Part 9 out of 9
were close on his hour, rather late: and I wanted to make the woman
happy, besides putting a seal of cordiality on his good intentions--
politic! And subsequently I heard from her, that--you'll think nothing
of it!--Fredi promised to stand by her at the altar.'
Dartrey said, shrugging: 'She needn't do that.'
'So we may say. You're dealing with Nesta Victoria. Spare me a contest
with that girl, I undertake to manage any man or woman living.'
'When the thing to be done is thought right by her.'
'But can we always trust her judgement, my dear Dartrey?'
'In this case, she would argue, that her resolution to keep her promise
would bind or help to bind Marsett to fulfil his engagement.'
'Odd, her mother has turned dead round in favour of that fellow Dudley
Sowerby! I don't complain; it suits; but one thinks--eh?--women!'
'Well, yes, one thinks or should think, that if you insist on having
women rooted to the bed of the river, they'll veer with the tides, like
water-weeds, and no wonder.'
'Your heterodoxy on that subject is a mania, Dartrey. We can't have
'Then don't be exclaiming about their vagaries.'
Victor mused: 'It's wonderful: that little girl of mine!--good height
now: but what a head she has! Oh, she'll listen to reason: only mark
what I say:--with that quiet air of hers, the husband, if a young fellow,
will imagine she's the most docile of wives in the world. And as to
wife, I'm not of the contrary opinion. But qua individual female,
supposing her to have laid fast hold of an idea of duty, it's he who'll
have to turn the corner second, if they're to trot in the yoke together.
Or it may be an idea of service to a friend--or to her sex! That Mrs.
Marsett says she feels for--"bleeds" for her sex. The poor woman didn't
show to advantage with me, because she was in a fever to please:--talks
in jerks, hot phrases. She holds herself well. At the end of the dinner
she behaved better. Odd, you can teach women with hints and a lead. But
Marsett 's Marsett to the end. Rather touching!--the poor fellow said:
Deuce of a bad look-out for me if Judith doesn't have a child! First-
rate sportsman, I hear. He should have thought of his family earlier.
You know, Dartrey, the case is to be argued for the family as well. You
won't listen. And for Society too! Off you go.'
A battery was opened on that wall of composite.
'Ah, well,' said Victor. 'But I may have to beg your help, as to the
so-called promise to stand at the altar. I don't mention it upstairs.'
He went to Nataly's room.
She was considerately treated, and was aware of being dandled, that she
might have sleep.
She consented to it, in a loathing of the topic.--Those women invade us
--we cannot keep them out! was her inward cry: with a reverberation of
the unfailing accompaniment: The world holds you for one of them!
Victor tasked her too much when his perpetual readiness to doat upon his
girl for whatever she did, set him exalting Nesta's conduct. She
thought: Was Nesta so sympathetic with her mother of late by reason of a
moral insensibility to the offence?
This was her torture through the night of a labouring heart, that
travelled to one dull shock, again and again repeated:--the apprehended
sound, in fact, of Dudley Sowerby's knock at the street door. Or
sometimes a footman handed her his letter, courteously phrased to
withdraw from the alliance. Or else he came to a scene with Nesta, and
her mother was dragged into it, and the intolerable subject steamed about
her. The girl was visioned as deadly. She might be indifferent to the
protection of Dudley's name. Robust, sanguine, Victor's child, she
might--her mother listened to a devil's whisper--but no; Nesta's aim was
at the heights; she was pure in mind as in body. No, but the world would
bring the accusation; and the world would trace the cause: Heredity, it
would say. Would it say falsely? Nataly harped on the interrogation
until she felt her existence dissolving to a dark stain of the earth, and
she found herself wondering at the breath she drew, doubting that another
would follow, speculating on the cruel force which keeps us to the act of
breathing.--Though I could draw wild blissful breath if I were galloping
across the moors! her worn heart said to her youth: and out of ken of
the world, I could regain a portion of my self-esteem. Nature thereat
renewed her old sustainment with gentle murmurs, that were supported by
Dr. Themison's account of the virtuous married lady who chafed at the
yoke on behalf of her sex, and deemed the independent union the ideal.
Nataly's brain had a short gallop over moorland. It brought her face to
face with Victor's girl, and she dropped once more to her remorse in
herself and her reproaches of Nesta. The girl had inherited from her
father something of the cataract's force which won its way by catching or
by mastering, uprooting, ruining!
In the morning she was heavily asleep. Victor left word with Nesta,
that the dear mother was not to be disturbed. Consequently, when Dudley
called to see Mrs. Victor Radnor, he was informed that Miss Radnor would
Their interview lasted an hour.
Dudley came to Victor in the City about luncheon time.
His perplexity of countenance was eloquent. He had, before seeing the
young lady, digested an immense deal more, as it seemed to him, than any
English gentleman should be asked to consume. She now referred him to
her father, who had spent a day in Brighton, and would, she said, explain
whatever there was to be explained. But she added, that if she was
expected to abandon a friend, she could not. Dudley had argued with her
upon the nature of friendship, the measurement of its various dues; he
had lectured on the choice of friends, the impossibility for young
ladies, necessarily inexperienced, to distinguish the right class of
friends, the dangers they ran in selecting friends unwarranted by the
stamp of honourable families.
'And what did Fredi say to that?' Victor inquired.
'Miss Radnor said--I may be dense, I cannot comprehend--that the precepts
were suitable for seminaries of Pharisees. When it is a question of a
young lady associating with a notorious woman!'
'Not notorious. You spoil your case if you "speak extremely," as a
friend says. I saw her yesterday. She worships "Miss Radnor."'
Nesta will know when she is older; she will thank me,' said Dudley
hurriedly. 'As it is at present, I may reckon, I hope, that the
association ceases. Her name: I have to consider my family.'
'Good anchorage! You must fight it out with the girl. And depend upon
this--you're not the poorer for being the husband of a girl of character;
unless you try to bridle her. She belongs to her time. I don't mind
owning to you, she has given me a lead.--Fredi 'll be merry to-night.
Here's a letter I have from the Sanfredini, dated Milan, fresh this
morning; invitation to bring the god-child to her villa on Como in May;
desirous to embrace her. She wrote to the office. Not a word of her
duque. She has pitched him to the winds. You may like to carry it off
to Fredi and please her.'
'I have business,' Dudley replied.
'Away to it, then!' said Victor. 'You stand by me?--we expect our South
London borough to be open in January; early next year, at least; may be
February. You have family interest there.'
'Personally, I will do my best,' Dudley said; and he escaped, feeling,
with the universal censor's angry spite, that the revolutions of the
world had made one of the wealthiest of City men the head of a set of
Bohemians. And there are eulogists of the modern time! And the man's
daughter was declared to belong to it! A visit in May to the Italian
cantatrice separated from her husband, would render the maiden an
accomplished flinger of caps over the windmills.
At home Victor discovered, that there was not much more than a truce
between Nesta and Nataly. He had a medical hint from Dr. Themison,
and he counselled his girl to humour her mother as far as could be:
particularly in relation to Dudley, whom Nataly now, womanlike, after
opposing, strongly favoured. How are we ever to get a clue to the
labyrinthine convolutions and changeful motives of the sex! Dartrey's
theories were absurd. Did Nataly think them dangerous for a young woman?
The guess hinted at a clue of some sort to the secret of her veering.
'Mr. Sowerby left me with an adieu,' said Nesta.
'Mr. Sowerby! My dear, he is bound, bound in honour, bound at heart.
You did not dismiss him?'
'I repeated the word he used. I thought of mother. The blood leaves her
cheeks at a disappointment now. She has taken to like him.'
'Why, you like him!'
'I could not vow.'
'Ah, don't press me, dada. But you will see, he has disengaged himself.'
He had done it, though not in formal speech. Slow digestion of his
native antagonism to these Bohemians, to say nothing of his judicial
condemnation of them, brought him painfully round to the writing of a
letter to Nataly; cunningly addressed to the person on whom his instinct
told him he had the strongest hold.
She schooled herself to discuss the detested matter forming Dudley's
grievance and her own with Nesta; and it was a woeful half-hour for them.
But Nataly was not the weeper.
Another interview ensued between Nesta and her suitor. Dudley bore no
resemblance to Mr. Barmby, who refused to take the word no from her, and
had taken it, and had gone to do holy work, for which she revered him.
Dudley took the word, leaving her to imagine freedom, until once more her
mother or her father, inspired by him, came interceding, her mother
actually supplicating. So that the reality of Dudley's love rose to
conception like a London dawn over Nesta; and how, honourably, decently,
positively, to sever herself from it, grew to be an ill-visaged problem.
