Part 4 out of 6
was going to meet him in Paris in a day or two.
I had not so many friends but what I felt rather glad than otherwise to
have met her, and willingly called, as I had promised, with the
She lived in a large, new house, magnificently up near the Marble Arch.
She was quite alone when I called, and asked me immediately if I had
brought the miniatures; and looked at them quite eagerly, and then at
me, and exclaimed--
"Good heavens, you are your father's very image!"
Indeed, I had always been considered so.
Both his eyebrows and mine, especially, met in a singular and
characteristic fashion at the bridge of the nose, and she seemed much
struck by this. He was represented in the uniform of Charles X's _gardes
du corps_, in which he had served for two years, and had acquired the
nickname of "le beau Pasquier." Mrs. Deane seemed never to tire of
gazing at it, and remarked that my father "must have been the very ideal
of a young girl's dream" (an indirect compliment which made me blush
after what she had just said of the likeness between us. I almost began
to wonder whether she was going to try and make a fool of me again, as
she had so successfully done a few years ago).
Then she became interested again in my early life and recollections, and
wanted to know whether my parents were fond of each other. They were a
most devoted and lover-like pair, and had loved each other at first
sight and until death, and I told her so; and so on until I became quite
excited, and imagined she must know of some good fortune to which I was
entitled, and had been kept out of by the machinations of a
For I had long discovered in my dreams that he had been my father's
bitterest enemy and the main cause of his financial ruin, by selfish,
heartless, and dishonest deeds too complicated to explain here--a
I had found this out by listening (in my dreams) to long conversations
between my father and mother in the old drawing-room at Passy, while
Gogo was absorbed in his book; and every word that had passed through
Gogo's inattentive ears into his otherwise preoccupied little brain had
been recorded there as in a phonograph, and was now repeated over and
over again for Peter Ibbetson, as he sat unnoticed among them.
I asked her, jokingly, if she had discovered that I was the rightful
heir to Ibbetson Hall by any chance.
She replied that nothing would give her greater pleasure, but there was
no such good fortune in store for either her or me; that she had
discovered long ago that Colonel Ibbetson was the greatest blackguard
unhung, and nothing new she might discover could make him worse.
I then remembered how he would often speak of her, even to me, and hint
and insinuate things which were no doubt untrue, and which I
disbelieved. Not that the question of their truth or untruth made him
any the less despicable and vile for telling.
She asked me if he had ever spoken of her to me, and after much
persuasion and cunning cross-examination I told her as much of the truth
as I dared, and she became a tigress. She assured me that he had managed
so to injure and compromise her in Hopshire that she and her mother had
to leave, and she swore to me most solemnly (and I thoroughly believe
she spoke the truth) that there had never been any relation between
them that she could not have owned to before the whole world.
She had wished to marry him, it is true, for his wealth and position;
for both she and her mother were very poor, and often hard put to it to
make both ends meet and keep up a decent appearance before the world;
and he had singled her out and paid her marked attention from the first,
and given her every reason to believe that his attentions were serious
At this juncture her mother came in, Mrs. Glyn, and we renewed our old
acquaintance. She had quite forgiven me my school-boy admiration for her
daughter; all her power of hating, like her daughter's, had concentrated
itself on Ibbetson; and as I listened to the long story of their wrongs
and his infamy, I grew to hate him worse than ever, and was ready to be
their champion on the spot, and to take up their quarrel there and then.
But this would not do, it appeared, for their name must nevermore be in
any way mixed up with his.
Then suddenly Mrs. Glyn asked me if I knew when he went to India.
I could satisfy her, for I knew that it was just after my parents'
marriage, nearly a year before my birth; upon which she gave the exact
date of his departure with his regiment, and the name of the transport,
and everything; and also, to my surprise, the date of my parents'
marriage at Marylebone Church, and of my baptism there fifteen months
later--just fourteen weeks after my birth in Passy. I was growing quite
bewildered with all this knowledge of my affairs, and wondered more
We sat silent for a while, the two women looking at each other and at me
and at the miniatures. It was getting grewsome. What could it all mean?
Presently Mrs. Glyn, at a nod from her daughter, addressed me thus:
"Mr. Ibbetson, your uncle, as you call him, though he is not your uncle,
is a very terrible villain, and has done you and your parents a very
foul wrong. Before I tell you what it is (and I think you ought to know)
you must give me your word of honor that you will do or say nothing that
will get our name publicly mixed up in any way with Colonel Ibbetson's.
The injury to my daughter, now she is happily married to an excellent
man, would be irreparable."
With a beating heart I solemnly gave the required assurance.
"Then, Mr. Ibbetson, it is right that you should know that Colonel
Ibbetson, when he was paying his infamous addresses to my daughter, gave
her unmistakably to understand that you were his natural son, by his
cousin, Miss Catherine Biddulph, afterwards Madame Pasquier de
"Oh, oh, oh!" I cried, "surely you must be mistaken--he knew it was
impossible--he had been refused by my mother three times--he went to
India nearly a year before I was born--he--"
Then Mrs. Deane said, producing an old letter from her pocket:
"Do you know his handwriting and his crest? Do you happen to recollect
once bringing me a note from at Ibbetson Hall? Here it is," and she
handed it to me. It was unmistakably his, and I remembered it at once,
and this is what it said:
"For Heaven's sake, dear friend, don't breathe a word to any living soul
of what you were clever enough to guess last night! There is a likeness,
"Poor Antinoüs! He is quite ignorant of the true relationship, which has
caused me many a pang of shame and remorse....
"'Que voulez-vous? Elle était ravissaure!' ... We were cousins, much
thrown together; 'both were so young, and one so beautiful!' ... I was
but a penniless cornet in those days--hardly more than a boy. Happily an
unsuspecting Frenchman of good family was there who had loved her long,
and she married him. 'Il était temps!' ...
"Can you forgive me this 'entraînement de jeunesse?' I have repented in
sackcloth and ashes, and made what reparation I could by adopting and
giving my name to one who is a perpetual reminder to me of a moment's
infatuation. He little knows, poor boy, and never will, I hope. 'Il n'a
plus que moi au monde!'
"Burn this as soon as you have read it, and never let the subject be
mentioned between us again.
"R. ('Qui sait aimer')."
Here was a thunderbolt out of the blue!
I sat stunned and saw scarlet, and felt as if I should see scarlet
[Illustration: THE FATAL LETTER.]
After a long silence, during which I could feel my pulse beat to
bursting-point in my temples, Mrs. Glyn said:
"Now, Mr. Ibbetson, I hope you will do nothing rash--nothing that can
bring my daughter's name into any quarrel between yourself and your
uncle. For the sake of your mother's good name, you will be prudent, I
know. If he could speak like this of his cousin, with whom he had been
in love when he was young, what lies would he not tell of my poor
daughter? He _has_--terrible lies! Oh, what we have suffered! When he
wrote that letter I believe he really meant to marry her. He had the
greatest trust in her, or he would never have committed himself so
"Does he know of this letter's existing?" I asked.
"No. When he and my daughter quarrelled she sent him back his
letters--all but this one, which she told him she had burned immediately
after reading it, as he had told her to do."
"May I keep it?"
"Yes. I know you may be trusted, and my daughter's name has been removed
from the outside, as you see. No one but ourselves has ever seen it, nor
have we mentioned to a soul what it contains, as we never believed it
for a moment. Two or three years ago we had the curiosity to find out
when and where your parents had married, and when you were born, and
when _he_ went to India, it was no surprise to us at all. We then tried
to find you, but soon gave it up, and thought it better to leave matters
alone. Then we heard he was in mischief again--just the same sort of
mischief; and then my daughter saw you in the park, and we concluded you
ought to know."
Such was the gist of that memorable conversation, which I have condensed
as much as I could.
When I left these two ladies I walked twice rapidly round the park. I
saw scarlet often during that walk. Perhaps I looked scarlet. I remember
people staring at me.
Then I went straight to Lintot's, with the impulse to tell him my
trouble and ask his advice.
He was away from home, and I waited in his smoking-room for a while,
reading the letter over and over again.
Then I decided not to tell him, and left the house, taking with me as I
did so (but without any definite purpose) a heavy loaded stick, a most
formidable weapon, even in the hands of a boy, and which I myself had
given to Lintot on his last birthday. [Greek: Anagkae]!
Then I went to my usual eating-house near the circus and dined. To the
surprise of the waiting-maid, I drank a quart of bitter ale and two
glasses of sherry. It was my custom to drink water. She plied me with
questions as to whether I was ill or in trouble. I answered her no, and
at last begged she would leave me alone.
Ibbetson lived in St. James's Street. I went there. He was out. It was
nine o'clock, and his servant seemed uncertain when he would return. I
came back at ten. He was not yet home, and the servant, after thinking a
while, and looking up and down the street, and finding my appearance
decent and by no means dangerous, asked me to go upstairs and wait, as I
told him it was a matter of great importance.
So I went and sat in my uncle's drawing-room and waited.
The servant came with me and lit the candles, and remarked on the
weather, and handed me the _Saturday Review_ and _Punch_. I must have
looked quite natural--as I tried to look--and he left me.
I saw a Malay creese on the mantel-piece and hid it behind a
picture-frame. I locked a door leading to another drawing-room where
there was a grand piano, and above it a trophy of swords, daggers,
battle-axes, etc., and put the key in my pocket.
The key of the room where I waited was inside the door.
All this time I had a vague idea of possible violence on his part, but
no idea of killing him. I felt far too strong for that. Indeed, I had a
feeling of quiet, irresistible strength--the result of suppressed
I sat down and meditated all I would say. I had settled it over and over
again, and read and reread the fatal letter.
The servant came up with glasses and soda-water. I trembled lest he
should observe that the door to the other room was locked, but he did
not. He opened the window and looked up and down the street. Presently
he said, "Here's the colonel at last, sir," and went down to open
I heard him come in and speak to his servant. Then he came straight up,
humming _"la donna e mobile,"_ and walked in with just the jaunty, airy
manner I remembered. He was in evening dress, and very little changed.
He seemed much surprised to see me, and turned very white.
"Well, my Apollo of the T square, _pourquoi cet honneur?_ Have you come,
like a dutiful nephew, to humble yourself and beg for forgiveness?"
