George MacDonald.

Adela Cathcart, Volume 2 online

. (page 7 of 12)
Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 7 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"Now, Miss Cathcart, it is your turn to sing."

"Would you mind singing another of Heine's songs?" said the doctor,
as he offered his hand to lead her to the piano.

"No," she answered. "I will not sing one of that sort. It was not
liked last time. Perhaps what I do sing won't be much better though.

"The waters are rising and flowing
Over the weedy stone -
Over and over it going:
It is never gone.

"So joy on joy may go sweeping
Over the head of pain -
Over and over it leaping:
It will rise again."

"Very lovely, but not much better than what I asked for. In revenge, I
will give you one of Heine's that my brother translated. It always
reminds me, with a great difference, of one in In Memoriam, beginning:
_Dark house_."

So spake Harry, and sang:

"The shapes of the days forgotten
Out of their graves arise,
And show me what once my life was,
In the presence of thine eyes.

"All day through the streets I wandered,
As in dreams men go and come;
The people in wonder looked at me,
I was so mournful dumb.

"It was better though, at night-fall,
When, through the empty town,
I and my shadow together
Went silent up and down.

"With echoing, echoing footstep,
Over the bridge I walk;
The moon breaks out of the waters,
And looks as if she would talk.

"I stood still before thy dwelling,
Like a tree that prays for rain;
I stood gazing up at thy window -
My heart was in such pain.

"And thou lookedst through thy curtains -
I saw thy shining hand;
And thou sawest me, in the moonlight,
Still as a statue stand."

"Excuse me," said Mrs. Cathcart, with a smile, "but I don't think such
sentimental songs good for anybody. They can't be _healthy_ - I
believe that is the word they use now-a-days."

"I don't say they are," returned the doctor; "but many a pain is
relieved by finding its expression. I wish he had never written worse."

"That is not why I like them," said the curate. "They seem to me to hold
the same place in literature that our dreams do in life. If so much of
our life is actually spent in dreaming, there must be some place in our
literature for what corresponds to dreaming. Even in this region, we
cannot step beyond the boundaries of our nature. I delight in reading
Lord Bacon now; but one of Jean Paul's dreams will often give me more
delight than one of Bacon's best paragraphs. It depends upon the mood.
Some dreams like these, in poetry or in sleep, arouse individual states
of consciousness altogether different from any of our waking moods, and
not to be recalled by any mere effort of the will. All our being, for
the moment, has a new and strange colouring. We have another kind of
life. I think myself, our life would be much poorer without our dreams;
a thousand rainbow tints and combinations would be gone; music and
poetry would lose many an indescribable exquisiteness and tenderness.
You see I like to take our dreams seriously, as I would even our fun.
For I believe that those new mysterious feelings that come to us in
sleep, if they be only from dreams of a richer grass and a softer wind
than we have known awake, are indications of wells of feeling and
delight which have not yet broken out of their hiding-places in our
souls, and are only to be suspected from these rings of fairy green that
spring up in the high places of our sleep."

"I say, Ralph," interrupted Harry, "just repeat that strangest of
Heine's ballads, that - "

"Oh, no, no; not that one. Mrs. Cathcart would not like it at all."

"Yes, please do," said Adela.

"Pray don't think of me, gentlemen," said the aunt.

"No, I won't," said the curate.

"Then I will," said the doctor, with a glance at Adela, which seemed to
say - "If you want it, you shall have it, whether they like it or not."

He repeated, with just a touch of the recitative in his tone, the
following verses:

"Night lay upon mine eyelids;
Upon my mouth lay lead;
With withered heart and sinews,
I lay among the dead.

"How long I lay and slumbered,
I knew not in the gloom.
I wakened up, and listened
To a knocking at my tomb.

"'Wilt thou not rise, my Henry?
Immortal day draws on;
The dead are all arisen;
The endless joy begun.'

"'My love, I cannot raise me;
Nor could I find the door;
My eyes with bitter weeping
Are blind for evermore.'

"'But from thine eyes, dear Henry,
I'll kiss away the night;
Thou shall behold the angels,
And Heaven's own blessed light.'

"'My love, I cannot raise me;
The blood is flowing still,
Where thou, heart-deep, didst stab me,
With a dagger-speech, to kill.'

"'Oh! I will lay my hand, Henry,
So soft upon thy heart;
And that will stop the bleeding -
Stop all the bitter smart.'

