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ADELA CATHCART

Volume I.

BY

GEORGE MACDONALD M.A.

Me list not of the chaf ne of the stre
Maken so long a tale as of the corn.

CHAUCER. - _Man of Lawes Tale_.



ADELA CATHCART

Originally published in 1864

With appreciation to Mrs. Morag Black for the master copies of Volumes
II and III, to the Bodleian Library for the photo-copies of Volume I,
and to Miss Tracy Samuel for type-copying Volumes I, II, and III for
this Edition.


To John Rutherfurd Russell M.D.

This book is affectionately dedicated by the author.



Contents of the First Volume

Chapter

I CHRISTMAS EVE
II CHURCH
III THE CHRISTMAS DINNER
IV THE NEW DOCTOR
V THE LIGHT PRINCESS
VI THE BELL
VII THE SCHOOLMASTER'S STORY



ADELA CATHCART.


Chapter I.

Christmas Eve.


It was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, sinking towards the night. All
day long the wintry light had been diluted with fog, and now the
vanguard of the darkness coming to aid the mist, the dying day was
well nigh smothered between them. When I looked through the window, it
was into a vague and dim solidification of space, a mysterious region
in which awful things might be going on, and out of which anything
might come; but out of which nothing came in the meantime, except
small sparkles of snow, or rather ice, which as we swept rapidly
onwards, and the darkness deepened, struck faster and faster against
the weather-windows. For we, that is, myself and a fellow-passenger,
of whom I knew nothing yet but the waistcoat and neckcloth, having
caught a glimpse of them as he searched for an obstinate
railway-ticket, were in a railway-carriage, darting along, at an all
but frightful rate, northwards from London.

Being, the sole occupants of the carriage, we had made the most of it,
like Englishmen, by taking seats diagonally opposite to each other,
laying our heads in the corners, and trying to go to sleep. But for me
it was of no use to try any longer. Not that I had anything particular
on my mind or spirits; but a man cannot always go to sleep at spare
moments. If anyone can, let him consider it a great gift, and make
good use of it accordingly; that is, by going to sleep on every such
opportunity.

As I, however, could not sleep, much as I should have enjoyed it, I
proceeded to occupy my very spare time with building, up what I may
call a conjectural mould, into which the face, dress, carriage, &c.,
of my companion would fit. I had already discovered that he was a
clergyman; but this added to my difficulties in constructing the said
mould. For, theoretically, I had a great dislike to clergymen; having,
hitherto, always found that the _clergy_ absorbed the _man_; and that
the _cloth_, as they called it even themselves, would be no bad
epithet for the individual, as well as the class. For all clergymen
whom I had yet met, regarded mankind and their interests solely from
the clerical point of view, seeming far more desirous that a man
should be a good church man, as they called it, than that he should
love God. Hence, there was always an indescribable and, to me,
unpleasant odour of their profession about them. If they knew more
concerning the _life_ of the world than other men, why should
everything they said remind one of mustiness and mildew? In a word,
why were they not men at worst, when at best they ought to be more of
men than other men? - And here lay the difficulty: by no effort could I
get the face before me to fit into the clerical mould which I had all
ready in my own mind for it. That was, at all events, the face of a
man, in spite of waistcoat and depilation. I was not even surprised
when, all at once, he sat upright in his seat, and asked me if I would
join him in a cigar. I gladly consented. And here let me state a fact,
which added then to my interest in my fellow-passenger, and will serve
now to excuse the enormity of smoking in a railway carriage. We were
going to the same place - we must be; and nobody would enter that
carriage to-night, but the man who had to clean it. For, although we
were shooting along at a terrible rate, the train would not stop to
set us down, but would cast us loose a mile from our station; and some
minutes after it had shot by like an infernal comet of darkness, our
carriage would trot gently up to the platform, as if it had come from
London all on its own hook - and thought nothing of it.

We were a long way yet, however, from our destination. The night grew
darker and colder, and after the necessary unmuffling occasioned by
the cigar process, we drew our wraps closer about us, leaned back in
our corners, and smoked away in silence; the red glow of our cigars
serving to light the carriage nearly as well as the red nose of the
neglected and half-extinguished lamp. For we were in a second-class
carriage, a fact for which I leave the clergyman to apologize: it is
nothing to me, for I am nobody.

