Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Brendan Lane, Charlie Kirschner and the Online Distributed
THE ROMANCE OF
RICHARD LE GALLIENNE
TWO IN HEAVEN
TWO ON EARTH.
I. OF A CURIOUS MEETING OF EXTREMES
II. INTRODUCES MORE UNROMANTIC MATERIAL
III. OF ELI MOGGRIDGE AND THE NEW SPIRIT
IV. ENDS QUITE ROMANTICALLY
V. OF THE ARTIST IN MAN AND HIS MATERIALS
VI. OF A WONDERFUL QUALITY IN WOMEN
VII. THE LITERARY AND PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY OF COALCHESTER.
VIII. THE PLOT AGAINST COALCHESTER
IX. "THE DAWN"
X. HOW THEY BROUGHT THE GOOD NEWS OF A MORRIS WALL-PAPER TO COALCHESTER
XI. A LITTLE ABOUT JENNY
XII. HOW THE RENAISSANCE CAME IN PERSON TO NEW ZION
XIII. IN WHICH JENNY KISSES MR. MOGGRIDGE
XIV. THE GREAT EVENT OF MR. TALBOT'S LIFE
XV. JENNY'S BOTTOM DRAWER
XVI. THEOPHIL ALL THIS TIME
XVII. "O THAT 'T WERE POSSIBLE..."
XVIII. ONE DAY OUT OF ALL THE YEARS
XIX. PREPARATIONS FOR A FAST AND OTHER SADNESS
XX. IN WHICH JENNY CRIES
XXI. IN WHICH JENNY IS MYSTERIOUSLY HONOURED
XXII. THE TRYST LETHEAN
XXIII. JENNY'S LYING IN STATE
XXIV. THE BEGINNING OF THE PILGRIMAGE--A MESSAGE FROM JENNY
XXV. JENNY'S POSTE RESTANTE
XXVI. FURTHER CONCERNING THEOPHIL'S LIFE AFTER THE DEATH OF JENNY
XXVII. ISABEL CALLING
XXVIII. BACK IN ZION PLACE
XXIX. AND SUDDENLY THE LAST
The Romance of Zion Chapel
OF A CURIOUS MEETING OF EXTREMES
On the dreary suburban edge of a very old, very ignorant, very sooty,
hardhearted, stony-streeted, meanly grim, little provincial town there
stands a gasometer. On one side of this gasometer begins a region of
disappointed fields, which, however, has hardly begun before a railway
embankment cuts across, at an angle convenient for its entirely
obscuring the few meadows and trees that in this desolate land do duty
for a countryside. The dull workmen's streets that here abruptly
present unfinished ends to the universe must console themselves with the
gasometer. And indeed they seem more than content. For a street boasting
the best view, as it runs out its sordid line longer than the rest, is
proudly called Gasometer Street. Some of the streets that are denied the
gasometer cluster narrow and dark, hardly built twenty years perhaps,
yet long since drearily old,--with the unattractive antiquity of old
iron and old clothes,--round a mouldy little chapel, in what we can only
describe as the Wesleyan Methodist style of architecture. Cased in
weather-stained and decaying stucco, it bears upon its front the words
"New Zion," and the streets about it are named accordingly: Zion
Passage, Zion Alley, Zion Walk, Zion Street. There is a house too which
had been lucky enough to call itself Zion View, the very morning before
the house at the corner had contemplated doing the same. At Zion View
lived and still lives Mr. Moggridge, the huge, good-natured, guffawing
pillar of New Zion,--on whom, at the moment, however, we will not call.
A nice dull place, you may say, from which to issue invitations to a
romance. Well, of course, it must seem so if pretty places are the
reader's idea of romance. Curiously enough, the preference of the Lady
Romance herself is for just such dull places. These dreary,
soot-begrimed streets are the very streets she loves best to appear in,
on a sudden, some astonished day, with a sound of silk skirts and a
spring wind of attar of roses. Contrast, surprise,--these are her very
soul. Dull places and bright people,--these she loves to bring together,
and watch for laughter and tears. You are never safe from Romance, and
the place to seek her is never the place where she was last found.
Well, at all events, it is to Gasometer Street and New Zion that you are
respectfully invited, and before you decline the invitation with a
shrug, I will tell you this about the gasometer. The romantic eyes of
one of the greatest French poets once looked on that gasometer! I won't
pretend that they dwelt there, but look on it they once did--the eyes of
that great, sad, scandalous, religious French poet--on a night of weary
rain that set someone quoting,--also in that street,--
"Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville."
Yes, and that French poet passed the gasometer on his way to New Zion.
Romance! Why, I wouldn't exchange Gasometer Street for the Isles of
INTRODUCES MORE UNROMANTIC MATERIAL
That French poet only concerns us here as, so to say, the highest light
in the contrast which it was the happy business of Theophilus
Londonderry, Jenny Talbot, and two or three devoted friends to make in
the vicinity of Gasometer Street and indeed in little Coalchester
Theophilus Londonderry! It is rather a mouthful of a name. Yet it's so
like the long, expansive, good-natured, eloquent fellow it stands for,
that I must not shorten it, though we shall presently abbreviate it for
purposes of affectionate reference. He himself liked "Theophil" for its
reminiscence of another French poet, though "Theo" was perhaps the more
suitable abbreviation for one of his profession. Really, or perhaps
rather seemingly, Theophilus Londonderry had two professions,--or say
one was a profession and the other was a vocation, a "call." By day he
professed to be a clerk in a cotton-office,--and he was no fool at that
(there is no need for a clever man to be a fool at anything), but by
night, and occasionally of an afternoon,--when he got leave of absence
to solemnise a marriage, or run through a funeral,--he was a spiritual
pastor, the young father of his flock.
Here I must permit myself some necessary remarks on the subject of
Nonconformity, its influence on individualities and its direct
relationship to Romance. In the churches of England or of Rome,--though
he sometimes looked wistfully towards the latter,--Theophilus
Londonderry, with his disabilities of worldly condition, would have
found no place to be himself in. His was an organism that could not
long have breathed in any rigid organisation. It was the
non-establishment, the comparative free-field, of Nonconformity that
gave him his chance. Conscious, soon after his first few breaths, of a
personal force that claimed operation in some human employment, some
work not made with hands, but into which also entered the spirit of man,
and being quite poor, and entirely hopeless of family wealth or
influence, there were only two fields open to him, Art or Nonconformity.
To art in the usual sense of the word he was not called, but to the art
of Demosthenes he was unmistakably called; and for this
Nonconformity--with a side entrance into politics--was his opportunity.
This bourne of his faculties had indeed been predestined for him by no
remoter influence than his father, himself a lay-preacher, when he was
not the business manager of a large hardware store,--a lay-preacher with
a very gentle face, the face of a father, a woman, a saint, and a
failure all in one.
I say failure by no means unkindly. Londonderry's father was made to be
a good bishop, to radiate from a hallowed security sweet lights of
blessing. His talent was gentleness, not in itself a fighting
quality,--a quality that needs a place prepared for it, needs the hand
of strength or opportunity to set it upon the hill. That he had made
himself learned, that his sympathy knew much of the soul of man, that he
was conscious of a very near communion with the Divine--were
qualifications that alone might not avail. Yet were they not lost, for,
apart from their own restricted exercise in the circle of his own little
"cause" and the other causes for which, in the technical phrase, he
would occasionally "supply," they had passed into his son, and met in
him other more energetic qualities, such as a magnetic eloquence, a love
of laughter, and a mighty humanity.
Thus Theophilus Londonderry was partly his father licked into shape and
partly something bigger and more effectively vital.
At sixteen he was learned in all the theologies; at nineteen he was said
to have preached a great sermon; at twenty-two he was the success of a
big political meeting; and at twenty-four he was the new lay-pastor
at New Zion.
This is not to be the theological history of a soul, so I shall not
attempt to decide upon the exact proportion of literal acceptance of
Christian dogma underlying the young pastor's sermons. I doubt if he
could have told you himself, and I am sure he would have considered the
point as unimportant as I do. His was a message of humanity delivered in
terms of Christianity. The message was good, the meaning honest. He
would, no doubt, have preferred another pulpit with other formulas, but
that pulpit was not forthcoming; so, like all the strong and the wise,
he chose the formulas offered to him, using as few as possible, and
humanising all he used; and never for a single second of time, whatever
the apparent contradictions on the surface, was Theophilus Londonderry
that poorest of all God's creatures,--a hypocrite. However you may judge
him, you must never make that mistake about him.
OF ELI MOGGRIDGE AND THE NEW SPIRIT
New Zion, despite its name, was, as I have hinted, no longer new. The
fiery zeal which had once made it a living schism had long since died
out of it. Carried years before, a little blazing ember of faith, from a
flourishing hearth of Nonconformity some streets away, it had puffed and
gleamed a little space in the eloquence of the offended zealots who
carried it hotfoot that Sunday morning, but its central fire had been
poor, and for a long time no evangelistic bellows had awakened in it
even a spark.
Its original elders had long since lost heart and passed away. A
dwindling remnant of their children, from old association, just kept its
doors from actually closing, and made a mournful interruption in its
musty silence on Sundays. Life was too low to support a Wednesday
prayer-meeting, and Sunday by Sunday that life ebbed lower. New life
from the outside must come, and speedily, or it must die.
But new life was already on the way. On the town side the sad streets
round New Zion led one into a more prosperous High Street, and indeed
Zion Street itself, as it turned the corner, flamed into quite a jovial
and ruddy shop--a provision merchant's, and kept by Eli Moggridge. The
name did its owner considerable wrong, for its suggestion of puritanical
sanctimoniousness was a flat contradiction of the jovial and ruddy
personality, the huge red-whiskered laugher, for whom it stood, and of
whom the shop, with its healthy smell of cheese and its air of exuberant
prosperity, was a much more truthful expression. Well, the business was
growing with such gusto that Mr. Moggridge felt he might afford a home
away from his shop, and thus he came to take the biggish empty house
which presently put on new paint and once more seemed quite proud of
being "Zion View."
Till this time, Mr. Moggridge. had "attended" elsewhere, but he was not
so young as he had been and somewhat stouter, and the stealthy approach
of comfortable habits had suggested to him that his old chapel was
rather at an unnecessary distance. Then, too, the fact of his house
being called after New Zion seemed to impose a sort of obligation
towards the sad old chapel. Besides, Mr. Moggridge was not inhumanly
above the pleasures of self-importance, and though he did not express it
in just those words, or indeed in any words at all, the idea of his
being the Maecenas of New Zion was suddenly born within him.
