HEART AND SCIENCE
A Story of the Present Time
By Wilkie Collins
(OF NEW YORK)
I. PREFACE TO READERS IN GENERAL
You are the children of Old Mother England, on both sides of the Atlantic; you form the majority of buyers and borrowers of novels; and you judge of works of fiction by certain inbred preferences, which but slightly influence the other great public of readers on the continent of Europe.
The two qualities in fiction which hold the highest rank in your estimation are: Character and Humour. Incident and dramatic situation only occupy the second place in your favour. A novel that tells no story, or that blunders perpetually in trying to tell a story—a novel so entirely devoid of all sense of the dramatic side of human life, that not even a theatrical thief can find anything in it to steal—will nevertheless be a work that wins (and keeps) your admiration, if it has Humour which dwells on your memory, and characters which enlarge the circle of your friends.
I have myself always tried to combine the different merits of a good novel, in one and the same work; and I have never succeeded in keeping an equal balance. In the present story you will find the scales inclining, on the whole, in favour of character and Humour. This has not happened accidentally.
Advancing years, and health that stands sadly in need of improvement, warn me—if I am to vary my way of work—that I may have little time to lose. Without waiting for future opportunities, I have kept your standard of merit more constantly before my mind, in writing this book, than on some former occasions.
Still persisting in telling you a story—still refusing to get up in the pulpit and preach, or to invade the platform and lecture, or to take you by the buttonhole in confidence and make fun of my Art—it has been my chief effort to draw the characters with a vigour and breadth of treatment, derived from the nearest and truest view that I could get of the one model, Nature. Whether I shall at once succeed in adding to the circle of your friends in the world of fiction—or whether you will hurry through the narrative, and only discover on a later reading that it is the characters which have interested you in the story—remains to be seen. Either way, your sympathy will find me grateful; for, either way, my motive has been to please you.
During its periodical publication correspondents, noting certain passages in "Heart and Science," inquired how I came to think of writing this book. The question may be readily answered in better words than mine. My book has been written in harmony with opinions which have an indisputable claim to respect. Let them speak for themselves.
SHAKESPEARE'S OPINION.—"It was always yet the trick of our English nation, if they have a good thing, to make it too common." (King Henry IV., Part II.)
WALTER SCOTT'S OPINION—"I am no great believer in the extreme degree of improvement to be derived from the advancement of Science; for every study of that nature tends, when pushed to a certain extent, to harden the heart." (Letter to Miss Edgeworth.)
FARADAY'S OPINION.—"The education of the judgment has for its first and its last step—Humility." (Lecture on Mental Education, at the Royal Institution.)
Having given my reasons for writing the book, let me conclude by telling you what I have kept out of the book.
It encourages me to think that we have many sympathies in common; and among them, that most of us have taken to our hearts domestic pets. Writing under this conviction, I have not forgotten my responsibility towards you, and towards my Art, in pleading the cause of the harmless and affectionate beings of God's creation. From first to last, you are purposely left in ignorance of the hideous secrets of Vivisection. The outside of the laboratory is a necessary object in my landscape—but I never once open the door and invite you to look in. I trace, in one of my characters, the result of the habitual practice of cruelty (no matter under what pretence) in fatally deteriorating the nature of man—and I leave the picture to speak for itself. My own personal feeling has throughout been held in check. Thankfully accepting the assistance rendered to me by Miss Frances Power Cobbe, by Mrs. H. M. Gordon, and by Surgeon-General Gordon, C.B., I have borne in mind (as they have borne in mind) the value of temperate advocacy to a good cause.
With this, your servant withdraws, and leaves you to the story.
II. TO READERS IN PARTICULAR.
If you are numbered among those good friends of ours, who are especially capable of understanding us and sympathising with us, be pleased to accept the expression of our gratitude, and to pass over the lines that follow.
But if you open our books with a mind soured by distrust; if you habitually anticipate inexcusable ignorance where the course of the story happens to turn on matters of fact; it is you, Sir or Madam, whom I now want.
Not to dispute with you—far from it! I own with sorrow that your severity does occasionally encounter us on assailable ground. But there are exceptions, even to the stiffest rules. Some of us are not guilty of wilful carelessness: some of us apply to competent authority, when we write on subjects beyond the range of our own experience. Having thus far ventured to speak for my colleagues, you will conclude that I am paving the way for speaking next of myself. As our cousins in the United States say—that is so.
In the following pages, there are allusions to medical practice at the bedside; leading in due course to physiological questions which connect themselves with the main interest of the novel. In traversing this delicate ground, you have not been forgotten. Before the manuscript went to the printer, it was submitted for correction to an eminent London surgeon, whose experience extends over a period of forty years.
Again: a supposed discovery in connection with brain disease, which occupies a place of importance, is not (as you may suspect) the fantastic product of the author's imagination. Finding his materials everywhere, he has even contrived to make use of Professor Ferrier—writing on the "Localisation of Cerebral Disease," and closing a confession of the present result of post-mortem examination of brains in these words: "We cannot even be sure, whether many of the changes discovered are the cause or the result of the Disease, or whether the two are the conjoint results of a common cause." Plenty of elbow room here for the spirit of discovery.
On becoming acquainted with "Mrs. Gallilee," you will find her talking—and you will sometimes even find the author talking—of scientific subjects in general. You will naturally conclude that it is "all gross caricature." No; it is all promiscuous reading. Let me spare you a long list of books consulted, and of newspapers and magazines mutilated for "cuttings"—and appeal to examples once more, and for the last time.
When "Mrs. Gallilee" wonders whether "Carmina has ever heard of the Diathermancy of Ebonite," she is thinking of proceedings at a conversazione in honour of Professor Helmholtz (reported in the Times of April 12, 1881), at which "radiant energy" was indeed converted into "sonorous vibrations." Again: when she contemplates taking part in a discussion on Matter, she has been slily looking into Chambers's Encyclopaedia, and has there discovered the interesting conditions on which she can "dispense with the idea of atoms." Briefly, not a word of my own invention occurs, when Mrs. Gallilee turns the learned side of her character to your worships' view.
I have now only to add that the story has been subjected to careful revision, and I hope to consequent improvement, in its present form of publication. Past experience has shown me that you have a sharp eye for slips of the pen, and that you thoroughly enjoy convicting a novelist, by post, of having made a mistake. Whatever pains I may have taken to disappoint you, it is quite likely that we may be again indebted to each other on this occasion. So, to our infinite relief on either side, we part friends after all.
London: April 1883
The weary old nineteenth century had advanced into the last twenty years of its life.
Towards two o'clock in the afternoon, Ovid Vere (of the Royal College of Surgeons) stood at the window of his consulting-room in London, looking out at the summer sunshine, and the quiet dusty street.
He had received a warning, familiar to the busy men of our time—the warning from overwrought Nature, which counsels rest after excessive work. With a prosperous career before him, he had been compelled (at only thirty-one years of age) to ask a colleague to take charge of his practice, and to give the brain which he had cruelly wearied a rest of some months to come. On the next day he had arranged to embark for the Mediterranean in a friend's yacht.
An active man, devoted heart and soul to his profession, is not a man who can learn the happy knack of being idle at a moment's notice. Ovid found the mere act of looking out of window, and wondering what he should do next, more than he had patience to endure.
He turned to his study table. If he had possessed a wife to look after him, he would have been reminded that he and his study table had nothing in common, under present circumstances. Being deprived of conjugal superintendence, he broke though his own rules. His restless hand unlocked a drawer, and took out a manuscript work on medicine of his own writing. "Surely," he thought, "I may finish a chapter, before I go to sea to-morrow?"
His head, steady enough while he was only looking out of window, began to swim before he had got to the bottom of a page. The last sentences of the unfinished chapter alluded to a matter of fact which he had not yet verified. In emergencies of any sort, he was a patient man and a man of resource. The necessary verification could be accomplished by a visit to the College of Surgeons, situated in the great square called Lincoln's Inn Fields. Here was a motive for a walk—with an occupation at the end of it, which only involved a question to a Curator, and an examination of a Specimen. He locked up his manuscript, and set forth for Lincoln's Inn Fields.
When two friends happen to meet in the street, do they ever look back along the procession of small circumstances which has led them both, from the starting-point of their own houses, to the same spot, at the same time? Not one man in ten thousand has probably ever thought of making such a fantastic inquiry as this. And consequently not one man in ten thousand, living in the midst of reality, has discovered that he is also living in the midst of romance.
From the moment when the young surgeon closed the door of his house, he was walking blindfold on his way to a patient in the future who was personally still a stranger to him. He never reached the College of Surgeons. He never embarked on his friend's yacht.
What were the obstacles which turned him aside from the course that he had in view? Nothing but a series of trivial circumstances, occurring in the experience of a man who goes out for a walk.
He had only reached the next street, when the first of the circumstances presented itself in the shape of a friend's carriage, which drew up at his side. A bright benevolent face encircled by bushy white whiskers, looked out of the window, and a hearty voice asked him if he had completed his arrangements for a long holiday. Having replied to this, Ovid had a question to put, on his side.
