A Life's Morning
Part 7 out of 8
'Don't you think it possible,' Mrs. Baxendale asked, 'that she has
already done so?'
He gazed at her blankly, despairingly.
'You have come to believe that? Her words--her manner--seem to prove
'I cannot say certainly. I only mean that you should be prepared to
believe if she repeated it.'
'Yes, if she repeats it. I shall have no choice. Well, I wished to see
you first; I will go to Banbrigg at once.'
Mrs. Baxendale seemed reluctant to let him go, yet at length she did. He
was absent an hour and a half. At his return Mrs. Baxendale had friends
with her in the drawing room. Wilfrid ascertained it from the servant,
and said that he would go to the sitting-room he had formerly occupied,
and wait there till the lady was alone.
She came to him before very long, and learnt that he had not been able
to see Emily; the servant had told him that she could see no one till
the next morning.
Mrs. Baxendale sighed.
'Then you must wait.'
'Yes, I must wait.'
He passed the night at the house. Mr. Baxendale was in London,
parliamentarily occupied. At eleven next morning he went again to
Banbrigg. Again he was but a short time absent, and in his face, as he
entered the drawing-room, Mrs. Baxendale read catastrophe.
'She has gone!' he said. 'She left very early this morning. The girl has
no idea where she has gone to, but says she won't return--that she has
left for good. What does this mean?'
'What does it mean?' the lady repeated musingly. 'I wonder, I wonder.'
'She knew I called yesterday; I left my name. She has gone to avoid me.'
'That may be. But all her preparations were evidently made.'
'But it may not be true. The girl of course would say whatever she was
bidden to. I don't believe that she has really gone.'
'I do,' said Mrs. Baxendale, with quiet significance.
'On what grounds? You know more than you will tell me. Is there no one
with common humanity? Why do you plot against me? Why won't you tell me
what you know?'
'I will, if you sit down there and endeavour to command yourself. That
is, I will tell you certain things that I have heard, and something that
I have seen. Then we will reason about them.'
Wilfrid's brow darkened. He prepared to listen.
'About six weeks ago,' the lady began, 'I went to see a friend of mine,
a lady who was recovering from an illness, someone who knows Emily,
though not intimately. In her illness she was nursed by the same woman
who helped poor Mrs. Hood when Emily was in her fever. This woman, it
appears, was induced to talk about Emily, and gave it as a secret that
Emily's illness had something to do with an attachment between her and
Mr. Dagworthy, her father's employer. Her grounds for believing this
were, first of all, the fact of Emily frequently uttering his name in
her delirium, with words which seemed to refer to some mystery between
them; then the circumstance of Mr. Dagworthy's having, shortly after,
left a note at the house, with special injunctions to the servant that
it should be given into Emily's own hands. This story, you may imagine,
surprised me not a little. A few days later Mr. Dagworthy dined with us,
and I took an opportunity of talking with him; it seemed to me certain
that Emily had some special place in his thoughts. I know, too, that he
was particularly anxious throughout the time of her illness, and that of
The listener was paralysed.
'Why have you kept this from me?' he asked, indignation blending with
'Because it was no better than gossip and speculation. I had no right to
report such things--at all events, so it seemed to me. Now I am going to
add something which may be the wildest error, but which cannot trouble
you much if you imagine that the story is true. Yesterday, just before I
came home to find you here, I met Mr. Dagworthy by chance in a draper's
shop, and he told me that he was going away to-day, leaving England.'
'Yes. And I saw that he had been buying a box of ladies' gloves.'
'What do you mean?' Wilfrid stammered out.
'I know that he has no female relatives--except his wife's, who live in
another part of England, and are on bad terms with him.'
'His _wife_--you said?'
'His late wife; he is a widower. Now we may be imagining in the silliest
'But why--' Wilfrid checked himself. 'Do I understand you? You think
Emily has gone with him--has gone to be married to him?'
'It is almost impossible seriously to think it.'
'And you think she would shrink from being married here?'
'For one or two reasons--at all events, so soon.'
'But is it possible to believe that she deliberately deceived you--made
a pretence of seeking employment?'
'I can't say. She never gave me any details of what she was doing.
Another thing--she would not come to stay with me after her mother's
funeral. Mr. Dagworthy lives on the Heath, only just beyond Banbrigg.
You see to what things we can be led, if we begin interpreting shadows;
but Emily is a mystery to me, and, as I have begun, I must gossip to you
all I know.'
Mrs. Baxendale was certainly doing more in the way of gossiping
conjecture than perhaps she had ever done before; the occasion excited
her, and that coincidence of Dagworthy's purchase, together with his
departure this very day, struck her with a force which unsettled her
usual balance of thought. Wilfrid was as ready to believe; to him there
was a certain strange relief in feeling that he had at length reached
the climax of his sufferings. He had only to give credence to Emily's
own words. She had said that a change had come in her heart, in her
life, and that she no longer loved him. Understand it he of course could
not, nor ever would, unless he lost all faith in woman's honour.
'But this can be either confirmed or refuted speedily,' he exclaimed.
'Can you not make inquiries of this Mr. Dagworthy's friends? If they
know nothing yet, they will soon hear from him.'
'Yes, I can make such inquiries. But he has a peculiar reputation in
Dunfield; I think he scarcely has an intimate friend.'
'Well, there is, at all events, Emily herself. If this story is
baseless, she will be writing to you.'
'I think so. Again we must wait. Poor Wilfrid! from my heart I feel for
It was decided that Wilfrid should remain in Dunfield for a day or two,
till news might be obtained. News came, however, sooner than was
anticipated. In the afternoon a letter was delivered, posted by Emily at
Pendal in the morning. She wrote to Mrs. Baxendale to say that she had
left to take a place in a school; then continued:
'I have a reason for leaving suddenly. A reason you will understand. I
should have come to say good-bye to you yesterday, but something
happened to prevent me. The same reason has decided me to keep secret
even from you, my dear and honoured friend, the place to which I am
going; in time you shall hear from me, for I know I cannot have
forfeited your love, though I fear I have given you pain. Think of me
with forbearance. I do what I _must_ do.'
That was all. No word for Wilfrid.
'This proves it,' Wilfrid said, with bitter coldness. 'All she says is
false. She does what she is ashamed of, and lies to conceal it for a few
days or weeks.'
'Do not let us even yet be sure,' said Mrs. Baxendale, who was
recovering her calmer judgment.
'I _am_ sure! Why should she keep the place secret? She fears that I
should follow her? Could she not anywhere keep me off by her mere
bidding? Have I been brutally importunate? What secret can exist that
she might not disclose to me--that she was not bound to disclose? I
thought her incapable of a breath of falsehood, and she must have
deceived me from the first, from the very first!'
Wilfrid, that is impossible. I cannot abandon my faith in Emily. New you
speak in this way, it convinces me that we are wrong, utterly and
foolishly mistaken. I believe what she says here; she has _not_ gone
Wilfrid laughed scornfully.
'It is too late; I can't twist my belief so quickly. I do not need that
kind of comfort; far easier to make up my mind that I have always been
fooled--as I have!'
He was beyond the stage at which reasoning is possible; reaction, in
full flood, beat down the nobler features of his mind and swamped him
with the raging waters of resentment.
So here was a myth well on its way to establishment. For no one could
afford Mrs. Baxendale satisfactory news of Dagworthy. She would not take
the only step which remained, that of openly avowing to his partner the
information she desired to obtain, and getting him to make inquiries his
partner appeared to be the only person in direct communication with
Dagworthy. It had to be remembered that Emily's own statement might be
true; she must not be spoken of lightly. It was said that Mr. Legge, the
partner, pooh-poohed the idea that Dagworthy was secretly married. But
Mr. Legge might know as little as other people.
There were circles in Dunfield in which another and quite a different
myth grew up around the name of Emily Hood. The Cartwrights originated
it. They too had received a mysterious note of farewell, and their
interpretation was this Emily, they held, had gone to London, there to
be happily married to a certain Mr. Athel, a gentleman of aristocratic
appearance and enormously wealthy. Mrs. Baxendale heard this story now
and again; she neither affirmed nor contradicted. Jessie Cartwright
reflected much on Emily's slyness in keeping her affairs so secret. She
was not as envious as she would have been but for a certain compact
which she was determined should not--if it lay in her power to prevent
it--be some day laughed away as a mere joke. And had she not received,
on the very eve of Dagworthy's departure, a box of gloves, which could
only come from one person?
The second myth holds its ground, I believe, to the present day. The
more mischievous fable was refuted before very long, but only when it
had borne results for Wilfrid practically the same as if it had been a
WILFRID THE LEGISLATOR
Let time and change do their work for six years and six months, their
building and their destroying, their ripening for love, their ripening
for death. Then we take our way to the Capital, for, behold, it is
mid-season; the sun of late June is warm upon the many-charioted
streets, upon the parks where fashion's progress circles to the 'Io
Triumphe' of regardant throngs, even upon the quarters where life knows
but one perennial season, that of toil. The air is voiceful; every house
which boasts a drawing-room gathers its five o'clock choir; every
theatre, every concert-room resounds beneath the summer night; in the
halls of Westminster is the culmination of sustained utterance. There,
last night, the young member for a Surrey borough made his maiden
speech; his name, Mr. Wilfrid Athel.
The speech was better reported than such are wont to be, for it
contained clever things, and quite surprisingly resembled in its tone of
easy confidence and its mastery of relevant facts the deliverances of
men of weight in politics. It had elicited a compliment from a leader of
the opposing party; it had occasioned raisings of the eyebrows in
capable judges, and had led to remarks that a young man so singularly
self-possessed, so agreeably oracular, so remarkably long-headed, might
be expected, in the course of some five-and-twenty years, to go far. He
was, to be sure, a child--not yet thirty--but there were older children
in the House decidedly of less promise. Mr. Wilfrid Athel might go home,
and, if he could, go to sleep, in the assurance that his career had
The next day, a Saturday, this finished little piece of talk was the
starting-point of a vast amount of less coherent speech in a
drawing-room within sight of Kensington's verdure. Here Mrs. Ashley
Birks did her friends the honour of receiving them; a lady well regarded
in certain discriminating circles. A widow formerly, she had now been
two years married to a barrister new in silk. We have the pleasure of
knowing her; for she once bore the name of Mrs. Rossall.