She glanced in soul at Dartrey Fenellan for help; she had her wild
thoughts. Having once called him Dartrey, the virginal barrier to
thoughts was broken; and but for love of her father, for love and pity of
her mother, she would have ventured the step to make the man who had her
whole being in charge accept or reject her. Nothing else appeared in
prospect. Her father and mother were urgently one to favour Dudley; and
the sensitive gentleman presented himself to receive his wound and to
depart with it. But always he returned. At last, as if under tuition,
he refrained from provoking a wound; he stood there to win her upon any
terms; and he was a handsome figure, acknowledged by the damsel to be
increasing in good looks as more and more his pretensions became
distasteful to her. The slight cast of sourness on his lower features
had almost vanished, his nature seemed to have enlarged. He complimented
her for her 'generous benevolence,' vaguely, yet with evident
sincereness; he admitted, that the modern world is 'attempting
difficulties with at least commendable intentions'; and that the position
of women demands improvement, consideration for them also. He said
feelingly: 'They have to bear extraordinary burdens!' There he stopped.
The sharp intelligence fronting him understood, that this compassionate
ejaculation was the point where she, too, must cry halt. He had,
however--still under tuition, perhaps--withdrawn his voice from the
pursuit of her; and so she in gratitude silenced her critical mind
beneath a smooth conceit of her having led him two steps to a broader
tolerance. Susceptible as she was, she did not influence him without
being affected herself in other things than her vanity: his prudishness
affected her. Only when her heart flamed did she disdain that real haven
of refuge, with its visionary mount of superiority, offered by Society to
its effect, in the habit of ignoring the sins it fosters under cloak;--
not less than did the naked barbaric time, and far more to the vitiation
of the soul. He fancied he was moulding her; therefore winning her.
It followed, that he had the lover's desire for assurance of exclusive
possession; and reflecting, that he had greatly pardoned, he grew
exacting. He mentioned his objections to some of Mr. Dartrey Fenellan's
Nesta replied: 'I have this morning had two letters to make me happy.'
A provoking evasion. He would rather have seen antagonism bridle and
stiffen her figure. 'Is one of them from that gentleman?'
'One is from my dear friend Louise de Seilles. She comes to me early
'The other is also from a friend.'
'A dear friend?'
'Not so dear. Her letter gives me happiness.'
'She writes--not from France: from . . .? you tempt me to guess.'
'She writes to tell me, that Mr. Dartrey Fenellan has helped her in a way
to make her eternally thankful.'
'The place she writes from is . . . ?'
The drag of his lips betrayed his enlightenment insisted on doubting.
He demanded assurance.
'It matters in no degree,' she said.
Dudley 'thought himself excusable for inquiring.'
She bowed gently.
The stings and scorpions and degrading itches of this nest of wealthy
Bohemians enraged him.
'Are you--I beg to ask--are you still:--I can hardly think it--Nesta!--
I surely have a claim to advise:--it cannot be with your mother's
consent:--in communication, in correspondence with . . . ?'
Again she bowed her head; saying: 'It is true.'
'With that person?'
He could not but look the withering disgust of the modern world in a
conservative gentleman who has been lured to go with it a little way,
only to be bitten. 'I decline to believe it,' he said with forcible
'She is married,' was the rather shameless, exasperating answer.
'Married or not!' he cried, and murmured: 'I have borne--. These may be
Mr. Dartrey Fenellan's ideas; they are not mine. I have--Something at
least is due to me: Ask any lady:--there are clergymen, I know, clergymen
who are for uplifting--quite right, but not associating:--to call one of
them a friend! Ask any lady, any! Your mother . . .'
'I beg you will not distress my mother,' said Nesta.
'I beg to know whether this correspondence is to continue?' said Dudley.
'All my life, if I do not feel dishonoured by it.'
'You are.' He added hastily: 'Counsels of prudence--there is not a lady
living who would tell you otherwise. At all events, in public opinion,
if it were known--and it would certainly be known,--a lady, wife or
spinster, would suffer--would not escape the--at least shadow of
defilement from relationship, any degree of intimacy with . . . hard
words are wholesome in such a case: "touch pitch," yes! My sense is
'Quite,' said Nesta.
'And you do not agree with me?'
'I do not.'
'Do you pretend to be as able to judge as I?'
'In this instance, better.'
'Then I retire. I cannot retain my place here. You may depend upon it,
the world is not wrong when it forbids young ladies to have cognizance of
women leading disorderly lives.'
'Only the women, Mr. Sowerby?'
'Men, too, of course.'
'You do not exclude the men from Society.'
'Oh! one reads that kind of argument in books.'
'Oh! the worthy books, then. I would read them, if I could find them.'
'They are banned by self-respecting readers.'
'It grieves me to think differently.'
Dudley looked on this fair girl, as yet innocent girl; and contrasting
her with the foulness of the subject she dared discuss, it seemed to him,
that a world which did not puff at her and silence, if not extinguish,
was in a state of liquefaction.
Remembering his renewed repentances his absence, he said: 'I do hope you
may come to see, that the views shared by your mother and me are not
'But do not distress her,' Nesta implored him. 'She is not well. When
she has grown stronger, her kind heart will move her to receive the lady,
so that she may not be deprived of the society of good women. I shall
hope she will not disapprove of me. I cannot forsake a friend.'
'I beg to say good-bye,' said Dudley.
She had seen a rigidity smite him as she spoke; and so little startling
was it, that she might have fancied it expected, save for her knowing
herself too serious to have played at wiles to gain her ends.
He 'wished her prudent advisers.'
She thanked him. 'In a few days, Louise de Seilles will be here.'
A Frenchwoman and Papist! was the interjection of his twist of brows.
Surely I must now be free? she thought when he had covered his farewell
under a salutation regretful in frostiness.
A week later, she had the embrace of her Louise, and Armandine was made
happy with a piece of Parisian riband.
Winter was rapidly in passage: changes were visible everywhere; Earth and
House of Commons and the South London borough exhibited them; Mrs. Burman
was the sole exception. To the stupefaction of physicians, in a manner
to make a sane man ask whether she was not being retained as an
instrument for one of the darker purposes of Providence--and where are we
standing if we ask such things?--she held on to her thread of life.
February went by. And not a word from Themison; nor from Carling, nor
from the Rev. Groseman Buttermore, nor from Jarniman. That is to say,
the two former accepted invitations to grand dinners; the two latter
acknowledged contributions to funds in which they were interested; but
they had apparently grown to consider Mrs. Burman as an establishment,
one of our fixtures. On the other hand, there was nothing to be feared
from her. Lakelands feared nothing: the entry into Lakelands was decreed
for the middle of April. Those good creatures enclosed the poor woman
and nourished her on comfortable fiction. So the death of the member for
the South London borough (fifteen years younger than the veteran in
maladies) was not to be called premature, and could by no possibility
lead to an exposure of the private history of the candidate for his
Nataly had fallen to be one of the solitary who have no companionship
save with the wound they nurse, to chafe it rather than try at healing.
So rational a mind as she had was not long in outliving mistaken
impressions; she could distinguish her girl's feeling, and her aim; she
could speak on the subject with Dartrey; and still her wound bled on.
Louise de Seilles comforted her partly, through an exaltation of Nesta.
Mademoiselle, however, by means of a change of tone and look when Dudley
Sowerby and Dartrey Fenellan were the themes, showed a too pronounced
preference of the more unstable one:--or rather, the man adventurous out
of the world's highways, whose image, as husband of such a daughter as
hers, smote the wounded mother with a chillness. Mademoiselle's
occasional thrill of fervency in an allusion to Dartrey, might have
tempted a suspicious woman to indulge suppositions, accounting for the
young Frenchwoman's novel tenderness to England, of which Nesta proudly,
very happily boasted. The suspicion proposed itself, and was rejected:
for not even the fever of an insane body could influence Nataly's
generous character, to let her moods divert and command her thoughts of
Her thoughts were at this time singularly lucid upon everything about
her; with the one exception of the reason why she had come to favour
Dudley, and how it was she had been smitten by that woman at Brighton to
see herself in her position altogether with the world's relentless,
unexamining hard eyes. Bitterness added, of Mrs. Marsett: She is made an
honest woman!--And there was a strain of the lower in Nataly, to reproach
the girl for causing the reflection to be cast on the unwedded.
Otherwise her mind was open; she was of aid to Victor in his confusion
over some lost Idea he had often touched on latterly. And she was the
one who sent him ahead at a trot under a light, by saying: 'You would
found a new and more stable aristocracy of the contempt of luxury' when
he talked of combatting the Jews with a superior weapon. That being, in
fact, as Colney Durance had pointed out to him, the weapon of self-
conquest used by them 'before they fell away to flesh-pottery.' Was it
his Idea? He fancied an aching at the back of his head when he
speculated. But his Idea had been surpassingly luminous, alive, a
creation; and this came before him with the yellow skin of a Theory,
bred, born of books. Though Nataly's mention of the aristocracy of
self-denying discipline struck a Lucifer in his darkness.
Nesta likewise helped: but more in what she did than in what she said:
she spoke intelligently enough to make him feel a certain increase of
alarm, amounting to a cursory secret acknowledgement of it, both at her
dealings with Dudley and with himself. She so quietly displaced the lady
visiting him at the City offices. His girl's disregard of hostile
weather, and her company, her talk, delighted him: still he remonstrated,
at her coming daily. She came: nor was there an instigation on the part
of her mother, clearly none: her mother asked him once whether he thought
she met the dreadful Brighton woman. His Fredi drove constantly to walk
back beside him Westward, as he loved to do whenever it was practicable;
and exceeding the flattery of his possession of the gallant daughter, her
conversation charmed him to forget a disappointment caused by the defeat
and entire exclusion of the lady visiting him so complimentarily for his
advice on stocks, shares, mines, et caetera. The lady resisted; she was
vanquished, as the shades are displaced by simple apparition of daylight.
