Part 2 out of 2
'Curious; he made acquaintance with Skepsey, and appears to have
outwitted poor Skepsey, as far as I see it. But if that woman thinks of
intimidating me now--!' His eyes brightened; he had sprung from
evasions. 'Living in flagrant sin, she says: you and I! She will not
have it; warns me. Heard this day at noon of company at Lakelands.
Jarniman off at once. Are to live in obscurity;--you and I! if
together! Dictates from her death-bed-I suppose her death-bed.'
'Dearest,' Nataly pressed hand on her left breast, 'may we not think that
she may be right?'
'An outrageous tyranny of a decrepit woman naming herself wife when she
is only a limpet of vitality, with drugs for blood, hanging-on to blast
the healthy and vigorous! I remember old Colney's once, in old days,
calling that kind of marriage a sarcophagus. It was to me. There I lay
--see myself lying! wasting! Think what you can good of her, by all
means! From her bed! despatches that Jarniman to me from her bedside,
with the word, that she cannot in her conscience allow--what imposition
was it I practised? . . . flagrant sin?--it would have been an
infinitely viler . . . . She is the cause of suffering enough: I bear
no more from her; I've come to the limit. She has heard of Lakelands:
she has taken one of her hatreds to the place. She might have written,
might have sent me a gentleman, privately. No: it must be done in
dramatic style-for effect: her confidential--lawyer?--doctor?--butler!
Perhaps to frighten me:--the boy she knew, and--poor soul! I don't mean
to abuse her: but such conduct as this is downright brutal. I laugh at
it, I snap my fingers. I can afford to despise it. Only I do say it
deserves to be called abominable.'
'Victor, has she used a threat?'
'Am I brought to listen to any of her threats!--Funny thing, I 'm certain
that woman never can think of me except as the boy she knew. I saw her
first when she was first a widow. She would keep talking to me of the
seductions of the metropolis--kept informing me I was a young man . . .
shaking her head. I 've told you. She--well, I know we are mixtures,
women as well as men. I can, I hope, grant the same--I believe I can--
allowances to women as to men; we are poor creatures, all of using one
sense: though I won't give Colney his footing; there's a better way of
reading us. I hold fast to Nature. No violation of Nature, my good
Colney! We can live the lives of noble creatures; and I say that
happiness was meant for us:--just as, when you sit down to your dinner,
you must do it cheerfully, and you make good blood: otherwise all's
wrong. There's the right answer to Colney! But when a woman like that
. . . . and marries a boy: well, twenty-one--not quite that: and an
innocent, a positive innocent--it may seem incredible, after a term of
school-life: it was a fact: I can hardly understand it myself when I look
back. Marries him! And then sets to work to persecute him, because he
has blood in his veins, because he worships beauty; because he seeks a
real marriage, a real mate. And, I say it! let the world take its own
view, the world is wrong! because he preferred a virtuous life to the
kind of life she would, she must--why, necessarily!--have driven him
to, with a mummy's grain of nature in his body. And I am made of flesh,
I admit it.'
'Victor, dearest, her threat concerns only your living at Lakelands.'
'Pray, don't speak excitedly, my love,' he replied to the woman whose
tones had been subdued to scarce more than waver. 'You see how I meet
it: water off a duck's back, or Indian solar beams on the skin of a
Hindoo! I despise it hardly worth contempt;--But, come: our day was a
good one. Fenellan worked well. Old Colney was Colney Durance, of
course. He did no real mischief.'
'And you will not determine to enter Lakelands--not yet, dear?' said
'My own girl, leave it all to me.'
'But, Victor, I must, must know.'
'See the case. You have lots of courage. We can't withdraw. Her
intention is mischief. I believe the woman keeps herself alive for it:
we've given her another lease!--though it can only be for a very short
time; Themison is precise; Carling too. If we hold back--I have great
faith in Themison--the woman's breath on us is confirmed. We go down,
then; complete the furnishing, quite leisurely; accept--listen--accept
one or two invitations: impossible to refuse!--but they are accepted!
--and we defy her: a crazy old creature: imagines herself the wife of the
ex-Premier, widow of Prince Le Boo, engaged to the Chinese Ambassador, et
caetera. Leave the tussle with that woman to me. No, we don't repeat
the error of Crayc Farm and Creckholt. And here we have stout friends.
Not to speak of Beaver Urmsing: a picture of Old Christmas England! You
took to him?--must have taken to Beaver Urmsing! The Marigolds! And Sir
Rodwell and Lady Blachington are altogether above the mark of Sir
Humphrey and Lady Pottil, and those half and half Mountneys. There's a
warm centre of home in Lakelands. But I know my Nataly: she is thinking
of our girl. Here is the plan: we stand our ground: my dear soul won't
forsake me only there's the thought of Fredi, in the event . . .
improbable enough. I lift Fredi out of the atmosphere awhile; she goes
to my cousins the Duvidney ladies.'
Nataly was hit by a shot. 'Can you imagine it, Victor?'
'Regard it as done.'
'They will surely decline!'
'Their feeling for General Radnor is a worship.'
'All the more . . . ?'
'The son inherits it. He goes to them personally. Have you ever known
me personally fail? Fredi stays at Moorsedge for a month or two.
Dorothea and Virginia Duvidney will give her a taste of a new society;
good for the girl. All these little shiftings can be turned to good.
Meantime, I say, we stand our ground: but you are not to be worried; for
though we have gone too far to recede, we need not and we will not make
the entry into Lakelands until--you know: that is, auspiciously, to suit
you in every way. Thus I provide to meet contingencies. What one may
really fancy is, that the woman did but threaten. There's her point of
view to be considered: silly, crazy; but one sees it. We are not sure
that she struck a blow at Craye or Creckholt. I wonder she never wrote.
She was frightened, when she came to manage her property, of signing her
name to anything. Absurd, that sending of Jarniman! However, it's her
move; we make a corresponding disposition of our chessmen.'
'And I am to lose my Nesta for a month?' Nataly said, after catching here
and there at the fitful gleams of truce or comfort dropped from his
words. And simultaneously, the reproach of her mind to her nature for
again and so constantly yielding to the domination of his initiative:
unable to find the words, even the ideas, to withstand him,--brought big
tears. Angry at herself both for the internal feebleness and the
exhibition of it, she blinked and begged excuse. There might be nothing
that should call her to resist him. She could not do much worse than she
had done to-day. The reflection, that to-day she had been actually
sustained by the expectation of a death to come, diminished her estimate
of to-morrow's burden on her endurance, in making her seem a less
criminal woman, who would have no such expectation: which was virtually
a stab at a fellow creature's future. Her head was acute to work in the
direction of the casuistries and the sensational webs and films. Facing
Victor, it was a block.
But the thought came: how could she meet those people about Lakelands,
without support of the recent guilty whispers! She said coldly, her
heart shaking her: 'You think there has been a recovery?'
'Invalids are up and down. They are--well, no; I should think she dreads
the . . .' he kept 'surgeon' out of hearing. 'Or else she means this
for the final stroke: "though I'm lying here, I can still make him feel."
That, or--poor woman--she has her notions of right and wrong.'
'Could we not now travel for a few weeks, Victor?'
'Certainly, dear; we will, after we have kept our engagements to dine--
I accepted--with the Blathenoys, the Blachingtons, Beaver Urmsing.'
