"If she is tired inside first, everything will tire her."
"I wish you would try to find out, Smith."
"Her mother died of a decline."
"I know. Have you had no advice?"
"Oh, yes! Dr. Wade is giving her steel-wine, and quinine, and all that
sort of thing. For my part, I don't believe in their medicines.
Certainly they don't do her any good."
"Is her chest affected - does he say?"
"He says not; but I believe he knows no more about the state of her
chest than he does about the other side of the moon. He's a stupid old
fool. He comes here for his fees, and he has them."
"Why don't you call in another, if you are not satisfied?"
"Why, my dear fellow, they're all the same in this infernal old
place. I believe they've all embalmed themselves, and are going by
clockwork. They and the clergy make sad fools of us. But we make worse
fools of ourselves to have them about us. To be sure, they see that
everything is proper. The doctor makes sure that we are dead before we
are buried, and the parson that we are buried after we are dead. About
the resurrection I suspect he knows as much as we do. He goes by
In his perplexity and sorrow, the poor colonel was irritable and
unjust. I saw that it would be better to suggest than to reason. And I
partly took the homoeopathic system - the only one on which mental
distress, at least, can be treated with any advantage.
"Certainly," I said, "the medical profession has plenty of men in it
who live on humanity, like the very diseases they attempt to cure. And
plenty of the clergy find the Church a tolerably profitable
investment. The reading of the absolution is as productive to them
now, as it was to the pardon-sellers of old. But surely, colonel, you
won't huddle them all up together in one shapeless mass of
"You always were right, Smith, and I'm a fool, as usual. - Percy, my
boy, what's going on at Somerset House?"
"The river, uncle."
"Well - I don't know. Nothing much. It's horribly slow!"
"I'm afraid you won't find this much better. But you must take care of
"I've made that a branch of special study, uncle. I flatter myself I
_can_ do that."
Colonel Cathcart laughed. Percy was the son of his only brother, who
had died young, and he had an especial affection for him. And where
the honest old man loved, he could see no harm; for he reasoned
something in this way: "He must be all right, or how could I like him
as I do?" But Percy was a common-place, selfish fellow - of that I was
convinced - whatever his other qualities, good or bad, might be; and I
sincerely hoped that any designs he might have of marrying his cousin,
might prove as vain as his late infantile passion for the moon. For I
beg to assure my readers that the circumstances in which I have
introduced Adela Cathcart, are no more fair to her real character,
than my lady readers would consider the effect of a lamp-shade of
bottle-green true in its presentation of their complexion.
We did not sit long over our wine. When we went up to the
drawing-room, Adela was not there, nor did she make her appearance
again that evening. For a little while we tried to talk; but, after
many failures, I yielded and withdrew on the score of fatigue; no
doubt relieving the mind of my old friend by doing so, for he had
severe ideas of the duty of a host as well as of a soldier, and to
these ideas he found it at present impossible to elevate the tone of
When I reached my own room, I threw myself into the easiest of
arm-chairs, and began to reflect.
"John Smith," I said, "this is likely to be as uncomfortable a
Christmas-tide, as you, with your all but ubiquity, have ever had the
opportunity of passing. Nevertheless, please to remember a resolution
you came to once upon a time, that, as you were nobody, so you would
be nobody; and see if you can make yourself useful. - What can be the
matter with Adela?"
I sat and reflected for a long time; for during my life I had had many
opportunities of observation, and amongst other cases that had
interested me, I had seen some not unlike the present. The fact was
that, as everybody counted me nobody, I had taken full advantage of my
conceded nonentity, which, like Jack the Giant-killer's coat of
darkness, enabled me to learn much that would otherwise have escaped
me. My reflections on my observations, however, did not lead me to any
further or more practical conclusion just yet, than that other and
better advice ought to be called in.
Having administered this sedative sop to my restless practicalness,
I went to bed and to sleep.
