AWAY from the crowded earth, where men teem in such countless millions that solitude and contemplation are no longer possible upon its surface. Away from the sights and sounds of a complex civilization, with its manifold cares and incessant activities, its constant changes and perpetual sameness. Away from engrossments that occupy the body and clog the soul, and dull the spirits perceptions, and hide from man that eternal Ideal from which he sprang, and to which he must return. Away into the boundless plains of mid-air, whither none from below can follow, where they only can penetrate in whom the soul is dominant, even they who are from above, denizens of the azure, children of the light, bright actualities of thoughts which the best only among mortals can imagine, which the most gifted cannot translate into words.
It is verse, not prose, that should tell of such flight into the empyrean; – tell how, when thus
Leaving far the world behind,
Like him of old, who on the wind
Was rapt from earth, and, as he flew,
Back his cumb’ring mantle threw;
Ancient prejudices all
To their native level fall;
For selfish thoughts and coward fears
Cannot break the bonds of years,
Cannot flee time’s narrow reign,
And revel on the eternal plain –
Ah, no; only he who sang, as no other of earth’s poets before him, or since, have sung, could paint the rapture of the flight as young Carol soared aloft upon the billows of the air, winging the blue deep ten thousand fathoms up, and higher yet, his whole being a song and a delight. Leaving, perchance, the earth wrapped in the pale, purple evening; regaining, as he sped, the golden light of the sunken sun; bathing awhile in the silver shower of the moonbeams, and visited all night by troops of stars, as they emerged from their hiding-places after the departure of their fair queen.
Then the dreams that would come, as he lay floating aloft, poised like an eagle asleep upon its outspread pinions. Dreams! Were they dreams? And was it sleeping or waking that they came to him? I reckon Criss knew not: knew not whether in the body or out of the body: whether in trance or in reality, when thus mounting as into the seventh heaven, he regained the society of angels, and was admitted into the recesses of the invisible world.
No wonder that even when, as one has sung of the bird of passage, all day long his wings had fanned at that far height, the cool, thin atmosphere, and the dark night drew near, he stooped not, weary, to the land; for then it was that to him, the rapt and kingly youth, who loved to hold such commune, his highborn kinsfolk came, – came as fair embodied visions and ideas, descending from the yet far rarer atmosphere of the regions where they dwelt, drawn by the force of the sympathies which they ever have with the worshipper of the Ideal. Little do people know what they lose when they clog their minds with preconceptions of the unverifiable, and in the positiveness of profound ignorance, close them against the teaching of the spirits.
So apt in discerning the spirits did Criss become, that he could recognize distinctions of gifts and characters, as well as of outward form. He made special friendships, too. There was one angel, tall of stature, and thoughtful and steadfast of mien, who conceived a great affection for him, and gave him many
details respecting their mode of life. And more than once Criss was struck by finding how near is the parallel existing between things celestial and things terrestrial; and this in respect even of moral characteristics. He was equally surprised to find that the inequality of their natures and developments is regarded by them with favour, inasmuch as it produces a pleasing variety, and contributes to the general effect of the spiritual landscape. Even a “bad “angel, as one of a corresponding class would be called on earth, is but as an accidental discord in a piece of music, and serves to enrich the general harmony.
One of their customs served to remind Criss of the exquisite art of horticulture. As our gardeners are in the habit of making even insignificant flowers effective in producing beauty, by massing a number of them together (no flower is “ugly”), so angels, who, individually, lack the qualifications necessary to secure distinction, gather together, like with like, into separate communities; and this, not through any law imposed upon them from without, but through the spontaneous operation of their own sympathies. He observed, also, that however largo or prominent any of these sections may be, however convinced of their own surpassing perfections, or even however low in the scale of angelic excellence, they never make it a matter of reproach to any that they do not belong to them.
“It takes many different kinds of angels to make up heaven,” Criss’s tall friend remarked to him. “Even the lowest and most rudimentary angels have uses which save them from being regarded with contempt by the more highly endowed. I perceive that you experience a sensation of surprise at there being such a class among us. But all things finite are comparative. We regard as such those who form, or used to form, the bulk of all communities of beings endowed with a capacity for intelligence: those in whom the perceptive faculties are not active in proportion to their reflective. Their powers of retention exceed their powers of acquisition, so that habit has for them a stronger attraction than progress. They love a mechanical sort of existence, and being devoid of the sanguine and hopeful in their temperaments, and incapable of imagining, in the future an
ideal of which the past shows them no counterpart, their faculty of memory altogether supersedes their faculty of aspiration. With you, down yonder, this class would claim for itself the title of orthodox, on the strength of its conformity to a standard derived from an actual past, however defective it be in regard to present needs. But here we recognize as alone entitled to rank as orthodox, those who keep their feelings and perceptions open to the reception of any fresh influences that may stream in from any part of the universe. Some of our oldest angels have told me that we used once to regard tradition as the test of truth, and that there are places in heaven where the practice still widely prevails; but they are far distant, in regions lying above the darker parts of the earth. With us who inhabit one of the most highly developed of the angelic spheres, to think freely, that is, what you used to call heresy, is alone counted as orthodox, not to think at all, or to think subserviently to aught but the actual, is heresy.
“The traditionalists, however, are valued among us for what they, are, not for what they are not. Most of our historians, who serve to keep alive the memory of antiquity, and so enable us to mark the steps of our progress, come from among them. We find that the greater the period of time over which our generalizations extend, and the greater the number of facts they comprise, the more likely we are to attain a true judgment respecting our relations with the infinite. We do not find, however, that the recorders of facts are generally the most competent to generalize from them.
“I see you are cogitating over my phrase ‘oldest angels.’ You think that if there be ages in heaven, there must be birth, and perhaps death. There are both of these. We call the latter disappearance. All I can tell you about it is this: we have our time. All finite beings have their time. It is the law of the Supreme. He said in his counsels, ‘I give them up all, reserving to myself one prerogative – Death. They are free to develop their natures to the full extent of their conditions: but all must submit to a period. There they must trust me.
“And we do trust Him. When too old to enjoy, or enable others to enjoy; perchance when needed elsewhere, we disappear. This keeps us from encumbering our sphere, and gives the younger angels a chance.
“What becomes of us on disappearing? Those who remain behind never know. Some have a vague notion that the Supreme puts us into the crucible of his love, and remoulds us for a fresh stage of existence. But our ignorance brings u s no fear, our love and trust being perfect. We have no certainty of a future. Like you, we are phenomena, whether recurrent or not, we know not. Do children, with you, when they fall asleep in their parent’s arms, wonder whether, or where, they will wake?
“So you thought we had only to will in order to have. Indolent wishing procures nothing, even in the highest of the spiritual spheres. We are bound to prove the reality of our desires by our efforts to realize them.
“The sense in which I use the term spirit? When signifying an entity, it differs from matter only in degree. In kind it is the same, or rather, they are different stages of the same material.
“You wish to know whether we possess aught that is capable of surviving the grosser organism, and becoming reconstituted as an individual.
“This is what I said we do not know. It is where we can only trust. Both in kindness and wisdom it is so ordained. In kindness, because hope is one of the most precious of possessions, and where all is certainty there is no room for hope. In wisdom, because the imaginative faculty which appertains to all intelligent beings, would, by the certainty of a future state, be called into such intense activity respecting its nature, as to make the present comparatively valueless. The Supreme lives in the Now, as well as the Then. So that to contemn and neglect the present life, is to defraud Him and ourselves also.
“Glance to the past history of your own world. Whence have sprung the vast majority of the evils your own race has experienced? Is it not through regarding as absolutely certain
that which ought to be an aspiration and a hope, that man has sacrificed the happiness provided for him in the present life, to his fears respecting the future?
“Well, with us in heaven, as well as with you on earth, the certainty that a future awaits us, would operate upon the present more perniciously than an equally strong conviction the other way. The conviction that we exist only in the present would, sooner or later, lead to our making the very hest of that present. We should thus, at least, give the Supreme credit for meaning well by us so long as we existed. But we should not have hope, as under the present arrangement – the may-be.
“Besides, were our actions weighted with motives derived from the certainty of an hereafter, real morality would be all but impossible. We roust love and follow good-for its own sake, otherwise we are not fitted to endure. Change of place works no radical change of mind. If we have no love of good here, there is no reason to suppose we should have it there. And if we have it not, how can we desire to perpetuate existences which are devoid of such love?
“Our abode? That is principally on the confines of the atmosphere which encircles the earth. It sustains us as the solider surface of the earth sustains you, and as the sea sustains your ships. Resting on that, we can raise our heads aloft, and inhale the pure ether of space. Our capacity for physical enjoyment is intense. On the ever shifting billows of the outer atmosphere, we shoot upwards or plunge downwards. In it or on it we swim, and glide, and fly, and dive. It is by a process of diving that I am able to penetrate hither to you. Would that I could take you into the far recesses of our world, But your time will come. Thank God, your time will come. At least, it is permitted to hope so.
“Oh no, we never have accidents to hurt us, at least, seriously. We are so carefully trained from infancy to obey the laws of our being, that even when we go on excursions into wild and distant regions, we know, as by a second nature, what to do or to avoid.
“We have no other law than that with which we are born,
the law of sympathy. The springs of all government are within us. They may require developing, but never counteracting.”
“Do we never actually do wrong? Well, I can hardly explain. The fact is, we delight in story-books, and we put all our wickedness into them. It is a great safeguard to us, and prevents them from being dull.”
The latter remarks were made during Criss’s last ascent to the Angelic spheres before quitting his minority. The rest of the conversation had been held at different times.
After thus referring to the power of their sympathetic faculties, the angel paused, and a roseate hue overspread his whole form, and he seemed to Criss as if about to withdraw from him, but in obedience to what emotion, Criss could not divine. Soon he resumed, –
“I ought to have considered that my utterances respecting our nature would excite in you an earnest wish to know more. My perceptions now show me on what your thoughts are dwelling. Your thoughts are pure, or I should not be here. It is not forbidden to me to gratify the desire of the pure.
“Learn, then, that next to the Supreme, and our own Inmost, whereby we come into communion with Him, the most sacred of all things to us is the mystery of the Sex. Its origin is a mystery hidden in the breast of the All-wise. Its method is likewise a mystery. Enough has been revealed to us to show that finite existences are possible only through Duality. It is the eternal and necessary antidote to selfishness. For sex means sympathy, sympathy with likeness in unlikeness. Itself the product of eternal love, it is in its turn the creator and sustainer of love. You, in your manifold contradictions upon earth, once adored the attributes of sex. Then for ages you contemned them, affecting a spirituality which regarded it as an unhappy accident. Then you blasphemed them by suffering a state of society in which the natural sympathies were forced to succumb to conventional exigencies. At last you have attained a condition with which we can sympathize, for you
have restored the affections to their due pre-eminence as the sole basis of morals.