His Fredi was like the daylight to him; she was the very daylight to his
mind, whatsoever their theme of converse for by stimulating that ready
but vagrant mind to quit the leash of the powerful senses and be a
ethereally excursive, she gave him a new enjoyment; which led to
reflections--a sounding of Nature, almost a question to her, on the verge
of a doubt. Are we, in fact, harmonious with the Great Mother when we
yield to the pressure of our natures for indulgence? Is she, when
translated into us, solely the imperious appetite? Here was Fredi, his
little Fredi--stately girl that she had grown, and grave, too, for all
her fun and her sail on wings--lifting him to pleasures not followed by
clamorous, and perfectly satisfactory, yet discomposingly violent,
appeals to Nature. They could be vindicated. Or could they, when they
would not bear a statement of the case? He could not imagine himself
stating it namelessly to his closest friend--not to Simeon Fenellan. As
for speaking to Dartrey, the notion took him with shivers:--Young Dudley
would have seemed a more possible confidant:--and he represented the
Puritan world.--And young Dudley was getting over Fredi's infatuation for
the woman she had rescued: he was beginning to fancy he saw a right
enthusiasm in it;--in the abstract; if only the fair maid would drop an
unseemly acquaintance. He had called at the office to say so. Victor
stammered the plea for him.
'Never, dear father,' came the smooth answer: a shocking answer in
contrast with the tones. Her English was as lucid as her eyes when she
continued up to the shock she dealt: 'Do not encourage a good man to
waste his thoughts upon me. I have chosen my mate, and I may never marry
him. I do not know whether he would marry me. He has my soul. I have
no shame in saying I love him. It is to love goodness, greatness of
heart. He is a respecter of women--of all women; not only the fortunate.
He is the friend of the weaker everywhere. He has been proved in fire.
He does not sentimentalize over poor women, as we know who scorns people
for doing:--and that is better than hardness, meaning kindly. He is not
one of the unwise advocates. He measures the forces against them. He
reads their breasts. He likes me. He is with me in my plans. He has
not said, has not shown, he loves me. It is too high a thought for me
until I hear it.'
'Has your soul!' was all that Victor could reply, while the whole
conception of Lakelands quaked under the crumbling structure.
Remonstrance, argument, a word for Dudley, swelled to his lips and sank
in dumbness. Her seeming intuition--if it was not a perception--of the
point where submission to the moods of his nature had weakened his
character, and required her defence of him, struck Victor with a serious
fear of his girl: and it was the more illuminatingly damnatory for being
recognized as the sentiment which no father should feel. He tried to
think she ought not to be so wise of the things of the world. An effort
to imagine a reproof, showed him her spirit through her eyes: in her
deeds too: she had already done work on the road:--Colney Durance,
Dartrey Fenellan, anything but sentimentalists either of them, strongly
backing her, upholding her. Victor could no longer so naturally name her
He spoke it hastily, under plea of some humorous tenderness, when he
ventured. When Dudley, calling on him in the City to discuss the
candidature for the South London borough, named her Fredi, that he might
regain a vantage of familiarity by imitating her father, it struck Victor
as audacious. It jarred in his recollection, though the heir of the
earldom spoke in the tone of a lover, was really at high pitch. He
appeared to be appreciating her, to have suffered stings of pain; he
offered himself; he made but one stipulation. Victor regretfully assured
him, he feared he could do nothing. The thought of his entry into
Lakelands, with Nesta Victoria refusing the foundation stone of the
place, grew dim.
But he was now canvassing for the Borough, hearty at the new business as
the braced swimmer on seas, which instantly he became, with an end in
view to be gained.
Late one April night, expecting Nataly to have gone to bed, and Nesta to
be waiting for him, he reached home, and found Nataly in her sitting-room
alone. 'Nesta was tired,' she said: 'we have had a scene; she refuses
Mr. Sowerby; I am sick of pressing it; he is very much in earnest,
painfully; she blames him for disturbing me; she will not see the right
course:--a mother reads her daughter! If my girl has not guidance!--
she means rightly, she is rash.'
Nataly could not utter all that her insaneness of feeling made her think
with regard to Victor's daughter--daughter also of the woman whom her
hard conscience accused of inflammability. 'Here is a note from Dr.
Victor seized it, perused, and drew the big breath.
'From Themison,' he said; he coughed.
'Don't think to deceive me,' said she. 'I have not read the contents,
I know them.'
'The invitation at last, for to-morrow, Sunday, four P.M. Odd, that next
day at eight of the evening I shall be addressing our meeting in the
Theatre. Simeon speaks. Beaves Urmsing insists on coming, Tory though
he is. Those Tories are jollier fellows than--well, no wonder! There
will be no surgical . . . the poor woman is very low. A couple of
days at the outside. Of course, I go.'
'Hand me the note, dear.'
It had to be given up, out of the pocket.
'But,' said Victor, 'the mention of you is merely formal.'
She needed sleep: she bowed her head.
Nataly was the first at the breakfast-table in the morning, a fair Sunday
morning. She was going to Mrs. John Cormyn's Church, and she asked Nesta
to come with her.
She returned five minutes before the hour of lunch, having left Nesta
with Mrs. John. Louise de Seilles undertook to bring Nesta home at the
time she might choose. Fenellan, Mr. Pempton, Peridon and Catkin,
lunched and chatted. Nataly chatted. At a quarter to three o'clock
Victor's carriage was at the door. He rose: he had to keep an
appointment. Nataly said to him publicly: 'I come too.' He stared and
nodded. In the carriage, he said: 'I'm driving to the Gardens, for a
stroll, to have a look at the beasts. Sort of relief. Poor crazy woman!
However, it 's a comfort to her: so . . . !'
'I like to see them,' said Nataly. 'I shall see her. I have to do it.'
Up to the gate of the Gardens Victor was arguing to dissuade his dear
soul from this very foolish, totally unnecessary, step. Alighting, he
put the matter aside, for good angels to support his counsel at the final
Bears, lions, tigers, eagles, monkeys: they suggested no more than he
would have had from prints; they sprang no reflection, except, that the
coming hour was a matter of indifference to them. They were about him,
and exercised so far a distraction. He took very kindly to an old mother
monkey, relinquishing her society at sight of Nataly's heave of the
bosom. Southward, across the park, the dread house rose. He began
quoting Colney Durance with relish while sarcastically confuting the
cynic, who found much pasture in these Gardens. Over Southward, too, he
would be addressing a popular assembly to-morrow evening. Between now
and then there was a ditch to jump. He put on the sympathetic face of
grief. 'After all, a caged wild beast hasn't so bad a life,' he said.
--To be well fed while they live, and welcome death as a release from the
maladies they develop in idleness, is the condition of wealthy people:--
creatures of prey? horrible thought! yet allied to his Idea, it seemed.
Yes, but these good caged beasts here set them an example, in not
troubling relatives and friends when they come to the gasp! Mrs.
Burman's invitation loomed as monstrous--a final act of her cruelty.
His skin pricked with dews. He thought of Nataly beside him, jumping
the ditch with him, as a relief--if she insisted on doing it. He hoped
she would not, for the sake of her composure.
It was a ditch void of bottom. But it was a mere matter of an hour,
less. The state of health of the invalid could bear only a few minutes.
In any case, we are sure that the hour will pass. Our own arrive?
'Capital place for children,' he exclaimed. And here startlingly before
him in the clusters of boys and girls, was the difference between young
ones and their elders feeling quite as young: the careless youngsters
have not to go and sit in the room with a virulent old woman, and express
penitence and what not, and hear words of pardon, after their holiday
scamper and stare at the caged beasts.
Attention to the children precipitated him upon acquaintances, hitherto
cleverly shunned. He nodded them off, after the brightest of greetings.
Such anodyne as he could squeeze from the incarcerated wild creatures,
was exhausted. He fell to work at Nataly's 'aristocracy of the contempt
of luxury'; signifying, that we the wealthy will not exist to pamper
flesh, but we live for the promotion of brotherhood:--ay, and that our
England must make some great moral stand, if she is not to fall to the
rear and down. Unuttered, it caught the skirts of the Idea: it
evaporated when spoken. Still, this theme was almost an exorcism
of Mrs. Burman. He consulted his watch. 'Thirteen minutes to four.
I must be punctual,' he said. Nataly stepped faster.
Seated in the carriage, he told her he had never felt the horror of that
place before. 'Put me down at the corner of the terrace, dear: I won't
drive to the door.'
'I come with you, Victor,' she replied.
After entreaties and reasons intermixed, to melt her resolve, he saw she
was firm: and he asked himself, whether he might not be constitutionally
better adapted to persuade than to dissuade. The question thumped.
Having that house of drugs in view, he breathed more freely for the
prospect of feeling his Nataly near him beneath the roof.