"How is our patient, Sir Richard?"
"Out of danger."
"And what do the other doctors say now?"
Sir Richard laughed: "They say it's my luck."
"Not convinced yet?"
"Not in the least. Who has ever succeeded in convincing fools? Let's try another subject. Is your mother reconciled to your new plans?"
"I can hardly tell you. My mother is in a state of indescribable agitation. Her brother's Will has been found in Italy. And his daughter may arrive in England at a moment's notice."
"Unmarried?" Sir Richard asked slyly.
"I don't know."
Ovid smiled—not cheerfully. "Do you think my poor mother would be in a state of indescribable agitation if there was not money?"
Sir Richard was one of those obsolete elderly persons who quote Shakespeare. "Ah, well," he said, "your mother is like Kent in King Lear—she's too old to learn. Is she as fond as ever of lace? and as keen as ever after a bargain?" He handed a card out of the carriage window. "I have just seen an old patient of mine," he resumed, "in whom I feel a friendly interest. She is retiring from business by my advice; and she asks me, of all the people in the world, to help her in getting rid of some wonderful 'remnants,' at 'an alarming sacrifice!' My kind regards to your mother—and there's a chance for her. One last word, Ovid. Don't be in too great a hurry to return to work; you have plenty of spare time before you. Look at my wise dog here, on the front seat, and learn from him to be idle and happy."
The great physician had another companion, besides his dog. A friend, bound his way, had accepted a seat in the carriage. "Who is that handsome young man?" the friend asked as they drove away.
"He is the only son of a relative of mine, dead many years since," Sir Richard replied. "Don't forget that you have seen him."
"May I ask why?"
"He has not yet reached the prime of life; and he is on the way—already far on the way—to be one of the foremost men of his time. With a private fortune, he has worked as few surgeons work who have their bread to get by their profession. The money comes from his late father. His mother has married again. The second husband is a lazy, harmless old fellow, named Gallilee; possessed of one small attraction—fifty thousand pounds, grubbed up in trade. There are two little daughters, by the second marriage. With such a stepfather as I have described, and, between ourselves, with a mother who has rather more than her fair share of the jealous, envious, and money-loving propensities of humanity, my friend Ovid is not diverted by family influences from the close pursuit of his profession. You will tell me, he may marry. Well! if he gets a good wife she will be a circumstance in his favour. But, so far as I know, he is not that sort of man. Cooler, a deal cooler, with women than I am—though I am old enough to be his father. Let us get back to his professional prospects. You heard him ask me about a patient?"
"Very good. Death was knocking hard at that patient's door, when I called Ovid into consultation with myself and with two other doctors who differed with me. It was one of the very rare cases in which the old practice of bleeding was, to my mind, the only treatment to pursue. I never told him that this was the point in dispute between me and the other men—and they said nothing, on their side, at my express request. He took his time to examine and think; and he saw the chance of saving the patient by venturing on the use of the lancet as plainly as I did—with my forty years' experience to teach me! A young man with that capacity for discovering the remote cause of disease, and with that superiority to the trammels of routine in applying the treatment, has no common medical career before him. His holiday will set his health right in next to no time. I see nothing in his way, at present—not even a woman! But," said Sir Richard, with the explanatory wink of one eye peculiar (like quotation from Shakespeare) to persons of the obsolete old time, "we know better than to forecast the weather if a petticoat influence appears on the horizon. One prediction, however, I do risk. If his mother buys any of that lace—I know who will get the best of the bargain!"
The conditions under which the old doctor was willing to assume the character of a prophet never occurred. Ovid remembered that he was going away on a long voyage—and Ovid was a good son. He bought some of the lace, as a present to his mother at parting; and, most assuredly, he got the worst of the bargain.
His shortest way back to the straight course, from which he had deviated in making his purchase, led him into a by-street, near the flower and fruit market of Covent Garden. Here he met with the second in number of the circumstances which attended his walk. He found himself encountered by an intolerably filthy smell.
The market was not out of the direct way to Lincoln's Inn Fields. He fled from the smell to the flowery and fruity perfumes of Covent Garden, and completed the disinfecting process by means of a basket of strawberries.
Why did a poor ragged little girl, carrying a big baby, look with such longing eyes at the delicious fruit, that, as a kind-hearted man, he had no alternative but to make her a present of the strawberries? Why did two dirty boyfriends of hers appear immediately afterwards with news of Punch in a neighbouring street, and lead the little girl away with them? Why did these two new circumstances inspire him with a fear that the boys might take the strawberries away from the poor child, burdened as she was with a baby almost as big as herself? When we suffer from overwrought nerves we are easily disturbed by small misgivings. The idle man of wearied mind followed the friends of the street drama to see what happened, forgetful of the College of Surgeons, and finding a new fund of amusement in himself.
Arrived in the neighbouring street, he discovered that the Punch performance had come to an end—like some other dramatic performances of higher pretensions—for want of a paying audience. He waited at a certain distance, watching the children. His doubts had done them an injustice. The boys only said, "Give us a taste." And the liberal little girl rewarded their good conduct. An equitable and friendly division of the strawberries was made in a quiet corner.
Where—always excepting the case of a miser or a millionaire—is the man to be found who could have returned to the pursuit of his own affairs, under these circumstances, without encouraging the practice of the social virtues by a present of a few pennies? Ovid was not that man.
Putting back in his breast-pocket the bag in which he was accustomed to carry small coins for small charities, his hand touched something which felt like the envelope of a letter. He took it out—looked at it with an expression of annoyance and surprise—and once more turned aside from the direct way to Lincoln's Inn Fields.
The envelope contained his last prescription. Having occasion to consult the "Pharmacopoeia," he had written it at home, and had promised to send it to the patient immediately. In the absorbing interest of making his preparations for leaving England, it had remained forgotten in his pocket for nearly two days. The one means of setting this unlucky error right, without further delay, was to deliver his prescription himself, and to break through his own rules for the second time by attending to a case of illness—purely as an act of atonement.
The patient lived in a house nearly opposite to the British Museum. In this northward direction he now set his face.
He made his apologies, and gave his advice—and, getting out again into the street, tried once more to shape his course for the College of Surgeons. Passing the walled garden of the British Museum, he looked towards it—and paused. What had stopped him, this time? Nothing but a tree, fluttering its bright leaves in the faint summer air.
A marked change showed itself in his face.
The moment before he had been passing in review the curious little interruptions which had attended his walk, and had wondered humorously what would happen next. Two women, meeting him, and seeing a smile on his lips, had said to each other, "There goes a happy man." If they had encountered him now, they might have reversed their opinion. They would have seen a man thinking of something once dear to him, in the far and unforgotten past.
He crossed over the road to the side-street which faced the garden. His head drooped; he moved mechanically. Arrived in the street, he lifted his eyes, and stood (within nearer view of it) looking at the tree.
Hundreds of miles away from London, under another tree of that gentle family, this man—so cold to women in after life—had made child-love, in the days of his boyhood, to a sweet little cousin long since numbered with the dead. The present time, with its interests and anxieties, passed away like the passing of a dream. Little by little, as the minutes followed each other, his sore heart felt a calming influence, breathed mysteriously from the fluttering leaves. Still forgetful of the outward world, he wandered slowly up the street; living in the old scenes; thinking, not unhappily now, the old thoughts.
Where, in all London, could he have found a solitude more congenial to a dreamer in daylight?
The broad district, stretching northward and eastward from the British Museum, is like the quiet quarter of a country town set in the midst of the roaring activities of the largest city in the world. Here, you can cross the road, without putting limb or life in peril. Here, when you are idle, you can saunter and look about, safe from collision with merciless straight-walkers whose time is money, and whose destiny is business. Here, you may meet undisturbed cats on the pavement, in the full glare of noontide, and may watch, through the railings of the squares, children at play on grass that almost glows with the lustre of the Sussex Downs. This haven of rest is alike out of the way of fashion and business; and is yet within easy reach of the one and the other. Ovid paused in a vast and silent square. If his little cousin had lived, he might perhaps have seen his children at play in some such secluded place as this.
The birds were singing blithely in the trees. A tradesman's boy, delivering fish to the cook, and two girls watering flowers at a window, were the only living creatures near him, as he roused himself and looked around.
Where was the College? Where were the Curator and the Specimen? Those questions brought with them no feeling of anxiety or surprise. He turned, in a half-awakened way, without a wish or a purpose—turned, and listlessly looked back.
Two foot-passengers, dressed in mourning garments, were rapidly approaching him. One of them, as they came nearer, proved to be an aged woman. The other was a girl.
He drew aside to let them pass. They looked at him with the lukewarm curiosity of strangers, as they went by. The girl's eyes and his met. Only the glance of an instant—and its influence held him for life.
She went swiftly on, as little impressed by the chance meeting as the old woman at her side. Without stopping to think—without being capable of thought—Ovid followed them. Never before had he done what he was doing now; he was, literally, out of himself. He saw them ahead of him, and he saw nothing else.
Towards the middle of the square, they turned aside into a street on the left. A concert-hall was in the street—with doors open for an afternoon performance. They entered the hall. Still out of himself, Ovid followed them.
