The Argosy, 1866 (3)

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MY name is Jane.  At least that is what I choose to call myself.  I want to tell anybody who will listen, what a friend of our family, James Bayley—that is what I choose to call him—told us.  I think people will care for it, because it made my sister Lizzie sleep all night with a smile on the face which constant pain makes so white.

    There is something very wonderful about James Bayley.  Some ancestor of his must have been a magician or necromancer, or something of that sort; for with a few words, flung out anyhow, nothing grand in them, he can make you see such things!  Oh! I can never tell them so that you will see them as I saw them; yet I must try.  And I know that Lizzie saw them yet more beautiful than I did; for as often as I glanced at her while James was speaking, I saw her face yet more beautiful than the visions his words were raising in my mind.  I saw those visions as it were glorified in her countenance.  What a pity it is that his words must be withered and shrunk like fallen leaves, by being blown and tossed about in my mind!

    But I must explain a little further.

    We are a poor family.  Even in these days of running to and fro, we cannot manage to leave home, at least not often, and never to a greater distance than Hastings.  Brighton none of us like.  It seems all made of hard sunlight.  But what a shame it is to abuse Brighton, instead of going on to tell you about James Bayley!  First, however, I have not quite finished about ourselves.  My father was a doctor.  I don't think there ever was such a man as my father.  Only James Bayley is very like him—in mind and character, I mean.  Well, my father died young.  So he could not leave much money for us.  And yet we were very anxious, both for my mother's sake and for dear Lizzie's, not to leave the old house.  So my sister Maria and I go out and give lessons.  It is hard work, to be sure; but then think what it is to be able to come home to our own house, and our own mother, and our own Lizzie!  When I am tramping through the wet in a day like this, with goloshes and an umbrella, thinking of the dreary two hours I shall have to spend with the Miss Drontheims—not dreary because I have to teach, but dreary because I have to teach them—I say to myself, "This is one of my dreams, in which I go tramping and teaching; but I shall wake in my own home with the tea-kettle singing on the hob, and the firelight playing on the curtains of Lizzie's bed.  "Think of that, Jane," I say to myself, "and do your work as well as ever you can, that you may wake with a good conscience."

    I wonder now if this is how people make books, wandering this way and that way, instead of going right on to the thing they want to say.  Perhaps, if they went straight, however, they would reach the end before they had made the book, and that wouldn't do.  But for me, who am only writing a short—short—essay? paper? article?—article, that's it—indefinite article, that's better—in the hope that some kind editor may think it not quite bad enough for his waste-paper-basket, it is really too bad to go on in this way.

    James Bayley is a clerk in a bank.  His father and mine were great friends.  I am afraid there are not many clerks like James.  Do you know he actually reads books?  Now I try to read books; but I know very few people who really do read them.  I hardly know whether I do or not.  I am sure he does.

    James is no richer than we are; and he too has been very little from home.  But this summer, an old maiden aunt left him thirty pounds in her will—to go, as she said, into mourning for her.  But James said he thought it better to go into gladness for her; and so, when he got his holiday, he went to Switzerland, and thanked God on the top of the Sneezer—I think that is what he called it—that he had come of honest people, and that his aunt had been kind enough to make him a present of the Bernese Alps, which he would keep in memory of her to all eternity.  "Rather better than a suit of black and a mourning ring, isn't it, dear old auntie?" he said.

    And the very first night after he came home, as soon as he had had his dinner, he came on to see us.  And didn't Lizzie's face brighten up when he came into the room?  Indeed, she raised herself higher against her pillows than she had done for the last five years.  For mamma, who was in the dining-room, had received him, and said that we were just going to have tea in poor Lizzie's room, and would he mind coming up there, for it would be like a breath of wind to the poor invalid to see such a far-travelled man as James?  As if James hadn't been in Lizzie's room a hundred times before!  Of course nothing could please him better, and so up he came.  And, as I said, she was glad to see him, and we had tea by the fire, and, as a special privilege, because he was a stranger, James was permitted to wait upon Lizzie.

    When Sarah had taken the tea-things away, and mamma was seated in the easy chair with her knitting, and the fire had been made up, and Lizzie's pillows had been arranged, and her big eyes were looking out upon the circle by the fire—a splendid peach that James had brought her lying on a plate before her—a silence fell over the whole assembly.  And the wind, which was an autumn wind, the richest of all the winds, because there are memories in it of the odour-laden winds of the summer nights, and anticipations of the howling blasts of winter, conscious of evil destiny—the wind, I say—the autumn wind—just rose once and shook the windows of the room, as if it would gladly have come in to make one of our number, only it could not, doomed to the darkness without; and so died away with the moan of a hound.  And then the fire flashed up as if glorying over the wind that it was of the party; and its light shone in the great old mirror at the back of the room, and in mamma's spectacles, and in Lizzie's eyes, and in a great silver watch-key, an inch and a half square, which James had brought from Thun with him, with a cow and a bell on one side, and a man and a pot on the other.

    "Now, James, tell us all about it," said Lizzie, so cheerily that you would hardly have believed anything was the matter with her.

    "All about what, Lizzie?" returned James, with his own smile, which has more behind it than any other smile I know.

    "Why, about Switzerland, of course."

    "How am I to do that, Lizzle, when I was there only ten days?"

    "You were away three whole weeks."

    "Yes; but it takes time to go, and time to come back.  For Switzerland isn't behind Hampstead Heath, exactly.  It takes a great deal of travelling to reach it."

    "Then you must tell us all you can, James," said I.

    "Do take me up an Alp," said Lizzie.  "I am so tired of lying here all day.  I climb Alps sometimes at night; but I want to go up one awake, with a hold of you, James."

    "Well, Lizzie, I don't pretend to know anything about Switzerland but I think I have a little notion of an Alp.  I used to think I knew what a mountain was; but I didn't.  And now I doubt if I can give you any idea of the creature, for it is one thing to know or feel, and quite another to be able to make your friend know or feel as you do."

    "We will all try hard, James.—Won't we?" I said.

    "I have no distrust of my audience," he returned; "but my visit to Switzerland convinced me of three things—all negatives.  First, of the incapacity of the memory to retain the impressions made upon it.  The wonder of the sight seemed to destroy the stuff upon which it was figured, as an overheated brand might burn its own mark out.  Second, for I can give you these conclusions as pat and as dull as a sermon—my visit convinced me of the futility of words to describe what I saw; and, third, of the poverty of photography in recording such visions.  I did not bring a single photograph home with me.  To show one to any of you would be like sending my mother that photograph of golden-haired Jane (I must write what he said) without one glimmer of the gold, without one flash of the smile—all smoke and shadow—an unvarying petrifaction.  I hate the photographs.  They convey no idea but of extreme outline.  The tints, and the lines, and the mass, and the shadows, and the streams, and the vapours, and the mingling, and the infinitude, and the loftiness, and the glaciers, and the slow-crawling avalanches cannot be represented.  Even my mind retains only a general impression.  I forgot what had delighted me yesterday."

    "Isn't it like a book, to hear him talk?" said Maria.

    To which I answered: "That depends on what book you mean, Maria."

    I saw I had hurt her, and was sorry directly; but I could not interrupt James to tell her so.  I therefore gave her a look that was known between us, and all was right, and I was able to go on enjoying.

    "Tell us how you saw the Alps first then, James, and what they looked like," I said.

    "The very moment when I first saw them is burnt out and gone.  But the first succession of sights I remember well.  I had tried to get a view of them from a great distance across the plain from Schaffhausen, climbing a little hill that lies on the left bank of the river above the falls;―"

    "Do tell us about the falls," said Maria.

    "Please don't drag me off the road to places I don't want to go to.  That's the way to put all our party out of temper.  The falls are beautiful, in spite of cockney innkeepers and Bengal lights; but I am off for the Alps, and all the cataracts in the world shall not keep me.  You will come with me, won't you, Lizzie?"

    "Yes, that I will, James," said the sweet pale-face.

    We all begged to be allowed to go too, and promised not to interrupt him again, even to pluck an Alpine rose.

    "Come up this steep path then, between a fence and a vineyard.  You hear behind you the roar of the falling Rhine; but let it roar.  We climb and come into a thicket of small firs, and through that to an open heathy spot, with a plain stretching far away just in front of us.  The day is tolerably clear, but it is a chance if we can see the Alps.  Sit down on the dry grass.  It is dry enough even for Lizzie.  A little this way, and you will clear that group of trees.  Now think of what you love best, for perhaps you are going to see mountains.  Look away to the farthest-opened horizon, through many gradations of faint-shadowy blue.  Yes, there are hills, yea, mountains enough—swells, and heaps, and humps, and mounds, and cupolas, all in grey and blue; you can count I don't know how many distances—five perhaps, one rising over the other, scattering forward out of the infinite like the ranks of an ill-disciplined army of giants.  But you see no cones or peaks, and no white-crowned elect, and you are disappointed.  The fact is, you do not see The Alps at all.  You see but some of the steps of the vast stair leading up to their solitary thrones, where they sit judging the tribes of men that go creeping about below them after the eating, and the drinking, and the clothing and never lift up their heads into the solitary air to be alone with Him with whom solitude and union are one.—I forgot myself," said James, after a pause.  "I beg your pardon."

    "Oh do talk like that, James," said Lizzie.  "I can't say I quite understand you, but I feel that I shall understand you when I have had a little time."

    Now, though I am not half so good as Lizzie, I think I could understand James.  And if I could not, how could I have remembered what he said so as to tell it as I do now?  But then I think I know more about James than Lizzie, or Maria, or even mamma does; for I have poetry of James's.  And when I read it first, I could make nothing of it; and when I read it again, glimmerings came out of it; and when I read it again, there were only some dark spots left here and there in it; and when I read it the fourth time, I understood it perfectly; and when I read it the fifth time, I began to be afraid that I knew nothing at all about it.

    "Thank you, Lizzie," said James.—"Well, I will let it come when it does come, though I don't want to talk in that excited way even about the Alps.  It is just like the sixpenny books of the words at the Popular Concerts at St. James's Hall.—Well, you don't see the father and mother Alps; you only see the little ones about their feet; and we must set off at once for Berne—by the railway.  And this is rather a trial to us.  We don't like to be under obligation to such an obtrusive snake, without a particle of conscience or even reverence in its hydra-head.  Its directors are just like the toads and frogs of Egypt that wouldn't even keep out of the king's chamber.  Indifferent to its own ugliness, instead of creeping away like an honest snake in quiet places, and coming into notice only when there is no help for it, it insists on sharing the sun with any river; yea, even on crossing the Rhine close above the torture of its terrible fall.  It has a right to be somewhere, but not there.  If they lay in its way, and it didn't cost too much, it would go right through Strasburg and Cologne Cathedrals; hissing its vile soul out in the chancel, that the passengers might have a peep at the queer fancies of our stupid forefathers, who could care to build such places, and never found out the use of steam and iron rails.  Nature, however, will soon cast the folds of her living garment over the unsightliness of its bare mechanism, weaving it kindly up with the many threads flowing from the tireless shuttle of her creation; till at last, it may be, the railroad will offend, except where they have actually stabled its monsters in the very shrines of antiquity.  Talk of desecration!  A troop of horses pawing the tesselated pavement of a chapter-house, beneath the spreading fountain of its arches of palm-boughs in stone, is a small offence compared to the filthy breath of the engine, as it hisses and screams in the very banqueting-hall of the ancient ruin, which centuries of death could not make a thousandth part so sacred in the eyes of the railway-director as the broad expanse of his own shirt-front, beneath which lies—what?  Surely the furniture of his thorax cannot really have sunk through the floor into the story below!"

