Part 6 out of 8
"If Mrs. Huntley is the oldest friend you have in the world," say I,
acrimoniously, still sticking to his first and most offensive form of
expression, and _heavily_ accenting it, "I wonder that you never
happened to mention her existence before you went."
"So do I," he says, a little thoughtfully. "I am not much of a friend,
am I? but--" (looking at me with that sincere and hearty tenderness
which, as long as I am under its immediate influence, always disarms me)
"my head was full of other things; and people drop out of one's life so;
I had neither seen nor heard of her since--since she married."
("Since she was engaged to you," say I, mentally interlining this
statement, "and threw you over because you were not rich enough! why
cannot you be honest and say so?") but aloud I give utterance to nothing
but a shrewish and disbelieving "Hm!"
A pause. I do not know what Roger is thinking of, but I am following out
my own train of thought; the fruit of which is this observation, made
with an air of reflection:
"Mr. Huntley is a very rich man, I suppose?"
"_Rich!_ poor Huntley! that is the very last thing his worst enemy could
accuse him of! why, he was obliged to run the constable two years ago."
"But I suppose," say I, slowly, "that he was better off--_well_ off
once--when she married him, for instance?"
"How did you know that?" he asks, a little surprised. "Who told you?
Yes; at that time he was looked upon as quite _a parti_."
"Better off than _you_, I suppose?" say I, still speaking slowly, and
reading the carpet. "I mean than you were then?"
Again he laughs.
"He might easily have been that? I had nothing but my younger son's
portion and my pay; why, Nancy, I had an idea that I had told you that
"I dare say you did," reply I, readily, "but I like to hear it again."
Yet another pause.
"He is badly off _now_, then," say I, presently, with a faintly
"About as badly off as it is possible to be," answers Roger, very
gravely; "that is my business with his wife; she and I are trying to
make an arrangement with his creditors, to enable him to come home."
"To come home!" echo I, raising my eyebrows in an artless astonishment;
"but if he _does_ come home, what will become of Algy and the _rest of
"The rest of _whom?_" asks Roger, but there is such a severity in his
eye as he puts the question that it is not too much to say I _dare not_
explain. The one thing hated of Roger's soul--the one thing for which he
has no tolerance, and on which he brings to bear all the weight of his
righteous wrath, is _scandal_. Not even me will he allow to nibble at a
"Is she much changed since you saw her last?" pursue I presently, with
infantile guilelessness; "was her hair _red_ then? some people say it
_used_ to be black!"
I raise my eyes to his face as I put this gentle query, in order the
better to trace its effect; but the concern that I see in his
countenance is so very much greater than any that I had intended to have
summoned that I have no sooner hurled my dart than I repent me of having
"Nancy!" he says, putting one hand under my chin, and stroking my hair
with the other--"am I going to have a _backbiting_ wife? Child! child!
there was neither hatred nor malice in the little girl I found sitting
at the top of the wall."
I do not answer.
"Nancy," he says again, in a voice of most thorough earnestness, "I have
a favor to ask of you--I know when I put it _that way_, that you will
not say 'No;' if you do not mind, I had rather you did not abuse Zephine
Huntley!--for the matter of that, I had rather you did not abuse any
one--it does not pay, and there is no great fun in it; but Zephine
"Why _specially?_" cry I, breathing short and speaking again with a
quick, raised voice. "I know that it is a bad plan abusing people, you
need not tell me _that_, I know it as well as you do, and I never did it
at home, before I married, _never!_--none of them ever accused me of it
--I was always quite good-natured about people, _quite_; but why _she
specially?_ why is she to be more sacred than any one else?"
"It is an old story," he answers, passing his hand across his forehead
with what looks to me like a rather weary gesture and sighing, "I do not
know why I did not tell you before--did not I ever?--no, by-the-by, I
remember I never did; well, I will tell you now, and then you will
"Do not!" cry I, passionately, putting my fingers in my ears, and
growing scarlet, while the tears rush in mad haste to my eyes, for I
imagine that I well know what is coming. "I do not want to hear! I had
rather not! I _hate_ old stories." He looks at me in silent dismay. "I
mean," say I, seeing that some explanation is needed, "that I know all
about it!--I have heard it already! I have been told it."
"Been told it? By whom?"
"Never mind by whom!" reply I, removing my fingers from my ears, and
covering with both hot hands my hotter face. "I _have_ been told it! I
_have_ heard it, and, what is more, I _will not hear it again!_"
When I rose this morning, I did not think that I should have cried
before night; indeed, nothing would have seemed to me so unlikely. Cry!
on the day of Roger's first back-coming! absurd! And yet now the morning
is still quite young, and I have wept abundantly. I am always rather
good at crying. Tears with me do not argue any very profound depth of
affliction. My tears have always been somewhat near my eyes, a fact well
known to the boys, whom my pearly drops always leave as stolid and
unfeeling as they found them. But the case is different with Roger.
Either he is ignorant, or he has forgotten the facility with which I
weep, and his distress is proportioned to his ignorance.
My eyes are dried again now, though they and my nose still keep a brave
after-glow; and Roger and I are at one again. But, for my part, on this
first day, I think it would have been pleasanter if we had never been at
two. However, smiling peace is now again restored to us, and no one, to
look at us, as we sit in my boudoir after breakfast, would think that
we, or perhaps I should say I, had been so lately employed in chasing
her away. As little would any one, looking at the blandness of Vick's
profile, as she slumbers on the window-seat in the sun, conjecture of
her master-passion for the calves of strangers' legs.
"So you see that I _must_ go, Nancy," says Roger, with a rather wistful
appeal to my reason, of whose supremacy he is not, perhaps, quite so
confident as he was when he got up this morning. "You understand, don't
"Yes, I understand."
I still speak in a subdued and snuffly voice, but the wrath has gone out
"Well, you--would you mind," he says, speaking rather hesitatingly, as
not quite sure of the reception that his proposition may meet with--
"would you mind coming with me as far as Zephine's?"
"Do you mean come all the way, and go in with you, and stay while you
are there?" cry I, with great animation, as a picture of the strict
supervision which, by this course of conduct, I shall be enabled to
exercise over Mrs. Zephine's oscillades, poses, and little verbal
tendernesses, flashes before my mind's eye.
Roger looks down.
"I do not know about _that_" he says, slowly. "Perhaps she would not
care to go into her husband's liabilities before a--a str--before a
"Two is company and three is none, in fact," say I, with a slight
relapse into the disdainful and snorting mood.
He looks distressed, but attempts no argument or explanation.
"How far did you mean me to come, then?" say I, half ashamed of my
humors, but still with an after-thought of pettishness in my voice.
"Escort you to the hall-door, I suppose, and kick my heels among the
laurestines until such time as all Mr. Huntley's bills are paid?"
He turns away.
"It is of no consequence," he says, with a slight shade of impatience,
and a stronger shade of disappointment in his voice. "I see that you do
not wish it, but what I meant was, that you might have walked with me as
far as the gate, so that on this first day we might lose as little of
each other's society as possible."
"And so I will!" cry I, impulsively, with a rush of tardy repentance.
"I--I--_meant_ to come all along. I was only--only--_joking!_"
But to both of us it seems but a sorry jest. We set forth, and walk side
by side through the park. Both of us are rather silent. Yes, though we
have eight months' arrears of talk to make up, though it seemed to me
before he came that in a whole long life there would scarce be time for
all the things I had to say to him, yet, now that we are reunited, we
are stalking dumbly along through the withered white grass, pallid from
the winter storms. Certainly, we neither of us could say any thing so
well worth hearing as what the lark, in his most loud and godly joy, is
telling us from on high. Perhaps it is the knowledge of this that ties
The sun shines on our heads. He has not much power yet, but great
good-will. And the air is almost as gentle as June. We have left our own
domain behind us, and have reached Mrs. Huntley's white gate. Through
the bars I see the sheltered laurestines all ablow.
"May I wait for you here?" say I, with diffident urgency, reflecting
hopefully, as I make the suggestion, on the wholesome effect, on the
length of the interview that the knowledge of my being, flattening my
nose against the bars of the gate all through it, must necessarily have.
Again he looks down, as if unwilling to meet my appealing eyes.
"I think not, Nancy," he answers, reluctantly. "You see, I cannot
possibly tell how long I might be obliged to keep you waiting."
"I do not mind waiting at all," persist I, eagerly. "I am not very
impatient; I shall not expect you to be very quick, and" (going on very
fast, to hinder him from the second refusal which I see hovering on his
lips), "and it is not at all cold; just now you yourself said that you
had felt many a chillier May-day, and I am so warmly wrapped up, pet!"
(taking hold of one of his fingers, and making it softly travel up and
down the fur of my thick coat).
He shakes his head, with a gesture unwilling, yet decided.
"No, Nancy, it could not be! I had rather that you would go home."
"I have no doubt you would!" say I, turning sharply and huffily away;
then, with a sudden recollecting and repenting myself, "May I come back,
then?" I say, meekly.
"Come and fetch you, I mean, after a time--any long time that you like!"
"_Will_ you?" he cries, with animation, the look of unwilling refusal
vanishing from his face. "Would you _like_? would not it be too much
"Not at all! not at all!" reply I, affably. "How soon, then?" (taking
out my watch); "in half an hour?"
Again his face falls a little.
"I think it must be longer than _that_, Nancy."
"An hour, then?" say I, lifting a lengthened countenance wistfully to
his; "people may do a good deal in an hour, may not they?"
"Had not we better be on the safe side, and say an hour and a half?"
suggests he, but somewhat apprehensively--or I imagine so. "I shall be
sure not to keep you a minute then--I do not relish the notion of my
wife's tramping up and down this muddy road all by herself."
"And I do not relish the notion of my husband--" return I, beginning to
speak very fast, and then suddenly breaking off--"Well, good-by!"
"Say, good-by, Roger," cries he, catching my hand in detention, as I
turn away. "Nancy, if you knew how fond I have grown of my own name! In
despite of Tichborne, I think it _lovely_."
He has opened the gate, and turned in. I watch him, as he walks with
long, quick steps, up the little, trim swept drive. As I follow him with
my eyes, a devil enters into me. I cry--
He turns at once.
