George MacDonald.

Adela Cathcart, Volume 2 online

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When he was bringing up dishes, we lay in wait for him at every corner,
and sprung upon him from the floor, and from over the banisters, and
down from the cornices. He started and stumbled and blundered about, so
that his fellow-servants thought he was tipsy. Once he dropped a plate,
and had to pick up the pieces, and hurry away with them. Didn't we
pursue him as he went! It was lucky for him his master did not see him;
but we took care not to let him get into any real scrape, though his
eyes were quite dazed with the dodging of the unaccountable shadows.
Sometimes he thought the walls were coming down upon him; sometimes that
the floor was gaping to swallow him; sometimes that he would be knocked
in pieces by the hurrying to and fro, or be smothered in the black

"'When the blazing plum-pudding was carried in, we made a perfect
shadow-carnival about it, dancing and mumming in the blue flames, like
mad demons. And how the children screamed with delight!

"'The old gentleman, who was very fond of children, was laughing his
heartiest laugh, when a loud knock came to the hall-door. The fair
maiden started, turned paler, and then red as the Christmas fire. I saw
it, and flung my hands across her face. She was very glad, and I know
she said in her heart, "You kind Shadow!" which paid me well. Then I
followed the rest into the hall, and found there a jolly, handsome,
brown-faced sailor, evidently a son of the house. The old man received
him with tears in his eyes, and the children with shouts of joy. The
maiden escaped in the confusion, just in time to save herself from
fainting. We crowded about the lamp to hide her retreat, and nearly put
it out. The butler could not get it to burn up before she had glided
into her place again, delighted to find the room so dark. The sailor
only had seen her go, and now he sat down beside her, and, without a
word, got hold of her hand in the gloom. But now we all scattered to the
walls and the corners; and the lamp blazed up again, and he let her hand

"'During the rest of the dinner, the old man watched them both, and saw
that there was something between them, and was very angry. For he was an
important man in his own estimation - and they had never consulted him.
The fact was, they had never known their own minds till the sailor had
gone upon his last voyage; and had learned each other's only this
moment. - We found out all this by watching them, and then talking
together about it afterwards. - The old gentleman saw too, that his
favourite, who was under such obligation to him for loving her so much,
loved his son better than him; and this made him so jealous, that he
soon overshadowed the whole table with his morose looks and short
answers. That kind of shadowing is very different from ours; and the
Christmas dessert grew so gloomy that we Shadows could not bear it, and
were delighted when the ladies rose to go to the drawing-room. The
gentlemen would not stay behind the ladies, even for the sake of the
well-known wine. So the moddy host, notwithstanding his hospitality,
was left alone at the table, in the great silent room. We followed the
company upstairs to the drawing-room, and thence to the nursery for
snap-dragon. While they were busy with this most shadowy of games,
nearly all the Shadows crept down stairs again to the dining-room, where
the old man still sat, gnawing the bone of his own selfishness. They
crowded into the room, and by using every kind of expansion - blowing
themselves out like soap-bubbles, they succeeded in heaping up the whole
room with shade upon shade. They clustered thickest about the fire and
the lamp, till at last they almost drowned them in hills of darkness.

"'Before they had accomplished so much, the children, tired with fun and
frolic, were put to bed. But the little girl of five years old, with
whom we had been so pleased when first we arrived, could not go to
sleep. She had a little room of her own; and I had watched her to bed,
and now kept her awake by gambolling in the rays of the night-light.
When her eyes were once fixed upon me, I took the shape of her
grandfather, representing him on the wall, as he sat in his chair, with
his head bent down, and his arms hanging listlessly by his sides. And
the child remembered that that was just as she had seen him last; for
she had happened to peep in at the dining-room door, after all the rest
had gone up stairs. "What if he should be sitting there still," thought
she, "all alone in the dark!" She scrambled out of bed and crept down.

