BEING A CONTINUATION OF THE HISTORY OF ROBERT ORANGE, M.P.
AND A SEQUEL TO THE SCHOOL FOR SAINTS
John Oliver Hobbes
LONDON: T. FISHER UNWIN
PATERNOSTER SQUARE. MDCCCC
(All rights reserved)
One afternoon during the first weeks of October, 1869, while wind, dust, and rain were struggling each for supremacy in the streets, a small yellow brougham, swung in the old-fashioned style on cumbersome springs and attached to a pair of fine greys, was standing before the Earl of Garrow's town residence in St. James's Square. The hall clock within that mansion chimed four, the great doors were thrown open by two footmen, and a young lady wearing a mauve silk skirt deeply flounced, a black cloth jacket embroidered in gold, and a mauve hat trimmed with plumes—appeared upon the threshold. She paused for a moment to admire the shrubs arranged in boxes on each window-sill, the crimson vines that brightened the grey walls; to criticise the fresh brown rosette under the near horse's ear; to bestow a swift glance upon the harness, the coachman's livery, and the groom's boots. Then she stepped into the carriage and gave her order—
"To the Carlton Club."
The groom climbed on to his seat, and the horses, after a brilliant display of their well-disciplined mettle, suffered themselves to be driven, at an easy pace, toward Pall Mall.
Lady Sara-Louise-Tatiana-Valerie De Treverell, only child of the ninth Earl of Garrow, had been, since her mother's death, the mistress of his house and his chief companion. Essentially a woman of emotions, she was, nevertheless, in appearance somewhat dreamy, romantic, even spiritual. The eyes were blue, bright as a cut sapphire, and shone, as it were, through tears. Her mouth, uneven in its line, had a scarlet eloquence more pleasing than sculpturesque severity. At the moment, she wore no gloves, and her tapering fingers shared their characteristic with her nose, which also tapered, with exquisite lightness of mould, into a point. For colour, she had a gypsy's red and brown. The string of gold beads which she fastened habitually round her throat showed well against the warm tints in her cheek; her long pearl earrings caught in certain lights the dark shadow of her hair—hair black, abundant, and elaborately dressed in the fashion of that time. Passionate yet calculating, imperious yet susceptible of control, generous yet given to suspicion, an egoist yet capable of self-abandoning enthusiasm—she represented a type of feminine character often recognised but rarely understood.
On this particular afternoon in October she had some pressing matters on her mind. She was considering, among other things, an offer of marriage which she had received by post two days before from a nobleman of great fortune, the Duke of Marshire. But Sara was ambitious—not mercenary. She wanted power. Power, unhappily, was the last thing one could associate with the estimable personality of the suitor under deliberation.
"I must tell papa," she said to herself, "that it would never do."
Here she fell into a reverie; but as her expression changed from one of annoyance to something of wistfulness and sentimentality, the question of marriage with the Duke of Marshire had clearly been dismissed for that moment from her heart. At intervals a shy smile gave an almost childish tenderness to her face. Then, on a sudden, her eyelashes would droop, she would start with a sigh, and, apparently caught by some unwelcome remembrance, sink into a humour as melancholy as it was mysterious. Quiet she sat, absorbed in her own emotions, heedless alike of the streets through which she was passing and the many acquaintances who bowed as she drove by. It was her daily custom, when in town, to call at the Carlton Club for her father and take him for a short drive round the Park before his tea. To-day he was already waiting on the club steps as the brougham halted before the entrance. He smiled, joined Lady Sara at once, and seating himself by her side in his usual corner, maintained his usual imperturbable reserve. As a rule, during these excursions he would either doze, or jot down ideas in his note-book, or hum one of the few songs he cared to hear: "Go tell Augusta, gentle swain," "Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries," and "She wore a wreath of roses." This time, however, he did neither of these things, but watched the reflection of his daughter's face in the carriage window before him. He had white hair, a dyed moustache and a small imperial—also dyed the deepest black—just under the lower lip. In appearance he was, spite of the false touches, good-looking, sensitive, and perhaps too mild. The cleft in his rounded chin was the sole mark of decision in a countenance whose features were curved—wherever a curve was possible—to a degree approaching caricature. Temples, eyebrows, nostrils, and moustache, all described a series of semi-circles which, accentuated by a livid complexion and curling hair, presented an effect somewhat commonplace and a little tiresome. He had spent his existence among beings to whom nothing seemed natural which did not depart most earnestly from all that nature is and teaches: he had always endeavoured to maintain the ideal of a Christian gentleman where, as a matter of fact, Christianity was understood rather as a good manner than a faith, and ideals were prejudices of race rather than aspirations of the soul. Well-born, well-bred, and moderately learned, he was not, and could never be, more than dull or less than dignified. The second son of his father, he had spent the customary years of idleness at Eton and Oxford, he had journeyed through France, Italy, and Spain, contested unsuccessfully a seat in Mertford, and thought of reading for the Bar. But at four-and-thirty he became, through the influence of his mother's family, groom-in-waiting to the Queen—a post which he held till his elder brother's death, which occurred six months later. At this point his Court career ceased. A weak heart and a constitutional dislike of responsibility assisted him in his firm decision to lead the life of a country nobleman. He retired to his estate, and remained there in solitude, troubling no one except his agent, till a Russian lady, whom he had first met and loved during his early travels on the Continent, happened to come visiting in the neighbourhood. As the daughter of a Russian Prince and Ambassador, she had considered her rank superior to Lord Garrow's, and therefore felt justified, as she informed her relations after he had succeeded to the earldom, in making the first advance toward their common happiness. The marriage was soon arranged; the alliance proved successful if not always serene; one child—Sara-Louise-Tatiana-Valerie—was born, an event which was followed, nine days later, by the death of the Countess.
Lord Garrow, a man of refined ideas rather than profound feelings, displayed in mourning his wife's loss the same gentle, dispassionate, and courteous persistency with which he had remained constant to his first impression of her charms. She had been a beautiful, high-hearted girl; she became a fascinating but wayward woman; she died a creature of such mingled ferocity and sentiment that, had she not perished when she did, she must have existed in misery under the storms of her own temperament. As Garrow watched his daughter's face, he may have been touched to a deeper chord than usual at the sight of her strange and growing resemblance to his dead Tatiana. Did she too possess—as her mother had possessed—the sweet but calamitous gift of loving? He himself had not been the object of his wife's supreme devotion. Before the child's birth she had given him an emerald ring which, she declared, was all that she valued on earth. It was no gift of his; it had belonged to a young attache to her father's embassy. Affection had taught Lord Garrow something; he asked no questions; the jewel was placed, by his orders, on her dead hand; it was buried with her, and with that burial he included any jealousy of her early romance. He had been sincerely, wholly attached to her; he had been proud of her graces and accomplishments; he knew her virtue and honoured her pure mind; she was the one woman he had ever wished to marry. He did not regret, nay, it was impossible to regret, their marriage. But she had been ever an alien and a stranger. Each had too often considered the other's heart with surprise. True love must rest on a perfect understanding; at the first lifting of the eyes in wonder there is a jar which by and by must make the whole emotion restless. An unconquerable curiosity lay at the very root of their lives. She thought him English and self-sufficient; he thought her foreign and a little superstitious. This ineffable criticism was constant, fretful, and ever nearing the climax of uttered reproach. Sara had inherited all the amazement, but she owned, as well, its comprehension. She adored passionately the mother she had never seen; she loved her father, whom she knew by heart. After exchanging an affectionate glance with his lordship, she began to draw on her gloves. Whilst buttoning one she said—
"Have you seen him?"
"No," he replied; "but, in any case, I think he would have avoided me to-day."
"From motives of delicacy. Henry Marshire is a man of the nicest feeling. He is never guilty of the least mistake."
Sara smiled, and so disguised a blush.
"I did not mean Marshire," she said. "I was thinking then of Robert Orange."
"Robert Orange," exclaimed Lord Garrow in astonishment.
"Yes, dear papa. Is he not sometimes at the Carlton with Lord Wight? He seems to me a coming man; and so good-looking. We must really ask him to dinner."
Some minutes elapsed before the Earl could utter any comment on a suggestion so surprising, and at that particular moment so inconsequent. Was his daughter not weighing—with prayer, he hoped, and certainly with all her senses—the prospect of an alliance with the Duke of Marshire? How, then, could she pause in a meditation of such vital interest to make capricious remarks about a mere acquaintance?
"Does Marshire know him?" he asked at last.
"I hope so. He is a remarkable person. But the party is blind."
"My dear, the English are an aristocratic people. They do not forgive mysterious blood and ungentle origins. While we have our Howards, our Talbots, and our Poulets—to say nothing of the De Courcys and Cliftons—it would surely seem excessively absurd to endure the intrusion of French emigres into our midst."
"How I hate the great world!" exclaimed Sara, with vehemence; "how I dislike the class which ambition, wealth, and pride separate from the rest of humanity! My only happiness now is found in solitude."
"Your mother, dear Sara, had—or fancied so—this same desire to shun companionship and be alone. Her delicate health after our marriage made her fear society."
"There are days when it seems an arena of wild beasts!"
"Nevertheless, my darling, at your age you must learn to live among your fellow creatures."
"How can I live where I should be afraid to die?"
"Ought you to give way to these moods? Is it not mistaking the imagination for the soul? Young people do this, and you are very young—but two-and-twenty."
"I am double-hearted," said Sara; "and when one is double-hearted the tongue must utter contradictions. I like my advantages while I despise them. I wish to be thought exclusive, yet I condemn the pettiness of my ambition. And so on."
"I fear," said Lord Garrow gravely, "that your mind is disturbed by a question which you must soon—very soon, my dearest child—answer."