"Ask her to show you Algy's bracelet," I say, with an awkward laugh; and
then, thoroughly afraid of the effect of my bomb-shell, and not daring
to see what sort it is, I turn and run quickly away.
The end of the hour and a half finds me punctually peering through the
bars again. Well, I am first at the rendezvous. This, perhaps, is not
very surprising, as I have not given him one moment's law. For the first
five minutes, I am very fairly happy and content. The lark is still
fluttering in strong rapture up in the heights of the sky; and for these
five minutes I listen to him, soothed and hallowed. But, after they are
past, it is different. God's bird may be silent, as far as I am
concerned: not a verse more of his clear psalm do I hear. An uneasy
devil of jealousy has entered into me, and stopped my ears. I take hold
of the bars of the gate, and peer through, as far as my head will go:
then I open it, and, stealing on tiptoe up the drive a little way, to
the first corner, look warily round it. Not a sign of him! Not a sound!
Not even a whisper of air to rustle the glistening laurel-leaves, or
stir the flat laurestine-sprays.
I return to the road, and inculcate patience on myself. Why may not I
take a lesson in easy-mindedness from Vick? Was not it Hartley Coleridge
who suggested that perhaps dogs have a language of smell; and that what
to us is a noisome smell, is to them a beautiful poem? If so, Vick is
searching for lyrics and epics in the ditch. I stroll along the wintry
brown hedge-row, and begin to pick Roger a little, scant nosegay. He
shall see how patient I am! how _un_sulky! with what sunny mildness I
can wait his leisure! I have already two or three snow-drops in my
breast, that I picked as I came through the garden. To these I add a
drooping hazel-tassel or two, and a little bit of honeysuckle-leaf, just
breaking greenly into life. This is all I can find--all the scentless
first-fruits of the baby year.
It is ten minutes past the due time now. Again I listen intently, as I
listened yesterday, for his coming. There is a sound now; but, alas! not
the right one! It is the rumbling of an approaching carriage. A
pony-chaise bowls past. The occupants are acquaintances of mine, and we
bow and smile to each other. As long as they are in sight, I affect to
be diligently botanizing in the hedge. When they have disappeared, I sit
down on a heap of stones, and take out my watch for the hundredth time;
a whole quarter of an hour!
"He does not relish the notion of his wife's tramping up and down this
muddy road by herself, does not he?" say I, speaking out loud, and
gnashing my teeth.
Then I hurl my little posy away from me into the mud, as far as it will
go. What has become of my patience? my sunny mildness? Then, as the
recollection of the velvet-gown and mob-cap episode recurs to me, I
repent me, and, crossing the road, pick up again my harmless catkins and
snow-drops, and rearrange them. I have hardly finished wiping the mire
from the tender, lilac-veined snowdrop petals, before I hear his voice
in the distance, in conversation with some one. Clearly, Delilah is
coming to see the last of him! I expect that she mostly escorts them to
the gate. In my present frame of mind, it would be physically impossible
for me to salute her with the bland civility which society enjoins on
people of our stage of civilization. I therefore remain sitting on my
Presently, Roger emerges alone. He does not see me at first, but looks
up the road, and down the road, in search of me. When, at last, he
perceives me, no smile--(as has ever hitherto been his wont)--kindles
his eyes and lips. With unstirred gravity, he approaches me.
"Here you are _at last!_" cry I, scampering to meet him, but with a
stress, from which human nature is unable to refrain, on the last two
"At last?" he repeats in a tone of surprise; "am I over time?--Yes"--
(looking at his watch)--"so I am! I had no idea of it; I hope you have
not been long waiting."
"I was here to the minute," reply I, curtly; and again my tongue
declines to refrain from accentuation.
"I beg your pardon!" he says, still speaking with unnecessary
seriousness, as it seems to me, "I really had no idea of it."
"I dare say not," say I, with a little wintry grin; "I never heard that
they had a clock in paradise."
"_In paradise!_" he repeats, looking at me strangely with his keen,
clear eyes, that seem to me to have less of a caress in them than they
ever had before on meeting mine. "What has _paradise_ to say to it? Do
you imagine that I have been in _paradise_ since I left you here?"
"I do not know, I am sure!" reply I, rather confused, and childishly
stirring the stiff red mud with the end of my boot, "I believe _they_
mostly do; Algy does--" then afraid of drawing down the vial of his
wrath on me a second time for my scandal-mongering propensities, I go on
quickly; "Were you talking to yourself as you came down the drive? I
heard your voice as if in conversation. I sometimes talk to myself when
I am by myself, quite loud."
"Do you? I do not think I do; at least I am not aware of it; I was
talking to Zephine."
"Why did not she come to the gate, then?" inquire I, tartly; "did she
know I was there? did not she want to see me?"
"I do not know; I did not ask her."
I look up at him in strong surprise. We are in the park now--our own
unpeopled, silent park, where none but the deer can see us; and yet he
has not offered me the smallest caress; not once has he called me
"Nancy;" he, to whom hitherto my homely name has appeared so sweet. It
is only an hour and three-quarters since I parted from him, and yet in
that short space an indisputable shade--a change that exits not only in
my imagination, but one that no most careless, superficial eye could
avoid seeing--has come over him. Face, manner, even gait, are all
altered, I think of Algy--Algy as he used to be, our jovial pet and
playfellow, Algy as he now is, soured, sulky, unloving, his very beauty
dimmed by discontent and passion. Is this the beginning of a like change
A spasm of jealous agony, of angry despair, contracts my heart as I
"Well, are all Mr. Huntley's debts paid?" I ask, trying to speak in a
tone of sprightly ease; "is there a good hope of his coming back soon?"
"Not yet a while; in time, perhaps, he may."
Still there is not a vestige of a smile on his face. He does not look at
me as he speaks; his eyes are on the long, dead knots of the colorless
grass at his feet; in his expression despondency and preoccupation
strive for supremacy.
"Have you made your head ache?" I say, gently stealing my hand into his;
"there is nothing that addles the brains like muddling over accounts, is
_Am_ I awake? _Can_ I believe it? He has dropped my hand, as if he
disliked the touch of it.
"No, thanks, no. I have no headache," he answers, hastily.
Another little silence. We are marching quickly along, as if our great
object were to get our _tete-a-tete_ over. As we came, we dawdled, stood
still to listen to the lark, to look at the wool-soft cloud-heaps piled
in the west--on any trivial excuse indeed; but now all these things are
"Did you talk of business _all_ the time?" I ask, by-and-by, with timid
It is _not_ my fancy; he does plainly hesitate.
"Not quite _all_" he answers, in a low voice, and still looking away
"About _what_, then?" I persist, in a voice through whose counterfeit
playfulness I myself too plainly hear the unconquerable tremulousness;
"may not I hear?--or is it a secret?"
He does not answer; it seems to me that he is considering what response
"Perhaps," say I, still with a poor assumption of lightness and gayety,
"perhaps you were talking of--of old times."
He laughs a little, but _whose_ laugh has he borrowed? in that dry,
harsh tone there is nothing of my Roger's mellow mirth!
"Not we; old times must take care of themselves; one has enough to do
with the new ones, I find."
"Did she--did she say any thing to you about--about _Algy_, then?"--
"We did not mention his name."
There is something so abrupt and trenchant in his tone that I have not
the spirit to pursue my inquiries any further. In deep astonishment and
still deeper mortification, I pursue my way in silence.
Suddenly Roger comes to a stand-still.
"Nancy!" he says, in a voice that is more like his own, stopping and
laying his hands on my shoulders; while in his eyes is something of his
old kindness; yet not quite the old kindness either; there is more of
unwilling, rueful yearning in them than there ever was in that--"Nancy,
how old are you?--nineteen, is it not?"
"Very nearly twenty," reply I, cheerfully, for he has called me "Nancy,"
and I hail it as a sign of returning fine weather; "we may call it
twenty; will not it be a comfort when I am well out of my teens?"
"And I am forty-eight," he says, as if speaking more to himself than to
me, and sighing heavily; "it is a _monstrous_, an _unnatural_
"It is not nearly so bad as if it were _the other way_," reply I,
laughing gayly; "I forty-eight, and _you_ twenty, is it?"
"My child! my child!"--speaking with an accent of, to me, unaccountable
suffering--"what possessed me to _marry_ you? why did not I _adopt_ you
instead? It would have been a hundred times more seemly!"
"It is a little late to think of that now, is not it?" I say, with an
uncomfortable smile; then I go on, with an uneasy laugh, "that was the
very idea that occurred to us the first night you arrived; at least, it
never struck us as possible that you would take any notice of _me_, but
we all said what a good thing it would be for the family if you would
adopt Barbara or the Brat."
"Did you?" (very quickly, in a tone of keen pain); "it struck you all in
the same light then?"
"But that was before we had seen you," I answer, hastily, repenting my
confession as soon as I see its effects. "When we _had_, we soon changed
"_If_ I _had_ adopted you," he pursues, still looking at me with the
same painful and intent wistfulness, "if I had been your father, you
would have been fond of me, would not you? Not _afraid_ of me--not
afraid to tell me any thing that most nearly concerned you--you would
perhaps"--(with a difficult smile)--"you would perhaps have made me your
_confidant_, would you, Nancy?"
I look up at him in utter bewilderment.
"What are you talking about? Why do I want a confidant? What have I to
confide? What have I to tell any one?"
Our eyes are resting on each other, and, as I speak, I feel his go with
clean and piercing search right through mine into my soul. In a moment I
think of Musgrave, and the untold black tale now forever in my thought
attached to him, and, as I so think, the hot flush of agonized shame
that the recollection of him never fails to call to my face, invades
cheeks, brow, and throat. To hide it, I drop my head on Roger's breast.
Shall I tell him _now_, this instant? Is it possible that he has already
some faint and shadowy suspicion of the truth--some vague conjecture
concerning it, as something in his manner seems to say? But no! it is
absolutely impossible! Who, with the best will in the world, could have
told him? Is not the tale safely buried in the deep grave of Musgrave's
and my two hearts?
I raise my head, and twice essay to speak. Twice I stop, choked. How can
I put into words the insult I have received? How can I reveal to him the
slack levity, the careless looseness, with which I have kept the honor
confided to me?