Nataly's vision of the peaceful lost little dairy cottage swelled to
brilliance, like the large tear at the fall; darkening under her present
effort to comprehend the necessity it was for him to mix and be foremost
with the world. Unable to grasp it perfectly in mind, her compassionate
love embraced it: she blamed herself, for being the obstruction to him.
'Very well,' she said on a sigh. 'Then we shall not have to let our girl
go from us?'
'Just a few weeks. In the middle of dinner, I scribbled a telegram to
the Duvidneys, for Skepsey to take.'
'Speaking of Nesta?'
'Of my coming to-morrow. They won't stop me. I dine with them, sleep at
the Wells; hotel for a night. We are to be separated for a night.'
She laid her hand in his and gave him a passing view of her face: 'For
two, dear. I am . . . that man's visit--rather shaken: I shall have a
better chance of sleeping if I know I am not disturbing you.'
She was firm; and they kissed and parted. Each had an unphrased
speculation upon the power of Mrs. Burman to put division between them.
TREATS OF THE LADIES' LAPDOG TASSO FOR AN INSTANCE OF MOMENTOUS EFFECTS
PRODUCED BY VERY MINOR CAUSES
The maiden ladies Dorothea and Virginia Duvidney were thin--sweet old-
fashioned grey gentlewomen, demurely conscious of their excellence and
awake to the temptation in the consciousness, who imposed a certain
reflex primness on the lips of the world when addressing them or when
alluding to them. For their appearance was picturesque of the ancestral
time, and their ideas and scrupulousness of delivery suggested the
belated in ripeness; orchard apples under a snow-storm; or any image that
will ceremoniously convey the mind's profound appreciation together with
the tooth's panic dread of tartness. They were by no means tart; only,
as you know, the tooth is apprehensively nervous; an uninviting sign will
set it on edge. Even the pen which would sketch them has a spell on it
and must don its coat of office, walk the liveried footman behind them.
Their wealth, their deeds of charity, their modesty, their built grey
locks, their high repute; a 'Chippendale elegance' in a quaintly formal
correctness, that they had, as Colney Durance called it; gave them some
queenliness, and allowed them to claim the ear as an oracle and banish
rebellious argument. Intuitive knowledge, assisted by the Rev. Stuart
Rem and the Rev. Abram Posterley, enabled them to pronounce upon men and
things; not without effect; their country owned it; the foreigner beheld
it. Nor were they corrupted by the servility of the surrounding ear.
They were good women, striving to be humbly good. They might, for all
the little errors they nightly unrolled to then perceptions, have stood
before the world for a study in the white of our humanity. And this may
be but a washed wall, it is true: revolutionary sceptics are measuring
the depths of it. But the hue refreshes, the world admires; and we know
it an object of aim to the bettermost of the wealthy. If, happily,
complacent circumstances have lifted us to the clean paved platform out
of grip of puddled clay and bespattering wheeltracks, we get our chance
of coming to it.
Possessing, for example, nine thousand pounds per annum in Consols, and
not expending the whole of it upon our luxuries, we are, without further
privation, near to kindling the world's enthusiasm for whiteness. Yet
there, too, we find, that character has its problems to solve; there are
shades in salt. We must be charitable, but we should be just; we give to
the poor of the land, but we are eminently the friends of our servants;
duty to mankind diverts us not from the love we bear to our dog; and with
a pathetic sorrow for silt, we discard it from sight and hearing. We
hate dirt. Having said so much, having shown it, by sealing the mouth of
Mr. Stuart Rem and iceing the veins of Mr. Abram Posterley, in relation
to a dreadful public case and a melancholy private, we have a pleased
sense of entry into the world's ideal.
At the same time, we protest our unworthiness. Acknowledgeing that they
were not purely spotless, these ladies genuinely took the tiny fly-spot
for a spur to purification; and they viewed it as a patch to raise in
relief their goodness. They gazed on it, saw themselves in it, and
veiled it: warned of the cunning of an oft-defeated Tempter.
To do good and sleep well, was their sowing and their reaping. Uneasy
consciences could not have slept. The sleeping served for proof of an
accurate reckoning and an expungeing of the day's debits. They differed
in opinion now and then, as we see companion waves of the river, blown by
a gust, roll a shadow between them; and almost equally transient were
their differences with a world that they condemned when they could not
feel they (as an embodiment of their principles) were leading it. The
English world at times betrayed a restiveness in the walled pathway of
virtue; for, alas, it closely neighbours the French; only a Channel,
often dangerously smooth, to divide: but it is not perverted for long;
and the English Funds are always constant and a tower. Would they be
suffered to be so, if libertinism were in the ascendant?
Colney Durance was acquainted with the Duvidney ladies. Hearing of the
journey to them and the purport of it, he said, with the mask upon glee:
'Then Victor has met his match!' Nataly had sent for him to dine with
her in Victor's absence: she was far from grieved, as to the result, by
his assurance to her, that Victor had not a chance. Colney thought so.
'Just like him! to be off gaily to try and overcome or come over the
greatest power in England.' They were England herself; the squat old
woman she has become by reason of her overlapping numbers of the
comfortable fund-holder annuitants: a vast body of passives and
negatives, living by precept, according to rules of precedent,
and supposing themselves to be righteously guided because of their
continuing undisturbed. Them he branded, as hypocritical materialists,
and the country for pride in her sweetmeat plethora of them:--mixed with
an ancient Hebrew fear of offence to an inscrutable Lord, eccentrically
appeasable through the dreary iteration of the litany of sinfulness.
He was near a truth; and he had the heat of it on him.
Satirists in their fervours might be near it to grasp it, if they could
be moved to moral distinctness, mental intention, with a preference of
strong plain speech over the crack of their whips. Colney could not or
would not praise our modern adventurous, experimental, heroic, tramping
active, as opposed to yonder pursy passives and negatives; he had
occasions for flicking the fellow sharply: and to speak of the Lord as
our friend present with us, palpable to Reason, perceptible to natural
piety solely through the reason, which justifies punishment; that would
have stopped his mouth upon the theme of God-forsaken creatures. Our
satirist is an executioner by profession, a moralist in excuse, or at the
tail of it; though he thinks the position reversed, when he moralizes
angrily to have his angry use of the scourge condoned. Nevertheless, he
fills a serviceable place; and certainly he is not happy in his business.
Colney suffered as heavily as he struck. If he had been no more than a
mime in the motley of satire, he would have sucked compensation from the
acid of his phrases, for the failure to prick and goad, and work
He dramatized to Nataly some of the scene going on at the Wells: Victor's
petition; his fugue in urgency of it; the brief reply of Miss Dorothea
and her muted echo Miss Virginia. He was rather their apologist for
refusing. But, as when, after himself listening to their 'views,' he had
deferentially withdrawn from the ladies of Moorsedge, and had then beheld
their strangely-hatted lieutenants and the regiments of the toneless
respectable on the pantiles and the mounts, the curse upon the satirist
impelled him to generalize. The quiet good ladies were multiplied: they
were 'the thousands of their sisters, petticoated or long-coated or buck-
skinned; comfortable annuitants under clerical shepherding, close upon
outnumbering the labourers they paralyze at home and stultify abroad.'