"Papa, I cannot."
"Surely you will gratify me so far as to take time before you object to what might possibly be most desirable."
"It may be desirable enough, but is it right?"
"Right," repeated her father, with exasperation. "How could it be otherwise than right to marry a man of Marshire's position, means, stamp, and general fitness? You would be in possession of a station where your interest would be as independent as your spirit. Nothing could have been more brilliant, or flattering, or more cordial than his offer. I argue against my natural selfishness for your welfare. I don't wish to part with you, but I must consider your future."
He spoke with energy, and Sara knew, from the length and substance of the speech, that the subject had been for some time very near his heart. She resolved, on the instant, not to fail him; but as she foresaw his crowning satisfaction, she permitted herself the luxury of prolonging his suspense.
"I do not love him," said she.
"In marriage one does not require an unconquerable love but an invincible sympathy."
"An invincible sympathy!" she exclaimed. "I have had that for certain friends—for one or two, at any rate. For Robert Orange, as an example."
"That man again? Why do you dwell upon him?"
"He is interesting, he has force, and, as for origin, do people ever repeat pleasant facts about a neighbour's pedigree? I believe that his family is every bit as good as ours. His second name is de Hausee. No one can pretend that we are even so good as a genuine de Hausee. We may make ourselves ridiculous!"
"Let me entreat you to guard against these inequalities in your character. To-day I could even accuse you of levity. Dearest Sara, Marshire is hardly the man to be kept waiting for his reply."
"I am not well," said Sara, almost in tears. "There are hours when I would not give my especial blessings for any other earthly happiness, and then, a moment after, the things which pleased me most become vexations, all but intolerable!"
"How little importance, then, should we attach to our caprices, when we know, by experience, how short is the pleasure and displeasure they can give," was the careful reply.
"Caprices!" said Sara, "yes, you are right. My mind gets weary, disgusted, and dismayed. But the soul is never bored—never tired. Poor prisoner! It has so few opportunities."
She sighed deeply, and her father saw, with distress, the approach of a sentimental mood which he deplored as un-English, and feared as unmanageable.
"What is this languor, this inability to rouse myself, to feel the least interest in things or people?" she continued. "I am not ill, and yet I have scarcely the strength to regret my lassitude."
"What does it mean?"
He put his hand upon her jacket sleeve.
"Is this warm enough?" he said. "The autumn is treacherous. You are careful, I hope."
She glanced out of the window and up at the clouds which, grey, heavy, and impenetrable, moved, darkening all things as they went across the sky.
"I wish it would rain! I like to be out when it rains!"
"A strange fancy," said her father, "but tastes, even odd ones, give a charm to life, whereas passions—" he put some stress upon the word and repeated it, "passions destroy it."
"Marshire, at any rate, does not seem to possess either!"
"Well, a man must begin at some point, and, at some point, he must change. He admires and respects you, my darling, so we may hardly quarrel with his judgment."
Sara shrugged her shoulders and turned her glance away from the few carriages filled with invalids or elderly women which were still lingering in the Row.
"Some people," said she, "are driven by their passions, others, the smaller number, by their virtues. Marshire has asked me to marry him because it is his duty to choose a wife from his own circle. I have no illusions in the matter. Nor, I fancy, has he. We have talked, of course, of love and Platonism till both love and Platonism became a weariness!"
"Very far indeed am I from thinking you just. I have had an extremely kind note from the Duchess."
"An old tyrant! She wants a daughter-in-law who will play piquet with her in the evenings, and feed her peacocks in the morning. She is tired of poor Miss Wilmington. An old tyrant!"
"She hopes to hear soon when the marriage is to take place. I wish I could tell her the day. I do so long to have it fixed."
"Dear papa," she said, with a charming smile, "you are anxious, I see, to be rid of me. I will write to him to-night."
"And to what effect?"
"That means the happiest, too?" he asked with anxiety.
"For you and him, I hope. As for me—am I a woman who could, by any chance, be both happy and wise at the same moment?"
Her existence was very solitary. The flippancy of the lives around her, the inanity of her relatives' pursuits, their heedlessness of those inner qualities which make the real—indeed, the only considerable difference between man and man, could but fret, and mortify, and abash a heart which, in the absence of any religious faith, had, at any rate, the need of it. Her father, who entertained clear views of "the right thing" and "the wrong thing" in social ethics, was still too rigid a formalist in the exposition of his theories to reach an intelligence with whom the desire of virtues would have to come as a passion—inspiring and inspired or else be utterly repudiated. Utilitarianism, and the greatest happiness of the greatest number, comfortable domestic axioms, little schemes for the elevation of the masses by the classes, had, on their logical basis, no attraction for this sceptical, wayward girl. To be merely useful was, in her eyes, to make oneself meddlesome and absurd. The object of existence was to be heroic or nothing. She could imagine herself a Poor Clare: she could not imagine herself as a great young lady dividing her hours judiciously between district visiting and the ball-room, between the conquest of eligible bachelors and the salvation of vulgar souls. Marshire, she knew, had sisters and cousins who did these things and were considered patterns. No wonder then that she turned pale and became fretful at the prospect of her views clashing inevitably with his.
"I cannot be wise and happy at the same moment," she repeated.
At that instant the carriage, which was then rolling toward Hyde Park Corner, came to an abrupt standstill, and, on looking out, Lord Garrow observed that the coachman had halted in obedience to a signal from a gentleman who was galloping, at a hard pace, after their brougham.
"It must be Reckage," said the Earl; "I never knew a man so fond of riding who rode so ill."
"What, I wonder, does he want now?" said Sara, flushing a little. "I didn't know that he was in town."
By that time the pursuer, a handsome man with an auburn beard and very fine blue eyes, had reached them.
"This," he shouted, "is a rushing beast of a horse;" but, before he could explain his errand, the hunter, who was nearly quite thoroughbred and a magnificent animal, dashed on, evidently determined to gain, without delay, some favourite destination.
"Extraordinary!" said Lord Garrow. "Extraordinary!"
"But so like him," observed his daughter.
"And he has made us late for tea. What a stupid fellow!"
It was exactly five minutes past five when they reached St. James's Square. The sun, a globe, set in thin lines of yellow light, shone out above the trees, which were dull but not yet leafless. Grey and sulphurous and gold-edged clouds floated in masses on the blue sky. It had been a day of changes—yet it seemed to Sara, whose own moods had been as various, the ordinary passing away of time.
"Upon my word," said his lordship, "it is too bad! They may say what they please about Reckage, but I call him a spooney. That horse was a noble horse—a most superior horse. He couldn't manage him. I wish he would sell him."
"He would never do anything so much to his own advantage," was the dry response. "Poor Reckage is a brilliant fool—he's selfish, and therefore he miscalculates."
Sara was now talking mechanically—as she often did when she was with those whom she loved or liked, but from whom she was separated in every thought, interest, and emotion. The lassitude of which she had complained at the beginning of their drive returned upon her. Sighing heavily, she entered the house and mounted the long staircase to the drawing-room, where the tea-table was already spread, the flame quivering under the kettle, the deep pink china laid out on a silver tray. But the homeliness of the scene and its familiarity had no power to soothe that aching, distracted heart. Had she been a man, she thought, she might have sought her refuge in ceaseless work, in great ambitions, in achievements. This eternal tea-pouring and word-mincing, this business of forced laughter and garlanded conversation was more than she could endure. A low cry of impatience, too long and also too loosely imprisoned, escaped from her lips.
"What is the matter?" asked Lord Garrow, who was following close upon her heels.
"Life," she said, "life! That is all that ever does matter."
"Ain't you happy?"
"No, but I have it in me to be happy—an appalling capability. Let us say no more about it. I must join myself to eternity, and so find rest."
"Well," said her father, who now felt that he had a right to complain, "my poor uncle used to say, if women deserved happiness they would bear it better. Few of them bear it well—and this is a fact I have often brought before me."
When Sara had prepared Lord Garrow's tea and cut the leaves of the Revue des Deux Mondes, which he invariably read until he dressed for dinner, she stole away to the further room, where she could play the piano, write letters, muse over novels, or indulge in reverie without fear of interruption. But as she entered it that afternoon its air of peace seemed the bleakness of desolation. A terrible and afflicting grief swept, like an icy breeze, through her heart, and, whether from actual physical pain or the excitement of the last few hours, tears started to her eyes, her cheeks flushed, and she fell to passionate weeping. The smiling Nymphs painted on the ceiling above her head and the rose leaves they were for ever scattering to the dancing Hours (a charming group, and considered very cheerful), could not relieve her woe. She cried long and bitterly, and was on the verge of hysterics when the door opened and her most intimate woman friend, the Viscountess Fitz Rewes, was announced. This bewitching creature—who was a widow, with two long flaxen curls, a sweet figure, and the smile of an angel—embraced her dear, dear Sara with genuine affection, and pretended not to see her swollen eyelids. Sara possessed for Pensee Fitz Rewes the fascination of a desperate nature for a meek one. The audacity, brilliancy, and recklessness of the younger woman at once stimulated and established the other's gentle piety.
They talked for fifteen minutes about the autumn visits they had paid, the visits they would have to pay, and the visits which nothing in the world would induce them to pay.
"I have been at home, at Catesby, most of the time," said Pensee; "a very quiet, happyish time, on the whole. I had a few people down, but I saw a great deal of a particularly nice person. She is a foreigner—an archduchess really. Her father made a morganatic marriage. I am so glad they don't have morganatic marriages in England. I don't like to be uncharitable, but they seem, in a way, so improper. Madame de Parflete is all one could wish. Her husband was a dreadful man."
"What did he do?" said Sara, who was a little absent.
