Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Phantasies by George MacDonald

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume XII, Issue XIX

By George MacDonald, Chapter 13

I saw a ship sailing upon the sea
Deeply laden as ship could be;
But not so deep as in love I am
For I care not whether I sink or swim."
~ Old Ballad.

But Love is such a Mystery
I cannot find it out:
For when I think I'm best resols'd,
I then am in most doubt."
~ Sir John Suckling.

One story I will try to reproduce. But, alas! it is like trying to reconstruct a forest out of broken branches and withered leaves. In the fairy book, everything was just as it should be, though whether in words or something else, I cannot tell. It glowed and flashed the thoughts upon the soul, with such a power that the medium disappeared from the consciousness, and it was occupied only with the things themselves. My representation of it must resemble a translation from a rich and powerful language, capable of embodying the thoughts of a splendidly developed people, into the meagre and half-articulate speech of a savage tribe. Of course, while I read it, I was Cosmo, and his history was mine. Yet, all the time, I seemed to have a kind of double consciousness, and the story a double meaning. Sometimes it seemed only to represent a simple story of ordinary life, perhaps almost of universal life; wherein two souls, loving each other and longing to come nearer, do, after all, but behold each other as in a glass darkly.

As through the hard rock go the branching silver veins; as into the solid land run the creeks and gulfs from the unresting sea; as the lights and influences of the upper worlds sink silently through the earth's atmosphere; so doth Faerie invade the world of men, and sometimes startle the common eye with an association as of cause and effect, when between the two no connecting links can be traced.

Cosmo von Wehrstahl was a student at the University of Prague. Though of a noble family, he was poor, and prided himself upon the independence that poverty gives; for what will not a man pride himself upon, when he cannot get rid of it? A favourite with his fellow students, he yet had no companions; and none of them had ever crossed the threshold of his lodging in the top of one of the highest houses in the old town. Indeed, the secret of much of that complaisance which recommended him to his fellows, was the thought of his unknown retreat, whither in the evening he could betake himself and indulge undisturbed in his own studies and reveries. These studies, besides those subjects necessary to his course at the University, embraced some less commonly known and approved; for in a secret drawer lay the works of Albertus Magnus and Cornelius Agrippa, along with others less read and more abstruse. As yet, however, he had followed these researches only from curiosity, and had turned them to no practical purpose.

His lodging consisted of one large low-ceiled room, singularly bare of furniture; for besides a couple of wooden chairs, a couch which served for dreaming on both by day and night, and a great press of black oak, there was very little in the room that could be called furniture.

But curious instruments were heaped in the corners; and in one stood a skeleton, half-leaning against the wall, half-supported by a string about its neck. One of its hands, all of fingers, rested on the heavy pommel of a great sword that stood beside it.

Various weapons were scattered about over the floor. The walls were utterly bare of adornment; for the few strange things, such as a large dried bat with wings dispread, the skin of a porcupine, and a stuffed sea-mouse, could hardly be reckoned as such. But although his fancy delighted in vagaries like these, he indulged his imagination with far different fare. His mind had never yet been filled with an absorbing passion; but it lay like a still twilight open to any wind, whether the low breath that wafts but odours, or the storm that bows the great trees till they strain and creak. He saw everything as through a rose-coloured glass. When he looked from his window on the street below, not a maiden passed but she moved as in a story, and drew his thoughts after her till she disappeared in the vista. When he walked in the streets, he always felt as if reading a tale, into which he sought to weave every face of interest that went by; and every sweet voice swept his soul as with the wing of a passing angel. He was in fact a poet without words; the more absorbed and endangered, that the springing-waters were dammed back into his soul, where, finding no utterance, they grew, and swelled, and undermined. He used to lie on his hard couch, and read a tale or a poem, till the book dropped from his hand; but he dreamed on, he knew not whether awake or asleep, until the opposite roof grew upon his sense, and turned golden in the sunrise. Then he arose too; and the impulses of vigorous youth kept him ever active, either in study or in sport, until again the close of the day left him free; and the world of night, which had lain drowned in the cataract of the day, rose up in his soul, with all its stars, and dim-seen phantom shapes. But this could hardly last long. Some one form must sooner or later step within the charmed circle, enter the house of life, and compel the bewildered magician to kneel and worship.

One afternoon, towards dusk, he was wandering dreamily in one of the principal streets, when a fellow student roused him by a slap on the shoulder, and asked him to accompany him into a little back alley to look at some old armour which he had taken a fancy to possess. Cosmo was considered an authority in every matter pertaining to arms, ancient or modern. In the use of weapons, none of the students could come near him; and his practical acquaintance with some had principally contributed to establish his authority in reference to all. He accompanied him willingly.

They entered a narrow alley, and thence a dirty little court, where a low arched door admitted them into a heterogeneous assemblage of everything musty, and dusty, and old, that could well be imagined. His verdict on the armour was satisfactory, and his companion at once concluded the purchase. As they were leaving the place, Cosmo's eye was attracted by an old mirror of an elliptical shape, which leaned against the wall, covered with dust. Around it was some curious carving, which he could see but very indistinctly by the glimmering light which the owner of the shop carried in his hand. It was this carving that attracted his attention; at least so it appeared to him. He left the place, however, with his friend, taking no further notice of it. They walked together to the main street, where they parted and took opposite directions.

No sooner was Cosmo left alone, than the thought of the curious old mirror returned to him. A strong desire to see it more plainly arose within him, and he directed his steps once more towards the shop. The owner opened the door when he knocked, as if he had expected him. He was a little, old, withered man, with a hooked nose, and burning eyes constantly in a slow restless motion, and looking here and there as if after something that eluded them. Pretending to examine several other articles, Cosmo at last approached the mirror, and requested to have it taken down.

Take it down yourself, master; I cannot reach it," said the old man.

Cosmo took it down carefully, when he saw that the carving was indeed delicate and costly, being both of admirable design and execution; containing withal many devices which seemed to embody some meaning to which he had no clue. This, naturally, in one of his tastes and temperament, increased the interest he felt in the old mirror; so much, indeed, that he now longed to possess it, in order to study its frame at his leisure. He pretended, however, to want it only for use; and saying he feared the plate could be of little service, as it was rather old, he brushed away a little of the dust from its face, expecting to see a dull reflection within. His surprise was great when he found the reflection brilliant, revealing a glass not only uninjured by age, but wondrously clear and perfect (should the whole correspond to this part) even for one newly from the hands of the maker. He asked carelessly what the owner wanted for the thing. The old man replied by mentioning a sum of money far beyond the reach of poor Cosmo, who proceeded to replace the mirror where it had stood before.

You think the price too high?" said the old man.

I do not know that it is too much for you to ask," replied Cosmo; "but it is far too much for me to give."

The old man held up his light towards Cosmo's face. "I like your look," said he.

Cosmo could not return the compliment. In fact, now he looked closely at him for the first time, he felt a kind of repugnance to him, mingled with a strange feeling of doubt whether a man or a woman stood before him.

What is your name?" he continued.

Cosmo von Wehrstahl."

Ah, ah! I thought as much. I see your father in you. I knew your father very well, young sir. I dare say in some odd corners of my house, you might find some old things with his crest and cipher upon them still. Well, I like you: you shall have the mirror at the fourth part of what I asked for it; but upon one condition."

What is that?" said Cosmo; for, although the price was still a great deal for him to give, he could just manage it; and the desire to possess the mirror had increased to an altogether unaccountable degree, since it had seemed beyond his reach.

That if you should ever want to get rid of it again, you will let me have the first offer."

Certainly," replied Cosmo, with a smile; adding, "a moderate condition indeed."

On your honour?" insisted the seller.

On my honour," said the buyer; and the bargain was concluded.

I will carry it home for you," said the old man, as Cosmo took it in his hands.

No, no; I will carry it myself," said he; for he had a peculiar dislike to revealing his residence to any one, and more especially to this person, to whom he felt every moment a greater antipathy.

Just as you please," said the old creature, and muttered to himself as he held his light at the door to show him out of the court: "Sold for the sixth time! I wonder what will be the upshot of it this time. I should think my lady had enough of it by now!"

Cosmo carried his prize carefully home. But all the way he had an uncomfortable feeling that he was watched and dogged. Repeatedly he looked about, but saw nothing to justify his suspicions. Indeed, the streets were too crowded and too ill lighted to expose very readily a careful spy, if such there should be at his heels. He reached his lodging in safety, and leaned his purchase against the wall, rather relieved, strong as he was, to be rid of its weight; then, lighting his pipe, threw himself on the couch, and was soon lapt in the folds of one of his haunting dreams.

He returned home earlier than usual the next day, and fixed the mirror to the wall, over the hearth, at one end of his long room.

