Part 6 out of 6
"I beg your pardon," he said, snubbed. "I thought--Don't you
think it dangerous to sit on that damp wall?"
"It is not damp. It is crumbling into dust with dryness." An
unnatural laugh, with which she concluded, intensified his
He began a sentence, stopped, and to gain time to recover
himself, placed his bicycle in the opposite ditch; a proceeding
which she witnessed with impatience, as it indicated his
intention to stay and talk. She, however, was the first to speak;
and she did so with a callousness that shocked him.
"Have you heard the news?"
"About Mr. Trefusis and Agatha. They are engaged."
"So Trefusis told me. I met him just now in the village. I was
very glad to hear it."
"But I had a special reason for being glad."
"I was desperately afraid, before he told me the truth, that he
had other views--views that might have proved fatal to my dearest
Gertrude frowned at him, and the frown roused him to brave her.
He lost his self-command, already shaken by her strange behavior.
"You know that I love you, Miss Lindsay," he said. "It may not be
a perfect love, but, humanly speaking, it is a true one. I almost
told you so that day when we were in the billiard room together;
and I did a very dishonorable thing the same evening. When you
were speaking to Trefusis in the avenue I was close to you, and I
"Then you heard him," cried Gertrude vehemently. "You heard him
swear that he was in earnest."
"Yes," said Erskine, trembling, "and I thought he meant in
earnest in loving you. You can hardly blame me for that: I was in
love myself; and love is blind and jealous. I never hoped again
until he told me that he was to be married to Miss Wylie. May I
speak to you, now that I know I was mistaken, or that you have
changed your mind?"
"Or that he has changed his mind," said Gertrude scornfully.
Erskine, with a new anxiety for her sake, checked himself. Her
dignity was dear to him, and he saw that her disappointment had
made her reckless of it. "Do not say anything to me now, Miss
"What have I said? What have I to say?"
"Nothing, except on my own affairs. I love you dearly."
She made an impatient movement, as if that were a very
"You believe me, I hope," he said, timidly.
Gertrude made an effort to recover her habitual ladylike reserve,
but her energy failed before she had done more than raise her
head. She relapsed into her listless attitude, and made a faint
gesture of intolerance.
"You cannot be quite indifferent to being loved," he said,
becoming more nervous and more urgent. "Your existence
constitutes all my happiness. I offer you my services and
devotion. I do not ask any reward." (He was now speaking very
quickly and almost inaudibly.) "You may accept my love without
returning it. I do not want--seek to make a bargain. If you need
a friend you may be able to rely on me more confidently because
you know I love you."
"Oh, you think so," said Gertrude, interrupting him; "but you
will get over it. I am not the sort of person that men fall in
love with. You will soon change your mind."
"Not the sort! Oh, how little you know!" he said, becoming
eloquent. "I have had plenty of time to change, but I am as fixed
as ever. If you doubt, wait and try me. But do not be rough with
me. You pain me more than you can imagine when you are hasty or
indifferent. I am in earnest."
"Ha, ha! That is easily said."
"Not by me. I change in my judgment of other people according to
my humor, but I believe steadfastly in your goodness and
beauty--as if you were an angel. I am in earnest in my love for
you as I am in earnest for my own life, which can only be
perfected by your aid and influence."
"You are greatly mistaken if you suppose that I am an angel."
"You are wrong to mistrust yourself; but it is what I owe to you
and not what I expect from you that I try to express by speaking
of you as an angel. I know that you are not an angel to yourself.
But you are to me."
She sat stubbornly silent.
"I will not press you for an answer now. I am content that you
know my mind at last. Shall we return together?"
She looked round slowly at the hemlock, and from that to the
river. Then she took up her basket, rose, and prepared to go, as
if under compulsion.
"Do you want any more hemlock?" he said. "If so, I will pluck
some for you."
"I wish you would let me alone," she said, with sudden anger. She
added, a little ashamed of herself, "I have a headache."
"I am very sorry," he said, crestfallen.
"It is only that I do not wish to be spoken to. It hurts my head
He meekly took his bicycle from the ditch and wheeled it along
beside her to the Beeches without another word. They went in
through the conservatory, and parted in the dining-room. Before
leaving him she said with some remorse, "I did not mean to be
rude, Mr. Erskine."
He flushed, murmured something, and attempted to kiss her hand.
But she snatched it away and went out quickly. He was stung by
this repulse, and stood mortifying himself by thinking of it
until he was disturbed by the entrance of a maid-servant.
Learning from her that Sir Charles was in the billiard room, he
joined him there, and asked him carelessly if he had heard the
"About Miss Wylie?" said Sir Charles. "Yes, I should think so. I
believe the whole country knows it, though they have not been
engaged three hours. Have you seen these?" And he pushed a couple
of newspapers across the table.
Erskine had to make several efforts before he could read. " You
were a fool to sign that document," he said. "I told you so at
"I relied on the fellow being a gentleman," said Sir Charles
warmly. " I do not see that I was a fool. I see that he is a cad,
and but for this business of Miss Wylie's I would let him know my
opinion. Let me tell you, Chester, that he has played fast and
loose with Miss Lindsay. There is a deuce of a row upstairs. She
has just told Jane that she must go home at once; Miss Wylie
declares that she will have nothing to do with Trefusis if Miss
Lindsay has a prior claim to him, and Jane is annoyed at his
admiring anybody except herself. It serves me right; my instinct
warned me against the fellow from the first." Just then luncheon
was announced. Gertrude did not come down. Agatha was silent and
moody. Jane tried to make Erskine describe his walk with
Gertrude, but he baffled her curiosity by omitting from his
account everything except its commonplaces.
