HIDE AND SEEK
By Wilkie Collins
THIS STORY IS INSCRIBED,
TOKEN OF ADMIRATION AND AFFECTION,
BY HIS FRIEND,
PREFACE TO THE REVISED EDITION
This novel ranks the third, in order of succession, of the works of fiction which I have produced. The history of its reception, on its first appearance, is soon told.
Unfortunately for me, "Hide And Seek" was originally published in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-four, at the outbreak of the Crimean War. All England felt the absorbing interest of watching that serious national event; and new books—some of them books of far higher pretensions than mine—found the minds of readers in general pre-occupied or indifferent. My own little venture in fiction necessarily felt the adverse influence of the time. The demand among the booksellers was just large enough to exhaust the first edition, and there the sale of this novel, in its original form, terminated.
Since that period, the book has been, in the technical phrase, "out of print." Proposals have reached me, at various times, for its republication; but I have resolutely abstained from availing myself of them for two reasons.
In the first place, I was anxious to wait until "Hide And Seek" could make its re-appearance on a footing of perfect equality with my other works. In the second place, I was resolved to keep it back until it might obtain the advantage of a careful revisal, guided by the light of the author's later experience. The period for the accomplishment of both these objects has now presented itself. "Hide And Seek," in this edition, forms one among the uniform series of my novels, which has begun with "Antonina," "The Dead Secret," and "The Woman In White;" and which will be continued with "Basil," and "The Queen Of Hearts." My project of revisal has, at the same time, been carefully and rigidly executed. I have abridged, and in many cases omitted, several passages in the first edition, which made larger demands upon the reader's patience than I should now think it desirable to venture on if I were writing a new book; and I have, in one important respect, so altered the termination of the story as to make it, I hope, more satisfactory and more complete than it was in its original form.
With such advantages, therefore, as my diligent revision can give it, "Hide And Seek" now appeals, after an interval of seven years, for another hearing. I cannot think it becoming—especially in this age of universal self-assertion—to state the grounds on which I believe my book to be worthy of gaining more attention than it obtained, through accidental circumstances, when it was first published. Neither can I consent to shelter myself under the favorable opinions which many of my brother writers—and notably, the great writer to whom "Hide And Seek" is dedicated—expressed of these pages when I originally wrote them. I leave it to the reader to compare this novel—especially in reference to the conception and delineation of character—with the two novels ("Antonina" and "Basil") which preceded it; and then to decide whether my third attempt in fiction, with all its faults, was, or was not, an advance in Art on my earlier efforts. This is all the favor I ask for a work which I once wrote with anxious care—which I have since corrected with no sparing hand—which I have now finally dismissed to take its second journey through the world of letters as usefully and prosperously as it can.
HARLEY STREET, LONDON, SEPTEMBER, 1861.
OPENING CHAPTER. A CHILD'S SUNDAY.
At a quarter to one o'clock, on a wet Sunday afternoon, in November 1837, Samuel Snoxell, page to Mr. Zachary Thorpe, of Baregrove Square, London, left the area gate with three umbrellas under his arm, to meet his master and mistress at the church door, on the conclusion of morning service. Snoxell had been specially directed by the housemaid to distribute his three umbrellas in the following manner: the new silk umbrella was to be given to Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe; the old silk umbrella was to be handed to Mr. Goodworth, Mrs. Thorpe's father; and the heavy gingham was to be kept by Snoxell himself, for the special protection of "Master Zack," aged six years, and the only child of Mr. Thorpe. Furnished with these instructions, the page set forth on his way to the church.
The morning had been fine for November; but before midday the clouds had gathered, the rain had begun, and the inveterate fog of the season had closed dingily over the wet streets, far and near. The garden in the middle of Baregrove Square—with its close-cut turf, its vacant beds, its bran-new rustic seats, its withered young trees that had not yet grown as high as the railings around them—seemed to be absolutely rotting away in yellow mist and softly-steady rain, and was deserted even by the cats. All blinds were drawn down for the most part over all windows; what light came from the sky came like light seen through dusty glass; the grim brown hue of the brick houses looked more dirtily mournful than ever; the smoke from the chimney-pots was lost mysteriously in deepening superincumbent fog; the muddy gutters gurgled; the heavy rain-drops dripped into empty areas audibly. No object great or small, no out-of-door litter whatever appeared anywhere, to break the dismal uniformity of line and substance in the perspective of the square. No living being moved over the watery pavement, save the solitary Snoxell. He plodded on into a Crescent, and still the awful Sunday solitude spread grimly humid all around him. He next entered a street with some closed shops in it; and here, at last, some consoling signs of human life attracted his attention. He now saw the crossing-sweeper of the district (off duty till church came out) smoking a pipe under the covered way that led to a mews. He detected, through half closed shutters, a chemist's apprentice yawing over a large book. He passed a navigator, an ostler, and two costermongers wandering wearily backwards and forwards before a closed public-house door. He heard the heavy clop clop of thickly-booted feet advancing behind him, and a stern voice growling, "Now then! be off with you, or you'll get locked up!"—and, looking round, saw an orange-girl, guilty of having obstructed an empty pavement by sitting on the curb-stone, driven along before a policeman, who was followed admiringly by a ragged boy gnawing a piece of orange-peel. Having delayed a moment to watch this Sunday procession of three with melancholy curiosity as it moved by him, Snoxell was about to turn the corner of a street which led directly to the church, when a shrill series of cries in a child's voice struck on his ear and stopped his progress immediately.
The page stood stock-still in astonishment for an instant—then pulled the new silk umbrella from under his arm, and turned the corner in a violent hurry. His suspicions had not deceived him. There was Mr. Thorpe himself walking sternly homeward through the rain, before church was over. He led by the hand "Master Zack," who was trotting along under protest, with his hat half off his head, hanging as far back from his father's side as he possibly could, and howling all the time at the utmost pitch of a very powerful pair of lungs.
Mr. Thorpe stopped as he passed the page, and snatched the umbrella out of Snoxell's hand, with unaccustomed impetuity; said sharply, "Go to your mistress, go on to the church;" and then resumed his road home, dragging his son after him faster than ever.
"Snoxy! Snoxy!" screamed Master Zack, turning round towards the page, so that he tripped himself up and fell against his father's legs at every third step; "I've been a naughty boy at church!"
"Ah! you look like it, you do," muttered Snoxell to himself sarcastically, as he went on. With that expression of opinion, the page approached the church portico, and waited sulkily among his fellow servants and their umbrellas for the congregation to come out.
When Mr. Goodworth and Mrs. Thorpe left the church, the old gentleman, regardless of appearances, seized eagerly on the despised gingham umbrella, because it was the largest he could get, and took his daughter home under it in triumph. Mrs. Thorpe was very silent, and sighed dolefully once or twice, when her father's attention wandered from her to the people passing along the street.
"You're fretting about Zack," said the old gentleman, looking round suddenly at his daughter. "Never mind! leave it to me. I'll undertake to beg him off this time."
"It's very disheartening and shocking to find him behaving so," said Mrs. Thorpe, "after the careful way we've brought him up in, too!"
"Nonsense, my love! No, I don't mean that—I beg your pardon. But who can be surprised that a child of six years old should be tired of a sermon forty minutes long by my watch? I was tired of it myself I know, though I wasn't candid enough to show it as the boy did. There! there! we won't begin to argue: I'll beg Zack off this time, and we'll say no more about it."
Mr. Goodworth's announcement of his benevolent intentions towards Zack seemed to have very little effect on Mrs. Thorpe; but she said nothing on that subject or any other during the rest of the dreary walk home, through rain, fog, and mud, to Baregrove Square.
Rooms have their mysterious peculiarities of physiognomy as well as men. There are plenty of rooms, all of much the same size, all furnished in much the same manner, which, nevertheless, differ completely in expression (if such a term may be allowed) one from the other; reflecting the various characters of their inhabitants by such fine varieties of effect in the furniture-features generally common to all, as are often, like the infinitesimal varieties of eyes, noses, and mouths, too intricately minute to be traceable. Now, the parlor of Mr. Thorpe's house was neat, clean, comfortably and sensibly furnished. It was of the average size. It had the usual side-board, dining-table, looking-glass, scroll fender, marble chimney-piece with a clock on it, carpet with a drugget over it, and wire window-blinds to keep people from looking in, characteristic of all respectable London parlors of the middle class. And yet it was an inveterately severe-looking room—a room that seemed as if it had never been convivial, never uproarious, never anything but sternly comfortable and serenely dull—a room which appeared to be as unconscious of acts of mercy, and easy unreasoning over-affectionate forgiveness to offenders of any kind—juvenile or otherwise—as if it had been a cell in Newgate, or a private torturing chamber in the Inquisition. Perhaps Mr. Goodworth felt thus affected by the parlor (especially in November weather) as soon as he entered it—for, although he had promised to beg Zack off, although Mr. Thorpe was sitting alone by the table and accessible to petitions, with a book in his hand, the old gentleman hesitated uneasily for a minute or two, and suffered his daughter to speak first.
