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conversation, Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield rose to take their leave, which
was accepted by the whole company as a signal for departure.

"But stay," I interposed; "who is to read or tell next?"

"Why, I will be revenged on Harry," said the clergyman.

"That you can't," said the doctor; "for I have nothing to give you."

"You don't mean to say you are going to jib?"

"No. I don't say I won't read. In fact I have a story in my head, and
a bit of it on paper; but I positively can't read next time."

"Will you oblige us with a story, Colonel?" said I.

"My dear fellow, you know I never put pen to paper in my life, except
when I could not help it. I may tell you a story before it is all
over, but write one I cannot."

"A tale that is told is the best tale of all," I said. "Shall we book
you for next time?"

"No, no! not next time; positively not. My story must come of itself,
else I cannot tell it at all."

"Well, there's nobody left but you, Mr. Bloomfield. So you can't get
rid of it."

"I don't think I ever wrote what was worth calling a story; but I
don't mind reading you something of the sort which I have at home, on
one condition."

"What is that?"

"That nobody ask any questions about it."

"Oh! certainly."

"But my only reason is, that somehow I feel it would all come to
pieces if you did. It is nothing, as a story; but there are feelings
expressed in it, which were very strong in me when I wrote it, and
which I do not feel willing to talk about, although I have no
objection to having them thought about."

"Well, that is settled. When shall we meet again?"

"To-morrow, or the day after," said the colonel; "which you please."

"Oh! the day after, if I may have a word in it," said the doctor. "I
shall be very busy to-morrow - and we mustn't crowd remedies either,
you know."

The close of the sentence was addressed to me only. The rest of the
company had taken leave, and were already at the door, when he made
the last remark. He now came up to his patient, felt her pulse, and
put the question,

"How have you slept the last two nights?"

"Better, thank you."

"And do you feel refreshed when you wake?"

"More so than for some time."

"I won't give you anything to-night. - Good night."

"Good night. Thank you."

This was all that passed between them. Jealousy, with the six eyes of
Colonel, Mrs., and Percy Cathcart, was intent upon the pair during the
brief conversation. And I thought Adela perceived the fact.

Chapter VII.

The schoolmaster's story.

I was walking up the street the next day, when, finding I was passing
the Grammar-school, and knowing there was nothing going on there now,
I thought I should not be intruding if I dropped in upon the
schoolmaster and his wife, and had a little chat with them. I already
counted them friends; for I felt that however different our training
and lives might have been, we all meant the same thing now, and that
is the true bond of fellowship. I found Mr. Bloomfield reading to his
wife - a novel, too. Evidently he intended to make the most of this
individual holiday, by making it as unlike a work-day as possible.

"I see you are enjoying yourselves," I said. "It's a shame to break in
upon you."

"We are delighted to see you. Your interruption will only postpone a
good thing to a better," said the kind-hearted schoolmaster, laying
down his book. "Will you take a pipe?"

"With pleasure - but not here, surely?"

"Oh! we smoke everywhere in holiday-time."

"You enjoy your holiday, I can see."

"I should think so. I don't believe one of the boys delights in a
holiday quite as heartily as I do. You must not imagine I don't enjoy
my work, though."

"Not in the least. Earnest work breeds earnest play. But you must find
the labour wearisome at times."

"I confess I have felt it such. I have said to myself sometimes: 'Am I
to go on for ever teaching boys Latin grammar, till I wish there had
never been a Latin nation to leave such an incubus upon the bosom of
after ages?' Then I would remind myself, that, under cover of grammar
and geography, and all the other _farce_-meat (as the word ought to be
written and pronounced), I put something better into my pupils;
something that I loved myself, and cared to give to them. But I often
ask myself to what it all goes. - I learn to love my boys. I kill in
them all the bad I can. I nourish in them all the good I can. I send
them across the borders of manhood - and they leave me, and most likely
I hear nothing more of them. And I say to myself: 'My life is like a
wind. It blows and will cease.' But something says in reply: 'Wouldst
thou not be one of God's winds, content to blow, and scatter the rain
and dew, and shake the plants into fresh life, and then pass away and
know nothing of what thou hast done?' And I answer: 'Yes, Lord."'