Now, quick was even the word with Mr. Moggridge, as became a successful
man of business, and for him to conceive an idea was to carry it out, as
goods were always delivered from Mr. Moggridge's shop, with despatch.
Also in some dim far-off way Mr. Moggridge's mind had, all
unconsciously, been stirred by vibrations of what we call the New
Spirit. The new spirit of any age works its way even into its
businesses, and though Mr. Moggridge wouldn't have so described it, it
was the "New Spirit" that had made the success of his provision shop.
Speaking of the need of New Zion, Mr. Moggridge called it "new blood."
He meant the "New Spirit;" and it was in reply to his advertisement for
a new pastor, that the "New Spirit" in the person of Theophilus
Londonderry came one Sunday to preach at New Zion.
ENDS QUITE ROMANTICALLY
Eli Moggridge was a judge of men, and he liked Theophilus Londonderry at
a glance. Theophilus Londonderry was also a judge of men, and he liked
Eli Moggridge. In fact, two men that needed each other had met.
You couldn't help laughing a little at Mr. Moggridge at first, soon you
couldn't help respecting him,--Theophilus Londonderry was almost to know
what it was to love him. Indeed, that Mr. Moggridge was just the man he
was was a matter of no small importance to the young minister. A chief
deacon is nothing less than a fate, and it is in his power to be no
little of a tyrant. Had Mr. Moggridge's interest in New Zion been of a
different character, he would inevitably have been as great a hindrance
as he was to prove a help. Fortunately that interest was recreative
rather than severely religious. It was to be for him a sort of
Sunday-business to which he was to devote his vast spare energies. He
wanted to see it a "going concern," and, hating stagnation in his
neighbourhood, he looked about for a specialist whom he could trust to
make it move and hum and whizz.
Luckily, in so far as he was an amateur theologian, he was broad, with
further mental allowances for expansion. What was wanted at New Zion, he
explained to the young minister at supper after the close of an evening
service which had more than kept the promise of the morning, was not
Dogma, but common-sense every-day religion, a religion to help a man in
his business, not a Sunday-coat religion, a cheerful human religion; and
it happened that something of this very sort was what Theophilus
Londonderry was eagerly prepared to supply.
The stipend was small, a poor sixty pounds a year, but Mr. Moggridge
guaranteed to swell it to a hundred if necessary from his own resources,
and he wanted it clearly understood that, short, of course, of the broad
general principles of Christian teaching, no restrictions were to be
placed either by him or anyone else on the young man's expression of the
faith that was in him. "All we want you to do," he said in conclusion,
"is to make the place go, give it new blood, new fire; as to how you do
it, that is your own business--and I shall no more interfere with you in
that than I should expect you to instruct me on the subject of York
hams. We must all be specialists nowadays,--specialists," repeated Mr.
Moggridge, with a feeling that he too had discovered planets.
So it came to pass that "The Rev. Theophilus Londonderry, Pastor,"
presently lit up with a sudden vehemence of new gold-leaf the faded
dusty name board of the chapel, and that, his own home being at too
great a distance for his ministrations, he came to lodge with some nice
old-fashioned people called Talbot at No. 3, Zion Lane.
I want you to like funny old Mrs. Talbot, and I want you to love her
little daughter Jenny; so, to make it the easier, I shall not describe
them at too great a length. Old Mr. and Mrs. Talbot were the sole
survivors of the less active founders of New Zion, meekly not militantly
pious, stubborn as sheep in a dumb obstinacy of ancient faith, but in no
sense dialectical, and in every sense harmless.
Mr. Talbot was a working stone-mason, and on rare occasions when front
parlour people caught glimpses of him, he was observed to be sitting in
the kitchen in some uncomfortable attitude of unoccupation, "like
white-haired Saturn, quiet as a stone." It is not recorded that he ever
thought on any subject, and it is certain that he seldom spoke. He would
flee from a stranger as from a lion, and, when confronted by such from
the wilds of the front parlour, he would bob his old head pathetically,
and make no attempt at speech beyond a muffled good-evening. It
disconcerted him to be expected to speak, and his tongue slumbered in
his mouth,--for he was an old weary man, and perhaps very wise.
Old Mrs. Talbot, whose wifehood had long since been submerged in an
immeasurable motherhood and the best of cooks, would do the little
thinking the house required, take charge of the old man's earnings, pay
the rent and the burial club, and scheme little savings against Jenny's
marriage--which she kept, not in an old stocking, but in a precious
teapot of some old-fashioned ware reputed valuable, and itself carefully
wrapped up in a yellow handkerchief of Cashmere. The old lady had a
heart of fun in her, and even her notion of romance, and her withered
old apple of a face, with its quaint ringleted hair, had once been bonny
and red, you might be sure. But she was half blind now, and a good deal
deaf, and her sweet old mouth was hard to get at when she kissed you, as
she had a motherly way of insisting if she liked you. She, too, was very
old, and she, I know, was very wise.
Jenny--well, there is really not much to describe about Jenny, beyond
that she was sweetly little, had a winning old-fashioned air about her,
was very good, that is, very kind, and was adored by the
school-children, whom she taught first for love and then for dress and
pocket-money. She was but nineteen, and all unminted woman as yet. No
lover had yet come to stamp her features with his masterful
superscription. Was she pretty? Heroines ought to be either very pretty
or very plain. Well, the beauty that was going to be was as yet only
beginning at the eyes. They were already beautiful. No, she wasn't
pretty yet, but she wasn't plain.
Jenny's face slept as yet. When the fairy prince came and kissed it,
there was no telling to what beauty it would awake. The fairy prince!
That was going to be our friend Theophil, of course. Well, of course,
though it's a little early on to admit it. However, I am unequal to the
task of concealing from the hawk-eyed reader through a succession of
chapters that Jenny and Theophil were to be each other's "fates." Of
course, he hadn't been there a month before Jenny's face was beginning
to wear that superscription of his passionate intelligence, to grow
merry from his laughter, and still sweeter by his kisses.
Of course, Theophil and Jenny fell in love. Do you think it was merely
to save New Zion and to bring the Renaissance to Coalchester that
Theophilus Londonderry was sent to live in Zion Place--or for any other
purpose less important than to love Jenny? Yes, we may as well take that
for granted as we begin the next chapter.
OF THE ARTIST IN MAN AND HIS MATERIALS
There is only one way to give life to the dead or the moribund, the way
of the Hebrew prophet,--to give it one's own. Theophilus Londonderry
instinctively knew this, and he began at once to breathe mightily
upon New Zion.
The goldsmith blows merrily all day through his little blowpipe, but it
is gold he is working on. The poet breathes upon the dictionary, and lo!
it flushes and breaks into flower. But then he is breathing on words.
The material of such artists is a joy in itself. They are workers in the
precious metals. Theophilus Londonderry had very different material to
mould,--an old chapel and some very dull humanity. Humanity is not a
precious metal, but if you know how to use it, it is excellent clay,--a
clay not without streaks of gold.
What was Theophilus Londonderry's purpose with his material, his will
towards the uncreated world over which his young vitalising spirit was
moving? To save it? Yes, incidentally; but primarily to express himself
by means of it, to set it vibrating to the rhythm of his nature, to set
it dancing to a tune of his piping. Already he was being stamped in gold
on Jenny's face. The coarser face of the world was to wear his smile
too. For the pebble had only been thrown in at New Zion. Who knows to
what coasts of fame the imperious ripples of his personality would
circle on before they touched the shores of death?
We may be polite as we please to humanity in the mass, and humanity in
occasional rarely encountered individuals is--well, divine; and to such
we gladly and humbly and rapturously pay divine honours. But in any
given thousand human beings, poor or rich, what would be your
calculation for the average of such divine,--how many faces would you
fall down and worship, how many hands would you care to take, how many
hearts would you dare to trust?
Alas, the rather good eyes must go so often with the disastrous chin,
the mouth succeed where the nose fails, the expansive impulse be checked
by the narrow habit, the little gleam of gold be lost in the clay.
Preponderant charm does not crowd into chapels or anywhere else to be
minted, it is busy on some vantage height of its own, impressing its own
image; and it is with minds maimed by the cruel machinery of life,
natures stunted and starved by adverse and innutritive condition, that
the artist in man must be satisfied. With what pathetic little flashes
of faculty, what fleeting and illusory glimpses of insight, what waifs
and strays of attractiveness, must he work and be happy, and with what
a thankfulness that the tenth rate is not twentieth or thirtieth!
Then, too, how often must the intractible material be impressed again
and again and again before it begins to wear the first trace of your
image. Once a poet has impressed himself with mastery upon words, the
impression remains for ever, the words do not disperse in idle crowds
when he has done speaking to them, never again to reassemble in a like
combination; whereas the greatest oratorical mover of men is doomed,
even after his most electrical self-impression, to see his image, as
soon as taken, fade away, with a shuffle of escaping feet and a scramble
for hats and cloaks. It was a masterpiece; but with the last touch, see,
the colours are flying in a hundred directions, and the very canvas
itself is off in a thousand threads of hurried disintegration!
But all this, of course, has to do entirely with the poetry of the
ministerial life; prosaic even as preaching and praying to the New
Zioners may sound, there was yet a drearier prose. For these artistic
materials had not only to be preached and prayed to,--they had to be in
a measure lived with, listened to, personally studied, and individually
considered. Each was an atom to be set in vibration, and each needed to
be set or kept going in his own way. All this prose had to be made help
in the poetry. How skilful you had to be to rouse the interest you
needed and escape the many interests you did not need, to awaken the
single gift without bringing upon you all the rest, to suffer the fool
wisely,--that is, to the extent of his tiny wisdom, and no more. To
encourage say Miss Annie Smith in her district-visiting--what a talent
she has for that!--but firmly to forget her at concerts; to welcome Mr.
Jones's services at collections, but gently to discourage him at prayer
meetings; in short, to meet all at the point where their natures were
really and usefully alive, but at no other point of their
However, nature had made this as easy as breathing to the Reverend
Theophilus, for, apart from his humour and good nature, he was a lover
of character for its own sake, and to the student of character there is
no such person as a bore. Brother Saunderson was no doubt as wearisome
an old man as the world holds, but his manner of neighing to the Lord in
prayer was worth it all. And it is rather a pity if the reader imagines
that to laugh at his neigh is to forget respect for his venerable faith.
Thus mightily, gently, cunningly, coaxingly, Theophilus Londonderry
breathed upon New Zion, and Eli Moggridge was a noble second, according
to his word. At every service of every kind, and at all times, he was
there, swelling out from a pewful of ruddy daughters, and endlessly
beaming round at his fellow-worshippers, as much as to say, "Didn't I
say he was the man for New Zion?"
