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by Wilkie Collins
LETTER OF DEDICATION.
TO CHARLES JAMES WARD, ESQ.
IT has long been one of my pleasantest anticipations to look forward
to the time when I might offer to you, my old and dear friend, some
such acknowledgment of the value I place on your affection for me, and
of my grateful sense of the many acts of kindness by which that
affection has been proved, as I now gladly offer in this place. In
dedicating the present work to you, I fulfil therefore a purpose
which, for some time past, I have sincerely desired to achieve; and,
more than that, I gain for myself the satisfaction of knowing that
there is one page, at least, of my book, on which I shall always look
with unalloyed pleasure--the page that bears your name.
I have founded the main event out of which this story springs, on a
fact within my own knowledge. In afterwards shaping the course of the
narrative thus suggested, I have guided it, as often as I could, where
I knew by my own experience, or by experience related to me by others,
that it would touch on something real and true in its progress. My
idea was, that the more of the Actual I could garner up as a text to
speak from, the more certain I might feel of the genuineness and value
of the Ideal which was sure to spring out of it. Fancy and
Imagination, Grace and Beauty, all those qualities which are to the
work of Art what scent and colour are to the flower, can only grow
towards heaven by taking root in earth. Is not the noblest poetry of
prose fiction the poetry of every-day truth?
Directing my characters and my story, then, towards the light of
Reality wherever I could find it, I have not hesitated to violate some
of the conventionalities of sentimental fiction. For instance, the
first love-meeting of two of the personages in this book, occurs
(where the real love-meeting from which it is drawn, occurred) in the
very last place and under the very last circumstances which the
artifices of sentimental writing would sanction. Will my lovers excite
ridicule instead of interest, because I have truly represented them as
seeing each other where hundreds of other lovers have first seen each
other, as hundreds of people will readily admit when they read the
passage to which I refer? I am sanguine enough to think not.
So again, in certain parts of this book where I have attempted to
excite the suspense or pity of the reader, I have admitted as
perfectly fit accessories to the scene the most ordinary street-sounds
that could be heard, and the most ordinary street-events that could
occur, at the time and in the place represented--believing that by
adding to truth, they were adding to tragedy--adding by all the force
of fair contrast--adding as no artifices of mere writing possibly
could add, let them be ever so cunningly introduced by ever so crafty
Allow me to dwell a moment longer on the story which these pages
Believing that the Novel and the Play are twin-sisters in the family
of Fiction; that the one is a drama narrated, as the other is a drama
acted; and that all the strong and deep emotions which the Play-writer
is privileged to excite, the Novel-writer is privileged to excite
also, I have not thought it either politic or necessary, while
adhering to realities, to adhere to every-day realities only. In other
words, I have not stooped so low as to assure myself of the reader's
belief in the probability of my story, by never once calling on him
for the exercise of his faith. Those extraordinary accidents and
events which happen to few men, seemed to me to be as legitimate
materials for fiction to work with--when there was a good object in
using them--as the ordinary accidents and events which may, and do,
happen to us all. By appealing to genuine sources of interest _within_
the reader's own experience, I could certainly gain his attention to
begin with; but it would be only by appealing to other sources (as
genuine in their way) _beyond_ his own experience, that I could hope
to fix his interest and excite his suspense, to occupy his deeper
feelings, or to stir his nobler thoughts.
In writing thus--briefly and very generally--(for I must not delay you
too long from the story), I can but repeat, though I hope almost
unnecessarily, that I am now only speaking of what I have tried to do.
Between the purpose hinted at here, and the execution of that purpose
contained in the succeeding pages, lies the broad line of separation
which distinguishes between the will and the deed. How far I may fall
short of another man's standard, remains to be discovered. How far I
have fallen short of my own, I know painfully well.
One word more on the manner in which the purpose of the following
pages is worked out--and I have done.
Nobody who admits that the business of fiction is to exhibit human
life, can deny that scenes of misery and crime must of necessity,
while human nature remains what it is, form part of that exhibition.
Nobody can assert that such scenes are unproductive of useful results,
when they are turned to a plainly and purely moral purpose. If I am
asked why I have written certain scenes in this book, my answer is to
be found in the universally-accepted truth which the preceding words
express. I have a right to appeal to that truth; for I guided myself
by it throughout. In deriving the lesson which the following pages
contain, from those examples of error and crime which would most
strikingly and naturally teach it, I determined to do justice to the
honesty of my object by speaking out. In drawing the two characters,
whose actions bring about the darker scenes of my story, I did not
forget that it was my duty, while striving to portray them naturally,
to put them to a good moral use; and at some sacrifice, in certain
places, of dramatic effect (though I trust with no sacrifice of truth
to Nature), I have shown the conduct of the vile, as always, in a
greater or less degree, associated with something that is selfish,
contemptible, or cruel in motive. Whether any of my better characters
may succeed in endearing themselves to the reader, I know not: but
this I do certainly know:--that I shall in no instance cheat him out
of his sympathies in favour of the bad.
To those persons who dissent from the broad principles here adverted
to; who deny that it is the novelist's vocation to do more than merely
amuse them; who shrink from all honest and serious reference, in
books, to subjects which they think of in private and talk of in
public everywhere; who see covert implications where nothing is
implied, and improper allusions where nothing improper is alluded to;
whose innocence is in the word, and not in the thought; whose morality
stops at the tongue, and never gets on to the heart--to those persons,
I should consider it loss of time, and worse, to offer any further
explanation of my motives, than the sufficient explanation which I
have given already. I do not address myself to them in this book, and
shall never think of addressing myself to them in any other.
Those words formed part of the original introduction to this novel. I
wrote them nearly ten years since; and what I said then, I say now.
"Basil" was the second work of fiction which I produced. On its
appearance, it was condemned off-hand, by a certain class of readers,
as an outrage on their sense of propriety. Conscious of having
designed and written, my story with the strictest regard to true
delicacy, as distinguished from false--I allowed the prurient
misinterpretation of certain perfectly innocent passages in this book
to assert itself as offensively as it pleased, without troubling
myself to protest against an expression of opinion which aroused in me
no other feeling than a feeling of contempt. I knew that "Basil" had
nothing to fear from pure-minded readers; and I left these pages to
stand or fall on such merits as they possessed. Slowly and surely, my
story forced its way through all adverse criticism, to a place in the
public favour which it has never lost since. Some of the most valued
friends I now possess, were made for me by "Basil." Some of the most
gratifying recognitions of my labours which I have received, from
readers personally strangers to me, have been recognitions of the
purity of this story, from the first page to the last. All the
indulgence I need now ask for "Basil," is indulgence for literary
defects, which are the result of inexperience; which no correction can
wholly remove; and which no one sees more plainly, after a lapse of
ten years, than the writer himself.
I have only to add, that the present edition of this book is the first
which has had the benefit of my careful revision. While the incidents
of the story remain exactly what they were, the language in which they
are told has been, I hope, in many cases greatly altered for the
Harley Street, London, July, 1862.
WHAT am I now about to write?
The history of little more than the events of one year, out of the
twenty-four years of my life.
Why do I undertake such an employment as this?
Perhaps, because I think that my narrative may do good; because I hope
that, one day, it may be put to some warning use. I am now about to
relate the story of an error, innocent in its beginning, guilty in its
progress, fatal in its results; and I would fain hope that my plain
and true record will show that this error was not committed altogether
without excuse. When these pages are found after my death, they will
perhaps be calmly read and gently judged, as relics solemnized by the
atoning shadows of the grave. Then, the hard sentence against me may
be repented of; the children of the next generation of our house may
be taught to speak charitably of my memory, and may often, of their
own accord, think of me kindly in the thoughtful watches of the night.
Prompted by these motives, and by others which I feel, but cannot
analyse, I now begin my self-imposed occupation. Hidden amid the far
hills of the far West of England, surrounded only by the few simple
inhabitants of a fishing hamlet on the Cornish coast, there is little
fear that my attention will be distracted from my task; and as little
chance that any indolence on my part will delay its speedy
accomplishment. I live under a threat of impending hostility, which
may descend and overwhelm me, I know not how soon, or in what manner.
An enemy, determined and deadly, patient alike to wait days or years
for his opportunity, is ever lurking after me in the dark. In entering
on my new employment, I cannot say of my time, that it may be mine for
another hour; of my life, that it may last till evening.
Thus it is as no leisure work that I begin my narrative--and begin it,
too, on my birthday! On this day I complete my twenty-fourth year; the
first new year of my life which has not been greeted by a single kind
word, or a single loving wish. But one look of welcome can still find
me in my solitude--the lovely morning look of nature, as I now see it
from the casement of my room. Brighter and brighter shines out the
lusty sun from banks of purple, rainy cloud; fishermen are spreading
their nets to dry on the lower declivities of the rocks; children are
playing round the boats drawn up on the beach; the sea-breeze blows
fresh and pure towards the shore----all objects are brilliant to look
on, all sounds are pleasant to hear, as my pen traces the first lines
which open the story of my life.
I am the second son of an English gentleman of large fortune. Our
family is, I believe, one of the most ancient in this country. On my
father's side, it dates back beyond the Conquest; on my mother's, it
is not so old, but the pedigree is nobler. Besides my elder brother, I
have one sister, younger than myself. My mother died shortly after
giving birth to her last child.
Circumstances which will appear hereafter, have forced me to abandon
my father's name. I have been obliged in honour to resign it; and in
honour I abstain from mentioning it here. Accordingly, at the head of
these pages, I have only placed my Christian name--not considering it
of any importance to add the surname which I have assumed; and which I
may, perhaps, be obliged to change for some other, at no very distant
period. It will now, I hope, be understood from the outset, why I
never mention my brother and sister but by their Christian names; why
a blank occurs wherever my father's name should appear; why my own is
kept concealed in this narrative, as it is kept concealed in the
The story of my boyhood and youth has little to interest--nothing that
is new. My education was the education of hundreds of others in my
rank of life. I was first taught at a public school, and then went to
college to complete what is termed "a liberal education."
My life at college has not left me a single pleasant recollection. I
found sycophancy established there, as a principle of action;
flaunting on the lord's gold tassel in the street; enthroned on the
lord's dais in the dining-room. The most learned student in my
college--the man whose life was most exemplary, whose acquirements
were most admirable--was shown me sitting, as a commoner, in the
lowest place. The heir to an Earldom, who had failed at the last
examination, was pointed out a few minutes afterwards, dining in
solitary grandeur at a raised table, above the reverend scholars who
had turned him back as a dunce. I had just arrived at the University,
and had just been congratulated on entering "a venerable seminary of
learning and religion."
Trite and common-place though it be, I mention this circumstance
attending my introduction to college, because it formed the first
cause which tended to diminish my faith in the institution to which I
was attached. I soon grew to regard my university training as a sort
of necessary evil, to be patiently submitted to. I read for no
honours, and joined no particular set of men. I studied the literature
of France, Italy, and Germany; just kept up my classical knowledge
sufficiently to take my degree; and left college with no other
reputation than a reputation for indolence and reserve.
