Yes, money is a great blessing, and those who having it, affect to despise it . . . are hypocrites of the deepest dye; for it is in the power of the rich with a pen-stroke to become poor, whilst the poor may wear their pens down to the very stump and not gain so much as will give them their daily bread.
CONTENTS OF VOL. II.
|I.||“A GOOD CHRISTIAN”||1|
|III.||A FOOTSTEP ON THE STAIRS||31|
|IV.||WOMEN IN COUNCIL||42|
|V.||MUSINGS BY THE WAY||64|
|VI.||THE BELLE OF THE SEASON||93|
|VII.||THE TURN OF THE TIDE||123|
|VIII.||WRECKAGE ON THE SHORE||160|
|X.||POPS IS JEALOUS||201|
|XI.||FRIENDS IN NEED||228|
“A GOOD CHRISTIAN.”
Mr. Yorke bears his triumph meekly, though he, somehow or other, appears within the last few days to have become wider across the chest, and to require a larger waistcoat. His speech, thanking his supporters, is a model of what such speeches should be; he has no end of sweet words for his supporters, and he refers to his late opponents in such touching terms, it is impossible to read it without tears.
“Ah, that is what I call a truly good man,” said old Miss Praggles, as she took off her spectacles and wiped her eyes. “Whilst he will always remember the kindness he has 2 received from his friends, he promises to forget and forgive those who have fought against him. I am sure no man could say more. Those are the words of a true Christian.”
Never was the church so full as it was on the following Sunday. The whole parish, and many from the adjoining parishes, were there, to gladden their eyes with a sight of the great man of their own making. And when Mr. Yorke walked up the aisle, with his blue tie and spotless—and ample—white waistcoat, the excitement was intense, so that an apple was heard to fall in John Lorie’s orchard, although the tree from which it fell must have been at least six hundred yards from the church-door. As Mr. Yorke prayed, in the depths of his well-brushed hat, many people wondered in what form of words he was expressing his gratitude for the great honour that had been done him. And when he sat down, with the back of his head—beginning to show signs of baldness—exhibiting itself over the edge of the high-backed pew, the children of the schools, whose ordinary amusement, when opportunity offered, was to pinch, or tickle, or kick their neighbours, became suddenly so quiet and 3 good that Miss Mudge, the schoolmistress, thought they must be ill, and was frightened. The fact is, they had heard so much of the election, and of Mr. Yorke being made an M.P., that they thought something very strange must have happened to him, and so they sat with eyes and mouths opened as wide as possible, it may be in the expectation that the somewhat sparse hairs, which stood out in the sunlight from that bit of bald head, would before long develop themselves into some kind of glory, such as the saints had round theirs in the great picture with which the Rev. St. John had lately decorated the chancel, and the meaning of which he had been very careful to explain to them in the most incomprehensible manner.
But they wondered still more when Sir Francis came into the church, looking much as usual, and not as if he had been crying; for they had heard that he had been beaten dreadfully.
If, however, the excitement had been great before, it reached the highest point of intensity when, on the termination of the service, Mr. Yorke, as he stepped into the churchyard, was brought into contact with Sir Francis, and it was with a thrill of 4 emotion that he was seen holding out his hand.
“Aye, they has shaken hands! Lor’, to have seen it! Well, he do be a good man—that he be! And the paarson, how he do preach! His words do be so foine!”
“Aye, do ye look at Miss Geldreen’s gownd! if its tail hain’t as long as the church is wide.”
A victor can afford to be generous, so Mr. Yorke walked by the side of Sir Francis as if nothing had happened, and in a few minutes any awkwardness which the latter may have felt had completely disappeared. Lady Arabella had come to church in her pony-chaise, but the rest of the family had walked, for it was against Mr. Yorke’s principles to have his horses out on Sundays—in fine weather.
They had not gone very far, when Mr. Yorke stopped to speak to one of his tenants, and Eva having lagged behind, for there was not an old woman or young child in the village to whom she had not some kind word to say, Sir Francis found himself alone with Geraldine.
“Of course I am glad that my father has gained the day,” said Geraldine, “but I am not the less sorry for you; and I tell you 5 candidly, had I been a man, you should have had my vote.”
“And yet it seems to be the general opinion that I have made a great fool of myself,” said Sir Francis.
“Of course,” said Geraldine, “because you acted with pluck; and most people are full of cowardice, which they pretend is prudence. There is nothing so contemptible as a coward.”
“To have won your good opinion,” said Sir Francis, “is quite sufficient to reconcile me to defeat.”
“Mind you continue to deserve it,” said Geraldine, blushing. She had no time for more; Mr. Yorke rejoined them, and Sir Francis took his leave; he could not help pressing Geraldine’s hand with unusual warmth as he did so.
“I never saw her looking more beautiful,” he thought, as he walked away.
The same afternoon, Mr. Yorke, who was in the habit, of retiring for a couple of hours after luncheon to the solitude of his study, from which he generally emerged rubbing his eyes, as if he were experiencing the sensations which usher in an attack of ophthalmia, was surprised to find himself followed, 6 on leaving the dining-room, by Mr. Mortimer.
“I hope my request may not be hinhoportune,” said that gentleman, “but I should be greatly obliged, sir, if you would grant me the favour of an haudience.”
“Certainly,” said Mr. Yorke, entering his study and taking a seat. “Well, Mortimer, what is it?”
“Sir,” said Mr. Mortimer, “the pain with which I put forward the request I am about to make, is hassuaged by the proud satisfaction I feel, in common with your many other humble friends, that you have been placed in a position of which we are so hexcusably proud. Had it been defeat, instead of victory, I hardly know if I should have had the courage to have spoken.”
“I hope nothing disagreeable has happened, Mortimer,” said Mr. Yorke, encouragingly.
“Noways in the least, sir,” said Mr. Mortimer. “Of all my hengagements, the hoffice I have held in your family, is the one upon which I shall always look back with the proudest satisfaction. I have always hendeavoured to do my duty; and I am proud of being able to say that you, sir, and her ladyship—not to speak of your hamiable family—have 7 given me every satisfaction; and it is with deep regret that, from unavoidable circumstances, I find myself hobliged to retire from a position which I have filled, I trust, with credit to myself and to the hadvantage of all concerned.”
“Bless me, Mortimer,” said Mr. Yorke, “this comes upon me very suddenly. No quarrels below, I hope?”
“Dear me, no, sir,” said Mr. Mortimer, “there has been no unpleasantness; besides, it takes two people to make a quarrel, and I never would demean myself to be one of them. No, sir; it is all private affairs.”
“It is very awkward,” said Mr. Yorke. “I don’t know what Lady Arabella will say: she hates these changes, when she is once suited. But I suppose there is no help for it. Let me see—it is, of course, the usual notice, and we shall have a month to look out for a substitute—but it is just now extremely awkward.”
“That is why, sir, I wished to speak to you on the subject, instead of acting in the hordinary course through Mr. Cox: for I should be sorry to be the cause of any hinconvenience, and an hamicable understanding in a hinterview between parties 8 often prevents hobstacles arising, to which I for one would hobject. I am hanxious, indeed it is hindispensable, that I should go at once; but I know of a gentleman with the highest testimonials who is in every way qualified to enter upon my duties. A telegram would bring him down to-morrow. And on his arrival, I should, with a reluctance which I find it difficult to hexpress, retire into private life.”
“I suppose you have come into a fortune,” said Mr. Yorke.
“Not quite that, sir,” said Mr. Mortimer, modestly; “but my prospects have greatly himproved.”
“I suppose there is no help for it,” said Mr. Yorke; “but I am sorry for it.”
“If ever I can be of any use to you,” said Mr. Mortimer, “I shall always be proud to place my services at your disposal.”
Fortunately, the gentleman to whom a telegraphic despatch had been sent, seemed in Lady Arabella’s eyes worthy to be Mr. Mortimer’s successor. And on the evening of the following day Mr. Mortimer, in a fashionable travelling suit, and with most irreproachable luggage, was seen awaiting the arrival of the night train to London. His spirits were 9 so low that he was obliged to seek a restorative at the refreshment-bar. His leave-taking at Nettlestone had been quite affecting. In offering his dutiful respects to Lady Arabella and her daughters, he had expressed himself in the kindest terms, and had been so lavish of his good wishes, that one might have thought his power of wishing had been exhausted, if they had not been renewed with redoubled energy in the housekeeper’s room and servants’-hall. Poor Mary, the housemaid, could not conceal her tears.
“My good girl,” said Mr. Mortimer, condescendingly, “I wish you well, and shall always be glad to lend you a helping hand; but circumstances have dug a gulf between us which no haffection can bridge over. Hadew—hadew!”
It was the thought of Mary in tears which had probably necessitated the restorative at the refreshment-bar. It seemed to have a reviving effect.
“No, no,” he said, “it would never do; she is a dear good girl, and has a heart as tender as a sweetbread; but she could never hoccupy a prominent position—her hignorance is positively hawful; why, she has not a haitch in her halphabet.”
Notes and Corrections: Chapter I
A victor can afford to be generous
[Are you listening, Mr. President?]
Mr. Yorke, who was in the habit, on a Sunday of retiring for a couple of hours
[It’s not how I would have distributed the commas, but there it is.]
It really seemed as if honest Tom Trenton, as we prefer to call him—for in these days though every second man you meet has a handle to his name, it is still a distinction to be called honest—was not far wrong in predicting that the horse which had Mr. John Marsh for its ostensible owner was to carry him and his confederates to fortune. For although that wonderful animal had not as yet realised the great expectations which Mr. Marmaduke Yorke had been led to indulge in—and that could easily be explained by its having, as it was supposed, caught cold and so contracted some rheumatic affection, leading to a temporary lameness which obstinately resisted cure—it had, in other respects, proved itself a remarkably useful quadruped. Through its purchase, 11 Mr. Marmaduke Yorke, junior, had been relieved from any inconvenience he might have experienced from an undue overplus of money, whilst, after the claims of the owner had been duly satisfied, honest Tom, of course taking to himself, as he had a just right to do, the lion’s share, had been able to divide a sum of money into three—unequal—parts, and gratify the natural benevolence of his best of hearts by raising his friend Jack from the depths of poverty to comparative affluence, and releasing Mr. Mortimer from a position which could not but be most galling to a man of his high aspirations.
To honest Tom Trenton’s friends, it was indeed most gratifying to find him once more taking his old place amongst them, after his long absence. He did not consider it necessary to say where he had been—but he spoke sometimes of sporting adventures in the Rocky Mountains, and gave mysterious hints of the money to be made by a good shot, whose love of sport enabled him to rough it in the wilds of South Africa. So that many thought that he owed his money—not to his creditors, as formerly—but to the elephants he had shot; in fact, to ivory. But the major would have scorned to use the word 12 “ivory;” he spoke only of “tusks,” and of elephants as tuskers, ignoring the existence of those who had none as creatures utterly beneath his notice.
Now it must not be thought that the major was untruthful; such a suspicion would be a cruel injustice to a man who was open and honest to a fault, as he indeed often regretted; but he had a lively imagination, and certainly had been a great traveller, or he could not have talked as he did. He talked so well! It was quite pleasant to see him the centre of a little group at his club, for he had returned to the only mode of life which, as he was fond of saying, “befitted a man who had any claim to being considered a gentleman, and whose habits of life have been formed in the service.”
Mr. Mortimer, too, had joined a club. Not the one which had the honour of having Major Trenton as a member, for which he was not eligible, but the newly-formed “Ring and Rail,” the committee of which consisted, on paper, of a member of Parliament, two dignitaries of the Church, and a sufficient number of naval and military officers to give it the air of superlative exclusiveness; but in fact, of the proprietor, who with the 13 assistance of the button-boy and head bottle-washer, carried out the weekly elections by ballot with a most scrupulous regard to the interest of the club.
It was indeed a proud moment for Mr. Mortimer, when he saw his name for the first time in the gorgeously-bound book which contained the twenty-six rules of the club and the names of its members, headed by certain royal personages, who had the privilege of participating in the advantages offered by the club, without payment, though they seemed strangely indifferent to the honour which had been conferred upon them. One thing puzzled Mr. Mortimer; it was that, stamped in gold letters on the cover was a winged wheel, under which was the motto “Ubique.” What could the word mean? He did not like to ask, but after much thinking, came to the conclusion that it was French, and had something to do with wings and wheels.
On the twelfth page of this book, last of the names headed by a capital M, stood in large print:
“J. Montjoy Mortimore, Esq.”
Now the change which Mr. Mortimer had made in his name, though slight, had become 14 necessary through the gentleman to whom he had paid five shillings for establishing his coat of arms, having informed him that his ancestors, at the time of the crusades, had used that mode of spelling, and that all the Mortimores were Montjoys, much in the same way that most of the Smiths are Sydneys. To those who had only known Mr. John Mortimer when in “hoffice,” there would have been some difficulty in recognising Montjoy Mortimore, Esq., the newly-elected member of the Ring and Rail, as he sauntered gracefully through the entrance-hall and placed himself in a befitting pose before the telegram which gave the latest odds. Mr. John Mortimer had worn long and carefully-curled whiskers, and rather piqued himself upon the precision with which he parted his somewhat long back hair. Montjoy Mortimore, Esq., indulged in a decidedly red moustache, and his whiskers were reduced to a small cropped patch some inch or two in length between the cheekbone and the ear; and as for partings, his hair was cut so close that it was only by much coaxing and a liberal use of pomade he was able to produce a feeble attempt at a dividing line above the centre of his forehead.15
“I don’t think I should know myself,” said Mr. Mortimore, as he looked into the glass on the morning of his entry in his club, “and I should most certainly cut him if I did. Ah, those days are over. I am hemancipated. I can’t imagine how he could ever have remained what he was. He must have been a poor, mean fellow to have done so, and did not know how easy it is to be a gentleman, provided he’s learnt to calculate the odds and is fond of sport.”
Mr. Marsh, for no one now dared to address the owner of Fortuna as Jack, had also benefited by the major’s combinations. It is true that he was still as bloated and pimply-faced as ever, and that the atmosphere in which he seemed to live was even more redolent of the odour of stale tobacco and gin-and-water than before; but his altered circumstances were apparent, not only in his dress, but in his manner, for a jovial, self-satisfied look had replaced his old sullenness, and it was for his pleasure now that he extended his potations into the small hours of the night, and not, as formerly, to drown dull care. A club was of course a necessity for a man in the distinguished position of Mr. Marsh. The major, whose experience in the 16 service and knowledge of the world had made his opinion on such points invaluable, had pointed out that as humble workers in the cause of sport, the operations of himself and Mr. Mortimore could be made more beneficial to society in general and most conducive to the object they had in view, with respect to their own benefit, by mixing with those whose education was as yet incomplete, and who, as the major justly observed, ought to be glad to have an opportunity of remunerating handsomely those to whom they would be indebted for such extremely valuable experience. “But as regards Marsh,” said the major, “he is peculiarly placed. As the ostensible owner of a horse possessing the character of Fortuna, he occupies a position with regard to society which he cannot ignore. The only club for him is the ‘Equestrian,’ there he will find himself amongst men of his own kidney, and working as we shall be towards the same laudable object from three several centres, it will be our own fault if we are not able to produce, through our mutual energy and prudence, some extremely valuable combinations.”
It was in accordance with this advice that Mr. Marsh became a member of 17 the “Equestrian,” to which a short time before Mr. Marmaduke Yorke, junr., had also been elected.
To the members of the Imperial—the major’s club—it was a source for congratulation to have the advantage of associating with one so thoroughly au courant with all the past, present, and future of the Turf. It was not long before—“What does Trenton think?” “What does Trenton say?” “What is Trenton going to do?” were the three questions most frequently on the lips of the sporting members of the club. Honest Tom Trenton could not but feel a pride—an honest pride—in the position he had won for himself, a position which had become so far recognised, that in the space of an extraordinary short limit of time he had advanced in his intercourse with such men as the Hon. Pierrepoint Phipps and Major Decimus Fitzjones—acknowledged leaders in their peculiar section of society—from the very outside edge of polite incivility to a degree of cordiality which had absolutely reached the point of a friendly greeting in the Park.
Indeed his popularity had reached to so high a pitch, that Major Decimus Fitzjones had been overheard to say: “A deuced clever 18 fellow is that Trenton; knows all about a horse.”
To which remark the Hon. Pierrepoint Phipps was contented to reply in the monosyllable “Haw!” But the tone in which that one word was uttered, was unmistakably indicative of assent.
Major Thomas Trenton and Mr. Mortimore had the advantage of possessing the degree of freedom essential to those whose ambition is to take that high position in the social scale which is only open to men who do not find themselves kept down by the heavy weight inseparable from family ties. Mr. Marsh was not so fortunate. He was, as we know, a married man, and his sickly wife and blind child were the occasion of continual annoyance and inconvenience to him. The same might perhaps have been equally said of the old gentleman, whose acquaintance the reader has already made, and who stood in the relation of an uncle, had it not been for a small annuity, which, when times were bad, had made it desirable that he should become a member of his nephew’s family, and contribute—indeed provide for—its support. Of course all this was extremely disagreeable to Mr. John Marsh; in seasons of adversity 19 there was nothing for him but to accept the position: but now that a current had set in which might lead to fortune, independent action had become necessary. For him to leave the neighbourhood of his club was impossible. For his family, change of air to the outskirts of London would unquestionably be advantageous; and his uncle’s modest means, when not required as formerly to administer to Mr. John Marsh’s imperative wants, would be quite sufficient to provide a respectable house and the necessaries, if not the superfluities, of life for his nephew’s wife and child. It was therefore with a feeling that he was acting in a most disinterested and liberal spirit, that Mr. John Marsh permitted his wife and child, necessarily accompanied by his uncle, to take up their residence with an old servant who had married whilst in the service of Mrs. Marsh’s family, who lived in a small house in the neighbourhood of Hackney and let furnished apartments. Mr. Marsh’s liberality had also gone to the extent of contributing a small sum of money, sufficient to enable his family to be provided with some better raiment than that which belonged to their poverty. Thus it was that when a cab, with a small but decent modicum 20 of luggage, drove up to No. 4, Woodbine Terrace, there was nothing to denote that the well-dressed but feeble old gentleman who was so carefully searching, even under the cushions of the cab, as if for something he had lost, the pale, well-dressed lady and the pretty child, had but a few weeks before been living in a squalid street in the very depths of poverty.
As the cab stopped at the gate of the small garden which separated the house from the street, the front-door flew open and a little woman, wearing a voluminous white apron, stepped briskly down the steps, followed by a heavy-looking man whose comparatively slow movements seemed to make her activity the more conspicuous.
“Come, Fulford, man, look alive! This is Mrs. Marsh. Law, mem! Well, ’tis nigh twenty years since—and time do change us all, the Lord be praised for it!”
What the last ejaculation meant, it is not easy to say; but it met with no response, for at the sight of the old servant Mrs. Marsh had burst into tears.
The child, who still remained in the cab, with a cage containing a large grey parrot on her lap, seemed to have an intuitive perception 21 of what had taken place, for she looked up and said, as sharply as a soft, silvery voice would permit:
“Mother, why do you cry? This is better than our old home. I can smell flowers—sweet flowers! It is so nice. Shan’t we be happy, Pops?”
“Pops has his doubts,” said the parrot, in a deep voice, which made Mrs. Fulford start.
“Don’t be a fool, Pops!” said the child; “you know you are as certain as I am.”
Pops contented himself with a long, low whistle in reply; and, putting his head on one side, looked out knowingly with one eye, as much as to say, “We shall see.”
Mrs. Fulford, whose attention had been diverted from Mrs. Marsh to the child, stepped towards the cab and held out her hand towards the cage, as if expecting it would have been handed out to her; but, on finding that no notice was taken of the movement, she seemed suddenly to remember that the little girl was blind.
“And so, mem, this is the poor little dear? May the Lord be merciful to her in her affliction—as He doubtless will. Ah! Miss Margaret, my dear, I knew your mother 22 when she was no bigger than you are. That I did, Miss Margaret.”
“Don’t call me Miss Margaret,” said the child. “My name is Madge; isn’t it, Pops?”
“Pops has his——”
Before the parrot could finish the sentence, a rap on the cage reduced him to silence.
“You shall have no supper if you make such a fool of yourself—and before strangers, too! I am ashamed of you. If you can’t speak sense, you had better hold your tongue.”
“Yes, mum’s the word. Don’t tell the——”
Another rap on the cage seemed to have the effect of frightening off the cats; but they could not be got rid of entirely, for no amount of rapping could prevent Pops from completing his sentence with a series of doleful mews, which were renewed at intervals during the process of conveying him from the cab to the house, which was done in a kind of procession. First Mrs. Fulford, with shawls and wraps, followed by Mrs. Marsh; then Mr. Fulford, in all the majesty of stolidity and strength, with little Madge in his arms, and 23 the cage of the lamenting Pops suspended from one of his little fingers. Then the old uncle, still on the look-out for something he could not find; and last of all, the cabman with a shouldered trunk.
“Mem,” said Mrs. Fulford, as she threw open the parlour-door, “you will find it clean and comfortable, though, mem, it is not I who should say it, and quiet; for, though he is my husband, and I say it, there is no quieter man, and no better man, no, not if you searched through Woodbine Terrace. No, mem; he may be, and is, silent, as I often say, but he is every inch a man. That you are, Fulford, and you know it; so you need not look as if you didn’t.”
Mr. Fulford, who seemed to combine strength with taciturnity and much placidity of temper, looked as if he would have blushed if time had not tanned and thickened his skin to an extent which rendered such a manifestation of feeling impossible. So, not being able to blush, he contented himself with rubbing his hands, the moment they had become free, through his having set down Madge and Pops on the small horse-hair sofa which formed the most imposing article of the front parlour’s furniture, and 24 to repeat in a deprecatory manner, as if her good opinion were too much for him:
“Please, Tibs, don’t!”
Mr. Fulford, when speaking to his wife, always called her “Tibs,” though he never failed to speak of her as the “missus.” And to hear him speak without knowing this, you might imagine he had to do with two very different people. To Tibs he always spoke as if he were still in all the agonies of his first courtship, and had never got over the bashfulness which is the torture of timid lovers; but of the missus, it was as if he referred to some one before whom—though every inch a man—not only he but every one else ought to tremble; of some one whose word must be law; of some one who could not be wrong.
“No, dang it!” he would say, “the missus is a woman, and that is the worst that can be said against her. Why, she’s more sense in her little finger than I have in my whole body.”
It is difficult to explain it, but so it was: Mr. Fulford had been for twenty years most tenderly in love with “,” whilst all that time he had continued in most abject fear of the “missus.” The resultant of these two forces was, that not in Woodbine Terrace, no 25 not in all Hackney, was there to be found a steadier man, or a more submissive husband, than John Fulford.
For many years before his marriage he had worked steadily at his trade as a smith; and it was to the heat of the smithy fire that he owed his swarthy complexion, and to his daily labours at the forge that he had gained the muscular development which was probably the cause of his wife so repeatedly reminding his friends that her husband, despite his mildness of character, “was every inch a man.” Their united savings, carefully invested in No. 4, Woodbine Terrace, and other small freehold properties, had enabled him, after their marriage, to retire from business; and since then, whilst his wife occupied herself in the performance of the household duties, his time was principally engaged in marketing, going on errands, and in keeping the front and back gardens in order. In this he took a special pride, nothing could exceed their neatness, and, it was surprising, considering the smallness of the space, the number and variety of the flowers he had managed to crowd within them.
In the back-garden he had built a small summer-house, in the further corner, to 26 which, when it rained, he retired of an afternoon to read his newspaper—he seldom got beyond the police reports—and smoke his pipe; but, when the weather was fine, he generally took up his position on a rustic seat under an acacia, in the front plot, which, though partly concealed from view by a bushy laurustinus, was close to the iron railing, so that, without being seen, he could overhear the comments of the passers-by as they looked at his flowers, and have his pride gratified by such remarks as: “My eye, what roses!” “I say, Bella, ain’t that a nice garden!” “What awfully fine tulips!” and so forth.
Mrs. Fulford was a wonderfully active little woman, and never so happy as when she was working or talking, for she could do both equally well.
As a rule, she had not very much spare time, for her apartments were generally full; and besides the rooms which were now to be occupied by the new arrivals, the back parlour on the ground-floor and the front bedroom third had been for some months in possession of a gentleman of whom she spoke to Mrs. Marsh as—
“A young gent who is now a-walking of the hospitals; but though a fine, big fellow—ain’t 27 he, Fulford?—he is none of your boisterous, out-at-all-hours, graceless scamps, such as so many of your medical students—God help them!—so frequent are, but a quiet, well-conducted gentleman, as good as gold. He has a beautiful painted text just above his bed, and I see that it is a‑working in him; for once or twice when I have been in his room I have seen him look at it and sigh and sigh till I was ready to jump for very joy, for I saw, mem, that he was looking upon himself as a lost sinner, and we who have gone through the same know that the darker the clouds of sin seem the sooner will the sure hope come, over which shall be never more a cloud.”
From this it will be seen that Mrs. Fulford was a good woman, and, indeed, she was never so happy as when she was endeavouring to do good. But unfortunately for her friends, and most people with whom she came in contact, Mrs. Fulford had had her experiences, and had, after much wrestling with the evil one, arrived at the consoling conviction that she was one of the elect; and this had made her so happy that she felt it to be her duty to endeavour to induce others to become participators in the same privilege, 28 or, as she expressed it, “to make herself a finger-post to point out the narrow and crooked way, and to snatch brands from the burning.”
Talking, then, ceaselessly of her experiences, Mrs. Fulford, after having established old Mr. Marsh in the front parlour—through which he immediately began to prosecute a very minute and exhaustive search—conducted Mrs. Marsh, Madge, and the inseparable Pops upstairs.
On entering the drawing-room, on the first floor, she pointed to some prints in maple frames, which hung round the cold and naked-looking walls—for the room had a north aspect, and the paper was of the peculiar pale, faded green, which even on hot days makes one feel cold, and long to put a match to the still colder-looking white paper which fills the grate, as if in mockery of fire—and directed Mrs. Marsh’s attention to the subjects they represented.
“You will see, mem,” she said, “that the one great object has never been lost sight of. We know that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, but here, when we sit at work or what not, we have but to raise our eyes—and what do we see? What do we, 29 mem? What do we, Miss Madge? Why, as we look we are made to feel how vile we are, and how thankful we ought to be. For these are the parables; and thanks be to God who has given them for our learning. Oh, we have to thank Him for much, mem. He has been very kind, Miss Madge.”
“Not to me,” said Madge; “He has not been kind to me. He has given me no eyes. I can see no pictures, nor flowers, nor anything.”
“Hush! hush!” said her mother, who had relapsed into the silent, tearful state which seemed habitual to her. “Hush, my dear child; you do not know what you are saying.”
Mrs. Fulford had been so shocked at Madge’s remark that for a moment she was unable to do more than utter: “Dear me! dear me!” but she quickly recovered, and was about to express the anguish of her heart at hearing what she was pleased to call such wicked words, when she was again brought to silence through Pops suddenly breaking out into an apparently uncontrollable fit of laughter, varied with spasmodic mews and a request that nobody would tell the cats.
Madge’s threats, enforced by sundry 30 thumps upon the cage, had at last the effect of reducing him to silence; but the thread of Mrs. Fulford’s discourse had been so suddenly broken that that lady found herself unable to bring it to a close, and she was glad to beat a retreat from what she found to be an untenable position, by entering into the necessary details concerning Mrs. Marsh’s immediate and future wants.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter II
many thought that he owed his money . . . to the elephants he had shot; in fact, to ivory.
