AN ENGLISHWOMAN'S LOVE-LETTERS
NEW YORK THE MERSHON COMPANY PUBLISHERS
AN ENGLISHWOMAN'S LOVE-LETTERS.
It need hardly be said that the woman by whom these letter were written had no thought that they would be read by anyone but the person to whom they were addressed. But a request, conveyed under circumstances which the writer herself would have regarded as all-commanding, urges that they should now be given to the world; and, so far as is possible with a due regard to the claims of privacy, what is here printed presents the letters as they were first written in their complete form and sequence.
Very little has been omitted which in any way bears upon the devotion of which they are a record. A few names of persons and localities have been changed; and several short notes (not above twenty in all), together with some passages bearing too intimately upon events which might be recognized, have been left out without indication of their omission.
It was a necessary condition to the present publication that the authorship of these letters should remain unstated. Those who know will keep silence; those who do not, will not find here any data likely to guide them to the truth.
The story which darkens these pages cannot be more fully indicated while the feelings of some who are still living have to be consulted; nor will the reader find the root of the tragedy explained in the letters themselves. But one thing at least may be said as regards the principal actors—that to the memory of neither of them does any blame belong. They were equally the victims of circumstances, which came whole out of the hands of fate and remained, so far as one of the two was concerned, a mystery to the day of her death.
Beloved: This is your first letter from me: yet it is not the first I have written to you. There are letters to you lying at love's dead-letter office in this same writing—so many, my memory has lost count of them!
This is my confession: I told you I had one to make, and you laughed:—you did not know how serious it was—for to be in love with you long before you were in love with me—nothing can be more serious than that!
You deny that I was: yet I know when you first really loved me. All at once, one day something about me came upon you as a surprise: and how, except on the road to love, can there be surprises? And in the surprise came love. You did not know me before. Before then, it was only the other nine entanglements which take hold of the male heart and occupy it till the tenth is ready to make one knot of them all.
In the letter written that day, I said, "You love me." I could never have said it before; though I had written twelve letters to my love for you, I had not once been able to write of your love for me. Was not that serious?
Now I have confessed! I thought to discover myself all blushes, but my face is cool: you have kissed all my blushes away! Can I ever be ashamed in your eyes now, or grow rosy because of anything you or I think? So!—you have robbed me of one of my charms: I am brazen. Can you love me still?
You love me, you love me; you are wonderful! we are both wonderful, you and I.
Well, it is good for you to know I have waited and wished, long before the thing came true. But to see you waiting and wishing, when the thing was true all the time:—oh! that was the trial! How not suddenly to throw my arms round you and cry, "Look, see! O blind mouth, why are you famished?"
And you never knew? Dearest, I love you for it, you never knew! I believe a man, when he finds he has won, thinks he has taken the city by assault: he does not guess how to the insiders it has been a weary siege, with flags of surrender fluttering themselves to rags from every wall and window! No: in love it is the women who are the strategists: and they have at last to fall into the ambush they know of with a good grace.
You must let me praise myself a little for the past, since I can never praise myself again. You must do that for me now! There is not a battle left for me to win. You and peace hold me so much a prisoner, have so caught me from my own way of living, that I seem to hear a pin drop twenty years ahead of me: it seems an event! Dearest, a thousand times, I would not have it be otherwise: I am only too willing to drop out of existence altogether and find myself in your arms instead. Giving you my love, I can so easily give you my life. Ah, my dear, I am yours so utterly, so gladly! Will you ever find it out, you who took so long to discover anything?
Dearest: Your name woke me this morning: I found my lips piping their song before I was well back into my body out of dreams. I wonder if the rogues babble when my spirit is nesting? Last night you were a high tree and I was in it, the wind blowing us both; but I forget the rest,—whatever, it was enough to make me wake happy.
There are dreams that go out like candle-light directly one opens the shutters: they illumine the walls no longer; the daylight is too strong for them. So, now, I can hardly remember anything of my dreams: daylight, with you in it, floods them out.
Oh, how are you? Awake? Up? Have you breakfasted? I ask you a thousand things. You are thinking of me, I know: but what are you thinking? I am devoured by curiosity about myself—none at all about you, whom I have all by heart! If I might only know how happy I make you, and just which thing I said yesterday is making you laugh to-day—I could cry with joy over being the person I am.
It is you who make me think so much about myself, trying to find myself out. I used to be most self-possessed, and regarded it as the crowning virtue: and now—your possession of me sweeps it away, and I stand crying to be let into a secret that is no longer mine. Shall I ever know why you love me? It is my religious difficulty; but it never rises into a doubt. You do love me, I know. Why, I don't think I ever can know.
You ask me the same question about yourself, and it becomes absurd, because I altogether belong to you. If I hold my breath for a moment wickedly (for I can't do it breathing), and try to look at the world with you out of it, I seem to have fallen over a precipice; or rather, the solid earth has slipped from under my feet, and I am off into vacuum. Then, as I take breath again for fear, my star swims up and clasps me, and shows me your face. O happy star this that I was born under, that moved with me and winked quiet prophecies at me all through my childhood, I not knowing what it meant:—the dear radiant thing naming to me my lover!
As a child, now and then, and for no reason, I used to be sublimely happy: real wings took hold of me. Sometimes a field became fairyland as I walked through it; or a tree poured out a scent that its blossoms never had before or after. I think now that those must have been moments when you too were in like contact with earth,—had your feet in grass which felt a faint ripple of wind, or stood under a lilac in a drench of fragrance that had grown double after rain.
When I asked you about the places of your youth, I had some fear of finding that we might once have met, and that I had not remembered it as the summing up of my happiness in being young. Far off I see something undiscovered waiting us, something I could not have guessed at before—the happiness of being old. Will it not be something like the evening before last when we were sitting together, your hand in mine, and one by one, as the twilight drew about us, the stars came and took up their stations overhead? They seemed to me then to be following out some quiet train of thought in the universal mind: the heavens were remembering the stars back into their places:—the Ancient of Days drawing upon the infinite treasures of memory in his great lifetime. Will not Love's old age be the same to us both—a starry place of memories?
Your dear letter is with me while I write: how shortly you are able to say everything! To-morrow you will come. What more do I want—except to-morrow itself, with more promises of the same thing?
You are at my heart, dearest: nothing in the world can be nearer to me than you!
Dearest and rightly Beloved: You cannot tell how your gift has pleased me; or rather you can, for it shows you have a long memory back to our first meeting: though at the time I was the one who thought most of it.
It is quite true; you have the most beautifully shaped memory in Christendom: these are the very books in the very edition I have long wanted, and have been too humble to afford myself. And now I cannot stop to read one, for joy of looking at them all in a row. I will kiss you for them all, and for more besides: indeed it is the "besides" which brings you my kisses at all.
Now that you have chosen so perfectly to my mind, I may proffer a request which, before, I was shy of making. It seems now beneficently anticipated. It is that you will not ever let your gifts take the form of jewelry, not after the ring which you are bringing me: that, you know, I both welcome and wish for. But, as to the rest, the world has supplied me with a feeling against jewelry as a love-symbol. Look abroad and you will see: it is too possessive, too much like "chains of office"—the fair one is to wear her radiant harness before the world, that other women may be envious and the desire of her master's eye be satisfied! Ah, no!
I am yours, dear, utterly; and nothing you give me would have that sense: I know you too well to think it. But in the face of the present fashion (and to flout it), which expects the lover to give in this sort, and the beloved to show herself a dazzling captive, let me cherish my ritual of opposition which would have no meaning if we were in a world of our own, and no place in my thoughts, dearest;—as it has not now, so far as you are concerned. But I am conscious I shall be looked at as your chosen; and I would choose my own way of how to look back most proudly.
And so for the books more thanks and more,—that they are what I would most wish, and not anything else: which, had they been, they would still have given me pleasure, since from you they could come only with a good meaning: and—diamonds even—I could have put up with them!
To-morrow you come for your ring, and bring me my own? Yours is here waiting. I have it on my finger, very loose, with another standing sentry over it to keep it from running away.
A mouse came out of my wainscot last night, and plunged me in horrible dilemma: for I am equally idiotic over the idea of the creature trapped or free, and I saw sleepless nights ahead of me till I had secured a change of locality for him.
To startle him back into hiding would have only deferred my getting truly rid of him, so I was most tiptoe and diplomatic in my doings. Finally, a paper bag, put into a likely nook with some sentimentally preserved wedding-cake crumbled into it, crackled to me of his arrival. In a brave moment I noosed the little beast, bag and all, and lowered him from the window by string, till the shrubs took from me the burden of responsibility.