    Now this was a dreadful digression on James's part; and although we laughed at his indignation with the railway-directors, we could not help thinking he might as well have told us about Schaffhausen as run a-tilt against steam-engines.  But we dared not make a single remark lest he should stop like an offended llama, and lie down on the wayside beneath the burden of his untold tale.

    "On swept the 'fire-mouthed dragon, horrible and bright,' of which surely Spenser had a vision when he wrote thus; and I blessed the blatant brute in my heart, for it bore me towards those regions of desire which, but for it, I could never have hoped to reach.  And suddenly the hills upon the horizon parted as we swept along; and past the gap, in the distance, slowly sailed, like a spectral fleet of ghastly worlds, the hoary backs and heads of the Alpine orearchs.  Then in glided the nearer hills, and hid them from my eyes—which straightway scarce believed for very gladness.  The moment they vanished, it seemed as if some awful reason concealed them; as if they sat pondering terrible mysteries in their secret place.  Again a revealing gap in the nearer mountains; and again the silent terrors flitted slowly by.  They were so white, Lizzie! so dreadful! yet so beautiful!  Again and again they appeared and vanished, for we seemed to be running alongside of them at a distance away.  And when the range of heights which concealed them from us drew nearer, and opened at no great distance from our course, then they would rush across the breach in wild haste and white dead-like beauty—great heaps with one or two peaked tops; though mighty with years and growth, yet spectral and savage.  They seized upon me utterly.  Though not quite like what I had expected, they were much beyond it.  Their vastness, more than their hoped-for height, took possession of me.  I wonder if mountains strike other people as they do me.  I generally see them like strange animals, lying down—almost always couching—with more or less vague remindings of creatures of the known world.  Ben Nevis, for instance, seen from the south, always looks to me like a winged elephant; and one of the hills of Morven, away in the west, like a grey-fleeced ram with curled horns, marching eternally forward into space.  And now, looking towards the Alps, I saw them like a flock of awful white sheep, lying there under the guardianship of some mighty Titan shepherd—sheep and yet not sheep; warlike and sombrely fierce creatures—perhaps the dogs of the great angels that guard the coasts of our world from the inroads of the fiends.  If one of those creatures were but to rise and shake itself!  Ah! the stillness of power that lay about their rooted persistency, as they faced the gulf of nothingness, looking abroad, and daring the blank space with existence!  For it seems to me, almost always, that the backs of the beasts are towards me, and that their terribly quiet faces are looking out into the unknown.—Do you know, Lizzie, I think I understand what gave rise to the grand old fable of the Giants?  The Greeks saw human shapes everywhere—as all true poets do.  And it is not always the form of an animal that I see shadowed in a mountain, but sometimes the form of a buried man, struggling and straining to rise from beneath the superincumbent mass, which has fallen into some shadowy, almost obliterated correspondence to the huge form which it covers.  In one mountain especially, in the west of Scotland, I see the shoulders of a giant heaving away from his neck and down-bent head the weary weight of centuries.  I could almost fancy I saw the outline of the knotted muscles approaching the surface in the agonizing effort to rise.  But, as I said, I felt, when I saw the Alps, that I had never seen a mountain before, had never known, in fact, what a mountain was.  And all the shapes of men and creatures vanished when I came near, and there was nothing there but their own selves, like nothing but what they arethe children of the great earth, thrust forth from her molten heart of fire into the everlasting cold.

    "As I journeyed on I fell fast asleep, for I had slept little since leaving London, and although I heard them around me talking about the Alps, I could not rouse myself to the effort of looking.  And so we drew gradually nearer to them.  And as my senses returned, I began to regret that I had not conquered sleep and watched the mountains; and I feared that the opportunity was now over.  I managed, then, to rouse myself a little and look out of the window.  And, between the waves of sleep, I saw a mighty wonder lifted up from the earth, a mountain indeed with snowy head, barred across beneath it with grey dashes of cloud—a child of earth, dwelling in heaven.  I was so deeply satisfied that I again fell fast asleep; and that vision shines on with the glory of a dream, for it is 'rounded with a sleep.' "

    "Perhaps it was a sleep," Lizzie ventured to say, "and your own soul was making a mountain for itself.  I wish I could tell, as you can, the things I see in my sleep.  Do you know, I think I have dreams given me at night just because I cannot go out and see things."

    "That I don't doubt, Lizzie.  But I am satisfied that vision of mine was a dream, although it came in the midst of sleep, and its edges were shaded off into it.  But as I can give you no idea of the delight it woke in me, the question becomes of no importance.

    "I wish, most heartily do I wish, that there were in Switzerland some quiet roadside-inns as in Wales, for instance, where you might be served with humanity—with that, over and above corporeal needs, which cannot be paid for, and can only be acknowledged by gratitude.  The hotels where the one part of the business which I detested.  And then the charges were so high that they left no margin for a poor man like me to be generous.  But when I say that I hate the hotels, it is chiefly from a sense of personal discomfort, and not from any dislike to meeting my countrymen, however unlike the mountains they may look.  It is a comical reflection, that a large proportion of the English visitors at any great summer haunt, are looking upon each other as intruders—as destructive of the solitude or ruralness of the place; each considering himself only a privileged individual, who may tread the courts of Nature without bringing defilement by his presence, and leaving it behind in his traces.  At least many talk like this when they come home.  It seems to me the very essence of snobbery.  No doubt one must meet people everywhere that seem out of their proper place; but for one to glorify himself upon such an election as admits him to it tête-à-tête with Nature and excludes others, seems to me second in enormity only to the same principle of self-glorification operating in religion.  Let him laugh at the cockneys if he will, only let him be kind-hearted; let him avoid their society if he pleases, for much of it may not be desirable; but let him acknowledge the equality of their right in Nature; and when he is thrown into their company, let him behave, not like the gentleman he considers himself to be, but like the gentleman he ought to be.  Is there not plenty of room upon those wastes for him and for them?  Love will provide a solitude in the crowd; and dislike will fill the desert itself with unpleasant forms.  Nature cannot be wronged by the presence of any of her children, even if they have been ill-bred and ill-taught in the fostering city.  Greet then thy brother kindly when he crosses thy path, whether he be fine-toned critic who gently condescends to the exoteric, of Nature, or thy big, blustering, ignorant brother, who regards all he has seen only as matter of boastful comparison with what another has or has not seen.  Try to convey the impression of some mighty existence you have beheld; find that you have made a mistake by the 'Oh! but you should have seen so-and-so, as I did, on such-and-such an occasion;' and keep not only your inward temper, but your more inward kindness, and to you the Alps will be the stair up to the throne of God.  But the man who loves not his brother may crest their highest peaks, may stand on the uttermost stone, like the living plume of the giant's helmet, and yet never be there.  All that is there will be but the phantom, the simulacrum of himself—bones, and muscles, and entrails.  He himself shall not have ascended the lowest step leading to the porch of the temple; while the poor cockney who has no words in which to express himself, save those of the counter or the Derby, but is free from contempt of his neighbour, may unconsciously receive some of the essential teaching of these parables in rocks—these sermons in stone.  Who can tell what these visions may effect in the process of his redemption into the upper air?  At least I for one will hope for him.  And I will not believe that these savage solitudes are less terrible or wild because here and there about their feet, and over their rocky necks, creep and climb human beings whom other human beings will not admit as of their kind, because they are not ladies and gentlemen; these others being in their turn despised by the self-conscious youth and maiden of ecstatic sensibility, because they can neither preserve a poetic silence, nor utter new commonplaces about the nature before them.  Would it not be better to rejoice in the knowledge that these too have escaped for a time from less elevating thoughts, and more sordid cares; for it is not the interest in to-day's dinner so much as the anxiety about to-morrow's that oppresses and degrades the man?  The world is made up of all kinds, and why should not all kinds flock to Switzerland if they please?  It will not hurt them, and they cannot hurt it.  If Shakspere had been fastidious as he was refined, where should we, where would he be now?  Despise a man, and you become of the kind you would make him; love him, and you lift him into yours."

    Now James's talk was more like talk than this; but this is as near as can give it.  And it seems to me worth giving, although another may think differently.

    Here, however, he stopped again, and looked vexed with himself that he had been preaching instead of narrating.  But presently he recovered his self-possession, and went on.

    "It had always been one of the longings of my heart," he said, "to be in the midst of the mountains, shut in with protection, and beholding, far above my head, the lonely, sky-invading peaks.  Now here I was at last, going up a valley towards the heart of the Bernese giants.  It was a narrow valley, whose steep sides were crowded with those up-reaching, slender, graceful pines, the one striking its roots at the level of its neighbour's topmost boughs, to a height casting discredit on the testimony of the poor sense.  The valley wound about, like the stream in its bottom; and at one of the turns, it was closed in (to the eye, I mean) by a huge shoulder of rock.  And what is that shining thing which lies spread out on the rock, just like the skin of an animal stretched out to dry—grey, and green, and white?  There are the four legs and the tail, a grisly sight, notwithstanding the homely suggestion of the drawing-room-rug of people with friends in tiger-breeding India!  That is a glacier, no doubt!  And a cold breath sweeping down the valley, as if from across its expanse of distance-shrunken miles, confirms my suspicion of the region 'where all life dies and death lives.'

    "Soon I was housed in one of those centres of the 'fortuitous concourse of human atoms', called a hotel; which I hate, I think, nearly as much as any poetic exquisite in existence.  But had I not sufficient compensation, when going down from my bedroom, whose window afforded little view, I peeped from one of those in the public room, and, out in the dimly moonlit night, saw a faintly shimmering ghostly peak far up in the air at distance undefined, haunting the valley, haunting the house—haunting my heart, never henceforth to let it go free from its lovely terrible presence?  I had been looking at that same mountain an hour or two before, when the mists on the sides of the valley shone lurid in the sunset.  No red touched its cold peaks: it looked on, hard and unresponsive; dead with whiteness, and hard with black rocks.  But in the moonlight it glimmered out gentle as the ghost of a maiden.

    "It was, however, when I climbed the opposing hill, on the back of an animal called a horse, but made very like a giraffe, that I felt the first full impression of what a mountain is.  For across the valley rose a vast upheaved desert, a wilderness of mountain heaps, ranges, slopes, and peaks, of which the nearest outwork, forming the side of the valley up whose corresponding side I was ascending, was precipice that filled me with horror.  This horror was not fear exactly, for I could not fall down that precipice whatever other I might fail to escape.  But its stony wall, starting from such a height, and sinking plumb-down out of sight in the narrow valley, the bottom of which I could not see, fronted me like the stare of a nameless dismay.  I strove against it, and not without success, although the overpowering wonder of that which rose above this wall was not strengthening to the nerves or soothing to the imagination.  I knew, even while I gazed upon it, that I should not remember what I saw or felt, or be able to describe it.  It was such a chaotic loveliness and awfulness intermingled in savage harmony!a changeful vision of glaciers, of shifting clouds, of rocks, of falling streams, of snow, of waste wild peaks, of stretches of all kinds of mass, and shape, and surface, mingling in all degrees of height and shadow.  And this they said was the foot of the Jungfrau!  Down below, in the valley we had left, lay fields of bright green, looking as smooth as a shaven lawn, dotted all over with little brown, wooden, toylike houses, the shelter of the goats in winter, to which were visible no paths to destroy the perfect green smoothness.  These fields (or indeed lawns would be the nearer word) sloped up, with more or less inclination, to the foot of precipices of rock, on the top of which came other green lawns, dotted in like manner with little wooden houses of a rich brown, and sloping also to other precipices rising above them in turn.  But the fields grew more rugged and bare upon the ascending terraces, and great lumps of stone came sticking through them, until at last rose the naked mountain, 'horrid all with' rock, over which wandered the feeble clouds.  And down into the midst of the rocks came the tongues, and jags, and roots of the snow and ice, which higher and higher drew closer and closer together, till the peaks were one smooth, sunshiny whiteness, except where precipices, on which no snow could lie, rose black in the midst, seeming to retire, like dark hollows, from the self-assertion of the infinite glitter, while the projecting rocks looked like holes in the snow.  And here and there, over the mountain lay the glaciers, looking lovelily uneven: fretted, purfled, and wrinkled, like a wrought architectural surface; mostly white, but mottled with touches of colour, which seemed to me mostly green, though at times I could not say that it was not blue; in either case a colour most delicate and delectable to behold.

