Transcribed from the 1910 Oxford University Press edition by David Price, email email@example.com
MORE PAGES FROM A JOURNAL WITH OTHER PAPERS
A Bad Dream Esther Kate Radcliffe Mr. Whittaker's Retirement Confessions of a Self-tormentor A letter to the 'Rambler' A letter from the Authoress of 'Judith Crowhurst' Clearing-up after a storm in January The end of the North Wind Romney Marsh Axmouth The Preacher and the Sea Conversion July A Sunday morning in November Under Beachy Head: December 24th December Dreaming Ourselves The Riddle An Epoch Belief Extracts from a diary on the Quantocks Godwin and Wordsworth Notes Shakespeare
A BAD DREAM
Miss Toller, a lady about forty years old, kept a boarding-house, called Russell House, at Brighton, in a dull but genteel part of the town—so dull that even those fortunate inhabitants who were reputed to have resources in themselves were relieved by a walk to the shops or by a German band. Miss Toller could not afford to be nearer the front. Rents were too high for her, even in the next street, which claimed a sea-view sideways through the bow-windows. She was the daughter of a farmer in Northamptonshire, and till she came to Brighton had lived at home. When she was five-and-twenty her mother died, and in two years her father married again. The second wife was a widow, good-looking but hard, and had a temper. She made herself very disagreeable to Miss Toller, and the husband took the wife's part. Miss Toller therefore left the farm at Barton Sluice, and with a little money that belonged to her purchased the goodwill and furniture of Russell House. She brought with her a Northamptonshire girl as servant, and the two shared the work between them. At the time when this history begins she had five lodgers, all of whom had been with her six months, and one for more than a year.
Mrs. Poulter, the senior in residence of the five, was the widow of a retired paymaster in the Navy. She was between fifty and sixty, a big, portly woman. After her husband was pensioned she lived in Southsea. As he belonged to the civilian branch, Mrs. Poulter had to fight undauntedly in order to maintain a calling acquaintance with the wives of executive officers, and in fact the highest she had on her list was a commander's lady. When Paymaster Poulter died, and his pension ceased, she gave up the struggle. She had no children, and moved to Brighton with an annuity of 150 pounds a year derived from her husband's insurance of 2000 pounds, and a life interest in some property left by her mother.
Mr. Goacher was a bachelor clergyman of about forty. He read prayers, presided over the book-club, and by a judicious expenditure of oil prevented friction between the other boarders. It was understood that he had been compelled to give up clerical duty by what is called clergyman's sore-throat. It was not known whether he had been vicar, rector, or curate, but he wore the usual white neck- band and a soft, low felt hat, he was clean-shaven, his letters were addressed 'Reverend,' he was not bad-looking; and these vouchers were considered sufficient.
Mrs. Mudge was the widow of a tradesman in London. She was better off than any of the other lodgers, and drank claret at twenty shillings a dozen.
Miss Everard, the youngest of the party, was a French mistress, but English by birth, and gave lessons in two or three schools. She was never at home on weekdays excepting at breakfast and dinner. After dinner she generally corrected exercises in her bedroom, but when she was not busy she sat in the drawing-room to save fire and light.
Miss Taggart was the daughter of a country doctor. Both her parents were dead, and she was poor. She had a reputation for being enlightened, as she was not regular in her attendance at public worship on Sunday, and did not always go to the same church. She told Mrs. Poulter once that science should tincture theology, whereupon, appeal being made to Mr. Goacher by that alarmed lady, he ventured to remark, that with all respect to Miss Taggart, such observations were perhaps liable to misconstruction in ordinary society, where they could not be fully explained, and, although she was doubtless right in a way, the statement needed qualification. Miss Taggart was not very friendly with Mrs. Poulter and Mr. Goacher, and despised Mrs. Mudge because she was low-bred. Miss Everard Miss Taggart dreaded, and accused her of being vicious and spiteful.
It was still early in December, but the lodgers in Russell House who had nothing to do—that is to say all of them excepting Miss Everard—were making plans for Christmas. They always thought a long time beforehand of what was going to happen. On Tuesday morning they began to anticipate Sunday, and when the Sunday afternoon wore away slowly and drearily, they looked forward to the excitement of omnibuses and butchers' carts on Monday. A little more than a fortnight before Christmas, on Sunday at early dinner, a leg of mutton was provided. Mrs. Poulter always sat at the head of the table and carved. This was the position she occupied when Mr. Goacher came, and she did not offer to resign it. Mrs. Mudge was helped first, but it was towards the knuckle and she had no fat.
'Thank you, Mrs. Poulter, but will you please give me a piece of fat?'
Mrs. Poulter, scowling, placed a minute portion of hard, half-burnt skin on Mrs. Mudge's plate.
'Much obliged, Mrs. Poulter, but I want a piece of FAT—white fat— just there,' pointing to it with her fork.
Mrs. Poulter, as we have said, was at enmity with Mrs. Mudge. Mrs. Mudge also was Low Church; and Mrs. Poulter was High. She had just returned from a High Church service at St. Paul's, and the demand for an undue share of fat was particularly irritating.
'Really, Mrs. Mudge, you forget that there is hardly enough to go round. For my part, though, I care nothing about it.'
'If I had thought you did, Mrs. Poulter, I am sure I should not have dared to ask for it.'
'I believe,' said Miss Taggart, 'that the office of fat in diet is to preserve heat.'
'If fat promotes heat,' said Miss Everard, 'and I have no doubt it is so, considering Miss Taggart's physiological knowledge, my advice is that we abstain from it.'
'It is a pity,' said Mr. Goacher, smiling, 'that animals will not suit our requirements. But to be practical, Miss Toller might be instructed to order legs of mutton with more fat. This reminds me of beef, and beef reminds me of Christmas. It is now the second Sunday in Advent, and there is a subject which you will remember we had agreed to discuss this week.'
This important subject was a proposal by Mrs. Mudge that Miss Toller should dine with them on Christmas Day.
'You, Mrs. Poulter,' said Mr. Goacher, 'are of opinion that we should not invite her?'
'Certainly. I do not see how she is to send up the dinner properly if she is to be our guest, and I imagine also she would not be comfortable with us.'
Mrs. M. 'Why shouldn't she be comfortable? Of course, if we don't try to make her so she won't be. There are ways to make people comfortable and ways to make them uncomfortable. Miss Toller is just as good as any of us.'
Miss T. 'She is not an educated woman, and I am sure she would rather remain downstairs; our conversation would not interest her.'
Miss E. 'Pray, Miss Taggart, what is an educated woman?'
Miss T. 'What a question, Miss Everard! By an educated woman is meant a woman who has been taught the usual curriculum of a lady in cultivated circles.'
Miss E. 'What is the curriculum of a cultivated lady?'
Miss T. 'Really you are provoking; you understand perfectly as well as I do.'
Miss E. 'I am still in the dark. What is the curriculum of a cultivated lady?'
Mrs. P. 'I much doubt if Miss Toller is acquainted with the ordinary facts of geography, even those which are familiar to common seamen in the Navy. She probably could not tell us the situation of the Straits of Panama.'
Mrs. Poulter had been reading something in the newspaper the day before about the Panama Canal.
Miss E. 'Straits of Panama!' but she checked herself when she saw that not a muscle moved on anybody's face. 'Now, my dear Mrs. Poulter, I assure you I have friends who dine in the best society, and I'll be bound they never heard of the Straits of Panama.'
Mrs. P. 'The society in which I was accustomed to mix, Miss Everard, would have excluded a person who was so grossly ignorant.'
Miss T. 'The possession of scientific truth, in addition to conferring social advantages, adds so much to our happiness.'
Miss E. 'This also I am inclined to dispute. Do you really feel happier, Mrs. Poulter, because you can tell us what continents are divided by the Straits of Panama?'
Mrs. M. 'I'll lay a wager Miss Toller knows as much as we do, but the things she knows aren't the things we know.'
Mr. G. 'We are digressing, I am afraid. I suggest we should have a ballot. I will write "Yes" on five little pieces of paper, and "No" on five, and after distribution we will fold them up, and each of us shall drop one in the vase on the mantel-shelf.'
This was done, and there were three for the invitation and two against it.
Mrs. Poulter and Mr. Goacher were left alone after the table was cleared.
'Permit me to say, dear madam, that I entirely agreed with you.'
'You must have voted with Mrs. Mudge.'
'I did, but not from any sympathy with her views. I strive to keep the peace. In an establishment like this concord is necessary.'
Mr. Goacher, when he dropped his paper in the vase, had not forgotten that Mrs. Mudge had offered to provide the wine for the dinner. If she had been defeated the offer might have been withdrawn.
'I have fancied before now that I have seen in you a decided preference for Mrs. Mudge.'
This was true. He had 'tried it on with her,' to use her own words, but she was impregnable. 'It was no good with me,' she said to Miss Everard; 'I saw what he was after.'
'My dear Mrs. Poulter, your supposition is preposterous—forgive me- -you do not suppose that I am unable to recognise superiority in birth, in manners, and in intellect. It was better, on this particular occasion, to conciliate Mrs. Mudge. She is not worthy of serious opposition. Miss Toller will not sit near you.'