I visited the bag this morning: he had eaten his way out, crumbs and all: and has, I suppose, become a fieldmouse, for the hay smells invitingly, and it is only a short run over the lawn and a jump over the ha-ha to be in it. Poor morsels, I prefer them so much undomesticated!
Now this mouse is no allegory, and the paper bag is not a diamond necklace, in spite of the wedding-cake sprinkled over it! So don't say that this letter is too hard for your understanding, or you will frighten me from telling you anything foolish again. Brains are like jewels in this, difference of surface has nothing to do with the size and value of them. Yours is a beautiful smooth round, like a pearl, and mine all facets and flashes like cut glass. And yours so much the bigger, and I love it so much the best! The trap which caught me was baited with one great pearl. So the mouse comes in with a meaning tied to its tail after all!
In all the world, dearest, what is more unequal than love between a man and a woman? I have been spending an amorous morning and want to share it with you: but lo, the task of bringing that bit of my life into your vision is altogether beyond me.
What have I been doing? Dear man, I have been dressmaking! and dress, when one is in the toils, is but a love-letter writ large. You will see and admire the finished thing, but you will take no interest in the composition. Therefore I say your love is unequal to mine.
For think how ravished I would be if you brought me a coat and told me it was all your own making! One day you had thrown down a mere tailor-made thing in the hall, and yet I kissed it as I went by. And that was at a time when we were only at the handshaking stage, the palsied beginnings of love:—you, I mean!
But oh, to get you interested in the dress I was making to you to-day!—the beautiful flowing opening,—not too flowing: the elaborate central composition where the heart of me has to come, and the wind-up of the skirt, a long reluctant tailing-off, full of commas and colons of ribbon to make it seem longer, and insertions everywhere. I dreamed myself in it, retiring through the door after having bidden you good-night, and you watching the long disappearing eloquence of that tail, still saying to you as it vanished, "Good-by, good-by. I love you so! see me, how slowly I am going!"
Well, that is a bit of my dress-making, a very corporate part of my affection for you; and you are not a bit interested, for I have shown you none of the seamy side; it is that which interests you male creatures, Zolaites, every one of you.
And what have you to show similar, of the thought of me entering into all your masculine pursuits? Do you go out rabbit-shooting for the love of me? If so, I trust you make a miss of it every time! That you are a sportsman is one of the very hardest things in life that I have to bear.
Last night Peterkins came up with me to keep guard against any further intrusion of mice. I put her to sleep on the couch: but she discarded the red shawl I had prepared for her at the bottom, and lay at the top most uncomfortably in a parcel of millinery into which from one end I had already made excavations, so that it formed a large bag. Into the further end of this bag Turks crept and snuggled down: but every time she turned in the night (and it seemed very often) the brown paper crackled and woke me up. So at last I took it up and shook out its contents; and Pippins slept soundly on red flannel till Nan-nan brought the tea.
You will notice that in this small narrative Peterkins gets three names: it is a fashion that runs through the household, beginning with the Mother-Aunt, who on some days speaks of Nan-nan as "the old lady," and sometimes as "that girl," all according to the two tempers she has about Nan-nan's privileged position in regard to me.
You were only here yesterday, and already I want you again so much, so much!
Your never satisfied but always loving.
Most Beloved: I have been thinking, staring at this blank piece of paper, and wondering how there am I ever to say what I have in me here—not wishing to say anything at all, but just to be! I feel that I am living now only because you love me: and that my life will have run out, like this penful of ink, when that use in me is past. Not yet, Beloved, oh, not yet! Nothing is finished that we have to do and be:—hardly begun! I will not call even this "midsummer," however much it seems so: it is still only spring.
Every day your love binds me more deeply than I knew the day before: so that no day is the same now, but each one a little happier than the last. My own, you are my very own! And yet, true as that is, it is not so true as that I am your own. It is less absolute, I mean; and must be so, because I cannot very well take possession of anything when I am given over heart and soul out of my own possession: there isn't enough identity left in me, I am yours so much, so much! All this is useless to say, yet what can I say else, if I have to begin saying anything?
Could I truly be your "star and goddess," as you call me, Beloved, I would do you the service of Thetis at least (who did it for a greater than herself)—
"Bid Heaven and Earth combine their charms, And round you early, round you late, Briareus fold his hundred arms To guard you from your single fate."
But I haven't got power over an eight-armed octopus even: so am merely a very helpless loving nonentity which merges itself most happily in you, and begs to be lifted to no pedestal at all, at all.
If you love me in a manner that is at all possible, you will see that "goddess" does not suit me. "Star" I would I were now, with a wide eye to carry my looks to you over this horizon which keeps you invisible. Choose one, if you will, dearest, and call it mine: and to me it shall be yours: so that when we are apart and the stars come out, our eyes may meet up at the same point in the heavens, and be "keeping company" for us among the celestial bodies—with their permission: for I have too lively a sense of their beauty not to be a little superstitious about them. Have you not felt for yourself a sort of physiognomy in the constellations,—most of them seeming benevolent and full of kind regards:—but not all? I am always glad when the Great Bear goes away from my window, fine beast though he is: he seems to growl at me! No doubt it is largely a question of names; and what's in a name? In yours, Beloved, when I speak it, more than I can compass!
Beloved: I have been trusting to fate, while keeping silence, that something from you was to come to-day and make me specially happy. And it has: bless you abundantly! You have undone and got round all I said about "jewelry," though this is nothing of the sort, but a shrine: so my word remains. I have it with me now, safe hidden, only now and then it comes out to have a look at me,—smiles and goes back again. Dearest, you must feel how I thank you, for I cannot say it: body and soul I grow too much blessed with all that you have given me, both visibly and invisibly, and always perfectly.
And as for the day: I have been thinking you the most uncurious of men, because you had not asked: and supposed it was too early days yet for you to remember that I had ever been born. To-day is my birthday! you said nothing, so I said nothing; and yet this has come: I trusted my star to show its sweet influences in its own way. Or, after all, did you know, and had you asked anyone but me? Yet had you known, you would have wished me the "happy returns" which among all your dear words to me you do not. So I take it that the motion comes straight to you from heaven; and, in the event, you will pardon me for having been still secretive and shy in not telling what you did not inquire after. Yours, I knew, dear, quite long ago, so had no need to ask you for it. And it is six months before you will be in the same year with me again, and give to twenty-two all the companionable sweetness that twenty-one has been having.
Many happy returns of my birthday to you, dearest! That is all that my birthdays are for. Have you been happy to-day, I wonder? and am wondering also whether this evening we shall see you walking quietly in and making everything into perfection that has been trembling just on the verge of it all day long.
One drawback of my feast is that I have to write short to you; for there are other correspondents who on this occasion look for quick answers, and not all of them to be answered in an offhand way. Except you, it is the coziest whom I keep waiting; but elders have a way with them—even kind ones: and when they condescend to write upon an anniversary, we have to skip to attention or be in their bad books at once.
So with the sun still a long way out of bed, I have to tuck up these sheets for you, as if the good of the day had already been sufficient unto itself and its full tale had been told. Good-night. It is so hard to take my hands off writing to you, and worry on at the same exercise in another direction. I kiss you more times than I can count: it is almost really you that I kiss now! My very dearest, my own sweetheart, whom I so worship. Good-night! "Good-afternoon" sounds too funny: is outside our vocabulary altogether. While I live, I must love you more than I know!
My Friend: Do you think this a cold way of beginning? I do not: is it not the true send-off of love? I do not know how men fall in love: but I could not have had that come-down in your direction without being your friend first. Oh, my dear, and after, after; it is but a limitless friendship I have grown into!
I have heard men run down the friendships of women as having little true substance. Those who speak so, I think, have never come across a real case of woman's friendship. I praise my own sex, dearest, for I know some of their loneliness, which you do not: and until a certain date their friendship was the deepest thing in life I had met with.
For must it not be true that a woman becomes more absorbed in friendship than a man, since friendship may have to mean so much more to her, and cover so far more of her life, than it does to the average man? However big a man's capacity for friendship, the beauty of it does not fill his whole horizon for the future: he still looks ahead of it for the mate who will complete his life, giving his body and soul the complement they require. Friendship alone does not satisfy him: he makes a bigger claim on life, regarding certain possessions as his right.
But a woman:—oh, it is a fashion to say the best women are sure to find husbands, and have, if they care for it, the certainty before them of a full life. I know it is not so. There are women, wonderful ones, who come to know quite early in life that no men will ever wish to make wives of them: for them, then, love in friendship is all that remains, and the strongest wish of all that can pass through their souls with hope for its fulfillment is to be a friend to somebody.
It is man's arrogant certainty of his future which makes him impatient of the word "friendship": it cools life to his lips, he so confident that the headier nectar is his due!
I came upon a little phrase the other day that touched me so deeply: it said so well what I have wanted to say since we have known each other. Some peasant rhymer, an Irishman, is singing his love's praises, and sinks his voice from the height of his passionate superlatives to call her his "share of the world." Peasant and Irishman, he knew that his fortune did not embrace the universe: but for him his love was just that—his share of the world.
Surely when in anyone's friendship we seem to have gained our share of the world, that is all that can be said. It means all that we can take in, the whole armful the heart and senses are capable of, or that fate can bestow. And for how many that must be friendship—especially for how many women!
My dear, you are my share of the world, also my share of Heaven: but there I begin to speak of what I do not know, as is the way with happy humanity. All that my eyes could dream of waking or sleeping, all that my ears could be most glad to hear, all that my heart could beat faster to get hold of—your friendship gave me suddenly as a bolt from the blue.
My friend, my friend, my friend! If you could change or go out of my life now, the sun would drop out of my heavens: I should see the world with a great piece gashed out of its side,—my share of it gone. No, I should not see it, I don't think I should see anything ever again,—not truly.
Is it not strange how often to test our happiness we harp on sorrow? I do: don't let it weary you. I know I have read somewhere that great love always entails pain. I have not found it yet: but, for me, it does mean fear,—the sort of fear I had as a child going into big buildings. I loved them: but I feared, because of their bigness, they were likely to tumble on me.
But when I begin to think you may be too big for me, I remember you as my "friend," and the fear goes for a time, or becomes that sort of fear I would not part with if I might.
I have no news for you: only the old things to tell you, the wonder of which ever remains new. How holy your face has become to me: as I saw it last, with something more than the usual proofs of love for me upon it—a look as if your love troubled you! I know the trouble: I feel it, dearest, in my own woman's way. Have patience.—When I see you so, I feel that prayer is the only way given me for saying what my love for you wishes to be. And yet I hardly ever pray in words.
Dearest, be happy when you get this: and, when you can, come and give my happiness its rest. Till then it is a watchman on the lookout.
"Night-night!" Your true sleepy one.
Now why, I want to know, Beloved, was I so specially "good" to you in my last? I have been quite as good to you fifty times before,—if such a thing can be from me to you. Or do you mean good for you? Then, dear, I must be sorry that the thing stands out so much as an exception!
Oh, dearest Beloved, for a little I think I must not love you so much, or must not let you see it.
When does your mother return, and when am I to see her? I long to so much. Has she still not written to you about our news?
I woke last night to the sound of a great flock of sheep going past. I suppose they were going by forced marches to the fair over at Hylesbury: It was in the small hours: and a few of them lifted up their voices and complained of this robbery of night and sleep in the night. They were so tired, so tired, they said: and so did the muffawully patter of their poor feet. The lambs said most; and the sheep agreed with a husky croak.
I said a prayer for them, and went to sleep again as the sound of the lambs died away; but somehow they stick in my heart, those sad sheep driven along through the night. It was in its degree like the woman hurrying along, who said, "My God, my God!" that summer Sunday morning. These notes from lives that appear and disappear remain endlessly; and I do not think our hearts can have been made so sensitive to suffering we can do nothing to relieve, without some good reason. So I tell you this, as I would any sorrow of my own, because it has become a part of me, and is underlying all that I think to-day.
I am to expect you the day after to-morrow, but "not for certain"? Thus you give and you take away, equally blessed in either case. All the same, I shall certainly expect you, and be disappointed if on Thursday at about this hour your way be not my way.
"How shall I my true love know" if he does not come often enough to see me? Sunshine be on you all possible hours till we meet again.
Beloved: Is the morning looking at you as it is looking at me? A little to the right of the sun there lies a small cloud, filmy and faint, but enough to cast a shadow somewhere. From this window, high up over the view, I cannot see where the shadow of it falls,—further than my eye can reach: perhaps just now over you, since you lie further west. But I cannot be sure. We cannot be sure about the near things in this world; only about what is far off and fixed.
You and I looking up see the same sun, if there are no clouds over us: but we may not be looking at the same clouds even when both our hearts are in shadow. That is so, even when hearts are as close together as yours and mine: they respond to the same light: but each one has its own roof of shadow, wearing its rue with a world of difference.
Why is it? why can no two of us have sorrows quite in common? What can be nearer together than our wills to be one? In joy we are; and yet, though I reach and reach, and sadden if you are sad, I cannot make your sorrow my own.
I suppose sorrow is of the earth earthy: and all that is of earth makes division. Every joy that belongs to the body casts shadows somewhere. I wonder if there can enter into us a joy that has no shadow anywhere? The joy of having you has behind it the shadow of parting; is there any way of loving that would make parting no sorrow at all? To me, now, the idea seems treason! I cling to my sorrow that you are not here: I send up my cloud, as it were, to catch the sun's brightness: it is a kite that I pull with my heart-strings.
To the sun of love the clouds that cover absence must look like white flowers in the green fields of earth, or like doves hovering: and he reaches down and strokes them with his warm beams, making all their feathers like gold.
Some clouds let the gold come through; mine, now.—That cloud I saw away to the right is coming this way toward me. I can see the shadow of it now, moving along a far-off strip of road: and I wonder if it is your cloud, with you under it coming to see me again!
When you come, why am I any happier than when I know you are coming? It is the same thing in love. I have you now all in my mind's eye; I have you by heart; have I my arms a bit more round you then than now?
How it puzzles me that, when love is perfect, there should be disappearances and reappearances: and faces now and then showing a change!—You, actually, the last time you came, looking a day older than the day before! What was it? Had old age blown you a kiss, or given you a wrinkle in the art of dying? Or had you turned over some new leaf, and found it withered on the other side?
I could not see how it was: I heard you coming—it was spring! The door opened:—oh, it was autumnal! One day had fallen away like a leaf out of my forest, and I had not been there to see it go!
At what hour of the twenty-four does a day shed itself out of our lives? Not, I think, on the stroke of the clock, at midnight, or at cock-crow. Some people, perhaps, would say—with the first sleep; and that the "beauty-sleep" is the new day putting out its green wings. I think it must be not till something happens to make the new day a stronger impression than the last. So it would please me to think that your yesterday dropped off as you opened the door; and that, had I peeped and seen you coming up the stairs, I should have seen you looking a day younger.
That means that you age at the sight of me! I think you do. I, I feel a hundred on the road to immortality, directly your face dawns on me.
There's a foot gone over my grave! The angel of the resurrection with his mouth pursed fast to his trumpet!—Nothing else than the gallop-a-gallop of your horse:—it sounds like a kettle boiling over!
So this goes into hiding: listens to us all the while we talk; and comes out afterwards with all its blushes stale, to be rouged up again and sent off the moment your back is turned. No, better!—to be slipped into your pocket and carried home to yourself by yourself. How, when you get to your destination and find it, you will curse yourself that you were not a speedier postman!
Dearest: Did you find your letter? The quicker I post, the quicker I need to sit down and write again. The grass under love's feet never stops growing: I must make hay of it while the sun shines.
You say my metaphors make you giddy.—My clear, you, without a metaphor in your composition, do that to me! So it is not for you to complain; your curses simply fly back to roost. Where do you pigeon-hole them? In a pie? (I mean to write now until I have made you as giddy as a dancing dervish!) Your letters are much more like blackbirds: and I have a pie of them here, twenty-four at least; and when I open it they sing "Chewee, chewee, chewee!" in the most scared way!
Your last but three said most solemnly, just as if you meant it, "I hope you don't keep these miserables! Though I fill up my hollow hours with them, there is no reason why they should fill up yours." You added that I was better occupied—and here I am "better occupied" even as you bid me.
But one can jump best from a spring-board: and how could I jump as far as your arms by letter, if I had not yours to jump from?
So you see they are kept, and my disobedience of you has begun: and I find disobedience wonderfully sweet. But then, you gave me a law which you knew I should disobey:—that is the way the world began. It is not for nothing that I am a daughter of Eve.
And here is our world in our hands, yours and mine, now in the making. Which day are the evening and the morning now? I think it must be the birds'—and already, with the wings, disobedience has been reached! Make much of it! the day will come when I shall wish to obey. There are moments when I feel a wish taking hold of me stronger than I can understand, that you should command me beyond myself—to things I have not strength or courage for of my own accord. How close, dearest, when that day comes, my heart will feel itself to yours! It feels close now: but it is to your feet I am nearest, as yet. Lift me! There, there, Beloved, I kiss you with all my will. Oh, dear heart, forgive me for being no more than I am: your freehold to all eternity!
