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ONE OF OUR CONQUERERS
By George Meredith
XXV. NATALY IN ACTION
XXVI. IN WHICH WE SEE A CONVENTIONAL GENTLE MAN ENDEAVOURING TO
EXAMINE A SPECTRE OF HIMSELF
XXVII. CONTAINS WHAT IS A SMALL THING OR A GREAT, AS THE SOUL OF THE
CHIEF ACTOR MAY DECIDE
XXVIII. MRS. MARSETT
XXIX. SHOWS ONE OF THE SHADOWS OF THE WORLD CROSSING A VIRGIN'S MIND
XXX. THE BURDEN UPON NESTA
XXXI. SHOWS HOW THE SQUIRES IN A CONQUEROR'S SERVICE HAVE AT TIMES TO
DO KNIGHTLY CONQUEST OF THEMSELVES
XXXII. SHOWS HOW TEMPER MAY KINDLE TEMPER AND AN INDIGNANT WOMAN GET
XXXIII. A PAIR OF WOOERS
XXXIV. CONTAINS DEEDS UNRELATED AND EXPOSITIONS OF FEELINGS
XXXV. IN WHICH AGAIN WE MAKE USE OF THE OLD LAMPS FOR LIGHTING AN
NATALY IN ACTION
A ticket of herald newspapers told the world of Victor's returning to his
London. Pretty Mrs. Blathenoy was Nataly's first afternoon visitor, and
was graciously received; no sign of inquiry for the cause of the lady's
alacrity to greet her being shown. Colney Durance came in, bringing the
rumour of an Australian cantatrice to kindle Europe; Mr. Peridon, a
seeker of tidings from the city of Bourges; Miss Priscilla Graves,
reporting of Skepsey, in a holiday Sunday tone, that his alcoholic
partner might at any moment release him; Mr. Septimus Barmby, with a
hanged heavy look, suggestive of a wharfside crane swinging the ponderous
thing he had to say. 'I have seen Miss Radnor.'
'She was well?' the mother asked, and the grand basso pitched forth an
'Dear sweet girl she is!' Mrs. Blathenoy exclaimed to Colney.
He bowed. 'Very sweet. And can let fly on you, like a haggis, for a
She laughed, glad of an escape from the conversational formalities
imposed on her by this Mrs. Victor Radnor's mighty manner. 'But what
girl worth anything! . . .
We all can do that, I hope, for a scratch!'
Mr. Barmby's Profession dissented.
Mr. Catkin appeared; ten minutes after his Peridon. He had met Victor
near the Exchange, and had left him humming the non fu sogno of ERNANI.
'Ah, when Victor takes to Verdi, it's a flat City, and wants a burst of
drum and brass,' Colney said; and he hummed a few bars of the march in
Attila, and shrugged. He and Victor had once admired that blatancy.
Mr. Pempton appeared, according to anticipation. He sat himself beside
Priscilla. Entered Mrs. John Cormyn, voluminous; Mrs. Peter Yatt,
effervescent; Nataly's own people were about her and she felt at home.
Mrs. Blathenoy pushed a small thorn into it, by speaking of Captain
Fenellan, and aside, as if sharing him with her. Nataly heard that
Dartrey had been the guest of these Blathenoys. Even Dartrey was but a
Rather lower under her voice, the vain little creature asked: 'You knew
The cool counter-interrogation was disregarded. 'So sad! In the desert!
a cup of pure water worth more than barrow-loads of gold! Poor woman!'
'They were married?'
Nataly could have cried: Snake! Her play at brevity had certainly been
foiled. She nodded gravely. A load of dusky wonders and speculations
pressed at her bosom. She disdained to question the mouth which had
Mrs. Blathenoy, resolving, that despite the jealousy she excited, she
would have her friend in Captain Fenellan, whom she liked--liked, she was
sure, quite as innocently as any other woman of his acquaintance did,
departed and she hugged her innocence defiantly, with the mournful pride
which will sometimes act as a solvent.
A remark or two passed among the company upon her pretty face.
Nataly murmured to Colney: 'Is there anything of Dartrey's wife?'
'Dead,' he answered.
'Months back. I had it from Simeon. You didn't hear?'
She shook her head. Her ears buzzed. If he had it from Simeon Fenellan,
Victor must have known it.
Her duties of hostess were conducted with the official smile.
As soon as she stood alone, she dropped on a chair, like one who has
taken a shot in the heart, and that hideous tumult of wild cries at her
ears blankly ceased. Dartrey, Victor, Nesta, were shifting figures of
the might-have-been for whom a wretched erring woman, washed clean of her
guilt by death, in a far land, had gone to her end: vainly gone: and now
another was here, a figure of wood, in man's shape, conjured up by one of
the three, to divide the two others; likely to be fatal to her or to
them: to her, she hoped, if the choice was to be: and beneath the leaden
hope, her heart set to a rapid beating, a fainter, a chill at the core.
She snatched for breath. She shut her eyes, and with open lips, lay
waiting; prepared to thank the kindness about to hurry her hence, out of
the seas of pain, without pain.
Then came sighs. The sad old servant in her bosom was resuming his
But she had been near it--very near it? A gush of pity for Victor,
overwhelmed her hardness of mind.
Unreflectingly, she tried her feet to support her, and tottered to the
door, touched along to the stairs, and descended them, thinking strangely
upon such a sudden weakness of body, when she would no longer have
thought herself the weak woman. Her aim was to reach the library. She
sat on the stairs midway, pondering over the length of her journey: and
now her head was clearer; for she was travelling to get Railway-guides,
and might have had them from the hands of a footman, and imagined that
she had considered it prudent to hide her investigation of those books:
proofs of an understanding fallen backward to the state of infant and
having to begin our drear ascent again.
A slam of the kitchen stair-door restored her. She betrayed no infirmity
of footing as she walked past Arlington in the hall; and she was alive to
the voice of Skepsey presently on the door-steps. Arlington brought her
Victor had written: 'My love, I dine with Blathenoy in the City, at the
Walworth. Business. Skepsey for clothes. Eight of us. Formal. A
thousand embraces. Late.'
Skepsey was ushered in. His wife had expired at noon, he said; and he
postured decorously the grief he could not feel, knowing that a lady
would expect it of him. His wife had fallen down stone steps; she died
in hospital. He wished to say, she was no loss to the country; but he
was advised within of the prudence of abstaining from comment and
trusting to his posture, and he squeezed a drop of conventional
sensibility out of it, and felt improved.
Nataly sent a line to Victor: 'Dearest, I go to bed early, am tired.
Dine well. Come to me in the morning.'
She reproached herself for coldness to poor Skepsey, when he had gone.
The prospect of her being alone until the morning had been so absorbing a
She found a relief also in work at the book of the trains. A walk to the
telegraph-station strengthened her. Especially after despatching a
telegram to Mr. Dudley Sowerby at Cronidge, and one to Nesta at
Moorsedge, did she become stoutly nerved. The former was requested to
meet her at Penhurst station at noon. Nesta was to be at the station for
the Wells at three o'clock.
From the time of the flying of these telegrams, up to the tap of Victor's
knuckle on her bed-room door next morning, she was not more reflectively
conscious than a packet travelling to its destination by pneumatic tube.
Nor was she acutely impressionable to the features and the voice she
'You know of Skepsey?' she said.
'Ah, poor Skepsey!' Victor frowned and heaved.
'One of us ought to stand beside him at the funeral.'
'Colney or Fenellan?'
'I will ask Mr. Durance.'
'Do, my darling.'
'Victor, you did not tell me of Dartrey's wife.'
'There again! They all get released! Yes, Dartrey! Dartrey has his luck
She closed her eyes, with the desire to be asleep.
'You should have told me, dear.'
'Well, my love! Well--poor Dartrey! I fancy I hadn't a confirmation of
the news. I remember a horrible fit of envy on hearing the hint: not
much more than a hint: serious illness, was it?--or expected event.
Hardly worth while to trouble my dear soul, till certain. Anything about
wives, forces me to think of myself--my better self!'
'I had to hear of it first from Mrs. Blathenoy.'
'You've heard of duels in dark rooms:--that was the case between
Blathenoy and me last night for an hour.'
She feigned somnolent fatigue over her feverish weariness of heart. He
kissed her on the forehead.
Her spell-bound intention to speak of Dudley Sowerby to him, was broken
by the sounding of the hall-door, thirty minutes later. She had lain in
Life surged to her with the thought, that she could decide and take her
step. Many were the years back since she had taken a step; less
independently then than now; unregretted, if fatal. Her brain was heated
for the larger view of things and the swifter summing of them. It could
put the man at a remove from her and say, that she had lived with him and
suffered intensely. It gathered him to her breast rejoicing in their
union: the sharper the scourge, the keener the exultation. But she had
one reproach to deafen and beat down. This did not come on her from the
world: she and the world were too much foot to foot on the antagonist's
line, for her to listen humbly. It came of her quick summary survey of
him, which was unnoticed by the woman's present fiery mind as being new
or strange in any way: simply it was a fact she now read; and it directed
her to reproach herself for an abasement beneath his leadership, a blind
subserviency and surrender of her faculties to his greater powers, such
as no soul of a breathing body should yield to man: not to the highest,
not to the Titan, not to the most Godlike of men. Under cloak, they
demand it. They demand their bane.
And Victor! . . . She had seen into him.
The reproach on her was, that she, in her worship, had been slave, not
helper. Scarcely was she irreproachable in the character of slave. If
it had been utter slave! she phrased the words, for a further reproach.
She remembered having at times murmured, dissented. And it would have
been a desperate proud thought to comfort a slave, that never once had
she known even a secret opposition to the will of her lord.
But she had: she recalled instances. Up they rose; up rose everything
her mind ranged over, subsiding immediately when the service was done.
She had not conceived her beloved to be infallible, surest of guides in
all earthly-matters. Her intellect had sometimes protested.
What, then, had moved her to swamp it?
Her heart answered. And that heart also was arraigned: and the heart's
fleshly habitation acting on it besides: so flagellant of herself was
she: covertly, however, and as the chaste among women can consent to let
our animal face them. Not grossly, still perceptibly to her penetrative
hard eye on herself, she saw the senses of the woman under a charm. She
saw, and swam whirling with a pang of revolt from her personal being and
this mortal kind.
Her rational intelligence righted her speedily. She could say in truth,
by proof, she loved the man: nature's love, heart's love, soul's love.
She had given him her life.
It was a happy cross-current recollection, that the very beginning and
spring of this wild cast of her life, issued from something he said and
did (merest of airy gestures) to signify the blessing of life--how good
and fair it is. A drooping mood in her had been struck; he had a look
like the winged lyric up in blue heavens: he raised the head of the young
flower from its contemplation of grave-mould. That was when he had much
to bear: Mrs. Burman present: and when the stranger in their household
had begun to pity him and have a dread of her feelings. The lucent
splendour of his eyes was memorable, a light above the rolling oceans of
She had given him her life, little aid. She might have closely
counselled, wound in and out with his ideas. Sensible of capacity, she
confessed to the having been morally subdued, physically as well; swept
onward; and she was arrested now by an accident, like a waif of the
river-floods by the dip of a branch. Time that it should be! But was
not Mr. Durance, inveighing against the favoured system for the education
of women, right when he declared them to be unfitted to speak an opinion
on any matter external to the household or in a crisis of the household?
She had not agreed with him: he presented stinging sentences, which
irritated more than they enlightened. Now it seemed to her, that the
model women of men make pleasant slaves, not true mates: they lack the
worldly training to know themselves or take a grasp of circumstances.
There is an exotic fostering of the senses for women, not the
strengthening breath of vital common air. If good fortune is with them,
all may go well: the stake of their fates is upon the perpetual smooth
flow of good fortune. She had never joined to the cry of the women. Few
among them were having it in the breast as loudly.
Hard on herself, too, she perceived how the social rebel had reduced her
mind to propitiate a simulacrum, reflected from out, of an enthroned
Society within it, by an advocacy of the existing laws and rules and
habits. Eminently servile is the tolerated lawbreaker: none so
conservative. Not until we are driven back upon an unviolated Nature,
do we call to the intellect to think radically: and then we begin to
think of our fellows.
Or when we have set ourselves in motion direct for the doing of the right
thing: have quitted the carriage at the station, and secured the ticket,
and entered the train, counting the passage of time for a simple rapid
hour before we have eased heart in doing justice to ourself and to
another; then likewise the mind is lighted for radiation. That doing of
the right thing, after a term of paralysis, cowardice--any evil name--
is one of the mighty reliefs, equal to happiness, of longer duration.
Nataly had it. But her mind was actually radiating, and the comfort to
her heart evoked the image of Dartrey Fenellan. She saw a possible
reason for her bluntness to the coming scene with Dudley.
At once she said, No! and closed the curtain; knowing what was behind,
counting it nought. She repeated almost honestly her positive negative.
How we are mixed of the many elements! she thought, as an observer; and
self-justifyingly thought on, and with truth, that duty urged her upon
this journey; and proudly thought, that she had not a shock of the
painful great organ in her breast at the prospect at the end, or any
apprehension of its failure to carry her through.
Yet the need of peace or some solace needed to prepare her for her
interview turned her imagination burningly on Dartrey. She would not
allow herself to meditate over hopes and schemes:--Nesta free: Dartrey
free. She vowed to her soul sacredly--and she was one of those in whom
the Divinity lives, that they may do so--not to speak a word for the
influencing of Dudley save the one fact. Consequently, for a personal
indulgence, she mused; she caressed maternally the object of her musing;
of necessity, she excluded Nesta; but in tenderness she gave Dartrey a
fair one to love him.
The scene was waved away. That one so loving him, partly worthy of him,
ready to traverse the world now beside him--who could it be other than
she who knew and prized his worth? Foolish! It is one of the hatefuller
scourges upon women whenever, a little shaken themselves, they muse upon
some man's image, that they cannot put in motion the least bit of drama
without letting feminine self play a part; generally to develop into a
principal part. . . The apology makes it a melancholy part.
Dartrey's temper of the caged lion dominated by his tamer, served as
keynote for any amount of saddest colouring. He controlled the brute:
but he held the contempt of danger, the love of strife, the passion for
adventure; he had crossed the desert of human anguish. He of all men
required a devoted mate, merited her. Of all men living, he was the
hardest to match with a woman--with a woman deserving him.
The train had quitted London. Now for the country, now for free
breathing! She who two days back had come from Alps, delighted in the
look on flat green fields. It was under the hallucination of her saying
in flight adieu to them, and to England; and, that somewhere hidden, to
be found in Asia, Africa, America, was the man whose ideal of life was
higher than enjoyment. His caged brute of a temper offered opportunities
for delicious petting; the sweetest a woman can bestow: it lifts her out
of timidity into an adoration still palpitatingly fearful. Ah, but
familiarity, knowledge, confirmed assurance of his character, lift her to
another stage, above the pleasures. May she not prove to him how really
matched with him she is, to disdain the pleasures, cheerfully accept the
burdens, meet death, if need be; readily face it as the quietly grey to-
morrow: at least, show herself to her hero for a woman--the incredible
being to most men--who treads the terrors as well as the pleasures of
humanity beneath her feet, and may therefore have some pride in her
stature. Ay, but only to feel the pride of standing not so shamefully
below his level beside him.
Woods were flying past the carriage-windows. Her solitary companion was
of the class of the admiring gentlemen. Presently he spoke. She
answered. He spoke again. Her mouth smiled, and her accompanying look
of abstract benevolence arrested the tentative allurement to
New ideas were set revolving in her. Dartrey and Victor grew to a
likeness; they became hazily one man, and the mingled phantom
complimented her on her preserving a good share of the beauty of her
youth. The face perhaps: the figure rather too well suits the years!
she replied. To reassure her, this Dartrey-Victor drew her close and
kissed her; and she was confused and passed into the breast of Mrs.
Burman expecting an operation at the hands of the surgeons. The train
had stopped. 'Penhurst?' she said.
'Penhurst is the next station,' said the gentleman. Here was a theme for
him! The stately mansion, the noble grounds, and Sidney! He discoursed
The handsome lady appeared interested. She was interested also by his
description of a neighbouring village, likely one hundred years hence to
be a place of pilgrimage for Americans and for Australians. Age, he
said, improves true beauty; and his eyelids indicated a levelling to
perform the soft intentness. Mechanically, a ball rose in her throat;
the remark was illuminated by a saying of Colney's, with regard to his
countrymen at the play of courtship. No laughter came. The gentleman
All fancies and internal communications left her. Slowness of motion
brought her to the plain piece of work she had to do, on a colourless
earth, that seemed foggy; but one could see one's way. Resolution is a
form of light, our native light in this dubious world.
Dudley Sowerby opened her carriage-door. They greeted.
'You have seen Nesta?' she said.
'Not for two days. You have not heard? The Miss Duvidneys have gone to
'They are rather in advance of the Season.'
She thanked him for meeting her. He was grateful for the summons.
Informing the mother of his betrothed, that he had ridden over from
Cronidge, he speculated on the place to select for her luncheon, and he
spoke of his horse being led up and down outside the station. Nataly
inquired for the hour of the next train to London. He called to one of
the porters, obtained and imparted the time; evidently now, as shown by
an unevenness of his lifted brows, expecting news of some little weight.
'Your husband is quite well?' he said, in affection for the name of
'Mr. Radnor is well; I have to speak to you; I have more than time.'
'You will lunch at the inn?'
'I shall not eat. We will walk.'
They crossed the road and passed under trees.
'My mother was to have called on the Miss Duvidneys. They left
hurriedly; I think it was unanticipated by Nesta. I venture . . . you
pardon the liberty . . . she allows me to entertain hopes. Mr.
Radnor, I am hardly too bold in thinking . . . I trust, in appealing
to you . . . at least I can promise!
'Mr. Sowerby, you have done my daughter the honour to ask her hand in
He said: 'I have,' and had much to say besides, but deferred: a blow was
visible. The father had been more encouraging to him than the mother.
'You have not known of any circumstance that might cause hesitation in
'My daughter:--you have to think of your family.'
'Indeed, Mrs. Radnor, I was coming to London tomorrow, with the consent
of my family.'
'You address me as Mrs. Radnor. I have not the legal right to the name.'
'Not legal!' said he, with a catch at the word.
He spun round in her sight, though his demeanour was manfully rigid.
'Have I understood, madam . . . ?'
'You would not request me to repeat it. Is that your horse the man is
'My horse: it must be my horse.'
'Mount and ride back. Leave me: I shall not eat. Reflect, by yourself.
You are in a position of one who is not allowed to decide by his
feelings. Mr. Radnor you know where to find.'
'But surely, some food? I cannot have misapprehended?'
'I cannot eat. I think you have understood me clearly.'
'You wish me to go?'
'It pains me, dear madam.'
'It relieves me, if you will. Here is your horse.'
She gave her hand. He touched it and bent. He looked at her. A surge
of impossible questions rolled to his mouth and rolled back, with the
thought of an incredible thing, that her manner, more than her words,
held him from doubting.
'I obey you,' he said.
'You are kind.'
He mounted horse, raised hat, paced on, and again bowing, to one of the
wayside trees, cantered. The man was gone; but not from Nataly's vision
that face of wet chalk under one of the shades of fire.
IN WHICH WE SEE A CONVENTIONAL GENTLEMAN ENDEAVOURING TO EXAMINE A
SPECTRE OF HIMSELF
Dudley rode back to Cronidge with his thunderstroke. It filled him,
as in those halls of political clamour, where explanatory speech is not
accepted, because of a drowning tide of hot blood on both sides. He
sought to win attention by submitting a resolution, to the effect, that
he would the next morning enter into the presence of Mr. Victor Radnor,
bearing his family's feelings, for a discussion upon them. But the
brutish tumult, in addition to surcharging, encased him: he could not
rightly conceive the nature of feelings: men were driving shoals; he had
lost hearing and touch of individual men; had become a house of angrily
He was hurt, he knew; and therefore he supposed himself injured, though
there were contrary outcries, and he admitted that he stood free; he had
not been inextricably deceived.
The girl was caught away to the thinnest of wisps in a dust-whirl.
Reverting to the father and mother, his idea of a positive injury, that
was not without its congratulations, sank him down among his disordered
deeper sentiments; which were a diver's wreck, where an armoured livid
subtermarine, a monstrous puff-ball of man, wandered seriously light in
heaviness; trembling his hundredweights to keep him from dancing like a
bladder-block of elastic lumber; thinking occasionally, amid the mournful
spectacle, of the atmospheric pipe of communication with the world above,
whereby he was deafened yet sustained. One tug at it, and he was up on
the surface, disengaged from the hideous harness, joyfully no more that
burly phantom cleaving green slime, free! and the roaring stopped; the
world looked flat, foreign, a place of crusty promise. His wreck,
animated by the dim strange fish below, appeared fairer; it winked
lurefully when abandoned.
The internal state of a gentleman who detested intangible metaphor as
heartily as the vulgarest of our gobblegobbets hate it, metaphor only can
describe; and for the reason, that he had in him just something more than
is within the compass of the language of the meat-markets. He had--and
had it not the less because he fain would not have had--sufficient stuff
to furnish forth a soul's epic encounter between Nature and Circumstance:
and metaphor, simile, analysis, all the fraternity of old lamps for
lighting our abysmal darkness, have to be rubbed, that we may get a
glimpse of the fray.
Free, and rejoicing; without the wish to be free; at the same time humbly
and sadly acquiescing in the stronger claim of his family to pronounce
the decision: such was the second stage of Dudley's perturbation after
the blow. A letter of Nesta's writing was in his pocket: he knew her
address. He could not reply to her until he had seen her father: and
that interview remained necessarily prospective until he had come to his
exact resolve, not omitting his critical approval of the sentences giving
it shape, stamp, dignity--a noble's crest, as it were.
Nesta wrote briefly. The apostrophe was, 'Dear Mr. Sowerby.' She had
engaged to send her address. Her father had just gone. The Miss
Duvidneys had left the hotel yesterday for the furnished house facing the
sea. According to arrangements, she had a livery-stable hack, and had
that morning trotted out to the downs with a riding-master and company,
one of whom was 'an agreeable lady.'
He noticed approvingly her avoidance of an allusion to the 'Delphica' of
Mr. Durance's incomprehensible serial story, or whatever it was; which,
as he had shown her, annoyed him, for its being neither fact nor fun; and
she had insisted on the fun; and he had painfully tried to see it or
anything of a meaning; and it seemed to him now, that he had been
humiliated by the obedience to her lead: she had offended by her harping
upon Delphica. However, here it was unmentioned. He held the letter out
to seize it in the large, entire.
Her handwriting was good, as good as the writing of the most agreeable
lady on earth. Dudley did not blame her for letting the lady be deceived
in her--if she knew her position. She might be ignorant of it. And to
strangers, to chance acquaintances, even to friends, the position, of the
loathsome name, was not materially important. Marriage altered the view.
He sided with his family.
He sided, edgeing away, against his family. But a vision of the earldom
coming to him, stirred reverential objections, composed of all which his
unstained family could protest in religion, to repudiate an alliance with
a stained house, and the guilty of a condonation of immorality. Who
would have imagined Mr. Radnor a private sinner flaunting for one of the
righteous? And she, the mother, a lady--quite a lady; having really a
sense of duty, sense of honour! That she must be a lady, Dudley was
convinced. He beheld through a porous crape, woven of formal
respectfulness, with threads of personal disgust, the scene, striking him
drearly like a distant great mansion's conflagration across moorland at
midnight, of a lady's breach of bonds and plunge of all for love. How
had it been concealed? In Dudley's upper sphere, everything was exposed:
Scandal walked naked and unashamed-figurante of the polite world. But
still this lady was of the mint and coin, a true lady. Handsome now, she
must have been beautiful. And a comprehensible pride (for so would
Dudley have borne it) keeps the forsaken man silent up to death: . . .
grandly silent; but the loss of such a woman is enough to kill a man!
Not in time, though! Legitimacy evidently, by the mother's confession,
cannot protect where it is wanted. Dudley was optically affected by a
round spot of the world swinging its shadow over Nesta.
He pitied, and strove to be sensible of her. The effort succeeded so
well, that he was presently striving to be insensible. The former state,
was the mounting of a wall; the latter, was a sinking through a chasm.
There would be family consultations, abhorrent; his father's agonized
amazement at the problem presented to a family of scrupulous principles
and pecuniary requirements; his mother's blunt mention of the abominable
name--mediaevally vindicated in champions of certain princely families
indeed, but morally condemned; always under condemnation of the Church: a
blot: and handed down: Posterity, and it might be a titled posterity,
crying out. A man in the situation of Dudley could not think solely of
himself. The nobles of the land are bound in honour to their posterity.
There you have one of the prominent permanent distinctions between them
and the commonalty.
His mother would again propose her chosen bride for him: Edith Averst,
with the dowry of a present one thousand pounds per annum, and prospect
of six or so, excluding Sir John's estate, Carping, in Leicestershire;
a fair estate, likely to fall to Edith; consumption seized her brothers
as they ripened. A fair girl too; only Dudley did not love her; he
wanted to love. He was learning the trick from this other one, who had
become obscured and diminished, tainted, to the thought of her; yet not
extinct. Sight of her was to be dreaded.
Unguiltily tainted, in herself she was innocent. That constituted the
unhappy invitation to him to swallow one half of his feelings, which had
his world's blessing on it, for the beneficial enlargement and
enthronement of the baser unblest half, which he hugged and distrusted.
Can innocence issue of the guilty? He asked it, hopeing it might be
possible: he had been educated in his family to believe, that the laws
governing human institutions are divine--until History has altered them.
They are altered, to present a fresh bulwark against the infidel. His
conservative mind, retiring in good order, occupied the next rearward
post of resistance. Secretly behind it, the man was proud of having a
heart to beat for the cause of the besiegeing enemy, in the present
instance. When this was blabbed to him, and he had owned it, he
attributed his weakness to excess of nature, the liking for a fair face.
--Oh, but more! spirit was in the sweet eyes. She led him--she did lead
him in spiritual things; led him out of common circles of thought, into
refreshing new spheres; he had reminiscences of his having relished the
juices of the not quite obviously comic, through her indications: and
really, in spite of her inferior flimsy girl's education, she could boast
her acquirements; she was quick, startlingly; modest, too, in commerce
with a slower mind that carried more; though she laughed and was a needle
for humour: she taught him at times to put away his contempt of the
romantic; she had actually shown him, that his expressed contempt of it
disguised a dread: as it did, and he was conscious of the foolishness of
it now while pursuing her image, while his intelligence and senses gave
her the form and glory of young morning.
Wariness counselled him to think it might be merely the play of her
youth; and also the disposition of a man in harness of business,
exaggeratingly to prize an imagined finding of the complementary feminine
of himself. Venerating purity as he did, the question, whether the very
sweetest of pure young women, having such an origin, must not at some
time or other show trace of the origin, surged up. If he could only have
been sure of her moral exemption from taint, a generous ardour, in
reserve behind his anxious dubieties, would have precipitated Dudley to
quench disapprobation and brave the world under a buckler of those
monetary advantages, which he had but stoutly to plead with the House of
Cantor, for the speedy overcoming of a reluctance to receive the nameless
girl and prodigious heiress. His family's instruction of him, and his
inherited tastes, rendered the aspect of a Nature stripped of the
clothing of the laws offensive down to devilish: we grant her certain
steps, upon certain conditions accompanied by ceremonies; and when she
violates them, she becomes visibly again the revolutionary wicked old
beast bent on levelling our sacredest edifices. An alliance with any of
her votaries, appeared to Dudley as an act of treason to his house, his
class, and his tenets. And nevertheless he was haunted by a cry of
criminal happiness for and at the commission of the act.
He would not decide to be 'precipitate,' and the days ran their course,
until Lady Grace Halley arrived at Cronidge, a widow. Lady Cantor spoke
to her of Dudley's unfathomable gloom. Lady Grace took him aside.
She said, without preface: 'You've heard, have you!'
'You were aware of it?' said he, and his tone was irritable with a
'Coming through town, for the first time yesterday. I had it--of all
men!--from a Sir Abraham Quatley, to whom I was recommended to go, about
my husband's shares in a South American Railway; and we talked, and it
came out. He knows; he says, it is not generally known; and he likes,
respects Mr. Victor Radnor; we are to keep the secret. Hum? He had
heard of your pretensions; and our relationship, etc.: "esteemed" it--
you know the City dialect--his duty to mention, etc. That was after I
had spied on his forehead the something I wormed out of his mouth. What
are you going to do?'
'What can I do!'
'Are you fond of the girl?'
An attachment was indicated, as belonging to the case. She was not a
woman to whom the breathing of pastoral passion would be suitable; yet he
saw that she despised him for a lover; and still she professed to
understand his dilemma. Perplexity at the injustice of fate and persons
universally, put a wrinkled mask on his features and the expression of
his feelings. They were torn, and the world was torn; and what he
wanted, was delay, time for him to define his feelings and behold a
recomposed picture of the world. He had already taken six days. He
pleaded the shock to his family.
'You won't have such a chance again,' she said. Shrugs had set in.
They agreed as to the behaviour of the girl's mother. It reflected on
the father, he thought.
'Difficult thing to proclaim, before an engagement!' Her shoulders were
'When a man's feelings get entangled!'
'Oh! a man's feelings! I'm your British Jury for, a woman's.'
'He has married her?'
She declared to not knowing particulars. She could fib smoothly.
The next day she was on the line to London, armed with the proposal of an
appointment for the Hon. Dudley to meet 'the girl's father.'
CONTAINS WHAT IS A SMALL THING OR A GREAT, AS THE SOUL OF THE CHIEF ACTOR
Skepsey ushered Lady Grace into his master's private room, and
entertained her during his master's absence. He had buried his wife, he
said: she feared, seeing his posture of the soaping of hands at one
shoulder, that he was about to bewail it; and he did wish to talk of it,
to show his modest companionship with her in loss, and how a consolation
for our sorrows may be obtained: but he won her approval, by taking the
acceptable course between the dues to the subject and those to his
hearer, as a model cab should drive considerate equally of horse and
A day of holiday at Hampstead, after the lowering of the poor woman's
bones into earth, had been followed by a descent upon London; and at
night he had found himself in the immediate neighbourhood of a public
house, noted for sparring exhibitions and instructions on the first
floor; and he was melancholy, unable quite to disperse 'the ravens'
flocking to us on such days: though, if we ask why we have to go out of
the world, there is a corresponding inquiry, of what good was our coming
into it; and unless we are doing good work for our country, the answer is
not satisfactory--except, that we are as well gone. Thinking which, he
was accosted by a young woman: perfectly respectable, in every way: who
inquired if he had seen a young man enter the door. She described him,
and reviled the temptations of those houses; and ultimately, as she
insisted upon going in to look for the young man and use her persuasions
to withdraw him from 'that snare of Satan,' he had accompanied her, and
he had gone upstairs and brought the young man down. But friends, or the
acquaintances they call friends, were with him, and they were 'in drink,'
and abused the young woman; and she had her hand on the young man's arm,
quoting Scripture. Sad to relate of men bearing the name of Englishmen--
and it was hardly much better if they pleaded intoxication!--they were
not content to tear the young man from her grasp, they hustled her,
pushed her out, dragged her in the street.
'It became me to step to her defence: she was meek,' said Skepsey. 'She
had a great opinion of the efficacy of quotations from Scripture; she did
not recriminate. I was able to release her and the young man she
protected, on condition of my going upstairs to give a display of my
proficiency. I had assured them, that the poor fellows who stood against
me were not a proper match. And of course, they jeered, but they had the
evidence, on the pavement. So I went up with them. I was heavily
oppressed, I wanted relief, I put on the gloves. He was a bigger man;
they laughed at the little one. I told them, it depended upon a
knowledge of first principles, and the power to apply them. I will not
boast, my lady: my junior by ten years, the man went down; he went down a
second time; and the men seemed surprised; I told them, it was nothing
but first principles put into action. I mention the incident, for the
extreme relief it afforded me at the close of a dark day.'
'So you cured your grief !' said Lady Grace; and Skepsey made way for his
Victor's festival-lights were kindled, beholding her; cressets on the
window-sill, lamps inside.
'Am I so welcome?' There was a pull of emotion at her smile. 'What with
your little factotum and you, we are flattered to perdition when we come
here. He has been proposing, by suggestion, like a Court-physician, the
putting on of his boxing-gloves, for the consolation of the widowed:--
meant most kindly! and it's a thousand pities women haven't their padded
'Oh! but our boxing-gloves can do mischief enough. You have something
to say, I see.'
'How do you see?'
The silly ring of her voice and the pathless tattle changed; she talked
to suit her laden look. 'You hit it. I come from Dudley. He knows the
facts. I wish to serve you, in every way.'
Victor's head had lifted.
'Who was it?'
'Her mother. She did rightly!
'Certainly she did,' said Victor, and he thought that instantaneously of
the thing done. 'Oh, then she spoke to him! She has kept it from me.
For now nearly a week--six days--I've seen her spying for something she
expected, like a face behind a door three inches ajar. She has not been
half alive; she refused explanations;--she was expecting to hear from
him, of him:--the decision, whatever it's to be!'
'I can't aid you there,' said Lady Grace. 'He's one of the unreadables.
He names Tuesday next week.'
'By all means.'
'Fredi?--poor Fredi!--ah, my poor girl, yes!--No, she knows nothing.
Here is the truth of it.--she, the legitimate, lives: they say she lives.
Well, then, she lives against all rules physical or medical, lives by
sheer force of will--it's a miracle of the power of a human creature to
. . . I have it from doctors, friends, attendants, they can't guess
what she holds on, to keep her breath. All the happiness in life!--if
only it could benefit her. But it 's the cause of death to us. Do you
see, dear friend;--you are a friend, proved friend,' he took her hand,
and held and pressed it, in great need of a sanguine response to
emphasis; and having this warm feminine hand, his ideas ran off with it.
'The friend I need! You have courage. My Nataly, poor dear--she can
endure, in her quiet way. A woman of courage would take her place beside
me and compel the world to do her homage, help;--a bright ready smile
does it! She would never be beaten. Of course, we could have lived
under a bushel--stifled next to death! But I am for light, air-battle,
if you like. I want a comrade, not a--not that I complain. I respect,
pity, love--I do love her, honour: only, we want something else--courage
--to face the enemy. Quite right, that she should speak to Dudley
Sowerby. He has to know, must know; all who deal closely with us must
know. But see a moment: I am waiting to see the impediment dispersed,
which puts her at an inequality with the world: and then I speak to all
whom it concerns--not before: for her sake. How is it now? Dudley will
ask . . . you understand. And when I am forced to confess, that the
mother, the mother of the girl he seeks in marriage, is not yet in that
state herself, probably at that very instant the obstacle has crumbled to
dust! I say, probably: I have information--doctors, friends, attendants
--they all declare it cannot last outside a week. But you are here--
true, I could swear! a touch of a hand tells me. A woman's hand? Well,
yes: I read by the touch of a woman's hand:--betrays more than her looks
or her lips!' He sank his voice. 'I don't talk of condoling: if you are
in grief, you know I share it.' He kissed her hand, and laid it on her
lap; eyed it, and met her eyes; took a header into her eyes, and lost
himself. A nip of his conscience moved his tongue to say: 'As for guilt,
if it were known . . . a couple of ascetics--absolutely!' But this
was assumed to be unintelligible; and it was merely the apology to his
conscience in communion with the sprite of a petticoated fair one who was
being subjected to tender little liberties, necessarily addressed in
enigmas. He righted immediately, under a perception of the
thoroughbred's contempt for the barriers of wattled sheep; and caught
the word 'guilt,' to hide the Philistine citizen's lapse, by relating
historically, in abridgement, the honest beauty of the passionate loves
of the two whom the world proscribed for honestly loving. There was no
guilt. He harped on the word, to erase the recollection of his first use
'Fiddle,' said Lady Grace. 'The thing happened. You have now to carry
it through. You require a woman's aid in a social matter. Rely on me,
for what I can do. You will see Dudley on Tuesday? I will write. Be
plain with him; not forgetting the gilding, I need not remark. Your
Nesta has no aversion?'
'Admires, respects, likes; is quite--is willing.'
'Good enough beginning.' She rose, for the atmosphere was heated, rather
heavy. 'And if one proves to be of aid, you'll own that a woman has her
place in the battle.'
The fair black-clad widow's quick and singular interwreathing of the
evanescent pretty pouts and frowns dimpled like the brush of the wind on
a sunny pool in a shady place; and her forehead was close below his chin,
her lips not far. Her apparel was attractively mourning.
Widows in mourning, when they do not lean over extremely to the Stygian
shore, with the complexions of the drugs which expedited the defunct to
the ferry, provoke the manly arm within reach of them to pluck their
pathetic blooming persons clean away from it. What of the widow who
visibly likes the living? Compassion; sympathy, impulse; and gratitude,
impulse again, living warmth; and a spring of the blood to wrestle with
the King of Terrors for the other poor harper's half-night capped
Eurydice; and a thirst, sudden as it is overpowering; and the solicitude,
a reflective solicitude, to put the seal on a thing and call it a fact,
to the astonishment of history; and a kick of our naughty youth in its
coffin; all the insurgencies of Nature, with her colonel of the regiment
absent, and her veering trick to drive two vessels at the cross of a
track into collision, combine for doing that, which is very much more,
and which affects us at times so much less than did the pressure of a
soft wedded hand by our own elsewhere pledged one. On the contrary, we
triumph, we have the rich flavour of the fruit for our pains; we
commission the historian to write in hieroglyphs a round big fact.
The lady passed through the trial submitting, stiffening her shoulders,
and at the close, shutting her eyes. She stood cool in her blush, and
eyed him, like one gravely awakened. Having been embraced and kissed,
she had to consider her taste for the man, and acknowledge a neatness
of impetuosity in the deed; and he was neither apologizing culprit nor
glorying-bandit when it was done, but something of the lyric God
tempering his fervours to a pleased sereneness, not offering a renewal
of them. He glowed transparently. He said: 'You are the woman to take
a front place in the battle!' With this woman beside him, it was a
Comparisons, in the jotting souvenirs of a woman of her class and set,
favoured him; for she disliked enterprising libertines and despised
stumbling youths; and the genial simple glow of his look assured her,
that the vanished fiery moment would not be built on by a dating master.
She owned herself. Or did she? Some understanding of how the other
woman had been won to the leap with him, was drawing in about her. She
would have liked to beg for the story; and she could as little do that as
bring her tongue to reproach. If we come to the den! she said to her
thought of reproach. Our semi-civilization makes it a den, where a scent
in his nostrils will spring the half-tamed animal away to wildness. And
she had come unanticipatingly, without design, except perhaps to get a
superior being to direct and restrain a gambler's hand perhaps for the
fee of a temporary pressure.
'I may be able to help a little--I hope!' she fetched a breath to say,
while her eyelids mildly sermonized; and immediately she talked of her
inheritance of property in stocks and shares.
Victor commented passingly on the soundness of them, and talked of
projects he entertained:--Parliament! 'But I have only to mention it at
home, and my poor girl will set in for shrinking.'
He doated on the diverse aspect of the gallant woman of the world.
'You succeed in everything you do,' said she, and she cordially believed
it; and that belief set the neighbour memory palpitating. Success folded
her waist, was warm upon her lips: she worshipped the figure of Success.
'I can't consent to fail, it's true, when my mind is on a thing,' Victor
He looked his mind on Lady Grace. The shiver of a maid went over her.
These transparent visages, where the thought which is half design is
perceived as a lightning, strike lightning into the physically feebler.
Her hand begged, with the open palm, her head shook thrice; and though
she did not step back, he bowed to the negation, and then she gave him a
grateful shadow of a smile, relieved, with a startled view of how greatly
relieved, by that sympathetic deference in the wake of the capturing
'I am to name Tuesday for Dudley?' she suggested.
'At any hour he pleases to appoint.'
'A visit signifies . . .'
'Whatever it signifies!'
'I'm thinking of the bit of annoyance.'
'To me? Anything appointed, finds me ready the next minute.'
Her smile was flatteringly bright. 'By the way, keep your City people
close about you: entertain as much as possible; dine them,' she said.
'Better. Sir Rodwell Blachington, Sir Abraham Quatley: and their wives.
There's no drawing back now. And I will meet them.'
She received a compliment. She was on the foot to go.
But she had forgotten the Tiddler mine.
The Tiddler mine was leisurely mounting. Victor stated the figures; he
saluted her hand, and Lady Grace passed out, with her heart on the top of
them, and a buzz about it of the unexpected having occurred She had her
experiences to match new patterns in events; though not very many.
Compared with gambling, the game of love was an idle entertainment.
Compared with other players, this man was gifted.
Victor went in to Mr. Inchling's room, and kept Inchling from speaking,
that he might admire him for he knew not what, or knew not well what.
The good fellow was devoted to his wife. Victor in old days had called
the wife Mrs. Grundy. She gossiped, she was censorious; she knew--could
not but know--the facts; yet never by a shade was she disrespectful. He
had a curious recollection of how his knowledge of Inchling and his wife
being always in concert, entirely--whatever they might think in private
--devoted to him in action, had influenced, if it had not originally
sprung, his resolve to cast off the pestilential cloak of obscurity
shortening his days, and emerge before a world he could illumine to give
him back splendid reflections. Inchling and his wife, it was: because
the two were one: and if one, and subservient to him, knowing all the
story, why, it foreshadowed a conquered world.
They were the one pulse of the married Grundy beating in his hand. So it
He rattled his views upon Indian business, to hold Inchling silent, and
let his mind dwell almost lovingly on the good faithful spouse, who had
no phosphorescent writing of a recent throbbing event on the four walls
of his room.
Nataly was not so generously encountered in idea.
He felt and regretted this. He greeted her with a doubled
affectionateness. Her pitiable deficiency of courage, excusing a man for
this and that small matter in the thick of the conflict, made demands on
him for gentle treatment.
'You have not seen any one?' she asked.
'City people. And you, my love?'
'Mr. Barmby called. He has gone down to Tunbridge Wells for a week, to
some friend there.' She added, in pain of thought: 'I have seen Dartrey.
He has brought Lord Clanconan to town, for a consultation, and expects he
will have to take him to Brighton.'
'Brighton? What a life for a man like Dartrey, at Brighton!'
Her breast heaved. 'If I cannot see my Nesta there, he will bring her up
to me for a day:
'But, my dear, I will bring her up to you, if it is your wish to see
'It is becoming imperative that I should.'
