George MacDonald.

Adela Cathcart, Volume 2 online

. (page 1 of 12)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 1 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Jonathan Ingram, David Garcia and Distributed Proofreaders















I confess I was a little dismayed to find what a solemn turn the
club-stories had taken. But this dismay lasted for a moment only;
for I saw that Adela was deeply interested, again wearing the look
that indicates abstracted thought and feeling. I said to myself:

"This is very different mental fare from what you have been used to,

But she seemed able to mark, learn, and inwardly digest it, for she had
the appearance of one who is stilled by the strange newness of her
thoughts. I was sure that she was now experiencing a consciousness of
existence quite different from anything she had known before. But it
had a curious outcome.

For, when the silence began to grow painful, no one daring to ask a
question, and Mrs. Cathcart had resumed her knitting, Adela suddenly
rose, and going to the piano, struck a few chords, and began to sing.
The song was one of Heine's strange, ghost-dreams, so unreal in
everything but feeling, and therefore, as dreams, so true. Why did she
choose such a song after what we had been listening to? I accounted for
it by the supposition that, being but poorly provided as far as variety
in music went, this was the only thing suggested to her by the tone of
the paper, and, therefore, the nearest she could come to it. It served,
however, to make a change and a transition; which was, as I thought,
very desirable, lest any of the company should be scared from attending
the club; and I resolved that I would divert the current, next time,
if I could.

This was what Adela sang; and the singing of it was evidently a relief
to her:

I dreamt of the daughter of a king,
With a cheek white, wet, and chill;
Under the limes we sat murmuring,
And holding each other so still!

"Oh! not thy father's sceptre of gold,
Nor yet his shining throne,
Nor his diamond crown that glitters cold -
'Tis thyself I want, my own!"

"Oh! that is too good," she answered me;
"I lie in the grave all day;
And only at night I come to thee,
For I cannot keep away."

It was something that she had volunteered a song, whatever it was. But
it is a misfortune that, in writing a book, one cannot give the music of
a song. Perhaps, by the time that music has its fair part in education,
this may be done. But, meantime, we mention the fact of a song, and then
give the words, as if that were the song. The music is the song, and the
words are no more than the saddle on which the music sits, the singer
being the horse, who could do without a saddle well enough. - May Adela
forgive the comparison! - At the same time, a true-word song has music of
its own, and is quite independent, for its music, both of that which it
may beget, and of that with which it may be associated.

As she rose, she glanced towards the doctor, and said:

"Now it is your turn, Mr. Armstrong."

Harry did not wait for a second invitation; for to sing was to him
evidently a pleasure too great to be put in jeopardy. He rose at once,
and sitting down at the instrument, sang - I cannot say _as
follows_, you see; I can only say _the following words_:

Autumn clouds are flying, flying,
O'er the waste of blue;
Summer flowers are dying, dying,
Late so lovely new.
Labouring wains are slowly rolling
Home with winter grain;
Holy bells are slowly tolling
Over buried men.

Goldener lights set noon a-sleeping
Like an afternoon;
Colder airs come stealing, creeping
After sun and moon;
And the leaves, all tired of blowing
Cloudlike o'er the sun,
Change to sunset-colours, knowing
That their day is done.

Autumn's sun is sinking, sinking
Into Winter's night;
And our hearts are thinking, thinking
Of the cold and blight.
Our life's sun is slowly going
Down the hill of might;
Will our clouds shine golden-glowing
On the slope of night?

But the vanished corn is lying
In rich golden glooms.
In the churchyard, all the singing
Is above the tombs.
Spring will come, slow-lingering,
Opening buds of faith.
Man goes forth to meet his spring,
Through the door of death.

So we love, with no less loving,
Hair that turns to grey;
Or a step less lightly moving
In life's autumn day.
And if thought, still-brooding, lingers
O'er each bygone thing,
'Tis because old Autumn's fingers
Paint in hues of Spring.

The whole tone of this song was practical and true, and so was fitted to
correct the unhealthiness of imagination which might have been suspected
in the choice of the preceding. "Words and music," I said to myself,
"must here have come from the same hand; for they are one utterance.
There is no setting of words to music here; but the words have brought
their own music with them; and the music has brought its own words."