Oh, Dearest: I have danced and I have danced till I am tired! I am dropping with sleep, but I must just touch you and say good-night. This was our great day of publishing, dearest, ours: all the world knows it; and all admire your choice! I was determined they should. I have been collecting scalps for you to hang at your girdle. All thought me beautiful: people who never did so before. I wanted to say to them, "Am I not beautiful? I am, am I not?" And it was not for myself I was asking this praise. Beloved, I was wearing the magic rose—what you gave me when we parted: you saying, alas, that you were not to be there. But you were! Its leaves have not dropped nor the scent of it faded. I kiss you out of the heart of it. Good-night: come to me in my first dream!
Dearest: It has been such a funny day from post-time onwards:— congratulations on the great event are beginning to arrive in envelopes and on wheels. Some are very kind and dear; and some are not so—only the ordinary seemliness of polite sniffle-snaffle. Just after you had gone yesterday, Mrs. —— called and was told the news. Of course she knew of you: but didn't think she had ever seen you. "Probably he passed you at the gates," I said. "What?" she went off with a view-hallo; "that well-dressed sort of young fellow in gray, and a mustache, and knowing how to ride? Met us in the lane. Well, my dear, I do congratulate you!"
And whether it was by the gray suit, or the mustache, or the knowing how to ride that her congratulations were so emphatically secured, I know not!
Others are yet more quaint, and more to my liking. Nan-nan is Nan-nan: I cannot let you off what she said! No tears or sentiment came from her to prevent me laughing: she brisked like an old war-horse at the first word of it, and blessed God that it had come betimes, that she might be a nurse again in her old age! She is a true "Mrs. Berry," and is ready to make room for you in my affections for the sake of far-off divine events, which promise renewed youth to her old bones.
Roberts, when he brought me my pony this morning, touched his hat quick twice over to show that the news brimmed in his body: and a very nice cordial way of showing, I thought it! He was quite ready to talk when I let him go; and he gave me plenty of good fun. He used to know you when he was in service at the H——s, and speaks of you as being then "a gallous young hound," whatever that may mean. I imagine "gallous" to be a rustic Lewis Carroll compound, made up in equal parts of callousness and gallantry, which most boys are, at some stage of their existence.
What tales will you be getting of me out of Nan-nan, some day behind my back, I wonder? There is one I shall forbid her to reveal: it shall be part of my marriage-portion to show you early that you have got a wife with a temper!
Here is a whole letter that must end now,—and the great Word never mentioned! It is good for you to be put upon maigre fare, for once. I hold my pen back with both hands: it wants so much to give you the forbidden treat. Oh, the serpent in the garden! See where it has underlined its meaning. Frailty, thy pen is a J pen!
Adieu, adieu, remember me.
The letters? No, Beloved, I could not! Not yet. There you have caught me where I own I am still shy of you.
A long time hence, when we are a safely wedded pair, you shall turn them over. It may be a short time; but I will keep them however long. Indeed I must ever keep them; they talk to me of the dawn of my existence,—the early light before our sun rose, when my love of you was growing and had not yet reached its full.
If I disappoint you I will try to make up for it with something I wrote long before I ever saw you. To-day I was turning over old things my mother had treasured for me of my childhood—of days spent with her: things of laughter as well as of tears; such a dear selection, so quaint and sweet, with moods of her as I dimly remember her to have been. And among them was this absurdity, written, and I suppose placed in the mouth of my stocking, the Christmas I stayed with her in France. I remember the time as a great treat, but nothing of this. "Nilgoes" is "Nicholas," you must understand! How he must have laughed over me asleep while he read this!
"Cher pere Nilgoes. S'il vous plait voulez vous me donne plus de jeux que des oranges des pommes et des pombons parc que nous allons faire l'arbre de noel cette anne et les jeaux ferait mieux pour l'arbre de Noel. Il ne faut pas dire a petite mere s'il vous plait parce que je ne veut pas quelle sache sil vous voulez venir ce soir du ceil pour que vous pouvez me donner ce que je vous demande Dites bon jour a la St. Viearge est a l'enfant Jeuses et a Ste Joseph. Adieu cher St. Nilgoes."
I haven't altered the spelling, I love it too well, prophetic of a fault I still carry about me. How strange that little bit of invocation to the dear folk above sounds to me now! My mother must have been teaching me things after her own persuasion; most naturally, poor dear one—though that too has gone like water off my mind. It was one of the troubles between her and my father: the compact that I was to be brought up a Catholic was dissolved after they separated; and I am sorry, thinking it unjust to her; yet glad, content with being what I am.
I must have been less than five when I penned this: I was always a letter-writer, it seems.
It is a reproach now from many that I have ceased to be: and to them I fear it is true. That I have not truly ceased, "witness under my hand these presents,"—or whatever may be the proper legal terms for an affidavit.
What were you like, Beloved, as a very small child? Should I have loved you from the beginning had we toddled to the rencounter; and would my love have passed safely through the "gallous young hound" period; and could I love you more now in any case, had I all your days treasured up in my heart, instead of less than a year of them?
How strangely much have seven miles kept our fates apart! It seems uncharacteristic for this small world,—where meetings come about so far above the dreams of average—to have played us such a prank.
This must do for this once, Beloved; for behold me busy to-day: with what, I shall not tell you. I would like to put you to a test, as ladies did their knights of old, and hardly ever do now—fearing, I suppose, lest the species should altogether fail them at the pinch. I would like to see if you could come here and sit with me from beginning to end, with your eyes shut: never once opening them. I am not saying whether I think curiosity, or affection, would make the attempt too difficult. But if you were sure you could, you might come here to-morrow—a day otherwise interdicted. Only know, having come, that if you open those dear cupboards of vision and set eyes on things not yet intended to be looked at, there will be confusion of tongues in this Tower we are building whose top is to reach heaven. Will you come? I don't say "come"; I only want to know—will you?
To-day my love flies low over the earth like a swallow before rain, and touching the tops of the flowers has culled you these. Kiss them until they open: they are full of my thoughts, as the world, to me, is full of you.
Own Dearest: Come I did not think that you would, or mean that you should seriously; for is it not a poor way of love to make the object of it cut an absurd or partly absurd figure? I wrote only as a woman having a secret on the tip of her tongue and the tips of her fingers, and full of a longing to say it and send it.
Here it is at last: love me for it, I have worked so hard to get it done! And you do not know why and what for? Beloved, it—this—is the anniversary of the day we first met; and you have forgotten it already or never remembered it:—and yet have been clamoring for "the letters"!
On the first anniversary of our marriage, if you remember it, you shall have those same letters: and not otherwise. So there they lie safe till doomsday!
The M.-A. has been very gracious and clear after her little outbreak of yesterday: her repentances, after I have hurt her feelings, are so gentle and sweet, they always fill me with compunction. Finding that I would go on with the thing I was doing, she volunteered to come and read to me: a requiem over the bone of contention which we had gnawed between us. Was not that pretty and charitable? She read Tennyson's Life for a solid hour, and continued it to-day. Isn't it funny that she should take up such a book?—she who "can't abide" Tennyson or Browning or Shakespeare: only likes Byron, I suppose because it was the right and fashionable liking when she was young. Yet she is plodding through the Life religiously—only skipping the verses. I have come across two little specimens of "Death and the child" in it. His son, Lionel, was carried out in a blanket one night in the great comet year, and waking up under the stars asked, "Am I dead?" Number two is of a little girl at Wellington's funeral who saw his charger carrying his boots, and asked, "Shall I be like that after I die?"
A queer old lady came to lunch yesterday, a great traveler, though lame on two crutches. We carefully hid all guide-books and maps, and held our peace about next month, lest she should insist on coming too: though I think Nineveh was the place she was most anxious to go to, if the M.-A. would consent to accompany her!
Good-by, dearest of one-year-old acquaintances! you, too, send your blessing on the anniversary, now that my better memory has reminded you of it! All that follow we will bless in company. I trust you are one-half as happy as I am, my own, my own.
You told me, dearest, that I should find your mother formidable. It is true; I did. She is a person very much in the grand pagan style: I admire it, but I cannot flow in that sort of company, and I think she meant to crush me. You were very wise to leave her to come alone.
I like her: I mean I believe that under that terribleness she has a heart of gold, which once opened would never shut: but she has not opened it to me. I believe she could have a great charity, that no evil-doing would dismay her: "stanch" sums her up. But I have done nothing wrong enough yet to bring me into her good graces. Loving her son, even, though, I fear, a great offense, has done me no good turn.