'No hurry, no hurry: wait till the end of next week. And I must see
Dartrey, on business, at once!'
She gave the address in a neighbouring square. He had minutes to spare
before dinner, and flew. She was not inquisitive.
Colney Durance had told Dartrey that Victor was killing her. She had
little animation; her smiles were ready, but faint. After her interview
with Dudley, there had been a swoon at home; and her maid, sworn to
secrecy, willingly spared a tender-hearted husband--so good a master.
Little acts of kindness were not beyond the range of Colney Durance,
and he ran down to Brighton, to give the exiled Nesta some taste of her
friendly London circle. The Duvidney ladies knew that the dreaded
gentleman had a regard for the girl. Their own, which was becoming
warmer than they liked to think, was impressed by his manner of
conversing with her. 'Child though she was,' he paid her the compliment
of a sober as well as a satirical review of the day's political matter
and recent publications; and the ladies were introduced, in a wonderment,
to the damsel Delphica. They listened placidly to a discourse upon her
performances, Japanese to their understandings.
At New York, behold, another adventurous representative and advocate
of the European tongues has joined the party: Signor Jeridomani: a
philologer, of course; a politician in addition; Macchiavelli redivivus,
it seems to fair Delphica. The speech he delivers at the Syndicate
Delmonico Dinner, is justly applauded by the New York Press as a
masterpiece of astuteness. He appears to be the only one of the party
who has an eye for the dark. She fancies she may know a more widely
awake in the abstract. But now, thanks to jubilant Journals and Homeric
laughter over the Continent, the secret is out, in so far as the
concurrents are all unmasked and exposed for the edification of the
American public. Dr. Bouthoin's eyebrows are up, Mr. Semhians disfigures
his name by greatly gaping. Shall they return to their Great Britain
indignant? Patriotism, with the sauce of a luxurious expedition at no
cost to the private purse, restrains them. Moreover, there is no sign of
any one of the others intending to quit the expedition; and Mr. Semhians
has done a marvel or two in the cricket-field: Old England looks up where
she can. What is painfully extraordinary to our couple, they find in the
frigid attitude of the Americans toward their 'common tongue'; together
with the rumour of a design to despatch an American rival emissary to
Nesta listened, inquired, commented, laughed; the ladies could not have a
doubt that she was interested and understood. She would have sketches of
scenes between Delphica and M. Falarique, with whom the young Germania
was cleverly ingenuous indeed--a seminary Celimene; and between Delphica
and M. Mytharete, with whom she was archaeological, ravishingly amoebaean
of Homer. Dr. Gannius holds a trump card in his artless daughter,
conjecturally, for the establishment of the language of the gutturals in
the far East. He has now a suspicion, that the inventive M. Falarique,
melted down to sobriety by misfortune, may some day startle their camp by
the cast of more than a crow into it, and he is bent on establishing
alliances; frightens the supple Signor Jeridomani to lingual fixity;
eulogizes Football, with Dr. Bouthoin; and retracts, or modifies, his
dictum upon the English, that, 'masculine brawn they have in their
bodies, but muscle they have not in their feminine minds'; to exalt them,
for a signally clean, if a dense, people: 'Amousia, not Alousia, is their
enemy:'--How, when we have the noblest crop of poets? 'You have never
heartily embraced those aliens among you until you learnt from us, that
you might brag of them.'--Have they not endowed us with the richest of
languages? 'The words of which are used by you, as old slippers, for
puns.' Mr. Semhians has been superciliously and ineffectively punning in
foreign presences: he and his chief are inwardly shocked by a new
perception; What if, now that we have the populace for paymaster,
subservience to the literary tastes of the populace should reduce the
nation to its lowest mental level, and render us not only unable to
compete with the foreigner, but unintelligible to him, although so
proudly paid at home! Is it not thus that nations are seen of the
Highest to be devouring themselves?
'For,' says Dr. Gannius, as if divining them, 'this excessive and
applauded productiveness, both of your juvenile and your senile,
in your modern literature, is it ever a crop? Is it even the restorative
perishable stuff of the markets? Is it not rather your street-pavement's
patter of raindrops, incessantly in motion, and as fruitful?'
Mr. Semhians appeals to Delphica. 'Genius you have,' says she,
stiffening his neck-band, 'genius in superabundance':--he throttles to
the complexion of the peony:--'perhaps criticism is wanting.' Dr.
Gannius adds: 'Perhaps it is the drill-sergeant everywhere wanting for an
unrivalled splendid rabble!'
Colney left the whole body of concurrents on the raised flooring of a
famous New York Hall, clearly entrapped, and incited to debate before
an enormous audience, as to the merits of their respective languages.
'I hear,' says Dr. Bouthoin to Mr. Semhians (whose gape is daily
extending), 'that the tickets cost ten dollars!'
There was not enough of Delphicafor Nests.
Colney asked: 'Have you seen any of our band?'
'No,' she said, with good cheer, and became thoughtful, conscious of a
funny reason for the wish to hear of the fictitious creature disliked by
Dudley. A funny and a naughty reason, was it? Not so very naughty: but
it was funny; for it was a spirit of opposition to Dudley, without an
inferior feeling at all, such as girls should have.
Colney brought his viola for a duet; they had a pleasant musical evening,
as in old days at Creckholt; and Nesta, going upstairs with the ladies to
bed, made them share her father's amused view of the lamb of the flock
this bitter gentleman became when he had the melodious instrument tucked
under his chin. He was a guest for the night. Dressing in the early
hour, Nests saw him from her window on the parade, and soon joined him,
to hear him at his bitterest, in the flush of the brine. 'These lengths
of blank-faced terraces fronting sea!' were the satirist's present black
beast. 'So these moneyed English shoulder to the front place; and that
is the appearance they offer to their commercial God!' He gazed along
the miles of 'English countenance,' drearily laughing. Changeful ocean
seemed to laugh at the spectacle. Some Orphic joke inspired his
'Come where the shops are,' said Nesta.
'And how many thousand parsons have you here?'
'Ten, I think,' she answered in his vein, and warmed him; leading him
contemplatively to scrutinize her admirers: the Rev. Septimus; Mr.
'News of our friend of the whimpering flute?'
'Here? no. I have to understand you!'
Colney cast a weariful look backward on the 'regiments of Anglo-Chinese'
represented to him by the moneyed terraces, and said: 'The face of a
stopped watch!--the only meaning it has is past date.'
He had no liking for Dudley Sowerby. But it might have been an allusion
to the general view of the houses. But again, 'the meaning of it past
date,' stuck in her memory. A certain face close on handsome, had a
fatal susceptibility to caricature.
She spoke of her 'exile': wanted Skepsey to come down to her; moaned over
the loss of her Louise. The puzzle of the reason for the long separation
from her parents, was evident in her mind, and unmentioned.
They turned on to the pier.
Nesta reminded him of certain verses he had written to celebrate her
visit to the place when she was a child:
'"And then along the pier we sped,
And there we saw a Whale
He seemed to have a Normous Head,
And not a bit of Tail!"'
'Manifestly a foreigner to our shores, where the exactly inverse
condition rules,' Colney said.
'"And then we scampered on the beach,
To chase the foaming wave;
And when we ran beyond its reach
We all became more brave."'
Colney remarked: 'I was a poet--for once.'
A neat-legged Parisianly-booted lady, having the sea, winds very
enterprising with her dark wavy, locks and jacket and skirts, gave a cry
of pleasure and--a silvery 'You dear!' at sight of Nesta; then at sight
of one of us, moderated her tone to a propriety equalling the most
conventional. 'We ride to-day?'
'I shall be one,' said Nesta.
'It would not be the commonest pleasure to me, if you were absent.'
'Till eleven, then!'
'After my morning letter to Ned.'
She sprinkled silvery sound on that name or on the adieu, blushed,
blinked, frowned, sweetened her lip-lines, bit at the underone, and
passed in a discomposure.
'The lady?' Colney asked.
'She is--I meet her in the troop conducted by the riding-master: Mrs.
'And who is Ned?'
'It is her husband, to whom she writes every morning. He is a captain in
the army, or was. He is in Norway, fishing.'
'Then the probability is, that the English officer continues his military
'Do you not think her handsome, Mr. Durance?'
'Ned may boast of his possession, when he has trimmed it and toned it a
'She is different, if you are alone with her.'
'It is not unusual,' said Colney.
At eleven o'clock he was in London, and Nesta rode beside Mrs. Marsett
amid the troop.
A South-easterly wind blew the waters to shifty goldleaf prints of
brilliance under the sun.
'I took a liberty this morning, I called you "Dear" this morning,' the
lady said. 'It's what I feel, only I have no right to blurt out
everything I feel, and I was ashamed. I am sure I must have appeared
ridiculous. I got quite nervous.'
'You would not be ridiculous to me.'
'I remember I spoke of Ned!
'You have spoken of him before.'
'Oh! I know: to you alone. I should like to pluck out my heart and
pitch it on the waves, to see whether it would sink or swim. That's a
funny idea, isn't it! I tell you everything that comes up. What shall
I do when I lose you! You always make me feel you've a lot of poetry
ready-made in you.'
'We will write. And you will have your husband then.'
'When I had finished my letter to Ned, I dropped my head on it and
behaved like a fool for several minutes. I can't bear the thought of
'But you don't lose me,' said Nesta; 'there is no ground for your
supposing that you will. And your wish not to lose me, binds me to you
'If you knew!' Mrs. Marsett caught at her slippery tongue, and she
carolled: 'If we all knew everything, we should be wiser, and what a
naked lot of people we should be!'
They were crossing the passage of a cavalcade of gentlemen, at the end of
the East Cliff. One among them, large and dominant, with a playful voice
of brass, cried out:
'And how do you do, Mrs. Judith Marsett--ha? Beautiful morning?'
Mrs. Marsett's figure tightened; she rode stonily erect, looked level
ahead. Her woman's red mouth was shut fast on a fighting underlip.
'He did not salute you,' Nesta remarked, to justify her for not having
The lady breathed a low thunder: 'Coward!'
'He cannot have intended to insult you,' said Nesta.
'That man knows I will not notice him. He is a beast. He will learn
that I carry a horsewhip.'
'Are you not taking a little incident too much to heart?'
The sigh of the heavily laden came from Mrs. Marsett.
'Am I pale? I dare say. I shall go on my knees tonight hating myself
that I was born "one of the frail sex." We are, or we should ride at the
coward and strike him to the ground. Pray, pray do not look distressed!
Now you know my Christian name. That dog of a man barks it out on the
roads. It doesn't matter.'
'He has offended you before?'
'You are near me. They can't hurt me, can't touch me, when I think that
I 'm talking with you. How I envy those who call you by your Christian
'Nesta,' said smiling Nesta. The smile was forced, that she might show
kindness, for the lady was jarring on her.
