Part 1 out of 16
Produced by Anne Soulard, Tiffany Vergon
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
BY GEORGE ELIOT
Let thy chief terror be of thine own soul:
There, 'mid the throng of hurrying desires
That trample on the dead to seize their spoil,
Lurks vengeance, footless, irresistible
As exhalations laden with slow death,
And o'er the fairest troop of captured joys
Breathes pallid pestilence.
BOOK I. THE SPOILED CHILD
" II. MEETING STREAMS
" III. MAIDENS CHOOSING
" IV. GWENDOLEN GETS HER CHOICE
" V. MORDECAI
" VI. REVELATIONS
" VII. THE MOTHER AND THE SON
" VIII. FRUIT AND SEED
BOOK I.--THE SPOILED CHILD.
Men can do nothing without the make-believe of a beginning. Even
science, the strict measurer, is obliged to start with a make-believe
unit, and must fix on a point in the stars' unceasing journey when his
sidereal clock shall pretend that time is at Nought. His less accurate
grandmother Poetry has always been understood to start in the middle;
but on reflection it appears that her proceeding is not very different
from his; since Science, too, reckons backward as well as forward,
divides his unit into billions, and with his clock-finger at Nought
really sets off _in medias res_. No retrospect will take us to
the true beginning; and whether our prologue be in heaven or on earth,
it is but a fraction of that all-presupposing fact with which our
story sets out.
Was she beautiful or not beautiful? and what was the secret of form or
expression which gave the dynamic quality to her glance? Was the good or
the evil genius dominant in those beams? Probably the evil; else why was
the effect that of unrest rather than of undisturbed charm? Why was the
wish to look again felt as coercion and not as a longing in which the
whole being consents?
She who raised these questions in Daniel Deronda's mind was occupied in
gambling: not in the open air under a southern sky, tossing coppers on a
ruined wall, with rags about her limbs; but in one of those splendid
resorts which the enlightenment of ages has prepared for the same species
of pleasure at a heavy cost of guilt mouldings, dark-toned color and
chubby nudities, all correspondingly heavy--forming a suitable condenser
for human breath belonging, in great part, to the highest fashion, and not
easily procurable to be breathed in elsewhere in the like proportion, at
least by persons of little fashion.
It was near four o'clock on a September day, so that the atmosphere was
well-brewed to a visible haze. There was deep stillness, broken only by a
light rattle, a light chink, a small sweeping sound, and an occasional
monotone in French, such as might be expected to issue from an ingeniously
constructed automaton. Round two long tables were gathered two serried
crowds of human beings, all save one having their faces and attention bent
on the tables. The one exception was a melancholy little boy, with his
knees and calves simply in their natural clothing of epidermis, but for
the rest of his person in a fancy dress. He alone had his face turned
toward the doorway, and fixing on it the blank gaze of a bedizened child
stationed as a masquerading advertisement on the platform of an itinerant
show, stood close behind a lady deeply engaged at the roulette-table.
About this table fifty or sixty persons were assembled, many in the outer
rows, where there was occasionally a deposit of new-comers, being mere
spectators, only that one of them, usually a woman, might now and then be
observed putting down a five-franc with a simpering air, just to see what
the passion of gambling really was. Those who were taking their pleasure
at a higher strength, and were absorbed in play, showed very distant
varieties of European type: Livonian and Spanish, Graeco-Italian and
miscellaneous German, English aristocratic and English plebeian. Here
certainly was a striking admission of human equality. The white bejewelled
fingers of an English countess were very near touching a bony, yellow,
crab-like hand stretching a bared wrist to clutch a heap of coin--a hand
easy to sort with the square, gaunt face, deep-set eyes, grizzled
eyebrows, and ill-combed scanty hair which seemed a slight metamorphosis
of the vulture. And where else would her ladyship have graciously
consented to sit by that dry-lipped feminine figure prematurely old,
withered after short bloom like her artificial flowers, holding a shabby
velvet reticule before her, and occasionally putting in her mouth the
point with which she pricked her card? There too, very near the fair
countess, was a respectable London tradesman, blonde and soft-handed, his
sleek hair scrupulously parted behind and before, conscious of circulars
addressed to the nobility and gentry, whose distinguished patronage
enabled him to take his holidays fashionably, and to a certain extent in
their distinguished company. Not his gambler's passion that nullifies
appetite, but a well-fed leisure, which, in the intervals of winning money
in business and spending it showily, sees no better resource than winning
money in play and spending it yet more showily--reflecting always that
Providence had never manifested any disapprobation of his amusement, and
dispassionate enough to leave off if the sweetness of winning much and
seeing others lose had turned to the sourness of losing much and seeing
others win. For the vice of gambling lay in losing money at it. In his
bearing there might be something of the tradesman, but in his pleasures he
was fit to rank with the owners of the oldest titles. Standing close to
his chair was a handsome Italian, calm, statuesque, reaching across him to
place the first pile of napoleons from a new bagful just brought him by an
envoy with a scrolled mustache. The pile was in half a minute pushed over
to an old bewigged woman with eye-glasses pinching her nose. There was a
slight gleam, a faint mumbling smile about the lips of the old woman; but
the statuesque Italian remained impassive, and--probably secure in an
infallible system which placed his foot on the neck of chance--immediately
prepared a new pile. So did a man with the air of an emaciated beau or
worn-out libertine, who looked at life through one eye-glass, and held out
his hand tremulously when he asked for change. It could surely be no
severity of system, but rather some dream of white crows, or the induction
that the eighth of the month was lucky, which inspired the fierce yet
tottering impulsiveness of his play.
But, while every single player differed markedly from every other, there
was a certain uniform negativeness of expression which had the effect of a
mask--as if they had all eaten of some root that for the time compelled
the brains of each to the same narrow monotony of action.
Deronda's first thought when his eyes fell on this scene of dull, gas-
poisoned absorption, was that the gambling of Spanish shepherd-boys had
seemed to him more enviable:--so far Rousseau might be justified in
maintaining that art and science had done a poor service to mankind. But
suddenly he felt the moment become dramatic. His attention was arrested by
a young lady who, standing at an angle not far from him, was the last to
whom his eyes traveled. She was bending and speaking English to a middle-
aged lady seated at play beside her: but the next instant she returned to
her play, and showed the full height of a graceful figure, with a face
which might possibly be looked at without admiration, but could hardly be
passed with indifference.
The inward debate which she raised in Deronda gave to his eyes a growing
expression of scrutiny, tending farther and farther away from the glow of
mingled undefined sensibilities forming admiration. At one moment they
followed the movements of the figure, of the arms and hands, as this
problematic sylph bent forward to deposit her stake with an air of firm
choice; and the next they returned to the face which, at present
unaffected by beholders, was directed steadily toward the game. The sylph
was a winner; and as her taper fingers, delicately gloved in pale-gray,
were adjusting the coins which had been pushed toward her in order to pass
them back again to the winning point, she looked round her with a survey
too markedly cold and neutral not to have in it a little of that nature
which we call art concealing an inward exultation.
But in the course of that survey her eyes met Deronda's, and instead of
averting them as she would have desired to do, she was unpleasantly
conscious that they were arrested--how long? The darting sense that he was
measuring her and looking down on her as an inferior, that he was of
different quality from the human dross around her, that he felt himself in
a region outside and above her, and was examining her as a specimen of a
lower order, roused a tingling resentment which stretched the moment with
conflict. It did not bring the blood to her cheeks, but it sent it away
from her lips. She controlled herself by the help of an inward defiance,
and without other sign of emotion than this lip-paleness turned to her
play. But Deronda's gaze seemed to have acted as an evil eye. Her stake
was gone. No matter; she had been winning ever since she took to roulette
with a few napoleons at command, and had a considerable reserve. She had
begun to believe in her luck, others had begun to believe in it: she had
visions of being followed by a _cortege_ who would worship her as a
goddess of luck and watch her play as a directing augury. Such things had
been known of male gamblers; why should not a woman have a like supremacy?
Her friend and chaperon who had not wished her to play at first was
beginning to approve, only administering the prudent advice to stop at the
right moment and carry money back to England--advice to which Gwendolen
had replied that she cared for the excitement of play, not the winnings.
On that supposition the present moment ought to have made the flood-tide
in her eager experience of gambling. Yet, when her next stake was swept
away, she felt the orbits of her eyes getting hot, and the certainty she
had (without looking) of that man still watching her was something like a
pressure which begins to be torturing. The more reason to her why she
should not flinch, but go on playing as if she were indifferent to loss or
gain. Her friend touched her elbow and proposed that they should quit the
table. For reply Gwendolen put ten louis on the same spot: she was in that
mood of defiance in which the mind loses sight of any end beyond the
satisfaction of enraged resistance; and with the puerile stupidity of a
dominant impulse includes luck among its objects of defiance. Since she
was not winning strikingly, the next best thing was to lose strikingly.
She controlled her muscles, and showed no tremor of mouth or hands. Each
time her stake was swept off she doubled it. Many were now watching her,
but the sole observation she was conscious of was Deronda's, who, though
she never looked toward him, she was sure had not moved away. Such a drama
takes no long while to play out: development and catastrophe can often be
measured by nothing clumsier than the moment-hand. "Faites votre jeu,
mesdames et messieurs," said the automatic voice of destiny from between
the mustache and imperial of the croupier: and Gwendolen's arm was
stretched to deposit her last poor heap of napoleons. "Le jeu ne va plus,"
said destiny. And in five seconds Gwendolen turned from the table, but
turned resolutely with her face toward Deronda and looked at him. There
was a smile of irony in his eyes as their glances met; but it was at least
better that he should have disregarded her as one of an insect swarm who
had no individual physiognomy. Besides, in spite of his superciliousness
and irony, it was difficult to believe that he did not admire her spirit
as well as her person: he was young, handsome, distinguished in
appearance--not one of these ridiculous and dowdy Philistines who thought
it incumbent on them to blight the gaming-table with a sour look of
protest as they passed by it. The general conviction that we are admirable
does not easily give way before a single negative; rather when any of
Vanity's large family, male or female, find their performance received
coldly, they are apt to believe that a little more of it will win over the
unaccountable dissident. In Gwendolen's habits of mind it had been taken
for granted that she knew what was admirable and that she herself was
admired. This basis of her thinking had received a disagreeable
concussion, and reeled a little, but was not easily to be overthrown.
In the evening the same room was more stiflingly heated, was brilliant
with gas and with the costumes of ladies who floated their trains along it
or were seated on the ottomans.
The Nereid in sea-green robes and silver ornaments, with a pale sea-green
feather fastened in silver falling backward over her green hat and light
brown hair, was Gwendolen Harleth. She was under the wing, or rather
soared by the shoulder, of the lady who had sat by her at the roulette-
table; and with them was a gentleman with a white mustache and clipped
hair: solid-browed, stiff and German. They were walking about or standing
to chat with acquaintances, and Gwendolen was much observed by the seated
"A striking girl--that Miss Harleth--unlike others."
"Yes, she has got herself up as a sort of serpent now--all green and
silver, and winds her neck about a little more than usual."
"Oh, she must always be doing something extraordinary. She is that kind of
girl, I fancy. Do you think her pretty, Mr. Vandernoodt?"
"Very. A man might risk hanging for her--I mean a fool might."
"You like a _nez retrousse_", then, and long narrow eyes?"
"When they go with such an _ensemble_."
"The _ensemble du serpent_?"
"If you will. Woman was tempted by a serpent; why not man?"
"She is certainly very graceful; but she wants a tinge of color in her
cheeks. It is a sort of Lamia beauty she has."