Perhaps that is her inconsistency: women are sure to be inconsistent somewhere: it is their birthright.
I began to study her at once, to find you: it did not take long. How I could love her, if she would let me!
You know her far far better than I, and want no advice: otherwise I would say—never praise me to her; quote my follies rather! To give ground for her distaste to revel in will not deepen me in her bad books so much as attempts to warp her judgment.
I need not go through it all: she will have told you all that is to the purpose about our meeting. She bristled in, a brave old fighting figure, announcing compulsion in every line, but with all her colors flying. She waited for the door to close, then said, "My son has bidden me come, I suppose it is my duty: he is his own master now."
We only shook hands. Our talk was very little of you. I showed her all the horses, the dogs, and the poultry; she let the inspection appear to conclude with myself: asked me my habits, and said I looked healthy. I owned I felt it. "Looks and feelings are the most deceptive things in the world," she told me; adding that "poor stock" got more than its share of these. And when she said it I saw quite plainly that she meant me.
I wonder where she gets the notion: for we are a long-lived race, both sides of the family. I guessed that she would like frankness, and was as frank as I could be, pretending no deference to her objections. "You think you suit each other?" she asked me. My answer, "He suits me!" pleased her maternal palate, I think. "Any girl might say that!" she admitted. (She might indeed!)
This is the part of our interview she will not have repeated to you.
I was due at Hillyn when she was preparing to go: Aunt N—— came in, and I left her to do the honors while I slipped on my habit. I rode by your mother's carriage as far as the Greenway, where we branched. I suppose that is what her phrase means that you quote about my "making a trophy of her," and marching her a prisoner across the borders before all the world!
I do like her: she is worth winning.—Can one say warmer of a future mother-in-law who stands hostile?
All the same it was an ordeal. I believe I have wept since: for Benjy scratched my door often yesterday evening, and looked most wistful when I came out. Merely paltry self-love, dearest:—I am so little accustomed to not being—liked.
I think she will be more gracious in her own house. I have her formal word that I am to come. Soon, not too soon, I will come over; and you shall meet me and take me to see her. There is something in her opposition that I can't fathom: I wondered twice was lunacy her notion: she looked at me so hard.
My mother's seclusion and living apart from us was not on that account. I often saw her: she was very dear and sweet to me, and had quiet eyes the very reverse of a person mentally deranged. My father, I know, went to visit her when she lay dying; and I remember we all wore mourning. My uncle has told me they had a deep regard for each other: but disagreed, and were independent enough to choose living apart.
I do not remember my father ever speaking of her to us as children: but I am sure there was no state of health to be concealed.
Last night I was talking to Aunt N—— about her. "A very dear woman," she told me, "but your father was never so much alive to her worth as the rest of us." Of him she said, "A dear, fine fellow: but not at all easy to get on with." Him, of course, I have a continuous recollection of, and "a fine fellow" we did think him. My mother comes to me more rarely, at intervals.
Don't talk me down your mother's throat: but tell her as much as she cares to know of this. I am very proud of my "stock" which she thinks "poor"!
Dear, how much I have written on things which can never concern us finally, and so should not ruffle us while they last! Hold me in your heart always, always; and the world may turn adamant to me for aught I care! Be in my dreams to-night!
But, Dearest: When I think of you I never question whether what I think would be true or false in the eyes of others. All that concerns you seems to go on a different plane where evidence has no meaning or existence: where nobody exists or means anything, but only we two alone, engaged in bringing about for ourselves the still greater solitude of two into one. Oh, Beloved, what a company that will be! Take me in your arms, fasten me to your heart, breathe on me. Deny me either breath or the light of day: I am yours equally, to live or die at your word. I shut my eyes to feel your kisses falling on me like rain, or still more like sunshine,—yet most of all like kisses, my own dearest and best beloved!
Oh, we two! how wonderful we seem! And to think that there have been lovers like us since the world began: and the world not able to tell us one little word of it:—not well, so as to be believed—or only along with sadness where Fate has broken up the heavens which lay over some pair of lovers. Oenone's cry, "Ah me, my mountain shepherd," tells us of the joy when it has vanished, and most of all I get it in that song of wife and husband which ends:—
"Not a word for you, Not a lock or kiss, Good-by. We, one, must part in two; Verily death is this: I must die."
It was a woman wrote that: and we get love there! Is it only when joy is past that we can give it its full expression? Even now, Beloved, I break down in trying to say how I love you. I cannot put all my joy into my words, nor all my love into my lips, nor all my life into your arms, whatever way I try. Something remains that I cannot express. Believe, dearest, that the half has not yet been spoken, neither of my love for you, nor of my trust in you,—nor of a wish that seems sad, but comes in a very tumult of happiness—the wish to die so that some unknown good may come to you out of me.
Not till you die, dearest, shall I die truly! I love you now too much for your heart not to carry me to its grave, though I should die now, and you live to be a hundred. I pray you may! I cannot choose a day for you to die. I am too grateful to life which has given me to you to say—if I were dying—"Come with me, dearest!" Though, how the words tempt me as I write them!—Come with me, dearest: yes, come! Ah, but you kiss me more, I think, when we say good-by than when meeting; so you will kiss me most of all when I have to die:—a thing in death to look forward to! And, till then,—life, life, till I am out of my depth in happiness and drown in your arms!
Beloved, that I can write so to you,—think what it means; what you have made me come through in the way of love, that this, which I could not have dreamed before, comes from me with the thought of you! You told me to be still—to let you "worship": I was to write back acceptance of all your dear words. Are you never to be at my feet, you ask. Indeed, dearest, I do not know how, for I cannot move from where I am! Do you feel where my thoughts kiss you? You would be vexed with me if I wrote it down, so I do not. And after all, some day, under a bright star of Providence, I may have gifts for you after my own mind which will allow me to grow proud. Only now all the giving comes from you. It is I who am enriched by your love, beyond knowledge of my former self. Are you changed, dearest, by anything I have done?
My heart goes to you like a tree in the wind, and all these thoughts are loose leaves that fly after you when I have to remain behind. Dear lover, what short visits yours seem! and the Mother-Aunt tells me they are most unconscionably long.—You will not pay any attention to that, please: forever let the heavens fall rather than that a hint to such foul effect should grow operative through me!
This brings you me so far as it can:—such little words off so great a body of—"liking" shall I call it? My paper stops me: it is my last sheet: I should have to go down to the library to get more—else I think I could not cease writing.
More love than I can name.—Ever, dearest, your own.
Dearest: Do I not write you long letters? It reveals my weakness. I have thought (it had been coming on me, and now and then had broken out of me before I met you) that, left to myself, I should have become a writer of books—I scarcely can guess what sort—and gone contentedly into middle-age with that instead of this as my raison d'etre.
How gladly I lay down that part of myself, and say—"But for you, I had been this quite other person, whom I have no wish to be now"! Beloved, your heart is the shelf where I put all my uncut volumes, wondering a little what sort of a writer I should have made; and chiefly wondering, would you have liked me in that character?
There is one here in the family who considers me a writer of the darkest dye, and does not approve of it. Benjy comes and sits most mournfully facing me when I settle down on a sunny morning, such as this, to write: and inquires, with all the dumbness a dog is capable of—"What has come between us, that you fill up your time and mine with those cat's-claw scratchings, when you should be in your woodland dress running [with] me through damp places?"
Having written this sentimental meaning into his eyes, and Benjy still sitting watching me, I was seized with ruth for my neglect of him, and took him to see his mother's grave. At the bottom of the long walk is our dog's cemetery:—no tombstones, but mounds; and a dog-rose grows there and flourishes as nowhere else. It was my fancy as a child to have it planted: and I declare to you, it has taken wonderfully to the notion, as if it knew that it had relations of a higher species under its keeping. Benjy, too, has a profound air of knowing, and never scratches for bones there, as he does in other places. What horror, were I to find him digging up his mother's skeleton! Would my esteem for him survive?
When we got there to-day, he deprecated my choice of locality, asking what I had brought him there for. I pointed out to him the precise mound which covered the object of his earliest affections, and gathered you these buds. Are they not a deep color for wild ones?—if their blush remains a fixed state till the post brings them to you.
Through what flower would you best like to be passed back, as regards your material atoms, into the spiritualized side of nature, when we have done with ourselves in this life? No single flower quite covers all my wants and aspirations. You and I would put our heads together underground and evolve a new flower—"carnation, lily, lily, rose"—and send it up one fine morning for scientists to dispute over and give diabolical learned names to. What an end to our cozy floral collaboration that would be!
