Изображения страниц

They ran the boat up upon the shore, and presently a thin, miserablyclad woman came out from one of the hovels and greeted them. She led them into her wretched habitation-being, like everyone else in the surrounding district, acquainted with Nils-and set before them such scanty provisions as her larder contained—some fish and fladbrod, and a bottle of Norwegian beer.

"They are very poor, the people about here," whispered Nils hurriedly to his friend, "and when one is poor one is apt to fall into slovenly ways; but you will hurt her feelings if you do not eat something."

So Gustav, though he had no appetite, and was somewhat sickened by the squalor of the ill-ventilated room which they had entered, made some show of eating, and contrived to swallow a fair portion of fladbrod. Nils ate well, having a long day's tramp before him; and when he had sufficiently fortified himself, he thanked his hostess, bade farewell to his brother, and held out his hand to Gustav.

"Good-bye, Gustav," said he. "Don't look so sad; and don't trouble yourself about me. When I return from Rosendal, I shall have made some plan to go away for a longer time. It will make you all more comfortable to have got rid of me for a little."

And so he turned, and took his way up the barren mountain side.

"Is it not rather dangerous to cross the glacier quite alone?" asked Gustav of Frants, when they had regained their boat, and were once more under way.

"Not for our Nils," answered Frants. "He knows the mountains as well as I know the fjord-aye, and better. He will come to no harm -never fear!

A fitful, moaning wind had arisen, and was sweeping down in gusts from the cliffs, driving the grey mist before it. Gustav sank into silence and reflection, which was not all of a joyful kind. But when they had run out some distance from the land, and could see more clearly the glaciers and snow-fields of the Folge-fond, he was aroused by an exclamation from Frants.

"There is Nils!" he cried. And from a mighty pair of lungs he sent up a shout that awoke a hundred echoes.

A faint responsive cry came from the distant heights, where Gustav could distinguish a black figure showing clearly against the snow, which was lit up, just there, by a gleam of sunlight. Then the fog closed over it, and they saw it no more.

Gustav will remember that glimpse of the solitary figure, with the sunlight upon it and the mist-wreaths above and below, to the end of his life; for it was the last he, or anyone, ever saw of Nils Jensen.

When the days of wind and storm that followed had passed away, and it was known that Nils had not arrived at Rosendal, many of his friends, though knowing that his fate could not be doubtful, searched the glacier far and wide, hoping that at least they might be able to find his

body, and give it decent burial. But the search proved unsuccessful, as, indeed, it was almost certain to do; for the mountains were deep in freshfallen snow.

Some there are who say that Nils was weary of his life, and never intended to come down from those frozen and wind-swept solitudes; but this view is usually expressed in a low voice, and in very select company; for it would not be likely to be a popular one in Bakke, and might expose those who held it to some risk of rough usage.

As for the children, they have established a legend upon the subject of their good Nils, in which they firmly believe. They say that the spirits of the mountains, finding Nils ready to their hands, and perceiving that, by reason of his open-handedness, he would never be able to lay by money for his old age, took him away before his time to the ice-palace of which he used to speak, where he will never know toil or sorrow more; and more than one village matron, struggling with her refractory offspring, has been heard to reduce them to submission by the threat-“ You wicked children! If you do not mend your ways, Nils will have nothing to say to you when you die."


The Gossip of History.

"THERE are," says Macaulay, in that fine Essay which laid the foundations of his fame, "a few characters which have stood the closest scrutiny and the severest tests, which have been tried in the furnace and have proved pure, which have been weighed in the balance and have not been found wanting, which have been declared sterling by the general consent of mankind, and which are visibly stamped with the image and superscription of the Most High." Of these the great historian considered Milton to be one, and we should most of us like to agree with him. Yet there are some curious stories about Milton, who was perhaps not the pleasantest of men in private life. Thus he is said to have taught his daughters the Greek alphabet, without attempting to instruct them in the language, in order that they might the sooner be qualified for the irksome task of reading to him authors of whose works they could not understand a syllable. To the common mind this seems a piece of gross selfishness, though it is quite possible that Milton, whose conception of woman's mission was not the highest, may never have imagined he was guilty of an act of injustice in turning intelligent beings into machines. His ideal of female perfection seems to have been the Eve of his own "Paradise Lost," before the fall. Adam lived "for God only-she for God in him '—a view of the marriage tie for which there is assuredly no warrant in the New Testament. And many will consider Dinah, in "Adam Bede," preaching herself to the simple village folk, as a nobler picture of womanly goodness. In Milton's system there would hardly have been room for St. Teresa, or Mrs. Fry, much less for Queen Elizabeth, of glorious memory.


Another story of Milton is only ludicrous, but one hopes it is not true, for one would like only the loftiest associations to centre round his name. A friend once condoled with him on the loss of his sight, from the point of view that he could never have the pleasure of seeing his wife. Ah," replied Milton with a sigh, "would that I were deaf as well!" In truth Milton seems to have looked upon his Bessy (No. 3) as a necessary evil, necessary for purposes of housekeeping and cookery. Some of his biographers have represented him as a man of austere life, who made himself miserable by supping on olives and cold water, but it seems more probable that he was something of an epicure in a quiet way, and that a savoury stew was very much indeed to his taste. His wife once set before him a dish of which he was exceedingly fond, dressed with nicest culinary art, and as the poet ate, he observed, with his mouth full,

by way of expressing his thanks, "Thou knowest that I have left thee all I have." History is silent as to the precise nature of this memorable refection, whether "grisamber steamed," or game "built up in pastry," but those who think Milton had no idea of a good dinner, have only to turn to the description of the banquet with which the Devil tempts our Saviour in "Paradise Regained;" how unlike, he exclaims, "to that crude apple which diverted Eve!"

