Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

brother, and sister, and mother.” And therefore there is no room for question that, however sad and deprivative may be his intellectual errors and deficiencies, every man who sincerely seeks to know and do the will of God is one of the saved by Christ. He may be Romanist or Quaker, Calvinist or Arminian; and I add, necessarily, Trinitarian or Unitarian ; although, for myself

, I could no more be what is generally meant by a Unitarian than I could be a Romanist, deeming that a profound need of our nature is met by the threefold form in which God is presented to us in the Scriptures. To me, and practically, Christ is God. In him I exult to see God manifest in the Hesh. And the remarks I have ventured to suggest you will all understand to be made from a standing-point assumed for the occasion, and in the interests of charity.'

* Suppose we have a little music,' said the vicar. "I have not a piano indeed for lassie to extemporize on, but my barrel organ will play you any one of thirty tunes.'

An Invalid's Winter.

WAKING, as I supposed, from one of those short troubled sleeps which chequer the monotony of the less violent forms of sea-sickness, I heard, to my great delight, the bell at the wheel announce a far more advanced hour of the morning than I could have hoped. Already the cool light was penetrating the thick glass in the port-hole of my cabin. I rose, and slowly crept on deck. It was as if the bitterness of death were past, and I had awaked in the new world. From the narrow grave of my berth, filled with a close atmosphere, and haunted by unpleasant noises and motions, I came forth in the midst of the wide sea and sky. Through the crowds of French soldiers and other passengers, I elbowed my way to the wheel, and there finding an open space, I looked around me. Speedily sped the vessel southwards, away from the cold winds and frosts of a northern winter, whose advanced guard had overtaken us on our way, and kept us for days imprisoned. But now we had escaped. And the sun would soon rise, and by the time he should have reached the zenith we hoped to be at anchor in the port of Algiers. This morning was a new vision to me.

Over us hung, or rather stooped, the sky of the south, a deep violet, with much of the red in it; wherein the stars sparkled with a keen steely lustre, like spangles cut from sword-blades. Underneath flowed the sea, with great dashes of purple upon a slate blue, that swept, and rolled, and floated away to the east; where the sky-sea, barred with orange and yellow, told that the sun was near. Two or three sea-birds were following close behind us; and suddenly through the waves came a troop of porpoises, rushing along with wondrous speed; shooting out of one wave, and plunging headlong into the next; gambolling, and coursing, and bounding, as if trying their wind against the steamer, and easily able to pass her if they chose. I thought what a delicious life they had of it in the waves, with their cool slippery sides, that were always wet; and how they felt as much at home in the water as we in the air, knowing it was their only element. And then I began to pity them that they had only the Mediterranean to swim in, and were so unlikely ever to find the way out into the great world-sea. But I knew that this was only the longing for freedom in me, which can never be stilled by limitless room, but must find the boundless in another region than that of space and time.

At length the hills arose and drew near. Ere long we saw the white city built up the face of one of the low range—the Sahel that guards the coast; from the summits of which the pirates used to search the face of the sea for the white-winged game, that so often fled in vain before the swift hunters of the waves. Soon we were in the midst of swarthy visages and glowing eyes, that might well belong to the descendants of these terrible men; and ere long, we were guided by one of them to a hotel in the principal place of the town, where, by-and-bye, we contrived to forget the horrors of the steamer in the less, but not less real, horrors which mingle with the comforts of an Algerine hotel.

It was the end of November ; yet, invalid as I was, I dressed next morning with the window open. The day was so glowing, the air so clear, and the colours of sea, and earth, and sky were so intense, that the whole scene looked like one of those pictures one does not believe in. Across the still blue bay, we saw the purple hills which continue the range on which the city is built; and beyond them rose in the distance blue mountains with snowy summits; around which we could see the tops of lower hills crouching like lions at their feet. Above all spread the cloudless blue. The square on which my window looked, and which, open on one side, revealed the scene of which I write, was crowded with a bewildering variety of the most brilliant costumes. The splendid dresses of Moors and Jews mingled with the numberless varieties of the uniforms of French soldiers; while the rainbow mass was relieved by the graceful simplicity of the Arab bernouse, and the mournful white of the shrouded Moorish women, who seemed already half buried from life and clothed in the garments of the grave—where, even if the spirit lingered by the mouldering form, they could scarce feel less lonely and hopeless than they at least appear to the eyes of the English stranger. The whole was filled with military noises ; in which the kettle-drum, with its terrier-like alarum, took a foremost part, and soon wearied us with its regularly recurring noisy monotony. Indeed, we were very soon sick of the tumult, indoors and out, and longed for the seclusion of the country.

