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The Lifted Veil by George Eliot [Mary Anne Evans]

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This etext was prepared by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk


by George Eliot [Mary Anne Evans]


The time of my end approaches. I have lately been subject to
attacks of angina pectoris; and in the ordinary course of things,
my physician tells me, I may fairly hope that my life will not be
protracted many months. Unless, then, I am cursed with an
exceptional physical constitution, as I am cursed with an
exceptional mental character, I shall not much longer groan under
the wearisome burthen of this earthly existence. If it were to be
otherwise--if I were to live on to the age most men desire and
provide for--I should for once have known whether the miseries of
delusive expectation can outweigh the miseries of true provision.
For I foresee when I shall die, and everything that will happen in
my last moments.

Just a month from this day, on September 20, 1850, I shall be
sitting in this chair, in this study, at ten o'clock at night,
longing to die, weary of incessant insight and foresight, without
delusions and without hope. Just as I am watching a tongue of blue
flame rising in the fire, and my lamp is burning low, the horrible
contraction will begin at my chest. I shall only have time to
reach the bell, and pull it violently, before the sense of
suffocation will come. No one will answer my bell. I know why.
My two servants are lovers, and will have quarrelled. My
housekeeper will have rushed out of the house in a fury, two hours
before, hoping that Perry will believe she has gone to drown
herself. Perry is alarmed at last, and is gone out after her. The
little scullery-maid is asleep on a bench: she never answers the
bell; it does not wake her. The sense of suffocation increases:
my lamp goes out with a horrible stench: I make a great effort,
and snatch at the bell again. I long for life, and there is no
help. I thirsted for the unknown: the thirst is gone. O God, let
me stay with the known, and be weary of it: I am content. Agony
of pain and suffocation--and all the while the earth, the fields,
the pebbly brook at the bottom of the rookery, the fresh scent
after the rain, the light of the morning through my chamber-window,
the warmth of the hearth after the frosty air--will darkness close
over them for ever?

Darkness--darkness--no pain--nothing but darkness: but I am
passing on and on through the darkness: my thought stays in the
darkness, but always with a sense of moving onward . . .

Before that time comes, I wish to use my last hours of ease and
strength in telling the strange story of my experience. I have
never fully unbosomed myself to any human being; I have never been
encouraged to trust much in the sympathy of my fellow-men. But we
have all a chance of meeting with some pity, some tenderness, some
charity, when we are dead: it is the living only who cannot be
forgiven--the living only from whom men's indulgence and reverence
are held off, like the rain by the hard east wind. While the heart
beats, bruise it--it is your only opportunity; while the eye can
still turn towards you with moist, timid entreaty, freeze it with
an icy unanswering gaze; while the ear, that delicate messenger to
the inmost sanctuary of the soul, can still take in the tones of
kindness, put it off with hard civility, or sneering compliment, or
envious affectation of indifference; while the creative brain can
still throb with the sense of injustice, with the yearning for
brotherly recognition--make haste--oppress it with your ill-
considered judgements, your trivial comparisons, your careless
misrepresentations. The heart will by and by be still--"ubi saeva
indignatio ulterius cor lacerare nequit"; the eye will cease to
entreat; the ear will be deaf; the brain will have ceased from all
wants as well as from all work. Then your charitable speeches may
find vent; then you may remember and pity the toil and the struggle
and the failure; then you may give due honour to the work achieved;
then you may find extenuation for errors, and may consent to bury

That is a trivial schoolboy text; why do I dwell on it? It has
little reference to me, for I shall leave no works behind me for
men to honour. I have no near relatives who will make up, by
weeping over my grave, for the wounds they inflicted on me when I
was among them. It is only the story of my life that will perhaps
win a little more sympathy from strangers when I am dead, than I
ever believed it would obtain from my friends while I was living.

My childhood perhaps seems happier to me than it really was, by
contrast with all the after-years. For then the curtain of the
future was as impenetrable to me as to other children: I had all
their delight in the present hour, their sweet indefinite hopes for
the morrow; and I had a tender mother: even now, after the dreary
lapse of long years, a slight trace of sensation accompanies the
remembrance of her caress as she held me on her knee--her arms
round my little body, her cheek pressed on mine. I had a complaint
of the eyes that made me blind for a little while, and she kept me
on her knee from morning till night. That unequalled love soon
vanished out of my life, and even to my childish consciousness it
was as if that life had become more chill I rode my little white
pony with the groom by my side as before, but there were no loving
eyes looking at me as I mounted, no glad arms opened to me when I
came back. Perhaps I missed my mother's love more than most
children of seven or eight would have done, to whom the other
pleasures of life remained as before; for I was certainly a very
sensitive child. I remember still the mingled trepidation and
delicious excitement with which I was affected by the tramping of
the horses on the pavement in the echoing stables, by the loud
resonance of the groom's voices, by the booming bark of the dogs as
my father's carriage thundered under the archway of the courtyard,
by the din of the gong as it gave notice of luncheon and dinner.
The measured tramp of soldiery which I sometimes heard--for my
father's house lay near a county town where there were large
barracks--made me sob and tremble; and yet when they were gone
past, I longed for them to come back again.

I fancy my father thought me an odd child, and had little fondness
for me; though he was very careful in fulfilling what he regarded
as a parent's duties. But he was already past the middle of life,
and I was not his only son. My mother had been his second wife,
and he was five-and-forty when he married her. He was a firm,
unbending, intensely orderly man, in root and stem a banker, but
with a flourishing graft of the active landholder, aspiring to
county influence: one of those people who are always like
themselves from day to day, who are uninfluenced by the weather,
and neither know melancholy nor high spirits. I held him in great
awe, and appeared more timid and sensitive in his presence than at
other times; a circumstance which, perhaps, helped to confirm him
in the intention to educate me on a different plan from the
prescriptive one with which he had complied in the case of my elder
brother, already a tall youth at Eton. My brother was to be his
representative and successor; he must go to Eton and Oxford, for
the sake of making connexions, of course: my father was not a man
to underrate the bearing of Latin satirists or Greek dramatists on
the attainment of an aristocratic position. But, intrinsically, he
had slight esteem for "those dead but sceptred spirits"; having
qualified himself for forming an independent opinion by reading
Potter's AEschylus, and dipping into Francis's Horace. To this
negative view he added a positive one, derived from a recent
connexion with mining speculations; namely, that a scientific
education was the really useful training for a younger son.
Moreover, it was clear that a shy, sensitive boy like me was not
fit to encounter the rough experience of a public school. Mr.
Letherall had said so very decidedly. Mr. Letherall was a large
man in spectacles, who one day took my small head between his large
hands, and pressed it here and there in an exploratory, auspicious
manner--then placed each of his great thumbs on my temples, and
pushed me a little way from him, and stared at me with glittering
spectacles. The contemplation appeared to displease him, for he
frowned sternly, and said to my father, drawing his thumbs across
my eyebrows -

"The deficiency is there, sir--there; and here," he added, touching
the upper sides of my head, "here is the excess. That must be
brought out, sir, and this must be laid to sleep."

I was in a state of tremor, partly at the vague idea that I was the
object of reprobation, partly in the agitation of my first hatred--
hatred of this big, spectacled man, who pulled my head about as if
he wanted to buy and cheapen it.

I am not aware how much Mr. Letherall had to do with the system
afterwards adopted towards me, but it was presently clear that
private tutors, natural history, science, and the modern languages,
were the appliances by which the defects of my organization were to
be remedied. I was very stupid about machines, so I was to be
greatly occupied with them; I had no memory for classification, so
it was particularly necessary that I should study systematic
zoology and botany; I was hungry for human deeds and humane
motions, so I was to be plentifully crammed with the mechanical
powers, the elementary bodies, and the phenomena of electricity and
magnetism. A better-constituted boy would certainly have profited
under my intelligent tutors, with their scientific apparatus; and
would, doubtless, have found the phenomena of electricity and
magnetism as fascinating as I was, every Thursday, assured they
were. As it was, I could have paired off, for ignorance of
whatever was taught me, with the worst Latin scholar that was ever
turned out of a classical academy. I read Plutarch, and
Shakespeare, and Don Quixote by the sly, and supplied myself in
that way with wandering thoughts, while my tutor was assuring me
that "an improved man, as distinguished from an ignorant one, was a
man who knew the reason why water ran downhill." I had no desire
to be this improved man; I was glad of the running water; I could
watch it and listen to it gurgling among the pebbles, and bathing
the bright green water-plants, by the hour together. I did not
want to know WHY it ran; I had perfect confidence that there were
good reasons for what was so very beautiful.

