George MacDonald.

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v. I








I. Where I Find Myself


II. My Uncle and Aunt ....


III. At the Top of the Chimney- stair

. 25

IV. The Pendulum

. 34

V. I have Lessons

. 53

VI. I Cobble

. 66

VII. The Sword on the Wall .

. 70

VIII. I go to School, and Grannie leaves it

.. 90

IX. I Sln and Repent ....

. 106

X. I Build Castles ....

. 130

XI. A Talk with my Uncle

. 157

XII. The House-Steward ....

. 172

Xm. The Leads

. 199

XIV. The Ghost

. 222

XV. Away

. 235



XVI. The Ice-cave 248

XVII. Among the Mountains .... 259

XVIII. Again the Ice-cave 291

XIX. Charley Nurses me .... 306

XX. A Dream 314



I" AM — I will not say how old, but well past
-*- middle age. This much I feel compelled to
mention, because it has long been my opinion
that no man should attempt a history of himself
until he has set foot upon the border land
where the past and the future begin to blend in
a consciousness somewhat independent of both,
and hence interpreting both. Looking west-
ward, from this vantage-ground, the setting
sun is not the less lovely to him that he recalls
a merrier time when the shadows fell the other
way. Then they sped westward before him, as
if to vanish, chased by his advancing footsteps,
over the verge of the world. Now they come
creeping towards him, lengthening as they
come. And they are welcome. Can it be that


he would ever have chosen a world without
shadows ? Was not the trouble of the shadow-
less noon the dreariest of all ? Did he not then
long for the curtained queen — the all-shadowy
night? And shall he now regard with dismay
the setting sun of his earthly life ? When he
looks back, he sees the farthest cloud of the sun-
deserted east alive with a rosy hue. It is the
prophecy of the sunset concerning the dawn.
For the sun itself is ever a rising sun, and the
morning will come though the night should be

In this " season of calm weather," when the
past has receded so far that he can behold it as
in a picture, and his share in it as the history of
a man who had lived and would soon die ; when
he can confess his faults without the bitterness
of shame, both because he is humble, and be-
cause the faults themselves have dropped from
him ; when his good deeds look poverty-stricken
in his eyes, and he would no more claim con-
sideration for them than expect knighthood be-
cause he was no thief; when he cares little for
his reputation, but much for his character — little
for what has gone beyond his control, but end-


lessly much for what yet remains in his will to
determine ; then, I think, a man may do well to
write his own life.

" So," I imagine my reader interposing, " you
profess to have arrived at this high degree of
perfection yourself?"

I reply that the man who has attained this
kind of indifference to the past, this kind of
hope in the future, will be far enough from con-
sidering it a high degree of perfection. The
very idea is to such a man ludicrous. One
may eat bread without claiming the honours of
an athlete ; one may desire to be honest and
not count himself a saint. My object in thus
shadowing out what seems to me my present
condition of mind, is merely to render it intel-
ligible to my reader how an autobiography might
come to be written without rendering the writer
justly liable to the charge of that overweening,
or self conceit, which might be involved in the
mere conception of the idea.

In listening to similar recitals from the
mouths of elderly people, I have observed that
many things which seemed to the persons prin-
cipally concerned ordinary enough, had to me a



wonder and a significance they did not perceive.
Let me hope that some of the things 1 am about
to relate may fare similarly, although, to be
honest, I must confess I could not have under-
taken the task, for a task it is, upon this chance
alone : I do think some of my history worthy of
being told, just for the facts' sake. God knows
I have had small share of that worthiness. The
weakness of my life has been that I would ever
do some great thing ; the saving of my life has
been my utter failure. I have never done a
great deed. If I had, I know that one of my
temperament could not have escaped serious
consequences. I have had more pleasure when
a grown man in a certain discovery concerning
the ownership of an apple of which I had taken
the ancestral bite when a boy, than I can re-
member to have resulted from any action of my
own during my whole existence. But I detest
the notion of puzzling my reader in order to
enjoy her fancied surprise, or her possible praise
of a worthless ingenuity of concealment. If I
ever appear to behave thus, it is merely that I
follow the course of my own knowledge of my-
self and my affairs, without any desire to give


either the pain or the pleasure of suspense, if
indeed I may flatter myself with the hope of in-
teresting her to such a degree that suspense
should become possible.