"You are not a wind; you are a poet, Mr. Bloomfield," I said, with

"One of the speechless ones, then," he returned, with a smile that
showed plainly enough that the speechless longed for utterance. It was
such a smile as would, upon the face of a child, wile anything out of
you. Surely God, who needs no wiles to make him give what one is ready
to receive, will let him sing some day, to his heart's content! And
me, too, O Lord, I pray.

"What a pleasure it must be to you now, to have such a man as
Mr. Armstrong for your curate! He will be a brother to you," I said,
as soon as I could speak.

"Mr. Smith, I cannot tell you what he is to me already. He is doing
what I would fain have done - what was denied to me."

"How do you mean?"

"I studied for the church. But I aimed too high. My heart burned
within me, but my powers were small. I wanted to relight the ancient
lamp, but my rush-light would not kindle it. My friends saw no light;
they only smelt burning: I was heterodox. I hesitated, I feared, I
yielded, I withdrew. To this day, I do not know whether I did right or
wrong. But I am honoured yet in being allowed to teach. And if at the
last I have the faintest 'Well done' from the Master, I shall be

Mrs. Bloomfield was gently weeping; partly from regret, as I judged,
that her husband was not in the position she would have given him,
partly from delight in his manly goodness. A watery film stood in the
schoolmaster's eyes, and his wise gentle face was irradiated with the
light of a far-off morning, whose dawn was visible to his hope.

"The world is the better for you at least, Mr. Bloomfield," I said. "I
wish some more of us were as sure as you of helping on the daily
Creation, which is quite as certain a fact as that of old; and is even
more important to us, than that recorded in the book of Genesis. It is
not great battles alone that build up the world's history, nor great
poems alone that make the generations grow. There is a still small
rain from heaven that has more to do with the blessedness of nature
and of human nature, than the mightiest earthquake, or the loveliest

"I do comfort myself," he answered, "at this Christmas-time, and for
the whole year, with the thought that, after all, the world was saved
by a child. - But that brings me to think of a little trouble I am in,
Mr. Smith. The only paper I have, at all fit for reading to-morrow
night, is much too short to occupy the evening. What is to be done?"

"Oh! we can talk about it."

"That is just what I could not bear. It is rather an odd composition,
I fear; but whether it be worth anything or not, I cannot help having
a great affection for it."

"Then it is true, I presume?"

"There again! That is just one of the questions I don't want to
answer. I quite sympathized with you last night in not wishing to know
how much of Mr. Armstrong's story was true. Even if wholly fictitious,
a good story is always true. But there are things which one would have
no right to invent, which would be worth nothing if they were
invented, from the very circumstance of their origin in the brain, and
not in the world. The very beauty of them demands that they should be
fact; or, if not, that they should not be told - sent out poor
unclothed spirits into the world before a body of fact has been
prepared for them. But I have always found it impossible to define the
kinds of stories I mean. The nearest I can come to it is this: If the
force of the lesson depends on the story being a fact, it must not be
told except it is a fact. Then again, there are true things that one
would be shy of telling, if he thought they would be attributed to
himself. Now this story of mine is made up of fiction and fact both.
And I fear that if I were called upon to take it to pieces, it would
lose the force of any little truth it possesses, besides exposing me
to what I would gladly avoid. Indeed I fear I ought not to read it at

"You are amongst friends, you know, Mr. Bloomfield."

"Entirely?" he asked, with a half comic expression.

"Well," I answered, laughing, "any exception that may exist, is hardly
worth considering, and indeed ought to be thankfully accepted, as
tending to wholesomeness. Neither vinegar nor mustard would be
desirable as food, you know; yet - "

"I understand you. I am ashamed of having made such a fuss about
nothing. I will do my best, I assure you."

I fear that the fastidiousness of the good man will not be excuse
enough for the introduction of such a long preamble to a story for
which only a few will in the least care. But the said preamble
happening to touch on some interesting subjects, I thought it well to
record it. As to the story itself, there are some remarks of Balzac in
the introduction to one of his, that would well apply to the
schoolmaster's. They are to the effect that some stories which have
nothing in them as stories, yet fill one with an interest both gentle
and profound, if they are read in the mood that is exactly fitted for
their just reception.

