Part 8 out of 9
its appearing tarnished, are very much at the disposal of the pressing
suitor. Nesta rose in the black winter morn, summoning the best she
could think of to glorify Dudley, that she might not feel so doomed.
According to an agreement overnight, she went to the bedroom of Dorothea
and Virginia, to assure them of her having slept well, and say the good-
bye to them and their Tasso. The little dog was the growl of a silken
ball in a basket. His mistresses excused him, because of his being
unused to the appearance of any person save Manton in their bedroom.
Dorothea, kissing her, said: 'Adieu, dear child; and there is home with
us always, remember. And, after breakfast, however it may be, you will,
for our greater feeling of security, have--she has our orders--Manton--
your own maid we consider too young for a guardian--to accompany you.
We will not have it on our consciences, that by any possibility harm came
to you while you were under our charge. The good innocent girl we
received from the hands of your father, we return to him; we are sure of
Nesta said: 'Mr. Sowerby promised he would come.'
'However it may be,' Dorothea repeated her curtaining phrase.
Virginia put in a word of apology for Tasso's temper he enjoyed
ordinarily a slumber of half an hour's longer duration. He was, Dorothea
feelingly added, regularity itself. Virginia murmured: 'Except once!'
and both were appalled by the recollection of that night. It had,
nevertheless, caused them to reperuse the Rev. Stuart Rem's published
beautiful sermon ON DIRT; the words of which were an antidote to the
night of Tasso in the nostrils of Mnemosyne; so that Dorothea could reply
to her sister, slightly by way of a reproval, quoting Mr. Stuart Rem at
his loftiest: '"Let us not bring into the sacred precincts Dirt from the
roads, but have a care to spread it where it is a fructification."'
Virginia produced the sequent sentence, likewise weighty. Nesta stood
between the thin division of their beds, her right hand given to one, her
left to the other. They had the semblance of a haven out of storms.
She reflected, after shutting the door of their room, that the residing
with them had been a means of casting her--it was an effort to remember
how--upon the world where the tree of knowledge grows. She had eaten;
and she might be the worse for it; but she was raised to a height that
would not let her look with envy upon peace and comfort. Luxurious quiet
people were as ripening glass-house fruits. Her bitter gathering of the
knowledge of life had sharpened her intellect; and the intellect, even in
the young, is, and not less usefully, hard metal rather than fallow soil.
But for the fountain of human warmth at her breast, she might have
been snared by the conceit of intellect, to despise the simple and
conventional, or shed the pity which is charity's contempt. She had
only to think of the kindness of the dear good ladies; her heart jumped
to them at once. And when she fancied hearing those innocent souls of
women embracing her and reproaching her for the knowledge of life she now
bore, her words down deep in her bosom were: It has helped me to bear the
shock of other knowledge! How would she have borne it before she knew of
the infinitely evil? Saving for the tender compassion weeping over her
mother, she had not much acute personal grief.
For this world condemning her birth, was the world tolerant of that
infinitely evil! Her intellect fortified her to be combative by day,
after the night of imagination; which splendid power is not so
serviceable as the logical mind in painful seasons: for night revealed
the world snorting Dragon's breath at a girl guilty of knowing its
vilest. More than she liked to recall, it had driven her scorched, half
withered, to the shelter of Dudley. The daylight, spreading thin at the
windows, restored her from that weakness. 'We will quit England,' she
said, thinking of her mother and herself, and then of her father's surely
following them. She sighed thankfully, half way through the breakfast
with Skepsey, at sight of the hour by the clock; she was hurriedly
sentient of the puzzle of her feelings, when she guessed at a chance that
Dudley would be delayed. She supposed herself as possibly feeling not so
well able to keep every thought of her head brooding on her mother in
Skepsey's face was just sufferable by light of day, if one pitied
reflecting on his honest intentions; it ceased to discolour another.
He dropped a few particulars of his hero in action; but the heroine
eclipsed. He was heavier than ever with his Matilda Pridden. At the
hour for departure, Perrin had a conveyance at the door. Nesta sent off
Skepsey with a complimentary message to Captain Dartrey. Her maid Mary
begged her to finish her breakfast; Manton suggested the waiting a
further two or three minutes. 'We must not be late,' Nesta said; and
when the minute-hand of the clock marked ample time for the drive to the
station, she took her seat and started, keeping her face resolutely set
seaward, having at her ears the ring of a cry that was to come from
Manton. But Manton was dumb; she spied no one on the pavement who
signalled to stop them. And no one was at the station to greet them.
They stepped into a carriage where they were alone. Dudley with his
dreaded generosity melted out of Nesta's thoughts, like the vanishing
steam-wreath on the dip between the line and the downs.
She passed into music, as she always did under motion of carriages and
trains, whether in happiness or sadness: and the day being one that had a
sky, the scenic of music swung her up to soar. None of her heavy burdens
enchained, though she knew the weight of them, with those of other
painful souls. The pipeing at her breast gave wings to large and small
of the visible; and along the downs went stateliest of flowing dances;
a copse lengthened to forest; a pool of cattle-water caught grey for
flights through enchantment. Cottage-children, wherever seen in groups,
she wreathed above with angels to watch them. Her mind all the while was
busy upon earth, embracing her mother, eyeing her father. Imagination
and our earthly met midway, and still she flew, until she was brought to
the ground by a shot. She struggled to rise, uplifting Judith Marsett: a
woman not so very much older than her own teens, in the count of years,
and ages older; and the world pulling at her heels to keep her low. That
unhappiest had no one but a sisterly girl to help her: and how she clung
to the slender help! Who else was there?
The good and the bad in the woman struck separate blows upon the
girl's resonant nature. She perceived the good, and took it into her
reflections. The bad she divined: it approached like some threat of
inflammation. Natures resonant as that which animated this girl, are
quick at the wells of understanding: and she had her intimations of the
world's wisdom in withholding contagious presences from the very mangy of
the young, who may not have an, aim, or ideal or strong human compassion,
for a preservative. She was assured of her possessing it. She asked
herself in her mother's voice, and answered mutely. She had the
certainty: for she rebuked the slavish feverishness of the passion,
as betrayed by Mrs. Marsett; and the woman's tone, as of strung wires
ringing on a rage of the wind. Then followed her cry for the man who
could speak to Captain Marsett of his duty in honour. An image of one,
accompanying the faster beats of her heart, beguiled her to think away
from the cause. He, the one man known to her, would act the brother's
part on behalf of the hapless creature.
Nesta just imagined her having supplicated him, and at once imagination
came to dust. She had to thank him she knelt to him. For the first time
of her life she found herself seized with her sex's shudder in the blood.
IN WHICH AGAIN WE MAKE USE OF THE OLD LAMPS FOR LIGHTING AN ABYSMAL
And if Nesta had looked out of her carriage-window soon after the train
began to glide, her eagle of imagination would have reeled from the
heights, with very different feelings, earlier, perhaps a captive, at
sight of the tardy gentleman rushing along the platform, and bending ear
to the footman Perrin, and staring for one lost.
The snaky tail of the train imparted to Dudley an apprehension of the
ominous in his having missed her. It wound away, and left regrets, which
raised a chorus of harsh congratulations from the opposite party of his
Neither party could express an opinion without rousing the other to an
He had met his cousin Southweare overnight. He had heard, that there was
talk of Miss Radnor. Her name was in the mouth of Major Worrell. It was
coupled with the name of Mrs. Marsett. A military captain, in the
succession to be Sir Edward Marsett, bestowed on her the shadow of his
It could be certified, that Miss Radnor visited the woman at her house.
What are we to think of Miss Radnor, save that daughters of depraved
parents! . . . A torture undeserved is the Centaur's shirt for
driving us to lay about in all directions. He who had swallowed so much
--a thunderbolt: a still undigested discharge from the perplexing heavens
jumped frantic under the pressure upon him of more, and worse. A girl
getting herself talked of at a Club! And she of all young ladies should
have been the last to draw round her that buzz of tongues. On such a
subject!--The parents pursuing their career of cynical ostentation in
London, threw an evil eye of heredity on their offspring in the egg;
making anything credible, pointing at tendencies.
An alliance with her was impossible. So said disgust. Anger came like a
stronger beast, and extinguished the safety there was in the thing it
consumed, by growing so excessive as to require tempering with drops of
compassion; which prepared the way for a formal act of cold forgiveness;
and the moment that was conceived, he had a passion to commit the
horrible magnanimity, and did it on a grand scale, and dissolved his
Heart in the grandeur, and slaved himself again.
Far from expungeing the doubt of her, forgiveness gave it a stamp and an
edge. His renewed enslavement set him perusing his tyrant keenly, as
nauseated captives do; and he saw, that forgiveness was beside the case.
For this Nesta Victoria Radnor would not crave it or accept it. He had
mentally played the woman to her superior vivaciousness too long for him
to see her taking a culprit's attitude. What she did, she intended to
do. The mother would not have encouraged her. The father idolized her;
and the father was a frank hedonist, whose blood . . . speculation on
horseback gallops to barren extremes. Eyes like hers--if there had not
been the miserable dupes of girls! Conduct is the sole guide to female
character. That likewise may be the hypocrite's mask.
Popular artists, intent to gratify the national taste for effects called
realistic, have figured in scenes of battle the raying fragments of a man
from impact of a cannon-ball on his person. Truly thus it may be when
flesh contends. But an image of the stricken and scattered mind of the
man should, though deficient in the attraction, have a greater
significance, forasmuch as it does not exhibit him entirely liquefied and
showered into space; it leaves him his legs for the taking of further
steps. Dudley, standing on the platform of Nesta's train, one half
minute too late, according to his desire before he put himself in motion,
was as wildly torn as the vapour shredded streaming to fingers and
threads off the upright columnar shot of the shriek from the boiler.
He wished every mad antagonism to his wishes: that he might see her, be
blind to her; embrace, discard; heal his wound, and tear it wider. He
thanked her for the grossness of an offence precluding excuses. He was
aware of a glimmer of advocacy in the very grossness. He conjured-up her
features, and they said, her innocence was the sinner; they scoffed at
him for the dupe he was willing to be. She had enigma's mouth, with the
eyes of morning.
More than most girls, she was the girl-Sphinx to him because of her
having ideas--or what he deemed ideas. She struck a toneing warmth
through his intelligence, not dissimilar to the livelier circulation of
the blood in the frame breathing mountain air. She really helped him,
incited him to go along with this windy wild modern time more cheerfully,
if not quite hopefully. For she had been the book of Romance he despised
when it appeared as a printed volume: and which might have educated the
young man to read some among our riddles in the book of humanity. The
white he was ready to take for silver the black were all black; the
spotted had received corruption's label. Her youthful French governess
Mademoiselle de Seilles was also peculiarly enigmatic at the mouth
conversant, one might expect, with the disintegrating literature of her
country. In public, the two talked of St. Louis. One of them in secret
visits a Mrs. Marsett. The Southweare women, the Hennen women, and Lady
Evelina Reddish, were artless candid creatures in their early days, not
transgressing in a glance. Lady Grace Halley had her fit of the
devotional previous to marriage. No girl known to Dudley by report or
acquaintance had committed so scandalous an indiscretion as Miss
Radnor's: it pertained to the insolently vile.