"On the contrary, I think her complexion one of her chief charms. It is a
warm paleness; it looks thoroughly healthy. And that delicate nose with
its gradual little upward curve is distracting. And then her mouth--there
never was a prettier mouth, the lips curled backward so finely, eh,
"Think so? I cannot endure that sort of mouth. It looks so self-
complacent, as if it knew its own beauty--the curves are too immovable. I
like a mouth that trembles more."
"For my part, I think her odious," said a dowager. "It is wonderful what
unpleasant girls get into vogue. Who are these Langens? Does anybody know
"They are quite _comme il faut_. I have dined with them several times at
the _Russie_. The baroness is English. Miss Harleth calls her cousin. The
girl herself is thoroughly well-bred, and as clever as possible."
"Dear me! and the baron?".
"A very good furniture picture."
"Your baroness is always at the roulette-table," said Mackworth. "I fancy
she has taught the girl to gamble."
"Oh, the old woman plays a very sober game; drops a ten-franc piece here
and there. The girl is more headlong. But it is only a freak."
"I hear she has lost all her winnings to-day. Are they rich? Who knows?"
"Ah, who knows? Who knows that about anybody?" said Mr. Vandernoodt,
moving off to join the Langens.
The remark that Gwendolen wound her neck about more than usual this
evening was true. But it was not that she might carry out the serpent idea
more completely: it was that she watched for any chance of seeing Deronda,
so that she might inquire about this stranger, under whose measuring gaze
she was still wincing. At last her opportunity came.
"Mr. Vandernoodt, you know everybody," said Gwendolen, not too eagerly,
rather with a certain languor of utterance which she sometimes gave to her
clear soprano. "Who is that near the door?"
"There are half a dozen near the door. Do you mean that old Adonis in the
George the Fourth wig?"
"No, no; the dark-haired young man on the right with the dreadful
"Dreadful, do you call it? I think he is an uncommonly fine fellow."
"But who is he?"
"He is lately come to our hotel with Sir Hugo Mallinger."
"Sir Hugo Mallinger?"
"Yes. Do you know him?"
"No." (Gwendolen colored slightly.) "He has a place near us, but he never
comes to it. What did you say was the name of that gentleman near the
"What a delightful name! Is he an Englishman?"
"Yes. He is reported to be rather closely related to the baronet. You are
interested in him?"
"Yes. I think he is not like young men in general."
"And you don't admire young men in general?"
"Not in the least. I always know what they will say. I can't at all guess
what this Mr. Deronda would say. What _does_ he say?"
"Nothing, chiefly. I sat with his party for a good hour last night on the
terrace, and he never spoke--and was not smoking either. He looked bored."
"Another reason why I should like to know him. I am always bored."
"I should think he would be charmed to have an introduction. Shall I bring
it about? Will you allow it, baroness?"
"Why not?--since he is related to Sir Hugo Mallinger. It is a new _role_
of yours, Gwendolen, to be always bored," continued Madame von Langen,
when Mr. Vandernoodt had moved away. "Until now you have always seemed
eager about something from morning till night."
"That is just because I am bored to death. If I am to leave off play I
must break my arm or my collar-bone. I must make something happen; unless
you will go into Switzerland and take me up the Matterhorn."
"Perhaps this Mr. Deronda's acquaintance will do instead of the
But Gwendolen did not make Deronda's acquaintance on this occasion. Mr.
Vandernoodt did not succeed in bringing him up to her that evening, and
when she re-entered her own room she found a letter recalling her home.
This man contrives a secret 'twixt us two,
That he may quell me with his meeting eyes
Like one who quells a lioness at bay.
This was the letter Gwendolen found on her table:--
DEAREST CHILD.--I have been expecting to hear from you for a week. In
your last you said the Langens thought of leaving Leubronn and going
to Baden. How could you be so thoughtless as to leave me in
uncertainty about your address? I am in the greatest anxiety lest this
should not reach you. In any case, you were to come home at the end of
September, and I must now entreat you to return as quickly as
possible, for if you spent all your money it would be out of my power
to send you any more, and you must not borrow of the Langens, for I
could not repay them. This is the sad truth, my child--I wish I could
prepare you for it better--but a dreadful calamity has befallen us
all. You know nothing about business and will not understand it; but
Grapnell & Co. have failed for a million, and we are totally ruined--
your aunt Gascoigne as well as I, only that your uncle has his
benefice, so that by putting down their carriage and getting interest
for the boys, the family can go on. All the property our poor father
saved for us goes to pay the liabilities. There is nothing I can call
my own. It is better you should know this at once, though it rends my
heart to have to tell it you. Of course we cannot help thinking what a
pity it was that you went away just when you did. But I shall never
reproach you, my dear child; I would save you from all trouble if I
could. On your way home you will have time to prepare yourself for the
change you will find. We shall perhaps leave Offendene at once, for we
hope that Mr. Haynes, who wanted it before, may be ready to take it
off my hands. Of course we cannot go to the rectory--there is not a
corner there to spare. We must get some hut or other to shelter us,
and we must live on your uncle Gascoigne's charity, until I see what
else can be done. I shall not be able to pay the debts to the
tradesmen besides the servants' wages. Summon up your fortitude, my
dear child; we must resign ourselves to God's will. But it is hard to
resign one's self to Mr. Lassman's wicked recklessness, which they say
was the cause of the failure. Your poor sisters can only cry with me
and give me no help. If you were once here, there might be a break in
the cloud--I always feel it impossible that you can have been meant
for poverty. If the Langens wish to remain abroad, perhaps you can put
yourself under some one else's care for the journey. But come as soon
as you can to your afflicted and loving mamma,
The first effect of this letter on Gwendolen was half-stupefying. The
implicit confidence that her destiny must be one of luxurious ease, where
any trouble that occurred would be well clad and provided for, had been
stronger in her own mind than in her mamma's, being fed there by her
youthful blood and that sense of superior claims which made a large part
of her consciousness. It was almost as difficult for her to believe
suddenly that her position had become one of poverty and of humiliating
dependence, as it would have been to get into the strong current of her
blooming life the chill sense that her death would really come. She stood
motionless for a few minutes, then tossed off her hat and automatically
looked in the glass. The coils of her smooth light-brown hair were still
in order perfect enough for a ball-room; and as on other nights, Gwendolen
might have looked lingeringly at herself for pleasure (surely an allowable
indulgence); but now she took no conscious note of her reflected beauty,
and simply stared right before her as if she had been jarred by a hateful
sound and was waiting for any sign of its cause. By-and-by she threw
herself in the corner of the red velvet sofa, took up the letter again and
read it twice deliberately, letting it at last fall on the ground, while
she rested her clasped hands on her lap and sat perfectly still, shedding
no tears. Her impulse was to survey and resist the situation rather than
to wail over it. There was no inward exclamation of "Poor mamma!" Her
mamma had never seemed to get much enjoyment out of life, and if Gwendolen
had been at this moment disposed to feel pity she would have bestowed it
on herself--for was she not naturally and rightfully the chief object of
her mamma's anxiety too? But it was anger, it was resistance that
possessed her; it was bitter vexation that she had lost her gains at
roulette, whereas if her luck had continued through this one day she would
have had a handsome sum to carry home, or she might have gone on playing
and won enough to support them all. Even now was it not possible? She had
only four napoleons left in her purse, but she possessed some ornaments
which she could sell: a practice so common in stylish society at German
baths that there was no need to be ashamed of it; and even if she had not
received her mamma's letter, she would probably have decided to get money
for an Etruscan necklace which she happened not to have been wearing since
her arrival; nay, she might have done so with an agreeable sense that she
was living with some intensity and escaping humdrum. With ten louis at her
disposal and a return of her former luck, which seemed probable, what
could she do better than go on playing for a few days? If her friends at
home disapproved of the way in which she got the money, as they certainly
would, still the money would be there. Gwendolen's imagination dwelt on
this course and created agreeable consequences, but not with unbroken
confidence and rising certainty as it would have done if she had been
touched with the gambler's mania. She had gone to the roulette-table not
because of passion, but in search of it: her mind was still sanely capable
of picturing balanced probabilities, and while the chance of winning
allured her, the chance of losing thrust itself on her with alternate
strength and made a vision from which her pride sank sensitively. For she
was resolved not to tell the Langens that any misfortune had befallen her
family, or to make herself in any way indebted to their compassion; and if
she were to part with her jewelry to any observable extent, they would
interfere by inquiries and remonstrances. The course that held the least
risk of intolerable annoyance was to raise money on her necklace early in
the morning, tell the Langens that her mother desired her immediate return
without giving a reason, and take the train for Brussels that evening. She
had no maid with her, and the Langens might make difficulties about her
returning home, but her will was peremptory.
Instead of going to bed she made as brilliant a light as she could and
began to pack, working diligently, though all the while visited by the
scenes that might take place on the coming day--now by the tiresome
explanations and farewells, and the whirling journey toward a changed
home, now by the alternative of staying just another day and standing
again at the roulette-table. But always in this latter scene there was the
presence of that Deronda, watching her with exasperating irony, and--the
two keen experiences were inevitably revived together--beholding her again
forsaken by luck. This importunate image certainly helped to sway her
resolve on the side of immediate departure, and to urge her packing to the
point which would make a change of mind inconvenient. It had struck twelve
when she came into her room, and by the time she was assuring herself that
she had left out only what was necessary, the faint dawn was stealing
through the white blinds and dulling her candles. What was the use of
going to bed? Her cold bath was refreshment enough, and she saw that a
slight trace of fatigue about the eyes only made her look the more
interesting. Before six o'clock she was completely equipped in her gray
traveling dress even to her felt hat, for she meant to walk out as soon as
she could count on seeing other ladies on their way to the springs. And
happening to be seated sideways before the long strip of mirror between
her two windows she turned to look at herself, leaning her elbow on the
back of the chair in an attitude that might have been chosen for her
portrait. It is possible to have a strong self-love without any self-
satisfaction, rather with a self-discontent which is the more intense
because one's own little core of egoistic sensibility is a supreme care;
but Gwendolen knew nothing of such inward strife. She had a _naive_
delight in her fortunate self, which any but the harshest saintliness will
have some indulgence for in a girl who had every day seen a pleasant
reflection of that self in her friends' flattery as well as in the
looking-glass. And even in this beginning of troubles, while for lack of
anything else to do she sat gazing at her image in the growing light, her
face gathered a complacency gradual as the cheerfulness of the morning.
Her beautiful lips curled into a more and more decided smile, till at last
she took off her hat, leaned forward and kissed the cold glass which had
looked so warm. How could she believe in sorrow? If it attacked her, she
felt the force to crush it, to defy it, or run away from it, as she had
done already. Anything seemed more possible than that she could go on
bearing miseries, great or small.
Madame von Langen never went out before breakfast, so that Gwendolen could
safely end her early walk by taking her way homeward through the Obere
Strasse in which was the needed shop, sure to be open after seven. At that
hour any observers whom she minded would be either on their walks in the
region of the springs, or would be still in their bedrooms; but certainly
there was one grand hotel, the _Czarina_ from which eyes might follow her
up to Mr. Wiener's door. This was a chance to be risked: might she not be
going in to buy something which had struck her fancy? This implicit
falsehood passed through her mind as she remembered that the _Czarina_ was
Deronda's hotel; but she was then already far up the Obere Strasse, and
she walked on with her usual floating movement, every line in her figure
and drapery falling in gentle curves attractive to all eyes except those
which discerned in them too close a resemblance to the serpent, and
objected to the revival of serpent-worship. She looked neither to the
right hand nor to the left, and transacted her business in the shop with a
coolness which gave little Mr. Weiner nothing to remark except her proud
grace of manner, and the superior size and quality of the three central
turquoises in the necklace she offered him. They had belonged to a chain
once her father's: but she had never known her father; and the necklace
was in all respects the ornament she could most conveniently part with.
