George MacDonald.

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the window in the rear of the litter, and settling down upon the snow
beneath. Away they went, a gliding blackness over the white carpet, as
before. And it was Christmas Eve.

"When they came in sight of the mountain-lake, the king saw that it was
crowded over its whole surface with a changeful intermingling of
Shadows. They were all talking and listening alternately, in pairs,
trios, and groups of every size. Here and there, large companies were
absorbed in attention to one elevated above the rest, not in a pulpit,
or on a platform, but on the stilts of his own legs, elongated for the
nonce. The aurora, right overhead, lighted up the lake and the sides of
the mountains, by sending down from the zenith, nearly to the surface of
the lake, great folded vapours, luminous with all the colours of a faint

"Many, however, as the words were that passed on all sides, not a
whisper of a sound reached the ears of the king: their shadow speech
could not enter his corporeal organs. One of his guides, however, seeing
that the king wanted to hear and could not, went through a strange
manipulation of his head and ears; after which he could hear perfectly,
though still only the voice to which, for the time, he directed his
attention. This, however, was a great advantage, and one which the king
longed to carry back with him to the world of men.

"The king now discovered that this was not merely the church of the
Shadows, but their news-exchange at the same time. For, as the Shadows
have no writing or printing, the only way in which they can make each
other acquainted with their doings and thinkings, is to meet and talk at
this word-mart and parliament of shades. And as, in the world, people
read their favourite authors, and listen to their favourite speakers, so
here the Shadows seek their favourite Shadows, listen to their
adventures, and hear generally what they have to say.

"Feeling quite strong, the king rose and walked about amongst them,
wrapped in his ermine robe, with his red crown on his head, and his
diamond sceptre in his hand. Every group of Shadows to which he drew
near, ceased talking as soon as they saw him approach; but at a nod they
went on again directly, conversing and relating and commenting, as if no
one was there of other kind or of higher rank than themselves. So the
king heard a good many stories, at some of which he laughed, and at some
of which he cried. But if the stories that the Shadows told were
printed, they would make a book that no publisher could produce fast
enough to satisfy the buyers. I will record some of the things that the
king heard, for he told them to me soon after. In fact, I was for some
time his private secretary, and that is how I come to know all about his

"'I made him confess before a week was over,' said a gloomy old Shadow.

"'But what was the good of that?' said a pert young one; 'that could not
undo what was done.'

"'Yes, it might.'

"'What! bring the dead to life?'

"'No; but comfort the murderer. I could not bear to see the pitiable
misery he was in. He was far happier with the rope round his neck, than
he was with the purse in his pocket. I saved him from killing himself

"'How did you make him confess?'

"'Only by wallowing on the wall a little.'

"'How could that make him tell?'

"'_He_ knows.'

"He was silent; and the king turned to another.

"'I made a fashionable mother repent.'

"'How?' broke from several voices, in whose sound was mingled a touch of

"'Only by making a little coffin on the wall,' was the reply.

"'Did the fashionable mother then confess?'

"'She had nothing more to confess than everybody knew.'

"'What did everybody know then?'

"'That she might have been kissing a living child, when she followed a
dead one to the grave. - The next will fare better.'

"'I put a stop to a wedding,' said another.

"'Horrid shade!' remarked a poetic imp.

"'How?' said others. 'Tell us how.'

"'Only by throwing a darkness, as if from the branch of a sconce, over
the forehead of a fair girl. - They are not married yet, and I do not
think they will be. But I loved the youth who loved her. How he started!
It was a revelation to him.'

"'But did it not deceive him?'

"'Quite the contrary.'

"'But it was only a shadow from the outside, not a shadow coming through
from the soul of the girl.'

"'Yes. You may say so. But it was all that was wanted to let the meaning
of her forehead come out - yes, of her whole face, which had now and
then, in the pauses of his passion, perplexed the youth. All of it,
curled nostrils, pouting lips, projecting chin, instantly fell into
harmony with that darkness between her eyebrows. The youth understood it
in a moment, and went home miserable. And they're not married

"'I caught a toper alone, over his magnum of port,' said a very dark
Shadow; 'and didn't I give it him! I made _delirium tremens_ first;
and then I settled into a funeral, passing slowly along the whole of the
dining-room wall. I gave him plenty of plumes and mourning coaches. And
then I gave him a funeral service, but I could not manage to make the
surplice white, which was all the better for such a sinner. The wretch
stared till his face passed from purple to grey, and actually left his
fifth glass only, unfinished, and took refuge with his wife and children
in the drawing-room, much to their surprise. I believe he actually drank
a cup of tea; and although I have often looked in again, I have never
seen him drinking alone at least.'