"Oh, all kinds of things. He committed suicide in the end. And now—she is going to marry a friend of mine."
"Who is he?"
"I never told you about him before," said Pensee, "but I am so miserable to-day that you may as well know. He was a sort of brother, yet much more. One didn't meet him often in our set, because he didn't and doesn't care about it. Life, however, threw us together."
She covered her wan face with her hands.
"How am I to give him up?" she asked. "How shall I bear it? I get so unhappy. I asked my little boy the other day what he did when I went away from home. He said—'I gather chestnuts and feel lonely.' And I asked my little girl what she did, and she said—'I cry till you come back again.' There's the difference between men and women. I am like my poor Lilian. You, Sara, if you could be wretched, would be more like the boy."
"Do you think so?" said Sara.
"That wonderful passage in the New Testament—I often remember it! After all the agony and separation were over, Simon Peter said to the disciples, I go a fishing. He went back to the work he was doing when our Lord first called him. What courage!"
"Go on," said Sara, "go on!"
"Of course, my heart has been taking an undue complacency in the creature, and this seldom fails to injure. I have a wish to be free from distress, and enjoy life. As if we were born to be happy! No, this world is a school to discipline souls and fit them for the other. I must forget my friend."
"It will be very hard. I took such an interest in his career. If I didn't mention him to you, or to other people, I mentioned him often to God. And now—it is somewhat awkward."
"You little goose," said Sara, "you have a heart of crystal. Nothing could be awkward for you."
"My heart," said Pensee, with a touch of resentment, "is just as dangerous and wicked as any other heart! You misunderstand me wilfully. I like prayer at all times, because it is a help and because it lifts one out of the world. Oh, when shall every thought be brought into captivity?"
"Listen!" said Sara, "listen! If there is an attractiveness in human beings so lovely that it could call your Almighty God Himself from heaven to dwell among them and to die most cruelly for their sakes, is it to be expected that they will not—and who will dare say that they should not?—as mortals themselves, discover qualities in each other which draw out the deepest affection? I have no patience with your religion—none."
"You are most unkind, and I won't tell you any more," replied Pensee, who looked, however, not ungrateful for Sara's view of the situation.
"Let me tell you something about me," said her friend fiercely. "I never say my prayers, because I cannot say them, but I love somebody, too. Whenever I hear his name I could faint. When I see him I could sink into the ground. At the sight of his handwriting I grow cold from head to foot, I tremble, my heart aches so that it seems breaking in two. I long to be with him, yet when I am with him I have nothing to say. I have to escape and be miserable all alone. He is my thought all day: the last before I sleep, the first when I awake. I could cry and cry and cry. I try to read, and I remember not a word. I like playing best, for then I can almost imagine that he is listening. But when I stop playing and look round, I find myself in an empty room. It is awful. I call his name; no one answers. I whisper it; still no answer. I throw myself on the ground, and I say, 'Think of me! think of me! you shall, you must, you do think of me!' It is great torture and a great despair. Perhaps it is a madness too. But it is my way of loving. I want to live while I live. If I knew for certain that he loved me—me only—the joy, I think, would kill me. Love! Do you know, poor little angel, what it means? Sometimes it is a curse."
Pensee, before this torrent, was shaking like some small flower in a violent gale.
"You say things, Sara, that no one says—things that one ought not to say. You must be quieter. You won't be happy when you are married if you begin with so much feeling!"
"I am not going to marry that one," said Sara bitterly. "I am going to marry Marshire."
Lady Fitz Rewes had too delicate a face to contain any expression of the alarm and horror she felt at this statement. She frowned, bit her lips, and sank back in her chair. What stroke of fate, she wondered, had overtaken the poor girl? Was she sane? Was she herself? Pensee found some relief in the thought that Sara was not herself—a state into which most people are presumed to fall whenever, from stress or emotion, they become either strictly candid or perfectly natural.
"It is a fancy. Fancies are in my blood," said Sara; "you need not be anxious."
"But—but what feeling have you for Marshire?" murmured Pensee.
"I have a faint inclination not to dislike him utterly. And I will be a good wife to him. If I say so, I shall keep my word. You may be sure of that."
"I could never doubt your honour, Sara. Is the other man quite, quite out of the question?"
"But perhaps he does love you."
"Oh no, he doesn't. He may think me picturesque and rather entertaining. It never went deeper than that. I saw at once that his mind was fixed on some other woman."
"I suppose one can always tell when a man's affections are really engaged," said Pensee, with a sigh.
"Yes, beyond any doubt. You feel that they are comparing you at every point, in a silent, cold-blooded way, to the bright particular star. I envy you, Pensee; you, at least, were desperately loved by Lionel. But I—never, never was loved—except once."
"Who was he?"
"He was a Russian, very good-looking, and a genius. But oh, I wasn't old enough to understand him. When he died, I cried for half a day and seven nights. And after that, not a tear. You see, I didn't understand myself either."
"Do I know this other one ... the one, now?"
"I won't tell you his name. Perhaps, another time, when we are all very old ... and he is dead ... or I am dying...."
"Oh, don't say that!" exclaimed Pensee, "don't say that! You are making a lot of misery for yourself."
"Not at all. I am making the most of my one saving grace. There is nothing very nice about me—except that. And he is a man. The only real one among all our friends—the only one for whom I have the least respect. If any woman had his love—how sure, how happy she could be! I could work, and starve, and lay down my life for a man like that. If he had loved me, I think I could have been almost a good woman, a downright good one, a Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. But you see that wasn't to be. And so I am just this——" She looked in the glass and pointed a white finger, loaded with rings of black pearls, at her reflection. "I am just this—a vain, idle fool like all the rest—except you, poor darling."
"Why don't you keep up your music?—your wonderful playing? Every one says it is so wonderful. That's a great outlet for emotion. And your languages—why not work an hour a day each at Italian, Spanish, German, and French? That would kill four hours of the day straight off!"
"Bah!" said Sara, "I cannot play—unless there is some one to play for. As for languages—I cannot talk alone. And as for reading—I cannot find all my world between the covers of a book."
"But live for others, dear Sara."
"I want to live for myself. I have one inseparable companion—that is myself. I want to suffer my own sufferings, and enjoy my own enjoyments. This living for others is absurd. I hate second-hand emotions; they are stale and dull. But, Pensee, you haven't told me the name of your friend."
"I thought I had," said Pensee, simply; "you will see it in the marriage notice the day after to-morrow. It is Robert Orange."
Sara stared for a moment. Then the string of gold beads which she wore round her throat suddenly broke, and the shining ornaments fell all about her to the floor.
"Dear me!" said Sara, kneeling down with a ghastly laugh. Pensee knelt too, and they gathered the scattered necklace between them. "Dear me! I was never more surprised—never; and yet I cannot think why I am surprised. He is very handsome. Any woman would like him."
"I wonder," said Pensee, full of thoughts.
Sara proceeded to count her beads, lest one should be missing. But they were all there, and she tied them up in her handkerchief.
"Pensee," she said, presently. "I will tell his name after all, because you have been so frank with me. The one I ... love is Beauclerk Reckage." As she uttered this lie, she cast down her eyes and blushed to the very heart.
"Beauclerk!" exclaimed Pensee, in amazement. "Then there is some hope after all! There is, there must be! Beauclerk! He is engaged to Agnes Carillon, of course. But all the same...."
The conversation flagged. Lord Garrow, who had heard a distant murmuring but not their words, now, as their animation failed, came in.
"My little girl," said he, "has been moping. I am very glad that you called ... very glad indeed. And Sara, my darling...."
"Have you asked Pensee the name of that extremely pretty song she sang for us when we all dined together at Lord Wight's? You remember the evening?"
But Sara, with a wail, fled away. Pensee caught a glimpse of her white, agonised countenance as she rushed past them, moaning, to her own room.
"This is dreadful," said Lord Garrow, horribly annoyed—"dreadful!"
"It is indeed," replied Lady Fitz Rewes gravely. "I suppose...."
She wanted to say that she hoped the Marshire-de Treverell alliance was still undecided. But something in his lordship's air—a hardness she had never thought to see in his regard—forbade any reference to the subject. He conducted her to her carriage, wished her "Goodbye" in his Court manner, and led her to understand, by an unmistakable glance, that a certain marriage which had been arranged would, inasmuch as it was entirely agreeable to the will of Providence, take place.
Lord Reckage, in the meantime, had not been able to draw rein until he reached Grafton Street, where the hunter, of its own will, stopped short at a door, half glass and half mahogany, before which a groom stood watching, evidently with some suspense, for their approach. At the first sight of the animal and its rider, he hastened forward, and, seizing the bridle, assisted his master to dismount. Once on the ground, the young man satisfied his spleen by hitting the horse several vicious cuts with his whip. Then he informed the servant that it was his intention to walk home, and, with an ominous scowl, watched the "rushing beast" led from his sight. No one, except himself, was permitted to occupy that saddle.
The house which he now entered had been the town mansion for three generations of the Hampshires, but, despised by its then owner, whose young duchess wanted an Italian villa on Piccadilly, or a French chateau in Park Lane, the lease had been sold to a syndicate of rising politicians who formed a small organisation known, in those days, as the Mirafloreans.
