The Irrational Knot
George Bernard Shaw
Part 6 out of 8
"And did she send it?"
"Of course. But she did not give me any encouragement to call on her,
and, in fact, evidently did not want to see me. Her appearance has
altered very much for the worse. She is a confirmed dipsomaniac; and she
knows it. I advised her to abstain in future. She asked me, in her
sarcastic, sisterly way, whether I had any other advice to give her. I
told her that if she meant to go on, her proper course was to purchase a
hogshead of brandy; keep it by her side; and condense the process of
killing herself, which may at present take some years, into a few days."
"Oh, Ned, you did not really say that to her!" said Marian.
"I did indeed. The shocking part of the affair is not, as you seem to
think, my giving the advice, but that it should be the very best advice
I could have given."
"I do not think I would have said so."
"Most likely not," said Conolly, with a smile. "You would have said
something much prettier. But dipsomania is not one of the pretty things
of life; nor can it by any stretch of benevolent hypocrisy be made to
pass as one. When Susanna and I get talking, we do not waste time in
trying to spare one another's feelings. If we did, we should both see
through the attempt and be very impatient of it."
"Did she tell you what she intends to do?" said Marmaduke.
"She has accepted an American engagement. When that draws to a close, it
will, she says, be time enough for her to consider her next step. But
she has no intention of leaving the stage until she is compelled."
"Has she any intention of reforming her habits?" said Elinor, bluntly.
"I should say every intention, but no prospect of doing so.
Dipsomaniacs are always intending to reform; but they rarely succeed.
Has Lucy been put to bed?"
"Lucy is in disgrace," said Elinor. Marian looked at her apprehensively.
"In disgrace!" said Conolly, more seriously. "How so?"
Elinor described what had taken place in the garden. When she told how
the child had disregarded Marian's appeal, Conolly laughed.
"Lucy has no sense of how pretty she would have looked toddling in
obediently because her aunt asked her to," he said. "She is, like all
children, very practical, and will not assist in getting up amiable
little scenes without good reason rendered."
Elinor glanced at Marian, and saw that though Douglas was speaking to
her in a low voice, she was listening nervously to her husband. So she
said sharply, "It is a pity you were not here to tell us what to do."
"Apparently it is," said Conolly, complacently.
"What would you have done?" said Marian suddenly, interrupting Douglas.
"I suppose," said Conolly, looking round at her in surprise, "I should
have answered her question--told her what she was wanted for. If I asked
you to do anything, and you enquired why, you would be extremely annoyed
if I answered, 'because I ask you.'"
"I would not ask why," said Marian. "I would do it."
"That would be very nice of you," said Conolly; "but you cannot: expect
such a selfish, mistrustful, and curious animal as a little child to be
equally kind and confiding. Lucy is too acute not to have learned long
since that grown people systematically impose on the credulity and
helplessness of children."
"Thats true," said Elinor, reluctantly. Marian turned away and quietly
resumed her conversation with Douglas. After a minute she strolled with
him into the garden, whither Marmaduke had already retired to smoke.
"Has the evening been a pleasant one, Miss McQuinch?" said Conolly, left
alone with her.
"Yes: we have had a very pleasant evening indeed. We played chess and
_ecarte_; and we all agreed to make old times of it. Marmaduke sang for
us; and Marian had us nearly in tears with those old ballads of hers."
"And then I came in and spoiled it all. Eh?"
"Certainly not. Why do you say that?"
"Merely a mischievous impulse to say something true: jealousy, perhaps,
because I missed being here earlier. You think, then, that if I had been
here, the evening would have been equally pleasant, and Marian equally
happy in her singing?"
"Dont you like Marian's singing?"
"Could you not have refrained from that most indiscreet question?"
"I ought to have. It came out unawares. Do not answer it."
"That would make matters worse. And there is no reason whatever why the
plain truth should not be told. When I was a child I heard every day
better performances than Marian's. She believes there is something
pretty and good in music, and patronizes it accordingly to the best of
her ability. I do not like to hear music patronized; and when Marian,
lovely as she is, gives her pretty renderings of songs which I have
heard a hundred times from singers who knew what they were about, then,
though I admire her as I must always, my admiration is rather increased
than otherwise when she stops; because then I am no longer conscious of
a deficiency which even my unfortunate sister could supply."
"Your criticism of her singing sounds more sincere than your admiration
of her loveliness. I am not musician enough to judge. All I know is that
her singing is good enough for me."
"I know you are displeased because it is not good enough for me; but how
can I help myself? Poor Marian----"
"Do hush!" said Elinor. "Here she is."
"You need not be in such a hurry, Duke," said Marian. "What can it
matter to you how late you get back?"
"No," said Marmaduke. "I've got to write home. The governor is ill; and
my mammy will send me a five-sheet sermon if I neglect writing to-night.
You will keep Lucy for another week, wont you? Box her ears if she gives
you any cheek. She wants it: she's been spoiled."
"If we find we can do no better than that with her, we shall hand her
back to you," said Conolly. Then the visitors took their leave. Marian
gently pressed Douglas's hand and looked into his eyes as he bade her
farewell. Elinor, seeing this, glanced uneasily at Conolly, and
unexpectedly met his eye. There was a gleam of cynical intelligence in
it that did not reassure her. A few minutes later she went to bed,
leaving the couple alone together. Conolly looked at his wife for a
moment with an amused expression; but she closed her lips
irresponsively, and went to the table for a book which she wanted to
bring upstairs. She would have gone without a word had he not spoken to
"Marian: Douglas is in love with you."
She blushed; thought a moment; and said quietly, "Very well. I shall not
ask him to come again."
She colored more vividly and suddenly, and said, "I thought you cared. I
beg your pardon."
"My dear," he replied, amiably: "if you exclude everybody who falls in
love with you, we shall have no one in the house but blind men."
"And do you like men to be in love with me?"
"Yes. It makes the house pleasant for them; it makes them attentive to
you; and it gives you great power for good. When I was a romantic boy,
any good woman could have made a saint of me. Let them fall in love with
you as much as they please. Afterwards they will seek wives according to
a higher standard than if they had never known you. But do not return
the compliment, or your influence will become an evil one."
"Ned: I had not intended to tell you this; but now I will. Sholto
Douglas not only loves me, but he told me so to-day."
"Of course. A man always does tell it, sooner or later."
Marian sat down on the sofa and looked at him for some time gravely and
a little wistfully. "I think," she said, "I should feel very angry if
any woman made such a confession to you."
"A Christian British lady does not readily forgive a breach of
convention; nor a woman an invasion of her privileges, even when they
have become a burden to her."
"What do you mean by that?" she said, rising.
"Marian," he said, looking straight at her: "are you dissatisfied?"
"What reason have I to--"
"Never mind the reasons. Are you?"
"No," said she, steadfastly.
He smiled indulgently; pressed her hand for a moment against his cheek;
and went out for the short walk he was accustomed to take before
In October Marian was at Sark, holiday making at the house of Hardy
McQuinch's brother, who had recently returned to England with a fortune
made in Australia. Conolly, having the house at Holland Park to himself,
fitted a spare room as a laboratory, and worked there every night. One
evening, returning home alone a little before five o'clock, he shut
himself into this laboratory, and had just set to work when Armande, the
housemaid, interrupted him.
"Mrs. Leith Fairfax, sir."
Conolly had had little intercourse with Mrs. Fairfax since before his
marriage, when he had once shewn her the working of his invention at
Queen Victoria Street; and as Marian had since resented her share of
Douglas's second proposal by avoiding her society as far as possible
without actually discontinuing her acquaintance, this visit was a
surprise. Conolly looked darkly at Armande, and went to the drawing-room
without a word.
"_How_ do you do, Mr. Conolly?" said Mrs. Fairfax, as he entered. "I
need not ask: you are looking so well. Have I disturbed you?"
"You have--most agreeably. Pray sit down."
"I know your time is priceless. I should never have ventured to come,
but that I felt sure you would like to hear all the news from Sark. I
have been there for the last fortnight. Marian told me to call on you
the moment I returned."
"Yes," said Conolly, convinced that this was not true. "She promised to
do so in her last letter."
Mrs. Fairfax, on the point of publishing a few supplementary fictions,
checked herself, and looked suspiciously at him.
"The air of Sark has evidently benefited you," he said, as she paused.
"You are looking very well--I had almost said charming."
Mrs. Fairfax glanced archly at him, and said, "Nonsense! but, indeed,
the trip was absolutely necessary for me. I should hardly have been
alive had I remained at work; and poor Willie McQuinch was bent on
"He has been described to me as an inveterate lion hunter."
"It is not at all pleasant, I assure you, to be persecuted with
invitations from people who wish to see a real live novelist. But
William McQuinch's place at Sark is really palatial. He is called
Sarcophagus on account of his wealth. A great many people whom he knew
were staying in the island, besides those in the house with us. Marian
was the beauty of the place. How every one admires her! Why do you not
go down, Mr. Conolly?"
"I am too busy. Besides, it will do Marian good to be rid of me for a
"Absurd, Mr. Conolly! You should not leave her there by herself."
"By herself! Why, is not the place full?"
"Yes; but I do not mean that. There is nobody belonging to her there."
"You forget. Miss McQuinch is her bosom friend. There is Marmaduke, her
cousin; and his mother, her Aunt Dora. Then, is there not Mr. Sholto
Douglas, one of her oldest and most attached friends?"
"Oh! Is Mr. Douglas in charge of her?"
"No doubt he will take charge of her, if she is overtaken by her second
childhood whilst he is there. Meanwhile, she is in charge of herself, is
she not? And there is hardly any danger of her feeling lonely."
"No. Sholto Douglas will provide against that."
"Your opinion confirms the accounts I have had from other sources. It
appears that Mr. Douglas is very attentive to my wife."
"Very, indeed, Mr. Conolly. You must not think that I am afraid of
"Well--Oh, you know what I mean. Anything wrong. At least, not exactly
"Yes. You see, Marian's position is a very difficult one. She is so
young and so good looking that she is very much observed; and it seems
so strange her being without her husband."
"Pretty ladies whose husbands are never seen, often get talked about in
the world, do they not?"
"That is just what I mean. How cleverly you get everything out of me,
Mr. Conolly! I called here without the faintest idea of alluding to
Marian's situation; and now you have made me say all sorts of things.
What a fortune you would have made at the bar!"
"I must apologize, I did not mean to cross-examine you. Naturally, of
course, you would not like to make me uneasy about Marian."
"It is the very last thing I should desire. But now that it has slipped
out, I really think you ought to go to Sark."
"Indeed! I rather infer that I should be very much in the way."
"The more reason for you to go, Mr. Conolly."
"Not at all, Mrs. Leith Fairfax. The attentions of a husband are stale,
unsuited to holiday time. Picture to yourself my arrival at Sark with
the tender assurance in my mouth, 'Marian, I love you.' She would reply,
'So you ought. Am I not your wife?' The same advance from another--Mr.
Douglas, for instance--would affect her quite differently, and much more
"Mr. Conolly; is this indifference, or supreme confidence?"
"Neither of these conjugal claptraps. I merely desire that Marian should
enjoy herself as much as possible; and the more a woman is admired, the
happier she is. Perhaps you think that, in deference to the general
feeling in such matters, I should become jealous."
Mrs. Fairfax again looked doubtfully at him. "I cannot make you out at
all, Mr. Conolly," she said submissively. "I hope I have not offended
"Not in the least. I take it that having observed certain circumstances
which seemed to threaten the welfare of one very dear to you (as, I am
aware, Marian is), the trouble they caused you found unpremeditated
expression in the course of a conversation with me." Conolly beamed at
her, as if he thought this rather neatly turned.
"Exactly so. But I do not wish you to think that I have observed
"Certainly not. Still, you think there would be no harm in my writing
to Marian to say that her behavior has attracted your notice, and----"
"Good heavens, Mr. Conolly, you must not mention _me_ in the matter! You
are so innocent--at least so frank, so workmanlike, if I may say so, in
your way of dealing with things! I would not have Marian know what I
have said--I really did not notice anything--for worlds. You had better
not write at all, but just go down as if you went merely to enjoy
yourself; and dont on any account let Marian suspect that you have heard
anything. Goodness knows what mischief you might make, in your--your
"But I should have thought that the opinion of an old and valued friend
like yourself would have special weight with her."
"You know nothing about it. Clever engineer as you are, you do not
understand the little wheels by which our great machine of society is
"True, Mrs. Leith Fairfax," he rejoined, echoing the cadence of her
sentence. "Educated as a mere mechanic, I am still a stranger to the
elegancies of life. I usually depend on Marian for direction; but since
you think that it would be injudicious to appeal to her in the present
"Out of the question, Mr. Conolly."
"--I must trust to your guidance in the matter. What do you suggest?"
Mrs. Fairfax was about to reply, when the expression which she
habitually wore like a mask in society, wavered and broke. Her lip
trembled: her eyes filled with tears: she rose with a sniff that was
half a sob. When she spoke, her voice was sincere for the first time,
and at the sound of it Conolly's steely, hard manner melted, and his
inhuman self-possession vanished.
"You think," she said, "that I came here to make mischief. I did not.
Marian is nothing to me: she does not even like me; but I dont want to
see her ruin herself merely because she is too inexperienced to know
when she is well off. I have had to fight my way in London: and I know
what it is, and what the world is. She is not fit to take charge of
herself. Good-bye, Mr. Conolly: you are a great deal too young yourself
to know the danger, for all your cleverness. You may tell her that I
came here and gossipped against her, if you like. She will never speak
to me again; but if it saves her, I dont care. Good-bye."
"My dear Mrs. Fairfax," he said, with entire frankness, "I am now deeply
and sincerely obliged to you." And in proof that he was touched, he
kissed her hand with the ease and grace of a man who had been carefully
taught how to do it. Mrs. Fairfax recovered herself and almost blushed
as he went with her to the door, chatting easily about the weather and
the Addison Road trains.
She was not the last visitor that evening. She had hardly been fifteen
minutes gone when the Rev. George presented himself, and was conducted
to the laboratory, where he found Conolly, with his coat off, surrounded
by apparatus. The glowing fire, comfortable chairs, and preparations for
an evening meal, gladdened him more than the presence of his
brother-in-law, with whom he never felt quite at ease.
"You wont mind my fiddling with these machines while I talk," said
"Not at all, not at all. I shall witness your operations with great
interest. You must not think that the wonders of science are indifferent
"So you are going on to Sark, you say?"
"Yes. May I ask whether you will be persuaded to come?"
"No, for certain. I have other fish to fry here."
"I think it would renovate your health to come for a few days."
"My health is always right as long as I have work. Did you meet Mrs.
"A--yes. I passed her."
"You spoke to her, I suppose?"
"A few words. Yes."
"Do you know what she came here for?"
"No. But stay. I am wrong. She mentioned that she came for a book she
"She mentioned what was not true. What did she say to you about Marian?"
"Well, she--She was just saying that it is perhaps as well that I should
go down to Sark at once, as Marian is quite alone."
The clergyman looked so guilty as he said this that Conolly laughed
outright at him. "You mean," he said, "that Marian is _not_ quite alone.
Well, very likely Douglas occupies himself a good deal with her. If so,
there may be some busybody or another down there fool enough to tell her
that people are talking about her. That would spoil her holiday; so it
is lucky that you are going down. No one will take it upon themselves to
speak to her when you are there; and if they say anything to you, you
can let it in at one ear and out at the other."
"That is, of course, unless I should see her really acting
"I had better tell you beforehand what you will see if you keep your
eyes open. You will see very plainly that Douglas is in love with her.
Also that she knows that he is in love with her. In fact, she told me
so. And you will see she rather likes it. Every married woman requires a
holiday from her husband occasionally, even when he suits her
The Rev. George stared. "If I follow you aright--I am not sure that I
do--you impute to Marian the sin of entertaining feelings which it is
her duty to repress."
"I impute no sin to her. You might as well tell a beggar that he has no
right to be hungry, as a woman that it is her duty to feel this and not
to feel that."
"But Marian has been educated to feel only in accordance with her duty."
"So have you. How does it work? However," continued Conolly, without
waiting for an answer, "I dont deny that Marian shews the effects of her
education. They are deplorably evident in all her conscientious
"You surprise and distress me. This is the first intimation I have
received of your having any cause to complain of Marian."
"Nonsense! I dont complain of her. But what you call her education, as
far as I can make it out, appears to have consisted of stuffing her with
lies, and making it a point of honor with her to believe them in spite
of sense and reason. The sense of duty that rises on that sort of
foundation is more mischievous than downright want of principle. I dont
dispute your right, you who constitute polite society, to skin over all
the ugly facts of life. But to make your daughters believe that the
skin covers healthy flesh is a crime. Poor Marian thinks that a room is
clean when all the dust is swept out of sight under the furniture; and
if honest people rake it out to bring it under the notice of those whose
duty it is to remove it, she is disgusted with them, and ten to one
accuses them of having made it themselves. She doesnt know what sort of
world she is in, thanks to the misrepresentations of those who should
have taught her. She will deceive her children in just the same way, if
she ever has any. If she had been taught the truth in her own childhood,
she would know how to face it, and would be a strong woman as well as an
amiable one. But it is too late now. The truth seems natural to a child;
but to a grown woman or man, it is a bitter lesson in the learning,
though it may be invigorating when it is well mastered. And you know how
seldom a hard task forced on an unwilling pupil _is_ well mastered."
"What is truth?" said the clergyman, sententiously.
"All that we know, Master Pilate," retorted Conolly with a laugh. "And
we know a good deal. It may seem small in comparison with what we dont
know; but it is more than any one of us can hold, for all that. We know,
for instance, that the world was not planned by a sentimental landscape
gardener. If Marian ever learns that--which she may, although I am
neither able nor willing to teach it to her--she will not thank those
who gave her so much falsehood to unlearn. Until then, she will, I am
afraid, do little else than lay up a store of regrets for herself."
"This is very strange. We always looked upon Marian as an exceptionally
"So she is, unfortunately. There is no institution so villainous but
she will defend it; no tyranny so oppressive but she will make a virtue
of submitting to it; no social cancer so venomous but she will shrink
from cutting it out, and plead that it is a comfortable thing, and much
better as it is. She knows that she disobeyed her father, and that he
deserved to be disobeyed; yet she condemns other women who are
disobedient, and stands out against Nelly McQuinch in defence of the
unselfishness of parental love. She knows that the increased freedom of
movement allowed to her as a married woman has been healthy for her; yet
she looks coldly at other young women who assert their right to freedom,
and are not afraid to walk through the streets without a sheepdog, human
or otherwise, at their heels. She knows that marriage is not what she
expected it to be, and that it gives me many unfair advantages over her;
and she knows also that ours is a happier marriage than most.
Nevertheless she will encourage other girls to marry; she will maintain
that the chain which galls her own wrists so often is a string of
honeysuckles; and if a woman identifies herself with any public movement
for the lightening of that chain, she wont allow that that woman is fit
to be admitted into decent society. There is not one of these shams to
which she clings that I would not like to take by the throat and shake
the life out of; and she knows it. Even in that she has not the
consistency to believe me wrong, because it is undutiful and out of
keeping with the honeysuckles to lack faith in her husband. In order to
blind herself to her inconsistencies, she has to live in a rose-colored
fog; and what with me constantly, in spite of myself, blowing this fog
away on the one side, and the naked facts of her everyday experience as
constantly letting in the daylight on the other, she must spend half
the time wondering whether she is mad or sane. Between her desire to do
right and her discoveries that it generally leads her to do wrong, she
passes her life in a wistful melancholy which I cant dispel. I can only
pity her. I suppose I could pet her; but I hate treating a woman like a
child: it means giving up all hope of her becoming rational. She may
turn for relief any day either to love or religion; and for her own sake
I hope she will choose the first. Of the two evils, it is the least
permanent." And Conolly, having disburdened himself, resumed his work
without any pretence of waiting for the clergyman's comments.
"Well," said the Rev. George, cautiously, "I do not think I have quite
followed your opinions, which seem to me to be exactly upside down, as
if they were projected upon the retina of your mind's eye--to use
Shakspear's happy phrase--just as they would be upon your--your real
eye, you know. But I can assure you that your view of Marian is an
entirely mistaken one. You seem to think that she does not give in her
entire adherence to the doctrines of the Establishment. This is a matter
which I venture to say you do not understand."
"Admitted," interposed Conolly, hastily. "Here is my workman's tea. Are
you fond of scones?"
"I hardly know. Anything--the simplest fare, will satisfy me."
"So it does me, when I can get nothing better. Help yourself, pray."
Conolly did not sit down to the meal, but worked whilst the clergyman
ate. Presently the Rev. George, warmed by the fire and cheered by the
repast, returned to the subject of his host's domestic affairs.
"Come," he said, "I am sure that a few judicious words would lead to an
explanation between you and Marian."
"I also think that a few words might do so. But they would not be
"Why not? Can it be injudicious to restore harmony in a household?"
"No; but that would not be the effect of an explanation, because the
truth is not likely to reconcile us. If I were to explain the difficulty
to a man, he would argue. But Marian would just infer that I despised
her, and nothing else."
"Oh no! Oh dear no! A few kind words; an appeal to her good sense; a
little concession on both sides----"
"All excellent for a pair estranged by a flash of temper, or a
mother-in-law, or a trifle of jealousy, or too many evenings spent at
the club on the man's part, or too many dances with a gallant on the
woman's; but no good for us. We have never exchanged unkind words: there
are no concessions to be made: her good sense is not at fault. Besides,
these few kind words that are supposed to be such a sovereign remedy for
all sorts of domestic understandings are generally a few kind fibs. If I
told them, Marian wouldnt believe them. Fibs dont make lasting truces
either. No: the situation is graver than you think. Just suppose, for
instance, that you undertake to restore harmony, as you call it! what
will you say to her?"
"Well, it would depend on circumstances."
"But you know the circumstances on which it depends. How would you
"There are little ways of approaching delicate subjects with women. For
instance, I might say, casually, that it was a pity that a pair so
happily situated as you two should not agree perfectly."
"You would get no further; for Marian would never admit that we do not
agree. She does not know what her complaint is, and therefore feels
bound in honor to maintain that she has nothing to complain of. She is
not the woman to cast reproach on me for a discontent she cannot
explain. Or, if she could explain it, how much wiser should you be? _I_
have explained; and you confess you cannot understand me. The difference
between us is neither her fault nor mine; and all the explanations in
the world will not remove it."
"If you would allow me to appeal to her religious duty----"
"Religion! She doesnt believe in it."
"What!" exclaimed the clergyman, unaffectedly shocked. "Surely,
"Listen. To me, believing in a doctrine doesnt mean holding up your hand
and saying, 'Credo.' It means habitually acting on the assumption that
the doctrine is true. Marian thinks it wrong not to go to church; and
she will hold up her hand and cry 'Credo' to the immortality of her
soul, or to any verse in the New Testament. The shareholders of our
concern in the city will do the same. But do they or she ever act on the
assumption that they are immortal, or that riches are dross, or that
class prejudice is damnable? Never. They dont believe it. You will find
that Marian has been thoroughly trained to separate her practice from
her religious professions; and if you allude to the inconsistency she
will instinctively feel that you are offending against good taste. In
short, her 'Credo' doesnt mean faith: it means church-going, which is
practised because it is respectable, and is respectable because it is a
habit of the upper caste. But church-going is church-going; and business
is business, as Marian will soon let you know if you meddle with _her_
business. However, we need not argue about that: we know one another's
views and can agree to differ."
"I should be false to my duty as a Christian priest if I made any such
"Perhaps so; but, at any rate, we cant spend all our lives over the same
argument. No, as I was saying, take my advice, and let Marian alone."
"But what do you intend to do, then?"
"What _can_ I do but wait? Experience must wear out some of her
illusions. She will at least find out that she is no worse off than
other women, and better off than some of them. Since the job cannot be
undone, we must try how making the best of it will work. I am pretty
hopeful myself. How are affairs getting on at your chapel? I am told
that the sermons of your _locum tenens_ send the congregation asleep."
"He is not at his best in the pulpit. A good fellow! a most loving man
but not able to grapple with a large congregation. After all, I am
obliged to confess that very few of our cloth are. The power of
preaching is quite an exceptional one; and it is a gift as well as a
trust. I humbly believe that the power of the tongue comes of a higher
ordination than the bishop's."
Nothing further was said about Marian. The clergyman's object in
visiting Conolly was, it presently appeared, to borrow a portmanteau.
When he was gone, Conolly returned to the laboratory, and wrote the
"My dear Marian
"I have just had two unexpected visits, one from Mrs. Fairfax, and
one from George. Mrs. L.F. said you asked her to call and give me
the news. When I told her, without blushing, that you had written
to prepare me for her visit, she was rather put out, justly
thinking me to mean that I did not believe her. As this is fully
the thirty-sixth falsehood in which you have detected good Mrs. F.,
I fear you will be compelled, in spite of your principle of
believing the best of everybody, to regard her in future as a not
invariably accurate woman. She came with the object of making me go
down to Sark. You were so young and so much admired: Mr. Douglas
was so attentive: you should not be left entirely alone, and so
forth. You will be angry with her; but she thinks Douglas so
irresistible that she is genuinely anxious about you: I believe she
really meant well this time. As to our reverend brother, his
portmanteau burst in the train coming from Edinburgh; so he came to
borrow mine, having apparently resolved to wear out those of all
his friends before buying a new one. Unfortunately, he met Mrs. F.
down the road; and she urged him to go down to Sark just as she had
urged me. Now as George is incapable of holding his tongue when he
ought, I feel sure that unless I tell you what Mrs. F. said, he
will anticipate me. Otherwise I should not have mentioned it until
your return, for fear of annoying you and spoiling your visit. So
if his reverence hints or lectures, you will know what he means and
not heed him. Mrs. F's confidences have probably not been confined
to me; but were I in your place, I should not make the slightest
change in my conduct in consequence. At all events, if you feel
constrained to display any sudden accession of reserve toward
Douglas, tell him the reason; because if you dont, he will ascribe
the change to coquetry.
"I have turned the spare room on the first floor into a laboratory,
and am sitting in it now. I'm thinking of fitting it up like a
studio, and having private views of my inventions, as Scott has of
his pictures. Parson's man came with some flowers the other day,
and informed me that three balls, to the first of which he was
invited, took place in the house while I was away. One or two
trifling dilapidations, and the fact that somebody has been
tampering with the locks of the organ and piano, dispose me to
believe this tale. Parson's man declares that he was too virtuous
to come to the two last entertainments after finding out that the
first was a clandestine one; but I believe he made himself
disagreeable, and was not invited. Probably he quarrelled with some
military follower of Armande's; for he was particularly bitter on
the subject of a common soldier making free in a gentleman's house.
I have not said anything to the two culprits; but I have contrived
to make them suspect that I know all; and they now do their duty
with trembling diligence. Some man sat on the little walnut table
and broke it; but no other damage worth mentioning has been done.
The table was absurdly repaired with a piece of twine, and pushed
into the recess between the organ and the front window, whence I
sometimes amuse myself by the experiment of pulling it into broad
daylight. It is always pushed back again before I return in the
"How are you off for money? I have plenty of loose cash just now.
Madame called last Monday, and asked Matilda, who opened the door,
when you would be back. Thereupon I interviewed her. I must say she
is loyal to her clients; for I had great difficulty in extracting
her bill, which was, of course, what she called about. She
evidently recognizes the necessity of keeping husbands in the dark
in such matters. One of the items was for the lace on your
maccaroni-colored body, which, as I chanced to remember, you
supplied yourself. After a brief struggle she deducted it; so I
paid her the balance: only 35L 13s. 9d.
"When are you coming back to me? After Sark I
fear you will find home a little dull. Nevertheless, I
should like to see you again. Come back before Christmas,
at any rate.
"Yours, dear Marian, in solitude,
The answer came two days later than return of post, and ran thus:
"Melbourne House, Sark,
"My dear Ned
"How very provoking about the servants! I do not mind Matilda so
much; but I do think it hard that we could not depend on Armande,
considering all the kindness we have shewn her. I can scarcely
believe that she would have acted so badly unless she were led away
by Matilda, whom I will pack off the moment I return. As to
Armande, I will give her another chance; but she shall have a sharp
talking to. I am quite sure that a great deal more mischief has
been done than you noticed. If the carpet was danced on for three
nights by men in heavy boots, it must be in ribbons. It is really
too bad. I do not want any money. Indeed the twenty pounds you sent
me last was quite unnecessary, as I have nearly sixteen left. What
a rogue Madame is to try and make you pay for my lace! I am sorry
you paid the bill. She had no business to call for her money: she
is _never_ paid so soon by _anybody_. We have had great fun down
here. It has been one continual garden party all through; and the
weather is still lovely. Mr. McQuinch is very colonial: but I think
his ways make the house pleasanter than if he were still English.
Carbury is quite stupid in comparison to this place. I have danced
more than I ever did in my life before; and now we are so tired of
frivolity that if any one ventures to strum a waltz or propose a
game, we all protest. We tried to get up some choral music; but it
was a failure. On Friday, George, who is looked on as a great man
here, was asked to give us a Shakespeare reading. He was only too
glad to be asked; for he had heard Simonton, the actor, read at a
bazaar in Scotland, and was full of Richard the Third in
consequence. He was not very bad; but his imitation of Simonton was
so obvious and so queerly mixed with his own churchy style that he
seemed rather monotonous and affected. At least I thought so. I was
dreadfully uncomfortable during the reading because of Marmaduke,
who behaved scandalously. There were some schoolboys present; and
he not only encouraged them to misbehave themselves, but was worse
than any of them himself. At last he pretended to be overcome by
the heat, and went out of the room, to my great relief; but when
the passage about the early village cock came, he crew outside the
door, where he had been waiting expressly to do it. Nobody could
help laughing; and the boys screamed so that Mr. McQuinch took two
of them out by the collar. I believe he was glad of the excuse to
go out and laugh himself. George was very angry, and no wonder! He
will hardly speak to Marmaduke, who, of course, denies all
knowledge of the interruption; but George knows better. All the
Hardy McQuinches are down here. Uncle Hardy is rather stooped from
rheumatism. Nelly is now the chief personage in the family: Lydia
and Jane are nowhere beside her. They are good-humored, bouncing
girls; but they are certainly not brilliant. I hope it is not Aunt
Dora's walnut table that is broken. Was it not mean of Parson's man
to tell on Armande? I think, since you have plenty of loose cash,
we might venture on a set of those curtains we saw at Protheroe's,
for the drawing-room. I can easily use the ones that are there now
"You must not think that I have written this all at once. I shall
be able to finish to-day, as it is Sunday, and I have made an
excuse to stay away from church. George is to preach; and somehow I
never feel toward the service as I ought when he officiates. I know
you will laugh at this.
"The first part of your letter must have a paragraph
all to itself. I hardly know what to say. I could not
have believed that Mrs. Leith Fairfax would have behaved
as she has done. I was so angry at first that for
fully an hour I felt ill; and I spoke quite wickedly to
George the day after he arrived, because he said that
Sholto had better not take me down to dinner, although
his doing so was quite accidental. I know you will believe
me when I tell you that I was quite unconscious
that he had been unusually attentive to me; and I was
about to write you an indignant denial, only I shewed
Nelly your letter, and she crushed me by telling me she
had noticed it too. We nearly had a quarrel about it;
but she counted up the number of times I had danced
with him and sat beside him at dinner; and I suppose an
evil-minded woman looking on might think what Mrs.
Leith Fairfax thought. But there is no excuse for her.
She knows that Sholto and I have been intimate since
we were children; and there is something odious in her,
of all people, pretending to misunderstand us. What is
worse, she was particularly friendly and confidential with
me while she was here; and although I tried to keep
away from her at first, she persisted in conciliating me,
and persuaded me that Douglas had entirely mistaken
what she said that other time. Who could have expected
her to turn round and calumniate me the moment my
back was turned! How can people do such things! I
hope we shall not meet her again; for I will never speak
to her. I have not said anything to Douglas. How
could I? It would only make mischief. I feel that the
right course is to come home as soon as I can, and in the
meantime to avoid him as much as possible. So you
may expect me on Saturday next. Mr. McQuinch is
quite dismayed at my departure, which he says will be
the signal for a general breaking up; but this I cannot
help. I shall be glad to go home, of course. Still, I
am sorry to leave this place, where we have all been so
jolly. I will write and let you know what train I shall
come by; but you need not trouble to meet me, unless
you like: I can get home quite well by myself. After
all, it is just as well that I am getting away. It _was_
pleasant enough; but now I feel utterly disgusted with
everything and everybody. I find I must stop. They
have just come in from church; and I must go down.
One Saturday afternoon in December Marian and Elinor sat drinking tea in
the drawing-room at Holland Park. Elinor was present as an afternoon
caller: she no longer resided with the Conollys. Marian had been lamely
excusing herself for not having read Elinor's last book.
"Pray dont apologize," said Elinor. "I remember the time when you would
have forced yourself to read it from a sense of duty; and I am too
delighted to find that nonsense washing out of you at last to feel the
wound to my vanity. Oh, say no more, my dear you can read it still
whenever you please. Brother George read it, and was shocked because the
heroine loves the villain and tells him so without waiting to be asked.
It is odd that long ago, when I believed so devoutly in the tender
passion, I never could write a really flaming love story."
"Dont begin to talk like that," said Marian, crossly. "People _do_ fall
in love, fortunately for them. It may be injudicious; and it may turn
out badly; but it fills up life in a way that all the barren philosophy
and cynicism on earth cannot. Do you think I would not rather have to
regret a lost love than to repine because I had been too cautious to
love at all? The disappointments of love warm the heart more than the
triumphs of insensibility."
"Thats rather a good sentence," said Elinor. "Your talk is more
classical than my writing. But what would the departed Marian Lind have
"The departed Marian Lind was so desperately wise that she neglected
that excellent precept, 'Be not righteous over much, neither make
thyself over wise; why shouldest thou destroy thyself?' I took up the
Bible last night for the first time since my marriage; and I thought
what fools we two used to be when we made up our minds to avoid all the
mistakes and follies and feelings of other people, and to be quite
superior and rational. 'He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he
that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.' It is all so true, in spite
of what Ned says. We were very clever at observing the wind and
regarding the clouds; and what are we the better for it? How much
irreparable mischief, I wonder, did we do ourselves by letting our
little wisdoms stifle all our big instincts! Look at those very other
people whom we despised; how happy they are, in spite of their having
always done exactly what their hearts told them!"
"I think we are pretty well off as people go. I know I am. Certainly it
was part of our wisdom that marriage was a bad thing; and I grant that
though you married in obedience to your instincts you are as well off as
I. But I dont see that we are the worse for having thought a little."
"I did _not_ marry in obedience to my instincts, Nelly; and you know it.
I made a disinterested marriage with a man whom I felt I could respect
as my superior. I was convinced then that a grand passion was a folly."
"And what do you think now?"
"I think that I did not know what I was talking about."
"I believe you were in love with Ned when you married him, and long
enough before that, too."
"Of course I loved him. I love him still."
"Do you, really? To hear you, one would think that you only respected
him as a superior."
"You have no right to say that. You dont understand."
"Perhaps not. Would you mind explaining?"
"I do not mean anything particular; but there are two kinds of love.
There is a love which one's good sense suggests--a sort of moral
Elinor laughed. "Go on," she said. "What is the other sort?"
"The other sort has nothing to do with good sense. It is an overpowering
impulse--a craving--a faith that defies logic--something to look
forward to feeling in your youth, and look back to with a kindling heart
in your age."
"Indeed! Isnt the difference between the two sorts much the same as the
difference between the old love and the new?"
"What do you mean?"
"I think I will take another cup of tea. You neednt stop flying out at
me, though: I dont mind it."
"Excuse me. I did not mean to fly out at you."
"It's rather odd that we so seldom meet now without getting on this
subject and having a row. Has that struck you at all?"
Marian turned to the fire, and remained silent.
"Listen to me, Marian. You are in the blues. Why dont you go to Ned, and
tell him that he is a cast-iron walking machine, and that you are
unhappy, and want the society of a flesh-and-blood man? Have a furious
scene with him, and all will come right."
"It is very easy to talk. I could not go to him and make myself
ridiculous like that: the words would choke me. Besides, I am not
"What a lie! You wicked woman! A moment ago you were contemning all
prudence; and now you will not speak your mind because you are afraid of
being ridiculous. What is that but observing the wind and regarding the
clouds, I should like to know?"
"I wish you would not speak harshly to me, even in jest. It hurts me."
"Serve you right! I am not a bit remorseful. No matter: let us talk of
something else. Where did those flowers come from?"
"Douglas sent them. I am going to the theatre to-night; and I wanted a
"Very kind of him. I wonder he did not bring it himself. He rarely
misses an excuse for coming."
"Why do you say that, Nelly? He comes here very seldom, except on
Sunday; and that is a regular thing, just as your coming is."
"He was here on Tuesday; you saw him at Mrs. Saunders's on Wednesday; he
was at your at-home on Thursday; and he sends a bouquet on Saturday."
"I cannot help meeting him out; and not to invite him to my at-home
would be to cut him. Pray are you growing spiteful, like Mrs. Leith
"Marian: you got out of bed at the wrong side this morning; and you have
made that mistake oftener since your return from Sark than in all your
life before. Douglas has become a lazy good-for-nothing; and he comes
here a great deal too often. Instead of encouraging him to dangle after
you as he does, and to teach you all those finely turned sentiments
about love which you were airing a minute ago, you ought to make him get
called to the bar, or sent into Parliament, or put to work in some
"Bother Nelly! It is true; and you know it as well as I do."
"If he fancies himself in love with me, I cannot help it."
"You can help his following you about."
"I cannot. He does not follow me about. Why does not Ned object? He
knows that Sholto is in love with me; and he does not care."
"Oh, if it is only to make Ned jealous, then I have nothing more to say:
you may flirt away as hard as you please. There's a knock at the door,
just in time to prevent us from quarrelling. I know whose knock it is,
Marian had flushed slightly at the sound; and Elinor, with her feet
stretched out before her, lapped the carpet restlessly with her heels,
and watched her cousin sourly as Douglas entered. He was in evening
"Good-evening," said Elinor. "So you are going to the theatre, too?"
"Why?" said Douglas. "Is any one coming with us? Shall we have the
pleasure of your company?"
"No," replied Elinor, drily. "I thought Mr. Conolly was perhaps going
"I shall be very glad, I am sure, if he will," said Douglas.
"He will not," said Marian. "I doubt if he will come home before we
"You got my flowers safely, I see."
"Yes, thank you. They are beautiful."
"They need be, if you are to wear them."
"I think I will go," said Elinor, "if you can spare me. Marian has been
far from amiable; and if you are going to pay her compliments, I shall
very soon be as bad as she. Good-bye." Douglas gratefully went with her
to the door. She looked very hard at him, and almost made a grimace as
they parted; but she said nothing.
"I am very glad she went," said Marian, when Douglas returned. "She
annoys me. Everything annoys me."
"You are leading an impossible life here, Marian," he said, putting his
hand on her chair and bending over her. "Whilst it lasts, everything
will annoy you; and I, who would give the last drop of my blood to spare
you a moment's pain, shall never experience the delight of seeing you
"What other life can I lead?"
Douglas made an impulsive movement, as though to reply; but he
hesitated, and did not speak. Marian was not looking at him. She was
gazing into the fire.
"Sholto," she said, after an interval of silence, "you must not come
here any more."