From the sea, the outline of the city, lying on the slope of the hill, somewhat resembles in form one of the Moorish horse-shoe arches, but bent outwards considerably at the heel; expanding, that is, when it reaches the more level ground at the base of the hill. The whole mass is of a dazzling whiteness, resembling the escarpment of a chalk

but as

[ocr errors]

hill; for twice a-year they whitewash the whole of their houses outside and inside, to protect themselves from the heat, though thereby they expose themselves the more to the injurious effects of the light. Some of the principal streets, where the mortifying hand of the conquerors has been at work, are entirely French in their appearance;

soon as you turn southwards, and commence to climb one of the streets which lead up the hill, you find yourself in an entirely novel environment; wandering in the labyrinth of an apparently endless accumulation of narrow streets, and stairs, and passages, and archways, shooting off in all directions ; some ascending towards the sunlight as you hope; others appearing to dive into the earth ; all narrow, many bo narrow that a little person could easily touch both sides at once ; many arched over, and many roofed in by the contact of the projecting upper stories of the houses on opposite sides. The design is to exclude the sun in all ways. The rubbish can only be removed on the backs of donkeys, of which you may often meet a troop in your way emerging from what seems the entrance to a splendid mansion, or jolting along a squalid lane three or four feet wide. But, although the streets are so narrow, it must not be supposed that the town is therefore as ill aired as, with such appearances, an English one would be justly supposed to be. For inside every house-whose heavy door looks like that of a prison in these narrow passages, is a square court open to the heavens, so that each has its own patch of sky, and little lot of stars. Along these streets I much enjoyed wandering. Some of them are full of workshops, little rooms, or scarcely more than closets, open to the street, above which they are sometimes raised a

In these the various trades go on-tailoring, shoemaking, turning, tobacco-cutting, and others. Conversations might easily be carried on across the streets between the different artizans. I used sometimes to stand and watch them at their work, and generally saw something to interest me. One time it was the extraordinary development and use of the great toe, supplying the place of a thumb on the turning lathe, one hand being employed to turn the lathe with a bow; while the operator sat on the floor on a level with his machine. Another time it was the covering of a button with a network of silk, or a stitch new to me in shoemaking; or the moulding of red clay pipes; or the scraping of the shell of a clumsy musical instrument, which looked like a dropsical guitar. But I had not much opportunity for making acquaintance with these streets; for, after many failures, we at length succeeded in finding an appartement in a large Moorish house, belonging to a French officer, at the distance of two miles from the city; and here we settled down for the winter, exulting in the hope of privacy and leisure, with an open silence all around us, wherein the soul might feel that the whole external world is (as Schleiermacher says) the extension of the human body, and might flow forth and occupy its dwelling without hindrance from contact with uncongenial forms. The room in which we sat had a low groined roof, with vaulted recesses on one side, in one of which we soon contrived to put a French piano, and on a cheffonier in the other a