When I returned home, it was thought necessary, as I was a younger
son, and could inherit none of the landed property of the family,
except in the case of my brother's dying without children, that I
should belong to a profession. My father had the patronage of some
valuable "livings," and good interest with more than one member of the
government. The church, the army, the navy, and, in the last instance,
the bar, were offered me to choose from. I selected the last.
My father appeared to be a little astonished at my choice; but he made
no remark on it, except simply telling me not to forget that the bar
was a good stepping-stone to parliament. My real ambition, however,
was, not to make a name in parliament, but a name in literature. I had
already engaged myself in the hard, but glorious service of the pen;
and I was determined to persevere. The profession which offered me the
greatest facilities for pursuing my project, was the profession which
I was ready to prefer. So I chose the bar.
Thus, I entered life under the fairest auspices. Though a younger son,
I knew that my father's wealth, exclusive of his landed property,
secured me an independent income far beyond my wants. I had no
extravagant habits; no tastes that I could not gratify as soon as
formed; no cares or responsibilities of any kind. I might practise my
profession or not, just as I chose. I could devote myself wholly and
unreservedly to literature, knowing that, in my case, the struggle for
fame could never be identical--terribly, though gloriously
identical--with the struggle for bread. For me, the morning sunshine
of life was sunshine without a cloud!
I might attempt, in this place, to sketch my own character as it was
at that time. But what man can say--I will sound the depth of my own
vices, and measure the height of my own virtues; and be as good as his
word? We can neither know nor judge ourselves; others may judge, but
cannot know us: God alone judges and knows too. Let my character
appear--as far as any human character can appear in its integrity, in
this world--in my actions, when I describe the one eventful passage in
my life which forms the basis of this narrative. In the mean time, it
is first necessary that I should say more about the members of my
family. Two of them, at least, will be found important to the progress
of events in these pages. I make no attempt to judge their characters:
I only describe them--whether rightly or wrongly, I know not--as they
appeared to me.
I always considered my father--I speak of him in the past tense,
because we are now separated for ever; because he is henceforth as
dead to me as if the grave had closed over him--I always considered my
father to be the proudest man I ever knew; the proudest man I ever
heard of. His was not that conventional pride, which the popular
notions are fond of characterising by a stiff, stately carriage; by a
rigid expression of features; by a hard, severe intonation of voice;
by set speeches of contempt for poverty and rags, and rhapsodical
braggadocio about rank and breeding. My father's pride had nothing of
this about it. It was that quiet, negative, courteous, inbred pride,
which only the closest observation could detect; which no ordinary
observers ever detected at all.
Who that observed him in communication with any of the farmers on any
of his estates--who that saw the manner in which he lifted his hat,
when he accidentally met any of those farmers' wives--who that noticed
his hearty welcome to the man of the people, when that man happened to
be a man of genius--would have thought him proud? On such occasions as
these, if he had any pride, it was impossible to detect it. But seeing
him when, for instance, an author and a new-made peer of no ancestry
entered his house together--observing merely the entirely different
manner in which he shook hands with each--remarking that the polite
cordiality was all for the man of letters, who did not contest his
family rank with him, and the polite formality all for the man of
title, who did--you discovered where and how he was proud in an
instant. Here lay his fretful point. The aristocracy of rank, as
separate from the aristocracy of ancestry, was no aristocracy for
_him._ He was jealous of it; he hated it. Commoner though he was, he
considered himself the social superior of any man, from a baronet up
to a duke, whose family was less ancient than his own.
Among a host of instances of this peculiar pride of his which I could
cite, I remember one, characteristic enough to be taken as a sample of
all the rest. It happened when I was quite a child, and was told me by
one of my uncles now dead--who witnessed the circumstance himself, and
always made a good story of it to the end of his life.
A merchant of enormous wealth, who had recently been raised to the
peerage, was staying at one of our country houses. His daughter, my
uncle, and an Italian Abbe were the only guests besides. The merchant
was a portly, purple-faced man, who bore his new honours with a
curious mixture of assumed pomposity and natural good-humour The Abbe
was dwarfish and deformed, lean, sallow, sharp-featured, with bright
bird-like eyes, and a low, liquid voice. He was a political refugee,
dependent for the bread he ate, on the money he received for teaching
languages. He might have been a beggar from the streets; and still my
father would have treated him as the principal guest in the house, for
this all-sufficient reason--he was a direct descendant of one of the
oldest of those famous Roman families whose names are part of the
history of the Civil Wars in Italy.
On the first day, the party assembled for dinner comprised the
merchant's daughter, my mother, an old lady who had once been her
governess, and had always lived with her since her marriage, the new
Lord, the Abbe, my father, and my uncle. When dinner was announced,
the peer advanced in new-blown dignity, to offer his arm as a matter
of course to my mother. My father's pale face flushed crimson in a
moment. He touched the magnificent merchant-lord on the arm, and
pointed significantly, with a low bow, towards the decrepit old lady
who had once been my mother's governess. Then walking to the other end
of the room, where the penniless Abbe was looking over a book in a
corner, he gravely and courteously led the little, deformed, limping
language-master, clad in a long, threadbare, black coat, up to my
mother (whose shoulder the Abbe's head hardly reached), held the door
open for them to pass out first, with his own hand; politely invited
the new nobleman, who stood half-paralysed between confusion and
astonishment, to follow with the tottering old lady on his arm; and
then returned to lead the peer's daughter down to dinner himself. He
only resumed his wonted expression and manner, when he had seen the
little Abbe--the squalid, half-starved representative of mighty barons
of the olden time--seated at the highest place of the table by my
It was by such accidental circumstances as these that you discovered
how far he was proud. He never boasted of his ancestors; he never even
spoke of them, except when he was questioned on the subject; but he
never forgot them. They were the very breath of his life; the deities
of his social worship: the family treasures to be held precious beyond
all lands and all wealth, all ambitions and all glories, by his
children and his children's children to the end of their race.
In home-life he performed his duties towards his family honourably,
delicately, and kindly. I believe in his own way he loved us all; but
we, his descendants, had to share his heart with his ancestors--we
were his household property as well as his children. Every fair
liberty was given to us; every fair indulgence was granted to us. He
never displayed any suspicion, or any undue severity. We were taught
by his direction, that to disgrace our family, either by word or
action, was the one fatal crime which could never be forgotten and
never be pardoned. We were formed, under his superintendence, in
principles of religion, honour, and industry; and the rest was left to
our own moral sense, to our own comprehension of the duties and
privileges of our station. There was no one point in his conduct
towards any of us that we could complain of; and yet there was
something always incomplete in our domestic relations.
It may seem incomprehensible, even ridiculous, to some persons, but it
is nevertheless true, that we were none of us ever on intimate terms
with him. I mean by this, that he was a father to us, but never a
companion. There was something in his manner, his quiet and unchanging
manner, which kept us almost unconsciously restrained. I never in my
life felt less at my ease--I knew not why at the time--than when I
occasionally dined alone with him. I never confided to him my schemes
for amusement as a boy, or mentioned more than generally my ambitious
hopes, as a young man. It was not that he would have received such
confidences with ridicule or severity, he was incapable of it; but
that he seemed above them, unfitted to enter into them, too far
removed by his own thoughts from such thoughts as ours. Thus, all
holiday councils were held with old servants; thus, my first pages of
manuscript, when I first tried authorship, were read by my sister, and
never penetrated into my father's study.
Again, his mode of testifying displeasure towards my brother or
myself, had something terrible in its calmness, something that we
never forgot, and always dreaded as the worst calamity that could
Whenever, as boys, we committed some boyish fault, he never displayed
outwardly any irritation--he simply altered his manner towards us
altogether. We were not soundly lectured, or vehemently threatened, or
positively punished in anyway; but, when we came in contact with him,
we were treated with a cold, contemptuous politeness (especially if
our fault showed a tendency to anything mean or ungentlemanlike) which
cut us to the heart. On these occasions, we were not addressed by our
Christian names; if we accidentally met him out of doors, he was sure
to turn aside and avoid us; if we asked a question, it was answered in
the briefest possible manner, as if we had been strangers. His whole
course of conduct said, as though in so many words--You have rendered
yourselves unfit to associate with your father; and he is now making
you feel that unfitness as deeply as he does. We were left in this
domestic purgatory for days, sometimes for weeks together. To our
boyish feelings (to mine especially) there was no ignominy like it,
while it lasted.
I know not on what terms my father lived with my mother. Towards my
sister, his demeanour always exhibited something of the old-fashioned,
affectionate gallantry of a former age. He paid her the same attention
that he would have paid to the highest lady in the land. He led her
into the dining-room, when we were alone, exactly as he would have led
a duchess into a banqueting-hall. He would allow us, as boys, to quit
the breakfast-table before he had risen himself; but never before she
had left it. If a servant failed in duty towards _him,_ the servant
was often forgiven; if towards _her,_ the servant was sent away on the
spot. His daughter was in his eyes the representative of her mother:
the mistress of his house, as well as his child. It was curious to see
the mixture of high-bred courtesy and fatherly love in his manner, as
he just gently touched her forehead with his lips, when he first saw
her in the morning.
In person, my father was of not more than middle height. He was very
slenderly and delicately made; his head small, and well set on his
shoulders--his forehead more broad than lofty--his complexion
singularly pale, except in moments of agitation, when I have already
noticed its tendency to flush all over in an instant. His eyes, large
and gray, had something commanding in their look; they gave a certain
unchanging firmness and dignity to his expression, not often met with.
They betrayed his birth and breeding, his old ancestral prejudices,
his chivalrous sense of honour, in every glance. It required, indeed,
all the masculine energy of look about the upper part of his face, to
redeem the lower part from an appearance of effeminacy, so delicately
was it moulded in its fine Norman outline. His smile was remarkable
for its sweetness--it was almost like a woman's smile. In speaking,
too, his lips often trembled as women's do. If he ever laughed, as a
young man, his laugh must have been very clear and musical; but since
I can recollect him, I never heard it. In his happiest moments, in the
gayest society, I have only seen him smile.
There were other characteristics of my father's disposition and
manner, which I might mention; but they will appear to greater
advantage, perhaps, hereafter, connected with circumstances which
especially called them forth.
When a family is possessed of large landed property, the individual of
that family who shows least interest in its welfare; who is least fond
of home, least connected by his own sympathies with his relatives,
least ready to learn his duties or admit his responsibilities, is
often that very individual who is to succeed to the family
inheritance--the eldest son.
My brother Ralph was no exception to this remark. We were educated
together. After our education was completed, I never saw him, except
for short periods. He was almost always on the continent, for some
years after he left college. And when he returned definitely to
England, he did not return to live under our roof. Both in town and
country he was our visitor, not our inmate.
