Part 2 out of 16
eyes on him with calm mercilessness and caused him many mildly agitating
hopes by seeming always to avoid dramatic contact with him--for all
meanings, we know, depend on the key of interpretation.
Some persons might have thought beforehand that a young man of Anglican
leanings, having a sense of sacredness much exercised on small things as
well as great, rarely laughing save from politeness, and in general
regarding the mention of spades by their naked names as rather coarse,
would not have seen a fitting bride for himself in a girl who was daring
in ridicule, and showed none of the special grace required in the
clergyman's wife; or, that a young man informed by theological reading
would have reflected that he was not likely to meet the taste of a lively,
restless young lady like Miss Harleth. But are we always obliged to
explain why the facts are not what some persons thought beforehand? The
apology lies on their side, who had that erroneous way of thinking.
As for Rex, who would possibly have been sorry for poor Middleton if he
had been aware of the excellent curate's inward conflict, he was too
completely absorbed in a first passion to have observation for any person
or thing. He did not observe Gwendolen; he only felt what she said or did,
and the back of his head seemed to be a good organ of information as to
whether she was in the room or out. Before the end of the first fortnight
he was so deeply in love that it was impossible for him to think of his
life except as bound up with Gwendolen's. He could see no obstacles, poor
boy; his own love seemed a guarantee of hers, since it was one with the
unperturbed delight in her image, so that he could no more dream of her
giving him pain than an Egyptian could dream of snow. She sang and played
to him whenever he liked, was always glad of his companionship in riding,
though his borrowed steeds were often comic, was ready to join in any fun
of his, and showed a right appreciation of Anna. No mark of sympathy
seemed absent. That because Gwendolen was the most perfect creature in the
world she was to make a grand match, had not occurred to him. He had no
conceit--at least not more than goes to make up the necessary gum and
consistence of a substantial personality: it was only that in the young
bliss of loving he took Gwendolen's perfection as part of that good which
had seemed one with life to him, being the outcome of a happy, well-
One incident which happened in the course of their dramatic attempts
impressed Rex as a sign of her unusual sensibility. It showed an aspect of
her nature which could not have been preconceived by any one who, like
him, had only seen her habitual fearlessness in active exercises and her
high spirits in society.
After a good deal of rehearsing it was resolved that a select party should
be invited to Offendene to witness the performances which went with so
much satisfaction to the actors. Anna had caused a pleasant surprise;
nothing could be neater than the way in which she played her little parts;
one would even have suspected her of hiding much sly observation under her
simplicity. And Mr. Middleton answered very well by not trying to be
comic. The main source of doubt and retardation had been Gwendolen's
desire to appear in her Greek dress. No word for a charade would occur to
her either waking or dreaming that suited her purpose of getting a
statuesque pose in this favorite costume. To choose a motive from Racine
was of no use, since Rex and the others could not declaim French verse,
and improvised speeches would turn the scene into burlesque. Besides, Mr.
Gascoigne prohibited the acting of scenes from plays: he usually protested
against the notion that an amusement which was fitting for every one else
was unfitting for a clergyman; but he would not in this matter overstep
the line of decorum as drawn in that part of Wessex, which did not exclude
his sanction of the young people's acting charades in his sister-in-law's
house--a very different affair from private theatricals in the full sense
of the word.
Everybody of course was concerned to satisfy this wish of Gwendolen's, and
Rex proposed that they should wind up with a tableau in which the effect
of her majesty would not be marred by any one's speech. This pleased her
thoroughly, and the only question was the choice of the tableau.
"Something pleasant, children, I beseech you," said Mrs. Davilow; "I can't
have any Greek wickedness."
"It is no worse than Christian wickedness, mamma," said Gwendolen, whose
mention of Rachelesque heroines had called forth that remark.
"And less scandalous," said Rex. "Besides, one thinks of it as all gone by
and done with. What do you say to Briseis being led away? I would be
Achilles, and you would be looking round at me--after the print we have at
"That would be a good attitude for me," said Gwendolen, in a tone of
acceptance. But afterward she said with decision, "No. It will not do.
There must be three men in proper costume, else it will be ridiculous."
"I have it," said Rex, after a little reflection. "Hermione as the statue
in Winter's Tale? I will be Leontes, and Miss Merry, Paulina, one on each
side. Our dress won't signify," he went on laughingly; "it will be more
Shakespearian and romantic if Leontes looks like Napoleon, and Paulina
like a modern spinster."
And Hermione was chosen; all agreeing that age was of no consequence, but
Gwendolen urged that instead of the mere tableau there should be just
enough acting of the scene to introduce the striking up of the music as a
signal for her to step down and advance; when Leontes, instead of
embracing her, was to kneel and kiss the hem of her garment, and so the
curtain was to fall. The antechamber with folding doors lent itself
admirably to the purpose of a stage, and the whole of the establishment,
with the addition of Jarrett the village carpenter, was absorbed in the
preparations for an entertainment, which, considering that it was an
imitation of acting, was likely to be successful, since we know from
ancient fable that an imitation may have more chance of success than the
Gwendolen was not without a special exultation in the prospect of this
occasion, for she knew that Herr Klesmer was again at Quetcham, and she
had taken care to include him among the invited.
Klesmer came. He was in one of his placid, silent moods, and sat in serene
contemplation, replying to all appeals in benignant-sounding syllables
more or less articulate--as taking up his cross meekly in a world
overgrown with amateurs, or as careful how he moved his lion paws lest he
should crush a rampant and vociferous mouse.
Everything indeed went off smoothly and according to expectation--all that
was improvised and accidental being of a probable sort--until the incident
occurred which showed Gwendolen in an unforeseen phase of emotion. How it
came about was at first a mystery.
The tableau of Hermione was doubly striking from its dissimilarity with
what had gone before: it was answering perfectly, and a murmur of applause
had been gradually suppressed while Leontes gave his permission that
Paulina should exercise her utmost art and make the statue move.
Hermione, her arm resting on a pillar, was elevated by about six inches,
which she counted on as a means of showing her pretty foot and instep,
when at the given signal she should advance and descend.
"Music, awake her, strike!" said Paulina (Mrs. Davilow, who, by special
entreaty, had consented to take the part in a white burnous and hood).
Herr Klesmer, who had been good-natured enough to seat himself at the
piano, struck a thunderous chord--but in the same instant, and before
Hermione had put forth her foot, the movable panel, which was on a line
with the piano, flew open on the right opposite the stage and disclosed
the picture of the dead face and the fleeing figure, brought out in pale
definiteness by the position of the wax-lights. Everyone was startled, but
all eyes in the act of turning toward the open panel were recalled by a
piercing cry from Gwendolen, who stood without change of attitude, but
with a change of expression that was terrifying in its terror. She looked
like a statue into which a soul of Fear had entered: her pallid lips were
parted; her eyes, usually narrowed under their long lashes, were dilated
and fixed. Her mother, less surprised than alarmed, rushed toward her, and
Rex, too, could not help going to her side. But the touch of her mother's
arm had the effect of an electric charge; Gwendolen fell on her knees and
put her hands before her face. She was still trembling, but mute, and it
seemed that she had self-consciousness enough to aim at controlling her
signs of terror, for she presently allowed herself to be raised from her
kneeling posture and led away, while the company were relieving their
minds by explanation.
"A magnificent bit of _plastik_ that!" said Klesmer to Miss Arrowpoint.
And a quick fire of undertoned question and answer went round.
"Was it part of the play?"
"Oh, no, surely not. Miss Harleth was too much affected. A sensitive
"Dear me! I was not aware that there was a painting behind that panel;
"No; how should I? Some eccentricity in one of the Earl's family long ago,
"How very painful! Pray shut it up."
"Was the door locked? It is very mysterious. It must be the spirits."
"But there is no medium present."
"How do you know that? We must conclude that there is, when such things
"Oh, the door was not locked; it was probably the sudden vibration from
the piano that sent it open."
This conclusion came from Mr. Gascoigne, who begged Miss Merry if possible
to get the key. But this readiness to explain the mystery was thought by
Mrs. Vulcany unbecoming in a clergyman, and she observed in an undertone
that Mr. Gascoigne was always a little too worldly for her taste. However,
the key was produced, and the rector turned it in the lock with an
emphasis rather offensively rationalizing--as who should say, "it will not
start open again"--putting the key in his pocket as a security.
However, Gwendolen soon reappeared, showing her usual spirits, and
evidently determined to ignore as far as she could the striking change she
had made in the part of Hermione.
But when Klesmer said to her, "We have to thank you for devising a perfect
climax: you could not have chosen a finer bit of _plastik_," there was a
flush of pleasure in her face. She liked to accept as a belief what was
really no more than delicate feigning. He divined that the betrayal into a
passion of fear had been mortifying to her, and wished her to understand
that he took it for good acting. Gwendolen cherished the idea that now he
was struck with her talent as well as her beauty, and her uneasiness about
his opinion was half turned to complacency.
But too many were in the secret of what had been included in the
rehearsals, and what had not, and no one besides Klesmer took the trouble
to soothe Gwendolen's imagined mortification. The general sentiment was
that the incident should be let drop.
There had really been a medium concerned in the starting open of the
panel: one who had quitted the room in haste and crept to bed in much
alarm of conscience. It was the small Isabel, whose intense curiosity,
unsatisfied by the brief glimpse she had had of the strange picture on the
day of arrival at Offendene, had kept her on the watch for an opportunity
of finding out where Gwendolen had put the key, of stealing it from the
discovered drawer when the rest of the family were out, and getting on a
stool to unlock the panel. While she was indulging her thirst for
knowledge in this way, a noise which she feared was an approaching
footstep alarmed her: she closed the door and attempted hurriedly to lock
it, but failing and not daring to linger, she withdrew the key and trusted
that the panel would stick, as it seemed well inclined to do. In this
confidence she had returned the key to its former place, stilling any
anxiety by the thought that if the door were discovered to be unlocked
nobody would know how the unlocking came about. The inconvenient Isabel,
like other offenders, did not foresee her own impulse to confession, a
fatality which came upon her the morning after the party, when Gwendolen
said at the breakfast-table, "I know the door was locked before the
housekeeper gave me the key, for I tried it myself afterward. Some one
must have been to my drawer and taken the key."
It seemed to Isabel that Gwendolen's awful eyes had rested on her more
than on the other sisters, and without any time for resolve, she said,
with a trembling lip:
"Please forgive me, Gwendolen."