"You are too idle. You come here too often. Why do you not become a
barrister, or go into Parliament, or at least write books? If Nelly can
succeed as an author, surely you can."
"I have left all that behind me. I am a failure: you know why. Let us
talk no more of it."
"Do not go on like that," said Marian, pettishly. "I dont like it."
"I am afraid to say or do anything, you are so easily distressed."
"Yes, I know I am very cross. Elinor remarked it too. I think you might
bear with me, Sholto." Here, most unexpectedly, she rose and burst into
tears. "When my whole life is one dreary record of misery, I cannot
always be patient. I have been forbearing toward you many times."
Douglas was at first frightened; for he had never seen her cry before.
Then, as she sat down again, and covered her face with her handkerchief,
he advanced, intending to kneel and put his arm about her; but his
courage failed: he only drew a chair to the fire, and bent over, as he
sat beside her, till his face was close to hers, saying, "It is all the
fault of your mad marriage. You were happy until then. I have been
silent hitherto; but now that I see your tears, I can no longer master
myself. Listen to me, Marian. You asked me a moment since what other
life was open to you. There is a better life. Leave England with me;
and--and----" Marian had raised her head; and as she looked steadily at
him, he stopped, and his lips became white.
"Go on," she said. "I am not angry. What else?"
"Nothing else except happiness." His voice died away: there was a pause.
Then, recovering himself, he went on with something of his
characteristic stateliness. "There is no use in prolonging your present
life; it is a failure, like mine. Why should you hesitate? You know how
seldom the mere letter of duty leads to either happiness or justice. You
can rescue me from a wasted existence. You can preserve your own heart
from a horrible slow domestic decay. _He_ will not care: he cares for
nothing: he is morally murdering you. You have no children to think of.
I love you; and I offer you your choice of the fairest spots in the wide
world to pass our future in, with my protection to ensure your safety
and comfort there, wherever it may be. You know what a hollow thing
conventional virtue is. Who are the virtuous people about you? Mrs.
Leith Fairfax, and her like. If you love me, you must know that you are
committing a crime against nature in living as you are with a man who is
as far removed from you in every human emotion as his workshop is from
heaven. You have striven to do your duty by him in vain. He is none the
happier: we are unutterably the more miserable. Let us try a new life. I
have lived in society here all my days, and have found its atmosphere
most worthless, most selfish, most impure. I want to be free--to shake
the dust of London off my feet, and enter on a life made holy by love.
You can respond to such an aspiration: you, too, must yearn for a pure
and free life. It is within our reach: you have but to stretch out your
hand. Say something to me. Are you listening?"
"It seems strange that I should be listening to you quite calmly, as I
am; although you are proposing what the world thinks a disgraceful
"Does it matter what the world thinks? I would not, even to save myself
from a wasted career, ask you to take a step that would really disgrace
you. But I cannot bear to think of you looking back some day over a
barren past, and knowing that you sacrificed your happiness to
Fashion--an idol. Do you remember last Sunday when we discussed that
bitter saying that women who have sacrificed their feelings to the laws
of society secretly know that they have been fools for their pains? _He_
did not deny it. You could give no good reason for disbelieving it. You
know it to be true; and I am only striving to save you from that vain
regret. You have shewn that you can obey the world with grace and
dignity when the world is right. Shew now that you can defy it
fearlessly when it is tyrannical. Trust your heart, Marian--my darling
Marian: trust your heart--and mine."
"For what hour have you ordered the carriage?"
"The carriage! Is that what you say to me at such a moment? Are you
still flippant as ever?"
"I am quite serious. Say no more now. If I go, I will go deliberately,
and not on the spur of your persuasion. I must have time to think. What
hour did you say?"
"Then it is time for me to dress. You will not mind waiting here alone?"
"If you would only give me one hopeful word, I think I could wait
"What can I say?"
"Say that you love me."
"I am striving to discover whether I have always loved you or not.
Surely, if there be such a thing as love, we should be lovers."
He was chilled by her solemn tone; but he made a movement as if to
"No," she said, stopping him. "I am his wife still. I have not yet
pronounced my own divorce."
She left the room; and he walked uneasily to and fro Until she returned,
dressed in white. He gazed at her with quickened breath as she
confronted him. Neither heeded the click of her husband's latchkey in
the door without.
"When I was a little boy, Marian," he said, gazing at her, "I used to
think that Paul Delaroche's Christian martyr was the most exquisite
vision of beauty in the world. I have the same feeling as I look at you
"Marian reminds me of that picture too," said Conolly. "I remember
wondering," he continued, smiling, as they started and turned toward
him, "why the young lady--she was such a perfect lady--was martyred in a
ball dress, as I took her costume to be. Marian's wreath adds to the
force of the reminiscence."
"If I recollect aright," said Marian, taking up his bantering tone with
a sharper irony, "Delaroche's martyr shewed a fine sense of the
necessity of having her wrists gracefully tied. I am about to follow her
example by wearing these bracelets, which I can never fasten. Be good
enough to assist me, both of you."
She extended a hand to each; and Conolly, after looking at the catch for
a moment, closed it dexterously at the first snap. "By the bye," he
said, whilst Douglas fumbled at the other bracelet, "I have to run away
to Glasgow to-night by the ten train. We shall not see one another again
until Monday evening."
Douglas's hand began to shake so that the gold band chafed Marian's arm.
"There, there," she said, drawing it away from him, "you do it for me,
Ned. Sholto has no mechanical genius." Her hand was quite steady as
Conolly shut the clasp. "Why must you go to Glasgow?"
"They have got into a mess at the works there; and the engineer has
telegraphed for me to go down and see what is the matter. I shall
certainly be back on Monday. Have something for me to eat at half past
seven. I am sorry to be away from our Sunday dinner, Douglas; but you
know the popular prejudice. If you want a thing done, see to it
"Sholto has been very eloquent this evening on the subject of popular
prejudices," said Marian. "He says that to defy the world is a proof of
"So it is," said Conolly. "I get on in the world by defying its old
notions, and taking nobody's advice but my own. Follow Douglas's
precepts by all means. Do you know that it is nearly a quarter to
"Oh! Let us go. We shall be late."
"I shall not see you to-morrow, Douglas. Good-night."
"Good-night," said Douglas, keeping at some distance; for he did not
care to offer Conolly his hand before Marian now. "Pleasant journey."
"Thank you. Hallo! [Marian had impatiently turned back.] What have you
"My opera-glass," said Marian. "No, thanks: you would not know where to
look for it: I will go myself."
She went upstairs; and Conolly, after a pause, followed, and found her
in their bedroom, closing the drawer from which she had just taken the
"Marian," he said: "you have been crying to-day. Is anything wrong? or
is it only nervousness?"
"Only nervousness," said Marian. "How did you find out that I had been
crying? it was only for an instant, because Nelly annoyed me. Does my
face shew it?"
"It does to me, not to anyone else. Are you more cheerful now?"
"Yes, I am all right. I will go to Glasgow with you, if you like."
Conolly recoiled, disconcerted. "Why?" he said. "Do you wish----?" He
recovered himself, and added, "It is too cold, my dear; and I must
travel very fast. I shall be busy all the time. Besides, you are
forgetting the theatre and Douglas, who, by the bye, is catching cold on
"Well, I had better go with Douglas, since it will make you happier."
"Go with Douglas, my dear one, if it will make _you_ happier," said he,
kissing her. To his surprise, she threw her arm round him, held him fast
by the shoulder, and looked at him with extraordinary earnestness. He
gave a little laugh, and disengaged himself gently, saying, "Dont you
think your nervousness is taking a turn rather inconvenient for
Douglas?" She let her hands fall; closed her lips; and passed quietly
out. He went to the window and watched her as she entered the carriage.
Douglas held the door open for her; and Conolly, looking at him with a
sort of pity, noted that he was, in his way, a handsome man and that his
habit of taking himself very seriously gave him a certain, dignity. The
brougham rolled away into the fog. Conolly pulled down the blind, and
began to pack his portmanteau to a vigorously whistled accompaniment.
Conolly returned from Glasgow a little before eight on Monday evening.
There was no light in the window when he entered the garden. Miss
McQuinch opened the door before he reached it.
"What!" he said. "Going the moment I come in!" Then, seeing her face by
the hall lamp, he put down his bag quickly, and asked what the matter
"I dont know whether anything is the matter. I am very glad you have
returned. Come into the drawing-room: I dont want the servants to hear
"There is no light here," he said, following her in. "Is it possible you
have been waiting in the dark?"
He lit a candle, and was about to light a lamp when she exclaimed
impatiently, "Oh, I did not notice it: what does it matter? Do let the
lamp alone, and listen to me." He obeyed, much amused at her irritation.
"Where has Marian gone to?" she asked.
"Is she out?" he said, suddenly grave. "You forget that I have come
straight from Glasgow."
"I have been here since three o'clock. Marian sent me a note not to come
on Sunday--that she should be out and that you were away. But they tell
me that she was at home all yesterday, except for two hours when she was
out with Sholto. She packed her trunks in the evening, and went away
with them. She told the cabman to drive to Euston. I dont know what it
all means; and I have been half distracted waiting here for you. I
thought you would never come. There is a note for you on your
He pursed his lips a little and looked attentively at her, but said
"Wont you go and open it?" she said anxiously. "It must contain some
"I am afraid the explanation is obvious."
"You have no right to say that. How do you know? If you are not going to
read her letter, you had better say so at once. I dont want to pry into
it: I only want to know what is become of Marian."
"You shall read it by all means. Will you excuse me whilst I fetch it?"
She stamped with impatience. He smiled and went for the letter, which,
after a brief absence, he placed unopened on the table before her,
"I suppose this is it. I laid my hand on it in the dark."
"Are you going to open it?" she said, hardly able to contain herself.
He had not raised his voice; but it struck her that he was in a rage.
His friendly look and quiet attitude first reassured, then, on second
thoughts, exasperated her.
"Why wont you?"