I recollect him at school--stronger, taller, handsomer than I was; far
beyond me in popularity among the little community we lived with; the
first to lead a daring exploit, the last to abandon it; now at the
bottom of the class, now at the top--just that sort of gay,
boisterous, fine-looking, dare-devil boy, whom old people would
instinctively turn round and smile after, as they passed him by in a
Then, at college, he became illustrious among rowers and cricketers,
renowned as a pistol shot, dreaded as a singlestick player. No wine
parties in the university were such wine parties as his; tradesmen
gave him the first choice of everything that was new; young ladies in
the town fell in love with him by dozens; young tutors with a tendency
to dandyism, copied the cut of his coat and the tie of his cravat;
even the awful heads of houses looked leniently on his delinquencies.
The gay, hearty, handsome young English gentleman carried a charm
about him that subdued everybody. Though I was his favourite butt,
both at school and college, I never quarrelled with him in my life. I
always let him ridicule my dress, manners, and habits in his own
reckless, boisterous way, as if it had been a part of his birthright
privilege to laugh at me as much as he chose.
Thus far, my father had no worse anxieties about him than those
occasioned by his high spirits and his heavy debts. But when he
returned home--when the debts had been paid, and it was next thought
necessary to drill the free, careless energies into something like
useful discipline--then my father's trials and difficulties began in
It was impossible to make Ralph comprehend and appreciate his
position, as he was desired to comprehend and appreciate it. The
steward gave up in despair all attempts to enlighten him about the
extent, value, and management of the estates he was to inherit. A
vigorous effort was made to inspire him with ambition; to get him to
go into parliament. He laughed at the idea. A commission in the Guards
was next offered to him. He refused it, because he would never be
buttoned up in a red coat; because he would submit to no restraints,
fashionable or military; because in short, he was determined to be his
own master. My father talked to him by the hour together, about his
duties and his prospects, the cultivation of his mind, and the example
of his ancestors; and talked in vain. He yawned and fidgetted over the
emblazoned pages of his own family pedigree, whenever they were opened
In the country, he cared for nothing but hunting and shooting--it was
as difficult to make him go to a grand county dinner-party, as to make
him go to church. In town, he haunted the theatres, behind the scenes
as well as before; entertained actors and actresses at Richmond;
ascended in balloons at Vauxhall; went about with detective policemen,
seeing life among pickpockets and housebreakers; belonged to a whist
club, a supper club, a catch club, a boxing club, a picnic club, an
amateur theatrical club; and, in short, lived such a careless,
convivial life, that my father, outraged in every one of his family
prejudices and family refinements, almost ceased to speak to him, and
saw him as rarely as possible. Occasionally, my sister's interference
reconciled them again for a short time; her influence, gentle as it
was, was always powerfully felt for good, but she could not change my
brother's nature. Persuade and entreat as anxiously as she might, he
was always sure to forfeit the paternal favour again, a few days after
he had been restored to it.
At last, matters were brought to their climax by an awkward love
adventure of Ralph's with one of our tenants' daughters. My father
acted with his usual decision on the occasion. He determined to apply
a desperate remedy: to let the refractory eldest son run through his
career in freedom, abroad, until he had well wearied himself, and
could return home a sobered man. Accordingly, he procured for my
brother an attache's place in a foreign embassy, and insisted on his
leaving England forthwith. For once in a way, Ralph was docile. He
knew and cared nothing about diplomacy; but he liked the idea of
living on the continent, so he took his leave of home with his best
grace. My father saw him depart, with ill-concealed agitation and
apprehension; although he affected to feel satisfied that, flighty and
idle as Ralph was, he was incapable of voluntarily dishonouring his
family, even in his most reckless moods.
After this, we heard little from my brother. His letters were few and
short, and generally ended with petitions for money. The only
important news of him that reached us, reached us through public
He was making quite a continental reputation--a reputation, the bare
mention of which made my father wince. He had fought a duel; he had
imported a new dance from Hungary; he had contrived to get the
smallest groom that ever was seen behind a cabriolet; he had carried
off the reigning beauty among the opera-dancers of the day from all
competitors; a great French cook had composed a great French dish, and
christened it by his name; he was understood to be the "unknown
friend," to whom a literary Polish countess had dedicated her "Letters
against the restraint of the Marriage Tie;" a female German
metaphysician, sixty years old, had fallen (Platonically) in love with
him, and had taken to writing erotic romances in her old age. Such
were some of the rumours that reached my father's ears on the subject
of his son and heir!
After a long absence, he came home on a visit. How well I remember the
astonishment he produced in the whole household! He had become a
foreigner in manners and appearance. his mustachios were magnificent;
miniature toys in gold and jewellery hung in clusters from his
watch-chain; his shirt-front was a perfect filigree of lace and
cambric. He brought with him his own boxes of choice liqueurs and
perfumes; his own smart, impudent, French valet; his own travelling
bookcase of French novels, which he opened with his own golden key. He
drank nothing but chocolate in the morning; he had long interviews
with the cook, and revolutionized our dinner table. All the French
newspapers were sent to him by a London agent. He altered the
arrangements of his bed-room; no servant but his own valet was
permitted to enter it. Family portraits that hung there, were turned
to the walls, and portraits of French actresses and Italian singers
were stuck to the back of the canvasses. Then he displaced a beautiful
little ebony cabinet which had been in the family three hundred years;
and set up in its stead a Cyprian temple of his own, in miniature,
with crystal doors, behind which hung locks of hair, rings, notes
written on blush-coloured paper, and other love-tokens kept as
sentimental relics. His influence became all-pervading among us. He
seemed to communicate to the house the change that had taken place in
himself, from the reckless, racketty young Englishman to the
super-exquisite foreign dandy. It was as if the fiery, effervescent
atmosphere of the Boulevards of Paris had insolently penetrated into
the old English mansion, and ruffled and infected its quiet native
air, to the remotest corners of the place.
My father was even more dismayed than displeased by the alteration in
my brother's habits and manners--the eldest son was now farther from
his ideal of what an eldest son should be, than ever. As for friends
and neighbours, Ralph was heartily feared and disliked by them, before
he had been in the house a week. He had an ironically patient way of
listening to their conversation; an ironically respectful manner of
demolishing their old-fashioned opinions, and correcting their
slightest mistakes, which secretly aggravated them beyond endurance.
It was worse still, when my father, in despair, tried to tempt him
into marriage, as the one final chance of working his reform; and
invited half the marriageable young ladies of our acquaintance to the
house, for his especial benefit.
Ralph had never shown much fondness at home, for the refinements of
good female society. Abroad, he had lived as exclusively as he
possibly could, among women whose characters ranged downwards by
infinitesimal degrees, from the mysteriously doubtful to the
notoriously bad. The highly-bred, highly-refined, highly-accomplished
young English beauties had no charm for him. He detected at once the
domestic conspiracy of which he was destined to become the victim. He
often came up-stairs, at night, into my bed-room; and while he was
amusing himself by derisively kicking about my simple clothes and
simple toilette apparatus; while he was laughing in his old careless
way at my quiet habits and monotonous life, used to slip in,
parenthetically, all sorts of sarcasms about our young lady guests. To
him, their manners were horribly inanimate; their innocence, hypocrisy
of education. Pure complexions and regular features were very well, he
said, as far as they went; but when a girl could not walk properly,
when she shook hands with you with cold fingers, when having good eyes
she could not make a stimulating use of them, then it was time to
sentence the regular features and pure complexions to be taken back
forthwith to the nursery from which they came. For _his_ part, he
missed the conversation of his witty Polish Countess, and longed for
another pancake-supper with his favourite _grisettes._
The failure of my father's last experiment with Ralph soon became
apparent. Watchful and experienced mothers began to suspect that my
brother's method of flirtation was dangerous, and his style of
waltzing improper. One or two ultra-cautious parents, alarmed by the
laxity of his manners and opinions, removed their daughters out of
harm's way, by shortening their visits. The rest were spared any such
necessity. My father suddenly discovered that Ralph was devoting
himself rather too significantly to a young married woman who was
staying in the house. The same day he had a long private interview
with my brother. What passed between them, I know not; but it must
have been something serious. Ralph came out of my father's private
study, very pale and very silent; ordered his luggage to be packed
directly; and the next morning departed, with his French valet, and
his multifarious French goods and chattels, for the continent.
Another interval passed; and then we had another short visit from him.
He was still unaltered. My father's temper suffered under this second
disappointment. He became more fretful and silent; more apt to take
offence than had been his wont. I particularly mention the change thus
produced in his disposition, because that change was destined, at no
very distant period, to act fatally upon me.
On this last occasion, also, there was another serious disagreement
between father and son; and Ralph left England again in much the same
way that he had left it before.
Shortly after that second departure, we heard that he had altered his
manner of life. He had contracted, what would be termed in the
continental code of morals, a reformatory attachment to a woman older
than himself, who was living separated from her husband, when he met
with her. It was this lady's lofty ambition to be Mentor and mistress,
both together! And she soon proved herself to be well qualified for
her courageous undertaking. To the astonishment of everyone who knew
him, Ralph suddenly turned economical; and, soon afterwards, actually
resigned his post at the embassy, to be out of the way of temptation!
Since that, he has returned to England; has devoted himself to
collecting snuff-boxes and learning the violin; and is now living
quietly in the suburbs of London, still under the inspection of the
resolute female missionary who first worked his reform.
Whether he will ever become the high-minded, high-principled country
gentleman, that my father has always desired to see him, it is useless
for me to guess. On the domains which he is to inherit, I shall never
perhaps set foot again: in the halls where he will one day preside as
master, I shall never more be sheltered. Let me now quit the subject
of my elder brother, and turn to a theme which is nearer to my heart;
dear to me as the last remembrance left that I can love; precious
beyond all treasures in my solitude and my exile from home.
My sister!--well may I linger over your beloved name in such a record
as this. A little farther on, and the darkness of crime and grief will
encompass me; here, my recollections of you kindle like a pure light
before my eyes--doubly pure by contrast with what lies beyond. May
your kind eyes, love, be the first that fall on these pages, when the
writer has parted from them for ever! May your tender hand be the
first that touches these leaves, when mine is cold! Backward in my
narrative, Clara, wherever I have but casually mentioned my sister,
the pen has trembled and stood still. At this place, where all my
remembrances of you throng upon me unrestrained, the tears gather fast
and thick beyond control; and for the first time since I began my
task, my courage and my calmness fail me.
It is useless to persevere longer. My hand trembles; my eyes grow
dimmer and dimmer. I must close my labours for the day, and go forth
to gather strength and resolution for to-morrow on the hill-tops that
overlook the sea.