As my eyes stray helplessly round in a vain search for advice or help
from the infinite unfeeling apathy of Nature, I catch sight of the
distant chimneys of the abbey! How near it is! After all, why should I
sow dissension between such close neighbors? why make an irreparable
breach between two families, hitherto united by the kindly ties of
mutual friendship and good-will?
Frank is young, very young; he has been--so Roger himself told me--very
ill brought up. Perhaps he has already repented, who knows? I try to
persuade myself that these are the reasons--and sufficient reasons--of
my silence, and I take my resolution afresh. I will be dumb. The flush
slowly dies out of my face, and, when I think it is almost gone, I
venture to look again at Roger. I think that his eyes have never left
me. They seem to be expecting me to speak, but, as I still remain
silent, he turns at length away, and also gently removes his hands from
my shoulders. We stand apart.
"Well, Nancy," he says, sighing again, as if from the bottom of his
soul, "my poor child, it is no use talking about it. I can never be your
"And a very good thing too!" rejoin I, with a dogged stoutness. "I do
not see what I want with _two_ fathers; I have always found _one_ amply
enough--quite as much as I could manage, in fact."
He seems hardly to be listening to me. He has dropped his eyes on the
ground, and is speaking more to himself than to me.
"Husband and wife we are!" he says, with a slow depression of tone,
"and, as long as God's and man's laws stand, husband and wife we must
"You are not very polite," I cry, with an indignant lump rising in my
throat; "you speak as if you were _sorry_ for it--_are_ you?"
He lifts his eyes again, and again their keen search investigates the
depths of my soul; but no human eye can rightly read the secrets of any
other human spirit; they find what they expect to find, not what is
there. Clear and cuttingly keen as they are, Roger's eyes do not read my
"Are _you_, Nancy?"
"If _you_ are, I am," I reply, with a half-smothered sob.
He makes no rejoinder, and we begin again to walk along homeward, but
slowly this time.
"We have made a mistake, perhaps," he says, presently, still speaking
with the same slow and ruminating sadness in his tone. "The inscrutable
God alone knows why He permits his creatures to mar all their seventy
years by one short false step--yes--a _mistake_!"
(Ah me! all me! I always mistrusted those laurestines! They sent me back
my brother churlish and embittered, but oh! that in my steadfast Roger
they should have worked such a sudden deadly change!)
"Is it more a mistake," I cry, bursting out into irrepressible anger,
"than it was two hours ago, when I left you at that gate? You did not
seem to think it a mistake _then_--at least you hid it very well, if you
did"--(then going on quickly, seeing that he is about to interrupt me)--
"have you been _comparing notes_, pray? Has _she_ found it a mistake,
"Yes, _that_ she has! Poor soul! God help her!" he answers,
Something in the pity of his tone jars frightfully on my strung nerves.
"If God has to help all the poor souls who have made mistakes, He will
have his hands full!" I retort, bitterly.
Another silence. We are drawing near the pleasure-grounds--the great
rhododendron belt that shelters the shrubbery from the east wind.
"Nancy," says Roger, again stopping, and facing me too. This time he
does not put his hands on my shoulders; the melancholy is still in his
eyes, but there is no longer any harshness. They repossess their natural
kindly benignity. "Though it is perhaps impossible that there should be
between us that passionate love that there might be between people that
are nearer each other in age--more fitly mated--yet there is no reason
why we should not _like_ each other very heartily, is there, dear? why
there should not be between us absolute confidence, perfect frankness--
that is the great thing, is not it?"
He is looking with such intense wistfulness at me, that I turn away. Why
should not there be passionate love between us? Who is there but himself
to hinder it? So I make no answer.
"I dare say," he says, taking my right hand, and holding it with a cool
and kindly clasp, "that you think it difficult--next door to impossible
--for two people, one at the outset, one almost on the confines of life,
to enter very understandingly into each other's interests! No doubt the
thought that I--being so much ahead of you in years"--(sighing again
heavily)--"cannot see with your eyes, or look at things from your
stand-point--would make it harder for you to come to me in your
troubles; but indeed, dear, if you believe me, I will _try_, and, as we
are to spend our lives together, I think it would be better, would not
He speaks with a deprecating humility, an almost imploring gentleness,
but I am so thoroughly upset by the astounding change that has come over
the tone of his talk--by the clouds that have suddenly darkened the
morning sunshine of my horizon--that I cannot answer him in the same
"Perhaps we shall not have to spend all our lives together!" I say, with
a harsh laugh. "Cheer up! One of us may _die_! who knows?"
After that we neither of us say any thing till we reach the house.
"Yea, by God's rood, I trusted you too well!"
In the hall we part without a word, and I, spiritlessly, mount the
staircase alone. How I flew down it this morning, three steps at a time,
and had some ado to hinder myself from sliding down the banisters, as we
have all often, with dangerous joy, done at home! Now I crawl up, like
some sickly old person. When I reach my bedroom, I throw myself into the
first chair, and lie in it--
"... quiet as any water-sodden log
Stayed in the wandering warble of a brook."
I do not attempt to take off my hat and jacket. Of what use is it to
take them off more than to leave them on, or to leave them on more than
to take them off? Of what use is _any thing_, pray? What a weary round
life is! what a silly circle of unfortunate repetitions! eating only to
be hungry again; waking only to sleep; sleeping only to wake!
At first I am too inert even to think, even to lift my hand to protect
my cheek from Vick's muddy paws, who, annoyed at my evident inattention
to her presence, is sitting on my lap, making little impatient
_clawings_ at my defenseless countenance. But gradually on the river of
recollection all the incidents of the morning flow through my mind. In
more startling relief than ever, the astounding change in Roger, wrought
by those ill-starred two hours, stands out. Is it possible that I may
have been attributing it to a wrong cause? Doubtless, the first
interview with the woman he had loved, and who had thrown him over
(by-the-by, how forgiving men are!)--yes, the first, probably, since
they had stood in the relation of betrothed people to each other--must
have been full of pain. Doubtless, the contrast between the crude
gawkiness of the raw girl he has drifted into marrying--for I suppose it
was more accident than any thing else--with the mature and subtile
grace, the fine and low-voiced sweetness of the woman whom his whole
heart and soul and taste chose and approved, must have struck him with
keen force. I expected _that_: it would not have taken me by surprise.
If he had emerged from among the laurestines, depressed, and vainly
struggling for a factitious cheerfulness, I think I could have
understood it. I think I could have borne with it, could have tried
meekly to steal back into his heart again, to win him back, in despite
of ignorance, gawkiness, and all other my drawbacks, by force of sheer
But the change was surely too abrupt to be accounted for on this
hypothesis. Would _Roger_, my pattern of courtesy--Roger, who shrinks
from hurting the meanest beggar's feelings--would he, in such plain
terms, have deplored and wished undone our marriage, if it were only
suffering to _himself_ that it had entailed? Has his unselfish chivalry
gone the way of Algy's brotherly love? Impossible! the more I think of
it, the more unlikely it seems--the more certain it appears to me that I
must look elsewhere for the cause of the alteration that has so heavily
darkened my day.
I have risen, and am walking quickly up and down. I have shaken off my
stolid apathy, or, rather, it has fallen off of itself. Can she have
told him any ill tales of me? any thing to my disadvantage? Instantly
the thought of Musgrave--the black and heavy thought that is never far
from the portals of my mind--darts across me, and, at the same instant,
like a flash of lightning, the recollection of my meeting her on the
fatal evening, just as (with tear-stained, swollen face) I had parted
from Frank--of the alert and lively interest in her eyes, as she bowed
and smiled to me, flames with sudden illumination into my soul. Still I
can hardly credit it. It would, no doubt, be pleasant to her to sow
dissension between us, but would even _she_ dare to carry ill tales of a
wife to a husband? And even supposing that she had, would he attach so
much importance to my being seen with wet cheeks? I, who cry so easily--
I, who wept myself nearly blind when Jacky caught his leg in the snare?
If he thinks so much of that part of the tale, _what would he think of
As I make this reflection I shudder, and again congratulate myself on my
silence. For beyond our parting, and my tears, it is _impossible_ that
she can have told him aught.
Men are not prone to publish their own discomfitures; even _I_ know that
much. I exonerate Mr. Musgrave from all share in making it known--and
have the mossed tree-trunks lips? or the loud brook an articulate
tongue? Thank God! thank God! _no!_ Nature never blabs. With infinite
composure, with a most calm smile she _listens_, but she never tells
A little reassured by this thought, I resolve to remain in doubt no
longer than I can help, but to ascertain, if necessary, by direct
inquiry, whether my suspicions are correct. This determination is no
sooner come to than it puts fresh life and energy into my limbs. I take
off my hat and jacket, smooth my hair, and prepare with some alacrity
It is evening, however, before I have an opportunity of putting my
resolve in practice. At luncheon, there are the servants; all afternoon,
Roger is closeted with his agent: before we set off this morning, he
never mentioned the agent: he never figured at all in our day's plan--(I
imagined that he was to be kept till to-morrow); and at dinner there are
the servants again. Thank God, they are gone now! We are alone, Roger
and I. We are sitting in my boudoir, as in my day-dreams, before his
return, I had pictured us; but, alas! where is caressing proximity which
figured in all my visions? where is the stool on which I was to sit at
his feet, with head confidently leaned on his arm? As it happens, Vick
is sitting on the stool, and we occupy two arm-chairs, at civil distance
from each other, much as if we had been married sixty years, and had
hated each other for fifty-nine of them. I am idly fiddle-faddling with
a piece of work, and Roger--is it possible?--is stretching out his hand
toward a book.
"You do not mean to say that you are going to _read_?" I say, in a tone
of sharp vexation.
He lays it down again.
"If you had rather talk, I will not."
"I am afraid," say I, with a sour laugh, "that you have not kept much
conversation _for home use_! I suppose you exhausted it all, this
morning, at Laurel Cottage!"
He passes his hand slowly across his forehead.
"Perhaps!--I do not think I am in a very talking vein."
"By-the-by," say I, my heart beating thick, and with a hurry and tremor
in my voice, as I approach the desired yet dreaded theme, "you have
never told me what it was, besides Mr. Huntley's debts, that you talked
of this morning!--you owned that you did not talk of business _quite_
all the time!"
He has forgotten his book now; across the flame of the candles, he is
looking full and steadily at me.