'You really insist, dear love?' he appealed to her: and her answer: 'It
must be,' left no doubt: though he chose to say: 'Not because of standing
by me?' And she said: 'For my peace, Victor.' They stepped to the
pavement. The carriage was dismissed.
Seventeen houses of the terrace fronting the park led to the funereal
one: and the bell was tolled in the breast of each of the couple
advancing with an air of calmness to the inevitable black door.
Jarniman opened it. 'His mistress was prepared to see them.'--Not like
one near death.--They were met in the hall by the Rev. Groseman
Buttermore. 'You will find a welcome,' was his reassurance to them:
gently delivered, on the stoop of a large person. His whispered tones
were more agreeably deadening than his words.
Mr. Buttermore ushered them upstairs.
'Can she bear it?' Victor said, and heard: 'Her wish ten minutes.'
'Soon over,' he murmured to Nataly, with a compassionate exclamation for
They rounded the open door. They were in the drawing-room. It was
furnished as in the old time, gold and white, looking new; all the same
as of old, save for a division of silken hangings; and these were pale
blue: the colour preferred by Victor for a bedroom. He glanced at the
ceiling, to bathe in a blank space out of memory. Here she lived,--
here she slept, behind the hangings. There was refreshingly that little
difference in the arrangement of the room. The corner Northward was
occupied by the grand piano; and Victor had an inquiry in him:--tuned?
He sighed, expecting a sight to come through the hangings. Sensible that
Nataly trembled, he perceived the Rev. Groseman Buttermore half across a
heap of shawl-swathe on the sofa.
Mrs. Burman was present; seated. People may die seated; she had always
disliked the extended posture; except for the night's rest, she used to
say; imagining herself to be not inviting the bolt of sudden death, in
her attitude when seated by day:--and often at night the poor woman had
to sit up for the qualms of her dyspepsia!--But I 'm bound to think
humanely, be Christian, be kind, benignant, he thought, and he fetched
the spirit required, to behold her face emerge from a pale blue silk
veiling; as it were, the inanimate wasted led up from the mould by
Mr. Buttermore signalled to them to draw near.
Wasted though it was, the face of the wide orbits for sunken eyes was
distinguishable as the one once known. If the world could see it and
hear, that it called itself a man's wife! She looked burnt out.
Two chairs had been sent to front the sofa. Execution there! Victor
thought, and he garrotted the unruly mind of a man really feeling
devoutness in the presence of the shadow thrown by the dread Shade.
'Ten minutes,' Mr. Buttermore said low, after obligingly placing them on
He went. They were alone with Mrs. Burman.
No voice came. They were unsure of being seen by the floating grey of
eyes patient to gaze from their vast distance. Big drops fell from
Nataly's. Victor heard the French timepiece on the mantel-shelf, where a
familiar gilt Cupid swung for the seconds: his own purchase. The time of
day on the clock was wrong; the Cupid swung.
Nataly's mouth was taking breath of anguish at moments. More than a
minute of the terrible length of the period of torture must have gone:
two, if not three.
A quaver sounded. 'You have come.' The voice was articulate, thinner
than the telephonic, trans-Atlantic by deep-sea cable.
Victor answered: 'We have.'
Another minute must have gone in the silence. And when we get to five
minutes we are on the descent, rapidly counting our way out of the house,
into the fresh air, where we were half an hour back, among those happy
beasts in the pleasant Gardens!
Mrs. Burman's eyelids shut. 'I said you would come.'
Victor started to the fire-screen. 'Your sight requires protection.'
She dozed. 'And Natalia Dreighton !' she next said.
They were certainly now on the five minutes. Now for the slide downward
and outward! Nataly should never have been allowed to come.
'The white waistcoat!' struck his ears.
'Old customs with me, always!' he responded. 'The first of April,
always. White is a favourite. Pale blue, too. But I fear--I hope you
have not distressing nights? In my family we lay great stress on the
nights we pass. My cousins, the Miss Duvidneys, go so far as to judge of
the condition of health by the nightly record.'
'Your daughter was in their house.'
She knew everything!
'Very fond of my daughter--the ladies,' he remarked.
'I wish her well.'
'You are very kind.'
Mrs. Burman communed within or slept. 'Victor, Natalia, we will pray,'
Her trembling hands crossed their fingers. Nataly slipped to her knees.
The two women mutely praying, pulled Victor into the devotional hush. It
acted on him like the silent spell of service in a Church. He forgot his
estimate of the minutes, he formed a prayer, he refused to hear the Cupid
swinging, he droned a sound of sentences to deaden his ears. Ideas of
eternity rolled in semblance of enormous clouds. Death was a black bird
among them. The piano rang to Nataly's young voice and his. The gold
and white of the chairs welcomed a youth suddenly enrolled among the
wealthy by an enamoured old lady on his arm. Cupid tick-ticked.--Poor
soul! poor woman! How little we mean to do harm when we do an injury!
An incomprehensible world indeed at the bottom and at the top. We get
on fairly at the centre. Yet it is there that we do the mischief making
such a riddle of the bottom and the top. What is to be said! Prayer
quiets one. Victor peered at Nataly fervently on her knees and Mrs.
Burman bowed over her knotted fingers. The earnestness of both enforced
an effort at a phrased prayer in him. Plungeing through a wave of the
scent of Marechale, that was a tremendous memory to haul him backward and
forward, he beheld his prayer dancing across the furniture; a diminutive
thin black figure, elvish, irreverent, appallingly unlike his proper
emotion; and he brought his hands just to touch, and got to the edge of
his chair, with split knees. At once the figure vanished. By merely
looking at Nataly, he passed into her prayer. A look at Mrs. Burman made
it personal, his own. He heard the cluck of a horrible sob coming from
him. After a repetition of his short form of prayer deeply stressed, he
thanked himself with the word 'sincere,' and a queer side-thought on our
human susceptibility to the influence of posture. We are such creatures.
Nataly resumed her seat. Mrs. Burman had raised her head. She said: 'We
are at peace.' She presently said, with effort: 'It cannot last with me.
I die in nature's way. I would bear forgiveness with me, that I may have
it above. I give it here, to you, to all. My soul is cleansed, I trust.
Much was to say. My strength will not. Unto God, you both!'
The Rev. Groseman Buttermore was moving on slippered step to the back of
the sofa. Nataly dropped before the unseeing, scarce breathing, lady for
an instant. Victor murmured an adieu, grateful for being spared the
ceremonial shake of hands. He turned away, then turned back, praying for
power to speak, to say that he had found his heart, was grateful, would
hold her in memory. He fell on a knee before her, and forgot he had done
so when he had risen. They were conducted by the Rev. gentleman to the
hall-door: he was not speechless. Jarniman uttered something.
That black door closed behind them.
THE NIGHT OF THE GREAT UNDELIVERED SPEECH
To a man issuing from a mortuary where a skull had voice, London may be
restorative as air of Summer Alps. It is by contrast blooming life.
Observe the fellowship of the houses shoulder to shoulder; and that
straight ascending smoke of the preparation for dinner; and the good
policeman yonder, blessedly idle on an orderly Sabbath evening; and the
families of the minor people trotting homeward from the park to tea; here
and again an amiable carriage of the superimposed people driving to pay
visits; they are so social, friendly, inviting to him; they strip him of
the shroud, sing of the sweet old world. He cannot but be moved to the
extremity of the charitableness neighbouring on tears.
A stupefaction at the shock of the positive reminder, echo of the fact
still shouting in his breast, that he had seen Mrs. Burman, and that the
interview was over--the leaf turned and the book shut held Victor in a
silence until his gratefulness to London City was borne down by the more
human burst of gratitude to the dying woman, who had spared him, as much
as she could, a scene of the convulsive pathetic, and had not called on
him for any utterance of penitence. That worm-like thread of voice came
up to him still from sexton-depths: it sounded a larger forgiveness
without the word. He felt the sorrow of it all, as he told Nataly; at
the same time bidding her smell 'the marvellous oxygen of the park.' He
declared it to be quite equal to Lakelands.
She slightly pressed his arm for answer. Perhaps she did not feel so
deeply? She was free of the horrid associations with the scent of
Marechale. At any rate, she had comported herself admirably!
Victor fancied he must have shuddered when he passed by Jarniman at the
door, who was almost now seeing his mistress's ghost--would have the
privilege to-morrow. He called a cab and drove to Mrs. John Cormyn's,
at Nataly's request, for Nesta and mademoiselle: enjoying the Londonized
odour of the cab. Nataly did not respond to his warm and continued
eulogies of Mrs. Burman; she rather disappointed him. He talked of the
gold and white furniture, he just alluded to the Cupid: reserving his
mental comment, that the time-piece was all astray, the Cupid regular on
the swing:--strange, touching, terrible, if really the silly gilt figure
symbolized! . . . And we are a silly figure to be sitting in a cab
imagining such things!--When Nesta and mademoiselle were opposite, he had
the pleasure to see Nataly take Nesta's hand and hold it until they
reached home. Those two talking together in the brief words of their
deep feeling, had tones that were singularly alike: the mezzo-soprano
filial to the divine maternal contralto. Those two dear ones mounted to
The two dear ones showed themselves heart in heart together once more;
each looked the happier for it. Dartrey was among their dinner-guests,
and Nataly took him to her little blue-room before she went to bed. He
did not speak of their conversation to Victor, but counselled him to keep
her from excitement. 'My dear fellow, if you had seen her with Mrs.