My sister Clara is four years younger than I am. In form of face, in
complexion, and--except the eyes--in features, she bears a striking
resemblance to my father. Her expressions however, must be very like
what my mother's was. Whenever I have looked at her in her silent and
thoughtful moments, she has always appeared to freshen, and even to
increase, my vague, childish recollections of our lost mother. Her
eyes have that slight tinge of melancholy in their tenderness, and
that peculiar softness in their repose, which is only seen in blue
eyes. Her complexion, pale as my father's when she is neither speaking
nor moving, has in a far greater degree than his the tendency to
flush, not merely in moments of agitation, but even when she is
walking, or talking on any subject that interests her. Without this
peculiarity her paleness would be a defect. With it, the absence of
any colour in her complexion but the fugitive uncertain colour which I
have described, would to some eyes debar her from any claims to
beauty. And a beauty perhaps she is not--at least, in the ordinary
acceptation of the term.
The lower part of her face is rather too small for the upper, her
figure is too slight, the sensitiveness of her nervous organization is
too constantly visible in her actions and her looks. She would not fix
attention and admiration in a box at the opera; very few men passing
her in the street would turn round to look after her; very few women
would regard her with that slightingly attentive stare, that steady
depreciating scrutiny, which a dashing decided beauty so often
receives (and so often triumphs in receiving) from her personal
inferiors among her own sex. The greatest charms that my sister has on
the surface, come from beneath it.
When you really knew her, when she spoke to you freely, as to a
friend--then, the attraction of her voice, her smile her manner,
impressed you indescribably. Her slightest words and her commonest
actions interested and delighted you, you knew not why. There was a
beauty about her unassuming simplicity, her natural--exquisitely
natural--kindness of heart, and word, and manner, which preserved its
own unobtrusive influence over you, in spite of all other rival
influences, be they what they might. You missed and thought of her,
when you were fresh from the society of the most beautiful and the
most brilliant women. You remembered a few kind, pleasant words of
hers when you forgot the wit of the wittiest ladies, the learning of
the most learned. The influence thus possessed, and unconsciously
possessed, by my sister over every one with whom she came in
contact--over men especially--may, I think be very simply accounted
for, in very few sentences.
We live in an age when too many women appear to be ambitious of
morally unsexing themselves before society, by aping the language and
the manners of men--especially in reference to that miserable modern
dandyism of demeanour, which aims at repressing all betrayal of warmth
of feeling; which abstains from displaying any enthusiasm on any
subject whatever; which, in short, labours to make the fashionable
imperturbability of the face the faithful reflection of the
fashionable imperturbability of the mind. Women of this exclusively
modern order, like to use slang expressions in their conversation;
assume a bastard-masculine abruptness in their manners, a
bastard-masculine licence in their opinions; affect to ridicule those
outward developments of feeling which pass under the general
appellation of "sentiment." Nothing impresses, agitates, amuses, or
delights them in a hearty, natural, womanly way. Sympathy looks
ironical, if they ever show it: love seems to be an affair of
calculation, or mockery, or contemptuous sufferance, if they ever feel
To women such as these, my sister Clara presented as complete a
contrast as could well be conceived. In this contrast lay the secret
of her influence, of the voluntary tribute of love and admiration
which followed her wherever she went.
Few men have not their secret moments of deep feeling--moments when,
amid the wretched trivialities and hypocrisies of modern society, the
image will present itself to their minds of some woman, fresh,
innocent, gentle, sincere; some woman whose emotions are still warm
and impressible, whose affections and sympathies can still appear in
her actions, and give the colour to her thoughts; some woman in whom
we could put as perfect faith and trust, as if we were children; whom
we despair of finding near the hardening influences of the world; whom
we could scarcely venture to look for, except in solitary places far
away in the country; in little rural shrines, shut up from society,
among woods and fields, and lonesome boundary-hills. When any women
happen to realise, or nearly to realise, such an image as this, they
possess that universal influence which no rivalry can ever approach.
On them really depends, and by then is really preserved, that claim
upon the sincere respect and admiration of men, on which the power of
the whole sex is based--the power so often assumed by the many, so
rarely possessed but by the few.
It was thus with my sister. Thus, wherever she went, though without
either the inclination, or the ambition to shine, she eclipsed women
who were her superiors in beauty, in accomplishments, in brilliancy of
manners and conversation--conquering by no other weapon than the
purely feminine charm of everything she said, and everything she did.
But it was not amid the gaiety and grandeur of a London season that
her character was displayed to the greatest advantage. It was when she
was living where she loved to live, in the old country-house, among
the old friends and old servants who would every one of them have died
a hundred deaths for her sake, that you could study and love her best.
Then, the charm there was in the mere presence of the kind, gentle,
happy young English girl, who could enter into everybody's interests,
and be grateful for everybody's love, possessed its best and brightest
influence. At picnics, lawn-parties, little country gatherings of all
sorts, she was, in her own quiet, natural manner, always the presiding
spirit of general comfort and general friendship. Even the rigid laws
of country punctilio relaxed before her unaffected cheerfulness and
irresistible good-nature. She always contrived--nobody ever knew
how--to lure the most formal people into forgetting their formality,
and becoming natural for the rest of the day. Even a heavy-headed,
lumbering, silent country squire, was not too much for her. She
managed to make him feel at his ease, when no one else would undertake
the task; she could listen patiently to his confused speeches about
dogs, horses, and the state of the crops, when other conversations
were proceeding in which she was really interested; she could receive
any little grateful attention that he wished to pay her--no matter how
awkward or ill-timed--as she received attentions from any one else,
with a manner which showed she considered it as a favour granted to
her sex, not as a right accorded to it.
So, again, she always succeeded in diminishing the long list of those
pitiful affronts and offences, which play such important parts in the
social drama of country society. She was a perfect Apostle-errant of
the order of Reconciliation; and wherever she went, cast out the devil
Sulkiness from all his strongholds--the lofty and the lowly alike. Our
good rector used to call her his Volunteer Curate; and declare that
she preached by a timely word, or a persuasive look, the best
practical sermons on the blessings of peace-making that were ever
With all this untiring good-nature, with all this resolute industry in
the task of making every one happy whom she approached, there was
mingled some indescribable influence, which invariably preserved her
from the presumption, even of the most presuming people. I never knew
anybody venturesome enough--either by word or look--to take a liberty
with her. There was something about her which inspired respect as well
as love. My father, following the bent of his peculiar and favourite
ideas, always thought it was the look of her race in her eyes, the
ascendancy of her race in her manners. I believe it to have proceeded
from a simpler and a better cause. There is a goodness of heart, which
carries the. shield of its purity over the open hand of its kindness:
and that goodness was hers.
To my father, she was more, I believe, than he himself ever
imagined--or will ever know, unless he should lose her. He was often,
in his intercourse with the world, wounded severely enough in his
peculiar prejudices and peculiar refinements--he was always sure to
find the first respected, and the last partaken by _her._ He could
trust in her implicitly, he could feel assured that she was not only
willing, but able, to share and relieve his domestic troubles and
anxieties. If he had been less fretfully anxious about his eldest son;
if he had wisely distrusted from the first his own powers of
persuading and reforming, and had allowed Clara to exercise her
influence over Ralph more constantly and more completely than he
really did, I am persuaded that the long-expected epoch of my
brother's transformation would have really arrived by this time, or
even before it.
The strong and deep feelings of my sister's nature lay far below the
surface--for a woman, too far below it. Suffering was, for her,
silent, secret, long enduring; often almost entirely void of outward
vent or development. I never remember seeing her in tears, except on
rare and very serious occasions. Unless you looked at her narrowly,
you would judge her to be little sensitive to ordinary griefs and
troubles. At such times, her eyes only grew dimmer and less animated
than usual; the paleness of her complexion became rather more marked;
her lips closed and trembled involuntarily--but this was all: there
was no sighing, no weeping, no speaking even. And yet she suffered
acutely. The very strength of her emotions was in their silence and
their secresy. I, of all others--I, guilty of infecting with my
anguish the pure heart that loved me--ought to know this best!
How long I might linger over all that she has done for _me!_ As I now
approach nearer and nearer to the pages which are to reveal my fatal
story, so I am more and more tempted to delay over those better and
purer remembrances of my sister which now occupy my mind. The first
little presents--innocent girlish presents--which she secretly sent to
me at school; the first sweet days of our uninterrupted intercourse,
when the close of my college life restored me to home; her first
inestimable sympathies with my first fugitive vanities of embryo
authorship, are thronging back fast and fondly on my thoughts, while I
But these memories must be calmed and disciplined. I must be collected
and impartial over my narrative--if it be only to make that narrative
show fairly and truly, without suppression or exaggeration, all that I
have owed to her.
Not merely all that I _have_ owed to her; but all that I owe to her
now. Though I may never see her again, but in my thoughts; still she
influences, comforts, cheers me on to hope, as if she were already the
guardian spirit of the cottage where I live. Even in my worst moments
of despair, I can still remember that Clara is thinking of me and
sorrowing for me: I can still feel that remembrance, as an invisible
hand of mercy which supports me, sinking; which raises me, fallen;
which may yet lead me safely and tenderly to my hard journey's end.
I have now completed all the preliminary notices of my near relatives,
which it is necessary to present in these pages; and may proceed at
once to the more immediate subject of my narrative.
Imagine to yourself that my father and my sister have been living for
some months at our London residence; and that I have recently joined
them, after having enjoyed a short tour on the continent.
My father is engaged in his parliamentary duties. We see very little
of him. Committees absorb his mornings--debates his evenings. When he
has a day of leisure occasionally, he passes it in his study, devoted
to his own affairs. He goes very little into society--a political
dinner, or a scientific meeting are the only social relaxations that
My sister leads a life which is not much in accordance with her simple
tastes. She is wearied of balls, operas, flower-shows, and all other
London gaieties besides; and heartily longs to be driving about the
green lanes again in her own little poney-chaise, and distributing
plum-cake prizes to the good children at the Rector's Infant School.
But the female friend who happens to be staying with her, is fond of
excitement; my father expects her to accept the invitations which he
is obliged to decline; so she gives up her own tastes and inclinations
as usual, and goes into hot rooms among crowds of fine people, hearing
the same glib compliments, and the same polite inquiries, night after
night, until, patient as she is, she heartily wishes that her
fashionable friends all lived in some opposite quarter of the globe,
the farther away the better.
My arrival from the continent is the most welcome of events to her. It
gives a new object and a new impulse to her London life.
I am engaged in writing a historical romance--indeed, it is
principally to examine the localities in the country where my story is
laid, that I have been abroad. Clara has read the first half-dozen
finished chapters, in manuscript, and augurs wonderful success for my
fiction when it is published. She is determined to arrange my study
with her own hands; to dust my books, and sort my papers herself. She
knows that I am already as fretful and precise about my literary goods
and chattels, as indignant at any interference of housemaids and
dusters with my library treasures, as if I were a veteran author of
twenty years' standing; and she is resolved to spare me every
apprehension on this score, by taking all the arrangements of my study
on herself, and keeping the key of the door when I am not in need of
We have our London amusements, too, as well as our London employments.