Who supposes that it is an impossible contradiction to be superstitious
and rationalizing at the same time? Roulette encourages a romantic
superstition as to the chances of the game, and the most prosaic
rationalism as to human sentiments which stand in the way of raising
needful money. Gwendolen's dominant regret was that after all she had only
nine louis to add to the four in her purse: these Jew dealers were so
unscrupulous in taking advantage of Christians unfortunate at play! But
she was the Langens' guest in their hired apartment, and had nothing to
pay there: thirteen louis would do more than take her home; even if she
determined on risking three, the remaining ten would more than suffice,
since she meant to travel right on, day and night. As she turned homeward,
nay, entered and seated herself in the _salon_ to await her friends and
breakfast, she still wavered as to her immediate departure, or rather she
had concluded to tell the Langens simply that she had had a letter from
her mamma desiring her return, and to leave it still undecided when she
should start. It was already the usual breakfast-time, and hearing some
one enter as she was leaning back rather tired and hungry with her eyes
shut, she rose expecting to see one or other of the Langens--the words
which might determine her lingering at least another day, ready-formed to
pass her lips. But it was the servant bringing in a small packet for Miss
Harleth, which had at that moment been left at the door. Gwendolen took it
in her hand and immediately hurried into her own room. She looked paler
and more agitated than when she had first read her mamma's letter.
Something--she never quite knew what--revealed to her before she opened
the packet that it contained the necklace she had just parted with.
Underneath the paper it was wrapped in a cambric handkerchief, and within
this was a scrap of torn-off note-paper, on which was written with a
pencil, in clear but rapid handwriting--"_A stranger who has found Miss
Harleth's necklace returns it to her with the hope that she will not again
risk the loss of it._"
Gwendolen reddened with the vexation of wounded pride. A large corner of
the handkerchief seemed to have been recklessly torn off to get rid of a
mark; but she at once believed in the first image of "the stranger" that
presented itself to her mind. It was Deronda; he must have seen her go
into the shop; he must have gone in immediately after and repurchased the
necklace. He had taken an unpardonable liberty, and had dared to place her
in a thoroughly hateful position. What could she do?--Not, assuredly, act
on her conviction that it was he who had sent her the necklace and
straightway send it back to him: that would be to face the possibility
that she had been mistaken; nay, even if the "stranger" were he and no
other, it would be something too gross for her to let him know that she
had divined this, and to meet him again with that recognition in their
minds. He knew very well that he was entangling her in helpless
humiliation: it was another way of smiling at her ironically, and taking
the air of a supercilious mentor. Gwendolen felt the bitter tears of
mortification rising and rolling down her cheeks. No one had ever before
dared to treat her with irony and contempt. One thing was clear: she must
carry out her resolution to quit this place at once; it was impossible for
her to reappear in the public _salon_, still less stand at the gaming-
table with the risk of seeing Deronda. Now came an importunate knock at
the door: breakfast was ready. Gwendolen with a passionate movement thrust
necklace, cambric, scrap of paper, and all into her _necessaire_, pressed
her handkerchief against her face, and after pausing a minute or two to
summon back her proud self-control, went to join her friends. Such signs
of tears and fatigue as were left seemed accordant enough with the account
she at once gave of her having sat up to do her packing, instead of
waiting for help from her friend's maid. There was much protestation, as
she had expected, against her traveling alone, but she persisted in
refusing any arrangements for companionship. She would be put into the
ladies' compartment and go right on. She could rest exceedingly well in
the train, and was afraid of nothing.
In this way it happened that Gwendolen never reappeared at the roulette-
table, but that Thursday evening left Leubronn for Brussels, and on
Saturday morning arrived at Offendene, the home to which she and her
family were soon to say a last good-bye.
"Let no flower of the spring pass by us; let us crown ourselves with
rosebuds before they be withered."--BOOK OF WISDOM.
Pity that Offendene was not the home of Miss Harleth's childhood, or
endeared to her by family memories! A human life, I think, should be well
rooted in some spot of a native land, where it may get the love of tender
kinship for the face of earth, for the labors men go forth to, for the
sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a
familiar unmistakable difference amid the future widening of knowledge: a
spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with
affection, and--kindly acquaintance with all neighbors, even to the dogs
and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a
sweet habit of the blood. At five years old, mortals are not prepared to
be citizens of the world, to be stimulated by abstract nouns, to soar
above preference into impartiality; and that prejudice in favor of milk
with which we blindly begin, is a type of the way body and soul must get
nourished at least for a time. The best introduction to astronomy is to
think of the nightly heavens as a little lot of stars belonging to one's
But this blessed persistence in which affection can take root had been
wanting in Gwendolen's life. It was only a year before her recall from
Leubronn that Offendene had been chosen as her mamma's home, simply for
its nearness to Pennicote Rectory, and that Mrs. Davilow, Gwendolen, and
her four half-sisters (the governess and the maid following in another
vehicle) had been driven along the avenue for the first time, on a late
October afternoon when the rooks were crawing loudly above them, and the
yellow elm-leaves were whirling.
The season suited the aspect of the old oblong red-brick house, rather too
anxiously ornamented with stone at every line, not excepting the double
row of narrow windows and the large square portico. The stone encouraged a
greenish lichen, the brick a powdery gray, so that though the building was
rigidly rectangular there was no harshness in the physiognomy which it
turned to the three avenues cut east, west and south in the hundred yards'
breadth of old plantation encircling the immediate grounds. One would have
liked the house to have been lifted on a knoll, so as to look beyond its
own little domain to the long thatched roofs of the distant villages, the
church towers, the scattered homesteads, the gradual rise of surging
woods, and the green breadths of undulating park which made the beautiful
face of the earth in that part of Wessex. But though standing thus behind,
a screen amid flat pastures, it had on one side a glimpse of the wider
world in the lofty curves of the chalk downs, grand steadfast forms played
over by the changing days.
The house was but just large enough to be called a mansion, and was
moderately rented, having no manor attached to it, and being rather
difficult to let with its sombre furniture and faded upholstery. But
inside and outside it was what no beholder could suppose to be inhabited
by retired trades-people: a certainty which was worth many conveniences to
tenants who not only had the taste that shrinks from new finery, but also
were in that border-territory of rank where annexation is a burning topic:
and to take up her abode in a house which had once sufficed for dowager
countesses gave a perceptible tinge to Mrs. Davilow's satisfaction in
having an establishment of her own. This, rather mysteriously to
Gwendolen, appeared suddenly possible on the death of her step-father,
Captain Davilow, who had for the last nine years joined his family only in
a brief and fitful manner, enough to reconcile them to his long absences;
but she cared much more for the fact than for the explanation. All her
prospects had become more agreeable in consequence. She had disliked their
former way of life, roving from one foreign watering-place or Parisian
apartment to another, always feeling new antipathies to new suites of
hired furniture, and meeting new people under conditions which made her
appear of little importance; and the variation of having passed two years
at a showy school, where, on all occasions of display, she had been put
foremost, had only deepened her sense that so exceptional a person as
herself could hardly remain in ordinary circumstances or in a social
position less than advantageous. Any fear of this latter evil was banished
now that her mamma was to have an establishment; for on the point of birth
Gwendolen was quite easy. She had no notion how her maternal grandfather
got the fortune inherited by his two daughters; but he had been a West
Indian--which seemed to exclude further question; and she knew that her
father's family was so high as to take no notice of her mamma, who
nevertheless preserved with much pride the miniature of a Lady Molly in
that connection. She would probably have known much more about her father
but for a little incident which happened when she was twelve years old.
Mrs. Davilow had brought out, as she did only at wide intervals, various
memorials of her first husband, and while showing his miniature to
Gwendolen recalled with a fervor which seemed to count on a peculiar
filial sympathy, the fact that dear papa had died when his little daughter
was in long clothes. Gwendolen, immediately thinking of the unlovable
step-father whom she had been acquainted with the greater part of her life
while her frocks were short, said--
"Why did you marry again, mamma? It would have been nicer if you had not."
Mrs. Davilow colored deeply, a slight convulsive movement passed over her
face, and straightway shutting up the memorials she said, with a violence
quite unusual in her--
"You have no feeling, child!"
Gwendolen, who was fond of her mamma, felt hurt and ashamed, and had never
since dared to ask a question about her father.
This was not the only instance in which she had brought on herself the
pain of some filial compunction. It was always arranged, when possible,
that she should have a small bed in her mamma's room; for Mrs. Davilow's
motherly tenderness clung chiefly to her eldest girl, who had been born in
her happier time. One night under an attack of pain she found that the
specific regularly placed by her bedside had been forgotten, and begged
Gwendolen to get out of bed and reach it for her. That healthy young lady,
snug and warm as a rosy infant in her little couch, objected to step out
into the cold, and lying perfectly still, grumbling a refusal. Mrs.
Davilow went without the medicine and never reproached her daughter; but
the next day Gwendolen was keenly conscious of what must be in her mamma's
mind, and tried to make amends by caresses which cost her no effort.
Having always been the pet and pride of the household, waited on by
mother, sisters, governess and maids, as if she had been a princess in
exile, she naturally found it difficult to think her own pleasure less
important than others made it, and when it was positively thwarted felt an
astonished resentment apt, in her cruder days, to vent itself in one of
those passionate acts which look like a contradiction of habitual
tendencies. Though never even as a child thoughtlessly cruel, nay
delighting to rescue drowning insects and watch their recovery, there was
a disagreeable silent remembrance of her having strangled her sister's
canary-bird in a final fit of exasperation at its shrill singing which had
again and again jarringly interrupted her own. She had taken pains to buy
a white mouse for her sister in retribution, and though inwardly excusing
herself on the ground of a peculiar sensitiveness which was a mark of her
general superiority, the thought of that infelonious murder had always
made her wince. Gwendolen's nature was not remorseless, but she liked to
make her penances easy, and now that she was twenty and more, some of her
native force had turned into a self-control by which she guarded herself
from penitential humiliation. There was more show of fire and will in her
than ever, but there was more calculation underneath it.
On this day of arrival at Offendene, which not even Mrs. Davilow had seen
before--the place having been taken for her by her brother-in-law, Mr.
Gascoigne--when all had got down from the carriage, and were standing
under the porch in front of the open door, so that they could have a
general view of the place and a glimpse of the stone hall and staircase
hung with sombre pictures, but enlivened by a bright wood fire, no one
spoke; mamma, the four sisters and the governess all looked at Gwendolen,
as if their feelings depended entirely on her decision. Of the girls, from
Alice in her sixteenth year to Isabel in her tenth, hardly anything could
be said on a first view, but that they were girlish, and that their black
dresses were getting shabby. Miss Merry was elderly and altogether neutral
in expression. Mrs. Davilow's worn beauty seemed the more pathetic for the
look of entire appeal which she cast at Gwendolen, who was glancing round
at the house, the landscape and the entrance hall with an air of rapid
judgment. Imagine a young race-horse in the paddock among untrimmed ponies
and patient hacks.
"Well, dear, what do you think of the place," said Mrs. Davilow at last,
in a gentle, deprecatory tone.
"I think it is charming," said Gwendolen, quickly. "A romantic place;
anything delightful may happen in it; it would be a good background for
anything. No one need be ashamed of living here."
"There is certainly nothing common about it."
"Oh, it would do for fallen royalty or any sort of grand poverty. We ought
properly to have been living in splendor, and have come down to this. It
would have been as romantic as could be. But I thought my uncle and aunt
Gascoigne would be here to meet us, and my cousin Anna," added Gwendolen,
her tone changed to sharp surprise.
