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THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER.
The rector had often wished his wife could in some natural way get hold of Miss Wylder; he suspected something exceptionally fine in her: how else could she, with such a father and such a mother, have such a countenance? There must be a third factor in the affair, and one worth knowing--namely herself! That she seemed to avoid being reckoned among church-goers might be a point in her favour! What reports reached him of her wild ways, mingled with exaggerated stories of her lawlessness, did not shock him: what was true in them might spring from mere exuberance of life, whose joy was her only law--and yet a real law to her!
He had had no opportunity of learning either how peculiar the girl was, or how capable. She was not yet up to his teaching; she had to have other water to drink first, and was now approaching a source that might have caused him anxiety for her, had he ever so little believed in chance. But a shepherd is none the less a true shepherd that he leaves plenty of liberty to the lamb to pick its own food. That its best instincts may not be to the taste either of its natural guardians or the public, is nothing against those instincts. Without appearing to their guardians both strange and headstrong, some sheep would never get near the food necessary to keep them alive. Confined to the provender even their shepherds would have them contented withal, many would die. Sometimes, to escape from the arid wastes of "society," haunted with the cries of its spiritual greengrocers, and find the pasture on which their souls can live, they have to die, and climb the grassy slopes of the heavenly hills.
Barbara had as yet had no experience of pain--or of more at least than came from sympathy with suffering--a sympathy which, though ready, could hardly be deep in one who had never had a headache herself. To all dumb suffering things, she was very gentle and pitiful; but her pity was like that of a child over her doll.
She was always glad to get away from home. While her father was paying his long-delayed visit to the rector, she was flying over hedge and ditch and rail, in a line for that gate of Mortgrange which Simon Armour and his grandson found open when first the former took the latter to see the place: Barbara had a key to it.
She went with swift gliding step, like that of a red Indian, into the library. Richard was piecing the broken cords of a great old folio--the more easily that they were double--in order to re-attach the loosened sheets and the hanging board, and so get the book ready for a new cover. She carried in her hand something yet more sorely in need of mending--a pigeon with a broken wing, which she had seen lying in the park, and had dismounted to take. It kept opening and shutting its eyes, and she knew that nothing could be done for it; but the mute appeal of the dying thing had gone to her heart, and she wanted sympathy, whether for it or for herself she could hardly have distinguished. How she came to wake a little more just then, I cannot tell, but the fact is a joint in her history. The jar to the pigeon's life affected her as a catastrophe. She felt that there a crisis had come: a living conscious thing could do nothing for its own life, and lay helpless. Say rather--seemed so to lie. Oh, surely it is in reason that not a sparrow should fall to the ground without the Father! To whom but the father of the children that bemoan its fate, should the children carry his sparrow? But Barbara was carrying her pigeon where was no help for the heart of either.
"Ah, poor thing," said Richard, "I fear we can do nothing for it! But it will be at rest soon! It is fast going."
"Ah! but where?" said Barbara, to whom that moment came the question for the first time.
"Nowhere," answered Richard.
"How can that be? If I were going, I should be going somewhere! I couldn't go nowhere if I tried ever so. I don't like you to say it is going nowhere! Poor little thing! I won't let you go nowhere!"
"Well!" returned Richard, a little bewildered, "what would you have me say? You know what I mean! It is going not to be, that is all."
"That is all! How would you like to be told you were going nowhere--going not to be--that was all?"
Richard saw that to declare abruptly his belief that he was himself as much going nowhere as any pigeon that ever died, would probably be to close the door between them. At the same time, if he left her to imagine that he expected life for himself, but not for the animals, she must think him selfish! Unwilling therefore to answer, he took refuge in his genuine sympathy with suffering.
"Is it not strange," he said, and would have taken from her hands the wounded bird, but she would not part with it, "that men should take pleasure in killing--especially a creature like that, so full of innocent content? It seems to me the greatest pity to stop such a life!"
As he spoke there came upon him the dim sense of a foaming reef of argument ahead--such as this: "Then there ought to be no death! And what ought not to be, cannot be! But there is death: what then is death? If it be a stopping of life, then that is which cannot be. But it may be only a change in the form of life that looks like a stopping, and is not! If Death be stronger than Life, so that he stops life, how then was Life able so to flout him, that he, the thing that was not, arose from the antenatal sepulchre on which Death sat throned in impotent negation of entity, unable to preclude existence, and yet able to annihilate it? Life alone is: nothingness is not; Death cannot destroy; he is not the antagonist, not the opposite of life." Some such argument Richard, I say, saw vaguely through the gloom ahead, and began to beat to windward.
"Did you ever notice," he said, "in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the point at which the dead bird falls from the neck of the man?"
It was a point, however, at which neither he nor Barbara was capable of seeing the depth of the poem. Richard thought it was the new-born love of beauty that freed the mariner; he did not see that it was the love of life, the new-born sympathy with life.
"I don't even know what you are talking of," answered Barbara. "Do tell me. It sounds like something wonderful! Is it a story?"
"Yes--a wonderful story."
Richard had not attempted to understand Coleridge's philosophy, taking it for quite obsolete; and it was but doubtfully that he had made trial of his poems. Happily choosing Christabel, however, for a tasting-piece, he was immediately enchanted and absorbed; and never again had he been so keenly aware of disappointment as when he came to the end, and found, as an Irishman might say, that it was not there: a lump gathered in his throat; he flung the book from him, and it was a week before he could open it again.
The next poem he tried was The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which he read with almost equal delight, bewitched with many an individual phrase, with the melody unique of many a stanza, with the strangeness of its speech, with the loveliness of its real, and the wildness of its invented pictures. But he had not yet discovered, or even begun to foresee the marvel of its whole. A man must know something of repentance before he can understand The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
The volume containing it had come into his hands as one of a set his father had to bind. It belonged to a worshipper of Coleridge, who had possessed himself of every edition of every book he had written, or had had a share in writing. There he read first the final form of The Rime as it appeared in the Sibylline Leaves of 1817: when he came to look at that in the Lyrical Ballads, published in 1798, he found differences many and great between the two. He found also in the set an edition with a form of the poem differing considerably from the last as well as the first. He had brought together and compared all these forms of the poem, noting every minutest variation--a mode of study which, in the case of a masterpiece, richly repays the student. It was no wonder, therefore, that Richard had almost every word of it on the very tip of his tongue.
He began to repeat the ballad, and went on, never for a moment intermitting his work. Without the least attempt at what is called recitation, of which happily he knew nothing, he made both sense and music tell, saying it as if he were for the hundredth time reading it aloud for his own delight. If his pronunciation was cockneyish, it was but a little so.
The very first stanza took hold of Barbara. She sat down by Richard's table, softly laid the dying bird in her lap, and listened with round eyes and parted lips, her rapt soul sitting in her ears.
But Richard had not gone far before he hesitated, his memory perplexed between the differing editions.
"Have you forgotten it? I am so sorry!" said Barbara. "It is wonderful--not like anything I ever heard, or saw, or tasted before. It smells like a New Zealand flower called--" Here she said a word Richard had never heard, and could never remember. "I don't wonder at your liking books, if you find things in them of that sort!"
"I've not exactly forgotten it," answered Richard; "but I've copied out different editions for comparison, and they've got a little mixed in my head."
"But surely the printers, with all their blunders and changes, can't keep you from seeing what the author wrote!"
"The editions I mean are those of the author himself. He kept making changes, some of them very great changes. Not many people know the poem as Coleridge first published it."
"Coleridge! Who was he?"
"The man that wrote the poem."
"Oh! He altered it afterwards?"
"Yes, very much."
"Did he make it better?"
"Then why should you care any more for the first way of it?"
"Just because it is different. A thing not so good may have a different goodness. A man may not be so good as another man, and yet have some good things in him the other has not. That implies that not every change he made was for the better. And where he has put a better phrase, or passage, the former may yet be good. So you see a new form may be much better, and yet the old form remain much too good to be parted with. In any case it is intensely interesting to see how and why he changed a thing or its shape, and to ponder wherein it is for the better or the worse. That is to take it like a study in natural history. In that we learn how an animal grows different to meet a difference in the supply of its needs; in the varying editions of a poem we see how it alters to meet a new requirement of the poet's mind. I don't mean the cases are parallel, but they correspond somehow. If I were a schoolmaster, I should make my pupils compare different forms of the same poem, and find out why the poet made the changes. That would do far more for them, I think, than comparing poets with each other. The better poets are--that is, the more original they are--the less there is in them to compare."
"But I want to hear the rest of the story. Never mind the differences in the telling of it."
"I'm afraid I can't get into the current of it now."
"You can look at the book! It must be somewhere among all these!"