a

a

a

statuette of the Venus of Milo; finding thus some relief to the picturesque dulness of the room. The floor was paved with coloured tiles, rising a couple of feet up the walls ; but the entire absence of red in any combination prevented these tiles from continuing to please me much. Then the room was disfigured by a huge French stove in one of the small windows, which, when it became necessary to use it, added much to our discomfort by smoking. But through our little windows we saw the Mediterranean at a furlong's distance; and when its sunny face drew us out to the little terrace at the top of the entrance stair, we were in the midst of a glowing world; the great hills in the distance, like an infinite hope, and the air filled with the odours of citron and orange-blossoms. Here our days passed quietly. For some time the weather was warm enough to sit reading out of doors upon the rocky cliffs by the tideless sea; on which, when you looked up from your book, you might see the boats of the country, with their elegant three-cornered latteen sails on the long slanting yard, bounding before a breeze from the west, when the white water is coming out of the black, as my little girl said ; or in one of those cloudy days, which were comparatively rare there, you might see these boats dreaming along over a floor of delicate silver-grey, turning up ever as they broke the surface, and leaving behind them a track of brilliant intense blue, corresponding to a belt of the same colour that circled the edge of the far horizon. Or, if the sun had gone behind the hills, and sea and sky built up one cavern of calm blue, you might catch the rosy glow of a single sail which alone, in the midst of the prevailing blue, reflected the sunset red. But over all, I think the colours of this new land affected me most. Yet there were no gorgeous sunsets, such as in our England, to crown earthly vapours with unearthly glory. The sky was too clear for those. The hills lying immediately behind us prevented our seeing the actual sunset, whereof the only noticeable sign in middle air might be a pale pink vapour, in the centre of which might sparkle one diamond star. Nor was there any common grass. No fields with thick carpets of green, wherein even the foot has its own sensuous joy, and whereon you may cast yourself down in silence when the love of the earth becomes too strong for happiness. Only once did the feeling of earth's homeliness enter my soul. It was an early spring night. A heavy dew falls at sundown, but after that it is often warm and dry. We had just left the house of some Scotch friends, who, like ourselves, had spent the winter there, and who long ere this had become dear to us. It was a night of stars. Venus was going down in the west in a triumph of glory, flashing red, and green, and blue, like a sea-beacon, through the refracting strata of the lower atmosphere. The whole night-vault was filled with the roarings of the waves which a wind, since dead, had aroused, and driven landward to rave on the rocky shore. And suddenly to my soul came a scent of earth, of damp spring earth, an odour well known from childhood, which calls up thoughts of love and the grave, and mingles with either kind, for they are not far apart. Then I recognised the common mother; knew that Eng. land and Africa were of the same earth, and rejoiced that she bore me.

But with the new year a stormy time began. For many, many weeks there was more or less rain every day, sometimes, but rarely, continuous for two or three days, accompanied by violent storms of wind and lightning. Then we could go out but little. We read, or sat and gazed through our tiny windows on the turmoil of the sea. Far out from the shore reached the white chaos of the breakers. In mingling shades of green, and yellow, and white, barred and patched with the purple shadows of the clouds, the sea tossed and foamed beneath the wind, which tore the glassy tops of the billows into hairlike spray. During this season you might sometimes see fine masses of cloud, but seldom such as, during thunderous weather, may be seen, like grotesque masses of half-finished sculpture, piled in Titanic confusion and magnificence around our sky. The rain falls like a cataract. Once I saw the finest rainbow I have ever seen. It planted one end of its arch close beside us, between us and the sea, and rose aloft and stretched away the other where we could not see it for the heights around us. I never saw one come so near. It would have been easy to find the golden key at its foot this time. But what struck me most was the intensity of its chords of thick colour. A second larger arc appeared beyond it; but its root was planted far out in the sea, and its hues were thin, and vague, and ghostly beside the glow of the nearer.

With the night came often the lightning and the thunder. It was so dark without, that to us looking from within the windows appeared solid as the walls. When suddenly a sea and sky immense asserted themselves with an instantaneous illumination of existence in the soul, flashing themselves in through the narrow windows—for a small opening admits a great space—then darkness followed, rent and billowed by the thunder. Such a stormy winter had not been known by any of the French inhabitants.

Now and then I took a few hours' ride in the surrounding country, among the low hills which crowd the coast. As there are but few large trees, and at this season little vegetation, the country has in many parts rather a bare look, but in the gorges between the hills there are many bushes and small trees. The most striking plants are the prickly-pear cactus and the aloe. This cactus forms a defence around and throughout the Arab villages. But what seemed to interest me most was the Arab cemeteries. One of the largest of these lay on the top and seaward slope of a hill, from which the inhabitants of the near village, a noted nest of pirates, used to search the sea for their prey. Of this village only miserable huts remain amidst the ruins of Moorish houses. The numberless graves with their tiny vertical stones lie broad and bare to the sea and the sky; unlike the greater number of their churchyards, which lie in groves of olives and other trees. Suddenly, when riding along a narrow bridle-path you find yourself in the midst of one of these chambers of the dead; and looking back you see perhaps that for some little way you have been

« ZurückWeiter »