Burman!' Victor said, and loudly praised her coolness. She was never
below a situation, he affirmed.
He followed his own counsel to humour his Nataly. She began panting at a
word about Mr. Barmby's ready services. When, however, she related the
state of affairs between Dartrey and Nesta, by the avowal of each of them
to her, he said, embracing her: 'Your wisdom shall guide us, my love,'
and almost extinguished a vexation by concealing it.
She sighed: 'If one could think, that a girl with Nesta's revolutionary
ideas of the duties of women, and their powers, would be safe--or at all
rightly guided by a man who is both one of the noblest and the wildest in
the ideas he entertains!'
Victor sighed too. He saw the earldom, which was to dazzle the gossips,
crack on the sky in a futile rocket-bouquet.
She was distressed; she moaned: 'My girl! my girl: I should wish to
leave her with one who is more fixed--the old-fashioned husband. New
ideas must come in politics, but in Society!--and for women! And the
young having heads, are the most endangered. Nesta vows her life to it!
Dartrey supports her!'
'See Colney,' said Victor. 'Odd, Colney does you good; some queer way he
has. Though you don't care for his RIVAL TONGUES,--and the last number
was funny, with Semhians on the Pacific, impressively addressing a
farewell to his cricket-bat, before he whirls it away to Neptune--and the
blue hand of his nation's protecting God observed to seize it!--Dead
failure with the public, of course! However, he seems to seem wise with
you. The poor old fellow gets his trouncing from the critics monthly.
See Colney to-morrow, my love. Now go to sleep. We have got over the
worst. I speak at my Meeting to-morrow and am a champagne-bottle of
notes and points for them.'
His lost Idea drew close to him in sleep: or he thought so, when awaking
to the conception of a people solidified, rich and poor, by the common
pride of simple manhood. But it was not coloured, not a luminous globe:
and the people were in drab, not a shining army on the march to meet the
Future. It looked like a paragraph in a newspaper, upon which a Leading
Article sits, dutifully arousing the fat worm of sarcastic humour under
the ribs of cradled citizens, with an exposure of its excellent folly.
He would not have it laughed at; still he could not admit it as more than
a skirt of the robe of his Idea. For let none think him a mere City
merchant, millionnaire, boon-fellow, or music-loving man of the world.
He had ideas to shoot across future Ages;--provide against the shrinkage
of our Coal-beds; against, and for, if you like, the thickening,
jumbling, threatening excess of population in these Islands, in Europe,
America, all over our habitable sphere. Now that Mrs. Burman, on her way
to bliss, was no longer the dungeon-cell for the man he would show
himself to be, this name for successes, corporate nucleus of the
enjoyments, this Victor Montgomery Radnor, intended impressing himself
upon the world as a factory of ideas. Colney's insolent charge, that
the English have no imagination--a doomed race, if it be true!--would be
confuted. For our English require but the lighted leadership to come
into cohesion, and step ranked, and chant harmoniously the song of their
benevolent aim. And that astral head giving, as a commencement, example
of the right use of riches, the nation is one, part of the riddle of the
Surely he had here the Idea? He had it so warmly, that his bath-water
heated. Only the vision was wanted.
On London Bridge he had seen it--a great thing done to the flash of
brilliant results. That was after a fall.
There had been a fall also of the scheme of Lakelands.
Come to us with no superstitious whispers of indications and
significations in the fall!--But there had certainly been a moral fall,
fully to the level of the physical, in the maintaining of that scheme of
Lakelands, now ruined by his incomprehensible Nesta--who had saved him
from falling further. His bath-water chilled. He jumped out and rubbed
furiously with his towels and flesh-brushes, chasing the Idea for simple
warmth, to have Something inside him, to feel just that sustainment; with
the cry: But no one can say I do not love my Nataly! And he tested it to
prove it by his readiness to die for her: which is heroically easier than
the devotedly living, and has a weight of evidence in our internal Courts
for surpassing the latter tedious performance.
His Nesta had knocked Lakelands to pieces. Except for the making of
money, the whole year of an erected Lakelands, notwithstanding
uninterrupted successes, was a blank. Or rather we have to wish it were
a blank. The scheme departs: payment for the enlisted servants of it is
in prospect. A black agent, not willingly enlisted, yet pointing to
proofs of service, refuses payment in ordinary coin; and we tell him we
owe him nothing, that he is not a man of the world, has no understanding
of Nature: and still the fellow thumps and alarums at a midnight door we
are astonished to find we have in our daylight house. How is it? Would
other men be so sensitive to him? Victor was appeased by the assurance
of his possession of an exceptionally scrupulous conscience; and he
settled the debate by thinking: 'After all, for a man like me, battling
incessantly, a kind of Vesuvius, I must have--can't be starved, must be
fed--though, pah! But I'm not to be questioned like other men.--But how
about an aristocracy of the contempt of distinctions?--But there is no
escaping distinctions! my aristocracy despises indulgence.--And
indulges?--Say, an exceptional nature! Supposing a certain beloved woman
to pronounce on the case?--She cannot: no woman can be a just judge of
it.'---He cried: My love of her is testified by my having Barmby handy to
right her to-day, tomorrow, the very instant the clock strikes the hour
of my release!
Mention of the clock swung that silly gilt figure. Victor entered into
it, condemned to swing, and be a thrall. His intensity of sensation
launched him on an eternity of the swinging in ridiculous nakedness to
the measure of time gone crazy. He had to correct a reproof of Mrs.
Burman, as the cause of the nonsense. He ran down to breakfast, hopeing
he might hear of that clock stopped, and that sickening motion with it.
Another letter from the Sanfredini in Milan, warmly inviting to her villa
over Como, acted on him at breakfast like the waving of a banner. 'We
go,' Victor said to Nataly, and flattered-up a smile about her lips--too
much a resurrection smile. There was talk of the Meeting at the theatre:
Simeon Fenellan had spoken there in the cause of the deceased Member, was
known, and was likely to have a good reception. Fun and enthusiasm might
'And my darling will hear her husband speak to-night,' he whispered as he
was departing; and did a mischief, he had to fear, for a shadowy knot
crossed Nataly's forehead, she seemed paler. He sent back Nesta and
mademoiselle, in consequence, at the end of the Green Park.
Their dinner-hour was early; Simeon Fenellan, Colney Durance, and Mr.
Peridon--pleasing to Nataly for his faithful siege of the French
fortress--were the only guests. When they rose, Nataly drew Victor
aside. He came dismayed to Nesta. She ran to her mother. 'Not hear
papa speak? Oh, mother, mother! Then I stay with her. But can't she
come? He is going to unfold ideas to us. There!'
'My naughty girl is not to poke her fun at orators,' Nataly said.
'No, dearest; it would agitate me to go. I'm better here. I shall be at
peace when the night is over.'
'But you will be all alone here, dear mother.'
Nataly's eyes wandered to fall on Colney. He proposed to give her his
company. She declined it. Nesta ventured another entreaty, either that
she might be allowed to stay or have her mother with her at the Meeting.
'My love,' Nataly said, 'the thought of the Meeting--' She clasped at her
breast; and she murmured: 'I shall be comforted by your being with him.
There is no danger there. But I shall be happy, I shall be at peace when
this night is over.'
Colney persuaded her to have him for companion. Mr. Peridon, who was to
have driven with Nesta and mademoiselle, won admiration by proposing to
stay for an hour and play some of Mrs. Radnor's favourite pieces. Nesta
and Victor overbore Nataly's objections to the lover's generosity. So
Mr. Peridon was left. Nesta came hurrying back from the step of the
carriage to kiss her mother again, saying: 'Just one last kiss, my own!
And she's not to look troubled. I shall remember everything to tell my
own mother. It will soon be over.'
Her mother nodded; but the embrace was passionate.
Nesta called her father into the passage, bidding him prohibit any
delivery to her mother of news at the door. 'She is easily startled now
by trifles--you have noticed?'
Victor summoned his recollections and assured her he had noticed, as he
believed he had 'The dear heart of her is fretting for the night to be
over! And think! seven days, and she is in Lakelands. A fortnight, and
we have our first Concert. Durandarte! Oh, the dear heart 'll be at
peace when I tell her of a triumphant Meeting. Not a doubt of that, even
though Colney turns the shadow of his back on us.'
'One critic the less for you!' said Nesta. Skepsey was to meet her
carriage at the theatre.
Ten minutes later, Victor and Simeon Fenellan were proceeding thitherward
'I have my speech,' said Victor. 'You prepare the way for me, following
our influential friend Dubbleson; Colewort winds up; any one else they
shout for. We shall have a great evening. I suspect I shall find
Themison or Jarniman when I get home. You don't believe in intimations?
I've had crapy processions all day before my eyes. No wonder, after
'Dubbleson mustn't drawl it out too long,' said Fenellan.
'We 'll drop a hint. Where's Dartrey?'