Mrs. Poulter was pacified.
'I am glad to hear this explanation. I had hoped that one might be forthcoming.'
'I am truly thankful I am worthy of hope, TRULY thankful.'
Mrs. Poulter dropped Palmer's Ecclesiastical History, which she had begun to read every Sunday afternoon for three months. Mr. Goacher picked it up, and was about to take Mrs. Poulter's hand, but Miss Taggart entered and the conversation closed just when it was becoming interesting.
In a day or two Mrs. Poulter informed Miss Toller that the ladies and Mr. Goacher had been pleased to express a wish that she should dine with them on Christmas Day. She consented with becoming humility, as even Mrs. Poulter confessed, but with many secret misgivings. She desired to strengthen herself with her lodgers on whom her living depended, but Helen was more than a servant. She was her friend, and she could not bear the thought of leaving her in the kitchen. Helen, too, was passionate and jealous. Miss Toller therefore ventured to ask Mrs. Poulter whether, as it was Christmas, Helen also might be invited. Mrs. Poulter signified to Miss Toller her extreme surprise at the suggestion.
'The line, Miss Toller, must be drawn somewhere. Helen will have the gratuity usual at this season—she is a well-regulated person and will see the impropriety of intrusion into a sphere for which she is unfit.'
Miss Toller withdrew. She dared not venture to explain or apologise to Helen, although delay would make matters worse. She went into North Street and spent ten shillings which she could ill afford in buying a locket for her.
Christmas Eve was black and bitter. After the lodgers had gone to bed, Miss Toller and Helen sat by the kitchen fire.
'Oh, Miss, I wish we were at Barton Sluice.'
'What makes you wish it, now?'
'I hate this place and everybody in it, excepting you. I suppose it's Christmas makes me think of the old farm.'
'I remember you said once that you thought you would like a town.'
'Ah, I said so then. I should love to see them meadows again. The snow when it melts there doesn't go to dirty, filthy slush as it does in Brighton. But it's the people here I can't bear. I could fly at that Poulter and that Goacher at times, no matter if I was had up for it.'
'You forget what a hard life you had with Mrs. Wootton at the Hatch.'
'No, I don't forget. She had a rough tongue, but she was one of our set. She got as good as she gave. She spoke her mind, and I spoke mine, and there was an end to it. But this lot—they are so stuck- up and stuck-round. I never saw such folk in our parts—they make me feel as if I were the dirt under their feet.'
'Never mind them. I have more to put up with than you have. You know all; you may be sure, if I could help it, I shouldn't be here.'
'I do know all. I shouldn't grieve if that stepmother of yours drank herself to death. O Lord, when I see what you have to go through I am ashamed of myself. But you were made one way and I another. You dear, patient creature!'
'It's half-past eleven. It is time to go to bed.'
They went to their cold lean-to garrets under the slates.
Miss Toller lay awake for hours. This, then, was Christmas Eve, one more Christmas Eve. She recollected another Christmas Eve twenty years gone. She went out to a party, she and her father and mother and sister; mother and sister now dead. Somebody walked home with her that clear, frosty night. Strange! Miss Toller, Brighton lodging-house keeper, always in black gown—no speck of colour even on Sundays—whose life was spent before sinks and stoves, through whose barred kitchen windows the sun never shone, had wandered in the land of romance; in her heart also Juliet's flame had burned. A succession of vivid pictures of her girlhood passed before her: of the garden, of the farmyard and the cattle in it, of the river, of the pollard willows sloping over it, of Barton Sluice covered with snow—how still it was at that moment—the dog has been brought inside because of the cold, and is asleep in the living-room—her father, is he awake? the tall clock is ticking by the window, she could hear its slow beats, and as she listened she fell asleep, but was presently awakened by the bells proclaiming the birth in a manger. She remembered that Mrs. Poulter had to be called at seven that she might go to an early service. She hastily put on her clothes and knocked at the door, but Mrs. Poulter decided that, as it was freezing, it would not be safe to venture, and having ordered a cup of tea in her bedroom at half-past eight, turned round and fell asleep again.
It was a busy day. The lodgers, excepting Miss Everard, went to church in the morning, but Miss Toller and Helen had their hands full. In the afternoon Miss Toller was obliged to tell Helen the unpleasant news.
'I don't want to go, but I must not offend them.'
'But you ARE going?'
'I can't get out of it.'
Helen did not speak another word. About half-past six Miss Toller put on her best clothes and appeared in the dining-room. Helen punctually served the dinner. A seat was allotted to Miss Toller at the bottom of the table opposite Miss Everard and next to Mr. Goacher, who faced Mrs. Poulter. Mrs. Mudge's wine was produced, and Mr. Goacher graciously poured out a glass for Miss Toller.
'At this festive season, ma'am.'
A second glass was not offered, although Mrs. Mudge's supply was liberal. Mr. Goacher did not stint himself.
'There are beautiful churches in Northamptonshire, I believe, Miss Toller?' said the reverend gentleman after the third glass.
'Yes, very beautiful.'
'Ah! that is delightful. To whatever school in the Establishment we belong, we cannot be insensible to the harmony between it and our dear old ivy-clad towers and the ancient gravestones. I love old country churches. I often wish my lot had been cast in a simple rural parish.'
Miss E. 'Why do you not go?'
Mr. G. 'My unfortunate throat; and besides, I believe I am really better fitted for an urban population.'
Miss E. 'In what way?'
Mr. G. 'Well, you see, Miss Everard, questions present themselves to our hearers in towns which do not naturally occur to the rustic mind—questions with which, if I may say so, I am perhaps fitted to deal. The rustic mind needs nothing more than a simple presentation of the Gospel.'
Miss E. 'What kind of questions?'
Mr. G. 'You must be aware that our friend Mrs. Poulter, for instance, accustomed as she is to the mental stimulus of Southsea and Brighton, takes an interest in topics unfamiliar to an honest agriculturist who is immersed all the week in beeves and ploughs and swine.'
Mr. Goacher had intended that Mrs. Poulter should hear that her name was mentioned.
Mrs. P. 'What are you saying about me?'
Miss E. 'Nothing to your discredit. We were talking about town and country parishes, and Mr. Goacher maintains that in a town parish a clergyman of superior intellect is indispensable.'
Mrs. P. 'But what has that to do with me?'
Miss E. 'Oh, we merely brought you forward as an example. You have moved in cultured society, and he is of opinion that he is better fitted to preach to people like you than to farmers.'
Mrs. M. 'Culture, fiddle-de-dee! Afore I was married, I lived in the country. Five-and-twenty years I lived in it. Don't tell me. A farmer with five hundred acres of land, or even a cowman who has to keep a dozen cows in order and look after his own garden, wants more brains than any of your fine town-folk. Ah, and our old parson had a good bit more than any one of these half-witted curates such as you see here in Brighton playing their popish antics in coloured clothes.'
Mrs. Poulter was very angry.
'Mrs. Mudge,' she said, speaking to nobody in particular, and looking straight before her, 'has chosen to-day of all days on which to insult, I will not call it MY faith, but the faith of the Catholic Church.'
Mr. Goacher at once intervened with his oil-can.
'My leanings, Mrs. Poulter, have latterly at any rate been in your direction—without excesses, of course; but both you and I admit that the Church is ample enough to embrace the other great parties so long as there is agreement in essentials. Unity, unity! Mrs. Mudge's ardour, we must confess, proves her sincerity.'
Mr. Goacher took another glass of Mrs. Mudge's wine. After the dessert of almonds and raisins, figs, apples, and oranges—also supplied by Mrs. Mudge—Miss Toller rose and said she hoped she might be excused, but Mr. Goacher pressed her to stay. He had offered to entertain the company with a trifling humorous composition of his own. She consented, and he recited a parody on 'To be or not to be,' descriptive of a young lady's perplexity at having received an offer of marriage. When it was over Miss Toller departed. It was now nine o'clock, and she found that the dinner things had been washed up, and that Helen had gone to bed. The next morning she went downstairs a little later than usual, but there was no Helen. She ran up to her bedroom. It was empty; she had slept there that night, but her box was packed and directed, and there was a paper on it to say that the carrier would call for it. Miss Toller was confounded. She would have rushed to the station, but the first train had gone. She was roused by the milkman at the area door, and hastened down to light the fire. At first she resolved to excuse Helen's absence on the ground that it was Boxing Day, but she would almost certainly not return, and after breakfast Miss Toller went upstairs and told her lodgers that Helen had left. Mrs. Poulter managed to acquaint Mr. Goacher and Miss Taggart that she desired to speak to them when Mrs. Mudge and Miss Everard were out of the way, and at midday there was a conference. Mrs. Poulter declared that the time had now arrived for decisive action, so far as she was concerned. Mrs. Mudge's behaviour could not be endured. Her insolence in the matter of the newspaper (this will be explained in a moment), and her contempt for what was sacred, made it impossible without loss of self-respect to live with her. The servant's sudden departure for reasons unknown, had, to use Mrs. Poulter's words, 'put the coping-stone to the edifice.' The newspaper grievance was this. The Morning Post was provided by Miss Toller for her boarders. Mrs. Poulter was always the first to take it, and her claim as senior resident was not challenged. One morning, however, Mrs. Mudge, after fidgeting for a whole hour, while Mrs. Poulter leisurely scanned every paragraph from the top of the first page down to the bottom of the last, suggested that the paper should be divided, as other people might wish to see it. Mrs. Poulter dropped her eye-glass and handed Mrs. Mudge the outside sheet, with the remark that if she would but have intimated politely that she was in a hurry, she could have had it before.
