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   Chapter 32 THE NAIAD.

Warlock o' Glenwarlock By George MacDonald Characters: 13084

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

At length Cosmo was able to go out, and Joan did not let him go by himself. For several days he walked only a very little, but sat a good deal in the sun, and rapidly recovered strength. At last, one glorious morning of summer, they went out together, intending to have a real little walk.

Lady Joan had first made sure that her brother was occupied in his laboratory, but still she dared not lead her patient to any part of the garden or grounds ever visited by him. She took him, therefore, through walks, some of them wide, and bordered with stately trees, but all grown with weeds and moss, to the deserted portion with which he had already made a passing acquaintance. There all lay careless of the present, hopeless of the future, and hardly dreaming of the past. It was long since foot of lady had pressed these ancient paths, long since laugh or merry speech had been heard in them. Nothing is lovelier than the result of the half-neglect which often falls upon portions of great grounds, when the owner's fancy has changed, and his care has turned to some newer and more favoured spot; when there is moss on the walks, but the weeds are few and fine; when the trees stand in their old honour, yet no branch is permitted to obstruct a path; when flowers have ceased to be sown or planted, but those that bloom are not disregarded; while yet it is only through some stately door that admission is gained, and no chance foot is free to stray in. But here it was altogether different. That stage of neglect was long past. The place was ragged, dirty, overgrown. There was between the picture I have drawn and this reality, all the painful difference between stately and beautiful matronhood, and the old age that, no longer capable of ministering to its own decencies, has grown careless of them.

"At this time of the day there is plenty of sun here." said his nurse, in a tone that seemed to savour of apology.

"I think," said Cosmo, "the gardener told me some parts of the grounds were better kept than this."

"Yes," answered Joan, "but none of them are anything like what they should be. My brother is so poor."

"I don't believe you know what it is to be poor," said Cosmo.

"Oh, don't I!" returned Joan with a sigh. "You see Constantine requires for his experiments all the little money the trustees allow."


"I know this part," said Cosmo. "I made acquaintance with it the last thing as I was growing ill. It looks to me so melancholy! If I were here, I should never rest till I had with my own hands got it into some sort of order."

"Are you as strong as you used to be, Cosmo-I mean when you are well?" asked Joan, willing to change the direction of the conversation.

"A good deal stronger, I hope," answered Cosmo. "But I am glad it is not just this moment, for then I should have no right to be leaning on you, Joan."

"Do you like to lean on me, Cosmo?"

"Indeed I do; I am proud of it!-But tell me why you don't take me to a more cheerful part."

She made him no answer. He looked in her face. It was very pale, and tears were in her eyes.

"Must I tell you, Cosmo?" she said.

"No, certainly, if you would rather not."

"But you might think it something wrong."

"I should never imagine you doing anything wrong, Joan."

"Then I must tell you, lest it should be wrong.-My brother does not know that you are here."

Now Cosmo had never imagined that Lord Mergwain did not know he was at the castle. It was true he had not come to see him, but nothing was simpler if Lord Mergwain desired to see Cosmo as little as Cosmo desired, from his recollection of him at Castle Warlock, to see Lord Mergwain. It almost took from him what little breath he had to learn that he had been all this time in a man's house without his knowledge. No doubt, in good sense and justice, the house was Joan's too, however little the male aristocracy may be inclined to admit such a statement of rights, but there must be some one at the head of things, and, however ill he might occupy it, that place was naturally his lordship's, and he had at least a right to know who was in the house. Huge discomfort thereupon invaded Cosmo, and a restless desire to be out of the place. His silence frightened Joan.

"Are you very angry with me, Cosmo," she said.

"Angry! No, Joan! How could I be angry with you? Only it makes me feel myself where I have no business to be-rather like a thief in fact."

"Oh, I am so sorry! But what could I do? You don't know my brother, or you would not wonder. He seems to have a kind of hatred to your family!-I do not in the least know why. Could my father have said anything about you that he misunderstood?-But no, that could not be!-And yet my father did say he knew your house many years before!"

"I don't care how Lord Mergwain regards me," said Cosmo; "what angers me is that he should behave so to you that you dare not tell him a thing. Now I AM sorry I came without writing to you first!-I don't know though!-and I can't say I am sorry I was taken ill, for all the trouble I have been to you; I should never have known otherwise how beautiful and good you are."

"I'm not good! and I'm not beautiful!" cried Joan, and burst into tears of humiliation and sore-heartedness. What a contrast was their house and its hospitality, she thought, to those in which Cosmo lived one heart and one soul with his father!

"But," she resumed the next moment, wiping away her tears, "you must not think I have no right to do anything for you. My father left all his personal property to me, and I know there was money in his bureau, saved up for me-I KNOW it; and I know too that my brother took it! I said never a word about it to him or any one-never mentioned the subject before; but I can't have you feeling as if you had been taking what I had no right to give!"

They had come to the dry fountain, with its great cracked basin, in the centre of which stood the parched naiad, pouring an endless nothing from her inverted vase. Forsaken and sad she looked. All the world had changed save her, and left her a memorial of former thoughts, vanished ways, and forgotten things: she, alas! could not alter, must be still the same, the changeless centre of change. All the winters would beat upon her, all the summers would burn her; but never more would the glad water pour plashing from her dusty urn! never more would the birds make showers with their beating wings in her cool basin! The dead leaves would keep falling year after year to their res

t, but she could not fall, must, through the slow ages, stand, until storm and sunshine had wasted her atom by atom away.

On the broad rim of the basin they sat down. Cosmo turned towards the naiad, such thoughts as I have written throbbing in his brain like the electric light in an exhausted receiver, Joan with her back to the figure, and her eyes on the ground, thinking Cosmo brooded vexed on his newly discovered position. It was a sad picture. The two were as the type of Nature and Art, the married pair, here at strife-still together, but only the more apart-Oberon and Titania, with ruin all about them. Through the straggling branches appeared the tottering dial of Time where not a sun-ray could reach it; for Time himself may well go to sleep where progress is but disintegration. Time himself is nothing, does nothing; he is but the medium in which the forces work. Time no more cures our ills, than space unites our souls, because they cross it to mingle.

Had Cosmo suspected Joan's thought, he would have spoken; but the urn of the naiad had brought back to him his young thoughts and imaginations concerning the hidden source of the torrent that rushed for ever along the base of Castle Warlock: the dry urn was to him the end of all life that knows not its source-therefore, when the water of its consciousness fails, cannot go back to the changeless, ever renewing life, and unite itself afresh with the self-existent, parent spring. A moment more and he began to tell Joan what he was thinking-gave her the whole metaphysical history of the development in him of the idea of life in connection with the torrent and its origin ever receding, like a decoy-hope that entices us to the truth, until at length he saw in God the one only origin, the fountain of fountains, the Father of all lights-that is, of all things, and all true thoughts.

"If there were such an urn as that," he said, pointing to the naiad's, "ever renewing the water inside it without pipe or spring, there would be what we call a miracle, because, unable to follow the appearance farther back, we should cease thought, and wonder only in the presence of the making God. And such an urn would be a true picture of the heart of God, ever sending forth life of itself, and of its own will, into the consciousness of us receiving the same."

He grew eloquent, and talked as even Joan had never heard him before. And she understood him, for the lonely desire after life had wrought, making her capable. She felt more than ever that he was a messenger to her from a higher region, that he had come to make it possible for her to live, to enlarge her being, that it might no more be but the half life of mere desire after something unknown and never to be attained.

Suddenly, with that inexplicable breach in the chain of association over which the electric thought seems to leap, as over a mighty void of spiritual space, Cosmo remembered that he had not yet sent the woman whose generous trust had saved him from long pangs of hunger, the price of her loaf. He turned quickly to Joan: was not this a fresh chance of putting trust in her? What so precious thing between two lives as faith? It is even a new creation in the midst of the old. Would he not be wrong to ask it from another? And ask it he must; for there was the poor woman, on whom he had no claim of individual, developed friendship, in want of her money! Would he not feel that Joan wronged him, if she asked some one else for any help he could give her? He told her therefore the whole story of his adventures on his way to her, and ending said,

"Lend me a half-sovereign-please-to put in a letter for the first woman. I will find something for the girl afterwards."

Joan burst into tears. It was some time before she could speak, but at last she told him plainly that she had no money, and dared not ask her brother, because he would want to know first what she meant to do with it.

"Is it possible?" cried Cosmo. "Why, my father would never ask me what I wanted a little money for!"

"And you would be sure to tell him without his asking!" returned Joan. "But I dare not tell Constantine. Last week I could have asked him, because then, for your sake, I would have told a lie; but I dare not do that now."

She did not tell him she gave her last penny to a beggar on the road the day he came, or that she often went for months without a coin in her pocket.

Cosmo was so indignant he could not speak; neither must he give shape in her hearing to what he thought of her brother. She looked anxiously in his face.

"Dear Cosmo," she said, "do not be angry with me. I will borrow the money from the housekeeper. I have never done such a thing, but for your sake I will. You shall send it to-morrow."

"No, no, dearest Joan!" cried Cosmo. "I will not hear of such a thing. I should be worse than Lord Mergwain to lay a feather on the burden he makes you carry."

"I shouldn't mind it MUCH. It would be sweet to hurt my pride for your sake."

"Joan, if you do," said Cosmo, "I will not touch it. Don't trouble your dear heart about it. God is taking care of the woman as well as of us. I will send it afterwards."

They sat silent-Cosmo thinking how he was to escape from this poverty-stricken grandeur to his own humble heaven-as poor, no doubt, but full of the dignity lacking here. He knew the state of things at home too well to imagine his father could send him the sum necessary without borrowing it, and he knew also how painful that would be to him who had been so long a borrower ever struggling to pay.

Joan's eyes were red with weeping when at length she looked pitifully in his face. Like a child he put both his arms about her, seeking to comfort her. Sudden as a flash came a voice, calling her name in loud, and as it seemed to Cosmo, angry tones. She turned white as the marble on which they sat, and cast a look of agonized terror on Cosmo.

"It is Constantine!" said her lips, but hardly her voice.

The blood rushed in full tide from Cosmo's heart, as it had not for many a day, and coloured all his thin face. He drew himself up, and rose with the look of one ready for love's sake to meet danger joyously. But Joan threw her arms round him now, and held him.

"No, no!" she said; "-this way! this way!" and letting him go, darted into the pathless shrubbery, sure he would follow her.

Cosmo hated turning his back on any person or thing, but the danger here was to Joan, and he must do as pleased her. He followed instantly.

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