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owing no man anything, and spending a happy Christmas Day, with many
thanks to Colonel and Miss Cathcart."

"No, my good Madam," said the colonel; "it is we who owe you the
happiest part of our Christmas Day. Is it not, Adela?"

"Yes, papa, it is indeed," answered Adela.

Then, with some hesitation, she added,

"But do you think it was quite fair? It was _you_, Mrs. Bloomfield,
who gave the boy the sixpence."

"I only said God sent it," said Mrs. Bloomfield.

"Besides," I interposed, "the boy never doubted it; and I think, after
all, with due submission to my niece, he was the best judge."

"I should be only too happy to grant it," she answered, with a
sigh. "Things might be all right if one could believe
that - thoroughly, I mean."

"At least you will allow," I said, "that this boy was not by any means
so miserable as he looked."

"Certainly," she answered, with hearty emphasis. "I think he was much
to be envied."

Here I discovered that Percy was asleep on a sofa.

Other talk followed, and the colonel was looking very thoughtful. Tea
was brought in, and soon after, our visitors rose to take their leave.

"You are not going already?" said the colonel.

"If you will excuse us," answered the schoolmaster. "We are early

"Well, will you dine with us this day week?"

"With much pleasure," answered both in a breath.

It was clear both that the colonel liked their simple honest company,
and that he saw they might do his daughter good; for her face looked
very earnest and sweet; and the clearness that precedes rain was
evident in the atmosphere of her eyes.

After their departure we soon separated; and I retired to my room full
of a new idea, which I thought, if well carried out, might be of still
further benefit to the invalid.

But before I went to bed, I had made a rough translation of the
following hymn of Luther's, which I have since completed - so far at
least as the following is complete. I often find that it helps to keep
good thoughts before the mind, to turn them into another shape of

From heaven above I come to you,
To bring a story good and new:
Of goodly news so much I bring -
I cannot help it, I must sing.

To you a child is come this morn,
A child of holy maiden born;
A little babe, so sweet and mild -
It is a joy to see the child!

'Tis little Jesus, whom we need
Us out of sadness all to lead:
He will himself our Saviour be,
And from all sinning set us free.

Here come the shepherds, whom we know;
Let all of us right gladsome go,
To see what God to us hath given -
A gift that makes a stable heaven.

Take heed, my heart. Be lowly. So
Thou seest him lie in manger low:
That is the baby sweet and mild;
That is the little Jesus-child.

Ah, Lord! the maker of us all!
How hast thou grown so poor and small,
That there thou liest on withered grass -
The supper of the ox and ass?

Were the world wider many-fold,
And decked with gems and cloth of gold,
'Twere far too mean and narrow all,
To make for Thee a cradle small.

Rough hay, and linen not too fine,
The silk and velvet that are thine;
Yet, as they were thy kingdom great,
Thou liest in them in royal state.

And this, all this, hath pleased Thee,
That Thou mightst bring this truth to me:
That all earth's good, in one combined,
Is nothing to Thy mighty mind.

Ah, little Jesus! lay thy head
Down in a soft, white, little bed,
That waits Thee in this heart of mine,
And then this heart is always Thine.

Such gladness in my heart would make
Me dance and sing for Thy sweet sake.
Glory to God in highest heaven,
For He his son to us hath given!

Chapter IV.

The new doctor.

Next forenoon, wishing to have a little private talk with my friend, I
went to his room, and found him busy writing to Dr. Wade. He consulted
me on the contents of the letter, and I was heartily pleased with the
kind way in which he communicated to the old gentleman the resolution
he had come to, of trying whether another medical man might not be
more fortunate in his attempt to treat the illness of his daughter.

"I fear Dr. Wade will be offended, say what I like," said he.

"It is quite possible to be too much afraid of giving offence," I
said; "But nothing can be more gentle and friendly than the way in
which you have communicated the necessity."

"Well, it is a great comfort you think so. Will you go with me to call
on Mr. Armstrong?"

"With much pleasure," I answered; and we set out at once.

