THE HEAVENLY TWINS
BY MADAME SARAH GRAND AUTHOR OF "IDEALA," ETC. ETC.
"They call us the Heavenly Twins." "What, signs of the Zodiac?" said the Tenor. "No; signs of the times," said the Boy.
The time is racked with birth-pangs; every hour Brings forth some gasping truth, and truth new-born Looks a misshapen and untimely growth, The terror of the household and its shame, A monster coiling in its nurse's lap That some would strangle, some would starve; But still it breathes, and passed from hand to hand, And suckled at a hundred half-clad breasts Comes slowly to its stature and its form, Calms the rough ridges of its dragon scales, Changes to shining locks its snaky hair, And moves transfigured into Angel guise, Welcomed by all that cursed its hour of birth, And folded in the same encircling arms That cast it like a serpent from their hold!
—Oliver Wendell Holmes.
From the high Cathedral tower the solemn assurance floated forth to be a warning, or a promise, according to the mental state of those whose ears it filled; and the mind, familiar with the phrase, continued it involuntarily, carrying the running accompaniment, as well as the words and the melody, on to the end. After the last reverberation of the last stroke of every hour had died away, and just when expectation had been succeeded by the sense of silence, they rang it out by day and night—the bells—and the four winds of heaven by day and night spread it abroad over the great wicked city, and over the fair flat country, by many a tiny township and peaceful farmstead and scattered hamlet, on, on, it was said, to the sea—to the sea, which was twenty miles away!
But there were many who doubted this; though good men and true, who knew the music well, declared they had heard it, every note distinct, on summer evenings when they sat alone on the beach and the waves were still; and it sounded then, they said, like the voice of a tenor who sings to himself softly in murmurous monotones. And some thought this must be true, because those who said it knew the music well, but others maintained that it could not be true just for that very reason; while others again, although they confessed that they knew nothing of the distance sound may travel under special circumstances, ventured, nevertheless, to assert that the chime the people heard on those occasions was ringing in their own hearts; and, indeed, it would have been strange if those in whose mother's ears it had rung before they were born, who knew it for one of their first sensations, and felt it to be, like a blood relation, a part of themselves, though having a separate existence, had not carried the memory of it with them wherever they went, ready to respond at any moment, like sensitive chords vibrating to a touch.
But everything in the world that is worth a thought becomes food for controversy sooner or later, and the chime was no exception to the rule. Differences of opinion regarding it had always been numerous and extreme, and it was amusing to listen to the wordy warfare which was continually being waged upon the subject.
There were people living immediately beneath it who wished it far enough, they said, but they used to boast about it nevertheless when they went to other places—just as they did about their troublesome children, whom they declared, in like manner, that they expected to be the death of them when they and their worrying ways were within range of criticism. It was a flagrant instance of the narrowness of small humanity which judges people and things, not on their own merits, but with regard to their effect upon itself; a circumstance being praised to-day because importance is to be derived from its importance, and blamed to-morrow because a bilious attack makes thought on any subject irritating.
Other people liked the idea of the chime, but were not content with its arrangement; if it had been set in another way, you know, it would have be so different, they asserted, with as much emphasis as if there were wisdom in the words. And some said it would have been more effective if it had not rung so regularly, and some maintained that it owed its power to that same regularity which suggested something permanent in this weary world of change. Among the minor details of the discussion there was one point in particular which exercised the more active minds, but did not seem likely ever to be settled. It was as to whether the expression given to the announcement by the bells did not vary at different hours of the day and night, or at different seasons of the year at all events; and opinion differed as widely upon this point as we are told they did on one occasion in some other place with regard to the question whether a fish weighed heavier when it was dead than when it was alive—a question that would certainly never have been settled either, had it not happened, after a long time and much discussion, that someone accidentally weighed a fish, when it was found there was no difference. The question of expression, however, could not be decided in that way, expression being imponderable; and it was pretty generally acknowledged that the truth could not be ascertained and must therefore remain a matter of opinion. But that did not stop the talk. Once, indeed, someone declared positively that the state of a man's feelings at the moment would influence his perceptions, and make the chimes sound glad when he was glad, and mournful when he was melancholy; but nobody liked the solution.
Let them wrangle as they might, however, the citizens were proud of their chime, and for a really good reason. It meant something! It was not a mere jingle of bells, as most chimes are, but a phrase with a distinct idea in it which they understood as we understand a foreign language when we can read it without translating it. It might have puzzled them to put the phrase into other words, but they had it off pat enough as it stood, and they held it sacred, which is why they quarrelled about it, it being usual for men to quarrel about what they hold sacred, as if the thing could only be maintained by hot insistence—the things they hold sacred, that is—although they cannot be sure of them, like the forms of a religion which admit of controversy, as distinguished from the God they desire to worship about whom they have no doubt, and therefore never dispute.
In this latter respect, however, the case of the people of Morningquest was just the reverse of that which obtains in most other places, for in consequence of the hourly insistence of the chime, their most impressive monitor, they talked much more of Him whom they should worship than of various ways to worship him; and the most persistent of all the questions which occupied their attention arose out of the involuntary but continuous effort of one generation after another to define with scientific accuracy and to everybody's satisfaction his exact nature and attributes; in consequence of which efforts there had come to be several most distinct but quite contradictory ideas upon the subject. There were some simple-minded folk to whom the chime typified a God essentially masculine, and like a man, hugely exaggerated, but somewhat amorphous, because they could not see exactly in what the exaggeration consisted except in the size of him. They pictured him sitting alone on a throne of ivory and gold inlaid with precious stones; and recited the catalogue of those mentioned in the Book of the Revelation by preference as imparting a fine scriptural flavor to the dea. And he sat upon the throne day and night, looking down upon the earth, and never did anything else nor felt it monotonous. Buddha himself, in Nirvana, could not have attained to a greater perfection of contemplation than that with which they credited this curious divinity, who served solely for a finish to their mental range as the sky was to their visual; a useful point at which to aim their rudimentary faculty of reverence.
But others, again, of a different order of intelligence, had passed beyond this stage and saw in him more
of a creature Moving about in worlds not realized;
very like Jove, but unmarried. He was both beneficent and jealous, and had to be propitiated by regular attendance at church; but further than that he was not exacting; and therefore they ventured to take his name in vain when they were angry, and also to call upon him for help, with many apologies, when there was nobody else to whom they could apply; although, so long as the current of their lives ran smoothly on, they seldom troubled their heads about him at all.
There were deeper natures than those, however, who were not content with this small advance, and these last had by degrees, as suited their convenience but without perceiving it, gradually discovered in him every attribute, good, bad, or indifferent, which they found in themselves, thus ascribing to him a nature of a highly complex and most extraordinarily inconsistent kind, less that of a God than of a demon. To them he was still a great shape like a man, but a shape to be loved as well as feared; a God of peace who patronized war; a gentle lamb who looked on at carnage complacently; a just God who condemned the innocent to suffer; an omnipotent God who was powerless to make his law supreme; and they reserved to themselves the right of constantly adding to or slightly altering this picture; but having completed it so far, they were thoroughly well satisfied with it, and, incongruous as it was, they managed to make it the most popular of all the presentments, partly because, being so flexible, it could be adjusted to every state of mind; but also because there was money in it. Numbers of people lived by it, and made name and fame besides; and these kept it going by damaging anybody who ventured to question its beauty. For there is no faith that a man upholds so forcibly as the one by which he earns his livelihood, whether it be faith in the fetish he has helped to make, or in a particular kind of leather that sells quickest because it wears out so fast.
In these latter days, however, it began to appear as if the supremacy of the great masculine idea was at last being seriously threatened, for even in Morningquest a new voice of extraordinary sweetness had already been heard, not his, the voice of man; but theirs, the collective voice of humanity, which declared that "He, watching," was the all-pervading good, the great moral law, the spirit of pure love, Elohim, mistranslated in the book of Genesis as "He" only, but signifying the union to which all nature testifies, the male and female principles which together created the universe, the infinite father and mother, without whom, in perfect accord and exact equality, the best government of nations has always been crippled and abortive.
