Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet : An Autobiography, by Charles Kingsley

Chapter 36.


It must have been two o’clock in the morning before I reached my lodgings. Too much exhausted to think, I hurried to my bed. I remember now that I reeled strangely as I went up-stairs. I lay down, and was asleep in an instant.

How long I had slept I know not, when I awoke with a strange confusion and whirling in my brain, and an intolerable weight and pain about my back and loins. By the light of the gas-lamp I saw a figure standing at the foot of my bed. I could not discern the face, but I knew instinctively that it was my mother. I called to her again and again, but she did not answer. She moved slowly away, and passed out through the wall of the room.

I tried to follow her, but could not. An enormous, unutterable weight seemed to lie upon me. The bedclothes grew and grew before me, and upon me, into a vast mountain, millions of miles in height. Then it seemed all glowing red, like the cone of a volcano. I heard the roaring of the fires within, the rattling of the cinders down the heaving slope. A river ran from its summit; and up that river-bed it seemed I was doomed to climb and climb for ever, millions and millions of miles upwards, against the rushing stream. The thought was intolerable, and I shrieked aloud. A raging thirst had seized me. I tried to drink the river-water: but it was boiling hot — sulphurous — reeking of putrefaction. Suddenly I fancied that I could pass round the foot of the mountain; and jumbling, as madmen will, the sublime and the ridiculous, I sprang up to go round the foot of my bed, which was the mountain.

I recollect lying on the floor. I recollect the people of the house, who had been awoke by my shriek and my fall, rushing in and calling to me. I could not rise or answer. I recollect a doctor; and talk about brain fever and delirium. It was true. I was in a raging fever. And my fancy, long pent-up and crushed by circumstances, burst out in uncontrollable wildness, and swept my other faculties with it helpless away over all heaven and earth, presenting to me, as in a vast kaleidoscope, fantastic symbols of all I had ever thought, or read, or felt.

That fancy of the mountain returned; but I had climbed it now. I was wandering along the lower ridge of the Himalaya. On my right the line of snow peaks showed like a rosy saw against the clear blue morning sky. Raspberries and cyclamens were peeping through the snow around me. As I looked down the abysses, I could see far below, through the thin veils of blue mist that wandered in the glens, the silver spires of giant deodars, and huge rhododendrons glowing like trees of flame. The longing of my life to behold that cradle of mankind was satisfied. My eyes revelled in vastness, as they swept over the broad flat jungle at the mountain foot, a desolate sheet of dark gigantic grasses, furrowed with the paths of the buffalo and rhinoceros, with barren sandy water-courses, desolate pools, and here and there a single tree, stunted with malaria, shattered by mountain floods; and far beyond, the vast plains of Hindostan, enlaced with myriad silver rivers and canals, tanks and rice-fields, cities with their mosques and minarets, gleaming among the stately palm-groves along the boundless horizon. Above me was a Hindoo temple, cut out of the yellow sandstone. I climbed up to the higher tier of pillars among monstrous shapes of gods and fiends, that mouthed and writhed and mocked at me, struggling to free themselves from their bed of rock. The bull Nundi rose and tried to gore me; hundred-handed gods brandished quoits and sabres round my head; and Kali dropped the skull from her gore-dripping jaws, to clutch me for her prey. Then my mother came, and seizing the pillars of the portico, bent them like reeds: an earthquake shook the hills — great sheets of woodland slid roaring and crashing into the valleys — a tornado swept through the temple halls, which rocked and tossed like a vessel in a storm: a crash — a cloud of yellow dust which filled the air — choked me — blinded me — buried me —


And Eleanor came by, and took my soul in the palm of her hand, as the angels did Faust’s, and carried it to a cavern by the seaside, and dropped it in; and I fell and fell for ages. And all the velvet mosses, rock flowers, and sparkling spars and ores, fell with me, round me, in showers of diamonds, whirlwinds of emerald and ruby, and pattered into the sea that moaned below, and were quenched; and the light lessened above me to one small spark, and vanished; and I was in darkness, and turned again to my dust.


And I was at the lowest point of created life; a madrepore rooted to the rock, fathoms below the tide-mark; and worst of all, my individuality was gone. I was not one thing, but many things — a crowd of innumerable polypi; and I grew and grew, and the more I grew the more I divided, and multiplied thousand and ten thousandfold. If I could have thought, I should have gone mad at it; but I could only feel.