Mr. Bloomfield conducted me to the door.

"I hope you will not think me a grumbler," he said; "I should not like
your disapprobation, Mr. Smith."

"You do me great honour," I said, honestly. "Believe me there is no
danger of that. I understand and sympathize with you entirely."

"My love of approbation is large," he said, tapping the bump referred
to with his forefinger. "Excuse it and me too."

"There is no need, my dear friend," I said, "if I may call you such."

His answer was a warm squeeze of the hand, with which we parted.

As I returned home, I met Henry Armstrong, mounted on a bay mare of a
far different sort from what a sportsman would consider a doctor
justified in using for his purposes. In fact she was a thorough
hunter; no beauty certainly, with her ewe-neck, drooping tail, and
white face and stocking; but she had an eye at once gentle and wild as
that of a savage angel, if my reader will condescend to dream for a
moment of such an anomaly; while her hind quarters were power itself,
and her foreleg was flung right out from the shoulder with a gesture
not of work but of delight; the step itself being entirely one of
work, - long in proportion to its height. The lines of her fore and
hind-quarters converged so much, that there was hardly more than room
for the saddle between them. I had never seen such action. Altogether,
although not much of a hunting man, the motion of the creature gave me
such a sense of power and joy, that I longed to be scouring the fields
with her under me. It was a sunshiny day, with a keen cold air, and a
thin sprinkling of snow; and Harry looked so radiant with health, that
one could easily believe he had health to convey, if not to bestow. He
stopped and inquired after his patient.

"Could you not get her to go out with you, Mr. Smith?" he said.

"Would that be safe, Mr. Henry?"

"Perfectly safe, if she is willing to go; not otherwise. Get her to go
willingly for ten minutes, and see if she is not the better for it.
What I want is to make the blood go quicker and more plentifully
through her brain. She has not fever enough. She does not live fast

"I will try," I said. "Have you been far to-day?"

"Just come out. You might tell that by the mare. You should see her
three hours after this."

And he patted her neck as if he loved her - as I am sure he did - and
trotted gently away.

When I came up to the gate, Beeves was standing at it.

"A nice gentleman that, sir!" said he.

"He is, Beeves. I quite agree with you."

"And rides a good mare, sir; and rides as well as any man in the
country. I never see him leave home in a hurry. Always goes gently
out, and comes gently in. What has gone between, you may see by her
skin when she comes home."

"Does he hunt, Beeves?"

"I believe not, sir; except the fox crosses him in one of his
rounds. Then if he is heading anywhere in his direction, they say
doctor and mare go at it like mad. He's got two more in his stable,
better horses to look at; but that's the one to go."

"I wonder how he affords such animals."

"They say he has a way of buying them lame, and a wonderful knack of
setting them up again. They all go, anyhow."

"Will you say to your mistress, that I should like very much if she
would come to me here."

Beeves stared, but said, "Yes, sir," and went in. I was now standing
in front of the house, doubtful of the reception Adela would give my
message, but judging that curiosity would aid my desire. I was right.
Beeves came back with the message that his mistress would join me in a
few minutes. In a quarter of an hour she came, wrapt in furs. She was
very pale, but her eye was brighter than usual, and it did not shrink
from the cold glitter of the snow. She put her arm in mine, and we
walked for ten minutes along the dry gravel walks, chatting
cheerfully, about anything and nothing.

"Now you must go in," I said.

"Not yet, surely, uncle. By the bye, do you think it was right of me
to come out?"

"Mr. Henry Armstrong said you might."

She did not reply, but I thought a slight rose-colour tinged her

"But he said you must not be out more than ten minutes."

"Well, I suppose I must do as I am told."

And she turned at once, and went up the stair to the door, almost as
lightly as any other girl of her age.

There was some progress, plainly enough. But was that a rose-tinge I
had seen on her cheek or not?

The next evening, after tea, we arranged ourselves much as on the last
occasion; and Mr. Bloomfield, taking a neat manuscript from his
pocket, and evidently restraining himself from apology and
explanation, although as evidently nervous about the whole proceeding,
and jealous of his own presumption, began to read as follows.