He then carefully wiped away the dust from its face, and, clear as the water of a sunny spring, the mirror shone out from beneath the envious covering. But his interest was chiefly occupied with the curious carving of the frame. This he cleaned as well as he could with a brush; and then he proceeded to a minute examination of its various parts, in the hope of discovering some index to the intention of the carver. In this, however, he was unsuccessful; and, at length, pausing with some weariness and disappointment, he gazed vacantly for a few moments into the depth of the reflected room. But ere long he said, half aloud: "What a strange thing a mirror is! and what a wondrous affinity exists between it and a man's imagination! For this room of mine, as I behold it in the glass, is the same, and yet not the same. It is not the mere representation of the room I live in, but it looks just as if I were reading about it in a story I like. All its commonness has disappeared. The mirror has lifted it out of the region of fact into the realm of art; and the very representing of it to me has clothed with interest that which was otherwise hard and bare; just as one sees with delight upon the stage the representation of a character from which one would escape in life as from something unendurably wearisome. But is it not rather that art rescues nature from the weary and sated regards of our senses, and the degrading injustice of our anxious everyday life, and, appealing to the imagination, which dwells apart, reveals Nature in some degree as she really is, and as she represents herself to the eye of the child, whose every-day life, fearless and unambitious, meets the true import of the wonder-teeming world around him, and rejoices therein without questioning? That skeleton, now--I almost fear it, standing there so still, with eyes only for the unseen, like a watch-tower looking across all the waste of this busy world into the quiet regions of rest beyond. And yet I know every bone and every joint in it as well as my own fist. And that old battle-axe looks as if any moment it might be caught up by a mailed hand, and, borne forth by the mighty arm, go crashing through casque, and skull, and brain, invading the Unknown with yet another bewildered ghost. I should like to live in that room if I could only get into it."

Scarcely had the half-moulded words floated from him, as he stood gazing into the mirror, when, striking him as with a flash of amazement that fixed him in his posture, noiseless and unannounced, glided suddenly through the door into the reflected room, with stately motion, yet reluctant and faltering step, the graceful form of a woman, clothed all in white. Her back only was visible as she walked slowly up to the couch in the further end of the room, on which she laid herself wearily, turning towards him a face of unutterable loveliness, in which suffering, and dislike, and a sense of compulsion, strangely mingled with the beauty. He stood without the power of motion for some moments, with his eyes irrecoverably fixed upon her; and even after he was conscious of the ability to move, he could not summon up courage to turn and look on her, face to face, in the veritable chamber in which he stood. At length, with a sudden effort, in which the exercise of the will was so pure, that it seemed involuntary, he turned his face to the couch. It was vacant. In bewilderment, mingled with terror, he turned again to the mirror: there, on the reflected couch, lay the exquisite lady-form. She lay with closed eyes, whence two large tears were just welling from beneath the veiling lids; still as death, save for the convulsive motion of her bosom.

Cosmo himself could not have described what he felt. His emotions were of a kind that destroyed consciousness, and could never be clearly recalled. He could not help standing yet by the mirror, and keeping his eyes fixed on the lady, though he was painfully aware of his rudeness, and feared every moment that she would open hers, and meet his fixed regard. But he was, ere long, a little relieved; for, after a while, her eyelids slowly rose, and her eyes remained uncovered, but unemployed for a time; and when, at length, they began to wander about the room, as if languidly seeking to make some acquaintance with her environment, they were never directed towards him: it seemed nothing but what was in the mirror could affect her vision; and, therefore, if she saw him at all, it could only be his back, which, of necessity, was turned towards her in the glass. The two figures in the mirror could not meet face to face, except he turned and looked at her, present in his room; and, as she was not there, he concluded that if he were to turn towards the part in his room corresponding to that in which she lay, his reflection would either be invisible to her altogether, or at least it must appear to her to gaze vacantly towards her, and no meeting of the eyes would produce the impression of spiritual proximity. By-and-by her eyes fell upon the skeleton, and he saw her shudder and close them. She did not open them again, but signs of repugnance continued evident on her countenance. Cosmo would have removed the obnoxious thing at once, but he feared to discompose her yet more by the assertion of his presence which the act would involve. So he stood and watched her. The eyelids yet shrouded the eyes, as a costly case the jewels within; the troubled expression gradually faded from the countenance, leaving only a faint sorrow behind; the features settled into an unchanging expression of rest; and by these signs, and the slow regular motion of her breathing, Cosmo knew that she slept. He could now gaze on her without embarrassment. He saw that her figure, dressed in the simplest robe of white, was worthy of her face; and so harmonious, that either the delicately moulded foot, or any finger of the equally delicate hand, was an index to the whole. As she lay, her whole form manifested the relaxation of perfect repose. He gazed till he was weary, and at last seated himself near the new-found shrine, and mechanically took up a book, like one who watches by a sick-bed. But his eyes gathered no thoughts from the page before him. His intellect had been stunned by the bold contradiction, to its face, of all its experience, and now lay passive, without assertion, or speculation, or even conscious astonishment; while his imagination sent one wild dream of blessedness after another coursing through his soul. How long he sat he knew not; but at length he roused himself, rose, and, trembling in every portion of his frame, looked again into the mirror. She was gone. The mirror reflected faithfully what his room presented, and nothing more. It stood there like a golden setting whence the central jewel has been stolen away--like a night-sky without the glory of its stars. She had carried with her all the strangeness of the reflected room. It had sunk to the level of the one without.

But when the first pangs of his disappointment had passed, Cosmo began to comfort himself with the hope that she might return, perhaps the next evening, at the same hour. Resolving that if she did, she should not at least be scared by the hateful skeleton, he removed that and several other articles of questionable appearance into a recess by the side of the hearth, whence they could not possibly cast any reflection into the mirror; and having made his poor room as tidy as he could, sought the solace of the open sky and of a night wind that had begun to blow, for he could not rest where he was. When he returned, somewhat composed, he could hardly prevail with himself to lie down on his bed; for he could not help feeling as if she had lain upon it; and for him to lie there now would be something like sacrilege. However, weariness prevailed; and laying himself on the couch, dressed as he was, he slept till day.

With a beating heart, beating till he could hardly breathe, he stood in dumb hope before the mirror, on the following evening. Again the reflected room shone as through a purple vapour in the gathering twilight. Everything seemed waiting like himself for a coming splendour to glorify its poor earthliness with the presence of a heavenly joy. And just as the room vibrated with the strokes of the neighbouring church bell, announcing the hour of six, in glided the pale beauty, and again laid herself on the couch. Poor Cosmo nearly lost his senses with delight. She was there once more! Her eyes sought the corner where the skeleton had stood, and a faint gleam of satisfaction crossed her face, apparently at seeing it empty. She looked suffering still, but there was less of discomfort expressed in her countenance than there had been the night before. She took more notice of the things about her, and seemed to gaze with some curiosity on the strange apparatus standing here and there in her room. At length, however, drowsiness seemed to overtake her, and again she fell asleep. Resolved not to lose sight of her this time, Cosmo watched the sleeping form. Her slumber was so deep and absorbing that a fascinating repose seemed to pass contagiously from her to him as he gazed upon her; and he started as if from a dream, when the lady moved, and, without opening her eyes, rose, and passed from the room with the gait of a somnambulist.

Cosmo was now in a state of extravagant delight. Most men have a secret treasure somewhere. The miser has his golden hoard; the virtuoso his pet ring; the student his rare book; the poet his favourite haunt; the lover his secret drawer; but Cosmo had a mirror with a lovely lady in it. And now that he knew by the skeleton, that she was affected by the things around her, he had a new object in life: he would turn the bare chamber in the mirror into a room such as no lady need disdain to call her own. This he could effect only by furnishing and adorning his. And Cosmo was poor. Yet he possessed accomplishments that could be turned to account; although, hitherto, he had preferred living on his slender allowance, to increasing his means by what his pride considered unworthy of his rank. He was the best swordsman in the University; and now he offered to give lessons in fencing and similar exercises, to such as chose to pay him well for the trouble. His proposal was heard with surprise by the students; but it was eagerly accepted by many; and soon his instructions were not confined to the richer students, but were anxiously sought by many of the young nobility of Prague and its neighbourhood. So that very soon he had a good deal of money at his command. The first thing he did was to remove his apparatus and oddities into a closet in the room. Then he placed his bed and a few other necessaries on each side of the hearth, and parted them from the rest of the room by two screens of Indian fabric. Then he put an elegant couch for the lady to lie upon, in the corner where his bed had formerly stood; and, by degrees, every day adding some article of luxury, converted it, at length, into a rich boudoir.