'He'll come. He's in one of his black moods: not temper. He's got a
notion he killed his wife by dragging her to Africa with him. She was
not only ready to go, she was glad to go. She had a bit of the heroine
in her and a certainty of tripping to the deuce if she was left to
'Tell Nataly that,' said Victor. 'And tell her about Dartrey. Harp on
it. Once she was all for him and our girl. But it's a woman--though the
dearest! I defy any one to hit on the cause of their changes. We must
make the best of things, if we're for swimming. The task for me to-night
will be, to keep from rolling out all I've got in my head. And I'm not
revolutionary, I'm for stability. Only I do see, that the firm stepping-
place asks for a long stride to be taken. One can't get the English to
take a stride--unless it's for a foot behind them: bother old Colney!
Too timid, or too scrupulous, down we go into the mire. There!--But I
want to say it! I want to save the existing order. I want,
Christianity, instead of the Mammonism we 're threatened with.
Great fortunes now are becoming the giants of old to stalk the land: or
mediaeval Barons. Dispersion of wealth, is the secret. Nataly's of that
mind with me. A decent poverty! She's rather wearying, wants a change.
I've a steam-yacht in my eye, for next month on the Mediterranean. All
our set. She likes quiet. I believe in my political recipe for it.'
He thumped on a method he had for preserving aristocracy--true
aristocracy, amid a positively democratic flood of riches.
'It appears to me, you're on the road of Priscilla Graves and Pempton,'
observed Simeon. 'Strike off Priscilla's viands and friend Pempton's
couple of glasses, and there's your aristocracy established; but with
rather a dispersed recognition of itself.'
'Upon my word, you talk like old Colney, except for a twang of your own,'
said Victor. 'Colney sours at every fresh number of that Serial. The
last, with Delphica detecting the plot of Falarique, is really not so
bad. The four disguised members of the Comedie Francaise on board the
vessel from San Francisco, to declaim and prove the superior merits of
the Gallic tongue, jumped me to bravo the cleverness. And Bobinikine
turning to the complexion of the remainder of cupboard dumplings
discovered in an emigrant's house-to-let! And Semhians--I forget what
and Mytharete's forefinger over the bridge of his nose, like a pensive
vulture on the skull of a desert camel! But, I complain, there's nothing
to make the English love the author; and it's wasted, he's basted, and
the book 'll have no sale. I hate satire.'
'Rough soap for a thin skin, Victor. Does it hurt our people much?'
'Not a bit; doesn't touch them. But I want my friends to succeed!'
Their coming upon Westminster Bridge changed the theme. Victor wished
the Houses of Parliament to catch the beams of sunset. He deferred to
the suggestion, that the Hospital's doing so seemed appropriate.
'I'm always pleased to find a decent reason for what is,' he said. Then
he queried: 'But what is, if we look at it, and while we look, Simeon?
She may be going--or she's gone already, poor woman! I shall have that
scene of yesterday everlastingly before my eyes, like a drop-curtain.
Only, you know, Simeon, they don't feel the end, as we in health imagine.
Colney would say, we have the spasms and they the peace. I 've a mind to
send up to Regent's Park with inquiries. It would look respectful. God
forgive me!--the poor woman perverts me at every turn. Though I will
say, a certain horror of death I had--she whisked me out of it yesterday.
I don't feel it any longer. What are you jerking at?'
'Only to remark, that if the thing's done for us, we haven't it so much
on our sensations.'
'More, if we're sympathetic. But that compels us to be philosophic--or
who could live! Poor woman!'
'Waft her gently, Victor!'
'Tush! Now for the South side of the Bridges; and I tell you, Simeon,
what I can't mention to-night: I mean to enliven these poor dear people
on their forsaken South of the City. I 've my scheme. Elected or not,
I shall hardly be accused of bribery when I put down my first
Fenellan went to work with that remark in his brain for the speech he was
to deliver. He could not but reflect on the genial man's willingness and
capacity to do deeds of benevolence, constantly thwarted by the position
into which he had plunged himself.
They were received at the verge of the crowd outside the theatre-doors by
Skepsey, who wriggled, tore and clove a way for them, where all were
obedient, but the numbers lumped and clogged. When finally they reached
the stage, they spied at Nesta's box, during the thunder of the rounds of
applause, after shaking hands with Mr. Dubbleson, Sir Abraham Quatley,
Dudley Sowerby, and others; and with Beaves Urmsing--a politician 'never
of the opposite party to a deuce of a funny fellow!--go anywhere to hear
hhm,' he vowed.
'Miss Radnor and Mademoiselle de Seilles arrived quite safely,' said
Dudley, feasting on the box which contained them and no Dartrey Fenellan
Nesta was wondering at Dartrey's absence. Not before Mr. Dubbleson, the
chairman, the 'gentleman of local influence,' had animated the drowsed
wits and respiratory organs of a packed audience by yielding place to
Simeon, did Dartrey appear. Simeon's name was shouted, in proof of the
happy explosion of his first anecdote, as Dartrey took seat behind Nesta.
'Half an hour with the dear mother,' he said.
Nesta's eyes thanked him. She pressed the hand of a demure young woman
sitting close behind. Louise de Seilles. 'You know Matilda Pridden.'
Dartrey held his hand out. 'Has she forgiven me?'
Matilda bowed gravely, enfolding her affirmative in an outline of the no
need for it, with perfect good breeding. Dartrey was moved to think
Skepsey's choice of a woman to worship did him honour. He glanced at
Louise. Her manner toward Matilda Pridden showed her sisterly with
Nesta. He said: 'I left Mr. Peridon playing.--A little anxiety to hear
that the great speech of the evening is done; it's nothing else. I'll
run to her as soon as it's over.'
'Oh, good of you! And kind of Mr. Peridon!' She turned to Louise, who
smiled at the simple art of the exclamation, assenting.
Victor below, on the stage platform, indicated the waving of a hand
to them, and his delight at Simeon's ringing points: which were, to
Dartrey's mind, vacuously clever and crafty. Dartrey despised effects
of oratory, save when soldiers had to be hurled on a mark--or citizens
nerved to stand for their country.
Nesta dived into her father's brilliancy of appreciation, a trifle pained
by Dartrey's aristocratic air when he surveyed the herd of heads agape
and another cheer rang round. He smiled with her, to be with her, at a
hit here and there; he would not pretend an approval of this manner of
winning electors to consider the country's interests and their own. One
fellow in the crowded pit, affecting a familiarity with Simeon, that
permitted the taking of liberties with the orator's Christian name,
mildly amused him. He had no objection to hear 'Simmy' shouted, as
Louise de Seilles observed. She was of his mind, in regard to the rough
machinery of Freedom.
Skepsey entered the box.
'We shall soon be serious, Miss Nesta,' he said, after a look at Matilda
There was a prolonged roaring--on the cheerful side.
'And another word about security that your candidate will keep his
promises,' continued Simeon: 'You have his word, my friends!' And he
told the story of the old Governor of Goa, who wanted money and summoned
the usurers, and they wanted security; whereupon he laid his Hidalgo hand
on a cataract of Kronos-beard across his breast, and pulled forth three
white hairs, and presented them: 'And as honourably to the usurious Jews
as to the noble gentleman himself, that security was accepted!'
Emerging from hearty clamours, the illustrative orator fell upon the
question of political specifics:--Mr. Victor Radnor trusted to English
good sense too profoundly to be offering them positive cures, as they
would hear the enemy say he did. Yet a bit of a cure may be offered,
if we 're not for pushing it too far, in pursuit of the science of
specifics, in the style of the foreign physician, probably Spanish,
who had no practice, and wished for leisure to let him prosecute his
anatomical and other investigations to discover his grand medical
nostrum. So to get him fees meanwhile he advertised a cure for
dyspepsia--the resource of starving doctors. And sure enough his patient
came, showing the grand fat fellow we may be when we carry more of the
deciduously mortal than of the scraggy vital upon our persons. Any one
at a glance would have prescribed water-cresses to him: water-cresses
exclusively to eat for a fortnight. And that the good physician did.
Away went his patient, returning at the end of the fortnight, lean, and
with the appetite of a Toledo blade for succulent slices. He vowed he
was the man. Our estimable doctor eyed him, tapped at him, pinched his
tender parts; and making him swear he was really the man, and had eaten
nothing whatever but unadulterated water-cresses in the interval, seized
on him in an ecstasy by the collar of his coat, pushed him into the
surgery, knocked him over, killed him, cut him up, and enjoyed the
felicity of exposing to view the very healthiest patient ever seen under
dissecting hand, by favour of the fortunate discovery of the specific for
him. All to further science!--to which, in spite of the petitions of all
the scientific bodies of the civilized world, he fell a martyr on the
scaffold, poor gentleman! But we know politics to be no such empirical
Simeon ingeniously interwove his analogy. He brought it home to Beaves
Urmsing, whose laugh drove any tone of apology out of it. Yet the orator
was asked: 'Do you take politics for a joke, Simmy?'