'I'm in no hurry,' Mrs. Mudge replied, 'and you don't seem to be in any. Thank you; this is not the bit I want; you needn't trouble; I can order a paper myself.' The next day there was a Standard for Mrs. Mudge, who with some malice immediately offered it to Mr. Goacher. Mrs. Poulter glared at him, and after a little hesitation he expressed his obligation but preferred to wait, as he had a letter to write which must be dispatched immediately. Mrs. Poulter never forgot Mrs. Mudge's spite, as she called it; the Standard reminded her of it daily.
Mr. Goacher agreed with Mrs. Poulter that, for the reasons she gave, it would be desirable to remove from Russell House. He also felt that, as a clergyman, he would do wisely in leaving, for he could not ascribe the disappearance of 'the domestic' to anything but a consciousness of guilt.
Miss Taggart considered that Mrs. Mudge's conduct was due to defective training. As to Helen, Miss Taggart added that 'you never feel yourself secure against moral delinquency in the classes from which servants are drawn. They have no basis.'
'I understand,' said Mrs. Poulter, 'that Helen is a Dissenter.'
Miss Taggart, as the reader has been told, was not particularly fond of Mrs. Poulter and Mr. Goacher, but to stay with Mrs. Mudge and Miss Everard was impossible. She had also once or twice received a hint from Miss Toller that perhaps she had better suit herself elsewhere, as the minute attention she demanded to her little needs, of which there were many, was trying both to mistress and servant.
Miss Toller was promptly informed that three of her lodgers were going at the end of the month.
'I hope, Mrs. Poulter, that you are not dissatisfied. I have no doubt I shall soon be able to obtain assistance.'
Mrs. P. 'Our reasons, Miss Toller, had better not be communicated; they are sufficient. Against you personally we have nothing to object.'
Miss T. 'Have you searched the box which I understand has been left?'
Miss Toller. 'Have you missed anything, ma'am?'
Miss T. 'Not at present. I might discover my loss when it was too late.'
Mr. G. 'It would be better for the protection of all of us.'
Miss Toller. 'I couldn't do it for worlds; you'll pardon me for saying so. I'd sooner you left me without paying me a farthing. Helen may have her faults, but she is as honest as—.' Miss Toller's voice trembled and she could not finish the sentence.
Mrs. P. 'Have you any reason to suspect any—any improper relationship?'
Miss Toller. 'I do not quite understand you.'
Mr. G. 'Pardon me, Mrs. Poulter, it is my duty to relieve you of that inquiry. Mrs. Poulter cannot be explicit. Do you surmise that Helen is compelled to conceal?—you will comprehend me, I am sure. I need not add anything more.'
The poor landlady, habitually crushed by the anticipation of quarter-day into fear of contradiction or offence, flamed up with sudden passion. 'Sir,' she cried, 'Helen is my friend, my dearest friend. How dare you!—you a clergyman! I let you and Mrs. Poulter know that she is as pure and good as you are—yes, and a thousand times better than you are with your hateful insinuations. I shalt be thankful to see the last of you!' and she flung herself out of the room.
'What do you think of that?' said Mrs. Poulter. 'It is beyond comment. We cannot remain another night.' Mr. Goacher and Miss Taggart agreed, and Miss Taggart was commissioned at once to engage rooms. When she had gone Mr. Goacher was compelled to explain that he was in a difficulty.
'Of course, my dear Mrs. Poulter, after this open insult I must go at once, but unhappily I am rather behind-hand in my payments to Miss Toller. Remittances I expected have been delayed.'
'How much do you owe her?'
'I believe it is now about fifteen pounds. Her disgraceful conduct discharges us from any liability beyond to-day. Might I beg the loan of twenty pounds from you?—say for a fortnight. It is a favour I could not dream of soliciting from anybody but Mrs. Poulter.'
It was most inconvenient to Mrs. Poulter to advance twenty pounds at that moment. But she had her own reasons for not wishing that Mr. Goacher should imagine she was straitened.
'I believe I can assist you.'
Mr. Goacher dropped on his knees and took the lady's hand, kissing it fervently.
'My dear madam, may I take this opportunity, in this position, of declaring what must be obvious to you, that my heart—yes, my heart- -has been captured and is yours? Identity of views on almost every subject, social and religious, personal attachment beyond that felt to any other woman I ever beheld—have we not sufficient reasons, if you can but respond to my emotion, to warrant an Eden for us in the future?'
'Mr. Goacher, you take me by surprise. I cannot conceal my regard for you, but you will not expect an answer upon a matter of such moment until I have given it most mature consideration. Miss Taggart will be here directly: I think I hear the bell.'
Mr. Goacher slowly rose: Miss Taggart appeared and announced that the rooms were secured.
To end this part of the story, it may be added that in about a fortnight Mr. Goacher's throat was quite well, and he announced to Mrs. Poulter his intention of resuming active work in the Church. The marriage, therefore, was no longer delayed.
A little while afterwards Mrs. Goacher discovered that her husband had been a missionary in the service of the Church Missionary Society and had consequently been Low, that he had been returned a little damaged in character; and that resumption of active work was undesirable.
Mrs. Mudge had lunch and tea with a friend. When she came back Miss Toller told her what had happened.
'I dare say you'll blame me. It was wrong to let my temper get the better of me, but I could not help it.'
'Help it? The wonder to me is you've stood it so long. I couldn't stand them; I should have left if they hadn't. Have they paid you?'
'What, that Goacher? Then he borrowed it!' and Mrs. Mudge laughed till she cried.
The day wore on and no carrier came for the box. After dinner Miss Toller told Mrs. Mudge she must go out for a few minutes to get a charwoman; that she would take the latch-key, and that nobody would call. She had gone about a quarter of an hour when there was a ring at the bell. Mrs. Mudge went to the door and, behold, there was Helen!
'The Lord have mercy on us! Why did you run away so suddenly?'
'Don't ask me. Never you say a word about it to me. I'm a sinner: where's Miss Toller?'
Helen listened in silence as Mrs. Mudge told her the eventful history of the last twelve hours. She went upstairs: Miss Toller's bedroom door was open, and on the drawers she saw a little packet tied up with blue silk.
It was addressed 'for dear Helen.' She tore it open, and there was a locket and in it was her beloved mistress's hair—the mistress to whom she had been so cruel, who had so nobly defended her. She threw herself on the bed and her heart almost broke. Suddenly she leaped up, flew down into the kitchen, and began washing up the plates and dishes. Miss Toller was away for nearly an hour; her search for a charwoman was unsuccessful, and she came back dejected. Helen rushed to meet her and they embraced one another.
'O Miss Toller, forgive me! When I saw you sitting with that Poulter and that Goacher, the Devil got the better of me, but—'
'Hush, my dear; I oughtn't to have gone, and never any more from this day call me Miss Toller. Call me Mary, always from this day— you promise me?' and Miss Toller kissed Helen's quivering lips.
Miss Toller did all she could to get other boarders, but none came and she had a hard time. It was difficult for her sometimes to find a dinner for herself and Helen. Good Mrs. Mudge was delicately considerate and often said, 'that meat need not come up again,' and purposely ordered more than she and Miss Everard could eat, but the butcher's bill and the milk bill were not paid so regularly as heretofore. Worse than privation, worse than debt, was the vain watching for inquiries and answers to her advertisement. What would become of her? Where could she go? Three more boarders she must have or she could not live, and there was no prospect of one. If by great good luck she could obtain three, they might not stay and the dismal struggle would begin again. Lodging-house keepers are not the heroines of novels and poems, but if endurance, wrestling with adversity, hoping in despair, be virtues, the eternal scales will drop in favour of many underground basements against battlefields. At last, after one or two pressing notices from landlord and rate- collector, Mrs. Mudge and Miss Everard were informed that Russell House was to be given up. She and Helen must seek situations as servants.
Mrs. Mudge and Miss Everard went away at the end of the month. On the dining-room table after they had gone Miss Toller found two envelopes directed to her. Inside were some receipts. Mrs. Mudge had paid all the rent due to the end of Miss Toller's term, and Miss Everard the taxes. Next week Miss Toller had the following letter from her father
'MY DEAR MARY,—This is to tell you that your stepmother departed this life last Tuesday fortnight. She was taken with a fit on the Sunday. On Tuesday morning she came to herself and wished us to send for the parson. He was here in an hour and she made her peace with God. I did not ask you to the funeral as you had been so long away. My dear Mary, I cannot live alone at my age. I was sixty- five last Michaelmas, and I want you back in the old house. Let bygones be bygones. I shall always be, your affectionate father,
'PS.—You can have the same bedroom you had when your own mother was alive.'