When I look over what I have written, I find
the tone so sombre — let me see : what sort of an
evening is it on which I commence this book ?
Ah ! I thought so : a sombre evening. The sun
is going down behind a low bank of grey cloud,
the upper edge of which he tinges with a faded
yellow. There will be rain before morning. It
is late Autumn, and most of the crops are
gathered in. A bluish fog is rising from the
lower meadows. As I look I grow cold. It is
not, somehow, an interesting evening. Yet if
I found just this evening well described in a
novel, I should enjoy it heartily. The poorest,
weakest drizzle upon the window-panes of a
dreary road-side inn in a country of slate-
quarries, possesses an interest to him who
enters it by the door of a book, hardly less than
the pouring rain which threatens to swell every
brook to a torrent. How is this ? I think it is
because your troubles do not enter into the book,
and its troubles do not enter into you, and


therefore nature operates upon you unthwarted
by the personal conditions which so often
counteract her present influences. But I will
rather shut out the fadi?ig west, the gathering
mists, and the troubled consciousness of nature
altogether, light my fire and my pipe, and
then try whether in my first chapter I cannot
be a boy again in such fashion that my com-
panion, that is, my reader, will not be too im-
patient to linger a little in the meadows of
childhood ere we pass to the corn-fields of riper



"VTO wisest chicken, I presume, can recall the
-L* first moment when the chalk-oval surround-
ing it gave way, and instead of the cavern of
limestone which its experience might have led
it to expect, it found a world of air and move-
ment and freedom and blue sky — with kites in
it. For my own part, I often wished, when a
child, that I had watched while God was mak-
ing me, so that I might have remembered how
he did it. Now my wonder is whether, when I
creep forth into " that new world which is the
old," I shall be conscious of the birth, and enjoy
the whole mighty surprise, or w T hether I shall
become gradually aware that things are changed
and stare about me like the new-born baby.
What will be the candle-flame that shall first


attract my new-born sight ? But I forget that
speculation about the new life is not writing the
history of the old.

I have often tried how far back my memory
could go. I suspect there are awfully ancient
shadows mingling with our memories ; but, as
far as I can judge, the earliest definite memory
I have is the discovery of how the wind is
made ; for I saw the process going on before my
very eyes, and there could be, and there was,
no doubt of the relation of cause and effect in
the matter. There were the trees swaying
themselves about after the wildest fashion, and
there was the wind in consequence visiting my
person somewhat too roughly. The trees were
blowing in my face. They made the wind, and
threw it at me. I used my natural senses, and this
was what they told me. The discovery impressed
me so deeply that even now I cannot look upon
trees without a certain indescribable and, but
for this remembrance, unaccountable awe. A
grove was to me for many years a fountain of
winds, and, in the stillest day, to look into a
depth of gathered stems filled me with dismay ;
for the whole awful assembly might, writhing


together in earnest and effectual contortion, at
any moment begin their fearful task of churning
the wind.

There were no trees in the neighbourhood of
the house where I was born. It stood in the
midst of grassland nothing but grass was to be
seen for a long way on every side of it. There
was not a gravel path or a road near it. Its
walls, old and rusty, rose immediately from
the grass. Green blades and a few heads of
daisies leaned trustingly against the brown
stone, all the sharpness of whose fractures had
long since vanished, worn away by the sun and
the rain, or filled up by the slow lichens, which
I used to think were young stones growing out
of the wall. The ground was part of a very old
dairy-farm, and my uncle, to whom it belonged,
would not have a path about the place. But
then the grass was well subdued by the cows,
and, indeed, I think, would never have grown
very long, for it was of that delicate sort which
we see only on downs and in parks and on old
grazing farms. All about the house — as far, at
least, as my lowly eyes could see, the ground was
perfectly level, and this lake of greenery, out of


which it rose like a solitary rock, was to me an
unfailing mystery and delight. This will sound
strange in the ears of those who consider a
mountainous, or at least an undulating surface
essential to beauty ; but nature is altogether in-
dependent of what is called fine scenery. There
are other organs than the eyes, even if grass
and water and sky were not of the best and love-
liest of nature's shows.