He countered his questioner: 'Just to liberate you from your moribund
state, my friend.' And he told the story of the wrecked sailor, found
lying on the sands, flung up from the foundered ship of a Salvation
captain, and how, that nothing could waken him, and there he lay fit for
interment; until presently a something of a voice grew down into his
ears; and it was his old chum Polly, whom he had tied to a board to give
her a last chance in the surges; and Polly shaking the wet from her
feathers, and shouting: 'Polly tho dram dry!'--which struck on the nob of
Jack's memory, to revive all the liquorly tricks of the cabin under
Salvationism, and he began heaving, and at last he shook in a lazy way,
and then from sputter to sputter got his laugh loose; and he sat up, and
cried; 'That did it! Now to business!' for he was hungry. 'And when I
catch the ring of this world's laugh from you, my friend . . . !'
Simeon's application of the story was drowned.
After the outburst, they heard his friend again interruptingly: 'You keep
that tongue of yours from wagging, as it did when you got round the old
widow woman for her money, Simmy !'
Victor leaned forward. Simeon towered. He bellowed
'And you keep that tongue of yours from committing incest on a lie!'
It was like a lightning-flash in the theatre. The man went under.
Simeon flowed. Conscience reproached him with the little he had done for
Victor, and he had now his congenial opportunity.
Up in the box, the powers of the orator were not so cordially esteemed.
To Matilda Pridden, his tales were barely decently the flesh and the
devil smothering a holy occasion to penetrate and exhort. Dartrey sat
rigid, as with the checked impatience for a leap. Nesta looked at Louise
when some one was perceived on the stage bending to her father: It was
Mr. Peridon; he never once raised his face. Apparently he was not
intelligible or audible but the next moment Victor sprang erect. Dartrey
quitted the box. Nesta beheld her father uttering hurried words to right
and left. He passed from sight, Mr. Peridon with him; and Dartrey did
Nesta felt her father's absence as light gone: his eyes rayed light.
Besides she had the anticipation of a speech from him, that would win
Matilda Pridden. She fancied Simeon Fenellan to be rather under the
spell of the hilarity he roused. A gentleman behind him spoke in his
ear; and Simeon, instead of ceasing, resumed his flow. Matilda Pridden's
gaze on him and the people was painful to behold: Nesta saw her mind.
She set herself to study a popular assembly. It could be serious to the
call of better leadership, she believed. Her father had been telling her
of late of a faith he had in the English, that they (or so her
intelligence translated his remarks) had power to rise to spiritual
ascendancy, and be once more the Islanders heading the world of a new
epoch abjuring materialism--some such idea; very quickening to her, as it
would be to this earnest young woman worshipped by Skepsey. Her father's
absence and the continued shouts of laughter, the insatiable thirst for
fun, darkened her in her desire to have the soul of the good working
sister refreshed. They had talked together; not much: enough for each to
see at either's breast the wells from the founts of life.
The box-door opened, Dartrey came in. He took her hand. She stood-up to
his look. He said to Matilda Pridden: 'Come with us; she will need you.'
'Speak it,' said Nesta.
He said to the other: 'She has courage.'
'I could trust to her,' Matilda Pridden replied.
Nesta read his eyes. 'Mother?'
His answer was in the pressure.
'Oh! Dartrey.' Matilda Pridden caught her fast.
'I can walk, dear,' Nesta said.
Dartrey mentioned her father.
She understood: 'I am thinking of him.'
The words of her mother: 'At peace when the night is over,' rang. Along
the gassy passages of the back of tie theatre, the sound coming from an
applausive audience was as much a thunder as rage would have been. It
was as void of human meaning as a sea.
In the still dark hour of that April morning, the Rev. Septimus Barmby
was roused by Mr. Peridon, with a scribbled message from Victor, which he
deciphered by candlelight held close to the sheet of paper, between short
inquiries and communications, losing more and more the sense of it as his
intelligence became aware of what dread blow had befallen the stricken
man. He was bidden come to fulfil his promise instantly. He remembered
the bearing of the promise. Mr. Peridon's hurried explanatory narrative
made the request terrific, out of tragically lamentable. A semblance of
obedience had to be put on, and the act of dressing aided it. Mr. Barmby
prayed at heart for guidance further.
The two gentlemen drove Westward, speaking little; they had the dry sob
in the throat.
'Miss Radnor?' Mr. Barmby asked.
'She is shattered; she holds up; she would not break down.'
'I can conceive her to possess high courage.'
'She has her friend Mademoiselle de Seilles.'
Mr. Barmby remained humbly silent. Affectionate deep regrets moved him
to say: 'A loss irreparable. We have but one voice of sorrow. And how
sudden! The dear lady had no suffering, I trust.'
'She fell into the arms of Mr. Durance. She died in his arms. She was
unconscious, he says. I left her straining for breath. She said
"Victor"; she tried to smile:--I understood I was not to alarm him.'
'And he too late!'
'He was too late, by some minutes.'
'At least I may comfort. Miss Radnor must be a blessing to him.'
'They cannot meet. Her presence excites him.'
That radiant home of all hospitality seemed opening on from darker
chambers to the deadly dark. The immorality in the moral situation could
not be forgotten by one who was professionally a moralist. But an
incorruptible beauty in the woman's character claimed to plead for her
memory. Even the rigorous in defence of righteous laws are softened by a
sinner's death to hear excuses, and may own a relationship, haply
perceive the faint nimbus of the saint. Death among us proves us to be
still not so far from the Nature saying at every avenue to the mind:
'Earth makes all sweet.'
Mr. Durance had prophesied a wailful end ever to the carol of Optimists!
Yet it is not the black view which is the right view. There is one
between: the path adopted by Septimus Barmby:--if he could but induce his
brethren to enter on it! The dreadful teaching of circumstances might
help to the persuading of a fair young woman, under his direction . . .
having her hand disengaged. Mr. Barmby started himself in the dream of
his uninterred passion for the maiden: he chased it, seized it, hurled it
hence, as a present sacrilege:--constantly, and at the pitch of our
highest devotion to serve, are we assailed by the tempter! Is it, that
the love of woman is our weakness? For if so, then would a celibate
clergy have grant of immunity. But, alas, it is not so with them! We
have to deplore the hearing of reports too credible. Again we are pushed
to contemplate woman as the mysterious obstruction to the perfect purity
of soul. Nor is there a refuge in asceticism. No more devilish
nourisher of pride do we find than in pain voluntarily embraced. And
strangely, at the time when our hearts are pledged to thoughts upon
others, they are led by woman to glance revolving upon ourself, our vile
self! Mr. Barmby clutched it by the neck.
Light now, as of a strong memory of day along the street, assisted him to
forget himself at the sight of the inanimate houses of this London, all
revealed in a quietness not less immobile than tombstones of an unending
cemetery, with its last ghost laid. Did men but know it!--The habitual
necessity to amass matter for the weekly sermon, set him noting his
meditative exclamations, the noble army of platitudes under haloes, of
good use to men: justifiably turned over in his mind for their good. He
had to think, that this act of the justifying of the act reproached him
with a lack of due emotion, in sympathy with agonized friends truly dear.
Drawing near the hospitable house, his official and a cordial emotion
united, as we see sorrowful crape-wreathed countenances. His heart
struck heavily when the house was visible.
Could it be the very house? The look of it belied the tale inside. But
that threw a ghostliness on the look.
Some one was pacing up and down. They greeted Dudley Sowerby. His
ability to speak was tasked. They gathered, that mademoiselle and 'a
Miss Pridden' were sitting with Nesta, and that their services in a
crisis had been precious. At such times, one of them reflected, woman
has indeed her place: when life's battle waxes red. Her soul must be
capable of mounting to the level of the man's, then? It is a lesson!
Dudley said he was waiting for Dr. Themison to come forth. He could not
tear himself from sight of the house.
The door opened to Dr. Themison departing, Colney Durance and Simeon
Fenellan bare-headed. Colney showed a face with stains of the lashing of
Dr. Themison gave his final counsels. 'Her father must not see her. For
him, it may have to be a specialist. We will hope the best. Mr. Dartrey
Fenellan stays beside him:--good. As to the ceremony he calls for, a
form of it might soothe:--any soothing possible! No music. I will
return in a few hours.'
He went on foot.
Mr. Barmby begged advice from Colney and Simeon concerning the message he
had received--the ceremony requiring his official presidency. Neither of
them replied. They breathed the morning air, they gave out long-drawn
sighs of relief, looking on the trees of the park.
A man came along the pavement, working slow legs hurriedly. Simeon ran
down to him.
'Humour, as much as you can,' Colney said to Mr. Barmby. 'Let him
'Not to speak of her.'
'The daughter he so loves?'
Mr. Barmby's tender inquisitiveness was unanswered. Were they inducing
him to mollify a madman? But was it possible to associate the idea of
madness with Mr. Radnor?
Simeon ran back. 'Jarniman,' he remarked. 'It's over!'
'Now!' Colney's shoulders expressed the comment. 'Well, now, Mr. Barmby,
you can do the part desired. Come in. It's morning!' He stared at the
All except Dudley passed in.
