Part 3 out of 3
Much mention of the dead.
I hesitate further to continue that history of a grief of which,
nevertheless, this book has now little heart or purpose to be other than
the record, and, as what I shall write in this chapter must seem
meaningless and wearisome to all but those who belong to the great
Secret Society of Sorrow, it were no doubt just as well that those who
have known nothing but joy should follow their natural impulse and leave
it unread. I confess, too, that I should feel the more comfortable
without the regard of their happy, ignorant eyes.
Sorrow is a mysticism, and to talk of it to those who have never known
the initiation of tears is like talking alchemy to a child. Sorrow,
too, is an aristocracy, and when Theophil came to realise that, as Jenny
had been found worthy to die, he had been found worthy to suffer, it
seemed to him almost vulgar only to have been happy. Happiness is such a
materialist, a creature of coarse tastes and literal pleasures, a
_bourgeois_ who has not yet attained the rank of a soul. The influence
of sorrow on the individual is much what the influence of Christianity
has been upon the world. Christianity, no doubt, has robbed us of
much--but then it has given us sorrow; it has taken away the sun, but it
has brought us the stars. It is only in the starlight of sorrow that we
become conscious of other worlds. The sun flatters our own little world
with the illusion of a transitory importance; the stars show it its
place in the universe, and teach it a nobler meaning for itself.
No consciousness of his gifts had ever given Theophil any such sense of
his belonging to the chosen and dedicated minority of mankind as this
initiation into the Secret Society of Sorrow. He had been chosen to
represent a sacred order. He stood for no lesser interests than those of
Love and Death. Though he were to represent Coalchester in the House of
Commons, what honour were there in that to one already so
Tears bring a strange new sight to the eyes, and "a new perception both
of grieving love" made Theophil see, and love to see, many things in the
world he had never noticed before. His eyes were opened to behold the
many mourners who go about the streets, the widows who walk in darkness,
and all the shapes of blackness moving phantom-like through the coloured
traffic; not all true children of sorrow, indeed, though wearing its
habit, but, true or not, symbols of the power and majesty of death in
the world. For the involuntary honour paid to death even by the
ignorantly busy, and happy, he kept ever a grateful and a jealous eye;
and as some funeral _cortege_ passed like a dream, Charon's barge amid
all the motley craft of merchandise and pleasure, he would watch sternly
to see if the fat and prosperous moment would do honour to the carriages
of the king. For a bowed head or a doffed hat he felt a personal
gratitude. And, since Jenny died, he seemed to be always meeting that
phantom procession in the streets.
Once, as he passed along the High Street, he had noticed a crowd round a
dying horse. He stood with the crowd a moment, and then went on his way.
In an hour's time he repassed the place, and there was the dead horse
lying solitary on the side of the street; but he noted with a curious
gladness that some hand had covered it reverently with a horse-cloth.
"So honoured is death," he mused to himself, "that even the humblest
animal on which he shall have set his seal is held sacred from the
common day, and shall not be gazed upon heedlessly by the passer-by."
This seemed the greatest honour he had known paid to the king!
The fascination with which from this time death and all that related to
or remotely suggested it absorbed him, was, he reflected one day with a
surprised recognition of the paradox, no longer the fascination of hate
or dread, but almost love. Death, the arch-enemy of joy, the assassin of
youth, the murderer of Jenny,--Death had robbed him of his life's one
treasure, and here was he loving him, watching for his face, listening
for his step, like a lover.
Surely this was the strangest of conclusions; but perhaps the
explanation was very simple. Theophil loved death because Jenny had
died, as he would have loved anything Jenny had chosen to do, as he
would have loved life had Jenny gone on living. By dying Jenny had made
death beautiful, and its gloomiest associations were but so many
allusions to Jenny.
Death was to Theophil as a foreign land of which before he had only
heard the name, and heard it almost without interest, as one hears
listlessly of Peru. But now that Jenny had gone to Peru, the books of
the world could not tell him enough about the new land where Jenny had
gone, and everyone who had friends there was at once his friend, and
every little dark-robed company gathered sadly to godspeed some new
emigrant to its distant shore was dear to him for Jenny's sake. Besides,
some of these might have heard from their friends there, might have news
to tell him of the dark land. One would walk far, would listen late for
such precious tidings.
Did such tidings ever come? Yes, some had even seen their loved ones
again, shining strangely on the air. Why did Jenny never come like that?
How he had prayed and called to her for just one sign out of the
silence, one swift uplifting of the veil; but none, except that dream,
had ever come. Yet one could never be sure by what common unnoticed
sights and sounds the dead might fumblingly be striving to reach us in
the deaf and dumb language of the dead. Perhaps it was they who led us
to passages in books we had never noticed before, pointed their fingers
to bright pages of faith, and left us here and there many a message of
hope we never dreamed had come from them. Or might it not happen that
the dead, like the living, could be unfaithful:--
"Is death's long kiss a richer kiss
Than mine was wont to be,
Or have you gone to some far bliss
And straight forgotten me?"
Perhaps Jenny already loved another in heaven, and his gift of
faithfulness might some day be a burden to her...
This love of death was no mere morbid absorption. It was but one of the
activities of a faithfulness to which the trees about the temple had
become "dear as the temple's self," and his jealousy for those honours
paid to death was only one expression of his eager watchfulness for the
signs of human faithfulness.
Not all unrewarded was that watch. The world held some faithful
hearts,--let us not ask how many,--lovers of invisible faces and voices
heard no more, men and women who still shared their joys and sorrows
with unseen comrades, and drank the cup of life as a sacrament of
This sharing with the dead seemed to Theophil the essential of
faithfulness,--faithfulness taking many forms, sometimes maybe
misrepresentative of itself, and seldom perhaps informing its
A time will come in the profoundest griefs when those rituals to which
young grief is so eager to vow itself will grow lifeless and
conventional, the daily tasks of remembrance become as the told beads of
pattered prayers. Let the worshipper of relics beware lest his
treasures some day turn on his hands to so much irksome lumber, and true
sorrow be thus humiliated.
No! the service for the dead which is most likely to remain a vital
offering of the heart is not the ceremonial sorrow of specially
consecrated times and seasons, but rather the simple longing in hours of
joy that _they_ could have been with us. To think of our dead friends as
always in their shrouds is a way of remembrance which we shall not long
have heart or even interest to follow. It is only by taking them to our
feasts, keeping up with them the same old human companionship, that we
may hope to keep the dead as friends. A modern poet has written eight
lines which were of great comfort to Theophil,--
"You go not to the headstone
As aforetime every day,
And I who died, I do not chide,
Because, dear friend, you play;
"But in your playing think of him
Who once was kind and dear,
And if you see a beauteous thing,
Just say: 'He is not here.'"
Here it seemed to Theophil was the whole duty of faithfulness. The dead
know that if we remember them in our hours of joy, they are indeed
remembered; and if they know anything at all, they will understand the
waywardness of sad hearts better than sad hearts understand themselves.
Yet, indeed, save in the exercise of his faculties, Theophil had no joy
to reproach himself with. Surely returning spring, with its terrible
exuberance of warm life, was no joy. Perhaps he had looked on Jenny
lying dead with less anguish than he one day beheld an apple-tree thick
with blossom in the hot sun. Yes! the world had the heart to go on, to
bud and build, and sing,--though Jenny was gone. And in that bright
spring, see horrible and useless age still hobbling out into the beam!
What was life but one huge Mephistopheles laugh beneath the windows of
That spring James Whalley persuaded Theophil to walk with him for a week
of country lanes far beyond Coalchester, letting him talk of Jenny all
the time. Jenny had never been here! If only Jenny could have seen that
view! Jenny had never known that flower! Did he remember those verses
from James Thomson:--
"The chambers of the mansions of my heart,
In every one whereof thine image dwells,
Are black with grief eternal for thy sake.
"The inmost oratory of my soul,
Wherein thou ever dwellest quick or dead,
Is black with grief eternal for thy sake.
"I kneel beside thee and I clasp the cross,
With eyes for ever fixed upon that face,
So beautiful and dreadful in its calm.
"I kneel here patient as thou liest there;
As patient as a statue carved in stone,
Of adoration and eternal grief.
"While thou dost not awake I cannot move;
And something tells me thou wilt never wake,
And I alive feel turning into stone."
Strange joy of sad poetry for sad hearts!
Experience indeed was now divided for Theophil into what Jenny had not
seen or known and into what she had seen and known; and it was one of
the tricks of his grief, as time went on, to confuse the two. Sometimes
he would think that Jenny had been with him at a certain place, or
perhaps had read a certain book which, on taking thought, he knew she
could never have seen.
Allied perhaps to this confusion was the fancy that possessed him on
certain days that he caught glimpses of Jenny in little flitting figures
of women about the streets. A sudden poise of the head, the way of doing
the hair, a trick of walk,--just a flash and gone again; though
sometimes he was haunted with more persistent resemblances, which
brought him a curious mixture of joy and pain. And this perhaps is the
place to record what only those acquainted with grief will understand,
and not all of those,--for grief has many contradictory fashions.
Till he had loved Jenny, women had played little or no part in
Theophil's life; but with Jenny's death he found, to his surprise, that
the idea of woman was strangely sweet to him. His eyes were drawn after
women in the street, and he found himself longing sometimes for some
woman on whose shoulder he might lean his head and weep out his grief
for Jenny! He loved death because Jenny had died; was he to love women
because Jenny had been a woman? Perhaps his feet had wandered in
dangerous paths at this time, had it not been for the restrictions which
his calling laid upon him.
These, however, did not deny him the theatre, which it had been part of
his programme at New Zion to advocate, though there was seldom anything
worth seeing at Coalchester Theatre Royal. Yet sometimes a good London
company would call there on its provincial progress, and it chanced one
day, looking into a shop window, that Theophil caught sight of a
photograph of a woman that startled him with its remarkable resemblance
to Jenny. It was the prima donna of a Gaiety burlesque. Such was the
strange shape Jenny had for the moment taken!
For the first time after her death Theophil was at the theatre that
evening. The bright lights and the music pierced him as with swords.
Once more he saw that apple-tree thick with blossom in the hot sun. Yet
his fancy found grim spells to lay the insolent ghost of life, and death
ever at his side whispered that all this light and music and dancing was
for but a little while; that those gay rouged faces, so confident in
laughing beauty, and all those nimble shapes, were to the eye that had
looked beyond life already stark in their coffins, with chin-cloths
about their nerveless jaws. Surely the lover would trip in the shroud
that was plainly to be seen from his feet to his lips!
Like sudden snow on a summer meadow, a white silence fell from his
imagination across that fiddling, jigging, gleaming atmosphere, and
everywhere the dead sat around him, watching in a trance strange antics
of the grimacing dead. Curiously, in these moods, he never thought of
himself as dead. Alas! life was too cruel to release him so soon to
death and Jenny.
Suddenly the theatre sprang back to life again with the entrance of the
prima donna. Yes, the resemblance was even greater than in the
photograph. She was a little taller and more heavily built than Jenny,
and it was not Jenny's voice; but for the rest, she _was_ Jenny. The
fascination of watching her was terrible. It seemed impossible that one
form could so mockingly resemble another, and yet be so hopelessly
someone else. Theophil could hardly bring himself to believe that the
woman yonder with Jenny's eyes and mouth and hair had never even heard
of Jenny's name. Surely, if he were to come and look into her face, she
would recognise him at once, and the old common interests would rise to
her lips as of old.
Theophil went again to the theatre the next night, and again the next,
which was the last of the company's stay in the town; and the spell of
the false Florimel grew so strong upon him that at the close of the
final performance he sent up his card to the actress, and presently, as
in a dream, found himself stumbling among scenery and dipping under
beams on his way to the actress's room. If she were only as like Jenny
close to, he felt he must follow her to the end of the world; and indeed
the illusion still held as he entered the little mirrored room, smelling
of powder and littered with laces and silks,--fancy little Jenny here
among the grease-paints and the bouquets! It was only with the lack of
recognition in the polite welcome the actress gave him that the illusion
began to waver, or was it only that Jenny had forgotten him?
So possessed had he been with the hallucination, that he had not
thought what excuse he would have to make to the actress for his visit,
and it was with an embarrassing shock that the necessity of speech came
to him, when he had stumbled through some mechanical words of
salutation. She looked at him with a little air of bewilderment, and
motioned to her attendant to leave them alone. As the door closed,
Theophil had determined to tell her the simple truth.
"I have to ask your pardon," he began, "for a very strange intrusion.
The reason of it is simply this. You are so like someone I love who is
dead that I felt I could not rest till I had spoken to you. I trust you
will excuse me, and try to understand. Yes! you are terribly like her!"
The story appealed to the actress's instinct for romance, and she
entered into its spirit. Besides, the young clergyman was very
interesting to look at, and the charm of sorrow was on his face.
"An actress can hardly complain," she answered, "of being taken for
someone else, and though I don't know you, I feel that you have done me
an honour. Am I indeed so like her? How strange it must seem to you!"
"It is very strange," said Theophil, still fascinated. Then he told this
image of Jenny the story of how Jenny had died. The tears came into the
actress's eyes as he talked, and it was as though Jenny shed tears for
"Poor little girl!" she said; "I am so sorry for you both."
"But," she continued presently, "you should both be very happy too--for
it would be worth while to suffer for so beautiful a love.... I feel
happy," she added half gaily, "even to resemble a woman who is so
Theophil lingered on, still fascinated, till the actress suggested that
he should walk with her to her hotel. Arrived there, Theophil, to the
possible scandalising of Coalchester, accepted her invitation to a
further chat over supper; and when at last he was back at Zion Place,
his heart was aware of a new comfort and a new pain. He had leaned his
head on a woman's kind shoulder, and she had let him talk and talk about
Jenny; but her shoulder had been warm, and it had been sweet to be
near her ...
"A creature might forget to weep who bore;
Thy comfort long" ...
and Theophil went to sleep that night with the taste of honey upon his
But with the morning there came to him remorseful misgivings, and he
told himself that it had been one of the sophistries of the flesh, a
call of the senses taking in vain the sacred name of Jenny; and then for
his comfort he remembered how the greatest of all lovers, Dante, had
craved in like manner for the solace of "a very pitiful lady, very
young," and had been similarly remorseful on account of his momentary
preoccupation with her.
Taking down his "Vita Nuova," he read: "_At length, by the constant
sight of this lady, mine eyes began to be gladdened overmuch with her
company; through which thing many times I had much unrest, and rebuked
myself as a base person: also, many times I cursed the unsteadfastness
of mine eyes, and said to them inwardly: 'Was not your grievous
condition of weeping wont one while to make others weep? And will ye now
forget this thing because a lady looketh upon you? who so looketh merely
in compassion of the grief ye then showed for your own blessed lady. But
what so ye can, that do ye, accursed eyes! many a time will I make you
remember it! for never, till death dry you up, should ye make an end of
Moreover, Dante had married Gemma within a year of the death of
Beatrice, and had even lived so scandalously meanwhile as to bring down
upon him the stern reproof of his friend Guido Calvancanti; yet the
world still regards him as the type of all faithful lovers.
Faithfulness is an attitude of the mind, and all it touches turns to
"Except by death, we must not any way
Forget our lady who is gone from us."
If women were thus henceforth to influence Theophil, why might not
Isabel, the woman whom Jenny had loved, be counted amongst them?
Isabel was the one woman in the whole world whom Theophil's faithfulness
could not transform into Jenny. That it had been his fatal love for her
that had brought Jenny to her death, his reason, except in moments of
self-injustice, was robust enough to put aside.
There are excuses that we owe to ourselves, and we have a right to
expect justice even from our own consciences. A sentimental conscience
is the most tiresome of all altruists, and wilfully to indulge in
remorse that we have not justly incurred is to blunt our consciences
for real offences. The best repentance for our sins is a clear-eyed
recognition of their nature, and the temptation in some flurry of
feeling to take on our shoulders the mistakes of destiny with which we
chance to have been involuntarily associated, is one to be resisted in
the interests of that self-knowledge which is the beginning of
self-development. Before we take the scourge in hand for our own
shoulders let us be quite sure that we have sinned.
There were hours, particularly those hours of sudden wakefulness in the
middle of the night when our minds lose their sense of proportion, in
which Theophil agonised beyond endurance, and, as on that afternoon when
he had found Jenny's diary, said to himself with merciless reiteration,
"She seems to have had a shock"--"It was you who killed Jenny."
These hours had to be supported as we support hours of purely physical
pain. The morning brought a saner, larger view. The tragedy of Jenny's
death was not to be so easily explained. In it were implicated more
august responsible causes, it was part of a more general tragedy; as the
original instinct to blame himself and Isabel was part of man's ancient
theological habit of making man the scapegoat of the universe.
But as the thought of Isabel thus became bearable once more, it became
for that very reason a thought the more faithfully to be resisted.
It might become sweet.
It was sweet!
One day the casuistry of grief brought Theophil the reflection that, as
Isabel was the only woman he knew whom Jenny had known too, and that as
Jenny had loved her also, she was thus destined for him even by Jenny
herself. Besides, as he had realised no unfaithfulness to Jenny in his
love for Isabel during Jenny's life, there could equally be no
unfaithfulness now that she was dead. Moreover, if Jenny still in some
mysterious way kept watch over his life, she would understand his heart
as she could never have understood it when she was alive...
These thoughts brought deep sorrow to him for many days, during which
once more he rebuked himself as "a base person," but, curiously enough,
in one who so despised the world and its opinion, it was an apparently
superficial consideration that was the mainstay of his faithfulness,
against these disloyal suggestions of a life that was thus reawakening
in spite of himself.
There were moments when he could conceive his going to Isabel, and
asking her to share his life with him; but never could he endure the
thought of her bearing that name which seemed so inviolably Jenny's.
Even though Jenny had come to him in a dream and asked him to give her
name to Isabel, there was still the world. Though Jenny might
understand, the world would think he had forgotten Jenny. The minority
of faithful hearts would grow sadder by his seeming apostasy, and the
cynic would strengthen his pessimism by one more illustration of human
inconstancy. The world might hear that he was loving Isabel in some
Aegean isle, and still deem him faithful; for grief is allowed
mistresses, but with a wife it is understood to die.
No! so long as the world lasted no other woman should steal her name
from Jenny's grave.
And this was an unassailable symbol. Here the vital principle of his
faithfulness was entrenched as in an impregnable fortress. He would see
Isabel's heart break ere she should bear Jenny's name.
Yet while he made the vow, his love for Isabel was musical as spring
within his soul, and he dared to tell himself that in God's sight he was
still Isabel's as well as Jenny's.
Thus it came about that one autumn day, when Isabel's letters had lain
unopened through spring and summer, in one sudden impulse of mere
desire he had opened and read them,--not as Jenny's letters, but as
messages for which he himself was hungering. He had released the
incense, and as he kissed the dear writing, he momentarily forgot that
it was written to Jenny, and only remembered that it had come from
Isabel. In the snare of the incense he even accused himself for having
left them unread so long, and then to think that nearly six months had
gone by since the second letter had brought its half-playful reproach
for forgetfulness.... "Ah! Jenny, I'm afraid you're a fickle little
person, after all."
How strange it seemed to hear Jenny talked to like that--now.... Yes, of
course, Jenny was dead. Jenny was dead ... and Isabel was calling.
Was Jenny losing her power in this intoxicating fragrance of Isabel's
words--as though for once the cross should lose its virtue in some
subtle air of hellish sweetness?
O lilies from Jenny's white coffin, O little chrysanthemum that lay in
her bosom, O violets from Jenny's tomb, pierce with your faithful breath
this cloud of incense that is enwrapping Jenny's lover.
Alas! the power of the dead is but the power of the ideal, at once the
strongest and the weakest force in the world,--a power, indeed, that
prevails, but which may in some moments be shattered by the frailest
whisper of the real.
Isabel was calling, and Theophil was mad to go. Come back he might, but
go he must, he would. Yes! he was going.
There was only one possible way of spending that fevered night--in the
train; and it was in the train, speeding on to London and to Isabel, his
heart on fire, his eager eyes wasting themselves on the flying darkness,
that Theophil spent it. Purposes he had none, only a desire,--just to
see Isabel again. That immediate future was too effulgent for him to
think of anything beyond it.
He would see Isabel again!
From a distant starry name, withdrawn into the abysses of heaven, she
would turn again to woman and a wonderful nearness.
The thought of being once again in a little room together enveloped him
in a cloud of sweetness, as though the train were passing through
Isabel! Isabel! don't you hear love's wings beating towards you across
the night? Have you not just awakened suddenly from your first sleep in
the rosebush where you lie, and said: "Surely out there across the
silent woods and meadows, where the night swallows London like a
camp-fire, a train, a moving street of lighted windows, is speeding
through the darkness and the dew, and in one of those little travelling
rooms sits Theophil with his eyes fixed on me"?
Was it Jenny's name that Theophil was thus taking to Isabel?
No, not Jenny's name. Never Jenny's name!
He was going to look on Isabel again--that was all. Perhaps he would die
with the mere joy of seeing her again--and then he would not need to
think of the future. Yes! the deeps of his soul had wanted her as
much as that.
It was about half-past six as he reached London; and though it was
impossible to call on her for some hours yet, Theophil drove straight to
Isabel's little square, shuttered and still in the early-risen London
morning. His eyes chose the second storey for hers, and picked out two
dainty windows as her rooms. He half expected to see the blind suddenly
drawn aside and her face, a sleepy flower, bloom through the curtains.