And on that ground, it started the voluble defence. For certain
suspected things will dash suspicion to the rebound, when they are very
dark. As soon as the charge against her was moderated, the defence
expired. He heard the world delivering its judgement upon her; and he
sorrowfully acquiesced. She passed from him.
When she was cut off, she sang him in the distance a remembered saying
of hers, with the full melody of her voice. One day, treating of modern
pessimism, he had draped a cadaverous view of our mortal being in a
quotation of the wisdom of the Philosopher Emperor: 'To set one's love
upon the swallow is a futility.' And she, weighing it, nodded, and
replied: 'May not the pleasure for us remain if we set our love upon the
beauty of the swallow's flight?'
There was, for a girl, a bit of idea, real idea, in that meaning, of
course, the picture we are to have of the bird's wings in motion, it has
often been admired. Oh! not much of an idea in itself: feminine and
vague. But it was pertinent, opportune; in this way she stimulated.
And the girl who could think it, and call on a Mrs. Marsett, was of the
class of mixtures properly to be handed over to chemical experts for
She had her aspirations on behalf of her sex: she and Mademoiselle de
Seilles discussed them; women were to do this, do that:--necessarily a
means of instructing a girl to learn what they did do. If the lower part
of her face had been as reassuring to him as the upper, he might have put
a reluctant faith in the pure-mindedness of these aspirations, without
reverting to her origin, and also to recent rumours of her father and
Lady Grace Halley. As it was, he inquired of the cognizant, whether an
intellectual precocity, devoted by preference to questions affecting the
state of women, did not rather more than suggest the existence of urgent
senses likewise. She, a girl under twenty, had an interest in public
matters, and she called on a Mrs. Marsett. To plead her simplicity, was
to be absolutely ignorant of her.
He neighboured sagacity when he pointed that interrogation relating to
Nesta's precociousness of the intelligence. For, as they say in
dactylomancy, the 'psychical' of women are not disposed in their
sensitive early days to dwell upon the fortunes of their sex: a thought
or two turns them facing away, with the repugnant shiver. They worship
at a niche in the wall. They cannot avoid imputing some share of
foulness to them that are for scouring the chamber; and the civilized
male, keeping his own chamber locked, quite shares their pale taper's
view. The full-blooded to the finger-tips, on the other hand, are likely
to be drawn to the subject, by noble inducement as often as by base:
Nature at flood being the cause in either instance. This young Nature of
the good and the bad, is the blood which runs to power of heart as well
as to thirsts of the flesh. Then have men to sound themselves, to
discover how much of Nature their abstract honourable conception or
representative eidolon of young women will bear without going to pieces;
and it will not be much, unless they shall have taken instruction from
the poet's pen: for a view possibly of Nature at work to cast the slough,
when they see her writhing as in her ugliest old throes. If they have
learnt of Nature's priest to respect her, they will less distrust those
rare daughters of hers who are moved by her warmth to lift her out of
slime. It is by her own live warmth that it has to be done: cold worship
at a niche in the wall will not do it.--Well, there is an index, for the
enlargement of your charity.
But facts were Dudley's teachers. Physically, morally, mentally,
he read the world through facts; that is to say, through the facts he
encountered: and he was in consequence foredoomed to a succession of
bumps; all the heavier from his being, unlike the horned kind, not
unimpressible by the hazy things outside his experience. Even at his
darkest over Nesta, it was his indigestion of the misconduct of her
parents, which denied to a certain still small advocate within him the
right to raise a voice: that good fellow struck the attitude for
pleading, and had to be silent; for he was Instinct; at best a stammering
speaker in the Court of the wigged Facts. Instinct of this Nesta
Radnor's character would have said a brave word, but for her deeds
bearing witness to her inheritance of a lawlessly adventurous
What to do? He was no nearer to an answer when the wintry dusk had
fallen on the promenading crowds. To do nothing, is the wisdom of those
who have seen fools perish. Facts had not taught him, that the doing
nothing, for a length of days after the first shock he sustained, was the
reason of how it came that Nesta knitted closer her acquaintance with the
'agreeable lady' she mentioned in her letter to Cronidge. Those
excellent counsellors of a mercantile community gave him no warnings,
that the 'masterly inactive' part, so greatly esteemed by him for the
conduct of public affairs, might be perilous in dealings with a vivid
girl: nor a hint, that when facts continue undigested, it is because the
sensations are as violent as hysterical females to block them from the
understanding. His Robin Goodfellow instinct tried to be serviceable at a
crux of his meditations, where Edith Averst's consumptive brothers waved
faded hands at her chances of inheriting largely. Superb for the
chances: but what of her offspring? And the other was a girl such as the
lusty Dame Dowager of fighting ancestors would have signalled to the heir
of the House's honours for the perpetuation of his race. No doubt: and
the venerable Dame (beautiful in her old-lace frame, or say foliage) of
the Ages backward, temp: Ed: III. inflated him with a thought of her: and
his readings in modern books on heredity, pure blood, physical
regeneration, pronounced approval of Nesta Radnor: and thereupon instinct
opened mouth to speak; and a lockjaw seized it under that scowl of his
presiding mistrust of Nature.
He clung to his mistrust the more because of a warning he had from the
silenced natural voice: somewhat as we may behold how the Conservatism of
a Class, in a world of all the evidences showing that there is no stay to
things, comes of the intuitive discernment of its finality. His mistrust
was his own; and Nesta was not; not yet; though a step would make her his
own. Instinct prompting to the step, was a worthless adviser. It
spurred him, nevertheless.
He called at the Club for his cousin Southweare, with whom he was not in
sympathy; and had information that, Southweare said, 'made the girl out
all right.' Girls in these days do things which the sainted stay-at-
homes preceding them would not have dreamed of doing. Something had
occurred, relating to Major Worrell: he withdrew Miss Radnor's name,
acknowledged himself mistaken or amended his report of her, in some way,
not quite intelligible. Dudley was accosted by Simeon Fenellan;
subsequently by Dartrey. There was gossip over the latter gentleman's
having been up before the magistrate, talk of a queer kind of stick, and
Dartrey said, laughing, to Simeon: 'Rather lucky I bled the rascal';--
whatever the meaning. She nursed one of her adorations for this man, who
had yesterday, apparently, joined in a street-fray; so she partook of the
stain of the turbid defacing all these disorderly people.
At his hotel at breakfast the next morning, a newspaper furnished an
account of Captain Dartrey Fenellan's participation in the strife, after
mention of him as nephew of the Earl of Clanconan, 'now a visitor to our
town'; and his deeds were accordant with his birth. Such writing was
enough to send Dudley an eager listener to Colney Durance. What a
Mr. Dartrey Fenellan's card compelled Dudley presently to receive him.
Dartrey, not debarred by considerations, that an allusion to Miss Radnor
could be conveyed only in the most delicately obscure manner, spared him
no more than the plain English of his relations with her. Requested to
come to the Club, at a certain hour of the afternoon, that he might hear
Major Worrell's personal contradiction of scandal involving the young
lady's name, together with his apology, etc., Dudley declined: and he was
obliged to do it curtly; words were wanting. They are hard to find for
wounded sentiments rendered complex by an infusion of policy. His
present mood, with the something new to digest, held the going to Major
Worrell a wrong step; he behaved as if the speaking to Dartrey Fenellan
pledged him hardly less. And besides he had a physical abhorrence, under
dictate of moral reprobation, of the broad-shouldered sinewy man, whose
look of wiry alertness pictured the previous day's gory gutters.
Dartrey set sharp eyes on him for an instant, bowed; and went.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
All of us an ermined owl within us to sit in judgement
Cannot be any goodness unless it is a practiced goodness
Eminently servile is the tolerated lawbreaker
Half designingly permitted her trouble to be seen
Happy the woman who has not more to speak
If we are robbed, we ask, How came we by the goods?
Let but the throb be kept for others--That is the one secret
Love must needs be an egoism
Not to go hunting and fawning for alliances
Portrait of himself by the artist
Put into her woman's harness of the bit and the blinkers
Share of foulness to them that are for scouring the chamber
She disdained to question the mouth which had bitten her
The face of a stopped watch
The worst of it is, that we remember
To do nothing, is the wisdom of those who have seen fools perish
We have come to think we have a claim upon her gratitude
Whimpering fits you said we enjoy and must have in books
ONE OF OUR CONQUERORS
By GEORGE MEREDITH
XXXVI. NESTA AND HER FATHER
XXXVII. THE MOTHER--THE DAUGHTER
XXXVIII. NATALY, NESTA, AND DARTREY FENELLAN
XXXIX. A CHAPTER IN THE SHADOW OF MRS. MARSETT
XL. AN EXPIATION
XLI. THE NIGHT OF THE GREAT UNDELIVERED SPEECH
XLII. THE LAST
NESTA AND HER FATHER
The day of Nesta's return was one of a number of late when Victor was
robbed of his walk Westward by Lady Grace Halley, who seduced his
politeness with her various forms of blandishment to take a seat in her
carriage; and she was a practical speaker upon her quarter of the world
when she had him there. Perhaps she was right in saying--though she had
no right to say--that he and she together might have the world under
their feet. It was one of those irritating suggestions which expedite us
up to a bald ceiling, only to make us feel the gas-bladder's tight
extension upon emptiness: It moved him to examine the poor value of his
aim, by tying him to the contemptible means: One estimate involved the
other, whichever came first. Somewhere he had an idea, that would lift
and cleanse all degradations. But it did seem as if he were not
enjoying: things pleasant enough in the passage of them were barren, if
not prickly, in the retrospect.
He sprang out at the head of the park, for a tramp round it, in the gloom
of the girdle of lights, to recover his deadened relish of the thin
phantasmal strife to win an intangible prize. His dulled physical system
asked, as with the sensations of a man at the start from sleep in the
hurrying grip of steam, what on earth he wanted to get, and what was the
substance of his gains: what! if other than a precipitous intimacy, a
deep crumbling over deeper, with a little woman amusing him in remarks of
a whimsical nudity; hardly more. Nay, not more! he said; and at the end
of twenty paces, he saw much more; the campaign gathered a circling
suggestive brilliancy, like the lamps about the winter park; the Society,
lured with glitter, hooked by greed, composed a ravishing picture; the
little woman was esteemed as a serviceable lieutenant; and her hand was
a small soft one, agreeable to fondle--and avaunt! But so it is in war:
we must pay for our allies. What if it had been, that he and she
together, with their united powers . . . ? He dashed the silly vision
aside, as vainer than one of the bubble-empires blown by boys; and it
broke, showing no heart in it. His heart was Nataly's.
Let Colney hint his worst; Nataly bore the strain, always did bear any
strain coming in the round of her duties: and if she would but walk,
or if she danced at parties, she would scatter the fits of despondency
besetting the phlegmatic, like this day's breeze the morning fog; or as
he did with two minutes of the stretch of legs.
Full of the grandeur of that black pit of the benighted London, with its
ocean-voice of the heart at beat along the lighted outer ring, Victor
entered at his old door of the two houses he had knocked into one: a
surprise for Fredi!--and heard that his girl had arrived in the morning.
'And could no more endure her absence from her Mammy O!' The songful
satirical line spouted in him, to be flung at his girl, as he ran
upstairs to the boudoir off the drawing-room.