"'My love, I cannot raise me;
My head is bleeding too.
When thou wast stolen from me,
I shot it through and through.'

"'With my thick hair, my Henry,
I will stop the fountain red;
Press back again the blood-stream,
And heal thy wounded head.'

"She begged so soft, so dearly,
I could no more say no;
Writhing, I strove to raise me,
And to the maiden go.

"Then the wounds again burst open;
And afresh the torrents break
From head and heart - life's torrents -
And lo! I am awake."

"There now, that is enough!" said the curate. "That is not nice - is it,
Mrs. Cathcart?"

Mrs. Cathcart smiled, and said:

"I should hardly have thought your time well-spent in translating it,
Mr. Armstrong."

"It took me a few idle minutes only," said the curate. "But my foolish
brother, who has a child's fancy for horrid things, took a fancy to
that; and so he won't let my sins be forgotten. But I will take away
the taste of it with another of Heine's, seeing we have fallen upon him.
I should never have dreamed of introducing him here. It was Miss
Cathcart's first song that opened the vein, I believe."

"I am the guilty person," said Adela; "and I fear I am not sorry for my
sins - the consequences have been too pleasant. Do go on, Mr. Armstrong."

He repeated:


"High in the heavens the sun was glowing;
Around him the white clouds, like waves, were flowing;
The sea was very still and grey.
Dreamily thinking as I lay,
Close by the gliding vessel's wheel,
A sleepless slumber did o'er me steal;
And I saw the Christ, the healer of woe,
In white and waving garments go;
Walking in giant form went he
Over the land and sea.
High in the heaven he towered his head,
And his hands in blessing forth he spread
Over the land and sea.
And for a heart, O wonder meet!
In his breast the sun did throb and beat;
In his breast, for a heart to the only One,
Shone the red, the flaming sun.
The flaming red sunheart of the Lord
Forth its gracious life-beams poured;
Its fair and love-benignant light
Softly shone, with warming might,
Over the land and sea.

"Sounds of solemn bells that go
Through the still air to and fro,
Draw, like swans, in a rosy band,
The gliding ship to the grassy land,
Where a mighty city, towered and high,
Breaks and jags the line of the sky.

"Oh, wonder of peach, how still was the town!
The hollow tumult had all gone down
Of the bustling and babbling trades.
Men and women, and youths and maids,
White clothes wearing,
Palm branches bearing,
Walked through the clean and echoing streets;
And when one with another meets,
They look at each other with eyes that tell
That they understand each other well;
And, trembling with love and sweet restraint,
Each kisses the other upon the brow,
And looks above, like a hoping saint,
To the holy, healing sunheart's glow;
Which atoning all, its red blood streams
Downward in still outwelling beams;
Till, threefold blessed, they call aloud,
The single hearts of a happy crowd.
Praised be Jesus Christ!"

"You will like that better," concluded the curate, again addressing
Mrs. Cathcart.

"Fanciful," she answered. "I don't like fancies about sacred things."

"I fear, however," replied he, "that most of our serious thoughts about
sacred things are little better than fancies."

"Sing that other of his about the flowers, and I promise you never to
mention his name in this company again," said Harry.

"Very well, I will, on that condition," answered Ralph.

"In the sunny summer morning
Into the garden I come;
The flowers are whispering and speaking,
But I, I wander dumb.

"The flowers are whispering and speaking,
And they gaze at my visage wan:
'You must not be cross with our sister,
You melancholy man!'"

"Is that all?" said Adela.

"Yes, that's all," answered the singer.

"But we cannot let you off with that only," she said.

"What an awful night it is!" interrupted the colonel, rising and going
to the window to peep out. "Between me and the lamp, the air looks solid
with driving snow."

"Sing one of your winter songs, Ralph," said the curate's wife. "This
is surely stormy enough for one of your Scotch winters that you are so
proud of."

Thus adjured, Mr. Armstrong sang:

"A morning clear, with frosty light
From sunbeams late and low;
They shine upon the snow so white,
And shine back from the snow.

"From icy spears a drop will run -
Not fall: at afternoon,
It shines a diamond for the sun,
An opal for the moon.

"And when the bright sad sun is low
Behind the mountain-dome,
A twilight wind will come, and blow
All round the children's home;

"And waft about the powdery snow,
As night's dim footsteps pass;
But waiting, in its grave below,
Green lies the summer-grass."