Colney thumped away. The country's annuitants had for type 'the figure
with the helmet of the Owl-Goddess and the trident of the Earth-shaker,
seated on a wheel, at the back of penny-pieces; in whom you see neither
the beauty of nakedness nor the charm of drapery; not the helmet's
dignity or the trident's power; but she has patently that which stops the
wheel; and poseing for representative of an imperial nation, she helps to
pass a penny.' So he passed his epigram, heedless of the understanding
or attention of his hearer; who temporarily misjudged him for a man
impelled by the vanity of literary point and finish, when indeed it was
hot satiric spite, justified of its aim, which crushed a class to extract
a drop of scathing acid, in the interests of the country, mankind as
well. Nataly wanted a picture painted, colours and details, that she
might get a vision of the scene at Moorsedge. She did her best to feel
an omen and sound it, in his question 'whether the yearly increasing army
of the orderly annuitants and their parasites does not demonstrate the
proud old country as a sheath for pith rather than of the vital run of
Perhaps it was patriotic to inquire; and doubtless she was the weakest of
women; she could follow no thought; her heart was beating blindly beside
Victor, hopeing for the refusal painful to her through his
'You think me foolish,' she made answer to one of Colney's shrugs; 'and
it has come to that pitch with me, that I cannot be sensible of a merit
except in being one with him--obeying, is the word. And I have never yet
known him fail. That terrible Lakelands wears a different look to me,
when I think of what he can do; though I would give half my days to
She harped on the chord of feverish extravagance; the more hateful to
Colney because of his perceiving, that she simulated a blind devotedness
to stupefy her natural pride; and he was divided between stamping on her
for an imbecile and dashing at Victor for a maniac. But her situation
rendered her pitiable. 'You will learn tomorrow what Victor has done,'
he said, and thought how the simple words carried the bitterness.
That was uttered within a few minutes of midnight, when the ladies of
Moorsedge themselves, after an exhausting resistance to their dearest
relative, were at the hall-door of the house with Victor, saying the
good-night, to which he responded hurriedly, cordially, dumbly, a baffled
man. They clasped hands. Miss Dorothea said:
'You, Victor, always.' Miss Virginia said: 'You will be sure of
welcome.' He walked out upon the moonless night; and for lack of any
rounded object in the smothering darkness to look at, he could nowhere
take moorings to gather himself together and define the man who had
undergone so portentous a defeat. He was glad of quarters at an hotel,
a solitary bed, absence from his Nataly.
For their parts, the ladies were not less shattered. They had no triumph
in their victory: the weight of it bore them down. They closed, locked,
shot the bolts and fastened the chain of the door. They had to be
reminded by the shaking of their darling dog Tasso's curly silky coat,
that he had not taken his evening's trot to notify malefactors of his
watchfulness and official wrath at sound of footfall or a fancied one.
Without consultation, they unbolted the door, and Tasso went forth, to
'compose his vesper hymn,' as Mr. Posterley once remarked amusingly.
Though not pretending to the Muse's crown so far, the little dog had
qualities to entrance the spinster sex. His mistresses talked of him;
of his readiness to go forth; of the audible first line of his hymn or
sonnet; of his instinct telling him that something was wrong in the
establishment. For most of the servants at Moorsedge were prostrated by
a fashionable epidemic; a slight attack, the doctor said; but Montague,
the butler, had withdrawn for the nursing of his wife; Perrin, the
footman, was confined to his chamber; Manton, the favourite maid, had
appeared in the morning with a face that caused her banishment to bed;
and the cook, Mrs. Bannister, then sighingly agreed to send up cold meat
for the ladies' dinner. Hence their melancholy inhospitality to their
cousin Victor, who had, in spite of his errors, the right to claim his
place at their table, was 'of the blood,' they said. He was recognized
as the living prince of it. His every gesture, every word, recalled the
General. The trying scene with him had withered them, they did not speak
of it; each had to the other the look of a vessel that has come out of a
gale. Would they sleep? They scarcely dared ask it of themselves. They
had done rightly; silence upon that reflection seemed best. It was the
silence of an inward agitation; still they knew the power of good
consciences to summon sleep.
Tasso was usually timed for five minutes. They were astonished to
discover by the clock, that they had given him ten. He was very quiet:
if so, and for whatever he did, he had his reason, they said: he was a
dog endowed with reason: endowed--and how they wished that Mr. Stuart Rem
would admit it!--with, their love of the little dog believed (and Mr.
Posterley acquiesced), a soul. Do but think it of dear animals, and any
form of cruelty to them becomes an impossibility, Mr. Stuart Rem! But he
would not be convinced: ungenerously indeed he named Mr. Posterley a
courtier. The ladies could have retorted, that Mr. Posterley had not a
brother who was the celebrated surgeon Sir Nicholas Rem.
Usually Tasso came running in when the hall-door was opened to him.
Not a sound of him could be heard. The ladies blew his familiar whistle.
He trotted back to a third appeal, and was, unfortunately for them, not
caressed; he received reproaches from two forefingers directed straight
at his reason. He saw it and felt it. The hug of him was deferred to
the tender good-night to him in his basket at the foot of the ladies'
On entering their spacious bed-chamber, they were so fatigued that sleep
appeared to their minds the compensating logical deduction. Miss
Dorothea suppressed a yawn, and inflicted it upon Miss Virginia, who
returned it, with an apology, and immediately had her sister's hand on
her shoulder, for, an attempted control of one of the irresistibles; a
specacle imparting bitter shudders and shots to the sympathetic jawbones
of an observer. Hand at mouth, for not in privacy would they have been
guilty of exposing a grimace, they signified, under an interim smile,
their maidenly submission to the ridiculous force of nature: after which,
Miss Virginia retired to the dressing-room, absorbed in woeful
recollection of the resolute No they had been compelled to reiterate,
in response to the most eloquent and, saving for a single instance,
admirable man, their cousin, the representative of 'the blood,'
supplicating them. A recreant thankfulness coiled within her bosom at
the thought, that Dorothea, true to her office of speaker, had tasked
herself with the cruel utterance and repetition of the word. Victor's
wonderful eyes, his voice, yet more than his urgent pleas; and also, in
the midst of his fiery flood of speech, his gentleness, his patience,
pathos, and a man's tone through it all; were present to her.
Disrobed, she knocked at the door.
'I have called to you twice,' Dorothea said; and she looked a motive for
'What is it?' said Virginia, with faltering sweetness, with a terrible
The movement of a sigh was made. 'Are you aware of anything, dear?'
Virginia was taken with the contrary movement of a sniff. But the fear
informing it prevented it from being venturesome. Doubt of the pure
atmosphere of their bed-chamber, appeared to her as too heretic even for
the positive essay. In affirming, that she was not aware of anything,
her sight fell on Tasso. His eyeballs were those of a little dog that
has been awfully questioned.
'It is more than a suspicion,' said Dorothea; and plainly now, while open
to the seductions of any pleasing infidel testimony, her nose in
repugnance convicted him absolutely.
Virginia's nose was lowered a few inches; it inhaled and stopped midway.
'You must be mistaken, dear. He never . . . '
'But are you insensible to the . . .' Dorothea's eyelids fainted.
Virginia dismissed the forlornest of efforts at incredulity. A whiff
of Tasso had smitten her. 'Ah!' she exclaimed and fell away. 'Is it
Tasso! How was it you noticed nothing before undressing, dear?'
'Thinking of what we have gone through to-night! I forgot him. At last
the very strange . . . The like of it I have not ever! . . . And
upon that thick coat! And, dear, it is late. We are in the morning
'But, my dear-Oh, dear, what is to be done with him?'