He lingered awhile, loving each individual brick of the house with his
eyes, and then, kissing his hands to the sleeping windows, he rejoined
his cab, which he had left at the street corner, shy of awaking the
hushed square with its clatter.
He gave Isabel till ten o'clock, which was perhaps hardly enough for a
young London lady's toilette and breakfast, and then called. A pleasant
housemaid answered the bell, and told him that Miss Strange was away,
and was not expected till to-morrow.
Here was a surprise. He had never even thought of that possibility.
Begging leave to write Miss Strange a note, he presently found himself
in Isabel's room. It was the same his eyes had blessed from the street.
So this was Isabel's room! So evidently hers, her very self!
Isabel pictures, Isabel wall-paper, Isabel chairs, Isabel cushions,
Isabel desk, Isabel books, Isabel bibelots, Isabel litter,--all Isabel.
And there hung an arras portiere over a doorway to the right of the
fireplace. That was her bedroom! Dare he peep in? That was her little
bed. Would the housemaid catch him if he slipped in and left a kiss on
her pillow? By the mirror was a grotesque little china monster with his
mouth full of hat-pins. He stole one for a memory. Over a chair lay a
little dressing-jacket. He took it up and kissed it.
Then he sat down to write to her. What a tidy, methodical little desk!
Everything in its place. Dear, business-like, sea-witch Isabel! Here was
her engagement book. He mustn't begin reading her letters!
After his first disappointment, he was half-glad he would have to wait
till to-morrow to see her,--for, of course, he would wait. To have thus
sat in her room was almost enough for a first meeting. It was like
stealing upon her while she slept.
Then he began a letter; but as he wrote, who was this suddenly standing
at his side? Was it Isabel? No...it was a little sobbing body quite near
to his, crying as if its heart would break...
Oh, Jenny, Jenny--God forgive me!
The spell was broken, the fit was over. Theophil left no letter for
Isabel, and no message, and the same evening he was once more back in
his little study in Zion Place, wild with remorse. O for the scourge and
the fire! But what penance shall avail to ease that poor little
creature's broken-hearted crying?
"She seems to have had a shock!--She seems to have had a shock!"
BACK IN ZION PLACE
The shame of that wild unfaithfulness burned in Theophil's soul for many
days. It humiliated him like a physical degradation. To have been so
drunkenly untrue! It was one of those shocks to the moral nature from
which it never quite recovers, and Theophil's face lost some of its
steadfastness, his walk some of its firmness, for this perfidy
There was only one way to make the sense of it endurable, and he threw
himself into his work with a wasting vehemence. Where was his ambition?
There was so much yet to do. New Zion had long since moved and hummed,
and whizzed, the neighbouring towns had in a measure begun to dance to
his piping, but it must be a long while yet ere his name was to London
and to the world what it was already to Coalchester,--that mere
microcosm of his fame.
And till London knew him as well as Coalchester, there was no real
monument to Jenny. London--no longer the city of Isabel--must learn to
say "Theophilus Londonderry" so naturally, that it would some day serve
as an unforgettable remembrance of Jenny. He must become a great man,
because a great name is the one shrine in which love's memory may escape
oblivion. In the arms of his name Jenny would then be carried down the
years, one woman-star saved from the night of death. Again, the world,
for which in one way he had so little care, was to help him indirectly
to keep his troth to Jenny.
In a sense, the mountain was already coming to this young prophet; for
with the winter some of London's finest spirits were now and again to be
met in that incongruous Zion Place, as visiting lecturers to New Zion.
And each one, as he came, was impressed as Isabel had been on that old
evening when she had discovered her colony of surprise-people. Each
realised in that gravely masterful young minister a power and a force of
attraction which could not long remain hidden in that little country
town. Meanwhile, their visits enabled him to test his own calibre by
comparison with theirs, and to realise that his instincts had not
befooled him, but that he too had been called to the stage of the
It was in the operation of this method of inviting the mountain that the
French poet, with a reference to whom we began this history, made his
fantastic appearance in Zion Place. It is to be feared that it was a
conscious love of paradox that prompted an invitation from which indeed
New Zion must derive the most mystical of benefits and the most
imaginary of delights; but it was Theophil's whim to crown the
Renaissance in Coalchester by this _reductio ad absurdum._ The
subtlest poetic art of France should come in person to Coalchester, and
after days should tell that Theophilus Londonderry, while still a young
country minister, had bidden Paris sing her loveliest siren-song in the
musty little lecture-hall of New Zion. It is thus power bends the bow of
the world till the ends meet, and shoots the arrow of his name among
With the reawakening of his ambition, Theophil began to realise that his
work at New Zion was nearing its end, and that before long he must seek
that larger stage. Yet all his heart remained in that dull little Zion
Place, and while Jenny's old mother lived he could not conceive tearing
himself away. Could he indeed even bring himself to say good-bye to
these mean little romantic streets along which Jenny had tripped? Could
he bear to think of the commonplace little house which Jenny had
transfigured to a shrine being desecrated with vulgar occupation? If he
could only raze it to the ground, as a cup from which a queen has drunk
is shattered lest it should be soiled with usage of common lips! Some
day he might have grown rich enough to buy it, and set it apart for
ever, as a little house sacred to love and youth; but, meanwhile, with
what ugly and noisome presences would it have been defiled!
He would stand in Jenny's room with its quiet books and flowers, and his
heart would ache to think that some day harsh hands must noisily break
in upon that sacred silence, and strip it of all its delicate memories.
