One of Our Conquerors, v2
editions, all of which are confirmed as Public Domain in the US
unless a copyright notice is included. Thus, we usually do not
keep etexts in compliance with any particular paper edition.
The "legal small print" and other information about this book
may now be found at the end of this file. Please read this
important information, as it gives you specific rights and
tells you about restrictions in how the file may be used.
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
ONE OF OUR CONQUERORS
By George Meredith
XII. TREATS OF THE DUMBNESS POSSIBLE WITH MEMBERS OF A HOUSEHOLD
HAVING ONE HEART
XIII. THE LATEST OF MRS. BURMAN
XIV. DISCLOSES A STAGE ON THE DRIVE TO PARIS
XV. A PATRIOT ABROAD
XVI. ACCOUNTS FOR SKEPSEY'S MISCONDUCT, SHOWING HOW IT AFFECTED
XVII. CHIEFLY UPON THE THEME OF A YOUNG MAID'S IMAGININGS
XVIII. SUITORS FOR THE HAND OF NESTA VICTORIA
TREATS OF THE DUMBNESS POSSIBLE WITH MEMBERS OF A HOUSEHOLD HAVING ONE
Two that live together in union are supposed to be intimate on every
leaf. Particularly when they love one another and the cause they have
at heart is common to them in equal measure, the uses of a cordial
familiarity forbid reserves upon important matters between them, as we
think; not thinking of an imposed secretiveness, beneath the false
external of submissiveness, which comes of an experience of repeated
inefficiency to maintain a case in opposition, on the part of the
loquently weaker of the pair. In Constitutional Kingdoms a powerful
Government needs not to be tyrannical to lean oppressively; it is more
serviceable to party than agreeable to country; and where the alliance
of men and women binds a loving couple, of whom one is a torrent of
persuasion, their differings are likely to make the other resemble a log
of the torrent. It is borne along; it dreams of a distant corner of the
way for a determined stand; it consents to its whirling in anticipation
of an undated hour when it will no longer be neutral.
There may be, moreover, while each has the key of the fellow breast,
a mutually sensitive nerve to protest against intrusion of light or
sound. The cloud over the name of their girl could now strike Nataly and
Victor dumb in their taking of counsel. She divined that his hint had
encouraged him to bring the crisis nearer, and he that her comprehension
had become tremblingly awake. They shrank, each of them, the more from
an end drawing closely into view. All subjects glooming off or darkening
up to it were shunned by them verbally, and if they found themselves
entering beneath that shadow, conversation passed to an involuntary
gesture, more explicit with him, significant of the prohibited, though
not acknowledging it.
All the stronger was it Victor's purpose, leaping in his fashion to the
cover of action as an escape from perplexity, to burn and scheme for the
wedding of their girl--the safe wedding of that dearest, to have her
protected, secure, with the world warm about her. And he well knew why
his Nataly had her look of a closed vault (threatening, if opened, to
thunder upon Life) when he dropped his further hints. He chose to call
it feminine inconsistency, in a woman who walked abroad with a basket of
marriage-ties for the market on her arm. He knew that she would soon
have to speak the dark words to their girl; and the idea of any doing of
it, caught at his throat. Reasonably she dreaded the mother's task;
pardonably indeed. But it is for the mother to do, with a girl.
He deputed it lightly to the mother because he could see himself stating
the facts to a son. 'And, my dear boy, you will from this day draw your
five thousand a year, and we double it on the day of your marriage,
living at Lakelands or where you will.'
His desire for his girl's protection by the name of one of our great
Families, urged him to bind Nataly to the fact, with the argument, that
it was preferable for the girl to hear their story during her green early
youth, while she reposed her beautiful blind faith in the discretion of
her parents, and as an immediate step to the placing of her hand in a
husband's. He feared that her mother required schooling to tell the
story vindicatingly and proudly, in a manner to distinguish instead of
degrading or temporarily seeming to accept degradation.
The world would weigh on her confession of the weight of the world on her
child; she would want inciting and strengthening, if one judged of her
capacity to meet the trial by her recent bearing; and how was he to do
it! He could not imagine himself encountering the startled, tremulous,
nascent intelligence in those pure brown darklashed eyes of Nesta; he
pitied the poor mother. Fancifully directing her to say this and that to
the girl, his tongue ran till it was cut from his heart and left to wag
dead colourless words.
The prospect of a similar business of exposition, certainly devolving
upon the father in treaty with the fortunate youth, gripped at his vitals
a minute, so intense was his pride in appearing woundless and scarless,
a shining surface, like pure health's, in the sight of men. Nevertheless
he skimmed the story, much as a lecturer strikes his wand on the
prominent places of a map, that is to show us how he arrived at the
principal point, which we are all agreed to find chiefly interesting.
This with Victor was the naming of Nesta's bridal endowment. He rushed
to it. 'My girl will have ten thousand a year settled on her the day of
her marriage.' Choice of living at Lakelands was offered.
It helped him over the unpleasant part of that interview. At the same
time, it moved him to a curious contempt of the youth. He had to
conjure-up an image of the young man in person, to correct the
sentiment:--and it remained as a kind of bruise only half cured.
Mr. Dudley Sowerby was not one of the youths whose presence would rectify
such an abstract estimate of the genus pursuer. He now came frequently
of an evening, to practise a duet for flutes with Victor;--a Mercadante,
honeyed and flowing; too honeyed to suit a style that, as Fenellan
characterized it to Nataly, went through the music somewhat like an
inquisitive tourist in a foreign town, conscientious to get to the end of
the work of pleasure; until the notes had become familiar, when it rather
resembled a constable's walk along the midnight streets into collision
with a garlanded roysterer; and the man of order and the man of passion,
true to the measure though they were, seeming to dissent, almost to
wrangle, in their different ways of winding out the melody, on to the
last movement; which was plainly a question between home to the strayed
reveller's quarters or off to the lockup. Victor was altogether the
younger of the two. But his vehement accompaniment was a tutorship;
Mr. Sowerby improved; it was admitted by Nesta and mademoiselle that
he gained a show of feeling; he had learnt that feeling was wanted.
Passion, he had not a notion of: otherwise he would not be delaying;
the interview, dramatized by the father of the young bud of womanhood,
would be taking place, and the entry into Lakelands calculable, for
Nataly's comfort, as under the aegis of the Cantor earldom. Gossip flies
to a wider circle round the members of a great titled family, is
inaudible; or no longer the diptherian whisper the commonalty hear of the
commonalty: and so we see the social uses of our aristocracy survive. We
do not want the shield of any family; it is the situation that wants it;
Nataly ought to be awake to the fact. One blow and we have silenced our
enemy: Nesta's wedding-day has relieved her parents.
Victor's thoughts upon the instrument for striking that, blow, led him to
suppose Mr. Sowerby might be meditating on the extent of the young lady's
fortune. He talked randomly of money, in a way to shatter Nataly's
conception of him. He talked of City affairs at table, as it had been
his practice to shun the doing; and hit the resounding note on mines,
which have risen in the market like the crest of a serpent, casting a
certain spell upon the mercantile understanding. 'Fredi's diamonds from
her own mine, or what once was--and she still reserves a share,' were to
be shown to Mr. Sowerby.
Nataly respected the young fellow for not displaying avidity at the
flourish of the bait, however it might be affecting him; and she fancied
that he did laboriously, in his way earnestly, study her girl, to sound
for harmony between them, previous to a wooing. She was a closer reader
of social character than Victor; from refraining to run on the broad
lines which are but faintly illustrative of the individual one in being
common to all--unless we have hit by chance on an example of the
downright in roguery or folly or simple goodness. Mr. Sowerby'g bearing
to Nesta was hardly warmed by the glitter of diamonds. His next visit
showed him livelier in courtliness, brighter, fresher; but that was
always his way at the commencement of every visit, as if his reflections
on the foregone had come to a satisfactory conclusion; and the labours of
the new study of the maiden ensued again in due course to deaden him.
Gentleman he was. In the recognition of his quality as a man of
principle and breeding, Nataly was condemned by thoughts of Nesta's
future to question whether word or act of hers should, if inclination on
both sides existed, stand between her girl and a true gentleman. She
counselled herself, as if the counsel were in requisition, to be passive;
and so doing, she more acutely than Victor--save in his chance flashes--
discerned the twist of her very nature caused by their false position.
And her panacea for ills, the lost little cottage, would not have averted
it: she would there have had the same coveting desire to name a man of
breeding, honour, station, for Nesta's husband. Perhaps in the cottage,
choosing at leisure, her consent to see the brilliant young creature tied
to the best of dull men would have been unready, without the girl to push
it. For the Hon. Dudley was lamentably her pupil in liveliness; he took
the second part, as it is painful for a woman with the old-fashioned
ideas upon the leading of the sexes to behold; resembling in his look the
deaf, who constantly require to have an observation repeated; resembling
the most intelligent of animals, which we do not name, and we reprove
ourselves for seeing likeness.
Yet the likeness or apparent likeness would suggest that we have not so
much to fear upon the day of the explanation to him. Some gain is there.
Shameful thought! Nataly hastened her mind to gather many instances or
indications testifying to the sterling substance in young Mr. Sowerby,
such as a mother would pray for her son-in-law to possess. She
discovered herself feeling as the burdened mother, not providently for
her girl, in the choice of a mate. The perception was clear, and not the
less did she continue working at the embroidery of Mr. Sowerby on the
basis of his excellent moral foundations, all the while hoping, praying,
that he might not be lured on to the proposal for Nesta. But her
subservience to the power of the persuasive will in Victor--which was
like the rush of a conflagration--compelled her to think realizingly of
any scheme he allowed her darkly to read.
Opposition to him, was comparable to the stand of blocks of timber before
flame. Colney Durance had done her the mischief we take from the
pessimist when we are overweighted: in darkening the vision of external
aid from man or circumstance to one who felt herself mastered. Victor
could make her treacherous to her wishes, in revolt against them, though
the heart protested. His first conquest of her was in her blood, to
weaken a spirit of resistance. For the precedent of submission is a
charm upon the faint-hearted through love: it unwinds, unwills them.
Nataly resolved fixedly, that there must be a day for speaking; and she
had her moral sustainment in the resolve; she had also a tormenting
consciousness of material support in the thought, that the day was not
present, was possibly distant, might never arrive. Would Victor's
release come sooner? And that was a prospect bearing resemblance to
hopes of the cure of a malady through a sharp operation.
These were matters going on behind the curtain; as wholly vital to her,
and with him at times almost as dominant, as the spiritual in memory,
when flesh has left but its shining track in dust of a soul outwritten;
and all their talk related to the purchase of furniture, the expeditions
to Lakelands, music, public affairs, the pardonable foibles of friends
created to amuse their fellows, operatic heroes and heroines, exhibitions
of pictures, the sorrows of Crowned Heads, so serviceable ever to mankind
as an admonition to the ambitious, a salve to the envious!--in fine,
whatsoever can entertain or affect the most social of couples,
domestically without a care to appearance. And so far they partially--
dramatically--deceived themselves by imposing on the world while they
talked and duetted; for the purchase of furniture from a flowing purse
is a cheerful occupation; also a City issuing out of hospital, like this
poor City of London, inspires good citizens to healthy activity. But the
silence upon what they were most bent on, had the sinister effect upon
Victor, of obscuring his mental hold of the beloved woman, drifting her
away from him. In communicating Fenellan's news through the lawyer
Carling of Mrs. Burman's intentions, he was aware that there was an
obstacle to his being huggingly genial, even candidly genial with her,
until he could deal out further news, corroborative and consecutive,
to show the action of things as progressive. Fenellan had sunk into his
usual apathy:--and might plead the impossibility of his moving faster
than the woman professing to transform herself into, beneficence out of
malignity;--one could hear him saying the words! Victor had not seen him
since last Concert evening, and he deemed it as well to hear the words
Fenellan's mouth had to say. He called at an early hour of the Westward
tidal flow at the Insurance Office looking over the stormy square of the
first of Seamen.
THE LATEST OF MRS. BURMAN
After cursory remarks about the business of the Office and his friend's
contributions to periodical literature, in which he was interested for as
long as he had assurance that the safe income depending upon official
duties was not endangered by them, Victor kicked his heels to and fro.
Fenellan waited for him to lead.
'Have you seen that man, her lawyer, again?'
'I have dined with Mr. Carling:--capital claret.'
Emptiness was in the reply.
Victor curbed himself and said: 'By the way, you're not likely to have
dealings with Blathenoy. The fellow has a screw to the back of a shifty
eye; I see it at work to fix the look for business. I shall sit on the
Board of my Bank. One hears things. He lives in style at Wrensham. By
the way, Fredi has little Mab Mountney from Creckholt staying with her.
You said of little Mabsy--"Here she comes into the room all pink and
white, like a daisy." She's the daisy still; reminds us of our girl at
that age.--So, then, we come to another dead block!'
'Well, no; it's a chemist's shop, if that helps us on,' said Fenellan,
settling to a new posture in his chair. 'She's there of an afternoon for
'You mean it's she?'
'The lady. I 'll tell you. I have it from Carling, worthy man; and
lawyers can be brought to untruss a point over a cup of claret. He's a
bit of a "Mackenzie Man," as old aunts of mine used to say at home--a Man
of Feeling. Thinks he knows the world, from having sifted and sorted a
lot of our dustbins; as the modern Realists imagine it's an exposition of
positive human nature when they've pulled down our noses to the worst
parts--if there's a worse where all are useful: but the Realism of the
dogs is to have us by the nose:--excite it and befoul it, and you're
fearfully credible! You don't read that olfactory literature. However,
friend Carling is a conciliatory carle. Three or four days of the week
the lady, he says, drives to her chemist's, and there she sits in the
shop; round the corner, as you enter; and sees all Charing in the shop
looking-glass at the back; herself a stranger spectacle, poor lady, if
Carling's picture of her is not overdone; with her fashionable no-bonnet
striding the contribution chignon on the crown, and a huge square green
shade over her forehead. Sits hours long, and cocks her ears at orders
of applicants for drugs across the counter, and sometimes catches wind
of a prescription, and consults her chemist, and thinks she 'll try it
herself. It's a basket of medicine bottles driven to Regent's Park
pretty well every day.'
'Ha! Regent's Park!' exclaimed Victor, and shook at recollections of the
district and the number of the house, dismal to him. London buried the
woman deep until a mention of her sent her flaring over London. 'A
chemist's shop! She sits there?'
'Mrs. Burman. We pass by the shop.'
'She had always a turn for drugs.--Not far from here, did you say? And
every day! under a green shade?'
'Dear fellow, don't be suggesting ballads; we'll go now,' said Fenellan.
'It 's true it's like sitting on the banks of the Stygian waters.'
He spied at an obsequious watch, that told him it was time to quit the
'You've done nothing?' Victor asked in a tone of no expectation.
'Only to hear that her latest medical man is Themison.'
'Where did you hear?'
'Across the counter of Boyle and Luckwort, the lady's chemists. I called
the day before yesterday, after you were here at our last Board Meeting.'
'The great Dr. Themison; who kills you kindlier than most, and is much in
request for it.'
'There's one of your echoes of Colney!' Victor cried. 'One gets dead
sick of that worn-out old jibeing at doctors. They don't kill, you know
very well. It 's not to their interest to kill. They may take the
relish out of life; and upon my word, I believe that helps to keep the
Fenellan sent an eye of discreet comic penetration travelling through his
'The City's mending; it's not the weary widow woman of the day when we
capsized the diurnal with your royal Old Veuve,' he said, as they trod
the pavement. 'Funny people, the English! They give you all the
primeing possible for amusement and jollity, and devil a sentry-box for
the exercise of it; and if you shake a leg publicly, partner or not,
you're marched off to penitence. I complain, that they have no
philosophical appreciation of human nature.'