“Some day you will learn to love. With most men love is the product of sex. I believe you more nearly resemble us, with whom sex is the product of love. It may be a hard saying for you to comprehend, but we know not, until love has developed it within us, to what sex we shall belong when we love. Unconsciously to ourselves, our inner nature determines this according to some law which eludes our power of analysis. For no finite being can comprehend its own nature.”
Criss noted here that there was something in the tone and aspect of the angel which called forth his own most ardent sympathy, as well as curiosity respecting his visitant’s own precise character and condition. It had never before occurred to him to question the sex of his friend. Now it struck him, there was something that strove for expression; and Criss felt his heart going out towards him in the fullness of intense sympathy. But he did not speak what he felt. The angel was accustomed to read his thoughts, so that utterance was superfluous.
During most of their previous interviews, his friend had been accompanied by another, a slim stripling of middle height – a boy-angel, as it seemed to Criss – whose slight and active form was matched with a playfulness of disposition which was wont to exhibit itself in smart repartees and practical jokes upon Criss and his Ariel; and yet whose eyes and voice indicated a capacity for a feeling deeper than seemed compatible with his boyishness in other respects.
It delighted Criss to witness the strong mutual affection subsisting between the two friends, and to watch the gradual and evident development of the younger from mischievous sprite to laughing fairy; and he wondered whether he ever would attain a character grave and sweet and earnest as that of his tall companion. Now and again would the look of tender devotion which shone through the lad’s steel-blue eyes, and diffused itself over his merry countenance, suddenly give place to an
outbreak of the wildest spirits, when his look would become wholly defiant, and his voice break into snatches of joyous song, and his whole bearing become that of a spoilt and way-ward child.
Sometimes he would perch himself on the top of Criss’s car, and pretending to be jealous of him, declare that he would push him back to the earth. At others he would get beneath it, and seek to give it an impulse upwards, declaring that Criss must come and stay altogether with them in heaven. Of course, he could only make as though he would move the car, for it is quite out of the power of beings so delicately organized and ethereally constituted, to exercise a direct and perceptible influence upon the gross elements of earth. At times he appeared to be really jealous of Criss, once even leaving them, and returning home alone, pouting like a sulky girl.
Criss had noticed that of late his tall friend had become graver, and somewhat distrait, as if preoccupied and anxious. And on this occasion there was, as I have stated, something in his demeanour that strangely excited Criss’s sympathy. The angel detected his feeling, and understood it better than Criss himself.
“Your sympathy,” he at length said, “has won from me something that I have been longing to utter, but shrank from confessing, even to my own kind. With you, attractions are of opposites. Yours are marriages of completion. With us, like attracts like. Ours are marriages of intensification. I doubt whether that which I shall next tell you, will be equally comprehensible to you. I am in the stage in which love is developing my sex. I love and am loved, but neither of us have yet attained assurance which of us will be endowed with masculine, which with feminine, functions. It seems to me that in some way this conversation has hastened the crisis. I have grown bolder since I gave you my confidence; and now I am almost certain that – that ––”
And here his form and eyes dilated, and he gazed intently into space. Then Criss thought he heard a rustling, but he saw nothing. Presently his angel-friend opened wide his arms,
and with a bound there entered into them another angel of smaller dimensions, fuller and more delicate outlines, with long flowing hair that seemed to him like the mingling of sunbeam and gold-dust. The face was hidden in the breast of the other, as each clasped each, and only a tiny luminous foot appeared beneath the alabastrous skirt; but that foot convinced Criss that his friend need no longer doubt which province of being he was to occupy in the new dispensation upon which he had entered.
And as Criss gazed at them still clasping each other in blissful trance, the air around became instinct with life, and strains of music reached his ears, and those of the new-comer also; for She raised her head from the breast where it had been hidden; a face, one glimpse of which told even Criss’s duller – because still human – faculties that every thrill and pulse of her being appertained to the feminine. She raised her face and uttered a little cry, – half of timidity, half of amusement:
“We are caught! we are caught! Oh, where shall we hide from them?”
For even among angels the first impulse of love for the one, is to conceal itself from the many.
But the joy of the angels over a new-found affinity extends far and wide, and is too vivid to be repressed; and so they had sought out these, diving after them to the lower airs where they held converse with Criss.
And then, surrounded by congratulating friends, and strains of wedding-music, the celestial marriage party, – the bride still clasped in her bridegroom’s arms, – soared aloft to their own abiding-place, and disappeared from Criss’s sight.
But the unutterable fairness of the face of which he had caught a glimpse, remained indelibly impressed upon his memory. It was the face of the boy-angel, as Criss had once deemed him; now by the force of love developed into the woman, and lit up with all the devotion and beauty which constitutes the special appanage of her sex, no matter in what sphere of existence.
CRISS determined to spend the last days
of his minority with his foster-father. It happened that Bertie was much
occupied in carrying out a scheme of immigration for the government of
Patagonia; and, induced by tempting offers, large numbers of settlers were
leaving Central Africa for the bracing climate and fertile slopes of the
The ill-will beginning to be manifested towards the whites. on the African
plateau, especially in the districts immediately around the capital, and the
Bornouse and Sakatos districts of Central Soudan, contributed also to the
movement. Many of the richer class of emigrants adopted the easy and rapid
journey aloft, and thereby escaped the discomforts and risks of the unwholesome
low coast country; but the majority, together with all heavy goods, were carried
by sea, embarking near the mouth of the river
There was in reality no hardship about the sea-journey, except to people accustomed to the exquisite ease of air travel. Our ancestors even of a few generations back, would have been filled with envy could they have foreseen the enormous improvements in the construction of ships, which a cheap motive power has enabled us to make. It is difficult for us to realize the fact that people used to traverse the ocean by the aid of the wind alone, or at best impelled by steam, produced by the combustion of coal; the stock of this article requisite for a long voyage occupying two-thirds of a vessel’s whole carrying capacity; and the vessel itself riding upon a single keel, at the mercy of every change in the level of the water, and the decks lying so low that the waves frequently washed over them! What would they have said could they have beheld the huge ferries, rather than ships, in which, raised high upon sharp, parallel keels, and propelled by rows of wheels and screws, we swiftly pass and re-pass the ocean in crowds, scarce knowing by any movement whether it is storm or calm!
The sea now has few terrors for voyagers. The danger of fire, indeed, cannot be altogether abolished, though it is reduced to a minimum. Neither are collisions, either with each other or with icebergs, altogether unknown; and when these do happen, the tremendous pace at which our vessels move is apt to produce catastrophes which are terrible indeed.
In the event to which the course of my narrative now brings me, both these
dangers befel a vessel bound from the west coast of Africa to
The first act of the authorities on board in such an emergency is always to dispatch a boat to pick up a wire of the floating telegraph, and summon aid from the nearest port. This was accordingly done, and then as many of the passengers as possible were lowered into the life-boats, to await, at a safe distance from the burning wreck, the arrival of aid. To the dismay of all, it was found that the boats could not accommodate the entire party, so that several still remained upon the burning vessels.
Among these were an elderly man and his daughter, who had emigrated from the Scotch Highlands to the mountain settlement on the slopes of Atlantika, in Soudan, and were now, after some years’ residence there, starting on a new venture in a climate and country more nearly resembling their own.
The daughter, a girl of sixteen, had by her marvellous beauty and fascinating vivacity, won vast admiration from all on board. To the old, she was a warm and glancing sunbeam; to the young, she was a realization of their most ardent dreams of joy and love.
The father made a strange contrast with his daughter. He was a hard-featured, tall, saturnine, reserved, unbending man. They stood together now, on the edge of the blazing flotilla, watching the receding and overladen boats.
On the crowded benches of these was many a young man who, during the brief sojourn at sea, had learnt to regard the fair Scotch lassie with feelings akin to adoration, but in the excitement of the catastrophe had forgotten everything but self-preservation. It must be said on their behalf, that the forbidding aspect of the father had kept them all at too great a distance to allow of anything like an intimacy.
Presently a cry arose from them –
“Nannie! we must save Nannie! Jump, Nannie, and we will pick you up!”
Nannie’s face brightened for a moment, less at the idea of being saved, than in pride of conquest. Mechanically she looked up into her father’s face. The grim resolution she read there arrested her impulse to fling herself into the water, as bidden by her admirers in the boats.
And now between those who were for saving Nannie, and those who were eager to
get further from the burning wrecks, a clamour arose. The old Scotchman made no
sign to guide her. The resolution with which she adhered to his side touched him
not. The fact was, he loved her not. His was only the self-love of a cold,
austere disposition. How such a fair, tender wild-flower had ever come to spring
upon the bleak mountain side of a nature like his, was a mystery even to
himself. He saw nothing of himself in her; and in his heart he reproached her
with being all her mother’s – that mother who had pined away beneath his
chilling influence, and, after producing three fair and lovely daughters, was
buried in the Highland home, which soon afterwards he deserted for the slopes of
Atlantika. One daughter had recently died; another, the eldest, was married and
settled in Africa; and he was now taking this one, and all his possessions, to
the new settlements in
Untrained by discipline, and unregulated by reason, Nannie was entirely a creature of impulse. She knew neither fear for herself, nor love for her father; but some blind instinct made her say to herself,
“At least, if he cannot love me, he shall not be ashamed of me.”
So, in reply to those who bade her jump and be saved, she calmly took her father’s hand, and said,
“Not alone! I cannot be saved by myself!”
Then she whispered to him,
“Father, shall we jump? I am sure they will save us both.”
“Do as you please,” was his reply. “For myself, I have never in my life accepted a favour from any man, and I am too old to begin now.”
Nannie was terribly perplexed. She had always been ready to accept, and eager to serve, and she understood not her father’s disposition.
Her attention was drawn from her perplexity by another shout, differing altogether in character from the last, for there was in it a tone of joyousness.
Above the crackling of the flames was heard the sound of a signal, exploding at a distance; then another, nearer; and another, so much louder as to indicate that they proceeded from a swift ship of the air, and no comparatively slow toiler of the sea.
All listened and looked intently. Presently a tiny aëromotive settled down upon the water between the boats and the blazing wreck. Its diminutiveness caused a thrill of disappointment in every breast. Adapted but for one or two persons, it was evidently incapable of aiding in the present dreadful emergency. But a clear voice arose from it, saying,
“Take courage! A fleet of aëromotives will soon be here. I have outstripped it, to give you notice. But I can save one now, at once. Will anyone come with me?”
It was Christmas Carol who spoke. He had joined Bertie on his last trip with the
emigrants, and they were now on their way home together over the
was burning, and that he would hurry on, and announce the coming of the rest.
In answer to his question, “Will anyone come with me?” There rose once more the cry, –
“Nannie! Nannie! Save yon fair-haired lassie!”
In a moment he had risen from the water, and was grasping the rail at the edge of the burning deck, against which the remaining passengers were crowded together. There was no need to ask which was Nannie. The looks of all sufficiently indicated her, as, clad in little beside her long white night-dress and flowing golden hair, she stood mute and trembling by her father’s side.