That was the crucial point for discussion. They had no servant to give
them aid; Manton, they could not dream of disturbing. And Tasso's
character wag in the estimate; he hated washing; it balefully depraved
his temper; and not only, creature of habit that he was, would he decline
to lie down anywhere save in their bedroom, he would lament, plead,
insist unremittingly, if excluded; terrifying every poor invalid of the
house. Then again, were they at this late hour to dress themselves, and
take him downstairs, and light a fire in the kitchen, and boil sufficient
water to give him a bath and scrubbing? Cold water would be death to
him. Besides, he would ring out his alarum for the house to hear, pour
out all his poetry, poor dear, as Mr. Posterley called it, at a touch of
cold water. The catastrophe was one to weep over, the dilemma a trial of
the strongest intelligences.
In addition to reviews of their solitary alternative-the having of a
befouled degraded little dog in their chamber through the night, they
were subjected to a conflict of emotions when eyeing him: and there came
to them the painful, perhaps irreverent, perhaps uncharitable, thought:--
that the sinner who has rolled in the abominable, must cleanse him and do
things to polish him and perfume before again embraced even by the mind:
if indeed we can ever have our old sentiment for him again! Mr. Stuart
Rem might decide it for them. Nay, before even the heart embraces him,
he must completely purify himself. That is to say, the ordinary human
sinner--save when a relative. Contemplating Tasso, the hearts of the
ladies gushed out in pity of an innocent little dog, knowing not evil,
dependent on his friends for help to be purified;--necessarily kept at a
distance: the very look of him prescribed extreme separation, as far as
practicable. But they had proof of a love almost greater than it was
previous to the offence, in the tender precautions they took to elude
He was rolling on the rug, communicating contagion. Flasks of treble-
distilled lavender water, and their favourite, traditional in the family,
eau d'Arquebusade, were on the toilet-table. They sprinkled his basket,
liberally sprinkled the rug and the little dog. Perfume-pastilles were
in one of the sitting-rooms below; and Virginia would have gone down
softly to fetch a box, but Dorothea restrained her, in pity for the
servants, with the remark: 'It would give us a nightmare of a Roman
Catholic Cathedral!' A bit of the window was lifted by Dorothea,
cautiously, that prowling outsiders might not be attracted. Tasso was
wooed to his basket. He seemed inquisitive; the antidote of his
naughtiness excited him; his tail circled after his muzzle several times;
then he lay. A silken scarf steeped in eau d'Arquebusade was flung
Their customary devout observances concluded, lights were extinguished,
and the ladies kissed, and entered their beds.
Their beds were not homely to them. Dorothea thought that Virginia was
long in settling herself. Virginia did not like the sound of Dorothea's
double sigh. Both listened anxiously for the doings of Tasso. He
He was uneasy; he was rounding his basket once more; unaware of the
exaggeration of his iniquitous conduct, poor innocent, he shook that
dreadful coat of his! He had displaced the prophylactic cover of the
He drove them in a despair to speculate on the contention between the
perfume and the stench in junction, with such a doubt of the victory of
which of the two, as drags us to fear our worst. It steals into our
nostrils, possesses them. As the History of Mankind has informed us,
we were led up to our civilization by the nose. But Philosophy warns us
on that eminence; to beware of trusting exclusively to our conductor,
lest the mind of us at least be plunged back into barbarism. The ladies
hated both the cause and the consequence, they had a revulsion from the
object, of the above contention. But call it not a contention: there is
nobility in that. This was a compromise, a degrading union, with very
sickening results. Whether they came of an excess of the sprinkling,
could not well be guessed. The drenching at least was righteously
Beneath their shut eyelids, they felt more and more the oppression of a
darkness not laden with slumber. They saw it insolidity; themselves as
restless billows, driven dashing to the despondent sigh. Sleep was
Tasso slept. He had sinned unknowingly, and that is not a spiritual sin;
the chastisement confers the pardon.
But why was this ineffable blessing denied to them? Was it that they
might have a survey of all the day's deeds and examine them under the
cruel black beams of Insomnia?
Virginia said: 'You are wakeful.'
'Thoughtful,' was the answer.
A century of the midnight rolled on.
Dorothea said: 'He behaved very beautifully.'
'I looked at the General's portrait while he besought us,' Virginia
'One sees him in Victor, at Victor's age. Try to sleep.'
'I do. I pray that you may.'
Silence courted slumber. Their interchange of speech from the posture
of bodies on their backs, had been low and deliberate, in the tone of
the vaults. Dead silence recalled the strangeness of it. The night was
breathless; their open window a peril bestowing no boon. They were
mutually haunted by sound of the gloomy query at the nostrils of each
when drawing the vital breath. But for that, they thought they might
Bed spake to bed:
'The words of Mr. Stuart Rem last Sunday!' 'He said: "Be just." Could
one but see direction!'
'In obscurity, feeling is a guide.'
'It may sometimes be followed.'
'When it concerns the family.'
'He would have the living, who are seeking peace, be just.'
'Not to assume the seat of justice.'
Again they lay as tombstone effigies, that have committed the passage of
affairs to another procession of the Ages.
There was a gentle sniff, in hopeless confirmation of the experience of
its predecessors. A sister to it ensued.
'Could Victor have spoken so, without assurance in his conscience, that
his entreaty was righteously addressed to us? that we . . .'
'And no others!'
'I think of his language. He loves the child.'
'In heart as in mind, he is eminently gifted; acknowledgeing error.'
'He was very young.'
The huge funereal minutes conducted their sonorous hearse, the hour.
It struck in the bed-room: Three.
No more than three of the clock, it was the voice telling of half the
precious restorative night-hours wasted.
Now, as we close our eyelids when we would go to sleep, so must we,
in expectation of the peace of mind granting us the sweet oblivion,
preliminarily do something which invokes, that we may obtain it.
'Dear,' Dorothea said.
'I know indeed,' said Virginia.
'We may have been!'
'Indeed not. But harsh it may be named, if the one innocent is to be the
'The child can in no sense be adjudged guilty.'
'It is Victor's child.'
'He adores the child.'
Wheels were in mute motion within them; and presently the remark was
'In his coming to us, it is possible to see paternal solicitude'
Thence came fruit of reflection:
'To be instrumental as guides to a tender young life!'
Reflection heated with visions:
'Once our dream!'
They had the happier feeling of composure, though Tasso possessed
the room. Not Tasso, but a sublimated offensiveness, issue of the
antagonistically combined, dispersed to be the more penetrating;
insomuch that it seemed to them they could not ever again make use of eau
d'Arquebusade without the vitiating reminder. So true were the words of
Mr. Stuart Rem: 'Half measures to purification are the most delusive of
our artifices.' Fatigue and its reflections helped to be peacefuller.
Their souls were mounting to a serenity above the nauseating degradation,
to which the poor little dog had dragged them.
'Victor gave his promise.'
'At least, concession would not imply contact with the guilty.'
Both sighed as they took up the burden of the vaporous Tasso to drop him;
with the greater satisfaction in the expelling of their breath.
'It might be said, dear, that concession to his entreaty does not in any
way countenance the sin.'
'I can see, dear, how it might be read as a reproof.'
Their exchange of sentences followed meditative pauses; Dorothea leading.
'To one so sensitive as Victor!'
'A month or two of our society for the child!'
'It is not the length of time.'
'The limitation assures against maternal claims.'
'She would not dare.'
'He used the words: "her serious respect" for us. I should not wish to
listen to him often.'
'We listen to a higher.'