The furniture, modern stuff, was sold, every stick of it, and Miss Toller rejoiced when the spring sofa and chairs which had been devoted to Poulters and Goachers and Taggarts were piled up in the vans. The nightmares of fifteen years hid themselves in the mats and carpets.
Helen and she standing at the dresser ate their last meal in the dingy kitchen of Russell House. It was nothing but sandwiches, but it was the most delicious food they had tasted there. It is a mistake if you are old to go back to the village in which you were born and bred. Ghosts meet you in every lane and look out from the windows. There are new names on the signboard of the inn and over the grocer's shop. A steam-engine has been put in the mill, and the pathway behind to the mill dam and to the river bank has been closed. The people you see think you are a visitor. The church is restored, and there is a brand new Wesleyan chapel. Better stay where you are and amuse yourself by trying to make flowers grow in your little, smoky, suburban back-garden. But Miss Toller and Helen were not too old. Mr. Toller met them at the station with a four- wheeled chaise. Before the train had quite stopped, Helen caught sight of somebody standing by the cart which was brought for the luggage. 'It's Tom! it's Tom!' she screamed; and it was Tom himself, white-headed now and a little bent. She insisted on walking with him by the side of his horse the whole four miles to their journey's end. He was between forty and fifty when she went away and had been with Mr. Toller ever since—'tried a bit at times,' he confessed, 'with the second missus.' 'She's with God, let us hope,' said Tom, 'and we'll leave her alone.'
They came to Barton Sluice. Flat and unadorned are the fields there, and the Nen is slow, but it was their own land, they loved it, and they were at rest. They fell into their former habits, and the talk of crops, of markets, of the weather, and of their neighbours was sweet. Mrs. Mudge and Miss Everard came now and then to see them in summer time, and when Mr. Toller slept with his fathers, his daughter and Helen remained at the farm and managed it between them.
BLACKDEEP FEN, 24th November 1838.
My Dear Esther,—This is your birthday and your wedding-day, and I have sent you a cake and a knitted cross-over, both of which I have made myself. I can still knit, although my eyes fail a bit. I hope the cross-over will be useful during the winter. Tell me, my dear, how you are. Twenty-eight years ago it is since you came into the world. It was a dark day with a cold drizzling rain, but at eleven o'clock at night you were born, and the next morning was bright with beautiful sunshine. Some people think that Blackdeep must always be dreary at this time of year, but they are wrong. I love the Fen country. It is my own country. This house, as you know, has belonged to your father's forefathers for two hundred years or more, and my father's old house has been in our family nearly as long. I could not live in London; but I ought not to talk in this way, for I hold it to be wrong to set anybody against what he has to do. Your brother Jim is the best of sons. He sits with me in the evening and reads the paper to me. He goes over to Ely market every week. He has his dinner at the ordinary, where many of the company drink more than is good for them, but never once has he come home the worse for liquor. I had a rare fright a little while ago. I thought there was something between him and one of those Stanton girls at Ely. I saw she was trying to catch him. It is all off now. She is a town girl, stuck-up, spends a lot of money on her clothes, and would have been no wife for Jim. She would not have been able to put her hand to anything here. She might have broken my heart, for she would have tried to draw Jim away from me. I don't believe, my dearest child, in wedded love which lessens the love for father and mother. When you were going to be married what agony I went through! It was so wicked of me, for it was jealousy with no cause. I thank God you love me as much as ever. I wish I could see you again at Homerton, but the journey made me so ill last winter that I dare not venture just yet.—Your loving mother,
HOMERTON, 27th Nov. 1838.
My Dearest Mother,—The cake was delicious: it tasted of Blackdeep, and the cross-over will be most useful. It will keep me warm on cold days, and the love that came with it will thicken the wool. But, mother, it is not a month ago since you sent me the stockings. You are always at work for me. You are just like father. He gave us things not only on birthdays, but when we never looked out for them. Do you remember that week when wheat dropped three shillings a quarter? He had two hundred quarters which he might have sold ten days earlier. He was obliged to sell them at the next market and lost thirty pounds, but he had seen at Ely that day a little desk, and he knew I wanted a desk, and he bought it for me with a fishing- rod and landing-net for Jim.
My husband said he could not think of anything I needed and wrote me a cheque for two pounds.
O! that you could come here, and yet I am certain you must not. My heart aches to have you. In my day-dreams I go over the long miles to Blackdeep, through Ware, through Royston, through Cambridge, through every village, and then I feel how far away you are. I turned out of the room the other day the chair in which you always sat. I could not bear to see it empty. Charles noticed it had gone and ordered it to be brought back. He may have suspected the reason why I put it upstairs. My dearest, dearest mother, never fear that my affection for you can become less. Sometimes after marriage a woman loves her mother more than she ever loved her before.
It is a black fog here and not a breath of air is stirring. How different are our fogs at Blackdeep! They may be thick, but they are white and do not make us miserable. I never shall forget when I was last in Fortyacres and saw the mist lying near the river, and the church spire bright in the sunlight. The churchyard and the lower part of the church were quite hidden.
What a mercy Jim was not trapped by Dolly, for I suppose it was she. Jim is not the first she has tried to get. You are quite right. She might have broken your heart, and I am sure she would have broken Jim's, for she is as hard as a millstone.—Your loving child,
BLACKDEEP FEN, 3rd December 1838.
Your letter made me feel unhappy. I am afraid something is on your mind. What is the matter? I was not well before I went to Homerton the last time, but maybe it was not London that upset me. If you cannot leave, I shall come. Let me hear by the next post.
HOMERTON, 5th December 1838.
I told Charles I was expecting you. He said that your sudden determination seemed odd. 'Your mother,' he added, 'is a woman who acts upon impulses. She ought always to take time for consideration. This is hardly the proper season for travelling.' I asked him if he would let me go to Blackdeep. He replied that, unless there was some particular reason for it, my proposal was as unwise as yours. What am I to do? A particular reason! It is a particular reason that I pine for my mother. Can there be any reason more particular than a longing for the sight of a dear face, for kisses and embraces? You must counsel me.
BLACKDEEP, 15th December 1838.
As Charles imagines I am carried away by what he calls impulses, I did not answer your letter at once, and I have been thinking as much as I can. I am not a good hand at it. Your dear father had a joke against me. 'Rachel, you can't think; but never mind, you can do much better without thinking than other people can with it.' I wish I had gone straight to you at once, and yet it was better I did not. It would have put Charles out, and this would not have been pleasant for either you or me. I would not have you at Blackdeep now for worlds. The low fever has broken out, and to-day there were two funerals. Parson preached a sermon about it; it was a judgment from God. Perhaps it is, but why did it take your father three years ago? It is all a mystery, and it looks to me sometimes as if here on earth there were nothing but mystery. I have just heard that parson is down with the fever himself.
Do let me have a long letter at once.
HOMERTON, 20th December 1838.
A Mrs. Perkins has been here. She sat with me for an hour. She spends her afternoons in going her rounds among her friends, as she calls them, but she does not care for them, nor do they care for her. She looks and speaks like a woman who could not care for anybody, and yet perhaps there may be somewhere a person who could move her.
I am so weary of the talk of my neighbours. It is so different from what we used to have at Blackdeep. Oh me! those evenings when father came in at dark, and Mr. and Mrs. Thornley came afterwards and we had supper at eight, and father and Mr. Thornley smoked their pipes and drank our home-brewed ale and we had all the news—how much Mr. Thornley had got for his malt, how that pig-headed old Stubbs wouldn't sell his corn, and how when he began to thresh it and the ferrets were brought, a hundred rats were killed and bushels of wheat had been eaten.
You ask me what is the matter. I do not deny I am not quite happy, but it would be worse than useless to dwell upon my unhappiness and try to give you reasons for it. London, in the winter, most likely does not suit me. I shall certainly see you in the spring, and then I hope I shall be better.
BLACKDEEP FEN, Christmas Day, 1838.
As a rule it is right to hide our troubles, but it is not right that you should hide yours from me. You are my firstborn child and my only daughter. There are girls who are very good, but between their mothers and them there is a wall. They do what they are bid; they are kind, but that is all. They live apart from those that bore them. I would not give a straw for such duty and love. I gathered one of our Christmas roses this morning. We have taken great care to keep them from being splashed and spoilt. There was not a speck on it. I put it in water and could not take my eyes off it. Its white flower lay spread open and I could look right down into it. I thought of you. When you were a little one—ay, and after you were out of short frocks—you never feared to show me every thought in your mind, you always declared that if you had wished to hide anything from me, it would have been of no use to try. What a blessing that was to me! How dreadful it would be if, now that you are married, you were to change! I am sure you will not and cannot.
HOMERTON, 1st January 1839.
The New Year! What will happen before the end of it? I feel as if it must be something strange. I have just read your last letter again, and I cannot hold myself in. My dearest mother, I confess I am wretched. It might be supposed that misery like mine would express itself with no effort, but it is not so: it would be far easier to describe ordinary things. I am afraid also to talk about it, lest that which is dim and shapeless should become more real.