"When I asked you, you said it was not about old times?--of course--"
(laughing acridly)--"I can imagine your becoming inimitably diffuse
about _them_, but you told me, that, 'No,' you did not mention them."
"I told truth."
"You also said," continue I, with my voice still trembling, and my
pulses throbbing, "that it was not _Algy_ that you were discussing!--if
_I_ had been in your place, I could, perhaps, have found a good deal to
say about _him_; but you told me that you never mentioned him."
"We did not."
"Then what _did_ you talk about?" I ask, in strong excitement; "it must
have been a very odd theme that you find such difficulty in repeating."
Still he is looking, with searching gravity, full in my face.
"Do you _really_ wish to know?"
I cannot meet his eyes: something in me makes me quail before them. I
turn mine away, but answer, stoutly:
"Yes, I _do_ wish. Why should I have asked, if I did not?"
Still he says nothing: still I feel, though I am not looking at him,
that his eyes are upon me.
"Was it--" say I, unable any longer to bear that dumb gaze, and
preferring to take the bull by the horns, and rush on my fate--"was it
any thing about _me_? has she been telling you any tales of--of--_me_?"
No answer! No sound but the clock, and Vick's heavy breathing, as she
peacefully snores on the footstool. I _cannot_ bear the suspense. Again
I lift my eyes, and look at him. Yes, I am right! the intense anxiety--
the overpowering emotion on his face tell me that I have touched the
"Are there--are there--are you aware that there are any tales that she
_could_ tell of you?"
Again I laugh harshly.
"Ha! ha! if we came to mutual anecdotes, I am not quite sure that I
might not have the best of it!"
"That is not the question," he replies, in a voice so exceedingly stern,
so absolutely different from any thing I have ever hitherto contemplated
as possible in my gentle, genial Roger, that again, to the depths of my
soul, I quail; how could I ever, in wildest dreams, have thought I
should dare to tell him?--"it is nothing to me what tales _you_ can tell
of _her!--she_ is not my wife!--what I wish to know--what I _will_ know,
is, whether there is any thing that she _could_ say of you!"
For a moment, I do not answer. I cannot. A coward fear is grasping my
heart with its clammy hands. Then--
"_Could!_" say I, shrugging my shoulders, and feebly trying to laugh
derisively; "of course she could! it would be difficult to set a limit
to the powers of a lady of her imagination!"
"What do you mean?" he cries, quickly, and with what sounds like a sort
of hope in his voice; "have you any reason--any grounds for thinking her
I do not answer directly.
"It is true, then," I cry, with flashing eyes, and in a voice of great
and indignant anguish. "I have not been mistaken! I was right! Is it
possible that _you_, who, only this morning, warned me with such
severity against backbiting, have been calmly listening to scandalous
tales about me from a stranger?"
He does not interrupt me: he is listening eagerly, and that sort of hope
is still in his face.
"I _knew_ it would come, sooner or later," I continue, speaking
excitedly, and with intense bitterness, "sooner or later, I knew that it
would be a case of Algy over again! but I did not--did not think that it
would have been quite so soon! Great Heaven!" (smiting my hands sharply
together, and looking upward), "I _have_ fallen low! to think that I
should come to be discussed by _you_ with _her_!"
"I have _not_ discussed you with her," he answers, very solemnly, and
still looking at me with that profound and greedy eagerness in his eyes;
"with _no_ living soul would I discuss my wife--I should have hardly
thought I need tell you that! What I heard, I heard by accident. She--as
I believe, in all innocence of heart--referred to--the--the--
circumstance, taking it for granted that I knew it--that _you_ had told
me of it, and I--_I_--" (raising his clinched right hand to emphasize
his speech)--"I take God to witness, I had no more idea to what she was
alluding--as soon as I understood--she must have thought me very dull--"
(laughing hoarsely)--"for it was a long time before I took it in--but as
soon as I understood to what manner of anecdote it was that she was
referring--then, _at once_, I bade her be silent!--not even with _her_,
would I talk over my wife!"
He stops. He has risen from his chair, and is now standing before me.
His breath comes quick and panting; and his face is not far from being
as white as mine.
"But what I have learned," he continues presently, in a low voice, that,
by a great effort, he succeeds in making calm and steady, "I cannot
again unlearn! I would not if I could!--I have no desire to live in a
fool's paradise! I tried hard this morning--God knows what constraint I
had to put upon myself--to induce you to tell me of your own accord--to
_volunteer_ it--but you would not--you were _resolutely_ silent. Why
were you? Why were you?" (breaking off with an uncontrollable emotion).
"I should not have been hard upon you--I should have made allowances.
God knows we all need it!"
I sit listening in a stony silence: every bit of me seems turned into
"But _now_" he says, regathering his composure, and speaking with a
resolute, stern quiet; "I have no other resource--you have left me none
--but to come to you, and ask point-blank, is this true, or is it
For a moment, my throat seems absolutely stopped up, choked; there seems
no passage for my voice, through its dry, parched gates. Then at length
I speak faintly: "Is _what_ true? is what false? I suppose you will not
expect me to deny it, before I know what it is?"
He does not at once answer. He takes a turn once or twice up and down
the silent room, in strong endeavor to overcome and keep down his
agitation, then he returns and speaks; with a face paler, indeed, than I
could have imagined any thing so bronzed could be; graver, more austere
than I ever thought I should see it, but still without bluster or
"Is it true, then?" he says, speaking in a very low key. "Great God!
that I should have to put such a question to my wife; that one evening,
about a week ago, on the very day, indeed, that the news of my intended
return arrived, you were seen parting with--with--_Musgrave_" (he seems
to have an intense difficulty in pronouncing the name) "at or after
nightfall, on the edge of Brindley Wood, _he_ in a state of the most
evident and extreme agitation, and _you_ in floods of tears!--is it
true, or is it false?--for God's sake, speak quickly!"
But I cannot comply with his request. I am _gasping_. His eyes are upon
me, and, at every second's delay, they gather additional sternness. Oh,
how awful they are in their just wrath! When was father, in his worst
and most thunderous storms, half so dreadful? half so awe-inspiring?
"What sort of an interview could it have been to which there was such a
close?" he says, as if making the reflection more to himself than to me;
"speak! is it true?"
I can no longer defer my answer. One thing or another I must say: both
eyes and lips imperatively demand it. Twice, nay _thrice_ I struggle--
struggle mightily to speak, and speak well and truly, and twice, nay,
three times, that base fear strangles my words. Then, at length--O
friends! do not be any harder upon me than you can help, for indeed,
_indeed_ I have paid sorely for it, and it is the first lie that ever I
told; then, at length, with a face as wan as the ashes of a dead fire--
with trembling lips, and a faint, scarcely audible voice, I say, "No, it
is not true!"
"_Not true?_" he echoes, catching up my words quickly; but in his voice
is none of the relief, the restored amenity that I had looked for, and
for the hope of which I have perjured myself; equally in voice and face,
there is only a deep and astonished anger.
"_Not true!_--you mean to say that it is _false!_"
"Yes, false!" I repeat in a sickly whisper. Oh, why, if I _must_ lie, do
not I do it with a bold and voluble assurance? whom would my starved
pinched falsehood deceive?
"You mean to say," speaking with irrepressible excitement, while the
wrathful light gathers and grows intenser in the gray depths of his
eyes, "that this--this _interview_ never took place? that it is all a
delusion; a mistake?"
I repeat it mechanically now. Having gone thus far, I must go on, but I
feel giddy and sick, and my hands grasp the arms of my chair. I feel as
if I should fall out of it if they did not.
"You are _sure_?" speaking with a heavy emphasis, and looking
persistently at me, while the anger of his eyes is dashed and crossed by
a miserable entreaty. Ah! if they had had that look at first, I could
have told him. "Are you _sure_?" he repeats, and I, driven by the fates
to my destruction, while God hides his face from me, and the devil
pushes me on, answer hazily, "Yes, quite sure!"
Then he asks me no more questions; he turns and slowly leaves the room,
and I know that I have lied in vain!
And thus I, ingenious architect of my own ruin, build up the barrier of
a lie between myself and Roger. It is a barrier that hourly grows
higher, more impassable. As the days go by, I say to myself in
heart-sickness, that I shall never now cross it--never see it leveled
with the earth. Even when we too are dead it will still rise between us
in the other world; if--as all the nations have agreed to say--there
_be_ another. For my part, I think at this time that, if there is any
chance of its bearing aught of resemblance to this present world, I had
far fainer there were none.
With all due deference to Shakespeare--and I suppose that even the one
supreme genius of all time must, in his day, have made a mistake or two
--I have but faint belief in the "sweet uses of adversity." I think that
they are about as mythical as the jewels in the toad's ugly skull, to
which he likened them. It is in _prosperity_ that one looks up, with
leaping heart and clear eyes, and through the clouds see God sitting
throned in light. In adversity one sees nothing but one's own dunghill
At least such has been my experience. I think I could have borne it
better if I had not looked forward to his return so much--if he had been
an austere and bitter tyrant, to _whose coming_ I had looked with dread,
I could have braced my nerves and pulled myself together, to face with
some stoutness the hourly trials of life. But when one has counted the
days, hours, and moments, till some high festival, and, when it comes,
it turns out a drear, black funeral, one cannot meet the changed
circumstances with any great fortitude.
It is the horrible contrast between my dreams and their realization that
gives the keenest poignancy to my pangs.
To his return I had referred the smoothing of all my difficulties, the
clearing up of all my doubts, the sweeping of all clouds from my sky;
and now he is back! and, oh, how far, _far_ gloomier than ever is my
weather! What a sullen leaden sky overhangs me!
I never tell him about Algy after all! I do not often laugh now; but I
_did_ laugh loudly and long the other day, although I was quite alone,
when I thought of my wily purpose of setting Roger on his guard against
Mrs. Huntley's little sugared unveracities.
No, I never tell him about Algy! Why should I? it would be wasted
breath--spent words. He would not believe me. In the more important case
has not he taken her word in preference to mine? Would not he in _this_
too? For I know that he knows, as well as I know it myself, that in that
matter I lied.