'It may really be, that the child is like him.'
'Not resembling Mr. Stuart Rem's Clementina!'
'A week of that child gave us our totally sleepless night.' 'One thinks
more hopefully of a child of Victor's.'
'He would preponderate.'
They sighed; but it was now with the relief of a lightened oppression.
'If, dear, in truth the father's look is in the child, he has the greater
reason to desire for her a taste of our atmosphere.'
'Do not pursue it. Sleep.'
'Your mention of our atmosphere, dear, destroys my power to frame one.
Do you, for two. But I would cleanse my heart.'
'There is none purer.'
Virginia spoke a more fervent word of praise of her sister, and had not
the hushing response to it. She heard the soft regular breathing. Her
own was in downy fellowship with it a moment later.
At the hour of nine, in genial daylight, sitting over the crumbs of his
hotel breakfast, Victor received a little note that bore the handwriting
of Dorothea Duvidney.
'Dear Victor, we are prepared to receive the child for a month.
In haste, before your train. Our love. D. and V.'
His face flashed out of cloud.
A more precious document had never been handed to him. It chased back to
midnight the doubt hovering over his belief in himself;--phrased to say,
that he was no longer the Victor Radnor known to the world. And it
extinguished a corpse-like recollection of a baleful dream in the night.
Here shone radiant witness of his being the very man; save for the spot
of his recent confusion in distinguishing his identity or in feeling that
he stood whole and solid.--Because of two mature maiden ladies? Yes,
because of two maiden ladies, my good fellow. And friend Colney, you
know the ladies, and what the getting round them for one's purposes
The sprite of Colney Durance had struck him smartly overnight. Victor's
internal crow was over Colney now. And when you have the optimist and
pessimist acutely opposed in a mixing group, they direct lively
conversations at one another across the gulf of distance, even of time.
For a principle is involved, besides the knowledge of the other's triumph
or dismay. The couple are scales of a balance; and not before last night
had Victor ever consented to think of Colney ascending while he dropped
low to graze the pebbles.
He left his hotel for the station, singing the great aria of the fourth
Act of the Favorita: neglected since that mighty German with his Rienzi,
and Tannhauser, and Tristan and Isolda, had mastered him, to the
displacement of his boyhood's beloved sugary -inis and -antes and
-zettis; had clearly mastered, not beguiled, him; had wafted him up to a
new realm, invigorating if severer. But now his youth would have its
voice. He travelled up to town with Sir Abraham Quatley and talked, and
took and gave hints upon City and Commercial affairs, while the honeyed
Italian of the conventional, gloriously animal, stress and flutter had a
revel in his veins, now and then mutedly ebullient at the mouth: honeyed,
golden, rich in visions;--having surely much more of Nature's
encouragement to her children?
A word in his ear from Fenellan, touching that man Blathenoy,
set the wheels of Victor's brain at work upon his defences, for a minute,
on the walk Westward. Who knew?--who did not know! He had a torpid
consciousness that he cringed to the world, with an entreaty to the great
monster to hold off in ignorance; and the next instant, he had caught its
miserable spies by the lurcher neck and was towering. He dwelt on his
contempt of them, to curtain the power they could stir.
'The little woman, you say, took to Dartrey?'
Fenellan, with the usual apologetic moderation of a second statement,
thought 'there was the look of it.'
'Well, we must watch over her. Dartrey!--but Dartrey's an honest fellow
with women. But men are men. Very few men spare a woman when the mad
fit is on her. A little woman-pretty little woman!--wife to Jacob
Blathenoy! She mustn't at her age have any close choosing--under her
hand. And Dartrey's just the figure to strike a spark in a tinder-box
'With a husband who'd reduce Minerva's to tinder, after a month of him!'
'He spent his honeymoon at his place at Wrensham; told me so.' Blathenoy
had therefore then heard of the building of Lakelands by the Victor
Radnor of the City; and had then, we guess--in the usual honeymoon
boasting of a windbag with his bride--wheezed the foul gossip, to hide
his emptiness and do duty for amusement of the pretty little caged bird.
Probably so. But Victor knew that Blathenoy needed him and feared him.
Probably the wife had been enjoined to keep silence; for the
Blachingtons, Fannings and others were, it could be sworn, blank and
unscratched folio sheets on the subject:--as yet; unless Mrs. Burman had
'One pities the little woman, eh, Fenellan?'
'Dartrey won't be back for a week or so; and they're off to Switzerland,
after the dinner they give. I heard from him this morning; one of the
Clanconans is ill.
'Lucky. But wherever Blathenoy takes her, he must be the same "arid
bore," as old Colney says.'
'A domestic simoom,' said Fenellan, booming it: and Victor had a shudder.
'Awful thing, marriage, to some women! We chain them to that domestic
round; most of them haven't the means of independence or a chance of
winning it; and all that's open to them, if they've made a bad cast for a
mate--and good Lord! how are they to know before it's too late!--they
haven't a choice except to play tricks or jump to the deuce or sit and
"drape in blight," as Colney has it; though his notion of the optional
marriages, broken or renewed every seven years!--if he means it. You
never know, with him. It sounds like another squirt of savage irony.
It's donkey nonsense, eh?'
'The very hee-haw of nonsense,' Fenellan acquiesced.
'Come, come; read your Scriptures; donkeys have shown wisdom,' Victor
said, rather leaning to the theme of a fretfulness of women in the legal
yoke. 'They're donkeys till we know them for prophets. Who can tell!
Colney may be hailed for one fifty years hence.'
Fenellan was not invited to enter the house, although the loneliness of
his lodgeings was known, and also, that he played whist at his Club.
Victor had grounds for turning to him at the door and squeezing his hand
warmly, by way of dismissal. In ascribing them to a weariness at
Fenellan's perpetual acquiescence, he put the cover on them, and he
stamped it with a repudiation of the charge, that Colney's views upon the
great Marriage Question were the 'very hee-haw of nonsense.' They were
not the hee-haw; in fact, viewing the host of marriages, they were for
discussion; there was no bray about them. He could not feel them to be
absurd while Mrs. Burman's tenure of existence barred the ceremony.
Anything for a phrase! he murmured of Fenellan's talk; calling him, Dear
old boy, to soften the slight.
Nataly had not seen Fenellan or heard from Dartrey; so she continued to
be uninformed of her hero's release; and that was in the order of happy
accidents. She had hardly to look her interrogation for the news; it
radiated. But he stated such matter-of-course briefly. 'The good ladies
are ready to receive our girl.'
Her chagrin resolved to a kind of solace of her draggled pride, in the
idea, that he who tamed everybody to submission, might well have command
The note, signed D. and V., was shown.
There stood the words. And last night she had been partly of the opinion
of Colney Durance. She sank down among the unreasoning abject;--not this
time with her perfect love of him, but with a resistance and a dubiety
under compression. For she had not quite comprehended why Nesta should
go. This readiness of the Duvidney ladies to receive the girl, stopped
her mental inquiries.