Since the day we were married Charles and I have never openly quarrelled. He is really good: he spends his evenings at home and does not seem to desire entertainment elsewhere. He likes to see me well-dressed and does not stint in house expenditure, although he examines it carefully and pays a good many of the bills himself by cheque. He has been promoted to be manager of the bank, and takes up his new duties to-day. Mrs. Perkins, whose husband is one of the partners, told me that he had said that there is nobody in the bank equal to Charles for sound sense and business ability; that everything with which he has to do goes right; he is always calm, never in a hurry, and never betrayed into imprudence. This I can well believe. As you know, Jim asked him a month ago in much excitement for advice about Fordham, who owed him 200 pounds. Jim had heard there was something wrong. Charles put the letter in the desk and did not mention it to me again till a week afterwards, when he asked me to tell Jim the next time I wrote to Blackdeep that he need not worry himself, as Fordham was quite safe. It is certainly a comfort to a woman that her husband is a strong man and that he is much respected by his employers. Of what have I to complain? O mother, life here is so dull! This is not the right word; it is common, but if you can fill it up with my meaning, there is no better. It will then be terrible. There is hardly a flower in the garden, although not a weed is permitted. The sooty laurels unchanging through winter and summer I hate. Some flowers I am sure would grow, but Charles does not care for them. Neatness is what he likes, and if the beds are raked quite smooth, if the grass is closely shaven and trimmed and not a grain of gravel in the path is loose, he is content. He cannot endure the least untidiness in the house. If papers are left lying loosely about, he silently puts them evenly together. He brings all his office ways into the dining-room; the pens must never be put aside unwiped and the ink- bottles must be kept filled to a certain height. We do not get much sun at any time of day in Homerton, and we face the west. Charles wishes the blinds to be drawn when it shines, so that it may not fade the curtains. We have few books excepting Rees's cyclopaedia, and they are kept in a glazed case. If I look at one I have to put it back directly I have done with it. I saw this place before I was married, but it did not look then as it looks now, and I did not comprehend how much Blackdeep was a part of me. The front door always open in daytime, the hollyhocks down to the gate, the strawberry beds, the currant and gooseberry bushes, the lilacs, roses, the ragged orchard at the back, the going in and out without 'getting ready,' our living-room with Jim's pipes and tobacco on the mantel-shelf, his gun over it, his fishing-tackle in the corner—I little understood that such things and the ease which is felt when our surroundings grow to us make a good part of the joy of life. When I came to Blackdeep for my holiday and lifted the latch, it was just as if a stiff, tight band round my chest dropped from me. I have nothing to do here. We keep three servants indoors. I would much rather have but two and help a little myself. They are good servants, and the work seems to go by mechanism without my interference. I suggested to Charles that, as they were not fully employed, we should get rid of one, but he would not consent. He preferred, he said, paid service. To me the dusting of my room, paring apples, or the cooking of any little delicacy, is not service. The cook asks for orders in the morning; the various dishes are properly prepared; but if I were Charles, and my wife understood her business, I should like to taste her hand in them. I never venture into the kitchen. 'The advantage of paid service,' added Charles, 'is that if it is inefficient you can reprimand or dismiss.' Nothing in me finds exercise. I want to work, to laugh, to expect. There was always something going on at Blackdeep, no two days alike. I never got up in the morning knowing what was before me till bedtime. That outlook too from my window, how I miss it!— the miles and miles of distance, the rainbow arch in summer complete to the ground, the sunlight, the stormy wind, the stars from the point overhead to the horizon far away—I hardly ever see them here.
You will exclaim 'Is this all?' If you were here you would think it enough, but it— The clock is striking one. Charles is to be at home to lunch. He is going to buy the house and is to meet the owner this afternoon, an old man who lives about ten minutes' walk from us. Charles thinks the purchase will be a good investment and that another house might be built on part of the garden.
BLACKDEEP, 15th January 1839.
I am not surprised you find London dull, but I grieve that it has taken such an effect on you. I hoped that, as you are young, you would get used to the bricks and mortar and the smoke.
Jim came in and I had to stop. The Lynn coach is set fast in the snow near the turnpike at the top of our lane, and he is going to help dig it out. I will take up my pen again. You are no worse off than thousands of country girls who are obliged to live in streets narrower than those in Homerton. I cannot help boding you are not quite free with me. I do beseech you to hide nothing. There must even now be something the matter beyond what I have heard. I cannot say any more at present. My head is in a whirl. May be you will have a child. That will make all the difference to you.
HOMERTON, 20th January 1839.
How shall I begin? I must tell the whole truth. Mother, mother, I have made a great mistake, the one great mistake of life. I have mistaken the man with whom I am to live. Charles and I were engaged for two years. I have discovered nothing new in him. I was familiar with all his ways and thought them all good. I compared him with other men who were extravagant and who had vices, and I considered myself fortunate. He was cool, but how much better it was to be so than to have a temper, for I should never hear angry words from him which cannot be forgotten? I remembered how measured my uncle Robert's speech was, how quiet he was, and yet no two human beings could have been more devoted to one another than uncle and aunt. Charles's quietude seemed so like uncle's. Charles was very methodical. He always came to see me on the same days, at the same hours, and stayed the same time. It provoked me at first, but I said to myself that he was not a creature of fits and starts and that I could always depend on him.
He always kissed me when we met and when we parted. I do not remember that he ever had me in his arms, and I never felt he was warm and eager when we were alone together; but I had heard of men and women who married for what they called love, and in a twelvemonth it had vanished and there was nothing left. Of many small particulars I took but little notice. When we chose the furniture I wanted bright-coloured curtains, but he did not like them and bought dark red, gloomy stuff. I tried to think they were the best because they would not show the London dirt. I had a bonnet with scarlet trimmings which suited my black hair, but he asked me to change them for something more sober, because they made me conspicuous. Again I thought he was right, and that what might do for the country might not be proper in town. Trifles! and yet to me now what a meaning they have! Two years—and everything is changed, although, as I have just said, I have found out nothing new! The quietude is absence of emotion, different in its root from uncle Robert's serenity. It is the deadly sameness of a soul to which nothing is strange and wonderful and a woman's heart is not so interesting as an advertisement column in the newspaper. He never cares to look into mine. I do not pretend that there is anything remarkable in it, but if he were to open it he would find something worth having. This absence of curiosity to explore what is in me kills me. What must the bliss of a wife be when her husband searches her to her inmost depths, when she sees tender questions in his eyes, when he asks her DO YOU REALLY FEEL SO? and she looks at him and replies AND YOU? I could endure the uneventfulness of outward life if anything not unpleasant HAPPENED between me and Charles. Nothing happens. Something happens in my relationship to my dog. I pat him and he is pleased; he barks for joy when I go out. I cannot live with anybody with whom I am always on exactly the same even terms—no rising, no falling, mere stagnation. I am dead, but it is death without its sleep and peace. Fool, fool that I was! I cannot go on. What shall I do? If Charles drank I might cure or tolerate him; if he went after another woman I might win him back. I can lay hold of nothing.
A child? Ah no! I have longed unspeakably for a child sometimes, but not for one fathered by him.
BLACKDEEP, 24th January 1839.
I knew it all, but I dared not speak till you had spoken. Your letter came when we were at breakfast. I could not open it, for my heart told me what was in it. Jim wondered why I let it lie on the table, and I made some excuse. After breakfast I took it upstairs into my own room and sat down by the bed, your father's bed, and cried and prayed. If he were alive he would have helped me, or if no help could have been found he would have shared my sorrow. It is dreadful that, no matter what my distress may be, he cannot speak. What counsel can I send you? I have had much to do with affliction, but not such as yours. My love for you is of no use. I will be still. I have always found, when I am in great straits and my head is confused, I must hold my tongue and do nothing. If I do not move, a way may open out to me. Meantime, live in the thought of Blackdeep and of me. It will do you no harm and may keep you from sinking.
HOMERTON, 30th January 1839.
No complaint, no reproof. You might have told me it was perhaps my fault.
I always have to reflect on what I am about to say to him. I go through my sentences to the end before I open my lips. He dislikes exaggeration, and checks me if I use a strong word; but surely life sometimes needs strong words, and those which are tame may be further from the truth than those which burn. When he first began to think about buying the house, I was surprised and talked with less restraint than is usual with me. After a little while he said that I had not contributed anything definite to a settlement of the question. I dare say I had not, but it is natural to me to speak even when I do not pretend to settle questions. He seems to think that speech is useless unless for a distinct, practical purpose. At Blackdeep almost everything that comes into my head finds its way to my tongue. The repression here is unbearable.
Last night it rained, and Charles's overcoat was a little wet at the bottom. He asked that it might be put to the fire. Directly he came down in the morning he felt his coat and at breakfast said in his slow way, 'My coat has not been dried.' I replied that I was very sorry, that I had quite forgotten it, and that it should be dried before he was ready to start. I jumped up, brought it into the room and hung it on a chair on the hearth-rug. He did not thank me and appeared to take no notice. 'I am indeed very sorry,' I repeated. He then spoke. 'I do not care about the damp: it is the principle involved. I have observed that you do not endeavour systematically to impress my requests on your mind. If you were to take due note of them at the time they are made, and say them aloud two or three times to yourself, they would not escape your memory. Forgetfulness is never an excuse in business, and I do not see why it should be at home.' 'O Charles!' I cried, 'do not talk about principles in such a trifle; I simply forgot. I should be more likely to forget my cloak than your coat.' He did not answer me, but opened a couple of letters, finished his breakfast, and then began to write at the desk. I went upstairs, and when I returned to the breakfast room he had gone. In the evening he behaved as if nothing had passed between us. He would have thought it ridiculous if such a reproof had unsettled a clerk at the bank, and why should it unsettle me? The clerk expects to be taught his lesson daily. So does every rational being.