There is no need to dwell on this part of my life. I have said
enough to indicate that my nature was of the sensitive, unpractical
order, and that it grew up in an uncongenial medium, which could
never foster it into happy, healthy development. When I was
sixteen I was sent to Geneva to complete my course of education;
and the change was a very happy one to me, for the first sight of
the Alps, with the setting sun on them, as we descended the Jura,
seemed to me like an entrance into heaven; and the three years of
my life there were spent in a perpetual sense of exaltation, as if
from a draught of delicious wine, at the presence of Nature in all
her awful loveliness. You will think, perhaps, that I must have
been a poet, from this early sensibility to Nature. But my lot was
not so happy as that. A poet pours forth his song and BELIEVES in
the listening ear and answering soul, to which his song will be
floated sooner or later. But the poet's sensibility without his
voice--the poet's sensibility that finds no vent but in silent
tears on the sunny bank, when the noonday light sparkles on the
water, or in an inward shudder at the sound of harsh human tones,
the sight of a cold human eye--this dumb passion brings with it a
fatal solitude of soul in the society of one's fellow-men. My
least solitary moments were those in which I pushed off in my boat,
at evening, towards the centre of the lake; it seemed to me that
the sky, and the glowing mountain-tops, and the wide blue water,
surrounded me with a cherishing love such as no human face had shed
on me since my mother's love had vanished out of my life. I used
to do as Jean Jacques did--lie down in my boat and let it glide
where it would, while I looked up at the departing glow leaving one
mountain-top after the other, as if the prophet's chariot of fire
were passing over them on its way to the home of light. Then, when
the white summits were all sad and corpse-like, I had to push
homeward, for I was under careful surveillance, and was allowed no
late wanderings. This disposition of mine was not favourable to
the formation of intimate friendships among the numerous youths of
my own age who are always to be found studying at Geneva. Yet I
made ONE such friendship; and, singularly enough, it was with a
youth whose intellectual tendencies were the very reverse of my
own. I shall call him Charles Meunier; his real surname--an
English one, for he was of English extraction--having since become
celebrated. He was an orphan, who lived on a miserable pittance
while he pursued the medical studies for which he had a special
genius. Strange! that with my vague mind, susceptible and
unobservant, hating inquiry and given up to contemplation, I should
have been drawn towards a youth whose strongest passion was
science. But the bond was not an intellectual one; it came from a
source that can happily blend the stupid with the brilliant, the
dreamy with the practical: it came from community of feeling.
Charles was poor and ugly, derided by Genevese gamins, and not
acceptable in drawing-rooms. I saw that he was isolated, as I was,
though from a different cause, and, stimulated by a sympathetic
resentment, I made timid advances towards him. It is enough to say
that there sprang up as much comradeship between us as our
different habits would allow; and in Charles's rare holidays we
went up the Saleve together, or took the boat to Vevay, while I
listened dreamily to the monologues in which he unfolded his bold
conceptions of future experiment and discovery. I mingled them
confusedly in my thought with glimpses of blue water and delicate
floating cloud, with the notes of birds and the distant glitter of
the glacier. He knew quite well that my mind was half absent, yet
he liked to talk to me in this way; for don't we talk of our hopes
and our projects even to dogs and birds, when they love us? I have
mentioned this one friendship because of its connexion with a
strange and terrible scene which I shall have to narrate in my
subsequent life.

This happier life at Geneva was put an end to by a severe illness,
which is partly a blank to me, partly a time of dimly-remembered
suffering, with the presence of my father by my bed from time to
time. Then came the languid monotony of convalescence, the days
gradually breaking into variety and distinctness as my strength
enabled me to take longer and longer drives. On one of these more
vividly remembered days, my father said to me, as he sat beside my
sofa -

"When you are quite well enough to travel, Latimer, I shall take
you home with me. The journey will amuse you and do you good, for
I shall go through the Tyrol and Austria, and you will see many new
places. Our neighbours, the Filmores, are come; Alfred will join
us at Basle, and we shall all go together to Vienna, and back by
Prague" . . .

My father was called away before he had finished his sentence, and
he left my mind resting on the word PRAGUE, with a strange sense
that a new and wondrous scene was breaking upon me: a city under
the broad sunshine, that seemed to me as if it were the summer
sunshine of a long-past century arrested in its course--unrefreshed
for ages by dews of night, or the rushing rain-cloud; scorching the
dusty, weary, time-eaten grandeur of a people doomed to live on in
the stale repetition of memories, like deposed and superannuated
kings in their regal gold-inwoven tatters. The city looked so
thirsty that the broad river seemed to me a sheet of metal; and the
blackened statues, as I passed under their blank gaze, along the
unending bridge, with their ancient garments and their saintly
crowns, seemed to me the real inhabitants and owners of this place,
while the busy, trivial men and women, hurrying to and fro, were a
swarm of ephemeral visitants infesting it for a day. It is such
grim, stony beings as these, I thought, who are the fathers of
ancient faded children, in those tanned time-fretted dwellings that
crowd the steep before me; who pay their court in the worn and
crumbling pomp of the palace which stretches its monotonous length
on the height; who worship wearily in the stifling air of the
churches, urged by no fear or hope, but compelled by their doom to
be ever old and undying, to live on in the rigidity of habit, as
they live on in perpetual midday, without the repose of night or
the new birth of morning.

A stunning clang of metal suddenly thrilled through me, and I
became conscious of the objects in my room again: one of the fire-
irons had fallen as Pierre opened the door to bring me my draught.
My heart was palpitating violently, and I begged Pierre to leave my
draught beside me; I would take it presently.

As soon as I was alone again, I began to ask myself whether I had
been sleeping. Was this a dream--this wonderfully distinct vision-
-minute in its distinctness down to a patch of rainbow light on the
pavement, transmitted through a coloured lamp in the shape of a
star--of a strange city, quite unfamiliar to my imagination? I had
seen no picture of Prague: it lay in my mind as a mere name, with
vaguely-remembered historical associations--ill-defined memories of
imperial grandeur and religious wars.

Nothing of this sort had ever occurred in my dreaming experience
before, for I had often been humiliated because my dreams were only
saved from being utterly disjointed and commonplace by the frequent
terrors of nightmare. But I could not believe that I had been
asleep, for I remembered distinctly the gradual breaking-in of the
vision upon me, like the new images in a dissolving view, or the
growing distinctness of the landscape as the sun lifts up the veil
of the morning mist. And while I was conscious of this incipient
vision, I was also conscious that Pierre came to tell my father Mr.
Filmore was waiting for him, and that my father hurried out of the
room. No, it was not a dream; was it--the thought was full of
tremulous exultation--was it the poet's nature in me, hitherto only
a troubled yearning sensibility, now manifesting itself suddenly as
spontaneous creation? Surely it was in this way that Homer saw the
plain of Troy, that Dante saw the abodes of the departed, that
Milton saw the earthward flight of the Tempter. Was it that my
illness had wrought some happy change in my organization--given a
firmer tension to my nerves--carried off some dull obstruction? I
had often read of such effects--in works of fiction at least. Nay;
in genuine biographies I had read of the subtilizing or exalting
influence of some diseases on the mental powers. Did not Novalis
feel his inspiration intensified under the progress of consumption?

When my mind had dwelt for some time on this blissful idea, it
seemed to me that I might perhaps test it by an exertion of my
will. The vision had begun when my father was speaking of our
going to Prague. I did not for a moment believe it was really a
representation of that city; I believed--I hoped it was a picture
that my newly liberated genius had painted in fiery haste, with the
colours snatched from lazy memory. Suppose I were to fix my mind
on some other place--Venice, for example, which was far more
familiar to my imagination than Prague: perhaps the same sort of
result would follow. I concentrated my thoughts on Venice; I
stimulated my imagination with poetic memories, and strove to feel
myself present in Venice, as I had felt myself present in Prague.
But in vain. I was only colouring the Canaletto engravings that
hung in my old bedroom at home; the picture was a shifting one, my
mind wandering uncertainly in search of more vivid images; I could
see no accident of form or shadow without conscious labour after
the necessary conditions. It was all prosaic effort, not rapt
passivity, such as I had experienced half an hour before. I was
discouraged; but I remembered that inspiration was fitful.

For several days I was in a state of excited expectation, watching
for a recurrence of my new gift. I sent my thoughts ranging over
my world of knowledge, in the hope that they would find some object
which would send a reawakening vibration through my slumbering
genius. But no; my world remained as dim as ever, and that flash
of strange light refused to come again, though I watched for it
with palpitating eagerness.

My father accompanied me every day in a drive, and a gradually
lengthening walk as my powers of walking increased; and one evening
he had agreed to come and fetch me at twelve the next day, that we
might go together to select a musical box, and other purchases
rigorously demanded of a rich Englishman visiting Geneva. He was
one of the most punctual of men and bankers, and I was always
nervously anxious to be quite ready for him at the appointed time.
But, to my surprise, at a quarter past twelve he had not appeared.
I felt all the impatience of a convalescent who has nothing
particular to do, and who has just taken a tonic in the prospect of
immediate exercise that would carry off the stimulus.

Unable to sit still and reserve my strength, I walked up and down
the room, looking out on the current of the Rhone, just where it
leaves the dark-blue lake; but thinking all the while of the
possible causes that could detain my father.

Suddenly I was conscious that my father was in the room, but not
alone: there were two persons with him. Strange! I had heard no
footstep, I had not seen the door open; but I saw my father, and at
his right hand our neighbour Mrs. Filmore, whom I remembered very
well, though I had not seen her for five years. She was a
commonplace middle-aged woman, in silk and cashmere; but the lady
on the left of my father was not more than twenty, a tall, slim,
willowy figure, with luxuriant blond hair, arranged in cunning
braids and folds that looked almost too massive for the slight
figure and the small-featured, thin-lipped face they crowned. But
the face had not a girlish expression: the features were sharp,
the pale grey eyes at once acute, restless, and sarcastic. They
were fixed on me in half-smiling curiosity, and I felt a painful
sensation as if a sharp wind were cutting me. The pale-green
dress, and the green leaves that seemed to form a border about her
pale blond hair, made me think of a Water-Nixie--for my mind was
full of German lyrics, and this pale, fatal-eyed woman, with the
green weeds, looked like a birth from some cold sedgy stream, the
daughter of an aged river.

"Well, Latimer, you thought me long," my father said . . .

But while the last word was in my ears, the whole group vanished,
and there was nothing between me and the Chinese printed folding-
screen that stood before the door. I was cold and trembling; I
could only totter forward and throw myself on the sofa. This
strange new power had manifested itself again . . . But WAS it a
power? Might it not rather be a disease--a sort of intermittent
delirium, concentrating my energy of brain into moments of
unhealthy activity, and leaving my saner hours all the more barren?
I felt a dizzy sense of unreality in what my eye rested on; I
grasped the bell convulsively, like one trying to free himself from
nightmare, and rang it twice. Pierre came with a look of alarm in
his face.

"Monsieur ne se trouve pas bien?" he said anxiously.

"I'm tired of waiting, Pierre," I said, as distinctly and
emphatically as I could, like a man determined to be sober in spite
of wine; "I'm afraid something has happened to my father--he's
usually so punctual. Run to the Hotel des Bergues and see if he is

Pierre left the room at once, with a soothing "Bien, Monsieur"; and
I felt the better for this scene of simple, waking prose. Seeking
to calm myself still further, I went into my bedroom, adjoining the
salon, and opened a case of eau-de-Cologne; took out a bottle; went
through the process of taking out the cork very neatly, and then
rubbed the reviving spirit over my hands and forehead, and under my
nostrils, drawing a new delight from the scent because I had
procured it by slow details of labour, and by no strange sudden
madness. Already I had begun to taste something of the horror that
belongs to the lot of a human being whose nature is not adjusted to
simple human conditions.