She begged for a week's delay; 'before the parting'; as her dear old
silly mother's pathos whimpered it, of the separation for a month! and he
smiled and hummed pleasantly at any small petition, thinking her in error
to expect Dartrey's return to town before the close of a week; and then
wondering at women, mildly denouncing in his heart the mothers who ran
risk of disturbing their daughters' bosoms with regard to particular
heroes married or not. Dartrey attracted women: he was one of the men
who do it without effort. Victor's provident mind blamed the mother for
the indiscreetness of her wish to have him among them. But Dudley had
been making way bravely of late; he improved; he began to bloom, like a
Spring flower of the garden protected from frosts under glass; and Fredi
was the sheltering and nourishing bestower of the lessons. One could
see, his questions and other little points revealed, that he had a
certain lover's dread of Dartrey Fenellan; a sort of jealousy: Victor
understood the feeling. To love a girl, who has her ideal of a man
elsewhere in another; though she may know she never can wed the man, and
has not the hope of it; is torment to the lover quailing, as we do in
this terrible season of the priceless deliciousness, stripped against all
the winds that blow; skinless at times. One gets up a sympathy for the
poor shy dependent shivering lover. Nevertheless, here was young Dudley
waking, visibly becoming bolder. As in the flute-duets, he gained fire
from concert. The distance between Cronidge and Moorsedge was two miles
and a quarter.
Instead of the delay of a whole week, Victor granted four days, which
embraced a musical evening at Mrs. John Cormyn's on the last of the days,
when Nesta was engaged to sing with her mother a duet of her own
composition, the first public fruit of her lessons in counterpoint from
rigid Herr Strauscher, who had said what he had said, in letting it pass:
eulogy, coming from him. So Victor heard, and he doated am the surprise
to come for him, in a boyish anticipation. The girl's little French
ballads under tutelage of Louise de Seilles promised, though they were
imitative. If Strauscher let this pass . . . Victor saw Grand Opera
somewhere to follow; England's claim to be a creative musical nation
vindicated; and the genius of the fair sex as well.
He heard the duet at Mrs. Cormyn's; and he imagined a hearing of his
Fredi's Opera, and her godmother's delight in it; the once famed
Sanfredini's consent to be the diva at a rehearsal, and then her
compelling her hidalgo duque to consent further: an event not
inconceivable. For here was downright genius; the flowering aloe of the
many years in formation; and Colney admitted the song to have a streak of
genius; though he would pettishly and stupidly say, that our modern
newspaper Press is able now to force genius for us twenty or so to the
month, excluding Sundays-our short pauses for the incubation of it. Real
rare genius was in that song, nothing forced; and exquisite melody; one
of those melodies which fling gold chains about us and lead us off, lead
us back into Eden. Victor hummed at bars of it on the drive homeward.
His darlings had to sing it again in the half-lighted drawing-room. The
bubble-happiness of the three was vexed only by tidings heard from Colney
during the evening of a renewed instance of Skepsey's misconduct.
Priscilla Graves had hurried away to him at the close of Mr. John
Cormyn's Concert, in consequence; in grief and in sympathy. Skepsey was
to appear before the magistrate next morning, for having administered
physical chastisement to his wife during one of her fits of drunkenness.
Colney had seen him. His version of the story was given, however, in the
objectionable humorous manner: none could gather from it of what might be
pleaded for Skepsey. His 'lesson to his wife in the art of pugilism,
before granting her Captain's rank among the Defensive Amazons of Old
England,' was the customary patent absurdity. But it was odd, that
Skepsey always preferred his appeal for help to Colney Durance. Nesta
proposed following Priscilla that night. She had hinted her wish, on the
way home; she was urgent, beseeching, when her father lifted praises of
her: she had to start with her father by the train at seven in the
morning, and she could not hear of poor Skepsey for a number of hours.
She begged a day's delay; which would enable her, she said, to join them
in dining at the Blachingtons', and seeing dear Lakelands again. 'I was
invited, you know.' She spoke in childish style, and under her eyes she
beheld her father and mother exchange looks. He had a fear that Nataly
might support the girl's petition. Nataly read him to mean, possible
dangers among the people at Wrensham. She had seemed hesitating. After
meeting Victor's look, her refusal was firm. She tried to make it one of
distress for the use of the hard word to her own dear girl. Nesta spied
But what was it? There was a reason for her going! She had a right to
stay, and see and talk with Captain Dartrey, and she was to be deported!
So now she set herself to remember little incidents at Creckholt:
particularly a conversation in a very young girl's hearing, upon Sir
Humphrey and Lady Pottil's behaviour to the speakers, her parents.
She had then, and she now had, an extraordinary feeling, as from a wind
striking upon soft summer weather off regions of ice, that she was in her
parents' way. How? The feeling was irrational; it could give her no
reply, or only the multitudinous which are the question violently
repeated. She slept on it.
She and her father breakfasted by the London birds' first twitter. They
talked of Skepsey. She spoke of her going as exile. 'No,' said he,
'you're sure to meet friends.'
Her cheeks glowed. It came wholly through the suddenness of the
recollection, that the family-seat of one among the friends was near the
He was allowed to fancy, as it suited him to fancy, that a vivid secret
pleasure laid the colour on those ingenuous fair cheeks.
'A solitary flute for me, for a month! I shall miss my sober comrade:
got the habit of duetting: and he's gentle, bears with me.'
Tears lined her eyelids. 'Who would not be, dearest dada! But there is
nothing to bear except the honour.'
'You like him? You and I always have the same tastes, Fredi.'
Now there was a reddening of the sun at the mount; all the sky aflame.
How could he know that it was not the heart in the face! She reddened
because she had perused his wishes; had detected a scheme striking off
from them, and knew a man to be the object of it; and because she had at
the same time the sense of a flattery in her quick divination; and she
was responsively emotional, her blood virginal; often it was a tropical
It looked like the heart doing rich painter's work on maiden features.
Victor was naturally as deceived as he wished to be.
From his being naturally so, his remarks on Dudley had an air of
embracing him as one of the family. 'His manner to me just hits me.'
'I like to see him with you,' she said.
Her father let his tongue run: 'One of the few young men I feel perfectly
at home with! I do like dealing with a gentleman. I can confide in a
gentleman: honour, heart, whatever I hold dearest.'
There he stopped, not too soon. The girl was mute, fully agreeing,
slightly hardening. She had a painful sense of separation from her dear
Louise. And it was now to be from her mother as well: she felt the pain
when kissing her mother in bed. But this was moderated by the prospect
of a holiday away out of reach of Mr. Barmby's pursuing voice, whom her
mother favoured: and her mother was concealing something from her; so she
could not make the confidante of her mother. Nataly had no forewarnings.
Her simple regrets filled her bosom. All night she had been taking her
chastisement, and in the morning it seemed good to her, that she should
be denuded, for her girl to learn the felicity of having relatives.
For some reason, over which Nataly mused in the succeeding hours, the
girl had not spoken of any visit her mother was to pay to the Duvidney
ladies or they to her. Latterly she had not alluded to her mother's
family. It might mean, that the beloved and dreaded was laying finger on
a dark thing in the dark; reading syllables by touch; keeping silence
over the communications to a mind not yet actively speculative, as it is
a way with young women. 'With young women educated for the market, to be
timorous, consequently secretive, rather snaky,' Colney Durance had said.
Her Nesta was not one of the 'framed and glazed' description, cited by
him, for an example of the triumph of the product; 'exactly harmonious
with the ninny male's ideal of female innocence.' No; but what if the
mother had opened her heart to her girl? It had been of late her wish or
a dream, shaping hourly to a design, now positively to go through that
furnace. Her knowledge of Victor's objection, restrained an impulse that
had not won spring enough to act against his counsel or vivify an
intelligence grown dull in slavery under him, with regard to the one
seeming right course. The adoption of it would have wounded him--
therefore her. She had thought of him first; she had also thought of
herself, and she blamed herself now. She went so far as to think, that
Victor was guilty of the schemer's error of counting human creatures
arithmetically, in the sum, without the estimate of distinctive qualities
and value here and there. His return to a shivering sensitiveness on the
subject of his girl's enlightenment 'just yet,' for which Nataly pitied
and loved him, sharing it, with humiliation for doing so, became finally
her excuse. We must have some excuse, if we would keep to life.