    "Here I put up at a little wooden inn, the only inn I remember with some satisfaction.  It was so strange!  You would have felt just like wooden dolls in a wooden dolls'-house.  My bedchamber reminded me of Gulliver's box in which he was carried about by his nurse, Glumdalclitch, in Brobdingnag.  It was just a box with a bed in it—nothing but smooth boards to be seen about you.  And here, almost six thousand feet above the sea, potatoes were growing under the windows, and grass was everywhere—a sea of green about the village, whose wooden houses were browned and scorched, and had the ends of their logs furrowed into wrinkles—dividing their annual rings, by the rain and the sun.  For all about they were protected by far loftier peaks and walls; so that a height which in Wales or Scotland would have been a bare rock, was here a food-bearing country, trodden by man and beast, and haunted by lovely butterflies.  Indeed, the village is nearly as high as the top of half a Snowdon set on a whole one.  And across the gulf at your feet stands the White Maiden, now hidden in thousandfold mist, now dawning out of the cloud.  How the purposeless mists do go wandering about, now withdrawing a little, now gathering again, creeping in all shapes over the faces of the hills, and then swallowing all up as if there could be nothing there!

    "I wandered about here for a day or two, haunting the borders of the terrible gulf in whose unseen depth lay the pleasant fields of the lower valley down into which, at night, I had met the deer-like goats trooping with their multitudinous patter of feet, branching of horns, and ringing of bells.  But out of this lovely depth below would suddenly sweep up a mass of vapour, as if all beneath had been a caldron set upon an awful fire, and not the green pleasant places of the earth.  It would drift about in the valley as in a trough, and then all at once steaming up, swathe and obliterate, in a few moments, the whole universe of heights and hollows, snows and precipices—everything but a yard or two of the earth around me.  I would know that all that land of enchantment and fear lay there, but could see nothing, although through the mist might come the prolonged roll of the avalanche falling, far off, down the slopes and steeps of the Jungfrau.  This might happen twenty times in a day.  Then the mist would suddenly part a little, high towards the heavens perhaps, and you would see a solitary glitter, whiter than the mist—the peak of a dweller in the sky.  And the mist would range, and change, and darken, and clear, a perfect embodiment of lovely lawlessness, revealing such dazzling wastes of whiteness, here more dazzling, and there melting into the cloud, so that you could not part cloud and snow!  In another place, where the snow had fallen along the ribs of a precipice in furrows converging from the top, you would seem to look upon the fierce explosion of a snow-mine, radiating from a centre of blinding whiteness.  And there again would come a sweep of deadly glacier, spotted with green light through the upright scales of its splintered waves—a frozen storm—mimicking the Alpine ranges, jagged into many peaks like them; but all showing from where you stand only as mottlings and unevenness.  And all this would be varied to absolute infinitude of bright and dark, of seen and unseen, by the shifting clouds.  Standing watching the heavenly show, and rejoicing in the loftiness of some emergent peak, I would say to myself, 'There, that is high!  But I wish I could see one up there—as high as that!  Then I should be satisfied.'  And out would come another peak away up there; and yet I would not be satisfied.  And a higher still would gleam out, like a cloud grown solid, from the liquidly shifting mass; and strange hints would appear of a yet further and higher amid those blankets of the dark beyond.  And yet I cannot say that I have seen a mountain-top high enough to satisfy the longing of my eyes; for I fear they cannot, as the wise man says, be filled with seeing."


(To be continued.)



THE discovery of a gray hair when you are brushing out your whiskers of a morning—first-fallen flake of the coming snows of age—is a disagreeable thing.  So is the intimation from your old friend and comrade that his eldest daughter is about to be married.  So are flying twinges of gout, shortness of breath on the hillside, the fact that even the moderate use of your friend’s wines at dinner upsets you.  These things are disagreeable because they tell you that you are no longer young,—that you have passed through youth, are now in middle age, and faring onward to the shadows in which, somewhere, a grave is hid.

    Thirty is the age of the gods,—and the first gray hair informs you that you are at least ten or twelve years older than that.  Apollo is never middle-aged, but you are.  Olympus lies several years behind you.  You have lived for more than half your natural term; and you know the road which lies before you is very different from that which lies behind.  You have yourself changed.  In the present man of forty-two you can barely recognize the boy of nineteen that once was.  Hope sang on the sunny slope of life’s hill as you ascended; she is busily singing the old song in the ears of a new generation,—but you have passed out of the reach of her voice.  You have tried your strength: you have learned precisely what you can do: you have thrown the hammer so often that you know to an inch how far you can throw it,—at least you are a great fool if you do not.  The world, too, has been looking on and has made up her mind about you.  She has appraised and valued you as an auctioneer appraises and values an estate or the furniture of a house.  “Once you served Prince Florizel and wore three pile,” but the brave days of campaigning are over.  What to you are canzonets and love-songs?  The mighty passion is vapid and secondhand.  Cupid will never more flutter rosily over your head; at most he will only flutter in an uninspired fashion above the head of your daughter-in- law.  You have sailed round the world, seen all its wonders, and come home again, and must adorn your dwelling as best you can with the rare things you have picked up on the way.  At life’s table you have tasted of every dish except the Covered One, and of that you will have your share by and by.  The road over which you are fated to march is more than half accomplished, and at every onward stage the scenery is certain to become more sombre, and in due time the twilight will fall.  To you, on your onward journey, there will be little to astonish, little to delight.  The Interpreter’s House is behind where you first read the poets; so is also the House Beautiful with the Three Damsels where you first learned to love.  As you pass onward you are attended by your henchman Memory, who may be either the cheerfullest or gloomiest of companions.  You have come up out of the sweet-smelling valley-flowers; you are now on the broken granite, seamed and wrinkled, with dried-up water-courses; and before you, striking you full in the face, is the broad disk of the solitary setting sun.

    One does not like to be an old fogie, and still less perhaps does one like to own to being one.  You may remember when you were the youngest person in every company into which you entered; and how it pleased you to think how precociously clever you were, and how opulent in Time.  You were introduced to the great Mr. Blank,—at least twenty years older than yourself,—and could not help thinking how much greater you would be than Mr. Blank by the time you reached his age.  But pleasant as it is to be the youngest member of every company, that pleasure does not last forever.  As years pass on you do not quite develop into the genius you expected; and the new generation makes its appearance and pushes you from your stool.  You make the disagreeable discovery that there is a younger man of promise in the world than even you; then the one younger man becomes a dozen younger men; then younger men come flowing in like waves, and before you know where you are, by this impertinent younger generation—fellows who were barely breeched when you won your first fame—you are shouldered into Old Fogiedom, and your staid ways are laughed at, perhaps, by the irreverent scoundrels into the bargain.  There is nothing more wonderful in youth than this wealth in Time.  It is only a Rothschild who can indulge in the amusement of tossing a sovereign to a beggar.  It is only a young man who can dream and build castles in the air.  What are twenty years to a young fellow of twenty?  An ample air-built stage for his pomps and triumphal processions.  What are twenty years to a middle-aged man of forty-five?  The felling of the curtain, the covering up of the empty boxes, the screwing out of the gas, and the counting of the money taken at the doors, with the notion, perhaps, that the performance was rather a poor thing.  It is with a feeling curiously compounded of pity and envy that one listens to young men talking of what they are going to do.  They will light their torches at the sun!  They will regenerate the world!  They will abolish war and hand in the Millennium!  What pictures they will paint!  What poems they will write!  One knows while one listens how it will all end.  But it is Nature’s way: she is always sending on her young generations full of hope.  The Atlantic roller bursts in harmless foam among the shingle and drift-wood at your feet, but the next, nothing daunted by the fate of its predecessor, comes on with threatening crest, as if to carry everything before it.  And so it will be for ever and ever.  The world could not get on else.  My experience is of use only to myself.  I cannot bequeath it to my son as I can my cash.  Every human being must start untrammelled and work out the problem for himself.  For a couple of thousand years now the preacher has been crying out Vanitas vanitatum, but no young man takes him at his word.  The blooming apple must grate in the young man’s teeth before he owns that it is dust and ashes.  Young people will take nothing on hearsay.  I remember when a lad of Todd’s Student’s Manual falling into my hands.  I perused therein a solemn warning against novel-reading.  Nor did the reverend compiler speak without authority.  He stated that he had read the works of Fielding, Smollett, Sir Walter Scott, American Cooper, James, and the rest, and he laid his hand on his heart and assured his young friends that in each of these works, even the best of them, were subtle snares and gilded baits for the soul.  These books they were adjured to avoid as they would a pestilence, or a raging fire.  It was this alarming passage in the Transatlantic Divine’s treatise that first made a novel-reader of me.  I was not content to accept his experience.  I must see for myself.  Every one must begin at the beginning, and it is just as well.  If a new generation were starting with the wisdom of its elders, what would be the consequence?  Would there be any love-making twenty years after?  Would there be any fine extravagance?  Would there be any lending of money?  Would there be any noble friendship such as that of Damon and Pythias, or of David and Jonathan, or even of our own Beaumont and Fletcher, who had purse, wardrobe, and genius in common?  It is extremely doubtful.  Vanitas vanitatum is a bad doctrine to begin life with.  For the plant Experience to be of any worth a man must grow it for himself.

    The man of forty-five or thereby is compelled to own, if he sits down to think about it, that existence is very different from what it was twenty years previously.  His life is more than half spent to begin with.  He is like one who has spent seven hundred and fifty pounds of his original patrimony of a thousand.  Then, from his life there has departed that “wild freshness of morning” which Tom Moore sang about.  In his onward journey he is not likely to encounter anything absolutely new.  He has already conjugated every tense of the verb To Be.  He has been in love twice or thrice.  He has been married,—only once let us trust.  In all probability he is the father of a fine family of children.  He has been ill and he has recovered; he has experienced triumph and failure; he has known what it is to have money in his purse, and what it is to want money in his purse.  Sometimes he has been a debtor, sometimes he has been a creditor.  He has stood by the brink of half a dozen graves, and heard the clod falling on the coffin-lid.  All this he has experienced; the only new thing before him is death, and even to that he has at various times approximated.  Life has lost most of the unexpectedness, its zest, its novelty, and has become like a worn shoe or a threadbare doublet.  To him there is no new thing under the sun.  But then this growing old is a gradual process; and zest, sparkle, and novelty are not essential to happiness.  The man who has reached five-and-forty has learned what a pleasure there is in customariness and use and wont—in having everything around him familiar, tried, confidential.  Life may have become humdrum, but his tastes have become humdrum too.  Novelty annoys him, the intrusion of an unfamiliar object puts him out.  A pair of newly embroidered slippers would be much more ornamental than the well-worn articles which lie warming for him before the library fire; but then he cannot get his feet into them so easily.  He is contented with his old friends,—a new friend would break the charm of the old familiar faces.  He loves the hedgerows and the fields and the brook and the bridge which he sees every day, and he would not exchange them for Alps and glaciers.  By the time a man has reached forty-five he lies as comfortably in his habits as the silk-worm in its cocoon.  On the whole, I take it that middle age is a happier period than youth.  In the entire circle of the year there arc no days so delightful as those of a fine October, when the trees are bare to the mild heavens, and the red leaves bestrew the road, and you can feel the breath of winter morning and evening,—no days so calm, so tenderly solemn, and with such a reverent meekness in the air.  The lyrical up-burst of the lark at such a time would be incongruous.  The only sounds suitable to the season are the rusty caw of the homeward-sliding rook,—the creaking of the wain returning empty from the farm-yard.  There is an “unrest which men miscall delight,” and of that “unrest” youth is for the most part composed.  From that middle age is free.  The setting suns of youth are crimson and gold; the setting suns of middle age

Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o’er man’s mortality.