As Harry rose from the piano-forte, he said to me gaily:

"Now, Mr. Smith, it is your turn. I know when you sing, it will be
something worth listening to."

"Indeed, I hope so," I answered. "But the song-hour has not yet come to
me. How good you all ought to be who can sing! I feel as if my heart
would break with delight, if I could sing; and yet there is not a
sparrow on the housetop that cannot sing a better song than I."

"Your hour will come," said the clergyman, solemnly. "Then you will
sing, and all we shall listen. There is no inborn longing that shall not
be fulfilled. I think that is as certain as the forgiveness of sins.
Meantime, while your singing-robes are making, I will take your place
with my song, if Miss Cathcart will allow me."

"Do, please," said Adela, very heartily; "we shall all be delighted."

The clergyman sang, and sang even better than his brother. And these
were the words of his song:

_The Mother Mary to the infant Jesus._

'Tis time to sleep, my little boy;
Why gaze they bright eyes so?
At night, earth's children, for new joy,
Home to thy Father go.
But thou art wakeful. Sleep, my child;
The moon and stars are gone;
The wind and snow they grow more wild,
And thou art smiling on.

My child, thou hast immortal eyes,
That see by their own light;
They see the innocent blood - it lies
Red-glowing through the night.
Through wind and storm unto thine ear
Cry after cry doth run;
And yet thou seemest not to hear,
And only smilest on.

When first thou earnest to the earth,
All sounds of strife were still;
A silence lay around thy birth,
And thou didst sleep thy fill.
Why sleep'st thou - nay, why weep'st thou not?
Thy earth is woe-begone;
Babies and mothers wail their lot,
And still thou smilest on.

I read thine eyes like holy book;
No strife is pictured there;
Upon thy face I see the look
Of one who answers prayer.
Ah, yes! - Thine eyes, beyond this wild,
Behold God's will well done;
Men's songs thine ears are hearing, child;
And so thou smilest on.

The prodigals arise and go,
And God goes forth to meet;
Thou seest them gather, weeping low,
About the Father's feet.
And for their brothers men must bear,
Till all are homeward gone.
O Eyes, ye see my answered prayer!
Smile, Son of God, smile on.

As soon as the vibrations of this song, I do not mean on the chords of
the instrument, but in the echo-caves of our bosoms, had ceased, I
turned to the doctor and said:

"Are you ready with your story yet, Mr. Henry?"

"Oh, dear no!" he answered - "not for days. I am not an idle man like
you, Mr. Smith. I belong to the labouring class."

I knew that he could not have it ready.

"Well," I said, "if our friends have no objection, I will give you
another myself next time."

"Oh! thank you, uncle," said Adela. - "Another fairy tale, please."

"I can't promise you another fairy-tale just yet, but I can promise you
something equally absurd, if that will do."

"Oh yes! Anything you like, uncle. _I_, for one, am sure to like
what you like."

"Thank you, my dear. Now I will go; for I see the doctor waiting to have
a word with you."

The company took their leave, and the doctor was not two minutes behind
them; for as I went up to my room, after asking the curate when I might
call upon him, I saw him come out of the drawing-room and go down

"Monday evening, then," I had heard the colonel say, as he followed his
guests to the hall.



As I approached the door of the little house in which the curate had so
lately taken up his abode, he saw me from the window, and before I had
had time to knock, he had opened the door.

"Come in," he said. "I saw you coming. Come to my den, and we will have
a pipe together."

"I have brought some of my favourite cigars," I said, "and I want you to
try them."

"With all my heart."

The room to which he led me was small, but disfigured with no offensive
tidiness. Not a spot of wall was to be seen for books, and yet there
were not many books after all. We sat for some minutes enjoying the
fragrance of the western incense, without other communion than that of
the clouds we were blowing, and what I gathered from the walls. For I am
old enough, as I have already confessed, to be getting long-sighted, and
I made use of the gift in reading the names of the curate's books, as I
had read those of his brother's. They were mostly books of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries, with a large admixture from the nineteenth,
and more than the usual proportion of the German classics; though,
strange to say, not a single volume of German Theology could I discover.
The curate was the first to break the silence.