“Have a little patience,” said Criss to the poor people, “you will all be taken off soon. Come, little one,” he added to Nannie, “I will take you safely anywhere you wish to go.”
Scarce knowing what she did, she took his hand and stepped into the car, her father being apparently too bewildered to be capable of any decision.
“Where would you like to find her?” asked Criss of the old man.
“At her sister’s,” was the tardy response.
“Very good,” said Criss; “at her sister’s, wherever that may be, you shall find her safe. When the convoy comes, tell the leader that he is to bring you thither as soon as possible. Good bye!” And amid a ringing shout he darted aloft, bearing Nannie with him.
She, on her side, seemed to partake of the general stupefaction. The shouting and the rapidity of the ascent recalled her to consciousness.
“Oh, my father! my father!” she cried, “do save my father!”
“Fear not for him, little one,” said Criss. “See! yonder come the great air-ships, in time to save them all. Their captain is a good kind man, and will soon bring your father to you – to us – for I shall not leave you until I see you safe with him.”
His voice reassured her, as no voice had ever before done, and allayed the beating of her wild and ager heart.
“But when and where will that be?” she asked.
“At your sister’s? Did you not hear him say so?”
“You are going to take me all that way? and by ourselves too?”
“I do not know where, or how far ‘all that way’ may be; but I intend to take you every inch of it, no matter where. By the way, what is your sister’s address?”
“The Elephant Farm, Yolo,
“Very good, then. At the Elephant Farm, Yolo,
And glancing at the stars, Criss turned a handle and gave the Ariel an easterly direction.
“And now,” he said, “as we are no longer going upwards, but horizontally, and shall meet the air more rapidly, you had better let me put some of these wrappers round you. The tropical dress you brought from the ship is hardly sufficient for this elevation.”
And he opened a locker in the compartment of the car, where they were together.
“Dear me!” exclaimed the child, “I quite forgot I had so little on. I escaped from my berth in such haste, that I had no time to think of shoes or stockings. See!” she cried, half hysterically, thrusting out the tiniest white foot from beneath the scanty dress.
“Well,” said Criss, “so long as we can keep you warm, we need not trouble ourselves about being smart up here. The angels are not particular about dress, and besides they know how to make allowances for poor mortals of earth, so that they will not be affronted.”
He saw that the poor child was disposed to whimper over the scantiness of her attire; but the way he took it relieved her vastly.
“I do think,” she said, “That you must be an angel. You don’t laugh at me as any other man would have done. Had it been Frank, I should never have heard the last of it.”
“Well,” said Criss, “I do live a good deal in the sky, so perhaps I am on the road towards being one. Probably ‘Frank’ would tell you that you do not require such a course to convert you into one also. Is it not so?”
Nannie smiled and shook her head.
“Frank is my brother-in-law, and I suspect he knows me too well to think anything of the sort,” she remarked.
“I am glad,” resumed Criss, “To find you are not timid at travelling in this way. Have you ever been aloft before?”
“Oh no! I should have been frightened out of my senses had I known I was going to do it; but it all happened in such a hurry that I forgot to be frightened. And – and – somehow, you make one forget one’s fears. Why, I am not even frightened at finding myself all alone up here with a perfect stranger, and with only these few things on. I can’t think why it is.”
Her artless ways and wondrous beauty delighted Criss. He saw that she was yet more child than woman, though, perhaps, carrying on her childhood somewhat further than usual into the domain of womanhood. He divined in some degree the grounds of her confidence, and he argued from it that she had a true and genuine nature.
“No one ever thinks of being frightened in heaven,” he said; “and while here you must be an angel in courage, as well as in everything else, including a short allowance bf clothing.”
“Not even of the other – the – the – gentlemen angels?” she asked, with an arch look, which broke into a smile, and spread like a glory of sunshine over her whole face, till Criss fairly gasped at the memory it recalled. For she exactly resembled the bride-angel of whose face he had caught a glimpse at the supreme moment of her rapture.
“Why you are the exact image of an angel,” exclaimed Criss. “No wonder you take so naturally to heaven.”
“And are you one, too?” asked Nannie.
“Now that is a point I shall leave you to determine by experience,” said Criss. “But I shall insist on your eating something
now, and then lying down and going to sleep. The angels do not neglect those duties, I assure you. So, after you have eaten some of these dried fruits and biscuits, and drank a glass of this liqueur, I shall expect you to he down on this couch, and sleep very soundly as long as you can.”
“And what becomes of you?” she asked.
“Oh, I have another compartment on the other side of this panel, which I occupy sometimes. But for tonight I am going to stay up overhead in the rigging, where I have a little nest, and shall not be near enough to disturb you.”
And he proceeded to feed her with tender assiduity, yet not so as to excite any sense of strangeness or difference, and thereby throw her back upon herself.
Then he spread some furs for her on the little couch, and bidding her be sure to call him if she wanted anything, he took one of her hands in one of his, and pressed his other hand on her head, and seemed for a few moments to be murmuring something, as if in blessing or in prayer; while his eyes covered her with n grave and kindly glance, which allayed whatever still remained of tremor at the novelty of her position.
“Do you think you will sleep well?” he enquired.
“Oh, yes, soundly. But – but ––” and her look and voice wandered, as if uncertain what it was she wished to say.
“I can guess what you were thinking of,” said Criss, softly. “You were wishing for the accustomed kiss before going to bed.”
“Everybody who used to kiss me died long ago,” said Nannie. “But I was feeling as if I should like to be said good night to properly, for once. Though I am sure I don’t know how you knew it.”
Criss saw that a spell was working on her to compel a deep sleep, and that to balk her longing would break it. He wished her to sleep during the swift passage through the keen upper airs, by which he intended to make for the land.
“Give me both your hands, and look straight into my eyes,” he said. “And now tell me, Nannie (you see, I couldn’t help knowing your name, when all those people called it out so
loudly – it is the only name of yours I know), tell me, do you trust me entirely?”
“I suppose I must, as I can’t help myself,” she said, with a look half saucy and half sleepy.
“Then, for being a good girl, and not letting yourself be frightened, I give you this kiss, by way of saying good night ‘properly,’ and after it you must sleep soundly as long as you can.”
KNOWING the resources within reach of the shipwrecked folks, Criss did not further trouble himself about them. It only required tolerably fine weather to save them from discomfort during the few days it would take for aid to reach them from the nearest port, and such weather they were likely to have at that season in those seas.
The scene of the catastrophe lay about mid-way between the two continents; so that the distance he must traverse in order to place Nannie in her sister’s arms, was about thirty degrees of east longitude, and forty-five of north latitude. At his ordinary speed, this would take him the best part of twenty-four hours; but a pause might be necessary, both for the purpose of obtaining the precise situation of the place of his destination, and to avoid arriving in the night. Besides, Criss had never before carried a passenger of feminine gender, and he had a vague notion that all such were a kittle sort of cattle, and likely
to require things with which he was altogether unprovided, and which were obtainable only on land, and in civilized places.
So, observing that he was in the precise latitude of the
It was night again when he sighted the coast, and saw the broad silver streak of the great South African stream far below him.
Nannie had slept the whole day; but now, after a few uneasy movements, she woke, and murmured some words, the meaning of which he could not catch. Then, remembering what had happened, she called to him, a little querulously, he thought,
“Mr. Angel! are you there?”
“All right,” returned Criss, descending to her. “What a nice long sleep you have had.”
“Long! Why, it isn’t day yet. And oh, I am so hungry.”
“You have a right to be,” said Criss; “for you have slept all night and all day too, until it is night again.”
“And have we been travelling all the time? Have you not been asleep too?”
“Well, you have lost nothing by sleeping so long,” he said; “for we have been
traversing the monotonous ocean. But now, if you are quite awake, and are not
afraid to look out, you will see one of the prettiest sights in the world; for
you will see the earth asleep, and the glimmer of lights on the land, and the
sheen of stars in the rivers, and the outlines of hills, and rail-ways, and
plantations. For we have reached
“Oh, yes, thank you. I shall like so much to go shopping,” cried Nannie; “but – but I have no money!”
“That, I assure you, is of no consequence,” said Criss, laughing. “The Ariel’s passengers never feel the want of that. Why, Nannie, what is wrong now? “for she was beginning to cry.
“I can’t go shopping like this,” she said piteously, looking at the rough wrapper with which she was covered. “One always puts on one’s best things to go shopping in.”
“Well,” said Criss, “That is a difficulty, certainly, as even with that elegant poncho on you, the people would be sure to remark something unusual. It would hardly do for me to leave the Ariel in your charge, while I went shopping for you. But if you really dislike to go to your sister as you are, I will tell you what we can do. I will descend nearly to the earth, over some town, and let down a line with a message and some money, and they will send up whatever we order, without knowing anything at all about us.”
“Oh, do; that will be charming,” cried Nannie. “And even if the things don’t fit, I shall not look quite so foolish when I get home. I can’t bear to be laughed at.”
So they journeyed slowly northwards, so as not to be beyond a white town when morning came, Nannie undertaking in the meantime to make out a list of the things she wanted.
At first on looking down through the aperture provided for that purpose, Nanny declared that she could see nothing, and that it made her quite giddy. Criss urged her to persevere, saying she would soon get used to it, and that she must practice now in order to be his guide when they neared her home. At the same time he let the Ariel approach nearer to the earth.
Nanny was delighted when she found she could look down without being giddy.
“I see everything quite well.”
“It shows,” said Criss, “what a sedate character yours must be, when you can so easily get rid of giddiness.”
“They call me wild-cat, at home,” she said, “and declare that I shall never be anything else than giddy. And it is quite true, I assure you it is. Oh, I am such a wicked creature. There’s no mischief I wouldn’t do, when I am in the mind for it.”
“But you can be equally good and kind and nice, at other times, to balance it, I am sure.”
“I can do anyone a kindness, if I like them. But I am not allowed to like any I should like to like. My father is very strict with me; much more so than he was with my sisters. He says I am different from them in disposition, though we are not so very much unlike in other ways. If you heard my sister speak, I am sure you would think it was me.”
“Is your sister fair, too?”
“Yes, and the loveliest little creature in the world. You will be sure to think me ugly when you have seen her. But she is not so little, after all, when you come to look at her. Only there is something so delicate and fairy-like about all her ways, that one doesn’t see how big she really is.”
“And I suppose she is as happy as a wife and mother, as you hope to be some day?”
“Oh, Frank dotes on her; more than she deserves, I think; for I don’t see that she is so much better than I am. Are you married?”
“No; I consider myself but as a boy, yet. The week after next will be my birthday, when I shall come of age; and I shall be at home with my friends.”
“So you will be going away from us almost directly after we arrive. I wish you were not going to see my sister. You won’t think anything of me then.”