The house, I have said, was of an ancient-
looking stone, grey and green and yellow and
brown. It looked very hard ; yet there were
some attempts at carving about the heads of
the narrow windows. The carving had, how-
ever, become so dull and shadowy that I could
not distinguish a single form or separable por-
tion of design : still some ancient thought
seemed ever flickering across them. The
house, which was two stories in height, had a
certain air of defence about it, ill to explain. It
had no eaves, for the walls rose above the edge
of the roof ; but the hints at battlements were
of the merest. The roof, covered with grey
slates, rose very steep, and had narrow, tall
dormer windows in it. The edges of the gables


rose, not in a slope, but in a succession of
notches, like stairs. Altogether, the shell to
which, considered as a crustaceous animal, I
belonged — for man is every animal according
as you choose to contemplate him — had an old-
world look about it — a look of the time when
men had to fight in order to have peace, to kill
in order to live. Being, however, a crustaceous
animal, I, the heir of all the new impulses of
the age, was born and reared in closest neigh-
bourhood with strange relics of a vanished time.
Humanity so far retains its chief characteristics
that the new generations can always flourish
in the old shell.

The dairy was at some distance, so deep in a
hollow that a careless glance would not have
discovered it. I well remember my astonish-
ment when my aunt first took me there ; for I
had not even observed the depression of sur-
face : all had been a level green to my eyes.
Beyond this hollow were fields divided by
hedges, and lanes, and the various goings to
and fro of a not unpeopled although quiet neigh-
bourhood. Until I left home for school, how-
ever, I do not remember to have seen a carriage


of any kind approach our solitary dwelling.
My uncle would have regarded it as little short
of an insult for any one to drive wheels over
the smooth lawny surface in which our house
dwelt like a solitary island in the sea.

Before the threshold lay a brown patch, worn
bare of grass, and beaten hard by the descend-
ing feet' of many generations. The stone
threshold itself was worn almost to a level with
it. A visitor's first step was into what would,
in some parts, be called the house-place, a room
which served all the purposes of a kitchen, and
yet partook of the character of an old hall. It
rose to a fair height, with smoke-stained beams
above ; and was floored with a kind of cement,
hard enough, and yet so worn that it required
a good deal of local knowledge to avoid cer-
tain jars of the spine from sudden changes of
level. All the furniture was dark and shining,
especially the round table, which, with its be-
wildering, spider-like accumulation of legs,
waited under the mullioned, lozenged win-
dow until meal-times, when, like an animal
roused from its 1 airy it stretched out those legs,
and assumed expanded and symmetrical shape


in front of the fire in Winter, and nearer the
door in Summer. It recalls the vision of my
aunt, with a hand at each end of it, searching
empirically for the level — feeling for it, that is,
with the creature's own legs — before lifting the
hanging leaves, and drawing out the hitherto
supernumerary legs to support them ; after
which would come a fresh adjustment of level,
another hustling to and fro, that the new feet
likewise might settle on elevations of equal
height ; and then came the snowy cloth or the
tea-tray, deposited cautiously upon its shining