Here endeth the epistle: the elect salutes you. This week, if the authorities permit, I shall be paying you a flying visit, with wings full of eyes,—and, I hope, healing; for I believe you are seedy, and that that is what is behind it. You notice I have not complained. Dearest, how could I! My happiness reaches to the clouds—that is, to where things are not quite clear at present. I love you no more than I ought: yet far more than I can name. Good-night and good-morning.—Your star, since you call me so.
Dearest: Not having had a letter from you this morning, I have read over some back ones, and find in one a bidding which I have never fulfilled, to tell you what I do all day. Was that to avoid the too great length of my telling you what I think? Yet you get more of me this way than that. What I do is every day so much the same: while what I think is always different. However, since you want a woman of action rather than of brain, here I start telling you.
I wake punctual and hungry at the sound of Nan-nan's drawing of the blinds: wait till she is gone (the old darling potters and tattles: it is her most possessive moment of me in the day, except when I sham headaches, and let her put me to bed); then I have my hand under my pillow and draw out your last for a reading that has lost count whether it is the twenty-second or the fifty-second time;—discover new beauties in it, and run to the glass to discover new beauties in myself,—find them; Benjy comes up with the post's latest, and behold, my day is begun!
Is that the sort of thing you want to know? My days are without an action worth naming: I only think swelling thoughts, and write some of them: if ever I do anything worth telling, be sure I run a pen-and-ink race to tell you. No, it is man who does things; a woman only diddles (to adapt a word of diminutive sound for the occasion), unless, good, fortunate, independent thing, she works for her own living: and that is not me!
I feel sometimes as if a real bar were between me and a whole conception of life; because I have carpets and curtains, and Nan-nan, and Benjy, and last of all you—shutting me out from the realities of existence.
If you would all leave me just for one full moon, and come back to me only when I am starving for you all—for my tea to be brought to me in the morning, and all the paddings and cushionings which bolster me up from morning till night—with what a sigh of wisdom I would drop back into your arms, and would let you draw the rose-colored curtains round me again!
Now I am afraid lest I have become too happy: I am leaning so far out of window to welcome the dawn, I seem to be tempting a fall—heaven itself to fall upon me.
What do I know truly, who only know so much happiness?
Dearest, if there is anything else in love which I do not know, teach it me quickly: I am utterly yours. If there is sorrow to give, give it me! Only let me have with it the consciousness of your love.
Oh, my dear, I lose myself if I think of you so much. What would life have without you in it? The sun would drop from my heavens. I see only by you! you have kissed me on the eyes. You are more to me than my own poor brain could ever have devised: had I started to invent Paradise, I could not have invented you. But perhaps you have invented me: I am something new to myself since I saw you first. God bless you for it!
Even if you were to shut your eyes at me now—though I might go blind, you could not unmake me:—"The gods themselves cannot recall their gifts." Also that I am yours is a gift of the gods, I will trust: and so, not to be recalled!
Kiss me, dearest; here where I have written this! I am yours, Beloved. I kiss you again and again.—Ever your own making.
Dearest, Dearest: How long has this happened? You don't tell me the day or the hour. Is it ever since you last wrote? Then you have been in pain and grief for four days: and I not knowing anything about it! And you have no hand in the house kind enough to let you dictate by it one small word to poor me? What heartless merrymakings may I not have sent you to worry you, when soothing was the one thing wanted? Well, I will not worry now, then; neither at not being told, nor at not being allowed to come: but I will come thus and thus, O my dear heart, and take you in my arms. And you will be comforted, will you not be? when I tell you that even if you had no legs at all, I would love you just the same. Indeed, dearest, so much of you is a superfluity: just your heart against mine, and the sound of your voice, would carry me up to more heavens than I could otherwise have dreamed of. I may say now, now that I know it was not your choice, what a void these last few days the lack of letters has been to me. I wondered, truly, if you had found it well to put off such visible signs for a while in order to appease one who, in other things more essential, sees you rebellious. But the wonder is over now; and I don't want you to write—not till a consultation of doctors orders it for the good of your health. I will be so happy talking to you: also I am sending you books:—those I wish you to read; and which now you must, since you have the leisure! And I for my part will make time and read yours. Whose do you most want me to read, that my education in your likings may become complete? What I send you will not deprive me of anything: for I have the beautiful complete set—your gift—and shall read side by side with you to realize in imagination what the happiness of reading them for the first time ought to be.
Yesterday, by a most unsympathetic instinct, I went out for a long tramp on my two feet; and no ache in them came and told me of you! Over Sillingford I sat on a bank and looked downhill where went a carter. And I looked uphill where lay something which might be nothing—or not his. Now, shall I make a fool of myself by pursuing to tell him he may have dropped something, or shall I go on and see? So I went on and saw a coat with a fat pocket: and by then he was out of sight, and perhaps it wasn't his; and it was very hot and the hill steep. So I minded my own business, making Cain's motto mine; and now feel so had, being quite sure that it was his. And I wonder how many miles he will have tramped back looking for it, and whether his dinner was in the pocket.
These unintentional misdoings are the "sins" one repents of all one's life long: I have others stored away, the bitterest of small things done or undone in haste and repented of at so much leisure afterwards. And always done to people or things I had no grudge against, sometimes even a love for. They are my skeletons: I will tell you of them some day.
This, dearest, is our first enforced absence from each other; and I feel it almost more hard on me than on you. Beloved, let us lay our hearts together and get comforted. It is not real separation to know that another part of the world contains the rest of me. Oh, the rest of me, the rest of me that you are! So, thinking of you, I can never be tired. I rest yours.
Yes, Dearest, "Patience!" but it is a virtue I have little enough of naturally, and used to be taught to pray for as a child. And I remember once really hurting clear Mother-Aunt's feelings by trying to repay her for that teaching by a little iniquitous laughter at her expense. It was too funny for me to feel very contrite about, as I do sometimes over quite small things, or I would not be telling it you now (for there are things in me I would conceal even from you). I dare say you wouldn't guess it, but the M.-A. is a most long person over her private devotions. Perhaps it was her own habit, with the cares of a household sometimes conflicting, which made her recite to me so often her pet legend of a saintly person who, constantly interrupted over her prayers by mundane matters, became a pattern in patience out of these snippings of her godly desires. So, one day, angels in the disguise of cross people with selfish demands on her time came seeking to know where in her composition or composure exasperation began: and finding none, they let her return in peace to her missal, where for a reward all the letters had been turned into gold. "And that, my dear, comes of patience," my aunt would say, till I grew a little tired of the saying. I don't know what experience my uncle had gathered of her patience under like circumstances: but I notice that to this day he treads delicately, like Agag, when he knows her to be on her knees; and prefers then to send me on his errands instead of doing them himself.
So it happened one day that he wanted a particular coat which had been put away in her clothes-closet—and she was on her knees between him and it, with the time of her Amen quite indefinite. I was sent, said my errand briefly, and was permitted to fumble out her keys from her pocket while she continued to kneel over her morning psalms.
What I brought to him turned out to be the wrong coat: I went back and knocked for readmittance. Long-sufferingly she bade me to come in. I explained, and still she repressed herself, only saying in a tone of affliction, "Do see this time that you take the right one!"
After I had made my second selection, and proved it right on my uncle's person, the parallelism of things struck me, and I skipped back to my aunt's door and tapped. I got a low wailing "Yes?" for answer—a monosyllabic substitute for the "How long, O Lord?" of a saint in difficulties. When I called through the keyhole, "Are your psalms written in gold?" she became really angry:—I suppose because the miracle so well earned had not come to pass.
Well, dearest, if you have been patient with me over so much about nothing, I pray this letter may appear to you written in gold. Why I write so is, partly, that, it is bad for us both to be down in the mouth, or with hearts down at heel: and so, since you cannot, I have to do the dancing;—and, partly, because I found I had a bad temper on me which needed curing, and being brought to the sun-go-down point of owing no man anything. Which, sooner said, has finally been done; and I am very meek now and loving to you, and everything belonging to you—not to come nearer the sore point.
And I hope some day, some day, as a reward to my present submission, that you will sprain your ankle in my company (just a very little bit for an excuse) and let me have the nursing of it! It hurts my heart to have your poor bones crying out for comfort that I am not to bring to them. I feel robbed of a part of my domestic training, and may never pick up what I have just lost. And I fear greatly you must have been truly in pain to have put off Meredith for a day. If I had been at hand to read to you, I flatter myself you would have liked him well, and been soothed. You must take the will, Beloved, for the deed. I kiss you now, as much as even you can demand; and when you get this I will be thinking of you all over again.—When do I ever leave off? Love, love, love till our next meeting-, and then more love still, and more!—Ever your own.