"Where is Zack?" asked Mrs. Thorpe, glancing quickly and nervously all round her.
"He is locked up in my dressing-room," answered her husband without taking his eyes off the book.
"In your dressing-room!" echoed Mrs. Thorpe, looking as startled and horrified as if she had received a blow instead of an answer; "in your dressing-room! Good heavens, Zachary! how do you know the child hasn't got at your razors?"
"They are locked up," rejoined Mr. Thorpe, with the mildest reproof in his voice, and the mournfullest self-possession in his manner. "I took care before I left the boy, that he should get at nothing which could do him any injury. He is locked up, and will remain locked up, because"—
"I say, Thorpe! won't you let him off this time?" interrupted Mr. Goodworth, boldly plunging head foremost, with his petition for mercy, into the conversation.
"If you had allowed me to proceed, sir," said Mr. Thorpe, who always called his father-in-law Sir, "I should have simply remarked that, after having enlarged to my son (in such terms, you will observe, as I thought best fitted to his comprehension) on the disgrace to his parents and himself of his behavior this morning, I set him as a task three verses to learn out of the 'Select Bible Texts for Children;' choosing the verses which seemed most likely, if I may trust my own judgment on the point, to impress on him what his behavior ought to be for the future in church. He flatly refused to learn what I told him. It was, of course, quite impossible to allow my authority to be set at defiance by my own child (whose disobedient disposition has always, God knows, been a source of constant trouble and anxiety to me); so I locked him up, and locked up he will remain until he has obeyed me. My dear," (turning to his wife and handing her a key), "I have no objection, if you wish, to your going and trying what you can do towards overcoming the obstinacy of this unhappy child."
Mrs. Thorpe took the key, and went up stairs immediately—went up to do what all women have done, from the time of the first mother; to do what Eve did when Cain was wayward in his infancy, and cried at her breast—in short, went up to coax her child.
Mr. Thorpe, when his wife closed the door, carefully looked down the open page on his knee for the place where he had left off—found it—referred back a moment to the last lines of the preceding leaf—and then went on with his book, not taking the smallest notice of Mr. Goodworth.
"Thorpe!" cried the old gentleman, plunging head-foremost again, into his son-in-law's reading this time instead of his talk, "You may say what you please; but your notion of bringing up Zack is a wrong one altogether."
With the calmest imaginable expression of face, Mr. Thorpe looked up from his book; and, first carefully putting a paper-knife between the leaves, placed it on the table. He then crossed one of his legs over the other, rested an elbow on each arm of his chair, and clasped his hands in front of him. On the wall opposite hung several lithographed portraits of distinguished preachers, in and out of the Establishment—mostly represented as very sturdily-constructed men with bristly hair, fronting the spectator interrogatively and holding thick books in their hands. Upon one of these portraits—the name of the original of which was stated at the foot of the print to be the Reverend Aaron Yollop—Mr. Thorpe now fixed his eyes, with a faint approach to a smile on his face (he never was known to laugh), and with a look and manner which said as plainly as if he had spoken it: "This old man is about to say something improper or absurd to me; but he is my wife's father, it is my duty to bear with him, and therefore I am perfectly resigned."
"It's no use looking in that way, Thorpe," growled the old gentleman; "I'm not to be put down by looks at my time of life. I may have my own opinions I suppose, like other people; and I don't see why I shouldn't express them, especially when they relate to my own daughter's boy. It's very unreasonable of me, I dare say, but I think I ought to have a voice now and then in Zack's bringing up."
Mr. Thorpe bowed respectfully—partly to Mr. Goodworth, partly to the Reverend Aaron Yollop. "I shall always be happy, sir, to listen to any expression of your opinion—"
"My opinion's this," burst out Mr. Goodworth. "You've no business to take Zack to church at all, till he's some years older than he is now. I don't deny that there may be a few children, here and there, at six years old, who are so very patient, and so very—(what's the word for a child that knows a deal more than he has any business to know at his age? Stop! I've got it!—precocious—that's the word)—so very patient and so very precocious that they will sit quiet in the same place for two hours; making believe all the time that they understand every word of the service, whether they really do or not. I don't deny that there may be such children, though I never met with them myself, and should think them all impudent little hypocrites if I did! But Zack isn't one of that sort: Zack's a genuine child (God bless him)! Zack—"
"Do I understand you, my dear sir," interposed Mr. Thorpe, sorrowfully sarcastic, "to be praising the conduct of my son in disturbing the congregation, and obliging me to take him out of church?"
"Nothing of the sort," retorted the old gentleman; "I'm not praising Zack's conduct, but I am blaming yours. Here it is in plain words:—You keep on cramming church down his throat; and he keeps on puking at it as if it was physic, because he don't know any better, and can't know any better at his age. Is that the way to make him take kindly to religious teaching? I know as well as you do, that he roared like a young Turk at the sermon. And pray what was the subject of the sermon? Justification by Faith. Do you mean to tell me that he, or any other child at his time of life, could understand anything of such a subject as that; or get an atom of good out of it? You can't—you know you can't! I say again, it's no use taking him to church yet; and what's more, it's worse than no use, for you only associate his first ideas of religious instruction with everything in the way of restraint and discipline and punishment that can be most irksome to him. There! that's my opinion, and I should like to hear what you've got to say against it?"
"Latitudinarianism," said Mr. Thorpe, looking and speaking straight at the portrait of the Reverend Aaron Yollop.
"You can't fob me off with long words, which I don't understand, and which I don't believe you can find in Johnson's Dictionary," continued Mr. Goodworth doggedly. "You would do much better to take my advice, and let Zack go to church, for the present, at his mother's knees. Let his Morning Service be about ten minutes long; let your wife tell him, out of the New Testament, about Our Savior's goodness and gentleness to little children; and then let her teach him, from the Sermon on the Mount, to be loving and truthful and forbearing and forgiving, for Our Savior's sake. If such precepts as those are enforced—as they may be in one way or another—by examples drawn from his own daily life; from people around him; from what he meets with and notices and asks about, out of doors and in—mark my words, he'll take kindly to his religious instruction. I've seen that in other children: I've seen it in my own children, who were all brought up so. Of course, you don't agree with me! Of course you've got another objection all ready to bowl me down with?"
"Rationalism," said Mr. Thorpe, still looking steadily at the lithographed portrait of the Reverend Aaron Yollop.
"Well, your objection's a short one this time at any rate; and that's a blessing!" said the old gentleman rather irritably. "Rationalism—eh? I understand that ism, I rather suspect, better than the other. It means in plain English, that you think I'm wrong in only wanting to give religious instruction the same chance with Zack which you let all other kinds of instruction have—the chance of becoming useful by being first made attractive. You can't get him to learn to read by telling him that it will improve his mind—but you can by getting him to look at a picture book. You can't get him to drink senna and salts by reasoning with him about its doing him good—but you can by promising him a lump of sugar to take after it. You admit this sort of principle so far, because you're obliged; but the moment anybody wants (in a spirit of perfect reverence and desire to do good) to extend it to higher things, you purse up your lips, shake your head, and talk about Rationalism—as if that was an answer! Well! well! it's no use talking—go your own way—I wash my hands of the business altogether. But now I am at it I'll just say this one thing more before I've done:—your way of punishing the boy for his behavior in church is, in my opinion, about as bad and dangerous a one as could possibly be devised. Why not give him a thrashing, if you must punish the miserable little urchin for what's his misfortune as much as his fault? Why not stop his pudding, or something of that sort? Here you are associating verses in the Bible, in his mind, with the idea of punishment and being locked up in the cold! You may make him get his text by heart, I dare say, by fairly tiring him out; but I tell you what I'm afraid you'll make him learn too, if you don't mind—you'll make him learn to dislike the Bible as much as other boys dislike the birch-rod!"
"Sir," cried Mr. Thorpe, turning suddenly round, and severely confronting Mr. Goodworth, "once for all, I must most respectfully insist on being spared for the future any open profanities in conversation, even from your lips. All my regard and affection for you, as Mrs. Thorpe's father, shall not prevent me from solemnly recording my abhorrence of such awful infidelity as I believe to be involved in the words you have just spoken! My religious convictions recoil—"
"Stop, sir!" said Mr. Goodworth, seriously and sternly.
Mr. Thorpe obeyed at once. The old gentleman's manner was generally much more remarkable for heartiness than for dignity; but it altered completely while he now spoke. As he struck his hand on the table, and rose from his chair, there was something in his look which it was not wise to disregard.
