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THE TRAGIC COMEDIANS
A STUDY IN A WELL-KNOWN STORY
By George Meredith
The word 'fantastical' is accentuated in our tongue to so scornful an
utterance that the constant good service it does would make it seem an
appointed instrument for reviewers of books of imaginative matter
distasteful to those expository pens. Upon examination, claimants to the
epithet will be found outside of books and of poets, in many quarters,
Nature being one of the prominent, if not the foremost. Wherever she can
get to drink her fill of sunlight she pushes forth fantastically. As for
that wandering ship of the drunken pilot, the mutinous crew and the angry
captain, called Human Nature, 'fantastical' fits it no less completely
than a continental baby's skull-cap the stormy infant.
Our sympathies, one may fancy, will be broader, our critical acumen
shrewder, if we at once accept the thing as a part of us and worthy of
The pair of tragic comedians of whom there will be question pass under
this word as under their banner and motto. Their acts are incredible:
they drank sunlight and drove their bark in a manner to eclipse
historical couples upon our planet. Yet they do belong to history,
they breathed the stouter air than fiction's, the last chapter of them
is written in red blood, and the man pouring out that last chapter, was
of a mighty nature not unheroical, a man of the active grappling modern
brain which wrestles with facts, to keep the world alive, and can create
them, to set it spinning.
A Faust-like legend might spring from him: he had a devil. He was the
leader of a host, the hope of a party, venerated by his followers, well
hated by his enemies, respected by the intellectual chiefs of his time,
in the pride of his manhood and his labours when he fell. And why this
man should have come to his end through love, and the woman who loved him
have laid her hand in the hand of the slayer, is the problem we have to
study, nothing inventing, in the spirit and flesh of both. To ask if it
was love is useless. Love may be celestial fire before it enters into
the systems of mortals. It will then take the character of its place of
abode, and we have to look not so much for the pure thing as for the
passion. Did it move them, hurry them, animating the giants and gnomes
of one, the elves and sprites of the other, and putting animal nature out
of its fashionable front rank? The bare railway-line of their story
tells of a passion honest enough to entitle it to be related. Nor is
there anything invented, because an addition of fictitious incidents
could never tell us how she came to do this, he to do that; or how the
comic in their natures led by interplay to the tragic issue. They are
real creatures, exquisitely fantastical, strangely exposed to the world
by a lurid catastrophe, who teach us, that fiction, if it can imagine
events and persons more agreeable to the taste it has educated, can read
us no such furrowing lesson in life.
THE TRAGIC COMEDIANS
An unresisted lady-killer is probably less aware that he roams the
pastures in pursuit of a coquette, than is the diligent Arachne that her
web is for the devouring lion. At an early age Clotilde von Rudiger was
dissatisfied with her conquests, though they were already numerous in her
seventeenth year, for she began precociously, having at her dawn a lively
fancy, a womanly person, and singular attractions of colour, eyes, and
style. She belonged by birth to the small aristocracy of her native
land. Nature had disposed her to coquettry, which is a pastime counting
among the arts of fence, and often innocent, often serviceable, though
sometimes dangerous, in the centres of polished barbarism known as
aristocratic societies, where nature is not absent, but on the contrary
very extravagant, tropical, by reason of her idle hours for the imbibing
of copious draughts of sunlight. The young lady of charming countenance
and sprightly manners is too much besought to choose for her choice to
be decided; the numbers beseeching prevent her from choosing instantly,
after the fashion of holiday schoolboys crowding a buffet of pastry.
These are not coquettish, they clutch what is handy: and little so is
the starved damsel of the sequestered village, whose one object of the
worldly picturesque is the passing curate; her heart is his for a nod.
But to be desired ardently of trooping hosts is an incentive to taste to
try for yourself. Men (the jury of householders empanelled to deliver
verdicts upon the ways of women) can almost understand that. And as it
happens, tasting before you have sounded the sense of your taste will
frequently mislead by a step or two difficult to retrieve: the young
coquette must then be cruel, as necessarily we kick the waters to escape
drowning: and she is not in all cases dealing with simple blocks or limp
festoons, she comes upon veteran tricksters that have a knowledge of her
sex, capable of outfencing her nascent individuality. The more
imagination she has, for a source of strength in the future days, the
more is she a prey to the enemy in her time of ignorance.
Clotilde's younger maiden hours and their love episodes are wrapped in
the mists Diana considerately drops over her adventurous favourites. She
was not under a French mother's rigid supervision. In France the mother
resolves that her daughter shall be guarded from the risks of that
unequal rencounter between foolish innocence and the predatory. Vigilant
foresight is not so much practised where the world is less accurately
comprehended. Young people of Clotilde's upper world everywhere, and the
young women of it especially, are troubled by an idea drawn from what
they inhale and guess at in the spirituous life surrounding them, that
the servants of the devil are the valiant host, this world's elect,
getting and deserving to get the best it can give in return for a little
dashing audacity, a flavour of the Fronde in their conduct; they sin, but
they have the world; and then they repent perhaps, but they have had the
world. The world is the golden apple. Thirst for it is common during
youth: and one would think the French mother worthy of the crown of
wisdom if she were not so scrupulously provident in excluding love from
the calculations on behalf of her girl.
Say (for Diana's mists are impenetrable and freeze curiosity) that
Clotilde was walking with Count Constantine, the brilliant Tartar trained
in Paris, when first she met Prince Marko Romaris, at the Hungarian Baths
on the borders of the Styrian highlands. The scene at all events is
pretty, and weaves a fable out of a variety of floating threads. A
stranger to the Baths, dressed in white and scarlet, sprang from his
carriage into a group of musical gypsies round an inn at the arch of the
chestnut avenue, after pulling up to listen to them for a while. The
music had seized him. He snatched bow and fiddle from one of the ring,
and with a few strokes kindled their faces. Then seating himself, on a
bench he laid the fiddle on his knee, and pinched the strings and flung
up his voice, not ceasing to roll out the spontaneous notes when Clotilde
and her cavalier, and other couples of the party, came nigh; for he was
on the tide of the song, warm in it, and loved it too well to suffer
intruders to break the flow, or to think of them. They were close by
when the last of it rattled (it was a popular song of a fiery tribe) to
its finish: He rose and saluted Clotilde, smiled and jumped back to his
carriage, sending a cry of adieu to the swarthy, lank-locked, leather-
hued circle, of which his dark oriental eyes and skin of burnished walnut
made him look an offshoot, but one of the celestial branch.
He was in her father's reception-room when she reached home: he was
paying a visit of ceremony on behalf of his family to General von
Rudiger; which helped her to remember that he had been expected, and also
that his favourite colours were known to be white and scarlet. In those
very colours, strange to tell, Clotilde was dressed; Prince Marko had
recognized her by miraculous divination, he assured her he could have
staked his life on the guess as he bowed to her. Adieu to Count
Constantine. Fate had interposed the prince opportunely, we have to
suppose, for she received a strong impression of his coming straight from
her invisible guardian; and the stroke was consequently trenchant which
sent the conquering Tartar raving of her fickleness. She struck, like
fate, one blow. She discovered that the prince, in addition to his
beauty and sweet manners and gift of song, was good; she fell in love
with goodness, whereof Count Constantine was not an example: so she set
her face another way, soon discovering that there may be fragility in
goodness. And now first her imagination conceived the hero who was to
subdue her. Could Prince Marko be he, soft as he was, pliable, a docile
infant, burning to please her, enraptured in obeying?--the hero who would
wrestle with her, overcome and hold her bound? Siegfried could not be
dreamed in him, or a Siegfried's baby son-in-arms. She caught a glorious
image of the woman rejecting him and his rival, and it informed her that
she, dissatisfied with an Adonis, and more than a match for a famous
conqueror, was a woman of decisive and independent, perhaps unexampled,
force of character. Her idea of a spiritual superiority that could soar
over those two men, the bad and the good--the bad because of his
vileness, the good because of his frailness--whispered to her of
deserving, possibly of attracting, the best of men: the best, that is, in
the woman's view of us--the strongest, the great eagle of men, lord of
earth and air.
One who will dominate me, she thought.
Now when a young lady of lively intelligence and taking charm has brought
her mind to believe that she possesses force of character, she persuades
the rest of the world easily to agree with her, and so long as her
pretensions are not directly opposed to their habits of thought, her
parents will be the loudest in proclaiming it, fortifying so the maid's
presumption, which is ready to take root in any shadow of subserviency.
Her father was a gouty general of infantry in the diplomatic service,
disinclined to unnecessary disputes, out of consideration for his
vehement irritability when roused. Her mother had been one of the
beauties of her set, and was preserving an attenuated reign, through the
conversational arts, to save herself from fading into the wall. Her
brothers and sisters were not of an age to contest her lead. The temper
of the period was revolutionary in society by reflection of the state of
politics, and juniors were sturdy democrats, letting their elders know
that they had come to their inheritance, while the elders, confused by
the impudent topsy-turvy, put on the gaping mask (not unfamiliar to
history) of the disestablished conservative, whose astounded state
paralyzes his wrath.
Clotilde maintained a decent measure in the liberty she claimed, and it
was exercised in wildness of dialogue rather than in capricious
behaviour. If her flowing tongue was imperfectly controlled, it was
because she discoursed by preference to men upon our various affairs and
tangles, and they encouraged her with the tickled wonder which bids the
bold advance yet farther into bogland. Becoming the renowned original of
her society, wherever it might be, in Germany, Italy, Southern France,
she grew chillily sensible of the solitude decreed for their heritage to
our loftiest souls. Her Indian Bacchus, as a learned professor supplied
Prince Marko's title for her, was a pet, not a companion. She to him was
what she sought for in another. As much as she pitied herself for not
lighting on the predestined man, she pitied him for having met the woman,
so that her tenderness for both inspired many signs of warm affection,
not very unlike the thing it moaned secretly the not being. For she
could not but distinguish a more poignant sorrow in the seeing of the
object we yearn to vainly than in vainly yearning to one unseen.
Dressed, to delight him, in Prince Marko's colours, the care she bestowed
on her dressing was for the one absent, the shrouded comer: so she
pleased the prince to be pleasing to her soul's lord, and this, owing to
an appearance of satisfactory deception that it bore, led to her thinking
guiltily. We may ask it: an eagle is expected, and how is he to declare
his eagleship save by breaking through our mean conventional systems,
tearing links asunder, taking his own in the teeth of vulgar ordinances?
Clotilde's imagination drew on her reading for the knots it tied and
untied, and its ideas of grandeur. Her reading was an interfusion of
philosophy skimmed, and realistic romances deep-sounded. She tried hard,
but could get no other terrible tangle for her hero's exhibition of
flaming azure divineness than the vile one of the wedded woman. Further
thinking of it, she revived and recovered; she despised the complication,
yet without perceiving how else he was to manifest himself legitimately
in a dull modern world. The rescuing her from death would be a poor
imitation of worn-out heroes. His publication of a trumpeting book fell
appallingly flat in her survey. Deeds of gallantry done as an officer in
war (defending his country too) distinguished the soldier, but failed to
add the eagle feather to the man. She had a mind of considerable soaring
scope, and eclectic: it analyzed a Napoleon, and declined the position of
his empress. The man must be a gentleman. Poets, princes, warriors,
potentates, marched before her speculative fancy unselected.