Still enjoying the scent, I returned to the salon, but it was not
unoccupied, as it had been before I left it. In front of the
Chinese folding-screen there was my father, with Mrs. Filmore on
his right hand, and on his left--the slim, blond-haired girl, with
the keen face and the keen eyes fixed on me in half-smiling

"Well, Latimer, you thought me long," my father said . . .

I heard no more, felt no more, till I became conscious that I was
lying with my head low on the sofa, Pierre, and my father by my
side. As soon as I was thoroughly revived, my father left the
room, and presently returned, saying -

"I've been to tell the ladies how you are, Latimer. They were
waiting in the next room. We shall put off our shopping expedition

Presently he said, "That young lady is Bertha Grant, Mrs. Filmore's
orphan niece. Filmore has adopted her, and she lives with them, so
you will have her for a neighbour when we go home--perhaps for a
near relation; for there is a tenderness between her and Alfred, I
suspect, and I should be gratified by the match, since Filmore
means to provide for her in every way as if she were his daughter.
It had not occurred to me that you knew nothing about her living
with the Filmores."

He made no further allusion to the fact of my having fainted at the
moment of seeing her, and I would not for the world have told him
the reason: I shrank from the idea of disclosing to any one what
might be regarded as a pitiable peculiarity, most of all from
betraying it to my father, who would have suspected my sanity ever

I do not mean to dwell with particularity on the details of my
experience. I have described these two cases at length, because
they had definite, clearly traceable results in my after-lot.

Shortly after this last occurrence--I think the very next day--I
began to be aware of a phase in my abnormal sensibility, to which,
from the languid and slight nature of my intercourse with others
since my illness, I had not been alive before. This was the
obtrusion on my mind of the mental process going forward in first
one person, and then another, with whom I happened to be in
contact: the vagrant, frivolous ideas and emotions of some
uninteresting acquaintance--Mrs. Filmore, for example--would force
themselves on my consciousness like an importunate, ill-played
musical instrument, or the loud activity of an imprisoned insect.
But this unpleasant sensibility was fitful, and left me moments of
rest, when the souls of my companions were once more shut out from
me, and I felt a relief such as silence brings to wearied nerves.
I might have believed this importunate insight to be merely a
diseased activity of the imagination, but that my prevision of
incalculable words and actions proved it to have a fixed relation
to the mental process in other minds. But this superadded
consciousness, wearying and annoying enough when it urged on me the
trivial experience of indifferent people, became an intense pain
and grief when it seemed to be opening to me the souls of those who
were in a close relation to me--when the rational talk, the
graceful attentions, the wittily-turned phrases, and the kindly
deeds, which used to make the web of their characters, were seen as
if thrust asunder by a microscopic vision, that showed all the
intermediate frivolities, all the suppressed egoism, all the
struggling chaos of puerilities, meanness, vague capricious
memories, and indolent make-shift thoughts, from which human words
and deeds emerge like leaflets covering a fermenting heap.

At Basle we were joined by my brother Alfred, now a handsome, self-
confident man of six-and-twenty--a thorough contrast to my fragile,
nervous, ineffectual self. I believe I was held to have a sort of
half-womanish, half-ghostly beauty; for the portrait-painters, who
are thick as weeds at Geneva, had often asked me to sit to them,
and I had been the model of a dying minstrel in a fancy picture.
But I thoroughly disliked my own physique and nothing but the
belief that it was a condition of poetic genius would have
reconciled me to it. That brief hope was quite fled, and I saw in
my face now nothing but the stamp of a morbid organization, framed
for passive suffering--too feeble for the sublime resistance of
poetic production. Alfred, from whom I had been almost constantly
separated, and who, in his present stage of character and
appearance, came before me as a perfect stranger, was bent on being
extremely friendly and brother-like to me. He had the superficial
kindness of a good-humoured, self-satisfied nature, that fears no
rivalry, and has encountered no contrarieties. I am not sure that
my disposition was good enough for me to have been quite free from
envy towards him, even if our desires had not clashed, and if I had
been in the healthy human condition which admits of generous
confidence and charitable construction. There must always have
been an antipathy between our natures. As it was, he became in a
few weeks an object of intense hatred to me; and when he entered
the room, still more when he spoke, it was as if a sensation of
grating metal had set my teeth on edge. My diseased consciousness
was more intensely and continually occupied with his thoughts and
emotions, than with those of any other person who came in my way.
I was perpetually exasperated with the petty promptings of his
conceit and his love of patronage, with his self-complacent belief
in Bertha Grant's passion for him, with his half-pitying contempt
for me--seen not in the ordinary indications of intonation and
phrase and slight action, which an acute and suspicious mind is on
the watch for, but in all their naked skinless complication.

For we were rivals, and our desires clashed, though he was not
aware of it. I have said nothing yet of the effect Bertha Grant
produced in me on a nearer acquaintance. That effect was chiefly
determined by the fact that she made the only exception, among all
the human beings about me, to my unhappy gift of insight. About
Bertha I was always in a state of uncertainty: I could watch the
expression of her face, and speculate on its meaning; I could ask
for her opinion with the real interest of ignorance; I could listen
for her words and watch for her smile with hope and fear: she had
for me the fascination of an unravelled destiny. I say it was this
fact that chiefly determined the strong effect she produced on me:
for, in the abstract, no womanly character could seem to have less
affinity for that of a shrinking, romantic, passionate youth than
Bertha's. She was keen, sarcastic, unimaginative, prematurely
cynical, remaining critical and unmoved in the most impressive
scenes, inclined to dissect all my favourite poems, and especially
contemptous towards the German lyrics which were my pet literature
at that time. To this moment I am unable to define my feeling
towards her: it was not ordinary boyish admiration, for she was
the very opposite, even to the colour of her hair, of the ideal
woman who still remained to me the type of loveliness; and she was
without that enthusiasm for the great and good, which, even at the
moment of her strongest dominion over me, I should have declared to
be the highest element of character. But there is no tyranny more
complete than that which a self-centred negative nature exercises
over a morbidly sensitive nature perpetually craving sympathy and
support. The most independent people feel the effect of a man's
silence in heightening their value for his opinion--feel an
additional triumph in conquering the reverence of a critic
habitually captious and satirical: no wonder, then, that an
enthusiastic self-distrusting youth should watch and wait before
the closed secret of a sarcastic woman's face, as if it were the
shrine of the doubtfully benignant deity who ruled his destiny.
For a young enthusiast is unable to imagine the total negation in
another mind of the emotions which are stirring his own: they may
be feeble, latent, inactive, he thinks, but they are there--they
may be called forth; sometimes, in moments of happy hallucination,
he believes they may be there in all the greater strength because
he sees no outward sign of them. And this effect, as I have
intimated, was heightened to its utmost intensity in me, because
Bertha was the only being who remained for me in the mysterious
seclusion of soul that renders such youthful delusion possible.
Doubtless there was another sort of fascination at work--that
subtle physical attraction which delights in cheating our
psychological predictions, and in compelling the men who paint
sylphs, to fall in love with some bonne et brave femme, heavy-
heeled and freckled.

Bertha's behaviour towards me was such as to encourage all my
illusions, to heighten my boyish passion, and make me more and more
dependent on her smiles. Looking back with my present wretched
knowledge, I conclude that her vanity and love of power were
intensely gratified by the belief that I had fainted on first
seeing her purely from the strong impression her person had
produced on me. The most prosaic woman likes to believe herself
the object of a violent, a poetic passion; and without a grain of
romance in her, Bertha had that spirit of intrigue which gave
piquancy to the idea that the brother of the man she meant to marry
was dying with love and jealousy for her sake. That she meant to
marry my brother, was what at that time I did not believe; for
though he was assiduous in his attentions to her, and I knew well
enough that both he and my father had made up their minds to this
result, there was not yet an understood engagement--there had been
no explicit declaration; and Bertha habitually, while she flirted
with my brother, and accepted his homage in a way that implied to
him a thorough recognition of its intention, made me believe, by
the subtlest looks and phrases--feminine nothings which could never
be quoted against her--that he was really the object of her secret
ridicule; that she thought him, as I did, a coxcomb, whom she would
have pleasure in disappointing. Me she openly petted in my
brother's presence, as if I were too young and sickly ever to be
thought of as a lover; and that was the view he took of me. But I
believe she must inwardly have delighted in the tremors into which
she threw me by the coaxing way in which she patted my curls, while
she laughed at my quotations. Such caresses were always given in
the presence of our friends; for when we were alone together, she
affected a much greater distance towards me, and now and then took
the opportunity, by words or slight actions, to stimulate my
foolish timid hope that she really preferred me. And why should
she not follow her inclination? I was not in so advantageous a
position as my brother, but I had fortune, I was not a year younger
than she was, and she was an heiress, who would soon be of age to
decide for herself.

The fluctuations of hope and fear, confined to this one channel,
made each day in her presence a delicious torment. There was one
deliberate act of hers which especially helped to intoxicate me.
When we were at Vienna her twentieth birthday occurred, and as she
was very fond of ornaments, we all took the opportunity of the
splendid jewellers' shops in that Teutonic Paris to purchase her a
birthday present of jewellery. Mine, naturally, was the least
expensive; it was an opal ring--the opal was my favourite stone,
because it seems to blush and turn pale as if it had a soul. I
told Bertha so when I gave it her, and said that it was an emblem
of the poetic nature, changing with the changing light of heaven
and of woman's eyes. In the evening she appeared elegantly
dressed, and wearing conspicuously all the birthday presents except
mine. I looked eagerly at her fingers, but saw no opal. I had no
opportunity of noticing this to her during the evening; but the
next day, when I found her seated near the window alone, after
breakfast, I said, "You scorn to wear my poor opal. I should have
remembered that you despised poetic natures, and should have given
you coral, or turquoise, or some other opaque unresponsive stone."
"Do I despise it?" she answered, taking hold of a delicate gold
chain which she always wore round her neck and drawing out the end
from her bosom with my ring hanging to it; "it hurts me a little, I
can tell you," she said, with her usual dubious smile, "to wear it
in that secret place; and since your poetical nature is so stupid
as to prefer a more public position, I shall not endure the pain
any longer."