"Mr. Thorpe," he went on, more calmly, but very decidedly, "I refrain from telling you what my opinion is of the 'respect' and 'affection' which have allowed you to rebuke me in such terms as you have chosen. I merely desire to say that I shall never need a second reproof of the same kind at your hands; for I shall never again speak to you on the subject of my grandson's education. If, in consideration of this assurance, you will now permit me, in my turn—not to rebuke—but to offer you one word of advice, I would recommend you not to be too ready in future, lightly and cruelly to accuse a man of infidelity because his religious opinions happen to differ on some subjects from yours. To infer a serious motive for your opponent's convictions, however wrong you may think them, can do you no harm: to infer a scoffing motive can do him no good. We will say nothing more about this, if you please. Let us shake hands, and never again revive a subject about which we disagree too widely ever to discuss it with advantage."
At this moment the servant came in with lunch. Mr. Goodworth poured himself out a glass of sherry, made a remark on the weather, and soon resumed his cheerful, everyday manner. But he did not forget the pledge that he had given to Mr. Thorpe. From that time forth, he never by word or deed interfered again in his grandson's education.
While the theory of Mr. Thorpe's system of juvenile instruction was being discussed in the free air of the parlor, the practical working of that theory, so far as regarded the case of Master Zack, was being exemplified in anything but a satisfactory manner, in the prison-region of the dressing-room.
While she ascended the first flight of stairs, Mrs. Thorpe's ears informed her that her son was firing off one uninterrupted volley of kicks against the door of his place of confinement. As this was by no means an unusual circumstance, whenever the boy happened to be locked up for bad behavior, she felt distressed, but not at all surprised at what she heard; and went into the drawing-room, on her way up stairs, to deposit her Bible and Prayerbook (kept in a morocco case, with gold clasps) on the little side-table, upon which they were always placed during week-days. Possibly, she was so much agitated that her hand trembled; possibly, she was in too great a hurry; possibly, the household imp who rules the brittle destinies of domestic glass and china, had marked her out as his destroying angel for that day; but however it was, in placing the morocco case on the table, she knocked down and broke an ornament standing near it—a little ivory model of a church steeple in the florid style, enshrined in a glass case. Picking up the fragments, and mourning over the catastrophe, occupied some little time, more than she was aware of, before she at last left the drawing-room, to proceed on her way to the upper regions.
As she laid her hand on the banisters, it struck her suddenly and significantly, that the noises in the dressing-room above had entirely ceased.
The instant she satisfied herself of this, her maternal imagination, uninfluenced by what Mr. Thorpe had said below stairs, conjured up an appalling vision of Zack before his father's looking-glass, with his chin well lathered, and a bare razor at his naked throat. The child had indeed a singular aptitude for amusing himself with purely adult occupations. Having once been incautiously taken into church by his nurse, to see a female friend of hers married, Zack had, the very next day, insisted on solemnizing the nuptial ceremony from recollection, before a bride and bridegroom of his own age, selected from his playfellows in the garden of the square. Another time, when the gardener had incautiously left his lighted pipe on a bench while he went to gather a flower for one of the local nursery-maids, whom he was accustomed to favor horticulturally in this way, Zack contrived, undetected, to take three greedy whiffs of pigtail in close succession; was discovered reeling about the grass like a little drunkard; and had to be smuggled home (deadly pale, and bathed in cold perspiration) to recover, out of his mother's sight, in the congenial gloom of the back kitchen. Although the precise infantine achievements here cited were unknown to Mrs. Thorpe, there were plenty more, like them, which she had discovered; and the warning remembrance of which now hurried the poor lady up the second flight of stairs in a state of breathless agitation and alarm.
Zack, however, had not got at the razors; for they were all locked up, as Mr. Thorpe had declared. But he had, nevertheless, discovered in the dressing-room a means of perpetrating domestic mischief, which his father had never thought of providing against. Finding that kicking, screaming, stamping, sobbing, and knocking down chairs, were quite powerless as methods of enforcing his liberation, he suddenly suspended his proceedings; looked all round the room; observed the cock which supplied his father's bath with water; and instantly resolved to flood the house. He had set the water going in the bath, had filled it to the brim, and was anxiously waiting, perched up on a chair, to see it overflow—when his mother unlocked the dressing-room door, and entered the room.
"Oh, you naughty, wicked, shocking child!" cried Mrs. Thorpe, horrified at what she beheld, but instantly stopping the threatened deluge from motives of precaution connected with the drawing-room ceiling. "Oh, Zack! Zack! what will you do next? What would your papa say if he heard of this? You wicked, wicked, wicked child, I'm ashamed to look at you!"
And, in very truth, Zack offered at that moment a sufficiently disheartening spectacle for a mother's eyes to dwell on. There stood the young imp, sturdy and upright in his chair, wriggling his shoulders in and out of his frock, and holding his hands behind him in unconscious imitation of the favorite action of Napoleon the Great. His light hair was all rumpled down over his forehead; his lips were swelled; his nose was red; and from his bright blue eyes Rebellion looked out frankly mischievous, amid a surrounding halo of dirt and tears, rubbed circular by his knuckles. After gazing on her son in mute despair for a minute or so, Mrs. Thorpe took the only course that was immediately open to her—or, in other words, took the child off the chair.
"Have you learnt your lesson, you wicked boy?" she asked.
"No, I havn't," answered Zack, resolutely.
"Then come to the table with me: your papa's waiting to hear you. Come here and learn your lesson directly," said Mrs. Thorpe, leading the way to the table.
"I won't!" rejoined Zack, emphasizing the refusal by laying tight hold of the wet sides of the bath with both hands.
It was lucky for this rebel of six years old that he addressed those two words to his mother only. If his nurse had heard them, she would instantly have employed that old-established resource in all educational difficulties, familiarly known to persons of her condition under the appellation of "a smack on the head;" if Mr. Thorpe had heard them, the boy would have been sternly torn away, bound to the back of a chair, and placed ignominiously with his chin against the table; if Mr. Goodworth had heard them, the probability is that he would instantly have lost his temper, and soused his grandson head over ears in the bath. Not one of these ideas occurred to Mrs. Thorpe, who possessed no ideas. But she had certain substitutes which were infinitely more useful in the present emergency: she had instincts.
"Look up at me, Zack," she said, returning to the bath, and sitting in the chair by its side; "I want to say something to you."
The boy obeyed directly. His mother opened her lips, stopped suddenly, said a few words, stopped again, hesitated—and then ended her first sentence of admonition in the most ridiculous manner, by snatching at the nearest towel, and bearing Zack off to the wash-hand basin.
The plain fact was, that Mrs. Thorpe was secretly vain of her child. She had long since, poor woman, forced down the strong strait-waistcoats of prudery and restraint over every other moral weakness but this—of all vanities the most beautiful; of all human failings surely the most pure! Yes, she was proud of Zack! The dear, naughty, handsome, church-disturbing, door-kicking, house-flooding Zack! If he had been a plain-featured boy, she could have gone on more sternly with her admonition: but to look coolly on his handsome face, made ugly by dirt, tears, and rumpled hair; to speak to him in that state, while soap, water, brush and towel, were all within reach, was more than the mother (or the woman either, for that matter) had the self-denial to do! So, before it had well begun, the maternal lecture ended impotently in the wash-hand basin.
When the boy had been smartened and brushed up, Mrs. Thorpe took him on her lap; and suppressing a strong desire to kiss him on both his round, shining cheeks, said these words:—
"I want you to learn your lesson, because you will please me by obeying your papa. I have always been kind to you,—now I want you to be kind to me."
For the first time, Zack hung down his head, and seemed unprepared with an answer. Mrs. Thorpe knew by experience what this symptom meant. "I think you are beginning to be sorry for what you have done, and are going to be a good boy," she said. "If you are, I know you will give me a kiss." Zack hesitated again—then suddenly reached up, and gave his mother a hearty and loud-sounding kiss on the tip of her chin. "And now you will learn your lesson?" continued Mrs. Thorpe. "I have always tried to make you happy, and I am sure you are ready, by this time, to try and make me happy—are you not, Zack?"
"Yes, I am," said Zack manfully. His mother took him at once to the table, on which the "Select Bible Texts for Children" lay open, and tried to lift him into a chair "No!" said the boy, resisting and shaking his head resolutely; "I want to learn my lesson on your lap."
Mrs. Thorpe humored him immediately. She was not a handsome, not even a pretty woman; and the cold atmosphere of the dressing-room by no means improved her personal appearance. But, notwithstanding this, she looked absolutely attractive and interesting at the present moment, as she sat with Zack in her arms, bending over him while he studied his three verses in the "Bible Texts." Women who have been ill-used by nature have this great advantage over men in the same predicament—wherever there is a child present, they have a means ready at hand, which they can all employ alike, for hiding their personal deficiencies. Who ever saw an awkward woman look awkward with a baby in her arms? Who ever saw an ugly woman look ugly when she was kissing a child?
