The Heavenly Twins
Madame Sarah Grand
Part 8 out of 15
and then mounted a small pair of steps which had been placed there for the
purpose, and began to search for the screws. As he found them, he cut out
the hard putty that concealed them with a knife which one of the priests
had handed up to him for the purpose, and when he had accomplished this he
exchanged the knife for a screwdriver, and endeavoured to turn the screws;
but this required more strength than his ill-treatment of his poor body
had left in it, and he was obliged to relinquish the task to one of the
other priests. The two who had hitherto knelt at the altar now joined the
group in front of the panel. All five looked unhealthy and frightened, but
the one who next ascended the steps made a brave effort, and began to
remove the screws. He was a muscular man, but it was hard work, requiring
his full strength; and those present held their breath, and anxiously
watched him straining every sinew. And meanwhile the storm gathered
overhead, the lightning and thunder flashed and crashed almost
simultaneously, and the rain fell in torrents.
Having removed the screws, the priest descended the steps, which he pushed
on one side, and inserting the screwdriver into a crevice, prised the
panel outward. It resisted for some time, then, suddenly yielding, fell
forward on his head, and crashed noisily to the ground. All present
started and stared. The panel had concealed an aperture, a small niche
rudely made by simply removing some of the masonry. It was long and low,
and there lay in it what was unmistakably the body of a young child fully
dressed. The priests fell back, Lady Fulda's parted lips became set in the
act of uttering a word, the duke groaned aloud, while an expression of not
being able to believe their own eyes settled upon the countenances of Lord
Dawne, Dr. Galbraith, and the tutor, Mr. Ellis.
After the fall of the panel there was a pause, during which the very storm
seemed to wait in suspense. Nobody knew what to do next. But before they
had recovered themselves, Angelica broke the silence at the top of her
"You pushed me!" she angrily exclaimed.
"I did _not!_" Diavolo retorted.
Smack! And Miss Hamilton-Wells stood trembling with rage in the aisle.
Then she darted toward the aperture. The priests fell back. "I believe
it's all a trick," she said, reaching up and seizing the child by its
petticoats. Lady Fulda uttered an exclamation: the duke stood up, Angelica
tugged the figure out of the niche, looked at it, and then held it to the
It was a huge wax baby-doll, considerably battered, which had once been a
favourite of her own. Diavolo came out of his seat, hugging himself, and
bursting in eloquent silence.
Father Ricardo wiped the perspiration from his face, Lord Dawne bit his
under lip, Lady Fulda gathered herself up from her knees, and stood
helpless. Everybody looked foolish, including the duke, whose eyebrows
contracted nervously; then suddenly that treacherous memory of his landed
him back in the old days. "By Jove!" he exclaimed aloud, "I'm more like
Angelica, and less of a damned fool than I thought!"
"Come, Diavolo! this is no place for us!" Angelica cried.
She seized his hand, and they both darted into the sacristy.
There was a bang, a scuffle, and then a dull thud; but the first to follow
was only in time to see eight finger-tips clinging for a moment outside to
the ledge of one of the narrow windows, which was open.
"They've jumped out!" "It's fourteen feet!" "Hush, listen!"
And then the congregation scattered hurriedly from the sacred precincts,
leaving the candles burning on the altar, the doll lying on the pavement,
the gaping niche and the fallen panel to bear witness to some of the
incredible phases through which the human race passes on its way from
incomprehensible nothingness to the illimitable unknown.
The Heavenly Twins had disappeared for the night. Those who ran round to
the outside wall of the sacristy to look for them found only a shred of
Angelica's gown hanging on a shrub. Their footsteps could be followed
cutting across the grass of a soppy lawn, but beyond that was a walk of
hard asphalt, and there all trace of them was lost. But Lady Fulda said
they must be found, and brought back; and sleepy servants were accordingly
aroused and set to search the grounds, while grooms were sent off on
horseback to scour the lanes. The storm was still muttering in the
distance, but above Morne the sky had cleared, and the crescent moon shone
out to facilitate the search. It was quite fruitless, however. From Morne
to Morningquest the messengers went, passing backward and forward from the
castle the whole night long. Lady Fulda never closed her eyes, and when
the party assembled at breakfast next morning they were all suffering from
want of sleep.
The duke, Lord Dawne, Dr. Galbraith, Mr. Ellis, Father Ricardo and the
four strange priests were at table.
"What _can_ have become of those children?" Lady Fulda was exclaiming
for the hundredth time, when the door opened, and the twins themselves
appeared hand in hand, smiling affably.
They looked as fresh as usual, and began to perform their morning
salutations with their habitual self-possession.
"Where have you been?" the duke asked sternly.
"In bed, of course," Angelica answered--"till we got up, at least. Where
else should we be?" She looked round in innocent inquiry.
"We just ran round to the garden door, you know," Diavolo explained, "and
went to bed. You couldn't expect us to stay out on a dripping night like
Lord Dawne afterward expressed the feeling of the whole household when he
declared: "Well, it never did and it never would have occurred to me to
look for them in their own rooms."
He remained behind with them in the breakfast room that morning when the
"I suppose we shall be sent for directly," said Angelica resignedly.
"I say, how did you feel last night when it was all going on?" she
"Awfully nice," he rejoined. "I had little warm shivers all over me."
"So had I," she said, "like small electric shocks; and I believed in the
ghost and everything. I expect that is why that kind of supernatural
business is kept up, because it makes people feel creepy and nice. You
can't get the same sensation in any other way, and I dare say there are
lots of people who wouldn't like to lose a whole set of sensations. I
should think they're the kind of people who collect the remains of a
language to save it when it begins to die out."
"I should say those were intelligent people," her uncle observed. Angelica
looked at him doubtfully.
"Well, at any rate, _I_ should like to believe in ghosts," said
"So should I," said Angelica, "in fun, you know; and I was thinking so
last night; but then I could not help noticing what a fool Aunt Fulda was
making of herself, and grandpapa looked such a precious old idiot too.
They weren't enjoying it a bit, You were the only one of the family, Uncle
Dawne, who believed and looked dignified."
"Who told you I believed?" he asked.
"Well, I'm not sure that you did," Angelica answered. "But at all events,
your demeanour was respectful--hence the dignity, perhaps!"
"If yours were a little more respectful you would gain in dignity too, I
imagine," Diavolo observed.
Angelica boxed his ears promptly, whereupon her uncle took her to task
with unusual severity for him: "You are quite grown up now," he said. "You
talk like a mature woman, and act like a badly brought up child of ten.
You are always doing something ridiculous too. I should be ashamed to have
you at my house."
Angelica looked amazed. "Well, it is your fault as much as anybody's," she
burst out when she had recovered herself. "Why don't you make me something
of a life? You can't expect me to go on like this forever--getting up in
the morning, riding, driving, lessons, dressing, and bed. It's the life of
She got up, and going to one of the windows, which was open, leant out.
Dawne and Diavolo followed her. As the former approached, she turned and
looked him full in the face for an answer.
"You will marry eventually--" he began.
"Like poor Edith?" she suggested. Dawne compressed his lips. "That was her
ideal," Angelica proceeded--"her own home and husband and family, someone
to love and trust and look up to. She told me all about it at Fountain
Towers under the influence of indignation and strong tea. And she was
_an exquisite womanly creature!_ No, thank you! It isn't safe to be
an _an exquisite womanly creature_ in this rotten world. The most
useful kind of heart for a woman is one hard enough to crack nuts with.
Nobody could wring it then."
"You would lose all finer feeling--" Lord Dawne began.
"Including the heartache itself," she supplemented.
"But what _do_ you want?" he asked.
"An object," she answered. "Something! something! something beyond the
mere getting up in the morning and going to bed at night, with an interval
of exercise between. I want to do something for somebody!"
Lord Dawne raised his eyebrows slightly. He had no idea that such a notion
had ever entered her head.
At this point, a servant was sent by his Grace to request the twins to be
so good as to go to him in the library at once.
"It is the inevitable inquiry," Angelica said resignedly. "Come with us,
uncle, _do_," she coaxed. "It is sure to be fun!"
Lord Dawne consented.
On the way, Diavolo remarked ambiguously: "But I don't understand yet how
there came to be a ghost as well!"
The inquiry led to nothing. The Heavenly Twins had determined not to
incriminate themselves, and they refused to answer a question. They stood
together, drawn up in line, with their hands behind their backs; changed
from one leg to the other when they were tired, and looked exceedingly
bored; but they would not speak.
The duke stormed, Lady Fulda entreated, Father Ricardo prayed, even Lord
Dawne begged them not to be obstinate; but it was all in vain, and their
grandfather, losing all patience, ordered them out of the room at last.
As they retired, Diavolo asked Father Ricardo if he were thinking of
"I feel quite sure that Angelica did not know the doll was there," Lord
Dawne said when the twins had gone. "I fancy it was a trick Diavolo had
Nobody mentioned the ghost again. It was felt to be a delicate subject.
Lady Fulda was made to take rest and a tonic, the duke was rigidly dieted,
and Father Ricardo was sent away for change of air. But the twins never
ceased from troubling. As soon as the duke's temper was restored, they
consulted the party collectively at afternoon tea in the oriel room on the
subject of Angelica's dissatisfaction. Diavolo affected to share it, but
that was only by way of being agreeable, as he inadvertently betrayed.
"I suppose I shall have to do something myself," he drawled in his lazy
"I should think marriage is the best profession for you!" said Angelica
"Thank you. I will consider the question," Diavolo answered.
He was lying on the floor in his habitual attitude, with his head on the
windowsill, beaming about him blandly.
"The army is the only possible profession for a gentleman in your
position," the duke observed.
"Ah! that would not meet my views at present," Diavolo rejoined. "I am
advised that the army is not a career for a man. It is a career for a
machine--for a machine with a talent for converting other men into
machines, and I haven't the talent. I suppose, if Uncle Dawne _won't_
marry, I shall be obliged to go into the House of Lords eventually; but,
in the meantime, I should like to be doing some good in the world."
"You might go into Parliament," his uncle suggested.
"Ah, no!" Diavolo answered seriously. "I should never dream of undertaking
any of the actual work of the world while there are plenty of good women
to do it for me. My modest idea was to be a musician, or philanthropic
lecturer, or artist of some kind--something that gives pleasure, you know,
and the proceeds to be devoted to the indigent."
"May I ask if you belong to the peace party?" said the duke.
"I am a peace party myself," Diavolo answered. "Anybody who has lived as
long with Angelica as I have would be that--if he were not a party in
"I admire your wit!" said Angelica sarcastically.
Diavolo bestowed a grateful smile upon her.
"But everything is easy enough for a man of intellect," she went on,
"whatever his position. It is _our_ powers that are wasted."
"Vanity! vanity!" said Lady Fulda. "Why do you suppose that your abilities
"I can prove that they are!" Angelica answered hotly. Then suddenly her
spirits went up, and she began to be sociable.
For a few days after this the Heavenly Twins appeared to be very busy.