The old channels were beginning to fill with the new spirit, the old
disused machinery was once more in motion. In two months' time every
possible form of meeting was in a healthy condition of attendance,
prayer-meeting, church-meeting, mothers' meeting, Bible class, Dorcas
society, Band of Hope, Sunday-school, all briskly in motion; and the
ladies, led by Jenny, were all as busy as bees over a bazaar. New Zion
had indeed become a veritable merry-go-round of religious and social
activities. Yes, it was beginning to move, indeed, it was almost
beginning to hum--another few months and it would fairly whizz, as Eli
Moggridge had foreseen; and the sound of the humming and the speed of
the whizzing would grow louder and louder and faster and faster, till
not merely Zion Place and Zion Alley and Zion Passage and Zion Street
heard it and were caught up in the infectious dance, but the very High
Street itself should hum and whizz.
The High Street! what are High Streets to the soul of Theophilus
Londonderry? What is Coalchester itself?--though that shall soon be
humming and whizzing too. This is but the whirling centre of the
ever-spreading wheel of force that has begun to turn at New Zion.
Coalchester will spin soon, and then the disappointed fields around it,
then the neighbouring towns would join the reel, and so on and on,
faster and faster, madder and madder, till even London itself moves, and
the world that changes its axis at the will of any strong spirit will
whirl its immeasurable velocities around the vortex pulpit of Theophilus
Yes, the pebble had only been thrown in at New Zion.
OF A WONDERFUL QUALITY IN WOMEN
Darwin expended many years of his life in the study of disagreeable
animals, that he might prove the adaptability of organism to
environment. How much pleasanter and briefer had been his task, if he
had begun his studies at once with the creature whose long history has
been one unbroken succession of inspired and noble adaptations!
Woman's adaptability to man is one of the most mysterious, as it is
perhaps the most pathetic, of all the modes of her mysterious being.
Like certain protection-seeking animals, she is always the colour of the
rock, the husband-rock, in whose shadow she lives. Sometimes, of course,
she is her own rock; but in such cases man is never her chameleon to a
like degree or indeed in a like manner. Such adaptability is not one of
the forms of his greatness, and even when he achieves it, it is not
becoming to him.
For woman's adaptability is not the domination of a weaker nature by a
stronger, it is in itself a noble and world-necessary form of strength.
Strength is needed as well for the taking as the making of an
impression,--something more than mere ductility. Weakness may never bear
the stamp of power,--it breaks in the moulding; and it is rather because
woman is so strong that she is able to take the Caesarean stamp of any
form of power. Nor cares she by whose hands she is moulded, whose image
she wears, be it warrior, poet, or priest, so long as she feels the
veritable grasp and impress of power. Some women are already made in the
image of the man they are to love before they meet him. Very wonderful,
very terrible, then, is the meeting, and it is a meeting that usually
comes too late. But oftener God gives a man a little measure of
porcelain and a handful of stars, and leaves him to make the woman he
needs for himself; and very wonderful too is that making,--though the
man will always have been the father before he was the lover.
Why, one may ponder, should a man who is great enough to mould a woman
to help him be great, not be great enough to do without her at all? Let
lovers of the unfathomable ask at the same time: Why is man, man? and
woman, woman? and what are both?
This gentle doll with the sweet breath, which he nips up in his arms and
kisses, and gives a tongue that she may talk back to him his own words,
endows with brains that she may think his thoughts,--a quaint little
helpless lovely parody of his wisdom and power; a toy, yes; a
refreshment, yes; a place of peace, yes,--but how much more! Yes, more
by all that we don't understand when we say "woman."
Why a great man should need, not a great woman, but a little woman, a
very little woman,--how is it to be explained, unless it be that woman,
however little, is mysteriously great, just because she is a woman, a
little woman? Unknown properties were wrapped up somewhere in that
porcelain; to press it with the lips is to feel strange virtue coming
into one,--the devil was in those stars.
Great men are only nourished on the elements. Woman is an element, all
the elements in one,--earth, air, fire, and water, met together in a
rose. She is a spring among the rocks, and she comes up dimpling from
the roots of the world. She is just as simple and just as strange. O!
little shining spring of woman that is called Jenny, a great man must
draw up through you the unfathomed, deep strengths of the old world. He
bends above you and drinks, and as he drinks, his face is mirrored
"Jenny, I don't think I'd read 'Miss ----,' if I were you," would say
the great man.
"No, dear?" So Jenny was presently reading Ruskin instead, and wondering
how she could ever have read "Miss ----." And deep in her dear heart she
was saying, "Of course not; great men's wives never read 'Miss ----.'"
And yet had the great man said, "Read Gaboriau instead,"--as a certain
very great man does,--Jenny's heart would have said, "Of course, great
men's wives always read Gaboriau."
No! great men's wives read "Sesame and Lilies," and "Sartor Resartus,"
and "Marius the Epicurean," and "Richard Feverel," and "Virginibus
Puerisque,"--they even try to read Newman's "Apologia." Such were the
books on the sunnier side of Theophilus Londonderry's little library in
No. 3 Zion Place. In dark corners behind easy-chairs were the deep-sea
pools of theology,--pools which had long since given up all the fish
they had in them for their owner,--slabs of antique divinity, such as
you would find likewise in the equally cherished library of
Such were the fathers that slumbered on in a well-earned repose, and
which, far from desiring new readers, were so old that they were glad to
rest undisturbed,--being far too self-important to confuse a considerate
regard for their repose with neglect. And many of them were really quite
valuable as decoration, because of their fine old coats of gilded
leather; and such were ranged in the more penetrable shadows or even in
the lamp-light. Theophilus would point to them as to a portrait-gallery
of dead ancestors. One might admire the quaint and distinguished cut of
their clothes without dreaming of wearing the same,--and indeed old
divinity, he used to say, was poor food for young divines.
His divinity indeed was fed on the technical side, it is to be feared,
by the more destructive biblical criticism, like most destructive
engines, coming all the way from Germany, and at its more vital centres
by importations of strong meat from Russia and Scandinavia. Tolstoi and
Ibsen were his archprophets.
There was likewise a great Paris moralist called Zola, and a strange old
American father called Walt Whitman. And beauty, that can never be far
away from strength, found many new and wonderful prophets in that little
library,--poets and painters and musicians of whom hardly anyone else in
Coalchester had yet heard, and certainly no one above the age of
Surely youth is in nothing more marvellous than in its mysterious power
of attracting to itself into the most out-of-the-way places the
sustenance and companionship it needs. In the unlikeliest wilderness
inspired youth is never without the mysteriously-brought food and the
company of angels. Powers of the air will sweep across continents to
rescue it from prison, soft gales travel from south to north to sow
seeds of beauty in its narrow ways, and little songs will flutter like
butterflies for hundreds of miles to cheer its heart.
The Time-Spirit had given its angels charge concerning these young
people, and, remote as they were from all the fiery centres of thought
and the dreaming schools of art, Zion Place, no less than the Rue de
Rivoli, took its thought of the newest and its beauty of the best.
THE LITERARY AND PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY OF COALCHESTER
I have said that Coalchester was a very ignorant old town. I did not
mean to imply that there were no M.A.'s there. In fact, there were quite
a number. You may be sure that if spiritual and intellectual life had
its representatives, as we have seen, spiritual and intellectual death
had its representatives, too--by which I don't mean either to imply that
the M.A.'s were dead M.A.'s, dead and buried with Latin over them in the
old brassed and effigied church, which was so old and large that it was
hardly less conceited than a cathedral. Spiritual and intellectual death
in Coalchester, as elsewhere, was officially represented by the Literary
and Philosophical Society, which still unblushingly went on retaining
its adjectives, even in the face of its "Transactions," which seemed
mainly composed of treasurer's reports, with an occasional paper
Indeed the one spark of life in the pathetic old society was its real
interest in the antediluvian and prehistoric. For the life that was dead
it had a perfect passion, and it sometimes held conversaziones to gaze
at it through microscopes. Occasionally it would waken up to literature
with a paper on Akenside. In everything that didn't in the least matter
some of these mild old gentlemen were genuinely learned. Not that they
hadn't read the great poets, even in the original Greek, Latin, and
Italian. Poets in dead and foreign languages were a form of fossils, and
English poets--with that divine bloom upon them!--they had a way of
fossilising by spectacles, so that they never read them alive. Thus they
had never read Shakespeare even in the original.
Once, long ago in Coalchester, a hundred years ago, there had been a
little circle of elegant literati, connoisseurs of literature and
art,--men, so far as men of that age might be, genuinely, if timidly and
old-maidishly, affectionate towards belles-lettres; men who had got so
far as to appreciate the freshness of an Elizabethan song; minor Bishops
Percy; and such lavender is the true love of anything that their
memories still hung about the walls of the old Lyceum along with their
portraits; while so necessary are great names for little towns to boast
of, that the compiler of the local gazetteer implied that Coalchester
glowed at night with quite a lustre from their names. Besides, they
proved very useful in damping young men. And yet you wouldn't know their
names if I were to write them--as I would rather like to do.
The learned Dr. Sibley, he wrote a pleasant little essay on "Taste," you
know, with a few additional notes on chiaroscuro; and then there was
the learned Dr. Ambrose, who wrote quite a pretty little treatise on
No! Of course you won't know any of them. Yet they were all once, and
are still, "The Learned." You'll never hear Theophilus Londonderry
spoken of as that, I'm afraid.
As it is the property of fame to grow with time, and the way of a great
name to begin with brains and end with lords, a great man's descendants
are not unnaturally found persons of much greater consequence than the
original great one. In like manner the dignity and importance of the
members of the Literary and Philosophical Society had grown, in direct
ratio to their distance from the original founders of it; and the
learned Doctors Sibley and Ambrose, who really did know something about
art and poetry and certainly loved them, can never have been persons of
such consequence as one or two of their descendants who are nameless,
and who certainly knew nothing about either.
One of the real objects of this sad little Society was passionately to
ignore what they contemptuously called local talent. It is true that
there was not much to ignore, and, after all, it has now to be recorded
to their credit that they did unreservedly give Theophilus Londonderry
his chance. By what quaintness of accident he could not imagine, he
suddenly found himself invited to lecture before them. The invitation
read something like a command, and there seemed to be an implication
that if all were satisfactory, he might thus earn the right of
acknowledging the patronage of the Literary and Philosophical Society of
Theophilus Londonderry's subject, therefore, was "Walt Whitman,"--a name
which conveyed no offence to the Committee, for the simple reason that
it conveyed nothing. It was a strange and humorous thing for the young
man to think of, that his was to be the first human voice that had
spoken that name of the future aloud in Coalchester. As he rose to give
his paper, he pronounced its title slowly, with his full carrying voice,
and allowed the strange new name to roll away in menacing echoes through
the old Lyceum: "W-a-l-t W-h-i-t-m-a-n."