Sometimes, when I am by myself, a mighty yearning--a most constraining
longing seizes me to go to him--fall at his feet, and tell him the truth
even yet. After all, God knows that I have no ugly fault to confess to
him--no infidelity even of thought. But as soon as I am in his presence
the desire fades; or at least the power to put it in practice melts
away. For he never gives me an opening. After that first evening never
does he draw nigh the subject: never once is the detested name of
Musgrave mentioned between us. If he had been one most dear to us both
and had died untimely, we could not avoid with more sacred care any
allusion to him. And, even if, by doing infinite violence to myself, I
could bring myself to overcome the painful steepness of the hill of
difficulty that lies between me and the subject, and tell the tardy
truth, to what use, pray? Having once owned that I had lied, could I
resent any statement of mine being taken with distrust? Would he believe
me? Not he! He would say, "If you were as innocent as you say, why did
you _lie_? If you were innocent, what had you to fear?" So I hold my
peace. And, as the days go, and the winter wanes, it seems to me that I
can plainly see, with no uncertain or doubtful eyes, Roger's love wane
After all, why should I wonder? I may be sorry, for who ever saw gladly
love--the one all-good thing on this earth, most of whose good things
are adulterated and dirt-smirched--who ever saw it _gladly_ slip away
from them? But I cannot be surprised.
With Roger, love and trust must ever go hand-in-hand; and, when the one
has gone, the other must needs soon follow.
After all, what he loved in me was a delusion--had never existed. It was
my blunt honesty, my transparent candor, the open-hearted downrightness
that in me amounted to a misfortune, that had at first attracted him.
And now that he has found that the unpolished abruptness of my manners
can conceal as great an amount of deception as the most insinuating
silkiness of any one else's, I do not see what there is left in me to
attract him. Certainly I have no beauty to excite a man's passions, nor
any genius to enchain his intellect, nor even any pretty accomplishment
to amuse his leisure.
Why _should_ he love me? Because I am his wife? Nay, nay! who ever loved
because it was their duty? who ever succeeded in putting love in
harness, and _driving_ him? Sooner than be the object of such up-hill
conscientious affection, I had far rather be treated with cold
indifference--active hatred even. Because I am young? That seems no
recommendation in his eyes! Because I love him? He does not believe it.
Once or twice I have tried to tell him so, and he has gently pooh-poohed
Sometimes it has occurred to me that, perhaps, if I had him all to
myself, I might even yet bring him back to me--might reconcile him to my
paucity of attractions, and persuade him of my honesty; but what chance
have I, when every day, every hour of the day if he likes to put himself
to such frequent pain, he may see and bitterly note the contrast between
the woman of his choice and the woman of his fate--the woman from whom
he is irrevocably parted, and the woman to whom he is as irrevocably
joined. And I think that hardly a day passes that he does not give
himself the opportunity of instituting the comparison.
Not that he is unkind to me; do not think that. It would be impossible
to Roger to be unkind to any thing, much more to any weakly woman thing
that is quite in his own power. No, no! there is no fear of that. I have
no need to be a grizzle. I have no cross words, no petulances, no
neglects even, to bear. But oh! in all his friendly words, in all his
kindly, considerate actions, what a _chill_ there is! It is as if some
one that had been a day dead laid his hand on my heart!
How many, _many_ miles farther apart we are now, than we were when I was
here, and he in Antigua; albeit then the noisy winds roared and sung,
and the brown billows tumbled between us! If he would but _hit_ me, or
box my ears, as Bobby has so often done--a good swinging, tingling box,
that made one see stars, and incarnadized all one side of one's
countenance--oh, how much, _much_ less would it hurt than do the frosty
dullness of his smiles, the uncaressing touch of his cool hands!
I have plenty of time to think these thoughts, for I am a great deal
alone now. Roger is out all day, hunting or with his agent, or on some
of the manifold business that landed property entails, or that the
settlement of Mr. Huntley's inextricably tangled affairs involves. Very
often he does not come in till dressing-time. I never ask him where he
has been--never! I think that I know.
Often in these after-days, pondering on those ill times, seeing their
incidents in that duer proportion that a stand-point at a little
distance from them gives, it has occurred to me that sometimes I was
wrong, that not seldom, while I was eating my heart out up-stairs, with
dumb jealousy picturing to myself my husband in the shaded fragrance,
the dulcet gloom of the drawing-room at Laurel Cottage, he was in the
house with me, as much alone as I, in the dull solitude of his own room,
pacing up and down the carpet, or bending over an unread book.
I will tell you why I think so. One day--it is the end of March now, the
year is no longer a swaddled baby, it is shooting up into a tall
stripling--I have been straying about the brown gardens, _alone_, of
course. It is a year to-day since Bobby and I together strolled among
the kitchen-stuff in the garden at home, since he served me that ill
turn with the ladder. Every thing reminds me of that day: these might be
the same crocus-clumps, as those that last year frightened away winter
with their purple and gold banners. I remember that, as I looked down
their deep throats, I was humming Tou Tou's verb, "J'aime, I love; Tu
aimes, Thou lovest; Il aime, He loves."
I sigh. There was the same purple promise over the budded woods; the
same sharpness in the bustling wind. Since then, Nature has gone through
all her plodding processes, and now it is all to do over again. A sense
of fatigue at the infinite repetitions of life comes over me. If Nature
would but make a little variation! If the seasons would but change their
places a little, and the flowers their order, so that there might be
something of unexpectedness about them! But no! they walk round and
round forever in their monotonous leisure.
I am stooping to pick a little posy of violets as these languid thoughts
dawdle through my mind--blue mysteries of sweetness and color, born of
the unscented, dull earth. As I pass Roger's door, having reentered the
house, the thought strikes me to set them on his writing-table. Most
likely he will not notice them, not be aware of them: but even so they
will be able humbly to speak to him the sweet things that he will not
listen to from me. I open the door and listlessly enter. If I had
thought that there was any chance of his being within, I should not have
done so without knocking; indeed, I hardly think I should have done it
at all, but this seems to me most unlikely. Nevertheless, he is.
As I enter, I catch sudden sight of him. He is sitting in his arm-chair,
his elbows leaned on the table before him, his hand passed through his
ruffled hair, and his gray eyes straying abstractedly away from the
neglected page before him. I see him before he sees me. I have time to
take in all the dejection of his attitude, all its spiritless idleness.
At the slight noise my skirts make, he looks up. I stop on the
"I--I thought you were out," say I, hesitatingly, and reddening a
little, as if I were being caught in the commission of some little
"No, I came in an hour ago."
"I beg your pardon," I say, humbly; "I will not disturb you; I would
have knocked if I had known!"
He has risen, and is coming toward me.
"Knock! why, in Heaven's name, _should_ you knock?" he says, with
something of his old glad animation; then, suddenly changing his tone to
one of courteous friendly coldness, "Why do you stand out there? will
not you come in?"
I comply with this invitation, and, entering, sit down in another
arm-chair not far from Roger's, but, now that I am here, I do not seem
to have much to say.
"You have been in the gardens?" he says, presently, glancing at my
little nosegay, and speaking more to hinder total silence from reigning,
than for any other reason.
"Yes," I reply, trying-to be cheerful and chatty, "I have been picking
_these_; the Czar have not half their perfume, though they are three
times their size! _these_ smell so good!"
As I speak, I timidly half stretch out the little bunch to him, that he,
too, may inhale their odor, but the gesture is so uncertain and faint
that he does not perceive it--at least, he takes no notice of it, and I
am sure that if he had he would; but yet I am so discouraged by the
failure of my little overture that I have not resolution enough to tell
him that I had gathered them for him. Instead, I snubbedly and
discomfortedly put them in my own breast.
Presently I speak again.
"Do you remember," I say--"no, I dare say you do not, but yet it is so--
it is a year to-day since you found me sitting on the top of the wall!--
such a situation for a person of nineteen to be discovered in!"
At the recollection I laugh a little, and not bitterly, which is what I
do not often do now. I can only see his profile, but it seems to me that
a faint smile is dawning on his face, too.
"It was a good jump, was not it?" I go on, laughing again; "I still
wonder that I did not knock you down."
He is certainly smiling now; his face has almost its old, tender mirth.
"It will be a year to-morrow," continue I, emboldened by perceiving
this, and beginning to count on my fingers, "since Toothless Jack and
the curates came to dine, and you staid so long in the dining-room that
I fell asleep; the day after to-morrow, it will be a year since we
walked by the river-side, and saw the goslings flowering out on the
willows; the day after that it will be a year since--"
"Stop!" he cries, interrupting me, with a voice and face equally full of
disquiet and pain; "do not go on, where is the use?--I hate
I stop, quenched into silence; my poor little trickle of talk
effectually dried. After a pause, he speaks.
"What has made you think of all these dead trivialities?" he asks in a
voice more moved--or I think so--less positively steady than his has
been of late; "at your age, it is more natural to look on than to look
"Is it?" say I, sadly, "I do not know; I seem to have such a great deal
of time for _thinking_ now; this house is so _extraordinarily_ silent!
did you never notice it?--of course it is large, and we are only two
people in it, but at home it never seemed to me so _deadly_ quiet, even
when I was alone in the house."
"_Were_ you ever alone?" he asks, with a smile. He is thinking of the
noisy multitude that are connected in his memory with my father's
mansion; that, during all his experience of it, have filled its rooms
and passages with the hubbub of their strong-lunged jollity.
"Yes, I have been," I reply; "not often, of course! but several times,
when the boys were away, and father and mother and Barbara had gone out
to dinner; of course it seemed still and dumb, but not--" (shuddering a
little)--"not so _aggressively loudly_ silent as this does!"
He looks at me, with a sort of remorseful pain.
"It _is_ very dull for you!" he says, compassionately; "shut up in
endless duet, with a person treble your age! I ought to have thought of
that; in a month or so, we shall be going to London, _that_ will amuse
you, will not it? and till then, is there any one that you would like to
have asked here?--any friend of your own?--any companion of your own
"No," reply I, despondently, staring out of the window, "I have no
"The boys, then?" speaking with a sudden assurance of tone, as one that
has certainly hit upon a pleasant suggestion.
I shake my head.
"I could not have Bobby and the Brat, if I would, and I would not have
Algy if I could!" I reply with curt dejection.