They both wrote a great deal, and also practised regularly on their
violins and the piano; and they made some mysterious expeditions, slipping
away unattended into Morningquest. It was suspected that they had
something serious on hand, but Father Ricardo being away, the spy-system
was suspended, so nobody knew. One morning, however, big placards, which
had been printed in London, appeared on every hoarding in Morningquest,
announcing in the largest type that Miss Hamilton-Wells and Mr. Theodore
Hamilton-Wells would give an entertainment in the Theatre for the benefit
of certain of the city charities, which were specified. The programme
opened with music, which was to be followed by a speech from Mr. Theodore
Hamilton-Wells, and to conclude with a monologue, entitled "The Condemned
Cell," to be delivered by Miss Hamilton-Wells, who had written it
specially for the occasion. This was the news which greeted Mr.
Hamilton-Wells and Lady Adeline upon their return from their voyage round
the world; and, like everybody else, when they first saw the placard,
which was as they drove from the station through Morningquest to the
castle, they exclaimed: "Who on earth is Mr. _Theodore_
The old duke was rather taken with the idea of the entertainment. It was
something quite in the manner of his youth, and if it had not been for the
inopportune arrival of his son-in-law and daughter, the Heavenly Twins
would probably have carried out their programme under his distinguished
patronage. Dr. Galbraith was all in favour of letting them do it, Lord
Dawne was neutral; but Mr. Hamilton-Wells objected. He caused the
announcement to be cancelled, and handsomely indemnified the various
charities named to be recipients of the possible proceeds.
Diavolo did not much mind. He was prepared to do all that Angelica
required of him, but when the necessity was removed he acknowledged that
it would have been rather a bore, and afterward spoke disrespectfully of
the whole project as "The Condemned Sell."
But the energy which Mr. Hamilton-Wells had collected during his travels
was not yet expended. He summoned a family council at Morne to sit upon
the twins, and having tried them in their absence they were sent for to be
sentenced without the option of appeal. Angelica was to be presented at
Court and otherwise "brought out" in proper splendour immediately; while,
with a view to going into the Guards eventually, Diavolo was to be sent to
Sandhurst, as soon as he had passed the necessary examinations, about
which Mr. Ellis said there would be no difficulty _if Diavolo chose_.
Diavolo shrugged his shoulders, and said that _he_ didn't mind.
Angelica said nothing, but her brow contracted. Diavolo's indifference was
putting an end to everything. It was not that she had any actual objection
to going to Court and coming out, but only to the way in which the
arrangement had been made--to the coercion in fact. She was too shrewd,
however, not to perceive that, in consequence of Diavolo's attitude,
rebellion on her part would be both undignified and ineffectual. So she
held her peace, and went to walk off her irritation in the grounds alone;
and there she encountered her fast friend of many years' standing, Mr.
Kilroy of Ilverthorpe, who was just riding in to lunch at the castle. When
he saw her he dismounted, and Angelica snatched the whip from his hand,
and clenching her teeth gave the horse a vicious slash with it, which set
him off at a gallop into the woods.
Mr. Kilroy let him go, but he was silent for some seconds, and then he
asked her in his peculiarly kindly way: "What is the matter, Angelica?"
"Marry me!" said Angelica, stamping her foot at him--"Marry me, _and
let me do as I like_."
Evadne spent eighteen months in Malta without going from the island for a
change, but at the end of her second cold season she went to Switzerland
with the Malcomsons and Sillingers, and Colonel Colquhoun went on leave at
the same time alone to some place which he vaguely described as "The
When they met again, Evadne noticed a change in him, and she feared it was
a change for the worse. He was out of health, out of temper, and
He had spent most of his leave at Monte Carlo, but he did not say so at
first; he was waiting for her to question him. Had she done so he would
have said something snappy about feminine curiosity; as she did not do so,
he lost his temper, went off to the mess, and drank too much.
It is a terrible thing for a man to be brought into constant association
with a woman who never does anything--in a small way--that he can carp at,
or says a word he can contradict. She robs him of all his most cherished
illusions; she shakes his confidence in his own infallible strength,
discernment, knowledge, judgment, and superiority generally; she outrages
his prejudices on the subject of what a woman ought to be, and leaves him
nothing with which to compare himself to his own advantage. This is the
miserable state to which Evadne was rapidly reducing poor Colonel
Colquhoun--not, certainly, of malice-prepense, but with the best
intentions. He did not like her opinions, therefore she ceased to express
opinions in his presence. He took exception to many of her observations,
and so she let the words, "I think" fall out of her vocabulary, and
confined her talk to a clear narrative of occurrences, uninterrupted by
comments. It was an art which she had to acquire, for she had no natural
aptitude for it, her faculty of observation having hitherto served as an
instrument with which she could extract lessons from life; a lens used for
the purpose of collecting data on exact scientific principles as matter
from which to draw conclusions; but with practice she became an adept in
the art of describing the one while at the same time withholding the
other, so that her conversation interested Colonel Colquhoun without,
however, giving him anything to cavil at. It was like a dish exactly
suited to his taste, but delicate to insipidity because his palate was
hardened to pepper. When she returned from Switzerland she gave him
details of her own doings which were interesting enough to take him out of
himself, until one day, when, unfortunately, it occurred to him that she
was making an effort to entertain him, and he determined that he would
_not_ be entertained--like a child, indeed! She might be a deuced
clever woman and all that, but he wasn't going to have those feminine airs
of superiority; so he snubbed her into silence, and having succeeded, he
became exceedingly annoyed because she would not talk. It was opposition
he wanted, not acquiescence, but she was not clever enough with all her
cleverness, this straightforward nineteenth century young woman, to
understand such subtleties. She had always heard that the contrariness of
women was a cause of provocation, and she could never have been made to
comprehend that the removal of the cause would be even more provoking than
the contrariness. The great endeavour of her life had been to cultivate or
acquire the qualities in which she understood that women are wanting, and
when she succeeded she expected to please; but she found Colonel Colquhoun
as "peculiar" on the subject as her father had been when she proved that,
although of the imbecile sex, she could do arithmetic. Colonel Colquhoun
waited a week to snap at her for asking him how he had spent his leave,
but he was obliged at last to give up all hope of being questioned; and
then he felt himself aggrieved. She certainly took no interest in him
whatever, he reflected; she didn't care a rap if he went to the dogs
altogether--in fact, she would probably be rather glad, because then she
would be free. She would waste a world of attention and care upon any
dirty little child she picked up in the street, but for him she had
neither thought nor sympathy. Clearly she wanted to get rid of him; and
she should get rid of him. He felt he was going to the bad; he
_would_ go to the bad; it was all her fault, and she should know it.
He had treated her with every possible consideration; she had never had
the slightest cause for complaint. He had even stuck up for her against
his own interests with her old ass of a father--and, by Jove! while she
was treating him, Colonel Colquhoun, commanding a crack corps, and one of
the smartest officers in her Majesty's service, with studied indifference,
she was thinking affectionately of the same dear old pompous portly papa,
to whom, in fact, she had never borne the slightest ill-will, Colonel
Colquhoun was sure, although he had done her the injury of allowing her to
marry herself to the kind of man whom it was against her principles even
But at this point his irritation overflowed. He could contain himself no
"Do you know where I spent most of my leave?" he asked one morning at
"No," Evadne answered innocently.
"At Monte Carlo," he said, with emphasis.
"I hope you enjoyed it. I have always heard it is a very beautiful place,"
she responded tranquilly.
"It's effect on my exchequer has not been beautiful," he observed grimly.
"Indeed," she answered. "Is it so expensive?"
"Gambling is, when you lose," he declared.
"Ah, yes. I forgot the tables at Monte Carlo," she remarked quite
cheerfully. "I suppose you can lose a great deal there."
"You can lose all you possess."
"Well, yes--of course you could if you liked; but I am quite sure you
would never do anything so stupid."
He looked at her curiously: "You don't disapprove of gambling, then?" he
"I? Oh--of course, I disapprove. But then you see I have no taste for it"--
this was apologetically said to signify that she did not in the least mean
to sit in judgment upon him.
"You have a fine taste for driving people to such extremities, then," he
She looked at him inquiringly.
"What I mean is this," he explained: "that if I could have been with you,
I should not have gone to Monte Carlo."
Evadne kept her countenance--with some difficulty; for just as Colonel
Colquhoun spoke she recollected a conversation they had had at breakfast
one morning under precisely similar circumstances, that is to say, each in
their accustomed place and temper, she placidly content, he politely
striving to bottle up the chronic form of irritation from which he
suffered at that time of the day so as to keep it nice and hot for the
benefit of his officers and men; for Colonel Colquhoun in the presence of
a lady was one person, but Colonel Colquhoun in his own orderly room or on
parade was quite another. While in barracks he was in the habit of
swearing with the same ease and as unaffectedly as he made the responses
in church. He probably did it from a sense of duty, because he had been
brought up in that school of colonel, and in the course of years would
naturally come to consider that a volley of oaths on parade, although not
laid down in the "Drill Book," was as much a part of his profession of
arms as "Good Lord, deliver us!" is of the church service. At all events,
he did both punctually at the right time and place, and never mixed his
week-day oaths with his Sunday responses, which was creditable. In fact,
he seemed to have the power of changing his frame of mind completely for
the different occasions, and would be prepared in advance, as was evident
from the fact that if a glove went wrong just as he was starting for
church, he would send up for another pair amiably; but if a similar
accident happened when he was on his way to parade, he would swear at his
man till he surprised him--the man not being a soldier servant.
But what very nearly made Evadne smile was the distinct recollection she
had of having asked him earnestly to join her party in Switzerland when he
went on leave, and of his answering "No," he should not care about that,
and suggesting that she should meet him at Monaco instead. She fancied he
must have a bad memory, but of course she said nothing; what is the use of
saying anything? She thought, however, that had she been under his orders,
the invitation to go to Monaco would have been a command, and the present
implied reproach a direct accusation.
She was most anxious that he should understand perfectly that she quite
shrank from interfering with him in any way.
One night--not knowing if he were at home or not--she had occasion to go
downstairs for a book she had forgotten. There was no noise in the house,
and consequently when she opened the drawing room door she was startled to
find that the room was brilliantly lighted, and that there was a party
assembled there, consisting of three strange ladies, loud in appearance,
one or two men she knew, and some she had not seen before. The majority
were seated at a card-table playing, while the rest stood round looking on;
and they must have reached a momentous point in the game, for Evadne had
not heard a sound to warn her of their presence before she saw them.
Colonel Colquhoun was one of those looking on at the game, and one of the
first to see her. He changed countenance, and came forward hastily,
conscious of the strange contrast she presented to those women, flushed
with wine and horrid excitement, gambling at the table, as she stood
there, rooted to the spot with surprise, in her gold-embroidered,
ivory-white draperies, with a half-inquiring, half-bewildered look on her
sweet grave face. It was a vision of holiness breaking in upon a scene of
sin, and his one thought was to get her away. There was always that saving
grace of the fallen angel about him, he never depreciated what he had
lost, but sometimes sighed for it sorrowfully.
"I beg your pardon for this intrusion," Evadne said, looking at him
pointedly so as to ignore the rest of the party. "I did not even know that
you were at home. I had forgotten a book and came for it. Will you kindly
give it to me? It is called"--she hesitated. "But it does not matter," she
added quickly. "I will read something else. Good-night!" and she turned,
smiling, without seeming to have seen anyone but Colonel Colquhoun, and
calmly swept from the room.