"No doubt. But I haven't time to look for it now."
"It won't take you a minute to find it."
"I must not leave my work."
"It wouldn't cost you more than one tiny minute!" pleaded Barbara like a child.
"Let me explain to you, miss:--I find the only way to be sure I don't cheat, is to know I haven't stopped an instant to do anything for myself. Sometimes I have stopped for a while; and then when I wanted to make up the time, I couldn't be quite sure how much I owed, and that made me give more than I needed--which I didn't like when I would gladly have been doing something else. When the time is my own, it is of far more value to me for the insides than to my employer for the outsides of the books. So you see, for my own sake as well as his, I cannot stop till my time is up."
"That is being honest!"
"Who can consent to be dishonest! It is the meanest thing to undertake work and then imagine you show spirit by shirking what you can of it. There's a lot of fellows like that! I would as soon pick a pocket as undertake and not do!"
Barbara begged no more.
"But I can talk while I work, miss," Richard went on; "and I will try again to remember."
"Please, please do."
Richard thought a little, and presently resuming the poem, went on to the end of the first part. As he finished the last stanza--
God save thee, ancient Mariner, From the fiends that plague thee thus!-- Why look'st thou so?--With my cross-bow I shot the Albatross!'"--
"Ah!" cried Barbara, "I see now what made you think of the poem!"--and she looked down at the throbbing bird in her lap.
It opened its dark eyes once more--with a reeling, pitiful look at her, Barbara thought--quivered a little, and lay still. She burst into tears.
Richard dropped his work, and made a step toward her.
"Never mind," she said. "One has got to cry so much, and I may as well cry for the bird! I'm all right now, thank you! Please go on. The bird is dead, and I'm glad. I will let it lie a little, and then bury it. If it be anywhere, perhaps it will one day know me, and then it will love me. Please go on with the poem. It will make me forget. I'm not bound to remember, am I--where I'm not to blame, I mean, and cannot help?"
"Certainly not!" acquiesced Richard, and began the second part.
"I see! I see!" cried Barbara, wiping her eyes. "They were cross with him for killing the bird, not because they loved the beautiful creature, but because it was unlucky to kill him! And then when nothing but good came, they said it was quite right to kill him, and told lies of him, and said he was a bad bird, and brought the fog and mist!--I wonder what's coming to them!--That's not the end, is it? It can't be!"
"No; it's not nearly done yet. It's only beginning."
"I'm so glad! Do go on."
She was eager as any child. Coleridge could not have desired a better listener.
"I know! I know!" she said presently. "We were caught in a calm as we came home! My father is fond of the sea, and brought us round the Cape in a sailing-vessel. It was horrid. It lasted only three days, but I felt as if I should die. It wasn't long enough, I suppose, to draw out the creeping things."
"Perhaps it wasn't near enough to the equator for them," answered Richard, and went on:--
"Ah! well a-day! what evil looks Had I from old and young; Instead of the cross, the Albatross About my neck was hung."
"Poor man! And in such weather!" exclaimed Barbara. "And such a huge creature! I see! They thought now the killing of the bird had brought the calm, and they would have their revenge! A bad set, those sailors! People that deserve punishment always want to punish. Do go on."
When the skeleton-ship came, her eyes grew with listening like those of one in a trance.
"What a horrid, live dead woman!" she said. "Her whiteness is worse than any blackness. But I wish he had told us what Death was like!"
"In the first edition," returned Richard, much delighted that she missed what constructive symmetry required, "there is a description of Death. I doubt if you would like it, though. You don't like horrid things?"
"I do--if they should be horrid, and are horrid enough."
"Coleridge thought afterwards it was better to leave it out!"
"Tell it me, anyhow."
"His bones were black with many a crack, All black and bare, I ween; Jet-black and bare, save where with rust, Of mouldy damps and charnel crust, They were patched with purple and green.
"--There! What do you think of that?"
"He is nothing like so horrid as the woman!"
"She is more horrid in the first edition."
"Her lips are red, her looks are free, Her locks are yellow as gold; Her skin is as white as leprosy, And she is far liker Death than he; Her flesh makes the still air cold."
"I do think that is worse. Tell me again how the other goes."
"The Night-Mare Life-in-death was she, Who thicks man's blood with cold."
"Yes, the other is worse! I can hardly tell why, except it be that you get at the sense of it easier. What does the Nightmare Life-in-Death mean?"
"I don't know. I can't quite get at it."
How should he? Richard was too close to the awful phantom to know that this was her portrait.
"There's another dreadful stanza in the first edition," he went on. "It is repeated in the second, but left out in the last. I fancy the poet let himself be overpersuaded to omit it. The poem was not actually printed without it until after his death: he had only put it in the errata, to be omitted.--When the woman whistles with joy at having won the ancient Mariner,
"'A gust of wind sterte up behind,'
"--as if, like the sailors, she had whistled for it:--
"'A gust of wind sterte up behind, And whistled through his bones; Through the holes of his eyes and the hole of his mouth, Half whistles and half groans;'
"and the spectre-bark is blown along by this breath coming out of the bosom of the skeleton."
"I think it was a great mistake to leave that verse out!" said Barbara. "There is no nasty horror in it! There is a little in the description of Death!"
"I think with you," returned Richard, more and more astonished at the insight of a girl who had read next to nothing. "Our lecturer at King's," he went on, "pointed out to us, in this part, what some call a blunder."
"What is it?"
"I will give you the verses again; and you see if you can pick it out."
"--Till clombe above the eastern bar The horned Moon, with one bright star Within the nether tip."
"I never saw a star there! But I see nothing wrong."
"Which is the nearest to us of the heavenly bodies?"
"The moon, I suppose."
"Certainly:--how, then, could a star come between us and it? For if the star were within the tip of the moon, it must be between us and the dark part of the moon!"
"I see! How stupid of me! But let me think!--If the star were just on the edge of the moon, between the horns, it would almost look as if it were within the tips--might it not?"
"That's the best that can be said for it anyhow,--except indeed that the poor ignorant sailor might, in the midst of such horrors, well make the blunder.--By the way, in the first edition it stood as you have just said: the line was,
"'Almost within the tips.'"
"What did he change it to?"
"He made it--
"'Within the nether tip.'"
"Why did he change it?"
"You would see that at the first glance, if you were used to riming."
"Are you a poet, then, as well as a blacksmith and a bookbinder?"
"Too much of a poet, I hope, to imagine myself more than a whittler of reeds!" answered Richard.
He was not sorry, however, to let Barbara know him for a poor relation of the high family of poets. In truth, what best enabled him to understand their work, was the humble work of the same sort he did himself.
She did not understand what he meant by a whittler of reeds, but she rightly took what he said for a humble affirmative.
"I begin to be frightened at you!" she rejoined, half meaning it. "Who knows what else you may not be!"
"I am little enough of anything," answered Richard, "but nothing that I do not wish to be more of."
A short silence followed.
"You have not told me yet why he changed that line!" resumed Barbara.
"Better wait until I can show it you in the book: then you will see at once."
"Please, go on then. I don't know anything about the poem yet! I don't know why it was written!"
"You like some dreams, though they have no reason in them, don't you?"
"Yes; but then I suppose there is reason in the poem!"
"There is, indeed!" said Richard, and went on.
But presently she stopped him.
"One thing I should like to know before we go further," she said; "--why they all fell down except the ancient Mariner."
"You remember that Death and the woman were casting dice?"
"It is not very clear, but this is how I understand the thing:--They diced for the crew, one by one; Death won every one till they came to the last, the ancient Mariner himself, and the woman, a sort of live Death, wins him. That is why she cries, 'I've won, I've won!' and whistles thrice--though she has won only one out of two hundred. I should think she was used to Death having more than she, else she wouldn't have been so pleased. Perhaps she seldom got one!"
"Yes, I see all that. But things oughtn't to go by the casting of dice. Money may, for that does not signify, but not the souls and bodies of men. It should not be the way in a poem any more than in the open world.--Let me think!--I have it!--They were not good men, those sailors! They first blamed, and then justified, and then again blamed and cruelly punished the poor mariner, who had done wrong certainly, but was doubtless even then sorry for it. He was cruel to a bird he did not know, and they were cruel to a man they did know! So they are taken, and he is left--to come well out of it at last, I hope.--Yes, it's all right! Now you can go on."