Even yet no one saw the coming doom, heard not the voice that tolled a
funeral bell through all Lyceums and other haunted houses of dead
learning. The Canon in the chair smiled benignantly, with an expression
that I can only compare to buttered rolls. He was just three hundred
years old that very day, and the audience (a scanty fifty or so) ran
from a hundred and fifty upwards. The only young men present besides the
lecturer were two friends of his I have yet to introduce,--Rob
Clitheroe, a fiery young poet and pamphleteer of many ambitions, and
James Whalley (little James Whalley he was always called) a gentle lover
of letters, with perhaps the most delicate taste in the whole little
coterie; _and_ Mr. Moggridge,--not entirely comfortable, it having been
by some mysterious atmospheric effect conveyed to him that he was a
tradesman and a dissenter, in which latter capacity he felt a certain
traditional resentment towards his complacent fellow listeners. A quite
recent ancestor had refused to pay tithes. That ancestor was in his
Jenny was not there. Ladies were not admitted to the meetings of the
Society, there being a sort of implication that masonries of learning,
occult sciences of the brain, were practised at their meetings,--matters
which never came out in the "Transactions."
The lecture was a straightforward and eloquent account of Whitman's
writings and doctrines, with extracts from "The Leaves of Grass;" and
from beginning to end you might have heard a pin drop, particularly
during one or two of the quotations. When it was ended the buttered-roll
expression had faded from the Canon's face, and his "our young friend"
expression was ready for the chairman's remarks. Londonderry's sitting
down awakened a few sad echoes that were no doubt hand-clappings, but
seemed like the napping of the wings of night-birds frightened by a
light. But the Lit-and-Phils were not frightened; they were entirely
bewildered and rather indignant, that was all. It was characteristic of
their incapacity to grasp the humanity of any subject, even when it was
dangerous, that the criticism which followed was directed almost
entirely against Whitman's metrical vagaries. This was not poetry! Had
not their revered founder, the learned Dr. Ambrose ...
The Canon kindly said, showing his pastoral interest in the local
newspaper, that the verses which their young friend Mr. Rob Clitheroe,
who was present with them that evening, occasionally contributed to the
Coalchester "Argus" were in his opinion better poetry than anything Walt
Whitman had written, though he confessed that his acquaintance with
Walt Whitman was of the slightest. This disastrous compliment sent the
blood to young Clitheroe's cheeks, and he felt surer than ever that he
would never be a real poet,--though, as a matter of fact, he had written
some quite pretty lines.
It was an occasion that of course only the Lit-and-Phils could take
seriously, and the way home to New Zion was a laughter of four beneath
the stars,--Mr. Moggridge's deep guffaws coming every now and again,
like the bay of some distant watch-dog, at the young minister's
brilliant mimicry of the ancient men they had left behind.
Then the gentle voice of little James Whalley took advantage of a
silence: "Isn't it high time that we brought the Renaissance to
"Capital!" cried Londonderry; "come in for a bit of supper, all of you,
and let us talk over the plan of campaign."
THE PLOT AGAINST COALCHESTER
Old Mrs. Talbot had been prepared for some such invasion, and had an
excellent rabbit-pie awaiting them. There was a delightful trait of old
Mrs. Talbot's which I would like to record, a curious chronological
method of remembering great occasions and startling events by the food
of the day. Thus, for example, when with eyes that would still fill with
tears, though it was ten years ago, she would tell the story of how her
only boy had been brought home dead one night from an accident at his
workshop, she would fix the date by saying, "It was about six o'clock at
night, and I'd just got a nice little bit of liver and bacon cooking for
your father's dinner, when there came a knock at the door ..."
Sometimes it was, "I'd just sent Liz out for a little bit of fish," or
it would be Spanish onions maybe, or a lovely little rabbit, that
marked the day.
The night when the attack on Coalchester was planned was marked, as I
have said, by rabbit-pie. Mrs. Talbot would hardly have understood the
significance of that rabbit-pie, though in the course of her occasional
bobbings in and out of the room, to see that the young men were doing
justice to her food,--she had a curious notion that young men never ate
enough,--she would hear snatches of what she called "deep talk," or
shake her old head at her coming son-in-law, whom she already adored and
mothered, with a "Law! what a boy it is!" She wasn't quite sure
sometimes as to the soundness of his "doctrine," but wisely decided that
her business was rather with his stomach than his brains,--which no
doubt God Almighty would look after for himself.
Wit at the expense of Coalchester can only be of interest to
Coalchester wits and their butts, so I shall not record the bright and
animated talk which helped to digest Mrs. Talbot's rabbit-pie, but
confine myself to a practical outcome of it.
What interests me specially about these young men was their rare
practicality. They were no mere dreamers, helpless visionaries, with
ideas they had no notion how to embody. Dreamers, of course, they
were,--otherwise there had been no point in their being practical,--but
they were dreamers who understood something of how dreams are best got
on to the market of realities.
Characteristically, it was the poet of the party from whom the most
practical suggestion came. In itself, of course, there was no great
originality in the idea of a weekly paper to be called "The Dawn,"
devoted to the dissemination of the new light on every possible
subject,--politics and municipal misgovernment; the new social ideals;
the newest and most delicate forms of art, music, and literature. It
was in the suggested method of publication and circulation that the
originality lay. The paper was to be given away and made to pay its
expenses by tradesmen's advertisements, a guarantee of a certain minimum
distribution being given. This method had, of course, been tried before
for purposes of mere publicity, but never, I think, for the
dissemination of truth and beauty. The truth about life was to be paid
for by lies about bacon and butter,--or, let us say, business
exaggerations rendered innocuous by custom, and therefore as harmless
Obviously Mr. Moggridge, who not unnaturally had felt a sense of moving
about in worlds not realised during much of the deep talk, was here an
authority of importance, and the idea at once appealed to him. He would
promise a permanent advertisement, and he even promised illustrations,
in the form of blocks already engraved and occasionally used by the
"Argus," of the flourishing shops at 33, 34, 35 High Street, and 58, 59
Zion Street. He had also some blocks of gigantic hams most hammily
pictured, which might also be of use, and he would also be able to bring
in a number of his fellow tradesmen. Invaluable Mr. Moggridge! What were
truth without you!
The poet, on his part, guaranteed to supply all the poetry that might be
required, and indeed agreed to do special rhyming advertisements, at,
say, half a guinea apiece. He would also assist Londonderry in the
political and municipal departments, not only in the higher flights, but
lend a hand even in castigations of local jobs, abuses, and absurdities.
Gentle James Whalley would write round-about essays, for which he had a
charming gift, and generally take in charge the aesthetic interests of
the paper, though, as all were lovers of art and literature, those
subjects would be handled now by one and now by another. Even Jenny was
to have her place on the staff, and write dress articles, which would
not only tend to improve the aspect of Coalchester streets, but attract
millinery advertisements. She already announced the title of her first
article, which was very grand: "Dress as a form of self-expression."
It was two in the morning before the proceedings terminated, and even
then good old Mrs. Talbot was still up to press steaming bumpers of very
hot whisky and water upon the wayfarers; "to keep the cold out," she
explained--though I need hardly say that the project had not waited till
that hour to be suitably recommended to the god of all enterprises.
Next to the delight of holding new and unpopular opinions is the delight
of having a medium for their unedited expression, though this is a
delight given to few reformers. "The Dawn," however, was to be such a
medium; and when the first number appeared, as it did nearly a month
from the meeting recorded in the last chapter, four people, nay,
five--for we mustn't forget Mr. Moggridge--were supremely happy. With
the exception of the poet, who, as we have seen, occasionally irradiated
the poet's corner of the "Argus," and Mr. Moggridge, it was a first
appearance in print for three out of the five contributors; and though
each talked most of the articles by the others, they were secretly
longing to get away with the little paper to some corner where they
could gloat over their own special contribution.
Not that they had any ridiculous ideas of the literary importance of the
articles in question, but because it seemed so strange to see the warm
words of their mouths thus condensed into cold print, so strange to
think that people all over Coalchester were reading them. Little Jenny
in particular felt quite a cold but pleasant shiver of notoriety as she
thought of it, while to her lover the delighted perusal and reperusal of
a large-type leading article, headed "In Darkest Coalchester!" brought a
new sense of power.
The poet, as was only to be expected, had his little grievance with the
printer, who, in spite of all his remonstrances and corrections in
proof,--the printer was a little wrong-headed Scotchman,--had insisted
at the last moment in heading his Tyrtean "Proem," a fine aerial
trumpet-blast somewhat Shelleyan in style, with the word that was
evidently intended, namely, "Poem." However, he was somewhat consoled by
reading his caustic column of notes headed "The World outside
Coalchester," the very heading of which was a revelation. Then, too, he
very much enjoyed his article on "Bad Lighting in Coalchester," with its
evident allegoric insinuation that Coalchester needed lighting in more
ways than one, and that "The Dawn" was prepared to undertake, free of
charge, the top-lighting of which it was most in need.
James Whalley contributed a review of "Mr. Swinburne's new Poems,"
through which article Mr. Moggridge's illustrated hams plainly showed
from the other side.
New truth is too often printed in very worn-out type, but the promoters
of "The Dawn" had wisely remembered how hard truth is to read, and had
given it good clear type, and generally made it a very comely and
attractive little paper. It bore a motto that sounded almost like a
threat, "We come to stay,"--a boast which it manfully kept for several
years. As I lift my eyes from this paper, they rest on no less than ten
great half-yearly volumes, which flash "The Dawn"--"The Dawn"--along a
darksome folio shelf, as they have flashed it week after week across
darkest Coalchester; and "The Dawn" ceased, at length, not from lack of
power and encouragement to continue, but because the world had grown
sadder by then, and it had lost the will to go on living.
In spite of this hardy existence, I suppose "The Dawn" will win no
record of itself in the histories of the press, though merely as
spirited journalism it deserves to do so; while in the history of the
human spirit at Coalchester it demands a grateful celebration such as it
will, again, most surely not receive from the literary and philosophical
historian of the town. At all events, honoured or forgotten as it may
be, should you ever come across its strange young pages, I know you will
agree with me that it was a wonderful little paper. It was not, you may
suspect, conservative, being, as it was, very alive and very young. In
fact, its radiant radicalism brings tears to one's eyes to-day, when so
many of the noble ideals it championed, to the length and strength of
its little angry arm, are lying smashed beneath the iron blows of the
capitalism that has outlived even the noble eloquence of Theophilus
Like all young people, it was all for the young, the new; and I think
you will be astonished, if you do ever turn over its pages, at the
remarkable instinct for the crescent life possessed by these young men;
and, were it worth while, I could easily prove that several of the more
exquisite continental writers, now the fashion this many a year, first
found a humble welcome in that quaint little organ of New Zion.