I forgot all I meant to say (indeed, nothing happened as I had meant),
but rose and said, "I have come to have a talk with you," as quietly as
I could, though with a thick voice.
He seemed uneasy, and went towards the door.
I got there before him, and closed it, and locked it, and put the key
in my pocket.
He darted to the other door and found it locked.
Then he went to the mantel-piece and looked for the creese, and not
finding it, he turned round with his back to the fireplace and his arms
akimbo, and tried to look very contemptuous and determined. His chin was
quite white under his dyed mustache--like wax--and his eyes blinked
I walked up to him and said: "You told Mrs. Deane that I was your
"It's a lie! Who told you so?"
"She did--this afternoon."
"It's a lie--a spiteful invention of a cast-off mistress!"
"She never was your mistress!"
"You fool! I suppose she told you that too. Leave the room, you pitiful
green jackass, or I'll have you turned out," and he rang the bell.
"Do you know your own handwriting?" I said, and handed him the letter.
He read a line or two and gasped out that it was a forgery, and rang the
bell again, and looked again behind the clock for his creese. Then he
lit the letter at a candle and threw it in the fireplace, where it
I made no attempt to prevent him.
The servant tried to open the door, and Ibbetson went to the window and
called out for the police. I rushed to the picture where I had hidden
the creese, and threw it on the table. Then I swung him away from the
window by his coat-tails, and told him to defend himself, pointing to
He seized it, and stood on the defensive; the servant had apparently run
down-stairs for assistance.
"Now, then," I said, "down on your knees, you infamous cur, and confess;
it's your only chance."
"Confess what, you fool?"
"That you're a coward and a liar; that you wrote that letter; that Mrs.
Deane was no more your mistress than my mother was!"
There was a sound of people running up-stairs. He listened a moment and
"They _both_ were, you idiot! How can I tell for certain whether you are
my son or not? It all comes to the same. Of course I wrote the letter.
Come on, you cowardly assassin, you bastard parricide!" ... and he
advanced on me with his creese low down in his right hand, the point
upward, and made a thrust, shrieking out, "Break open the door! quick!"
They did; but too late!
[Illustration: "BASTARD! PARRICIDE!"]
I saw crimson!
He missed me, and I brought down my stick on his left arm, which he held
over his head, and then on his head, and he fell, crying:
"O my God! O Christ!"
I struck him again on his head as he was falling, and once again when he
was on the ground. It seemed to crash right in.
That is why and how I killed Uncle Ibbetson.
"_Grouille, grève, grève, grouille,
File, file, ma quenouille!
File sa corde au bourreau
Qui siffle dans le préau..._"
So sang the old hag in _Notre Dame de Paris!_
So sang to me night and day, for many nights and days, the thin small
voice that always went piping inside me, now to one tune, now to
another, but always the same words--that terrible refrain that used to
haunt me so when I was a school-boy at Bluefriars!
Oh, to be a school-boy again in a long gray coat and ridiculous pink
stockings--innocent and free--with Esmeralda for my only love, and Athos
and Porthos and D'Artagnan for my bosom friends, and no worse
tribulation than to be told on a Saturday afternoon that the third
volume was in hand--_volume trois en lecture_'.
* * * * *
Sometimes, I remember, I could hardly sleep on a Sunday night, for pity
of the poor wretch who was to be hanged close by on Monday morning, and
it has come to that with _me_!
* * * * *
Oh, Mary, Mary, Duchess of Towers, sweet friend of my childhood, and
love of my life, what must you think of me now?
* * * * *
How blessed are the faithful! How good it must be to trust in God and
heaven, and the forgiveness of sin, and be as a little child in all but
innocence! A whole career of crime wiped out in a moment by just one
cheap little mental act of faith at the eleventh hour, in the extreme
terror of well-merited dissolution; and all the evil one has worked
through life (that goes on breeding evil for ages to come) taken off
one's shoulders like a filthy garment, and just cast aside, anywhere,
anyhow, for the infecting of others--who do not count.
What matter if it be a fool's paradise? Paradise is paradise, for
whoever owns it!
* * * * *
They say a Sicilian drum-major, during the French occupation of Palermo,
was sentenced to be shot. He was a well-known coward, and it was feared
he would disgrace his country at the last moment in the presence of the
French soldiers, who had a way of being shot with a good grace and a
light heart: they had grown accustomed to it.
For the honor of Sicily his confessor told him, in the strictest
confidence, that his sentence was a mock one, and that he would be fired
at with blank cartridges.
It was a pious fraud. All but two of the twelve cartridges had bullets,
and he fell, riddled through and through. No Frenchman ever died with a
lighter heart, a better grace. He was superb, and the national honor
Thrice happy Sicilian drum-major, if the story be true! That trust in
blank cartridges was his paradise.
* * * * *
Oh, it is uphill work to be a stoic when the moment comes and the tug!
But when the tug lasts for more than a moment--days and nights, days and
nights! Oh, happy Sicilian drum-major!
* * * * *
Pray? Yes, I will pray night and morning, and all day long, to whatever
there is left of inherited strength and courage in that luckless,
misbegotten waif, Peter Ibbetson; that it may bear him up a little while
yet; that he may not disgrace himself in the dock or on the gallows.
* * * * *
Repent? Yes, of many things. But of the thing for which I am here?
* * * * *
It is a ghastly thing to be judge and jury and executioner all in one,
and for a private and personal wrong--to condemn and strike and kill.
Pity comes after--when it is too late, fortunately--the wretched
weakness of pity! Pooh! no Calcraft will ever pity _me_, and I do not
want him to.
* * * * *
He had his long, snaky knife against my stick; he, too, was a big strong
man, well skilled in self-defence! Down he went, and I struck him again
and again. "O my God! O Christ!" he shrieked....
"It will ring in my heart and my ears till I die--till I die!"
* * * * *
There was no time to lose--no time to think for the best. It is all for
the best as it is. What might he not have said if he had lived!
* * * * *
Thank Heaven, pity is not remorse or shame; and what crime could well
be worse than his? To rob one's dearly beloved dead of their fair shame!
* * * * *
He might have been mad, perhaps, and have grown in time to believe the
lies he told himself. Such things have been. But such a madman should no
more be suffered to live than a mad dog. The only way to kill the lie
was to kill the liar--that is, if one _can_ ever kill a lie!
* * * * *
Poor worm! after all, he could not help it, I suppose! he was _built_
like that! and _I_ was built to kill him for it, and be hanged.'
What an exit for "Gogo--gentil petit Gogo!"
* * * * *
Just opposite that wall, on the other side, was once a small tripe and
trotter shop, kept by a most lovely daughter of the people, so fair and
good in my eyes that I would have asked her to be my wife. What would
she think of me now? That I should have dared to aspire! What a
* * * * *
What does everybody think? I can never breathe the real cause to a soul.
Only two women know the truth, and they will take good care not to tell.
Thank Heaven for that!
What matters what anybody thinks? "It will be all the same as a hundred
years hence." That is the most sensible proverb ever invented.
* * * * *
* * * * *
The judge puts on the black cap, and it is all for you! Every eye is
fixed on you, so big and young and strong and full of life! Ugh!
* * * * *
They pinion you, and you have to walk and be a man, and the chaplain
exhorts and prays and tries to comfort. Then a sea of faces; people
opposite, who have been eating and drinking and making merry, waiting for
_you!_ A cap is pulled over your eyes--oh, horror! horror! horror!
* * * * *
"Heureux tambour-major de Sicile!"
* * * * *
"Il faut laver son ligne sale en famille, et c'est ce que j'ai fait.
Mais ça va ma coûter cher!"
* * * * *
Would I do it all over again? Oh, let me hope, yes!
* * * * *
Ah, he died too quick; I dealt him those four blows in less than as
many seconds. It was five minutes, perhaps--or, at the most, ten--from
the moment he came into the room to that when I finished him and was
caught red-handed. And I--what a long agony!
Oh, that I might once more dream a "true dream," and see my dear people
once more! But it seems that I have lost the power of dreaming true
since that fatal night. I try and try, but it will not come. My dreams
are dreadful; and, oh, the _waking_!
* * * * *
After all, my life hitherto, but for a few happy years of childhood, has
not been worth living; it is most unlikely that it ever would have been,
had I lived to a hundred! Oh, Mary! Mary!
* * * * *
And penal servitude! Better any death than that. It is good that my
secret must die with me--that there will be no extenuating
circumstances, no recommendation to mercy, no commutation of the swift
penalty of death.
"File, file... File sa corde au bourreau!"
By such monotonous thoughts, and others as dreary and hopeless,
recurring again and again in the same dull round, I beguiled the
terrible time that intervened between Ibbetson's death and my trial at
the Old Bailey.
It all seems very trivial and unimportant now--not worth
recording--even hard to remember.
But at the time my misery was so great, my terror of the gallows so
poignant, that each day I thought I must die of sheer grief before
another twenty-four hours could possibly pass over me.
The intolerable strain would grow more and more severe till a climax of
tension was reached, and a hysterical burst of tears would relieve me
for a while, and I would feel reconciled to my fate, and able to face
death like a man.... Then the anguish would gradually steal over me
again, and the uncontrollable weakness of the flesh....
And each of these two opposite moods, while it lasted, made the other
seem impossible, and as if it never could come back again; yet back it
came with the regularity of a tide--the most harrowing seesaw that
I had always been unstable like that; but whereas I had hitherto
oscillated between high elation and despondency, it was now from a dumb,
resigned despair to the wildest agony and terror.
I sought in vain for the only comfort it was in me to seek; but when,
overdone with suffering, I fell asleep at last, I could no longer dream
true; I could dream only as other wretches dream.
I always dreamed those two little dancing, deformed jailers, man and
wife, had got me at last; and that I shrieked aloud for my beloved
duchess to succor me, as they ran me in, each butting at me sideways,
and showing their toothless gums in a black smile, and poisoning me
with their hot sour breath! The gate was there, and the avenue, all
distorted and quite unlike; and, opposite, a jail; but no powerful
Duchess of Towers to wave the horror away.
* * * * *
It will be remembered by some, perhaps, how short was my trial.