She said nothing as he showed her the deck strewn so thick with the dead bodies, whose cursing eyes all looked one way; but when the heavenly contrast came:--
The moving Moon went up the sky, And nowhere did abide: Softly she was going up, And a star or two beside;--
she gave a deep sigh of delight, and said--
"Ah, don't I know her, the beauty! Isn't it just many a time she has made me sick with the love of her, and her peace, and her ways of looking, and walking, and talking--for talk she does to those that can listen hard! I dare say, in this old country where she's been about so long, you will think it silly to make so much of her; but you don't know here what it is to have her night after night for your one companion! She never grows a downright friend, though--a friend you've got at the heart of! She always looks at you as if she were saying--'Yes, yes; I know what you are thinking! but I have that in me you can never know, and I can never tell! It will go down with me to the grave of the great universe, and no one will ever know it! It is so lovely!--and oh, so sad!'"
She was silent. Richard could not answer. He saw her far away like the moon she spoke of. She was growing to him a marvel and a mystery. Something strange seemed befalling him. Was she weaving a spell about his soul? Was she fettering him for her slave? Was she one of the wild, bewildering creatures of ancient lonely belief, that are the souls of the loveliest things, but can detach themselves from them, and wander out in garments more immediately their own? Was she salamander or sylph, naiad or undine, oread or dryad?--But then she had such a head, and they were all rather silly!
When the ballad told how silvery were the sea-snakes in the moonlight, and how gorgeously varied in the red shadow, Richard looked for her to show delight in the play of their colours; but, though the sweet strong little mouth smiled, her brows looked more puzzled than pleased--which was a thing noteworthy.
Any marvel in Nature, however new, Barbara would have welcomed with bare delight; she would have asked neither the why, nor the how, nor the final cause of the phenomenon--as if, being natural, it must be right, and she needed not trouble herself; but here, in this poem, a world born of the imagination of a man, she wanted to know about everything, whether it was, or would be, or ought to be just so--whether, in a word, every fact was souled with a reason, as it ought to be. Perhaps she demanded such satisfaction too soon; perhaps she ought to have waited for the whole, and, having found that a harmonious thing, then first have inquired into the truth of its parts; but so it was: she must know as she went, that she might know when she arrived! But in this she revealed a genuine artistic faculty--that she gave herself up to the poet, and allowed him to inspire her, yet would have reason from him.
Richard went on:--
"O happy living things! No tongue Their beauty might declare; A spring of love gushed from my heart, And I blessed them unaware! Sure my kind saint took pity on me, And I blessed them unaware.
"The self-same moment I could pray; And from my neck so free The Albatross fell off, and sank Like lead into the sea."
Barbara jumped up, clapping her hands with delight.
"I knew something was going to happen!" she cried. "I knew it was coming all right!"
"You have not heard the end yet! You don't know what may be coming!" protested Richard.
"Nothing can go wrong now! The man's love is awake, and he will be sorrier and sorrier for what he did! Instead of saying, 'The wrigglesome, slimy things!' he blesses them; and because he is going to be a friend to the other creatures in the house, and live on good terms with them, the body he had killed tumbles from his neck; the bad deed is gone down into the depth of the great sea, and he is able to say his prayers again;--no, not that exactly; it must be something better than saying prayers now!"-- She paused a moment, then added, "It must be something I think I don't know yet!" and sat down.
Richard heard and admired: he thought that as she had perceived there was something better than saying prayers, she would pray no more!
"Go on; go on," she said. "But if you like to stop, I shan't mind. I have no fear now. It's all going right, and must soon come all right!"
"O sleep! It is a gentle thing,"
said Richard, going on.
"There it is!" she interrupted. "I knew it was all coming right! He can sleep now!"
"O sleep! It is a gentle thing, Beloved from pole to pole! To Mary queen the praise be given! She sent the gentle deep from Heaven, That slid into my soul."
Some one was in the room, the door of which had been open all the time. The sky was so cloudy, and the twilight so far advanced, that neither of them, Barbara absorbed in the poem and Richard in the last of his day's work, had heard any one enter.
"Why don't you ring for a lamp?" said Lestrange.
"There is no occasion; I have just done," answered Richard.
"You cannot surely see in this light!" said Arthur, who was short-sighted. "You certainly were not at your work when I came into the room!"
He thought Richard had caught up the piece of leather he was paring, in order to deceive him.
"Indeed, sir, I was."
"You were not. You were reading!"
"I was not reading, sir. I was busy with the last of my day's work."
"Do not tell me you were not reading: I heard you!"
"You did hear me, sir; but you did not hear me reading," rejoined Richard, growing angry with the tone of the young man, and with his unreadiness to believe him.
Many workmen, having told a lie, would have been more indignant at not being believed, than was Richard speaking the truth; still, he was growing angry.