Dearest: I am in a simple mood to-day, and give you the benefit of it: I shall become complicated again presently, and you will hear from me directly that happens.
The house only emptied itself this morning; I may say emptied, for the remainder fits like a saint into her niche, and is far too comfortable to count. This is C——, whom you only once met, when she sat so much in the background that you will not remember her. She has one weakness, a thirst between meals—the blameless thirst of a rabid teetotaler. She hides cups of cold tea about the place, as a dog its bones: now and then one gets spilled or sat on, and when she hears of the accident, she looks thirsty, with a thirst which only that particular cup of tea could have quenched. In no other way is she any trouble: indeed, she is a great dear, and has the face of a Madonna, as beautiful as an apocryphal gospel to look at and "make believe" in.
Arthur, too, like the rest of them, when he came over to give me his brotherly blessing, wished to know what you were like. I didn't pretend to remember your outward appearance too well,—told him you looked like a common or garden Englishman, and roused his suspicions by so careless a championship of my choice. He accused me of being in reality highly sentimental about you, and with having at that moment your portrait concealed and strung around my neck in a locket. Mother-Aunt stood up for me against him, declaring I was "too sensible a girl for nonsense of that sort." (It is a little weakness of hers, you know, to resent extremes of endearment towards anyone but herself in those she has "brooded," and she has thought us hitherto most restrained and proper—as, indeed, have we not been?) Arthur and I exchanged tokens of truce: in a little while off went my aunt to bed, leaving us alone. Then, for he is the one of us that I am most frank with: "Arthur," cried I, and up came your little locket like a bucket from a well, for him to have his first sight of you, my Beloved. He objected that he could not see faces in a nutshell; and I suppose others cannot: only I.
He, too, is gone. If you had been coming he would have spared another day—for to-day was planned and dated, you will remember—and we would have ridden halfway to meet you. But, as fate has tripped you, and made all comings on your part indefinite, he sends you his hopes for a later meeting.
How is your poor foot? I suppose, as it is ill, I may send it a kiss by post and wish it well? I do. Truly, you are to let me know if it gives you much pain, and I will lie awake thinking of you. This is not sentimental, for if one knows that a friend is occupied over one's sleeplessness one feels the comfort.
I am perplexed how else to give you my company: your mother, I know, could not yet truly welcome me; and I wish to be as patient as possible, and not push for favors that are not offered. So I cannot come and ask to take you out in her carriage, nor come and carry you away in mine. We must try how fast we can hold hands at a distance.
I have kept up to where you have been reading in "Richard Feverel," though it has been a scramble: for I have less opportunity of reading, I with my feet, than you without yours. In your book I have just got to the smuggling away of General Monk in the perforated coffin, and my sense of history capitulates in an abandonment of laughter. I yield! The Gaul's invasion of Britain always becomes broad farce when he attempts it. This in clever ludicrousness beats the unintentional comedy of Victor Hugo's "John-Jim-Jack" as a name typical of Anglo-Saxon christenings. But Dumas, through a dozen absurdities, knows apparently how to stalk his quarry: so large a genius may play the fool and remain wise.
You see I have given your author a warm welcome at last: and what about you and mine? Tell me you love his women and I will not be jealous. Indeed, outside him I don't know where to find a written English woman of modern times whom I would care to meet, or could feel honestly bound to look up to:—nowhere will I have her shaking her ringlets at me in Dickens or Thackeray. Scott is simply not modern; and Hardy's women, if they have nobility in them, get so cruelly broken on the wheel that you get but the wrecks of them at last. It is only his charming baggages who come to a good ending.
I like an author who has the courage and self-restraint to leave his noble creations alive: too many try to ennoble them by death. For my part, if I have to go out of life before you, I would gladly trust you to the hands of Clara, or Rose, or Janet, or most of all Vittoria; though, to be accurate, I fear they have all grown too old for you by now.
And you? have you any men to offer me in turn out of your literary admirations, supposing you should die of a snapped ankle? Would you give me to d'Artagnan for instance? Hardly, I suspect! But either choose me some proxy hero, or get well and come to me! You will be very welcome when you do. Sleep is making sandy eyes at me: good-night, dearest.
Why, my Beloved: Since you put it to me as a point of conscience (it is only lying on your back with one active leg doing nothing, and the other dying to have done aching, which has made you take this new start of inquiring within upon everything), since you call on me for a conscientious answer, I say that it stands to reason that I love you more than you love me, because there is so much more of you to love, let alone fit for loving.
Do you imagine that you are going to be a cripple for life, and therefore an indifferent dancer in the dances I shall always be leading you, that you have started this fit of self-depreciation? Or is it because I have thrown Meredith at your sick head that you doubt my tact and my affection, and my power patiently to bear for your sake a good deal of cold shoulder? Dearest, remember I am doctoring you from a distance: and am not yet allowed to come and see my patient, so can only judge from your letters how ill you are. That you have been concealing from me almost treacherously: and only by a piece of abject waylaying did I receive word to-day of your sleepless nights, and so get the key to your symptoms. Lay by Meredith, then, for a while: I am sending you a cargo of Stevenson instead. You have been truly unkind, trying to read what required effort, when you were fit for nothing of the sort.
And lest even Stevenson should be too much for you, and wanting very much, and perhaps a little bit jealously, to be your most successful nurse, I am letting my last large bit of shyness of you go; and with a pleasant sort of pain, because I know I have hit on a thing that will please you, I open my hands and let you have these, and with them goes my last blush: henceforth I am a woman without a secret, and all your interest in me may evaporate. Yet I know well it will not.
As for this resurrection pie from love's dead-letter office, you will find from it at least one thing—how much I depended upon response from you before I could become at all articulate. It is you, dearest, from the beginning who have set my head and heart free and made me a woman. I am something quite different from the sort of child I was less than a year ago when I wrote that small prayer which stands sponsor for all that follows. How abundantly it has been answered, dearest Beloved, only I know: you do not!
Now my prayer is not that you should "come true," but that you should get well. Do this one little thing for me, dearest! For you I will do anything: my happiness waits for that. As yet I seem to have done nothing. Oh, but, Beloved, I will! From a reading of the Fioretti, I sign myself as I feel.—Your glorious poor little one.
THE CASKET LETTERS.
my dear Prince Wonderful,
Pray God bless —— —— and make him come true for my sake. Amen.
[Footnote 1: The MS. contained at first no name, but a blank; over it this has been written afterwards in a small hand.]
Dear Prince Wonderful: Now that I have met you I pray that you will be my friend. I want just a little of your friendship, but that, so much, so much! And even for that little I do not know how to ask.
Always to be your friend: of that you shall be quite sure.
Dear Prince Wonderful: Long ago when I was still a child I told myself of you: but thought of you only as in a fairy tale. Now I am afraid of trusting my eyes or ears, for fear I should think too much of you before I know you really to be true. Do not make me wish so much to be your friend, unless you are also going to be true!
Please come true now, for mine and for all the world's sake:—but for mine especially, because I thought of you first! And if you are not able to come true, don't make me see you any more. I shall always remember you, and be glad that I have seen you just once.
Dear Prince Wonderful: Has God blessed you yet and made you come true? I have not seen you again, so how am I to know? Not that it is necessary for me to know even if you do come true. I believe already that you are true.
If I were never to see you again I should be glad to think of you as living, and shall always be your friend. I pray that you may come to know that.
Dear Highness: I do not know what to write to you: I only know how much I wish to write. I have always written the things I thought about: it has been easy to find words for them. Now I think about you, but have no words:—no words, dear Highness, for you! I could write at once if I knew you were my friend. Come true for me: I will have so much to tell you then!
Dear Highness: If I believe in fairy tales coming true, it is because I am superstitious. This is what I did to-day. I shut my eyes and took a book from the shelf, opened it, and put my fingers down on a page. This is what I came to:
"All I believed is true! I am able yet All I want to get By a method as strange as new: Dare I trust the same to you?"
Fate says, then, you are to be my friend. Fate has said I am yours already. That is very certain. Only in real life where things come true would a book have opened as this has done.
Dear Highness: I am sure now, then, that I please you, and that you like me, perhaps only a little: for you turned out of your way to ride with me though you were going somewhere so fast. How much I wished it when I saw you coming, but dared not believe it would come true!
"Come true": it is the word I have always been writing, and everything has:—you most of all! You are more true each time I see you. So true that now I will write it down at last,—the truth for you who have come so true.