He peeped in. It was dark. Sensible of presences, he gradually
discerned a thick blot along the couch to the right of the door, and he
drew near. Two were lying folded together; mother and daughter. He bent
over them. His hand was taken and pressed by Fredi's; she spoke; she
said tenderly: 'Father.' Neither of the two made a movement. He heard
the shivering rise of a sob, that fell. The dry sob going to the waste
breath was Nataly's. His girl did not speak again.
He left them. He had no thought until he stood in his dressing-room,
when he said 'Good!' For those two must have been lying folded together
during the greater part of the day: and it meant, that the mother's heart
had opened; the girl knew. Her tone: 'Father,' sweet, was heavy, too,
with the darkness it came out of.
So she knew. Good. He clasped them both in his heart; tempering his
pity of those dear ones with the thought, that they were of the sex
which finds enjoyment in a day of the mutual tear; and envying them;
he strained at a richness appearing in the sobs of their close union.
All of his girl's loving soul flew to her mother; and naturally: She
would not be harsh on her father. She would say he loved! And true:
he did love, he does love; loves no woman but the dear mother.
He flicked a short wring of the hand having taken pressure from an alien
woman's before Fredi pressed it, and absolved himself in the act;
thinking, How little does a woman know how true we can be to her when we
smell at a flower here and there!--There they are, stationary; women the
flowers, we the bee; and we are faithful in our seeming volatility;
faithful to the hive!--And if women are to be stationary, the reasoning
is not so bad. Funny, however, if they here and there imitatively spread
a wing, and treat men in that way? It is a breach of the convention; we
pay them our homage, that they may serve as flowers, not to be volatile
tempters. Nataly never had been one of the sort: Lady Grace was. No
necessity existed for compelling the world to bow to Lady Grace, while on
behalf of his Nataly he had to . . . Victor closed the curtain over a
gulf-revealed by an invocation of Nature, and showing the tremendous
force he partook of so largely, in her motive elements of the devourer.
Horrid to behold, when we need a gracious presentation of the
circumstances. She is a splendid power for as long as we confine her
between the banks: but she has a passion to discover cracks; and if we
give her headway, she will find one, and drive at it, and be through,
uproarious in her primitive licentiousness, unless we labour body and
soul like Dutchmen at the dam. Here she was, and not desired, almost
detested! Nature detested! It had come about through the battle for
Nataly; chiefly through Mrs. Burman's tenacious hold of the filmy thread
she took for life and was enabled to use as a means for the perversion
besides bar to the happiness of creatures really living. We may well
marvel at the Fates, and tell them they are not moral agents!
Victor's reflections came across Colney Durance, who tripped and stopped
Dressed with his customary celerity, he waited for Nesta, to show her the
lighted grand double drawing-room: a further proof of how Fortune
favoured him: she was to be told, how he one day expressed a wish for
greater space, and was informed on the next, that the neighbour house was
being vacated, and the day following he was in treaty for the purchase of
it; returning from Tyrol, he found his place habitable.
Nesta came. Her short look at him was fond, her voice not faltering; she
laid her hand under his arm and walked round the spacious room, praising
the general design, admiring the porcelain, the ferns, friezes, hangings,
and the grand piano, the ebony inlaid music-stands, the firegrates and
plaques, the ottomans, the tone of neutral colour that, as in sound,
muted splendour. He told her it was a reception night, with music: and
added: 'I miss my . . . seen anybody lately?'
'Mr. Sowerby?' said she. 'He was to have escorted me back. He may have
She spoke it plainly; when speaking of the dear good ladies, she set a
gentle humour at play, and comforted him, as she intended, with a
souvenir of her lively spirit, wanting only in the manner of gaiety.
He allowed, that she could not be quite gay.
More deeply touched the next minute, he felt in her voice, in her look,
in her phrasing of speech, an older, much older daughter than the Fredi
whom he had conducted to Moorsedge. 'Kiss me,' he said.
She turned to him full-front, and kissed his right cheek and left, and
his forehead, saying: 'My love! my papa! my own dear dada!' all the
words of her girlhood in her new sedateness; and smiling: like the moral
crepuscular of a sunlighted day down a not totally inanimate Sunday
He strained her to his breast. 'Mama soon be here?'
That was well. And possibly at the present moment applying, with her
cunning hand, the cosmetics and powders he could excuse for a concealment
of the traces of grief.
Satisfied in being a superficial observer, he did not spy to see more
than the world would when Nataly entered the dining-room at the quiet
family dinner. She performed her part for his comfort, though not
prattling; and he missed his Fredi's delicious warble of the prattle
running rill-like over our daily humdrum. Simeon Fenellan would have
helped. Then suddenly came enlivenment: a recollection of news in the
morning's paper. 'No harm before Fredi, my dear. She's a young woman
now. And no harm, so to speak-at least, not against the Sanfredini.
She has donned her name again, and a villa on Como, leaving her 'duque';
--paragraph from a Milanese musical Journal; no particulars. Now, mark
me, we shall have her at Lakelands in the Summer. If only we could have
'It would be a pleasure,' said Nataly. Her heart had a blow in the
thought, that a lady of this kind would create the pleasure by not
'The godmother?' he glistened upon Nesta.
She gave him low half-notes of the little blue butterfly's imitation of
the superb contralto; and her hand and head at turn to hint the
theatrical operatic attitude.
'Delicious!' he cried, his eyelids were bedewed at the vision of the
three of them planted in the past; and here again, out of the dark wood,
where something had required to be said, and had been said; and all was
happily over, owing to the goodness and sweetness of the two dear
innocents;--whom heaven bless! Jealousy of their naturally closer heart-
at-heart, had not a whisper for him; part of their goodness and sweetness
was felt to be in the not excluding him.
Nesta engaged to sing one of the 'old duets with her mother. She saw her
mother's breast lift in a mechanical effort to try imaginary notes, as if
doubtful of her capacity, more at home in the dumb deep sigh they fell
to. Her mother's heroism made her a sacred woman to the thoughts of the
girl, overcoming wonderment at the extreme submissiveness.
She put a screw on her mind to perceive the rational object there might
be for causing her mother to go through tortures in receiving and
visiting; and she was arrested by the louder question, whether she could
think such a man as her father irrational.
People with resounding names, waves of a steady stream, were announced by
Arlington, just as in the days, that seemed remote, before she went to
Moorsedge; only they were more numerous, and some of the titles had
ascended a stage. There were great lords, there were many great ladies;
and Lady Grace Halley shuffling amid them, like a silken shimmer in
They crowded about their host where he stood. 'He, is their Law!' Colney
said, speaking unintelligibly, in the absence of the Simeon Fenellan
regretted so loudly by Mr. Beaves Urmsing. They had an air of
worshipping, and he of swimming.
There were also City magnates, and Lakelands' neighbours: the gentleman
representing Pride of Port, Sir Abraham Quatley; and Colonel Corfe; Sir
Rodwell and Lady Blachington; Mrs. Fanning; Mr. Caddis. Few young men
and maids were seen. Dr. John Cormyn came without his wife, not
mentioning her. Mrs. Peter Yatt touched the notes for voices at the
piano. Priscilla Graves was a vacancy, and likewise the Rev. Septimus
Barmby. Peridon and Catkin, and Mr. Pempton took their usual places.
There was no fluting. A famous Canadian lady was the principal singer.
A Galician violinist, zig-zagging extreme extensions and contractions of
his corporeal frame in execution, and described by Colney as 'Paganini on
wall,' failed to supplant Durandarte in Nesta's memory. She was asked by
Lady Grace for the latest of Dudley. Sir Abraham Quatley named him with
handsome emphasis. Great dames caressed her; openly approved; shadowed
the future place among them.
Victor alluded at night to Mrs. John Cormyn's absence. He said: 'A
homoeopathic doctor's wife!' nothing more; and by that little, he
prepared Nesta for her mother's explanation. The great London people,
ignorant or not, were caught by the strong tide he created, and carried
on it. But there was a bruiting of the secret among their set; and the
one to fall away from her, Nataly marvellingly named Mrs. John Cormyn;
whose marriage was of her making. She did not disapprove Priscilla's
behaviour. Priscilla had come to her and, protesting affection, had
openly stated, that she required time and retirement to recover her
proper feelings. Nataly smiled a melancholy criticism of an inconsequent
or capricious woman, in relating to Nesta certain observations Priscilla
had dropped upon poor faithful Mr. Pempton, because of his concealment
from her of his knowledge of things for this faithful gentleman had been
one of the few not ignorant. The rumour was traceable to the City.
'Mother, we walk on planks,' Nesta said.
Nataly answered: 'You will grow used to it.'
Her mother's habitual serenity in martyrdom was deceiving. Nesta had a
transient suspicion, that she had grown, from use, to like the whirl of
company, for oblivion in the excitement; and as her remembrance of her
own station among the crowding people was a hot flush, the difference of
their feelings chilled her.
Nataly said: 'It is to-morrow night again; we do not rest.' She smiled;
and at once the girl read woman's armour on the dear face, and asked
herself, Could I be so brave? The question following was a speechless
wave, that surged at her father. She tried to fathom the scheme he
entertained. The attempt obscured her conception of the man he was. She
could not grasp him, being too young for knowing, that young heads cannot
obtain a critical hold upon one whom they see grandly succeeding it is
the sun's brilliance to their eyes.
Mother and daughter slept together that night, and their embrace was
Nesta delighted her father the next day by walking beside him into the,
City, as far as the end of the Embankment, where the carriage was in
waiting with her maid to bring her back; and at his mere ejaculation of a
wish, the hardy girl drove down in the afternoon for the walk home with
him. Lady Grace Halley was at the office. 'I'm an incorrigible Stock
Exchange gambler,' she said.
'Only,' Victor bade her beware, 'Mines are undulating in movement, and
their heights are a preparation for their going down.'
She said she 'liked a swing.'
Nesta looked at them in turn.
The day after and the day after, Lady Grace was present. She made play
with Dudley's name.
This coming into the City daily of a girl, for the sake of walking back
in winter weather with her father, struck her as ambiguous: either a
jealous foolish mother's device, or that of a weak man beating about for
protection. But the woman of the positive world soon read to the
contrary; helped a little by the man, no doubt. She read rather too much
to the contrary, and took the pedestrian girl for perfect simplicity in
her tastes, when Nesta had so far grown watchful as to feel relieved by
the lady's departure. Her mother, without sympathy for the lady, was too
great of soul for jealousy. Victor had his Nataly before him at a hint
from Lady Grace: and he went somewhat further than the exact degree when
affirming, that Nataly could not scheme, and was incapable of
suspecting.--Nataly could perceive things with a certain accuracy: she
would not stoop to a meanness. 'Plot? Nataly?' said he, and shrugged.
In fact, the void of plot, drama, shuffle of excitement, reflected upon
Nataly. He might have seen as tragic as ever dripped on Stage, had he
But the walk Westward with his girl, together with pride in a daughter
who clove her way through all weathers, won his heart to exultation.
He told her: 'Fredi does her dada so much good'; not telling her in what,
or opening any passage to the mystery of the man he was. She was trying
to be a student of life, with her eyes down upon hard earth, despite of
her winged young head; she would have compassed him better had he dilated
in sublime fashion; but he baffled her perusal of a man of power by the
simpleness of his enjoyment of small things coming in his way;--the
lighted shops, the crowd, emergence from the crowd, or the meeting near
midwinter of a soft warm wind along the Embankment, and dark Thames
magnificently coroneted over his grimy flow. There is no grasping of one
who quickens us.