Nothing! nothing! I can imagine Mrs. Perkins' contempt if I were to confide in her. 'As good a husband as ever lived. What do you want, you silly creature? I suppose it's what they call passion. You should have married a poet. You have made an uncommonly good match and ought to be thankful.' A poet! I know nothing of poets, but I do know that if marriage for passion be folly, there is no true marriage without it.
BLACKDEEP, 7th February 1839.
I am no clearer now than I was a fortnight ago. I wish I could talk to somebody, and then perhaps my thoughts would settle themselves. Last Sunday I made up my mind I would come to you at all costs; then I doubted, and this morning again I was going to start at once. Now my doubts have returned. Jim notices how worried I am, and I make excuses.
I cannot rest while I am not able to do more than put you off by praying you to bear your lot patiently. It is so hard to stand helpless and counsel patience. Could you give him up and live here? I am held back, though, from this at present. I am not sure what might happen if you were to leave him. Perhaps he would be able to force you to return. You have no charge to make against him which anybody but myself would understand.
I must still wait for the light which I trust will be given me. It is wonderful how sometimes it strikes down on me suddenly and sometimes grows by degrees like the day over Ingleby Fen. I lay in bed late this morning, for I hadn't slept much, and watched it as it spread, and I thought of my Esther in London who never sees the sunrise.
HOMERTON, 14th February 1839.
There is hardly anything to record—no event, that is to say—and yet I have been swept on at a pace which frightens me. The least word or act urges me more than a blow. Yesterday I made up my accounts and was ten shillings short. I went over them again and again and could not get them right. I was going to put into the cash-box ten shillings of my own money, but I thought there might be some mistake and that Charles, who always examines my books, would find it out, and that it would be worse for me if he had discovered what I had done than if I had let them tell their own tale. After dinner he asked for them, counted my balance, and at once found out there was ten shillings too little. I said I knew it and supposed I had forgotten to put down something I had spent. 'Forgotten again?' he replied; 'it is unsatisfactory: there is evident want of method.' He locked the box and book in the desk and read the newspaper while I sat and worked. Next day I remembered the servant had half-a-sovereign to pay the greengrocer, and I had not seen her since I gave it to her. When Charles returned from the bank my first words were, 'O Charles, I know all about the half-sovereign: I am so glad.' Would not you have acknowledged you were glad too? He looked at me just as he did the night before. I believe he would rather I had lost the money. 'Your explanation,' was his response, 'makes no difference: in fact it confirms my charge of lack of system. I have brought you some tablets which I wish you to keep in your pocket, and you must note in them every outgoing at the time it is made. These items are then to be regularly adjusted, and transferred afterwards.' I could not restrain myself.
'Charles, Charles,' I cried, 'do not CHARGE me, as if I had committed a crime. For mercy's sake, soften! I have confessed I was careless; can you not forgive?' 'It is much easier,' was the answer, 'to confess and regret than to amend. I am not offended, and as to forgiveness I do not quite comprehend the term. It is one I do not often use. What is done cannot be undone. If you will alter your present habit, forgiveness, whatever you may mean by it, becomes superfluous.' His lips shut into their usual rigidity. Not a muscle in them would have stirred if I had kissed them with tears. No tears rose; I was struck into hardness equal to his own, and with something added. I HATED him. 'Henceforward,' I said to myself, 'I will not submit or apologise; there shall be war.'
16th February 1839.
I left my letter unfinished. War? How can I make war or continue at war? I could not keep up the struggle for a week. I am so framed that I must make peace with those with whom I have disagreed or I must fly. I would take nine steps out of the ten—nay, the whole ten which divide me from dear friends; I would say that this or that was not my meaning. I would abandon all arguing and wash away differences with sheer affection. Toward Charles I cannot stir. Sometimes, although but seldom, my brother Jim and I have quarrelled. Five minutes afterwards we have been in one another's arms and the angry words were as though they had never been spoken. Forgiveness is not a remission of consequences on repentance. It is simply love, a love so strong that in its heat the offence vanishes. Without love—and so far Charles is right—forgiveness even of the smallest mistake is impossible.
It is a thick, dark fog again this morning. At Blackdeep most likely it is bright sunlight.
Charles does not seem to suspect that his indifference has any effect on me. I suppose he is unable to conceive my world or any world but his own. If he were at Blackdeep now and the sun were shining, would it be to him a glowing, blessed ball of fire?
He may have just as much right to complain of me as I have to complain of him. He sets store on the qualities necessary for his business, and he knows what store the partners set on those qualities in him. No doubt they are of great importance to everybody. It must be hard for him to live with a woman who takes so little interest in city affairs and makes so much of what to him is of no importance. He looks down upon me as though I were not able to talk on any subject which, for its comprehension, requires intelligence. If he had married Miss Stagg, who has doubled the drapery business at Ely, they might have agreed together very well.
This is true, but I come back to myself. The virtues are not enough for me. Life with them alone is not worth the trouble of getting up in the morning. I thirst for you: I shall come, whatever may happen.
BLACKDEEP, 20th February 1839.
I cannot write an answer to your letter. You must come. I could not make up my mind last night, but this morning the light, the direction, as my mother used to say, was like a star. How you remind me of her! not in your lot but in your ways, and she had your black hair. She was a stranger to these parts. Where your grandfather first saw her I do not know, but she was from the hill country in the far south-west. She never would hear anything against our flats. When folk asked her if she did not miss the hills, she turned on them as if she had been born in the Fens and said she had found something in them better than hills. But how I do wander on! That has nothing to do with you now, although I could tell you, if it were worth while, how it came into my head. I shall look out for you this week.
LOMBARD STREET, 14th March 1839.
Dear Esther,—You have now been away three weeks and I shall be glad to hear when you intend to return. Your mother I hope is better, and if she is not, I trust you will see that your absence cannot be indefinitely prolonged. I am writing at the Bank, and your reply marked 'Private' should be addressed here. Some changes, now almost completed, are being made in the lower rooms at Homerton which will give me one for any business of my own.—Your affectionate husband,
BLACKDEEP, 17th March 1839.
Dear Charles,—My mother is not well, and I shall be grateful to you if you will give me another week. I am sorry you have made alterations in the house without saying anything to me. It will be better now that I should not come back till they are finished.—Your affectionate wife,
HOMERTON, 19th March 1839.
The paperhangers and painters have left; the carpets will be laid and the furniture arranged to-day. I trust to see you when I come home on the 22nd instant. This will nearly give you the week you desired. I shall be late at the Bank on the 22nd, but if you are fatigued with your journey there is no reason why you should not retire to rest, and we will meet in the morning.
BLACKDEEP, 21st March 1839.
I had hoped for a little delay, for I shrank from the necessity of announcing my resolve, although it has for some time been fixed. I shall not return. The reason for my refusal shall be given with perfect sincerity. I do not love you, and you do not love me. I ought not to have married you, and I can but plead the blindness of youth, which for you is a poor excuse. I shall be punished for the remainder of my days, and not the least part of the punishment will be that I have done you a grievous injury. Worse, however—ten thousand times worse—would it be for both of us if we were to continue chained together in apathy or hatred. I would die for you this moment to make good what you have lost through me, but to live with you as your wife would be a crime of which I dare not be guilty. This is all, and this is enough.
HOMERTON, 24th March 1839.
Madam,—I am not surprised at the contents of your letter of the 21st instant, nor am I surprised that your determination should have been made known to me from your mother's house. I have no doubt that she has done her best to inflame you against me. How she contrives to reconcile with her religion her advice to her daughter to break a divine law, I will not inquire. I am not going to remonstrate with you; I will not humiliate myself by asking you to reconsider your resolution. I will, however, remind you of one or two facts, and point out to you the consequences of your action, so that hereafter you may be unable to plead you were not forewarned.
You will please bear in mind that YOU have abandoned ME; I have not abandoned you. You disappointed me: my house was not managed in accordance with my wishes, but I was prepared to accept the consequences of what I did deliberately and I desired to avoid open rupture. I hoped that in time you would learn by experience that the maxims which control my conduct rest on a solid basis; that I was at least to be esteemed, and that we might live together in harmony. I repeat, you have cast me off, though I was willing you should stay.
You confess you have done me a wrong, but have you reflected how great that wrong is? I have no legal grounds for divorce, and you therefore prevent me from marrying again. You have damaged my position in the Bank. Many of my colleagues, envious of my success, will naturally seize their opportunity and propagate false reports, and I therefore inform you that I shall require of you a document which my solicitor will prepare, completely exonerating me. This will be necessary for my protection. A Bank manager's reputation is extremely sensitive, and a notorious infringement of any article of the moral code would in many quarters cause his commercial honesty to be suspected.