So far, as far as she can be portrayed introductorily, she is not without
exemplars in the sex. Young women have been known to turn from us
altogether, never to turn back, so poor and shrunken, or so fleshly-bulgy
have we all appeared in the fairy jacket they wove for the right one of
us to wear becomingly. But the busy great world was round Clotilde while
she was malleable, though she might be losing her fresh ideas of the
hammer and the block, and that is a world of much solicitation to induce
a vivid girl to merge an ideal in a living image. Supposing, when she
has accomplished it, that men justify her choice, the living will retain
the colours of the ideal. We have it on record that he may seem an
'You talk curiously like Alvan, do you know,' a gentleman of her country
said to her as they were descending the rock of Capri, one day. He said
He belonged to a circle beneath her own: the learned and artistic. She
had not heard of this Alvan, or had forgotten him; but professing
universal knowledge, especially of celebrities, besides having an envious
eye for that particular circle, which can pretend to be the choicest of
all, she was unwilling to betray her ignorance, and she dimpled her
cheek, as one who had often heard the thing said to her before. She
'Who is the man they call Alvan?' She put the question at the first
opportunity to an aunt of hers.
Up went five-fingered hands. This violent natural sign of horror was
comforting: she saw that he was a celebrity indeed.
'Alvan! My dear Clotilde! What on earth can you want to know about a
creature who is the worst of demagogues, a disreputable person, and a
Clotilde remarked that she had asked only who he was. 'Is he clever?'
'He is one of the basest of those wretches who are for upsetting the
Throne and Society to gratify their own wicked passions: that is what he
'But is he clever?'
'Able as Satan himself, they say. He is a really dangerous, bad man.
You could not have been curious about a worse one.'
'Politically, you mean.'
'Of course I do.'
The lady had not thought of any other kind of danger from a man of that
The likening of one to Satan does not always exclude meditation upon him.
Clotilde was anxious to learn in what way her talk resembled Alvan's. He
being that furious creature, she thought of herself at her wildest, which
was in her estimation her best; and consequently, she being by no means a
furious creature, though very original, she could not meditate on him
without softening the outlines given him by report; all because of the
likeness between them; and, therefore, as she had knowingly been taken
for furious by very foolish people, she settled it that Alvan was also a
victim of the prejudices he scorned. It had pleased her at times to
scorn our prejudices and feel the tremendous weight she brought on
herself by the indulgence. She drew on her recollections of the Satanic
in her bosom when so situated, and never having admired herself more
ardently than when wearing that aspect, she would have admired the man
who had won the frightful title in public, except for one thing--he was a
The Jew was to Clotilde as flesh of swine to the Jew. Her parents had
the same abhorrence of Jewry. One of the favourite similes of the family
for whatsoever grunted in grossness, wriggled with meanness, was Jew: and
it was noteworthy from the fact that a streak of the blood was in the
veins of the latest generation and might have been traced on the maternal
Now a meanness that clothes itself in the Satanic to terrify cowards is
the vilest form of impudence venturing at insolence; and an insolent
impudence with Jew features, the Jew nose and lips, is past endurance
repulsive. She dismissed her contemplation of Alvan. Luckily for the
gentleman who had compared her to the Jew politician, she did not meet
him again in Italy.
She had meanwhile formed an idea of the Alvanesque in dialogue; she
summoned her forces to take aim at it, without becoming anything Jewish,
still remaining clean and Christian; and by her astonishing practice of
the art she could at any time blow up a company--scatter mature and
seasoned dames, as had they been balloons on a wind, ay, and give our
stout sex a shaking.
Clotilde rejected another aspirant proposed by her parents, and falling
into disgrace at home, she went to live for some months with an ancient
lady who was her close relative residing in the capital city where the
brain of her race is located. There it occurred that a dashing officer
of social besides military rank, dancing with her at a ball, said, for a
comment on certain boldly independent remarks she had been making: 'I see
you know Alvan.'
Alvan once more.
'Indeed I do not,' she said, for she was addressing an officer high above
Alvan in social rank; and she shrugged, implying that she was almost past
contradiction of the charge.
'Surely you must,' said he; 'where is the lady who could talk and think
as you do without knowing Alvan and sharing his views!'
Clotilde was both startled and nettled.
'But I do not know him at all; I have never met him, never seen him.
I am unlikely to meet the kind of person,' she protested; and she was
amazed yet secretly rejoiced on hearing him, a noble of her own circle,
and a dashing officer, rejoin: 'Come, come, let us be honest. That is
all very well for the little midges floating round us to say of Alvan,
but we two can clasp hands and avow proudly that we both know and love
'Were it true, I would own it at once, but I repeat, that he is a total
stranger to me,' she said, seeing the Jew under quite a different
'You have never met, never seen him, never read any of his writings?'
'Never. I have heard his name, that is all.'
'Then,' the officer's voice was earnest, 'I pity him, and you no less,
while you remain strangers, for you were made for one another. Those
ideas you have expressed, nay, the very words, are Alvan's: I have heard
him use them. He has just the same original views of society and history
as yours; they're identical; your features are not unlike . . . you talk
alike: I could fancy your voice the sister of his. You look incredulous?
You were speaking of Pompeius, and you said "Plutarch's Pompeius," and
more for it is almost incredible under the supposition that you do not
know and have never listened to Alvan--you said that Pompeius appeared to
have been decorated with all the gifts of the Gods to make the greater
sacrifice of him to Caesar, who was not personally worth a pretty woman's
"bite." Come, now--you must believe me: at a supper at Alvan's table the
other night, the talk happened to be of a modern Caesar, which led to the
real one, and from him to "Plutarch's Pompeius," as Alvan called him; and
then he said of him what you have just said, absolutely the same down to
the allusion to the bite. I assure you. And you have numbers of little
phrases in common: you are partners in aphorisms: Barriers are for those
who cannot fly: that is Alvan's. I could multiply them if I could
remember; they struck me as you spoke.'
'I must be a shameless plagiarist,' said Clotilde.
'Or he,' said Count Kollin.
It is here the place of the Chorus to state that these: ideas were in the
air at the time; sparks of the Vulcanic smithy at work in politics and
pervading literature: which both Alvan and Clotilde might catch and give
out as their own, in the honest belief that the epigram was, original to
them. They were not members of a country where literature is confined to
its little paddock, without, influence on the larger field (part lawn,
part marsh) of the social world: they were readers in sympathetic action
with thinkers and literary artists. Their saying in common, 'Plutarch's
Pompeius,' may be traceable to a reading of some professorial article on
the common portrait-painting of the sage of Chaeroneia. The dainty
savageness in the 'bite' Plutarch mentions, evidently struck on a
similarity of tastes in both, as it has done with others. And in regard
to Caesar, Clotilde thought much of Caesar; she had often wished that
Caesar (for the additional pleasure in thinking of him) had been endowed
with the beauty of his rival: one or two of Plutarch's touches upon the
earlier history of Pompeius had netted her fancy, faintly (your
generosity must be equal to hearing it) stung her blood; she liked the
man; and if he had not been beaten in the end, she would have preferred
him femininely. His name was not written Pompey to her, as in English,
to sound absurd: it was a note of grandeur befitting great and lamentable
fortunes, which the young lady declined to share solely because of her
attraction to the victor, her compulsion to render unto the victor the
sunflower's homage. She rendered it as a slave: the splendid man beloved
to ecstasy by the flower of Roman women was her natural choice.
Alvan could not be even a Caesar in person, he was a Jew. Still a Jew
of whom Count Kollin spoke so warmly must be exceptional, and of the
exceptional she dreamed. He might have the head of a Caesar. She
imagined a huge head, the cauldron of a boiling brain, anything but
bright to the eye, like a pot always on the fire, black, greasy,
encrusted, unkempt: the head of a malicious tremendous dwarf. Her hungry
inquiries in a city where Alvan was well known, brought her full
information of one who enjoyed a highly convivial reputation besides the
influence of his political leadership; but no description of his aspect
accompanied it, for where he was nightly to be met somewhere about the
city, none thought of describing him, and she did not push that question
because she had sketched him for herself, and rather wished, the more she
heard of his genius, to keep him repulsive. It appeared that his bravery
was as well proved as his genius, and a brilliant instance of it had been
given in the city not long since. He had her ideas, and he won
multitudes with them: he was a talker, a writer, and an orator; and he
was learned, while she could not pretend either to learning or to a flow
of rhetoric. She could prattle deliciously, at times pointedly, relying
on her intuition to tell her more than we get from books, and on her
sweet impudence for a richer original strain. She began to appreciate
now a reputation for profound acquirements. Learned professors of
jurisprudence and history were as enthusiastic for Alvan in their way as
Count Kollin. She heard things related of Alvan by the underbreath.
That circle below her own, the literary and artistic, idolized him; his
talk, his classic breakfasts and suppers, his undisguised ambition, his
indomitable energy, his dauntlessness and sway over her sex, were
subjects of eulogy all round her; and she heard of an enamoured baroness.
No one blamed Alvan. He had shown his chivalrous valour in defending
her. The baroness was not a young woman, and she was a hardbound Blue.
She had been the first to discover the prodigy, and had pruned,
corrected, and published him; he was one of her political works,
promising to be the most successful. An old affair apparently; but the
association of a woman's name with Alvan's, albeit the name of a veteran,
roused the girl's curiosity, leading her to think his mental and magnetic
powers must be of the very highest, considering his physical
repulsiveness, for a woman of rank to yield him such extreme devotion.
She commissioned her princely serving-man, who had followed and was never
far away from her, to obtain precise intelligence of this notorious
Prince Marko did what he could to please her; he knew something of the
rumours about Alvan and the baroness. But why should his lady trouble
herself for particulars of such people, whom it could scarcely be
supposed she would meet by accident? He asked her this. Clotilde said
it was common curiosity. She read him a short lecture on the dismal
narrowness of their upper world; and on the advantage of taking an
interest in the world below them and more enlightened; a world where
ideas were current and speech was wine. The prince nodded; if she had
these opinions, it must be good for him to have them too, and he shared
them, as it were, by the touch of her hand, and for the length of time
that he touched her hand, as an electrical shock may be taken by one far
removed from the battery, susceptible to it only through the link; he was
capable of thinking all that came to him from her a blessing--shocks,
wounds and disruptions. He did not add largely to her stock of items,
nor did he fetch new colours. The telegraph wire was his model of style.
He was more or less a serviceless Indian Bacchus, standing for sign of
the beauty and vacuity of their world: and how dismally narrow that world
was, she felt with renewed astonishment at every dive out of her gold-
fish pool into the world of tides below; so that she was ready to scorn
the cultivation of the graces, and had, when not submitting to the smell,
fanciful fits of a liking for tobacco smoke--the familiar incense of
those homes where speech was wine.
At last she fell to the asking of herself whether, in the same city with
him, often among his friends, hearing his latest intimate remarks--things
homely redolent of him as hot bread of the oven--she was ever to meet
this man upon whom her thoughts were bent to the eclipse of all others.