"You must have a wonderful memory, then!" said Lestrange. "But, excuse me, we don't care to hear your voice in the house."
The same moment, he either discovered, or pretended to discover, Barbara's presence.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Wylder!" he said. "I did not know he was amusing you! I did not see you were in the room!"
"I suppose," returned Barbara--and it savoured of the savage Lestrange sometimes called her--"you will be ordering the nightingales not to sing in your apple-trees next!"
"I don't understand you!"
"Neither do you understand Mr. Tuke, or you would not speak to him that way!"
She rose and walked to the door, but turned as she went, and added--
"He was repeating the loveliest poem I ever heard--The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.--I didn't know there could be such a poem!" she added simply.
"It is not one I care about. But you need not take it second-hand from Tuke: I will lend it you."
"Thank you!" said Barbara, in a tone which was not of gratitude, and left the room.
Lestrange stood for a moment, but finding nothing suitable to say, turned and followed her, while Richard bit his lip to keep himself silent. He knew, if he spoke, there would be an end; and he did not want this to be his last sight of the wonderful creature!
Barbara went to the door with the intention of going to the stables for Miss Brown and galloping straight home. But she bethought herself that so she might seem to be ashamed. She was not Arthur's guest! He had been insolent to her friend, who had done more for her already than ever Arthur was likely to do, but that was no reason why she should run away from him--just the contrary! She would like to punish him for it somehow!--not shoot him, for she would not kill a pigeon, and to kill a man would be worse, though he wasn't so nice as a pigeon!--but she would like--yes, she would like to give him just three good cuts across the shoulders with her new riding-whip! What right had he to speak so to his superior! By being a true workman, Mr. Tuke was a gentleman! Could Arthur Lestrange have talked like that? Could he have spoken the poetry like that? The bookbinder was worth a hundred of him! Could Arthur shoe a horse? What if the working man were to turn out the real lord of the creation, and the gentleman have to black his boots! There was something like it in the gospel!
She did not know that in general the working man is as foolish and unfit as the rich man; that he only wants to be rich, and trample on his own past. The working man may perish like the two hundred of the crew, and the rich man may be saved like the Ancient Mariner!
It is the poor man that gives the rich man all the pull on him, by cherishing the same feelings as the rich man concerning riches, by fancying the rich man because of his riches the greater man, and longing to be rich like him. A man that can do things is greater than any man who only has things. True, a rich man can get mighty things done, but he does not do them. He may be much the greater for willing them to be done, but he is not the greater for the actual doing of them.
"At any rate," said Barbara to herself, "I like this working man better than that gentleman!"
Richard stood for a while boiling with indignation. He would have cared less if he had been sure he had answered him properly, but he could not remember what he had said.
The clock struck the hour that ended his workday. Instead of sitting down to read, he set out for the smithy. It was not a week since he had seen his grandfather, but he wanted motion, and desired a human face that belonged to him. It was rather dark when he reached it, but the old man had not yet dropped work. The sparks were flying wild about his gray head as Richard drew near.
"Can I help you, grandfather?" he said.
"No, no, lad; your hands are too soft by this time--with your bits of brass wheels, and scraps of leather, and needles, and paste! No, no, lad;--thou cannot help the old man to-night.--But you're not in earnest, are you?" he added, looking up suddenly. "You 'ain't left your place?"
"No, but my day's work being over, why shouldn't I help you to get yours over! When first I came you expected me to do so!"
"Look here, lad!--as a man gets older he comes to think more of fair play, and less of his rights: it seems to me that not your time only, but your strength as well belongs to the man who hires you; and if you weary yourself helping me, who have no claim, you cannot do so much or so good work for your master!--Do you see sense in that?"
"Indeed I do! I think you are quite right."
"It is strange," Simon went on, "how age makes you more particular! The thing I would have done without thinking when I was young, I think twice of now. Is that what we were sent here for--to grow honest, I wonder?--Depend upon it," he resumed after a moment's silence, "there's a somewhere where the thing's taken notice of! There's a somebody as thinks about it!"
After more talk, and a cup of tea at the cottage, Richard set out for the lodgeless gate, already mentioned more than once, to which the housekeeper had lent him a key.
He had not got far into the park, when to his surprise he perceived, a little way off on the grass, a small figure gliding swiftly toward him through the dusk rather than the light of the moon, which, but just above the horizon, sent little of her radiance to the spot. It was Barbara.
