George MacDonald.

Adela Cathcart, Volume 2 online

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I believe he saw the blind of her window drop back into its place.

But how did she come to be looking out just at the moment?

If a lady has not slept all night, and has looked out of window
ninety-nine times before, it is not very wonderful that at the hundredth
time she should see what she was looking for; that is, if the object
desired has not been lost in the snow, or drowned in a moorland pit;
neither of which had happened to Harry Armstrong. Nor is it unlikely
that, after seeing what she has watched for, she will fall too fast
asleep to be roused by the breakfast bell.



At luncheon, the colonel said -

"Well, Adela, you will be glad to know that our hero of last night
returned quite safe this morning."

"I am glad to know it, papa."

"He is one of the right sort, that young fellow. Duty is the first thing
with him."

"Perhaps duty may not have been his only motive," said Mrs. Cathcart,
coldly. "It was too good an opportunity to be lost."

Adela seemed to understand her, for she blushed - but not with
embarrassment alone, for the fire that made her cheek glow red, flashed
in flames from her eyes.

"Some people, aunt," she said, trying to follow the cold tone in which
Mrs. Cathcart had spoken, "have not the faculty for the perception of
the noble and self-denying. Their own lives are so habitually elevated,
that they see nothing remarkable in the devotion of others."

"Well, I do see nothing remarkable in it," returned the aunt, in a tone
that indicated she hardly knew what to make of Adela's sarcasm. "Mr.
Armstrong would have been liable to an action at law if he had refused
to go. And then to come into the drawing-room in his boots and spurs,
and change his coat before ladies! - It was all just of a piece with the
coarse speech he made to you when you were simple enough to ask him not
to go. I can't think what you admire about the man, I am sure."

Adela rose and left the room.

"You are too hard on Mr. Armstrong," said the colonel

"Perhaps I am, Colonel; but I have my reasons. If you will be blind to
your daughter's interests, that is only the more reason why I should
keep my eyes open to them."

So saying, Mrs. Cathcart rose, and followed her niece - out of the room,
but no farther, I will venture to say. Fierce as the aunt was, there had
been that in the niece's eyes, as she went, which I do not believe the
vulgar courage of the aunt could have faced.

I concluded that Mrs. Cathcart had discovered Adela's restlessness the
night before; had very possibly peeped into her room; and, as her
windows looked in the same direction, might have seen Harry riding home
from his selfish task in the cold grey morning; for scheming can destroy
the rest of some women as perfectly as loving can destroy the rest of
others. She might have made the observation, too, that Adela had lain as
still as a bird unhatched, after that apparition of weariness had

The colonel again sank into an uncomfortable mood. He had loved his dead
brother very dearly, and had set his heart on marrying Adela to Percy.
Besides there was quite enough of worldliness left in the heart of the
honourable old soldier, to make him feel that a country practitioner, of
very moderate means, was not to be justified in aspiring to the hand of
his daughter. Moreover, he could hardly endure the thought of his
daughter's marriage at all, for he had not a little of the old man's
jealousy in him; and the notion of Percy being her husband was the only
form in which the thought could present itself, that was in the least
degree endurable to him. Yet he could not help admiring Harry; and until
his thoughts had been turned into their present channel by Mrs.
Cathcart's remarks, he had felt that that lady was unjust to the doctor.
But to think that his line, for he had no son, should merge into that of
the Armstrongs, who were of somewhat dubious descent in his eyes, and
Scotch, too - though, by the way, his own line was Scotch, a few hundred
years back - was sufficient to cause him very considerable
uneasiness - _pain_ would be the more correct word.

I have, for many pages, said very little about Percy; simply because
there has been very little to say about him. He was always present at
our readings, but did not appear to take any interest in them. He would
generally lie on a couch, and stare either at Adela or the fire till he
fell asleep. If he did not succeed in getting to sleep, he would show
manifest signs of being bored. No doubt he considered the whole affair a
piece of sentimental humbug. And during the day I saw very little of
him. He had hunted once or twice, on one of his uncle's horses: they had
scarcely seen the hounds this season. But that was a bore, no doubt. He
went skating occasionally, and had once tried to get Adela to accompany
him; but she would not. These amusements, with a few scattered hours of
snipe-shooting, composed his Christmas enjoyments; the intervals being
filled up with yawning, teasing the dogs, growling at his mother and the
cold, and sleeping "the innocent sleep."