'We pass the shop?' Victor interrupted him.
'You're in view of it in a minute. And what a square, for recreative
dancing! And what a people, to be turning it into a place of political
agitation! And what a country, where from morning to night it's an
endless wrangle about the first conditions of existence! Old Colney
seems right now and then: they 're the offspring of pirates, and they 've
got the manners and tastes of their progenitors, and the trick of
quarrelling everlastingly over the booty. I 'd have band-music here for
a couple of hours, three days of the week at the least; and down in the
East; and that forsaken North quarter of London; and the Baptist South
too. But just as those omnibus-wheels are the miserable music of this
London of ours, it 's only too sadly true that the people are in the
first rumble of the notion of the proper way to spend their lives. Now
you see the shop: Boyle and Luckwort: there.'
Victor looked. He threw his coat open, and pulled the waistcoat, and
swelled it, ahemming. 'That shop?' said he. And presently: 'Fenellan,
I'm not superstitious, I think. Now listen; I declare to you, on the day
of our drinking Old Veuve together last--you remember it,--I walked home
up this way across the square, and I was about to step into that
identical shop, for some household prescription in my pocket, having
forgotten Nataly's favourite City chemists Fenbird and Jay, when--I'm
stating a fact--I distinctly--I 'm sure of the shop--felt myself plucked
back by the elbow; pulled back the kind of pull when you have to put a
foot backward to keep your equilibrium.'
So does memory inspired by the sensations contribute an additional item
for the colouring of history.
He touched the elbow, showed a flitting face of crazed amazement in
amusement, and shrugged and half-laughed, dismissing the incident, as
being perhaps, if his hearer chose to have it so, a gem of the rubbish
tumbled into the dustcart out of a rather exceptional householder's
Fenellan smiled indulgently. 'Queer things happen. I recollect reading
in my green youth of a clergyman, who mounted a pulpit of the port where
he was landed after his almost solitary rescue from a burning ship at
midnight in mid-sea, to inform his congregation, that he had overnight of
the catastrophe a personal Warning right in his ear from a Voice, when at
his bed or bunk-side, about to perform the beautiful ceremony of
undressing: and the Rev. gentleman was to lie down in his full uniform,
not so much as to relieve himself of his boots, the Voice insisted twice;
and he obeyed it, despite the discomfort to his poor feet; and he jumped
up in his boots to the cry of Fire, and he got them providentially over
the scuffling deck straight at the first rush into the boat awaiting
them, and had them safe on and polished the day he preached the sermon of
gratitude for the special deliverance. There was a Warning! and it
might well be called, as he called it, from within. We're cared for,
never doubt. Aide-toi. Be ready dressed to help yourself in a calamity,
or you'll not stand in boots at your next Sermon, contrasting with the
burnt. That sounds like the moral.'
'She could have seen me,' Victor threw out an irritable suggestion. The
idea of the recent propinquity set hatred in motion.
'Scarcely likely. I'm told she sits looking on her lap, under the
beetling shade, until she hears an order for tinctures or powders, or a
mixture that strikes her fancy. It's possible to do more suicidal things
than sit the afternoons in a chemist's shop and see poor creatures get
their different passports to Orcus.'
Victor stepped mutely beneath the windows of the bellied glass-urns of
chemical wash. The woman might be inside there now! She might have seen
his figure in the shop-mirror! And she there! The wonder of it all
seemed to be, that his private history was not walking the streets.
The thinness of the partition concealing it, hardly guaranteed a day's
immunity: because this woman would live in London, in order to have her
choice of a central chemist's shop, where she could feed a ghastly
imagination on the various recipes . . . and while it would have been
so much healthier for her to be living in a recess of the country!
He muttered: 'Diseases--drugs!'
Those were the corresponding two strokes of the pendulum which kept the
'And deadly spite.' That was the emanation of the monotonous horrible
conflict, for which, and by which, the woman lived.
In the neighbourhood of the shop, he could not but think of her through
the feelings of a man scorched by a furnace.
A little further on, he said: 'Poor soul!' He confessed to himself, that
latterly he had, he knew not why, been impatient with her, rancorous in
thought, as never before. He had hitherto aimed at a picturesque
tolerance of her vindictiveness; under suffering, both at Craye and
Creckholt; and he had been really forgiving. He accused her of dragging
him down to humanity's lowest.
But if she did that, it argued the possession of a power of a sort.
Her station in the chemist's shop he passed almost daily, appeared to him
as a sudden and a terrific rush to the front; though it was only a short
drive from the house in Regent's Park; but having shaken-off that house,
he had pushed it back into mists, obliterated it. The woman certainly
had a power.
He shot away to the power he knew of in himself; his capacity for winning
men in bodies, the host of them, when it came to an effort of his
energies: men and, individually, women. Individually, the women were to
be counted on as well; warm supporters.
It was the admission of a doubt that he might expect to enroll them
collectively. Eyeing the men, he felt his command of them. Glancing at
congregated women, he had a chill. The Wives and Spinsters in ghostly
judicial assembly: that is, the phantom of the offended collective woman:
that is, the regnant Queen Idea issuing from our concourse of civilized
life to govern Society, and pronounce on the orderly, the tolerable, the
legal, and banish the rebellious: these maintained an aspect of the stand
Did Nataly read the case: namely, that the crowned collective woman is
not to be subdued? And what are we to say of the indefinite but forcible
Authority, when we see it upholding Mrs. Burman to crush a woman like
Victor's novel exercises in reflection were bringing him by hard degrees
to conceive it to be the impalpable which has prevailing weight. Not
many of our conquerors have scored their victories on the road of that
index: nor has duration been granted them to behold the minute measure of
value left even tangible after the dust of the conquest subsides. The
passing by a shop where a broken old woman might be supposed to sit
beneath her green forehead-shade--Venetian-blind of a henbane-visage!--
had precipitated him into his first real grasp of the abstract verity:
and it opens on to new realms, which are a new world to the practical
mind. But he made no advance. He stopped in a fever of sensibility,
to contemplate the powerful formless vapour rolling from a source that
was nothing other than yonder weak lonely woman.
In other words, the human nature of the man was dragged to the school of
its truancy by circumstances, for him to learn the commonest of sums done
on a slate, in regard to payment of debts and the unrelaxing grip of the
creditor on the defaulter. Debtors are always paying like those who are
guilty of the easiest thing in life, the violation of Truth, they have
made themselves bondmen to pay, if not in substance, then in soul; and
the nipping of the soul goes on for as long as the concrete burden is
undischarged. You know the Liar; you must have seen him diminishing,
until he has become a face without features, withdrawn to humanity's
preliminary sketch (some half-dozen frayed threads of woeful outline on
our original tapestry-web); and he who did the easiest of things, he must
from such time sweat in being the prodigy of inventive nimbleness, up to
the day when he propitiates Truth by telling it again. There is a
repentance that does reconstitute! It may help to the traceing to
springs of a fable whereby men have been guided thus far out of the wood.
Victor would have said truly that he loved Truth; that he paid every debt
with a scrupulous exactitude: money, of course; and prompt apologies for
a short brush of his temper. Nay, he had such a conscience for the
smallest eruptions of a transient irritability, that the wish to say a
friendly mending word to the Punctilio donkey of London Bridge, softened
his retrospective view of the fall there, more than once. Although this
man was a presentation to mankind of the force in Nature which drives to
unresting speed, which is the vitality of the heart seen at its beating
after a plucking of it from the body, he knew himself for the reverse of
lawless; he inclined altogether to good citizenship. So social a man
could not otherwise incline. But when it came to the examination of
accounts between Mrs. Burman and himself, spasms of physical revulsion,
loathings, his excessive human nature, put her out of Court. To men,
it was impossible for him to speak the torments of those days of the
monstrous alliance. The heavens were cognizant. He pleaded his case
in their accustomed hearing:--a youngster tempted by wealth, attracted,
besought, snared, revolted, etc. And Mrs. Burman, when roused to
jealousy, had shown it by teazing him for a confession of his admiration
of splendid points in the beautiful Nataly, the priceless fair woman
living under their roof, a contrast of very life, with the corpse and
shroud; and she seen by him daily, singing with him, her breath about
him, her voice incessantly upon every chord of his being!
He pleaded successfully. But the silence following the verdict was
heavy; the silence contained an unheard thunder. It was the sound, as
when out of Court the public is dissatisfied with a verdict. Are we
expected to commit a social outrage in exposing our whole case to the
public?--Imagine it for a moment as done. Men are ours at a word--or at
least a word of invitation. Women we woo; fluent smooth versions of our
tortures, mixed with permissible courtship, win the individual woman.
And that unreasoning collective woman, icy, deadly, condemns the poor
racked wretch who so much as remembers them! She is the enemy of
Nature.--Tell us how? She is the slave of existing conventions.--
And from what cause? She is the artificial production of a state that
exalts her so long as she sacrifices daily and hourly to the artificial.
Therefore she sides with Mrs. Burman--the foe of Nature: who, with her
arts and gold lures, has now possession of the Law (the brass idol
worshipped by the collective) to drive Nature into desolation.
He placed himself to the right of Mrs. Burman, for the world to behold
the couple: and he lent the world a sigh of disgust.
What he could not do, as in other matters he did, was to rise above the
situation, in a splendid survey and rapid view of the means of reversing
it. He was too social to be a captain of the socially insurgent;
But having a courageous Nataly to second him!--how then? It was the
succour needed. Then he would have been ready to teach the world that
Nature--honest Nature--is more to be prized than Convention: a new Era
The thought was tonic for an instant and illuminated him springingly. It
sank, excused for the flaccidity by Nataly's want of common adventurous
daring. She had not taken to Lakelands; she was purchasing furniture
from a flowing purse with a heavy heart--unfeminine, one might say; she
preferred to live obscurely; she did not, one had to think--but it was
unjust: and yet the accusation, that she did not cheerfully make a strain
and spurt on behalf of her child, pressed to be repeated.
These short glimpses at reflection in Victor were like the verberant
twang of a musical instrument that has had a smart blow, and wails away
independent of the player's cunning hand. He would have said, that he
was more his natural self when the cunning hand played on him, to make
him praise and uplift his beloved: mightily would it have astonished him
to contemplate with assured perception in his own person the Nature he
invoked. But men invoking Nature, do not find in her the Holy Mother she
in such case becomes to her daughters, whom she so persecutes. Men call
on her for their defence, as a favourable witness: she is a note of their
rhetoric. They are not bettered by her sustainment; they have not, as
women may have, her enaemic aid at a trying hour. It is not an effort at
epigram to say, that whom she scourges most she most supports.
An Opera-placard drew his next remark to Fenellan.
'How Wagner seems to have stricken the Italians! Well, now, the Germans
have their Emperor to head their armies, and I say that the German
emperor has done less for their lasting fame and influence than Wagner
has done. He has affected the French too; I trace him in Gounod's Romeo
et Juliette--and we don't gain by it; we have a poor remuneration for the
melody gone; think of the little shepherd's pipeing in Mireille; and
there's another in Sapho-delicious. I held out against Wagner as long as
I could. The Italians don't much more than Wagnerize in exchange for the
loss of melody. They would be wiser in going back to Pergolese,
Campagnole. The Mefistofole was good--of the school of the foreign
master. Aida and Otello, no. I confess to a weakness for the old
barleysugar of Bellini or a Donizetti-Serenade. Aren't you seduced by
cadences? Never mind Wagner's tap of his paedagogue's baton--a cadence
catches me still. Early taste for barley-sugar, perhaps! There's a
march in Verdi's Attila and I Lombardi, I declare I'm in military step
when I hear them, as in the old days, after leaving the Opera. Fredi
takes little Mab Mountney to her first Opera to-night. Enough to make us
old ones envious! You remember your first Opera, Fenellan? Sonnambula,
with me. I tell you, it would task the highest poetry--say, require, if
you like--showing all that's noblest, splendidest, in a young man, to
describe its effect on me. I was dreaming of my box at the Opera for a
year after. The Huguenots to-night. Not the best suited for little
Mabsy; but she'll catch at the Rataplan. Capital Opera; we used to think
it the best, before we had Tannhauser and Lohengrin and the
Victor hinted notes of the Conspiration Scene closing the Third Act of
the Huguenots. That sombre Chorus brought Mrs. Burman before him. He
drummed the Rataplan, which sent her flying. The return of a lively
disposition for dinner and music completed his emancipation from the yoke
of the baleful creature sitting half her days in the chemist's shop; save
that a thought of drugs brought the smell, and the smell the picture; she
threatened to be an apparition at any moment pervading him through his
nostrils. He spoke to Fenellan of hunger for dinner, a need for it;
singular in one whose appetite ran to the stroke of the hour abreast with
Armandine's kitchen-clock. Fenellan proposed a glass of sherry and
bitters at his Club over the way. He had forgotten a shower of black-
balls (attributable to the conjurations of old Ate) on a certain past
day. Without word of refusal, Victor entered a wine-merchant's office,
where he was unknown, and stating his wish for bitters and dry sherry,
presently received the glass, drank, nodded to the administering clerk,
named the person whom he had obliged and refreshed, and passed out,
remarking to Fenellan: 'Colney on Clubs! he's right; they're the
mediaeval in modern times, our Baron's castles, minus the Baron; dead
against public life and social duties. Business excuses my City Clubs;
but I shall take my name off my Club up West.'
'More like monasteries, with a Committee for Abbot, and Whist for the
services,' Fenellan said. 'Or tabernacles for the Chosen, and
Grangousier playing Divinity behind the veil. Well, they're social.'
'Sectionally social, means anything but social, my friend. However--and
the monastery had a bell for the wanderer! Say, I'm penniless or
poundless, up and down this walled desert of a street, I feel, I must
feel, these palaces--if we're Christian, not Jews: not that the Jews
are uncharitable; they set an: example, in fact . . . . '
He rambled, amusingly to the complacent hearing of Fenellan, who thought
of his pursuit of wealth and grand expenditure.
Victor talked as a man having his mind at leaps beyond the subject.
He was nearing to the Idea he had seized and lost on London Bridge.
The desire for some good news wherewith to inspirit Nataly, withdrew him
from his ineffectual chase. He had nought to deliver; on the contrary,
a meditation concerning her comfort pledged him to concealment which was
the no step, or passive state, most abhorrent to him.
He snatched at the name of Themison.
With Dr. Themison fast in his grasp, there was a report of progress to be
made to Nataly; and not at all an empty report.
Themison, then: he leaned on Themison. The woman's doctor should have an
influence approaching to authority with her.
Land-values in the developing Colonies, formed his theme of discourse to
Fenellan: let Banks beware.
Fenellan saw him shudder and rub the back of his head. 'Feel the wind?'
Victor answered him with that humane thrill of the deep tones, which at
times he had: 'No: don't be alarmed; I feel the devil. If one has wealth
and a desperate wish, he will speak. All he does, is to make me more
charitable to those who give way to him. I believe in a devil.'
'Horns and tail?'
'Bait and hook.'
'I haven't wealth, and I wish only for dinner,' Fenellan said.
'You know that Armandine is never two minutes late. By the way, you
haven't wealth--you have me.'
'And I thank God for you!' said Fenellan, acutely reminiscent of his
having marked the spiritual adviser of Mrs. Burman, the Rev. Groseman
Buttermore, as a man who might be useful to his friend.