Morning broke while they were still chattering, for being near Christmas time, it was high summer in those latitudes, and soon the flood of daylight enabled them to see every detail of the country beneath and around them, down to its houses and gardens, and tiny irrigated rills, and patches of dark woods; and Nanny said she wished her father had settled in that beautiful country, among people of his own colour, instead of in the hot, central parts. And then she exclaimed, –
“How surprised Mattie will be to see me. She thought she had got rid of me for
ever. I wonder what father will do: whether he will give up his plan of settling
Criss suggested that it would probably depend on the amount of loss he might have had by the wreck.
“Oh,” cried Nannie, “I never thought of that. He had everything he owned in the world with him. And so had I, and – and ––” And here she broke into an agony of tears. Presently she resumed:
“I have lost all my nice clothes; and perhaps father won’t be able to buy me more; and Mattie hates my taking hers. She says they are too smart for me. Oh, dear! what shall I do! I dread now going back to her. Of course, we shan’t be able to get anything on the way fit to be seen in. And now I think of it, it will be such fun to arrive with only these things on. She must let me have some of hers then. She will be so mad. But I know what will reconcile her. She likes beautiful men. When she sees you, she will be reconciled.”
And, full of this last notion, she decided that she would not purchase anything on the way.
This character, so new to Criss, needed a key, for which, just now, he had little leisure to seek. But while he was at a loss to harmonize her utterances, he was at no loss to derive huge satisfaction from the contemplation of her wonderfully mobile and expressive face, through which every variation of thought and mood showed itself in sunniest smiles, – a smile not restricted to the region of the mouth, but which was equally in her eyes and all over her face, – or a petulant pout. Her intense and thorough vitality produced perpetual motion in her mind, and a corresponding activity in her body.
“I never could have believed,” she said to Criss, “That I could have kept still so long in such a little place as this, without jumping out. I believe it is only because the car itself keeps always moving so fast, that I am able to remain in it.”
Certainly, the energy and vivacity of every limb and feature did irresistibly indicate that every inch of her was thoroughly alive, and so Criss told her.
“Yes,” she said, complacently. “I am not a log. My grandmother in
Presently she said, –
“How fond you must be of travelling in the air. I am sure father never tried it, or he would not have called it wicked.”
“Is that why he hesitated when I offered to take you off the wreck? I thought it was merely bewilderment and alarm.”
“It was partly all of them, I think,” returned Nannie. “He says it is
presumptuous in man to traverse the skies like a bird, as
“Dear me!” said Criss, “Do such notions prevail in
“Well, not generally, I believe; but father always keeps to ‘the good old
paths,’ as he calls them, and says he is one of’ the Remnant,’ – though what
that is, I am sure I don’t know. And he hates to associate with people who
follow modern ways. I never knew him make friends with anybody. He calls himself
one of the true old
Criss did not care to draw the child out respecting her father’s faults of
character, though he felt not a little curious to learn the circumstances which
had combined to produce such a nature as hers. He was aware that the great burst
of free thought with which, about the beginning of the twentieth century,
“With such views, it must have gone very much against the grain with your father to leave his home and travel by railway and electric ship.”
“Oh, no. Why? Everybody has done that for ever so long. It is only the air-travelling he thinks wrong.”
“Ah, I understood you to say that he holds it right to use only the bodily faculties with which we are born, and not seek to improve upon them.”
“Well,” she said, evidently perplexed, “I suppose it is not
being used to things that often makes people think them presumptuous and wrong.”
“The earth looks as if it were dropping away below us! What makes it do that?”
Nannie’s exclamation was due to the sudden and rapid ascent of the Ariel. For the sun had risen high, and they were entering upon a region where it was necessary to ascend in quest of cooler air. Criss had deflected from his direct course in order to obtain a view of that region so long a mystery to the world, which extends from equatorial Africa due south through the centre of the continent, and contains, inextricably interlaced, the sources of the three great rivers, the Congo, the Zambesi, and the Nile, and of the series of marshes which cover almost the whole of Nigritia – a region now known as the headquarters of the greatest of black civilizations, and richest of all countries in vegetable and mineral production.
Nannie had told Criss at what hour on the morrow she would prefer to arrive at her sister’s – it was the hour at which she would be likely to find her alone – and there was plenty of time to make the detour. So they passed over the mountain ranges which stretched far away to the east and west; and Criss pointed out to her the diverging streams and told her of their ultimate destination, and of the long impenetrable mystery of the Nile, and of the famous traveller who, in ages long past, had devoted himself to its discovery, and to the abrogation of the dreadful trade in human beings which had made that fair region a very place of torment for millions of people throughout hundreds of generations.
At length they reached a vast and busy tract, teeming with rivers and lakes, fields and factories, railways and electro-ships, and all the other signs which indicate the neighbourhood of a great capital; and then a large and gorgeous city burst upon their view.
“That,” said Criss, “is a city with the name of which you must be familiar. The people of the country call it after a countryman of yours – the traveller to whom I was referring
just now – and whom they justly regarded as
their deliverer and benefactor, and who holds the first place in their sacred
calendar. For that is the city of
“Dear me!” cried Nannie, “l never knew he was a real man. My father says there never were such people as the Saints, but that their names and histories were invented to suit some fancy.”
“The same has been said of this one,” replied Criss; “and the very name has been
adduced as a proof of the unreality of his history. For mankind has always
regarded stones with superstitious veneration, and from the
earliest ages made them objects of worship. The Bible tells of Abraham and Jacob
and the Israelites paying respect to stones. The ancient Greeks represented the
earth as re-peopled from-stones thrown by Pyrrha and Deucalion after the flood.
The founder of the Christian religion was called a corner-stone, and the famous
church of that denomination was said to be founded upon a stone, for such was
the signification of Peter’s name. There was also the Caaba, the sacred stone
which symbolized the ancient worship of
It was night when they passed the equator. Criss was now steering straight for
the mountain on which Nannie’s relations dwelt. – Atlantika – which reared its ten thousand
feet at a distance of some two hundred miles south of the Bornouse capital on
is divided mainly into two great valleys.
Through one runs the Nile, which after forcing its way through the Libyan
desert, and depositing a kingdom on the route, finds an exit into the
“What a country, if only it were properly drained!”
Nannie was awake with the dawn, and eagerly straining her eyes to catch sight of the mountain. At first she insisted that every hill she saw was Atlantika, so excited did the thought of her return make her. But Criss turned to his own reckonings rather than to her reminiscences of what, from that point of view, she had never beheld, and therefore was unlikely to recognize.
Towards noon, Nannie’s recognitions and Criss’s calculations showed symptoms of reconciliation. The Ariel flew low as it passed round the eastern side of the mountain, towards the northern slope where the settlement lay. At length the Elephant Farm appeared plainly but a little way off; with, to Nannie’s great surprise and disappointment, the whole of her sister’s family assembled on the lawn, pointing upwards and gesticulating as if on the watch for her.
“Tell me,” said Criss, “is the garden wired over, or can we descend into it?”
Nannie asked what he meant.
“At home,” he said, “we have to place strong network fences of wire over any place we wish to keep private from aërialists. If your garden is fenced so, we cannot go down into it.”
Nannie declared that she had never heard of such a thing in that country, and that she believed ballooning was not allowed or not practised there.
“But look!” she exclaimed; “they see us and expect us, and I wanted to surprise them.”
A few moments more, and the car touched the ground in the midst of the excited party, and Nannie, stepping out of it, was embraced by one, who to Criss seemed another Nannie, only a little older and fuller in figure, so strong was the likeness between the two sisters. There was the same wealth of golden hair, the same broad fair brow, the same quick and laughing grey-blue eyes, the same vivacity of glance, the same exquisitely formed mouth and chin, and clever little nose, the same determined little thumb, lithe figure, and daintily-turned limbs.
A fine, pleasant-looking man, the husband, whom Criss already knew as Frank, then came forward and welcomed and thanked Criss, saying he presumed he was the Carol named in the telegram he had received from mid-ocean, and placed in his hands another addressed to him, which proved to be from Bertie.
From this he learnt that Nannie’s father had, with the rest of the passengers, preferred to continue the journey to South America, the Patagonian government having, on being communicated with from the scene of the wreck, undertaken to provide for them on their arrival, and dispatched a swift vessel to convey them all thither. Bertie added that after landing his own party of the rescued on the American coast, he should steer homewards to keep his appointment for Christmas-eve with Criss and his fellow-trustees.
The message from the old Scotchman to his married daughter, was to the effect that he had lost nearly everything, except his life; and that as he was too proud to come back to be a burden to his children, he should accept the offers of the Patagonian government, and do the best he could for himself in South America. If Nannie ever reached them – of which he had great doubts, notwithstanding the high character Mr. Greathead gave him of the young man Carol, for steadiness and skill – he hoped she would not be too great a trouble to them. But he would write at length on reaching his destination, which he hoped to do without further mishap, as a vessel had been
dispatched to their aid, and he was not one
rash enough to tempt
THE European settlements in Soudan,
of which that on
Educated in the self-same schools, and on the self-same system, as the boys, and taught to have precisely the same contempt for all pomps and vanities, they devoted themselves as equally a matter of course to grave and industrial pursuits, working in the farm, the factory, and the office, on the plough and the locomotive, in the legislature and the police (for the white communities of Soudan enjoyed the privilege of conducting in their own fashion whatever affairs exclusively affected themselves), and would hold a rifle, and go through military drill, and had no manner of doubt that, if called on, they would exhibit on the battle-field a prowess little, if at all, inferior to that of the men.
In a state of society in which woman cared more to be sensible than ornamental, and men valued them for their uses rather than for their graces, for their robustness rather than their delicacy and tenderness, and mere esteem had taken the place of love, and the general aspect of life was grey and sober; the sensation had been one akin to consternation, which was created by these young Scotch girls, who, from the moment of their
arrival, bade resolute defiance to all established rules of decorum.
At first the elders of the community felt strong in the conviction that they had educated the youth of both sexes far too well for them to suffer from so evil an example. But when they saw the effect produced by the wondrous beauty of face and form of the new arrivals, their witching ways of scorn or merriment: their reckless abandon of manner and speech: their utter contempt for the useful, and instinctive devotion to the charming, as the one thing needful or desirable in their sex; and saw, too, that even the gravest and most practical of their sons were unable to resist the fascination, – they were moved to indignation and wrath, and ceased not to utter warnings against all association with “the witches of Atlantika.”
These on their part enjoyed the commotion they were only too conscious of having created. They knew that none could say any harm of them, save that they were pretty girls, and scorned to be anything else. Too heedless and untaught, save in the young ways of their own inbred nature, they scarce knew the source of their power, but felt that, somehow, in them a tribute was being paid to Womanhood it failed to obtain else-where around them; and it was nothing to them if it were paid at the expense of “civilization.” And the whole career of these girls certainly was a veritable triumph of womanhood, – womanhood in its simple freshness and genuineness: pure from the hands of nature; wild and untameable in its utter unconsciousness of ill; haughty and proud in its conscious superiority to all arts; and winning and joyous in its wish to please, and its confidence of inability to fail to do so, even when making most strenuous efforts to be disagreeable.