His flattery of his girl, too, restored her broken feeling of personal
value; it permeated her nourishingly from the natural breath of him that
At times he touched deep in humaneness; and he set her heart leaping on
the flash of a thought to lay it bare, with the secret it held, for his
help. That was a dream. She could more easily have uttered the words to
Captain Dartrey, after her remembered abashing holy tremour of the vision
of doing it and casting herself on noblest man's compassionateness; and
her imagined thousand emotions;--a rolling music within her, a wreath of
cloudglory in her sky;--which had, as with virgins it may be, plighted
her body to him for sheer urgency of soul; drawn her by a single
unwitting-to-brain, conscious-in-blood, shy curl outward of the sheathing
leaf to the flowering of woman to him; even to the shore of that strange
sea, where the maid stands choosing this one man for her destiny, as in a
trance. So are these young ones unfolded, shade by shade; and a shade is
all the difference with them; they can teach the poet to marvel at the
immensity of vitality in 'the shadow of a shade.'
Her father shut the glimpse of a possible speaking to him of Mrs.
Marsett, with a renewal of his eulogistic allusions to Dudley Sowerby:
the 'perfect gentleman, good citizen'; prospective heir to an earldom
besides. She bowed to Dudley's merits; she read off the honorific
pedimental letters of a handsome statue, for a sign to herself that she
She was unjust, as Victor could feel, though he did not know how coldly
unjust. For among the exorbitant requisitions upon their fellow-
creatures made by the young, is the demand, that they be definite: no
mercy is in them for the transitional. And Dudley--and it was under her
influence, and painfully, not ignobly--was in process of development:
interesting to philosophers, if not to maidens.
Victor accused her of paying too much heed to Colney Durance's epigrams
upon their friends. He quite joined with his English world in its
opinion, that epigrams are poor squibs when they do not come out of great
guns. Epigrams fired at a venerable nation, are surely the poorest of
popgun paper pellets. The English kick at the insolence, when they are
not in the mood for pelleting themselves, or when the armed Foreigner is
overshadowing and braceing. Colney's pretentious and laboured Satiric
Prose Epic of 'THE RIVAL TONGUES,' particularly offended him, as being a
clever aim at no hitting; and sustained him, inasmuch as it was an acid
friend's collapse. How could Colney expect his English to tolerate such
a spiteful diatribe! The suicide of Dr. Bouthoin at San Francisco was
the finishing stroke to the chances of success of the Serial;--although
we are promised splendid evolutions on the part of Mr. Semhians; who,
after brilliant achievements with bat and ball, abandons those weapons of
Old England's modern renown, for a determined wrestle with our English
pronunciation of words, and rescue of the spelling of them from the
printer. His headache over the present treatment of the verb 'To bid,'
was a quaint beginning for one who had soon to plead before Japanese, and
who acknowledged now 'in contrition of spirit,' that in formerly opposing
the scheme for an Academy, he helped to the handing of our noble language
to the rapid reporter of news for an apathetic public. Further, he
discovered in astonishment the subordination of all literary Americans to
the decrees of their literary authorities; marking a Transatlantic point
of departure, and contrasting ominously with the unruly Islanders
'grunting the higgledy-piggledy of their various ways, in all the
porker's gut-gamut at the rush to the trough.' After a week's privation
of bat and ball, he is, lighted or not, a gas-jet of satire upon his
countrymen. As for the 'pathetic sublimity of the Funeral of Dr.
Bouthoin,' Victor inveighed against an impious irony in the over dose of
the pathos; and the same might be suspected in Britannia's elegy upon
him, a strain of hot eulogy throughout. Mr. Semhians, all but
treasonably, calls it, Papboat and Brandy:--'our English literary diet of
the day': stimulating and not nourishing. Britannia's mournful
anticipation, that 'The shroud enwinding this my son is mine!'--should
the modern generation depart from the track of him who proved himself the
giant in mainly supporting her glory--was, no doubt, a high pitch of the
note of Conservatism. But considering, that Dr. Bouthoin 'committed
suicide under a depression of mind produced by a surfeit of unaccustomed
dishes, upon a physical system inspired by the traditions of exercise,
and no longer relieved by the practice'--to translate from Dr. Gannius:
we are again at war with the writer's reverential tone, and we know not
what to think: except, that Mr. Durance was a Saturday meat market's
butcher in the Satiric Art.
Nesta found it pleasanter to see him than to hear of his work: which, to
her present feeling, was inhuman. As little as our native public, had
she then any sympathy for the working in the idea: she wanted throbs,
visible aims, the Christian incarnate; she would have preferred the tale
of slaughter--periodically invading all English classes as a flush from
the undrained lower, Vikings all--to frigid sterile Satire. And truly it
is not a fruit-bearing rod. Colney had to stand on the defence of it
against the damsel's charges. He thought the use of the rod, while
expressing profound regret at a difference of opinion between him and
those noble heathens, beneficial for boys; but in relation to their
seniors, and particularly for old gentlemen, he thought that the sharpest
rod to cut the skin was the sole saving of them. Insensibility to
Satire, he likened to the hard-mouthed horse; which is doomed to the
worser thing in consequence. And consequently upon the lack of it, and
of training to appreciate it, he described his country's male venerables
as being distinguishable from annuitant spinsters only in presenting
'He is unsuccessful and embittered, Victor said to Nesta. 'Colney will
find in the end, that he has lost his game and soured himself by never
making concessions. Here's this absurd Serial--it fails, of course; and
then he has to say, it's because he won't tickle his English, won't enter
into a "frowzy complicity" with their tastes.'
'But--I think of Skepsey honest creatures respect Mr. Durance, and he is
always ready to help them,' said Nesta.
'If he can patronize.'
'Does he patronize me, dada?'
'You are one of his exceptions. Marry a title and live in state--and
then hear him! I am successful, and the result of it is, that he won't
acknowledge wisdom in anything I say or do; he will hardly acknowledge
the success. It is "a dirty road to success," he says. So that, if
successful, I must have rolled myself in mire. I compelled him to admit
he was wrong about your being received at Moorsedge: a bit of a triumph!'
Nesta's walks with her father were no loss of her to Nataly; the girl
came back to her bearing so fresh and so full a heart; and her father was
ever prouder of her: he presented new features of her in his quotations
of her sayings, thoughtful sayings. 'I declare she helps one to think,'
he said. 'It 's not precocity; it 's healthy inquiry. She brings me
nearer ideas of my own, not yet examined, than any one else does. I say,
what a wife for a man!'
'She takes my place beside you, dear, now I am not quite strong,' said
Nataly. 'You have not seen . . .?'
'Dudley Sowerby? He's at Cronidge, I believe. His elder brother's in a
bad way. Bad business, this looking to a death.'
Nataly eyes revealed a similar gulf.
Let it be cast on Society, then! A Society opposing Nature forces us to
these murderous looks upon impediments. But what of a Society in the
dance with Nature? Victor did not approve of that. He began, under the
influence of Nesta's companionship, to see the Goddess Nature there is in
a chastened nature. And this view shook the curtain covering his lost
Idea. He felt sure he should grasp it soon and enter into its daylight:
a muffled voice within him said, that he was kept waiting to do so by the
inexplicable tardiness of a certain one to rise ascending to her
spiritual roost. She was now harmless to strike: Themison, Carling,
Jarniman, even the Rev. Groseman Buttermore, had been won to the cause of
humanity. Her ascent, considering her inability to do further harm
below, was most mysteriously delayed. Owing to it, in a manner almost as
mysterious, he was kept crossing a bridge having a slippery bit on it.
Thanks to his gallant Fredi, he had found his feet again. But there was
a bruise where, to his honour, he felt tenderest. And Fredi away, he
might be down again--for no love of a slippery bit, proved slippery, one
might guess, by a predecessor or two. Ta-ta-ta-to and mum! Still, in
justice to the little woman, she had been serviceable.
She would be still more so, if a member of Parliament now on his back
here we are with the murder-eye again!
Nesta's never speaking of Lakelands clouded him a little, as an
intimation of her bent of mind.
'And does my girl come to her dada to-day?' he said, on the fifth morning
since her return; prepared with a villanous resignation to hear, that
this day she abstained, though he had the wish for her coming.
'Why, don't you know,' said she, 'we all meet to have tea in Mr.
Durance's chambers; and I walk back with you, and there we are joined
by mama; and we are to have a feast of literary celebrities.'
'Colney's selection of them! And Simeon Fenellan, I hope. Perhaps
Dartrey. Perhaps . . . eh?'
She reddened. So Dudley Sowerby's unspoken name could bring the blush to
her cheeks. Dudley had his excuses in his brother's condition. His
father's health, too, was--but this was Dudley calculating. Where there
are coronets, calculations of this sort must needs occur; just as where
there are complications. Odd, one fancies it, that we walking along the
pavement of civilized life, should be perpetually summoning Orcus to our
aid, for the sake of getting a clear course.
'And supposing a fog, my dearie?' he said.
'The daughter in search of her father carries a lamp to light her to him
through densest fogs as well as over deserts,' etc. She declaimed a long
sentence, to set the ripple running in his features; and when he left the
room for a last word with Armandine, she flung arms round her mother's
neck, murmuring: 'Mother! mother!' a cry equal to 'I am sure I do
right,' and understood so by Nataly approving it; she too on the line of
her instinct, without an object in sight.
THE MOTHER-THE DAUGHTER
Taking Nesta's hand, on her entry into his chambers with her father,
Colney Durance bowed over it and kissed it. The unusual performance had
a meaning; she felt she was praised. It might be because she made
herself her father's companion. 'I can't persuade him to put on a great-
coat,' she said. 'You would defeat his aim at the particular waistcoat
of his ambition,' said Colney, goaded to speak, not anxious to be heard.
He kept her beside him, leading her about for introductions to multiform
celebrities of both sexes; among them the gentleman editing the Magazine
which gave out serially THE RIVAL TONGUES: and there was talk of a
dragon-throated public's queer appetite in Letters. The pained Editor
deferentially smiled at her cheerful mention of Delphica. 'In, book
form, perhaps!' he remarked, with plaintive' resignation; adding: 'You
read it?' And a lady exclaimed: 'We all read it!'
But we are the elect, who see signification and catch flavour; and we are
reminded of an insatiable monster how sometimes capricious is his gorge.
'He may happen to be in the humour for a shaking!' Colney's poor
consolation it was to say of the prospects of his published book: for the
funny monster has been known to like a shaking.
'He takes it kinder tickled,' said Fenellan, joining the group and
grasping Nesta's hand with a warmth that thrilled her and set her
guessing. 'A taste of his favourite Cayenne lollypop, Colney; it fetches
the tear he loves to shed, or it gives him digestive heat in the bag of
his literary receptacle-fearfully relaxed and enormous! And no wonder;
his is to lie him down on notion of the attitude for reading, his back;
and he has in a jiffy the funnel of the Libraries inserted into his
mouth, and he feels the publishers pouring their gallons through it
unlimitedly; never crying out, which he can't; only swelling, which he's
obliged to do, with a non-nutritious inflation; and that's his
intellectual enjoyment; bearing a likeness to the horrible old torture of
the baillir d'eau; and he's doomed to perish in the worst book-form of
dropsy. You, my dear Colney, have offended his police or excise, who
stand by the funnel, in touch with his palate, to make sure that nothing
above proof is poured in; and there's your misfortune. He's not half a
bad fellow, you find when you haven't got to serve him.'