[This may or may not be a sneaky way of calling him an ivory-turner, i.e. someone who is particularly adept with dice, possibly by cheating. Admittedly this sense of the word would have been more common in the early part of the century.]
had been for twenty years most tenderly in love with “Tibs,”
text has Tibbs
the paper was of the peculiar pale, faded green
[I do hope it isn’t colored with arsenic.]
A FOOTSTEP ON THE STAIRS.
It took many days before Madge could settle down in her new home. All was so strange to her. The weather had become cold and wet, and the sweet smell of flowers which had greeted her arrival was washed away. She almost regretted the dingy, squalid rooms, in which so much of her past life had been spent; the dingy squalor of which, happily—for in this, at all events, blindness had been an advantage to her—she had never known.
Here, she was in an unknown world, and she could not take a step without striking against some object, the very nature of which she had to find out. There, she knew everything: the distance between the corner in which she sat and the fire; the number of steps between it and the door; the exact 32 position of her great-uncle’s chair; and she could even find out the whereabouts of Pops when he endeavoured to escape some well-deserved chastisement by hiding himself, with an air of intense satisfaction, behind the coal-scuttle, or by perching on the back of her uncle’s chair—discovering himself, as he was generally sure to do, by informing the world at large that “mum” was “the word.” There, too, old uncle, or dear uncle, or good old uncle, or cross old uncle—for she varied her style according to her mood and to the degree of favour in which he stood at the moment—was always ready to talk or be silent at her bidding, for she had almost arrived at the point of regarding him as a superior sort of big animated toy, who had been called into existence for no other purpose than to speak or move in obedience to his little niece’s will. Here it was quite different; their lives suddenly seemed to have been cut apart; cross old uncle—for she called him by no other name now—confined himself almost entirely to the ground-floor front; and when Madge had groped her way there he would not talk, but kept on saying:
“Hush! hush! you must not disturb me; 33 I am trying to make what I have lost.” And when she asked why he had not done that before in their old home, he would answer: “Hush! hush! I was ill then, and weak, and my poor brain would not work; but now I am quite strong again, and my brain quite clear—so clear! But hush! Madge dear, hush! you must go away now; but do not tell—mind you do not tell!”
“And when you find it, you cross old uncle?” asked Madge.
“We shall all be rich—ah, so rich, Madge dear!”
“And will you buy Pops a new cage, you dear, cross old uncle?”
“Yes; if you are good, Madge, and go away; a big cage—a beautiful cage—all gilt and bright as gold.”
Then Madge would go away, sorrowfully, though somewhat cheered by the prospect of that beautiful gilt cage. But she was not quite satisfied until she had asked Mrs. Fulford what it was old uncle did all by himself in that stupid dull room; and she was not much the wiser when that good lady told her:
“Lord bless you. Miss Madge, and take you in His keeping! how should I know? Why 34 there he sits and writes and writes, and, as is evident to all, hardly gives himself a minute for his meals; and the sheets of paper that he covers over is next to awful; and all with lines of small figures so close together, there’s no getting between them. Why, they must represent billions upon billions at the very least.”
With her mother Madge did not talk much: it was as if there were something in her manner that repelled her, and there were times that this feeling seemed so completely to take possession of her, that when her mother would throw her arms round her and weep over her, and kiss her, she would push her away with a pettish, “I wish you would go away and let me alone; I don’t like it!” and when Mrs. Marsh, weeping more bitterly than ever, would say: “Ah, Madge, you do not love your poor mother!” Madge would reply: “Oh, yes I do!” in a manner that never failed to make Pops exclaim—but cautiously, and as if he were pondering over each word: “I—have—my—doubts.”
The idea of its being necessary to teach Madge anything seemed never to have entered into Mrs. Marsh’s head. Her child was blind—another drop of gall in her bitter 35 cup to be lamented and moaned over; and certainly, if that formed a part of her maternal duty, she did it well. But in all other respects, apart from being kept tolerably well dressed and scrupulously clean, which latter was due in no small measure to little Madge’s intuitive horror of everything like dirt, the poor child was utterly neglected, and her mind would have remained perfectly fallow, had it not been for her old uncle, of whom she was never tired of asking questions, though the knowledge which she gained from his answers was of such a peculiar nature that Madge seemed to have nothing in common with other children, and the manner in which she expressed her thoughts was often the cause of Mrs. Fulford’s being greatly scandalised.
“We must take her in hand—we must take her in hand, John,” said she to her husband; “she has never been fed with the true milk of babes.”
“We can take in an extra two-pennorth, Tibs,” was the unguarded reply.
“John,” she said, “you are a man, every inch of you, but you will not think. What is milk—but the Word? I was not speaking of carnal things. No, it is her soul—her poor soul, John. She is blinded to outward things, 36 to all the miserable dross which is but so much rags and ashes; but who knows? maybe she will one day see all the clearer through those clouds which shut out the glory from so many sinful eyes. No, John, we must take her in hand.”
And so Madge was taken in hand. Of her father, to her great joy, she saw very little: he came now and then to Woodbine Terrace, for he did not like to cast himself off entirely from an uncle who had an annuity; but he always excused himself for a short visit on the plea that he was overwhelmed with business, and he cared not to notice that Madge shrank from him when he drew her towards him on his arrival, and was frequently not to be found when he went away.
Mr. Fulford had at first felt a little shy of Madge. It was almost as if her blindness had made him afraid of her. But after some days this feeling wore off, so that he had the courage to take her little white hand in his brown brawny one, and lead her through the tortuous walks which intersected the little back garden, to the summer-house; but he would not let her sit there, because he said—and he always spoke to her as if she were deaf—in winter it was too cold and damp. 37 But only wait till summer, then wasn’t it pleasant to sit in! why, it was then as warm as Madeiry, and as sweet with the honeysuckles and roses as the Spice islands.
“And may I come and sit in it, and bring Pops, and have it all to ourselves?” asked Madge.
“Of course you may, miss,” said Mr. Fulford; “but you must teach that bird manners, for he do scream and mew terrible.”
So Madge’s great dream during the winter was the happy summer hours she would spend in that pleasant bower, and much of her time was spent in preparing Pops for the privilege of being allowed to go there with her by teaching him manners. Poor Pops, he was quite tired of being talked to about that arbour, and of being told how happy they would be in it. He began to hate the word “arbour,” and considering the number of quieting thumps upon his cage which he associated with it, it is not to be wondered at that he sometimes would insist upon saying that he had his “doubts.”
There was one subject of never-ending interest to little Madge—it was with respect to the person whose heavy step she heard early in the morning and late in the evening, 38 going up and down the third-pair stairs. She heard him, too, sometimes calling out to Mr. and Mrs. Fulford, and she fancied it must be some one she would like, his voice sounded so pleasantly as he shouted:
“Fulford, my boots;” or, “Good-morning, Mrs. Fulford; breakfast, please—I am ready for breakfast.”
It was then with a feeling of disappointment that she found out it was the young gentleman lodger who was “walking the hospitals.” For one day, when being piloted by Mr. Fulford through the mazes of the box-edged walks of the back garden, she had ventured to ask what “walking the hospitals” meant, and had heard, with dismay, that it was to learn all about old bones and dead bodies, and how to cut off arms and legs, and to make up medicines; so that walking the hospitals presented itself to her mind as a horrible and disgusting occupation, and she could not divest herself of the idea that the person who did it must be something very hideous and disagreeable to look at. So much so, that not being able to see “the young gent who walks the hospitals,” was one of the exceptional cases in which she did not refer to God having given her no eyes as He had 39 done to other wicked people, which was the formula she usually employed when out of temper or annoyed. And all this notwithstanding that Mr. Fulford had informed her, that “as times go, Mr. Pringle was not half a bad young chap.”
Mr. Pringle? Yes, no other than Mr. Charles Pringle of Deepdale—so much better known to his friends and in the bosom of his family as Chub. The world is very small, and people are shuffled together in it in a very strange manner, some think by mere chance, others in accordance with some great design; it must be by one or the other, but though to settle the question—if it be capable of settlement—would take up more pages than all the chapters of this book put together; so to avoid controversy and any possible loss of temper it might occasion, it will be better perhaps to put it, that by mere chance, or in accordance with some deep design, Chub and Madge were brought together under the hospitable roof of No. 4, Woodbine Terrace, Hackney.
Brought together under the same roof, and for some time no more; but by degrees little Madge listened for those heavy footsteps on the stairs, and felt quite sorry when the 40 pleasant voice did not call out so cheerily as usual that its owner wanted breakfast. Perhaps it was sympathy, but even Pops seemed to interest himself in those steps on the stairs. He might have been seen with his head on one side listening attentively, and making a strange little click with his tongue as an accompaniment to each creak of the stairs, so that it seemed he was counting the footsteps in order that he might be ready the moment the landing-place was reached to give that shrill whistle which said as plainly as a whistle could, “Come here! we want you.”
And the time came when that whistle did its work: first, but only now and then, a somewhat feeble response; then a bolder one; next a kind of duet, gradually prolonged in a variety of keys, with the delighted Pops; and last of all, the door being open, “May I come in and look at your beautiful parrot?”
“Do you like parrots?”
“When they are as clever as yours. What is his name?”
“Pops, Pops, Pops, Pops! we must be friends, Pops.”
But from the instant that Madge had spoken, Pops had withdrawn in sulky silence 41 to the swing in the centre of his cage, where he sat with his feathers all ruffled up. Was it jealousy?—perhaps it was, for coming events cast their shadows before them, and from that day forth there was one person in the world that Madge loved more than Pops, and that notwithstanding all that Mr. Fulford had said about walking the hospitals.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter III
the dingy squalor of which . . . she had never known
[There is a sad little Italian story called “Un Paio di Occhiali” (A Pair of Glasses) in which a girl from the slums of Naples gets glasses . . . and, for the first time, is forced to see every detail of her wretched surroundings. Looking it up, I find that it was written by Anna Maria Ortese in 1949; half a century later, it was made into a short film.]
discovering himself, as he was generally sure to do
[Goodness. This is an awfully late use of “discover” in its “reveal, uncover” sense.]
WOMEN IN COUNCIL.
There was a frequent interchange of letters between Geraldine and Victoria.
“How I envy you, my dear Vic!” wrote Geraldine. “No—not Vic—Victoria; for I never intend to use that stupid abbreviation again. A student who aspires to attaching letters of grave import to her name, must be treated with more respect. Yes! my dear Victoria, I do indeed envy you. Here I am, frittering my life away in an endless round of frivolity, despising myself for my weakness, yet no more capable of emancipating myself from the dominion of Folly, Fashion, and Misrule, than the poor moth is capable of flying away from the light around which it flutters, but until its poor wings are scorched, and then—well, it dies, and that is some comfort.43
“You will see, from what I have written, that I am cross and out of temper. And I were an angel if I were not so. For we have shot all our pheasants, and the house has been full of pheasant-shooters. How I honour Sir Francis for not allowing himself to be one of them! I thought it great fun once, but now it makes me absolutely angry when I see all these great strong men starting off armed cap-à-pie, in order that they may gain an appetite for their horrid dinners by killing a number of innocent, inoffensive birds who up to the first of October had been taught to look upon man as a friend and benefactor, and little knew what a cold, cruel, calculating heart was beating all the time in the breast of that hypocritically benevolent monster. Why men should have so much pleasure in killing pheasants, I can’t make out—except that they have long tails, and so perhaps are easier to hit than barn-door fowls, for they are quite as tame. Indeed, a pheasant is tamer than a goose, for it was only a few days before the slaughter began that we drove past a field in which a flock of geese and a number of pheasants were amicably feeding together, and at the sound of the carriage the geese were the first to take to flight, which they did over a 44 hedge, in a heavy lumbering kind of way, followed by the pheasants, who seemed even less able to use their wings. And then to hear the men talk—foolish woman that I am, I feel ashamed of them—one would think, to hear them, they had been shooting lions and tigers, and not poor little home-bred birds, who have to be driven out of their hiding-places by great brutes armed with sticks, for the amusement of some still greater brutes armed with guns. And this is how we, who belong to the world of fashion, take our pleasures.
“I am writing all this seriously; but I fear if I am serious, it is only because I have been bored. You must know, that amongst our guests who are invited at this season, there are some who come habitually—cousins of mamma’s or some old friends of papa’s, who would be offended if they were left out—and so were not able to let all the club-world in which they live know that they were going to shoot at Nettlestone. Old friends, indeed! Some of them so old that they find it difficult to carry a gun, and so generally manage to catch a cold in the train, or to have a slight touch of the gout, when, instead of their valuable time being occupied in slaying fat pheasants, it is taken up in torturing your 45 humble servant; for these superannuated bird-killers are always handed over to Eva and me; and I suppose it is because I am the eldest they seem to think that I, more especially, am bound to amuse them. In the morning I generally manage to escape, but after luncheon I am like poor Sinbad the sailor, who had to walk about day by day with an old man sitting on his shoulders. To-day it was a poor old admiral—some kind of cousin—you may have heard of him, Sir Charles Chesterfield—who is especially unendurable; for he prides himself on having at some period of his life been a lady-killer, and so the poor old wretch crawls down from the awfully high star-and-garter stilts upon which he generally stands, and flounders at the feet of every pretty girl he comes across. I suppose I must be pretty, for I repeat it, I have been bored to death. Foolish young men are my detestation; but for foolish old ones I have no words with which to express my contempt. But all this is so egotistical and silly.
“Now I have written it I am quite ashamed of it—particularly when the great object of my letter was to ask you to write me a long long letter all about your dear self, 46 and your work, and how you like it, and, indeed, about everything; for now you are gone, and Sir Francis is away, I seem never to hear a sensible word: and if you don’t take compassion on me, poor weak creature that I am, I shall become a backslider, and sink down and down into the slough of silliness, which Fashion has carpeted with her scentless flowers. Ah, me! my Victoria, if I could but possess some of your strength of character I should indeed be happy. But I am so weak.”
But Geraldine was wrong. She was not weak. She might not possess Victoria’s strength of character, for she had been brought up in a different school; and the effects of youthful impressions, like those of hereditary tendencies, though they may be modified, can never be entirely eradicated. She had been nursed in the lap of luxury, and had grown up in the midst of conventional modes of thought and action, in that narrow sphere in which refinement is mistaken for enlightenment, amiable impulses for virtue, vanity for self-respect, and social pleasures—or what was intended to be pleasures—as duties. A school in which amusement is often 47 made the chief aim of life, and excitement its moving force.
Gifted with much natural good sense, there were times when Geraldine rebelled, as it were, against herself. She despised herself, as we have seen, for her want of strength. She envied Victoria. She looked up to Sir Francis as a superior being; and yet there was not a day in which she did not show some quality she was most ready to condemn; say or do something, of which, when it was said or done, she was not thoroughly ashamed.
Hers was, as it were, a double character, and it is this “duality” of character in the same individual, which makes it so difficult, for those who would place the actions of each life within some recognised category of good or evil.
If the strong were never weak, the honest never false, the virtuous never vicious—aye, and the converse of all this—if the vicious were never virtuous, the dishonest never true, the weak never strong, what a world would this world be for those who would describe it! But the ease of description would be gained at the sacrifice of all those lights and shades which make such marvellous diversities of colour blend into the beauty of a harmonious 48 whole; and of that great bond which binds all humanity together—the mutual consciousness of weakness.
Victoria had had a fuller and deeper experience. Her own struggles had shown her the difficulty of overcoming the obstacles with which our several paths are beset; and she had been made tolerant to others, whilst remaining a tyrant to herself.
“Dear Geraldine,” she had written to her in return, “I can quite understand your trials, but there are many things in this world we have to put up with though we may not like them; for when we keep ourselves apart from those with whom we live, and make them feel we do so because we despise their pleasures, and have opposite opinions with respect to every question which may arise between us, all family and social ties become severed, and we become, as it were, wanderers on some distant shore, the beauty of which is shrouded from all other eyes but our own. I have often felt that so long as we are members of a domestic circle, we owe a certain amount of passive if not active conformity to the habits and ideas of those around us. It has been wisely arranged that the ‘capacity of conformity’ 49 is greater in our sex than with men; and well that it should be so, for subservience is woman’s heritage: unless she is, as I am, free!—yes, free! But remember that even freedom has its price.”
It will be seen from this, that do what Victoria would, the visions of the past would occasionally present themselves before her. Yet she was able to write:
“You ask me if I am happy. My answer is Yes! far happier than I had dared to anticipate. Every moment of my time is occupied; and my studies are so interesting in themselves, and so varied, that they produce no fatigue. Neither does—as you suppose—anything I have to do disgust me; for nothing is aimless, the object is always in view, increasing in interest as we proceed; and we pass by all that is disagreeable in our path, in the same way that the traveller passes through the narrow squalid streets of some great city and has no thought but of some beautiful monument, some lovely statue, some legacy of the past’s greatness that he has seen, or that he has to see. Oh, Geraldine! you know not—a few months since I knew 50 not—how beautifully this world is ordered! Everything is so simple, yet so varied, so diverse, yet so harmonious; whilst above all and below all, are those great mysteries—the origin and end,—the connection between spirit and matter,—the processes which produce life,—the transformations which follow death,—the boundlessness of space,—the illimitable nature of time: great mysteries never to be solved, yet ever to be studied! Can you wonder, that I feel sometimes oppressed with the sense of my own littleness, at other times lifted up to a height which makes me look with contempt upon what man calls greatness, but at all times filled with reverential awe, and ready to throw myself down in abject helplessness before that great Power by whom all things have been so fearfully and wonderfully made?”
So wrote Victoria to Geraldine. But she had another correspondent who sought for counsel and advice.
It can easily be supposed that Eva had even less in common with those by whom she was habitually surrounded than Geraldine. Had it not been for the vision—ever before her eyes—of that great, honest fellow Chub, she might 51 perhaps have fallen an easy prey to such insidious but well-meaning councillors as the Rev. St. John Softridge and that high-handed directress under whose despotic guidance he so meekly performed the duties of his office. The Rev. St. John loved his wife, but he would have been more than human had he not at sundry times devoutly wished that celibacy had been the rule of what he always spoke of as the Anglican Church; and this is probably one of the reasons why he was always so ready to fall into his wife’s views when she advocated brotherhoods and sisterhoods.
“It is her vocation,” said Mrs. Softridge. “Eva is too good for the ordinary work of this world, you have only to look at her to see that. And how charming she would be in the dress worn at St. Ursula’s; she would make a perfect picture!”
“But she may wish to marry?” mildly suggested her husband.
“Marry! Mr. Softridge, how can you be so absurd! Eva has far higher thoughts. Why, it would bring her down to the vulgar level of other people; and I never look at her without being reminded of a Madonna. I hope if she asks your advice, you will know what to say to her.”52
Eva did ask the Rev. St. John Softridge’s advice, and what he said to her was exactly in accordance with the instructions he had received from that inestimable woman, his wife. But there is a great difference between asking advice and following it, so Eva wrote to Victoria.
She had not long to wait for the reply:
“I beseech you, my dear Eva, to pause,” it said, “before you take a step which can be nothing else than a complete renunciation of all—remember of good as well as evil—which belongs to the fulfilment of the duties inseparable from the position in life in which you have been placed. I will not enter into the subject from a religious or sentimental point of view, but shall confine myself as closely as I can to the practical side of the question as it presents itself to my mind, and speak only of those things of which I have gained some knowledge from personal experience.
“Now, you tell me that you would like to join some sisterhood where you would be a nurse, and you ask me whether I think you are strong enough to perform a work which you speak of as being the noblest to which a 53 woman can devote herself. My answer is: Nursing is the only one of very many duties a woman may be called upon to perform, and that though it is a duty which circumstances may enable her to perform without repugnance, and in many cases with the satisfaction which I suppose belongs to the proper fulfilment of all duties, it is often surrounded by so many disagreeable and distressing details that it is impossible to conceive an office in itself more trying or, at times, more painful. It may seem odd that I should speak in this way of nursing, after having become a nurse from choice; but a knowledge of all that a nurse may be required to do is unquestionably useful, and in my case it was only one of the means by which I sought to reach a higher end. The case becomes quite different when a woman, brought up as you have been in an atmosphere of refinement, suddenly resolves, from a wish, perhaps, to make some meritorious self-sacrifice, to throw all her feelings and susceptibilities to the wind, and become a nurse—professionally a nurse, for, disguise it by what names you please, dress it up in what clothes you may, it is that and nothing more.
“And are you really wanted, for the sake 54 of others, to do this work? That is the question to which I answer, No! I am quite ready to admit that a certain number of women of education and refinement, provided they have energy, health, and administrative ability, are greatly needed to fill the positions of matrons and directresses in our hospitals and benevolent institutions; to officer, in fact, the rank and file, upon whom all the menial work should fall; and that women, to be enabled to fill these positions, must be properly trained. But let us stop there. Every sentimental or religiously disposed woman of independent means who undertakes some lower work, and has no wish to rise above it, is simply filling the place of some one to whom such an employment might be an object of great importance, and whose antecedents might better fit her for it; of some woman of middle age; of a childless widow; of one whose susceptibilities had been deadened in her passage through life—none, perhaps, pretending to higher motives than an honest wish to gain their daily bread, but working well none the less, for self-interest is a powerful incentive, and selfishness in the end does far more continuous labour, in this world of labour, than sentiment.”
“True, most sapient Victoria,” objects the lady reader; “but self-interest ever works for a worldly profit, whilst sentiment may be producing self-sacrifice and working for a worldly loss.”
“My dear lady,” replies the cynic, “do think a little, and you will see that both are working to obtain some future personal advantage, and that the motives of both when reduced to their simplest forms will equally be found to be based on nothing more nor less than pure and unmitigated selfishness.”
My good people, you must settle your difference of opinion in the best way you can. The nature and extent of selfishness is really far too difficult a question to be dealt with here; we only know that it is a subtle element pervading all humanity, and disguised in such a variety of forms that it has even been detected in the odour of sanctity.
Eva was not satisfied with Victoria’s advice; she thought it had a cold, worldly ring, for when advice is not liked there is always something wrong about it.
The idea of entering into a sisterhood was given up, none the less, and with a readiness which somewhat scandalised the Rev. St. John 56 and shocked his wife. They had believed she would have had more strength of will; they did not know that, do all she might to prop it up, there was always that great dead-weight pulling it down on the other side—the thought of Chub.
Yet, as we have said, Eva was not satisfied with Victoria’s advice.
“I really am astonished,” she wrote, “to find that it is not my unfitness for the work, so much as the work itself, to which you object. Surely you will admit that works of charity, even when they necessitate the greatest self-denial, come within the special sphere of woman’s action; and what greater act of charity than the alleviation of suffering? I confess there is much truth in what you say, but it is disappointing to think that because a woman who wishes to do good in her generation has been brought up amidst all the spoiling effects of luxury and over-refinement, she is rendered incapable of taking her share in work in which her sympathies may be deeply engaged, not so much from her own unfitness, as because she may be taking up the ground which ought to be occupied by others. Surely this argument might be applied to almost 57 everything in the shape of work she might attempt?”
“Not so,” replied Victoria; “you have mistaken my meaning. it is that I would not have done, is to employ razors for work that might be better done by clasp-knives. But you may ask: ‘What, then, would you do with your razors?’ I answer, Apart from the work for which they were especially made, I would use them for every other kind of work which cannot be done with clasp-knives, for which their keener edge might better suit them. There are a great many highly-educated girls who, quite out of place as nurses, might occupy themselves in a way which, in my opinion, would be far more advantageous to the community at large and agreeable to themselves. Why should they not become teachers? What higher or more useful work than moulding the minds of the young? Yet how few girls there are who ever give it a passing thought. And here, as a rule, there would be no displacement of others, for the mistresses in the primary schools are usually taken from those classes which I conceive might best supply nurses. As matters now stand, our children in these schools are chiefly 58 taught by machine-made teachers. Surely if all the earnestness which is so often misapplied by those who possess an intellectual culture far beyond that of a girl who is the mere product of a normal school, were to be concentrated on the education of the young, what great results might we not anticipate! I cannot conceive that the work would be less interesting, whilst certainly it would be less fatiguing, to both mind and body, than nursing. Take the school at Nettlestone as an example. It is impossible to talk for five minutes with the schoolmistress, good Miss Puntis, without finding that she is little more than an animated machine, wound up to do her duties in a strictly methodical, correct manner; but when she has done that, she has done all, and is incapable of anything else. The children she teaches are but so many units on her registers; she has not the slightest interest in them outside their classes, and they thoroughly reciprocate her indifference. Can you not picture to yourself the good which might be done could you put in her place some sensible, well-educated, earnest-minded woman, whose heart is in her work; the most valuable part of whose teaching is not that which has been learned 59 from books, but the lessons which are impressed upon her pupils by those indescribable influences which proceed from a teacher’s individuality?”
To this Eva replied:
“You put things before me in a way which makes it very difficult to find out why it is I cannot quite agree with you. But I think when you advocate teaching rather than nursing as a vocation for girls belonging to the upper classes of society, who wish to occupy themselves with useful work, that you have overlooked the fact that in the case where they become nurses there is no loss of caste, whilst in the other there is; and besides this, how very few amongst us there are who would be able to go through the daily drudgery of teaching. To me there is really something dreadful in the idea, and I would far rather become a housemaid and have to scour down the back-stairs.”
Victoria was not silenced, though she felt so thoroughly the uselessness of endeavouring to convince others, that she was half inclined to let Eva have the last word.
“I my dear wrote, “that even you, good, kind, unselfish creature that you are, cannot imagine anyone taking a 60 single step in life without putting the question to themselves first, What will the world think? Why, as a rule, the ‘world’—that is to say, the great majority of the men and women in it—never thinks; though it accepts very readily the advantages which may be conferred upon it by those who do. However, there it is, this obstructive ‘world;’ so let us put the question fairly before us, What would the ‘world’ think? and see if we can gain a satisfactory answer by taking some individual case. That of Mrs. Howard, for instance, of Branksome Cottage, who is known to us both. She has small means—very small means—for though her husband had a good living, when he died, he left very little behind him. She has three daughters: one a hopeless invalid; the other two the very girls to illustrate the subject of our discussion, for they are both in perfect health, well educated, actuated by an earnest wish to do good, and not likely to marry, for they have very little beauty and no money. The eldest of them, as you know, has joined a sisterhood, and spends all her time in nursing strangers, though she has a sister who requires constant care and attention at home. She gives her services gratuitously 61 to the institution she has joined, and requires a certain sum yearly from her mother’s slender purse. The second daughter makes herself very useful in the parish in which she lives, and is never weary of well-doing. They are well connected, and, as you know, are occasionally asked to some of the best houses in the neighbourhood: but of course their very scanty means utterly precludes their entering into the society of the county on anything like equal terms; so that they cannot be said to belong to it, though I must not forget to mention that when Sister Dorothea comes home for a short holiday, wearing her ‘sister’s’ dress—which improves her mightily, she is much sought after, not only by all the gay world, but, if my memory is not at fault, by a certain young lady who is called Eva.
“Now, within easy reach of Branksome Cottage are two primary schools, each with its schoolmistress. Now I cannot understand why, if the two Miss Howards had qualified themselves for the work, they might not have had those two schools. They would at once have been raised from a state which certainly for them is one of great poverty, and their time being only occupied for a few hours each 62 day, they would have been enabled to aid their mother, who is by no means young or strong, in her double duty of managing the house, and nursing their sick sister. Why, then, should this ‘world’ be allowed to step in between them and a career which offers so many advantages, and say, No, we won’t have it; you shall not teach children; we will only allow you to—well, my dear Eva, I will have compassion on you and not finish my sentence, for there are essential duties connected with a sick room which, if put too clearly before you, might have the effect of bringing down your poetical visions of nursing to a somewhat disagreeable prosaic level, and make you prefer the employment you characterise as “drudgery.”
