Part 4 out of 7
and conical bullets; he drilled his men till he was an abomination in
their eyes, and a weariness to their flesh; only every evening he went
to the theatre, watched La Cordifiamma with a heavy heart, and then
went home to bed; for the little man had good sense enough to ask
Sabina for no more interviews with her. So in all things he acquitted
himself as a model officer, and excited the admiration and respect of
Serjeant Major MacArthur, who began fishing at Bowie to discover the
cause of this strange metamorphosis in the rackety little Irishman.
"Your master seems to be qualifying himself for the adjutant's post,
Mr. Bowie. I'm jalousing he's fired with martial ardour since the war
To which Bowie, being a brother Scot, answered Scottice, by a crafty
"I've always held it as my opeeeenion, that his lordship is a youth of
very good parts, if he was only compelled to employ them."
Whosoever enjoys the sight of an honest man doing his work well,
would have enjoyed the sight of Tom Thurnall for the next two months.
In-doors all the morning, and out of doors all the afternoon, was that
shrewd and good-natured visage, calling up an answering smile on every
face, and leaving every heart a little lighter than he found it.
Puzzling enough it was, alike to Heale and to Headley, how Tom
contrived, as if by magic, to gain every one's good word--their own
included. For Frank, in spite of Tom's questionable opinions, had
already made all but a confidant of the Doctor; and Heale, in spite
of envy and suspicion, could not deny that the young man was a very
valuable young man, if he wasn't given so much to those new-fangled
notions of the profession.
By which term Heale indicated the, to him, astounding fact, that Tom
charged the patients as little, instead of as much as possible, and
applying to medicine the principles of an enlightened political
economy, tried to increase the demand by cheapening the supply.
"Which is revolutionary doctrine, sir," said Heale to Lieutenant
Jones, over the brandy-and-water, "and just like what the Cobden
and Bright lot used to talk, and have been the ruin of British
agriculture, though don't say I said so, because of my Lord
Minchampstead. But, conceive my feelings, sir, as the father of a
family, who have my bread to earn, this very morning.--In comes old
Dame Penaluna (which is good pay I know, and has two hundred and more
out on a merchant brig) for something; and what was my feelings, sir,
to hear this young party deliver himself--'Well, ma'am,' says he, as I
am a living man, 'I can cure you, if you like, with a dozen bottles of
lotion, at eighteenpence a-piece; but if you'll take my advice, you'll
buy two pennyworth of alum down street, do what I tell you with it,
and cure yourself.' It's robbery, sir, I say, all these out-of-the-way
cheap dodges, which arn't in the pharmacopoeia, half of them; it's
"Tell you what, Doctor, robbery or none, I'll go to him to-morrow,
d'ye see, if I live as long, for this old ailment of mine. I never
told you of it, old pill and potion, for fear of a swinging bill: but
just grinned and bore it, d'ye see."
"There it is again," cries Heale in despair. "He'll ruin me."
"No, he won't, and you know it."
"What d'ye think he served me last week? A young chap comes in,
consumptive, he said, and I dare say he's right--he is uncommonly
'cute about what he calls diagnosis. Says he, 'You ought to try
Carrageen moss. It's an old drug, but it's a good one.' There was a
drawer full of it to his hand; had been lying there any time this ten
years: I go to open it; but what was my feelings when he goes on, as
cool as a cucumber--'And there's bushels of it here,' says he, 'on
every rock; so if you'll come down with me at low tide this afternoon,
I'll show you the trade, and tell you how to boil it.' I thought I
should have knocked him down."
"But you didn't," said Jones, laughing in every muscle of his body.
"Tell you what, Doctor, you've got a treasure; he's just getting back
your custom, d'ye see, and when he's done that, he'll lay on the bills
sharp enough. Why, I hear he's up at Mrs. Vavasour's every day."
"And not ten shillings' worth of medicine sent up to the house any
"He charges for his visits, I suppose."
"Not he! If you'll believe me, when I asked him if he wasn't going
to, he says, says he, that Mrs. Vavasour's company was quite payment
enough for him."
"Shows his good taste. Why, what now, Mary?" as the maid opens the
"Mr. Thurnall wants Mr. Heale."
"Always wanting me," groans Heale, hugging his glass, "driving me
about like any negro slave. Tell him to come in."
"Here, Doctor," says the Lieutenant, "I want you to prescribe for me,
if you'll do it gratis, d'ye see. Take some brandy and water."
"Good advice costs nothing," says Tom, filling; "Mr. Heale, read that
And the Lieutenant details his ailments, and their supposed cause,
till Heale has the pleasure of hearing Tom answer--
"Fiddlesticks! That's not what's the matter with you. I'll cure you
for half-a-crown, and toss you up double or quits.
"Oh!" groans Heale, as he spells away over the letter,--
"Lord Minchampstead having been informed by Mr. Armsworth that Mr.
Thurnall is now in the neighbourhood of his estates of Pentremochyn,
would feel obliged to him at his earliest convenience to examine into
the sanitary state of the cottages thereon, which are said to be much
haunted by typhus and other epidemics, and to send him a detailed
report, indicating what he thinks necessary for making them thoroughly
healthy. Mr. Thurnall will be so good as to make his own charge."
"Well, Mr. Thurnall, you ought to turn a good penny by this," said
Heale, half envious of Tom's connection, half contemptuous at his
supposed indifference to gain.
"I'll charge what it's worth," said Tom. "Meanwhile, I hope you're
going to see Miss Beer to-night."
"Couldn't you just go yourself, my dear sir? It is so late."
"No; I never go near young women. I told you so at first, and I stick
to my rule. You'd better go, sir, on my word, or if she's dead before
morning, don't say it's my fault."
"Did you ever hear a poor old man so tyrannised over?" said Heale, as
Tom coolly went into the passage, brought in the old man's great coat
and hat, arrayed him and marched him out, civilly, but firmly.
"Now, Lieutenant, I've half an hour to spare; let's have a jolly chat
about the West Indies."
And Tom began with anecdote and joke, and the old seaman laughed till
he cried, and went to bed vowing that there never was such a pleasant
fellow on earth, and he ought to be physician to Queen Victoria.
Up at five the next morning, the indefatigable Tom had all his work
done by ten; and was preparing to start for Pentremochyn, ere Heale
was out of bed, when a customer came in who kept him half an hour.
He was a tall broad-shouldered young man, with a red face, protruding
bull's eyes, and a moustachio. He was dressed in a complete suit of
pink and white plaid, cut jauntily enough. A bright blue cap, a thick
gold watch-chain, three or four large rings, a dog-whistle from his
button-hole, a fancy cane in his hand, and a little Oxford meerschaum
in his mouth, completed his equipment. He lounged in, with an air of
careless superiority, while Tom, who was behind the counter, cutting
up his day's provision of honey-dew, eyed him curiously.
"Who are you, now? A gentleman? Not quite, I guess. Some squireen of
the parts adjacent, and look in somewhat of a crapulocomatose state
moreover. I wonder if you are the great Trebooze of Trebooze."
"I say," yawned the young gentleman, "where's old Heale?" and an oath
followed the speech, as it did every other one herein recorded.
"The playing half of old Heale is in bed, and I'm his working half.
Can I do anything for you?"
"Cool fish," thought the customer. "I say--what have you got there?"
"Australian honey-dew. Did you ever smoke it?"
"I've heard of it; let's see:" and Mr. Trebooze--for it was he--put
his hand across the counter unceremoniously, and clawed up some.
"Didn't know you sold tobacco here. Prime stuff. Too strong for me,
though, this morning, somehow."
"Ah? A little too much claret last night? I thought so. We'll set that
right in five minutes."
"Eh? How did you guess that?" asked Trebooze, with a larger oath than
"Oh, we doctors are men of the world," said Tom, in a cheerful and
insinuating tone, as he mixed his man a draught.
"You doctors? You're a cock of a different hackle from old Heale,
"I trust so," said Tom.
"By George, I feel better already. I say, you're a trump; I suppose
you're Heale's new partner, the man who was washed ashore!"
Tom nodded assent;
"I say--How do you sell that honey-dew?"
"I don't sell it; I'll give you as much as you like, only you shan't
smoke it till after dinner."
"Shan't?" said Trebooze, testy and proud.
"Not with my leave, or you'll be complaining two hours hence that I am
a humbug, and have done you no good. Get on your horse, and have four
hours' gallop on the downs, and you'll feel like a buffalo bull by two
Trebooze looked at him with a stupid curiosity and a little awe. He
saw that Tom's cool self-possession was not meant for impudence; and
something in his tone and manner told him that the boast of being "a
man of the world" was not untrue. And of all kinds of men, a man of
the world was the man of whom Trebooze stood most in awe. A small
squireen, cursed with six or seven hundreds a year of his own, never
sent to school, college, or into the army, he had grown up in a narrow
circle of squireens like himself, without an object save that of
gratifying his animal passions; and had about six years before, being
then just of age, settled in life by marrying his housemaid--the only
wise thing, perhaps, he ever did. For she, a clever and determined
woman, kept him, though not from drunkenness and debt, at least from
delirium tremens and ruin, and was, in her rough, vulgar way, his
guardian angel--such a one at least, as he was worthy of. More than
once has one seen the same seeming folly turn out in practice as wise
a step as could well have been taken; and the coarse nature of the
man, which would have crushed and ill-used a delicate and high-minded
wife, subdued to something like decency by a help literally meet for
There was a pause. Trebooze fancied, and wisely, that the Doctor was a
cleverer man than he, and of course would want to show it. So, after
the fashion of a country squireen, he felt a longing to "set him
down." "He's been a traveller, they say," thought he in that
pugnacious, sceptical spirit which is bred, not, as twaddlers fancy,
by too extended knowledge, but by the sense of ignorance, and a narrow
sphere of thought, which makes a man angry and envious of any one who
has seen more than he.
"Buffalo bulls?" said he, half contemptuously; "what do you know about
"I was one once myself," said Tom, "where I lived before."
Trebooze swore. "Don't you put your traveller's lies on me, sir."
"Well, perhaps I dreamt it," said Tom, placidly; "I remember I dreamt
at the same time that you were a grizzly bear, fourteen feet long, and
wanted to eat me up: but you found me too tough about the hump ribs."
Trebooze stared at his audacity.
"You're a rum hand."
To which Tom made answer in the same elegant strain; and then began a
regular word-battle of slang, in which Tom showed himself so
really witty a proficient, that Mr. Trebooze laughed himself into
good-humour, and ended by--
"I say, you're a good fellow, and I think you and I shall suit."
Tom had his doubts, but did not express them.
"Come up this afternoon and see my child; Mrs. Trebooze thinks it's
got swelled glands, or some such woman's nonsense. Bother them, why
can't they let the child alone, fussing and doctoring; and she will
have you. Heard of you from Mrs. Vavasour, I believe. Our doctor and I
have quarrelled, and she said, if I could get you, she'd sooner have
you than that old rum-puncheon Heale. And then, you'd better stop and
take pot-luck, and we'll make a night of it."
"I have to go round Lord Minchampstead's estates, and will take you on
my way: but I'm afraid I shall be too dirty to have the pleasure of
dining with Mrs. Trebooze coming back."
"Mrs. Trebooze! She must take what I like; and what's good enough for
me is good enough for her, I hope. Come as you are--Liberty Hall at
Trebooze;" and out he swaggered.
"Does he bully her?" thought Tom, "or is he hen-pecked, and wants to
hide it? I'll see to-night, and play my cards accordingly."
All which Miss Heale had heard. She had been peeping and listening
at the glass-door, and her mother also; for no sooner had Trebooze
entered the shop, than she had run off to tell her mother the
surprising fact, Trebooze's custom having been, for some years past,
courted in vain by Heale. So Miss Heale peeped and peeped at a man
whom she regarded with delighted curiosity, because he bore the
reputation of being "such a naughty wicked man!" and "so very handsome
too, and so distinguished as he looks!" said the poor little fool, to
whose novel-fed imagination Mr. Trebooze was an ideal Lothario.
But the surprise of the two dames grew rapidly as they heard Tom's
audacity towards the country aristocrat.
"Impudent wretch!" moaned Mrs. Heale to herself. "He'd drive away an
angel if he came into the shop."
"Oh, ma! hear how they are going on now."
"I can't bear it, my dear. This man will be the ruin of us. His
manners are those of the pot-house, when the cloven foot is shown,
which it's his nature as a child of wrath, and we can't expect
"Oh, ma! do you hear that Mr. Trebooze has asked him to dinner?"
But it was true.
"Well! if there ain't the signs of the end of the world, which is? All
the years your poor father has been here, and never so much as send
him a hare, and now this young penniless interloper; and he to dine at
Trebooze off purple and fine linen."
"There is not much of that there, ma; I'm sure they are poor enough,
for all his pride; and as for her--"
"Yes, my dear; and as for her, though we haven't married squires, my
dear, yet we haven't been squires' housemaids, and have adorned our
own station, which was good enough for us, and has no need to rise out
of it, nor ride on Pharaoh's chariot-wheels after filthy lucre--"
Miss Heale hated poor Mrs. Trebooze with a bitter hatred, because
she dreamed insanely that, but for her, she might have secured Mr.
Trebooze for herself. And though her ambition was now transferred to
the unconscious Tom, that need not make any difference in the said
But that Tom was a most wonderful person, she had no doubt. He had
conquered her heart--so she informed herself passionately again and
again; as was very necessary, seeing that the passion, having no real
life of its own, required a good deal of blowing to keep it alight.
Yes, he had conquered her heart, and he was conquering all hearts
likewise. There must be some mystery about him--there should be. And
she settled in her novel-bewildered brain, that Tom must be a nobleman
in disguise--probably a foreign prince exiled for political offences.
Bah! perhaps too many lines have been spent on the poor little fool;
but as such fools exist, and people must be as they are, there is no
harm in drawing her; and in asking, too--Who will help those young
girls of the middle class who, like Miss Heale, are often really less
educated than the children of their parents' workmen; sedentary,
luxurious, full of petty vanity, gossip, and intrigue, without work,
without purpose, except that of getting married to any one who will
ask them--bewildering brain and heart with novels, which, after all,
one hardly grudges them; for what other means have they of learning
that there is any fairer, nobler life possible, at least on earth,
than that of the sordid money-getting, often the sordid puffery and
adulteration, which is the atmosphere of their home? Exceptions there
are, in thousands, doubtless; and the families of the great city
tradesmen, stand, of course, on far higher ground, and are often far
better educated, and more high-minded, than the fine ladies, their
parents' customers. But, till some better plan of education than
the boarding-school is devised for them; till our towns shall see
something like in kind to, though sounder and soberer in quality than,
the high schools of America; till in country villages the ladies who
interest themselves about the poor will recollect that the farmers'
and tradesmen's daughters are just as much in want of their influence
as the charity children, and will yield a far richer return for their
labour, though the one need not interfere with the other; so long will
England be full of Miss Heales; fated, when they marry, to bring up
sons and daughters as sordid and unwholesome as their mothers.
Tom worked all that day in and out of the Pentremochyn cottages,
noting down nuisances and dilapidations: but his head was full of
other thoughts; for he had received, the evening before, news which
was to him very important, for more reasons than one.
The longer he stayed at Aberalva, the longer he felt inclined to stay.
The strange attraction of Grace had, as we have seen, something to do
with his purpose: but he saw, too, a good opening for one of those
country practices, in which he seemed more and more likely to end. At
his native Whitbury, he knew, there was no room for a fresh medical
man; and gradually he was making up his mind to settle at Aberalva; to
buy out Heale, either with his own money (if he recovered it), or with
money borrowed from Mark; to bring his father down to live with him,
and in that pleasant wild western place, fold his wings after all his
wanderings. And therefore certain news which he had obtained the night
before was very valuable to him, in that it put a fresh person into
his power, and might, if cunningly used, give him a hold upon the
ruling family of the place, and on Lord Scoutbush himself. He had
found out that Lucia and Elsley were unhappy together; and found out,
too, a little more than was there to find. He could not, of course, be
a month among the gossips of Aberalva, without hearing hints that the
great folks at the court did not always keep their tempers; for, of
family jars, as of everything else on earth, the great and just law
stands true:--"What you do in the closet, shall be proclaimed on the
But the gossips of Aberalva, as women are too often wont to do, had
altogether taken the man's side in the quarrel. The reason was, I
suppose, that Lucia, conscious of having fallen somewhat in rank,
"held up her head" to Mrs. Trebooze and Mrs. Heale (as they themselves
expressed it), and to various other little notabilities of the
neighbourhood, rather more than she would have done had she married a
man of her own class. She was afraid that they might boast of being
intimate with her; that they might take to advising and patronising
her as an inexperienced young creature; afraid, even, that she might
be tempted, in some unguarded moment, to gossip with them, confide her
unhappiness to them, in the blind longing to open her heart to some
human being; for there were no resident gentry of her own rank in the
neighbourhood. She was too high-minded to complain much to Clara; and
her sister Valencia was the very last person to whom she would confess
that her run-away-match had not been altogether successful. So she
lived alone and friendless, shrinking into herself more and more,
while the vulgar women round mistook her honour for pride, and
revenged themselves accordingly. She was an uninteresting fine lady,
proud and cross, and Elsley was a martyr. "So handsome and agreeable
as he was--(and to do him justice, he was the former, and he could be
the latter when he chose)--to be tied to that unsociable, stuck-up
woman;" and so forth.
All which Tom had heard, and formed his own opinion thereof; which
"All very fine: but I flatter myself I know a little what women are
made of; and this I know, that where man and wife quarrel, even if she
ends the battle, it is he who has begun it. I never saw a case yet
where the man was not the most in fault; and I'll lay my life John
Briggs has led her a pretty life: what else could one expect of him?"
However, he held his tongue, and kept his eyes open withal whenever he
went up to Penalva Court, which he had to do very often; for though
he had cured the children of their ailments, yet Mrs. Vavasour was
perpetually, more or less, unwell, and he could not cure her. Her low
spirits, headaches, general want of tone and vitality, puzzled him
at first; and would have puzzled him longer, had he not settled with
himself that their cause was to be sought in the mind, and not in the
body; and at last, gaining courage from certainty, he had hinted as
much to Miss Clara the night before, when she came down (as she was
very fond of doing) to have a gossip with him in his shop, under the
pretence of fetching medicine.
"I don't think I shall send Mrs. Vavasour any more, Miss Clara. There
is no use running up a long bill when I do no good; and, what is more,
suspect that I can do none, poor lady." And he gave the girl a look
which seemed to say, "You had better tell me the truth; for I know
To which Clara answered by trying to find out how much he did know:
but Tom was a cunninger diplomatist than she; and in ten minutes,
after having given solemn promises of secresy, and having, by strong
expressions of contempt for Mrs. Heale and the village gossips, made
Clara understand that he did not at all take their view of the case,
he had poured out to him across the counter all Clara's long-pent
indignation and contempt.
"I never said a word of this to a living soul, sir; I was too proud,
for my mistress's sake, to let vulgar people know what we suffered.
We don't want any of their pity indeed; but you, sir, who have the
feelings of a gentleman, and know what the world is, like ourselves--"
"Take care," whispered Tom; "that daughter of Heale's may be
"I'd pull her hair about her ears if I caught her!" quoth Clara; and
then ran on to tell how Elsley "never kept no hours, nor no accounts
either; so that she has to do everything, poor thing; and no thanks
either. And never knows when he'll dine, or when he'll breakfast, or
when he'll be in, wandering in and out like a madman; and sits up all
night, writing his nonsense. And she'll go down twice and three times
a night in the cold, poor dear, to see if he's fallen asleep; and gets
abused like a pickpocket for her pains (which was an exaggeration);
and lies in bed all the morning, looking at the flies, and calls after
her if his shoes want tying, or his finger aches; as helpless as the
babe unborn; and will never do nothing useful himself, not even to
hang a picture or move a chair, and grumbles at her if he sees her
doing anything, because she ain't listening to his prosodies, and
snaps, and worrits, and won't speak to her sometimes for a whole
morning, the brute."
"But is he not fond of his children?"
"Fond? Yes, his way, and small thanks to him, the little angels! To
play with 'em when they're good, and tell them cock-and-a-bull fairy
tales--wonder why he likes to put such stuff into their heads--and
then send 'em out of the room if they make a noise, because it splits
his poor head, and his nerves are so delicate. Wish he had hers, or
mine either, Doctor Thurnall; then he'd know what nerves was, in a
frail woman, which he uses us both as his negro slaves, or would if I
didn't stand up to him pretty sharp now and then, and give him a piece
of my mind, which I will do, like the faithful servant in the parable,
if he kills me for it, Doctor Thurnall!"
"Does he drink?" asked Tom, bluntly.
"He!" she answered, in a tone which seemed to imply that even one
masculine vice would have raised him in her eyes. "He's not man
enough, I think; and lives on his slops, and his coffee, and his
tapioca; and how's he ever to have any appetite, always a sitting
about, heaped up together over his books, with his ribs growing into
his backbone?--If he'd only go and take his walk, or get a spade and
dig in the garden, or anything but them everlasting papers, which I
hates the sight of;" and so forth.
From all which Tom gathered a tolerably clear notion of the poor
poet's state of body and mind; as a self-indulgent, unmethodical
person, whose ill-temper was owing partly to perpetual brooding over
his own thoughts, and partly to dyspepsia, brought on by his own
effeminacy--in both cases, not a thing to be pitied or excused by the
hearty and valiant Doctor. And Tom's original contempt for Vavasour
took a darker form, perhaps one too dark to be altogether just.
"I'll tackle him, Miss Clara."
"I wish you would: I'm sure he wants some one to look after him just
now. He's half wild about some review that somebody's been and done of
him in The Times, and has been flinging the paper about the room, and
calling all mankind vipers and adders, and hooting herds--it's as bad
as swearing, I say--and running to my mistress, to make her read it,
and see how the whole world's against him, and then forbidding her to
defile her eyes with a word of it; and so on, till she's been crying
all the morning, poor dear!"
"Why not laughing at him?"
"Poor thing; that's where it all is: she's just as anxious about his
poetry as he is, and would write it just as well as he, I'll warrant,
if she hadn't better things to do; and all her fuss is, that people
should 'appreciate' him. He's always talking about appreciating, till
I hate the sound of the word. How any woman can go on so after a man
that behaves as he does! but we're all soft fools, I'm afraid, Doctor
Thurnall." And Clara began a languishing look or two across the
counter, which made Tom answer to an imaginary Doctor Heale, whom he
heard calling from within.
"Yes, Doctor! coming this moment, Doctor! Good-bye, Miss Clara. I must
hear more next time; you may trust me, you know; secret as the grave,
and always your friend, and your lady's too, if you will allow me to
do myself such an honour. Coming, Doctor!"
And Tom bolted through the glass door, till Miss Clara was safe on her
way up the street.
"Very well," said Tom to himself. "Knowledge is power: but how to use
it? To get into Mrs. Vavasour's confidence, and show an inclination to
take her part against her husband? If she be a true woman, she would
order me out of the house on the spot, as surely as a fish-wife would
fall tooth and nail on me as a base intruder, if I dared to interfere
with her sacred right of being beaten by her husband when she chooses.
No; I must go straight to John Briggs himself, and bind him over to
keep the peace; and I think I know the way to do it."
So Tom pondered over many plans in his head that day; and then went to
Trebooze, and saw the sick child, and sat down to dinner, where his
host talked loud about the Treboozes of Trebooze, who fought in the
Spanish Armada--or against it; and showed an unbounded belief in
the greatness and antiquity of his family, combined with a historic
accuracy about equal to that of a good old dame of those parts, who
used to say "her family comed over the water, that she knew; but
whether it were with the Conqueror, or whether it were wi' Oliver, she
couldn't exactly say!"
Then he became great on the subject of old county families in general,
and poured out all the vials of his wrath on "that confounded upstart
of a Newbroom, Lord Minchampstead," supplanting all the fine old blood
in the country--"Why, sir, that Pentremochyn, and Carcarrow moors too
(--good shooting there, there used to be), they ought to be mine, sir,
if every man had his rights!" And then followed a long story; and a
confused one withal, for by this time Mr. Trebooze had drunk a great
deal too much wine, and as he became aware of the fact, became
proportionately anxious that Tom should drink too much also; out of
which story Tom picked the plain facts, that Trebooze's father had
mortgaged Pentremochyn estate for more than its value, and that Lord
Minchampstead had foreclosed; while some equally respectable uncle, or
cousin, just deceased, had sold the reversion of Carcarrow to the same
mighty Cotton Lord twenty years before. "And this is the way, sir,
the land gets eaten up by a set of tinkers, and cobblers, and
money-lending jobbers, who suck the blood of the aristocracy!"
The oaths we omit, leaving the reader to pepper Mr. Trebooze's
conversation therewith, up to any degree of heat which may suit his
Tom sympathised with him deeply, of course; and did not tell him, as
he might have done, that he thought the sooner such cumberers of the
ground were cleared off, whether by an encumbered estates' act, such
as we may see yet in England, or by their own suicidal folly, the
better it would be for the universe in general, and perhaps for
themselves in particular. But he only answered with pleasant
"Ah, my dear sir, I am sure there are hundreds of good sportsmen who
can sympathise with you deeply. The wonder is, that you do not unite
and defend yourselves. For not only in the West of England, but in
Ireland, and in Wales, and in the north, too, if one is to believe
those novels of Currer Bell's and her sister, there is a large and
important class of landed proprietors of the same stamp as yourself,
and exposed to the very same dangers. I wonder at times that you do
not all join, and use your combined influence on the Government."
"The Government? All a set of Whig traitors! Call themselves
Conservative, or what they like. Traitors, sir! from that fellow
Peel upwards--all combined to crush the landed gentry--ruin
the Church--betray the country party--D'Israeli--Derby--Free
trade--ruined, sir!--Maynooth--Protection--treason--help yourself, and
pass the--you know, old fellow--"
And Mr. Trebooze's voice died away, and he slumbered, but not softly.
The door opened, and in marched Mrs. Trebooze, tall, tawdry, and
"Mr. Trebooze! it's past eleven o'clock!"
"Hush, my dear madam! He is sleeping so sweetly," said Tom, rising,
and gulping down a glass, not of wine, but of strong ammonia and
water. The rogue had put a phial thereof in his pocket that morning,
expecting that, as Trebooze had said, he would be required to make a
night of it,
She was silent; for to rouse her tyrant was more than she dare do.
If awakened, he would crave for brandy and water; and if he got that
sweet poison, he would probably become furious. She stood for half a
minute; and Tom, who knew her story well, watched her curiously.
"She is a fine woman: and with a far finer heart in her than that
brute. Her eyebrow and eye, now, have the true Siddons' stamp;
the great white forehead, and sharp-cut little nostril, breathing
scorn--and what a Siddons-like attitude!--I should like, madam, to see
the child again before I go."
"If you are fit, sir," answered she.
"Brave woman; comes to the point at once, I am a poor doctor, madam,
and not a country gentleman; and have neither money nor health to
spend in drinking too much wine."
"Then why do you encourage him in it, sir? I had expected a very
different sort of conduct from you, sir."
Tom did not tell her what she would not (no woman will) understand;
that it is morally and socially impossible to escape from the table of
a fool, till either he or you are conquered; and she was too shrewd to
be taken in by commonplace excuses; so he looked her very full in
the face, and replied a little haughtily, with a slow and delicate
articulation, using his lips more than usual, and yet compressing
"I beg your pardon, madam, if I have unintentionally displeased you:
but if you ever do me the honour of knowing more of me, you will be
the first to confess that your words are unjust. Do you wish me to see
your son, or do you not?"
Poor Mrs. Trebooze looked at him, with an eye which showed that
she had been accustomed to study character keenly, perhaps in
self-defence. She saw that Tom was sober; he had taken care to prove
that, by the way in which he spoke; and she saw, too, that he was a
better bred man than her husband, as well as a cleverer. She dropped
her eye before his; heaved something very like a sigh; and then
said, in her curt, fierce tone, which yet implied a sort of sullen
"Yes; come up-stairs."
Tom went up, and looked at the boy again, as he lay sleeping. A
beautiful child of four years old, as large and fair a child as man
need see; and yet there was on him the curse of his father's sins; and
Tom knew it, and knew that his mother knew it also.
"What a noble boy!" said he, after looking, not without honest
admiration, upon the sleeping child, who had kicked off his
bed-clothes, and lay in a wild graceful attitude, as children are wont
to lie; just like an old Greek statue of Cupid, "It all depends upon
you, madam, now."
"On me?" she asked, in a startled, suspicious tone.
"Yes. He is a magnificent boy: but--I can only give palliatives. It
depends upon your care now."
"He will have that, at least, I should hope," she said, nettled.
"And on your influence ten years hence," went on Tom.
"Yes; only keep him steady, and he may grow up a magnificent man. If
not--you will excuse me--but you must not let him live as freely as
his father; the constitutions of the two are very different."
"Don't talk so, sir. Steady? His father makes him drunk now, if he
can; teaches him to swear, because it is manly--God help him and me!"
Tom's cunning and yet kind shaft had sped. He guessed that with a
coarse woman like Mrs. Trebooze his best plan was to come as straight
to the point as he could; and he was right. Ere half an hour was over,
that woman had few secrets on earth which Tom did not know.
"Let me give you one hint before I go," said he at last. "Persuade
your husband to go into a militia regiment."
"Why? He would see so much company, and it would be so expensive."
"The expense would repay itself ten times over. The company which he
would see would be sober company, in which he would be forced to keep
in order. He would have something to do in the world; and he'd do it
well. He is just cut out for a soldier, and might have made a gallant
one by now, if he had had other men's chances. He will find he does
his militia work well; and it will be a new interest, and a new pride,
and a new life to him. And meanwhile, madam, what you have said to me
is sacred. I do not pretend to advise or interfere. Only tell me if I
can be of use--how, when, and where--and command me as your servant."
And Tom departed, having struck another root; and was up at four the
next morning (he never worked at night; for, he said, he never could
trust after-dinner brains), drawing out a detailed report of the
Pentremochyn cottages, which he sent to Lord Minchampstead with--
"And your lordship will excuse my saying, that to put the cottages
into the state in which your lordship, with your known wish for
progress of all kinds, would wish to see them is a responsibility
which I dare not take on myself, as it would involve a present outlay
of not less than L450. This sum would be certainly repaid to your
Lordship and your tenants, in the course of the next three years, by
the saving in poor-rates; an opinion for which I subjoin my grounds
drawn from the books of the medical officer, Mr. Heale: but the
responsibility and possible unpopularity, which employing so great
a sum would involve, is more than I can, in the present dependent
condition of poor-law medical officers, dare to undertake, in justice
to Mr. Heale my employer, save at your special command. I am bound,
however, to inform your lordship, that this outlay would, I think,
perfectly defend the hamlets, not only from that visit of the cholera
which we have every reason to expect next summer, but also from those
zymotic diseases which (as your lordship will see by my returns) make
up more than sixty-five per cent of the aggregate sickness of the
Which letter the old Cotton Lord put in his pocket, rode into Whitbury
therewith, and showed it to Mark Armsworth.