Yes! it was a triumph for New Zion too. This modest and hitherto obscure
corner of the town suddenly found itself, comparatively, in a blaze of
publicity, for a column headed "Work at New Zion," evidently meant to be
weekly, left no doubt from what quarter of the town the dawn was to be
looked for. This was perhaps the most delightful thing about the
paper,--its calm assumption that the real aristocracy of the town was to
be found in that little back street, and that, if Coalchester was to
have any spiritual or intellectual life, it must seek it there. In Zion
Street, and nowhere else in Coalchester, were the angels descending into
the waters. And the best part of the joke was that the assumption was
HOW THEY BROUGHT THE GOOD NEWS OF A MORRIS WALL-PAPER TO COALCHESTER
Coalchester was too much taken by surprise by "The Dawn" to pretend to
ignore it, and its first recognition was appropriately made in a
ludicrously abusive article in "The Argus,"--"the one-eyed Argus," as it
was mockingly nicknamed in the next week's issue of the new paper. The
joke was one that was lost on Coalchester, which had never dreamed of
expecting a hundred eyes in its "Argus," which to it was but the usual
name for a sleeping newspaper. It was, however, to do them justice, seen
and chuckled over by one or two members of the Literary and
Philosophical Society. "The young beggars know their--classical
dictionary, at all events," said one of them maliciously, which was
quite bright for a Lit-and-Phil.
One tangible result of the little paper was the almost immediate
doubling of the attendance at New Zion. Curiosity had been aroused in
this militant young minister with the strange ideas, and Theophilus
Londonderry wished for nothing better than to gratify it. In the oxygen
of success even the dullest metals will scintillate, and it needed but
such small beginnings of his future to make Theophilus as nearly
irresistible as natural gifts and success together can make a man.
Some people go to chapel to worship, a few to learn, but most, odd as it
may sound, to be entertained. A vivid and magnetic preacher is as near
as many will allow themselves to approach the theatre. Theophilus was a
born actor--of himself; a part so few can or dare play. He gave you good
stimulating truth; but it was not so much in the newness of the ideas
which he passed on from his books to his hearers, as in the newness of
himself, that of course the charm lay. A few people, not many or
important, disliked him; but all had to listen, and a good many came to
New Zion again. Above all, the women heard him gladly; and to this sure
sign of a future Theophilus was far from blind. "He has women at his
back, he cannot fail," was a phrase he sometimes recalled out of his
favourite _Brand_. Yes, and had he not one little angel-woman at
It had been the spring of 1886 when he came to New Zion. It was now the
autumn, and early in September announcements had been made of a series
of autumnal lectures to be given by the Rev. Theophilus Londonderry; Rob
Clitheroe, Esquire; James Whalley, Esquire; and other distinguished
lecturers, at New Zion.
In the list were papers on "The Duty of Novel Reading," "Henrik Ibsen,"
"A Morris Wall-Paper," "The Nude in Art," and "The Darwinian Theory,"
by Mr. Londonderry himself; "Coalchester, its Past and its Future," by
Mr. Rob Clitheroe; together with "Ireland's Sacred Right to Home Rule,"
by the same lecturer; "Wagner and the New Music," by Mr. James Whalley,
with a paper on "Some Really New Books," by the same; and a paper-on
"Good Taste in Dress," by Miss Jenny Talbot--the virago!
The batteries were to be turned on poor Coalchester with a vengeance.
For some time past there had been uneasy suspicions in the town that
strange and somewhat ungodly forms of new learning and beauty were being
stored as in an arsenal in that little house at 3 Zion Place. A large
cast of the Venus of Milo, it was known, had come from Covent Garden,
London, _via_ a poor little dealer in artistic materials in the town,
who on one occasion had shown a bewildering picture to one of his
customers with the remark, "What do you make of this, Mr. Littlejohn?"
Mr. Littlejohn could make nothing of it, nor indeed could the artists'
colourman, who had been used to pictures all his life.
No wonder, for it was the first Rossetti that had ever been seen in
And it was the same at the little paperhanger's shop where Theophilus
had ordered some pieces of Morris wall-paper for his room.
"Law! what a taste, to be sure!" had exclaimed the paperhanger's wife as
they opened the parcel. "How any one dare live with such patterns is
beyond me." The paperhanger's wife verbed better than she knew. Few are
those indeed who dare live with beauty.
When the paper was hung in Theophil's room, so great was the sensation
in the household that even old Mr. Talbot ventured to look in at it,
keeping very close to his wife. It was so the old man had stood
open-mouthed before the first steam-engine, and here again was the Devil
plainly at work.
"Lord a-mercy, Jane," he said to his wife, "what is the world coming
The world was indeed changing beneath the old man's feet, and the
heavens opening as never before in his time--with, he might be right,
some assistance from beneath; and--it was undoubtedly safer in
Mrs. Talbot in these matters lived and loved by faith in her boy, as she
called him. But even she had her doubts, which she expressed in a way
that showed, funny old woman as she was, that she was not without a sort
of blind insight.
"I suppose it's all right, boy," she said, "and it sounds silly to say
about a lot of harmless lines and flowers, but it seems to your old
mother that there's something wrong about that paper,--something almost
wicked in it. It reminds me of that nasty music you and Jenny are so
fond of playing."
Here Theophil enveloped her in a huge hug, and laughingly mocked her
with playful caresses, smiling to himself all the same. For the music
she had referred to was Dvorak.
A LITTLE ABOUT JENNY
Meanwhile, as New Zion moved and hummed and whizzed, and as "The Dawn"
went on dawning week by week,--you couldn't expect the dawn oftener than
once a week in Coalchester,--the love of Jenny and Theophil grew more
and more perfect.
There was a long while to wait yet before Jenny was to bear what seemed
to her the finest of all names, for old Mrs. Talbot, easily manageable
as a rule, had a way of quietly putting her foot down on occasion that
would have surprised you. Jenny was only just passed nineteen, and was
no fit wife for any man yet, least of all for a great sprawling fellow
like that. Let her get a little more flesh on her bones, something more
than all spirit and nerves, let her get well turned twenty, and it might
be thought of, but not now.
No! it's no use coming with your nonsense, you silly big fellow! You
know when the soft old mother says a thing, she means it.
So it proved. Old Mrs. Talbot on this point remained a homely form of
adamant. However, the lovers were not badly off. Living in the same
house, they saw almost as much of each other as if they had been
married, and from the evenings she spent there, Jenny had come to regard
Theophil's room and his books as hers too.
She had developed wonderfully in these months, had Jenny. She was a real
little great man's wife now; and as Theophil looked at her, with her lit
eager face, her whole soul so alive to help him in however humble a way,
her whole life his, his, his,--such love seemed almost tragic in its
very beauty and joy. It was so irremediably--love. At times he almost
trembled before it. He would almost chide her with its divine
What if he were to be taken from her? Oughtn't she to keep just a little
of herself for foothold? We ought all to belong to ourselves as well as
to another. It was such a risk. Suppose he were to die, Jenny!
No doubt it was very wise, but Jenny was wiser. She could never belong
to herself again. She was his, and his only, for ever; and if he
died--if he were to be taken away ...
But he could never be taken from her any other way? No one else, nothing
but death, could take him ...
"No, nothing but death--and perhaps not even death."
"You are sure, darling? O, you are quite, quite sure?"
"Sure from my soul, little child. Look in it and see."
A lover's eyes are his soul.
Yes, Theophil loved Jenny, loved her even more with her own dependence
on love than he knew of. He was, the reader need scarcely be told, an
almost wildly ambitious man, and a few months ago he would have said
that there was nothing which was more to him than the expression of the
power that was in him. But there was something that was even more to him
now, and if it could be imagined that he might some day be asked to
choose between his ambition and Jenny, he could honestly have answered
from his soul, "Give me Jenny."
Whoever thinks this an easily natural answer to make, may know something
about love, but evidently knows little about ambition. Still, life
seldom sets us such silly examination questions as that, and need one
say that that question was never put to Jenny's lover? He was far too
proud of the woman he had made of that little measure of porcelain and
that handful of stars.
HOW THE RENAISSANCE CAME IN PERSON TO NEW ZION
The winter months had gone by; all but one of those incendiary lectures
had been given, not without storm and tempest; "The Dawn" still came up
each week with anger and singing, and the first year of Londonderry's
ministry at New Zion neared its close. The lecture season was presently
to end, on the last Friday in March, with a concert which was to include
a series of recitations by a lady-reciter from London. Londonderry had
written to a lecture agency for the name of a likely reciter, man or
woman, and they had sent him the name of Isabel Strange.
On the occasion of the last lecture, Mr. Moggridge had not been
satisfied with the colour of the platform. It wanted repainting, and I
think it very likely that it was a strain of that boyishness which I
hope survives in us all, and one of whose quaint fancies is an envy of
house-painters, so happy all day with paint-pot and brush and great
smooth boards to dab and smooth, that decided him to do the job himself.
Mr. Moggridge had this great element of refinement, that he thought
nothing honest beneath him.
It was the Friday of the entertainment, about one o'clock, and though
Mr. Moggridge had practically finished the work the day before, he had
slipped in during his lunch-hour to give it a final touch or two. He had
brought his lunch in the form of a pork-pie, and while with one hand he
plunged the pie occasionally among his red whiskers, with the other he
would lean forward and touch up a knot or a nail-hole that needed a
little more paint. And he was proud as a boy of the simple bit of
slap-dashing, and entirely absorbed in it and the pork-pie.
Presently he became aware that he was not alone. Someone had entered
the schoolroom at the far end. He turned round, with the paint-brush in
one hand and the pork-pie in the other, and became abashed, for a
beautiful lady had entered the room and was evidently about to make an
enquiry. The surreptitiousness that seems to inhere in pork-pies
prompted Mr. Moggridge to slip the pie into his trousers' pocket--for
his coat was off, and a white apron had taken its place.
"Just doing a little bit of amateur painting," he explained rather
awkwardly, advancing to the lady.
"So I see," said the lady, with a pleasant smile. "This, I believe, is
Zion Chapel--and I suppose this is the room where I am to recite. My
name is Isabel Strange, and I have come a little earlier, I daresay,
than you expected; but I always like to see the room I'm to recite
in--just to try my voice in and run over my pieces."