She took off the ring from the chain and put it on her finger,
smiling still, while the blood rushed to my cheeks, and I could not
trust myself to say a word of entreaty that she would keep the ring
where it was before.

I was completely fooled by this, and for two days shut myself up in
my own room whenever Bertha was absent, that I might intoxicate
myself afresh with the thought of this scene and all it implied.

I should mention that during these two months--which seemed a long
life to me from the novelty and intensity of the pleasures and
pains I underwent--my diseased anticipation in other people's
consciousness continued to torment me; now it was my father, and
now my brother, now Mrs. Filmore or her husband, and now our German
courier, whose stream of thought rushed upon me like a ringing in
the ears not to be got rid of, though it allowed my own impulses
and ideas to continue their uninterrupted course. It was like a
preternaturally heightened sense of hearing, making audible to one
a roar of sound where others find perfect stillness. The weariness
and disgust of this involuntary intrusion into other souls was
counteracted only by my ignorance of Bertha, and my growing passion
for her; a passion enormously stimulated, if not produced, by that
ignorance. She was my oasis of mystery in the dreary desert of
knowledge. I had never allowed my diseased condition to betray
itself, or to drive me into any unusual speech or action, except
once, when, in a moment of peculiar bitterness against my brother,
I had forestalled some words which I knew he was going to utter--a
clever observation, which he had prepared beforehand. He had
occasionally a slightly affected hesitation in his speech, and when
he paused an instant after the second word, my impatience and
jealousy impelled me to continue the speech for him, as if it were
something we had both learned by rote. He coloured and looked
astonished, as well as annoyed; and the words had no sooner escaped
my lips than I felt a shock of alarm lest such an anticipation of
words--very far from being words of course, easy to divine--should
have betrayed me as an exceptional being, a sort of quiet
energumen, whom every one, Bertha above all, would shudder at and
avoid. But I magnified, as usual, the impression any word or deed
of mine could produce on others; for no one gave any sign of having
noticed my interruption as more than a rudeness, to be forgiven me
on the score of my feeble nervous condition.

While this superadded consciousness of the actual was almost
constant with me, I had never had a recurrence of that distinct
prevision which I have described in relation to my first interview
with Bertha; and I was waiting with eager curiosity to know whether
or not my vision of Prague would prove to have been an instance of
the same kind. A few days after the incident of the opal ring, we
were paying one of our frequent visits to the Lichtenberg Palace.
I could never look at many pictures in succession; for pictures,
when they are at all powerful, affect me so strongly that one or
two exhaust all my capability of contemplation. This morning I had
been looking at Giorgione's picture of the cruel-eyed woman, said
to be a likeness of Lucrezia Borgia. I had stood long alone before
it, fascinated by the terrible reality of that cunning, relentless
face, till I felt a strange poisoned sensation, as if I had long
been inhaling a fatal odour, and was just beginning to be conscious
of its effects. Perhaps even then I should not have moved away, if
the rest of the party had not returned to this room, and announced
that they were going to the Belvedere Gallery to settle a bet which
had arisen between my brother and Mr. Filmore about a portrait. I
followed them dreamily, and was hardly alive to what occurred till
they had all gone up to the gallery, leaving me below; for I
refused to come within sight of another picture that day. I made
my way to the Grand Terrace, since it was agreed that we should
saunter in the gardens when the dispute had been decided. I had
been sitting here a short space, vaguely conscious of trim gardens,
with a city and green hills in the distance, when, wishing to avoid
the proximity of the sentinel, I rose and walked down the broad
stone steps, intending to seat myself farther on in the gardens.
Just as I reached the gravel-walk, I felt an arm slipped within
mine, and a light hand gently pressing my wrist. In the same
instant a strange intoxicating numbness passed over me, like the
continuance or climax of the sensation I was still feeling from the
gaze of Lucrezia Borgia. The gardens, the summer sky, the
consciousness of Bertha's arm being within mine, all vanished, and
I seemed to be suddenly in darkness, out of which there gradually
broke a dim firelight, and I felt myself sitting in my father's
leather chair in the library at home. I knew the fireplace--the
dogs for the wood-fire--the black marble chimney-piece with the
white marble medallion of the dying Cleopatra in the centre.
Intense and hopeless misery was pressing on my soul; the light
became stronger, for Bertha was entering with a candle in her hand-
-Bertha, my wife--with cruel eyes, with green jewels and green
leaves on her white ball-dress; every hateful thought within her
present to me . . . "Madman, idiot! why don't you kill yourself,
then?" It was a moment of hell. I saw into her pitiless soul--saw
its barren worldliness, its scorching hate--and felt it clothe me
round like an air I was obliged to breathe. She came with her
candle and stood over me with a bitter smile of contempt; I saw the
great emerald brooch on her bosom, a studded serpent with diamond
eyes. I shuddered--I despised this woman with the barren soul and
mean thoughts; but I felt helpless before her, as if she clutched
my bleeding heart, and would clutch it till the last drop of life-
blood ebbed away. She was my wife, and we hated each other.
Gradually the hearth, the dim library, the candle-light
disappeared--seemed to melt away into a background of light, the
green serpent with the diamond eyes remaining a dark image on the
retina. Then I had a sense of my eyelids quivering, and the living
daylight broke in upon me; I saw gardens, and heard voices; I was
seated on the steps of the Belvedere Terrace, and my friends were
round me.

The tumult of mind into which I was thrown by this hideous vision
made me ill for several days, and prolonged our stay at Vienna. I
shuddered with horror as the scene recurred to me; and it recurred
constantly, with all its minutiae, as if they had been burnt into
my memory; and yet, such is the madness of the human heart under
the influence of its immediate desires, I felt a wild hell-braving
joy that Bertha was to be mine; for the fulfilment of my former
prevision concerning her first appearance before me, left me little
hope that this last hideous glimpse of the future was the mere
diseased play of my own mind, and had no relation to external
realities. One thing alone I looked towards as a possible means of
casting doubt on my terrible conviction--the discovery that my
vision of Prague had been false--and Prague was the next city on
our route.

Meanwhile, I was no sooner in Bertha's society again than I was as
completely under her sway as before. What if I saw into the heart
of Bertha, the matured woman--Bertha, my wife? Bertha, the GIRL,
was a fascinating secret to me still: I trembled under her touch;
I felt the witchery of her presence; I yearned to be assured of her
love. The fear of poison is feeble against the sense of thirst.
Nay, I was just as jealous of my brother as before--just as much
irritated by his small patronizing ways; for my pride, my diseased
sensibility, were there as they had always been, and winced as
inevitably under every offence as my eye winced from an intruding
mote. The future, even when brought within the compass of feeling
by a vision that made me shudder, had still no more than the force
of an idea, compared with the force of present emotion--of my love
for Bertha, of my dislike and jealousy towards my brother.

It is an old story, that men sell themselves to the tempter, and
sign a bond with their blood, because it is only to take effect at
a distant day; then rush on to snatch the cup their souls thirst
after with an impulse not the less savage because there is a dark
shadow beside them for evermore. There is no short cut, no patent
tram-road, to wisdom: after all the centuries of invention, the
soul's path lies through the thorny wilderness which must be still
trodden in solitude, with bleeding feet, with sobs for help, as it
was trodden by them of old time.

My mind speculated eagerly on the means by which I should become my
brother's successful rival, for I was still too timid, in my
ignorance of Bertha's actual feeling, to venture on any step that
would urge from her an avowal of it. I thought I should gain
confidence even for this, if my vision of Prague proved to have
been veracious; and yet, the horror of that certitude! Behind the
slim girl Bertha, whose words and looks I watched for, whose touch
was bliss, there stood continually that Bertha with the fuller
form, the harder eyes, the more rigid mouth--with the barren,
selfish soul laid bare; no longer a fascinating secret, but a
measured fact, urging itself perpetually on my unwilling sight.
Are you unable to give me your sympathy--you who react this? Are
you unable to imagine this double consciousness at work within me,
flowing on like two parallel streams which never mingle their
waters and blend into a common hue? Yet you must have known
something of the presentiments that spring from an insight at war
with passion; and my visions were only like presentiments
intensified to horror. You have known the powerlessness of ideas
before the might of impulse; and my visions, when once they had
passed into memory, were mere ideas--pale shadows that beckoned in
vain, while my hand was grasped by the living and the loved.

In after-days I thought with bitter regret that if I had foreseen
something more or something different--if instead of that hideous
vision which poisoned the passion it could not destroy, or if even
along with it I could have had a foreshadowing of that moment when
I looked on my brother's face for the last time, some softening
influence would have been shed over my feeling towards him: pride
and hatred would surely have been subdued into pity, and the record
of those hidden sins would have been shortened. But this is one of
the vain thoughts with which we men flatter ourselves. We try to
believe that the egoism within us would have easily been melted,
and that it was only the narrowness of our knowledge which hemmed
in our generosity, our awe, our human piety, and hindered them from
submerging our hard indifference to the sensations and emotions of
our fellows. Our tenderness and self-renunciation seem strong when
our egoism has had its day--when, after our mean striving for a
triumph that is to be another's loss, the triumph comes suddenly,
and we shudder at it, because it is held out by the chill hand of

Our arrival in Prague happened at night, and I was glad of this,
for it seemed like a deferring of a terribly decisive moment, to be
in the city for hours without seeing it. As we were not to remain
long in Prague, but to go on speedily to Dresden, it was proposed
that we should drive out the next morning and take a general view
of the place, as well as visit some of its specially interesting
spots, before the heat became oppressive--for we were in August,
and the season was hot and dry. But it happened that the ladies
were rather late at their morning toilet, and to my father's
politely-repressed but perceptible annoyance, we were not in the
carriage till the morning was far advanced. I thought with a sense
of relief, as we entered the Jews' quarter, where we were to visit
the old synagogue, that we should be kept in this flat, shut-up
part of the city, until we should all be too tired and too warm to
go farther, and so we should return without seeing more than the
streets through which we had already passed. That would give me
another day's suspense--suspense, the only form in which a fearful
spirit knows the solace of hope. But, as I stood under the
blackened, groined arches of that old synagogue, made dimly visible
by the seven thin candles in the sacred lamp, while our Jewish
cicerone reached down the Book of the Law, and read to us in its
ancient tongue--I felt a shuddering impression that this strange
building, with its shrunken lights, this surviving withered remnant
of medieval Judaism, was of a piece with my vision. Those darkened
dusty Christian saints, with their loftier arches and their larger
candles, needed the consolatory scorn with which they might point
to a more shrivelled death-in-life than their own.