"'Meantime the others had made the room below so dark, that only the
face and white hair of the old man could be dimly discerned in the
shadowy crowd. For he had filled his own mind with shadows, which we
Shadows wanted to draw out of him. Those shadows are very different from
us, your majesty knows. He was thinking of all the disappointments he
had had in life, and of all the ingratitude he had met with. He thought
far more of the good he had done, than the good others had got. "After
all I have done for them," said he, with a sigh of bitterness, "not one
of them cares a straw for me. My own children will be glad when I am
gone!" At that instant he lifted up his eyes and saw, standing close by
the door, a tiny figure in a long night-gown. The door behind her was
shut. It was my little friend who had crept in noiselessly. A pang of
icy fear shot to the old man's heart - but it melted away as fast, for we
made a lane through us for a single ray from the fire to fall on the
face of the little sprite; and he thought it was a child of his own that
had died when just the age of her little niece, who now stood looking
for her grandfather among the Shadows. He thought she had come out of
her grave in the old darkness, to ask why her father was sitting alone
on Christmas-day. And he felt he had no answer to give his little ghost,
but one he would be ashamed for her to hear. But the little girl saw him
now. She walked up to him with a childish stateliness - stumbling once or
twice on what seemed her long shroud. Pushing through the crowded
shadows, she reached him, climbed upon his knee, laid her little
long-haired head on his shoulders, and said: "Ganpa! you goomy? Isn't it
your Kismass-day, too, ganpa?"

"'A new fount of love seemed to burst from the clay of the old man's
heart. He clasped the child to his bosom, and wept. Then, without a
word, he rose with her in his arms, carried her up to her room, and
laying her down in her bed, covered her up, kissed her sweet little
mouth unconscious of reproof, and then went to the drawing-room.

"'As soon as he entered, he saw the culprits in a quiet corner alone. He
went up to them, took a hand of each, and joining them in both his,
said, "God bless you!" Then he turned to the rest of the company, and
"Now," said he, "let's have a Christmas carol." - And well he might; for
though I have paid many visits to the house, I have never seen him cross
since; and I am sure that must cost him a good deal of trouble.'

"'We have just come from a great palace,' said another, 'where we knew
there were many children, and where we thought to hear glad voices, and
see royally merry looks. But as soon as we entered, we became aware that
one mighty Shadow shrouded the whole; and that Shadow deepened and
deepened, till it gathered in darkness about the reposing form of a wise
prince. When we saw him, we could move no more, but clung heavily to the
walls, and by our stillness added to the sorrow of the hour. And when we
saw the mother of her people weeping with bowed head for the loss of him
in whom she had trusted, we were seized with such a longing to be
Shadows no longer, but winged angels, which are the white shadows cast
in heaven from the Light of Light, so to gather around her, and hover
over her with comforting, that we vanished from the walls and found
ourselves floating high above the towers of the palace, where we met the
angels on their way; and knew that our service was not needed.'

"By this time there was a glimmer of approaching moonlight, and the king
began to see several of those stranger Shadows, with human faces and
eyes, moving about amongst the crowd. He knew at once that they did not
belong to his dominion. They looked at him, and came near him, and
passed slowly, but they never made any obeisance, or gave sign of
homage. And what their eyes said to him, the king only could tell. And
he did not tell.

"'What are those other Shadows that move through the crowd?' said he to
one of his subjects near him.

"The Shadow started, looked round, shivered slightly, and laid his
finger on his lips. Then leading the king a little aside, and looking
carefully about him once more,

"'I do not know,' said he, in a low tone, 'what they are. I have heard
of them often, but only once did I ever see any of them before. That was
when some of us one night paid a visit to a man who sat much alone, and
was said to think a great deal. We saw two of those sitting in the room
with him, and he was as pale as they were. We could not cross the
threshold, but shivered and shook, and felt ready to melt away. Is not
your majesty afraid of them too?'

"But the king made no answer; and before he could speak again, the moon
had climbed above the mighty pillars of the church of the Shadows, and
looked in at the great window of the sky.

"The shapes had all vanished; and the king, again lifting up his eyes,
saw but the wall of his own chamber, on which flickered the Shadow of a
Little Child. He looked down, and there, sitting on a stool by the fire,
he saw one of his own little ones, waiting to say good night to his
father, and go to bed early, that he might rise as early, and be very
good and happy all Christmas-day.

"And Ralph Rinkelmann rejoiced that he was a man, and not a Shadow."