“Drudgery! Is that the word to be used when speaking of one of woman’s highest, noblest occupations: the training of the young? To the moulding of the youthful mind into such forms as will best adapt it to the requirements of daily life, and the performance of the duties which belong to each and all of us; to the progressive advance towards that great goal—the perfect good—which, however unattainable, is the true end and aim of all human effort? No, my dear Eva, education 63 is a high and holy work. You are wrong to speak of it as drudgery.
“Perhaps you think I am too enthusiastic, and may wonder why, with my ideas, I have not become a teacher. But because I have instituted a comparison between teaching and nursing, it does not follow that there may not be other careers open to women in which they can make themselves equally if not more useful.”
So it was that Eva, though unsatisfied, remained quietly at home nursing her affection in a patient, hopeless sort of way for the big, burly, medical student, who was walking the hospitals, and rejoiced in the name of Chub.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter IV
Nursing is the only one of very many duties a woman may be called upon to perform
[It would make more sense if “the” were shifted further along, or else deleted entirely: Nursing is only one of [the] very many duties, and so on.]
What it is that I would not have done, is to employ razors
text has “What with superfluous open quote
Why should they not become teachers?
[It does not seem to occur to Victoria—or, possibly, to the author—that teaching and nursing are different skills, requiring different aptitudes.]
“I see, my dear Eva,” she wrote
[Text has “I see,” my dear Eva, “she wrote with two separate quotation-mark errors]
MUSINGS BY THE WAY.
People may say what they please to the contrary, but money is a great blessing. Of course wealth has its temptations, but the trials of poverty are not one whit less severe; indeed sometimes they are so severe that man is driven by them to that terrible point of suffering and despair which tempted Job, in the anguish of his heart, to curse God and die.
Yes, money is a great blessing, and those who having it, affect to despise it, and speak to those who are without it, as if they were to be envied, whilst they themselves were poor pitiable objects, bowed down by cares and responsibilities from which there is no escape, are hypocrites of the deepest dye; for it is in the power of the rich with a pen-stroke to become poor, whilst the poor may 65 wear their pens down to the very stump and not gain so much as will give them their daily bread.
For poverty there is frequently no change. However painful the scenes by which the poor may be surrounded, however distasteful or monotonous their daily occupations, there is no escape from them. Life is often reduced by poverty to a dull, dreary round, and only made endurable to those who are enabled, through the eye of faith, to see those bright visions which belong to a higher and better state. Glorious visions before which all the material splendours of this world become pale. But how few are those who rise on the wings of faith compared with the multitudes who have no thought beyond those things which are confined within the dark and narrow precincts of their daily lives.
Such were some of the reflections which passed through Sir Francis Hawthorne’s mind as the white cliffs of England receded from his view, a short time after his defeat in Middleshire.
He had been defeated. What of that? The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. But he felt how little 66 his views were in unison with those from whom he had expected more support. He had found Liberals and Radicals professing the most advanced opinions turning away from every question which trenched in however small a degree upon their own interests, though they were perfectly ready to take action with respect to those questions which only affected the interests of their neighbours. What could be done when men thought only of themselves, and not of the common weal? for once, sanguine as he was, he felt inclined to withdraw from all participation in the struggles which belong to public life, and to give up the cause of progress as hopeless.
It was evident he must have a change; he abhorred the shooting season; he felt that his visits to Nettlestone would be ill-timed. So he followed Dr. Pringle’s advice, packed up his portmanteau, and started for the Continent.
He had never been in Italy, so he made Rome his objective point; perhaps it may have been that a remark made by Geraldine, when he made known his intention to her: “Oh, Sir Francis, why don’t you go to Rome? I wish you would,” had somewhat influenced his choice.67
As he sat buttoned up in his ulster, gazing thoughtfully on those receding cliffs, he looked the very personification of a healthy, well-to-do, unsentimental Englishman. There was nothing in his appearance to indicate the defeated candidate, the rejected lover, and the suitor in embryo, whose heart was bleeding from fresh wounds. Perhaps it was because the disappointments of the past were fading away from his memory, just as the white cliffs were becomings less and less distinct, as he was borne onward towards another shore; for the effects of distance and time are much alike, and they are both irresistible. His eyes, as we have said, were fixed upon the receding white cliffs, but he did not see them, he was thinking of something else.
“In three months I shall be back, and then?”
The answer must have been full of sweetness, for he sat dwelling upon it till he was rudely awakened out of his reverie by finding that the steamer was passing between the pier heads of Calais Harbour.
A few days later he was in Rome.
Rome! That city of visions, in which life is breathed into the dry bones which lie 68 before us, until we so move amidst the forms we have created that it is our own existence which seems unreal.
Rome! That city of strange contrasts, in which all that is beautiful and rare is found side by side with all that is most tasteless and commonplace. Gems of art so surrounded that they become as the flowers which are strewn upon the crumbling remains of the dead.
Rome! That city in which the Past looms out of the dimness of time in proportions which dwarf the Present, stand out as the Present may in all the gloss and glitter of its modish garb.
Rome! That sanctuary of superstition, where Reason is bound captive, Foolishness is made to take the place of Wisdom, and man receives the homage which is due to God.
Sir Francis felt as if he stood in presence of a corpse, and the thoughts which the sight of that corpse produced were sad ones.
How could he look at the Coliseum and not think of the devilish passions of which it had been the theatre; of the human agony of which it had been the shrine; of the grossness and brutality which may be found 69 side by side with the taste which produces and fosters art; of the luxurious refinements, which, as much now as then, are mistaken for civilisation and progress. It was this aspect of the Past which made it so sad. The union of so much from which the thoughtful modern mind recoils in horror, with that upon which the eye rests with a pleasure which never palls.
He turned away for consolation to the Present—even sadder the spectacle which it presented.
What could they mean—those bambinos, those virgins, those statues—was it before such stocks and stones as these that men should be taught to bow the knee? He had in his travels entered the Buddhist temples in China; but he had seen nothing like the image worship he now saw in Rome. The images there had no special sanctity; here, many of them possessed individual attributes and miraculous powers. He was prepared for much, but he was not prepared to see—as he did one afternoon—each priest belonging to the chapter of St. Peter’s, as he passed through the nave on his way to vespers, stop before the brazen image of the saint, kiss its much-worn great toe with great fervour, and reverently 70 press it to his forehead! Alas! so it is. Superstition can never change; it is ever the same—yesterday, to-day, and
No—it can never change; it tears the hearts out of living men, and makes them mere animated machines, mere organisms in some great system for the enslavement of the human mind. Yet it is these men, who become the guides, the counsellors, the directors of men and women who are moved by impulses and united by a love, they cannot understand.
As Sir Francis saw the young men preparing for the priesthood marching through the streets in all the elastic strength of youth, he could not suppress a feeling of compassion; for what greater subject for pity than the man who is taught that every emotion which belongs to his nature is a sin, and that he can only obtain the favour of the God he would seek to serve by condemning the nature which only belongs to him through that God’s will?
But there is another Rome, and that Sir Francis did not care to see—the Rome of tourists and guide-books—of those who talk art and smatter small knowledge; the Rome 71 of Palazzi and Principi, of the Pope and the Pappilini.
He left Rome and went to Naples, passing through the Campagna, where neglect has turned the pure air of Italy to poison, and energy might create a paradise. Everywhere he was filled with astonishment. By what possible process could a people naturally so intelligent, so industrious, have been reduced to such a state of degradation—for to the mass of the peasantry it would be difficult to apply any other term. Where could Nature be found to have scattered her gifts with a more lavish hand, and where could man be found to have marred her beauty in such a ruthless manner? Mountains that were once clothed with luxuriant forests, so bare that the traveller is oppressed with their sterility; and large tracts in which the rich crop of weeds showed that man’s labour was alone needed to make it grow richer crops of fruit or grain allowed to remain a barren waste. In contrast to this, there were times when the road passed through field after field cultivated with a care which in other lands is to be found only in a garden. What more exquisite view than the one which met his eyes when driving from La Cava to Amalfi! Between 72 him and the sea terraced gardens full of lemon trees with their golden fruit; gardens so carefully cultivated that they seemed as if the cultivators had concentrated their whole care and love upon them. Below and beyond the blue waters of the bay of Salerno, and in the distance the still snow-capped Apennines, with the majestic ruins of Pæstum, reduced to a dot of white upon the strand.
Sir Francis drank in the beauty of the scene until his whole soul seemed filled with it. What a world might not this be made, he said. He said it aloud, and the vetturino, though he knew no English, seemed to divine his thoughts; for he turned round with a—“Si, Signor, vero.”
At Amalfi he found how true it is that to the natural man there is no source of elevation in the beauty of the objects by which he may be surrounded. It was impossible to conceive anything more filthy than the streets, or disgusting than the habits of the people. An intelligent boy—indeed all boys are intelligent in Italy—acted as his guide.
“This,” he said, pointing to a large marble font in the church, “was found floating on the sea; it was brought to Amalfi by angels.”73
“Believe me, my good boy,” said Sir Francis, “you will see no more angels at Amalfi; you must become cleaner first. Now when the angels come near, they will say, ‘Impossible! this dirty place cannot be Amalfi.’ They will hold their noses and fly away.”
“During all these centuries,” thought Sir Francis, “could not their bishops”—for Amalfi is a see—“and their priests teach these poor people that there is such a virtue in this world as decency?”
He visited Sorrento, Capri. Dreams could not conjure up greater loveliness. In the ruins of Pompeii he pictured to himself the terrors of that time when a sudden horror broke in upon the daily lives of thousands—when even strong men trembled before the mysterious working of the Unknown, and shrieking fugitives sought to find shelter from the destruction which was thought to be but the beginning of the great end. In the Museum fancy brought back to life those disfigured and discoloured forms, and he felt a tenderness towards them, as if they must have belonged to beings who when alive would have been worthy of love—a feeling something more than pity, yet which belongs to all pity—a recognition of our own weakness, 74 and of the miserable object which we see before us, being nought else than that which we ourselves might have been.
As he walked through the narrow streets, fancy was busy portraying the busy life with which they must have been filled at the time when those deep ruts were being cut by the car wheels. He saw the slaves who drew these cars; for the streets were crossed at intervals by high stepping-stones, which rendered them impassable for vehicles drawn by any other animal than man; and he contrasted them with the loungers on the raised side-paths, who, clothed in purple and fine linen, were just beginning to ask themselves what manner of faith this new creed must be, in which purple and fine linen had no place—and master and slave were made equal.
As he was leaving the ruins his attention was attracted by a small group of persons near the gate—of which a lady was the principal figure. In front of her was an old man—very poor, if his ragged garments were to be trusted—who seemed to be in charge of one of the custodians.
“Signora,” asked the custodian of her, as Sir Francis approached, “will you be so good as to tell me whether you have seen this old man before?”75
“Yes,” said the lady; “he gave me a cup of water from a fountain near which he was
“And you gave him a present of money?”
“Do you remember what it was you gave him?”
“I think two pieces of two sous each.”
“Perhaps you are not aware that a twenty-franc piece was between them?”
“No, I am not; but I can easily see.”
The lady looked at her purse, and found that it was indeed true.
“Thank God!” said Sir Francis, “that such honesty as this is not yet dead. The grains may be small, but there they are, and it is the fault of society if they are not made to grow until their branches overshadow the earth.”
The lady had given the old man a small present. Sir Francis shook him by the hand and pressed a coin into it as he did so.
“It was but an honest act, my friend, but in doing it you have done honour to Italy.”
He raised his hat as he spoke, and turned away.
Vesuvius! Baiæ! What cared he now for failure in Middleshire? What room for 76 selfish thoughts when he stood in the presence of the stupendous grandeur of the one—of the supreme beauty of the other?
Ah, if Geraldine could have been with him!
At Florence, that great art-centre, he once more found himself in contact with masterpieces of human skill. His days were spent in her galleries, in her churches, and he marvelled at the genius, the patience, the life-long assiduity, which had left such a lasting record of loving labour. But could those great artists have looked into the future, would they have been satisfied at finding their works huddled pell-mell together, so placed that their delicacy of detail was often lost through want of light, and the effect of colour destroyed by close proximity to some unfavourable contrast? At finding that which had been intended to have formed the one ornament, the chief interest, of a princely chamber, to be dwelt on lovingly by appreciating eyes, made one of a great motley mass, to be passed by with indifference, or stared at as something which ought to be seen by thousands to whom a picture is little more than a number in a catalogue, and who would not bestow a glance upon it were it without its gilt frame.77
And in the churches was it better? No! most frequently it was worse. It was very seldom that a picture could be seen—in the sense of seeing as a picture should be seen—and as often as not, it would be partly hidden by a row of tall candles and by paltry vases holding bouquets of that faded crumbling artificial rubbish with which men seek to show their gratitude to that Divine Being who has scattered beauties every hand can reach, and made a marvel of the meanest flower.
Then again, the end? To what extent had art performed its mission as a teacher? Had the works of these great masters done more than educate the taste by producing a higher standard with respect to the beautiful? for man has no innate idea of beauty. The answer came, but Sir Francis was not satisfied with it.
Those painters, whom we speak of as the “Great Painters,” were but the outcome of the time in which they lived, of the forces by which they were surrounded. Now, at the epoch when art may be said to have most flourished, the power of the Church was nearly dominant, and the distribution of the world’s wealth was in its hands. The 78 Church became then the great patron whose favour the artist was most anxious to obtain, and it was working under its direction that he became a new agent in a system which aimed at nothing less than to bring the human mind within the circle of a certain formulary of ideas. They did their work well. Art, in the hands of genius, soon assumed a position of supremacy which made it direct rather than follow; religion, through its teachings, became more sensuous, more emotional, more material; the supernatural, by its aid, was brought down to the level of humanity; the very passions were enlisted on the side of piety; and pent-up emotions found a legitimate vent in the adoration of ideals, which were brought before the eye with a freedom of treatment which might frequently have been considered voluptuous, had the subjects been profane. Yes! it is unquestionable art has been a great teacher; but has art been a good teacher? Only in proportion to the amount of the true, preponderating over the false; and what is the true?
Here Sir Francis came to a pause. What is the true? A mere point in the eternal space which never can be reached, yet always 79 to be moved towards. A distant speck surrounded by false lights—so distant that deviate but a hair-breadth from the right track, and what we mistake for progress is but a moving onwards towards that sea of error from whose shoals there is no escape.
No! art has not been a teacher of the true. Had it been so, its votaries could not have remained callous to the world’s loveliness being so marred by so much that is hideous around them. It would have produced healthy emotions leading to useful actions, instead of sickly emotions wasting themselves in morbid thoughts.
Might not Sir Francis himself have been morbid? Perhaps so. But the train of his thoughts was the result of incidents happening before his eyes.
He saw crowds of refined and cultivated people standing in silent admiration before the beautiful picture of a child. Was ever anything so lovely? Was ever anything so touching? In the streets they had passed by living children—and of all created things, what is there more lovely than a young child?—without a thought. Living children, so neglected, that none but the indifferent could have looked upon them without a sense of shame.80
He had seen in a church an old priest gazing with tearful eyes upon a picture, in which the artist had portrayed some incident, in a saintly life, of sacrifice of self, of help in need. He was still gazing, when an old woman came up and asked for alms. The old priest’s expression changed in an instant, and there was not a trace of softness in it as he drove her angrily away. How was this? Sir Francis thought he knew. The chief interest of the picture belonged to the attractive manner in which all the actors in the scene it represented were portrayed. The saint herself was beautiful, so beautiful that it was her personality which took possession of the spectator; and could it be expected that the emotions which it produced could be made subservient to sympathetic action towards a dirty old woman whose wants were of the most common and everyday kind. The old priest did not intend to be cruel; he was only an instance of how our emotions may be worked upon by a false and artificial treatment, until they become deadened to aught that concerns the vulgar realities of everyday life; but it is with the vulgar realities of this everyday life that man has most to do.81
Sir Francis stopped many days at Florence. There was something in the quiet repose of the place which seemed to harmonise with his feelings. A man, too, had once lived in Florence, the echoes of whose voice still seemed to ring through the silence of St. Mark. Alas! Savonarola, hadst thou been content to have remained as others were, thou wouldst perhaps have passed away unknown; but there would have been no agony of soul through wrestling with doubt, no protracted torture of that wretched body, no fiery pile to cast a blush upon the face of day in the Piazza della Signoria. How terrible it is to conjure up the scene upon which the cold grey stones of the Palazzo Vecchio must have looked on that sad May morning! Let us thank God that, bad as we are, cruel as we are, and stupid as we are, we have outlived burning, and that even when superstition seeks to edify her votaries, she is obliged to devise some less exciting spectacle than an auto da fé.
Full of thoughts in which great men, great pictures, beautiful buildings and historic incidents formed a kind of mosaic, Sir Francis left Florence. He travelled through Verona—paying a short visit to the Arena and the 82 house of the Capulets—to Bologna. Here he was brought again face to face with two of the great forces which seek to rule the world.
In its university, which dates from the twelfth century, Bologna pays homage to the force which seeks to elevate humanity through the enlargement of the understanding, through the cultivation of the intelligence, by the diffusion of—knowledge.
In its one hundred and thirty churches and twenty monasteries, it has recognised another force—a force which acknowledges no equal; which would elevate man by turning his attention from this world to the next; a force which has built up a fabric out of ignorance, credulity, and deceit upon eternal truth, and calls itself—religion.
A university with but a few hundred students where there were once thousands. A university which was one of the earliest to teach anatomy; in which galvanism was discovered, and in which—all honour to it—women were allowed to prosecute their studies and become professors.
But a greater force prevailed. How could a university be expected to hold its own against one hundred and thirty churches and 83 twenty monasteries; against the misdirection of the public mind by the narrowing influences proceeding from them? In one of the seven churches which forms the pile of Santo Stefano, once the site of a temple to Isis, is the tomb of a saint; but what interested Sir Francis most, was a printed paper attached to the wall. It was a form of prayer, with a notice to the faithful that two several popes had been pleased, in the plenitude of their power, to grant an indulgence of exemption from the pains of purgatory for eighty thousand years, to anyone by whom it might be recited in that church. Eighty thousand years! But that was not all. It was provided that, in the case of those who could not recite the prayer through not being able to read, the same indulgence might be gained by the repetition of three Paternosters. Eighty thousand years! well, there was some cleverness in that; for how powerful must those be who can deal so liberally with Divine favour! And it is towards a system which has acknowledged and exercised every kind of presumptuous profanity, and which still sanctifies error, so long as it may be useful and further its secret ends, that so many well-meaning people outside its pale 84 are found in these days of enlightenment to be gravitating. At least a tour through Italy ought to change the current of their thoughts; and so it would, were they to see, when travelling, something more than external forms; but with Baedeker or Murray in his hand, the traveller is frequently a mere automaton, and, unlike Sir Francis, finds, even in Bologna, little else to interest him than its churches, its leaning towers, and its Raphael’s St. Cecilia.
It was too late for Venice. Venice cannot be seen without sunshine, and it was now November.
At Milan, Sir Francis found the Past and Present side by side, represented by the cathedral and the galleries Vittorio , both built in the form of a cross—in that alike, and in naught else. At first the contrast somewhat shocked him. Surely there was something nobler, grander, purer in the ideas belonging to an age which has left such exquisite monuments of its creative power? Surely this vulgar Mammon-worship which gives birth to no higher aspirations in its votaries than those which produce factories and shops, and makes art subservient to its ignoble behests, shows a retrogression in human progress?85
“Think again, sir,” said a stranger, with whom he had entered into conversation in the Piazza del Duomo. “Think again, sir. Do not allow yourself to be blinded by the glamour which belongs to the beautiful. These past ages which stand out before the fancy in such lovely forms, become hideous when we resuscitate them. Adoration of the beautiful had covered the world with architectural gems, with statues in which marble was made to assume a grace and comeliness unknown to life, with pictures still studied, and never yet surpassed; but—ah! if we could only get rid of these ‘buts!’—it had not caused men to turn away with horror from what the worst amongst us now would deem horrible: men and women exposed to the most terrible tortures that studied ingenuity could devise; shows of gladiators; tournaments à l’outrance; burnings at the stake; public executions in which death was made to assume some frightful form; slavery for the poor, bondage for the wise—a bondage so severe that even a Galileo dared not assert the truth, and a state of society which showed its miserable depravity when all the high-life of Paris crowded to the Place de la Grève, to witness the all-day-long-continued torture of 86 the wretched Damiens—a state of society which led up to its own retribution, and was ignominiously engulfed in the shameful excesses and brutal depravity of the French Revolution. So much for the mere adoration of the Beautiful. Is Mammon-worship better? Unquestionably yes, for it is based on labour, it needs peace, and can only flourish in prosperity. It belongs to an epoch in which full liberty of speech, thought, and action have been recognised; in which slavery has been abolished; in which the laws have been made more humane. Many brutal pastimes have been discontinued, and with the English, amongst whom it is said to flourish most, men have learned to differ without quarrelling, and have left off the stupid trick of firing at each other with pistols, or prodding at each other with swords, because they cannot think exactly in the same way.”
“It may be you are right,” said Sir Francis. He never knew with whom he had been conversing, but he thought from his accent the stranger must have been an American. “But there is a religion higher than Mammon-worship: the religion which teaches man to love his neighbour as himself; 87 let us hope it may become the religion of the future.”
“I see, sir, you are an enthusiast,” said the stranger, as he bowed and passed on.
There is nothing so unanswerable as an epithet.
Onward, over the Alps. It is winter in these regions, whilst the autumn sun still shines warm on the plains below. The road is already deep with snow—snow is everywhere. The tree limit has been passed, and as the traveller gains a glimpse through some rift in the encircling clouds of the depths below, it seems as if he were being borne aloft in the arms of a giant. Silence reigns supreme. There is no sound, save the tinkling of the horses’ bells, and the crunching of the crisp, dry snow under the horses’ feet. A solitude in which there is no loneliness, for the grandeur of the scene fills the mind with mighty thoughts, for which there is no room amidst the busy, bustling haunts of men.
On the shores of the Lake of Geneva, Sir Francis lingered for a while. Never was a scene more fair! The weather, which he was told had been wet and foggy, had become fine. The deep blue of the sky was reflected 88 in the waters of the lake. The first snow had capped the mountains with a covering of spotless white. The trees were still in full foliage; some still quite green, some in a garb of gold, others mantled in red; whilst mounting upwards, till they stood out black in contrast to the snow, grew the dark, sombre pines, those emblems of constancy and strength. The season was very late, so that the grapes had not yet been gathered, and the vineyards were still full of life; whilst above them, on the mountain-slopes, grazed herds of cattle, the sound of whose bells was accompanied by the melodious undertone of a thousand rills.
Had he not known Switzerland before, Sir Francis might have been tempted to exclaim, “Ah, happy people with a lot so blest.” But, smile as Nature might, he had seen her in other moods. He knew that the mountaineer has to spend his whole life in wrestling against the difficulties with which she has surrounded him, and that it is indeed with the sweat of his brow that he has to wring out the bare sustenance of life from her beautiful but cold and rugged bosom.
“Yet honest labour has its charms, no matter what it be,
When he who labours, looks around and feels that he is free.”
It was a few days after his arrival, and he had climbed up to that point on the mountains above Montreux, from which a view is to be obtained which has been immortalised as “beautiful as a summer dream,” when he heard voices, and, turning in the direction from which they came, saw three ladies advancing towards him. As they came nearer, what was his astonishment to find that one of them was Victoria.
She and two German friends had been tempted by the fine weather to make a short excursion to the Lake of Geneva through the Simmen Thal, and they were now on their way to Clarens.
“This is indeed an unexpected pleasure,” she said, as she held out her hand to Sir Francis. “You see, Bertha,” she continued, after she had presented him to her friends, “how quickly what I was saying just now has been verified.”
“What was it you said?” asked Sir Francis.
“When we were looking at the beautiful view, and were full of wonder, I exclaimed: ‘To be happier were impossible!’ Miss Marsh would have it that there is no happiness which has not a greater happiness a 90 little further off, if we take care not to miss it.”
“And my greater happiness has already come, in the meeting of an old friend,” said Victoria, laughing. “Yours, my dear Bertha, may yet be a little way off; as for Adèle, we know exactly where she will meet with hers, if the Herr Brautigam only keeps his tryst at Clarens.”
“If he does not come to meet us, I will never speak to him again,” said Adèle, blushing.
“Is the gentleman you are referring to tall and good-looking, with a full, fair beard?” asked Sir Francis.
“Why,” said Adèle, “do you inquire?”
“Because,” said Sir Francis, “as I came up the path I passed a gentleman seated by a stream, so engrossed in pleasant thoughts, and I fear I must add a large pipe, that I don’t believe he even saw me.”
“Fritz,” said Bertha. “Adèle’s Fritz, to the life. He smokes when he is away, because he says he is so sad. And when he is with Adèle he smokes too, to calm, so he pretends, his too great joy.”
“And now tell me all about yourself,” said Victoria, as they moved downwards; “you 91 have been a great traveller, and I am only a poor student; so it is for you to talk and me to listen.”
“Tell me first,” said Sir Francis, “have you heard lately from Nettlestone? but not until I have told you how well you are looking. Why, this mountain air seems to agree with you mightily.”
It was true. Victoria was radiant with health; and there was a bright cheerfulness in her manner which had not belonged to it before. She was handsomer than ever. It was impossible to look at her without admiration; yet Sir Francis felt that he could be with her now and—yes! if he had a sister, it would be exactly like it—she never could be anything to him now but a sister. How different it was when he thought of Geraldine! Then his heart beat more quickly—far more quickly even than it had done on that expectant morning; and again he asked himself:
“Ah! how could I ever have thought of any other? But, as a sister, I can love her—still love her, as I can love none other, but Geraldine?”
Fickle, fickle Sir Francis!
The long period daring which her mind had been engrossed by studies, which filled up every moment of her time, had so changed the current of her thoughts that it was impossible to renew feelings which had become memories. The tenderness which belongs to love was no longer there, but she had not ceased to regard Sir Francis with affection; and, when she had held out her hand to welcome him, her eyes had sparkled with pleasure, and her voice had trembled with emotion as she introduced him as her friend—her “dearest” friend.
It was strange, but, from different causes, a friendship which was based on the deepest affection had become sweeter to them both than love. It is doubtful whether Victoria would have been so happy as she was without it; and, though Sir Francis knew it not, it was this deep friendship for Victoria which gave intensity to his love for Geraldine; and so it was that one of the first questions he asked of her whom he had once loved most, was whether she had heard lately from Nettlestone.
Yes, unquestionably; of all mysteries, the mystery of love is the greatest and deepest.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter V
Superstition can never change; it is ever the same—yesterday, to-day, and tomorrow.
text has tomorrow.” with superfluous close quote
[The writer would not be English if he couldn’t get in a dig at Catholics somewhere along the line.]
he turned round with a—“Si, Signor, e vero.”
[Without accent, it comes out meaning “and true”, but it can’t be helped.]
“he gave me a cup of water from a fountain near which he was working.”
close quote missing
A university with but a few hundred students where there were once thousands.
[Cheer up, General. Bologna now has well over 80,000 students.]
the cathedral and the galleries Vittorio Emanuale
THE BELLE OF THE SEASON.