But the pleasantest of our relaxations are, after all, procured for us
by our horses. We ride every day--sometimes with friends, sometimes
alone together. On these latter occasions, we generally turn our
horses' heads away from the parks, and seek what country sights we can
get in the neighbourhood of London. The northern roads are generally
our favourite ride.
Sometimes we penetrate so far that we can bait our horses at a little
inn which reminds me of the inns near our country home. I see the same
sanded parlour, decorated with the same old sporting prints, furnished
with the same battered, deep-coloured mahogany table, and polished elm
tree chairs, that I remember in our own village inn. Clara, also,
finds bits of common, out of doors, that look like _our_ common; and
trees that might have been transplanted expressly for her, from _our_
These excursions we keep a secret, we like to enjoy them entirely by
ourselves. Besides, if my father knew that his daughter was drinking
the landlady's fresh milk, and his son the landlord's old ale, in the
parlour of a suburban roadside inn, he would, I believe, be apt to
suspect that both his children had fairly taken leave of their senses.
Evening parties I frequent almost as rarely as my father. Clara's good
nature is called into requisition to do duty for me, as well as for
him. She has little respite in the task. Old lady relatives and
friends, always ready to take care of her, leave her no excuse for
staying at home. Sometimes I am shamed into accompanying her a little
more frequently than usual; but my old indolence in these matters soon
possesses me again. I have contracted a bad habit of writing at
night--I read almost incessantly in the day time. It is only because I
am fond of riding, that I am ever willing to interrupt my studies, and
ever ready to go out at all.
Such were my domestic habits, such my regular occupations and
amusements, when a mere accident changed every purpose of my life, and
altered me irretrievably from what I was then, to what I am now.
It happened thus:
I had just received my quarter's allowance of pocket-money, and had
gone into the city to cash the cheque at my father's bankers.
The money paid, I debated for a moment how I should return homewards.
First I thought of walking: then of taking a cab. While I was
considering this frivolous point, an omnibus passed me, going
westward. In the idle impulse of the moment, I hailed it, and got in.
It was something more than an idle impulse though. If I had at that
time no other qualification for the literary career on which I was
entering, I certainly had this one--an aptitude for discovering points
of character in others: and its natural result, an unfailing delight
in studying characters of all kinds, wherever I could meet with them.
I had often before ridden in omnibuses to amuse myself by observing
the passengers. An omnibus has always appeared to me, to be a
perambulatory exhibition-room of the eccentricities of human nature. I
know not any other sphere in which persons of all classes and all
temperaments are so oddly collected together, and so immediately
contrasted and confronted with each other. To watch merely the
different methods of getting into the vehicle, and taking their seats,
adopted by different people, is to study no incomplete commentary on
the infinitesimal varieties of human character--as various even as the
varieties of the human face.
Thus, in addition to the idle impulse, there was the idea of amusement
in my thoughts, as I stopped the public vehicle, and added one to the
number of the conductor's passengers.
There were five persons in the omnibus when I entered it. Two
middle-aged ladies, dressed with amazing splendour in silks and
satins, wearing straw-coloured kid gloves, and carrying highly-scented
pocket handkerchiefs, sat apart at the end of the vehicle; trying to
look as if they occupied it under protest, and preserving the most
stately gravity and silence. They evidently felt that their
magnificent outward adornments were exhibited in a very unworthy
locality, and among a very uncongenial company.
One side, close to the door, was occupied by a lean, withered old man,
very shabbily dressed in black, who sat eternally mumbling something
between his toothless jaws. Occasionally, to the evident disgust of
the genteel ladies, he wiped his bald head and wrinkled forehead with
a ragged blue cotton handkerchief, which he kept in the crown of his
Opposite to this ancient sat a dignified gentleman and a sickly
vacant-looking little girl. Every event of that day is so indelibly
marked on my memory, that I remember, not only this man's pompous look
and manner, but even the words he addressed to the poor squalid little
creature by his side. When I entered the omnibus, he was telling her
in a loud voice how she ought to dispose of her frock and her feet
when people got into the vehicle, and when they got out. He then
impressed on her the necessity in future life, when she grew up, of
always having the price of her fare ready before it was wanted, to
prevent unnecessary delay. Having delivered himself of this good
advice, he began to hum, keeping time by drumming with his thick
Malacca cane. He was still proceeding with this amusement--producing
some of the most acutely unmusical sounds I ever heard--when the
omnibus stopped to give admission to two ladies. The first who got in
was an elderly person--pale and depressed--evidently in delicate
health. The second was a young girl.
Among the workings of the hidden life within us which we may
experience but cannot explain, are there any more remarkable than
those mysterious moral influences constantly exercised, either for
attraction or repulsion, by one human being over another? In the
simplest, as in the most important affairs of life, how startling, how
irresistible is their power! How often we feel and know, either
pleasurably or painfully, that another is looking on us, before we
have ascertained the fact with our own eyes! How often we prophesy
truly to ourselves the approach of a friend or enemy, just before
either have really appeared! How strangely and abruptly we become
convinced, at a first introduction, that we shall secretly love this
person and loathe that, before experience has guided us with a single
fact in relation to their characters!
I have said that the two additional passengers who entered the vehicle
in which I was riding, were, one of them, an elderly lady; the other,
a young girl. As soon as the latter had seated herself nearly opposite
to me, by her companion's side, I felt her influence on me
directly--an influence that I cannot describe--an influence which I
had never experienced in my life before, which I shall never
I had helped to hand her in, as she passed me; merely touching her arm
for a moment. But how the sense of that touch was prolonged! I felt it
thrilling through me--thrilling in every nerve, in every pulsation of
my fast-throbbing heart.
Had I the same influence over her? Or was it I that received, and she
that conferred, only? I was yet destined to discover; but not
then--not for a long, long time.
Her veil was down when I first saw her. her features and her
expression were but indistinctly visible to me. I could just vaguely
perceive that she was young and beautiful; but, beyond this, though I
might imagine much, I could see little.
From the time when she entered the omnibus, I have no recollection of
anything more that occurred in it. I neither remember what passengers
got out, or what passengers got in. My powers of observation, hitherto
active enough, had now wholly deserted me. Strange! that the
capricious rule of chance should sway the action of our faculties that
a trifle should set in motion the whole complicated machinery of their
exercise, and a trifle suspend it.
We had been moving onward for some little time, when the girl's
companion addressed an observation to her. She heard it imperfectly,
and lifted her veil while it was being repeated. How painfully my
heart beat! I could almost hear it--as her face was, for the first
time, freely and fairly disclosed!
She was dark. Her hair, eyes, and complexion were darker than usual in
English women. The form, the look altogether, of her face, coupled
with what I could see of her figure, made me guess her age to be about
twenty. There was the appearance of maturity already in the shape of
her features; but their expression still remained girlish, unformed,
unsettled. The fire in her large dark eyes, when she spoke, was
latent. Their languor, when she was silent--that voluptuous languor of
black eyes--was still fugitive and unsteady. The smile about her full
lips (to other eyes, they might have looked _too_ full) struggled to
be eloquent, yet dared not. Among women, there always seems something
left incomplete--a moral creation to be superinduced on the
physical--which love alone can develop, and which maternity perfects
still further, when developed. I thought, as I looked on her, how the
passing colour would fix itself brilliantly on her round, olive cheek;
how the expression that still hesitated to declare itself, would speak
out at last, would shine forth in the full luxury of its beauty, when
she heard the first words, received the first kiss, from the man she
While I still looked at her, as she sat opposite speaking to her
companion, our eyes met. It was only for a moment--but the sensation
of a moment often makes the thought of a life; and that one little
instant made the new life of my heart. She put down her veil again
immediately; her lips moved involuntarily as she lowered it: I thought
I could discern, through the lace, that the slight movement ripened to
Still there was enough left to see--enough to charm. There was the
little rim of delicate white lace, encircling the lovely, dusky
throat; there was the figure visible, where the shawl had fallen open,
slender, but already well developed in its slenderness, and
exquisitely supple; there was the waist, naturally low, and left to
its natural place and natural size; there were the little millinery
and jewellery ornaments that she wore--simple and common-place enough
in themselves--yet each a beauty, each a treasure, on _her._ There was
all this to behold, all this to dwell on, in spite of the veil. The
veil! how little of the woman does it hide, when the man really loves
We had nearly arrived at the last point to which the omnibus would
take us, when she and her companion got out. I followed them,
cautiously and at some distance.
She was tall--tall at least for a woman. There were not many people in
the road along which we were proceeding; but even if there had been,
far behind as I was walking, I should never have lost her--never have
mistaken any one else for her. Already, strangers though we were, I
felt that I should know her, almost at any distance, only by her walk.
They went on, until we reached a suburb of new houses, intermingled
with wretched patches of waste land, half built over. Unfinished
streets, unfinished crescents, unfinished squares, unfinished shops,
unfinished gardens, surrounded us. At last they stopped at a new
square, and rang the bell at one of the newest of the new houses. The
door was opened, and she and her companion disappeared. The house was
partly detached. It bore no number; but was distinguished as North
Villa. The square--unfinished like everything else in the
neighbourhood--was called Hollyoake Square.
I noticed nothing else about the place at that time. Its newness and
desolateness of appearance revolted me, just then. I had satisfied
myself about the locality of the house, and I knew that it was her
home; for I had approached sufficiently near, when the door was
opened, to hear her inquire if anybody had called in her absence. For
the present, this was enough. My sensations wanted repose; my thoughts
wanted collecting. I left Hollyoake Square at once, and walked into
the Regent's Park, the northern portion of which was close at hand.
Was I in love?--in love with a girl whom I had accidentally met in an
omnibus? Or, was I merely indulging a momentary caprice--merely
feeling a young man's hot, hasty admiration for a beautiful face?
These were questions which I could not then decide. My ideas were in
utter confusion, all my thoughts ran astray. I walked on, dreaming in
full day--I had no distinct impressions, except of the stranger beauty
whom I had just seen. The more I tried to collect myself, to resume
the easy, equable feelings with which I had set forth in the morning,
the less self-possessed I became. There are two emergencies in which
the wisest man may try to reason himself back from impulse to
principle; and try in vain:--the one when a woman has attracted him
for the first time; the other, when, for the first time, also, she has
happened to offend him.
I know not how long I had been walking in the park, thus absorbed yet
not thinking, when the clock of a neighbouring church struck three,
and roused me to the remembrance that I had engaged to ride out with
my sister at two o'clock. It would be nearly half-an-hour more before
I could reach home. Never had any former appointment of mine with
Clara been thus forgotten! Love had not yet turned me selfish, as it
turns all men, and even all women, more or less. I felt both sorrow
and shame at the neglect of which I had been guilty; and hastened
The groom, looking unutterably weary and discontented, was still
leading my horse up and down before the house. My sister's horse had
been sent back to the stables. I went in; and heard that, after
waiting for me an hour, Clara had gone out with some friends, and
would not be back before dinner.