The forgiveness was sooner bestowed than it would have been if Gwendolen
had not desired to dismiss from her own and every one else's memory any
case in which she had shown her susceptibility to terror. She wondered at
herself in these occasional experiences, which seemed like a brief
remembered madness, an unexplained exception from her normal life; and in
this instance she felt a peculiar vexation that her helpless fear had
shown itself, not, as usual, in solitude, but in well-lit company. Her
ideal was to be daring in speech and reckless in braving dangers, both
moral and physical; and though her practice fell far behind her ideal,
this shortcoming seemed to be due to the pettiness of circumstances, the
narrow theatre which life offers to a girl of twenty, who cannot conceive
herself as anything else than a lady, or as in any position which would
lack the tribute of respect. She had no permanent consciousness of other
fetters, or of more spiritual restraints, having always disliked whatever
was presented to her under the name of religion, in the same way that some
people dislike arithmetic and accounts: it had raised no other emotion in
her, no alarm, no longing; so that the question whether she believed it
had not occurred to her any more than it had occurred to her to inquire
into the conditions of colonial property and banking, on which, as she had
had many opportunities of knowing, the family fortune was dependent. All
these facts about herself she would have been ready to admit, and even,
more or less indirectly, to state. What she unwillingly recognized, and
would have been glad for others to be unaware of, was that liability of
hers to fits of spiritual dread, though this fountain of awe within her
had not found its way into connection with the religion taught her or with
any human relations. She was ashamed and frightened, as at what might
happen again, in remembering her tremor on suddenly feeling herself alone,
when, for example, she was walking without companionship and there came
some rapid change in the light. Solitude in any wide scene impressed her
with an undefined feeling of immeasurable existence aloof from her, in the
midst of which she was helplessly incapable of asserting herself. The
little astronomy taught her at school used sometimes to set her
imagination at work in a way that made her tremble: but always when some
one joined her she recovered her indifference to the vastness in which she
seemed an exile; she found again her usual world in which her will was of
some avail, and the religious nomenclature belonging to this world was no
more identified for her with those uneasy impressions of awe than her
uncle's surplices seen out of use at the rectory. With human ears and eyes
about her, she had always hitherto recovered her confidence, and felt the
possibility of winning empire.
To her mamma and others her fits of timidity or terror were sufficiently
accounted for by her "sensitiveness" or the "excitability of her nature";
but these explanatory phrases required conciliation with much that seemed
to be blank indifference or rare self-mastery. Heat is a great agent and a
useful word, but considered as a means of explaining the universe it
requires an extensive knowledge of differences; and as a means of
explaining character "sensitiveness" is in much the same predicament. But
who, loving a creature like Gwendolen, would not be inclined to regard
every peculiarity in her as a mark of preeminence? That was what Rex did.
After the Hermione scene he was more persuaded than ever that she must be
instinct with all feeling, and not only readier to respond to a worshipful
love, but able to love better than other girls. Rex felt the summer on his
young wings and soared happily.
"_Perigot_. As the bonny lasse passed by,
_Willie_. Hey, ho, bonnilasse!
_P_. She roode at me with glauncing eye,
_W_. As clear as the crystal glasse.
_P_. All as the sunny beame so bright,
_W_. Hey, ho, the sunnebeame!
_P_. Glaunceth from Phoebus' face forthright,
_W_. So love into thy heart did streame."
--SPENSER: _Shepard's Calendar_.
"The kindliest symptom, yet the most alarming crisis in the ticklish
state of youth; the nourisher and destroyer of hopeful wits; * * * the
servitude above freedom; the gentle mind's religion; the liberal
The first sign of the unimagined snow-storm was like the transparent white
cloud that seems to set off the blue. Anna was in the secret of Rex's
feeling; though for the first time in their lives he had said nothing to
her about what he most thought of, and he only took it for granted that
she knew it. For the first time, too, Anna could not say to Rex what was
continually in her mind. Perhaps it might have been a pain which she would
have had to conceal, that he should so soon care for some one else more
than for herself, if such a feeling had not been thoroughly neutralized by
doubt and anxiety on his behalf. Anna admired her cousin--would have said
with simple sincerity, "Gwendolen is always very good to me," and held it
in the order of things for herself to be entirely subject to this cousin;
but she looked at her with mingled fear and distrust, with a puzzled
contemplation as of some wondrous and beautiful animal whose nature was a
mystery, and who, for anything Anna knew, might have an appetite for
devouring all the small creatures that were her own particular pets. And
now Anna's heart was sinking under the heavy conviction which she dared
not utter, that Gwendolen would never care for Rex. What she herself held
in tenderness and reverence had constantly seemed indifferent to
Gwendolen, and it was easier to imagine her scorning Rex than returning
any tenderness of his. Besides, she was always thinking of being something
extraordinary. And poor Rex! Papa would be angry with him if he knew. And
of course he was too young to be in love in that way; and she, Anna had
thought that it would be years and years before any thing of that sort
came, and that she would be Rex's housekeeper ever so long. But what a
heart must that be which did not return his love! Anna, in the prospect of
his suffering, was beginning to dislike her too fascinating cousin.
It seemed to her, as it did to Rex, that the weeks had been filled with a
tumultuous life evident to all observers: if he had been questioned on the
subject he would have said that he had no wish to conceal what he hoped
would be an engagement which he should immediately tell his father of: and
yet for the first time in his life he was reserved not only about his
feelings but--which was more remarkable to Anna--about certain actions.
She, on her side, was nervous each time her father or mother began to
speak to her in private lest they should say anything about Rex and
Gwendolen. But the elders were not in the least alive to this agitating
drama, which went forward chiefly in a sort of pantomime extremely lucid
in the minds thus expressing themselves, but easily missed by spectators
who were running their eyes over the _Guardian_ or the _Clerical Gazette_,
and regarded the trivialities of the young ones with scarcely more
interpretation than they gave to the action of lively ants.
"Where are you going, Rex?" said Anna one gray morning when her father had
set off in his carriage to the sessions, Mrs. Gascoigne with him, and she
had observed that her brother had on his antigropelos, the utmost approach
he possessed to a hunting equipment.
"Going to see the hounds throw off at the Three Barns."
"Are you going to take Gwendolen?" said Anna, timidly.
"She told you, did she?"
"No, but I thought--Does papa know you are going?"
"Not that I am aware of. I don't suppose he would trouble himself about
"You are going to use his horse?"
"He knows I do that whenever I can."
"Don't let Gwendolen ride after the hounds, Rex," said Anna, whose fears
gifted her with second-sight.
"Why not?" said Rex, smiling rather provokingly.
"Papa and mamma and aunt Davilow all wish her not to. They think it is not
right for her."
"Why should you suppose she is going to do what is not right?"
"Gwendolen minds nobody sometimes," said Anna getting bolder by dint of a
"Then she would not mind me," said Rex, perversely making a joke of poor
"Oh Rex, I cannot bear it. You will make yourself very unhappy." Here Anna
burst into tears.
"Nannie, Nannie, what on earth is the matter with you?" said Rex, a little
impatient at being kept in this way, hat on and whip in hand.
"She will not care for you one bit--I know she never will!" said the poor
child in a sobbing whisper. She had lost all control of herself.
Rex reddened and hurried away from her out of the hall door, leaving her
to the miserable consciousness of having made herself disagreeable in
He did think of her words as he rode along; they had the unwelcomeness
which all unfavorable fortune-telling has, even when laughed at; but he
quickly explained them as springing from little Anna's tenderness, and
began to be sorry that he was obliged to come away without soothing her.
Every other feeling on the subject, however, was quickly merged in a
resistant belief to the contrary of hers, accompanied with a new
determination to prove that he was right. This sort of certainty had just
enough kinship to doubt and uneasiness to hurry on a confession which an
untouched security might have delayed.
Gwendolen was already mounted and riding up and down the avenue when Rex
appeared at the gate. She had provided herself against disappointment in
case he did not appear in time by having the groom ready behind her, for
she would not have waited beyond a reasonable time. But now the groom was
dismissed, and the two rode away in delightful freedom. Gwendolen was in
her highest spirits, and Rex thought that she had never looked so lovely
before; her figure, her long white throat, and the curves of her cheek and
chin were always set off to perfection by the compact simplicity of her
riding dress. He could not conceive a more perfect girl; and to a youthful
lover like Rex it seems that the fundamental identity of the good, the
true and the beautiful, is already extant and manifest in the object of
his love. Most observers would have held it more than equally accountable
that a girl should have like impressions about Rex, for in his handsome
face there was nothing corresponding to the undefinable stinging quality--
as it were a trace of demon ancestry--which made some beholders hesitate
in their admiration of Gwendolen.
It was an exquisite January morning in which there was no threat of rain,
but a gray sky making the calmest background for the charms of a mild
winter scene--the grassy borders of the lanes, the hedgerows sprinkled
with red berries and haunted with low twitterings, the purple bareness of
the elms, the rich brown of the furrows. The horses' hoofs made a musical
chime, accompanying their young voices. She was laughing at his equipment,
for he was the reverse of a dandy, and he was enjoying her laughter; the
freshness of the morning mingled with the freshness of their youth; and
every sound that came from their clear throats, every glance they gave
each other, was the bubbling outflow from a spring of joy. It was all
morning to them, within and without. And thinking of them in these moments
one is tempted to that futile sort of wishing--if only things could have
been a little otherwise then, so as to have been greatly otherwise after--
if only these two beautiful young creatures could have pledged themselves
to each other then and there, and never through life have swerved from
that pledge! For some of the goodness which Rex believed in was there.
Goodness is a large, often a prospective word; like harvest, which at one
stage when we talk of it lies all underground, with an indeterminate
future; is the germ prospering in the darkness? at another, it has put
forth delicate green blades, and by-and-by the trembling blossoms are
ready to be dashed off by an hour of rough wind or rain. Each stage has
its peculiar blight, and may have the healthy life choked out of it by a
particular action of the foul land which rears or neighbors it, or by
damage brought from foulness afar.
"Anna had got it into her head that you would want to ride after the
hounds this morning," said Rex, whose secret associations with Anna's
words made this speech seem quite perilously near the most momentous of
"Did she?" said Gwendolen, laughingly. "What a little clairvoyant she is!"
"Shall you?" said Rex, who had not believed in her intending to do it if
the elders objected, but confided in her having good reasons.
"I don't know. I can't tell what I shall do till I get there. Clairvoyants
are often wrong: they foresee what is likely. I am not fond of what is
likely: it is always dull. I do what is unlikely."
"Ah, there you tell me a secret. When once I knew what people in general
would be likely to do, I should know you would do the opposite. So you
would have come round to a likelihood of your own sort. I shall be able to
calculate on you. You couldn't surprise me."
"Yes, I could. I should turn round and do what was likely for people in
general," said Gwendolen, with a musical laugh.
"You see you can't escape some sort of likelihood. And contradictoriness
makes the strongest likelihood of all. You must give up a plan."
"No, I shall not. My plan is to do what pleases me." (Here should any
young lady incline to imitate Gwendolen, let her consider the set of her
head and neck: if the angle there had been different, the chin protrusive,
and the cervical vertebrae a trifle more curved in their position, ten to
one Gwendolen's words would have had a jar in them for the sweet-natured
Rex. But everything odd in her speech was humor and pretty banter, which
he was only anxious to turn toward one point.)
"Can you manage to feel only what pleases you?" said he.
"Of course not; that comes from what other people do. But if the world
were pleasanter, one would only feel what was pleasant. Girls' lives are
so stupid: they never do what they like."
"I thought that was more the case of the men. They are forced to do hard
things, and are often dreadfully bored, and knocked to pieces too. And
then, if we love a girl very dearly we want to do as she likes, so after
all you have your own way."
"I don't believe it. I never saw a married woman who had her own way."
"What should you like to do?" said Rex, quite guilelessly, and in real
"Oh, I don't know!--go to the North Pole, or ride steeple-chases, or go to
be a queen in the East like Lady Hester Stanhope," said Gwendolen,
flightily. Her words were born on her lips, but she would have been at a
loss to give an answer of deeper origin.
"You don't mean you would never be married?"
"No; I didn't say that. Only when I married, I should not do as other
"You might do just as you liked if you married a man who loved you more
dearly than anything else in the world," said Rex, who, poor youth, was
moving in themes outside the curriculum in which he had promised to win
distinction. "I know one who does."