And I heard Eleanor and Lillian talking, as they floated past me through the deep, for they were two angels; and Lillian said, “When will he be one again?”

And Eleanor said, “He who falls from the golden ladder must climb through ages to its top. He who tears himself in pieces by his lusts, ages only can make him one again. The madrepore shall become a shell, and the shell a fish, and the fish a bird, and the bird a beast; and then he shall become a man again, and see the glory of the latter days.”


And I was a soft crab, under a stone on the sea-shore. With infinite starvation, and struggling, and kicking, I had got rid of my armour, shield by shield, and joint by joint, and cowered, naked and pitiable, in the dark, among dead shells and ooze. Suddenly the stone was turned up; and there was my cousin’s hated face laughing at me, and pointing me out to Lillian. She laughed too, as I looked up, sneaking, ashamed, and defenceless, and squared up at him with my soft useless claws. Why should she not laugh? Are not crabs, and toads, and monkeys, and a hundred other strange forms of animal life, jests of nature — embodiments of a divine humour, at which men are meant to laugh and be merry? But, alas! my cousin, as he turned away, thrust the stone back with his foot, and squelched me flat.


And I was a remora, weak and helpless, till I could attach myself to some living thing; and then I had power to stop the largest ship. And Lillian was a flying fish, and skimmed over the crests of the waves on gauzy wings. And my cousin was a huge shark, rushing after her, greedy and open-mouthed; and I saw her danger, and clung to him, and held him back; and just as I had stopped him, she turned and swam back into his open jaws.


Sand — sand — nothing but sand! The air was full of sand drifting over granite temples, and painted kings and triumphs, and the skulls of a former world; and I was an ostrich, flying madly before the simoon wind, and the giant sand pillars, which stalked across the plains, hunting me down. And Lillian was an Amazon queen, beautiful, and cold, and cruel; and she rode upon a charmed horse, and carried behind her on her saddle a spotted ounce, which, was my cousin; and, when I came near her, she made him leap down and course me. And we ran for miles and for days through the interminable sand, till he sprung on me, and dragged me down. And as I lay quivering and dying, she reined in her horse above me, and looked down at me with beautiful, pitiless eyes; and a wild Arab tore the plumes from my wings, and she took them and wreathed them in her golden hair. The broad and blood-red sun sank down beneath the sand, and the horse and the Amazon and the ostrich plumes shone blood-red in his lurid rays.


I was a mylodon among South American forests — a vast sleepy mass, my elephantine limbs and yard-long talons contrasting strangely with the little meek rabbit’s head, furnished with a poor dozen of clumsy grinders, and a very small kernel of brains, whose highest consciousness was the enjoyment of muscular strength. Where I had picked up the sensation which my dreams realized for me, I know not: my waking life, alas! had never given me experience of it. Has the mind power of creating sensations for itself? Surely it does so, in those delicious dreams about flying which haunt us poor wingless mortals, which would seem to give my namesake’s philosophy the lie. However that may be, intense and new was the animal delight, to plant my hinder claws at some tree-foot deep into the black rotting vegetable-mould which steamed rich gases up wherever it was pierced, and clasp my huge arms round the stem of some palm or tree-fern; and then slowly bring my enormous weight and muscle to bear upon it, till the stem bent like a withe, and the laced bark cracked, and the fibres groaned and shrieked, and the roots sprung up out of the soil; and then, with a slow circular wrench, the whole tree was twisted bodily out of the ground, and the maddening tension of my muscles suddenly relaxed, and I sank sleepily down upon the turf, to browse upon the crisp tart foliage, and fall asleep in the glare of sunshine which streamed through the new gap in the green forest roof. Much as I had envied the strong, I had never before suspected the delight of mere physical exertion. I now understood the wild gambols of the dog, and the madness which makes the horse gallop and strain onwards till he drops and dies. They fulfil their nature, as I was doing, and in that is always happiness.

But I did more — whether from mere animal destructiveness, or from the spark of humanity which was slowly rekindling in me, I began to delight in tearing up trees for its own sake. I tried my strength daily on thicker and thicker boles. I crawled up to the high palm-tops, and bowed them down by my weight. My path through the forest was marked, like that of a tornado, by snapped and prostrate stems and withering branches. Had I been a few degrees more human, I might have expected a retribution for my sin. I had fractured my own skull three or four times already. I used often to pass the carcases of my race, killed, as geologists now find them, by the fall of the trees they had overthrown; but still I went on, more and more reckless, a slave, like many a so-called man, to the mere sense of power.