"'But does he drink less? Have you done him any good?'

"'I hope so; but I am sorry to say I can't feel sure about it.'

"'Humph! Humph! Humph!' grunted various shadow throats.

"'I had such fun once!' cried another. 'I made such game of a young

"'You have no right to make game of any one.'

"'Oh yes, I have - when it is for his good. He used to study his
sermons - where do you think?'

"'In his study, of course.'

"'Yes and no. Guess again.'

"'Out amongst the faces in the streets.'

"'Guess again.'

"'In still green places in the country?'

"'Guess again.'

"'In old books?'

"'Guess again.'

"'No, no. Tell us.'

"'In the looking glass. Ha! ha! ha!'

"'He was fair game; fair shadow-game.'

"'I thought so. And I made such fun of him one night on the wall! He had
sense enough to see that it was himself, and very like an ape. So he got
ashamed, turned the mirror with its face to the wall, and thought a
little more about his people, and a little less about himself. I was
very glad; for, please you majesty,' - and here the speaker turned
towards the king - 'we don't like the creatures that live in the mirrors.
You call them ghosts, don't you?'

"Before the king could reply, another had commenced. But the mention of
the clergyman made the king wish to hear one of the shadow-sermons. So
he turned him towards a long Shadow, who was preaching to a very quiet
and listening crowd. He was just concluding his sermon.

"Therefore, dear Shadows, it is the more needful that we love one
another as much as we can, because that is not much. We have no excuse
for not loving as mortals have, for we do not die like them. I suppose
it is the thought of that death that makes them hate so much. Then
again, we go to sleep all day, most of us, and not in the night, as men
do. And you know that we forget every thing that happened the night
before; therefore, we ought to love well, for the love is short. Ah!
dear Shadow, whom I love now with all my shadowy soul, I shall not love
thee to-morrow eve, I shall not know thee; I shall pass thee in the
crowd and never dream that the Shadow whom I now love is near me then.
Happy Shades! for we only remember our tales until we have told them
here, and then they vanish in the shadow-churchyard, where we bury only
our dead selves. Ah! brethren, who would be a man and remember? Who
would be a man and weep? We ought indeed to love one another, for we
alone inherit oblivion; we alone are renewed with eternal birth; we
alone have no gathered weight of years. I will tell you the awful fate
of one Shadow who rebelled against his nature, and sought to remember
the past. He said, 'I _will_ remember this eve.' He fought with the
genial influences of kindly sleep when the sun rose on the awful dead
day of light; and although he could not keep quite awake, he dreamed of
the foregone eve, and he never forgot his dream. Then he tried again the
next night, and the next and the next; and he tempted another Shadow to
try it with him. At last their awful fate overtook them; and, instead of
being Shadows any longer, they began to have shadows sticking to them;
and they thickened and thickened till they vanished out of our world;
and they are now condemned to walk the earth, a man and a woman, with
death behind them, and memories within them. Ah, brother Shades! let us
love one another, for we shall soon forget. We are not men, but

"The king turned away, and pitied the poor Shadows far more than they
pitied men.

"'Oh! how we played with a musician one night!' exclaimed one of another
group, to which the king had directed a passing thought. He stopped to
listen. - 'Up and down we went, like the hammers and dampers on his
piano. But he took his revenge on us. For after he had watched us for
half an hour in the twilight, he rose and went to his instrument, and
played a shadow-dance that fixed us all in sound for ever. Each could
tell the very notes meant for him; and as long as he played, we could
not stop, but went on dancing and dancing after the music, just as the
magician - I mean the musician - pleased. And he punished us well; for he
nearly danced us all off our legs and out of shape, into tired heaps of
collapsed and palpitating darkness. We wont go near him for some time
again, if we can only remember it. He had been very miserable all day,
he was so poor; and we could not think of any way of comforting him
except making him laugh. We did not succeed, with our best efforts; but
it turned out better than we had expected after all; for his
shadow-dance got him into notice, and he is quite popular now, and
making money fast. - If he does not take care, we shall have other work
to do with him by and by, poor fellow!'