"We are early," said Mrs. Davilow, and entering the hall, she said to the
housekeeper who came forward, "You expect Mr. and Mrs. Gascoigne?"
"Yes, madam; they were here yesterday to give particular orders about the
fires and the dinner. But as to fires, I've had 'em in all the rooms for
the last week, and everything is well aired. I could wish some of the
furniture paid better for all the cleaning it's had, but I _think_ you'll
see the brasses have been done justice to. I _think_ when Mr. and Mrs.
Gascoigne come, they'll tell you nothing has been neglected. They'll be
here at five, for certain."
This satisfied Gwendolen, who was not prepared to have their arrival
treated with indifference; and after tripping a little way up the matted
stone staircase to take a survey there, she tripped down again, and
followed by all the girls looked into each of the rooms opening from the
hall--the dining-room all dark oak and worn red satin damask, with a copy
of snarling, worrying dogs from Snyders over the side-board, and a Christ
breaking bread over the mantel-piece; the library with a general aspect
and smell of old brown-leather; and lastly, the drawing-room, which was
entered through a small antechamber crowded with venerable knick-knacks.
"Mamma, mamma, pray come here!" said Gwendolen, Mrs. Davilow having
followed slowly in talk with the housekeeper. "Here is an organ. I will be
Saint Cecilia: some one shall paint me as Saint Cecilia. Jocosa (this was
her name for Miss Merry), let down my hair. See, mamma?"
She had thrown off her hat and gloves, and seated herself before the organ
in an admirable pose, looking upward; while the submissive and sad Jocosa
took out the one comb which fastened the coil of hair, and then shook out
the mass till it fell in a smooth light-brown stream far below its owner's
Mrs. Davilow smiled and said, "A charming picture, my dear!" not
indifferent to the display of her pet, even in the presence of a
housekeeper. Gwendolen rose and laughed with delight. All this seemed
quite to the purpose on entering a new house which was so excellent a
"What a queer, quaint, picturesque room!" she went on, looking about her.
"I like these old embroidered chairs, and the garlands on the wainscot,
and the pictures that may be anything. That one with the ribs--nothing but
ribs and darkness--I should think that is Spanish, mamma."
"Oh, Gwendolen!" said the small Isabel, in a tone of astonishment, while
she held open a hinged panel of the wainscot at the other end of the room.
Every one, Gwendolen first, went to look. The opened panel had disclosed
the picture of an upturned dead face, from which an obscure figure seemed
to be fleeing with outstretched arms. "How horrible!" said Mrs. Davilow,
with a look of mere disgust; but Gwendolen shuddered silently, and Isabel,
a plain and altogether inconvenient child with an alarming memory, said--
"You will never stay in this room by yourself, Gwendolen."
"How dare you open things which were meant to be shut up, you perverse
little creature?" said Gwendolen, in her angriest tone. Then snatching the
panel out of the hand of the culprit, she closed it hastily, saying,
"There is a lock--where is the key? Let the key be found, or else let one
be made, and let nobody open it again; or rather, let the key be brought
At this command to everybody in general Gwendolen turned with a face which
was flushed in reaction from her chill shudder, and said, "Let us go up to
our own room, mamma."
The housekeeper on searching found the key in the drawer of the cabinet
close by the panel, and presently handed it to Bugle, the lady's-maid,
telling her significantly to give it to her Royal Highness.
"I don't know what you mean, Mrs. Startin," said Bugle, who had been busy
up-stairs during the scene in the drawing-room, and was rather offended at
this irony in a new servant.
"I mean the young lady that's to command us all-and well worthy for looks
and figure," replied Mrs. Startin in propitiation. "She'll know what key
"If you have laid out what we want, go and see to the others, Bugle,"
Gwendolen had said, when she and Mrs. Davilow entered their black and
yellow bedroom, where a pretty little white couch was prepared by the side
of the black and yellow catafalque known as the best bed. "I will help
But her first movement was to go to the tall mirror between the windows,
which reflected herself and the room completely, while her mamma sat down
and also looked at the reflection.
"That is a becoming glass, Gwendolen; or is it the black and gold color
that sets you off?" said Mrs. Davilow, as Gwendolen stood obliquely with
her three-quarter face turned toward the mirror, and her left hand
brushing back the stream of hair.
"I should make a tolerable St. Cecilia with some white roses on my head,"
said Gwendolen,--"only how about my nose, mamma? I think saint's noses
never in the least turn up. I wish you had given me your perfectly
straight nose; it would have done for any sort of character--a nose of all
work. Mine is only a happy nose; it would not do so well for tragedy."
"Oh, my dear, any nose will do to be miserable with in this world," said
Mrs. Davilow, with a deep, weary sigh, throwing her black bonnet on the
table, and resting her elbow near it.
"Now, mamma," said Gwendolen, in a strongly remonstrant tone, turning away
from the glass with an air of vexation, "don't begin to be dull here. It
spoils all my pleasure, and everything may be so happy now. What have you
to be gloomy about _now_?"
"Nothing, dear," said Mrs. Davilow, seeming to rouse herself, and
beginning to take off her dress. "It is always enough for me to see you
"But you should be happy yourself," said Gwendolen, still discontentedly,
though going to help her mamma with caressing touches. "Can nobody be
happy after they are quite young? You have made me feel sometimes as if
nothing were of any use. With the girls so troublesome, and Jocosa so
dreadfully wooden and ugly, and everything make-shift about us, and you
looking so dull--what was the use of my being anything? But now you
_might_ be happy."
"So I shall, dear," said Mrs. Davilow, patting the cheek that was bending
"Yes, but really. Not with a sort of make-believe," said Gwendolen, with
resolute perseverance. "See what a hand and arm!--much more beautiful than
mine. Any one can see you were altogether more beautiful."
"No, no, dear; I was always heavier. Never half so charming as you are."
"Well, but what is the use of my being charming, if it is to end in my
being dull and not minding anything? Is that what marriage always comes
"No, child, certainly not. Marriage is the only happy state for a woman,
as I trust you will prove."
"I will not put up with it if it is not a happy state. I am determined to
be happy--at least not to go on muddling away my life as other people do,
being and doing nothing remarkable. I have made up my mind not to let
other people interfere with me as they have done. Here is some warm water
ready for you, mamma," Gwendolen ended, proceeding to take off her own
dress and then waiting to have her hair wound up by her mamma.
There was silence for a minute or two, till Mrs. Davilow said, while
coiling the daughter's hair, "I am sure I have never crossed you,
"You often want me to do what I don't like."
"You mean, to give Alice lessons?"
"Yes. And I have done it because you asked me. But I don't see why I
should, else. It bores me to death, she is so slow. She has no ear for
music, or language, or anything else. It would be much better for her to
be ignorant, mamma: it is her _role_, she would do it well."
"That is a hard thing to say of your poor sister, Gwendolen, who is so
good to you, and waits on you hand and foot."
"I don't see why it is hard to call things by their right names, and put
them in their proper places. The hardship is for me to have to waste my
time on her. Now let me fasten up your hair, mamma."
"We must make haste; your uncle and aunt will be here soon. For heaven's
sake, don't be scornful to _them_, my dear child! or to your cousin Anna,
whom you will always be going out with. Do promise me, Gwendolen. You
know, you can't expect Anna to be equal to you."
"I don't want her to be equal," said Gwendolen, with a toss of her head
and a smile, and the discussion ended there.
When Mr. and Mrs. Gascoigne and their daughter came, Gwendolen, far from
being scornful, behaved as prettily as possible to them. She was
introducing herself anew to relatives who had not seen her since the
comparatively unfinished age of sixteen, and she was anxious--no, not
anxious, but resolved that they should admire her.
Mrs. Gascoigne bore a family likeness to her sister. But she was darker
and slighter, her face was unworn by grief, her movements were less
languid, her expression more alert and critical as that of a rector's wife
bound to exert a beneficent authority. Their closest resemblance lay in a
non-resistant disposition, inclined to imitation and obedience; but this,
owing to the difference in their circumstances, had led them to very
different issues. The younger sister had been indiscreet, or at least
unfortunate in her marriages; the elder believed herself the most enviable
of wives, and her pliancy had ended in her sometimes taking shapes of
surprising definiteness. Many of her opinions, such as those on church
government and the character of Archbishop Laud, seemed too decided under
every alteration to have been arrived at otherwise than by a wifely
receptiveness. And there was much to encourage trust in her husband's
authority. He had some agreeable virtues, some striking advantages, and
the failings that were imputed to him all leaned toward the side of
One of his advantages was a fine person, which perhaps was even more
impressive at fifty-seven than it had been earlier in life. There were no
distinctively clerical lines in the face, no tricks of starchiness or of
affected ease: in his Inverness cape he could not have been identified
except as a gentleman with handsome dark features, a nose which began with
an intention to be aquiline but suddenly became straight, and iron-gray,
hair. Perhaps he owed this freedom from the sort of professional make-up
which penetrates skin, tones and gestures and defies all drapery, to the
fact that he had once been Captain Gaskin, having taken orders and a
diphthong but shortly before his engagement to Miss Armyn. If any one had
objected that his preparation for the clerical function was inadequate,
his friends might have asked who made a better figure in it, who preached
better or had more authority in his parish? He had a native gift for
administration, being tolerant both of opinions and conduct, because be
felt himself able to overrule them, and was free from the irritations of
conscious feebleness. He smiled pleasantly at the foible of a taste which
he did not share--at floriculture or antiquarianism for example, which
were much in vogue among his fellow-clergyman in the diocese: for himself,
he preferred following the history of a campaign, or divining from his
knowledge of Nesselrode's motives what would have been his conduct if our
cabinet had taken a different course. Mr. Gascoigne's tone of thinking
after some long-quieted fluctuations had become ecclesiastical rather than
theological; not the modern Anglican, but what he would have called sound
English, free from nonsense; such as became a man who looked at a national
religion by daylight, and saw it in its relation to other things. No
clerical magistrate had greater weight at sessions, or less of mischievous
impracticableness in relation to worldly affairs. Indeed, the worst
imputation thrown out against him was worldliness: it could not be proved
that he forsook the less fortunate, but it was not to be denied that the
friendships he cultivated were of a kind likely to be useful to the father
of six sons and two daughters; and bitter observers--for in Wessex, say
ten years ago, there were persons whose bitterness may now seem
incredible--remarked that the color of his opinions had changed in
consistency with this principle of action. But cheerful, successful
worldliness has a false air of being more selfish than the acrid,
unsuccessful kind, whose secret history is summed up in the terrible
words, "Sold, but not paid for."
Gwendolen wondered that she had not better remembered how very fine a man
her uncle was; but at the age of sixteen she was a less capable and more
indifferent judge. At present it was a matter of extreme interest to her
that she was to have the near countenance of a dignified male relative,
and that the family life would cease to be entirely, insipidly feminine.
She did not intend that her uncle should control her, but she saw at once
that it would be altogether agreeable to her that he should be proud of
introducing her as his niece. And there was every sign of his being likely
to feel that pride. He certainly looked at her with admiration as he
"You have outgrown Anna, my dear," putting his arm tenderly round his
daughter, whose shy face was a tiny copy of his own, and drawing her
forward. "She is not so old as you by a year, but her growing days are
certainly over. I hope you will be excellent companions."
He did give a comparing glance at his daughter, but if he saw her
inferiority, he might also see that Anna's timid appearance and miniature
figure must appeal to a different taste from that which was attracted by
Gwendolen, and that the girls could hardly be rivals. Gwendolen at least,
was aware of this, and kissed her cousin with real cordiality as well as
grace, saying, "A companion is just what I want. I am so glad we are come
to live here. And mamma will be much happier now she is near you, aunt."