Adela did not make her appearance at the breakfast-table next morning,
although it was the morning of Christmas Day. And no one who had seen
her at dinner on Christmas Eve, would have expected to see her at
breakfast on Christmas-morn. Yet although her absence was rather a
relief, such a gloom occupied her place, that our party was anything
but cheerful. But the world about us was happy enough, not merely at
its unseen heart of fire, but on its wintered countenance - evidently
to all men. It was not "to hide her guilty front," as Milton says, in
the first two - and the least worthy - stanzas on the Nativity, that the
earth wooed the gentle air for innocent snow, but to put on the best
smile and the loveliest dress that the cold time and her suffering
state would allow, in welcome of the Lord of the snow and the
summer. I thought of the lines from Crashaw's _Hymn of the
Nativity_ - Crashaw, who always suggested to me Shelley turned a
"I saw the curled drops, soft and slow,
Come hovering o'er the place's head,
Offering their whitest sheets of snow,
To furnish the fair infant's bed.
Forbear, said I, be not too bold:
Your fleece is white, but 'tis too cold."
And as the sun shone rosy with mist, I naturally thought of the next
following stanza of the same hymn:
"I saw the obsequious seraphim
Their rosy fleece of fire bestow;
For well they now can spare their wings,
Since Heaven itself lies here below.
Well done! said I; but are you sure
Your down, so warm, will pass for pure?"
Adela, pale face and all, was down in time for church; and she and the
colonel and I walked to it together by the meadow path, where, on each
side, the green grass was peeping up through the glittering frost. For
the colonel, notwithstanding his last night's outbreak upon the
clergy, had a profound respect for them, and considered church-going
one of those military duties which belonged to every honest soldier
and gentleman. Percy had found employment elsewhere.
It was a blessed little church that, standing in a little meadow
church-yard, with a low strong ancient tower, and great buttresses
that put one in mind of the rock of ages, and a mighty still river
that flowed past the tower end, and a picturesque, straggling,
well-to-do parsonage at the chancel end. The church was nearly covered
with ivy, and looked as if it had grown out of the churchyard, to be
ready for the poor folks, as soon as they got up again, to praise God
in. But it had stood a long time, and none of them came, and the
praise of the living must be a poor thing to the praise of the dead,
notwithstanding all that the Psalmist says. So the church got
disheartened, and drooped, and now looked very old and grey-headed. It
could not get itself filled with praise enough. - And into this old,
and quaint, and weary but stout-hearted church, we went that bright
winter morning, to hear about a baby. My heart was full enough before
I left it.
Old Mr. Venables read the service with a voice and manner far more
memorial of departed dinners than of joys to come; but I sat - little
heeding the service, I confess - with my mind full of thoughts that
made me glad.
Now all my glad thoughts came to me through a hole in the
tower-door. For the door was far in a shadowy retreat, and in the
irregular lozenge-shaped hole in it, there was a piece of coarse thick
glass of a deep yellow. And through this yellow glass the sun
shone. And the cold shine of the winter sun was changed into the warm
glory of summer by the magic of that bit of glass.
Now when I saw the glow first, I thought without thinking, that it
came from some inner place, some shrine of old, or some ancient tomb
in the chancel of the church - forgetting the points of the
compass - where one might pray as in the _penetralia_ of the temple;
and I gazed on it as the pilgrim might gaze upon the lamp-light oozing
from the cavern of the Holy Sepulchre. But some one opened the door,
and the clear light of the Christmas morn broke upon the pavement, and
swept away the summer splendour. - The door was to the outside. - And I
said to myself: All the doors that lead inwards to the secret place of
the Most High, are doors outwards - out of self - out of smallness - out
of wrong. And these were some of the thoughts that came to me through
the hole in the door, and made me forget the service, which
Mr. Venables mumbled like a nicely cooked sweetbread.
But another voice broke the film that shrouded the ears of my brain,
and the words became inspired and alive, and I forgot my own thoughts
in listening to the Holy Book. For is not the voice of every loving
spirit a fresh inspiration to the dead letter? With a voice other than
this, does it not kill? And I thought I had heard the voice before,
but where I sat I could not see the Communion Table. - At length the
preacher ascended the pulpit stairs, and, to my delight and the
rousing of an altogether unwonted expectation, who should it be but my
fellow-traveller of last night!
He had a look of having something to say; and I immediately felt that
I had something to hear. Having read his text, which I forget, the
broad-browed man began with something like this:
"It is not the high summer alone that is God's. The winter also is
His. And into His winter He came to visit us. And all man's winters
are His - the winter of our poverty, the winter of our sorrow, the
winter of our unhappiness - even 'the winter of our discontent.'"