Mrs. Marsett opened her lips: 'Oh, my God, I shall be crying!--let's
gallop. No, wait, I'll tell you. I wish I could! I will tell you of
that man. That man is Major Worrell. One of the majors who manage to
get to their grade. A retired warrior. He married a handsome woman,
above him in rank, with money; a good woman. She was a good woman, or
she would have had her vengeance, and there was never a word against her.
She must have loved that--Ned calls him, full-blooded ox. He spent her
money and he deceived her.--You innocent! Oh, you dear! I'd give the
world to have your eyes. I've heard tell of "crystal clear," but eyes
like yours have to tell me how deep and clear. Such a world for them to
be in! I did pray, and used your name last night on my knees, that you
--I said Nesta--might never have to go through other women's miseries.
Ah me! I have to tell you he deceived her. You don't quite understand.'
'I do understand,' said Nesta.
'God help you!--I am excited to-day. That man is poison to me. His wife
forgave him three times. On three occasions, that unhappy woman forgave
him. He is great at his oaths, and a big breaker of them. She walked
out one November afternoon and met him riding along with a notorious
creature. You know there are bad women. They passed her, laughing. And
look there, Nesta, see that groyne; that very one.' Mrs. Marsett pointed
her whip hard out. 'The poor lady went down from the height here; she
walked into that rough water look!--steadying herself along it, and she
plunged; she never came out alive. A week after her burial, Major
Worrell--I 've told you enough.'
'We 'll gallop now,' said Nesta.
Mrs. Marsett's talk, her presence hardly less, affected the girl with
those intimations of tumult shown upon smooth waters when the great
elements are conspiring. She felt that there was a cause why she had to
pity, did pity her. It might be, that Captain Marsett wedded one who was
of inferior station,' and his wife had to bear blows from cruel people.
The supposition seemed probable. The girl accepted it; for beyond it, as
the gathering of the gale masked by hills, lay a brewing silence. What?
She did not reflect. Her quick physical sensibility curled to some
breath of heated atmosphere brought about her by this new acquaintance:
not pleasant, if she had thought of pleasure: intensely suggestive of our
life at the consuming tragic core, round which the furnace pants. But
she was unreflecting, feeling only a beyond and hidden.
Besides, she was an exile. Spelling at dark things in the dark, getting
to have the sight which peruses darkness, she touched the door of a
mystery that denied her its key, but showed the lock; and her life was
beginning to know of hours that fretted her to recklessness. Her friend
Louise was absent: she had so few friends--owing to that unsolved reason:
she wanted one, of any kind, if only gentle: and this lady seemed to need
her: and she flattered; Nesta was in the mood for swallowing and
digesting and making sweet blood of flattery.
At one time, she liked Mrs. Marsett best absent: in musing on her,
wishing her well, having said the adieu. For it was wearisome to hear
praises of 'innocence'; and women can do so little to cure that
'wickedness of men,' among the lady's conversational themes; and 'love'
too: it may be a 'plague,' and it may be 'heaven': it is better left
unspoken of. But there were times when Mrs. Marsett's looks and tones
touched compassion to press her hand: an act that had a pledgeing
signification in the girl's bosom: and when, by the simple avoidance of
ejaculatory fervours, Mrs. Marsett's quieted good looks had a shadow of a
tender charm, more pathetic than her outcries were.
These had not always the sanction of polite usage: and her English was
guilty of sudden lapses to the Thameswater English of commerce and
drainage instead of the upper wells. But there are many uneducated
ladies in the land. Many, too, whose tastes in romantic literature
betray now and then by peeps a similarity to Nesta's maid Mary's. Mrs.
Marsett liked love, blood, and adventure. She had, moreover, a favourite
noble poet, and she begged Nesta's pardon for naming him, and she would
not name him, and told her she must not read him until she was a married
woman, because he did mischief to girls. Thereupon she fell into one of
her silences, emerging with a cry of hate of herself for having ever read
him. She did not blame the bard. And, ah, poor bard! he fought his
battle: he shall not be named for the brand on the name. He has lit a
sulphur match for the lover of nature through many a generation; and to
be forgiven by sad frail souls who could accuse him of pipeing devil's
agent to them at the perilous instant--poor girls too!--is chastisement
enough. This it is to be the author of unholy sweets: a Posterity
sitting in judgement will grant, that they were part of his honest battle
with the hypocrite English Philistine, without being dupe of the plea or
at all the thirsty swallower of his sugary brandy. Mrs. Marsett
expressed aloud her gladness of escape in never having met a man like
him; followed by her regret that 'Ned' was so utterly unlike; except
'perhaps'--and she hummed; she was off on the fraternity in wickedness.
Nesta's ears were fatigued. 'My mother writes of you,' she said, to vary
Mrs. Marsett looked. She sighed downright: 'I have had my dream of a
friend!--It was that gentleman with you on the pier! Your mother
'She has inquired, nothing more.'
'I am not twenty-three: not as old as I should be, for a guide to you.
I know I would never do you harm. That I know. I would walk into that
water first, and take Mrs. Worrell's plunge:--the last bath; a thorough
cleanser for a woman! Only, she was a good woman and didn't want it, as
we--as lots of us do:--to wash off all recollection of having met a man!
Your mother would not like me to call you Nesta! I have never begged you
to call me Judith. Damnable name!' Mrs. Marsett revelled in the heat of
the curse on it, as a relief to torture of the breast, until a sense of
the girl's alarmed hearing sent the word reverberating along her nerves
and shocked her with such an exposure of our Shaggy wild one on a lady's
lips. She murmured: 'Forgive me,' and had the passion to repeat the
epithet in shrieks, and scratch up male speech for a hatefuller; but the
twitch of Nesta's brows made her say: 'Do pardon me. I did something in
Scripture. Judith could again. Since that brute Worrell crossed me
riding with you, I loathe my name; I want to do things. I have offended
'We have been taught differently. I do not use those words. Nothing
'They frighten you.'
'They make me shut; that is all.'
'Supposing you were some day to discover . . . ta-tata, all the things
there are in the world.' Mrs. Marsett let fly an artificial chirrup.
'You must have some ideas of me.'
'I think you have had unhappy experiences.'
'Nesta . . . just now and then! the first time we rode out together,
coming back from the downs, I remember, I spoke, without thinking--I was
enraged--of a case in the newspapers; and you had seen it, and you were
not afraid to talk of it. I remember I thought, Well, for a girl, she's
bold! I thought you knew more than a girl ought to know: until--you did
--you set my heart going. You spoke of the poor women like an angel of
compassion. You said, we were all mixed up with their fate--I forget the
words. But no one ever heard in Church anything that touched me so.
I worshipped you. You said, you thought of them often, and longed to
find out what you could do to help. And I thought, if they could hear
you, and only come near you, as I was--ah, my heaven! Unhappy
experiences? Yes. But when men get women on the slope to their
perdition, they have no mercy, none. They deceive, and they lie; they
are false in acts and words; they do as much as murder. They're never
hanged for it. They make the Laws! And then they become fathers of
families, and point the finger at the "wretched creatures." They have a
dozen names against women, for one at themselves.'
'It maddens me at times to think . . . !' said Nesta, burning with the
sting of vile names.
Oh, there are bad women as well as bad men: but men have the power and
the lead, and they take advantage of it; and then they turn round and
execrate us for not having what they have robbed us of!'
'I blame women--if I may dare, at my age,' said Nesta, and her bosom
heaved. 'Women should feel for their sex; they should not allow the
names; they should go among their unhappier sisters. At the worst, they
are sisters! I am sure, that fallen cannot mean--Christ shows it does
not. He changes the tone of Scripture. The women who are made outcasts,
must be hopeless and go to utter ruin. We should, if we pretend to be
better, step between them and that. There cannot be any goodness unless
it is a practiced goodness. Otherwise it is nothing more than paint on
canvas. You speak to me of my innocence. What is it worth, if it is
only a picture and does no work to help to rescue? I fear I think most
of the dreadful names that redden and sicken us.--The Old Testament!--
I have a French friend, a Mademoiselle Louise de Seines--you should hear
her: she is intensely French, and a Roman Catholic, everything which we
are not: but so human, so wise, and so full of the pride of her sex!
I love her. It is love. She will never marry until she meets a man who
has the respect for women, for all women. We both think we cannot
separate ourselves from our sisters. She seems to me to wither men, when
she speaks of their injustice, their snares to mislead and their cruelty
when they have succeeded. She is right, it is the--brute: there is no
'And French and good!' Mrs. Marsett ejaculated. 'My Ned reads French
novels, and he says, their women . . . . But your mademoiselle is a
real one. If she says all that, I could kneel to her, French or not.
Does she talk much about men and women?'
'Not often: we lose our tempers. She wants women to have professions;
at present they have not much choice to avoid being penniless. Poverty,
and the sight of luxury! It seems as if we produced the situation,
to create an envious thirst, and cause the misery. Things are improving
for them; but we groan at the slowness of it.'
Mrs. Marsett now declared a belief, that women were nearly quite as bad
as men. 'I don't think I could take up with a profession. Unless to be
a singer. Ah! Do you sing?'
Nesta smiled: 'Yes, I sing.'
'How I should like to hear you! My Ned's a thorough Englishman--
gentleman, you know: he cares only for sport; Shooting, Fishing, Hunting;
and Football, Cricket, Rowing, and matches. He's immensely proud of
England in those things. And such muscle he has! though he begins to
fancy his heart's rather weak. It's digestion, I tell him. But he takes
me to the Opera sometimes--Italian Opera; he can't stand German. Down at
his place in Leicestershire, he tells me, when there 's company, he has--
I'm sure you sing beautifully. When I hear beautiful singing, even from
a woman they tell tales of, upon my word, it's true, I feel my sins all
melting out of me and I'm new-made: I can't bear Ned to speak. Would you
one day, one afternoon, before the end of next week?--it would do me such
real good, you can't guess how much; if I could persuade you! I know I'm
asking something out of rules. For just half an hour: I judge by your
voice in talking. Oh! it would do me good-good-good to hear you sing.
There is a tuned piano--a cottage; I don't think it sounds badly. You
would not see any great harm in calling on me? once!'