"I think her conduct very strange," said Jane. "She insists on
going to town by the four o'clock train. I consider that it's not
polite to me, although she always made a point of her perfect
manners. I never heard of such a thing!"
When they had risen from the table, they went together to the
drawing-room. They had hardly arrived there when Trefusis was
announced, and he was in their presence before they had time to
conceal the expression of consternation his name brought into
"I have come to say good-bye," he said. "I find that I must go to
town by the four o'clock train to push my arrangements in person;
the telegrams I have received breathe nothing but delay. Have you
seen the 'Times'?"
"I have indeed," said Sir Charles, emphatically.
"You are in some other paper too, and will be in half-a-dozen
more in the course of the next fortnight. Men who have committed
themselves to an opinion are always in trouble with the
newspapers; some because they cannot get into them, others
because they cannot keep out. If you had put forward a thundering
revolutionary manifesto, not a daily paper would have dared
allude to it: there is no cowardice like Fleet Street cowardice!
I must run off; I have much to do before I start, and it is
getting on for three. Good-bye, Lady Brandon, and everybody."
He shook Jane's hand, dealt nods to the rest rapidly, making no
distinction in favor of Agatha, and hurried away. They stared
after him for a moment and then Erskine ran out and went
downstairs two steps at a time. Nevertheless he had to run as far
as the avenue before he overtook his man.
"Trefusis," he said breathlessly, "you must not go by the four
"Miss Lindsay is going to town by it."
"So much the better, my dear boy; so much the better. You are not
jealous of me now, are you?"
"Look here, Trefusis. I don't know and I don't ask what there has
been between you and Miss Lindsay, but your engagement has quite
upset her, and she is running away to London in consequence. If
she hears that you are going by the same train she will wait
until to-morrow, and I believe the delay would be very
disagreeable. Will you inflict that additional pain upon her?"
Trefusis, evidently concerned, looking doubtfully at Erskine, and
pondered for a moment. "I think you are on a wrong scent about
this," he said. "My relations with Miss Lindsay were not of a
sentimental kind. Have you said anything to her--on your own
account, I mean?"
"I have spoken to her on both accounts, and I know from her own
lips that I am right."
Trefusis uttered a low whistle.
"It is not the first time I have had the evidence of my senses in
the matter," said Erskine significantly. " Pray think of it
seriously, Trefusis. Forgive my telling you frankly that nothing
but your own utter want of feeling could excuse you for the way
in which you have acted towards her."
Trefusis smiled. "Forgive me in turn for my inquisitiveness," he
said. "What does she say to your suit?"
Erskine hesitated, showing by his manner that he thought Trefusis
had no right to ask the question. "She says nothing," he
"Hm!" said Trefusis. "Well, you may rely on me as to the train.
There is my hand upon it."
"Thank you," said Erskine fervently. They shook hands and parted,
Trefusis walking away with a grin suggestive of anything but good
Gertrude, unaware of the extent to which she had already betrayed
her disappointment, believed that anxiety for her father's
health, which she alleged as the motive of her sudden departure,
was an excuse plausible enough to blind her friends to her
overpowering reluctance to speak to Agatha or endure her
presence; to her fierce shrinking from the sort of pity usually
accorded to a jilted woman; and, above all, to her dread of
meeting Trefusis. She had for some time past thought of him as an
upright and perfect man deeply interested in her. Yet,
comparatively liberal as her education had been, she had no idea
of any interest of man in woman existing apart from a desire to
marry. He had, in his serious moments, striven to make her
sensible of the baseness he saw in her worldliness, flattering
her by his apparent conviction--which she shared--that she was
capable of a higher life. Almost in the same breath, a strain of
gallantry which was incorrigible in him, and to which his humor
and his tenderness to women whom he liked gave variety and charm,
would supervene upon his seriousness with a rapidity which her
far less flexible temperament could not follow. Hence she,
thinking him still in earnest when he had swerved into florid
romance, had been dangerously misled. He had no conscientious
scruples in his love-making, because he was unaccustomed to
consider himself as likely to inspire love in women; and Gertrude
did not know that her beauty gave to an hour spent alone with her
a transient charm which few men of imagination and address could
resist. She, who had lived in the marriage market since she had
left school, looked upon love-making as the most serious business
of life. To him it was only a pleasant sort of trifling, enhanced
by a dash of sadness in the reflection that it meant so little.
Of the ceremonies attending her departure, the one that cost her
most was the kiss she felt bound to offer Agatha. She had been
jealous of her at college, where she had esteemed herself the
better bred of the two; but that opinion had hardly consoled her
for Agatha's superior quickness of wit, dexterity of hand,
audacity, aptness of resource, capacity for forming or following
intricate associations of ideas, and consequent power to dazzle
others. Her jealousy of these qualities was now barbed by the
knowledge that they were much nearer akin than her own to those
of Trefusis. It mattered little to her how she appeared to
herself in comparison with Agatha. But it mattered the whole
world (she thought) that she must appear to Trefusis so slow,
stiff, cold, and studied, and that she had no means to make him
understand that she was not really so. For she would not admit
the justice of impressions made by what she did not intend to do,
however habitually she did it. She had a theory that she was not
herself, but what she would have liked to be. As to the one
quality in which she had always felt superior to Agatha, and
which she called " good breeding," Trefusis had so far destroyed
her conceit in that, that she was beginning to doubt whether it
was not her cardinal defect.
