I confess I was a little dismayed to find what a solemn turn the
club-stories had taken. But this dismay lasted for a moment only;
for I saw that Adela was deeply interested again wearing the look
that indicates abstracted thought and feeling. I said to myself:
"This is very different mental fare from what you have been used to
But she seemed able to mark learn and inwardly digest it for she had
the appearance of one who is stilled by the strange newness of her
thoughts. I was sure that she was now experiencing a consciousness of
existence quite different from anything she had known before. But it
had a curious outcome.
For when the silence began to grow painful no one daring to ask a
question and Mrs. Cathcart had resumed her knitting Adela suddenly
rose and going to the piano struck a few chords and began to sing.
The song was one of Heine's strange ghost-dreams so unreal in
everything but feeling and therefore as dreams so true. Why did she
choose such a song after what we had been listening to? I accounted for
it by the supposition that being but poorly provided as far as variety
in music went this was the only thing suggested to her by the tone of
the paper and therefore the nearest she could come to it. It served
however to make a change and a transition; which was as I thought
very desirable lest any of the company should be scared from attending
the club; and I resolved that I would divert the current next time
if I could.
This was what Adela sang; and the singing of it was evidently a relief
I dreamt of the daughter of a king
With a cheek white wet and chill;
Under the limes we sat murmuring
And holding each other so still!
"Oh! not thy father's sceptre of gold
Nor yet his shining throne
Nor his diamond crown that glitters cold--
'Tis thyself I want my own!"
"Oh! that is too good" she answered me;
"I lie in the grave all day;
And only at night I come to thee
For I cannot keep away."
It was something that she had volunteered a song whatever it was. But
it is a misfortune that in writing a book one cannot give the music of
a song. Perhaps by the time that music has its fair part in education
this may be done. But meantime we mention the fact of a song and then
give the words as if that were the song. The music is the song and the
words are no more than the saddle on which the music sits the singer
being the horse who could do without a saddle well enough.--May Adela
forgive the comparison!--At the same time a true-word song has music of
its own and is quite independent for its music both of that which it
may beget and of that with which it may be associated.
As she rose she glanced towards the doctor and said:
"Now it is your turn Mr. Armstrong."
Harry did not wait for a second invitation; for to sing was to him
evidently a pleasure too great to be put in jeopardy. He rose at once
and sitting down at the instrument sang--I cannot say _as
follows_ you see; I can only say _the following words_:
Autumn clouds are flying flying
O'er the waste of blue;
Summer flowers are dying dying
Late so lovely new.
Labouring wains are slowly rolling
Home with winter grain;
Holy bells are slowly tolling
Over buried men.
Goldener lights set noon a-sleeping
Like an afternoon;
Colder airs come stealing creeping
After sun and moon;
And the leaves all tired of blowing
Cloudlike o'er the sun
Change to sunset-colours knowing
That their day is done.
Autumn's sun is sinking sinking
Into Winter's night;
And our hearts are thinking thinking
Of the cold and blight.
Our life's sun is slowly going
Down the hill of might;
Will our clouds shine golden-glowing
On the slope of night?
But the vanished corn is lying
In rich golden glooms.
In the churchyard all the singing
Is above the tombs.
Spring will come slow-lingering
Opening buds of faith.
Man goes forth to meet his spring
Through the door of death.
So we love with no less loving
Hair that turns to grey;
Or a step less lightly moving
In life's autumn day.
And if thought still-brooding lingers
O'er each bygone thing
'Tis because old Autumn's fingers
Paint in hues of Spring.
The whole tone of this song was practical and true and so was fitted to
correct the unhealthiness of imagination which might have been suspected
in the choice of the preceding. "Words and music" I said to myself
"must here have come from the same hand; for they are one utterance.
There is no setting of words to music here; but the words have brought
their own music with them; and the music has brought its own words."
As Harry rose from the piano-forte he said to me gaily:
"Now Mr. Smith it is your turn. I know when you sing it will be
something worth listening to."
"Indeed I hope so" I answered. "But the song-hour has not yet come to
me. How good you all ought to be who can sing! I feel as if my heart
would break with delight if I could sing; and yet there is not a
sparrow on the housetop that cannot sing a better song than I."
"Your hour will come" said the clergyman solemnly. "Then you will
sing and all we shall listen. There is no inborn longing that shall not
be fulfilled. I think that is as certain as the forgiveness of sins.
Meantime while your singing-robes are making I will take your place
with my song if Miss Cathcart will allow me."
"Do please" said Adela very heartily; "we shall all be delighted."
The clergyman sang and sang even better than his brother. And these
were the words of his song:
_The Mother Mary to the infant Jesus._
'Tis time to sleep my little boy;
Why gaze they bright eyes so?
At night earth's children for new joy
Home to thy Father go.
But thou art wakeful. Sleep my child;
The moon and stars are gone;
The wind and snow they grow more wild
And thou art smiling on.