One day I wandered to the margin of the woods, and climbing a tree, surveyed a prospect new to me. For miles and miles, away to the white line of the smoking Cordillera, stretched a low rolling plain; one vast thistle-bed, the down of which flew in grey gauzy clouds before a soft fitful breeze; innumerable finches fluttered and pecked above it, and bent the countless flower-heads. Far away, one tall tree rose above the level thistle-ocean. A strange longing seized me to go and tear it down. The forest leaves seemed tasteless; my stomach sickened at them; nothing but that tree would satisfy me; and descending, I slowly brushed my way, with half-shut eyes, through the tall thistles which buried even my bulk.

At last, after days of painful crawling, I dragged my unwieldiness to the tree-foot. Around it the plain was bare, and scored by burrows and heaps of earth, among which gold, some in dust, some in great knots and ingots, sparkled everywhere in the sun, in fearful contrast to the skulls and bones which lay bleaching round. Some were human, some were those of vast and monstrous beasts. I knew (one knows everything in dreams) that they had been slain by the winged ants, as large as panthers, who snuffed and watched around over the magic treasure. Of them I felt no fear; and they seemed not to perceive me, as I crawled, with greedy, hunger-sharpened eyes, up to the foot of the tree. It seemed miles in height. Its stem was bare and polished like a palm’s, and above a vast feathery crown of dark green velvet slept in the still sunlight. But wonders of wonders! from among the branches hung great sea-green lilies, and, nestled in the heart of each of them, the bust of a beautiful girl. Their white bosoms and shoulders gleamed rosy-white against the emerald petals, like conch-shells half-hidden among sea-weeds, while their delicate waists melted mysteriously into the central sanctuary of the flower. Their long arms and golden tresses waved languishingly downward in the breeze; their eyes glittered like diamonds; their breaths perfumed the air. A blind ecstasy seized me — I awoke again to humanity, and fiercely clasping the tree, shook and tore at it, in the blind hope of bringing nearer to me the magic beauties above: for I knew that I was in the famous land of Wak–Wak, from which the Eastern merchants used to pluck those flower-born beauties, and bring them home to fill the harems of the Indian kings. Suddenly I heard a rustling in the thistles behind me, and looking round saw again that dreaded face — my cousin!

He was dressed — strange jumble that dreams are! — like an American backwoodsman. He carried the same revolver and bowie-knife which he had showed me the fatal night that he intruded on the Chartist club. I shook with terror; but he, too, did not see me. He threw himself on his knees, and began fiercely digging and scraping for the gold.

The winged ants rushed on him, but he looked up, and “held them with his glittering eye,” and they shrank back abashed into the thistle covert; while I strained and tugged on, and the faces of the dryads above grew sadder and older, and their tears fell on me like a fragrant rain.

Suddenly the tree-bole cracked — it was tottering. I looked round, and saw that my cousin knelt directly in the path of its fall. I tried to call to him to move; but how could a poor edentate like myself articulate a word? I tried to catch his attention by signs — he would not see. I tried, convulsively, to hold the tree up, but it was too late; a sudden gust of air swept by, and down it rushed, with a roar like a whirlwind, and leaving my cousin untouched, struck me full across the loins, broke my backbone, and pinned me to the ground in mortal agony. I heard one wild shriek rise from the flower fairies, as they fell each from the lily cup, no longer of full human size, but withered, shrivelled, diminished a thousand-fold, and lay on the bare sand, like little rosy humming-birds’ eggs, all crushed and dead.

The great blue heaven above me spoke, and cried, “Selfish and sense-bound! thou hast murdered beauty!”

The sighing thistle-ocean answered, and murmured, “Discontented! thou hast murdered beauty!”

One flower fairy alone lifted up her tiny cheek from the gold-strewn sand, and cried, “Presumptuous! thou hast murdered beauty!”

It was Lillian’s face — Lillian’s voice! My cousin heard it too, and turned eagerly; and as my eyes closed in the last death-shiver, I saw him coolly pick up the little beautiful figure, which looked like a fragment of some exquisite cameo, and deliberately put it away in his cigar-case, as he said to himself, “A charming tit-bit for me, when I return from the diggings”!