At half-past five Mrs. Ashley Birks' drawing-room contained some two
dozen people, mostly ladies. Two of the gentlemen present are not
without interest for us. He whom you observe standing, so to speak, the
focus of a concave mirror of three gracious dames, with his back
somewhat difficultly bent, as if under ordinary circumstances he would
be as upright as any Briton who owes not a penny, with very wholesome
cheeks and lips which move in and out as he forms his well-rounded
periods, is, of course, Mr. Athel the elder; he plays with his
watch-guard, and is clearly in hearty mood, not at all disliking the
things that are being said about a certain member of the legislature.
The other is as emphatically an Englishman, but of a different type; his
clothes are good, but he does not wear them with grace; he is tall and
solidly built, but he walks awkwardly, and is not quite at home among
these gracious ladies of the silvern tongue, having much difficulty in
expressing himself on subjects which he perfectly understands, and
absolutely without faculty for speech on subjects unfamiliar to him.
When we saw him last he was in the heat of a contested election; there
has been another election since then, but Mr. Baxendale still represents
You see his wife at a little distance, still the same smooth-skinned,
well-preserved lady, with goodness declaring itself upon her large and
homely features. For three years now she has been in the habit of
spending her three months in town, finding it lonely in Dunfield, and
even nourishing a late ambition, which has not been altogether futile;
for there re people who have a peculiar liking for the little room in
which she holds her modest gatherings. She is talking at present with a
lady who, by her costume, is of the house, a lady of some
seven-and-twenty years or a little more, and strikingly beautiful.
Beatrice Redwing has not yet changed her name, though often enough
solicited to do so; when her mother died, now rather more than a year
ago, she willingly accepted the shelter of Mrs. Ashley Birks' roof, as
she would else have had to live alone. In one respect she has not
changed, her dress is exquisite; but to judge from her expression as she
talks, she has become somewhat graver. Visitors have a special reason
for regarding her with glances of curiosity and admiration. Though known
to be extremely wealthy, it was rumoured that she was about to appear
before the public as a vocalist, having prepared herself by a long
course of the most rigid study. Her first appearance was looked forward
to as an event of note in the musical world, for her native gifts were
unusual, and the results of her training proportionately significant.
'It must be very gratifying to you,' Mrs. Baxendale had said, as she
came to a chair by her niece and began to talk of Wilfrid's success.
'Yes, I am glad of it,' was the quiet reply.
'Will he be here this afternoon?'
'I'm not sure; I think so. Ah, there he is!'
For at that moment had come the announcement of the name they had on
their lips. Beatrice's exclamation was made in a very subdued voice, but
she moved slightly in her chair, and it was not within her resources to
subdue the glister of her dark eyes and the warmth softly expanding upon
her cheek. Mrs. Birks floated towards her nephew with airs of
rightly-tuned welcome; she could not, of course, make much of him, but
her very familiarity made graceful claim to a share in his glory.
Wilfrid was sensibly changed during the years we have allowed to pass
silently by. To begin with, he had grown a beard. His health seemed
finally to have established itself on a sound basis; his cheeks were
growing sunny, and he showed the proportions of a very complete man. At
the present moment, his consciousness of regards fixed upon him
heightened his colour; his fine eyes danced in light; he checked a
smile, and spoke sparingly here and there. One part of his nature
revelled in the joy of this foretaste of distinction; he had looked
forward to it, had laboured for it, its sweetness was beyond all
telling. Triumph had been his aim as a schoolboy; he held it fitting
that as a man he should become prominent amongst his fellows. This of
politics was the easiest way. To be sure, he told himself that it was a
way he would once have sneered at, that it was to rub shoulders with men
altogether his inferiors in culture, that, had he held to the ideals of
his youth, a longer, a wearier course would have been his, and the
chance of a simpler, nobler crown. But he had the gift of speech, and by
an effort could absorb himself as completely in blue-books as in the
pages of historian or poet. An hour such as this was the first of his
Two there were in this assembly who turned their eyes upon him with
adoration which could scarcely have fallen short of Wilfrid's utmost
demands. They were his cousins, Minnie and Patty Rossall. The twins were
'out,' very sweet girls, still too delicate in health, shadows of each
other. Had they regarded Wilfrid as a mere mortal, both would have been
dying for love of him; as it was they drooped before him the veiled eyes
of worshippers; a word from him made their pulses tingle blissfully
throughout the day. Such was their mutual love, that each schemed to win
his kindness for the other, his brotherly kindness, for they never
thought, had never dared to think, of anything else. Wilfrid was very
gracious to them both.
He shook hands with Beatrice, but neither spoke. After a few words with
Mrs. Baxendale, he passed on to other ladies. Wilfrid's manner was now
all that could be desired in a young man who, destined to succeed in
politics, would naturally make a figure in society. He was pliant, he
struck the note of good-breeding, he was unsurpassed in phrasing; with
ladies who chose to be 'superior,' he could find exactly the right tone,
keeping clear of pedantry, yet paying her with whom he spoke the
compliment of uttering serious opinions. With the more numerous class of
ladies, who neither were nor affected to be anything but delightful
chatterboxes, he could frolic on the lightest airs of society gossip. He
was fast making of himself an artist in talk; woe to him, if he began to
discover that exertion of his brain was waste of time, since his more
obvious ends could be gained equally well without it. As yet, though
hints of such a mood had come to him, he did not give way to the
temptations of loquacious idleness; he still worked, and purposed to
work still harder. Just of late he had spent a good deal of time in
rooms not exactly arranged for purposes of study--but for this there was
a special reason.
An hour later, when most of the visitors were departed, he went to
Beatrice's corner of the room.
'When shall, I call for you?' he asked, standing before her.
'Oh, but you will dine here?'
She leaned forward, looking up into his face. The gaze would have
intoxicated most men; Wilfrid kept his calm smile.
'No, I am sorry to say I can't,' was his reply. 'I have things to see to
at home. Will 8.15 do?'
'Quite well; I need not be at the hall before a quarter to nine.'
His father came up.
'Walking my way, Wilf?'
'Yes, and in a hurry. I think we must have a hansom.'
Father and son still lived together, in the same house as formerly.
After a brief stretch of pavement, they hailed a conveyance.
'Going to St. James's Hall, I suppose?' Mr. Athel asked, as they drove
Wilfrid gave an affirmative.
'Is it the last time?'
The other laughed.
'I can't say. I fear it troubles you.'
Mr. Athel had, we know, long passed the time when the ardours of youth
put him above the prejudices of the solid Englishman. When it was first
announced to him that Beatrice was going to sing on a public platform,
he screwed up his lips as if something acid had fallen upon them; he
scarcely credited the story till his own eyes saw the girl's name in
print. 'What the deuce!' was his exclamation. 'It would be all very well
if she had to do it for her living, but she certainly owes it to her
friends to preserve the decencies as long as there is no need to violate
them.' The reasons advanced he utterly refused to weigh. Since then
events had come to pass which gave him even a nearer interest in Miss
Redwing, and his protests had grown serious.
'Why, yes,' he answered now, 'it does trouble me, and not a little. I
very strongly advise you to put an end to it. Let her sing in her
friends' houses; there's no objection to that. But to have her name
on--great heavens!--on placards! No, no; it must stop, Wilf. Every day
it becomes more imperative. Your position demands that she should become
a private lady.'
Wilfrid knew well that the question could not be argued, and, in his
secret mind, there was just a little tendency to take his father's view.
He would never have allowed this shade of thought to appear in his
speech; but was he not an Englishman and a member of Parliament?
This which had come about was inevitable. After his departure from
Dunfield on that winter day, when his life seemed crushed, he had for a
long time not even sought to hear of Emily. He did not write to Mrs.
Baxendale, and from her had no letters. Correspondence between them only
recommenced some ten months later, when Wilfrid had finally left Oxford,
and then there was no mention on either side of the old troubles.
Wilfrid began by writing that he had thoughts of taking up politics; his
father advised him to the step, and other friends seconded the
recommendation. 'I really believe I can talk,' he said, and Mrs.
Baxendale smiled at the confession. Three months more went by; then
Wilfrid at length asked plainly whether Emily had sent any news of
herself, or whether the suspicions had proved grounded. The reply was
'As I knew perfectly well, as soon as I came to my senses, Emily had
told us the truth. I heard from her for the first time nearly half a
year ago, but, as she appealed to my honour not to disclose the place of
her abode, I thought it needless to speak to you on the subject before
you yourself seemed desirous of hearing. She is teaching in a school,
and I am convinced that the story we together concocted was based on
some utter mistake; I don't think she was ever related to that man in
the way we thought. But it is more than probable that there was some
mystery about her father's death, in which Mr. D. was concerned. I
cannot imagine what it could be. Something it was which, to Emily's
mind, imposed upon her a necessity of breaking her engagement. I have
spoken to her of you, have asked her directly if she still thinks her
decision final; she assures me most solemnly that it is. I therefore
advise you once for all to accept this; I am convinced she will never
waver. Try to forget her; there is no choice. I don't think I am likely
to see her again for a very long time, if ever, and our correspondence
will be very slight, for I know she wishes it so. Let this, then, close
a sad, sad story.'
There was indeed no choice, as far as outward relations went, but so
profound a passion was not to be easily outgrown. The view which makes
first love alone eternally valid derives from a conception of the nature
of love which, out of the realm of poetry, we may not entertain; but it
sometimes happens that the first love is that which would at any period
of life have been the supreme one, and then it doubtless attains a
special intensity of hold from the fact of its being allied with the
earliest outburst of physical passion. Above all it is thus if the
attachment has been brought about by other charms than those of mere
personal beauty. Emily could not be called beautiful, in the ordinary
acceptation of the word; for all that, her face grew to possess for
Wilfrid a perfection of loveliness beyond anything that he would ever
again see in the countenance of fairest woman. Had he been markedly
susceptible to female beauty, it is certain that he would have fallen in
love with Beatrice Redwing long before he ever saw Emily, for Beatrice
was fair to look upon as few girls are. He had not done so; he had
scarcely--a strange thing--been tempted to think of doing so. That is to
say, it needed something more to fire his instincts. The first five
minutes that he spent in Emily's presence made him more conscious of
womanhood than years of constant association with Beatrice. This love,
riveting itself among the intricacies of his being, could not be torn
out, and threatened to resist all piecemeal extraction. Wilfrid regained
the command of his mind, and outwardly seemed recovered beyond all
danger of relapse; but he did not deceive himself into believing that
Emily was henceforth indifferent to him. He knew that to stand again
before her would be to declare again his utter bondage, body and soul.