She could not bring herself to utter a word as she embraced her
schoolfellow; and Agatha was tongue-tied too. But there was much
remorseful tenderness in the feelings that choked them. Their
silence would have been awkward but for the loquacity of Jane,
who talked enough for all three. Sir Charles was without, in the
trap, waiting to drive Gertrude to the station. Erskine
intercepted her in the hall as she passed out, told her that he
should be desolate when she was gone, and begged her to remember
him, a simple petition which moved her a little, and caused her
to note that his dark eyes had a pleading eloquence which she had
observed before in the kangaroos at the Zoological Society's
On the way to the train Sir Charles worried the horse in order to
be excused from conversation on the sore subject of his guest's
sudden departure. He had made a few remarks on the skittishness
of young ponies, and on the weather, and that was all until they
reached the station, a pretty building standing in the open
country, with a view of the river from the platform. There were
two flies waiting, two porters, a bookstall, and a refreshment
room with a neglected beauty pining behind the bar. Sir Charles
waited in the booking office to purchase a ticket for Gertrude,
who went through to the platform. The first person she saw there
was Trefusis, close beside her.
"I am going to town by this train, Gertrude," he said quickly.
"Let me take charge of you. I have something to say, for I hear
that some mischief has been made between us which must be stopped
at once. You--"
Just then Sir Charles came out, and stood amazed to see them in
"It happens that I am going by this train," said Trefusis. "I
will see after Miss Lindsay."
"Miss Lindsay has her maid with her," said Sir Charles, almost
stammering, and looking at Gertrude, whose expression was
"We can get into the Pullman car," said Trefusis. "There we shall
be as private as in a corner of a crowded drawing-room. I may
travel with you, may I not?" he said, seeing Sir Charles's
disturbed look, and turning to her for express permission.
She felt that to deny him would be to throw away her last chance
of happiness. Nevertheless she resolved to do it, though she
should die of grief on the way to London. As she raised her head
to forbid him the more emphatically, she met his gaze, which was
grave and expectant. For an instant she lost her presence of
mind, and in that instant said, " Yes. I shall be very glad."
"Well, if that is the case," said Sir Charles, in the tone of one
whose sympathy had been alienated by an unpardonable outrage, "
there can be no use in my waiting. I leave you in the hands of
Mr. Trefusis. Good-bye, Miss Lindsay."
Gertrude winced. Unkindness from a man usually kind proved hard
to bear at parting. She was offering him her hand in silence when
"Wait and see us off. If we chance to be killed on the
journey--which is always probable on an English railway--you will
reproach yourself afterwards if you do not see the last of us.
Here is the train; it will not delay you a minute. Tell Erskine
that you saw me here; that I have not forgotten my promise, and
that he may rely on me. Get in at this end, Miss Lindsay."
"My maid," said Gertrude hesitating; for she had not intended to
travel so expensively. "She--"
"She comes with us to take care of me; I have tickets for
everybody," said Trefusis, handing the woman in.
"Take your seats, please," said the guard. "Going by the train,
"Good-bye, Sir Charles. Give my love to Lady Brandon, and Agatha,
and the dear children; and thanks so much for a very pleasant--"
Here the train moved off, and Sir Charles, melting, smiled and
waved his hat until he caught sight of Trefusis looking back at
him with a grin which seemed, under the circumstances, so
Satanic, that he stopped as if petrified in the midst of his
gesticulations, and stood with his arm out like a semaphore.
The drive home restored him somewhat, but he wee still full of
his surprise when he rejoined Agatha, his wife, and Erskine in
the drawing-room at the Beeches. The moment he entered, he said
without preface, "She has gone off with Trefusis."
Erskine, who had been reading, started up, clutching his book as
if about to hurl it at someone, and cried, "Was he at the train?"
"Yes, and has gone to town by it."
"Then," said Erskine, flinging the book violently on the floor,
"he is a scoundrel and a liar."
"What is the matter?" said Agatha rising, whilst Jane stared
open-mouthed at him.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Wylie, I forgot you. He pledged me his
honor that he would not go by that train. I will." He hurried
from the room. Sir Charles rushed after him, and overtook him at
the foot of the stairs.
"Where are you going? What do you want to do?"
"I will follow the train and catch it at the next station. I can
do it on my bicycle."
"Nonsense! you're mad. They have thirty-five minutes start; and
the train travels forty-five miles an hour."
Erskine sat down on the stairs and gazed blankly at the opposite
"You must have mistaken him," said Sir Charles. "He told me to
tell you that he had not forgotten his promise, and that you may
rely on him."
"What is the matter?" said Agatha, coming down, followed by Lady
"Miss Wylie," said Erskine, springing up, "he gave me his word
that he would not go by that train when I told him Miss Lindsay
was going by it. He has broken his word and seized the
opportunity I was mad and credulous enough to tell him of. If I
had been in your place, Brandon, I would have strangled him or
thrown him under the wheels sooner than let him go. He has shown
himself in this as in everything else, a cheat, a conspirator, a
man of crooked ways, shifts, tricks, lying sophistries, heartless
selfishness, cruel cynicism--" He stopped to catch his breath,
and Sir Charles interposed a remonstrance.
"You are exciting yourself about nothing, Chester. They are in a
Pullman, with her maid and plenty of people; and she expressly
gave him leave to go with her. He asked her the question flatly
before my face, and I must say I thought it a strange thing for
her to consent to. However, she did consent, and of course I was
not in a position to prevent him from going to London if he
pleased. Don't let us have a scene, old man. It can't be helped."
"I am very sorry," said Erskine, hanging his head. "I did not
mean to make a scene. I beg your pardon."