The shooting season is over. Pheasants who have escaped destruction are allowed to live in peace. They have even ceased to form the chief topic of conversation, for foxes have taken their place. The Nettlestone country affords good sport, and the Nettlestone pack has a great reputation. The Court is again full of guests, and now in her letters to Victoria—shorter letters with longer intervals between them—Geraldine no longer speaks of the life she is leading being distasteful to her. No! far from it. Her new horse “is a beauty, and can do all but speak.” In a run across the most difficult part of the country, she was one of the three, including the huntsman, in at the death. She loves hunting, it is “so delicious,” “so exhilarating.” Then, too, she speaks of the party at the 94 Court being a pleasant one, and amongst other names she mentions more than once the Marquis of Runnymede, son of the Duke of Beaumanoir, as one of the best riders to hounds she has ever seen. “It is true,” she said, “he can do little else besides but dance and spend money; but he is not a bad looking fellow, and has a good tailor, which after all is something in these days when most men look as if they wanted to make themselves as hideous as possible.” She only once or twice alluded to Sir Francis, wondering where he was, or supposing that he was poking about in dreary ruins or blinding himself in picture galleries. She wrote in a lively playful manner. But there was something unreal about her letters, and Victoria could not help feeling that much she had washed to say remained unsaid, and that much of this lively playfulness was forced.
Perhaps it was so; but there could be no doubt in the minds of those who saw Geraldine Yorke, as she sat her favourite hunter, beautiful, and graceful, and dexterous, full of courage, and beaming with happiness and health, that riding, and above all riding to hounds, was to her not only an exhilarating exercise, but the source of exquisite pleasure. 95 It were indeed odd had it not been so. The most modest of mortals have a secret satisfaction in doing those things which they know they can do well, and women have another source of enjoyment—denied to most men—when they become conscious that they are looking their best and are being admired. And how was it possible for Geraldine to remain unconscious of this, when she found herself attracting the attention and receiving the homage of that gallant galaxy of old and middle-aged and young horsemen, who, keen sportsmen as they were, returned home from a run as gloomily as if it had been a blank day, when they had not been cheered by the fascinating presence of that pearl of riders, the beautiful Geraldine Yorke.
“What a girl she is!” remarked the Hon. Pierrepoint Phipps to his friend the major, as they rode to the station together after a run with the Nettlestone hounds. “What a girl she is!”
The Hon. Pierrepoint Phipps sighed heavily as he said this, and would have looked sentimental had he been able, but he was not; sentiment seldom survives the severe trials of a garrison and barrack life, so he could do no more than reiterate, “What a girl she is!”96
“And with a hand like velvet,” said the major. “I have it from Tom Trenton, that chestnut of hers pulls like ten thousand devils when he has a man on his back, and she can ride him with a cobweb.”
“Lucky fellow that Runnymede,” sighed the Hon. Pierrepoint Phipps.
“Don’t like his horse,” said the major, “too long in the back. Those dealers can sell him anything provided it has a long price.”
“He is always riding by her side,” said the Hon. Pierrepoint Phipps.
“They say he is confoundedly dipped,” said the major. “His last book was something awful.”
“Then he will marry her,” said the Hon. Pierrepoint Phipps; “for what girl is there who will refuse a man who can make her a duchess? I tell you what it is, Fitz-Jones, younger sons ought to be drowned as soon as they are born, like puppies. The world is getting so small there is no room for them.”
The major looked at his friend with astonishment; he had never heard him talk like this before. A sudden idea struck him.
“Never mind, Pierrepoint, my boy,” he 97 said; “if the grey did refuse the brook, it was a rasper, and you ride two stone heavier than Runnymede, and his horse——”
“Confound him!” said the Hon. Pierrepoint Phipps, with vehemence, “and his big beast of a horse. I hate them both!”
An angel could not have been more shocked than the major, for the Hon. Pierrepoint Phipps prided himself on never making use of strong language.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, but not aloud, “he is out of sorts. If he were a horse I would give him a bran-mash.”
But soon—too soon for Geraldine and many of those who had come down to Nettlestone to have a few days with the hounds—came frost and snow. The hunting was at an end. What a season! could there be anything more disagreeable! and foxes so plentiful! Bitter as the weather was, it could not come up to the bitterness of the biting things which were said of it. Indeed the wretchedness of the weather was, like all other disagreeable subjects, a favourite topic of conversation; had it been in the hands of a department, and that department ruled over by a head weather-maker, who, like the heads of some 98 departments that we wot of, ranked ignorance of his duties amongst his principal qualifications, it could not have been more severely handled.
“The country has become simply detestable. How glad I am to leave it; and those who know best, say the season is to be a very good one.” So wrote Geraldine to Victoria, and not one word of Sir Francis in her letter. Poor Sir Francis! laid up with fever in Paris, not able to move, yet dying to get home, and turning over and over in his mind every word and look—and there were many words and looks—with which to brighten up the hope of the happiness he was to find on his return.
But a few weeks, and it is the height of the season; the feverish, restless, anxious time which makes mothers grow prematurely old, which takes the bloom off youth, and which accumulates within the space of a few short weeks, emotions and experiences which under the ordinary circumstances of everyday life would extend over as many years. What a whirl, what a giddy, mazy round, what a chaotic struggling mass of pleasure-seekers! Seeking and not finding. Finding and not holding. Holding and throwing 99 from them in disgust that which had turned to dust and ashes in their grasp.
Geraldine is in the midst of this ceaseless movement. Indeed she has become one of its chief centres. For her beauty, which had been acknowledged by those to whose opinion all knees bow low, at her début, is proclaimed by that great authority to be the one beauty, the chief beauty, of the season. She leads a life of perpetual excitement, and the excitement of each moment lends an additional beauty to each charm. She knows that she is admired, that she is the cynosure of all eyes, that when she enters a room all conversation ceases, to be renewed in an animated buzz, of which she knows as well as if she had heard the words, that she is the theme and object, and she is intoxicated with pleasure. Never had she known before the charm which belongs to being beautiful, which belongs to the triumph of distancing all competitors, which belongs to a homage before which all other homage pales—the homage which belongs to that one being unto whom no rank is too high to kneel, for that one being is for the time the goddess set up by fashion, in which fashion adores herself—the Belle of the Season.100
And can this be Geraldine? Can this be the counsellor to whom Sir Francis had deferred in his moments of difficulty and doubt? the counsellor whose views harmonised with his own; whose thoughtful expressions put more lucidly before him the practical issue he had vainly sought to find?
Yes! it is Geraldine; but a counsellor, an adviser no more. How can she be so, when she has not a moment left to spare for thought—at least for thought of aught else than of that which has to dominate over every other interest—of her dress, or of the dress of others. For the belle of the season owes it to the world in which she lives, that she should not be eclipsed; that she should do nothing to shock the loyalty of those upon whom her rule depends; and that in all matters of taste she should direct, and not consult—take the lead, and not follow.
Alas! poor Geraldine!
Not an hour, not a minute, not a moment in which she could call herself free. Yet every hour, every minute, every moment dedicated to herself. Inventing new combinations of colours for this dress and that; shopping; sitting for her portraits in many styles; riding in the Park, driving in the 101 Park; morning calls; daily services in fashionable churches; morning concerts and daily kettle-drums; dinners, dances, theatres, operas, drawing-rooms—all following each other unceasingly, endlessly. Moving from one point of vantage to another. Admiration here, admiration there. Somewhat of satiety at last. Something else to seek for. Something more lasting, more real—for the reign of the belle of the season cannot last; the worshippers of beauty need change. It is for this season. But for the next—who can tell?
Lady Arabella it was, perhaps, who knew this best. She was proud, very proud, of the position which her daughter had achieved. Mr. Yorke had not felt greater pride in the M.P. now attached to his name. But she was not satisfied. It would be difficult to find anyone who is. To be the mother of the belle of the season is to be in a position which for the moment may fill all other mothers with envy; but it is a fleeting glory, and to make it lasting something more is wanting. Hymen must light his torch, and the best match of the season be the season’s crowning joy.
There were many eligible young men hovering butterfly-like in this beautiful garden of 102 living flowers, of which Geraldine was the chief. Who was the most eligible? and was he to be won? The most eligible?—that is to say, the one whom fashion held to be the best. For whose wife there would in time, if not just yet, be no second place. For whose wife, even though she be the belle of the season, there would be no abdication; but rather an extension of her power, established on a new basis, which time even could not weaken. The most eligible? The problem was not difficult to solve.
The Marquis of Runnymede, the heir to the oldest and richest dukedom in the three kingdoms—popular, good-looking, full of small talk of the most agreeable kind—had, as we know, already shown a marked preference for Geraldine’s society. And it seemed as if, with a little tact—and Lady Arabella piqued herself upon her tact—he might be made to declare himself, and Geraldine to accept him. It is true that Lady Arabella knew, for Mr. Yorke had told her, that Lord Runnymede was not quite immaculate; that his relations with one or more female notorieties were matters which had given rise to much public comment; and that he was supposed to have been so unfortunate in his 103 turf transactions, and in his somewhat too high play at his club, as to have seriously compromised his future prospects; but Lady Arabella knew that “young men will be young men”—that in his position of life it is excusable to give way to temptations from which ordinary mortals are spared—and that marriage is the only process in such cases by which reform can be effected. So after long and anxious consultations with Mr. Yorke it was decided that their daughter’s hand might safely be given to Lord Runnymede, and her happiness confided to his keeping. Provided always, that Lord Runnymede could be induced to come forward.
Now it so happened that at this moment my Lord Runnymede did not require much inducement to come forward, for he was just about to do so. Though he knew that Mr. Yorke’s wealth was magnified by the lying tongues of rumour, there could be no doubt but that he was very rich; and my Lord Runnymede wanted money—sadly wanted money. It was quite true that he was deeply “dipped,” deeper than was known to any one person on earth, save that respectable, sedate, lynx-eyed financial gentleman who kept his carriage and brought up a large family in the most creditable 104 manner, upon the small gains—he never charged more than twenty-five per cent—he was able to make upon transactions undertaken with the aim, outside his own profit, of assisting impecunious young men, with good prospects, to run through their fortunes before they came into them, whilst avoiding all those distressing scenes which are certain to occur when fathers and sons enter into discussions upon pecuniary matters, from those essentially different points of view which naturally belong to youth and age.
My Lord Runnymede felt that a financial crisis had arrived, and that it had become necessary to meet it by some personal sacrifice; so he had decided upon matrimony—a rich marriage—as an unavoidable necessity.
As the belle of the season he admired Geraldine Yorke immensely. Indeed, he had once or twice arrived at such a pitch of enthusiasm as to declare she was “quite the nicest girl” he knew; but what he wanted in a wife was money—“beauty, and all that sort of thing,” is always to be found—but money is indispensable, particularly to a budding peer who is going to be a duke, and who is reduced to that vulgar strait so common to 105 ordinary mortals, of being awfully hard up. Yes, by Jove! “awfully” hard up.
For more money he would have married any other richer girl he could have found; but he could not find her, so he decided to “go in”—those are the exact words he used when informing the old duke, his father, of his intention—for Geraldine .
Now the old duke had not for some time been quite satisfied with many things which had come to his knowledge with respect to his son’s proceedings. In his youth he had not been quite a model of propriety himself; but as he sometimes said, “he only did in those days what everybody else did.” Now, it was very disagreeable to hear his son’s name associated with pretty horse-breakers and fashionable figurantés. It was quite time for his son to have sown his wild oats; and a marriage—a good marriage—was what he had long desired for him. But was it a good marriage? Was it a suitable marriage for the son and heir of a rich duke? Under ordinary circumstances he would have said no; but under the pressure of these very uncomfortable reports, and the vague fear that his son might do worse, he decided upon throwing no obstacles in the way of a marriage which, after 106 all, could not be considered as a ; for although his son’s future bride might be the daughter of a brewer, she was none the less the grand-daughter of an earl—a very poor one, no doubt, but still an earl, and to most people that would suffice, for it is not everyone to whom it is given to know, that in the great world of fashion there are earls and earls.
So the Marquis of Runnymede, withdrawing for a time from his favourite haunts, took upon himself the task—for he looked on it in no other light—of making himself acceptable to Geraldine. A few months since, he would have found it very difficult to have done so. But Geraldine Yorke, as we have known her, and the spoilt beauty of the season, were two very different persons. She had ceased to think or reason, for indeed she had no time for either. Everything she did was the outcome of impulse; and she seemed to have lost the power of carrying her thoughts outside the circle of existing pleasures in which she lived. In these no one seemed to take a more sympathetic interest than Lord Runnymede, and in a short time she had become so habituated to his attentions that they had become almost necessary to her.107
“He was,” she said, “so useful.”
Then what girl would not be flattered at finding a notoriously fast young man in the position of my Lord Runnymede, suddenly putting himself before the world as a reformed character, and letting the world know—for fast young men never make those sacrifices of their selfish pleasures, which are looked upon as reformation, without letting the world know the cause—that it is her influence which has done it. In such cases most girls are led to believe that this rescue of some erring admirer must have been their special mission, and there is, perhaps, nothing in this world which affords them so much genuine satisfaction. At any other time, she might not have been quite satisfied with the frequent companionship of a man whose conversation never rose beyond the trivialities of fashionable life—the cut of a skirt, the length of a train, the colour of a dress, the number of buttons best for gloves, and the multitudinous matters which belong to the adornment of female loveliness—but these were no longer trivialities to her, for they required almost daily consideration, and everyone allowed that the marquis was an authority in all matters of taste; so much so, that it was agreed, that 108 if you were to search the world over, it would be impossible to find any other so capable as he was of arranging a trousseau, selecting wedding presents, or furnishing a house. Then he knew so much of all that had been said or done in the exclusive precincts of high life, the minute relation of which never fails to excite the deepest interest in a fashionable auditory; so that he was said to know everything, and his society was very much appreciated in consequence.
My Lord Runnymede, though much thrown with Geraldine, did not approach the subject of marriage at once, but advanced gradually to it in an easy, pleasant, off-hand sort of way; so that when he did speak, there was very little left for him to say, beyond:
“I have been a sad scamp, you know, and all that sort of thing; and you are too good for me—or for anybody else, as far as that goes—you know. All that I can say is, if you marry me, you shall have everything that a woman can wish for—including a good husband, you know, provided you succeed in making him one.”
How could Geraldine say “No” to a man with whom she had been talking and riding and dancing, day after day, until it had become 109 quite natural to have him by her side—to a man upon whom both her father and Lady Arabella looked with so much favour—to a man who frankly threw himself at her feet—metaphorically, for my lord was not demonstrative—and confessed to having been a scamp?
Perhaps—no, the word is not strong enough—certainly, the title of marchioness, with duchess looming in the distance, had something to do with it; and who knows what effect the consciousness that she would achieve that which would swell so many breasts with envy, did not also help to turn the scale. Turn the scale? Why, there was nothing in it but a memory, so hollow had her life become. There was nothing for her but to answer “Yes.”
Yes, was her answer; and she had the satisfaction of hearing that she had made my Lord Runnymede “awfully happy:” and if she had had no time for thinking before, she had still less now, so occupied was she with congratulations, with , with preparations for that eventful day which was to hand her over to a life-companionship with a man of whose real character she knew next to nothing. She had answered “Yes,” and if she could have found time for thought, 110 she would have despised herself for having said it.
Mr. Yorke and Lady Arabella expressed their entire satisfaction at an occurrence which they declared to have been totally unexpected, for parents on these occasions never think it right to confess that they have had the slightest suspicion of that which has been apparent to all the world, and which they themselves have been watching with the most intense interest and anxiety.
The only one who did not seem quite pleased was Eva. She could not explain, even to herself, the reason why. And she felt ashamed of herself, when she threw her arms round her sister’s neck and kissed her tenderly, at not being able to feel as she would like to have felt towards the man who was to be that sister’s husband. No! she could not tell why—for she never listened to gossip—but she had an instinctive horror of him. Perhaps it was that he was so unlike Chub? for even in the midst of this whirl of fashion, she still held firm to Chub. Secretly though, without a word to a living soul. Almost unconfessed to herself. So secretly that it was not even suspected, and her love of solitude, her frequent refusal to enter into society, 111 and her early walks and drives, were lamented over by Lady Arabella as the consequences of her feeble health. In point of fact, it was not feeble health at all, it was nothing more than intensity of feeling towards that dear, big, honest fellow Chub.
Geraldine had answered “Yes.” Now, there is a question connected with this answer which even now, with all the advantages belonging to retrospective knowledge, it is very difficult to decide. Would she have answered “Yes” if Sir Francis had been—as he ought to have been, had he not been laid up with that tiresome fever—in England?
It is a question upon which it is very difficult to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion, and when the reader knows, as he will by-and-by, much more than he does now, it is doubtful whether he will find himself one whit the wiser with regard to it.
For human nature is so full of contradictions; and contorts and twists itself into such a variety of strange forms, that each moment, each movement, requires a special study; and general conclusions become so faulty it is a mere waste of time to indulge in them.
Indeed, there is nothing in this world—or outside this world—so difficult to deal with 112 as an “If;” so let us confine ourselves to facts, and leave suppositions to themselves. It is enough to know that Geraldine did answer “Yes,” and, the first few days’ whirl over, hated herself for having done so.
Hating herself, yet holding on to that “Yes” all the same, with a courage worthy of a better cause, had it not been a courage based upon cowardice, and upon the miserable fear of the opinion of that fashionable world, which in her calm and thoughtful moments—before the healthy tone of her mind had been destroyed by an unceasing round of enervating excitement—she had despised from the very bottom of her heart.
Holding to that “Yes” all the more obstinately because she is miserable, because no living soul shall know that she has been a fool, because she knows she had only to wait, and—and—never mind! She could not then have become a duchess; she must have descended from the height to which she had been raised to the commonplace, everyday, humdrum life of ordinary mortals.
“No; it is better as it is—much better as it is.” She will allow no other thought to enter her head. “The die is cast, it is too late; he should have spoken before. If he 113 really loved me, he would not have been such a laggard. Runnymede is not such a bad fellow after all. Perhaps it is better as it is—better as it is.”
So she continues to smile out upon the world as she receives its congratulations with one of those sweet meaningless smiles with which women know so well how to mask their feelings.
But it may be asked, why all this difficulty and doubt, after she had answered “Yes,” and not before?
It was all through a look. She had seen a pair of eyes turned upon her with an expression she could never forget.
And this is how it happened:
A short time after the eventful day upon which my Lord Runnymede had declared himself to have been made “awfully happy,” there was a ball in the city, to which all the crême de la crême had been invited to do honour to his Highness the Sultan of Buddleapoora, who was the special lion of the moment; though it was not clearly known upon what his claim to public favour rested, beyond the fact that he was the possessor of some marvellously big jewels, and had the 114 reputation of being the happy husband of some dozen marvellously fat wives. He had been well feasted by all the great City Companies, and was supposed to have been greatly edified by the after-dinner speeches he had heard on those occasions; and now the period having nearly arrived for his return to Buddleapoora, it was considered that a ball in his honour might constitute an agreeable change after so many banquets, and sanguine people, who see a movement towards progress in the very disintegration of the pavement beneath their feet, were inclined to think that the influence of a ball, with the conventional nudity affected by ladies as ball-dress, upon the happy husband of a dozen fat wives, might even be more beneficial, as regards the future regeneration of society—known to be at an extremely low ebb in Buddleapoora—than that of long speeches and great dinners.
From a ball given to the Sultan of Buddleapoora, with the presence of exalted personages, and all that sort of thing, it was, of course, impossible for Mr. Yorke and his family to be absent; and the presence of the belle of the season on such an occasion was also absolutely indispensable, for Sultans of 115 Buddleapoora are not always pleasing objects to look at, and a ball without beauty is confessedly a lamentable mistake.
So Geraldine was there, looking lovelier than lovely; wearing diamonds, chosen with the most perfect taste, as the first-fruits of that single word “Yes.” Almost made happy, for the time being, by the consciousness of the splendour of those diamonds, for she would not have been a woman had she been indifferent to them, and thinking far more of her diamonds—it is very disagreeable to have to tell these ugly truths—than she did of that “awfully happy” man, my Lord Runnymede, who was ever by her side, or standing looking on with his vacant, pleased, grown-up, spoilt-child-like stare, as she took her place in obedience to the commands of some exalted personage in that charmed circle, to which the only entrée is to blue blood, or beauty, or Sultans of Buddleapoora.
The rooms were crowded. It was a “crush.” Except for those who had the entrée to the charmed circle, dancing was impossible. The heat was intense. The atmosphere, despite artfully arranged essenced sprays, was overpowering. Yet no one dared 116 to complain. It would have been the extreme of bad taste to have done so. What! when exalted personages were so condescending and charming? When the Sultan of Buddleapoora was all ablaze with the effulgence of his biggest gems? When every variety of silk and satin, and velvet and lace, were worked up into toilettes of the most startling and novel kind, in order to set off—they could not by any possible stretch of imagination be said to cover—that dense mass of real—or would-be—female beauty, which had become so closely packed together; and mixed up with it, and seeming as they could not belong to it, were the ordinary matter-of-fact-looking men, whose heads stood high above that sea of white shoulders and naked arms, as if they had naught in common with those to whom they belonged. Poor fellows! A father wedged in within a group composed of his wife and four daughters, so hopelessly entangled in their trains that he dared not move. A bald-headed deputy-lieutenant, on the very verge of apoplexy, through the tightness of a uniform, which seemed to shrink in proportion as his waist had expanded, every time he put it on. A naval officer, full of fight and 117 dancing, firmly fixed between two dowagers, and not even able to move his feet in time to the music. A member of the Government, trying to look at his ease and seem profound, despite the anguish caused by heavy heels and corns. An angular American, with plain black coat and stereotyped sardonic smile, side by side with his sable excellency of Negritia, in all the splendour of gold-lace and stars; and—can it be?—it is, indeed, no less—our old friend Mr. Montjoy Mortimore, firmly fixed against the wall, calmly surveying the scene before him through the eyeglass he has stuck, as a matter of taste, in his right eye.
Mr. Montjoy Mortimore, wearing the gorgeous, newly-invented uniform of the Pimlico Pioneers—in which he has obtained a lieutenancy. Mr. Montjoy Mortimore, who is really enjoying himself, if nobody else is; who is gradually working his way along the wall in a crab-like fashion towards the supper-room, and who from time to time gives expression to his satisfaction by uttering, in a sufficiently audible tone to be somewhat startling to his immediate neighbours, the single word, “Hadmirable! Hadmirable!”
That period of the evening had arrived 118 when “exalted personages” withdraw from public view to refresh exhausted nature—if it be possible to suppose that the nature of “exalted personages” can ever be exhausted. A dense stream of struggling victims was turned, it could hardly be said, moved, towards that portion of the suite of rooms which was devoted to supper, and the greater space left in the ball-room gave some hope, to those who had previously only been tantalised by the music, that at last the moment had arrived when dancing might be possible.
In the movement towards the supper-rooms Geraldine found herself separated from her party, for neither she nor Lord Runnymede, on whose arm she leant, had felt inclined to enter into competition for place in a crowd upon which they both looked round with scorn.
“Take me out of this dreadful crush,” said Geraldine; “it is too horrible.”
“Shall we waltz?” asked my lord.
“Not now. Let us see if it be not possible to find some place where we can sit down.”
In one of the corridors, which had been tastefully decorated with flowers, they managed to find a vacant seat. Truth to 119 tell, my Lord Runnymede began to need some of that refreshment with which he was wont to stimulate his languid frame, and had he been asked at that moment by one of his intimates how he felt, he would probably have answered that he was frightfully bored. As it was, he had to make the best of it, and endeavour to amuse his companion with playful criticisms upon the dresses, and figures, and characters, of the people who came near them. But playful criticisms may become wearisome, as indeed all monotony is; and Geraldine, who, as we know, had naturally considerable intellectual power, though of late it had been sadly stifled and suppressed, began to feel quite as much bored as my Lord Runnymede, indeed rather more so, for she had not only to submit with good grace, but to make it appear to all the world that it was not boredom at all, but something that she liked immensely, and that she was—being about to make the best match of the season—intensely happy. So she answered his playful criticisms with playful smiles, or else looked thoughtfully at her bouquet of violets and stephanotis, or pressed it to her lips, as if she were contemplating and caressing her own happiness.120
Happiness! How few there are who “wear their hearts upon their sleeves for daws to peck at”! And if they did?
Happiness! A thing for men to feel, and not to show. No mere shimmer upon the surface of a summer sea, but a subterranean fire which fills the earth with heat, and life, and joy.
It was whilst she was thus caressing and coquetting with the flowers, that she was startled by a well-known voice:
“Miss Yorke! I am so glad to see you! I thought you would be here. I have been looking for you everywhere.”
It was Sir Francis Hawthorne, holding out his hand with frank cordiality.
“I only returned to town to-day,” he said, almost before she had time to return his greeting; “but finding a card upon my table, I hurried here, feeling sure it would be the quickest way to meet my friends.”
“But your anxiety to meet your friends did not seem to hasten your return to England,” she said, speaking with a shade of bitterness; and then, with a degree of earnestness quite foreign to her former manner, yet almost as if she were speaking to herself, she added: “But why did you remain away 121 so long? Why did you not come back sooner?”
“I was detained in Paris—I was ill,” said Sir Francis.
“Ill!” she repeated, looking up at him anxiously. “I am so sorry, and I ought to have seen you are looking pale and thin, but——”
She was interrupted by my lord.
“Geraldine, will you have the goodness to introduce me to your friend?”
There was something in the voice and manner which grated harshly on Sir Francis’s ear. The words were mere ordinary words, but he seemed to detect in them a tone of authority almost approaching to command, and there was a confusion in Geraldine’s manner, as she complied with Lord Runnymede’s request, which instantly confirmed what might otherwise have remained a suspicion. Geraldine was no longer free: she, too, was lost to him for ever—he was too late. With the speed of an electric flash the hopelessness of his position burst upon him; and it was whilst assuming an outward calm, though inwardly wrestling with the demon of despair, that he turned towards Geraldine that look which was to 122 form the one memory by which her future life was to be haunted.
It was known to all the world that the belle of the season had been so overpowered by the heat at the great ball to the Sultan of Buddleapoora, that she had been obliged to leave at a very early hour; but it was not known to all the world that her suffering had been so great, that she had passed the chief hours of the night in an agony of tears, and that during those few hours it would have been difficult to have found a heart more torn, a sorrow more deep, or a penitence more sincere, than that of the belle of the season, the envied of fashion, the successful competitor for the best match of the season.
“Oh that I could die!” she said.
But she did not die. She lived—lived her old life—despising herself for not having the courage to turn round and face the opinion of that world which had made her what she was—which had made her the affianced bride of a man for whom she had no love, and for whom respect was impossible, even though he might be the best match of the season, and my Lord Runnymede.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter VI
Alas! poor Geraldine!
[I knew her well.]
the oldest and richest dukedom in the three kingdoms
[“Still here!” —Wales.]
so he decided to “go in” . . . for Geraldine Yorke.
text has York
a marriage which, after all, could not be considered as a mesalliance;
text unchanged: expected mésalliance
with congratulations, with fétes, with preparations
text unchanged: expected fêtes
THE TURN OF THE TIDE.
Mr. Yorke has declared himself “not quite well.” With one exception, he is “not at home” to anyone who may call.
Lady Arabella tells Eva—there is only Eva at home now—that there is not much the matter with her father, though she thinks he ought to see a doctor, for there must be something wrong with his liver, “he has become so irritable of late, and has these horrid ‘blues.’ But then your father is more entété than ever; he will not see anyone, not even Dr. Pringle, though he knows he is in town, and has promised to call this afternoon.”
So it would seem that Mr. Yorke is not quite happy, and that his unhappiness has taken that disagreeable form known as the “blues.”124
And this, too, at a time when his prosperity has reached the highest point of flood. When he not only sits in Parliament, but has spoken a maiden speech which has been warmly received, and for which even the head of his party condescended to thank him, and thank him with so much heartiness that he was seen, instead of the usual official two fingers, to hold out three, some said four, and the latter number is the most probable, for the little finger is an unruly member, and does not like to be separated from its companions.
That alone was something to be proud of.