The plea of "not guilty" was entered for me. The defence set up was
insanity, based on the absence of any adequate motive. This defence was
soon disposed of by the prosecution; witnesses to my sanity were not
wanting, and motives enough were found in my past relations with Colonel
Ibbetson to "make me--a violent, morose, and vindictive-natured
man--imbrue my hands in the gore of my relative and benefactor--a man
old enough to be my father--who, indeed, might have been my father, for
the love he had bestowed upon me, with his honored name, when I was left
a penniless, foreign orphan on his hands."
Here I laughed loud and long, and made a most painful impression, as is
duly recorded in the reports of the trial.
The jury found me guilty quite early in the afternoon of the second day,
without leaving the box; and I, "preserving to the last the callous and
unmoved demeanor I had borne all through the trial," was duly sentenced
to death without any hope of mercy, but with an expression of regret on
the part of the judge--a famous hanging judge--that a man of my
education and promise should be brought by his own evil nature and
uncontrollable passions to so deplorable an end.
Now whether the worst of certainties is better than suspense--whether my
nerves of pain had been so exercised during the period preceding my
trial that I had really become callous, as they say a man's back does
after a certain number of strokes from the "cat"--certain it was that I
knew the worst, and acquiesced in it with a surprised sense of actual
relief, and found it in me to feel it not unbearable.
Such, at least, was my mood that night. I made the most of it. It was
almost happiness by comparison with what I had gone through. I remember
eating with a heartiness that surprised me. I could have gone straight
from my dinner to the gallows, and died with a light heart and a good
grace--like a Sicilian drum-major.
I resolved to write the whole true story to the Duchess of Towers, with
an avowal of my long and hopeless adoration for her, and the expression
of a hope that she would try to think of me only as her old playfellow,
and as she had known me before this terrible disaster. And thinking of
the letter I would write till very late, I fell asleep in my cell, with
two warders to watch over me; and then--Another phase of my inner
* * * * *
Without effort, without let or hindrance of any kind, I was at the
The pink and white may, the lilacs and laburnums were in full bloom, the
sun made golden paths everywhere. The warm air was full of fragrance,
and alive with all the buzz and chirp of early summer.
I was half crying with joy to reach the land of my true dreams again, to
feel at home once more--_chez moi! chez moi!_
La Mère François sat peeling potatoes at the door of her _loge_; she was
singing a little song about _cinq sous, sinq sous, pour monter notre
ménage._ I had forgotten it, but it all came back now.
[Illustration: "CINQ SOUS, CINQ SOUS, POUR MONTER NOTRE MÉNAGE."]
The facetious postman, Yverdon, went in at the gate of my old garden;
the bell rang as he pushed it, and I followed him.
Under the apple-tree, which was putting forth shoots of blossom in
profusion, sat my mother and Monsieur le Major. My mother took the
letter from the postman's hand as he said, "Pour Vous? Oh yes, Madame
Pasquier, God sev ze Kveen!" and paid the postage. It was from Colonel
Ibbetson, then in Ireland, and not yet a colonel.
Médor lay snoring on the grass, and Gogo and Mimsey were looking at the
pictures in the _musée des familles._
In a garden chair lolled Dr. Seraskier, apparently asleep, with his long
porcelain pipe across his knees.
Madame Seraskier, in a yellow nankeen gown with gigot sleeves, was
cutting curl-papers out of the _Constitutionnel_.
I gazed on them all with unutterable tenderness. I was gazing on them
perhaps for the last time.
I called out to them by name.
"Oh, speak to me, beloved shades! Oh, my father! oh, mother, I want you
so desperately! Come out of the past for a few seconds, and give me some
words of comfort! I'm in such woful plight! If you could only
But they could neither hear nor see me.
Then suddenly another figure stepped forth from behind the
apple-tree--no old-fashioned, unsubstantial shadow of by-gone days that
one can only see and hear, and that cannot hear and see one back again;
but one in all the splendid fulness of life, a pillar of help and
strength--Mary, Duchess of Towers!
I fell on my knees as she came to me with both hands extended.
"Oh, Mr. Ibbetson, I have been seeking and waiting for you here night
after night! I have been frantic! If you hadn't come at last, I must
have thrown everything to the winds, and gone to see you in Newgate,
waking and before the world, to have a talk with you--an _abboccamento_.
I suppose you couldn't sleep, or were unable to dream."
I could not answer at first. I could only cover her hands with kisses,
as I felt her warm life-current mixing with mine--a rapture!
And then I said--
"I swear to you by all I hold most sacred--by _my_ mother's memory and
_yours_--by yourself--that I never meant to take Ibbetson's life, or
even strike him; the miserable blow was dealt...."
"As if you need tell me that! As if I didn't know you of old, my poor
friend, kindest and gentlest of men! Why, I am holding your hands, and
see into the very depths of your heart!"
(I put down all she said as she said it. Of course I am not, and never
have been, what her old affectionate regard made me seem in her eyes,
any more than I am the bloodthirsty monster I passed for. Woman-like,
she was the slave of her predilections.)
"And now, Mr. Ibbetson," she went on, "let me first of all tell you, for
a certainty, that the sentence will be commuted. I saw the Home
Secretary three or four hours ago. The real cause of your deplorable
quarrel with your uncle is an open secret. His character is well known.
A Mrs. Gregory (whom you knew in Hopshire as Mrs. Deane) has been with
the Home Secretary this afternoon. Your chivalrous reticence at the
"Oh," I interrupted, "I don't care to live any longer! Now that I have
met you once more, and that you have forgiven me and think well of me in
spite of everything, I am ready to die. There has never been anybody but
you in the world for _me_--never a ghost of a woman, never even a friend
since my mother died and yours. Between that time and the night I first
saw you at Lady Cray's concert, I can scarcely be said to have lived at
all. I fed on scraps of remembrance. You see I have no talent for making
new friends, but oh, such a genius for fidelity to old ones! I was
waiting for Mimsey to come back again, I suppose, the one survivor to me
of that sweet time, and when she came at last I was too stupid to
recognize her. She suddenly blazed and dazzled into my poor life like a
meteor, and filled it with a maddening love and pain. I don't know which
of the two has been the sweetest; both have been my life. You cannot
realize what it has been. Trust me, I have lived my fill. I am ready and
willing to die. It is the only perfect consummation I can think of.
Nothing can ever equal this moment--nothing on earth or in heaven. And
if I were free to-morrow, life would not be worth having without _you_.
I would not take it as a gift."
She sat down by me on the grass with her hands clasped across her knees,
close to the unconscious shadows of our kith and kin, within hearing of
their happy talk and laughter.
Suddenly we both heard Mimsey say to Gogo--
"O, ils sont joliment bien ensemble, le Prince Charmant et la fée
We looked at each other and actually laughed aloud. The duchess said--
"Was there ever, since the world began, such a _muse en scène_, and for
such a meeting, Mr. Ibbetson? Think of it! Conceive it! _I_ arranged it
all. I chose a day when they were all together. As they would say in
America, _I_ am the boss of this particular dream."
And she laughed again, through her tears, that enchanting ripple of a
laugh that closed her eyes and made her so irresistible.
"Was there ever," said I--"ever since the world began, such ecstasy as I
feel now? After this what can there be for me but death--well earned and
well paid for? Welcome and lovely death!"
"You have not yet thought, Mr. Ibbetson--you have not realized what life
may have in store for you if--if all you have said about your affection
for me is true. Oh, it is too terrible for me to think of, I know, that
you, scarcely more than a boy, should have to spend the rest of your
life in miserable confinement and unprofitable monotonous toil. But
there is _another_ side to that picture.
"Now listen to your old friend's story--poor little Mimsey's confession.
I will make it as short as I can.
"Do you remember when you first saw me, a sickly, plain, sad little
girl, at the avenue gate, twenty years ago?
"Le Père François was killing a fowl--cutting its throat with a
clasp-knife--and the poor thing struggled frantically in his grasp as
its blood flowed into the gutter. A group of boys were looking on in
great glee, and all the while Père François was gossiping with M. le
Curé, who didn't seem to mind in the least. I was fainting with pity and
horror. Suddenly you came out of the school opposite with Alfred and
Charlie Plunket, and saw it all, and in a fit of noble rage you called
Père François a 'sacred pig of assassin'--which, as you know, is very
rude in French--and struck him as near his face as you could reach.
"Have you forgotten that? Ah, _I_ haven't! It was not an effectual deed,
perhaps, and certainly came too late to save the fowl. Besides, Père
François struck you back again, and left some of the fowl's blood on
your cheek. It was a baptism! You became on the spot my hero--my angel
of light. Look at Gogo over there. Is he beautiful enough? That was
_you_, Mr. Ibbetson.
"M. le Curé said something about 'ces _Anglais_' who go mad if a man
whips his horse, and yet pay people to box each other to death. Don't
you really remember? Oh, the recollection to _me!_
"And that little language we invented and used to talk so fluently!
Don't you _rappel_ it to yourself? 'Ne le _récollectes_ tu pas?' as we
would have said in those days, for it used to be _thee_ and _thou_
with us then.
"Well, at all events, you must remember how for five happy years we were
so often together; how you drew for me, read to me, played with me; took
my part in everything, right or wrong; carried me pickaback when I was
tired. Your drawings--I have them all. And oh! you were so funny
sometimes! How you used to make mamma laugh, and M. le Major! Just look
at Gogo again. Have you forgotten what he is doing now? I haven't.... He
has just changed the _musée des familles_ for the _Penny Magazine_, and
is explaining Hogarth's pictures of the 'Idle and Industrious
Apprentices' to Mimsey, and they are both agreed that the idle one is
much the less objectionable of the two!
"Mimsey looks passive enough, with her thumb in her mouth, doesn't she?
Her little heart is so full of gratitude and love for Gogo that she
can't speak. She can only suck her thumb. Poor, sick, ungainly child!
She would like to be Gogo's slave--she would die for Gogo. And her
mother adores Gogo too; she is almost jealous of dear Madame Pasquier
for having so sweet a son. In just one minute from now, when she has
cut that last curl-paper, poor long-dead mamma will call Gogo to her and
give him a good 'Irish hug,' and make him happy for a week. Wait a
minute and see. _There!_ What did I tell you?
"Well, all that came to an end. Madame Pasquier went away and never came
back, and so did Gogo. Monsieur and Madame Pasquier were dead, and dear
mamma died in a week from the cholera. Poor heartbroken Mimsey was taken
away to St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Leipsic, Venice, all over Europe, by her
father, as heart-broken as herself.