Zack, who was a remarkably quick boy when he chose to exert himself, got his lesson by heart in so short a time that his mother insisted on hearing him twice over, before she could satisfy herself that he was really perfect enough to appear in his father's presence. The second trial decided her doubts, and she took him in triumph down stairs.
Mr. Thorpe was reading intently, Mr. Goodworth was thinking profoundly, the rain was falling inveterately, the fog was thickening dirtily, and the austerity of the severe-looking parlor was hardening apace into its most adamantine Sunday grimness, as Zack was brought to say his lesson at his father's knees. He got through it perfectly again; but his childish manner, during this third trial, altered from frankness to distrustfulness; and he looked much oftener, while he said his task, at Mr. Goodworth than at his father. When the texts had been repeated, Mr. Thorpe just said to his wife, before resuming his book—"You may tell the nurse, my dear, to get Zachary's dinner ready for him—though he doesn't deserve it for behaving so badly about learning his lesson."
"Please, grandpapa, may I look at the picture-book you brought for me last night, after I was in bed?" said Zack, addressing Mr. Goodworth, and evidently feeling that he was entitled to his reward now he had suffered his punishment.
"Certainly not on a Sunday," interposed Mr. Thorpe; "your grandpapa's book is not a book for Sundays."
Mr. Goodworth started, and seemed about to speak; but recollecting what he had said to Mr. Thorpe, contented himself with poking the fire. The book in question was a certain romance, entitled "Jack and the Bean Stalk," adorned with illustrations in the freest style of water-color art.
"If you want to look at picture-books, you know what books you may have to-day; and your mamma will get them for you when she comes in again," continued Mr. Thorpe.
The works now referred to were, an old copy of the "Pilgrim's Progress" containing four small prints of the period of the last century; and a "Life of Moses," illustrated by severe German outlines in the manner of the modern school. Zack knew well enough what books his father meant, and exhibited his appreciation of them by again beginning to wriggle his shoulders in and out of his frock. He had evidently had more than enough already of the "Pilgrim's Progress" and the "Life of Moses."
Mr. Thorpe said nothing more, and returned to his reading. Mr. Goodworth put his hands in his pockets, yawned disconsolately, and looked, with a languidly satirical expression in his eyes, to see what his grandson would do next. If the thought passing through the old gentleman's mind at that moment had been put into words, it would have been exactly expressed in the following sentence:—"You miserable little boy! When I was your age, how I should have kicked at all this!"
Zack was not long in finding a new resource. He spied Mr. Goodworth's cane standing in a corner; and, instantly getting astride of it, prepared to amuse himself with a little imaginary horse-exercise up and down the room. He had just started at a gentle canter, when his father called out, "Zachary!" and brought the boy to a stand-still directly.
"Put back the stick where you took it from," said Mr. Thorpe; "you mustn't do that on Sunday. If you want to move about, you can walk up and down the room."
Zack paused, debating for an instant whether he should disobey or burst out crying.
"Put back the stick," repeated Mr. Thorpe.
Zack remembered the dressing-room and the "Select Bible Texts for Children," and wisely obeyed. He was by this time completely crushed down into as rigid a state of Sunday discipline as his father could desire. After depositing the stick in the corner, he slowly walked up to Mr. Goodworth, with a comical expression of amazement and disgust in his chubby face, and meekly laid down his head on his grandfather's knee.
"Never say die, Zack," said the kind old gentleman, rising and taking the boy in his arms. "While nurse is getting your dinner ready, let's look out of window, and see if it's going to clear up."
Mr. Thorpe raised his head disapprovingly from his book, but said nothing this time.
"Ah, rain! rain! rain!" muttered Mr. Goodworth, staring desperately out at the miserable prospect, while Zack amused himself by rubbing his nose vacantly backwards and forwards against a pane of glass. "Rain! rain! Nothing but rain and fog in November. Hold up, Zack! Ding-dong, ding-dong; there go the bells for afternoon church! I wonder whether it will be fine to-morrow? Think of the pudding, my boy!" whispered the old gentleman with a benevolent remembrance of the consolation which that thought had often afforded to him, when he was a child himself.
"Yes," said Zack, acknowledging the pudding suggestion, but declining to profit by it. "And, please, when I've had my dinner, will somebody put me to bed?"
"Put you to bed!" exclaimed Mr. Goodworth. "Why, bless the boy! what's come to him now? He used always to be wanting to stop up."
"I want to go to bed, and get to to-morrow, and have my picture-book," was the weary and whimpering answer.
"I'll be hanged, if I don't want to go to bed too!" soliloquized the old gentleman under his breath, "and get to to-morrow, and have my 'Times' at breakfast. I'm as bad as Zack, every bit!"
"Grandpapa," continued the child, more wearily than before, "I want to whisper something in your ear."
Mr. Goodworth bent down a little. Zack looked round cunningly towards his father—then putting his mouth close to his grandfather's ear, communicated the conclusion at which he had arrived, after the events of the day, in these words—
"I say, granpapa, I hate Sunday!"
BOOK I. THE HIDING.
CHAPTER I. A NEW NEIGHBORHOOD, AND A STRANGE CHARACTER.
At the period when the episode just related occurred in the life of Mr. Zachary Thorpe the younger—that is to say, in the year 1837—Baregrove Square was the farthest square from the city, and the nearest to the country, of any then existing in the north-western suburb of London. But, by the time fourteen years more had elapsed—that is to say, in the year 1851—Baregrove Square had lost its distinctive character altogether; other squares had filched from it those last remnants of healthy rustic flavor from which its good name had been derived; other streets, crescents, rows, and villa-residences had forced themselves pitilessly between the old suburb and the country, and had suspended for ever the once neighborly relations between the pavement of Baregrove Square and the pathways of the pleasant fields.
Alexander's armies were great makers of conquests; and Napoleon's armies were great makers of conquests; but the modern Guerilla regiments of the hod, the trowel, and the brick-kiln, are the greatest conquerors of all; for they hold the longest the soil that they have once possessed. How mighty the devastation which follows in the wake of these tremendous aggressors, as they march through the kingdom of nature, triumphantly bricklaying beauty wherever they go! What dismantled castle, with the enemy's flag flying over its crumbling walls, ever looked so utterly forlorn as a poor field-fortress of nature, imprisoned on all sides by the walled camp of the enemy, and degraded by a hostile banner of pole and board, with the conqueror's device inscribed on it—"THIS GROUND TO BE LET ON BUILDING LEASES?" What is the historical spectacle of Marius sitting among the ruins of Carthage, but a trumpery theatrical set-scene, compared with the mournful modern sight of the last tree left standing, on the last few feet of grass left growing, amid the greenly-festering stucco of a finished Paradise Row, or the naked scaffolding poles of a half-completed Prospect Place? Oh, gritty-natured Guerilla regiments of the hod, the trowel, and the brick-kiln! the town-pilgrim of nature, when he wanders out at fall of day into the domains which you have spared for a little while, hears strange things said of you in secret, as he duteously interprets the old, primeval language of the leaves; as he listens to the death-doomed trees, still whispering mournfully around him the last notes of their ancient even-song!
But what avails the voice of lamentation? What new neighborhood ever stopped on its way into the country, to hearken to the passive remonstrance of the fields, or to bow to the indignation of outraged admirers of the picturesque? Never was suburb more impervious to any faint influences of this sort, than that especial suburb which grew up between Baregrove Square and the country; removing a walk among the hedge-rows a mile off from the resident families, with a ruthless rapidity at which sufferers on all sides stared aghast. First stories were built, and mortgaged by the enterprising proprietors to get money enough to go on with the second; old speculators failed and were succeeded by new; foundations sank from bad digging; walls were blown down in high winds from hasty building; bricks were called for in such quantities, and seized on in such haste, half-baked from the kilns, that they set the carts on fire, and had to be cooled in pails of water before they could be erected into walls—and still the new suburb defied all accidents, and grew irrepressibly into a little town of houses, ready to be let and lived in, from the one end to the other.
