Part 2 out of 3
Translated into the language of those more magnificent circles in which
this simple-hearted romance has no desire to move, a "bottom drawer"
might be described as a trousseau, though such translation would be only
partially correct. A bottom drawer is a good deal more than a trousseau.
It is the corner of a girl's wardrobe, usually its bottom drawer, where
the home that is to be begins to take shape in deposits of various
kissed objects, minor articles of apparel, of ornament or
use,--handkerchiefs such as we have already seen Jenny marking, in
defiance of the old prophecy that the bride who dares even to write her
married name before her marriage will never know a wedding day; quaint
candlesticks that had to be picked up in some old curiosity shop as come
upon or be missed altogether; pretty shoes of a pattern you weren't
likely to meet with again; occasionally, perhaps, even an anticipatory
wedding present, that some friend who would be far away in Australia
when the day came had already contributed; a pretty tea-service Theophil
had suddenly taken a fancy to buy for Jenny one day,--"any straw will
help a nest;" a sweet and rather naughty picture that must never be hung
anywhere but in their little sacred bedroom,--"O love, our little room!"
How often did Jenny bend lovingly over that drawer, which by now had
spread itself over a whole chest of drawers,--for home was growing,
growing,--only a few more months and it would have grown so big and real
that nothing but a little house would hold it. And Theophil was brought
sometimes to peep in too,--"O love, think of it--our little home."
THEOPHIL ALL THIS TIME
Have I seemed to shirk the subject of Theophil's feelings all this time?
Well, I confess I have rather shrunk from writing down in so many words
that he was in love with Isabel,--obvious as the fact has been,--just as
he himself shrank from admitting the same truth even to his own soul.
When he had sat up in his study that night of the recital, he had looked
the whole sad splendid truth in its wonderful face, had loved it wildly
for an hour, and then shut his eyes to it for ever.
He knew that Isabel was the woman God had made for him, sweet, dear
Jenny the woman he had made for himself, and he bowed before the work of
the greater artist.
Never voice nor look nor touch of woman had affected Theophil before as
the least tone or glance or movement of Isabel stirred him to the centre
of his being. To meet her eyes was to release a music that went
shuddering through the whole world; her lightest word was filled with
echoes of infinite things. Not a lover only, but anyone with instincts
for such perceptions, looking at Isabel, would have said: There is a
woman who is needed to make some man a great poet, a great artist, some
kind of great man! She belongs to the history-making women. Hundreds of
women will attract men by the hundred where she will attract
comparatively few, but that few will be the pick of men; and some day,
when the other women have gone the way of all sweet roses, she will
still remain (if she has found an artist to understand her face) the
frontispiece of some distinguished biography, or hang in a gallery of
the period among the few faces that were indestructibly personal; not
the faces that have lived, but the faces that still go on living, the
faces that are influences still, the unique, daemonic faces.
Isabel was indeed a muse that waited for her poet. The mere idea of such
a woman, cherished across dividing seas and separating years, will help
a man be great. To grow great near or far is the one way to be hers, and
to pile up great work for her sake is perhaps the best way to love her.
She could never be his wife, but she might still be his muse, resolved
Theophil, feigning in that reflection for the moment a more human
comfort than, alas! there really was.
But was there to be no loss to Jenny in this?
"True love in this differs from gold or clay,
That to divide is not to take away."
It is the convenient old plea of the poets, and yet it is sometimes
true. It was true here. There is, I know, a sort of primitive man or
woman--I believe they will some day be exhibited in menageries--who
cannot be on with a new love without being ungratefully off with the
old. All depends of what the two loves are made. If it is bodily fire
and no more, of course the new love will put out the old as the great
sun puts out a little smouldering fire; and the majority of so-called
love-stories are merely disastrous conflagrations of that sort. In such
cases the new love is no sooner found than the old becomes grievous, a
burden; by a malignant witchcraft the old charms have grown veritably
repellent, and "all the heaven that was" irretrievably disenchanted.
Which is the illusion, one wonders,--the original enchantment or the
When, however, love can give a better account of its preferences than
this, and point out, say in Jenny, many good reasons why she was at
first and must for ever remain love-worthy, whatever rival reasons for
love another woman may bring; when too there is added to those reasons
for loving Jenny the dear habit of loving her, the gratitude--love must
forgive the word--which has accumulated interest upon the original love,
the beauties that have been gained by becoming familiarities, and the
familiarities that have become beauties by very use,--well, really, is
it such a hardship, after all, for a man to be expected to keep true to
Oh! but passion doesn't reason like this. Indeed, O passionate reader!
Is passion, then, merely a wild beast, a savage, a blind fire? Must it
forfeit its fine name if it remembers mercy or owns duty? Is it any less
passion because it refuses sometimes to glut itself, and dares to go
hungry all its days instead; any less passion because it chooses to burn
up its own heart in an agony of its own consuming fire?
Mere violence is not a strength but a weakness in passion, and sometimes
there is more passion in patience than in anything else in the world. A
passion that knows not pity is merely a daemonic possession, and should
be taken to the madhouse.
I confess that there is nothing in the world more amazing to me than the
easy brutality with which one hears of some men doing what is called
"breaking off their engagements." Only a new face has to show itself,
and the old face at once disappears with a blow and a wail.
Murder, of course, is one way out of many difficult situations, and the
worst kinds of murder are by no means capital offences. It is true that
all engagements are not made by the same vital bonds as that of Jenny's
and Theophil's, but many are. For a man wilfully to break an engagement
means sometimes that the whole love-life in a woman is atrophied, all
that made her woman stabbed to the quick of life.
Yet no one who knows anything of women can have failed to remark that
women themselves are even more brutal in this matter. Nothing could
exceed the executioner-like promptitude with which a woman will despatch
a man for whom she has ceased to care. But in her case there is to be
urged that, though fundamentally love is of equal importance to man and
woman, it does not so often mean the absolute saving or wrecking of a
man's life as it does a woman's. It is not a disgrace to a man to be
jilted; it is to a woman. For a woman to be jilted is for her to have
failed,--as a woman; and for a woman to have failed as a woman is for
her to value no other success.
All this to maintain, in spite of the reader, that Londonderry is no
milksop because he is not going to jilt--that is, murder--poor little
Jenny, throw up New Zion, and seek his new love on the wild winds. But
the agony of it none the less! O Jenny! Jenny! sweet and true and good
and dear as ever,--if only you would just take a sudden fancy for
Meanwhile the months were going by, and the day drawing nearer when, for
a brief moment of fire, the orbits of those two separated lives were to
touch once more.
What of Isabel during these months? The woman whom God had created for
Theophilus Londonderry did not forget her promise to write to the woman
whom Theophilus Londonderry had created in his own image. Wonderful
letters, of course! Why don't women publish volumes of their letters, as
men collect their scattered essays? There is no writing in the world
more immediately, conqueringly personal than a really clever woman's
letters; and they are not always compromising.
Isabel's letters were the perfection of self-expression. Her handwriting
swept across the page just as she would walk down a street, at once
eager and yet stately and subtle-rhythmed; the shape of some of the
words reminded you of her hats,--hats everyone thought she paid guineas
for, but which she made for herself at a cost perhaps of five shillings:
hats which were Paris with a touch of fairyland, somewhere an
unobtrusive feather of the fantastic, somewhere a personal magic in the
inimitable twist or lie of a bow--; her face looked out at you from a
_g_ or an _x_, a gesture flashed back to you in a sudden distinguished
stroke of the pen, and her voice was somewhere, everywhere, among the
words, like a violin.
Without any apparent literary device she contrived to make you, while
you read her letters, do what she was doing, see what she was seeing,
and form, as though acted on by some magic property in the words,
pictures of all she told you.
One piece of news you would not expect her to have told. I have said
that women are both executioners of the tiresome. In this Isabel, I
fear, was no exception to her sex. Like most independent girls in
London, she had a little theatre-guard of devoted men friends, who took
it in turn to companion her to plays or picture-galleries; and these,
with admirable tact, she contrived to keep in, to them, the
unsatisfactory relation of brothers. One of these, however, had of late
been growing dangerously unfraternal. His presents had been growing
expensive. Cigarettes and chocolates, and pretty editions, like gloves,
and boxes of flowers, are every pretty woman's lawful spoils; but
costlier gifts are to be looked on with suspicion. Besides, the doomed
man's letters had been growing warmer. Indeed, Isabel remembered with
something like a shudder, so soon as she was back in her little room,
with its curious pictures and its general sense of exotic refinement,
that she had allowed him to kiss her the last time they had been
together. The reminiscence decided her. Theophil could never be hers;
but at least no facile or mediocre attachments should fill his place. So
at once there is posted a letter, as kind as cruelty can make it, and
with it go a little ormolu clock, a pair of mother-of-pearl
opera-glasses, a lovely fan it was hard, Isabel, to part with,--and
there is an end of that.
"Not after Theophil!" she sighed, as she took up her great Persian cat,
and, like it, sat gazing into the fire that flickered dreamily among her
fantastic possessions,--a mystery gazing idly into a mystery.
"O THAT 'T WERE POSSIBLE ..."
Well, the months have at last gone by,--dark solid bodies of absence,
not a day mercifully lost count of by the old calendar-maker, not an
hour of the long sentence remitted for a brave patience in the waiting.
They are reckoning by weeks at last, and now, excitedly, by days,
breathlessly now by little fast-dispersing hours.
The blackness that filled the world was a month ago streaked with gray;
three weeks ago there was a line of faint colour in the east; a
fortnight, and there are scarlet plumes in the far heaven, and a faint
twitter of song; a week, and the whole sky is a commotion of glory
To meet again! O to meet again, just to look at each other again! We are
philosophers, we are brave, we shall remember Jenny, but O! the rapture
of just beholding each other again.
"Thank God, you are alive! you are real! O Theophil, there is the little
scar on your forehead I've been longing to see."
"Yes! it is Isabel! She walks just as she did a thousand years ago. I am
carrying her rugs. How well I remember her umbrella!"
"How fantastic absence is!" said Isabel, as the three friends sat once
more that evening in the little study where nothing seemed to have
changed, and where they seemed to have been sitting all the hours of
those now quite disrespectfully forgotten months.
"Yes, but how real!" said Jenny. It was Jenny who said "how real!"