She desired to meet him for comparison's sake, and to criticize a popular
hero. It was inconceivable that any one popular could approach her
standard, but she was curious; flame played about him; she had some
expectation of easing a spiteful sentiment created by the recent
subjection of her thoughts to the prodigious little Jew; and some feeling
of closer pity for Prince Marko she had, which urged her to be rid of her
delusion as to the existence of a wonder-working man on our earth, that
she might be sympathetically kind to the prince, perhaps compliant, and
so please her parents, be good and dull, and please everybody, and adieu
to dreams, good night, and so to sleep with the beasts! . . .
Calling one afternoon on a new acquaintance of the flat table-land she
liked tripping down to from her heights, Clotilde found the lady in
supreme toilette, glowing, bubbling: 'Such a breakfast, my dear!' The
costly profusion, the anecdotes, the wit, the fun, the copious draughts
of the choicest of life--was there ever anything to match it? Never in
that lady's recollection, or her husband's either, she exclaimed. And
where was the breakfast? Why, at Alvan's, to be sure; where else could
such a breakfast be?
'And you know Alvan!' cried Clotilde, catching excitement from the lady's
'Alvan is one of my husband's closest friends'
Clotilde put on the playful frenzy; she made show of wringing her hands:
'Oh! happy you! you know Alvan? And everybody is to know him except
me? why? I proclaim it unjust. Because I am unmarried? I'll take a
husband to-morrow morning to be entitled to meet Alvan in the evening.'
The playful frenzy is accepted in its exact innocent signification of
'this is my pretty wilful will and way,' and the lady responded to it
cordially; for it is pleasant to have some one to show, and pleasant to
assist some one eager to see: besides, many had petitioned her for a
sight of Alvan; she was used to the request.
'You're not obliged to wait for to-morrow,' she said. 'Come to one of
our gatherings to-night. Alvan will be here.'
'You invite me?'
'Distinctly. Pray, come. He is sure to be here. We have his promise,
and Alvan never fails. Was it not Frau v. Crestow who did us the favour
of our introduction? She will bring you.'
The Frau v. Crestow was a cousin of Clotilde's by marriage, sentimental,
but strict in her reading of the proprieties. She saw nothing wrong in
undertaking to conduct Clotilde to one of those famous gatherings of the
finer souls of the city and the race; and her husband agreed to join them
after the sitting of the Chamber upon a military-budget vote. The whole
plan was nicely arranged and went well. Clotilde dressed carefully,
letting her gold-locks cloud her fine forehead carelessly, with finishing
touches to the negligence, for she might be challenged to take part in
disputations on serious themes, and a handsome young woman who has to
sustain an argument against a man does wisely when she forearms her
beauties for a reserve, to carry out flanking movements if required. The
object is to beat him.
Her hostess met her at the entrance of the rooms, murmuring that Alvan
was present, and was there: a direction of a nod that any quick-witted
damsel must pretend to think sufficient, so Clotilde slipped from her
companion and gazed into the recess of a doorless inner room, where three
gentlemen stood, backed by book cases, conversing in blue vapours of
tobacco. They were indistinct; she could see that one of them was of
good stature. One she knew; he was the master of the house, mildly
Jewish. The third was distressingly branded with the slum and gutter
signs of the Ahasuerus race. Three hats on his head could not have done
it more effectively. The vindictive caricatures of the God Pan, executed
by priests of the later religion burning to hunt him out of worship in
the semblance of the hairy, hoofy, snouty Evil One, were not more
loathsome. She sank on a sofa. That the man? Oh! Jew, and fifty times
over Jew! nothing but Jew!
The three stepped into the long saloon, and she saw how veritably
magnificent was the first whom she had noticed.
She sat at her lamb's-wool work in the little ivory frame, feeding on the
contrast. This man's face was the born orator's, with the light-giving
eyes, the forward nose, the animated mouth, all stamped for speechfulness
and enterprise, of Cicero's rival in the forum before he took the
headship of armies and marched to empire.
The gifts of speech, enterprise, decision, were marked on his features
and his bearing, but with a fine air of lordly mildness. Alas, he could
not be other than Christian, so glorious was he in build! One could
vision an eagle swooping to his helm by divine election. So vigorously
rich was his blood that the swift emotion running with the theme as he
talked pictured itself in passing and was like the play of sheet
lightning on the variations of the uninterrupted and many-glancing
outpour. Looking on him was listening. Yes, the looking on him
sufficed. Here was an image of the beauty of a new order of godlike men,
that drained an Indian Bacchus of his thin seductions at a breath-reduced
him to the state of nursery plaything, spangles and wax, in the
contemplation of a girl suddenly plunged on the deeps of her womanhood.
She shrank to smaller and smaller as she looked.
Be sure that she knew who he was. No, says she. But she knew. It
terrified her soul to think he was Alvan. She feared scarcely less that
it might not be he. Between these dreads of doubt and belief she played
at cat and mouse with herself, escaped from cat, persecuted mouse, teased
herself, and gloated. It is he! not he! he! not he! most certainly!
impossible!--And then it ran: If he, oh me! If another, woe me! For
she had come to see Alvan. Alvan and she shared ideas. They talked
marvellously alike, so as to startle Count Kollin: and supposing he was
not Alvan, it would be a bitter disappointment. The supposition that he
was, threatened her with instant and life-long bondage.
Then again, could that face be the face of a Jew? She feasted. It was a
noble profile, an ivory skin, most lustrous eyes. Perchance a Jew of the
Spanish branch of the exodus, not the Polish. There is the noble Jew as
well as the bestial Gentile. There is not in the sublimest of Gentiles a
majesty comparable to that of the Jew elect. He may well think his race
favoured of heaven, though heaven chastise them still. The noble Jew is
grave in age, but in his youth he is the arrow to the bow of his fiery
eastern blood, and in his manhood he is--ay, what you see there! a figure
of easy and superb preponderance, whose fire has mounted to inspirit and
be tempered by the intellect.
She was therefore prepared all the while for the surprise of learning
that the gentleman so unlike a Jew was Alvan; and she was prepared to
express her recordation of the circumstance in her diary with phrases of
very eminent surprise. Necessarily it would be the greatest of
The three, this man and his two of the tribe, upon whom Clotilde's
attention centred, with a comparison in her mind too sacred to be other
than profane (comparisons will thrust themselves on minds disordered),
dropped to the cushions of the double-seated sofa, by one side of which
she cowered over her wool-work, willing to dwindle to a pin's head if her
insignificance might enable her to hear the words of the speaker. He
pursued his talk: there was little danger of not hearing him. There was
only the danger of feeling too deeply the spell of his voice. His voice
had the mellow fulness of the clarionet. But for the subject, she could
have fancied a noontide piping of great Pan by the sedges. She had never
heard a continuous monologue so musical, so varied in music, amply
flowing, vivacious, interwovenly the brook, the stream, the torrent: a
perfect natural orchestra in a single instrument. He had notes less
pastorally imageable, notes that fired the blood, with the ranging of his
theme. The subject became clearer to her subjugated wits, until the
mental vivacity he roused on certain impetuous phrases of assertion
caused her pride to waken up and rebel as she took a glance at herself,
remembering that she likewise was a thinker, deemed in her society an
original thinker, an intrepid thinker and talker, not so very much
beneath this man in audacity of brain, it might be. He kindled her thus,
and the close-shut but expanded and knew the fretting desire to breathe
out the secret within it, and be appreciated in turn.
The young flower of her sex burned to speak, to deliver an opinion. She
was unaccustomed to yield a fascinated ear. She was accustomed rather to
dictate and be the victorious performer, and though now she was not
anxious to occupy the pulpit--being too strictly bred to wish for a post
publicly in any of the rostra--and meant still less to dispossess the
present speaker of the place he filled so well, she yearned to join him:
and as that could not be done by a stranger approving, she panted to
dissent. A young lady cannot so well say to an unknown gentleman: 'You
have spoken truly, sir,' as, 'That is false!' for to speak in the former
case would be gratuitous, and in the latter she is excused by the moral
warmth provoking her. Further, dissent rings out finely, and approval is
a feeble murmur--a poor introduction of oneself. Her moral warmth was
ready and waiting for the instigating subject, but of course she was
unconscious of the goad within. Excitement wafted her out of herself, as
we say, or out of the conventional vessel into the waves of her troubled
nature. He had not yet given her an opportunity for dissenting; she was
compelled to agree, dragged at his chariot-wheels in headlong agreement.
His theme was Action; the political advantages of Action; and he
illustrated his view with historical examples, to the credit of the
French, the temporary discredit of the German and English races, who tend
to compromise instead. Of the English he spoke as of a power extinct, a
people 'gone to fat,' who have gained their end in a hoard of gold and
shut the door upon bandit ideas. Action means life to the soul as to the
body. Compromise is virtual death: it is the pact between cowardice and
comfort under the title of expediency. So do we gather dead matter about
us. So are we gradually self-stifled, corrupt. The war with evil in
every form must be incessant; we cannot have peace. Let then our joy be
in war: in uncompromising Action, which need not be the less a sagacious
conduct of the war . . . . Action energizes men's brains, generates
grander capacities, provokes greatness of soul between enemies, and is
the guarantee of positive conquest for the benefit of our species. To
doubt that, is to doubt of good being to be had for the seeking. He drew
pictures of the healthy Rome when turbulent, the doomed quiescent. Rome
struggling grasped the world. Rome stagnant invited Goth and Vandal. So
forth: alliterative antitheses of the accustomed pamphleteer. At last
her chance arrived.
His opposition sketch of Inaction was refreshed by an analysis of the
character of Hamlet. Then he reverted to Hamlet's promising youth.
How brilliantly endowed was the Prince of Denmark in the beginning!
'Mad from the first!' cried Clotilde.
She produced an effect not unlike that of a sudden crack of thunder. The
three made chorus in a noise of boots on the floor.
Her hero faced about and stood up, looking at her fulgently. Their eyes
engaged without wavering on either side. Brave eyes they seemed, each
pair of them, for his were fastened on a comely girl, and she had strung
herself to her gallantest to meet the crisis.
His friends quitted him at a motion of the elbows. He knelt on the sofa,
leaning across it, with clasped hands.
'You are she!--So, then, is a contradiction of me to be the
'After the apparition of Hamlet's father the prince was mad,' said
Clotilde hurriedly, and she gazed for her hostess, a paroxysm of alarm
succeeding that of her boldness.
'Why should we two wait to be introduced?' said he. 'We know one
another. I am Alvan. You are she of whom I heard from Kollin: who else?
Lucretia the gold-haired; the gold-crested serpent, wise as her sire;
Aurora breaking the clouds; in short, Clotilde!'
Her heart exulted to hear him speak her name. She laughed with a radiant
face. His being Alvan, and his knowing her and speaking her name, all
was like the happy reading of a riddle. He came round to her, bowing,
and his hand out. She gave hers: she could have said, if asked, 'For
good!' And it looked as though she had given it for good.
'Hamlet in due season,' said he, as they sat together. 'I shall convince
She shook her head.
'Yes, yes, an opinion formed by a woman is inflexible; I know that: the
fact is not half so stubborn. But at present there are two more
important actors: we are not at Elsinore. You are aware that I hoped to
'Is there a periodical advertisement of your hopes?--or do they come to
us by intuition?'
'Kollin was right!--the ways of the serpent will be serpentine. I knew
we must meet. It is no true day so long as the goddess of the morning
and the sun-god are kept asunder. I speak of myself, by what I have felt
since I heard of you.'
'You are sure of your divinity?'
'Through my belief in yours!'
They bowed smiling at the courtly exchanges.
'And tell me,' said he, 'as to meeting me . . . ?'
She replied: 'When we are so like the rest of the world we may confess
'Unlike! for the world and I meet and part: not we two.'
Clotilde attempted an answer: it would not come. She tried to be
revolted by his lording tone, and found it strangely inoffensive. His
lording presence and the smile that was like a waving feather on it
compelled her so strongly to submit to hear, as to put her in danger of
appearing to embrace this man's rapid advances.
She said: 'I first heed of you at Capri.'
'And I was at Capri seven days after you had left.'
'You knew my name then?'
'Be not too curious with necromancers. Here is the date--March 15th.
You departed on the 8th.'
'I think I did. That is a year from now.'
'Then we missed: now we meet. It is a year lost. A year is a great age!
Reflect on it and what you owe me. How I wished for a comrade at Capri!
Not a "young lady," and certainly no man. The understanding Feminine,
was my desire--a different thing from the feminine understanding,
usually. I wanted my comrade young and fair, necessarily of your sex,
but with heart and brain: an insane request, I fancied, until I heard
that you were the person I wanted. In default of you I paraded the
island with Tiberius, who is my favourite tyrant. We took the initiative
against the patricians, at my suggestion, and the Annals were written by
a plebeian demagogue, instead of by one of that party, whose account of
my extinction by command of the emperor was pathetic. He apologized in
turn for my imperial master and me, saying truly, that the
misunderstanding between us was past cement: for each of us loved the man
but hated his office; and as the man is always more in his office than he
is in himself, clearly it was the lesser portion of our friend that each
of us loved. So, I, as the weaker, had to perish, as he would have done
had I been the stronger; I admitted it, and sent my emperor my respectful
adieux, with directions for the avoiding of assassins. Mademoiselle, by
delaying your departure seven days you would have saved me from death.
You see, the official is the artificial man, and I ought to have known
there is no natural man left in us to weigh against the artificial. I
counted on the emperor's personal affection, forgetting that princes
cannot be our friends.'
'You died bravely?'
Clotilde entered into the extravagance with a happy simulation of zest.
'Simply, we will say. My time had come, and I took no sturdy pose, but
let the life-stream run its course for a less confined embankment.
Sapphire sea, sapphire sky: one believes in life there, thrills with it,
when life is ebbing: ay, as warmly as when life is at the flow in our
sick and shrivelled North--the climate for dried fish! Verily the second
death of hearing that a gold-haired Lucretia had been on the island seven
days earlier, was harder to bear. Tell me frankly--the music in Italy?'
'Amorous and martial, brainless and monotonous.'
'Excellent!' his eyes flashed delightedly. 'O comrade of comrades!
that year lost to me will count heavily as I learn to value those I have
gained. Yes, brainless! There, in music, we beat them, as politically
France beats us. No life without brain! The brainless in Art and in
Statecraft are nothing but a little more obstructive than the dead. It
is less easy to cut a way through them. But it must be done, or the
Philistine will be as the locust in his increase, and devour the green
blades of the earth. You have been trained to shudder at the demagogue?'
'I do not shudder,' said Clotilde.
'A diamond from the lapidary!--Your sentences have many facets. Well,
you are conversing with a demagogue, an avowed one: a demagogue and a
Jew. You take it as a matter of course: you should exhibit some
sparkling incredulity. The Christian is like the politician in supposing
the original obverse of him everlastingly the same, after the pattern of
the monster he was originally taught to hate. But the Jew has been a
little christianized, and we have a little bejewed the Christian. So
with demagogues: as we see the conservative crumbling, we grow
conservatived. Try to think individually upon what you have to learn
collectively--that is your task. You are of the few who will be equal to
it. We are not men of blood, believe me. I am not. For example, I
detest and I decline the duel. I have done it, and proved myself a man
of metal notwithstanding. To say nothing of the inhumanity, the
senselessness of duelling revolts me. 'Tis a folly, so your nobles
practise it, and your royal wiseacre sanctions. No blood for me: and yet
I tell you that whatever opposes me, I will sweep away. How? With the
brain. If we descend to poor brute strength or brutal craft, it is from
failing in the brain: we quit the leadership of our forces, and the
descent is the beast's confession. Do I say how? Perhaps by your aid.--
You do not start and cry: "Mine!" That is well. I have not much esteem
for non-professional actresses. They are numerous and not entertaining.
--You leave it to me to talk.'
'Could I do better?'
'You listen sweetly.'
'It is because I like to hear.'
'You have the pearly little ear of a shell on the sand.'
'With the great sea sounding near it!'
Alvan drew closer to her.
'I look into your eyes and perceive that one may listen to you and speak
to you. Heart to heart, then! Yes, a sea to lull you, a sea to win you
--temperately, let us hope; by storm, if need be. My prize is found!
The good friend who did the part of Iris for us came bounding to me: "I
have discovered the wife for you, Alvan." I had previously heard of her
from another as having touched the islet of Capri. "But," said Kollin,
"she is a gold-crested serpent--slippery!" Is she? That only tells me
of a little more to be mastered. I feel my future now. Hitherto it has
been a land without sunlight. Do you know how the look of sunlight on a
land calms one? It signifies to the eye possession and repose, the end
gained--not the end to labour, just heaven! but peace to the heart's
craving, which is the renewal of strength for work, the fresh dip in the
waters of life. Conjure up your vision of Italy. Remember the meaning
of Italian light and colour: the clearness, the luminous fulness, the
thoughtful shadows. Mountain and wooded headland are solid, deep to the
eye, spirit-speaking to the mind. They throb. You carve shapes of Gods
out of that sky, the sea, those peaks. They live with you. How they
satiate the vacant soul by influx, and draw forth the troubled from its
prickly nest!--Well, and you are my sunlighted land. And you will have
to be fought for. And I see not the less repose in the prospect! Part
of you may be shifty-sand. The sands are famous for their golden
shining--as you shine. Well, then, we must make the quicksands concrete.
I have a perfect faith in you, and in the winning of you. Clearly you
will have to be fought for. I should imagine it a tough battle to come.
But as I doubt neither you nor myself, I see beyond it.--We use phrases
in common, and aphorisms, it appears. Why? but that our minds act in
unison. What if I were to make a comparison of you with Paris?--the city
of Paris, Lutetia.'
'Could you make it good?' said Clotilde.
He laughed and postponed it for a series of skimming discussions, like
swallow-flights from the nest beneath the eaves to the surface of the
stream, perpetually reverting to her, and provoking spirited replies,
leading her to fly with him in expectation of a crowning compliment that
must be singular and was evidently gathering confirmation in his mind
from the touchings and probings of her character on these flights.
She was like a lady danced off her sense of fixity, to whom the
appearance of her whirling figure in the mirror is both wonderful and
reassuring; and she liked to be discussed, to be compared to anything,
for the sake of being the subject, so as to be sure it was she that
listened to a man who was a stranger, claiming her for his own; sure it
was she that by not breaking from him implied consent, she that went
speeding in this magical rapid round which slung her more and more out of
her actual into her imagined self, compelled her to proceed, denied her
the right to faint and call upon the world for aid, and catch at it,
though it was close by and at a signal would stop the terrible circling.
The world was close by and had begun to stare. She half apprehended that
fact, but she was in the presence of the irresistible. In the presence
of the irresistible the conventional is a crazy structure swept away with
very little creaking of its timbers on the flood. When we feel its power
we are immediately primitive creatures, flying anywhere in space,
indifferent to nakedness. And after trimming ourselves for it, the sage
asks your permission to add, it will be the thing we are most certain
some day to feel. Had not she trimmed herself?--so much that she had won
fame for an originality mistaken by her for the independent mind, and
perilously, for courage. She had trimmed herself and Alvan too--herself
to meet it, and Alvan to be it. Her famous originality was a trumpet
blown abroad proclaiming her the prize of the man who sounded as loudly
his esteem for the quality--in a fair young woman of good breeding. Each
had evoked the other. Their common anticipations differed in this, that
he had expected comeliness, she the reverse--an Esau of the cities; and
seeing superb manly beauty in the place of the thick-featured sodden
satyr of her miscreating fancy, the irresistible was revealed to her on
its divinest whirlwind.
They both desired beauty; they had each stipulated for beauty before
captivity could be acknowledged; and he beholding her very attractive
comeliness, walked into the net, deeming the same a light thing to wear,
and rather a finishing grace to his armoury; but she, a trained disciple
of the conventional in social behaviour (as to the serious points and the
extremer trifles), fluttered exceedingly; she knew not what she was
doing, where her hand was, how she looked at him, how she drank in his
looks on her. Her woman's eyes had no guard they had scarcely
speculation. She saw nothing in its passing, but everything backward,
under haphazard flashes. The sight of her hand disengaged told her it
had been detained; a glance at the company reminded her that those were
men and women who had been other than phantoms; recollections of the
words she listened to, assented to, replied to, displayed the gulfs she
had crossed. And nevertheless her brain was as quick as his to press
forward to pluck the themes which would demonstrate her mental vividness
and at least indicate her force of character. The splendour of the man
quite extinguished, or over-brightened, her sense of personal charm; she
set fire to her brain to shine intellectually, treating the tale of her
fair face as a childish tale that might have a grain of truth in it, some
truth, a very little, and that little nearly worthless, merely womanly,
a poor charm of her sex. The intellectual endowment was rarer: still
rarer the moral audacity. O, to match this man's embracing
discursiveness! his ardour, his complacent energy, the full strong sound
he brought out of all subjects! He struck, and they rang. There was a
bell in everything for him; Nature gave out her cry, and significance was
on all sides of the universe; no dead stuff, no longer any afflicting
lumpishness. His brain was vivifying light. And how humane he was! how
supremely tolerant! Where she had really thought instead of flippantly
tapping at the doors of thought, or crying vagrantly for an echo, his
firm footing in the region thrilled her; and where she had felt deeper
than fancifully, his wise tenderness overwhelmed. Strange to consider:
with all his precious gifts, which must make the gift of life thrice dear
to him, he was fearless. Less by what he said than by divination she
discerned that he knew not fear. If for only that, she would have hung
to him like his shadow. She could have detected a brazen pretender.
A meaner mortal vaunting his great stores she would have written down
coxcomb. Her social training and natural perception raised her to a
height to measure the bombastical and distinguish it from the eloquently
lofty. He spoke of himself, as the towering Alp speaks out at a first
view, bidding that which he was be known. Fearless, confident, able, he
could not but be, as he believed himself, indomitable. She who was this
man's mate would consequently wed his possessions, including courage.
Clotilde at once reached the conclusion of her having it in an equal
degree. Was she not displaying it? The worthy people of the company
stared, as she now perceived, and she was indifferent; her relatives were
present without disturbing her exaltation. She wheeled above their heads
in the fiery chariot beside her sun-god. It could not but be courage,
active courage, superior to her previous tentative steps--the verbal
temerities she had supposed so dauntless. For now she was in action, now
she was being tried to match the preacher and incarnation of the virtues
Alvan shaped a comparison of her with Paris, his beloved of cities--the
symbolized goddess of the lightning brain that is quick to conceive,
eager to realize ideas, impassioned for her hero, but ever putting him to
proof, graceful beyond all rhyme, colloquial as never the Muse; light in
light hands, yet valiant unto death for a principle; and therefore not
light, anything but light in strong hands, very stedfast rather: and oh!