"Well, Mr. Armsworth, what am I to do?"
"Well, my Lord; I told you what sort of a man you'd have to do
with; one that does his work thoroughly, and, I think, pays you a
compliment, by thinking that you want it done thoroughly."
Lord Minchampstead was of the same opinion; but he did not say so.
Few, indeed, have ever heard Lord Minchampstead give his opinion:
though many a man has seen him act on it.
"I'll send down orders to my agent."
"Why, then, my good friend?"
"Agents are always in league with farmers, or guardians, or builders,
or drain-tile makers, or attorneys, or bankers, or somebody; and
either you'll be told that the work don't need doing; or have a job
brewed out of it, to get off a lot of unsaleable drain-tiles, or
cracked soil-pans; or to get farm ditches dug, and perhaps the highway
rates saved building culverts, and fifty dodges beside. I know their
game; and you ought, too, by now, my lord, begging your pardon."
"Perhaps I do, Mark," said his lordship with a chuckle.
"So, I say, let the man that found the fox, run the fox, and kill the
fox, and take the brush home."
"And so it shall be," quoth my Lord Minchampstead.
"AM I NOT A WOMAN AND A SISTER?"
But what was the mysterious bond between La Cordifiamma and the
American, which had prevented Scoutbush from following the example
of his illustrious progenitor, and taking a viscountess from off the
Certainly, any one who had seen her with him on the morning after
Scoutbush's visit to the Mellots, would have said that, if the cause
was love, the love was all on one side.
She was standing by the fireplace in a splendid pose, her arm resting
on the chimney-piece, the book from which she had been reciting in one
hand, the other playing in her black curls, as her eyes glanced back
ever and anon at her own profile in the mirror. Stangrave was half
sitting in a low chair by her side, half kneeling on the footstool
before her, looking up beseechingly, as she looked down tyrannically.
"Stupid, this reciting? Of course it is! I want realities, not shams;
life, not the stage; nature, not art."
"Throw away the book, then, and words, and art, and live!"
She knew well what he meant; but she answered as if she had
"Thanks, I live already, and in good company enough. My ghost-husbands
are as noble as they are obedient; do all which I demand of them, and
vanish on my errands when I tell them. Can you guess who my last
is? Since I tired of Egmont, I have taken Sir Galahad, the spotless
knight. Did you ever read the Mort d'Arthur?"
"A hundred times."
"Of course!" and she spoke in a tone of contempt so strong that it
must have been affected. "What have you not read! And what have you
copied. No wonder that these English have been what they have been for
centuries, while their heroes have been the Galahads, and their Homer
the Mort d'Arthur."
"Enjoy your Utopia!" said he bitterly. "Do you fancy they acted up to
their ideals? They dreamed of the Quest of the Sangreal: but which of
them ever went upon it?"
"And does it count for nothing that they felt it the finest thing in
the world to have gone on it, had it been possible? Be sure if their
ideal was so self-sacrificing, so lofty, their practice was ruled by
something higher than the almighty dollar."
"And so are some other men's, Marie," answered he reproachfully.
"Yes, forsooth;--when the almighty dollar is there already, and a man
has ten times as much to spend every day as he can possibly invest in
French cookery, and wines, and fine clothes, then he begins to lay out
his surplus nobly on self-education, and the patronage of art, and the
theatre--for merely aesthetic purposes, of course; and when the lust
of the flesh has been satisfied, thinks himself an archangel, because
he goes on to satisfy the lust of the eye and the pride of life.
Christ was of old the model, and Sir Galahad was the hero. Now the one
is exchanged for Goethe, and the other for Wilhelm Meister."
"Cruel! You know that my Goethe fever is long past. How would you have
known of its existence if I had not confessed it to you as a sin of
old years? Have I not said to you, again and again, show me the thing
which you would have me do for your sake, and see if I will not do
"For my sake? A noble reason! Show yourself the thing which you will
do for its own sake; because it ought to be done. Show it yourself, I
say; I cannot show you. If your own eyes cannot see the Sangreal, and
the angels who are bearing it before you, it is because they are dull
and gross; and am I Milton's archangel, to purge them with euphrasy
and rue? If you have a noble heart, you will find for yourself the
noblest Quest. If not, who can prove to you that it is noble?" And
tapping impatiently with her foot, she went on to herself--
"'A gentle sound, an awful light!
Three angels bear the holy Grail;
With folded feet, in stoles of white,
On sleeping wings they sail.
Ah, blessed vision! blood of God!
The spirit beats her mortal bars,
As down dark tides, the glory slides,
And star-like mingles with the stars.'
"Why, there was not a knight of the round table, was there, who did
not give up all to go upon that Quest, though only one was found
worthy to fulfil it? But now-a-days, the knights sit drinking hock
and champagne, or drive sulky-wagons, and never fancy that there is a
Quest at all."
"Why talk in these parables?"
"So the Jews asked of their prophets. They are no parables to my
ghost-husband, Sir Galahad. Now go, if you please; I must be busy, and
He rose with a look, half of disappointment, half amused, and yet his
face bore a firmness which seemed to say, "You will be mine yet." As
he rose, he cast his eye upon the writing-table, and upon a letter
which lay there: and as he did so, his cheek grew pale, and his brows
The letter was addressed to "Thomas Thurnall, Esq., Aberalva."
"Is this, then, your Sir Galahad?" asked he, after a pause, during
which he had choked down his rising jealousy, while she looked first
at herself in the glass, and then at him, and then at herself again,
with a determined and triumphant air.
"And what if it be?"
"So he, then, has achieved the Quest of the Sangreal?"
Stangrave spoke bitterly, and with an emphasis upon the "he;" and--
"What if he have? Do you know him?" answered she, while her face
lighted up with eager interest, which she did not care to conceal,
perhaps chose, in her woman's love of tormenting, to parade.
"I knew a man of that name once," he replied, in a carefully careless
tone, which did not deceive her; "an adventurer--a doctor, if I
recollect--who had been in Texas and Mexico, and I know not where
besides. Agreeable enough he was; but as for your Quest of the
Sangreal, whatever it may be, he seemed to have as little notion of
anything beyond his own interest as any Greek I ever met."
"Unjust! Your words only show how little you can see! That man, of all
men I ever met, saw the Quest at once, and followed it, at the risk of
his own life, as far at least as he was concerned with it:--ay, even
when he pretended to see nothing. Oh, there is more generosity in that
man's affected selfishness, than in all the noisy good-nature which I
have met with in the world. Thurnall! oh, you know his nobleness as
little as he knows it himself."
"Then he, I am to suppose, is your phantom-husband, for as long, at
least, as your present dream lasts?" asked he, with white, compressed
"He might have been, I believe," she answered carelessly, "if he had
even taken the trouble to ask me."
"Marie, this is too much! Do you not know to whom you speak? To one
who deserves, if not common courtesy, at least common mercy."
"Because he adores me, and so forth? So has many a man done; or told
me that he has done so. Do you know that I might be a viscountess
to-morrow, so Sabina informs me, if I but chose?"
"A viscountess? Pray accept your effete English aristocrat, and, as
far as I am concerned, accept my best wishes for your happiness."
"My effete English aristocrat, did I show him that pedigree of mine
which I have ere now threatened to show you, would perhaps be less
horrified at it than you are."
"Marie, I cannot bear this! Tell me only what you mean. What care I
for pedigree? I want you--worship you--and that is enough, Marie!"
"You admire me because I am beautiful. What thanks do I owe you for
finding out so patent a fact? What do you do more to me than I do to
myself?" and she glanced back once more at the mirror.
"Marie, you know that your words are false; I do more--"
"You admire me," interrupted she, "because I am clever. What thanks
to you for that, again? What do you do more to me than you do to
"And this, after all--"
"After what? After you found me, or rather I found you--you,
the critic, the arbiter of the greenroom, the highly-organised
do-nothings--teaching others how to do nothing most gracefully; the
would-be Goethe who must, for the sake of his own self-development,
try experiments on every weak woman whom he met. And I, the new
phenomenon, whom you must appreciate to show your own taste, patronise
to show your own liberality, develop to show your own insight into
character. You found yourself mistaken! You had attempted to play
with the tigress--and behold she was talons; to angle for the silly
fish--and behold the fish was the better angler, and caught you."
"Marie, have mercy! Is your heart iron?"
"No; but fire, as my name shows:" and she stood looking down on him
with a glare of dreadful beauty.
"Yes, fire, that I may scorch you, kindle you, madden you, to do my
work, and wear the heart of fire which I wear day and night!"
Stangrave looked at her startled. Was she mad? Her face did not
say so; her brow was white, her features calm, her eye fierce and
contemptuous, but clear, steady, full of meaning.
"So you know Mr. Thurnall?" said she, after a while.
"Yes; why do you ask?"
"Because he is the only friend I have on earth."
"The only friend, Marie?"
"The only one," answered she calmly, "who, seeing the right, has gone
and done it forthwith. When did you see him last?"
"I have not been acquainted with Mr. Thurnall for some years," said
"In plain words, you have quarrelled with him?"
Stangrave bit his lip.
"He and I had a difference. He insulted my nation, and we parted."
She laughed a long, loud, bitter laugh, which rang through Stangrave's
"Insulted your nation? And on what grounds, pray?"
"About that accursed slavery question!"
La Cordifiamma looked at him with firm-closed lips a while.
"So then! I was not aware of this! Even so long ago you saw the
Sangreal, and did not know it when you saw it. No wonder that since
then you have been staring at it for months, in your very hands,
played with it, admired it, made verses about it, to show off your own
taste: and yet were blind to it the whole time! Farewell, then!"
"Marie, what do you mean?" and Stangrave caught both her hands.
"Hush, if you please. I know you are eloquent enough, when you choose,
though you have been somewhat dumb and monosyllabic to-night in the
presence of the actress whom you undertook to educate. But I know that
you can be eloquent, so spare me any brilliant appeals, which can only
go to prove that already settled fact. Between you and me lie two
great gulfs. The one I have told you of; and from it I shrink. The
other I have not told you of; from it you would shrink."
"The first is your Quest of the Sangreal."
She smiled assent, bitterly enough.
"And the second?"
She did not answer. She was looking at herself in the mirror; and
Stangrave, in spite of his almost doting affection, flushed with
anger, almost contempt, at her vanity.