The new neighborhood offered house-accommodation—accepted at the higher prices as yet only to a small extent—to three distinct subdivisions of the great middle class of our British population. Rents and premises were adapted, in a steeply descending scale, to the means of the middle classes with large incomes, of the middle classes with moderate incomes, and of the middle classes with small incomes. The abodes for the large incomes were called "mansions," and were fortified strongly against the rest of the suburb by being all built in one wide row, shut in at either end by ornamental gates, and called a "park." The unspeakable desolation of aspect common to the whole suburb, was in a high state of perfection in this part of it. Irreverent street noises fainted dead away on the threshold of the ornamental gates, at the sight of the hermit lodge-keeper. The cry of the costermonger and the screech of the vagabond London boy were banished out of hearing. Even the regular tradesman's time-honored business noises at customers' doors, seemed as if they ought to have been relinquished here. The frantic falsetto of the milkman, the crash of the furious butcher's cart over the never-to-be pulverized stones of the new road through the "park," always sounded profanely to the passing stranger, in the spick-and-span stillness of this Paradise of the large incomes.
The hapless small incomes had the very worst end of the whole locality entirely to themselves, and absorbed all the noises and nuisances, just as the large incomes absorbed all the tranquillities and luxuries of suburban existence. Here were the dreary limits at which architectural invention stopped in despair. Each house in this poor man's purgatory was, indeed, and in awful literalness, a brick box with a slate top to it. Every hole drilled in these boxes, whether door-hole or window-hole, was always overflowing with children. They often mustered by forties and fifties in one street, and were the great pervading feature of the quarter. In the world of the large incomes, young life sprang up like a garden fountain, artificially playing only at stated periods in the sunshine. In the world of the small incomes, young life flowed out turbulently into the street, like an exhaustless kennel-deluge, in all weathers. Next to the children of the inhabitants, in visible numerical importance, came the shirts and petticoats, and miscellaneous linen of the inhabitants; fluttering out to dry publicly on certain days of the week, and enlivening the treeless little gardens where they hung, with lightsome avenues of pinafores, and solemn-spreading foliage of stout Welsh flannel. Here that absorbing passion for oranges (especially active when the fruit is half ripe, and the weather is bitter cold), which distinguishes the city English girl of the lower orders, flourished in its finest development; and here, also, the poisonous fumes of the holyday shop-boy's bad cigar told all resident nostrils when it was Sunday, as plainly as the church bells could tell it to all resident ears. The one permanent rarity in this neighborhood, on week days, was to discover a male inhabitant in any part of it, between the hours of nine in the morning and six in the evening; the one sorrowful sight which never varied, was to see that every woman, even to the youngest, looked more or less unhappy, often care-stricken, while youth was still in the first bud; oftener child-stricken before maturity was yet in the full bloom.
As for the great central portion of the suburb—or, in other words, the locality of the moderate incomes—it reflected exactly the lives of those who inhabited it, by presenting no distinctive character of its own at all.
In one part, the better order of houses imitated as pompously as they could, the architectural grandeur of the mansions owned by the large incomes; in another, the worst order of houses respectably, but narrowly, escaped a general resemblance to the brick boxes of the small incomes. In some places, the "park" influences vindicated their existence superbly in the persons of isolated ladies who, not having a carriage to go out in for an airing, exhibited the next best thing, a footman to walk behind them: and so got a pedestrian airing genteelly in that way. In other places, the obtrusive spirit of the brick boxes rode about, thinly disguised, in children's carriages, drawn by nursery-maids; or fluttered aloft, delicately discernible at angles of view, in the shape of a lace pocket-handkerchief or a fine-worked chemisette, drying modestly at home in retired corners of back gardens. Generally, however, the hostile influences of the large incomes and the small mingled together on the neutral ground of the moderate incomes; turning it into the dullest, the dreariest, the most oppressively conventional division of the whole suburb. It was just that sort of place where the thoughtful man looking about him mournfully at the locality, and physiologically observing the inhabitants, would be prone to stop suddenly, and ask himself one plain, but terrible question: "Do these people ever manage to get any real enjoyment out of their lives, from one year's end to another?"
To the looker-on at the system of life prevailing among the moderate incomes in England, the sort of existence which that system embodies seems in some aspects to be without a parallel in any other part of the civilized world. Is it not obviously true that, while the upper classes and the lower classes of English society have each their own characteristic recreations for leisure hours, adapted equally to their means and to their tastes, the middle classes, in general, have (to expose the sad reality) nothing of the sort? To take an example from those eating and drinking recreations which absorb so large a portion of existence:—If the rich proprietors of the "mansions" in the "park" could give their grand dinners, and be as prodigal as they pleased with their first-rate champagne, and their rare gastronomic delicacies; the poor tenants of the brick boxes could just as easily enjoy their tea-garden conversazione, and be just as happily and hospitably prodigal, in turn, with their porter-pot, their teapot, their plate of bread-and-butter, and their dish of shrimps. On either side, these representatives of two pecuniary extremes in society, looked for what recreations they wanted with their own eyes, pursued those recreations within their own limits, and enjoyed themselves unreservedly in consequence. Not so with the moderate incomes: they, in their social moments, shrank absurdly far from the poor people's porter and shrimps; crawled contemptibly near to the rich people's rare wines and luxurious dishes; exposed their poverty in imitation by chemical champagne from second-rate wine merchants, by flabby salads and fetid oyster-patties from second-rate pastry-cooks; were, in no one of their festive arrangements, true to their incomes, to their order, or to themselves; and, in very truth, for all these reasons and many more, got no real enjoyment out of their lives, from one year's end to another.
On the outskirts of that part of the new suburb appropriated to these unhappy middle classes with moderate incomes, there lived a gentleman (by name Mr. Valentine Blyth) whose life offered as strong a practical contradiction as it is possible to imagine to the lives of his neighbors.
He was by profession an artist—an artist in spite of circumstances. Neither his father, nor his mother, nor any relation of theirs, on either side, had ever practiced the Art of Painting, or had ever derived any special pleasure from the contemplation of pictures. They were all respectable commercial people of the steady fund-holding old school, who lived exclusively within their own circle; and had never so much as spoken to a live artist or author in the whole course of their lives. The City-world in which Valentine's boyhood was passed, was as destitute of art influences of any kind as if it had been situated on the coast of Greenland; and yet, to the astonishment of everybody, he was always drawing and painting, in his own rude way, at every leisure hour. His father was, as might be expected, seriously disappointed and amazed at the strange direction taken by the boy's inclinations. No one (including Valentine himself) could ever trace them back to any recognizable source; but everyone could observe plainly enough that there was no hope of successfully opposing them by fair means of any kind. Seeing this, old Mr. Blyth, like a wise man, at last made a virtue of necessity; and, giving way to his son, entered him, under strong commercial protest, as a student in the Schools of the Royal Academy.
Here Valentine remained, working industriously, until his twenty-first birthday. On that occasion, Mr. Blyth had a little serious talk with him about his prospects in life. In the course of this conversation, the young man was informed that a rich merchant-uncle was ready to take him into partnership; and that his father was equally ready to start him in business with his whole share, as one of three children, in the comfortable inheritance acquired for the family by the well-known City house of Blyth and Company. If Valentine consented to this arrangement, his fortune was secured, and he might ride in his carriage before he was thirty. If, on the other hand, he really chose to fling away a fortune, he should not be pinched for means to carry on his studies as a painter. The interest of his inheritance on his father's death, should be paid quarterly to him during his father's lifetime: the annual independence thus secured to the young artist, under any circumstances, being calculated as amounting to a little over four hundred pounds a year.
Valentine was not deficient in gratitude. He took a day to consider what he should do, though his mind was quite made up about his choice beforehand; and then persisted in his first determination; throwing away the present certainty of becoming a wealthy man, for the sake of the future chance of turning out a great painter.
If he had really possessed genius, there would have been nothing very remarkable in this part of his history, so far; but having nothing of the kind, holding not the smallest spark of the great creative fire in his whole mental composition, surely there was something very discouraging to contemplate, in the spectacle of a man resolutely determining, in spite of adverse home circumstances and strong home temptation, to abandon all those paths in life, along which he might have walked fairly abreast with his fellows, for the one path in which he was predestinated by Nature to be always left behind by the way. Do the announcing angels, whose mission it is to whisper of greatness to great spirits, ever catch the infection of fallibility from their intercourse with mortals? Do the voices which said truly to Shakespeare, to Raphael, and to Mozart, in their youth-time,—You are chosen to be gods in this world—ever speak wrongly to souls which they are not ordained to approach? It may be so. There are men enough in all countries whose lives would seem to prove it—whose deaths have not contradicted it.