DISCLOSES A STAGE ON THE DRIVE TO PARIS
A fortnight later, an extremely disconcerting circumstance occurred:
Armandine was ten minutes behind the hour with her dinner. But the
surprise and stupefaction expressed by Victor, after glances at his
watch, were not so profound as Fenellan's, on finding himself exchangeing
the bow with a gentleman bearing the name of Dr. Themison. His friend's
rapidity in pushing the combinations he conceived, was known: Fenellan's
wonder was not so much that Victor had astonished him again, as that he
should be called upon again to wonder at his astonishment. He did; and
he observed the doctor and Victor and Nataly: aided by dropping remarks.
Before the evening was over, he gathered enough of the facts, and had to
speculate only on the designs. Dr. Themison had received a visit from
the husband of Mrs. Victor Radnor concerning her state of health. At an
interview with the lady, laughter greeted him; he was confused by her
denial of the imputation of a single ailment: but she, to recompose him,
let it be understood, that she was anxious about her husband's condition,
he being certainly overworked; and the husband's visit passed for a
device on the part of the wife. She admitted a willingness to try a
change of air, if it was deemed good for her husband. Change of air was
prescribed to each for both. 'Why not drive to Paris?' the doctor said,
and Victor was taken with the phrase.
He told Fenellan at night that Mrs. Burman, he had heard, was by the sea,
on the South coast. Which of her maladies might be in the ascendant,
he did not know. He knew little. He fancied that Dr. Themison was
unsuspicious of the existence of a relationship between him and Mrs.
Burman: and Fenellan opined, that there had been no communication upon
private affairs. What, then, was the object in going to Dr. Themison?
He treated her body merely; whereas the Rev. Groseman Buttermore could
be expected to impose upon her conduct. Fenellan appreciated his own
discernment of the superior uses to which a spiritual adviser may be put,
and he too agreeably flattered himself for the corrective reflection to
ensue, that he had not done anything. It disposed him to think a happy
passivity more sagacious than a restless activity. We should let Fortune
perform her part at the wheel in working out her ends, should we not?--
for, ten to one, nine times out of ten we are thwarting her if we stretch
out a hand. And with the range of enjoyments possessed by Victor, why
this unceasing restlessness? Why, when we are not near drowning, catch
at apparent straws, which may be instruments having sharp edges?
Themison, as Mrs. Burman's medical man, might tell the lady tales
that would irritate her bag of venom.
Rarely though Fenellan was the critic on his friend, the shadow cast over
his negligent hedonism by Victor's boiling pressure, drove him into the
seat of judgement. As a consequence, he was rather a dull table-guest in
the presence of Dr. Themison, whom their host had pricked to anticipate
high entertainment from him. He did nothing to bridge the crevasse and
warm the glacier air at table when the doctor, anecdotal intentionally to
draw him out, related a decorous but pungent story of one fair member of
a sweet new sisterhood in agitation against the fixed establishment of
our chain-mail marriage-tie. An anecdote of immediate diversion was
wanted, expected: and Fenellan sat stupidly speculating upon whether the
doctor knew of a cupboard locked. So that Dr. Themison was carried on by
Lady Grace Halley's humourous enthusiasm for the subject to dilate and
discuss and specify, all in the irony of a judicial leaning to the side
of the single-minded social adventurers, under an assumed accord with his
audience; concluding: 'So there's an end of Divorce.'
'By the trick of multiplication,' Fenellan, now reassured, was content to
say. And that did not extinguish the cracker of a theme; handled very
carefully, as a thing of fire, it need scarce be remarked, three young
women being present.
Nataly had eyes on her girl, and was pleased at an alertness shown by Mr.
Sowerby to second her by crossing the dialogue. As regarded her personal
feelings, she was hardened, so long as the curtains were about her to
keep the world from bending black brows of inquisition upon one of its
culprits. But her anxiety was vigilant to guard her girl from an
infusion of any of the dread facts of life not coming through the
mother's lips: and she was a woman having the feminine mind's pudency
in that direction, which does not consent to the revealing of much.
Here was the mother's dilemma: her girl--Victor's girl, as she had to
think in this instance,--the most cloudless of the young women of earth,
seemed, and might be figured as really, at the falling of a crumb off the
table of knowledge, taken by the brain to shoot up to terrific heights of
surveyal; and there she rocked; and only her youthful healthiness brought
her down to grass and flowers. She had once or twice received the
electrical stimulus, to feel and be as lightning, from a seizure of facts
in infinitesimal doses, guesses caught off maternal evasions or the
circuitous explanation of matters touching sex in here and there a
newspaper, harder to repress completely than sewer-gas in great cities:
and her mother had seen, with an apprehensive pang of anguish, how
witheringly the scared young intelligence of the innocent creature
shocked her sensibility. She foresaw the need to such a flameful soul,
as bride, wife, woman across the world, of the very princeliest of men in
gifts of strength, for her sustainer and guide. And the provident mother
knew this peerless gentleman: but he had his wife.
Delusions and the pain of the disillusioning were to be feared for the
imaginative Nesta; though not so much as that on some future day of a
perchance miserable yokemating--a subjection or an entanglement--the
nobler passions might be summoned to rise for freedom, and strike a line
to make their logically estimable sequence from a source not honourable
before the public. Constantly it had to be thought, that the girl was
her father's child.
At present she had no passions; and her bent to the happiness she could
so richly give, had drawn her sailing smoothly over the harbour-bar of
maidenhood; where many of her sisters are disconcerted to the loss of
simplicity. If Nataly with her sleepless watchfulness and forecasts
partook of the French mother, Nesta's Arcadian independence likened her
somewhat in manner to the Transatlantic version of the English girl. Her
high physical animation and the burden of themes it plucked for delivery
carried her flowing over impediments of virginal self-consciousness, to
set her at her ease in the talk with men; she had not gone through the
various Nursery exercises in dissimulation; she had no appearance of
praying forgiveness of men for the original sin of being woman; and no
tricks of lips or lids, or traitor scarlet on the cheeks, or assumptions
of the frigid mask, or indicated reserve-cajoleries. Neither ignorantly
nor advisedly did she play on these or other bewitching strings of her
sex, after the fashion of the stamped innocents, who are the boast of
Englishmen and matrons, and thrill societies with their winsome
ingenuousness; and who sometimes when unguarded meet an artful serenader,
that is a cloaked bandit, and is provoked by their performances, and
knows anthropologically the nature behind the devious show; a sciential
rascal; as little to be excluded from our modern circles as Eve's own old
deuce from Eden's garden whereupon, opportunity inviting, both the fool
and the cunning, the pure donkey princess of insular eulogy, and the sham
one, are in a perilous pass.
Damsels of the swiftness of mind of Nesta cannot be ignorant utterly amid
a world where the hints are hourly scattering seed of the inklings; when
vileness is not at work up and down our thoroughfares, proclaiming its
existence with tableau and trumpet. Nataly encountered her girl's
questions, much as one seeks to quiet an enemy. The questions had soon
ceased. Excepting repulsive and rejected details, there is little to be
learnt when a little is known: in populous communities, density only will
keep the little out. Only stupidity will suppose that it can be done for
the livelier young. English mothers forethoughtful for their girls, have
to take choice of how to do battle with a rough-and-tumble Old England,
that lumbers bumping along, craving the precious things, which can be had
but in semblance under the conditions allowed by laziness to subsist, and
so curst of its shifty inconsequence as to worship in the concrete an
hypocrisy it abhors in the abstract. Nataly could smuggle or confiscate
here and there a newspaper; she could not interdict or withhold every one
of them, from a girl ardent to be in the race on all topics of popular
interest: and the newspapers are occasionally naked savages; the streets
are imperfectly garmented even by day; and we have our stumbling social
anecdotist, our spot-mouthed young man, our eminently silly woman; our
slippery one; our slimy one, the Rahab of Society; not to speak of Mary
the maid and the footman William. A vigilant mother has to contend with
these and the like in an increasing degree. How best?
There is a method: one that Colney Durance advocated. The girl's
intelligence and sweet blood invited a trial of it. Since, as he argued,
we cannot keep the poisonous matter out, mothers should prepare and
strengthen young women for the encounter with it, by lifting the veil,
baring the world, giving them knowledge to arm them for the fight they
have to sustain; and thereby preserve them further from the spiritual
collapse which follows the nursing of a false ideal of our life in
youth:--this being, Colney said, the prominent feminine disease of the
time, common to all our women; that is, all having leisure to shine in
the sun or wave in the wind as flowers of the garden.
Whatever there was of wisdom in his view, he spoilt it for English
hearing, by making use of his dry compressed sentences. Besides he was a
bachelor; therefore but a theorist. And his illustrations of his theory
were grotesque; meditation on them extracted a corrosive acid to consume,
in horrid derision, the sex, the nation, the race of man. The satirist
too devotedly loves his lash to be a persuasive teacher. Nataly had
excuses to cover her reasons for not listening to him.
One reason was, as she discerned through her confusion at the thought,
that the day drew near for her speaking fully to Nesta; when, between
what she then said and what she said now, a cruel contrast might strike
the girl and in toneing revelations now, to be more consonant with them
then;--in softening and shading the edges of social misconduct, it seemed
painfully possible to be sowing in the girl's mind something like the
reverse of moral precepts, even to smoothing the way to a rebelliousness
partly or wholly similar to her own. But Nataly's chief and her
appeasing reason for pursuing the conventional system with this
exceptional young creature, referred to the sentiments on that subject
of the kind of young man whom a mother elects from among those present
and eligible, as perhaps next to worthy to wed the girl, by virtue of
good promise in the moral department. She had Mr. Dudley Sowerby under
view; far from the man of her choice and still the practice of decorum,
discretion, a pardonable fastidiousness, appears, if women may make any
forecast of the behaviour of young men or may trust the faces they see,
to, promise a future stability in the husband. Assuredly a Dudley
Sowerby would be immensely startled to find in his bride a young woman
more than babily aware of the existence of one particular form of
naughtiness on earth.
Victor was of no help: he had not an idea upon the right education of the
young of the sex. Repression and mystery, he considered wholesome for
girls; and he considered the enlightening of them--to some extent--a
prudential measure for their defence; and premature instruction is a
fire-water to their wild-in-woods understanding; and histrionic innocence
is no doubt the bloom on corruption; also the facts of current human
life, in the crude of the reports or the cooked of the sermon in the
newspapers, are a noxious diet for our daughters; whom nevertheless we
cannot hope to be feeding always on milk: and there is a time when their
adorable pretty ignorance, if credibly it exists out of noodledom, is
harmful:--but how beautiful the shining simplicity of our dear young
English girls! He was one of the many men to whose minds women come in
pictures and are accepted much as they paint themselves. Like his
numerous fellows, too, he required a conflict with them, and a worsting
at it, to be taught, that they are not the mere live stock we scheme to
dispose of for their good: unless Love should interpose, he would have
exclaimed. He broke from his fellows in his holy horror of a father's
running counter to love. Nesta had only to say, that she loved another,
for Dudley Sowerby to be withdrawn into the background of aspirants.
But love was unknown to the girl.
Outwardly, the plan of the Drive to Paris had the look of Victor's
traditional hospitality. Nataly smiled at her incorrigibly lagging
intelligence of him, on hearing that he had invited a company: 'Lady
Grace, for gaiety; Peridon and Catkin, fiddles; Dudley Sowerby and
myself, flutes; Barmby, intonation; in all, nine of us; and by the dear
old Normandy route, for the sake of the voyage, as in old times; towers
of Dieppe in the morning-light; and the lovely road to the capital! Just
three days in Paris, and home by any of the other routes. It's the drive
we want. Boredom in wet weather, we defy; we have our Concert--an hour
at night and we're sure of sleep.' It had a sweet simple air, befitting
him; as when in bygone days they travelled with the joy of children.
For travelling shook Nataly out of her troubles and gave her something of
the child's inheritance of the wisdom of life--the living ever so little
ahead of ourselves; about as far as the fox in view of the hunt. That is
the soul of us out for novelty, devouring as it runs, an endless feast;
and the body is eagerly after it, recording the pleasures, a daily chase.
Remembrance of them is almost a renewal, anticipation a revival. She
enraptured Victor with glimpses of the domestic fun she had ceased to
show sign of since the revelation of Lakelands. Her only regret was on
account of the exclusion of Colney Durance from the party, because of
happy memories associating him with the Seine-land, and also that his
bilious criticism of his countrymen was moderated by a trip to the
Continent. Fenellan reported Colney to be 'busy in the act of distilling
one of his Prussic acid essays.' Fenellan would have jumped to go. He
informed Victor, as a probe, that the business of the Life Insurance was
at periods 'fearfully necrological! Inexplicably, he was not invited.
Did it mean, that he was growing dull? He looked inside instead of out,
and lost the clue.
His behaviour on the evening of the departure showed plainly what would
have befallen Mr. Sowerby on the expedition, had not he as well as Colney
been excluded. Two carriages and a cab conveyed the excursionists, as
they merrily called themselves, to the terminus. They were Victor's
guests; they had no trouble, no expense, none of the nipper reckonings
which dog our pleasures; the state of pure bliss. Fenellan's enviousness
drove him at the Rev. Mr. Barmby until the latter jumped to the seat
beside Nesta in her carriage, Mademoiselle de Seilles and Mr. Sowerby
facing them. Lady Grace Halley, in the carriage behind, heard Nesta's
laugh; which Mr. Barmby had thought vacuous, beseeming little girls, that
laugh at nothings. She questioned Fenellan.
'Oh,' said he, 'I merely mentioned that the Rev. gentleman carries his
musical instrument at the bottom of his trunk.'
She smiled: 'And who are in the cab?'
'Your fiddles are in the cab, in charge of Peridon and Catkin. Those two
would have writhed like head and tail of a worm, at a division on the way
to the station. Point a finger at Peridon, you run Catkin through the
body. They're a fabulous couple.'
Victor cut him short. 'I deny that those two are absurd.'
'And Catkin's toothache is a galvanic battery upon Peridon.'
Nataly strongly denied it. Peridon and Catkin pertained to their genial
picture of the dear sweet nest in life; a dale never traversed by the
withering breath they dreaded.
Fenellan then, to prove that he could be as bad in his way as Colney,
fell to work on the absent Miss Priscilla Graves and Mr. Pempton, with a
pitchfork's exaltation of the sacred attachment of the divergently
meritorious couple, and a melancholy reference to implacable obstacles in
the principles of each. The pair were offending the amatory corner in
the generous good sense of Nataly and Victor; they were not to be hotly
protected, though they were well enough liked for their qualities, except
by Lady Grace, who revelled in the horrifying and scandalizing of Miss
Graves. Such a specimen of the Puritan middle English as Priscilla
Graves, was eastwind on her skin, nausea to her gorge. She wondered at
having drifted into the neighbourhood of a person resembling in her
repellent formal chill virtuousness a windy belfry tower, down among
those districts of suburban London or appalling provincial towns passed
now and then with a shudder, where the funereal square bricks-up the
Church, that Arctic hen-mother sits on the square, and the moving dead
are summoned to their round of penitential exercise by a monosyllabic
tribulation-bell. Fenellan's graphic sketch of the teetotaller woman
seeing her admirer pursued by Eumenides flagons--abominations of
emptiness--to the banks of the black river of suicides, where the one
most wretched light is Inebriation's nose; and of the vegetarian
violoncello's horror at his vision of the long procession of the flocks
and herds into his lady's melodious Ark of a mouth, excited and delighted
her antipathy. She was amused to transports at the station, on hearing
Mr. Barmby, in a voice all ophicleide, remark: 'No, I carry no
instrument.' The habitation of it at the bottom of his trunk, was not
forgotten when it sounded.
Reclining in warmth on the deck of the vessel at night, she said, just
under Victor's ear: 'Where are those two?'
'Bid me select the couple,' said he.
She rejoined: 'Silly man'; and sleepily gave him her hand for good night,
and so paralyzed his arm, that he had to cover the continued junction by
saying more than he intended: 'If they come to an understanding!'