And yet, was it vanity which was expressed in that face? No; but
dread, horror, almost disgust, as she gazed with side-long, startled
eyes, struggling, and yet struggling in vain, to turn her face from
some horrible sight, as if her own image had been the Gorgon's head.
"What is it? Marie, speak!"
But she answered nothing. For that last question she had no heart to
answer; no heart to tell him that in her veins were some drops, at
least, of the blood of slaves. Instinctively she had looked round at
the mirror--for might he not, if he had eyes, discover that secret for
himself? Were there not in her features traces of that taint? And as
she looked,--was it the mere play of her excited fancy,--or did her
eyelid slope more and more, her nostril shorten and curl, her lips
enlarge, her mouth itself protrude?
It was more than the play of fancy; for Stangrave saw it as well as
she. Her actress's imagination, fixed on the African type with an
intensity proportioned to her dread of seeing it in herself, had
moulded her features, for the moment, into the very shape which it
dreaded. And Stangrave saw it, and shuddered as he saw.
Another half minute, and that face also had melted out of the mirror,
at least for Marie's eyes; and in its place an ancient negress,
white-haired, withered as the wrinkled ape, but with eyes closed--in
death. Marie knew that face well; a face which haunted many a dream
of hers; once seen, but never forgotten since; for to that old dame's
coffin had her mother, the gay quadroon woman, flaunting in finery
which was the price of shame, led Marie when she was but a three
years' child; and Marie had seen her bend over the corpse, and call it
her dear old granny, and weep bitter tears.
Suddenly she shook off the spell, and looked round and clown,
terrified, self-conscious. Her eye caught Stangrave's; she saw, or
thought she saw, by the expression of his face, that he knew all, and
burst away with a shriek.
He sprang up and caught her in his arms. "Marie! Beloved Marie!" She
looked up at him struggling; the dark expression had vanished, and
Stangrave's love-blinded eyes could see nothing in that face but the
refined and yet rich beauty of the Italian.
"Marie, this is mere madness; you excite yourself till you know not
what you say, or what you are--"
"I know what I am," murmured she: but he hurried on unheeding.
"You love me, you know you love me; and you madden yourself by
refusing to confess it!" He felt her heart throb as he spoke, and knew
that he spoke truth. "What gulfs are these you dream of? No; I will
not ask. There is no gulf between me and one whom I adore, who has
thrown a spell over me which I cannot resist, which I glory in not
resisting; for you have been my guide, my morning star, which has
awakened me to new life. If I have a noble purpose upon earth, if I
have roused myself from that conceited dream of self-culture which now
looks to me so cold, and barren, and tawdry, into the hope of becoming
useful, beneficent--to whom do I owe it but to you, Marie? No; there
is no gulf, Marie! You are my wife, and you alone!" And he held her
so firmly, and gazed down upon her with such strong manhood, that her
woman's heart quailed; and he might, perhaps, have conquered then and
there, had not Sabina, summoned by her shriek, entered hastily.
"Good heavens! what is the matter?"
"Wait but one minute, Mrs. Mellot," said he; "the next, I shall
introduce you to my bride."
"Never! never! never!" cried she, and breaking from him, flew into
Sabina's arms. "Leave me, leave me to bear my curse alone!"
And she broke out into such wild weeping, and refused so wildly to
hear another word from Stangrave, that he went away in despair, the
prize snatched from his grasp in the very moment of seeming victory.
He went in search of Claude, who had agreed to meet him at the
Exhibition in Trafalgar Square. Thither Stangrave rolled away in his
cab, his heart full of many thoughts. Marie's words about him, though
harsh and exaggerated, were on the whole true. She had fascinated him
utterly. To marry her was now the one object of his life: she had
awakened in him, as he had confessed, noble desires to be useful: but
the discovery that he was to be useful to the negro, that abolition
was the Sangreal in the quest of which he was to go forth, was as
disagreeable a discovery as he could well have made.
From public life in any shape, with all its vulgar noise, its petty
chicanery, its pandering to the mob whom he despised, he had always
shrunk, as so many Americans of his stamp have done. He had no wish to
struggle, unrewarded and disappointed, in the ranks of the minority;
while to gain place and power on the side of the majority was to lend
himself to that fatal policy which, ever since the Missouri Compromise
of 1820, has been gradually making the northern states more and more
the tools of the southern ones. He had no wish to be threatened in
Congress with having his Northerner's "ears nailed to the counter,
like his own base coin," or to be informed that he, with the
17,000,000 of the north, were the "White Slaves" of a southern
aristocracy of 350,000 slaveholders. He had enough comprehension
of, enough admiration for the noble principles of the American
Constitution to see that the democratic mobs of Irish and Germans,
who were stupidly playing into the hands of the Southerners, were not
exactly carrying them out; but he had no mind to face either Irish or
Southerners. The former were too vulgar for his delicacy; the latter
too aristocratic for his pride. Sprung, as he held (and rightly), from
as fine old English blood as any Virginian (though it did happen to be
Puritan, and not Cavalier), he had no lust to come into contact with
men who considered him much further below them in rank than an English
footman is below an English nobleman; who, indeed, would some of them
look down on the English nobleman himself as a mushroom of yesterday.
So he compounded with his conscience by ignoring the whole matter, and
by looking on the state of public affairs on his side of the Atlantic
with a cynicism which very soon (as is usual with rich men) passed
into Epicureanism. Poetry and music, pictures and statues, amusement
and travel, became his idols, and cultivation his substitute for the
plain duty of patriotism, and wandering luxuriously over the world, he
learnt to sentimentalise over cathedrals and monasteries, pictures and
statues, saints and kaisers, with a lazy regret that such "forms of
beauty and nobleness" were no longer possible in a world of scrip and
railroads: but without any notion that it was his duty to reproduce in
his own life, or that of his country, as much as he could of the said
beauty and nobleness. And now he was sorely tried. It was interesting
enough to "develop" the peculiar turn of Marie's genius, by writing
for her plays about liberty, just as he would have written plays
about jealousy, or anything else for representing which she had
"capabilities." But to be called on to act in that Slavery question,
the one in which he knew (as all sensible Americans do) that the life
and death of his country depended, and which for that very reason he
had carefully ignored till a more convenient season, finding in
its very difficulty and danger an excuse for leaving it to solve
itself:--to have this thrust on him, and by her, as the price of the
thing which he must have, or die! If she had asked for his right hand,
he would have given it sooner; and he entered the Royal Academy that
day in much the same humour as that of a fine lady who should find
herself suddenly dragged from the ball-room into the dust-hole, in her
tenderest array of gauze and jewels, and there peremptorily compelled
to sift the cinders, under the superintendence of the sweep and the
Glad to escape from questions which he had rather not answer too
soon, he went in search of Claude, and found him before one of those
pre-Raphaelite pictures, which Claude does not appreciate as he ought.
"Desinit in Culicem mulier formosa superne," said Stangrave, as he
looked over Claude's shoulder; "but I suppose he followed nature, and
copied his model."
"That he didn't," said Claude, "for I know who his model was: but if
he did he had no business to do so. I object on principle to these
men's notion of what copying nature means. I don't deny him talent.
I am ready to confess that there is more imagination and more honest
work in that picture than in any one in the room. The hysterical, all
but grinning joy upon the mother's face is a miracle of truth; I have
seen the expression more than once; doctors see it often, in the
sudden revulsion from terror and agony to certainty and peace; I only
marvel where he ever met it: but the general effect is unpleasing,
marred by patches of sheer ugliness, like that child's foot. There is
the same mistake in all his pictures. Whatever they are, they are not
beautiful; and no magnificence of surface-colouring will make up, in
my eyes, for wilful ugliness of form. I say that nature is beautiful;
and therefore nature cannot have been truly copied, or the general
effect would have been beautiful also. I never found out the fallacy
till the other day, when looking at a portrait by one of them. The
woman for whom it was meant was standing by my side, young and lovely;
the portrait hung there neither young nor lovely, but a wrinkled
caricature twenty years older than the model."
"I surely know the portrait you mean; Lady D----'s."
"Yes. He had simply, under pretence of following nature, caricatured
her into a woman twenty years older than she is."
"But did you ever see a modern portrait which more perfectly expressed
character; which more completely fulfilled the requirements which you
laid down a few evenings since?"
"Never; and that makes me all the more cross with the wilful mistake
of it. He had painted every wrinkle."
"Why not, if they were there?"
"Because he had painted a face not one-twentieth of the size of life.
What right had he to cram into that small space all the marks which
nature had spread over a far larger one?"
"Why not, again, if he diminished the marks in proportion?"
"Just what neither he nor any man could do, without making them so
small as to be invisible, save under a microscope: and the result was,
that he had caricatured every wrinkle, as his friend has in those
horrible knuckles of Shem's wife. Besides, I deny utterly your
assertion that one is bound to paint what is there. On that very
fallacy are they all making shipwreck."
"Not paint what is there? And you are the man who talks of art being
highest when it copies nature."
"Exactly. And therefore you must paint, not what is there, but what
you see there. They forget that human beings are men with two eyes,
and not daguerreotype lenses with one eye, and so are contriving and
striving to introduce into their pictures the very defect of the
daguerreotype which the stereoscope is required to correct."
"I comprehend. They forget that the double vision of our two eyes
gives a softness, and indistinctness, and roundness, to every
"Exactly so; and therefore, while for distant landscapes, motionless,
and already softened by atmosphere, the daguerreotype is invaluable
(I shall do nothing else this summer but work at it), yet for taking
portraits, in any true sense, it will be always useless, not only for
the reason I just gave, but for another one which the pre-Raphaelites
"Because all the features cannot be in focus at once?"
"Oh no, I am not speaking of that. Art, for aught I know, may overcome
that; for it is a mere defect in the instrument. What I mean is this:
it tries to represent as still what never yet was still for the
thousandth part of a second: that is, the human face; and as seen by a
spectator who is perfectly still, which no man ever yet was. My dear
fellow, don't you see that what some painters call idealising a
portrait is, if it be wisely done, really painting for you the face
which you see, and know, and love; her ever-shifting features, with
expression varying more rapidly than the gleam of the diamond on
her finger; features which you, in your turn, are looking at with
ever-shifting eyes; while, perhaps, if it is a face which you love and
have lingered over, a dozen other expressions equally belonging to it
are hanging in your memory, and blending themselves with the actual
picture on your retina:--till every little angle is somewhat rounded,
every little wrinkle somewhat softened, every little shade somewhat
blended with the surrounding light, so that the sum total of what
you see, and are intended by Heaven to see, is something far softer,
lovelier--younger, perhaps, thank Heaven--than it would look if your
head was screwed down in a vice, to look with one eye at her head
screwed down in a vice also:--though even that, thanks to the muscles
of the eye, would not produce the required ugliness; and the only
possible method of fulfilling the pre-Raphaelite ideal would be, to
set a petrified Cyclops to paint his petrified brother."