"Don't talk of Mr. Middleton, for heaven's sake," said Gwendolen, hastily,
a quick blush spreading over her face and neck; "that is Anna's chant. I
hear the hounds. Let us go on."
She put her chestnut to a canter, and Rex had no choice but to follow her.
Still he felt encouraged. Gwendolen was perfectly aware that her cousin
was in love with her; but she had no idea that the matter was of any
consequence, having never had the slightest visitation of painful love
herself. She wished the small romance of Rex's devotion to fill up the
time of his stay at Pennicote, and to avoid explanations which would bring
it to an untimely end. Besides, she objected, with a sort of physical
repulsion, to being directly made love to. With all her imaginative
delight in being adored, there was a certain fierceness of maidenhood in
But all other thoughts were soon lost for her in the excitement of the
scene at the Three Barns. Several gentlemen of the hunt knew her, and she
exchanged pleasant greetings. Rex could not get another word with her. The
color, the stir of the field had taken possession of Gwendolen with a
strength which was not due to habitual associations, for she had never yet
ridden after the hounds--only said she should like to do it, and so drawn
forth a prohibition; her mamma dreading the danger, and her uncle
declaring that for his part he held that kind of violent exercise unseemly
in a woman, and that whatever might be done in other parts of the country,
no lady of good position followed the Wessex hunt: no one but Mrs. Gadsby,
the yeomanry captain's wife, who had been a kitchenmaid and still spoke
like one. This last argument had some effect on Gwendolen, and had kept
her halting between her desire to assert her freedom and her horror of
being classed with Mrs. Gadsby.
Some of the most unexceptionable women in the neighborhood occasionally
went to see the hounds throws off; but it happened that none of them were
present this morning to abstain from following, while Mrs. Gadsby, with
her doubtful antecedents, grammatical and otherwise, was not visible to
make following seem unbecoming. Thus Gwendolen felt no check on the animal
stimulus that came from the stir and tongue of the hounds, the pawing of
the horses, the varying voices of men, the movement hither and thither of
vivid color on the background of green and gray stillness:--that utmost
excitement of the coming chase which consists in feeling something like a
combination of dog and horse, with the superadded thrill of social
vanities and consciousness of centaur-power which belongs to humankind.
Rex would have felt more of the same enjoyment if he could have kept
nearer to Gwendolen, and not seen her constantly occupied with
acquaintances, or looked at by would-be acquaintances, all on lively
horses which veered about and swept the surrounding space as effectually
as a revolving lever.
"Glad to see you here this fine morning, Miss Harleth," said Lord
Brackenshaw, a middle-aged peer of aristocratic seediness in stained pink,
with easy-going manners which would have made the threatened deluge seem
of no consequence. "We shall have a first-rate run. A pity you didn't go
with us. Have you ever tried your little chestnut at a ditch? you wouldn't
be afraid, eh?"
"Not the least in the world," said Gwendolen. And that was true: she was
never fearful in action and companionship. "I have often taken him at some
rails and a ditch too, near--"
"Ah, by Jove!" said his lordship, quietly, in notation that something was
happening which must break off the dialogue: and as he reined off his
horse, Rex was bringing his sober hackney up to Gwendolen's side when--the
hounds gave tongue, and the whole field was in motion as if the whirl of
the earth were carrying it; Gwendolen along with everything else; no word
of notice to Rex, who without a second thought followed too. Could he let
Gwendolen go alone? under other circumstances he would have enjoyed the
run, but he was just now perturbed by the check which had been put on the
impetus to utter his love, and get utterance in return, an impetus which
could not at once resolve itself into a totally different sort of chase,
at least with the consciousness of being on his father's gray nag, a good
horse enough in his way, but of sober years and ecclesiastical habits.
Gwendolen on her spirited little chestnut was up with the best, and felt
as secure as an immortal goddess, having, if she had thought of risk, a
core of confidence that no ill luck would happen to her. But she thought
of no such thing, and certainly not of any risk there might be for her
cousin. If she had thought of him, it would have struck her as a droll
picture that he should be gradually falling behind, and looking round in
search of gates: a fine lithe youth, whose heart must be panting with all
the spirit of a beagle, stuck as if under a wizard's spell on a stiff
clerical hackney, would have made her laugh with a sense of fun much too
strong for her to reflect on his mortification. But Gwendolen was apt to
think rather of those who saw her than of those whom she could not see;
and Rex was soon so far behind that if she had looked she would not have
seen him. For I grieve to say that in the search for a gate, along a lane
lately mended, Primrose fell, broke his knees, and undesignedly threw Rex
over his head.
Fortunately a blacksmith's son who also followed the hounds under
disadvantages, namely, on foot (a loose way of hunting which had struck
some even frivolous minds as immoral), was naturally also in the rear, and
happened to be within sight of Rex's misfortune. He ran to give help which
was greatly needed, for Rex was a great deal stunned, and the complete
recovery of sensation came in the form of pain. Joel Dagge on this
occasion showed himself that most useful of personages, whose knowledge is
of a kind suited to the immediate occasion: he not only knew perfectly
well what was the matter with the horse, how far they were both from the
nearest public-house and from Pennicote Rectory, and could certify to Rex
that his shoulder was only a bit out of joint, but also offered
experienced surgical aid.
"Lord, sir, let me shove it in again for you! I's seen Nash, the bone-
setter, do it, and done it myself for our little Sally twice over. It's
all one and the same, shoulders is. If you'll trusten to me and tighten
your mind up a bit, I'll do it for you in no time."
"Come then, old fellow," said Rex, who could tighten his mind better than
his seat in the saddle. And Joel managed the operation, though not without
considerable expense of pain to his patient, who turned so pitiably pale
while tightening his mind, that Joel remarked, "Ah, sir, you aren't used
to it, that's how it is. I's see lots and lots o' joints out. I see a man
with his eye pushed out once--that was a rum go as ever I see. You can't
have a bit o' fun wi'out such sort o' things. But it went in again. I's
swallowed three teeth mysen, as sure as I'm alive. Now, sirrey" (this was
addressed to Primrose), "come alonk--you musn't make believe as you
Joel being clearly a low character, it is, happily, not necessary to say
more of him to the refined reader, than that he helped Rex to get home
with as little delay as possible. There was no alternative but to get
home, though all the while he was in anxiety about Gwendolen, and more
miserable in the thought that she, too, might have had an accident, than
in the pain of his own bruises and the annoyance he was about to cause his
father. He comforted himself about her by reflecting that every one would
be anxious to take care of her, and that some acquaintance would be sure
to conduct her home.
Mr. Gascoigne was already at home, and was writing letters in his study,
when he was interrupted by seeing poor Rex come in with a face which was
not the less handsome and ingratiating for being pale and a little
distressed. He was secretly the favorite son, and a young portrait of the
father; who, however, never treated him with any partiality--rather, with
an extra rigor. Mr. Gascoigne having inquired of Anna, knew that Rex had
gone with Gwendolen to the meet at the Three Barns.
"What is the matter?" he said hastily, not laying down his pen.
"I'm very sorry, sir; Primrose has fallen down and broken his knees."
"Where have you been with him?" said Mr. Gascoigne, with a touch of
severity. He rarely gave way to temper.
"To the Three Barns to see the hounds throw off."
"And you were fool enough to follow?"
"Yes, sir. I didn't go at any fences, but the horse got his leg into a
"And you got hurt yourself, I hope, eh!"
"I got my shoulder put out, but a young blacksmith put it in again for me.
I'm just a little battered, that's all."
"Well, sit down."
"I'm very sorry about the horse, sir; I knew it would be a vexation to
"And what has become of Gwendolen?" said Mr. Gascoigne, abruptly. Rex, who
did not imagine that his father had made any inquiries about him, answered
at first with a blush, which was the more remarkable for his previous
paleness. Then he said, nervously--
"I am anxious to know--I should like to go or send at once to Offendene--
but she rides so well, and I think she would keep up--there would most
likely be many round her."
"I suppose it was she who led you on, eh?" said Mr. Gascoigne, laying down
his pen, leaning back in his chair, and looking at Rex with more marked
"It was natural for her to want to go: she didn't intend it beforehand--
she was led away by the spirit of the thing. And, of course, I went when
Mr. Gascoigne left a brief interval of silence, and then said, with quiet
irony,--"But now you observe, young gentleman, that you are not furnished
with a horse which will enable you to play the squire to your cousin. You
must give up that amusement. You have spoiled my nag for me, and that is
enough mischief for one vacation. I shall beg you to get ready to start
for Southampton to-morrow and join Stilfox, till you go up to Oxford with
him. That will be good for your bruises as well as your studies."
Poor Rex felt his heart swelling and comporting itself as if it had been
no better than a girl's.
"I hope you will not insist on my going immediately, sir."
"Do you feel too ill?"
"No, not that--but--" here Rex bit his lips and felt the tears starting,
to his great vexation; then he rallied and tried to say more firmly, "I
want to go to Offendene, but I can go this evening."
"I am going there myself. I can bring word about Gwendolen, if that is
what you want."
Rex broke down. He thought he discerned an intention fatal to his
happiness, nay, his life. He was accustomed to believe in his father's
penetration, and to expect firmness. "Father, I can't go away without
telling her that I love her, and knowing that she loves me."
Mr. Gascoigne was inwardly going through some self-rebuke for not being
more wary, and was now really sorry for the lad; but every consideration
was subordinate to that of using the wisest tactics in the case. He had
quickly made up his mind and to answer the more quietly--
"My dear boy, you are too young to be taking momentous, decisive steps of
that sort. This is a fancy which you have got into your head during an
idle week or two: you must set to work at something and dismiss it. There
is every reason against it. An engagement at your age would be totally
rash and unjustifiable; and moreover, alliances between first cousins are
undesirable. Make up your mind to a brief disappointment. Life is full of
them. We have all got to be broken in; and this is a mild beginning for
"No, not mild. I can't bear it. I shall be good for nothing. I shouldn't
mind anything, if it were settled between us. I could do anything then,"
said Rex, impetuously. "But it's of no use to pretend that I will obey
you. I can't do it. If I said I would, I should be sure to break my word.
I should see Gwendolen again."
"Well, wait till to-morrow morning, that we may talk of the matter again--
you will promise me that," said Mr. Gascoigne, quietly; and Rex did not,
could not refuse.
The rector did not even tell his wife that he had any other reason for
going to Offendene that evening than his desire to ascertain that
Gwendolen had got home safely. He found her more than safe--elated. Mr.
Quallon, who had won the brush, had delivered the trophy to her, and she
had brought it before her, fastened on the saddle; more than that, Lord
Brackenshaw had conducted her home, and had shown himself delighted with
her spirited riding. All this was told at once to her uncle, that he might
see how well justified she had been in acting against his advice; and the
prudential rector did feel himself in a slight difficulty, for at that
moment he was particularly sensible that it was his niece's serious
interest to be well regarded by the Brackenshaws, and their opinion as to
her following the hounds really touched the essence of his objection.
However, he was not obliged to say anything immediately, for Mrs. Davilow
followed up Gwendolen's brief triumphant phrases with--
"Still, I do hope you will not do it again, Gwendolen. I should never have
a moment's quiet. Her father died by an accident, you know."
Here Mrs. Davilow had turned away from Gwendolen, and looked at Mr.
"Mamma, dear," said Gwendolen, kissing her merrily, and passing over the
question of the fears which Mrs. Davilow had meant to account for,
"children don't take after their parents in broken legs."