But on the surface of this brimful tide still rests the glow of another great event. The most brilliant marriage—so ’tis said—that has been known for years. His daughter, so beautiful, so charming, so lovable, a marchioness; some day, perhaps at no very distant date, a duchess. Surely that ought to cheer a father’s heart!
Why then these “blues”?
It could not be want of money, for never during the annals of the great house of Souseman and Soppit had there been such a prosperous year. The revenue had gone up by leaps and bounds, and its chief item, the excise, gave convincing evidence, despite all 125 teetotalers may say to the contrary, that prosperity and alcohol will soon have to be considered as synonymous terms.
Indeed it would seem as if Mr. Yorke had every reason to be satisfied with the condition of life in which he had been placed, and certainly ought not to have had the “blues.”
But to think this is not to know what is meant by the “blues.”
It is a state of mind to be felt, but hardly to be described, in which the sufferer suddenly finds himself rendered incapable of seeing things in their usual light, or as they may appear to others. He may be in the centre of all that is beautiful and pleasing, but he passes it by and allows his mind to carry him down—down—down into scenes of misery made more hideous by darkness and gloom. It is as if when looking at some beautiful fruit one saw nothing but the canker-worm within, thought of nothing but of the rottenness which must be its end. The eye seems to rest upon vivid pictures of miseries to come, a future of startling shapes which attract as if by some irresistible force—a kind of fascination from which, so long as the fit lasts, there is no escape, indeed no wish to escape.126
Alone, in his library, Mr. Yorke sat hour after hour in front of the fire, with folded arms and outstretched legs, gazing fixedly upon the embers and seeing in them an endless combination of suggestive forms; now feeding his memory and making his whole life so full of error that he contemplated it with dismay; now stimulating his imagination till he saw naught before him but disgrace, disappointment, and despair.
Under the influence of these morbid feelings, his parliamentary success had become a mere inflated bubble; he fancied that the statesmen of his party looked upon him, in their hearts, as a mere nonentity, a simple tool, made useful only by his money. His short experience in Parliament had disenchanted him. As he had sat hour after hour on one of the back benches, he had learnt much of what he had been ignorant before.
Then his money? Whence did it come?
From the mechanic who had made his home a hell, from the husband who had made his wife a fiend, from the mother who had become a curse to her own child, from all who haunt the paths of vice. Yes, as he looked into the fire he saw them all—they were all, there.127
Then the marriage?
He was proud of his daughter. Of course he loved her. She had made a great match—a great match which had cost him a very large sum of money—rich as he was, far more than he ought to have given. But Lady Arabella! The world! He could not have refused. But could all that he had heard of his son-in-law be true? As he looked into the fire he saw that it was true. He saw his high-spirited, frank, innocent daughter in the arms of a profligate, a gambler, and he saw—no, he would not see—he would look no more.
But the fire was there, and he must look.
No longer his daughter, but his son—Marmaduke—his associate, his partner; his happiness, his honour in his hands. The fire is taking strange forms. Do what he will, he can see traced by the embers in letters of flame, one single word; change as those embers may, that word is still there—four letters, and they spell but a single word. No wonder that he shuts his eyes and seeks to shut it out, for that word is—Ruin!
Ruin! What does it mean? Surely those reports cannot also be true? Then these anonymous letters?—these reports that Marmaduke 128 has within the last few months lost largely to my Lord Runnymede at cards?—these strange hints that Marmaduke is interested in the Turf? Then the knowledge, only just obtained, that his private account is largely overdrawn. What does it all point to? And now this mysterious stranger—this Mr. Marsh, with his pressing importunity for an interview. What can that, too, mean?
The name diverted his attention from that fiery word, or rather it transformed it into another word—Victoria—and then into another—Violet—and then he saw no more, for his eyes were blinded with tears.
Yes! In the solitude of his room, under the gloomy influence of the present, gazing upon those embers until they conjured up the past in all the reality of life-like form, the eyes of the stern man, who had been borne on by the tide of prosperity until it had reached its topmost flood, became blinded with tears.
He rose, he did so with an effort; and opening a drawer in his writing-case, took out a small locket—a small golden locket. On the outside, “Violet” in raised letters. 129 In the inside, the miniature of a beautiful girl whose face was beaming with the happiness which belongs to innocence; and a single curl of soft brown hair.
Mr. Yorke pressed it to his lips.
“Violet,” he said, as he did so, “my poor lost Violet, you have been avenged. My heart died when you died. Since then, I have never known what it is to love. No! Those whom I ought to love, I cannot love, not even as I love your child—our child—to whom, coward that I am, I do not dare to hold my outstretched arms and say, ‘My child! my child! Your mother was my first—my only love; and I, wretch that I am, your father!’”
He sank down in his seat, overcome by his emotion. He had scarcely done so when the door opened, and the servant introduced Mr. Marsh.
Mr. Yorke’s back was turned towards him, and as he rose and replaced the locket in the drawer of the writing-case, he gained sufficient time to enable him to recover his composure.
“May I ask, sir, to what I am indebted for the honour of this visit?” he asked, as he pointed to a chair.130
Mr. Marsh, whom we first knew as Jack, was only changed inasmuch that though he still retained his dissipated sporting appearance, there were no signs of poverty about him; and he exhibited a quiet self-assurance, such as belongs to a man who has a thorough confidence in the strength of his position and does not intend to allow himself to be driven readily from it.
“My visit, Mr. Yorke,” he said, as he seated himself and comfortably placed one leg over the other, “is one of business, and, I regret to say, deucedly unpleasant business.”
“It is?” asked Mr. Yorke.
“A bill,” said Mr. Marsh—“a confoundedly disagreeable affair for all concerned. But, as you know, young men will be young men. We have all had our day.”
Mr. Yorke felt inclined to resent as an impertinence the cool manner in which his dissipated-looking visitor referred to him as to an equal. He was not accustomed to such familiarity. But the word “bill” had made him uneasy, so he restrained himself.
“May I ask you to explain the nature of the transaction to which you refer?” said Mr. Yorke; “at present I must confess to having 131 no knowledge of any bill in which I have the slightest interest.”
“Undoubtedly,” said Mr. Marsh, “it is the first you will have heard of it. I will back the writer of the name on that bill against the field for keeping things dark. An awfully knowing shot is my friend Marmaduke!”
“Marmaduke?” exclaimed Mr. Yorke, now really interested and alarmed. “What! my son?”
“Neither more nor less,” replied Mr. Marsh; “and a right good fellow too, if the luck did not go so infernally against him.”
Mr. Yorke was deadly pale, and his limbs trembled so violently that his visitor perceived it.
“You are ill—ague?” he asked.
“No, sir; I am not ill,” gasped Mr. Yorke. “Give me the bill.”
He would have held out his hand for it, but an unaccountable numbness in his arm seemed to paralyse its action.
“Thank you, I know a trick worth two of that,” said Mr. Marsh; “the bill does not go out of this hand until I hold the money for it in the other; but you may read it if you like:” he spread it out before Mr. Yorke 132 as he spoke. “It is made payable to a friend of mine; and, as you see, is for twenty thousand pounds.”
Mr. Yorke’s eyes rested for an instant on the signature, “Marmaduke Yorke, junior;” the numbness seemed to extend to his very heart, and he fell back insensible.
A continued peal at the library bell brought in quick succession the footman, Dr. Pringle, who happily had just arrived, Lady Arabella, and Eva.
As Dr. Pringle entered the room, he met Mr. Marsh coming out of it.
“Mr. Yorke has had a fit,” said Mr. Marsh, as he passed him hurriedly. “Wants a doctor. Deuced awkward.”
Dr. Pringle only saw him for an instant, but he recognised in that instant the man whom he had brushed against in the Park; and again he looked at him, and thought “how very singular.”
In the skilful hands of Dr. Pringle, Mr. Yorke soon returned to consciousness; but it was found that his right side was paralysed, and that his speech was seriously affected.
“He must be kept as quiet as possible,” said the doctor, in answer to the anxious inquiries of Lady Arabella and her daughter.133
“Ah,” said Lady Arabella, “I knew he was going to be ill. I had a presentiment—les malheurs n’arrivent jamais seuls—and I had such a very extraordinary and incomprehensible letter this morning from Duke.”
“Duke,” said the doctor. “Where is Duke?”
“At Boulogne; and seems to have just arrived there when he wrote. C’est très singulier. I would not mention it to anyone else, but he wrote to ask me for money.”
“Indeed?” said the doctor, thoughtfully. “Can you tell me?” he asked, after a pause, “who the gentleman was who was with Mr. Yorke when he was taken ill?”
“I have not the slightest idea,” said Lady Arabella. “Perhaps Hempson knows; I will ring and ask.”
The servant was not quite sure, but he thought the name was Marsh, and he came by appointment.
“Marsh!” exclaimed the doctor. “Then it was no imagination. What a strange world is this world we live in!”
Lady Arabella did not seem to notice the doctor’s remark; and Eva was too much occupied with her father’s state to think of else.134
“May I speak to you a moment?” she said, taking the doctor aside; but she need not have done so, for Lady Arabella excused herself at that moment for being obliged to leave Dr. Pringle “sans cérémonie.”
“I have not a moment to lose, my dear doctor,” she said. “Mr. Yorke’s illness today is particularly unfortunate. The Grand-duke of Gross Krieg-land was to have dined with us, for the first time, to-day; and we had managed to get up a very nice party to meet him. It is very unfortunate. I have not a moment to lose. I must write to everybody, and put them off at once. Au revoir! I shall hope to see you again before you leave, for I should like you to remain until Dr. Masters arrives.”
“Dr. Pringle,” said Eva to him, the moment her mother had left the room, “tell me frankly—remember I am not so weak as I seem; I can bear the worst—what state is my father really in? Is he in any danger?”
“Not in immediate danger,” said the doctor. “I should have preferred waiting for Dr. opinion before having said more, but since you have asked me, I must confess to thinking his state is extremely serious; 135 though, as I said before, I do not anticipate any immediate danger.”
“Thank you,” said Eva, gently. “I heard you say,” she continued, “that he must not be left alone; may I sit with him? May I nurse him?”
“Certainly,” said the doctor. “But you must take care and not overdo it, or your power of being useful will soon be exhausted, and your father’s illness may be a long one. Remember that he is to be kept as quiet as possible, and that nothing is to be said or done which may be likely to produce the slightest excitement. It is evident that great excitement, at a time when he was suffering from some functional derangement, has been the cause of this seizure; and in his present state, any recurrence of it might be fatal.”
Dr. Masters, on his arrival, fully agreed with the view which had been taken of Mr. Yorke’s case by Dr. Pringle; he, too, enjoined the necessity of avoiding anything which might have the effect of producing, in however slight a degree, irritation or excitement.
“Your great effort must be, my dear young lady,” he said, “to soothe and calm your father as much as possible. For the brain is just 136 now singularly sensitive to external impressions, and the knowledge that the mind has lost its power of control over the body, is in itself a source of irritation of the most distressing kind. Where the whole structure of the nervous system is so shattered, as it is in your father’s case, we doctors cannot pretend to do much in the shape of restoration, but we can preserve and fortify the powers which have been left untouched, and that must be our chief aim; perfect repose and quiet is absolutely necessary, and no one is better able to help us in this than you are.”
The road covered deep with tan, and a muffled knocker, informed the outside world that some one was ill—dangerously ill—at Mr. Yorke’s. Soon it was known to be Mr. Yorke—a seizure, said to have been occasioned by the excitement of that maiden speech. Arrangements are at once made for daily inquiries, but the number of carriages which drive past Mr. Yorke’s house in the afternoon is strangely reduced, for there are many people who do not like to be reminded of the illness of their friends, nor, indeed, of illness in any shape or form. A telegram has been sent to Duke, but for some reason, which no one can quite make out, he finds it impossible to return 137 to England. The Runnymedes have come back in haste from their Continental tour; Geraldine really anxious, and quite unable to look upon her father’s illness as a matter of no moment, as my lord bids her.
“You fret a vast deal too much,” he tells her; “my father once had a fit, you know, and though he has been a little shaky ever since, the old boy, by Gad, stands a precious good chance of outliving half the peerage; and it will be awfully lucky if I get into the parental shoes before my credit with my bootmaker is worn out, you know.”
Geraldine says nothing. If she did say anything, it would be to tell my lord that she is tired of these silly jokes.
And the honeymoon scarcely over!
She comes daily, and stays for hours, but her visits to her father are only short ones, for her presence seems to excite him; and frequently before she has been with him five minutes, he says: “Go! go!” and she has to leave him, mournfully, and with her eyes filled with tears.
Lady Arabella in her boudoir, perpetually writing or answering notes. A note to my dearest Lady Frogsmere, asking her where the valuable restorative is to be obtained, 138 which she may remember having spoken to her about at the Uppertons’ last ball. A note to Sir Croker Horsey, thanking him for his kind inquiries. A note beginning, “My dear Duchess je suis .” Another ending, “You, of all others, can sympathise with the feelings of a wife. I am so exhausted with anxiety and nursing I cannot write another word. Avec milles amitiés,” etc., etc. A note to her dressmaker. Another to her milliner—for in Mr. Yorke’s state her toilettes must be subdued—anxiety should wear a befitting garb as well as woe; we mourn in black, and clothe our sufferings in a neutral tint.
The sick-room was Eva’s domain. There she sat day by day, hour by hour, seeking to soothe the poor invalid, whose feeble restless state was something pitiable to witness. The strong, and apparently hale, man of a few days since sat, propped up in his arm-chair by the fire, in all the helplessness of infancy. Formerly Mr. Yorke had been remarkable for placidity and evenness of temper, now his lacklustre eyes were only capable of expressing impatience and anger. His speech was so much affected that it was very difficult to understand what he said, and this difficulty was increased by his constantly 139 making use of the wrong word instead of the right one. And the more anxious he was to communicate his wishes, the more unintelligible he became. Then he would become angry, and repeat over and over again, “Stupid! cruel!” and sometimes shed tears.
“Patience, my dear young lady, we must have patience,” said Dr. Masters. “The worst is over for the time, and we may hope for some little amendment by-and-by. In the meantime we must endeavour to find out what it is your father is so anxious to communicate, for it is evident there is something, and his irritation proceeds in great measure from his being unable to make it intelligible.”
“Do you think,” asked Eva, “that he is able to understand what is said to him?”
“Perfectly,” said the doctor, “for his mind, though weakened, has not lost its coherence; and this complete consciousness is perhaps the most painful part of his malady.” So said also Dr. Pringle, for at the request of Lady Arabella and her daughters he had remained in town; for singularly enough, although Mr. Yorke had many friends, and Lady Arabella many near relatives, the “good doctor,” for so he was always called by Lady Arabella, was the only person to whom they could turn in 140 their present great trouble. Dr. Masters was all very well in his medical capacity, but there was a vague feeling, an ill-defined fear, that other advice might be wanted, the advice of a friend; and where was a truer friend, an abler adviser to be found than the good doctor?
The cause of this secret anxiety—for neither mother nor daughters had exchanged a syllable on the subject—was not difficult to find. Lady Arabella knew that her son was in want of money, and more than suspected that it was this, and not the state of his health, which prevented his return to England. Eva knew that Marsh was the name of the man who nominally owned the racehorse which was in reality her brother’s; and she had been struck with the coincidence of Marsh being the name of the visitor who was with her father at the time of his seizure. And Geraldine knew from her husband that Duke, “you know,” had been making a great mess of it: in what way he did not condescend to say, and she did not care to ask.
Dr. Pringle could not help sharing the anxiety of Lady Arabella and her daughters, feeling somewhat ill at ease. He, too, had heard rumours with respect to Duke, and he could 141 not but connect the dissipated-looking man he had met coming out of Mr. Yorke’s room, in some vague way with Duke’s difficulties. Then, too, this man’s name—Marsh—and his extraordinary resemblance, bloated and blurred though it was, to the picture in his old friend’s room. It was very puzzling. But one thing was very clear. It must have been something said by this dissipated bloated man which had produced Mr. Yorke’s seizure; there may have been existing predisposition, but something said or done in that interview must have been the exciting cause. He inquired of Lady Arabella, but she knew nothing of this Mr. Marsh. Had he been a sporting man he would have known that Marsh was the name of the owner—or, as we know, of the reputed owner—of “Fortuna” and “the Coming Crack,” for a second horse had been bought. But the doctor had never known the name of a racehorse in his life, and it is doubtful if he had ever heard of Eclipse.
But the most anxious of all was Eva. For to her anxiety was added one of those strange indescribable emotions which belongs to a sudden insight into the hidden life of those we love. She had been sitting by her father 142 the day after his seizure, when, after many vain and painful efforts, he made her comprehend that he wished to have his writing-case brought him. On going into the library to fetch it she found that the drawer, which closed with a spring-lock, was partly open, and that it could not be shut without some re-arrangement of its contents. On opening it for that purpose, the first object that caught her eye was a locket—a locket which had evidently been placed there hurriedly, for it had not been closed. Her eyes were riveted upon that beautiful joyous face; she thought she had never seen anything so beautiful before; and yet she had seen some face like it. Who could it be that was so like it? And that soft, brown hair? But she dared not linger; she must not add to the poor invalid’s irritation.
She closed the locket, and as she placed it in the drawer, the side with “Violet,” in raised letters was uppermost. “Violet!” she gasped, trembling and pale. “Violet!” The name of Victoria’s mother was Violet. She, too, had brown hair. Then the likeness—the likeness— to have known. If it were not that Victoria is always grave and thoughtful the portrait might be hers.”143
She staggered to a chair. And then this visitor—this dreadful Mr. Marsh? She had no time for further thought. A servant came to say Mr. Yorke was impatient, and could not be pacified. He wanted her at once.
Closing the drawer of the writing-case, she returned to the sick-chamber. The subdued light would have prevented the invalid from perceiving her increased pallor, even if his eyes had not been fixed on the writing-case, which he motioned to have placed by his side. It seemed to act as a talisman—a charm of soothing power upon his poor shattered frame. He turned towards it: placed his left hand—the one hand that has sensation in it now—upon it; closed his eyes; and, if it had not been for the restless movement of his lips, would have seemed to sleep.
“Ah! would that I could sleep! Would that I could sleep! But there is no sleep—none—none!”
Ever, ever, ever the same images before his eyes: Violet, in all her beauty; Violet, who had filled him—cold, heartless that he was—with such a sense of love that his whole being was pervaded with it; Violet, his victim—the 144 victim of his love; Violet, the avenger, tearing from out his heart the blossoms of its youth, and leaving nought but barrenness for age; Violet, the only picture on his brain; Violet, the one word ever on his lips. Violet! Violet! Violet! Violet!—without surcease, Violet.
Then the child—the helpless, deserted child; the child of his—of their—love.
“Ah! would that I could sleep! Would that I could sleep! But there is no sleep—none—none!”
A spasm, as if from pain, distorted the poor sufferer’s face. There was a convulsive movement of the lips, but the word ever on them was—Violet!
And Eva, watching by her father’s side—she, too, had ever the same images before her eyes: the picture of that brown-haired, joyous girl; the grave and thoughtful semblance; her once dear friend; her—she dare not frame the word—it may not be, although she knows it is—Victoria. She knows it is—it must be so, yet she dares not reveal this knowledge—no, not to a living soul. No, not to Geraldine. If she should be mistaken. How could she dare to cast a doubt upon her father’s honour? And so she sits watching, hiding her deeper 145 anxiety, her suspicions, her more than suspicions, from all around her.
It was the sixth day after Mr. Yorke’s seizure, that he sat propped up in his arm-chair by the fire, with Eva by his side. Close to him a small table with his writing-case, upon which from time to time he placed his hand, as if to satisfy himself of its safety. For the last two days he had vainly endeavoured to communicate something to Eva, which she had been unable to understand, for the slightest excitement had the effect of making him substitute another word for the one he wished to use. And though she had at last been able to make out, “Send for Violet,” it had not struck her until this morning that it was Victoria her father wanted.
Lady Arabella, who looked in upon her husband now and then, to ask him how he was, to pat him on the shoulder, to tell him he must be good and patient, and to lament over the state of her own nerves, had wondered when she had heard the word “Violet;” what could have put such a pretty name into her husband’s head? He had had no sisters, and had never known anyone of that name, that she had ever heard of. But when Eva 146 explained to her that he meant Victoria, she saw it at once.
“Of course, my dear, we ought to have known; they both begin with a V. Mais c’est bien drôle.” She did not say what was bien drôle. “We must send for Victoria at once. She is so thoroughly au fait at nursing, and you cannot go on as you have of late; it would kill you. Victoria is just the right person. She has more influence over your poor father than anyone else, and I am sure she will come if we place it plainly before her.”
When Eva told her father that she had written to Victoria a bright gleam passed over his face, such as had not been seen since his illness; and when, on the third day, a telegram came from Victoria, to say that she would come, it was painful to see the mute expression of a pleasure for which he could find no words.
“Victoria,” he would ask—for when he had been told the right word he could repeat it—“Victoria—when?” And this he would ask over and over again, as if he had but one thought. To pacify him he was told he must keep quiet, and try and get strong, for Victoria’s sake. Why Eva said this she hardly 147 knew. And yet she said it; and each time she said it there was an interval of calm, to be again broken by the same question:
The letter to which the telegram had been a reply, was from Eva. It was so sorrowfully, so beseechingly, so tenderly written, that Victoria felt she would have been a wretch to have refused the request contained in it. And the telegram was her answer. Go she must; and yet it was at no slight sacrifice; it might entail the recommencement of a course of lectures, some of which had nearly terminated, and retard her progress in no slight degree. Had not Eva written as she did, it might have been different; but there was such a deep earnest cry for help in her letter, that Victoria could not read it without emotion.
“I cannot tell you,” Eva had said, “how much you are wanted! My poor father seems to have set his heart on your coming, and to think of nothing else; and to me especially, what a blessing, what a comfort, it will be to have you near me! for since Geraldine has gone I have felt so lonely, and I want you sadly, dearest, to fill her vacant 148 place. Come to us, dearest Victoria, if you can. I shall be so grateful. I know it will be at a great sacrifice, and it seems selfish to ask you, but—I cannot tell you why, now—I must still ask you to come; though I have nothing to offer you in return but a sister’s love.”
Eva had never written to her with such warmth before. Indeed, it was Geraldine with whom she had of late been most allied, though for some short time before her marriage she had heard from her less frequently, and the only letter she had received since was so conventional and so different in tone from those which she had been in the habit of receiving from her, that she felt their correspondence was at an end.
Perhaps the change was not entirely on Geraldine’s side. Victoria had felt keenly what she looked upon as the heartless abandonment—for that which she considered such a miserable motive—of a man so worthy of a woman’s love as Sir Francis. She secretly resented it as an act of perfidy; for though no promise had been made, no absolute engagement had been entered into, she knew that Sir Francis had not concealed his feelings, and that Geraldine had given him as much 149 encouragement as any man could reasonably hope for from the woman that he loves.
Moreover she was deeply pained, for she had loved Geraldine, and she was disappointed—cruelly disappointed, at finding how deceived she had been in her character. She had fancied she had detected in her a noble nature; hidden, it is true, under that superficial folly which belongs to fashion, but ready to assert itself the moment it was emancipated from fashion’s toils, and brought in contact with such an influence as a man like Sir Francis would have exercised over her.
Yes, she was cruelly disappointed!
But though her love for Geraldine had been thus wounded, it was not extinct. If she grieved over her, it was more in sorrow than in anger. For she knew that Geraldine was dissatisfied with herself, and even now far from happy. What then would she be when all the miserable consequences of her folly became more and more apparent!
She felt for and pitied Sir Francis—but Geraldine it was she felt for and pitied most.
She had written to Sir Francis when she had heard of Geraldine’s marriage. A letter such as a sister might have written, full of 150 loving counsel; for she knew that, in such a case as his, something more than sympathy was wanted, and that words which give most comfort are those upon which we can lean and find support.
She had received but a few words in reply.
“I cannot now write a long letter,” he said, “or express my gratitude in words; but I trust to be able to show you that your advice has not been cast upon a barren soil. No! not one syllable of it shall be thrown away; and I should be the most ungrateful of men did I not do my best to make some return for what is my one great consolation—the only source of happiness I have left—your friendship. What a dreadful blank would my life now be without it!”
It was late in the afternoon when Victoria reached London, and it was nearly dark when her cab stopped before Mr. Yorke’s house. The driver had hardly time to ring the bell before the door flew open; and in a few moments she was in the hall and clasped in Eva’s arms.
“I knew you would be here to-day,” she said, “and I have been watching for you for hours. How good! how kind!” and she kissed her so tenderly that Victoria seemed 151 to realise, what she had never known—a sister’s love.
“And your father?” she asked.
“Just the same. You must be prepared to see a great change: indeed I cannot tell you how dreadfully changed he is.”
“And does he still wish to see me?”
“He seems to have no other thought.”
“How very singular!” said Victoria.
Why did Eva blush and look down? For an instant she did not dare meet the gaze of the friend to whom she had promised to be as a sister.
“But you must be tired,” she said hurriedly; “I must show you your room. And you must have something to eat, I am sure you must be famished; but first come, just for one second, and see my mother.”
Lady Arabella was, as usual, condescendingly kind. She bewailed Mr. Yorke’s sad state, speaking of it as the source of an amount of suffering to herself which no words could describe. It almost seemed to Victoria, as she listened to her, as if it had been an act of cruelty on Mr. Yorke’s part to fall ill and torture a poor wife who had such delicate nerves.
“No one was ever tried as I have been 152 tried,” said Lady Arabella; “and with my exquisite sensitiveness, it is almost a miracle that I am alive.”
She would have gone on in the same strain—for she was never tired of talking of herself—had not Eva come to the rescue, and reminded her mother that Victoria had been travelling day and night, and wanted rest and food.
“Ah, how strong you must be! Que tu es heureux; but I will not detain you—à demain!”
“À demain!” How much lies hid in that small word “to-morrow”! But one step nearer to the verge of time: it seems so small, but who knows where—the brink?
Victoria had scarcely time to throw off her travelling-wraps and take a few mouthfuls of the refreshment she so much needed, before a servant came to say that Mr. Yorke had heard that Miss Marsh had arrived, and was anxious to see her at once.
“I will try and persuade him to wait till to-morrow,” said Eva, as she hurried to him.
In a few minutes she returned.
“If you would not mind, dearest,” she said, “I think perhaps it would be better for you to come and see our poor invalid”—how she longed to say our poor father—“now—only for 153 a moment; it will pacify him: and in his state we must not thwart him in anything if we can help it.”
Victoria rose at once, and followed her into the sick-room.
Mr. Yorke was sitting in his arm-chair by the fire, with, as ever, his hand on the writing-case placed on the table beside him. As Victoria entered he motioned to the old servant, who took turns with Eva to be with him, to leave the room, and held out his trembling hand.
“Thank you—thank you,” he said—it almost seemed as if her presence had given him strength. “I am very ill—kiss me.”
Victoria bent down and kissed him tenderly on his forehead; as she did so, it was with difficulty she could restrain her tears, and Eva sobbed audibly.
“Now, go, my child—go!”
He spoke so indistinctly, Victoria could only just catch the words “Go—to-morrow.”
He, too, said “to-morrow.”
Victoria stooped down—she felt as if impelled to do so by some irresistible impulse—and kissed him even more tenderly than she had done before.
“Good-night,” she said, mastering her 154 emotion—for the change which had taken place in Mr. Yorke had greatly shocked her—and endeavouring to speak cheerfully, “good-night, and to-morrow I will endeavour to show you what a good nurse I am; but you must sleep well, and have a good night, or Eva and I will be obliged to scold you.”