Those who heard this final voice were they who loved the chime most truly, and reverenced it; but they did not speak about it much: only, when the message sounded, they listened with that full-hearted pleasure which is the best praise and thanks. Mendelssohn must have felt it when the melody first occurred to him, and the words had wedded themselves to the music in his soul!
And the chime certainly had power to move the hearts of many; but it would be hard to say when it had most power, or upon whom. Doubtless, the majority of those who had ears to hear in the big old fashioned city heard not, use having dulled their faculties; or if, perchance, the music reached them it conveyed no idea to their minds, and passed unheeded. It was but an accustomed measure, one more added to the myriad other sounds that make up the buzz of life, and help, like each separate note of a chord, to complete the varied murmur which is the voice of "a whole city full."
But of course there were times when it was specially apt to strike home—in the early morning, for instance, when the mind was fresh and hope was strong enough to interpret the assurance into a promise of joy; and again at noon, when fatigue was growing and the mind perceived a sympathetic melancholy in the tones which was altogether restful; but it was at midnight it had most power. It seemed to rise then to the last pitch of enthusiasm, sounding triumphant, like the special effort that finishes a strain, as if to speed the departing interval of time; but when it rang again, after the first hour of the new day, its voice had dropped, as it were, to that tone of indifference which expresses the accustomed doing of some monotonous duty which has become too much of a habit to excite either pleasure or pain. To the tired watcher then, for whom the notes were mere tones conveying no idea, the soft melancholy cadence, dulled by distance, was like the half-stifled echo of her own last stifled sigh.
It is likely, however, that the chime failed less of its effect outside the city than it did within; but there again it depended upon the hearer. When the mellow tones floated above the heath where the gipsies camped, only one, perchance, might listen, lifting her bright eyes with pleasure and longing in them, dumbly, as a child might, yet showing for a moment some glimmering promise of a soul. But to many in the village close at hand the chime brought comfort. It seemed to assure the sick, counting the slow hours, that they were not forsaken, and helped them to bear their pain with patience; it seemed to utter to the wayworn a word which told them their trouble was not in vain; it seemed to invite all those who waited and were anxious to trust their care to Him and seek repose. It was all this, and much more, to many people: and yet, when it spread in another direction over the fields, it meant nothing to the yawning ploughman, either musical or poetical, had no significance whatever for him if it were not of the time of day, gathered, however, with the help of sundry other sensations of which hunger and fatigue were chief. It probably conveyed as much, and neither more nor less, to the team he drove.
But perhaps of all the affairs of life with which the chime had mingled, the most remarkable, could they be collected and recorded, would be the occasions on which the hearing of the message had marked a turning point in the career of some one person, as happened, once on a summer afternoon, when it was heard by a Lancashire collier—a young lad with an unkempt mop of golden hair, delicate features, and limbs which were too refined for his calling, who was coming up the River Morne on a barge.
The river winds for a time through a fertile undulating bit of country, and nothing of the city can be seen until you are almost in it, except the castle of the Duke of Morningquest, high perched on a hill on the farther side, and the spire of the cathedral, which might not attract your attention, however, if it were not pointed out to you above the trees. When the chime floated over this sparsely peopled tract, filling the air with music, but coming from no one could tell whence, there was something mysterious in the sound of it to an imaginative listener in so apparently remote a place; and once, twice, as the long hours passed, the young collier heard it ring, and wondered. He had nothing to do but listen, and watch the man on the bank who led the horse that was towing the barge; or address a rare remark to his solitary companion—an old sailor, dressed in a sou'-wester, blue jersey, and the invariable drab trowsers, tar-besprent, and long boots, of his calling, who steered automatically, facing the meadows in beautiful abstraction. He would have faced an Atlantic gale, however, with that same look.
When the chime rang out for the third time, the young collier spoke:
"It's the varse of a song, maybe?" he suggested.
"Aye, lad," was the laconic rejoinder.
The barge moved on—passed a little farmhouse close to the water's edge; passed some lazy cattle standing in a field flicking off flies with their tails; passed a patient fisherman, who had not caught a thing that day, and scarcely expected to, but still fished on. The sun sparkled down on the water; the weary man and horse plodded along the bank; far away, a sweet bird sang; and the collier spoke again.
"Dost tha' know the varse?" he said.
The old man had been brought up in those parts; he knew it well; and slowly repeated it to the lad, who listened without a sign, sitting with his dreamy eyes fixed on the water:
"He, watching over Israel, slumbers not, nor sleeps."
There was another long silence, and then the lad spoke once more, with apathetic gravity, asking: "Who's He?"
The old man kept his eyes fixed on a distant reach of the river, and moved no muscle of his face.
"I guess it's Christ," he said at last.
"Ah niver 'eerd tell on 'im," the collier answered slowly.
"Hast 'niver 'eerd tell on Christ?" the old man asked in measured machine-like tones. "I thowt ivery one know'd on 'im. Why, what religion are you?"
"Well, me feyther's a Liberal—leastways 'im as brought me up," was the passionless rejoinder, slowly spoken; "but ah doan't know no one o' the name o' Christ, an', what's more, ah's sure 'e doan't work down our way,"— with which he sauntered forward with his hands in his trowser pockets, and sat in the bow; and the old man steered on as before.
How like a mind is to a river! both may be pure and transparent and lovable, and strong to support and admirable; each may mirror the beauties of earth and sky, and still have a wonderful beauty of its own to delight us; both are always moving onward, bound irresistibly to be absorbed in a great ocean mystery, to be swept away irreclaimably, without hope of return, but leaving memories of themselves in good or evil wrought by them; and both are pure at the outset, but can be contaminated, when they in turn contaminate; and, being perverted in their use, become accursed, and curse again with all the more effect because the province of each was to bless.
The collier lad in the bow of the barge felt something of the fascination of the river that day. He saw it sparkle in the sunshine, he heard it ripple along its banks, he felt the slow and dreamy motion of the boat it bore; and his mind was filled with unaccustomed thought, and a strange yearning which he did not understand. There was something singularly attractive about the lad, although his clothes were tattered, his golden hair and delicate skin were begrimed, his great bright eyes had no intelligent expression in them, and there was that discontented undisciplined look about his mouth which is common to uneducated men. He had no human knowledge, but he had capacity, and he had music, the divine gift, in his soul, and the voice of an angel to utter it.
What passed through his dim consciousness in the interval which followed his last remark, no one will ever know; but the chime had once more sounded; and, suddenly, as he sat there, he took up the strain, and sang it—and the labourers in the fields, and the loiterers by the river, and the ladies in their gardens, even the very cattle in the meadows, looked up and listened, wondering, while he varied the simple melody, as singers can, finding new meaning in the message, and filling the summer silence with perfect raptures of ecstatic sound.
It was a voice to gladden the hearts of men, and one who heard it knew this, and followed the barge, and took the lad and had him taught, so that in after days the world was ready to fall at his feet and worship the gift.
And so time passed. Change followed change, but the chime was immutable. And always, whatever came, it rang out calmly over the beautiful old city of Morningquest, and entered into it, and was part of the life of it, mixing itself impartially with the good and evil; with all the sin and suffering, the pitiful pettiness, the indifference, the cruelty, and every form of misery-begetting vice, as much as with the purity above reproach, the charity, the self-sacrifice, the unswerving truth, the patient endurance, and courage not to be daunted, which are in every city—mixing itself with these as the light and air of heaven do, and with effects doubtless as unexpected and as fine; and ready also to be a help to the helpless, a guide to the rash and straying, a comfort to the comfortless, a reproach to the reckless, and a warning to the wicked. Perhaps an ambitious stranger, passing through the city, would hear the chime, and pause to listen, and in the pause a flash of recollection would show him the weary way he had gone, the disappointments which were the inevitable accompaniments of even his most brilliant successes in the years of toil that had been his since he made the world his idol and swerved from the Higher Life; and then he would ask himself the good of it all, and finding that there was no good, he would go his way, cherishing the new impression, and asking of all things,
"Is it too late now?"