A room of magnificent size; furnished with every conventional luxury that money can buy; lavishly provided with newspapers and books of reference; lighted by tall windows in the day-time, and by gorgeous chandeliers at night, may be nevertheless one of the dreariest places of rest and shelter that can be found on the civilised earth. Such places exist, by hundreds, in those hotels of monstrous proportions and pretensions, which now engulf the traveller who ends his journey on the pier or the platform. It may be that we feel ourselves to be strangers among strangers—it may be that there is something innately repellent in splendid carpets and curtains, chairs and tables, which have no social associations to recommend them—it may be that the mind loses its elasticity under the inevitable restraint on friendly communication, which expresses itself in lowered tones and instinctive distrust of our next neighbour; but this alone is certain: life, in the public drawing-room of a great hotel, is life with all its healthiest emanations perishing in an exhausted receiver.
On the same day, and nearly at the same hour, when Ovid had left his house, two women sat in a corner of the public room, in one of the largest of the railway hotels latterly built in London.
Without observing it themselves, they were objects of curiosity to their fellow-travellers. They spoke to each other in a foreign language. They were dressed in deep mourning—with an absence of fashion and a simplicity of material which attracted the notice of every other woman in the room. One of them wore a black veil over her gray hair. Her hands were brown, and knotty at the joints; her eyes looked unnaturally bright for her age; innumerable wrinkles crossed and re-crossed her skinny face; and her aquiline nose (as one of the ladies present took occasion to remark) was so disastrously like the nose of the great Duke of Wellington as to be an offensive feature in the face of a woman.
The lady's companion, being a man, took a more merciful view. "She can't help being ugly," he whispered. "But see how she looks at the girl with her. A good old creature, I say, if ever there was one yet." The lady eyed him, as only a jealous woman can eye her husband, and whispered back, "Of course you're in love with that slip of a girl!"
She was a slip of a girl—and not even a tall slip. At seventeen years of age, it was doubtful whether she would ever grow to a better height.
But a girl who is too thin, and not even so tall as the Venus de' Medici, may still be possessed of personal attractions. It was not altogether a matter of certainty, in this case, that the attractions were sufficiently remarkable to excite general admiration. The fine colour and the plump healthy cheeks, the broad smile, and the regular teeth, the well-developed mouth, and the promising bosom which form altogether the average type of beauty found in the purely bred English maiden, were not among the noticeable charms of the small creature in gloomy black, shrinking into a corner of the big room. She had very little colour of any sort to boast of. Her hair was of so light a brown that it just escaped being flaxen; but it had the negative merit of not being forced down to her eyebrows, and twisted into the hideous curly-wig which exhibits a liberal equality of ugliness on the heads of women in the present day. There was a delicacy of finish in her features—in the nose and the lips especially—a sensitive changefulness in the expression of her eyes (too dark in themselves to be quite in harmony with her light hair), and a subtle yet simple witchery in her rare smile, which atoned, in some degree at least, for want of complexion in the face and of flesh in the figure. Men might dispute her claims to beauty—but no one could deny that she was, in the common phrase, an interesting person. Grace and refinement; a quickness of apprehension and a vivacity of movement, suggestive of some foreign origin; a childish readiness of wonder, in the presence of new objects—and perhaps, under happier circumstances, a childish playfulness with persons whom she loved—were all characteristic attractions of the modest stranger who was in the charge of the ugly old woman, and who was palpably the object of that wrinkled duenna's devoted love.
A travelling writing-case stood open on a table near them. In an interval of silence the girl looked at it reluctantly. They had been talking of family affairs—and had spoken in Italian, so as to keep their domestic secrets from the ears of the strangers about them. The old woman was the first to resume the conversation.
"My Carmina, you really ought to write that letter," she said; "the illustrious Mrs. Gallilee is waiting to hear of our arrival in London."
Carmina took up the pen, and put it down again with a sigh. "We only arrived last night," she pleaded. "Dear old Teresa, let us have one day in London by ourselves!"
Teresa received this proposal with undisguised amazement and alarm,
"Jesu Maria! a day in London—and your aunt waiting for you all the time! She is your second mother, my dear, by appointment; and her house is your new home. And you propose to stop a whole day at an hotel, instead of going home. Impossible! Write, my Carmina—write. See, here is the address on a card:—'Fairfield Gardens.' What a pretty place it must be to live in, with such a name as that! And a sweet lady, no doubt. Come! Come!"
But Carmina still resisted. "I have never even seen my aunt," she said. "It is dreadful to pass my life with a stranger. Remember, I was only a child when you came to us after my mother's death. It is hardly six months yet since I lost my father. I have no one but you, and, when I go to this new home, you will leave me. I only ask for one more day to be together, before we part."
The poor old duenna drew back out of sight, in the shadow of a curtain—and began to cry. Carmina took her hand, under cover of a tablecloth; Carmina knew how to console her. "We will go and see sights," she whispered "and, when dinner-time comes, you shall have a glass of the Porto-porto-wine."
Teresa looked round out of the shadow, as easily comforted as a child. "Sights!" she exclaimed—and dried her tears. "Porto-porto-wine!" she repeated—and smacked her withered lips at the relishing words. "Ah, my child, you have not forgotten the consolations I told you of, when I lived in London in my young days. To think of you, with an English father, and never in London till now! I used to go to museums and concerts sometimes, when my English mistress was pleased with me. That gracious lady often gave me a glass of the fine strong purple wine. The Holy Virgin grant that Aunt Gallilee may be as kind a woman! Such a head of hair as the other one she cannot hope to have. It was a joy to dress it. Do you think I wouldn't stay here in England with you if I could? What is to become of my old man in Italy, with his cursed asthma, and nobody to nurse him? Oh, but those were dull years in London! The black endless streets—the dreadful Sundays—the hundreds of thousands of people, always in a hurry; always with grim faces set on business, business, business! I was glad to go back and be married in Italy. And here I am in London again, after God knows how many years. No matter. We will enjoy ourselves to-day; and when we go to Madam Gallilee's to-morrow, we will tell a little lie, and say we only arrived on the evening that has not yet come."
The duenna's sense of humour was so tickled by this prospective view of the little lie, that she leaned back in her chair and laughed. Carmina's rare smile showed itself faintly. The terrible first interview with the unknown aunt still oppressed her. She took up a newspaper in despair. "Oh, my old dear!" she said, "let us get out of this dreadful room, and be reminded of Italy!" Teresa lifted her ugly hands in bewilderment. "Reminded of Italy—in London?"
"Is there no Italian music in London?" Carmina asked suggestively.
The duenna's bright eyes answered this in their own language. She snatched up the nearest newspaper.
It was then the height of the London concert season. Morning performances of music were announced in rows. Reading the advertised programmes, Carmina found them, in one remarkable respect, all alike. They would have led an ignorant stranger to wonder whether any such persons as Italian composers, French composers, and English composers had ever existed. The music offered to the English public was music of exclusively German (and for the most part modern German) origin. Carmina held the opinion—in common with Mozart and Rossini, as well as other people—that music without melody is not music at all. She laid aside the newspaper.
The plan of going to a concert being thus abandoned, the idea occurred to them of seeing pictures. Teresa, in search of information, tried her luck at a great table in the middle of the room, on which useful books were liberally displayed. She returned with a catalogue of the Royal Academy Exhibition (which someone had left on the table), and with the most universally well-informed book, on a small scale, that has ever enlightened humanity—modestly described on the title-page as an Almanac.
Carmina opened the catalogue at the first page, and discovered a list of Royal Academicians. Were all these gentlemen celebrated painters? Out of nearly forty names, three only had made themselves generally known beyond the limits of England. She turned to the last page. The works of art on show numbered more than fifteen hundred. Teresa, looking over her shoulder, made the same discovery. "Our heads will ache, and our feet will ache," she remarked, "before we get out of that place." Carmina laid aside the catalogue.
Teresa opened the Almanac at hazard, and hit on the page devoted to Amusements. Her next discovery led her to the section inscribed "Museums." She scored an approving mark at that place with her thumbnail—and read the list in fluent broken English.
The British Museum? Teresa's memory of that magnificent building recalled it vividly in one respect. She shook her head. "More headache and footache, there!" Bethnal Green; Indian Museum; College of Surgeons; Practical Geology; South Kensington; Patent Museum—all unknown to Teresa. "The saints preserve us! what headaches and footaches in all these, if they are as big as that other one!" She went on with the list—and astonished everybody in the room by suddenly clapping her hands. Sir John Soane's Museum, Lincoln's Inn Fields. "Ah, but I remember that! A nice little easy museum in a private house, and all sorts of pretty things to see. My dear love, trust your old Teresa. Come to Soane!"
In ten minutes more they were dressed, and on the steps of the hotel. The bright sunlight, the pleasant air, invited them to walk. On the same afternoon, when Ovid had set forth on foot for Lincoln's Inn Fields, Carmina and Teresa set forth on foot for Lincoln's Inn Fields. Trivial obstacles had kept the man away from the College. Would trivial obstacles keep the women away from the Museum?