"The little order," we read in the Hon. Hercy Berenville's Memoirs, a malicious work printed for private circulation only—"the little order first came into notice under the name of the 'Bond of Association,' a High Church society founded by my brother, Lord Reckage. He formed his executive committee, however, on timorous and unexpected lines. He had tried to please the spiteful rather than the loyal. The loyal, he urged, were always forbearing, but the spiteful needed every attention. He disappointed alike the warmest and the most selfish among his supporters. True to his policy, he made desperate attempts to win over some vindictive men from among the Radicals, and, finally, in a fit of nervousness, declared, after five months of fruitful folly, his determination to reorganise the whole league on a strictly non-sectarian basis. He described himself as a moral philosopher. Once more he became a figure of interest, again he raised the standard, again he attracted a small company of enthusiasts, again it was expected that God's enemies would be scattered. He invited his former secretary, a Roman Catholic, to join the new society, but he made it clear that Orange, a man of real distinction, was in no sense a prominent member. The precise dogmata of Mirafloreanism—a nickname given, I believe, in ironic sympathy by Mr. Disraeli—were undefined, but the term gradually became associated with those ideals of conduct, government, and Art which poets imagine, heroes realise, and the ignorant destroy. Men of all, sundry, and opposing beliefs presumed to its credentials. Some, because the club appeared to flourish, many because it was not yet overcrowded, and a few because they were in perfect agreement with the varying opinions of its ultimate presiding genius, Disraeli himself. They worked quietly, not in the House of Commons, but outside it, delivering lectures, writing books, starting newspapers, holding meetings, and enlisting the sympathies of rich, idle, ambitious, or titled women. There seemed no end or limit to the variety of their interests, their methods of labour, or their conceit. The club—judged by the leonine measure of success—as a club did little for learning or literary men. It became a mere meeting-house for dining and drinking, but it promoted cordiality among the leading members of the young Tory party, and brought persons together who could not, in the ordinary way of life, have met each other at all. Although the more gaudy and best known among them came from the first second-rate families in England, the rank and file were formed mainly by young men of good estate and breeding—the sons of clergy, country squires, or merchants, all sprung from that class which is called Middle, because it represents civilised society neither in its rough beginnings nor in its tawdry decay."
Berenville's remarks, it will be plainly seen, anticipate our history a little, for, at the time of which we write, the Bond of Association was still maintaining a sickly existence on its original programme. Orange had not yet been invited to join it, nor had Lord Reckage declared himself a moral philosopher.
On this particular afternoon his lordship entered, from the street, a narrow vestibule, the red walls of which were lit up by wax candles set at either end in ponderous bronze chandeliers. From this he passed into a square inner hall, paved with marble, and furnished by carved seats which had once belonged to the choir of an ancient chapel in Northumberland. Here he paused, for his attention was immediately arrested by a small group of four or five individuals who were talking with great earnestness at the foot of the oak staircase. Not that this was, in itself, an unusual event, for ever since a memorable day when the Earl of Bampton and the young Archdeacon of Soham, feeling warm, had ordered their tea to be served in that part of the building, it had been the fashion for distinguished members to assemble there, dispersing themselves in careless profusion among the statues of departed ecclesiastics or reclining pleasantly on the blue velvet divan which occupied the centre of the floor.
Foremost in the little company on this occasion stood Sir Edward Ullweather and Nigel Bradwyn, both private secretaries, and each secretly convinced that his peculiar powers would have found brilliant, volcanic opportunities of demonstration in the other's more promising berth. Ullweather, whose life had been devoted to the study of agricultural problems, was subordinate to the Secretary of State for War. Bradwyn, on the other hand, who had planted his soul in the East, was now learning what he could, at the nation's expense, of the nation's domestic policy. Demoralised by disappointment, and made cynical by toiling over interests for which they had, at best, but a forced regard, little remained in their breasts but a sore determination to make the best of an abiding discontent. In joining Lord Reckage's Committee, they found themselves again, as they believed, in a false position. The second-rate mind, whether represented in a person or by a council, shrinks from the adoption of simple measures, and invariably seeks to make itself conspicuous by so placing others as to make them appear unnecessary. The special genius of Lord Reckage was shown, perhaps, in his abilities in this direction, and, while he missed no opportunity of engaging men of proved capabilities for his service, his jealousy drove him so to employ them that they were never permitted to do their best either for him or for themselves. This policy carried in itself the sting for its own destruction.
Not far from Ullweather and Bradwyn, Randall Hatchett, the youngest member of the Executive, lounged against a pillar. Proud of a distinction which he dared not comprehend (for a commercial shrewdness made him suspect that he owed his position less to merit than to the subtle promises conveyed by a weak chin), this distinguished person tried to look the secrets which his colleagues had never permitted him to learn. In moody weariness he would sometimes condescend to the company of his subordinates on the General Committee and, while listening to their irresponsible prattle, he would seem to forget the onerous public interests the absolute neglect of which was his chief duty at the Council board.
Near this gentleman were two others, Hartley Penborough, the editor of The Sentinel, and the Hon. Charles Aumerle, whose guest he was.
As Lord Reckage entered and showed some intention of joining in the conversation, they appeared by a silent and common consent to ignore his approach. He turned to the hall porter, gave him some instructions in a low voice and passed on, livid with annoyance, to the library beyond.
"Hullo!" exclaimed Aumerle, "that was Reckage."
"I know it," said Randall Hatchett.
"Why didn't you speak to him?" asked Aumerle.
"Because," said Bradwyn, "our good Hatchett is not so sure of himself that he can afford to be civil even to a President out of fashion!"
No one smiled except Hatchett himself, because each one felt it was unwise to encourage Bradwyn's peculiar humour.
"I would have spoken to Reckage," said Ullweather, with a superior air, "but I have never felt the same toward him since he threw over Orange at the time of his election."
"And several other old friends more recently!" observed the injudicious Bradwyn.
"I don't speak of myself," said Ullweather, "but Orange was unusually devoted to the fellow; and all I wish to make clear is this, that when Reckage ever said or did the right thing in times past, the credit was solely due to Orange. He weeded prophecy from his speeches, and rudeness from his jokes. Great services, I assure you!"
"True," said Randall Hatchett, "for there is nothing more fatal to a political career than brilliant impromptus and spirited orations. A statesman's words, like butcher's meat, should be well weighed."
"You have so many prescriptions for success," said Bradwyn, "that I wonder you ain't President yourself."
"Reckage has taken us all in," said Ullweather.
"By no means," said Bradwyn. "I maintained from the first that he was overrated. His genial manner—his open-hearted smile! Men always smile at creditors whom they don't intend to pay."
"I foretold the whole situation," observed Penborough. "I said, 'Let Reckage once get full power, and he will fool us all.' He affects not to be ambitious, and to prefer moral science to immoral politics. I have no faith in these active politicians who make long speeches to the public, and assure their friends, in very short notes, that they prefer trout-fishing to the cares of State! There is but one man who can save the society now."
Bradwyn, Hatchett, and Ullweather looked up, each armed with a modest and repudiating smile.
"Who?" asked Hatchett, looking down.
"Robert Orange," said Penborough.
"Probably," replied Hatchett, after a minute's hesitation. "Probably, Orange ... in time."
"Don't you like him?" said Penborough.
"Like him!" answered Hatchett, rolling up his eyes. "He's an angel!"
"He calls him an angel as though he wished he were one in reality," said Bradwyn. "I know these generous rivals!"
Ullweather stood gnawing his upper lip.
"Orange," he said, at last. "Oh, Orange has arrived. He will get no further. Of course, he won that election, but Dizzy managed that. Dizzy is the devil! And then, he is still devoted to Reckage, and, for a man of his supposed shrewdness, I call that a sign of evident weakness."
At this, Charles Aumerle, who had been listening with the deepest attention to all that passed, looked straight at the speaker.
"You should respect," said he, "that liberty, which we all have to deceive ourselves. Reckage has many good points."
"But," said Penborough, "he has no moral force, no imagination. He judges men by their manners, which is silly. He thinks that every one who is polite to him believes in him. He will have to send in his resignation before long."
"You don't mean it," said Aumerle.
"I mean more," continued Penborough. "He could not choose a better moment than the present. In another month, on its present lines, the whole league will have foundered. Should he remain, he would have to sink with the ship. Now, however, it appears safe enough—people see only what you see—a good cargo of influential names on the committee and a clear horizon. He could plead ill-health, or his marriage—in fact, a dozen excellent reasons for momentary retirement. The world would praise his tact. As for the rest, those who have been disillusioned will lose their heads, those who were merely self-seekers will probably lose their places, but the trimmers always keep something. The thing, then, is to cultivate the art of trimming."
"But you forget that Reckage is going to marry Miss Carillon," said Aumerle. "Miss Carillon will always advise the safe course."
"That's all very well," said Bradwyn, "but there has been too much arrangement in that marriage! I can tell you how the engagement came about. She was intimate with his aunt. He acquired the habit of her society on all decorous occasions. Still, he never proposed. The aunt invited her to Almouth. She stayed two months. Still, not a word. Her papa grew impatient, ordered her home. The next day she came to the breakfast-table with red eyes, and announced her departure. The boxes were packed; she went to take a last look at the dear garden. Reckage followed, Fate accompanied him. He spoke. She sent a telegram to her papa: 'Detained. Important. Will write.' No, the real woman for him was Lady Sara de Treverell."
Ullweather thrust his tongue into his cheek.
"Lady Sara has been called to higher destinies," said he, "than the heavenly 'sweet hand in hand!'"
"I see you know," said Bradwyn, with a mysterious glance.
"Yes," said Ullweather. "The friendship of the Duke of Marshire for Lady Sara increases every day, and the little fit of giddiness which seized him when he was dining with my Chief makes me think that admiration is developing into love. I am in great hopes that this match may come off."
"As to that," said Hatchett, "her father and the Duke were the night before last at Brooks's, but no conversation passed between them. This does not look as though a very near alliance were in contemplation."
"There are prettier women than she in the world," said Aumerle.
"I have never seen her," said Penborough.
"Large eyes, a small head, and the devil of a temper," said Bradwyn; "and sympathies—there never was a young woman with so many sympathies! There is an old proverb," he added, with a sneer, "'They are not all friends of the bridegroom who seem to be following the bride.'"