"'I and some others did the same for a poor play-wright once. He had a
Christmas piece to write, and not being an original genius, he could
think of nothing that had not been done already twenty times. I saw the
trouble he was in, and collecting a few stray Shadows, we acted, in dumb
show of course, the funniest bit of nonsense we could think of; and it
was quite successful. The poor fellow watched every motion, roaring with
laughter at us, and delight at the ideas we put into his head. He turned
it all into words and scenes and actions; and the piece came off "with a
success unprecedented in the annals of the stage;" - at least so said the
reporter of the _Punny Palpitator_.'

* * * * *

"Now don't you try, uncle, there's a dear, to make any fun; for you know
you can't. It's always a failure," said Adela, looking as mischievous
as she could. "You can only make people cry: you can't make them laugh.
So don't try it. It hurts my feelings dreadfully when you fail; and gives
me a pain in the back of my neck besides."

I heard her with delight, but went on, saying:

"I must read what I have written, you monkey!"

* * * * *

"'But how long we have to look for a chance of doing anything worth
doing!' said a long, thin, especially lugubrious Shadow. 'I have only
done one deed worth telling, ever since we met last. But I am proud of

"'What was it? What was it?' rose from twenty voices.

"'I crept into a dining-room, one twilight, soon after last
Christmas-day. I had been drawn thither by the glow of a bright fire
through red window-curtains. At first I thought there was no one there,
and was on the point of leaving the room, and going out again into the
snowy street, when I suddenly caught the sparkle of eyes, and saw that
they belonged to a little boy who lay very still on a sofa. I crept into
a dark corner by the sideboard, and watched him. He seemed very sad, and
did nothing but stare into the fire. At last he sighed out: 'I wish
mamma would come home.' 'Poor boy!' thought I, 'there is no help for
that but mamma.' Yet I would try to while away the time for him. So out
of my corner I stretched a long shadow arm, reaching all across the
ceiling, and pretended to make a grab at him. He was rather frightened
at first; but he was a brave boy, and soon saw that it was all a joke.
So when I did it again, he made a clutch at me; and then we had such
fun! For though he often sighed, and wished mamma would come home, he
always began again with me; and on we went with the wildest game. At
last his mother's knock came to the door, and, starting up in delight,
he rushed into the hall to meet her, and forgot all about poor black me.
But I did not mind that in the least; for when I glided out after him
into the hall, I was well repaid for my trouble, by hearing his mother
say to him: 'Why, Charlie, my dear, you look ever so much better since
I left you!' At that moment I slipped through the closing door, and as
I ran across the snow, I heard the mother say: 'What shadow can that be,
passing so quickly?' And Charlie answered with a merry laugh: 'Oh!
mamma, I suppose it must be the funny shadow that has been playing such
games with me, all the time you were out.' As soon as the door was shut,
I crept along the wall, and looked in at the dining-room window. And I
heard his mamma say, as she led him into the room: 'What an imagination
the boy has!' Ha! ha! ha! Then she looked at him very earnestly for a
minute, and the tears came in her eyes; and as she stooped down over
him, I heard the sounds of a mingling kiss and sob.'"

* * * * *

"Ah, I thought so!" cried Adela, who espied, peeping, that I had this
last tale on a separate slip of paper - "I thought so! That is yours,
Mr. Armstrong, and not uncle's at all. He stole it out of your sermon."

"You are excessively troublesome to-night, Adela," I rejoined. "But I
confess the theft."

"He had quite a right to take what I had done with, Miss Cathcart," said
the curate; and once more I resumed.