    Youth is the slave of beautiful faces, and fine eyes, and silver-sweet voices,—they distract, madden, alarm.  To middle age they are but the gracefullest statues, the loveliest poems.  They delight but hurt not.  They awake no passion, they heighten no pulse.  And the imaginative man of middle ago possesses after a fashion all the passionate turbulence, all the keen delights, of his earlier days.  They are not dead,—they are dwelling in the antechamber of memory awaiting his call; and when they are called they wear an ethereal something which is not their own.  The Muses are the daughters of Memory; youth is the time to love, but middle age the period at which the best love-poetry is written.  And middle age too—the early period of it, when a man is master of his instruments and knows what he can do—is the best season of intellectual activity.  The playful capering flames of a newly-kindled fire is a pretty sight; but not nearly so effective—any housewife will tell you—as when the flames are gone and the whole mass of fuel has become caked into a sober redness that emits a steady glow.  There is nothing good in this world which time does not improve.  A silver wedding is better than the voice of the Epithalamium.  And the most beautiful face that ever was is made yet more beautiful when there is laid upon it the reverence of silver hairs.

    There is a certain even-handed justice in Time; and for what he takes away he gives us something in return.   He robs us of elasticity of limb and spirit, and in its place he brings tranquillity and repose,—the mild autumnal weather of the soul.  He takes away Hope, but he gives us Memory.  And the settled, unfluctuating atmosphere of middle age is no bad exchange for the stormful emotions, the passionate crises and suspenses, of the earlier day.  The constitutional melancholy of the middle-aged man is a dim background on which the pale flowers of life are brought out in the tenderest relief.  Youth is the time for action, middle age for thought.  In youth we hurriedly crop the herbage; in middle age, in a sheltered place, we chew the ruminative cud.  In youth, red-handed, red-ankled, with songs and shoutings, we gather in the grapes; in middle age, under our own fig-tree, or in quiet gossip with a friend, we drink the wine free of all turbid lees.  Youth is a lyrical poet, middle age a quiet essayist, fond of recounting experiences and of appending a moral to every incident.  In youth the world is strange and unfamiliar, novel and exciting, everything wears the face and garb of a stranger; in middle age the world is covered over with reminiscence as with a garment,—it is made homely with usage, it is made sacred with graves.  The middle aged man can go nowhere without treading the mark of his own footsteps.  And in middle age, too,—provided the man has been a good and an ordinarily happy one,—along with this mental tranquillity there comes a corresponding sweetness of the moral atmosphere.  He has seen the good and the evil that are in the world, the ups and the downs, the almost general desire of the men and the women therein to do the right thing if they could but see how,—and he has learned to be uncensorious, humane; to attribute the best motives to every action, and to be chary of imputing a sweeping and cruel blame.  He has a quiet smile for the vainglorious boast; a feeling of respect for shabby-genteel virtues; a pity for the threadbare garments proudly worn, and for the hapless hat glazed into more than pristine brilliancy from frequent brushing after rain.  He would not be satirical for the world.  He has no finger of scorn to point at anything under the sun.  He has a hearty “Amen” for every good wish, and in the worst cases he leans to a verdict of Not Proven.  And along with this pleasant blandness and charity, a certain grave, serious humour, “a smile on the lip and a tear in the eye,” is noticeable frequently in middle-aged persons,— a phase of humour peculiar to that period of life, as the chrysanthemum to December.  Pity lies at the bottom of it, just as pity lies, unsuspected, at the bottom of love.  Perhaps this special quality of humour,—with its sadness of tenderness, its mirth with the heart-ache, its gayety growing out of deepest seriousness, like a crocus on a child’s grave,— never approaches more closely to perfection than in some passages of Mr. Hawthorne’s writings,—who was a middle-aged man from earliest boyhood.  And although middle-aged persons have lost the actual possession of youth, yet in virtue of this humour they can comprehend it, see all round it, enter imaginatively into every sweet and bitter of it.  They wear the key Memory at their girdles, and they can open every door in the chamber of youth.  And it is also in virtue of this peculiar humour that—Mr. Dickens’s “Little Nell” to the contrary—it is only middle-aged persons who can, either as poets or artists, create for us a child.  There is no more beautiful thing on earth than an old man’s love for his granddaughter; more beautiful even—from the absence of all suspicion of direct personal bias or interest—than his love for his own daughter; and it is only the meditative, sad-hearted, middle-aged man who can creep into the heart of a child and interpret it, and show forth the new nature to us in the subtle cross-lights of contrast and suggestion.  Imaginatively thus, the wrinkles of age become the dimples of infancy.  Wordsworth was not a very young man when he held the colloquy with the little maid who insisted, in her childish logic, that she was one of seven.  Mr. Hawthorne was not a young man when he painted “Pearl ” by the side of the brook in the forest; and he was middle-aged and more when he drew “Pansie,” the most exquisite child that lives in English words.  And when speaking of middle age, of its peculiar tranquillity and humour, why not tell of its peculiar beauty as well?  Men and women make their own beauty or their own ugliness.  Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton speaks in one of his novels of a man “who was uglier than he had any business to be”; and, if we could but read it, every human being carries his life in his face, and is good-looking or the reverse as that life has been good or evil.  On our features the fine chisels of thought and emotion are eternally at work.  Beauty is not the monopoly of blooming young men and of white and pink maids.  There is a slow-growing beauty which only comes to perfection in old age.  Grace belongs to no period of life, and goodness improves the longer it exists.  I have seen sweeter smiles on a lip of seventy than I ever saw on a lip of seventeen.  There is the beauty of youth, and there is also the beauty of holiness,—a beauty much more seldom met; and more frequently found in the armchair by the fire, with grandchildren around its knee, than in the ball-room or the promenade.  Husband and wife who have fought the world side by side, who have made common stock of joy and sorrow, and aged together, are not infrequently found curiously alike in personal appearance and in pitch and tone of voice, —just as twin pebbles on the beach, exposed to the same tidal influences, are each other’s alter ego.  He has gained a feminine something which brings his manhood into full relief.  She has gained a masculine something which acts as a foil to her womanhood.  Beautiful are they in life, these pale winter roses, and in death they will not be divided.  When death comes, he will pluck not one, but both.

    And in any case, to the old man, when the world becomes trite, the triteness arises not so much from a cessation as from a transference of interest.  What is taken from this world is given to the next.  The glory is in the east in the morning, it is in the west in the afternoon, and when it is dark the splendour is irradiating the realm of the under-world.  He would only follow.




DE QUINCY, in his paper On War, tells a ridiculous story of a man who tried to "pass round " a nuisance.  There was a heap of rubbish in his garden.  Not knowing that his neighbour was in his garden just on the other side, No. 1 flung the rubbish over the wall to No. 2.  Then No. 2 protested.  But No. 1 insisted that he should pass it on to No. 3.  No. 2 refused.  So here, says De Quincey, was a casus belli at once.

    Just now a gas explosion has taken place at Nine Elms, and some of the newspapers are insisting that the gas people must take their works out of town.  Thus bone-boilers and vitriol-makers must go out of town, we all know.  Then, we all of us go out of town for pure air.  Just so, we send the sewage to Barking Creek, and then go down the river for a blow.  When I was a very young turtle indeed, the cemetery clamour was at its height.  "Take your corpses out of town," said the city folks; "we won't have your sulphuretted hydrogen here!"  Companies took up the cry, and the cemeteries were made.  I used to wonder very much about these things.  By and by, it was evident the town would catch up with the cemeteries; and what was the next thing to be done?  I have lived to hear this asked, and have not lived long either.  What is Highgate cemetery but a monster church-yard out at Highgate?

    The cemetery business can hardly be the solution of our difficulty about the dead.  Shifts turning on remoteness never serve us.  Western Australia grumbles at receiving our convicts at last: and we are always getting into little difficulties about "passing on" our nuisances.  One curious point is how the complaints and alarms occasionally die out.  There is a street which I sometimes pass through, and never without hearing something which reminds me that there is a madhouse on one side of it.  Yet the neighbourhood is quite full of houses.  When the small-pox hospital was removed from Battle-bridge (King's Cross), to the Liverpool-road Islington, there was a terrible hue-and-cry among the Islingtonians about it; but the population in the neighbourhood of Cloudesley-square has certainly not thinned,—though people delicate in mind and body complain of the occasional accidents of the proximity of a fever hospital.

    People will fall ill, and there must be hospitals.  People will die, and they must be buried, (or burned, or something).  People will be born, and they must live near each other, and carbonize the air.  I cannot help the suspicion that we have got only half the truth on these matters.  Nobody wants to swallow poison, in poisonous quantity, but that the ordinary accidents of existence must have injurious consequences to ordinary health may be doubted.  It is not good for human beings to be too close to each other; but it is not good to be too far off.  You will never persuade Stephen that he is any the worse for leaning with his cheek on Chloe's, and his arm round her waist, let chemistry and physiology say what they like.  Superstitious old women tell me that a room is never properly warmed for habitation until it has had somebody in it for a time.  "My good soul," I say, "that is a bull—all it come to is, that a room is never fit for habitation until it has been inhabited!"  "Then, sir," says my old woman, "people didn't ought to go out of rooms.  What was houses made for if it isn't to live in?"

    The other day, at about five o'clock p.m., I was in an omnibus which was little over an hour in making its way from Cornhill, through Gracechurch street, to London Bridge.  That was a very long detention; but similar delays have often happened to me.  The reasons we all know; and they have been a thousand times discussed.  But there is no reason why the notions, call them fancies, which have occurred to thousands of people for remedying our street inconveniences should not be kept alive by constant repetition until something is done.  As thus: The heavy traffic ought to be carried on rails underground; it is absurd to have it crossing crowded thoroughfares, with the certainty that now and then a bridge will fall in, or a train leap over a parapet upon the foot passengers below.  Again: streets might be crossed by light bridges at frequent intervals to facilitate crossing.  Could not some enterprising tradesman take up this idea?  Suppose he had a shop on each side of the street, could he not run an ornamental bridge from side to side?  What an advertisement it would be to him!