He went away to his room without another word. Sir Charles
followed and attempted to console him, but Erskine caught his
hand, and asked to be left to himself. So Sir Charles returned to
the drawing-room, where his wife, at a loss for once, hardly
ventured to remark that she had never heard of such a thing in
Agatha kept silence. She had long ago come unconsciously to the
conclusion that Trefusis and she were the only members of the
party at the Beeches who had much common-sense, and this made her
slow to believe that he could be in the wrong and Erskine in the
right in any misunderstanding between them. She had a slovenly
way of summing up as "asses" people whose habits of thought
differed from hers. Of all varieties of man, the minor poet
realized her conception of the human ass most completely, and
Erskine, though a very nice fellow indeed, thoroughly good and
gentlemanly, in her opinion, was yet a minor poet, and therefore
a pronounced ass. Trefusis, on the contrary, was the last man of
her acquaintance whom she would have thought of as a very nice
fellow or a virtuous gentleman; but he was not an a~s, although
he was obstinate in his Socialistic fads. She had indeed
suspected him of weakness almost asinine with respect to
Gertrude, but then all men were asses in their dealings with
women, and since he had transferred his weakness to her own
account it no longer seemed to need justification. And now, as
her concern for Erskine, whom she pitied, wore off, she began to
resent Trefusis's journey with Gertrude as an attack on her
recently acquired monopoly of him. There was an air of
aristocratic pride about Gertrude which Agatha had formerly
envied, and which she still feared Trefusis might mistake for an
index of dignity and refinement. Agatha did not believe that her
resentment was the common feeling called jealousy, for she still
deemed herself unique, but it gave her a sense of meanness that
did not improve her spirits.
The dinner was dull. Lady Brandon spoke in an undertone, as if
someone lay dead in the next room. Erskine was depressed by the
consciousness of having lost his head and acted foolishly in the
afternoon. Sir Charles did not pretend to ignore the suspense
they were all in pending intelligence of the journey to London;
he ate and drank and said nothing. Agatha, disgusted with herself
and with Gertrude, and undecided whether to be disgusted with
Trefusis or to trust him affectionately, followed the example of
her host. After dinner she accompanied him in a series of songs
by Schubert. This proved an aggravation instead of a relief. Sir
Charles, excelling in the expression of melancholy, preferred
songs of that character; and as his musical ideas, like those of
most Englishmen, were founded on what he had heard in church in
his childhood, his style was oppressively monotonous. Agatha took
the first excuse that presented itself to leave the piano. Sir
Charles felt that his performance had been a failure, and
remarked, after a cough or two, that he had caught a touch of
cold returning from the station. Erskine sat on a sofa with his
head drooping, and his palms joined and hanging downward between
his knees. Agatha stood at the window, looking at the late summer
afterglow. Jane yawned, and presently broke the silence.
"You look exactly as you used at school, Agatha. I could almost
fancy us back again in Number Six."
Agatha shook her head.
"Do I ever look like that--like myself, as I used to be?"
"Never," said Agatha emphatically, turning and surveying the
figure of which Miss Carpenter had been the unripe antecedent.
"But why?" said Jane querulously. "I don't see why I shouldn't. I
am not so changed."
"You have become an exceedingly fine woman, Jane," said Agatha
gravely, and then, without knowing why, turned her attentive gaze
upon Sir Charles, who bore it uneasily, and left the room. A
minute later he returned with two buff envelopes in his hand.
"A telegram for you, Miss Wylie, and one for Chester." Erskine
started up, white with vague fears. Agatha's color went, and came
again with increased richness as she read:
"I have arrived safe and ridiculously happy. Read a thousand
things between the lines. I will write tomorrow. Good night."
"You may read it," said Agatha, handing it to Jane.
"Very pretty," said Jane. "A shilling's worth of
attention--exactly twenty words! He may well call himself an
Suddenly a crowing laugh from Erskine caused them to turn and
stare at him. "What nonsense!" he said, blushing. "What a fellow
he is! I don't attach the slightest importance to this."
Agatha took a corner of his telegram and pulled it gently.
"No, no," he said, holding it tightly. "It is too absurd. I don't
think I ought--"
Agatha gave a decisive pull, and read the message aloud. It was
from Trefusis, thus:
"I forgive your thoughts since Brandon's return. Write her
to-night, and follow your letter to receive an affirmative answer
in person. I promised that you might rely on me. She loves you."
"I never heard of such a thing in my life," said Jane. "Never!"
"He is certainly a most unaccountable man," said Sir Charles.
"I am glad, for my own sake, that he is not so black as he is
painted," said Agatha. "You may believe every word of it, Mr.
Erskine. Be sure to do as he tells you. He is quite certain to be
"Pooh!" said Erskine, crumpling the telegram and thrusting it
into his pocket as if it were not worth a second thought.
Presently he slipped away, and did not reappear. When they were
about to retire, Sir Charles asked a servant where he was.
"In the library, Sir Charles; writing."
They looked significantly at one another and went to bed without
When Gertrude found herself beside Trefusis in the Pullman, she
wondered how she came to be travelling with him against her
resolution, if not against her will. In the presence of two women
scrutinizing her as if they suspected her of being there with no
good purpose, a male passenger admiring her a little further off,
her maid reading Trefusis's newspapers just out of earshot, an
uninterested country gentleman looking glumly out of window, a
city man preoccupied with the "Economist," and a polite lady who
refrained from staring but not from observing, she felt that she
must not make a scene; yet she knew he had not come there to hold
an ordinary conversation. Her doubt did not last long. He began
promptly, and went to the point at once.
"What do you think of this engagement of mine?"