Not one word had yet been said about Rex. In fact there had been no
anxiety about him at Offendene. Gwendolen had observed to her mamma, "Oh,
he must have been left far behind, and gone home in despair," and it could
not be denied that this was fortunate so far as it made way for Lord
Brackenshaw's bringing her home. But now Mr. Gascoigne said, with some
emphasis, looking at Gwendolen--
"Well, the exploit has ended better for you than for Rex."
"Yes, I dare say he had to make a terrible round. You have not taught
Primrose to take the fences, uncle," said Gwendolen, without the faintest
shade of alarm in her looks and tone.
"Rex has had a fall," said Mr. Gascoigne, curtly, throwing himself into an
arm-chair resting his elbows and fitting his palms and fingers together,
while he closed his lips and looked at Gwendolen, who said--
"Oh, poor fellow! he is not hurt, I hope?" with a correct look of anxiety
such as elated mortals try to super-induce when their pulses are all the
while quick with triumph; and Mrs. Davilow, in the same moment, uttered a
low "Good heavens! There!"
Mr. Gascoigne went on: "He put his shoulder out, and got some bruises, I
believe." Here he made another little pause of observation; but Gwendolen,
instead of any such symptoms as pallor and silence, had only deepened the
compassionateness of her brow and eyes, and said again, "Oh, poor fellow!
it is nothing serious, then?" and Mr. Gascoigne held his diagnosis
complete. But he wished to make assurance doubly sure, and went on still
with a purpose.
"He got his arm set again rather oddly. Some blacksmith--not a parishioner
of mine--was on the field--a loose fish, I suppose, but handy, and set the
arm for him immediately. So after all, I believe, I and Primrose come off
worst. The horse's knees are cut to pieces. He came down in a hole, it
seems, and pitched Rex over his head."
Gwendolen's face had allowably become contented again, since Rex's arm had
been reset; and now, at the descriptive suggestions in the latter part of
her uncle's speech, her elated spirits made her features less unmanageable
than usual; the smiles broke forth, and finally a descending scale of
"You are a pretty young lady--to laugh at other people's calamities," said
Mr. Gascoigne, with a milder sense of disapprobation than if he had not
had counteracting reasons to be glad that Gwendolen showed no deep feeling
on the occasion.
"Pray forgive me, uncle. Now Rex is safe, it is so droll to fancy the
figure he and Primrose would cut--in a lane all by themselves--only a
blacksmith running up. It would make a capital caricature of 'Following
Gwendolen rather valued herself on her superior freedom in laughing where
others might only see matter for seriousness. Indeed, the laughter became
her person so well that her opinion of its gracefulness was often shared
by others; and it even entered into her uncle's course of thought at this
moment, that it was no wonder a boy should be fascinated by this young
witch--who, however, was more mischievous than could be desired.
"How can you laugh at broken bones, child?" said Mrs. Davilow, still under
her dominant anxiety. "I wish we had never allowed you to have the horse.
You will see that we were wrong," she added, looking with a grave nod at
Mr. Gascoigne--"at least I was, to encourage her in asking for it."
"Yes, seriously, Gwendolen," said Mr. Gascoigne, in a judicious tone of
rational advice to a person understood to be altogether rational, "I
strongly recommend you--I shall ask you to oblige me so far--not to repeat
your adventure of to-day. Lord Brackenshaw is very kind, but I feel sure
that he would concur with me in what I say. To be spoken of as 'the young
lady who hunts' by way of exception, would give a tone to the language
about you which I am sure you would not like. Depend upon it, his lordship
would not choose that Lady Beatrice or Lady Maria should hunt in this part
of the country, if they were old enough to do so. When you are married, it
will be different: you may do whatever your husband sanctions. But if you
intend to hunt, you must marry a man who can keep horses."
"I don't know why I should do anything so horrible as to marry without
_that_ prospect, at least," said Gwendolen, pettishly. Her uncle's speech
had given her annoyance, which she could not show more directly; but she
felt that she was committing herself, and after moving carelessly to
another part of the room, went out.
"She always speaks in that way about marriage," said Mrs. Davilow; "but it
will be different when she has seen the right person."
"Her heart has never been in the least touched, that you know of?" said
Mrs. Davilow shook her head silently. "It was only last night she said to
me, 'Mamma, I wonder how girls manage to fall in love. It is easy to make
them do it in books. But men are too ridiculous.'"
Mr. Gascoigne laughed a little, and made no further remark on the subject.
The next morning at breakfast he said--
"How are your bruises, Rex?"
"Oh, not very mellow yet, sir; only beginning to turn a little."
"You don't feel quite ready for a journey to Southampton?"
"Not quite," answered Rex, with his heart metaphorically in his mouth.
"Well, you can wait till to-morrow, and go to say goodbye to them at
Mrs. Gascoigne, who now knew the whole affair, looked steadily at her
coffee lest she also should begin to cry, as Anna was doing already.
Mr. Gascoigne felt that he was applying a sharp remedy to poor Rex's acute
attack, but he believed it to be in the end the kindest. To let him know
the hopelessness of his love from Gwendolen's own lips might be curative
in more ways than one.
"I can only be thankful that she doesn't care about him," said Mrs.
Gascoigne, when she joined her husband in his study. "There are things in
Gwendolen I cannot reconcile myself to. My Anna is worth two of her, with
all her beauty and talent. It looks very ill in her that she will not help
in the schools with Anna--not even in the Sunday-school. What you or I
advise is of no consequence to her: and poor Fannie is completely under
her thumb. But I know you think better of her," Mrs. Gascoigne ended with
a deferential hesitation.
"Oh, my dear, there is no harm in the girl. It is only that she has a high
spirit, and it will not do to hold the reins too tight. The point is, to
get her well married. She has a little too much fire in her for her
present life with her mother and sisters. It is natural and right that she
should be married soon--not to a poor man, but one who can give her a
Presently Rex, with his arm in a sling, was on his two miles' walk to
Offendene. He was rather puzzled by the unconditional permission to see
Gwendolen, but his father's real ground of action could not enter into his
conjectures. If it had, he would first have thought it horribly cold-
blooded, and then have disbelieved in his father's conclusions.
When he got to the house, everybody was there but Gwendolen. The four
girls, hearing him speak in the hall, rushed out of the library, which was
their school-room, and hung round him with compassionate inquiries about
his arm. Mrs. Davilow wanted to know exactly what had happened, and where
the blacksmith lived, that she might make him a present; while Miss Merry,
who took a subdued and melancholy part in all family affairs, doubted
whether it would not be giving too much encouragement to that kind of
character. Rex had never found the family troublesome before, but just now
he wished them all away and Gwendolen there, and he was too uneasy for
good-natured feigning. When at last he had said, "Where is Gwendolen?" and
Mrs. Davilow had told Alice to go and see if her sister were come down,
adding, "I sent up her breakfast this morning. She needed a long rest."
Rex took the shortest way out of his endurance by saying, almost
impatiently, "Aunt, I want to speak to Gwendolen--I want to see her
"Very well, dear; go into the drawing-room. I will send her there," said
Mrs. Davilow, who had observed that he was fond of being with Gwendolen,
as was natural, but had not thought of this as having any bearing on the
realities of life: it seemed merely part of the Christmas holidays which
were spinning themselves out.
Rex for his part thought that the realities of life were all hanging on
this interview. He had to walk up and down the drawing-room in expectation
for nearly ten minutes--ample space for all imaginative fluctuations; yet,
strange to say, he was unvaryingly occupied in thinking what and how much
he could do, when Gwendolen had accepted him, to satisfy his father that
the engagement was the most prudent thing in the world, since it inspired
him with double energy for work. He was to be a lawyer, and what reason
was there why he should not rise as high as Eldon did? He was forced to
look at life in the light of his father's mind.
But when the door opened and she whose presence he was longing for
entered, there came over him suddenly and mysteriously a state of tremor
and distrust which he had never felt before. Miss Gwendolen, simple as she
stood there, in her black silk, cut square about the round white pillar of
her throat, a black band fastening her hair which streamed backward in
smooth silky abundance, seemed more queenly than usual. Perhaps it was
that there was none of the latent fun and tricksiness which had always
pierced in her greeting of Rex. How much of this was due to her
presentiment from what he had said yesterday that he was going to talk of
love? How much from her desire to show regret about his accident?
Something of both. But the wisdom of ages has hinted that there is a side
of the bed which has a malign influence if you happen to get out on it;
and this accident befalls some charming persons rather frequently. Perhaps
it had befallen Gwendolen this morning. The hastening of her toilet, the
way in which Bugle used the brush, the quality of the shilling serial
mistakenly written for her amusement, the probabilities of the coming day,
and, in short, social institutions generally, were all objectionable to
her. It was not that she was out of temper, but that the world was not
equal to the demands of her fine organism.
However it might be, Rex saw an awful majesty about her as she entered and
put out her hand to him, without the least approach to a smile in eyes or
mouth. The fun which had moved her in the evening had quite evaporated
from the image of his accident, and the whole affair seemed stupid to her.
But she said with perfect propriety, "I hope you are not much hurt, Rex; I
deserve that you should reproach me for your accident."
"Not at all," said Rex, feeling the soul within him spreading itself like
an attack of illness. "There is hardly any thing the matter with me. I am
so glad you had the pleasure: I would willingly pay for it by a tumble,
only I was sorry to break the horse's knees."
Gwendolen walked to the hearth and stood looking at the fire in the most
inconvenient way for conversation, so that he could only get a side view
of her face.
"My father wants me to go to Southampton for the rest of the vacation,"
said Rex, his baritone trembling a little.
"Southampton! That's a stupid place to go to, isn't it?" said Gwendolen,
"It would be to me, because you would not be there." Silence.
"Should you mind about me going away, Gwendolen?"
"Of course. Every one is of consequence in this dreary country," said
Gwendolen, curtly. The perception that poor Rex wanted to be tender made
her curl up and harden like a sea-anemone at the touch of a finger.
"Are you angry with me, Gwendolen? Why do you treat me in this way all at
once?" said Rex, flushing, and with more spirit in his voice, as if he too
were capable of being angry.
Gwendolen looked round at him and smiled. "Treat you? Nonsense! I am only
rather cross. Why did you come so very early? You must expect to find
tempers in dishabille."
"Be as cross with me as you like--only don't treat me with indifference,"
said Rex, imploringly. "All the happiness of my life depends on your
loving me--if only a little--better than any one else."
He tried to take her hand, but she hastily eluded his grasp and moved to
the other end of the hearth, facing him.
"Pray don't make love to me! I hate it!" she looked at him fiercely.
Rex turned pale and was silent, but could not take his eyes off her, and
the impetus was not yet exhausted that made hers dart death at him.
Gwendolen herself could not have foreseen that she should feel in this
way. It was all a sudden, new experience to her. The day before she had
been quite aware that her cousin was in love with her; she did not mind
how much, so that he said nothing about it; and if any one had asked her
why she objected to love-making speeches, she would have said, laughingly,
"Oh I am tired of them all in the books." But now the life of passion had
begun negatively in her. She felt passionately averse to this volunteered
To Rex at twenty the joy of life seemed at an end more absolutely than it
can do to a man at forty. But before they had ceased to look at each
other, he did speak again.