But even to victims such as these, there are pleasant resting-places on the thorny way, and flashes of sunlight now and then, to make the cloudy prospect beautiful, though only for a little while. It is not all misfortune and disappointment to the man who is mentally unworthy of a great intellectual vocation, so long as he is morally worthy of it; so long as he can pursue it honestly, patiently, and affectionately, for its own dear sake. Let him work, though ever so obscurely, in this spirit towards his labor, and he shall find the labor itself its own exceeding great reward. In that reward lives the divine consolation, which, though Fame turn her back on him contemptuously, and Affluence pass over unpitying to the other side of the way, shall still pour oil upon all his wounds, and take him quietly and tenderly to the hard journey's end. To this one exhaustless solace, which the work, no matter of what degree, can yield always to earnest workers, the man who has succeeded, and the man who has failed, can turn alike, as to a common mother—the one, for refuge from mean envy and slanderous hatred, from all the sorest evils which even the thriving child of Fame is heir to; the other, from neglect, from ridicule, from defeat, from all the petty tyrannies which the pining bondman of Obscurity is fated to undergo.
Thus it was with Valentine. He had sacrificed a fortune to his Art; and his Art—in the world's eye at least—had given to him nothing in return. Friends and relatives who had not scrupled, on being made acquainted with his choice of a vocation, to call it in question, and thereby to commit that worst and most universal of all human impertinences, which consists of telling a man to his face, by the plainest possible inference, that others are better able than he is himself to judge what calling in life is fittest and worthiest for him—friends and relatives who thus upbraided Valentine for his refusal to accept the partnership in his uncle's house, affected, on discovering that he made no public progress whatever in Art, to believe that he was simply an idle fellow, who knew that his father's liberality placed him beyond the necessity of working for his bread, and who had taken up the pursuit of painting as a mere amateur amusement to occupy his leisure hours. To a man who labored like poor Blyth, with the steadiest industry and the highest aspirations, such whispered calumnies as these were of all mortifications the most cruel, of all earthly insults the hardest to bear.
Still he worked on patiently, never losing faith or hope, because he never lost the love of his Art, or the enjoyment of pursuing it, irrespective of results, however disheartening. Like most other men of his slight intellectual caliber, the works he produced were various, if nothing else. He tried the florid style, and the severe style; he was by turns devotional, allegorical, historical, sentimental, humorous. At one time, he abandoned figure-painting altogether, and took to landscape; now producing conventional studies from Nature,—and now, again, reveling in poetical compositions, which might have hung undetected in many a collection as doubtful specimens of Berghem or Claude.
But whatever department of painting Valentine tried to excel in, the same unhappy destiny seemed always in reserve for each completed effort. For years and years his pictures pleaded hard for admission at the Academy doors, and were invariably (and not unfairly, it must be confessed) refused even the worst places on the walls of the Exhibition rooms. Season after season he still bravely struggled on, never depressed, never hopeless while he was before his easel, until at last the day of reward—how long and painfully wrought for!—actually arrived. A small picture of a very insignificant subject—being only a kitchen "interior," with a sleek cat on a dresser, stealing milk from the tea-tray during the servant's absence—was benevolently marked "doubtful" by the Hanging Committee; was thereupon kept in reserve, in case it might happen to fit any forgotten place near the floor—did fit such a place—and was really hung up, as Mr. Blyth's little unit of a contribution to the one thousand and odd works exhibited to the public, that year, by the Royal Academy.
But Valentine's triumph did not end here. His picture of the treacherous cat stealing the household milk—entitled, by way of appealing jocosely to the strong Protestant interest, "The Jesuit in the Family,"—was really sold to an Art-Union prize-holder for ten pounds. Once furnished with a bank note won by his own brush, Valentine indulged in the most extravagant anticipations of future celebrity and future wealth; and proved, recklessly enough, that he believed as firmly as any other visionary in the wildest dreams of his own imagination, by marrying, and setting up an establishment, on the strength of the success which had been achieved by "The Jesuit in the Family."
He had been for some time past engaged to the lady who had now become Mrs. Valentine Blyth. She was the youngest of eight sisters, who formed part of the family of a poor engraver, and who, in the absence of any mere money qualifications, were all rich alike in the ownership of most magnificent Christian names. Mrs. Blyth was called Lavinia-Ada; and hers was by far the humblest name to be found among the whole sisterhood. Valentine's relations all objected strongly to this match, not only on account of the bride's poverty, but for another and a very serious reason, which events soon proved to be but too well founded.
Lavinia had suffered long and severely, as a child, from a bad spinal malady. Constant attention, and such medical assistance as her father could afford to employ, had, it was said, successfully combated the disorder; and the girl grew up, prettier than any of her sisters, and apparently almost as strong as the healthiest of them. Old Mr. Blyth, however, on hearing that his son was now just as determined to become a married man as he had formerly been to become a painter, thought it advisable to make certain inquiries about the young lady's constitution; and addressed them, with characteristic caution, to the family doctor, at a private interview.
The result of this conference was far from being satisfactory. The doctor was suspiciously careful not to commit himself: he said that he hoped the spine was no longer in danger of being affected; but that he could not conscientiously express himself as feeling quite sure about it. Having repeated these discouraging words to his son, old Mr. Blyth delicately and considerately, but very plainly, asked Valentine whether, after what he had heard, he still honestly thought that he would be consulting his own happiness, or the lady's happiness either, by marrying her at all? or, at least, by marrying her at a time when the doctor could not venture to say that the poor girl might not be even yet in danger of becoming an invalid for life?
Valentine, as usual, persisted at first in looking exclusively at the bright side of the question, and made light of the doctor's authority accordingly.
"Lavvie and I love each other dearly," he said with a little trembling in his voice, but with perfect firmness of manner. "I hope in God that what you seem to fear will never happen; but even if it should, I shall never repent having married her, for I know that I am just as ready to be her nurse as to be her husband. I am willing to take her in sickness and in health, as the Prayer-Book says. In my home she would have such constant attention paid to her wants and comforts as she could not have at her father's, with his large family and his poverty, poor fellow! And this is reason enough, I think, for my marrying her, even if the worst should take place. But I always have hoped for the best, as you know, father: and I mean to go on hoping for poor Lavvie, just the same as ever!"
What could old Mr. Blyth, what could any man of heart and honor, oppose to such an answer as this? Nothing. The marriage took place; and Valentine's father tried hard, and not altogether vainly, to feel as sanguine about future results as Valentine himself.
For several months—how short the time seemed, when they looked back on it in after-years!—the happiness of the painter and his wife more than fulfilled the brightest hopes which they had formed as lovers. As for the doctor's cautious words, they were hardly remembered now; or, if recalled, were recalled only to be laughed over. But the time of bitter grief, which had been appointed, though they knew it not, came inexorably, even while they were still lightly jesting at all medical authority round the painter's fireside. Lavinia caught a severe cold. The cold turned to rheumatism, to fever, then to general debility, then to nervous attacks—each one of these disorders, being really but so many false appearances, under which the horrible spinal malady was treacherously and slowly advancing in disguise.
When the first positive symptoms appeared, old Mr. Blyth acted with all his accustomed generosity towards his son. "My purse is yours, Valentine," said he; "open it when you like; and let Lavinia, while there is a chance for her, have the same advice and the same remedies as if she was the greatest duchess in the land." The old man's affectionate advice was affectionately followed. The most renowned doctors in England prescribed for Lavinia; everything that science and incessant attention could do, was done; but the terrible disease still baffled remedy after remedy, advancing surely and irresistibly, until at last the doctors themselves lost all hope. So far as human science could foretell events, Mrs. Blyth, in the opinion of all her medical advisers, was doomed for the rest of her life never to rise again from the bed on which she lay; except, perhaps, to be sometimes moved to the sofa, or, in the event of some favorable reaction, to be wheeled about occasionally in an invalid chair.
What the shock of this intelligence was, both to husband and wife, no one ever knew; they nobly kept it a secret even from each other. Mrs. Blyth was the first to recover courage and calmness. She begged, as an especial favor, that Valentine would seek consolation, where she knew he must find it sooner or later, by going back to his studio, and resuming his old familiar labors, which had been suspended from the time when her illness had originally declared itself.
On the first day when, in obedience to her wishes, he sat before his picture again—the half-finished picture from which he had been separated for so many months—on that first day, when the friendly occupation of his life seemed suddenly to have grown strange to him; when his brush wandered idly among the colors, when his tears dropped fast on the palette every time he looked down on it; when he tried hard to work as usual, though only for half an hour, only on simple background places in the composition; and still the brush made false touches, and still the tints would not mingle as they should, and still the same words, repeated over and over again, would burst from his lips: "Oh, poor Lavvie! oh, poor, dear, dear Lavvie!"—even then, the spirit of that beloved art, which he had always followed so humbly and so faithfully, was true to its divine mission, and comforted and upheld him at the last bitterest moment when he laid down his palette in despair.