Again I shake my head. Not even Barbara will I allow to witness the
failure of my dreams, the downfall of my high castles, the sterility of
my Promised Land.
"No, I will not have Barbara!" I answer; "last time that she was here--"
but I cannot finish my sentence. I break away weeping.
"I think you hardly know the tender rhyme
Of 'Trust me not at all or all in all!'"
There are some wounds, O, my friends, that Time, by himself, with no
clever physician to help him, will surely cure. You all know that, do
not you? some wounds that he will lay his cool ointment on, and
by-and-by they are well. Among such, are the departures hence of those
we have strongly loved, and to whom we have always been, as much as in
us lay, tender and good. But there are others that he only worsens--
yawning gaps that he but widens; as if one were to put one's fingers in
a great rent, and tear it asunder. And of these last is mine.
As the year grows apace, as the evenings draw themselves out, and the
sun every day puts on fresh strength, we seem to grow ever more
certainly apart. Our bodies, indeed, are nigh each other, but our souls
are sundered. It never seems to strike any one, it is true, that we are
not a happy couple; indeed, it would be very absurd if it did. We never
wrangle--we never contradict each other--we have no tiffs; but we are
_two_ and not _one_. Whatever may be the cause, whether it be due to his
shaken confidence in me, or (I myself assign this latter as its chief
reason) to the constant neighborhood of the woman whom I know him to
have loved and coveted years before he ever saw me; whatever may be the
cause, the fact remains; I no longer please him. It does not surprise me
much. After all, the boys always told me that men would not care about
me; that I was not the sort of woman to get on with them! Well, perhaps!
It certainly seems so.
I meet Mrs. Huntley pretty often in society nowadays, at such staid and
sober dinners as the neighborhood thinks fit to indulge in, in this
lenten season; and, whenever I do so, I cannot refrain from a stealthy
and wistful observation of her.
She is ten-twelve years older than I. Between her and me lie the ten
years best worth living of a woman's life; and yet, how easily she
distances me! With no straining, with no hard-breathed effort, she
canters lightly past me. So I think, as I intently and curiously watch
her--watch her graceful, languid silence with women, her pretty,
lady-like playfulness with men. And how successful she is with them! how
highly they relish her! While I, in the uselessness of my round, white
youth, sit benched among the old women, dropping spiritless, pointless
"yeses" and "noes" among the veteran worldliness of their talk, how they
crowd about her, like swarmed bees on some honeyed, spring day! how they
scowl at each other! and _finesse_ as to who shall approach most nearly
to her cloudy skirts!
Several times I have strained my ears to catch what are the utterances
that make them laugh so much, make them look both so fluttered and so
smoothed. Each time that I succeed, I am disappointed. There is no touch
of genius, no salt of wit in any thing she says. Her utterances are
hardly more brilliant than my own.
You will despise me, I think, friends, when I tell you that in these
days I made one or two pitiful little efforts to imitate her, to copy,
distantly and humbly indeed, the fashion of her clothes, to learn the
trick of her voice, of her slow, soft gait, of her little, surprised
laugh. But I soon give it up. If I tried till my death-day, I should
never arrive at any thing but a miserable travesty. Before--ere Roger's
return--I used complacently to treasure up any little civil speeches,
any small compliments that people paid me, thinking, "If such and such a
one think me pleasing, why may not Roger?" But now I have given this up,
I seem to myself to have grown very dull. I think my wits are not so
bright as they used to be. At home, I used to be reckoned one of the
pleasantest of us: the boys used to laugh when I said things: but not
even the most hysterically mirthful could find food for laughter in my
And so the days pass; and we go to London. Sometimes I have thought that
it will be better when we get there. At least, _she_ will not be there.
How can she, with her husband gnashing his teeth in lonely discomfiture
at his exasperated creditors, and receiptless bills, in sultry St.
Thomas? But, somehow, she is. What good Samaritan takes out his twopence
and pays for her little apartment, for her stacks of cut flowers, for
her brougham and her opera-boxes, is no concern of mine. But, somehow,
there always _are_ good Samaritans in those cases; and, let alone
Samaritans, there are no priests or Levites stonyhearted enough to pass
by these dear, little, lovely things on the other side.
We go out a good deal, Roger and I, and everywhere he accompanies me. It
bores him infinitely, though he does not say so. One night, we are at
the play. It is the Prince of Wales's, the one theatre where one may
enjoy a pleasant certainty of being rationally amused, of being free
from the otherwise universal dominion of _Limelight_ and _Legs_. The
little house is very full; it always is. Some of the royalties are here,
laughing "_a gorge deployee!_" I have been laughing, too; laughing in my
old fashion; not in Mrs. Zephine's little rippling way, but with the
thorough-paced, unconventional violence with which I used to reward the
homely sallies of Bobby and the Brat. I am laughing still, though the
curtain has fallen between the acts, and the orchestra are fiddling
gayly away, and the turned-up gas making everybody look pale. My
opera-glasses are in my hand, and I am turning them slowly round the
house, making out acquaintances in the stalls, prying into the secrets
of the boxes, examining the well-known features of my future king.
Suddenly my smile dies away, and the glasses drop from my trembling
hands into my lap. Who is it that has just entered, and is slipping
across the intervening people in the stalls to his own seat, one of the
few that have hitherto remained vacant beneath us? Can I help
recognizing the close-shorn, cameo-like beauty--to me _no_ beauty; to me
deformity and ugliness--of the dark face that for months I daily saw by
my fireside? Can there be _two_ Musgraves? No! it is _he!_ yes, _he!_
though now there is on his features none of the baffled passion, none of
the wrathful malignity, which they always wear in my memory, as they
wore in the February dusk of Brindley Wood. Now, in their handsome
serenity, they wear only the look of subdued sadness that a male Briton
always assumes when he takes his pleasure. Do you remember what
Goldsmith says?--"When I see an Englishman laugh, I fancy I rather see
him hunting after joy than having caught it."
As soon as my eyes have fallen upon, and certainly recognized him, by a
double impulse I draw back behind the curtain of the box, and look at
Roger. He, too, has seen him; I can tell it in an instant by his face,
and by the expression of his eyes, as they meet mine. I try to look back
unflinchingly, indifferently, at him. I would give ten years of my life
for an unmoved complexion, but it is no use. Struggle as I will against
it, I feel that rush, that torrent of vivid scarlet, that, retiring,
leaves me as white as my gown. Oh! it _is_ hard, is not it, that the
lying changefulness of a deceitful skin should have power to work me
"Are you faint?" Roger asks, bending toward me, and speaking in a low
and icy voice; "shall I get you a glass of water?"
"No, thank you!" I reply, resolutely, and with no hesitation or stammer
in my tone, "I am not at all faint."
But, alas! my words cannot undo what my false cheeks, with their
meaningless red and their causeless white, have so fully done.
The season is over now; every one has trooped away from the sun-baked
squares, and the sultry streets of the great empty town. I have never
_done_ a season before, and the heat and the late hours have tired me
wofully. Often, when I have gone to a ball, I have longed to go to bed
instead. And, now that we are home again, it would seem to me very
pleasant to sit in leisurely coolness by the pool, and to watch the
birth, and the prosperous short lives, of the late roses, and the great
bright gladioli in the garden-borders. Yes, it would have seemed very
pleasant to me--if--(why is life so full of _ifs?_ "Ifs" and "Buts,"
"Ifs" and "Buts," it seems made up of them! Little ugly words! in heaven
there will be none of you!)--if--to back and support the outward good
luck, there had been any inward content. But there is none! The trouble
that I took with me to London, I have brought back thence whole and
"It is September now; so far has the year advanced! We are well into the
partridges. Their St. Bartholomew has begun. Roger is away among the
thick green turnip-ridges and the short white stubble all the day. I
wish to Heaven that I could shoot, too, and hunt. It would not matter if
I never killed any thing--indeed, I think--of the two--I had rather not;
I had rather have a course of empty bags and blank days than snuff out
any poor, little, happy lives; but the occupation that these amusements
would entail would displace and hinder the minute mental torments I now
daily, in my listless, luxurious idleness, endure. I am thinking these
thoughts one morning, as I turn over my unopened letters, and try, with
the misplaced ingenuity and labor one is so apt to employ in such a
case, to make out from the general air of their exteriors--from their
superscriptions--from their post-marks, whom they are from. About one
there is no doubt. It is from Barbara. I have not heard from Barbara for
a fortnight or three weeks. It will be the usual thing, I suppose.
Father has got the gout in his right toe, or his left calf, or his
wrist, or all his fingers, and is, consequently, fuller than usual of
hatred and malice; mother's neuralgia is very bad, and she is sadly in
want of change, but she cannot leave him. Algy has lost a lot of money
at Goodwood, and they are afraid to tell father, etc., etc. Certainly,
life is rather uphill! I slowly tear the envelope open, and languidly
throw my eyes along the lines. But, before I have read three words, my
languor suddenly disappears. I sit upright in my chair, grasp the paper
more firmly, bring it nearer my eyes, which begin greedily to gallop
through its contents. They are not very long, and in two minutes I have
"MY DEAREST NANCY:
"I have _such_ a piece of news for you! I cannot help laughing as I
picture to myself your face of delight; I would make you guess it, only
I cannot bear to keep you in suspense. _It has all come right! I am
going to marry Frank, after all_! What _have_ I done to deserve such
luck! How can I ever thank God enough for it? Do you know that my very
first thought, when he asked me, was, '_How_ pleased Nancy will be!' You
dear little soul! I think, when he went away that time from Tempest,
that you took all the blame of it to yourself! O Nancy, do you think it
is wrong to be so _dreadfully_ happy? Sometimes I am afraid that I love
him _too_ much! it seems so hard to help it. I have no time for more
now; he is waiting for me; how little I thought, a month ago, that I
should be ending a letter to you for such a reason! When all is said and
done, what a pleasant world it is! Do not think me quite mad. I know I
_sound_ as if I were!
My hand, and the letter with it, fall together into my lap; my head
sinks back on the cushion of my chair; my eyes peruse the ceiling.
"Engaged to Musgrave! engaged to Musgrave! engaged to Musgrave!"