And perhaps at the same moment a lady rolling past in her carriage would say, "How sweet!" or the beauty of the bells might win some other thoughtless tribute from her, if she heard the chime at all; but probably she never heard it, because the accustomed tones were as familiar as the striking of the hour—the striking of an hour that bore no special significance for her, and therefore set no chord vibrating in her soul. The thoughts of her mind deafened her heart to it as completely as the thunder of a waggon had at the same time deafened the waggoner's ears while the bells uttered their message above him. And so it was with the doctor, overworked and anxious, hurrying on his rounds; the grasping lawyer, absorbed in calculation, and all the other money-grubbers; the indolent woman, the pleasure-seeker, and the hard-pressed toiler for daily bread: if they heard they heeded not because their hour had not yet come. At least this is what some thought, who believed that for every one a special hour would come, when they would be called, and then left to decide, as it were, between life and death-in-life; if they accepted life, the next message would be fraught with strength and help and blessing; but if they rejected it, the bells would utter their condemnation, and leave them to their fate.
I. CHILDHOODS AND GIRLHOODS
II. A MALTESE MISCELLANY
III. DEVELOPMENT AND ARREST OF DEVELOPMENT
IV. THE TENOR AND THE BOY—AN INTERLUDE
V. MRS. KILROY OF ILVERTHORPE
VI. THE IMPRESSIONS OF DR. GALBRAITH
CHILDHOODS AND GIRLHOODS.
The spring is the pleasantest of the seasons; and the young of most animals, though far from being completely fashioned, afford a more agreeable sensation than the full grown; because the imagination is entertained with the promise of something more, and does not acquiesce in the present object of the sense.—Burke on the Sublime.
I am inclined to agree with Francis Galton in believing that education and environment produce only a small effect on the mind of anyone, and that most of our qualities are innate.—Darwin.
THE HEAVENLY TWINS.
At nineteen Evadne looked out of narrow eyes at an untried world inquiringly. She wanted to know. She found herself forced to put prejudice aside in order to see beneath it, deep down into the sacred heart of things, where the truth is, and the bewildering clash of human precept with human practice ceases to vex. And this not of design, but of necessity. It was a need of her nature to know. When she came across something she did not understand, a word, a phrase, or an allusion to a phase of life, the thing became a haunting demon only to be exorcised by positive knowledge on the subject. Ages of education, ages of hereditary preparation had probably gone to the making of such a mind, and rendered its action inevitable. For generations knowledge is acquired, or, rather, instilled by force in families, but, once in a way, there comes a child who demands instruction as a right; and in her own family Evadne appears to have been that child. Not that she often asked for information. Her faculty was sufficient to enable her to acquire it without troubling herself or anybody else, a word being enough on some subjects to make whole regions of thought intelligible to her. It was as if she only required to be reminded of things she had learnt before. Her mother said she was her most satisfactory child. She had been easy of education in the schoolroom. She had listened to instruction with interest and intelligence, and had apparently accepted every article of faith in God and man which had been offered for her guidance through life with unquestioning confidence; at least she had never been heard to object to any time-honoured axiom. And she did, in fact, accept them all, but only provisionally. She wanted to know. Silent, sociable, sober, and sincere, she had walked over the course of her early education and gone on far beyond it with such ease that those in authority over her never suspected the extent to which she had outstripped them.
It was her father who struck the keynote to which the tune of her early intellectual life was set. She was about twelve years old at the time, and they were sitting out on the lawn at Fraylingay one day after dinner, as was their wont in the summer—he, on this occasion, under the influence of a good cigar, mellow in mind and moral in sentiment, but inclining to be didactic for the moment because the coffee was late; she in a receptive mood, ready to gather silently, and store with care, in her capacious memory any precept that might fall from his lips, to be taken out and tried as opportunity offered.
"Where is your mother?" he asked.
"I don't know, father," Evadne answered. "I think she is in the drawing room."
"Never say you think, my dear, about matters of fact," he said. "When it is possible to know it is your business to find out, and if you cannot find out you must say you don't know. It is moral cowardice, injurious to yourself, not to own your ignorance; and you may also be misleading, or unintentionally deceiving, someone else."
"How might the moral cowardice of not owning my ignorance be injurious to myself, father?" she asked.
"Why, don't you see," he answered, "you would suffer in two ways? If the habit of inaccuracy became confirmed, your own character would deteriorate; and by leading people to suppose that you are as wise as themselves, you lose opportunities of obtaining useful information. They won't tell you things they think you know already."
Evadne bent her brows upon this lesson and reflected; and doubtless it was the origin of the verbal accuracy for which she afterward became notable. Patient investigation had always been a pleasure, but from that time forward it became a principle also. She understood from what her father had said that to know the facts of life exactly is a positive duty; which, in a limited sense, was what he had intended to teach her; but the extent to which she carried the precept would have surprised him.
Her mind was prone to experiment with every item of information it gathered, in order to test its practical value; if she could turn it to account she treasured it; if not, she rejected it, from whatever source it came. But she was not herself aware of any reservation in her manner of accepting instruction. The trick was innate, and in no way interfered with her faith in her friends, which was profound. She might have justified it, however, upon her father's authority, for she once heard him say to one of her brothers: "Find out for yourself, and form your own opinions," a lesson which she had laid to heart also. Not that her father would have approved of her putting it into practice. He was one of those men who believe emphatically that a woman should hold no opinion which is not of masculine origin, and the maxims he had for his boys differed materially in many respects from those which he gave to his girls. But these precepts of his were, after all, only matches to Evadne which fired whole trains of reflection, and lighted her to conclusions quite other than those at which he had arrived himself. In this way, however, he became her principal instructor. She had attached herself to him from the time that she could toddle, and had acquired from his conversation a proper appreciation of masculine precision of thought. If his own statements were not always accurate it was from no want of respect for the value of facts; for he was great on the subject, and often insisted that a lesson or principle of action is contained in the commonest fact; but he snubbed Evadne promptly all the same on one occasion when she mentioned a fact of life, and drew a principle of action therefrom for herself. "Only confusion comes of women thinking for themselves on social subjects," he said, "You must let me decide all such matters for you, or you must refer them to your husband when you come under his control."
Evadne did not pay much attention to this, however, because she remembered another remark of his with which she could not make it agree. The remark was that women never had thought for themselves, and that therefore it was evident that they could not think, and that they should not try. Now, as it is obvious that confusion cannot come of a thing that has never been done, the inaccuracy in one or other of these statements was glaring enough to put both out of the argument. But what Evadne did note was the use of the word control.
As she grew up she became her father's constant companion in his walks, and, flattered by her close attention, he fell into the way of talking a good deal to her. He enjoyed the fine flavour of his own phrase-making, and so did she, but in such a silent way that nothing ever led him to suspect it was having any but the most desirable effect upon her mind. She never attempted to argue, and only spoke in order to ask a question on some point which was not clear to her, or to make some small comment when he seemed to expect her to do so. He often contradicted himself, and the fact never escaped her attention, but she loved him with a beautiful confidence, and her respect remained unshaken.
When she had to set herself right between his discrepancies she did not dwell on the latter as faults in him, but only thought of how wise he was when he warned her to be accurate, and felt grateful. And in this way she formed her mind upon his sayings; and as a direct result of the long, informal, generally peripatetic lectures to which she listened without prejudice, and upon which she brought unsuspected powers of discrimination to bear, he had unconsciously made her a more logical, reasoning, reasonable being than he believed it possible for a woman to be. Poor papa! All that he really knew of his most interesting daughter was that she was growing up a good child, physically strong and active, morally well educated, with a fortunately equable temper; and that she owed a great deal to him. What, precisely, was never defined. But when the thought of his kindness recurred to him it always suffused him with happiness.