How fantastic, too, is the present! Sometimes, perhaps nearly always, it
tortures us with the unreality, the unrealisability of precious moments
that are flying, flying, and can never come again; and at other times
it equally eludes us with a sense of their indestructibility. To-night
the present had chosen to seem real. Theophil felt, as he looked at
Isabel, that this wonderful nearness could never pass away. Her dress,
her coiled _cendre_ hair, her soft smile, her very attitudes, seemed to
wear a curious expression of everlastingness. Yes, she would sit just
like that, and he and Jenny would sit near her for ever and ever. No
mere abstractions like Time and Space could fill with emptiness the
place where she now sat and smiled. In some mystical way eternity had
breathed upon this hour and given it immortality. It had been suddenly
touched with a wand into an enchanted permanence. Theosophists tell of
an astral light, where every moment of time endures in strange paintings
upon space. Isabel and Theophil and Jenny were sitting together in the
And yet the hours had already been flying, for, the recital was already
over,--New Zion more in love with Isabel than ever. The same little
supper as six months ago had been merry and come to an end, the guests
had gone, the house was quiet, and this hour that seemed so real was the
frail last of that day of dreams.
Yes! but an arrangement had been made which perhaps accounts for the
security of that hour. Isabel's agents had planned for her a little
circular tour in northern towns comparatively adjacent to Coalchester,
and when a fortnight of such recitals was ended, she was to return and
give still another recital at New Zion. Then there must be parting, real
black parting again. Meanwhile, the fortnight that lay between the two
days of meeting gained a curious sense of being really spent together.
As two walking together on a long road may separate, and one walk till
almost out of sight of the other and then slowly return, but the two
endure no sense of parting, feeling together all the time, so Isabel
and Theophil felt about this fortnight.
But did they speak no word, look no look all these hours, of all their
hearts cried out to say? Was Jenny there all the time? Nearly. Still
there was a moment granted them, which, added to the two moments
previously recorded, made a total perhaps of four minutes, which life so
far generously allowed them to be alone together in. Yet such is love's
miraculous velocity that it had said all it needed to say, given all, in
those four minutes. All it had to say to-night was just two Christian
names, said so solemnly, so tenderly, so honestly. Just "Isabel," just
"Theophil," and a long quiet clasp of hand and eyes. It was enough. It
ONE DAY OUT OF ALL THE YEARS
It was not enough!
If you would safely renounce a joy, you had best enjoy something of it
first. Renunciation must have something to live on. You can "take up the
whole of love and utter it," and _then_ "say adieu for ever," but
I have asked mercy for Jenny, though it was perhaps hardly necessary,
for the world always pities Jenny. Now I would ask it for Isabel and
Theophil, who are thus quietly to sacrifice the greatest thing in their
lives, the one reality for which they have come into existence, for
Jenny's sake. Great is their love for each other, but even greater and
stranger must be their involuntary love for an invisible goodness, an
ideal of ineffable pity. They are going to die that Jenny may live.
Strange, this gentle heroism of human creatures one for the other. Would
it be unfair to ask that each should support the anguish of his own
destiny, and that when Jenny's turn has come she should take her
lightning? Hers, had she known it, was the cup of anguish here; for
Theophil and Isabel had been decreed the cup of joy. But will they drink
it? No, they will change the cups; perhaps the bitter cup will grow
sweet near the dregs, being drunk together.
Yet this love of theirs, this perilous chance for Jenny, was none of
their making. Their joy had been given to them by unseen hands. It is
fairly theirs. Next time, perhaps, it will be their turn to suffer. It
is Jenny's now...
But no! the good heart of humanity will defeat the cruel ruling of the
gods. Let the lightning come upon them--not little Jenny.
Yet for this, Jenny, you will not grudge them their piteous reward.
Yours are all the years, Jenny. You will spare them one day out of all
the years. Think, Jenny, of the hours and hours and hours you and
Theophil have spent in careless happiness, and they--one almost laughs
to think of it--have just so far been granted four minutes. For four
minutes out of infinite time life has privileged them to be
It will be far safer too. Otherwise you know not with what fearful flame
love will fill the chasms under ground, circling and seething in the
fiery darkness. Theophil loves you, but some day your home will suddenly
be rent from cope to base, unless his poor heart may speak, yea, babble
itself, just once in Isabel's ears.
A temptation had come to Theophil. At first he put it aside. Then
passion, wiser for once than reason, told him that it was a necessity,
and he knew that passion was right. A week of the fortnight had gone,
and Theophil remembered that Isabel would now be in the neighbourhood of
certain famous woods where in his boyhood he had often wandered, and he
remembered that she was to have the Monday quite free. That Monday they
should spend together in those enchanted woods. His secular business
often took him to towns thirty or forty miles away, and it was not
startling for him not to return till late at night. Thus Isabel and he
should steal their one day out of all the years.
So there went a note without one word of love in it to tell Isabel that
love was coming by the morning train; and so on that morning Isabel
stood waiting for love at that little wayside station, and presently,
with a mighty rushing sound of iron and brass, love came and stood very
quietly by her side, and looked into her eyes.
They took each other's hands quietly, and left the station without a
word; nor did they speak for a long while, walking blissfully side by
side through a village street which was to take them to the green and
lonely woods. Soon the houses were passed, and they still walked on
silent, listening to the song of their nearness.
Now, as they drank each other's presence through every feasting nerve,
they knew how starved they had been. As the lane narrowed and gloomed
green, dipping through caverns of bright leaves, they drew closer, and
smiled gently on each other; but they were not going to speak for a long
while yet. Had they not come away into this loneliness that they might
be silent together, that they might sit, hour after hour, and just watch
each other, lost in an ecstasy of contemplation, a trance of
recognition, a fascination that was almost fearful, that was so kind and
yet so cruel in its very power?
The woods are very still, but there is nothing in the world so still as
these two lovers, as they lie down on the green earth and gaze on each
other, hour after hour. When they find a word as great as their
silence, they will speak it--but they will find none except it be
"Isabel," except it be "Theophil."
And great passion has as little use for caresses as for words, and
kisses, which gay sensual love gathers greedily like little golden
flowers, and pays for nimbly with little, pretty words, will be almost
as rare as words.
Kisses! it is not to eat bonbons that these two have come out into the
Kisses! what kiss of the blind lips could match the kiss of those rapt
Kisses are but the diminutives of the great word "love;" they are but
the small change of passion, meteorites, star-dust of the great and
Their souls are swung high above time and space in one never-ending
kiss,--the kiss of that predestined irrefragable union, of which
meetings and partings and kisses and caresses and words, and every other
fragmentary mode of expression, are but trivial accidents, to which
distance is still nearness, and nearness is still distance.
Their love is a property of eternal elements. It is fated as the union
of magnetic powers, it obeys chemic laws of irresistible combination.
They are Isabel and Theophil,--that is their love; they are in the world
together,--that is their marriage.
But passion will not be all day a tragedian. He has many moods. He is a
great wit,--how bright, how bright, he makes the brain!--a merry
comrade, a little, tender, silly child; and these two sad ones laughed
together, too, in the still woods,--for was not the most exquisite
humourist in the world their companion, love, who is all things by
turns, and all things wise?
And they feasted together, wine and great grapes, spread out on the
earth's green table; and they called each other silly, beautiful names,
and they feigned sad little glad stories--and called the wood their
home: this was their breakfast-oak, and that glade should be their great
hall, and high, high up in yonder beech, where the squirrel was sitting,
should be their secret little bed-chamber, hung in blue and green, with
a ceiling of stars. They should climb it each night on a ladder of
moonlight, and slide down from it each morning on the first strong rays
of the sun. And sometimes if it frightened them with being too near
heaven, they would seek out a dell of fine moss and creep close together
into the arms of the kind earth-mother, and then sleep while the stars
O, yes, it would be a wonderful life together.
Then suddenly the child's play would cease, as the birds stop singing
with the coming of the stars, and silence would sweep over them again,
and a great kiss would leap out of the silence, like a flame that lights
up heaven from north to south, and they would hang together, lost in an
anguish of desire.
The setting sun was turning the wood into halls of strange light, and
spreading golden couches here and there in its deep recesses.
"Theophil..." sighed Isabel.
"Wife..." sighed Theophil--(ah! Jenny!) and then a voice that seemed to
be neither's, and yet seemed to be the voice of both,--a voice like a
dove smothered in sweetness between their breasts,--said, "Let us go
deeper into the wood."
Later, when the stars had come, two white faces came glimmering from the
innermost chancel of the wood's green darkness. They passed close
together, still as phantoms among the trees, and when they came out on
to the lane they stood still.
"Theophil," said one voice, "if I should be dying, and I should send for
you, will you promise me to come?"
"Isabel," said another voice, "if I should be dying, and I should send
for you, will you promise _me_ to come?"
And each voice vowed to the other, and said, "I would come, and I would
go with you."
And all these words had once been Jenny's, but they had been Isabel's
PREPARATIONS FOR A FAST AND OTHER SADNESS
As the sharing of a cruel or unworthy secret must be the most terrible
of all human relationships, the sharing of a beautiful secret is the
most blest. Thus, for the week following this day of days, Theophil and
Isabel went about their daily lives with all heaven in their hearts,
and, divided though they were, possessed by a mystical certitude of
inner union which they felt no extension of space or endurance of time
Such a marriage as theirs is, of course, the dream of all separated
lovers, "the love that waited and in waiting died" the theme of many
poets; and there have been great historic love-stories to prove such
love a possibility of human hearts; yet, alas! for the experiment that
must so often fail, for the weak wills of loving that will so truly and
yet must loose their holds,--the fire that promised itself food in
memory for a thousand years, but needs the sensual fuel of sight and
touch after all; the love that believed it could go on trusting through
centuries of silence, yet dies at last of little earthly doubts!
For this tremendous fast which you are to make believe a feast, trust in
each other is the one condition that may avail. This trust must come of
no mere exchange of vow or deeply-sworn and eloquent promise; it must be
knowledge one heart of the other, clear and absolute; and such knowledge
in your short hour of revelation you must have learned so passionately
that, like poetry learnt in childhood, it is henceforth no longer a
forgettable, detachable part of your mind's furniture, but a well-spring
of instinct for ever. Is your lady true? You will ask that only when you
ask: Is she beautiful?
Such confidence as this is comparatively common in friendship, but it
is very rare in love: whether it was to be justified in the case of
Isabel and Theophil, time alone could show. Meanwhile they felt calm and
happy, as only two can feel who have discovered in each other the one
unchanging reality in a world of flowing shadow.
It was very wonderful, in quite a new way, to meet again. Their love was
no longer hunger and unrest, it had gained the impassioned peace of
great accepted realities. It was married love now. As the quiet firm
hands held each other again, there seemed to be long retrospects of
tried and tender intercourse in their very touch. Their eyes held a past
in them as well as a future. There was no hurry of the emotions now, no
reason for haste in the seeking and giving of tenderness, no need to
snatch and clutch the good gifts of love as though there was but a short
day for the giving. Their love had grown conscious of its eternity.