As I expected, when we left the Jews' quarter the elders of our
party wished to return to the hotel. But now, instead of rejoicing
in this, as I had done beforehand, I felt a sudden overpowering
impulse to go on at once to the bridge, and put an end to the
suspense I had been wishing to protract. I declared, with unusual
decision, that I would get out of the carriage and walk on alone;
they might return without me. My father, thinking this merely a
sample of my usual "poetic nonsense," objected that I should only
do myself harm by walking in the heat; but when I persisted, he
said angrily that I might follow my own absurd devices, but that
Schmidt (our courier) must go with me. I assented to this, and set
off with Schmidt towards the bridge. I had no sooner passed from
under the archway of the grand old gate leading an to the bridge,
than a trembling seized me, and I turned cold under the mid-day
sun; yet I went on; I was in search of something--a small detail
which I remembered with special intensity as part of my vision.
There it was--the patch of rainbow light on the pavement
transmitted through a lamp in the shape of a star.


Before the autumn was at an end, and while the brown leaves still
stood thick on the beeches in our park, my brother and Bertha were
engaged to each other, and it was understood that their marriage
was to take place early in the next spring. In spite of the
certainty I had felt from that moment on the bridge at Prague, that
Bertha would one day be my wife, my constitutional timidity and
distrust had continued to benumb me, and the words in which I had
sometimes premeditated a confession of my love, had died away
unuttered. The same conflict had gone on within me as before--the
longing for an assurance of love from Bertha's lips, the dread lest
a word of contempt and denial should fall upon me like a corrosive
acid. What was the conviction of a distant necessity to me? l
trembled under a present glance, I hungered after a present joy, I
was clogged and chilled by a present fear. And so the days passed
on: I witnessed Bertha's engagement and heard her marriage
discussed as if I were under a conscious nightmare--knowing it was
a dream that would vanish, but feeling stifled under the grasp of
hard-clutching fingers.

When I was not in Bertha's presence--and I was with her very often,
for she continued to treat me with a playful patronage that wakened
no jealousy in my brother--I spent my time chiefly in wandering, in
strolling, or taking long rides while the daylight lasted, and then
shutting myself up with my unread books; for books had lost the
power of chaining my attention. My self-consciousness was
heightened to that pitch of intensity in which our own emotions
take the form of a drama which urges itself imperatively on our
contemplation, and we begin to weep, less under the sense of our
suffering than at the thought of it. I felt a sort of pitying
anguish over the pathos of my own lot: the lot of a being finely
organized for pain, but with hardly any fibres that responded to
pleasure--to whom the idea of future evil robbed the present of its
joy, and for whom the idea of future good did not still the
uneasiness of a present yearning or a present dread. I went dumbly
through that stage of the poet's suffering, in which he feels the
delicious pang of utterance, and makes an image of his sorrows.

I was left entirely without remonstrance concerning this dreamy
wayward life: I knew my father's thought about me: "That lad will
never be good for anything in life: he may waste his years in an
insignificant way on the income that falls to him: I shall not
trouble myself about a career for him."

One mild morning in the beginning of November, it happened that I
was standing outside the portico patting lazy old Caesar, a
Newfoundland almost blind with age, the only dog that ever took any
notice of me--for the very dogs shunned me, and fawned on the
happier people about me--when the groom brought up my brother's
horse which was to carry him to the hunt, and my brother himself
appeared at the door, florid, broad-chested, and self-complacent,
feeling what a good-natured fellow he was not to behave insolently
to us all on the strength of his great advantages.

"Latimer, old boy," he said to me in a tone of compassionate
cordiality, "what a pity it is you don't have a run with the hounds
now and then! The finest thing in the world for low spirits!"

"Low spirits!" I thought bitterly, as he rode away; "that is the
sort of phrase with which coarse, narrow natures like yours think
to describe experience of which you can know no more than your
horse knows. It is to such as you that the good of this world
falls: ready dulness, healthy selfishness, good-tempered conceit--
these are the keys to happiness."

The quick thought came, that my selfishness was even stronger than
his--it was only a suffering selfishness instead of an enjoying
one. But then, again, my exasperating insight into Alfred's self-
complacent soul, his freedom from all the doubts and fears, the
unsatisfied yearnings, the exquisite tortures of sensitiveness,
that had made the web of my life, seemed to absolve me from all
bonds towards him. This man needed no pity, no love; those fine
influences would have been as little felt by him as the delicate
white mist is felt by the rock it caresses. There was no evil in
store for HIM: if he was not to marry Bertha, it would be because
he had found a lot pleasanter to himself.

Mr. Filmore's house lay not more than half a mile beyond our own
gates, and whenever I knew my brother was gone in another
direction, I went there for the chance of finding Bertha at home.
Later on in the day I walked thither. By a rare accident she was
alone, and we walked out in the grounds together, for she seldom
went on foot beyond the trimly-swept gravel-walks. I remember what
a beautiful sylph she looked to me as the low November sun shone on
her blond hair, and she tripped along teasing me with her usual
light banter, to which I listened half fondly, half moodily; it was
all the sign Bertha's mysterious inner self ever made to me. To-
day perhaps, the moodiness predominated, for I had not yet shaken
off the access of jealous hate which my brother had raised in me by
his parting patronage. Suddenly I interrupted and startled her by
saying, almost fiercely, "Bertha, how can you love Alfred?"

She looked at me with surprise for a moment, but soon her light
smile came again, and she answered sarcastically, "Why do you
suppose I love him?"

"How can you ask that, Bertha?"

"What! your wisdom thinks I must love the man I'm going to marry?
The most unpleasant thing in the world. I should quarrel with him;
I should be jealous of him; our menage would be conducted in a very
ill-bred manner. A little quiet contempt contributes greatly to
the elegance of life."

"Bertha, that is not your real feeling. Why do you delight in
trying to deceive me by inventing such cynical speeches?"

"I need never take the trouble of invention in order to deceive
you, my small Tasso"-- (that was the mocking name she usually gave
me). "The easiest way to deceive a poet is to tell him the truth."

She was testing the validity of her epigram in a daring way, and
for a moment the shadow of my vision--the Bertha whose soul was no
secret to me--passed between me and the radiant girl, the playful
sylph whose feelings were a fascinating mystery. I suppose I must
have shuddered, or betrayed in some other way my momentary chill of

"Tasso!" she said, seizing my wrist, and peeping round into my
face, "are you really beginning to discern what a heartless girl I
am? Why, you are not half the poet I thought you were; you are
actually capable of believing the truth about me."

The shadow passed from between us, and was no longer the object
nearest to me. The girl whose light fingers grasped me, whose
elfish charming face looked into mine--who, I thought, was
betraying an interest in my feelings that she would not have
directly avowed,--this warm breathing presence again possessed my
senses and imagination like a returning siren melody which had been
overpowered for an instant by the roar of threatening waves. It
was a moment as delicious to me as the waking up to a consciousness
of youth after a dream of middle age. I forgot everything but my
passion, and said with swimming eyes -

"Bertha, shall you love me when we are first married? I wouldn't
mind if you really loved me only for a little while."

Her look of astonishment, as she loosed my hand and started away
from me, recalled me to a sense of my strange, my criminal

"Forgive me," I said, hurriedly, as soon as I could speak again; "I
did not know what I was saying."

"Ah, Tasso's mad fit has come on, I see," she answered quietly, for
she had recovered herself sooner than I had. "Let him go home and
keep his head cool. I must go in, for the sun is setting."

I left her--full of indignation against myself. I had let slip
words which, if she reflected on them, might rouse in her a
suspicion of my abnormal mental condition--a suspicion which of all
things I dreaded. And besides that, I was ashamed of the apparent
baseness I had committed in uttering them to my brother's betrothed
wife. I wandered home slowly, entering our park through a private
gate instead of by the lodges. As I approached the house, I saw a
man dashing off at full speed from the stable-yard across the park.
Had any accident happened at home? No; perhaps it was only one of
my father's peremptory business errands that required this headlong

Nevertheless I quickened my pace without any distinct motive, and
was soon at the house. I will not dwell on the scene I found
there. My brother was dead--had been pitched from his horse, and
killed on the spot by a concussion of the brain.

I went up to the room where he lay, and where my father was seated
beside him with a look of rigid despair. I had shunned my father
more than any one since our return home, for the radical antipathy
between our natures made my insight into his inner self a constant
affliction to me. But now, as I went up to him, and stood beside
him in sad silence, I felt the presence of a new element that
blended us as we had never been blent before. My father had been
one of the most successful men in the money-getting world: he had
had no sentimental sufferings, no illness. The heaviest trouble
that had befallen him was the death of his first wife. But he
married my mother soon after; and I remember he seemed exactly the
same, to my keen childish observation, the week after her death as
before. But now, at last, a sorrow had come--the sorrow of old
age, which suffers the more from the crushing of its pride and its
hopes, in proportion as the pride and hope are narrow and prosaic.
His son was to have been married soon--would probably have stood
for the borough at the next election. That son's existence was the
best motive that could be alleged for making new purchases of land
every year to round off the estate. It is a dreary thing onto live
on doing the same things year after year, without knowing why we do
them. Perhaps the tragedy of disappointed youth and passion is
less piteous than the tragedy of disappointed age and worldliness.