He was a portly man, with a place in the country, and a house in town; not rich for his position, but well off; a magistrate, and much respected; well educated in the ideas of the ancients, with whom his own ideas on many subjects stopped short, and hardly to be called intellectual; a moderate Churchman, a bigoted Conservative, narrow and strongly prejudiced rather than highly principled. He was quite ignorant of the moral progress of the world at the present time, and ready to resent even the upward tendency of evolution when it presented itself to him in the form of any change, including, of course, changes for the better, and more especially so if such change threatened to bring about an improvement in the position of women, or increase the weight of their influence for good in the world. The mere mention of the subject made him rabid, and he grew apoplectic whenever he reflected upon the monstrous pretensions of the sex at the present time. But the thing that roused his scorn and indignation most was when a woman ventured to enter any protest against the established order of iniquity. He allowed that a certain number of women must of necessity be abandoned, and raised no objection to that; but what he did consider intolerable was that any one woman should make a stand against the degradation of her own sex. He thought that immoral.
He was well enough to live with, however, this obstinate English country gentleman, although without sympathetic insight, and liable to become a petty domestic tyrant at any moment. "Sound" was what he would have called himself. And he was a man to be envied upon the whole, for his family loved him, and his friends knew no ill of him.
Evadne, like the Vicar of Wakefield, was by nature a lover of happy human faces, and she could be playful herself on occasion; but she had little if any of the saving sense of humor.
Her habit was to take everything au grand serieux, and to consider it. When other people were laughing she would be gravely observant, as if she were solving a problem; and she would sooner have thought of trying to discover what combination of molecules resulted in a joke, with a view to benefiting her species by teaching them how to produce jokes at will, than of trying to be witty herself. She had, too, a quite irritating trick of remaining, to all outward seeming, stolidly unmoved by events which were causing an otherwise general commotion; but in cases of danger or emergency she was essentially swift to act—as on one occasion, for instance, when the Hamilton House twins were at Fraylingay.
The twins had arrived somewhat late in the married lives of their parents, and had been welcomed as angel visitants, under which fond delusion they were christened respectively Angelica and Theodore. Before they were well out of their nurse's arms, however, society, with discernment, had changed Theodore's name to Diavolo, but "Angelica" was sanctioned, the irony being obvious.
The twins were alike in appearance, but not nearly so much so as twins usually are. It would have been quite easy to distinguish them apart, even if one had not been dark and the other fair, and for this mercy everybody connected with them had reason to be thankful, for as soon as they reached the age of active indiscretion they would certainly have got themselves mixed if they could. Angelica was the dark one, and she was also the elder, taller, stronger, and wickeder of the two, the organizer and commander of every expedition. Before they were five years old everybody about the place was upon the alert, both in self-defence and also to see that the twins did not kill themselves. Bars of iron had to be put on the upstairs windows to prevent them making ladders of the traveller's joy and wisteria, modes of egress which they very much preferred to commonplace doors; and Mr. Hamilton-Wells had been reluctantly obliged to have the moat, which was deep and full of fish, and had been the glory of Hamilton House for generations, drained for fear of accidents. Argument was unavailing with the twins as a means of repression, but they were always prepared to argue out any question of privilege with their father and mother cheerfully. Punishment, too, had an effect quite other than that intended. They were interested at the moment, but they would slap each other's hands and put each other in the corner for fun five minutes after they had received similar chastisement in solemn earnest.
They would have lived out of doors altogether by choice, and they managed to make their escape in all weathers. If the vigilant watch that was kept upon them were relaxed for a moment, they disappeared as if by magic, and would probably only be recovered at the farthest limit of their father's property, or in the kitchen of some neighbouring country gentleman, where they were sure to be popular. They were always busy about something, and when every usual occupation failed, they fought each other. After a battle they counted scars and scratches for the honour of having most, and if there were not bruises enough to satisfy one of them, the other was always obligingly ready to fight again until there were.
Mr. Hamilton-Wells had great faith in the discipline of the Church service for them, and was anxious that they should be early accustomed to go there. They behaved pretty well while the solemnity was strange enough to awe them, and one Sunday when Lady Adeline—their mother—could not accompany him, Mr. Hamilton-Wells ventured to go alone with them. He took the precaution to place them on either side of him so as to separate them and interpose a solid body between them and any signals they might make to each other; but in the quietest part of the service, when everybody was kneeling, some movement of Diavolo's attracted his attention for a moment from Angelica, and when he looked again the latter had disappeared. She had discovered that it was possible to creep from pew to pew beneath the seats, and had started to explore the church. On her way, however, she observed a pair of stout legs belonging to a respectable elderly woman who was too deep in her devotion to be aware of the intruder, and, being somewhat astonished by their size, she proceeded to test their quality with a pin, the consequence being an appalling shriek from the woman, which started a shrill treble cry from herself. The service was suspended, and Mr. Hamilton-Wells, the most precise of men, hastened down the aisle, and fished his daughter out, an awful spectacle of dust, from under the seat, incontinently.
When Mr. and Lady Adeline Hamilton-Wells went from home for any length of time they were obliged to take their children with them, as servants who knew the latter would rather leave than be left in charge of them, and this was how it happened that Evadne made their acquaintance at an early age.
It was during their first visit to Fraylingay, while they were still quite tiny, and she was hardly in her teens, that the event referred to in illustration of one of Evadne's characteristics occurred.
The twins had arrived late in the afternoon, and were taken into the dining room, where the table was already decorated for dinner. It evidently attracted a good deal of their attention, but they said nothing. At dessert, however, to which Evadne had come down with the elder children, the dining room door was seen to open with portentous slowness, and there appeared in the aperture two little figures in long nightgowns, their forefingers in their mouths, their inquisitive noses tilted in the air, and their bright eyes round with astonishment. It was like the middle of the night to them, and they had expected to find the room empty.
"Oh, you naughty children!" Lady Adeline exclaimed.
"The darlings!" cried Mrs. Frayling, Evadne's mother. "Do let them come in," and she picked up Angelica, and held her on her knee, one of the other ladies at the opposite end of the long table taking Diavolo up at the same time. But the moment the children found themselves on a level with the table they made a dart for the centre piece simultaneously on their hands and knees, regardless of the smash of dessert plates, decanters, wineglasses, and fruit dishes, which they upset by the way.
"It is!" shrieked Angelica, thumping the flat mirror which was part of the table decorations triumphantly.
"It is what?" cried Lady Adeline, endeavoring to reach the child.
"It's looking-glass, mamma. Diavolo said it was water."
There was much amusement at the words, and at the quaint spectacle of the two little creatures sitting amid the wreckage in the middle of the table not a bit abashed by the novelty of their conspicuous position. Only Evadne, who was standing behind her mother's chair, remained grave. She seemed to be considering the situation severely, and, acting on her own responsibility, she picked Diavolo up in the midst of the general hilarity, and carried him out of the room with her hand pressed tight on his thigh. The child had come down armed with an open penknife, with which to defend Angelica should they encounter any ogres or giants on the stairs, and in scrambling up the table he had managed to strike himself in the thigh with it, and had severed the femoral artery; but, with the curious shame which makes some children dislike to own that they are hurt, he had contrived to conceal the accident for a moment with his nightgown under cover of the flowers, and it was only Evadne's observant eye and presence of mind that had saved his life. No one in the house could make a tourniquet, and she sat with the child on her knee while a doctor was being fetched, keeping him quiet as by a miracle, and, stopping the hemorrhage with the pressure of her thumb, not even his parents daring to relieve her, since Diavolo had never been known to be still so long in his life with anybody else. She held him till the operation of tying the artery was safely accomplished, by which time Mr. Diavolo was sufficiently exhausted to be good and go to sleep; and then she quietly fainted. But she was about again in time to catch him when he woke, and keep him quiet, and so by unwearied watching she prevented accidents until all danger was over.
Diavolo afterward heard his parents praise her in unmeasured terms to her parents one day in her absence. She happened to return while they were still in the room, and, being doubtless wide awake to the advantages of such a connection, he took the opportunity of promising solemnly, in the presence of such respectable witnesses, to marry her as soon as he was able.