Every night, about the same time, the lady entered. The first time she saw the new couch, she started with a half-smile; then her face grew very sad, the tears came to her eyes, and she laid herself upon the couch, and pressed her face into the silken cushions, as if to hide from everything. She took notice of each addition and each change as the work proceeded; and a look of acknowledgment, as if she knew that some one was ministering to her, and was grateful for it, mingled with the constant look of suffering. At length, after she had lain down as usual one evening, her eyes fell upon some paintings with which Cosmo had just finished adorning the walls. She rose, and to his great delight, walked across the room, and proceeded to examine them carefully, testifying much pleasure in her looks as she did so. But again the sorrowful, tearful expression returned, and again she buried her face in the pillows of her couch. Gradually, however, her countenance had grown more composed; much of the suffering manifest on her first appearance had vanished, and a kind of quiet, hopeful expression had taken its place; which, however, frequently gave way to an anxious, troubled look, mingled with something of sympathetic pity.

Meantime, how fared Cosmo? As might be expected in one of his temperament, his interest had blossomed into love, and his love--shall I call it ripened, or--withered into passion. But, alas! he loved a shadow. He could not come near her, could not speak to her, could not hear a sound from those sweet lips, to which his longing eyes would cling like bees to their honey-founts. Ever and anon he sang to himself:

I shall die for love of the maiden;"

and ever he looked again, and died not, though his heart seemed ready to break with intensity of life and longing. And the more he did for her, the more he loved her; and he hoped that, although she never appeared to see him, yet she was pleased to think that one unknown would give his life to her. He tried to comfort himself over his separation from her, by thinking that perhaps some day she would see him and make signs to him, and that would satisfy him; "for," thought he, "is not this all that a loving soul can do to enter into communion with another? Nay, how many who love never come nearer than to behold each other as in a mirror; seem to know and yet never know the inward life; never enter the other soul; and part at last, with but the vaguest notion of the universe on the borders of which they have been hovering for years? If I could but speak to her, and knew that she heard me, I should be satisfied." Once he contemplated painting a picture on the wall, which should, of necessity, convey to the lady a thought of himself; but, though he had some skill with the pencil, he found his hand tremble so much when he began the attempt, that he was forced to give it up. . . .

Who lives, he dies; who dies, he is alive."

One evening, as he stood gazing on his treasure, he thought he saw a faint expression of self-consciousness on her countenance, as if she surmised that passionate eyes were fixed upon her. This grew; till at last the red blood rose over her neck, and cheek, and brow. Cosmo's longing to approach her became almost delirious. This night she was dressed in an evening costume, resplendent with diamonds. This could add nothing to her beauty, but it presented it in a new aspect; enabled her loveliness to make a new manifestation of itself in a new embodiment. For essential beauty is infinite; and, as the soul of Nature needs an endless succession of varied forms to embody her loveliness, countless faces of beauty springing forth, not any two the same, at any one of her heart-throbs; so the individual form needs an infinite change of its environments, to enable it to uncover all the phases of its loveliness. Diamonds glittered from amidst her hair, half hidden in its luxuriance, like stars through dark rain-clouds; and the bracelets on her white arms flashed all the colours of a rainbow of lightnings, as she lifted her snowy hands to cover her burning face. But her beauty shone down all its adornment. "If I might have but one of her feet to kiss," thought Cosmo, "I should be content." Alas! he deceived himself, for passion is never content. Nor did he know that there are two ways out of her enchanted house. But, suddenly, as if the pang had been driven into his heart from without, revealing itself first in pain, and afterwards in definite form, the thought darted into his mind, "She has a lover somewhere. Remembered words of his bring the colour on her face now. I am nowhere to her. She lives in another world all day, and all night, after she leaves me. Why does she come and make me love her, till I, a strong man, am too faint to look upon her more?" He looked again, and her face was pale as a lily. A sorrowful compassion seemed to rebuke the glitter of the restless jewels, and the slow tears rose in her eyes. She left her room sooner this evening than was her wont. Cosmo remained alone, with a feeling as if his bosom had been suddenly left empty and hollow, and the weight of the whole world was crushing in its walls. The next evening, for the first time since she began to come, she came not. And now Cosmo was in wretched plight. Since the thought of a rival had occurred to him, he could not rest for a moment. More than ever he longed to see the lady face to face. He persuaded himself that if he but knew the worst he would be satisfied; for then he could abandon Prague, and find that relief in constant motion, which is the hope of all active minds when invaded by distress. Meantime he waited with unspeakable anxiety for the next night, hoping she would return: but she did not appear. And now he fell really ill. Rallied by his fellow students on his wretched looks, he ceased to attend the lectures. His engagements were neglected. He cared for nothing, The sky, with the great sun in it, was to him a heartless, burning desert. The men and women in the streets were mere puppets, without motives in themselves, or interest to him. He saw them all as on the ever-changing field of a camera obscura. She--she alone and altogether--was his universe, his well of life, his incarnate good. For six evenings she came not. Let his absorbing passion, and the slow fever that was consuming his brain, be his excuse for the resolution which he had taken and begun to execute, before that time had expired. Reasoning with himself, that it must be by some enchantment connected with the mirror, that the form of the lady was to be seen in it, he determined to attempt to turn to account what he had hitherto studied principally from curiosity. "For," said he to himself, "if a spell can force her presence in that glass (and she came unwillingly at first), may not a stronger spell, such as I know, especially with the aid of her half-presence in the mirror, if ever she appears again, compel her living form to come to me here? If I do her wrong, let love be my excuse. I want only to know my doom from her own lips." He never doubted, all the time, that she was a real earthly woman; or, rather, that there was a woman, who, somehow or other, threw this reflection of her form into the magic mirror. He opened his secret drawer, took out his books of magic, lighted his lamp, and read and made notes from midnight till three in the morning, for three successive nights. Then he replaced his books; and the next night went out in quest of the materials necessary for the conjuration. These were not easy to find; for, in love-charms and all incantations of this nature, ingredients are employed scarcely fit to be mentioned, and for the thought even of which, in connexion with her, he could only excuse himself on the score of his bitter need. At length he succeeded in procuring all he required; and on the seventh evening from that on which she had last appeared, he found himself prepared for the exercise of unlawful and tyrannical power. He cleared the centre of the room; stooped and drew a circle of red on the floor, around the spot where he stood; wrote in the four quarters mystical signs, and numbers which were all powers of seven or nine; examined the whole ring carefully, to see that no smallest break had occurred in the circumference; and then rose from his bending posture. As he rose, the church clock struck seven; and, just as she had appeared the first time, reluctant, slow, and stately, glided in the lady. Cosmo trembled; and when, turning, she revealed a countenance worn and wan, as with sickness or inward trouble, he grew faint, and felt as if he dared not proceed. But as he gazed on the face and form, which now possessed his whole soul, to the exclusion of all other joys and griefs, the longing to speak to her, to know that she heard him, to hear from her one word in return, became so unendurable, that he suddenly and hastily resumed his preparations. Stepping carefully from the circle, he put a small brazier into its centre. He then set fire to its contents of charcoal, and while it burned up, opened his window and seated himself, waiting, beside it. It was a sultry evening. The air was full of thunder. A sense of luxurious depression filled the brain. The sky seemed to have grown heavy, and to compress the air beneath it. A kind of purplish tinge pervaded the atmosphere, and through the open window came the scents of the distant fields, which all the vapours of the city could not quench. Soon the charcoal glowed. Cosmo sprinkled upon it the incense and other substances which he had compounded, and, stepping within the circle, turned his face from the brazier and towards the mirror. Then, fixing his eyes upon the face of the lady, he began with a trembling voice to repeat a powerful incantation. He had not gone far, before the lady grew pale; and then, like a returning wave, the blood washed all its banks with its crimson tide, and she hid her face in her hands. Then he passed to a conjuration stronger yet. The lady rose and walked uneasily to and fro in her room. Another spell; and she seemed seeking with her eyes for some object on which they wished to rest. At length it seemed as if she suddenly espied him; for her eyes fixed themselves full and wide upon his, and she drew gradually, and somewhat unwillingly, close to her side of the mirror, just as if his eyes had fascinated her. Cosmo had never seen her so near before. Now at least, eyes met eyes; but he could not quite understand the expression of hers. They were full of tender entreaty, but there was something more that he could not interpret. Though his heart seemed to labour in his throat, he would allow no delight or agitation to turn him from his task. Looking still in her face, he passed on to the mightiest charm he knew. Suddenly the lady turned and walked out of the door of her reflected chamber. A moment after she entered his room with veritable presence; and, forgetting all his precautions, he sprang from the charmed circle, and knelt before her. There she stood, the living lady of his passionate visions, alone beside him, in a thundery twilight, and the glow of a magic fire. "Why," said the lady, with a trembling voice, "didst thou bring a poor maiden through the rainy streets alone?" "Because I am dying for love of thee; but I only brought thee from the mirror there." "Ah, the mirror!" and she looked up at it, and shuddered. "Alas! I am but a slave, while that mirror exists. But do not think it was the power of thy spells that drew me; it was thy longing desire to see me, that beat at the door of my heart, till I was forced to yield." "Canst thou love me then?" said Cosmo, in a voice calm as death, but almost inarticulate with emotion. "I do not know," she replied sadly; "that I cannot tell, so long as I am bewildered with enchantments. It were indeed a joy too great, to lay my head on thy bosom and weep to death; for I think thou lovest me, though I do not know;--but----" Cosmo rose from his knees. "I love thee as--nay, I know not what--for since I have loved thee, there is nothing else." He seized her hand: she withdrew it. "No, better not; I am in thy power, and therefore I may not." She burst into tears, and kneeling before him in her turn, said-- "Cosmo, if thou lovest me, set me free, even from thyself; break the mirror." "And shall I see thyself instead?" "That I cannot tell, I will not deceive thee; we may never meet again." A fierce struggle arose in Cosmo's bosom. Now she was in his power. She did not dislike him at least; and he could see her when he would. To break the mirror would be to destroy his very life to banish out of his universe the only glory it possessed. The whole world would be but a prison, if he annihilated the one window that looked into the paradise of love. Not yet pure in love, he hesitated. With a wail of sorrow the lady rose to her feet. "Ah! he loves me not; he loves me not even as I love him; and alas! I care more for his love than even for the freedom I ask." "I will not wait to be willing," cried Cosmo; and sprang to the corner where the great sword stood. Meantime it had grown very dark; only the embers cast a red glow through the room. He seized the sword by the steel scabbard, and stood before the mirror; but as he heaved a great blow at it with the heavy pommel, the blade slipped half-way out of the scabbard, and the pommel struck the wall above the mirror. At that moment, a terrible clap of thunder seemed to burst in the very room beside them; and ere Cosmo could repeat the blow, he fell senseless on the hearth. When he came to himself, he found that the lady and the mirror had both disappeared. He was seized with a brain fever, which kept him to his couch for weeks. When he recovered his reason, he began to think what could have become of the mirror. For the lady, he hoped she had found her way back as she came; but as the mirror involved her fate with its own, he was more immediately anxious about that. He could not think she had carried it away. It was much too heavy, even if it had not been too firmly fixed in the wall, for her to remove it. Then again, he remembered the thunder; which made him believe that it was not the lightning, but some other blow that had struck him down. He concluded that, either by supernatural agency, he having exposed himself to the vengeance of the demons in leaving the circle of safety, or in some other mode, the mirror had probably found its way back to its former owner; and, horrible to think of, might have been by this time once more disposed of, delivering up the lady into the power of another man; who, if he used his power no worse than he himself had done, might yet give Cosmo abundant cause to curse the selfish indecision which prevented him from shattering the mirror at once. Indeed, to think that she whom he loved, and who had prayed to him for freedom, should be still at the mercy, in some degree, of the possessor of the mirror, and was at least exposed to his constant observation, was in itself enough to madden a chary lover. Anxiety to be well retarded his recovery; but at length he was able to creep abroad. He first made his way to the old broker's, pretending to be in search of something else. A laughing sneer on the creature's face convinced him that he knew all about it; but he could not see it amongst his furniture, or get any information out of him as to what had become of it. He expressed the utmost surprise at hearing it had been stolen, a surprise which Cosmo saw at once to be counterfeited; while, at the same time, he fancied that the old wretch was not at all anxious to have it mistaken for genuine. Full of distress, which he concealed as well as he could, he made many searches, but with no avail. Of course he could ask no questions; but he kept his ears awake for any remotest hint that might set him in a direction of search. He never went out without a short heavy hammer of steel about him, that he might shatter the mirror the moment he was made happy by the sight of his lost treasure, if ever that blessed moment should arrive. Whether he should see the lady again, was now a thought altogether secondary, and postponed to the achievement of her freedom. He wandered here and there, like an anxious ghost, pale and haggard; gnawed ever at the heart, by the thought of what she might be suffering--all from his fault. One night, he mingled with a crowd that filled the rooms of one of the most distinguished mansions in the city; for he accepted every invitation, that he might lose no chance, however poor, of obtaining some information that might expedite his discovery. Here he wandered about, listening to every stray word that he could catch, in the hope of a revelation. As he approached some ladies who were talking quietly in a corner, one said to another: "Have you heard of the strange illness of the Princess von Hohenweiss?" "Yes; she has been ill for more than a year now. It is very sad for so fine a creature to have such a terrible malady. She was better for some weeks lately, but within the last few days the same attacks have returned, apparently accompanied with more suffering than ever. It is altogether an inexplicable story." "Is there a story connected with her illness?" "I have only heard imperfect reports of it; but it is said that she gave offence some eighteen months ago to an old woman who had held an office of trust in the family, and who, after some incoherent threats, disappeared. This peculiar affection followed soon after. But the strangest part of the story is its association with the loss of an antique mirror, which stood in her dressing-room, and of which she constantly made use." Here the speaker's voice sank to a whisper; and Cosmo, although his very soul sat listening in his ears, could hear no more. He trembled too much to dare to address the ladies, even if it had been advisable to expose himself to their curiosity. The name of the Princess was well known to him, but he had never seen her; except indeed it was she, which now he hardly doubted, who had knelt before him on that dreadful night. Fearful of attracting attention, for, from the weak state of his health, he could not recover an appearance of calmness, he made his way to the open air, and reached his lodgings; glad in this, that he at least knew where she lived, although he never dreamed of approaching her openly, even if he should be happy enough to free her from her hateful bondage. He hoped, too, that as he had unexpectedly learned so much, the other and far more important part might be revealed to him ere long.