Whether he had any real regard for Adela, I could not quite satisfy
myself - I mean _real_ by the standard and on the scale of his own
being; for of course, as compared with the love of men like the
Armstrongs, the attachment of a lad like Percy could hardly be
considered _real_ at all. But even that, as I say, I could not
clearly find out. His jealousy seemed rather the jealousy of what was
his, or ought to be his, than any more profound or tragical feeling. But
he evidently disliked the doctor - and the curate, too, whether for his
own sake or for the doctor's, is of little consequence.

In the course of this forenoon, I came upon Master Percy in the kitchen
garden. He had set an old shutter against one of the walls for a target,
and was peppering away at it with a revolver; apparently quite satisfied
if he succeeded in hitting the same panel twice running, at twelve
paces. Guessing at the nonsense that was in his head, I sauntered up to
him and watched his practice for a while. He pulled the trigger with a
jerk that threw the muzzle up half an inch every time he fired, else I
don't believe he would have hit the board at all. But he held his breath
before-hand, till he was red in the face, because he had heard that, in
firing at a mark, pistol-shooters did not even breathe, to avoid the
influence of the motion of the chest upon the aim.

"Ah!" I said, "pretty well. But you should see Mr. Henry Armstrong

Whereupon Mr. Percy Cathcart deliberately damned Mr. Henry Armstrong,
expressly and by name. I pretended not to have heard him, and,
continuing to regard the said condemned as still alive and comfortable,
went on:

"Just ask him, the next time you find him at home, to let you see him
drive a nail with three pistol-bullets."

He threw the pistol from him, exploded himself, like a shell, in twenty
different fragments of oaths, and left me the kitchen garden and the
pistol, which latter I took a little practice with myself, for the sake
of emptying two of the chambers still charged. Whether Henry Armstrong
even knew how to fire a pistol, I did not know; but I dare say he was
a first-rate shot, if I only had known it. I sent the pistol up to Mr.
Percy's room by the hand of Mr. Beeves; but I never heard him practising
any more.

The next night the curate was to read us another story. The time
arrived, and with it all our company, except Harry. Indeed it was a
marvel that he had been able to attend so often as he had attended.
I presume the severe weather had by this time added to his sick-list.

Although I fear the chief end of our readings was not so fully attained
as hitherto, or, in other words, that Adela did not enjoy the evening so
much as usual, I will yet record all with my usual faithfulness.

The curate and his wife were a little late, and when they arrived, they
found us waiting for them in music. As soon as they entered, Adela rose
from the piano.

"Do go on, Miss Cathcart," said the curate.

"I had just finished," she replied.

"Then, if you will allow me, I will sing a song first, which I think
will act as an antidote to those sentimental ones which we had at my
house, and of which Mrs. Cathcart did not approve."

"Thank you," said everybody, Mrs. Cathcart included.

Whereupon the curate sang:

"I am content. In trumpet-tones,
My song, let people know.
And many a mighty man, with throne
And sceptre, is not so.
And if he is, I joyful cry,
Why then, he's just the same as I.

The Mogul's gold, the Sultan's show -
His bliss, supreme too soon,
Who, lord of all the world below,
Looked up unto the moon -
I would not pick it up - all that
Is only fit for laughing at.

My motto is - _Content with this_.
Gold-place - I prize not such.
That which I have, my measure is;
Wise men desire not much.
Men wish and wish, and have their will,
And wish again, as hungry still.

And gold and honour are besides
A very brittle glass;
And Time, in his unresting tides,
Makes all things change and pass;
Turns riches to a beggar's dole;
Sets glory's race an infant's goal.

Be noble - that is more than wealth;
Do right - that's more than place;
Then in the spirit there is health,
And gladness in the face;
Then thou art with thyself at one,
And, no man hating, fearest none.

I am content. In trumpet-tones,
My song, let people know.
And many a mighty man, with throne
And sceptre, is not so.
And if he is, I joyful cry,
Why then, he's just the same as I."