No one was in the house but the servants. The place looked dull,
empty, inexpressibly miserable to me; the distant roll of carriages
along the surrounding streets had a heavy boding sound; the opening
and shutting of doors in the domestic offices below, startled and
irritated me; the London air seemed denser to breathe than it had ever
seemed before. I walked up and down one of the rooms, fretful and
irresolute. Once I directed my steps towards my study; but retraced
them before I had entered it. Reading or writing was out of the
question at that moment.
I felt the secret inclination strengthening within me to return to
Hollyoake Square; to try to see the girl again, or at least to
ascertain who she was. I strove--yes, I can honestly say, strove to
repress the desire. I tried to laugh it off, as idle and ridiculous;
to think of my sister, of the book I was writing, of anything but the
one subject that pressed stronger and stronger on me, the harder I
struggled against it. The spell of the syren was over me. I went out,
hypocritically persuading myself, that I was only animated by a
capricious curiosity to know the girl's name, which once satisfied,
would leave me at rest on the matter, and free to laugh at my own
idleness and folly as soon as I got home again.
I arrived at the house. The blinds were all drawn down over the front
windows, to keep out the sun. The little slip of garden was left
solitary--baking and cracking in the heat. The square was silent;
desolately silent, as only a suburban square can be. I walked up and
down the glaring pavement, resolved to find out her name before I
quitted the place. While still undecided how to act, a shrill
whistling--sounding doubly shrill in the silence around--made me look
A tradesman's boy--one of those town Pucks of the highway; one of
those incarnations of precocious cunning, inveterate mischief, and
impudent humour, which great cities only can produce--was approaching
me with his empty tray under his arm. I called to him to come and
speak to me. He evidently belonged to the neighbourhood, and might be
made of some use.
His first answer to my inquiries, showed that his master served the
household at North Villa. A present of a shilling secured his
attention at once to the few questions of any importance which I
desired to put to him. I learned from his replies, that the name of
the master of the house was "Sherwin:" and that the family only
consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Sherwin, and the young lady, their daughter.
My last inquiry addressed to the boy was the most important of all.
Did he know what Mr. Sherwin's profession or employment was?
His answer startled me into perfect silence. Mr. Sherwin kept a large
linen-draper's shop in one of the great London thoroughfares! The boy
mentioned the number, and the side of the way on which the house
stood--then asked me if I wanted to know anything more. I could only
tell him by a sign that he might leave me, and that I had heard
Enough? If he had spoken the truth, I had heard too much.
A linen-draper's shop--a linen-draper's daughter! Was I still in
love?--I thought of my father; I thought of the name I bore; and this
time, though I might have answered the question, I dared not.
But the boy might be wrong. Perhaps, in mere mischief, he had been
deceiving me throughout. I determined to seek the address he had
mentioned, and ascertain the truth for myself.
I reached the place: there was the shop, and there the name "Sherwin"
over the door. One chance still remained. This Sherwin and the Sherwin
of Hollyoake Square might not be the same.
I went in and purchased something. While the man was tying up the
parcel, I asked him whether his master lived in Hollyoake Square.
Looking a little astonished at the question, he answered in the
"There was a Mr. Sherwin I once knew," I said, forging in those words
the first link in the long chain of deceit which was afterwards to
fetter and degrade me--"a Mr. Sherwin who is now, as I have heard,
living somewhere in the Hollyoake Square neighbourhood. He was a
bachelor--I don't know whether my friend and your master are the
"Oh dear no, Sir! My master is a married man, and has one
daughter--Miss Margaret--who is reckoned a very fine young lady, Sir!"
And the man grinned as he spoke--a grin that sickened and shocked me.
I was answered at last: I had discovered all. Margaret!--I had heard
her name, too. Margaret!--it had never hitherto been a favourite name
with me. Now I felt a sort of terror as I detected myself repeating
it, and finding a new, unimagined poetry in the sound.
Could this be love?--pure, first love for a shopkeeper's daughter,
whom I had seen for a quarter of an hour in an omnibus, and followed
home for another quarter of an hour? The thing was impossible. And
yet, I felt a strange unwillingness to go back to our house, and see
my father and sister, just at that moment.
I was still walking onward slowly, but not in the direction of home,
when I met an old college friend of my brother's, and an acquaintance
of mine--a reckless, good-humoured, convivial fellow. He greeted me at
once, with uproarious cordiality; and insisted on my accompanying him
to dine at his club.
If the thoughts that still hung heavy on my mind were only the morbid,
fanciful thoughts of the hour, here was a man whose society would
dissipate them. I resolved to try the experiment, and accepted his
At dinner, I tried hard to rival him in jest and joviality; I drank
much more than my usual quantity of wine--but it was useless. The gay
words came fainting from my heart, and fell dead on my lips. The wine
fevered, but did not exhilarate me. Still, the image of the dark
beauty of the morning was the one reigning image of my
thoughts--still, the influence of the morning, at once sinister and
seductive, kept its hold on my heart.
I gave up the struggle. I longed to be alone again. My friend soon
found that my forced spirits were flagging; he tried to rouse me,
tried to talk for two, ordered more wine, but everything failed.
Yawning at last, in undisguised despair, he suggested a visit to the
I excused myself--professed illness--hinted that the wine had been too
much for me. he laughed, with something of contempt as well as
good-nature in the laugh; and went away to the play by himself
evidently feeling that I was still as bad a companion as he had found
me at college, years ago.
As soon as we parted I felt a sense of relief. I hesitated, walked
backwards and forwards a few paces in the street; and then, silencing
all doubts, leaving my inclinations to guide me as they would--I
turned my steps for the third time in that one day to Hollyoake
The fair summer evening was tending towards twilight; the sun stood
fiery and low in a cloudless horizon; the last loveliness of the last
quietest daylight hour was fading on the violet sky, as I entered the
I approached the house. She was at the window--it was thrown wide
open. A bird-cage hung rather high up, against the shutter-pannel. She
was standing opposite to it, making a plaything for the poor captive
canary of a piece of sugar, which she rapidly offered and drew back
again, now at one bar of the cage, and now at another. The bird hopped
and fluttered up and down in his prison after the sugar, chirping as
if he enjoyed playing _his_ part of the game with his mistress. How
lovely she looked! Her dark hair, drawn back over each cheek so as
just to leave the lower part of the ear visible, was gathered up into
a thick simple knot behind, without ornament of any sort. She wore a
plain white dress fastening round the neck, and descending over the
bosom in numberless little wavy plaits. The cage hung just high enough
to oblige her to look up to it. She was laughing with all the glee of
a child; darting the piece of sugar about incessantly from place to
place. Every moment, her head and neck assumed some new and lovely
turn--every moment her figure naturally fell into the position which
showed its pliant symmetry best. The last-left glow of the evening
atmosphere was shining on her--the farewell pause of daylight over the
kindred daylight of beauty and youth.
I kept myself concealed behind a pillar of the garden-gate; I looked,
hardly daring either to move or breathe; for I feared that if she saw
or heard me, she would leave the window. After a lapse of some
minutes, the canary touched the sugar with his beak.
"There, Minnie!" she cried laughingly, "you have caught the runaway
sugar, and now you shall keep it!"
For a moment more, she stood quietly looking at the cage; then raising
herself on tip-toe, pouted her lips caressingly to the bird, and
disappeared in the interior of the room.
The sun went down; the twilight shadows fell over the dreary square;
the gas lamps were lighted far and near; people who had been out for a
breath of fresh air in the fields, came straggling past me by ones and
twos, on their way home--and still I lingered near the house, hoping
she might come to the window again; but she did not re-appear. At
last, a servant brought candles into the room, and drew down the
Venetian blinds. Knowing it would be useless to stay longer, I left
I walked homeward joyfully. That second sight of her completed what
the first meeting had begun. The impressions left by it made me
insensible for the time to all boding reflections, careless of
exercising the smallest self-restraint. I gave myself up to the charm
that was at work on me. Prudence, duty, memories and prejudices of
home, were all absorbed and forgotten in love--love that I encouraged,
that I dwelt over in the first reckless luxury of a new sensation.
I entered our house, thinking of nothing but how to see her, how to
speak to her, on the morrow; murmuring her name to myself; even while
my hand was on the lock of my study door. The instant I was in the
room, I involuntarily shuddered and stopped speechless. Clara was
there! I was not merely startled; a cold, faint sensation came over
me. My first look at my sister made me feel as if I had been detected
in a crime.
She was standing at my writing-table, and had just finished stringing
together the loose pages of my manuscript, which had hitherto laid
disconnectedly in a drawer. There was a grand ball somewhere, to which
she was going that night. The dress she wore was of pale blue crape
(my father's favourite colour, on her). One white flower was placed in
her light brown hair. She stood within the soft steady light of my
lamp, looking up towards the door from the leaves she had just tied
together. Her slight figure appeared slighter than usual, in the
delicate material that now clothed it. Her complexion was at its
palest: her face looked almost statue-like in its purity and repose.
What a contrast to the other living picture which I had seen at
The remembrance of the engagement that I had broken came back on me
avengingly, as she smiled, and held my manuscript up before me to look
at. With that remembrance there returned, too--darker than ever--the
ominous doubts which had depressed me but a few hours since. I tried
to steady my voice, and felt how I failed in the effort, as I spoke to
"Will you forgive me, Clara, for having deprived you of your ride
to-day? I am afraid I have but a bad excuse--"
"Then don't make it, Basil; or wait till papa can arrange it for you,
in a proper parliamentary way, when he comes back from the House of
Commons to-night. See how I have been meddling with your papers; but
they were in such confusion I was really afraid some of these leaves
might have been lost."
"Neither the leaves nor the writer deserve half the pains you have
taken with them; but I am really sorry for breaking our engagement. I
met an old college friend--there was business too, in the morning--we
dined together--he would take no denial."
"Basil, how pale you look! Are you ill?"
"No; the heat has been a little too much for me--nothing more."
"Has anything happened? I only ask, because if I can be of any use--if
you want me to stay at home--"
"Certainly not, love. I wish you all success and pleasure at the
For a moment she did not speak; but fixed her clear, kind eyes on me
more gravely and anxiously than usual. Was she searching my heart, and
discovering the new love rising, an usurper already, in the place
where the love of her had reigned before?
Love! love for a shopkeeper's daughter! That thought came again, as
she looked at me! and, strangely mingled with it, a maxim I had often
heard my father repeat to Ralph-- "Never forget that your station is
not yours, to do as you like with. It belongs to us, and belongs to
your children. You must keep it for them, as I have kept it for you."