I stole a glance at Adela. Her large eyes were fixed on the preacher.
"Winter," he went on, "does not belong to death, although the outside
of it looks like death. Beneath the snow, the grass is growing. Below
the frost, the roots are warm and alive. Winter is only a spring too
weak and feeble for us to see that it is living. The cold does for all
things what the gardener has sometimes to do for valuable trees: he
must half kill them before they will bear any fruit. Winter is in
truth the small beginnings of the spring."
I glanced at Adela again; and still her eyes were fastened on the
"The winter is the childhood of the year. Into this childhood of the
year came the child Jesus; and into this childhood of the year must we
all descend. It is as if God spoke to each of us according to our
need: My son, my daughter, you are growing old and cunning; you must
grow a child again, with my son, this blessed birth-time. You are
growing old and selfish; you must become a child. You are growing old
and careful; you must become a child. You are growing old and
distrustful; you must become a child. You are growing old and petty,
and weak, and foolish; you must become a child - my child, like the
baby there, that strong sunrise of faith and hope and love, lying in
his mother's arms in the stable.
"But one may say to me: 'You are talking in a dream. The Son of God is
a child no longer. He is the King of Heaven.' True, my friends. But He
who is the Unchangeable, could never become anything that He was not
always, for that would be to change. He is as much a child now as ever
he was. When he became a child, it was only to show us by itself, that
we might understand it better, what he was always in his deepest
nature. And when he was a child, he was not less the King of Heaven;
for it is in virtue of his childhood, of his sonship, that he is Lord
of Heaven and of Earth - 'for of such' - namely, of children - 'is the
kingdom of heaven.' And, therefore, when we think of the baby now, it
is still of the Son of man, of the King of men, that we think. And all
the feelings that the thought of that babe can wake in us, are as true
now as they were on that first Christmas day, when Mary covered from
the cold his little naked feet, ere long to be washed with the tears
of repentant women, and nailed by the hands of thoughtless men, who
knew not what they did, to the cross of fainting, and desolation, and
Adela was hiding her face now.
"So, my friends, let us be children this Christmas. Of course, when I
say to anyone, 'You must be like a child,' I mean a good child. A
naughty child is not a child as long as his naughtiness lasts. He is
not what God meant when He said, 'I will make a child.' Think of the
best child you know - the one who has filled you with most
admiration. It is his child-likeness that has so delighted you. It is
because he is so true to the child-nature that you admire him. Jesus
is like that child. You must be like that child. But you cannot help
knowing some faults in him - some things that are like ill-grown men
and women. Jesus is not like him, there. Think of the best child you
can imagine; nay, think of a better than you can imagine - of the one
that God thinks of when he invents a child in the depth of his
fatherhood: such child-like men and women must you one day become; and
what day better to begin, than this blessed Christmas Morn? Let such a
child be born in your hearts this day. Take the child Jesus to your
bosoms, into your very souls, and let him grow there till he is one
with your every thought, and purpose, and hope. As a good child born
in a family will make the family good; so Jesus, born into the world,
will make the world good at last. And this perfect child, born in your
hearts, will make your hearts good; and that is God's best gift to
"Then be happy this Christmas Day; for to you a child is born.
Childless women, this infant is yours - wives or maidens. Fathers and
mothers, he is your first-born, and he will save his brethren. Eat and
drink, and be merry and kind, for the love of God is the source of all
joy and all good things, and this love is present in the child
Jesus. - Now, to God the Father, &c."
"O my baby Lord!" I said in my heart; for the clergyman had forgotten
me, and said nothing about us old bachelors.