Ullweather was still absorbed in his own meditation.
"Marshire," said he, "is the man for us. We might do something with Marshire."
"Nevertheless," said Penborough, "I have my eye on Orange."
"I say," exclaimed Bradwyn, "be careful. Here is Reckage again. How the dickens did he pass us?"
The men glanced up at a solitary figure which now appeared descending the broad staircase. In silence, and with a studied expression of contempt, without a look either to the right or to the left, the unpopular leader passed through the hall and out into the street.
"A lonely beggar, after all," said Bradwyn.
Reckage was dining at home that evening with Orange, whose marriage was to take place at the Alberian Embassy on the morrow. The young man was not in good spirits at his friend's step, for he himself was about to take a wife also, and much of the apprehension which he felt on his own account found its vent in dreary soliloquies on the risk, sacrifices, responsibilities, and trouble involved by the single act of saddling oneself for a lifetime with some one woman. Reckage, for his own part, had loved one lady very well, yet not so madly that he could resign himself to loving her only, to the exclusion of all others. He walked along toward Almouth House in a mood of many vexations, cursing the impudence of Bradwyn and Ullweather, wondering whether he had done wisely, after all, in engaging himself to the blameless Miss Carillon, sighing a little over a rumour which had reached him about Sara de Treverell and the Duke of Marshire, deploring the obstinacy of Robert Orange where Mrs. Parflete was concerned. He admitted that Mrs. Parflete was an exceedingly beautiful, young, and, as it happened, rich person. He owned her delightfulness for a man of Robert's dreamy, romantic, intense temperament. But marriage between two idealists so highly strung, and so passionately attached as these two beings were—what would happen? No doubt they would be able to endure the inevitable disillusions—(inevitable because Nature is before all things sensual and has no care for mental prejudices one way or the other)—the inevitable disillusions of family life. It was scarcely possible that the devotion of Robert and Mrs. Parflete would not waver or seem less exquisite under this discipline. Their dream of love would become unparadised. It would gain a sadness, a melancholy, a note of despair hard to endure and most difficult to repress. Reckage had no transcendentalism in his own philosophy: he divided men into two classes—those who read, and those who could not stand, Dante. He included himself among the latter with a frankness at once astonishing and welcome even to numbers who thought him, in most matters, a hypocrite. The hold of the world was growing daily stronger upon him. His ambitions were already sullied by many unworthy and deadening ideas. He dwelt a great deal on the fleetingness of life, and the wisdom of making the best of its few charming things. Food, and wine, and money, and fine houses, and amusements were subjects on which he expended a large amount of silent enthusiasm. But, for all this, he could still see much to admire—perhaps to envy—in Robert's more spiritual mind, and he dreaded—as men often do dread in such cases—the effect of a woman's companionship on so ascetic a character.
"He knows nothing about women—nothing," he told himself. "He has no experience. He takes them too seriously."
He was, while he admitted his own unreasonableness, a little shocked at the very notion of Orange with a wife and children. It went against the grain, and upset the ideals of austerity which he had carefully planned—not for himself, but for his friend. Robert, he urged, was born to be an example—an encouragement to those who were called, by the mercy of God, to less rigorous vocations. Reckage suffered many scruples of conscience on Robert's account; he surveyed him with a sense of disappointment; he had always supposed that he would ultimately turn Jesuit in sober earnest, and die a martyr's death in the Far East. This would, in his opinion, have been a fine end to a Quixotic, very touching, most remarkable life. Would he now immaturely fall a victim to an enticing face and the cares of a household? Would he be able to sustain his character? One thing was certain. He could never again expect to exercise precisely the same potent influence as he had in the past, over his earth-bound, self-indulgent friends. Self-indulgent people always exacted unusual privations from those who would seek to move them—and Robert's call was clearly to materialists rather than to the righteous. Pusey married, it was true. Keble married. No one thought the less of them on that account. Even the judicious Hooker married. And they were clergymen. Reckage called them priests. But Newman did not marry, and, while Reckage was unable to agree in the main with Newman's views, he had a fixed notion that he was the strong man—the master spirit—among them. And another consideration. The passion of love has a danger for very sensitive, reserved, and concentrated minds unknown to creatures of more volatile, expansive, and unreflecting disposition. Reckage knew well that he was himself too selfish a man to let affection for any one creature come between his soul and its God. There was no self-discipline required in his case when a choice had to be made between a human being and his own advantage—whether temporal or eternal. He had never—since he was a youth—felt an immoderate fondness for anybody; he had likes and dislikes, admirations and partialities, jealousies, too, and well-defined tastes where feminine beauty was in question, but it was not in him to err from excess of charity. The imaginative and visionary parts of life—and no one is wholly without them—soon turned into severe reality whenever he found himself confronted with that sole absorbing interest—his career. Marriage, in his own case, seemed an imperative duty. He was an eldest son, the heir to an earldom and a vast estate; he wished to lead a distinguished, comfortable, and edifying existence. His wife would be a helpmate, not a snare; the mother of his children, not the light of his eyes. But what a difference in Robert's case—with his capacity for worship, for really intense and absorbing passion. All this was especially transparent to Reckage, who, as a man of the world, had watched his friend for months, detecting the shattering physical effects of an iron restraint imposed on every thought, mood, and inclination. He had enjoyed the spectacle: it was a good fight—this sharp, unceasing struggle between mere human nature, young, vigorous, sane, indefatigable, and an upright soul full of tenderness, yet forced to live in constant warfare. Awe, too, had mingled in Reckage's sensations while he looked on; something of pity and terror stirred under the callous muscle which he called his heart at the sight of a voiceless, stifled despair outside the range of his personal experience, though not entirely beyond his sympathy. All men did not love after this fashion, he knew, but humanity was full of surprises, and he had been too calm a student of other men's lives to feel astonishment at any fresh revelation either of their pain, their perversity, or their humours. He had felt so sure, however, that Robert would, in the end, get the better of that unhappy attachment; everything in the process of time had to surrender to reason, and it was not possible, he thought, that a strong, self-reliant man could long remain subdued by a mere infatuation.
"And why doesn't he think of his health?" insisted Reckage; "it is really going between all this sleeplessness, and fasting, and over-work. Flesh and blood cannot bear the strain. He is never idle for one moment. He is afraid of brooding."
It was with these sentiments of fear for the one creature he believed in, and hostility toward the woman who had presumed to interfere with the progress of that clear spirit, that he found himself at Almouth House. The blinds of the dining-room were but partially down. He could see the menservants within preparing the table which, set for two covers, showed a pretty display of cut-glass, flowers, old silver, and shining damask under the yellow rays of the lit candles. Some family portraits by Gainsborough and Reynolds, a Holbein, and a Vandyck, with lamps shining like footlights beneath them, were darkly visible on the dull blue walls. The famous mantelpiece inlaid with uncut turquoise was also within sight; and the sideboard with its load of Sevres china and gold dishes. Reckage took great pride in these possessions, but it shocked his sense of dignity to see them thus exposed to the vulgar gaze.
He let himself into the mansion with a latchkey, stormed at the servants for their carelessness, and made what is commonly known as a scene.
Then he crossed the hall, and went into another fine room, which led by steps into a garden, and caught the sunset.
Here, standing by the window with his back to the door, looking at the clouds, greyer than a gull's wing, which fled like driven souls across the sky, stood Orange.
He turned as the latch moved, and Reckage, coming in, perceived the pale face, resolute, a little proud, and thoroughly inscrutable of his former secretary. Of fine height and broad-shouldered, Robert bore himself with peculiar firmness and ease. His brown eyes, with their brilliant, defiant glance, his close, dark beard, and powerful aquiline features; the entire absence of vanity, or the desire to produce an impression which showed itself in every line of his face and every movement of his body, indicated a type of individual more likely to attract the confidence of men than the sentimentality of women.
The two young men greeted each other pleasantly, but with a certain reserve on each side.
"So you are here!" said Reckage, seating himself. "I am sorry to be late. The fact is I caught sight of old Garrow and Sara de Treverell driving together in the Park, and it suddenly occurred to me to ask 'em to dine with us to-night. I raced after their brougham, but my brute of a horse—Pluto: you know the beast—gave me such a lot of trouble that I couldn't speak to them. How are you? You don't look very fit. Perhaps you are glad that we are alone. But Sara is a nice girl, and full of kindness. She's a good friend, too—just the friend for your wife. I thought of that."
Robert resumed his post at the window, and studied the heavens. But if he sought for any answer to the many impassioned questions which were thronging his heart and mind at that moment, he looked in vain. For himself the struggles of the last year had been to a great degree subconscious. He had been like a sick man who, ignorant of the real gravity of his condition, fights death daily without a thought of the unequal strife, or the suspense of his physicians. He had abandoned himself to study, immersed himself in work; he was neither morbid nor an amorist; and while he felt a stinging misery for ever in his heart, he bore it with manly reticence, without complaint, without despair. Love, in his case, had meant the idealisation of the whole of life—the life of action and the life within the soul. It had transfigured the world, lit up and illumined every dark corner, answered every turbulent doubt. From the habit of this wholly mental emotion, he had lost, little by little, the sense of the actual bodily existence of the woman herself. It is true that he thought of her always as some one modestly beautiful, of childish form, with a face like a water-nymph's—imperious, magical, elusive, yet, whenever he found himself in her presence, she seemed further away than when they were, in fact, apart. The kiss he had given her on the day of their betrothal had been as strange, indefinable, and irrealisable as the passing of one hour into the next. There had been the time before he kissed her, there was the time afterwards, but the transition had been so swift, and so little recognised, so inevitable, that while it drew both their lives down deep into the wild, pitiless surge of human feeling, she still remained more dearly and completely his by intuition than when he held her—a true woman—in his arms. The moral training of a lifetime, the unceasing, daily discipline of a mind indulgent to others, but most severe with itself, had given him a self-mastery in impulse and desire which, although the aspect of affairs had changed, he could not easily, or even willingly, relax. His soul drew back from its new privileges, sweet as they were—and he was too honest to deny their overpowering sweetness—they seemed like the desecration of a most sacred thought. Vainly he reasoned, vainly he admitted the folly of such scruples. They remained. Asceticism is a faithful quality. It is won by slow and painful stages, with bitter distress and mortifying tears, but once really gained, the losing is even harder than the struggle for its acquisition.