"St. Monica the Complacent, I should say," one of the men suggested.
"Or Vengeance smiling with murder in her mind," said another.
"No, a saint for certain," jeered one of the women.
"Why not say an angel at once?" cried another.
"I shouldn't have thought Colquhoun could keep either upon the premises,"
laughed the third.
"The lady you are pleased to criticise is my wife, gentlemen," said
Colonel Colquhoun, lashing out at them suddenly, his face blazing with
The women tried not to be abashed; the men apologised; but the game was
over for that night, and the party broke up abruptly.
When they had gone, Colonel Colquhoun looked about for Evadne's book, and
found it--not a difficult matter, for she had a bad habit of leaving the
book she was reading open and face downward on any piece of furniture not
intended to hold books, by preference a chair where somebody might sit
down upon it. This one happened to be upon the piano stool. Colonel
Colquhoun glanced at the title as he picked it up, and reading "A Vision
of Sin," understood why she had shrunk from naming it. He appreciated her
delicacy, but he feared the discernment which had shown her the necessity
for it, and he determined to disarm her resentment next day by making her
a proper apology at once.
He went down late to breakfast, expecting black looks at least, and was
surprised to find her calm and equable as usual, and busy, keeping his
breakfast hot for him.
"I wish to apologise to you for the scene you witnessed last night," he
"I think I owe _you_ an apology for taking you unawares like that,"
she interrupted cheerfully, giving her best attention to a very full cup
of coffee she was carefully carrying round the table to him. "But I hope
you understand it was an accident."
"I quite understood," he answered sullenly. "But I want to explain that
those people were also here by accident--at least I was not altogether
responsible for their presence. They were a party from one of the yachts
in the harbour. I met them here at the door, just as I was coming in last
night, and they forced themselves in uninvited. I hope you believe that I
would not willingly bring anyone to the house whom I could not introduce
"Oh, I quite believe it," she answered cordially. "You are always most
kind, most considerate. But I fear," she added with concern, "that my
being here must inconvenience you at times. Pray, pray, do not let that be
the case. I should regret it infinitely if you did."
When Evadne left Colonel Colquhoun he threw himself into a chair, and sat,
chin on chest, hands in pockets, legs stretched out before him, giving way
to a fit of deep disgust. He had always had a poor opinion of women, but
now he began to despair of them altogether. "And this comes of letting
them have their own way, and educating them," he reflected. "The first
thing they do when they begin to know anything is to turn round upon us,
and say we aren't good enough. And, by Jove! if we aren't, isn't it their
fault? Isn't it their business to keep us right? When a fellow's had too
good a time in his youth and suffered for it, what is to become of him if
he can't find some innocent girl to believe in him and marry him? But
there soon won't be any innocent girls. Here am I now, a most utter bad
lot, and Evadne knows it, and what does she do? apologizes for appearing
at an inopportune time! Now, Beston's wife would have brought the house
about his ears if she'd caught him with that precious party I had here
last night; and that's what a woman ought to do. She ought to _care_.
She ought to be jealous, and cry her eyes out. She ought to go down on her
knees and take some trouble to save a fellow's soul,"--it may be
mentioned, by the way, that if Evadne _had_ done so, Colonel
Colquhoun would certainly have sworn at her "for meddling with things
she'd no business to know anything about"; it was, however, not what he
_would_ but what she _should_ have done that he was considering
just then. "That's the proper thing to do," he concluded; "and I don't see
what's to be gained by this _cursed_ cold-blooded indifference."
Articulation ceased here because the startling theory that a vicious
dissipated man is not a fallen angel easily picked up, but a frightful
source of crime and disease, recurred to him, with the charitable
suggestion that a repentant woman of his own class would be the proper
person to reform him; ideas which settled upon his soul and silenced him,
being full-fraught for him with the cruel certainty that the end of "all
_true_ womanliness" is at hand.
Colonel Colquhoun's first interest in Evadne lasted longer than might have
been expected, but the pleasure of hanging about her palled on him at
last, and then he fell off in his kind attentions. This did not happen,
however, as soon as it would have done by many months, had their relations
been other than they were. It began in the usual way. Little acts to which
she had become accustomed were omitted, resumed again, and once more
omitted, intermittently, then finally allowed to drop altogether. When the
change had set in for certain, Evadne regretted it. The kindly feeling for
each other which had come to exist between them was largely due to her
appreciation of the numberless little attentions which it had pleased him
to pay her at first; they had not palled upon her, and she missed
them--not as a wife would have done, however, and that she knew; so that
when the fact that there _was_ to be a falling off became apparent,
she found in it yet another cause for self-congratulation, and one that
was great enough to remove all sting from the regret. What she was
prepared to resent, however, was any renewal of the gush after it had once
ceased; she required to be held, in higher estimation than a toy which
could be dropped and taken up again upon occasion--and Colonel Colquhoun
gave her an opportunity, and, what was worse, provoked her into saying so,
to her intense mortification when she came to reflect.
There was to be a ball at the palace one night, a grand affair, given in
honour of that same fat foreign prince who had stayed with her people at
Fraylingay, just before she came out, and had been struck by the promise
of her appearance. In the early days of their acquaintance, Colonel
Colquhoun had given her some very beautiful antique ornaments of Egyptian
design, and she determined to wear them on this occasion for the first
time, but when she came to try them with a modern ball-dress, she found
that they made the latter look detestably vulgar. She therefore determined
to design a costume, or to adapt one, which should be more in keeping with
the artistic beauty of her jewels; and this idea, with the help of an
excellent maid, she managed to carry out to perfection--which, by the way,
was the accident that led her finally to adopt a distinctive style of
dress, always a dangerous experiment, but in her case, fortunately, so
admirably successful, that it was never remarked upon as strange by people
of taste; only as appropriate.
Colonel Colquhoun dined at mess on the night of the ball, and did not
trouble himself to come back to escort her. He said he would meet her at
the palace, and if he missed her in the crowd there were sure to be plenty
of other men only too glad to offer her an arm. He had been most
particular never to allow her to go anywhere alone at first--rather
inconveniently so sometimes, but that she had endured. She was reflecting
upon the change as she sat at her solitary dinner that evening, and she
concluded by cheerfully assuring herself that she really was beginning to
feel quite as if she were married. But, afterward, when she found herself
in the drawing room it seemed big and bare, and all the more so for being
brilliantly lighted; and suddenly she felt herself a very little body all
alone. There was no bitterness in the feeling, however, because there was
no one neglecting her whose duty it was to keep her heart up; but it
threatened to grow upon her all the same, and in order to distract herself
she went downstairs to choose a bouquet. She had several sent her for
every occasion, and they were always arranged on a table in the hall so
that she might take the one that pleased her best as she went out. There
were more than usual this evening. There was one from the Grand Duke,
which she put aside. There was one from Colonel Colquhoun; he always
ordered them by the dozen for the different ladies of his acquaintance.
She picked it up and looked at it. It was beautiful in its way, but sent
at the florist's discretion, not chosen to suit her gown, and it did not
suit it, so that she could not have used it in any case; yet she put it
down with a sigh. The next was of yellow roses, violets, and maidenhair
fern, very sweet: "With Lord Groome's compliments," she read on the card
that was tied to it. "He is back then, I suppose," she thought. "Funny old
man! Very sorry, but you won't do." The next was from one of the
survivals, a man she loathed. She thought it an impertinence for him to
have sent her flowers at all, and she threw them under the table. The rest
she took up one after the other, reading the cards attached, and admiring
or disapproving of the different combinations without gratitude or
sentiment; she knew that self-interest prompted all of the offerings that
were not merely sent just because it was the right thing to do. There was
one unconventional bunch, however, that caught her eye. It was a mere
handful of scarlet flowers tied loosely together with ribbons of their own
colour and the same tint of green as their leaves. It was from a young
subaltern in the regiment, a boy whom she had noticed first because he was
the same age and somewhat resembled her brother Bertram; and had grown to
like afterward for himself. His flowers were the first to arouse her to
any expression of pleasure. The arrangement was new at the time, but it
has since become common enough.
"He has done that for me himself," she thought. "The boy respects me; I
shall wear his flowers. They are beautiful too," she added, holding them
off at arm's length to admire them--"the most beautiful of them all."
Almost immediately after she returned to the drawing room Mr. Price was
shown in. He was the person of all others at that moment in Malta whom she
would most have liked to see could she have chosen, and her face
brightened at once when he entered.
"I have been dining with your husband's regiment to-night," he explained,
"and I found that he could not come back for you to take you to the ball,
and that therefore you would have to go alone; and so I ventured to come
myself and offer you my escort."
"Ah, how good you are," Evadne cried, feeling fully for the first time how
much she had in heart been dreading the ordeal of having perhaps to enter
the ball room alone.
The old gentleman surveyed her some seconds in silence.
"That's original," he said at last, with several nods, approvingly. "And
that is a glorious piece of colour you have in your hand."
"Is it not?" she said, "More beautiful, I think, than all my jewels."
"Yes," he agreed. "The flowers are the finishing touch."
The ball had begun when Evadne arrived, and the first person she
encountered was the Grand Duke, who begged for a dance and took her to the
ball room. A dance was just over, however, when they entered; the great
room was pretty clear, and the prince led her toward the further end where
their hostess was sitting. There also was Colonel Colquhoun and and some
other men, with Mrs. Guthrie Brimston. He had forgotten Evadne for the
moment, and she was so transformed by the beautiful lines of her dress
that he had looked at her hard and admiringly before he recognized her.
"Who's the lady with the Grand Duke?" Major Livingston exclaimed.
"Someone with a figure, by Jove!" said old Lord Groome.
"Loyal Egypt herself!" said Mrs. Guthrie Brimston, always apt at analogy.
"Why--it's Evadne," said Colonel Colquhoun.
"Didn't know his own wife, by Jove!" Lord Groome exclaimed.
"Well, I hope I may be pardoned at that distance," rejoined Colonel
"Royal Egypt is more audacious than ever," Mrs. Guthrie Brimston observed.
"This is a new departure. The reign of ideas is over, I fancy, and a
season of social success has begun."
Evadne danced till daylight, unconscious of the sensation she had made,
and rose next morning fresh for the usual occupations of the day; but her
success of the night before had so enhanced her value in Colonel
Colquhoun's estimation that he was inclined to be effusive. He returned to
lunch, and hung about her the whole afternoon, much to her inconvenience,
because he had not been included in her arrangements for some months now,
and she could not easily alter them all at once just to humour a whim of
his. But wherefore the whim? A very little reflection explained it. Looks
and tones, and words of her partners of the previous night, not heeded at
the time, recurred to her now, and made her thoughtful. But she could not
feel flattered, for it was obviously not her whom Colonel Colquhoun was
worshipping, it was success; and the perception of this truth suggested a
possible parallel which made her shudder. It was a terrible glimpse of
what might have been, what certainly _would_ have been, had not the
dear Lord vouchsafed her the precious knowledge which had preserved her
from the ultimate degradation and the insult which such an endeavour as
that of a woman she had in her mind, to win back a wandering husband,
would have resulted in. "_I_ do not care," was her happy thought when
she began to see less of Colonel Colquhoun; "but a wife would feel
differently, and it would have been just the same had I been his wife."