It held but one lasting sadness,--that it might not be revealed to
Jenny. So little did they regard their love as one essentially for
concealment, that the temptation to include Jenny in their bond was at
moments a danger. It was so beautiful, and actually, though
unconsciously, she was so integral a part of its beauty.
Theirs was that dream of a threefold union, in which, so to say,
jealousy shall be so taken into the confidence of, so held to the heart
of, love, that it shall transform itself into love too; and, from being
the lonely tragic third, become, as the other two, one of an indivisible
trinity. Such unions of natures of especial grace have been born under
like conditions of fated intercourse, and they have been unions of a
strange beauty, the more blest by the sense of a conquest over love's
one unworthiness, its egoism. As the _egoisme a deux_ is finer than an
egoism of one, so this _egoisme a trois_, if you will, is again finer by
its additional inclusiveness.
Perhaps it had proved wiser in the end to yield to this temptation too.
But the tragic risk was one to dismay experiment. The strength of such a
union is literally the strength of its weakest link. Jenny loved both
Isabel and Theophil, and both Isabel and Theophil loved Jenny; and in
the love of the two girls, there was an element of affection that was
more impassioned than friendship. Jenny indeed loved Isabel so much that
it might well have proved that her love, with nothing but gladness,
could have added its volume to Theophil's, and the three loves, meeting
in one river of love, flowed on together to the eternal sea.
But the tragic risk! The alternative was--heart-break, death. They had
vowed to save Jenny from the lightning. Perhaps it would not destroy,
but only transfigure, after all,--yet the test was lightning; and for
whom that we love dare we venture such an ordeal, though it were to win
No! Jenny must never know. And yet, perhaps, if Jenny had been told...
Well, the greatest love for another cannot guard all the gates of
chance. And, alas! these two, loyal as they were, for one unguarded
moment were to leave open a gate of their Paradise,--when we withdraw
into Paradise we should see that all the gates are closed,--and Jenny,
by a like chance, was to take into her soul one blinding glimpse of
It was the evening of the last recital, and Theophil and Isabel had gone
down, to "Zion" a few minutes before the hour arranged, Jenny, who for
some trivial reason was detained, to meet them at the hall. An audience
was already gathered there; but this Theophil and Isabel avoided,
entering the building by the minister's private entrance into his
vestry, which communicated by a dark staircase with the chapel and the
lecture-hall where the recital was to be given. There was a light in the
vestry, but no one was there, though they might have expected Mr.
Moggridge. For a moment, to their eternal sorrow, they forgot all but
that they were once more alone and together; and as they sought each
other's arms, standing in the centre of that grim little room, a weak
anguish came over Theophil, and he exclaimed,--
"Oh, Isabel, to think that I have lost you! lost you!"
But Isabel was stronger: "No, dear, you have not lost, you have found
me. To have lost each other would have been never to have met. Dear, I
love to think that you might be weak for my sake. No woman can help a
man be strong who cannot first make him weak. Ah, love, how weak I could
be for your sake,--and how strong!... but be strong for mine, be strong
for Jenny's sake. I love that best." Then for a moment they stood lost
once more, locked in an embrace so touchingly kind, so sheltering, so
calm, that their very attitude was home; and, had they had ears or eyes
for a world outside that home, they might have seen, at that dark
half-opened staircase door, a little face look in happy and draw back
dead; for Jenny had followed them more quickly than she or they had
expected, and, not finding them in the lecture-hall, had sought them
here with a light heart. She had heard none of their words; she had only
seen that look of home upon their faces and written across their arms.
Very quietly she stole away. She felt very dazed and tired. The shock
had been so swift that already it seemed half unreal. She felt she must
sit down, and, passing into the silent chapel, lit only with dim
reflections from without, she sank on to a seat and thought of little
but that it was good to be sitting down, and that the darkness was good,
and that there looming out of the shadow was Theophil's pulpit, and
beneath was her little harmonium,--to-morrow night would be her
choir-practice, she mustn't forget that; no, she mustn't forget
that--and then the darkness began to frame flashing pictures of that
dreadful glimpse of brightness--were they still standing like that?--how
happy they looked!--and would they always go on standing together in
brightness like that, while she sat here in the darkness. Well, the
darkness was good; how she should dread brightness for the future. If
only she need not go to the recital!--might she not be spared that? No!
she must have courage, she must go, they must not know she had seen
them, not yet, not till she had thought what must be done, not till she
had made her plans. It would have to be talked of if she let them know.
That would be terrible. Isabel would be gone to-morrow, and then she
might speak to Theophil, might set him free. But now she must go,--she
must not be later than they; they would be passing down to the hall
presently, she must be there before them,--she must be quick,--she must
As Isabel and Theophil entered the hall together, and smiled a
recognising smile at Jenny already in her place, she was able to smile
back at them, though there were some who thought she looked very white,
and found her very quiet when they tried to talk to her.
She couldn't help remarking to herself how little of the common
resentment she felt towards the two on whose faces she now saw a
happiness which she wondered she had not seen before. But her anguish
was too great for resentment. She felt towards their love as she might
have felt towards death,--it was a terrible fact, and in her good heart
there was already the beginning of pity for them too. Perhaps she felt
that it was a little unkind of them not to have trusted her,--just as a
child might who had felt worthy of our trust, but had been deemed too
young to share it. If they had only told her, might she not have loved
their love? (Ah! if we would only trust the deeps in those we love!)
Had Isabel only seen that white face in the dark doorway, she would have
spared Jenny one of her recitations that night. It was a poem of Mrs.
Browning's, perhaps the most poignant poem of renunciation ever written,
and Isabel had chosen it, as love will choose a song, for the fearful
joy of singing it where all may hear but one only may understand. It was
the poem of a like renunciation to theirs, though for different reasons;
but there was sufficient literal application to them for Jenny now to
understand it too. It was called a "Denial," and began:--
"We have met late--it is too late to meet,
O friend, not more than friend!
Death's forecome shroud is tangled round my feet,
And if I step or stir, I touch the end.
In this last jeopardy
Can I approach thee,--I, who cannot move?
How shall I answer thy request for love?
Look in my face and see.
"I might have loved thee in some former days.
Oh, then, my spirits had leapt
As now they sink, at hearing thy love-praise!
Before these faded cheeks were overwept,
Had this been asked of me,
To love thee with my whole strong heart and head,--
I should have said still...Yes, but _smiled_ and said,
'Look in my face and see!'
"But now...God sees me, God, who took my heart
And drowned it in life's surge.
In all your wide warm earth I have no part--
light song overcomes me like a dirge.
Could love's great harmony
The saints keep step to when their bonds are loose,
Not weigh me down? am _I_ a wife to choose?
Look in my face and see--
"While I behold, as plain as one who dreams,
Some woman of full worth,
Whose voice, as cadenced as a silver stream's,
Shall prove the fountain-soul which sends it forth
One younger, more thought-free
And fair and gay, than I, thou must forget,
With brighter eyes than these ... which are not wet--
Look in my face and see!
"So farewell thou, whom I have known too late
To let thee come so near.
Be counted happy while men call thee great,
And one beloved woman feels thee dear!--
Not I!--that cannot be,
I am lost, I am changed,--I must go farther where
The change shall take me worse, and no one dare
Look in my face and see."
The agony of this verse as one reads it is heart-breaking, but as Isabel
recited it, it was unbearable, and others in that audience besides Jenny
felt the personal cry in the voice, though none but Jenny knew its
destination. But to Jenny's ears the exquisite wifeliness of the last
verse was fuller of pain than all the rest,--
"Meantime I bless thee. By these thoughts of mine
I bless thee from all such!
I bless thy lamp to oil, thy cup to wine,
Thy hearth to joy, thy hand to an equal touch
Of loyal troth. For me,
I love thee not, I love thee not!--away!
There's no more courage in my soul to say
'Look in my face and see.'"
When Isabel sat down, amid hushed clapping, it was observed that Miss
Jenny Talbot had fainted. Theophil sprang with others to her assistance,
and Jenny, being carried into an ante-room for air and water, presently
reviving, asked faintly for Mr. Moggridge to take her home, the thought
of the big kind man coming into her mind with a sense of homely refuge.
"There, there," he said, "you'll be better in a minute;" and when she
was strong enough to walk, he took her home, Theophil, filled with
sudden misgivings, having to see the evening's entertainment to
Mr. Moggridge blamed the bad ventilation, as he tenderly helped Jenny
along the few yards to home.
"No," said Jenny, with a big tearing sigh, "I don't think it was that.
It was that last poem, I think. It seemed so terrible to think of two
people having to part like that; don't you think so, Mr. Moggridge?"
Mr. Moggridge did. "And then," he said, "Miss Strange has such a way of
giving it out, it's almost more than human nature can bear."
"Yes; her voice," said Jenny, "seemed like a stream of tears."
When Theophil and Isabel returned from Zion, they seemed so full of real
anxiety, as indeed they were, that Jenny's poor heart felt just a
passing ray of warmth, a little less cast out into eternal loneliness.
She gave the same explanation as to Mr. Moggridge, not significantly,
but half intending a kind veiled message to them. "It seemed so terrible
to think of two people having to part like that," she said again.
And presently she pleaded weariness to go to bed earlier than usual.
"But don't you hurry, Isabel," said Jenny. "You and Theophil will not
see each other for a long time again."
"Sleep well," said Isabel, kissing her; and as she did so, she thought
there was a curious convulsiveness in Jenny's embrace.
When she had gone, the two looked at each other. "She seemed strange,"
"I think I will go and see her for a moment," said Theophil.
So it was that, tapping at Jenny's door, he found her lying across her
bed with the gas still down. "Crying, dear!" he exclaimed.
"O Theophil dear, don't come," she said; "it's only silly nerves. Go
back to Isabel; I shall be better when I've had a sleep. Do go, dear,
like a kind boy. I'm better by myself. No ... it is nothing,--nothing
but nerves. Do go, dear. Good-night."
And with a foreboding heart Theophil went back to Isabel. Yet, as Jenny
had said, they were not to see each other for a long time again; and if
presently Theophil forgot Jenny crying upstairs, was it not because he
did not know the reason of her tears?
On the morrow Jenny pleaded weariness and stayed in bed, so that
Theophil saw Isabel off to London alone, and he did not see Jenny again
till the evening.
IN WHICH JENNY CRIES
Jenny was not at the door that evening to welcome Theophil home, as she
usually was, and she made some excuse not to join him at dinner; but at
last, when the quiet secure hour which had always been theirs between
dinner and bedtime had come, she came into his room quietly and sat in
her accustomed chair.
