George MacDonald.

Adela Cathcart, Volume 2 online

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a letter arrived, addressed to her; which he, thinking he might prevent
some inconvenience thereby, opened and read, in the confidence of that
love which already made her and all belonging to her appear his own.
It was from a soldier - _her lover_. It was plain that they had been
betrothed before he left for the continent a year ago; but this was the
first letter which he had written to her. It breathed changeless love,
and hope, and confidence in her. He was so fascinated that he read it
through without pause.

"Laying it down, he sat pale, motionless, almost inanimate. From the
hard-won sunny heights, he was once more cast down into the shadow of
death. The second storm of his life began, howling and raging, with yet
more awful lulls between. "Is she not _mine_?" he said, in agony.
"Do I not feel that she is mine? Who will watch over her as I? Who will
kiss her soul to life as I? Shall she be torn away from me, when my soul
seems to have dwelt with hers for ever in an eternal house? But have
I not a right to her? Have I not given my life for hers? Is he not a
soldier, and are there not many chances that he may never return? And it
may be that, although they were engaged in word, soul has never touched
soul with them; their love has never reached that point where it passes
from the mortal to the immortal, the indissoluble: and so, in a sense,
she may be yet free. Will he do for her what I will do? Shall this
precious heart of hers, in which I see the buds of so many beauties,
be left to wither and die?"

"But here the voice within him cried out, "Art thou the disposer of
destinies? Wilt thou, in a universe where the visible God hath died
for the Truth's sake, do evil that a good, which He might neglect or
overlook, may be gained? Leave thou her to Him, and do thou right."
And he said within himself, "Now is the real trial for my life! Shall
I conquer or no?" And his heart awoke and cried, "I will. God forgive
me for wronging the poor soldier! A brave man, brave at least, is better
for her than I."

"A great strength arose within him, and lifted him up to depart. "Surely
I may kiss her once," he said. For the crisis was over, and she slept.
He stooped towards her face, but before he had reached her lips he saw
her eyelids tremble; and he who had longed for the opening of those
eyes, as of the gates of heaven, that she might love him, stricken now
with fear lest she should love him, fled from her, before the eyelids
that hid such strife and such victory from the unconscious maiden had
time to unclose. But it was agony - quietly to pack up his bundle of
linen in the room below, when he knew she was lying awake above, with
her dear, pale face, and living eyes! What remained of his money, except
a few shillings, he put up in a scrap of paper, and went out with his
bundle in his hand, first to seek a nurse for his friend, and then to go
he knew not whither. He met the factory people with whom he had worked,
going to dinner, and amongst them a girl who had herself but lately
recovered from the fever, and was yet hardly able for work. She was the
only friend the sick girl had seemed to have amongst the women at the
factory, and she was easily persuaded to go and take charge of her.
He put the money in her hand, begging her to use it for the invalid,
and promising to send the equivalent of her wages for the time he thought
she would have to wait on her. This he easily did by the sale of a ring,
which, besides his mother's watch, was the only article of value he had
retained. He begged her likewise not to mention his name in the matter;
and was foolish enough to expect that she would entirely keep the
promise she had made him.

"Wandering along the street, purposeless now and bereft, he spied a
recruiting party at the door of a public-house; and on coming nearer,
found, by one of those strange coincidences which do occur in life,
and which have possibly their root in a hidden and wondrous law, that
it was a party, perhaps a remnant, of the very regiment in which he
had himself served, and in which his misfortune had befallen him. Almost
simultaneously with the shock which the sight of the well-known number
on the soldiers' knapsacks gave him, arose in his mind the romantic,
ideal thought, of enlisting in the ranks of this same regiment, and
recovering, as a private soldier and unknown, that honour which as
officer he had lost. To this determination, the new necessity in which
he now stood for action and change of life, doubtless contributed,
though unconsciously. He offered himself to the sergeant; and,
notwithstanding that his dress indicated a mode of life unsuitable as
the antecedent to a soldier's, his appearance, and the necessity for
recruits combined, led to his easy acceptance.

"The English armies were employed in expelling the enemy from an invaded
and helpless country. Whatever might be the political motives which had
induced the Government to this measure, the young man was now able to
feel that he could go and fight, individually and for his part, in the
cause of liberty. He was free to possess his own motives for joining
in the execution of the schemes of those who commanded his commanders.