'Plain enough on one side.'
'You think it suitable?'
'Perfection; and well-planned to let them discover it.' 'This is really
my favourite route; I love the saltwater and the night on deck.'
'Number your loves. It would tax your arithmetic.'
'I can hate.'
Positively the contrary, an impulsive squeeze of fingers declared it;
and they broke the link, neither of them sensibly hurt; though a leaf
or two of the ingenuities, which were her thoughts, turned over in the
phantasies of the lady; and the gentleman was taught to feel that a never
so slightly lengthened compression of the hand female shoots within us
both straight and far and round the corners. There you have Nature, if
you want her naked in her elements, for a text. He loved his Nataly
truly, even fervently, after the twenty years of union; he looked about
at no other woman; it happened only that the touch of one, the chance
warm touch, put to motion the blind forces of our mother so remarkably
surcharging him. But it was without kindling. The lady, the much cooler
person, did nurse a bit of flame. She had a whimsical liking for the man
who enjoyed simple things when commanding the luxuries; and it became a
fascination, by extreme contrast, at the reminder of his adventurous
enterprises in progress while he could so childishly enjoy. Women who
dance with the warrior-winner of battles, and hear him talk his ball-room
trifles to amuse, have similarly a smell of gunpowder to intoxicate them.
For him, a turn on the deck brought him into new skies. Nataly lay in
the cabin. She used to be where Lady Grace was lying. A sort of
pleadable, transparent, harmless hallucination of the renewal of old
service induced him to refresh and settle the fair semi-slumberer's
pillow, and fix the tarpaulin over her silks and wraps; and bend his head
to the soft mouth murmuring thanks. The women who can dare the nuit
blanche, and under stars; and have a taste for holiday larks after their
thirtieth, are rare; they are precious. Nataly nevertheless was approved
for guarding her throat from the nightwind. And a softer southerly
breath never crossed Channel! The very breeze he had wished for! Luck
was with him.
Nesta sat by the rails of the vessel beside her Louise. Mr. Sowerby in
passing, exchanged a description of printed agreement with her, upon the
beauty of the night--a good neutral topic for the encounter of the sexes
not that he wanted it neutral; it furnished him with a vocabulary. Once
he perceptibly washed his hands of dutiful politeness, in addressing
Mademoiselle de Seilles, likewise upon the beauty of the night; and the
French lady, thinking--too conclusively from the breath on the glass at
the moment, as it is the Gallic habit--that if her dear Nesta must
espouse one of the uninteresting creatures called men in her native land,
it might as well be this as another, agreed that the night was very
'He speaks grammatical French,' Nesta commented on his achievement.
'He contrives in his walking not to wet his boots,' mademoiselle
Mr. Peridon was a more welcome sample of the islanders, despite an
inferior pretension to accent. He burned to be near these ladies, and
he passed them but once. His enthusiasm for Mademoiselle de Seilles was
notorious. Gratefully the compliment was acknowledged by her, in her
demure fashion; with a reserve of comic intellectual contempt for the man
who could not see that women, or Frenchwomen, or eminently she among
them, must have their enthusiasm set springing in the breast before they
can be swayed by the most violent of outer gales. And say, that she is
uprooted;--he does but roll a log. Mr. Peridon's efforts to perfect
himself in the French tongue touched her.
A night of May leaning on June, is little more than a deliberate wink of
the eye of light. Mr. Barmby, an exile from the ladies by reason of an
addiction to tobacco, quitted the forepart of the vessel at the first
greying. Now was the cloak of night worn threadbare, and grey astir for
the heralding of gold, day visibly ready to show its warmer throbs.
The gentle waves were just a stronger grey than the sky, perforce of an
interfusion that shifted gradations; they were silken, in places oily
grey; cold to drive the sight across their playful monotonousness for
refuge on any far fisher-sail.
Miss Radnor was asleep, eyelids benignly down, lips mildly closed.
The girl's cheeks held colour to match a dawn yet unawakened though born.
They were in a nest shading amid silks of pale blue, and there was a
languid flutter beneath her chin to the catch of the morn-breeze.
Bacchanal threads astray from a disorderly front-lock of rich brown hair
were alive over an eyebrow showing like a seal upon the lightest and
securest of slumbers.
Mr. Barmby gazed, and devoutly. Both the ladies were in their oblivion;
the younger quite saintly; but the couple inseparably framed, elevating
to behold; a reproach to the reminiscence of pipes. He was near; and
quietly the eyelids of mademoiselle lifted on him. Her look was grave,
straight, uninquiring, soon accurately perusing; an arrow of Artemis for
penetration. He went by, with the sound in the throat of a startled
bush-bird taking to wing; he limped off some nail of the deck, as if that
young Frenchwoman had turned the foot to a hoof. Man could not be more
guiltless, yet her look had perturbed him; nails conspired; in his
vexation, he execrated tobacco. And ask not why, where reason never was.
Nesta woke babbling on the subject she had relinquished for sleep.
Mademoiselle touched a feathery finger at her hair and hood during their
silvery French chimes.
Mr. Sowerby presented the risen morning to them, with encomiums, after
they had been observing every variation in it. He spoke happily of the
pleasant passage, and of the agreeable night; particularly of the
excellent idea of the expedition by this long route at night; the
prospect of which had disfigured him with his grimace of speculation--
apparently a sourness that did not exist. Nesta had a singular notion,
coming of a girl's mingled observation and intuition, that the
impressions upon this gentleman were in arrear, did not strike him till
late. Mademoiselle confirmed it when it was mentioned; she remembered to
have noticed the same in many small things. And it was a pointed
Victor sent his girl down to Nataly, with a summons to hurry up and see
sunlight over the waters. Nataly came; she looked, and the outer wakened
the inner, she let the light look in on her, her old feelings danced to
her eyes like a, string of bubbles in ascent. 'Victor, Victor, it seems
only yesterday that we crossed, twelve years back--was it?--and in May,
and saw the shoal of porpoises, and five minutes after, Dieppe in view.
Dear French people! I share your love for France.'
'Home of our holidays!--the "drives"; and they may be the happiest.
And fifty minutes later we were off the harbour; and Natata landed, a
stranger; and at night she was the heroine of the town.'
Victor turned to a stately gentleman and passed his name to Nataly: 'Sir
Rodwell Balchington, a neighbour of Lakelands! She understood that Lady
Grace Halley was acquainted with Sir Rodwell:--hence this dash of brine
to her lips while she was drinking of happy memories, and Victor
evidently was pluming himself upon his usual luck in the fortuitous
encounter with an influential neighbour of Lakelands. He told Sir
Rodwell the story of how they had met in the salle a manger of the hotel
the impresario of a Concert in the town, who had in his hand the doctor's
certificate of the incapacity of the chief cantatrice to appear, and
waved it, within a step of suicide. 'Well, to be brief, my wife--"noble
dame Anglaise," as the man announced her on the Concert platform,
undertook one of the songs, and sang another of her own-pure contralto
voice, as you will say; with the result that there was a perfect tumult
of enthusiasm. Next day, the waiters of the hotel presented her with a
bouquet of Spring flowers, white, and central violets. It was in the
Paris papers, under the heading: Une amie d'outre Manche--I think that
was it?' he asked Nataly.
'I forget,' said she.
He glanced at her: a cloud had risen. He rallied her, spoke of the old
Norman silver cross which the manager of the Concert had sent, humbly
imploring her to accept the small memento of his gratitude. She nodded
an excellent artificial brightness.
And there was the coast of France under young sunlight over the waters.
Once more her oft-petitioning wish through the years, that she had
entered the ranks of professional singers, upon whom the moral scrutiny
is not so microscopic, invaded her, resembling a tide-swell into rock-
caves, which have been filled before and left to emptiness, and will be
left to emptiness again. Nataly had the intimation visiting us when,
in a decline of physical power, the mind's ready vivacity to conjure
illusions forsakes us; and it was, of a wall ahead, and a force impelling
her against it, and no hope of deviation. And this is the featureless
thing, Destiny; not without eyes, if we have a conscience to throw them
into it to look at us.
Counsel to her to live in the hour, came, as upon others on the vessel,
from an active breath of the salt prompting to healthy hunger; and hardly
less from the splendour of the low full sunlight on the waters, the
skimming and dancing of the thousands of golden shells away from under
the globe of fire.
A PATRIOT ABROAD
Nine days after his master's departure, Daniel Skepsey, a man of some
renown of late, as a subject of reports and comments in the newspapers,
obtained a passport, for the identification, if need were, of his missing
or misapprehended person in a foreign country, of the language of which
three unpronounceable words were knocking about his head to render the
thought of the passport a staff of safety; and on the morning that
followed he was at speed through Normandy, to meet his master rounding
homeward from Paris, at a town not to be spoken as it is written, by
reason of the custom of the good people of the country, with whom we
would fain live on neighbourly terms:--yes, and they had proof of it,
not so very many years back, when they were enduring the worst which can
befall us--though Mr. Durance, to whom he was indebted for the writing of
the place of his destination large on a card, and the wording of the
French sound beside it, besides the jotting down of trains and the
station for the change of railways, Mr. Durance could say, that the
active form of our sympathy consisted in the pouring of cheeses upon
them when they were prostrate and unable to resist!
A kind gentleman, Mr. Durance, as Daniel Skepsey had recent cause to
know, but often exceedingly dark; not so patriotic as desireable, it was
to be feared; and yet, strangely indeed, Mr. Durance had said cogent
things on the art of boxing and on manly exercises, and he hoped--he was
emphatic in saying he hoped--we should be regenerated. He must have
meant, that boxing--on a grand scale would contribute to it. He said,
that a blow now and then was wholesome for us all. He recommended a
monthly private whipping for old gentlemen who decline the use of the
gloves, to disperse their humours; not excluding Judges and Magistrates:
he could hardly be in earnest. He spoke in a clergyman's voice, and said
it would be payment of good assurance money, beneficial to their souls:
he seemed to mean it. He said, that old gentlemen were bottled vapours,
and it was good for them to uncork them periodically. He said, they
should be excused half the strokes if they danced nightly--they resented
motion. He seemed sadly wanting in veneration.
But he might not positively intend what he said. Skepsey could overlook
everything he said, except the girding at England. For where is a braver
people, notwithstanding appearances! Skepsey knew of dozens of gallant
bruisers, ready for the cry to strip to the belt; worthy, with a little
public encouragement, to rank beside their grandfathers of the Ring, in
the brilliant times when royalty and nobility countenanced the manly art,
our nursery of heroes, and there was not the existing unhappy division of
classes. He still trusted to convince Mr. Durance, by means of argument
and happy instances, historical and immediate, that the English may
justly consider themselves the elect of nations, for reasons better than
their accumulation of the piles of gold-better than 'usurers' reasons,'
as Mr. Durance called them. Much that Mr. Durance had said at intervals
was, although remembered almost to the letter of the phrase, beyond his
comprehension, and he put it aside, with penitent blinking at his
All the while, he was hearing a rattle of voluble tongues around him, and
a shout of stations, intelligible as a wash of pebbles, and blocks in a
torrent. Generally the men slouched when they were not running. At
Dieppe he had noticed muscular fellows; he admitted them to be nimbler on
the legs than ours; and that may count both ways, he consoled a patriotic
vanity by thinking; instantly rebuking the thought; for he had read
chapters of Military History. He sat eyeing the front row of figures in
his third-class carriage, musing on the kind of soldiers we might, heaven
designing it, have to face, and how to beat them; until he gazed on
Rouen, knowing by the size of it and by what Mr. Durance had informed him
of the city on the river, that it must be the very city of Rouen, not so
many years back a violated place, at the mercy of a foreign foe. Strong
pity laid hold of Skepsey. He fortified the heights for defence, but saw
at a glance that it was the city for modern artillery to command, crush
and enter. He lost idea of these afflicted people as foes, merely
complaining of their attacks on England, and their menaces in their
Journals and pamphlets; and he renounced certain views of the country to
be marched over on the road by this route to Paris, for the dictation of
terms of peace at the gates of the French capital, sparing them the
shameful entry; and this after the rout of their attempt at an invasion
of the Island!
A man opposite him was looking amicably on his lively grey eyes. Skepsey
handed a card from his pocket. The man perused it, and crying: 'Dreux?'
waved out of the carriage-window at a westerly distance, naming Rouen as
not the place, not at all, totally other. Thus we are taught, that a
foreign General, ignorant of the language, must confine himself to
defensive operations at home; he would be a child in the hands of the
commonest man he meets. Brilliant with thanks in signs, Skepsey drew
from his friend a course of instruction in French names, for our
necessities on a line of march. The roads to Great Britain's metropolis,
and the supplies of forage and provision at every stage of a march on
London, are marked in the military offices of these people; and that,
with their barking Journals, is a piece of knowledge to justify a
belligerent return for it. Only we pray to be let live peacefully.
Fervently we pray it when this good man, a total stranger to us, conducts
an ignorant foreigner from one station to another through the streets of
Rouen, after a short stoppage at the buffet and assistance in the
identification of coins; then, lifting his cap to us, retires.
And why be dealing wounds and death? It is a more blessed thing to keep
the Commandments. But how is it possible to keep the Commandments if you
have a vexatious wife?
Martha Skepsey had given him a son to show the hereditary energy in his
crying and coughing; and it was owing, he could plead, to her habits and
her tongue, that he sometimes, that he might avoid the doing of worse--
for she wanted correction and was improved by it--courted the excitement
of a short exhibition of skill, man to man, on publicans' first floors.
He could have told the magistrates so, in part apology for the
circumstances dragging him the other day, so recently, before his
Worship; and he might have told it, if he had not remembered Captain
Dartrey Fenellan's words about treating women chivalrously which was
interpreted by Skepsey as correcting them, when called upon to do it,
but never exposing them only, if allowed to account for the circumstances
pushing us into the newspapers, we should not present so guilty a look
before the public.
Furthermore, as to how far it is the duty of a man to serve his master,
there is likewise question: whether is he, while receiving reproof and
punishment for excess of zeal in the service of his master, not to
mention the welfare of the country, morally--without establishing it as a
principle--exonerated? Miss Graves might be asked save that one would
not voluntarily trouble a lady on such subjects. But supposing, says the
opposing counsel, now at work in Skepsey's conscience, supposing this
act, for which, contraveneing the law of the land, you are reproved and
punished, to be agreeable to you, how then? We answer, supposing it--and
we take uncomplainingly the magistrate's reproof and punishment--morally
justified can it be expected of us to have the sense of guilt, although
we wear and know we wear a guilty look before the public?
His master and the dear ladies would hear of it; perhaps they knew of it
now; with them would rest the settlement of the distressing inquiry. The
ladies would be shocked ladies cannot bear any semblance of roughness,
not even with the gloves:--and knowing, as they must, that our practise
of the manly art is for their protection.
Skepsey's grievous prospect of the hour to come under judgement of a sex
that was ever a riddle unread, clouded him on the approach to Dreux. He
studied the country and the people eagerly; he forbore to conduct great
military operations. Mr. Durance had spoken of big battles round about
the town of Dreux; also of a wonderful Mausoleum there, not equally
interesting. The little man was in deeper gloom than a day sobering on
crimson dusk when the train stopped and his quick ear caught the sound of
the station, as pronounced by his friend at Rouen.
He handed his card to the station-master. A glance, and the latter
signalled to a porter, saying: 'Paradis'; and the porter laid hold of
Skepsey's bag. Skepsey's grasp was firm; he pulled, the porter pulled.
Skepsey heard explanatory speech accompanying a wrench. He wrenched back
with vigour, and in his own tongue exclaimed, that he held to the bag
because his master's letters were in the bag, all the way from England.