His voice trembled as he read, and his wife's face was a shade or two
paler than usual.


"In a little room, scantily furnished, lighted, not from the window,
for it was dark without, and the shutters were closed, but from the
peaked flame of a small, clear-burning lamp, sat a young man, with his
back to the lamp and his face to the fire. No book or paper on the
table indicated labour just forsaken; nor could one tell from his
eyes, in which the light had all retreated inwards, whether his
consciousness was absorbed in thought, or reverie only. The window
curtains, which scarcely concealed the shutters, were of coarse
texture, but of brilliant scarlet - for he loved bright colours; and
the faint reflection they threw on his pale, thin face, made it look
more delicate than it would have seemed in pure daylight. Two or three
bookshelves, suspended by cords from a nail in the wall, contained a
collection of books, poverty-stricken as to numbers, with but few to
fill up the chronological gap between the Greek New Testament and
stray volumes of the poets of the present century. But his love for
the souls of his individual books was the stronger that there was no
possibility of its degenerating into avarice for the bodies or
outsides whose aggregate constitutes the piece of house-furniture
called a library.

"Some years before, the young man (my story is so short, and calls in
so few personages, that I need not give him a name) had aspired, under
the influence of religious and sympathetic feeling, to be a clergyman;
but Providence, either in the form of poverty, or of theological
difficulty, had prevented his prosecuting his studies to that end. And
now he was only a village schoolmaster, nor likely to advance
further. I have said _only_ a village schoolmaster; but is it not
better to be a teacher _of_ babes than a preacher _to_ men, at any
time; not to speak of those troublous times of transition, wherein a
difference of degree must so often assume the appearance of a
difference of kind? That man is more happy - I will not say more
blessed - who, loving boys and girls, is loved and revered by them,
than he who, ministering unto men and women, is compelled to pour his
words into the filter of religious suspicion, whence the water is
allowed to pass away unheeded, and only the residuum is retained for
the analysis of ignorant party-spirit.

"He had married a simple village girl, in whose eyes he was nobler
than the noblest - to whom he was the mirror, in which the real forms
of all things around were reflected. Who dares pity my poor village
schoolmaster? I fling his pity away. Had he not found in her love the
verdict of God, that he was worth loving? Did he not in her possess
the eternal and unchangeable? Were not her eyes openings through which
he looked into the great depths that could not be measured or
represented? She was his public, his society, his critic. He found in
her the heaven of his rest. God gave unto him immortality, and he was
glad. For his ambition, it had died of its own mortality. He read the
words of Jesus, and the words of great prophets whom he has sent; and
learned that the wind-tossed anemone is a word of God as real and true
as the unbending oak beneath which it grows - that reality is an
absolute existence precluding degrees. If his mind was, as his room,
scantily furnished, it was yet lofty; if his light was small, it was
brilliant. God lived, and he lived. Perhaps the highest moral height
which a man can reach, and at the same time the most difficult of
attainment, is the willingness to be _nothing_ relatively, so that he
attain that positive excellence which the original conditions of his
being render not merely possible, but imperative. It is nothing to a
man to be greater or less than another - to be esteemed or otherwise by
the public or private world in which he moves. Does he, or does he
not, behold and love and live the unchangeable, the essential, the
divine? This he can only do according as God has made him. He can
behold and understand God in the least degree, as well as in the
greatest, only by the godlike within him; and he that loves thus the
good and great has no room, no thought, no necessity for comparison
and difference. The truth satisfies him. He lives in its
absoluteness. God makes the glow-worm as well as the star; the light
in both is divine. If mine be an earth-star to gladden the wayside, I
must cultivate humbly and rejoicingly its green earth-glow, and not
seek to blanch it to the whiteness of the stars that lie in the fields
of blue. For to deny God in my own being is to cease to behold him in
any. God and man can meet only by the man's becoming that which God
meant him to be. Then he enters into the house of life, which is
greater than the house of fame. It is better to be a child in a green
field, than a knight of many orders in a state ceremonial.