"I find this a very painful cigar," he said, with a half laugh.

"I am sorry you don't like it. Try another."

"The cigar is magnificent."

"Isn't it thoroughfare, then?"

"Oh yes! the cigar's all right. I haven't smoked such a cigar for more
than ten years; and that's the reason."

"I wish I had known you seven years, Mr. Armstrong."

"You have known me a hundred and seven."

"Then I have a right to - "

"Poke my fire as much as you please."

And as Mr. Armstrong said so, he poked his own chest, to signify the
symbolism of his words.

"Then I should like to know something of your early history - something
to account for the fact that a man like you, at your time of life, is
only a curate."

"I can do all that, and account for the pain your cigar gives me, in one
and the same story."

I sat full of expectation.

"You won't find me long-winded, I hope."

"No fear of that. Begin directly. I adjure you by our friendship of a
hundred years."

"My father was a clergyman before me; one of those simple-hearted men
who think that to be good and kind is the first step towards doing God's
work; but who are too modest, too ignorant, and sometimes too indolent
to aspire to any second step, or even to inquire what the second step
may be. The poor in his parish loved him and preyed upon him. He gave
and gave, even after he had no more that he had a right to give.

"He was not by any means a rich man, although he had a little property
besides his benefice; but he managed to send me to Oxford. Inheriting,
as I suspect, a little tendency to extravagance; having at least no love
of money except for what it would bring; and seeing how easily money
might be raised there for need true or false, I gradually learned to
think less and less of the burdens grievous to be borne, which a
subjection to Mammon will accumulate on the shoulders of the
unsuspecting ass. I think the old man of the sea in _Sindbad the
Sailor_, must personify debt. At least _I_ have found reason to
think so. At the same time I wish I had done nothing worse than run into
debt. Yet by far the greater part of it was incurred for the sake of
having works of art about me. Of course pictures were out of the
question; but good engravings and casts were within the reach of a
borrower. At least it was not for the sake of whip-handles and trowsers,
that I fell into the clutches of Moses Melchizedek, for that was the
name of the devil to whom I betrayed my soul for money. Emulation,
however, mingled with the love of art; and I must confess too, that
cigars costs me money as well as pictures; and as I have already hinted,
there was worse behind. But some things we can only speak to God about.

"I shall never forget the oily face of the villain - may God save him,
and then he'll be no villain! - as he first hinted that he would lend me
any money I might want, upon certain insignificant conditions, such as
signing for a hundred and fifty, where I should receive only a hundred.
The sunrise of the future glowed so golden, that it seemed to me the
easiest thing in the world to pay my debts _there_. Here, there was
what I wanted, cigars and all. There, there must be gold, else whence
the hue? I could pay all my debts in the future, with the utmost ease.
_How_ was no matter. I borrowed and borrowed. I flattered myself,
besides, that in the things I bought I held money's worth; which, in the
main, would have been true, if I had been a dealer in such things; but a
mere owner can seldom get the worth of what he possesses, especially
when he cannot choose but sell, and has no choice of his market. So
when, horrified at last with the filth of the refuge into which I had
run to escape the bare walls of heaven, I sold off everything but a few
of my pet books" - here he glanced lovingly round his humble study, where
shone no glories of print or cast - "which I ought to have sold as well,
I found myself still a thousand pounds in debt.

"Now although I had never had a thousand pounds from Melchizedek, I had
known perfectly well what I was about. I had been deluded, but not
cheated; and in my deep I saw yet a lower depth, into which I
_would_ not fall - for then I felt I should be lost indeed - that of
in any way repudiating my debts. But what was to be done I had no idea.

"I had studied for the church, and I now took holy orders. I had a few
pounds a year from my mother's property, which all went in part-payment
of the interest of my debt, I dared not trouble my father with any
communication on the subject of my embarrassment, for I knew that he
could not help me, and that the impossibility of doing so would make him
more unhappy than the wrong I had done in involving myself. I seized the
first offer of a curacy that presented itself. Its emoluments were just
one hundred pounds a-year, of which I had _not_ to return twenty
pounds, as some curates have had to do. Out of this I had to pay one
half, in interest for the thousand pounds. On the other half, and the
trifle my mother allowed me, I contrived to live.