The aunt trusted indeed that it would be so, and felt it a blessing that a
suitable home had been vacant in their uncle's parish. Then, of course,
notice had to be taken of the four other girls, whom Gwendolen had always
felt to be superfluous: all of a girlish average that made four units
utterly unimportant, and yet from her earliest days an obtrusive
influential fact in her life. She was conscious of having been much kinder
to them than could have been expected. And it was evident to her that her
uncle and aunt also felt it a pity there were so many girls:--what
rational person could feel otherwise, except poor mamma, who never would
see how Alice set up her shoulders and lifted her eyebrows till she had no
forehead left, how Bertha and Fanny whispered and tittered together about
everything, or how Isabel was always listening and staring and forgetting
where she was, and treading on the toes of her suffering elders?
"You have brothers, Anna," said Gwendolen, while the sisters were being
noticed. "I think you are enviable there."
"Yes," said Anna, simply. "I am very fond of them; but of course their
education is a great anxiety to papa. He used to say they made me a
tomboy. I really was a great romp with Rex. I think you will like Rex. He
will come home before Christmas."
"I remember I used to think you rather wild and shy; but it is difficult
now to imagine you a romp," said Gwendolen, smiling.
"Of course, I am altered now; I am come out, and all that. But in reality
I like to go blackberrying with Edwy and Lotta as well as ever. I am not
very fond of going out; but I dare say I shall like it better now you will
be often with me. I am not at all clever, and I never know what to say. It
seems so useless to say what everybody knows, and I can think of nothing
else, except what papa says."
"I shall like going out with you very much," said Gwendolen, well disposed
toward this _naive_ cousin. "Are you fond of riding?"
"Yes, but we have only one Shetland pony amongst us. Papa says he can't
afford more, besides the carriage-horses and his own nag; he has so many
"I intend to have a horse and ride a great deal now," said Gwendolen, in a
tone of decision. "Is the society pleasant in this neighborhood?"
"Papa says it is, very. There are the clergymen all about, you know; and
the Quallons, and the Arrowpoints, and Lord Brackenshaw, and Sir Hugo
Mallinger's place, where there is nobody--that's very nice, because we
make picnics there--and two or three families at Wanchester: oh, and old
Mrs. Vulcany, at Nuttingwood, and--"
But Anna was relieved of this tax on her descriptive powers by the
announcement of dinner, and Gwendolen's question was soon indirectly
answered by her uncle, who dwelt much on the advantages he had secured for
them in getting a place like Offendene. Except the rent, it involved no
more expense than an ordinary house at Wanchester would have done.
"And it is always worth while to make a little sacrifice for a good style
of house," said Mr. Gascoigne, in his easy, pleasantly confident tone,
which made the world in general seem a very manageable place of residence:
"especially where there is only a lady at the head. All the best people
will call upon you; and you need give no expensive dinners. Of course, I
have to spend a good deal in that way; it is a large item. But then I get
my house for nothing. If I had to pay three hundred a year for my house I
could not keep a table. My boys are too great a drain on me. You are
better off than we are, in proportion; there is no great drain on you now,
after your house and carriage."
"I assure you, Fanny, now that the children are growing up, I am obliged
to cut and contrive," said Mrs. Gascoigne. "I am not a good manager by
nature, but Henry has taught me. He is wonderful for making the best of
everything; he allows himself no extras, and gets his curates for nothing.
It is rather hard that he has not been made a prebendary or something, as
others have been, considering the friends he has made and the need there
is for men of moderate opinions in all respects. If the Church is to keep
its position, ability and character ought to tell."
"Oh, my dear Nancy, you forget the old story--thank Heaven, there are
three hundred as good as I. And ultimately, we shall have no reason to
complain, I am pretty sure. There could hardly be a more thorough friend
than Lord Brackenshaw--your landlord, you know, Fanny. Lady Brackenshaw
will call upon you. And I have spoken for Gwendolen to be a member of our
Archery Club--the Brackenshaw Archery Club--the most select thing
anywhere. That is, if she has no objection," added Mr. Gascoigne, looking
at Gwendolen with pleasant irony.
"I should like it of all things," said Gwendolen. "There is nothing I
enjoy more than taking aim--and hitting," she ended, with a pretty nod and
"Our Anna, poor child, is too short-sighed for archery. But I consider
myself a first-rate shot, and you shall practice with me. I must make you
an accomplished archer before our great meeting in July. In fact, as to
neighborhood, you could hardly be better placed. There are the
Arrowpoints--they are some of our best people. Miss Arrowpoint is a
delightful girl--she has been presented at Court. They have a magnificent
place--Quetcham Hall--worth seeing in point of art; and their parties, to
which you are sure to be invited, are the best things of the sort we have.
The archdeacon is intimate there, and they have always a good kind of
people staying in the house. Mrs. Arrowpoint is peculiar, certainly;
something of a caricature, in fact; but well-meaning. And Miss Arrowpoint
is as nice as possible. It is not all young ladies who have mothers as
handsome and graceful as yours and Anna's."
Mrs. Davilow smiled faintly at this little compliment, but the husband and
wife looked affectionately at each other, and Gwendolen thought, "My uncle
and aunt, at least, are happy: they are not dull and dismal." Altogether,
she felt satisfied with her prospects at Offendene, as a great improvement
on anything she had known. Even the cheap curates, she incidentally
learned, were almost always young men of family, and Mr. Middleton, the
actual curate, was said to be quite an acquisition: it was only a pity he
was so soon to leave.
But there was one point which she was so anxious to gain that she could
not allow the evening to pass without taking her measures toward securing
it. Her mamma, she knew, intended to submit entirely to her uncle's
judgment with regard to expenditure; and the submission was not merely
prudential, for Mrs. Davilow, conscious that she had always been seen
under a cloud as poor dear Fanny, who had made a sad blunder with her
second marriage, felt a hearty satisfaction in being frankly and cordially
identified with her sister's family, and in having her affairs canvassed
and managed with an authority which presupposed a genuine interest. Thus
the question of a suitable saddle-horse, which had been sufficiently
discussed with mamma, had to be referred to Mr. Gascoigne; and after
Gwendolen had played on the piano, which had been provided from
Wanchester, had sung to her hearers' admiration, and had induced her uncle
to join her in a duet--what more softening influence than this on any
uncle who would have sung finely if his time had not been too much taken
up by graver matters?--she seized the opportune moment for saying, "Mamma,
you have not spoken to my uncle about my riding."
"Gwendolen desires above all things to have a horse to ride--a pretty,
light, lady's horse," said Mrs. Davilow, looking at Mr. Gascoigne. "Do you
think we can manage it?"
Mr. Gascoigne projected his lower lip and lifted his handsome eyebrows
sarcastically at Gwendolen, who had seated herself with much grace on the
elbow of her mamma's chair.
"We could lend her the pony sometimes," said Mrs. Gascoigne, watching her
husband's face, and feeling quite ready to disapprove if he did.
"That might be inconveniencing others, aunt, and would be no pleasure to
me. I cannot endure ponies," said Gwendolen. "I would rather give up some
other indulgence and have a horse." (Was there ever a young lady or
gentleman not ready to give up an unspecified indulgence for the sake of
the favorite one specified?)
"She rides so well. She has had lessons, and the riding-master said she
had so good a seat and hand she might be trusted with any mount," said
Davilow, who, even if she had not wished her darling to have the horse,
would not have dared to be lukewarm in trying to get it for her.
"There is the price of the horse--a good sixty with the best chance, and
then his keep," said Mr. Gascoigne, in a tone which, though demurring,
betrayed the inward presence of something that favored the demand. "There
are the carriage-horses--already a heavy item. And remember what you
ladies cost in toilet now."
"I really wear nothing but two black dresses," said Mrs. Davilow, hastily.
"And the younger girls, of course, require no toilet at present. Besides,
Gwendolen will save me so much by giving her sisters lessons." Here Mrs.
Davilow's delicate cheek showed a rapid blush. "If it were not for that, I
must really have a more expensive governess, and masters besides."
Gwendolen felt some anger with her mamma, but carefully concealed it.
"That is good--that is decidedly good," said Mr. Gascoigne, heartily,
looking at his wife. And Gwendolen, who, it must be owned, was a deep
young lady, suddenly moved away to the other end of the long drawing-room,
and busied herself with arranging pieces of music.
"The dear child has had no indulgences, no pleasures," said Mrs. Davilow,
in a pleading undertone. "I feel the expense is rather imprudent in this
first year of our settling. But she really needs the exercise--she needs
cheering. And if you were to see her on horseback, it is something
"It is what we could not afford for Anna," said Mrs. Gascoigne. "But she,
dear child, would ride Lotta's donkey and think it good enough." (Anna was
absorbed in a game with Isabel, who had hunted out an old back-gammon-
board, and had begged to sit up an extra hour.)
"Certainly, a fine woman never looks better than on horseback," said Mr.
Gascoigne. "And Gwendolen has the figure for it. I don't say the thing
should not be considered."
"We might try it for a time, at all events. It can be given up, if
necessary," said Mrs. Davilow.
"Well, I will consult Lord Brackenshaw's head groom. He is my _fidus
Achates_ in the horsey way."
"Thanks," said Mrs. Davilow, much relieved. "You are very kind."
"That he always is," said Mrs. Gascoigne. And later that night, when she
and her husband were in private, she said--
"I thought you were almost too indulgent about the horse for Gwendolen.
She ought not to claim so much more than your own daughter would think of.
Especially before we see how Fanny manages on her income. And you really
have enough to do without taking all this trouble on yourself."
"My dear Nancy, one must look at things from every point of view. This
girl is really worth some expense: you don't often see her equal. She
ought to make a first-rate marriage, and I should not be doing my duty if
I spared my trouble in helping her forward. You know yourself she has been
under a disadvantage with such a father-in-law, and a second family,
keeping her always in the shade. I feel for the girl, And I should like
your sister and her family now to have the benefit of your having married
rather a better specimen of our kind than she did."
"Rather better! I should think so. However, it is for me to be grateful
that you will take so much on your shoulders for the sake of my sister and
her children. I am sure I would not grudge anything to poor Fanny. But
there is one thing I have been thinking of, though you have never
"What is that?"
"The boys. I hope they will not be falling in love with Gwendolen."
"Don't presuppose anything of the kind, my dear, and there will be no
danger. Rex will never be at home for long together, and Warham is going
to India. It is the wiser plan to take it for granted that cousins will
not fall in love. If you begin with precautions, the affair will come in
spite of them. One must not undertake to act for Providence in these
matters, which can no more be held under the hand than a brood of
chickens. The boys will have nothing, and Gwendolen will have nothing.
They can't marry. At the worst there would only be a little crying, and
you can't save boys and girls from that."
Mrs. Gascoigne's mind was satisfied: if anything did happen, there was the
comfort of feeling that her husband would know what was to be done, and
would have the energy to do it.
"_Gorgibus._-- * * * Je te dis que le mariage est une chose sainte
et sacree: et que c'est faire en honnetes gens, que de debuter par la.
"_Madelon._--Mon Dieu! que si tout le monde vous ressemblait, un
roman serait bientot fini! La belle chose que ce serait, si d'abord
Cyrus epousait Mandane, et qu'Aronce de plain-pied fut marie a Clelie!
* * * Laissez-nous faire a loisir le tissu de notre roman, et n'en
pressez pas tant la conclusion."