She had added the word "tourniquet" to her vocabulary during this time, and having looked it up in the dictionary, she requested the doctor to be so good as to teach her to make one. While doing so the doctor became interested in his silent, intelligent pupil, and it ended in his teaching her all that a young lady could learn of bandaging, of antidotes to poisons, of what to do in case of many possible accidents, and also of nursing, theoretically.
But this was not a solitary instance of the quiet power of the girl which already compelled even elderly gentlemen much overworked and self-absorbed, to sacrifice themselves in her service.
It is a notable thing that in almost every instance it was her father's influence which forced Evadne to draw conclusions in regard to life quite unlike any of his own, and very distasteful to him. He was the most conservative of men, and yet he was continually setting her mind off at a tangent in search of premises upon which to found ultra-liberal conclusions.
His primitive theories about women and "all that they are good for," for one thing, which differed so materially from the facts as she observed them every day, formed a constant mental stimulus to which her busy brain was greatly indebted. "Women should confine their attention to housekeeping," he remarked once when the talk about the higher education of women first began to irritate elderly gentlemen. "It is all they are fit for."
"Is it?" said Evadne.
"Yes. And they don't know arithmetic enough to do that properly."
"Don't they? why?" she asked.
"Because they have no brains," he answered.
"But some women have been clever," she ventured seriously.
"Yes, of course; exceptional women. But you can't argue from exceptional women."
"Then ordinary women have no brains, and cannot learn arithmetic?" she concluded.
"Precisely," he answered irritably. Such signs of intelligence always did irritate him, somehow.
Evadne found food for reflection in these remarks. She had done a certain amount of arithmetic herself in the schoolroom, and had never found it difficult, but then she had not gone far enough, perhaps. And she went at once to get a Colenso or a Barnard Smith to see. She found them more fascinating when she attacked them of her own free will and with all her intelligence than she had done when necessity, in the shape of her governess, forced her to pay them some attention, and she went through them both in a few weeks at odd times, and then asked her father's advice about a book on advanced mathematics.
"Advanced mathematics!" he exclaimed. "Can you keep accounts?"
"I don't know," she answered doubtfully.
"Then what is this nonsense about advanced mathematics?"
"Oh, I have finished Barnard Smith, and I thought I should like to go on," she explained.
"Now, isn't that like your sex?" he observed, smiling at his own superiority. "You pick things up with a parrot-like sharpness, but haven't intelligence enough to make any practical application of them. A woman closely resembles a parrot in her mental processes, and in the use she makes of fine phrases which she does not understand to produce an effect of cleverness—such as 'advanced mathematics!'"
Evadne bent her brow, and let him ruminate a little in infinite self-content, then asked abruptly: "Can men keep accounts who have never seen accounts kept?"
"No, of course not," he answered, seeing in this a new instance of feminine imbecility, and laughing.
"Ah," she observed, then added thoughtfully as she moved away: "I should like to see how accounts are kept."
She never had any more conversation with her father upon this subject, but from that time forward mathematics, which had before been only an incident in the way of lessons, became an interest in life, and a solid part of her education. But, although she found she could do arithmetic without any great difficulty, it never occurred to her either that her father could be wrong or that there might be in herself the making of an exceptional woman. The habit of love and respect kept her attention from any point which would have led to a judgment upon her father, and she was too unconscious of herself as a separate unit to make personal application of anything as yet. Her mind at this time, like the hold of a ship with a general cargo, was merely being stored with the raw materials which were to be distributed over her whole life, and turned by degrees to many purposes, useful, beautiful—not impossibly detestable.
But that remark of her father's about "all that women are fit for," which he kept well watered from time to time with other conventional expressions of a contemptuous kind, was undoubtedly the seed of much more than a knowledge of the higher mathematics. It was that which set her mind off on a long and patient inquiry into the condition and capacity of women, and made her, in the end of the nineteenth century, essentially herself. But she did not begin her inquiry of set purpose; she was not even conscious of the particular attention she paid to the subject. She had no foregone conclusion to arrive at, no wish to find evidence in favour of the woman which would prove the man wrong. Only, coming across so many sneers at the incapacity of women, she fell insensibly into the habit of asking why. The question to begin with was always: "Why are women such inferior beings?" But, by degrees, as her reading extended, it changed its form, and then she asked herself doubtfully: "Are women such inferior beings?" a position which carried her in front of her father at once by a hundred years, and led her rapidly on to the final conclusion that women had originally no congenital defect of inferiority, and that, although they have still much way to make up, it now rests with themselves to be inferior or not, as they choose.
She had an industrious habit of writing what she thought about the works she studied, and there is an interesting record still in existence of her course of reading between the ages of twelve and nineteen. It consists of one thick volume, on the title page of which she had written roundly, but without a flourish, "Commonplace Book," and the date. The first entries are made in a careful, unformed, childish hand, and with diffidence evidently; but they became rapidly decided both in caligraphy and tone as she advanced. The handwriting is small and cramped, but the latter probably with a view to economy of space, and it is always clear and neat. There are few erasures or mistakes of grammar or spelling, even from the first, and little tautology; but she makes no attempt at literary style or elegance of expression. Still, all that she says is impressive, and probably on that account. She chooses the words best calculated to express her meaning clearly and concisely, and undoubtedly her meaning is always either a settled conviction or an honest endeavour to arrive at one. It is the honesty, in fact, that is so impressive. She never thinks of trying to shine in the composition of words; there was no idea of budding authorship in her mind; she had no more consciousness of purpose in her writing than she had in her pinging, when she sang about the place. The one was as involuntary as the other, and the outcome of similar sensations. It pleased her to write, and it pleased her to sing, and she did both when the impulse came upon her. She must, however, have had considerable natural facility of expression. Writing seems always to have been her best mode of communication. She was shy from the first in conversation, but bold to a fault with her pen. Some of the criticisms she wrote in her "Commonplace Book" are quite exhaustive; most of them are temperate, although she does give way occasionally to bursts of fiery indignation at things which outrage her sense of justice; but the general characteristic is a marked originality, not only in her point of view, but also in the use she makes of quite unpromising materials. In fact, the most notable part of the record is the proof it contains that all the arguments upon which she formed her opinions were found in the enemy's works alone. She had drawn her own conclusions; but after having done so, as it happened, she had the satisfaction of finding confirmation strong in John Stuart Mill on "The Subjection of Women," which she came across by accident—an accident, by the way, for which Lady Adeline Hamilton-Wells was responsible. She brought the book to Fraylingay, and forgot it when she went home, and Evadne, happening to find it throwing about, took charge of it, read it with avidity, and found for herself a world of thought in which she could breathe freely.
"The Vicar of Wakefield" was one of her early favourites. She read it several times, and makes mention of it twice in her "Commonplace Book." Her first notice of it is a childish little synopsis, very quaint in its unconscious irony; but interesting, principally from the fact that she was struck even then by the point upon which she afterward became so strong.
"The vicar," she says, "was a good man, and very fond of his wife and family, and they were very fond of him, but his wife was queer, and could only read a little. And he never taught her to improve herself, although he had books and was learned. [Footnote: This is the point alluded to.] He had two daughters, who were spiteful and did not like other girls to be pretty. They had bad taste, too, and wanted to go to church overdressed, and thought it finer to ride a plough-horse than walk. It does not say that they ever read anything, either. If they had they would have known better. There is a very nasty man in the book called Squire Thornhill, and a nice one called Sir William Thornhill, who was his uncle. Sir William marries Sophia, and Squire Thornhill marries Olivia, although he does not intend to. Olivia was a horrid deceitful girl, and it served her right to get such a husband. They have a brother called Moses, who used to talk philosophy with his father at dinner, and once sold a cow for a gross of green spectacles. A gross is twelve dozen. Of course they were all annoyed, but the vicar himself was cheated by the same man when he went to sell the horse. He seemed to think a great deal of knowing Latin and Greek, but it was not much use to him then. It was funny that he should be conceited about what he knew himself, and not want his wife to know anything. He said to her once: 'I never dispute your abilities to make a goose pie, and I beg you'll leave argument to me'; which she might have thought rude, but perhaps she was not a lady, as ladies do not make goose pies. I forgot, though, they had lost all their money. They had great troubles, and the vicar was put in prison. He was very ill, but preached to the prisoners, and everybody loved him. I like 'The Vicar of Wakefield' very much, and if I cannot find another book as nice I shall read it again. 'Turn, Gentle Hermit' is silly. I suppose Punch took Edwin and Angelina out of it to laugh at them."