But, after all, I fear I am unjust to the Railway Company, for there
was light enough for me to see, and in some measure scrutinize, the
face of my fellow-passenger. I could discern a strong chin, and good,
useful jaws; with a firm-lipped mouth, and a nose more remarkable for
quantity than disposition of mass, being rather low, and very
thick. It was surmounted by two brilliant, kindly, black eyes. I lay
in wait for his forehead, as if I had been a hunter, and he some
peculiar animal that wanted killing right in the middle of it. But it
was some time before I was gratified with a sight of it. I did see it,
however, and I _was_ gratified. For when he wanted to throw away the
end of his cigar, finding his window immovable (the frosty wind that
bore the snow-flakes blowing from that side), and seeing that I opened
mine to accommodate him, he moved across, and, in so doing, knocked
his hat against the roof. As he displaced, to replace it, I had my
opportunity. It was a splendid forehead for size every way, but
chiefly for breadth. A kind of rugged calm rested upon it - a
suggestion of slumbering power, which it delighted me to contemplate.
I felt that that was the sort of man to make a friend of, if one had
the good luck to be able. But I did not yet make any advance towards
further acquaintance.

My reader may, however, be desirous of knowing what kind of person is
making so much use of the pronoun _I_. He may have the same curiosity
to know his fellow-traveller over the region of these pages, that I
had to see the forehead of the clergyman. I can at least prevent any
further inconvenience from this possible curiosity, by telling him
enough to destroy his interest in me.

I am an - - ; well, I suppose I _am_ an old bachelor; not very far from
fifty, in fact; old enough, at all events, to be able to take pleasure
in watching without sharing; yet ready, notwithstanding, when occasion
offers, to take any necessary part in what may be going on, I am able,
as it were, to sit quietly alone, and look down upon life from a
second-floor window, delighting myself with my own speculations, and
weaving the various threads I gather, into webs of varying kind and
quality. Yet, as I have already said in another form, I am not the
last to rush down stairs and into the street, upon occasion of an
accident or a row in it, or a conflagration next door. I may just
mention, too, that having many years ago formed the Swedenborgian
resolution of never growing old, I am as yet able to flatter myself
that I am likely to keep it.

In proof of this, if further garrulity about myself can be pardoned, I
may state that every year, as Christmas approaches, I begin to grow
young again. At least I judge so from the fact that a strange,
mysterious pleasure, well known to me by this time, though little
understood and very varied, begins to glow in my mind with the first
hint, come from what quarter it may, whether from the church service,
or a bookseller's window, that the day of all the year is at hand - is
climbing up from the under-world. I enjoy it like a child. I buy the
Christmas number of every periodical I can lay my hands on, especially
those that have pictures in them; and although I am not very fond of
plum-pudding, I anticipate with satisfaction the roast beef and the
old port that ought always to accompany it. And above all things, I
delight in listening to stories, and sometimes in telling them.

It amuses me to find what a welcome nobody I am amongst young people;
for they think I take no heed of them, and don't know what they are
doing; when, all the time, I even know what they are thinking. They
would wonder to know how often I feel exactly as they do; only I think
the feeling is a more earnest and beautiful thing to me than it can be
to them yet. If I see a child crowing in his mother's arms, I seem to
myself to remember making precisely the same noise in my mother's
arms. If I see a youth and a maiden looking into each other's eyes, I
know what it means perhaps better than they do. But I say nothing. I
do not even smile; for my face is puckered, and I have a weakness
about the eyes. But all this will be proof enough that I have not
grown very old, in any bad and to-be-avoided sense, at least.

And now all the glow of the Christmas time was at its height in my
heart. For I was going to spend the Day, and a few weeks besides, with
a very old friend of mine, who lived near the town at which we were
about to arrive like a postscript. - Where could my companion be going?
I wanted to know, because I hoped to meet him again somehow or other.

I ought to have told you, kind reader, that my name is Smith - actually
_John_ Smith; but I'm none the worse for that; and as I do not want to
be distinguished much from other people, I do not feel it a hardship.