And so the young man found himself in that hard position when judgment and prejudice stand opposed so utterly that victory either way must mean a lasting regret. Perhaps he was not the first bridegroom who felt loath, on the eve of his marriage, to change the delicate, almost ethereal tenderness of betrothed lovers for the close and intimate association of husband and wife. The one relationship has something in it immaterial, exquisite, and unearthly, a bond invisible and yet as potent as the winds we cannot see and the melodies we only hear. The other, with its profound appeals to mortality, its demands upon all that is strongest in affection and eternal in courage, its irreparableness, suffering, and constancy, might, indeed, have the grandeur of all human tragedy, and the dignity of a holy state; but that it could ever be so beautiful as the love which is a silent influence was to Robert then, at least, an inconceivable idea. He felt upon him and around him, in his flesh and in his spirit, in the air and in the whole world, the all-enveloping shadow of remorse. The dormant possibilities of his own fanatical nature rose up before him—pale, inarticulate fiercenesses crushed so long, and now trembling eagerly under his breath at the prospect of a little more liberty in loving. A suspicion that already he loved perhaps too well and far too passionately thrilled through his conscience, and tortured a heart to whom thought was a refuge and feeling a martyrdom.
Reckage, watching Robert from a corner of the room, grew irritated at the silence, and wondered, with a cruel and jealous curiosity, what was passing in his mind. He wondered whether he was praying. An impulse, which had something in it of brute fury, urged him to tear open that still face and drag the thoughts behind it to the light. Why was it that one could never, by any sense, enter into another's spirit? The same torturing mystery had often disturbed him during the half-hours—outwardly placid and commonplace—which he spent, out of etiquette, with his future bride. She, too, retired behind the veil of her countenance to live a hidden life that he could never hope to join. How lonely was companionship in these conditions, and how desolate marriage!
He could not resist the temptation to break in, with a touch of crude satire, upon his friend's solitude.
"What is the matter?" he exclaimed, "are you hungry?"
"No," said Robert, so well accustomed to such violent jars that they could no longer disturb him; "I was only thinking...."
"All sorts of things."
Reckage turned pale from dissatisfied inquisitiveness.
"I think, too," he answered, "but I can throw out a word now and again."
Then, making the remark that he was not dressed for dinner, he left the room.
The dinner, in the ordering of which the host had expended all his gastronomical knowledge and much anxiety, seemed long. Orange found himself opposite the famous portrait of "Edwyn, Lord Reckage of Almouth," which represents that nobleman elaborately dressed, reclining on a grassy bank by a spring of water, with a wooded landscape, a sunrise, and a squire holding two horses in the distance. Robert studied, and remembered always, every detail of that singular composition. The warrior's shield, with its motto "Magica sympathia," his fat white hands, velvet breeches, steel cuirass, and stiff lace collar remained for days a grotesque image before his mind. He traced, too, a certain resemblance between Reckage and that ancestor—they both wore pointed red beards, both were fair of skin, both had a dreaming violence in their blue eyes.
"You must have some pheasant," said his lordship, at last. "You are eating nothing. And that Burgundy, you know, is unique of its kind. It was a present from the Emperor of the French to mamma. Her people were civil to him when he was regarded as a sort of adventurer. And he never forgot it. He's a very decent fellow. I dined with him at the Tuileries—did I mention it?"
Robert replied that he fancied he had heard of the occurrence.
"Well," continued his friend, "I might have enjoyed that experience, but I was feeling depressed at the time; a lot of the depression went under the influence of frivolous talk, military music, and champagne. Yet, all the same, do these things really count for much? I felt just as wretched afterwards."
The glimpse he had obtained that afternoon of Sara de Treverell—Sara flushed with agitation, very bright in her glance, exceedingly subtle in her smile, had stirred a great tenderness he had once felt for that young lady. The news, too, that she had been chosen as a bride by the prudent, rich, and most important Duke of Marshire made his lordship feel that perhaps he had committed a blunder in not having secured her, during her first season, for himself. He feared that he had lost an opportunity; and this reflection, while it lowered temporarily his self-esteem, placed Sara on a dangerous eminence. She would be a duchess—one of the great duchesses. Little Sara!
"She was looking extraordinarily handsome," he exclaimed. "Of course she means to take him. But she liked me at one time. I am speaking of Sara de Treverell. Marshire is by way of being a stick. Who could have imagined him going in for a high-spirited, brilliant girl like Sara?"
Formerly he had always spoken of Sara as a clever little devil, but Robert showed no surprise at the new adjective.
"Brilliant!" repeated his lordship. "Don't you agree?"
"Absolutely. She is the most brilliant girl in London."
"But heartless," said his lordship pathetically; "she hasn't one bit of heart."
"There I don't agree with you. Of course she is strange and rather wild."
"Tete-montee. And then the Asiatic streak!"
"True. The fiercest wind cannot take the angles out of the bough of a tree an inch thick. You may break it, but you cannot destroy its angles. That is so, no doubt, with one's racial tendencies. The girl is wilful and romantic. It will be very bad for them both if there is no love on her side. She is capable, I should say, of very deep affection."
"She did like me," said his lordship, with emphasis and satisfaction—"she really did. And I wouldn't encourage it. I had no notion then of marrying. Her singularity, too, made me cautious. I couldn't believe in her. She talked like an actress in a play. I felt that she was not the woman for me. Essentially she thought as I did, and seemed to comprehend my embarrassment. The worst of it is now—I may have been wrong."
"I doubt it. You may be sure, on the whole, that your instincts were right."
"Still, there is a distinct misgiving. I was drawn toward her, and, when I made up my mind to put an end to the matter, our friendship was severely strained. But it was not broken. Something I saw in her face to-day makes me sure that it was not broken."
While he was speaking the servant entered with a salver, and on the salver was a note. The address showed Sara's large, defiant hand-writing. Reckage, who had a touch of superstition in his nature, changed colour and even hesitated before he broke the seal. The coincidence seemed extraordinary and fatal. What did it mean? He read the letter with an irresistible feeling of proud delight.
"20A, ST. JAMES'S SQUARE, W.
"MY DEAR BEAUCLERK,—Will you lunch with us to-morrow at two o'clock? Papa has invited a friend—a dreadful, boring friend—who has been absent from England for five years. Do you know the man? Sir Piers Harding? But I want some one to encourage me. You? Do!
"S. L. V. DE TREVERELL.
"P.S.—I am so happy about you and Agnes. Be kind to her always? Won't you?"
All his life he had found a difficulty in understanding women—the significance of their words, the precise translation of their glances, and their motives generally. He had nourished his experience on French novels; he had corrected it by various friendships; he had crowned it with the confession that one could never tell what the sex meant one way or the other. But this fact remained—he was a coxcomb, and, whenever he owned himself puzzled, it was on a single ground only—how seriously was the lady at stake affected by his charms? Feeling, as he did, the infinite inequality that existed between men, and conscious of his own reputation as a leader among them, it was not in his conscience to encourage any woman whom he did not find especially attractive or useful. Why spoil her chances? Why make her discontented with the average male creature? Had Sara written to him in ordinary circumstances, inviting him, after some months of mutual coldness, to lunch, he would have replied, with sorrowful dignity, that it was wiser to leave things as they were. But the case had altered. The future Duchess of Marshire was a personage. He made no secret of his admiration for all people of high rank. They represented influence and traditions; what was more, they could exercise a certain power, and introduce, when necessary, the ideas upon which fresh traditions could be based. A friend like Sara de Treverell with her new honours made life itself more rich to him. When he remembered that she was young, handsome, enthusiastic, and impulsive, his pleasure thrilled into something of genuine passion. He told himself that he had always been fond of the girl; that hundreds of times he had felt the hardness of his scrupulous position where she was concerned. If he had been asked what especially he conceived his own duty to be now, he would have said that it was not for him to hang back when she showed a coming spirit. But this was not all. He was a gamester; he was ambitious.
"This is very odd," said he, reading Sara's note for the second time, "very odd. There's no harm in showing it to you, because there is nothing in it."
He gave it to his friend, and ate, pleasantly, while Orange glanced down the page. His soul's wish was to be left alone. The effort of forcing himself—not to affect but honestly to feel—an interest in Reckage's conversation had proved successful. He had indeed put aside his own thoughts, and followed, with the exaggerated earnestness of a mind determined on self-sacrifice, every word his companion had uttered. The spirit invisible wears the laurel of mental victories, but the body has to bear the exhaustion, the scars, and the soreness. He was tired, but he stirred himself again to consider Sara's note. In the course of that year she had written several letters to Orange—letters about books, new pictures, and new music. Once she had given him a little song of her own composition as something of which she "desired to hear no more for ever." The song was sentimental, and he locked it away, wondering at the time whether she really had an unfortunate affection for Lord Reckage. But in reading her note that evening he decided against his original fear. Women did not write in that strain to men whom they loved, or had ever loved ... even passably well. He returned it to the owner with this comment—
"A woman, you know, is like your shadow: run away from her and she follows you; run after her and she flies from you. That's an old saying. It is true so long as she does not love the man. And when she loves the man—well, then she ceases to be a shadow. She becomes a living thing."