"I really dont know. Somehow, I am not curious. It interests you. Pray
"I will die first. If it lie there until I open it, it will lie there
He opened the envelope neatly with a paper cutter, and handed her the
enclosure. She kept down her hands stubbornly. He smiled a little, still
presenting it. At last she snatched it, much as she would have liked to
snatch a handful of his hair. Having read it, she turned pale, and
looked as she had used to in her childhood, when in disgrace and
resolute not to cry. "I had rather have had my two hands cut off," she
said passionately, after a pause.
"It is very sad for you," said Conolly, sympathetically. "He is an
educated man; but I cannot think that he has much in him."
"He is a selfish, lying, conceited hound. Educated, indeed! And what are
_you_ going to do, may I ask?"
"Eat my supper. I am as hungry as a bear."
"Yes, you had better, I think. Good-evening." He seemed to know that she
would not leave; for he made no movement to open the door for her. On
her way out, she turned, and so came at him with her fists clenched,
that for a moment he was doubtful whether she would not bodily assault
"Are you a brute, or a fool, or both?" she said, letting her temper
loose. "How long do you intend to stand there, doing nothing?"
"What _can_ I do, Miss McQuinch?" he said, gently.
"You can follow her and bring her back before she has made an utter
idiot of herself with that miserable blackguard. Are you afraid of him?
If you are, I will go with you, and not let him touch you."
"Thank you," he said, good-humoredly. "But you see she does not wish to
live with me."
"Good God, man, what woman do you think _could_ wish to live with you! I
suppose Marian wanted a human being to live with, and not a calculating
machine. You would drive any woman away. If you had feeling enough to
have kicked him out of the house, and then beaten her black and blue for
encouraging him, you would have been more of a man than you are: she
would have loved you more. You are not a man: you are a stone full of
brains--such as they are! Listen to me, Mr. Conolly. There is one chance
left--if you will only make haste. Go after them; overtake them; thrash
him within an inch of his life; and bring her back and punish her how
you please so long as you shew her that you care. You can do it if you
will only make up your mind: he is a coward; and he is afraid of you: I
have seen it in his eye. You are worth fifty of him--if you would only
not be so cold blooded--if you will only go--_dear_ Mr. Conolly--youre
not really insensible--you will, wont you?"
This, the first tender tone he had ever heard in her voice, made him
look at her curiously. "What does the letter say?" he asked, still
quietly, but inexorably.
She snatched it up again. "Here," she said. "'_Our marriage was a
mistake. I am going away with Douglas to the other side of the world. It
is all I can do to mend matters. Pray forget me_.' That is what her
letter says, since you condescend to ask."
"It is too late, then. You felt that as you read it, I think?"
"Yes," she cried, sitting down in a paroxysm of grief, but unable to
weep. "It is too late; and it is all your fault. What business had you
to go away? You knew what was going to happen. You intended it to
happen. You wanted it to happen. You are glad it has happened; and it
serves you right. '_Pray forget her_.' Oh, yes, poor girl! she need not
trouble about that. I declare there is nothing viler, meaner,
cowardlier, selfisher on earth than a man. Oh, if we had only done what
we always said we would do--kept free from you!"
"It was a good plan," said Conolly, submissively.
"Was it? How were we to know that you were not made of flesh and blood,
pray? There, let me go. [The table was between them; but she rose and
shook off an imaginary detaining hand.] I dont want to hear anything
more about it. I suppose you are right not to care. Very likely she was
right to go, too; so we are all right, and everything is for the best,
no doubt. Marian is ruined, of course; but what does that matter to you?
She was only in your way. You can console yourself with your--" Here
Armande came in; and Elinor turned quickly to the fireplace and stood
there, so that the housemaid should not see her face.
"Your dinner, sir," said Armande, with a certain artificiality of manner
that was, under the circumstances, significant. "There is a nice fire in
"Thank you," said Conolly. "Presently, Armande."
"The things will spoil if you wait too long, sir. The mistress was very
particular with me and cook about it." And Armande, with an air of
declining further responsibility, went out.
"What shall I do without Marian?" said Conolly. "Not one woman in a
hundred is capable of being a mistress to her servants. She saved me all
the friction of housekeeping."
"You are beginning to feel your loss," said Elinor, facing him again. "A
pleasant thing for a woman of her talent to be thrown away to save you
the friction of housekeeping. If you had paid half the attention to her
happiness that she did to your dinners you would not be in your present
"Have you really calculated that it is twice as easy to make a woman
happy as to feed a man?"
"Calc--! Yes, I have. I tell you that it is three times as easy--six
times as easy: more fool the woman! You can make a woman happy for a
week by a word or a kiss. How long do you think it takes to order a
week's dinners? I suppose you consider a kiss a weakness?"
"I am afraid--judging by the result--that I am not naturally clever at
"No, I should think not, indeed. Then you had better go and do what you
_are_ clever at--eat your dinner."
"Miss McQuinch: did you ever see an unfortunate little child get a
severe fall, and then, instead of a little kindly petting, catch a sound
whacking from its nurse for daring to startle her and spoil its
"Well, what is the point of that?"
"You remind me a little of the nurse. I have had a sort of fall this
"And now you are going to pretend to be hurt, I suppose; because you
dont care to be told that it is your own fault. That is a common
experience with children, too. I tell you plainly that I dont believe
you are hurt at all; though you may not be exactly pleased--just for the
moment. However, I did not mean to be uncivil. If you are really sorry,
I am at least _as_ sorry. I have not said all I think."
"Nothing of any use to say. I see I am wasting my time here--and no
doubt wasting yours too."
"Well, I think you have had your turn. If you are not thoroughly
satisfied, pray go on for ten minutes longer: your feelings do you
credit, as the phrase goes. Still, do not forget that you thought just
the same of me a week ago; and that if you had said as much then you
might have prevented what has happened. Giving me a piece of your mind
now is of no use except as far as it relieves you. To Marian or me or
anyone else it does no good. So when you have said your worst, we cannot
do better, I think, than set our wits to work about our next move."
Elinor received this for a moment in dudgeon. Then she laughed sourly,
and said, "There is some sense in that. I am as much to blame as
anybody: I dont deny it--if that is any comfort to you. But as to the
next move, you say yourself that it is too late to do anything; and I
dont see that you can do much."
"That is so. But there are a few things to be faced. First, I have to
set Marian and myself free."
"Divorce!" Elinor looked at him in dismay. He was unmoved. Then her gaze
fell slowly, and she said: "Yes: I suppose you have a right to that."
"So that she may marry him--from a sense of duty. That will be so happy
"She will have time, before she is free to find out whether she likes
him or not. There will be a great fuss in the family over the scandal."
"Do you care about that? _I_ dont."
"No. However, thats a detail. Marian will perhaps write to you. If so,
just point out to her that her five hundred a year belongs to her still,
and makes her quite independent of him and of me. That is all, I think.
You need take no pains now to conceal what has happened: the servants
below know it as well as we: in a week it will be town talk."
Elinor looked wistfully at him, her impetuosity failing her as she felt
how little effect it was producing. Yet her temper rather rose than fell
at him. There was a much more serious hostility than before in her tone
as she said:
"You seem to have been thoroughly prepared for what has happened. I do
not want any instructions from you as to what I shall write to Marian
about her money affairs: I want to know, in case she takes it into her
head to come back when she has found what a fool she has made of
herself, whether I may tell her that you are glad to be rid of her, and
that there is no use in her humiliating herself by coming to your door
and being turned away."
"Shall I explain the situation to you from my point of view?" said he.
At the sound of his voice she looked up in alarm. The indulgent,
half-playful manner which she had almost lost the sense of because it
was so invariable with him in speaking to ladies was suddenly gone. She
felt that the real man was coming out now without ceremony. He was quick
to perceive the effect he had produced. To soften it, he placed a
comfortable chair on the hearthrug, and said, in his ordinary friendly
way: "Sit nearer the fire: we can talk more comfortably. Now," he
continued, standing with his back to the mantelpiece, "let me tell you,
Miss McQuinch, that when you talk of my turning people away from my door
you are not talking fair and square sense to me. I dont turn my
acquaintances off in that way, much less my friends; and a woman who has
lived with me as my wife for eighteen months must always be a rather
particular friend. I liked her before I was her husband, and I shall
continue to like her when I am no longer her husband. So you need have
no fear on that score. But I wont remain her husband. You said just now
that I knew what was going to happen; that I intended it to happen,
wanted it to happen, and am glad it happened. There is more truth in
that than you thought when you said it. For some time past Marian has
been staying with me as a matter of custom and convenience only, using
me as a cover for her philandering with Douglas, and paying me by
keeping the house very nicely for me. I had asked myself once or twice
how long this was to last. I was in no hurry for the answer; for
although I was wifeless and had no one to live with who really cared for
me, I was quite prepared to wait a couple of years if necessary, on the
chance of our making it up somehow. But sooner or later I should have
insisted on closing our accounts and parting; and I am not sorry now
that the end has come, since it was inevitable; though I am right sorry
for the way it has come. Instead of eloping in the conventional way, she
should have come to an understanding with me. I could easily have taken
her for a trip in the States, where we could have stopped a few months
in South Dakota and got divorced without any scandal. I have never made
any claims on her since she found out that she didnt care for me; and
she might have known from that that I was not the man to keep her
against her will and play dog in the manger with a fellow like Douglas.
However, thats past praying for now. She has had enough of me; and I
have had more than enough of her set and her family, except that I
should like to remain good friends with you. You are the only one of the
whole lot worth your salt. It is understood, of course, that you take
Marian's part against me on all issues; but will you be friends as far
as is consistent with that?"
"All right," said Nelly, shortly.
"Shake hands on it; and I'll tell you something else that will help you
to understand me better," he said, holding out his hand. She gave hers;
and when the bargain was struck, he turned to the fire and seated
himself on the edge of the table.
"You know that when I married," he resumed, "I was promoted to mix in
fashionable society for the first time. Of course you do: that was the
whole excitement of the affair for the family. You know the impression I
made on polite society better, probably, than I do. Now tell me: do you
know what impression polite society made on me?"