When I awoke again, I was a baby-ape in Bornean forests, perched among fragrant trailers and fantastic orchis flowers; and as I looked down, beneath the green roof, into the clear waters paved with unknown water-lilies on which the sun had never shone, I saw my face reflected in the pool — a melancholy, thoughtful countenance, with large projecting brow — it might have been a negro child’s. And I felt stirring in me, germs of a new and higher consciousness — yearnings of love towards the mother ape, who fed me and carried me from tree to tree. But I grew and grew; and then the weight of my destiny fell upon me. I saw year by year my brow recede, my neck enlarge, my jaw protrude; my teeth became tusks; skinny wattles grew from my cheeks — the animal faculties in me were swallowing up the intellectual. I watched in myself, with stupid self-disgust, the fearful degradation which goes on from youth to age in all the monkey race, especially in those which approach nearest to the human form. Long melancholy mopings, fruitless stragglings to think, were periodically succeeded by wild frenzies, agonies of lust and aimless ferocity. I flew upon my brother apes, and was driven off with wounds. I rushed howling down into the village gardens, destroying everything I met. I caught the birds and insects, and tore them to pieces with savage glee. One day, as I sat among the boughs, I saw Lillian coming along a flowery path — decked as Eve might have been, the day she turned from Paradise. The skins of gorgeous birds were round her waist; her hair was wreathed with fragrant tropic flowers. On her bosom lay a baby — it was my cousin’s. I knew her, and hated her. The madness came upon me. I longed to leap from the bough and tear her limb from limb; but brutal terror, the dread of man which is the doom of beasts, kept me rooted to my place. Then my cousin came — a hunter missionary; and I heard him talk to her with pride of the new world of civilization and Christianity which he was organizing in that tropic wilderness. I listened with a dim jealous understanding — not of the words, but of the facts. I saw them instinctively, as in a dream. She pointed up to me in terror and disgust, as I sat gnashing and gibbering overhead. He threw up the muzzle of his rifle carelessly, and fired — I fell dead, but conscious still. I knew that my carcase was carried to the settlement; and I watched while a smirking, chuckling surgeon dissected me, bone by bone, and nerve by nerve. And as he was fingering at my heart, and discoursing sneeringly about Van Helmont’s dreams of the Archæus, and the animal spirit which dwells within the solar plexus, Eleanor glided by again, like an angel, and drew my soul out of the knot of nerves, with one velvet finger-tip.


Child-dreams — more vague and fragmentary than my animal ones; and yet more calm, and simple, and gradually, as they led me onward through a new life, ripening into detail, coherence, and reflection. Dreams of a hut among the valleys of Thibet — the young of forest animals, wild cats, and dogs, and fowls, brought home to be my playmates, and grow up tame around me. Snow-peaks which glittered white against the nightly sky, barring in the horizon of the narrow valley, and yet seeming to beckon upwards, outwards. Strange unspoken aspirations; instincts which pointed to unfulfilled powers, a mighty destiny. A sense, awful and yet cheering, of a wonder and a majesty, a presence and a voice around, in the cliffs and the pine forests, and the great blue rainless heaven. The music of loving voices, the sacred names of child and father, mother, brother, sister, first of all inspirations. — Had we not an All–Father, whose eyes looked down upon us from among those stars above; whose hand upheld the mountain roots below us? Did He not love us, too, even as we loved each other?


The noise of wheels crushing slowly through meadows of tall marigolds and asters, orchises and fragrant lilies. I lay, a child, upon a woman’s bosom. Was she my mother, or Eleanor, or Lillian? Or was she neither, and yet all — some ideal of the great Arian tribe, containing in herself all future types of European women? So I slept and woke, and slept again, day after day, week after week, in the lazy bullock-waggon, among herds of grey cattle, guarded by huge lop-eared mastiffs; among shaggy white horses, heavy-horned sheep, and silky goats; among tall, bare-limbed men, with stone axes on their shoulders, and horn bows at their backs. Westward, through the boundless steppes, whither or why we knew not; but that the All–Father had sent us forth. And behind us the rosy snow-peaks died into ghastly grey, lower and lower as every evening came; and before us the plains spread infinite, with gleaming salt-lakes, and ever fresh tribes of gaudy flowers. Behind us dark lines of living beings streamed down the mountain slopes; around us dark lines crawled along the plains — all westward, westward ever. — The tribes of the Holy Mountain poured out like water to replenish the earth and subdue it — lava-streams from the crater of that great soul-volcano — Titan babies, dumb angels of God, bearing with them in their unconscious pregnancy the law, the freedom, the science, the poetry, the Christianity of Europe and the world.