As I saw into the desolation of my father's heart, I felt a
movement of deep pity towards him, which was the beginning of a new
affection--an affection that grew and strengthened in spite of the
strange bitterness with which he regarded me in the first month or
two after my brother's death. If it had not been for the softening
influence of my compassion for him--the first deep compassion I had
ever felt--I should have been stung by the perception that my
father transferred the inheritance of an eldest son to me with a
mortified sense that fate had compelled him to the unwelcome course
of caring for me as an important being. It was only in spite of
himself that he began to think of me with anxious regard. There is
hardly any neglected child for whom death has made vacant a more
favoured place, who will not understand what I mean.

Gradually, however, my new deference to his wishes, the effect of
that patience which was born of my pity for him, won upon his
affection, and he began to please himself with the endeavour to
make me fill any brother's place as fully as my feebler personality
would admit. I saw that the prospect which by and by presented
itself of my becoming Bertha's husband was welcome to him, and he
even contemplated in my case what he had not intended in my
brother's--that his son and daughter-in-law should make one
household with him. My softened feelings towards my father made
this the happiest time I had known since childhood;--these last
months in which I retained the delicious illusion of loving Bertha,
of longing and doubting and hoping that she might love me. She
behaved with a certain new consciousness and distance towards me
after my brother's death; and I too was under a double constraint--
that of delicacy towards my brother's memory and of anxiety as to
the impression my abrupt words had left on her mind. But the
additional screen this mutual reserve erected between us only
brought me more completely under her power: no matter how empty
the adytum, so that the veil be thick enough. So absolute is our
soul's need of something hidden and uncertain for the maintenance
of that doubt and hope and effort which are the breath of its life,
that if the whole future were laid bare to us beyond to-day, the
interest of all mankind would be bent on the hours that lie
between; we should pant after the uncertainties of our one morning
and our one afternoon; we should rush fiercely to the Exchange for
our last possibility of speculation, of success, of disappointment:
we should have a glut of political prophets foretelling a crisis or
a no-crisis within the only twenty-four hours left open to
prophecy. Conceive the condition of the human mind if all
propositions whatsoever were self-evident except one, which was to
become self-evident at the close of a summer's day, but in the
meantime might be the subject of question, of hypothesis, of
debate. Art and philosophy, literature and science, would fasten
like bees on that one proposition which had the honey of
probability in it, and be the more eager because their enjoyment
would end with sunset. Our impulses, our spiritual activities, no
more adjust themselves to the idea of their future nullity, than
the beating of our heart, or the irritability of our muscles.

Bertha, the slim, fair-haired girl, whose present thoughts and
emotions were an enigma to me amidst the fatiguing obviousness of
the other minds around me, was as absorbing to me as a single
unknown to-day--as a single hypothetic proposition to remain
problematic till sunset; and all the cramped, hemmed-in belief and
disbelief, trust and distrust, of my nature, welled out in this one
narrow channel.

And she made me believe that she loved me. Without ever quitting
her tone of BADINAGE and playful superiority, she intoxicated me
with the sense that I was necessary to her, that she was never at
ease, unless I was near her, submitting to her playful tyranny. It
costs a woman so little effort to beset us in this way! A half-
repressed word, a moment's unexpected silence, even an easy fit of
petulance on our account, will serve us as hashish for a long
while. Out of the subtlest web of scarcely perceptible signs, she
set me weaving the fancy that she had always unconsciously loved me
better than Alfred, but that, with the ignorant fluttered
sensibility of a young girl, she had been imposed on by the charm
that lay for her in the distinction of being admired and chosen by
a man who made so brilliant a figure in the world as my brother.
She satirized herself in a very graceful way for her vanity and
ambition. What was it to me that I had the light of my wretched
provision on the fact that now it was I who possessed at least all
but the personal part of my brother's advantages? Our sweet
illusions are half of them conscious illusions, like effects of
colour that we know to be made up of tinsel, broken glass, and

We were married eighteen months after Alfred's death, one cold,
clear morning in April, when there came hail and sunshine both
together; and Bertha, in her white silk and pale-green leaves, and
the pale hues of her hair and face, looked like the spirit of the
morning. My father was happier than he had thought of being again:
my marriage, he felt sure, would complete the desirable
modification of my character, and make me practical and worldly
enough to take my place in society among sane men. For he
delighted in Bertha's tact and acuteness, and felt sure she would
be mistress of me, and make me what she chose: I was only twenty-
one, and madly in love with her. Poor father! He kept that hope a
little while after our first year of marriage, and it was not quite
extinct when paralysis came and saved him from utter

I shall hurry through the rest of my story, not dwelling so much as
I have hitherto done on my inward experience. When people are well
known to each other, they talk rather of what befalls them
externally, leaving their feelings and sentiments to be inferred.

We lived in a round of visits for some time after our return home,
giving splendid dinner-parties, and making a sensation in our
neighbourhood by the new lustre of our equipage, for my father had
reserved this display of his increased wealth for the period of his
son's marriage; and we gave our acquaintances liberal opportunity
for remarking that it was a pity I made so poor a figure as an heir
and a bridegroom. The nervous fatigue of this existence, the
insincerities and platitudes which I had to live through twice
over--through my inner and outward sense--would have been maddening
to me, if I had not had that sort of intoxicated callousness which
came from the delights of a first passion. A bride and bridegroom,
surrounded by all the appliances of wealth, hurried through the day
by the whirl of society, filling their solitary moments with
hastily-snatched caresses, are prepared for their future life
together as the novice is prepared for the cloister--by
experiencing its utmost contrast.

Through all these crowded excited months, Bertha's inward self
remained shrouded from me, and I still read her thoughts only
through the language of her lips and demeanour: I had still the
human interest of wondering whether what I did and said pleased
her, of longing to hear a word of affection, of giving a delicious
exaggeration of meaning to her smile. But I was conscious of a
growing difference in her manner towards me; sometimes strong
enough to be called haughty coldness, cutting and chilling me as
the hail had done that came across the sunshine on our marriage
morning; sometimes only perceptible in the dexterous avoidance of a
tete-a-tete walk or dinner to which I had been looking forward. I
had been deeply pained by this--had even felt a sort of crushing of
the heart, from the sense that my brief day of happiness was near
its setting; but still I remained dependent on Bertha, eager for
the last rays of a bliss that would soon be gone for ever, hoping
and watching for some after-glow more beautiful from the impending

I remember--how should I not remember?--the time when that
dependence and hope utterly left me, when the sadness I had felt in
Bertha's growing estrangement became a joy that I looked back upon
with longing as a man might look back on the last pains in a
paralysed limb. It was just after the close of my father's last
illness, which had necessarily withdrawn us from society and thrown
us more on each other. It was the evening of father's death. On
that evening the veil which had shrouded Bertha's soul from me--had
made me find in her alone among my fellow-beings the blessed
possibility of mystery, and doubt, and expectation--was first
withdrawn. Perhaps it was the first day since the beginning of my
passion for her, in which that passion was completely neutralized
by the presence of an absorbing feeling of another kind. I had
been watching by my father's deathbed: I had been witnessing the
last fitful yearning glance his soul had cast back on the spent
inheritance of life--the last faint consciousness of love he had
gathered from the pressure of my hand. What are all our personal
loves when we have been sharing in that supreme agony? In the
first moments when we come away from the presence of death, every
other relation to the living is merged, to our feeling, in the
great relation of a common nature and a common destiny.

In that state of mind I joined Bertha in her private sitting-room.
She was seated in a leaning posture on a settee, with her back
towards the door; the great rich coils of her pale blond hair
surmounting her small neck, visible above the back of the settee.
I remember, as I closed the door behind me, a cold tremulousness
seizing me, and a vague sense of being hated and lonely--vague and
strong, like a presentiment. I know how I looked at that moment,
for I saw myself in Bertha's thought as she lifted her cutting grey
eyes, and looked at me: a miserable ghost-seer, surrounded by
phantoms in the noonday, trembling under a breeze when the leaves
were still, without appetite for the common objects of human
desires, but pining after the moon-beams. We were front to front
with each other, and judged each other. The terrible moment of
complete illumination had come to me, and I saw that the darkness
had hidden no landscape from me, but only a blank prosaic wall:
from that evening forth, through the sickening years which
followed, I saw all round the narrow room of this woman's soul--saw
petty artifice and mere negation where I had delighted to believe
in coy sensibilities and in wit at war with latent feeling--saw the
light floating vanities of the girl defining themselves into the
systematic coquetry, the scheming selfishness, of the woman--saw
repulsion and antipathy harden into cruel hatred, giving pain only
for the sake of wreaking itself.

For Bertha too, after her kind, felt the bitterness of disillusion.
She had believed that my wild poet's passion for her would make me
her slave; and that, being her slave, I should execute her will in
all things. With the essential shallowness of a negative,
unimaginative nature, she was unable to conceive the fact that
sensibilities were anything else than weaknesses. She had thought
my weaknesses would put me in her power, and she found them
unmanageable forces. Our positions were reversed. Before marriage
she had completely mastered my imagination, for she was a secret to
me; and I created the unknown thought before which I trembled as if
it were hers. But now that her soul was laid open to me, now that
I was compelled to share the privacy of her motives, to follow all
the petty devices that preceded her words and acts, she found
herself powerless with me, except to produce in me the chill
shudder of repulsion--powerless, because I could be acted on by no
lever within her reach. I was dead to worldly ambitions, to social
vanities, to all the incentives within the compass of her narrow
imagination, and I lived under influences utterly invisible to her.