My child thou hast immortal eyes
That see by their own light;
They see the innocent blood--it lies
Red-glowing through the night.
Through wind and storm unto thine ear
Cry after cry doth run;
And yet thou seemest not to hear
And only smilest on.
When first thou earnest to the earth
All sounds of strife were still;
A silence lay around thy birth
And thou didst sleep thy fill.
Why sleep'st thou--nay why weep'st thou not?
Thy earth is woe-begone;
Babies and mothers wail their lot
And still thou smilest on.
I read thine eyes like holy book;
No strife is pictured there;
Upon thy face I see the look
Of one who answers prayer.
Ah yes!--Thine eyes beyond this wild
Behold God's will well done;
Men's songs thine ears are hearing child;
And so thou smilest on.
The prodigals arise and go
And God goes forth to meet;
Thou seest them gather weeping low
About the Father's feet.
And for their brothers men must bear
Till all are homeward gone.
O Eyes ye see my answered prayer!
Smile Son of God smile on.
As soon as the vibrations of this song I do not mean on the chords of
the instrument but in the echo-caves of our bosoms had ceased I
turned to the doctor and said:
"Are you ready with your story yet Mr. Henry?"
"Oh dear no!" he answered--"not for days. I am not an idle man like
you Mr. Smith. I belong to the labouring class."
I knew that he could not have it ready.
"Well" I said "if our friends have no objection I will give you
another myself next time."
"Oh! thank you uncle" said Adela.--"Another fairy tale please."
"I can't promise you another fairy-tale just yet but I can promise you
something equally absurd if that will do."
"Oh yes! Anything you like uncle. _I_ for one am sure to like
what you like."
"Thank you my dear. Now I will go; for I see the doctor waiting to have
a word with you."
The company took their leave and the doctor was not two minutes behind
them; for as I went up to my room after asking the curate when I might
call upon him I saw him come out of the drawing-room and go down
"Monday evening then" I had heard the colonel say as he followed his
guests to the hall.
THE CURATE AND HIS WIFE.
As I approached the door of the little house in which the curate had so
lately taken up his abode he saw me from the window and before I had
had time to knock he had opened the door.
"Come in" he said. "I saw you coming. Come to my den and we will have
a pipe together."
"I have brought some of my favourite cigars" I said "and I want you to
"With all my heart."
The room to which he led me was small but disfigured with no offensive
tidiness. Not a spot of wall was to be seen for books and yet there
were not many books after all. We sat for some minutes enjoying the
fragrance of the western incense without other communion than that of
the clouds we were blowing and what I gathered from the walls. For I am
old enough as I have already confessed to be getting long-sighted and
I made use of the gift in reading the names of the curate's books as I
had read those of his brother's. They were mostly books of the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries with a large admixture from the nineteenth
and more than the usual proportion of the German classics; though
strange to say not a single volume of German Theology could I discover.
The curate was the first to break the silence.
"I find this a very painful cigar" he said with a half laugh.
"I am sorry you don't like it. Try another."
"The cigar is magnificent."
"Isn't it thoroughfare then?"
"Oh yes! the cigar's all right. I haven't smoked such a cigar for more
than ten years; and that's the reason."
"I wish I had known you seven years Mr. Armstrong."
"You have known me a hundred and seven."
"Then I have a right to--"
"Poke my fire as much as you please."
And as Mr. Armstrong said so he poked his own chest to signify the
symbolism of his words.
"Then I should like to know something of your early history--something
to account for the fact that a man like you at your time of life is
only a curate."
"I can do all that and account for the pain your cigar gives me in one
and the same story."
I sat full of expectation.
"You won't find me long-winded I hope."
"No fear of that. Begin directly. I adjure you by our friendship of a
"My father was a clergyman before me; one of those simple-hearted men
who think that to be good and kind is the first step towards doing God's
work; but who are too modest too ignorant and sometimes too indolent
to aspire to any second step or even to inquire what the second step
may be. The poor in his parish loved him and preyed upon him. He gave
and gave even after he had no more that he had a right to give.
"He was not by any means a rich man although he had a little property
besides his benefice; but he managed to send me to Oxford. Inheriting
as I suspect a little tendency to extravagance; having at least no love
of money except for what it would bring; and seeing how easily money
might be raised there for need true or false I gradually learned to
think less and less of the burdens grievous to be borne which a
subjection to Mammon will accumulate on the shoulders of the
unsuspecting ass. I think the old man of the sea in _Sindbad the
Sailor_ must personify debt. At least _I_ have found reason to
think so. At the same time I wish I had done nothing worse than run into
debt. Yet by far the greater part of it was incurred for the sake of
having works of art about me. Of course pictures were out of the
question; but good engravings and casts were within the reach of a
borrower. At least it was not for the sake of whip-handles and trowsers
that I fell into the clutches of Moses Melchizedek for that was the
name of the devil to whom I betrayed my soul for money. Emulation
however mingled with the love of art; and I must confess too that
cigars costs me money as well as pictures; and as I have already hinted
there was worse behind. But some things we can only speak to God about.