Yet it seems almost sacrilege to repeat gossip concerning the inspired martyr of English liberty. One is tempted to use the formula employed by Herodotus, when that charming story-teller had given some particularly naughty story relating to a venerated personage, "May I not incur the anger of any God or Hero!" The truth is that half of what constitutes the amusing in the annals of our curious race is composed of facts more or less to the discredit of those who have made a stir in the world. Who, for instance, that has read Fitztraver's song has not learnt to connect the name of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, with all that is brightest in chivalry, in poesy, and in love? Yet his passion for Geraldine is well-nigh an exploded myth, and all its romantic incidents have long since receded into the domain of fable. The facts about him are more prosaic, and he seems to have spent his youth much as other "swells" of the sixteenth century-partly, one grieves to find, in the mediæval substitute for wrenching off knockers. Thus we find him summoned before the Privy Council for eating flesh in Lent, and for walking about the streets at night in a "lewd and unseemly manner," and breaking windows with a cross-bow. On the first charge he excused himself; the second he confessed, and on it was committed to prison. It would be interesting to know whether his lordship paid for the windows he broke, as glass must have been dear in the reign of Henry VIII. Poor Surrey! He lived in a barbarous and unnatural age, when too often a man's foes were they of his own household; and he was ultimately convicted of high treason on the joint testimony of his sister, the Duchess of Richmond, and of his father's mistress. It was a judicial murder of the foulest kind.

Another Howard, John, dubbed "the philanthropist," may seem, to a sceptical generation, a far less amiable person than the thoughtless and unfortunate Surrey. No doubt he did excellent work in reforming prison discipline; but charity, says a shrewd proverb, should begin at home, and there is too much reason to believe that Howard was a severe, not to say a harsh, parent. He managed to make his son afraid of him, and the result was dismal enough. The young man fell into dissolute habits, which were carefully concealed from the father, and consequently unchecked, till they had brought on a disease which terminated in incurable madness. It is fair to add that Mr. Hepworth Dixon considers the charge of harshness brought against Howard as unfair, but some painful facts are not easily explained away. The best story ever told of Howard is, perhaps, the answer he made to Joseph II. when the latter observed

that the law in his own dominions was more clement than in England. There, said the Emperor, men were hanged for many offences for which they would only be imprisoned in Austria. "That is true," rejoined Howard, "but give me leave to tell your Majesty that I had much rather be hanged than stay in one of your prisons." It should be added that some of Howard's prison reforms were of more than questionable utility; and he has the bad reputation of having introduced the system of solitary confinement, the application of which he recommended to refractory boys-" for which," said the mild and generous Charles Lamb, "I could spit on his statue." Had Howard lived in another age and clime, he might have developed into a Torquemada or St. Dominic, and have been distinguished as the founder of an Inquisition. He led a strict life himself, had the highest zeal for the public good, and was probably destitute of natural affections.

It is to the credit of human nature that when a man has rendered great services to his country or to his kind, we resolutely refuse to look at the dark side of his character, and form a glorified picture of him for the mind's eye to rest upon. The portrait of Nelson is not blurred for Englishmen. We are jealous of Byron's reputation, and will scarcely suffer it to be justly or unjustly assailed. With what pleasure should we not hail the fact that a painstaking writer had effectually cleared the character of Marlborough from the stains of avarice and corruption ! And yet it is always well to look facts resolutely in the face, for they often explain, and enable us to condone. To know all would be to forgive all. Take the case of Nelson. The murder of Prince Caracciolo and all the other bad doings at Naples may be traced directly to his infatuation for Lady Hamilton. And whence did that infatuation arise? It has been asserted that Nelson gradually became estranged from his wife because she did not take enough interest in his career, and seemed hardly to know that her husband was the idolised hero of the nation. If so it was a grievous fault, and the result, with a man of Nelson's temperament, might have been easily foreseen. "My dear, great, glorious Nelson," if we remember aright, was the style in which the wife of a Cabinet Minister, who can scarcely have been personally acquainted with the Admiral, wrote to congratulate him on the victory of the Nile. Lady Hamilton was even more demonstrative, and Nelson took a naïve, almost child-like pleasure in being made much of, and called "great" and "glorious" to his face. He had done great things, and was not ashamed to own that he felt proud of his achievements. Indeed self-assertion on his part occasionally took an unpleasant form. Towards the close of the war with the First Republic, when the general distress was sharp, and bread frightfully dear-in 1800 the price of the quartern loaf rose to one shilling and tenpence half penny-a curious fashion arose of giving dinners in which the guests were asked to bring their own bread. Nelson was invited to such a dinner, but through some oversight he had apparently not been informed of the conditions of the feast. At all

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »