Part 2 out of 4
ought they, Mr. Pierston? _I_ never shall. I am determined never to
run such a risk! Now, do you think I shall?'
'Marry? O no; never,' said Pierston drily.
'That's very satisfying.' But Mabella was scarcely comfortable under
his answer, even though jestingly returned, and she added: 'But
sometimes I think I may, just for the fun of it. Now we'll steer
across to her, and catch her, and I'll introduce you. But we shall
never get to her at this rate!'
'Never, unless we adopt "the ugly rush," like the citizens who follow
the Lord Mayor's Show.'
They talked, and inched towards the desired one, who, as she discoursed
with a neighbour, seemed to be of those--
'Female forms, whose gestures beam with mind,'
seen by the poet in his Vision of the Golden City of Islam.
Their progress was continually checked. Pierston was as he had
sometimes seemed to be in a dream, unable to advance towards the object
of pursuit unless he could have gathered up his feet into the air.
After ten minutes given to a preoccupied regard of shoulder-blades,
back hair, glittering headgear, neck-napes, moles, hairpins, pearl-
powder, pimples, minerals cut into facets of many-coloured rays,
necklace-clasps, fans, stays, the seven styles of elbow and arm, the
thirteen varieties of ear; and by using the toes of his dress-boots as
coulters with which he ploughed his way and that of Lady Mabella in the
direction they were aiming at, he drew near to Mrs. Pine-Avon, who was
drinking a cup of tea in the back drawing-room.
'My dear Nichola, we thought we should never get to you, because it is
worse to-night, owing to these dreadful politics! But we've done it.'
And she proceeded to tell her friend of Pierston's existence hard by.
It seemed that the widow really did wish to know him, and that Lady
Mabella Buttermead had not indulged in one of the too frequent
inventions in that kind. When the youngest of the trio had made the
pair acquainted with each other she left them to talk to a younger man
than the sculptor.
Mrs. Pine-Avon's black velvets and silks, with their white
accompaniments, finely set off the exceeding fairness of her neck and
shoulders, which, though unwhitened artificially, were without a speck
or blemish of the least degree. The gentle, thoughtful creature she
had looked from a distance she now proved herself to be; she held also
sound rather than current opinions on the plastic arts, and was the
first intellectual woman he had seen there that night, except one or
two as aforesaid.
They soon became well acquainted, and at a pause in their conversation
noticed the fresh excitement caused by the arrival of some late comers
with more news. The latter had been brought by a rippling, bright-eyed
lady in black, who made the men listen to her, whether they would or
'I am glad I am an outsider,' said Jocelyn's acquaintance, now seated
on a sofa beside which he was standing. 'I wouldn't be like my cousin,
over there, for the world. She thinks her husband will be turned out
at the next election, and she's quite wild.'
'Yes; it is mostly the women who are the gamesters; the men only the
cards. The pity is that politics are looked on as being a game for
politicians, just as cricket is a game for cricketers; not as the
serious duties of political trustees.'
'How few of us ever think or feel that "the nation of every country
dwells in the cottage," as somebody says!'
'Yes. Though I wonder to hear you quote that.'
'O--I am of no party, though my relations are. There can be only one
best course at all times, and the wisdom of the nation should be
directed to finding it, instead of zigzagging in two courses, according
to the will of the party which happens to have the upper hand.'
Having started thus, they found no difficulty in agreeing on many
points. When Pierston went downstairs from that assembly at a quarter
to one, and passed under the steaming nostrils of an ambassador's
horses to a hansom which waited for him against the railing of the
square, he had an impression that the Beloved had re-emerged from the
shadows, without any hint or initiative from him--to whom, indeed, such
re-emergence was an unquestionably awkward thing.
In this he was aware, however, that though it might be now, as
heretofore, the Loved who danced before him, it was the Goddess behind
her who pulled the string of that Jumping Jill. He had lately been
trying his artist hand again on the Dea's form in every conceivable
phase and mood. He had become a one-part man--a presenter of her only.
But his efforts had resulted in failures. In her implacable vanity she
might be punishing him anew for presenting her so deplorably.
2. II. SHE DRAWS CLOSE AND SATISFIES
He could not forget Mrs. Pine-Avon's eyes, though he remembered nothing
of her other facial details. They were round, inquiring, luminous.
How that chestnut hair of hers had shone: it required no tiara to set
it off, like that of the dowager he had seen there, who had put ten
thousand pounds upon her head to make herself look worse than she would
have appeared with the ninepenny muslin cap of a servant woman.
Now the question was, ought he to see her again? He had his doubts.
But, unfortunately for discretion, just when he was coming out of the
rooms he had encountered an old lady of seventy, his friend Mrs.
Brightwalton--the Honourable Mrs. Brightwalton--and she had hastily
asked him to dinner for the day after the morrow, stating in the honest
way he knew so well that she had heard he was out of town, or she would
have asked him two or three weeks ago. Now, of all social things that
Pierston liked it was to be asked to dinner off-hand, as a stopgap in
place of some bishop, earl, or Under-Secretary who couldn't come, and
when the invitation was supplemented by the tidings that the lady who
had so impressed him was to be one of the guests, he had promised
At the dinner, he took down Mrs. Pine-Avon upon his arm and talked to
nobody else during the meal. Afterwards they kept apart awhile in the
drawing-room for form's sake; but eventually gravitated together again,
and finished the evening in each other's company. When, shortly after
eleven, he came away, he felt almost certain that within those luminous
grey eyes the One of his eternal fidelity had verily taken lodgings--
and for a long lease. But this was not all. At parting, he had,
almost involuntarily, given her hand a pressure of a peculiar and
indescribable kind; a little response from her, like a mere pulsation,
of the same sort, told him that the impression she had made upon him
was reciprocated. She was, in a word, willing to go on.
But was he able?
There had not been much harm in the flirtation thus far; but did she
know his history, the curse upon his nature?--that he was the Wandering
Jew of the love-world, how restlessly ideal his fancies were, how the
artist in him had consumed the wooer, how he was in constant dread lest
he should wrong some woman twice as good as himself by seeming to mean
what he fain would mean but could not, how useless he was likely to be
for practical steps towards householding, though he was all the while
pining for domestic life. He was now over forty, she was probably
thirty; and he dared not make unmeaning love with the careless
selfishness of a younger man. It was unfair to go further without
telling her, even though, hitherto, such explicitness had not been
He determined to call immediately on the New Incarnation.
She lived not far from the long, fashionable Hamptonshire Square, and
he went thither with expectations of having a highly emotional time, at
least. But somehow the very bell-pull seemed cold, although she had so
earnestly asked him to come.
As the house spoke, so spoke the occupant, much to the astonishment of
the sculptor. The doors he passed through seemed as if they had not
been opened for a month; and entering the large drawing-room, he
beheld, in an arm-chair, in the far distance, a lady whom he journeyed
across the carpet to reach, and ultimately did reach. To be sure it
was Mrs. Nichola Pine-Avon, but frosted over indescribably. Raising
her eyes in a slightly inquiring manner from the book she was reading,
she leant back in the chair, as if soaking herself in luxurious
sensations which had nothing to do with him, and replied to his
greeting with a few commonplace words.
The unfortunate Jocelyn, though recuperative to a degree, was at first
terribly upset by this reception. He had distinctly begun to love
Nichola, and he felt sick and almost resentful. But happily his
affection was incipient as yet, and a sudden sense of the ridiculous in
his own position carried him to the verge of risibility during the
scene. She signified a chair, and began the critical study of some
rings she wore.
They talked over the day's news, and then an organ began to grind
outside. The tune was a rollicking air he had heard at some music-
hall; and, by way of a diversion, he asked her if she knew the
'No, I don't!' she replied.
'Now, I'll tell you all about it,' said he gravely. 'It is based on a
sound old melody called "The Jilt's Hornpipe." Just as they turn
Madeira into port in the space of a single night, so this old air has
been taken and doctored, and twisted about, and brought out as a new
'If you are in the habit of going much to the music-halls or the
'You would find this is often done, with excellent effect.'
She thawed a little, and then they went on to talk about her house,
which had been newly painted, and decorated with greenish-blue satin up
to the height of a person's head--an arrangement that somewhat improved
her slightly faded, though still pretty, face, and was helped by the
awnings over the windows.
'Yes; I have had my house some years,' she observed complacently, 'and
I like it better every year.'
'Don't you feel lonely in it sometimes?'
However, before he rose she grew friendly to some degree, and when he
left, just after the arrival of three opportune young ladies she seemed
regretful. She asked him to come again; and he thought he would tell
the truth. 'No: I shall not care to come again,' he answered, in a
tone inaudible to the young ladies.
She followed him to the door. 'What an uncivil thing to say!' she
murmured in surprise.
'It is rather uncivil. Good-bye,' said Pierston.
As a punishment she did not ring the bell, but left him to find his way
out as he could. 'Now what the devil this means I cannot tell,' he
said to himself, reflecting stock-still for a moment on the stairs.
And yet the meaning was staring him in the face.
Meanwhile one of the three young ladies had said, 'What interesting man
was that, with his lovely head of hair? I saw him at Lady
Channelcliffe's the other night.'
'O, Nichola, that IS too bad! To let him go in that shabby way, when I
would have given anything to know him! I have wanted to know him ever
since I found out how much his experiences had dictated his statuary,
and I discovered them by seeing in a Jersey paper of the marriage of a
person supposed to be his wife, who ran off with him many years ago,
don't you know, and then wouldn't marry him, in obedience to some novel
social principles she had invented for herself.'
'O! didn't he marry her?' said Mrs. Pine-Avon, with a start. 'Why, I
heard only yesterday that he did, though they have lived apart ever
'Quite a mistake,' said the young lady. 'How I wish I could run after
But Jocelyn was receding from the pretty widow's house with long
strides. He went out very little during the next few days, but about a
week later he kept an engagement to dine with Lady Iris Speedwell, whom
he never neglected, because she was the brightest hostess in London.
By some accident he arrived rather early. Lady Iris had left the
drawing-room for a moment to see that all was right in the dining-room,
and when he was shown in there stood alone in the lamplight Nichola
Pine-Avon. She had been the first arrival. He had not in the least
expected to meet her there, further than that, in a general sense, at
Lady Iris's you expected to meet everybody.
She had just come out of the cloak-room, and was so tender and even
apologetic that he had not the heart to be other than friendly. As the
other guests dropped in, the pair retreated into a shady corner, and
she talked beside him till all moved off for the eating and drinking.
He had not been appointed to take her across to the dining-room, but at
the table found her exactly opposite. She looked very charming between
the candles, and then suddenly it dawned upon him that her previous
manner must have originated in some false report about Marcia, of whose
existence he had not heard for years. Anyhow, he was not disposed to
resent an inexplicability in womankind, having found that it usually
arose independently of fact, reason, probability, or his own deserts.
So he dined on, catching her eyes and the few pretty words she made
opportunity to project across the table to him now and then. He was
courteously responsive only, but Mrs. Pine-Avon herself distinctly made
advances. He re-admired her, while at the same time her conduct in her
own house had been enough to check his confidence--enough even to make
him doubt if the Well-Beloved really resided within those contours, or
had ever been more than the most transitory passenger through that
interesting and accomplished soul.
He was pondering this question, yet growing decidedly moved by the
playful pathos of her attitude when, by chance, searching his pocket
for his handkerchief, something crackled, and he felt there an unopened
letter, which had arrived at the moment he was leaving his house, and
he had slipped into his coat to read in the cab as he drove along.
Pierston drew it sufficiently forth to observe by the post-mark that it
came from his natal isle. Having hardly a correspondent in that part
of the world now he began to conjecture on the possible sender.
The lady on his right, whom he had brought in, was a leading actress of
the town--indeed, of the United Kingdom and America, for that matter--a
creature in airy clothing, translucent, like a balsam or sea-anemone,
without shadows, and in movement as responsive as some highly
lubricated, many-wired machine, which, if one presses a particular
spring, flies open and reveals its works. The spring in the present
case was the artistic commendation she deserved and craved. At this
particular moment she was engaged with the man on her own right, a
representative of Family, who talked positively and hollowly, as if
shouting down a vista of five hundred years from the Feudal past. The
lady on Jocelyn's left, wife of a Lord Justice of Appeal, was in like
manner talking to her companion on the outer side; so that, for the
time, he was left to himself. He took advantage of the opportunity,
drew out his letter, and read it as it lay upon his napkin, nobody
observing him, so far as he was aware.
It came from the wife of one of his father's former workmen, and was
concerning her son, whom she begged Jocelyn to recommend as candidate
for some post in town that she wished him to fill. But the end of the
letter was what arrested him--
'You will be sorry to hear, Sir, that dear little Avice Caro, as we
used to call her in her maiden days, is dead. She married her cousin,
if you do mind, and went away from here for a good-few years, but was
left a widow, and came back a twelvemonth ago; since when she faltered
and faltered, and now she is gone.'
2. III. SHE BECOMES AN INACCESSIBLE GHOST
By imperceptible and slow degrees the scene at the dinner-table receded
into the background, behind the vivid presentment of Avice Caro, and
the old, old scenes on Isle Vindilia which were inseparable from her
personality. The dining room was real no more, dissolving under the
bold stony promontory and the incoming West Sea. The handsome
marchioness in geranium-red and diamonds, who was visible to him on his
host's right hand opposite, became one of the glowing vermilion sunsets
that he had watched so many times over Deadman's Bay, with the form of
Avice in the foreground. Between his eyes and the judge who sat next
to Nichola, with a chin so raw that he must have shaved every quarter
of an hour during the day, intruded the face of Avice, as she had
glanced at him in their last parting. The crannied features of the
evergreen society lady, who, if she had been a few years older, would
have been as old-fashioned as her daughter, shaped themselves to the
dusty quarries of his and Avice's parents, down which he had clambered
with Avice hundreds of times. The ivy trailing about the table-cloth,
the lights in the tall candlesticks, and the bunches of flowers, were
transmuted into the ivies of the cliff-built Castle, the tufts of
seaweed, and the lighthouses on the isle. The salt airs of the ocean
killed the smell of the viands, and instead of the clatter of voices
came the monologue of the tide off the Beal.
More than all, Nichola Pine-Avon lost the blooming radiance which she
had latterly acquired; she became a woman of his acquaintance with no
distinctive traits; she seemed to grow material, a superficies of flesh
and bone merely, a person of lines and surfaces; she was a language in
living cipher no more.
When the ladies had withdrawn it was just the same. The soul of Avice-
-the only woman he had NEVER loved of those who had loved him--
surrounded him like a firmament. Art drew near to him in the person of
one of the most distinguished of portrait painters; but there was only
one painter for Jocelyn--his own memory. All that was eminent in
European surgery addressed him in the person of that harmless and
unassuming fogey whose hands had been inside the bodies of hundreds of
living men; but the lily-white corpse of an obscure country-girl
chilled the interest of discourse with such a king of operators.
Reaching the drawing-room he talked to his hostess. Though she had
entertained three-and-twenty guests at her table that night she had
known not only what every one of them was saying and doing throughout
the repast, but what every one was thinking. So, being an old friend,
she said quietly, 'What has been troubling you? Something has, I know.
I have been travelling over your face and have seen it there.'
Nothing could less express the meaning his recent news had for him than
a statement of its facts. He told of the opening of the letter and the
discovery of the death of an old acquaintance.
'The only woman whom I never rightly valued, I may almost say!' he
added; 'and therefore the only one I shall ever regret!'
Whether she considered it a sufficient explanation or not the woman of
experiences accepted it as such. She was the single lady of his circle
whom nothing erratic in his doings could surprise, and he often gave
her stray ends of his confidence thus with perfect safety.
He did not go near Mrs. Pine-Avon again; he could not: and on leaving
the house walked abstractedly along the streets till he found himself
at his own door. In his room he sat down, and placing his hands behind
his head thought his thoughts anew.
At one side of the room stood an escritoire, and from a lower drawer
therein he took out a small box tightly nailed down. He forced the
cover with the poker. The box contained a variety of odds and ends,
which Pierston had thrown into it from time to time in past years for
future sorting--an intention that he had never carried out. From the
melancholy mass of papers, faded photographs, seals, diaries, withered
flowers, and such like, Jocelyn drew a little portrait, one taken on
glass in the primitive days of photography, and framed with tinsel in
the commonest way.
It was Avice Caro, as she had appeared during the summer month or two
which he had spent with her on the island twenty years before this
time, her young lips pursed up, her hands meekly folded. The effect of
the glass was to lend to the picture much of the softness
characteristic of the original. He remembered when it was taken--
during one afternoon they had spent together at a neighbouring
watering-place, when he had suggested her sitting to a touting artist
on the sands, there being nothing else for them to do. A long
contemplation of the likeness completed in his emotions what the letter
had begun. He loved the woman dead and inaccessible as he had never
loved her in life. He had thought of her but at distant intervals
during the twenty years since that parting occurred, and only as
somebody he could have wedded. Yet now the times of youthful
friendship with her, in which he had learnt every note of her innocent
nature, flamed up into a yearning and passionate attachment, embittered
by regret beyond words.
That kiss which had offended his dignity, which she had so childishly
given him before her consciousness of womanhood had been awakened; what
he would have offered to have a quarter of it now!
Pierston was almost angry with himself for his feelings of this night,
so unreasonably, motivelessly strong were they towards the lost young
playmate. 'How senseless of me!' he said, as he lay in his lonely bed.
She had been another man's wife almost the whole time since he was
estranged from her, and now she was a corpse. Yet the absurdity did
not make his grief the less: and the consciousness of the intrinsic,
almost radiant, purity of this newsprung affection for a flown spirit
forbade him to check it. The flesh was absent altogether; it was love
rarefied and refined to its highest attar. He had felt nothing like it
The next afternoon he went down to the club; not his large club, where
the men hardly spoke to each other, but the homely one where they told
stories of an afternoon, and were not ashamed to confess among
themselves to personal weaknesses and follies, knowing well that such
secrets would go no further. But he could not tell this. So volatile
and intangible was the story that to convey it in words would have been
as hard as to cage a perfume.
They observed his altered manner, and said he was in love. Pierston
admitted that he was; and there it ended. When he reached home he
looked out of his bed-room window, and began to consider in what
direction from where he stood that darling little figure lay. It was
straight across there, under the young pale moon. The symbol signified
well. The divinity of the silver bow was not more excellently pure
than she, the lost, had been. Under that moon was the island of
Ancient Slingers, and on the island a house, framed from mullions to
chimney-top like the isle itself, of stone. Inside the window, the
moonlight irradiating her winding-sheet, lay Avice, reached only by the
faint noises inherent in the isle; the tink-tink of the chisels in the
quarries, the surging of the tides in the Bay, and the muffled
grumbling of the currents in the never-pacified Race.
He began to divine the truth. Avice, the departed one, though she had
come short of inspiring a passion, had yet possessed a ground-quality
absent from her rivals, without which it seemed that a fixed and full-
rounded constancy to a woman could not flourish in him. Like his own,
her family had been islanders for centuries--from Norman, Anglian,
Roman, Balearic-British times. Hence in her nature, as in his, was
some mysterious ingredient sucked from the isle; otherwise a racial
instinct necessary to the absolute unison of a pair. Thus, though he
might never love a woman of the island race, for lack in her of the
desired refinement, he could not love long a kimberlin--a woman other
than of the island race, for her lack of this groundwork of character.
Such was Pierston's view of things. Another fancy of his, an artist's
superstition merely, may be mentioned. The Caros, like some other
local families, suggested a Roman lineage, more or less grafted on the
stock of the Slingers. Their features recalled those of the Italian
peasantry to any one as familiar as he was with them; and there were
evidences that the Roman colonists had been populous and long-abiding
in and near this corner of Britain. Tradition urged that a temple to
Venus once stood at the top of the Roman road leading up into the isle;
and possibly one to the love-goddess of the Slingers antedated this.
What so natural as that the true star of his soul would be found
nowhere but in one of the old island breed?
After dinner his old friend Somers came in to smoke, and when they had
talked a little while Somers alluded casually to some place at which
they would meet on the morrow.
'I sha'n't be there,' said Pierston.
'But you promised?'
'Yes. But I shall be at the island--looking at a dead woman's grave.'
As he spoke his eyes turned, and remained fixed on a table near.
Somers followed the direction of his glance to a photograph on a stand.
'Is that she?' he asked.
'Rather a bygone affair, then?'
Pierston acknowledged it. 'She's the only sweetheart I ever slighted,
Alfred,' he said. 'Because she's the only one I ought to have cared
for. That's just the fool I have always been.'
'But if she's dead and buried, you can go to her grave at any time as
well as now, to keep up the sentiment.'
'I don't know that she's buried.'
'But to-morrow--the Academy night! Of all days why go then?'
'I don't care about the Academy.'
'Pierston--you are our only inspired sculptor. You are our Praxiteles,
or rather our Lysippus. You are almost the only man of this generation
who has been able to mould and chisel forms living enough to draw the
idle public away from the popular paintings into the usually deserted
Lecture-room, and people who have seen your last pieces of stuff say
there has been nothing like them since sixteen hundred and--since the
sculptors 'of the great race' lived and died--whenever that was. Well,
then, for the sake of others you ought not to rush off to that God-
forgotten sea-rock just when you are wanted in town, all for a woman
you last saw a hundred years ago.'
'No--it was only nineteen and three quarters,' replied his friend, with
abstracted literalness. He went the next morning.
Since the days of his youth a railway had been constructed along the
pebble bank, so that, except when the rails were washed away by the
tides, which was rather often, the peninsula was quickly accessible.
At two o'clock in the afternoon he was rattled along by this new means
of locomotion, under the familiar monotonous line of bran-coloured
stones, and he soon emerged from the station, which stood as a strange
exotic among the black lerrets, the ruins of the washed-away village,
and the white cubes of oolite, just come to view after burial through
unreckonable geologic years.
In entering upon the pebble beach the train had passed close to the
ruins of Henry the Eighth's or Sandsfoot Castle, whither Avice was to
have accompanied him on the night of his departure. Had she appeared
the primitive betrothal, with its natural result, would probably have
taken place; and, as no islander had ever been known to break that
compact, she would have become his wife.
Ascending the steep incline to where the quarrymen were chipping just
as they had formerly done, and within sound of the great stone saws, he
looked southward towards the Beal.
The level line of the sea horizon rose above the surface of the isle, a
ruffled patch in mid-distance as usual marking the Race, whence many a
Lycidas had gone
'Visiting the bottom of the monstrous world;'
but had not been blest with a poet as a friend. Against the stretch of
water, where a school of mackerel twinkled in the afternoon light, was
defined, in addition to the distant lighthouse, a church with its
tower, standing about a quarter of a mile off, near the edge of the
cliff. The churchyard gravestones could be seen in profile against the
same vast spread of watery babble and unrest.
Among the graves moved the form of a man clothed in a white sheet,
which the wind blew and flapped coldly every now and then. Near him
moved six men bearing a long box, and two or three persons in black
followed. The coffin, with its twelve legs, crawled across the isle,
while around and beneath it the flashing lights from the sea and the
school of mackerel were reflected; a fishing-boat, far out in the
Channel, being momentarily discernible under the coffin also.
The procession wandered round to a particular corner, and halted, and
paused there a long while in the wind, the sea behind them, the
surplice of the priest still blowing. Jocelyn stood with his hat off:
he was present, though he was a quarter of a mile off; and he seemed to
hear the words that were being said, though nothing but the wind was
He instinctively knew that it was none other than Avice whom he was
seeing interred; HIS Avice, as he now began presumptuously to call her.
Presently the little group withdrew from before the sea-shine, and
He felt himself unable to go further in that direction, and turning
aside went aimlessly across the open land, visiting the various spots
that he had formerly visited with her. But, as if tethered to the
churchyard by a cord, he was still conscious of being at the end of a
radius whose pivot was the grave of Avice Caro; and as the dusk
thickened he closed upon his centre and entered the churchyard gate.
Not a soul was now within the precincts. The grave, newly shaped, was
easily discoverable behind the church, and when the same young moon
arose which he had observed the previous evening from his window in
London he could see the yet fresh foot-marks of the mourners and
bearers. The breeze had fallen to a calm with the setting of the sun:
the lighthouse had opened its glaring eye, and, disinclined to leave a
spot sublimed both by early association and present regret, he moved
back to the church-wall, warm from the afternoon sun, and sat down upon
a window-sill facing the grave.
2. IV. SHE THREATENS TO RESUME CORPOREAL SUBSTANCE
The lispings of the sea beneath the cliffs were all the sounds that
reached him, for the quarries were silent now. How long he sat here
lonely and thinking he did not know. Neither did he know, though he
felt drowsy, whether inexpectant sadness--that gentle soporific--lulled
him into a short sleep, so that he lost count of time and consciousness
of incident. But during some minute or minutes he seemed to see Avice
Caro herself, bending over and then withdrawing from her grave in the
light of the moon.
She seemed not a year older, not a digit less slender, not a line more
angular than when he had parted from her twenty years earlier, in the
lane hard by. A renascent reasoning on the impossibility of such a
phenomenon as this being more than a dream-fancy roused him with a
start from his heaviness.
'I must have been asleep,' he said.
Yet she had seemed so real. Pierston however dismissed the strange
impression, arguing that even if the information sent him of Avice's
death should be false--a thing incredible--that sweet friend of his
youth, despite the transfiguring effects of moonlight, would not now
look the same as she had appeared nineteen or twenty years ago. Were
what he saw substantial flesh, it must have been some other person than
Having satisfied his sentiment by coming to the graveside there was
nothing more for him to do in the island, and he decided to return to
London that night. But some time remaining still on his hands, Jocelyn
by a natural instinct turned his feet in the direction of East
Quarriers, the village of his birth and of hers. Passing the market-
square he pursued the arm of road to 'Sylvania Castle,' a private
mansion of comparatively modern date, in whose grounds stood the single
plantation of trees of which the isle could boast. The cottages
extended close to the walls of the enclosure, and one of the last of
these dwellings had been Avice's, in which, as it was her freehold, she
possibly had died.
To reach it he passed the gates of 'Sylvania,' and observed above the
lawn wall a board announcing that the house was to be let furnished. A
few steps further revealed the cottage which with its quaint and
massive stone features of two or three centuries' antiquity, was
capable even now of longer resistance to the rasp of Time than ordinary
new erections. His attention was drawn to the window, still unblinded,
though a lamp lit the room. He stepped back against the wall opposite,
and gazed in.
At a table covered with a white cloth a young woman stood putting tea-
things away into a corner-cupboard. She was in all respects the Avice
he had lost, the girl he had seen in the churchyard and had fancied to
be the illusion of a dream. And though there was this time no doubt
about her reality, the isolation of her position in the silent house
lent her a curiously startling aspect. Divining the explanation he
waited for footsteps, and in a few moments a quarryman passed him on
his journey home. Pierston inquired of the man concerning the
'O yes, sir; that's poor Mrs. Caro's only daughter, and it must be
lonely for her there to-night, poor maid! Yes, good-now; she's the
very daps of her mother--that's what everybody says.'
'But how does she come to be so lonely?'
'One of her brothers went to sea and was drowned, and t'other is in
'They were quarryowners at one time?'
The quarryman 'pitched his nitch,' and explained to the seeming
stranger that there had been three families thereabouts in the stone
trade, who had got much involved with each other in the last
generation. They were the Bencombs, the Pierstons, and the Caros. The
Bencombs strained their utmost to outlift the other two, and partially
succeeded. They grew enormously rich, sold out, and disappeared
altogether from the island which had been their making. The Pierstons
kept a dogged middle course, throve without show or noise, and also
retired in their turn. The Caros were pulled completely down in the
competition with the other two, and when Widow Caro's daughter married
her cousin Jim Caro, he tried to regain for the family its original
place in the three-cornered struggle. He took contracts at less than
he could profit by, speculated more and more, till at last the crash
came; he was sold up, went away, and later on came back to live in this
little cottage, which was his wife's by inheritance. There he remained
till his death; and now his widow was gone. Hardships had helped on
The quarryman proceeded on his way, and Pierston, deeply remorseful,
knocked at the door of the minute freehold. The girl herself opened
it, lamp in hand.
'Avice!' he said tenderly; 'Avice Caro!' even now unable to get over
the strange feeling that he was twenty years younger, addressing Avice
'Ann, sir,' said she.
'Ah, your name is not the same as your mother's!'
'My second name is. And my surname. Poor mother married her cousin.'
'As everybody does here. . . . Well, Ann or otherwise, you are Avice
to me. And you have lost her now?'
'I have, sir.'
She spoke in the very same sweet voice that he had listened to a score
of years before, and bent eyes of the same familiar hazel inquiringly
'I knew your mother at one time,' he said; 'and learning of her death
and burial I took the liberty of calling upon you. You will forgive a
stranger doing that?'
'Yes,' she said dispassionately, and glancing round the room: 'This
was mother's own house, and now it is mine. I am sorry not to be in
mourning on the night of her funeral, but I have just been to put some
flowers on her grave, and I took it off afore going that the damp mid
not spoil the crape. You see, she was bad a long time, and I have to
be careful, and do washing and ironing for a living. She hurt her side
with wringing up the large sheets she had to wash for the Castle folks
'I hope you won't hurt yourself doing it, my dear.'
'O no, that I sha'n't! There's Charl Woollat, and Sammy Scribben, and
Ted Gibsey, and lots o' young chaps; they'll wring anything for me if
they happen to come along. But I can hardly trust 'em. Sam Scribben
t'other day twisted a linen tablecloth into two pieces, for all the
world as if it had been a pipe-light. They never know when to stop in
The voice truly was his Avice's; but Avice the Second was clearly more
matter-of-fact, unreflecting, less cultivated than her mother had been.
This Avice would never recite poetry from any platform, local or other,
with enthusiastic appreciation of its fire. There was a disappointment
in his recognition of this; yet she touched him as few had done: he
could not bear to go away. 'How old are you?' he asked.
'Going in nineteen.'
It was about the age of her double, Avice the First, when he and she
had strolled together over the cliffs during the engagement. But he
was now forty, if a day. She before him was an uneducated laundress,
and he was a sculptor and a Royal Academician, with a fortune and a
reputation. Yet why was it an unpleasant sensation to him just then to
recollect that he was two score?
He could find no further excuse for remaining, and having still half-
an-hour to spare he went round by the road to the other or west side of
the last-century 'Sylvania Castle,' and came to the furthest house out
there on the cliff. It was his early home. Used in the summer as a
lodging-house for visitors, it now stood empty and silent, the evening
wind swaying the euonymus and tamarisk boughs in the front--the only
evergreen shrubs that could weather the whipping salt gales which sped
past the walls. Opposite the house, far out at sea, the familiar
lightship winked from the sandbank, and all at once there came to him a
wild wish--that, instead of having an artist's reputation, he could be
living here an illiterate and unknown man, wooing, and in a fair way of
winning, the pretty laundress in the cottage hard by.
2. V. THE RESUMPTION TAKES PLACE
Having returned to London he mechanically resumed his customary life;
but he was not really living there. The phantom of Avice, now grown to
be warm flesh and blood, held his mind afar. He thought of nothing but
the isle, and Avice the Second dwelling therein--inhaling its salt
breath, stroked by its singing rains and by the haunted atmosphere of
Roman Venus about and around the site of her perished temple there.
The very defects in the country girl became charms as viewed from town.
Nothing now pleased him so much as to spend that portion of the
afternoon which he devoted to out-door exercise, in haunting the
purlieus of the wharves along the Thames, where the stone of his native
rock was unshipped from the coasting-craft that had brought it thither.
He would pass inside the great gates of these landing-places on the
right or left bank, contemplate the white cubes and oblongs, imbibe
their associations, call up the genius loci whence they came, and
almost forget that he was in London.
One afternoon he was walking away from the mud-splashed entrance to one
of the wharves, when his attention was drawn to a female form on the
opposite side of the way, going towards the spot he had just left. She
was somewhat small, slight, and graceful; her attire alone would have
been enough to attract him, being simple and countrified to
picturesqueness; but he was more than attracted by her strong
resemblance to Avice Caro the younger--Ann Avice, as she had said she
Before she had receded a hundred yards he felt certain that it was
Avice indeed; and his unifying mood of the afternoon was now so intense
that the lost and the found Avice seemed essentially the same person.
Their external likeness to each other--probably owing to the cousinship
between the elder and her husband--went far to nourish the fantasy. He
hastily turned, and rediscovered the girl among the pedestrians. She
kept on her way to the wharf, where, looking inquiringly around her for
a few seconds, with the manner of one unaccustomed to the locality, she
opened the gate and disappeared.
Pierston also went up to the gate and entered. She had crossed to the
landing-place, beyond which a lumpy craft lay moored. Drawing nearer,
he discovered her to be engaged in conversation with the skipper and an
elderly woman--both come straight from the oolitic isle, as was
apparent in a moment from their accent. Pierston felt no hesitation in
making himself known as a native, the ruptured engagement between
Avice's mother and himself twenty years before having been known to few
or none now living.
The present embodiment of Avice recognized him, and with the artless
candour of her race and years explained the situation, though that was
rather his duty as an intruder than hers.
'This is Cap'n Kibbs, sir, a distant relation of father's,' she said.
'And this is Mrs. Kibbs. We've come up from the island wi'en just for
a trip, and are going to sail back wi'en Wednesday.'
'O, I see. And where are you staying?'
'What, you live on board entirely?'
'Lord, sir,' broke in Mrs. Kibbs, 'I should be afeard o' my life to
tine my eyes among these here kimberlins at night-time; and even by
day, if so be I venture into the streets, I nowhen forget how many
turnings to the right and to the left 'tis to get back to Job's vessel-
-do I, Job?'
The skipper nodded confirmation.
'You are safer ashore than afloat,' said Pierston, 'especially in the
Channel, with these winds and those heavy blocks of stone.'
'Well,' said Cap'n Kibbs, after privately clearing something from his
mouth, 'as to the winds, there idden much danger in them at this time
o' year. 'Tis the ocean-bound steamers that make the risk to craft
like ours. If you happen to be in their course, under you go--cut
clane in two pieces, and they never lying-to to haul in your carcases,
and nobody to tell the tale.'
Pierston turned to Avice, wanting to say much to her, yet not knowing
what to say. He lamely remarked at last: 'You go back the same way,
'Well, take care of yourself afloat.'
'I hope--I may see you again soon--and talk to you.'
'I hope so, sir.'
He could not get further, and after a while Pierston left them, and
went away thinking of Avice more than ever.
The next day he mentally timed them down the river, allowing for the
pause to take in ballast, and on the Wednesday pictured the sail down
the open sea. That night he thought of the little craft under the bows
of the huge steam-vessels, powerless to make itself seen or heard, and
Avice, now growing inexpressibly dear, sleeping in her little berth at
the mercy of a thousand chance catastrophes.
Honest perception had told him that this Avice, fairer than her mother
in face and form, was her inferior in soul and understanding. Yet the
fervour which the first could never kindle in him was, almost to his
alarm, burning up now. He began to have misgivings as to some queer
trick that his migratory Beloved was about to play him, or rather the
capricious Divinity behind that ideal lady.
A gigantic satire upon the mutations of his nymph during the past
twenty years seemed looming in the distance. A forsaking of the
accomplished and well-connected Mrs. Pine-Avon for the little
laundress, under the traction of some mystic magnet which had nothing
to do with reason--surely that was the form of the satire.
But it was recklessly pleasant to leave the suspicion unrecognized as
yet, and follow the lead.
In thinking how best to do this Pierston recollected that, as was
customary when the summer-time approached, Sylvania Castle had been
advertised for letting furnished. A solitary dreamer like himself,
whose wants all lay in an artistic and ideal direction, did not require
such gaunt accommodation as the aforesaid residence offered; but the
spot was all, and the expenses of a few months of tenancy therein he
could well afford. A letter to the agent was dispatched that night,
and in a few days Jocelyn found himself the temporary possessor of a
place which he had never seen the inside of since his childhood, and
had then deemed the abode of unpleasant ghosts.
2. VI. THE PAST SHINES IN THE PRESENT
It was the evening of Pierston's arrival at Sylvania Castle, a
dignified manor-house in a nook by the cliffs, with modern
castellations and battlements; and he had walked through the rooms,
about the lawn, and into the surrounding plantation of elms, which on
this island of treeless rock lent a unique character to the enclosure.
In name, nature, and accessories the property within the girdling wall
formed a complete antithesis to everything in its precincts. To find
other trees between Pebble-bank and Beal, it was necessary to recede a
little in time--to dig down to a loose stratum of the underlying stone-
beds, where a forest of conifers lay as petrifactions, their heads all
in one direction, as blown down by a gale in the Secondary geologic
Dusk had closed in, and he now proceeded with what was, after all, the
real business of his sojourn. The two servants who had been left to
take care of the house were in their own quarters, and he went out
unobserved. Crossing a hollow overhung by the budding boughs he
approached an empty garden-house of Elizabethan design, which stood on
the outer wall of the grounds, and commanded by a window the fronts of
the nearest cottages. Among them was the home of the resuscitated
He had chosen this moment for his outlook through knowing that the
villagers were in no hurry to pull down their blinds at nightfall.
And, as he had divined, the inside of the young woman's living-room was
visible to him as formerly, illuminated by the rays of its own lamp.
A subdued thumping came every now and then from the apartment. She was
ironing linen on a flannel table-cloth, a row of such apparel hanging
on a clothes-horse by the fire. Her face had been pale when he
encountered her, but now it was warm and pink with her exertions and
the heat of the stove. Yet it was in perfect and passionless repose,
which imparted a Minerva cast to the profile. When she glanced up, her
lineaments seemed to have all the soul and heart that had characterized
her mother's, and had been with her a true index of the spirit within.
Could it be possible that in this case the manifestation was
fictitious? He had met with many such examples of hereditary
persistence without the qualities signified by the traits. He
unconsciously hoped that it was at least not entirely so here.
The room was less furnished than when he had last beheld it. The 'bo-
fet,' or double corner-cupboard, where the china was formerly kept, had
disappeared, its place being taken by a plain board. The tall old
clock, with its ancient oak carcase, arched brow, and humorous mouth,
was also not to be seen, a cheap, white-dialled specimen doing its
work. What these displacements might betoken saddened his humanity
less than it cheered his primitive instinct in pointing out how her
necessities might bring them together.
Having fixed his residence near her for some lengthy time he felt in no
hurry to obtrude his presence just now, and went indoors. That this
girl's frame was doomed to be a real embodiment of that olden seductive
one--that Protean dream-creature, who had never seen fit to irradiate
the mother's image till it became a mere memory after dissolution--he
doubted less every moment.
There was an uneasiness in recognizing such. There was something
abnormal in his present proclivity. A certain sanity had, after all,
accompanied his former idealizing passions: the Beloved had seldom
informed a personality which, while enrapturing his soul,
simultaneously shocked his intellect. A change, perhaps, had come.
It was a fine morning on the morrow. Walking in the grounds towards
the gate he saw Avice entering his hired castle with a broad oval
wicker-basket covered with a white cloth, which burden she bore round
to the back door. Of course, she washed for his own household: he had
not thought of that. In the morning sunlight she appeared rather as a
sylph than as a washerwoman; and he could not but think that the
slightness of her figure was as ill adapted to this occupation as her
mother's had been.
But, after all, it was not the washerwoman that he saw now. In front
of her, on the surface of her, was shining out that more real, more
inter-penetrating being whom he knew so well! The occupation of the
subserving minion, the blemishes of the temporary creature who formed
the background, were of the same account in the presentation of the
indispensable one as the supporting posts and framework in a
She left the house and went homeward by a path of which he was not
aware, having probably changed her course because she had seen him
standing there. It meant nothing, for she had hardly become acquainted
with him; yet that she should have avoided him was a new experience.
He had no opportunity for a further study of her by distant
observation, and hit upon a pretext for bringing her face to face with
him. He found fault with his linen, and directed that the laundress
should be sent for.
'She is rather young, poor little thing,' said the housemaid
apologetically. 'But since her mother's death she has enough to do to
keep above water, and we make shift with her. But I'll tell her, sir.'
'I will see her myself. Send her in when she comes,' said Pierston.
One morning, accordingly, when he was answering a spiteful criticism of
a late work of his, he was told that she waited his pleasure in the
hall. He went out.
'About the washing,' said the sculptor stiffly. 'I am a very
particular person, and I wish no preparation of lime to be used.'
'I didn't know folks used it,' replied the maiden, in a scared and
reserved tone, without looking at him.
'That's all right. And then, the mangling smashes the buttons.'
'I haven't got a mangle, sir,' she murmured.
'Ah! that's satisfactory. And I object to so much borax in the
'I don't put any,' Avice returned in the same close way; 'never heard
the name o't afore!'
'O I see.'
All this time Pierston was thinking of the girl--or as the scientific
might say, Nature was working her plans for the next generation under
the cloak of a dialogue on linen. He could not read her individual
character, owing to the confusing effect of her likeness to a woman
whom he had valued too late. He could not help seeing in her all that
he knew of another, and veiling in her all that did not harmonize with
his sense of metempsychosis.
The girl seemed to think of nothing but the business in hand. She had
answered to the point, and was hardly aware of his sex or of his shape.
'I knew your mother, Avice,' he said. 'You remember my telling you
'Well--I have taken this house for two or three months, and you will be
very useful to me. You still live just outside the wall?'
'Yes, sir,' said the self-contained girl.
Demurely and dispassionately she turned to leave--this pretty creature
with features so still. There was something strange in seeing move off
thus that form which he knew passing well, she who was once so
throbbingly alive to his presence that, not many yards from this spot,
she had flung her arms round him and given him a kiss which, despised
in its freshness, had revived in him latterly as the dearest kiss of
all his life. And now this 'daps' of her mother (as they called her in
the dialect here), this perfect copy, why did she turn away?
'Your mother was a refined and well-informed woman, I think I
'She was, sir; everybody said so.'
'I hope you resemble her.'
She archly shook her head, and drew warily away.
'O! one thing more, Avice. I have not brought much linen, so you must
come to the house every day.'
'Very good, sir.'
'You won't forget that?'
Then he let her go. He was a town man, and she an artless islander,
yet he had opened himself out, like a sea-anemone, without disturbing
the epiderm of her nature. It was monstrous that a maiden who had
assumed the personality of her of his tenderest memory should be so
impervious. Perhaps it was he who was wanting. Avice might be Passion
masking as Indifference, because he was so many years older in outward
This brought him to the root of it. In his heart he was not a day
older than when he had wooed the mother at the daughter's present age.
His record moved on with the years, his sentiments stood still.
When he beheld those of his fellows who were defined as buffers and
fogeys--imperturbable, matter-of-fact, slightly ridiculous beings, past
masters in the art of populating homes, schools, and colleges, and
present adepts in the science of giving away brides--how he envied
them, assuming them to feel as they appeared to feel, with their
commerce and their politics, their glasses and their pipes. They had
got past the distracting currents of passionateness, and were in the
calm waters of middle-aged philosophy. But he, their contemporary, was
tossed like a cork hither and thither upon the crest of every fancy,
precisely as he had been tossed when he was half his present age, with
the burden now of double pain to himself in his growing vision of all
Avice had gone, and he saw her no more that day. Since he could not
again call upon her, she was as inaccessible as if she had entered the
military citadel on the hill-top beyond them.
In the evening he went out and paced down the lane to the Red King's
castle overhanging the cliff, beside whose age the castle he occupied
was but a thing of yesterday. Below the castle precipice lay enormous
blocks, which had fallen from it, and several of them were carved over
with names and initials. He knew the spot and the old trick well, and
by searching in the faint moon-rays he found a pair of names which, as
a boy, he himself had cut. They were 'AVICE' and 'JOCELYN'--Avice
Caro's and his own. The letters were now nearly worn away by the
weather and the brine. But close by, in quite fresh letters, stood
'ANN AVICE,' coupled with the name 'ISAAC.' They could not have been
there more than two or three years, and the 'Ann Avice' was probably
Avice the Second. Who was Isaac? Some boy admirer of her child-time
He retraced his steps, and passed the Caros' house towards his own.
The revivified Avice animated the dwelling, and the light within the
room fell upon the window. She was just inside that blind.
* * *
Whenever she unexpectedly came to the castle he started, and lost
placidity. It was not at her presence as such, but at the new
condition, which seemed to have something sinister in it. On the other
hand, the most abrupt encounter with him moved her to no emotion as it
had moved her prototype in the old days. She was indifferent to,
almost unconscious of, his propinquity. He was no more than a statue
to her; she was a growing fire to him.
A sudden Sapphic terror of love would ever and anon come upon the
sculptor, when his matured reflecting powers would insist upon
informing him of the fearful lapse from reasonableness that lay in this
infatuation. It threw him into a sweat. What if now, at last, he were
doomed to do penance for his past emotional wanderings (in a material
sense) by being chained in fatal fidelity to an object that his
intellect despised? One night he dreamt that he saw dimly masking
behind that young countenance 'the Weaver of Wiles' herself, 'with all
her subtle face laughing aloud.'
However, the Well-Beloved was alive again, had been lost and was found.
He was amazed at the change of front in himself. She had worn the
guise of strange women; she had been a woman of every class, from the
dignified daughter of some ecclesiastic or peer to a Nubian Almeh with
her handkerchief, undulating to the beats of the tom-tom; but all these
embodiments had been endowed with a certain smartness, either of the
flesh or spirit: some with wit, a few with talent, and even genius.
But the new impersonation had apparently nothing beyond sex and
prettiness. She knew not how to sport a fan or handkerchief, hardly
how to pull on a glove.
But her limited life was innocent, and that went far. Poor little
Avice! her mother's image: there it all lay. After all, her parentage
was as good as his own; it was misfortune that had sent her down to
this. Odd as it seemed to him, her limitations were largely what he
loved her for. Her rejuvenating power over him had ineffable charm.
He felt as he had felt when standing beside her predecessor; but, alas!
he was twenty years further on towards the shade.
2. VII. THE NEW BECOMES ESTABLISHED
A few mornings later he was looking through an upper back window over a
screened part of the garden. The door beneath him opened, and a figure
appeared tripping forth. She went round out of sight to where the
gardener was at work, and presently returned with a bunch of green
stuff fluttering in each hand. It was Avice, her dark hair now braided
up snugly under a cap. She sailed on with a rapt and unconscious face,
her thoughts a thousand removes from him.
How she had suddenly come to be an inmate of his own house he could not
understand, till he recalled the fact that he had given the castle
servants a whole holiday to attend a review of the yeomanry in the
watering-place over the bay, on their stating that they could provide a
temporary substitute to stay in the house. They had evidently called
in Avice. To his great pleasure he discovered their opinion of his
requirements to be such a mean one that they had called in no one else.
The Spirit, as she seemed to him, brought his lunch into the room where
he was writing, and he beheld her uncover it. She went to the window
to adjust a blind which had slipped, and he had a good view of her
profile. It was not unlike that of one of the three goddesses in
Rubens's 'Judgment of Paris,' and in contour was nigh perfection. But
it was in her full face that the vision of her mother was most
'Did you cook all this, Avice?' he asked, arousing himself.
She turned and half-smiled, merely murmuring, 'Yes, sir.'
Well he knew the arrangement of those white teeth. In the junction of
two of the upper ones there was a slight irregularity; no stranger
would have noticed it, nor would he, but that he knew of the same mark
in her mother's mouth, and looked for it here. Till Avice the Second
had revealed it this moment by her smile, he had never beheld that mark
since the parting from Avice the First, when she had smiled under his
kiss as the copy had done now.
Next morning, when dressing, he heard her through the ricketty floor of
the building engaged in conversation with the other servants. Having
by this time regularly installed herself as the exponent of the Long-
pursued--as one who, by no initiative of his own, had been chosen by
some superior Power as the vehicle of her next debut, she attracted him
by the cadences of her voice; she would suddenly drop it to a rich
whisper of roguishness, when the slight rural monotony of its narrative
speech disappeared, and soul and heart--or what seemed soul and heart--
resounded. The charm lay in the intervals, using that word in its
musical sense. She would say a few syllables in one note, and end her
sentence in a soft modulation upwards, then downwards, then into her
own note again. The curve of sound was as artistic as any line of
beauty ever struck by his pencil--as satisfying as the curves of her
who was the World's Desire.
The subject of her discourse he cared nothing about--it was no more his
interest than his concern. He took special pains that in catching her
voice he might not comprehend her words. To the tones he had a right,
none to the articulations. By degrees he could not exist long without
On Sunday evening he found that she went to church. He followed behind
her over the open road, keeping his eye on the little hat with its
bunch of cock's feathers as on a star. When she had passed in Pierston
observed her position and took a seat behind her.
Engaged in the study of her ear and the nape of her white neck, he
suddenly became aware of the presence of a lady still further ahead in
the aisle, whose attire, though of black materials in the quietest
form, was of a cut which rather suggested London than this Ultima
Thule. For the minute he forgot, in his curiosity, that Avice
intervened. The lady turned her head somewhat, and, though she was
veiled with unusual thickness for the season, he seemed to recognize
Nichola Pine-Avon in the form.
Why should Mrs. Pine-Avon be there? Pierston asked himself, if it
should, indeed, be she.
The end of the service saw his attention again concentrated on Avice to
such a degree that at the critical moment of moving out he forgot the
mysterious lady in front of her, and found that she had left the church
by the side-door. Supposing it to have been Mrs. Pine-Avon, she would
probably be discovered staying at one of the hotels at the watering-
place over the bay, and to have come along the Pebble-bank to the
island as so many did, for an evening drive. For the present, however,
the explanation was not forthcoming; and he did not seek it.
When he emerged from the church the great placid eye of the lighthouse
at the Beal Point was open, and he moved thitherward a few steps to
escape Nichola, or her double, and the rest of the congregation.
Turning at length, he hastened homeward along the now deserted
trackway, intending to overtake the revitalized Avice. But he could
see nothing of her, and concluded that she had walked too fast for him.
Arrived at his own gate he paused a moment, and perceived that Avice's
little freehold was still in darkness. She had not come.
He retraced his steps, but could not find her, the only persons on the
road being a man and his wife, as he knew them to be though he could
not see them, from the words of the man--
'If you had not a'ready married me, you'd cut my acquaintance! That's
a pretty thing for a wife to say!'
The remark struck his ear unpleasantly, and by-and-by he went back
again. Avice's cottage was now lighted: she must have come round by
the other road. Satisfied that she was safely domiciled for the night
he opened the gate of Sylvania Castle and retired to his room also.
* * *
Eastward from the grounds the cliffs were rugged and the view of the
opposite coast picturesque in the extreme. A little door from the lawn
gave him immediate access to the rocks and shore on this side. Without
the door was a dip-well of pure water, which possibly had supplied the
inmates of the adjoining and now ruinous Red King's castle at the time
of its erection. On a sunny morning he was meditating here when he
discerned a figure on the shore below spreading white linen upon the
Jocelyn descended. Avice, as he had supposed, had now returned to her
own occupation. Her shapely pink arms, though slight, were plump
enough to show dimples at the elbows, and were set off by her purple
cotton print, which the shore-breeze licked and tantalized. He stood
near, without speaking. The wind dragged a shirt-sleeve from the
'popple' or pebble which held it down. Pierston stooped and put a
heavier one in its place.
'Thank you,' she said quietly. She turned up her hazel eyes, and
seemed gratified to perceive that her assistant was Pierston. She had
plainly been so wrapped in her own thoughts--gloomy thoughts, by their
signs--that she had not considered him till then.
The young girl continued to converse with him in friendly frankness,
showing neither ardour nor shyness. As for love--it was evidently
further from her mind than even death and dissolution.
When one of the sheets became intractable Jocelyn said, 'Do you hold it
down, and I'll put the popples.'
She acquiesced, and in placing a pebble his hand touched hers.
It was a young hand, rather long and thin, a little damp and coddled
from her slopping. In setting down the last stone he laid it, by a
pure accident, rather heavily on her fingers.
'I am very, very sorry!' Jocelyn exclaimed. 'O, I have bruised the
skin, Avice!' He seized her fingers to examine the damage done.
'No, sir, you haven't!' she cried luminously, allowing him to retain
her hand without the least objection. 'Why--that's where I scratched
it this morning with a pin. You didn't hurt me a bit with the popple-
Although her gown was purple, there was a little black crape bow upon
each arm. He knew what it meant, and it saddened him. 'Do you ever
visit your mother's grave?' he asked.
'Yes, sir, sometimes. I am going there tonight to water the daisies.'
She had now finished here, and they parted. That evening, when the sky
was red, he emerged by the garden-door and passed her house. The
blinds were not down, and he could see her sewing within. While he
paused she sprang up as if she had forgotten the hour, and tossed on
her hat. Jocelyn strode ahead and round the corner, and was halfway up
the straggling street before he discerned her little figure behind him.
He hastened past the lads and young women with clinking buckets who
were drawing water from the fountains by the wayside, and took the
direction of the church. With the disappearance of the sun the
lighthouse had again set up its flame against the sky, the dark church
rising in the foreground. Here he allowed her to overtake him.
'You loved your mother much?' said Jocelyn.
'I did, sir; of course I did,' said the girl, who tripped so lightly
that it seemed he might have carried her on his hand.
Pierston wished to say, 'So did I,' but did not like to disclose events
which she, apparently, never guessed. Avice fell into thought, and
'Mother had a very sad life for some time when she was about as old as
I. I should not like mine to be as hers. Her young man proved false
to her because she wouldn't agree to meet him one night, and it grieved
mother almost all her life. I wouldn't ha' fretted about him, if I'd
been she. She would never name his name, but I know he was a wicked,
cruel man; and I hate to think of him.'
After this he could not go into the churchyard with her, and walked
onward alone to the south of the isle. He was wretched for hours. Yet
he would not have stood where he did stand in the ranks of an
imaginative profession if he had not been at the mercy of every
haunting of the fancy that can beset man. It was in his weaknesses as
a citizen and a national-unit that his strength lay as an artist, and
he felt it childish to complain of susceptibilities not only innate but
But he was paying dearly enough for his Liliths. He saw a terrible
vengeance ahead. What had he done to be tormented like this? The
Beloved, after flitting from Nichola Pine-Avon to the phantom of a dead
woman whom he never adored in her lifetime, had taken up her abode in
the living representative of the dead, with a permanence of hold which
the absolute indifference of that little brown-eyed representative only
seemed to intensify.
Did he really wish to proceed to marriage with this chit of a girl? He
did: the wish had come at last. It was true that as he studied her he
saw defects in addition to her social insufficiencies. Judgment,
hoodwinked as it was, told him that she was colder in nature, commoner
in character, than that well read, bright little woman Avice the First.
But twenty years make a difference in ideals, and the added demands of
middle-age in physical form are more than balanced by its concessions
as to the spiritual content. He looked at himself in the glass, and
felt glad at those inner deficiencies in Avice which formerly would
have impelled him to reject her.
There was a strange difference in his regard of his present folly and
of his love in his youthful time. Now he could be mad with method,
knowing it to be madness: then he was compelled to make believe his
madness wisdom. In those days any flash of reason upon his loved one's
imperfections was blurred over hastily and with fear. Such penetrative
vision now did not cool him. He knew he was the creature of a
tendency; and passively acquiesced.
To use a practical eye, it appeared that, as he had once thought, this
Caro family--though it might not for centuries, or ever, furbish up an
individual nature which would exactly, ideally, supplement his own
imperfect one and round with it the perfect whole--was yet the only
family he had ever met, or was likely to meet, which possessed the
materials for her making. It was as if the Caros had found the clay
but not the potter, while other families whose daughters might attract
him had found the potter but not the clay.
2. VIII. HIS OWN SOUL CONFRONTS HIM
From his roomy castle and its grounds and the cliffs hard by he could
command every move and aspect of her who was the rejuvenated Spirit of
the Past to him--in the effulgence of whom all sordid details were
Among other things he observed that she was often anxious when it
rained. If, after a wet day, a golden streak appeared in the sky over
Deadman's Bay, under a lid of cloud, her manner was joyous and her
This puzzled him; and he found that if he endeavoured to encounter her
at these times she shunned him--stealthily and subtly, but
unmistakably. One evening, when she had left her cottage and tripped
off in the direction of the under-hill townlet, he set out by the same
route, resolved to await her return along the high roadway which
stretched between that place and East Quarriers.
He reached the top of the old road where it makes a sudden descent to
the townlet, but she did not appear. Turning back, he sauntered along
till he had nearly reached his own house again. Then he retraced his
steps, and in the dim night he walked backwards and forwards on the
bare and lofty convex of the isle; the stars above and around him, the
lighthouse on duty at the distant point, the lightship winking from the
sandbank, the combing of the pebble beach by the tide beneath, the
church away south-westward, where the island fathers lay.
He walked the wild summit till his legs ached, and his heart ached--
till he seemed to hear on the upper wind the stones of the slingers
whizzing past, and the voices of the invaders who annihilated them, and
married their wives and daughters, and produced Avice as the ultimate
flower of the combined stocks. Still she did not come. It was more
than foolish to wait, yet he could not help waiting. At length he
discerned a dot of a figure, which he knew to be hers rather by its
motion than by its shape.
How incomparably the immaterial dream dwarfed the grandest of
substantial things, when here, between those three sublimities--the
sky, the rock, and the ocean--the minute personality of this washer-
girl filled his consciousness to its extremest boundary, and the
stupendous inanimate scene shrank to a corner therein.
But all at once the approaching figure had disappeared. He looked
about; she had certainly vanished. At one side of the road was a low
wall, but she could not have gone behind that without considerable
trouble and singular conduct. He looked behind him; she had reappeared
further on the road.
Jocelyn Pierston hurried after; and, discerning his movement, Avice
stood still. When he came up, she was slily shaking with restrained
'Well, what does this mean, my dear girl?' he asked.
Her inner mirth escaping in spite of her she turned askance and said:
'When you was following me to Street o' Wells, two hours ago, I looked
round and saw you, and huddied behind a stone! You passed and brushed
my frock without seeing me. And when, on my way backalong, I saw you
waiting hereabout again, I slipped over the wall, and ran past you! If
I had not stopped and looked round at 'ee, you would never have catched
'What did you do that for, you elf!'
'That you shouldn't find me.'
'That's not exactly a reason. Give another, dear Avice,' he said, as
he turned and walked beside her homeward.
She hesitated. 'Come!' he urged again.
''Twas because I thought you wanted to be my young man,' she answered.
'What a wild thought of yours! Supposing I did, wouldn't you have me?'
'Not now. . . . And not for long, even if it had been sooner than
'If I tell you, you won't laugh at me or let anybody else know?'
'Then I will tell you,' she said quite seriously. ''Tis because I get
tired o' my lovers as soon as I get to know them well. What I see in
one young man for a while soon leaves him and goes into another yonder,
and I follow, and then what I admire fades out of him and springs up
somewhere else; and so I follow on, and never fix to one. I have loved
FIFTEEN a'ready! Yes, fifteen, I am almost ashamed to say,' she
repeated, laughing. 'I can't help it, sir, I assure you. Of course it
is really, to ME, the same one all through, on'y I can't catch him!'
She added anxiously, 'You won't tell anybody o' this in me, will you,
sir? Because if it were known I am afraid no man would like me.'
Pierston was surprised into stillness. Here was this obscure and
almost illiterate girl engaged in the pursuit of the impossible ideal,
just as he had been himself doing for the last twenty years. She was
doing it quite involuntarily, by sheer necessity of her organization,
puzzled all the while at her own instinct. He suddenly thought of its
bearing upon himself, and said, with a sinking heart--
'Am I--one of them?'
She pondered critically.
'You was; for a week; when I first saw you.'
'Only a week?'
'What made the being of your fancy forsake my form and go elsewhere?'
'Well--though you seemed handsome and gentlemanly at first--'
'I found you too old soon after.'
'You are a candid young person.'
'But you asked me, sir!' she expostulated.
'I did; and, having been answered, I won't intrude upon you longer. So
cut along home as fast as you can. It is getting late.'
When she had passed out of earshot he also followed homewards. This
seeking of the Well-Beloved was, then, of the nature of a knife which
could cut two ways. To be the seeker was one thing: to be one of the
corpses from which the ideal inhabitant had departed was another; and
this was what he had become now, in the mockery of new Days.
The startling parallel in the idiosyncracies of Avice and himself--
evinced by the elusiveness of the Beloved with her as with him--meant
probably that there had been some remote ancestor common to both
families, from whom the trait had latently descended and recrudesced.
But the result was none the less disconcerting.
Drawing near his own gate he smelt tobacco, and could discern two
figures in the side lane leading past Avice's door. They did not,
however, enter her house, but strolled onward to the narrow pass
conducting to Red-King Castle and the sea. He was in momentary
heaviness at the thought that they might be Avice with a worthless
lover, but a faintly argumentative tone from the man informed him that
they were the same married couple going homeward whom he had
encountered on a previous occasion.
The next day he gave the servants a half-holiday to get the pretty
Avice into the castle again for a few hours, the better to observe her.
While she was pulling down the blinds at sunset a whistle of peculiar
quality came from some point on the cliffs outside the lawn. He
observed that her colour rose slightly, though she bustled about as if
she had noticed nothing.
Pierston suddenly suspected that she had not only fifteen past admirers
but a current one. Still, he might be mistaken. Stimulated now by
ancient memories and present tenderness to use every effort to make her
his wife, despite her conventional unfitness, he strung himself up to
sift this mystery. If he could only win her--and how could a country
girl refuse such an opportunity?--he could pack her off to school for
two or three years, marry her, enlarge her mind by a little travel, and
take his chance of the rest. As to her want of ardour for him--so
sadly in contrast with her sainted mother's affection--a man twenty
years older than his bride could expect no better, and he would be well
content to put up with it in the pleasure of possessing one in whom
seemed to linger as an aroma all the charm of his youth and his early
2. IX. JUXTAPOSITIONS
It was a sad and leaden afternoon, and Pierston paced up the long,
steep pass or street of the Wells. On either side of the road young
girls stood with pitchers at the fountains which bubbled there, and
behind the houses forming the propylaea of the rock rose the massive
forehead of the Isle--crested at this part with its enormous ramparts
as with a mural crown.
As you approach the upper end of the street all progress seems about to
be checked by the almost vertical face of the escarpment. Into it your
track apparently runs point-blank: a confronting mass which, if it
were to slip down, would overwhelm the whole town. But in a moment you
find that the road, the old Roman highway into the peninsula, turns at
a sharp angle when it reaches the base of the scarp, and ascends in the
stiffest of inclines to the right. To the left there is also another
ascending road, modern, almost as steep as the first, and perfectly
straight. This is the road to the forts.
Pierston arrived at the forking of the ways, and paused for breath.
Before turning to the right, his proper and picturesque course, he
looked up the uninteresting left road to the fortifications. It was
new, long, white, regular, tapering to a vanishing point, like a lesson
in perspective. About a quarter of the way up a girl was resting
beside a basket of white linen: and by the shape of her hat and the
nature of her burden he recognized her.
She did not see him, and abandoning the right-hand course he slowly
ascended the incline she had taken. He observed that her attention was
absorbed by something aloft. He followed the direction of her gaze.
Above them towered the green-grey mountain of grassy stone, here
levelled at the top by military art. The skyline was broken every now
and then by a little peg-like object--a sentry-box; and near one of
these a small red spot kept creeping backwards and forwards
monotonously against the heavy sky.
Then he divined that she had a soldier-lover.
She turned her head, saw him, and took up her clothes-basket to
continue the ascent. The steepness was such that to climb it
unencumbered was a breathless business; the linen made her task a
cruelty to her. 'You'll never get to the forts with that weight,' he
said. 'Give it to me.'
But she would not, and he stood still, watching her as she panted up
the way; for the moment an irradiated being, the epitome of a whole
sex: by the beams of his own infatuation
'. . . . . . . robed in such exceeding glory
That he beheld her not;'
beheld her not as she really was, as she was even to himself sometimes.
But to the soldier what was she? Smaller and smaller she waned up the
rigid mathematical road, still gazing at the soldier aloft, as Pierston
gazed at her. He could just discern sentinels springing up at the
different coigns of vantage that she passed, but seeing who she was
they did not intercept her; and presently she crossed the drawbridge
over the enormous chasm surrounding the forts, passed the sentries
there also, and disappeared through the arch into the interior.
Pierston could not see the sentry now, and there occurred to him the
hateful idea that this scarlet rival was meeting and talking freely to
her, the unprotected orphan girl of his sweet original Avice; perhaps,
relieved of duty, escorting her across the interior, carrying her
basket, her tender body encircled by his arm.
'What the devil are you staring at, as if you were in a trance?'
Pierston turned his head: and there stood his old friend Somers--still
looking the long-leased bachelor that he was.
'I might say what the devil do you do here? if I weren't so glad to see
Somers said that he had come to see what was detaining his friend in
such an out-of-the-way place at that time of year, and incidentally to
get some fresh air into his own lungs. Pierston made him welcome, and
they went towards Sylvania Castle.
'You were staring, as far as I could see, at a pretty little
washerwoman with a basket of clothes?' resumed the painter.
'Yes; it was that to you, but not to me. Behind the mere pretty
island-girl (to the world) is, in my eye, the Idea, in Platonic
phraseology--the essence and epitome of all that is desirable in this
existence. . . . I am under a doom, Somers. Yes, I am under a doom.
To have been always following a phantom whom I saw in woman after woman
while she was at a distance, but vanishing away on close approach, was
bad enough; but now the terrible thing is that the phantom does NOT
vanish, but stays to tantalize me even when I am near enough to see
what it is! That girl holds me, THOUGH my eyes are open, and THOUGH I
see that I am a fool!'
Somers regarded the visionary look of his friend, which rather
intensified than decreased as his years wore on, but made no further
remark. When they reached the castle Somers gazed round upon the
scenery, and Pierston, signifying the quaint little Elizabethan
cottage, said: 'That's where she lives.'
'What a romantic place!--and this island altogether. A man might love
a scarecrow or turnip-lantern here.'
'But a woman mightn't. Scenery doesn't impress them, though they
pretend it does. This girl is as fickle as--'
'You once were.'
'Exactly--from your point of view. She has told me so--candidly. And
it hits me hard.'
Somers stood still in sudden thought. 'Well--that IS a strange turning
of the tables!' he said. 'But you wouldn't really marry her,
'I would--to-morrow. Why shouldn't I? What are fame and name and
society to me--a descendant of wreckers and smugglers, like her.
Besides, I know what she's made of, my boy, to her innermost fibre; I
know the perfect and pure quarry she was dug from: and that gives a
'Then you'll win.'
* * *
While they were sitting after dinner that evening their quiet discourse
was interrupted by the long low whistle from the cliffs without.
Somers took no notice, but Pierston marked it. That whistle always
occurred at the same time in the evening when Avice was helping in the
house. He excused himself for a moment to his visitor and went out
upon the dark lawn. A crunching of feet upon the gravel mixed in with
the articulation of the sea--steps light as if they were winged. And
he supposed, two minutes later, that the mouth of some hulking fellow
was upon hers, which he himself hardly ventured to look at, so touching
was its young beauty.
Hearing people about--among others the before-mentioned married couple
quarrelling, the woman's tones having a kinship to Avice's own--he
returned to the house. Next day Somers roamed abroad to look for
scenery for a marine painting, and, going out to seek him, Pierston met
'So you have a lover, my lady!' he said severely. She admitted that it
was the fact. 'You won't stick to him,' he continued.
'I think I may to THIS one,' said she, in a meaning tone that he failed
to fathom then. 'He deserted me once, but he won't again.'
'I suppose he's a wonderful sort of fellow?'
'He's good enough for me.'
'So handsome, no doubt.'
'Handsome enough for me.'
'So refined and respectable.'
'Refined and respectable enough for me.'
He could not disturb her equanimity, and let her pass. The next day
was Sunday, and Somers having chosen his view at the other end of the
island, Pierston determined in the afternoon to see Avice's lover. He
found that she had left her cottage stronghold, and went on towards the
lighthouses at the Beal. Turning back when he had reached the nearest,
he saw on the lonely road between the quarries a young man evidently
connected with the stone trade, with Avice the Second upon his arm.
She looked prettily guilty and blushed a little under his glance. The
man's was one of the typical island physiognomies--his features
energetic and wary in their expression, and half covered with a close,
crisp black beard. Pierston fancied that out of his keen dark eyes
there glimmered a dry sense of humour at the situation.
If so, Avice must have told him of Pierston's symptoms of tenderness.
This girl, whom, for her dear mother's sake more than for her own
unquestionable attractiveness, he would have guarded as the apple of
his eye, how could she estimate him so flippantly!
The mortification of having brought himself to this position with the
antitype, by his early slight of the type, blinded him for the moment
to what struck him a short time after. The man upon whose arm she hung
was not a soldier. What, then, became of her entranced gaze at the
sentinel? She could hardly have transferred her affections so
promptly; or, to give her the benefit of his own theory, her Beloved
could scarcely have flitted from frame to frame in so very brief an
interval. And which of them had been he who whistled softly in the
dusk to her?
Without further attempt to find Alfred Somers Pierston walked homeward,
moodily thinking that the desire to make reparation to the original
woman by wedding and enriching the copy--which lent such an
unprecedented permanence to his new love--was thwarted, as if by set
intention of his destiny.
At the door of the grounds about the castle there stood a carriage. He
observed that it was not one of the homely flys from the under-hill
town, but apparently from the popular resort across the bay. Wondering
why the visitor had not driven in he entered, to find in the drawing-
room Nichola Pine-Avon.
At his first glance upon her, fashionably dressed and graceful in
movement, she seemed beautiful; at the second, when he observed that
her face was pale and agitated, she seemed pathetic likewise.
Altogether, she was now a very different figure from her who, sitting
in her chair with such finished composure, had snubbed him in her
drawing-room in Hamptonshire Square.
'You are surprised at this? Of course you are!' she said, in a low,
pleading voice, languidly lifting her heavy eyelids, while he was
holding her hand. 'But I couldn't help it! I know I have done
something to offend you--have I not? O! what can it be, that you have
come away to this outlandish rock, to live with barbarians in the midst
of the London season?'
'You have not offended me, dear Mrs. Pine-Avon,' he said. 'How sorry I
am that you should have supposed it! Yet I am glad, too, that your
fancy should have done me the good turn of bringing you here to see
'I am staying at Budmouth-Regis,' she explained.
'Then I did see you at a church-service here a little while back?'
She blushed faintly upon her pallor, and she sighed. Their eyes met.
'Well,' she said at last, 'I don't know why I shouldn't show the virtue
of candour. You know what it means. I was the stronger once; now I am
the weaker. Whatever pain I may have given you in the ups and downs of
our acquaintance I am sorry for, and would willingly repair all errors
of the past by--being amenable to reason in the future.'
It was impossible that Jocelyn should not feel a tender impulsion
towards this attractive and once independent woman, who from every
worldly point of view was an excellent match for him--a superior match,
indeed, except in money. He took her hand again and held it awhile,
and a faint wave of gladness seemed to flow through her. But no--he
could go no further. That island girl, in her coquettish Sunday frock
and little hat with its bunch of cock's feathers held him as by strands
of Manila rope. He dropped Nichola's hand.
'I am leaving Budmouth to-morrow,' she said. 'That was why I felt I
must call. You did not know I had been there all through the Whitsun
'I did not, indeed; or I should have come to see you.'.
'I didn't like to write. I wish I had, now!'
'I wish you had, too, dear Mrs. Pine-Avon.'
But it was 'Nichola' that she wanted to be. As they reached the landau
he told her that he should be back in town himself again soon, and
would call immediately. At the moment of his words Avice Caro, now
alone, passed close along by the carriage on the other side, towards
her house hard at hand. She did not turn head or eye to the pair:
they seemed to be in her view objects of indifference.
Pierston became cold as a stone. The chill towards Nichola that the
presence of the girl,--sprite, witch, troll that she was--brought with
it came like a doom. He knew what a fool he was, as he had said. But
he was powerless in the grasp of the idealizing passion. He cared more
for Avice's finger-tips than for Mrs. Pine-Avon's whole personality.
Perhaps Nichola saw it, for she said mournfully: 'Now I have done all
I could! I felt that the only counterpoise to my cruelty to you in my
drawing-room would be to come as a suppliant to yours.'
'It is most handsome and noble of you, my very dear friend!' said he,
with an emotion of courtesy rather than of enthusiasm.
Then adieux were spoken, and she drove away. But Pierston saw only the
retreating Avice, and knew that he was helpless in her hands. The
church of the island had risen near the foundations of the Pagan
temple, and a Christian emanation from the former might be wrathfully
torturing him through the very false gods to whom he had devoted
himself both in his craft, like Demetrius of Ephesus, and in his heart.
Perhaps Divine punishment for his idolatries had come.
2. X. SHE FAILS TO VANISH STILL
Pierston had not turned far back towards the castle when he was
overtaken by Somers and the man who carried his painting lumber. They
paced together to the door; the man deposited the articles and went
away, and the two walked up and down before entering.
'I met an extremely interesting woman in the road out there,' said the
'Ah, she is! A sprite, a sylph; Psyche indeed!'
'I was struck with her.'
'It shows how beauty will out through the homeliest guise.'
'Yes, it will; though not always. And this case doesn't prove it, for
the lady's attire was in the latest and most approved taste.'
'Oh, you mean the lady who was driving?'
'Of course. What, were you thinking of the pretty little cottage-girl
outside here? I did meet her, but what's she? Very well for one's
picture, though hardly for one's fireside. This lady--'
'Is Mrs. Pine-Avon. A kind, proud woman, who'll do what people with no
pride would not condescend to think of. She is leaving Budmouth to-
morrow, and she drove across to see me. You know how things seemed to
be going with us at one time? But I am no good to any woman. She's
been very generous towards me, which I've not been to her. . . .
She'll ultimately throw herself away upon some wretch unworthy of her,
'Do you think so?' murmured Somers. After a while he said abruptly,
'I'll marry her myself, if she'll have me. I like the look of her.'
'I wish you would, Alfred, or rather could! She has long had an idea
of slipping out of the world of fashion into the world of art. She is
a woman of individuality and earnest instincts. I am in real trouble
about her. I won't say she can be won--it would be ungenerous of me to
say that. But try. I can bring you together easily.'
'I'll marry her, if she's willing!' With the phlegmatic dogmatism that
was part of him, Somers added: 'When you have decided to marry, take
the first nice woman you meet. They are all alike.'
'Well--you don't know her yet,' replied Jocelyn, who could give praise
where he could not give love.
'But you do, and I'll take her on the strength of your judgment. Is
she really handsome?--I had but the merest glance. But I know she is,
or she wouldn't have caught your discriminating eye.'
'You may take my word for it; she looks as well at hand as afar.'
'What colour are her eyes?'
'Her eyes? I don't go much in for colour, being professionally sworn
to form. But, let me see--grey; and her hair rather light than dark
'I wanted something darker,' said Somers airily. 'There are so many
fair models among native Englishwomen. Still, blondes are useful
property!. . . Well, well; this is flippancy. But I liked the look of
* * *
Somers had gone back to town. It was a wet day on the little
peninsula: but Pierston walked out as far as the garden-house of his
hired castle, where he sat down and smoked. This erection being on the
boundary-wall of his property his ear could now and then catch the
tones of Avice's voice from her open-doored cottage in the lane which
skirted his fence; and he noticed that there were no modulations in it.
He knew why that was. She wished to go out, and could not. He had
observed before that when she was planning an outing a particular note
would come into her voice during the preceding hours: a dove's
roundness of sound; no doubt the effect upon her voice of her thoughts
of her lover, or lovers. Yet the latter it could not be. She was pure
and singlehearted: half an eye could see that. Whence, then, the two
men? Possibly the quarrier was a relation.
There seemed reason in this when, going out into the lane, he
encountered one of the red jackets he had been thinking of. Soldiers
were seldom seen in this outer part of the isle: their beat from the
forts, when on pleasure, was in the opposite direction, and this man
must have had a special reason for coming hither. Pierston surveyed
him. He was a round-faced, good-humoured fellow to look at, having two
little pieces of moustache on his upper lip, like a pair of minnows
rampant, and small black eyes, over which the Glengarry cap straddled
flat. It was a hateful idea that her tender cheek should be kissed by
the lips of this heavy young man, who had never been sublimed by a
single battle, even with defenceless savages.
The soldier went before her house, looked at the door, and moved on
down the crooked way to the cliffs, where there was a path back to the
forts. But he did not adopt it, returning by the way he had come.
This showed his wish to pass the house again. She gave no sign,
however, and the soldier disappeared.
Pierston could not be satisfied that Avice was in the house, and he
crossed over to the front of her little freehold and tapped at the
door, which stood ajar.
Nobody came: hearing a slight movement within he crossed the
threshold. Avice was there alone, sitting on a low stool in a dark
corner, as though she wished to be unobserved by any casual passer-by.
She looked up at him without emotion or apparent surprise; but he could
then see that she was crying. The view, for the first time, of
distress in an unprotected young girl towards whom he felt drawn by
ties of extraordinary delicacy and tenderness, moved Pierston beyond
measure. He entered without ceremony.
'Avice, my dear girl!' he said. 'Something is the matter!'
She looked assent, and he went on: 'Now tell me all about it. Perhaps
I can help you. Come, tell me.'
'I can't!' she murmured. 'Grammer Stockwool is upstairs, and she'll
hear!' Mrs. Stockwool was the old woman who had come to live with the
girl for company since her mother's death.
'Then come into my garden opposite. There we shall be quite private.'
She rose, put on her hat, and accompanied him to the door. Here she
asked him if the lane were empty, and on his assuring her that it was
she crossed over and entered with him through the garden-wall.
The place was a shady and secluded one, though through the boughs the
sea could be seen quite near at hand, its moanings being distinctly
audible. A water-drop from a tree fell here and there, but the rain
was not enough to hurt them.
'Now let me hear it,' he said soothingly. 'You may tell me with the
greatest freedom. I was a friend of your mother's, you know. That is,
I knew her; and I'll be a friend of yours.'
The statement was risky, if he wished her not to suspect him of being
her mother's false one. But that lover's name appeared to be unknown
to the present Avice.
'I can't tell you, sir,' she replied unwillingly; 'except that it has
to do with my own changeableness. The rest is the secret of somebody
'I am sorry for that,' said he.
'I am getting to care for one I ought not to think of, and it means
ruin. I ought to get away!'.
'You mean from the island?'
Pierston reflected. His presence in London had been desired for some
time; yet he had delayed going because of his new solicitudes here.
But to go and take her with him would afford him opportunity of
watching over her, tending her mind, and developing it; while it might
remove her from some looming danger. It was a somewhat awkward
guardianship for him, as a lonely man, to carry out; still, it could be
done. He asked her abruptly if she would really like to go away for a
'I like best to stay here,' she answered. 'Still, I should not mind
going somewhere, because I think I ought to.'
'Would you like London?'
Avice's face lost its weeping shape. 'How could that be?' she said.
'I have been thinking that you could come to my house and make yourself
useful in some way. I rent just now one of those new places called
flats, which you may have heard of; and I have a studio at the back.'