He loved her still, loved her as his life; he desired her as
passionately as ever. She was not often in his thoughts no more is the
consciousness of the processes whereby our being supports itself. But he
had only to let his mind turn to her, and he scoffed at the hope that
any other could ever be to him what Emily had been, and was, and would
He saw very little of Beatrice, but it came to his ears that her life
had undergone a change in several respects, that she spent hours daily
in strenuous study of music, and was less seen in the frivolous world.
No hint of the purpose Beatrice secretly entertained ever reached him
till, long after, the purpose became action. He felt that she shunned
him, and by degrees he thought he understood her behaviour. Wilfrid had
none of the vulgarest vanity; another man would long ago have suspected
that this beautiful girl was in love with him; Wilfrid had remained
absolutely without a suspicion of the kind. He had always taken in good
faith her declared aversion for his views; he had believed that her
nature and his own were definitely irreconcilable. This was
attributable, first of all to his actual inexperience in life, then to
the seriousness with which he held those views which Beatrice vowed
detestable. He, too, was an idealist, and, in many respects, destined to
remain so throughout his life; for he would never become, on the one
hand, the coldly critical man who dissects motives--his own and those of
others--to the last fibre, nor yet the superficial cynic who professes,
and half-believes, that he can explain the universe by means of a few
maxims of cheap pessimism. So he took, and continued to take, Beatrice's
utterances without any grain of scepticism, and consequently held it for
certain that she grew less friendly to him as she grew older.
Was it Mrs. Baxendale or Mrs. Birks who at length gave him the hint
which set his mind at work in another direction? Possibly both about the
same time, seeing that it was the occasion of Mrs. Baxendale's first
making acquaintance with his aunt that dated the beginning of new
reflections In Wilfrid. One or other of these ladies--of course it was
managed so delicately that he really could not have determined to which
of them he owed the impulse--succeeded in suggesting to him that he had
missed certain obvious meanings in Beatrice's behaviour whilst he
resided with her at Dunfield. Certainly, when he looked back at those
days from his present standpoint, Beatrice did appear to have conducted
herself singularly, the mode of her departure and leave-taking being
above all curious. Was it possible that--? The question formed itself at
last, and was the beginning of conviction. He sought Beatrice's society,
at first merely for the sake of resolving his doubts, and behold, she no
longer shrank from him as formerly. Of course he might take it for
granted that she knew the details of his story, seeing that her closest
intimates, Mrs. Baxendale and Mrs. Birks, were ignorant of none of them.
Had she, then, waited for signs of his freedom? Did his revival of the
old tone in their conversations strike her as something meant to be
significant, meant to convey to her certain suggestions? It was so in
point of fact, and Wilfrid could not be long, his eyes now open, without
convincing himself that the girl loved him ardently, that it cost her
struggles with herself to avoid a revelation of her feeling. How did it
Naturally, he was flattered. It afforded another instance of his
lordship among men; a woman whom others longed for desperately and in
vain was his when he chose to extend his hand to her. He saw, too, an
appropriateness in the chance which offered him such a wife; Beatrice
was in harmony with the future to which he aspired. Her property joined
to his would make him so wealthy that he might aim almost at anything;
political and social progress would aid each other, both rapid. Beatrice
was in many respects brilliant; there was no station that she would not
become; she had the tastes and habits of society. He compared her with
his career; she represented worldly success, the things which glitter on
the outside--action, voice; even her magnificent powers of song he used
as parallel--the gods forgive him!--to his own forensic abilities.
Supposing he must marry early, and not rather expect the day when he
might bid for a partner from a rank considerably above his own, Beatrice
was clearly the one wife for him. She would devote herself with ardour
to his worldly interests--for he began to understand that the
divergence of her expressed views meant little in comparison with her
heart's worship--and would enable him immediately to exchange the social
inferiority of bachelor life for the standing of a man with his own very
substantial roof-tree; she would have her drawing-room, which might be
made a _salon_, where politics and art might rule alternately.
This was doing injustice to Beatrice, and Wilfrid felt it; but it was
thus he regarded her as in distinction from the woman who should have
been his wife. She typified his chosen career; that other path which had
lain open to him, the path of intellectual endeavour, of idealism
incompatible with loud talk, of a worship which knew no taint of
time-serving, that for ever was represented by the image of the woman he
had lost. Her memory was encompassed with holiness. He never heard the
name she bore without a thrill of high emotion, the touch of exalted
enthusiasm; 'Emily' was written in starlight. Those aspects of her face
which had answered to the purest moments of his rapturous youth were as
present as if she had been his daily companion. He needed no picture to
recall her countenance; often he had longed for the skill of an artist,
that he might portray that grave sweetness, that impassioned faith, to
be his soul's altar-piece. Lost, lost! and, with her, lost the
uncompromising zeal of his earliest manhood. Only too consciously he had
descended to a lower level; politics tempted him because they offered a
field in which he could exercise his most questionable faculty, and earn
with it a speedy return of the praise to which he was so susceptible. It
marks his position to state that, when politics began seriously to hold
his thoughts, he was with difficulty able to decide to which party he
should attach himself. To be sure, if names could be taken as
sufficient, he was a Liberal, a Radical; but how different his
interpretation of such titles from that they bore to men of affairs!
Respect for the masses he had none; interest in their affairs he had
none either. On the other hand, the tone of uninstructed
Conservatism--that is to say, of the party so stamped--he altogether
despised. The motive which ultimately decided him to declare himself a
Liberal was purely of sentiment; he remembered what Mrs. Baxendale had
said about the hardships of poor Hood, and consequently allied himself
with those who profess to be the special friends of the toiling
From the first he talked freely with Beatrice of his projects; he even
exaggerated to her the cynicism with which he framed and pursued them.
He could never have talked in this way to Emily. With Beatrice the tone
did not injure him in the least, partly because she did not take it
altogether seriously, yet more owing to the habit of mind whereby women
in general subordinate principle to the practical welfare of the
individual. If Wilfrid found a sphere for the display of his talents,
Beatrice eared nothing to dwell upon abstract points. Politics were a
recognised profession for gentlemen, and offered brilliant prizes; that
was enough. She was pleased, on the whole, that his line should be one
of moderation; it was socially advantageous; it made things pleasant
with friends of the most various opinions. That Wilfrid took her into
his confidence was to her a great happiness. In secret she felt it would
be the beginning of closer intimacy, of things which women--heaven be
praised!--esteem of vastly more importance than intellectual convictions
or the interest of party.
But it was long, very long, before Wilfrid could bring himself to pass
the line which separates friendship from lovemaking. Of passion his
nature had no lack, but it seemed to be absorbed in memory; he shrank
from the thought of using to another those words he had spoken to Emily.
One of the points of intense secret sympathy between Emily and himself
was this chastity of temperament. Constitutionally incapable of vice, he
held in repugnance even that degree of materialism in the view of sexual
relations which is common to men who have grown their beards. Not only
had a coarse word never passed his lips; he intensely disliked the
frivolous way of discussing subjects which to him were more sacred than
any other. When he had decided with himself that it was his destiny to
wed Beatrice, he had a positive fear of taking this step from which
there would be no return. Before he could do so, he must have utterly
broken with the past, and how could that ever be I He had not even
moments of coldness in his thought of Emily; it was beyond his power to
foresee the day when she would have become to him a mere symbol of
something that was. Suppose that some day, when married, he again met
her? In spite of everything, he did not believe that she had ceased to
love him; somewhere she still kept her faith, martyred by the
incomprehensible fate which had torn her from his arms. To meet her
again would be to forget every tie save that holiest which made one of
his spirit and of hers.
One day--it was during the second season which Mrs. Baxendale passed in
London--he went to his friend and asked her where Emily was. Mrs.
Baxendale was too quick for him; Wilfrid thought he had put his question
unexpectedly, but the lady was ready for such a question at any moment,
and she replied, with appearance of absolute sincerity, that she had no
knowledge of Emily's place of abode.
'Where was she last--when you last heard from her?' Wilfrid asked, in
surprise at an answer so unanticipated.
Mrs. Baxendale named a town in Yorkshire. She had begun with a
calculated falsehood, and had no scruple in backing it up by others.
'What can it concern you, Wilfrid?' she continued. 'Shall I confess my
weakness? I mentioned your name in a letter to her; the result was this
complete ending of our correspondence. Now, will not even that satisfy
He did not doubt what he was told; Mrs. Baxendale's character for
veracity stood high. It was solely out of regard for Wilfrid that she
allowed herself to mislead him, for by this time it seemed obvious that
Beatrice was drawing near to her reward, and Mrs. Baxendale, with
pardonable error, took this last inquiry about Emily for a piece of
conscientiousness, which, once satisfied, Wilfrid would hold on his
course to a happy haven. 'She has given him up,' was her
self-justification. 'Beatrice now would suffer no less than she has
'Then tell me one thing more,' Wilfrid pursued. 'What has become of that
'That I can easily do. Long ago he married a young lady of Dunfield.'
'Then what did it mean? what _did_ it mean?'
Mrs. Baxendale merely shook her head.
A few months later, Beatrice astonished everyone by her first appearance
as a public singer. Wilfrid had as little anticipated such a step as any
other of Beatrice's friends. What was about to happen only became known
a day or two in advance. Mrs. Ashley Birks was paralysed with horror;
she implored, she reasoned, she put on her face of cold anger. Mr. Athel
cried 'What the deuce!' and forthwith held a serious colloquy with his
son. Wilfrid experienced a certain joy, only tempered with anxiety as to
the result of the experiment. If it proved a success, he felt that the
effect upon himself would be to draw him nearer to Beatrice; but it must
be a great success. He calculated on imaginative influences as other men
do on practical issues. Beatrice, acknowledged as more than an amateur,
perchance publicly recognised as really a great singer, would impress
him in a new way; he might overcome his impartial way of regarding her.