She had been fighting all day to gain strength for this hour, and her
will was bravely set to speak what must be spoken. But she must firmly
choke back all the sweetness of the memories which sprang to her with
kind eyes, as the familiar little room that had not changed opened its
arms to her, alas! an ironical symbol of unchangeableness. One touch of
tenderness too vivid and she would break down.
And here was Theophil rising from his desk and coming to her with true
love in his eyes, as he had done so many, many happy nights.
Was it, after all, a dream--that terrible picture of two lighted figures
that was for ever in her eyes? No, there was a voice that went day and
night with the dream, a voice of terrible tenderness that kept crying:
"Meantime I bless thee ... "--"I bless thy lamp to oil, thy cup to
wine ..." Ah, no, it was real, real. The trial was not to pass from her
in a dream.
Theophil had knelt down at her side and taken her hand gently and would
have kissed her, but that her eyes were so full of pain as she turned
them to meet his. Besides, strange words to hear! she was asking him not
to kiss her.
"Theophil dear, don't kiss me yet. I have something to say, and if you
kiss me I shall have no strength to say it."
"Dear," she began with a voice that seemed to bleed at every word, "I
want to be so kind. I don't want to hurt you with a single word. You'll
believe that, won't you?"
Theophil pressed her hand for assent, but already in a flash the whole
revelation was upon him. Jenny knew he loved Isabel. This awful pain
that was all over her was the lightning from which they had willed
to save her.
"Theophil," Jenny had gone on, and there seemed a death in every word,
"I know that you love Isabel."
"I saw you together, dear, in the vestry last night. It was an accident.
You didn't hear me."
"O my Jenny! I would rather have died than this."
"Yes, I think you would, dear. But you must not be too sad. Life is
terrible,--like this. I understand it now. I know it was not you, or
Isabel, or me. It was just fate--and we must try and help each other.
Don't think I have been only sorry for myself. Don't think that of me.
But I think you should have trusted me, dear."
"We longed to tell you," said Theophil, with his head bowed in distress
in Jenny's lap, while she softly stroked his hair with an absent
tenderness, though her eyes looked straight in front of her, and her
voice was as if she were talking to herself.
"We longed to tell you," he repeated.
"O I wish you had."
"We feared it, dear."
"Yes, yes, I know. I was only a little child the day before yesterday. I
have never been worthy to be your wife, dear. I have known it all the
time. I should never have taken your love. It has never been mine...."
"But ..." she continued, "I will give it all back now. It is not too
late. I have kept it pure ... for Isabel. I can give it to her, darling,
with a kind heart--for she is worthy. She was born for you, dear. We
were not born for each other, after all--were we, dear? I am the woman
of that poem, not Isabel. It is I who must say good-bye. I can do it. I
am a woman now, love--not a little child any more. 'Look in my face
The tangle of Theophil's emotions and thoughts, as he listened to Jenny
in silence, was a revelation to him of the strange heart of love, and of
the insufficiency of those formulas by which we image ourselves to
ourselves. How little we know of ourselves till we are tested by the
powerful reagents of love and danger, and in how many ways must those
tests be applied before we learn anything of the elements of which we
One love will reveal to us one side of our natures and its needs,
another will reveal to us another with its needs; and till we grow old
we can never be certain that there are not other sides to us that have
never been illuminated, other needs that have never been awakened, by
A man may love two women equally: the woman he most needs and the woman
who needs him most,--and in a crisis of choice he will probably choose
Again, the power of the woman we have loved first has wonderful reserves
to draw upon, humble pawns of feelings, memories, associations, not so
brilliant to the imagination as the royalties of romance and sentiment
on the other side, but incalculably useful in a battle. Too humble are
some of these to gain acknowledgment; indeed they are often so submerged
in a total of vague impulses that they escape any individualisation.
In the very hour where all seemed lost to Jenny, Theophil's love for her
was passing in the fire of this ordeal from a love whose elements had
never, perhaps, quite combined, into that miraculous metal of true love,
which can never again be separated into anything but itself,--the true
gold of love which, in some magical second of projection, has suddenly
sprung out of those troubled ingredients of earth and iron, silver,
honey, and pearl.
This does not mean that Theophil's love for Isabel had grown any less
real, but that his love for Jenny had grown more real. For the first
time in its history it moved on the stage of the heroic. Up till now it
had lived secure, domestic days; there had been no danger to test its
truth, no lights of tragedy or romance thrown across it, it had seemed a
simple little earthborn love; whereas Theophil's love for Isabel had,
from its very conditions, walked from the first the high heaven
Isabel, indeed, still remained the heavenly love, but those who
understand will know the strength of Jenny when I say that she became
confirmed in this hour of trial as the household love of Theophil's
life. Isabel remained the Muse, but it was Jenny, after all, in spite of
those solemn words in the Wood of Silence, that was the wife; and if,
at first sound, there seems less of heaven in such a love, it is surely
only because when heaven has become incarnated upon earth we forget to
call it heaven.
In the few moments of silence which followed Jenny's words, it was some
such turmoil of feelings and thoughts, questionings and conclusions,
which passed through Theophil's mind, at last resolving itself into
words that sounded unexpected even in his own ears.
"Jenny," he said, "it is quite true that I love Isabel and that she
loves me. But it is true that I love you too, love you more truly in
this moment than I have ever loved you, and that no other woman can ever
take your place. If you give me up for Isabel's sake, it will be no gain
to her, for I would not go to her. I love you, indeed I love you, and I
want no other woman to be my wife."
Jenny's face brightened for a moment; they were good words, and they
sounded real. But then that embrace, how real that was; nothing again
could ever be so real as that!
"Ah, Theophil dear; but you stood as though you loved her so; your arms
were so tender, it was just as though they said 'wife.' You are
deceiving yourself, dear, believe me, you are. God knows how I love you;
I have nothing in the world but you, and if...if..."
"Jenny, try and believe; let me show you how I can love you. I seem
never to have shown you before. Let us begin our love over again from
to-night. I know your heart is bleeding, but let me heal it, dear. I
know this sorrow must lie heavy upon us for a long while yet, but it
will pass, you shall see. O you shall see how I love you. Let us be
married soon, dear; let us wait no longer..."
Theophil had raised his head, and as he spoke poured on Jenny all the
appeal of his strong eyes; with all the might of his soul he willed her
back to happiness, as Orpheus strove by his singing to bring back
Eurydice from the shades. She could not look into his set longing face
without feeling that he was speaking true words. Hope flickered for a
moment in her sad eyes; yes! he wanted to come back to her; he wanted to
be hers again.
But was it not too late? Hadn't something gone forever, something been
killed? Could even Theophil himself ever make her happy any more? Then
the misery flooded over her again in an irresistible sea, in which all
kind words fell powerless as snowflakes; her resolution broke down, and
with terrible sobs she flung herself into Theophil's arms.
"O Theophil, my heart is breaking, my heart is breaking."
Theophil was to feel her crying thus against his bosom till the end of
his life. He shuddered with dread at this terrible crying--it was as
though all her life was leaving her in sobs, as though she were
bleeding to death in tears. It was grief piteously prostrate, wild,
convulsive, unutterable. Jenny was right. Her heart was breaking.
Theophil's terror was right. It was too late to love her. This was the
death-crying of a broken heart.
IN WHICH JENNY IS MYSTERIOUSLY HONOURED
Still a moment did at last come when the sobs subsided, and Jenny dried
her tears. She was going to try, try to be happy again, try to forget
it; and she tried so well that in a few days her face had grown even
bright again,--bright as silver. It could never again be bright as gold.
And Theophil's love was like a sun pouring down upon her day by day.
Yes, he loved her. She could not doubt that, though there were times
when his true words and caresses suddenly seemed to wear a torturing
falsity, as she thought of Isabel.
But such feelings she put from her bravely. Jealous of Isabel in the
common way she had not been. She herself loved her too well, and soon
she was able to talk of her again to Theophil. They had agreed that
Isabel should not know what Jenny had seen that night of the recital.
For Jenny could not bear to think of the letters it would mean. "Let
that be our secret, dear," she said to Theophil; and thus, when Isabel
wrote, she wrote back in her usual way. Theophil and Isabel never wrote
to each other. It was no part of their love to deceive Jenny in letters.
Their love was vowed to silence and absence, and in Theophil's life it
must be more and more of a starlit background.
So the weeks went by, and the marriage of Theophil and Jenny was now
finally fixed for the 12th of February. On second thoughts, as their
love grew serene once more, they had decided not to anticipate that
date, for old Mrs. Talbot's sake; and meanwhile Jenny was admonished by
that old mother to make haste and get that flesh on her bones.
The admonition was not without cause, for it presently became
noticeable that Jenny was not merely negatively disobeying her old
mother in this. Not only was she not growing fatter, but, indeed, she
was, for one reason or another, slowly and almost imperceptibly growing
thinner. It was not those at home who noticed this first, but outside
friends, who, suddenly meeting her, would remark that she wasn't looking
half the girl she used to be.
She had already begun to remark it herself, as with her bare arms she
would coil up her hair, standing before her mirror; and she thought
nothing of it till one day, as she stood there, she noticed a curious
expression flash into her face and go again almost before she could mark
it. Her face, which had always been round and plump, seemed suddenly to
gaze back at her, very narrow and pinched and white, strangely sunken,
too, and rigid. It was all a mere flash and gone again, and her real
face was presently back once more. But the look filled her with solemn
thoughts, in which she was surprised to find a certain comfort, as of a
sad wish fulfilling itself.
She spoke to no one of that look, but it must have been the same look
that Theophil saw, a few nights after, as she sat listening to him
reading in her usual chair. Suddenly, as he looked up at her, he threw
down the book, and with concern, almost terror, in his voice, exclaimed,
"Good God, Jenny! are you ill, dear? What is that terrible white look in
He sprang across and took her hands. The look had gone again before he
had finished speaking, but it was a look he was never to forget.
One day Jenny put out her arm, and asked him to feel how thin it was
"It _is_ thin, dear; but you mustn't be anxious. Perhaps you're a trifle
run down. You must see the doctor."
Mrs. Talbot did not believe in doctors, and suggested nourishing soups
and port wine as a substitute. These, however, made those dear arms no
fatter, they put none of that promised flesh on Jenny's bones. (Why did
Theophil rather creep one day as Mrs. Talbot made use of that
And Jenny was growing tired too. She was not so ready on her feet as she
used to be. Small exertions exhausted her. Her breath was not so
available for running up and down stairs as it had been.
Then Theophil would have a doctor, who sounded Jenny, and looked a
little grave, but finally, reassured, asked her if she had had a
shock,--Jenny smiled rather knowingly, but denied it,--declared her a
little run down and in need of bracing and nourishment, prescribed
phosphites and steel.
