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cleared up the mystery.

The fact was that the isthmus, of half the height of the two parts
connected by it, had been formed entirely by the fall of portions of
the rock and soil on each side into the narrow dividing space, through
which the waters of the Atlantic had been wont to sweep. And now the
fragments of walls stood on the very verge of the precipice, and showed
that large portions of the castle itself had fallen into the gulf
between. We turned to the left along the edge of the rock, and so by a
narrow path reached and crossed to the other side of the isthmus. We
then found that the path led to the foot of the rock, formerly island,
of the keep, and thence in a zigzag up the face of it to the top. We
followed it, and after a great climb reached a door in a modern
battlement. Entering, we found ourselves amidst grass, and ruins
haggard with age. We turned and surveyed the path by which we had come.
It was steep and somewhat difficult. But the outlook was glorious. It
was indeed one of God's mounts of vision upon which we stood. The
thought, "O that Connie could see this!" was swelling in my heart, when
Percivale broke the silence - not with any remark on the glory around
us, but with the commonplace question -

"You haven't got your man with you, I think, Mr. Walton?"

"No," I answered; "we thought it better to leave him to look after the
boys."

He was silent for a few minutes, while I gazed in delight.

"Don't you think," he said, "it would be possible to bring Miss
Constance up here?"

I almost started at the idea, and had not replied before he resumed:

"It would be something for her to recur to with delight all the rest of
her life."

"It would indeed. But it is impossible."

"I do not think so - if you would allow me the honour to assist you. I
think we could do it perfectly between us."

I was again silent for a while. Looking down on the way we had come, it
seemed an almost dreadful undertaking. Percivale spoke again.

"As we shall come here to-morrow, we need not explore the place now.
Shall we go down at once and observe the whole path, with a view to the
practicability of carrying her up?"

"There can be no objection to that," I answered, as a little hope, and
courage with it, began to dawn in my heart. "But you must allow it does
not look very practicable."

"Perhaps it would seem more so to you, if you had come up with the idea
in your head all the way, as I did. Any path seems more difficult in
looking back than at the time when the difficulties themselves have to
be met and overcome."

"Yes, but then you must remember that we have to take the way back
whether we will or no, if we once take the way forward."

"True; and now I will go down with the descent in my head as well as
under my feet."

"Well, there can be no harm in reconnoitring it at least. Let us go."

"You know we can rest almost as often as we please," said Percivale,
and turned to lead the way.

It certainly was steep, and required care even in our own descent; but
for a man who had climbed mountains, as I had done in my youth, it
could hardly be called difficult even in middle age. By the time we had
got again into the valley road I was all but convinced of the
practicability of the proposal. I was a little vexed, however, I must
confess, that a stranger should have thought of giving such a pleasure
to Connie, when the bare wish that she might have enjoyed it had alone
arisen in my mind. I comforted myself with the reflection that this was
one of the ways in which we were to be weaned from the world and knit
the faster to our fellows. For even the middle-aged, in the decay of
their daring, must look for the fresh thought and the fresh impulse to
the youth which follows at their heels in the march of life. Their part
is to _will_ the relation and the obligation, and so, by love to and
faith in the young, keep themselves in the line along which the
electric current flows, till at length they too shall once more be
young and daring in the strength of the Lord. A man must always seek to
rise above his moods and feelings, to let them move within him, but not
allow them to storm or gloom around him. By the time we reached home we
had agreed to make the attempt, and to judge by the path to the foot of
the rock, which was difficult in parts, whether we should be likely to
succeed, without danger, in attempting the rest of the way and the
following descent. As soon as we had arrived at this conclusion, I felt
so happy in the prospect that I grew quite merry, especially after we
had further agreed that, both for the sake of her nerves and for the
sake of the lordly surprise, we should bind Connie's eyes so that she
should see nothing till we had placed her in a certain position,
concerning the preferableness of which we were not of two minds.

"What mischief have you two been about?" said my wife, as we entered
our room in the inn, where the cloth was already laid for dinner. "You
look just like two schoolboys that have been laying some plot, and can
hardly hold their tongues about it."

"We have been enjoying our little walk amazingly," I answered. "So much
so, that we mean to set out for another the moment dinner is over."