"Is that one of your own, Mr. Armstrong?" asked the colonel.

"It is, like most of those you have heard from me and my brother, only
a translation."

"I am no judge of poetry, but it seems to me that if he was content,
he need not say so much about it."

"There is something in what you say. But there was no show-off in
Claudius, I think. He was a most simple-hearted, amiable man, to all
appearance. A man of business, too - manager of a bank at Altona, in the
beginning of the present century. But as I have not given a favourable
impression of him, allow me to repeat a little bit of innocent humour
of his - a cradle song - which I like fully better than the other."

"Most certainly; it is only fair," answered the colonel.

"Sleep, baby boy, sleep sweet, secure;
Thou art thy father's miniature;
That art thou, though thy father goes
And swears that thou hast not his nose.

A moment gone, he looked at thee,
My little budding rose,
And said - No doubt there's much of me,
But he has not my nose.

I think myself, it is too small,
But it is _his_ nose after all;
For if thy nose his nose be not,
Whence came the nose that thou hast got?

Sleep, baby, sleep; don't half-way doze:
To tease me - that's his part.
No matter if you've not his nose,
So be you've got his heart!"



Every one liked this, except Mrs. Cathcart, who opined, with her usual
smile, that it was rather silly.

"Well, I hope a father may be silly sometimes," said the curate, with a
glance at his wife, which she did not acknowledge. "At least I fear I
should be silly enough, if I were a father."

No more remarks were made, and as it was now quite time to begin the
story, Mr. Armstrong took his place, and the rest took their places. He
began at once.


"The eyes of three, two sisters and a brother, gazed for the last time
on a great pale-golden star, that followed the sun down the steep west.
It went down to arise again; and the brother about to depart might
return, but more than the usual doubt hung upon his future. For between
the white dresses of the sisters, shone his scarlet coat and golden
sword-knot, which he had put on for the first time, more to gratify
their pride than his own vanity. The brightening moon, as if prophetic
of a future memory, had already begun to dim the scarlet and the gold,
and to give them a pale, ghostly hue. In her thoughtful light the whole
group seemed more like a meeting in the land of shadows, than a parting
in the substantial earth. - But which should be called the land of
realities? - the region where appearance, and space, and time drive
between, and stop the flowing currents of the soul's speech? or that
region where heart meets heart, and appearance has become the slave to
utterance, and space and time are forgotten?

"Through the quiet air came the far-off rush of water, and the near cry
of the land-rail. Now and then a chilly wind blew unheeded through the
startled and jostling leaves that shaded the ivy-seat. Else, there was
calm everywhere, rendered yet deeper and more intense by the dusky
sorrow that filled their hearts. For, far away, hundreds of miles beyond
the hearing of their ears, roared the great war-guns; next week their
brother must sail with his regiment to join the army; and to-morrow he
must leave his home.

"The sisters looked on him tenderly, with vague fears about his fate.
Yet little they divined it. That the face they loved might lie pale and
bloody, in a heap of slain, was the worst image of it that arose before
them; but this, had they seen the future, they would, in ignorance of
the further future, have infinitely preferred to that which awaited him.
And even while they looked on him, a dim feeling of the unsuitableness
of his lot filled their minds. For, indeed, to all judgments it must
have seemed unsuitable that the home-boy, the loved of his mother, the
pet of his sisters, who was happy womanlike (as Coleridge says), if he
possessed the signs of love, having never yet sought for its
proofs - that he should be sent amongst soldiers, to command and be
commanded; to kill, or perhaps to be himself crushed out of the fair
earth in the uproar that brings back for the moment the reign of Night
and Chaos. No wonder that to his sisters it seemed strange and sad. Yet
such was their own position in the battle of life, in which their father
had died with doubtful conquest, that when their old military uncle sent
the boy an ensign's commission, they did not dream of refusing the only
path open, as they thought, to an honourable profession, even though it
might lead to the trench-grave. They heard it as the voice of destiny,
wept, and yielded.

