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ADELA CATHCART

Volume Three

By George MacDonald


CONTENTS OF THE THIRD VOLUME.


CHAPTER

I. MY UNCLE PETER. - CONTINUED

II. THE GIANT'S HEART

III. A CHILD'S HOLIDAY

IV. INTERRUPTION

V. PERCY

VI. THE CRUEL PAINTER

VII. THE CASTLE

VIII. WHAT NEXT?

XI. GENERALSHIP

X. AN UNFORESEEN FORESIGHT




CHAPTER I.

MY UNCLE PETER. - CONTINUED.


"It was resolved that on the same evening, Chrissy should tell my uncle
her story. We went out for a walk together; and though she was not
afraid to go, the least thing startled her. A voice behind her would
make her turn pale and look hurriedly round. Then she would smile
again, even before the colour had had time to come back to her cheeks,
and say - 'What a goose I am! But it is no wonder.' I could see too that
she looked down at her nice clothes now and then with satisfaction. She
does not like me to say so, but she does not deny it either, for
Chrissy can't tell a story even about her own feelings. My uncle had
given us five pounds each to spend, and that was jolly. We bought each
other such a lot of things, besides some for other people. And then we
came home and had dinner _tete-a-tete_ in my uncle's dining-room; after
which we went up to my uncle's room, and sat over the fire in the
twilight till his afternoon-nap was over, and he was ready for his tea.
This was ready for him by the time he awoke. Chrissy got up on the bed
beside him; I got up at the foot of the bed, facing her, and we had the
tea-tray and plenty of _etceteras_ between us.

"'Oh! I _am_ happy!' said Chrissy, and began to cry.

"'So am I, my darling!' rejoined Uncle Peter, and followed her example.

"'So am I,' said I, 'but I don't mean to cry about it.' And then I did.

"We all had one cup of tea, and some bread and butter in silence after
this. But when Chrissy had poured out the second cup for Uncle Peter,
she began of her own accord to tell us her story.

"'It was very foggy when we came out of school that afternoon, as you
may remember, dear uncle.'

"'Indeed I do,' answered Uncle Peter with a sigh.

"'I was coming along the way home with Bessie - you know Bessie,
uncle - and we stopped to look in at a bookseller's window where the gas
was lighted. It was full of Christmas things already. One of them I
thought very pretty, and I was standing staring at it, when all at once
I saw that a big drabby woman had poked herself in between Bessie and
me. She was staring in at the window too. She was so nasty that I moved
away a little from her, but I wanted to have one more look at the
picture. The woman came close to me. I moved again. Again she pushed up
to me. I looked in her face, for I was rather cross by this time. A
horrid feeling, I cannot tell you what it was like, came over me as
soon as I saw her. I know how it was now, but I did not know then why I
was frightened. I think she saw I was frightened; for she instantly
walked against me, and shoved and hustled me round the corner - it was a
corner-shop - and before I knew, I was in another street. It was dark
and narrow. Just at the moment a man came from the opposite side and
joined the woman. Then they caught hold of my hands, and before my
fright would let me speak, I was deep into the narrow lane, for they
ran with me as fast as they could. Then I began to scream, but they
said such horrid words that I was forced to hold my tongue; and in a
minute more they had me inside a dreadful house, where the plaster was
dropping away from the walls, and the skeleton-ribs of the house were
looking through. I was nearly dead with terror and disgust. I don't
think it was a bit less dreadful to me from having dim recollections of
having known such places well enough at one time of my life. I think
that only made me the more frightened, because so the place seemed to
have a claim upon me. What if I ought to be there after all, and these
dreadful creatures were my father and mother!

"'I thought they were going to beat me at once, when the woman, whom I
suspected to be my aunt, began to take off my frock. I was dreadfully
frightened, but I could not cry. However it was only my clothes that
they wanted. But I cannot tell you how frightful it was. They took
almost everything I had on, and it was only when I began to scream in
despair - sit still, Charlie, it's all over now - that they stopped, with
a nod to each other, as much as to say - 'we can get the rest
afterwards.' Then they put a filthy frock on me; brought me some dry
bread to eat; locked the door, and left me. It was nearly dark now.
There was no fire. And all my warm clothes were gone. - Do sit still,
Charlie. - I was dreadfully cold. There was a wretched-looking bed in
one corner, but I think I would have died of cold rather than get into
it. And the air in the place was frightful. How long I sat there in the
dark, I don't know.'

"'What did you do all the time?' said I.

"'There was only one thing to be done, Charlie. I think that is a
foolish question to ask.'

"'Well, what _did_ you do, Chrissy?'

"'Said my prayers, Charlie.'

"'And then?'

"'Said them again.'

"'And nothing else?'

"'Yes; I tried to get out of the window, but that was of no use; for I
could not open it. And it was one story high at least.'

"'And what did you do next?'

"'Said over all my hymns.'

"'And then - what _did_ you do next?'

"'Why do you ask me so many times?'

"'Because I want to know.'

"'Well, I will tell you. - I left my prayers alone; and I began at the
beginning, and I told God the whole story, as if He had known nothing
about it, from the very beginning when Uncle Peter found me on the
crossing, down to the minute when I was talking there to Him in the
dark.'

"'Ah! my dear,' said my uncle, with faltering voice, 'you felt better
after that, I daresay. And here was I in despair about you, and thought
He did not care for any of us. I was very naughty, indeed.'

"'And what next?' I said.

"'By and by I heard a noise of quarrelling in the street, which came
nearer and nearer. The door was burst open by some one falling against
it. Blundering steps came up the stairs. The two who had robbed me,
evidently tipsy, were trying to unlock the door. At length they
succeeded, and tumbled into the room.'

"'Where is the unnatural wretch,' said the woman, 'who ran away and
left her own mother in poverty and sickness?' -

"'Oh! uncle, can it be that she is my mother?' said Chrissy,
interrupting herself.

"'I don't think she is,' answered Uncle Peter. 'She only wanted to vex
you, my lamb. But it doesn't matter whether she is or not.'

"'Doesn't it, uncle? - I am ashamed of her.'

"'But you are God's child. And He can't be ashamed of you. For He gave
you the mother you had, whoever she was, and never asked you which you
would have. So you need not mind. We ought always to like best to be
just what God has made us.'

"'I am sure of that, uncle. - Well, she began groping about to find me,
for it was very dark. I sat quite still, except for trembling all over,
till I felt her hands on me, when I jumped up, and she fell on the
floor. She began swearing dreadfully, but did not try to get up. I
crept away to another corner. I heard the man snoring, and the woman
breathing loud. Then I felt my way to the door, but, to my horror,
found the man lying across it on the floor, so that I could not open
it. Then I believe I cried for the first time. I was nearly frozen to
death, and there was all the long night to bear yet. How I got through
it, I cannot tell. It did go away. Perhaps God destroyed some of it for
me. But when the light began to come through the window, and show me
all the filth of the place, the man and the woman lying on the floor,
the woman with her head cut and covered with blood, I began to feel
that the darkness had been my friend. I felt this yet more when I saw
the state of my own dress, which I had forgotten in the dark. I felt as
if I had done some shameful thing, and wanted to follow the darkness,
and hide in the skirts of it. It was an old gown of some woollen stuff,
but it was impossible to tell what, it was so dirty and worn. I was
ashamed that even those drunken creatures should wake and see me in it.
But the light would come, and it came and came, until at last it waked
them up, and the first words were so dreadful! They quarrelled and
swore at each other and at me, until I almost thought there couldn't be
a God who would let that go on so, and never stop it. But I suppose He
wants them to stop, and doesn't care to stop it Himself, for He could
easily do that of course, if He liked.'

"'Just right, my darling!' said Uncle Peter with emotion.

"Chrissy saw that my uncle was too much excited by her story although
he tried not to show it, and with a wisdom which I have since learned
to appreciate, cut it short.