As she left the room his lips moved, and Eva heard him murmur softly—it was as if a child had spoken:
He sat still for a few moments, then he said, “Come—open——”
He pointed to the writing-case as he spoke.
Eva, following his directions, opened the drawer; the moment she had done so, he grasped the locket—so hurried was the action, it almost seemed as if he had not an instant to lose—and pressed it to his lips. He did not care for concealment now; he had but one thought—his one buried love, his one living child.
“Paper,” he said; “pencil.”
Eva gave him a sheet of note-paper.
“No, no!” he said impatiently; “half.”
She tore it in two, and gave him the half.
Taking the pencil in his hand he would have written, but he could not form the 155 letters. After several vain trials, he threw the pencil angrily away.
“Write,” he said—“quick—write!” And as Eva placed herself pen in hand, ready to obey, again he said:
Then, taking the paper from her hand, he placed the locket within it, and endeavoured to fold it up; she tried to help him, but he resisted angrily.
“For Victoria,” he said; “Victoria—when I die. Take—now—Victoria——”
He ceased speaking. A convulsive shudder passed through his frame, his head fell back heavily against the back of the chair; and Eva knew, as she cried out in her agony of fear, that she was in the presence of Death.
That night Eva and Victoria sat side by side, hour by hour, clasped in each other’s arms. They had both lost a father.
Victoria held the locket in her hand; with it she had learnt what she never else had known, what she never else had suspected. It was as if a new world lay opened out before her, and her heart was torn by the intensity and the diversity of her emotions. Pity for that beautiful young mother, sorrow for that erring, selfish father, whose whole life had 156 been a deception and a torture. Indignation—no, there was no room for that now, with the sound of those few trembling, incoherent words still in her ears; that one kiss ever given to a father still on her lips.
“You are ten times dearer to me, now I know all, than ever,” said Eva. “Promise that you will be to me a dear, dear sister. Now Geraldine has gone—for a married sister can never be as she was before—I have no one else. I want your love now, more than ever. I know you will not think hardly of him who is now no more—he was our father; yours as much as mine: we will mourn together.”
And thinking and speaking thus it was that they sat entwined in each other’s arms.
Then the time came that they must separate, for it was long, long past midnight, and both were exhausted.
“Promise me,” said Victoria, as they parted, “that all that has come to your knowledge shall be kept sacred within your own breast. For the sake of him who now lies dead, for the sake of the living, it is better that the secret which he—who was my father—kept locked up within his heart for so many years, should remain unknown to 157 all but ourselves. Promise me, solemnly—as you love me—never to divulge it to a living soul; not to Geraldine; not to the man who may be one day your husband; not even to Lady Arabella.”
“Ah! my poor mother!” said Eva; “I believe she hardly yet realises the dreadful calamity which has befallen her.”
“You will promise?” said Victoria.
“Yes,” said Eva; “unless you should think it better at some future time to release me from it. It shall be inviolable; but only on one condition—that you too make a promise. From this moment and for evermore, we are to be sisters.”
“Ah! can you doubt it?” said Victoria. “You would not, if you knew how I have longed, yearned, for a share in that love which the dearest, truest friendship can never quite supply; and that love I have now found in yours, my dear, dear sister. A love which will shed a light upon my life it never had before. May God bless you, my dearest, my darling sister!” she said. “We must not forget it is our duty to humble ourselves before His judgments, and that we are but the poor creatures of His will. How small all things seem in the face of Death!”158
She tore herself away as she spoke. The distance between Eva’s room and her own was not great, but in those few steps she had regained all her self-composure.
“Yes: how small all things seem in the face of Death,” she repeated, as she closed the door.
And, as she said it, it seemed as if it were no longer a mourner who stood there, but one who was ready once more to enter upon the great conflict which belongs to life, and to face with courage that death which is life’s bitter end.
Mr. Yorke was buried at Nettlestone. Duke telegraphed to say that his health would not permit him to travel. Lady Arabella was now really ill, and neither Eva nor Geraldine could leave her; and so it was that in the large which followed the rich and respected brewer to the grave, there was no member belonging to his immediate family; for none knew that the tall, handsome girl who leant on Dr. Pringle’s arm, and who wept silently through the service for the dead, was more than a friend of the family, a recipient, as some thought, of the dead man’s bounty.
Dr. Pringle felt her hand tremble on his 159 arm, but he too did not know the true cause of that emotion. He knew that Victoria had a warm and loving heart, but little did he imagine that the tears which fell from her eyes as she bent over the coffin and placed a wreath on it ere it was lowered in the grave, were the tears shed by a child, in the fulfilment of an inscrutable destiny, over the remains of one whom she had known only in death, to be her father.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter VII
“Can you tell me?” he asked, after a pause, “who the gentleman was
[Times like this, you really see the advantages of Spanish punctuation: “¿Can you tell me,” he asked . . .]
Eva was too much occupied with her father’s state to think of anything else.
hyphen in any-/thing invisible at line break
waiting for Dr. Masters’ opinion
text has Master’s
“My dear Duchess je suis desolée.”
text unchanged: expected désolée
it is doubtful if he had ever heard of Eclipse
[Today I Learned: England’s most famous racehorse, Eclipse (1764–1789) won every race he was in, and appears somewhere in the lineage of thoroughbreds to this day.]
Then the likeness—the likeness—“I ought to have known.
open quote missing
in the large cortège which followed the rich and respected brewer
text has cortége
WRECKAGE ON THE SHORE.
Victoria remained a few days in her old Deepdale home. Chub, too, was there, for he had come down to the funeral, and she found herself once more in the centre of a family which she had loved and been taught to look upon as her own. Now she felt, without loving them the less, a sense of estrangement which almost startled her. Between her and Doctor and Mrs. Pringle there would arise the remembrance of that poor conscience-stricken father, as she had seen him last—for it almost seemed as if she had had no other knowledge of him—of that bright happy-looking young mother whose portrait now was ever pressed upon her heart. Mysterious fate! unreal reality! How could she be like others, when every filial instinct had been stifled from her birth, when she had 161 but phantoms for her parents, when she had naught to remind her that they once had lived, but a portrait and a grave.
And Chub and Sis?
She loved them still—loved them dearly as the playmates of her childhood, as the companions of her later age; but she could not love them as she loved Eva, as she loved Geraldine, for with them she felt as Joseph felt, when even towards those brothers who had treated him so despitefully, his heart yearned with such a fulness of a brother’s love, that he went out and wept. And from her sisters—how sweet the word!—she had known nothing but kindness and love.
Yes, she loved her sisters dearly—both.
But for Duke there was no place in her heart. Never for an instant did she think of him as a brother. If she thought of him at all, it was with contempt. No! he could be no brother to her—he who was undeserving of the name of a son; and so she avenged the wrong done to a dead father, whose life had been one continued wrong to her. Besides, Duke had acted so heartlessly to Sis. For Sis he had professed, as we know, the greatest admiration. He had turned her poor little head—her heart did not go for much 162 in the matter—with his protestations; stopping only on the verge of such a declaration as would have placed him publicly before the world as her acknowledged suitor, her accepted lover. Doing all this so cunningly, that none but his sisters and Victoria knew to what lengths he had gone. And when Eva took him to task for his heartlessness, calling her a silly little goose for thinking he could have been in earnest; and when she continued her remonstrances, begging she would be good enough to hold her tongue and not presume to meddle with him and his affairs.
His affairs, forsooth! Bright-eyed, captivating little Sis to be spoken of in the same breath with the tangled outcome of stupidity and folly which he spoke of as his “affairs.” No! Duke might be her father’s son, but he could never be her brother—never be so dear to her as Chub—never. No! why need she disguise it? Never be to her as that friend who was dearer to her than a brother. Oh that it could have been! Now more than ever, yet now less than ever.
Again a blight cast on his hopes.
Geraldine was clearly wrong. Had she, herself, been right?163
The small still voice of conscience answered “Yes.” In the silent hours of the night it answered “Yes;” and she seemed to hear another voice in clear, decided tones— “Courage, Victoria!”
“Courage!” It was as if the word had something in it which renewed all her energies. It was as the trumpet-call to the tired soldier. No! she must not lag by the way. Courage!
A few days more at Deepdale; a few days more in London; and then she would return to her studies—strengthened, not weakened, by all she had gone through. Courage!
What, had she not regained this courage, would have pained her most, was the state in which she had found Sir Francis. He had returned to his home ill, dejected, and discouraged. He had ceased to take any interest in his old pursuits, and was fast sinking into a state of listless indifference.
“It is something more than the effects of Roman fever,” said Dr. Pringle to Victoria. “There is something on his mind. I cannot make him out. You must see what you can do. He is beyond my skill.”
For the arrival of Victoria had aroused him, 164 for the moment, out of his usual lethargy, and the day after the funeral he, for the first time since his return to England, made his appearance at Deepdale.
Victoria was shocked at the change which had taken place in him, but was careful not to allow him to see that she was so.
“You must come again,” she said, as he went away; “I particularly want to see you. Come to-morrow.”
And when he came on the morrow, the effort seemed to have done him good, for he was a shade less rueful.
Victoria asked him about some of his favourite plans. He had given them up. He had no plans now.
“Because I have nothing to work for. I have no energy.”
“Nothing to work for? For shame! When the world is teeming with wants, when progress is nothing but the union of individual effort, when labour is the single source of healthy life? Oh, my dear friend,” she said, and she coloured as she spoke, “forgive me! You are capable of something far better than a mere folding of the hands, and that because—because you have been 165 disappointed—because a woman has been false——”
“Victoria!” said Sir Francis, deprecatingly.
“Forgive me,” she said; “you know that I love Geraldine, and even now think that she was worthy of your love—worthy to have been”—she looked down as she spoke—“your wife. It is impossible for any human being to feel more deeply than I do for you—to have a greater pity than I have for her—for indeed, indeed, she is greatly to be pitied, the most to be pitied. I know how cruelly you have suffered, but I would not have you borne down by the weight of your sorrow. Oh that I could help you to bear the burden of it!”
“Help me?” said Sir Francis. “Help me? What a poor craven miserable creature have I not become! Victoria, you have once more made me feel ashamed of myself. I have been a poor sentimental fool!”
“You have bewitched him,” said Dr. Pringle a few days afterwards. “I never saw such a change. I begin to think that we men doctors are a mistake, and will soon have to retire from practice.”
But during the short time Victoria had been absent from Deepdale, the greatest 166 change which had taken place was that which had taken place in Chub.
She had left him at that awkward age when the man asserts himself with difficulty over the boy. She found him now, self-reliant without being self-asserting, working well and anxious to work, pleasing his father by his steadiness and the interest he was developing in professional matters, and his mother by his many delicate attentions, not the least appreciated of which was his having brought down as a present some kind of knitted shawl which had caught his eye in a shop as he walked down Regent Street, and which she now wore on every conceivable occasion, telling everyone that “It was just the thing of all others she had wanted, and that it was so thoughtful of dear Chub.”
To Sis, perhaps, he showed a certain want of this thoughtfulness, for he was constantly talking to her of Eva; and this might have brought back painful recollections to Sis, had they not been for some time rapidly fading away. Poor Sis! Duke’s cruel conduct would most certainly have made her unhappy had it not been for the charming new curate, and his—to her—irresistible dreamy eyes. For he had from the very first turned those 167 dreamy eyes upon her, and each time he had done so, there seemed for a moment very little of dreamland left in them. They must, however, have had the power of imparting their expression to those they looked upon, for soon a certain dreaminess might have been detected in the bright eyes of Sis, and ere long the picture which presented itself most frequently to her fancy was not that of her old and faithless admirer Duke, but of that long-coated, tight-collared young curate with the dreamy eyes.
Nature had certainly been bountiful to Sis in the matter of affection, for hers was of such an expansive, elastic kind, that she was always ready to love anybody who professed to love her, provided her affection was for the moment disengaged, and that the new object of it was, to use one of her pet words, lovable. It will be seen that Miss Sis was a flirt—a born flirt—for she had commenced her flirtations when in long-clothes, and simply flirted because she could not help it.
But it was not only of Eva that Chub now talked; and to have heard him talk no one could have supposed it was the same Chub who had considered himself but a short time since as “so sat upon.” He talked about 168 London as if he had lived there all his life, and of horrible operations, as if to dissect and be dissected comprised the whole purport of existence; but he waxed most eloquent—even more eloquent than when he spoke of Eva, for then he had to leave some of his most cherished thoughts unsaid—when he descanted on the merits of his new friend—his little Madge.
“Oh, she is such a pet!” he said, “such a little darling! She is so quaint, and talks just as no other child ever talked since the world was. Victoria, you must come and see her, you must indeed. I know you will fall in love with her just as I have. And I want Eva to see her. She is so pretty, no one would know she is blind.”
“Blind!” said Victoria and Sis both at once.
And then Chub flew off at a tangent, talking learnedly of the eye, and of optics, and of blindness, and—his father not being present, and Victoria only a student like himself—of its treatment and mode of cure. To have heard him you might have supposed that if people were blind it was entirely through their own fault, and because they had been so ill-advised 169 as not to have availed themselves of the skilful aid of some distinguished oculist and surgeon, such as would be, one of these days, Charles Pringle, Esq., student of St. Tobias’s.
“I have arranged it all, Victoria,” he said; “we both must go in for the eye, and some day or other we will get her sight back for her. I say we, but I am not quite sure whether it would not be more in your line; it’s a specialty that might suit you, and I should always be ready to help you with my advice, for—now you must not be offended, Vic—I am not quite sure that you or any other woman doctor will ever be able to get on without the help of a man. Do you think they will, Sis?”
Of course Sis thought they would not; she was thinking of dreamy eyes. Whilst Victoria laughed, and said she intended to try, but that it was a comfort for her to know that she should always have Chub to fall back upon.
“To be sure it will,” said Chub, taking it quite seriously. “But about little Madge?” and then he rambled on, telling them of the queer old uncle, and his lost treasure; and even more of Pops, that prince of parrots Pops; and somewhat, though not much, of 170 Madge’s mother, and of Mr. and Mrs. Fulford; and then going back, again and again, to Madge.
“And what is the father?” asked Victoria.
“I really don’t quite know,” said Chub; “but I believe him to be an arrant scamp.”
“What did you say his name was?” said Victoria.
“I do not think I mentioned it,” said Chub; “it is Marsh.”
“There is a fatality in the name,” said Victoria; “it is always cropping up. It was a Mr. Marsh who was with Mr. Yorke when he was taken ill.”
“I don’t think he could be my man,” said Chub; “he’s not quite the style one would be likely to meet in Belgravia. But remember, Vic, you must promise to come and see my little Madge before you leave town, and if you don’t fall in love with her I shall have no faith in you for the future, but shall, like dear old Pops, ‘have my doubts.’ But, mind, when you do come, look well at her eyes, and tell me what you think. I am inclined to the opinion that it is a case of——” and then Chub fired off a whole broadside of hard, technical terms, which made Sis stop 171 her ears and beg him to remember that she was not walking the hospitals, and that she was quite certain that even Vic could not understand him.
Never had Dr. Pringle been so happy in his son, so thorough in his enjoyment of Victoria’s society, as during the few days the old family circle was reunited at Deepdale; and Mrs. Pringle sat with an air of placid contentment contemplating the group, and devising all sorts of surprises in the way of delicacies and favourite dishes; and who so happy as she, when she saw the active movement of Chub’s knife and fork, and the rapid disappearance of the contents of his plate. Not that Chub was a gourmand, but he had always been blessed with a good appetite, and it was that appetite which was the source of half his mother’s happiness. It is doubtful whether she could have lived long with people having bad digestions, for, as she often said, there is nothing so depressing as to have to provide dinners for people who don’t knew the difference between beef and mutton, and can’t enjoy their food.
Sir Francis had not quite returned to the good lady’s favour, because, when he again made his appearance at the doctor’s hospitable 172 board, he did not appear to eat with his usual relish, though she declared she had lain awake half the night wondering what she could get to suit his taste.
But ten days soon pass away, and at the end of that time Victoria and Chub travelled up to town together; Victoria to stay for a few days with Lady Arabella before returning to Switzerland, Chub to resume his student’s life in his old quarters.
At one end of the journey, a parting farewell from the doctor, and a last wave of the hand from Sir Francis; at the other, a warm greeting from Eva for both the travellers. A warm greeting, equal in degree, but somewhat different in kind.
As Chub stood by and saw Eva kiss Victoria tenderly on each cheek, he thought he had never seen her look so lovely. And when Eva looked at Chub, his eyes beaming with pleasure, she thought something which made her eyes sparkle, and mantled her pale cheek with a most becoming blush.
What could it have been?
It was that she had never before seen such a fine, pleasant-looking fellow as Chub.
But there was no time for more than a few thoughts, and still fewer words. Luggage 173 had to be looked to, tickets to be given up.
“Good-bye, Eva! good-bye, Vic!” cried Chub, as the door of the carriage closed upon them. “Mind, you are both to come and see me soon! Why not to-morrow, when I shall be sure to be at home?”
No; they could not come to-morrow, but they would some day soon, in the afternoon about four. “We will send a card, and mind you have tea.”
And then they all shake hands, and the carriage drives off; whilst Chub vociferates: “Let it be soon—very soon!” in much the way as he might have called out the winning number of a lottery. “And, Vic, remember, don’t forget to take a good look at her eyes!”
“Oh, I am so glad you have come, dear!” said Eva. “We want you more than ever. Geraldine and I do not know what to do. There is something very dreadful about to happen; and we cannot make our dear mother realise that anything has gone wrong. You have so much more knowledge of the world than we have; we want you to advise us—to help us.”174
“But surely there is Lord Runnymede,” said Victoria.
“Selfish, horrid man!” said Eva. “What could have induced dear Geraldine to marry him? He thinks of nothing but himself; and I am sure he only married her for her money.”
Lady Arabella, languid and much propped up, received Victoria with her usual condescending kindness.
“Ah, ma chère!” she said, “you must stay with us as long as you can. Ma pauvre Penserosa is so triste; and with my poor nerves, and all I have gone through, it tries me sadly. And then it seems the affairs are in a wretched state—something gone wrong; and I cannot tell you how I hate those horrid things they call affairs. Ah, c’est terrible!”
Lady Arabella was quite right as to the state of what she had spoken of as “the affairs.” Mr. Yorke’s comparatively sudden death had brought to light the hopeless entanglement into which Duke had brought himself through his unfortunate Turf transactions. It had become known to the firm that his private account had been overdrawn to an amount which could not be represented by less than five figures; and they had become aware of the existence of I O U’s 175 and post-obits which rendered his position irretrievable.
Such a disgrace had never befallen the highly respectable firm of Souseman and Soppit. A meeting of the partners had been called a few days before, and it had been decided, after most anxious deliberation, that Mr. Marmaduke Yorke should cease to be a member of the firm.
By Mr. Yorke’s will, his share in the brewery and his landed estate had been left to his son, together with the residue of his fortune, after his wife’s jointure, and a legacy of ten thousand pounds to Eva, had been provided for. But it was found that he was in debt to a degree no one had anticipated. His election expenses had been enormous; this last brilliant season in London had plunged him into expenses which had necessitated a recourse to his capital, and the purchase of the heir to a dukedom for a son-in-law had cost him no less than one hundred thousand pounds, only ten thousand of which had been settled on his daughter.
Lady Arabella’s jointure was a thousand a year; that, and Eva’s few hundreds, was all she and her daughter had to live on; and—there was no use disguising it—Marmaduke, 176 the heir, had made himself penniless, and but for the assistance of the firm, who would not allow a liability to remain unpaid so long as it had been incurred whilst he had been one of its members, would have become a bankrupt.
All this had to be explained as gently yet as clearly as possible to Lady Arabella. Mr. Jobson, the family lawyer, tried, but failed; Lady Arabella declared at once, that in her nervous state it was impossible to enter upon business matters. The executors would not attempt it. Eva, who had only a general idea that something was wrong, suggested Dr. Pringle; then, on Victoria’s name being mentioned, it was decided unanimously that it would come better from a woman; she would be able to break it to her more gently. Yes, no one could do it so well as Miss Marsh, as Victoria.
It was then agreed that on the morrow of her arrival she should be made acquainted with everything it was necessary for her to know, and that she should be asked to undertake the painful task of explaining it to Lady Arabella.
And this Victoria did.
Poor Lady Arabella, it was pitiable to see 177 her! She who had never, from the day of her marriage, denied herself the slightest wish—though she had always been under the impression that no one was more economical and self-denying—suddenly to become a pauper—yes, a pauper! “Ah, c’est honteuse!” and all through the extravagance of that foolish boy! A pauper! for how was it possible to live and keep up her position on a bare pittance of a thousand a year? It would kill her, she knew it would; in her weak, nervous state, she required something more than the bare necessaries of life. How was it possible for her—she who had always been accustomed to have her carriage, a comfortable home, and a good chef—to habituate herself to being wheeled about Kensington Gardens in a bath-chair, to living in poky lodgings, and to have nothing to eat but bread and cheese? “Ah, ma chère Victoria, laissez moi mourir!”
It was singular how all her thoughts were centred on herself, scarcely a word of aught else. No mention of Eva, hardly a reproach for her son; but slight recollection of him who had been her companion for so many years; yet suffering none the less, for she was not devoid of susceptibility, perverted as it might be, and that susceptibility was 178 wounded in its most vulnerable point. She knew that for the future she would have no place in her accustomed set—that her position as one of those who had reached the height of a leader of society would be irretrievably forfeited, and that henceforth she would have to accept, from her former friends, the amiable condescension she herself had so freely bestowed on others. The cup was too bitter. No wonder that in her despair she could only cry out, as Geraldine had done before, “Oh, let me die!—laissez moi mourir!”
“My dear Lady Arabella,” said Victoria, “I know how great the trial must be, but there is no trial we cannot be made strong enough to bear.” The shadow of her own trials may have flitted across her mind, but she was not thinking of herself; she was thinking only of the poor weak woman before her—the spoilt child of fortune, who had been so little schooled in suffering that she had neither courage nor resignation, and who without sympathy herself, was perpetually demanding sympathy from others.
“You are a good kind creature,” said Lady Arabella, “but life has been made easy to you, and you do not know what it is to suffer as I do; my poor shattered nerves render me 179 perfectly incapable of bearing up against this terrible calamity—ah! que je suis malheureuse. Indeed I am greatly to be pitied. I shall be little better than a beggar—and Eva still unmarried—ah me! ah me!”
She continued to bewail her said fate, sometimes wondering whether the Runnymedes, “who ought to be rich, could not let us live with them;” sometimes wondering how she could manage to exist without her dear china; sometimes wondering what her brother the earl, who had always envied her wealth, and had almost cut her husband because he was a brewer, would say now. “Ah! que je suis malheureuse. Ah me! ah me!”
Victoria, treating her as an experienced nurse would treat a wayward child, let her talk on, until she became silent from exhaustion; then she sought to attract her attention by placing before her the various plans for the future which had suggested themselves to Eva and herself, as the most suitable under the circumstances.
“I have been talking the matter over with Geraldine and Eva,” she said, “and they agree with me in thinking that after all you have gone through you ought to have change of air and scene. Your health is 180 delicate; there is nothing more natural than your leaving London just now for a milder climate; and it is not necessary you should give any other reason for your wishing to do so. It is quite enough that you want blue sky and sunshine.”
“Sunshine and blue sky,” repeated Lady Arabella, catching at her words. “Ah! sunshine and blue sky! my dear, dear child, that is indeed what I want. Oh! I shall never forget the beautiful blue sky of Italy, and how happy I was at Rome; but I was young then, and——”
She did not finish her speech, for she suddenly remembered that it was because her father, the earl, had found it inconvenient to live in England that he had taken up his residence for a time abroad. He, too, had wanted sunshine and blue sky, and if the truth be told, at that moment more than all, money—and yet they had all been so happy.
Sunshine—blue sky—Italy—Rome! Oh yes, they would go abroad. She must work up her Italian at once. She feared it was sadly rusty. How very odd they had never thought of it before. It might have saved her poor dear husband’s life. It was the very thing. She would take the baths at 181 Ischia. Who knows? it might restore her weak, sorely-tried frame to health. And Eva—yes, it would be the very thing for Eva. They could go to the Engadine for the hot months; then on to the Italian lakes; and so on and on.
The idea had taken entire possession of her. There was no room for any other.
“But you must come with us, my dear Victoria; we shall want your help. Penserosa is no great traveller, and—your—ah! how stupid of me—I mean her poor dear father will not be with us to take care of us; and he used to manage everything so admirably.”
Her eyes filled with tears, but before one tear could fall, her thoughts were turned into another channel.
She must see Eva at once; there was so much to arrange. And now, of course, she had not a single dress fit to travel in; and in “black it is so difficult to find the exact thing.”
She was like a child who had been promised a new toy—this bereaved wife, this mother of a family, this woman of fifty years’ experience. How could it be otherwise with one who had no inner life; whose whole existence 182 had been a search after the happiness which is based upon the gratification of the senses—beautiful objects, sweet sounds, pleasant companionship, innocent indulgences; who had been taught to turn from and despise everything outside the pale of her own set; and who only tolerated those who did not belong to it, when they could be made useful?
“Yes, my dear; I am sure I could not do better. My health must be the first consideration. In my weak state, it is only wonderful I am alive after all I have gone through this winter; and after this sad loss, and these terrible trials, the only thing which can possibly save my life is change of scene—blue skies and sunshine. Ah! mia cara, you must talk it over with the girls; tomorrow I will see Dobson, for there is no time to lose; tell Eva I will see her in an hour. Now, I must compose myself a little. Addio—a riverderla.”
A few days afterwards three separate paragraphs appeared in the Fashionable Intelligencer.
“From the City we learn that, in consequence of the delicate state of Mr. Marmaduke Yorke’s health necessitating a lengthened 183 residence abroad (some think at Monte Carlo), that gentleman has ceased to be a member of the great firm of Souseman and Soppit, of which his father was the principal partner for so many years.”
“We regret to learn that Lady Arabella Yorke is about to leave London for Italy, and we fear that her absence will be a protracted one. A gap in the world of fashion not to be easily filled. A season without Lady Arabella Yorke and her beautiful daughters is something we do not dare to contemplate. But we trust—the days of mourning over—the Marchioness of Runnymede may be induced to give those poor mortals, to whom London seasons are not yet things of the past, an opportunity for sunning themselves in the effulgence of a beauty rarely equalled and never yet surpassed.”
“Wonders upon wonders! The vacancy in Middleshire, caused by the lamented death of Mr. Yorke, is likely to be filled in a totally unexpected manner. That eccentric baronet, Sir Francis Hawthorne, has been again invited to stand, and it is said is to be permitted, by some hole-and-corner arrangement, to walk 184 over the course. What can it all mean? Some say that money is at the bottom of it, and that it is because the man who is first favourite, should Sir Francis not get in, owes a pot of money in the county, and has not yet paid his last election expenses when he contested Dumbleshire. We give this for what it is worth.”
The same day there appeared in Spite the following paragraph:
“We hear that since the death of a certain great brewer there has been a terrible blow up amongst the beer barrels in the brewery, and we are told that there are cheques flying about which are not worth the value of the paper they are written on. It is always dangerous for trade to venture on the Turf. We would warn our friends to look to their bills.”
“How coarse and vulgar!” said Geraldine, when her husband, my lord, brought these paragraphs to her notice.
“Most consumedly disagreeable, you know,” said his lordship.
But he did not say he had one of those 185 bills—a bill for no small figure—referred to by Spite in his pocket.
Happily neither Lady Arabella nor Eva read the papers, and Victoria was too much occupied to think of anything else. Not so, however, Eva: she had found time to think of Chub, and the consequence was, a postal-card, addressed to Charles Pringle, Esq., was duly delivered at No. 4, Woodbine Terrace, which caused that gentleman to contort himself in every possible manner expressive of joy, though on that postal-card there was but a single line:
“We shall come to-morrow—four o’clock—tea.”