* * * * *

"'I always look for nurseries full of children,' said another; 'and this
winter I have been very fortunate. I am sure we belong especially to
children. One evening, looking about in a great city, I saw through the
window into a large nursery, where the odious gas had not yet been
lighted. Round the fire sat a company of the most delightful children
I had ever seen. They were waiting patiently for their tea. It was too
good an opportunity to be lost. I hurried away, and gathering together
twenty of the best Shadows I could find, returned in a few moments to
the nursery. There we began on the walls one of our best dances. To be
sure it was mostly extemporized; but I managed to keep it in harmony by
singing this song, which I made as we went on. Of course the children
could not hear it; they only saw the motions that answered to it. But
with them they seemed to be very much delighted indeed, as I shall
presently show you. This was the song:

'Swing, swang, swingle, swuff,
Flicker, flacker, fling, fluff!
Thus we go,
To and fro;
Here and there,
Born and bred;
Never dead,
Only gone.

On! Come on.
Looming, glooming,
Spreading, fuming,
Shattering, scattering,
Parting, darting,
Settling, starting,
All our life,
Is a strife,
And a wearying for rest
On the darkness' friendly breast.

Joining, splitting,
Rising, sitting,
Laughing, shaking,
Sides all aching,
Grumbling, grim and gruff.
Swingle, swangle, swuff!

Now a knot of darkness;
Now dissolved gloom;
Now a pall of blackness
Hiding all the room.
Flicker, flacker, fluff!
Black and black enough!

Dancing now like demons;
Lying like the dead;
Gladly would we stop it,
And go down to bed!
But our work we still must do,
Shadow men, as well as you.

Rooting, rising, shooting,
Heaving, sinking, creeping;
Hid in corners crooning;
Splitting, poking, leaping,
Gathering, towering, swooning.
When we're lurking,
Yet we're working,
For our labour we must do,
Shadow men, as well as you.
Flicker, flacker, fling, fluff!
Swing, swang, swingle, swuff!'

"'How thick the Shadows are!' said one of the children - a thoughtful
little girl.

"'I wonder where they come from?' said a dreamy little boy.

"'I think they grow out of the wall,' answered the little girl; 'for I
have been watching them come; first one and then another, and then a
whole lot of them. I am sure they grow out of the walls.'

"'Perhaps they have papas and mammas,' said an older boy, with a smile.

"'Yes, yes; the doctor brings them in his pocket,' said another
consequential little maiden.

"'No; I'll tell you,' said the older boy. 'They're ghosts.'

"'But ghosts are white.'

"'Oh! these have got black coming down the chimney.'

"'No,' said a curious-looking, white-faced boy of fourteen, who had been
reading by the firelight, and had stopped to hear the little ones talk;
'they're body-ghosts; they're not soul-ghosts.'

"A silence followed, broken by the first, the dreamy-eyed boy, who said:

"'I hope they didn't make me;' at which they all burst out laughing,
just as the nurse brought in their tea. When she proceeded to light the
gas, we vanished.

"'I stopped a murder,' cried another.

"'How? How? How?'

"'I will tell you. - I had been lurking about a sick room for some time,
where a miser lay, apparently dying. I did not like the place at all,
but I felt as if I was wanted there. There were plenty of lurking places
about, for it was full of all sorts of old furniture, - especially
cabinets, chests and presses. I believe he had in that room every bit of
the property he had spent a long life in gathering. And I knew he had
lots of gold in those places; for one night, when his nurse was away, he
crept out of bed, mumbling and shaking, and managed to open one of his
chests, though he nearly fell down with the effort. I was peeping over
his shoulder, and such a gleam of gold fell upon me, that it nearly
killed me. But hearing his nurse coming, he slammed the lid down, and I
recovered. I tried very hard, but I could not do him any good. For
although I made all sorts of shapes on the walls and ceiling,
representing evil deeds that he had done, of which there were plenty to
choose from, I could make no shapes on his brain or conscience. He had
no eyes for anything but gold. And it so happened that his nurse had
neither eyes nor heart for anything else either.

"'One day as she was seated beside his bed, but where he could not see
her, stirring some gruel in a basin, to cool it from him, I saw her take
a little phial from her bosom, and I knew by the expression of her face
both what it was and what she was going to do with it. Fortunately the
cork was a little hard to get out, and this gave me one moment to think.