    The widening of the streets is obvious; but then, this is only passing things on.  The houses must go somewhere; and the planetary space is limited.  The globe is only twenty-four thousand miles round, remember!  We must economise.  But how, is the question.  A section of London, from the summit of a railway-bridge to the lowest point underground to which the Londoner "subdues nature," will soon be an alarming spectacle.  Imagine the course which an underground line has even now to take.  Think of the manner in which the ground is honey-combed with drain-pipes, water-pipes, and gas-pipes.  Think of the coming atmospheric lines.  Can you escape a shuddering thrill of general blow-up-iness and collapse-and-smash-iness?  I cannot.  We pity people who live in volcanic and earthquaky countries.  But what if civilization is coming to a similar complexion?  What if London, when the population is, say five millions, and it is engineered all over, above, below, and in the middle, should explode?  Electric agency will probably be more used then than it is now, and in ways not anticipated by the vulgar.  Now conceive all London electrified; all the gasometers exploding; all the water-pipes bursting; all the plugs up, and the turnkeys gone mad or crushed; all the railway arches falling in, and all the trains smashing down among the omnibuses and cabs and people!  What a catastrophe!  The crash would be sure to climb up to Sydenham: the Crystal Palace itself must go, and what a noise all that glass would make, falling in!  It would be like the smashing of a kitchen dresser to the falling of a house.  "That won't happen in our time."  Well, I don't know; that is your remark, not mine; but one thing WILL happen in our time.  The Victoria Tower will "settle" and fall down.  That I do distinctly prophesy.  I have watched that tower like a father; and it has most distinctly the physiognomy of an edifice that contemplates self-destruction.  Do you laugh?  Very well.  Stone the prophetic man, do!  You will build me a tomb some day; and the coming New Zealander, looking on London smashed, will moralise on the epitaph which records that I was the man who foretold the fall of the Victoria Tower.

    By-the-bye, should you be surprised to hear that there are numbers of cabmen in London who do not know it? (I speak advisedly when I say numbers).  "Drive to the Victoria Tower," I have said sometimes.  Then the horse's head is turned the wrong way.  "Hallo!" I exclaim, "where are you going to?"  Says the cabman"Through Billingsgate, ain't it, sir?"

    After all the fuss that was made by the newspapers about the choice of Mr. Mill for Westminster, it is a little amusing to see how little account is taken of him in the estimates just now being made of the probable strength of the Liberal party for debating purposes in the House of Commons.  If Mr. Fitzjames Stephen had been returned for Harwich, it would have been greater; but Mr. Mill is a real power for debating purposes.  Some people professed to be surprised that he should be a good and ready speaker, with none of the faults which the House of Commons dislikes; but the surprise was idle.  Mr. Mill's style has precisely the characteristics which indicate his other qualifications.  He is prompt—almost too prompt—so overflowing is his mind; he is quiet; he is what people call unassuming; and, better still, the terror of his name will keep snobs in awe.  When they are gathered in numbers, they do not mind "hunting" a moderately great celebrity; but Mr. Mill they will stand in awe of.  When I say he is what people call unassuming, I mean that there is no obvious assumption about him.  In plain fact, he has entire confidence in himself, and a sense of superiority which is not to be entirely hidden.  But an acute man may do, inoffensively, a world of snubbing, if he is only quiet in manner.

    This evening as I was comfortably sitting over the fire, with my Pall Mall Gazette (reading in fact that article of the 11th on Public Charities), comes a neat little letter, addressed in a female hand, with three neat little initials in the corner.  It purports that my votes and interest are earnestly solicited for a lady, aged sixty,—whose father kept a highly respectable school, and was the author of "many useful works."  One knows exactly what those works were like, and how very little their copyrights fetched!  Now, as this lady has only four hundred and sixty-three votes, and wants about four thousand, it seems to me that somebody must invest a small fortune in stamps.  Nor is this the worst of it; for my votes are already promised, to a lady equally deserving and doubtless equally unfortunate; for her friends represent that she has nothing certain but the interest of fifty pounds in a savings bank; which interest, subdivided, is somewhere about a penny per diem.  Thus large sums are not merely spent but probably wasted in soliciting these votes; and I think a charity managed on this principle won't be long in becoming, what the Pall Mall Gazette wittily calls an Alpaca—"something between the decidedly good and the decidedly bad charitiesthe goats and the sheep."  A plan which may in the future become a real curse, as it is now an awful nuisance.

    For instance, suppose the subscribers to such charities increased in any sort of proportion to our population; and suppose postage ever got reduced to a halfpenny the half ounce!  It seems to me that cases of softening of the brain might not unfrequently occur about the periods of the closing canvass, and the postman be delayed an hour in his rounds, as he is on St. Valentine Day.  Had not kind people, who set about to gather votes for these poor ladies, better calculate what the stamps and paper cost them at the six or eight successive polls for which it seems necessary to work, and reckon the same at compound interest.  It really would amount to something considerable, and I think in many cases it would really be that "bird in the hand" familiarly said to be "worth two in the bush."

    I was talking to-day to my poetical friend about humour.  The fact is, he is rather fastidious, and cannot endure anything with a touch of coarseness; whereas there are some jokes (always supposing that they do not trench on the ground of morals) which I am quite willing to laugh at provided other people choose to make them.  Of course some of us have a character to keep up for poetical genius, or for solid thought, or for this, that, or the other specialité; but I am not sorry that Artemus Ward freely throws into our minds certain ingredients in which their natural composition may be (mine I don't say are) wholly wanting.  For instance, when he tells us that, during an attack of mountain fever at Salt Lake City, his nose became so sharp that he didn't dare stick it into other people's business for fear it would stay there, I recognise the delightful force and simplicity of the illustration; and what is more, I should not be at all sorry if various folks were deterred by the same pointed objection from prying into what does not concern them.

    Rumpel Stiltskin, in the German story, being in a naughty passion, stampsd his left leg so fast into the floor that it took both his hands to draw it out again (and that with much difficulty).  It strikes me that it would be charming retribution, for sticking noses into other people's affairs, if broken tips were the frequent result.

    One whose bright and delicate genius is yet held in fond remembrance by all who came under its spell, once observed, apropos of plagiarism, "It is always easy to steal an idea or an American copyright."  Now I was going to say that I could forgive the theft of Artemus Ward; but as I see that his travels among the Mormons are edited by Mr. Hingston, his companion and agent while "on the Rampage," one may suppose that Mr. Hotten, the publisher, has acted in this matter like "a London citizen of credit and renown."  American humour* has indeed such a peculiar flavour that one must needs import it.  It can't be grown at home!  Its roots were originally transplanted from the racy soil of our own counties—English, Irish, and Scotch; but these roots have pushed out vigorously in the virgin earth, and have a elements for which our intellectual chemistry has as yet hardly a assimilated a name.  What, for instance, is the special quality of the irresistible absurdity of the anecdote of the rail-splitter, who could put up so many rails in a day that it took him two days to walk back to the place whence he started?  Whence comes the exquisite flavour of the world-famous story of the coon who came meekly down on hearing the mere name of Colonel John Smith?  And wherein, as compared with English humour, with "Hudibras," "Rejected Addresses," or the "Needy Knife-Grinder," arise the brilliant repartees of that master of satiric verse, James Russell Lowel?  The Biglow Papers are more or less known among us; but not many are acquainted with that wonderfully clever poem, published in his collected verse, upon the literary society of Boston, in which he describes Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and many others under assumed names.

    Talking of Lowel's satiric poem reminds me of his charming lines on "Philothea," his name for a fair and famous American philanthropist (Mrs. Child).  How must not she, if she be yet living, how must not all our noble-hearted friends in the North rue this terrible rebellion in Jamacia!  Shade of Uncle Tom!  Inspire the leaders of the Press with mercy; let them not point a moral nor adorn a tale with this unhappy event, before a thorough investigation of causes has fixed the blame in the right place.  Other mobs have been bloodthirsty, and exceedingly civilized peoples have sent victims to the stake in shirts painted over with lively devils.  The Septembrisenes were perfectly white in their skins before they had smeared themselves with the blood of Marie Thérèse de Lamballe; their hair was not woolly, and their physiognomy was that of thin-lipped Gaul.  It strikes me that the man who put out little Prince Arthur's eyes with red-hot irons was probably a pure Saxon retainer; and he who threatened to boil Isaac of York over a slow fire was of the finest Norman blood.  Whatever atrocities, then, these unhappy negroes have committed, let the sharp punishment of the law upon individuals whitewash the race at large; and let us remember that we too have done queer things in our time, and that in a tolerably impartial way.  Two hundred or more years ago we went to Drogheda under Oliver Cromwell, and remarkable feats we did there.  Wexford also underwent what a highly liberal and enlightened historian of modern days calls "the same barbarous fate."  Our colonial wars have been none of the gentlest; and if we have not exactly smoked Arabs like hams in a chimney, we have been in times past utterly reckless of the native races.  Why or wherefore these unhappy darkies have disgraced themselves and their cause before the eyes of all the world, we know not yet; perhaps some fancied grievance had long rankled in their hearts before they "hung up the fiddle and the bow," and took to villainous weapons and cruel outrage.  Away with them to the gallows or the hulks if you will, O strict human justice! but forget not that the negro is still "a man and a brother."

    Was there a deep half-conscious satire in the minds of the friends of poor Tom Sayers when they mounted the great brown dog in a mail-phaeton as chief mourner?  Did they mean to say, in bitter burlesque, that the honest brute was better than the brutalized man? that he at least would behave like a gentleman, and look with wistful eyes over his crape collar, and indulge in his dumb heart in a longing for his old master, which gin-and-water would not quench?  Mr. Gladstone's Greeks may have taught the world to reverence life; the reverence for death is wide as humanity itself.  To lose this is to lose the last vestige of civilization.  Yet out of the heart of London came a mob to follow their chosen champion to the grave, divested of this last remnant of humanity.  "Like a mob at a Newgate hanging," that is bad enough—surging round the gallows like a sea of scum, foaming up mire and dirt; but to my thinking, this funeral-party was worse, for there was the absence of the miserable excitement of murderous passion.  In cold blood and open day they trampled, with curses, over the graves, played at leap-fro with the tombs, hooted and yelled and whistled, and kicked the ornaments from the monuments.  Has it ever occurred to any one, apropos of this Jamaica insurrection, what would be the state of things if such men and women were let loose on London?

    Certainly the Undergraduates of Christchurch ought not to be advised to know on which side their bread is buttered.  They have a fair right to require it should be well spread on both surfaces, considering the price they pay their butler!  That functionary's ideas on the cost of provisions must be curiously inverted.  He lives in the midst of war prices; eightpence for a threepenny loaf (we now quote Cambridge) is surely more than anything inflicted on us by Napoleon the First, dreadful ogre as he was.  The College butler is a gigantic relic of Protection; for him Mr. Cobden has preached in vain.  In the matter of beer, also, he has managed to brew a nice little storm.  Is it possible that he is descended from Fo-Fe-Fum, and sits in the buttery singing that he smells the blood of Englishmen; that

Be they alive, or be they dead,
I'll grind their bones to make me bread.



*  See also Gerald Massey on American Humour and on Yankee Humour.

†  Presumably reference to the Morant Bay Rebellion, 1865, and the 'Governor Eyre Case' that followed.



(Concluded from page 63.)

"I WANDERED along the green fields one morning, opposite the waste mountain, and soon came to a shallow green dell, in the bottom of which ran a brawling little stream.  It was like many a dell I had seen in Scotland, with a thicket of small, slender, girl-like trees, where the path crossed it: it was like finding a bit of home in the midst of abroad; like wandering in a strange house, in a dream, you know, Lizzie, and all at once coming upon your own room nestling in the middle of it.  And I felt a fanciful pity for the little stream which was hurrying away over its stones so fast, nearer and nearer to some terrible slope and headlong fall into the valley below, ere it reached which it might be 'pouldered all as thin as flour,' in its downward, stayless rush against the steep opposing air."