But where was my companion going? It could not be to my friend's; else
I should have known something about him. It could hardly be to the
clergyman's, because the vicarage was small, and there was a new
curate coming with his wife, whom it would probably have to
accommodate until their own house was ready. It could not be to the
lawyer's on the hill, because there all were from home on a visit to
their relations. It might be to Squire Vernon's, but he was the last
man likely to ask a clergyman to visit him; nor would a clergyman be
likely to find himself comfortable with the swearing old fox-hunter.
The question must, then, for the present, remain
unsettled. - So I left it, and, looking out of the window once more,
buried myself in Christmas fancies.

It was now dark. We were the under half of the world. The sun was
scorching and glowing on the other side, leaving us to night and
frost. But the night and the frost wake the sunshine of a higher world
in our hearts; and who cares for winter weather at Christmas? - I
believe in the proximate correctness of the date of our Saviour's
birth. I believe he always comes in winter. And then let Winter reign
without: Love is king within; and Love is lord of the Winter.

How the happy fires were glowing everywhere! We shot past many a
lighted cottage, and now and then a brilliant mansion. Inside both
were hearts like our own, and faces like ours, with the red coming out
on them, the red of joy, because it was Christmas. And most of them
had some little feast _toward_. Is it vulgar, this feasting at
Christmas? No. It is the Christmas feast that justifies all feasts, as
the bread and wine of the Communion are the essence of all bread and
wine, of all strength and rejoicing. If the Christianity of eating is
lost - I will not say _forgotten_ - the true type of eating is to be
found at the dinner-hour in the Zoological Gardens. Certain I am, that
but for the love which, ever revealing itself, came out brightest at
that first Christmas time, there would be no feasting - nay no smiling;
no world to go careering in joy about its central fire; no men and
women upon it, to look up and rejoice.

"But you always look on the bright side of things."

No one spoke aloud; I heard the objection in my mind. Could it come
from the mind of my friend - for so I already counted him - opposite to
me? There was no need for that supposition - I had heard the objection
too often in my ears. And now I answered it in set, though unspoken
form.

"Yes," I said, "I do; for I keep in the light as much as I can. Let
the old heathens count Darkness the womb of all things. I count Light
the older, from the tread of whose feet fell the first shadow - and
that was Darkness. Darkness exists but by the light, and for the
light."

"But that is all mysticism. Look about you. The dark places of the
earth are the habitations of cruelty. Men and women blaspheme God and
die. How can this then be an hour for rejoicing?"

"They are in God's hands. Take from me my rejoicing, and I am
powerless to help them. It shall not destroy the whole bright holiday
to me, that my father has given my brother a beating. It will do him
good. He needed it somehow. - He is looking after them."

Could I have spoken some of these words aloud? For the eyes of the
clergyman were fixed upon me from his corner, as if he were trying to
put off his curiosity with the sop of a probable conjecture about me.

"I fear he would think me a heathen," I said to myself. "But if ever
there was humanity in a countenance, there it is."

It grew more and more pleasant to think of the bright fire and the
cheerful room that awaited me. Nor was the idea of the table, perhaps
already beginning to glitter with crystal and silver, altogether
uninteresting to me. For I was growing hungry.

But the speed at which we were now going was quite comforting. I
dropped into a reverie. I was roused from it by the sudden ceasing of
the fierce oscillation, which had for some time been threatening to
make a jelly of us. We were loose. In three minutes more we should be
at Purleybridge.

And in three minutes more, we were at Purleybridge - the only
passengers but one who arrived at the station that night. A servant
was waiting for me, and I followed him through the booking-office to
the carriage destined to bear me to _The Swanspond_, as my friend
Colonel Cathcart's house was called.

As I stepped into the carriage, I saw the clergyman walk by, with his
carpet-bag in his hand.

Now I knew Colonel Cathcart intimately enough to offer the use of his
carriage to my late companion; but at the moment I was about to
address him, the third passenger, of whom I had taken no particular
notice, came between us, and followed me into the carriage. This
occasioned a certain hesitation, with which I am only too easily
affected; the footman shut the door; I caught one glimpse of the
clergyman turning the corner of the station into a field-path; the
horses made a scramble; and away I rode to the Swanspond, feeling as
selfish as ten Pharisees. It is true, I had not spoken a word to him
beyond accepting his invitation to smoke with him; and yet I felt
almost sure that we should meet again, and that when we did, we should
both be glad of it. And now he was carrying a carpet-bag, and I was
seated in a carriage and pair!