Jenny's room the lair of wild beasts, a nest of foulness and serpents!
Sometimes he was thus haunted with the ghosts of those who were to riot
up and down these stairs when Jenny's memory had quite died out of these
walls like a fragrance of musk overborne with coarse odours.
Yes! in this perhaps are the rich most enviable of the poor, that they
can afford chapels for their memories, and their houses, thus saved from
external taint from generation to generation, become temples of which
the very walls breathe nobleness, whereas the very birthplace of genius
itself becomes a butcher's shop; and though that genius be Shakespeare,
and the old house be some day purified seventy times seven, and
garnished as you please, the smell of slaughtered beasts will still
cling about its rooms, and the butcher insist upon immortality too.
Jenny's old mother was soon to turn into a memory also. She had from
time to time declared that she would not see another May, and had indeed
on one occasion named the day on which she would die, with a curious
precision, as though she had seen it written somewhere in a book, or
learnt it from private or unimpeachable information. Latterly she had
met Jenny twice in full daylight on the stairs, and it was evident that
the old woman would soon complete that little family circle in Paradise.
But she still kept about, and whereas her old husband had grown sleepier
as his end neared, she seemed to be growing more active again, fidgety
and restless. She slept badly, and returned to her old habit of being
first down in the morning and lighting the kitchen fire, in spite of
remonstrances. Indeed, she might sometimes be heard up in the middle of
the night, making herself a cup of tea in the kitchen. The kitchen had
been her world, and she was already beginning to haunt it.
There it was one wintry morning they found her sitting in the old
arm-chair in which her husband had died, and then they recalled her
words, for she had died on the very day she had predicted.
She knew nothing of books, this quaint old woman, and had a very
antiquated taste in wall-papers; yet there would seem to be other ways
of being wise, and it may indeed be held that books act too much as
insulators between us and the earth, to the mysterious currents of which
gnarled shapes of unlettered old men and women may be the more sensitive
as lying closer to the Mother.
At all events, old Mrs. Talbot did seem to have won certain confidences
from life and death refused to more consciously alert ears. Hers had
been that hearing beyond listening to which secrets are
Her death was more of a loss to her son-in-law than he might have
conceived, for not only was she the last of Jenny's flesh and blood, but
she was the only one else in the world who missed Jenny as he missed
her. Others might, through sympathy, share his sorrow, but she and he
were partners in an actual loss. Something had definitely gone from
each. Jenny seemed to be twice dead with the death of her mother, and
Theophil's loneliness suddenly became more absolute and cut off than
There was now no one left who could involuntarily recall remembered
words and traits of Jenny, and who would for their own sakes want to sit
down and talk of her. All that was left that really knew Jenny was the
old house itself. That remembered and talked of her still in its dumb
way; and as he realised this, his mood once more changed. He forgot his
aspirations toward a broader world, and felt that, not only would it be
a sort of unfaithfulness to leave Zion Place, but that to do so, and to
break up this familiar harmony of home, this little cosmos of friendly
furniture in accustomed relations,--pictures hung so from time
immemorial, rooms dedicated to this use and no other,--would be to
destroy the one mirror from which could come to him still glimpses of
Jenny's living face. In just that look of the rooms was the best
portrait he possessed of Jenny.
Though he had always been fond of Mr. Moggridge, it had not before
occurred to Theophil to make of him a companion; but about this time, as
Mr. Moggridge would drop in of an evening to discuss church matters, the
young minister would be surprised to note how lonely he felt when he had
gone. Indeed Mr. Moggridge possessed that great undefinable gift of
What is needed in a companion is not brilliance of conversation, but the
power to make you feel that you are not quite alone in the universe.
Dogs and even children possess this quality for some happily constituted
individuals, but for others it is a necessity that the companion be a
A human being, the quieter the better, if possible a rather large man,
diffusing a sense of warmth and safety, with perhaps no other gifts than
kindliness and a pipe; and sometimes you have the best of company. And
Mr. Moggridge, as we know, had brains too, and interesting instincts
for new things. But his best gift was his humanity. Thus Theophil
encouraged his evening calls and contrived to prolong them, though the
two would often sit almost silent by the hour, their pipes alone making
a sort of conversation.
Sometimes the young lions of "The Dawn" would come to supper, as in the
old days, as Theophil called a year ago; but supper was a poor thing
without Mrs. Talbot popping in and out of the room, though she had
seemed comparatively unimportant then,--not to speak of eager little
Jenny,--not to think of Isabel.
Yes! the sparkle had gone out of their meetings, which began to have an
air of make-believe youth about them. Theophil's interest was indeed
centred in the purlieus of New Zion, but it was entirely retrospective;
and though outwardly New Zion was more alive than ever, it seemed to him
that activity which once started goes on of itself, and he realised that
in his heart he cared nothing for the work itself, but only for the
music to which it had once been set in motion. Incomplete as in one
sense it was, in another and more personal sense his life seemed already
complete; and while in some moods he would dream of its resounding
continuance, in others he would sigh that it might end.
However, for a while he would still go on living with the shadows he
loved; and as he sat alone of an evening in that silent house, he would
sometimes half fancy that he heard the other occupants moving about or
walking overhead. That was Mrs. Talbot with a creaking basket of clean
linen on the stairs, and surely that was the opening and closing of a
drawer in Jenny's room. Perhaps it was only Mr. Talbot moving his chair
in the kitchen.