Of course this is but the substance of the sermon; and as, although I
came to know him well before many days were over, he never lent me his
manuscript - indeed, I doubt if he had any - my report must have lost
something of his nervous strength, and be diluted with the weakness of
Although I had been attending so well to the sermon, however, my eyes
had now and then wandered, not only to Adela's face, but all over the
church as well; and I could not help observing, a few pillars off, and
partly round a corner, the face of a young man - well, he was about
thirty, I should guess - out of which looked a pair of well-opened
hazel eyes, with rather notable eyelashes. Not that I, with my own
weak pair of washed-out grey, could see the eyelashes at that
distance, but I judged it must be their length that gave a kind of
feminine cast to the outline of the eyes. Nor should I have noticed
the face itself much, had it not seemed to me that those eyes were
pursuing a very thievish course; for, by the fact that, as often as I
looked their way, I saw the motion of their withdrawal, I concluded
that they were stealing glances at, certainly not from, my adopted
niece, Adela. This made me look at the face more attentively. I found
it a fine, frank, brown, country-looking face. - Could it have anything
to do with Adela's condition? Absurd! How could such health and ruddy
life have anything to do with the worn pallor of her countenance? Nor
did a single glance on the part of Adela reveal that she was aware of
the existence of the neighbouring observatory. I dismissed the
idea. And I was right, as time showed.
We remained to the Communion. When that was over, we walked out of the
old dark-roofed church, Adela looking as sad as ever, into the bright
cold sunshine, which wrought no change on her demeanour. How could it,
if the sun of righteousness, even, had failed for the time? And there,
in the churchyard, we found Percy, standing astride of an infant's
grave, with his hands in his trowser-pockets, and an air of
condescending satisfaction on his countenance, which seemed to say to
the dead beneath him:
"Pray, don't apologize. I know you are disagreeable; but you can't
help it, you know;"
- and to the living coming out of church:
"Well, have you had your little whim out?"
But what he did say, was to Adela:
"A merry Christmas to you, Addie! Won't you lean on me? You don't look
But her sole answer was to take my arm; and so we walked towards the
"I suppose that's what they call _Broad Church,_" said the colonel.
"Generally speaking, I prefer breadth," I answered, vaguely. "Do you
think that's _Broad Church?_"
"Oh! I don't know. I suppose it's all right. He ran me through,
"I hope it _is_ all right," I answered. "It suits me."
"Well, I'm sure you know ten times better than I do. He seems a right
sort of man, whatever sort of clergyman he may be."
"Who is he - can you tell me?"
"Why, don't you know? That's our new curate, Mr. Armstrong."
"Curate!" I exclaimed. "A man like that! And at his years too! He must
be forty. You astonish me!"
"Well, I don't know. He may be forty. He is our curate; that is all I
can answer for."
"He was my companion in the train last night."
"Ah! that accounts for it. You had some talk with him, and found him
out? I believe he is a superior sort of man, too. Old Mr. Venables
seems to like him."
"All the talk I have had with him passed between pulpit and pew this
morning," I replied; "for the only words that we exchanged last night
were, 'Will you join me in a cigar?' from him, and 'With much
pleasure,' from me."
"Then, upon my life, I can't see what you think remarkable in his
being a curate. Though I confess, as I said before, he ran me through
the body. I'm rather soft-hearted, I believe, since Addie's illness."
He gave her a hasty glance. But she took no notice of what he had
said; and, indeed, seemed to have taken no notice of the
conversation - to which Percy had shown an equal amount of
indifference. A very different indifference seemed the only bond
When we reached home, we found lunch ready for us, and after waiting a
few minutes for Adela, but in vain, we seated ourselves at the table.
"Awfully like Sunday, and a cold dinner, uncle!" remarked Percy.
"We'll make up for that, my boy, when dinner-time comes."
"You don't like Sunday, then, Mr. Percy?" I said.
"A horrid bore," he answered. "My old mother made me hate it. We had
to go to church twice; and that was even worse than her veal-broth.
But the worst of it is, I can't get it out of my head that I ought to
be there, even when I'm driving tandem to Richmond."
"Ah! your mother will be with us on Sunday, I hope, Percy."
"Good heavens, uncle! Do you know what you are about? My mother here!
I'll just ring the bell, and tell James to pack my traps. I won't
stand it. I can't. Indeed I can't."
He rose as he spoke. His uncle caught him by the arm, laughing, and
made him sit down again; which he did with real or pretended
"We'll take care of you, Percy. Never mind. - Don't be a fool," he
added, seeing the evident annoyance of the young fellow.
"Well, uncle, you ought to have known better," said Percy, sulkily,
as, yielding, he resumed his seat, and poured himself out a bumper of
claret, by way of consolation.