For a minute, there was a downright trial of muscle and will: the porter
appeared furiously excited, Skepsey had a look of cooled steel. Then the
Frenchman, requiring to shrug, gave way to the Englishman's eccentric
obstinacy, and signified that he was his guide. Quite so, and Skepsey
showed alacrity and confidence in following; he carried his bag. But
with the remembrance of the kindly serviceable man at Rouen, he sought to
convey to the porter, that the terms of their association were cordial.
A waving of the right hand to the heavens ratified the treaty on the
French side. Nods and smiles and gesticulations, with across-Channel
vocables, as it were Dover cliffs to Calais sands and back, pleasantly
beguiled the way down to the Hotel du Paradis, under the Mausoleum
heights, where Skepsey fumbled at his pocket for coin current; but the
Frenchman, all shaken by a tornado of negation, clapped him on the
shoulder, and sang him a quatrain. Skepsey had in politeness to stand
listening, and blinking, plunged in the contrition of ignorance,
eclipsed. He took it to signify something to the effect, that money
should not pass between friends. It was the amatory farewell address of
Henri IV. to his Charmante Gabrielle; and with
'Perce de mille lords,
Au champ de Mars,'
the Frenchman, in a backing of measured steps, apologized for his
enforced withdrawal from the stranger who had captured his heart.
Skepsey's card was taken in the passage of the hotel. A clean-capped
maid, brave on the legs, like all he had seen of these people, preceded
him at quick march to an upper chamber. When he descended, bag in hand,
she flung open the salon-door of a table d'hote, where a goodly number
were dining and chattering; waiters drew him along to the section
occupied by his master's party. A chair had been kept vacant for him;
his master waved a hand, his dear ladies graciously smiled; he struck the
bag in front of a guardian foot, growing happy. He could fancy they had
not seen the English newspapers. And his next observation of the table
showed him wrecked and lost: Miss Nesta's face was the oval of a woeful O
at his wild behaviour in England during their absence. She smiled.
Skepsey had nevertheless to consume his food--excellent, very tasty soup-
with the sour sauce of the thought that he must be tongue-tied in his
defence for the time of the dinner.
'No, dear Skips, please! you are to enjoy yourself,' said Nesta.
He answered confusedly, trying to assure her that he was doing so,
and he choked.
His master had fixed his arrival for twenty minutes earlier. Skepsey
spoke through a cough of long delays at stations. The Rev. Septimus
Barmby, officially peacemaker, sounded the consequent excuse for a
belated comer. It was final; such is the power of sound. Looks were
cast from the French section of the table at the owner of the prodigious
organ. Some of the younger men, intent on the charms of Albion's
daughters, expressed in a, sign and a word or two alarm at what might be
beneath the flooring: and 'Pas encore Lui!' and 'Son avant-courrier!' and
other flies of speech passed on a whiff, under politest of cover, not to
give offence. But prodigies, claim attention.
Our English, at the close of the dinner, consented to say it was good,
without specifying a dish, because a selection of this or that would have
seemed to italicize, and commit, them, in the presence of ladies, to a
notice of the matter of-course, beneath us, or the confession of a low
sensual enjoyment; until Lady Grace Halley named the particular dressing
of a tete de veau approvingly to Victor; and he stating, that he had
offered a suggestion for the menu of the day, Nataly exclaimed, that she
had suspected it: upon which Mr. Sowerby praised the menu, Mr. Barmby,
Peridon and Catkin named other dishes, there was the right after-dinner
ring in Victor's ears, thanks to the woman of the world who had travelled
round to nature and led the shackled men to deliver themselves heartily.
One tap, and they are free. That is, in the moments after dinner, when
nature is at the gates with them. Only, it must be a lady and a
prevailing lady to give the tap. They need (our English) and will for
the ages of the process of their transformation need a queen.
Skepsey, bag in hand, obeyed the motion of his master's head and followed
He was presently back, to remain with the ladies during his master's
perusal of letters. Nataly had decreed that he was not to be troubled;
so Nesta and mademoiselle besought him for a recital of his French
adventures; and strange to say, he had nothing to tell. The journey,
pregnant at the start, exciting in the course of it, was absolutely blank
at the termination. French people had been very kind; he could not say
more. But there was more; there was a remarkable fulness, if only he
could subordinate it to narrative. The little man did not know, that
time was wanted for imagination to make the roadway or riverway of a true
story, unless we press to invent; his mind had been too busy on the way
for him to clothe in speech his impressions of the passage of incidents
at the call for them. Things had happened, numbers of interesting minor
things, but they all slipped as water through the fingers; and he being
of the band of honest creatures who will not accept a lift from fiction,
drearily he sat before the ladies, confessing to an emptiness he was far
Nesta professed excessive disappointment. 'Now, if it had been in
England, Skips!' she said, under her mother's gentle gloom of brows.
He made show of melancholy submission.
'There, Skepsey, you have a good excuse, we are sure,' Nataly said.
And women, when they are such ladies as these, are sent to prove to us
that they can be a blessing; instead of the dreadful cry to Providence
for the reason of the spread of the race of man by their means! He
declared his readiness, rejecting excuses, to state his case to them, but
for his fear of having it interpreted as an appeal for their kind aid in
obtaining his master's forgiveness. Mr. Durance had very considerately
promised to intercede. Skepsey dropped a hint or two of his naughty
proceedings drily aware that their untutored antipathy to the manly art
would not permit of warmth.
Nesta said: 'Do you know, Skips, we saw a grand exhibition of fencing in
He sighed. 'Ladies can look on at fencing! foils and masks! Captain
Dartrey Fenellan has shown me, and says, the French are our masters at
it.' He bowed constrainedly to mademoiselle.
'You box, M. Skepsey!' she said.
His melancholy increased: 'Much discouragement from Government, Society!
If ladies . . . but I do not venture. They are not against Games.
But these are not a protection . . . to them, when needed; to the
country. The country seems asleep to its position. Mr. Durance has
remarked on it:--though I would not always quote Mr. Durance . . .
indeed, he says, that England has invested an Old Maid's All in the
Millennium, and is ruined if it delays to come. "Old Maid," I do not
see. I do not--if I may presume to speak of myself in the same breath
with so clever a gentleman, agree with Mr. Durance in everything. But
the chest-measurement of recruits, the stature of the men enlisted, prove
that we are losing the nursery of our soldiers.'
'We are taking them out of the nursery, Skips, if you 're for quoting
Captain Dartrey,' said Nesta. 'We'll never haul down our flag, though,
while we have him!'
'Ah! Captain Dartrey!' Skepsey was refreshed by the invocation of the
A summons to his master's presence cut short something he was beginning
to say about Captain Dartrey.
ACCOUNTS FOR SKEPSEY'S MISCONDUCT, SHOWING HOW IT AFFECTED NATALY
His master opened on the bristling business.
'What's this, of your name in the papers, your appearing before a
magistrate, and a fine? Tell the tale shortly.'
Skepsey fell upon his attitude for dialectical defence the modest form of
the two hands at rolling play and the head deferentially sidecast. But
knowing that he had gratified his personal tastes in the act of serving
his master's interests, an interfusion of sentiments plunged him into
self-consciousness; an unwonted state with him, clogging to a simple
'First, sir, I would beg you to pardon the printing of your name beside
mine . . .'
'Tush: on with you.'
'Only to say, necessitated by the circumstances of the case. I read,
that there was laughter in the court at my exculpation of my conduct--
as I have to call it; and there may have been. I may have expressed
myself . . . . I have a strong feeling for the welfare of the
'So, it seems, you said to the magistrate. Do you tell me, that the
cause of your gross breach of the law, was a consideration for the
welfare of the country? Run on the facts.'
'The facts--I must have begun badly, sir.' Skepsey rattled the dry facts
in his head to right them. From his not having begun well, they had
become dry as things underfoot. It was an error to have led off with the
sentiments. 'Two very, two very respectable persons--respectable--were
desirous to witness a short display of my, my system, I would say; of my
science, they call it.'
'Don't be nervous. To the point; you went into a field five miles out of
London, in broad day, and stood in a ring, the usual Tiff-raff about
'With the gloves: and not for money, Sir: for the trial of skill; not
very many people. I cannot quite see the breach of the law.'
'So you told the magistrate. You were fined for your inability to quite
see. And you had to give security.'
'Mr. Durance was kindly responsible for me, sir: an acquaintance of the
'This boxing of yours is a positive mania, Skepsey. You must try to get
the better of it--must! And my name too! I'm to be proclaimed, as
having in my service an inveterate pugilist--who breaks the law from
patriotism! Male or female, these very respectable persons--the people
your show was meant for?'
'Male, sir. Females! . . . that is, not the respectable ones.'
'Take the opinion of the respectable ones for your standard of behaviour
'It was a mere trial of skill, sir, to prove to one of the spectators,
that I could be as good as my word. I wished I may say, to conciliate
him, partly. He would not--he judged by size--credit me with . . .
he backed my adversary Jerry Scroom--a sturdy boxer, without the
knowledge of the first principles.'
'You beat him?'
'I think I taught the man that I could instruct, sir; he was
complimentary before we parted. He thought I could not have lasted.
After the second round, the police appeared.'
'And you ran!'
'No, sir; I had nothing on my conscience.'
'Why not have had your pugilistic display in a publican's room in town,
where you could have hammer-nailed and ding-donged to your heart's
content for as long as you liked!'
'That would have been preferable, from the point of view of safety from
intrusion, I can admit-speaking humbly. But one of the parties--I had a
wish to gratify him--is a lover of old English times and habits and our
country scenes. He wanted it to take place on green grass. We drove
over Hampstead in three carts and a gig, as a company of pleasure--as it
was. A very beautiful morning. There was a rest at a public-house. Mr.
Shaplow traces the misfortune to that. Mr. Jarniman, I hear, thinks it
what he calls a traitor in the camp. I saw no sign; we were all merry
'Jarniman?' said Victor sharply. 'Who is the Jarniman?'
'Mr. Jarniman is, I am to understand from the acquaintance introducing
us--a Mr. Shaplow I met in the train from Lakelands one day, and again at
the corner of a street near Drury Lane, a ham and beef shop kept by a
Mrs. Jarniman, a very stout lady, who does the chief carving in the shop,
and is the mother of Mr. Jarniman: he is in a confidential place, highly
trusted.' Skepsey looked up from the hands he soaped: 'He is a curious
mixture; he has true enthusiasm for boxing, he believes in ghosts. He
mourns for the lost days of prize-fighting, he thinks that spectres are
on the increase. He has a very large appetite, depressed spirits. Mr.
Shaplow informs me he is a man of substance, in the service of a wealthy
lady in poor health, expecting a legacy and her appearance to him. He
has the look--Mr. Shaplow assures me he does not drink to excess: he is a
Victor straightened: 'Bad way of health, you said?'
'Mr. Jarniman spoke of his expectations, as being immediate: he put it,
that he expected her spirit to be out for him to meet it any day--or
night. He desires it. He says, she has promised it--on oath, he says,
and must feel that she must do her duty to him before she goes, if she is
to appear to him with any countenance after. But he is anxious for her
in any case to show herself, and says, he should not have the heart to
reproach her. He has principles, a tear for suffering; he likes to be
made to cry. Mrs. Jarniman, his mother, he is not married, is much the
same so far, except ghosts; she will not have them; except after strong
tea, they come, she says, come to her bed. She is foolish enough to
sleep in a close-curtained bed. But the poor lady is so exceedingly
stout that a puff of cold would carry her off, she fears.'
Victor stamped his foot. 'This man Jarniman serves a lady now in a--
serious, does he say? Was he precise?'
'Mr. Jarniman spoke of a remarkable number of diseases; very complicated,
he says. He has no opinion of doctors. He says, that the lady's doctor
and the chemist--she sits in a chemist's shop and swallows other people's
prescriptions that take her fancy. He says, her continuing to live is
wonderful. He has no reason to hurry her, only for the satisfaction of a
'He mentioned her name?'
'No name, sir.'
Skepsey's limpid grey eyes confirmed the negative to Victor, who was
assured that the little man stood clean of any falsity.
'You are not on equal terms. You and the magistrate have helped him to
know who it is you serve, Skepsey.'
'Would you please to direct me, sir.'
'Another time. Now go and ease your feet with a run over the town. We
have music in half an hour. That you like, I know. See chiefly to
Skepsey turned to go; he murmured, that he had enjoyed his trip.
Victor checked him: it was to ask whether this Jarniman had specified
one, any one of the numerous diseases afflicting his aged mistress.
Now Jarniman had shocked Skepsey with his blunt titles for a couple of
the foremost maladies assailing the poor lady's decayed constitution: not
to be mentioned, Skepsey's thought, in relation to ladies; whose organs
and functions we, who pay them a proper homage by restricting them to the
sphere so worthily occupied by their mothers up to the very oldest date,
respectfully curtain; their accepted masters are chivalrous to them,
deploring their need at times for the doctors and drugs. He stood
looking most unhappy. 'She was to appear, sir, in a few--perhaps a week,
A nod dismissed him.
The fun of the expedition (and Dudley Sowerby had wound himself up to
relish it) was at night in the towns, when the sound of instrumental and
vocal music attracted crowds beneath the windows of the hotel, and they
heard zon, zon, violon, fete et basse; not bad fluting, excellent
fiddling, such singing as a maestro, conducting his own Opera, would have
approved. So Victor said of his darlings' voices. Nesta's and her
mother's were a perfect combination; Mr. Barmby's trompe in union,
sufficiently confirmed the popular impression, that they were artistes.
They had been ceremoniously ushered to their carriages, with expressions
of gratitude, at the departure from Rouen; and the Boniface at Gisors had
entreated them to stay another night, to give an entertainment. Victor
took his pleasure in letting it be known, that they were a quiet English
family, simply keeping-up the habits they practiced in Old England: all
were welcome to hear them while they were doing it; but they did not give
The pride of the pleasure of reversing the general idea of English
dulness among our neighbours, was perceived to have laid fast hold of
Dudley Sowerby at Dreux. He was at the window from time to time,
counting heads below. For this reason or a better, he begged Nesta to
supplant the flute duet with the soprano and contralto of the Helena
section of the Mefistofele, called the Serenade: La Luna immobile. She
consulted her mother, and they sang it. The crowds below, swollen to a
block of the street, were dead still, showing the instinctive good
manners of the people. Then mademoiselle astonished them with a
Provencal or Cevennes air, Huguenot, though she was Catholic; but it
suited her mezzo-soprano tones; and it rang massively of the martial-
religious. To what heights of spiritual grandeur might not a Huguenot
France have marched! Dudley Sowerby, heedlessly, under an emotion that
could be stirred in him with force, by the soul of religion issuing
through music, addressed his ejaculation to Lady Grace Halley. She did
nor shrug or snub him, but rejoined: 'I could go to battle with that song
in the ears.' She liked seeing him so happily transformed; and liked the
effect of it on Nesta when his face shone in talking. He was at home
with the girl's eyes, as he had never been. A song expressing in one of
the combative and devotional, went to the springs of his blood; for he
was of an old warrior race, beneath the thick crust of imposed peaceful
maxims and commercial pursuits and habitual stiff correctness. As much
as wine, will music bring out the native bent of the civilized man: endow
him with language too. He was as if unlocked; he met Nesta's eyes and
ran in a voluble interchange, that gave him flattering after-thoughts;
and at the moment sensibly a new and assured, or to some extent assured,
station beside a girl so vivid; by which the young lady would be helped
to perceive his unvoiced solider gifts.
Nataly observed them, thinking of Victor's mastering subtlety. She had
hoped (having clearly seen the sheep's eye in the shepherd) that Mr.