"I have been watching for you ever so long!" she said. "They told me you had gone out, and I thought you might come home this way."
"I wish I had known! I wouldn't have kept you waiting," returned Richard.
"I want the rest of the poem," she said. "It was horrid to have Arthur interrupt us! He was abominably rude too."
"He certainly had no right to speak to me as he did. And if he had confessed himself wrong, or merely said he had made a mistake, I should have thought no more about it. I hope it is not true you are going to marry him, miss!--because--"
"If I thought one of the family said so, I would sleep in the park to-night. I would not enter the house again. When I marry, it will be a gentleman; and Mr. Lestrange is not a gentleman--at least he did not behave like one to-day. Come, tell me the rest of the poem. We have plenty of time here."
The young bookbinder was perplexed. He had not much knowledge of the world, but he could not bear the thought of the servants learning that they were in the park together. At the same time he saw that he must not even hint at imprudence. Her will was not by him to be scanned! She must be allowed to know best! A single tone of hesitation would be an insult! He must take care of her without seeming to do so! If they walked gently, they would finish the poem as they came near the house: there he would leave her, and return by the lodge-gate.
"Where did we leave off?" he said.
His brief silence had seemed to Barbara but a moment spent in recalling.
"We left off at the place where the bird fell from his neck--no, just after that, where he falls asleep, as well he might, after it was gone."
The moon was now peeping, in little spots of light, through the higher foliage, and casting a doubtful, ghostly sediment of shine around them. The night was warm. Glow-worms lay here and there, brooding out green light in the bosom of the thick soft grass. There was no wind save what the swift wing of a bat, sweeping close to their heads, would now and then awake. The creature came and vanished like an undefined sense of evil at hand. But it was only Richard who thought that; nothing such crossed the starry clearness of Barbara's soul. Her skirt made a buttony noise with the heads of the rib-grass. Her red cloak was dark in the moonlight. She threw back the hood, and coming out of its shadow like another moon from a cloud, walked the earth with bare head. Her hands too were bare, and glimmered in the night-gleam. He saw the rings on the small fingers shimmer and shine: she was as fond of colour and flash as lord St. Albans! Higher and higher rose the moon. Her light on the grass-blades wove them into a carpet with its weft of faint moonbeams. The small dull mirrors of the evergreen leaves glinted in the thickets, as the two went by, like the bits of ill-polished glass in an Indian tapestry. The moon was everywhere, filling all the hollow over-world, and for ever alighting on their heads. Far away they saw the house, a remote something, scarce existent in the dreaming night, the gracious-ghastly poem, and the mingling, harmonizing moon. It was much too far away to give them an anxious thought, and for long it seemed, like death, to be coming no nearer; but they were moving toward it all the time, and it was even growing a move insistent fact. Thus they walked at once in the two blended worlds of the moonlight and the tale, while Richard half-chanted the music-speech of the most musical of poets, telling of the roaring wind that the mariner did not feel, of the flags of electric light, of the dances of the wan stars, of the sighing of the sails, of the star-dogged moon, and the torrent-like falls of the lightning down the mountainous cloud--for so Barbara, who had seen two or three tropical thunder-storms, explained to Richard the lightning which
"fell with never a jag, A river steep and wide;"
--until that groan arose from the dead men, and the bodies heaved themselves up on their feet, and began to work the ropes, and worked on till sunrise, and the mariner knew that not the old souls but angels had entered into them, by their gathering about the mast, and sending such a strange lovely hymn through their dead throats up to the sun.
When Richard repeated the stanza--
"It ceased; yet still the sails made on A pleasant noise till noon, A noise like of a hidden brook In the leafy month of June, That to the sleeping woods all night Singeth a quiet tune;"
Barbara uttered a prolonged "Oh!" and again was silent, listening to the talk of the elemental spirits, feeling the very wind of home that blew on the mariner, seeing the lighthouse, and the hill, and the weathercock on the church-spire, and the white bay, and the shining seraphs with the crimson shadows, and the sinking ship, and the hermit that made the mariner tell his story as he was telling it now.
But when Richard came to the words--
"He prayeth well, who loveth well Both man and bird and beast. He prayeth best, who loveth best All things both great and small, For the dear God who loveth us, He made and loveth all,"
she clapped her hands together; and when he ended them, she cried out--
"I was sure of it! I knew something would come to tie it all up together into one bundle! That's it! That's it! The love of everything is the garden-bed out of which grow the roses of prayer!--But what am I saying!" she added, checking herself; "I love everything, at least everything that comes near me, and I never pray!"