* * * * *

When I had finished my story, the not unusual silence followed. It was
soon broken by Adela.

"But what were those other shadows, mysteries in the midst of mystery?"
persisted she.

"My dear, as the little child said shadows were the ghosts of the body,
so I say these were the shadows of the mind. - Will that do?"

"I must think. I don't know. I can't trust you. - -I _do_ believe,
uncle, you write whatever comes into your head; and then when any one
asks you the meaning of this or that, you hunt round till you find a
meaning just about the same size as the thing itself, and stick it
on. - Don't you, now?"

"Perhaps _yes_, and perhaps _no_, and perhaps both," I

"You have the most confounded imagination I ever knew, Smith, my boy!"
said the colonel. "You run right away, and leave me to come hobbling
after as I best can."

"Oh, never mind; I always return to my wife and children," I answered;
and being an old bachelor, this passed for a good joke with the
kind-hearted company. No more remarks were made upon my Shadow story,
though I was glad to see the curate pondering over it. Before we parted,
the usual question of who was to read the next, had to be settled.

"I proposed, for a change," said the curate, "that the club meet at my
house the next time, and that the story be omitted for once. We'll have
some music, and singing, and poetry, and all that sort of thing. What do
you say, Lizzie?"

"With all my heart," answered Mrs. Armstrong.

"You forget," said the colonel, "that Adela is not well enough to go out

Adela looked as if she thought that was a mistake, and glanced towards
the doctor. I think Percy caught sight of the glance as it passed him.

"If I may be allowed to give a professional opinion," said Harry, "I
think she could go without the smallest danger, if she were well wrapped

"You can have the carriage, of course, my love," said her father, "if
you would like to go."

"I should very much like to go," said Adela.

And so it was settled to the evident contentment of all except the
mother and son, who, I suppose, felt that Adela was slipping through
their fingers, in this strengthening of adverse influences. I was sure
myself, that nothing could be better for her, in either view of the
case. Harry did not stay behind to ask her any questions this evening,
but left with the rest.

The next day, the bright frosty weather still continuing, I took Adela
out for a walk.

"You are much better, I think, my dear," I said.

"Very much," she answered. "I think Mr. Armstrong's prescription is
doing me a great deal of good. It seems like magic. I sleep very well
indeed now. And somehow life seems a much more possible thing than it
looked a week or two ago. And the whole world appears more like the work
of God."

"I am very glad, my dear. If all your new curate tries to teach us be
true, the world need not look very dreary to any of us."

"But do you believe it all, uncle?"

"Yes I do, my dear. I believe that the grand noble way of thinking of
God and his will must be the true way, though it never can be grand or
noble enough; and that belief in beauty and truth, notwithstanding so
many things that are neither beautiful nor true, is essential to a right
understanding of the world. Whatever is not good and beautiful, is
doomed by the very death that is in it; and when we find such things in
ourselves or in other people, we may take comfort that these must be
destroyed one day, even if it be by that form of divine love which
appears as a consuming fire."

"But that is very dreadful too, is it not, uncle?"

"Yes, me dear. But there is a refuge from it; and then the fear proves a

"What refuge?"

"God himself. If you go close up to him, his spirit will become your
spirit, and you will need no fire then. You will find that that which is
fire to them that are afar off, is a mighty graciousness to them that
are nigh. They are both the same thing."

Adela made me no answer. Perhaps I tried to give her more than she was
ready to receive. Perhaps she needed more leading, before she would be
able to walk in that road. If so, then Providence was leading her; and I
need not seek to hasten a divine process.

But at least she enjoyed her walk that bright winter day, and came home
without being wearied, or the cold getting any victory over her.

As we passed some cottages on our way home, Adela said -

"There is a poor woman who lives in one of these cottages, who used to
be a servant of ours. She is in bad health, and I dare say is not very
well off in this frost, for her husband is only a labourer. I should
like to go and see her."

"With all my heart, my dear," I answered.

"This is the house," said Adela; and she lifted the latch and went in
gently, I following.