"If they had possessed a deeper insight into his character, they would
have discovered yet further reason to doubt the fitness of the
profession chosen for him; and if they had ever seen him at school,
it is possible the doubt of fitness might have strengthened into a
certainty of incongruity. His comparative inactivity amongst his
schoolfellows, though occasioned by no dulness of intellect, might have
suggested the necessity of a quiet life, if inclination and liking had
been the arbiters in the choice. Nor was this inactivity the result of
defective animal spirits either, for sometimes his mirth and boyish
frolic were unbounded; but it seemed to proceed from an over-activity
of the inward life, absorbing, and in some measure checking, the outward
manifestation. He had so much to do in his own hidden kingdom, that he
had not time to take his place in the polity and strife of the
commonwealth around him. Hence, while other boys were acting, he was
thinking. In this point of difference, he felt keenly the superiority
of many of his companions; for another boy would have the obstacle
overcome, or the adversary subdued, while he was meditating on the
propriety, or on the means, of effecting the desired end. He envied
their promptitude, while they never saw reason to envy his wisdom; for
his conscience, tender and not strong, frequently transformed slowness
of determination into irresolution: while a delicacy of the sympathetic
nerves tended to distract him from any predetermined course, by the
diversity of their vibrations, responsive to influences from all
quarters, and destructive to unity of purpose.

"Of such a one, the _a priori_ judgment would be, that he ought to
be left to meditate and grow for some time, before being called upon to
produce the fruits of action. But add to these mental conditions a vivid
imagination, and a high sense of honour, nourished in childhood by the
reading of the old knightly romances, and then put the youth in a
position in which action is imperative, and you have elements of strife
sufficient to reduce that fair kingdom of his to utter anarchy and
madness. Yet so little, do we know ourselves, and so different are the
symbols with which the imagination works its algebra, from the realities
which those symbols represent, that as yet the youth felt no uneasiness,
but contemplated his new calling with a glad enthusiasm and some vanity;
for all his prospect lay in the glow of the scarlet and the gold. Nor
did this excitement receive any check till the day before his departure,
on which day I have introduced him to my readers, when, accidently
taking up a newspaper of a week old, his eye fell on these
words - "_Already crying women are to be met in the streets_." With
this cloud afar on his horizon, which, though no bigger than a man's
hand, yet cast a perceptible shadow over his mind, he departed next
morning. The coach carried him beyond the consecrated circle of home
laws and impulses, out into the great tumult, above which rises ever and
anon the cry of Cain, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

"Every tragedy of higher order, constructed in Christian times, will
correspond more or less to the grand drama of the Bible; wherein the
first act opens with a brilliant sunset vision of Paradise, in which
childish sense and need are served with all the profusion of the
indulgent nurse. But the glory fades off into grey and black, and night
settles down upon the heart which, rightly uncontent with the childish,
and not having yet learned the childlike, seeks knowledge and manhood as
a thing denied by the Maker, and yet to be gained by the creature; so
sets forth alone to climb the heavens, and instead of climbing, falls
into the abyss. Then follows the long dismal night of feverish efforts
and delirious visions, or, it may be, helpless despair; till at length a
deeper stratum of the soul is heaved to the surface; and amid the first
dawn of morning, the youth says within him, "I have sinned against my
_Maker_ - I will arise and go to my _Father_." More or less,
I say, will Christian tragedy correspond to this - a fall and a rising
again; not a rising only, but a victory; not a victory merely, but a
triumph. Such, in its way and degree, is my story. I have shown, in one
passing scene, the home paradise; now I have to show a scene of a far
differing nature.

"The young ensign was lying in his tent, weary, but wakeful. All day
long the cannon had been bellowing against the walls of the city, which
now lay with wide, gaping breach, ready for the morrow's storm, but
covered yet with the friendly darkness. His regiment was ordered to be
ready with the earliest dawn to march up to the breach. That day, for
the first time, there had been blood on his sword - there the sword lay,
a spot on the chased hilt still. He had cut down one of the enemy in a
skirmish with a sally party of the besieged and the look of the man as
he fell, haunted him. He felt, for the time, that he dared not pray to
the Father, for the blood of a brother had rushed forth at the stroke of
his arm, and there was one fewer of living souls on the earth because he
lived thereon. And to-morrow he must lead a troop of men up to that poor
disabled town, and turn them loose upon it, not knowing what might
follow in the triumph of enraged and victorious foes, who for weeks had
been subjected, by the constancy of the place, to the greatest
privations. It was true the general had issued his commands against all
disorder and pillage; but if the soldiers once yielded to temptation,
what might not be done before the officers could reclaim them! All the
wretched tales he had read of the sack of cities rushed back on his
memory. He shuddered as he lay. Then his conscience began to speak, and
to ask what right he had to be there. - Was the war a just one? - He could
not tell; for this was a bad time for settling nice questions. But there
he was, right or wrong, fighting and shedding blood on God's earth,
beneath God's heaven.