AND SUDDENLY THE LAST
Had anyone told Theophil that in another six months he too would be a
memory, and that the future to which he looked, now with a sense of new
worlds to be conquered, now with a sense of weariness, was suddenly to
close down on him like a dropped curtain, he would have smiled half
sadly, and half proudly. No such good fortune for his sad heart! no such
miscarriage of his young life!
Young life is so sure of its long lease. All about it lie the broken
dreams, the unfinished projects of others; but that _its_ life-work
should suddenly suffer the final interruption is not to be thought of!
It will die if it please of its own choosing; it will despise life and
coquette with death; but to die unconsulted, with not so much as "Will
it please your honour to die to-morrow week?" is an indignity
inconceivable to youth, however visionary and devoted to the worship
of the dead.
Yet for quite simple reasons, as this mysterious world goes, it had been
decided that Theophil was for as brief a while as possible, allowing for
the leisure of natural causes, to support the life he thought he hated.
Even while Jenny lived, fate, mercifully foreseeing, had willed him a
brief pilgrimage; for on that night when Jenny had leaned over him with
that terrible hunger of damp breath, it had been written that of that
kiss Theophil should some day die.
And it was of that kiss that the following May Theophil, all his plans
laid aside, engagements cancelled on every hand, eager life suddenly
trapped in this choking cul-de-sac, was dying.
Death! It was an outrage! He was young, he was powerful! He would not
There was May at the window. He too was full of May. He would get up
and go about his work. He knew he could if they would only let him. It
was the mere rebellion of unspent energies that craved to be used, like
the muscular vivacity of suddenly severed limbs that still toss and
twitch with hot life; yet it inspired Theophil one afternoon when he had
been a fortnight or so in bed, during a brief absence of his nurse, to
rise and dress, and as by a miracle keep an appointment to speak at a
neighbouring town, where he had been promised for a great agitation on
the Home Rule Question. Surely it was a strange enough contradiction of
a year ago, when such meetings had seemed such trivialities in the
thought of death. Now, when they said he was dying--had this world grown
suddenly so significant that he could rise from his death-bed to make
one last appearance in the paltry lists?
He spoke with an overcoat buttoned up to his throat, and a tumbler of
port wine at his side; and as the audience looked on his white hollow
face, and listened to his terrible eloquence, they realised with a
shudder that this was the last tragic effort of a dying man.
Alas! the great world was not to be stamped with his image and
superscription, after all; and only a little faithful company of friends
would know that Theophilus Londonderry was a great man.
This escapade, though it brought on death with double swiftness, brought
too a calm of satisfaction which made it easier to die; and in the
revulsion which it set up, life once more shrank into the background,
and its little triumphs grew paltry once more. Strange, he half smiled
to himself, that the man who was at last really going to Jenny should
even momentarily care about doing anything else!
Yes, he was going to Jenny! So soon! Soon he would be on the other side
of that wall, soon be travelling that strange highway, on the other side
of light and darkness. In a few more weeks he... _HE?_ Would there still
be _he_ anywhere in the universe?
Jenny! Perhaps there had been no Jenny all these months. Perhaps Jenny
stopped being Jenny forever in that last moment when she had tried to
wish him good-bye. And all his daily consciousness of her presence, all
the fancies of his faithful heart, had been idle as the words of a man
talking in his sleep. Those little offerings he had brought to her
altar,--she had never seen them; for perhaps Jenny had been an idol he
had made out of air, while he had been her lonely and unheeded
Was it really like that? and in a few more weeks would he too be as an
eye that had ceased seeing, an ear that had ceased hearing for evermore?
All the wonderful colour and sound of things! Were these waning days to
be his last poor opportunities to sit at the great show?
Yes! the world was slipping like water between his hands--and he might
not be going to Jenny, after all.
As these thoughts began to possess him, another thought which he had so
far resisted grew more importunately pleading--the thought of Isabel.
Perhaps he was going to Jenny, but surely he was leaving Isabel. Had he,
he could not but ask himself, immolated a warm living heart in a
fanatical devotion to a heart long since senseless and cold? Had it not,
after all, been a superstitious veneration towards an ideal of
faithfulness which had been Jenny's rather than his own? Had he in his
heart ever ceased to love Isabel, and had he really believed that to
love her too would have been unfaithfulness to Jenny?
Yes, life was nearly over, but it held the possibility still of one
supreme blessedness. He might look into Isabel's eyes again.
She had but to stand by his side and his poor remnant of life would grow
radiant and rounded as the most complete and blissful destiny. His heart
told him that if Isabel could but once enter the room again, and stay
with him to the end, however near, he would die singing the song of
Life is tragic, do you say? Life is cruel. Life is a splendid
portico--to nothingness. Ah, no! not if in that portico you have stood
for a moment, loving and beloved, by the side of Isabel. Life is
splendid! life is kind! life is abounding, deep-cupped! and each minute
of it is a prodigal eternity.
Thus it was that one May morning Isabel sat very still in her little
room with a telegram just opened on her lap. The telegram ran: "Jenny is
dead and I am dying. Theophil." And this was the first message Isabel
had received from her lover since they had parted at Coalchester
station eighteen months ago.
She knew nothing of Theophil's wild visit to her room, for the housemaid
had forgotten to mention his call; and the strange and perhaps somewhat
cruel silence could, of course, only mean one thing for her,--that Jenny
had divined their love, and that for Jenny's happiness Theophil had
determined that they must never see each other again.