    Here followed another pause, and James sat staring into the fire, which had reached the peaceful condition of middle age—all in a glow without flame.  Again the wind made a rush at the window and died away.  I remember it so well, because I saw James start and listen as if it reminded him of some sound he had heard in the wild Alps.  It roused him from his reverie, and set him talking again.  Turning to Lizzie, he said:—

    "I wish I could make you see one of those wildly-grand visions.  But I cannot, and it troubles me that I cannot.—I wish I were rich, Lizzie, to take you all there.  If I were, you should be carried in a chair, as many ladies are.  It would be jolly!"

    "Yes, that it would, thank you, James," answered Lizzie, with a smile that left her lip quivering.  "But when I die, I shall, if God will let me, take Switzerland on my way; and I daresay I shall see it all the better so."

    None of us answered this.  And after a moment's sad pause, James went on.

    "I left this village with regret.  Our landlord was a decent fellow, and the people there did not bore you to buy.  But it would be as unfair to judge the Swiss by those met upon the ordinary tourist-routes as it would be to judge Scotchmen by the wandering specimens who, representing themselves as having failed in the 'tuitional line,' go about among their countrymen in London, infesting them into the purchase of steel pens, which they don't want, at double their value, protesting all the time against charity and obligation.

    "But I don't want to talk now about anything but the mountains, and the impression those creatures made upon me—It is a pity I am so little of a walker.  What wonders I might have seen!  But you know ever since that attack last winter, a few miles on tolerably level road is all that I can manage.  So when I resolved to cross what they call the Wengern Alp into the next valley, there was no way to manage it except on horseback.  The mare on which I made that day's journey—let her name be known—she was called Mattie by my kind, half-witted guide, whom, I hope to meet again—would carry me safely from the garret to the cellar of any house in London, where the stair was wide enough.  At least I shouldn't much mind trying her—throwing the reins on her neck too.  But, indeed, that is the only safe way.

    "I started on a fine August morning, and zigzagged for hours up the hill opposite that I had ascended before; at first in short—vandykes, mightn't I say, Jane?—then in longer stretches and gentler slopes of ascent; and then back to the vandykes again; now through pine-woods, now along the edge of steep descents, and now along the green slopes of hill-sides.  Climbing at last a green shoulder, much torn with rain-torrents, I suddenly found myself face to face with the mass of the Jungfrau from the valley to the Silverhorn.  I could have fallen on my knees before it.  That moment I cannot describe.  Great clouds crept like pigmy imitations across the front of the mighty real, which towered one rock from its base of precipices up to its crown of snows.  And as the rock towered, so its streams fell—in snow from its snow-crown, in water from the caverns of its outspread glaciers; as if the great bald head sought such hair as it could find to cover its nakedness.  And ever and anon you might hear the fall of one of its snow-streams thundering from some jagged solitude, which in the space before you might look but a rent in the mountain, or scar upon its rough face.  For the avalanches are just streams of snow, now slipping down an inclined plane, presenting from a distance the strange contrast of a slow-creeping river mantled with the foam or a furious haste—sometimes falling sheer over a precipice, a cataract of snow, not, like a river, to gather its force and flow on, but to rest hurtless and silent as death at its foot.  One which had been pointed out to me from the other side of the valley, a thin thread dropping far away in the mystery of mountain-tortuosity, we found lying a triangular mass of whiteness, a huge heap at the foot of the Jungfrau.

    "I stood and watched the torrents that rushed ceaseless from the cold mouths of the recumbent glaciers.  I saw them dilate and contract by the measure of three as they fell; as if some mighty, not yet dead heart within drove, in pulsing beats, the arterial blood of the mountain from a wide wound in its rugged side.

    "Now the clouds would gather and half wrap the great thing in their folds, as for an appointed time the weak and evanescent can always obscure the strong and the lasting; and over their swathing bands would appear the giant head of the all-careless mountain.  Now they swallowed her up, and she retired equally careless into the awful unseen.  I turned my back upon her and descended towards the valley.

    "A steep green slope, which we first scrambled up and then rode along; the first of a shower; big cattle, each with its big bell on a broad belt round its neck, glooming through the rain; faster and faster descent of rain-drops; the water running into my boots; steeper and steeper descents; fog, through which nothing but the nearest objects can be seen; a more level spot of grass, with rocks sticking through it in every direction, and haggard old fir-trees standing half dead about a stream running over the rockiest of channels and down the steepest of descents not to be a succession of waterfalls, banked everywhere by this green grass—the whole making up one of the two places I saw where I would build a house;—singing women; a glass of brandy at a roadside inn; the Eiger hanging over us through the fog, fearfully high and fearfully overhanging, like nothing I can think of but Mount Sinai in the Pilgrim's Progress; a scrambling down rocky stairs; and then, through the mist, that for which I have brought you all this way in the pouring rain—the sharp-edged, all but perpendicular outline of the Wetter-horn, close in front of our faces—nothing but a faint mass and a clear edge—the most frightful appearance by far we have yet seen.  I would not for a month's sunshine have lost that sight.  If I could draw at all, nothing would be easier than to let you see it, as it rushed from the earth through the mist into the sky.  A single line, varying in direction, yet in the effect nearly perpendicular, seen through a grey mist—that is all.  And all I can say is, It was terrible; and there is little good in saying anything, except your saying is your friend's seeing."

    "I see it," each of us cried.

    "Well," returned James, "it was just a thing you might dream.  No detail—only an effect.  But, alas! next day, when we were all dry, air, and mountain, and I, it was so different.  The Wetterhorn—and it just strikes me that it must have been named on such another afternoon as that on which I saw it first—the next day, I say, The Horn of the Tempest had retired into the hollow of the air; showed not its profile only, but its whole countenance, and yet stood back, and looked nothing remarkable—far lower, exceedingly less imposing.  Without being an illustration, it yet reminded me of those fine lines of Shelley—you must not forgive the cockneyism in the third line, although I don't believe he meant to leave it so; and you may see the line ought to end with a rhyme to storm:

The Apennine in the light of day
Is a mighty mountain, dim and grey,
Which between the earth and sky doth lay;
But when night comes, a chaos dread
On the dim starlight then is spread,
And the Apennine walks abroad with the storm.

    "And this brings me to a question I have thought a good deal about.  I don't think I have yet found more than the half of the answer.  'Why do the Mountains look such different heights at different times?'  It is easy to say that the cause lies in different conditions of the atmosphere.  Very probably—at least sometimes.  But still why, while the angle of elevation remains the same upon the eye, should the mountain look different heights?  It leads me up to a wide field which I cannot enter now, for you would be wanting me to go home before I was half across it."

    "Do go on, James," we all said.

    "No," answered James.  "It would be too metaphysical besides.  I only say one thing: I am certain that the aspect in which the mountain looks highest is the truest as to height.  Nor can any arrangement of clouds make a mountain look higher than it is, or produce an unreal and exaggerated impression of it.  But it is marvellous what a difference a few streaks of cloud laid horizontally across the face of a mountain can do to lift its head up in the brain.  And that has nothing to do with the atmosphere between.  A judgment of the distance has certainly everything to do with the estimating of the height of a mountain, and the state of the atmosphere has much to do with forming such a judgment; but I am not speaking about estimating at all, but about feeling.  Here is a little bit bearing on the subject which I wrote in my pocket-book at Thun:—

    "'Looking across this strange little town to the opposite hills last night, I thought them lower than Glencoe, or Ben Nevis, or Snowdon—that is, I almost came to that as a conclusion.  Now I see them with clouds across them, and they look twice the height they looked before.  Take my Ram from Morven, and set Ben Nevis and the two sides of Glencoe and Ben Cruachan in a range on his back, and you would have something like the height as well as something like the aspect of the range in front of me.  But it would not impress you so at once, although one of these tops is twice the height of Ben Nevis, and more.  Why do we not see them higher then?  Just because the camera obscura of our minds cannot get its lens all at once adjusted to the facts.  And there is another reason: away to the left, in a land of cloud, invisible to-day, but yesterday nearer to all appearance and clearer than those before me now, lie, like the flocks of a giant shepherd-king sitting on the circle of the earth, the white-fleeced mountains, whose very calm looks like a frozen storm, and the highest of which is nearly twice as high as the highest of those in front of me now.'—You will forgive the repetition.  I read this to show you how I thought about the varying impression of height when I was amidst the mountains.—I am satisfied just of that one thing, that, so far from a false impression being possible, no accumulation of atmospheric aids to impression can ever generate a feeling correspondent to the facts.  Meantime, I have not yet seen a mountain high enough to content me.  I should like to see the Himmalayahs.  Shall I ever look on one whose top goes far enough up amongst the stars to please even my dream-moods?  Would those fearful mountains in the moon satisfy me, I wonder?  Somehow or other, shall not even our fancies be filled one day?"

    James here making a pause—

    "Read us a little more out of that pocket-book, won't you, James?" said Maria.

    "I think I have given you everything worth giving you about the mountains," he answered; "and I won't talk about anything else to-night.  Well"—turning over the leaves of his book—"here is another passage which I don't mind reading if you don't mind listening to it.  After mentioning the tiger-skin glacier, as I called it, my note goes on thus: 'Soon we saw another greater glacier.—These were the garments of the Jungfrau, and the lady looks very fierce and lovely; and the wind over her clothes smells of no sweet spices, but of cold, beautiful death.  This glacier was precipitous, and seemed to come pouring over the sharp edge next the sky, as like white water, with dim glints of green in it such as cataracts often have, as anything motionless—motionless as the face of a dead man—could look.  All its forms are of waves and wildly-driven waters; yet there it rests.  It thinks, it dreams of what a rush it would make down that mountain-side, if only the frost would let it go.

    "'And now I have seen the maiden in her night-attire, walking in her sleep.  You would not know her from an intensely white cloud—cold white—up there in the sky, over the edge of the near, lofty ridge.

         *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

    "'How shall I convey an idea of the prettiness of the valley below?  It is like playing at the country—like the kingdom of the dolls.  It reminds me much of the impression produced by Sir Philip Sidney's descriptions of nature in the Arcadia.  From the stream which runs along the bottom of the valley rise, with much, though varying steepness, and with all sorts and sizes of gently-rounded irregularity, the greenest expanses of grass that heart can desire, up to the foot of an absolute wall of rock, over which in parts look the snow-peaks from afar; and yet they are so near that they are as part of the furniture of your house. If you saw the grass in a picture, you would object to it as badly painted, because too velvety, too soft, too delicately green.  It seems as well-kept and mown as a lawn, and all studded over with neat little brown houses, some for men and women and children, some for cows and calves, some for goats and kids, all built in much the same fashion, all pretty wooden boxes with overhanging eaves.  The brown earth shows nowhere.  All is grass lawn.  Indeed, these lower valleys produced upon me the impression of too much neatness, of obtrusive tidiness—as if the Swiss people were the little children whose fathers and mothers, giants up amongst the rocks, had sent them down to play here, out of the dangers of the mighty games going on up there in the cloudy regions.  The whole was so pretty as to produce a sense of pettiness.  And down upon this gentle, neat, book-pastoral, stare the fruitless hills—no, nothing in nature stares—gaze the fruitless hills; or rather, above it they rise, never looking down; rise like the God of the hopeless, who sees, or could see but heeds terrible creatures not.  They are these mountains.  They never love, never have any children; stand there in the cold, and the wind, and the snow, crawled over by the serpent-glaciers, worn and divided by the keen grinding saw of the long-drawn torrents: they feel nothing, they hope nothing.  But glorious are the rivers that come down from their glaciers sweeping blue and bank-full through the lovely towns of the land; and glorious are the mountain-thoughts—the spiritually-metamorphosed reflection of themselves—they raise in tile minds of men.