The result, outwardly, answered his fullest hopes. Beatrice had not idly
risked what would have been a deplorable fiasco; she had the
encouragement of those who did not speak in vain, and her ambition had
fired itself as she perceived the results of her conscientious labour.
Her nervousness throughout the day of the concert was terrible, but
little less than her life depended on the result, and at the hour of
trial she was strong to conquer. Very far behind her, as she stepped out
to that large audience, were the dilettante successes of drawing-room
and charitable concerts; she smiled at all that flow; since then she had
unlearnt so much and wrought with such humility. But what she strove for
was won; she knew it in the grasp of Wilfrid's hand when he led her to
her carriage. Her veil was down; behind it she was sobbing.
'Am I nothing more than a frivolous woman now?' she said, leaning to him
from the carriage.
Wilfrid could make no answer, and she was whirled away from him.
He went to her the next day, and asked her to be his wife. Beatrice
looked him in the face long and steadily. Then she asked:
'Do you love me, Wilfrid?'
'I love you.'
Another word trembled on her tongue, but the temptation of her bliss was
too great; the contained ardour of long years had its way, sweeping
doubt and memory before it.
'For your sake I have done it all. What do I care for a whole world's
praise, compared with one word of recognition from you! You remember the
morning when you told me of my faults, when we all but seemed to
quarrel? Ah! I have faults in abundance still, but have I not done one
thing worth doing, done it thoroughly, as net everyone could? I am not
only a woman of the world, of society and fashion? Do I not know how
contemptible that is? But only you could raise me above it.'
He left her, in a bewildered state; she had excited, impassioned him;
but how strange it all was after those other scenes of love! It seemed
so of the earth; the words he had spoken rang over again in his ears,
and stirred his blood to shame. He could not say whether in truth he
loved her or not; was it enough to feel that he could cherish her with
much tenderness, and intoxicate himself in gazing on her perfect face?
Women are so different! Emily had scarcely spoken when he made known to
her his love; could he ever forget that awe-struck face, dimly seen in
the moonlight? Her words to the end had been few; it was her eyes that
spoke. Beatrice was noble, and had a heart of gold; was there not heaven
in that ardour of hers, if only it had been his soul's desire?
Henceforth it must be; she loved him, and he must not wrong her. Alas!
the old name, the old name alone, was still star-written....
He passed with her the afternoon of each Sunday. Mrs. Birks' house was a
large one, and Beatrice had abundance of room to herself. Thither
Wilfrid took his way on the Sunday which we have reached, the day
following his drawing-room triumph. Already he was a little ashamed of
himself; he was experiencing again the feeling which had come over him
after his first speech to a political meeting. As he went home that
night, a demon in his head kept crying 'Clap-trap! clap-trap!' and there
was no silencing the voice. He had talked to the intelligence of the
mob. Now his talk had been addressed to--the representatives of the mob;
if the demon did not cry so loudly, it was only because he was weary of
his thankless task.
Beatrice was a superb coquette--but only for the man she loved. For
these Sunday afternoons she attired herself divinely; Wilfrid had learnt
to expect a new marvel at each of his comings. To-day she wore her
favourite colour, a dark-blue. Her rising to meet him was that of a
queen who bath an honoured guest. The jewels beneath her long dark
lashes were as radiant as when first she heard him say, 'I love you.'
All the impulses of her impetuous character had centred on this one end
of her life. Her eccentricities had tamed themselves in the long
discipline of frustrated desire. The breath of her body was love. About
her stole a barely perceptible perfume, which invaded the senses, which
wrapped the heart in luxury.
Wilfrid dropped on one knee before her and kissed her hand.
'You are in a happy mood,' Beatrice said. 'Who has been telling you the
'I have seen no one to-day. If I look happy--should I not?'
She drew her finger along the line of his eyebrow.
'How does your picture get on?'
'I have to give two sittings next week. Thank goodness they are the
'Oh! why wasn't it in time for the Academy! But it must go next year.'
Wilfrid laughed as he seated himself opposite to her.
'I am not sure, after all, that you are happy,' she said, leaning her
head a little aside as she gazed at him. 'Now you are thoughtful. I
suppose you will be more and more thoughtful.'
'Deep on his front engraven
Deliberation sat, and public care--'
quoted Wilfrid, with a little wrying of the lips. 'This, you know, is
one of the penalties of greatness.'
She seemed about to rise, but it was only to slip forward and sink upon
her knees by his side, her arms embracing him. It was like the fall of
fair waters, so gracefully impulsive, so self-abandoning.
'Not one kiss to-day?' she murmured, her voice like the dying of a
And she raised to him a face lit from the inmost sanctuary of love.
'You are as beautiful,' he said, 'as any woman of whom fable ever told.
Your beauty frightens me. It is sometimes more than human--as though the
loveliest Greek goddess suddenly found breath and colour and the light
Beatrice threw her head far back, laughing silently; he saw the laughter
dance upon her throat.
'My love! my own!' she whispered. 'Say you love me!'
'Dearest, I love you!'
'Ah! the words make my heart flutter so! I am glad, glad that I have
beauty; but for that you would never have loved me. Let me hide my face
as I tell you. I used to ask myself whether I was not really fairer than
other women--I thought--I hoped! But you were so indifferent. Wilfrid,
how long, how long I have loved you! I was quite a young girl when I
loved you first. That, I said, shall be my husband, or I will never have
one. And I knew so little how to win your thought. How ashamed it makes
me to think of things I said and did in those days!'
She was silent, leaning her head against his shoulder.
'Do you ever think of me as I was at Dunfield?' she asked presently,
with timid utterance, hardly above her breath, risking what she had
never yet dared.
'No,' he answered, 'I think of the present.'
His voice was a little hard, from the necessity of commanding it.
'You did not know that I loved you then? Think of me! Pity me!'
He made no answer. Beatrice spoke again, her face veiled against him,
her arms pressing closer.
'You love me with perfect love? I have your whole heart?'
'I love you only, Beatrice.'
'And with love as great as you ever knew? Say that to me--Wilfrid, say
that!' She clung to him with passion which was almost terrible. 'Forgive
me! Only remember that you are my life, my soul! I cannot have less than
He would have been cased in triple brass if music such as this had not
melted into his being. He gave her the assurance she yearned for, and,
in giving it, all but persuaded himself that he spoke the very truth.
The need of affirming his belief drew from him such words as he had the
secret of; Beatrice sighed in an anguish of bliss.
'Oh, let me die now! It is only for this that I have lived.'
Wilfrid had foreseen and dreaded this questioning. From any woman it was
sooner or later to be expected, and Beatrice was as exacting as she was
passionate. She knew herself, and strove hard to subdue these
characteristics which might be displeasing to Wilfrid; her years of
hopelessness, of perpetual self-restraint, were of aid to her now; three
months had passed without a word from her which directly revived the old
sorrows. Her own fear of trenching on indiscretion found an ally in
Wilfrid's habitual gravity; her remark, at their meeting, on his mood
was in allusion to a standing pleasantry between them; she had
complained that he seldom looked really happy in her presence. It was
true; his bearing as a rule was more than sober. Beatrice tormented
herself to explain this. He was not in ordinary intercourse so
persistently serious, though far more so than he had been in earlier
years, the change dating, as Beatrice too well had marked, from the time
of his supreme misery. With the natural and becoming gravity of mature
age there mingled a very perceptible strain of melancholy. You felt it
in his laugh, which was seldom hearty; it made his sprightliness in
social hours more self-conscious than it might have been. Beatrice had
always felt towards him a very real humility, even when the goading of
her unrequited love drove her into a show of scornful opposition.
Herself conscious of but average intelligence, and without studious
inclinations, she endowed him with acquisitions as vast as they were
vague to her discernment; she knew that it would always lie beyond her
power to be his intellectual companion. Therefore she desired to be
before everything womanly in his eyes, to make the note of pure
sentiment predominate in their private relations to each other. She had
but won him by her artistic faculty; she could not depend upon that to
retain and deepen his affection. Her constant apprehension was lest
familiarity should diminish her charm in his eyes. Wilfrid was no less
critical than he had ever been; she suspected that he required much of
her. Did he seek more than she would eventually be able to give? Was she
exhausting the resources of her personal charm? Such thoughts as these
made curious alternations in her manner towards him; one day she would
endeavour to support a reserve which should surpass his own, another she
lost herself in bursts of emotion. The very care which she bestowed upon
her personal appearance was a result of her anxiety on this point; in
the last resort she knew herself to be beautiful, and to her beauty he
was anything but insensible. Yet such an influence was wretchedly
insufficient; she must have his uttermost love, and never yet had she
attained full assurance of possessing it.
Little did Wilfrid suspect the extent to which her thoughts were
occupied with that faint, far-off figure of Emily Hood. It was her
despair that she had known Emily so slightly; she would have desired to
study to the depths the woman who had possessed such a secret of power.
In personal charm Emily could not compare with her; and yet--the
distinction struck her hard--that was perhaps only true if personal
charm merely meant charm of person, for she herself had experienced
something of the strange impressiveness which men--men of
imagination--submitted to in Emily's presence. Where did it lie, this
magic? It was indefinite, indefinable; perhaps a tone of the voice
represented it, perhaps a smile--which meant, of course, that it was
inseparable from her being, from her womanhood. Could one attribute to
Emily, even after the briefest acquaintance, a thought, an instinct,
which conflicted with the ideal of womanly purity? Was not her
loveliness of the soul? Moreover, she was intellectual beyond ordinary
women; for Wilfrid that must have been a rich source of attraction.
Scarcely less than the image of Wilfrid himself was that of Emily a
haunting presence in Beatrice's life. Recently she had spoken of her
both with Mrs. Birks and Mrs. Baxendale; it cost her something to do so,
but both of these had known Emily with intimacy, and might perhaps tell
her more than she herself remembered or could divine. Mrs. Birks was
disposed to treat Emily with little seriousness.
'You make the strangest mistake,' she said, 'if you think that was
anything but a boy's folly. To be sure the folly got very near the point
of madness--that was because opposition came in its way. Wilfrid has
for years thought as little of her as of the man in the moon's wife--if
he has one. You are surely not troubling yourself--what?'
Beatrice had thereupon retired into herself.
'You misunderstand me,' she said, rather coldly. 'It was only a
recollection of something that had seemed strange to me at the time.'
Mrs. Baxendale held another tone, but even she was not altogether
sincere--naturally it was impossible to be so. To begin with, she gave
Beatrice to understand, even as she had Wilfrid, that she had now for
some time lost sight of Emily, and, consequently, that the latter was
less actually interesting to her than was in fact the case. With her
aunt Beatrice could be more unreserved; she began by plainly asking
whether Mrs. Baxendale thought Wilfrid's regret had been of long
endurance--a woman in Beatrice's position clearly could not, in talking
to another, even suppose the case that the regret still endured. Her
aunt honestly replied that she believed he had suffered long and
'But,' she added, with characteristic tact, 'I did not need this
instance, my dear, to prove to me that a first love may be only a
preparation for that which is to last through life. I could tell you
stories--but I haven't my grandmother's cap on at present.'
(Mrs. Baxendale was, in truth, a grandmother by this time, and professed
to appreciate the authority she derived from the circumstance.)
That had drawn Beatrice out.
'She was strong-minded?'
'Or very weak, I really don't know which.'
'Yes,' mused Beatrice, 'she was a problem to you. You never troubled
yourself to puzzle over my character, aunt.'
'When a stream is of lovely clearness, Beatrice, we do not find it hard
to determine the kind of ground it flows over.'
'I will owe you a kiss for that,' said the girl, blushing hot with very
joy. 'But you are a flatterer, dear aunt, and just now I am very humble
in spirit. I think great happiness should make us humble, don't you? I
find it hard to make out my claim to it.'
'Be humble still, dear, and the happiness will not be withdrawn.'
'I do like to talk with you,' Beatrice replied. 'I never go away without
something worth thinking of.'
Humility she strove to nourish. It was a prime virtue of woman, and
'would sweeten her being. Unlike Emily, she was not inspired with an
ardent idealism independently of her affections; with love had begun her
conscious self-study, and love alone exalted her. Her many frivolous
tendencies she had only overcome by dint of long endeavour to approach
Wilfrid's standard. If in one way this was an item of strength, in
another it indicated a very real and always menacing weakness. Having
gained that to which her every instinct had directed itself, she made
the possession of her bliss an indispensable factor of life; to lose it
would be to fall into nether darkness, into despair of good. So widowed,
there would be no support in herself; she knew it, and the knowledge at
moments terrified her. Even her religious convictions, once very real
and strong, had become subordinate; her creed--though she durst not
confess it--was that of earthly love. Formerly she had been thrown back
on religious emotion as a solace, an anodyne; for that reason the
tendencies inherited from her mother had at one time reached a climax of
fanaticism. Of late years, music had been her resource, the more
efficient in that it ministered to hope. By degrees even her charitable
activity had diminished; since her mother's death she had abandoned the
habit of 'district visiting.' As confidence of the one supreme
attainment grew in her, the mere accessories of her moral life were
allowed to fall away. She professed no change of opinion, indeed under.
went none, but opinion became, as with most women, distinct from
practice. She still pretended to rejoice as often as she persuaded
Wilfrid to go to church, but it was noticeable that she willingly
allowed his preference for the better choral services, and seemed to
take it for granted that the service was only of full efficacy when
performed together with her....
'Let me die now! It is only for this that I have lived!'
The cry came from her very heart. For once Wilfrid had been overcome,
had thrown off his rather sad-coloured wooing, had uttered such words as
her soul yearned for. Yet she had scarcely time to savour her rapture
before that jealousy of the past mingled itself with the sensation. Even
such words as these he must have used to _her_, and had they not
perchance come more readily to his lips? Was he by nature so reserved?
Or, the more probable thing, was it that she failed at other times to
inspire him? How had _she_ been used to behave, to speak?
In her incessant brooding upon the details of Wilfrid's first affection,
Beatrice had found one point which never lost its power to distract her;
it was the thought of all the correspondence that must have passed
between him and Emily. What had become of those letters? Had they been
mutually returned? It was impossible to discover. Not even to her aunt
could she put such a question as that; and it might very well be that
Mrs. Baxendale knew nothing certainly. If the story as she, Beatrice,
had heard it was quite accurate, it seemed natural to suppose that Emily
had requested to have her letters returned to her when she declared that
the engagement must be at an end; but Wilfrid had refused to accept that
declaration, and would he not also have refused to let the writing which
was so precious to him leave his hands? In that case he probably had the
letters still; perhaps he still read them at times. Would it be
possible, even after marriage, to speak of such a subject with Wilfrid?
She had constantly tried to assure herself that, even if he had kept the
pledges through all these years, a sense of honour would lead Wilfrid to
destroy them when he gave and received a new love. In moments when it
was her conscious effort to rise to noble heights, to be as pure a woman
as that other--for Beatrice never sought the base comfort of refusing
to her rival that just homage--she 'would half persuade herself that no
doubt lingered in her mind; it was right to destroy the letters, and
whatever was right Wilfrid must have done. But she could not live at all
hours in that thin air; the defects of her blood were too enduring.
Jealousy came back from its brief exile, and was more insinuating than
ever, its suggestions more maddening. By a sort of reaction, these
thoughts assailed her strongly in the moments which followed her
outburst of passion and Wilfrid's response. Yet she could not--durst
not--frame words to tell him of her suffering. It was to risk too much;
it might strike a fatal blow at his respect for her. Even those last
words she had breathed with dread, involuntarily; already, perhaps, she
had failed in the delicacy he looked for, and had given him matter for
disagreeable thought as soon as he left her. She rose at length from her
kneeling attitude, and leaned back in her chair with a look of trouble
Wilfrid did not notice it; he had already begun to think of other
'Beatrice,' he began, 'there's a subject I have avoided speaking of,
thinking you might perhaps be the first to mention it. Do you wish to
continue your singing?'
She smiled, and did not seem to attach great importance to the question.
'It is for you to decide,' she answered. 'You know why I began it; I am
ready to say my farewell whenever you bid me.'
'But what is your own feeling? I suppose you would in any case cease at
'You are not ashamed of it?'
'It is true,' he replied humorously, 'that I am a member of the British
House of Commons, but I beg you won't think too meanly of me. I protest
that I have still something of my old self.'
'That means you are rather proud than ashamed. How' long,' she went on
to ask, lowering her eyes, 'is the British House of Commons likely to
'Probably the talk will hold out for some seven or eight weeks longer.'
'May I sing the two remaining engagements, if I take no more after
'To be sure, you must. Let it stand so, then.'
She fell back into her brooding.
'Now I, too, have something to ask,' she said, after a short silence.
'Whatever you ask is already granted.'
'Don't be too hasty. It's more than you think.'
'I want you to give me some work to do for you--to let me come and sit
with you in your study some mornings and 'write things for you.'
Wilfrid laughed cheerily.
'If I had a regard for my dignity,' he said, 'I certainly shouldn't let
you. What will become of my pretence of work when you are let into the
secrets? But come, by all means. You shall digest a blue-book for me.'
'When? To-morrow morning?'
'If you will.'
Beatrice was satisfied.
'Beatrice is coming to act as my secretary this morning,' Wilfrid said
to his father, as they sat at breakfast on Monday.
'Is she?' remarked Mr. Athel, drily. 'It had struck me that you were not
very busy just now,' he added, by way of natural comment.
The junior smiled.
'By the way, she has only two more engagements--then it ceases.'
'I am glad to hear it,' said his father, with much satisfaction.
'After all,' observed Wilfrid, 'you must remember that everyone knows
she doesn't sing for a living. Art, you know, is only contemptible when
it supports the artist.'
'Well, well, file your epigrams by all means; but we live in the world,
Wilf. Criticise as smartly as you like; the danger only begins when you
act upon your convictions.'
At half-past ten Beatrice arrived. She came into the study with a
morning colour on her cheeks, threw off her mantle and hat, and let
Wilfrid draw off her gloves, which somehow took a long time in the
doing. She was full of bright, happy talk, most of it tending to show
that she had already given the attention to the morning's 'leaders'
which was becoming in a politician's betrothed.
'Do you smoke whilst you are at work?' she asked, descending from those
'I allow myself a few cigarettes.'
'Cigarettes? Surely that is too frivolous an accompaniment!'
'O, it is only when I am musing upon the arguments of the Opposition.'
'I see.' Beatrice took the reply quite seriously. 'But where is the
blue-book you want me to digest?'
Wilfrid shook his head, looking at her with a smile.
'You think me incompetent? But at least try me. I shan't spoil
'An illustration drawn from the art of millinery, I imagine.'
'Don't be unkind. I'm afraid you wouldn't let me write your letters?'
'By Jove! an excellent idea. Here's one of the free and independent
electors of G--writes to ask what my views are on the subject of
compulsory vaccination. Do pen a reply and I'll sign it.'
'But what am I to say?'
'The ghost of Jenner alone knows I offer it as an opportunity to show
your fitness for this post. You have applied to me for work, Miss--Miss
Redwing, I think your name is?' He assumed the air of one applied to.
'It is, sir.'
'Come, come; that's far too jaunty. You don't at all understand the
position of the person applying for work. You must be profoundly
depressed; there must be half a tear in your eye; you must look hungry.'
'O dear--I had such an excellent breakfast!'
'Which clearly disqualifies you for the post you seek. However, Miss--
Miss Redwing, I think you said?'
'I did, sir.'
'Vastly better. The applicant must always be a little ashamed of his
name; they learn that, you know, from the way in which they are
addressed by employers. Well, I'll give you a hint. Tell him he's an
ass, or he wouldn't have needed to ask my opinion.'
'I am to put that into parliamentary language?'
'And say nothing more definite?'
'Really Miss--Miss Redwing, I begin to doubt the genuineness of your
testimonials. You surely have learnt that the first essential of the art
of public letter-writing is to say nothing whatever in as convincing a
manner as possible.'
'But if I tell him he's a--a donkey?'
' You fear it will be deviating into truth. There's something in that.
Say, then, that the matter is occupying my gravest attention, and that I
hope to be able to reply definitely in the course of a few weeks.'
'Very well. Where may I sit? But I can't use a quill, dear boy.'
'Oh, I forgot myself. Have you a nice, fine point, not too hard?'
'Let me see.'
Wilfrid unlocked one of the drawers in his desk. As he drew it out,
Beatrice stole to him, and peeped into the drawer.