Skepsey's case appeared in the evening papers. He confessed, 'frankly,'
he said, to the magistrate, that, 'acting under temporary exasperation,
he had lost for a moment a man's proper self-command.' He was as frank
in stating, that he 'occupied the prisoner's place before his Worship a
second time, and was a second time indebted to the gentleman, Mr. Colney
Durance, who so kindly stood by him.' There was hilarity in the Court at
his quaint sententious envelopment of the idiom of the streets, which he
delivered with solemnity: 'He could only plead, not in absolute
justification--an appeal to human sentiments--the feelings of a man of
the humbler orders, returning home in the evening, and his thoughts upon
things not without their importance, to find repeatedly the guardian of
his household beastly drunk, and destructive.' Colney made the case
quite intelligible to the magistrate; who gravely robed a strain of the
idiomatic in the officially awful, to keep in tune with his delinquent.
No serious harm had been done to the woman. Skepsey was admonished and
released. His wife expressed her willingness to forgive him, now he had
got his lesson; and she hoped he would understand, that there was no need
for a woman to learn pugilism. Skepsey would have explained; but the
case was over, he was hustled out.
However, a keen young reporter present smelt fun for copy; he followed
the couple; and in a particular evening Journal, laughable matter was
printed concerning Skepsey's view of the pugilism to be imparted to women
for their physical-protection in extremity, and the distinction of it
from the blow conveying the moral lesson to them; his wife having
objected to the former, because it annoyed her and he pestered her;
and she was never, she said, ready to stand up to him for practice,
as he called it, except when she had taken more than he thought wholesome
for her: he had no sense. There was a squabble between them, because he
chose to scour away to his master's office instead of conducting her home
with the honours. Nesta read the young reporter's version, with shrieks.
She led the ladies of Moorsedge to discover amusement in it.
At first, as her letter to her mother described them, they were like a
pair of pieces of costly China, with the settled smile, and cold. She
saw but the outside of them, and she continued reporting the variations,
which steadily determined the warmth. On the night of the third day,
they kissed her tenderly; they were human figures.
No one could be aware of the trial undergone by the good ladies in
receiving her: Victor's child; but, as their phrase would have run, had
they dared to give it utterance to one another, a child of sin. How
foreign to them, in that character, how strange, when she was looked on
as an inhabitant of their house, they hardly dared to estimate; until the
timorous estimation, from gradually swelling, suddenly sank; nature
invaded them; they could discard the alienating sense of the taint; and
not only did they no longer fear the moment when Mr. Stuart Rem or Mr.
Posterley might call for evening tea, but they consulted upon inviting
the married one of those gentlemen, to 'divert dear Nesta.' Every night
she slept well. In all she did, she proved she was 'of the blood.'
She had Victor's animated eyes; she might have, they dreaded to think,
his eloquence. They put it down to his eloquence entirely, that their
resistance to his petition had been overcome, for similarly with the
treatment of the private acts of royal personages by lacquey History,
there is, in the minds of the ultra-civilized, an insistance, that any
event having a consequence in matters personal to them, be at all hazards
recorded with the utmost nicety in decency. By such means, they preserve
the ceremonial self-respect, which is a necessity of their existence; and
so they maintain the regal elevation over the awe-struck subjects of
their interiors; who might otherwise revolt, pull down, scatter,
dishonour, expose for a shallow fiction the holiest, the most vital to
them. A democratic evil spirit is abroad, generated among congregations,
often perilously communicating its wanton laughter to the desperate
wickedness they know (not solely through the monition of Mr. Stuart Rem)
to lurk within. It has to be excluded: on certain points they must not
think. The night of Tasso was darkly clouded in the minds of the pure
ladies: a rift would have seized their half-slumbering sense of smell,
to revive the night, perhaps disorder the stately march of their
Victor's eloquence, Victor's influence, Victor's child he carried them as
a floodstream, insomuch, that their reception of this young creature of
the blot on her birth, was regarded by them in the unmentioned abstract,
and the child's presence upon earth seen with the indulgence (without the
naughty curiosity) of the loyal moral English for the numerous offspring
of the peccadillos of their monarchs. These things pass muster from
being 'Britannically cocooned in the purple,' says our irreverent
satirist; and the maiden ladies' passion of devotion to 'the blood'
helped to blind them; but still more so did the imperious urgency to
curtain closely the night of Tasso, throwing all its consequences upon
Victor's masterful tongue. Whence it ensued (and here is the danger for
illogical individuals as well as vast communities, who continue to batten
upon fiction when the convenience of it has taken the place of pleasure),
that they had need to exalt his eloquence, for a cloak to their conduct;
and doing it, they fell into a habit of yielding to him; they
disintegrated under him; rules, principles, morality, were shaken to some
confusion. And still proceeding thus, they now and then glanced back,
more wonderingly than convicted sinners upon their days of early
innocence, at the night when successfully they withstood him. They who
had doubted of the rightness of letting Victor's girl come into collision
with two clerical gentlemen, one of whom was married, permitted him now
to bring the Hon. Dudley Sowerby to their house, and make appointments
to meet Mr. Dudley Sowerby under a roof that sheltered a young lady,
evidently the allurement to the scion of aristocracy; of whose family Mr.
Stuart Rem had spoken in the very kindling hushed tones, proper to the
union of a sacerdotal and an English citizen's veneration.
How would it end? And if some day this excellent Mr. Dudley Sowerby
reproached them! He could not have a sweeter bride, one more truly a
lady in education and manners; but the birth! the child's name! Their
trouble was emitted in a vapour of interjections. Very perplexing was it
for the good ladies of strict principles to reflect, as dimly they did,
that the concrete presence of dear Nesta silenced and overcame objections
to her being upon earth. She seemed, as it were, a draught of
redoubtable Nature inebriating morality. But would others be similarly
affected? Victor might get his release, to do justice to the mother: it
would not cover the child. Prize as they might the quality of the Radnor
blood (drawn from the most ancient of original Britain's princes), there
was also the Cantor blood for consideration; and it was old, noble,
proud. Would it be satisfied in matching itself with great wealth,
a radiant health, and the good looks of a young flower? For the sake
of the dear girl, the ladies hoped that it would; and they enlarged the
outline of their wedding present, while, in their minds, the noble
English family which could be satisfied so, was lowered, partaking
of the taint they had personally ceased to recognize.
Of one thing they were sure, and it enlisted them: the gentleman loved
the girl. Her love of him, had it been prominent to view, would have
stirred a feminine sigh; not more, except a feminine lecture to follow.
She was quite uninflamed, fresh and cool as a spring. His ardour had no
disguise. They measured him by the favourite fiction's heroes of their
youth, and found him to gaze, talk, comport himself, according to the
prescription; correct grammar, finished sentences, all that is expected
of a gentleman enamoured; and ever with the watchful intentness for his
lady's faintest first dawn of an inclining to a wish. Mr. Dudley
Sowerby's eye upon Nesta was really an apprentice. There is in Love's
young season a magnanimity in the male kind. Their superior strength
and knowledge are made subservient to the distaff of the weaker and
shallower: they crown her queen; her look is their mandate. So was it
when Sir Charles and Sir Rupert and the estimable Villiers Davenant
touched maidenly hearts to throb: so is it now, with the Hon. Dudley
Very haltingly, the ladies were guilty of a suggestion to Victor.