'Superior to his official parasites, one supposes!' Colney murmured.
The celebrities were unaffectedly interested in a literary failure having
certain merits; they discussed it, to compliment the crownless author;
and the fervider they, the more was he endowed to read the meanness
prompting the generosity. Publication of a book, is the philosopher's
lantern upon one's fellows.
Colney was caught away from his private manufactory of acids by hearing
Simeon Fenellan relate to Victor some of the recent occurrences at
Brighton. Simeon's tone was unsatisfying; Colney would have the word;
he was like steel on the grindstone for such a theme of our national
'That Demerara Supple-jack, Victor! Don't listen to Simeon; he's a man
of lean narrative, fit to chronicle political party wrangles and such
like crop of carcase prose: this is epical. In DRINK we have Old
England's organic Epic; Greeks and Trojans; Parliamentary Olympus,
ennobled brewers, nasal fanatics, all the machinery to hand. Keep a
straight eye on the primary motives of man, you'll own the English
produce the material for proud verse; they're alive there! Dartrey's
Demerara makes a pretty episode of the battle. I haven't seen it--if
it's possible to look on it: but I hear it is flexible, of a vulgar
appearance in repose, Jove's lightning at one time, the thong of AEacus
at another. Observe Dartrey marching off to the Station, for the purpose
of laying his miraculous weapon across the shoulders of a son of Mars,
who had offended. But we have his name, my dear Victor! His name,
Simeon?--Worrell; a Major Worrell: his offence being probably, that he
obtained military instruction in the Service, and left it at his
convenience, for our poor patch and tatter British Army to take in his
place another young student, who'll grow up to do similarly. And
Dartrey, we assume, is off to stop that system. You behold Sir Dartrey
twirling the weapon in preparatory fashion; because he is determined we
shall have an army of trained officers instead of infant amateurs heading
heroic louts. Not a thought of Beer in Dartrey!--always unpatriotic, you
'll say. Plato entreats his absent mistress to fix eyes on a star: eyes
on Beer for the uniting of you English! I tell you no poetic fiction.
Seeing him on his way, thus terribly armed, and knowing his intent,
Venus, to shield a former favourite servant of Mars, conjured the most
diverting of interventions, in the shape of a young woman in a poke-
bonnet, and Skepsey, her squire, marching with a dozen or so, informing
bedevilled mankind of the hideousness of our hymnification when it is not
under secluding sanction of the Edifice, and challengeing criticism; and
that was hard by, and real English, in the form of bludgeons, wielded by
a battalion of the national idol Bungay Beervat's boys; and they fell
upon the hymners. Here you fill in with pastoral similes. They struck
the maid adored by Skepsey. And that was the blow which slew them!
Our little man drove into the press with a pair of fists able to do their
work. A valiant skiff upon a sea of enemies, he was having it on the
nob, and suddenly the Demerara lightened. It flailed to thresh. Enough.
to say, brains would have come. The Bungays made a show of fight. No
lack of blood in them, to stock a raw shilling's worth or gush before
Achilles rageing. You perceive the picture, you can almost sing the
ballad. We want only a few names of the fallen. It was the carving of a
maitre chef, according to Skepsey: right-left-and point, with supreme
precision: they fell, accurately sliced from the joint. Having done with
them, Dartrey tossed the Demerara to Skepsey, and washed his hands of
battle; and he let his major go unscathed. Phlebotomy sufficient for the
Nesta's ears hummed with the name of Major Worrell.
'Skepsey did come back to London with a rather damaged frontispiece,'
Victor said. 'He can't have joined those people?'
'They may suit one of your militant peacemakers,' interposed Fenellan.
'The most placable creatures alive, and the surest for getting-up a
'Suit him! They're the scandal of our streets.' Victor was pricked with
a jealousy of them for beguiling him of his trusty servant.
'Look at your country, see where it shows its vitality,' said Colney.
'You don't see elsewhere any vein in movement-movement,' he harped on the
word Victor constantly employed to express the thing he wanted to see.
'Think of that, when the procession sets your teeth on edge. They're
honest foes of vice, and they move:--in England! Pulpit-preaching has no
effect. For gross maladies, gross remedies. You may judge of what you
are by the quality of the cure. Puritanism, I won't attempt to paint--
it would barely be decent; but compare it with the spectacle of English
frivolity, and you'll admit it to be the best show you make. It may
still be the saving of you--on the level of the orderly ox: I 've not
observed that it aims at higher. And talking of the pulpit, Barmby is
off to the East, has accepted a Shoreditch curacy, Skepsey tells me.'
'So there's the reason for our not seeing him!' Victor turned to Nesta.
'Papa, you won't be angry with Skepsey if he has joined those people,'
said Nesta. 'I'm sure he thinks of serving his country, Mr. Durance.'
Colney smiled on her. 'And you too?'
'If women knew how!'
'They're hitting on more ways at present than the men--in England.'
'But, Mr. Durance, it speaks well for England when they're allowed the
'Good!' Fenellan exclaimed. 'And that upsets his placement of the modern
national genders: Germany masculine, France feminine, Old England what
Victor ruffled and reddened on his shout of 'Neuter?'
Their circle widened. Nesta knew she was on promotion, by her being led
about and introduced to ladies. They were encouraging with her. One of
them, a Mrs. Marina Floyer, had recently raised a standard of feminine
insurrection. She said: 'I hear your praises from Mr. Durance. He
rarely praises. You have shown capacity to meditate on the condition of
women, he says.'
Nesta drew a shorter breath, with a hope at heart. She speculated in the
dark, as to whether her aim to serve and help was not so friendless. And
did Mr. Durance approve? But surely she stood in a glorious England if
there were men and women to welcome a girl to their councils. Oh! that
is the broad free England where gentlemen and gentlewomen accept of the
meanest aid to cleanse the land of its iniquities, and do not suffer
shame to smite a young face for touching upon horrors with a pure design.
She cried in her bosom: I feel! She had no other expression for that
which is as near as great natures may come to the conceiving of the
celestial spirit from an emissary angel; and she trembled, the fire ran
through her. It seemed to her, that she would be called to help or that
certainly they were nearing to an effacement of the woefullest of evils;
and if not helping, it would still be a blessedness for her to kneel
Society was being attacked and defended. She could but studiously
listen. Her father was listening. The assailant was a lady; and she had
a hearing, although she treated Society as a discrowned monarch on trial
for an offence against a more precious: viz., the individual cramped by
brutish laws: the individual with the ideas of our time, righteously
claiming expansion out of the clutches of a narrow old-world
disciplinarian-that giant hypocrite! She flung the gauntlet at
externally venerable Institutions; and she had a hearing, where
horrification, execration, the foul Furies of Conservatism would in a
shortly antecedent day have been hissing and snakily lashing, hounding
her to expulsion. Mrs. Marina Floyer gravely seconded her. Colney did
the same. Victor turned sharp on him. 'Yes,' Colney said; 'we unfold
the standard of extremes in this country, to get a single step taken:
that's how we move: we threaten death to get footway. Now, mark:
Society's errors will be admitted.'
A gentleman spoke. He began by admitting Society's errors.
Nevertheless, it so distinctly exists for the common good, that we may
say of Society in relation to the individual, it is the body to the soul.
We may wash, trim, purify, but we must not maim it. The assertion of our
individuality in opposition to the Government of Society--this existing
Society--is a toss of the cap for the erasure of our civilization, et
Platitudes can be of intense interest if they approach our case.--But, if
you please, we ask permission to wash, trim, purify, and we do not get
it.--But you have it! Because we take it at our peril; and you, who are
too cowardly to grant or withhold, call-up the revolutionary from the
pits by your slackness:--etc. There was a pretty hot debate. Both
assailant and defendant, to Victor's thinking, spoke well, and each the
right thing and he could have made use of both, but he could answer
neither. He beat about for the cause of this deficiency, and discovered
it in his position. Mentally, he was on the side of Society. Yet he was
annoyed to find the attack was so easily answerable when the defence
unfolded. But it was absurd to expect it would not be. And in fact, a
position secretly rebellious is equal to water on the brain for
Before the controversy was over, a note in Nataly's handwriting called
him home. She wrote: 'Make my excuses. C. D. will give Nesta and some
lady dinner. A visitor here. Come alone, and without delay. Quite
well, robust. Impatient to consult with you, nothing else.'
Nesta was happy to stay; and Victor set forth.
The visitor? plainly Dudley. Nataly's trusting the girl to the chance
of some lady being present, was unlike her. Dudley might be tugging at
the cord; and the recent conversation upon Society, rendered one of its
gilt pillars particularly estimable.--A person in the debate had declared
this modern protest on behalf of individualism to represent Society's
Criminal Trial. And it is likely to be a long one. And good for the
world, that we see such a Trial!--Well said or not, undoubtedly Society
is an old criminal: not much more advanced than the state of spiritual
worship where bloody sacrifice was offered to a hungry Lord. But it has
a case for pleading. We may liken it, as we have it now, to the bumping
lumberer's raft; suitable along torrent waters until we come to smoother.
Are we not on waters of a certain smoothness at the reflecting level?--
enough to justify demands for a vessel of finer design. If Society is to
subsist, it must have the human with the logical argument against the cry
of the free-flags, instead of presenting a block's obtuseness. That, you
need not hesitate to believe, will be rolled downward and disintegrated,
sooner than later. A Society based on the logical concrete of humane
considerateness:--a Society prohibiting to Mrs. Burman her wielding of a
life-long rod . . . .
The personal element again to confuse inquiry!--And Skepsey and Barmby
both of them bent on doing work without inquiry of any sort! They were
enviable: they were good fellows. Victor clung to the theme because it
hinted of next door to his lost Idea. He rubbed the back of his head,
fancying a throb there. Are civilized creatures incapable of abstract
thought when their social position is dubious? For if so, we never can
be quit of those we forsake.--Apparently Mrs. Burman's unfathomed power
lay in her compelling him to summon the devilish in himself and play upon
the impish in Society, that he might overcome her.
Victor's house-door stopped this current.
Nataly took his embrace.
'Nothing wrong?' he said, and saw the something. It was a favourable
moment to tell her what she might not at another time regard as a small
affair. 'News in the City to-day of that South London borough being
vacated. Quatley urges me. A death again! I saw Pempton, too. Will
you credit me when I tell you he carries his infatuation so far, that he
has been investing in Japanese and Chinese Loans, because they are less
meat-eaters than others, and vegetarians are more stable, and outlast us
all!--Dudley the visitor?' 'Mr. Sowerby has been here,' she said, in a
shaking low voice.
Victor held her hand and felt a squeeze more nervous than affectionate.
'To consult with me,' she added. 'My maid will go at ten to bring Nesta;
Mr. Durance I can count on, to see her safe home. Ah!' she wailed.
Victor nodded, saying: 'I guess. And, my love, you will receive Mrs.