'How neat, Wilfrid!' she exclaimed. 'What a pretty pocket-book that is
lying there. Do let me look at it.'
It was a morocco case, with an elastic band round it. Beatrice stretched
her hand towards it, but he arrested her movement.
'No, no,' he said, playfully, 'we can't have prying. Here are the pens.'
'But do let me look at the case, Wilfrid.'
He began to close the drawer. Beatrice laid her hand on it.
'My aunt gave it me, long ago,' Wilfrid said, as if to dismiss the
subject. 'Mind! I shall trap your fingers.'
'I'm sure you won't do that. But I do want to see it. The smell of
morocco is so delicious. Just one whiff of it.'
'Then you want to smell it, not to see it. If you're good, you shall
before you go away.'
'No, but now!--Wilfrid!'
He was pretending to squeeze her fingers in the shutting of the drawer.
She would not undo her grasp.
'Why mayn't I, Wilfrid?'
She looked at him. His expression was graver than became the incident;
he was trying to smile, but Beatrice saw that his eyes and lips were
'Why mayn't I?' she repeated.
'Oh, if you insist,' he exclaimed, moving back a step or two, 'of course
She took up the case, and looked at it on either side.
'There are letters in it?' she said, without raising her eyes.
'Yes, I believe there are letters in it.'
'Important, I suppose?'
'I daresay; I suppose I had some reason for putting them there.'
He spoke with apparent indifference, and turned to light a cigarette.
Beatrice put back the case, and closed the drawer.
'Here is note-paper,' Wilfrid said, holding some to her.
She took it in silence, and seated herself. Wilfrid at tempted to pursue
the jest, but she could not reply. She sat as if about to 'write; her
eyes were drooped, and her mouth had set itself hard. Wilfrid affected
to turn over papers in search for something, still standing before the
'You find it difficult to begin,' he said. 'Pray call him "dear sir."
Society depends upon that "dear."'
'A word easily used,' remarked Beatrice, in a low' voice, as if she were
He cast a glance at her, then seated himself. He was at the side of the
table, she at the end. After a moment of silence, she leaned forward to
'Wilfrid,' she said, trying to smile, 'what letters are those, dear?'
'Of what possible moment can that be to you, Beatrice?'
'It seems--I can't help thinking they are--letters which you value
particularly. Might I not know?'
He looked away to the window.
'Of course, if you tell me I am rude,' Beatrice continued, pressing her
pen's point upon the table, 'I have no answer.'
'Well, yes,' he replied at length, as if having taken a resolve, 'they
are letters of--that I have put apart for a special reason. And now,
shall we forget them?'
His tone was not altogether suave; about his nostrils there was a
suspicion of defiance. He forced himself to meet her gaze steadily; the
effort killed a smile.
'We will cease to speak of them,' Beatrice answered, implying a
A minute later he saw' that she laid down her pen and rose. He looked up
'I don't feel able to do anything this morning,' she said.
Wilfrid made no reply. She went to the chair on which her hat and mantle
'You are not going?' he asked, in a tone of surprise.
'I think so; I can't be of use to you,' she added, impulsively; 'I have
not your confidence.'
He let her throw the mantle over her shoulders.
'Beatrice, surely this is not the result of such a trifle? Look!' He
pulled open the drawer once more and threw the pocket-hook on to the
table. 'Suppose that had lain there when you came into this room alone.
Should you have opened it and examined the contents?'
'I should not--you know it.'
'Very well. You would simply have taken it for granted that I was to be
trusted to look after my own affairs, until I asked someone else's aid
or advice. Is not that the case at present?'
A man more apt at dissimulation would have treated the matter from the
first with joking irony, and might have carried his point, though with
difficulty. Wilfrid had not the aptitude, to begin with, and he was
gravely disturbed. His pulses were throbbing; scarcely could he steady
his voice. He dreaded a disclosure of what might well be regarded as
throwing doubt upon his sincerity, the more so that he understood in
this moment how justifiable such a doubt would be. After the merriment
of a few minutes ago, this sudden shaking of his nerves was the harder
to endure. It revived with painful intensity the first great agitations
of his life. His way of speaking could not but confirm Beatrice's
'We are not exactly strangers to each other,' she said, coldly.
'No, we are not; yet I think I should have forborne to press you on any
matter you thought it needless to speak of.'
She put on her hat. Wilfrid felt his anger rising--our natural emotion
when we are disagreeably in the wrong, yet cannot condemn the cause
which has made us so. He sat to the table again, as if his part in the
discussion were at an end.
Beatrice stood for some moments, then came quickly to his side.
'Wilfrid, have you secrets from me?' she asked, the tremor of her voice
betraying the anguish that her suspicions cost her. 'Say I am
ill-mannered. It was so, at first; I oughtn't to have said anything. But
now it has become something different. However trifling the matter, I
can't bear that you should refuse to treat me as yourself. There is
nothing, nothing I could keep from you. I have not a secret in my life
to hide from you. It is not because they are letters--or not only that.
You put a distance between us you say there are affairs of yours in
which I have no concern. I cannot bear that! If I leave you, I shall
suffer more than you dream. I thought we were one. Is not your love as
complete as mine?'
He rose and moved away, saying--
'Open it! Look at the letters!'
'No, that I can't do. What can it be that troubles you so? Are they
letters that I _ought_ not to see?'
He could bear it no longer.
'Yes,' he answered, brusquely, 'I suppose they are.'
'You mean that you have preserved letters which, as often as you open
that drawer, remind you of someone else?--that you purposely keep them
so near your hand?'
'Beatrice, I had no right to destroy them.'
'No right!' Her eyes flashed, and her tongue trembled with its scorn.
'You mean you had no wish.'
'If I had no right, I could scarcely have the wish.'
Wilfrid was amazed at his own contemptible quibbling, but in truth he
was not equal to the occasion. He could not defend himself in choice
phrases; in a sort of desperate carelessness he flung out the first
retort that offered itself. He was on the point of throwing over
everything, of declaring that all must be at an end between them; yet
courage failed for that. Nor courage only; the woman before him was very
grand in her indignation, her pale face was surpassingly beautiful. The
past faded in comparison with her; in his heart he doubted of its power.
Beatrice was gazing at him in resentful wonder.
'Why have you done this?' she asked. 'Why did you come to me and speak
those words? What necessity was there to pretend what you did not feel?'
He met her eyes.
'I have not spoken falsely to you,' he said, with calmness which did not
strengthen the impression his words were meant to convey.
'When you said that you loved me? If it were true, you could not have
borne to have those letters under your eyes. You say you had no right to
destroy them. You knew that it was your duty to do so. _Could_ you have
Wilfrid had become almost absent-minded. His heart was torn in two ways.
He wished to take the letters from their case and destroy them at once;
probably it was masculine pride which now kept him from doing it.
'I think you must believe what I say, Beatrice,' was his answer. 'I am
not capable of deliberately lying to you.'
'You are not. But you are capable of deceiving yourself; I accuse you of
nothing more. You have deceived yourself, and I have been the cause of
it; for I had so little of woman's pride that I let you see my love; it
was as if I begged for your love in return. My own heart should have
taught me better; there can be no second love. You pitied me!'
Wilfrid was in no state of mind to weigh phrases; at a later time, when
he could look back with calmness, and with the advantage of extended
knowledge, he recognised in these words the uttermost confession of love
of 'which a woman is capable. In hearing them, he simply took them as a
'If such a thing had been possible,' he said, 'it would have been a
horrible injustice to you. I asked you to be my wife because I loved
you. The existence of these letters is no proof that I misunderstood my
own feeling. There are many things we cannot explain to another on the
moment. You must judge the facts as you will, but no hasty and obvious
judgment will hit the truth.'
She was not listening to him. Her eyes were fixed upon the letters, and
over her heart there crept a desire which all but expelled other
feeling, a desire to know what was there written. She would have given
her hand to be alone in the room with that pocket-book, now that she
knew what it contained; no scruple would have withheld her. The
impossibility that her longing could ever be satisfied frenzied her with
'I will leave you with them,' she exclaimed, speaking her' thought. 'You
do not want me; I come between you and her. Read, and forget me; read
them once more, and see then if you do not understand yourself. I know
now why you have often been so cold, why it cost you an effort to reply
to me. You shall never have that trouble again.'
She moved to quit the room. Wilfrid called her.
'Beatrice! Stay and listen to me. These letters are nothing, and mean
nothing; Stay, and see me burn them.'
Irrational as it was, she could not bear to see them destroyed. In her
distracted mind there was a sort of crazy hope that he would at last
give them to her to burn; she might even perhaps have brought herself to
take them away.
'That is childish,' she said. 'You know them by heart; the burning of
the paper would alter nothing.'
'Then I can say and do no more.'
It had been like a rending of his heartstrings to offer to destroy these
memories of Emily, though he at the same time persuaded himself that,
once done, he would be a stronger and a happier man. In truth, they had
made the chief strength of the link between him and the past; every day
they had reminded him how much of the old feeling lingered in his being;
the sanctity with which these relics were invested testified to the
holiness of the worship which had bequeathed them. He had not opened the
case since his betrothal to Beatrice, and scarcely a day passed that he
did not purpose hiding it somewhere away for ever--not destroying.
Beatrice's answer to his offer caused him half to repent that he had
made it. He turned away from her.
She, after looking at the pocket-book still for some moments, seemed to
force herself away. He heard her open the door, and did not try to stay
Half an hour later, Wilfrid restored the letters to their place in the
drawer. If they were to be destroyed, it must now be in Beatrice's
presence. With something like joy he turned the key upon them, feeling
that they were preserved, that the last farewell was once again
postponed. Wilfrid was not a very strong man where sacrifice 'was
demanded of him.
He neither saw nor heard from Beatrice till the evening of the following
day. Then it happened that they had to dine at the same house. On
meeting her in the drawing-room, he gave her his hand as usual; hers
returned no pressure. She seemed as cheerful as ever in her talk with
others; him she kept apart from. He could not make up his mind to write.