"It was her wish and her father's that she should become a pianist by
profession, and she studied hard for many years in almost every capital,
and under almost every master in Europe, and she gave promise
"And so, wandering from one place to another, she became a young
woman--a greatly petted and spoiled and made-much-of young woman, Mr.
Ibbetson, although she says it who shouldn't; and had many suitors of
all kinds and countries.
"But the heroic and angelic Gogo, with his lovely straight nose, and his
hair _aux enfants d'Edouard_, and his dear little white silk chimney-pot
hat and Eton jacket, was always enshrined in her memory, in her inmost
heart, as the incarnation of all that was beautiful and brave and good.
But alas! what had become of this Gogo in the mean time? Ah, he was
never even heard of--he was dead!
"Well, this long-legged, tender-hearted, grown-up young Mimsey of
nineteen was attracted by a very witty and accomplished English attaché
at Vienna--a Mr. Harcourt, who seemed deeply in love with her, and
wished her to be his wife.
"He was not rich, but Dr. Seraskier liked and trusted him so much that
he dispossessed himself of almost everything he had to enable this young
couple to marry--and they did. And truth compels me to admit that for a
year they were very happy and contented with fate and each other.
"Then a great misfortune befell them both. In a most unexpected manner,
through four or five consecutive deaths in Mr. Harcourt's family, he
became, first, Lord Harcourt, and then the Duke of Towers. And since
then, Mr. Ibbetson, I have not had an hour's peace or happiness.
"In the first place a son was born to me--a cripple, poor dear! and
deformed from his birth; and as he grew older it soon became evident
that he was also born without a mind.
"Then my unfortunate husband changed completely; he drank and gambled
and worse, till we came to live together as strangers, and only spoke to
each other in public and before the world...."
"Ah," I said, "you were still a great lady--an English duchess!"
I could not endure the thought of that happy twelvemonth with that
bestial duke! I, sober, chaste, and clean--of all but blood, alas!--and
a condemned convict!
Oh, Mr. Ibbetson, you must make no mistake about _me_! I was never
intended by nature for a duchess--especially an English one. Not but
what, if dukes and duchesses are necessary, the English are the
best--and, of course, by dukes and duchesses I mean all that
upper-ten-thousand in England which calls itself 'society'--as if there
were no other worth speaking of. Some of them are almost angelic, but
they are not for outsiders like me. Perpetual hunting and shooting and
fishing and horseracing--eating, drinking, and killing, and making
love--eternal court gossip and tittle-tattle--the Prince--the
Queen--whom and what the Queen likes, whom and what she doesn't!--tame
English party politics--the Church--a Church that doesn't know its own
mind, in spite of its deans, bishops, archbishops, and their wives and
daughters--and all their silly, solemn sense of social rank and dignity!
Endless small-talk, dinners, and drums, and no society from year's end
to year's end but each other! Ah, one must be caught young, and put in
harness early, to lead such an existence as that and be content! And I
had met and known _such_ men and women with my father! They _were_
something to know!
There is another society in London and elsewhere--a freemasonry of
intellect and culture and hard work--_la haute bohême du talent_--men
and women whose names are or ought to be household words all over the
world; many of them are good friends of mine, both here and abroad; and
that society, which was good enough for my father and mother, is quite
good enough for me.
I am a republican, Mr. Ibbetson--a cosmopolite--a born Bohemian!
_"'Mon grand père était rossignol; Ma grand mère était hirondelle!"_
Look at my dear people there--look at your dear people! What waifs and
strays, until their ship comes home, which we know it never will! Our
fathers forever racking their five wits in the pursuit of an idea! Our
mothers forever racking theirs to save money and make both ends
meet!... Why, Mr. Ibbetson, you are nearer to the _rossignol_ than I am.
Do you remember your father's voice? Shall I ever forget it! He sang to
me only last night, and in the midst of my harrowing anxiety about you I
was beguiled into listening outside the window. He sang Rossini's
_'Cujus Animam.'_ He _was_ the nightingale; that was his vocation, if he
could but have known it. And you are my brother Bohemian; that is
_yours!_ ... Ah, _my_ vocation! It was to be the wife of some busy
brain-worker--man of science--conspirator--writer--artist--architect,
if you like; to fence him round and shield him from all the little
worries and troubles and petty vexations of life. I am a woman of
business _par excellence_--a manager, and all that. He would have had a
warm, well-ordered little nest to come home to after hunting his idea!
"Well, I thought myself the most unhappy woman alive, and wrapped myself
up in my affection for my much-afflicted little son; and as I held him
to my breast, and vainly tried to warm and mesmerize him into feeling
and intelligence, Gogo came back into my heart, and I was forever
thinking, 'Oh, if I had a son like Gogo what a happy woman I should be!'
and pitied Madame Pasquier for dying and leaving him so soon, for I had
just begun to dream true, and had seen Gogo and his sweet mother
"And then one night--one never-to-be-forgotten night--I went to Lady
Gray's concert, and saw you standing in a corner by yourself; and I
thought, with a leap of my heart, 'Why, that must be Gogo, grown dark,
and with a beard and mustache like a Frenchman!' But alas, I found that
you were only a Mr. Ibbetson, Lady Cray's architect, whom she had asked
to her house because he was 'quite the handsomest young man she had
"You needn't laugh. You looked very nice, I assure you!
"Well, Mr. Ibbetson, although you were not Gogo, you became suddenly so
interesting to me that I never forgot you--you were never quite out of
my mind. I wanted to counsel and advise you, and take you by the hand,
and be an elder sister to you, for I felt myself already older than you
in the world and its ways. I wanted to be twenty years older still, and
to have you for my son. I don't know _what_ I wanted! You seemed so
lonely, and fresh, and unspotted from the world, among all those smart
worldlings, and yet so big and strong and square and invincible--oh, so
strong! And then you looked at me with such sincere and sweet and
chivalrous admiration and sympathy--there, I cannot speak of it--and
then you were _so_ like what Gogo might have become! Oh, you made as
warm and devoted a friend of me at first sight as any one might desire!
"And at the same time you made me feel so self-conscious and shy that I
dared not ask to be introduced to you--I, who scarcely know what
"Dear Giulia Grisi sang '_Sedut' al Pie d' un' Salice,' and that tune
has always been associated in my mind with your tongue ever since, and
always will be. Your dear mother used to play it on the harp. Do
"Then came that extraordinary dream, which you remember as well as I do:
_wasn't_ it a wonder? You see, my dear father had learned a strange
secret of the brain--how in sleep to recall past things and people and
places as they had once been seen or known by him--even unremembered
things. He called it 'dreaming true,' and by long practice, he told me,
he had brought the art of doing this to perfection. It was the one
consolation of his troubled life to go over and over again in sleep all
his happy youth and childhood, and the few short years he had spent with
his beloved young wife. And before he died, when he saw I had become so
unhappy that life seemed to have no longer any possible hope of pleasure
for me, he taught me his very simple secret.
"Thus have I revisited in sleep every place I have ever lived in, and
especially this, the beloved spot where I first as a little girl
That night when we met again in our common dream I was looking at the
boys from Saindou's school going to their _première communion_, and
thinking very much of you, as I had seen you, when awake, a few hours
before, looking out of the window at the 'Tête Noire;' when you suddenly
appeared in great seeming trouble and walking like a tipsy man; and my
vision was disturbed by the shadow of a prison--alas! alas!--and two
little jailers jingling their keys and trying to hem you in.
My emotion at seeing you again so soon was so great that I nearly woke.
But I rescued you from your imaginary terrors and held you by the hand.
You remember all the rest.
I could not understand why you should be in my dream, as I had almost
always dreamed true--that is, about things that _had_ been in my
life--not about things that _might_ be; nor could I account for the
solidity of your hand, nor understand why you didn't fade away when I
took it, and blur the dream. It was a most perplexing mystery that
troubled many hours of both my waking and sleeping life. Then came that
meeting with you at Cray, and part of the mystery was accounted for, for
you were my old friend Gogo, after all. But it is still a mystery, an
awful mystery, that two people should meet as we are meeting now in one
and the same dream--should dovetail so accurately into each other's
brains. What a link between us two, Mr. Ibbetson, already linked by
After meeting you at Cray I felt that I must never meet you again,
either waking or dreaming. The discovery that you were Gogo, after all,
combined with the preoccupation which as a mere stranger you had already
caused me for so long, created such a disturbance in my spirit
that--that--there, you must try and imagine it for yourself.
Even before that revelation at Cray I had often known you were here in
my dream, and I had carefully avoided you ... though little dreaming
you were here in your own dream too! Often from that little
dormer-window up there I have seen you wandering about the park and
avenue in seeming search of _me_, and wondered why and how you came. You
drove me into attics and servants' bedrooms to conceal myself from you.
It was quite a game of hide-and-seek--_cache-cache_, as we used to
But after our meeting at Cray I felt there must be no more
_cache-cache_; I avoided coming here at all; you drove me away
Now try to imagine what I felt when the news of your terrible quarrel
with Mr. Ibbetson burst upon the world. I was beside myself! I came here
night after night; I looked for you everywhere--in the park, in the Bois
de Boulogne, at the Mare d'Auteuil, at St. Cloud--in every place I could
think of! And now here you are at last--at last!
Hush! Don't speak yet! I have soon done!
Six months ago I lost my poor little son, and, much as I loved him, I
cannot wish him back again. In a fortnight I shall be legally separated
from my wretched husband--I shall be quite alone in the world! And then,
Mr. Ibbetson--oh, _then_, dearest friend that child or woman ever
had--every hour that I can steal from my waking existence shall
henceforward be devoted to you as long as both of us live, and sleep the
same hours out of the twenty-four. My one object and endeavor shall be
to make up for the wreck of your sweet and valuable young life. 'Stone
walls shall not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage!' [And here she
laughed and cried together, so that her eyes, closing up, squeezed out
her tears, and I thought, "Oh, that I might drink them!"]
And now I will leave you. I am a weak and loving woman, and must not
stay by your side till I can do so without too much self-reproach.
And indeed I feel I shall soon fall awake from sheer exhaustion of joy.
Oh, selfish and jealous wretch that I am, to talk of joy!