Quite three years must have elapsed before she again mentions "The Vicar of Wakefield," and in the meantime she had been reading a fair variety of books, but for the most part under schoolroom supervision, carefully selected for her. Some, however, she had chosen for herself—during the holidays when discipline was relaxed; but it was a fault which she had to confess, and she does so always, honestly. Lewes' "Life of Goethe" was one of these. She wrote a glowing description of it, at the end of which she says:
"I found the book on a sofa in the drawing room, and began it without thinking, and read and read until I had nearly finished it, quite forgetting to ask leave. But of course I went at once to tell father as soon as I thought of it. Mother was there too, and inclined to scold, but father frowned, and said: 'Let her alone. It will do her no harm; she won't understand it.' I asked if I might finish it, and he said, 'Oh, yes,' impatiently. I think he wanted to get rid of me, and I am sorry I interrupted him at an inconvenient time. Mother often does not agree with father, but she always gives in. Very often she is right, however, and he is wrong. Last week she did not want us to go out one day because she was sure it would rain, but he did not think so, and said we had better go It did rain—poured—and we got wet through and have had colds ever since, but when we came in mother scolded me for saying, 'You see, you were right,' She said I should be saying 'I told yon so!' next, in a nasty jeering way as the boys do, which really means rejoicing because somebody else is wrong, and is not generous. I hope I shall never come to that; but I know if I am ever sure of a thing being right which somebody else thinks is wrong, it won't matter what it is or who it is, I shall not give in. I don't see how I could."
Her pen seldom ran away with her into personal matters like these, in the early part of the book; but from the first she was apt to be beguiled occasionally by the pleasure of perceiving a powerful stimulant under the influence of which everything is lost sight of but the point perceived. She had never to fight a daily and exhausting battle for her private opinions as talkative people have, simply because she rarely if ever expressed an opinion; but her father stood ready always, a post of resistance to innovation, upon which she could sharpen the claws of her conclusion silently whenever they required it.
When next she mentions "The Vicar of Wakefield," she says expressly:
"I do not remember what I wrote about it the first time I read it, and I will not look to see until I have written what I think now, because I should like to know if I still agree with myself as I was then."
And it is interesting to note how very much she does agree with herself as she "was then"; the feeling, in fact, is the same, but it has passed from her heart to her head, and been resolved by the process into positive opinion, held with conscious knowledge, and delivered with greatly improved power of expression.
"'The Vicar of Wakefield' makes me think a good deal," she continues, "but there is no order in my thoughts. There is, however, one thing in the book that strikes me first and foremost and above all others, which is that the men were educated and the women were ignorant. It is not to be supposed that the women preferred to be ignorant, and therefore I presume they were not allowed the educational advantages upon which the men prided themselves. The men must accordingly have withheld these advantages by main force, yet they do not scorn to sneer at the consequences of their injustice. There is a sneer implied in the vicar's remark about his own wife: 'She could read any English book without much spelling.' That her ignorance was not the consequence of incapacity is proved by the evidence which follows of her intelligence in other matters. Had Mrs. Primrose been educated she might have continued less lovable than the vicar, but she would probably have been wiser. The vicar must always have been conscious of her defects, but had never apparently thought of a remedy, nor does he dream of preventing a repetition of the same defects in his daughters by providing them with a better education. He takes their unteachableness for granted, remarking complacently that an hour of recreation 'was taken up in innocent mirth between my wife and daughters, and in philosophical arguments between my son and me,' as if 'innocent mirth' were as much as he could reasonably expect from such inferior beings as a wife and daughters must necessarily be. The average school girl of to-day is a child of light on the subject of her own sex compared with the gentle vicar, and incapable, even before her education is half over, of the envy and meanness which the latter thinks it kindest to take a humourous view of, and of the disingenuousness at which he also smiles as the inevitable outcome of feminine inferiority—at least I never met a girl in my position who would not have admired Miss Wilmot's beauty, nor do I know one who would not answer her father frankly, however embarrassing the question might be, if he asked her opinion of a possible lover."
The next entry in the book is on the subject of "Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures," and, like most of the others, it merits attention from the unexpected view she takes of the position. It does not strike her as being humourous, but pathetic. She feels the misery of it, and she had already begun to hold that human misery is either a thing to be remedied or a sacred subject to be dwelt on in silence; and she considers Mrs. Caudle entirely with a view to finding a cure for her case.
"The Caudles were petty tradespeople," she says, "respectable in their own position, but hardly lovable according to our ideas. Mr. Caudle, with meek persistency, goes out to amuse himself alone when his day's work is done. Mrs. Caudle's day's work never is done. She has the wearing charge of a large family, and the anxiety of making both ends meet on a paltry income, which entails much self denial and sordid parsimony, but is conscientiously done, if not cheerfully, nevertheless. It is Mr. Caudle, however, who grumbles, making no allowance for extra pressure of work on washing days, when she is too busy to hash the cold mutton. The rule of her life is weariness and worry from morning till night, and for relaxation in the evening she must sit down and mend the children's clothes; and even when that is done she goes to bed with the certainty of being roused from her hard-earned rest by a husband who brings a sickening odour of bad tobacco and spirits home with him, and naturally her temper suffers. She knows nothing of love and sympathy; she has no pleasurable interest in life. Fatigue and worry are succeeded by profound disheartenment. One can imagine that while she was young, the worn garments she was wont to mend during those long lonely evenings were often wet with tears. The dulness must have been deadly, and dulness added to fatigue time after time ended at last not in tears, but in peevish irritation, ebullitions of spleen, and ineffectual resistance. The woman was thoroughly embittered, and the man had to pay the penalty. Whatever pleasure there might have been in their joint lives he had secured for himself, leaving her to stagnate for want of a little variety to keep her feelings flowing wholesomely; and she did stagnate dutifully, but she was to blame for it. Had she gone out and amused herself with other wives similarly situated, and had tobacco and beer, if she liked them, every evening, it would have been better for herself and her husband."
There must have been some system in Evadne's reading, for "The Naggletons" came immediately after "Mrs. Caudle," and are dismissed curtly enough:
"Vulgar, ill-bred, lower class people," she calls them. "Objectionable to contemplate from every point of view. But a book which should enlighten the class whom it describes on the subject of their own bad manners. We don't nag."
She owed her acquaintance with the next two books she mentions to the indirect instigation of her father, and she must have read them when she was about eighteen, and emancipated from schoolroom supervision, but not yet fairly entered upon the next chapter of her existence; for they are among the last she notices before she came out.
The date is fixed by an entry which appears on a subsequent page with the note: "I was presented at court to-day by my mother." After this entry life becomes more interesting than literature, evidently, for the book ceases to be a record of reading and thought with an occasional note on people and circumstances, and becomes just the opposite, viz., a diary of events interspersed with sketches of character and only a rare allusion to literature. But, judging by the number and variety and the careful record kept of the works she read, the six months or so immediately preceding her presentation must have been a time of the greatest intellectual activity, her father's influence being, as usual, often apparent as primary instigator. Once, when they were having coffee out on the lawn after dinner, he began a discussion in her hearing about books with another gentleman who was staying in the house, and in the course of it he happened to praise "Roderick Random" and "Tom Jones" eloquently. He said they were superior in their own line to anything which the present day has produced. "They are true to life in every particular," he maintained, "and not only to the life of those times, but of all time. In fact, you feel as you read that it is not fiction, but human nature itself that you are studying; and there is an education in moral philosophy on every page."