No one had heard our entrance, and when Adela knocked at the inner door,
there was no reply. Whereupon she opened the door, and then we saw the
woman seated on one side of the fire, and the man on the other side with
his pipe in his mouth; while between them sat the curate with his hands
in his pockets, and his pipe likewise in his mouth. But they were
blowing but a small cloud between them, and were evidently very deep in
an earnest conversation.

I overheard a part of what the cottager was saying, and could not help
listening to the rest.

"And the man was telling them, sir, that God had picked out so many men,
women, and children, to go right away to glory, and left the rest to be
damned for ever and ever in hell. And I up and spoke to him; and 'sir,'
says I, 'if I was tould as how I was to pick out so many out o' my
childeren, and take 'em with me to a fine house, and leave the rest to
be burnt up i' the old one, which o' them would I choose?' 'How can I
tell?' says he. 'No doubt,' says I; 'they aint your sons and darters.
But I can. I wouldn't move a foot, sir, but I'd take my chance wi' the
poor things. And, sir,' says I, 'we're all God's childeren; and which o'
us is he to choose, and which is he to leave out? I don't believe he'd
know a bit better how to choose one and leave another than I should,
sir - that is, his heart wouldn't let him lose e'er a one o' us, or he'd
be miserable for ever, as I should be, if I left one o' mine i' the

Here Adela had the good sense to close the door again, yet more softly
than she had opened it; and we retired.

"That's the right sort of man," said I, "to get a hold of the poor. He
understands them, being himself as poor in spirit as they are in
pocket - or, indeed, I might have said, as he is in pocket himself. But
depend upon it he comes out both ways poorer than he went in."

"It should not be required of a curate to give money," said Adela.

"Do you grudge him the blessedness of giving, Adela?"

"Oh, no. I only think it is too hard on him."

"It is as necessary for a poor man to give away, as for a rich man. Many
poor men are more devoted worshippers of Mammon than some rich men."

And then I took her home.



As I led Adela, well wrapped in furs, down the steps to put her into the
carriage, I felt by the wind, and saw by the sky, that a snowstorm was
at hand. This set my heart beating with delight, for after all I am only
what my friends call me - an old boy; and so I am still very fond of snow
and wind. Of course this pleasure is often modified by the recollection
that it is to most people no pleasure, and to some a source of great
suffering. But then I recover myself by thinking, that I did not send
for the snow, and that my enjoyment of it will neither increase their
pains nor lessen my sympathies. And so I enjoy it again with all my
heart. It is partly the sense of being lapt in a mysterious fluctuating
depth of exquisite shapes of evanescent matter, falling like a cataract
from an unknown airy gulf, where they grow into being and form out of
the invisible - well-named by the prophet Job - for a prophet he was in
the truest sense, all-seated in his ashes and armed with his
potsherd - the womb of the snow; partly the sense of motion and the
goings of the wind through the etherial mass; partly the delight that
always comes from contest with nature, a contest in which no vile
passions are aroused, and no weak enemy goes helpless to the ground. I
presume that in a right condition of our nervous nature, instead of our
being, as some would tell us, less exposed to the influences of nature,
we should in fact be altogether open to them. Our nerves would be a
thorough-fare for Nature in all and each of her moods and feelings,
stormy or peaceful, sunshiny or sad. The true refuge from the slavery to
which this would expose us, the subjection of man to circumstance, is to
be found, not in the deadening of the nervous constitution, or in a
struggle with the influences themselves, but in the strengthening of the
moral and refining of the spiritual nature; so that, as the storms rave
through the vault of heaven without breaking its strong arches with
their winds, or staining its etherial blue with their rain-clouds, the
soul of man should keep clear and steady and great, holding within it
its own feelings and even passions, knowing that, let them moan or rave
as they will, they cannot touch the nearest verge of the empyrean dome,
in whose region they have their birth and being.