"I hope you will take Wynnie with you then."

"Or you, my love," I returned.

"No; I will stay with Connie."

"Very well. You, and Connie too, shall go out to-morrow, for we have
found a place we want to take you to. And, indeed, I believe it was our
anticipation of the pleasure you and she would have in the view that
made us so merry when you accused us of plotting mischief."

My wife replied only with a loving look, and dinner appearing at this
moment, we sat down a happy party.

When that was over - and a very good dinner it was, just what I like,
homely in material but admirable in cooking - Wynnie and Percivale and I
set out again. For as Percivale and I came back in the morning we had
seen the church standing far aloft and aloof on the other side of the
little valley, and we wanted to go to it. It was rather a steep climb,
and Wynnie accepted Percivale's offered arm. I led the way, therefore,
and left them to follow - not so far in the rear, however, but that I
could take a share in the conversation. It was some little time before
any arose, and it was Wynnie who led the way into it.

"What kind of things do you like best to paint, Mr. Percivale?" she
asked.

He hesitated for several seconds, which between a question and an
answer look so long, that most people would call them minutes.

"I would rather you should see some of my pictures - I should prefer
that to answering your question," he said, at length.

"But I have seen some of your pictures," she returned.

"Pardon me. Indeed you have not, Miss Walton."

"At least I have seen some of your sketches and studies."

"Some of my sketches - none of my studies."

"But you make use of your sketches for your pictures, do you not?"

"Never of such as you have seen. They are only a slight antidote to my
pictures."

"I cannot understand you."

"I do not wonder at that. But I would rather, I repeat, say nothing
about my pictures till you see some of them."

"But how am I to have that pleasure, then?"

"You go to London sometimes, do you not?"

"Very rarely. More rarely still when the Royal Academy is open."

"That does not matter much. My pictures are seldom to be found there."

"Do you not care to send them there?"

"I send one, at least, every year. But they are rarely accepted."

"Why?"

This was a very improper question, I thought; but if Wynnie had thought
so she would not have put it. He hesitated a little before he replied -

"It is hardly for me to say why," he answered; "but I cannot wonder
much at it, considering the subjects I choose. - But I daresay," he
added, in a lighter tone, "after all, that has little to do with it,
and there is something about the things themselves that precludes a
favourable judgment. I avoid thinking about it. A man ought to try to
look at his own work as if it were none of his, but not as with the
eyes of other people. That is an impossibility, and the attempt a
bewilderment. It is with his own eyes he must look, with his own
judgment he must judge. The only effort is to get it set far away
enough from him to be able to use his own eyes and his own judgment
upon it."

"I think I see what you mean. A man has but his own eyes and his own
judgment. To look with those of other people is but a fancy."

"Quite so. You understand me quite."

He said no more in explanation of his rejection by the Academy. Till we
reached the church, nothing more of significance passed between them.

What a waste, bare churchyard that was! It had two or three lych-gates,
but they had no roofs. They were just small enclosures, with the low
stone tables, to rest the living from the weight of the dead, while the
clergyman, as the keeper of heaven's wardrobe, came forth to receive
the garment they restored - to be laid aside as having ended its work,
as having been worn done in the winds, and rains, and labours of the
world. Not a tree stood in that churchyard. Hank grass was the sole
covering of the soil heaved up with the dead beneath. What blasts from
the awful space of the sea must rush athwart the undefended garden! The
ancient church stood in the midst, with its low, strong, square tower,
and its long, narrow nave, the ridge bowed with age, like the back of a
horse worn out in the service of man, and its little homely chancel,
like a small cottage that had leaned up against its end for shelter
from the western blasts. It was locked, and we could not enter. But of
all world-worn, sad-looking churches, that one - sad, even in the
sunset - was the dreariest I had ever beheld. Surely, it needed the
gospel of the resurrection fervently preached therein, to keep it from
sinking to the dust with dismay and weariness. Such a soul alone could
keep it from vanishing utterly of dismal old age. Near it was one huge
mound of grass-grown rubbish, looking like the grave where some former
church of the dead had been buried, when it could stand erect no longer
before the onsets of Atlantic winds. I walked round and round it,
gathering its architecture, and peeping in at every window I could
reach. Suddenly I was aware that I was alone. Returning to the other
side, I found that Percivale was seated on the churchyard wall, next
the sea - it would have been less dismal had it stood immediately on the
cliffs, but they were at some little distance beyond bare downs and
rough stone walls; he was sketching the place, and Wynnie stood beside
him, looking over his shoulder. I did not interrupt him, but walked
among the graves, reading the poor memorials of the dead, and wondering
how many of the words of laudation that were inscribed on their tombs
were spoken of them while they were yet alive. Yet, surely, in the
lives of those to whom they applied the least, there had been moments
when the true nature, the nature God had given them, broke forth in
faith and tenderness, and would have justified the words inscribed on
their gravestones! I was yet wandering and reading, and stumbling over
the mounds, when my companions joined me, and, without a word, we
walked out of the churchyard. We were nearly home before one of us
spoke.