'No,' said Nesta. And it was her nature that projected the word. Her
awakened wits were travelling to her from a distance, and she had an
intimation of their tidings; and she could not have said what they were;
or why, for a moment, she hesitated to promise she would come. Her
vision of the reality of things was without written titles, to put
the stamp of the world on it. She felt this lady to be one encompassed
and in the hug of the elementary forces, which are the terrors to
inexperienced pure young women. But she looked at her, and dared trust
those lips, those eyes. She saw, through whatever might be the vessel,
the spirit of the woman; as the upper nobility of our brood are enabled
to do in a crisis mixed of moral aversion and sisterly sympathy, when
nature cries to them, and the scales of convention, the mud-spots of
accident, even naughtiness, even wickedness, all misfortune's issue, if
we but see the one look upward, fall away. Reason is not excluded from
these blind throbs of a blood that strikes to right the doings of the
Fates. Nesta did not err in her divination of the good and the bad
incarnate beside her, though both good and bad were behind a curtain; the
latter sparing her delicate senses, appealing to chivalry, to the simply
feminine claim on her. Reason, acting in her heart as a tongue of the
flames of the forge where we all are wrought, told her surely that the
good predominated. She had the heart which is at our primal fires when
She gave the promise to call on Mrs. Marsett and sing to her.
'An afternoon? Oh! what afternoon?' she was asked, and she said: 'This
afternoon, if you like.'
So it was agreed: Mrs. Marsett acted violently the thrill of delight she
felt in the prospect.
The ladies Dorothea and Virginia, consulted, and pronounced the name of
Marsett to be a reputable County name. 'There was a Leicestershire
baronet of the name of Marsett.' They arranged to send their button-
blazing boy at Nesta's heels. Mrs. Marsett resided in a side-street not
very distant from the featureless but washed and orderly terrace of the
glassy stare at sea.
SHOWS ONE OF THE SHADOWS OF THE WORLD CROSSING A VIRGIN'S MIND
Nasta and her maid were brought back safely through the dusk by their
constellation of a boy, to whom the provident ladies had entrusted her.
They could not but note how short her syllables were. Her face was only
partly seen. They had returned refreshed from their drive on the
populous and orderly parade---so fair a pattern of their England!--after
discoursing of 'the dear child,' approving her manners, instancing proofs
of her intelligence, nay, her possession of 'character.' They did so,
notwithstanding that these admissions were worse than their growing love
for the girl, to confound established ideas. And now, in thoughtfulness
on her behalf, Dorothea said, 'We have considered, Nesta, that you may
be lonely; and if it is your wish, we will leave our card on your new
acquaintance.' Nesta took her hand and kissed it; she declined, saying,
'No,' without voice.
They had two surprises at the dinner-hour. One was the card of Dartrey
Fenellan, naming an early time next day for his visit; and the other was
the appearance of the Rev. Stuart Rem, a welcome guest. He had come to
meet his Bishop.
He had come also with serious information for the ladies, regarding the
Rev. Abram Posterley. No sooner was this out of his mouth than both
'Again!' So serious was it, that there had been a consultation at the
Wells; Mr. Posterley's friend, the Rev. Septimus Barmby, and his own
friend, the Rev. Groseman Buttermore, had journeyed from London to sit
upon the case: and, 'One hoped,' Mr. Stuart Rem said, 'poor Posterley
would be restored to the senses he periodically abandoned.' He laid a
hand on Tasso's curls, and withdrew it at a menace of teeth. Tasso would
submit to rough caresses from Mr. Posterley; he would not allow Mr.
Stuart Rem to touch him. Why was that? Perhaps for the reason of Mr.
Posterley's being so emotional as perpetually to fall a victim to some
bright glance and require the rescue of his friends; the slave of woman
had a magnet for animals!
Dorothea and Virginia were drawn to compassionate sentiments, in spite
of the provokeing recurrence of Mr. Posterley's malady. He had not an
income to support a wife. Always was this unfortunate gentleman
entangling himself in a passion for maid or widow of the Wells and it was
desperate, a fever. Mr. Stuart Rem charitably remarked on his taking it
so severely because of his very scrupulous good conduct. They pardoned a
little wound to their delicacy, and asked: 'On this occasion?' Mr. Stuart
Rem named a linendraper's establishment near the pantiles, where a fair
young woman served. 'And her reputation?' That was an article less
presentable through plate-glass, it seemed: Mr. Stuart Rem drew a
prolonged breath into his nose.
'It is most melancholy!' they said in unison. 'Nothing positive,' said
he. 'But the suspicion of a shadow, Mr. Stuart Rem! You will not permit
it?' He stated, that his friend Buttermore might have influence.
Dorothea said: 'When I think of Mr. Posterley's addiction to ceremonial
observances, and to matrimony, I cannot but think of a sentence that fell
from Mr. Durance one day, with reference to that division of our Church:
he called it:--you frown! and I would only quote Mr. Durance to you in
support of your purer form, as we hold it to be--with the candles, the
vestments, Confession, alas! he called it, "Rome and a wife."'
Mr. Stuart Rem nodded an enforced assent: he testily dismissed mention of
Mr. Durance, and resumed on Mr. Posterley.
The good ladies now, with some of their curiosity appeased, considerately
signified to him, that a young maiden was present.
The young maiden had in heart stuff to render such small gossip a hum of
summer midges. She did not imagine the dialogue concerned her in any
way. She noticed Mr. Stuart Rem's attentive scrutiny of her from time to
time. She had no sensitiveness, hardly a mind for things about her.
To-morrow she was to see Captain Dartrey. She dwelt on that prospect,
for an escape from the meshes of a painful hour--the most woeful of the
hours she had yet known-passed with Judith Marsett: which dragged her
soul through a weltering of the deeps, tossed her over and over, still
did it with her ideas. It shocked her nevertheless to perceive how much
of the world's flayed life and harsh anatomy she had apprehended, and so
coldly, previous to Mrs. Marsett's lift of the veil in her story of
herself: a skipping revelation, terrible enough to the girl; whose
comparison of the previously suspected things with the things now
revealed imposed the thought of her having been both a precocious and a
callous young woman: a kind of 'Delphica without the erudition,' her mind
phrased it airily over her chagrin.--And the silence of Dudley proved him
to have discovered his error in choosing such a person--he was wise, and
she thanked him. She had an envy of the ignorant-innocents adored by the
young man she cordially thanked for quitting her. She admired the white
coat of armour they wore, whether bestowed on them by their constitution
or by prudence. For while combating mankind now on Judith Marsett's
behalf, personally she ran like a hare from the mere breath of an
association with the very minor sort of similar charges; ardently she
desired the esteem of mankind; she was at moments abject. But had she
actually been aware of the facts now known?
Those wits of the virgin young, quickened to shrewdness by their budding
senses--and however vividly--require enlightenment of the audible and
visible before their sterner feelings can be heated to break them away
from a blushful dread and force the mind to know. As much as the
wilfully or naturally blunted, the intelligently honest have to learn by
touch: only, their understandings cannot meanwhile be so wholly obtuse as
our society's matron, acting to please the tastes of the civilized man--
a creature that is not clean-washed of the Turk in him--barbarously
exacts. The signor aforesaid is puzzled to read the woman, who is after
all in his language; but when it comes to reading the maiden, she appears
as a phosphorescent hieroglyph to some speculative Egyptologer; and he
insists upon distinct lines and characters; no variations, if he is to
have sense of surety. Many a young girl is misread by the amount she
seems to know of our construction, history, and dealings, when it is not
more than her sincere ripeness of nature, that has gathered the facts of
life profuse about her, and prompts her through one or other of the
instincts, often vanity, to show them to be not entirely strange to her;
or haply her filly nature is having a fling at the social harness of
hypocrisy. If you (it is usually through the length of ears of your
Novelist that the privilege is yours) have overheard queer communications
passing between girls, and you must act the traitor eavesdropper or
Achilles masquerader to overhear so clearly, these, be assured, are not
specially the signs of their corruptness. Even the exceptionally cynical
are chiefly to be accused of bad manners. Your Moralist is a myopic
preacher, when he stamps infamy, on them, or on our later generation, for
the kick they have at grandmother decorum, because you do not or cannot
conceal from them the grinning skeleton behind it.
Nesta once had dreams of her being loved: and she was to love in return
for a love that excused her for loving double, treble; as not her lover
could love, she thought with grateful pride in the treasure she was to
pour out at his feet; as only one or two (and they were women) in the
world had ever loved. Her notion of the passion was parasitic: man the
tree, woman the bine: but the bine was flame to enwind and to soar,
serpent to defend, immortal flowers to crown. The choice her parents had
made for her in Dudley, behind the mystery she had scent of, nipped her
dream, and prepared her to meet, as it were, the fireside of a November
day instead of springing up and into the dawn's blue of full summer with
swallows on wing. Her station in exile at the Wells of the weariful
rich, under the weight of the sullen secret, unenlivened by Dudley's
courtship, subdued her to the world's decrees; phrased thus: 'I am not to
be a heroine.' The one golden edge to the view was, that she would
greatly please her father.
Her dream of a love was put away like a botanist's pressed weed. But
after hearing Judith Marsett's wild sobs, it had no place in her
cherishing. For, above all, the unhappy woman protested love to have
been the cause of her misery. She moaned of 'her Ned'; of his goodness,
his deceitfulness, her trustfulness; his pride and the vileness of his
friends; her longsuffering and her break down of patience. It was done
for the proof of her unworthiness of Nesta's friendship: that she might
be renounced, and embraced. She told the pathetic half of her story, to
suit the gentle ear, whose critical keenness was lost in compassion. How
deep the compassion, mixed with the girl's native respect for the evil-
fortuned, may be judged by her inaccessibility to a vulgar tang that she
was aware of in the deluge of the torrent, where Innocence and Ned and
Love and a proud Family and that beast Worrell rolled together in leaping
and shifting involutions.
A darkness of thunder was on the girl. Although she was not one to
shrink beneath it like the small bird of the woods, she had to say within
herself many times, 'I shall see Captain Dartrey to-morrow,' for a
recovery and a nerving. And with her thought of him, her tooth was at
her underlip, she struggled abashed, in hesitation over men's views of
her sex, and how to bring a frank mind to meet him; to be sure of his not
at heart despising; until his character swam defined and bright across
her scope. 'He is good to women.' Fragments of conversation,
principally her father's, had pictured Captain Dartrey to her most
manfully tolerant toward a frivolous wife.
He came early in the morning, instantly after breakfast.
Not two minutes had passed before she was at home with him. His words,
his looks, revived her spirit of romance, gave her the very landscapes,
and new ones. Yes, he was her hero. But his manner made him also an
adored big brother, stamped splendid by the perils of life. He sat
square, as if alert to rise, with an elbow on a knee, and the readiest
turn of head to speakers, the promptest of answers, eyes that were a
brighter accent to the mouth, so vividly did look accompany tone. He
rallied her, chatted and laughed; pleased the ladies by laughing at
Colney Durance, and inspired her with happiness when he spoke of
England:--that 'One has to be in exile awhile, to see the place she
'Oh, Captain Dartrey, I do like to hear you say so,' she cried; his voice
was reassuring also in other directions: it rang of true man.