* * * * * * *

Have you seen Steinwald lately?"

No, I have not seen him for some time. He is almost a match for me at the rapier, and I suppose he thinks he needs no more lessons."

I wonder what has become of him. I want to see him very much. Let me see; the last time I saw him he was coming out of that old broker's den, to which, if you remember, you accompanied me once, to look at some armour. That is fully three weeks ago."

This hint was enough for Cosmo. Von Steinwald was a man of influence in the court, well known for his reckless habits and fierce passions. The very possibility that the mirror should be in his possession was hell itself to Cosmo. But violent or hasty measures of any sort were most unlikely to succeed. All that he wanted was an opportunity of breaking the fatal glass; and to obtain this he must bide his time. He revolved many plans in his mind, but without being able to fix upon any.

At length, one evening, as he was passing the house of Von Steinwald, he saw the windows more than usually brilliant. He watched for a while, and seeing that company began to arrive, hastened home, and dressed as richly as he could, in the hope of mingling with the guests unquestioned: in effecting which, there could be no difficulty for a man of his carriage.

* * * * * * *

In a lofty, silent chamber, in another part of the city, lay a form more like marble than a living woman. The loveliness of death seemed frozen upon her face, for her lips were rigid, and her eyelids closed. Her long white hands were crossed over her breast, and no breathing disturbed their repose. Beside the dead, men speak in whispers, as if the deepest rest of all could be broken by the sound of a living voice. Just so, though the soul was evidently beyond the reach of all intimations from the senses, the two ladies, who sat beside her, spoke in the gentlest tones of subdued sorrow. "She has lain so for an hour."

This cannot last long, I fear."

How much thinner she has grown within the last few weeks! If she would only speak, and explain what she suffers, it would be better for her. I think she has visions in her trances, but nothing can induce her to refer to them when she is awake."

Does she ever speak in these trances?"

I have never heard her; but they say she walks sometimes, and once put the whole household in a terrible fright by disappearing for a whole hour, and returning drenched with rain, and almost dead with exhaustion and fright. But even then she would give no account of what had happened."

A scarce audible murmur from the yet motionless lips of the lady here startled her attendants. After several ineffectual attempts at articulation, the word "Cosmo!" burst from her. Then she lay still as before; but only for a moment. With a wild cry, she sprang from the couch erect on the floor, flung her arms above her head, with clasped and straining hands, and, her wide eyes flashing with light, called aloud, with a voice exultant as that of a spirit bursting from a sepulchre, "I am free! I am free! I thank thee!" Then she flung herself on the couch, and sobbed; then rose, and paced wildly up and down the room, with gestures of mingled delight and anxiety. Then turning to her motionless attendants--"Quick, Lisa, my cloak and hood!" Then lower--"I must go to him. Make haste, Lisa! You may come with me, if you will."