Westward ever — who could stand against us? We met the wild asses on the steppe, and tamed them, and made them our slaves. We slew the bison herds, and swam broad rivers on their skins. The Python snake lay across our path; the wolves and the wild dogs snarled at us out of their coverts; we slew them and went on. The forest rose in black tangled barriers: we hewed our way through them and went on. Strange giant tribes met us, and eagle-visaged hordes, fierce and foolish; we smote them hip and thigh, and went on, westward ever. Days and weeks and months rolled on, and our wheels rolled on with them. New alps rose up before us; we climbed and climbed them, till, in lonely glens, the mountain walls stood up, and barred our path.

Then one arose and said, “Rocks are strong, but the All–Father is stronger. Let us pray to Him to send the earthquakes, and blast the mountains asunder.”

So we sat down and prayed, but the earthquake did not come.

Then another arose and said, “Rocks are strong, but the All–Father is stronger. If we are the children of the All–Father, we, too, are stronger than the rocks. Let us portion out the valley, to every man an equal plot of ground; and bring out the sacred seeds, and sow, and build, and come up with me and bore the mountain.”

And all said, “It is the voice of God. We will go up with thee, and bore the mountain; and thou shalt be our king, for thou art wisest, and the spirit of the All–Father is on thee; and whosoever will not go up with thee shall die as a coward and an idler.”

So we went up; and in the morning we bored the mountain, and at night we came down and tilled the ground, and sowed wheat and barley, and planted orchards. And in the upper glens we met the mining dwarfs, and saw their tools of iron and copper, and their rock-houses and forges, and envied them. But they would give us none of them: then our king said —

“The All–Father has given all things and all wisdom. Woe to him who keeps them to himself: we will teach you to sow the sacred seeds; and do you teach us your smith-work or you die.”

Then the dwarf’s taught us smith-work; and we loved them, for they were wise; and they married our sons and daughters; and we went on boring the mountain.

Then some of us arose and said, “We are stronger than our brethren, and can till more ground than they. Give us a greater portion of land, to each according to his power.”

But the king said, “Wherefore? that ye may eat and drink more than your brethren? Have you larger stomachs, as well as stronger arms? As much as a man needs for himself, that he may do for himself. The rest is the gift of the All–Father, and we must do His work therewith. For the sake of the women and the children, for the sake of the sick and the aged, let him that is stronger go up and work the harder at the mountain.” And all men said, “It is well spoken.”

So we were all equal — for none took more than he needed; and we were all free, because we loved to obey the king by whom the spirit spoke; and we were all brothers, because we had one work, and one hope, and one All–Father.

But I grew up to be a man; and twenty years were past, and the mountain was not bored through; and the king grew old, and men began to love their flocks and herds better than quarrying, and they gave up boring through the mountain. And the strong and the cunning said, “What can we do with all this might of ours?” So, because they had no other way of employing it, they turned it against each other, and swallowed up the heritage of the weak: and a few grew rich, and many poor; and the valley was filled with sorrow, for the land became too narrow for them.

Then I arose and said, “How is this?” And they said, “We must make provision for our children.”

And I answered, “The All–Father meant neither you nor your children to devour your brethren. Why do you not break up more waste ground? Why do you not try to grow more corn in your fields?”

And they answered, “We till the ground as our forefathers did: we will keep to the old traditions.”

And I answered, “Oh ye hypocrites! have ye not forgotten the old traditions, that each man should have his equal share of ground, and that we should go on working at the mountain, for the sake of the weak and the children, the fatherless and the widow?”

And they answered nought for a while.

Then one said, “Are we not better off as we are? We buy the poor man’s ground for a price, and we pay him his wages for tilling it for us — and we know better how to manage it than he.”

And I said, “Oh ye hypocrites! See how your lie works! Those who were free are now slaves. Those who had peace of mind are now anxious from day to day for their daily bread. And the multitude gets poorer and poorer, while ye grow fatter and fatter. If ye had gone on boring the mountain, ye would have had no time to eat up your brethren.”