"That is no answer at all. If you could read her heart and whole thought at this moment, what would you see there?"
"Unhappiness," said Robert; "discontent."
Reckage took the little sheet and folded it into his pocket-book.
"That's wonderful," said he, "because the same things are in my mind, too. I wish I could describe my feelings about Agnes. She satisfies the aesthetic side of my nature. But there is another side. And Sara comes nearer to it than she. Mind you, I know my duty in the matter. There are things which one is compelled to do under tremendous penalties. I have chosen, and I must abide by my choice."
Robert looked well at his friend, and saw, in his expression, all that he had known would inevitably, either soon or too late, work to the surface.
"Yet the old tremulous affection lies in me," continued Reckage; "my nerves are in a kind of blaze. You couldn't tell anything about it, because you don't know."
The Emperor's burgundy, no doubt, had warmed his spirit to communicativeness. He drew his chair closer to the table, and talked in a low voice about his ghastly solitude of soul. His engagement to Miss Carillon had not been an agreeable experience.
"And marriage," said he, "will be the crowning point of these unbearable days. In the present state of my feelings it would be awful. Agnes is very kind and most conscientious, but she does not know what is in me, what was always and will always be there. Old reminiscences crowd round me. They are very beautiful, although they are so sad."
"What is one to do?" said Robert, "in the presence of fate and facts? It is necessary to look the affair in the face. Do you, or don't you, wish to marry Miss Carillon?"
"I do, and I don't," answered Reckage doggedly. "But I can't close my eyes to the circumstances of the case. I found myself hard bested from the very beginning. I knew that I was expected to marry her. I knew, too, that it was a suitable match in every way. But then every girl is, to some extent, accomplished, pious, virtuous, and intelligent. I believe sometimes that my apparent indifference towards Agnes arises from the fact that I respect her—if anything—too much. She seems too remote—that is the word—for the ordinary wear and tear of domesticity. Other men—who might be called impassioned lovers—would be less scrupulous. I maintain that devotion of that violent kind is worth absolutely nothing. And I claim to know a little about life and love."
"I should say," said Orange, "that you knew more about mere physiology."
Reckage laughed uneasily.
"You keep your mediaeval views!" said he. "Perhaps I envy you. I can't say. I don't think I envy any one. I am quite contented."
"Then what are you driving at?"
"Oh well, a fellow must think. You see, Sara suits me, in a sense. I am not afraid of her. Now a wife is a sacred object. You might as well flirt with the Ten Commandments as fall in love with your wife. I say, never begin love-making with the lady you hope to marry. It will end in disaster. Because the day must come when she will wonder why you have changed. No, a wife should be the one woman in the world with whom you can spend days and weeks of unreproved coldness."
They were now smoking, and the tobacco seemed to produce a tranquillising effect upon his lordship. He closed his lips and amused himself by puffing rings of smoke into the air. When he next spoke, he suggested a visit to the theatre. He had engaged a box for the new burlesque, "The Blue Princess."
"It will be very good, and it will cheer us up," said he.
Orange was in no mood for the entertainment, but Reckage's evident misery seemed to require a fresh scene. The streets, as they left the house, were full of a deep purple fog, through which shone out, with a dull and brazen gleam, the lights of lamps and passing carriages. Above them, the sky was but a pall or vapour; the air, charged with the emotions, the struggling energy, the cruelty, confusion, painfulness, and unceasing agitation of life in a vast city, was damp and stifling; a noise of traffic—as loud but not so terrible as a breaking storm—destroyed the peace of night; there were foot passengers of every age and description moving like rooks in the wind, over the pavement, and vehicles filled with men and women—an irremediable pilgrimage bound, for the greater part, on pleasure. Robert felt that he would have given gladly the treasures of a universe for just the time to think a little while of his own love. So far that great attachment had brought him aberrations, sorrow, and perplexities; all its sweetness had flown, moth-like, into his heart, there to be burnt—burnt yet left unburied: all its happiness had glorified his life against his will; all its beauty had been starved with a pitiless rigour. What then had remained? A certain state of mind—a passionate resignation to its own indomitable cravings. And now on the eve of his marriage—a marriage never so much as imagined, far less hoped for—he could not have the leisure to behold, through tears of relief, the complete transformation of his destiny—once so frightful, now so joyous. The theatre was crowded, and when the two young men entered their box the burlesque was at the beginning of the second act. The scene represented an orange grove by moonlight, and a handsome girl in spangled muslin was whispering loudly, to an accompaniment of harps, her eternal fidelity to a gesticulating troubadour. Both performers were immensely popular, and the duet, with its refrain—
"Love, I will love thee always, For ever is not too long; Love, e'en in dark and dreary days, This shall be my one song,"
was repeated three times to the smiling, serene, and thoroughly convinced audience. Reckage, who attended public places of amusement solely from the desire of exhibiting himself, gave but a side-glance at the stage and turned his opera glass upon the auditorium.
"Really, town is very full," said he; "I suppose many of them are up for the Hauconberg wedding. There's old Cliddesdon—just look at him. Did you ever see such an infernal ass? Hullo! I thought that Millie Warfield wouldn't be far off. She's a perfect rack of bones. Lady Michelmarsh is getting rather pretty—it's wonderful how these dowdy girls can work up their profiles after a month or two in town. She was a lump as a bride—a regular lump. You never met anything like it. Aumerle is talking to her now. He was at the Capitol this afternoon. He begins to give himself airs. I can't stand him. In fact, I cannot understand those fellows on my sub-committee. Sometimes they are—if anything—too civil. A bit servile, in fact. Then they turn out and look as though they would like to make their teeth meet in my backbone. They sulk, and whisper in groups, and snicker. I am getting sick of it. I must get rid of them. By Jove! there's David Rennes, the painter. I thought he was at Amesbury—with the Carillons, doing Agnes's portrait. It can't be finished. She said distinctly in her letter this morning—"I may not add more because I have to give Mr. Rennes a sitting while the light is good." Where's the letter? I must have left it on the breakfast-table. Anyhow that is what she said. I'll catch Rennes' eye and have him up. He is not a bad sort."
The act-drop had now descended, the lights were turned on to their full power, and Orange, following the direction of Reckage's gaze, saw, in the last row of the stalls, a large man about nine-and-thirty with an emotional, nervous face, a heavy beard, and dense black hair. He was leaning forward, for the seat in front of him was, at the moment, vacant; his hands were tightly locked, his eyes fixed on the curtain. At last Reckage's determined stare produced its effect. He moved, glanced toward the box, and, in response to his lordship's signal, left his place. Two minutes later Orange heard a tap at the door.
"That's right," said Reckage, as Rennes entered, "take Orange's chair. He doesn't care a bit about the play, or anything in it. He is going to get married to-morrow. You know Robert Orange, don't you? You ought to paint him. Saint Augustine with a future. Mon devoir, mes livres, et puis ... et puis, madame, ma femme."
The Emperor's burgundy, indeed, had not been opened in vain. Rennes could talk well, sometimes brilliantly, often with originality, and, with the tact of all highly sensitive beings, he led the conversation into impersonal themes. He said Miss Carillon's portrait was not yet finished, but he changed that subject immediately, and the evening, which had been to Orange a trial of patience, ended rather better than it began. Lord Reckage invited Rennes to accompany them home. The artist did not appear, at first, in the mood to accept that invitation. He, too, seemed to have many things he wished to think about undisturbed, and in the silence of his own company. His hesitation passed, however; the kindness in his nature had been roused by something unusual, haunting, ominous in Robert's face.
"I will come," said he.
All the way, on their walk to Almouth House, he kept Reckage amused. Orange never once felt under the necessity to speak. He was able to dream, to hold his breath, to remember that he loved and was loved again, that he would see her to-morrow—to-morrow quite early, and then, no more unutterable farewells, heart-desolating separations. He surprised himself by saying aloud—"I love you ... I love you." The two men, engrossed in talk, did not hear him. But he had caught the words, and it seemed as though he heard his own voice for the first time.
"You must want some supper," said Reckage—"a rum omelette."
"No! no! I couldn't."
He sat down to the table, however, and watched them eat. First the burlesque was discussed, then the actresses, the dresses, the dancing.
"Russia is the place for dancing," said Reckage, "I assure you. There was a dancer at Petersburg.... Something-or-other-ewski was her name, and a fellow shot himself while I was there on her account. An awful fool. I can tell you who painted her portrait. A Frenchman called Carolus-Duran. I believe he has a career before him. What is your opinion of French art?"
Rennes had studied in Paris and was well acquainted with the artist in question. They talked about the exhibitions of the year and the prices paid at a recent sale of pictures.
"Old Garrow has some fine pictures," said Reckage. "I would give a good deal for his Ghirlandajo. Do you know it? And then that noble Tintoret? There are so many persons whose position in life compels them to encourage art without having any real enjoyment of it. Garrow is one of those persons. But his daughter, Lady Sara, has a touch of genius. She's a musician. You have heard her play, haven't you, Robert?"
Robert had, at that instant, observed upon the mantelpiece a letter addressed to himself. It was from Brigit. He grew pale, and retired, with the little envelope lightly written on, to a far corner of the room. For some moments he could not break the seal. The sight of her writing filled him with a kind of agony—something beyond his control, beyond his comprehension. What did it mean—this tightening of the heart, this touch of fear, and love, and fear again, so deep that the whole web of life trembled and its strings grew confused one with another, and all was anguish, darkness, self-renunciation, and a wild, a dreadful mystery of human influence? At last he opened the letter.