While he was still hiding his face before the very picture which he and his wife had once innocently and secretly glorified together, in those happy days of its beginning that were never to come again, the sudden thought of consolation shone out on his heart, and showed him how he might adorn all his afterlife with the deathless beauty of a pure and noble purpose. Thenceforth, his vague dreams of fame, and of rich men wrangling with each other for the possession of his pictures, took the second place in his mind; and, in their stead, sprang up the new resolution that he would win independently, with his own brush, no matter at what sacrifice of pride and ambition, the means of surrounding his sick wife with all those luxuries and refinements which his own little income did not enable him to obtain, and which he shrank with instinctive delicacy from accepting as presents bestowed by his father's generosity. Here was the consoling purpose which robbed affliction of half its bitterness already, and bound him and his art together by a bond more sacred than any that had united them before. In the very hour when this thought came to him, he rose without a pang to turn the great historical composition, from which he had once hoped so much, with its face to the wall, and set himself to finish an unpretending little "Study" of a cottage courtyard, which he was certain of selling to a picture-dealing friend. The first approach to happiness which he had known for a long, long time past, was on the evening of that day, when he went upstairs to sit with Lavinia; and, keeping secret his purpose of the morning, made the sick woman smile in spite of her sufferings, by asking her how she should like to have her room furnished, if she were the lady of a great lord, instead of being only the wife of Valentine Blyth.
Then came the happy day when the secret was revealed, and afterwards the pleasant years when poor Mrs. Blyth's most splendid visions of luxury were all gradually realized through her husband's exertions in his profession. But for his wife's influence, Valentine would have been in danger of abandoning high Art and Classical Landscape altogether, for cheap portrait-painting, cheap copying, and cheap studies of Still Life. But Mrs. Blyth, bedridden as she was, contrived to preserve all her old influence over the labors of the Studio, and would ask for nothing new, and receive nothing new, in her room, except on condition that her husband was to paint at least one picture of High Art every year, for the sake (as she proudly said) of "asserting his intellect and his reputation in the eyes of the public." Accordingly, Mr. Blyth's time was pretty equally divided between the production of great unsaleable "compositions," which were always hung near the ceiling in the Exhibition, and of small marketable commodities, which were as invariably hung near the floor.
Valentine's average earnings from his art, though humble enough in amount, amply sufficed to fulfill the affectionate purpose for which, to the last farthing, they were rigorously set aside. "Lavvie's Drawing-Room" (this was Mr. Blyth's name for his wife's bed-room) really looked as bright and beautiful as any royal chamber in the universe. The rarest flowers, the prettiest gardens under glass, bowls with gold and silver fish in them, a small aviary of birds, an Aeolian harp to put on the window-sill in summertime, some of Valentine's best drawings from the old masters, prettily-framed proof-impressions of engravings done by Mrs. Blyth's father, curtains and hangings of the tenderest color and texture, inlaid tables, and delicately-carved book-cases, were among the different objects of refinement and beauty which, in the course of years, Mr. Blyth's industry had enabled him to accumulate for his wife's pleasure. No one but himself ever knew what he had sacrificed in laboring to gain these things. The heartless people whose portraits he had painted, and whose impertinences he had patiently submitted to; the mean bargainers who had treated him like a tradesman; the dastardly men of business who had disgraced their order by taking advantage of his simplicity—how hardly and cruelly such insect natures of this world had often dealt with that noble heart! how despicably they had planted their small gad-fly stings in the high soul which it was never permitted to them to subdue!
No! not once to subdue, not once to tarnish! All petty humiliations were forgotten in one look at "Lavvie's Drawing-Room;" all stain of insolent words vanished from Valentine's memory in the atmosphere of the Studio. Never was a more superficial judgment pronounced than when his friends said that he had thrown away his whole life, because he had chosen a vocation in which he could win no public success. The lad's earliest instincts had indeed led him truly, after all. The art to which he had devoted himself was the only earthly pursuit that could harmonize as perfectly with all the eccentricities as with all the graces of his character, that could mingle happily with every joy, tenderly with every grief; belonging to the quiet, simple, and innocent life, which, employ him anyhow, it was in his original nature to lead. But for this protecting art, under what prim disguises, amid what foggy social climates of class conventionality, would the worlds clerical, legal, mercantile, military, naval, or dandy, have extinguished this man, if any one of them had caught him in its snares! Where would then have been his frolicsome enthusiasm that nothing could dispirit; his inveterate oddities of thought, speech, and action, which made all his friends laugh at him and bless him in the same breath; his affections, so manly in their firmness, so womanly in their tenderness, so childlike in their frank, fearless confidence that dreaded neither ridicule on the one side, nor deception on the other? Where, and how, would all these characteristics have vanished, but for his art—but for the abiding spirit, ever present to preserve their vital warmth against the outer and earthly cold? The wisest of Valentine's friends, who shook their heads disparagingly whenever his name was mentioned, were at least wise enough in their generation never to ask themselves such embarrassing questions as these.
Thus much for the history of the painter's past life. We may now make his acquaintance in the appropriate atmosphere of his own Studio.
CHAPTER II. MR. BLYTH IN HIS STUDIO.
It was wintry weather—not such a November winter's day as some of us may remember looking at fourteen years ago, in Baregrove Square, but a brisk frosty morning in January. The country view visible from the back windows of Mr. Blyth's house, which stood on the extreme limit of the new suburb, was thinly and brightly dressed out for the sun's morning levee, in its finest raiment of pure snow. The cold blue sky was cloudless; every sound out of doors fell on the ear with a hearty and jocund ring; all newly-lit fires burnt up brightly and willingly without coaxing; and the robin-redbreasts hopped about expectantly on balconies and windowsills, as if they only waited for an invitation to walk in and warm themselves, along with their larger fellow creatures, round the kindly hearth.
The Studio was a large and lofty room, lighted by a skylight, and running along the side of the house throughout its whole depth. Its walls were covered with plain brown paper, and its floor was only carpeted in the middle. The most prominent pieces of furniture were two large easels placed at either extremity of the room; each supporting a picture of considerable size, covered over for the present with a pair of sheets which looked woefully in want of washing. There was a painting-stand with quantities of shallow little drawers, some too full to open, others, again, too full to shut; there was a movable platform to put sitters on, covered with red cloth much disguised in dust; there was a small square table of new deal, and a large round table of dilapidated rosewood, both laden with sketch-books, portfolios, dog's-eared sheets of drawing paper, tin pots, scattered brushes, palette-knives, rags variously defiled by paint and oil, pencils, chalks, port-crayons—the whole smelling powerfully at all points of turpentine.
Finally, there were chairs in plenty, no one of which, however, at all resembled the other. In one corner stood a moldy antique chair with a high back, and a basin of dirty water on the seat. By the side of the fireplace a cheap straw chair of the beehive pattern was tilted over against a dining-room chair, with a horse-hair cushion. Before the largest of the two pictures, and hard by a portable flight of steps, stood a rickety office-stool. On the platform for sitters a modern easy chair, with the cover in tatters, invited all models to picturesque repose. Close to the rosewood table was placed a rocking-chair, and between the legs of the deal table were huddled together a camp-stool and a hassock. In short, every remarkable variety of the illustrious family of Seats was represented in one corner or another of Mr. Blyth's painting-room.
All the surplus small articles which shelves, tables, and chairs were unable to accommodate, reposed in comfortable confusion on the floor. One half at least of a pack of cards seemed to be scattered about in this way. A shirt-collar, three gloves, a boot, a shoe, and half a slipper; a silk stocking, and a pair of worsted muffetees; three old play-bills rolled into a ball; a pencil-case, a paper-knife, a tooth-powder-box without a lid, and a superannuated black-beetle trap turned bottom upwards, assisted in forming part of the heterogeneous collection of rubbish strewed about the studio floor. And worse than all—as tending to show that the painter absolutely enjoyed his own disorderly habits—Mr. Blyth had jocosely desecrated his art, by making it imitate litter where, in all conscience, there was real litter enough already. Just in the way of anybody entering the room, he had painted, on the bare floor, exact representations of a new quill pen and a very expensive-looking sable brush, lying all ready to be trodden upon by entering feet. Fresh visitors constantly attested the skillfulness of these imitations by involuntarily stooping to pick up the illusive pen and brush; Mr. Blyth always enjoying the discomfiture and astonishment of every new victim, as thoroughly as if the practical joke had been a perfectly new one on each successive occasion.
Such was the interior condition of the painting-room, after the owner had inhabited it for a period of little more than two months!
The church-clock of the suburb has just struck ten, when quick, light steps approach the studio door. A gentleman enters—trips gaily over the imitative pen and brush—and, walking up to the fire, begins to warm his back at it, looking about him rather absently, and whistling "Drops of Brandy" in the minor key. This gentleman is Mr. Valentine Blyth.