They crossed the Strand, and entered a street which led out of it towards the North; Teresa's pride in her memory forbidding her thus far to ask their way.
Their talk—dwelling at first on Italy, and on the memory of Carmina's Italian mother—reverted to the formidable subject of Mrs. Gallilee. Teresa's hopeful view of the future turned to the cousins, and drew the picture of two charming little girls, eagerly waiting to give their innocent hearts to their young relative from Italy. "Are there only two?" she said. "Surely you told me there was a boy, besides the girls?" Carmina set her right. "My cousin Ovid is a great doctor," she continued with an air of importance. "Poor papa used to say that our family would have reason to be proud of him." "Does he live at home?" asked simple Teresa. "Oh, dear, no! He has a grand house of his own. Hundreds of sick people go there to be cured, and give hundreds of golden guineas." Hundreds of golden guineas gained by only curing sick people, represented to Teresa's mind something in the nature of a miracle: she solemnly raised her eyes to heaven. "What a cousin to have! Is he young? is he handsome? is he married?"
Instead of answering these questions, Carmina looked over her shoulder. "Is this poor creature following us?" she asked.
They had now turned to the right, and had entered a busy street leading directly to Covent Garden. The "creature" (who was undoubtedly following them) was one of the starved and vagabond dogs of London. Every now and then, the sympathies of their race lead these inveterate wanderers to attach themselves, for the time, to some human companion, whom their mysterious insight chooses from the crowd. Teresa, with the hard feeling towards animals which is one of the serious defects of the Italian character, cried, "Ah, the mangy beast!" and lifted her umbrella. The dog starred back, waited a moment, and followed them again as they went on.
Carmina's gentle heart gave its pity to this lost and hungry fellow-creature. "I must buy that poor dog something to eat," she said—and stopped suddenly as the idea struck her.
The dog, accustomed to kicks and curses, was ignorant of kindness. Following close behind her, when she checked herself, he darted away in terror into the road. A cab was driven by rapidly at the same moment. The wheel passed over the dog's neck. And there was an end, as a man remarked looking on, of the troubles of a cur.
This common accident struck the girl's sensitive nature with horror. Helpless and speechless, she trembled piteously. The nearest open door was the door of a music-seller's shop. Teresa led her in, and asked for a chair and a glass of water. The proprietor, feeling the interest in Carmina which she seldom failed to inspire among strangers, went the length of offering her a glass of wine. Preferring water, she soon recovered herself sufficiently to be able to leave her chair.
"May I change my mind about going to the museum?" she said to her companion. "After what has happened, I hardly feel equal to looking at curiosities."
Teresa's ready sympathy tried to find some acceptable alternative. "Music would be better, wouldn't it?" she suggested.
The so-called Italian Opera was open that night, and the printed announcement of the performance was in the shop. They both looked at it. Fortune was still against them. A German opera appeared on the bill. Carmina turned to the music-seller in despair. "Is there no music, sir, but German music to be heard in London?" she asked. The hospitable shopkeeper produced a concert programmed for that afternoon—the modest enterprise of an obscure piano-forte teacher, who could only venture to address pupils, patrons, and friends. What did he promise? Among other things, music from "Lucia," music from "Norma," music from "Ernani." Teresa made another approving mark with her thumb-nail; and Carmina purchased tickets.
The music-seller hurried to the door to stop the first empty cab that might pass. Carmina showed a deplorable ignorance of the law of chances. She shrank from the bare idea of getting into a cab. "We may run over some other poor creature," she said. "If it isn't a dog, it may be a child next time." Teresa and the music-seller suggested a more reasonable view as gravely as they could. Carmina humbly submitted to the claims of common sense—without yielding, for all that. "I know I'm wrong," she confessed. "Don't spoil my pleasure; I can't do it!"
The strange parallel was now complete. Bound for the same destination, Carmina and Ovid had failed to reach it alike. And Carmina had stopped to look at the garden of the British Museum, before she overtook Ovid in the quiet square.
If, on entering the hall, Ovid had noticed the placards, he would have found himself confronted by a coincidence. The person who gave the concert was also the person who taught music to his half-sisters. Not many days since, he had himself assisted the enterprise, by taking a ticket at his mother's request. Seeing nothing, remembering nothing—hurried by the fear of losing sight of the two strangers if there was a large audience—he impatiently paid for another ticket, at the doors.
The room was little more than half full, and so insufficiently ventilated that the atmosphere was oppressive even under those circumstances. He easily discovered the two central chairs, in the midway row of seats, which she and her companion had chosen. There was a vacant chair (among many others) at one extremity of the row in front of them. He took that place. To look at her, without being discovered—there, so far, was the beginning and the end of his utmost desire.
The performances had already begun. So long as her attention was directed to the singers and players on the platform, he could feast his eyes on her with impunity. In an unoccupied interval, she looked at the audience—and discovered him.
Had he offended her?
If appearances were to be trusted, he had produced no impression of any sort. She quietly looked away, towards the other side of the room. The mere turning of her head was misinterpreted by Ovid as an implied rebuke. He moved to the row of seats behind her. She was now nearer to him than she had been yet. He was again content, and more than content. The next performance was a solo on the piano. A round of applause welcomed the player. Ovid looked at the platform for the first time. In the bowing man, with a prematurely bald head and a servile smile, he recognized Mrs. Gallilee's music-master. The inevitable inference followed. His mother might be in the room.
After careful examination of the scanty audience, he failed to discover her—thus far. She would certainly arrive, nevertheless. My money's worth for my money was a leading principle in Mrs. Gallilee's life.
He sighed as he looked towards the door of entrance. Not for long had he revelled in the luxury of a new happiness. He had openly avowed his dislike of concerts, when his mother had made him take a ticket for this concert. With her quickness of apprehension what might she not suspect, if she found him among the audience?
Come what might of it, he still kept his place; he still feasted his eyes on the slim figure of the young girl, on the gentle yet spirited carriage of her head. But the pleasure was no longer pleasure without alloy. His mother had got between them now.
The solo on the piano came to an end.
In the interval that followed, he turned once more towards the entrance. Just as he was looking away again, he heard Mrs. Gallilee's loud voice. She was administering a maternal caution to one of the children. "Behave better here than you behaved in the carriage, or I shall take you away."
If she found him in his present place—if she put her own clever construction on what she saw—her opinion would assuredly express itself in some way. She was one of those women who can insult another woman (and safely disguise it) by an inquiring look. For the girl's sake, Ovid instantly moved away from her to the seats at the back of the hall.
Mrs. Gallilee made a striking entrance—dressed to perfection; powdered and painted to perfection; leading her daughters, and followed by her governess. The usher courteously indicated places near the platform. Mrs. Galilee astonished him by a little lecture on acoustics, delivered with the sweetest condescension. Her Christian humility smiled, and call the usher, Sir. "Sound, sir, is most perfectly heard towards the centre of the auditorium." She led the way towards the centre. Vacant places invited her to the row of seats occupied by Carmina and Teresa. She, the unknown aunt, seated herself next to the unknown niece.
They looked at each other.
Perhaps, it was the heat of the room. Perhaps, she had not perfectly recovered the nervous shock of seeing the dog killed. Carmina's head sank on good Teresa's shoulder. She had fainted.
"May I ask for a cup of tea, Miss Minerva?"
"Delighted, I'm sure, Mr. Le Frank."
"And was Mrs. Gallilee pleased with the Concert?"
Mr. Le Frank shook his head. "I am afraid there was a drawback," he suggested. "You forget the lady who fainted. So alarming to the audience. So disagreeable to the artists."
"Take care, Mr. Le Frank! These new houses are flimsily built; they might hear you upstairs. The fainting lady is upstairs. All the elements of a romance are upstairs. Is your tea to your liking?"
In this playfully provocative manner, Miss Minerva (the governess) trifled with the curiosity of Mr. Le Frank (the music-master), as the proverbial cat trifles with the terror of the captive mouse. The man of the bald head and the servile smile showed a polite interest in the coming disclosure; he opened his deeply-sunk eyes, and lazily lifted his delicate eyebrows.
He had called at Mrs. Gallilee's house, after the concert, to get a little tea (with a large infusion of praise) in the schoolroom. A striking personal contrast confronted him, in the face of the lady who was dispensing the hospitalities of the table. Mr. Le Frank's plump cheeks were, in colour, of the obtrusively florid sort. The relics of yellow hair, still adhering to the sides of his head, looked as silkily frail as spun glass. His noble beard made amends for his untimely baldness. The glossy glory of it exhaled delicious perfumes; the keenest eyes might have tried in vain to discover a hair that was out of place. Miss Minerva's eager sallow face, so lean, and so hard, and so long, looked, by contrast, as if it wanted some sort of discreet covering thrown over some part of it. Her coarse black hair projected like a penthouse over her bushy black eyebrows and her keen black eyes. Oh, dear me (as they said in the servants' hall), she would never be married—so yellow and so learned, so ugly and so poor! And yet, if mystery is interesting, this was an interesting woman. The people about her felt an uneasy perception of something secret, ominously secret, in the nature of the governess which defied detection. If Inquisitive Science, vowed to medical research, could dissect firmness of will, working at its steadiest repressive action—then, the mystery of Miss Minerva's inner nature might possibly have been revealed. As it was, nothing more remarkable exposed itself to view than an irritable temper; serving perhaps as safety-valve to an underlying explosive force, which (with strong enough temptation and sufficient opportunity) might yet break out.