Mr. Barmby wanted more advice, his dilemma being acute. It was
moderated, though not more than moderated, when he was informed of the
death of Mrs. Burman Radnor; an event that occurred, according to
Jarniman's report, forty-five minutes after Skepsey had a second time
called for information of it at the house in Regent's Park--five hours
and a half, as Colney made his calculation, after the death of Nataly.
He was urged by some spur of senseless irony to verify the calculation
and correct it in the minutes.
Dudley crossed the road. No sign of the awful interior was on any of the
windows of the house either to deepen awe or relieve. They were blank as
eyeballs of the mindless. He shivered. Death is our common cloak; but
Calamity individualizes, to set the unwounded speculating whether indeed
a stricken man, who has become the cause of woeful trouble, may not be
pointing a moral. Pacing on the Park side of the house, he saw Skepsey
drive up and leap out with a gentleman, Mr. Radnor's lawyer. Could it
be, that there was no Will written? Could a Will be executed now? The
moral was more forcibly suggested. Dudley beheld this Mr. Victor Radnor
successful up all the main steps, persuasive, popular, brightest of the
elect of Fortune, felled to the ground within an hour, he and all his
house! And if at once to pass beneath the ground, the blow would have
seemed merciful for him. Or if, instead of chattering a mixture of the
rational and the monstrous, he had been heard to rave like the utterly
distraught. Recollection of some of the things he shouted, was an
anguish: A notion came into the poor man, that he was the dead one of the
two, and he cried out: 'Cremation? No, Colney's right, it robs us of our
last laugh. I lie as I fall.' He 'had a confession for his Nataly, for
her only, for no one else.' He had 'an Idea.' His begging of Dudley to
listen without any punctilio (putting a vulgar oath before it), was the
sole piece of unreasonableness in the explanation of the idea: and that
was not much wilder than the stuff Dudley had read from reports of
Radical speeches. He told Dudley he thought him too young to be 'best
man to a widower about to be married,' and that Barmby was 'coming all
haste to do the business, because of no time to spare.'
Dudley knew but the half, and he did not envy Dartrey Fenellan his task
of watching over the wreck of a splendid intelligence, humouring and
restraining. According to the rumours, Mr. Radnor had not shown the
symptoms before the appearance of his daughter. For awhile he hung, and
then fell, like an icicle. Nesta came with a cry for her father. He
rose: Dartrey was by. Hugged fast in iron muscles, the unhappy creature
raved of his being a caged lion. These things Dudley had heard in the
There are scenes of life proper to the grave-cloth.
Nataly's dead body was her advocate with her family, with friends, with
the world. Victor had more need of a covering shroud to keep calamity
respected. Earth makes all sweet: and we, when the privilege is granted
us, do well to treat the terribly stricken as if they had entered to the
bosom of earth.
That night's infinite sadness was concentrated upon Nesta. She had need
of her strength of mind and body.
The night went past as a year. The year followed it as a refreshing
night. Slowly lifting her from our abysses, it was a good angel to the
girl. Permission could not be given for her to see her father. She had
a home in the modest home of Louise de Seilles on the borders of
Dauphins; and with French hearts at their best in winningness around her,
she learned again, as an art, the natural act of breathing calmly; she
had by degrees a longing for the snow-heights. When her imagination
could perch on them with love and pride, she began to recover the throb
for a part in human action. It set her nature flowing to the mate she
had chosen, who was her counsellor, her supporter, and her sword. She
had awakened to new life, not to sink back upon a breast of love, though
thoughts of the lover were as blows upon strung musical chords of her
bosom. Her union with Dartrey was for the having an ally and the being
an ally, in resolute vision of strife ahead, through the veiled dreams
that bear the blush. This was behind a maidenly demureness. Are not
young women hypocrites? Who shall fathom their guile! A girl with a
pretty smile, a gentle manner, a liking for wild flowers up on the rocks;
and graceful with resemblances to the swelling proportions of garden-
fruits approved in young women by the connoisseur eye of man; distinctly
designed to embrace the state of marriage, that she might (a girl of
singularly lucid and receptive eyes) the better give battle to men
touching matters which they howl at an eccentric matron for naming.
So it was. And the yielding of her hand to Dartrey, would have appeared
at that period of her revival, as among the baser compliances of the
fleshly, if she had not seen in him, whom she owned for leader, her
fellow soldier, warrior friend, hero, of her own heart's mould, but a
She was on Como, at the villa of the Signora Giulia Sanfredini, when
Dudley's letter reached her, with the supplicating offer of the share of
his earldom. An English home meanwhile was proposed to her at the house
of his mother the Countess. He knew that he did not write to a brilliant
heiress. The generosity she had always felt that he possessed, he thus
proved in figures. They are convincing and not melting. But she was
moved to tears by his goodness in visiting her father, as well as by the
hopeful news he sent. He wrote delicately, withholding the title of her
father's place of abode. There were expectations of her father's perfect
recovery; the signs were auspicious; he appeared to be restored to the
'likeness to himself' in the instances Dudley furnished:--his appointment
with him for the flute-duet next day; and particularly his enthusiastic
satisfaction with the largeness and easy excellent service of the
residence 'in which he so happily found himself established.' He held it
to be, 'on the whole, superior to Lakelands.' The smile and the tear
rolled together in Nesta reading these words. And her father spoke
repeatedly of longing to embrace his Fredi, of the joy her last letter
had given him, of his intention to send an immediate answer: and he
showed Dudley a pile of manuscript ready for the post. He talked of
public affairs, was humorous over any extravagance or eccentricity in the
views he took; notably when he alluded to his envy of little Skepsey. He
said he really did envy; and his daughter believed it and saw fair
prospects in it.
Her grateful reply to the young earl conveyed all that was perforce
ungentle, in the signature of the name of Nesta Victoria Fenellan:--
a name he was to hear cited among the cushioned conservatives, and plead
for as he best could under a pressure of disapprobation, and compelled
esteem, and regrets.
The day following the report of her father's wish to see her, she and her
husband started for England. On that day, Victor breathed his last.
Dudley had seen the not hopeful but an ominous illumination of the
stricken man; for whom came the peace his Nataly had in earth. Often did
Nesta conjure up to vision the palpitating form of the beloved mother
with her hand at her mortal wound in secret through long years of the
wearing of the mask to keep her mate inspirited. Her gathered knowledge
of things and her ruthless penetrativeness made it sometimes hard for her
to be tolerant of a world, whose tolerance of the infinitely evil stamped
blotches on its face and shrieked in stains across the skin beneath its
gallant garb. That was only when she thought of it as the world
condemning her mother. She had a husband able and ready, in return for
corrections of his demon temper, to trim an ardent young woman's
fanatical overflow of the sisterly sentiments; scholarly friends, too,
for such restrainings from excess as the mind obtains in a lamp of
History exhibiting man's original sprouts to growth and fitful
continuation of them. Her first experience of the grief that is in
pleasure, for those who have passed a season, was when the old Concert-
set assembled round her. When she heard from the mouth of a living
woman, that she had saved her from going under the world's waggon-wheels,
and taught her to know what is actually meant by the good living of a
shapely life, Nesta had the taste of a harvest happiness richer than her
recollection of the bride's, though never was bride in fuller flower to
her lord than she who brought the dower of an equal valiancy to Dartrey
Fenellan. You are aware of the reasons, the many, why a courageous young
woman requires of high heaven, far more than the commendably timid, a
doughty husband. She had him; otherwise would that puzzled old world,
which beheld her step out of the ranks to challenge it, and could not
blast her personal reputation, have commissioned a paw to maul her
character, perhaps instructing the gossips to murmur of her parentage.
Nesta Victoria Fenellan had the husband who would have the world
respectful to any brave woman. This one was his wife.
Daniel Skepsey rejoices in service to his new master, owing to the
scientific opinion he can at any moment of the day apply for, as to the
military defences of the country; instead of our attempting to arrest the
enemy by vociferations of persistent prayer:--the sole point of
difference between him and his Matilda; and it might have been fatal but
that Nesta's intervention was persuasive. The two members of the Army
first in the field to enrol and give rank according to the merits of
either, to both sexes, were made one. Colney Durance (practically
cynical when not fancifully, men said) stood by Skepsey at the altar.
His published exercises in Satire produce a flush of the article in the
Reviews of his books. Meat and wine in turn fence the Hymen beckoning
Priscilla and Mr. Pempton. The forms of Religion more than the Channel's
division of races keep Louise de Seilles and Mr. Peridon asunder: and in
the uniting of them Colney is interested, because it would have so
pleased the woman of the loyal heart no longer beating. He let Victor's
end be his expiation and did not phrase blame of him. He considered the
shallowness of the abstract Optimist exposed enough in Victor's history.
He was reconciled to it when, looking on their child, he discerned, that
for a cancelling of the errors chargeable to them, the father and mother
had kept faith with Nature.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
An incomprehensible world indeed at the bottom and at the top
Arrest the enemy by vociferations of persistent prayer
Country prizing ornaments higher than qualities
Death is our common cloak; but Calamity individualizes
How little we mean to do harm when we do an injury
Nation's half made-up of the idle and the servants of the idle
No companionship save with the wound they nurse
Not always the right thing to do the right thing
The night went past as a year
Universal censor's angry spite