"I cannot help rejoicing that no other woman can be to you what I hope
to be. No other woman can ever come _near_ you! I am your tyrant and
your slave--your calamity has made you mine forever; but all my
life--all--all--shall be spent in trying to make you forget yours, and I
think I shall succeed."
"Oh, don't make such dreadful haste!" I exclaimed. "Am _I_ dreaming
true? What is to prove all this to me when I wake? Either I am the most
abject and wretched of men, or life will never have another unhappy
moment. How am I to _know_?'
"Listen. Do you remember 'Parva sed Apta, le petit pavilion,' as you
used to call it? That is still my home when I am here. It shall be
yours, if you like, when the time comes. You will find much to interest
you there. Well, to-morrow early, in your cell, you will receive from me
an envelope with a slip of paper in it, containing some violets, and the
words 'Parva sed Apta--à bientôt' written in violet ink. Will that
"Oh yes, yes!"
"Well, then, give me your hands, dearest and best--both hands! I shall
soon be here again, by this apple-tree; I shall count the hours.
Good-bye!" and she was gone, and I woke.
I woke to the gaslit darkness of my cell. It was just before dawn. One
of the warders asked me civilly if I wanted anything, and gave me a
drink of water.
I thanked him quietly, and recalled what had just happened to me, with a
wonder, an ecstasy, for which I can find no words.
No, it had _not_ been a _dream_--of that I felt quite sure--not in any
one single respect; there had been nothing of the dream about it except
its transcendent, ineffable enchantment.
Every inflexion of that beloved voice, with its scarcely perceptible
foreign accent that I had never noticed before; every animated gesture,
with its subtle reminiscence of both her father and her mother; her
black dress trimmed with gray; her black and gray hat; the scent of
sandal-wood about her--all were more distinctly and vividly impressed
upon me than if she had just been actually, and in the flesh, at my
bedside. Her tones still rang in my ears. My eyes were full of her: now
her profile, so pure and chiselled; now her full face, with her gray
eyes (sometimes tender and grave and wet with tears, sometimes half
closed in laughter) fixed on mine; her lithe sweet body curved forward,
as she sat and clasped her knees; her arched and slender smooth straight
feet so delicately shod, that seemed now and then to beat time to
And then that strange sense of the transfusion of life at the touching
of the hands! Oh, it was _no dream_! Though what it was I
I turned on my side, happy beyond expression, and fell asleep again--a
dreamless sleep that lasted till I was woke and told to dress.
[Illustration: "MY EYES WERE FULL OF HER."]
Some breakfast was brought to me, and _with it an envelope, open, which
contained some violets, and a slip of paper, scented with sandal-wood,
on which were written, in violet ink, the words--
"Parva sed Apla--à bientôt!
I will pass over the time that elapsed between my sentence and its
commutation; the ministrations and exhortations of the good chaplain;
the kind and touching farewells of Mr. and Mrs. Lintot, who had also
believed that I was Ibbetson's son (I undeceived them); the visit of my
old friend Mrs. Deane ... and her strange passion of gratitude and
I have no doubt it would all be interesting enough, if properly
remembered and ably told. But it was all too much like a
dream--anybody's dream--not one of _mine_--all too slight and flimsy to
have left an abiding remembrance, or to matter much.
In due time I was removed to the jail at----, and bade farewell to the
world, and adapted myself to the conditions of my new outer life with a
good grace and with a very light heart.
The prison routine, leaving the brain so free and unoccupied; the
healthy labor, the pure air, the plain, wholesome food were delightful
to me--a much-needed daily mental rest after the tumultuous emotions of
For I was soon back again in Passy, where I spent every hour of my
sleep, you may be sure, never very far from the old apple-tree, which
went through all its changes, from bare bough to tender shoots and
blossoms, from blossom to ripe fruit, from fruit to yellow falling leaf,
and then to bare boughs again, and all in a few peaceful nights, which
were my days. I flatter myself by this time that I know the habits of a
French apple-tree, and its caterpillars!
And all the dear people I loved, and of whom I could never tire, were
about--all but one. _The_ One!
At last she arrived. The garden door was pushed, the bell rang, and she
came across the lawn, radiant and tall and swift, and opened wide her
arms. And there, with our little world around us--all that we had ever
loved and cared for, but quite unseen and unheard by them--for the first
time in my life since my mother and Madame Seraskier had died I held a
woman in my arms, and she pressed her lips to mine.
[Illustration: "AT LAST SHE ARRIVED."]
Round and round the lawn we walked and talked, as we had often done
fifteen, sixteen, twenty years ago. There were many things to say. "The
Charming Prince" and the "Fairy Tarapatapoum" were "prettily well
The time sped quickly--far too quickly. I said--
"You told me I should see your house--'Parva sed Apta'--that I should
find much to interest me there." ...
She blushed a little and smiled, and said--
"You mustn't expect _too_ much," and we soon found ourselves walking
thither up the avenue. Thus we had often walked as children, and once--a
There stood the little white house with its golden legend, as I had seen
it a thousand times when a boy--a hundred since.
How sweet and small it looked in the mellow sunshine! We mounted the
stone _perron_, and opened the door and entered. My heart beat
Everything was as it had always been, as far as I could see. Dr.
Seraskier sat in a chair by the window reading Schiller, and took no
notice of us. His hair moved in the gentle breeze. Overhead we heard the
rooms being swept and the beds made.
I followed her into a little lumber-room, where I did not remember to
have been before; it was full of odds and ends.
"Why have you brought me here?" I asked.
She laughed and said--
"Open the door in the wall opposite."
There was no door, and I said so.
Then she took my hand, and lo! there _was_ a door! And she pushed, and
we entered another suite of apartments that never could have been there
before; there had never been room for them--nor ever could have been--in
[Illustration: "'AND NEUHA LED HER TORQUIL BY THE HAND.'"]
"Come," she said, laughing and blushing at once; for she seemed nervous
and excited and shy--do you remember--
'And Neuha led her Torquil by the hand,
And waved along the vault her flaming brand!'
--do you remember your little drawing out of _The Island_, in the green
morocco Byron? Here it is, in the top drawer of this beautiful cabinet.
Here are all the drawings you ever did for me--plain and colored--with
dates, explanations, etc., all written by myself--_l'album de la fee
Tarapatapoum_. They are only duplicates. I have the real ones at my
house in Hampshire.
The cabinet also is a duplicate;--isn't it a beauty?--it's from the
Czar's Winter Palace. Everything here is a duplicate, more or less. See,
this is a little dining-room;--did you ever see anything so perfect?--it
is the famous _salle à manger_ of Princesse de Chevagné. I never use it,
except now and then to eat a slice of English household bread with
French butter and 'cassonade.' Little Mimsey, out there, does so
sometimes, when Gogo brings her one, and it makes big Mimsey's mouth
water to see her, so she has to go and do likewise. Would you like
You see the cloth is spread, _deux couverts_. There is a bottle of
famous champagne from Mr. De Rothschild's; there's plenty more where
that came from. The flowers are from Chatsworth, and this is a lobster
salad for _you_. Papa was great at lobster salads and taught me. I mixed
it myself a fortnight ago, and, as you see, it is as fresh and sweet as
if I had only just made it, and the flowers haven't faded a bit.
Here are cigarettes and pipes and cigars. I hope they are good. I don't
Isn't all the furniture rare and beautiful? I have robbed every palace
in Europe of its very best, and yet the owners are not a penny the
worse. You should see up-stairs.
Look at those pictures--the very pick of Raphael and Titian and
Velasquez. Look at that piano--I have heard Liszt play upon it over and
over again, in Leipsic!
Here is my library. Every book I ever read is there, and every binding
I ever admired. I don't often read them, but I dust them carefully. I've
arranged that dust shall fall on them in the usual way to make it real,
and remind one of the outer life one is so glad to leave. All has to be
taken very seriously here, and one must put one's self to a little
trouble. See, here is my father's microscope, and under it a small
spider caught on the premises by myself. It is still alive. It seems
cruel, doesn't it? but it only exists in our brains.
Look at the dress I've got on--feel it; how every detail is worked out.
And you have unconsciously done the same: that's the suit you wore that
morning at Cray under the ash-tree--the nicest suit I ever saw. Here is
a spot of ink on your sleeve as real as can be (bravo!). And this button
is coming off--quite right; I will sew it on with a dream needle, and
dream thread, and a dream thimble!
This little door leads to every picture-gallery in Europe. It took me a
long time to build and arrange them all by myself--quite a week of
nights. It is very pleasant to walk there with a good catalogue, and
make it rain cats and dogs outside.
Through this curtain is an opera box--the most comfortable one I've
ever been in; it does for theatres as well, and oratorios and concerts
and scientific lectures. You shall see from it every performance I've
ever been at, in half a dozen languages; you shall hold my hand and
understand them all. Every singer that I ever heard, you shall hear.
Dear Giulia Grisi shall sing the 'Willow Song' again and again, and you
shall hear the applause. Ah, what applause!
Come into this little room--my favorite; out of _this_ window and down
these steps we can walk or drive to any place you or I have ever been
to, and other places besides. Nothing is far, and we have only to go
hand in hand. I don't know yet where my stables and coach-houses are;
you must help me to find out. But so far I have never lacked a carriage
at the bottom of those steps when I wanted to drive, nor a steam-launch,
nor a gondola, nor a lovely place to go to.
Out of _this_ window, from this divan, we can sit and gaze on whatever
we like. What shall it be? Just now, you perceive, there is a wild and
turbulent sea, with not a ship in sight. Do you hear the waves tumbling
and splashing, and see the albatross? I had been reading Keats's 'Ode to
the Nightingale,' and was so fascinated by the idea of a lattice opening
on the foam
'_Of perilous seas by faery lands forlorn_'
that I thought it would be nice to have a lattice like that myself. I
tried to evolve that sea from my inner consciousness, you know, or
rather from seas that I have sailed over. Do you like it? It was done a
fortnight ago, and the waves have been tumbling about ever since. How
they roar! and hark at the wind! I couldn't manage the 'faery lands.' It
wants one lattice for the sea, and one for the land, I'm afraid. You
must help me. Mean while, what would you like there tonight--the
Yosemite Valley? the Nevski Prospect in the winter, with the sledges?
the Rialto? the Bay of Naples after sunset, with Vesuvius in eruption?...