This was more than she could bear calmly. "What is it to me?" she
said indignantly. "I have nothing to do with it."
"Nothing! You are a cold friend to me then. I thought you one of
the surest I possessed."
She moved as if about to look at him, but checked herself, closed
her lips, and fixed her eyes on the vacant seat before her. The
reproach he deserved was beyond her power of expression.
"I cling to that conviction still, in spite of Miss Lindsay's
indifference to my affairs. But I confess I hardly know how to
bring you into sympathy with me in this matter. In the first
place, you have never been married, I have. In the next, you are
much younger than I, in more respects than that of years. Very
likely half your ideas on the subject are derived from fictions
in which happy results are tacked on to conditions very
ill-calculated to produce them--which in real life hardly ever do
produce them. If our friendship were a chapter in a novel, what
would be the upshot of it? Why, I should marry you, or you break
your heart at my treachery."
Gertrude moved her eyes as if she had some intention of taking to
"But our relations being those of real life--far sweeter, after
all--I never dreamed of marrying you, having gained and enjoyed
your friendship without that eye to business which our nineteenth
century keeps open even whilst it sleeps. You, being equally
disinterested in your regard for me, do not think of breaking
your heart, but you are, I suppose, a little hurt at my
apparently meditating and resolving on such a serious step as
marriage with Agatha without confiding my intention to you. And
you punish me by telling me that you have nothing to do with it--
that it is nothing to you. But I never meditated the step, and so
had nothing to conceal from you. It was conceived and executed in
less than a minute. Although my first marriage was a silly love
match and a failure, I have always admitted to myself that I
should marry again. A bachelor is a man who shirks
responsibilities and duties; I seek them, and consider it my
duty, with my monstrous superfluity of means, not to let the
individualists outbreed me. Still, I was in no hurry, having
other things to occupy me, and being fond of my bachelor freedom,
and doubtful sometimes whether I had any right to bring more
idlers into the world for the workers to feed. Then came the
usual difficulty about the lady. I did not want a helpmeet; I can
help myself. Nor did I expect to be loved devotedly, for the race
has not yet evolved a man lovable on thorough acquaintance; even
my self-love is neither thorough nor constant. I wanted a genial
partner for domestic business, and Agatha struck me quite
suddenly as being the nearest approach to what I desired that I
was likely to find in the marriage market, where it is extremely
hard to suit oneself, and where the likeliest bargains are apt to
be snapped up by others if one hesitates too long in the hope of
finding something better. I admire Agatha's courage and
capability, and believe I shall be able to make her like me, and
that the attachment so begun may turn into as close a union as is
either healthy or necessary between two separate individuals. I
may mistake her character, for I do not know her as I know you,
and have scarcely enough faith in her as yet to tell her such
things as I have told you. Still, there is a consoling dash of
romance in the transaction. Agatha has charm. Do you not think
Gertrude's emotion was gone. She replied with cool scorn, "Very
romantic indeed. She is very fortunate."
Trefusis half laughed, half sighed with relief to find her so
self-possessed. "It sounds like--and indeed is--the selfish
calculation of a disilluded widower. You would not value such an
offer, or envy the recipient of it?"
"No," said Gertrude with quiet contempt.
"Yet there is some calculation behind every such offer. We marry
to satisfy our needs, and the more reasonable our needs are, the
more likely are we to get them satisfied. I see you are disgusted
with me; I feared as much. You are the sort of woman to admit no
excuse for my marriage except love--pure emotional love,
"I really do not concern myself--"
"Do not say so, Gertrude. I watch every step you take with
anxiety; and I do not believe you are indifferent to the
worthiness of my conduct. Believe me, love is an overrated
passion; it would be irremediably discredited but that young
people, and the romancers who live upon their follies, have a
perpetual interest in rehabilitating it. No relation involving
divided duties and continual intercourse between two people can
subsist permanently on love alone. Yet love is not to be despised
when it comes from a fine nature. There is a man who loves you
exactly as you think I ought to love Agatha--and as I don't love
Gertrude's emotion stirred again, and her color rose. "You have
no right to say these things now," she said.
"Why may I not plead the cause of another? I speak of Erskine."
Her color vanished, and he continued, "I want you to marry him.
When you are married you will understand me better, and our
friendship, shaken just now, will be deepened; for I dare assure
you, now that you can no longer misunderstand me, that no living
woman is dearer to me than you. So much for the inevitable
selfish reason. Erskine is a poor man, and in his comfortable
poverty--save the mark--lies your salvation from the baseness of
marrying for wealth and position; a baseness of which women of
your class stand in constant peril. They court it; you must shun
it. The man is honorable and loves you; he is young, healthy, and
suitable. What more do you think the world has to offer you?"
"Much more, I hope. Very much more."
"I fear that the names I give things are not romantic enough. He
is a poet. Perhaps he would be a hero if it were possible for a
man to be a hero in this nineteenth century, which will be
infamous in history as a time when the greatest advances in the
power of man over nature only served to sharpen his greed and
make famine its avowed minister. Erskine is at least neither a
gambler nor a slave-driver at first hand; if he lives upon
plundered labor he can no more help himself than I. Do not say
that you hope for much more; but tell me, if you can, what more
you have any chance of getting? Mind, I do not ask what more you
desire; we all desire unutterable things. I ask you what more you
"I have not found Mr. Erskine such a wonderful person as you seem
to think him."
"He is only a man. Do you know anybody more wonderful?"
"Besides, my family might not approve."