"With a heavy heart, but with more of inward hope and strength than he
had ever known before, he marched with his comrades to the seaport and
embarked. It seemed to him that because he had done right in his last
trial, here was a new glorious chance held out to his hand. True, it
was a terrible change to pass from a woman in whom he had hoped to
find healing, into the society of rough men, to march with them, "_mit
gleichem Tritt und Schritt_," up to the bristling bayonets or the
horrid vacancy of the cannon mouth. But it was the only cure for the
evil that consumed his life.

"He reached the army in safety, and gave himself, with religious
assiduity, to the smallest duties of his new position. No one had a
brighter polish on his arms, or whiter belts than he. In the necessary
movements, he soon became precise to a degree that attracted the
attention of his officers; while his character was remarkable for
all the virtues belonging to a perfect soldier.

"One day, as he stood sentry, he saw the eyes of his colonel intently
fixed on him. He felt his lip quiver, but he compressed and stilled it,
and tried to look as unconscious as he could; which effort was assisted
by the formal bearing required by his position. Now the colonel,
such had been the losses of the regiment, had been promoted from a
lieutenancy in the same, and had belonged to it at the time of the
ensign's degradation. Indeed, had not the changes in the regiment
been so great, he could hardly have escaped so long without discovery.
But the poor fellow would have felt that his name was already free of
reproach, if he had seen what followed on the close inspection which
had awakened his apprehensions, and which, in fact, had convinced the
colonel of his identity with the disgraced ensign. With a hasty and less
soldierly step than usual the colonel entered his tent, threw himself
on his bed and wept like a child. When he rose he was overheard to say
these words - and these only escaped his lips: 'He is nobler than I.'

"But this officer showed himself worthy of commanding such men as this
private; for right nobly did he understand and meet his feelings. He
uttered no word of the discovery he had made, till years afterwards;
but it soon began to be remarked that whenever anything arduous, or in
any manner distinguished, had to be done, this man was sure to be of
the party appointed. In short, as often as he could, the colonel "set
him in the forefront of the battle." Passing through all with wonderful
escape, he was soon as much noticed for his reckless bravery, as hitherto
for his precision in the discharge of duties bringing only commendation
and not honour. But his final lustration was at hand.

"A great part of the army was hastening, by forced marches, to raise
the siege of a town which was already on the point of falling into the
hands of the enemy. Forming one of a reconnoitring party, which preceded
the main body at some considerable distance, he and his companions came
suddenly upon one of the enemy's outposts, occupying a high, and on one
side precipitous rock, a short way from the town, which it commanded.
Retreat was impossible, for they were already discovered, and the
bullets were falling amongst them like the first of a hail-storm. The
only possibility of escape remaining for them was a nearly hopeless
improbability. It lay in forcing the post on this steep rock; which if
they could do before assistance came to the enemy, they might, perhaps,
be able to hold out, by means of its defences, till the arrival of the
army. Their position was at once understood by all; and, by a sudden,
simultaneous impulse, they found themselves half-way up the steep
ascent, and in the struggle of a close conflict, without being aware
of any order to that effect from their officer. But their courage was
of no avail; the advantages of the place were too great; and in a few
minutes the whole party was cut to pieces, or stretched helpless on
the rock. Our youth had fallen amongst the foremost; for a musket ball
had grazed his skull, and laid him insensible.

"But consciousness slowly returned, and he succeeded at last in raising
himself and looking around him. The place was deserted. A few of his
friends, alive, but grievously wounded, lay near him. The rest were
dead. It appeared that, learning the proximity of the English forces
from this rencontre with part of their advanced guard, and dreading
lest the town, which was on the point of surrendering, should after
all be snatched from their grasp, the commander of the enemy's forces
had ordered an immediate and general assault; and had for this purpose
recalled from their outposts the whole of his troops thus stationed,
that he might make the attempt with the utmost strength he could