The words ring with a dull monotony of repetition through my brain. Poor
Barbara! I think she would be surprised if she were to see my "_face of
My eyes are fixed on the mouldings of the ceiling, while a jumble of
thoughts mix and muddle themselves in my head. Was Brindley Wood a
dream? or is this a dream? Surely one or other must be, and, if this is
not a dream, what is it? Is it reality, is it truth? And, if it is, how
on earth did any thing so monstrous ever come about? How did he dare to
approach her? How could he know that I had not told her? Is it possible
that he cares for her really?--that he cared for her all along?--that he
only went mad for one wicked moment? Is he sorry? how soon shall I have
to meet him? On what terms shall we be? Will Roger be undeceived at
last? Will he believe me? As my thoughts fall upon him, he opens the
door and enters.
"Well, I am off, Nancy!" he says, speaking in his usual cool, friendly
voice, to which I have now grown so accustomed that sometimes I could
almost persuade myself that I had never known any lovinger terms; and
standing with the door-handle in his hand.
He rarely kisses me know; never upon any of these little temporary
absences. We always part with polite, cold, verbal salutations. Then,
with a sudden change of tone, approaching me as he speaks.
"Is there any thing the matter? have you had bad news?"
My eyes drop at length from the scroll and pomegranate flower border of
the ceiling. I sit up, and, with an involuntary movement, put my hand
over the open letter that lies in my lap.
"I have had news," I answer, dubiously.
"If it is any thing that you had rather not tell me!" he says, hastily,
observing my stupid and unintentional gesture, and, I suppose, afraid
that I am about to drift into a second series of lies--"please do not. I
would not for worlds thrust myself on your confidence!"
"It is no secret of mine," I answer, coldly, "everybody will know it
immediately, I suppose: it is that Barbara--" I stop, as usual choked as
I approach the abhorred theme. "Will you read the letter, please? that
will be better!--yes--I had rather that you did--it will not take you
long; yes, _all_ of it!" (seeing that he is holding the note in his hand
and conscientiously looking away from it as if expecting limitation as
to the amount he is to peruse).
He complies. There is silence--an expectant silence on my part. It is
not of long duration. Before ten seconds have elapsed the note has
fallen from his hand; and, with an exclamation of the profoundest
astonishment, he is looking with an expression of the most keenly
questioning wonder at me.
I nod. I have judiciously placed myself with my back to the light, so
that, if that exasperating flood of crimson bathe my face--and bathe it
it surely will--is not it coming now?--do not I feel it creeping hotly
up?--it may be as little perceptible as possible.
"It must be a great, great _surprise_ to you!" he says, interrogatively,
and still with that sound of extreme and baffled wonder in his tone.
"Immense!" reply I.
I speak steadily if low; and I look determinedly back in his face.
Whatever color my cheeks are--I believe they are of the devil's own
painting--I feel that my eyes are honest. He has picked up the note, and
is reading it again.
"She seems to have no doubt"--(with-rising wonder in face and voice)--
"as to its greatly pleasing _you_!"
"So it would have done at one time," I answer, still speaking (though no
one could guess with what difficulty), with resolute equanimity.
"And does not it now?" (very quickly, and sending the searching scrutiny
of his eyes through me).
"I do not know," I answer hazily, putting up my hand to my forehead. "I
cannot make up my mind, it all seems so sudden."
A pause. Roger has forgotten the partridges. He is sunk in reflection.
"Was there ever any talk of this before?" he says, presently, with a
hesitating and doubtful accent, and an altogether staggered look. "Had
you any reason--any ground for thinking that he cared about her?"
"Great ground," reply I, touching my cheeks with the tips of my fingers,
and feeling, with a sense of self-gratulation, that their temperature is
gradually, if slowly, lowering, "_every_ ground--at _one_ time!"
"At _what_ time!"
"In the autumn," say I, slowly; my mind reluctantly straying back to the
season of my urgent invitations, of my pressing friendlinesses, "and at
Christmas, and after Christmas."
"Yes?" (with a quick eagerness, as if expecting to hear more).
"The boys," continue I, speaking without any ease or fluency, for the
subject is always one irksome and difficult to me, "the boys took it
quite for granted--looked upon it as a certain thing that he meant
"Until what?" (almost snatching the words out of my mouth).
"Until--well!" (with a short, forced laugh), "until they found that he
"And--do you know?--but of course you do--can you tell me how they
He is looking at me with that same greedy anxiety in his eyes, which I
remember in our last fatal conversation about Musgrave.
"He went away," reply I, unable any longer to keep watch and ward over
my countenance and voice, rising and walking hastily to the window.
The moment I have done it, I repent. _However_ red I was, _however_
confused I looked, it would have been better to have remained and faced
him. For several minutes there is silence. I look out at the stiff
comeliness of the variously tinted asters, at the hoary-colored dew that
is like a film along the morning grass. I do not know what _he_ looks
at, because I have my back to him, but I think he is looking at
Barbara's note again. At least, I judge this by what he says next--"Poor
little soul!" (in an accent of the honestest, tenderest pity), "how
happy she seems!"
"Ah!" say I, with a bitter little laugh, "she will mend of _that_, will
He does not echo my mirth; indeed, I think I hear him sigh.
"'Romances paint at full length people's wooings,
But only give a bust of marriages!'"
say I, in soft quotation, addressing rather myself and my thoughts than
He has joined me; he, too, is looking out at the serene aster-flowers,
at the glittering glory of the dew.
"Since when you have learned to quote 'Don Juan?'" he asks, with a sort
"Since _when_?" I reply, with the same tart playfulness--"oh! since I
married! I date all my accomplishments from then!--it is my anno
Another silence. Then Sir Roger speaks again, and this time his words
seem as slow and difficult of make as mine were just now.
"Nancy!" he says, in a low voice, not looking at me, but still facing
the flowers and the sunshiny autumn sward, "do you believe that--that--
_this fellow_ cares about her really?--she is too good to be made--to be
made--a mere _cat's-paw_ of!"
"A _cat's-paw_!" cry I, turning quickly round with raised voice; the
blood that so lately retired from it rushing again headlong all over my
face; "I do not know--what you mean--what you are talking about!"
He draws his breath heavily, and pauses a moment before he speaks.
"God knows," he says, looking solemnly up, "that I had no wish to broach
this subject again--God knows that I meant to have done with it forever
--but now that it has been forced against my will--against both our
wills--upon me, I must ask you this one question--tell me, Nancy--tell
me truly _this_ time"--(with an accent of acute pain on the word
"_this_")--"can you say, _on your honor--on your honor_, mind--that you
believe this--this man loves Barbara, as a man should love his wife?"
If he had worded his interrogation differently, I should have been
sorely puzzled to answer it; as it is, in the form his question takes, I
find a loop-hole of escape.
"As a man should love his wife?" I reply, with a derisive laugh, "and
how is that? I do not think I quite know!--very dearly, I suppose, but
not quite so dearly as if she were his neighbor's--is that it?"
As I speak, I look up at him, with a malicious air of pseudo-innocence.
But if I expect to see any guilt--any conscious shrinking in his face--I
am mistaken. There is pain--infinite pain--pain both sharp and
long-enduring in the grieved depths of his eyes; but there is no guilt.
"You will not answer me?" he says, in an accent of profound
disappointment, sighing again heavily. "Well, I hardly expected it--
hardly hoped it!--so be it, then, since you will have it so; and yet--"
(again taking up the note, and reading over one of its few sentences
with slow attention), "and yet there is one more question I must put to
you, after all--they both come to pretty much the same thing. Why"--
(pointing, as he speaks, to the words to which he alludes)--"why should
_you_ have taken on yourself the blame of--of his departure from
Tempest? what had _you_ to say to it?"
In his voice there is the same just severity; in his eyes there is the
same fire of deep yet governed wrath that I remember in them six months
ago, when Mrs. Huntley first threw the firebrand between us.
"I do not know," I reply, in a half whisper of impatient misery, turning
_my_ head restlessly from side to side; "how should I know? I am _sick_
of the subject."
"Perhaps!--so, God knows, am I; but _had_ you any thing to say to it?"
He does not often touch me now; but, as he asks this, he takes hold of
both my hands, more certainly to prevent my escaping from under his
gaze, than from any desire to caress me.
It is my last chance of confession. I little thought I should ever have
another. Late as it is, shall I avail myself of it? Nay! if not before,
why _now?_ Why _now_?--when there are so much stronger reasons for
silence--when to speak would be to knock to atoms the newly-built
edifice of Barbara's happiness--to rake up the old and nearly dead ashes
of Frank's frustrated, and for aught I know, sincerely repented sin? So
I answer, faintly indeed, yet quite audibly and distinctly:
"NOTHING?" (in an accent and with eyes of the keenest, wistfulest
interrogation, as if he would wring from me, against my will, the
confession I so resolutely withhold).
But I turn away from that heart-breaking, heart-broken scrutiny, and
"She dwells with beauty--beauty that must die,
And joy whose hand is ever at his lips
Thus I accomplished my second lie: I that, at home, used to be a proverb
for blunt truth-telling. They say that "_facilis descensus Averni_." I
do not agree with them. I have not found it easy. To me it has seemed a
very steep and precipitous road, set with sharp flints that cut the
feet, and make the blood flow.
I think the second falsehood was almost harder to utter than the first:
but, indeed, they were both very disagreeable. I cannot think why any
one should have thought it necessary to invent the doctrine of a future
retribution for sin.
It appears to me that, in this very life of the present, each little
delinquency is so heavily paid for--so exorbitantly overpaid, indeed.
Look, for instance, at my own case. I told a lie--a lie more of the
letter than the spirit--and since then I have spent six months of my
flourishing youth absolutely devoid of pleasure, and largely penetrated
I have stood just outside my paradise, peeping under and over the
flaming sword of the angel that guards it. I have been near enough to
smell the flowers--to see the downy, perfumed fruits--to hear the song
of the angels as they go up and down within its paths; but I have been
Now I have told another lie, and I suppose--nay, what better can I
hope?--that I shall live in the same state of weary, disproportioned
retribution to the end of the chapter.
These are the thoughts, interspersed and diversified with loud sighs,
that are employing my mind one ripe and misty morning a few days later
than the incidents last detailed.
