate her."

"Why? and what is her '_servente_?'"

"I hate her," said the girl; "her _servente_ is the
Count - _Cavalière-servente_, you know" - and her face became quite hard
and fierce - "he is the devil himself."

The little schoolmaster's face became quite pale.

"The devil!" he said, staring with his large blue eyes.

"Oh! you foolish boy!" she said, laughing again, "I don't mean that
devil. The Count is a much more real devil than he!"

The boy looked so dreadfully shocked that she grew quite cheerful again.

"What a strange boy you are!" she said, laughing. "Do you think he will
come and take you away? I'll take care of you - come and sit on my lap;"
and, sitting down, she spread out her lap for him with an inviting

Mark rejected this attractive offer with disdain, and looked so
unspeakably miserable and ready to cry that his companion took pity upon

"Poor boy," she said, "you shan't be teased any more. Come with me, I
will take you to the _Barotin_, and present you to the little serene
Highnesses. They are nice children - for Highnesses; you will get on well
with them."

Taking the boy's unwilling hand, she led him through several rooms,
lined with old marquetterie cabinets in the Italian fashion, till she
found a page, to whom she delivered Mark, telling him to take him to the
Baroness, into whose presence she herself did not appear anxious to

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Online LibraryJ. H. (Joseph Henry) ShorthouseThe little schoolmaster Mark, a spiritual romance → online text (page 1 of 9)