MOLIERE. _Les Precieuses Ridicules._
It would be a little hard to blame the rector of Pennicote that in the
course of looking at things from every point of view, he looked at
Gwendolen as a girl likely to make a brilliant marriage. Why should he be
expected to differ from his contemporaries in this matter, and wish his
niece a worse end of her charming maidenhood than they would approve as
the best possible? It is rather to be set down to his credit that his
feelings on the subject were entirely good-natured. And in considering the
relation of means to ends, it would have been mere folly to have been
guided by the exceptional and idylic--to have recommended that Gwendolen
should wear a gown as shabby as Griselda's in order that a marquis might
fall in love with her, or to have insisted that since a fair maiden was to
be sought, she should keep herself out of the way. Mr. Gascoigne's
calculations were of the kind called rational, and he did not even think
of getting a too frisky horse in order that Gwendolen might be threatened
with an accident and be rescued by a man of property. He wished his niece
well, and he meant her to be seen to advantage in the best society of the
Her uncle's intention fell in perfectly with Gwendolen's own wishes. But
let no one suppose that she also contemplated a brilliant marriage as the
direct end of her witching the world with her grace on horseback, or with
any other accomplishment. That she was to be married some time or other
she would have felt obliged to admit; and that her marriage would not be
of a middling kind, such as most girls were contented with, she felt
quietly, unargumentatively sure. But her thoughts never dwelt on marriage
as the fulfillment of her ambition; the dramas in which she imagined
herself a heroine were not wrought up to that close. To be very much sued
or hopelessly sighed for as a bride was indeed an indispensable and
agreeable guarantee of womanly power; but to become a wife and wear all
the domestic fetters of that condition, was on the whole a vexatious
necessity. Her observation of matrimony had inclined her to think it
rather a dreary state in which a woman could not do what she liked, had
more children than were desirable, was consequently dull, and became
irrevocably immersed in humdrum. Of course marriage was social promotion;
she could not look forward to a single life; but promotions have sometimes
to be taken with bitter herbs--a peerage will not quite do instead of
leadership to the man who meant to lead; and this delicate-limbed sylph of
twenty meant to lead. For such passions dwell in feminine breasts also. In
Gwendolen's, however, they dwelt among strictly feminine furniture, and
had no disturbing reference to the advancement of learning or the balance
of the constitution; her knowledge being such as with no sort of standing-
room or length of lever could have been expected to move the world. She
meant to do what was pleasant to herself in a striking manner; or rather,
whatever she could do so as to strike others with admiration and get in
that reflected way a more ardent sense of living, seemed pleasant to her
"Gwendolen will not rest without having the world at her feet," said Miss
Merry, the meek governess: hyperbolical words which have long come to
carry the most moderate meanings; for who has not heard of private persons
having the world at their feet in the shape of some half-dozen items of
flattering regard generally known in a genteel suburb? And words could
hardly be too wide or vague to indicate the prospect that made a hazy
largeness about poor Gwendolen on the heights of her young self-
exultation. Other people allowed themselves to be made slaves of, and to
have their lives blown hither and thither like empty ships in which no
will was present. It was not to be so with her; she would no longer be
sacrificed to creatures worth less than herself, but would make the very
best of the chances that life offered her, and conquer circumstances by
her exceptional cleverness. Certainly, to be settled at Offendene, with
the notice of Lady Brackenshaw, the archery club, and invitations to dine
with the Arrowpoints, as the highest lights in her scenery, was not a
position that seemed to offer remarkable chances; but Gwendolen's
confidence lay chiefly in herself. She felt well equipped for the mastery
of life. With regard to much in her lot hitherto, she held herself rather
hardly dealt with, but as to her "education," she would have admitted that
it had left her under no disadvantages. In the school-room her quick mind
had taken readily that strong starch of unexplained rules and disconnected
facts which saves ignorance from any painful sense of limpness; and what
remained of all things knowable, she was conscious of being sufficiently
acquainted with through novels, plays and poems. About her French and
music, the two justifying accomplishments of a young lady, she felt no
ground for uneasiness; and when to all these qualifications, negative and
positive, we add the spontaneous sense of capability some happy persons
are born with, so that any subject they turn their attention to impresses
them with their own power of forming a correct judgment on it, who can
wonder if Gwendolen felt ready to manage her own destiny?
There were many subjects in the world--perhaps the majority--in which she
felt no interest, because they were stupid; for subjects are apt to appear
stupid to the young as light seems dull to the old; but she would not have
felt at all helpless in relation to them if they had turned up in
conversation. It must be remembered that no one had disputed her power or
her general superiority. As on the arrival at Offendene, so always, the
first thought of those about her had been, what will Gwendolen think?--if
the footman trod heavily in creaking boots, or if the laundress's work was
unsatisfactory, the maid said, "This will never do for Miss Harleth"; if
the wood smoked in the bedroom fireplace, Mrs. Davilow, whose own weak
eyes suffered much from this inconvenience, spoke apologetically of it to
Gwendolen. If, when they were under the stress of traveling, she did not
appear at the breakfast table till every one else had finished, the only
question was, how Gwendolen's coffee and toast should still be of the
hottest and crispest; and when she appeared with her freshly-brushed
light-brown hair streaming backward and awaiting her mamma's hand to coil
it up, her large brown eyes glancing bright as a wave-washed onyx from
under their long lashes, it was always she herself who had to be tolerant
--to beg that Alice who sat waiting on her would not stick up her
shoulders in that frightful manner, and that Isabel, instead of pushing up
to her and asking questions, would go away to Miss Merry.
Always she was the princess in exile, who in time of famine was to have
her breakfast-roll made of the finest-bolted flour from the seven thin
ears of wheat, and in a general decampment was to have her silver folk
kept out of the baggage. How was this to be accounted for? The answer may
seem to lie quite on the surface:--in her beauty, a certain unusualness
about her, a decision of will which made itself felt in her graceful
movements and clear unhesitating tones, so that if she came into the room
on a rainy day when everybody else was flaccid and the use of things in
general was not apparent to them, there seemed to be a sudden, sufficient
reason for keeping up the forms of life; and even the waiters at hotels
showed the more alacrity in doing away with crumbs and creases and dregs
with struggling flies in them. This potent charm, added to the fact that
she was the eldest daughter, toward whom her mamma had always been in an
apologetic state of mind for the evils brought on her by a step-father,
may seem so full a reason for Gwendolen's domestic empire, that to look
for any other would be to ask the reason of daylight when the sun is
shining. But beware of arriving at conclusions without comparison. I
remember having seen the same assiduous, apologetic attention awarded to
persons who were not at all beautiful or unusual, whose firmness showed
itself in no very graceful or euphonious way, and who were not eldest
daughters with a tender, timid mother, compunctious at having subjected
them to inconveniences. Some of them were a very common sort of men. And
the only point of resemblance among them all was a strong determination to
have what was pleasant, with a total fearlessness in making themselves
disagreeable or dangerous when they did not get it. Who is so much cajoled
and served with trembling by the weak females of a household as the
unscrupulous male--capable, if he has not free way at home, of going and
doing worse elsewhere? Hence I am forced to doubt whether even without her
potent charm and peculiar filial position Gwendolen might not still have
played the queen in exile, if only she had kept her inborn energy of
egoistic desire, and her power of inspiring fear as to what she might say
or do. However, she had the charm, and those who feared her were also fond
of her; the fear and the fondness being perhaps both heightened by what
may be called the iridescence of her character--the play of various, nay,
contrary tendencies. For Macbeth's rhetoric about the impossibility of
being many opposite things in the same moment, referred to the clumsy
necessities of action and not to the subtler possibilities of feeling. We
cannot speak a loyal word and be meanly silent; we cannot kill and not
kill in the same moment; but a moment is wide enough for the loyal and
mean desire, for the outlash of a murderous thought and the sharp backward
stroke of repentance.
Values itself so highly, that to her
All matter else seems weak."
--_Much Ado About Nothing._
Gwendolen's reception in the neighborhood fulfilled her uncle's
expectations. From Brackenshaw Castle to the Firs at Winchester, where Mr.
Quallon the banker kept a generous house, she was welcomed with manifest
admiration, and even those ladies who did not quite like her, felt a
comfort in having a new, striking girl to invite; for hostesses who
entertain much must make up their parties as ministers make up their
cabinets, on grounds other than personal liking. Then, in order to have
Gwendolen as a guest, it was not necessary to ask any one who was
disagreeable, for Mrs. Davilow always made a quiet, picturesque figure as
a chaperon, and Mr. Gascoigne was everywhere in request for his own sake.
Among the houses where Gwendolen was not quite liked, and yet invited, was
Quetcham Hall. One of her first invitations was to a large dinner-party
there, which made a sort of general introduction for her to the society of
the neighborhood; for in a select party of thirty and of well-composed
proportions as to age, few visitable families could be entirely left out.
No youthful figure there was comparable to Gwendolen's as she passed
through the long suite of rooms adorned with light and flowers, and,
visible at first as a slim figure floating along in white drapery,
approached through one wide doorway after another into fuller illumination
and definiteness. She had never had that sort of promenade before, and she
felt exultingly that it befitted her: any one looking at her for the first
time might have supposed that long galleries and lackeys had always been a
matter of course in her life; while her cousin Anna, who was really more
familiar with these things, felt almost as much embarrassed as a rabbit
suddenly deposited in that well-lit-space.
"Who is that with Gascoigne?" said the archdeacon, neglecting a discussion
of military manoeuvres on which, as a clergyman, he was naturally appealed
to. And his son, on the other side of the room--a hopeful young scholar,
who had already suggested some "not less elegant than ingenious,"
emendations of Greek texts--said nearly at the same time, "By George! who
is that girl with the awfully well-set head and jolly figure?"
But to a mind of general benevolence, wishing everybody to look well, it
was rather exasperating to see how Gwendolen eclipsed others: how even the
handsome Miss Lawe, explained to be the daughter of Lady Lawe, looked
suddenly broad, heavy and inanimate; and how Miss Arrowpoint,
unfortunately also dressed in white, immediately resembled a _carte-de-
visite_ in which one would fancy the skirt alone to have been charged for.
Since Miss Arrowpoint was generally liked for the amiable unpretending way
in which she wore her fortunes, and made a softening screen for the
oddities of her mother, there seemed to be some unfitness in Gwendolen's
looking so much more like a person of social importance.
"She is not really so handsome if you come to examine her features," said
Mrs. Arrowpoint, later in the evening, confidentially to Mrs. Vulcany. "It
is a certain style she has, which produces a great effect at first, but
afterward she is less agreeable."
In fact, Gwendolen, not intending it, but intending the contrary, had
offended her hostess, who, though not a splenetic or vindictive woman, had
her susceptibilities. Several conditions had met in the Lady of Quetcham
which to the reasoners in that neighborhood seemed to have an essential
connection with each other. It was occasionally recalled that she had been
the heiress of a fortune gained by some moist or dry business in the city,
in order fully to account for her having a squat figure, a harsh parrot-
like voice, and a sytematically high head-dress; and since these points
made her externally rather ridiculous, it appeared to many only natural
that she should have what are called literary tendencies. A little
comparison would have shown that all these points are to be found apart;
daughters of aldermen being often well-grown and well-featured, pretty
women having sometimes harsh or husky voices, and the production of feeble
literature being found compatible with the most diverse forms of
_physique_, masculine as well as feminine.
Gwendolen, who had a keen sense of absurdity in others, but was kindly
disposed toward any one who could make life agreeable to her, meant to win
Mrs. Arrowpoint by giving her an interest and attention beyond what others
were probably inclined to show. But self-confidence is apt to address
itself to an imaginary dullness in others; as people who are well off
speak in a cajoling tone to the poor, and those who are in the prime of
life raise their voice and talk artificially to seniors, hastily
conceiving them to be deaf and rather imbecile. Gwendolen, with all her
cleverness and purpose to be agreeable, could not escape that form of
stupidity: it followed in her mind, unreflectingly, that because Mrs.