"Perhaps it has never occurred even to you, sharp as you are, that I
could have taken society otherwise than at its own valuation of itself,
as something much higher, more cultivated and refined than anything that
I had been accustomed to. Well, I never believed in that much at any
time; but it was not until I had made a _mesalliance_ for Marian's sake
that I realized how infinitely beneath me and my class was the one I had
"_Mesalliance!_--with Marian! I take back the shake hands."
"_Mesalliance_ with her class, for her sake: I made the distinction
purposely. Now what am I, Miss McQuinch? A worker. I belonged and belong
to the class that keeps up the world by its millions of serviceable
hands and serviceable brains. All the pride of caste in me settles on
that point. I admit no loafer as my equal. The man who is working at the
bench is my equal, whether he can do my day's work or not, provided he
is doing the best he can. But the man who does not work anyhow, and the
class that does not work, is a class below mine. When I annoyed Marian
by refusing to wear a tall hat and cuffs, I did so because I wanted to
have it seen as I walked through Piccadilly and St. James's Street that
I did not belong there, just as your people walk through a poor street
dressed so as to shew that they dont belong there. To me a man like your
uncle, Marian's father, or like Marmaduke or Douglas, loafing idly round
spending money that has been made by the sweat of men like myself, are
little better than thieves. They get on with the queerest makeshifts for
self-respect: old Mr. Lind with family pride. Douglas with personal
vanity, and Marmaduke with a sort of interest in his own appetites and
his own jollity. Everything is a sham with them: they have drill and
etiquet instead of manners, fashions instead of tastes, small talk
instead of intercourse. Everything that is special to them as
distinguished from workers is a sham: when you get down to the real
element in them, good or bad, you find that it is something that is
common to them and to all civilized mankind. The reason that this isnt
as clear to other workmen who come among them as it is to me is that
most workmen share their ignorance of the things they affect superiority
in. Poor Jackson, whom you all call the Yankee cad, and who is not a cad
at all in his proper place among the engineers at our works, believes in
the sham refinements he sees around him at the at-homes he is so fond
of. He has no art in him--no trained ear for music or for fine diction,
no trained eye for pictures and colors and buildings, no cultivated
sense of dignified movement, gesture, and manner. But he knows what
fashionable London listens to and looks at, and how it talks and
behaves; and he makes that his standard, and sets down what is
different from it as vulgar. Now the difference between me and him is
that I got an artistic training by accident when I was young, and had
the natural turn to profit by it. Before I ever saw a West End Londoner
I knew beautiful from ugly, rare from common, in music, speech, costume,
and gesture; for in my father's operatic and theatrical companies there
did come now and then, among the crowd of thirdraters, a dancer, an
actor, a scenepainter, a singer, or a bandsman or conductor who was a
fine artist. Consequently, I was not to be taken in like Jackson by
made-up faces, trashy pictures, drawling and lounging and strutting and
tailoring, drawing-room singing and drawing-room dancing, any more than
by bad ventilation and unwholesome hours and food, not to mention polite
dram drinking, and the round of cruelties they call sport. I found that
the moment I refused to accept the habits of the rich as standards of
refinement and propriety, the whole illusion of their superiority
vanished at once. When I married Marian I was false to my class. I had a
sort of idea that my early training had accustomed me to a degree of
artistic culture that I could not easily find in a working girl, and
that would be quite natural to Marian. I soon found that she had the
keenest sense of what was ladylike, and no sense of what was beautiful
at all. A drawing, a photograph, or an engraving sensibly framed without
a white mount round it to spoil it pained her as much as my wrists
without cuffs on them. No mill girl could have been less in sympathy
with me on the very points for which I had preferred her to the mill
girls. The end of it was that I felt that love had made me do a
thoroughly vulgar thing--marry beneath me. These aristocratic idle
gentlemen will never be shamed out of their laziness and low-mindedness
until the democratic working gentlemen refuse to associate with them
instead of running after them and licking their boots. I am heartily
glad now to be out of their set and rid of them, instead of having to
receive them civilly in my house for Marian's sake. The whole business
was strangling me: the strain of keeping my feeling to myself was more
than you can imagine. Do you know that there have been times when I have
been so carried away with the idea that she must be as tired of the
artificiality of our life as I was, that I have begun to speak my mind
frankly to her; and when she recoiled, hurt and surprised and frightened
that I was going to turn coarse at last, I have shut up and sat there
apparently silent, but really saying under my breath: 'Why dont you go?
Why dont you leave me, vanish, fly away to your own people? You must be
a dream: I never married you. You dont know me: you cant be my wife:
your lungs were not made to breathe the air I live in.' I have said a
thousand things like that, and then wondered whether there was any truth
in telepathy--whether she could possibly be having my thoughts
transferred to her mind and thinking it only her imagination. I would
ask myself whether I despised her or not, calling on myself for the
truth as if I did not believe the excuses I made for her out of the
fondness I could not get over. I am fond of her still, sometimes. I did
not really--practically, I mean--despise her until I gave up thinking
about her at all. There was a certain kind of contempt in that
indifference, beyond a doubt: there is no use denying it. Besides, it is
proved to me now by the new respect I feel for her because she has had
the courage and grit to try going away with Douglas. But my love for her
is over: nothing short of her being born over again--a thing that
sometimes happens--will ever bring her into contact with me after this.
To put it philosophically, she made the mistake of avoiding all
realities, and yet marrying herself to the hardest of realities, a
working man; so it was inevitable that she should go back at last to the
region of shadows and mate with that ghostliest of all unrealities, the
non-working man. Perhaps, too, the union may be more fruitful than ours:
the cross between us was too violent. Now you have the whole story from
my point of view. What do you--"
"Hush!" said Elinor, interrupting him. "What is that noise outside?"
The house bell began to ring violently; and they could hear a confused
noise of voices and footsteps without.
"Can she have come back?" said Elinor, starting up.
"Impossible!" said Conolly, looking disturbed for the first time. They
stood a moment listening, with averted eyes. A second peal from the bell
was followed by roars of laughter, amid which a remonstrant voice was
audible. Then the house door was hammered with a stick. Conolly ran
downstairs at once and opened it. On the step he found Marmaduke reeling
in the arms of the Rev. George.
"How are you, ol' fler?" said Marmaduke, plunging into the hall. "The
parson is tight. I found him tumbling about High Street, and brought him
"Pray excuse this intrusion," whispered the Rev. George. "You see the
state he is in. He accosted me near Campden Hill; and I really could not
be seen walking with him into town. I wonder he was not arrested."
"He is the worse for drink; but he is sober enough to know how to amuse
himself at your expense," said Conolly, aloud. "Come up to the
laboratory. Miss McQuinch is there."
"But he is not fit," urged the clergyman. "Look at him trying to hang up
his hat. How absurd--I should rather say how deplorable! I assure you he
is perfectly tipsy. He has been ringing the bells of the houses, and
requesting females to accompany us. Better warn Elinor."
"Nonsense!" said Conolly. "I have some news that will sober him. Here is
Miss McQuinch. Are you going?"
"Yes," said Elinor. "I should lose my patience if I had to listen to
George's comments; and I am tired. I would rather go."
"Not yet, Nelly. Wont um stay and talk to um's Marmadukes?"
"Let me go," said Elinor, snatching away her hand, which he had seized.
"You ought to be at home in bed. You are a sot." At this Marmaduke
laughed boisterously. She passed him contemptuously, and left. The three
men then went upstairs, Marmaduke dropping his pretence of drunkenness
under the influence of Conolly's presence.
"Marian is not in, I presume," said the clergyman, when they were
"No." said Conolly. "She has eloped with Douglas."
They stared at him. Then Marmaduke gave a long whistle; and the
clergyman rose, pale. "What do you mean, sir?" he said.
Conolly did not answer; and the Rev. George slowly sat down again.
"Well, I'm damned sorry for it," said Marmaduke, emphatically. "It was
a mean thing for Douglas to do, with all his brag about his honor."
The Rev. George covered his face with his handkerchief and sobbed.
"Come, shut up, old fellow; and dont make an ass of yourself," said
Marmaduke. "What are you going to do, Conolly?"
"I must simply divorce her."
"Go for heavy damages, Conolly. Knock a few thousand out of him, just to
"He could easily afford it. Besides, why should I punish him?"
"My dear friend," cried the clergyman, "you must not dream of a divorce.
I implore you to abandon such an idea. Consider the disgrace, the
impiety! The publicity would kill my father."
Conolly shook his head.
"There is no such thing as divorce known to the Church. 'What God hath
joined together, let no man put asunder.'"
"She had no right to bolt," said Marmaduke. "Thats certain."
"I was married by a registrar," said Conolly; "and as there is no such
thing as civil marriage known to the Church, our union, from the
ecclesiastical point of view, has no existence. We were not joined by
God, in fact, in your sense. To deny her the opportunity of remarrying
would be to compel her to live as an adulteress in the eye of the law,
which, by the bye, would make me the father of Douglas's children. I
cannot, merely because your people are afraid of scandal, take such a
revenge on Marian as to refuse her the freedom she has sacrificed so
much for. After all, since our marriage has proved a childless one, the
only reason for our submitting to be handcuffed to one another, now that
our hearts are no longer in the arrangement, is gone."
"The game began at Sark," said Marmaduke. "Douglas stuck to her there
like a leech. He's been about the house here a good deal since she came
back. I often wondered you didnt kick him out. But, of course, it was
not my business to say anything. Was she huffed into going? You hadnt
any row with her just before, had you?
"We never had rows."
"That was your mistake, Conolly. You should have heard poor Susanna and
me fighting. We always ended by swearing we would never speak to one
another again. Nothing duller than a smooth life. If you had given
Marian something to complain of, she would have been too much taken up
with it to bother about Douglas."
"But have you ascertained whither they have gone?" said the clergyman,
distractedly. "Will you not follow them?"
"I know nothing of their movements. Probably they are crossing to New
"But surely you ought to follow her," said the Rev. George. "You may yet
be in time to save her from worse than death."
"Yah!" said Marmaduke. "Drop all that rot, George. Worse than death be
hanged! Serves the family right! They are a jolly sight too virtuous: it
will do them good to get shewn up a bit."