"Now it seems to me," said the colonel, "though I am no authority in
such matters, that it is just in such weather as this, that we don't
need songs of that sort. They are not very exhilarating."

"There is truth in that," replied Mr. Armstrong. "I think it is in
winter chiefly that we want songs of summer, as the Jews sang - if not
the songs of Zion, yet of Zion, in a strange land. Indeed most of our
songs are of this sort."

"Then sing one of your own summer songs."

"No, my dear; I would rather not. I don't altogether like them. Besides,
if Harry could sing that _Tryst_ of Schiller's, it would bring back
the feeling of the summer better than any brooding over the remembrances
of it could do."

"Did you translate that too?" I asked.

"Yes. As I told you, at one time of my life translating was a constant
recreation to me. I have had many half-successes, some of which you have
heard. I think this one better."

"What is the name of it?"

"It is 'Die Erwartung' - _The Waiting_, literally, or
_Expectation._ But the Scotch word _Tryst_ (Rendezvous) is a
better name for a poem, though English. It is often curious how a
literal rendering, even when it gives quite the meaning, will not do,
because of the different ranks of the two words in their respective

"I have heard you say," said Harry, "that the principles of the
translation of lyrics have yet to be explored."

"Yes. But what I have just said, applies nearly as much to prose as to
the verse. - Sing, Harry. You know it well enough."

"Part is in recitative,"

"So it is. Go on."

"To enter into the poem, you must suppose a lover waiting in an arbour
for his lady-love. First come two recited lines of expectation; then two
more, in quite a different measure, of disappointment; and then a
long-lined song of meditation; until expectation is again aroused, to be
again disappointed - and so on through the poem.


"That was the wicket a-shaking!
That was its clang as it fell!
No, 'twas but the night-wind waking,
And the poplars' answering swell.

Put on thy beauty, foliage-vaulted roof,
To greet her entrance, radiant all with grace;
Ye branches weave a holy tent, star-proof;
With lovely darkness, silent, her embrace;
Sweet, wandering airs, creep through the leafy woof,
And toy and gambol round her rosy face,
When with its load of beauty, lightly borne,
Glides in the fairy foot, and brings my morn.

Hush! I hear timid, yet daring
Steps that are almost a race!
No, a bird - some terror scaring -
Started from its roosting place.

Quench thy sunk torch, Hyperion. Night, appear!
Dim, ghostly Night, lone loveliness entrancing!
Spread, purple blossoms, round us, in a sphere;
Twin, lattice-boughs, the mystery enhancing;
Love's joy would die, if more than two were here -
She shuns the daybeam indiscreetly glancing.
Eve's star alone - no envious tell-tale she -
Gazes unblamed, from far across the sea.

Hark! distant voices, that lightly
Ripple the silence deep!
No; the swans that, circling nightly,
Through the silver waters sweep.

Around me wavers an harmonious flow;
The fountain's fall swells in delicious rushes;
The flower beneath the west wind's kiss bends low;
A trembling joy from each to all outgushes.
Grape-clusters beckon; peaches luring glow,
Behind dark leaves hiding their crimson blushes;
The winds, cooled with the sighs of flowers asleep,
Light waves of odour o'er my forehead sweep.

Hear I not echoing footfalls,
Hither along the pleached walk?
No; the over-ripened fruit falls
Heavy-swollen, from off its stalk.

Dull is the eye of day that flamed so bright;
In gentle death, its colours all are dim;
Unfolding fearless in the fair half light,
The flower-cups ope, that all day closed their brim;
Calm lifts the moon her clear face on the night;
Dissolved in masses faint, Earth's features swim;
Each grace withdraws the soft relaxing zone -
Beauty unrobed shines full on me alone.

See I not, there, a white shimmer? -
Something with pale silken shine?
No; it is the column's glimmer,
'Gainst the gloomy hedge of pine.

O longing heart! no more thyself delight
With shadow-forms - a sweet deceiving pleasure;
Filling thy arms but as the vault of night
Infoldeth darkness without hope or measure.
O lead the living beauty to my sight,
That living love her loveliness may treasure!
Let but her shadow fall across my eyes,
And straight my dreams exulting truths will rise!

And soft as, when, purple and golden,
The clouds of the evening descend,
So had she drawn nigh unbeholden,
And wakened with kisses her friend."