Then Jenny got very wet one day on her way from school, and she began to
cough. She had to stay at home, and bed was perhaps the best place for
her. So Jenny went to bed, and looked very pretty there, and was quite
merry of an evening when Theophil, bringing her flowers,--he was already
bringing her flowers,--would draw up the arm-chair by her side, and read
to her. Those were very sweet hours, perhaps the sweetest their love had
ever known, so cosy and homelike, and yet without fear.
But one evening, when Jenny had been coughing, there was blood on the
bosom of her nightdress, and as Theophil saw it, his heart stood still
with terror. Jenny grew very white, too, as she saw it, though the awful
thought which was behind the still look they gave each other was not
quite new to her. Sometimes she might have been heard softly saying over
"I am lost, I am changed, I must go farther, where
The change shall take me worse, and no one dare
Look in my face and see."
Yet although Death's voice calling us from afar may seem all sweetness,
his voice coming nearer has a note of dread in it that appals the most
death-desirous heart. And in that silence those poor lovers both heard
him singing, it seemed not many streets away.
"I must be very ill, dear," said Jenny. "O my love, O my love...!"
Theophil strove with himself to say words with a real ring of the future
in them, when this cloud should have passed away; and for his sake Jenny
pretended to believe them. Yes, this very week he would take her away to
bright skies and healing air,--though Jenny felt a little tired at the
thought of rising any more from the bed to which she was growing
Then there came a new doctor to see Jenny. He was a very clever
specialist from a distant town; but for him the business of death had
not yet obscured its tragedy,--though words like "tragedy" were not
often on his tongue. Consumption was a strong enough word for him.
His heart went out to that little household; and when he saw Jenny, it
ached for that young man downstairs. It was more than a professional
contempt for the "general practitioner" that made him silently curse
what he called the "death-doctor," as he looked at Jenny, "Jack of all
diseases, and master of none."
"Two months ago, a month," he thought, as he listened and listened for a
sound of hope that might come to his ear through Jenny's wasted
side,--"even a month, and I could have saved her." And yet as he talked
to her he was not so sure, after all. He missed something in her voice.
It was the will to live.
"Have you had a shock at any time?" he said.
Jenny was taken by surprise for a moment,--the other doctor had asked
her that, too,--and she did not deny it so convincingly as she tried to.
"O, that's all right," said the doctor aloud to Jenny and her mother,
who stood by, though inwardly he said, "I see. That's the reason;" and
again he said, "I'm afraid you mustn't get up just yet. That chest of
yours has to be taken care of, but you needn't be anxious. In a month or
six weeks you'll be all right again."
"Only a month or six weeks," said Jenny, with a sinking voice. She
meant--was that all that was left to her of life and love?
Downstairs Theophil stood waiting with a beating heart. He sprang to the
door and drew the doctor into his room. The doctor laid a kind hand upon
his arm, and there was a look in his face that made Theophil's heart die
"You mean she is going to die?" he said with fearful calmness. "_You
"My poor fellow, God knows what I would give to deny it."
"She--is--going--to--die--_to die!_ It is impossible! Not Jenny!" and
between that exclamation and his first stunned cry it seemed as though
bells had been tolling a thousand years. It seemed as though he had been
sitting there as in a cave since the beginning of time, saying over and
over to himself, "Jenny is going to die."
There was a decanter on the sideboard. The doctor poured some spirit
into a glass. "Drink this," he said. Theophil drank it raw, as though it
had been water; and presently a certain illusive hope began to stir like
an opening rose in his brain, and when the doctor had gone he turned to
that decanter again. Perhaps if he drank enough he would find that Jenny
was not to die, after all. At all events, the spirit gave him nerve,
which else he could not have found, to go and sit by Jenny once more. It
helped him even to be gay, so that Jenny said to herself, "The doctor
has not told him that I am going to die."
"The doctor said I shall be better in a month or six weeks," she said
aloud, and tried to look as though she were happy.
"Didn't I say so, dearie?" said old Mrs. Talbot, whom, curiously, love
made blind instead of prophet-sighted.
"Yes; and then we'll go together to those blue skies and that bright
air," said Theophil.
"Yes, dear," said Jenny, closing her eyes wearily.
Presently she opened them again, and said, "Won't you read something to
"What shall I read, dear?"
"Something amusing, love. 'Alice in the Looking-Glass,' eh? It's such a
long time since we read that. Don't you remember how once long ago we
could never get the Walrus and the Carpenter out of our heads?"
So Theophil read the hallowed nonsense once again, struck with the
fantastic incongruity of the moment. Even the dying have to go on
living, and must be treated like living folks,--for a little while
longer; and, though they are slipping away, slipping away, under your
very eyes, there are merciful hours when you forget that they are dying.
You read to them, talk to them, gossip about neighbours,--they are going
to die, and yet they are quite interested in Mrs. Smith's new baby,--you
laugh together over little jokes in the newspapers, and then suddenly
the bell of your thoughts goes tolling: "They are going to die--have you
forgotten they are going to die?--Think! there is so much to say before
they go--O, think of it all--miss nothing, watch their faces every
moment of the day--for soon you shall torture yourself in vain to
remember just that curve of the mouth, that droop of the chin. Ask them
everything now--tell them all--delay not--take farewell of that voice,
that laugh, those living eyes--for they--are going to die."
Death was kind as long as he might be to Jenny's face, so that for some
days old Mrs. Talbot still failed to see his shadowy mark there; but at
last she knew what Jenny and Theophil had both striven to hide from her
and from each other.
"My poor little girl, my poor boy!" she said over and over to herself
from that time, but she did not cry or break down.
It was a pathetic sign of what was coming, that she now allowed Theophil
sometimes to be Jenny's nurse through the night hours. There was to be
no bridal bed for these lovers, but thus the tender quiet hours of the
night were theirs even in so sad a fashion.
One night, in the haunted hushed middle of it, the old mother had softly
pushed open the door to ask if all went well, and in a whisper Theophil
had assured her. A night-light gave an uncanny shadow-breeding light in
the room. Jenny was sleeping peacefully, her tired ivory face, with her
dark elf-locks falling about it, framed on the pillow. Theophil raised
himself softly in his chair and looked at her. She would sleep some
while yet. Then from sheer weariness--grief's best friend--he too fell
into a light sleep. From this he was awakened with a start. Jenny was
sitting up and bending over him. With her dark hair hanging about her
face, and in that light, there was something weird and unearthly about
her, as though she were already dead and had risen in her shroud.
Something of a shiver went through him, as she put her thin arms round
his neck and clutched him in a sudden agony of longing. All the strength
of her poor little body seemed to pass into that kiss, so eager, so
convulsive. "Jenny dear, it will make you so ill; lie down, little
girl"--and Jenny fell back on her pillow exhausted and coughing, and
with eyes unearthly bright.
"Theophil," she said suddenly, in that startling way sick people have,
"you know that I am going to die!"
He could not answer, his voice would have choked in sobs. He leaned his
head close to Jenny and pressed her hand, and in spite of himself two
great tears fell upon Jenny's cheek.
But Jenny was curiously calm. There was almost a note of scolding in her
voice, as she said, "It's no use crying, Theophil--it's got to
She was already growing strangely wise, and a little removed from earth.
The first fears of her dark journey were passing, as she was more and
more sinking among the shadows. In moments there seemed to be something
almost trivial in earthly grief. But there was still one earthly joy,
one earthly pride, of which her soul began to conceive the desire. It
had come with the thought of her grave that one day took her, less with
fear, than of a new home to which she would presently be going. In her
fancy she had seen her name: "_Jenny Talbot, the beloved daughter of
John and Jane Talbot, aged twenty-one years_" and it had struck her
that the name was wrong.
Talbot? that was not her name. This was not the legend of her days. The
world would be all wrong about her if it only read that in after days.
No, her tomb could only bear one inscription--and what sweetness amid
all the bitterness of death there was to say it over and over again to
herself: "_Jenny Londonderry, the beloved wife of Theophilus
Londonderry, aged twenty-one years_."
Only twenty-one years--she thought of those who would perhaps some day
stand and read those words and think "What a sad little life!"--and yet
all that mattered of life had been lived in those short years, aye, in
two of them, and the violet breath of young love would come up to those
who read from her young grave, as it would never breathe from the earth
of long-wed, late-dying lovers.
Perhaps it was a beautiful chance for love to end like theirs; their
love had never grown old, so it would remain forever young, a spring
sign, a star in the front of love's year for ever.
Jenny spoke her wish to Theophil in the quiet of that night. The wish
had been in his heart too, and the wish was presently fulfilled. Brides
have seldom been happier than Jenny as she looked on the wife's ring
that hung loose on her thin finger, and brides have often been sadder.
Death was coming very near now, so near that Jenny began to forget that
she was going to die. She forgot too that she was married to Theophil,
and would sometimes babble her heart-breaking fancies of the little home
that was so near now, till sometimes Theophil had to hurry away with his
unbearable grief to some other room.
And Jenny's once rosy apple of a face made one's heart ache to look on
now. It made one frightened, too: it was so dark and witchlike, so
uncanny, almost wicked, so thin and full of inky shadows. She would sit
up in her bed a wizened little goblin, and laugh a queer, dry, knowing
laugh to herself,--a laugh like the scraping of reeds in a solitary
place. A strange black weariness seemed to be crushing down her brows,
like the "unwilling sleep" of a strong narcotic. She would begin a
sentence and let it wither away unfinished, and point sadly and almost
humorously to her straight black hair, clammy as the feathers of a dead
bird lying in the rain. Her hearing was strangely keen. And yet she did
not know, was not to know. How was one to talk to her--talk of being
well again, and books and country walks, when she had so plainly done
with all these things? How bear it, when she, with a half-sad,
half-amused smile, showed her thin wrists? How say that they would soon
be strong and round again? Ugh! she was already beginning to be
different from us, already putting off our body-sweet mortality, and
putting on the fearful garments of death, changing from ruddy familiar
humanity into a being of another element,--an element we dread as the
fish dreads the air. Soon we should not be able to talk to her. Soon she
would have unlearnt all the sweet grammar of earth. She was no longer
Jenny, but a fearful symbol of mysteries at which the flesh crept. She
was going to die.
It was a bitterly cold night toward the end of January when Jenny died.
She had been curiously alert and restless all the afternoon. Once when
Theophil and she had been alone, she beckoned him with a grave,
significant gesture to her side. She was lying down, and she made as if
she would sit up. Humouring her, Theophil raised her and packed up the
pillows at her back. Then, with indescribable solemnity, she took his
face in her hands and kissed him. "Do you love me, Theophil?" she said.