"As the youth's power of vision returned, he perceived, from the height
where he he lay, that the town was already in the hands of the enemy.
But looking down into the level space immediately below him, he started
to his feet at once; for a girl, bare-headed, was fleeing towards the
rock, pursued by several soldiers. "Aha!" said he, divining her
purpose - the soldiers behind and the rock before her - "I will help you
to die!" And he stooped and wrenched from the dead fingers of a sergeant
the sword which they clenched by the bloody hilt. A new throb of life
pulsed through him to his very finger-tips; and on the brink of the
unseen world he stood, with the blood rushing through his veins in a
wild dance of excitement. One who lay near him wounded, but recovered
afterwards, said that he looked like one inspired. With a keen eye he
watched the chase. The girl drew nigh; and rushed up the path near which
he was standing. Close on her footsteps came the soldiers, the distance
gradually lessening between them.

"Not many paces higher up, was a narrower part of the ascent, where
the path was confined by great stones, or pieces of rock. Here had been
the chief defence in the preceding assault, and in it lay many bodies
of his friends. Thither he went and took his stand.

"On the girl came, over the dead, with rigid hands and flying feet,
the bloodless skin drawn tight on her features, and her eyes awfully
large and wild. She did not see him though she bounded past so near
that her hair flew in his eyes. "Never mind!" said he, "we shall meet
soon." And he stepped into the narrow path just in time to face her
pursuers - between her and them. Like the red lightning the bloody
sword fell, and a man beneath it. Cling! clang! went the echoes in
the rocks - and another man was down; for, in his excitement, he was
a destroying angel to the breathless pursuers. His stature rose, his
chest dilated; and as the third foe fell dead, the girl was safe;
for her body lay a broken, empty, but undesecrated temple, at the foot
of the rock. That moment his sword flew in shivers from his grasp.
The next instant he fell, pierced to the heart; and his spirit rose
triumphant, free, strong, and calm, above the stormy world, which at
length lay vanquished beneath him."

* * * * *

"A capital story!" cried our host, the moment the curate had ceased
reading. "But you should not have killed him. You should have made a
general of him. By heaven! he deserved it."

Mr. Armstrong was evidently much pleased that the colonel so heartily
sympathized with his tale. And every one else added some words of
commendation. I could not help thinking with myself that he had only
embodied the story of his own life in other more striking forms. But I
knew that, if I said so, he would laugh at me, and answer that all he
had done was quite easy to do - he had found no difficulty in it; whereas
this man was a hero and did the thing that he found very difficult
indeed. Still I was sure that the story was at least the outgrowth of
his own mind.

"May we ask," I said, "how much of the tale is fact?"

"I am sorry it is not all fact," he answered.

"Tell us how much, then," I said.

"Well, I will tell you what made me write it. I heard an old lady at a
dinner-table mention that she had once known a young officer who had his
sword broken over his head, and was dismissed from the army, for
cowardice. I began trying first to understand his feelings; then to see
how the thing could have happened; and then to discover what could be
done for him. And hence the story. That was all, I am sorry to say."

"I thought as much," I rejoined.

"Will you excuse me if I venture to make a remark?" said Mrs.

"With all my heart," answered the curate.

"It seemed to me that there was nothing Christian in the story. And I
cannot help feeling that a clergyman might, therefore, have done

"I allow that in words there is nothing Christian," answered Mr.
Armstrong; "and I am quite ready to allow also that it might have been
better if something of the kind you mean had been expressed in it. The
whole thing, however, is only a sketch. But I cannot allow that, in
spirit and scope, it is anything other than Christian, or indeed
anything but Christian. It seems to me that the whole might be used as a
Christian parable."

While the curate spoke, I had seen Adela's face flush; but the cause was
not _visible_ to me. As he uttered the last words, a hand was laid
on his shoulder, and Harry's voice said:

"At your parables again, Ralph?"

He had come in so gently that the only sign of his entrance had been the
rose-light on Adela's cheeks. - Was he the sun? And was she a cloud of
the east?

"Glad to see you safe amongst us again," said the colonel, backed by
almost every one of the company.

"What's your quarrel with my parables, Harry?" said the curate.

"Quarrel? None at all. They are the delight of my heart. I only wish
you would give our friends one of your best - _The Castle_, for

"Not yet a while, Harry. It is not my turn for some time, I hope.
Perhaps Miss Cathcart will be tired of the whole affair, before it
comes round to me again."