Never had song a stranger accompaniment than this song; for the air was
full of fierce noises near and afar. Again the colonel went to the
window. When he drew back the curtains, at Adela's request, and pulled
up the blind, you might have fancied the dark wind full of snowy
Banshees, fleeting and flickering by, and uttering strange ghostly cries
of warning. The friends crowded into the bay-window, and stared out into
the night with a kind of happy awe. They pressed their brows against the
panes, in the vain hope of seeing where there was no light. Every now
and then the wind would rush up against the window in fierce attack, as
if the creatures that rode by upon the blast had seen the row of white
faces, and it angered them to be thus stared at, and they rode their
airy steeds full tilt against the thin rampart of glass that protected
the human weaklings from becoming the spoil of their terrors.

While every one was silent with the intensity of this outlook, and with
the awe of such an uproar of wild things without souls, there came a
loud knock at the door, which was close to the window where they stood.
Even the old colonel, whose nerves were as hard as piano-wires, started
back and cried "God bless me!" The doctor, too, started, and began
mechanically to button his coat, but said nothing. Adela gave a little
suppressed scream, and ashamed of the weakness, crept away to her

The servant entered, saying that Dr. Armstrong's man wanted to see him.
Harry went into the passage, which was just outside the drawing-room,
and the company overheard the following conversation, every word.

"Well, William?"

"There's a man come after you from Cropstone Farm, sir. His missus is
took sudden."

"What? - It's not the old lady then? It's the young mistress?"

"Yes; she's in labour, sir; leastways she was - he's been three hours on
the road. I reckon it's all over by this time. - You won't go, sir! It's
morally unpossible."

"Won't go! It's morally impossible not. You knew I would go. - That's the
mare outside."

"No, sir. It's Tilter."

"Then you did think I wouldn't go! You knew well enough Tilter's no use
for a job like this. The mare's my only chance."

"I beg your pardon, sir. I did not think you would go."

"Home with you, as hard as Tilter can drive - confound him! - And bring
the mare instantly. She's had her supper?"

"I left her munching, sir."

"Don't let her drink. I'll give her a quart of ale at Job Timpson's."

"You won't go that way, surely, sir?"

"It's the nearest; and the snow can't be very deep yet."

"I've brought your boots and breeches, sir."

"All right."

The man hurried out, and Harry was heard to run up stairs to his
brother's room. The friends stared at each other in some perturbation.
Presently Harry re-entered, in the articles last mentioned, saying -

"Ralph, have you an old shooting-coat you could lend me?"

"I should think so, Harry. I'll fetch you one."

Now at length the looks of the circle found some expression in the words
of the colonel:

"Mr. Armstrong, I am an old soldier, and I trust I know what duty is.
The only question is, _Can_ this be done?"

"Colonel, no man can tell what can or cannot be done till he tries. I
think it can."

The colonel held out his hand - his sole reply.

The schoolmaster and his wife ventured to expostulate. To them Harry
made fun of the danger. Adela had come from the corner to which she had
retreated, and joined the group. She laid her hand on Harry's arm, and
he saw that she was pale as death.

"Don't go," she said.

As if to enforce her words, the street-door, which, I suppose, William
had not shut properly, burst open with a bang against the wall, and the
wind went shrieking through the house, as if in triumph at having forced
an entrance.

"The woman is in labour," said Harry in reply to Adela, forgetting, in
the stern reality both for the poor woman and himself, that girls of
Adela's age and social position are not accustomed to hear such facts so
plainly expressed, from a man's lips. Adela, however, simply accepted
the fact, and replied:

"But you will be too late anyhow."

"Perhaps just in time," he answered, as his brother entered with a coat
over his arm.

"Ralph," he went on, with a laugh, "they are trying to persuade me not
to go."

"It is a tempting of Providence," said Mrs. Bloomfield.

"Harry, my boy," said the curate solemnly, "I would rather have you
brought home dead to-morrow, than see you sitting by that fire five
minutes after your mare comes. But you'll put on a great-coat?"

"No, thank you. I shall do much better without one. How comical I shall
look in Farmer Prisphig's Sunday clothes! I'm not going to be lost this
storm, Mrs. Bloomfield; for I second-see myself at this moment, sitting
by the farmer's kitchen fire, in certain habiliments a world too wide
for my unshrunk shanks, but doing my best to be worthy of them by the
attention I am paying to my supper."