Shown into the doctor's dining-room, I took a glance at the books
lying about. I always take advantage of such an opportunity of gaining
immediate insight into character. Let me see a man's book-shelves,
especially if they are not extensive, and I fancy I know at once, in
some measure, what sort of a man the owner is. One small bookcase in a
recess of the room seemed to contain all the non-professional library
of Mr. Armstrong. I am not going to say here what books they were, or
what books I like to see; but I was greatly encouraged by the
consultation of the auguries afforded by the backs of these. I was
still busy with them, when the door opened, and the doctor entered. He
was the same man whom I had seen in church looking at Adela. He
advanced in a frank manly way to the colonel, and welcomed him by
name, though I believe no introduction had ever passed between
them. Then the colonel introduced me, and we were soon chatting very
comfortably. In his manner, I was glad to find that there was nothing
of the professional. I hate the professional. I was delighted to
observe, too, that what showed at a distance as a broad honest country
face, revealed, on a nearer view, lines of remarkable strength and

"My daughter is very far from well," said the colonel, in answer to a
general inquiry.

"So I have been sorry to understand," the doctor rejoined. "Indeed, it
is only too clear from her countenance."

"I want you to come and see if you can do her any good."

"Is not Dr. Wade attending her?"

"I have already informed him that I meant to request your advice."

"I shall be most happy to be of any service; but - might I suggest the
most likely means of enabling me to judge whether I can be useful or

"Most certainly."

"Then will you give me the opportunity of seeing her in a
non-professional way first? I presume, from the fact that she is able to
go to church, that she can be seen at home without the formality of an
express visit?"

"Certainly," replied the colonel, heartily. "Do me the favour to dine
with us this evening, and, as far as that can go you will see her - to
considerable disadvantage, I fear," he concluded, smiling sadly.

"Thank you; thank you. If in my power, I shall not fail you. But you
must leave a margin for professional contingencies."

"Of course. That is understood."

I had been watching Mr. Armstrong during this brief conversation, and
the favourable impressions I had already received of him were
deepened. His fine manly vigour, and the simple honesty of his
countenance, were such as became a healer of men. It seemed altogether
more likely that health might flow from such a source, than from the
_pudgey_, flabby figure of snuff-taking Dr. Wade, whose face had no
expression except a professional one. Mr. Armstrong's eyes looked you
full in the face, as if he was determined to understand you if he
could; and there seemed to me, with my foolish way of seeing signs
everywhere, something of tenderness about the droop of those long
eyelashes, so that his interpretation was not likely to fail from lack
of sympathy. Then there was the firm-set mouth of his brother the
curate, and a forehead as broad as his, if not so high or so full of
modelling. When we had taken our leave, I said to the colonel,

"If that man's opportunity has been equal to his qualification, I
think we may have great hopes of his success in encountering this
unknown disease of poor Adela."

"God grant it!" was all my friend's reply.

When he informed Adela that he expected Mr. Henry Armstrong to dinner,
she looked at him with a surprised expression, as much as to
say - "Surely you do not mean to give me into his hands!" but she only

"Very well, papa."

So Mr. Armstrong came, and made himself very agreeable at dinner,
talking upon all sorts of subjects, and never letting drop a single
word to remind Adela that she was in the presence of a medical
man. Nor did he seem to take any notice of her more than was required
by ordinary politeness; but behavior without speciality of any sort,
he drew his judgments from her general manner, and such glances as
fell naturally to his share, of those that must pass between all the
persons making up a small dinner-company. This enabled him to see her
as she really was, for she remained quite at such ease as her
indisposition would permit. He drank no wine at dinner, and only one
glass after; and then asked the host if he might go to the drawing-room.

"And will you oblige me by coming with me, Mr. Smith? I can see that
you are at home here."

Of course the colonel consented, and I was at his service. Adela rose
from her couch when we entered the room. Mr. Armstrong went up to her
gently, and said:

"Are you able to sing something, Miss Cathcart? I have heard of your

"I fear not," she answered; "I have not sung for months."

"That is a pity. You must lose something by letting yourself get out
of practice. May I play something to you, then?"

She gave him a quick glance that indicated some surprise, and said:

"If you please. It will give me pleasure."

"May I look at your music first?"


He turned over all her loose music from beginning to end. Then without
a word seated himself at the grand piano.