"Gently, Mr. Le Frank! The tea is hot—you may burn your mouth. How am I to tell you what has happened?" Miss Minerva dropped the playfully provocative tone, with infinite tact, exactly at the right moment. "Just imagine," she resumed, "a scene on the stage, occurring in private life. The lady who fainted at your concert, turns out to be no less a person that Mrs. Gallilee's niece!"
The general folly which reads a prospectus and blindly speculates in shares, is matched by the equally diffused stupidity, which is incapable of discovering that there can be any possible relation between fiction and truth. Say it's in a novel—and you are a fool if you believe it. Say it's in a newspaper—and you are a fool if you doubt it. Mr. Le Frank, following the general example, followed it on this occasion a little too unreservedly. He avowed his doubts of the circumstance just related, although it was, on the authority of a lady, a circumstance occurring in real life! Far from being offended, Miss Minerva cordially sympathized with him.
"It is too theatrical to be believed," she admitted; "but this fainting young person is positively the interesting stranger we have been expecting from Italy. You know Mrs. Gallilee. Hers was the first smelling-bottle produced; hers was the presence of mind which suggested a horizontal position. 'Help the heart,' she said; 'don't impede it.' The whole theory of fainting fits, in six words! In another moment," proceeded the governess making a theatrical point without suspecting it—"in another moment, Mrs. Gallilee herself stood in need of the smelling-bottle."
Mr. Le Frank was not a true believer, even yet. "You don't mean she fainted!" he said.
Miss Minerva held up the indicative forefinger, with which she emphasized instruction when her pupils required rousing. "Mrs. Gallilee's strength of mind—as I was about to say, if you had listened to me—resisted the shock. What the effort must have cost her you will presently understand. Our interesting young lady was accompanied by a hideous old foreign woman who completely lost her head. She smacked her hands distractedly; she called on the saints (without producing the slightest effect)—but she mixed up a name, remarkable even in Italy, with the rest of the delirium; and that was serious. Put yourself in Mrs. Gallilee's place—"
"I couldn't do it," said Mr. Le Frank, with humility.
Miss Minerva passed over this reply without notice. Perhaps she was not a believer in the humility of musicians.
"The young lady's Christian name," she proceeded, "is Carmina; (put the accent, if you please, on the first syllable). The moment Mrs. Gallilee heard the name, it struck her like a blow. She enlightened the old woman, and asserted herself as Miss Carmina's aunt in an instant. 'I am Mrs. Gallilee:' that was all she said. The result"—Miss Minerva paused, and pointed to the ceiling; "the result is up there. Our charming guest was on the sofa, and the hideous old nurse was fanning her, when I had the honour of seeing them just now. No, Mr. Le Frank! I haven't done yet. There is a last act in this drama of private life still to relate. A medical gentleman was present at the concert, who offered his services in reviving Miss Carmina. The same gentleman is now in attendance on the interesting patient. Can you guess who he is?"
Mr. Le Frank had sold a ticket for his concert to the medical adviser of the family—one Mr. Null. A cautious guess in this direction seemed to offer the likeliest chance of success.
"He is a patron of music," the pianist began.
"He hates music," the governess interposed.
"I mean Mr. Null," Mr. Le Frank persisted.
"I mean—" Miss Minerva paused (like the cat with the mouse again!)—"I mean, Mr. Ovid Vere."
What form the music-master's astonishment might have assumed may be matter for speculation, it was never destined to become matter of fact. At the moment when Miss Minerva overwhelmed him with the climax of her story, a little, rosy, elderly gentleman, with a round face, a sweet smile, and a curly gray head, walked into the room, accompanied by two girls. Persons of small importance—only Mr. Gallilee and his daughters.
"How d'ye-do, Mr. Le Frank. I hope you got plenty of money by the concert. I gave away my own two tickets. You will excuse me, I'm sure. Music, I can't think why, always sends me to sleep. Here are your two pupils, Miss Minerva, safe and sound. It struck me we were rather in the way, when that sweet young creature was brought home. Sadly in want of quiet, poor thing—not in want of us. Mrs. Gallilee and Ovid, so clever and attentive, were just the right people in the right place. So I put on my hat—I'm always available, Mr. Le Frank; I have the great advantage of never having anything to do—and I said to the girls, 'Let's have a walk.' We had no particular place to go to—that's another advantage of mine—so we drifted about. I didn't mean it, but, somehow or other, we stopped at a pastry-cook's shop. What was the name of the pastry-cook?"
So far Mr. Gallilee proceeded, speaking in the oddest self-contradictory voice, if such a description is permissible—a voice at once high in pitch and mild in tone: in short, as Mr. Le Frank once professionally remarked, a soft falsetto. When the good gentleman paused to make his little effort of memory, his eldest daughter—aged twelve, and always ready to distinguish herself—saw her opportunity, and took the rest of the narrative into her own hands.
Miss Maria, named after her mother, was one of the successful new products of the age we live in—the conventionally-charming child (who has never been smacked); possessed of the large round eyes that we see in pictures, and the sweet manners and perfect principles that we read of in books. She called everybody "dear;" she knew to a nicety how much oxygen she wanted in the composition of her native air; and—alas, poor wretch!—she had never wetted her shoes or dirtied her face since the day when she was born.
"Dear Miss Minerva," said Maria, "the pastry-cook's name was Timbal. We have had ices."
His mind being now set at rest on the subject of the pastry-cook, Mr. Gallilee turned to his youngest daughter—aged ten, and one of the unsuccessful products of the age we live in. This was a curiously slow, quaint, self-contained child; the image of her father, with an occasional reflection of his smile; incurably stupid, or incurably perverse—the friends of the family were not quite sure which. Whether she might have been over-crammed with useless knowledge, was not a question in connection with the subject which occurred to anybody.
"Rouse yourself, Zo," said Mr. Gallilee. "What did we have besides ices?"
Zoe (known to her father, by vulgar abbreviation, as "Zo") took Mr. Gallilee's stumpy red hand, and held hard by it as if that was the one way in which a dull child could rouse herself, with a prospect of success.
"I've had so many of them," she said; "I don't know. Ask Maria."
Maria responded with the sweetest readiness. "Dear Zoe, you are so slow! Cheesecakes."
Mr. Gallilee patted Zoe's head as encouragingly as if she had discovered the right answer by herself. "That's right—ices and cheese-cakes," he said. "We tried cream-ice, and then we tried water-ice. The children, Miss Minerva, preferred the cream-ice. And, do you know, I'm of their opinion. There's something in a cream-ice—what do you think yourself of cream-ices, Mr. Le Frank?"
It was one among the many weaknesses of Mr. Gallilee's character to be incapable of opening his lips without, sooner or later, taking somebody into his confidence. In the merest trifles, he instinctively invited sympathy and agreement from any person within his reach—from a total stranger quite as readily as from an intimate friend. Mr. Le Frank, representing the present Court of Social Appeal, attempted to deliver judgment on the question of ices, and was interrupted without ceremony by Miss Minerva. She, too, had been waiting her opportunity to speak, and she now took it—not amiably.
"With all possible respect, Mr. Gallilee, I venture to entreat that you will be a little more thoughtful, where the children are concerned. I beg your pardon, Mr. Le Frank, for interrupting you—but it is really a little too hard on Me. I am held responsible for the health of these girls; I am blamed over and over again, when it is not my fault, for irregularities in their diet—and there they are, at this moment, chilled with ices and cloyed with cakes! What will Mrs. Gallilee say?"
"Don't tell her," Mr. Gallilee suggested.
"The girls will be thirsty for the rest of the evening," Miss Minerva persisted; "the girls will have no appetite for the last meal before bedtime. And their mother will ask Me what it means."
"My good creature," cried Mr. Gallilee, "don't be afraid of the girls' appetites! Take off their hats, and give them something nice for supper. They inherit my stomach, Miss Minerva—and they'll 'tuck in,' as we used to say at school. Did they say so in your time, Mr. Le Frank?"
Mrs. Gallilee's governess and vulgar expressions were anomalies never to be reconciled, under any circumstances. Miss Minerva took off the hats in stern silence. Even "Papa" might have seen the contempt in her face, if she had not managed to hide it in this way, by means of the girls.
In the silence that ensued, Mr. Le Frank had his chance of speaking, and showed himself to be a gentleman with a happily balanced character—a musician, with an eye to business. Using gratitude to Mr. Gallilee as a means of persuasion, he gently pushed the interests of a friend who was giving a concert next week. "We poor artists have our faults, my dear sir; but we are all earnest in helping each other. My friend sang for nothing at my concert. Don't suppose for a moment that he expects it of me! But I am going to play for nothing at his concert. May I appeal to your kind patronage to take two tickets?" The reply ended appropriately in musical sound—a golden tinkling, in Mr. Le Frank's pocket.