He was not surprised to find her submit to his extra attentions in silence
that afternoon, because that was her way, but he found her looking at him
once or twice with an expression of deep thought in her eyes which
provoked him at last to ask what it was all about. "I was thinking," she
answered, "of that painful incident in 'La Femme de Trente-ans' where
Julie so far forgot her self-respect as to try to re-awaken her husband's
admiration for her by displaying her superior accomplishments at the house
of that low woman Mme. de Sericy. You remember she made quite a sensation
by her singing: 'Et son mari, reveille par le role qu'elle venait de
jouer, voulut l'honorer d'une fantaiste, et la prit en gout, comme il eut
fait d'une actrice.' I was thinking, when she became aware of what she had
done, of the degradation of the position in which she had placed herself,
how natural it was that she should despise herself, cursing marriage which
had brought her to such a pass, and wishing herself dead."
Colonel Colquhoun became moody upon this: "My having stayed at home with
you this afternoon suggests a parallel, I suppose, after your success of
last night?" he inquired. "And you have been congratulating yourself all
day," he proceeded, summing up judicially, "upon having escaped the
degradation of being the wife _de facto_ of a man whose admiration
for you could cool--under any circumstances; and be revived again by a
vulgar success in society?"
She was silent, and he got up and walked out of the house. From where she
sat she saw him go, twirling his blond moustache with one hand, and
viciously flipping at the flowers as he passed with the stick he carried
in the other; a fine, soldier-like man in appearance certainly, and not
wanting in intelligence since he could comprehend her so exactly; but, oh,
how oppressive when in an admiring mood! This was her first feeling when
she got rid of him; but a better frame of mind supervened, and then she
suffered some mortification for having weakly allowed herself to be
betrayed into speaking so plainly. Yet it proved in the long run to have
been the kindest thing she could have done, for Colonel Colquhoun was
enlightened at last, and they were both the better for the understanding.
But the house seemed full of him still after he had gone that day, and she
therefore put on her things, and, hurrying out into the fresh air, walked
quickly to the house of a friend where she knew she would find a fresh
moral atmosphere also. She was soul sick and depressed. Life felt like the
end of a ball, all confusion, and every carriage up but her own; torn
gowns, worn countenances, spiteful remarks, ill-natures evident that were
wont to be concealed, disillusion generally, and headache threatening.
But, fortunately, she found a friend at home to whom she instinctively
went for a moral tonic. This was a new friend, Lady Clan, the widow of a
civil service official, who wintered all over the world as a rule, but
had passed that year at Malta. She was a cheery old lady, masculine in
appearance, but with a great, kind, womanly heart, full of sympathetic
insight--and a good friend to Evadne, whom she watched with fear as well
as with interest, doubting much what would come of all that was
unaccustomed about the girl. The sweet grave face and half shut eyes
appealed to her pathetically that afternoon in particular, as Evadne sat
silently beside her, busy with a piece of work she had brought. Lady Clan
thought her lips too firm; as she grew older, she feared her mouth would
harden in expression if she were not happy--and the old lady inwardly
prayed Heaven that she might be saved from that; prayed that little arms
might come to clasp her neck, and warm little lips shower kisses upon
_her_ lips to keep them soft and smiling, lest they settled into
stony coldness, and forgot the trick.
Malta was enlivened that winter by a joke which Mrs. Guthrie Brimston made
without intending it.
Mrs. Malcomson had written a book. She was thirty years of age, and had
been married to a military man for ten, and in that time she had seen some
things which had made a painful impression upon her, and suggested ideas
that were only to be got rid of by publishing them. Ideas cease to belong
to an author as soon as they are made public; if they are new at all
somebody else appropriates them; and if they are old, as alas! most of
them must be at this period of the world's progress, the mistaken
reproducer is relieved of the horrid responsibility by kindly critics
promptly. Blessed is the man who never flatters himself with the delusion
that he can do anything original; for, verily, he shall not be
Mrs. Malcomson made no such vain pretension. She was quite clever enough
to know her own limitations exactly. Out of everyday experiences everyday
thoughts had come to her, and when she began to embody such thoughts in
words she did not suppose that their everyday character would be altered
by the process. She had not met any of those perfect beings who inhabit
the realms of ideal prose fiction, and make no mistakes but such as are
necessary to keep the story going; nor any of the terrible demons, without
a redeeming characteristic, who haunt the dim confines of the same
territory for purposes invariably malign; and it never occurred to her to
pretend that she had. She was a simple artist, educated in the life-school
of the world, and desiring above everything to be honest--a naturalist, in
fact, with positive ideas of right and wrong, and incapable of the
confusion of mind or laxity of conscience which denies, on the one hand,
that wrong may be pleasant in the doing, or claims, on the other, with
equal untruth, that because it is pleasant it must be, if not exactly
right, at all events, excusable. So she endeavoured to represent things as
she saw them, things real, not imaginary; and when her characters spoke
they talked of the interests which were daily discussed in her presence,
and expressed themselves as human beings do. She was too independent to be
conventional, and it was therefore inevitable that she should bring both
yelp and bray upon herself, and be much misunderstood. When asked why she
had written the book, she answered candidly "For my own benefit, of
course," which caused a perfect howl of disapprobation, for, if that were
her object, there could be no doubt that she would attain it, as the book
had been a success from the first; but as people had hastily concluded
that she was setting up for a social reformer and would fail, they were
naturally disgusted. They had been prepared to call the supposed attempt
great presumption on her part; but when they found that she had merely her
own interests in view, and had not let their moral welfare cost her a
thought, they said she was not right-minded; whereupon she observed; "I
don't mind having my morals attacked; but I should object to be pulled up
for my grammar"--meaning that she was sure of her morals, but was half
afraid that her grammar might be shaky. As is inevitable, however, under
such circumstances, this obvious interpretation was rejected, and the most
uncharitable construction put upon her words. It was said, among other
things, that she evidently could not be moral at heart, whatever her
conduct might be, because she made mention of immorality in her book. Her
manner of mentioning the subject was not taken into consideration, because
such sheep cannot consider; they can only criticise. The next thing they
did, therefore, was to take out the incident in the book which was most
likely to damage her reputation, and declare that it was autobiographical.
There was one man who knew exactly when the thing had occurred, who the
characters were, and all about it.
"Nunc dimittis!" said Mrs. Malcomson when she heard the story; "for the
same thing has been said of the author of any book of consequence that has
ever appeared." And naturally she was somewhat puffed up. But it remained
for Mrs. Guthrie Brimston to cap the criticisms. Her smouldering
antagonism to Mrs. Malcomson was kept alight by a strong suspicion she had
that Mrs. Malcomson was wont to ridicule her; and as a matter of fact the
best jokes of that winter _were_ made by Mrs. Malcomson at the
expense of Mrs. Guthrie Brimston. It was not likely, therefore, that the
latter would spare Mrs. Malcomson if she ever had an opportunity of
crushing her, and she watched and waited long for a chance, until at last
one night, at a dinner party, she thought the auspicious moment had
arrived, and hastened to take advantage of it; but, unfortunately for her,
she chose a weapon she was unaccustomed to handle, and in her awkwardness
she injured herself.
Mr Price was giving the dinner, and Mrs. Malcomson was not there, but the
Colquhouns and Sillengers were, and other friends of hers, kindly
disposed, cultivated people, who spoke well of her, and were all agreed in
their praise of her work.
Mrs. Guthrie Brimston stiffened as she listened to their remarks, but held
her peace for a time, with thin lips compressed, and rising ire apparent.
"I cannot class the book," said Colonel Sillenger. "It does not claim to
be fact exactly, and yet it is not fiction."
"Not a novel, but a novelty," Major Guthrie Brimston put in, clasping his
hands on his breast, twiddling his thumbs, and setting his head on one
side, the "business" with which he usually accompanied one of his
"What I admire most about Mrs. Malcomson is her courage," said Mr. Price.
"She ignores no fact of life which may be usefully noticed and commented
upon, but gives each in its natural order without affectation. Do you not
agree with me?" he asked, turning to Mrs. Guthrie Brimston who was
standing beside him.
Her nostrils flapped. "If you mean to say that you _like_ Mrs.
Malcomson's book, I do _not_ agree with you," she answered decidedly;
"I consider it _improper_, simply!"
There was a momentary silence, such as sometimes precedes a burst of
applause at a theatre; and then there was laughter! Such an objection from
such a quarter was considered too funny, and when it became known, there
was quite a run upon the book; for Mrs. Guthrie Brimston's stories were
familiar to the members of all the messes, naval and military, in and
about the island, not to mention the club men, and the curiosity to know
what she did consider an objectionable form of impropriety in narrative
made Mrs. Malcomson's fortune.
From that time forward, however, Mrs. Guthrie Brimston's influence was
perceptibly upon the wane. Even Colonel Colquhoun wearied of her--to
Evadne's great regret. For Mrs. Guthrie Brimston's vulgarity and
coarseness of mind were always balanced by her undoubted propriety of
conduct, and her faults were altogether preferable to the exceeding polish
and refinement which covered the absolutely corrupt life of a new
acquaintance Colonel Colquhoun had made at this time, a Mrs. Drinkworthy,
who would not have lingered alone with him anywhere in public, but dressed
sumptuously at his expense the whole season. The different estimation in
which he held the two ladies and his respect for Evadne herself was
emphasised by the fact that he never brought Mrs. Drinkworthy to the
Colquhoun House, nor encouraged Evadne to associate with her as he had
always encouraged her to associate with Mrs. Guthrie Brimston. And there
can be no doubt that the latter's influence was restraining, for, after
his allegiance to her relaxed, Evadne noticed new changes for the worse in
him, and regretted them all the more because she feared that a chance
remark of her own had had something to do with weaning him from the
Guthrie Brimstons. She had been having tea with him there one day, and on
their way home Colonel Colquhoun said something to her about the Guthrie
Brimstons baying been unusually amusing.
"They only seemed unusually talkative to me," she answered; "but I always
come away from their house depressed, and with a very low estimate of
human nature generally. I feel that their mockery is essentially 'the fume
of little minds'; and when they are particularly facetious at other
people's expense, I leave them with the pleasing certainty that our own
peculiarities will be put under the microscope as soon as we are out of
earshot, a species of inquisition from which no human being can escape
Colonel Colquhoun reflected upon this. His horror of being made to appear
ridiculous may have hitherto blinded him to the possibility of such a
thing--there is no knowing; but, at all events, it was from that time
forward that he began to go less to the Guthrie Brimstons.
He was just at the age, however, when the manners of certain men begin to
deteriorate, especially in domestic life. Their capacity for pleasure has
been lessened by abuse, and they have to excite it with stimulants. They
become less careful in their appearance, are not particular in their
choice of words before the ladies of their own families, nor nice in their
manners at table. If not already married, they look about for something
young and docile on which to inflict their ill-humours, and expect to have
their maladies of mind and body tenderly cared for in return for such
ecstatic joy as young wives find in the sober certainties of board and
lodging. Should they be married already, however, Heaven be good to their
wives, for they will have no comfort upon earth!