         *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

    "'As I stood this evening and gazed at glaciers, I thought I saw through the slow clouds over them, streaks that were not of cloud.  And straightway out dawned the mountain.  Higher and higher parts appeared, and higher and further off still.  Such a mingling of cloud and mountain!  'If I could only see that height cleared!'  And it was cleared; and therewith the hint of a further dwarfed it.  And nothing of all this show was quite after my anticipation of mountains and their peaks, but grander; less showy, and more imaginative.  How it all changed and changed!  And the highest points never appeared at all.  And then when the blue heaven came, it dwarfed them all.'"

         *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *            *

    Here James closed his not-book.

    "Weren't you very sorry to leave the mountains, James?"

    "Not in the least.  They are not for every-day wear.  I think almost I was relieved when I got upon a good space of level land again.  I am not sure that they weren't too much for me, always so high, and so rugged, and so lonely.  It certainly was a pleasure to see the horizon far off again.  They didn't leave me room enough, perhaps.  But I cannot quite tell.  And, besides, I have not left them.  I have them in me."

    "That is how you have brought them home to us, James," said Lizzie, in a tone which he thought sounded weary; though, if it was, it must have been from too much pleasure.

    "Well, you had better dream about them now, Lizzle," he said, "for it is time I left you in peace."

    And he rose to say good-night.

    "But do just tell me one thing: Did you go on a glacier at all?" said Maria.

    "Only in the most humble fashion—just trod on the tail of one creature that comes down into the bottom of the valley like a dragon of the cold, daring the summer and the torture of the soft wind.  It was strange to walk over the rough snow on its surface, or rather gravelly ice, for it was just like rough salt for fish-curing, and feel the warm wind blowing in your face, as, looking up the steep-sloping ravine, you gazed at the splintered pinnacles of the ice, with the light shining green through them.  On the tail you could walk, but along the rugged back up there, there was no passing.  It looked just like a multitude of alabaster slabs set up on end."

    "Was the colour of the ice really green or blue?" I asked.

    "I will tell you where there was no doubt of the blue," he answered.  They have cut out, for the sake of poor things like me, a small winding cave into this glacier, entering on the level of the ground.  Maria would shriek with delight at the blue of that ice-cave.  What matter that human hands made the cave?  No human hands could make, no human fancy invent that blue.  The very air that filled the hole was blue.  And it grew bluer and darker blue as you went in—such a transparent, liquid, lovely blue! bluer than any sky twice condensed, and yet as clear.  It was a delight for an angel, that blue!  And there was water running through the roof and along the floor; and the walls were so clean, and smooth, and cold, and wet!  How delicious that cold after my hot walk!  And when I turned to come out, there stood my companion with the face of 'one that hath been seven days drowned'—the ruddy cheek and lips purple, and the white very ghastly.  So likewise I looked to him, he said, for the blue changed our cheer.  And the sunlight was again welcome as I walked back, sucking a lump of the glacier ice."

    "You have not said one word about either of the young men that were with you, James, till this minute."

    "No.  I have expressly avoided it, because, if I had begun, I should have gone on bringing them in; and I didn't want to say a word about anything else till I had got the mountains off my mind.  Right good fellows they were, and are, and we got on capitally.  But I've told you enough for once'' and have tired out poor Lizzie.  Good-night."

    "Go and open the door for him, Jane," said Lizzie.

    And if I had not written too much already, I should have liked to tell you a dream Lizzie had that night.  But I won't.  I say good-night myself instead.

    If you would like it, I may tell you more about James and Lizzie another time.





I DO not think they could have found a better place to hide in if they had searched over all the Continent.  To be sure it was a place where travellers go, but not in crowds; neither is it a dangerous class of the community which frequents, or rather which darts down for a day upon Mont Saint Michel, and hurries over the castle, and is off again in hot haste for fear of the tide.  I will tell you about Mont Saint Michel presently, but in the meantime it may be better to tell you who it was who was hiding there.  It was Mrs. Mildmay, who was once so well known in the match-making world, whose pretty daughters did so well, and made such good marriages—and Nora, the last of that fair flock.  Mrs. Mildmay was not the least in the world what is called a manœuvring mother.  She had no time to carry her girls about, or exhibit them at public places, or put them up, as people say, in the market.  Possibly these horrors were unknown to her, even in conception; but certainly she had not leisure to carry them into practice.  The girls were not beautiful, and they had very little money—but they all married at eighteen, with a curious similarity which sometimes occurs in families.  Naturally people smiled when Mrs. Mildmay complained, as she sometimes did, of this singular run of luck, and grumbled over the loss of her children.  She cried at the weddings: but then it is part of a mother's rôle to cry—and the world in general, and the men without exception, concluded her a hypocrite, and envied her wonderful good fortune and success in getting rid of her encumbrances.  One thing, however, which made it appear as if Mrs. Mildmay after all might possibly mean what she said, was the way she behaved about Nora.  Nora was the youngest, light and lithe, like a tall lily, with hair of that Titian colour which has lately become so popular, and great eyes, in which the tears lay so near the surface, that the least touch brought them down.  She was not lively nor gay, to speak of, except on very rare occasions; but she was tender-hearted, and moved by any appeal to her sympathies which did not come from the legalized authorities.  Thus, she was not by any means too angelical to rebel when laws were made that she did not approve of, or when Mrs. Mildmay was struck with the curious whim of having her own way, and not her daughter's, which happened now and then.  But let anybody appeal to her from outside, and immediately the big drops would gather in Nora's eyes, and all her tender soul be moved.  She was the kind of girl who might fall in love off-hand, without two thoughts about itand fight and beat half a dozen mothers for her ten minutes' attachment.  And she was the last of all the flock, and the poor woman, who had brought them all up to be other people's wives, began to look forward with horror to the prospect of being left all alone.  She thought to herself, if she could but save the last—if she could but keep her sweet companion a little longer, until the time when Nora should have "sense," and be able to exercise that impossible suffrage which the fathers and mothers somehow seem to believe in, and make a good choice.  Perhaps, in the depths of her heart, poor Mrs. Mildlmay hoped or dreamed that she herself might somewhere light upon the not altogether impossible son-in-law who would be a son to her, and spare her a little of her daughter.  Such futile dreams do linger in the corners of the female mind long after it ought to have learned better.  Anyhow, Mrs. Mildmay was like the queen whose princess was to be all safe if she could but be shut up in a tower, and kept from all possibility of intercourse with old women spinning, until she had passed her eighteenth birthday.  It was not old women, but young men of whom Nora's mother was afraid; but she thought foolishly that she would feel safe if she had only tided over the perilous boundaries of that eighteenth year.

    And of course everybody knows how little she went out that last winter how she kept poor Nora shut up, to her intensest indignation, and such sympathy on the part of her emancipated contemporaries, that schemes of forcible rescue were discussed at innumerable teas, over the five o'clock bread-and-butter.  And then Mrs. Mildmay went abroad, the heartless woman; not as other people do, to places where a poor girl could have a little amusement—but to poky places where tourists go, and artists, and antiquaries, and travellers that description.  She was so good to Nora, that the girl would have been in transports of gratitude, had she not been, as she was, an injured woman, kept in the background by a cruel parent.  Nora did not make the journey so pleasant as it might have been to her mother.  She did not in the least understand the mournful yearning over her last companion which lay deep under Mrs. Mildmay's smile.  It was not to be expected that she could understand it—and she was young and wanted pleasure, and to have her day as her sisters had.  She was cross many and many a day when the poor mother was trying all that woman could do to please and amuse her, and call back her child's heart.  But as for Nora, instead of letting her mother have it, she stood at the door in her youthful wantonness, and held that heart in her hand, like a bird, ready to let it fly she could not tell where.  And this was the state of affairs when they came to the quaintest nest that ever fluttering bird was caged in, where Michael the Archangel, on the pinnacles of his chapel, sets one foot on land and one on sea.

    If anybody could be safe under such circumstances, surely it must have been there; for there was not a man on the rock except the fishers, and Le Brique the guide, who took care of the travellers on the dangerous sands, and the brisk Curé, and M. le Aumonier.  As for the travellers, Mrs. Mildmay felt sure she had nothing to fear.  It was a poky place, and they were only poky people who ventured so far—people who wrote books about rural manners and customs, or archæologists, or artists, or devout Catholics, or tourist English—and Nora was in as little danger with such visitors as with M. le Aumonier himself.  And the best of it was, that the girl was pleased, and liked the idea of living where never civilized Christian had lived before, and of being cut off from the world twice a day when there were spring-tides, on an inaccessible rock, where an enchanted princess might have lived, surrounded by sands that swallowed people up, and a sea that came upon you without any warning.  She liked it perversely as girls do, and poor Mrs. Mildmay was at ease in her mind, though very far from being at ease in her body.  For all the roads are stairs at Mont Saint Michel, and the population not only catch and sell and eat, but breathe fish in all its stages of existence after death.  That fine, infinitesimal all-pervading quintessence of herrings and cockles, which is called air in most fishing towns, was concentrated into a finer and more subtle ichor still on the Archangel's rock; and M. le Aumonier's fauteuil, which he had placed at the service of the ladies, was but a hard arm-chair.  Mrs. Mildmay was happy in her mind, but she was very uneasy in her person, and asked herself many a day, as she looked over the vast expanse of sand and irregular lines of sea, and saw the pilgrim processions winding with their crosses over the dangerous paths, or "kilted" into nondescript creatures, neither men nor women, to cross the chance currents that traversed it—whether her safety was worth the trouble.  The pilgrims, and the indiscriminate host, all alike kilted; men, women, and children, who went day by day to get cockles and anything else that came in their way; and the stealthy tides that hurried up with a silent spring, like a beast of prey; and the sands that sunk under the traveller's feet, where Le Brique ran to and fro all the long day with his bare Hercules legs, and the bit of ribbon on his breast, that answered for eighteen lives saved; was all that was ever to be seen from the windows; except now and then, indeed, when the monotonous cadence of the chant announced a procession going up to do honour to St. Michael, dressed all in its best, with now and then a magnificent Norman cap, or even by times a scared and weary Bretonne, to give it a little interest; for, to tell the truth, Mrs. Mildmay not being an artist, thought but little of the castle or the chapel half way up to heaven, where the Archangel held airy sway.  They were very fine no doubt, but she would not have given the prospect from her own little house at the corner of Park-lane with a peep over the Park, for half a dozen Gothic castles.  And no doubt she was right.

    But Nora happily was of a different way of thinking.  The oddness of everything caught her fancy.  She even changed out of her natural style, and took to laughing instead of crying, and grew a finished coquette in a moment, and bewildered Le Brique, and did her best to turn the head of that good Curé.  She used to drag her poor mamma, or, when Mrs. Mildmay rebelled, the respectable Briggs, her mamma's maid, up all the horrible stairs to the chapel every time there was a pilgrimage—and that was so often that Briggs's knees gave way at the very thought.  And the Curé, when he led the choir, and when it was M. le Aumonier who said mass, looked round and nodded at her, and metaphorically clapped his hands in the middle of the service when Nora's clear, cultivated voice rose up above those of the fisher maidens, and soared away into the dim old vault, in the Agnus Dei.  The good man had a French horn which he loved, and from which he used to interject a note when the singers went too low; but they did not go too low when Nora was there, and he blew out his accompanying cadence for pure love.   It was good to see him bringing in this instrument carrying it in his arms as if it had been a baby; and it was all the instrument they had at Mont Saint Michel—except to be sure in the Castle chapel, where the pilgrims went, carrying with them sometimes an odd enough music.  All these primitive surroundings had, it appeared, a good effect upon Nora; and Mrs. Mildmay, poor soul, thanked heaven, and breathed a little freer, and put up with the atmosphere of fishes and the want of furniture, and M. le Aumonier's arm-chair.