Evadne was much impressed, and being anxious to know what an education in moral philosophy might be, she got "Roderick Random" and "Tom Jones" out of the library, when she went in that evening, and took them to her own room to study. They were the two books already referred to as being among the last she read just before she came out. They did not please her, but she waded through them from beginning to end conscientiously, nevertheless, and then she made her remarks.
Of "Roderick Random" she wrote:
"The hero is a kind of king-can-do-no-wrong young man; if a thing were not right in itself he acted as if the pleasure of doing it sanctified it to his use sufficiently. After a career of vice, in which he revels without any sense of personal degradation, he marries an amiable girl named Narcissa, and everyone seems to expect that such a union of vice and virtue would be productive of the happiest consequences. In point of fact he should have married Miss Williams, for whom he was in every respect a suitable mate. If anything, Miss Williams was the better of the two, for Roderick sinned in weak wantonness, while she only did so of necessity. They repent together, but she is married to an unsavoury manservant named Strap as a reward; while Roderick considers himself entitled to the peerless Narcissa. Miss Williams, moreover, becomes Narcissa's confidential friend, and the whole disgraceful arrangement is made possible by Narcissa herself, who calmly accepts these two precious associates at their own valuation, and admits them to the closest intimacy without any knowledge of their true characters and early lives. The fine flavour of real life in the book seems to me to be of the putrid kind which some palates relish, perhaps; but it cannot be wholesome, and it may be poisonous. The moral is: Be as vicious as you please, but prate of virtue."
"Tom Jones" she dismissed with greater contempt, if possible:
"Another young man," she wrote, "steeped in vice, although acquainted with virtue. He also marries a spotless heroine. Such men marrying are a danger to the community at large. The two books taken together show well the self-interest and injustice of men, the fatal ignorance and slavish apathy of women; and it may be good to know these things, but it is not agreeable."
The ventilation of free discussion would doubtless have been an advantage to Evadne at this impressionable period, when she was still, as it were, more an intellectual than a human being, travelling upon her head rather than upon her heart—so to speak—and one cannot help speculating about the probable modification it would have wrought in some of her opinions. Unfortunately, however, her family was one of those in which the cloture is rigorously applied when any attempt is made to introduce ideas which are not already old and accustomed. It was as if her people were satisfied that by enforcing silence they could prevent thought.
It is interesting to trace the steps by which Evadne advanced: one item of knowledge accidentally acquired compelling her to seek another, as in the case of some disease mentioned in a story-book, the nature of which she could not comprehend without studying the construction of the organ it affected. But haphazard seems to have determined her pursuits much more than design as a rule. Some people in after life, who liked her views, said they saw the guiding hand of Providence directing her course from the first; but those who opposed her said it was the devil; and others again, in idleness or charity, or the calm neutrality of indifference, set it all down to the Inevitable, a fashionable first cause at this time, which is both comprehensive, convenient, and inoffensive, since it may mean anything, and so suits itself to everybody's prejudices.
But she certainly made her first acquaintance with anatomy and physiology without design of her own. Her mother sent her up to a lumber room one day to hunt through an old box of books for a story she wanted her to read to the children, and the box happened to contain some medical works, which Evadne peeped into during her search. A plate first attracted her attention, and then she read a little to see what the plate meant, and then she read a little more because the subject fascinated her, and the lucid language of a great scientific man, certain of his facts, satisfied her, and carried her on insensibly. She continued standing until one leg tired, then she rested on the other; then she sat on the hard edge of the box, and finally she subsided on to the floor, in the dust, where she was found hours later, still reading.
"My dear child, where have you been?" her mother exclaimed irritably, when at last she appeared. "I sent you to get a book to read to the children."
"There it is, mother—'The Gold Thread'" Evadne answered. "But I cannot read to the children until after their tea. They were at their lessons this morning, and we are all going out this afternoon." She had neither forgotten the children nor the time they wanted their book, which was eminently characteristic. She never did forget other people's interests, however much she might be absorbed by the pleasure of her own pursuits.
"And I found three other books, mother, that I should like to have; may I?" she continued. "They are all about our bones and brains, and the circulation of the blood, and digestion. It says in one of them that muriatic acid, the chemical agent by which the stomach dissolves the food, is probably obtained from muriate of soda, which is common salt contained in the blood. Isn't that interesting? And it says that pleasure—not excitement, you know—is the result of the action of living organs, and it goes on to explain it. Shall I read it to you?"
"My dear child, what nonsense have you got hold of now?" Mrs. Frayling exclaimed, laughing.
"It is all here, mother," Evadne remonstrated, tapping her books. "Do look at them."
Mrs. Frayling turned over a few pages with dainty fingers: "Tracing from without inward, the various coverings of the brain are," she read in one. "The superior extremity consists of the shoulder, the arm, the forearm, and the hand," she saw in another. "Dr. Harley also confirms the opinion of M. Chaveau that the sugar is not destroyed in any appreciable quantity, during its passage through the tissues," she learned from the third. "Oh, how nasty!" she ejaculated, alluding to the dust on the cover. "And what a state you are in yourself! You seem to have a perfect mania for grubbing up old books. What do you want with them? You cannot possibly understand them. Why, I can't! It is all vanity, you know. Here, take them away."
"But, mother, I want to keep them. They can't do me any harm if I don't understand them."
"You really are tiresome, Evadne," her mother rejoined. "It is quite bad taste to be so persistent."
"I am sorry, mother; I apologize. But I can read them, I suppose, as you don't see anything objectionable in them."
"Don't you see, dear child, that I am trying to write a letter? How do you suppose I can do so while you stand chattering there at my elbow! You won't understand the books, but you are too obstinate for anything, and you had better take them and try. I don't expect to hear anything more about them," she added complacently, as she resumed her letter. Nor did she, but she felt the effect of them strongly in after years.
When Evadne went out for a ride with three of her sisters that afternoon her mind was full to overflowing of her morning studies, and she would liked to have shared such interesting information with them, but they discouraged her.
"Isn't it curious," she began, "our skulls are not all in one piece when we're born—"
"I call it simply nasty" said Julia. She was the one who screamed at a mouse.
"You'll be a bore if you don't mind," cried Evelyn, who monopolized the conversation, as a rule.
Barbara politely requested her to "Shurrup!" a word of the boys which she permitted herself to borrow in the exuberance of her spirits and the sanctity of private life whenever Evadne threatened, as on the present occasion, to be "too kind."
Evadne turned back then and left them, not because they vexed her, but because she wanted to have her head to the wind and her thick brown hair blown back out of her eyes, and full leisure to reflect upon her last acquisition as she cantered home happily.
Evadne was never a great reader in the sense of being omnivorous in her choice of books, but she became a very good one. She always had a solid book in hand, and some standard work of fiction also; but she read both with the utmost deliberation, and with intellect clear and senses unaffected by anything. After studying anatomy and physiology, she took up pathology as a matter of course, and naturally went on from thence to prophylactics and therapeutics, but was quite unharmed, because she made no personal application of her knowledge as the coarser mind masculine of the ordinary medical student is apt to do. She read of all the diseases to which the heart is subject, and thought of them familiarly as "cardiac affections," without fancying she had one of them; and she obtained an extraordinary knowledge of the digestive processes and their ailments without realizing, that her own might ever be affected. She possessed, in fact, a mind of exceptional purity as well as of exceptional strength, one to be enlightened by knowledge, not corrupted; but had it been otherwise she must certainly have suffered in consequence of the effect of the curiously foolish limitations imposed upon her by those who had charge of her conventional education. Subjects were surrounded by mystery which should have been explained. An impossible ignorance was the object aimed at, and so long as no word was spoken on either side it was supposed to be attained. The risk of making mysteries for an active intellect to feed upon was never even considered, nor did anyone perceive the folly of withholding positive knowledge, which, when properly conveyed, is the true source of healthy-mindedness, from a child whose intelligent perception was already sufficiently keen to require it. Principles were dealt out to her, for one thing, with a generous want of definition which must have made them fatal to all progress had she been able to take them intact. Her mother's favourite and most inclusive dictum alone, that "everything is for the best, and all things work together for good," should have forced her to a matter of fact acceptance of wickedness as a thing inevitable which it would be waste of time to oppose, since it was bound to resolve itself into something satisfactory in the end, like the objectionable refuse which can be converted by ingenious processes into an excellent substitute for butter. But she was saved from the stultification of such a position by finding it impossible to reconcile it practically with the constant opposition which she found herself at the same time enjoined to oppose to so many things. If everything is for the best, it appeared to her, clearly we cannot logically oppose ourselves to anything, and there must accordingly be two trinities in ethics, good, better, best, and bad, worse, worst, which it is impossible to condense into one comprehensive axiom.