"MY DEAREST," it began, "I can never say all that I wish to say, because when I am with you I forget everything and watch your face. When I am away from you I forget your face, and I long to see it again in order that I may remember it more perfectly! It is so hard not to think of you too often. But I have had a great deal of sorrow, and everything I have in the world—except you—is a grief. I know that we are not born to be happy, and so, I wonder, have we stolen our happiness? If it is a gift—I know not what to do with it. I cannot speak a happy language: the atmosphere is strange and frightens me. Dear Robert, I am terrified, uncertain, but when we meet to-morrow you will give me courage. And then, as we shall not part again, I need never again be, as I am now, too anxious. Your BRIGIT."
Reckage's voice broke in again.
"I do wish you would try this rum omelette. It is capital."
Orange laughed, but left the room. Rennes remarked that he had a powerful face.
"Yes. He has a strong character. And he would never deceive another. But he deceives himself hourly—daily."
"In what way?" asked Rennes.
"He doesn't know," said Reckage, "what a devilish fine chap he is! I wish to God that I could prevent this marriage."
"I say nothing against Mrs. Parflete. She's a high-class woman and so on. Awfully beautiful, too. As clever as they make 'em, and not a breath against her. All the same, I am not very sweet on love matches for men of Orange's calibre. They never answer—never."
"I don't agree with you there," replied the artist, "because I believe that a love match—even when it dissolves, as it may, into a mistake—is the best thing that can happen to any man."
After this they discussed bindings. Lord Reckage was the first amateur authority on the subject.
At five the next morning Robert was writing letters. Then, as soon as the gates of Hyde Park were open, he walked out. The recurrence of familiar sentiments on the essentials that make up the condition known as happiness would neither convince, nor inspire, the powers of an imagination which, with all its richness, was, apart from the purely artistic faculty, analytical and foreboding. Self-doubt, however, has no part in passion. Of the many miseries it may bring, this, perhaps the worst of human woes, can never be in its train. Men in love—and women also—may distrust all things and all creatures, but their own emotion, like the storm, proves the reality of its force by the mischief it wreaks. Robert's spirit, borne along by this vehemence of feeling, caught the keen sweetness of the early air, not yet infected by the day's traffic. His melancholy—the inevitable melancholy produced by sustained thought on any subject, whether sublime or simple—was dispelled. The Park, which was empty but for a few men on their way to work, and runners anxious to keep in training, had its great trees still beautiful from the lingering glance of summer; the wide and misty stretches of grey grass were fresh in dew; the softness and haze—without the gloom—of autumn were in the atmosphere. The pride of love requited and the instincts of youth could not resist these spells of nature. Robert remembered only that it was his wedding-day: that every throb of his pulse and every second of time brought him nearer to the supreme joy of his life and the supreme moment. He had never used his nerves with bliss and tears, and he did not belong to the large army of young gentlemen who own themselves proudly
"Light half-believers of our casual creeds, Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will'd.... Who hesitate and falter life away, And lose to-morrow the ground won to-day."
This view of heroism was not possible to him, and he was too strong in mind and body to pretend to it. The two things which affect a career most profoundly are religion, or the lack of it, and marriage—or not marrying; for these things only penetrate to the soul and make what may be called its perpetual atmosphere. The Catholic Faith, which ignores no single possibility in human feeling and no possible flight in human idealism, produces in those who hold it truly a freshness of heart very hard to be understood by the dispassionate critic who weighs character by the newest laws of his favourite degenerate, but never by the primeval tests of God. Robert, therefore, was thinking of his bride's face, the pure curves of her mouth, her sapphirine eyes, her pretty hands, her golden hair, the nose which others found fault with, which he, nevertheless, thought wholly delightful. He wondered what she would say and how she would look when they met. Would she be pale? Would she be frightened? There had always been a certain agony in every former meeting because of the farewell which had to follow. With all his habits of self-control, he had never been able to feel quite sure that the word too much would not be said, that the glance too long would not be given. Her own simplicity, he told himself, had saved him from disaster. She showed her affection so fearlessly—with such tender and discerning trust—that his worst struggles were in solitude—not in her presence at all. It was when he was away from her immediate peaceful influence that the fever, the restlessness, the torments and the desperation (has not old Burton summed up for us the whole situation and all the symptoms in his "Anatomy"?) had to be endured and conquered. These trials now—for even a sense of humour could not make them less than trials—were ended. The tragi-comic labour of walking too much and riding too much, working and smoking too much, thinking and sleeping too little—the whole dreary business, in fact, of stifling any absorbing idea or ruling passion, would be no more.
When he returned to Almouth House, Reckage was already dressed for his official duties as "best man." He felt an unwonted and genuine excitement about Robert's marriage. He put aside the languor, ennui, and depression which he felt too easily on most occasions, and, that day at least, he was, as his own servant expressed it, "nervous and cut-up."
"I shall miss the swimming, the boxing, the fencing, and the pistol practice," he complained, referring to diversions in which Orange was an expert and himself the bored but dutiful participant. "They nearly always drop these things when they marry." The loss he really feared was the moral support and affection of his former secretary—advantages which a selfish nature is slow to appreciate, yet most tenacious of when once convinced of their use. The nuptial mass had been fixed for eight o'clock, the wedding party were to breakfast at Almouth House afterwards, then the bride and groom were to leave by the mail for Southampton en route for Miraflores in Northern France. The two young men drove together to the chapel attached to the Alberian Embassy. Not a word passed between them, but Reckage, under his eyelids, examined every detail of his friend's attire. He wondered at its satisfactoriness on the whole, inasmuch as Orange had not seen fit to consult him on the point. The church was small and grey and sombre; the flowers on the altar (sent by his lordship) were all white; their perfume filled the building.
"They look very nice," said Reckage, "and in excellent taste. Some of these old pictures on the wall are uncommonly good, and I particularly like that bronze crucifix. Ten to one if it isn't genuine eleventh century. I will ask the old fellow afterwards. He's a dear. His Latin is lovely. It's an artistic pleasure to hear him read the Gospel. I looked in the other morning, just to get the run, as it were, of the place. By Jove! Here they are."
Pensee Fitz Rewes came first—very graceful in lavender silk, and accompanied by her little boy, who showed by an unconscious anxiety of expression that he felt instinctively his mother's air of contentment was assumed. Then Baron Zeuill, with Brigit on his arm, followed. The Baron looked grave—too grave for the happy circumstances. Brigit seemed as pale as the lilies on the altar; she was less beautiful but more ethereal than usual. There was something frail, transparent, unsubstantial about her that day which Robert had never noticed before. Had the many emotional strains of the last year tried her delicate youth beyond endurance? She seemed very childish, too, and immature. She took Orange's hand when he met her, held it closely, and watched the others with a kind of wonder most pitiful to witness—as though she had suffered too much from her contact with life and could no more. Her eyes seemed darker than the sapphires to which Robert had so often compared them: this effect, he told himself, was due to the strong contrast given by the pallor of her face. It was quite clear, however, that she was not under the influence then of any dominant thought. Her nerves and senses were strained to that extreme tension resembling apathy, until the vibration given by some touch or tone sets the whole system trembling with all the spiritual and bodily forces which make the mystery of human life. She spoke her responses, signed the register, and walked out from the church on Robert's arm without a single change of countenance or token of feeling. As they drove away from the church, she flushed a little and drew far back, with a new timidity, into her corner. One look she gave of perfect love and confidence. She pressed his hand and held it, for a moment, against her cheek. But neither of them spoke. And indeed, what was there to be said? The identification of their two minds had been full and absolute from the moment of their first encounter long ago in Chambord. The accidental differences of sex and age, training, accomplishments, and education had not affected—and could not affect—a sympathy in temperament which depended—not on the similarity of opinions—but on a similarity of moral fibre. Many forms can be cut, by the same hand, from the same piece of marble, and although one may be a grotesque and the other a cross, one a pursuing goddess and the other an angel for a tomb, the same substance, light, touch, and colour will be characteristic of all four. Marriage, at best, could but give a certain crude emphasis to the strange spiritual bond which united these two beings. Practical as they both were in the common affairs of life, they shrank from anything which would promise to materialise the subtleties of the mind. Some thoughts, they felt, were as impalpable as sounds, and, just as music ceases to be divine when it is poured out of some mechanical contrivance, so the mysteries of the human soul become mere bodily conditions—more or less humiliating—when demonstrated, catalogued, and legalised. There is nothing modern nor uncommon in this especial disposition. One may describe it as ascetic, anaemic, sentimental, hysterical, neurotic; but the men and women who possess this fragile organism show, as a rule, powers of endurance and a strength of will by no means characteristic of the average sanguine and sensual creature who eats, drinks, fights, loves, and does his best in a world which he calls vile, yet would not renounce for all the ecstasies of Paradise.
The carriage wheels rolled on—as swift and noiseless as the sand in an hour-glass. Why was the road so short? Why could they not be carried thus for ever, tranquil with happiness, wanting nothing, seeking nothing, bound no-whither? Foolish questions and a foolish longing: yet happiness consists in being able to formulate wishes with the serene knowledge that a better wisdom directs their fulfilment. Neither passers-by nor other vehicles, neither houses nor streets caught the entranced attention of these young lovers. The delight of being purely self-absorbed is very great and intoxicating to those who are constantly—either by desire or the force of circumstances—unselfish. A faint flush swept into Brigit's face under the effect of an experience so novel. Their twofold consciousness had all the pathos of self-effacement, and all the thrill of satisfied egoism. Such instants cannot last, and they are shortest when one's habits of thought are antagonistic to such luxury. Brigit sighed deeply, and roused herself with a painful sense that the minute she wilfully cut short had been the sweetest in her life.