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1. I.

Great men stand like solitary towers in the
city of God, and secret passages running deep
beneath external nature give their thoughts intercourse
with higher intelligences, which strengthens
and consoles them, and of which the laborers
on the surface do not even dream!

Some such thought as this was floating vaguely
through the brain of Mr. Churchill, as he closed
his school-house door behind him; and if in any
degree he applied it to himself, it may perhaps be
pardoned in a dreamy, poetic man like him; for
we judge ourselves by what we feel capable of
doing, while others judge us by what we have
already done. And moreover his wife considered
him equal to great things. To the people in


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the village, he was the school-master, and nothing
more. They beheld in his form and countenance
no outward sign of the divinity within. They
saw him daily moiling and delving in the common
path, like a beetle, and little thought that underneath
that hard and cold exterior, lay folded delicate
golden wings, wherewith, when the heat of
day was over, he soared and revelled in the
pleasant evening air.

To-day he was soaring and revelling before the
sun had set; for it was Saturday. With a feeling
of infinite relief he left behind him the empty
school-house, into which the hot sun of a September
afternoon was pouring. All the bright
young faces were gone; all the impatient little
hearts were gone; all the fresh voices, shrill, but
musical with the melody of childhood, were
gone; and the lately busy realm was given up to
silence, and the dusty sunshine, and the old gray
flies, that buzzed and bumped their heads against
the window-panes. The sound of the outer door,
creaking on its hebdomadal hinges, was like a sentinel's
challenge, to which the key growled responsive
in the lock; and the master, casting a
furtive glance at the last caricature of himself in
red chalk on the wooden fence close by, entered


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with a light step the solemn avenue of pines that
led to the margin of the river.

At first his step was quick and nervous; and
he swung his cane as if aiming blows at some invisible
and retreating enemy. Though a meek
man, there were moments when he remembered
with bitterness the unjust reproaches of fathers
and their insulting words; and then he fought imaginary
battles with people out of sight, and struck
them to the ground, and trampled upon them; for
Mr. Churchill was not exempt from the weakness
of human nature, nor the customary vexations
of a school-master's life. Unruly sons and
unreasonable fathers did sometimes embitter his
else sweet days and nights. But as he walked,
his step grew slower, and his heart calmer. The
coolness and shadows of the great trees comforted
and satisfied him, and he heard the voice of
the wind as it were the voice of spirits calling
around him in the air. So that when he emerged
from the black woodlands into the meadows by
the river's side, all his cares were forgotten.

He lay down for a moment under a sycamore,
and thought of the Roman Consul Licinius,
passing a night with eighteen of his followers in
the hollow trunk of the great Lycian plane-tree.


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From the branches overhead the falling seeds
were wafted away through the soft air on plumy
tufts of down. The continuous murmur of the
leaves and of the swift-running stream seemed
rather to deepen than disturb the pleasing solitude
and silence of the place; and for a moment he
imagined himself far away in the broad prairies of
the West, and lying beneath the luxuriant trees
that overhang the banks of the Wabash and the
Kaskaskia. He saw the sturgeon leap from the
river, and flash for a moment in the sunshine.
Then a flock of wild-fowl flew across the sky towards
the sea-mist that was rising slowly in the
east; and his soul seemed to float away on the
river's current, till he had glided far out into the
measureless sea, and the sound of the wind among
the leaves was no longer the sound of the wind,
but of the sea.

Nature had made Mr. Churchill a poet, but destiny
made him a school-master. This produced
a discord between his outward and his inward existence.
Life presented itself to him like the
Sphinx, with its perpetual riddle of the real and
the ideal. To the solution of this dark problem
he devoted his days and his nights. He was
forced to teach grammar when he would fain


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have written poems; and from day to day, and
from year to year, the trivial things of life postponed
the great designs, which he felt capable of
accomplishing, but never had the resolute courage
to begin. Thus he dallied with his thoughts and
with all things, and wasted his strength on trifles;
like the lazy sea, that plays with the pebbles on
its beach, but under the inspiration of the wind
might lift great navies on its outstretched palms,
and toss them into the air as playthings.

The evening came. The setting sun stretched
his celestial rods of light across the level landscape,
and, like the Hebrew in Egypt, smote the
rivers and the brooks and the ponds, and they became
as blood.

Mr. Churchill turned his steps homeward. He
climbed the hill with the old windmill on its summit,
and below him saw the lights of the village;
and around him the great landscape sinking deeper
and deeper into the sea of darkness. He passed
an orchard. The air was filled with the odor of
the fallen fruit, which seemed to him as sweet as
the fragrance of the blossoms in June. A few
steps farther brought him to an old and neglected
church-yard; and he paused a moment to look at
the white gleaming stone, under which slumbered


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the old clergyman, who came into the village in
the time of the Indian wars, and on which was recorded
that for half a century he had been “a
painful preacher of the word.” He entered the
village street, and interchanged a few words with
Mr. Pendexter, the venerable divine, whom he
found standing at his gate. He met, also, an ill-looking
man, carrying so many old boots that he
seemed literally buried in them; and at intervals
encountered a stream of strong tobacco smoke,
exhaled from the pipe of an Irish laborer, and
pervading the damp evening air. At length he
reached his own door.