"'They did not treat me cruelly, though, the worst was, that they gave
me next to nothing to eat. Perhaps they wanted to make me thin and
wretched looking, and I believe they succeeded. - Charlie, you'll turn
over the cream, if you don't sit still. - Three days passed this way. I
have thought all over it, and I think they were a little puzzled how to
get rid of me. They had no doubt watched me for a long time, and now
they had got my clothes, they were afraid. - At last one night they took
me out. My aunt, if aunt she is, was respectably dressed - that is,
comparatively, and the man had a great-coat on, which covered his dirty
clothes. They helped me into a cart which stood at the door, and drove
off. I resolved to watch the way we went. But we took so many turnings
through narrow streets before we came out in a main road, that I soon
found it was all one mass of confusion in my head; and it was too dark
to read any of the names of the streets, for the man kept as much in
the middle of the road as possible. We drove some miles, I should
think, before we stopped at the gate of a small house with a big porch,
which stood alone. My aunt got out and went up to the house, and was
admitted. After a few minutes, she returned, and making me get out, she
led me up to the house, where an elderly lady stood, holding the door
half open. When we reached it, my aunt gave me a sort of shove in,
saying to the lady, 'There she is.' Then she said to me: 'Come now be a
good girl and don't tell lies,' and turning hastily, ran down the
steps, and got into the cart at the gate, which drove off at once the
way we had come. The lady looked at me from head to foot sternly but
kindly too, I thought, and so glad was I to find myself clear of those
dreadful creatures, that I burst out crying. She instantly began to
read me a lecture on the privilege of being placed with Christian
people, who would instruct me how my soul might be saved, and teach me
to lead an honest and virtuous life. I tried to say that I had led an
honest life. But as often as I opened my mouth to tell anything about
myself or my uncle, or, indeed, to say anything at all, I was stopped
by her saying - 'Now don't tell lies. Whatever you do, don't tell lies.'
This shut me up quite. I could not speak when I knew she would not
believe me. But I did not cry, I only felt my face get very hot, and
somehow my back-bone grew longer, though I felt my eyes fixed on the
ground.

"'But,' she went on, 'you must change you dress. I will show you the
way to your room, and you will find a print gown there, which I hope
you will keep clean. And above all things don't tell lies.'

"Here Chrissy burst out laughing, as if it was such fun to be accused
of lying; but presently her eyes filled, and she made haste to go on.

"'You may be sure I made haste to put on the nice clean frock, and, to
my delight, found other clean things for me as well. I declare I felt
like a princess for a whole day after, notwithstanding the occupation.
For I soon found that I had been made over to Mrs. Sprinx, as a servant
of all work. I think she must have paid these people for the chance of
reclaiming one whom they had represented as at least a great liar.
Whether my wages were to be paid to them, or even what they were to be,
I never heard. I made up my mind at once that the best thing would be
to do the work without grumbling, and do it as well as I could, for
that would be doing no harm to anyone, but the contrary, while it would
give me the better chance of making my escape. But though I was
determined to get away the first opportunity, and was miserable when I
thought how anxious you would all be about me, yet I confess it was
such a relief to be clean and in respectable company, that I caught
myself singing once or twice the very first day. But the old lady soon
stopped that. She was about in the kitchen the greater part of the day
till almost dinner-time, and taught me how to cook and save my soul
both at once.'

"'Indeed,' interrupted Uncle Peter, 'I have read receipts for the
salvation of the soul that sounded very much as if they came out of a
cookery-book.' And the wrinkles of his laugh went up into his
night-cap. Neither Chrissy nor I understood this at the time, but I
have often thought of it since.

"Chrissy went on:

"'I had finished washing up my dinner-things, and sat down for a few
minutes, for I was tired. I was staring into the fire, and thinking and
thinking how I should get away, and what I should do when I got out of
the house, and feeling as if the man and the woman were always prowling
about it, and watching me through the window, when suddenly I saw a
little boy in a corner of the kitchen, staring at me with great brown
eyes. He was a little boy, perhaps about six years old, with a pale
face, and very earnest look. I did not speak to him, but waited to see
what he would do. A few minutes passed, and I forgot him. But as I was
wiping my eyes, which would get wet sometimes, notwithstanding my
good-fortune, he came up to me, and said in a timid whisper,

"'Are you a princess?'

"'What makes you think that?' I said.

"'You have got such white hands,' he answered.

"'No, I am not a princess,' I said.

"'Aren't you Cinderella?'

"'No, my darling,' I replied; 'but something like her; for they have
stolen me away from home and brought me here. I wish I could get away.'

"'And here I confess I burst into a down right fit of crying.

"'Don't cry,' said the little fellow, stroking my cheek. 'I will let
you out some time. Shall you be able to find your way home all by
yourself?'

"'Yes I think so,' I answered; but at the same time, I felt very
doubtful about it, because I always fancied those people watching, me.
But before either of us spoke again, in came Mrs. Sprinx.