But doubtless in the good time coming, all estimable wives will subscribe
to keep up asylums to which their husbands can be quietly removed for
treatment, so soon after the honeymoon as their manners show signs of
deterioration. When they begin to be greedy, forget to say "please,"
"thank you," and "I beg your pardon;" show no consideration for anyone's
comfort but their own, no natural affection, and lose control of their
tempers; the best thing that can be done for them, and the kindest, is to
place them under proper restraint at once. They cannot be treated at home.
Opposition irritates them, and humouring such dreadful propensities
submissively only confirms them.
The deterioration of Colonel Colquhoun had certainly been delayed by the
arrangement which in honour bound him to treat Evadne as a young lady, and
not as a wife; but that it should set in eventually, was inevitable. When
it did begin, however, it was less in manner, for the same reason that had
delayed it, than in pursuits, and therefore Evadne's position was not
affected by it, and she continued to have a kindly, affectionate feeling
for him, and to pity him still without bitterness.
He began to stay out late at night, at this time, and she would hear him
occasionally in the small hours of the early morning returning from a
bachelor dinner party, or a big guest-night at mess, reeking, doubtless,
of tobacco and stimulants. Verily, Ouida knows what she is writing about
when she invariably adds "essences" to the toilet of her dissipated men.
Evadne would wake with a start in the gray of the dawn sometimes, and
hearing Colonel Colquhoun pass her door with unsteady step on his way to
his own room, would shudder to think what his wife must have suffered. And
it was not as if the sacrifice of herself would have made any difference
to him either. If she could have done any good in that way she might have
tried; but his habits were formed, and they were the outcome of his
nature. Nothing would have changed him, and the longer she lived with him,
the more reason she had to be convinced of this, and to be sure that her
decision had been a right and wise one.
But Colonel Colquhoun did not agree with her. He cherished the vain
delusion that, although her influence as a young lady whom he admired and
respected had not availed to elevate him, her presence as a wife, whose
feelings he certainly would not have felt bound to consider, and whose
opinion he would not have cared a rap for, would have made all the
They drifted into a discussion of this subject one hot afternoon when he
happened to find Evadne idling for a wonder with a fan at an open window.
"You might have made anything you liked of me had you adopted a different
course," he said. He had been carousing the night before, and was now
mistaking nausea and depression for a naturally good disposition perverted
"No," she answered gently. "I do not flatter myself that I should have
succeeded where Mrs. Beston and half a dozen other ladies I could name
even here, in a little place like Malta, all more lovable, estimable, and
stronger in womanly attributes generally than I am, have failed. Colonel
Beston is always with your particular clique--and she is very unhappy."
"She makes herself miserable then," said Colonel Colquhoun, the natural
man reappearing as the _malaise_ passed off or was forgotten, "What
business is it of hers where he goes or what he does so long as he is nice
to her when he _is_ at home?"
"Just reverse the position, and consider what Colonel Beston's feelings
would be if she took to amusing herself as he does, and maintained that he
had no business to interfere with her private pursuits; would he be
satisfied so long as she was 'nice' to him at home?" Evadne asked.
Colonel Colquhoun's countenance lowered. "That is nonsense," he said.
"Women are different. They must behave themselves."
Evadne smiled. "I am beginning to know that phrase," she said. "It puzzled
me at first, because it is neither reason nor argument, but merely an
assertion somewhat in the nature of a command, and equally applicable to
either sex, if the other chose to use it. But I know that what you have
just said with regard to Mrs. Beston having no occasion to make herself
miserable is your true feeling on the subject, and therefore I am
convinced that if I had 'adopted a different course,' it would not have
been to your advantage in any way, and it would certainly have been very
much to the reverse of mine. We are excellent friends as it is, because we
are quite independent of each other, but had it been otherwise--I shudder
to think of the hopeless misery of it."
Colquhoun was silent.
"There is no hope for me, then," he said at last, lamely. "I suppose the
truth of the matter is you never cared for me at all; you just thought you
would get married, and accepted me because I was the first person to
propose, and your friends considered me eligible. I think you are
cold-hearted, Evadne. I have watched you since you came out here, and I've
never seen you fancy any man, even for a moment."
Evadne flushed angrily. It is one thing to consider ethical questions in
relation to their bearing upon the future of the world at large, and
another to have it suggested that you have been under observation yourself
with a view to discovering if you found it possible to live up to your own
ideas. It was a fact, however, that no man attracted Evadne during this
period as Colonel Colquhoun himself had done. The shock of the discovery
which had destroyed her passion for him had caused a revulsion of feeling
great enough to subdue all further possibilities of passion for years to
come, and even if she had been free to marry she would not have done so.
All the energy of her nature had flashed from her heart to her brain in a
moment, and every instinct of her womanhood was held in check by the
superior power of intellect. Since the day of the marriage ceremony she
had been a child in her pleasures, and only mature in the capacity for
thought. Her senses had been stunned, and still slept heavily; but there
remained to her a vivid recollection of the entrancing period which had
followed their first awakening, and so she answered Colonel Colquhoun's
last remark decidedly.
"You are mistaken," she said, "if you imagine that I did not care for you--
that I was merely marrying you for the sake of marrying, and would have
been quite as content with anyone else whom my friends might have
considered eligible. My mother was very much disappointed because I did
not accept an offer I had before I saw you from a man who was certainly
'eligible' in every way--I think you said my father had told you of it? I
could not care for _him_; but I think my passion for _you_ was
blinder and more headlong, if anything, than is usually the case in very
young girls. It possessed me from the moment I saw you in church that
first time. You pleased my eyes as no other man has ever done, and I was
only too glad to take it for granted that your career and your character
were all that they ought to have been. But of course I did not love you,
for passion, you know, is only the introduction to love. It is a flame
that may be blown out at any time by a difference of opinion, and mine
went out the moment I learnt that your past had been objectionable. I
really care more for you now than I did in the days when I was 'in love'
with you. For you have been very good to me--very kind in every possible
way. So much so, indeed, that I have more than once felt the keenest
regret--I have wished that there was no barrier between us."
"There is no hope for me, then?" he again suggested, but with hope in his
heart as he spoke.
She shook her head sadly.
"It is what might have been that I regret," she answered; "but that does
not change what has been--and is."
"I suppose you consider that I have spoilt your life?" he said.
"Oh, no!" she exclaimed. "Don't think that. Don't blame yourself. I have
never blamed you since I was cool enough to reflect. It is the system that
is at fault, the laxity which permits anyone, however unfit, to enter upon
the most sacred of all human relations. Saints should find a reward for
sanctity in marriage; but the Church, with that curious want of foresight
for which it is peculiar, induced the saints to put themselves away in
barren celibacy so that their saintliness could not spread, while it
encouraged sinners satiated with vice to transmit their misery-making
propensities from generation to generation. I believe firmly that
marriage, when those who marry are of such character as to make the
contract _holy_ matrimony, is a perfect state, fulfilling every law
of our human nature, and making earth with all its drawbacks a heaven of
happiness; but such marriages as we see contracted every day are simply a
degradation of all the higher attributes which distinguish men from
beasts. For there is no contract more carelessly made, more ridiculed,
more lightly broken; no sacred subject that is oftener blasphemed; and
nothing else in life affecting the dignity and welfare of man which is
oftener attacked with vulgar ribaldry in public, or outraged in private by
the secret conduct of it. No. You are not to blame, nor am I. It is not
our fault that we form the junction of the old abuses and the new modes of
thought. Some two people must have met as we have for the benefit of
others. But it has been much better with us than it might have
been--thanks to your kindness. I have been quite happy here with you--much
happier than I should have been at Fraylingay, I think, all this time. You
have never interfered with my pursuits or endeavoured to restrict my
liberty in any way, and consequently my occupations and interests have
been more varied, and my content greater than it would have been at home
after my father had discovered how very widely we differ in opinion. I am
grateful to you, George, and I do hope that it has been as well with you
as it has been with me since I came to Malta."
"Oh, yes. I have been all right," he answered--in a quite dissatisfied
tone, however. But presently that passed, and then he slid into a better
frame of mind, "You are a good woman, Evadne," he said. "You have played
me a--ah--_very_ nasty trick, and I don't agree with you--and I don't
believe there are a dozen men in the world at the present moment who would
agree with you. But, apart from your peculiar opinions, you are about one
of the nicest girls I ever knew. Everything you do is well done. You're
never out of temper. You don't speak much, as a rule, but you're always
ready to respond cheerfully when you're spoken to--and you don't
interfere. I wish from the bottom of my soul you had never been taught to
read and write, and then you would have had no views to come between us.
But since you think you cannot care for me, I shall not persecute you. I
gave you my word of honour that I never would, and I hope I have kept it."
"Yes--_indeed_. You have been goodness itself," she answered.
"I wrote and told your father how very well we get on," he continued, "and
tried to persuade him to make it up with you, but the old gentleman is
obstinate. He has his own notion of a wife's duty, and he sticks to it.
But I did my best, because I know you feel the separation from your own
family, although you never complain. He can't get over your wanting a
'Christlike' man for a husband. He says he laughs every time he thinks of
it. The first time he laughed at that idea of yours I was there, and
a--eh--_very_ unpleasant laugh it was. It got my back up somehow, and
made me feel ready to take your part against him. It isn't a compliment,
you know, to have your father-in-law laugh outright at the notion of your
ever being able to come up to your wife's idea of what a man should be.
And when he came down raging about your books, it was the recollection of
that laugh, I believe, that made me determine to get them for you, I asked
your mother to show me your old rooms, and I just took all the books I
could find; and then I thought it would be a good idea to make your new
rooms look as much like the old ones as possible."
"It was a very kind thought," Evadne answered.
"I don't pretend to have been a saint; very much the contrary," Colonel
Colquhoun proceeded with that assumption of humility often apparent in the
repentant sinner who expects to derive both credit and importance from his
past when he frankly confesses it was wicked, "but I hope I have always
been a gentleman,"--with her "saint" and "gentleman" were synonymous
terms,--"and what I want to say is," he continued--"I don't quite see how
to put it; but you have just expressed yourself satisfied with the
arrangements I have made for you so far. Well, if you really think that I
have done all I can to make your life endurable, will you do something for
me? I am a good deal older than you are. In all human probability you will
outlive me. Will you promise me that during my lifetime you will not mix
yourself up publicly--will not join societies, make speeches, or publish
books, which people would know you had written, on the social subjects you
are so fond of."
"_Fond_ of!" she ejaculated.
"Well, perhaps that is not the right expression," he conceded.
"No, very far from the right expression," she answered gently. "Social
subjects seem to be forcing themselves on the attention of every
thoughtful and right-minded person just now, and it would be culpable
cowardice to shun them while there is the shadow of a hope that some means
may be devised to put right what is so very wrong. Ignoring an evil is
tantamount to giving it full licence to spread. But I am thankful to say I
have never known anyone who found the knowledge of evil anything but
distressing--except Mrs. Guthrie Brimston, and she only delights in it so
long as it is made a jest of. But they are all alike in that set she
belongs to. Their ideas of propriety are bounded by their sense of
pleasure. So long as you talk flippantly, they will listen and laugh; but
if you talk seriously on the same subject, you make the matter
disagreeable, and then they call it 'improper.'"