"You are spiteful."
"Not at all. I am standing up for art, and for nature too. For
instance: Sabina has wrinkles. She says, too, that she has grey hairs
coming. The former I won't see, and therefore don't. The latter I
can't see, because I am not looking for them."
"Nor I either," said Stangrave smiling. "I assure you the announcement
is new to me."
"Of course. Who can see wrinkles in the light of those eyes, that
smile, that complexion?"
"Certainly," said Stangrave, "if I asked for her portrait, as I shall
do some day, and the artist sat down and painted the said 'wastes
of time,' on pretence of their being there, I should consider it an
impertinence on his part. What business has he to spy out what nature
has taken such charming trouble to conceal?"
"Again," said Claude, "such a face as Cordifiamma's. When it is at
rest, in deep thought, there are lines in it which utterly puzzle
one--touches which are Eastern, Kabyle, almost Quadroon."
Stangrave started. Claude went on unconscious:--
"But who sees them in the light of that beauty? They are defects, no
doubt, but defects which no one would observe without deep study of
the face. They express her character no more than a scar would; and
therefore when I paint her, as I must and will, I shall utterly ignore
them. If, on the other hand, I met the same lines in a face which I
knew to have Quadroon blood in it, I should religiously copy them;
because then they would be integral elements of the face. You
"Understand?--yes," answered Stangrave, in a tone which made Claude
That strange scene of half an hour before flashed across him. What if
it were no fancy? What if Marie had African blood in her veins? And
Stangrave shuddered, and felt for the moment that thousands of pounds
would be a cheap price to pay for the discovery that his fancy was a
"Yes--oh--I beg your pardon," said he, recovering himself. "I was
thinking of something else. But, as you say, what if she had Quadroon
"I? I never said so, or dreamt of it."
"Oh! I mistook. Do you know, though, where she came from?"
"I? You forget, my dear fellow, that you yourself introduced her to
"Of course; but I thought Mrs. Mellot might--women always makes
"All we know is, what I suppose you knew long ago, that her most
intimate friend, next to you, seems to be an old friend of ours, named
"An old friend of yours?"
"Oh yes; we have known him these fifteen years. Met him first at
Paris; and after that went round the world with him, and saw infinite
adventures. Sabina and I spent three months with him once, among the
savages in a South-sea Island, and a very pretty romance our stay and
our escape would make. We were all three, I believe, to have been
cooked and eaten, if Tom had not got us off by that wonderful address
which, if you know him, you must know well enough."
"Yes," answered Stangrave, coldly, as in a dream; "I have known
Mr. Thurnall in past years; but not in connection with La Signora
Cordifiamma I was not aware till this moment--this morning, I
mean--that they knew each other."
"You astound me; why, she talks of him to us all day long, as of one
to whom she has the deepest obligations; she was ready to rush into
our arms when she first found that we knew him. He is a greater hero
in her eyes, I sometimes fancy, than even you are. She does nothing
(or fancies that she does nothing, for you know her pretty wilfulness)
without writing for his advice."
"I a hero in her eyes? I was really not aware of that fact," said
Stangrave, more coldly than ever; for bitter jealousy had taken
possession of his heart. "Do you know, then, what this same obligation
"I never asked. I hate gossiping, and I make a rule to inquire into no
secrets but such as are voluntarily confided to me; and I know that
she has never told Sabina."
"I suppose she is married to him. That is the simplest explanation of
"Impossible! What can you mean? If she ever marries living man, she
will marry you."
"Then she will never marry living man," said Stangrave to himself.
"Good-bye, my dear fellow; I have an engagement at the Traveller's."
And away went Stangrave, leaving Claude sorely puzzled, but little
dreaming of the powder-magazine into which he had put a match.
But he was puzzled still more that night, when by the latest post a
"From Stangrave!" said Claude. "Why, in the name of all wonders!"--and
"Good-bye. I am just starting for the Continent, on sudden and urgent
business. What my destination is I hardly can tell you yet. You will
hear from me in the course of the summer."
Claude's countenance fell, and the note fell likewise. Sabina snatched
it up, read it, and gave La Cordifiamma a look which made her spring
from the sofa, and snatch it in turn.
She read it through, with trembling hands, and blanching cheeks, and
then dropped fainting upon the floor.
They laid her on the sofa, and while they were recovering her, Claude
told Sabina the only clue which he had to the American's conduct,
namely, that afternoon's conversation.
Sabina shook her head over it; for to her, also, the American's
explanation had suggested itself. Was Marie Thurnall's wife? Or did
she--it was possible, however painful--stand to him in some less
honourable relation, which she would fain forget now, in a new passion
for Stangrave? For that Marie loved Stangrave, Sabina knew well
The doubt was so ugly that it must be solved; and when she had got the
poor thing safe into her bedroom she alluded to it as gently as she
Marie sprang up in indignant innocence.
"He! Whatever he may be to others, I know not: but to me he has been
purity and nobleness itself--a brother, a father! Yes; if I had no
other reason for trusting him, I should love him for that alone; that
however tempted he may have been, and Heaven knows he was tempted,
he could respect the honour of his friend, though that friend lay
sleeping in a soldier's grave ten thousand miles away."
And Marie threw herself upon Sabina's neck, and under the pressure of
her misery sobbed out to her the story of her life. What it was need
not be told. A little common sense, and a little knowledge of human
nature, will enable the reader to fill up for himself the story of a
Sabina soothed her, and cheered her; and soothed and cheered her most
of all by telling her in return the story of her own life; not so dark
a one, but almost as sad and strange. And poor Marie took heart, when
she found in her great need a sister in the communion of sorrows.
"And you have been through all this, so beautiful and bright as you
are! You whom I should have fancied always living the life of the
humming-bird: and yet not a scar or a wrinkle has it left behind!"
"They were there once, Marie! but God and Claude smoothed them away."
"I have no Claude,--and no God, I think, at times."
"No God, Marie! Then how did you come hither?"
Marie was silent, reproved; and then passionately--
"Why does He not right my people?"
That question was one to which Sabina's little scheme of the universe
had no answer; why should it, while many a scheme which pretends to be
far vaster and more infallible has none as yet?
So she was silent, and sat with Marie's head upon her bosom, caressing
the black curls, till she had soothed her into sobbing exhaustion.
"There; lie there and rest: you shall be my child, my poor Marie. I
have a fresh child every week; but I shall find plenty of room in my
heart for you, my poor hunted deer."
"You will keep my secret?"
"Why keep it? No one need be ashamed of it here in free England."
"But he--he--you do not know, Sabina! Those Northerners, with all
their boasts of freedom, shrink from us just as much as our own
"Oh, Marie, do not be so unjust to him! He is too noble, and you must
know it yourself."
"Ay, if he stood alone; if he were even going to live in England; if
he would let himself be himself; but public opinion," sobbed the poor
self-tormentor--"It has been his God, Sabina, to be a leader of
taste and fashion--admired and complete--the Crichton of Newport and
Brooklyn. And he could not bear scorn, the loss of society. Why should
he bear it for me? If he had been one of the abolitionist party, it
would have been different: but he has no sympathy with them, good,
narrow, pious people, or they with him: he could not be satisfied
in their society--or I either, for I crave after it all as much
as he--wealth, luxury, art, brilliant company, admiration,--oh,
inconsistent wretch, that I am! And that makes me love him all the
more, and yet makes me so harsh to him, wickedly cruel, as I was
to-day; because when I am reproving his weakness, I am reproving
my own, and because I am angry with myself, I grow angry with him
too--envious of him, I do believe at moments, and all his success and
And so poor Marie sobbed out her confused confession of that strange
double nature which so many Quadroons seem to owe to their mixed
blood; a strong side of deep feeling, ambition, energy, an intellect
rather Greek in its rapidity than English in sturdiness; and withal
a weak side, of instability, inconsistency, hasty passion, love of
present enjoyment, sometimes, too, a tendency to untruth, which is
the mark, not perhaps of the African specially, but of every enslaved
Consolation was all that Sabina could give. It was too late to act.
Stangrave was gone, and week after week rolled by without a line from
Elsley Vavasour is sitting one morning in his study, every comfort
of which is of Lucia's arrangement and invention, beating the
home-preserve of his brains for pretty thoughts. On he struggles
through that wild, and too luxuriant cover; now brought up by a
"lawyer," now stumbling over a root, now bogged in a green spring, now
flushing a stray covey of birds of Paradise, now a sphinx, chimsera,
strix, lamia, fire-drake, flying-donkey, two-headed eagle (Austrian,
as will appear shortly), or other portent only to be seen now-a-days
in the recesses of that enchanted forest, the convolutions of a poet's
brain. Up they whir and rattle, making, like most game, more noise
than they are worth. Some get back, some dodge among the trees; the
fair shots are few and far between: but Elsley blazes away right and
left with trusty quill; and, to do him justice, seldom misses his aim,
for practice has made him a sure and quick marksman in his own line.
Moreover, all is game which gets up to-day; for he is shooting for the
kitchen, or rather for the London market, as many a noble sportsman
does now-a-days, and thinks no shame. His new volume of poems ("The
Wreck" included) is in the press: but behold, it is not as long as the
publisher thinks fit, and Messrs. Brown and Younger have written down
to entreat in haste for some four hundred lines more, on any subject
which Mr. Vavasour may choose. And therefore is Elsley beating his
home covers, heavily shot over though they have been already this
season, in hopes that a few head of his own game may still be left: or
in default (for human nature is the same, in poets and in sportsmen),
that a few head may have strayed in out of his neighbours' manors.
At last the sport slackens; for the sportsman is getting tired, and
hungry also, to carry on the metaphor; for he has seen the postman
come up the front walk a quarter of an hour since, and the letters
have not been brought in yet.
At last there is a knock at the door, which he answers by a somewhat
testy "come in." But he checks the coming grumble, when not the maid,
but Lucia enters.
Why not grumble at Lucia? He has done so many a time.
Because she looks this morning so charming; really quite pretty again,
so radiant is her face with smiles. And because, also, she holds
triumphant above her head a newspaper.