"'You naughty boy! What business have you to make the servant neglect
her work?'

"'For I was still sitting by the fire, and my arm was round the dear
little fellow, and his head was leaning on my shoulder.

"'She's not a servant, auntie!' cried he, indignantly. 'She's a real
princess, though of course she won't own to it.'

"'What lies you have been telling the boy! You ought to be ashamed of
yourself. Come along directly. Get the tea at once, Jane.'

"'My little friend went with his aunt, and I rose and got the tea. But
I felt much lighter-hearted since I had the sympathy of the little boy
to comfort me. Only I was afraid they would make him hate me. But,
although I saw very little of him the rest of the time, I knew they had
not succeeded in doing so; for as often as he could, he would come
sliding up to me, saying 'How do you do, princess?'and then run away,
afraid of being seen and scolded.

"'I was getting very desperate about making my escape, for there was a
high wall about the place, and the gate was always locked at night.
When Christmas-Eve came, I was nearly crazy with thinking that
to-morrow was uncle's birthday; and that I should not be with him. But
that very night, after I had gone to my room, the door opened, and in
came little Eddie in his nightgown, his eyes looking very bright and
black over it.

"'There, princess!' said he, 'there is the key of the gate. Run.'

"'I took him in my arms and kissed him, unable to speak. He struggled
to get free, and ran to the door. There he turned and said:

"'You will come back and see me some day - will you not?'

"'That I will,' I answered.

"'That you shall,' said Uncle Peter.

"'I hid the key, and went to bed, where I lay trembling. As soon as I
was sure they must be asleep, I rose and dressed. I had no bonnet or
shawl but those I had come in; and though they disgusted me, I thought
it better to put them on. But I dared not unlock the street-door for
fear of making a noise. So I crept out of the kitchen-window, and then
I got out at the gate all safe. No one was in sight. So I locked it
again, and threw the key over. But what a time of fear and wandering
about I had in the darkness, before I dared to ask any one the way. It
was a bright, clear night; and I walked very quietly till I came upon a
great wide common. The sky, and the stars, and the wideness frightened
me, and made me gasp at first. I felt as if I should fall away from
everything into nothing. And it was so lonely! But then I thought of
God, and in a moment I knew that what I had thought loneliness was
really the presence of God. And then I grew brave again, and walked on.
When the morning dawned, I met a bricklayer going to his work; and
found that I had been wandering away from London all the time; but I
did not mind that. Now I turned my face towards it, though not the way
I had come. But I soon got dreadfully tired and faint, and once I think
I fainted quite. I went up to a house, and asked for a piece of bread,
and they gave it to me, and I felt much better after eating it. But I
had to rest so often, and got so tired, and my feet got so sore,
that - you know how late it was before I got home to my darling uncle.'

"'And me too!' I expostulated.

"'And you, too, Charlie,' she answered; and we all cried over again.

"'This shan't happen any more!' said my uncle.

"After tea was over, he asked for writing things, and wrote a note,
which he sent off.

"The next morning, about eleven, as I was looking out of the window, I
saw a carriage drive up and stop at our door.

"'What a pretty little brougham!' I cried. 'And such a jolly horse!
Look here, Chrissy!'

"Presently Uncle Peter's bell rang, and Miss Chrissy was sent for. She
came down again radiant with pleasure.

"'What do you think, Charlie! That carriage is mine - all my own. And I
am to go to school in it always. Do come and have a ride in it.'

"You may be sure I was delighted to do so.

"'Where shall we go?' I said.

"'Let us ask uncle if we may go and see the little darling who set me
free.'

"His consent was soon obtained, and away we went. It was a long drive,
but we enjoyed it beyond everything. When we reached the house, we were
shown into the drawing-room.

"There was Mrs. Sprinx and little Eddie. The lady stared; but the child
knew Cinderella at once, and flew into her arms.

"'I knew you were a princess!' he cried. 'There, auntie!'

"But Mrs. Sprinx had put on an injured look, and her hands shook very
much.

"'Really, Miss Belper, if that is your name, you have behaved in a most
unaccountable way. Why did you not tell me, instead of stealing the key
of the gate, and breaking the kitchen window? A most improper way for a
young lady to behave - to run out of the house at midnight!'