In another moment they were in the street, hurrying along towards one of the bridges over the Moldau. The moon was near the zenith, and the streets were almost empty. The Princess soon outstripped her attendant, and was half-way over the bridge, before the other reached it.

Are you free, lady? The mirror is broken: are you free?"

The words were spoken close beside her, as she hurried on. She turned; and there, leaning on the parapet in a recess of the bridge, stood Cosmo, in a splendid dress, but with a white and quivering face.

Cosmo!--I am free--and thy servant for ever. I was coming to you now."

And I to you, for Death made me bold; but I could get no further. Have I atoned at all? Do I love you a little--truly?"

Ah, I know now that you love me, my Cosmo; but what do you say about death?"

He did not reply. His hand was pressed against his side. She looked more closely: the blood was welling from between the fingers. She flung her arms around him with a faint bitter wail.

When Lisa came up, she found her mistress kneeling above a wan dead face, which smiled on in the spectral moonbeams.

And now I will say no more about these wondrous volumes; though I could tell many a tale out of them, and could, perhaps, vaguely represent some entrancing thoughts of a deeper kind which I found within them. From many a sultry noon till twilight, did I sit in that grand hall, buried and risen again in these old books. And I trust I have carried away in my soul some of the exhalations of their undying leaves. In after hours of deserved or needful sorrow, portions of what I read there have often come to me again, with an unexpected comforting; which was not fruitless, even though the comfort might seem in itself groundless and vain.
(to be continued)

The Wood Between the Worlds
from 'The Magician's Nephew' by C. S. Lewis
Photos by Bob Kirchman

Wood Between the Worlds

Wood Between the Worlds

Wood Between the Worlds
A rainy day in Augusta Wetlands evokes imagery from C. S. Lewis.

Sunset at Twenty Minute Cliff. Photo by Bob Kirchman.

A Case for Vision
Some Thoughts for Our Times

(The first in a series of articles originally presented in January of 2014)

The day was growing long as the evening light outside was fading away. I was installing the model our studio had built of a major resort in the welcome center. At 1" = 500' the physical model showed ski slopes, golf courses and a wonderful water park on a most amazing mountain location. The staff had quietly slipped in and out to look at the artistic rendition of the resort's majesty and many had expressed their admiration. I was hurrying to place the identifying numbers for the map key when I first noticed that I had an audience. Two teenagers had come in to look at the model up close. Their parents were already headed in to the indoor pool area but even the wonders of a world-class resort couldn't stop youth from being intrigued by a statement of vision.

One of the girls gazed at the model with what appeared to be skills of observation beyond her years. There was no need for the admonition: "Don't touch anything!" In fact, I would have considered it an insult. Both sisters displayed incredible respect for the work taking place before them. Though the first girl was quite conversant in literature (how many kids can use the words 'Utopian' and 'Distopian' in their conversation); Homeschoolers? Perhaps, but I didn't ask. Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling were better topics for conversation. The girls had clearly been raised to treasure literature and thought. That they lingered when a really fun moment awaited them through the next doorway spoke volumes to me. Young people (and I have been priviledged to work with the best in our studio) want to see vision and deserve to be shown our best efforts at it.

Most of my life has been spent in the field of visualization. It has involved constructing hundreds of little models of proposed projects, the drawing and painting of innumerable renderings and as the economy recently crumbled, some really interesting publishing projects. Vision is as essential to the soul as food is to the body, so, as S. Truitt Cathy says: "Make it good!" It is in our blood. It is a part of our history.

Michigan at the turn of the Century was poised to become a center of vision and innovation. My own ancestors fled Bavaria in 1870 as Otto von Bismark 'unified' Germany. They came to the American Northwest to settle in that cold land, finding employment on the growing railroad. The men set out first, seeking their fortunes, and saved their money to bring their ladies to the New World. When Oma arrived, she quickly decided she didn't like the boys working on Sunday, so they found work in Bay City's growing sawmill industry. Eventually Bay City would become known for pre-manufactured houses as Aladdin Homes and Lewis Homes would enter the market that Sears Roebuck is most famous for. The companies grew well into the Twentieth Century, but faltered during America's Great Depression.

Ironically it was during this same Depression, South of Bay City in Detroit, that Henry Ford's assembly line was creating an American version of the 'Industrial Revolution.' For a good portion of the Twentieth Century, Detroit was the automobile production center of the world. Across the 'glove,' in Benton Harbor, the Heath Company [click to read] began manufacturing a 'build it yourself' airplane kit. Expanding into consumer electronics, Heath offered a whole range of kits for enthusiasts who wanted to build their own radios and electronic devices. Heathkit became a legend as scores of people assembled and enjoyed these products. My father and I must have assembled dozens of them in my youth. My two brothers went on to become NASA engineers!

As Detroit diminished and Asian and European auto makers grew, one of my uncles worked for John Portman creating the great towers of Detroit's Renaissance Center. Today those gleaming towers preside over a city in decline. As Japanese and Korean companies remade the assembly line, Detroit's 'Big Three' were hobbled by antiquated methodology and union work rules. They had operated without fear of competition for so long that they came too late to the world of robotics and subcompact cars.

Great minds like that of Lee Iococca might have remade her, but Detroit was stubborn about resisting change and forgot about the deep well of her inventive past. It was not so much that they were 'stuck in the past' but that they were 'stuck in their own Century!' Had they looked to the past, they might have seen the transformation wrought in previous times by men like I. K. Brunel [click to read]. If some day we find ourselves gliding rapidly between cities in pneumatic tube transit systems, we will do well to remember that Brunel was there first. He used a pneumatic tube and piston to propel trains on one of his innovative railways in the Nineteenth Century!

The time was growing late. I asked my young observers a loaded question: "Why are there no books on how to teach your baby to walk?" They looked at me with a serious rumination I had often seen in the countenance of my studio assistant when I'd pose such a problem. "You don't need them!" one of the girls thoughtfully answered. She went on to explain that babies naturally want to stand and reach out to their full potential. "Why do we lose that?" I pondered. "Does it get 'taught out of us' as we move on to more formal instruction?"

And yet, it can be rekindled! It can be nurtured! As a boy I spent hours in the woods observing the wonders of the natural world. In 1964 the New York Worlds Fair inspired me to draw impossible built environments. Men walked on the Moon. My grandfather designed and built his own machinery for his mill. My grandmother was a great painter and designer. My mother loved mathematics and designing sweater patterns. My father wrote the procedures for testing spacecraft in the 1960's. Once Mom took me to visit a friend of hers who sculpted in white marble. Her friend encouraged me to work in Ivory Soap!

I do not consider my childhood to be all that out of the ordinary. This world is FULL of beautiful creative souls, most of whom LOVE to share their vision with young people. If it IS at all out of the ordinary, then I believe we are to blame for not allowing our children to come alongside and be infected by our brightest and best. History offers us even more. Consider the Wright Brothers [click to read]. Too often we've turned history class into: "What's Wrong with America" and neglected the stories of inspiration and greatness. That is not to say we should ignore the dark parts, but we must never create a picture of hopelessness and despair. There is too much evidence to the contrary!

My wife is an educator of young children. She once shared with me some research about early childhood development that focused on infants in an orphanage in Tehran. The staff was spread so thin that the children were merely fed and changed. There was no time to hold and cuddle the infants. Far too many of these precious souls never rose to crawl. They never pulled upright to walk. They simply died. The study affirmed the importance of nurture in young lives, and begs us to ask: "As we push our children to conformity and 'productivity,' do we unwittingly cease to nourish some essential part of the soul?" Could Vision be the essential food for human aspiration?

As much of the media has been all too ready to report the demise of the American experiment, THYME looks at these fine young people and looks to offer them far more. We'd like to present a vision that is rooted in history and faith, that dares them to dream big dreams. The world needs them to do so, We can offer them no less!
(to be continued)


The Reckless Engineer
short Story by Bob Kirchman

And all the people without dreams
Oh they laughed and oh they mocked in vain
You never needed monuments
Look at the Cornish sky and Bristol gorges”
-- Coast, ‘The Reckless Engineer’

Better drink up” the bartender said. “This is the last pub in the Western Hemisphere. Diomedes are dry and there’s only cheap vodka for 2000 miles after that.” The young couple, who were staying at the hotel complex in Wales, AK, were anxious about the next phase of their ‘Around the World’ tour. There was only an older gentleman sitting there with them in a corner of the room… nursing a gin and tonic as he sat musing. “He might be able to tell us,” the young woman opined.

Sure enough, the question as to the unusual name of the establishment caught his attention.