"'The room was so crowded with all sorts of things, that although there
were no curtains on the four-post bed to hide from the miser the sight
of his precious treasures, there was yet but one spot on the ceiling
suitable for casting myself upon in the shape I wished to assume. And
this spot was hard to reach. But I discovered that upon this very spot
there was a square gleam of firelight thrown from a strange old dusty
mirror that stood away in some corner, so I got in front of the fire,
spied where the mirror was, threw myself upon it, and bounded from its
face upon the square pool of dim light on the ceiling, assuming, as I
passed, the shape of an old stooping hag, pouring something from a phial
into a basin. I made the handle of the spoon with my own nose, ha! ha!'

"And the shadow-hand caressed the shadow tip of the shadow-nose, before
the shadow-tongue resumed.

"'The old miser saw me. He would not taste the gruel that night,
although his nurse coaxed and scolded till they were both weary. She
pretended to taste it, and to think it very good; and at last retired
into a corner, and made as if she were eating it herself; but I saw that
she took good care to pour it all out.'

"'But she must either succeed, or starve him, at last.'

"'I will tell you.'

"'But,' interposed another, 'he was not worth saving.'

"'He might repent,' said another more benevolent Shadow.

"'No chance of that,' returned the former. 'Misers never do. The love of
money has less in it to cure itself than any other wickedness into which
wretched men can fall. What a mercy it is to be born a Shadow!
Wickedness does not stick to us. What do we care for gold! - Rubbish!'

"'Amen! Amen! Amen!' came from a hundred shadow-voices.

"'You should have let her murder him, and so have had done with him.'

"'And besides, how was he to escape at last? He could never get rid of
her - could he?'

"'I was going to tell you,' resumed the narrator, 'only you had so many
shadow-remarks to make, that you would not let me.'

"'Go on; go on.'

"'There was a little grandchild who used to come and see him
sometimes - the only creature the miser cared for. Her mother was his
daughter; but the old man would never see her, because she had married
against his will. Her husband was now dead, but he had not forgiven her
yet. After the shadow he had seen, however, he said to himself, as he
lay awake that night - I saw the words on his face - 'How shall I get rid
of that old devil? If I don't eat I shall die. I wish little Mary would
come to-morrow. Ah! her mother would never serve me so, if I lived a
hundred years more.' He lay awake, thinking such things over and over
again all night long, and I stood watching him from a dark corner; till
the day spring came and shook me out. When I came back next night, the
room was tidy and clean. His own daughter, a sad-faced, still beautiful
woman, sat by his bedside; and little Mary was curled up on the floor,
by the fire, imitating us, by making queer shadows on the ceiling with
her twisted hands. But she could not think how ever they got there. And
no wonder, for I helped her to some very unaccountable ones.'

"'I have a story about a grand-daughter, too,' said another, the moment
that speaker ceased.

"'Tell it. Tell it.'

"'Last Christmas-day,' he began, 'I and a troop of us set out in the
twilight, to find some house where we could all have something to do;
for we had made up our minds to act together. We tried several, but
found objections to them all. At last we espied a large lonely
country-house, and hastening to it, we found great preparations making
for the Christmas-dinner. We rushed into it, scampered all over it, and
made up our minds in a moment that it would do. We amused ourselves in
the nursery first, where there were several children being dressed for
dinner. We generally do go to the nursery first, your majesty. This time
we were especially charmed with a little girl about five years old, who
clapped her hands and danced about with delight at the antics we
performed; and we said we would do something for her if we had a chance.
The company began to arrive; and at every arrival, we rushed to the
hall, and cut wonderful capers of welcome. Between times, we scudded
away to see how the dressing went on. One girl about eighteen was
delightful. She dressed herself as if she did not care much about it,
but could no help doing it prettily. When she took her last look of the
phantom in the glass, she half smiled to it. - But we do not like those
creatures that come into the mirrors at all, your majesty. We don't
understand them. They are dreadful to us. - She looked rather sad and
pale, but very sweet and hopeful. We wanted to know all about her, and
soon found out that she was a distant relation and a great favourite of
the gentleman of the house, an old man, with an expression of
benevolence mingled with obstinacy and a deep shade of the tyrannical.
We could not admire him much; but we would not make up our minds all at
once: Shadows never do.

"'The dinner-bell rang, and down we hurried. The children all looked
happy, and we were merry. There was one cross fellow among the servants
waiting, and didn't we plague him! and didn't we get fun out of him!

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 5 of 12)