The father was utterly powerless to comprehend or restrain the exuberant natures of his daughters. As children, there was no garden, wood, or meadow, where they would not wilfully trespass and stray. As maidens, there was no heart they would not win, and make merry with. As women, – ah, the thought of what they would be as women, sometimes made him hate the very beauty that served to remind him of the mother his own hardness had done to death.
At length some one was found bold enough to seriously wish to marry the elder of the sisters; a man of good repute for sense and substance, the owner of an extensive elephant-nursery, and valuable ivory-works; honest, straightforward, good-looking, and highly regarded, even by the father himself. It was even more astonishing to the latter to find his daughter readily accepting the offer, at so low a rate had he estimated her good sense. But his surprise was as nothing compared to that of the whole community when Mattie insisted on being married out and out, at once, without any provision for a trial of compatibilities, and without any of the usual settlements of property on herself separately. When remonstrated with, and told that such confiding generosity was a culpable weakness, and a wanton throwing of temptation in a man’s way, she said that she was a woman, and had a right to be weak if she liked; that the other women of the place might turn themselves into men if they chose; but that she believed any true woman knew a true man when she saw one, and that if she could not trust a man altogether, she would not trust him at all; and she did trust Frank Hazeltine.
Her lover would not be outdone in generosity, and accepted her with the same absence of all the usual safeguards and precautions. And so they the came man and wife in the simple fashion of old times, when there were no marriage-settlements, no separation clauses, no woman’s rights. In short, they took each other for better or for worse, and agreed to swim or sink together. And the only member of her own sex in the wide country round that approved of their conduct, was the rebellious and defiant Nannie.
It was with a grim satisfaction that the old Scotchman saw his daughter taken off his hands. He liked Hazeltine, but he was too confident of Mattie’s powers to plague, to consider him a subject for envy. He soon learnt to hope that she would plague him, for he conceived a profound distrust of Hazeltine so soon as he realized the fact that his wife loved him. The father felt himself supplanted in his daughter’s affections! His jealousy blazed out afresh when he found that Nannie preferred
her sister’s home to her own. Altogether, he was so ill at ease that he determined to leave the country. It was not through any wish for Nannie’s company that he took her with him. Indeed, he probably would have left her with the Hazeltines, but the eagerness with which both they and Nannie welcomed the arrangement, decided the old man against it.
All that Criss saw during his brief sojourn at the Farm, was an exquisitely lovely woman retaining in maternity all the charms of girlhood; and an exquisitely lovely girl, not yet matron, and apparently as fancy-free as any young spring-bok of the country; and so given to inconsistent extremes of conduct, so incalculable in her moods, that she would hardly bestow upon him a kind look or civil speech, until he went to take leave of her, and then she burst into a flood of passionate tears.
Criss was moving away distressed and perplexed at a phenomenon so strange and unexpected. But Nannie darted at him, and declared vehemently that if he said a word to her ‘sister or anyone else about her crying, she would kill him first and then herself; and that she believed she only cried because she had been so preternaturally good all the. Time she had been in the Ariel with him, and ever since, that she must make up for it somehow.
IN the anticipation of his coming birthday, Criss had matter enough for thought, while pursuing his journey homeward, for he knew that he was then to be put in possession of his history and parentage so far as they were known, and be called upon to determine his career. But his mind refused to dwell upon aught save the face which he recognized as at once the face of the bride-angel and of the fair child he had
rescued from the wreck, and left crying passionately at his departure. No matter whether he flew high or low; whether he swooped toward earth, so near as to catch the voices of his fellow men; or soared toward heaven, where he was wont to hold sweet intercourse with his spiritual kinsfolk, nothing seemed to him to be the same as it had been before. He felt as an invalid, into whose darkened chamber a single errant sun-beam has forced its way, not to cheer, but to distract.
Soon the waters of
On approaching the city, he perceived a commotion. People and troops were in
rapid movement. Smoke and flames were rising from some of the principal
buildings. In place of descending at once, he decided to approach only near
enough to obtain information of what was going on. On perceiving him the
multitude sent up a great cry. He paused a few score feet over their heads, and
let down a cord with a label appended, bearing the words, “Any mails for
A message was sent up, saying that no mails were ready; that there was a revolution in Soudan; that the Emperor had disappeared, and that a large sum was offered for his capture. It was his palace that was in flames. But the accompanying newspapers would tell all the news, the principal item of which was the establishment of a republic. No further disturbance was expected, unless the Emperor should return with a force. The republic meant peace, economy, and fraternity.
Criss continued his journey reassured. Soon the vast and fertile alluvial tracts began to give place to patches of sand; the growing temperature of the blasts of hot air which now continually assailed him, told him that he was approaching a region which not even modern skill and enterprise had
attempted to redeem from its ancient reproach
of being the most arid and baneful region in the world – the vast and dreaded
Sahara, dreariest portion of the dreary waste that stretches from the Atlantic
Criss has got far within the limits of the dreaded desert, when morning breaks. The night has been perfectly calm, and the air is clear and free from dust. Fascinated and attracted by the place and its reputation, he flies low and leisurely along. A sea of sand! Surely it must be the watery ocean itself that rolls beneath him, boiling and bubbling in vast blue billows, as far as the eye can reach. He descends towards it to examine the phenomenon more closely. The air becomes hotter as he does so, but there is not a breath of wind to account for the motion of the billows, which he sees rolling over and over each other as if propelled upwards from beneath. The red sun rises, and straightway the tossing ocean beneath him mingles crimson and gold with its blue, as he has never known the ocean of waters to do, nor even the clouds of the air over which he has been wont to ride. He arrests his downward course, but the many-collared billows seem to rise towards him. Already he
descries their gleams and sprays shooting
past him. Now the billows themselves are around and above him. He is engulphed,
and yet he breathes freely. Ah! It is a mirage of the desert that welcomes him
to the heart of the
It is impossible to judge how far he is from the ground. He does not suppose that the phenomenon extends to any great height, and having ascertained its nature, he prepares to re-ascend. But a sound catches his ears, a sound of tearing and rending, followed by harsh cries of terror, pain, and despair, listening intently, he ascertains that the place from whence the sounds proceed is not stationary, for sometimes it is nearer to him than at others; but in no. case many rods from him. While thus listening, and scarcely heeding his machine, he feels beneath him the touch as of soft yielding ground. The Ariel stops erect, and Criss, standing up in his car, calls aloud, in English, –
“Does anyone want help?”
He pauses and listens, but there is no reply. Again he cries, this time, remembering where he is, in Arabic, –
“If anyone wants help, let him speak.”
An answer came, rapidly and eagerly; and apparently from one so close to him as to make him look quickly round. But nothing was visible through the mist of the mirage. The reply was in the pure Arabic spoken by the better classes in Soudan. Criss readily interpreted it.
“Say first who offers help. Of what nation?”
“English,” replied Criss.
“English for certain, and no Bornouse?”
“An English and a true man, for certain?” replied Criss; “a traveller on the way
“You speak my language almost too well for me to trust you,” was the response. “Say, how are you travelling?”
“Alone, and in my own car – an electro-magnetic flying machine. But what and wherefore do you fear?”
“I do not fear. You cannot be Bornouse, for they know not the use of such machines. I am a fugitive from the insurrection,
and am injured; and there may be pursuers on my track.”
There was plenty of light, and the speakers were dose together, but they were
still invisible to each other. Their voices sounded strange and hollow, through
the dense and laden air. Criss learnt that the sufferer had fallen while
endeavouring to cross the
Finding him still reluctant, and knowing the danger a desert-storm would have for his apparatus, Criss said,
“You must decide at once. Either allow me to serve you, or say farewell.”
“I shall perish miserably if left here,” was the answer, in a somewhat pettish tone.
“Can worse befall you through me, whoever I may be?” asked Criss.
“I will trust you,” answered the voice; “but how are you to find me?”
“Leave that to me,” said Criss; “but do not stir from where you are.”‘
“Alas! I cannot move any more; for my machine is exhausted, and I too am fainting.”
Had there been any holding ground, Criss would have secured the Ariel against the chances of any wind that might arise, and stepped out, holding a string to serve as clue by which to find it again. This being out of the question, he leaned over and drove a stake as far as he could into the yielding sand, fastened to it one end of a long cord, and then made the Ariel move slowly to the other end of it. During this process, the two men spoke at intervals, in order to ascertain their distance and direction from each other.
“You are going quite away from me,” said the stranger, in a feeble and querulous tone, as Criss reached the end of his line.
“I shall soon be nearer,” said Criss, delighted to find that
the length of his cord was sufficient to make so easily appreciable a difference in their distance. “I have got my centre and my distance now, and am about to describe a circle with them. Keep quiet, and directly the string catches you, let me know.”
A few moments more, and the manœuvre was successful. The line caught against the crippled aëromotive, and Criss drawing it in, came close up to it. The two men could now see each other distinctly. The stranger was a fine-looking man, apparently of mixed race, between fifty and sixty years of age, and richly dressed.
“You do not look English,” he remarked, after a keen scrutiny of Criss’s face.
“I believe it is only in blood that I am not English,” said Criss; “but now let me examine your wounds?”
“Not now, not now. I want to get further from danger. Can you carry me to a place of safety?”
“I can carry you, but not your baggage,” said Criss; “but I assure you that you are too far out in the desert to be discovered. None could see us if they tried. My lighting upon you is so extraordinary a coincidence that it is not likely to be repeated. It is true, we might telegraph to them, but none can telegraph to us, for none know where we are.”
And he insisted upon examining his wounds.
The stranger, who was evidently a man of distinction, and accustomed to exercise authority, could not repress an expression of amused surprise at the kindly imperious way in which this youth took command of him, and directed his movements.
“One leg broken,” said Criss, “and one arm; a bad wound in the head, and several bruises on the body.”
“Those are all from the fall,” said the stranger. “Flying-machines are prohibited in Soudan. The people are too barbarous to be trusted with them. I alone possessed one, an old one, which I kept secretly against emergencies, but I have little skill in using it. Yet I think I should have got safely in it to the fortress of Asben, where I have friends, but for the wounds received in the insurrection, which prevented me from managing it aright. But look at my left side, just below the ribs – I feel a hurt there.”
“A small bullet wound,” said Criss, examining the part indicated; “but it has
ceased to bleed. It is impossible for me to find Asben, or any other place in
the desert, in this mist. Even were I to ascend to the clear sky and take an
observation, I should inevitably lose the position on coming down again.
Besides, in such times the loyalty even of your friends in Asben may be dubious.
I propose, therefore, that you let me take you to
The stranger assented; but on endeavouring to move into the Ariel, he nearly fainted with pain and weakness. Criss then administered a cordial. It was only with considerable difficulty that the change was at length effected.
“Is there anything here of small bulk that you wish to take? “asked Criss, pointing to the baggage.
“They contain little beside wine and provisions. I have enough about me to pay any moderate expenses for some little time to come.”
And he looked wistfully at Criss, as if to divine his disposition respecting the laws of property.
“There, one or two of those little boxes may as well come with us,” he said, carelessly indicating the packages in question. “They will not materially add to your burden, and it would be a pity to leave all my little knick-nacks to be buried in the sand.”
They were ready to start, and Criss looked around him. So intent had they both been upon personal matters, that they had not observed the change that had taken place. Criss was start-led at beholding the new aspect which nature had assumed in the last few minutes.
The mirage had entirely vanished, and from the somewhat elevated position on which the Ariel was resting, – the summit of a huge sandy roller, – happily for the present at rest until the wind should give it a fresh impetus on its ever westward course towards the Atlantic, – the vast desert lay spread around
them, un illimitable ocean of sand. The spectacle struck vividly upon Criss’s unfamiliar eyes. There was a beauty in it which he had not suspected, but of a kind to make him shudder at its absolute desolateness.
“Surely, surely,” he murmured as he gazed, “This is not what was meant by the promise that there should be no more sea! Fancy the whole earth thus!”
“Praying? and with your back to the East?” asked the stranger, who had not caught Criss’s words.
When they were aloft and on their course, Criss told him his thought.
“You know and can quote our Bible, and yet say you are English? Why, I have always understood that the English were a nation of infidels, who had banished the Bible from their land.”
“On the contrary,” said Criss, “we consider no education complete that does not include a knowledge of it. Though it is true we do not regard it as a Fetish, to be adored but not comprehended. That we should call superstition.”
“Superstition? Ah, yes, you English, I know, look upon my people as superstitious. We regard you as irreligious.”
“Besides,” added Criss, “I believe I have both Hebrew and Greek blood in me. So that I have a manifold right to know something of the literature of those languages.”
“I knew there was something Eastern in you the moment I saw you,” exclaimed the wounded man. “And I felt there was a link between us. I, too, have Hebrew blood in me. I am descended from ––” And here he stopped, and appeared to be faint from pain and exhaustion.
“You came across Bornou,” he asked, suddenly. “Did you hear what was going on at the capital?”
Criss told him that he only paused for a moment, to offer to take mails, and that they told him the Emperor had disappeared. The palace, too, was in flames.”
“Oh, those cursed traitors,” muttered the fugitive; “but I shall be avenged. In vain will they seek for that which they desire.”
And his faintness came over him again.
After another dose of the cordial, he said,
“I am weaker even than I thought. When can we reach a city? And are you sure
Criss told him that a few hours more would bring them there, and that it had
been famous as a sanatorium ever since the old French occupation. He proposed,
too, to place him in the hands of a doctor of whose skill he was well aware, and
under the protection of the British Minister, who was a great personal friend of
his own. Criss added also that he himself would have to proceed almost at once
“You will leave me!” exclaimed the stranger. “Will anything induce you to remain? I can reward you – indeed!”
“It is impossible,” said Criss; “but if necessary, I can return, and that soon.”
“I dread the intrigues of my enemies, if they learn where I am. I have never been friendly with the Mediterranean States.”
“Our minister is all powerful. Besides, he will do anything for me.”
“You speak as if you were somebody, and had influence, and were not a mere courier.”
“Every Englishman is Somebody, whether he be courier or not,” replied Criss; “but I am not a courier.” And he gave the stranger an outline of his history.
“What is your age?”
Criss told him he was going home to complete his majority.
“And your name?”
Criss told him.
“Can there be another of that name?”
“Certainly not,” Criss said, and told him generally how he came to be so called.
He sank back, murmuring,
“Christmas Carol! twenty-one years! Christmas Carol! Wonderful are the ways of the Almighty!”
A little longer, and Criss, enlisting the sympathies of his friends, the Minister and the doctor, had fulfilled all his promises to his unfortunate passenger. He then went to take his leave. The fugitive made no further effort to detain him, but implored a promise that he would return to him if possible; and added –
“I know not whether I shall recover. My impression is that I shall not. If I do not, I adjure you to observe as a last injunction of the sacred dead, what I am about to say to you. You see this small packet. None but you must know of its contents. I will place your name upon it. If the rebellion in Soudan fails, present it to the Emperor. It will win” for you whatever consideration is within his power to show. Yet it is not for reward, but as the sacredest duty, that you will do this. Should the rebellion succeed, and the Empire not be restored, the contents are –– But I will leave directions in writing.”
Criss said he would fulfil the injunction to the letter; and the stranger
declared himself content. There was that about the youth which inspired a
confidence which no protestations could have produced. When he started for
THE time was Christmas-eve; the
place, Lord Avenil’s private rooms in the Triangle. The following morning would
see Criss of age, and in possession of his fortune. Avenil and Bertie differed
as to the feelings with which their ward would receive the intelligence about to
be broken to him. The event proved that they were both right, and both wrong.
The old lawyer who had from the first been entrusted with the legal part of the
business, was present; as also, of course, was Criss, but two days arrived from
During dinner, Criss recounted his recent adventures, making the wreck and the
rescue of Nannie, and the subsequent flight over the length of
After dinner they proceeded to business. The lawyer first read aloud a brief narrative of the finding of Criss in the balloon on the iceberg. He knew something of this before, but the reference to his probable parents and descent, possessed for him an interest that was ever fresh and vivid. He was much touched on learning that the proceeds of the valuables found in the balloon had been regarded as belonging to himself, the only surviving occupant, and so scrupulously husbanded for his benefit, that the finder, Bertie, had continued to work hard for his own living, accepting nothing out of Criss’s fortune beyond what had actually been expended on him.
The particulars of the fortune itself formed the last item. One deduction, the lawyer remarked, might appear large, and doubtless it was so. This was for the item of taxation. But it was not large when they considered the advantage given in return for it, in the shape of perfect protection. The fiscal system of the country being based, as it had long been, exclusively upon realized property, in order to remove, as far as possible, all burdens from industry and earnings, fortunes such as that before them, bore the chief brunt of taxation. If their young friend had included among his studies the history of British Economics, he must know that nothing had tended so much towards the security of property, as the introduction of such a measure. For it reconciled the industrial classes, which form the great bulk of the community, to the accumulation by individuals of the gigantic fortunes for which modern times were distinguished. In the foremost ranks of such fortunate individuals he had the great pleasure of reckoning their ward and friend, Mr. Christmas Carol. “And for fear,” he concluded, “you should think I have made a mistake, and said thousands when I ought to have said hundreds, and millions when I ought to have said thousands; here are the figures for you to read yourself. Here, also, in this casket, are some of the smaller jewels which belong to you, for it was not thought necessary or
advisable to dispose of the whole of them.” And he placed the document in Criss’s hands.
Even Bertie was startled at the total, for though aware of the original amount, he had not thought of the enormous addition which would be made by allowing it to accumulate at compound interest for nearly twenty-one years.
Criss took the document mechanically, but did not look at it.
His eyes were bent upon the ground, as if he were endeavouring by a process of intense cogitation to grasp the whole subject. At length he looked up, and said:
“I am very glad indeed to be so rich, and most grateful to you to whom I owe it all. Indeed, I look upon it as a debt, and not as a possession. It is yours far more than mine, and I hold it as a free gift, to be resumed at your pleasure, and spent as you approve. But I want to be your debtor for one kindness more. I want no one else to know of it. I feel that it is only by keeping it a profound secret that I can use this wealth as it can best be used. Let me pass through the world known simply as Criss Carol, with a tolerable independence, otherwise I feel that both my power and my satisfaction will be seriously imperilled.”
The old lawyer was the first to speak. After looking towards Avenil and Bertie, and seeing that neither of them were ready, he said, with that bland smile which appears to have been an appanage of lawyers ever since, according to the old legend, the first one put his foot into Eden:
“I suspect that the difficulty of keeping your secret will not be on our part so
much as on your own, my dear young sir. My own impression is that a young man
might as well expect to walk about with
“At any rate,” remarked Bertie, “we will do our best to hold our tongues, until you release us; eh, Avenil?”
“Of course, if Criss soberly and seriously insists upon secrecy,” replied Avenil. “But I suspect his is only the natural reluctance everyone has to being made the subject of scrutiny
and observation while in a position in which he does not yet feel himself at home. A little later I think and hope he will learn that the mere fact of a man being known to be in the possession of a great faculty or power for good, and therefore that great things are expected from him, is calculated to operate admirably as a stimulus. Now I, my dear boy, have ventured already to cherish plans for you. Your fortune constitutes an engine of enormous power, socially and politically, if you choose so to apply it. And that power is as vastly increased by its existence being generally known, as the power of capital is increased by credit. For credit is capital plus character. The very reputation of being a young millionaire, with good education, extensive knowledge of the world (at least of the outside of it), and aspirations towards a career of usefulness, would, if applied in channels of which I am cognizant, at once secure your election to the lower chamber of the legislature, with the highest place in the land within your reach.”
“All this may come in time,” said Criss, unable to avoid smiling at his guardian’s inventory of his advantages. “But I think you will allow that I am yet full young to turn legislator.”
“Not a bit too young to begin to learn that or any other business, if you mean to excel in it,” interposed the lawyer.
“But do you not consider,” continued Criss, “That the circumstances of my origin impose some obligation upon me?”
“Of what kind?” asked Avenil.
“I may have a father living, and in need of me. These mysterious jewels, too, do they impose no responsibility? It seems to me as not impossible that a sacred duty may reveal itself in connection with them. Your kind care has made it possible for me to redeem them and still be very rich. If I am really of the Holy Stock, and lawful inheritor of royal heir-looms, it is not difficult to imagine duties arising which cannot at present be foreseen.”
This speech made Avenil and Bertie involuntarily look at each other, for it recalled my grandmother’s remarks at the consultation of many years before.
Avenil was the first to answer him.
“My dear boy,” he said, “I can quite understand and sympathize with your feelings under the circumstances. The sudden accession to an enormous power such as has come into your hands, is sure to suggest, to a man of conscience, the incurrence of corresponding responsibilities, and open a whole new region of possibilities, or rather, impossibilities. Such suggestions as your last seem to me very remote from the category of the practical.”
“As for redeeming the crown diamonds of the Empire of Central Africa,” said Bertie, “for such you know your jewels now are, – if you want to do that, the revolution will probably make it easy. But I doubt whether the Emperor would have consented to be bound by his agreement. The superstitious value he attached to their possession would have prevented that. He might, however, be willing to pay handsomely for the privilege of retaining them; that is, in the event of his remaining Emperor, and being able to do so.”
“How would you spend this money?” said Criss, suddenly addressing Avenil.
“I? Oh, my dear boy, you know my foible. It has been the same ever since, as a child, I was caught putting a thermometer into the pepper and the mustard, to find out why they burnt my mouth. Experiment is the basis of Science, and Science has for its end the improvement of humanity. I have often held forth to you respecting that which I regard as the Science of Sciences.”