She dances up to him--
"I have something for you."
"For me? Why, the post has been in this half-hour."
"Yes, for you, and that's just the reason why I kept it myself. D'ye
understand my Irish reasoning?"
"No, you pretty creature," said Elsley, who saw that whatever the news
was, it was good news.
"Pretty creature, am I? I was once, I know; but I thought you had
forgotten all about that. But I was not going to let you have the
paper till I had devoured every word of it myself first."
"Every word of what?"
"Of what you shan't have unless you promise to be good for a week.
Such a Review; and from America! What a dear man he must be who wrote
it! I really think I should kiss him if I met him."
"And I really think he would not say no. But as he's not here, I shall
act as his proxy."
"Be quiet, and read that, if you can, for blushes;" and she spread out
the paper before him, and then covered his eyes with her hands. "No,
you shan't see it; it will make you vain."
Elsley had looked eagerly at the honeyed columns; (as who would not
have done?) but the last word smote him. What was he thinking of? his
own praise, or his wife's love?
"Too true," he cried, looking up at her. "You dear creature! Vain I
am, God forgive me: but before I look at a word of this I must have a
talk with you."
"I can't stop; I must run back to the children. No; now don't look
cross;" as his brow clouded, "I only said that to tease you. I'll
stop with you ten whole minutes, if you won't look so very solemn and
important. I hate tragedy faces. Now what is it?"
As all this was spoken while both her hands were clasped round
Elsley's neck, and with looks and tones of the very sweetest as well
as the very sauciest, no offence was given, and none taken: but
Elsley's voice was sad as he asked,--
"So you really do care for my poems?"
"You great silly creature? Why else did I marry you at all? As if I
cared for anything in the world but your poems; as if I did not love
everybody who praises them; and if any stupid reviewer dares to say a
word against them I could kill him on the spot. I care for nothing in
the world but what people say of you.--And yet I don't care one pin; I
know what your poems are, if nobody else does; and they belong to me,
because you belong to me, and I must be the best judge, and care for
nobody, no not I!"--And she began singing, and then hung over him,
tormenting him lovingly while he read.
It was a true American review, utterly extravagant in its laudations,
whether from over-kindness, or from a certain love of exaggeration and
magniloquence, which makes one suspect that a large proportion of the
Transatlantic gentlemen of the press must be natives of the sister
isle: but it was all the more pleasant to the soul of Elsley.
"There," said Lucia, as she clung croodling to him; "there is a pretty
character of you, sir! Make the most of it, for it is all those
Yankees will ever send you."
"Yes," said Elsley, "if they would send one a little money, instead of
making endless dollars by printing one's books, and then a few more by
praising one at a penny a line."
"That's talking like a man of business: if instead of the review, now,
a cheque for fifty pounds had come, how I would have rushed out and
paid the bills!"
"And liked it a great deal better than the review?"
"You jealous creature! No. If I could always have you praised, I'd
live in a cabin, and go about the world barefoot, like a wild Irish
"You would make a very charming one."
"I used to, once, I can tell you, Valencia and I used to run about
without shoes and stockings at Kilanbaggan, and you can't think how
pretty and white this little foot used to look on a nice soft carpet
of green moss."
"I shall write a sonnet to it."
"You may if you choose, provided you don't publish it."
"You may trust me for that. I am not one of those who anatomise their
own married happiness for the edification of the whole public, and
make fame, if not money, out of their own wives' hearts."
"How I should hate you, if you did! Not that I believe their fine
stories about themselves. At least, I am certain it's only half the
story. They have their quarrels, my dear, just as you and I have but
they take care not to put them into poetry."
"Well, but who could? Whether they have a right or not to publish the
poetical side of their married life, it is too much to ask them to
give you the unpoetical also."
"Then they are all humbugs, and I believe, if they really love their
wives so very much, they would not be at all that pains to persuade
the world of it."
"You are very satirical and spiteful, ma'am."
"I always am when I am pleased. If I am particularly happy, I always
long to pinch somebody. I suppose it's Irish--
"'Comes out, meets a friend, and for love knocks him down.'"
"But you know, you rogue, that you care to read no poetry but love
"Of course not every woman does, but let me find you publishing any
such about me, and see what I will do to you! There, now I must go
to my work, and you go and write something extra superfinely grand,
because I have been so good to you. No. Let me go; what a bother you
And away she tripped, and he returned to his work, happier than he had
been for a week past.
His happiness, truly, was only on the surface. The old wound had been
salved--as what wound cannot be?--by woman's love and woman's wit
but it was not healed. The cause of his wrong doing, the vain,
self-indulgent spirit, was there still unchastened, and he was
destined, that very day, to find that he had still to bear the
punishment of it.
Now the reader must understand, that though one may laugh at Elsley
Vavasour, because it is more pleasant than scolding at him, yet have
Philistia and Fogeydom neither right nor reason to consider him a
despicable or merely ludicrous person, or to cry, "Ah, if he had been
as we are!"
Had he been merely ludicrous, Lucia would never have married him; and
he could only have been spoken of with indignation, or left utterly
out of the story, as a simply unpleasant figure, beyond the purposes
of a novel, though admissible now and then into tragedy. One cannot
heartily laugh at a man if one has not a lurking love for him, as one
really ought to have for Elsley. How much value is to be attached to
his mere power of imagination and fancy, and so forth, is a question;
but there was in him more than mere talent: there was, in thought at
least, virtue and magnanimity.
True, the best part of him, perhaps almost all the good part of him,
spent itself in words, and must be looked for, not in his life, but in
his books. But in those books it can be found; and if you look through
them, you will see that he has not touched upon a subject without
taking, on the whole, the right, and pure, and lofty view of it.
Howsoever extravagant he may be in his notions of poetic licence, that
licence is never with him a synonym for licentiousness. Whatever is
tender and true, whatever is chivalrous and high-minded, he loves at
first sight, and reproduces it lovingly. And it may be possible that
his own estimate of his poems was not altogether wrong; that his words
may have awakened here and there in others a love for that which is
morally as well as physically beautiful, and may have kept alive in
their hearts the recollection that, both for the bodies and the souls
of men forms of life far nobler and fairer than those which we see now
are possible; that they have appeared, in fragments at least, already
on the earth; that they are destined, perhaps, to reappear and combine
themselves in some ideal state, and in
"One far-off divine event,
Toward which the whole creation moves."
This is the special and proper function of the poet; that he may do
this, does God touch his lips with that which, however it may be
misused, is still fire from off the altar beneath which the spirits
of his saints cry,--"Lord, how long?" If he "reproduce the beautiful"
with this intent, however so little, then is he of the sacred guild.
And because Vavasour had this gift, therefore he was a poet.
But in this he was weak: that he did not feel, or at least was
forgetting fast, that this gift had been bestowed on him for any
practical purpose. No one would demand that he should have gone forth
with some grand social scheme, to reform a world which looked to him
so mean and evil. He was not a man of business, and was not meant
to be one. But it was ill for him that in his fastidiousness and
touchiness he had shut himself out from that world, till he had quite
forgotten how much good there was in it as well as evil; how many
people--commonplace and unpoetical it may be--but still heroical in
God's sight, were working harder than he ever worked, at the divine
drudgery of doing good, and that in dens of darkness and sloughs of
filth, from which he would have turned with disgust; so that the
sympathy with the sinful and fallen which marks his earlier poems, and
which perhaps verges on sentimentalism, gradually gives place to a
Pharisaic and contemptuous tone; a tone more lofty and manful in
seeming, but far less divine in fact. Perhaps comparative success had
injured him. Whilst struggling himself against circumstances, poor,
untaught, unhappy, he had more fellow-feeling, with those whom
circumstance oppressed. At least, the pity which he could once bestow
upon the misery which he met in his daily walks, he now kept for the
more picturesque woes of Italy and Greece.
In this, too, he was weak; that he had altogether forgotten that
the fire from off the altar could only be kept alight by continual
self-restraint and self-sacrifice, by continual gentleness and
humility, shown in the petty matters of everyday home-life; and that
he who cannot rule his own household can never rule the Church of God.
And so it befell, that amid the little cross-blasts of home squabbles
the sacred spark was fast going out. The poems written after he
settled at Penalva are marked by a less definite purpose, by a lower
tone of feeling: not, perhaps, by a lower moral tone; but simply by
less of any moral tone at all. They are more and more full of merely
sensuous beauty, mere word-painting, mere word-hunting. The desire of
finding something worth saying gives place more and more to that of
saying something in a new fashion. As the originality of thought
(which accompanies only vigorous moral purpose) decreases, the attempt
at originality of language increases. Manner, in short, has taken the
place of matter. The art, it may be, of his latest poems is greatest:
but it has been expended on the most unworthy themes. The later are
mannered caricatures of the earlier, without their soul; and the same
change seems to have passed over him which (with Mr. Ruskin's pardon)
transformed the Turner of 1820 into the Turner of 1850.
Thus had Elsley transferred what sympathy he had left from
needle-women and ragged schools, dwellers in Jacob's Island and
sleepers in the dry arches of Waterloo Bridge, to sufferers of a more
poetic class. Whether his sympathies showed thereby that he had risen
or fallen, let my readers decide each for himself. It is a credit to
any man to feel for any human being; and Italy, as she is at this
moment, is certainly one of the most tragic spectacles which the world
has ever seen. Elsley need not be blamed for pitying her; only for
holding, with most of our poets, a vague notion that her woes were to
be cured by a hair of the dog who bit her; viz., by homoeopathic
doses of that same "art" which has been all along her morbid and
self-deceiving substitute for virtue and industry. So, as she had
sung herself down to the nether pit, Elsley would help to sing her up
again; and had already been throwing off, ever since 1848, a series
of sonnets which he entitled Eurydice, intimating, of course, that he
acted as the Orpheus. Whether he had hopes of drawing iron tears down
Pluto Radetzky's cheek, does not appear; but certainly the longer poem
which had sprung from his fancy, at the urgent call of Messrs. Brown
and Younger, would have been likely to draw nothing but iron balls
from Radetzky's cannon; or failing so vast an effect, an immediate
external application to the poet himself of that famous herb
Pantagruelion, cure for all public ills and private woes, which men
call hemp. Nevertheless, it was a noble subject; one which ought
surely to have been taken up by some of our poets, for if they do not
make a noble poem of it, it will be their own fault. I mean that
sad and fantastic tragedy of Fra Dolcino and Margaret, which Signor
Mariotti has lately given to the English public, in a book which, both
for its matter and its manner, should be better known than it is.