The Reckless Engineer... hmmmm, where do I begin. Well, the reference is to a gentleman who lived in the Nineteenth Century. He was Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Most people in the New World don’t have a clue, but the Brits revere him. He basically built the modern infrastructure of a great empire… railroads, tunnels, bridges, and great ocean-going ships! But it was a tunnel that almost killed him before his time.”

His father, Mark Brunel was a French expat and an inventor. He came up with a method of tunneling underwater and set to work to prove it by tunneling under the Thames. It still exists. It is part of the London Underground, but it was a daring move in the day it was built. The biggest problem was the uncertain composition of the earth under the river. It had been dredged and had unmapped holes in it. The younger Brunel was in charge of a crew excavating the bore and when water rushed into the tunnel, he was almost swept to a certain death. His assistant, a Mr. Beamish, plucked the young man to safety. Several colleagues who were with him were not so fortunate. They drowned in the rush of river water and sewage that flooded the tunnel.

Young Isambard went to the seacoast city of Bristol to recuperate. But he was not the sort to relax on holiday so he entered a competition to design a bridge to span the Avon Gorge there. Mind you, he’d never designed a bridge in his life, but he came up with several beautiful renderings for a suspension bridge over the gorge. Britain’s great engineer, Thomas Telford was to judge the contest. He rejected all of the entries and supmitted his own proposal. The people of Bristol hated it. In the end, Brunel’s beautiful design was chosen. The gorge was high and Brunel built a cable ferry to transport men and materials across it. Once when the basket snagged on the cable, young Isambard climbed out of the basket and hung precariously while he freed the mechanism. There is a pub in Bristol by the railway station that was the first to be named ‘The Reckless Engineer.’

But why is this place, at the end of the world, also named ‘The Reckless Engineer’?” the young woman asked.

The Twenty-first Century was not so much unlike the Nineteenth,” the old man said. “After a period of great prosperity followed by great uncertainty, another engineer, perhaps not so young stood on the coast of Wales here, about to embark on the project that linked two continents. I’ll tell you a secret… HE’d never designed a bridge either. His Daughter and her husband provided most of the brain power for the actual design. The team of O’Malley and O’Malley are the real force behind the great bridge. Rupert Zimmerman was more of a showman. He convinced investors to back what was then a rather audacious undertaking. His daughter Elizabeth created beautiful renderings following the design laid out by her more practical husband.

And so, camped on the shore right where this hotel stands, Zimmerman and Martin O’Malley camped to survey the scene of their great work. If you go to the cheesy ‘Rupert Zimmerman Museum’ here in Wales, they’ll tell you how they heroically survived a fire that destroyed their tent and their provisions. They used their survival training to last the week there and returned to Nome as something of a sensation… but that is not the true story. O’Malley and Zimmerman stood on the shore of the Strait, drinking prodigious quantities of their favorite beer as they toasted their new venture.

They decided to go for a swim in the Strait. They didn’t think about how cold the water was and when they fumbled to build a fire they succeeded in burning up their tent!”

So, what about the part about him being in the war and all… what really happened there?”

Well, he really did lose a leg fighting in the battle of Anchorage and he went to Nome to recuperate. He idea for the great bridge came to him there and as his daughter came to Nome to care for him, she really did meet and marry O’Malley. They get that part right.”

And the part about him riding out the great storm on the partially built span?”

True as well, but I think Zimmerman really believed in the cable anchoring system and the pontoon span’s integrity. Soon enough the motoring public would be trusting the same system… not really as heroic as they make it out to be.”

And his childhood, hopping freight trains and all…”

Can’t deny it. I don’t think he was as brave as they make him out to be. Still, we’d all agree that he had a pretty amazing life.”

So, what’s next for him. The bridge just opened this past November. Now you can actually drive to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s England on a highway. What does a man like that do… I guess he can retire and take life easy. Say, is it true that Brunel and Zimmerman were both short in stature and somehow driven by insecurity about it?”

I can’t speak personally for Brunel but I think you pretty well nailed it.”

The night passed quickly. The old man was a repository for so much information about the bridge and its construction. But he asked the young couple to tell their story as well. They somewhat nervously said that they had decided to embark on this adventure but that they had applied to the School of Engineering and Operations run by the Zimmerman organization in Wales. “I doubt if we have a shot at it, but we had to give it a try.” the young woman added. We met at Virginia Tech and discovered that we were more like this Brunel… reckless and all, than most of our colleagues. Sir, are you familiar at all with the school here?”

Oh, I know a thing or two about it.” The old man replied.

Is it true that they went back to the old bench-test and physical model methods from the old U.S. Space Program?” “Yes, it is true, and when you are there you will study these methods as well.”

The evening was growing late. The young woman remarked that she wished it possible that they could somehow find a way to get a ‘hard hat’ tour of the new biosphere being built on Big Diomede the next morning. “We’re staying here several days.” I don’t know who would be able to arrange that. If we could afford it, we’d be happy to pay.”

The old man wrote a phone number on a cocktail napkin and handed it to her. “Call this number in the morning, and depending on how long you are here for, you could see the new biosphere and some of the inner workings of the bridge as well.”

Oh, thank you so much! We’ll call first thing in the morning. You know we’d love to see as much as they are willing to show us! Say, who should we ask for, Mr… oh, I’m so sorry, I never learned YOUR name?”

Rupert,” the man responded, “Rupert Zimmerman, and I am quite pleased to meet you both.”
(to be continued) 
© 2017 The Kirchman Studio, All rights reserved.

The Reckless engineer, available at:

Pushing the Boundaries
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
[click to read]

This special programme on the work of Isambard Kingdom Brunel covers some of his lesser known projects, such as small railway stations and a military hospital. The Atmospheric Railway is also mentioned in some detail. (read more)


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Phantasies by George MacDonald

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume XII, Issue XVIII

By George MacDonald, Chapter 12

Chained is the Spring. The night-wind bold
Blows over the hard earth;
Time is not more confused and cold,
Nor keeps more wintry mirth.

Yet blow, and roll the world about;
Blow, Time--blow, winter's Wind!
Through chinks of Time, heaven peepeth out,
And Spring the frost behind."
~ G. E. M.

They who believe in the influences of the stars over the fates of men, are, in feeling at least, nearer the truth than they who regard the heavenly bodies as related to them merely by a common obedience to an external law. All that man sees has to do with man. Worlds cannot be without an intermundane relationship. The community of the centre of all creation suggests an interradiating connection and dependence of the parts. Else a grander idea is conceivable than that which is already imbodied. The blank, which is only a forgotten life, lying behind the consciousness, and the misty splendour, which is an undeveloped life, lying before it, may be full of mysterious revelations of other connexions with the worlds around us, than those of science and poetry. No shining belt or gleaming moon, no red and green glory in a self-encircling twin-star, but has a relation with the hidden things of a man's soul, and, it may be, with the secret history of his body as well. They are portions of the living house wherein he abides.

Through the realms of the monarch Sun
Creeps a world, whose course had begun,
On a weary path with a weary pace,
Before the Earth sprang forth on her race:
But many a time the Earth had sped
Around the path she still must tread,
Ere the elder planet, on leaden wing,
Once circled the court of the planet's king.

There, in that lonely and distant star,
The seasons are not as our seasons are;
But many a year hath Autumn to dress
The trees in their matron loveliness;
As long hath old Winter in triumph to go
O'er beauties dead in his vaults below;
And many a year the Spring doth wear
Combing the icicles from her hair;
And Summer, dear Summer, hath years of June,
With large white clouds, and cool showers at noon:
And a beauty that grows to a weight like grief,
Till a burst of tears is the heart's relief.

Children, born when Winter is king,
May never rejoice in the hoping Spring;
Though their own heart-buds are bursting with joy,
And the child hath grown to the girl or boy;
But may die with cold and icy hours
Watching them ever in place of flowers.
And some who awake from their primal sleep,
When the sighs of Summer through forests creep,
Live, and love, and are loved again;
Seek for pleasure, and find its pain;
Sink to their last, their forsaken sleeping,
With the same sweet odours around them creeping.