Notes and Corrections: Chapter VIII
a bare pittance of a thousand a year
[Some twenty years earlier, Beeton’s Book of Household Management listed the staff suitable to various income levels. Since the target audience was the urban middle class, £1000 a year was the highest acknowledged tier, calling for “A cook, upper housemaid, nursemaid, under housemaid, and a man servant.” Even if you replace the nursemaid with a kitchen maid or a third housemaid, this would represent a huge reduction from the manner to which Lady Arabella has become accustomed. If she insists on a lady’s maid, she will have to scrimp somewhere else.]
laissez moi mourir! . . . . Addio—a riverderla.
[In both French and Italian, Lady Arabella addresses Victoria with the polite form. Is it possible she has simply never learned tu?]
What a change of life for little Madge! What a change in little Madge herself had been produced by these few months in Woodbine Terrace, and by the new influences which had been brought to bear upon her!
Mrs. Marsh had become weaker and weaker, with alternating fits of deep despondency and strange excitement. Shut up in her own room when in her melancholy moods, she occasionally sallied forth, to return in a state which filled Madge with a feeling akin to that which she felt whenever her father approached her. Why was it? She did not know. She would ask Mrs. Fulford, “What is it makes poor mamma so—so strange?” But Mrs. Fulford would give no answer, and Madge could not see the sad shake of the good woman’s head, and the way in which her lips were drawn 187 tightly together as if to restrain herself from speaking. Once only were her feelings too much for her; but she spoke rather as if to herself than in answer to the child’s question.
“Yes, it is a very sad case; and I am afraid hopeless.”
Madge could neither understand the words nor forget them.
“What was a very sad case? and why should Mrs. Fulford say it was hopeless?”
She was filled, young as she was, with an instinctive fear, and did not like to ask Mrs. Fulford any more questions. She would see if her uncle could tell her.
“Dear uncle, what is it that makes poor mamma so—so strange?”
She had interrupted him in his work, as, pen in hand, he went over and over those closely written rows of cramped figures.
“Hush—hush!” he said; “you must not interrupt me, or I shall never find it, and I am so near.”
But she would not be content; she must have an answer.
“You shall tell me, you cross old uncle. I will give you no peace till you tell me, and then you will never find it.”188
Then the old man tried to pacify her, pretending not to know what she wanted; but the sharpness of the child was more than a match for the old man’s cunning.
“Don’t be such a sly old fox, uncle; you know quite well what it is. Come now, tell me.”
“What is it, Madge?”
“Why is poor mamma so strange—so very strange?”
Then the old man, as if impelled by some irresistible force, stammered out:
“Oh, you should not, Madge. It is the curse—the curse! She has caught it from him—the curse. It is in his blood—the curse; but for that I had not lost it; and now it is too late—too late, and I am so near—so near. Oh, child! leave me—leave me. I am a poor—poor old man—a miserable old man!”
His tone was so piteous that Madge’s heart was touched.
“No, uncle dear,” she said. “I will not go away until you kiss me and say I have not made you very sorry. Ah! if I had but my eyes, I would help you, and I know we should soon find it. But how can I do anything when it is all dark? Ah! I too must have 189 the curse. Poor—poor mamma! now I know what it means. Yes, yes, it is the curse!”
Then in his turn the old man tried to soothe her.
“I did not know what I said, I did not indeed. It is my foolish old brain. It is not true.”
But she answered:
“Uncle dear, don’t tell stories. It is wicked to tell stories. Yes, I know now, it is the curse—the curse!”
And so she left him sadder than before.
“Oh, it was so dreadful! But what was a curse?”
She had heard much from Mrs. Fulford of the curse which had fallen on mankind through the disobedience of our first parents. But she could not be made to understand it. Indeed she had taken Eve’s part, and said, “Oh, Mrs. Fulford, why was it so very wicked to eat that nice apple? I like apples, though I like pears better. Why should God have been so very, very angry?”
“Because Eve was disobedient, and it is very wicked to be disobedient.”
“But when I am disobedient, you are only cross, Mrs. Fulford. You do not curse, as father does, when he is put out. Does God 190 curse people, then, when He is angry like father?”
Poor Mrs. Fulford! she had enough to do to pacify that restless, inquiring little mind. Her theology was of a very simple kind, and though she was a remarkably sincere believer, she was a remarkably bad teacher, and could find no other refuge in her perplexities than the oft-repeated request that Madge would not ask so many questions.
“It is all true,” she said, “and that is enough for us. All we have to do is to believe it, and little girls must not be too inquisitive.”
Then little Madge would sit rocking herself to and fro on the low stool by Mrs. Fulford’s side, and wonder how it could be that God could be so good, and yet get so angry, and like her wicked father—for Mrs. Fulford had told her he was wicked—curse poor Eve. And only for eating that one apple! She felt so sorry for poor Eve, for a nice ripe apple was what of all things, next to pears, she liked best.
But what was a curse? Ah! now she thought she could tell. Yes, she knew. It was when people are rough and used bad words, and smell of nasty tobacco and horrid 191 gin, that must be because of the curse; and when they can only weep and sigh and moan, and are sometimes silly, and have the same horrid smell of gin, that too must be the curse; and when they are old and foolish, and are always looking for what they cannot find; and when like poor little me they have no eyes, and can see no sun nor flowers nor pretty toys, but are always in the dark, that too is the curse—that dreadful curse!
She did not dare to speak to Mr. Fulford about it. Mr. Fulford never talked of anything but his garden and his flowers. There was no one to whom she could pour out her heart but Pops, and when they were alone together, she would tell him all she thought; Pops pressing his head against her cheek, and sometimes giving a little click with his tongue as if to show that he was all attention, and to encourage her to go on. Then she would ask, “Don’t you think so, Pops?” and oh, it was such a comfort to her to hear Pops, after a moment’s pause, as if deeply reflecting on all she had said, answer: “Pops has his doubts—has his doubts.”
“Oh! dear, dear old Pops, how I love you!” 192 she would say—“love you better than anything in the world.”
But Pops would interrupt her petulantly, and say, “Pops has his doubts;” and flutter about and make such discordant sounds, that Madge would threaten to shut him up in his cage and never say one word again to such a nasty jealous bird.
It was Chub who had told her that Pops was jealous.
“Dear Mr. Pringle!”—she never could be induced to call him anything else, though Chub had confided to her the secret of that name, and wished her to call him by it.—“Dear Mr. Pringle! How stupid of poor Pops to be jealous. But I do love him very much—very much indeed, quite as much as Pops—perhaps more, for Pops can only listen, and Mr. Pringle talks as no one else I have ever heard can talk. But he must know nothing of the curse. I will hide it from him. He would never let me into his room again, into that nice sunny back parlour, if he were to know that I had a curse upon me—that dreadful curse!”
But one evening when they were sitting together—for not a day passed without Chub having a long visit from Madge—she, suddenly 193 jerking her head so as to toss back her rebel curls, and turning her sightless eyes upon him, said:
“Mr. Pringle, you are smoking. Why do you smoke?”
“Really,” said Chub, “I do not quite know. It makes me feel comfortable, particularly when I am doing nothing else and am idle.”
“Is smoking wicked?”
“What a funny question. I hope not.”
“Does God like it?”
“He has given us tobacco, and I do not know that it could be put to any other use.”
“Do you love God?”
“I ought to. We should all love him. He has given us so many blessings. He has been so kind to us.”
Chub was thinking of, to him, the greatest of all blessings, Eva’s love.
“I do not love him at all,” said Madge; “He has not been kind to me. You won’t tell anyone—you won’t tell Mrs. Fulford?”—she dropped her voice as she spoke—“I hate Him.”
Here was a difficulty for Chub—he, of all people in the world; and yet, though the difficulty with him was as great as with Mrs. 194 Fulford, he dealt with it so differently that poor little Madge felt comforted. He encouraged her to talk, and as she poured forth the long-pent-up secrets of her heart—those secrets which it had been her fixed intention that Chub should never know—there was something so touching in her artless tale of childish misery, that Chub could not restrain himself from taking her in his arms and endeavouring to soothe her with kind words.
“My dear little Madge,” he said, “all is not so dark as you think. If God has sent curses into the world, He has sent blessings too. But I am such a stupid fellow, I cannot teach you; but I know of somebody who can, and I will ask somebody to come and see you: and you shall love somebody, and she shall tell you all that God has done for you, and for me, and for everybody else.”
“Is ‘somebody,’ then, a lady?” asked Madge, her thoughts turned into another channel, and her curiosity aroused.
“Yes, she is a lady; a young lady,” said Chub, blushing as he spoke.
“And is she pretty?”
“Very pretty, and very nice,” said Chub; “and if you are very good, I know she will love 195 you. But you must not tell her that you hate God. You must never say that again.”
“No, I will not,” said Madge.
This was just before Mr. Yorke’s death. Since that time, Madge and Chub had often talked together about “somebody.” Indeed, it is astonishing how ingeniously he turned the conversation in that direction; so much so, that Madge for a time was so fully occupied in thinking about “somebody,” that she took very little interest in anything else.
“Do tell me ‘somebody’s’ name?” she would ask, over and over again.
But Chub would not. “She must wait till ‘somebody’ came.”
Then she would guess—the number of names she knew was not very great—but it was of no use, Chub would not give in.
“It is very naughty of you, Mr. Pringle,” she would say; “indeed it is! Oh, how I wish she would come! How I long to see ‘somebody!’”
She would say this aloud, when sitting alone with Pops in Chub’s sanctum, the ground-floor back. For Mrs. Marsh would not let Pops stay in her room; she said the very sight of him distracted her; and Madge herself was not allowed to remain for any length of time, so impatient had the poor 196 invalid become of the slightest movement, or of anything which roused her from the half-torpid, dreamy state in which the greater portion of her time was spent. Their own sitting-room was cheerless, and had no sun; her great-uncle was so engrossed in his calculations that he became fidgety and fretful whenever she went near him. Mrs. Fulford was bustling about the greater part of the day; and, left entirely to herself, the solitary child was only too glad to take refuge with Pops in the snug back parlour, with its sunny aspect.
For Madge loved to bask in the sunshine; and in the early spring mornings, when the weather was fine, she would open the window and sit hour after hour listening to the twitter of the sparrows; and if Mr. Fulford were at work in the little to the sharp grind of his spade as he forced it into the crisp earth, and to the thud following thud in steady cadence, as he turned it over with a jerk and released it from its load. She knew exactly what it was, for she had asked him to show her how to dig, and it was so pleasant to sit there and picture all that he was doing; and sometimes she would call out: “Please, Mr. Fulford, where are you digging?”197
And he, having no great power of description—strong man though he was—would say:
“I don’t see, Miss Madge, how I could make it clear. I am only a‑digging in the garden;” which answer would make her wonder all the more as to the exact spot.
Could it be near the sweetbriar, or near the bed of wall-flowers? for before the weather had become cold and wet, she had learnt to know every inch of the little garden and the whereabouts of every flower in it. She would have gone on questioning Mr. Fulford if, instead of Mr. Fulford, it had been someone else, but Mr. Fulford was not a man of many words, and had a great dislike to being questioned; besides which he would always insist on calling her Miss—Miss Madge—and that frightened her. She liked to hear him at work all the same, and to know that he was digging, or clipping the box-edging, or raking the walks, or using the roller. Ah, it was so pleasant to hear the crushing of the gravel under the roller; she knew all about that, too, for had she not helped Mr. Fulford to drag that heavy roller, and did she not know what hard work it was, and how smooth the rough path became 198 after it had passed over it? It was so nice to sit there and picture all that was going on in that garden; to think of that budding sweetbriar, whose young leaves were already filling the air with fragrance; of the wall-flowers with their stronger perfume; of the lilacs just about to unclose their little round-clustered flowers; of the newly-turned clods; of all that smelt so fresh and sweet on that bright spring morn. Other pictures of inanimate objects were but dull, colourless forms—she knew them only through her sense of touch—but these sweet-scented ones appealed to her fancy through another sense, and she loved them in proportion to the enjoyment they afforded her. Just at this moment, it was the sweetbriar which stood highest in her favour.
“I am so glad it has thorns,” she said to Mrs. Fulford one day, as that lady came into the room.
“So glad that what has thorns?”
“The sweetbriar; to prick naughty people who want to pick its leaves. Oh, Mrs. Fulford! do tell me; are there sweetbriar trees in heaven?”
“Dear—dear me, child!” said Mrs. Fulford; “what will you ask next?”199
“I think there must be,” said Madge, thoughtfully; “but without thorns.”
Mrs. Fulford had, as we know, commenced by taking Madge “in hand;” but gradually, and almost imperceptibly, though still feeling a kind and compassionate interest in the poor blind child, she had discontinued her attempts to instruct her. How, indeed, was it possible for her to teach, when there was scarcely a moment that she was not disconcerted by some strange question, for which she could find no answer. If Madge had not been blind it might have been less difficult; for children are more easily taught by pictures than by words. With the aid of pictures it is so much easier to excite their curiosity or fix their attention, or—when necessary—to divert their thoughts from subjects which have become difficult to deal with.
“Poor dear child!” said Mrs. Fulford to her husband; “I do not know how to manage her. She is always wanting to know something that I can’t tell her; and when I read to her, she is sitting thinking all the time; and when I have done, she wants to know why God did this, and why God did that, until I am all of a daze.”
“Take my advice, Tibs,” said Mr. Fulford, 200 with an oracular shake of the head. “Take my advice. Let her alone.”
Mrs. Fulford did not often take Mr. Fulford’s advice—not from any want of confidence in her husband’s judgment, but because self-reliance was one of her most prominent virtues. In this case, however, she did; and from that time little Madge was, in the words of Mr. Fulford, “let alone.”
“God will enlighten her in His own good time,” was the worthy woman’s consolatory remark. “I would teach her if I could; but I can’t, and that’s a fact.”
Mrs. Fulford did not know that children cannot be taught without love; and Madge, although she liked, did not love Mrs. Fulford. She only thought her very kind.
So Madge was “let alone,” and this is why she so often sat for hours in the “ground-floor back,” deeply communing with herself, or pouring forth her inmost thoughts to Pops, with no better consolation than to know that he, too, had his “doubts.”
Notes and Corrections: Chapter IX
and if Mr. Fulford were at work in the little garden, to the sharp grind of his spade
text has ; for ,
POPS IS JEALOUS.
Yes! Pops had his doubts. He was always doubting; but never had he been in a more doubting, restless, disagreeable mood than on the afternoon of the day upon which Chub had called out to Madge:
“Madge—I shall be back early. You must come down. ‘Somebody’ is coming—and mind you make yourself very nice; there will be tea and toast.”
Then Madge heard Chub calling out to Mrs. Fulford to take care that there was a nice bright fire in the sitting-room; and to let him have her best tea-set; and to ask Fulford to pick a few fresh flowers for the centre of the table; and to have some cream; and to do this and to do that, until even the patience of that amiable woman was exhausted, and she said:202
“Lor’, Mr. Pringle! one would think the world was coming to an end, instead of its being only two young ladies a‑coming to tea.”
And even after Chub had left the house, he came back—letting himself in with the latch-key—to call out down the kitchen-stairs:
“Mrs. Fulford, you won’t mind; but will you see that little Madge looks nice, and has her hair all right?” Hurrying off and slamming the door before he could receive an answer, as if he were not quite sure that it might be a pleasant one—for Mrs. Fulford’s answers were not always soft and pleasant to the ear when she was a little put out; and nothing put Mrs. Fulford out more than being told to do anything—which was, she would say, “being treated as if she were only fit for Colney Hatch, as if she did not know better what was wanted than Mr. Pringle.” The only thing which brought her round was any interposed remark by Mr. Fulford:
“Never mind, Tibs; he’s only a boy.”
“Boy indeed! I wish, Fulford, you would mind your own business. Boy, indeed! I should like to know where you would find a nicer and better-behaved young man than Mr. Charles. Never mind, if he do aggravate 203 a little sometimes, you should not lose your temper, Fulford. It’s not Christian.”
Under such a rebuke as this, what could John Fulford do but sneak off to the garden, to wait till the missus had cooled? There he smoked a pipe over it very pleasantly.
“Dang it!” he would say to himself; “why, the little woman was up at me like a tarrier dog! She is a plucky one, and no mistake.” It was a source of pride to him to feel that he had a wife who could stand up and face a husband who was always being told that he was every inch a man. “Dang it! she’s a plucky one!”
Madge’s excitement was so great that she could not sit quiet; and Pops had a hard time of it, for he was turned out of his cage in order that it might be well cleaned, and was not allowed as of wont to perch upon the window-ledge of the back parlour and amuse himself by disturbing the siesta of Mrs. Fulford’s tabby-cat, who would have remained comfortably coiled up in some snug sunny corner of the garden, had it not been for the hideous mews which were the heart’s delight of Pops whenever he caught sight of a cat. No! now—and he could not tell why—he was shut up by himself in that comfortless front 204 parlour. Can it then be wondered at, that under the irritation of his wounded feelings he sought for consolation by endeavouring to pick a hole in the back of a mahogany arm-chair, and had to suffer condign punishment from Mrs. Fulford when he was discovered amusing himself by reducing a large splinter to shreds, and covering the carpet with the result of his labours.
No wonder that Madge could eat very little dinner.
It was one of Mrs. Marsh’s good days, and she had got up in time to dine with her little daughter. She heard of the expected visit, which had so excited the child’s imagination, with complete indifference; but that was usual with her. She had become indifferent to everything.
“May I wear my best frock, mamma?” asked Madge.
“You may wear what you like, my dear;” and Mrs. Fulford coming into the room at the moment, she added: “And Mrs. Fulford will, I am sure, be kind enough to dress you, for I am going out.”
“Certainly, mem,” said Mrs. Fulford; “but there is a cold wind, and I think, mem, if I may be allowed to say so, it would be better 205 for you to stay at home, or wait till tomorrow, when you could take Miss Madge with you.”
It was evident Mrs. Fulford did not like this going out alone.
“I cannot wait till to-morrow,” said Mrs. Marsh, curtly. “I have business.”
Mrs. Fulford screwed up her mouth, but made no answer, for it was not the first time by many that Mrs. Marsh had gone out on business.
It was still quite early in the afternoon when little Madge, full of expectation, sat in the little back parlour by the side of Pops. Pops’s cage had been marvellously brightened up by Mr. Fulford; but Pops did not seem to appreciate it, for he remained sulky and silent at the end of the perch farthest from Madge, as if he wanted to show her that he was displeased. But Madge had something else than Pops to think of now, and after she had asked if his cage looked clean and nice, seemed to have dismissed him from her thoughts. As she sat on a stool by the fire, with one arm resting on the seat of a chair and the other hanging listlessly by her side, with her head bent down so that her long silky hair fell in a flowing fringe of curls, as 206 if to screen her face, she was forming bright visions of that beautiful “somebody” whose name she was so soon to hear; of that other young lady of whom Mr. Pringle had spoken as Vic; of that nice buttered toast which Mrs. Fulford knew so well how to make, and of which Madge was nearly as fond as a ripe sweet apple.
She wondered how long it would be before they came; it seemed as if the time would never pass. The clock on the chimney piece made a little premonitory click, as if in answer to her thoughts, and then in a slow, measured, pompous sort of way struck three. “Only three! Dear me, dear me!”
Then she wondered how the clock knew it was three, and what it was that made it tick, tick, day and night. She had never thought of this before, though she had once felt the clock all over, and knew what its outside was like. She must ask Mr. Pringle about it. “It is so odd. What can make it go on tick, tick? What can it be? What is it, Pops?”
But Pops was still in the dumps, and would not say whether he knew or not, would not even say whether he had his doubts.
“I wonder if I should know, if I could see like other people?” Then she asked herself 207 how people felt when they could see. She thought over it for a long time, but she could not make it out; she only knew that people who could see did not run against chairs and tables and hurt themselves as she did.
“Ah, how nice it must be to see!”
She said this with a deep sigh; but as she said it the whole current of her thoughts changed, for she heard the hurried rattle of a latch-key and the opening of the front door.
“Ah, here comes Mr. Pringle! I am so glad.”
And Chub, coming in panting and out of breath, just put his head into the room:
“All right, Madge; I shall be down directly;” and then hurried upstairs, to return in less than a quarter of an hour, smelling most unmistakably of brown Windsor soap: and if Madge had had eyes like other people, she would have seen that he had put on his Sunday coat, and had made a parting down his hair, which for accuracy, might have served to have demonstrated the geometrical definition of a straight line.
Now would have been the time for Madge to have asked him about the clock, but she was too anxious. She felt that “somebody” 208 must very soon arrive; and even had she done so, it is doubtful whether Chub could have given a coherent answer, so much, too, had “somebody” taken possession of his thoughts.
“Yes, she will soon be here, and Vic too.”
“But I don’t want to see Vic; it is ‘somebody’ I want to see.”
Madge always spoke of seeing people; she did so simply because it was the way in which other people talked, for it is not to be expected that blind children should have a language of their own.
She was sitting on the little low stool by his side, with both her arms resting on his knee; and as she said “somebody,” she turned her face upwards towards his, appealingly, and in her coaxing little voice:
“Dear Mr. Pringle, now you will tell me, won’t you? What is ‘somebody’s’ name?”
“‘Somebody’s’ name is Eva,” said Chub; “but you must always call her Miss Yorke.”
“Yes!” said Madge, almost as if she were disappointed; “I like that best. Miss Yorke. Why did they call her Eva? It is like the name of poor silly Eve, who listened to the fine stories of that horrid serpent. Oh! I wish Mrs. Fulford had never 209 told me, for it makes me sit and think, and think, and I can’t make it out. But I will never say again what you told me not. No, never. But the other young lady? Is her real name Vic?”
Before Chub could answer, or express his surprise at Madge having any objection to the name of all others which he thought most beautiful—Eva—the bell was pulled violently, and on the door being opened—so quickly was it opened that Mrs. Fulford must have been on the watch—a man’s voice was heard inquiring if Mr. Pringle were at home.
“Here they are!” cried Chub, jumping up excitedly, whilst Madge turned pale and seemed to shrink within herself, and Pops ruffled his feathers, gave himself a shake, and uttered a defiant “Whew!”
The passage of No. 4, Woodbine Terrace, was not wide, and Mrs. Fulford stood, in consequence, as flat as she could make herself, with the door in her hand, rather overcome with the feeling that the eyes of the neighbourhood were upon her, and that in many breasts much envy was being excited; for carriages were seldom, it might be said never, seen drawn up before houses in Woodbine Terrace, the inhabitants of that locality, as 210 well as the friends who visited them, belonging principally to that extensive class who, when they do not walk, aspire to nothing higher than omnibuses or cabs. The only exceptions were mourning-coaches and doctors’ broughams, and they always caused an immense sensation.
To the people in these neighbourhoods, a funeral excites the greatest interest, and the touch of melancholy which belongs to it adds to the fascination. As a source of distraction, the doctor’s carriage stands next; and when it stops, there are not a few of the neighbours who look out narrowly to see whether the doctor is going to take into the house with him some of those dreadful instruments with which he is always supposed to be accompanied: the length of his visit, too, leads to all sorts of surmises as to the nature of the case, and when he comes out an attempt in made to discover, by the expression of his face, what opinion he may have formed as to his patient’s condition.
The visit to a neighbour of a doctor who drives his carriage is therefore always regarded as a most agreeable incident by those whom fate has obliged to take up their residence in a quarter which is remarkable for 211 nothing better than its dulness; for quiet places are always dull, and the people who live in them are often only kept alive , in addition to doctors and funerals, occasional visits from Punch, barrel-organs, hurdy-gurdies, and brass bands.
But what is a brass band, a Punch and Judy show, a doctor’s brougham, or even a funeral, to a beautiful carriage with a pair of high-stepping horses, a tall footman, and— “Look, he has opened the door, and they are stepping out! What a pity they are in black!”—two most lovely young ladies!
“Who can they be? and who can they be going to call on at No. 4?”
The question is soon answered. Chub runs down the steps, almost runs against the young ladies in his haste, and shakes them warmly by the hand. Mrs. Fulford flattens herself more and more against the wall, keeping fast hold of the door the while, as if under the impression that it would slam to unless she did so. Chub and the lovely young ladies squeeze past her. The door is shut, and then for the moment the mystery ends—if mysteries ever can be said to end.
“Oh, what a nice room you have!” said 212 Eva, with unwonted warmth, as she followed Chub into the back parlour. “And this is little Madge?” as she stooped down and stroked the hair of the now almost crouching child. “My dear Madge, we must become friends; and you must tell me all about Pops. Where is Pops?”
A violent rapping from Pops’s beak against the bars of his cage was the only answer. Madge was too shy to speak, and would have hid herself if she could; and Chub was so busy arranging chairs, that he had just then few spare thoughts for anyone or anything.
“Oh yes, Mr. Pops: I see you,” said Eva. “I will come and talk to you by-and-by;” she sat down as she spoke, and drawing her chair close to the little stool upon which Madge still sat, took the child’s hand in one of hers, whilst with the other she caressed her soft, flowing curls.
Then she felt a strange feeling of embarrassment; oddly enough, she had never spoken to a blind child before. She felt the deepest compassion for her, but those sightless eyes were so cold and meaningless they seemed to destroy all sympathy. She was shocked at her own heartlessness, yet it was with an effort that she repeated:213
“Yes, dear Madge; we must be friends!” and stooped down and kissed her on the forehead.
Then it was that Madge felt another hand take hers—a hand not quite so soft and small as Eva’s, but with more power in it—a hand the pressure of which seemed to say, “Here I am, ready to help you!”—a hand to hold on by in danger or distress; and a voice, not quite so sweet and musical as Eva’s, but clear and vibrating with tenderness, said:
“Madge, you must let me be a friend as well as Miss Yorke. I dare say Mr. Pringle has spoken to you of me, of Victoria—Victoria Marsh? You see, we have the same names! Is not that nice?”
Then Madge found herself lifted up by a pair of strong arms; and almost before she knew where she was, she found herself sitting on Victoria’s lap, with her head resting upon her shoulder, and a soft, loving cheek pressed against hers, and a feeling of happiness such as she had never—never felt before.
And whilst Chub and Eva sat talking together on one side of the fire, Victoria, with Madge still on her lap, broke down, little by little, that barrier of shyness, and 214 reserve, and vague wonderment, which had stood between her and the sightless child.
“Give me your hand,” she had said; “I want you to know what I am like:” and as she passed it over her face, “now you know that I have a nose, mouth, and chin; and how I wear my hair; and that I have no ear-rings. And you must call me Victoria, and not Miss Marsh; and promise to love me.”
And as she felt the child press her cheek more closely to hers, as if in answer, she too stooped down and kissed her; but it was not a cold kiss on the forehead, as Eva’s had been, but a warm, loving kiss—such as a tender mother gives her child—lip to lip.
Oh, that kiss! that kiss!
It was as a charm. The child threw her arms round Victoria’s neck and burst into tears.
“Why do you cry, Madge?”
“Oh, Miss—oh, Victoria!—because I am so happy,” sobbed the child.
“Do you always cry when you are happy?”
“No; only when I am naughty; but then it is not like this.”
“Well,” said Victoria, “I will kiss this 215 big tear away, and then we must not have another.”
Then she asked her about Pops, and what she could do, and how she amused herself; and when Madge said she could not do much, for she had no eyes—why had she no eyes? other people had eyes—Victoria told her of other little girls and boys whom she had known, who could not see; of their being able to read and to do many things; and of some who had nice little gardens of their own, and grew sweet-smelling flowers; and of some who were fond of music, and had learnt to play on some instrument.