"But the debt continued undiminished. It lay upon me as a mountain might
crush a little Titan. There was no cracking frost, no cutting stream, to
wear away, by slowest trituration, that mountain of folly and
wickedness. But what I suffered most from was the fact, that I must seem
to the poor of my parish unsympathetic and unkind. For although I still
managed to give away a little, it seemed to me such a small shabby sum,
every time that I drew my hand from my pocket, in which perhaps I had
left still less, that it was with a positive feeling of shame that I
offered it. There was no high generosity in this. It was mostly
selfish - the effect of the transmission of my father's blind
benevolence, working as an impulse in me. But it made me wretched. Add
to this a feeling of hypocrisy, in the knowledge that I, the dispenser
of sacred things to the people, was myself the slave of a money-lending
Jew, and you will easily see how my life could not be to me the reality
which it must be, for any true and healthy action, to every man. In a
word, I felt that I was humbug. As to my preaching, that could not have
had much reality in it of any kind, for I had no experience yet of the
relation of Christian Faith to Christian Action. In fact, I regarded
them as separable - not merely as distinguishable, in the necessity which
our human nature, itself an analysis of the divine, has for analysing
itself. I respected everything connected with my profession, which I
regarded as in itself eminently respectable; but, then, it was only the
profession I respected, and I was only _doing church_ at best. I
have since altered my opinion about the profession, as such; and while I
love my work with all my heart, I do not care to think about its worldly
relations at all. The honour is to be a servant of men, whom God thought
worth making, worth allowing to sin, and worth helping out of it at such
a cost. But as far as regards the _profession_, is it a manly kind
of work, to put on a white gown once a week, and read out of a book; and
then put on a black gown, and read out of a paper you bought or wrote;
all about certain old time-honoured legends which have some influence in
keeping the common people on their good behaviour, by promising them
happiness after they are dead, if they are respectable, and everlasting
torture if they are blackguards? Is it manly?"

"You are scarcely fair to the profession even as such, Mr. Armstrong," I

"That's what I _feel_ about it," he answered. "Look here," he went
on, holding out a brawny right arm, with muscles like a prize-fighter's,
"they may laugh at what, by a happy hit, they have called muscular
christianity - I for one don't object to being laughed at - but I ask you,
is that work fit for a man to whom God has given an arm like that? I
declare to you, Smith, I would rather work in the docks, and leave the
_churching_ to the softs and dandies; for then I should be able to
respect myself as giving work for my bread, instead of drawing so many
pounds a-year for talking _goody_ to old wives and sentimental
young ladies; - for over men who are worth anything, such a man has no
influence. God forbid that I should be disrespectful to old women, or
even sentimental young ladies! They are worth _serving_ with a
man's whole heart, but not worth pampering. I am speaking of the
profession as professed by a mere clergyman - one in whom the
professional predominates."

"But you can't use those splendid muscles of yours in the church."

"But I can give up the use of them for something better and nobler. They
indicate work; but if I can do real spiritual instead of corporeal work,
I rise in the scale. I sacrifice my thews on the altar of my faith. But
by the mere clergyman, there is no work done to correspond - I do not say
to _his_ capacity for work - but to the capacity for work indicated
by such a frame as mine - work of some sort, if not of the higher poetic
order, then of the lower porter-sort. But if there be a living God, who
is doing all he can to save men, to make them pure and noble and high,
humble and loving and true, to make them live the life he cares to live
himself; if he has revealed and is revealing this to men, and needs for
his purpose the work of their fellow-men, who have already seen and
known this purpose, surely there is no nobler office than that of a
parson; for to him is committed the grand work of letting men see the
thoughts of God, and the work of God - in a word, of telling the story of
Jesus, so that men shall see how true it is for _now_, how
beautiful it is for _ever_; and recognize it as in fact _the_
story of God. Then a clergyman has simply to be more of a man than other
men; whereas if he be but a clergyman, he is less of a man than any
other man who does honestly the work he has to do, whether he be
farm-labourer, shoemaker, or shopkeeper. For such a work, a man may well
pine in a dungeon, or starve in a curacy; yea, for such a work, a man
will endure the burden of having to dispense the wealth of a bishopric
after a divine fashion."