Colonel Colquhoun was standing with his arms folded on the parapet of the
veranda looking down a vista of yellow houses at a glimpse there was of
the sea, dotted with boats, hazy with heat, intensely blue, and sparkling
back reflections of the glaring sun. From where Evadne sat she saw the
same scene through the open balustrade over the tops of the oleanders
growing in the garden below, and gradually the heat, and stillness, and
beauty, stole over her, melting her mood to tenderness, and filling her
mind with sadly sweet memories of the days of delight which preceded "all
this." She thought of the yellow gorse on the common, recalling its
peculiar fragrance; of the misty cobwebs stretched from bush to bush, and
decked with dazzling drops of dew; of the healthy happy heath creatures
peeping out at her shyly, here a rabbit and there a hare; of a lark that
sprang up singing and was lost to sight in a moment, of a thrush that
paused to reflect as she passed. She thought of the little church on the
high cliffs, the bourne of her morning walks, of the long stretch of sand;
and of the sea; and she felt the fresh free air of those open spaces rouse
her again to a gladness in life not often known to ladies idling on
languid afternoons in the sickly heat essential to the wellbeing of
citron, orange, and myrtle; beloved of the mythical faun, but fatal to the
best energies of the human race. And by a very natural transition, her
mind leaped on to that morning in church when the sense of loneliness
which comes to all young creatures that have no mate resolved itself into
that silent supplication, the petition which it is a part of the joy of
life in youth to present to a heaven which is willing enough to hear; and
she recalled the thrill of delight that trembled through every nerve of
her body when she looked up, and found her answer, when she saw and
recognized what she sought in the glance which, flashing between them, was
the spark that first fired the train of her blind passion for Colonel
Colquhoun. She thought then that her prayer was answered at that moment;
and she believed still that it had been answered so; but for a special
purpose which she had not then perceived. Colonel Colquhoun was not the
husband of her heart, but the rod of chastisement for her rash presumption;
he had not been given to her for her own happiness, but that she might
act as she had done to set an example by which she should have the double
privilege of expiating a fault of her own, and at the same time securing
the peace in life of others. It was in this way there hummed in her brain
on that hot afternoon results of the faith which had been held by her
ancestors; of the teaching which she had herself received directly; with a
curious glimmering of truths that were already half apparent to her own
acute faculties; an incongruous jumble all leavened by the natural
instincts of a being rich in vitality, and wholesome physical force. With
the recollection of the old days came back the shadow of the old
sensation. The interval was forgotten for the moment. She saw before her
the man whose every glance and word had thrilled her with pleasurable
emotion, whom it had been a joy just to be with and see. It was the same
man leaning there, fine of form and feature, with a dreamy look in his
blue eyes softening the glitter which was apt to be hard and stony. If
only--At that moment Colonel Colquhoun looked round at her, hesitated,
although his face flushed, and then exclaimed: "Evadne, you _do_ love
"I _did_ love you," she answered.
He sat down beside her, close to her: "Will you forget all this?" he said.
"Will you forget my past; will you make me a different man? Will you? You
can." He half stretched out his hand to take hers, but then drew back, a
gentleman always in that he would not force her inclinations in any way.
"If I do not change, we can be again as we are now, and there would be no
harm done. Will you consent, Evadne, will you--my wife--will you?"
He leant forward so close that her senses were troubled--too close, for
she pushed her chair back to relieve herself of the oppression, and the
act irritated him. Another moment, a little more persuasion and caressing
of the voice, which he could use so well to that effect, and she might
have given in to the kind of fascination which she had felt in his
presence from the first; but when she moved he drew back too, his
countenance clouded, and her own momentary yearning to be held close,
close; to be kissed till she could not think; to live the intoxicating
life of the senses only, and not care, was over.
"We could never be again as we are now," she answered. "There would be no
return for me. A wife cannot feel as I do. And you--you would not change.
Or at least you would only change your habits; the consequences of them
you will carry to your grave with you, and I doubt if you could ever
change your habits once for all. You were a different man for a while when
I first came out, but you soon relapsed. No. I can never regret my present
attitude; but I have seen several times already how much reason I should
have to regret--a different arrangement."
"You make light of love," he said. "Many a girl has died of a
"Many a girl is a fool," she answered placidly. "And what can love offer
me in exchange for the calm content of my life just now? for my perfect
health? for my freedom from care?"
"A reconciliation with your family," he suggested.
She sighed, and sat silent a little, lost in thought.
"I do not live with my family now," she answered at last. "They have all
their own interests, their own loves, apart from mine; would a letter or
two a year from them make up after all for the risk of misery I should be
running--for the terrible, helpless, hopeless, incurable misery of an
unhappily married woman, if I should become one?"
He rose and returned to his old position, leaning over the veranda,
looking down to the sea.
"You are cold-blooded, I think, Evadne," he reiterated.
She said nothing, but rested her head on the back of her chair and smiled.
She was not cold-blooded, and he knew it as well as she did. She was only
a nineteenth century woman of the higher order with senses so refined that
if her moral as well as her physical being were not satisfied in love,
both would revolt. They were silent some time after that, and then he
turned to her once more.
"Will you promise me that one thing, Evadne?" he asked. "Promise me that
during my lifetime you will never mix yourself up--never take part
publicly in any question of the day. It would be too deuced ridiculous for
me, you know, to have my name appearing in the papers in connection with
measures of reform, and all that sort of thing."
"I promise to spare you that kind of annoyance at all events," she
answered without hesitation, making the promise, not because she was
infirm of purpose, but because she was indefinite; she had no impulse at
the time to do anything, and no notion that she would ever feel impelled
to act in opposition to this wish of his.
"Thank you," he said, and there was another little pause, which he was
again the first to break.
"You would have loved me, then, if I had lived a different life," he said.
"Yes," she answered simply, "I should have loved you. No other man has
made me feel for a moment what I felt for you, while I believed that you
were all that a man should be who proposes to marry; and I don't think any
other man ever will, You were born for me. Why, oh, why! did you not live
"I wish to God I had," he answered.
She rose impulsively, and stretched out her hands to him. Its was a
movement of pain and pity, sorrow and sympathy, and he understood it.
"You meant to marry always," she said, "You treasured in your heart your
ideal of a woman; why could you not have lived so that you would have been
_her_ ideal too, when at last you met?"
He took her two little outstretched hands and held them a moment in his,
looking down at them, "I wish to God I had," he repeated.
"Did it never occur to you that a woman has her ideal as well as a man?"
she said: "that she loves purity and truth, and loathes degradation and
vice more than a man does?"
"Theoretically, yes," he answered; "but you find practically that women
will marry anyone. If they were more particular, we should be more
"Ah, that is our curse," said Evadne--"yours and mine. If women had been
'more particular' in the past, you would have been a good man, and I
should have been a happy wife to-day."
He raised her hands, which he was still holding, placing them palm to
palm, took them in one of his, and clasped them to his chest, bringing her
very close to him; and then he looked into her upturned face, considering
it, with that curious set expression on his own, which always came at a
crisis. Her lips were parted, her cheeks were pale, she still panted from
the passion of her last utterance, and her eyes, as he looked down into
them, were pained in expression and fixed. He let her hands drop, and once
more returned to his old position, leaning upon the balustrade with his
back to her, looking out over the sea. If it had been possible to have
obtained the mastery he had dreamed of over her, mere animal mastery, the
thought would have repelled him now. He might have dominated her senses,
but her soul would only have been the more confirmed in its loathing of
his life. He knew the strength of her convictions, knew that, so long as
they were a few yards apart, she could always have ruled both herself and
him; and life is lived a few yards apart. It was the best side of his
nature that was under Evadne's influence and he had now some saving grace
of manhood in him, which enabled him to appreciate the esteem with which
she had begun to repay his consideration for her, and to admire the
consistent self-respect which had brought her triumphantly out of all her
difficulties, and won her a distinguished position in the place. He felt
that he ought to be satisfied, and knew that he would have to be.
She remained standing as he had left her, and presently he turned to her
again. "Forgive me," he said, "for provoking a discussion which has pained
you needlessly. If repentance and remorse could wipe out the past, I
should be worthy to claim you this minute. But I know you are right. There
might have been hours of intoxication, but there would have been years of
misery also--for you--as my wife. Your decision was best for both of us.
It was our only chance of peace." He looked at her wistfully, and
approached a step.
She met him more than halfway. She put her hands on his shoulders, and
looked up at him. "But we are friends, George," she said with emotion. "I
seem to have nobody now but you belonging to me, and I should be lonely
indeed if--" She suddenly burst into tears.
"Yes, yes," he said huskily. "Of course we are friends; the best friends.
We shall always be friends. I have never let anyone say a word against
you, and I never will. I am proud to think that you are known by my name.
I only wish that I could make it worthy of you--and, perhaps, some day--in
Poor fellow! The highest proof of moral worth he knew of was to be able to
take a prominent part in some great butchery of his fellow-men, without
exhibiting a symptom of fear.
Evadne had recovered herself, and now smiled up at him with wet eyelashes.
"Not there, I hope!" she answered. "Going to war and getting killed is not
a proof of affection and respect which we modern women care about. I would
rather keep you safe at home, and quarrel with you."
Colonel Colquhoun smiled. "Here is tea," he said, seeing a servant enter
the room behind them. "Shall we have it out here? We shall be cooler."
"Yes, by all means," she answered.
And then they began to talk of things indifferent, but with a new and
happy consciousness of an excellent understanding between them.
The following day, as Colonel Colquhoun went out in the afternoon, he met
Evadne coming in with Mrs. Malcomson and Mrs. Sillenger. Evadne was
leaning on Mrs. Malcomson's arm. She looked haggard and pale, and the
other two ladies were evidently also much distressed.
"Has anything happened?" Colquhoun asked with concern, "Are you ill,
"I am sick at heart," she answered bitterly.
"We have had bad news," Mrs. Malcomson said significantly.
Colonel Colquhoun stood aside, and let them pass in. Then he went on to
the club, wondering very much what the news could be.
There he found Captain Belliot, Colonel Beston, and a few more of his
particular friends, all discussing something in tones of righteous
indignation. Mr. Price and Mr. St. John were there also. A mail had just
arrived bringing the details of Edith's illness from Morningquest.
Mr. St. John turned from the group, and as he did so Colonel Colquhoun
noticed that his gait was uncertain, and his face was white and distorted
as if with physical pain. His impulse was to offer him a restorative and
see him to his rooms, but Mr. Price anticipated the kind intention.
It was Mrs. Orton Beg who had written to Evadne, and she had brought Mrs.
Sillenger and Mrs. Malcomson in to hear the letter read.
"Edith is quite, quite mad," she said, unconsciously choosing the poor
girl's own expression; "and the most horrible part of it is, she knows it
herself. She wants to do the most dreadful things, and all the time she
feels as much horror of such deeds as we should. My aunt says her
sufferings are too terrible to describe. But she was growing gradually
weaker when the letter left."
"How _awful!_" Mrs. Sillenger ejaculated. "To think of her as we knew
her, so beautiful, and so sweet and good and true in every way; and with
her magnificent physique! and now not a soul that loves her, when they
hear that she is 'growing gradually weaker,' would wish it otherwise."