"Will you ever forget me?"
"I will love you for ever. I will never forget you."
He took her gently in his arms, and with terrible tenderness she held
him close to her for a moment, and then sank back with a sigh. For a
moment he thought she was dead; but presently she revived, though that
was the last flicker of Jenny's conscious life.
Towards evening she began to take strange fancies, which had to be
humoured. She complained of intruding faces in the room, she called with
dreadful peevishness to unseen people who would not leave her bedside,
and even sat at its foot. Then she forgot them, and imagined she was
picking daisies on the counterpane. Then she begged Theophil to go
downstairs and see Isabel. It was a shame to keep her waiting all that
time by herself in the study. And when Theophil tried to persuade her
that Isabel was not there, she shook her head and said: "You must not
mind me, Theophil, dear. I'm not unhappy about her now. I'm not a silly
little girl any more. I'm a woman now. 'Look in my face and see.'"
Then towards midnight a sudden accession of strength came to her, and
she said she would get up. They tried to dissuade her; she grew angry,
and struggled so hard to rise, that it seemed best to humour her once
more. So, wrapt round with blankets, Theophil lifted her from the bed
into a great chair by the fire. Then she asked to be taken to look into
her bottom drawer. So they lifted her across to it, and opened it. She
dabbled with her hands aimlessly among its piteous treasures, laughing
low to herself.
Suddenly a fit of coughing took her, and a great choking was in her
throat. She was seen to be battling for her breath. For an instant she
drew herself up, and lifted her hand as though she would wave farewell,
smiled a faint little smile at Theophil, making, too, as if she would
speak. Then she fell back, her whole body relaxed, she had ceased
coughing, and a wonderful sweetness was stealing over her face. She had
gone all alone into the darkness, and Theophil was alone in the world.
THE TRYST LETHEAN
Jenny had gone into the darkness, and she had gone alone. Theophil had
not gone with her.
That he had remained behind meant certainly no selfish clinging to life,
and indeed there was a sense, as was presently to appear, in which very
really he had kept young love's old promise and died with Jenny. That he
had not literally fulfilled it was due to those physical conditions of
dying of which in the hour of that promise young love is happily
ignorant; for the promise is usually made in moments of keenly conscious
physical life. Dying together is then figured, perhaps, as climbing hand
in hand the radiant topmost peak of life, with a last splendid leap
together into some immortal morning; and such a marriage in death, a
last union of two lives in some fiery consummation of dying, has been
the lot of some lovers supremely blest.
Some indeed there are whose last earthly moment is a vivid reassertion
of the glory and loveliness of life. They drink the great cup to its
last golden drain, and by their death-beds we seem to be standing at the
laughing founts of being. They are radiant, victorious, even witty, to
the last, when at one swoop of blackness they are extinguished like a
light plunged into a stream.
But for others the cold mists that hang low by Lethe's banks have
already brought forgetfulness before their feet grow icy with the first
step into the dark water. To meet on Lethe-side is to meet, maybe; but
with a sad unrecognising meeting. To lie together in oblivion, with
sightless eyes, and dulled hearts and listless hands,--that was not
And not only are the dying thus drugged out of knowledge before they
die, but those who stand near them grow drowsed, too, by the fumes of
the poppies of death. The dying have forgotten; the living are numb and
foolish and in a dream. All they love on earth is passing away beneath
their very eyes, and they cannot understand,--cannot realise that this,
_this_ is death.
Except in moments of piercing agony, days and weeks afterwards, moments
that were similarly soothed away again by that mysterious narcotic
property which pain at its highest brings with it (pain at its highest
being its own anaesthetic), Theophil never realised that Jenny had died,
and least of all at the moment when she was dying. Long after he
remembered how he had said to himself: "There is Jenny dying, dying. A
few more seconds and she will be beyond the sound of your voice for
ever. Call to her; she can still, perhaps, hear you. O my Jenny, my
Jenny! Louder, louder,--hold her tighter, tighter,--she is slipping
away. O God, she is slipping away. No love can hold her back. My Jenny,
And all the time he had been curiously calm, almost unfeeling,--as one
standing stupefied in the presence of fate. The air seemed full of
boding sounds, echoes of low thunder, as from a distant world in the
throes of portentous change; and he told himself mechanically that he
should know the meaning of those sounds some day. He should wake up soon
from this unnatural torpor of pain to an empty house of life, through
the cold halls of which he would seek in vain for Jenny for evermore.
Meanwhile, he suddenly found himself standing with his back to the fire
in the lighted study, talking to Mr. Moggridge, who, late as was the
hour, had called for news, and had stayed on from a perception that the
young minister had best have some one to talk to as far into the
morning as he would go on talking. They were talking in a business-like
way of Zion; and Theophil was smoking cigarette after cigarette. He was
terribly clear-headed and bright-witted, and Mr. Moggridge looked at him
sometimes with a sort of fear.
It was about three in the morning when the door was softly opened by
"Will you come now, and see our little girl?" she said, with a voice
that could say no more.
Theophil followed her, and, still in a dream, he stood in Jenny's room,
grown strangely solemn and sweet since he was last there,--was it a
thousand years ago? And there was Jenny lying asleep with a wonderful
smile on her face. She had a little gold chain round her neck and a
white crysanthemum in the bosom of her night-gown, and you thought of
some princess lying in enchanted sleep in an Arabian night. It seemed so
light a sleep and yet somehow so eternal. You stept softly, you spoke
low, lest you should awaken her--not carelessly shall one disturb that
Yes, the distinction of death sat like an invisible crown upon Jenny's
brow. She was no longer little Jenny, but a mysterious princess upon
whose sleep it was permitted thus to gaze. The pain which had filled
these weeks with bitter human anguish had been the process of some
mysterious ennoblement. She had been found "worthy to die." In the
peerage of God's creatures, she had now outsoared those whom she loved.
The nature of it was a mystery, but no one could look on her face and
doubt that a great honour had come to little Jenny.
But, O Jenny, may it be your gain indeed, for the loss to us is greater
than we can bear--greater than we can bear. Not Theophil only--not young
love, that, for all his smitten heart, has somewhere hidden away the
potencies of his unspent life, and will still have his dream, though
sorrow itself should become that dream--but this poor old mother, all
the force of her days spent, the sap of her spirit dried up. Hers is the
terrible sorrow of age, with not a hope left betwixt her and death.
Pity her, Jenny--speak one word to her. Hearken to her sobs as she
kneels by your side, and can you not hear the hard crying of his heart
that knows no tears?
Are you become as the gods, Jenny, that you still smile on at the sound
of mortal tears? Will you not stretch out one of those folded hands to
each and lead them away with you? They are praying to follow you, only
to be with you, wherever you are.
And it did seem as though in some strange way the soul of the mother had
still some sure communication with the soul of her dead child.
Motherhood had given her a nearness in the hour which no love of a lover
could gain. She alone spoke to the dead girl as though she were still
really alive, as one speaking to the deaf whom only one voice can reach.
But Theophil was conscious in his wildest, most heartbroken, words that
Jenny could not hear them. He talked to her as though she were a picture
of herself, and as one would implore a picture to answer us, he
symbolised the cry of his soul in cries that he knew were vain.
Yet though Jenny were sculpture now, Theophil could not forget that this
icy marble had once been the flesh he had loved. O God! that little
tender body, whose every part was sweetly joined together like the words
of a song, it was marble now.
"Ah! Jenny, are you smiling to think of what you and I know, you and I,
and no one else in the world? Jenny, we shall never forget, never
forget, shall we? And you will not breathe our secrets even in heaven.
Do you really hear me, after all, but are forbidden to say? Are you glad
somewhere to see how I love you, and are you at this moment looking
into my face wildly for a sign, as I into yours? Is it I who seem dead,
Jenny? and are you beating wildly at the gates of life to win back to
me, as I am beating at the gates of death? But, Jenny, we shall find
each other, _must_ find each other some day. I shall be so true,
Jenny,--will you be true to me in heaven?"
Then would sweep across his soul a pitiless vista of the long cold years
that lay between him and Jenny. He was not twenty-five; through what a
weary pilgrimage of useless years must he journey on, before there was
Jenny's face shining at the end. How he envied the old woman whose
sorrow was in this alone less cruel than his, that she was already fifty
years farther on the road to Jenny. Perhaps another year or two and she
would meet her. To meet so soon--was hardly to have parted at all.
But, why live those years? Have you forgotten that old promise? Is it
too late to follow? Surely little Jenny will not speed so swiftly from
the earth she loved but that you shall overtake her. Who knows but she
is fluttering still at the gate of death, putting off the heavenward
journey hour after hour, in hope that the face she waits for will at
last light up the dark portal--
"I'll take his hand and go with him
To the deep wells of light;
As unto a stream we will step down,
And bathe there in God's sight."
But was this the way to find Jenny? The universe was so full of dark
traps for lovers' feet. To lie down cold as Jenny by Jenny's side, was
that the way to find her? When death's gate opened for Jenny, had
Theophil at that very instant, hand in her hand, eyes fixed upon her
eyes, slipped through too, then surely they had been together. But the
door had closed, and whither on the other side Jenny had already
wandered, who could tell? Perhaps that was the very way to miss her.
When two have lost each other in a crowd, it is best that one should
stand still and await the other. Perhaps it were best for him to stand
still here in life. Jenny would know where to seek him then--and maybe
the dead had mysterious ways of bringing news to the living. He could
wait a little while and see. For a little he could live--and listen.
JENNY'S LYING IN STATE
But there were others besides those who stood so near who mourned Jenny,
passers-by on the road of friendship, who would miss her sunshine in the
streets, and carry with them one bright thought the less for that bright
face that death had thus blown out. There were especially some little
people to whom death was as yet hardly even mysterious, but was merely
perplexing, like many other grown-up things in which their parents were
interested. These were the little scholars of Jenny's Sunday-school
class, to whom simple Jenny had been a personage, quite a great lady,
full of gentleness. To these Jenny was "Teacher," a name of gentle awe;
and to these Teacher was as deeply dear as anyone can be to very
Jenny had felt like a little mother to these little ones, and when she
lay ill her thoughts would often go to them, while from them would come
tiny presents to show how sorry they were that Teacher was ill.
Several times before she grew too ill, Jenny had had her favourites up
in her room on Sunday evenings, to read Bible stories with her, and had
sent them away happy with magnificent text-cards, that had hitherto been
the arduously won rewards of "attention" and the practice of such
school-time virtues over many weeks.
Now, when they heard that Teacher was dead, they felt a vague sorrow.