"They most certainly will not. If you wish to please them, you
must sell yourself to some rich vampire of the factories or great
landlord. If you give yourself away to a poor poet who loves you,
their disgust will be unbounded. If a woman wishes to honor her
father and mother to their own satisfaction nowadays she must
"I do not understand why you should be so anxious for me to marry
"Someone else?" said Trefusis, puzzled.
"I do not mean someone else," said Gertrude hastily, reddening.
"Why should I marry at all?"
"Why do any of us marry? Why do I marry? It is a function craving
fulfilment. If you do not marry betimes from choice, you will be
driven to do so later on by the importunity of your suitors and
of your family, and by weariness of the suspense that precedes a
definite settlement of oneself. Marry generously. Do not throw
yourself away or sell yourself; give yourself away. Erskine has
as much at stake as you; and yet he offers himself fearlessly."
Gertrude raised her head proudly.
"It is true," continued Trefusis, observing the gesture with some
anger, " that he thinks more highly of you than you deserve; but
you, on the other hand, think too lowly of him. When you marry
him you must save him from a cruel disenchantment by raising
yourself to the level he fancies you have attained. This will
cost you an effort, and the effort will do you good, whether it
fail or succeed. As for him, he will find his just level in your
estimation if your thoughts reach high enough to comprehend him
at that level."
Gertrude moved impatiently.
"What!" he said quickly. "Are my long-winded sacrifices to the
god of reason distasteful? I believe I am involuntarily making
them so because I am jealous of the fellow after all.
Nevertheless I am serious; I want you to get married; though I
shall always have a secret grudge against the man who marries
you. Agatha will suspect me of treason if you don't. Erskine will
be a disappointed man if you don't. You will be moody, wretched,
and--and unmarried if you don't."
Gertrude's cheeks flushed at the word jealous, and again at his
mention of Agatha. "And if I do," she said bitterly, "what then?"
"If you do, Agatha's mind will be at ease, Erskine will be happy,
and you! You will have sacrificed yourself, and will have the
happiness which follows that when it is worthily done."
"It is you who have sacrificed me," she said, casting away her
reticence, and looking at him for the first time during the
"I know it," he said, leaning towards her and half whispering the
words. "Is not renunciation the beginning and the end of wisdom?
I have sacrificed you rather than profane our friendship by
asking you to share my whole life with me. You are unfit for
that, and I have committed myself to another union, and am
begging you to follow my example, lest we should tempt one
another to a step which would soon prove to you how truly I tell
you that you are unfit. I have never allowed you to roam through
all the chambers of my consciousness, but I keep a sanctuary
there for you alone, and will keep it inviolate for you always.
Not even Agatha shall have the key, she must be content with the
other rooms--the drawing-room, the working-room, the dining-room,
and so forth. They would not suit you; you would not like the
furniture or the guests; after a time you would not like the
master. Will you be content with the sanctuary?" Gertrude bit
her lip; tears came into her eyes. She looked imploringly at him.
Had they been alone, she would have thrown herself into his arms
and entreated him to disregard everything except their strong
cleaving to one another.
"And will you keep a corner of your heart for me?"
She slowly gave him a painful look of acquiescence. "Will you be
brave, and sacrifice yourself to the poor man who loves you? He
will save you from useless solitude, or from a worldly
marriage--I cannot bear to think of either as your fate."
"I do not care for Mr. Erskine," she said, hardly able to control
her voice; "but I will marry him if you wish it."
"I do wish it earnestly, Gertrude."
"Then, you have my promise," she said, again with some
"But you will not forget me? Erskine will have all but that--a
"Can I do more than I have just promised?"
"Perhaps so; but I am too selfish to be able to conceive anything
more generous. Our renunciation will bind us to one another as
our union could never have done."
They exchanged a long look. Then he took out his watch, and began
to speak of the length of their journey, now nearly at an end.
When they arrived in London the first person they recognized on
the platform was Mr. Jansenius.
"Ah! you got my telegram, I see," said Trefusis. "Many thanks for
coming. Wait for me whilst I put this lady into a cab."
When the cab was engaged, and Gertrude, with her maid, stowed
within, he whispered to her hurriedly:
"In spite of all, I have a leaden pain here" (indicating his
heart). "You have been brave, and I have been wise. Do not speak
to me, but remember that we are friends always and deeply."
He touched her hand, and turned to the cabman, directing him
whither to drive. Gertrude shrank back into a corner of the
vehicle as it departed. Then Trefusis, expanding his chest like a
man just released from some cramping drudgery, rejoined Mr.
"There goes a true woman," he said. "I have been persuading her
to take the very best step open to her. I began by talking sense,
like a man of honor, and kept at it for half an hour, but she
would not listen to me. Then I talked romantic nonsense of the
cheapest sort for five minutes, and she consented with tears in
her eyes. Let us take this hansom. Hi! Belsize Avenue. Yes; you
sometimes have to answer a woman according to her womanishness,
just as you have to answer a fool according to his folly. Have
you ever made up your mind, Jansenius, whether I am an unusually
honest man, or one of the worst products of the social
organization I spend all my energies in assailing--an infernal
scoundrel, in short?"
"Now pray do not be absurd," said Mr. Jansenius. "I wonder at a
man of your ability behaving and speaking as you sometimes do."
"I hope a little insincerity, when meant to act as chloroform--to
save a woman from feeling a wound to her vanity--is excusable.
By-the-bye, I must send a couple of telegrams from the first
post-office we pass. Well, sir, I am going to marry Agatha, as I
sent you word. There was only one other single man and one other
virgin down at Brandon Beeches, and they are as good as engaged.