    This was the state of affairs one fair, slumbrous July day, when Mrs. Mildmay was alone in-doors.  From her window she could look down on the ramparts and on the vast sands beyond, and the low line of the Norman coast, and Avranches on its hill, shining where it stands, and looking a great deal more agreeable in the distance than it looks on a nearer view, like many other things.  Down below was an old bastion, sweet with a fluttering parterre of white pinks, and fanned by the great leaves of M. le Aumonier's favourite fig-tree.  The sun was glaring on Avranches in the distance, and on the sea close at hand, and on the odd little groups on the sands, like specks—the cockle-gatherers at their work; and the windows were open, and no smell of fish, though there were so many in it, came from the sea.  And a soft sort of drowsy content came over Mrs. Mildmay.  Nora was out as usual, no doubt rambling about the castle halls and chapels, or out on the breezy ramparts, making abortive sketches, and enjoying herself.  At last she had begun to taste again the child's pleasures—to love the air and the blue sky, and to be happy in her youth and her existence without asking anything else; and a feeling that the eighteenth year might after all be tided over, and the good choice made, and the not impossible son-in-law might yet be found in the future to glad the mother's eye, came into Mrs. Mildmay's heart.  This is what she was thinking when she heard some one come in at the door.  Doors have no locks in Mont Saint Michel, so that even with the best will in the world, an English lady cannot shut them, but must take her chance like her neighbours.  Perhaps it was Nora—perhaps it was M. le Aumonier coming in for a chat.  But it was a step slightly hesitating, which lingered and stopped, and then came on.  Mrs. Mildmay did not take much notice, for by this time she was used to the place, and she went on with her thoughts, even after the door of her own room was tapped at and opened.  "I beg your pardon," said an English voice, "could you tell meGood heavens!" and here the intruder stopped short.  Mrs. Mildmay turned round from the peaceful Norman landscape and her dreams of peace; she gave a great cry, and started up to her feet, and looked him in the face.  In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, all her fair hopes went toppling over like a house of cards.  He might well say good heavens!  For her part it was all she could do to keep the sudden tears of vexation and disappointment and dismay within her smarting eyes.

    "Who would have thought to find you here?" he said, coming in and holding out his hand to her; and she could not refuse to take it.  She could not accuse him of coming to look for Nora.  She could not call in François and M. le Curé and a few of the villagers, and have him pitched over the ramparts, as she would have liked to do.  She had to give him her hand, all trembling, and to say, "How do you do, Sir Harry?" as politeness demanded.  And at any moment Nora might come in, who might not have her mother's objections!  For he was a bright-eyed, gallant young fellow, and would have given the Curé and François enough to do, had Mrs. Mildmay's benevolent desire been carried out.  He came up to her with such eager cordiality, and such an affectionate interest in her movements, that she could not entertain the soothing idea that possibly it was not that he meant.  Alas! the poor mother knew all about it.  She knew how civil they always were, and how anxious to please.  She knew the very smile, and the air of such deep deference, and the profound, disinterested devotion.  "Is it possible that you are staying here?" he said.  "What luck!  I have just sent my traps to the inn, for a few days'—hum—fishing, you know; but I did not know what good fortune awaited me!"—The dreadful, deceitful, young hypocrite!  And he sat down without being invited, and set a chair for himself opposite the door, where he could see everybody who entered; and Nora might come in any minute!  Mrs. Mildmay felt that affairs were critical, and that there was not a moment to be lost.

    "I was just going up to the chapel," she said, with outward calm, but all the inward commotion which arises from telling a lie.  "I shall be glad to show it you.  Come, it will be so good of you to give me your arm up all those stairs."

    "What, now?" said Sir Harry; "you can't think how hot it is outside and the smell of the fish.  Of course I shall be delighted; but if I might advise, in the cool of the evening"

    "Oh! we are not in Italy, you know," Mrs. Mildmay said: "I never feel it too hot here, and we go out in hats, and don't make any toilette.  The Château is well worth seeing; I am pretty well up in it now, and we are just going away.  Come, it will be charming to show you everything," said the unprincipled woman; and with all this string of fibs she led him out, and took his arm as she had said, and climbed the stairs, and pointed out all the views to him.  Nora was no doubt on the sands, and so long as she absorbed him in architecture, and kept his eyes turned upwards, no immediate harm could come of it.  It was very hot, and the sun blazed down upon all the stony ramparts and all the scorching stairs, and the fish was overwhelming and the ascent more inhuman than ever.  Mrs. Mildmay felt as if she must drop, but still she hurried on.  She told him the dates of the building (and made a dreadful mess of it), and the legend, and how it had all come about; and pointed out the chapel, towering, clustering up, a climax to all those buttresses and pinnacles, where the Archangel stood enthroned.  Poor soul! she did it as the slave-woman crossed the ice, that her child might not be taken away from her.  Sir Harry Preston's good-looking young face was as terrible to her as if he had been a hideous planter who would have whipped Nora and made her pick cotton.  Had he not already paid the poor girl attention, and made all sorts of deceitful pretences to gain admission in Park lane?  And thus she toiled on to gain admission, half-fainting, up to the castle door.

    What was the awful spectacle that the mother found awaiting her there?  Sir Harry thought it the prettiest sight in the world, but Mrs. Mildmay grasped his arm to support herself when it dawned upon her, and would have fallen if he had not caught her.  It was simply Nora, seated under the gloomy portal, just where the portcullis came down, sitting against the gloom, with the darkness going off into a deep black curve behind her, with her Titian hair blown about her shoulders, her hat off, her soft cheeks glowing, her great eyes opening wide with wonder and—heaven knows what besides.  That was what the poor mother's over-caution had brought upon her.  He might have gone away, but she had insisted on bringing him here.  If she did not faint it was only from the fear that he might say something to Nora over her prostrate body.  Mrs. Mildmay sat down on the stair beside her daughter, and looked piteously in her face, and made a last trial.  How she had the strength for it she never could tell.

    "Nora, my love, I am sure you are tired," she said.  "Is it not surprising to see Sir Harry here?  I am going to show him the chapel; but I am sure you are tired and hot, and want to go home.  Go and lie down a little and rest, and never mind waiting for me.  We are going away so soon, your know, I should like to see the chapel once more."

    All this Mrs. Mildmay accompanied with looks which were much more eloquent than words—looks which said, "You know I dare not speak any plainer.  Oh, go home, and don't drive me to despair!"  And it was not to be supposed that Nora should like being sent homethough she was not quite prepared, being taken thus all in a moment, to fly in her mother's face.

    She sat on the stair and mused, and it all went very quickly through her young head.  Naturally she saw the matter from a point of view very different from that of Mrs. Mildmay; but Nora was at the bottom a good girl enough, and she did not want, as we have said, to fly in her mother's face.  She had shaken hands with Sir Harry, and when she saw him it had certainly occurred to her that he would be rather a pleasant change from the Curé and Le Brique; and if it should perhaps prove possible to please her mother and not to send away the stranger—just then a happy inspiration came to Nora.  She put on her hat, and got up from the stair, and took Mrs. Mildmay's arm.

    "Mamma, I think Sir Harry had better look at the chapel by himself," she said with a freedom which pretty young women of eighteen do not hesitate to take.  "François is there, and will tell him all about it.  It is a great deal too hot for you to be out, and I am as tired as ever I can be.  Good-bye, Sir Harry.  You will find that François can tell you everything."  It was done with a perfectly natural impertinence, but yet it cost poor Nora something.  She had seen just for one moment the pleading of her mother's eyes, and she had been startled by it.  Her heart for the moment gave in to the superior force.  Sir Harry was a pleasant diversion; but still, if it was so serious as that.—And she turned to the descent, and turned her back upon him, and left him to go sight-seeing, as if it was quite natural for a young man to come two days' journey out of the civilized world, and run the risk of being swallowed up by the sands or the tide, to study architecture at Mont Saint Michel.  When Mrs. Mildmay saw it her heart leaped up in her fatigued bosom.  She began to be sorry for Sir Harry as soon as she thought Nora did not mind.  After all he had a nice young face, and the blank look upon it went to her heart.

    "Perhaps we may meet again," said the relenting woman.  "Good-bye Sir Harry.  But we are going away almost directly," she said, with renewed panic—and then, divided between cruelty and compunction, went away after her daughter, with knees that trembled, and took Nora's arm.  As for Sir Harry, he ascended up under the dark portal, up all those gloomy steps, in far from a cheerful frame of mind.  As if he cared for the castle, or François's explanations!  And the two ladies continued their way down the scorching stairs.  But it was not as if nothing had happened.  After Sir Harry was out of sight Nora did not afford one word to her deprecating, guilty mother.  Her great eyes grew bigger and bigger, and swam translucent in those two tears which filled them just to overflowing.  After all, perhaps, it was not to be wondered at.  He was very nice, and had paid her a great deal of attention, and, on the whole, was very different from Le Brique and M. le Curé.  And then to think he should have come here in such a romantic, unexpected way.  She did not say a word all the way down, and when she got home she had a headache, and took refuge in her own room, and cried.  And poor Mrs. Mildmay took her seat again, very gloomy, in M. le Aumonier's arm-chair, and watched the reflection of the sunset burning far away on the church-tower at Avranches, and the cockle-gatherers coming home from the sands, and the slow evening clouds settling down upon the great, monotonous, colourless waste, with its margin of doubtful fields—and felt in her heart, poor woman, that the repose of Mont Saint Michel was at an end.

    But it was not to be expected that it should end just in this way if Sir Harry was good for anything; and he was good for a great deal.  The poor young man could not sleep all night; that is to say, he slept about twice as long as Mrs. Mildmay did, but that was a different matter; and in the morning he regained his courage.  If Mont Saint Michel was a good place to hide in, it was a far better, indeed, a perfectly unexceptionable place to make love in.  And, to tell the truth, it ended in that church in Knightsbridge, amid a great flutter of lace and display of jewels.  The best of it was, that Sir Harry managed somehow to impress upon Mrs. Mildmay's mind the idea that he was the impossible son-in-law.  It was a delusion she had never given in to before, though she had so many daughters married.  But it must be allowed there was something touching in the way he gave her his arm up and down those stony stairs, and sought her society, and made love to her.  When they left that little rocky refuge, even the mother was reluctant to dismiss the young invader who had made a conquest of her; and the fact was she gave in quite willingly at last, and went down to Sir Harry's place in the country to wait for them when the young people went away upon their wedding tour; though the other girls thought it was not fair.  And they had a picture made of Mont Saint Michel, standing all lonely amid its sands, between earth and sea.  And the historian of this adventure cannot do better than add as her moral, that the Archangel still stands divinely poised as Raphael made him, on his Point of rock, and that there is not a better hiding-place to be found anywhere, if one should happen to have Mrs. Mildmay's fair pretext or any other reasonable cause to seek a refuge a little way out of the civilized world.


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