'Oh! Fredi?' said he; 'admires her, no doubt; and so do I, so we all do;
she's one of the nice girls; but as to Cupid's darts, she belongs to the
cucumber family, and he shoots without fireing. We shall do the mischief
if we put an interdict. Don't you remember the green days when obstacles
were the friction to light that match?' Their pretty nod of assent
displayed the virgin pride of the remembrance: they dreamed of having
once been exceedingly wilful; it refreshed their nipped natures; and
dwelling on it, they forgot to press their suggestion. Incidentally,
he named the sum his Fredi would convey to her husband; with, as was
calculable, the further amount his only child would inherit. A curious
effect was produced on them. Though they were not imaginatively
mercenary, as the creatures tainted with wealth commonly are, they talked
of the sum over and over in the solitude of their chamber. 'Dukes have
married for less.' Such an heiress, they said, might buy up a
Principality. Victor had supplied them with something of an apology
to the gentleman proposing to Nesta in their house.
The chronicle of it is, that Dudley Sowerby did this on the fifteenth day
of September; and that it was not known to the damsel's parents before
the twenty-third; as they were away on an excursion in South Tyrol:--
away, flown, with just a word of the hurried departure to their envious,
exiled girl; though they did not tell her of new constructions at the
London house partly causing them to fly. Subject to their consent, she
wrote, she had given hers. The letter was telegramic on the essential
point. She wrote of Mr. Barmby's having visited Mr. Posterley at the
Wells, and she put it just as flatly. Her principal concern, to judge by
her writing, was, to know what Mr. Durance had done, during her absence,
with the group of emissary-advocates of the various tongues of Europe on
board the steam-Liner conducting them the first stage of their journey to
the Court of Japan.
Mr. Simeon Fenellan had written his opinion, that all these delegates of
the different European nationalities were nothing other than dupes of a
New-York Syndicate of American Humorists, not without an eye on the
mainchance; and he was sure they would be set to debate publicly, before
an audience of high-priced tickets, in the principal North American
Cities, previous to the embarcation for Japan at San Francisco. Mr.
Fenellan eulogized the immense astuteness of Dr. Gannius in taking his
daughter Delphica with him. Dr. Gannius had singled forth poor Dr.
Bouthoin for the object of his attacks; but Nesta was chiefly anxious to
hear of Delphica's proceedings; she was immensely interested in Delphica,
and envied her; and the girl's funny speculations over the play of
Delphica's divers arts upon the Greek, and upon the Russian, and upon the
English curate Mr. Semhians, and upon M. Falarique--set Gallically
pluming and crowing out of an Alsace-Lorraine growl--were clever. Only,
in such a letter, they were amazing.
Nataly received it at Campiglio, when about to start for an excursion
down the Sarca Valley to Arco. Her letter of reply was delayed. One to
Victor from Dudley Sowerby, awaited them, on their return. 'Confirms
Fredi,' he said, showing it, and praising it as commendable, properly
fervid. She made pretence to read, she saw the words.
Her short beat of wings was over. She had joined herself with Victor's
leap for a change, thirsting for the scenery of the white peaks in
heaven, to enjoy through his enjoyment, if her own capacity was dead:
and she had found it revive, up to some recovery of her old songful
readiness for invocations of pleasure. Escape and beauty beckoned ahead;
behind were the chains. These two letters of the one fact plucked her
back. The chained body bore the fluttering spirit: or it was the spirit
in bonds, that dragged the body. Both were abashed before the image of
her girl. Out of the riddle of her strange Nesta, one thing was clear:
she did not love the man: and Nataly tasted gladness in that, from the
cup of poisonous regrets at the thought. Her girl's heart would not be
broken. But if he so strongly loved her, as to hold to this engagement?
. . . It might then be worse. She dropped a plumb-line into the young
man, sounding him by what she knew of him and judged. She had to revert
to Nesta's charm, for the assurance of his anchored attachment.
Her holiday took the burden of her trouble, and amid the beauty of a
disenchanted scene, she resumed the London incubus.
'You told him of her being at the Wells? in the neighbourhood, Victor?'
'Didn't you know, my dear, the family-seat is Cronidge, two miles out
from the Wells?--and particularly pretty country.'
'I had forgotten, if I ever heard. You will not let him be in
'My dear love, you are pale about it. This is a matter between men.
I write, thanking for the honour and so forth; and I appoint an
interview; and I show him my tablets. He must be told, necessarily.
Incidents of this kind come in their turn. If Dudley does not account
himself the luckiest young fellow in the kingdom, he's not worthy of his
good fortune. I wish they were both here now, honeymooning among these
peaks, seeing the crescent over one, as we did last night!'
'Have you an idea, in reading Nesta's letter?'
'Seems indifferent?--mere trick to hide the blushes. And I, too, I'm
interested in Delphica. Delphica and Falarique will be fine stage
business. Of course, Dr. Bouthoin and his curate!--we know what Old
England has to expect from Colney.'
'At any rate, Mr. Durance hurts no one. You will, in your letter,
appoint the day of the interview?'
'Hurts himself! Yes, dearest; appoint for--ten days homeward--eleventh
day from to-day. And you to Fredi: a bit of description--as you can,
my Nataly! Happy to be a dolomite, to be painted by Nataly's pen.'
The sign is evil, when we have a vexatious ringing in the ear of some
small piece of familiar domestic chatter, and subject it to scrutiny,
hang on it, worry and magnify it. What will not creatures under sway of
the sensational life, catch at to emphasize and strengthen distaste,
until distaste shall have a semblance of reason, in the period of the
mind's awakening to revolt! Nataly shrank from the name of dolomite,
detested the name, though the scenes regained their beauty or something
of it beneath her showery vision. Every time Victor spoke of dolomites
on the journey homeward, she had at heart an accusation of her cowardice,
her duplicity, frailty, treachery to the highest of her worship and sole
support of her endurance in the world: not much blaming him: but the
degrading view of herself sank them both. On a shifty soil, down goes
the idol. For him she could plead still, for herself she could not.
The smell of the Channel brine inspirited her sufficiently to cast off
the fit and make it seem, in the main, a bodily depression; owing to
causes, of which she was beginning to have an apprehensive knowledge: and
they were not so fearful to her as the gloom they displaced.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Belief in the narrative by promoting nausea in the audience
Claim for equality puts an end to the priceless privileges
Consent to take life as it is
Dialogue between Nature and Circumstance
Dudley was not gifted to read behind words and looks
Exuberant anticipatory trustfulness
Fell to chatting upon the nothings agreeably and seriously
Greater our successes, the greater the slaves we become
He never explained
How Success derides Ambition!
If only been intellectually a little flexible in his morality
Naturally as deceived as he wished to be
Official wrath at sound of footfall or a fancied one
Optional marriages, broken or renewed every seven years
Pessimy is invulnerable
Repeatedly, in contempt of the disgust of iteration
Satirist is an executioner by profession
Semblance of a tombstone lady beside her lord
The banquet to be fervently remembered, should smoke
The homage we pay him flatters us
We must have some excuse, if we would keep to life