She was really pitiable to have such a husband, and so all the
world thought. A graceful, brilliant woman, like Bertha, who
smiled on morning callers, made a figure in ball-rooms, and was
capable of that light repartee which, from such a woman, is
accepted as wit, was secure of carrying off all sympathy from a
husband who was sickly, abstracted, and, as some suspected, crack-
brained. Even the servants in our house gave her the balance of
their regard and pity. For there were no audible quarrels between
us; our alienation, our repulsion from each other, lay within the
silence of our own hearts; and if the mistress went out a great
deal, and seemed to dislike the master's society, was it not
natural, poor thing? The master was odd. I was kind and just to
my dependants, but I excited in them a shrinking, half-contemptuous
pity; for this class of men and women are but slightly determined
in their estimate of others by general considerations, or even
experience, of character. They judge of persons as they judge of
coins, and value those who pass current at a high rate.

After a time I interfered so little with Bertha's habits that it
might seem wonderful how her hatred towards me could grow so
intense and active as it did. But she had begun to suspect, by
some involuntary betrayal of mine, that there was an abnormal power
of penetration in me--that fitfully, at least, I was strangely
cognizant of her thoughts and intentions, and she began to be
haunted by a terror of me, which alternated every now and then with
defiance. She meditated continually how the incubus could be
shaken off her life--how she could be freed from this hateful bond
to a being whom she at once despised as an imbecile, and dreaded as
an inquisitor. For a long while she lived in the hope that my
evident wretchedness would drive me to the commission of suicide;
but suicide was not in my nature. I was too completely swayed by
the sense that I was in the grasp of unknown forces, to believe in
my power of self-release. Towards my own destiny I had become
entirely passive; for my one ardent desire had spent itself, and
impulse no longer predominated over knowledge. For this reason I
never thought of taking any steps towards a complete separation,
which would have made our alienation evident to the world. Why
should I rush for help to a new course, when I was only suffering
from the consequences of a deed which had been the act of my
intensest will? That would have been the logic of one who had
desires to gratify, and I had no desires. But Bertha and I lived
more and more aloof from each other. The rich find it easy to live
married and apart.

That course of our life which I have indicated in a few sentences
filled the space of years. So much misery--so slow and hideous a
growth of hatred and sin, may be compressed into a sentence! And
men judge of each other's lives through this summary medium. They
epitomize the experience of their fellow-mortal, and pronounce
judgment on him in neat syntax, and feel themselves wise and
virtuous--conquerors over the temptations they define in well-
selected predicates. Seven years of wretchedness glide glibly over
the lips of the man who has never counted them out in moments of
chill disappointment, of head and heart throbbings, of dread and
vain wrestling, of remorse and despair. We learn WORDS by rote,
but not their meaning; THAT must be paid for with our life-blood,
and printed in the subtle fibres of our nerves.

But I will hasten to finish my story. Brevity is justified at once
to those who readily understand, and to those who will never

Some years after my father's death, I was sitting by the dim
firelight in my library one January evening--sitting in the leather
chair that used to be my father's--when Bertha appeared at the
door, with a candle in her hand, and advanced towards me. I knew
the ball-dress she had on--the white ball-dress, with the green
jewels, shone upon by the light of the wax candle which lit up the
medallion of the dying Cleopatra on the mantelpiece. Why did she
come to me before going out? I had not seen her in the library,
which was my habitual place for months. Why did she stand before
me with the candle in her hand, with her cruel contemptuous eyes
fixed on me, and the glittering serpent, like a familiar demon, on
her breast? For a moment I thought this fulfilment of my vision at
Vienna marked some dreadful crisis in my fate, but I saw nothing in
Bertha's mind, as she stood before me, except scorn for the look of
overwhelming misery with which I sat before her . . . "Fool, idiot,
why don't you kill yourself, then?"--that was her thought. But at
length her thoughts reverted to her errand, and she spoke aloud.
The apparently indifferent nature of the errand seemed to make a
ridiculous anticlimax to my prevision and my agitation.

"I have had to hire a new maid. Fletcher is going to be married,
and she wants me to ask you to let her husband have the public-
house and farm at Molton. I wish him to have it. You must give
the promise now, because Fletcher is going to-morrow morning--and
quickly, because I'm in a hurry."

"Very well; you may promise her," I said, indifferently, and Bertha
swept out of the library again.

I always shrank from the sight of a new person, and all the more
when it was a person whose mental life was likely to weary my
reluctant insight with worldly ignorant trivialities. But I shrank
especially from the sight of this new maid, because her advent had
been announced to me at a moment to which I could not cease to
attach some fatality: I had a vague dread that I should find her
mixed up with the dreary drama of my life--that some new sickening
vision would reveal her to me as an evil genius. When at last I
did unavoidably meet her, the vague dread was changed into definite
disgust. She was a tall, wiry, dark-eyed woman, this Mrs. Archer,
with a face handsome enough to give her coarse hard nature the
odious finish of bold, self-confident coquetry. That was enough to
make me avoid her, quite apart from the contemptuous feeling with
which she contemplated me. I seldom saw her; but I perceived that
she rapidly became a favourite with her mistress, and, after the
lapse of eight or nine months, I began to be aware that there had
arisen in Bertha's mind towards this woman a mingled feeling of
fear and dependence, and that this feeling was associated with ill-
defined images of candle-light scenes in her dressing-room, and the
locking-up of something in Bertha's cabinet. My interviews with my
wife had become so brief and so rarely solitary, that I had no
opportunity of perceiving these images in her mind with more
definiteness. The recollections of the past become contracted in
the rapidity of thought till they sometimes bear hardly a more
distinct resemblance to the external reality than the forms of an
oriental alphabet to the objects that suggested them.

Besides, for the last year or more a modification had been going
forward in my mental condition, and was growing more and more
marked. My insight into the minds of those around me was becoming
dimmer and more fitful, and the ideas that crowded my double
consciousness became less and less dependent on any personal
contact. All that was personal in me seemed to be suffering a
gradual death, so that I was losing the organ through which the
personal agitations and projects of others could affect me. But
along with this relief from wearisome insight, there was a new
development of what I concluded--as I have since found rightly--to
be a provision of external scenes. It was as if the relation
between me and my fellow-men was more and more deadened, and my
relation to what we call the inanimate was quickened into new life.
The more I lived apart from society, and in proportion as my
wretchedness subsided from the violent throb of agonized passion
into the dulness of habitual pain, the more frequent and vivid
became such visions as that I had had of Prague--of strange cities,
of sandy plains, of gigantic ruins, of midnight skies with strange
bright constellations, of mountain-passes, of grassy nooks flecked
with the afternoon sunshine through the boughs: I was in the midst
of such scenes, and in all of them one presence seemed to weigh on
me in all these mighty shapes--the presence of something unknown
and pitiless. For continual suffering had annihilated religious
faith within me: to the utterly miserable--the unloving and the
unloved--there is no religion possible, no worship but a worship of
devils. And beyond all these, and continually recurring, was the
vision of my death--the pangs, the suffocation, the last struggle,
when life would be grasped at in vain.

Things were in this state near the end of the seventh year. I had
become entirely free from insight, from my abnormal cognizance of
any other consciousness than my own, and instead of intruding
involuntarily into the world of other minds, was living continually
in my own solitary future. Bertha was aware that I was greatly
changed. To my surprise she had of late seemed to seek
opportunities of remaining in my society, and had cultivated that
kind of distant yet familiar talk which is customary between a
husband and wife who live in polite and irrevocable alienation. I
bore this with languid submission, and without feeling enough
interest in her motives to be roused into keen observation; yet I
could not help perceiving something triumphant and excited in her
carriage and the expression of her face--something too subtle to
express itself in words or tones, but giving one the idea that she
lived in a state of expectation or hopeful suspense. My chief
feeling was satisfaction that her inner self was once more shut out
from me; and I almost revelled for the moment in the absent
melancholy that made me answer her at cross purposes, and betray
utter ignorance of what she had been saying. I remember well the
look and the smile with which she one day said, after a mistake of
this kind on my part: "I used to think you were a clairvoyant, and
that was the reason why you were so bitter against other
clairvoyants, wanting to keep your monopoly; but I see now you have
become rather duller than the rest of the world."

I said nothing in reply. It occurred to me that her recent
obtrusion of herself upon me might have been prompted by the wish
to test my power of detecting some of her secrets; but I let the
thought drop again at once: her motives and her deeds had no
interest for me, and whatever pleasures she might be seeking, I had
no wish to baulk her. There was still pity in my soul for every
living thing, and Bertha was living--was surrounded with
possibilities of misery.

Just at this time there occurred an event which roused me somewhat
from my inertia, and gave me an interest in the passing moment that
I had thought impossible for me. It was a visit from Charles
Meunier, who had written me word that he was coming to England for
relaxation from too strenuous labour, and would like too see me.
Meunier had now a European reputation; but his letter to me
expressed that keen remembrance of an early regard, an early debt
of sympathy, which is inseparable from nobility of character: and
I too felt as if his presence would be to me like a transient
resurrection into a happier pre-existence.

He came, and as far as possible, I renewed our old pleasure of
making tete-a-tete excursions, though, instead of mountains and
glacers and the wide blue lake, we had to content ourselves with
mere slopes and ponds and artificial plantations. The years had
changed us both, but with what different result! Meunier was now a
brilliant figure in society, to whom elegant women pretended to
listen, and whose acquaintance was boasted of by noblemen ambitious
of brains. He repressed with the utmost delicacy all betrayal of
the shock which I am sure he must have received from our meeting,
or of a desire to penetrate into my condition and circumstances,
and sought by the utmost exertion of his charming social powers to
make our reunion agreeable. Bertha was much struck by the
unexpected fascinations of a visitor whom she had expected to find
presentable only on the score of his celebrity, and put forth all
her coquetries and accomplishments. Apparently she succeeded in
attracting his admiration, for his manner towards her was attentive
and flattering. The effect of his presence on me was so benignant,
especially in those renewals of our old tete-a-tete wanderings,
when he poured forth to me wonderful narratives of his professional
experience, that more than once, when his talk turned on the
psychological relations of disease, the thought crossed my mind
that, if his stay with me were long enough, I might possibly bring
myself to tell this man the secrets of my lot. Might there not lie
some remedy for me, too, in his science? Might there not at least
lie some comprehension and sympathy ready for me in his large and
susceptible mind? But the thought only flickered feebly now and
then, and died out before it could become a wish. The horror I had
of again breaking in on the privacy of another soul, made me, by an
irrational instinct, draw the shroud of concealment more closely
around my own, as we automatically perform the gesture we feel to
be wanting in another.