Here he stooped to Lizzie and whispered in her ear:

"Don't let them make a fuss about my going. There is really no
particular danger. And I don't want my patient there frightened and
thrown back, you know."

Mrs. Armstrong nodded a promise. In a moment more, Harry had changed his
coat; for the storm had swept away ceremony at least. Lizzie ran and
brought him a glass of wine; but he begged for a glass of milk instead,
and was soon supplied; after which he buttoned up his coat, tightened
the straps of his spurs, which had been brought slack on his boots, put
on one of a thick pair of gloves which he found in his brother's coat,
bade them all good night, drew on the other glove, and stood prepared to

Did he or did he not see Adela's eyes gazing out of her pale face with
an expression of admiring apprehension, as she stood bending forward,
and looking up at the strong man about to fight the storm, and all ready
to meet it? I don't know. I only put it to his conscience.

In a moment more, the knock came again - the only sign, for no one could
hear the mare's hoofs in the wind and snow. With one glance and one good
night, he hurried out. The wind once more, for a brief moment, held an
infernal carnival in the house. They crowded to the window - saw a dim
form heave up on horseback, and presently vanish. All space lay beyond;
but, for them, he was swallowed up by the jaws of the darkness. They
knew no more. A flash of pride in his brother shot from Ralph's eyes,
as, with restrained excitement, for which he sought some outlet, he
walked towards the piano. His wife looked at Ralph with the same light
of pride, tempered by thankfulness; for she knew, if he had been sent
for, he would have gone all the same as Harry; but then he was not such
a horseman as his brother. The fact was, he had neither seat nor hands,
though no end of pluck.

"He will have to turn back," said the colonel. "He can't reach Cropstone
Farm to-night. It lies right across the moor. It is impossible."

"Impossible things are always being done," said the curate, "else the
world would have been all moor by this time."

"The wind is dead against him," said the schoolmaster.

"Better in front than in flank," said the colonel. "It won't blow him
out of the saddle."

Adela had crept back to her corner, where she sat shading her eyes, and
listening. I saw that her face was very pale. Lizzie joined her, and
began talking to her.

I had not much fear for Harry, for I could not believe that his hour was
come yet. I had great confidence in him and his mare. And I believed in
the God that made Harry and the mare, and the storm too, through which
he had sent them to the aid of one who was doing her part to keep his
world going.

But now Mr. Armstrong had found a vent for his excitement in another of
his winter songs, which might be very well for his mood, though it was
not altogether suited to that of some of the rest of us. He sang -

"Oh wildly wild the winter-blast
Is whirling round the snow;
The wintry storms are up at last,
And care not how they go.

In wreaths and mists, the frozen white
Is torn into the air;
It pictures, in the dreary light,
An ocean in despair.

Come, darkness! rouse the fancy more;
Storm! wake the silent sea;
Till, roaring in the tempest-roar,
It rave to ecstasy;

And death-like figures, long and white,
Sweep through the driving spray;
And, fading in the ghastly night,
Cry faintly far away."

I saw Adela shudder. Presently she asked her papa whether it was not
time to go home. Mrs. Armstrong proposed that she should stay all night;
but she evidently wished to go. It would be rather perilous work to
drive down the hill with the wind behind, in such a night, but a servant
was sent to hasten the carriage notwithstanding. The colonel and Percy
and I ran along side of it, ready to render any assistance that might be
necessary; and, although we all said we had never been out in such an
uproar of the elements, we reached home in safety.

As Adela bade us good night in the hall, I certainly felt very uneasy as
to the effects of the night's adventures upon her - she looked so pale
and wretched.

She did not come down to breakfast.

But she appeared at lunch, nothing the worse, and in very good spirits.

If I did not think that this had something to do with another fact I
have come to the knowledge of since, I don't know that the particulars
of the evening need have been related so minutely. The other fact was
this: that in the grey dawn of the morning, by which time the snow had
ceased, though the wind still blew, Adela saw from her window a weary
rider and wearier horse pass the house, going up the street. The heads
of both were sunk low. You might have thought the poor mare was looking
for something she had lost last night in the snow; and perhaps it was
not all fatigue with Harry Armstrong. Perhaps he was giving thanks that
he had saved two lives instead of losing his own. He was not so
absorbed, however, but that he looked up at the house as he passed, and

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 7 of 12)