"Is that last word you have to say to me, Gwendolen? Will it always be
She could not help seeing his wretchedness and feeling a little regret for
the old Rex who had not offended her. Decisively, but yet with some return
of kindness, she said--
"About making love? Yes. But I don't dislike you for anything else."
There was just a perceptible pause before he said a low "good-bye." and
passed out of the room. Almost immediately after, she heard the heavy hall
door bang behind him.
Mrs. Davilow, too, had heard Rex's hasty departure, and presently came
into the drawing-room, where she found Gwendolen seated on the low couch,
her face buried, and her hair falling over her figure like a garment. She
was sobbing bitterly. "My child, my child, what is it?" cried the mother,
who had never before seen her darling struck down in this way, and felt
something of the alarmed anguish that women, feel at the sight of
overpowering sorrow in a strong man; for this child had been her ruler.
Sitting down by her with circling arms, she pressed her cheek against
Gwendolen's head, and then tried to draw it upward. Gwendolen gave way,
and letting her head rest against her mother, cried out sobbingly, "Oh,
mamma, what can become of my life? There is nothing worth living for!"
"Why, dear?" said Mrs. Davilow. Usually she herself had been rebuked by
her daughter for involuntary signs of despair.
"I shall never love anybody. I can't love people. I hate them."
"The time will come, dear, the time will come."
Gwendolen was more and more convulsed with sobbing; but putting her arms
round her mother's neck with an almost painful clinging, she said
brokenly, "I can't bear any one to be very near me but you."
Then the mother began to sob, for this spoiled child had never shown such
dependence on her before: and so they clung to each other.
What name doth Joy most borrow
When life is fair?
What name doth best fit Sorrow
In young despair?
There was a much more lasting trouble at the rectory. Rex arrived there
only to throw himself on his bed in a state of apparent apathy, unbroken
till the next day, when it began to be interrupted by more positive signs
of illness. Nothing could be said about his going to Southampton: instead
of that, the chief thought of his mother and Anna was how to tend this
patient who did not want to be well, and from being the brightest, most
grateful spirit in the household, was metamorphosed into an irresponsive,
dull-eyed creature who met all affectionate attempts with a murmur of "Let
me alone." His father looked beyond the crisis, and believed it to be the
shortest way out of an unlucky affair; but he was sorry for the inevitable
suffering, and went now and then to sit by him in silence for a few
minutes, parting with a gentle pressure of his hand on Rex's blank brow,
and a "God bless you, my boy." Warham and the younger children used to
peep round the edge of the door to see this incredible thing of their
lively brother being laid low; but fingers were immediately shaken at them
to drive them back. The guardian who was always there was Anna, and her
little hand was allowed to rest within her brother's, though he never gave
it a welcoming pressure. Her soul was divided between anguish for Rex and
reproach of Gwendolen.
"Perhaps it is wicked of me, but I think I never _can_ love her again,"
came as the recurrent burden of poor little Anna's inward monody. And even
Mrs. Gascoigne had an angry feeling toward her niece which she could not
refrain from expressing (apologetically) to her husband.
"I know of course it is better, and we ought to be thankful that she is
not in love with the poor boy; but really. Henry, I think she is hard; she
has the heart of a coquette. I can not help thinking that she must have
made him believe something, or the disappointment would not have taken
hold of him in that way. And some blame attaches to poor Fanny; she is
quite blind about that girl."
Mr. Gascoigne answered imperatively: "The less said on that point the
better, Nancy. I ought to have been more awake myself. As to the boy, be
thankful if nothing worse ever happens to him. Let the thing die out as
quickly as possible; and especially with regard to Gwendolen--let it be as
if it had never been."
The rector's dominant feeling was that there had been a great escape.
Gwendolen in love with Rex in return would have made a much harder
problem, the solution of which might have been taken out of his hands. But
he had to go through some further difficulty.
One fine morning Rex asked for his bath, and made his toilet as usual.
Anna, full of excitement at this change, could do nothing but listen for
his coming down, and at last hearing his step, ran to the foot of the
stairs to meet him. For the first time he gave her a faint smile, but it
looked so melancholy on his pale face that she could hardly help crying.
"Nannie!" he said gently, taking her hand and leading her slowly along
with him to the drawing-room. His mother was there, and when she came to
kiss him, he said: "What a plague I am!"
Then he sat still and looked out of the bow-window on the lawn and shrubs
covered with hoar-frost, across which the sun was sending faint occasional
gleams:--something like that sad smile on Rex's face, Anna thought. He
felt as if he had had a resurrection into a new world, and did not know
what to do with himself there, the old interests being left behind. Anna
sat near him, pretending to work, but really watching him with yearning
looks. Beyond the garden hedge there was a road where wagons and carts
sometimes went on field-work: a railed opening was made in the hedge,
because the upland with its bordering wood and clump of ash-trees against
the sky was a pretty sight. Presently there came along a wagon laden with
timber; the horses were straining their grand muscles, and the driver
having cracked his whip, ran along anxiously to guide the leader's head,
fearing a swerve. Rex seemed to be shaken into attention, rose and looked
till the last quivering trunk of the timber had disappeared, and then
walked once or twice along the room. Mrs. Gascoigne was no longer there,
and when he came to sit down again, Anna, seeing a return of speech in her
brother's eyes, could not resist the impulse to bring a little stool and
seat herself against his knee, looking up at him with an expression which
seemed to say, "Do speak to me." And he spoke.
"I'll tell you what I'm thinking of, Nannie. I will go to Canada, or
somewhere of that sort." (Rex had not studied the character of our
"Oh, Rex, not for always!"
"Yes, to get my bread there. I should like to build a hut, and work hard
at clearing, and have everything wild about me, and a great wide quiet."
"And not take me with you?" said Anna, the big tears coming fast.
"How could I?"
"I should like it better than anything; and settlers go with their
families. I would sooner go there than stay here in England. I could make
the fires, and mend the clothes, and cook the food; and I could learn how
to make the bread before we went. It would be nicer than anything--like
playing at life over again, as we used to do when we made our tent with
the drugget, and had our little plates and dishes."
"Father and mother would not let you go."
"Yes, I think they would, when I explained everything. It would save
money; and papa would have more to bring up the boys with."
There was further talk of the same practical kind at intervals, and it
ended in Rex's being obliged to consent that Anna should go with him when
he spoke to his father on the subject.
Of course it was when the rector was alone in his study. Their mother
would become reconciled to whatever he decided on, but mentioned to her
first, the question would have distressed her.
"Well, my children!" said Mr. Gascoigne, cheerfully, as they entered. It
was a comfort to see Rex about again.
"May we sit down with you a little, papa?" said Anna. "Rex has something
"With all my heart."
It was a noticeable group that these three creatures made, each of them
with a face of the same structural type--the straight brow, the nose
suddenly straightened from an intention of being aquiline, the short upper
lip, the short but strong and well-hung chin: there was even the same tone
of complexion and set of the eye. The gray-haired father was at once
massive and keen-looking; there was a perpendicular line in his brow which
when he spoke with any force of interest deepened; and the habit of ruling
gave him an air of reserved authoritativeness. Rex would have seemed a
vision of his father's youth, if it had been possible to imagine Mr.
Gascoigne without distinct plans and without command, smitten with a heart
sorrow, and having no more notion of concealment than a sick animal; and
Anna was a tiny copy of Rex, with hair drawn back and knotted, her face
following his in its changes of expression, as if they had one soul
"You know all about what has upset me, father," Rex began, and Mr.
"I am quite done up for life in this part of the world. I am sure it will
be no use my going back to Oxford. I couldn't do any reading. I should
fail, and cause you expense for nothing. I want to have your consent to
take another course, sir."
Mr. Gascoigne nodded more slowly, the perpendicular line on his brow
deepened, and Anna's trembling increased.
"If you would allow me a small outfit, I should like to go to the colonies
and work on the land there." Rex thought the vagueness of the phrase
prudential; "the colonies" necessarily embracing more advantages, and
being less capable of being rebutted on a single ground than any
"Oh, and with me, papa," said Anna, not bearing to be left out from the
proposal even temporarily. "Rex would want some one to take care of him,
you know--some one to keep house. And we shall never, either of us, be
married. And I should cost nothing, and I should be so happy. I know it
would be hard to leave you and mamma; but there are all the others to
bring up, and we two should be no trouble to you any more."
Anna had risen from her seat, and used the feminine argument of going
closer to her papa as she spoke. He did not smile, but he drew her on his
knee and held her there, as if to put her gently out of the question while
he spoke to Rex.
"You will admit that my experience gives me some power of judging for you,
and that I can probably guide you in practical matters better than you can
Rex was obliged to say, "Yes, sir."
"And perhaps you will admit--though I don't wish to press that point--that
you are bound in duty to consider my judgment and wishes?"
"I have never yet placed myself in opposition to you, sir." Rex in his
secret soul could not feel that he was bound not to go to the colonies,
but to go to Oxford again--which was the point in question.
"But you will do so if you persist in setting your mind toward a rash and
foolish procedure, and deafening yourself to considerations which my
experience of life assures me of. You think, I suppose, that you have had
a shock which has changed all your inclinations, stupefied your brains,
unfitted you for anything but manual labor, and given you a dislike to
society? Is that what you believe?"
"Something like that. I shall never be up to the sort of work I must do to
live in this part of the world. I have not the spirit for it. I shall
never be the same again. And without any disrespect to you, father, I
think a young fellow should be allowed to choose his way of life, if he
does nobody any harm. There are plenty to stay at home, and those who like
might be allowed to go where there are empty places."
"But suppose I am convinced on good evidence--as I am--that this state of
mind of yours is transient, and that if you went off as you propose, you
would by-and-by repent, and feel that you had let yourself slip back from
the point you have been gaining by your education till now? Have you not
strength of mind enough to see that you had better act on my assurance for
a time, and test it? In my opinion, so far from agreeing with you that you
should be free to turn yourself into a colonist and work in your shirt-
sleeves with spade and hatchet--in my opinion you have no right whatever
to expatriate yourself until you have honestly endeavored to turn to
account the education you have received here. I say nothing of the grief
to your mother and me."
"I'm very sorry; but what can I do? I can't study--that's certain," said
"Not just now, perhaps. You will have to miss a term. I have made
arrangements for you--how you are to spend the next two months. But I
confess I am disappointed in you, Rex. I thought you had more sense than
to take up such ideas--to suppose that because you have fallen into a very
common trouble, such as most men have to go through, you are loosened from
all bonds of duty--just as if your brain had softened and you were no
longer a responsible being."
What could Rex say? Inwardly he was in a state of rebellion, but he had no
arguments to meet his father's; and while he was feeling, in spite of any
thing that might be said, that he should like to go off to "the colonies"
to-morrow, it lay in a deep fold of his consciousness that he ought to
feel--if he had been a better fellow he would have felt--more about his
old ties. This is the sort of faith we live by in our soul sicknesses.
Rex got up from his seat, as if he held the conference to be at an end.
"You assent to my arrangement, then?" said Mr. Gascoigne, with that
distinct resolution of tone which seems to hold one in a vise.
There was a little pause before Rex answered, "I'll try what I can do,
sir. I can't promise." His thought was, that trying would be of no use.
Her father kept Anna, holding her fast, though she wanted to follow Rex.
"Oh, papa," she said, the tears coming with her words when the door had
closed; "it is very hard for him. Doesn't he look ill?"