"Certainly, of course," said Mr. Moggridge; "but you have come all the
way from London and so early. You will have some refreshment first, and
if you'll honour Mrs. Moggridge and me--I may as well explain that I am
the chief deacon," said Mr. Moggridge, dexterously slipping off his
painter's apron and getting into his coat. So, with a wistful glance at
his work of art, Mr. Moggridge carried off the beautiful London lady to
But was Isabel Strange beautiful? It was a new sort of beauty if she
was--or perhaps a very old sort. Yet beautiful was the first word that
had sprung into Mr. Moggridge's mind as she had surprised him in the
schoolroom. Perhaps wonderful was the exacter word, wonderful in a way
that included beauty,--wonderful, and with a strange air about her that
suggested exceptional refinement, exquisite sensitiveness to
"Beautiful, O dear no!" said Mrs. Moggridge, to whom feminine beauty
did not appeal, as the young lady freshened herself up after her travel
in Mrs. Moggridge's best bedroom. "Why! she hasn't a regular feature in
Mrs. Moggridge herself had neat little pretty features set in fat.
"Look at that long upper lip and her nose!"
Mrs. Moggridge omitted mention of eyes singularly powerful and very true
and sweet, as also of a long lithe mouth that reminded you of a
beautiful serpent, a serpent which the true eyes plainly said would do
you no harm.
Presently, however, Mrs. Moggridge had to admit that she was very
attractive. She knew she meant fascinating, but she wouldn't admit that
to Mr. Moggridge, who had dropped the subject; though a mind which again
had asserted its dim preference for new fashions was perhaps groping
after expression of some such perplexity as this: why, if a face has
the same effect upon you as beauty, may it not be described as
beautiful? If Mr. Moggridge really got so far even as cloudily to ponder
that, it is evident that he was not far from the kingdom of beauty.
It is, of course, true enough that some faces are spoilt by flaws such
as every Mrs. Moggridge can point out,--faces that begin in one style
and end in another, half Greek perhaps and half Gothic; yet even such
faces, if their individuality is strong enough, have their own rococo
charm. For all but supremely great faces, of which perhaps the world has
not seen half-a-dozen, absolute regularity, so-called correctness, of
features is a calamity, and regular beauty on the ordinary human levels
is only another form of mediocrity.
Wonderful English girls! face after face indistinguishable from each
other as rose after rose. How sweet you are! how fragrant! what a bloom!
It is a wonderful rose-girl-farm from which you come. How pretty you
look laced up one after another on your standards, and how skilfully
you are guarded against any form of variation! Perhaps no women
potteries in the world produce so exquisite a surface, delicate as a
lily and strong as marble. Indeed you are wonderful porcelain, you fair
English girls, wonderful porcelain; but where are the stars?
Mrs. Moggridge had also remarked that Miss Strange was "very easy in her
manners." This was not always the case with ladies in Coalchester, and
Mrs. Moggridge did not mean the remark as an unreserved compliment. She
liked a certain stiffness in strangers. It was not, however, in Isabel
Strange's nature to oblige her in that particular. Her way of pouring
her grace into Mrs. Moggridge's great arm-chair suggested at once that
she had lived there for ever so long, and to him particularly she
chatted as with an old acquaintance. You could not make a stranger of
her. She ate some cold fowl which presently appeared, entirely without
embarrassment, though two Miss Moggridges sat like dummies and
"That's an interesting face!" she said presently, pointing to a
conspicuous portrait of a young man on the mantelpiece.
"That's Mr. Londonderry," said Mr. Moggridge.
"O! _that's_ Mr. Londonderry, is it?" she said. "H'm,... I hadn't
expected him to be so young."
"Yes! He's a wonderful young man for his position," said Mr. Moggridge,
started on what was now his favourite topic. "He'll be a great man some
day, will Mr. Londonderry."
Isabel looked up at Mr. Moggridge with added interest. Such a genuine
interest in great men as his voice betokened was a surprise in him.
Then Mr. Moggridge proceeded to narrate the history of New Zion, told of
its former desolation, his lucky advertisement, and its present
"Yes, it was a dead-and-alive place was New Zion when we moved in here,
wasn't it, missus?" turning to his wife; "but now, since Mr. Londonderry
came, there is always something moving. Yes, there's always something
going on at New Zion," he repeated, rubbing his hands gleefully. Mr.
Moggridge did so love anything that was alive.
Mr. Moggridge also told the story of "The Dawn," and generally, as he
would have said, posted her up in the position of things at New Zion. At
the end she found herself generally looking forward to meeting this
young minister and his friends, who were evidently a little nest of
surprise-people in what had indeed seemed a most unpromising corner of
the world,--perhaps the most unpromising corner that her nomadic
wandering minstrel existence had brought her to.
Isabel Strange, according to old-fashioned reckoning, was not a very
young woman. That is, she was already twenty-eight, though, having to
fight a silly world with its own silly weapons, she called herself
twenty-five, which it was still quite safe for her to do; and though the
nerve-intensity of her face was the worst thing in the world for
wrinkles, they would when they came be very interesting wrinkles, and
her eyes and mouth would keep the world from looking at the rest of her
features for a long time to come. A face so full of the mystery of light
could only be eclipsed by one darkness, and even in that those magnetic
eyes would shine through the cold closed lids.
Surprises were welcome to her, for she got few. Her life was rather a
dreary one, as the life of an elocution teacher may well be. At one time
she had dreamed of the stage, but her voice was not quite big enough for
that, some managers had said, and indeed her mettle was perhaps a little
too fine for the stage. The positive and enduring joys of her life were
that she lived in London--for which she had the kind of passion that
some people have for the Earth-Mother--and loved beauty as some women
love religion. She had been loved many times, but never quite as she
needed, as she demanded, to be loved. Vivid, passionate, and exquisite,
she was what we call "modern" to the tips of her beautiful fingers; that
is, she united the newest opinions on all things with many ancient
charms. At the same time she was a good woman, though very wonderful and
Presently Mr. Moggridge, who from where he sat commanded a view of the
street, exclaimed, "Why, here is Mr. Londonderry himself!" rising as he
spoke and passing into the hall, where he was met by a curiously rich
and mellow voice, which Isabel Strange thus heard for the first time;
and then the glorified original of the photograph entered the room.
As her eyes and hands met his, her soul gave a little half-humorous
"Oh!" of surprise; for photography, which seems to have been invented to
flatter the mediocre and belittle the exceptional, had indeed given
Londonderry an "interesting face," as we have heard, but missed all the
rest--"all the rest" of a large, mobile, talking face, not exactly
handsome perhaps, but decidedly good-looking and full of various
commands and appeals, thought on the brow and laughter in the eyes,
humour and eloquence all along the large and somewhat loose mouth, with
plenty of go in the powerful but not anxiously determined chin. These
were the moral qualities of the face, which Isabel Strange did not miss;
but it was the fascination of its general vitality that struck her most,
as an important introduction was made, to the usual fantastic
accompaniment of small talk.
Let us not prolong the small-talk of the situation further, but
introduce Miss Strange as speedily as possible to Jenny also and to the
little study in 3 Zion Place.
Here her eager examination of the shelves was one succession of cries
of sympathetic delight. "Why, you have got all the books I ever want to
read again!" she exclaimed. "What wonderful people you are! How have you
done it--in Zion Place?"
"I suppose the books must have been blown here," answered Theophil,
gaily, "on the same fair wind that blew Miss Isabel Strange."
"Yes," said little Jenny, affectionately pressing her shoulder as the
three leaned forward looking at the shelves, "for if we seem wonderful
people to you, what must you seem to us--here, as you may well say, in
"What _does_ she remind you of?" said Jenny presently, with candid
admiration. "I know! Why, of course, she just _is_ the very woman.
Wait--I'll go and fetch it;" and Theophil and Isabel were thus left for
a moment or two alone,--a fact of no importance beyond this, that it was
the first moment in their lives that they had ever been together alone.
Jenny returned presently with a small copy of Botticelli's "Primavera,"
which hung in her bedroom; and it was undoubtedly true that the figure
of Flora might well have passed for a portrait of Isabel. The nose was a
little longer, that was all; but the rest of the face--particularly the
eyes and mouth--was all but exact, and the general correspondence
between the two faces in subtlety, strangeness, and, so to say,
determined refinement, was complete.
"It is strange that I should have loved that face so," said Jenny.
"It is very sweet of you,--Jenny, I had almost said,--but you are too
kind to me, and a little selfish too--you give me no time to admire you.
I wonder if Mr. Londonderry is modern enough to allow ladies to smoke in
And thus it comes out that Jenny often smoked there!
The smoking-sister is now almost as common as a taste for Botticelli,
and perhaps equally insincere; but in 1886 there still remained that
sense of contrast in both which we have declared the essence of romance.
At present those curious people who resent the popular acceptance of an
ideal of beauty which they have done their best to popularise are
beginning to affect that a taste for Botticelli is a mark of the
_bourgeoisie_. So does the whirligig of time bring in the paradoxer.
A new kind of woman, while she is always the despairing hope of men, is
seldom acceptable to women; yet when the evening came and Isabel stood
up to recite in New Zion schoolroom, women as well as men were
instantaneously attracted. She stood very simply, with one hand lightly
touching the table at which Londonderry sat as chairman, and the other
at her side; and before she began her first recitation she glanced
quietly over the audience, as though her eyes were thus preparing the
proper magnetic atmosphere for her voice.
She began with some simple Longfellow poem, that New Zion might feel at
home; then she recited a fairy poem called "The Forsaken Merman," which,
of course, was only a fairy tale, and yet somehow was so full of human
pathos that it was more real than if it had been really "real," that
For impressing the imagination of her audience she relied mainly on her
own imagination and her voice; striking no attitudes, and allowing
herself nothing of that facial distortion which is the resort of the
unimaginative, and destroys not creates illusion. Of course, her face
changed, but the change was one of which she was probably unconscious,
and which she couldn't have reproduced to her mirror; it was not a play
of features, but a play of lights and shadows and nerves, a flow or an
ebb of radiance in the eyes, a subtle sensitiveness of the lips and
nerves; and her effect was mainly produced by her voice, over which she
wielded indescribable powers of modulation. It was a voice so
sympathetic, so intimate, that it almost seemed too intimate, too
appealingly sympathetic. It was so a woman might recite to a man she
loved, but you almost felt as though the voice were too personal a
revelation for an audience,--felt an impulse, so to say, to throw a veil
over it, though you were glad from your soul that no one threw it. And
the voice was a wonderful actor too. It could act the scenery as well.