But Madge said she would like best to have a garden and have roses and flowers. She did not care for music; it was pleasant to hear people talk, and read—when they read pretty books.
“And who reads to you?” asked Victoria.
“Mother did once, but now she says she is too weak, and that it makes her head ache. And sometimes Mrs. Fulford—but I don’t like her books. Though I like to hear about David and Samson and Jonah. Poor Jonah! we never have fish for dinner but I think of Jonah! And is the Bible all true? Mrs. Fulford says it is.”216
She could talk quite freely now, and ask all sorts of strange questions: and as she rested her head on Victoria’s shoulder, and felt herself encircled in those loving arms, she felt as if she had known Victoria all her life, and she only wondered how she could have been so silly as to have been afraid of her. And how nice it was to hear Victoria talk. She did not keep pitying her, and speak in a whisper about people being blind. No; she made it seem natural for people not to see; and it was so pleasant to know that she was not the only little girl to whom God had not given eyes like other people, and that children who had no eyes could run about and play, and that when they grew up they did not knock against chairs and tables and hurt themselves, but could work, and make baskets, and read books. It was not so bad after all to have no eyes.
Then Pops had to be introduced; and whilst Madge is coaxing him, and Chub is whistling to him, and Eva and Victoria are looking at him and admiring him, and hoping every moment that he will talk and come out of the sulks—for it is clear to all the world that something has gone wrong with Pops, and that he is sulky—a thud against the door, 217 followed by a sound as of tea-cups in collision, intimates the arrival of Mrs. Fulford with the tray.
Perhaps it is the sight of the sugar-basin which has the effect of raising Pops’s spirits and making him for a moment forget the cause of his dejection, for he raised his head and mewed twice, though somewhat dismally, and then relapsed into his attitude of defiant dulness.
Chub explains that Pops always mews when he sees Mrs. Fulford, probably because there is some association in his mind between her and her favourite tom-cat.
Madge called Pops a cross, sulky old thing; she would perhaps have said more, but at that moment she smelt the buttered toast, and that mollified her.
It might have been expected that Chub would have asked Victoria to have done the honours, but he did not; and by some skilful management—for he did not ask her, and yet she did it so naturally that it seemed as if he must have done so—Eva took her place at the table and poured out the tea; Madge once more seating herself on the low stool, ready for the buttered toast, and Chub buzzing about as busy and as happy as a 218 young bee who is flying home for the first time with a load of honey.
“This is what I call nice!” cries Chub.
Madge says it is very nice, with her mouth full of buttered toast.
Victoria pats her on the head, and says it is always nice to be with kind friends, even though there should be no buttered toast; and Eva wonders where Chub can get such nice tea—she has never tasted anything so delicious in her life.
At which remark the sulky Pops ventures a malicious “Whew!” and goes back at once into a state of collapse.
But he is not allowed to remain so. He is attacked on both flanks at the same time with bits of biscuit and lumps of sugar, and further resistance is useless. He obstinately refuses, however, to surrender to Victoria, and continues to threaten her fingers with fierce pecks, whenever they approach his cage; and it is by the small, white, dainty hand of Eva that he is made captive.
Chub begins to love him for his choice. Oh yes! Pops is one of the cleverest birds, that ever lived; and when he sees him, first pecking at Eva’s finger, as she puts it in the cage, and then grasping it in his claw, and 219 allowing himself to be brought out of the cage that Eva may kiss him and have the kiss returned—for poor Pops seems suddenly to have found out how lovable Eva is—as he brings his little smooth black tongue in contact with her pouting lip, Chub is filled with envy, and wishes himself a bird.
“Why is it, Madge,” asked Victoria, “that your old friend Pops is so churlish, and will have nothing to say to poor me? What have I done to offend him?”
“Come here, and I will tell you,” said Madge. “Here—quite—quite close, and I will speak it in your ear.”
And as Victoria knelt by the side of the low stool, the child, putting her arms round her neck, raised herself up until her mouth was in contact with her ear, and whispered:
“You must not tell—Pops is jealous. He never likes anyone that I love: and I love you, oh, so dearly!”
“But don’t you love Miss Yorke, too? You have known her quite as long as you have known me.”
“Ah! Miss Yorke,” said Madge, still in a whisper; “that is very different. It is a secret—a very great secret; but Mr. Pringle loves somebody—more than he does me or 220 anybody else—but not so much as I love you, my darling, darling Victoria!—may I call you Victoria?—and that cunning jealous old Pops has found it out. You don’t know what a clever bird Pops is—he finds everything out.”
“Sh-h! don’t tell the cats!” cried Pops; and then he whistled and mewed, and had his doubts, ever and anon interrupting himself to return Eva’s caresses, or to make fierce feints at Victoria, as if to show his dislike to her, and treating Chub with an indifference which could have been but deeply humiliating to that gentleman’s feelings; but Chub’s feelings were so concentrated on Eva that he could think of nothing else—so that he even forgot to remind Victoria, as he had intended to have done, to take a good look at Madge’s eyes. But Victoria had not required to be reminded—she had from the first looked at those poor dull eyes; and whilst the hearts of Chub and Eva were filled with all the tender emotions which belong to a pure and youthful love, hers was filled with a longing that the day might come when her labours should be crowned with a skill and a knowledge which would enable her to help even such a one as this poor 221 afflicted child. “What a privilege, what a power,” she thought, “to give sight to the blind! Why, it is God-like. Oh that I may be found worthy of it!”
She was still kneeling by the low stool, with the child clinging to her, and for a few minutes she had not spoken a word; but it seemed almost as if there must be some unknown sympathy between them, for it was just at this moment that Madge again put her mouth to her ear and whispered:
“I cannot tell why it is, when I am by you, and you hold me in your arms, it makes me think of God; not the cruel one that Mrs. Fulford tells me about, but of a good kind God, that I love as I do you. Why is it?”
“Because God is love,” she answered almost mechanically. Had she had time for thought she might have answered less shortly, but a loud ring at the bell announced that the carriage had returned, and the little clock on the chimney piece showed but too plainly that the time had come for saying good-bye.
“Is she not nice?” asked Chub of Madge, when they were once more alone—of course he was thinking of Eva.
“I love her better than anybody in the world,” said Madge, thinking of Victoria.222
“Whew!” whistled Pops.
“Dear old Pops!” said Chub.
“Foolish, jealous old Pops!” said Madge.
It was nearly dusk when, not long after Eva and Victoria had driven off, another carriage stopped opposite the gate of No. 4, Woodbine Terrace. This time it was not a well-appointed carriage with high-stepping horses, but a humble—a more than humble, an extremely disreputable-looking—four-wheeler. The driver, whose limbs seemed to have been stiffened with rheumatism, swung himself with no little difficulty off his seat; and after having communicated with some one in the cab—which he did by standing on his toes and thrusting his head in at the window—he hobbled through the little garden and up the steps, ringing the bell in a jerky, spasmodic manner, as if he were doing something he did not like, outside the sphere of his proper duty.
This time, Mrs. Fulford was evidently not on the watch; for it was only after a considerable delay that that worthy person opened the door. A delay which seemed somewhat to irritate the cab-driver, judging from the objurgations with which he warned the horse that he had better not move on; though had 223 he taken the trouble of looking, he might easily have seen, from the heaving flanks and the trembling limbs of the wretched animal, that moving on was the last thing in the world it had the slightest intention of doing. The cabman had scarcely time to say, “Lady—very bad—two bob,”—when Mrs. Fulford, who seemed to take in the whole position at a glance, called out “Fulford!” at the top of her voice, from the head of the kitchen stairs; but on there being no response, she suddenly remembered that Fulford had gone out on an errand.
Now, Mrs. Fulford, although she was a stout, active, energetic little woman, was not physically strong, and she knew from experience that unaided she was not equal to the task which was before her; and even had the cabman not been the broken-down hobbling creature he was, there was something in his manner, and the disagreeable leer which had the information of the lady being “very bad,” which made her shrink from having recourse to his assistance. Telling him, therefore, that she would come in a minute, she hurried to the back-parlour, and knocked at the door. A loud “Come in” showed that Chub was still there.224
“Please, Mr. Pringle, can I speak to you a minute?”
She looked significantly at Madge, and beckoned as she spoke.
As soon as Chub was outside the door, and Mrs. Fulford had carefully closed it—
“Oh, Mr. Pringle,” she whispered, “will you help me? Fulford is out, and I don’t know what to do. She has come back, and I fear worse than ever. Oh dear! oh dear! thank God, it is nearly dark!”
Chub braced himself up to the task like a man; he did not like it, but he was ready to do it, nevertheless.
With his aid Mrs. Marsh, in a state of complete helplessness, was supported into the house and carried upstairs; she explaining all the time in incoherent terms that she had been out on business. Oh, the difficulty she had to bring out the words! “Yes, business—business—and had been taken ill and faint; but she was better now.” And then she repeated still more incoherently all she had said before; and being laid upon her bed and left to the care of Mrs. Fulford, fell asleep, repeating “business” to herself, as if she were seeking to pacify her own conscience.225
“Has mother come back?” asked Madge when Chub returned.
“Yes,” he only spoke in monosyllables now. How different from what it had been but a few short moments ago, when Chub was full of gleeful talk, and Madge’s merry laugh had accompanied his words:
“And she is ill again?”
Then a long silence broken by Madge.
“How odd it is!” she said. “I can’t make it out. I can make nothing out. Just now it was as if I were sitting in a garden filled with violets and roses, and now I feel as if I had nothing about me but dead leaves. Do you know that I think Miss Yorke is like a violet, and Miss—no, I will always call her Victoria—is like a rose? Oh, how I like roses—but you like violets best, don’t you? Don’t say no—I know you do. But oh, these dead leaves—these dismal dead leaves!”
Dead leaves! How much is there that is most beautiful in nature—young buds prematurely withered; flowers that have made the air fragrant with their perfume, or dazzled the eye with their brightness—which the ruthless hand of Time turns into mere 226 dead leaves, or, as Madge called them— “Dismal dead leaves.”
“Dead leaves,” with no trace left of their living loveliness; serving but to point a moral to the few who moralise—to the many, nothing more nor less than what they seem—mere dead leaves.
Poor Madge! She little knew, as late in the evening she went to say good-night to her mother, and turned from her embrace with ill-concealed disgust; that in the poor fallen leaf before her, there had been, no longer since than she herself now counted years, as much freshness, as much sweetness, and as much beauty as belonged to those whose presence had made her feel as if she had been sitting in a garden filled with violets and roses.
It was with an aching heart that Madge laid herself upon her little bed that night. It seemed as if she had been suddenly awakened out of a beautiful dream. Oh, if she could but sleep and dream it again, or still better, die!—for Mrs. Fulford had told her, that to die, if people were good, was only to fall asleep. And why was she not good? What had she done to make God angry? Why should He not be kind to her?—kind to her as Victoria was. Oh, how safe and 227 happy she had felt in her arms. If God would only be kind to her, like Victoria—dear Victoria! She pressed her cheek more closely against the pillow as she spoke; it was almost as if her head rested once more upon Victoria’s shoulder, and with a little half-sigh, half-sob, the child fell asleep.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter X
the whole current of her thoughts were changed
text unchanged: expected was changed
quiet places are always dull, and the people who live in them are often only kept alive by it, in addition to doctors and funerals, occasional visits from Punch, barrel-organs, hurdy-gurdies, and brass bands
[I would like this long sentence better without the word “it”, unless someone can figure out what, exactly, it refers back to.]
the disagreeable leer which had accompanied the information
text has accompanined
FRIENDS IN NEED.
Lady Arabella had received many letters in which condolences and excuses were equally balanced. Her brother, the earl, had written to say he was sorry, but not surprised, to find that Mr. Yorke had left his affairs in such an embarrassed state, for he had always anticipated something of the kind; and it only confirmed him in what he supposed was his hereditary horror of everything like trade. He was too much occupied to come to town at that moment, or he would have been very glad to have made himself useful to her. But generally speaking, her friends confined themselves to expressing what they called their “deep sympathy.”
My Lord Runnymede had been to see her, and expressed himself as “awfully sorry that he could be of no use, but that he had never 229 been taught to help himself, and so, you know, he could not be expected to help anybody else.”
My lord was, in fact, out of temper. He looked upon himself as an injured individual, and had vented his feelings in anything but pleasant language to his wife:
“This breakdown is confoundedly disagreeable for me, you know. It does not signify how people may make money, but they should not break down. People may forget that a duchess has been a rich brewer’s daughter; but when there is a breakdown, and she has a broken-down brother—Gad! Geraldine, it is very unfortunate for me, you know.”
As a contrast to this came a letter from Sir Francis Hawthorne, in which he begged to place his services at Lady Arabella’s disposal.
“The very man,” said Lady Arabella, when she had read the note. “Write to him at once, my dear Penserosa, and beg him to come. He will be very useful; he knows all about Italy.”
Eva suggested that, having Victoria with them, they wanted no other help. But Lady Arabella thought differently.230
“Two heads are better than one,” she said. “Victoria is all very well, but she has never crossed the Alps.”
So Sir Francis was written to, and came at once to see her. Came day by day to talk with her, and help Eva and Victoria in their arrangements. It was as if he had been their brother.
What a help he was to them! They wondered how they could have got on without him; for practical as Victoria was, she was not good at finding out routes in Bradshaw, and Lady Arabella, in imagination, was always on the move.
One day Geraldine looked in upon them when they were hard at work, trying to find out the exact time it would take by the several routes between Paris and Naples. She had been sitting with Lady Arabella, and had heard from her how kind Sir Francis had been.
“He is such a dear good fellow,” she said, “and knows all about business and those troublesome lawyers, and about travelling. Ah, ma chère, though he is tant soit peu roturier, I sometimes wish your Runnymede was like him.”
For a moment it had been with a feeling approaching to anger that Geraldine had heard 231 of Sir Francis being in her mother’s house; it almost seemed as if he had done it out of bravado, in order to revenge himself on her for her heartlessness; he had come to torture her in her—no, not misery: it could not be misery; and she but six weeks married.
Her first impulse was not to see him.
But would it not look odd? Would it not add to his triumph if he were allowed to feel that she had not the courage to meet him? And then softer feelings took possession of her heart. Was he not, after all, doing the work of a true friend? and then came a contrast—too late—too late! She had had a hideous, feverish dream; consciousness had returned, alas! too late—too late!
All this, and much more, passed through her mind on her way downstairs from her mother’s room to the library. As she entered it, she thought of her father—for it was there she had seen him last—and of how he had said to her:
“I have done all I can for you; I have done my best, and God grant you may never have occasion to repent your choice.”
Ah! he little knew that repentance was there, even as he spoke. Yet it was without any trace of emotion that she greeted Sir 232 Francis with the formal politeness due to an acquaintance from one who had been removed to a sphere which had no place for old friendships.
But though she might conceal her emotion, it was impossible for her to hide the extraordinary change which the few short weeks of married life had produced in her. It was as if every trace of girlhood had departed from her, and it was difficult to believe that the pale, calm, cold woman, whose dignity sat upon her as if it had been the growth of years—whose beauty had become, as it were, petrified—was she who had been so full of life, so unguarded in her speech, so impulsive in her actions, so full of warmth and affection to those she loved. Now, she had become so undemonstrative that she kissed Eva—the sister that she had so much loved—and Victoria—the one being next to Eva whom she had the most affection for—as if they had been statues, and placed her hand into that of Sir Francis as she might have done into the hand of a stranger.
Yet at times, to anyone who had closely watched her, there might have been detected a kind of scared, startled look, accompanied with a slight convulsive movement, such as 233 might be produced by the momentary remembrance of some hideous recollection, on one who had determined to banish it for ever.
Of course, by her friends, the change, too perceptible to be overlooked, which had taken place in the beautiful Marchioness of Runnymede, was readily accounted for through the shock which the death of her father had produced, coming upon her, as it had done, in the midst of such a period of happiness. Some, however, said it was because black did not become her, and there were some evil tongues who were wicked enough to say that her former brilliant complexion had not been natural, and affected to pity my lord, as if he had been cruelly imposed upon.
Of course, this change had been perceived by Eva; but under the circumstances some sort of change seemed natural, and Eva was not one of those troublesomely gifted people who find themselves compelled to dive deep down under the surface of things. Not so Victoria; she had, as it were, an instinctive knowledge that Geraldine, under that calm, cold exterior, was hiding the subterranean fires which were burning within her, fed by self-condemnation and wounded pride; and her heart bled for her, but she 234 knew the slightest demonstration of sympathy would only add intensity to feelings which time alone could soften.
As Geraldine placed her hand so coldly in his, Sir Francis was grieved to find the alteration which had taken place in her. What a contrast between her, as she stood before him now, and as she had appeared when he had last seen her! Then, his heart was filled with love, admiration, and bitter disappointment; now, there was no room in it for any other feeling than the deepest pity. Not that the change had made her less beautiful—in some respects she was even more so; but it was the beauty of a Niobe, in whom the sparkling current of youthful life had been suddenly arrested—the beauty of a dead thing—of a stone.
He remembered Victoria’s words: “Indeed, indeed, she is greatly to be pitied!” and he knew by his own feelings how true those words were.
Yet the last feeling in the world that Geraldine would have wished to have excited was “pity.”
As she sat down, she glanced at the papers with which the table was covered.
“It is very kind of you, Sir Francis, to 235 come and help mamma,” she said; “and it makes me doubly angry with my brother”—she did not call him Duke, now—“to think, in addition to the heartless way in which he has acted, he has been the cause of giving so much trouble to friends who, like you, have not deserted my dear mother in her great trouble.” Then, as if glad to change the conversation, she added: “And I hear you have been again brought forward for Middleshire, and, as yet, there is no other candidate. Is it true?”
“Yes,” said Sir Francis; “my name was put forward almost without my consent.”
“Ah, what changes a few short months have produced!” said Geraldine, as if speaking to herself; “who could have foreseen them?” Then, with that strange, scarcely perceptible spasmodic movement, she added: “But you really ought not to be neglecting your own interests on my mother’s account. You should be in Middleshire.”
“Experience tells me,” said Sir Francis, “that others can act for me better than I can act for myself.”
“Sir Francis has promised that he will not remain beyond the end of the week,” said Eva. “It is very wrong of him to stay, but 236 I don’t know what we should have done without him.”
“And, Victoria,” said Geraldine, turning towards her, “I fear you, too, are sacrificing yourself for others; but then that is your vocation,” she added, in a tone that made it sound almost like a reproach.
Victoria looked at her for a moment before she spoke; then, with a more than usual degree of gravity, she said:
“My dear Geraldine, you must know that what we do for those we love, can never be a sacrifice; and, at the best, I can be of very little use.”
“But you must be neglecting your studies,” said Geraldine, almost with an air of indifference.
“I shall resume them the beginning of the month, for Lady Arabella has agreed to take Zurich on her way to Italy.”
Eva had taken Victoria’s hand and kissed her tenderly, whilst Geraldine had been speaking.
“Yes, is it not kind of Victoria? We shall all travel together; and Sir Francis has insisted upon coming to see us off.”
A suspicion shot through Geraldine’s mind, and, perhaps, gave even greater acerbity to 237 her manner than it had before, as she said, very kindly:
“Indeed? But I hardly think it necessary; for of course I shall come, and Runnymede will be there.”
It was the first time she had mentioned his name; it seemed less painful for her to speak it now, since that suspicion had shot through her mind.
She had been so weak herself, that she could not quite realise it was possible for others to be strong; and for that of which she had herself been guilty, she felt the greatest contempt. She knew that Sir Francis and Victoria loved each other. She had changed without love; why, then, should they not change, with it? But, if they did, she would despise them for it. Sir Francis most, for weakness was a woman’s privilege.
Who would have known that such thoughts as these were passing through Geraldine’s mind as, cold and calm, she sat talking over her mother’s future plans, and discussed the easiest route to the Continent, the best hotels, the expense of living, the most suitable winter climates, and the many similar topics which have a special interest for those about to expatriate themselves.238
It was astonishing how studiously she avoided all reference to her dead father—to her ruined brother—to her own home, or to her husband, and took refuge in the minor incidents connected with the change which was about to take place—even descending to talk about the weather, and to lament over the muddiness of the streets; not one word coming from her heart, and her heart burning within her none the less: a relief to herself—a relief to all, when she rose and took her leave; weary of acting a part, and yet not acting a part—for every word she uttered was but the outcome of those artificial feelings which were suppressing and taking the place of those generous impulses still smouldering within her breast.
“Poor Geraldine!” said Eva, when she had gone. “She looks so pale, and is so altered, that sometimes I think she cannot be happy. Did you ever meet Runnymede?” she asked Sir Francis.
“Our acquaintance is very slight.”
“He is one of those people,” said Eva, “who, I am sorry to say, do not improve on acquaintance; but I must confess to knowing very little of him, although he is my brother-in-law. 239 Is it not singular?—you will hardly believe it, when I tell you that I don’t think I have spoken to him a dozen times; indeed, he always seemed to consider me as too uninteresting a person to be worthy of notice.”
Victoria had remained silent. She was wondering whether she could have been deceived in the estimate she had formed of Geraldine’s character; but if so, how could this sudden and sad change be accounted for? The more she thought over it, the more convinced she became, that she had not been deceived—but that Geraldine was miserable; and she knew there is no misery so difficult to bear as that which is self-imposed.
“Oh, how I wish dear Geraldine had never married him!” she exclaimed, as Eva finished speaking.
That night, before they retired to rest, Eva had confided to Victoria that she loved Chub—had always loved him—never had thought of anyone else.
“He is a fine true-hearted fellow,” said Victoria, “is dear old Chub; but you must remember the contrast that will exist between the sister who marries Mr. Charles Pringle and 240 the one who has married a Marquis of Runnymede.”
“Am I such a worldling Vic,” said Eva, reproachfully, “that you should make such a remark. I would rather be the wife of an honest man such as Chub will, I am certain, always be, than of a—— No, he is my sister’s husband, and I will not say anything against him. But, oh, I do really love Chub—love him dearly!”
“But has Chub ever asked you to marry him?” said Victoria, archly. “Remember, it is not leap-year.”
“You dear provoking old thing,” said Eva. “He has never spoken a word of love to me, and always blushes when he looks at me—and I am as bad; and yet it seems to me that we have been making love to each other, without intending it, ever since I can remember.”
It seemed to be Victoria’s fate that she should be made the repository of other people’s secrets, and that she should be required to sympathise with feelings which by an equally irrevocable fate she was bound to suppress.
She could but be interested in Eva’s love—it was so simple and childlike, and she knew that Chub was worthy of it.241
“Good-night, my dear Pen,” she said, “be patient and trusting, and it will all come right; but take care that you do not interpose any disturbing dreams of happiness between Chub and his studies, for I verily believe it would break his father’s heart were he to fail and be unable to write M.R.C.S. after his name. But you, may dream as much as you like. Good-night.”
“Good-night, my darling sister,” said Eva. “What should I—what should we, do without you? I really believe the reason why you can be so useful to others, is that you are so thoroughly unselfish, whilst I am always either thinking of myself, or of—Chub.”
It was with the name of him she loved on her lips that they separated.
“Am I really unselfish?” was the question Victoria asked of herself as she laid her head upon her pillow.
Before she could answer it, she had fallen asleep; but the last picture which presented itself to her mind was that of a little blind child with flowing hair; and when she awoke the next morning it was as if that picture were still there. How was it possible for her to think only of herself when she saw looming in the distance before her, the possibility of 242 being able to restore to some afflicted fellow-creature, that one sense, without which, the all-pervading beauty of this world is unknown; life has no other surrounding than dark shadows; and all objects removed from the reach of touch, are without form and void.
“If I can only arrive at this, I shall not have lived in vain.”
It was such thoughts as these which had soothed her sorrows and calmed the wild throbbings of her heart.
She, too, was calm; almost as calm—some said as cold—calm and cold as Geraldine.
But with Victoria it was because, after years of striving, she had conquered self, and had a goal in life—something to work towards—beyond the mere gratification of sense, or the advancement of her own interests. She had extended her sympathies; and she seemed cold, only, because her love was spread over a wide surface—cold as the rays of the sun may be called cold when compared with the blaze from a furnace fire.
Geraldine’s coldness was rather that of the volcanic mountain whose surface remains white with eternal snow, though the very rock is melted into a molten mass, by the fire raging with fierce imprisoned fury within.243
Geraldine had only learnt to conceal her natural emotions; Victoria had reduced hers to subjection, and made them subservient to her will.
She might have spent her time in morbid regrets, in melancholy reflections, in brooding over the revelations of a past which had cast its broad shadows over her whole life, happily for her, she had outlived the weakness which had commenced by turning her whole attention upon herself, and had reached a height which had enabled her to extend her horizon beyond the boundaries of barren regrets. Excelsior was her motto. And as she mounted, each step made her foot firmer, her eye surer, and her heart beat with a throb of thankfulness that life was still so full of that which was worth working for.
Now, she had so much to do for Lady Arabella, that her time was fully occupied. With the help of Sir Francis, everything was soon sufficiently arranged to enable Lady Arabella to leave for the Continent the moment the doctor pronounced it safe for her to do so; and, as the very prospect of change seemed to hasten her recovery, in less than ten days a group might have been seen on the platform of the South-Eastern Railway, 244 standing by the side of a first-class carriage just about to start. It was composed of Lord and Lady Runnymede, Sir Francis Hawthorne, Dr. Pringle and Chub; and at a little distance, standing in an attitude of attention, two tall men-servants carrying shawls. The guard came to shut the door just as Geraldine leant forward to exchange kisses with Eva and Victoria, and to press once more the outstretched hand of Lady Arabella, who, in a faint voice, was heard begging her to take care of herself. The door was shut in the midst of her good-bye, and then commenced a waving of hats, and kissing of hands, and fluttering of pocket-handkerchiefs—the two tall footmen putting their fore-fingers to their hats—until the train was out of sight. Then Geraldine, with tearless eyes, after shaking hands with Sir Francis, Dr. Pringle, and Chub, took the arm of her husband—who had contented himself with a stiff bow—and moved off towards her carriage.
My lord was more than usually silent on their drive home: he had been obliged to get up early, and he hated getting up early. Then it was too soon for him to go to his club; there was nothing for it but to drive home. 245 And what was he to do when he arrived there?
No wonder my lord was somewhat out of temper.
“I tell you what it is, Geraldine,” he said, “standing about on that platform will be the death of me; and then you will never be a duchess, you know.” And, perhaps still more annoyed by her silence, for she did not answer: “What a prig that Sir Francis is, confound the fellow! And they are going to send him up for Middleshire, as if we had not Radicals enough in the House already.”
“Is he a Radical?” asked Geraldine, much in the same tone as if she had never heard of Sir Francis before.
“The worst kind of Radical,” said her husband, “for he objects to the game-laws, you know. But who was that big, young fellow with the old doctor?”
“His son,” said Geraldine, curtly.
“Then I advise Lady Arabella to keep him at arm’s length,” said my lord. “Eva never took her eyes off him. He may be a confounded nice fellow in his respectable line of business, whatever that may be, you know; 246 but hang me if I should like to have him for a brother-in-law! It is bad enough as it is.”
“Indeed!” was Geraldine’s only reply.
And this was the man she had made her husband!
END OF VOL. II.
BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS AND ELECTROTYPERS, GUILDFORD.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XI
he is tant soit peu roturier
[What an educational book this is proving to be. A roturier is a commoner or plebeian. (Yes, a baronet counts as a commoner.)]
be unable to write M.R.C.S. after his name
[Why “S”? I thought he was studying to be a physician (M.R.C.P.) like his father, who is Dr. Pringle.]
But who was that big, healthy-looking young fellow with the old doctor?
hyphen in healthy-looking invisible at line break