John Cormyn to-morrow morning. I can't endure gaps. Gaps in our circle
must never be. Do I guess?--I spoke to Colney about bringing her home.'
Nataly sighed: 'Ah! make what provision we will! Evil--Mr. Sowerby has
had a great deal to bear.'
'A worldling may think so.'
Her breast heaved, and the wave burst: but her restraining of tears froze
'Victor! Our Nesta! Mr. Sowerby is unable to explain. And how the Miss
Duvidneys! . . . At that Brighton!'--The voice he heard was not his
darling's deep rich note, it had dropped to toneless hoarseness: 'She has
been permitted to make acquaintance--she has been seen riding with--she
has called upon--Oh! it is one of those abandoned women. In her house!
Our girl! Our Nesta! She was insulted by a man in the woman's house.
She is talked of over Brighton. The mother!--the daughter! And grant me
this--that never was girl more carefully . . . never till she was
taken from me. Oh! do not forget. You will defend me? You will say,
that her mother did with all her soul strive . . . It is not a rumour.
Mr. Sowerby has had it confirmed.' A sob caught her voice.
Victor's hands caressed to console: 'Dudley does not propose to . . ?'
'Nesta must promise . . . But how it happened? How! An acquaintance
with--contact with!--Oh! cruel!' Each time she ceased speaking, the
wrinkles of a shiver went over her, and the tone was of tears coming, but
she locked them in.
'An accident!' said Victor; 'some misunderstanding--there can't be harm.
Of course, she promises--hasn't to promise. How could a girl
distinguish! He does not cast blame on her?'
'Dear, if you would go down to Dartrey to-morrow. He knows:--it is over
the Clubs there; he will tell you, before a word to Nesta. Innocent,
yes! Mr. Sowerby has not to be assured of that. Ignorant of the
character of the dreadful woman? Ah, if I could ever in anything think
her ignorant! She frightens me. Mr. Sowerby is indulgent. He does me
justice. My duty to her--I must defend myself--has been my first
thought. I said in my prayers--she at least! . . . We have to see
the more than common reasons why she, of all girls, should--he did not
hint it, he was delicate: her name must not be public.'
'Yes, yes, Dudley is without parallel as a gentleman,' said Victor. 'It
does not suit me to hear the word "indulgent." My dear, if you were down
there, you would discover that the talk was the talk of two or three men
seeing our girl ride by--and she did ride with a troop: why, we've
watched them along the parade, often. Clear as day how it happened!
I'll go down early to-morrow.'
He fancied Nataly was appeased. And even out of this annoyance, there
was the gain of her being won to favour Dudley's hitherto but tolerated
Nataly also had the fancy, that the calm following on her anguish, was a
moderation of it. She was kept strung to confide in her girl by the
recent indebtedness to her for words heavenly in the strengthening
comfort they gave. But no sooner was she alone than her torturing
perplexities and her abasement of the hours previous to Victor's
For a girl of Nesta's head could not be deceived; she had come home with
a woman's intelligence of the world, hard knowledge of it--a knowledge
drawn from foul wells, the unhappy mother imagined: she dreaded to probe
to the depth of it. She had in her wounded breast the world's idea, that
corruption must come of the contact with impurity.
Nataly renewed her cry of despair: 'The mother!--the daughter!'--her sole
revelation of the heart's hollows in her stammered speaking to Victor.
She thanked heaven for the loneliness of her bed, where she could repeat:
'The mother!--the daughter!' hearing the world's words:--the daughter
excused, by reason of her having such a mother; the mother unpitied for
the bruiting of her brazen daughter's name: but both alike consigned to
the corners of the world's dust-heaps. She cried out, that her pride was
broken. Her pride, her last support of life, had gone to pieces. The
tears she restrained in Victor's presence, were called on to come now,
and she had none. It might be, that she had not strength for weeping.
She was very weak. Rising from bed to lock her door against Nesta's
entry to the room on her return at night, she could hardly stand: a chill
and a clouding overcame her. The quitted bed seemed the haven of a
drifted wreck to reach.
Victor tried the handle of a locked door in the dark of the early winter
morning. 'The mother!--the daughter!' had swung a pendulum for some time
during the night in him, too. He would rather have been subjected to the
spectacle of tears than have heard that toneless voice, as it were the
dry torrent-bed rolling blocks instead of melodious, if afflicting,
He told Nesta not to disturb her mother, and murmured of a headache:
'Though, upon my word, the best cure for mama would be a look into
Fredi's eyes!' he said, embracing his girl, quite believing in her, just
a little afraid of her.
NATALY, NESTA, AND DARTREY FENELLAN
Pleasant things, that come to us too late for our savour of the sweetness
in them, toll ominously of life on the last walk to its end. Yesterday,
before Dudley Sowerby's visit, Nataly would have been stirred where the
tears we shed for happiness or repress at a flattery dwell when seeing
her friend Mrs. John Cormyn enter her boudoir and hearing her speak
repentantly, most tenderly. Mrs. John said: 'You will believe I have
suffered, dear; I am half my weight, I do think': and she did not set the
smile of responsive humour moving; although these two ladies had a key of
laughter between them. Nataly took her kiss; held her hand, and at the
parting kissed her. She would rather have seen her friend than not: so
far she differed from a corpse; but she was near the likeness to the dead
in the insensibility to any change of light shining on one who best loved
darkness and silence. She cried to herself wilfully, that her pride was
broken: as women do when they spurn at the wounding of a dignity they
cannot protect and die to see bleeding; for in it they live.
The cry came of her pride unbroken, sore bruised, and after a certain
space for recovery combative. She said:
Any expiation I could offer where I did injury, I would not refuse; I
would humble myself and bless heaven for being able to pay my debt--what
I can of it. All I contend against is, injustice. And she sank into
sensational protests of her anxious care of her daughter, too proud to
Her one great affliction, the scourging affliction of her utter
loneliness;--an outcast from her family; daily, and she knew not how,
more shut away from the man she loved; now shut away from her girl;--
seemed under the hand of the angel of God. The abandonment of her by
friends, was merely the light to show it.
Midday's post brought her a letter from Priscilla Graves, entreating to
be allowed to call on her next day.--We are not so easily cast off!
Nataly said, bitterly, in relation to the lady whose offending had not
been so great. She wrote: 'Come, if sure that you sincerely wish to.'
Having fasted, she ate at lunch in her dressing-room, with some taste of
the food, haunted by an accusation of gluttony because of her eating at
all, and a vile confession, that she was enabled to eat, owing to the
receipt of Priscilla's empty letter: for her soul's desire was to be
doing a deed of expiation, and the macerated flesh seemed her assurance
to herself of the courage to make amends.--I must have some strength, she
said wearifully, in apology for the morsel consumed.
Nesta's being in the house with her, became an excessive irritation.
Doubts of the girl's possible honesty to speak a reptile truth under
question; amazement at her boldness to speak it; hatred of, the mouth
that could: and loathing of the words, the theme; and abomination of
herself for conjuring fictitious images to rouse real emotions; all ran
counterthreads, that produced a mad pattern in the mind, affrighting to
reason: and then, for its preservation, reason took a superrational leap,
and ascribed the terrible injustice of this last cruel stroke to the
divine scourge, recognized divine by the selection of the mortal spot for
chastisement. She clasped her breast, and said: It is mortal. And that
She said, smiling: I never felt my sin until this blow came! Therefore
the blow was proved divine. Ought it not to be welcomed?--and she
appearing no better than one of those, the leprous of the sex! And
brought to acknowledgement of the likeness by her daughter!
Nataly drank the poison distilled from her exclamations and was ice. She
had denied herself to Nesta's redoubled petition. Nesta knocking at the
door a third time and calling, tore the mother two ways: to have her girl
on her breast or snap their union in a word with an edge. She heard the
voice of Dartrey Fenellan.
He was admitted. 'No, dear,' she said to Nesta; and Nesta's, 'My own
mother,' consentingly said, in tender resignation, as she retired, sprang
a stinging tear to the mother's eyelids.
Dartrey looked at the door closing on the girl.
'Is it a very low woman?' Nataly asked him in a Church whisper, with a
'It is not,' said he, quick to meet any abruptness.
'She must be cunning.'
'In the ordinary way. We say it of Puss before the hounds.'
'To deceive a girl like Nesta!'
'She has done no harm.'
'Dartrey, you speak to a mother. You have seen the woman? She is?
'She is womanly, womanly.'
'Quite one of those . . . ?'
'My dear soul! You can't shake them off in that way. She is one of us.
If we have the class, we can't escape from it. They are not to bear all
the burden because they exist. We are the bigger debtors. I tell you
she is womanly.'
'It sounds like horrid cynicism.'
'Friends of mine would abuse it for the reverse.'
'Do not make me hate your chivalry. This woman is a rod on my back.
Provided only she has not dropped venom into Nesta's mind!'
'Can you tell me you think she has done no harm to my girl?'
'To Nesta herself?--not any: not to a girl like your girl.'
'To my girl's name? Speak at once. But I know she has. She induced
Nesta to go to her house. My girl was insulted in this woman's house.'
Dartrey's forehead ridged with his old fury and a gust of present
contempt. 'I can tell you this, that the fellow who would think harm of
it, knowing the facts 's not worthy of touching the tips of the fingers
of your girl.'
'She is talked of!'
'A good-looking girl out riding with a handsome woman on a parade of
'The woman is notorious.' Nataly said it shivering.
He shook his head. 'Not true.'
'She has an air of a lady?'
'She sits a horse well.'
'Would she to any extent deceive me--impose on me here?'
'Ah!' Nataly moaned. . . .
'But what?' said Dartrey. 'There was no pretence. Her style is not
worse than that of some we have seen. There was no effort to deceive.
The woman's plain for you and me to read, she has few of the arts; one or
two tricks, if you like: and these were not needed for use. There are
women who have them, and have not been driven or let slip into the
'Yes; I know!--those ideas of yours!' Nataly had once admired him for his
knightliness toward the weakest women and the women underfoot. 'You have
spoken to this woman? She boasted of acquaintance with Nesta?'
'She thanked God for having met her.'
'Is it one of the hysterical creatures?'
Mrs. Marsett appeared fronting Dartrey.
He laughed to himself. 'A clever question. There is a leaning to
excitement of manner at times. It 's not hysteria. Allow for her
Nataly took the unintended blow, and bowed to it; and still more harshly
said: 'What rank of life does the woman come from?'
'The class educated for a skittish career by your popular Stage and your
Book-stalls. I am not precise?'
'Leave Mr. Durance. Is she in any degree commonly well bred? . . .
behaviour, talk-her English.'
'I trench on Mr. Durance in replying. Her English is passable. You may
hear . . .'
'Everywhere, of course! And this woman of slipshod English and excited
manners imposed upon Nesta!'
'It would not be my opinion.'
'Did not impose on her!'
'Not many would impose on Nesta Radnor for long.'
'Think what that says, Dartrey!'
'You have had a detestable version of the story.'
'Because an excited creature thanks God to you for having met her!'
'She may. She's a better woman for having met her. Don't suppose we're
for supernatural conversions. The woman makes no show of that. But she
has found a good soul among her sex--her better self in youth, as one
guesses; and she is grateful--feels farther from exile in consequence.