"If you have no respect for the convictions of a priest," exclaimed the
Rev. George, shedding tears, "you might at least be silent in the
presence of a heartbroken brother and husband."
"Oh, I dont want to shew any want of consideration for you or Conolly,"
said Marmaduke, sulkily. "No doubt it's rough on you. But as to the
feelings of the family, I tell you flatly that I dont care if the whole
crew were brought to the Old Bailey to-morrow and convicted of bigamy.
It would take the conceit out of them."
"I know not how to break this wretched news to my father," said the Rev.
George, turning disconsolately from his sottish cousin to Conolly.
"It is no such uncommon occurrence. The less fuss made about it the
better. She is not to blame, and I shall not be heard crying out misery
and disgrace. Your family can very well follow my example. I have
nothing to say against her, and I believe she has nothing to say against
me. Nothing can prevent such publicity as a petition for divorce must
entail. Your father will survive it, never fear."
The clergyman, remembering how vainly he had tried to change Conolly's
intention when Marian was to be married, felt that he should succeed no
better now that she was to be divorced. Silent and cast down, he sat
dangling his handkerchief between his knees and leaning forward on his
elbows toward the fire.
"You must excuse me if I see my way straight through to the end. I
daresay you would rather realize it gradually, inevitable as it is,"
added Conolly, looking down with some pity at his drooping figure. "I
cannot help my habit of mind. When are you going to be married?" he
continued, to Marmaduke.
"I dont know. The Countess is in a hurry. I'm not. But I suppose it will
be some time in spring."
"You have made up your mind to it at last?"
"Oh, I never had any particular objection to it, only I dont like to be
hunted into a corner. Conny is a good little girl, and will make a
steady wife. I dont like her mother; but as for herself, she is fond of
me; and after all, I _did_ lead her a dance long ago. Besides, old boy,
the Earl is forking out handsomely; and as I have some notion of
settling down to farm, his dust will come in conveniently as capital."
The clergyman rose, and slowly pulled on his woolen gloves.
"If youre going, I will see you part of the way," said Marmaduke. "I'll
cheer you up. You know you neednt tell the governor until to-morrow."
"I had rather go alone, if you intend to behave as you did before."
"Never fear. I'm as sober as a judge now. Come along. Away with
melancholy! Youll have Douglas for a brother-in-law before this time
This seemed to have been in the clergyman's mind; for he shook hands
with his host more distantly than usual. When they were gone, Conolly
went to the laboratory, and rang for his neglected dinner, which he ate
with all a traveller's appetite. From the dinner table he went straight
to the organ, and played until a little before midnight, when, after a
brief turn in the open air, he retired to bed, and was soon quietly
Miss McQuinch spent Christmas morning in her sitting-room reading; a
letter which had come by the morning post. It was dated the 17th
December at New York: and the formal beginning and ending were omitted.
This was an old custom between Marian and her cousin. In their girlish
correspondence they had expressed their affection by such modes of
address as "My darling Marian," and "My dearest Nelly." Subsequently
they became oppressed by these ceremonies and dropped them. Thereafter
their letters contained only the matter to be communicated and the
"You are the only person in England," wrote Marian, "to whom I dare
write now. A month ago I had more correspondents than I had time to
answer. Do you know, Nelly, I hesitated before commencing this letter,
lest you should no longer care to have anything to do with me. That may
have been an unworthy thought for a friend: but it was an unavoidable
one for a woman.
"And now comes the great vain question: What does everybody say? Oh, if
I could only disembody myself; fly back to London for a few hours; and
listen invisibly to society talking about me. I know this is mean: but
one must fill up life with some mean curiosities. So please tell me what
kind of sensation I have caused. Just the usual one. I suppose. Half the
people never would have thought it; and the other half knew all along
what it would come to. Well, I do not care much about the world in
general; but I cannot quiet my conscience on the subject of my father
and George. It must be very hard on papa that, after being disappointed
in my marriage and having suffered long ago from what my mother did, he
should now be disgraced by his daughter. For disgraced, alas! is the
word. I am afraid poor George's prospects must be spoiled by the
scandal, which, I know well, must be terrible. I thought my first duty
was to leave Ned free, and to free myself, at all hazards; and so I did
not dwell on the feelings and interests of others as much as I perhaps
ought to have done. There is one point about which I am especially
anxious. It never occurred to me before I went that people might say
that my going was Ned's fault, and that he had treated me badly. You
must contradict this with all your might and main if you hear it even
"There is no use in putting off the confession any longer, Nelly: I have
made an utter fool of myself. _I wish I were back with Ned again_.
There! what do you think of that? Now for another great confession, and
a most humiliating one. Sholto is a--I dont know what epithet is fair. I
suppose I have no right to call him an impostor merely because we were
foolish enough to overrate him. But I can hardly believe now that we
ever really thought that there were great qualities and powers latent
beneath his proud reserve. Ned, I know, never believed in Sholto; and I,
in my infinite wisdom, set that down to his not understanding him. Ned
was right, as usual. If you want to see how selfish people are, and how
skin-deep fashionable politeness is, take a voyage. Go with a picked
company of the nice people you have met for an hour or so at a dinner or
an at-home; and see how different they will appear when they have been
cooped up in a ship with you day and night for a week. An ocean steamer
is the next worst thing to the Palace of Truth. Poor Sholto did not
stand the ordeal. He was ridiculously distant in his manner to the rest
of the passengers, and in little matters at table and so forth he was
really just as selfish as he could be. He was impatient because I was
ill the first two days, and afterwards he seemed to think that I ought
not to speak to anyone but himself. The doctor, who was very attentive
to me, was his particular aversion; and it was on his account that we
had our first quarrel, the upshot of which was a scene between them,
which I overheard. One very fine day, when all the passengers were on
deck, Sholto met the doctor in the saloon, and offered him a guinea for
his attendance on me, telling him in the most offensively polite way
that I would not trouble him for any further services. The doctor
retorted very promptly and concisely; and though what he said was not
dignified, I sympathized with him, and took care to be very friendly
with him at dinner. (Meals take place on hoard ship at intervals of ten
minutes: it is horrifying to see the quantity of food the elderly people
consume.) To prevent further hostilities I took care to be always in the
way when the doctor encountered Sholto afterwards. I cannot imagine Ned
involving himself in such a paltry squabble. It is odd how things come
about. I used to take Sholto's genius for granted, and think a great
deal of it. In another sense, I used to take Ned's genius for granted,
and think nothing of it. Now I have found out in a single fortnight that
we saw all of Sholto that there was to be seen. His reserves of talent
existed only in our imagination. He has absolutely no sense of humor;
and he is always grumbling. Neither the servants, nor the food, nor the
rooms, nor the wine, satisfy him. Imagine how this comes home to me,
who, from not having heard grumbling for two years, had forgotten that
men ever were guilty of it. I flirted a little, a very little, with the
doctor; not because I meant anything serious, but because it amused me
and made the trip pleasant. Sholto will not understand this. One day, on
board, I was indiscreet enough to ask Sholto the use of a piece of
machinery belonging to the ship. Ned would have known, or, if he had
not, would very soon have found out. Sholto didnt know, and was weak
enough to pretend that he did; so he snubbed me by saying that I could
not understand it. This put me on my mettle; and I asked the surgeon
that afternoon about it. The surgeon didnt know, and said so; but he
appealed to the first officer, who explained it. I intended to revenge
myself on Sholto by retailing the explanation to him next day; but
unfortunately, whether through the first officer's want of perspicuity
or my own stupidity, I was not a bit the wiser for the explanation.
"I can tell you nothing as to what we are likely to do next. As Sholto
has given up all his prospects for me, I cannot honorably desert him. I
know now that I have ruined myself for nothing, and I must at least try
to hide from him that he has done likewise. I can see that he is not
happy; but he tries so desperately to persuade himself that he is, and
clings so to the idea that the world is well lost for me, that I have
not the heart to undeceive him. So we are still lovers; and, cynical
though it sounds, I make him a great deal happier in my insincerity than
I could if I really loved him, because I humor him with a cunning quite
incompatible with passion. He, on the other hand, being still sincere,
tries my patience terribly with his jealousies and importunities. As he
has nothing to do, he is almost always with me; and a man who has no
office to go to--I dont care who he is--is a trial of which you can have
no conception. So much for our present relations. But I fear--indeed I
know--that they will not last long. I dare not look steadily at the
future. In spite of all that he has sacrificed for me, I cannot live
forever with him. There are times at which he inspires me with such a
frenzy of aversion and disgust that I have to put the strongest
constraint upon myself to avoid betraying my feelings to him. We
intended going to the West Indies direct from here, in search of some
idyllic retreat where we could live alone together. He still entertains
this project; but as I have totally abandoned it I put him off with some
pretext for remaining here whenever he mentions it. I have only one hope
of gaining a separation without being open to the reproach of having
deserted him. You remember how we disputed that Saturday about the
merits of a grand passion, which I so foolishly longed for. Well, I have
tried it, and proved it to be a lamentable delusion, selfish,
obstinate, blind, intemperate, and transient. As it has evaporated from
me, so it will evaporate from Sholto in the course of time. It would
have done so already, but that his love was more genuine than mine. When
the time comes, he will get rid of me without the least remorse; and so
he will have no excuse for reviving his old complaints of my treachery.
"One new and very disagreeable feature in my existence, which I had
partly prepared myself for, is the fear of detection. We sailed before
our flight had become public; and as there was fortunately no one on
board who knew us, I had a nine days' respite, and could fearlessly
approach the other women, who, I suppose, would not have spoken to me
had they known the truth. But here it is different. Ned's patents are so
much more extensively worked here than in England, and the people are so
go-ahead, that they take a great interest in him, and are proud of him
as an American. The news got into the papers a few days after we
arrived. To appreciate the full significance of this, you should know
what American newspapers are. One of them actually printed a long
account of my going away, with every paragraph headed in large print,
'Domestic Unhappiness,' 'The Serpent in the Laboratory,' 'The
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