Having paid his tribute to art and artists, Mr. Gallilee looked furtively at Miss Minerva. On the wise principle of letting well alone, he perceived that the happy time had arrived for leaving the room. How was he to make his exit? He prided himself on his readiness of resource, in difficulties of this sort, and he was equal to the occasion as usual—he said he would go to his club.
"We really have a capital smoking-room at that club," he said. "I do like a good cigar; and—what do you think Mr. Le Frank?—isn't a pint of champagne nice drinking, this hot weather? Just cooled with ice—I don't know whether you feel the weather, Miss Minerva, as I do?—and poured, fizzing, into a silver mug. Lord, how delicious! Good-bye, girls. Give me a kiss before I go."
Maria led the way, as became the elder. She not only gave the kiss, but threw an appropriate sentiment into the bargain. "I do love you, dear papa!" said this perfect daughter—with a look in Miss Minerva's direction, which might have been a malicious look in any eyes but Maria's.
Mr. Gallilee turned to his youngest child. "Well, Zo—what do you say?"
Zo took her father's hand once more, and rubbed her head against it like a cat. This new method of expressing filial affection seemed to interest Mr. Gallilee. "Does your head itch, my dear?" he asked. The idea was new to Zo. She brightened, and looked at her father with a sly smile. "Why do you do it?" Miss Minerva asked sharply. Zo clouded over again, and answered, "I don't know." Mr. Gallilee rewarded her with a kiss, and went away to champagne and the club.
Mr. Le Frank left the schoolroom next. He paid the governess the compliment of reverting to her narrative of events at the concert.
"I am greatly struck," he said, "by what you told me about Mr. Ovid Vere. We may, perhaps, have misjudged him in thinking that he doesn't like music. His coming to my concert suggests a more cheering view. Do you think there would be any impropriety in my calling to thank him? Perhaps it would be better if I wrote, and enclosed two tickets for my friend's concert? To tell you the truth, I've pledged myself to dispose of a certain number of tickets. My friend is so much in request—it's expecting too much to ask him to sing for nothing. I think I'll write. Good-evening!"
Left alone with her pupils, Miss Minerva looked at her watch. "Prepare your lessons for to-morrow," she said.
The girls produced their books. Maria's library of knowledge was in perfect order. The pages over which Zo pondered in endless perplexity were crumpled by weary fingers, and stained by frequent tears. Oh, fatal knowledge! mercifully forbidden to the first two of our race, who shall count the crimes and stupidities committed in your name?
Miss Minerva leaned back in her easy-chair. Her mind was occupied by the mysterious question of Ovid's presence at the concert. She raised her keenly penetrating eyes to the ceiling, and listened for sounds from above.
"I wonder," she thought to herself, "what they are doing upstairs?"
Mrs. Gallilee was as complete a mistress of the practice of domestic virtue as of the theory of acoustics and fainting fits. At dressing with taste, and ordering dinners with invention; at heading her table gracefully, and making her guests comfortable; at managing refractory servants and detecting dishonest tradespeople, she was the equal of the least intellectual woman that ever lived. Her preparations for the reception of her niece were finished in advance, without an oversight in the smallest detail. Carmina's inviting bedroom, in blue, opened into Carmina's irresistible sitting-room, in brown. The ventilation was arranged, the light and shade were disposed, the flowers were attractively placed, under Mrs. Gallilee's infallible superintendence. Before Carmina had recovered her senses she was provided with a second mother, who played the part to perfection.
The four persons, now assembled in the pretty sitting-room upstairs, were in a position of insupportable embarrassment towards each other.
Finding her son at a concert (after he had told her that he hated music) Mrs. Gallilee, had first discovered him hurrying to the assistance of a young lady in a swoon, with all the anxiety and alarm which he might have shown in the case of a near and dear friend. And yet, when this stranger was revealed as a relation, he had displayed an amazement equal to her own! What explanation could reconcile such contradictions as these?
As for Carmina, her conduct complicated the mystery.
What was she doing at a concert, when she ought to have been on her way to her aunt's house? Why, if she must faint when the hot room had not overpowered anyone else, had she failed to recover in the usual way? There she lay on the sofa, alternately flushing and turning pale when she was spoken to; ill at ease in the most comfortable house in London; timid and confused under the care of her best friends. Making all allowance for a sensitive temperament, could a long journey from Italy, and a childish fright at seeing a dog run over, account for such a state of things as this?
Annoyed and perplexed—but yet far too prudent to commit herself ignorantly to inquiries which might lead to future embarrassment—Mrs. Gallilee tried suggestive small talk as a means of enlightenment. The wrinkled duenna, sitting miserably on satin supported by frail gilt legs, seemed to take her tone of feeling from her young mistress, exactly as she took her orders. Mrs. Gallilee spoke to her in English, and spoke to her in Italian—and could make nothing of the experiment in either case. The wild old creature seemed to be afraid to look at her.
Ovid himself proved to be just as difficult to fathom, in another way
He certainly answered when his mother spoke to him, but always briefly, and in the same absent tone. He asked no questions, and offered no explanations. The sense of embarrassment, on his side, had produced unaccountable changes. He showed the needful attention to Carmina, with a silent gentleness which presented him in a new character. His customary manner with ailing persons, women as well as men, was rather abrupt: his quick perception hurried him into taking the words out of their mouths (too pleasantly to give offence) when they were describing their symptoms. There he sat now, contemplating his pale little cousin, with a patient attention wonderful to see; listening to the commonplace words which dropped at intervals from her lips, as if—in his state of health, and with the doubtful prospect which it implied—there were no serious interests to occupy his mind.
Mrs. Gallilee could endure it no longer.
If she had not deliberately starved her imagination, and emptied her heart of any tenderness of feeling which it might once have possessed, her son's odd behaviour would have interested instead of perplexing her. As it was, her scientific education left her as completely in the dark, where questions of sentiment were concerned, as if her experience of humanity, in its relation to love, had been experience in the cannibal islands. She decided on leaving her niece to repose, and on taking her son away with her.
"In your present state of health, Ovid," she began, "Carmina must not accept your professional advice."
Something in those words stung Ovid's temper.
"My professional advice?" he repeated. "You talk as if she was seriously ill!"
Carmina's sweet smile stopped him there.
"We don't know what may happen," she said, playfully.
"God forbid that should happen!" He spoke so fervently that the women all looked at him in surprise.
Mrs. Gallilee turned to her niece, and proceeded quietly with what she had to say.
"Ovid is so sadly overworked, my dear, that I actually rejoice in his giving up practice, and going away from us to-morrow. We will leave you for the present with your old friend. Pray ring, if you want anything." She kissed her hand to Carmina, and, beckoning to her son, advanced towards the door.
Teresa looked at her, and suddenly looked away again. Mrs. Gallilee stopped on her way out, at a chiffonier, and altered the arrangement of some of the china on it. The duenna followed on tiptoe—folded her thumb and two middle fingers into the palm of her hand—and, stretching out the forefinger and the little finger, touched Mrs. Gallilee on the back, so softly that she was unaware of it. "The Evil Eye," Teresa whispered to herself in Italian, as she stole back to her place.
Ovid lingered near his cousin: neither of them had seen what Teresa had done. He rose reluctantly to go. Feeling his little attentions gratefully, Carmina checked him with innocent familiarity as he left his chair. "I must thank you," she said, simply; "it seems hard indeed that you, who cure others, should suffer from illness yourself."
Teresa, watching them with interest, came a little nearer.
She could now examine Ovid's face with close and jealous scrutiny. Mrs. Gallilee reminded her son that she was waiting for him. He had some last words yet to say. The duenna drew back from the sofa, still looking at Ovid: she muttered to herself, "Holy Teresa, my patroness, show me that man's soul in his face!" At last, Ovid took his leave. "I shall call and see how you are to-morrow," he said, "before I go." He nodded kindly to Teresa. Instead of being satisfied with that act of courtesy, she wanted something more. "May I shake hands?" she asked. Mrs. Gallilee was a Liberal in politics; never had her principles been tried, as they were tried when she heard those words. Teresa wrung Ovid's hand with tremulous energy—still intent on reading his character in his face. He asked her, smiling, what she saw to interest her. "A good man, I hope," she answered, sternly. Carmina and Ovid were amused. Teresa rebuked them, as if they had been children. "Laugh at some fitter time," she said, "not now."
Descending the stairs, Mrs. Gallilee and Ovid met the footman. "Mr. Mool is in the library, ma'am," the man said.
"Have you anything to do, Ovid, for the next half-hour?" his mother asked.
"Do you wish me to see Mr. Mool? If it's law-business, I am afraid I shall not be of much use."
"The lawyer is here by appointment, with a copy of your late uncle's Will," Mrs. Gallilee answered. "You may have some interest in it. I think you ought to hear it read."
Ovid showed no inclination to adopt this proposal. He asked an idle question. "I heard of their finding the Will—are there any romantic circumstances?"