"'Jack shall have Jill, Nought shall go ill, The man shall have
his mare again; And all shall be well.'"
LETTER TO THE AUTHOR FROM MR. SIDNEY TREFUSIS.
My Dear Sir: I find that my friends are not quite satisfied with
the account you have given of them in your clever novel entitled
" An Unsocial Socialist." You already understand that I consider
it my duty to communicate my whole history, without reserve, to
whoever may desire to be guided or warned by my experience, and
that I have no sympathy whatever with the spirit in which one of
the ladies concerned recently told you that her affairs were no
business of yours or of the people who read your books. When you
asked my permission some years ago to make use of my story, I at
once said that you would be perfectly justified in giving it the
fullest publicity whether I consented or not, provided only that
you were careful not to falsify it for the sake of artistic
effect. Now, whilst cheerfully admitting that you have done your
best to fulfil that condition, I cannot help feeling that, in
presenting the facts in the guise of fiction, you have, in spite
of yourself, shown them in a false light. Actions described in
novels are judged by a romantic system of morals as fictitious as
the actions themselves. The traditional parts of this system are,
as Cervantes tried to show, for the chief part, barbarous and
obsolete; the modern additions are largely due to the novel
readers and writers of our own century--most of them
half-educated women,rebelliously slavish, superstitious,
sentimental, full of the intense egotism fostered by their
struggle for personal liberty, and, outside their families, with
absolutely no social sentiment except love. Meanwhile, man,
having fought and won his fight for this personal liberty, only
to find himself a more abject slave than before, is turning with
loathing from his egotist's dream of independence to the
collective interests of society, with the welfare of which he now
perceives his own happiness to be inextricably bound up. But man
in this phase (would that all had reached it!) has not yet
leisure to write or read novels. In noveldom woman still sets the
moral standard, and to her the males, who are in full revolt
against the acceptance of the infatuation of a pair of lovers as
the highest manifestation of the social instinct, and against the
restriction of the affections within the narrow circle of blood
relationship, and of the political sympathies within frontiers,
are to her what she calls heartless brutes. That is exactly what
I have been called by readers of your novel; and that, indeed, is
exactly what I am, judged by the fictitious and feminine standard
of morality. Hence some critics have been able plausibly to
pretend to take the book as a satire on Socialism. It may, for
what I know, have been so intended by you. Whether or no, I am
sorry you made a novel of my story, for the effect has been
almost as if you had misrepresented me from beginning to end.
At the same time, I acknowledge that you have stated the facts,
on the whole, with scrupulous fairness. You have, indeed,
flattered me very strongly by representing me as constantly
thinking of and for other people, whereas the rest think of
themselves alone, but on the other hand you have contradictorily
called me "unsocial," which is certainly the last adjective I
should have expected to find in the neighborhood of my name. I
deny, it is true, that what is now called "society " is society
in any real sense, and my best wish for it is that it may
dissolve too rapidly to make it worth the while of those who are
" not in society "to facilitate its dissolution by violently
pounding it into small pieces. But no reader of "An Unsocial
Socialist " needs to be told how, by the exercise of a certain
considerate tact (which on the outside, perhaps, seems the
opposite of tact), I have contrived to maintain genial terms with
men and women of all classes, even those whose opinions and
political conduct seemed to me most dangerous.
However, I do not here propose to go fully into my own position,
lest I should seem tedious, and be accused, not for the first
time, of a propensity to lecture --a reproach which comes
naturally enough from persons whose conceptions are never too
wide to be expressed within the limits of a sixpenny telegram. I
shall confine myself to correcting a few misapprehensions which
have, I am told, arisen among readers who from inveterate habit
cannot bring the persons and events of a novel into any relation
with the actual conditions of life.
In the first place, then, I desire to say that Mrs. Erskine is
not dead of a broken heart. Erskine and I and our wives are very
much in and out at one another's houses; and I am therefore in a
position to declare that Mrs. Erskine, having escaped by her
marriage from the vile caste in which she was relatively poor and
artificially unhappy and ill-conditioned, is now, as the pretty
wife of an art-critic, relatively rich, as well as pleasant,
active, and in sound health. Her chief trouble, as far as I can
judge, is the impossibility of shaking off her distinguished
relatives, who furtively quit their abject splendor to drop in
upon her for dinner and a little genuine human society much
oftener than is convenient to poor Erskine. She has taken a
patronizing fancy to her father, the Admiral, who accepts her
condescension gratefully as age brings more and more home to him
the futility of his social position. She has also, as might have
been expected, become an extreme advocate of socialism; and
indeed, being in a great hurry for the new order of things, looks
on me as a lukewarm disciple because I do not propose to
interfere with the slowly grinding mill of Evolution, and effect
the change by one tremendous stroke from the united and awakened
people (for such she--vainly, alas!--believes the proletariat
already to be. As to my own marriage, some have asked
sarcastically whether I ran away again or not; others, whether it
has been a success. These are foolish questions. My marriage has
turned out much as I expected it would. I find that my wife's
views on the subject vary with the circumstances under which they
I have now to make one or two comments on the impressions
conveyed by the style of your narrative. Sufficient prominence
has not, in my opinion, been given to the extraordinary destiny
of my father, the true hero of a nineteenth century romance. I,
who have seen society reluctantly accepting works of genius for
nothing from men of extraordinary gifts, and at the same time
helplessly paying my father millions, and submitting to monstrous
mortgages of its future production, for a few directions as to
the most business-like way of manufacturing and selling cotton,
cannot but wonder, as I prepare my income-tax returns, whether
society was mad to sacrifice thus to him and to me. He was the
man with power to buy, to build, to choose, to endow, to sit on
committees and adjudicate upon designs, to make his own terms for
placing anything on a sound business footing. He was hated,
envied, sneered at for his low origin, reproached for his
ignorance, yet nothing would pay unless he liked or pretended to
like it. I look round at our buildings, our statues, our
pictures, our newspapers, our domestic interiors, our books, our
vehicles, our morals, our manners, our statutes, and our
religion, and I see his hand everywhere, for they were all made
or modified to please him. Those which did not please him failed
commercially: he would not buy them, or sell them, or countenance
them; and except through him, as "master of the industrial
situation," nothing could be bought, or sold, or countenanced.