She had refused to accept such proof of his sincerity as it wag in his
power to offer, and Wilfrid made this an excuse--idle as he knew it to
be--for maintaining a dignified silence. Dignified, he allowed himself
to name it; yet he knew perfectly well that his attitude had one very
ignoble aspect, since he all but consciously counted upon Beatrice's
love to bring her back to his feet. He said to himself: Let her
interpret my silence as she will; if she regard it as evidence of
inability to face her--well, I make no objection. The conviction all the
while grew in him that he did veritably love her, for he felt that, but
for his knowledge of her utter devotedness, he would now be in fear lest
he should lose her. Such fear need not occupy a thought; a word, and she
flew to him. He enjoyed this sense of power; to draw out the
misunderstanding a little would make reconciliation all the pleasanter.
Then the letters should flame into ashes, and with them vanish even the
regret for the blessedness they had promised.
Wednesday morning, and still no letter from Beatrice. Mr. Athel joked
about her speedy resignation of the secretaryship. Wilfrid joined in the
joke, and decided that he would wait one more day, knowing not what a
day might bring forth.
HER PATH IN THE SHADOW
Yielding to the urgency of Beatrice, who was supported in her entreaty
by Mrs. Birks, Wilfrid had, a little ere this, consented to sit for his
portrait to an artist, a friend of the family, who had already made a
very successful picture of Beatrice herself. The artist resided at
Teddington. Wilfrid was due for a sitting this Wednesday morning, and he
went down into the country, intending to be back for lunch and the House
of Commons. But the weather was magnificent, and, the sitting over,
truant thoughts began to assail the young legislator. Bushey Park was at
hand, with its chestnut avenue leading to Hampton Court. A ramble of
indefinite duration was, in his present frame of mind, much more
attractive than the eloquence of independent members. He determined to
take a holiday.
A very leisurely stroll across the park brought him to the King's Arms,
and the sight of the hostelry suggested pleasant thoughts of sundry
refreshing viands and cooling liquors. He entered and lunched. It was a
holiday, and a truant holiday; he allowed himself champagne. When he
came forth again, his intention to stroll through the galleries of the
Palace had given way before the remembered shadow of the chestnuts; he
returned to the park, and, after idly watching the fish in the shallow
water of the round lake, strayed away into cool retreats, where the
grass irresistibly invited to recumbency. He threw himself down, and let
his eyes dream upon the delicate blades and stalks and leafage which one
so seldom regards. If he chose to gaze further, there were fair tracts
of shadowed sward, with sunny gleamings scattered where the trees were
thinner, and above him the heaven of clustering leaves, here of
impenetrable dark-green, there translucent-golden. A rustling whisper,
in the air and on the ground, was the only voice that came thither.
He had set himself to think of Beatrice. He purposed writing her a long
letter to-night, wherein he would do his best to make her understand the
light in which the past appeared to him, and how little those memories
had to do with the present and its love and its duty. To be sure, he
could not use the words of very truth. He would much have preferred to
speak with unflinching honesty, to confess that he had, even of late,
often dwelt on the thought of Emily with tenderness, with something of
heart-ache; but that the new love had, for all that, triumphed over the
old, and would henceforth grow to perfectness. But the character of
Beatrice would not allow this; in her, feeling was too predominant over
intellect; she could not recognise in this very frankness the assurance
of an affection which would end by being no less than the utmost she
demanded. He had to seek for subtleties of explanation, for ingenuities
of argument, which, unsatisfactory as they seemed to himself, might yet,
he thought, help her to the reconciliation he knew she desired. He was
scarcely less anxious for it. For Beatrice he would never know that
limitless passion, that infinite yearning alike of spirit and of sense,
which had been his love for Emily; but she was very dear to him, and
with all his heart he desired to make her happiness. He imaged her
beauty and her talent with pride which made his veins warmer. Her
husband, he would be loyal to his last breath. Community of life would
establish that intimate alliance of heart and soul which every year
makes more enduring. Were they not young flesh and blood, he and she?
And could a bodiless ghost come between them, a mere voice of
long-vanished time, insubstantial, unseizable, as the murmur in these
He grew tired of the attitude which at first had been reposeful, and
rose to wander further. Someone else, it seemed, had been tempted to
this quiet corner, away from the road; a woman was walking at a little
distance, and reading as she walked. The thought passed through his mind
that a woman never looked more graceful than when walking with her head
bent over a book. When he looked that way again, he found that she had
come much nearer, still very intent upon her reading. She had, in truth,
a comely figure, one which suggested a face of the nobler kind. She
would look up presently.
Did not that form, that movement as she walked, stir memories? Yes, he
had known someone who might well have paced thus beneath spreading
trees, with her eyes upon a book of poetry; not unlike this stranger,
outwardly. In what black, skyless, leafless town was she pursuing her
lonely life?--Lonely? why should it be so? Emily could not go on her way
without meeting one whom her sweetness and her power would enthral, and
the reasons, whatever they were, that had forbidden her marriage six or
seven years ago, were not likely to resist time. He tried to hope that
the happier lot had by this solaced her. Do we not change so? His own
love--see how it had faded!
Half purposely, he had turned so as to pass near the reader. At the
distance of a few yards from her, he stayed his step. A little nearer
she came, then something made her aware of his presence. She raised her
eyes, the eyes of Emily Hood.
Her hands fell, one still holding the book open. He, who was prepared
already, could watch her countenance change from placid, if grave,
thought, to the awakening of surprise, to startled recognition; he could
see the colour die upon her cheeks, flee from her lips; he could observe
the great heartthrobs which shook her and left her bosom quivering. He
did not uncover his head; conventional courtesies have their season. It
seemed very long before they ceased to look into each other's eyes, but
at length hers fell.
'Is it possible that you are living in London?' were Wilfrid's first
words. He could affect no distance of manner. To him all at once it was
as though they had parted a few days ago.
'Yes,' she answered simply. 'In a far part of London.'
'And we meet here, where I seemed to find myself by the merest chance. I
saw a stranger in the distance, and thought of yourself; I knew you long
before you looked up from your reading.'
Emily tried to smile.
'How little you are changed!' Wilfrid continued, his voice keeping still
its awed quietness, with under-notes of feeling. 'Rather, you are not
changed at all.'
It was not true, but in the few minutes that he had gazed at her, past
and present had so blended that he could not see what another would have
noticed. Emily was appreciably older, and ill-health had set marks upon
her face. A stranger looking at her now would have found it hard to
imagine her with the light of joy in her eyes; her features had set
themselves in sorrow. Her cheeks were very thin; her eyes were dark and
sunken. Wilfrid saw only the soul in her gaze at him, and that was as it
had ever been.
She was unable to speak; Wilfrid found words.
'Do you often walk here? Is your home near?'
'Not very near. I came by the river,' she answered.
'I am very glad that I have met you.' The words sounded insufficient,
but Wilfrid was by this time at battle with himself, and succeeded in
saying less than he felt. 'You will let me walk on a little way with
you? We can't shake hands at once and say good-bye, can we, after such a
He spoke in the tone one uses to jest over bygone sadness. Emily made no
verbal answer, but walked along by his side.
'You still have your old habits,' he said, casting an eye at the book.
'Are your tastes still the same, I wonder?'
'It is Dante,' she replied.
The name brought another to Wilfrid's consciousness; he averted his eyes
for a moment, but spoke again without much delay.
'Still faithful to the great names. This is a lovely place to make one's
study. Were you here when the chestnuts flowered?'
'Yes, once or twice.'
'I did not see them this year. And you have been walking here so often,'
he added, wondering again, half to himself. 'I have been to Teddington
several times lately, but only today came into the park.'
'I have not been here for a month,' Emily said, speaking at length with
more case. The shock had affected her physically more than she had
allowed to be seen; it was only now that her voice was perfectly at her
command. Her face remained grave, but she spoke in a tone free from
suggestion of melancholy. 'I teach in a school, and to-day there is a
'Do you live at the school?'
'No. I have my own lodgings.'
He was on the point of asking whether Mrs. Baxendale knew she was in
London, but it seemed better to suppress the question.
'Have you been there long?' he asked instead.
'Half a year.'
As he kept silence, Emily continued with a question, the first she had
'What have you chosen for your life's work?'
Wilfrid could not overcome the tendency of blood to his cheeks. He was
more than half ashamed to tell her the truth.
'You will laugh at me,' he said. 'I am in Parliament.'
'You are? I never see newspapers.'
She added it as if to excuse herself for not being aware of his public
'Oh, I am still far from being a subject of leading-articles,' Wilfrid
exclaimed. 'Indeed, I gave you no answer to your question. My life's
work is non-existent. All my old plans have come to nothing, and I have
formed no new ones, no serious plans. My life will be a failure, I
'But you aim at success in politics?'
'I suppose so. I was thinking of the other things we used to speak of.'
Emily hazarded a glance at him, as if to examine him again in this new
'You used to say,' she continued, 'that you felt in many ways suited for
a political life.'
'Did I? You mean at home, when I talked in a foolish way. It was not my
serious thought. I never said it to you.'
She murmured a 'No.' They walked on in silence.
'You didn't read Italian then,' Wilfrid said. 'You, I feel sure, have
not wasted your time. How much you must have read since we talked over
our favourite authors.'
'I have tried to keep up the habit of study,' Emily replied,
unaffectedly, 'but of course most of my time is occupied in teaching.'
Their walk had brought them from under the trees, and the lake was just
'I will go on to the bridge,' Emily said. 'The boat I return by will
She spoke as if expecting him to take leave of her. Wilfrid inwardly
bade himself do so. He had seen her, had talked with her; what more for
either? Yet it was beyond his power to stand here and see her walk away
from him. Things were stirring in his heart and mind of which he refused
to take cognisance; he would grant nothing more than a sense of pleasure
in hearing once again a voice which had so long been buried, and there
was no harm in that. Was not his strongest feeling merely surprise at
having met her thus? Even yet he found a difficulty in realising that it
was she with whom he spoke; had he closed his eyes and then looked round
for her in vain it would only have appeared the natural waking from
intense reverie. Why not dream on as long as he might?
'May I not walk as far as the bridge with you?' he asked. 'If I were not
afraid of being tiresome I should even like to go by the boat; it would
be the pleasantest way of getting back to town.'
'Yes, it is pleasant on the river,' Emily said rather absently.
They pursued their walk together, and conversed still much in the same
way. Wilfrid learned that her school was in Hammersmith, a large
day-school for girls; he led her to speak of the subjects she taught,
and of her pupils.
'You prefer it,' he asked, 'to private teaching?'
'I think so.'