You allege that you are sincere, but I can hardly acquit you of hypocrisy. Your sentimental excuse for deserting me is suspicious.
When the document just mentioned has been signed, I shall send a copy of it to the rector of your parish. Without it he will know nothing but what you and your mother tell him, and he will be in a false position.
I hereby caution you that I shall not lose sight of you, and if at any time proof of improper relationship should be obtained, I shall take advantage of it.
BLACKDEEP, 26th March 1839.
Dearest Mother,—This letter came this morning, and I send it at once to you at Ely. Am I to answer it? When I read some parts I wished he had been near me that I might have caught him by the throat. I should have exulted that for once I could move him, although it should be by terror. It is strange that not until now did I know he was so brutal. Notice that, according to him, if a wife leaves her husband it must be for a rival. He does not understand how much she can hate him, body and soul, and with no thought of a lover; that her loathing needs no other passion to inflame it, and that the touch of his clean finger may be worse to her than a leper's embrace.
When I had written so far I was afraid. I knelt down and cried to our Father who is in Heaven.—Your loving daughter,
ELY, 28th March 1839.
You must not reply. I have always tried not to answer back if it will do no good. In a way, I am not sorry he has written in this style to you. It proves that the leading I had was true. I feared cruel claws ever since I first set eyes on him notwithstanding he was so even-tempered, and I am glad he has not shown them till you are safe in Blackdeep. I know what you will have to go through in time to come, but for all that I am sure I am right and that you are right. I am more sure than ever. I am sorry for him, but he will soon settle down and rejoice that you have gone. That spiteful word about my religion does not disturb me. I have my own religion. I have brought up my children in it. I have taught them to fear God and to love the Lord Jesus Christ, who has stood by me in all my troubles and guided me in all my straits whenever I have been willing to wait His time. I bless God, my dear child, that you have not gone away from your mother's faith—ay, and your father's too— and that you can still pray to your Heavenly Father in your distress. Be thankful you have been spared the worst, that you have not grown hard.
I shall come back this week; your aunt wants you here, and a change will do you good.
BLACKDEEP, 10th April 1839.
I am glad you went to Ely, for yesterday the parson called to see you. He had received a letter from Mr. Craggs, and considered it his duty as a Christian minister to endeavour to bring about a reconciliation. I told him at once he might spare himself the pains, for they would be useless. He replied that I ought to think of the example. Well, at that I broke out. I asked him whether that slut of a Quimby girl wasn't a worse example, who at five-and- twenty had married Horrocks, the hoary old wretch, for his money, and leads him a dog's life? Had he ever warned either of them? They go to church regular. I was very free, and I said I thought it was a bright example that a woman should have given up a fine house and money in London because there was no love with them, and should have come back to her mother at Blackdeep. Besides, I added, why should my Esther suffer a living death for years for the sake of the folk hereabouts? They weren't worth it. She was too precious for that. 'Oh!' but he went on again, 'they have souls to be saved. Husbands and wives may be led to imagine there is no harm in separating, and may yield to the temptations of unlawful love.' This made me very hot, and I gave it him back sharp that a sinner could find in the Bible itself an excuse for his sin.
He said no more except that it would be a nice scandal for the Dissenters, and that he trusted God would bring me into a better frame of mind. He then went away. His reasoning went in at one ear and out at the other. Parsons are bound to preach by rule. It is all general: it doesn't fit the ins and outs.
BLACKDEEP, 1st May 1839.
You had better stop at Ely as long as you can. Everybody is gossiping, for parson has told the story as he heard it from your husband. It is worse for Jim than for me, as he goes about among people here, and although they daren't say anything to him about you, there is no mistake as to what they think. Mrs. Horrocks inquired after me, and said she was sorry to hear of my trouble. Jim told her I was quite well, and that the two cows were now all right. He wouldn't let her see he knew what she meant.
Last night, Jim, who has been talking for a twelvemonth past about going to his cousin in America, asked me whether I would not be willing to leave. I have always set my face against it. To turn my back on the old house and the Fen, to begin again at my time of life in a new strange world would be the death of me. More than ever now am I determined to end my days here. They'd say at once we had fled. No, here we'll bide and face it out.
They did not fly. Years went on, and to the astonishment of their neighbours—perhaps they were a little sorry—there was no sign that Esther had a lover. Mrs. Horrocks's eyes were feline, but she was obliged to admit she was at fault. Jim married, and an agreeable opportunity was presented for the expression of amazement that his wife's father and mother felt safe in allowing their child to enter such a family—but then she came from Norwich. The majority of the poor in Blackdeep Fen sided with the Suttons, and here and there a pagan farmer boldly declared that old Mrs. Sutton and her daughter were of a right good sort, and that there was not a straightforrarder man than Jim in Ely market. But to respectable Blackdeep society the Suttons remained a vexatious knot which it could not unpick and lay straight. Nobody, as Mrs. Horrocks observed, knew how to take them. Mrs. Craggs wore her wedding-ring, and when she was in Mrs. Jarvis's shop looked her straight in the face and asked for what she wanted as if she were the parson's wife. But that, according to Mrs. Horrocks, just showed her impudence. 'What a time that poor Craggs in London must have had of it:' (Mr. Horrocks was not present). 'Lord! how I do pity the man.' 'And yet,' added Mrs. Jarvis, 'and YET, you might eat your dinner off Mrs. Craggs's floor. I call it hers, for she cleans it.' Clearly the living-room ought to have been a pigsty. It was particularly annoying that, although Mrs. Sutton and her family by absence from church had become infidels, they did not go to the devil openly as they ought to do, and thereby relieve Blackdeep of that pain and even hatred which are begotten by an obstinate exception to what would otherwise be a general law. Parson often preached that everybody was either a sheep or a goat. The Suttons were not sheep- -that was certain; and yet it was difficult to classify them as ordinary Blackdeep goats, creatures with horns. Mrs. Jarvis had heard that there was a peculiar breed of goats with sheep's wool and without horns. 'Esther Craggs,' she maintained, 'will one day show us what she's after; mark my word, you'll see. If that brazen face means nothing, then I'm stone-blind.'
After Jim's marriage Esther continued to manage the house and the dairy, leaving the cooking to her sister-in-law and the needlework to her mother. Soon after five o'clock on a bright summer morning the labourer going to his work heard the unbarring of Mrs. Sutton's shutters and the withdrawal of bolts. The casement windows and the door were then flung open, and Esther generally came into the doorway and for a few minutes faced the sun. She did not shut herself up. She walked the village like a queen, and no Fen farmer or squireling ventured to jest with her. Mrs. Jarvis could not be brought to admit her stone-blindness and clung to the theory of somebody in London; but as Esther never went to London, and nobody from London came to her, and the postmistress swore no letters passed between London and the Sutton family, Mrs. Jarvis became a little distrusted, although some of her acquaintances believed her predictions with greater firmness as they remained unfulfilled. 'I don't care what you may say; don't tell me,' was her reply to sceptical objections, and it carried great weight.
Esther died of the Blackdeep fever in the fifth year after she came home. As soon as he received the news of her death Mr. Craggs married Mrs. Perkins, who had been twelve months a widow, was admitted into partnership, and is now one of the most respected men in the City.
In 1844 there were living between Carlisle and Keswick, Robert Radcliffe and his only child Kate. They belonged to an ancient Roman Catholic family, remotely connected with the Earl of Derwentwater who was executed in 1716; but Robert Radcliffe's father had departed from the faith of his ancestors, and his descendants, excepting one, had remained Protestant. Robert had inherited a small estate and had not been brought up to any profession. He had been at Cambridge, and at one time it was thought he might become a clergyman, but he had no call that way, and returned to Cumberland after his father's death to occupy himself with his garden and books. He was a good scholar and had a library of some three thousand volumes. He married when he was about eight-and-twenty, but his wife died two years after Kate was born, and he did not marry again. He took no particular pleasure in field sports except angling, nor in the gaieties of county society, although he was not a recluse and was on friendly terms with most of his neighbours. He was fond of wandering in his own country, and knew every mountain and every pass for twenty miles round him. His daughter was generally his companion, sometimes on her pony and sometimes on foot. Neither of them had been abroad, save once to France when she was about sixteen. They cared little for travelling in foreign parts, and he always said he got nothing out of a place in which he was a lodger. He went once a Sunday to the village church: he was patron of the living. The sermons were short and simple. Theological questions did not much concern him, and he found in Horace, Montaigne, Swift, and the County History whatever mental exercise he needed. So far he was the son of his father, but his mother had her share in him. She was a strange creature, often shaken by presentiments. Years after she was married her husband had to go to Penrith on some business which she knew would keep him there for a night. She got it into her head when she was alone in the evening that something had happened to him. She could not go to bed nor sit still, and at three o'clock in the morning she called up her servant and bade him saddle his horse and hers. Off they started for Penrith, and she appeared before her astonished husband just as he was leaving his room at the inn for an early breakfast. She rushed speechless into his arms and sobbed.
'What is the matter?' he cried.