Then they laughed and said, “Thou art a singer of songs, and a dreamer of dreams. Let those who want to get through the mountain go up and bore it; we are well enough here. Come now, sing us pleasant songs, and talk no more foolish dreams, and we will reward thee.”

Then they brought out a veiled maiden, and said, “Look! her feet are like ivory, and her hair like threads of gold; and she is the sweetest singer in the whole valley. And she shall be thine, if thou wilt be like other people, and prophesy smooth things unto us, and torment us no more with talk about liberty, equality, and brotherhood; for they never were, and never will be, on this earth. Living is too hard work to give in to such fancies.”

And when the maiden’s veil was lifted, it was Lillian. And she clasped me round the neck, and cried, “Come! I will be your bride, and you shall be rich and powerful; and all men shall speak well of you, and you shall write songs; and we will sing them together, and feast and play from dawn to dawn.”

And I wept; and turned me about, and cried, “Wife and child, song and wealth, are pleasant; but blessed is the work which the All–Father has given the people to do. Let the maimed and the halt and the blind, the needy and the fatherless, come up after me, and we will bore the mountain.”

But the rich drove me out, and drove back those who would have followed me. So I went up by myself, and bored the mountain seven years, weeping; and every year Lillian came to me, and said, “Come, and be my husband, for my beauty is fading, and youth passes fast away.” But I set my heart steadfastly to the work.

And when seven years were over, the poor were so multiplied, that the rich had not wherewith to pay their labour. And there came a famine in the land, and many of the poor died. Then the rich said, “If we let these men starve, they will turn on us, and kill us, for hunger has no conscience, and they are all but like the beasts that perish.” So they all brought, one a bullock, another a sack of meal, each according to his substance, and fed the poor therewith; and said to them, “Behold our love and mercy towards you!” But the more they gave, the less they had wherewithal to pay their labourers; and the more they gave, the less the poor liked to work; so that at last they had not wherewithal to pay for tilling the ground, and each man had to go and till his own, and knew not how; so the land lay waste, and there was great perplexity.

Then I went down to them and said, “If you had hearkened to me, and not robbed your brethren of their land, you would never have come into this strait; for by this time the mountain would have been bored through.”

Then they cursed the mountain, and me, and Him who made them, and came down to my cottage at night, and cried, “One-sided and left-handed! father of confusion, and disciple of dead donkeys, see to what thou hast brought the land, with thy blasphemous doctrines! Here we are starving, and not only we, but the poor misguided victims of thy abominable notions!”

“You have become wondrous pitiful to the poor,” said I, “since you found that they would not starve that you might wanton.”

Then once more Lillian came to me, thin and pale, and worn. “See, I, too, am starving! and you have been the cause of it; but I will forgive all if you will help us but this once.”

“How shall I help you?”

“You are a poet and an orator, and win over all hearts with your talk and your songs. Go down to the tribes of the plain, and persuade them to send us up warriors, that we may put down these riotous and idle wretches; and you shall be king of all the land, and I will be your slave, by day and night.”

But I went out, and quarried steadfastly at the mountain.

And when I came back the next evening, the poor had risen against the rich, one and all, crying, “As you have done to us, so will we do to you;” and they hunted them down like wild beasts, and slew many of them, and threw their carcases on the dunghill, and took possession of their land and houses, and cried, “We will be all free and equal as our forefathers were, and live here, and eat and drink, and take our pleasure.”

Then I ran out, and cried to them, “Fools I will you do as these rich did, and neglect the work of God? If you do to them as they have done to you, you will sin as they sinned, and devour each other at the last, as they devoured you. The old paths are best. Let each man, rich or poor, have his equal share of the land, as it was at first, and go up and dig through the mountain, and possess the good land beyond, where no man need jostle his neighbour, or rob him, when the land becomes too small for you. Were the rich only in fault? Did not you, too, neglect the work which the All–Father had given you, and run every man after his own comfort? So you entered into a lie, and by your own sin raised up the rich man to be your punishment. For the last time, who will go up with me to the mountain?”

Then they all cried with one voice, “We have sinned! We will go up and pierce the mountain, and fulfil the work which God set to our forefathers.”

We went up, and the first stroke that I struck a crag fell out; and behold, the light of day! and far below us the good land and large, stretching away boundless towards the western sun.