Barmby would be watchful to act as a block between them; and therefore
she had stipulated for his presence on the journey. She remembered
Victor's rapid look of readiness to consent:--he reckoned how naturally
Mr. Barmby would serve as a foil to any younger man. Mr. Barmby had
tried all along to perform his part: he had always been thwarted; notably
once at Gisors, where by some cunning management he and mademoiselle
found themselves in the cell of the prisoner's Nail-wrought work while
Nesta had to take Sowerby's hand for help at a passage here and there
along the narrow outer castle-walls. And Mr. Barmby, upon occasions, had
set that dimple in Nesta's cheek quivering, though Simeon Fenellan was
not at hand, and there was no telling how it was done, beyond the
evidence that Victor willed it so.
From the day of the announcement of Lakelands, she had been brought more
into contact with his genius of dexterity and foresight than ever
previously: she had bent to the burden of it more; had seen herself and
everybody else outstripped--herself, of course; she did not count in a
struggle with him. But since that red dawn of Lakelands, it was almost
as if he had descended to earth from the skies. She now saw his
mortality in the miraculous things he did. The reason of it was, that
through the perceptible various arts and shifts on her level, an opposing
spirit had plainer view of his aim, to judge it. She thought it a mean
The power it had to hurry her with the strength of a torrent to an end
she dreaded, impressed her physically; so far subduing her mind, in
consequence, as to keep the idea of absolute resistance obscure, though
her bosom heaved with the breath; but what was her own of a mind hung
hovering above him, criticizing; and involuntarily, discomfortingly.
She could have prayed to be led blindly or blindly dashed on: she could
trust him for success; and her critical mind seemed at times a treachery.
Still she was compelled to judge.
When he said to her at night, pressing both her hands: 'This is the news
of the day, my love! It's death at last. We shall soon be thanking
heaven for freedom'; her fingers writhed upon his and gripped them in a
torture of remorse on his behalf. A shattering throb of her heart gave
her sight of herself as well. For so it is with the woman who loves in
subjection, she may be a critic of the man, she is his accomplice.'
'You have a letter, Victor?'
'Confirmation all round: Fenellan, Themison, and now Skepsey.'
He told her the tale of Skepsey and Jarniman, colouring it, as any
interested animated conduit necessarily will. Neither of them smiled.
The effort to think soberly exhausted and rolled her back on credulity.
It might not be to-day or next week or month: but so much testimony
pointed to a day within the horizon, surely!
She bowed her head to heaven for forgiveness. The murderous hope stood
up, stood out in forms and pictures. There was one of a woman at her
ease at last in the reception of guests; contrasting with an ironic
haunting figure of the woman of queenly air and stature under a finger of
scorn for a bold-faced impostor. Nataly's lips twitched at the
remembrance of quaint whimpers of complaint to the Fates, for directing
that a large instead of a rather diminutive woman should be the social
offender fearing exposure. Majesty in the criminal's dock, is a
confounding spectacle. To the bosom of the majestic creature, all her
glorious attributes have become the executioner's implements. She must
for her soul's health believe that a day of release and exoneration
'Barmby!--if my dear girl would like him best,' Victor said, in tenderest
undertones, observing the shadowing variations of her face; and pierced
her cruelly, past explanation or understanding;--not that she would have
objected to the Rev. Septimus as officiating clergyman.
She nodded. Down rolled the first big tear.
We cry to women; Land, ho!--a land of palms after storms at sea; and at
once they inundate us with a deluge of eye-water.
'Half a minute, dear Victor, not longer,' Nataly said, weeping, near on
laughing over his look of wanton abandonment to despair at sight of her
tears. 'Don't mind me. I am rather like Fenellan's laundress, the
tearful woman whose professional apparatus was her soft heart and a cake
of soap. Skepsey has made his peace with you?'
Victor answered: 'Yes, yes; I see what he has been about. We're a mixed
lot, all of us-the best! You've noticed, Skepsey has no laugh: however
absurd the thing he tells you, not a smile!'
'But you trust his eyes; you look fathoms into them. Captain Dartrey
thinks him one of the men most in earnest of any of his country.'
'So Nataly of course thinks the same. And he's a worthy little
velocipede, as Fenellan calls him. One wishes Colney had been with us.
Only Colney!--pity one can't cut his talons for the space before they
Ay, and in the presence of Colney Durance, Victor would not have been so
encouraging, half boyishly caressing, with Dudley Sowerby! It was the
very manner to sow seed of imitativeness in the girl, devoted as she was
to her father. Nataly sighed, foreseeing evil, owning it a superstition,
feeling it a certainty. We are easily prophets, sure of being justified,
when the cleverness of schemes devoted to material ends appears most
delicately perfect. History, the tales of households, the tombstone, are
with us to inspire. In Nataly's bosom, the reproof of her inefficiency
for offering counsel where Victor for his soul's sake needed it, was
beginning to thunder at whiles as a reproach of unfittingness in his
mate, worse than a public denunciation of the sin against Society.
It might be decreed that she and Society were to come to reconcilement.
A pain previously thought of, never previously so realized, seized her at
her next sight of Nesta. She had not taken in her front mind the
contrast of the innocent one condemned to endure the shadow from which
the guilty was by a transient ceremony released. Nature could at a push
be eloquent to defend the guilty. Not a word of vindicating eloquence
rose up to clear the innocent. Nothing that she could do; no
devotedness, not any sacrifice, and no treaty of peace, no possible joy
to come, nothing could remove the shadow from her child. She dreamed of
the succour in eloquence, to charm the ears of chosen juries while a fact
spoke over the population, with a relentless rolling out of its one hard
word. But eloquence, powerful on her behalf, was dumb when referred to
Nesta. It seemed a cruel mystery. How was it permitted by the Merciful
Disposer! . . . Nataly's intellect and her reverence clashed. They
clash to the end of time if we persist in regarding the Spirit of Life as
a remote Externe, who plays the human figures, to bring about this or
that issue, instead of being beside us, within us, our breath, if we
will; marking on us where at each step we sink to the animal, mount to
the divine, we and ours who follow, offspring of body or mind. She was
in her error, from judgeing of the destiny of man by the fate of
individuals. Chiefly her error was, to try to be thinking at all amid
the fevered tangle of her sensations.
A darkness fell upon the troubled woman, and was thicker overhead when
her warm blood had drawn her to some acceptance of the philosophy of
existence, in a savour of gratification at the prospect of her equal
footing with the world while yet she lived. She hated herself for taking
pleasure in anything to be bestowed by a world so hap-hazard, ill-
balanced, unjust; she took it bitterly, with such naturalness as not to
be aware that it was irony and a poisonous irony moving her to welcome
the restorative ceremony because her largeness of person had a greater
than common need of the protection.
CHIEFLY UPON THE THEME OF A YOUNG MAID'S IMAGININGS
That Mausoleum at Dreux may touch to lift us. History, pleads for the
pride of the great discrowned Family giving her illumination there. The
pride is reverently postured, the princely mourning-cloak it wears
becomingly braided at the hem with fair designs of our mortal humility in
the presence of the vanquisher; against whom, acknowledgeing a visible
conquest of the dust, it sustains a placid contention in coloured glass
Mademoiselle de Seilles, a fervid Orleanist, was thanked for having
advised the curvature of the route homeward to visit 'the spot of so
impressive a monument': as it, was phrased by the Rev. Septimus Barmby;
whose exposition to Nesta of the beautiful stained-glass pictures of
incidents in the life of the crusading St. Louis, was toned to be
likewise impressive:--Colney Durance not being at hand to bewail the
pathos of his exhaustless 'whacking of the platitudes'; which still
retain their tender parts, but cry unheard when there is no cynic near.
Mr. Barmby laid-on solemnly.
Professional devoutness is deemed more righteous on such occasions than
poetic fire. It robes us in the cloak of the place, as at a funeral.
Generally, Mr. Barmby found, and justly, that it is in superior
estimation among his countrymen of all classes. They are shown by
example how to look, think, speak; what to do. Poets are disturbing;
they cannot be comfortably imitated, they are unsafe, not certainly the
metal, unless you have Laureates, entitled to speak by their pay and
decorations; and these are but one at a time-and a quotation may remind
us of a parody, to convulse the sacred dome! Established plain prose
officials do better for our English. The audience moved round with heads
Victor called to recollection Fenellan's 'Rev. Glendoveer' while Mr.
Barmby pursued his discourse, uninterrupted by tripping wags. And those
who have schemes, as well as those who are startled by the criticism in
laughter to discover that they have cause for shunning it, rejoice when
wits are absent. Mr. Sowerby and Nesta interchanged a comment on Mr.
Barmby's remarks: The Fate of Princes! The Paths of Glory! St. Louis
was a very distant Roman Catholic monarch; and the young gentleman of
Evangelical education could admire him as a Crusader. St. Louis was for
Nesta a figure in the rich hues of royal Saintship softened to homeliness
by tears. She doated on a royalty crowned with the Saint's halo, that
swam down to us to lift us through holy human showers. She listened to
Mr. Barmby, hearing few sentences, lending his eloquence all she felt:
he rolled forth notes of a minster organ, accordant with the devotional
service she was holding mutely. Mademoiselle upon St. Louis: 'Worthy to
be named King of Kings!' swept her to a fount of thoughts, where the
thoughts are not yet shaped, are yet in the breast of the mother
emotions. Louise de Seilles had prepared her to be strangely and deeply
moved. The girl had a heart of many strings, of high pitch, open to be
musical to simplest wandering airs or to the gales. This crypt of the
recumbent sculptured figures and the coloured series of acts in the
passage of the crowned Saint thrilled her as with sight of flame on an
altar-piece of History. But this King in the lines of the Crucifixion
leading, gave her a lesson of life, not a message from death. With such
a King, there would be union of the old order and the new, cessation to
political turmoil: Radicalism, Socialism, all the monster names of things
with heads agape in these our days to gobble-up the venerable, obliterate
the beautiful, leave a stoniness of floods where field and garden were,
would be appeased, transfigured. She hoped, she prayed for that glorious
On one subject, conceived by her only of late, and not intelligibly, not
communicably: a subject thickly veiled; one which struck at her through
her sex and must, she thought, ever be unnamed (the ardent young creature
saw it as a very thing torn by the winds to show hideous gleams of a body
rageing with fire behind the veil): on this one subject, her hopes and
prayers were dumb in her bosom. It signified shame. She knew not the
how, for she had no power to contemplate it: there was a torment of earth
and a writhing of lurid dust-clouds about it at a glimpse. But if the
new crusading Hero were to come attacking that--if some born prince nobly
man would head the world to take away the withering scarlet from the face
of women, she felt she could kiss the print of his feet upon the ground.
Meanwhile she had enjoyment of her plunge into the inmost forest-well of
mediaeval imaginativeness, where youthful minds of good aspiration
through their obscurities find much akin to them.
She had an eye for little Skepsey too: unaware that these French Princes
had hurried him off to Agincourt, for another encounter with them and the
old result--poor dear gentlemen, with whom we do so wish to be friendly!
What amused her was, his evident fatigue in undergoing the slow parade,
and sheer deference to his betters, as to the signification of a holiday
on arrested legs. Dudley Sowerby's attention to him, in elucidating the
scenes with historical scraps, greatly pleased her. The Rev. Septimus of
course occupied her chiefly.
Mademoiselle was always near, to receive his repeated expressions of
gratitude for the route she had counselled. Without personal objections
to a well-meaning orderly man, whose pardonable error it was to be aiming
too considerably higher than his head, she did but show him the voluble
muteness of a Frenchwoman's closed lips; not a smile at all, and
certainly no sign of hostility; when bowing to his reiterated compliment
in the sentence of French. Mr. Barmby had noticed (and a strong
sentiment rendered him observant, unwontedly) a similar alert immobility
of her lips, indicating foreign notions of this kind or that, in England:
an all but imperceptible shortening or loss of corners at the mouth, upon
mention of marriages of his clergy: particularly once, at his reading of
a lengthy report in a newspaper of a Wedding Ceremony involving his
favourite Bishop for bridegroom: a report to make one glow like Hymen
rollicking the Torch after draining the bumper to the flying slipper.
He remembered the look, and how it seemed to intensify on the slumbering
features, at a statement, that his Bishop was a widower, entering into
nuptials in his fifty-fourth year. Why not? But we ask it of Heaven and
Man, why not? Mademoiselle was pleasant: she was young or youngish; her
own clergy were celibates, and--no, he could not argue the matter with a
young or youngish person of her sex. Could it be a reasonable woman--
a woman!--who, disapproved the holy nuptials of the pastors of the
flocks? But we are forbidden to imagine the conducting of an argument
thereon with a lady.
Luther . . . but we are not in Luther's time:--Nature . . . no,
nor can there possibly be allusions to Nature. Mr. Barmby wondered at
Protestant parents taking a Papistical governess for their young flower
of English womanhood. However, she venerated St. Louis; he cordially
also; there they met; and he admitted, that she had, for a Frenchwoman,
a handsome face, and besides an agreeably artificial ingenuousness in
the looks which could be so politely dubious as to appear only dubiously
The spell upon Nesta was not blown away on English ground; and when her
father and mother were comparing their impressions, she could not but
keep guard over the deeper among her own. At the Chateau de Gisors,
leftward off Vernon on Seine, it had been one of romance and wonderment,
with inquisitive historic soundings of her knowledge and mademoiselle's,
a reverence for the prisoner's patient holy work, and picturings of his
watchful waiting daily, Nail in hand, for the heaven-sent sunlight on the
circular dungeon-wall through the slits of the meurtrieres. But the
Mausoleum at Dreux spake religiously; it enfolded Mr. Barmby, his voice
re-edified it. The fact that he had discoursed there, though not a word
of the discourse was remembered, allied him to the spirit of a day rather
increasing in sacredness as it receded and left her less the possessor of
it, more the worshipper.
Mademoiselle had to say to herself: 'Impossible!' after seeing the drift
of her dear Nesta's eyes in the wake of the colossal English clergyman.
She fed her incredulousness indignantly on the evidence confounding it.
Nataly was aware of unusual intonations, treble-stressed, in the Bethesda
and the Galilee of Mr. Barmby on Concert evenings: as it were, the
towering wood-work of the cathedral organ in quake under emission of its
multitudinous outroar. The 'Which?' of the Rev. Septimus, addressed to
Nesta, when song was demanded of him; and her 'Either'; and his gentle
hesitation, upon a gaze at her for the directing choice, could not be
unnoticed by women.
Did he know a certain thing?--and dream of urging the suit, as an
indulgent skipper of parental pages?
Such haunting interrogations were the conspirators' daggers out at any
instant, or leaping in sheath, against Nataly's peace of mind. But she
trusted her girl's laughing side to rectify any little sentimental
overbalancing. She left the ground where maternal meditations are
serious, at an image of Mr. Barmby knocking at Nesta's heart as a lover.
Was it worth inquiry?
A feminine look was trailed across the eyes of mademoiselle, with mention
of Mr. Barmby's name.
Mademoiselle rippled her shoulders. 'We are at present much enamoured of
That watchfullest showing no alarm, the absurdity of the suspicion
Nataly had moreover to receive startling new guests:
Lady Rodwell Blachington: Mrs. Fanning, wife of the General: young Mrs.
Blathenoy, wife of the great bill-broker: ladies of Wrensham and about.
And it was a tasking of her energies equal to the buffeting of recurrent
waves on deep sea. The ladies were eager for her entry into Lakelands.
