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LXXIV. MY UNCLE PETER.
1. I WILL tell you the story of my uncle Peter, who was born on Christmas day. The first remembrance that I have of him is his taking me one Christmas eve to the largest toy-. shop in London, and telling me to choose any toy whatever that I pleased. He little knew the agony of embarrassment into which this request of his threw his astonished nephew. I wandered about, staring like a distracted ghost at the "wealth of Ormus and of Ind" displayed about me. Uncle Peter followed me with perfect patience; nay, I believe, with a delight that equaled my perplexity, for every now and then, when I looked round to him with a silent appeal for sympathy in the distressing dilemma into which he had thrown me, I found him rubbing his hands and spiritually chuckling over his victim. How long I was in making up my mind I cannot tell, but as I look back upon this splendor of my childhood, I feel as if I must have wandered for weeks through interminable forestalleys of toy-bearing trees.
2. Uncle Peter was a little round man, and to look at him you could not have fancied a face or a figure with less of the romantic about them, yet I believe that the whole region of his brain was held in fee-simple-whatever that may meanby a race of fairy architects who built aërial castles therein, regardless of expense. His imagination was the most distinguishing feature of his character, and to hear him defend any of his extravagances, it would appear that he considered himself especially privileged in that respect. "Ah, my dear," he would say to my mother, when she expostulated with him on making some present far beyond the small means he at that time possessed-"ah, my dear, you see I was born on Christmas day." I do not think he had more than a hundred pounds a year, and he must have been five and thirty, but Uncle Peter lived in constant hope and expectation of some unexampled good luck befalling him; “For," said he, “I was born on Christmas day."
3. He was never married. When people ventured to jest
with him about being an old bachelor, he used to smile, for anything would make him smile, but he never said anything on the subject, and not even my mother knew whether he had any love-story or not. I have often wondered whether his goodness might not have come in part from his having lost some one very dear to him, and having his life on earth purified by the thoughts of her life in heaven. But I never found out. The lucky fortune which Uncle Peter had anticipated came at last. A cousin of whom he had heard little for a great many years, although they had been warm friends while at school together, died in India and left him a large estate. But before the legacy was paid to Uncle Peter, he went through a good many of the tortures which result from being
a king and no king." At length, after much skirmishing with the lawyers, he succeeded in getting a thousand pounds on Christmas eve.
4. "NOW!" said Uncle Peter, in enormous capitals. That night a thundering knock was heard at our door. We were all sitting in our little dining-room-father, mother and seven children of us-talking about what we should prepare for the next day. The door opened, and in came the most grotesque figure you could imagine. It was seven feet high at least, without any head, a mere walking tree-stump, as far as shape went, only it looked soft. The little ones were terrified, but not the big ones of us, for from top to toe (if it had a toe) it was covered with toys of every conceivable description, fastened on to it somehow or other. It was a perfect treasurecave of Ali Baba turned inside out. We shrieked with delight. The figure stood perfectly still, and we gathered round it in a group to have a nearer view of the wonder.
5. We then discovered that on all the articles there were tickets, which we supposed at first to record the price of each. But, upon still closer examination, we discovered that every one of the tickets had one or other of our names upon it. This caused a fresh explosion of joy. Nor was it the children only that were remembered. A little box bore my mother's When she opened it, we saw a real gold watch and
chain, and seals and dangles of every sort, of useful and useless kind, and my mother's initials were on the watch. My father had a silver flute, and to the music of it we had such a dance, the strange figure, now considerably lighter, joining in it without uttering a word.
6. During the dance one of my sisters, a very sharp-eyed puss, espied about halfway up the monster two bright eyes looking out of a shadowy depth of something like the skirts of a great coat. She peeped and peeped, and at length, with a perfect scream of exultation, cried out, "It's Uncle Peter! It's Uncle Peter!" The music ceased, the dance was forgotten; we flew upon him like a pack of hungry wolves; we tore him to the ground, despoiled him of coats and plaids and elevating sticks, and discovered the kernel of the beneficent monster in the person of real Uncle Peter; which, after all, was the best present he could have brought us on Christmas eve, for we had been very dull for want of him, and had been wondering why he did not come. GEORGE MACDONALD.
SELECT ETYMOLOGIES.-Castle: L. castel'lum, a fortified place; fr. L. cas'tra, a camp. Dilemma: a difficult alternative; Gr.; fr. dis, twice, and lèm'ma, anything received, an assumption. Epic: Gr. ep'ikos; fr. ěp'os, a word, a song. . . . Expostulate: L. expos'tulo; fr. ex and pos'tulo, postula'tum, to ask; h., postulate or postula'tum, the thing demanded in argument without proof, something to be assumed or taken for granted. . . . Fee: A. S. feoh, cattle; h., property, possession; fee-simple, an estate in lands or tenements of which the owner has the fullest power of disposing which the law allows. Grotesque: F.; fr. grotte, a grotto; lit., the style in which grottoes were ornamented; extravagant, whimsical.... Prepare: L. præ'paro; fr. præ, before, and păr'o, para'tum, to make ready; h., ap-paratus, ap-parel, dis-sever, em-peror (L. im-pera'tor; fr. im-pero= in-paro, I order), em-pire, im-perative, im-perial, imperious, in-se-parable, ir-re-parable, parade, pre-paratory, ram-part, re-pair, re-paration, se-parate, sever, several (L. L. se-paralis), etc. . . . Skirmish : fr. the Old High German, skerman, to defend against an attack. . . . Ticket fr. the Ger. steck'en (stek'en), to stick; F. étiquette, a little note or ticket. . . . . Uncle: F. oncle; L. avun'culus.
Among common nouns there are many of foreign origin, the meaning of which has suffered sadly in the course of time. Giving precedence to the sex, we find that the belle dame of the French was by Spenser already written in shorter English form, but used as yet for "fair lady." Soon after Gallic courtesy transferred the term to grandmothers, and it now appears as Beldame, a word which at last sank to designate a hag or a witch.-DE VERE.
EVANDER is said to have built at the foot of the Palatine Hill, on the Tiber, a town which was incorporated with Rome. He taught the arts of peace. HORACE and VIRGIL were celebrated Latin poets who flourished within the century before Christ. LUCIUS JUNIUS BRUTUS received his surname of Brutus, or brute, because he feigned idiocy in order to escape the tyranny of King Tarquin. Finally he threw off his pretended insanity, and roused the Romans to expel tyranny and establish a republic. See the story of VIRGINIUS on page 134. CINCINNATUS was a consul of ancient Rome, who was taken from the plow to assume the highest offices of state.
I AM in Rome! Oft as the morning ray
Visits these eyes, waking, at once I cry,
Whence this excess of joy? What has befallen me?
And from within a thrilling voice replies,
Thou art in Rome! A thousand busy thoughts
Rush on my mind a thousand images-
Thou art in Rome! the city that so long
And love of glory towered above the clouds,
There, as though Grandeur attracted grandeur, are beheld All things that strike, ennoble-from the depths Of Egypt, from the classic fields of Greece, Her groves, her temples-all things that inspire Wonder, delight! Who would not say the forms Most perfect, most divine, had by consent Flocked thither to abide eternally
Within those silent chambers where they dwell
And I am there!