Whether he extemporized or played from memory, I, as ignorant of music
as of all other accomplishments, could not tell, but even to stupid
me, what he did play spoke. I assure my readers that I hardly know a
term in the whole musical vocabulary; and yet I am tempted to try to
describe what this music was like.

In the beginning, I heard nothing but a slow sameness, of which I was
soon weary. There was nothing like an air of any kind in it. It seemed
as if only his fingers were playing, and his mind had nothing to do
with it. It oppressed me with a sense of the common-place, which, of
all things, I hate. At length, into the midst of it, came a few notes,
like the first chirp of a sleepy bird trying to sing; only the attempt
was half a wail, which died away, and came again. Over and over again
came these few sad notes, increasing in number, fainting, despairing,
and reviving again; till at last, with a fluttering of agonized wings,
as of a soul struggling up out of the purgatorial smoke, the music-bird
sprang aloft, and broke into a wild but unsure jubilation. Then,
as if in the exuberance of its rejoicing it had broken some law of the
kingdom of harmony, it sank, plumb-down, into the purifying fires
again; where the old wailing, and the old struggle began, but with
increased vehemence and aspiration. By degrees, the surrounding
confusion and distress melted away into forms of harmony, which
sustained the mounting cry of longing and prayer. Then all the cry
vanished in a jubilant praise. Stronger and broader grew the
fundamental harmony, and bore aloft the thanksgiving; which, at
length, exhausted by its own utterance, sank peacefully, like a summer
sunset, into a grey twilight of calm, with the songs of the summer
birds dropping asleep one by one; till, at last, only one was left to
sing the sweetest prayer for all, before he, too, tucked his head
under his wing, and yielded to the restoring silence.

Then followed a pause. I glanced at Adela. She was quietly weeping.

But he did not leave the instrument yet. A few notes, as of the first
distress, awoke; and then a fine manly voice arose, singing the
following song, accompanied by something like the same music he had
already played. It was the same feelings put into words; or, at least,
something like the same feelings, for I am a poor interpreter of

Rejoice, said the sun, I will make thee gay
With glory, and gladness, and holiday;
I am dumb, O man, and I need thy voice.
But man would not rejoice.

Rejoice in thyself said he, O sun;
For thou thy daily course dost run.
In thy lofty place, rejoice if thou can:
For me, I am only a man.

Rejoice, said the wind, I am free and strong;
I will wake in thy heart an ancient song.
In the bowing woods - hark! hear my voice!
But man would not rejoice.

Rejoice, O wind, in thy strength, said he,
For thou fulfillest thy destiny.
Shake the trees, and the faint flowers fan:
For me, I am only a man.

I am here, said the night, with moon and star;
The sun and the wind are gone afar;
I am here with rest and dreams of choice.
But man would not rejoice.

For he said - What is rest to me, I pray,
Who have done no labour all the day?
He only should dream who has truth behind.
Alas! for me and my kind!

Then a voice, that came not from moon nor star,
From the sun, nor the roving wind afar,
Said, Man, I am with thee - rejoice, rejoice!
And man said, I will rejoice!

"A wonderful physician this!" thought I to myself. "He must be a
follower of some of the old mystics of the profession, counting
harmony and health all one."

He sat still, for a few moments, before the instrument, perhaps to
compose his countenance, and then rose and turned to the company.

The colonel and Percy had entered by this time. The traces of tears
were evident on Adela's face, and Percy was eyeing first her and then
Armstrong, with some signs of disquietude. Even during dinner it had
been clear to me that Percy did not like the doctor, and now he was as
evidently jealous of him.

A little general conversation ensued, and the doctor took his
leave. The colonel followed him to the door. I would gladly have done
so too, but I remained in the drawing-room. All that passed between
them was:

"Will you oblige me by calling on Sunday morning, half an hour before
church-time, colonel?"

"With pleasure."

"Will you come with me, Smith?" asked my friend, after informing me of
the arrangement.

"Don't you think I might be in the way?"

"Not at all. I am getting old and stupid. I should like you to come
and take care of me. He won't do Adela any good, I fear."

"Why do you think so?"

