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Page 25

5. V.

After extricating himself from this pleasing
dilemma, he said,—

“But I am now going to write. I must really
begin in sober earnest, or I shall never get any
thing finished. And you know I have so many
things to do, so many books to write, that really
I do not know where to begin. I think I will
take up the Romance first.”

“It will not make much difference, if you only

“That is true. I will not lose a moment.”

“Did you answer Mr. Cartwright's letter
about the cottage bedstead?”

“Dear me, no! I forgot it entirely. That
must be done first, or he will make it all wrong.”

“And the young lady who sent you the poetry
to look over and criticize?”


Page 26

“No; I have not had a single moment's leisure.
And there is Mr. Hanson, who wants to
know about the cooking-range. Confound it!
there is always something interfering with my
Romance. However, I will despatch those matters
very speedily.”

And he began to write with great haste. For
a while nothing was heard but the scratching of
his pen. Then he said, probably in connection
with the cooking-range,—

“One of the most convenient things in house-keeping
is a ham. It is always ready, and always
welcome. You can eat it with any thing and without
any thing. It reminds me always of the great
wild boar Scrimner, in the Northern Mythology,
who is killed every day for the gods to feast on
in Valhalla, and comes to life again every night.”

“In that case, I should think the gods would
have the night-mare,” said his wife.

“Perhaps they do.”

And then another long silence, broken only by
the skating of the swift pen over the sheet.
Presently Mrs. Churchill said,—as if following
out her own train of thought, while she ceased
plying her needle to bite off the thread, which
ladies will sometimes do in spite of all that is said
against it,—


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“A man came here to-day, calling himself the
agent of an extensive house in the needle trade.
He left this sample, and said the drill of the eye
was superior to any other, and they are warranted
not to cut the thread. He puts them at the
wholesale price; and if I do not like the sizes, he
offers to exchange them for others, either sharps
or betweens.”

To this remark the abstracted school-master
vouchsafed no reply. He found his half-dozen
letters not so easily answered, particularly that
to the poetical young lady, and worked away
busily at them. Finally they were finished and
sealed; and he looked up to his wife. She
turned her eyes dreamily upon him. Slumber
was hanging in their blue orbs, like snow in the
heavens, ready to fall. It was quite late, and he
said to her,—

“I am too tired, my charming Lilawati, and
you too sleepy, to sit here any longer to-night.
And, as I do not wish to begin my Romance
without having you at my side, so that I can read
detached passages to you as I write, I will put it
off till to-morrow or the next day.”

He watched his wife as she went up stairs with
the light. It was a picture always new and always


Page 28
beautiful, and like a painting of Gherardo
della Notte. As he followed her, he paused to
look at the stars. The beauty of the heavens
made his soul overflow.

“How absolute,” he exclaimed, “how absolute
and omnipotent is the silence of the night!
And yet the stillness seems almost audible!
From all the measureless depths of air around us
comes a half-sound, a half-whisper, as if we could
hear the crumbling and falling away of earth
and all created things, in the great miracle of
nature, decay and reproduction, ever beginning,
never ending,—the gradual lapse and running of
the sand in the great hour-glass of Time!”

In the night, Mr. Churchill had a singular
dream. He thought himself in school, where he
was reading Latin to his pupils. Suddenly all the
genitive cases of the first declension began to
make faces at him, and to laugh immoderately;
and when he tried to lay hold of them, they
jumped down into the ablative, and the circumflex
accent assumed the form of a great moustache.
Then the little village school-house was
transformed into a vast and endless school-house
of the world, stretching forward, form after form,
through all the generations of coming time; and


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on all the forms sat young men and old, reading
and transcribing his Romance, which now in his
dream was completed, and smiling and passing it
onward from one to another, till at last the clock
in the corner struck twelve, and the weights
ran down with a strange, angry whirr, and the
school broke up; and the school-master awoke
to find this vision of fame only a dream, out of
which his alarm-clock had aroused him at an
untimely hour.