I sat by the cave’s mouth at the dawning of the day. Past me the tribe poured down, young and old, with their waggons, and their cattle, their seeds, and their arms, as of old — yet not as of old — wiser and stronger, taught by long labour and sore affliction. Downward they streamed from the cave’s mouth into the glens, following the guidance of the silver water-courses; and as they passed me, each kissed my hands and feet, and cried, “Thou hast saved us — thou hast given up all for us. Come and be our king!”

“Nay,” I said, “I have been your king this many a year; for I have been the servant of you all.”

I went down with them into the plain, and called them round me. Many times they besought me to go with them and lead them.

“No,” I said, “I am old and grey-headed, and I am not as I have been. Choose out the wisest and most righteous among you, and let him lead you. But bind him to yourselves with an oath, that whenever he shall say to you, ‘Stay here, and let us sit down and build, and dwell here for ever,’ you shall cast him out of his office, and make him a hewer of wood and a drawer of water, and choose one who will lead you forwards in the spirit of God.”

The crowd opened, and a woman came forward into the circle. Her face was veiled, but we all knew her for a prophetess. Slowly she stepped into the midst, chanting a mystic song. Whether it spoke of past, present, or future, we knew not; but it sank deep into all our hearts.

“True freedom stands in meekness —

True strength in utter weakness —

Justice in forgiveness lies —

Riches in self-sacrifice —

Own no rank but God’s own spirit —

Wisdom rule! — and worth inherit!

Work for all, and all employ —

Share with all, and all enjoy —

God alike to all has given,

Heaven as Earth, and Earth as Heaven,

When the laud shall find her king again,

And the reign of God is come.”

We all listened, awe-struck. She turned to us and continued:

“Hearken to me, children of Japhet, the unresting!

“On the holy mountain of Paradise, in the Asgard of the Hindoo–Koh, in the cup of the four rivers, in the womb of the mother of nations, in brotherhood, equality, and freedom, the sons of men were begotten, at the wedding of the heaven and the earth. Mighty infants, you did the right you knew not of, and sinned not, because there was no temptation. By selfishness you fell, and became beasts of prey. Each man coveted the universe for his own lusts, and not that he might fulfil in it God’s command to people and subdue it. Long have you wandered — and long will you wander still. For here you have no abiding city. You shall build cities, and they shall crumble; you shall invent forms of society and religion, and they shall fail in the hour of need. You shall call the lands by your own names, and fresh waves of men shall sweep you forth, westward, westward ever, till you have travelled round the path of the sun, to the place from whence you came. For out of Paradise you went, and unto Paradise you shall return; you shall become once more as little children, and renew your youth like the eagle’s. Feature by feature, and limb by limb, ye shall renew it; age after age, gradually and painfully, by hunger and pestilence, by superstitions and tyrannies, by need and blank despair, shall you be driven back to the All–Father’s home, till you become as you were before you fell, and left the likeness of your father for the likeness of the beasts. Out of Paradise you came, from liberty, equality, and brotherhood, and unto them you shall return again. You went forth in unconscious infancy — you shall return in thoughtful manhood. — You went forth in ignorance and need — you shall return in science and wealth, philosophy and art. You went forth with the world a wilderness before you — you shall return when it is a garden behind you. You went forth selfish-savages — you shall return as the brothers of the Son of God.

“And for you,” she said, looking on me, “your penance is accomplished. You have learned what it is to be a man. You have lost your life and saved it. He that gives up house, or land, or wife, or child, for God’s sake, it shall be repaid him an hundred-fold. Awake!”

Surely I knew that voice. She lifted her veil. The face was Lillian’s? No! — Eleanor’s!

Gently she touched my hand — I sank down into soft, weary happy sleep.

The spell was snapped. My fever and my dreams faded away together, and I woke to the twittering of the sparrows, and the scent of the poplar leaves, and the sights and sounds of childhood, and found Eleanor and her uncle sitting by my bed, and with them Crossthwaite’s little wife.

I would have spoken, but Eleanor laid her finger on her lips, and taking her uncle’s arm, glided from the room. Katie kept stubbornly a smiling silence, and I was fain to obey my new-found guardian angels.