"Over and over he turned the question in his mind; again and again the
spouting blood of his foe, and the death-look in his eye, rose before
him; and the youth who at school could never fight with a companion
because he was not sure that he was in the right, was alone in the midst
of undoubting men of war, amongst whom he was driven helplessly along,
upon the waves of a terrible necessity. What wonder that in the midst
of these perplexities his courage should fail him! What wonder that the
consciousness of fainting should increase the faintness! or that the
dread of fear and its consequences should hasten and invigorate its
attacks! To crown all, when he dropped into a troubled slumber at
length, he found himself hurried, as on a storm of fire, through the
streets of the captured town, from all the windows of which looked
forth familiar faces, old and young, but distorted from the memory of
his boyhood by fear and wild despair. On one spot lay the body of his
father, with his face to the earth; and he woke at the cry of horror
and rage that burst from his own lips, as he saw the rough, bloody
hand of a soldier twisted in the loose hair of his elder sister, and
the younger fainting in the arms of a scoundrel belonging to his own

"He slept no more. As the grey morning broke, the troops appointed for
the attack assembled without sound of trumpet or drum, and were silently
formed in fitting order. The young ensign was in his place, weary and
wretched after his miserable night. Before him he saw a great,
broad-shouldered lieutenant, whose brawny hand seemed almost too large
for his sword-hilt, and in any one of whose limbs played more animal
life than in the whole body of the pale youth. The firm-set lips of this
officer, and the fire of his eye, showed a concentrated resolution,
which, by the contrast, increased the misery of the ensign, and seemed,
as if the stronger absorbed the weaker, to draw out from him the last
fibres of self-possession: the sight of unattainable determination,
while it increased the feeling of the arduousness of that which required
such determination, threw him into the great gulf which lay between him
and it. In this disorder of his nervous and mental condition, with a
doubting conscience and a shrinking heart, is it any wonder that the
terrors which lay before him at the gap in those bristling walls,
should draw near, and, making sudden inroad upon his soul, overwhelm the
government of a will worn out by the tortures of an unassured spirit?
What share fear contributed to unman him, it was impossible for him,
in the dark, confused conflict of differing emotions, to determine;
but doubtless a natural shrinking from danger, there being no excitement
to deaden its influence, and no hope of victory to encourage to the
struggle, seeing victory was dreadful to him as defeat, had its part in
the sad result. Many men who have courage, are dependent on ignorance
and a low state of the moral feeling for that courage; and a further
progress towards the development of the higher nature would, for a time
at least, entirely overthrow it. Nor could such loss of courage be
rightly designated by the name of cowardice.

"But, alas! the colonel happened to fix his eyes upon him as he passed
along the file; and this completed his confusion. He betrayed such
evident symptoms of perturbation, that that officer ordered him under
arrest; and the result was, that, chiefly for the sake of example to the
army, he was, upon trial by court-martial, expelled from the service,
and had his sword broken over his head. Alas for the delicate minded
youth! Alas for the home-darling!

"Long after, he found at the bottom of his chest the pieces of the
broken sword, and remembered that, at the time, he had lifted them from
the ground and carried them away. But he could not recall under what
impulse he had done so. Perhaps the agony he suffered, passing the
bounds of mortal endurance, had opened for him a vista into the eternal,
and had shown him, if not the injustice of the sentence passed upon him,
yet his freedom from blame, or, endowing him with dim prophetic vision,
had given him the assurance that some day the stain would be wiped from

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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldAdela Cathcart, Volume 2 → online text (page 8 of 12)