--"Oh Mary--Mimsey--what do I care for Vesuvius, and sunsets, and the
Bay of Naples ... _just now_? ... Vesuvius is in my heart!"
* * * * *
Thus began for us both a period of twenty-five years, during which we
passed eight or nine hours out of the twenty-four in each other's
company--except on a few rare occasions, when illness or some other
cause prevented one of us from sleeping at the proper time.
I idolized her while she lived; I idolize her memory.
For her sake all women are sacred to me, even the lowest and most
depraved and God-forsaken. They always found a helping friend in _her_.
How can I pay a fitting tribute to one so near to me--nearer than any
woman can ever have been to any man?
I know her mind as I know my own! No two human souls can ever have
interpenetrated each other as ours have done, or we should have heard of
it. Every thought she ever had from her childhood to her death has been
revealed--every thought of mine! Living as we did, it was inevitable.
The touch of a finger was enough to establish the strange circuit, and
wake a common consciousness of past and present, either hers or mine.
And oh, how thankful am I that some lucky chance has preserved me,
murderer and convict as I am, from anything she would have found it
impossible to condone!
I try not to think that shyness and poverty, ungainliness and social
imbecility combined, have had as much to do as self-restraint and
self-respect in keeping me out of so many pitfalls that have been fatal
to so many men better and more gifted than myself.
I try to think that her extraordinary affection, the chance result of a
persistent impression received in childhood, has followed me through
life without my knowing it, and in some occult, mysterious way has kept
me from thoughts and deeds that would have rendered me unworthy, even in
her too indulgent eyes.
Who knows but that her sweet mother's farewell kiss and blessing, and
the tender tears she shed over me when I bade her good-bye at the avenue
gate so many years ago, may have had an antiseptic charm? Mary! I have
followed her from her sickly, suffering childhood to her girlhood--from
her half-ripe, gracefully lanky girlhood to the day of her retirement
from the world of which she was so great an ornament. From girl to woman
it seems like a triumphal procession through all the courts of
Europe--scenes the like of which I have never even dreamed--flattery and
strife to have turned the head of any princess! And she was the simple
daughter of a working scientist and physician--the granddaughter of
Yet even Austrian court etiquette was waived in favor of the child of
plain Dr. Seraskier.
What men have I seen at her feet--how splendid, handsome, gallant,
brilliant, chivalrous, lordly, and gay! And to all, from her, the same
happy geniality--the same kindly, laughing, frolicsome, innocent gayety,
with never a thought of self.
M. le Major was right--"elle avait toutes les intelligences de la tête
et du coeur." And old and young, the best and the worst, seemed to love
and respect her alike--and women as well as men--for her perfect
sincerity, her sweet reasonableness.
And all this time I was plodding at my dull drawing-board in
Pentonville, carrying out another's designs for a stable or a pauper's
cottage, and not even achieving that poor task particularly well!
It would have driven me mad with humiliation and jealousy to see this
past life of hers, but we saw it all hand in hand together--the magical
circuit was established! And I knew, as I saw, how it all affected her,
and marvelled at her simplicity in thinking all this pomp and splendor
of so little consequence.
And I trembled to find that what space in her heart was not filled by
the remembrance of her ever-beloved mother and the image of her father
(one of the noblest and best of men) enshrined the ridiculous figure of
a small boy in a white silk hat and an Eton jacket. And that small
boy was I!
Then came a dreadful twelvemonth that I was fain to leave a blank--the
twelvemonth during which her girlish fancy for her husband lasted--and
then her life was mine again forever!
And _my_ life!
The life of a convict is not, as a rule, a happy one; his bed is not
generally thought a bed of roses.
If I had been the most miserable leper that ever crawled to his wattled
hut in Molokai, I should also have been the happiest of men, could sleep
but have found me there, and could I but sleeping have been the friend
of sleeping Mary Seraskier. She would have loved me all the more!
She has filled my long life of bondage with such felicity as no monarch
has ever dreamed, and has found her own felicity in doing so. That poor,
plodding existence I led before my great misadventure, and have tried to
describe--she has witnessed almost every hour of it with passionate
interest and sympathy, as we went hand in hand together through each
other's past. She would at any time have been only too glad to share it,
leaving her own.
I dreaded the effect of such a sordid revelation upon one who had lived
so brilliantly and at such an altitude. I need have had no fear! Just as
she thought me an "angelic hero" at eight years old, she remained
persuaded all through her life that I was an Apollo--a misunderstood
I am sick with shame when I think of it. But I am not the first unworthy
mortal on whom blind, undiscriminating love has chosen to lavish its
most priceless treasures. Tarapatapoum is not the only fairy who has
idealized a hulking clown with an ass's head into a Prince Charming;
the spectacle, alas! is not infrequent. But at least I have been humbly
thankful for the undeserved blessing, and known its value. And,
moreover, I think I may lay claim to one talent: that of also knowing by
intuition when and where and how to love--in a moment--in a
It seems like a thousand, so much have we seen and felt and done in that
busy enchanted quarter of a century. And yet how quickly the time
And now I must endeavor to give some account of our wonderful inner
life--_à deux_--a delicate and difficult task.
There is both an impertinence and a lack of taste in any man's laying
bare to the public eye--to any eye--the bliss that has come to him
through the love of a devoted woman, with whose life his own has
been bound up.
The most sympathetic reader is apt to be repelled by such a
revelation--to be sceptical of the beauties and virtues and mental gifts
of one he has never seen; at all events, to feel that they are no
concern of his, and ought to be the subject of a sacred reticence on the
part of her too fortunate lover or husband.
The lack of such reticence has marred the interest of many an
autobiography--of many a novel, even; and in private life, who does not
know by painful experience how embarrassing to the listener such tender
confidences can sometimes be? I will try my best not to transgress in
this particular. If I fail (I may have failed already), I can only plead
that the circumstances are quite exceptional and not to be matched; and
that allowances must be made for the deep gratitude I owe and feel over
and above even my passionate admiration and love.
For the next three years of my life has nothing to show but the
alternation of such honeymooning as never was before with a dull but
contented prison life, not one hour of which is worth recording, or even
remembering, except as a foil to its alternative.
It had but one hour for me, the bed hour, and fortunately that was an
Healthily tired in body, blissfully expectant in mind, I would lie on my
back, with my hands duly crossed under my head, and sleep would soon
steal over me like balm; and before I had forgotten who and what and
where I really was, I would reach the goal on which my will was intent,
and waking up, find my body in another place, in another garb, on a
couch by an enchanted window, still with my arms crossed behind my
head--in the sacramental attitude.
Then would I stretch my limbs and slip myself free of my outer life, as
a new-born butterfly from the durance of its self-spun cocoon, with an
unutterable sense of youth and strength and freshness and felicity; and
opening my eyes I would see on the adjacent couch the form of Mary, also
supine, but motionless and inanimate as a statue. Nothing could wake her
to life till the time came: her hours were somewhat later, and she was
still in the toils of the outer life I had just left behind me.
And these toils, in her case, were more complicated than in mine.
Although she had given up the world, she had many friends and an immense
correspondence. And then, being a woman endowed with boundless health
and energy, splendid buoyancy of animal spirits, and a great capacity
for business, she had made for herself many cares and occupations.
She was the virtual mistress of a home for fallen women, a reformatory
for juvenile thieves, and a children's convalescent hospital--to all of
which she gave her immediate personal superintendence, and almost every
penny she had. She had let her house in Hampshire, and lived with a
couple of female servants in a small furnished house on Campden Hill.
She did without a carriage, and went about in cabs and omnibuses,
dressed like a daily governess, though nobody could appear more regally
magnificent than she did when we were together.
She still kept her name and title, as a potent weapon of influence on
behalf of her charities, and wielded it mercilessly in her constant raid
on the purse of the benevolent Philistine, who is fond of great people.
All of which gave rise to much comment that did not affect her
equanimity in the least.
She also attended lectures, committees, boards, and councils; opened
bazaars and soup kitchens and coffee taverns, etc. The list of her
self-imposed tasks was endless. Thus her outer life was filled to
overflowing, and, unlike mine, every hour of it was worth record--as I
well know, who have witnessed it all. But this is not the place in which
to write the outer life of the Duchess of Towers; another hand has done
that, as everybody knows.
Every page henceforward must be sacred to Mary Seraskier, the "fée
Tarapatapoum" of "Magna sed Apta" (for so we had called the new home
and palace of art she had added on to "Parva sed Apta," the home of her
To return thither, where we left her lying unconscious. Soon the color
would come back to her cheeks, the breath to her nostrils, the pulse to
her heart, and she would wake to her Eden, as she called it--our common
inner life--that we might spend it in each other's company for the next
Pending this happy moment, I would make coffee (such coffee!), and smoke
a cigarette or two; and to fully appreciate the bliss of _that_ one must
be an habitual smoker who lives his real life in an English jail.
When she awoke from her sixteen hours' busy trance in the outer world,
such a choice of pleasures lay before us as no other mortal has ever
known. She had been all her life a great traveller, and had dwelt in
many lands and cities, and seen more of life and the world and nature
than most people. I had but to take her hand, and one of us had but to
wish, and, lo! wherever either of us had been, whatever either of us had
seen or heard or felt, or even eaten or drunk, there it was all over
again to choose from, with the other to share in it--such a hypnotism of
ourselves and each other as was never dreamed of before.
Everything was as life-like, as real to us both, as it had been to
either at the actual time of its occurrence, with an added freshness and
charm that never belonged to mortal existence. It was no dream; it was a
second life, a better land.
We had, however, to stay within certain bounds, and beware of
transgressing certain laws that we discovered for ourselves, but could
not quite account for. For instance, it was fatal to attempt exploits
that were outside of our real experience; to fly, or to jump from a
height, or do any of these non-natural things that make the charm and
wonder of ordinary dreams. If we did so our true dream was blurred, and
became as an ordinary dream--vague, futile, unreal, and untrue--the
baseless fabric of a vision. Nor must we alter ourselves in any way;
even to the shape of a finger-nail, we must remain ourselves; although
we kept ourselves at our very best, and could choose what age we should
be. We chose from twenty-six to twenty-eight, and stuck to it.
Yet there were many things, quite as impossible in real life, that we
could do with impunity--most delightful things!