"I thought," resumed Clara, in rather lower tones than before, "that I
would just look into your room before I went to the ball, and see that
everything was properly arranged for you, in case you had any idea of
writing tonight; I had just time to do this while my aunt, who is
going with me, was upstairs altering her toilette. But perhaps you
don't feel inclined to write?"
"I will try at least."
"Can I do anything more? Would you like my nosegay left in the
room?--the flowers smell so fresh! I can easily get another. Look at
the roses, my favourite white roses, that always remind me of my own
garden at the dear old Park!"
"Thank you, Clara; but I think the nosegay is fitter for your hand
than my table."
"Good night, Basil."
She walked to the door, then turned round, and smiled as if she were
about to speak again; but checked herself, and merely looked at me for
an instant. In that instant, however, the smile left her face, and the
grave, anxious expression came again. She went out softly. A few
minutes afterwards the roll of the carriage which took her and her
companion to the ball, died away heavily on my ear. I was left alone
in the house--alone for the night.
My manuscript lay before me, set in order by Clara's careful hand. I
slowly turned over the leaves one by one; but my eye only fell
mechanically on the writing. Yet one day since, and how much ambition,
how much hope, how many of my heart's dearest sensations and my mind's
highest thoughts dwelt in those poor paper leaves, in those little
crabbed marks of pen and ink! Now I could look on them
indifferently--almost as a stranger would have looked. The days of
calm study, of steady toil of thought, seemed departed for ever.
Stirring ideas; store of knowledge patiently heaped up; visions of
better sights than this world can show, falling freshly and sunnily
over the pages of my first book; all these were past and
gone--withered up by the hot breath of the senses--doomed by a paltry
fate, whose germ was the accident of an idle day!
I hastily put the manuscript aside. My unexpected interview with Clara
had calmed the turbulent sensations of the evening: but the fatal
influence of the dark beauty remained with me still. How could I
I sat down at the open window. It was at the back of the house, and
looked out on a strip of garden--London garden--a close-shut dungeon
for nature, where stunted trees and drooping flowers seemed visibly
pining for the free air and sunlight of the country, in their sooty
atmosphere, amid their prison of high brick walls. But the place gave
room for the air to blow in it, and distanced the tumult of the busy
streets. The moon was up, shined round tenderly by a little
border-work of pale yellow light. Elsewhere, the awful void of night
was starless; the dark lustre of space shone without a cloud.
A presentiment arose within me, that in this still and solitary hour
would occur my decisive, my final struggle with myself. I felt that my
heart's life or death was set on the hazard of the night.
This new love that was in me; this giant sensation of a day's growth,
was first love. Hitherto, I had been heart-whole. I had known nothing
of the passion, which is the absorbing passion of humanity. No woman
had ever before stood between me and my ambitions, my occupations, my
amusements. No woman had ever before inspired me with the sensations
which I now felt.
In trying to realise my position, there was this one question to
consider; was I still strong enough to resist the temptation which
accident had thrown in my way? I had this one incentive to resistance:
the conviction that, if I succumbed, as far as my family prospects
were concerned, I should be a ruined man.
I knew my father's character well: I knew how far his affections and
his sympathies might prevail over his prejudices--even over his
principles--in some peculiar cases; and this very knowledge convinced
me that the consequences of a degrading marriage contracted by his son
(degrading in regard to rank), would be terrible: fatal to one,
perhaps to both. Every other irregularity--every other offence
even--he might sooner or later forgive. _This_ irregularity, _this_
offence, never--never, though his heart broke in the struggle. I was
as sure of it, as I was of my own existence at that moment.
I loved her! All that I felt, all that I knew, was summed up in those
few words! Deteriorating as my passion was in its effect on the
exercise of my mental powers, and on my candour and sense of duty in
my intercourse with home, it was a pure feeling towards _her._ This is
truth. If I lay on my death-bed, at the present moment, and knew that,
at the Judgment Day, I should be tried by the truth or falsehood of
the lines just written, I could say with my last breath: So be it; let
But what mattered my love for her? However worthy of it she might be,
I had misplaced it, because chance--the same chance which might have
given her station and family--had placed her in a rank of life
far--too far--below mine. As the daughter of a "gentleman," my
father's welcome, my father's affection, would have been bestowed on
her, when I took her home as my wife. As the daughter of a tradesman,
my father's anger, my father's misery, my own ruin perhaps besides,
would be the fatal dower that a marriage would confer on her. What
made all this difference? A social prejudice. Yes: but a prejudice
which had been a principle--nay, more, a religion--in our house, since
my birth; and for centuries before it.
(How strange that foresight of love which precipitates the future into
the present! Here was I thinking of her as my wife, before, perhaps,
she had a suspicion of the passion with which she had inspired
me--vexing my heart, wearying my thoughts, before I had even spoken to
her, as if the perilous discovery of our marriage were already at
hand! I have thought since how unnatural I should have considered
this, if I had read it in a book.)
How could I best crush the desire to see her, to speak to her, on the
morrow? Should I leave London, leave England, fly from the temptation,
no matter where, or at what sacrifice? Or should I take refuge in my
books--the calm, changeless old friends of my earliest fireside hours?
Had I resolution enough to wear my heart out by hard, serious, slaving
study? If I left London on the morrow, could I feel secure, in my own
conscience, that I should not return the day after!
While, throughout the hours of the night, I was thus vainly striving
to hold calm counsel with myself; the base thought never occurred to
me, which might have occurred to some other men, in my position: Why
marry the girl, because I love her? Why, with my money, my station, my
opportunities, obstinately connect love and marriage as one idea; and
make a dilemma and a danger where neither need exist? Had such a
thought as this, in the faintest, the most shadowy form, crossed my
mind, I should have shrunk from it, have shrunk from my self; with
horror. Whatever fresh degradations may be yet in store for me, this
one consoling and sanctifying remembrance must still be mine. My love
for Margaret Sherwin was worthy to be offered to the purest and
perfectest woman that ever God created.
The night advanced--the noises faintly reaching me from the streets,
sank and ceased--my lamp flickered and went out--I heard the carriage
return with Clara from the ball--the first cold clouds of day rose and
hid the waning orb of the moon--the air was cooled with its morning
freshness: the earth was purified with its morning dew--and still I
sat by my open window, striving with my burning love-thoughts of
Margaret; striving to think collectedly and usefully--abandoned to a
struggle ever renewing, yet never changing; and always hour after
hour, a struggle in vain.
At last I began to think less and less distinctly--a few moments more,
and I sank into a restless, feverish slumber. Then began another, and
a more perilous ordeal for me--the ordeal of dreams. Thoughts and
sensations which had been more and more weakly restrained with each
succeeding hour of wakefulness, now rioted within me in perfect
liberation from all control.
This is what I dreamed:
I stood on a wide plain. On one side, it was bounded by thick woods,
whose dark secret depths looked unfathomable to the eye: on the other,
by hills, ever rising higher and higher yet, until they were lost in
bright, beautifully white clouds, gleaming in refulgent sunlight. On
the side above the woods, the sky was dark and vaporous. It seemed as
if some thick exhalation had arisen from beneath the trees, and
overspread the clear firmament throughout this portion of the scene.
As I still stood on the plain and looked around, I saw a woman coming
towards me from the wood. Her stature was tall; her black hair flowed
about her unconfined; her robe was of the dun hue of the vapour and
mist which hung above the trees, and fell to her feet in dark thick
folds. She came on towards me swiftly and softly, passing over the
ground like cloud-shadows over the ripe corn-field or the calm water.
I looked to the other side, towards the hills; and there was another
woman descending from their bright summits; and her robe was white,
and pure, and glistening. Her face was illumined with a light, like
the light of the harvest-moon; and her footsteps, as she descended the
hills, left a long track of brightness, that sparkled far behind her,
like the track of the stars when the winter night is clear and cold.
She came to the place where the hills and the plain were joined
together. Then she stopped, and I knew that she was watching me from
Meanwhile, the woman from the dark wood still approached; never
pausing on her path, like the woman from the fair hills. And now I
could see her face plainly. Her eyes were lustrous and fascinating, as
the eyes of a serpent--large, dark and soft, as the eyes of the wild
doe. Her lips were parted with a languid smile; and she drew back the
long hair, which lay over her cheeks, her neck, her bosom, while I was
gazing on her.
Then, I felt as if a light were shining on me from the other side. I
turned to look, and there was the woman from the hills beckoning me
away to ascend with her towards the bright clouds above. Her arm, as
she held it forth, shone fair, even against the fair hills; and from
her outstretched hand came long thin rays of trembling light, which
penetrated to where I stood, cooling and calming wherever they touched
But the woman from the woods still came nearer and nearer, until I
could feel her hot breath on my face. Her eyes looked into mine, and
fascinated them, as she held out her arms to embrace me. I touched her
hand, and in an instant the touch ran through me like fire, from head
to foot. Then, still looking intently on me with her wild bright eyes,
she clasped her supple arms round my neck, and drew me a few paces
away with her towards the wood.
I felt the rays of light that had touched me from the beckoning hand,
depart; and yet once more I looked towards the woman from the hills.
She was ascending again towards the bright clouds, and ever and anon
she stopped and turned round, wringing her hands and letting her head
droop, as if in bitter grief. The last time I saw her look towards me,
she was near the clouds. She covered her face with her robe, and knelt
down where she stood. After this I discerned no more of her. For now
the woman from the woods clasped me more closely than before, pressing
her warm lips on mine; and it was as if her long hair fell round us
both, spreading over my eyes like a veil, to hide from them the fair
hill-tops, and the woman who was walking onward to the bright clouds
I was drawn along in the arms of the dark woman, with my blood burning
and my breath failing me, until we entered the secret recesses that
lay amid the unfathomable depths of trees. There, she encircled me in
the folds of her dusky robe, and laid her cheek close to mine, and
murmured a mysterious music in my ear, amid the midnight silence and
darkness of all around us. And I had no thought of returning to the
plain again; for I had forgotten the woman from the fair hills, and
had given myself up, heart, and soul, and body, to the woman from the
Here the dream ended, and I awoke.
It was broad daylight. The sun shone brilliantly, the sky was
cloudless. I looked at my watch; it had stopped. Shortly afterwards I
heard the hall clock strike six.
My dream was vividly impressed on my memory, especially the latter
part of it. Was it a warning of coming events, foreshadowed in the
wild visions of sleep? But to what purpose could this dream, or indeed
any dream, tend? Why had it remained incomplete, failing to show me
the visionary consequences of my visionary actions? What superstition
to ask! What a waste of attention to bestow it on such a trifle as a
Still, this trifle had produced one abiding result. I knew it not
then; but I know it now. As I looked out on the reviving, re-assuring
sunlight, it was easy enough for me to dismiss as ridiculous from my
mind, or rather from my conscience, the tendency to see in the two
shadowy forms of my dream, the types of two real living beings, whose
names almost trembled into utterance on my lips; but I could not also
dismiss from my heart the love-images which that dream had set up
there for the worship of the senses. Those results of the night still
remained within me, growing and strengthening with every minute.