She has found a lady to take her by the hand!--not a common case. She
can never go to the utterly bad after knowing Nesta. I forget if she
says it; I say it. You have heard the story from one of your
'A true gentleman. I have reason to thank him. He has not your ideas on
these matters, Dartrey. He is very sensitive . . . on Nesta's
'With reference to marriage. I'll own I prefer another kind of
gentleman. I 've had my experience of that kind of gentleman. Many
of the kind have added their spot to the outcasts abominated for
uncleanness--in holy unction. Many?--I won't say all; but men who
consent to hear black words pitched at them, and help to set good women
facing away from them, are pious dolts or rascal dogs of hypocrites.
They, if you'll let me quote Colney Durance to you to-day--and how is it
he is not in favour?--they are tempting the Lord to turn the pillars of
Society into pillars of salt. Down comes the house. And priests can
rest in sight of it!--They ought to be dead against the sanctimony that
believes it excommunicates when it curses. The relationship is not
dissolved so cheaply, though our Society affects to think it is.
Barmby's off to the East End of this London, Victor informs me:--good
fellow! And there he'll be groaning over our vicious nature. Nature is
not more responsible for vice than she is for inhumanity. Both bad, but
the latter's the worse of the two.'
Nataly interposed: 'I see the contrast, and see whom it's to strike.'
Dartrey sent a thought after his meaning. 'Hardly that. Let it stand.
He 's only one with the world: but he shares the criminal infamy for
crushing hope out of its frailest victims. They're that--no sentiment.
What a world, too, look behind it!--brutal because brutish. The world
may go hang: we expect more of your gentleman. To hear of Nesta down
there, and doubt that she was about good work; and come complaining! He
had the privilege of speaking to her, remonstrating, if he wished. There
are men who think--men!--the plucking of sinners out of the mire a dirty
business. They depute it to certain officials. And your women--it's the
taste of the world to have them educated so, that they can as little take
the humane as the enlightened view. Except, by the way, sometimes, in
secret;--they have a sisterly breast. In secret, they do occasionally
think as they feel. In public, the brass mask of the Idol they call
Propriety commands or supplies their feelings and thoughts. I won't
repeat my reasons for educating them differently. At present we have but
half the woman to go through life with--and thank you.'
Dartrey stopped. 'Don't be disturbed,' he added. 'There's no ground for
alarm. Not of any sort.'
Nataly said: 'What name?'
'Her name is Mrs. Marsett.'
'The name is . . . ?'
'Captain Marsett: will be Sir Edward. He came back from the Continent
A fit of shuddering seized Nataly. It grew in violence, and speaking out
of it, with a pause of sickly empty chatter of the jaws, she said:
'Always that name?'
'Before the maiden name? May have been or not.'
'Not, you say?'
'I don't accurately know.'
Dartrey sprang to his legs. 'My dear soul! dear friend--one of the
best! if we go on fencing in the dark, there'll be wounds. Your way of
taking this affair disappointed me. Now I understand. It's the disease
of a trouble, to fly at comparisons. No real one exists. I wished to
protect the woman from a happier sister's judgement, to save you from
alarm concerning Nesta:--quite groundless, if you'll believe me. Come,
there's plenty of benevolent writing abroad on these topics now: facts
are more looked at, and a good woman may join us in taking them without
the horrors and loathings of angels rather too much given to claim
distinction from the luckless. A girl who's unprotected may go through
adventures before she fixes, and be a creature of honest intentions.
Better if protected, we all agree. Better also if the world did not
favour the girl's multitude of enemies. Your system of not dealing with
facts openly is everyway favourable to them. I am glad to say, Victor
recognizes what corruption that spread of wealth is accountable for.
And now I must go and have a talk with the--what a change from the blue
butterfly! Eaglet, I ought to have said. I dine with you, for Victor
may bring news.'
'Would anything down there be news to you, Dartrey?'
'He makes it wherever he steps.'
'He would reproach me for not detaining you. Tell Nesta I have to lie
down after talking. She has a child's confidence in you.'
A man of middle age! he said to himself. It is the particular
ejaculation which tames the senior whose heart is for a dash of holiday.
He resolved, that the mother might trust to the discretion of a man of
his age; and he went down to Nesta, grave with the weight his count of
years should give him. Seeing her, the light of what he now knew of her
was an ennobling equal to celestial. For this fair girl was one of the
active souls of the world--his dream to discover in woman's form. She,
the little Nesta, the tall pure-eyed girl before him, was, young though
she was, already in the fight with evil: a volunteer of the army of the
simply Christian. The worse for it? Sowerby would think so. She was
not of the order of young women who, in sheer ignorance or in voluntary,
consent to the peace with evil, and are kept externally safe from the
smirch of evil, and are the ornaments of their country, glory of a
country prizing ornaments higher than qualities.
Dartrey could have been momentarily incredulous of things revealed by
Mrs. Marsett--not incredulous of the girl's heroism: that capacity he
caught and gauged in her shape of head, cut of mouth, and the
measurements he was accustomed to make at a glance:--but her beauty, or
the form of beauty which was hers, argued against her having set foot of
thought in our fens. Here and far there we meet a young saint vowed to
service along by those dismal swamps: and saintly she looks; not of this
earth. Nesta was of the blooming earth. Where do we meet girl or woman
comparable to garden-flowers, who can dare to touch to lift the spotted
of her sex? He was puzzled by Nesta's unlikeness in deeds and in aspect.
He remembered her eyes, on the day when he and Colonel Sudley beheld her;
presently he was at quiet grapple with her mind. His doubts cleared off.
Then the question came, How could a girl of heroical character be
attached to the man Sowerby? That entirely passed belief.
And was it possible his wishes beguiled his hearing? Her tones were
They talked for a while before, drawing a deep breath, she said: 'I fancy
I am in disgrace with my mother.'
'You have a suspicion why?' said he.
She would have told him why: the words were at her lips. Previous to her
emotion on the journey home, the words would have come out. They were
arrested by the thunder of the knowledge, that the nobleness in him
drawing her to be able to speak of scarlet matter, was personally
He attributed the full rose upon her cheeks to the forbidding subject.
To spare pain, he said: 'No misunderstanding with the dear mother will
last the day through. Can I help?'
'Oh, Captain Dartrey!'
'Drop the captain. Dartrey will do.'
'How could I!'
'You're not wanting in courage, Nesta.'
'Hardly for that!'
'Though I could not say Mr. Fenellan.'
'You see; Dartrey, it must be.'
'If I could!'
'But the fellow is not a captain: and he is a friend, an old friend, very
old friend: he'll be tipped with grey in a year or two.'
'I might be bolder then.'
'Imagine it now. There is no disloyalty in your calling your friends by
Her nature rang to the implication. 'I am not bound.' Dartrey hung
fast, speculating on her visibly: 'I heard you were?'
'No. I must be free.'
'It is not an engagement?'
'Will you laugh?--I have never quite known. My father desired it:
and my desire is to please him. I think I am vain enough to think I read
through blinds and shutters. The engagement--what there was--has been,
to my reading, broken more than once. I have not considered it, to
settle my thoughts on it, until lately: and now I may suspect it to be
broken. I have given cause--if it is known. There is no blame
elsewhere. I am not unhappy, Captain Dartrey.'
'Captain by courtesy. Very well. Tell me how Nesta judges the
engagement to be broken?'
She was mentally phrasing before she said: 'Absence.'
'He was here yesterday.'
All that the visit embraced was in her expressive look, as of sight
drawing inward, like our breath in a spell of wonderment. 'Then I
understand; it enlightens me.
My own mother!--my poor mother! he should have come to me. I was the
guilty person, not she; and she is the sufferer. That, if in life were
direct retribution! but the very meaning of having a heart, is to suffer
through others or for them.'
'You have soon seen that, dear girl,' said Dartrey.
'So, my own mother, and loving me as she does, blames me!' Nesta sighed;
she took a sharp breath. 'You? do you blame me too?'
He pressed her hand, enamoured of her instantaneous divination and
But he was admonished, that to speak high approval would not be
honourable advantage taken of the rival condemning; and he said: 'Blame?
Some think it is not always the right thing to do the right thing. I've
made mistakes, with no bad design. A good mother's view is not often
'You pressed my hand,' she murmured.
That certainly had said more.
'Glad to again,' he responded. It was uttered airily and was meant to be
as lightly done.
Nesta did not draw back her hand. 'I feel strong when you press it.'
Her voice wavered, and as when we hear a flask sing thin at the filling,
ceased upon evidence of a heart surcharged. How was he to relax the
pressure!--he had to give her the strength she craved: and he vowed it
should be but for half a minute, half a minute longer.
Her tears fell; she eyed him steadily; she had the look of sunlight in
'Oldish men are the best friends for you, I suppose,' he said; and her
gaze turned elusive phrases to vapour.
He was compelled to see the fiery core of the raincloud lighting it for a
revealment, that allowed as little as it retained of a shadow of
The sight was keener than touch and the run of blood with blood to
quicken slumbering seeds of passion.
But here is the place of broken ground and tangle, which calls to
honourable men, not bent on sport, to be wary to guard the gunlock. He
stopped the word at his mouth. It was not in him to stop or moderate the
force of his eyes. She met them with the slender unbendingness that was
her own; a feminine of inspirited manhood. There was no soft expression,
only the direct shot of light, on both sides; conveying as much as is
borne from sun to earth, from earth to sun. And when such an exchange
has come between the two, they are past plighting, they are the wedded
Nesta felt it, without asking whether she was loved. She was his. She
had not a thought of the word of love or the being beloved. Showers of
painful blissfulness went through her, as the tremours of a shocked
frame, while she sat quietly, showing scarce a sign; and after he had let
her hand go, she had the pressure on it. The quivering intense of the
moment of his eyes and grasp was lord of her, lord of the day and of all
days coming. That is how Love slays Death. Never did girl so give her
She would have been the last to yield it unreservedly to a man untrusted
for the character she worshipped. But she could have given it to
Dartrey, despite his love of another, because it was her soul, without
any of the cravings, except to bestow.
He perceived, that he had been carried on for the number of steps which
are countless miles and do not permit the retreat across the desert
behind; and he was in some amazement at himself, remindful of the
different nature of our restraining power when we have a couple playing
on it. Yet here was this girl, who called him up to the heights of young
life again: and a brave girl; and she bled for the weak, had no shrinking
from the women underfoot: for the reason, that she was a girl sovereignly
pure, angelically tender. Was there a point of honour to hold him back?
Nataly entered the room. She kissed Nesta, and sat silent.
'Mother, will you speak of me to him, if I go out?' Nesta said.
'We have spoken,' her mother replied, vexed by the unmaidenly allusion to
She would have asked, How did you guess I knew of it?--but that the, Why
should I speak of you to him? struck the louder note in her bosom: and
then, What is there that this girl cannot guess!--filled the mother's
heart with apprehensive dread: and an inward cry, What things will she
not set going, to have them discussed. And the appalling theme, sitting
offensive though draped in their midst, was taken for a proof of the
girl's unblushingness. After standing as one woman against the world so
long, Nataly was relieved to be on the side of a world now convictedly
unjust to her in the confounding of her with the shameless. Her mind had
taken the brand of that thought:--And Nesta had brought her to it:--
And Dudley Sowerby, a generous representative of the world, had kindly,
having the deputed power to do so, sustained her, only partially blaming
Nesta, not casting them off; as the world, with which Nataly felt, under
a sense of the protection calling up all her gratitude to young Dudley,
would have approved his doing.