"Then I shall deserve to be starved of stories all the rest of my life,"
answered Adela, laughing.

"If you will allow me, then," said Harry, "I will give you a parable,
called _The Lost Church_, from the German poet, Uhland."

"Softly, Harry," said his brother; "you are ready enough with what is
not yours to give; but where is your own story that you promised, and
which indeed we should have a right to demand, whether you had promised
it or not?"

"I am working at it, Ralph, in my spare moments, which are not very
many; and I want to choose the right sort of night to tell it in, too.
This one wouldn't do at all. There's no moon."

"If it is a horrid story, it is a pity you did not read it last time,
before you set out to cross the moor."

"Oh, that night would not have done at all. A night like that drives all
fear out of one's head. But indeed it is not finished yet. - May I repeat
the parable now, Miss Cathcart?"

"What do you mean by a _parable_, Mr. Henry?" interrupted Mrs.
Cathcart. "It sounds rather profane to me."

"I mean a picture in words, where more is meant than meets the ear."

"But why call it a parable?"

"Because it is one."

"Why not speak in plain words then?"

"Because a good parable is plainer than the plainest words. You remember
what Tennyson says - that

'truth embodied in a tale
Shall enter in at lowly doors'?"

"Goethe," said the curate, "has a little parable about poems, which is
equally true about parables -

'Poems are painted window-panes.
If one looks from the square into the church,
Dusk and dimness are his gains -
Sir Philistine is left in the lurch.
The sight, so seen, may well enrage him,
Nor any words henceforth assuage him.

But come just inside what conceals;
Cross the holy threshold quite -
All at once,'tis rainbow-bright;
Device and story flash to light;
A gracious splendour truth reveals.
This, to God's children, is full measure;
It edifies and gives them pleasure.'"

"I can't follow that," said Adela.

"I will write it out for you," said Harry; "and then you will be able
to follow it perfectly."

"Thank you very much. Now for your parable."

"It is called _The Lost Church_; and I assure you it is full of

"I hope I shall be able to find it out."

"You will find the more the longer you think about it.

'Oft in the far wood, overhead,
Tones of a bell are heard obscurely;
How old the sounds no sage has said,
Or yet explained the story surely.
From the lost church, the legend saith,
Out on the winds, the ringing goeth;
Once full of pilgrims was the path -
Now where to find it, no one knoweth.

Deep in the wood I lately went,
Where no foot-trodden path is lying;
From the time's woe and discontent,
My heart went forth to God in sighing.
When in the forest's wild repose,
I heard the ringing somewhat clearer;
The higher that my longing rose,
Downward it rang the fuller, nearer.

So on its thoughts my heart did brood,
My sense was with the sound so busy,
That I have never understood
How I clomb up the height so dizzy.
To me it seemed a hundred years
Had passed away in dreaming, sighing -
When lo! high o'er the clouds, appears
An open space in sunlight lying.

The heaven, dark-blue, above it bowed;
The sun shone o'er it, large and glowing;
Beneath, a ministers structure proud
Stood in the gold light, golden showing.
It seemed on those great clouds, sun-clear,
Aloft to hover, as on pinions;
Its spire-point seemed to disappear,
Melting away in high dominions.

The bell's clear tones, entrancing, full -
The quivering tower, they, booming, swung it;
No human hand the rope did pull -
The holy storm-winds sweeping rung it.
The storm, the stream, came down, came near,
And seized my heart with longing holy;
Into the church I went, with fear,
With trembling step, and gladness lowly.

The threshold crossed - I cannot show
What in me moved; words cannot paint it.
Both dark and clear, the windows glow
With noble forms of martyrs sainted.
I gazed and saw - transfigured glory!
The pictures swell and break their barriers;
I saw the world and all its story
Of holy women, holy warriors.

Down at the altar I sank slowly;
My heart was like the face of Stephen.
Aloft, upon the arches holy,
Shone out in gold the glow of heaven.
I prayed; I looked again; and lo!
The dome's high sweep had flown asunder;
The heavenly gates wide open go;
And every veil unveils a wonder.