If I had been told beforehand how the mere sight of the morning would
reanimate and embolden me, I should have scouted the prediction as too
outrageous for consideration; yet so it was. The moody and boding
reflections, the fear and struggle of the hours of darkness were gone
with the daylight. The love-thoughts of Margaret alone remained, and
now remained unquestioned and unopposed. Were my convictions of a few
hours since, like the night-mists that fade before returning sunshine?
I knew not. But I was young; and each new morning is as much the new
life of youth, as the new life of Nature.
So I left my study and went out. Consequences might come how they
would, and when they would; I thought of them no more. It seemed as if
I had cast off every melancholy thought, in leaving my room; as if my
heart had sprung up more elastic than ever, after the burden that had
been laid on it during the night. Enjoyment for the present, hope for
the future, and chance and fortune to trust in to the very last! This
was my creed, as I walked into the street, determined to see Margaret
again, and to tell her of my love before the day was out. In the
exhilaration of the fresh air and the gay sunshine, I turned my steps
towards Hollyoake Square, almost as light-hearted as a boy let loose
from school, joyously repeating Shakespeare's lines as I went:
"Hope is a lover's staff; walk hence with that,
And manage it against despairing thoughts."
London was rousing everywhere into morning activity, as I passed
through the streets. The shutters were being removed from the windows
of public-houses: the drink-vampyres that suck the life of London,
were opening their eyes betimes to look abroad for the new day's prey!
Small tobacco and provision-shops in poor neighbourhoods; dirty little
eating-houses, exhaling greasy-smelling steam, and displaying a leaf
of yesterday's paper, stained and fly-blown, hanging in the
windows--were already plying, or making ready to ply, their daily
trade. Here, a labouring man, late for his work, hurried by; there, a
hale old gentleman started for his early walk before breakfast. Now a
market-cart, already unloaded, passed me on its way back to the
country; now, a cab, laden with luggage and carrying pale,
sleepy-looking people, rattled by, bound for the morning train or the
morning steamboat. I saw the mighty vitality of the great city
renewing itself in every direction; and I felt an unwonted interest in
the sight. It was as if all things, on all sides, were reflecting
before me the aspect of my own heart.
But the quiet and torpor of the night still hung over Hollyoake
Square. That dreary neighbourhood seemed to vindicate its dreariness
by being the last to awaken even to a semblance of activity and life.
Nothing was stirring as yet at North Villa. I walked on, beyond the
last houses, into the sooty London fields; and tried to think of the
course I ought to pursue in order to see Margaret, and speak to her,
before I turned homeward again. After the lapse of more than half an
hour, I returned to the square, without plan or project; but resolved,
nevertheless, to carry my point.
The garden-gate of North Villa was now open. One of the female
servants of the house was standing at it, to breathe the fresh air,
and look about her, before the duties of the day began. I advanced;
determined, if money and persuasion could do it, to secure her
She was young (that was one chance in my favour!)--plump, florid, and
evidently not by any means careless about her personal appearance
(that gave me another!) As she saw me approaching her, she smiled; and
passed her apron hurriedly over her face--carefully polishing it for
my inspection, much as a broker polishes a piece of furniture when you
stop to look at it.
"Are you in Mr. Sherwin's service?"--I asked, as I got to the garden
"As plain cook, Sir," answered the girl, administering to her face a
final and furious rub of the apron.
"Should you be very much surprised if I asked you to do me a great
"Well--really, Sir--you're quite a stranger to me--I'm _sure_ I don't
know!" She stopped, and transferred the apron-rubbing to her arms.
"I hope we shall not be strangers long. Suppose I begin our
acquaintance, by telling you that you would look prettier in brighter
cap-ribbons, and asking you to buy some, just to see whether I am not
"It's very kind of you to say so, Sir; and thank you. But cap and
ribbons are the last things I can buy while I'm in _this_ place.
Master's master and missus too, here; and drives us half wild with the
fuss he makes about our caps and ribbons. He's such an austerious man,
that he will have our caps as he likes 'em. It's bad enough when a
missus meddles with a poor servant's ribbons; but to have master come
down into the kitchen, and-- Well, it's no use telling _you_ of it,
Sir--and--and thank you, Sir, for what you've given me, all the same!"
"I hope this is not the last time I shall make you a present. And now
I must come to the favour I want to ask of you: can you keep a
"That I can, Sir! I've kep' a many secrets since I've been out at
"Well: I want you to find me an opportunity of speaking to your young
"To Miss Margaret, Sir?'
"Yes. I want an opportunity of seeing Miss Margaret, and speaking to
her in private--and not a word must be said to her about it,
"Oh Lord, Sir! I couldn't dare to do it!"
"Come! come! Can't you guess why I want to see your young lady, and
what I want to say to her?"
The girl smiled, and shook her head archly. "Perhaps you're in love
with Miss Margaret, Sir!--But I couldn't do it! I couldn't dare to do
"Very well; but you can tell me at least, whether Miss Margaret ever
goes out to take a walk?"
"Oh, yes, Sir; mostly every day."
"Do you ever go out with her?--just to take care of her when no one
else can be spared?"
"Don't ask me--please, Sir, don't!" She crumpled her apron between her
fingers, with a very piteous and perplexed air. "I don't know you; and
Miss Margaret don't know you, I'm sure--I couldn't, Sir, I really
"Take a good look at me! Do you think I am likely to do you or your
young lady any harm? Am I too dangerous a man to be trusted? Would you
believe me on my promise?"
"Yes, Sir, I'm sure I would!--being so kind and so civil to _me,_
too!" (a fresh arrangement of the cap followed this speech.)
"Then suppose I promised, in the first place, not to tell Miss
Margaret that I had spoken to you about her at all. And suppose I
promised, in the second place, that, if you told me when you and Miss
Margaret go out together, I would only speak to her while she was in
your sight, and would leave her the moment you wished me to go away.
Don't you think you could venture to help me, if I promised all that?"
"Well, Sir, that would make a difference, to be sure. But then, it's
master I'm so afraid of--couldn't you speak to master first, Sir?"
"Suppose you were in Miss Margaret's place, would you like to be made
love to, by your father's authority, without your own wishes being
consulted first? would you like an offer of marriage, delivered like a
message, by means of your father? Come, tell me honestly, would you?"
She laughed, and shook her head very expressively. I knew the strength
of my last argument, and repeated it: "Suppose you were in Miss
"Hush! don't speak so loud," resumed the girl in a confidential
whisper. "I'm sure you're a gentleman. I should like to help you--if I
could only dare to do it, I should indeed!"
"That's a good girl," I said. "Now tell me, when does Miss Margaret go
out to-day; and who goes with her?"
"Dear! dear!--it's very wrong to say it; but I must. She'll go out
with me to market, this morning, at eleven o'clock. She's done it for
the last week. Master don't like it; but Missus begged and prayed she
might; for Missus says she won't be fit to be married, if she knows
nothing about housekeeping, and prices, and what's good meat, and what
isn't, and all that, you know."
"Thank you a thousand times! you have given me all the help I want.
I'll be here before eleven, waiting for you to come out."
"Oh, please don't, Sir--I wish I hadn't told you--I oughtn't, indeed I
"No fear--you shall not lose by what you have told me--I promise all I
said I would promise--good bye. And mind, not a word to Miss Margaret
till I see her!"
As I hurried away, I heard the girl run a few paces after me--then
stop--then return, and close the garden gate, softly. She had
evidently put herself once more in Miss Margaret's place; and had
given up all idea of further resistance as she did so.
How should I occupy the hours until eleven o'clock? Deceit
whispered:--Go home; avoid even the chance of exciting suspicion, by
breakfasting with your family as usual. And as deceit counselled, so I
I never remember Clara more kind, more ready with all those trifling
little cares and attentions which have so exquisite a grace, when
offered by a woman to a man, and especially by a sister to a brother,
as when she and I and my father assembled together at the
breakfast-table. I now recollect with shame how little I thought about
her, or spoke to her on that morning; with how little hesitation or
self-reproach I excused myself from accepting an engagement which she
wished to make with me for that day. My father was absorbed in some
matter of business; to _him_ she could not speak. It was to me that
she addressed all her wonted questions and remarks of the morning. I
hardly listened to them; I answered them carelessly and briefly. The
moment breakfast was over, without a word of explanation I hastily
left the house again.
As I descended the steps, I glanced by accident at the dining-room
window. Clara was looking after me from it. There was the same anxious
expression on her face which it had worn when she left me the evening
before. She smiled as our eyes met--a sad, faint smile that made her
look unlike herself. But it produced no impression on me then: I had
no attention for anything but my approaching interview with Margaret.
My life throbbed and burned within me, in that direction: it was all
coldness, torpor, insensibility, in every other.
I reached Hollyoake Square nearly an hour before the appointed time.
In the suspense and impatience of that long interval, it was
impossible to be a moment in repose. I walked incessantly up and down
the square, and round and round the neighbourhood, hearing each
quarter chimed from a church clock near, and mechanically quickening
my pace the nearer the time came for the hour to strike. At last, I
heard the first peal of the eventful eleven. Before the clock was
silent, I had taken up my position within view of the gate of North
Five minutes passed--ten--and no one appeared. In my impatience, I
could almost have rung the bell and entered the house, no matter who
might be there, or what might be the result. The first quarter struck;
and at that very moment I heard the door open, and saw Margaret, and
the servant with whom I had spoken, descending the steps.
They passed out slowly through the garden gate, and walked down the
square, away from where I was standing. The servant noticed me by one
significant look, as they went on. Her young mistress did not appear
to see me. At first, my agitation was so violent that I was perfectly
incapable of following them a single step. In a few moments I
recovered myself; and hastened to overtake them, before they arrived
at a more frequented part of the neighbourhood.
As I approached her side, Margaret turned suddenly and looked at me,
with an expression of anger and astonishment in her eyes. The next
instant, her lovely face became tinged all over with a deep, burning
blush; her head drooped a little; she hesitated for a moment; and then
abruptly quickened her pace. Did she remember me? The mere chance that
she did, gave me confidence: I--
--No! I cannot write down the words that I said to her. Recollecting
the end to which our fatal interview led, I recoil at the very thought
of exposing to others, or of preserving in any permanent form, the
words in which I first confessed my love. It may be pride--miserable,
useless pride--which animates me with this feeling: but I cannot
overcome it. Remembering what I do, I am ashamed to write, ashamed to
recall, what I said at my first interview with Margaret Sherwin. I can
give no good reason for the sensations which now influence me; I
cannot analyse them; and I would not if I could.
Let it be enough to say that I risked everything, and spoke to her. My
words, confused as they were, came hotly, eagerly, and eloquently from