"That church is oppressive," said Percivale. "It looks like a great
sepulchre, a place built only for the dead - the church of the dead."

"It is only that it partakes with the living," I returned; "suffers
with them the buffetings of life, outlasts them, but shows, like the
shield of the Red-Cross Knight, the 'old dints of deep wounds.'"

"Still, is it not a dreary place to choose for a church to stand in?"

"The church must stand everywhere. There is no region into which it
must not, ought not to enter. If it refuses any earthly spot, it is
shrinking from its calling. Here this one stands for the sea as for the
land, high-uplifted, looking out over the waters as a sign of the haven
from all storms, the rest in God. And down beneath in its storehouse
lie the bodies of men - you saw the grave of some of them on the other
side - flung ashore from the gulfing sea. It may be a weakness, but one
would rather have the bones of his friend laid in the still Sabbath of
the churchyard earth, than sweeping and swaying about as Milton
imagines the bones of his friend Edward King, in that wonderful
'Lycidas.'" Then I told them the conversation I had had with the sexton
at Kilkhaven. "But," I went on, "these fancies are only the ghostly
mists that hang about the eastern hills before the sun rises. We shall
look down on all that with a smile by and by; for the Lord tells us
that if we believe in him we shall never die."

By this time we were back once more at the inn. We gave Connie a
description of what we had seen.

"What a brave old church!" said Connie.

The next day I awoke very early, full of the anticipated attempt. I got
up at once, found the weather most promising, and proceeded first of
all to have a look at Connie's litter, and see that it was quite sound.
Satisfied of this, I rejoiced in the contemplation of its lightness and
strength.

After breakfast I went to Connie's room, and told her that Mr.
Percivale and I had devised a treat for her. Her face shone at once.

"But we want to do it our own way."

"Of course, papa," she answered.

"Will you let us tie your eyes up?"

"Yes; and my ears and my hands too. It would be no good tying my feet,
when I don't know one big toe from the other."

And she laughed merrily.

"We'll try to keep up the talk all the way, so that you sha'n't weary
of the journey."

"You're going to carry me somewhere with my eyes tied up. O! how jolly!
And then I shall see something all at once! Jolly! jolly! - Getting
tired!" she repeated. "Even the wind on my face would be pleasure
enough for half a day. I sha'n't get tired so soon as you will - you
dear, kind papa! I am afraid I shall be dreadfully heavy. But I sha'n't
jerk your arms much. I will lie so still!"

"And you won't mind letting Mr. Percivale help me to carry you?"

"No. Why should I, if he doesn't mind it? He looks strong enough; and I
am sure he is nice, and won't think me heavier than I am."

"Very well, then. I will send mamma and Wynnie to dress you at once;
and we shall set out as soon as you are ready."

She clapped her hands with delight, then caught me round the neck and
gave me one of my own kisses as she called the best she had, and began
to call as loud as she could on her mamma and Wynnie to come and dress
her.