They knew that people who died were never seen at school any more, and
that people always burst out crying when anyone died; so they cried
bitterly, these little girls, and the hearts of one or two of them
perhaps really ached for a little while. One of them asked the new
teacher, if they would meet their old teacher in heaven, and was told
"Yes, if they were good girls,"--which was something to be good for.
Among the wreaths that already filled Jenny's room with that piercing
smell of lilies which still clung there--unless it were Theophil's
fancy--for many months afterwards, was one sent in loving memory "by her
Sunday-school class"; and it was a part of that informal lying-in-state,
which is an involuntary recognition of the divine honours due to death,
that these little awestruck scholars should be taken in threes and fours
to look at Teacher for the last time.
This was the third day, and Jenny was already in her coffin. The first
bloom of death, that light that lingers awhile in the face like a sunset
tranquil and blessed, a smile of immortal promise in the very moment of
mortality, had faded. Jenny's face by this was really dead, a mask of
drawn and sunken wax. She seemed now some fantastic doll, some ghastly
waxwork image of death such as we see carried on the stage in tragic
plays. The reality of death had gone with the coming of its funereal
trappings. But the little girls, who had to be lifted up one by one to
gaze with curious, scared faces into that harsh box, deeper and deeper
into which, as through beds of flowers and veils of gauze, Teacher was
sinking, knew nothing of these thoughts. They looked and wondered in
hushed bewilderment, and went their ways. It was evidently an occasion
when children were to keep more than usually quiet--and was it really
Teacher in that strange deep box? It was rather meaningless, but it was
certainly very strange and solemn, and you were allowed to cry.
Of the others who came to see Jenny, I shall not speak,--the vulgar
sight-seers, the creepy old women, connoisseurs in beautiful death, for
whom a neighbour's funeral was like an invitation to the grand opera,
but on whom perhaps one should not be too severe, for even such coarse
sensitiveness to a mystery is the crude beginning of the poetic.
The night before Jenny was given back to the elements Theophil dreamed a
dream, and afterwards he liked to think that he had dreamed it while
Jenny's body was still in the house with him, for then it might be
interpreted that her spirit was still there too, waiting for its final
release from the clay which God had sent her to animate for a while, as
an artist imprisons a lovely thought in a vase of alabaster.
Theophil dreamed that he and some friends were gay together in a room,
just before setting out for a theatre; and as they laughed and talked
there came a little tapping on the wall, so that they grew silent and
listened. Then through the wall was heard a faint but glad little voice
speaking. It was Jenny's voice.
"I can hear you all," she said; "you are off to the theatre. I wish I
were going with you. Never mind, we are not so far away from each other
as you think. I am only on the other side of a wall."
And Theophil awoke on a bright wintry morning, with those words still,
it seemed, in the room.
"I am only on the other side of a wall!" Was it but the metaphor-making
of dreams, which will so often take our forgotten speculations and
dramatise them for us into reality, or was it indeed a message? An
instinct which was unamenable to reason, and which was perhaps only a
desire, told him it was a message; and it was no less a message though
it were merely a pictorial symbol of a sense, which was already his in
the daytime, of a new and very real nearness to Jenny.
He had slept right through that night out of sheer bodily weariness.
Weeks of watching and anguish had worn him out, and he never knew that
the poor old mother had laid a benediction on his sleep, looking in upon
him as he slept, the only waking being in that house of sleep.
"He will wake soon enough, poor boy!" she had said, as she went once
more to watch till daylight by the side of the other sleeper.
"O Jenny, Jenny, why did you leave me? You were the apple of my eye, my
Jenny. What will your old mother do now that you are gone?"
So she sat and wailed hour after hour, and sometimes she would raise the
dead girl from her coffin and press her to her bosom; for, though even
Jenny's lover feared her now, that cold unresponsive clay had no fear
for Jenny's mother. It was Jenny still, and though the old woman's creed
told her that Jenny was already an angel in heaven, her heart belied her
faith, and her love made her a Sadducee.
And yet it was her belief in a literal resurrection of the body that was
sorely troubling her old soul during these last hours of watching. For
while Jenny was still conscious of the coming of death, she had been
much tortured by hideous churchyard fancies, imaginations of the
darkness and noisomeness of the grave, and she had wrung from her mother
the promise that she should first be cremated and her ashes be afterward
buried in the family tomb. This was the promise which was lying heavy on
the old woman's heart to-night; and, though her reason told her that the
way of the flames and the way of the flowers alike led to dust, yet the
disintegration by fire seemed to give her a sense of entire destruction
such as the more desultory operations of the earth did not give.
If Jenny must indeed pass right away, the dainty architecture of her
body, so lovingly builded, be laid in ruin; not by the fierce fingers of
fire should she be torn asunder, but beneath the kind breath of the sun,
and the gentle tears of the rain, might she change and change, and on
the wings of soft winds might she be carried to and fro in fragrance
about the world.
And perhaps in the old Christian's mind there was an imagination of a
mysterious recreation in the earth, which when the dust has quite
returned to dust, should begin anew the building of an incorruptible
Jenny, lying prepared there like a new garment, against the hour when
the soul should seek anew its earthly vesture for the last great day.
Thus strangely will imagination build its dreams in defiance of
And in what different ways will love argue with itself! This way of the
flames, that brought such a terror to the poor mother, was one of the
great consolations of the lover; and when at length on the morrow Jenny
was no longer to be sought in her room, and the darkened house was once
more filled with an empty light that was crueller than darkness, it
brought a sense of warmth to think that Jenny was not lying stark and
lonely out in that bitter churchyard, where the graves were covered
with sheets of snow and hung with hoods of ice, but that through the
cleansing gates of flame she had passed into the eternal elements, and
was already about the business of the dreaming spring.
And in other ways this proved a consolation that never failed him. It
saved his love from those cruel foulnesses of the grave which had
haunted Jenny. That cleansing fire cleansed his fancies too. However
morbid his fancies might become, _desiderium_ could never take any but
beautiful forms. Jenny could never come to him in any fearful images of
corruption, nor could he picture her in any mouldering shape of catacomb
She had come like a sylph out of the air, and she had returned again
whence she came. She had moved awhile about certain ever sacred rooms,
and as she moved she had hummed a little song, which was her life; she
had touched certain objects, she had written her name in some books,
she had made little everlasting memories with her hands,--that was her
history; and now suddenly she had gone. She had come like a dream, and
she had gone like a dream. The invisible winds had for a while rocked a
flower, and now the flower was gone. Only its perfume remained. No one
as long as the world lasted could take up some crumbling relic, and,
giving the lie to love's divine answer to the dust, say "This
No! but sometimes when a bird sings in the stillness, when the moon
rises above the trees, when a breath of secret violets crosses one's
path one knows not whence; sometimes when the rain is sobbing at the
window, or the wind plaining about the doors; sometimes when an unknown
happiness fills the heart, when a great deed has been done, when a
lovely word has been spoken, in seasons of music and in all high
moments, then can one say, "There, listen! _that_ was Jenny."
Jenny was already a legend. She was with the great lovers. Theophil
remained behind only to write her name across the high stars. Then he,
too, would pass through the gates of fire to her side.
As he lay down to rest that night, his eyes fell with a sudden sense of
freshness upon the familiar Botticelli's "Mother and Child," which hung
over his fireplace; and a need that could never be fulfilled awoke in
his soul. If only Jenny could have left him a little child,--a little
girl! He had not seemed so lonely then.
It was so he thought; yet perhaps Jenny's child would but have deepened
his loneliness, like a bird singing in a garden where our love walked
long ago. Yet the cry was from his heart, and the longing brought with
it his first tears. "O Jenny," he sobbed, "if only you had left me a
THE BEGINNING OF THE PILGRIMAGE--MESSAGE FROM JENNY
If every inclination of his heart had not desired it too, Theophil would
have gone on living at 3 Zion Place, for old Mrs. Talbot's sake; for now
he was literally all she had left in the world, and what greater joy
remained for either than just to sit close by the fire and talk
3 Zion Place was now a little chapel of memory, where a bowed ancient
woman and a sad-faced young man kept up perpetual services to the holy
dead. A woman of her own years, also acquainted with grief, came to
companion the old woman, a sort of lay sister in this little monastery
of grief. It was so piety began, and thus piety is purest and tenderest
in the worship of the dead. Everything in that house which had taken the
impress of Jenny's fingers, been Jenny's to use or handle, remained
exactly as and where Jenny had placed it. They were as yet as fragrant
of Jenny as a fresh-gathered flower of its own perfume. In a very real
sense indeed Jenny had not died, or she was coming to life again as she
had never lived before; and it was no merely idealised Jenny who was
henceforward to fill up all her lover's thoughts and speak to him in
every sight and sound, but just the human Jenny, with her faults
On these--such little faults!--Theophil ever loved to dwell. They saved
Jenny from becoming an abstraction, a saint. Even those bitter little
quarrels which all lovers must suffer,--how sweet they seemed now!
The old mother's method was no doubt again different from her
son-in-law's. She would never have admitted that Jenny had a fault.
Such is the difference in reality between the new idealism and the old.
In such small matters as the minutiae of mourning that difference was
again illustrated. Theophil could permit himself no outward insignia of
sorrow which he could not wear for ever. Already his profession had
clothed him in black, and it was only for him that his black seemed now
to gain a deeper distinction; but such ugly symbols of beautiful memory
as that note-paper whose diminishing edge of blackness is rather a
cynical witness of a graduated forgetfulness, were not for a real grief
like his. As if sorrow, while it may and will change, can ever end! Why,
in the world of faithful hearts, men and women have not yet dried their
tears for Romeo and Juliet!
Theophil conceived this grief that had come to him as one more activity
added to his life till life should end. He knew that it would not
outcast joy, but that it would live side by side with it, that it must
alternate with joy for it to go on living. Jenny's death was not going
to be less sad, less a factor of the eternal tragedy, at the end of a
year,--that he might go to a theatre once more, as some widows joyously
don colours, when the clock strikes the end of a year of lost dances.