The landlord could do nothing with his acres except let them to
him; the capitalist's hoard rotted and dwindled until it was lent
to him; the worker's muscles and brain were impotent until sold
to him. What king's son would not exchange with me--the son of
the Great Employer--the Merchant Prince? No wonder they proposed
to imprison me for treason when, by applying my inherited
business talent, I put forward a plan for securing his full
services to society for a few hundred a year. But pending the
adoption of my plan, do not describe him contemptuously as a
vulgar tradesman. Industrial kingship, the only real kingship of
our century, was his by divine right of his turn for business;
and I, his son, bid you respect the crown whose revenues I
inherit. If you don't, my friend, your book won't pay.
I hear, with some surprise, that the kindness of my conduct to
Henrietta (my first wife, you recollect) has been called in
question; why, I do not exactly know. Undoubtedly I should not
have married her, but it is waste of time to criticise the
judgment of a young man in love. Since I do not approve of the
usual plan of neglecting and avoiding a spouse without ceasing to
keep up appearances, I cannot for the life of me see what else I
could have done than vanish when I found out my mistake. It is
but a short-sighted policy to wait for the mending of matters
that are bound to get worse. The notion that her death was my
fault is sheer unreason on the face of it; and I need no
exculpation on that score; but I must disclaim the credit of
having borne her death like a philosopher. I ought to have done
so, but the truth is that I was greatly affected at the moment,
and the proof of it is that I and Jansenius (the only other
person who cared) behaved in a most unbecoming fashion, as men
invariably do when they are really upset. Perfect propriety at a
death is seldom achieved except by the undertaker, who has the
advantage of being free from emotion.
Your rigmarole (if you will excuse the word) about the tombstone
gives quite a wrong idea of my attitude on that occasion. I
stayed away from the funeral for reasons which are, I should
think, sufficiently obvious and natural, but which you somehow
seem to have missed. Granted that my fancy for Hetty was only a
cloud of illusions, still I could not, within a few days of her
sudden death, go in cold blood to take part in a grotesque and
heathenish mummery over her coffin. I should have broken out and
strangled somebody. But on every other point I--weakly
enough--sacrificed my own feelings to those of Jansenius. I let
him have his funeral, though I object to funerals and to the
practice of sepulture. I consented to a monument, although there
is, to me, no more bitterly ridiculous outcome of human vanity
than the blocks raised to tell posterity that John Smith, or Jane
Jackson, late of this parish, was born, lived, and died worth
enough money to pay a mason to distinguish their bones from those
of the unrecorded millions. To gratify Jansenius I waived this
objection, and only interfered to save him from being fleeced and
fooled by an unnecessary West End middleman, who, as likely as
not, would have eventually employed the very man to whom I gave
the job. Even the epitaph was not mine. If I had had my way I
should have written: "HENRIETTA JANSENIUS WAS BORN ON SUCH A
DATE, MARRIED A MAN NAMED TREFUSIS, AND DIED ON SUCH ANOTHER
DATE; AND NOW WHAT DOES IT MATTER WHETHER SHE DID OR NOT?" The
whole notion conveyed in the book that I rode rough-shod over
everybody in the affair, and only consulted my own feelings, is
the very reverse of the truth.
As to the tomfoolery down at Brandon's, which ended in Erskine
and myself marrying the young lady visitors there, I can only
congratulate you on the determination with which you have striven
to make something like a romance out of such very thin material.
I cannot say that I remember it all exactly as you have described
it; my wife declares flatly there is not a word of truth in it as
far as she is concerned, and Mrs. Erskine steadily refuses to
read the book.
On one point I must acknowledge that you have proved yourself a
master of the art of fiction. What Hetty and I said to one
another that day when she came upon me in the shrubbery at Alton
College was known only to us two. She never told it to anyone,
and I soon forgot it. All due honor, therefore, to the ingenuity
with which you have filled the hiatus, and shown the state of
affairs between us by a discourse on " surplus value," cribbed
from an imperfect report of one of my public lectures, and from
the pages of Karl Marx! If you were an economist I should condemn
you for confusing economic with ethical considerations, and for
your uncertainty as to the function which my father got his start
by performing. But as you are only a novelist, I compliment you
heartily on your clever little pasticcio, adding, however, that
as an account of what actually passed between myself and Hetty,
it is the wildest romance ever penned. Wickens's boy was far
nearer the mark.
In conclusion, allow me to express my regret that you can find no
better employment for your talent than the writing of novels. The
first literary result of the foundation of our industrial system
upon the profits of piracy and slave-trading was Shakspere. It is
our misfortune that the sordid misery and hopeless horror of his
view of man's destiny is still so appropriate to English society
that we even to-day regard him as not for an age, but for all
time. But the poetry of despair will not outlive despair itself.
Your nineteenth century novelists are only the tail of Shakspere.
Don't tie yourself to it: it is fast wriggling into oblivion.
I am, dear sir, yours truly,