He looks under forty, but is really a little over fifty. His face is round and rosy, and not marked by a single wrinkle in any part of it. He has large, sparkling black eyes; wears neither whiskers, beard, nor mustache; keeps his thick curly black hair rather too closely cut; and has a briskly-comical kindness of expression in his face, which it is not easy to contemplate for the first time without smiling at him. He is tall and stout, always wears very tight trousers, and generally keeps his wristbands turned up over the cuffs of his coat. All his movements are quick and fidgety. He appears to walk principally on his toes, and seems always on the point of beginning to dance, or jump, or run whenever he moves about, either in or out of doors. When he speaks he has an odd habit of ducking his head suddenly, and looking at the person whom he addresses over his shoulder. These, and other little personal peculiarities of the same undignified nature, all contribute to make him exactly that sort of person whom everybody shakes hands with, and nobody bows to, on a first introduction. Men instinctively choose him to be the recipient of a joke, girls to be the male confidant of all flirtations which they like to talk about, children to be their petitioner for the pardon of a fault, or the reward of a half-holiday. On the other hand, he is decidedly unpopular among that large class of Englishmen, whose only topics of conversation are public nuisances and political abuses; for he resolutely looks at everything on the bright side, and has never read a leading article or a parliamentary debate in his life. In brief, men of business habits think him a fool, and intellectual women with independent views cite him triumphantly as an excellent specimen of the inferior male sex.
Still whistling, Mr. Blyth walks towards an earthen pipkin in one corner of the studio, and takes from it a little china palette which he has neglected to clean since he last used it. Looking round the room for some waste paper, on which he can deposit the half-dried old paint that has been scraped off with the palette knife, Mr. Blyth's eyes happen to light first on the deal table, and on four or five notes which lie scattered over it.
These he thinks will suit his purpose as well as anything else, so he takes up the notes, but before making use of them, reads their contents over for the second time—partly by way of caution, partly though a dawdling habit, which men of his absent disposition are always too ready to contract. Three of these letters happen to be in the same scrambling, blotted handwriting. They are none of them very long, and are the production of a former acquaintance of the reader's, who has somewhat altered in height and personal appearance during the course of the last fourteen years. Here is the first of the notes which Valentine is now reading:—
"Dear Blyth,—My father says Theaters are the Devil's Houses, and I must be home by eleven o'clock. I'm sure I never did anything wrong at a Theater, which I might not have done just the same anywhere else; unless laughing over a good play is one of the national sins he's always talking about. I can't stand it much longer, even for my mother's sake! You are my only friend. I shall come and see you to-morrow, so mind and be at home. How I wish I was an artist! Yours ever, Z. THORPE, JUN."
Shaking his head and smiling at the same time, Mr. Blyth finishes this letter—drops a perfect puddle of dirty paint and turpentine in the middle, over the words "national sins," throws the paper into the fire—and goes on to note number two:
"Dear Blyth,—I couldn't come yesterday, because of another quarrel at home, and my mother crying about it, of course. My father smelt tobacco smoke at morning prayers. It was my coat, which I forgot to air at the fire the night before; and he found it out, and said he wouldn't have me smoke, because it led to dissipation—but I told him (which is true) that lots of parsons smoked. I wish you visited at our house, and could come and say a word on my side. Dear Blyth, I am perfectly wretched; for I have had all my cigars taken from me; and I am, yours truly, Z. THORPE, JUN."
A third note is required before the palette can be scraped clean. Mr. Blyth reads the contents rather gravely on this occasion; rapidly plastering his last morsels of waste paint upon the paper as he goes on, until at length it looks as if it had been well peppered with all the colors of the rainbow.
Zack's third letter of complaint certainly promised serious domestic tribulation for the ruling power at Baregrove Square:—
"Dear Blyth,—I have given in—at least for the present. I told my father about my wanting to be an artist, and about your saying that I had a good notion of drawing, and an eye for a likeness; but I might just as well have talked to one of your easels. He means to make a man of business of me. And here I have been, for the last three weeks, at a Tea Broker's office in the city, in consequence. They all say it's a good opening for me, and talk about the respectability of commercial pursuits. I don't want to be respectable, and I hate commercial pursuits. What is the good of forcing me into a merchant's office, when I can't say my Multiplication table? Ask my mother about that: she'll tell you! Only fancy me going round tea warehouses in filthy Jewish places like St. Mary-Axe, to take samples, with a blue bag to carry them about in; and a dirty junior clerk, who cleans his pen in his hair, to teach me how to fold up parcels! Isn't it enough to make my blood boil to think of it? I can't go on, and I won't go on in this way! Mind you're at home to-morrow; I'm coming to speak to you about how I'm to begin learning to be an artist. The junior clerk is going to do all my sampling work for me in the morning; and we are to meet in the afternoon, after I have come away from you, at a chop-house; and then go back to the office as if we had been together all day, just as usual. Ever yours, Z. THORPE, JUN.—P. S. My mind's made up: if the worst comes to the worst, I shall leave home."
"Oh, dear me! oh, dear! dear me!" says Valentine, mournfully rubbing his palette clean with a bit of rag. "What will it all end in, I wonder. Old Thorpe's going just the way, with his obstinate severity, to drive Zack to something desperate. Coming here to-morrow, he says?" continues Mr. Blyth, approaching the smallest of the two pictures, placed on easels at opposite extremities of the room. "Coming to-morrow! He never dates his notes; but I suppose, as this one came last night, to-morrow means to-day."
Saying these words with eyes absently fixed on his picture, Valentine withdraws the sheet stretched over the canvas, and discloses a Classical Landscape of his own composition.
If Mr. Blyth had done nothing else in producing the picture which now confronted him, he had at least achieved one great end of all Classic Art, by reminding nobody of anything simple, familiar, or pleasing to them in nature. In the foreground of his composition, were the three lanky ruined columns, the dancing Bacchantes, the musing philosopher, the mahogany-colored vegetation, and the bosky and branchless trees, with which we have all been familiar, from our youth upwards, in "classical compositions." Down the middle of the scene ran that wonderful river, which is always rippling with the same regular waves; and always bearing onward the same capsizable galleys, with the same vermilion and blue revelers striking lyres on the deck. On the bank where there was most room for it, appeared our old, old friend, the architectural City, which nobody could possibly live in; and which is composed of nothing but temples, towers, monuments, flights of steps, and bewildering rows of pillars. In the distance, our favorite blue mountains were as blue and as peaky as ever, on Valentine's canvas; and our generally-approved pale yellow sun was still disfigured by the same attack of aerial jaundice, from which he has suffered ever since classical compositions first forbade him to take refuge from the sight behind a friendly cloud.
After standing before his picture in affectionate contemplation of its beauties for a minute or so, Valentine resumes the business of preparing his palette.
As the bee comes and goes irregularly from flower to flower; as the butterfly flutters in a zig-zag course from one sunny place on the garden wall to another—or, as an old woman runs from wrong omnibus to wrong omnibus, at the Elephant and Castle, before she can discover the right one; as a countryman blunders up one street, and down another, before he can find the way to his place of destination in London—so does Mr. Blyth now come and go, flutter, run, and blunder in a mighty hurry about his studio, in search of missing colors which ought to be in his painting-box, but which are not to be found there. While he is still hunting through the room, his legs come into collision with a large drawing-board on which there is a blank sheet of paper stretched. This board seems to remind Mr. Blyth of some duty connected with it. He places it against two chairs, in a good light; then approaching a shelf on which some plaster-casts are arranged, takes down from it a bust of the Venus de Medici—which bust he next places on his old office stool, opposite to the two chairs and the drawing-board. Just as these preparations are completed, the door of the studio opens, and a very important member of the painter's household—who has not yet been introduced to the reader, and who is in no way related either to Valentine or his wife—enters the room.
This mysterious resident under Mr. Blyth's roof is a Young Lady.
She is dressed in very pretty, simple, Quaker-like attire. Her gown is of a light-gray color, covered by a neat little black apron in front, and fastened round the throat over a frill collar. The sleeves of this dress are worn tight to the arm, and are terminated at the wrists by quaint-looking cuffs of antique lace, the only ornamental morsels of costume which she has on. It is impossible to describe how deliciously soft, bright, fresh, pure, and delicate, this young lady is, merely as an object to look at, contrasted with the dingy disorder of the studio-sphere through which she now moves. The keenest observers, beholding her as she at present appears, would detect nothing in her face or figure, her manner or her costume, in the slightest degree suggestive of impenetrable mystery, or incurable misfortune. And yet, she happens to be the only person in Mr. Blyth's household at whom prying glances are directed, whenever she walks out; whose very existence is referred to by the painter's neighbors with an invariable accompaniment of shrugs, sighs, and lamenting looks; and whose "case" is always compassionately designated as "a sad one," whenever it is brought forward, in the course of conversation, at dinner-tables and tea-tables in the new suburb.