Yet, even so, it could not have wronged Jenny for him to have sent so
much in written words! Had he ceased loving her?... No, that she could
never believe. They had _met_ too really for that. And, after all, this
silence was no more than their sad marriage-bond. Sad, truly, and a
little tired these months had made Isabel, but they had had no power
over her love. That belonged to the realities; that could never change.
"Jenny is dead, and I am dying," Isabel kept saying over to herself,
divining, with love's intuition, something of Jenny's tragedy, and
something of Theophil's conflict during those silent months.
"Jenny is dead, and I am dying,"--a sad, a tragic message, surely! And
yet, as from the first shock and consequent turmoil of that message, its
real significance slowly evolved, even Isabel was perhaps surprised to
find it rather a happy than an unhappy significance. Jenny was dead, and
Theophil was dying; and yet, when at last she shook herself out of her
reverie, her face was curiously lit with peace.
She presently discovered that there was a train north in two hours; and
then she turned to her desk, and with that business-like carefulness
with which we often act in a dream, she went over its contents, and
methodically transferred its various accumulations to the tiny grate,
which was soon blazing with unwonted summer fire. A little handful of
letters she saved, and from the diminutive locked cupboard in the
centre she took out a small sealed packet, which was to be included
among her luggage.
All trains do not separate. There are also glad trains which bring
together; and soon Isabel was in one of these, and soon it had taken her
to Theophil,--to whose ears at last had come the sound of wonderful
wheels in the dead street, wheels that had stopped beneath his window, a
rustle of alighting, an opening and shutting of doors, an approaching
whisper on the staircase, and then, with reality unutterable--Isabel.
You could hardly have told that Theophil was dying, and the face that
Isabel thus found again was marked by none of the dreadful writing of
death. His eyes were brighter, his brow more hollow, his cheeks
thinner,--that was all; and he was to be of those of whom we have
spoken, whose flame of life burns brightly to the end. No heavy mists of
Lethe hung about his bed. Till his last heartbeat, he was to be
conscious of the nearness of Isabel. For a fortnight he was thus to lie
within sight and touch of her. How good life is! Think of it, a whole
fortnight! How extravagantly blessed!
Isabel was living in the same house with him day after day. She was no
visitor, but went in and out of the room with the step of one who is at
home. If he grew weary and dozed a moment, she would still be sitting
there when he awoke. She was wearing home things. One morning when she
had been busied in the kitchen preparing some little delicacy for him,
she had left her task for a moment to see if he needed anything; and as
she had bent over him, she had worn a household apron,--a wife's apron.
Yes, she was at home, she would never leave him again, never leave
him--till he died.
"Oh, Isabel--to die!" he moaned one night as she sat by his side.
"But think, dear," she answered, with her head turned away, "think of
"Perhaps there _is_ no Jenny."
No Jenny! Isabel's heart gave a little cry. No Jenny! Then there could
be no harm ...
"Theophil," she said, after a silence, "have you forgotten something we
said to each other that day,--something we promised?"
For answer he looked at her with awed and suddenly enlightened eyes.
"Do you mean that?" he asked. "You mustn't mean that."
"Do you think I could care any more for life?" she asked. "Would you?"
"No," he answered simply.
"May I, then?"
His eyes could alone answer. He knew her love too well to affect that
there would be any loss to her in the life she would thus be leaving.
"If Jenny is there, she will understand now."
I can conceive no happier, completer moment than that which followed for
these two, no more unassailable peace. If their lives were to be quite
put out, they would be extinguished together; if they were to begin anew
elsewhere, they would begin anew together; and meanwhile nothing that
could happen could harm them, could rob them of the desire of their
hearts. At the worst, they would attain their best; at the very least,
they would win their most: they would die together.
To end together. It matters not how few or many years love and the
beloved live their days side by side, even though their love be but the
morning and the evening of one divine day, so that there be no bereaved
and lonely to-morrow. The hour that takes one and not the other takes
with it too all the accumulated happiness of all the years. That hour
these two were to escape. Yet was there no need of haste. So long as
they might, they would sit together in the sun of life. For a little
longer they would say, "How wonderful life is!"--for a little longer
make sure of each other.
Your eyes, Isabel! Your hair, Isabel! Your dear mouth, Isabel!
A little longer.
"Shall we go to-night?"
"Not yet...perhaps to-morrow, Isabel."
But Theophil was now very near death, and he might forget if he lingered
on much more. Not wearily, but with music and singing must they pass
through the strange gate of Death.
So at length, one June evening, Isabel made for them one last little
feast,--once more wine and great grapes set out upon a little table at
Theophil's bedside; and on the table, too, was the little sealed packet
Isabel had taken from the cupboard in her desk.
Drawing her chair close up to his pillow, she poured out their wine,
and they drank it and ate the grapes together,--no happier people in
God's strange world.
As the feast neared its end, Isabel rose, and stirring the little fire
into a blaze, turned out the lamps, so that the room was lit only with
the light from the fire. Then she refilled their glasses with wine, and
breaking the seal of the little white packet, took from it a small
bottle of green crystal, the contents of which she mingled with
Then she and Theophil held up their glasses to each other.
"Let us go deeper into the wood," she said softly.
"How wonderful life has been!" said Theophil; and the two drank, with
their eyes firm and sweet upon each other.
Then Isabel sat down again by Theophil's side, and leaning her head
against his on the pillow, she took his hand. And the room became a
heaven of silence.
Whoso would say of these two lives, "How sad!" let him consider the
quality of his own happiness; and whoso would regard the life of
Theophilus Londonderry as a failure, let him, too, consider the value of
his own success.