The comparison had to be strained to fit the living lady's shape. Did he
think it, or a dash of something like it?
His mood was luxurious. He had found the fair and youthful original
woman of refinement and station desired by him. He had good reason to
wish to find her. Having won a name, standing on firm ground, with
promise of a great career, chief of what was then taken for a growing
party and is not yet a collapsed, nor will be, though the foot on it is
iron, his youth had flown under the tutelage of an extraordinary Mentor,
whom to call Athene robs the goddess of her personal repute for wisdom in
conduct, but whose head was wise, wise as it was now grey. Verily she
was original; and a grey original should seem remarkable above a blooming
blonde. If originality in woman were our prime request, the grey should
bear the palm. She has gone through the battle, retaining the standard
she carried into it, which is a victory. Alas, that grey, so spirit-
touching in Art, should be so wintry in reality!
The discovery of a feminine original breathing Spring, softer, warmer
than the ancient one, gold instead of snowcrested, and fully as intrepid
as devoted, was an immense joy to Alvan. He took it luxuriously because
he believed in his fortune, a kind of natal star, the common heritage of
the adventurous, that brought him his good things in time, in return for
energetic strivings in a higher direction apart from his natural
Fortune had delayed, he had wintered long. All the sweeter was the
breath of the young Spring. That exquisite new sweetness robed Clotilde
in the attributes of the person dreamed of for his mate; and deductively
assuming her to possess them, he could not doubt his power of winning
her. Barriers are for those who cannot fly. The barriers were palpable
about a girl of noble Christian birth: so was the courage in her which
would give her wings, he thought, coming to that judgement through the
mixture of his knowledge of himself and his perusal of her exterior.
He saw that she could take an impression deeply enough to express it
sincerely, and he counted on it, sympathetically endowing her with his
courage to support the originality she was famed for.
They were interrupted between-whiles by weariful men running to Alvan for
counsel on various matters--how to play their game, or the exact phrasing
of some pregnant sentence current in politics or literature. He
satisfied them severally and shouldered them away, begging for peace
that night. Clotilde corroborated his accurate recital of the lines of
a contested verse of the incomparable Heinrich, and they fell to capping
verses of the poet-lucid metheglin, with here and there no dubious
flavour of acid, and a lively sting in the tail of the honey. Sentiment,
cynicism, and satin impropriety and scabrous, are among those verses,
where pure poetry has a recognized voice; but the lower elements
constitute the popularity in a cultivated society inclining to wantonness
out of bravado as well as by taste. Alvan, looking indolently royal and
royally roguish, quoted a verse that speaks of the superfluousness of a
faithless lady's vowing bite:
'The kisses were in the course of things,
The bite was a needless addition.'
Clotilde could not repress her reddening--Count Kollin had repeated too
much! She dropped her eyes, with a face of sculpture, then resumed their
chatter. He spared her the allusion to Pompeius. She convinced him of
her capacity for reserve besides intrepidity, and flattered him too with
her blush. She could dare to say to Kollin what her scarlet sensibility
forbade her touching on with him: not that she would not have had an airy
latitude with him to touch on what she pleased: he liked her for her
boldness and the cold peeping of the senses displayed in it: he liked
also the distinction she made.
The cry to supper conduced to a further insight of her adaptation to his
requirements in a wife. They marched to the table together, and sat
together, and drank a noble Rhine wine together--true Rauenthal. His
robustness of body and soul inspired the wish that his well-born wife
might be, in her dainty fashion, yet honestly and without mincing, his
possible boonfellow: he and she, glass in hand, thanking the bountiful
heavens, blessing mankind in chorus. It belonged to his hearty dream of
the wife he would choose, were she to be had. The position of
interpreter of heaven's benevolence to mankind through his own enjoyment
of the gifts, was one that he sagaciously demanded for himself, sharing
it with the Philistine unknowingly; and to have a wife no less wise than
he on this throne of existence was a rosy exaltation. Clotilde kindled
to the hint of his festival mood of Solomon at the banquet. She was not
devoid of a discernment of flavours; she had heard grave judges at her
father's board profoundly deliver their verdicts upon this and that
vineyard and vintage; and it is a note of patriotism in her country to be
enthusiastic for wine of the Rhine: she was, moreover, thirsty from much
talking and excitement. She drank her glass relishingly, declaring the
wine princely. Alvan smacked his hands in a rapture: 'You are not for
the extract of raisin our people have taken to copy from French
Sauternes, to suit a female predilection for sugar?'
'No, no, the grape for me!' said she: 'the Rhine grape with the elf in
it, and the silver harp and the stained legend!'
He toasted the grape. 'Wine of the grape is the young bride--the young
sun-bride! divine, and never too sweet, never cloying like the withered
sun-dried, with its one drop of concentrated sugar, that becomes ten of
gout. No raisin-juice for us! None of their too-long-on-the-stem
clusters! We are for the blood of the grape in her youth, her heaven-
kissing ardour. I have a cellar charged with the bravest of the Rhine.
We--will we not assail it, bleed it in the gallant days to come? we two!'
The picture of his bride and him drinking the sun down after a day of
savage toil was in the shout--a burst unnoticed in the incessantly
verbalizing buzz of a continental supper-table. Clotilde acquiesced:
she chimed to it like a fair boonfellow of the rollicking faun. She was
They retired to the divan-corner where it was you-and-I between them as
with rivulets meeting and branching, running parallel, uniting and
branching again, divided by the theme, but unending in the flow of the
harmony. So ran their chirping arguments and diversions. The carrying
on of a prolonged and determined you-and-I in company intimates to those
undetermined floating atoms about us that a certain sacred something is
in process of formation, or has formed; and people looked; and looked
hard at the pair, and at one another afterward: none approached them.
The Signor conjuror who has a thousand arts for conjuring with nature was
generally considered to have done that night his most ancient and
reputedly fabulous trick--the dream of poets, rarely witnessed anywhere,
and almost too wonderful for credence in a haunt of our later
civilization. Yet there it was: the sudden revelation of the intense
divinity to a couple fused in oneness by his apparition, could be
perceived of all having man and woman in them; love at first sight, was
visible. 'Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?' And if nature,
character, circumstance, and a maid clever at dressing her mistress's
golden hair, did prepare them for Love's lightning-match, not the less
were they proclaimingly alight and in full blaze. Likewise, Time,
imperious old gentleman though we know him to be, with his fussy
reiterations concerning the hour for bed and sleep, bowed to the magical
fact of their condition, and forbore to warn them of his passing from
night to day. He had to go, he must, he has to be always going, but as
long as he could he left them on their bank by the margin of the stream,
where a shadow-cycle of the eternal wound a circle for them and allowed
them to imagine they had thrust that old driver of the dusty high-road
quietly out of the way. They were ungrateful, of course, when the
performance of his duties necessitated his pulling them up beside him
pretty smartly, but he uttered no prophecy of ever intending to rob them
of the celestial moments they had cut from him and meant to keep between
them 'for ever,' and fresh.
The hour was close on the dawn of a March morning. Alvan assisted at the
cloaking and hooding of Clotilde. Her relatives were at hand; they hung
by while he led her to the stairs and down into a spacious moonlight that
laid the traceries of the bare tree-twigs clear-black on grass and stone.
'A night to head the Spring!' said Alvan. 'Come.'
He lifted her off the steps and set her on the ground, as one who had an
established right to the privilege and she did not contest it, nor did
her people, so kingly was he, arrayed in the thunder of the bolt which
had struck the pair. These things, and many things that islands know not
of, are done upon continents, where perhaps traditions of the awfulness
of Love remain more potent in society; or it may be, that an island
atmosphere dispossesses the bolt of its promptitude to strike, or the
breastplates of the islanders are strengthened to resist the bolt, or no
tropical heat is there to create and launch it, or nothing is to be seen
of it for the haziness, or else giants do not walk there. But even where
he walked, amid a society intellectually fostering sentiment, in a land
bowing to see the simplicity of the mystery paraded, Alvan's behaviour
was passing heteroclite. He needed to be the kingly fellow he was,
crowned by another kingly fellow--the lord of hearts--to impose it
uninterruptedly. 'She is mine; I have won her this night!' his bearing
said; and Clotilde's acquiesced; and the worthy couple following them had
to exhibit a copy of the same, much wondering. Partly by habit, and of
his natural astuteness, Alvan peremptorily usurped a lead that once taken
could not easily be challenged, and would roll him on a good tideway
strong in his own passion and his lady's up against the last defences--
her parents. A difficulty with them was foreseen. What is a difficulty!
--a gate in the hunting-field: an opponent on a platform: a knot beneath
a sword: the dam to waters that draw from the heavens. Not desiring it
in this case--it would have been to love the difficulty better than the
woman--he still enjoyed the bracing prospect of a resistance, if only
because it was a portion of the dowry she brought him. Good soldiers
(who have won their grades) are often of a peaceful temper and would not
raise an invocation to war, but a view of the enemy sets their pugnacious
forces in motion, the bugle fills their veins with electrical fire, till
they are as racers on the race-course.--His inmost hearty devil was glad
of a combat that pertained to his possession of her, for battle gives the
savour of the passion to win, and victory dignifies a prize: he was,
however, resolved to have it, if possible, according to the regular
arrangement of such encounters, formal, without snatchings, without rash
violence; a victory won by personal ascendancy, reasoning eloquence.
He laughed to hear her say, in answer to a question as to her present
feelings: 'I feel that I am carried away by a centaur!' The comparison
had been used or implied to him before.
'No!' said he, responding to a host of memories, to shake them off, 'no
more of the quadruped man! You tempt him--may I tell you that? Why,
now, this moment, at the snap of my fingers, what is to hinder our taking
the short cut to happiness, centaur and nymph? One leap and a gallop,
and we should be into the morning, leaving night to grope for us, parents
and friends to run about for the wits they lose in running. But no! No
more scandals. That silver moon invites us by its very spell of bright
serenity, to be mad: just as, when you drink of a reverie, the more
prolonged it is the greater the readiness for wild delirium at the end of
the draught. But no!' his voice deepened--'the handsome face of the orb
that lights us would be well enough were it only a gallop between us two.
Dearest, the orb that lights us two for a lifetime must be taken all
round, and I have been on the wrong side of the moon
I have seen the other face of it--a visage scored with regrets, dead
dreams, burnt passions, bald illusions, and the like, the like!--sunless,
waterless, without a flower! It is the old volcano land: it grows one
bitter herb: if ever you see my mouth distorted you will know I am
revolving a taste of it; and as I need the antidote you give, I will not
be the centaur to win you, for that is the land where he stables himself;
yes, there he ends his course, and that is the herb he finishes by
pasturing on. You have no dislike of metaphors and parables? We Jews
are a parable people.'
'I am sure I do understand . . .' said Clotilde, catching her breath to
be conscientious, lest he should ask her for an elucidation.
'Provided always that the metaphor be not like the metaphysician's
treatise on Nature: a torch to see the sunrise!--You were going to add?'
'I was going to say, I think I understand, but you run away with me
'May the sensation never quit you!'
'It will not.'