You saw it all, you heard it all, you felt it all, in the voice:--the
great winds blowing shorewards, the wild white horses in the spray,
"The white-walled town,
And the little gray church on the windy shore;"
and when she said, "Down, down, down!" you were indeed in the very
depths of the sea--and were all sitting, Mr. Moggridge with the rest,
amid coral caves and seaweed, and in a curious green and
But what a world of heart-break there was in her "Come, dear children,
come away!" You felt you simply couldn't bear her to say it again. Next
time you'd have to cry, and cry you did, and you weren't ashamed, for
suddenly when you came out of the trance of the voice you found that
every one else was crying too, and Mr. Londonderry had quite forgotten
that he was a chairman, and had to be nudged to announce the next piece.
This was a very strange poem, and made you feel like a stained-glass
window; it was full of incense, but it was full of something else
too. It began
"The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of heaven" ...
and there was something in the voice that suggested such a height up
above the world that you drew your breath lest she should fall over. And
there was a lover crying in the poem, you could hear him crying far
away down on the earth, and there were some lines which went:
"We two will lie i' the shadow of
That mystic living tree
Within whose secret growth the Dove
Is sometimes felt to be" ...
that made you feel what a strange holy thing love was, after all; and
then there was a curious verse with nothing but women's names in it, yet
somehow it seemed the loveliest of all; and when again you came out of
the voice, you were not crying but feeling wonderfully blest somehow and
rather frightened. Jenny sent a wonderful look to Theophil--it was so
they should bathe together in God's sight--and Theophil sent back as
wonderful a look as a chairman dare venture on. Otherwise, of course, it
would have been as wonderful as Jenny's.
Thus did Isabel Strange recite at New Zion; and perhaps one can best
judge of the impression she made, from the fact that the little boys at
the back, who during the last lecture on "Henrik Ibsen" had discovered
a most exciting new way of making continued existence possible, quite
forgot it and would have to keep it for Sunday afternoon Sunday-school.
Everyone went home in a dream, and little Jenny shone like a light with
the excitement and wonder of it all.
"How wonderful you are! Doesn't it seem strange to be so wonderful?"
said Jenny afterwards, as the two girls took off their outdoor things in
"Dear child!" said Isabel, kissing Jenny on her brow, "it is you that
There is no joy in the world better worth seeing, better worth living,
than the joy of young people with the same dreams, the same thoughts,
and--so important--the same words for them, blown together by some
unexpected conjunction of the four winds, met by some blissful
dispensation of the planets of youth.
There have been periods in history especially favourable for the ecstasy
of such meetings, early mornings of the human spirit, when lovely new
truth and lovely new beauty were dawning wild and dewy in the strange
east, and while the deep breathing of the older generations still asleep
made a more wonderful loneliness of dawn, for the hushed and happy bands
of young people holding each other's hands and watching in the
To have been young in Italy in the time of Dante, in England in the time
of Shakespeare, and to have met in such a mighty morning--with danger
too to keep us grateful. Ah, we have missed those dawns; and yet I doubt
if the whole recovered beauty of Greece and Rome, or the thrilling new
fashions in romance and poetry wafted across the seas from Italy to help
make Shakespeare, ever gave young people a keener thrill of newness and
mystery than the books and pictures so eagerly discussed by the little
group that gathered over supper that night in 3 Zion Place.
To have read "The House of Life!"--to have seen the "Venus
Verticordia"! Ah! that was life! And Isabel had actually been to Mr.
G.F. Watts's studio--walked about there a whole afternoon. The young New
Zioners looked at her.
"O Theophil, we _must_ go to London," cried Jenny. She meant when they
Theophil pressed her hand tenderly, as she impulsively sought his for
sympathy, and his eyes left Isabel's face a moment to smile a true "yes"
Of course no one had eyes for anyone but Isabel that night. Was she not,
as the announcements had said, "of London," an ambassadress of beauty
from the capital of the great queen? There was really little she could
tell these clever young people, who amazed and attracted her by their
reality,--the unrealities of "intensity" and "modernity" and the rest
had, of course, already begun in London,--but she represented to them
the sparkle of the new beauty and truth they loved. She knew little
intimate anecdotes of the poets and painters they loved, piquant gossip
and brilliant _mots_; and then she was one of those women who are like
incense in a room, enriching by her very presence, exhaling mystery and
distinction, like a pomander of strange spices.
You might love her for a long time or a little, but love her you were
obliged to while you were with her, whoever else you loved too. There
was no other word for it. Even little James Whalley had conscience-pangs
as he looked at Isabel, for he had been engaged for five years; but the
poet's heart, that is, all the combustible portion of it, was already
burnt to a cinder. Poets' hearts, however, are used to burning. The
inflammable air of sighs about them is ever in a perpetual state of
ignition; so it has come, no doubt, from long custom, that nature has
made them at their centre as fireproof as the phoenix. Otherwise,
indeed, the poetic life would be impossible to live; poets could not go
on maintaining the deadly fire of love, to which it is one of the
conditions of their precarious art that they must daily expose
themselves. Sometimes, indeed, as we know, even these firemen of the
emotions dare the burning house once too often, and we hear their
death-song amid the flames.
Well, we can talk of Theophil again. Meanwhile Jenny was as much in love
with her herself, and he held Jenny's hand and loved her, O yes, so
dearly--and was quite safe. Fear not, little Jenny; it was only death,
you remember, that was to separate Jenny and Theophil.
Mrs. Talbot--if she won't bore you--had made an interesting remark. She
had not escaped Isabel's charm, but there was "something," something a
little alarming about her,--a little like that wicked wall-paper.
Jenny divulged this criticism over supper when her mother was out of
"How very clever of her!" exclaimed Isabel.
"She said the same of Dvorak's music," said Jenny.
"Good again," said Isabel. "How clever of her! Don't you feel how right
she is? We are all like that wall-paper, and everything we care about is
like it. The New Spirit--that is, the devil--is in that wall-paper. A
psychometrist could detect Wagner and Keats, and Schopenhauer, and
Rossetti and Swinburne, and all the rest of them in that wall-paper,
just as surely as he could have detected Tupper and Eliza Cook in the
wall-papers of 1851. Am I not right?"
"If we could only paper New Zion like this!" exclaimed Theophil, a
curious new feeling of joy and pain shooting through him to hear a woman
thus expressing herself as an independent brain.
"Yes! New Zion! I'd quite forgotten all about New Zion. It seems
impossible to think of you together."
"And a little absurd, I suppose," said Theophil.
"It is uncouth material, I admit," he continued, "and yet somehow it
amuses us to mould it all the more; and then you mustn't forget that we
had been given no other--but I don't suppose you can understand?"
(Theophil often used "we" in this imperatorial sense, meaning himself,
as of course he had every right to mean.)
"O yes, but I can," Isabel hastened to correct. "I understand power."
"Beauty always does," was the young minister's reply.
"Besides," he presently resumed, "we are glad to have been
Nonconformists--once. A Puritan training is a good thing--to look back
upon. You are all the more thorough in your pleasures, the truer
humanist, for something of it still lurking in your blood."
"Yes, of course you're right. I don't like the word 'pagan'; but for
want of a better, we might say that the best pagans have come of Puritan
stock. Besides, it is half the romance of life to have something to
escape from, isn't it?"
"And someone to escape with the other half," responded Theophil, nimble
as a real town wit.
O it was a wonderful night. Let us build five tabernacles!
"Good-night, dear Jenny."
"Good-night, dear wonderful Isabel."
So at last the two girls bade each other good-night at the door of
Jenny's bedroom, where Isabel was to sleep.
Masterful youth! So wild to take, so eager to surrender, the Christian
name. Strange, what passion sometimes can be put into a
When the door was shut on Isabel, she made no haste to undress. Indeed,
she sat down on the side of the bed as though she had been waiting to
sit down for ever so long, sat very still as in a dream, and an hour
went by and she was still sitting and gazing in front of her.
And downstairs in the study, where the lamps were still burning,
Theophil was sitting by the fire in just the same curiously wrought and
withdrawn way, with just the same eyes.
Isabel's room was over his. Presently she heard him moving about; then
she heard him coming upstairs. For a moment the air seemed to grow warm,
as she heard him softly pass her room; then she heard him close
She shook her reverie from her, as though it had been a black veil full
of stars, and began to undress. Presently her eyes fell on a little pile
of handkerchiefs, with needle and cotton, and little letters printed on
dainty tapes, beside it. Jenny had forgotten to put away her sewing.
Isabel took up one of the handkerchiefs, to which the needle and thread
were still attached, and read "Jenny Lond ..." (Don't you know that's
bad luck, Jenny?)
"So soon as that! Is it so soon as that?" she sighed.
IN WHICH JENNY KISSES MR. MOGGRIDGE
Isabel was leaving very early next morning for London, so good-byes must
be brief. Jenny and Theophil saw her off at the station, but before
leaving Zion Place there had been a moment in which for the second time
in their lives she and Theophil had been alone.
They had stood together in the little study and taken each other's
hands, without a word, and they had looked into each other's faces as
those look whom a look must last a long time.
They didn't even say good-bye, for, if they were never to meet again,
the look was not good-bye. And meet again it was not unlikely they
would, for it had been already arranged that Isabel was to lead off the
autumn entertainments; but the look did not mean that, either. As life
had been planned for them, all subsequent meetings must be merely
trivialities. They had met once, and fate had decided that they must
never meet like that again. In that long look each knew that they met
and parted for ever, autumn arrangements notwithstanding.
Each came out of that look as out of a great cathedral, and from that
moment till the train left Theophil, with an unwonted sense of
loneliness, by Jenny's side, they entered that cathedral no more. Their
devotions were done for that day, and they must resume their secular
duties, rippling idly over the great deeps of themselves.
One always leaves a station from which a dear friend has just gone with
a certain subdued air, a certain bereaved hush in the voice, and even
Jenny felt a momentary loneliness too. But it was not long before the
doors of home opened again for her in the sound of Theophil's voice;
and in the sense of the old familiar nearness to him she was back again
safe in the only world she ever wished to dwell in.
It was more of an effort with Theophil, and the voice that made home for
Jenny had a strange sound in his own ears, as though it were still
talking to Isabel; but the effort was soon made, and though Jenny teased
him a little and said she believed he had quite lost his, that was to
say _her_, heart to Isabel, of course she believed no such thing. Doubt
is too terrible a toy for true love to play with. You only dare to doubt
as you must sometimes face the fear of death.
"I wish next October were here," said Jenny, artlessly; "it seems such a
long time to wait to see her again."
Did Theophil wish the same? He hardly knew.
"Distance is such a silly thing," went on Jenny. "It seems to have been
invented just to separate those who want to be together. It seems so
arbitrary, so unnecessary."