Once on the boat their talk grew less consecutive; the few words they
exchanged now and then were suggested by objects or places passed. At
length even these remarks ceased, and for the last half-hour they held
silence. Other people close by were talking noisily. Emily sat with both
hands holding the book upon her lap, her eyes seldom moving from a point
directly before her. Wilfrid glanced at her frequently. He was more
observant now of the traces of bodily weakness in her; he saw how meagre
she had become, how slight her whole frame was. At moments it cost him a
serious effort to refrain from leaning to her and whispering words--he
knew not what--something kind, something that should change her fixed
sadness. Why had he forced his company upon her? Certainly he brought
her no joy, and presently he would take leave of her as any slight
acquaintance might; how otherwise? It would have been better to part
there by the lake where she offered the occasion
The steamer reached Hammersmith. Only at this last moment he seemed to
understand where he was and with whom, that Emily was sitting by him, in
very deed here by his side, and directly would be gone--he knew not
whither--scarcely to be met again. The silence between them had come of
the difficulty they both had in realising that they were together, of
the dreaminess so strange an event had cast upon them. Were they to fall
apart again without a word, a sign? A sign of what, forsooth?
Wilfrid moved with her to the spot at which she would step from the
deck; seeing him follow, Emily threw back one startled glance. The next
moment she again turned, holding out her hand. He took it, held it,
pressed it; nothing could restrain that pressure; his muscles closed
upon her slight fingers involuntarily. Then he watched her walk
hurriedly from the landing-stage....
Her we follow. She had a walk of nearly half an hour, which brought her
at length to one of the streets of small lodging-houses which abound in
this neighbourhood, and to a door which she opened with her latch-key.
She went upstairs. Here two rooms were her home. That which looked upon
the street was furnished in the poor bare style which the exterior of
the dwelling would have led one to expect. A very hideous screen of
coloured paper hid the fireplace, and in front of the small oblong
mirror--cracked across one corner--which stood above the mantelpiece
were divers ornaments such as one meets with in poor lodging-houses;
certain pictures about the walls completed the effect of vulgarity.
Emily let herself sink upon the chintz-covered couch, and lay back,
closing her eyes; she had thrown off her hat, but was too weary, too
absent in thought, to remove her mantle. Her face was as colourless as
if she had fainted; she kept one hand pressed against her heart.
Unconsciously she had walked home with a very quick step, and quick
movement caused her physical suffering. She sat thus for a quarter of an
hour, when there came a tap at the door.
Her landlady entered.
'Oh, I thought, Miss Hood,' she began, 'you'd maybe rung the bell as
usual, and I hadn't heard it. I do sometimes think I'm getting a little
hard of hearing; my husband tell me of it. Will you have the tea made?'
'Thank you, Mrs. Willis,' Emily replied, rising.
She opened a low cupboard beside the fireplace, took out a tea-pot, and
put some tea into it.
'You'd have a long walk, I suppose,' continued the woman, 'and
delightful weather for it, too. But you must mind as you don't over-tire
yourself. You don't look very strong, if I may say it.'
'Oh, I am very well,' was the mechanical reply.
After a few more remarks the landlady took away the teapot. Emily then
drew out a cloth from the cupboard, and other things needful for her
evening meal. Presently the tea-pot returned filled with hot water.
Emily was glad to pour out a cup and drink it, but she ate nothing. In a
short time she rang the bell to have the things removed. This time a
little girl appeared.
'Eh, Miss,' was the exclamation of the child, on examining the state of
the table, 'you haven't eaten nothing!'
'No, I don't want anything just now, Milly,' was the quiet reply.
'Shall I leave the bread and butter out?'
'No, thank you. I'll have some later.'
'Is there anything I could get you, Miss?'
'Nothing, Milly. Take the things away, there's a good girl.'
Emily had seated herself on the couch again; when the girl was gone she
lay down, her hands beneath her head. Long, long since she had had so
much to think of as to-night.
At first she had found Wilfrid a good deal altered. He looked so much
older; his bearded face naturally caused that. But before he had spoken
twenty words how well she knew that the change was only of appearance.
His voice was a little deeper, but the tone and manner of his speaking
carried her back to the days when they had first exchanged words when
she was a governess at The Firs in Surrey, and Wilfrid was the
interesting young fellow who had overworked himself at college. The
circumstances of to-day's meeting had reproduced something of the
timidity with which he had approached her when they were strangers. This
afternoon she had scarcely looked into his eyes, but she felt their gaze
upon her, and felt their power as of old--ah, fifty-fold stronger!
Was he married? It was more than possible. Nothing had escaped him
inconsistent with that, and he was not likely to speak of it directly.
It would account for the nature of his embarrassment in talking with
her; her keen insight distinguished something more than the hesitation
which common memories would naturally cause. And that pressure of the
hand at parting which had made her heart leap with such agony, might
well be his way of intimating to her that this meeting would have no
sequel. Was it to be expected that he should remain unmarried? Had she
It could not be called hope, but for two or three years something had
grown in her which made life a succession of alternating longings and
despairs. For Emily was not so constituted that the phase of thought and
feeling which had been brought about by the tragedy of her home could
perpetuate itself and become her normal consciousness. When she fled
from Dunfield she believed that the impulses then so strong would
prevail with her to the end of her life, that the motives which were
then predominant in her soul would maintain their ruling force for ever.
And many months went by before she suspected that her imagination had
deceived her; imagination, ever the most potent factor of her being, the
source alike of her strength and her weakness. But there came a day when
the poignancy of her grief was subdued, and she looked around her upon a
world more desolate than that in which she found herself on the day of
her mother's burial. She began to know once more that she was young, and
that existence stretched before her a limitless tract of barren
The rare natures which are in truth ruled by the instinct of
renunciation, which find in the mortification of sense a spring of
unearthly joy brimming higher with each self-conquest, may experience
temptation and relapse, but the former is a new occasion for the arming
of the spirit, and the latter speedily leads to a remorse which is the
strongest of all incentives to ascetic struggle. Emily had not upon her
the seal of sainthood. It was certain that at some point of her life
asceticism would make irresistible claim upon the strongholds of her
imagination; none the less certain that it would be but for a time, that
it would prove but a stage in her development. To her misfortune the
occasion presented itself in connection with her strongest native
affections, and under circumstances which led her to an irretrievable
act. Had she been brought up in a Roman Catholic country she would
doubtless have thrown herself into a convent, finding her stern joy in
the thought that no future wavering was possible. Attempting to make a
convent of her own mind, she soon knew too well that her efforts mocked
her, that there was in her an instinct stronger than that of
renunciation, and that she had condemned herself to a life of futile
Her state of mind for the year following her father's death was morbid,
little differing from madness; and she came at length to understand
that. When time had tempered her anguish, she saw with clear eyes that
her acts had been guided by hallucination. Never would sorrow for her
parents cease to abide with her, but sorrow cannot be the sustenance of
a life through those years when the mind is strongest and the sensations
most vivid. Had she by her self-mortification done aught to pleasure
those dear ones who slept their last sleep? It had been the predominant
feature of her morbid passion to believe that piety demanded such a
sacrifice. Grief may reach such a point that to share the uttermost fate
of the beloved one seems blessedness; in Emily's mind that moment of
supreme agony had been protracted till unreasoning desire took to itself
the guise of duty. Duty so represented cannot maintain its sanction when
the wounds of nature grow towards healing.
She strove with herself. The reaction she was experiencing seemed to her
a shameful weakness. Must she cease to know the self-respect which comes
of conscious perseverance in a noble effort? Must she stand
self-condemned, an ignoble nature, incapable of anything good and
great--and that, after all her ambitions? Was she a mere waif, at the
mercy of the currents of sense? Never before had she felt this
condemnation of her own spirit. She had suffered beyond utterance, but
ever with a support which kept her from the last despair; of her anguish
had come inspiration. Now she felt herself abandoned of all spiritual
good. She came to loathe her life as a polluted stream. The image of
Wilfrid, the memory of her lost love, these grew to be symbols of her
baseness. It was too much to face those with whom daily duty brought her
in contact; surely they must read in her face the degradation of which
she was conscious. As much as possible she kept apart from all, nursing
her bitter self-reproach.
Then it was that she sought relief in the schemes which naturally occur
to a woman thus miserable. She would relinquish her life as a teacher,
and bury her wretchedness beneath physical hardship. There was anguish
enough in the world, and she would go to live in the midst of it, would
undertake the hardest and most revolting tasks in some infirmary: thus
might she crush out of herself the weakness which was her disgrace. It
remained only a vision. That which was terribly real, the waste and woe
of her heart, grew ever.
She yielded. Was not the true sin this that she tried to accomplish--the
slaying of the love which cried so from her inmost being? Glimpses of
the old faith began to be once more vouchsafed her; at moments she knew
the joy of beautiful things. This was in spring-time. Living in the
great seaport, she could easily come within sight of the blue line where
heaven and ocean met, and that symbol of infinity stirred once more the
yearnings for boundless joy which in bygone days she had taught herself
to accept as her creed. Supposing that her father had still knowledge of
the life she led, would it make him happy to know that she had deprived
herself of every pleasure, had for his sake ruined a future which might
have been so fair? Not thus do we show piety to the dead; rather in
binding our brows with every flower our hands may cull, and in drinking
sunlight as long as the west keeps for us one gleam.
She had destroyed herself. Joy could arise to her from but one source,
and that was stopped for ever. For it never came to Emily as the
faintest whisper that other love than Wilfrid's might bless her life.
That was constancy which nothing could shake; in this she would never
fall from the ideal she had set before herself. She no longer tried to
banish thoughts of what she had lost; Wilfrid was a companion at all
hours far more real than the people with whom she had to associate. She
had, alas, destroyed his letters she had destroyed the book in which she
wrote the secrets of her heart that he might some day read them. The
lack of a single thing that had come to her from him made the more
terribly real the severance of his life from hers. She anguished without
Then there came to her the knowledge that her bodily strength was
threatened by disease. She had fainting fits, and in the comfort
administered by those about her she read plainly what was meant to be
concealed. At times this was a relief; at least she might hope to be
spared long years of weary desolation, and death, come when he might,
would be a friend. In other hours the all but certainty of her doom was
a thought so terrible that reason well-nigh failed before it. Was there
Back to Full Books