It was indeed a glorious morning. The wind came in little wafts, like
veins of cool white silver amid the great, warm, yellow gold of the
sunshine. The sea lay before us a mound of blue closing up the end of
the valley, as if overpowered into quietness by the lordliness of the
sun overhead; and the hills between which we went lay like great sheep,
with green wool, basking in the blissful heat. The gleam from the
waters came up the pass; the grand castle crowned the left-hand steep,
seeming to warm its old bones, like the ruins of some awful megatherium
in the lighted air; one white sail sped like a glad thought across the
spandrel of the sea; the shadows of the rocks lay over our path, like
transient, cool, benignant deaths, through which we had to pass again
and again to yet higher glory beyond; and one lark was somewhere in
whose little breast the whole world was reflected as in the convex
mirror of a dewdrop, where it swelled so that he could not hold it, but
let it out again through his throat, metamorphosed into music, which he
poured forth over all as the libation on the outspread altar of worship.

And of all this we talked to Connie as we went; and every now and then
she would clap her hands gently in the fulness of her delight, although
she beheld the splendour only as with her ears, or from the kisses of
the wind on her cheeks. But she seemed, since her accident, to have
approached that condition which Milton represents Samson as longing for
in his blindness, wherein the sight should be

"through all parts diffused,
That she might look at will through every pore."

I had, however, arranged with the rest of the company, that the moment
we reached the cliff over the shore, and turned to the left to cross
the isthmus, the conversation should no longer be about the things
around us; and especially I warned my wife and Wynnie that no
exclamation of surprise or delight should break from them before
Connie's eyes were uncovered. I had said nothing to either of them
about the difficulties of the way, that, seeing us take them as
ordinary things, they might take them so too, and not be uneasy.

We never stopped till we reached the foot of the peninsula, _née_
island, upon which the keep of Tintagel stands. There we set Connie
down, to take breath and ease our arms before we began the arduous way.

"Now, now!" said Connie eagerly, lifting her hands in the belief that
we were on the point of undoing the bandage from her eyes.

"No, no, my love, not yet," I said, and she lay still again, only she
looked more eager than before.

"I am afraid I have tired out you and Mr. Percivale, papa," she said.

Percivale laughed so amusedly, that she rejoined roguishly -

"O yes! I know every gentleman is a Hercules - at least, he chooses to
be considered one! But, notwithstanding my firm faith in the fact, I
have a little womanly conscience left that is hard to hoodwink."

There was a speech for my wee Connie to make! The best answer and the
best revenge was to lift her and go on. This we did, trying as well as
we might to prevent the difference of level between us from tilting the
litter too much for her comfort.

"Where _are_ you going, papa?" she said once, but without a sign of
fear in her voice, as a little slip I made lowered my end of the litter
suddenly. "You must be going up a steep place. Don't hurt yourself,
dear papa."

We had changed our positions, and were now carrying her, head foremost,
up the hill. Percivale led, and I followed. Now I could see every
change on her lovely face, and it made me strong to endure; for I did
find it hard work, I confess, to get to the top. It lay like a little
sunny pool, on which all the cloudy thoughts that moved in some unseen
heaven cast exquisitely delicate changes of light and shade as they
floated over it. Percivale strode on as if he bore a feather behind
him. I did wish we were at the top, for my arms began to feel like
iron-cables, stiff and stark - only I was afraid of my fingers giving
way. My heart was beating uncomfortably too. But Percivale, I felt
almost inclined to quarrel with him before it was over, he strode on so
unconcernedly, turning every corner of the zigzag where I expected him
to propose a halt, and striding on again, as if there could be no
pretence for any change of procedure. But I held out, strengthened by
the play on my daughter's face, delicate as the play on an opal - one
that inclines more to the milk than the fire.

When at length we turned in through the gothic door in the battlemented
wall, and set our lovely burden down upon the grass -

"Percivale," I said, forgetting the proprieties in the affected humour
of being angry with him, so glad was I that we had her at length on the
mount of glory, "why did you go on walking like a castle, and pay no
heed to me?"

"You didn't speak, did you, Mr. Walton," he returned, with just a
shadow of solicitude in the question.

"No. Of course not," I rejoined.

"O, then," he returned, in a tone of relief, "how could I? You were my
captain: how could I give in so long as you were holding on?"

I am afraid the _Percivale_, without the _Mister_, came again and again
after this, though I pulled myself up for it as often as I caught
myself.

"Now, papa!" said Connie from the grass.

"Not yet, my dear. Wait till your mamma and Wynnie come. Let us go and
meet them, Mr. Percivale."