Barbara is to arrive to-day. She is coming to pay us a visit--coming,
like the lady mentioned by Tennyson, in "In Memoriam"--not, indeed, "to
bring her babe," but to "make her boast." And how, pray, am I to listen
with complacent congratulation to this boast? For the first time in my
life I dread the coming of Barbara. How am I, whose acting, on the few
occasions when I have attempted it, has been of the most improbably
wooden description--how am I, I say, to counterfeit the extravagant joy,
the lively sympathy, that Barbara will expect--and naturally expect--
I get up and look at myself in the glass. Assuredly I shall have to take
some severe measures with my countenance before it falls under my
sister's gaze. Small sympathy and smaller joy is there in it now--it
wears only a lantern-jawed, lack-lustre despondency. I practise a
galvanized smile, and say out loud, as if in dialogue with some
"Yes, _delightful_!--I am _so_ pleased!" but there is more mirth in the
enforced grin of an unfleshed skull than in mine.
That will never take in Barbara. I try again--once, twice--each time
with less prosperity than the last. Then I give it up. I must trust to
As the time for her coming draws nigh, I fall to thinking of the
different occasions since my marriage, on which I have watched for
expected comings from this window--have searched that bend in the drive
with impatient eyes--and of the disappointment to which, on the two
occasions that rise most prominently before my mind's eye, I became a
Well, I am to be subject to no disappointment--if it _would_ be a
Almost before I expect her--almost before she is due--she is here in the
room with me, and we are looking at one another. I, indeed, am staring
at her with a black and stupid surprise.
"Good Heavens!" say I, bluntly; "what _have_ you been doing to yourself?
_how_ happy you look!"
I have always known theoretically that happiness was becoming; and I
have always thought Barbara most fair.
"Fairer than Rachel by the palmy well,
Fairer than Ruth among the fields of corn,
Fair as the angel that said, 'Hail!' she seemed,"
but now_, what a lovely brightness, like that of clouds remembering the
gone sun, shines all about her! What a radiant laughter in her eyes!
What a splendid carnation on her cheeks! (How glad I am that I did not
"Do I?" she says, softly, and hiding her face, with the action of a shy
child, on my shoulders. "I dare say."
"_Good_ Heavens!" repeat I, again, with more accentuation than before,
and with my usual happy command and variety of ejaculation.
"And _you_?" she says, lifting her face, and speaking with a joyful
confidence of anticipation in her innocent eyes, "and _you_? you are
pleased too, are not you?"
"Of course," reply I, quickly calling to my aid the galvanized smile and
the unnatural tone in which I have been perfecting myself all the
forenoon, "_delighted!_ I never was so pleased in my life. I told you so
in my letters, did not I?"
A look of nameless disappointment crosses her features for a moment.
"Yes," she says, "I know! but I want you to tell me again. I thought
that you--would have such a--such a great deal to say about it."
"So I have!" reply I, uncomfortably, fiddling uneasily with a
paper-knife that I have picked up, and trying how much ill-usage it will
bear without snapping, "an immensity! but you see it is--it is difficult
to begin, is not it? and you know I never was good at expressing myself,
We have sat down. I am not facing her. With a complexion that serves one
such ill turns as mine does, one is not over-fond of _facing_ people. I
am beside her. For a moment we are both silent.
"Well," say I, presently, with an unintentional tartness in my tone,
"why do not you begin? I am waiting to hear all about it! Begin!"
So Barbara begins.
"I am afraid," she says, smiling all the while, but growing as red as
the bunch of late roses in my breast, "that I looked horribly _pleased_!
One ought to look as if one did not care, ought not one?"
"Ought one?" say I, with interest, then beginning to laugh vociferously.
"At least you were not as bad as the old maid who late in life received
a very wealthy offer, and was so much elated by it that she took off all
her clothes, and kicked her bonnet round the room!"
"No, I was not quite so bad as that."
"And how did he do it?" pursue I, inquisitively. "Did he write or speak"
"And what did he say? How did he word it? Ah!"--(with a sigh)--"I
suppose you will not tell me _that_?"
She has abandoned her chair, and has fallen on her knees before me,
hiding her face in my lap. Delicious waves of color, like the petals of
a pink sweet-pea, are racing over her cheeks and throat.
"Was ever any one known to tell it?" she says, indistinctly.
"Yes," reply I, "_I_ was. I told you what Roger said, word for word--all
"_Did_ you?"--(with an accent of astonished incredulity).
"Yes," say I, "do not you remember? I promised I would before I went
into the drawing-room that day, and, when I came out, I wanted the boys
to let me off, but they would not."
"I wish," say I, a little impatiently, "that you would look up! Why need
you mind if you _are_ rather red? What do _I_ matter? and so--and so--
you are _pleased_!"
She has raised her head as I bid her, and on her face there is a sort of
scorn at the poverty and inadequacy of the expression, and yet she
replaces it with no other; only the sapphire of her eyes is dimmed and
made more tender by rising tears.
Clearly we were never meant to be joyful, we humans! In any bliss
greater than our wont, we can only hang out, to demonstrate our
felicity, the sign and standard of woe.
"Nancy!"--(taking my hand, and looking at me with wistful earnestness)--
"do you think it _can_ last? Did ever any one feel as I do for _long_?"
"I do not know--how can I tell?" reply I, discomfortably, as I absently
eye the two halves of my paper-knife, which, after having given one or
two warning cracks, has now snapped in the middle. Then Roger enters,
and our talk ends.
"God made a foolish woman, making me!"
"Have you any idea whom we shall meet?"
It is Barbara who asks this one morning at breakfast. The question
refers to a three days' visit that it has become our fate to pay to a
house in the neighborhood--a house not eight miles distant from Tempest,
and over which we are grumbling in the minute and exhaustive manner
which people mostly employ when there is a question of making merry with
I shake my head.
"I have not an idea, that is to say, except Mrs. Huntley, and she goes
"We are known to be such inseparables, that she is always asked to meet
us," reply I, with that wintry smile, which is my last accomplishment.
"We pursue her round the country, do not we, Roger?"
Barbara opens her great eyes, but, with her usual tact, she says
nothing. She sees that she has fallen on stony ground.
"She is _the oldest friend that we have in the world!_" continue I,
Roger does not answer, he does not even look up, but by a restless
movement that he makes in his chair, by a tiny contraction of the brows,
I see that my shot has told. I am becoming an adept in the infliction of
these pin-pricks. It is one of the few pleasures I have left.
The day of our visit has come. We have relieved our feelings by
grumbling up to the hall-door. Our murmuring must per force be stilled
now, though indeed, were we to _shout_ our discontents at the top of our
voices, there would be small fear of our being overheard by the master
of the house, he being the boundlessly deaf old gentleman who paid his
respects at Tempest on the day of Mrs. Huntley's first call, and
insisted on mistaking Barbara for me. Whether he is yet set right on
that head is a point still enveloped in Cimmerian gloom.
It is a bachelor establishment, as any one may perceive by a cursory
glance at the disposition of the drawing-room furniture, and at the
unfortunate flowers, tightly jammed, packed as thickly as they will go
in one huge central bean-pot.
As we arrived rather late and were at once conducted to our rooms, we
still remain in the dark as to our co-guests. Personally, I am not much
interested in the question. There cannot be anybody that it will cause
me much satisfaction to meet. It would give me a faint relief, indeed,
to find that there were some matron of exalteder rank than mine to save
me from my probable fate of bowling dark sayings at our old host,
General Parker, from the season of clear soup to that of peaches and
nuts. I dress quickly. The toilet is never to me a work of art. It is
not that from my lofty moral stand-point I look down upon meretricious
aids to faulty Nature. If I thought that it would set me on a fairer
standing with Mrs. Zephine, I would paint my cheeks an inch thick; would
prune my eyebrows; daub my eyes, and make my hair yellower than any
buttercups in the meadow; but I know that it would be of no avail. I
should still be, compared to her, as a sign-painting to a Titian. For a
long time now I have cared naught for clothes. I used greatly to respect
their power, but they have done _me_ no good; and so my reverence for
them is turned into indifference and contempt.
I think that I must be late. Roger went down some minutes ago, at my
request, so that there might be _one_ representative of the family in
I hasten down-stairs, fastening my last bracelet as I go, and open the
drawing-room door. I was wrong. There is no one down yet: even Roger has
disappeared. I am the first. This is my impression for a moment: then I
perceive that there is some one in the bow-window, half hidden by the
drooped curtains; some one who, hearing my entry, is advancing to meet
me. It is Musgrave! My first impulse, a wrong one, I need hardly say, is
to turn and flee. I have even laid hold of the just abandoned handle,
when he speaks.
"Are you going?" he says in a low voice, marked by great and evidently
ungovernable agitation; "do not! if you wish, I will leave the room."
I look at him, and our eyes meet. He always was a pale young man--no
bucolic beef-and-beer ruddiness about him--always of a healthy swart
pallor; but now he is deadly white!--so, by-the-by, I fancy am I! His
dark eyes burn with a shamed yet eager glow.
With the words and tones of our last parting ringing in our ears, we
both feel that it would be useless affectation to attempt to meet as
"No," say I, faintly, almost in a whisper, "it--it does not matter! only
that I did not know that you were to be here!"
"No more did I, until this morning!" he answers, eagerly; "this morning
--at the last moment--young Parker asked me to come down with him--and I
--I knew we must meet sooner or later--that it could not be put off
forever, and so I thought we might as well get over it here as anywhere
Neither of us has thought of sitting down. He is speaking with rapid,
low emotion, and I stand stupidly listening.
"I suppose so," I answer lazily. I cannot for the life of me help it,
friends. I am back in Brindley Wood. He has come a few steps nearer me.
His voice is always low, but now it is almost a whisper in which he is
so rapidly, pantingly speaking.
"I shall most likely not have another opportunity, probably we shall not
be alone again, and I _must_ hear, I _must_ know--have you forgiven
As he speaks, the recollection of all the ill he has done me, of my lost
self-respect, my alienated Roger, my faded life, pass before my mind.
"_That_ I have not!" reply I, looking full at him, and speaking with a
distinct and heavy emphasis of resentment and aversion, "and, by God's
help, I never will!"
"You will _not_!" he cries, starting back with an expression of the
utmost anger and discomfiture. "You will _not_! you will carry vengeance
for one mad minute through a whole life! It is _impossible! impossible!_
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