'What a night !' Alvan raised his head: 'A night cast for our first
meeting and betrothing! You are near home?'
'The third house yonder in the moonlight.'
'The moonlight lays a white hand on it!'
'That is my window sparkling.'
'That is the vestal's cresset. Shall I blow it out?'
'You are too far. And it is a celestial flame, sir!'
'Celestial in truth! My hope of heaven! Dian's crescent will be ever on
that house for me, Clotilde. I would it were leagues distant, or the
door not forbidden!'
'I could minister to a good knight humbly.'
Alvan bent to her, on a sudden prompting:
'When do father and mother arrive?'
He took her hand. 'To-morrow, then! The worst of omens is delay.'
Clotilde faintly gasped. Could he mean it?--he of so evil a name in her
family and circle!
Her playfulness and pleasure in the game of courtliness forsook her.
'Tell me the hour when it will be most convenient to them to receive me,'
She stopped walking in sheer fright.
'My father--my mother?' she said, imaging within her the varied horror of
each and the commotion.
'To-morrow or the day after--not later. No delays! You are mine, we are
one; and the sooner my cause is pleaded the better for us both. If I
could step in and see them this instant, it would be forestalling
mischances. Do you not see, that time is due to us, and the minutes are
our gold slipping away?'
She shrank her hand back: she did not wish to withdraw the hand, only to
shun the pledge it signified. He opened an abyss at her feet, and in
deadly alarm of him she exclaimed: 'Oh! not yet; not immediately.' She
trembled, she made her petition dismal by her anguish of speechlessness.
'There will be such . . . not yet! Perhaps later. They must not be
troubled yet--at present. I am . . . I cannot--pray, delay!'
'But you are mine!' said Alvan. 'You feel it as I do. There can be no
She gave an empty sigh that sought to be a run of entreaties. In fear
of his tongue she caught at words to baffle it, senseless of their
imbecility: 'Do not insist: yes, in time: they will--they--they may.
My father is not very well . . . my mother: she is not very well.
They are neither of them very well: not at present!--Spare them at
To avoid being carried away, she flung herself from the centaur's back
to the disenchanting earth; she separated herself from him in spirit,
and beheld him as her father and mother and her circle would look on this
pretender to her hand, with his lordly air, his Jew blood, and his
hissing reputation--for it was a reputation that stirred the snakes and
the geese of the world. She saw him in their eyes, quite coldly: which
imaginative capacity was one of the remarkable feats of cowardice, active
and cold of brain even while the heart is active and would be warm.
He read something of her weakness. 'And supposing I decide that it must
'How can I supplicate you!' she replied with a shiver, feeling that she
had lost her chance of slipping from his grasp, as trained women of the
world, or very sprightly young wits know how to do at the critical
moment: and she had lost it by being too sincere. Her cowardice appeared
to her under that aspect.
'Now I perceive that the task is harder,' said Alvan, seeing her huddled
in a real dismay. 'Why will you not rise to my level and fear nothing!
The way is clear: we have only to take the step. Have you not seen
tonight that we are fated for one another? It is your destiny, and
trifling with destiny is a dark business. Look at me. Do you doubt my
having absolute control of myself to bear whatever they put on me to
bear, and hold firmly to my will to overcome them! Oh! no delays.'
'Yes!' she cried; 'yes, there must be.'
'You say it?'
The courage to repeat her cry was wanting.
She trembled visibly: she could more readily have bidden him bear her
hence than have named a day for the interview with her parents; but
desperately she feared that he would be the one to bid; and he had this
of the character of destiny about him, that she felt in him a maker of
facts. He was her dream in human shape, her eagle of men, and she felt
like a lamb in the air; she had no resistance, only terror of his power,
and a crushing new view of the nature of reality.
'I see!' said he, and his breast fell. Her timid inability to join with
him for instant action reminded him that he carried many weights: a bad
name among her people and class, and chains in private. He was old
enough to strangle his impulses, if necessary, or any of the brood less
fiery than the junction of his passions. 'Well, well!--but we might so
soon have broken through the hedge into the broad highroad! It is but to
determine to do it--to take the bold short path instead of the wearisome
circuit. Just a little lightning in the brain and tightening of the
heart. Battles are won in that way: not by tender girls! and she is a
girl, and the task is too much for her. So, then, we are in your hands,
child! Adieu, and let the gold-crested serpent glide to her bed, and
sleep, dream, and wake, and ask herself in the morning whether she is not
a wedded soul. Is she not a serpent? gold-crested, all the world may
see; and with a mortal bite, I know. I have had the bite before the
kisses. That is rather an unjust reversal of the order of things.
Apropos, Hamlet was poisoned--ghost-poisoned.'
'Mad, he was mad!' said Clotilde, recovering and smiling.
'He was born bilious; he partook of the father's constitution, not the
mother's. High-thoughted, quick-nerved to follow the thought,
reflective, if an interval yawned between his hand and the act, he was by
nature two-minded: as full of conscience as a nursing mother that sleeps
beside her infant:--she hears the silent beginning of a cry. Before the
ghost walked he was an elementary hero; one puff of action would have
whiffed away his melancholy. After it, he was a dizzy moralizer, waiting
for the winds to blow him to his deed-ox out. The apparition of his
father to him poisoned a sluggish run of blood, and that venom in the
blood distracted a head steeped in Wittenberg philosophy. With
metaphysics in one and poison in the other, with the outer world opened
on him and this world stirred to confusion, he wore the semblance of
madness; he was throughout sane; sick, but never with his reason
'Nothing but madness excuses his conduct to Ophelia!'
'Poison in the blood is a pretty good apology for infidelity to a lady.'
'Well, to an Ophelia of fifty?' said Alvan.
Clotilde laughed, not perfectly assured of the wherefore, but pleased to
be able to laugh. Her friends were standing at the house door, farewells
were spoken, Alvan had gone. And then she thought of the person that
Ophelia of fifty might be, who would have to find a good apology for him
in his dose of snake-bite, or love of a younger woman whom he termed
He was a lover, surely a lover: he slid off to some chance bit of
likeness to himself in every subject he discussed with her.
And she? She speeded recklessly on the back of the centaur when he had
returned to the state of phantom and the realities he threatened her with
were no longer imminent.
Clotilde was of the order of the erring who should by rights have a short
sermon to preface an exposure of them, administering the whip to her own
sex and to ours, lest we scorn too much to take an interest in her. The
exposure she had done for herself, and she has not had the art to frame
her apology. The day after her meeting, with her eagle, Alvan, she saw
Prince Marko. She was gentle to him, in anticipation of his grief; she
could hardly be ungentle on account of his obsequious beauty, and when
her soft eyes and voice had thrilled him to an acute sensibility to the
blow, honourably she inflicted it.
'Marko, my friend, you know that I cannot be false; then let me tell you
I yesterday met the man who has but to lift his hand and I go to him, and
he may lead me whither he will.'
The burning eyes of her Indian Bacchus fixed on her till their brightness
moistened and flashed.
Whatever was for her happiness he bowed his head to, he said. He knew
Her duty was thus performed; she had plighted herself. For the first few
days she was in dread of meeting, seeing, or hearing of Alvan. She
feared the mention of a name that rolled the world so swiftly. Her
parents had postponed their coming, she had no reason for instant alarm;
it was his violent earnestness, his imperial self-confidence that she
feared, as nervous people shrink from cannon: and neither meeting,
seeing, nor hearing of him, she began to yearn, like the child whose
curiosity is refreshed by a desire to try again the startling thing which
frightened it. Her yearning grew, the illusion of her courage flooded
back; she hoped he would present himself to claim her, marvelled that he
did not, reproached him; she could almost have scorned him for listening
to the hesitations of the despicable girl so little resembling what she
really was--a poor untried girl, anxious only on behalf of her family to
spare them a sudden shock. Remembering her generous considerations in
their interests, she thought he should have known that the creature he
called a child would have yielded upon supplication to fly with him.
Her considerateness for him too, it struck her next, was the cause of
her seeming cowardly, and the man ought to have perceived it and put it
aside. He should have seen that she could be brave, and was a mate for
him. And if his shallow experience of her wrote her down nerveless, his
love should be doing.
Was it love? Her restoration to the belief in her possessing a decided
will whispered of high achievements she could do in proof of love, had
she the freedom of a man. She would not have listened (it was quite
true) to a silly supplicating girl; she would not have allowed an
interval to yawn after the first wild wooing of her. Prince Marko loved.
Yes, that was love! It failed in no sign of the passion. She set
herself to study it in Marko, and was moved by many sentiments, numbering
among them pity, thankfulness, and the shiver of a feeling between
admiration and pathetic esteem, like that the musician has for a precious
instrument giving sweet sound when shattered. He served her faithfully,
in spite of his distaste for some of his lady's commissions. She had to
get her news of Alvan through Marko. He brought her particulars of the
old trial of Alvan, and Alvan's oration in defence of himself for a
lawless act of devotion to the baroness; nothing less than the
successfully scheming to wrest by force from that lady's enemy a document
precious to her lawful interests. It was one of those cases which have a
really high gallant side as well as a bad; an excellent case for
rhetoric. Marko supplied the world's opinion of the affair, bravely
owning it to be not unfavourable. Her worthy relatives, the Frau v.
Crestow and husband, had very properly furnished a report to the family
of the memorable evening; and the hubbub over it, with the epithets
applied to Alvan, intimated how he would have been received on a visit
to demand her in marriage. There was no chance of her being allowed to
enter houses where this 'rageing demagogue and popular buffoon' was a
guest; his name was banished from her hearing, so she was compelled to
have recourse to Marko. Unable to take such services without rewarding
him, she fondled: it pained her to see him suffer. Those who toss crumbs
to their domestic favourites will now and then be moved to toss meat,
which is not so good for them, but the dumb mendicant's delight in it is
winning, and a little cannot hurt. Besides, if any one had a claim on
her it was the prince; and as he was always adoring, never importunate,
he restored her to the pedestal she had been really rudely shaken from by
that other who had caught her up suddenly into the air, and dropped her!
A hand abandoned to her slave rewarded him immeasurably. A heightening
of the reward almost took his life. In the peacefulness of dealing with
a submissive love that made her queenly, the royal, which plucked her
from throne to footstool, seemed predatory and insolent. Thus, after
that scene of 'first love,' in which she had been actress, she became
almost (with an inward thrill or two for the recovering of him)
reconciled to the not seeing of the noble actor; for nothing could erase
the scene--it was historic; and Alvan would always be thought of as a
delicious electricity. She and Marko were together on the summer
excursion of her people, and quite sisterly, she could say, in her
delicate scorn of his advantages and her emotions. True gentlemen are
imperfectly valued when they are under the shadow of giants; but still
Clotilde's experience of a giant's manners was favourable to the liberty
she could enjoy in a sisterly intimacy of this kind, rather warmer than
her word for it would imply. She owned that she could better live the
poetic life--that is, trifle with fire and reflect on its charms in the
society of Marko. He was very young, he was little more than an
adolescent, and safely timid; a turn of her fingers would string or
slacken him. One could play on him securely, thinking of a distant day
--and some shipwreck of herself for an interlude--when he might be made
Her strangest mood of the tender cruelty was when the passion to
anatomize him beset her. The ground of it was, that she found him in her
likeness, adoring as she adored, and a similar loftiness; now grovelling,
now soaring; the most radiant of beings, the most abject; and the
pleasure she had of the sensational comparison was in an alteregoistic
home she found in him, that allowed of her gathering a picked self-
knowledge, and of her saying: 'That is like me: that is very like me:
that is terribly like': up to the point where the comparison wooed her no
longer with an agreeable lure of affinity, but nipped her so shrewdly as
to force her to say: 'That is he, not I': and the vivisected youth
received the caress which quickened him to wholeness at a touch. It was
given with impulsive tenderness, in pity of him. Anatomy is the title
for the operation, because the probing of herself in another, with the
liberty to cease probing as soon as it hurt her, allowed her while unhurt
to feel that she prosecuted her researches in a dead body. The moment
her strong susceptibility to the likeness shrank under a stroke of pain,
she abstained from carving, and simultaneously conscious that he lived,
she was kind to him.