He had not been much of a companion before: now he made himself almost
as unpleasant as a young man could be, and that is saying a great
deal. One, certainly, had need to have found something beautiful at
church, for here was the prospect of as wretched a Christmas dinner as
one could ever wish to avoid.
When Percy had drunk another bumper of claret, he rose and left the
room; and my host, turning to me, said:
"I fear, Smith, you will have anything but a merry Christmas, this
year. I hoped the sight of you would cheer up poor Adela, and set us
all right. And now Percy's out of humour at the thought of his mother
coming, and I'm sure I don't know what's to be done. We shall sit over
our dinner to-day like four crows over a carcass. It's very good of
you to stop."
"Oh! never mind me," I said. "I, too, can take care of myself. But has
Adela no companions of her own age?"
"None but Percy. And I am afraid she has got tired of him. He's a good
fellow, though a bit of a puppy. That'll wear off. I wish he would
take a fancy to the army, now."
I made no reply, but I thought the more. It seemed to me that to get
tired of Percy was the most natural proceeding that could be adopted
with regard to him and all about him.
But men judge men - and women, women - hardly.
"I'll tell you what I will do," said the colonel. "I will ask Mr.
Bloomfield, the schoolmaster, and his wife, to dine with us. It's no
use asking anybody else that I can think of. But they have no family,
and I dare say they can put off their own Christmas dinner till
to-morrow. They have but one maid, and she can dine with our
servants. They are very respectable people, I assure you."
The colonel always considered his plans thoroughly, and then acted on
them at once. He rose.
"A capital idea!" I said, as he disappeared. I went up to look for
Adela. She was not in the drawing-room. I went up again, and tapped at
the door of her room.
"Come in," she said, in a listless voice.
"How are you now, Adela?" I asked.
"Thank you, uncle," was all her reply.
"What is the matter with you, my child?" I said, and drew a chair near
hers. She was half reclining, with a book lying upside down on her
"I would tell you at once, uncle, if I knew," she answered very
sweetly, but as sadly. "I believe I am dying; but of what I have not
the smallest idea."
"Nonsense!" I said. "You're not dying."
"You need not think to comfort me that way, uncle; for I think I would
rather die than not."
"Is there anything you would like?"
"Nothing. There is nothing worth liking, but sleep."
"Don't you sleep at night?"
"Not well. - I will tell you all I know about it. - Some six weeks ago,
I woke suddenly one morning, very early - I think about three
o'clock - with an overpowering sense of blackness and misery.
Everything I thought of seemed to have a core of wretchedness in it. I
fought with the feeling as well as I could, and got to sleep again.
But the effect of it did not leave me next day. I said to myself:
'They say "morning thoughts are true." What if this should be the true
way of looking at things?' And everything became grey and dismal about
me. Next morning it was just the same. It was as if I had waked in the
middle of some chaos over which God had never said: 'Let there be
light.' And the next day was worse. I began to see the bad in
everything - wrong motives - and self-love - and pretence, and everything
mean and low. And so it has gone on ever since. I wake wretched every
morning. I am crowded with wretched, if not wicked thoughts, all day.
Nothing seems worth anything. I don't care for anything."
"But you love somebody?"
"I hope I love my father. I don't know. I don't feel as if I did."
"And there's your cousin Percy." I confess this was a feeler I put
"Percy's a fool!" she said, with some show of indignation, which I
hailed, for more reasons than one.
"But you enjoyed the sermon this morning, did you not?"
"I don't know. I thought it very poetical and very pretty; but whether
it was true - how could I tell? I didn't care. The baby he spoke about
was nothing to me. I didn't love him, or want to hear about him. Don't
you think me a brute, uncle?"
"No, I don't. I think you are ill. And I think we shall find something
that will do you good; but I can't tell yet what. You will dine with
us, won't you?"
"Oh! yes, if you and papa wish it."
"Of course we do. He is just gone to ask Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield to
dine with us."
"You don't mind, do you?"
"Oh! no. They are nice people. I like them both."
"Well, I will leave you, my child. Sleep if you can. I will go and
walk in the garden, and think what can be done for my little girl."