But most noticeably prominent, to her credit, through all this period are the same desirable characteristics, viz., that provisional acceptance already noticed of what she was taught by those whom she delighted to honor and obey, and the large-minded absence of prejudice which enabled her to differ from them, when she saw good cause, without antagonism. "Drop the subject when you do not agree: there is no need to be bitter because you know you are right," was the maxim she used in ordinary social intercourse; but she was at the same time forming principles to be acted upon in opposition to everybody when occasion called for action. Another noticeable point, too, was the way in which her mind returned from every excursion into no matter what abstruse region of research, to the position of women, her original point of departure. "Withholding education from women was the original sin of man," she concludes.
Mind as creator appealed to her less than mind as recorder, reasoner, and ruler; and for one gem of poetry or other beauty of purely literary value which she quotes, there are fifty records of principles of action. The acquisition of knowledge was her favourite pastime, her principal pleasure in life, and there were no doubts of her own ability to disturb her so long as there was no self-consciousness. Unfortunately, however, for her tranquillity, the self-consciousness had to come. She approached the verge of womanhood. She was made to do up her hair. She was encouraged to think of being presented, coming out, and having a home of her own eventually. Her liberty of action was sensibly curtailed, but all supervision in the matter of her mental pursuits was withdrawn. She had received the accustomed education for a girl in her position, which her parents held, without knowing it themselves, perhaps, to consist for the most part in being taught to know better than to read anything which they would have considered objectionable. But the end of the supervision, which should have been a joy to her, brought the first sudden sense of immensity, and was chilling. She perceived that the world is large and strong, and that she was small and weak; that knowledge is infinite, capacity indifferent, life short—and then came the inevitable moment. She does not say what caused the first overwhelming sense of self in her own case; but the change it wrought is evident, and the disheartening doubts with which it was accompanied are expressed. She picks her
Flower in the crannied wall,
and realizes her own limitations:
...but if I could understand What you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is.
And from this time forward there is less literature and more life in the "Commonplace Book."
Mr. and Lady Adeline Hamilton-Wells, with the inevitable twins, came constantly to Fraylingay while Evadne was in the schoolroom, and generally during the holidays, that she might be at liberty to look after the twins, whose moral obliquities she was supposed to be able to control better than anybody else. They once told their mother that they liked Evadne, "because she was so good"; and Lady Adeline had a delicious moment of hope. If the twins had begun to appreciate goodness they would be better themselves directly, she was thinking, when Diavolo exclaimed: "We can shock her easier than anybody," and hope died prematurely. They had been a source of interest, and also of some concern to Evadne from the first. She took a grave view of their vagaries, and entertained doubts on the subject of their salvation should an "all-wise Providence" catch them peering into a sewer, resolve itself into a poisonous gas, and cut them off suddenly—a fate which had actually overtaken a small brother of her own who was not a good little boy either—a fact which was the cause of much painful reflection to Evadne. She understood all about the drain and the poisonous gas, but she could not fit in the "all-wise Providence acting only for the best," which was introduced as primary agent in the sad affair by "their dear Mr. Campbell," as her mother called him, in "a most touching and strengthening" discourse he delivered from the pulpit on the subject. If Binny were naughty—and Binny was naughty beyond all hope of redemption, according to the books; there could be no doubt about that, for he not only committed one, but each and every sin sufficient in itself for condemnation, all in one day, too, when he could, and twice over if there were time. He disobeyed orders. He fought cads. He stole apples. He told lies—in fact, he preferred to tell lies; truth had no charm for him. And all these things he was in the habit of doing regularly to the best of his ability when he was "cut off"; and how such an end could be all for the best, if the wicked must perish, and it is not good to perish, was the puzzle. There was something she could not grasp of a contradictory nature in it all that tormented her. The doctrine of Purgatory might have been a help, but she had not heard of it.
She told the twins the story of Binny's sad end once in the orthodox way, as a warning, but the warning was the only part of it which failed to impress them. "And do you know," she said solemnly, "there were some green apples found in his pockets after he was dead, actually!"
"What a pity!" Diavolo exclaimed. If they had been found in his stomach it would have been so much more satisfactory. "How did he get the apples? Off the tree or out of the storeroom?"
"I don't know," said Evadne.
"They wouldn't have green apples in the storeroom," Angelica thought.
"Oh, yes, they might," Diavolo considered. "Those big cooking fellows, you know—they're green enough."
"But they're not nice," said Angelica.
"No, but you don't think of that till you've got them," was the outcome of Diavolo's experience. "Is your storeroom on the ground floor?" he asked Evadne.
"No," she answered.
"Is there a creeper outside the window?" he pursued.
"No, creepers won't grow because a big lime tree hangs it."
The children exchanged glances.
"I shouldn't have made that room a storeroom," said Angelica. "Lime trees bring flies. There's something flies like on the leaves."
"But any tree will bring flies if you smear the leaves with sweet stuff," said Diavolo. "You remember that copper-beech outside papa's dressing room window, Angelica?"
"Yes," she said thoughtfully. "He had to turn out of his dressing room this summer; he couldn't stand them."
"But was Binny often caught, Evadne?" Diavolo asked.
"Often," she said.
"But I suppose he had generally eaten the apples?" Angelica suggested anxiously.
"It's better to eat them at once," sighed Diavolo. "Did you say he did everything he was told not to do?"
"I expect when he was told not to do a thing he could not think of anything else until he had done it," said Angelica.
"And now he's in heaven," Diavolo speculated, looking up through the window with big bright eyes pathetically.
The twins thought a good deal about heaven in their own way. Lady Adeline did not like them to be talked to on the subject. They were indefatigable explorers, and it was popularly supposed that only the difficulty of being present at an inquest on their own bodies, which they would have thoroughly enjoyed, had kept them so far from trying to obtain a glimpse of the next world. They discovered the storeroom at Fraylingay half an hour after they had discussed the improving details of Binny's exciting career, and had found it quite easy of access by means of the available lime tree. They both suffered a good deal that night, and they thought of Binny. "But there's nothing in our pockets, that's one comfort," Diavolo exclaimed suddenly, to the astonishment of his mother, who was sitting up with him. Angelica heaved a sigh of satisfaction.
Evadne's patience with the twins was wonderful. She always took charge of them cheerfully on wet days and in other times of trouble, and managed them with infinite tact.
"How do you do it, my dear?" Lady Adeline asked. "Do you talk to them and tell them stories?"
"No," said Evadne, "I don't talk much; I—just don't lose sight of them—or interfere—if I can possibly help it."
The twins had no reverence for anything or anybody. One day they were in Evadne's little sitting room which overlooked the courtyard. It was an antechamber to her bedroom, and peculiarly her own by right of primogeniture. Nobody ever thought of going there without her special permission—except, of course, the twins; but even they assumed hypocritical airs of innocent apology for accidental intrusion when they wanted to make things pleasant for themselves.
On this particular occasion Evadne was sitting beside her little work-table busy with her needle, and the twins were standing together looking out of the window.