She heard that Victor had appointed Lady Blachington's third son to the
coveted post of clerk in the Indian house of Inchling and Radnor. These
are the deluge days when even aristocracy will cry blessings on the man
who procures a commercial appointment for one of its younger sons
offended and rebutted by the barrier of Examinations for the Civil
Service. 'To have our Adolphus under Mr. Victor Radnor's protection, is
a step!' Lady Blachington said. Nataly was in an atmosphere of hints and
revealings. There were City Dinners, to which one or other of the
residents about Lakelands had been taken before he sat at Victor's London
table. He was already winning his way, apparently without effort, to be
the popular man of that neighbourhood. A subterranean tide or a slipping
of earth itself seemed bearing her on. She had his promise indeed, that
he would not ask of her to enter Lakelands until the day of his freedom
had risen; but though she could trust to his word, the heart of the word
went out of it when she heard herself thanked by Lady Blachington (who
could so well excuse her at such a time of occupation for not returning
her call, that she called in a friendly way a second time, warmly to
thank her) for throwing open the Concert room at Lakelands in August, to
an Entertainment in assistance of the funds for the purpose of erecting
an East of London Clubhouse, where the children of the poor by day could
play, and their parents pass a disengaged evening. Doubtless a worthy
Charity. Nataly was alive to the duties of wealth. Had it been simply a
demand for a donation, she would not have shown that momentary pucker of
the brows, which Lady Blachington read as a contrast with the generous
vivacity of the husband.
Nataly read a leaf of her fate in this announcement. Nay, she beheld
herself as the outer world wexedly beholds a creature swung along to the
doing of things against the better mind. An outer world is thoughtless
of situations which prepare us to meet the objectionable with a will
benumbed;--if we do not, as does that outer world, belong to the party of
the readily heroical. She scourged her weakness: and the intimation of
the truth stood over her, more than ever manifest, that the deficiency
affecting her character lay in her want of language. A tongue to speak
and contend, would have helped her to carve a clearer way. But then
again, the tongue to speak must be one which could reproach, and strike
at errors; fence, and continually summon resources to engage the
electrical vitality of a man like Victor. It was an exultation of their
life together, a mark of his holiness for them both, that they had never
breathed a reproach upon one another.
She dropped away from ideas of remonstrance; faintly seeing, in her sigh
of submission, that the deficiency affecting her character would have
been supplied by a greater force of character, pressing either to speech
or acts. The confession of a fated inevitable in the mind, is weakness
prostrate. She knew it: but she could point to the manner of man she was
matched with; and it was not a poor excuse.
Mr. Barmby, she thought, deserved her gratitude in some degree for
stepping between Mr. Sowerby and Nesta. The girl not having
inclinations, and the young gentleman being devoid of stratagem, they
were easily kept from the dangerous count of two.
Mademoiselle would have said, that the shepherd also had rarely if ever a
minute quite alone with her lamb. Incredulously she perceived signs of a
shock. The secret following the signs was betrayed by Nesta in return
for a tender grasp of hands and a droll flutter of eyelids. Out it came,
on a nod first; then a dreary mention of a date, and an incident, to
bring it nearer to comprehension. Mr. Barmby--and decide who will
whether it is that Love was made to elude or that curates impelled by his
fires are subtle as nether--had outwitted French watchfulness by stealing
minutes enough on a day at Lakelands to declare himself. And no wonder
the girl looked so forlorn: he had shivered her mediaeval forest-palace
of illuminated glass, to leave her standing like a mountain hind, that
sniffs the tainted gale off the crag of her first quick leap from hounds;
her instincts alarmed, instead of rich imagination colouring and
She had no memory for his words; so, and truly, she told her Louise:
meaning that she had only a spiceless memory; especially for the word
love in her ears from the mouth of a man.
There had been a dream of it; with the life-awakening marvel it would be,
the humbleness it would bring to her soul beneath the golden clothing of
her body: one of those faint formless dreams, which are as the bend of
grasses to the breath of a still twilight. She lived too spiritedly to
hang on any dream; and had moreover a muffled dread-shadow-sister to the
virginal desire--of this one, as of a fateful power that might drag her
down, disorder, discolour. But now she had heard it: the word, the very
word itself! in her own ears! addressed to her! in a man's voice! The
first utterance had been heard, and it was over; the chapter of the book
of bulky promise of the splendours and mysteries;--the shimmering woods
and bushy glades, and the descent of the shape celestial, and the
recognition--the mutual cry of affinity; and overhead the crimson
outrolling of the flag of beneficent enterprises hand in hand, all was at
an end. These, then, are the deceptions our elders tell of! That
masculine voice should herald a new world to the maiden. The voice she
had heard did but rock to ruin the world she had been living in.
Mademoiselle prudently forbore from satirical remarks on his person or on
his conduct. Nesta had nothing to defend: she walked in a bald waste.
'Can I have been guilty of leading him to think . . .?' she said, in a
tone that writhed, at a second discussion of this hapless affair.
'They choose to think,' mademoiselle replied. 'It is he or another. My
dear and dearest, you have entered the field where shots fly thick, as
they do to soldiers in battle; and it is neither your fault nor any
one's, if you are hit.'
Nesta gazed at her, with a shy supplicating cry of 'Louise.'
Mademoiselle immediately answered the tone of entreaty. 'Has it happened
to me? I am of the age of eight and twenty; passable, to look at: yes,
my dear, I have gone through it. To spare you the questions tormenting
you, I will tell you, that perhaps our experience of our feelings comes
nigh on a kind of resemblance. The first gentleman who did me the honour
to inform me of his passion, was a hunchback.'
Nesta cried 'Oh!' in a veritable pang of sympathy, and clapped hands to
her ears, to shut out Mr. Barmby's boom of the terrific word attacking
Louise from that deformed one.
Her disillusionment became of the sort which hears derision. A girl of
quick blood and active though unregulated intellect, she caught at the
comic of young women's hopes and experiences, in her fear of it.
'My own precious poor dear Louise! what injustice there is in the world
for one like my Louise to have a hunchback to be the first . . . !'
'But, my dear, it did me no harm.'
'But if it had been known!'
'But it was known!'
Nesta controlled a shuddering: 'It is the knowledge of it in ourselves--
that it has ever happened;--you dear Louise, who deserve so much better!
And one asks--Oh, why are we not left in peace! And do look at the
objects it makes of us!' Mademoiselle: could see, that the girl's
desperation had got hold of her humour for a life-buoy. 'It is really
worse to have it unknown--when you are compelled to be his partner in
sharing the secret, and feel as if it were a dreadful doll you conceal
for fear that everybody will laugh at its face.'
She resumed her seriousness: 'I find it so hard to be vexed with him and
really really like him. For he is a good man; but he will not let one
shake him off. He distresses: because we can't quite meet as we did.
Last Wednesday Concert evening, he kept away; and I am annoyed that I was
'Moths have to pass through showers, and keep their pretty patterns from
damage as best they can,' said mademoiselle.
Nesta transformed herself into a disciple of Philosophy on the spot.
'Yes, all these feelings of ours are moth-dust! One feels them. I
suppose they pass. They must. But tell me, Louise, dear soul, was your
poor dear good little afflicted suitor--was he kindly pitied?'
'Conformably with the regulations prescribed to young damsels who are in
request to surrender the custody of their hands. It is easy to commit a
dangerous excess in the dispensing of that article they call pity of
'And he--did he?--vowed to you he could not take No for an answer?'
At this ingenuous question, woefully uttered, mademoiselle was pricked,
to smile pointedly. Nesta had a tooth on her under-lip. Then, shaking
vapours to the winds, she said: 'It is an honour, to be asked; and we
cannot be expected to consent. So I shall wear through it.--Only I do
wish that Mr. Fenellan would not call him The Inchcape Bell!' She
murmured this to herself.
Mr. Barmby was absent for two weeks. 'Can anything have offended him?'
Victor inquired, in some consternation, appreciating the man's worth, and
the grand basso he was; together with the need for him at the Lakelands
Concert in August.
Nataly wrote Mr. Barmby a direct invitation. She had no reply. Her
speculations were cut short by Victor, who handed her a brief note
addressed to him and signed by the Rev. Septimus, petitioning for a
The formality of the request incensed Victor. 'Now, dear love, you see
Colney's meaning, when he says, there are people who have no intimacy in
them. Here's a man who visits me regularly once a week or more, has been
familiar for years--four, at least; and he wants to speak to me, and must
obtain the "privilege" by special appointment! What can be the meaning
'You will hear to-morrow afternoon,' Nataly said, seeing one paved way to
the meaning--a too likely meaning. . . 'He hasn't been . . . nothing
about Fredi, surely!'
'I have had no information.'
'Impossible! Barmby has good sense; Bottesini can't intend to come
scraping on that string. But we won't lose him; he's one of us. Barmby
counts for more at a Charity Concert than all the catalogue, and
particularly in the country. But he's an excellent fellow--eh?'
'That he is,' Nataly agreed.
Victor despatched a cheerful curt consent to see Mr. Barmby privately on
the late afternoon of the day to follow.
Nesta, returning home from the park at that hour of the interview,
ignorant of Mr. Barmby's purpose though she was, had her fires
extinguished by the rolling roar of curfew along the hall-passage,
out of the library.
SUITORS FOR THE HAND OF NESTA VICTORIA
When, upon the well-known quest, the delightful singer Orpheus took that
downward way, coming in sight of old Cerberus centiceps, he astutely
feigned inattention to the hostile appearances of the multiple beast, and
with a wave of his plectrum over the responsive lyre, he at the stroke
raised voice. This much you know. It may be communicated to you, that
there was then beheld the most singular spectacle ever exhibited on the
dizzy line of division between the living and the dead. For those
unaccustomed musical tones in the last thin whiff of our sustaining air
were so smartingly persuasive as to pierce to the vitals of the faithful
Old Dog before his offended sentiments had leisure to rouse their heads
against a beggar of a mortal. The terrible sugariness which poured into
him worked like venom to cause an encounter and a wrestling: his battery
of jaws expressed it. They gaped. At the same time, his eyeballs gave
up. All the Dog, that would have barked the breathing intruder an
hundredfold back to earth, was one compulsory centurion yawn. Tears,
issue of the frightful internal wedding of the dulcet and the sour
(a ravishing rather of the latter by the former), rolled off his muzzles.
Now, if you are not for insisting that a magnificent simile shall be
composed of exactly the like notes in another octave, you will catch the
fine flavour of analogy and be wafted in a beat of wings across the scene
of the application of the Rev. Septimus Barmby to Mr. Victor Radnor, that
he might enter the house in the guise of suitor for the hand of Nesta
Victoria. It is the excelling merit of similes and metaphors to spring
us to vault over gaps and thickets and dreary places. But, as with the
visits of Immortals, we must be ready to receive them. Beware, moreover,
of examining them too scrupulously: they have a trick of wearing to
vapour if closely scanned. Let it be gratefully for their aid.
So far the comparison is absolute, that Mr. Barmby passed: he was at
liberty to pursue his quest.
Victor could not explain how he had been brought to grant it. He was at
pains to conceal the bewilderment Mr. Barmby had cast on him, and make
Nataly see the smallness of the grant:--both of them were unwilling to
lose Barmby; there was not the slightest fear about Fredi, he said; and
why should not poor Barmby have his chance with the others in the race!
--and his Nataly knew that he hated to speak unkindly: he could cry the
negative like a crack of thunder in the City. But such matters as these!
and a man pleading merely for the right to see the girl!--and pleading in
a tone . . . 'I assure you, my love, he touched chords.'
'Did he allude to advantages in the alliance with him?' Nataly asked
'His passion--nothing else. Candid enough. And he had a tone--he has a
tone, you know. It 's not what he said. Some allusion to belief in a
favourable opinion of him . . . encouragement . . . on the part of
the mama. She would have him travelling with us! I foresaw it.'
'You were astonished when it came.'
'We always are.'
Victor taunted her softly with having encouraged Mr. Barmby.
She had thought in her heart--not seriously; on a sigh of despondency--
that Mr. Barmby espousing the girl would smooth a troubled prospect: and
a present resentment at her weakness rendered her shrewd to detect
Victor's cunning to cover his own: a thing imaginable of him previously
in sentimental matters, yet never accurately and so legibly printed on
her mind. It did not draw her to read him with a novel familiarity; it
drew her to be more sensible of foregone intimations of the man he was
--irresistible in attack, not impregnably defensive. Nor did he seem in
this instance humanely considerate: if mademoiselle's estimate of the
mind of the girl was not wrong, then Mr. Barmby's position would be both
a ridiculous and a cruel one. She had some silly final idea that the
poor man might now serve permanently to check the more dreaded applicant:
a proof that her ordinary reflectiveness was blunted.
Nataly acknowledged, after rallying Victor for coming to have his
weakness condoned, a justice in his counter-accusation, of a loss of her
natural cheerfulness, and promised amendment, with a steely smile, that
his lips mimicked fondly; and her smile softened. To strengthen the dear
soul's hopes, he spoke, as one who had received the latest information,
of Dr. Themison and surgeons; little conscious of the tragic depths he
struck or of the burden he gave her heart to bear. Her look alarmed him.
She seemed to be hugging herself up to the tingling scalp, and was in a
moment marble to sight and touch. She looked like the old engravings of
martyrs taking the bite of the jaws of flame at the stake.
He held her embraced, feeling her body as if it were in the awful grip of
fingers from the outside of life.
The seizure was over before it could be called ominous. When it was once
over, and she had smiled again and rebuked him for excessive anxiety, his
apprehensions no longer troubled him, but subsided sensationally in wrath
at the crippled woman who would not obey the dictate of her ailments
instantly to perish and spare this dear one annoyance.
Subsequently, later than usual, he performed his usual mental penance for
it. In consequence, the wrath, and the wish, and the penitence, haunted
him, each swelling to possession of him in turn; until they united to
head a plunge into retrospects; which led to his reviewing the army of
charges against Mrs. Burman.
And of this he grew ashamed, attributing it to the morbid indulgence in
reflection: a disease never afflicting him anterior to the stupid fall on
London Bridge. He rubbed instinctively for the punctilio-bump, and could
cheat his fancy to think a remainder of it there, just below, half an
inch to the right of, the spot where a phrenologist, invited by Nataly in
old days, had marked philo-progenitiveness on his capacious and enviable
cerebrum. He knew well it was a fancy. But it was a fact also, that
since the day of the fall (never, save in merest glimpses, before that
day), he had taken to look behind him, as though an eye had been knocked
in the back of his head.
Then, was that day of the announcement of Lakelands to Nataly, to be
accounted a gloomy day? He would not have it so.
She was happily occupied with her purchases of furniture, Fredi with her
singing lessons, and he with his business; a grasp of many ribands,
reining-in or letting loose; always enjoyable in the act. Recently only
had he known when at home, a relaxation, a positive pleasure in looking
forward to the hours of the City office. This was odd, but so it was;
and looking homeward from the City, he had a sense of disappointment when
it was not Concert evening. The Cormyns, the Yatts, and Priscilla
Graves, and Pempton, foolish fellow, and that bothering Barmby, and
Peridon and Catkin, were the lineing of his nest. Well, and so they had
been before Lakelands rose. What had induced! . . . he suddenly felt
foreign to himself. The shrouded figure of his lost Idea on London
Bridge went by.
A peep into the folds of the shroud was granted him:--Is it a truth, that
if we are great owners of money, we are so swollen with a force not
native to us, as to be precipitated into acts the downright contrary of
He inquired it of his tastes, which have the bad habit of unmeasured
phrasing when they are displeased, and so they yield no rational answer.
Still he gave heed to violent extraneous harpings against money.
Epigrams of Colney's; abuse of it and the owners of it by Socialist
orators reported in some newspaper corner; had him by the ears.
They ceased in the presence of Lady Grace Halley, who entered his office
to tell him she was leaving town for Whinfold, her husband's family-seat,
where the dear man lay in evil case. She signified her resignation to
the decrees from above, saying generously:
'You look troubled, my friend. Any bad City news?'