“You mean the relations of capital, labour, and land?”
“Yes, in some measure; but you have never yet, I think, learned to see the subject as I do, from a religious point of view.” He said this with a smile; for he knew that it was precisely because of what Criss deemed the lack of the religious element in his character that they had never been in complete accord.
“You see,” he continued, “I prefer the active to the subjective or speculative form of the religious sentiment, and regard thinking and working as the chiefest of man’s functions.
Indeed, for me, the term work in itself means the combination
of wishing, willing, and acting. It was because you would have capital that I
wanted you to have an estate. The mere labourer puts into his land the power
only of a single pair of hands, and generally of an undeveloped brain. The
capitalist works it with the accumulated powers of several generations of mind
and body in combination. For capital is stored industry. As the coal beds, to
from it to morals, and thence to physics. That is, they built on that of which they knew the least. From the unknown and unknowable, they inferred the knowable. It was because their religion, while claiming to be the basis of morals, consisted in assumptions, that it failed to regenerate the world. We moderns, on the contrary, starting from the physical and verifiable, make morals the basis of religion. We cannot, as did our forefathers, even imagine a religion divorced from, or antagonistic to morality. We hold it as impossible for the Divine Will to be in conflict with the moral law, as with the physical. For us, Religion signifies the relation of the part to the whole, as Morality is the relation of part to part. We must learn the smaller and nearer lesson first. From our duty to the finite springs the idea of our duty to the Infinite. If we care not for that which is within our reach, we are not likely to care for that which lies beyond. The love of the seen must precede and produce the love of the unseen. Mysticism is not necessarily insanity.
“You deem me deficient in religious sentiment,” he continued, in a tone verging on solemnity. “Know, then, that for me, the surface of this earth is as the floor of heaven, and that my ideal of life is to tread it, as the angels of whom you are wont to dream, with firm confidence in its capacity to sustain the higher life of all best aspirations; and that the only proof of faith is work. It is by work alone that wishing and willing transmute themselves into deeds. We are products of the earth. To improve the soil, is to go a long way towards improving the produce. This is the function of Capital; that is, of work. You have only to find an occupation worthy of yourself and your means; and your floating ideas, now vague and undefined, will gradually arrange themselves harmoniously and musically around it.
“One word more. Do not think I wish you to go out of your way to compass some formal eccentric destiny. My meaning is, that you should rather let your future spring out of elements which come naturally in your way. Many a man courts failure, and wins it, by rushing into a position for which he has no natural call or aptitude.”
Rarely in his intercourse with Criss had Avenil indicated so decided an appreciation of the spiritual side of things. His present tone excited a lively feeling of satisfaction in the youth’s breast, and he felt as if he had scarcely done justice before to the character of his guardian’s mind, and the school of which he was so distinguished a member. Criss was accustomed to hear students of science characterized by his friends among the Remnant as irreligious and atheistic. He was glad to have such evidence that the epithets were unmeaning or undeserved.
Bertie then alluded to the event of the morrow, and invited the whole party to
spend the day at his cottage on the Surrey Downs. Criss expressed his readiness,
and added that he must immediately afterwards run over to
“You certainly seem born for the rescue of folks in trouble,” remarked Avenil.
“I suppose some mishap is constantly occurring to somebody, and as you are
always on the move, you naturally light upon the victims. By the way, I see that
this evening’s papers give an account of the deposition and flight of the
Emperor of Soudan, and mention that he is supposed to Lave perished in the
desert while endeavouring to reach Mourzouk or
“That is exactly what occurred to me at the time,” said Criss. “And I thought it such a pity that all the abundant rivers which belong to it, should carry their waters right away from its centre, instead of flowing through it.”
Here the conversation was interrupted by the entry of a servant, who stated that an aërial parcel-express carrier had brought a package for Mr. Carol to be delivered to himself only, and for which he must have his receipt.
Carol left the room, and returning a few moments afterwards with a small box and
an open letter in his hands, he told his friends that he had just learnt the
death of the man he had left in
“Is there any pledge of secrecy?” asked Avenil.
“None, now that the poor man is dead,” said Criss, “and I shall be only too glad to let you have as much information as I myself possess.”
And opening the dead man’s letter, he set himself to give its purport in English. Before he had translated the first sentence, his hand dropped, and he exclaimed, –
“It was the Emperor himself!”
“What!” cried Avenil, Bertie, and the lawyer together; “the fugitive whom you rescued, the man who has sent you that packet? Open it, open it at once! It was he who bought your jewels!”
“See for yourselves,” said Criss, “while I read this letter.”
With eager hands – for, grave men though they were, the singularity of the coincidence was enough to disturb their gravity – they opened the box. More eagerly yet they opened the casket which it contained, a golden one, with a diadem in a monogram on the outside. They then removed some layers of cotton; when, in superb and serene beauty, like the sun surrounded by his planets, a magnificent diamond was revealed, with a number of smaller ones attached to it in an oval setting. Then Avenil read the inscription, which was in Arabic, and ran thus: –
“The Talisman of Solomon, and crown jewels of Theodorus, Emperor of Soudan.”
A second compartment contained a number of other jewels of remarkable size and beauty; and beneath this, at the bottom of the casket, was the duplicate of the bill of sale and covenant to restore them to the agents or representatives of Christmas
Carol, at the same price at which they had been bought, should the demand be made within one year of the said Christmas Carol attaining the age of twenty-one.
“Here are more millions for you,” said Avenil, handing him the casket. “But pray what says his unhappy Majesty in his letter? Did he know that you were the Christmas Carol named here, and does he make you a present of them?”
“You shall hear it,” returned Criss, and he read thus, translating as he went on:
“Theodorus, Emperor of Abyssinia and Soudan, now dying at
“But for the aid of thy hand, my bones would now be whitening the
“How they first came into your hands I know not; perchance you received them
from him by whom many years ago they were sacrilegiously rapt away from the
kingdom, even from my Uncle, to whom as Regent in my minority their guardianship
was entrusted. Exiled from the country, he roamed the world, and then settled in
“I leave a Son, sole heir to my throne and crown. Should he become Emperor, these gems would be his, save for the right which you possess of repurchasing them. I need not say
‘Deal kindly by him, as you have dealt by his
father!’ for you will do so. And to you doing so, and asking what you will, he
will grant the half of his kingdom, even to the turning of the
“Should he not come into his imperial rights, you may serve him better than by restoring to him the gems. Who knows but that in serving him you will be serving your own blood. Your lineaments, as well as your connection with these jewels, indicate you as not far removed from our royal race. But of this I know nought. Wonderful are the ways of the Almighty. Peace be with you. Farewell.”
THE conversation at Bertie’s next day turned much upon Criss’s recent adventures. His guardians were chiefly struck by his apparent indifference to the wealth of which he found himself possessed, and his preoccupation by the idea of responsibility imposed upon him by his position. It was as if he had lost his independence, instead of gaining it, by being so rich. He was much affected, too, by the strangeness and nature of the coincidence that thus, on the eve of his birthday, revealed a clue to the mystery of his birth.
“You will take an interest now,” remarked Avenil to him, “In watching the
telegrams to learn the progress of political events in
“You think there are parts of the world where capital can be more usefully
employed than in
Criss, with an arch smile, the meaning of which Avenil was at no loss to interpret and appropriate.
“Employ it,” he said, “upon Races whose capacity for a high civilization renders
them worthy of preservation. It is not in tropical
“I suspect you are more than half of the opinion I found expressed somewhere, that the tropics are a mistake altogether,” returned Criss; “and would have preferred that the land of the earth, instead of running north and south, had been placed east and west, in broad belts, and confined to the temperate zone, with the sea occupying all the polar and equatorial spaces.”
“It is possible that it was so once,” replied Avenil. The present configuration of the continents indicates the action of strong currents setting continuously in one direction, parallel and not transversely to their coasts, just as would occur were the earth to revolve from north to south instead of from west to east ––”
“Come, come!” exclaimed Bertie, “we won’t waste today upon serious talk. Here are a number of guests to whom you must pay attention, some of them your old school-fellows, Criss; and all your tribe, Avenil.
It was a happy evening, for Criss was much beloved, and all rejoiced in his accession to man’s estate and a position of affluence; though of the extent of the latter none but his guardians had any conception. Together with the respect and affection which Criss inspired, there was mingled a certain sentiment of curiosity and wonderment. All with whom he came into contact felt that he was not completely of them or their kind, but had a life apart, and into which they could not enter. He was to them as a stranger, who arrives and takes up his abode in a new country, having spent his previous life amid scenes and associations altogether unknown to his new neighbours. Of these he learns the outward ways, and adopts the outward speech and garb and manners; but they all the time feel that his mind is filled with memories altogether foreign to his present surroundings,
and to which they have no clue. However much they may admire and believe in him, they yet never feel that he sympathizes entirely with them. If that which they see of his character does not inspire them with respect for its quality or power, their very ignorance of him in the past produces mistrust of him for the future. If their estimate be favourable, the sense of mystery about him serves to engender a certain amount of awe. Suggesting the unknown, he suggests also the infinite. Respecting one, whose life and conversation was known to be so much in the unfamiliar heavens as Criss’s, curiosity ran strong to see how he would fulfil his part on earth. He was evidently not of the brood of the commonplace, who so readily become au fait of the small technicalities of life. The light that shone from him had its source within, and it rested not on the trivial. The best painters of the time despaired of rendering the translucent envelope of his body through which his luminous soul shone forth.
Avenil’s dominant feeling respecting such a temperament was one of apprehension. One of his reasons for urging Criss to practical work, was founded in his alarm lest the very sensitiveness of his organization should work its own ruin. Steady occupation he held to be the best cure for a tendency to the over-soul. He hailed the recent incidents in Criss’s career, chiefly for the effect they might have in drawing him to the practical. For the same reason he would have hailed his marriage, even with an inferior nature. In his eyes Criss was made of the stuff that has afforded martyrs to the cross and the stake; that is, the stuff of which enthusiasts for an idea are made; and to Avenil such enthusiasm was the offspring of a taint of insanity.
The party at Ariel Cottage included the Bishop of the diocese, who, as chief inspector of the National Schools of the district, had long known Criss, and knowing him, had always loved him. Another also of Criss’s ecclesiastical friends, the Dean of St. Paul’s, was present. His festival” in the Metropolitan Cathedral had taken place in the morning, and Criss
had attended it. For he was strongly attached to St. Paul’s, which standing in the dense and busy heart of the great city, was in its finished perfection, for him as for all enthusiastic citizens, a monument of the final overthrow of the sectarian spirit in these isles, and of the triumph of the sentiment of citizenship and humanity over that of church and creed. It was to Criss alone of aërialists that the Dean had given permission to alight and rest on the summit of his church.