Mrs. Gallilee surveyed her son with an expression of good-humoured contempt. "What a boy you are, in some things! Have you been reading a novel lately? My dear, when the people in Italy made up their minds, at last, to have the furniture in your uncle's room taken to pieces, they found the Will. It had slipped behind a drawer, in a rotten old cabinet, full of useless papers. Nothing romantic (thank God!), and nothing (as Mr. Mool's letter tells me) that can lead to misunderstandings or disputes."
Ovid's indifference was not to be conquered. He left it to his mother to send him word if he had a legacy "I am not as much interested in it as you are," he explained. "Plenty of money left to you, of course?" He was evidently thinking all the time of something else.
Mrs. Gallilee stopped in the hall, with an air of downright alarm.
"Your mind is in a dreadful state," she said.
"Have you really forgotten what I told you, only yesterday? The Will appoints me Carmina's guardian."
He had plainly forgotten it—he started, when his mother recalled the circumstance. "Curious," he said to himself, "that I was not reminded of it, when I saw Carmina's rooms prepared for her." His mother, anxiously looking at him, observed that his face brightened when he spoke of Carmina. He suddenly changed his mind.
"Make allowances for an overworked man," he said. "You are quite right. I ought to hear the Will read—I am at your service."
Even Mrs. Gallilee now drew the right inference at last. She made no remark. Something seemed to move feebly under her powder and paint. Soft emotion trying to find its way to the surface? Impossible!
As they entered the library together, Miss Minerva returned to the schoolroom. She had lingered on the upper landing, and had heard the conversation between mother and son.
The library at Fairfield Gardens possessed two special attractions, besides the books. It opened into a large conservatory; and it was adorned by an admirable portrait of Mrs. Gallilee, painted by her brother.
Waiting the appearance of the fair original, Mr. Mool looked at the portrait, and then mentally reviewed the history of Mrs. Gallilee's family. What he did next, no person acquainted with the habits of lawyers will be weak enough to believe. Mr. Mool blushed.
Is this the language of exaggeration, describing a human anomaly on the roll of attorneys? The fact shall be left to answer the question. Mr. Mool had made a mistake in his choice of a profession. The result of the mistake was—a shy lawyer.
Attended by such circumstances as these, the history of the family assumes, for the moment, a certain importance. It is connected with a blushing attorney. It will explain what happened on the reading of the Will. And it is sure beforehand of a favourable reception—for it is all about money.
Old Robert Graywell began life as the son of a small farmer. He was generally considered to be rather an eccentric man; but prospered, nevertheless, as a merchant in the city of London. When he retired from business, he possessed a house and estate in the country, and a handsome fortune safely invested in the Funds.
His children were three in number:—his son Robert, and his daughters Maria and Susan.
The death of his wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, was the first serious calamity of his life. He retired to his estate a soured and broken man. Loving husbands are not always, as a necessary consequence, tender fathers. Old Robert's daughters afforded him no consolation on their mother's death. Their anxiety about their mourning dresses so disgusted him that he kept out of their way. No extraordinary interest was connected with their prospects in life: they would be married—and there would be an end of them. As for the son, he had long since placed himself beyond the narrow range of his father's sympathies. In the first place, his refusal to qualify himself for a mercantile career had made it necessary to dispose of the business to strangers. In the second place, young Robert Graywell proved—without any hereditary influence, and in the face of the strongest discouragement—to be a born painter! One of the greatest artists of that day saw the boy's first efforts, and pronounced judgment in these plain words: "What a pity he has not got his bread to earn by his brush!"
On the death of old Robert, his daughters found themselves (to use their own expression) reduced to a trumpery legacy of ten thousand pounds each. Their brother inherited the estate, and the bulk of the property—not because his father cared about founding a family, but because the boy had always been his mother's favourite.
The first of the three children to marry was the eldest sister.
Maria considered herself fortunate in captivating Mr. Vere—a man of old family, with a high sense of what he owed to his name. He had a sufficient income, and he wanted no more. His wife's dowry was settled on herself. When he died, he left her a life-interest in his property amounting to six hundred a year. This, added to the annual proceeds of her own little fortune, made an income of one thousand pounds. The remainder of Mr. Vere's property was left to his only surviving child, Ovid.
With a thousand a year for herself, and with two thousand a year for her son, on his coming of age, the widowed Maria might possibly have been satisfied—but for the extraordinary presumption of her younger sister.
Susan, ranking second in age, ranked second also in beauty; and yet, in the race for a husband, Susan won the prize!
Soon after her sister's marriage, she made a conquest of a Scotch nobleman, possessed of a palace in London, and a palace in Scotland, and a rent-roll of forty thousand pounds. Maria, to use her own expression, never recovered it. From the horrid day when Susan became Lady Northlake, Maria became a serious woman. All her earthly interests centred now in the cultivation of her intellect. She started on that glorious career, which associated her with the march of science. In only a year afterwards—as an example of the progress which a resolute woman can make—she was familiar with zoophyte fossils, and had succeeded in dissecting the nervous system of a bee.
Was there no counter-attraction in her married life?
Very little. Mr. Vere felt no sympathy with his wife's scientific pursuits.
On her husband's death, did she find no consolation in her son? Let her speak for herself. "My son fills my heart. But the school, the university, and the hospital have all in turn taken his education out of my hands. My mind must be filled, as well as my heart." She seized her exquisite instruments, and returned to the nervous system of the bee.
In course of time, Mr. John Gallilee—"drifting about," as he said of himself—drifted across the path of science.
The widowed Mrs. Vere (as exhibited in public) was still a fine woman. Mr. Gallilee admired "that style"; and Mr. Gallilee had fifty thousand pounds. Only a little more, to my lord and my lady, than one year's income. But, invested at four percent, it added an annual two thousand pounds to Mrs. Vere's annual one thousand. Result, three thousand a year, encumbered with Mr. Gallilee. On reflection, Mrs. Vere accepted the encumbrance—and reaped her reward. Susan was no longer distinguished as the sister who had her dresses made in Paris; and Mrs. Gallilee was not now subjected to the indignity of getting a lift in Lady Northlake's carriage.
What was the history of Robert, during this interval of time? In two words, Robert disgraced himself.
Taking possession of his country house, the new squire was invited to contribute towards the expense of a pack of hounds kept by subscription in the neighbourhood, and was advised to make acquaintance with his fellow-sportsmen by giving a hunt-breakfast. He answered very politely; but the fact was not to be concealed—the new man refused to encourage hunting: he thought that noble amusement stupid and cruel. For the same reason, he refused to preserve game. A last mistake was left to make, and he made it. After returning the rector's visit, he failed to appear at church. No person with the smallest knowledge of the English character, as exhibited in an English county, will fail to foresee that Robert's residence on his estate was destined to come, sooner or later, to an untimely end. When he had finished his sketches of the picturesque aspects of his landed property, he disappeared. The estate was not entailed. Old Robert—who had insisted on the minutest formalities and details in providing for his dearly-loved wife—was impenetrably careless about the future of his children. "My fortune has no value now in my eyes," he said to judicious friends; "let them run through it all, if they please. It would do them a deal of good if they were obliged to earn their own living, like better people than themselves." Left free to take his own way, Robert sold the estate merely to get rid of it. With no expensive tastes, except the taste for buying pictures, he became a richer man than ever.
When their brother next communicated with them, Lady Northlake and Mrs. Gallilee heard of him as a voluntary exile in Italy. He was building a studio and a gallery; he was contemplating a series of pictures; and he was a happy man for the first time in his life.
Another interval passed—and the sisters heard of Robert again.
Having already outraged the sense of propriety among his English neighbours, he now degraded himself in the estimation of his family, by marrying a "model." The letter announcing this event declared, with perfect truth, that he had chosen a virtuous woman for his wife. She sat to artists, as any lady might sit to any artist, "for the head only." Her parents gained a bare subsistence by farming their own little morsel of land; they were honest people—and what did brother Robert care for rank? His own grandfather had been a farmer.
Lady Northlake and Mrs. Gallilee felt it due to themselves to hold a consultation, on the subject of their sister-in-law. Was it desirable, in their own social interests, to cast Robert off from that moment?
Susan (previously advised by her kind-hearted husband) leaned to the side of mercy. Robert's letter informed them that he proposed to live, and die, in Italy. If he held to this resolution, his marriage would surely be an endurable misfortune to his relatives in London. "Suppose we write to him," Susan concluded, "and say we are surprised, but we have no doubt he knows best. We offer our congratulations to Mrs. Robert, and our sincere wishes for his happiness."
To Lady Northlake's astonishment, Mrs. Gallilee adopted this indulgent point of view, without a word of protest. She had her reasons—but they were not producible to a relative whose husband had forty thousand a year. Robert had paid her debts.
An income of three thousand pounds, even in these days, represents a handsome competence—provided you don't "owe a duty to society." In Mrs. Gallilee's position, an income of three thousand pounds represented genteel poverty. She was getting into debt again; and she was meditating future designs on her brother's purse. A charming letter to Robert was the result. It ended with, "Do send me a photograph of your lovely wife!" When the poor "model" died, not many years afterwards, leaving one little daughter, Mrs. Gallilee implored her brother to return to England. "Come, dearest Robert, and find consolation and a home, under the roof of your affectionate Maria."