When Meunier's visit was approaching its conclusion, there happened
an event which caused some excitement in our household, owing to
the surprisingly strong effect it appeared to produce on Bertha--on
Bertha, the self-possessed, who usually seemed inaccessible to
feminine agitations, and did even her hate in a self-restrained
hygienic manner. This event was the sudden severe illness of her
maid, Mrs. Archer. I have reserved to this moment the mention of a
circumstance which had forced itself on my notice shortly before
Meunier's arrival, namely, that there had been some quarrel between
Bertha and this maid, apparently during a visit to a distant
family, in which she had accompanied her mistress. I had overheard
Archer speaking in a tone of bitter insolence, which I should have
thought an adequate reason for immediate dismissal. No dismissal
followed; on the contrary, Bertha seemed to be silently putting up
with personal inconveniences from the exhibitions of this woman's
temper. I was the more astonished to observe that her illness
seemed a cause of strong solicitude to Bertha; that she was at the
bedside night and day, and would allow no one else to officiate as
head-nurse. It happened that our family doctor was out on a
holiday, an accident which made Meunier's presence in the house
doubly welcome, and he apparently entered into the case with an
interest which seemed so much stronger than the ordinary
professional feeling, that one day when he had fallen into a long
fit of silence after visiting her, I said to him -

"Is this a very peculiar case of disease, Meunier?"

"No," he answered, "it is an attack of peritonitis, which will be
fatal, but which does not differ physically from many other cases
that have come under my observation. But I'll tell you what I have
on my mind. I want to make an experiment on this woman, if you
will give me permission. It can do her no harm--will give her no
pain--for I shall not make it until life is extinct to all purposes
of sensation. I want to try the effect of transfusing blood into
her arteries after the heart has ceased to beat for some minutes.
I have tried the experiment again and again with animals that have
died of this disease, with astounding results, and I want to try it
on a human subject. I have the small tubes necessary, in a case I
have with me, and the rest of the apparatus could be prepared
readily. I should use my own blood--take it from my own arm. This
woman won't live through the night, I'm convinced, and I want you
to promise me your assistance in making the experiment. I can't do
without another hand, but it would perhaps not be well to call in a
medical assistant from among your provincial doctors. A
disagreeable foolish version of the thing might get abroad."

"Have you spoken to my wife on the subject?" I said, "because she
appears to be peculiarly sensitive about this woman: she has been
a favourite maid."

"To tell you the truth," said Meunier, "I don't want her to know
about it. There are always insuperable difficulties with women in
these matters, and the effect on the supposed dead body may be
startling. You and I will sit up together, and be in readiness.
When certain symptoms appear I shall take you in, and at the right
moment we must manage to get every one else out of the room."

I need not give our farther conversation on the subject. He
entered very fully into the details, and overcame my repulsion from
them, by exciting in me a mingled awe and curiosity concerning the
possible results of his experiment.

We prepared everything, and he instructed me in my part as
assistant. He had not told Bertha of his absolute conviction that
Archer would not survive through the night, and endeavoured to
persuade her to leave the patient and take a night's rest. But she
was obstinate, suspecting the fact that death was at hand, and
supposing that he wished merely to save her nerves. She refused to
leave the sick-room. Meunier and I sat up together in the library,
he making frequent visits to the sick-room, and returning with the
information that the case was taking precisely the course he
expected. Once he said to me, "Can you imagine any cause of ill-
feeling this woman has against her mistress, who is so devoted to

"I think there was some misunderstanding between them before her
illness. Why do you ask?"

"Because I have observed for the last five or six hours--since, I
fancy, she has lost all hope of recovery--there seems a strange
prompting in her to say something which pain and failing strength
forbid her to utter; and there is a look of hideous meaning in her
eyes, which she turns continually towards her mistress. In this
disease the mind often remains singularly clear to the last."

"I am not surprised at an indication of malevolent feeling in her,"
I said. "She is a woman who has always inspired me with distrust
and dislike, but she managed to insinuate herself into her
mistress's favour." He was silent after this, looking at the fire
with an air of absorption, till he went upstairs again. He stayed
away longer than usual, and on returning, said to me quietly, "Come

I followed him to the chamber where death was hovering. The dark
hangings of the large bed made a background that gave a strong
relief to Bertha's pale face as I entered. She started forward as
she saw me enter, and then looked at Meunier with an expression of
angry inquiry; but he lifted up his hand as it to impose silence,
while he fixed his glance on the dying woman and felt her pulse.
The face was pinched and ghastly, a cold perspiration was on the
forehead, and the eyelids were lowered so as to conceal the large
dark eyes. After a minute or two, Meunier walked round to the
other side of the bed where Bertha stood, and with his usual air of
gentle politeness towards her begged her to leave the patient under
our care--everything should be done for her--she was no longer in a
state to be conscious of an affectionate presence. Bertha was
hesitating, apparently almost willing to believe his assurance and
to comply. She looked round at the ghastly dying face, as if to
read the confirmation of that assurance, when for a moment the
lowered eyelids were raised again, and it seemed as if the eyes
were looking towards Bertha, but blankly. A shudder passed through
Bertha's frame, and she returned to her station near the pillow,
tacitly implying that she would not leave the room.

The eyelids were lifted no more. Once I looked at Bertha as she
watched the face of the dying one. She wore a rich peignoir, and
her blond hair was half covered by a lace cap: in her attire she
was, as always, an elegant woman, fit to figure in a picture of
modern aristocratic life: but I asked myself how that face of hers
could ever have seemed to me the face of a woman born of woman,
with memories of childhood, capable of pain, needing to be fondled?
The features at that moment seemed so preternaturally sharp, the
eyes were so hard and eager--she looked like a cruel immortal,
finding her spiritual feast in the agonies of a dying race. For
across those hard features there came something like a flash when
the last hour had been breathed out, and we all felt that the dark
veil had completely fallen. What secret was there between Bertha
and this woman? I turned my eyes from her with a horrible dread
lest my insight should return, and I should be obliged to see what
had been breeding about two unloving women's hearts. I felt that
Bertha had been watching for the moment of death as the sealing of
her secret: I thanked Heaven it could remain sealed for me.

Meunier said quietly, "She is gone." He then gave his arm to
Bertha, and she submitted to be led out of the room.

I suppose it was at her order that two female attendants came into
the room, and dismissed the younger one who had been present
before. When they entered, Meunier had already opened the artery
in the long thin neck that lay rigid on the pillow, and I dismissed
them, ordering them to remain at a distance till we rang: the
doctor, I said, had an operation to perform--he was not sure about
the death. For the next twenty minutes I forgot everything but
Meunier and the experiment in which he was so absorbed, that I
think his senses would have been closed against all sounds or
sights which had no relation to it. It was my task at first to
keep up the artificial respiration in the body after the
transfusion had been effected, but presently Meunier relieved me,
and I could see the wondrous slow return of life; the breast began
to heave, the inspirations became stronger, the eyelids quivered,
and the soul seemed to have returned beneath them. The artificial
respiration was withdrawn: still the breathing continued, and
there was a movement of the lips.

Just then I heard the handle of the door moving: I suppose Bertha
had heard from the women that they had been dismissed: probably a
vague fear had arisen in her mind, for she entered with a look of
alarm. She came to the foot of the bed and gave a stifled cry.

The dead woman's eyes were wide open, and met hers in full
recognition--the recognition of hate. With a sudden strong effort,
the hand that Bertha had thought for ever still was pointed towards
her, and the haggard face moved. The gasping eager voice said--

"You mean to poison your husband . . . the poison is in the black
cabinet . . . I got it for you . . . you laughed at me, and told
lies about me behind my back, to make me disgusting . . . because
you were jealous . . . are you sorry . . . now?"

The lips continued to murmur, but the sounds were no longer
distinct. Soon there was no sound--only a slight movement: the
flame had leaped out, and was being extinguished the faster. The
wretched woman's heart-strings had been set to hatred and
vengeance; the spirit of life had swept the chords for an instant,
and was gone again for ever. Great God! Is this what it is to
live again . . . to wake up with our unstilled thirst upon us, with
our unuttered curses rising to our lips, with our muscles ready to
act out their half-committed sins?

Bertha stood pale at the foot of the bed, quivering and helpless,
despairing of devices, like a cunning animal whose hiding-places
are surrounded by swift-advancing flame. Even Meunier looked
paralysed; life for that moment ceased to be a scientific problem
to him. As for me, this scene seemed of one texture with the rest
of my existence: horror was my familiar, and this new revelation
was only like an old pain recurring with new circumstances.

* * *

Since then Bertha and I have lived apart--she in her own
neighbourhood, the mistress of half our wealth, I as a wanderer in
foreign countries, until I came to this Devonshire nest to die.
Bertha lives pitied and admired; for what had I against that
charming woman, whom every one but myself could have been happy
with? There had been no witness of the scene in the dying room
except Meunier, and while Meunier lived his lips were sealed by a
promise to me.

Once or twice, weary of wandering, I rested in a favourite spot,
and my heart went out towards the men and women and children whose
faces were becoming familiar to me; but I was driven away again in
terror at the approach of my old insight--driven away to live
continually with the one Unknown Presence revealed and yet hidden
by the moving curtain of the earth and sky. Till at last disease
took hold of me and forced me to rest here--forced me to live in
dependence on my servants. And then the curse of insight--of my
double consciousness, came again, and has never left me. I know
all their narrow thoughts, their feeble regard, their half-wearied

* * *

It is the 20th of September, 1850. I know these figures I have
just written, as if they were a long familiar inscription. I have
seen them on this pace in my desk unnumbered times, when the scene
of my dying struggle has opened upon me . . .


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