She was passing through a fit of the cowardice peculiar to the tediously
strained, who are being more than commonly tried--persecuted, as they say
when they are not supplicating their tyrannical Authority for aid. The
world will continue to be indifferent to their view of it and behaviour
toward it until it ceases to encourage the growth of hypocrites.
These are moments when the faces we are observing drop their charm,
showing us our perversion internal, if we could but reflect, to see it.
Very many thousand times above Dudley Sowerby, Nataly ranked Dartrey
Fenellan; and still she looked at him, where he sat beside Nesta,
ungenially, critical of the very features, jealously in the interests of
Dudley; and recollecting, too, that she had once prayed for one exactly
resembling Dartrey Fenellan to be her Nesta's husband. But, as she would
have said, that was before the indiscretion of her girl had shown her to
require for her husband a man whose character and station guaranteed
protection instead of inciting to rebellion. And Dartrey, the loved and
prized, was often in the rebel ranks; he was dissatisfied with matters as
they are; was restless for action, angry with a country denying it to
him; he made enemies, he would surely bring down inquiries about Nesta's
head, and cause the forgotten or quiescent to be stirred; he would
scarcely be the needed hand for such a quiver of the lightnings as Nesta
Dartrey read Nataly's brows. This unwonted uncomeliness of hers was an
indication to one or other of our dusky pits, not a revealing.
A CHAPTER IN THE SHADOW OF MRS. MARSETT
He read her more closely when Arlington brought in the brown paper
envelope of the wires--to which the mate of Victor ought to have become
accustomed. She took it; her eyelids closed, and her features were
driven to whiteness. 'Only these telegrams,' she said, in apology.
'Lakelands on fire?' Dartrey murmured to Nesta; and she answered: 'I
should not be sorry.'
Nataly coldly asked her why she would not be sorry.
Dartrey interposed: 'I'm sure she thinks Lakelands worries her mother.'
'That ranks low among the worries,' Nataly sighed, opening the envelope.
Nesta touched her arm: 'Mother! even before Captain Dartrey, if you will
let me!'--she turned to him: 'before . . .' at the end of her breath
she said: 'Dartrey Fenellan. You shall see my whole heart, mother.'
Her mother looked from her at him.
'Victor returns by the last train. He telegraphs, that he dines with--'
She handed the paper to Dartrey.
'Marsett,' he read aloud; and she flushed; she was angry with him for not
knowing, that the name was a term of opprobrium flung at her.
'It's to tell you he has done what he thought good,' said Dartrey.
'In other words, as I interpret, he has completed his daughter's work.
So we won't talk about it till he comes. You have no company this
'Oh! there is a pause to-night! It's nearly as unceasing as your
brother Simeon's old French lady in the ronde with her young bridegroom,
till they danced her to pieces. I do get now and then an hour's repose,'
Nataly added, with a vision springing up of the person to whom the story
'My dear, you are a good girl to call me Dartrey,' the owner of the name
said to Nesta.
Nataly saw them both alert, in the terrible manner peculiar to both, for
the directest of the bare statements. She could have protested, that her
love of truth was on an equality with theirs; and certainly, that her
regard for decency was livelier. Pass the deficiency in a man. But a
girl who could speak, by allusion, of Mrs. Marsett--of the existence of a
Mrs. Marsett--in the presence of a man: and he excusing, encouraging: and
this girl her own girl;--it seemed to her, that the world reeled; she
could hardly acknowledge the girl; save under the penitential admission
of her sin's having found her out.
She sent Nesta to her room when they went upstairs to dress, unable to
endure her presence after seeing her show a placid satisfaction at
Dartrey's nod to the request for him to sleep in the house that night.
It was not at all a gleam of pleasure, hardly an expression; it was a
manner of saying, One drop more in my cup of good fortune! an absurd and
an offensive exhibition of silly optimism of the young, blind that they
For were it known, and surely the happening of it would be known,
that Dudley Sowerby had shaken off the Nesta of no name, who was the
abominable Mrs. Marsett's friend, a whirlwind with a trumpet would sweep
them into the wilderness on a blast frightfuller than any ever heard.
Nataly had a fit of weeping for want of the girl's embrace, against whom
her door was jealously locked. She hoped those two would talk much,
madly if they liked, during dinner, that she might not be sensible,
through any short silence, of the ardour animating them: especially
glowing in Nesta, ready behind her quiet mask to come brazenly forth.
But both of them were mercilessly ardent; and a sickness of the fear,
that they might fall on her to capture her and hurry her along with them
perforce of the allayed, once fatal, inflammable element in herself,
shook the warmth from her limbs: causing her to say to herself aloud in a
ragged hoarseness, very strangely: Every thought of mine now has a
physical effect on me!
They had not been two minutes together when she descended to them. Yet
she saw the girl's heart brimming, either with some word spoken to her or
for joy of an unmaidenly confession. During dinner they talked, without
distressful pauses. Whatever said, whatever done, was manifestly another
drop in Nesta's foolish happy cup. Could it be all because Dartrey
Fenellan countenanced her acquaintance with that woman? The mother had
lost hold of her. The tortured mother had lost hold of herself.
Dartrey in the course of the evening, begged to hear the contralto; and
Nataly, refusing, was astounded by the admission in her blank mind of the
truth of man's list of charges against her sex, starting from their
capriciousness for she could have sung in a crowded room, and she had now
a desire for company, for stolid company or giddy, an ocean of it. This
led to her thinking, that the world of serious money-getters, and feasts,
and the dance, the luxurious displays, and the reverential Sunday
service, will always ultimately prove itself right in opposition to
critics and rebels, and to any one vainly trying to stand alone: and the
thought annihilated her; for she was past the age of the beginning again,
and no footing was left for an outsider not self-justified in being where
she stood. She heard Dartrey's praise of Nesta's voice for tearing her
mother's bosom with notes of intolerable sweetness; and it was haphazard
irony, no doubt; we do not the less bleed for the accident of a shot.
At last, after midnight Victor arrived.
Nesta most impudently expected to be allowed to remain. 'Pray, go,
dear,' her mother said. Victor kissed his Fredi. 'Some time to-morrow,'
said he; and she forbore to beseech him.
He stared, though mildly, at sight of her taking Dartrey's hand for the
good-night and deliberately putting her lips to it.
Was she a girl whose notion of rectifying one wrong thing done, was to do
another? Nataly could merely observe. A voice pertaining to no one
present, said in her ear:--Mothers have publicly slapped their daughter's
faces for less than that!--It was the voice of her incapacity to cope
with the girl. She watched Nesta's passage from the room, somewhat
affected by the simple bearing for which she was reproaching her.
'And our poor darling has not seen a mountain this year!' Victor
exclaimed, to have mentionable grounds for pitying his girl. 'I promised
Fredi she should never count a year without Highlands or Alps. You
remember, mama?--down in the West Highlands. Fancy the dear bit of
bundle, Dartrey!--we had laid her in her bed; she was about seven or
eight; and there she lay wide awake. "What 's Fredi thinking of?"--
"I'm thinking of the tops of the mountains at night, dada."--She could
climb them now; she has the legs.'
Nataly said: 'You have some report to make. You dined with those
'The Marsetts: yes:--well-suited couple enough. It's to happen before
Winter ends--at once; before Christmas; positively before next Spring.
Fredi's doing! He has to manage, arrange.--She's a good-looking woman,
good height, well-rounded; well-behaved, too: she won't make a bad Lady
Marsett. Every time that woman spoke of our girl, the tears jumped to
'Come to me before you go to bed,' Nataly said, rising, her voice
foundering; 'Good-night, Dartrey.'
She turned to the door; she could not trust herself to shake hands with
composure. Not only was it a nauseous mixture she was forced to gulp
from Victor, it burned like a poison.
'Really Fredi's doing--chiefly,' said Victor, as soon as Dartrey and he
were alone, comfortably settled in the smoking-room. 'I played the man
of pomp with Marsett--good heavy kind of creature: attached to the woman.
She's the better horse, as far as brains go. Good enough Lady Marsett.
I harped on Major Worrell: my daughter insulted. He knew of it--spoke
of you properly. The man offered all apologies; he has told the Major
he is no gentleman, not a fit associate for gentlemen:--quite so--and has
cut him dead. Will marry her, as I said, make her as worthy as he can of
the honour of my daughter's acquaintance. Rather comical grimace, when
he vowed he'd fasten the tie. He doesn't like marriage. But, he can't
give her up. And she's for patronizing the institution. But she is
ready to say good-bye to him "rather than see the truest lady in the
world insulted"--her words. And so he swallows his dose for health,
and looks a trifle sourish. Antecedents, I suppose: has to stomach them.
But if a man's fond of a woman--if he knows he saves her from slipping
lower--and it's an awful world, for us to let a woman be under its
wheels:--I say, a woman who has a man to lean on, unless she's as
downright corrupt as two or three of the men we've known:--upon my word,
Dartrey, I come round to some of your ideas on these matters. It's this
girl of mine, this wee bit of girl in her little nightshirt with the
frill, astonishes me most:--"thinking of the tops of the mountains at
night!" She has positively done the whole of this work-main part.
I smiled when I left the house, to have to own our little Fredi starting
us all on the road. It seems, Marsett had sworn he would; amorous vow,
you know; he never came nearer to doing it. I hope it's his better mind
now; I do hope the man won't have cause to regret it. He speaks of
Nesta--sort of rustic tone of awe. Mrs. Marsett has impressed him. He
expects the title soon, will leave the army--the poor plucked British
army, as you call it!--and lead the life of a country squire: hunting!
Well, it's not only the army, it's over Great Britain, with this infernal
wealth of ours!--and all for pleasure--eh?--or Paradise lost for a sugar
plum! Eh, Dartrey? Upon my word, it appears to me, Esau's the
Englishman, Jacob the German, of these times. I wonder old Colney hasn't
said it. If we're not plucked, as your regiments are of the officers who
have learnt their work, we're emasculated:--the nation's half made-up of
the idle and the servants of the idle.'
'Ay, and your country squires and your manufacturers contrive to give the
army a body of consumptive louts fit for nothing else than to take the
shilling--and not worth it,' said Dartrey.
'Sounds like old Colney,' Victor remarked to himself. 'But, believe me,
I'm ashamed of the number of servants who wait on me. It wouldn't so
much matter, as Skepsey says, if they were trained to arms and self-
respect. That little fellow Skepsey's closer to the right notion,
and the right practice, too, than any of us. With his Matilda Pridden!
He has jumped out of himself to the proper idea of women, too. And
there's a man who has been up three times before the magistrates, and is
considered a disorderly subject--one among the best of English citizens,
I declare! I never think of Skepsey without the most extraordinary,
witless kind of envy--as if he were putting in action an idea I once had
and never quite got hold of again. The match for him is Fredi. She
threatens to be just as devoted, just as simple, as he. I positively
doubt whether any of us could stop her, if she had set herself to do a
thing she thought right.'
'I should not like to think our trying it possible,' said Dartrey.
'All very well, but it's a rock ahead. We shall have to alter our
course, my friend. You know, I dined with that couple, after the private
twenty minutes with Marsett: he formally propounded the invitation, as we