"But your story?" I said at last, unwilling as I was to interrupt his

"Yes. This brings me back to it. Here was I starving for no high
principle, only for the common-place one of paying my debts; and paying
my debts out of the church's money too, for which, scanty as it was, I
gave wretched labour - reading prayers as neatly as I could, and
preaching sermons half evangelical, half scholastic, of the most unreal
and uninteresting sort; feeling all the time hypocritical, as I have
already said; and without the farthest prospect of deliverance.

"Then I fell in love."

"Worse and worse!"

"So it seemed; but so it wasn't - like a great many things. At all
events, she's down stairs now, busy at a baby's frock, I believe; God
bless her! Lizzie is the daughter of a lieutenant in the army, who died
before I knew her. She was living with her mother and elder sister, on a
very scanty income, in the village where I had the good fortune to be
the unhappy curate. I believe I was too unhappy to make myself agreeable
to the few young ladies of my congregation, which is generally
considered one of the first duties of a curate, in order, no doubt, to
secure their co-operation in his charitable schemes; and certainly I do
not think I received any great attention from them - certainly not from
Lizzie. I thought she pitied and rather despised me. I don't know
whether she did, but I still suspect it. I am thankful to say I have no
ground for thinking she does now. But we have been through a kind of a
moderate burning fiery furnace together, and that brings out the sense,
and burns out the nonsense, in both men and women. Not that Lizzie had
much nonsense to be burned out of her, as you will soon see.

"I had often been fool enough to wonder that, while she was most
attentive and devout during the reading of the service, her face
assumed, during the sermon, a far off look of abstraction, that
indicated no reception of what I said, further than as an influence of
soporific quality. I felt that there was re-proof in this. In fact, it
roused my conscience yet more, and made me doubt whether there was
anything genuine in me at all. Sometimes I felt as if I really could not
go on, but must shut up my poor manuscript, which was 'an ill-favoured
thing, sir, but mine own,' and come down from the pulpit, and beg Miss
Lizzie Payton's pardon for presuming to read it in her presence. At
length that something, or rather want of something, in her quiet
unregarding eyes, aroused a certain opposition, ambition, indignation in
me. I strove to write better, and to do better generally. Every good
sentence, I launched at her - I don't quite know whether I aimed at her
heart or her head - I fear the latter; but I know that I looked after my
arrow with a hurried glance, to see whether it had reached the mark.
Seldom, however, did I find that my bow had had the strength to arouse
Miss Lizzie from the somniculose condition which, in my bitterness, I
attributed to her. Since then I have frequently tried to bring home to
her the charge, and wring from her the confession that, occasionally,
just occasionally, she was really overpowered by the weather. But she
has never admitted more than one such lapse, which, happening in a hard
frost, and the church being no warmer than condescension, she wickedly
remarked must have been owing, not to the weight of the atmosphere, but
the weight of something else. At length, in my anxiety for
self-justification, I persuaded myself that her behaviour was a sign of
spiritual insensibility; that she needed conversion; that she looked
with contempt from the far-off table-lands of the Broad church, or the
dizzy pinnacles of snow-clad Puseyism, upon the humble efforts of one
who followed in the footsteps of the first fishers of men - for such I
tried, in my self-protection, to consider myself.

"One day, I happened to meet her in a retired lane near the village. She
was carrying a jug in her hand.

"'How do you do, Miss Lizzie? A labour of love?' I said, ass that I was!

"'Yes,' she answered; 'I've been over to Farmer Dale's, to fetch some
cream for mamma's tea.'

"She knew well enough I had meant a ministration to the poor.

"'Oh! I beg your pardon,' I rejoined; 'I thought you had been round your

"This was wicked; for I knew quite well that she had no district.

"'No,' she answered, 'I leave that to my sister. Mamma is my district.
And do you know, her headaches are as painful as any washerwoman's.'

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 1 of 12)