"He has a depressing effect on her already. She is sure not to like
him. She was crying when I came into the room after dinner."

"Tears are not grief," I answered; "nor only the signs of grief, when
they do indicate its presence. They are a relief to it as well. But I
cannot help thinking there was some pleasure mingled with those tears,
for he had been playing very delightfully. He must be a very gifted

"I don't know anything about that. You know I have no ear for
music. - That won't cure my child anyhow."

"I don't know," I answered. "It may help."

"Do you mean to say he thinks to cure her by playing the piano to her?
If he thinks to come here and do that, he is mistaken."

"You forget, Cathcart, that I have had no more conversation with him
than yourself. But surely you have seen no reason to quarrel with him

"No, no, my dear fellow. I do believe I am getting a crusty old
curmudgeon. I can't bear to see Adela like this."

"Well, I confess, I have hopes from the new doctor; but we will see
what he says on Sunday."

"Why should we not have called to-morrow?"

"I can't answer that. I presume he wants time to think about the

"And meantime he may break his neck over some gate that he can't or
won't open."

"Well, I should be sorry."

"But what's to become of us then?"

"Ah! you allow that? Then you do expect something of him?"

"To be sure I do, only I am afraid of making a fool of myself, and
that sets me grumbling at him, I suppose."

Next day was Saturday; and Mrs. Cathcart, Percy's mother, was expected
in the evening. I had a long walk in the morning, and after that
remained in my own room till dinner time. I confess I was prejudiced
against her; and just because I was prejudiced, I resolved to do all I
could to like her, especially as it was Christmas-tide. Not that one
time is not as good as another for loving your neighbour, but if ever
one is reminded of the duty, it is then. I schooled myself all I
could, and went into the drawing-room like a boy trying to be good; as
a means to which end, I put on as pleasant a face as would come. But
my good resolutions were sorely tried.

* * * * *

These asterisks indicate the obliteration of the personal description
which I had given of her. Though true, it was ill-natured. And
besides, so indefinite is all description of this kind, that it is
quite possible it might be exactly like some woman to whom I am
utterly unworthy to hold a candle. So I won't tell what her features
were like. I will only say, that I am certain her late husband must
have considered her a very fine woman; and that I had an indescribable
sensation in the calves of my legs when I came near her. But then,
although I believe I am considered a good-natured man, I confess to
prejudices (which I commonly refuse to act upon), and to profound
dislikes, especially to certain sorts of women, which I can no more
help feeling, than I can help feeling the misery that permeates the
joints of my jaws when I chance to bite into a sour apple. So my
opinions about such women go for little or nothing.

When I entered the drawing-room, I saw at once that she had
established herself as protectress of Adela, and possibly as mistress
of the house. She leaned back in her chair at a considerable angle,
but without bending her spine, and her hands lay folded in her
lap. She made me a bow with her neck, without in the least altering
the angle of her position, while I made her one of my most profound
obeisances. A few common-places passed between us, and then her
brother-in-law leading her down to dinner, the evening passed by with
politeness on both sides. Adela did not appear to heed her presence
one way or the other. But then of late she had been very inexpressive.

Percy seemed to keep out of his mother's way as much as possible. How
he amused himself, I cannot imagine.

Next morning we went to call on the doctor, on our way to church.

"Well, Mr. Armstrong, what do you think of my daughter?" asked the

"I do not think she is in a very bad way. Has she had any
disappointment that you know of?"

"None whatever."

"Ah - I have seen such a case before. There are a good many of them
amongst girls at her age. It is as if, without any disease, life were
gradually withdrawn itself - ebbing back as it were to its source.
Whether this has a physical or a psychological cause, it is impossible
to tell. In her case, I think the later, if indeed it have not a
deeper cause; that is, if I'm right in my hypothesis. A few days will
show me this; and if I am wrong, I will then make a closer examination
of her case. At present it is desirable that I should not annoy her in
any such way. Now for the practical: my conviction is that the best
thing that can be done for her is, to interest her in something, if
possible - no matter what it is. Does she take pleasure in anything?"

"She used to be very fond of music. But of late I have not heard her
touch the piano."