He volunteered, however, a sad admission, that England had certainly lost
something of the great nation's proper conception of Force: the meaning
of it, virtue of it, and need for it. 'She bleats for a lesson, and will
get her lesson.'
But if we have Captain Dartrey, we shall come through! So said the
sparkle of Nesta's eyes.
'She is very like her father,' he said to the ladies.
'We think so,' they remarked.
'There's the mother too,' said he; and Nesta saw that the ladies
They retired. Then she begged him to 'tell her of her own dear mother.'
The news gave comfort, except for the suspicion, that the dear mother was
being worn by her entertaining so largely. 'Papa is to blame,' said
'A momentary strain. Your father has an idea of Parliament; one of the
'And I, Captain Dartrey, when do I go back to them?'
'Your mother comes down to consult with you. And now, do we ride
'You are free?'
'My uncle, Lord Clan, lets me out.'
'In an hour's time.'
'I will be ready.'
Nesta sent a line of excuse to Mrs. Marsett, throwing in a fervent
adjective for balm.
That fair person rode out with the troop under conduct of the hallowing
squire of the stables, and passed by Nesta on horseback beside Dartrey
Fenellan at the steps of a huge hotel; issuing from which, pretty Mrs.
Blathenoy was about to mount. Mrs. Marsett looked ahead and coloured,
but she could not restrain one look at Nesta, that embraced her cavalier.
Nesta waved hand to her, and nodded. Mrs. Marsett withdrew her eyes; her
doing so, silent though it was, resembled the drag back to sea of the
shingle-wave below her, such a screaming of tattle she heard in the
questions discernible through the attitude of the cavalier and of the
lady, who paused to stare, before the leap up in the saddle. 'Who is
she?--what is she?--how did you know her?--where does she come from?--
wears her hat on her brows!--huge gauntlets out of style!--shady! shady!
shady!' And as always during her nervous tumults, the name of Worrell
made diapason of that execrable uproar. Her hat on her brows had an air
of dash, defying a world it could win, as Ned well knew. But she scanned
her gauntlets disapprovingly. This town, we are glad to think, has a
bright repute for glove-shops. And Mrs. Marsett could applaud herself
for sparing Ned's money; she had mended her gloves, if they were in the
fashion.--But how does the money come? Hark at that lady and that
gentleman questioning Miss Radnor of everything, everything in the world
about her! Not a word do they get from Miss Radnor. And it makes them
the more inquisitive. Idle rich people, comfortably fenced round, are so
inquisitive! And Mrs. Marsett, loving Nesta for the notice of her,
maddened by the sting of tongues it was causing, heard the wash of the
beach, without consciousness of analogies, but with a body ready to jump
out of skin, out of life, in desperation at the sound.
She was all impulse; a shifty piece of unmercenary stratagem occasionally
directing it. Arrived at her lodgings, she wrote to Nesta: 'I entreat
you not to notice me, if you pass me on the road again. Let me drop,
never mind how low I go. I was born to be wretched. A line from you,
just a line now and then, only to show me I am not forgotten. I have had
a beautiful dream. I am not bad in reality; I love goodness, I know.
I cling to the thought of you, as my rescue, I declare. Please, let me
hear: if it's not more than "good day" and your initials on a post-card.'
The letter brought Nesta in person to her.
THE BURDEN UPON NESTA
Could there be confidences on the subject of Mrs. Marsett with Captain
Dartrey?--Nesta timidly questioned her heart: she knocked at an iron door
shut upon a thing alive. The very asking froze her, almost to stopping
her throbs of pity for the woman. With Captain Dartrey, if with any one;
but with no one. Not with her mother even. Toward her mother, she felt
guilty of knowing. Her mother had a horror of that curtain. Nesta had
seen it, and had taken her impressions; she, too, shrank from it; the
more when impelled to draw near it. Louise de Seilles would have been
another self; Louise was away; when to return, the dear friend could not
state. Speaking in her ear, would have been possible; the theme
It was ponderous combustible new knowledge of life for a girl to hold
unaided. In the presence of the simple silvery ladies Dorothea and
Virginia, she had qualms, as if she were breaking out in spots before
them. The ladies fancied, that Mr. Stuart Rem had hinted to them oddly
of the girl; and that he might have meant, she appeared a little too
cognizant of poor Mr. Abram Posterley's malady--as girls in these
terrible days, only too frequently, too brazenly, are. They discoursed
to her of the degeneracy of the manners, nay, the morals of young
Englishwomen, once patterns! They sketched the young English gentlewoman
of their time; indeed a beauty; with round red cheeks, and rounded open
eyes, and a demure shut mouth, a puppet's divine ignorance; inoffensive
in the highest degree, rightly worshipped. They were earnest, and Nesta
struck at herself. She wished to be as they had been, reserving her
They were good: they were the ideal women of our country; which demands
if it be but the semblance of the sureness of stationary excellence;
such as we have in Sevres and Dresden, polished bright and smooth as
ever by the morning's flick of a duster; perhaps in danger of accidents--
accidents must be kept away; but enviable, admirable, we think, when we
are not thinking of seed sown or help given to the generations to follow.
Nesta both envied and admired; she revered them; yet her sharp
intelligence, larger in the extended boundary of thought coming of
strange crimson-lighted new knowledge, discerned in a dimness what blest
conditions had fixed them on their beautiful barren eminence. Without
challengeing it, she had a rebellious rush of sympathy for our evil-
fortuned of the world; the creatures in the battle, the wounded, trodden,
mud-stained: and it alarmed her lest she should be at heart one out of
She had the sympathy, nevertheless, and renewing and increasing with the
pulsations of a compassion that she took for her reflective survey. The
next time she saw Dartrey Fenellan, she was assured of him, as being the
man who might be spoken to; and by a woman: though not by a girl; not
spoken to by her. The throb of the impulse precipitating speech subsided
to a dumb yearning. He noticed her look: he was unaware of the human sun
in the girl's eyes taking an image of him for permanent habitation in her
breast. That face of his, so clearly lined, quick, firm, with the blue
smile on it like the gleam of a sword coming out of sheath, did not mean
hardness, she could have vowed. O that some woman, other than the
unhappy woman herself, would speak the words denied to a girl! He was
the man who would hearken and help. Essential immediate help was to be
given besides the noble benevolence of mind. Novel ideas of manliness
and the world's need for it were printed on her understanding. For what
could women do in aid of a good cause! She fawned: she deemed herself
very despicably her hero's inferior. The thought of him enclosed her.
In a prison, the gaoler is a demi-God-hued bright or black, as it may be;
and, by the present arrangement between the sexes, she, whom the world
allowed not to have an intimation from eye or ear, or from nature's
blood-ripeness in commune with them, of certain matters, which it suffers
to be notorious, necessarily directed her appeal almost in worship to the
man, who was the one man endowed to relieve, and who locked her mouth for
Thus was she, too, being put into her woman's harness of the bit and the
blinkers, and taught to know herself for the weak thing, the gentle
parasite, which the fiction of our civilization expects her, caressingly
and contemptuously, to become in the active, while it is exacted of hero
Comedy of Clowns!--that in the passive she be a rockfortress impregnable,
not to speak of magically encircled. She must also have her feelings;
she must not be an unnatural creature. And she must have a sufficient
intelligence; for her stupidity does not flatter the possessing man. It
is not an organic growth that he desires in his mate, but a happy
composition. You see the world which comes of the pair.
This burning Nesta, Victor's daughter, tempered by Nataly's milder blood,
was a girl in whom the hard shocks of the knowledge of life, perforce of
the hardness upon pure metal, left a strengthening for generous
imagination. She did not sit to brood on her injured senses or set them
through speculation touching heat; they were taken up and consumed by the
fire of her mind. Nor had she leisure for the abhorrences, in a heart
all flowing to give aid, and uplift and restore. Self was as urgent in
her as in most of the young; but the gift of humour, which had previously
diverted it, was now the quick feeling for her sisterhood, through the
one piteous example she knew; and broadening it, through her insurgent
abasement on their behalf, which was her scourged pride of sex. She but
faintly thought of blaming the men whom her soul besought for justice,
for common kindness, to women. There was the danger, that her aroused
young ignorance would charge the whole of the misery about and abroad
upon the stronger of those two: and another danger, that the vision of
the facts below the surface would discolour and disorder her views of
existence. But she loved, she sprang to, the lighted world; and she had
figures of male friends, to which to cling; and they helped in animating
glorious historical figures on the world's library-shelves or under yet
palpitating earth. Promise of a steady balance of her nature, too, was
shown in the absence of any irritable urgency to be doing, when her bosom
bled to help. Beyond the resolve, that she would not abandon the woman
who had made confession to her, she formed no conscious resolutions. Far
ahead down her journey of the years to come, she did see muffled things
she might hope and would strive to do. They were chrysalis shapes.
Above all, she flew her blind quickened heart on the wings of an
imaginative force; and those of the young who can do that, are in their
blood incorruptible by dark knowledge, irradiated under darkness in the
mind. Let but the throb be kept for others. That is the one secret, for
redemption; if not for preservation.
Victor descended on his marine London to embrace his girl, full of
regrets at Fredi's absence from the great whirl 'overhead,' as places of
multitudinous assembly, where he shone, always appeared to him. But it
was not to last long; she would soon be on the surface again! At the
first clasp of her, he chirped some bars of her song. He challenged her
to duet before the good ladies, and she kindled, she was caught up by his
gaiety, wondering at herself; faintly aware of her not being spontaneous.
And she made her father laugh, just in the old way; and looked at herself
in his laughter, with the thought, that she could not have become so
changed; by which the girl was helped to jump to her humour. Victor
turned his full front to Dorothea and Virginia, one sunny beam of delight
and although it was Mr. Stuart Rem who was naughty Nesta's victim, and
although it seemed a trespass on her part to speak in such a manner of a
clerical gentleman, they were seized; they were the opposite partners of
a laughing quadrille, lasting till they were tired out.
Victor had asked his girl, if she sang on a Sunday. The ladies
remembered, that she had put the question for permission to Mr. Stuart
Rem, who was opposed to secular singing.
'And what did he say?' said Victor.
Nesta shook her head: 'It was not what he said, papa; it was his look.
His duty compelled him, though he loves music. He had the look of a
Patriarch putting his handmaiden away into the desert.'
Dorothea and Virginia, in spite of protests within, laughed to streams.
They recollected the look; she had given the portrait of Mr. Stuart Rem
in the act of repudiating secular song.
'Victor conjured up a day when this darling Fredi, a child, stood before
a famous picture in the Brera, at Milan; when he and her mother noticed
the child's very studious graveness; and they had talked of it; he
remarking, that she disapproved of the Patriarch; and Nataly, that she
was taken with Hagar's face.
He seemed surprised at her not having heard from Dudley.
'How is that?' said he.
'Most probably because he has not written, papa.'