'I look troubled?' Victor said laughing, and bethought him of what the
trouble might be. 'City news would not cause the look. Ah, yes;--I was
talking in the street to a friend of mine on horseback the other day, and
he kept noticing his horse's queer starts. We spied half a dozen
children in the gutter, at the tail of the horse, one of them plucking at
a hair. "Please, sir, may I have a hair out of your horse's tail?" said
the mite. We patted the poor horse that grew a tail for urchins to pluck
at. Men come to the fathers about their girls. It's my belief that
mothers more easily say no. If they learn the word as maids, you'll say!
However, there's no fear about my girl. Fredi's hard to snare. And what
brings you Cityward?'
'I want to know whether I shall do right in selling out of the Tiddler
'You have multiplied your investment by ten.'
'If it had been thousands!'
'Clearly, you sell; always jump out of a mounted mine, unless you're at
the bottom of it.'
'There are City-articles against the mine this morning--or I should have
been on my way to Whinfold at this moment. The shares are lower.'
'The merry boys are at work to bring your balloon to the ground, that you
may quit it for them to ascend. Tiddler has enemies, like the best of
mines: or they may be named lovers, if you like. And mines that have
gone up, go down for a while before they rise again; it's an affair of
undulations; rocket mines are not so healthy. The stories are false, for
the time. I had the latest from Dartrey Fenellan yesterday. He's here
next month; some time in August.'
'He is married, is he not?'
Victor's brevity sounded oddly to Lady Grace.
'Is he not a soldier?' she said.
'Soldiers and parsons!' Victor interjected.
Now she saw. She understood the portent of Mr. Barmby's hovering offer
of the choice of songs, and the recent tremulousness of the welling
But she had come about her own business; and after remarking, that when
there is a prize there must be competition, or England will have to lower
her flag, she declared her resolve to stick to Tiddler, exclaiming: 'It's
only in mines that twenty times the stake is not a dream of the past!'
'The Riviera green field on the rock is always open to you,' said Victor.
She put out her hand to be taken. 'Not if you back me here. It really
is not gambling when yours is the counsel I follow. And if I'm to be a
widow, I shall have to lean on a friend, gifted like you. I love
adventure, danger;--well, if we two are in it; just to see my captain in
a storm. And if the worst happens, we go down together. It 's the
detestation of our deadly humdrum of modern life; some inherited love of
'Does not Mr. Durance accuse you of an addiction to the brandy novel?'
'Colney may call it what he pleases. If I read fiction, let it be
fiction; airier than hard fact. If I see a ballet, my troop of short
skirts must not go stepping like pavement policemen. I can't read dull
analytical stuff or "stylists" when I want action--if I'm to give my mind
to a story. I can supply the reflections. I'm English--if Colney 's
right in saying we always come round to the story with the streak of
I don't ask for bloodshed: that's what his "brandy" means.'
'But Mr. Durance is right, we require a shedding; I confess I expect it
where there's love; it's part of the balance, and justifies one's
excitement. How otherwise do you get any real crisis? I must read and
live something unlike this flat life around us.'
'There's the Adam life and the Macadam life, Fenellan says. Pass it in
books, but in life we can have quite enough excitement coming out of our
thoughts. No brandy there! And no fine name for personal predilections
or things done in domino!' Victor said, with his very pleasant face,
pressing her hand, to keep the act of long holding it in countenance and
bring it to a well-punctuated conclusion: thinking involuntarily of the
other fair woman, whose hand was his, and who betrayed a beaten visage
despite--or with that poor kind of--trust in her captain. But the
thought was not guilty of drawing comparisons. 'This is one that I could
trust, as captain or mate,' he pressed the hand again before dropping it.
'You judge entirely by the surface, if you take me for a shifty person at
the trial,' said Lady Grace.
Skepsey entered the room with one of his packets, and she was reminded of
trains and husbands.
She left Victor uncomfortably rufed: and how? for she had none of the
physical charms appealing peculiarly to the man who was taken with
grandeur of shape. She belonged rather to the description physically
distasteful to him.
It is a critical comment on a civilization carelessly distilled from the
jealous East, when visits of fair women to City offices can have this
effect. If the sexes are separated for an hour, the place where one is
excluded or not common to see, becomes inflammable to that appearing
spark. He does outrage to a bona Dea: she to the monasticism of the
Court of Law: and he and she awaken unhallowed emotions. Supposing,
however, that western men were to de-orientalize their gleeful notions of
her, and dis-Turk themselves by inviting the woman's voluble tongue to
sisterly occupation there in the midst of the pleading Court, as in the
domestic circle: very soon would her eyes be harmless: unless directed
upon us with intent.
That is the burning core of the great Question, our Armageddon in
Morality: Is she moral? Does she mean to be harmless? Is she not
untamable Old Nature? And when once on an equal footing with her lordly
half, would not the spangled beauty, in a turn, like the realistic
transformation-trick of a pantomime, show herself to be that wanton old
thing--the empress of disorderliness? You have to recollect, as the
Conservative acutely suggests, that her timidities, at present urging her
to support Establishments, pertain to her state of dependence. The party
views of Conservatism are, must be, founded, we should remember, on an
intimate acquaintance with her in the situations where she is almost
unrestrictedly free and her laughter rings to confirm the sentences of
classical authors and Eastern sages. Conservatives know what they are
about when they refuse to fling the last lattice of an ancient harem open
to air and sun-the brutal dispersers of mystery, which would despoil an
ankle of its flying wink.
Victor's opinions were those of the entrenched majority; objecting to the
occult power of women, as we have the women now, while legislating to
maintain them so; and forbidding a step to a desperately wicked female
world lest the step should be to wickeder. His opinions were in the
background, rarely stirred; but the lady had brought them forward; and he
fretted at his restlessness, vexed that it should be due to the intrusion
of the sex instead of to the charms of the individual. No sting of the
sort had bothered him, he called to mind, on board the Channel boat-
nothing to speak of. 'Why does she come here! Why didn't she go to her
husband! She gets into the City scramble blindfold, and catches at the
nearest hand to help her out! Nice woman enough.' Yes, but he was
annoyed with her for springing sensations that ran altogether heartless
to the object, at the same time that they were disloyal to the dear woman
their natural divinity. And between him and that dear woman, since the
communication made by Skepsey in the town of Dreux, nightly the dividing
spirit of Mrs. Burman lay cold as a corpse. They both felt her there.
They kissed coldly, pressed a hand, said good night.
Next afternoon the announcement by Skepsey of the Hon. Dudley Sowerby,
surprised Victor's eyebrows at least, and caused him genially to review
the visit of Lady Grace.
Whether or not Colney Durance drew his description of a sunken nobility
from the 'sick falcon' distinguishing the handsome features of Mr.
Sowerby, that beaked invalid was particularly noticeable to Victor during
the statement of his case, although the young gentleman was far from
being one, in Colney's words, to enliven the condition of domestic fowl
with an hereditary turn for 'preying'; eminently the reverse; he was of
good moral repute, a worker, a commendable citizen. But there was the
obligation upon him to speak--it is expected in such cases, if only as a
formality--of his 'love': hard to do even in view and near to the
damsel's reddening cheeks: it perplexed him. He dropped a veil on the
bashful topic; his tone was the same as when he reverted to the material
points; his present income, his position in the great Bank of Shotts and
Co., his prospects, the health of the heir to the Cantor earldom. He
considered that he spoke to a member of the City merchants, whose
preference for the plain positive, upon the question of an alliance
between families by marriage, lends them for once a resemblance to lords.
When a person is not read by character, the position or profession is
called on to supply raised print for the finger-ends to spell.
Hard on poor Fredi! was Victor's thought behind the smile he bent on this
bald Cupid. She deserved a more poetical lover! His paternal sympathies
for the girl besought in love, revived his past feelings as a wooer;
nothing but a dread of the influence of Mr. Barmby's toned eloquence upon
the girl, after her listening to Dudley Sowerby's addresses, checked his
contempt for the latter. He could not despise the suitor he sided with
against another and seemingly now a more dangerous. Unable quite to
repress the sentiment, he proceeded immediately to put it to his uses.
For we have no need to be scrupulously formal and precise in the
exposition of circumstances to a fellow who may thank the stars if such a
girl condescends to give him a hearing. He had this idea through the
conception of his girl's generosity. And furthermore, the cognizant eye
of a Lucretian Alma Mater having seat so strongly in Victor, demanded as
a right an effusion of the promising amorous graces on the part of the
acceptable applicant to the post of husband of that peerless. These
being absent, evidently non-existent, it seemed sufficient for the
present, after the fashion of the young gentleman, to capitulate the few
material matters briefly.
They were dotted along with a fine disregard of the stateliness of the
sum to be settled on Nesta Victoria, and with a distant but burning wish
all the while, that the suitor had been one to touch his heart and open
it, inspiriting it--as could have been done--to disclose for good and all
the things utterable. Victor loved clear honesty, as he loved light: and
though he hated to be accused of not showing a clean face in the light,
he would have been moved and lifted to confess to a spot by the touch at
his heart. Dudley Sowerby's deficiencies, however, were outweighed by
the palpable advantages of his birth, his prospects, and his good repute
for conduct; add thereto his gentlemanly manners. Victor sighed again
over his poor Fredi; and in telling Mr. Sowerby that the choice must be
left to her, he had the regrets of a man aware of his persuasive arts and
how they would be used, to think that he was actually making the choice.
Observe how fatefully he who has a scheme is the engine of it; he is no
longer the man of his tastes or of his principles; he is on a line of
rails for a terminus; and he may cast languishing eyes across waysides to
right and left, he has doomed himself to proceed, with a self-devouring
hunger for the half desired; probably manhood gone at the embrace of it.
This may be or not, but Nature has decreed to him the forfeit of
pleasure. She bids us count the passage of a sober day for the service
of the morrow; that is her system; and she would have us adopt it, to
keep in us the keen edge for cutting, which is the guarantee of
enjoyment: doing otherwise, we lose ourselves in one or other of the
furious matrix instincts; we are blunt to all else.
Young Dudley fully agreed that the choice must be with Miss Radnor; he
alluded to her virtues, her accomplishments. He was waxing to
fervidness. He said he must expect competitors; adding, on a start, that
he was to say, from his mother, she, in the case of an intention to
present Miss Radnor at Court . . . .
Victor waved hand for a finish, looking as though, his head had come out
of hot water. He sacrificed Royalty to his necessities, under a kind of
sneer at its functions: 'Court! my girl? But the arduous duties are
over for the season. We are a democratic people retaining the seductions
of monarchy, as a friend says; and of course a girl may like to count
among the flowers of the kingdom for a day, in the list of Court
presentations; no harm. Only there's plenty of time . . . very young
girls have their heads turned--though I don't say, don't imagine, my girl
would. By and by perhaps.'
Dudley was ushered into Mr. Inchling's room and introduced to the figure-
head of the Firm of Inchling, Pennergate, and Radnor: a respectable City
merchant indeed, whom Dudley could read-off in a glimpse of the downright
contrast to his partner. He had heard casual remarks on the respectable
City of London merchant from Colney Durance. A short analytical gaze at
him, helped to an estimate of the powers of the man who kept him up. Mr.
Inchling was a florid City-feaster, descendant of a line of City
merchants, having features for a wife to identify; as drovers, they tell
us, can single one from another of their round-bellied beasts. Formerly
the leader of the Firm, he was now, after dreary fits of restiveness,
kickings, false prophecies of ruin, Victor's obedient cart-horse. He
sighed in set terms for the old days of the Firm, when, like trouts in
the current, the Firm had only to gape for shoals of good things to
fatten it: a tale of English prosperity in quiescence; narrated
interjectorily among the by-ways of the City, and wanting only metre to
make it our national Poem.
Mr. Inchling did not deny that grand mangers of golden oats were still
somehow constantly allotted to him. His wife believed in Victor, and
deemed the loss of the balancing Pennergate a gain. Since that
lamentable loss, Mr. Inchling, under the irony of circumstances the Tory
of Commerce, had trotted and gallopped whither driven, racing like mad
against his will and the rival nations now in the field to force the
pace; a name for enterprise; the close commercial connection of a man who
speculated--who, to put it plainly, lived on his wits; hurried onward and
onward; always doubting, munching, grumbling at satisfaction, in
perplexity of the gratitude which is apprehensive of black Nemesis at a
turn of the road,--to confound so wild a whip as Victor Radnor. He had
never forgiven the youth's venture in India of an enormous purchase of
Cotton many years back, and which he had repudiated, though not his share
of the hundreds of thousands realized before the refusal to ratify the
bargain had come to Victor. Mr. Inchling dated his first indigestion
from that disquieting period. He assented to the praise of Victor's
genius, admitting benefits; his heart refused to pardon, and consequently
his head wholly to trust, the man who robbed him of his quondam
comfortable feeling of security. And if you will imagine the sprite of
the aggregate English Taxpayer personifying Steam as the malignant who
has despoiled him of the blessed Safety-Assurance he once had from his
God Neptune against invaders, you will comprehend the state of Mr.
Inchling's mind in regard to his terrific and bountiful, but very
He thanked heaven to his wife often, that he had nothing to do with North
American or South American mines and pastures or with South Africa and,
gold and diamonds: and a wife must sometimes listen, mastering her inward
comparisons. Dr. Schlesien had met and meditated on this example of the
island energy. Mr. Inchling was not permitted by his wife to be much the
guest of the Radnor household, because of the frequent meeting there with
Colney Durance; Colney's humour for satire being instantly in bristle at
sight of his representative of English City merchants: 'over whom,' as he
wrote of the venerable body, 'the disciplined and instructed Germans not
deviously march; whom acute and adventurous Americans, with half a cock
of the eye in passing, compassionately outstrip.' He and Dr. Schlesien
agreed upon Mr. Inchling. Meantime the latter gentleman did his part at
the tables of the wealthier City Companies, and retained his appearance
of health; he was beginning to think, upon a calculation of the increased
treasures of those Companies and the country, that we, the Taxpayer,
ought not to leave it altogether to Providence to defend them;
notwithstanding the watchful care of us hitherto shown by our briny
Providence, to save us from anxiety and expense. But there are, he said,
'difficulties'; and the very word could stop him, as commonly when our
difficulty lies in the exercise of thinking.
Victor's African room, containing large wall-maps of auriferous regions,
was inspected; and another, where clerks were busy over miscellaneous
Continents. Dudley Sowerby hoped he might win the maiden.
He and Victor walked in company Westward. The shop of Boyle and
Luckwort, chemists, was not passed on this occasion. Dudley grieved that
he had to be absent from the next Concert for practise, owing to his
engagement to his mother to go down to the family seat near Tunbridge
Wells. Victor mentioned his relatives, the Duvidney maiden ladies,
residing near the Wells. They measured the distance between Cronidge and
Moorsedge, the two houses, as for half an hour on horseback.
Nesta told her father at home that the pair of them had been observed
confidentially arm in arm, and conversing so profoundly.
'Who, do you think, was the topic?' Victor asked.
She would not chase the little blue butterfly of a guess.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
Ask not why, where reason never was
Cover of action as an escape from perplexity
Honest creatures who will not accept a lift from fiction
Judgeing of the destiny of man by the fate of individuals
Memory inspired by the sensations
Nature could at a push be eloquent to defend the guilty
Satirist too devotedly loves his lash to be a persuasive teacher
Slave of existing conventions
Startled by the criticism in laughter
The impalpable which has prevailing weight
There is little to be learnt when a little is known
They kissed coldly, pressed a hand, said good night
Who enjoyed simple things when commanding the luxuries
Back to Full Books