"Of course not! Why should you?" said Richard.
"Why should I not?"
"You would if it were reasonable!"
"I will, then! To love all the creatures and not have a word to say to the God that made them for loving them before-hand--is that reasonable?"
"No, if a God did make them."
"They could not make themselves!"
"No; nothing could make itself."
"Then somebody must have made them!"
"Why, the one that could and did--who else?"
"We know nothing about such a somebody. All we know is, that there they are, and we have got to love them!"
"Ah!" she said, and looked up into the wide sky, where now the "wandering moon" was alone,
Like one that had been led astray Through the heaven's wide pathless way,
and gazed as if she searched for the Somebody. "I should like to see the one that made that!" she said at last. "Think of knowing the very person that made that poor pigeon, and has got it now!--and made Miss Brown--and the wind! I must find him! He can't have made me and not care when I ask him to speak to me! You say he is nowhere! I don't believe there is any nowhere, so he can't be there! Some people may be content with things; I shall get tired of them, I know, if I don't get behind them! A thing is nothing without what things it! A gift is nothing without what gives it! Oh, dear! I know what I mean, but I can't say it!"
"You don't know what you mean, but you do say it!" thought Richard.
He was nowise repelled by her enthusiasm, for there was in it nothing assailant, nothing too absurdly superstitious. He did not care to answer her.
They went walking toward the house and were silent. The moon went on with her silentness: she never stops being silent. When they felt near the house, they fell to walking slower, but neither knew it. Barbara spoke again:
"Just fancy!" she said, "--if God were all the time at our backs, giving us one lovely thing after another, trying to make us look round and see who it was that was so good to us! Imagine him standing there, and wondering when his little one would look round, and see him, and burst out laughing--no, not laughing--yes, laughing--laughing with delight--or crying, I don't know which! If I had him to love as I should love one like that, I think I should break my heart with loving him--I should love him to the killing of me! What! all the colours and all the shapes, and all the lights, and all the shadows, and the moon, and the wind, and the water!--and all the creatures--and the people that one would love so if they would let you!--and all--"
"And all the pain, and the dying, and the disease, and the wrongs, and the cruelty!" interposed Richard.
She was silent. After a moment or two she said--
"I think I will go in now. I feel rather cold. I think there must be a fog, though I can't see it."
She gave a little shiver. He looked in her face. Was it the moon, or was it something in her thoughts that made the sweet countenance look so gray? Could his mere suggestion of the reverse, the wrong side of the web of creation, have done it? Surely not!
"I think I want some one to say must to me!" she said, after another pause. "I feel as if--"
There she stopped. Richard said nothing. Some instinct told him he might blunder.
He stood still. Barbara went on a few steps, then turned and said--
"Are you not going in?"
"Not just yet," he answered. "Please to remember that if I can do anything for you,--"
"You are very kind. I am much obliged to you. If you know another rime,--But I think I shall have to give up poetry."
"It will be hard to find another so good," returned Richard.
"Good-night," she said.
"Good-night, miss!" answered Richard, and walked away, with a loss at his heart. The poem has already ceased to please her! He had made the lovely lady more thoughtful, and less happy than before!
"She has been taught to believe in a God," he said to himself. "She is afraid he will be angry with her, because, in her company, I dared question his existence! A generous God--isn't he! If he be anywhere, why don't he let us see him? How can he expect us to believe in him, if he never shows himself? But if he did, why should I worship him for being, or for making me? If I didn't want him, and I don't, I certainly shouldn't worship him because I saw him. I couldn't. If Nature is cruel, as she certainly is, and he made her, then he is cruel too! There cannot be such a God, or, if there be, it cannot be right to worship him!"
He did not reflect that if he had wanted him, he would not have waited to see him before he worshipped him.
But Barbara was saying to herself--
"What if he has shown himself to me some time--one of those nights, perhaps, when I was out till the sun rose--and I didn't know him!--How frightful if there should be nobody at all up there--nobody anywhere all round!"
She stared into the milky, star-sapphire-like blue, as if, out of the sweetly veiled terror-gulf, she would, by very gazing, draw the living face of God.
Verily the God that knows how not to reveal himself, must also know how best to reveal himself! If there be a calling child, there must be an answering father!
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