"I suppose death is a form of distance," said Theophil, irrelevantly.
"Life too, I'm afraid," said Jenny.
"Yes, indeed, life too," assented Theophil, dreamily.
"If I were to die," said Jenny, suddenly, "would you still do what we
"Why do you ask that, dear? You're a very serious little woman this
morning. Of course I would. You know. But why do you ask me now?"
"Oh, only, dear, because I wonder whether we really ought to. Somehow
Isabel's visit has made me feel that life is a bigger, fuller thing than
I had dreamed, and that men like you, at all events, have duties towards
it even greater than your love for a little thing like me."
"Jenny dear, don't talk like that. Why should you? You don't surely
doubt my love!"
"Of course not, Theophil. It was only my silly little brain thinking
for once in a while,--and I don't mean to be unkind, but really I rather
mean it. Are you still quite sure there is nothing in the world more
important than love?"
"Quite sure," he answered; "surer than ever--if that were possible. You
are not beginning to doubt that? Certainly it is a silly little brain,
if that's what its thinking is coming to."
"I don't mean it for myself. Little women have nothing but love to think
of; but great men, men with a mission in the world ..."
"Well, dear, I mean it; and I sometimes think that perhaps, perhaps, I'm
hindering your life; that if you were to be bothered with love at all,
you should have married some clever, wonderful woman,--woman, say,
"Of course, dear, I know you don't think so," she continued; and he
realised that it was all artless accident on her part--"Still I cannot
help thinking it for you sometimes, dear, and sometimes I feel very
selfish to have your love,--as though, so to say, I was wearing someone
"Jenny dear, will you promise never to talk like that again? A clever
woman! To be a woman is to be a genius, but to be a clever woman is to
be another man of talent."
"That wouldn't be fair to Isabel."
"No," assented Theophil, "Isabel is different too."
And that brought them to Theophil's office and good-bye till the
For the evening there had been fixed an important church meeting, the
first annual business meeting of minister and deacons since Londonderry
had come to New Zion. It was an occasion of jubilation all round,
particularly for Mr. Moggridge, who gave voice to New Zion's general
satisfaction, you may be sure, in no uncertain terms of praise.
New Zion was, indeed, _New_ Zion once more, he said, thanks to their
indefatigable young pastor,--a play on words which was received with the
applause due to so unmistakable a union of wit and truth.
Nor did the proceedings result in mere compliments. The church found
itself rich enough to increase its minister's stipend; and when Theophil
took Mr. Moggridge back to supper, another surprise awaited him, in the
form of a suspicious-looking letter, which, being opened, revealed a
quite unexceptionable L50 note, enclosed in a sheet of note-paper, on
which was written--"From never mind who."
The writing was unknown to Londonderry, but there could be only one
"Of course, Mr. Moggridge, this is from you. Really ..."
"No, sir, indeed; you make a mistake there," protested Moggridge, lying
badly, and growing purple.
"Who do _you_ suspect, Jenny?"
"Why, of course, it's Mr. Moggridge!"
"Mr. Moggridge!" exclaimed Jenny impulsively, throwing her arms round
Mr. Moggridge's surprised shoulders, and kissing him somewhere in his
whiskers,--"Mr. Moggridge! you are the dearest, kindest man in the
And Jenny was not far wrong.
"Mr. Londonderry," said Mr. Moggridge, by way of changing the subject,
and warmly grasping the young man's hand, "New Zion's proud of you,
sir--and so is Eli Moggridge."
And that moment would have been as good for all three, even without the
THE GREAT EVENT OF MR. TALBOT'S LIFE
I realize that any attempt henceforth to enchain the reader's interest
with church meetings, or the like enthralments, will be more than
hopeless. That is the worst of allowing love to creep into one's story.
He insists on having the stage to himself, and in that determination the
audience is entirely with him. Previously you may have been interested
in all kinds of peaceable, unexciting things, far more good for you, but
enter love, and all the rest is suddenly fallen tame beyond endurance.
It is of no use to urge that life's bill of the play includes many
hardly less brilliant and attractive performers. They are all well
enough in their way, till the eternal Paganini is there with his old
fiddle once more at his shoulder; then there is an end of all
seriousness, or a beginning, as you please.
Well, I'll do my best to get over the six months between March and
October as quickly as possible; and, indeed, it will not be very
difficult, after all, for very little happened, to speak of, during that
time to any of the chief actors engaged in making this history.
Perhaps it was this consideration that prompted old Mr. Talbot--O,
bother old Mr. Talbot!--that prompted old Mr. Talbot, I say, to take the
important step of dying, when, poor old man! his death would give the
least possible trouble.
There seemed as little reason for his dying as there had seemed for his
living, for as far as anyone knew there was nothing the matter with him,
except an extreme sleepiness of an evening, which was but natural in an
old weary man who still kept at his stone-masonry though he was
Night after night, for some weeks, he had been getting sleepier and
"Why, dad, I never saw such an old sleepy-head"--his wife had rallied
him good-naturedly one night, looking at him with a sudden odd
expression in her face.
"Eh, lass, but I was noddin' and no mistake," said the old man,
struggling drowsily with the heaviness, and presently succumbing
"He's off again," said Mrs. Talbot to herself, as she lifted the lid of
a pent saucepan in which some boiled onions were mightily bubbling in a
wild little world of steam.
Presently the old man sighed deeply,--so you would have thought; but
Mrs. Talbot, hurrying to him, knew that he had tried to say "Jane," and
had said it for the last time.
Yes, he had been getting sleepier and sleepier; all his life he had been
trying to sleep, and at last he slept.
To most people Mr. Talbot's death was the first intimation of his ever
having lived, and one rather resents for the old man the one day's
publicity which death enforced upon him. It was indeed well for him that
he was dead, for such unwonted excitement would surely have killed him.
This important coming and going of undertakers; this populous invasion
of friends talking like muffled drums in the front parlour, and passing
up and down and up and down the stairs, in and out and in and out of his
still room; this throng of neighbours awaiting him in the streets; these
plumed impatient horses, and these carriages of dark grandeur--"Jane,
why ever didn't you bury me by the back door?" would surely have been
the old man's pitiful complaint could he have known.
However, the day passed and the old man was safe at last, where no
front-parlour visitors should affright him more, and where no one would
trouble his old brains for speech any more; and to all, save one, his
death was but as though he had moved a little farther into the kitchen.
It seemed almost strange that even his wife should miss him. One had
thought so little of them as man and wife. One could hardly, even by
process of thinking, realise that between these rinded and wrinkled
beings love had once hung like a rosy cloud, from which one day had
On one or two occasions, indeed, they had been surprised in an uncanny
semblance of a caress, and once in a while an almost supernatural
retrospect had lit up and vanished again in an unaccustomed tender word;
and to have been present then was to feel somehow frightened.
Ah! the gay young leaves no longer kiss across in the morning sun, but
the stern old trees have meetings you know not of far beneath the
ground. Their roots are twisted and twined in a wonderful embrace there;
there in the dark they are very close together, and shall not be
wrenched apart without groanings that cannot be uttered.
Jenny can hardly be said to have missed her father, except through her
mother, who seemed suddenly to grow a little deafer, a little more
dim-sighted, just a trifle less brisk and busy than before, and with a
touch about her of that old-age awesomeness that mutters to itself in
corners and seems to know strange things.
Yes, Jane missed her John. Her old heart knew that he was no longer
sitting in the kitchen.
JENNY'S BOTTOM DRAWER
Jenny and her old mother began to grow closer to each other at this
time. Perhaps it was because the old woman felt lonelier, and perhaps,
too, because the loss of her old man had sent her thoughts wandering
among the enchanted fields of her young days, that she began to talk
sometimes to Jenny about her marriage, and to give her quaint advice on
the subject of "managing" husbands; "as if," Jenny smilingly said to
herself, "an old man like father was the same, belonged even to the same
race, as Theophil."
Perhaps Mrs. Talbot scented some such reflection in Jenny's expression;
at all events, she answered it with an "Eh, but all men are alike, my
dear, under their skins,--all alike, and they need humouring and
managing just in the same way, prince or peasant."
The idea of "managing" Theophil had something repulsive in it for Jenny;
there was an element of deceit, of cunning, implied which didn't go with
her ideas of true love and the life beautiful of which she was dreaming.
She didn't believe that men and women who loved were really different
from each other, and perhaps she was right.
About this time, too, Mrs. Talbot began to produce from mysterious
treasure-caves, entered apparently from an old press in her bedroom, all
kinds of wonderful things which would be useful to Jenny some day in her
house: terrible little ornaments,--very sacred, though,--sad
quaintnesses of the spirit of beauty pathetically fumbling about in
country brains; wool mats worked in the primary colours; and such wool
wonders as a wool basket of flowers, in which real wool flowers grew out
of a wool basket which you held by an over-arching wool handle, the
whole worked with undeniable but how forlorn ingenuity,--a prehistoric
relic of Mrs. Talbot's legendary school-days: survivals from a period
which is best summed up in the one wonderful word "antimacassar," a
period when for some unrecorded reason men and women had to protect
their furniture against their oleaginous selves, and beautiful locks
were guarded from lover's fingers by coats of triple oil.
But these were things worth having, too,--bits of old lace and prim
embroidery, that bore the stamp of a refinement that is never
old-fashioned; and when Mrs. Talbot descended from the beautiful she
could show you real treasures.
I don't think there was any word in the language, not even Bible words,
which Mrs. Talbot pronounced with such an accent of solemnity as the
word "linen." The words "China" and "cut glass," and perhaps "silver,"
ran it close, but "linen" was undoubtedly the word in which all Mrs.
Talbot's sense of the seriousness of living, her sense of household
distinction, her deep sense of the importance of prosperity, and her
stern love of cleanliness found most impressive utterance.
Mrs. Talbot could never have smiled as she said "linen."
And the linen she had been storing for Jenny might indeed have been the
very stuff of which lilies are made, lilies smelling of lavender.
Such pairs of sheets! A queen might even fear to await her lord lying
amid such linen; for white indeed must be the body that dares rivalry
with Mrs. Talbot's sheets,--sheets which might indeed be said to settle
that old question of the snows of yester-year.
_Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan_?
Surely they have been settling, flake on flake, year after year, in Mrs.
Talbot's linen-press, till at last there is quite a snowdrift of fair
white linen for Jenny and Theophil to lie in.
Yes! another six months and Christmas will be here; and, after
Christmas is turned, the weeks till February the 12th--the second
anniversary of Theophil's coming to New Zion--will fly by in no time.
Meanwhile Mrs. Talbot and Jenny--with occasional contributions from
Theophil--began to busy themselves with Jenny's bottom drawer.