"I shall never forget the oily face of the villain--may God save him
and then he'll be no villain!--as he first hinted that he would lend me
any money I might want upon certain insignificant conditions such as
signing for a hundred and fifty where I should receive only a hundred.
The sunrise of the future glowed so golden that it seemed to me the
easiest thing in the world to pay my debts _there_. Here there was
what I wanted cigars and all. There there must be gold else whence
the hue? I could pay all my debts in the future with the utmost ease.
_How_ was no matter. I borrowed and borrowed. I flattered myself
besides that in the things I bought I held money's worth; which in the
main would have been true if I had been a dealer in such things; but a
mere owner can seldom get the worth of what he possesses especially
when he cannot choose but sell and has no choice of his market. So
when horrified at last with the filth of the refuge into which I had
run to escape the bare walls of heaven I sold off everything but a few
of my pet books"--here he glanced lovingly round his humble study where
shone no glories of print or cast--"which I ought to have sold as well
I found myself still a thousand pounds in debt.
"Now although I had never had a thousand pounds from Melchizedek I had
known perfectly well what I was about. I had been deluded but not
cheated; and in my deep I saw yet a lower depth into which I
_would_ not fall--for then I felt I should be lost indeed--that of
in any way repudiating my debts. But what was to be done I had no idea.
"I had studied for the church and I now took holy orders. I had a few
pounds a year from my mother's property which all went in part-payment
of the interest of my debt I dared not trouble my father with any
communication on the subject of my embarrassment for I knew that he
could not help me and that the impossibility of doing so would make him
more unhappy than the wrong I had done in involving myself. I seized the
first offer of a curacy that presented itself. Its emoluments were just
one hundred pounds a-year of which I had _not_ to return twenty
pounds as some curates have had to do. Out of this I had to pay one
half in interest for the thousand pounds. On the other half and the
trifle my mother allowed me I contrived to live.
"But the debt continued undiminished. It lay upon me as a mountain might
crush a little Titan. There was no cracking frost no cutting stream to
wear away by slowest trituration that mountain of folly and
wickedness. But what I suffered most from was the fact that I must seem
to the poor of my parish unsympathetic and unkind. For although I still
managed to give away a little it seemed to me such a small shabby sum
every time that I drew my hand from my pocket in which perhaps I had
left still less that it was with a positive feeling of shame that I
offered it. There was no high generosity in this. It was mostly
selfish--the effect of the transmission of my father's blind
benevolence working as an impulse in me. But it made me wretched. Add
to this a feeling of hypocrisy in the knowledge that I the dispenser
of sacred things to the people was myself the slave of a money-lending
Jew and you will easily see how my life could not be to me the reality
which it must be for any true and healthy action to every man. In a
word I felt that I was humbug. As to my preaching that could not have
had much reality in it of any kind for I had no experience yet of the
relation of Christian Faith to Christian Action. In fact I regarded
them as separable--not merely as distinguishable in the necessity which
our human nature itself an analysis of the divine has for analysing
itself. I respected everything connected with my profession which I
regarded as in itself eminently respectable; but then it was only the
profession I respected and I was only _doing church_ at best. I
have since altered my opinion about the profession as such; and while I
love my work with all my heart I do not care to think about its worldly
relations at all. The honour is to be a servant of men whom God thought
worth making worth allowing to sin and worth helping out of it at such
a cost. But as far as regards the _profession_ is it a manly kind
of work to put on a white gown once a week and read out of a book; and
then put on a black gown and read out of a paper you bought or wrote;
all about certain old time-honoured legends which have some influence in
keeping the common people on their good behaviour by promising them
happiness after they are dead if they are respectable and everlasting
torture if they are blackguards? Is it manly?"
"You are scarcely fair to the profession even as such Mr. Armstrong" I
"That's what I _feel_ about it" he answered. "Look here" he went
on holding out a brawny right arm with muscles like a prize-fighter's
"they may laugh at what by a happy hit they have called muscular
christianity--I for one don't object to being laughed at--but I ask you
is that work fit for a man to whom God has given an arm like that? I
declare to you Smith I would rather work in the docks and leave the
_churching_ to the softs and dandies; for then I should be able to
respect myself as giving work for my bread instead of drawing so many
pounds a-year for talking _goody_ to old wives and sentimental
young ladies;--for over men who are worth anything such a man has no
influence. God forbid that I should be disrespectful to old women or
even sentimental young ladies! They are worth _serving_ with a
man's whole heart but not worth pampering. I am speaking of the
profession as professed by a mere clergyman--one in whom the
"But you can't use those splendid muscles of yours in the church."