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Adela Cathcart - vol. 3

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What else is a Providence?

Harry went about his work as usual, only with a graver face.

Adela looked very sad, but without any of her old helpless and hopeless air. Her health was quite established; and she now returned all the attention her father had paid to her.--Fortunately Mrs. Cathcart had gone home.

"Cunning puss!" some of my readers may say; "she was trying to coax the old man out of his resolution." But such a notion would be quite unjust to my niece. She was more in danger of going to the other extreme, to avoid hypocrisy. But she had the divine gift of knowing what any one she loved was feeling and thinking; and she knew that her father was suffering, and all about it. The old man's pace grew heavier; the lines about his mouth grew deeper; he sat at table without speaking; he ate very little, and drank more wine. Adela's eyes followed his every action. I could see that sometimes she was ready to rise and throw her arms about him. Often I saw in her lovely eyes that peculiar clearness of the atmosphere which indicates the nearness of rain. And once or twice she rose and left the room, as if to save her from an otherwise unavoidable exposure of her feelings.

The gloom fell upon the servants too. Beeves waited in a leaden-handed way, that showed he was determined to do his duty, although it should bring small pleasure with it. He took every opportunity of unburdening his bosom to me.

"It's just like when mis'ess died," said he. "The very cocks walk about the yard as if they had hearse-plumes in their tails. Everybody looks ready to hang hisself, except you, Mr. Smith. And that's a comfort."

The fact was, that I had very little doubt as to how it would all end. But I would not interfere; for I saw that it would be much better for the colonel's heart and conscience to right themselves, than that he should be persuaded to anything, it was very hard for him. He had led his regiment to victory and glory; he had charged and captured many a gun; he had driven the enemy out of many a boldly defended entrenchment; and was it not hard that he could not drive the eidolon of a country surgeon out of the bosom of his little girl? (It was hard that he could not; but it would have been a deal harder if he could). He had nursed and loved, and petted and spoiled her. And she would care for a man whom he disliked!

But here the old man was mistaken. He did not dislike Harry Armstrong. He admired and honoured him. He almost loved him for his gallant devotion to his duty. He would have been proud of him for a son--but not for a son-in-law. He would not have minded adopting him, or doing anything but giving him Adela. There was a great deal of pride left in the old soldier, and that must be taken out of him. We shall all have to thank God for the whip of scorpions which, if needful, will do its part to drive us into the kingdom of heaven.

"How happy the dear old man will be," I said to myself, "when he just yields this last castle of selfishness, and walks unhoused into the new childhood, of which God takes care!"

And this end came sooner than I had looked for it.

I had made up my mind that it would be better for me to go.

When I told Adela that I must go, she gave me a look in which lay the whole story in light and in tears. I answered with a pressure of her hand and an old uncle's kiss. But no word was spoken on the subject.

I had a final cigar with the curate, and another with the schoolmaster; bade them and their wives good-bye; told them all would come right if we only had patience, and then went to Harry. But he was in the country, and I thought I should not see him again.

With the assistance of good Beeves, I got my portmanteau packed that night. I was going to start about ten o'clock next morning. It was long before I got to sleep, and I heard the step of the colonel, whose room was below mine on the drawing-room floor, going up and down, up and down, all the time, till slumber came at last, and muffled me up.--We met at breakfast, a party lugubrious enough. Beeves waited like a mute; the colonel ate his breakfast like an offended parent; Adela trifled with hers like one who had other things to think about; and I ate mine like a parting guest who was being anything but sped. When the postbag was brought in, the colonel unlocked it mechanically; distributed the letters; opened one with indifference, read a few lines, and with a groan fell back in his chair. We started up, and laid him on the sofa. With the privilege of an old friend, I glanced at the letter, and found that a certain speculation in which the colonel had ventured largely, had utterly failed. I told Adela enough to satisfy her as to the nature of the misfortune. We feared apoplexy, but before we could send for any medical man, he opened his eyes, and called Adela. He clasped her to his bosom, and then tried to rise; but fell back helpless.

"Shall we send for Dr. Wade?" said Adela, trembling and pale as death.

"Dr. Wade!" faltered the old man, with a perceptible accent of scorn.

"Which shall we send for?" I said.

"How can you ask?" he answered, feebly. "Harry Armstrong, of course."

The blood rushed into Adela's white face, and Beeves rushed out of the room. In a quarter of an hour, Harry was with us. Adela had retired. He made a few inquiries, administered some medicine he had brought with him, and, giving orders that he should not be disturbed for a couple of hours, left him with the injunction to keep perfectly quiet.

"Take my traps up to my room again, Beeves: and tell the coach-man he won't be wanted this morning."

"Thank you, sir," said Beeves. "I don't know what we should do without you, sir."

When Harry returned, we carried the colonel up to his own room, and Beeves got him to bed. I said something about a nurse, but Harry said there was no one so fit to nurse him as Adela. The poor man had never been ill before; and I daresay he would have been very rebellious, had he not had a great trouble at his heart to quiet him. He was as submissive as could be desired.