In the evening the whole party adjourned to the Cathedral on the
Brought up, as I was, in the narrow sectarianism of the orthodox “Remnant,” and only recently made a partaker of the Emancipation, I can better than most of my readers, appreciate the blessedness of the change which our country then under-went. Accustomed as most of us are to it, we have need to be careful students of history to realize the difference between England torn and rent by theological and ecclesiastical divisions, and England in the enjoyment of unanimity of sentiment, eyen where opinions differ. What a contrast there is between the feelings with which I contemplate the harsh exclusiveness wherein my own youth was instructed to restrict and confine itself to the narrowest and most revolting conceptions of the Universe, and the sentiments evoked by this broad, genial,
capacious edifice about which are entwined the hearts of all the surrounding dwellers, from their earliest youth to their latest age.
The Bishop himself, – I have since made his acquaintance, and learnt to regret his death, – came in for his full share of the warm feelings which clustered around his cathedral. He fulfilled the ideal of a Bishop of the period, whose functions comprised the feeding of the lambs of his flock as well as the tending of the sheep. The steadiness with which he maintained the rational character of the teaching given, both in the schools and the churches of his diocese, won the highest confidence of all parents. Holding fast to the doctrine, that it is the function of education to make boys and girls into good and capable men and women, and at the same time to develop their respective individualities; his administration has been notable for its success in producing valuable citizens. An illustration of his width of spirit is to be found in his choice of a motto when one of his parishioners desired to add an inscription as a decoration to the Cathedral: – “All sects abandon, ye who enter here.”
In no spirit of perfunctionary routine, but thoroughly con amore, did the good Bishop perform what he undertook. The ancient festival of Christmas was one in which he had special delight. Taking as a model the old-fashioned Oratorio which we derive from our ancestors of the seventeenth or eighteenth century, he loved to found on it some musical service, which while representing objectively the season of the year, yet possessed an esoteric significance for those who were capable of perceiving it. But what that significance should be, he dictated to none. It was for Science to ascertain and fix phenomena. It was for Art to represent them; and for Nature and the individual soul to settle their interpretation between them. Thus only, he held, could God speak freely to man. These services were sung by an admirable choir, which he had selected from among all ages and classes, of; both sexes, in the
neighbourhood. And most enthusiastically did they enter into the spirit of their task, and flock to the Cathedral on the occasions in question.
It was a model Christmas-day for the climate. The snow had fallen at intervals, and a thin layer now covered the ground. When, towards nine o’clock, the party started from Bertie’s for the cathedral, the wind had fallen, the sky was clear, and the stars shone out their brightest. As they passed by villa and garden, the trees and shrubs crackled and glistened in the frost. The bells rang out a joyous peal. The whole district was on the alert. Everybody was going to the Oratorio. It was known that the Bishop had requested the choir to observe strict secrecy respecting the piece to be performed. This added to the interest.
The service of the evening was prefaced by the Bishop with a brief address, rather colloquial than formal; and there were not wanting those among Bertie’s party who fancied that it possessed a greater capacity than usual for personal application. During its delivery the vast building was wrapped in gloom, the only light visible being that which directed its rays on the pulpit.
After a few hearty words of welcome, the Bishop said he should revert to the old ecclesiastical custom of taking a sentence from the ancient sacred book of Christendom, as the key-note of his remarks. That sentence was, “These Three are One;” a sentence which, though well known to be ungenuine, was not, therefore, necessarily untrue. The object of all right reverence, he said, is a compound object, of which each constituent is distinct and complete in itself, and yet incapable of being detached from the others. Nations, as well as individuals, in seeking to effect such detachment, had invariably degraded their religion to a kind of polytheism, and the degeneration of their faith had involved that of themselves. The Greeks worshipped Beauty, finding their ideal in physical humanity. The Jews aimed at goodness or obedience to God, but ignoring a
human criterion imagined a deity independent of a moral law. We ourselves, again, were too liable to give the supremacy to the Useful. But the Holy Trinity of the excellencies could not thus be divided. There is no Beauty without Use; no Use without Goodness; no Goodness without Beauty. Each individual present probably felt drawn more towards some one of these sacred elements than towards the others. The most fortunate were those for whom all three possessed an equal attraction. The greatest advance man had ever made was when he erected his instinctive love of Beauty, Goodness, and Use, into a religion, and resolved to accord his best reverence to One whom he deemed to excel all others in the possession of them. Man’s instinct had then proved too strong for the priesthoods; and in order to retain their influence, these had to give up their deities, which were but caricatures of humanity, and adopt the ideal recognized and insisted upon by men. The transatlantic poet-sage struck a true key-note when he said, –
“An honest God’s the noblest work of man.”
It was true that the ideal had not always since been maintained. It had oft been by the nations crucified, and buried, and relegated to the lowermost parts of the earth; but like the sun, whose rising from the depths of winter and darkness, they were now met to celebrate, it had been impossible to keep it down. The greatest relapse had been when men, fancying that truth was a thing to be kept hermetically sealed as in a bottle, instead of requiring free light and air to keep it sweet and wholesome, mistook Churchianity for Christianity, and made religion once more a set of opinions and a profession for a Caste.
It must ever be so when we submit the sentiments, whose essence is spontaneousness and flexibility, to be devitalized and crystallised by professional formalists. Now that we have finally got rid of these, we find an infinitely freer and fuller recognition of all that was good and true in the old systems, inasmuch as we accept it for its own sake. “For ourselves,” the Bishop concluded, “let us strive to be Greeks, in our love of that which
is beautiful; Hebrews, in our allegiance to divine goodness; and Englishmen, in our devotion to that which is Useful and True. And if, perchance, any of us here present be conscious of possessing exceptional powers and advantages, let us not waste ourselves and them in the search for exceptional opportunities whereon to employ them. As, in the domain of knowledge, the fact that lies nearest to us, the fact of our own existence, must ever be the starting-point for all excursions towards truths which are more remote; so, in the domain of action, the duties which he immediately around us, and spring out of our circumstances and nature, are those to which we’ should first devote ourselves, trusting to Providence to find others, should such be desirable. History shows that it was only when England abandoned her useless attempts to convert savages to her own commercial and theological beliefs, and directed her whole undivided energies to the improvement of her own social and mental condition, that she became the true missionary – the missionary who can point to the happy effects of his principles in his own case as an argument for their propagation.”
The Cantata to be sung on that occasion was a hymn of the year, the words of which were the work of a well-esteemed young member of that congregation, who first saw the light on that day twenty-one years ago.
“You will, I am sure,” added the Bishop, “join me in the wish that, as is his verse, so may his and our lives be: a Christmas Carol and a song of praise, and a standard of Beauty, Goodness, and Usefulness. And may we succeed in so closely assimilating our real to our ideal, that the subjective shall become for us the objective, and faithfully reflect within us the universe that lies without us. Far be it from me to dictate to any; but for myself, I may say that the ever-recurring phenomena of the system of which we are a part, are in a striking correspondence with the phenomena of my own heart. Like the sun, whose renascence, as I have said, we this day celebrate, the ideal towards which I would fain strive, though always suffering and dying within me, is also always rising and ascending: oft obscured by the clouds and mists of doubt and difficulty
and oft again shining out with a brightness and a warmth that draws me up perforce towards it.”
Criss’s amazement at the Bishop’s announcement was supreme. He turned for an explanation to Bertie, who sat by him.
“My dear boy,” he said, “I have to ask your pardon. I found the verses some time ago, and showed them to the Bishop. He begged them of me. I did not know he would use them in this way. Considering his eagerness, and his regard for you, I am inclined to praise him for the very delicate way in which he brought in your name. Only your own friends would detect the allusion.”
“I do not mind that,” said Criss; “but I had forgotten all about the piece. It was a mere boyish production, and far from finished; and if I remember right, I never felt quite sure that some of the lines were altogether new, though I never succeeded in tracing them.”
As he spoke there came welling through the darkness from the choir, at the far end of the chancel, in a low, wailing recitative, this lament for the departure of summer and approach of winter:
Earth wrapped in gloom
No light, no heat,
No fruits, no flowers;
But storm and snow
In all our bowers.
The Lord of life sinks low
Toward the tomb.
The effect of this was weird in the extreme. A perceptible shiver ran through the whole vast congregation. Then a rich contralto voice was heard singing the plaintive verses beginning, –
Where is our laughter fled?
to which a tenor responded in strains exciting to hope, –
Yon moon derives her light from him;
Perchance ‘tis we are turned away:
Perchance he visits other lands,
And, timely, hither back will stray,
With rays nor cold nor dim.
No need to think our Lord is dead,
Because sleep’s pillow claims his head.
But to the eye of sense there is as yet no ground for hope. Despair still strives for utterance, and finds it at the mouth of the bass, who now breaks forth into the expression of doubt, beginning, –
Declined so low,
Mid storm and snow,
Wilt ever rise again?
A sentiment in which the chorus seems to participate, for it now indulges in the soft minor air, beginning with –
When the lamp of life burns low;
and suddenly changing into the major with the bold aria, –
The wintry dragon claims his prey.
The sun now pausing in his downward career, the watchers are speechless with anxiety. Is the king of day still able, in this his hour of weakness, to contend successfully with the baleful powers of darkness? During this period of doubt, the music alone is heard, in low and fitful strains of alternate hope and fear. When the last moment of the Solstice arrives, the music is hushed, and the intense stillness broken by a soprano voice singing the lovely air, –
Weak in the cradle of the year.
Then suddenly the whole strength of the chorus joins in singing the bravura –
Baffled winter hie thee hence.
At this juncture the cathedral grows lighter, in correspondence with the period represented; and the music changes its character so as to indicate the sun’s growth in height and strength, as the days increase in length, until the arrival of the spring equinox. Then once again comes in an interval of
doubt. Will he maintain the ground gained from the powers of darkness, or recede once more towards the horizon? This fear is expressed in the song: –
Balanced the scales of day and night.
But the sun still goes on his upward way, and so the entire chorus and orchestra, together with the grand organ, break forth into pæans of tumultuous joy, as the king of heaven ascends triumphant into the sky, revealing the kingdom of heaven, or summer, and showering down gifts on men, in food and raiment, mirth and love and marriage-blessing; and the whole concludes with the Jubilate, –
Great God of Nature, Hail!
By Thee sustained we live.
Not once hast Thou appeared for all,
And left us then
To fail and fall:
But year by year Thy presence shows,
In winter’s snows,
In summer’s sun,
In life and death,
In joy and grief,
That thou, and we, and all, are one:
We the parts and Thou the Whole,
We the body, Thou the soul:
That Thou art All, and else is none!
Talking with the Bishop afterwards, Criss said that if he were to rewrite it now, he would say a good weird for winter; for that even cold and darkness have their uses, and were not unmixed evils, if evils at all.
“Then you would have just spoilt it for our purpose,” replied the Bishop, with a smile. “A devil of some sort is a dramatic necessity.”