'Nothing wrong at home?'
She passed her hands slowly over his face as if to reassure herself, pushed back his hair, looked in his eyes, took both his hands and said softly, 'Not another word, please.'
He understood her, at least in part. She remained quietly at the inn till the afternoon and then went home with him. She was also peculiar in her continual reference to first principles. The meaningless traditions, which we mistake for things, to her were nothing. She constantly asked, 'why not?' and was therefore dangerous. 'If you go on asking "why not?"' said her aunt to her once, 'mark me you'll come to some harm.' She saw realities, and yet—it was singular—she saw ghosts. Mr. Radcliffe did not obviously resemble his mother, nor did Kate, and yet across both of them there often shot clear, and at times even flashing gleams, indisputable evidence that in son and granddaughter she still lived. It was in his relationship to his daughter that Mr. Radcliffe betrayed his mother's blood. His reading, as we have said, was in Horace, Montaigne, and Swift, but if Kate went away for no longer than a couple of days to her cousins at Penrith, he used to watch her departure till she was hidden at the first bend of the road about half a mile distant, and then when he went back to his room and looked at her empty chair, a half-mad, unconquerable melancholy overcame him. It was not to be explained by anxiety. It was inexplicable, a revelation of something in him dark and terrible. In 1844 Kate Radcliffe was twenty-four years old. She had never been handsome, and when she was sixteen her pony had missed its footing on a treacherous mountain track and she narrowly escaped with her life. She was thrown on a rock, and her forehead was crossed henceforth beyond remedy with a long broad mark. She had never cared much for company, and her disfigurement made her care for it less. She could not help feeling that everybody noticed it, and most people in truth noticed nothing else. She was 'the girl with a scar.' As time went on, this self-consciousness, or rather consciousness of herself as the scar, diminished, but her indifference remained, other reasons for it being added. She never had a lover; and, indeed, what man could be expected to take to himself as wife even the wisest and most affectionate of women whose brow was indented? She was advised to wear some kind of head-gear which would hide her misfortune, but she refused. 'Everybody,' she said, 'would know what was behind, and I will not be harassed by concealment.' To her father her accident did but the more endear her. There is no love so wild, no, not even the love of a mistress, as that which is sometimes found in a father or mother for a child, and often for one who is physically or even mentally defective. It is not subject to satiety and lassitude, and grows with age. To Kate also her father was more than the whole world of men and women. The best of friends weary of one another and large spaces of separation are necessary, but these two were always happy together. Theirs was the blessed intimacy which is never unmeaning and yet can endure silence. They never felt that unpleasant stricture of the chest caused by a search for entertainment or for some subject of conversation.
Nevertheless, although Mr. Radcliffe was so much to Kate, she was herself, and consequently had wants which were not his. There had been born in her before 1844 a passion which could not be satisfied by any human being, a leaning forward and outward to something she knew not what. The sun rose over the fells; they were purple in sunset; the constellations slowly climbed the eastern sky on a clear night, and her heart lay bare: she wondered, she was bowed down with awe, and she also longed unspeakably. When she was about twenty-five years old she accepted an invitation to spend a few weeks with a friend in London. She was fond of music, and on her first Sunday she could not resist the temptation to hear a mass by Mozart in Saint Mary's, Moorfields. She was overpowered, and something moved in her soul which she had never felt in the church at home. She worshipped at Saint Mary's several times afterwards, and her friend rallied her on conversion to Roman Catholicism.
'It is the music, Kate.'
'Well, then, why not?'
'The music is so tender, so overwhelming, that thinking is impossible.'
'Is thinking the only way to the truth—putting two and two together? The noblest truth comes with music. More solid truth has been demonstrated by a song, a march, or a hymn, than by famous political and theological treatises. But I am not a Roman Catholic.'
'Oh yes! I know what you mean: it is a poetical way of saying that music stimulates aspiration.'
'No, that is not what I mean. If there be such a mental operation as passionless thinking it does not lead to much. Emotion makes intellectual discoveries.'
'I do not understand you. Revealed religion rests on intelligent conviction. It is the doctrine of a Creator, of law, of sin, of redemption, of future happiness and misery.'
'That is to say, your religion stands on authority or logic. But I cannot dispute with you. The beliefs by which some of us live— "belief" is not the right word—are not begotten or strengthened and cannot be overthrown by argument. We dare not expose them, but if they were to fail, we should welcome death and annihilation. I repeat, I am not a Roman Catholic.'
Kate went back to her father and her native hills. The drama of Saint Mary Moorfields was continually before her eyes, and Mozart's music was continually in her ears. An ideal human being had been revealed to her who understood her, pitied her, and loved her. She was no longer a mere atom of dust, unnoticed amongst millions of millions. But the intensity of her faith gave birth to fear and doubt. Her own words recurred to her, but she was forced to admit that she must depend upon evidence. If Christ were nothing but a legend, she might as well kneel to a mist.
In those days, within five miles of her father's house was a small Roman Catholic chapel. The priest had been well educated, but he had never questioned any of the dogmas imposed on him as a child. One Sunday morning, when her father did not go to church, Kate walked over to the chapel and heard mass. The contrast with Saint Mary Moorfields was great. The sermon disappointed her. It was little more than simple insistence on ritual duty. She reflected, however, that it was not addressed to her, but to those who had been brought up to believe. As she walked home a strange conflict arose in her. On the one hand were her imperious needs, which almost compelled assumption of fact; but the wind blew, and when she looked up the clouds sailed over the mountains. She sat on a grey rock to rest. It had lain there for thousands of years, and she was reminded of the Druid circle above the Greta. She could get no further with her thinking, and knelt down and prayed for light. It is of all prayers the most sincere, but she was not answered—at least not then. The next Sunday she went again to mass, and she had half a mind to signify her wish to confess, but what could she confess? She was burdened with no sins, and in confession she could not fully explain her case. She determined she would write to the priest and ask him to grant her an interview.
Her desertion of the parish church was observed, and of course nobody was surprised that Miss Radcliffe had turned Papist. The old Radcliffes were all Papists; there was Popery in the blood, and it came out like the gout, missing a couple of generations. Then again there was the scar, and Miss Radcliffe would never be married. One of the neighbours who suggested the scar and maidenhood as a sufficient reason for apostasy was a retired mill-owner, who was a Wesleyan Methodist when he was in business in Manchester, but had become ostentatiously Anglican when he retired into the country. The village blacksmith, whose ancestors had worked at the same forge since the days of Queen Elizabeth, was a fearless gentleman, and hated the mill-owner as an upstart. He therefore made reply that 'other people changed their religion because they wanted to be respectable and get folk like the Radcliffes to visit them—which they won't,' the last words being spoken with emphasis and scorn.
Mr. Radcliffe was much disturbed. To him Roman Catholicism was superstition, and he wondered how any rational person could submit to it. To be sure he assented every week to supernatural history and doctrines presented to him in his own parish church, but to these he was accustomed, and his reason, acute as it was, made no objection. There was another cause for his distress. His only sister, whom he tenderly loved, had become a foreign nun and was lost to him for ever. His life was bound up with his child, and he dreaded intervention. It is all very well to say that religious differences need not be a bar to friendship. This is one of the commonplaces of people who understand neither friendship nor religion. When Kate and he went for their long walks together, they would no longer see the same hills; and there would always be something behind her affection for him and above it. He was moodily jealous, and it was unendurable that he should be supplanted by an intruder who would hear secrets which were not entrusted to a parent. There was still some hope. He did not know how far she had gone; and he resolved to speak to her. One morning, as soon as breakfast was over, he proposed an excursion; he could talk more freely in the open air. After a few minutes' indifferent conversation he asked her abruptly if she was a Roman Catholic.
'I cannot say.'
'Cannot say! Do you still belong to our church?'
'Father, do not question me.'
'Ah! I see what has happened; it is lawful to hide from me, to prevaricate and perhaps'—he checked himself. 'You know that ever since you have grown up I have hidden nothing from you. I have told you everything about my own affairs: I have asked your counsel, for I am old, and the wisdom of an old man is often folly. You have also told me everything: you have opened your heart to me. Think of what you have said to me: I have been mother and father to you. The trouble to me is not merely that you believe in transubstantiation and I do not, but that there is something in you which you reserve for a stranger. What has come to you?—for God's sake keep close to me for the few remaining years or months of my life. Have you reflected on the absurdities of Romanism? Is it possible that my Kate should kneel at the feet of an ignorant priest!'
She was silent. She knew as little as her father of Roman Catholic history and creeds.
He went on:
'Your aunt, my dear sister—a more beautiful creature never walked this earth—I do not know if she is alive or dead. Can that be true which kills love?'
'Father, father,' she cried, sobbing, 'nothing can separate us!'
He said no more on that subject, and seemed to recover his peace of mind, although he was not really at rest. He was getting into years and he saw that words were useless and that he must wait the issue of forces which were beyond his control. 'If she is to go, she must go: resistance will make it worse for me: I must thank God if anything of her is left for me. Thus spoke the weary submission of age, but it was not final, and the half-savage desire for his child's undivided love awoke in him again, and he prayed that if he could not have it his end might soon come.