I felt sure he would be better as soon as he had told Adela. I gave Harry a hint of the matter, and he looked very much as if he would shout "Oh, jolly!" but he did not.

Towards the evening, the colonel called his daughter to his bedside, and said,

"Addie, darling, I have hurt you dreadfully."

"Oh, no! dear papa; you have not. And it is so easy to put it all right, you know," she added, turning her head away a little.

"No, my child," he said in a tone full of self-reproach, "nobody can put it right. I have made us both beggars, Addie, my love."

"Well, dearest papa, you can bear a little poverty surely?"

"It's not of myself I am thinking, my darling. Don't do me that injustice, or I shall behave like a fool. It's only you I am thinking of."

"Oh, is that all, papa? Do you know that, if it were not for your sake, I could sing a song about it!"

"Ah! you don't know what you make so light of. Poverty is not so easy to endure."

"Papa," said Adela, solemnly, "if you knew how awful things looked to me a little while ago--but it's all gone now!--the whole earth black and frozen to the heart, with no God in it, and nothing worth living for--you would not wonder that I take the prospect of poverty with absolute indifference--yes, if you will believe me, with something of a strange excitement. There will be something to battle with and beat."

And she stretched out a strong, beautiful white arm--from which the loose open sleeve fell back, as if with that weapon of might she would strike poverty to the earth; but it was only to adjust the pillow, which had slipped sideways from the loved head.

"But Mr. Armstrong will not want to marry you now, Addie."

"Oh, won't he?" thought Adela; or at least I think she thought so. But she said, rather demurely, and very shyly:

"But that won't be any worse than it was before; for you know you would never have let me marry him anyhow."

"Oh! yes, I would, in time, Adela. I am not such a brute as you take me for."

"Oh! you dear darling papa!" cried the poor child, and burst into tears, with her head on her father's bosom. And he began comforting her so sweetly, that you would have thought she had lost everything, and he was going to give her all back again.

"Papa! papa!" she cried, "I will work for you; I will be your servant; I will love you and love you to all eternity. I won't leave you. I won't indeed. What does it matter for the money!"

At this moment the doctor entered.

"Ah!" he said, "this won't do at all. I thought you would have made a better nurse, Miss Adela. There you are, both crying together!"

"Indeed, Mr. Henry," said Adela, rather comically, "it's not my fault. He would cry."

And as she spoke she wiped away her own tears.

"But he's looking much better, after all," said Harry. "Allow me to feel your pulse."

The patient was pronounced much better; fresh orders were given; and Harry took his leave.

But Adela felt vexed. She did not consider that he knew nothing of what had passed between her father and her. To the warm fire-side of her knowledge, he came in wintry and cold. Of course it would never do for the doctor to aggravate his patient's symptoms by making love to his daughter; but ought he not to have seen that it was all right between them now?--How often we feel and act as if our mood were the atmosphere of the world! It may be a cold frost within us, when our friend is in the glow of a summer sunset: and we call him unsympathetic and unfeeling. If we let him know the state of our world, we should see the rosehues fade from his, and our friend put off his singing robes, and sit down with us in sackcloth and ashes, to share our temptation and grief.

"You see I cannot offer you to him now, Adela," said her father.

"No, papa."

But I knew that all had come right, although I saw from Adela's manner that she was not happy about it.

So things went on for a week, during which the colonel was slowly mending. I used to read him to sleep. Adela would sit by the fire, or by the bedside, and go and come while I was reading.

One afternoon, in the twilight, Harry entered. We greeted; and then, turning to the bed, I discovered that my friend was asleep. We drew towards the fire, and sat down. Adela had gone out of the room a few minutes before.

"He is such a manageable patient!" I said.

"Noble old fellow!" returned the doctor. "I wish he would like me, and then all would be well."

"He doesn't dislike you personally," I said.

"I hope not. I can understand his displeasure perfectly, and repugnance too. But I assure you, Mr. Smith, I did not lay myself out to gain her affections. I was caught myself before I knew. And I believe she liked me too before she knew."

"I fear their means will be very limited after this."

"For his sake I am very sorry to hear it; but for my own, I cannot help thinking it the luckiest thing that could have happened."

"I am not so sure of that. It might increase the difficulty."

At this moment I thought I heard the handle of the door move, but there was a screen between us and it. I went on.

"That is, if you still want to marry her, you know."

"Marry her!" he said. "If she were a beggar-maid, I would be proud as King Cophetua to marry her to-morrow."

There was a rustle in the twilight, and a motion of its gloom. With a quick gliding, Adela drew near, knelt beside Harry, and hid her eyes on his knee. I thought it better to go.

Was this unmaidenly of her?

I say "No, for she knew that he loved her."

As I left the room, I heard the colonel call--


And when I returned, I found them both standing by the bedside, and the old man holding a hand of each.

"Now, John Smith," I said to myself, "you may go when you please."

Before we, that is, I and my reader, part, however, my reader may be inclined to address me thus:

"Pray, Mr. Smith, do you think it was your wonderful prescription of story-telling, that wrought Miss Cathcart's cure?"