But Robert remained in Italy, and was buried in Italy. At the date of his death, he had three times paid his elder sister's debts. On every occasion when he helped her in this liberal way, she proved her gratitude by anticipating a larger, and a larger, and a larger legacy if she outlived him.
Knowing (as the family lawyer) what sums of money Mrs. Gallilee had extracted from her brother, Mr. Mool also knew that the advances thus made had been considered as representing the legacy, to which she might otherwise have had some sisterly claim. It was his duty to have warned her of this, when she questioned him generally on the subject of the Will; and he had said nothing about it, acting under a most unbecoming motive—in plain words, the motive of fear. From the self-reproachful feeling that now disturbed him, had risen that wonderful blush which made its appearance on Mr. Mool's countenance. He was actually ashamed of himself. After all, is it too much to have suggested that he was a human anomaly on the roll of attorneys?
Mrs. Gallilee made her appearance in the library—and Mr. Mool's pulse accelerated its beat. Mrs. Gallilee's son followed her into the room—and Mr. Mool's pulse steadied itself again. By special arrangement with the lawyer, Ovid had been always kept in ignorance of his mother's affairs. No matter how angry she might be in the course of the next few minutes, she could hardly express her indignation in the presence of her son.
Joyous anticipation has the happiest effect on female beauty. Mrs. Gallilee looked remarkably well, that day. Having rather a round and full face, she wore her hair (coloured from youthful nature) in a fringe across her forehead, balanced on either side by clusters of charming little curls. Her mourning for Robert was worthy of its Parisian origin; it showed to perfect advantage the bloom of her complexion and the whiteness of her neck—also worthy of their Parisian origin. She looked like a portrait of the period of Charles the Second, endowed with life.
"And how do you do, Mr. Mool? Have you been looking at my ferns?"
The ferns were grouped at the entrance, leading from the library to the conservatory. They had certainly not escaped the notice of the lawyer, who possessed a hot-house of his own, and who was an enthusiast in botany. It now occurred to him—if he innocently provoked embarrassing results—that ferns might be turned to useful and harmless account as a means of introducing a change of subject. "Even when she hasn't spoken a word," thought Mr. Mool, consulting his recollections, "I have felt her eyes go through me like a knife."
"Spare us the technicalities, please," Mrs. Gallilee continued, pointing to the documents on the table. "I want to be exactly acquainted with the duties I owe to Carmina. And, by the way, I naturally feel some interest in knowing whether Lady Northlake has any place in the Will."
Mrs. Gallilee never said "my sister," never spoke in the family circle of "Susan." The inexhaustible sense of injury, aroused by that magnificent marriage, asserted itself in keeping her sister at the full distance implied by never forgetting her title.
"The first legacy mentioned in the Will," said Mr. Mool, "is a legacy to Lady Northlake." Mrs. Gallilee's face turned as hard as iron. "One hundred pounds," Mr. Mool continued, "to buy a mourning ring."' Mrs. Gallilee's eyes became eloquent in an instant, and said as if in words, "Thank Heaven!"
"So like your uncle's unpretending good sense," she remarked to her son. "Any other legacy to Lady Northlake would have been simply absurd. Yes, Mr. Mool? Perhaps my name follows?"
Mr. Mool cast a side-look at the ferns. He afterwards described his sensations as reminding him of previous experience in a dentist's chair, at the awful moment when the operator says "Let me look," and has his devilish instrument hidden in his hand. The "situation," to use the language of the stage, was indeed critical enough already. Ovid added to the horror of it by making a feeble joke. "What will you take for your chance, mother?"
Before bad became worse, Mr. Mool summoned the energy of despair. He wisely read the exact words of the Will, this time: "'And I give and bequeath to my sister, Mrs. Maria Gallilee, one hundred pounds."'
Ovid's astonishment could only express itself in action. He started to his feet.
Mr. Mool went on reading. "'Free of legacy duty, to buy a mourning ring—"'
"Impossible!" Ovid broke out.
Mr. Mool finished the sentence. "'And my sister will understand the motive which animates me in making this bequest."' He laid the Will on the table, and ventured to look up. At the same time, Ovid turned to his mother, struck by the words which had been just read, and eager to inquire what their meaning might be.
Happily for themselves, the two men never knew what the preservation of their tranquillity owed to that one moment of delay.
If they had looked at Mrs. Gallilee, when she was first aware of her position in the Will, they might have seen the incarnate Devil self-revealed in a human face. They might have read, in her eyes and on her lips, a warning hardly less fearful than the unearthly writing on the wall, which told the Eastern Monarch of his coming death. "See this woman, and know what I can do with her, when she has repelled her guardian angel, and her soul is left to ME."
But the revelation showed itself, and vanished. Her face was composed again, when her son and her lawyer looked at it. Her voice was under control; her inbred capacity for deceit was ready for action. All those formidable qualities in her nature, which a gentler and wiser training than hers had been might have held in check—by development of preservative influences that lay inert—were now driven back to their lurking-place; leaving only the faintest traces of their momentary appearance on the surface. Her breathing seemed to be oppressed; her eyelids drooped heavily—and that was all.
"Is the room too hot for you?" Ovid asked.
It was a harmless question, but any question annoyed her at that moment. "Nonsense!" she exclaimed irritably.
"The atmosphere of the conservatory is rich in reviving smells," Mr. Mool remarked. "Do I detect, among the delightful perfumes which reach us, the fragrant root-stock of the American fern? If I am wrong, Mrs. Gallilee, may I send you some of the sweet-smelling Maidenhair from my own little hot-house?" He smiled persuasively. The ferns were already justifying his confidence in their peace-making virtues, turned discreetly to account. Those terrible eyes rested on him mercifully. Not even a covert allusion to his silence in the matter of the legacy escaped her. Did the lawyer's artlessly abrupt attempt to change the subject warn her to be on her guard? In any case, she thanked him with the readiest courtesy for his kind offer. Might she trouble him in the meantime to let her see the Will?
She read attentively the concluding words of the clause in which her name appeared—"My sister will understand the motive which animates me in making this bequest"—and then handed back the Will to Mr. Mool. Before Ovid could ask for it, she was ready with a plausible explanation. "When your uncle became a husband and a father," she said, "those claims on him were paramount. He knew that a token of remembrance (the smaller the better) was all I could accept, if I happened to outlive him. Please go on, Mr. Mool."
In one respect, Ovid resembled his late uncle. They both belonged to that high-minded order of men, who are slow to suspect, and therefore easy to deceive. Ovid tenderly took his mother's hand.
"I ought to have known it," he said, "without obliging you to tell me."
Mrs. Gallilee did not blush. Mr. Mool did.
"Go on!" Mrs. Gallilee repeated. Mr. Mool looked at Ovid. "The next name, Mr. Vere, is yours."
"Does my uncle remember me as he has remembered my mother?" asked Ovid.
"Yes, sir—and let me tell you, a very pretty compliment is attached to the bequest. 'It is needless' (your late uncle says) 'to leave any more important proof of remembrance to my nephew. His father has already provided for him; and, with his rare abilities, he will make a second fortune by the exercise of his profession.' Most gratifying, Mrs. Gallilee, is it nor? The next clause provides for the good old housekeeper Teresa, and for her husband if he survives her, in the following terms—"
Mrs. Gallilee was becoming impatient to hear more of herself. "We may, I think, pass over that," she suggested, "and get to the part of it which relates to Carmina and me. Don't think I am impatient; I am only desirous—"
The growling of a dog in the conservatory interrupted her. "That tiresome creature!" she said sharply; "I shall be obliged to get rid of him!"
Mr. Mool volunteered to drive the dog out of the conservatory. Mrs. Gallilee, as irritable as ever, stopped him at the door.
"Don't, Mr. Mool! That dog's temper is not to be trusted. He shows it with Miss Minerva, my governess—growls just in that way whenever he sees her. I dare say he smells you. There! Now he barks! You are only making him worse. Come back!"
Being at the door, gentle Mr. Mool tried the ferns as peace-makers once more. He gathered a leaf, and returned to his place in a state of meek admiration. "The flowering fern!" he said softly.
"A really fine specimen, Mrs. Gallilee, of the Osmunda Regalis. What a world of beauty in this bipinnate frond! One hardly knows where the stalk ends and the leaf begins!"
The dog, a bright little terrier, came trotting into the library He saluted the company briskly with his tail, not excepting Mr. Mool. No growl, or approach to a growl, now escaped him. The manner in which he laid himself down at Mrs. Gallilee's feet completely refuted her aspersion on his temper. Ovid suggested that he might have been provoked by a cat in the conservatory.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mool turned over a page of the Will, and arrived at the clauses relating to Carmina and her guardian.
"It may not be amiss," he began, "to mention, in the first place, that the fortune left to Miss Carmina amounts, in round numbers, to one hundred and thirty thousand pounds. The Trustees—"