It was far too dark for me to see what my new companion was like; but
when the light from the colonel's hall-door flashed upon us as we drew
up, I saw that he was a young man, with a certain expression in his
face which a first glance might have taken for fearlessness and power
of some sort, but which notwithstanding, I felt to be rather repellent
than otherwise. The moment the carriage-door was opened, he called the
servant by his name, saying,

"When the cart comes with the luggage, send mine up directly. Take
that now."

And he handed him his dressing-bag.

He spoke in a self-approving tone, and with a drawl which I will not
attempt to imitate, because I find all such imitation tends to
caricature; and I want to be believed. Besides, I find the production
of caricature has unfailingly a bad moral reaction upon myself. I
daresay it is not so with others, but with that I have nothing to do:
it is one of my weaknesses.

My worthy old friend, the colonel, met us in the hall - straight,
broad-shouldered, and tall, with a severe military expression
underlying the genuine hospitality of his countenance, as if he could
not get rid of a sense of duty even when doing what he liked best.
The door of the dining-room was partly open, and from it came the red
glow of a splendid fire, the chink of encountering glass and metal,
and, best of all, the pop of a cork.

"Would you like to go up-stairs, Smith, or will you have a glass of
wine first? - How do you do, Percy?"

"Thank you; I'll go to my room at once," I said.

"You'll find a fire there, I know. Having no regiment now, I look
after my servants. Mind you make use of them. I can't find enough of
work for them."

He left me, and again addressed the youth, who had by this time got
out of his great-coat, and, cold as it was, stood looking at his hands
by the hall-lamp. As I moved away, I heard him say, in a careless
tone,

"And how's Adela, uncle?"

The reply did not reach me, but I knew now who the young fellow was.

Hearing a kind of human grunt behind me, I turned and saw that I was
followed by the butler; and, by a kind of intuition, I knew that this
grunt was a remark, an inarticulate one, true, but not the less to the
point on that account. I knew that he had been in the dining-room by
the pop I had heard; and I knew by the grunt that he had heard his
master's observation about his servants.

"Come, Beeves," I said, "I don't want your help. You've got plenty to
do, you know, at dinner-time; and your master is rather hard upon
you - isn't he?"

I knew the man, of course.

"Well, Mr. Smith, master is the best master in the country, _he
is_. But he don't know what work is, _he don't_."

"Well, go to your work, and never mind me. I know every turn in the
house as well as yourself, Beeves."

"No, Mr. Smith; I'll attend to you, if _you_ please. Mr. Percy will
take care of _his_-self. There's no fear of him. But you're my
business. You are sure to give a man a kind word who does his best to
please you."

"Why, Beeves, I think that is the least a man can do."

"It's the most too, sir; and some people think it's too much."

I saw that the man was hurt, and sought to soothe him.

"You and I are old friends, at least, Beeves."

"Yes, Mr. Smith. Money won't do't, sir. My master gives good wages,
and I'm quite independing of visitors. But when a gentleman says to
me, 'Beeves, I'm obliged to you,' why then, Mr. Smith, you feels at
one _and_ the same time, that he's a gentleman, and that you aint a
boot-jack or a coal-scuttle. It's the sentiman, Mr. Smith. If he
despises us, why, we despises him. And we don't like waiting on a
gentleman as aint a gentleman. Ring the bell, Mr. Smith, when you want
anythink, and _I'll_ attend to you."

He had been twenty years in the colonel's service. He was not an old
soldier, yet had a thorough _esprit de corps_, looking, upon service
as an honourable profession. In this he was not only right, but had a
vast advantage over everybody whose profession is not sufficiently
honourable for his ambition. All such must _feel_ degraded. Beeves was
fifty; and, happily for his opinion of his profession, had never been
to London.

And the colonel was the best of masters; for because he ruled well,
every word of kindness told. It is with servants as with children and
with horses - it is of no use caressing them unless they know that you
mean them to go.