Now the children, there, are not born as the children are born in worlds nearer to the sun. For they arrive no one knows how. A maiden, walking alone, hears a cry: for even there a cry is the first utterance; and searching about, she findeth, under an overhanging rock, or within a clump of bushes, or, it may be, betwixt gray stones on the side of a hill, or in any other sheltered and unexpected spot, a little child. This she taketh tenderly, and beareth home with joy, calling out, "Mother, mother"--if so be that her mother lives--"I have got a baby--I have found a child!" All the household gathers round to see;--"Where is it? What is it like? Where did you find it?" and such-like questions, abounding. And thereupon she relates the whole story of the discovery; for by the circumstances, such as season of the year, time of the day, condition of the air, and such like, and, especially, the peculiar and never-repeated aspect of the heavens and earth at the time, and the nature of the place of shelter wherein it is found, is determined, or at least indicated, the nature of the child thus discovered. Therefore, at certain seasons, and in certain states of the weather, according, in part, to their own fancy, the young women go out to look for children. They generally avoid seeking them, though they cannot help sometimes finding them, in places and with circumstances uncongenial to their peculiar likings. But no sooner is a child found, than its claim for protection and nurture obliterates all feeling of choice in the matter. Chiefly, however, in the season of summer, which lasts so long, coming as it does after such long intervals; and mostly in the warm evenings, about the middle of twilight; and principally in the woods and along the river banks, do the maidens go looking for children just as children look for flowers. And ever as the child grows, yea, more and more as he advances in years, will his face indicate to those who understand the spirit of Nature, and her utterances in the face of the world, the nature of the place of his birth, and the other circumstances thereof; whether a clear morning sun guided his mother to the nook whence issued the boy's low cry; or at eve the lonely maiden (for the same woman never finds a second, at least while the first lives) discovers the girl by the glimmer of her white skin, lying in a nest like that of the lark, amid long encircling grasses, and the upward-gazing eyes of the lowly daisies; whether the storm bowed the forest trees around, or the still frost fixed in silence the else flowing and babbling stream.

After they grow up, the men and women are but little together. There is this peculiar difference between them, which likewise distinguishes the women from those of the earth. The men alone have arms; the women have only wings. Resplendent wings are they, wherein they can shroud themselves from head to foot in a panoply of glistering glory. By these wings alone, it may frequently be judged in what seasons, and under what aspects, they were born. From those that came in winter, go great white wings, white as snow; the edge of every feather shining like the sheen of silver, so that they flash and glitter like frost in the sun. But underneath, they are tinged with a faint pink or rose-colour. Those born in spring have wings of a brilliant green, green as grass; and towards the edges the feathers are enamelled like the surface of the grass-blades. These again are white within. Those that are born in summer have wings of a deep rose-colour, lined with pale gold. And those born in autumn have purple wings, with a rich brown on the inside. But these colours are modified and altered in all varieties, corresponding to the mood of the day and hour, as well as the season of the year; and sometimes I found the various colours so intermingled, that I could not determine even the season, though doubtless the hieroglyphic could be deciphered by more experienced eyes. One splendour, in particular, I remember--wings of deep carmine, with an inner down of warm gray, around a form of brilliant whiteness. She had been found as the sun went down through a low sea-fog, casting crimson along a broad sea-path into a little cave on the shore, where a bathing maiden saw her lying. But though I speak of sun and fog, and sea and shore, the world there is in some respects very different from the earth whereon men live. For instance, the waters reflect no forms. To the unaccustomed eye they appear, if undisturbed, like the surface of a dark metal, only that the latter would reflect indistinctly, whereas they reflect not at all, except light which falls immediately upon them. This has a great effect in causing the landscapes to differ from those on the earth. On the stillest evening, no tall ship on the sea sends a long wavering reflection almost to the feet of him on shore; the face of no maiden brightens at its own beauty in a still forest-well. The sun and moon alone make a glitter on the surface. The sea is like a sea of death, ready to ingulf and never to reveal: a visible shadow of oblivion. Yet the women sport in its waters like gorgeous sea-birds. The men more rarely enter them. But, on the contrary, the sky reflects everything beneath it, as if it were built of water like ours. Of course, from its concavity there is some distortion of the reflected objects; yet wondrous combinations of form are often to be seen in the overhanging depth. And then it is not shaped so much like a round dome as the sky of the earth, but, more of an egg-shape, rises to a great towering height in the middle, appearing far more lofty than the other. When the stars come out at night, it shows a mighty cupola, "fretted with golden fires," wherein there is room for all tempests to rush and rave.

One evening in early summer, I stood with a group of men and women on a steep rock that overhung the sea. They were all questioning me about my world and the ways thereof. In making reply to one of their questions, I was compelled to say that children are not born in the Earth as with them. Upon this I was assailed with a whole battery of inquiries, which at first I tried to avoid; but, at last, I was compelled, in the vaguest manner I could invent, to make some approach to the subject in question. Immediately a dim notion of what I meant, seemed to dawn in the minds of most of the women. Some of them folded their great wings all around them, as they generally do when in the least offended, and stood erect and motionless. One spread out her rosy pinions, and flashed from the promontory into the gulf at its foot. A great light shone in the eyes of one maiden, who turned and walked slowly away, with her purple and white wings half dispread behind her. She was found, the next morning, dead beneath a withered tree on a bare hill-side, some miles inland. They buried her where she lay, as is their custom; for, before they die, they instinctively search for a spot like the place of their birth, and having found one that satisfies them, they lie down, fold their wings around them, if they be women, or cross their arms over their breasts, if they are men, just as if they were going to sleep; and so sleep indeed. The sign or cause of coming death is an indescribable longing for something, they know not what, which seizes them, and drives them into solitude, consuming them within, till the body fails. When a youth and a maiden look too deep into each other's eyes, this longing seizes and possesses them; but instead of drawing nearer to each other, they wander away, each alone, into solitary places, and die of their desire. But it seems to me, that thereafter they are born babes upon our earth: where, if, when grown, they find each other, it goes well with them; if not, it will seem to go ill. But of this I know nothing. When I told them that the women on the Earth had not wings like them, but arms, they stared, and said how bold and masculine they must look; not knowing that their wings, glorious as they are, are but undeveloped arms.

But see the power of this book, that, while recounting what I can recall of its contents, I write as if myself had visited the far-off planet, learned its ways and appearances, and conversed with its men and women. And so, while writing, it seemed to me that I had. The book goes on with the story of a maiden, who, born at the close of autumn, and living in a long, to her endless winter, set out at last to find the regions of spring; for, as in our earth, the seasons are divided over the globe. It begins something like this:

She watched them dying for many a day,
Dropping from off the old trees away,
One by one; or else in a shower
Crowding over the withered flower
For as if they had done some grievous wrong,
The sun, that had nursed them and loved them so long,
Grew weary of loving, and, turning back,
Hastened away on his southern track;
And helplessly hung each shrivelled leaf,
Faded away with an idle grief.
And the gusts of wind, sad Autumn's sighs,
Mournfully swept through their families;
Casting away with a helpless moan
All that he yet might call his own,
As the child, when his bird is gone for ever,
Flingeth the cage on the wandering river.
And the giant trees, as bare as Death,
Slowly bowed to the great Wind's breath;
And groaned with trying to keep from groaning
Amidst the young trees bending and moaning.
And the ancient planet's mighty sea
Was heaving and falling most restlessly,
And the tops of the waves were broken and white,
Tossing about to ease their might;
And the river was striving to reach the main,
And the ripple was hurrying back again.
Nature lived in sadness now;
Sadness lived on the maiden's brow,
As she watched, with a fixed, half-conscious eye,
One lonely leaf that trembled on high,
Till it dropped at last from the desolate bough--
Sorrow, oh, sorrow! 'tis winter now.
And her tears gushed forth, though it was but a leaf,
For little will loose the swollen fountain of grief:
When up to the lip the water goes,
It needs but a drop, and it overflows.

Oh! many and many a dreary year
Must pass away ere the buds appear:
Many a night of darksome sorrow
Yield to the light of a joyless morrow,
Ere birds again, on the clothed trees
, Shall fill the branches with melodies.
She will dream of meadows with wakeful streams;
Of wavy grass in the sunny beams;
Of hidden wells that soundless spring,
Hoarding their joy as a holy thing;
Of founts that tell it all day long
To the listening woods, with exultant song;
She will dream of evenings that die into nights,
Where each sense is filled with its own delights,
And the soul is still as the vaulted sky,
Lulled with an inner harmony;

And the flowers give out to the dewy night,
Changed into perfume, the gathered light;
And the darkness sinks upon all their host,
Till the sun sail up on the eastern coast--
She will wake and see the branches bare,
Weaving a net in the frozen air.

The story goes on to tell how, at last, weary with wintriness, she travelled towards the southern regions of her globe, to meet the spring on its slow way northwards; and how, after many sad adventures, many disappointed hopes, and many tears, bitter and fruitless, she found at last, one stormy afternoon, in a leafless forest, a single snowdrop growing betwixt the borders of the winter and spring. She lay down beside it and died. I almost believe that a child, pale and peaceful as a snowdrop, was born in the Earth within a fixed season from that stormy afternoon.
(to be continued)

Building Bridges

A history of bridge building.