Arrowpoint was ridiculous she was also likely to be wanting in
penetration, and she went through her little scenes without suspicion that
the various shades of her behavior were all noted.
"You are fond of books as well as of music, riding, and archery, I hear,"
Mrs. Arrowpoint said, going to her for a _tete-a-tete_ in the drawing-room
after dinner. "Catherine will be very glad to have so sympathetic a
neighbor." This little speech might have seemed the most graceful
politeness, spoken in a low, melodious tone; but with a twang, fatally
loud, it gave Gwendolen a sense of exercising patronage when she answered,
"It is I who am fortunate. Miss Arrowpoint will teach me what good music
is. I shall be entirely a learner. I hear that she is a thorough
"Catherine has certainly had every advantage. We have a first-rate
musician in the house now--Herr Klesmer; perhaps you know all his
compositions. You must allow me to introduce him to you. You sing, I
believe. Catherine plays three instruments, but she does not sing. I hope
you you will let us hear you. I understand you are an accomplished
"Oh, no!--'die Kraft ist schwach, allein die Lust ist gross,' as
"Ah, you are a student of Goethe. Young ladies are so advanced now. I
suppose you have read everything."
"No, really. I shall be so glad if you will tell me what to read. I have
been looking into all the books in the library at Offendene, but there is
nothing readable. The leaves all stick together and smell musty. I wish I
could write books to amuse myself, as you can! How delightful it must be
to write books after one's own taste instead of reading other people's!
Home-made books must be so nice."
For an instant Mrs. Arrowpoint's glance was a little sharper, but the
perilous resemblance to satire in the last sentence took the hue of
girlish simplicity when Gwendolen added--
"I would give anything to write a book!"
"And why should you not?" said Mrs. Arrowpoint, encouragingly. "You have
but to begin as I did. Pen, ink, and paper are at everybody's command. But
I will send you all I have written with pleasure."
"Thanks. I shall be so glad to read your writings. Being acquainted with
authors must give a peculiar understanding of their books: one would be
able to tell then which parts were funny and which serious. I am sure I
often laugh in the wrong place." Here Gwendolen herself became aware of
danger, and added quickly, "In Shakespeare, you know, and other great
writers that we can never see. But I always want to know more than there
is in the books."
"If you are interested in any of my subjects I can lend you many extra
sheets in manuscript," said Mrs. Arrowpoint--while Gwendolen felt herself
painfully in the position of the young lady who professed to like potted
"These are things I dare say I shall publish eventually: several friends
have urged me to do so, and one doesn't like to be obstinate. My Tasso,
for example--I could have made it twice the size."
"I dote on Tasso," said Gwendolen.
"Well, you shall have all my papers, if you like. So many, you know, have
written about Tasso; but they are all wrong. As to the particular nature
of his madness, and his feelings for Leonora, and the real cause of his
imprisonment, and the character of Leonora, who, in my opinion, was a
cold-hearted woman, else she would have married him in spite of her
brother--they are all wrong. I differ from everybody."
"How very interesting!" said Gwendolen. "I like to differ from everybody.
I think it is so stupid to agree. That is the worst of writing your
opinions; and make people agree with you." This speech renewed a slight
suspicion in Mrs. Arrowpoint, and again her glance became for a moment
examining. But Gwendolen looked very innocent, and continued with a docile
"I know nothing of Tasso except the _Gerusalemme Liberata_, which we read
and learned by heart at school."
"Ah, his life is more interesting than his poetry, I have constructed the
early part of his life as a sort of romance. When one thinks of his father
Bernardo, and so on, there is much that must be true."
"Imagination is often truer than fact," said Gwendolen, decisively, though
she could no more have explained these glib words than if they had been
Coptic or Etruscan. "I shall be so glad to learn all about Tasso--and his
madness especially. I suppose poets are always a little mad."
"To be sure--'the poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling'; and somebody says
'For that fine madness still he did maintain,
Which always should possess the poet's brain.'"
"But it was not always found out, was it?" said Gwendolen innocently. "I
suppose some of them rolled their eyes in private. Mad people are often
Again a shade flitted over Mrs. Arrowpoint's face; but the entrance of the
gentlemen prevented any immediate mischief between her and this too quick
young lady, who had over-acted her _naivete_.
"Ah, here comes Herr Klesmer," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, rising; and presently
bringing him to Gwendolen, she left them to a dialogue which was agreeable
on both sides, Herr Klesmer being a felicitous combination of the German,
the Sclave and the Semite, with grand features, brown hair floating in
artistic fashion, and brown eyes in spectacles. His English had little
foreignness except its fluency; and his alarming cleverness was made less
formidable just then by a certain softening air of stilliness which will
sometimes befall even genius in the desire of being agreeable to beauty.
Music was soon begun. Miss Arrowpoint and Herr Klesmer played a four-
handed piece on two pianos, which convinced the company in general that it
was long, and Gwendolen in particular that the neutral, placid-faced Miss
Arrowpoint had a mastery of the instrument which put her own execution out
of question--though she was not discouraged as to her often-praised touch
and style. After this every one became anxious to hear Gwendolen sing;
especially Mr. Arrowpoint; as was natural in a host and a perfect
gentleman, of whom no one had anything to say but that he married Miss
Cuttler and imported the best cigars; and he led her to the piano with
easy politeness. Herr Klesmer closed the instrument in readiness for her,
and smiled with pleasure at her approach; then placed himself at a
distance of a few feet so that he could see her as she sang.
Gwendolen was not nervous; what she undertook to do she did without
trembling, and singing was an enjoyment to her. Her voice was a moderately
powerful soprano (some one had told her it was like Jenny Lind's), her ear
good, and she was able to keep in tune, so that her singing gave pleasure
to ordinary hearers, and she had been used to unmingled applause. She had
the rare advantage of looking almost prettier when she was singing than at
other times, and that Herr Klesmer was in front of her seemed not
disagreeable. Her song, determined on beforehand, was a favorite aria of
Belini's, in which she felt quite sure of herself.
"Charming?" said Mr. Arrowpoint, who had remained near, and the word was
echoed around without more insincerity than we recognize in a brotherly
way as human. But Herr Klesmer stood like a statue--if a statue can be
imagined in spectacles; at least, he was as mute as a statue. Gwendolen
was pressed to keep her seat and double the general pleasure, and she did
not wish to refuse; but before resolving to do so, she moved a little
toward Herr Klesmer, saying with a look of smiling appeal, "It would be
too cruel to a great musician. You cannot like to hear poor amateur
"No, truly; but that makes nothing," said Herr Klesmer, suddenly speaking
in an odious German fashion with staccato endings, quite unobservable in
him before, and apparently depending on a change of mood, as Irishmen
resume their strongest brogue when they are fervid or quarrelsome. "That
makes nothing. It is always acceptable to see you sing."
Was there ever so unexpected an assertion of superiority? at least before
the late Teutonic conquest? Gwendolen colored deeply, but, with her usual
presence of mind, did not show an ungraceful resentment by moving away
immediately; and Miss Arrowpoint, who had been near enough to overhear
(and also to observe that Herr Klesmer's mode of looking at Gwendolen was
more conspicuously admiring than was quite consistent with good taste),
now with the utmost tact and kindness came close to her and said--
"Imagine what I have to go through with this professor! He can hardly
tolerate anything we English do in music. We can only put up with his
severity, and make use of it to find out the worst that can be said of us.
It is a little comfort to know that; and one can bear it when every one
else is admiring."
"I should be very much obliged to him for telling me the worst," said
Gwendolen, recovering herself. "I dare say I have been extremely ill
taught, in addition to having no talent--only liking for music." This was
very well expressed considering that it had never entered her mind before.
"Yes, it is true: you have not been well taught," said Herr Klesmer,
quietly. Woman was dear to him, but music was dearer. "Still, you are not
quite without gifts. You sing in tune, and you have a pretty fair organ.
But you produce your notes badly; and that music which you sing is beneath
you. It is a form of melody which expresses a puerile state of culture--a
dawdling, canting, see-saw kind of stuff--the passion and thought of
people without any breadth of horizon. There is a sort of self-satisfied
folly about every phrase of such melody; no cries of deep, mysterious
passion--no conflict--no sense of the universal. It makes men small as
they listen to it. Sing now something larger. And I shall see."
"Oh, not now--by-and-by," said Gwendolen, with a sinking of heart at the
sudden width of horizon opened round her small musical performance. For a
lady desiring to lead, this first encounter in her campaign was startling.
But she was bent on not behaving foolishly, and Miss Arrowpoint helped her
"Yes, by-and-by. I always require half an hour to get up my courage after
being criticised by Herr Klesmer. We will ask him to play to us now: he is
bound to show us what is good music."
To be quite safe on this point Herr Klesmer played a composition of his
own, a fantasia called _Freudvoll, Leidvoll, Gedankenvoll_--an extensive
commentary on some melodic ideas not too grossly evident; and he certainly
fetched as much variety and depth of passion out of the piano as that
moderately responsive instrument lends itself to, having an imperious
magic in his fingers that seem to send a nerve-thrill through ivory key
and wooden hammer, and compel the strings to make a quivering lingering
speech for him. Gwendolen, in spite of her wounded egoism, had fullness of
nature enough to feel the power of this playing, and it gradually turned
her inward sob of mortification into an excitement which lifted her for
the moment into a desperate indifference about her own doings, or at least
a determination to get a superiority over them by laughing at them as if
they belonged to somebody else. Her eyes had become brighter, her cheeks
slightly flushed, and her tongue ready for any mischievous remarks.
"I wish you would sing to us again, Miss Harleth," said young Clintock,
the archdeacon's classical son, who had been so fortunate as to take her
to dinner, and came up to renew conversation as soon as Herr Klesmer's
performance was ended, "That is the style of music for me. I never can
make anything of this tip-top playing. It is like a jar of leeches, where
you can never tell either beginnings or endings. I could listen to your
singing all day."
"Yes, we should be glad of something popular now--another song from you
would be a relaxation," said Mrs. Arrowpoint, who had also come near with
"That must be because you are in a puerile state of culture, and have no
breadth of horizon. I have just learned that. I have been taught how bad
my taste is, and am feeling growing pains. They are never pleasant," said
Gwendolen, not taking any notice of Mrs. Arrowpoint, and looking up with a
bright smile at young Clintock.
Mrs. Arrowpoint was not insensible to this rudeness, but merely said,
"Well, we will not press anything disagreeably," and as there was a
perceptible outburst of imprisoned conversation just then, and a movement
of guests seeking each other, she remained seated where she was, and
looked around her with the relief of a hostess at finding she is not
"I am glad you like this neighborhood," said young Clintock, well-pleased
with his station in front of Gwendolen.
"Exceedingly. There seems to be a little of everything and not much of
"That is rather equivocal praise."
"Not with me. I like a little of everything; a little absurdity, for
example, is very amusing. I am thankful for a few queer people; but much
of them is a bore."
(Mrs. Arrowpoint, who was hearing this dialogue, perceived quite a new
tone in Gwendolen's speech, and felt a revival of doubt as to her interest
in Tasso's madness.)
"I think there should be more croquet, for one thing," young Clintock; "I
am usually away, but if I were more here I should go in for a croquet
club. You are one of the archers, I think. But depend upon it croquet is
the game of the future. It wants writing up, though. One of our best men
has written a poem on it, in four cantos;--as good as Pope. I want him to
publish it--You never read anything better."