The walls of this room were always white-
washed in the Spring, occasioning ever a sharp-
ened contrast with the dark-brown ceiling.
Whether that was even swept I do not know ;
I do not remember ever seeing it done. At all
events, its colour remained unimpaired by paint
or whitewash. On the walls hung various
articles, some of them high above my head,
and attractive for that reason if for no other.
I never saw one of them moved from its place
— not even the fishing-rod, which required the
whole length betwixt the two windows : three


rusty hooks hung from it, and waved about
when a wind entered ruder than common.
Over the fishing-rod hung a piece of tapestry,
about a yard in width, and longer than that.
It would have required a very capable con-
structiveness indeed to supply the design from
what remained, so fragmentary were the forms,
and so dim and faded were the once bright
colours. It was there as an ornament ; for that
which is a mere complement of higher modes of
life, becomes, when useless, the ornament of
lower conditions : what we call great virtues
are little regarded by the saints. It was long
before I began to think how the tapestry could
have come there, or to what it owed the honour
given it in the house.

On the opposite wall hung another object,
which may well have been the cause of my care-
lessness about the former — attracting to itself
all my interest. It was a sword, in a leather
sheath. From the point, half way to the hilt,
the sheath was split all along the edge of the
weapon. The sides of the wound gaped, and
the blade was visible to my prying eyes. It
was with rust almost as dark a brown as the


scabbard that infolded it. But the under parts
of the hilt, where dust could not settle, gleamed
with a faint golden shine. That sword was to
my childish eyes the type of all mystery, a
clouded glory, which for many long years I
never dreamed of attempting to unveil. Not
the sword Excalibur, had it been "stored in
some treasure-house of mighty kings," could
have radiated more marvel into the hearts of
young knights than that sword radiated into
mine. Night after night I would dream of
danger drawing nigh — crowds of men of evil
purpose — enemies to me or to my country ; and
ever in the beginning of my dream, I stood
ready, foreknowing and waiting ; for I had
climbed and had taken the ancient power from
the wall, and had girded it about my waist —
always with a straw rope, the sole band within
my reach ; but as it went on, the power depart-
ed from the dream : I stood waiting for foes
who would not come ; or they drew near in fury,
and when I would have drawn my weapon, old
blood and rust held it fast in its sheath, and I
tugged at it in helpless agony ; and fear invad-
ed my heart, and I turned and fled, pursued by


my foes until I left the dream itself behind,
whence the terror still pursued me.

There were many things more on those walls.
A pair of spurs, of make modern enough, hung
between two pewter dish-covers. Hanging
book-shelves came next ; for although most of
my uncle's books were in his bed-room, some of
the commoner were here on the wall, next to
an old fowling-piece, of which both lock and
barrel were devoured with rust. Then came a
great pair of shears, though how they should
have been there I cannot yet think, for there
was no garden to the house, no hedges or trees
to clip. I need not linger over these things.
Their proper place is in the picture with which
I would save words and help understanding if
I could.

Of course there was a great chimney in the
place ; chiefly to be mentioned from the singu-
lar fact that just round its corner was a little
door opening on a rude winding stair of stone.
This appeared to be constructed within the
chimney ; but on the outside of the wall, was a
half-round projection, revealing that the stair
was not indebted to it for the whole of its


accommodation. Whither the stair led, I shall
have to disclose in my next chapter. From
the opposite end of the kitchen, an ordinary
wooden staircase, with clumsy balustrade, led
up to the two bed-rooms occupied by my uncle
and my aunt ; to a large lumber-room, whose
desertion and almost emptiness was a source of
uneasiness in certain moods ; and to a spare
bed-room, which was better furnished than any
of ours, and indeed to my mind a very grand
and spacious apartment. This last was never
occupied during my childhood ; consequently it
smelt musty notwithstanding my aunt's exem-
plary housekeeping. Its bedsteads must have
been hundreds of years old. Above these rooms
again were those to which the dormer windows
belonged, and in one of them I slept. It had a
deep closet in which I kept my few treasures,
and into which I used to retire when out of
temper or troubled, conditions not occurring
frequently, for nobody quarrelled with me, and
I had nobody with whom I might have quar-

When I climbed upon a chair, I could seat
myself on the broad sill of the dormer window.