For it was not Jenny alone that had died, but it was a consolation to
Theophil in those hours of self-torture which are among the earliest and
most cruel developments of grief, to realise how much of himself had
died with her, after all. It was not merely the apathy of the first
weeks that told him this, the sense of vacuity, of uselessness in all
things, but the sense that never left him, even when he had awakened to
an activity he had never known before, that nothing really mattered,
however vigorously he might seem to act to the contrary, since Jenny
It was with difficulty sometimes that he could take important issues
with necessary seriousness, for, whatever the odds of life henceforward
might be, what was there worth gaining now that Jenny was lost? Could
any energy or haste save Jenny from dying? That had happened. The worst
had happened. All the terror life had to appal the human spirit had been
faced, in that moment when the doctor's hand upon his shoulder had told
him Jenny was to die. His eyes had looked on the Medusa-face of life
that turns the bravest to stone, and he was no longer vulnerable
On the battle-field of existence he bore a charmed life, and sometimes
as he moved among his fellows he felt a certain sense of the unfairness
of his advantage in this respect, and paused to pity those who could
still be so eager, so tragically set upon, this little issue. The
virulence of those enemies whom he was already making and who were to
multiply as his activities awakened again, seemed particularly pathetic,
and he would smile in sad amusement at their quaint little efforts to
hurt him. (No man is so strong for this world's fight as he who has laid
up his treasure in heaven; and when the mystic condescends to the common
trades of life he is an easy master.) It meant so much to them, so
little to him. He was a humbug, he was a hypocrite, he wasn't even a
good speaker, he was an ignoramus! Was he? All right. They might think
so if they chose. It hardly interested him. He had been sitting drawing
angels, and somehow their irrelevant voices had broken in upon him.
"Another was with me."
Really, even for Jenny's sake, it seemed hardly worth while to fight so
poor a world! Was the fame that such a world could give a distinction
one would seek for Jenny? Would not Jenny smile in heaven at the toy
honours of such a world?
On the other hand, there was something repellent to his once ambitious
soul, in the thought that such a world might seem to have the victory;
and, therefore, when the first numbness had left him and the colours and
sounds of things were once more coming back, he threw himself with
galvanic vitality into the work that lay to his hand, and particularly
into those political activities for which his gift of speech and his
power of organisation fitted him.
Two months after Jenny's death, having spoken at a great meeting on some
momentous question of the hour, he found himself the acknowledged leader
of the Radical, rather forlorn, hope in Coalchester, and before long
invitations were coming to him to help on the same hope in other towns.
Never in his life--and he used often to meditate on the fact with
wonder--had he been so vital, so efficient, so brilliant. His powers had
acquired a firmness, an alertness, a force of influence and attraction,
they had never possessed before. Of a sudden he found himself mature, a
calm master of his gifts.
Yet those who sat near him at those meetings might have noticed that as
he sat down, pale amid plaudits, and crossed his hands upon his knees,
and while his political colleagues were complimenting him to the
audience on the mellow thunder of his political oratory, he was smiling
furtively to himself. "It's all very funny, isn't it, Jenny?" he was
saying in his heart.
Indeed it was hardly recognisable to himself as a fancy that whenever he
spoke Jenny was somewhere in the audience. Sometimes a remote face might
bear a chance resemblance to her, and he would humour himself with the
thought that that was Jenny. For, with that self-consciousness which no
modern mind can escape, he found a certain sad pleasure sometimes in
noting the tricks grief played with him, loving and encouraging all its
fancies--if fancies indeed they were.
When at other times he tried to think clearly, to strip himself of the
illusions, as others would no doubt call them, in which he now lived,
his thinking rather confirmed than dispersed them; and the more he
pondered, the more he failed to realise that Jenny was dead, the surer
became his consciousness that she was nearer to him (a very part of him
as it were) than she had ever been in the days when others could still
hear her voice and note her presence in a room. Her very death had given
him a paradoxical certitude of her immortality.
Yet this recognition of her presence, on some plane of spiritual
apprehension, was none the less consistent with a piercing sense of her
loss on the plane where love once moved in visible beauty. That heavenly
lover in him was able to give none of the comfort of its assurance to
the earthly lover. That the eyes of the spirit could touch her, brought
no healing to the eyes that at midnight would look up from the desk in
Theophil's study to Jenny's empty chair, no touch of her to the hands
that were so idle and empty now.
Yet there were little services these hands might still do for her.
There in her own little room her own books still stood in their places.
These could be taken care of, her little desk could still be kept as she
had left it, with her pen laid down as she had last laid it. There were
note-paper and envelopes, and ink and blotting-paper, all ready, if some
day, by a miracle--who could tell?--she might steal into that room and
want to leave a message. There should be fresh flowers for her to find
there too if she did come.
And that new edition of Scott which was not finished issuing when she
went away, she would find that complete when she came back. Her little
collection of fairy books too--she was sure to glance at that! and then
she would find two or three new ones there finer than any of the old
ones; alas! so many beautiful books kept coming out now that she
Yet somehow she might see them, after all, if they were taken softly to
that little room and laid on that table altar. When it was quite sure
that no one was looking or listening, the shy soul might steal out of
the air and turn the pages with a sigh.
Just so some savage lover might bring gifts of fruit and coloured beads,
and bright plumed birds, to the grave of his dead love, for the future
anthropologist to draw his moral of the childishness of all human
One day, as Theophil had stolen quietly into that room on some such
votive errand, an impulse had come to him to open the drawer of the
desk. There might be some message for him there. Any writing of the dead
we have never read before is a message.
Among various odds and ends, he came first upon one of those little
tradesmen's account-books interleaved with bad blotting-paper in which
the housewife writes her orders week by week.
It was full of Jenny's writing, and though the entries were merely
weekly repetitions of the same string of groceries:--"2 lbs. of the
best tea," "6 lbs. loaf sugar," "6 nutmegs," and so on,--yet, "the hand
being hers," they made a record that could only be read through blinding
tears; and one page which bore a severe little note, to the effect that
the tea had been far from good of late, read almost like a personal
Theophil kissed the page, and, replacing the book, took up another, and
his heart leapt to find it was a little diary.
He hesitated for a moment. It seemed wrong to read it, and yet he knew
that Jenny's soul held nothing she would not have shared with him, and
he was so hungry for a word from her though it were only a word out
of the past.
The entries were not many nor long, but it smote his heart to find how
large a space his name, his interests, his successes, filled there. The
entries of honour were little heart-notes of evenings together
especially happy; there were two birthdays still singing for joy, and
sometimes there was a saying of his she had put down because it was so
helpful, or a poem she had copied out; and also there were clever little
criticisms of books she had read, and sometimes a wise little reflection
of her own,--which brought home to him, with a certain pang, that the
little child who had seemed so dependent on him had been an independent
personality, after all.
As he came to the last entry, he put the book down with a gesture of
pain. The last entry had been made the day after Jenny had discovered
Theophil's love for Isabel. It was very brief, just a sob: "Have
realised that I am no fit wife for Theophil. And yet how I love him!"
As Theophil read this, all that sad night came back to him with
unbearable vividness, and he felt once more a little sobbing body crying
its heart out against his. At that moment he would have endured
centuries of torment just to have undone what could never be undone; and
an awful thought that he had not dared allow into the daylight of his
mind, suddenly sprang hideous in full view of his stricken soul: the
thought that, however he might soothe its intolerable pain, he it was
who had--killed Jenny. "She seems to have had a shock," a voice was
saying over and over again, "she seems to have had a shock."
A shock! Yes! and Isabel, whom all this time, he had kept thrust in the
outer darkness of thought, forbidding his soul to breathe her name, now
sprang into vivid light again in company with that thought. In that
moment he felt to hate her, and it was with a cruel mental oath he
hurled her back again into the dark. It was she, _she_ who had made
But this was a thought that either must kill him, or be made endurable
by some advocate of the stricken conscience; and it was with no wish to
deceive himself, or to escape from his sin, that Theophil told himself
that this murder of a soul, to which he pleaded guilty, was indeed no
wilful act, but the accident of two tragically conditioned souls, who
had planned, at their own agony, a fate of happiest life for Jenny.
Yet, the accuser urged, are not theories of life which thus jeopardise
the happiness of human souls theories which it is criminal to hold?
Shall you try your new ways to heaven at the risk of broken hearts?
But a voice said--was it Jenny's?--this poor Theophil and Isabel love by
reason of no theory. It is yours, O ruling Fates of men, whatever you
be, who must support that accusation. Theophil and Isabel loved by the
compelling dispensation of the stars. They fought their destiny, and had
conquered it. It was you, ye stars, not they, that killed Jenny.
And this was true: but still the little figure sobbed at Theophil's
side, as again and again it would come and sob there, till Theophil's
own heart broke,--that old death-crying of Jenny's broken heart.
JENNY'S POSTE RESTANTE
After Jenny's death two letters had come for her from Isabel, who had no
knowledge of what had been happening to her friends of New Zion.
There is something peculiarly sad about the letters that for a little
time go on coming for the dead. Perhaps nothing more simply brings home
the fact that they are no longer with us. Even little bills, circulars
offering new spring goods at sale prices, come charged with pathos, and
Theophil smiled at his own folly as he kept them all. Sad little _poste
restante_! Will the letters ever be called for?
Theophil did not open the letters, but as days went by and no more came,
he sometimes found himself taking them from their drawer and looking at
them. Isabel's handwriting, though his soul would not confess it to
himself, still held the power of a rune over his heart.
Had no traitor thought ever whispered deep down in the darkness of his
consciousness that the way was now open to Isabel? Such thoughts indeed
had come to him, but unwelcomed, involuntarily, as those foul thoughts
which will sometimes torture the pure, or those base thoughts which may
appal the noble.
The mind, like the body, has its foul humours, which can only be
accepted with patience as a part of the inscrutable mechanism of human
organisms. In moments of anger this filth and poison of the mind
sometimes comes to the surface to wrong us--for it is not us, it is in
truth just all that we are not.
Thus at times in Theophil's mind, that was one prayer of faithful love
for Jenny, the thought of Isabel would steal, like--so his stern
faithfulness pictured it--a fair devil in a church. Yet, if he opened
one of those letters he knew there would ascend from it a cloud of
subtle incense, which would ... well, which he must never again breathe.
So he would replace them in their drawer, and again, some other day,
take them out once more.
Perhaps, after all, it might be his duty, the mere duty of a friend, to
open them. What if Isabel should be ill, should be needing him ...
should be dying!
But still the fanaticism of his sorrow conquered, and still week after
week they remained unread.
Meanwhile, Isabel was living her life as she had lived it before she had
heard of New Zion, with the difference of an internal sense of
completion which her love had brought. Need one say that she had her
hours of loneliness and longing, when she would have exchanged a
thousand years of love in heaven for a touch of Theophil's hand upon
earth; but these she knew how to conquer, and for most days that union
of two separated hearts remained to her as real as when it had been
vowed in those silent woods.
At the very moment when Jenny was dying, and Theophil had thrust Isabel
away into the furthest, highest, starlight of memory, she was thinking
how real their union was, how near he seemed!
FURTHER CONCERNING THEOPHIL'S LIFE AFTER THE DEATH OF JENNY
Knowing the quick but little love