Elsley's soul had been filled (it would have been a dull one else)
with the conception of the handsome and gifted patriot-monk, his soul
delirious with, the dream of realising a perfect Church on earth;
battling with tongue and pen, and at last with sword, against the
villanies of pope and kaiser, and all the old devourers of the earth,
cheered only by the wild love of her who had given up wealth, fame,
friends, all which render life worth having, to die with him a death
too horrible for words. And he had conceived (and not altogether ill)
a vision, in which, wandering along some bright Italian bay, he met
Dolcino sitting, a spirit at rest but not yet glorified, waiting for
the revival of that dead land for which he had died; and Margaret
by him, dipping her scorched feet for ever in the cooling wave, and
looking up to the hero for whom she had given up all, with eyes of
everlasting love. There they were to prophesy to him such things as
seemed fit to him, of the future of Italy and of Europe, of the
doom of priests and tyrants, of the sorrows and rewards of genius
unappreciated and before its age; for Elsley's secret vanity could
see in himself a far greater likeness to Dolcino, than Dolcino--the
preacher, confessor, bender of all hearts, man of the world and man
of action, at last crafty and all but unconquerable guerilla
warrior--would ever have acknowledged in the self-indulgent dreamer.
However, it was a fair conception enough; though perhaps it never
would have entered Elsley's head, had Shelley never written the
opening canto of the Revolt of Islam.
So Elsley, on a burning July forenoon, strolled up the lane and over
the down to King Arthur's Nose, that he might find materials for his
sea-shore scene. For he was not one of those men who live in such
quiet, everyday communication with nature, that they drink in her
various aspects as unconsciously as the air they breathe; and so can
reproduce them, out of an inexhaustible stock of details, simply and
accurately, and yet freshly too, tinged by the peculiar hue of the
mind in which they have been long sleeping. He walked the world,
either blind to the beauty round him, and trying to compose instead
some little scrap of beauty in his own self-imprisoned thoughts; or
else he was looking out consciously and spasmodically for views,
effects, emotions, images; something striking and uncommon which would
suggest a poetic figure, or help out a description, or in some way
re-furnish his mind with thought. From which method it befell, that
his lamp of truth was too often burnt out just when it was needed; and
that, like the foolish virgins, he had to go and buy oil when it
was too late; or failing that, to supply its place with some baser
That day, however, he was fortunate enough; for wandering and
scrambling among the rocks, at a dead low spring tide, he came upon
a spot which would have made a poem of itself better than all Elsley
ever wrote, had he, forgetting all about Fra Dolcino, Italy, priests,
and tyrants, set down in black and white just what he saw; provided,
of course, that he had patience first to see the same.
It was none other than that ghastly chasm across which Thurnall had
been so miraculously swept, on the night of his shipwreck. The same
ghastly chasm: but ghastly now no longer; and as Elsley looked down,
the beauty below invited him, and the coolness also; for the sun beat
on the flat rock above till it scorched the feet, and dazzled the eye,
and crisped up the blackening sea-weeds; while every sea-snail crept
to hide itself under the bladder-tangle, and nothing dared to peep or
stir save certain grains of gunpowder, which seemed to have gone mad,
so merrily did they hop about upon the surface of the fast evaporating
salt-pools. That wonder, indeed, Elsley stooped to examine, and drew
back his hands with an "ugh!" and a gesture of disgust, when he found
that they were "nasty little insects." For Elsley held fully the
poet's right to believe that all things are not very good; none,
indeed, save such as suited his eclectic and fastidious taste; and to
hold (on high aesthetic grounds, of course) toads and spiders in as
much abhorrence as does any boarding-school girl. However, finding
some rock ledges which formed a natural ladder, down he scrambled,
gingerly enough, for he was neither an active nor a courageous man.
But, once down, I will do him the justice to say, that for five whole
minutes he forgot all about Fra Dolcino, and, what was better, about
The chasm may have been fifteen feet deep, and above, about half that
breadth; but below, the waves had hollowed it into dark overhanging
caverns. Just in front of him a huge boulder spanned the crack; and
formed a natural doorway, through which he saw, like a picture set in
a frame, the far-off blue sea softening into the blue sky among brown
Eastern haze. Amid the haze a single ship hung motionless, like a
white cloud. Nearer, a black cormorant floated sleepily along, and
dived, and rose again. Nearer again, long lines of flat tide-rock,
glittering and quivering in the heat, sloped gradually under the
waves, till they ended in half-sunken beds of olive oar-weed, which
bent their tangled stems into a hundred graceful curves, and swayed to
and fro slowly and sleepily. The low swell slid whispering among their
floating palms, and slipped on toward the cavern's mouth, as if asking
wistfully (so Elsley fancied) when it would be time for it to return
to that cool shade, and hide from all the blinding blaze outside. But
when his eye was enough accustomed to the shade within, it withdrew
gladly from the glaring sea and glaring tide-rocks to the walls of the
chasm itself; to curved and polished sheets of stone, rich brown, with
snow-white veins, on which danced for ever a dappled network of pale
yellow light; to crusted beds of pink coralline; to caverns, in the
dark crannies of which hung branching sponges and tufts of purple
sea-moss; to strips of clear white sand, bestrewn with shells; to
pools, each a gay flower-garden of all hues, where branching sea-weeds
reflected blue light from every point, like a thousand damasked
sword-blades; while among them, dahlias and chrysanthemums, and many
another mimic of our earth-born flowers, spread blooms of crimson, and
purple, and lilac, and creamy grey, half-buried among feathered weeds
as brightly coloured as they; and strange and gaudy fishes shot across
from side to side, and chased each other in and out of hidden cells.
Within and without all was at rest; the silence was broken only by the
timid whisper of the swell, and by the chime of dropping water within
some unseen cave: but what a different rest! Without, all lying
breathless, stupefied, sun-stricken, in blinding glare; within, all
coolness, and refreshing sleep. Without, all simple, broad, and vast;
within, all various, with infinite richness of form and colour.--An
Hairoun Alraschid's bower, looking out upon the--
Bother the fellow! Why will he go on analysing and figuring in this
way? Why not let the blessed place tell him what it means, instead of
telling it what he thinks? And--why, he is actually writing verses,
though not about Fra Dolcino!
"How rests yon rock, whoso half-day's bath is done,
With broad bright sight, beneath the broad bright sun,
Like sea-nymph tired, on cushioned mosses sleeping.
Yet, nearer drawn, beneath her purple tresses,
From down-bent brows we find her slowly weeping,
So many a heart for cruel man's caresses
Must only pine and pine, and yet must bear
A gallant front beneath life's gaudy glare."
Silly fellow! Do you think that Nature had time to think of such a
far-fetched conceit as that while it was making that rock and peopling
it with a million tiny living things, of which not one falleth to the
ground without your Father's knowledge, and each more beautiful than
any sea-nymph whom you ever fancied? For, after all, you cannot fancy
a whole sea nymph (perhaps in that case you could make one), but only
a very little scrap of her outside. Or if, as you boast, you are
inspired by the Creative Spirit, tell us what the Creative Spirit says
about that rock, and not such verse as that, the lesson of which you
don't yourself really feel. Pretty enough it is, perhaps: but in your
haste to say a pretty thing, just because it was pretty, you have not
cared to condemn yourself out of your own mouth. Why were you sulky,
sir, with Mrs. Vavasour this very morning, after all that passed,
because she would look over the washing-books, while you wanted her to
hear about Fra Dolcino? And why, though she was up to her knees among
your dirty shirts when you went out, did you not give her one parting
kiss, which would have transfigured her virtuous drudgery for her into
a sacred pleasure? One is heartily glad to see you disturbed, cross
though you may look at it, by that sturdy step and jolly whistle which
burst in on you from the other end of the chasm, as Tom Thurnall, with
an old smock frock over his coat and a large basket on his arm, comes
stumbling and hopping towards you, dropping every now and then on
hands and knees, and turning over on his back, to squeeze his head
into some muddy crack, and then withdraw it with the salt water
dripping down his nose.
Elsley closed his eyes, and rested his head on his hand in a somewhat
studied "pose." But as he wished not to be interrupted, it may not
have been altogether unpardonable to pretend sleep. However, the
sleeping posture had exactly the opposite effect to that which he
"Ah, Mr. Vavasour!"
"Humph!" quoth he slowly, if not sulkily.
"I admire your taste, sir; a charming summerhouse old Triton has
vacated for your use; but let me advise you not to go to sleep in it."
"Why then, sir?"
"Because--It's no business of mine, of course: but the tide has turned
already; and if a breeze springs up old Triton will be back again in a
hurry, and in a rage also; and--I may possibly lose a good patient."
Elsley, who knew nothing about the tides, save that "the moon wooed
the ocean," or some such important fact, thanked him coolly enough,
and returned to a meditative attitude. Tom saw that he was in the
seventh heaven, and went on: but he had not gone three steps before he
pulled up short, slapping his hands together once, as a man does who
has found what he wants; and then plunged up to his knees in a rock
pool, and then began working very gently at something under water.
Elsley watched him for full five minutes with so much curiosity, that,
despite of himself, he asked him what he was doing.
Tom had his whole face under water, and did not hear, till Elsley had
repeated the question.
"Only a rare zoophyte," said he at last, lifting his dripping visage,
and gasping for breath; and then he dived again.
"Inexplicable pedantry of science!" thought Elsley to himself, while
Tom worked on steadfastly, and at last rose, and, taking out a phial
from his basket, was about to deposit in it something invisible.
"Stay a moment; you really have roused my curiosity by your
earnestness. May I see what it is for which you have taken so much
Tom held out on his finger a piece of slimy crust the size of a
halfpenny. Elsley could only shrug his shoulders.
"Nothing to you, sir, I doubt not; but worth a guinea to me, even if
it be only to mount bits of it as microscopic objects."
"So you mingle business with science?" said Elsley, rather in a
"Why not? I must live, and my father too; and it is as honest a way of
making money as any other: I poach in no man's manor for my game."
"But what is your game! What possible attraction in that bit of dirt
can make men spend their money on it?"
"You shall see," said Tom, dropping it into the phial of salt water,
and offering it to Elsley, with his pocket magnifier.
"Judge for yourself."
Elsley did so, and beheld a new wonder--a living plant of crystal,
studded with crystal bells, from each of which waved a crown of
delicate arms. It was the first time that Elsley had ever seen one