For instance, after the waking cup of coffee, it was certainly
delightful to spend a couple of hours in the Yosemite Valley, leisurely
strolling about and gazing at the giant pines--a never-palling source of
delight to both of us--breathing the fragrant fresh air, looking at our
fellow-tourists and listening to their talk, with the agreeable
consciousness that, solid and substantial as we were to each other, we
were quite inaudible, invisible, and intangible to them. Often we would
dispense with the tourists, and have the Yosemite Valley all to
ourselves. (Always there, and in whatever place she had visited with her
husband, we would dispense with the figure of her former self and him, a
sight I could not have borne.)
When we had strolled and gazed our fill, it was delightful again, just
by a slight effort of her will and a few moments' closing of our eyes,
to find ourselves driving along the Via Cornice to an exquisite garden
concert in Dresden, or being rowed in a gondola to a Saturday Pop at St.
James's Hall. And thence, jumping into a hansom, we would be whisked
through Piccadilly and the park to the Arc de Triomphe home to "Magna
sed Apta," Rue de la Pompe, Passy (a charming drive, and not a bit too
long), just in time for dinner.
A very delicious little dinner, judiciously ordered out of _her_
remembrance, not _mine_ (and served in the most exquisite little
dining-room in all Paris--the Princesse de Chevagné's): "huîtres
d'Ostende," let us say, and "soupe à la bonne femme," with a "perdrix
aux choux" to follow, and pancakes, and "fromage de Brie;" and to drink,
a bottle of "Romané Conti;" without even the bother of waiters to change
the dishes; a wish, a moment's shutting of the eyes--_augenblick_! and
it was done--and then we could wait on each other.
After my prison fare, and with nothing but tenpenny London dinners to
recollect in the immediate past, I trust I shall not be thought a gross
materialist for appreciating these small banquets, and in such company.
(The only dinner I could recall which was not a tenpenny one, except the
old dinners of my childhood, was that famous dinner at Cray, where I had
discovered that the Duchess of Towers was Mimsey Seraskier, and I did
not eat much of _that_.)
Then a cigarette and a cup of coffee, and a glass of curaçoa; and after,
to reach our private box we had but to cross the room and lift
And there before us was the theatre or opera-house brilliantly lighted,
and the instruments tuning up, and the splendid company pouring in:
crowned heads, famous beauties, world-renowned warriors and statesmen,
Garibaldi, Gortschakoff, Cavour, Bismarck, and Moltke, now so famous,
and who not? Mary would point them out to me. And in the next box Dr.
Seraskier and his tall daughter, who seemed friends with all that
Now it was St. Petersburg, now Berlin, now Vienna, Paris, Naples, Milan,
London--every great city in turn. But our box was always the same, and
always the best in the house, and I the one person privileged to smoke
my cigar in the face of all that royalty, fashion, and splendor.
Then, after the overture, up went the curtain. If it was a play, and the
play was in German or Russian or Italian, I had but to touch Mary's
little finger to understand it all--a true but incomprehensible thing.
For well as I might understand, I could not have spoken a word of
either, and the moment that slight contact was discontinued, they might
as well have been acting in Greek or Hebrew, for _me_.
But it was for music we cared the most, and I think I may say that of
music during those three years (and ever after) we have had our glut.
For all through her busy waking life Mary found time to hear whatever
good music was going on in London, that she might bring it back to me at
night; and we would rehear it together, again and again, and _da capo_.
It is a rare privilege for two private individuals, and one of them a
convict, to assist at a performance honored by the patronage and
presence of crowned heads, and yet be able to encore any particular
thing that pleases them. How often have we done that!
Oh, Joachim! oh, Clara Schumann! oh, Piattil--all of whom I know so
well, but have never heard with the fleshly ear! Oh, others, whom it
would be invidious to mention without mentioning all--a glorious list!
How we have made you, all unconscious, repeat the same movements over
and over again, without ever from you a sign of impatience or fatigue!
How often have we summoned Liszt to play to us on his own favorite
piano, which adorned our own favorite sitting-room! How little he knew
(or will ever know now, alas!) what exquisite delight he gave us!
Oh, Pattit, Angelina! Oh, Santley and Sims Reeves! Oh, De Soria,
nightingale of the drawing-room, I wonder you have a note left!
And you, Ristori, and you, Salvini, et vous, divine Sarah, qui débutiez
alors! On me dit que votre adorable voix a perdu un peu de sa première
fraîcheur. Cela ne m'étonne pas! Bien sûr, nous y sommes pour
* * * * *
And then the picture-galleries, the museums, the botanical and
zoological gardens of all countries--"Magna sed Apta" had space for them
all, even to the Elgin Marbles room of the British Museum, which I
What enchanted hours have we spent among the pictures and statues of the
world, weeding them here and there, perhaps, or hanging them
differently, or placing them in what we thought a better light! The
"Venus of Milo" showed to far greater advantage in "Magna sed Apta" than
at the Louvre.
And when busied thus delightfully at home, and to enhance the delight,
we made it shocking bad weather outside; it rained cats and dogs, or
else the north wind piped, and snow fell on the desolate gardens of
"Magna sed Apta," and whitened the landscape as far as eye could see.
Nearest to our hearts, however, were many pictures of our own time, for
we were moderns of the moderns, after all, in spite of our efforts of
There was scarcely a living or recently living master in Europe whose
best works were not in our possession, so lighted and hung that even the
masters themselves would have been content; for we had plenty of space
at our command, and each picture had a wall to itself, so toned as to do
full justice to its beauty, and a comfortable sofa for two
But in the little room we most lived in, the room with the magic window,
we had crowded a few special favorites of the English school, for we had
so much foreign blood in us that we were more British than John Bull
himself--_plus royalistes que le Roi_.
There was Millais's "Autumn Leaves," his "Youth of Sir Walter Raleigh,"
his "Chill October"; Watts's "Endymion," and "Orpheus and Eurydice";
Burne-Jones's "Chant d'Amour," and his "Laus Veneris"; Alma-Tadema's
"Audience of Agrippa," and the "Women of Amphissa"; J. Whistler's
portrait of his mother; the "Venus and Aesculapius," by E. J. Poynter;
F. Leighton's "Daphnephoria"; George Mason's "Harvest Moon"; and
Frederic Walker's "Harbor of Refuge," and, of course, Merridew's
While on a screen, designed by H. S. Marks, and exquisitely decorated
round the margin with golden plovers and their eggs (which I adore),
were smaller gems in oil and water-color that Mary had fallen in love
with at one time or another. The immortal "Moonlight Sonata," by
Whistler; E, J. Poynter's exquisite "Our Lady of the Fields" (dated
Paris, 1857); a pair of adorable "Bimbi" by V. Prinsep, who seems very
fond of children; T. R. Lamont's touching "L'Après Dîner de l'Abbé
Constantin," with the sweet girl playing the old spinet; and that
admirable work of T. Armstrong, in his earlier and more realistic
manner, "Le Zouave et lâ Nounou," not to mention splendid rough sketches
by John Leech, Charles Keene, Tenniel, Sambourne, Furniss, Caldecott,
etc.; not to mention, also, endless little sketches in silver point of a
most impossibly colossal, blackavised, shaggy-coated St. Bernard--signed
with the familiar French name of some gay troubadour of the pencil, some
stray half-breed like myself, and who seems to have loved his dog as
much as I loved mine.
Then suddenly, in the midst of all this unparalleled artistic splendor,
we felt that a something was wanting. There was a certain hollowness
about it; and we discovered that in our case the principal motives for
collecting all these beautiful things were absent.
1. We were not the sole possessors.
2. We had nobody to show them to.
3. Therefore we could take no pride in them.
[Illustration: THE NURSERY SCHOOL-ROOM.]
And found that when we wanted bad weather for a change, and the joys of
home, we could be quite as happy in my old school-room, where the
squirrels and the monkey and the hedgehog were, with each of us on a
cane-bottomed arm-chair by the wood-fire, each roasting chestnuts for
the other, and one book between us, for one of us to read out loud; or,
better still, the morning and evening papers she had read a few hours
earlier; and marvellous to relate, she had not even _read_ them when
awake! she had merely glanced through them carefully, taking in the
aspect of each column one after another, from top to bottom--and yet she
was able to read out every word from the dream-paper she held in her
hands--thus truly chewing the very cud of journalism!
This always seemed to us, in a small but practical way, the most
complete and signal triumph of mind over matter we had yet achieved.
Not, indeed, that we could read much, we had so much to talk about.
Unfortunately, the weak part of "Magna sed Apta" was its library.
Naturally it could only consist of books that one or the other of us had
read when awake. She had led such an active life that but little leisure
had been left her for books, and I had read only as an every-day young
man reads who is fond of reading.
However, such books as we _had_ read were made the most of, and so
magnificently bound that even their authors would have blushed with
pride and pleasure had they been there to see. And though we had little
time for reading them over again, we could enjoy the true bibliophilous
delight of gazing at their backs, and taking them down and fingering
them and putting them carefully back again.
In most of these treats, excursions, festivities, and pleasures of the
fireside, Mary was naturally leader and hostess; it could scarcely have
There was once a famous Mary, of whom it was said that to know her was a
liberal education. I think I may say that to have known Mary Seraskier
has been all that to me!
But now and then I would make some small attempt at returning her
We have slummed together in Clerkenwell, Smithfield, Cow Cross,
Petticoat Lane, Ratcliffe Highway, and the East India and West
She has been with me to penny gaffs and music-halls; to Greenwich Fair,
and Cremorne and Rosherville gardens--and liked them all. She knew
Pentonville as well as I do; and my old lodgings there, where we have
both leaned over my former shoulder as I read or drew. It was she who
rescued from oblivion my little prophetic song about "The Chime," which
I had quite forgotten. She has been to Mr. Lintot's parties, and found
them most amusing--especially Mr. Lintot.
And going further back into the past, she has roamed with me all over
Paris, and climbed with me the towers of Notre Dame, and looked in vain
for the mystic word [Greek: Anagkae]!
But I had also better things to show, untravelled as I was.
She had never seen Hampstead Heath, which I knew by heart; and Hampstead
Heath at any time, but especially on a sunny morning in late October, is
not to be disdained by any one.