"Yes, but he will soon be better; it will all blow over. And now, Anna, be
as quiet as a mouse about it all. Never let it be mentioned when he is
"No, papa. But I would not be like Gwendolen for any thing--to have people
fall in love with me so. It is very dreadful."
Anna dared not say that she was disappointed at not being allowed to go to
the colonies with Rex; but that was her secret feeling, and she often
afterward went inwardly over the whole affair, saying to herself, "I
should have done with going out, and gloves, and crinoline, and having to
talk when I am taken to dinner--and all that!"
I like to mark the time, and connect the course of individual lives with
the historic stream, for all classes of thinkers. This was the period when
the broadening of gauge in crinolines seemed to demand an agitation for
the general enlargement of churches, ball-rooms, and vehicles. But Anna
Gascoigne's figure would only allow the size of skirt manufactured for
young ladies of fourteen.
I'll tell thee, Berthold, what men's hopes are like:
A silly child that, quivering with joy,
Would cast its little mimic fishing-line
Baited with loadstone for a bowl of toys
In the salt ocean.
Eight months after the arrival of the family at Offendene, that is to say
in the end of the following June, a rumor was spread in the neighborhood
which to many persons was matter of exciting interest. It had no reference
to the results of the American war, but it was one which touched all
classes within a certain circuit round Wanchester: the corn-factors, the
brewers, the horse-dealers, and saddlers, all held it a laudable thing,
and one which was to be rejoiced in on abstract grounds, as showing the
value of an aristocracy in a free country like England; the blacksmith in
the hamlet of Diplow felt that a good time had come round; the wives of
laboring men hoped their nimble boys of ten or twelve would be taken into
employ by the gentlemen in livery; and the farmers about Diplow admitted,
with a tincture of bitterness and reserve that a man might now again
perhaps have an easier market or exchange for a rick of old hay or a
wagon-load of straw. If such were the hopes of low persons not in society,
it may be easily inferred that their betters had better reasons for
satisfaction, probably connected with the pleasures of life rather than
its business. Marriage, however, must be considered as coming under both
heads; and just as when a visit of majesty is announced, the dream of
knighthood or a baronetcy is to be found under various municipal
nightcaps, so the news in question raised a floating indeterminate vision
of marriage in several well-bred imaginations.
The news was that Diplow Hall, Sir Hugo Mallinger's place, which had for a
couple of years turned its white window-shutters in a painfully wall-eyed
manner on its fine elms and beeches, its lilied pool and grassy acres
specked with deer, was being prepared for a tenant, and was for the rest
of the summer and through the hunting season to be inhabited in a fitting
style both as to house and stable. But not by Sir Hugo himself: by his
nephew, Mr. Mallinger Grandcourt, who was presumptive heir to the
baronetcy, his uncle's marriage having produced nothing but girls. Nor was
this the only contingency with which fortune flattered young Grandcourt,
as he was pleasantly called; for while the chance of the baronetcy came
through his father, his mother had given a baronial streak to his blood,
so that if certain intervening persons slightly painted in the middle
distance died, he would become a baron and peer of this realm.
It is the uneven allotment of nature that the male bird alone has the
tuft, but we have not yet followed the advice of hasty philosophers who
would have us copy nature entirely in these matters; and if Mr. Mallinger
Grandcourt became a baronet or a peer, his wife would share the title--
which in addition to his actual fortune was certainly a reason why that
wife, being at present unchosen, should be thought of by more than one
person with a sympathetic interest as a woman sure to be well provided
Some readers of this history will doubtless regard it as incredible that
people should construct matrimonial prospects on the mere report that a
bachelor of good fortune and possibilities was coming within reach, and
will reject the statement as a mere outflow of gall: they will aver that
neither they nor their first cousins have minds so unbridled; and that in
fact this is not human nature, which would know that such speculations
might turn out to be fallacious, and would therefore not entertain them.
But, let it be observed, nothing is here narrated of human nature
generally: the history in its present stage concerns only a few people in
a corner of Wessex--whose reputation, however, was unimpeached, and who, I
am in the proud position of being able to state, were all on visiting
terms with persons of rank.
There were the Arrowpoints, for example, in their beautiful place at
Quetcham: no one could attribute sordid views in relation to their
daughter's marriage to parents who could leave her at least half a
million; but having affectionate anxieties about their Catherine's
position (she having resolutely refused Lord Slogan, an unexceptionable
Irish peer, whose estate wanted nothing but drainage and population), they
wondered, perhaps from something more than a charitable impulse, whether
Mr. Grandcourt was good-looking, of sound constitution, virtuous, or at
least reformed, and if liberal-conservative, not too liberal-conservative;
and without wishing anybody to die, thought his succession to the title an
event to be desired.
If the Arrowpoints had such ruminations, it is the less surprising that
they were stimulated in Mr. Gascoigne, who for being a clergyman was not
the less subject to the anxieties of a parent and guardian; and we have
seen how both he and Mrs. Gascoigne might by this time have come to feel
that he was overcharged with the management of young creatures who were
hardly to be held in with bit or bridle, or any sort of metaphor that
would stand for judicious advice.
Naturally, people did not tell each other all they felt and thought about
young Grandcourt's advent: on no subject is this openness found prudently
practicable--not even on the generation of acids, or the destination of
the fixed stars: for either your contemporary with a mind turned toward
the same subjects may find your ideas ingenious and forestall you in
applying them, or he may have other views on acids and fixed stars, and
think ill of you in consequence. Mr. Gascoigne did not ask Mr. Arrowpoint
if he had any trustworthy source of information about Grandcourt
considered as a husband for a charming girl; nor did Mrs. Arrowpoint
observe to Mrs. Davilow that if the possible peer sought a wife in the
neighborhood of Diplow, the only reasonable expectation was that he would
offer his hand to Catherine, who, however, would not accept him unless he
were in all respects fitted to secure her happiness. Indeed, even to his
wife the rector was silent as to the contemplation of any matrimonial
result, from the probability that Mr. Grandcourt would see Gwendolen at
the next Archery Meeting; though Mrs. Gascoigne's mind was very likely
still more active in the same direction. She had said interjectionally to
her sister, "It would be a mercy, Fanny, if that girl were well married!"
to which Mrs. Davilow discerning some criticism of her darling in the
fervor of that wish, had not chosen to make any audible reply, though she
had said inwardly, "You will not get her to marry for your pleasure"; the
mild mother becoming rather saucy when she identified herself with her
To her husband Mrs. Gascoigne said, "I hear Mr. Grandcourt has got two
places of his own, but he comes to Diplow for the hunting. It is to be
hoped he will set a good example in the neighborhood. Have you heard what
sort of a young man he is, Henry?"
Mr. Gascoigne had not heard; at least, if his male acquaintances had
gossiped in his hearing, he was not disposed to repeat their gossip, or to
give it any emphasis in his own mind. He held it futile, even if it had
been becoming, to show any curiosity as to the past of a young man whose
birth, wealth, and consequent leisure made many habits venial which under
other circumstances would have been inexcusable. Whatever Grandcourt had
done, he had not ruined himself; and it is well-known that in gambling,
for example, whether of the business or holiday sort, a man who has the
strength of mind to leave off when he has only ruined others, is a
reformed character. This is an illustration merely: Mr. Gascoigne had not
heard that Grandcourt had been a gambler; and we can hardly pronounce him
singular in feeling that a landed proprieter with a mixture of noble blood
in his veins was not to be an object of suspicious inquiry like a reformed
character who offers himself as your butler or footman. Reformation, where
a man can afford to do without it, can hardly be other than genuine.
Moreover, it was not certain on any other showing hitherto, that Mr.
Grandcourt had needed reformation more than other young men in the ripe
youth of five-and-thirty; and, at any rate, the significance of what he
had been must be determined by what he actually was.
Mrs. Davilow, too, although she would not respond to her sister's pregnant
remark, could not be inwardly indifferent to an advent that might promise
a brilliant lot for Gwendolen. A little speculation on "what may be" comes
naturally, without encouragement--comes inevitably in the form of images,
when unknown persons are mentioned; and Mr. Grandcourt's name raised in
Mrs. Davilow's mind first of all the picture of a handsome, accomplished,
excellent young man whom she would be satisfied with as a husband for her
daughter; but then came the further speculation--would Gwendolen be
satisfied with him? There was no knowing what would meet that girl's taste
or touch her affections--it might be something else than excellence; and
thus the image of the perfect suitor gave way before a fluctuating
combination of qualities that might be imagined to win Gwendolen's heart.
In the difficulty of arriving at the particular combination which would
insure that result, the mother even said to herself, "It would not signify
about her being in love, if she would only accept the right person." For
whatever marriage had been for herself, how could she the less desire it
for her daughter? The difference her own misfortunes made was, that she
never dared to dwell much to Gwendolen on the desirableness of marriage,
dreading an answer something like that of the future Madame Roland, when
her gentle mother urging the acceptance of a suitor, said, "Tu seras
heureuse, ma chere." "Oui, maman, comme toi."
In relation to the problematic Mr. Grandcourt least of all would Mrs.
Davilow have willingly let fall a hint of the aerial castle-building which
she had the good taste to be ashamed of; for such a hint was likely enough
to give an adverse poise to Gwendolen's own thought, and make her detest
the desirable husband beforehand. Since that scene after poor Rex's
farewell visit, the mother had felt a new sense of peril in touching the
mystery of her child's feeling, and in rashly determining what was her
welfare: only she could think of welfare in no other shape than marriage.
The discussion of the dress that Gwendolen was to wear at the Archery
Meeting was a relevant topic, however; and when it had been decided that
as a touch of color on her white cashmere, nothing, for her complexion,
was comparable to pale green--a feather which she was trying in her hat
before the looking-glass having settled the question--Mrs. Davilow felt
her ears tingle when Gwendolen, suddenly throwing herself into the
attitude of drawing her bow, said with a look of comic enjoyment--
"How I pity all the other girls at the Archery Meeting--all thinking of
Mr. Grandcourt! And they have not a shadow of a chance."
Mrs. Davilow had not the presence of mind to answer immediately, and
Gwendolen turned round quickly toward her, saying, wickedly--
"Now you know they have not, mamma. You and my uncle and aunt--you all
intend him to fall in love with me."
Mrs. Davilow, pigued into a little stratagem, said, "Oh, my, dear, that is
not so certain. Miss Arrowpoint has charms which you have not."
"I know, but they demand thought. My arrow will pierce him before he has
time for thought. He will declare himself my slave--I shall send him round
the world to bring me back the wedding ring of a happy woman--in the
meantime all the men who are between him and the title will die of
different diseases--he will come back Lord Grandcourt--but without the
ring--and fall at my feet. I shall laugh at him--he will rise in
resentment--I shall laugh more--he will call for his steed and ride to
Quetcham, where he will find Miss Arrowpoint just married to a needy
musician, Mrs. Arrowpoint tearing her cap off, and Mr. Arrowpoint standing
by. Exit Lord Grandcourt, who returns to Diplow, and, like M. Jabot,
_change de linge_."
Was ever any young witch like this? You thought of hiding things from her
--sat upon your secret and looked innocent, and all the while she knew
by the corner of your eye that it was exactly five pounds ten you were
sitting on! As well turn the key to keep out the damp! It was probable
that by dint of divination she already knew more than any one else did of
Mr. Grandcourt. That idea in Mrs. Davilow's mind prompted the sort of
question which often comes without any other apparent reason than the
faculty of speech and the not knowing what to do with it.