'This love of yours, Marko--is it so deep?'
'I love you.'
'You think me the highest and best?'
'So deep that you could bear anything from me?'
'You would be you!'
'Do you not say that because you cannot suspect evil of me?'
'Let me only see you!'
'You are sure that happiness would not smother it?'
'Has it done so yet?'
'Though you know I am a serpent to that man's music?'
'Ah, heaven! Oh!--do not say music. Yes! though anything!'
'And if ever you were to witness the power of his just breathing to me?'
'I would . . . . Ah!'
' What? If you saw his music working the spell?--even the first notes of
'I would wait'
'It might be for long.'
'I would eat my heart.'
'I would wait till he flung you off, and kneel to you.'
She had a seizure of the nerves.
The likeness between them was, she felt, too flamingly keen to be looked
at further. She reached to the dim idea of some such nauseous devotion,
and took a shot in her breast as she did so, and abjured it, and softened
to her victim. Clotilde opened her arms, charming away her wound, as she
soothed him, both by the act of soothing and the reflection that she
could not be so very like one whom she pitied and consoled.
She was charitably tender. If it be thought that she was cruel to
excess, plead for her the temptation to simple human nature at sight of a
youth who could be precipitated into the writhings of dissolution, and
raised out of it by a smile. This young man's responsive spirit acted on
her as the discovery of specifics for restoring soundness to the frame
excites the brilliant empiric: he would slay us with benevolent soul to
show the miracle of our revival. Worship provokes the mortal goddess to
a manifestation of her powers; and really the devotee is full half to
She had latterly been thinking of Alvan's rejection of the part of
centaur; and his phrase, the quadruped man, breathed meaning. He was to
gain her lawfully after dominating her utterly. That was right, but it
levelled imagination. There is in the sentimental kingdom of Love a form
of reasoning, by which a lady of romantic notions who is dominated
utterly, will ask herself why she should be gained lawfully: and she is
moved to do so by the consideration that if the latter, no necessity can
exist for the former: and the reverse. In the union of the two
conditions she sees herself slavishly domesticated. With her Indian
Bacchus imagination rose, for he was pliant: she had only to fancy, and
he was beside her.--Quick to the saddle, away! The forest of terrors is
ahead; they are at the verge of it; a last hamlet perches on its borders;
the dwellers have haunted faces; the timbers of their huts lean to an
upright in wry splinters; warnings are moaned by men and women with the
voice of a night-wind; but on and on! the forest cannot be worse than a
world defied. They drain a cup of milk apiece and they spur, for this is
the way to the golden Indian land of the planted vine and the lover's
godship.--Ludicrous! There is no getting farther than the cup of milk
with Marko. They curvet and caper to be forward unavailingly. It should
be Alvan to bring her through the forest to the planted vine in sunland.
Her splendid prose Alvan could do what the sprig of poetry can but
suggest. Never would malicious fairy in old woman's form have offered
Alvan a cup of milk to paralyze his bride's imagination of him
confronting perils. Yet, O shameful contrariety of the fates! he who
could, will not; he who would, is incapable. Let it not be supposed that
the desire of her bosom was to be run away with in person. Her simple
human nature wished for the hero to lift her insensibly over the
difficult opening chapter of the romance--through 'the forest,' or half
imagined: that done, she felt bold enough to meet the unimagined, which,
as there was no picture of it to terrify her, seemed an easy gallop into
sunland.--Yes, but in the grasp of a great prose giant, with the poetic
departed! Naturally she turned to caress the poetic while she had it
beside her. And it was a wonder to observe the young prince's heavenly
sensitiveness to every variation of her moods. He knew without hearing
when she had next seen Alvan, though it had not been to speak to him. He
looked, and he knew. The liquid darkness of his large eastern eyes cast
a light that brought her heart out: she confessed it, and she comforted
him. The sweetest in the woman caused her double-dealing.
Now she was aware that Alvan moved behind the screen concealing him.
A common friend of Alvan and her family talked to her of him. He was an
eminent professor, a middleaged, grave and honourable man, not ignorant
that her family entertained views opposed to the pretensions of such a
man as the demagogue and Jew. Nevertheless Alvan could persuade him to
abet the scheme for his meeting Clotilde; nay, to lead to it; ultimately
to allow his own house to be their place of meeting. Alvan achieved the
first of the steps unassisted. Whether or not his character stood well
with a man of the world, his force of character, backed by solid
attainments in addition to brilliant gifts, could win a reputable citizen
and erudite to support him. Rhetoric in a worthy cause has good chances
of carrying the gravest, and the cause might reasonably seem excellent to
the professor when one promising fair to be the political genius of his
time, but hitherto not the quietest of livers, could make him believe
that marriage with this girl would be his clear salvation. The second
step was undesignedly Clotilde's.
She was on the professor's arm at one of the great winter balls of her
conductor's brethren in the law, and he said: 'Alvan is here.' She
answered: 'No, he has not yet come.'--How could she tell that he was not
present in the crowd?
'Has he come now?' said the professor.
And no Alvan was discernible.
The professor stared about. She waited.
'Now he has come; he is in the room now,' said Clotilde.
Alvan was perceived. He stood in the centre of the throng surrounding
him to buzz about some recent pamphlet.
She could well play at faith in his magnetization of her, for as by
degrees she made herself more nervously apprehensive by thinking of him,
it came to an overclouding and then a panic; and that she took for the
physical sign of his presence, and by that time, the hour being late,
Alvan happened to have arrived. The touch of his hand, the instant
naturalness in their speaking together after a long separation, as if
there had not been an interval, confirmed her notion of his influence on
her, almost to the making it planetary. And a glance at the professor
revealed how picturesque it was. Alvan and he murmured aside. They
spoke of it: What wonder that Alvan, though he saw Prince Marko whirl her
in the dance, and keep her to the measure--dancing like a song of the
limbs in his desperate poor lover's little flitting eternity of the
possession of her--should say, after she had been led back to her
friends: 'That is he, then! one of the dragons guarding my apple of the
Hesperides, whom I must brush away.'
'He?' replied Clotilde, sincerely feeling Marko to be of as fractional a
weight as her tone declared him. 'Oh, he is my mute, harmless, he does
not count among the dragons.'
But there had been, notwithstanding the high presumption of his remark,
a manful thickness of voice in Alvan's 'That is he!' The rivals had
fastened a look on one another, wary, strong, and summary as the
wrestlers' first grapple. In fire of gaze, Marko was not outdone.
'He does not count? With those eyes of his?' Alvan exclaimed. He knew
something of the sex, and spied from that point of knowledge into the
character of Clotilde; not too venturesomely, with the assistance of
rumour, hazarding the suspicion which he put forth as a certainty, and
made sharply bitter to himself in proportion to the belief in it that his
vehemence engendered: 'I know all--without exception; all, everything;
all! I repeat. But what of it, if I win you? as I shall--only aid me a
She slightly surprised the man by not striving to attenuate the import
of the big and surcharged All: but her silence bore witness to his
penetrative knowledge. Dozens of amorous gentlemen, lovers, of excellent
substance, have before now prepared this peculiar dose for themselves--
the dose of the lady silent under a sort of pardoning grand accusation;
and they have had to drink it, and they have blinked over the tonic
draught with such power of taking a bracing as their constitutions could
summon. At no moment of their quaint mutual history are the sexes to be
seen standing more acutely divided. Well may the lady be silent; her
little sins are magnified to herself to the proportion of the greatness
of heart forgiving her; and that, with his mysterious penetration and a
throb of her conscience, holds her tongue-tied. She does not imagine the
effect of her silence upon the magnanimous wretch. Some of these lovers,
it has to be stated in sadness for the good name of man, have not
preserved an attitude that said so nobly, 'Child, thou art human--thou
art woman!' They have undone it and gone to pieces with an injured
lover's babble of persecuting inquiries for confessions. Some, on the
contrary, retaining the attitude, have been unable to digest the tonic;
they did not prepare their systems as they did their dose, possibly
thinking the latter a supererogatory heavy thump on a trifle, the which
was performed by them artfully for a means of swallowing and getting that
obnoxious trifle well down. These are ever after love's dyspeptics.
Very few indeed continue at heart in harmony with their opening note to
the silent fair, because in truth the general anticipation is of her
proclaiming, if not angelical innocence, a softly reddened or blush-rose
of it, where the little guiltiness lies pathetic on its bed of white.
Alvan's robustness of temper, as a conqueror pleased with his capture,
could inspirit him to feel as he said it:
'I know all; what matters that to me?' Even her silence, extending the
'all' beyond limits, as it did to the over-knowing man, who could number
these indicative characteristics of the young woman: impulsive, without
will, readily able to lie: her silence worked no discord in him. He
would have remarked, that he was not looking out for a saint, but rather
for a sprightly comrade, perfectly feminine, thoroughly mastered, young,
graceful, comely, and a lady of station. Once in his good keeping, her
lord would answer for her. And this was a manfully generous view of the
situation. It belongs to the robustness of the conqueror's mood. But
how of his opinion of her character in the fret of a baffling, a repulse,
a defeat? Supposing the circumstances not to have helped her to shine as
a heroine, while he was reduced to appear no hero to himself! Wise are
the mothers who keep vigilant personal watch over their girls, were it
only to guard them at present, from the gentleman's condescending
generosity, until he has become something more than robust in his ideas
of the sex--say, for lack of the ringing word, fraternal.
Clotilde never knew, and Alvan would have been unable to date, the origin
of the black thing flung at her in time to come--when the man was
frenzied, doubtless, but it was in his mind, and more than froth of
After the night of the ball they met beneath the sanctioning roof of the
amiable professor; and on one occasion the latter, perhaps waxing
anxious, and after bringing about the introduction of Clotilde to the
sister of Alvan, pursued his prudent measures bypassing the pair through
a demi-ceremony of betrothal. It sprang Clotilde astride nearer to
reality, both actually and in feeling; and she began to show the change
at home. A rebuff that came of the coupling of her name with Alvan's
pushed her back as far below the surface as she had ever been. She
waited for him to take the step she had again implored him not yet to
take; she feared that he would, she marvelled at his abstaining; the old
wheel revolved, as it ever does with creatures that wait for
circumstances to bring the change they cannot work for themselves; and
once more the two fell asunder. She had thoughts of the cloister. Her
venerable relative died joining her hand to Prince Marko's; she was
induced to think of marriage. An illness laid her prostrate; she
contemplated the peace of death.