"How can I tell?" I answer. "Probably it had its share. But there were other things to take into the account. If you went on to ask me whether it was not Harry's prescriptions; or whether it was not the curate's sermons; or whether it was not her falling in love with the doctor; or whether even her father's illness and the loss of their property had not something to do with it; or whether it was not the doctor's falling in love with her; or that the cold weather suited her; I should reply in the same way to every one of the interrogatories."

But I retort another question:

"Did you ever know anything whatever resulting from the operation of one separable cause?"

In regard to any good attempt I have ever made in my life, I am content to know that the end has been gained. Whether I have succeeded or not is of no consequence, if I have tried well.--In the present case, Adela recovered; and my own conviction is, that the cure was effected mainly from within. Except in physics, we can put nothing to the experimentum crucis, and must be content with conjecture and probability.

The night before I left, I had a strange dream. I stood in a lonely cemetery in a pine-forest. Dark trees that never shed their foliage rose all around--strange trees that mourn for ever, because they never die. The dream light that has no visible source, because it is in the soul that dreams, showed all in a dim blue-grey dawn, that never grew clearer. The night wind was the only power abroad save myself. It went with slow intermitting, sigh-like gusts, through the tops of the dreaming trees; for the trees seemed, in the midst of my dream, to have dreams of their own.

Now this burial-place was mine. I had tended it for years. In it lay all the men and women whom I had honoured and loved.

And I was a great sculptor. And over every grave I had placed a marble altar, and upon every altar the marble bust of the man or woman who lay beneath; each in the supreme beauty which all the defects of birth and of time and of incompleteness, could not hide from the eye of the prophetic sculptor. Each was like a half-risen glorified form of the being who had there descended into the realms of Hades. And through these glimmering rows of the dead I walked in the dream-light; and from one to another I went in the glory of having known and loved them; now weeping sad tears over the loss of the beautiful; now rejoicing in the strength of the mighty; now exulting in the love and truth which would yet dawn upon me when I too should go down beneath the visible, and emerge in the realms of the actual and the unseen? All the time I was sensible of a wondrous elevation of being, a glory of life and feeling hitherto unknown to me.

I had entered the secret places of my own hidden world by the gate of sleep, and walked about them in my dream.

Gradually I became aware that a foreign sound was mingling with the sighing of the tree-tops overhead. It grew and grew, till I recognized the sound of wheels--not of heavenly chariots, but of earthly motion and business. I heard them stop at the lofty gates of my holy place, and by twoes and threes, or in solitary singleness, came people into my garden of the dead. And who should they be but the buried ones?--all those whose marble busts stood in ghostly silence, within the shadows of the everlasting pines? And they talked and laughed and jested. And my city of the dead melted away. And lo! we stood in the midst of a great market-place; and I knew it to be the market-place in which the children had sat who said to the other children:

"We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented."

And to my misery, I saw that the faces of my fathers and brothers, my mothers and sisters, had not grown nobler in the country of the dead, in which I had thought them safe and shining. Cares, as of this world, had so settled upon them, that I could hardly recognize the old likeness; and the dim forms of the ideal glory which I had reproduced in my marble busts, had vanished altogether. Ah me! my world of the dead! my city of treasures, hid away under the locks and bars of the unchangeable! Was there then no world of realities?--only a Vanity Fair after all? The glorious women went sweeping about, smiling and talking, and buying and adorning, but they were glorious no longer; for they had common thoughts, and common beauties, and common language and aims and hopes; and everything was common about them. And ever and anon, with a kind of shiver, as if to keep alive my misery by the sight of my own dreams, the marble busts would glimmer out, faintly visible amidst the fair, as if about to reappear, and, dispossessing the vacuity of folly, assert the noble and the true, and give me back my dead to love and worship once more, in the loneliness of the pine-forest. Side by side with a greedy human face, would shimmer out for a moment the ghostly marble face; and the contrast all but drove me mad with perplexity and misery.

"Alas!" I cried, "where is my future? Where is my beautiful death?"

All at once I saw the face of a man who went round and round the skirts of the market, and looked earnestly in amongst the busy idlers. He was head and shoulders taller than any there; and his face was a pale face, with an infinite future in it, visible in all its grief. I made my way through the crowd, which regarded me with a look which I could not understand, and came to the stranger. I threw myself at his feet and sobbed: "I have lost them all. I will follow thee." He took me by the hand, and led me back. We walked up and down the fair together. And as we walked, the tumult lessened, and lessened. They made a path for us to go, and all eyes were turned upon my guide. The tumult sank, and all was still. Men and women stood in silent rows. My guide looked upon them all, on the right and on the left. And they all looked on him till their eyes filled with tears. And the old faces of my friends grew slowly out of the worldly faces, until at length they were such as I had known of yore.

Suddenly they all fell upon their knees, and their faces changed into the likeness of my marble faces. Then my guide waved his hand--and lo! we were in the midst of my garden of the dead; and the wind was like the sound of a going in the tops of the pine trees; and my white marbles glimmered glorified on the altars of the tombs. And the dream vanished, and I came awake.

And I will not say here whose face the face of my guide was like.

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