What gloriousness I then beheld,
Kneeling in prayer, silent and wondrous,
What sounds triumphant on me swelled,
Like organs and like trumpets thunderous -
My mortal words can never tell;
But who for such is sighing sorest,
Let him give heed unto the bell
That dimly soundeth in the forest.'"

"Splendid!" cried the schoolmaster, with enthusiasm.

"What is the lost church?" asked Mrs. Cathcart.

"No one can tell, but him who finds it, like the poet," answered the

"But I suppose _you_ at least consider it the Church of England,"
returned the lady with one of her sweetest attempts at a smile.

"God forbid!" exclaimed the clergyman, with a kind of sacred horror.

"Not the Church of England!" cried Mrs. Cathcart, in a tone of horror
likewise, dashed with amazement.

"No, madam - the Church of God; the great cathedral-church of the
universe; of which Church I trust the Church of England is a little

"God bless you, Mr. Armstrong!" cried the schoolmaster.

The colonel likewise showed some sign of emotion. Mrs. Cathcart looked
set-down and indignant. Percy stared. Adela and Harry looked at each

"Whoever finds God in his own heart," said the clergyman, solemnly,
"has found the lost Church - the Church of God."

And he looked at Adela as he spoke. She cast down her eyes, and thanked
him with her heart.

A silence followed.

"Harry, you must come up with your story next time - positively," said
Mr. Armstrong at length.

"I don't think I can. I cannot undertake to do so, at all events."

"Then what is to be done? - I have it. Lizzie, my dear, you have got
that story you wrote once for a Christmas paper, have you not?"

"Yes, I have, Ralph; but that is far too slight a thing to be worth
reading here."

"It will do at least to give Harry a chance for his. I mustn't praise
it 'afore fowk,' you know."

"But it was never quite finished - at least so people said."

"Well, you can finish it to-morrow well enough."

"I haven't time."

"You needn't be working at that - all day long and every day. There is
no such hurry."

The blank indicates a certain cessation of intelligible sound occasioned
by the close application of Lizzie's palm to Ralph's lips. She did not,
dare, however, to make any further opposition to his request.

"I think we have some claim on you, Mrs. Armstrong," said the host. "It
will be my sister's turn next time, and after that Percy's."

Percy gave a great laugh; and his mother said, with a slight toss of her

"I am not so fond of being criticised myself!"

"Has criticism been _your_ occupation, Mrs. Cathcart," I said,
"during our readings? If so, then indeed we have a claim on you greater
than I had supposed."

She could not hide some degree of confusion and annoyance. But I had had
my revenge, and I had no wish for her story; so I said nothing more.

We parted with the understanding that Mrs. Armstrong would read her
story on the following Monday.

Again, before he took his leave, Mr. Harry had a little therapeutic
_tete-a-tete_ with Miss Adela, which lasted about two minutes, Mrs.
Cathcart watching them every second of the time, with her eyes as round
and wide as she could make them, for they were by nature very long, and
by art very narrow, for she rarely opened them to any width at all. They
were not pleasant eyes, those eyes of Mrs. Cathcart's. Percy's were like
them, only better, for though they had a reddish tinge, he did open them



"Why don't you write a story, Percy?" said his mother to him next
morning at breakfast.

"Plenty of quill-driving at Somerset-House, mother. I prefer something
else in the holidays."

"But I don't like to see you showing to disadvantage, Percy," said his
uncle kindly. "Why don't you try?"

"The doctor-fellow hasn't read one yet. And I don't think he will."

"Have patience. I think he will."

"I don't care. I don't want to hear it. It's all a confounded bore.
They're nothing but goody humbug, or sentimental whining. His would
be sure to smell of black draught. I'm not partial to drugs."

The mother frowned, and the uncle tried to smile kindly and excusingly.
Percy rose and left the room.

"You see he's jealous of the doctor," remarked his mother, with an
upward toss of the head.

The colonel did not reply, and I ventured no remark.

"There is a vein of essential vulgarity in both the brothers," said
the lady.

"I don't think so," returned the colonel; and there the conversation

Adela was practising at her piano the greater part of the day. The
weather would not admit of a walk.

When we were all seated once more for our reading and Mrs. Armstrong had
her paper in her hand, after a little delay of apparent irresolution,

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 10 of 12)