PONTIFUS, The Bridge Builder's Tale
[click to read]

The History of Serial Fiction

Serials have existed in fiction for a very long time. Books were expensive back in the 19th century, so they were printed in installments in order to keep the price low. Charles Dickens, often heralded as one of the greatest early self-publishers, was also one of the most successful writers of serialized fiction. Another big name, Alexandre Dumas, was a very prolific serial novelist, publishing both The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers in serial format. In fact, serialization worked so well, it was considered the way to go by popular authors during the time." -- Samantha Warren

THYME Magazine presents, in serial form, the story of a man who challenged the proposition that something he wanted to achieve was "impossible." Based on history, depicted in the future, Pontifus is a tale of human triumph in the face of challenges such as face us today. (read more)

Sunlight reflects from the biosphere domes of Big Diomede in this photograph of the Bering Strait Bridge from space.

The twin spans of the Bering Strait Bridge. The original span (closest) is the Charles Alton Ellis Memorial Bridge. The second span is the Joseph Baermann Strauss Memorial Bridge.

The twin spans stretching to the West and Asia.

Alaska A2.

Copyright © 2017, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
Stone Bridges Built to Endure

B&O Valley Railroad

B&O Valley Railroad

B&O Valley Railroad
The Valley Railroad, a branch of the Baltimore and Ohio, once ran all the way to Lexington, Virginia crossing this fine stone bridge. Photos by Bob Kirchman.

Although American railroads became known for wooden trestles and iron bridges, it is worth noting that the engineers of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad built fine stone bridges with smooth roman arches in the early days of the railroad. Two particularly fine examples are this bridge near Staunton, Virginia and the Thomas Viaduct on the road between Baltimore and Washington DC which still carries trains today.

The Thomas Viaduct spans the Patapsco River and Patapsco Valley between Relay and Elkridge, Maryland, USA. It was commissioned by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; built between July 4, 1833, and July 4, 1835; and named for Philip E. Thomas, the company's first president.

At its completion, the Thomas Viaduct was the largest bridge in the United States and the country's first multi-span masonry railroad bridge to be built on a curve. It remains the world's oldest multiple arched stone railroad bridge. In 1964, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

The viaduct is now owned and operated by CSX Transportation and still in use today, making it one of the oldest railroad bridges still in service.

This Roman-arch stone bridge is divided into eight spans. It was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, II, then B and O's assistant engineer and later its chief engineer. The main design problem to overcome was that of constructing such a large bridge on a curve. The design called for several variations in span and pier widths between the opposite sides of the structure. This problem was solved by having the lateral pier faces laid out on radial lines, making the piers essentially wedge-shaped and fitted to the 4-degree curve.

The viaduct was built by John McCartney of Ohio, who received the contract after completing the Patterson Viaduct. Caspar Wever, the railroad's chief of construction, supervised the work.

The span of the viaduct is 612 feet (187 m) long; the individual arches are roughly 58 feet (18 m) in span, with a height of 59 feet (18 m) from the water level to the base of the rail. The width at the top of the spandrel wall copings is 26 feet 4 inches (8 m). The bridge is constructed using a rough-dressed Maryland granite ashlar from Patapsco River quarries, known as Woodstock granite.[6] A wooden-floored walkway built for pedestrian and railway employee use is four feet wide and supported by cast iron brackets and edged with ornamental cast iron railings. The viaduct contains 24,476 cubic yards (18,713 m3) of masonry and cost $142,236.51, an estimated $2,769,917.36 in 2007 dollars. [Wikipedia]

The Thomas Viaduct across the Patapsco River. Library of Congress Photo. [1.]

Riding Railroading's Romantic Beginnings
Wind Power on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad

Sailcar Outing
AEolus sails down the Baltimore and Ohio tracks. From the Collections of the B and O Railroad Museum, used with permission.

A recent CSX Transportation radio spot invites canines in cars to "ride the wind, doggies!" It is a reference to the open roads created by CSX trains taking freight off the highways and a doggie's desire to ride in a car with his head sticking out of the open window. Railroading's early days briefly offered another opportunity to "ride the wind" as a unique experiment in motive power took place on America's first operating rail line.

In the early days of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the motive power was provided by horses. The carriages were pulled along the tracks by fine animals selected for this purpose. The building that housed stables and a blacksmith shop in Ellicott's Mills still stands. But horsepower would soon become a standard instead of a literal fact. Peter Cooper's small locomotive with its upright boiler would define the future of railroading. Still, there was a brief period in railroad history where passengers could literally ride the wind.

Evan Thomas of Baltimore constructed an experimental wicker car with a sail which he named the "AEolus." When there was enough wind blowing in direction to make it functional it was operated on the tracks between Baltimore and Ellicott's Mills.

The Russian Ambassador, Baron de Krudner came to observe the operationof the experimental car and actually handled the sail on the trip. He was presented by the President of the railroad with a model of the car. This led to an exchange of American engineers who helped construct Russia's rail system.

The demonstration of Cooper's steam locomotive set the direction for railroad operation. The Fourth Annual Report of the B and O Railroad in 1830 states:

Experience with regard to the celerity of the conveyance of passengers during the preceeding four months on the first 13 miles of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, is of the most cheerful and convincing character. The practicability of maintaining a speed of 10 miles per hour with horses has been exhibited. With proper relays,this rate of traveling may be continued through any length of railway, the ascent and descents of which shall not exceed about 30 feet per mile.

Within the last few months, the improvements to locomotive steam engines have been such as to insure their general use on all railways of suitable gradation, and where fuel is cheap." [2.]

Wood and coal would fuel the first boilers. Riding the train could be a dirty experience as smoke and cinders wreaked havoc on the wardrobes of female travelers. Clean coal was used and promoted by the New York Central in this little rhyme:

Says Phoebe Snow
about to go
upon a trip to Buffalo
"My gown stays white
from morn till night
Upon the Road of Anthracite"

The modern railroad saw the use of diesel and electric power. Welded rails and modern track alignment would finally create the illusion of a smooth and effortless glide down the tracks.

21st Century railroads would like to harness the energy of wind farms to power their catenaries [the overhead wires providing power to locomotives], but even now, as during the Nineteenth Century, the winds remain as fickle as they are romantic.

2. The early motive power of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad By Joseph Snowden Bell, p. 5.

1858 Engraving of the Thomas Viaduct on the then Baltimore and Washington Railroad, a subsidiary of the Baltimore and Ohio. 
 Engraving from The United States Illustrated, Charles A. Dana, Editor, c. 1858. Retrieved from Historic American Engineering Record; Library of Congress [3.]

Viaduct of the Baltimore and Washington Railroad
from The United States Illustrated, Charles A. Dana, Editor, c. 1858

The traveler may well discern in the viaduct of a railroad, a monumental atonement on the part of surveyors and engineers for the injuries their labors elsewhere inflict upon the picturesque beauty of the landscape. Who has not hailed with delight, upon many a railway, the passage over some viaduct, and welcomed it amid the journey through dust and cinders, as the pilgrim over the African desert welcomes the oasis and its well of crystal water? Underneath, tons of smoothly hewn granite press deeply into the bed of the river, a whiff of whose cooling vapor, at least, comes into the passenger’s nostrils, as he dashes over a superstructure, the length of which would have been the admiration of the Romans, whose creek like Tiber might have provoked the sneer of a “go ahead” engineer.

The “Pons Narniensis,” whose framer was the imperial Augustus; the arches of Trajan over the Danube, and the bridge of Alcántara across the Spanish Tagus, have long been famous in ancient history, whilst America, for the accommodation of no imperial cortege, but of the masses of the people, has rivalled them all in her numerous railroad viaducts, and especially in the Starrucca Viaduct upon the Erie Railroad.

The one given in the engraving was of the first built in the country, although exceeded by the one above named in length, breadth, height, and the span of the arches, it is not surpassed for beauty of location and compactness of execution. But alas, by only one or two of the thousand passengers who rush along its surface, is this beauty and compactness noticed. Now and then a passenger drops off at the neighboring station, intent upon converting his walking staff into a fishing rod, beside the shadow of its arches, or about once in a twelvemonth a detention upon the neighboring “switch” allows the traveller a saunter by its railing, or a hurried clamber down the rocky ledge which confines the waters of the Patuxent (actually the Patapsco) River and in great part forms its bed.” [4.]

Fort Defiance Station
This station at Fort Defiance, Virginia once served the Baltimore and Ohio's Valley Railroad.

Galaxies in Pansies
Photographs by Bob Kirchman

Hubble Pansies

Hubble Pansies

Hubble Pansies
These close-up photographs capture the feeling of Hubble Telescope photographs from space. Photos by Bob Kirchman