"O yes, do, papa. Leave me alone here without knowing where I am or
what kind of a place I am in. I should like to know how it feels. I
have never been alone in all my life."

"Very well, my dear," I said; and Percivale and I left her alone in the
ruins.

We found Ethelwyn toiling up with Wynnie helping her all she could.

"Dear Harry," she said, "how could you think of bringing Connie up such
an awful place? I wonder you dared to do it."

"It's done you see, wife," I answered, "thanks to Mr. Percivale, who
has nearly torn the breath out of me. But now we must get you up, and
you will say that to see Connie's delight, not to mention your own, is
quite wages for the labour."

"Isn't she afraid to find herself so high up?"

"She knows nothing about it yet."

"You do not mean you have left the child there with her eyes tied up."

"To be sure. We could not uncover them before you came. It would spoil
half the pleasure."

"Do let us make haste then. It is surely dangerous to leave her so."

"Not in the least; but she must be getting tired of the darkness. Take
my arm now."

"Don't you think Mrs. Walton had better take my arm," said Percivale,
"and then you can put your hand on her back, and help her a little that
way."

We tried the plan, found it a good one, and soon reached the top. The
moment our eyes fell upon Connie, we could see that she had found the
place neither fearful nor lonely. The sweetest ghost of a smile hovered
on her pale face, which shone in the shadow of the old gateway of the
keep, with light from within her own sunny soul. She lay in such still
expectation, that you would have thought she had just fallen asleep
after receiving an answer to a prayer, reminding me of a little-known
sonnet of Wordsworth's, in which he describes as the type of Death -

"the face of one
Sleeping alone within a mossy cave
With her face up to heaven; that seemed to have
Pleasing remembrance of a thought foregone;
A lovely beauty in a summer grave."

[Footnote: _Miscellaneous Sonnets_, part i.28.]

But she heard our steps, and her face awoke.

"Is mamma come?"

"Yes, my darling. I am here," said her mother. "How do you feel?"

"Perfectly well, mamma, thank you. Now, papa!"

"One moment more, my love. Now, Percivale."

We carried her to the spot we had agreed upon, and while we held her a
little inclined that she might see the better, her mother undid the
bandage from her head.

"Hold your hands over her eyes, a little way from them," I said to her
as she untied the handkerchief, "that the light may reach them by
degrees, and not blind her."

Ethelwyn did so for a few moments, then removed them. Still for a
moment or two more, it was plain from her look of utter bewilderment,
that all was a confused mass of light and colour. Then she gave a
little cry, and to my astonishment, almost fear, half rose to a sitting
posture. One moment more and she laid herself gently back, and wept and
sobbed.

And now I may admit my reader to a share, though at best but a dim
reflex in my poor words, of the glory that made her weep.

Through the gothic-arched door in the battlemented wall, which stood on
the very edge of the precipitous descent, so that nothing of the
descent was seen, and the door was as a framework to the picture,
Connie saw a great gulf at her feet, full to the brim of a splendour of
light and colour. Before her rose the great ruins of rock and castle,
the ruin of rock with castle; rough stone below, clear green happy
grass above, even to the verge of the abrupt and awful precipice; over
it the summer sky so clear that it must have been clarified by sorrow
and thought; at the foot of the rocks, hundreds of feet below, the blue
waters breaking in white upon the dark gray sands; all full of the
gladness of the sun overflowing in speechless delight, and reflected in
fresh gladness from stone and water and flower, like new springs of
light rippling forth from the earth itself to swell the universal tide
of glory - all this seen through the narrow gothic archway of a door in
a wall - up - down - on either hand. But the main marvel was the look
sheer below into the abyss full of light and air and colour, its sides
lined with rock and grass, and its bottom lined with blue ripples and
sand. Was it any wonder that my Connie should cry aloud when the vision
dawned upon her, and then weep to ease a heart ready to burst with
delight? "O Lord God," I said, almost involuntarily, "thou art very
rich. Thou art the one poet, the one maker. We worship thee. Make but
our souls as full of glory in thy sight as this chasm is to our eyes


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Online LibraryGeorge MacDonaldThe Seaboard Parish Volume 2 → online text (page 8 of 12)