Half the leaves have fallen, so that one can see the fading glory of
those that remain; yellow and brown and pale and hectic red, shining
like golden guineas and bright copper coins against the rich, dark,
business-like green of the trees that mean to flourish all the winter
through, like the tall slanting pines near the Spaniards, and the old
cedar-trees, and hedges of yew and holly, for which the Hampstead
gardens are famous.
Before us lies a sea of fern, gone a russet-brown from decay, in which
are isles of dark green gorse, and little trees with little scarlet and
orange and lemon-colored leaflets fluttering down, and running after
each other on the bright grass, under the brisk west wind which makes
the willows rustle, and turn up the whites of their leaves in pious
resignation to the coming change.
Harrow-on-the-Hill, with its pointed spire, rises blue in the distance;
and distant ridges, like receding waves, rise into blueness, one after
the other, out of the low-lying mist; the last ridge bluely melting into
space. In the midst of it all gleams the Welsh Harp Lake, like a piece
of sky that has become unstuck and tumbled into the landscape with its
shiny side up.
On the other side, all London, with nothing but the gilded cross of St.
Paul's on a level with the eye; it lies at our feet, as Paris used to do
from the heights of Passy, a sight to make true dreamers gaze and think
and dream the more; and there we sit thinking and dreaming and gazing
our fill, hand in hand, our spirits rushing together.
Once as we sat we heard the clatter of hoofs behind us, and there was a
troop of my old regiment out exercising. Invisible to all but ourselves,
and each other, we watched the wanton troopers riding by on their meek
First came the cornet--a sunny-haired Apollo, a gilded youth, graceful
and magnificent to the eye--careless, fearless, but stupid, harsh, and
proud--an English Phébus de Châteaupers--the son of a great contractor;
I remembered him well, and that he loved me not. Then the rank and file
in stable jackets, most of them (but for a stalwart corporal here and
there) raw, lanky youths, giving promise of much future strength, and
each leading a second horse; and among them, longest and lankiest of
them all, but ruddy as a ploughboy, and stolidly whistling _"On revient
toujours à ses premiers amours,"_ rode my former self--a sight (or
sound) that seemed to touch some tender chord in Mary's nature, where
there were so many, since it filled her eyes with tears.
To describe in full a honey-moon filled with such adventures, and that
lasted for three years, is unnecessary. It would be but another
superficial record of travel, by another unskilled pen. And what a pen
is wanted for such a theme! It was not mere life, it was the very cream
and essence of life, that we shared with each other--all the toil and
trouble, the friction and fatigue, left out. The necessary earthly
journey through time and space from one joy to another was omitted,
unless such a journey were a joy in itself.
For instance, a pleasant hour can be spent on the deck of a splendid
steamer, as it cleaves its way through a sapphire tropical sea, bound
for some lovely West Indian islet; with a good cigar and the dearest
companion in the world, watching the dolphins and the flying-fish, and
mildly interesting one's self in one's fellow-passengers, the captain,
the crew. And then, the hour spent and the cigar smoked out, it is well
to shut one's eyes and have one's self quietly lowered down the side of
the vessel into a beautiful sledge, and then, half smothered in costly
furs, to be whirled along the frozen Neva to a ball at the Winter
Palace, there to valse with one's Mary among all the beauty and chivalry
of St. Petersburg, and never a soul to find fault with one's valsing,
which at first was far from perfect, or one's attire, which was not that
of the fashionable world of the day, nor was Mary's either. We were
aesthetic people, and very Greek, who made for ourselves fashions of our
own, which I will not describe.
Where have we not waltzed together, from Buckingham Palace downward? I
confess I grew to take a delight in valsing, or waltzing, or whatever it
is properly called; and although it is not much to boast of, I may say
that after a year or two no better dancer than I was to be found in
And here, by the way, I may mention what pleasure it gave me (hand in
hand with Mary, of course, as usual) to renew and improve my
acquaintance with our British aristocracy, begun so agreeably many years
ago at Lady Cray's concert.
Our British aristocracy does not waltz well by any means, and lacks
lightness generally; but it may gratify and encourage some of its
members to hear that Peter Ibbetson (ex-private soldier, architect and
surveyor, convict and criminal lunatic), who has had unrivalled
opportunities for mixing with the cream of European society, considers
our British aristocracy quite the best-looking, best-dressed, and
best-behaved aristocracy of them all, and the most sensible and the
least exclusive--perhaps the most sensible _because_ the least
It often snubs, but does not altogether repulse, those gifted and
privileged outsiders who (just for the honor and glory of the thing) are
ever so ready to flatter and instruct and amuse it, and run its
errands, and fetch and carry, and tumble for its pleasure, and even to
marry such of its "ugly ducklings" (or shall we say such of its
"unprepossessing cygnets?") as cannot hope to mate with birds of their
For it has the true English eye for physical beauty.
Indeed, it is much given to throw the handkerchief--successfully, of
course--and, most fortunately for itself, beyond the pale of its own
narrow precincts--nay, beyond the broad Atlantic, even, to the land
where beauty and dollars are to be found in such happy combination.
Nor does it disdain the comeliness of the daughters of Israel, nor their
shekels, nor their brains, nor their ancient and most valuable blood. It
knows the secret virtue of that mechanical transfusion of fluids
familiar to science under the name of "endosmoses" and "exosmoses" (I
hope I have spelled them rightly), and practises the same. Whereby it
shows itself wise in its generation, and will endure the longer, which
cannot be very long.
Peter Ibbetson (etc., etc.), for one, wishes it no manner of harm.
* * * * *
But to return. With all these temptations of travel and amusement and
society and the great world, such was our insatiable fondness for "the
pretty place of our childhood" and all its associations, that our
greatest pleasure of all was to live our old life over again and again,
and make Gogo and Mimsey and our parents and cousins and M. le Major go
through their old paces once more; and to recall _new_ old paces for
them, which we were sometimes able to do, out of stray forgotten bits of
the past; to hunt for which was the most exciting sport in the world.
Our tenderness for these beloved shades increased with familiarity. We
could see all the charm and goodness and kindness of these dear fathers
and mothers of ours with the eyes of matured experience, for we were
pretty much of an age with them now; no other children could ever say as
much since the world began, and how few young parents could bear such a
scrutiny as ours.
Ah! what would we not have given to extort just a spark of recognition,
but that was impossible; or to have been able to whisper just a word of
warning, which would have averted the impending strokes of inexorable
fate! They might have been alive now, perhaps--old indeed, but honored
and loved as no parents ever were before. How different everything would
have been! Alas! alas!
And of all things in the world, we never tired of that walk through the
avenue and park and Bois de Boulogne to the Mare d'Auteuil; strolling
there leisurely on an early spring afternoon, just in time to spend a
midsummer hour or two on its bank, and watch the old water-rat and the
dytiscus and the tadpoles and newts, and see the frogs jump; and then
walking home at dusk in the school-room of my old home; and then back to
war, well-lighted "Magna sed Apta" by moonlight through the avenue on
New Year's Eve, ankle-deep in snow; all in a few short hours.
Dream winds and dream weathers--what an enchantment! And all real!
Soft caressing rains that do not wet us if we do not wish them to; sharp
frosts that brace but never chill; blazing suns that neither scorch
Blustering winds of early spring, that seem to sweep right through these
solid frames of ours, and thrill us to the very marrow with the old
heroic excitement and ecstasy we knew so well in happy childhood, but
can no longer feel now when awake!
Bland summer breezes, heavy with the scent of long lost French woods and
fields and gardens in full flower; swift, soft, moist equinoctial gales,
blowing from the far-off orchards of Meudon, or the old market gardens
of Suresnes in their autumnal decay, and laden, we do not know why, with
strange, mysterious, troubling reminiscence too subtle and elusive to be
expressed in any tongue--too sweet for any words! And then the dark
December wind that comes down from the north, and brings the short,
early twilights and the snow, and drives us home, pleasantly shivering,
to the chimney-corner and the hissing logs--_chez nous!_
It is the last night of an old year--_la veille du jour de l'an_.
Ankle-deep in snow, we walk to warm, well-lighted "Magna sed Apta," up
the moonlit avenue. It is dream snow, and yet we feel it crunch beneath
our feet; but if we turn to look, the tracks of our footsteps have
disappeared--and we cast no shadows, though the moon is full!
M. le Major goes by, and Yverdon the postman, and Père François, with
his big sabots, and others, and their footprints remain--and their
shadows are strong and sharp!
They wish each other the compliments of the season as they meet and
pass; they wish us nothing! We give them _la bonne année_ at the tops of
our voices; they do not heed us in the least, though our voices are as
resonant as theirs. We are wishing them a "Happy New Year," that dawned
for good or evil nearly twenty years ago.
Out comes Gogo from the Seraskiers', with Mimsey. He makes a snowball
and throws it. It flies straight through me, and splashes itself on Père
François's broad back. "Ah, ce polisson de Monsieur Gogo ... attendez un
peu!" and Père François returns the compliment--straight through me
again, as it seems; and I do not even feel it! Mary and I are as solid
to each other as flesh and blood can make us. We cannot even touch these
dream people without their melting away into thin air; we can only hear
and see them, but that in perfection!
There goes that little André Corbin, the poulterer's son, running along
the slippery top of Madame Pelé's garden wall, which is nearly ten
"Good heavens," cries Mary, "stop him! Don't you remember? When he gets
to the corner he'll fall down and break both his legs!"
I rush and bellow out to him--
"Descends donc, malheureux; tu vas te casser les deux jambes! Saute!
saute!" ... I cry, holding out my arms. He does not pay the slightest
attention: he reaches the corner, followed low down by Gogo and Mimsey,
who are beside themselves with generous envy and admiration. Stimulated
by their applause, he becomes more foolhardy than ever, and even tries
to be droll, and standing on one leg, sings a little song that begins--
_"Maman m'a donné quat' sous Pour m'en aller à la foire, Non pas pour
manger ni boire, Alais pour m'régaler d'joujoux!"_
Then suddenly down he slips, poor boy, and breaks both his legs below
the knee on an iron rail, whereby he becomes a cripple for life.
All this sad little tragedy of a New-year's Eve plays itself anew. The
sympathetic crowd collects; Mimsey and Gogo weep; the heart-broken
parents arrive, and the good little doctor Larcher; and Mary and I look
on like criminals, so impossible it seems not to feel that we might have