What need of many words? Slowly, and with relapses into insensibility, I passed, like one who recovers from drowning, through the painful gate of birth into another life. The fury of passion had been replaced by a delicious weakness. The thunder-clouds had passed roaring down the wind, and the calm bright holy evening was come. My heart, like a fretful child, had stamped and wept itself to sleep. I was past even gratitude; infinite submission and humility, feelings too long forgotten, absorbed my whole being. Only I never dared meet Eleanor’s eye. Her voice was like an angel’s when she spoke to me — friend, mother, sister, all in one. But I had a dim recollection of being unjust to her — of some bar between us.

Katie and Crossthwaite, as they sat by me, tender and careful nurses both, told me, in time, that to Eleanor I owed all my comforts. I could not thank her — the debt was infinite, inexplicable. I felt as if I must speak all my heart or none; and I watched her lavish kindness with a sort of sleepy, passive wonder, like a new-born babe.

At last, one day, my kind nurses allowed me to speak a little. I broached to Crossthwaite the subject which filled my thoughts. “How came I here? How came you here? and Lady Ellerton? What is the meaning of it all?”

“The meaning is, that Lady Ellerton, as they call her, is an angel out of heaven. Ah, Alton! she was your true friend, after all, if you had but known it, and not that other one at all.”

I turned my head away.

“Whisht — howld then, Johnny darlint! and don’t go tormenting the poor dear sowl, just when he’s comin’ round again.”

“No, no! tell me all. I must — I ought — I deserve to bear it. How did she come here?”

“Why then, it’s my belief, she had her eye on you ever since you came out of that Bastille, and before that, too; and she found you out at Mackaye’s, and me with you, for I was there looking after you. If it hadn’t been for your illness, I’d have been in Texas now, with our friends, for all’s up with the Charter, and the country’s too hot, at least for me. I’m sick of the whole thing together, patriots, aristocrats, and everybody else, except this blessed angel. And I’ve got a couple of hundred to emigrate with; and what’s more, so have you.”

“How’s that?”

“Why, when poor dear old Mackaye’s will was read, and you raving mad in the next room, he had left all his stock-intrade, that was, the books, to some of our friends, to form a workmen’s library with, and £400 he’d saved, to be parted between you and me, on condition that we’d G.T.T., and cool down across the Atlantic, for seven years come the tenth of April.”

So, then, by the lasting love of my adopted father, I was at present at least out of the reach of want! My heart was ready to overflow at my eyes; but I could not rest till I had heard more of Lady Ellerton. What brought her here, to nurse me as if she had been a sister?

“Why, then, she lives not far off by. When her husband died, his cousin got the estate and title, and so she came, Katie tells me, and lived for one year down somewhere in the East-end among the needlewomen; and spent her whole fortune on the poor, and never kept a servant, so they say, but made her own bed and cooked her own dinner, and got her bread with her own needle, to see what it was really like. And she learnt a lesson there, I can tell you, and God bless her for it. For now she’s got a large house here by, with fifty or more in it, all at work together, sharing the earnings among themselves, and putting into their own pockets the profits which would have gone to their tyrants; and she keeps the accounts for them, and gets the goods sold, and manages everything, and reads to them while they work, and teaches them every day.”

“And takes her victuals with them,” said Katie, “share and share alike. She that was so grand a lady, to demane herself to the poor unfortunate young things! She’s as blessed a saint as any a one in the Calendar, if they’ll forgive me for saying so.”

“Ay! demeaning, indeed! for the best of it is, they’re not the respectable ones only, though she spends hundreds on them —”

“And sure, haven’t I seen it with my own eyes, when I’ve been there charing?”

“Ay, but those she lives with are the fallen and the lost ones — those that the rich would not set up in business, or help them to emigrate, or lift them out of the gutter with a pair of tongs, for fear they should stain their own whitewash in handling them.”

“And sure they’re as dacent as meself now, the poor darlints! It was misery druv ’em to it, every one; perhaps it might hav’ druv me the same way, if I’d a lot o’ childer, and Johnny gone to glory — and the blessed saints save him from that same at all at all!”

“What! from going to glory?” said John.

“Och, thin, and wouldn’t I just go mad if ever such ill luck happened to yees as to be taken to heaven in the prime of your days, asthore?”

And she began sobbing and hugging and kissing the little man; and then suddenly recollecting herself, scolded him heartily for making such a “whillybaloo,” and thrust him out of my room, to recommence kissing him in the next, leaving me to many meditations.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56