Dear Highness and Great Heart, I love you dearly, though you don't know it,—quite ever so much; and am going to love you ever so much more, only—please like me a little better first! You on your dear side must do something: or, before I know, I may be wringing my hands all alone on a desert island to a bare blue horizon, with nothing in it real or fabulous.
If I am to love you, nothing but happiness is to be allowed to come of it. So don't come true too fast without one little wee corresponding wish for me to find that you are! I am quite happy thinking you out slowly: it takes me all day long; the longer the better!
I wonder how often in my life I shall write down that I love you, having once written it (I do:—I love you! there [it] is for you, with more to follow after!); and send you my love as I do now into the great emptiness of chance, hoping somehow, known or unknown, it may bless you and bring good to you.
Oh, but 'tis a windy world, and I a mere feather in it: how can I get blown the way I would?
Still I have a superstition that some star is over me which I have not seen yet, but shall,—Heaven helping me.
And now good-night, and no more, no more at all! I send out an "I love you" to be my celestial commercial traveler for me while I fold myself up and become its sleeping partner.
Good-night: you are the best and truest that I ever dreamed yet.
Dear Highness: I begin not to be able to name you anything, for there is not a word for you that will do! "Highness" you are: but that leaves gaps and coldnesses without end. "Royal," yet much more serene than royal: though by that I don't mean any detraction from your royalty, for I never saw a man carry his invisible crown with so level a head and no haughtiness at all: and that is the finest royalty of look possible.
I look at you and wonder so how you have grown to this—to have become king so quietly without any coronation ceremony. You have thought more than you should for happiness at your age; making me, by that one line in your forehead, think you were three years older than you really are. I wish—if I dare wish you anything different—that you were! It makes me uncomfortable to remember that I am—what? Almost half a year your elder as time flies:—not really, for your brain was born long before mine began to rattle in its shell. You say quite old things, and quietly, as if you had had them in your mind ten years already. When you told me about your two old pensioners, the blind man and his wife, whom you brought to so funny a reconciliation, I felt ("mir war, ich wuszte nicht wie") that I would like very much to go blindfold led by you: it struck me suddenly how happy would be a blindfoldness of perfect trust such as one might have with your hands on one. I suppose that is what in religion is called faith: I haven't it there, my dear; but I have it in you now. I love you, beginning to understand why: at first I did not. I am ashamed not to have discovered it earlier. The matter with you is that you have goodness prevailing in you, an integrity of goodness, I mean:—a different thing from there being a whereabouts for goodness in you; that we all have in some proportion or another. I was quite right to love you: I know it now,—I did not when I first did.
Yesterday I was turning over a silly "confession book" in which a rose was everybody's favorite flower, manliness the finest quality for a man, and womanliness for a woman (which is as much as to say that pig is the best quality for pork, and pork for pig): till I came upon one different from the others, and found myself saying "Yes" all down the page.
I turned over for the signature, and found my own mother's. Was it not a strange sweet meeting? And only then did the memory of her handwriting from far back come to me. She died, dear Highness, before I was seven years old. I love her as I do my early memory of flowers, as something very sweet, hardly as a real person.
I noticed she loved best in men and women what they lack most often: in a man, a fair mind; in a woman, courage. "Brave women and fair men," she wrote. Byron might have turned in his grave at having his dissolute stiff-neck so wrung for him by misquotation. And she—it must have been before the eighties had started the popular craze for him—chose Meredith, my own dear Meredith, for her favorite author. How our tastes would have run together had she lived!
Well, I know you fair, and believe myself brave—constitutionally, so that I can't help it: and this, therefore, is not self-praise. But fairness in a man is a deadly hard acquirement, I begin now to discover. You have it fixed fast in you.
You, I think, began to do just things consciously, as the burden of manhood began in you. I love to think of you growing by degrees till you could carry your head so—and no other way; so that, looking at you, I can promise myself you never did a mean thing, and never consciously an unjust thing except to yourself. I can just fancy that fault in you. But, whatever—I love you for it more and more, and am proud knowing you and finding that we are to become friends. For it is that, and no less than that, now.
I love you; and me you like cordially: and that is enough. I need not look behind it, for already I have no way to repay you for the happiness this brings me.
Oh, I think greatly of you, my dear; and it takes long thinking. Not merely such a quantity of thought, but such a quality, makes so hard a day's work that by the end of it I am quite drowsy. Bless me, dearest; all to-day has belonged to you; and to-morrow, I know, waits to become yours without the asking: just as without the asking I too am yours. I wish it were more possible for us to give service to those we love. I am most glad because I see you so often: but I come and go in your life empty-handed, though I have so much to give away. Thoughts, the best I have, I give you: I cannot empty my brain of them. Some day you shall think well of me.—That is a vow, dear friend,—you whom I love so much!
I have not had to alter any thought ever formed about you, Beloved; I have only had to deepen it—that is all. You grow, but you remain. I have heard people talk about you, generally kindly; but what they think of you is often wrong. I do not say anything, but I am glad, and so sure that I know you better. If my mind is so clear about you, it shows that you are good for me. Now for nearly three months I may not see you again; but all that time you will be growing in my heart; and at the end without another word from you I shall find that I know you better than before. Is that strange? It is because I love you: love is knowledge—blind knowledge, not wanting eyes. I only hope that I shall keep in your memory the kind place you have given me. You are almost my friend now, and I know it. You do not know that I love you.
Beloved: You love me! I know it now, and bless the sun and the moon and the stars for the dear certainty of it. And I ask you now, O heart that has opened to me, have I once been unhappy or impatient while this good thing has been withheld from me? Indeed my love for you has occupied me too completely: I have been so glad to find how much there is to learn in a good heart deeply unconscious of its own goodness. You have employed me as I wish I may be employed all the days of my life: and now my beloved employer has given me the wages I did not ask.
You love me! Is it a question of little or much? Is it not rather an entire new thought of me that has entered your life, as the thought of you entered mine months that seem years ago? It was the seed then, and seemed small; but the whole life was there; and it has grown and grown till now it is I who have become small, and have hardly room in me for the roots: and it seems to have gone so far up over my head that I wonder if the stars know of my happiness.
They must know of yours too, then, my Beloved: they are no company for me without you. Oh, to-day, to-day of all days! how in my heart I shall go on kissing it till I die! You love me: that is wonderful! You love me: and already it is not wonderful in the least! but belongs to Noah and the ark and all the animals saved up for an earth washed clean and dried, and the new beginnings of time which have ever since been twisting and turning with us in safe keeping through all the history of the world.
"We came over at the Norman conquest," my dear, as people say trailing their pedigree: but there was no ancestral pride about us—it was all for the love of the thing we did it: how clear it seems now! In the hall hangs a portrait in a big wig, but otherwise the image of my father, of a man who flouted the authority of James II. merely because he was so like my father in character that he could do nothing else. I shall look for you now in the Bayeux tapestries with a prong from your helmet down the middle of your face—of which that line on your forehead is the remainder. And you love me! I wonder what the line has to do with that?
By such little things do great things seem to come about: not really. I know it was not because I said just what I did say, and did what I did yesterday, that your heart was bound to come for mine. But it was those small things that brought you consciousness: and when we parted I knew that I had all the world at my feet—or all heaven over my head!
Ah, at last I may let the spirit of a kiss go to you from me, and not be ashamed or think myself forward since I have your love. All this time you are thinking of me: a certainty lying far outside what I can see.
Beloved, if great happiness may be set to any words, it is here! If silence goes better with it,—speak, silence, for me when I end now!
Good-night, and think greatly of me! I shall wake early.
Dearest: Was my heart at all my own,—was it my own to give, till you came and made me aware of how much it contains? Truly, dear, it contained nothing before, since now it contains you and nothing else. So I have a brand-new heart to give away: and you, you want it and can't see that there it is staring you in the face like a rose with all its petals ready to drop.
I am quite sure that if I had not met you, I could have loved nobody as I love you. Yet it is very likely that I should have loved—sufficiently, as the way of the world goes. It is not a romantic confession, but it is true to life: I do so genuinely like most of my fellow-creatures, and am not happy except where shoulders rub socially:—that is to say, have not until now been happy, except dependently on the company and smiles of others. Now, Beloved, I have none of your company, and have had but few of your smiles (I could count them all); yet I have become more happy filling up my solitude with the understanding of you which has made me wise, than all the rest of fate or fortune could make me. Down comes autumn's sad heart and finds me gay; and the asters, which used to chill me at their appearing, have come out like crocuses this year because it is the beginning of a new world.