"All night long he had sat there, and morning was drawing nigh. He has
not heard the busy wind all night, heaping up snow against the house,
which will make him start at the ghostly face of the world when at
length he opens the shutters, and it stares upon him so white. For up
in a little room above, white-curtained, like the great earth without,
there has been a storm, too, half the night - moanings and prayers - and
some forbidden tears; but now, at length, it is over; and through the
portals of two mouths instead of one, flows and ebbs the tide of the
great air-sea which feeds the life of man. With the sorrow of the
mother, the new life is purchased for the child; our very being is
redeemed from nothingness with the pains of a death of which we know

"An hour has gone by since the watcher below has been delivered from
the fear and doubt that held him. He has seen the mother and the
child - the first she has given to life and him - and has returned to
his lonely room, quiet and glad.

"But not long did he sit thus before thoughts of doubt awoke in his
mind. He remembered his scanty income, and the somewhat feeble health
of his wife. One or two small debts he had contracted, seemed
absolutely to press on his bosom; and the newborn child - 'oh! how
doubly welcome,' he thought, 'if I were but half as rich again as I
am!' - brought with it, as its own love, so its own care. The dogs of
need, that so often hunt us up to heaven, seemed hard upon his heels;
and he prayed to God with fervour; and as he prayed he fell asleep in
his chair, and as he slept he dreamed. The fire and the lamp burned on
as before, but threw no rays into his soul; yet now, for the first
time, he seemed to become aware of the storm without; for his dream
was as follows: -

"He lay in his bed, and listened to the howling of the wintry wind. He
trembled at the thought of the pitiless cold, and turned to sleep
again, when he thought he heard a feeble knocking at the door. He rose
in haste, and went down with a light. As he opened the door, the wind,
entering with a gust of frosty particles, blew out his candle; but he
found it unnecessary, for the grey dawn had come. Looking out, he saw
nothing at first; but a second look, turned downwards, showed him a
little half-frozen child, who looked quietly, but beseechingly, in his
face. His hair was filled with drifted snow, and his little hands and
cheeks were blue with cold. The heart of the schoolmaster swelled to
bursting with the spring-flood of love and pity that rose up within
it. He lifted the child to his bosom, and carried him into the house;
where, in the dream's incongruity, he found a fire blazing in the room
in which he now slept. The child said never a word. He set him by the
fire, and made haste to get hot water, and put him in a warm bath. He
never doubted that this was a stray orphan who had wandered to him for
protection, and he felt that he could not part with him again; even
though the train of his previous troubles and doubts once more passed
through the mind of the dreamer, and there seemed no answer to his
perplexities for the lack of that cheap thing, gold - yea, silver. But
when he had undressed and bathed the little orphan, and having dried
him on his knees, set him down to reach something warm to wrap him in,
the boy suddenly looked up in his face, as if revived, and said with a
heavenly smile, 'I am the child Jesus.' 'The child Jesus!' said the
dreamer, astonished. 'Thou art like any other child.' 'No, do not say
so,' returned the boy; 'but say, _Any other child is like me_.' And
the child and the dream slowly faded away; and he awoke with these
words sounding in his heart - 'Whosoever shall receiveth one of such
children in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me,
receiveth not me, but him that sent me.' It was the voice of God
saying to him: 'Thou wouldst receive the child whom I sent thee out of
the cold, stormy night; receive the new child out of the cold waste
into the warm human house, as the door by which it can enter God's
house, its home. If better could be done for it, or for thee, would I
have sent it hither? Through thy love, my little one must learn my
love and be blessed. And thou shall not keep it without thy reward.
For thy necessities - in thy little house, is there not yet room? in
thy barrel, is there not yet meal? and thy purse is not empty quite.
Thou canst not eat more than a mouthful at once. I have made thee
so. Is it any trouble to me to take care of thee? Only I prefer to
feed thee from my own hand, and not from thy store.'And the
schoolmaster sprang up in joy, ran upstairs, kissed his wife, and
clasped the baby in his arms in the name of the child Jesus. And in
that embrace, he knew that he received God to his heart. Soon, with a
tender, beaming face, he was wading through the snow to the
school-house, where he spent a happy day amidst the rosy faces and
bright eyes of his boys and girls. These, likewise, he loved the more
dearly and joyfully for that dream, and those words in his heart; so

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