"Why, what kind of a man do you imagine him to be, Gwendolen?"
"Let me see!" said the witch, putting her forefinger to her lips, with a
little frown, and then stretching out the finger with decision. "Short--
just above my shoulder--crying to make himself tall by turning up his
mustache and keeping his beard long--a glass in his right eye to give him
an air of distinction--a strong opinion about his waistcoat, but uncertain
and trimming about the weather, on which he will try to draw me out. He
will stare at me all the while, and the glass in his eye will cause him to
make horrible faces, especially when he smiles in a flattering way. I
shall cast down my eyes in consequence, and he will perceive that I am not
indifferent to his attentions. I shall dream that night that I am looking
at the extraordinary face of a magnified insect--and the next morning he
will make an offer of his hand; the sequel as before."
"That is a portrait of some one you have seen already, Gwen. Mr.
Grandcourt may be a delightful young man for what you know."
"Oh, yes," said Gwendolen, with a high note of careless admission, taking
off her best hat and turning it round on her hand contemplatively. "I
wonder what sort of behavior a delightful young man would have? I know he
would have hunters and racers, and a London house and two country-houses--
one with battlements and another with a veranda. And I feel sure that with
a little murdering he might get a title."
The irony of this speech was of the doubtful sort that has some genuine
belief mixed up with it. Poor Mrs. Davilow felt uncomfortable under it.
Her own meanings being usually literal and in intention innocent; and she
said with a distressed brow:
"Don't talk in that way, child, for heaven's sake! you do read such books
--they give you such ideas of everything. I declare when your aunt and I
were your age we knew nothing about wickedness. I think it was better so."
"Why did you not bring me up in that way, mamma?" said Gwendolen. But
immediately perceiving in the crushed look and rising sob that she had
given a deep wound, she tossed down her hat and knelt at her mother's feet
"Mamma, mamma! I was only speaking in fun. I meant nothing."
"How could I, Gwendolen?" said poor Mrs. Davilow, unable to hear the
retraction, and sobbing violently while she made the effort to speak.
"Your will was always too strong for me--if everything else had been
This disjoined logic was intelligible enough to the daughter. "Dear mamma,
I don't find fault with you--I love you," said Gwendolen, really
compunctious. "How can you help what I am? Besides, I am very charming.
Come, now." Here Gwendolen with her handkerchief gently rubbed away her
mother's tears. "Really--I am contented with myself. I like myself better
than I should have liked my aunt and you. How dreadfully dull you must
Such tender cajolery served to quiet the mother, as it had often done
before after like collisions. Not that the collisions had often been
repeated at the same point; for in the memory of both they left an
association of dread with the particular topics which had occasioned them:
Gwendolen dreaded the unpleasant sense of compunction toward her mother,
which was the nearest approach to self-condemnation and self-distrust that
she had known; and Mrs. Davilow's timid maternal conscience dreaded
whatever had brought on the slightest hint of reproach. Hence, after this
little scene, the two concurred in excluding Mr. Grandcourt from their
When Mr. Gascoigne once or twice referred to him, Mrs. Davilow feared
least Gwendolen should betray some of her alarming keen-sightedness about
what was probably in her uncle's mind; but the fear was not justified.
Gwendolen knew certain differences in the characters with which she was
concerned as birds know climate and weather; and for the very reason that
she was determined to evade her uncle's control, she was determined not to
clash with him. The good understanding between them was much fostered by
their enjoyment of archery together: Mr. Gascoigne, as one of the best
bowmen in Wessex, was gratified to find the elements of like skill in his
niece; and Gwendolen was the more careful not to lose the shelter of his
fatherly indulgence, because since the trouble with Rex both Mrs.
Gascoigne and Anna had been unable to hide what she felt to be a very
unreasonable alienation from her. Toward Anna she took some pains to
behave with a regretful affectionateness; but neither of them dared to
mention Rex's name, and Anna, to whom the thought of him was part of the
air she breathed, was ill at ease with the lively cousin who had ruined
his happiness. She tried dutifully to repress any sign of her changed
feeling; but who in pain can imitate the glance and hand-touch of
This unfair resentment had rather a hardening effect on Gwendolen, and
threw her into a more defiant temper. Her uncle too might be offended if
she refused the next person who fell in love with her; and one day when
that idea was in her mind she said--
"Mamma, I see now why girls are glad to be married--to escape being
expected to please everybody but themselves."
Happily, Mr. Middleton was gone without having made any avowal; and
notwithstanding the admiration for the handsome Miss Harleth, extending
perhaps over thirty square miles in a part of Wessex well studded with
families whose numbers included several disengaged young men, each glad to
seat himself by the lively girl with whom it was so easy to get on in
conversation,--notwithstanding these grounds for arguing that Gwendolen
was likely to have other suitors more explicit than the cautious curate,
the fact was not so.
Care has been taken not only that the trees should not sweep the stars
down, but also that every man who admires a fair girl should not be
enamored of her, and even that every man who is enamored should not
necessarily declare himself. There are various refined shapes in which the
price of corn, known to be potent cause in their relation, might, if
inquired into, show why a young lady, perfect in person, accomplishments,
and costume, has not the trouble of rejecting many offers; and nature's
order is certainly benignant in not obliging us one and all to be
desperately in love with the most admirable mortal we have ever seen.
Gwendolen, we know, was far from holding that supremacy in the minds of
all observers. Besides, it was but a poor eight months since she had come
to Offendene, and some inclinations become manifest slowly, like the
sunward creeping of plants.
In face of this fact that not one of the eligible young men already in the
neighborhood had made Gwendolen an offer, why should Mr. Grandcourt be
thought of as likely to do what they had left undone?
Perhaps because he was thought of as still more eligible; since a great
deal of what passes for likelihood in the world is simply the reflex of a
wish. Mr. and Mrs. Arrowpoint, for example, having no anxiety that Miss
Harleth should make a brilliant marriage, had quite a different likelihood
in their minds.
_1st Gent._ What woman should be? Sir, consult the taste
Of marriageable men. This planet's store
In iron, cotton, wool, or chemicals--
All matter rendered to our plastic skill,
Is wrought in shapes responsive to demand;
The market's pulse makes index high or low,
By rule sublime. Our daughters must be wives,
And to the wives must be what men will choose;
Men's taste is woman's test. You mark the phrase?
'Tis good, I think?--the sense well-winged and poised
With t's and s's.
_2nd Gent._ Nay, but turn it round;
Give us the test of taste. A fine _menu_--
Is it to-day what Roman epicures
Insisted that a gentleman must eat
To earn the dignity of dining well?
Brackenshaw Park, where the Archery Meeting was held, looked out from its
gentle heights far over the neighboring valley to the outlying eastern
downs and the broad, slow rise of cultivated country, hanging like a vast
curtain toward the west. The castle which stood on the highest platform of
the clustered hills, was built of rough-hewn limestone, full of lights and
shadows made by the dark dust of lichens and the washings of the rain.
Masses of beech and fir sheltered it on the north, and spread down here
and there along the green slopes like flocks seeking the water which
gleamed below. The archery-ground was a carefully-kept enclosure on a bit
of table-land at the farthest end of the park, protected toward the
southwest by tall elms and a thick screen of hollies, which kept the
gravel walk and the bit of newly-mown turf where the targets were placed
in agreeable afternoon shade. The Archery Hall with an arcade in front
showed like a white temple against the greenery on the north side.
What could make a better background for the flower-groups of ladies,
moving and bowing and turning their necks as it would become the leisurely
lilies to do if they took to locomotion. The sounds too were very pleasant
to hear, even when the military band from Wanchester ceased to play:
musical laughs in all the registers and a harmony of happy, friendly
speeches, now rising toward mild excitement, now sinking to an agreeable
No open-air amusement could be much freer from those noisy, crowding
conditions which spoil most modern pleasures; no Archery Meeting could be
more select, the number of friends accompanying the members being
restricted by an award of tickets, so as to keep the maximum within the
limits of convenience for the dinner and ball to be held in the castle.
Within the enclosure no plebeian spectators were admitted except Lord
Brackenshaw's tenants and their families, and of these it was chiefly the
feminine members who used the privilege, bringing their little boys and
girls or younger brothers and sisters. The males among them relieved the
insipidity of the entertainment by imaginative betting, in which the stake
was "anything you like," on their favorite archers; but the young maidens,
having a different principle of discrimination, were considering which of
those sweetly-dressed ladies they would choose to be, if the choice were
allowed them. Probably the form these rural souls would most have striven
for as a tabernacle, was some other than Gwendolen's--one with more pink
in her cheeks and hair of the most fashionable yellow; but among the male
judges in the ranks immediately surrounding her there was unusual
unanimity in pronouncing her the finest girl present.
No wonder she enjoyed her existence on that July day. Pre-eminence is
sweet to those who love it, even under mediocre circumstances. Perhaps it
was not quite mythical that a slave has been proud to be bought first; and
probably a barn-door fowl on sale, though he may not have understood
himself to be called the best of a bad lot, may have a self-informed
consciousness of his relative importance, and strut consoled. But for
complete enjoyment the outward and the inward must concur. And that
concurrence was happening to Gwendolen.
Who can deny that bows and arrows are among the prettiest weapons in the
world for feminine forms to play with? They prompt attitudes full of grace
and power, where that fine concentration of energy seen in all
markmanship, is freed from associations of bloodshed. The time-honored
British resources of "killing something" is no longer carried on with bow
and quiver; bands defending their passes against an invading nation fight
under another sort of shade than a cloud of arrows; and poisoned darts are
harmless survivals either in rhetoric or in regions comfortably remote.
Archery has no ugly smell of brimstone; breaks nobody's shins, breeds no
athletic monsters; its only danger is that of failing, which for generous
blood is enough to mould skilful action. And among the Brackenshaw archers
the prizes were all of the nobler symbolic kind; not properly to be
carried off in a parcel, degrading honor into gain; but the gold arrow and
the silver, the gold star and the silver, to be worn for a long time in
sign of achievement and then transferred to the next who did excellently.
These signs of pre-eminence had the virtue of wreaths without their
inconveniences, which might have produced a melancholy effect in the heat
of the ball-room. Altogether the Brackenshaw Archery Club was an
institution framed with good taste, so as not to have by necessity any
And to-day all incalculable elements were in its favor. There was mild
warmth, and no wind to disturb either hair or drapery or the course of the
arrow; all skillful preparation had fair play, and when there was a
general march to extract the arrows, the promenade of joyous young
creatures in light speech and laughter, the graceful movement in common
toward a common object, was a show worth looking at. Here Gwendolen seemed
a Calypso among her nymphs. It was in her attitudes and movements that
every one was obliged to admit her surpassing charm.
"That girl is like a high-mettled racer," said Lord Brackenshaw to young
Clintock, one of the invited spectators.
"First chop! tremendously pretty too," said the elegant Grecian, who had
been paying her assiduous attention; "I never saw her look better."