"'You forget, madam,' replied Chrissy, with more dignity than I had
ever seen her assume, 'that as soon as ever I attempted to open my
mouth, you told me not to tell lies. You believed the wicked people who
brought me here rather than myself. However, as you will not be
friendly, I think we had better go. Come, Charlie?'

"'Don't go, princess,' pleaded little Eddie.

"'But I must, for your auntie does not like me,' said Chrissy.

"'I am sure I always meant to do my duty by you. And I will do so
still. - Beware, my dear young woman, of the deceitfulness of riches.
Your carriage won't save your soul!'

"Chrissy was on the point of saying something rude, as she confessed
when we got out; but she did not. She made her bow, turned and walked
away. I followed, and poor Eddie would have done so too, but was laid
hold of by his aunt. I confess this was not quite proper behaviour on
Chrissy's part; but I never discovered that till she made me see it.
She was very sorry afterwards, and my uncle feared the brougham had
begun to hurt her already, as she told me. For she had narrated the
whole story to him, and his look first let her see that she had been
wrong. My uncle went with her afterwards to see Mrs. Sprinx, and thank
her for having done her best; and to take Eddie such presents as my
uncle only knew how to buy for children. When he went to school, I know
he sent him a gold watch. From that time till now that she is my wife,
Chrissy has had no more such adventures; and if Uncle Peter did not die
on Christmas-day, it did not matter much, for Christmas-day makes all
the days of the year as sacred as itself."



CHAPTER II.

THE GIANT'S HEART.


When Harry had finished reading, the colonel gallantly declared that
the story was the best they had had. Mrs. Armstrong received this as a
joke, and begged him not to be so unsparing.

"Ah! Mrs. Armstrong," returned he laughing, "you are not old enough
yet, to know the truth from a joke. Don't you agree with me about the
story, Mrs. Cathcart?"

"I think it is very pretty and romantic. Such men as Uncle Peter are
not very common in the world. The story is not too true to Nature."

This she said in a tone intended to indicate superior acquaintance with
the world and its nature. I fear Mrs. Cathcart and some others whom I
could name, mean by _Nature_ something very bad indeed, which yet an
artist is bound to be loyal to. The colonel however seemed to be of a
different opinion.

"If there never was such a man as Uncle Peter," said he, "there ought
to have been; and it is all the more reason for putting him into a
story that he is not to be found in the world."

"Bravo!" cried I. "You have answered a great question in a few words."

"I don't know," rejoined our host. "Have I? It seems to me as plain as
the catechism."

I thought he might have found a more apt simile, but I held my peace.

Next morning, I walked out in the snow. Since the storm of that
terrible night, it had fallen again quietly and plentifully; and now in
the sunlight, the world - houses and trees, ponds and rivers - was like a
creation, more than blocked out, but far from finished - in marble.

"And this," I said to myself, as I regarded the wondrous loveliness
with which the snow had at once clothed and disfigured the bare
branches of the trees, "this is what has come of the chaos of falling
flakes! To this repose of beauty has that storm settled and sunk! Will
it not be so with our mental storms as well?"

But here the figure displeased me; for those were not the true right
shapes of the things; and the truth does not stick to things, but shows
itself out of them.

"This lovely show," I said, "is the result of a busy fancy. This white
world is the creation of a poet such as Shelley, in whom the fancy was
too much for the intellect. Fancy settles upon anything; half destroys
its form, half beautifies it with something that is not its own. But
the true creative imagination, the form-seer, and the form-bestower,
falls like the rain in the spring night, vanishing amid the roots of
the trees; not settling upon them in clouds of wintry white, but
breaking forth from them in clouds of summer green."

And then my thoughts very naturally went from Nature to my niece; and I
asked myself whether within the last few days I had not seen upon her
countenance the expression of a mental spring-time. For the mind has
its seasons four, with many changes, as well as the world, only that
the cycles are generally longer: they can hardly be more mingled than
as here in our climate.

Let me confess, now that the subject of the confession no longer
exists, that there had been something about Adela that, pet-child of
mine as she was, had troubled me. In all her behaviour, so far as I had
had any opportunity of judging, she had been as good as my desires at
least. But there was a want in her face, a certain flatness of
expression which I did not like. I love the common with all my heart,
but I hate the common-place; and, foolish old bachelor that I am, the
common-place in a woman troubles me, annoys me, makes me miserable.


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