Shortly before she fell sick the prince was a guest of her father's, and
had won the household by his perfect amiability as an associate. The
grace and glow, and some of the imaginable accomplishments of an Indian
Bacchus were native to him. In her convalescence, she asked herself what
more she could crave than the worship of a godlike youth, whom she in
return might cherish, strengthening his frail health with happiness.
For she had seen how suffering ate him up; he required no teaching in the
Spartan virtue of suffering, wolf-gnawed, silently. But he was a flower
in sunshine to happiness, and he looked to her for it. Why should she
withhold from him a thing so easily given? The convalescent is receptive
and undesiring, or but very faintly desiring: the new blood coming into
the frame like first dawn of light has not stirred the old passions; it
is infant nature, with a tinge of superadded knowledge that is not cloud
across it and lends it only a tender wistfulness.
Her physician sentenced her to the Alps, whither a friend, a daughter of
our island, whose acquaintance she had made in Italy, was going, and at
an invitation Clotilde accompanied her, and she breathed Alpine air.
Marko sank into the category of dreams during sickness. There came a
letter from the professor mentioning that Alvan was on one of the kingly
Alpine heights in view, and the new blood running through her veins
became a torrent. He there! So near! Could he not be reached?
He had a saying: Two wishes make a will.
The wishes of two lovers, he meant. A prettier sentence for lovers, and
one more intoxicating to them, was never devised. It chirrups of the
dear silly couple. Well, this was her wish. Was it his? Young health
on the flow of her leaping blood cried out that it could not be other
than Alvan's wish; she believed in his wishing it. Then as he wished and
she wished, she had the will immediately, and it was all the more her own
for being his as well. She hurried her friend and her friend's friends
on horseback off to the heights where the wounded eagle lodged
overlooking mountain and lake. The professor reported him outwearied
with excess of work. Alvan lived the lives of three; the sins of thirty
were laid to his charge. Do you judge of heroes as of lesser men? Her
reckless defence of him, half spoken, half in her mind, helped her to
comprehend his dealings with her, and how it was that he stormed her and
consented to be beaten. He had a thousand occupations, an ambition out
of the world of love, chains to break, temptations, leanings . . .
tut, tut! She had not lived in her circle of society, and listened to
the tales of his friends and enemies, and been the correspondent of
flattering and flattered men of learning, without understanding how a man
like Alvan found diversions when forbidden to act in a given direction:
and now that her healthful new blood inspired the courage to turn two
wishes to a will, she saw both herself and him very clearly, enough at
least to pardon the man more than she did herself. She had perforce of
her radiant new healthfulness arrived at an exact understanding of him.
Where she was deluded was in supposing that she would no longer dread his
impetuous disposition to turn rosy visions into facts. But she had the
revived convalescent's ardour to embrace things positive while they were
not knocking at the door; dreams were abhorrent to her, tasteless and
innutritious; she cast herself on the flood, relying on his towering
strength and mastery of men and events to bring her to some safe landing
--the dream of hearts athirst for facts.
Alvan was at his writing-table doing stout gladiator's work on paper in
a chamber of one of the gaunt hotels of the heights, which are Death's
Heads there in Winter and have the tongues in Summer, when a Swiss lad
entered with a round grin to tell him that a lady on horseback below had
asked for him--Dr. Alvan. Who could the lady be? He thought of too
many. The thought of Clotilde was dismissed in its dimness. Issuing and
beholding her, his face became illuminated as by a stroke of sunlight.
'Clotilde! by all the holiest!'
She smiled demurely, and they greeted.
She admired the look of rich pleasure shining through surprise in him.
Her heart thanked him for appearing so handsome before her friends.
'I was writing,' said he. 'Guess to whom?--I had just finished my
political stuff, and fell on a letter to the professor and another for
an immediate introduction to your father.'
'The truth, as you shall see. So, you have come, you have found me!
This time if I let you slip, may I be stamped slack-fingered!'
'"Two wishes make a will," you say.'
He answered her with one of his bursts of brightness.
Her having sought him he read for the frank surrender which he was ready
to match with a loyal devotion to his captive. Her coming cleared
Clotilde introduced him to her friends, and he was enrolled a member of
the party. His appearance was that of a man to whom the sphinx has
whispered. They ascended to the topmost of the mountain stages, to
another caravanserai of tourists, whence the singular people emerge in
morning darkness night-capped and blanketed, and behold the great orb of
day at his birth--he them.
Walking slowly beside Clotilde on the mountain way, Alvan said: 'Two
wishes! Mine was in your breast. You wedded yours to it. At last!--and
we are one. Not a word more of time lost. My wish is almost a will in
itself--was it not?--and has been wooing yours all this while!--till the
sleeper awakened, the well-spring leapt up from the earth; and our two
wishes united dare the world to divide them. What can? My wish was your
destiny, yours is mine. We are one.' He poetized on his passion, and
dramatized it: 'Stood you at the altar, I would pluck you from the man
holding your hand! There is no escape for you. Nay, into the vaults,
were you to grow pale and need my vital warmth--down to the vaults!
Speak--or no: look! That will do. You hold a Titan in your eyes, like
metal in the furnace, to turn him to any shape you please, liquid or
solid. You make him a god: he is the river Alvan or the rock Alvan: but
fixed or flowing, he is lord of you. That is the universal penalty: you
must, if you have this creative soul, be the slave of your creature: if
you raise him to heaven, you must be his! Ay, look! I know the eyes!
They can melt granite, they can freeze fire. Pierce me, sweet eyes! And
now flutter, for there is that in me to make them.'
'Consider!' Clotilde flutteringly entreated him.
'The world? you dear heaven of me! Looking down on me does not
compromise you, and I am not ashamed of my devotions. I sat in gloom:
you came: I saw my goddess and worshipped. The world, Lutece, the world
is a variable monster; it rends the weak whether sincere or false; but
those who weld strength with sincerity may practise their rites of
religion publicly, and it fawns to them, and bellows to imitate. Nay, I
say that strength in love is the sole sincerity, and the world knows it,
muffs it in the air about us, and so we two are privileged. Politically
also we know that strength is the one reality: the rest is shadow.
Behind the veil of our human conventions power is constant as ever, and
to perceive the fact is to have the divining rod-to walk clear of shams.
He is the teacher who shows where power exists: he is the leader who
wakens and forms it. Why have I unfailingly succeeded?--I never doubted!
The world voluntarily opens a path to those who step determinedly. You--
to your honour?--I won't decide--but you have the longest in my
experience resisted. I have a Durandal to hew the mountain walls; I have
a voice for ears, a net for butterflies, a hook for fish, and desperation
to plunge into marshes: but the feu follet will not be caught. One must
wait--wait till her desire to have a soul bids her come to us. She has
come! A soul is hers: and see how, instantly, the old monster, the
world, which has no soul--not yet: we are helping it to get one--becomes
a shadow, powerless to stop or overawe. For I do give you a soul, think
as you will of it. I give you strength to realize, courage to act. It
is the soul that does things in this life--the rest is vapour. How do we
distinguish love?--as we do music by the pure note won from resolute
strings. The tense chord is music, and it is love. This higher and
higher mountain air, with you beside me, sweeps me like a harp.'
'Oh! talk on, talk on! talk ever! do not cease talking to me!'
'You feel the mountain spirit?'
'I feel that you reveal it.'
'Tell me the books you have been reading.'
' Oh, light literature-poor stuff.'
'When we two read together you will not say that. Light literature is
the garden and the orchard, the fountain, the rainbow, the far view; the
view within us as well as without. Our blood runs through it, our
history in the quick. The Philistine detests it, because he has no view,
out or in. The dry confess they are cut off from the living tree, peeled
and sapless, when they condemn it. The vulgar demand to have their
pleasures in their own likeness--and let them swamp their troughs! they
shall not degrade the fame of noble fiction. We are the choice public,
which will have good writing for light reading. Poet, novelist,
essayist, dramatist, shall be ranked honourable in my Republic. I am
neither, but a man of law, a student of the sciences, a politician, on
the road to government and statecraft: and yet I say I have learnt as
much from light literature as from heavy-as much, that is, from the
pictures of our human blood in motion as from the clever assortment of
our forefatherly heaps of bones. Shun those who cry out against fiction
and have no taste for elegant writing. For to have no sympathy with the
playful mind is not to have a mind: it is a test. But name the books.'
She named one or two.
'And when does Dr. Alvan date the first year of his Republic?'
'Clotilde!' he turned on her.
'My good sir?'
'These worthy good people who are with you: tell me-to-morrow we leave
'You with me. No more partings. The first year, the first day shall be
dated from to-morrow. You and I proclaim our Republic on these heights.
All the ceremonies to follow. We will have a reaping of them, and make a
sheaf to present to the world with compliments. To-morrow!'
'You do not speak seriously?'
'I jest as little as the Talmud. Decide at once, in the happy flush of
'I cannot listen to you, dear sir!'
'But your heart beats!'
'I am not mistress of it.'
'Call me master of it. I make ready for to-morrow.'
' No! no! no! A thousand times no! You have been reading too much
fiction and verse. Properly I should spurn you.'
'Will you fail me, play feu follet, ward me off again?'
'I must be won by rules, brave knight!'
'Will you be won?'
'And are you he--the Alvan who would not be centaur?'
'I am he who chased a marsh-fire, and encountered a retiarius, and the
meshes are on my head and arms. I fancied I dealt with a woman; a woman
needing protection! She has me fast--I am netted, centaur or man. That
is between us two. But think of us facing the world, and trust me; take
my hand, take the leap; I am the best fighter in that fight. Trust it to
me, and all your difficulties are at an end. To fly solves the problem.'
'Indeed, indeed, I have more courage than I had,' said Clotilde.
His eyes dilated, steadied, speculated, weighed her.
'Put it to proof while you can believe in it!'
'How is it every one but you thinks me bold?' she complained.
'Because I carry a touchstone that brings out the truth. I am your
reality: all others are phantoms. You can impose on them, not on me.
Courage for one inspired plunge you may have, and it will be your
salvation:--southward, over to Italy, that is the line of flight, and the
subsequent struggle will be mine: you will not have to face it. But the
courage for daily contention at home, standing alone, while I am distant
and maligned--can you fancy your having that? No! be wise of what you
really are; cast the die for love, and mount away tomorrow.'
'Then,' said Clotilde, with elvish cunning, 'do you doubt your ability to
win me without a scandal?'
'Back me, and I win you!' he replied in a tone of unwonted humility: a
She let her hand fall. He grasped it.
'Gradations appear to be unknown to you,' she said.
He cried out: 'Count the years of life, span them, think of the work to
be done, and ask yourself whether time and strength should run to waste
in retarding the inevitable? Pottering up steps that can be taken at one
bound is very well for peasant pilgrims whose shrine is their bourne, and
their kneecaps the footing stumps. But for us two life begins up there.
Onward, and everywhere around, when we two are together, is our shrine.
I have worked, and wasted life; I have not lived, and I thirst to live.'
She murmured, in a fervour, 'You shall!' and slipped behind her defences.
'To-morrow morning we shall wander about; I must have a little time; all
to-morrow morning we can discuss plans.'
'You know you command me,' said he, and gazed at her.
She was really a child compared with him in years, and if it was an