Perhaps she had never looked so well. Her face was beaming with young
pleasure in which there was no malign rays of discontent; for being
satisfied with her own chances, she felt kindly toward everybody and was
satisfied with the universe. Not to have the highest distinction in rank,
not to be marked out as an heiress, like Miss Arrowpoint, gave an added
triumph in eclipsing those advantages. For personal recommendation she
would not have cared to change the family group accompanying her for any
other: her mamma's appearance would have suited an amiable duchess; her
uncle and aunt Gascoigne with Anna made equally gratifying figures in
their way; and Gwendolen was too full of joyous belief in herself to feel
in the least jealous though Miss Arrowpoint was one of the best
Even the reappearance of the formidable Herr Klesmer, which caused some
surprise in the rest of the company, seemed only to fall in with
Gwendolen's inclination to be amused. Short of Apollo himself, what great
musical _maestro_ could make a good figure at an archery meeting? There
was a very satirical light in Gwendolen's eyes as she looked toward the
Arrowpoint party on their first entrance, when the contrast between
Klesmer and the average group of English country people seemed at its
utmost intensity in the close neighborhood of his hosts--or patrons, as
Mrs. Arrowpoint would have liked to hear them called, that she might deny
the possibility of any longer patronizing genius, its royalty being
universally acknowledged. The contrast might have amused a graver
personage than Gwendolen. We English are a miscellaneous people, and any
chance fifty of us will present many varieties of animal architecture or
facial ornament; but it must be admitted that our prevailing expression is
not that of a lively, impassioned race, preoccupied with the ideal and
carrying the real as a mere make-weight. The strong point of the English
gentleman pure is the easy style of his figure and clothing; he objects to
marked ins and outs in his costume, and he also objects to looking
Fancy an assemblage where the men had all that ordinary stamp of the well-
bred Englishman, watching the entrance of Herr Klesmer--his mane of hair
floating backward in massive inconsistency with the chimney-pot hat, which
had the look of having been put on for a joke above his pronounced but
well-modeled features and powerful clear-shaven mouth and chin; his tall,
thin figure clad in a way which, not being strictly English, was all the
worse for its apparent emphasis of intention. Draped in a loose garment
with a Florentine _berretta_ on his head, he would have been fit to stand
by the side of Leonardo de Vinci; but how when he presented himself in
trousers which were not what English feeling demanded about the knees?--
and when the fire that showed itself in his glances and the movements of
his head, as he looked round him with curiosity, was turned into comedy by
a hat which ruled that mankind should have well-cropped hair and a staid
demeanor, such, for example, as Mr. Arrowsmith's, whose nullity of face
and perfect tailoring might pass everywhere without ridicule? One feels
why it is often better for greatness to be dead, and to have got rid of
the outward man.
Many present knew Klesmer, or knew of him; but they had only seen him on
candle-light occasions when he appeared simply as a musician, and he had
not yet that supreme, world-wide celebrity which makes an artist great to
the most ordinary people by their knowledge of his great expensiveness. It
was literally a new light for them to see him in--presented unexpectedly
on this July afternoon in an exclusive society: some were inclined to
laugh, others felt a little disgust at the want of judgment shown by the
Arrowpoints in this use of an introductory card.
"What extreme guys those artistic fellows usually are?" said young
Clintock to Gwendolen. "Do look at the figure he cuts, bowing with his
hand on his heart to Lady Brackenshaw--and Mrs. Arrowpoint's feather just
reaching his shoulder."
"You are one of the profane," said Gwendolen. "You are blind to the
majesty of genius. Herr Klesmer smites me with awe; I feel crushed in his
presence; my courage all oozes from me."
"Ah, you understand all about his music."
"No, indeed," said Gwendolen, with a light laugh; "it is he who
understands all about mine and thinks it pitiable." Klesmer's verdict on
her singing had been an easier joke to her since he had been struck by her
"It is not addressed to the ears of the future, I suppose. I'm glad of
that: it suits mine."
"Oh, you are very kind. But how remarkably well Miss Arrowpoint looks to-
day! She would make quite a fine picture in that gold-colored dress."
"Too splendid, don't you think?"
"Well, perhaps a little too symbolical--too much like the figure of Wealth
in an allegory."
This speech of Gwendolen's had rather a malicious sound, but it was not
really more than a bubble of fun. She did not wish Miss Arrowpoint or any
one else to be out of the way, believing in her own good fortune even more
than in her skill. The belief in both naturally grew stronger as the
shooting went on, for she promised to achieve one of the best scores--a
success which astonished every one in a new member; and to Gwendolen's
temperament one success determined another. She trod on air, and all
things pleasant seemed possible. The hour was enough for her, and she was
not obliged to think what she should do next to keep her life at the due
"How does the scoring stand, I wonder?" said Lady Brackenshaw, a gracious
personage who, adorned with two little girls and a boy of stout make, sat
as lady paramount. Her lord had come up to her in one of the intervals of
shooting. "It seems to me that Miss Harleth is likely to win the gold
"Gad, I think she will, if she carries it on! she is running Juliet Fenn
hard. It is wonderful for one in her first year. Catherine is not up to
her usual mark," continued his lordship, turning to the heiress's mother
who sat near. "But she got the gold arrow last time. And there's a luck
even in these games of skill. That's better. It gives the hinder ones a
"Catherine will be very glad for others to win," said Mrs. Arrowpoint,
"she is so magnanimous. It was entirely her considerateness that made us
bring Herr Klesmer instead of Canon Stopley, who had expressed a wish to
come. For her own pleasure, I am sure she would rather have brought the
Canon; but she is always thinking of others. I told her it was not quite
_en regle_ to bring one so far out of our own set; but she said, 'Genius
itself is not _en regle_; it comes into the world to make new rules.' And
one must admit that."
"Ay, to be sure," said Lord Brackenshaw, in a tone of careless dismissal,
adding quickly, "For my part, I am not magnanimous; I should like to win.
But, confound it! I never have the chance now. I'm getting old and idle.
The young ones beat me. As old Nestor says--the gods don't give us
everything at one time: I was a young fellow once, and now I am getting an
old and wise one. Old, at any rate; which is a gift that comes to
everybody if they live long enough, so it raises no jealousy." The Earl
smiled comfortably at his wife.
"Oh, my lord, people who have been neighbors twenty years must not talk to
each other about age," said Mrs. Arrowpoint. "Years, as the Tuscans say,
are made for the letting of houses. But where is our new neighbor? I
thought Mr. Grandcourt was to be here to-day."
"Ah, by the way, so he was. The time's getting on too," said his lordship,
looking at his watch. "But he only got to Diplow the other day. He came to
us on Tuesday and said he had been a little bothered. He may have been
pulled in another direction. Why, Gascoigne!"--the rector was just then
crossing at a little distance with Gwendolen on his arm, and turned in
compliance with the call--"this is a little too bad; you not only beat us
yourself, but you bring up your niece to beat all the archeresses."
"It _is_ rather scandalous in her to get the better of elder members,"
said Mr. Gascoigne, with much inward satisfaction curling his short upper
lip. "But it is not my doing, my lord. I only meant her to make a
tolerable figure, without surpassing any one."
"It is not my fault, either," said Gwendolen, with pretty archness. "If I
am to aim, I can't help hitting."
"Ay, ay, that may be a fatal business for some people," said Lord
Brackenshaw, good-humoredly; then taking out his watch and looking at Mrs.
Arrowpoint again--"The time's getting on, as you say. But Grandcourt is
always late. I notice in town he's always late, and he's no bowman--
understands nothing about it. But I told him he must come; he would see
the flower of the neighborhood here. He asked about you--had seen
Arrowpoint's card. I think you had not made his acquaintance in town. He
has been a good deal abroad. People don't know him much."
"No; we are strangers," said Mrs. Arrowpoint. "But that is not what might
have been expected. For his uncle Sir Hugo Mallinger and I are great
friends when we meet."
"I don't know; uncles and nephews are not so likely to be seen together as
uncles and nieces," said his lordship, smiling toward the rector. "But
just come with me one instant, Gascoigne, will you? I want to speak a word
about the clout-shooting."
Gwendolen chose to go too and be deposited in the same group with her
mamma and aunt until she had to shoot again. That Mr. Grandcourt might
after all not appear on the archery-ground, had begun to enter into
Gwendolen's thought as a possible deduction from the completeness of her
pleasure. Under all her saucy satire, provoked chiefly by her divination
that her friends thought of him as a desirable match for her, she felt
something very far from indifference as to the impression she would make
on him. True, he was not to have the slightest power over her (for
Gwendolen had not considered that the desire to conquer is itself a sort
of subjection); she had made up her mind that he was to be one of those
complimentary and assiduously admiring men of whom even her narrow
experience had shown her several with various-colored beards and various
styles of bearing; and the sense that her friends would want her to think
him delightful, gave her a resistant inclination to presuppose him
ridiculous. But that was no reason why she could spare his presence: and
even a passing prevision of trouble in case she despised and refused him,
raised not the shadow of a wish that he should save her that trouble by
showing no disposition to make her an offer. Mr. Grandcourt taking hardly
any notice of her, and becoming shortly engaged to Miss Arrowpoint, was
not a picture which flattered her imagination.
Hence Gwendolen had been all ear to Lord Brackenshaw's mode of accounting
for Grandcourt's non-appearance; and when he did arrive, no consciousness
--not even Mrs. Arrowpoint's or Mr. Gascoigne's--was more awake to the
fact than hers, although she steadily avoided looking toward any point
where he was likely to be. There should be no slightest shifting of angles
to betray that it was of any consequence to her whether the much-talked-of
Mr. Mallinger Grandcourt presented himself or not. She became again
absorbed in the shooting, and so resolutely abstained from looking round
observantly that, even supposing him to have taken a conspicuous place
among the spectators, it might be clear she was not aware of him. And all
the while the certainty that he was there made a distinct thread in her
consciousness. Perhaps her shooting was the better for it: at any rate, it
gained in precision, and she at last raised a delightful storm of clapping
and applause by three hits running in the gold--a feat which among the
Brackenshaw arches had not the vulgar reward of a shilling poll-tax, but
that of a special gold star to be worn on the breast. That moment was not
only a happy one to herself--it was just what her mamma and her uncle
would have chosen for her. There was a general falling into ranks to give
her space that she might advance conspicuously to receive the gold star
from the hands of Lady Brackenshaw; and the perfect movement of her fine
form was certainly a pleasant thing to behold in the clear afternoon light
when the shadows were long and still. She was the central object of that
pretty picture, and every one present must gaze at her. That was enough:
she herself was determined to see nobody in particular, or to turn her
eyes any way except toward Lady Brackenshaw, but her thoughts undeniably
turned in other ways. It entered a little into her pleasure that Herr
Klesmer must be observing her at a moment when music was out of the
question, and his superiority very far in the back-ground; for vanity is
as ill at ease under indifference as tenderness is under a love which it
cannot return; and the unconquered Klesmer threw a trace of his malign
power even across her pleasant consciousness that Mr. Grandcourt was
seeing her to the utmost advantage, and was probably giving her an
admiration unmixed with criticism. She did not expect to admire _him_, but
that was not necessary to her peace of mind.
Gwendolen met Lady Brackenshaw's gracious smile without blushing (which
only came to her when she was taken by surprise), but with a charming
gladness of expression, and then bent with easy grace to have the star
fixed near her shoulder. That little ceremony had been over long enough
for her to have exchanged playful speeches and received congratulations as
she moved among the groups who were now interesting themselves in the
results of the scoring; but it happened that she stood outside examining
the point of an arrow with rather an absent air when Lord Brackenshaw came
up to her and said:
"Miss Harleth, here is a gentleman who is not willing to wait any longer
for an introduction. He has been getting Mrs. Davilow to send me with him.
Will you allow me to introduce Mr. Mallinger Grandcourt?"
BOOK II--MEETING STREAMS.