"My aunt concludes her letter by saying: 'I am telling you the state of
the case exactly,'" Evadne continued, "'because I did not agree with you
when you were here. I had been, so shielded from evil myself that I could
not believe in the danger to which all women in their weakness are
exposed. But I agree with you now, perfectly. We must alter all this, and
we can. Put me into communication with your friends--'"
"And you will join us yourself, Evadne?" Mrs. Malcomson exclaimed.
"Certainly I shall!" she answered emphatically. Then all at once something
flashed through her mind.
"Heaven!" she exclaimed. "I had forgotten! I cannot--I cannot join you. I
have given my word--to do nothing--so long as Colonel Colquhoun is alive."
Up to this time, Evadne in her home life had been serene and healthy
minded. But now suddenly there came a change. She began to ask: Why should
she trouble herself? Nobody who had a claim upon her wished her to do
anything but dress well and make herself agreeable, and that was what most
of the people about her were doing to the best of their ability. The
Church enjoined that she should do her duty. What was her duty? Clearly to
acquiesce as everybody else was doing, to refuse to know of anything that
might distress her, to be pleased and to give pleasure. That was all that
heaven itself had to offer her, and if she could make heaven upon earth
now, with a fan and a book, and a few congenial friends, she would.
This was the first consequence of her promise to Colonel Colquhoun. It had
cramped her into a narrow groove wherein to struggle would only have been
to injure herself ineffectually. There comes a time when every
intellectual being is forced to choose some definite pursuits. Evadne had
been formed for a life of active usefulness; but now she found herself
reduced to an existence of objectless contemplation, and she suffered
acutely until she had recourse to St. Paul and the pulpit, from which
barren fields she succeeded at last in collecting samples enough to make
up a dose of the time-honoured anodyne sacred to her sex. It is a
delicious opiate which gives immediate relief, but it soothes without
healing and is in the long run deleterious. And this was the influence
under which Evadne entered upon a new phase of life altogether. She gave
up reading; and by degrees there grew upon her a perfect horror of
disturbing emotions. She burnt any books she had with repulsive incidents
in them. She would not have them about even, lest they should remind her.
There were some pictures also in her rooms which depicted scenes of human
suffering--a battle piece, a storm at sea, a caravan lost in the desert,
and a prison scene; and those she had removed. She would have ended all
such horrors if she could, but as that was impossible, she would not even
think of them; and accordingly, she had those pictures replaced by
soothing subjects--moonlit spaces, sun-bright seas, clear brown rivulets,
lakes that mirrored the placid mountains, and flowers and birds and trees.
She would look at nothing that was other than restful; she would read
nothing that harrowed her feelings; she would listen to nothing that might
move her to indignation and reawaken the futile impulse to resist; and she
banished all thought or reflection that was not absolutely tranquillizing
in effect or otherwise enjoyable.
But all this was extremely enervating. She had owed her force of character
to her incessant intellectual activity, which had also kept her mind pure,
and her body in excellent condition. Had she not found an outlet for her
superfluous vitality as a girl in the cultivation of her mind, she must
have become morbid and hysterical, as is the case with both sexes when
they remain in the unnatural state of celibacy with mental energy
unapplied. We are like running water, bright and sparkling so long as the
course is clear; but divert us into unprogressive shallows, where we lie
motionless, and very soon we stagnate, and every particle of life within
us becomes offence. This was the fate which threatened Evadne. As her mind
grew sluggish, her bodily health decreased, and the climate began to tell
upon her. Malta has a pet fever of its own, of a dangerous kind, from
which she had hitherto escaped, but now, quite suddenly, she went down
with a bad attack, and hovered for weeks between life and death. Colonel
Colquhoun made arrangements to take her home as soon as she was
sufficiently strong to be moved; but just at that time a small war broke
out, and his regiment was one of the first to be ordered to the front. He
was able to see her off, however, with other ladies of the regiment, and
he telegraphed to her friends begging them to meet her at Southampton. The
hope of seeing them sustained Evadne during the voyage, but when she
arrived only Mrs. Orton Beg appeared. The latter was shocked by the change
in Evadne. Her hair had been cut short, her eyes were sunken, her cheeks
were hollow; she was skin and bone, and the colour of death.
Mrs. Orton Beg had gone on board the steamer, and Evadne had been brought
up on deck, supported by one of the ladies and her own maid.
She looked at her aunt, and then she looked beyond her. "Has my mother not
come to meet me?" she asked.
Mrs. Orton Beg looked at her compassionately.
"Is she ill?" Evadne added.
"No, dear," her aunt replied.
Evadne burst into tears. It was a bitter disappointment, and she was very
weak, and had suffered a great deal.
After her arrival her pompous papa continued "firm," as he called it, and
as she was equally "firm" herself, he would not have her at Fraylingay. He
repeated that if there were one human weakness which is more reprehensible
than another, it is obstinacy, and he told Mrs. Frayling that she must
choose between himself and Evadne. If she preferred the latter, she might
go to see her, but she should not return to him. He meant to be master in
his own house--and so on, at the top of his voice, with infinite
bluster--to which it was that Mrs. Frayling submitted. She never could
bear a noise.
Evadne, therefore, saw nothing of her mother or brothers or sisters, and
must have been lonely, indeed, had it not been for Mrs. Orton Beg, who
took charge of her and nursed her and brought her round, and remained with
her until Colonel Colquhoun returned. They spent most of their time in the
Western Highlands, but stayed also in London and Paris.
Colonel Colquhoun was absent a year, and made the most of every
opportunity to distinguish himself. At the end of the war he was made
C.B., and promoted to the rank of colonel; and, his time with his regiment
having expired, he was further honoured by being immediately appointed to
the command of the depot at Morningquest. Evadne was glad to see him
again. She had missed him, and had waited anxiously for his return. She
had no one to care for in his absence, no one, that is to say, who was
specially her charge, to be attended to and made comfortable. He had
narrowed her sphere of usefulness down to that by the promise he had
exacted, and in his absence she had what to her was a useless, purposeless
existence, wandering about from place to place. During this period she
made few notes in the "Commonplace Book," but the few all bore witness to
one thing, viz., her ever increasing horror of unpleasantness in any shape
END OF BOOK III.
THE TENOR AND THE BOY.--AN INTERLUDE.
His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles;
His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate;
His tears pure messengers sent from his heart,
His heart as far from fraud as heaven from earth.
--_Two Gentlemen of Verona_.
Morningquest, with the sunset glow upon it, might have made you think of
Arthur's "dim rich city"; but Morningquest had already flourished a
thousand years longer than Caerlyon, and was just as many times more
wicked. And it was known to be so, although not a tithe of the crimes
committed in it were ever brought to light; but even of those which were
known and recorded, no man could have told you the half, so great was
their number. Of course, as the place was wicked, the doctors were well to
the fore, combating the wages of sin gallantly; and the lawyers also,
needless to say, were busy; and so, too, were the clergy in their own way,
ecclesiasticism being well-worked; Christianity, however, was much
neglected, so that, for the most part, the devil went unmolested in
Morningquest, and had a good time.
There were seventy-five churches besides the cathedral within the city
boundary, and a large sprinkling of religious sects of all denominations,
which caused ferment enough to prevent stagnation; and, of course, where
so many churches were the clergy swarmed, and were made the subject of the
usual well-worn pleasantries. If you asked what good they were doing, you
would hear that nobody knew; but you would also be assured that at all
events they were, as a rule, too busy about candles and vestments and what
not of that kind of thing, discussing such questions with heat enough to
convince anyone that the Lord in heaven cares greatly about the use of one
gaud more or less in his service, to do much harm. But, upon the whole,
the attitude of the citizens toward the clergy was friendly and
unexacting. If nobody heeded them much, nobody opposed them much either,
so that, as in any other profession, they enjoyed the liberty of earning
their livelihood in their own way. The people considered them without
reverence as a part of the population merely; their services were accepted
as a necessity in the regular routine of life as bread-and-butter was, and
doubtless they did good in some such way, although the one was as much
forgotten as the other before it was well assimilated. If the citizens
mentioned their teaching at all, it was merely to repeat what they said of
the clergy themselves--that it did no harm.
This was a pleasantry of which they never wearied; but sometimes they
would add to it another article of their faith, "The Lord is gracious,"
they would declare, "and when he sends dull preachers, he mercifully sends
sleep also to comfort his afflicted people." So the preachers preached,
and their congregations slumbered tranquilly, and everbody was satisfied.
If the clergy squabbled amongst themselves, and with their churchwardens,
their fellow-citizens were rather grateful to them than otherwise for
varying the monotony, so that they were encouraged to wage their
internecine combats to their hearts' content; and when these lapsed and
they let each other alone, it was always interesting to see how they
turned upon the bishop. But nobody was disturbed, for in such a sleepy old
place--and the respectable part of it _was_ sleepy!--men habitually
view the vagaries of their friends with smiling tolerance, and if they
comment upon them at all, it is without bitterness.
In general history there are always events, as there are people, that take
prominent places and attract attention long after similar events are
buried and forgotten. They owe their vitality less to their importance,
perhaps, than to some gleam of poetry, pathos, or romance which
distinguishes the actors in them; and most old places have a pet tragedy
amongst their traditions, but Morningquest was an exception to this rule,
for, although it had its particular tragedy, it was quite a new one. From
the first, however, it was easy enough to foresee that this one event of
all the sorrowful things which had happened in that bad old place, having
as it were every desirable requirement of time, setting, and person to
invest it with a proper, permanent and most pathetic interest, was the
likeliest one to be remembered.
Morningquest was a city of singers, and the citizens were proud of their
cathedral choir, which was chiefly recruited from amongst themselves,
there being a succession of exquisite boy-voices constantly forthcoming to
awaken the slumbering echoes in the ancient pile, and the sweet old
sentiments in the people's hearts. Some of the lay clerks had been
choristers themselves, and amongst them was one who had been especially
noted, as a boy for his birdlike treble. It seemed a thousand pities when
it broke; but as he reached maturity, he found himself able to sing again,
and eventually he developed a very true, if not very powerful tenor voice,
and rose in time to be the leading tenor in the choir. People had flocked
to hear him sing in his childhood, and as they still came, it was natural
that he should continue to think himself the attraction, and also natural
that he should be somewhat puffed up in consequence. He wore a moustache,
he wore a ring, he put on airs, he scented his pocket-handkerchiefs, he
ogled the pretty ladies in the canon's pew like an officer; but he was an
orphan, and had a poor old kinswoman depending upon him, and kept her well;
he was harmless, he never did anyone an ill-turn, nor said an evil thing,
and he could sing; so that, taken all round, his good qualities outweighed
his weaknesses, and he was duly allowed the measure of praise and respect
which he earned.