For me, I felt myself now, just an expectant human snow-storm; and as I
sat on the box by the coachman, I rejoiced to greet the first flake,
which alighted on the tip of my nose even before we had cleared our own
grounds. Before we had got _up street_, the wind had risen, and the
snow thickened, till the horses seemed inclined to turn their tails to
the hill and the storm together, for the storm came down the hill in
their faces. It was soon impossible to see one's hand before one's eyes;
and the carriage lamps served only to reveal a chaotic fury of
snow-flakes, crossing each other's path at all angles, in the eddies of
the wind amongst the houses. The coachman had to keep encouraging his
horses to get them to face it at all. The ground was very slippery; and
so fast fell the snow, that it had actually begun to ball in the horses'
feet before we reached our destination. When we were all safe in Mrs.
Armstrong's drawing-room, we sat for a while listening to the wind
roaring in the chimney, before any of us spoke. And then I did not join
in the conversation, but pleased myself with looking at the room; for
next to human faces, I delight in human abodes, which will always, more
or less, according to the amount of choice vouchsafed in the occupancy,
be like the creatures who dwell in them. Even the soldier-crab must have
some likeness to the snail of whose house he takes possession, else he
could not live in it at all.

The first thing to be done by one who would read a room is, to clear it
as soon as possible of the air of the marvellous, the air of the
storybook, which pervades every place at the first sight of it. But I am
not now going to write a treatise upon this art, for which I have not
time to invent a name; but only to give as much of a description of this
room as will enable my readers to feel quite at home with us in it,
during our evening there. It was a large low room, with two beams across
the ceiling at unequal distances. There was only a drugget on the floor,
and the window curtains were scanty. But there was a glorious fire on
the hearth, and the tea-board was filled with splendid china, as old as
the potteries. The chairs, I believe, had been brought from old Mr.
Armstrong's lumber-room, and so they all looked as if they could tell
stories themselves. At all events they were just the proper chairs to
tell stories in, and I could not help regretting that we were not to
have any to-night. The rest of the company had arrived before us. A warm
corner in an old-fashioned sofa had been prepared for Adela, and as soon
as she was settled in it, our hostess proceeded to pour out the tea with
a simplicity and grace which showed that she had been just as much a
lady when carrying parcels for the dressmaker, and would have been a
lady if she had been a housemaid. Such a women are rare in every circle,
the best of every kind being rare. It is very disappointing to the
imaginative youth when, coming up to London and going into society, he
finds that so few of the men and women he meets, come within the charmed
circle of his ideal refinement.

I said to myself: "I am sure she could write a story if she would. I
must have a try for one from her."

When tea was over, she looked at her husband, and then went to the
piano, and sang the following ballad:

"'Traveller, what lies over the hill?
Traveller, tell to me:
I am only a child - from the window-sill
Over I cannot see.'

"'Child, there's a valley over there,
Pretty and woody and shy;
And a little brook that says - 'take care,
Or I'll drown you by and by.'

"'And what comes next?' 'A little town;
And a towering hill again;
More hills and valleys, up and down,
And a river now and then.'

"'And what comes next?' 'A lonely moor,
Without a beaten way;
And grey clouds sailing slow, before
A wind that will not stay.'

"'And then?' 'Dark rocks and yellow sand,
And a moaning sea beside.'
'And then?' 'More sea, more sea more land,
And rivers deep and wide.'

"'And then?' 'Oh! rock and mountain and vale,
Rivers and fields and men;
Over and over - a weary tale -
And round to your home again.'

"'Is that the end? It is weary at best.'
'No, child; it is not the end.
On summer eves, away in the west,
You will see a stair ascend;

"'Built of all colours of lovely stones -
A stair up into the sky;
Where no one is weary, and no one moans,
Or wants to be laid by.'

"'I will go.' 'But the steps are very steep:
If you would climb up there,
You must lie at its foot, as still as sleep,
And be a step of the stair,

"'For others to put their feet on you,
To reach the stones high-piled;
Till Jesus comes and takes you too,
And leads you up, my child!'"

"That is one of your parables, I am sure, Ralph," said the doctor, who
was sitting, quite at his ease, on a footstool, with his back against
the wall, by the side of the fire opposite to Adela, casting every now
and then a glance across the fiery gulf, just as he had done in church
when I first saw him. And Percy was there to watch them, though, from
some high words I overheard, I had judged that it was with difficulty
his mother had prevailed on him to come. I could not help thinking
myself, that two pairs of eyes met and parted rather oftener than any
other two pairs in the room; but I could find nothing to object.

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 6 of 12)