This was the watch-tower whence I viewed the
world. Thence I could see trees in the dis-
tance — too far off for me to tell whether they
were churning wind or not. On that side those
trees alone were between me and the sky.

One day when my aunt took me with her in-
to the lumber-room, I found there, in a corner,
a piece of strange mechanism. It had a kind of
pendulum ; but I cannot describe it because I
had lost sight of it long before I was capable of
discovering its use, and my recollection of it is
therefore very vague — far too vague to admit
of even a conjecture now as to what it could
have been intended for. But I remember well
enough my fancy concerning it, though when
or how that fancy awoke I cannot tell either.
It seems to me as old as the finding of the in-
strument. The fancy was that if I could keep
that pendulum wagging long enough, it would
set all those trees going too ; and if I still kept
it swinging, we should have such a storm of
wind as no living man had ever felt or heard
of. That I more than half believed it, will be
evident from the fact that, although I frequent-
ly carried the pendulum, as I shall call it, to


the window sill, and set it in motion by way of
experiment, I had not, np to the time of a cer-
tain incident which I shall very soon have to
relate, had the courage to keep np the oscilla-
tion beyond ten or a dozen strokes ; partly from
fear of the trees, partly from a dim dread of
exercising power whose source and extent were
not within my knowledge. I kept the pendu-
lum in the closet I have mentioned, and never
spoke to anyone of it.

c 2




TTTE were a curious household. I remembered
' ' neither father nor mother ; and the wo-
man I had been taught to call auntie was no
such near relation. My uncle was my father's
brother, and my aunt was his cousin, by the
mother's side. She was a tall, gaunt woman,
with a sharp nose and eager eyes, yet sparing
of speech. Indeed, there was very little speech
to be heard in the house. My aunt, however,
looked as if she could have spoken. I think it
was the spirit of the place that kept her silent,
for there were those eager eyes. She might
have been expected also to show a bad temper,
but I never saw a sign of such. To me she was
always kind ; chiefly, I allow, in a negative way,
leaving me to do very much as I pleased. I


doubt if she felt any great tenderness for me,
although I had been dependent upon her care
from infancy. In after-years I came to the
conclusion that she was in love with my uncle ;
and perhaps the sense that he was indifferent
to her save after a brotherly fashion, combined
with the fear of betraying herself and the con-
sciousness of her unattractive appearance, to
produce the contradiction between her looks
and her behaviour.

Every morning, after our early breakfast, my
uncle walked away to the farm, where he re-
mained until dinner-time. Often, when busy
at my own invented games in the grass, I have
caught sight of my aunt, standing motionless
with her hand over her eyes, watching for the
first glimpse of my uncle ascending from the
hollow where the farm-buildings lay ; and oc-
casionally, when something had led her thither
as well, I would watch them returning together
over the grass, when she would keep glancing
up in his face at almost regular intervals, al-
though it was evident they were not talking,
but he never turned his face or lifted his eyes
from the ground a few yards in front of him.


He was a tall man of nearly fifty, with grey
hair, and quiet meditative blue eyes. He
always looked as if he were thinking. He had
been intended for the church, but the means
for the prosecution of his studies failing, he had
turned his knowledge of rustic affairs to ac-
count, and taken a subordinate position on a
nobleman's estate, where he rose to be bailiff.
When my father was seized with his last illness,
he returned to take the management of the
farm. It had been in the family for many gene-
rations. Indeed that portion of it upon which
the house stood, was our own property. When
my mother followed my father, my uncle asked
his cousin to keep house for him. Perhaps she
had expected a further request, but more had
not come of it.

When he came in, my uncle always went
straight to his room ; and having washed his
hands and face, took a book and sat down in
the window. If I were sent to tell him that
the meal was ready, I was sure to find him read-
ing. He would look up, smile, and look down
at his book again ; nor, until I had formally de-
livered my message, would he take further


notice of me. Then he would rise, lay his book
carefully aside, take my hand, and lead me down

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