But his rings, and his scents, and his affectations generally, covered a
secret ambition. He wanted to be more than a tenor in the choir; he wanted
to be an opera singer, and he entered into negotiations with a London
_impressario_. He did so secretly, being fearful of discouragement,
and also because he wished to surprise his friends, and when a personal
interview became necessary he did not ask for the means to make the
journey; he had the management of the choir funds, and there being a
surplus in his hands at the moment, he made use of the money, borrowing it
in perfect good faith, and honestly sure that he would be able to repay it
before it was required of him. Had he succeeded, the money would have been
returned at once; but, alas, he did not succeed, the money was spent, his
hopes were shattered, and his honest career was at an end. "If only he had
come to me, the matter might have been put right," the dean said, and he
publicly reproached himself for not knowing the hearts of his people
better, so that he might have entered with sympathy into their lives, and
won their confidence. The tenor ought to have trusted him, but he never
thought of such a thing. He was a poor crushed creature, and had abandoned
hope. But he went back to Morningquest nevertheless. Indeed, where else
could he go? He knew no other place, and had never a friend elsewhere in
the world. So he went back mechanically, and he went to the cathedral, and
there he hid himself. And there three times a day for three days he looked
down from the clerestory, himself unseen, looked into the faces he knew so
well, faces which had been friendly faces, eyes that had watched him
kindly all his life; and, out there in the cold, he followed the services
at which he had been wont to assist, taking a leading part almost so long
as he could remember. And there in the grim solitude by day, and the added
horror of ghostly darkness by night, he lived on thought, and suffered his
agony of remorse, and the minor miseries of cold and hunger and thirst,
till the need of endurance ceased to be felt. And then, amid the misty
morning grayness of the fourth day he hanged himself from a ladder left by
some workmen engaged in repairs, by whom his body was afterward found
desecrating the sacred precincts.
These are the materials out of which Morningquest wove its pet tragedy.
The event happened at the beginning of that important year which the
Heavenly Twins spent with their grandfather at Morne, and doubtless they
heard all about it, but, being very much occupied with a variety of
absorbing interests at the time, it did not make any particular impression
upon them. It was brought home to them eventually, however, when it might
have been considered an old story; but it had not become so then in
anybody's estimation, nor has it since because of the pity of it which
lent the pathetic interest that makes a story deathless and ageless; the
subtle something which influences to better moods, and from which the
years as they pass do not detract, but rather pay it the tribute of an
occasional addition thereto, by which its hope of immortality is greatly
After the tenor's death, the difficulty had been who should succeed him.
There was nobody immediately forthcoming, and this had put the dean and
chapter in a fix, for it happened that there were services of particular
importance going on in the cathedral at the time, to which strangers
flocked from a distance, and it was felt that it would never do to
disapppoint them of their music. So, on the morning of the great day of
all, after the early service, the dean, the precentor, and the organist,
having doffed their surplices, returned to the choir, and stood for some
time beside the brazen lectern, discussing the subject.
While they were so engaged, a gentleman came up to the dean, and, after
making a graceful apology for the intrusion, explained that he had heard
of their difficulty, and begged to be allowed to sing the tenor part, and
a solo, at the afternoon service.
The dean looked doubtful; the precentor, judging by the stranger's
appearance and tone that he might be somebody, was inclined to be
obsequious; the organist struck a neutral attitude, and stood by ready to
agree to anything.
"I can sing," the applicant said modestly, answering the doubt he saw in
the dean's demeanour; "although I confess that I have not been doing so
lately. I think I may venture to promise, however, that I shall not, at
all events, spoil the service."
"Well, sir," the dean replied, "if you _can_ help us, you will really
be putting us under a great obligation, for we are in a most awkward
dilemma. What do you say, Mr. Precentor?"
"I should say, as the organist is here, if this gentleman would try his
part this morning--"
"That is what I was about to suggest," the stranger interposed.
The precentor found the music, the organist retired to his instrument, the
dean took a seat, and the stranger sang. When he paused, the dean arose.
"I thank you, sir," he said with effusion, "and I gratefully accept your
The stranger bowed to his little audience, returned the music, and left
He was a young man, tall and striking in appearance; clean shaven, with
delicate features, dark dreamy gray eyes, and a tumbled mop of golden
hair, innocent of parting. He was well-dressed, but his clothes hung upon
him loosely, as if he had grown thinner since they were made; his face was
pale too, and pinched in appearance, and his movements were languid,
giving him altogether the air of a man just recovering from some serious
illness. That he was a gentleman no one would have doubted for a moment,
nor would they have been surprised to hear that he was a great man in the
sense of being a peer or something of that kind, for there was that
indefinable something in his look and bearing which people call
aristocratic, and his manner was calm and assured like that of a well-bred
man of the world accustomed to good society.
The people who flocked to the afternoon service that day regarded him with
much curiosity, and he was certainly unlike anyone whom they had hitherto
seen in the choir. A surplice had been found for him, and the dead white
contrasted well with the brightness of his hair, and made the refined
beauty of his face even more remarkable than it had been in his morning
dress. Sitting with the lay clerks behind the choristers, he looked like
the representative of another and a higher race, and even those of them
whose personal attractions had hitherto been considered more than merely
passable when they appeared beside him were suddenly seen to be hopelessly
commonplace. But, although the interest he excited was evident enough, it
was equally evident that he himself remained quite unaware of it. In his
whole bearing there was not the slightest assumption. He entered with the
choir, and might have been in the habit of doing so all his life, so
perfectly unconscious did he seem of anything new or strange in the
position. As soon as he was seated, without even glancing at the people,
he had taken up his music, and continued lost in the study of it until the
service opened; and then he sang his part with ease and precision, which,
however, attracted less attention at the moment than his appearance. The
rest of the choir, animated by his presence, exerted themselves to the
utmost, but were too delighted with their own performances to think much
of his before the solo began.
Then, however, they awoke. The first note he uttered was a long
_crescendo_ of such rich volume and so sweet, that the people held
their breath and looked up:
This world recedes; it disappears!
Heaven opens my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring:
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?
O Death! where is thy sting?
It was as if a delicious spell had been cast upon the congregation, which
held them bound until the last note of the exquisite voice, even the last
reverberation of the organ accompaniment, had trembled into silence, and
then there was a movement, a flutter, a great sigh of relief heaved, so to
speak, as if the pleasure had been too great, and nerves and senses were
glad to be released from the tension of it.
The Tenor was slightly flushed when he resumed his seat, but otherwise his
face was as serenely impassive as ever.
"It is some great singer from abroad," the people whispered to each other.
"He is used to every kind of success, and does not even trouble himself to
see if we are pleased. He has sung doubtless to gratify some whim of his
own. Such artists are capricious folk." To which the answer was: "Long may
such whims continue!"
After the service, the dean hastened to thank the stranger. He shook his
hand with emotion, and congratulated him upon his marvellous gift. "May I
ask if you are a professional singer?" the old gentleman said.
"Not yet," was the answer; "but I wish to offer myself for the vacant post
of Tenor in the choir, if you are satisfied with my attainments."
The dean stared at him. "Oh--ah--" he stammered in his surprise; and then
he added something apologetically about references, and being obliged to
ask a few questions.
"If you have the time to spare, I think I can satisfy you now," the
The dean, perceiving that he wished to speak to him alone, bowed
courteously, and requested the applicant to accompany him to the deanery.
The precentor, who had assisted at the interview up to this point, now
watched them depart, and as he did so he pursed up his lips significantly.
The stranger had sunk in his estimation from the possible rank of a
Russian prince to that of a simple singer, a considerable drop; but the
precentor was a musician, and he asserted that the voice was of the finest
quality, and trained to perfection. He wanted to know, however, what could
bring a man with a fortune like that in his throat to bury himself alive
in Morningquest, and he ventured to predict that it must be something
The stranger had a long private interview with the dean, but what
transpired thereat was never made public. It was known, however, that when
he left the deanery the dean himself accompanied him to the door, and
there shook hands with him cordially; and it was immediately afterward
announced that "Mr. Jones" was to be the new tenor.
"Mr. _Jones_, indeed!" said Morningquest sarcastically. "As much
_Jones_ as the bishop!" And the precentor was sure that the dean had
been taken in by a clever impostor, which would not have been the case, he
asserted, if the matter had been referred to him as it ought to have been.
But Morningquest declared that there was no imposition about that voice,
and as to antecedents, why, it was absurd to be too particular when
everything else was so entirely satisfactory.
There happened to be a tiny tenement in the Close vacant when the new lay
clerk began his duties as Tenor in the choir, and this he took. It was a
detached house, one of a row which faced the apse on the south side of the
cathedral. One step led down from the road into the little front garden,
and another from that into the house, which was thus two steps below the
road in front, but was level with the garden at the back. The passage ran
right through the house, the garden door being opposite the front door;
the kitchen was behind a little sitting room on the right as you entered,
and on the left were two other rooms when the Tenor took the house, the
one looking into the back garden, the other into the front; but these two
rooms he immediately turned into one by having the dividing wall removed,
and together they made a long, low, but comfortably proportioned
apartment, with a French window at either end. The Tenor spent all his
spare time when he first arrived in decorating this room, "_making_
work for himself," as the people said; and indeed that was just what he
seemed to be doing, for he worked, as a man does who feels that he ought
to be occupied, but he takes no pleasure and finds no relief in any
occupation. He frescoed the walls and ceiling of his room with admirable
taste and skill, making it look twice the size by cunning divisions of the
pattern on the walls, and by the well-devised proportions of dado and
The dean often went to watch him at his work, and sat on a packing case
(the only article which the room contained at the time) by the hour
together talking to him, a circumstance which, taken with the fact that
other gentlemen in the neighbourhood also called upon him and lingered
long on the premises, greatly exercised the inquisitive minds of the
multitude, especially when it was perceived that the Tenor, instead of
being elated by their condescension, accepted it as a matter of course,
and continued always the same--sad, preoccupied, impassive, seldom
smiling, never surprised, taking no healthy interest in anything.
When the painting was finished, furniture began to arrive, and this was
another surprise for the Close, where houses were not adorned with the
designs of any one period, but were filled with a heterogeneous collection
of articles, generally aged and remarkably uncouth. Everything in the
Tenor's long low room, on the contrary, even down to the shape of the
brass coal scuttle and including the case of the grand piano, was in
harmony with the colour and design of the frescoes on the walls and
ceiling; the floor, which was polished, being adorned here and there with
rugs which suggested dim reflections of the tint and tone above. It was a
luxurious apartment, but not effeminate. The luxury was masculine luxury,
refined and significant; there was no meaningless feminine fripperies
about, nor was there any evidence of sensuous self-indulgence. It was the
abode of a cultivated man, but of one who was essentially manly withal.
The fame of this apartment having been noised abroad, the precentor came
one day to inspect it. There is no need to describe this precentor; one
knows exactly what a man must be who calls things "fishy." He was an
ordained clergyman, but not at all benevolent, neither was he a Christian,
for he did not love his neighbour as himself, and his visit on this
occasion was anything but friendly in intention. He was determined to know
something more about the Tenor, he said, and he meant to question him. His
theory was that the Tenor had been a public singer, but had disgraced
himself, and was unable to appear again in consequence; and on this
supposition he intended to proceed.
He found the Tenor with his hat in his hand on the point of leaving the
house; but the precentor was not delicate about detaining him. He walked
into the sitting room without waiting to be asked, pried impertinently
into everything, and then sat down. The Tenor meantime had remained
standing with his hat in his hand patiently waiting, and he still stood,
but the precentor did not take the hint.
"You are an opera singer, I think you said," he remarked as soon as he was
The Tenor looked at him inquiringly.
"Or was it concerts?" he suggested, a trifle disconcerted.
The Tenor looked gravely amused.
"It was not the music halls, of course?" the precentor persuasively
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