"May I be allowed to speak?" I asked.

"Most certainly," said both at once.

"I have had a little talk with Miss Cathcart, and I am entirely of
Mr. Armstrong's opinion," I said. "And with his permission - I am
pretty sure of my old friend's concurrence - I will tell you a plan I
have been thinking of. You remember, colonel, how she was more
interested in the anecdotes our friend the Bloomfields told the other
evening, than she has been in anything else, since I came. It seems to
me that the interest she cannot find for herself, we might be able to
provide for her, by telling her stories; the course of which everyone
should be at liberty to interrupt, for the introduction of any remark
whatever. If we once got her interested in anything, it seems to me,
as Mr. Armstrong has already hinted, that the tide of life would begin
to flow again. She would eat better, and sleep better, and speculate
less, and think less about herself - not _of_ herself - I don't mean
that, colonel; for no one could well think less of herself than she
does. And if we could amuse her in that way for a week or two, I think
it would give a fair chance to any physical remedies Mr. Armstrong
might think proper to try, for they act most rapidly on a system in
movement. It would be beginning from the inside, would it not?"

"A capital plan," said the doctor, who had been listening with marked
approbation; "and I know one who I am sure would help. For my part, I
never told a story in my life, but I am willing to try - after awhile,
that is. My brother, however, would, I know, be delighted to lend his
aid to such a scheme, if colonel Cathcart would be so good as to
include him in the conspiracy. It is his duty as well as mine; for she
is one of his flock. And he can tell a tale, real or fictitious,
better than any one I know."

"There can be no harm in trying it, gentlemen - with kindest thanks to
you for your interest in my poor child," said the colonel. "I confess
I have not much hope from such a plan, but - "

"You must not let her know that the thing is got up for her,"
interrupted the doctor.

"Certainly not. You must all come and dine with us, any day you
like. I will call on your brother to-morrow."

"This Christmas-tide gives good opportunity for such a scheme," I
said. "It will fall in well with all the festivities; and I am quite
willing to open the entertainment with a funny kind of fairy-tale,
which has been growing in my brain for some time."

"Capital!" said Mr. Armstrong. "We must have all sorts."

"Then shall it be Monday at six - that is, to-morrow?" asked the
colonel. "Your brother won't mind a short invitation?"

"Certainly not. Ask him to-day. But I would suggest five, if I might,
to give us more time afterwards."

"Very well. Let it be five. And now we will go to church."

The ends of the old oak pews next the chancel were curiously
carved. One had a ladder and a hammer and nails on it. Another a
number of round flat things, and when you counted them you found that
there were thirty. Another had a curious thing - I could not tell what,
till one day I met an old woman carrying just such a bag. On another
was a sponge on the point of a spear. There were more of such
carvings; but these I could see from where I sat. And all the sermon
was a persuading of the people that God really loved them, without any
_if_ or _but_.

Adela was very attentive to the clergy man; but I could see her glance
wander now and then from his face to that of his brother, who was in
the same place he had occupied on Christmas-day. The expression of her
aunt's face was judicial.

When we came out of church, the doctor shook hands with me and said:

"Can I have a word with you, Mr. Smith?"

"Most gladly," I answered. "Your time is precious: I will walk your

"Thank you. - I like your plan heartily. But to tell the truth, I fancy
it is more a case for my brother than for me. But that may come about
all in good time, especially as she will now have an opportunity of
knowing him. He is the best fellow in the world. And his wife is as
good as he is. But - I feel I may say to you what I could not well say
to the colonel - I suspect the cause of her illness is rather a
spiritual one. She has evidently a strong mental constitution; and
this strong frame, so to speak, has been fed upon slops; and an
atrophy is the consequence. My hope in your plan is, partly, that it
may furnish a better mental table for her, for the time, and set her
foraging in new direction for the future."

"But how could you tell that from the very little conversation you had
with her?"

"It was not the conversation only - I watched everything about her; and
interpreted it by what I know about women. I believe that many of them
go into a consumption just from discontent - the righteous discontent
of a soul which is meant to sit at the Father's table, and so cannot
content itself with the husks which the swine eat. The theological

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 1 → online text (page 4 of 12)