"I shall study croquet to-morrow. I shall take to it instead of singing."
"No, no, not that; but do take to croquet. I will send you Jenning's poem
if you like. I have a manuscript copy."
"Is he a great friend of yours?"
"Oh, if he is only rather, I think I will decline. Or, if you send it to
me, will you promise not to catechise me upon it and ask me which part I
like best? Because it is not so easy to know a poem without reading it as
to know a sermon without listening."
"Decidedly," Mrs. Arrowpoint thought, "this girl is double and satirical.
I shall be on my guard against her."
But Gwendolen, nevertheless, continued to receive polite attentions from
the family at Quetcham, not merely because invitations have larger grounds
than those of personal liking, but because the trying little scene at the
piano had awakened a kindly solicitude toward her in the gentle mind of
Miss Arrowpoint, who managed all the invitations and visits, her mother
being otherwise occupied.
"Croyez-vous m'avoir humiliee pour m'avoir appris que la terre tourne
autour du soleil? Je vous jure que je ne m'en estime pas moins."
--FONTENELLE: _Pluralite des Mondes_.
That lofty criticism had caused Gwendolen a new sort of pain. She would
not have chosen to confess how unfortunate she thought herself in not
having had Miss Arrowpoint's musical advantages, so as to be able to
question Herr Klesmer's taste with the confidence of thorough knowledge;
still less, to admit even to herself that Miss Arrowpoint each time they
met raised an unwonted feeling of jealousy in her: not in the least
because she was an heiress, but because it was really provoking that a
girl whose appearance you could not characterize except by saying that her
figure was slight and of middle stature, her features small, her eyes
tolerable, and her complexion sallow, had nevertheless a certain mental
superiority which could not be explained away--an exasperating
thoroughness in her musical accomplishment, a fastidious discrimination in
her general tastes, which made it impossible to force her admiration and
kept you in awe of her standard. This insignificant-looking young lady of
four-and-twenty, whom any one's eyes would have passed over negligently if
she had not been Miss Arrowpoint, might be suspected of a secret opinion
that Miss Harleth's acquirements were rather of a common order, and such
an opinion was not made agreeable to think of by being always veiled under
a perfect kindness of manner.
But Gwendolen did not like to dwell on facts which threw an unfavorable
light on itself. The musical Magus who had so suddenly widened her horizon
was not always on the scene; and his being constantly backward and forward
between London and Quetcham soon began to be thought of as offering
opportunities for converting him to a more admiring state of mind.
Meanwhile, in the manifest pleasure her singing gave at Brackenshaw
Castle, the Firs, and elsewhere, she recovered her equanimity, being
disposed to think approval more trustworthy than objection, and not being
one of the exceptional persons who have a parching thirst for a perfection
undemanded by their neighbors. Perhaps it would have been rash to say then
that she was at all exceptional inwardly, or that the unusual in her was
more than her rare grace of movement and bearing, and a certain daring
which gave piquancy to a very common egoistic ambition, such as exists
under many clumsy exteriors and is taken no notice of. For I suppose that
the set of the head does not really determine the hunger of the inner self
for supremacy: it only makes a difference sometimes as to the way in which
the supremacy is held attainable, and a little also to the degree in which
it can be attained; especially when the hungry one is a girl, whose
passion for doing what is remarkable has an ideal limit in consistency
with the highest breeding and perfect freedom from the sordid need of
income. Gwendolen was as inwardly rebellious against the restraints of
family conditions, and as ready to look through obligations into her own
fundamental want of feeling for them, as if she had been sustained by the
boldest speculations; but she really had no such speculations, and would
at once have marked herself off from any sort of theoretical or
practically reforming women by satirizing them. She rejoiced to feel
herself exceptional; but her horizon was that of the genteel romance where
the heroine's soul poured out in her journal is full of vague power,
originality, and general rebellion, while her life moves strictly in the
sphere of fashion; and if she wanders into a swamp, the pathos lies
partly, so to speak, in her having on her satin shoes. Here is a restraint
which nature and society have provided on the pursuit of striking
adventure; so that a soul burning with a sense of what the universe is
not, and ready to take all existence as fuel, is nevertheless held captive
by the ordinary wirework of social forms and does nothing particular.
This commonplace result was what Gwendolen found herself threatened with
even in the novelty of the first winter at Offendene. What she was clear
upon was, that she did not wish to lead the same sort of life as ordinary
young ladies did; but what she was not clear upon was, how she should set
about leading any other, and what were the particular acts which she would
assert her freedom by doing. Offendene remained a good background, if
anything would happen there; but on the whole the neighborhood was in
Beyond the effect of her beauty on a first presentation, there was not
much excitement to be got out of her earliest invitations, and she came
home after little sallies of satire and knowingness, such as had offended
Mrs. Arrowpoint, to fill the intervening days with the most girlish
devices. The strongest assertion she was able to make of her individual
claims was to leave out Alice's lessons (on the principle that Alice was
more likely to excel in ignorance), and to employ her with Miss Merry, and
the maid who was understood to wait on all the ladies, in helping to
arrange various dramatic costumes which Gwendolen pleased herself with
having in readiness for some future occasions of acting in charades or
theatrical pieces, occasions which she meant to bring about by force of
will or contrivance. She had never acted--only made a figure in _tableaux
vivans_ at school; but she felt assured that she could act well, and
having been once or twice to the Theatre Francais, and also heard her
mamma speak of Rachel, her waking dreams and cogitations as to how she
would manage her destiny sometimes turned on the question whether she
would become an actress like Rachel, since she was more beautiful than
that thin Jewess. Meanwhile the wet days before Christmas were passed
pleasantly in the preparation of costumes, Greek, Oriental, and Composite,
in which Gwendolen attitudinized and speechified before a domestic
audience, including even the housekeeper, who was once pressed into it
that she might swell the notes of applause; but having shown herself
unworthy by observing that Miss Harleth looked far more like a queen in
her own dress than in that baggy thing with her arms all bare, she was not
invited a second time.
"Do I look as well as Rachel, mamma?" said Gwendolen, one day when she had
been showing herself in her Greek dress to Anna, and going through scraps
of scenes with much tragic intention.
"You have better arms than Rachel," said Mrs. Davilow, "your arms would do
for anything, Gwen. But your voice is not so tragic as hers; it is not so
"I can make it deeper, if I like," said Gwendolen, provisionally; then she
added, with decision, "I think a higher voice is more tragic: it is more
feminine; and the more feminine a woman is, the more tragic it seems when
she does desperate actions."
"There may be something in that," said Mrs. Davilow, languidly. "But I
don't know what good there is in making one's blood creep. And if there is
anything horrible to be done, I should like it to be left to the men."
"Oh, mamma, you are so dreadfully prosaic! As if all the great poetic
criminals were not women! I think the men are poor cautious creatures."
"Well, dear, and you--who are afraid to be alone in the night--I don't
think you would be very bold in crime, thank God."
"I am not talking about reality, mamma," said Gwendolen, impatiently. Then
her mamma being called out of the room, she turned quickly to her cousin,
as if taking an opportunity, and said, "Anna, do ask my uncle to let us
get up some charades at the rectory. Mr. Middleton and Warham could act
with us--just for practice. Mamma says it will not do to have Mr.
Middleton consulting and rehearsing here. He is a stick, but we could give
him suitable parts. Do ask, or else I will."
"Oh, not till Rex comes. He is so clever, and such a dear old thing, and
he will act Napoleon looking over the sea. He looks just like Napoleon.
Rex can do anything."
"I don't in the least believe in your Rex, Anna," said Gwendolen, laughing
at her. "He will turn out to be like those wretched blue and yellow water-
colors of his which you hang up in your bedroom and worship."
"Very well, you will see," said Anna. "It is not that I know what is
clever, but he has got a scholarship already, and papa says he will get a
fellowship, and nobody is better at games. He is cleverer than Mr.
Middleton, and everybody but you call Mr. Middleton clever."
"So he may be in a dark-lantern sort of way. But he _is_ a stick. If he
had to say, 'Perdition catch my soul, but I do love her,' he would say it
in just the same tone as, 'Here endeth the second lesson.'"
"Oh, Gwendolen!" said Anna, shocked at these promiscuous allusions. "And
it is very unkind of you to speak so of him, for he admires you very much.
I heard Warham say one day to mamma, 'Middleton is regularly spooney upon
Gwendolen.' She was very angry with him; but I know what it means. It is
what they say at college for being in love."
"How can I help it?" said Gwendolen, rather contemptuously. "Perdition
catch my soul if I love _him_."
"No, of course; papa, I think, would not wish it. And he is to go away
soon. But it makes me sorry when you ridicule him."
"What shall you do to me when I ridicule Rex?" said Gwendolen, wickedly.
"Now, Gwendolen, dear, you _will not_?" said Anna, her eyes filling with
tears. "I could not bear it. But there really is nothing in him to
ridicule. Only you may find out things. For no one ever thought of
laughing at Mr. Middleton before you. Every one said he was nice-looking,
and his manners perfect. I am sure I have always been frightened at him
because of his learning and his square-cut coat, and his being a nephew of
the bishop's, and all that. But you will not ridicule Rex--promise me."
Anna ended with a beseeching look which touched Gwendolen.
"You are a dear little coz," she said, just touching the tip of Anna's
chin with her thumb and forefinger. "I don't ever want to do anything that
will vex you. Especially if Rex is to make everything come off--charades
And when at last Rex was there, the animation he brought into the life of
Offendene and the rectory, and his ready partnership in Gwendolen's plans,
left her no inclination for any ridicule that was not of an open and
flattering kind, such as he himself enjoyed. He was a fine open-hearted
youth, with a handsome face strongly resembling his father's and Anna's,
but softer in expression than the one, and larger in scale than the other:
a bright, healthy, loving nature, enjoying ordinary innocent things so
much that vice had no temptation for him, and what he knew of it lay too
entirely in the outer courts and little-visited chambers of his mind for
him to think of it with great repulsion. Vicious habits were with him
"what some fellows did"--"stupid stuff" which he liked to keep aloof from.
He returned Anna's affection as fully as could be expected of a brother
whose pleasures apart from her were more than the sum total of hers; and
he had never known a stronger love.
The cousins were continually together at the one house or the other--
chiefly at Offendene, where there was more freedom, or rather where there
was a more complete sway for Gwendolen; and whatever she wished became a
ruling purpose for Rex. The charades came off according to her plans; and
also some other little scenes not contemplated by her in which her acting
was more impromptu. It was at Offendene that the charades and _tableaux_
were rehearsed and presented, Mrs. Davilow seeing no objection even to Mr.
Middleton's being invited to share in them, now that Rex too was there--
especially as his services were indispensable: Warham, who was studying
for India with a Wanchester "coach," having no time to spare, and being
generally dismal under a cram of everything except the answers needed at
the forthcoming examination, which might disclose the welfare of our
Indian Empire to be somehow connected with a quotable knowledge of
Mr. Middleton was persuaded to play various grave parts, Gwendolen having
flattered him on his enviable immobility of countenance; and at first a
little pained and jealous at her comradeship with Rex, he presently drew
encouragement from the thought that this sort of cousinly familiarity
excluded any serious passion. Indeed, he occasionally felt that her more
formal treatment of himself was such a sign of favor as to warrant his
making advances before he left Pennicote, though he had intended to keep
his feelings in reserve until his position should be more assured. Miss
Gwendolen, quite aware that she was adored by this unexceptionable young
clergyman with pale whiskers and square-cut collar, felt nothing more on
the subject than that she had no objection to being adored: she turned her