When the dinner-bell rang, I proceeded to the drawing-room. The
colonel was there, and I thought for a moment that he was alone. But I
soon saw that a couch by the fire was occupied by his daughter, the
Adela after whose health I had heard young Percy Cathcart inquiring.
She was our hostess, for Mrs. Cathcart had been dead for many years,
and Adela had been her only child. I approached to pay my respects,
but as soon as I got near enough to see her face, I turned
involuntarily to her father, and said,

"Cathcart, you never told me of this!"

He made me no reply; but I saw the long stern upper lip twitching
convulsively. I turned again to Adela, who tried to smile - with
precisely the effect of a momentary gleam of sunshine upon a cold,
leafless, and wet landscape.

"Adela, my dear, what is the matter?"

"I don't know, uncle."

She had called me uncle, since ever she had begun to speak, which must
have been nearly twenty years ago.

I stood and looked at her. Her face was pale and thin, and her eyes
were large, and yet sleepy. I may say at once that she had dark eyes
and a sweet face; and that is all the description I mean to give of
her. I had been accustomed to see that face, if not rosy, yet plump
and healthy; and those eyes with plenty of light for themselves, and
some to spare for other people. But it was neither her wan look nor
her dull eyes that distressed me: it was the expression of her
face. It was very sad to look at; but it was not so much sadness as
utter and careless hopelessness that it expressed.

"Have you any pain, Adela?" I asked.

"No," she answered.

"But you feel ill?"

"Yes."

"How?"

"I don't know."

And as she spoke, she tapped with one finger on the edge of the
_couvre-pied_ which was thrown over her, and gave a sigh as if her
very heart was weary of everything.

"Shall you come down to dinner with us?"

"Yes, uncle; I suppose I must."

"If you would rather have your dinner sent up, my love - " began her
father.

"Oh! no. It is all the same to me. I may as well go down."

My young companion of the carriage now entered, got up expensively.
He, too, looked shocked when he saw her.

"Why, Addie!" he said.

But she received him with perfect indifference, just lifting one cold
hand towards his, and then letting it fall again where it had lain
before. Percy looked a little mortified; in fact, more mortified now
than sorry; turned away, and stared at the fire.

Every time I open my mouth in a drawing-room before dinner, I am aware
of an amount of self-denial worthy of a forlorn hope. Yet the silence
was so awkward now, that I felt I must make an effort to say
something; and the more original the remark the better I felt it would
be for us all. But, with the best intentions, all I could effect was
to turn towards Mr. Percy and say,

"Rather cold for travelling, is it not?"

"Those foot-warmers are capital things, though," he answered. "Mine
was jolly hot. Might have roasted a potato on it, by Jove!"

"I came in a second-class carriage," I replied; "and they are too cold
to need a foot-warmer."

He gave a shrug with his shoulders, as if he had suddenly found
himself in low company, and must make the best of it. But he offered
no further remark.

Beeves announced dinner.

"Will you take Adela, Mr. Smith?" said the colonel.

"I think I won't go, after all, papa, if you don't mind. I don't want
any dinner."

"Very well, my dear," began her father, but could not help showing his
distress; perceiving which, Adela rose instantly from her couch, put
her arm in his, and led the way to the dining-room. Percy and I
followed.

"What can be the matter with the girl?" thought I. "She used to be
merry enough. Some love affair, I shouldn't wonder. I've never heard
of any. I know her father favours that puppy Percy; but I don't think
she is dying for _him_."

It was the dreariest Christmas Eve I had ever spent. The fire was
bright; the dishes were excellent; the wine was thorough; the host was
hospitable; the servants were attentive; and yet the dinner was as
gloomy as if we had all known it to be the last we should ever eat
together. If a ghost had been sitting in its shroud at the head of the
table, instead of Adela, it could hardly have cast a greater chill
over the guests. She did her duty well enough; but she did not look
it; and the charities which occasioned her no pleasure in the
administration, could hardly occasion us much in the reception.

As soon as she had left the room, Percy broke out, with more emphasis
than politeness:

"What the devil's the matter with Adela, uncle?"

"Indeed, I can't tell, my boy," answered the colonel, with more
kindness than the form of the question deserved.

"Have you no conjecture on the subject?" I asked.

"None. I have tried hard to find out; but I have altogether failed.
She tells me there is nothing the matter with her, only she is so
tired. What has she to tire her?"


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